Scobleizer Weblog

Daily Permalink Saturday, December 27, 2003

Chris Sells is providing a chance for all of us to ask Don Box a question.

My question? Do you want to kill the Web? If so, what could be better than the Web?

Ali Parvaresh, in Tehran, tells me that the best thing Americans can do to help Iranians who've been devastated in the earthquake there is to donate money to the Iranian Red Cross. Remember to make sure your company knows of your donation, since many companies will match your donation with more money (Microsoft does).

I just saw on the news that 200 Americans are on their way to help with the search efforts. These are highly-trained people, many with dogs, who can help find victims buried in rubble. I've met a few of these people in past events, and they really are excellent and dedicated. Many of the dogs will work 20 hours a day. The first week is the best chance to find survivors. I wish I could go and help, but I'd probably just be in the way.

Ali has a bunch of links on his blog, including some heartening ones that we're strengthening diplomatic ties because of this disaster.

By the way, Ali's a .NET programmer, and is part of a growing geek community in Tehran.

Pete Cole calls into question my skills as a technology evangelist cause he saw that I want all sorts of different things to come from Microsoft out of the box. He's right. And this is a conflict.

It's a conflict that'll always be going on. No matter what platform you're on. When I was in the Apple store yesterday, I took a look at OSX. It ships with a ton of stuff, and then you can buy a whole bunch of Apple apps like iLife.

Let's be clear, though. Microsoft won't do it all. I don't know of an effort to do a nice RSS News Aggregator. Certainly nothing like Feed Demon or NewsGator.

But, Pete only looks at the "black helicopter" view. How about the optimistic point of view? That Microsoft might buy your technology.

Microsoft buys a lot of stuff from ISVs. In fact, if you look at Microsoft's history, it has acquired far more technology than it has built internally.

When I wrote that post, I was focusing on customer needs. You know, the folks who'll go into Fry's and buy a computer. And, yes, they do want more stuff included in Windows.

What do I think Microsoft needs to do? Increase transparency so that developers like Pete feel comfortable spending 18 months building a cool app for Longhorn (that's a huge investment and guys like Pete will only do it if there's a decent chance of a payoff on the end of the cycle). In 2004 the team I'm on will be pushing the transparency barrier for just that reason.

19-year-old Rob advocates putting religion back into schools, and other public displays.

He says it's war on Christmas and Christians.

There are few ideas more repugnant in today's society than this one.

First, there is a geek angle to this. The reason I'm sitting in the midst of the most powerful conglomeration of geeks anywhere in the world is because of this issue. It is no accident that my wife's family moved halfway around the world to here. They are geeks. Their country was run by religious leaders like Rob who thought that religious and political systems should be one and the same.

But, it goes deeper than that.

Second, Rob's arguments weaken because he mischaracterizes the ACLU's stance on things. Rob is totally free to put a Christian display on his front lawn, the ACLU would argue, but the mayor of the