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Knuth: Open Letter to Condoleezza Rice (2002) (stanford.edu)
523 points by sfk on Apr 10, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 173 comments

Amazon is building a $600 million datacenter for the CIA. The CIA did all of the bad things listed in Dropbox article as directed by Bush and Condoleezza, and they are still actively trying to cover up torture. I've never heard anyone here not using EC2 over it?

The tech scenes pitchfork mobs are wildly inconsistent.

I have a feeling this one hit a nerve because Condoleezza Rice is famously hated across the internet and in the press (especially on the Daily Show) and this isn't really about upholding some strong high-moral consistency that we all have.

And your point is what? That demonstrating outrage here is in some way invalid since similar outrage was not demonstrated in every other similar situation? Do I have no moral authority to speak up in this situation if I have not before?

Maybe we should boycott Amazon. Not boycotting Dropbox because we didn't do the same for Amazon doesn't get us anywhere.

The system Condaleeza represents is still active and is heavily entrenched. This campaign may be a good start, but its going to take much more than that to change anything -- and that requires a strong moral consistency than extends well beyond participating in an occasional mob.

Amazon is actively supporting infrastructure to an agency that supports torture. Condaleeza isn't even in power any more. It's not that you shouldn't boycott Dropbox, it's that you are probably not really doing anything as a result of not doing it when it matters. The thing that created Condaleeza is still moving full steam ahead.

> Amazon is actively supporting infrastructure to an agency that supports torture. Condaleeza isn't even in power any more. It's not that you shouldn't boycott Dropbox, it's that you are probably not really doing anything as a result of not doing it when it matters.

That's probably true, but we have to consider the situation in the context of what's practicable in our own lives.

I have a Dropbox account, and I use Amazon's cloud service to host my sites. I will be canceling my Dropbox account as a protest, but probably will not cancel Amazon's cloud services. Why? Because I still need my paycheck, I still need to put food on my kids' plates at the end of the night -- and I do this in part with Amazon's cloud services. I have to pick and choose, and compromise along the way when I'm making my voice heard.

It's okay that sometimes some big companies get away it, and some don't. Godaddy got picked on a lot... there was a symbol attached to the Godaddy situation (a CEO who hunts elephants, and says weird things) -- in the end we won, because there was an easy narrative to follow. It wasn't perfect justice all the way, but what matters is progress was made at the end of the day -- SOPA was then beaten.

In a similar fashion, it's okay if folks decide to stick with Amazon's services, because ditching it would bring them a lot of inconvenience. We don't all have the resources and time to be ditching every service we don't like on principle -- we can pick and choose. We can pick and choose, especially, when there's momentum going on. Right now there's momentum going on with this Dropbox thing -- let it happen, this is how progress is made. Next time, a company will think twice before appointing to their board a warmonger.

edit (mostly to duaneb): to be clear, I am canceling my paid Dropbox account. Though, I think it's a good idea to cancel free Dropbox accounts in this case as well.

Dropbox doesn't matter. Your money does. It speaks volumes about you that you are outspoken on ethical issues except where your wallet is. Like the vast majority of Americans. Of course, that's precisely the attitude that gets us gay marriage (good), two wars, a dying environment, and an absolutely unsustainable economy based on putting our lower class out of work.

Right. I work in a position where I am somewhat responsible for decisions such as whether to use AWS or not, which at other companies has been a different decision such as what hardware to purchase and where to install it.

This is a difficult situation to balance, because what you are suggesting, from my perspective, ends up being about saying, "I will quit working here unless we quit using Vendor X!" - that will end predictably, and I have lost that fight over GoDaddy as well. At the end of a day of following such a philosophy, I have no job, the Evil Vendor(tm) still gets their money, and I have to explain to people at Next Potential Job(tm) why I don't seem to be a team player.

That said, these are important fights to fight at some level. When I was dealing with hardware, I found many of our decisions frustrating. I found it frustrating that we cared about the USD$ cost of power, and not the environmental cost of it. I found it frustrating that we turned off almost all power saving features of our hardware because they don't deliver as one would hope and tend to harm the workload in a way that may actually require more gear which is expensive, has a carbon cost to manufacture, and has a carbon cost to operate and cool. Guess what? a 2U Rackmount server that sometimes runs at 1.5Ghz for a few seconds instead of running at 2.8GHz all of the time doesn't have a significant impact on the cooling bill, and it can reasonably be expected that your cooling power budget will be roughly equal to your equipment power budget, probably higher because of infrastructure overhead.

It is difficult to find a framework in which to push these decisions because the day to day business does not center around them.

The solution is for decision makers to make them a priority, just like worker safety and other things which don't obviously contribute to the short-term bottom line. I can't spend all of my time advocating up for socially responsible decisions.

Also, Amazon may be in a difficult place wrt other contracts with the government, they may have gotten themselves somewhat entangled. Dropbox does not need Condoleeza Rice on its' board, and it's hard to envision what value she will have other than internally advocating for cooperation with the government and its' defense armature.

That is what she does.

I mean, I use EC2 and see nothing wrong with it. I'm just pointing out the double standard of making a big fuss when what you're fussing about is probably a waste of energy and what you're not fussing about would be much more effective if you DID fuss about it.

> Dropbox doesn't matter. Your money does. It speaks volumes about you that you are outspoken on ethical issues except where your wallet is.

No, you distorted parent's statement by slightly reframing the perspective when it should be read like this:

It speaks volumes about you that you are outspoken on ethical issues except when it comes to putting food on your kid's plates.

There is something to be said for making sacrifices, including on behalf of your entire family, in the face of ethics, and that most massive ethical challenges the human race has faced are because of people who would not refuse to participate.

But this structure can be applied to varying degrees in varying situations. A company who keeps an unencrypted copy of all my files and welcomes, for no particularly good reason, an INCREDIBLE advocate of overreach in government surveillance, not to mention violent tactics such as torture to extract information, and an architect of today's guantanamo bay facility, onto their board is a reason to be concerned about doing business with that company.

It's a false dichotomy that you either have to let your kids starve or support evil companies. Again, it's this dichotomy that has led to the present situation.

But your false dichotomy ignores reality, sure he could leave his current job (assuming he can't ditch evil company X at his current job), but will he then find another job at an "ideal" company that is a) not evil and b) uses no evil companies products, probably not

> I have a Dropbox account, and I use Amazon's cloud service to host my sites. I will be canceling my Dropbox account as a protest, but probably will not cancel Amazon's cloud services. Why? Because I still need my paycheck, I still need to put food on my kids' plates at the end of the night -- and I do this in part with Amazon's cloud services. I have to pick and choose, and compromise along the way when I'm making my voice heard.

This is a great comment. I'm going to challenge you to do something I suspect you'll be resistant to.

You admit that some times you have to sacrifice your values for a greater cause (in this case your family's well being).

I challenge you to look back on the things you believe Condoleezza Rice did wrong and think about them as though she was making the same sort of sacrifice. Does that change your opinion of her?

Well, one has to start somewhere. You start with small things and if things work out, you expand the scale.

Does this logic apply to the workers who maintain the physical infrastructure for the CIA? The Coke guys who refill soda machines? The internet providers?

Where do you draw the line? A government agency leverages services to further it's agenda- should those businesses take a moral position?

Businesses can take a moral position, and in fact, many businesses who work with the government _do_ take a moral position in doing so.

Yes. Selectively demonstrating a ridiculous amount of outrage at the hate target of the day is absurd. The fact that you couldn't possibly do it in every similar situation shows why it is absurd.

Very Kantian. But there are other things for which the argument is successful. Take feeding a starving man, for instance. You cannot feed them all. That's absurd. Therefore, it is also absurd that you can feed the man starving in front of you.

That argument follows the same structure.

For what it's worth, I'm not talking about Ms. Rice here. It's the argument that bothers me. Seems shaky.

If I wasn't selective in what, when and how I choose to protest my only options would be a) not give a shit, ever, or b) not leave my house and possibly kill myself.

Some of us live in the real world where we have to pick our battles.

You make some great points.

I also note that if I wanted this controversy to fade away, I would seed conversations with people who say things exactly like this.

There is no way to know for sure!

I think C Rice is an disturbing figure because she appears to be a contradiction. Nobody expects much of figures such as Rumsfeld or Chaney - they come across as ruthless unprincipled technocrats who are prepared to do some extraordinary dangerous things in pursuit of their ideological convictions. But CR is obviously highly intelligent and somehow more relatable. Which makes her actions feel like a betrayal. Hence the highly emotive reaction to her apologetics. One senses she should and indeed must know better.

>in pursuit of their ideological convictions

Now that is an overstatement! Please don't give them so much credit. They are just sociopaths in pursuit of (more)power; no ideology behind them.

It's a pretty popular anti-activism stance, yeah. Unless you're an ascetic hermit who makes your own toilet paper, you're not allowed to protest anything without being labeled a hypocrite.

And of course if you do become an ascetic hermit, then you're just a crazy hippie.

I don't use EC2 over it. I host a site with a million+ pageviews per month with >250GiB of user data and I host it with Voxility. It used to be on AWS.

Edit: FWIW, I also don't use dropbox. I use rsync and a VPS.

Out of curiosity, who is your VPS provider?

Digital Ocean. It doesn't really matter because I handle crypto myself, and don't offer trust to the VPS provider.

I've been meaning to do something like that myself. Did you use off the shelf tools for crypto, or did you write something yourself?

Yeah, I'm using gpg.

Would you be willing to do a little write up or make a blog post about your process or something?

I've been meaning to setup encrypted backups for a while. At the moment mine are all unencrypted, but are stored on hardware under my control that I have direct physical access too.

I'd like to use a convenient offsite storage provider, but have no interest in trusting them with data. Tarsnap would be ideal if it was actually Free Software, but the current license is a deal breaker.

Already use gpg in my workflow for some documents and password management. Do you literally just tar and then gpg the result or is it something more involved? It seems that would be fairly bandwidth heavy.

Yes, I literally just tar and gpg the result. I could sort out something more elegant and do a writeup. Keep an eye on http://drewdevault.com.

Looking forward to it :)

> Tarsnap would be ideal if it was actually Free Software, but the current license is a deal breaker.

I looked at it from the angle that it is basically a 1-person company. The bus factor is too high! :)

I believe this and Eich are easy targets (soft targets if we want to keep with the war theme) for people to go after.

Seeing the internet mob rally behind this and Eich remind me that these are easy targets for people to pick because it doesn't require much work (internet slacktivisim at work).

It would be more enlightening if someone would research all of the board members of many well known SV companies whos names none of us know, and post all of their political donations and leanings we might not all get along with, then we can see how picky we are in our outrage. Board members of Apple and Tesla donating to groups overseas who violate human rights? How about Apple supporting Foxconn, where is the boycott in that?

Eich and Rice are just being picked because it is easy to change your Facebook picture to protest, throw together a quick .com, or if you are really motivated write a petition on whitehouse.gov to show your outrage, vs. real actual sleuthing to determine if you agree with said Big Corp.

Unfortunately the latter takes much more work and that isn't in the general interest of those of us clicking +1 to show our "outrage"...

This is my primary criticism of modern representative democracy and why I lost faith in it. Every couple years we politically assassinate a few easy targets, mostly in the press, we all pat ourselves on the back for standing up for something, while the massive entrenched groups stay in power and everything stays exactly the same.

That's one way of looking at it. Another is that if you want to change something big, it's a good idea to start out with achievable steps and build up from there.

As to 'Apple supporting Foxconn' - Apple have done more to improve working conditions at Foxconn than any other organization. If you want to boycott someone, it should be all of the other Foxconn customers who are doing nothing.

...which are all rational ways for people to optimize their time. And lo, it works sometimes.

So what you're really saying is that even though this is a fairly well-optimized use of people's time and effort, it's illegitimate because people aren't sweating for it. This is HN— if you leveled a similar complaint at a CEO, startup, or corporation, you'd be criticized for implying they're lazy rather than rational.

Don't get me wrong; I don't love slacktivism, either. I suspect it has an opportunity cost. I tentatively agree that it's a proxy for more substantive protest. However, I submit that this is because people don't otherwise feel empowered. If you believe any sort of activism is low percentage, then why not choose the route that is the least amount of effort?

I hate these maximalist "unless you do X and Y and Z, you have no right to criticize ANYTHING, because I say so, so shut the fuck up" ideas. It's startlingly close to the USSR's "and you lynch negroes" response to any criticism of its policies by the USA: it brings up an irrelevancy, and it's made in bad faith. The only way to escape it would be to detach entirely from the system.

Would you have criticized MLK for only choosing convenient, media-visible targets for his protests? Hell, he ignored so many places, and even stayed in hotels that were segregated. What a fucking hypocrite.

Cesar Chavez? Loser: he only called for people to boycott some agricultural interests. Sure, anyone can give up grapes, but anyone who does that is worse than contemptible--they should have given up all food that's harvested in exploitative conditions!

Mother Teresa? Lame. She only helped people in India. What about people in Namibia?

Lech Walesa? He seemed so myopically focused on government in Poland. It wasn't even the worst communist country! If he were really freedom focused, he'd have left Eastern Europe to try to overthrow the Khmer Rouge.

Your criticism amounts to an incredibly lazy attempt to sidestep the issue. Condi Rice is a war criminal. Second only to Cheney, she is the person most responsible for the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of people. She broke numerous laws; authorized illegal torture; and engaged in illegal violations of Americans' rights. In a just world, she'd be brought before a jury, convicted, and put behind bars for life.

You have no right to criticize me for trying to reduce how implicated I am in one of the most evil acts of the 21st century.

And if you disagree, well, I can name a thousand other forums for you to post your comment in before you come here to Hacker News. Otherwise you're just being wildly inconsistent and deeply morally corrupt.

I hate political posts on Hacker News because they lead to petty, histrionic bickering like this.

What is intellectually gratifying about mean-spirited sarcasm like:

> You have no right to criticize me for trying to reduce how implicated I am in one of the most evil acts of the 21st century.

> And if you disagree, well, I can name a thousand other forums for you to post your comment in before you come here to Hacker News. Otherwise you're just being wildly inconsistent and deeply morally corrupt.

Political threads make people forget how to make positive contributions and instead they compete to express the most outrage. Nobody wins from that.

Better to be inconsistently principled than consistently unprincipled.

I like your quote. It reminds me of a buddy of mine who says I am a hypocrite for buying local fruits and vegetable, because I buy toilet paper made by a Koch-owned company.

For some people, unless you live in a cave and refuse all modern technology, you are not allowed to have any moral authority.

I think it's more of an appeal for validation for your [more] consistently unprincipled friend's part.

They've decided that the effort is futile, so why can't you?

Better to be inconsistently principled than consistently unprincipled.

That's some Jim Crow logic right there.


Or perhaps its just psychopathy:


Or, maybe you just got your quote wrong?


I'm pretty sure "inconsistently principled" == "consistently unprincipled".

I think that depends on the reading of "inconsistently principled". If the principles are inconsistent, then I tentatively think your equality holds. If the principles are consistent, and the stridency in application is inconsistent, then I don't think they are equal.

With the second reading, a tangential concern is what drives the inconsistency. If it is purely stochastic, then I think the above saying holds ("better to be..."). If it is manipulated by unprincipled agents, then it's much more questionable.

Keeping it intellectual, these arguments get put in front of the US supreme court all the time. Under "uses and abuses" of power, type cases. Disregarding their fundamental import has important consequences (at least if you believe wikipedia). See, eg


There's also a long history in cognitive science on social trust and perceived consistency (anti-hypocrisy).


So that is why people normally vet these issues outsied of the context of SCOTUS, even on social issues. These are valid ideas irespective of people's views on any subject, IMHO.


It's quite simple.

Rice and Eich are not directly useful and their dismissal would have no effect on the protestors, so there is almost zero sacrifice. There is no sacrifice necessary on behalf of the protestors.

Dropping AWS on the other hand could be difficult and expensive for many, so protesting AWS requires either hypocrisy or sacrifice.

>Rice and Eich are not directly useful and their dismissal would have no effect on the protestors, so there is almost zero sacrifice. There is no sacrifice necessary on behalf of the protestors.

And yet getting them fired has the impact of dissuading similar behavior. If you're a protestor why wouldn't you go for the low-hanging no-cost some-benefit moves?

>Dropping AWS on the other hand could be difficult and expensive for many, so protesting AWS requires either hypocrisy or sacrifice.

So the protestors have prioritized lower cost moves over higher cost moves. Sounds rational.

While I personally think Eich shouldn't have been CEO, you sum up Internet protests nicely: People will scream and moan, but only a fraction of those people would continue to do so if it required they actually do anything--even something as simple as moderate physical exertion.

Why wouldn't people take action which has even a small percentage of success when it requires negligible effort and little time? It seems utterly rational to me.

Likewise, moderate physical exertion (read: effort and time) for a low percentage play is a more dubious proposition. There's a fixed amount of time in a day and you simply can't get more of it; you can only optimize.

I'm not saying people don't jump on bandwagons or whatever. I think outrage & anger are in some sense addictive and cyclical on their own. (Whether they are "legitimate" in any given case is orthogonal IMO.) And I'm sort of with you in spirit, as I gather you're basically criticizing slacktivism.

But if you're trying to set a bar for "real" activism, it's best to keep the above in mind, particularly when people feel otherwise disempowered.

I've been trying to avoid Amazon since they censored Wikileaks with a single phone call from a politician. I'll never forgive them for that. The fact that they're working with the CIA now just adds to the pile of reasons to dislike them.

Will history make a difference between IBM selling mainframes to Nazis to help their holocaust and Amazon selling servers to the CIA to help them assassinate people around the world and plan state coups? Maybe not quite on the same level, but pretty damn close.

Wikileaks violated the AWS TOS by publishing classified material in violation of US law.

This isn't the UK; it is not a violation of US law to publish classified information; the violation is when a person with legitimate access to classified information disseminates it to an unauthorized person (see, e.g., 18 USC § 798).

To date, the closest the US government has come to prosecuting a publisher was the attempt in the Pentagon Papers case to enjoin publication; SCOTUS struck down the effort, calling prior restraint "the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights." USG has not been anxious to go after publishers since then.

For example, State counsel Harold Koh, in a letter to Wikileaks demanding the removal of unredacted classified information, noted that the materials "were provided in violation of U.S. law ... As long as WikiLeaks holds such material, the violation of the law is ongoing." (Emph original.)

Koh did not state that WikiLeaks was violating US law, but that the person who provided the documents (Manning) had done so, and that the offense was a continuing one. He did not charge Wikileaks, or any of its members, with having broken the law, only that their source was continuing to do so.

There is no case law regarding whether USG can convict a publisher for obtaining classified material, but similar cases (e.g., Bartnicki v. Vopper) suggest that this would be difficult.

Having said that, the Obama administration has been historically aggressive in prosecuting leakers, including naming a journalist (FOX News reporter James Rosen) as an unindicted co-conspirator for receiving classified information from a State source.

If AMZN was talked into dropping Wikileaks, it wasn't because of criminal activity by the publisher; it was because of political pressure from the administration. Not the same thing.

Publishing classified information is legal. Otherwise the editorial team of NYTimes would have gone to jail lots of times. It is the leaking of the information that is illegal IIRC

Feel free to downvote since it doesn't fit the meme that "information wants to be free", but the statement is 100% correct.

You sound really sure of yourself, yet cite nothing.



There have been reports that a government inquiry prompted us not to serve WikiLeaks any longer. That is inaccurate.

There have also been reports that it was prompted by massive DDOS attacks. That too is inaccurate. There were indeed large-scale DDOS attacks, but they were successfully defended against.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) rents computer infrastructure on a self-service basis. AWS does not pre-screen its customers, but it does have terms of service that must be followed. WikiLeaks was not following them. There were several parts they were violating. For example, our terms of service state that “you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content… that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity.” It’s clear that WikiLeaks doesn’t own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content. Further, it is not credible that the extraordinary volume of 250,000 classified documents that WikiLeaks is publishing could have been carefully redacted in such a way as to ensure that they weren’t putting innocent people in jeopardy. Human rights organizations have in fact written to WikiLeaks asking them to exercise caution and not release the names or identities of human rights defenders who might be persecuted by their governments.

We’ve been running AWS for over four years and have hundreds of thousands of customers storing all kinds of data on AWS. Some of this data is controversial, and that’s perfectly fine. But, when companies or people go about securing and storing large quantities of data that isn’t rightfully theirs, and publishing this data without ensuring it won’t injure others, it’s a violation of our terms of service, and folks need to go operate elsewhere.

We look forward to continuing to serve our AWS customers and are excited about several new things we have coming your way in the next few months.

— Amazon Web Services

What you cite and what you said are different. Wikileaks did not break the LAW by publishing classified documents.

I think the difference is, people have been calling for boycotts of Amazon for various reasons for years, and it's never made any difference to anything. They are too entrenched. I guess people are buoyed by the success of the anti-Eich campaign and think, perhaps correctly, that it might actually be practically possible to pressure Dropbox into dropping Rice.

Politicians should be held to extremely high moral standards, hence the outrage.

If you read the link you'll see that Knuth himself only wrote two letters to government officials. Most people do not have time to become full time activists, so a certain degree of inconsistency seems inevitable.

> Condoleezza Rice is famously hated across the internet and in the press (especially on the Daily Show)

Her actions are hated; she's been on the Daily Show at least once and had a pretty decent conversation with Jon Stewart.

I can guarantee that poster has never watched the daily show and just assumes it's liberal propaganda.

For the record, I'm not asking for Condi to step down or be removed. It would be hypocritical of me to do so--I openly criticized people on HN for asking Eich to step down.

From a pure business perspective: I just think it's a bonehead move on Dropbox's part, as other people could have brought similar value with less reputational damage.

Views on gay marriage have NOTHING to do with running Mozilla. Views on data security+privacy have EVERYTHING to do with leading Dropbox.

why do you care about seeming hypocritical? do what you feel is right. in the words of Emerson: " A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood. "

Thank you so much for posting this quote. It's not an uncommon one, but I've never seen the whole thing, i.e., the part after the first line.

Point taken :)

no problem haha :) thanks for not replying with a snarky comment. If you like this, you should read "self reliance" by Emerson. It is pretty short but wonderfully inspirational, I take care to read it every once and awhile.

That's exactly where I ended up!

His wisdom is clear from his quotes, but it's something else to read those essays in their entirety. Great stuff.

CIA: Amazon's customer

Rice: Dropbox's board member

I don't think "pitchfork mobs" would object to Rice merely being a customer, even if she stored documents for objectionable purposes.

This is my view, more or less (though one could legitimately argue that bidding to build one's first ever private datacentre for the CIA is a much closer relationship than simply not preventing the CIA from having AWS accounts). Selecting a board member whose most relevant achievements are circumventing security legislation and browbeating foreign governments (she's undoubtedly extremely smart but she's not been appointed for investment or engineering insights) says a lot more about a company than whose cash they'll accept.

That said, the many calls to boycott Amazon were perfectly reasonable too.

I've never heard anyone here not using EC2 over it? The tech scenes pitchfork mobs are wildly inconsistent.

You can't fight them all. Choose your battles wisely.

   Any fool can criticize, complain, condemn,
   and most fools do. Picking your battles
   is impressive and fighting them fairly
   is essential. —Dale Carnegie
Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.

This is an instance of "but someone else also does horrible things". That may very well be true but isn't really an argument for why the "horrible thing" we're discussing at the moment isn't horrible.

There's a great article by a journalist explaining this phenomenon (my google-fu is weak today). He discusses how every time he reports on "X country has done atrocity Y" he gets replies of "but why aren't you covering country Z which is also horrible?".

If the standard for being able to protest anything is that you must do full due-diligence and protest all similar things then no one would ever be able to protest anything.

I don't [yet] use AWS but thanks for raising this issue.

The CIA is a big massive blob that represents thousands of people. Rice is an individual. Much easier to critique.

Rice is a public figure that helped sell the Iraq War by lying.

She's done some pretty slimy stuff and essentially admitted to it, so that's why she's easy to target.

>isn't really about upholding some strong high-moral consistency that we all have.

YES, it actually is!

The issue is that Rice is a known, singular, actual person wh was directly responsible for the war, death and corrupt profiteering by the defense industry.

Whereas, its much more difficult to connect an actual individual with something like "amazon building a data center" (Yes, you can hate on Bezos - but he did not start a war killing thousands of people on trump up pretense AND get caught actually lying about said pretense)

Condi is a war criminal.

So what's your point? Our only options are to either abandon all hope of change, or secede from the world and join a hippie commune?

Nobody has the energy or resources to fight all possible battles at once. All we can do is try to pick the ones that we hope will provide the most benefit, most efficiently.

You pick your battles.

In a moral argument, finding a target who's likely sensitive to moral suasion, whose audience or market is vocal, outspoken, and rights-oriented, and in which there's a reasonable chance for success. The Mozilla-Eich situation would be a case in point.

Condaleeza Rice has certainly drawn fire previously in her career -- despite Knuth's apparent support of her while at Stanford, I'm aware of others who were glad to see her move on, though perhaps not fully realizing she could do far more harm as National Security Advisor.

Inconsistency or hypocrisy doesn’t make someone wrong. Should people be outraged about more things? Maybe. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t justified in being outraged about any one thing.

It does when there is an elephant in the room. It's like people complaining about these evil 1% rich while benefiting from quasi slave labor from China when buying all their cheap stuff...

I have no particular standing in this debate, but I've decided that terms like "pitchfork mobs", "witch hunts", and "bullies" in the context of this issue are far too close to Godwin territory for my taste.

Has there been actual violence that I haven't seen covered in the news? All I've seen are consumers engaging in online discourse about ceasing use of a service.

I don't mind reading the contrary opinions, too, but I'd really like to read some that can explain their case without the hyperbole.

there's a few fundamental differences between condi, amazon, and eich.

I'm sure I'll get a few downvotes, but basically the former two are plain business decisions. A lot of the people complaining about dropbox's service are either free tier customers or lower end business users.

Having Condi on board means immediate trust of huge multinational concerns likes Chevron. It doesn't matter if the people in there trust dropbox as long as the board does.

I didn't know Amazon builds the data center, I thought SAIC did, but I guess there is more than one contract. Amazon has huge experience in building data centers. They also have a govcloud. They probably bid on one of the contract offerings, and won. Well that, and some dude from the Amazon probably went golfing with some NSA dude. But it really doesn't matter, since in a way these are morally correct decisions.

Of course there is no such thing as a universal moral standard. By that standard though, you would have to boycott a lot of the tech universities in the US that get their money from DARPA contracts(a view I used to share when I was a bit younger, and still "kinda"(notreally) do).

For the record, it's important to know that I'm against both of these things, but generically speaking my argumentation speaks against what I might be morally thinking, but they're both legally correct, and from a business perspective correct.

OTOH Eich was just a personal tirade. condi, and amazon are just plain old money decisions.

AFAIK dropbox uses ec2 and s3, so dropping dropbox is a double win

The tech scenes pitchfork mobs are wildly inconsistent.


>>>>The tech scenes pitchfork mobs are wildly inconsistent.

Just because the mob is all pitchfork'ed and ready doesn't mean it isn't its own victim to the trap of considering the world black and white.

There really are no absolutes. We're all using machines built for us by slaves. But at least we are communicating on how this enslavement can end. Would you end the show just because you think the last 15 minutes are 'a forgone conclusion'? Hang in here for this argument, and you may discover that the world is not black and white.

Ms. Rice is hated because of the things she allowed to occur as a part of her lifestyle. She is a cog in what many consider to be a highly destructive, death machine.

High-moral consistency is one thing; on the other end of this conversation is a father, laying dying in the ditch, watching the bits of their kids fade into the dirt. Condaleeze Rice is responsible for a fuck of a lot of that.

This is a cover up to hide the real motivation: she is a woman and black, and none of you want her involved in a tech company. Disguise this all you want as opposition to the war or Bush or whatever. It is really opposition to her gender and race. This is how you do in silicon valley where blacks and women are considered token employees hire to look good. So make up stuff about her and move her out. Now you have your high-tech lynching hiding behind phony moral outrage.

Got any evidence for this claim? That people are really opposed to her because ~"she's black and a woman" and not because she helped start a war that killed thousands, predicated on lies and misinformation?

Had Dropbox put former Vice President Dick Cheney (male, white) on the board, I suspect the firestorm of controversy would be far, far greater. As for "make up stuff about her," her comments regarding the Iraq war are on the record and are not fabricated.

This is the lamest, most ignorant comment I have ever read on HN.

I would have expected the same outrage if it were Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld

Simply removing Condi as a board member doesn't solve anything. The move to make her a board member puts the motivations of the entire Dropbox leadership team in question.

Today, Dropbox hurt its reputation very badly, regardless how this ultimately plays out.

Agreed. As a cloud service provider, they seem to have forgotten or not cared about the fact that they aren't just selling space, they are selling trust.

And it's such a bizarre move. What's the upside?

They wanted a board member with international experience, as they hope to expand internationally. Including, as TechCrunch put it, to "deal with foreign governments that have blocked its use".

We know Gaddafi had a crush on her, but does she provide positive PR for international users? Certainly there is a more neutral person who could accomplish the same thing.

Dropbox isn't going to put her name or face on billboards.

Her connections and knowledge of international stuffs is what Dropbox is hoping she'll bring.

You don't think there's more money in her US Government contacts?

There's money in both places to be made. They're not exclusive.

Understandable move, but in solving one problem they've simply created another.

Gravitas. If they want to move into the enterprise and international markets they need to have someone that will give mega-company CEO's a sense of comfort. At that level decisions aren't made based on technology. They're made on personal relationships.

Connections to megacorps.


What's the upside for any external management appointment ? A large investment, that's what.

Are you saying it makes them more capable of closing a large round? They just closed $350m barely a month ago.

If they're looking for even more funding...I don't even know. The funding game is so screwed up now. Just IPO already and let the public markets enjoy some of the upside.

Especially since dropbox has ALL of your files in the clear. They dedupe then encrypt (or claim to encrypt).

Not only do they have all of your files in the clear, they know every other person using dropbox that has the same files regardless of where they got them. Deduping is also Total Document Tracking.

Remember that another thing the bush admin did was get in bed with bankers.

She surely have goldman sachs and many others in her pocket.

It is a very smart 'hire' just before an IPO. they just overlooked that the internet would not take the war and wiretap part lightly. They should have just gave her tons of shares as a investor and consultant, and not made her position that publicly.

Right. I can't help to think, also, that not long ago Houston was one of several important CEOs who met with Obama over the NSA's warrantless wiretapping.

It's important to look out after your stakeholders, but am really in awe of how they didn't seem to anticipate there would be backlash with this decision and that's what I'd call into question.

Is there a point to the piano name? I know that Bösendorfer is a high-end piano maker, but it looks like Danziger has altered it to Boshendorfer, or Buchendorfer, or something like that. Intentional, or just a mistake?

EDIT: I'm an idiot. It's "Bushendorfer".

It may help to put 2002 in the title, as this relates to the war in Iraq rather than Dropbox. (It's still interesting, and worth an upvote!)

When people go after her, I wonder, "What about Kissinger?" He was part of a lot of cold hard decisions in tough times on the world. That said, I would enjoy his counsel if I wanted to get involved in China. Similar with her, though her expertise may be more in Russia.

My (non-expert) observation is she was pushed and marginalized by the hawks. And although the war sounds bad now, the country was very much for it back then.

Kissinger is widely and wildly despised. East Timor, Cambodia and extending the Vietnam war by years is his bullshit legacy. If someone can reincarnated before they die, then Kissinger => Condoleeza

Yes - this is my point. He is despised, but still is knowledgable, and I'd listen to him about China.

Granted this is about tapping specific knowledge. I would never hire someone with a morality deficit as an employee. (And maybe it would be dangerous to have one as the CEO's boss)

I have thought about this, and given his amoral behavior and deeply rooted ulterior motives I could not trust a single thing he said, or even how he said it.

There are plenty of experts on subject matter that are not equivalently tainted.

side note: this is really weird meeting http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10095943/Osborne-Cl...

Fair enough. People rarely only sell half their soul.

Silicon Valley and the Military Industrial Complex need to see other people. It was a pretty hot relationship for a while, but the MIC turned out to be kind of a creeper. They put a camera in the shower, and lied about it. That's not healthy.

People who beat drums of war have so many dollars stuffed in their ears that they can't hear the cries of people killed by bombs and bullets.

A bit more polish on that sentence could make it in a poetic gem. Seriously.

Curious - should we be crucifying Stanford as well?


Why not? UCB caught quite a bit of flak over John Yoo. If a med school were to employ one of the psychologists who helped design torture at Gitmo I wouldn't expect that to remain quiet.

I really hope that these top posts on HN influence at least some employees at Dropbox to resign publicly because Dropbox's core (meaty revenue generating) users aren't HN readers anymore, but the mass market & enterprises that aren't going to care.

You have that backwards. Plenty of corporate managers will look at this addition to the board of directors and think "A serious adult non-tech leader just joined, I can now take this company seriously."

I think it's important to ask not only whether somebody is a good ideological representative for a company, but also whether ousting them does us any good.

The parties on both sides of the Rice/Dropbox debate have good arguments:

* Ms. Rice has been a very important representative of a US administration that caused a lot of people to die in Iraq and elsewhere;

* but she is not the only one in the government of that day, and many other (non-bullied) politicians are complicit as well;

* and the current president has not shown much anti-torture sympathies either, yet him being branded a Democrat makes him much less of a target.

I believe channeling energy to make Ms. Rice leave Dropbox solves nothing. Channeling the same outrage to make the elective system into a non-money-based race, to make the politicians accountable for what they promise before elections -- that may solve something.

As a non-American, stating an opinion is about all I can help you with. Good luck!

> solves nothing

Sometimes, the best solution for bad behavior is making it have consequences.

> promise before elections

By that logic, Bush and Rice met their promises. They didn't say they wouldn't invade anyone, they said they wouldn't do nation building.

> By that logic, Bush and Rice met their promises. They didn't say they wouldn't invade anyone, they said they wouldn't do nation building.

I think NotOscarWilde is making a more general point about American politics here. There were many things Bush (and every other president in my lifetime) promised and failed to deliver on: lowering the debt, funding Pell grants, etc.

> Sometimes, the best solution for bad behavior is making it have consequences.

You do realize this opinion aims to punish somebody because people can't touch her using the judicial system, right?

We have to use the tools available to us, and the only one is the court of public opinion.

Bush actually campaigned on a "humble foreign policy" in the 2000 election. [1]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_W._Bush_presidential_cam...

> I believe channeling energy to make Ms. Rice leave Dropbox solves nothing

To me, your reasoning reads as "accountability solves nothing".

Boycotting Dropbox because of Ms. Rice empowers people to bring symbolic accountability on powerful individuals who have been shielded from being held properly accountable for their actions. So many examples of individuals threatened with decades in jail for really not much, while powerful elites are shielded against being held fully accountable for their roles in infinitely worst.

>The parties on both sides of the Rice/Dropbox debate have good arguments: Ms. Rice has been a very important representative of a US administration that caused a lot of people to die in Iraq and elsewhere;*

I actually think this part is besides the point. The problem for me is her leading role in an administration that performed extensive and expanding illegal surveillance of Americans. A cloud storage company welcoming her on to their board makes my hair stand on end.

How are those two things at all comparable? Changing the elective system might require nothing short of a constitutional amendment. At least voicing outrage about Rice/Dropbox raises awareness of privacy issues. You can't just say, "this one thing your doing isn't going to make a radical paradigm shifting difference, so you should just sit around until someone drops one of those in your lap."

> You can't just say "this one thing your doing isn't going to make a radical paradigm shifting difference, so you should just sit around until someone drops one of those in your lap."

You're presenting a false dichotomy.

If I am concerned with how my government handles privacy, shouldn't I take it up with the government? If I am concerned with how my goverment tortures and murders people, shouldn't I take it up with the goverment?

I understand people like Ms. Rice are hard to prosecute because most of the government data that would serve as evidence are kept secret for a long time, if not forever. Isn't that just another point which you should take up with the government? Bullying some private citizen because you can't sue him through legal means seems hardly fair.

other (non-bullied) politicians

Is this how people are co-opting the term "bullied" now? To describe criticism of prominent people in public life? C'mon. Condoleeza Rice served in two presidential administrations. She is not some ingenue who accidentally stumbled into the spotlight.

That's why I don't trust her, she strikes me as strongly colluding and justifying. We cannot trust at least Bush Jr and every person involved in Obama's Administration. It's hard to believe that we did worse than Bush.

That said, I am immediately investigating getting rid of dropbox.

Have we learned nothing from the Mozilla incident ? Liberals do not forget. Liberals do not forgive. Not even the liberals donating against gay marriage themselves [1].

This happens when people get power and feel confident. Perfect ideological adherence is a basic condition, hurting and damaging valuable people the order of the day [2].

And what makes people attackable by these liberals ? Because Obama kills babies in their sleep using robots paid by taking 50% of your paycheck. That does not seem to damage him.

And, it doesn't really matter what the answer to that question is, I'll hate people even more if I ever do find out I think.

Enjoy it while it lasts, guys. Because it won't last.

[1] http://blog.sfgate.com/techchron/2014/04/08/okcupid-ceo-once... [2] http://www.bitstampede.com/2014/04/06/standing-strong-and-st...

I wonder how many people here will feel the same about, for instance, Rahm in Chicago, or others of Obama's circle of friends, when they begin moving into private business? Will they be held to the same standards?

DK's letter is from 2002. Which makes it even more admirable.

I've seen a lot of comments here pontificate about being above "political litmus tests." Torture is political? Death on mass scale is political now? Wiretapping is political? Violation of international law is a political stance? Noam Chomsky thanks you for proving his points for him.

"Politics" is a hobby that can only be done in private between 5:39 and 5:43.

Knuth never stops to amaze me. I didn't study CS, so to me he is one of those places that I probably never go. But still gaze with admiration and a little bit of terror.

Cached copy here[1].

[1] http://www.google.com/url?sa=D&q=http://www.google.com/searc...

>> P.S. This is the second time in my life that I have written a letter to a U.S. government official. The first time was during the Vietnam war.

I wonder if he wrote it to Lyndon B. Johnson asking why he started the war in the first place or perhaps querying how much involvement he had in the Kennedy assassination.



"that almost blindly supports Israel's increasingly unjustifiable occupation"... I wonder why that one hasn't been called out yet. Where are the Israel fanatics?

She has been an outspoken apologist for some pretty heinous policies. It is rational to assume she hasn't changed.

Oh, and for our friendly HN militants, who are coming out in droves to support the Iraq war:


Occam's razor is your friend.

I am glad to see an American stating the following:

>If we peremptorily strike country X, why shouldn't country X have a right to do the same to us, and to our children and grandchildren in future years?

down for me, this is the google cached version for the lazy: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3Ahttp%...

> almost blindly supports Israel's increasingly unjustifiable occupation

Stopped reading since there, since it sounds like a usual blind rant and not anything to do with reality or reason. The moment conflict in Israel kicks in, many otherwise reasonable people lose common sense (it can go in either direction about the sides of the conflict IMHO). Not sure why it's so really.

Otherwise valid criticism is discredited by such cliche phrases which don't suit someone like Knuth.

>Not sure why it's so really.

FWIW I think it's because the debate over the occupation of Palestine usually devolves into name-calling and accusations of anti-semitism etc within the space of.. well minutes at best, usually. Many people flip their "froth at the mouth" bit pretty quickly under those circumstances, be they reasonable people or not.. and so we see little reasoned debate on the subject.

No one cares about "stopped reading" pronouncements. Spare us and tell your goldfish instead.

Do you think I care about you not caring? Not in the least. Especially if you try to tell me not to express my opinion.

It's the "stopped reading" meme that's obnoxious, and probably a lie too in this case given the whole thing is less than a page.

It's not a lie. I stopped reading from there, since it discredited his criticism for me, by showing that he uses stereotypical cliches, rather than something substantial. In general I agree that Condoleezza Rice has a lot to be criticized for, but throwing in cliche phrases doesn't help his cause.

This whole episode reminds me that staunch liberals are no different than religious fundamentalists AFAIK. Same nature, different nurture.

Both groups hypocrisy knows no bounds.

What hypocrisy are you speaking of? Why do you feel that his questioning the motivation of war makes Knuth a "staunch liberal?"

Why not talk about Obama's war in Afghanistan, or increasing tensions with Russia, or abuse of spying? Way more relevant than a 12 year old letter...

Everyone is guilty of having opinions and actions that others do not like so let's just boycott everything and everybody and be done with it.

and she's a dropbox board member!

I don't understand what people are admiring here. This "letter" is nothing more than a meaningless rant by a person whose field of expertise has nothing to do with politics, economy, international relations or terrorism. Donald Knuth is a great computer scientist, but hearing him talking about international politics is like hearing any other random person on the street.

Also: "...and that almost blindly supports Israel's increasingly unjustifiable occupation".


Let the downvotes begin.

What do you find unserious in that statement about Israel?

Just that regardless of your political inclinations, you need to be extremely ignorant of the complexity of the situation in the Middle East to be able to make such clear cut statements about what's justifiable and what's not.

Disclaimer: I live in Israel.

Please correct me if I'm wrong: within living memory, a large area of land already occupied by many humans was unilaterally declared not to belong to them anymore, and they were largely either forced out or subjugated to make way for a different batch of humans who wanted to live, literally, in their houses.

My nation did something very similar to the Native Americans more than a century ago, and it's now universally regarded as an atrocity.

Of course none of this means that suicide bombers are justified or that Israeli children are war criminals. The world is more complicated than that, as you say; whole generations of innocent Israelis have now grown up on that land, and no more deserve to be forcibly displaced than the original occupants did. But I've never heard a convincing justification as to why the occupation was morally justified in the first place, and it doesn't become more justified with time.

Yes. Drawing conclusions based on isolated events, without attempting to understand the reality or the context in which those things happen, and without hearing the other side of the story, is a good indicator of ignorance.

About this particular event's "other side of the story", see [0].

"[Read Zuaiter] did not try to seize the gun of a soldier as Israelis claim, an eyewitness at the scene said Tuesday. The Israeli army stated after the killing that the ''the terrorist'' (= the judge) attacked a soldier with an iron rod while crying ''Alalahu akbar''."

Also, the article shows that this kind of incident is not so 'isolated' as you say.

Disclaimer: I work with young people who left Israel.

[0] http://the-pessoptimist.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/israel-kills-...

isolated events? I can keep on posting links for the next few days, if you want me to...

It doesn't get any clearer than that...

You lost me at almost blindly supports Israel's increasingly unjustifiable occupation.

Why is it that people who know so much about one thing feel compelled to open their big mouths about something else they clearly know so little about?

Which part are you objecting about, the implication that the US blindly supports Israel, or the implication that Israel's occupations are unjustifiable?

Anybody who holds a simple one-sided opinion on Israel/Palestine is wrong, full-stop.

Criticizing US government officials for their excessive support of Israel is reasonable. Blanketing all of Israel's various incursions into Palestinian territory as "unjustifiable" is bad for the discussion and makes an otherwise-reasonable person look extremist.

In 2002 Israel was killing Palestinians with tanks instead of with hunger and blockades.

Must be a zionist :)

I can't really handle this... Is this what we've become? So short sighted?

I know few who didn't want to blow up the entire middle east after 9/11, right, wrong, or indifferent. I'm also fairly sure government was relatively in agreement about the war when it started.

Unless you hold EVERYONE in the current administration, and everyone in government in general for the past 20 years regardless of party to the same standard, stop it here.

Torture? OK. Hasn't stopped. Stealing of information? Hasn't stopped. Didn't start with them, if you don't believe that, you're ignorant. Just obvious evidence of it starts here.

In the end, do you think that DropBox leadership didn't think about this? I hope they did, and were prepared for it.

I'm rambling a bit, but some of the anger here I guarantee won't be directed equally.

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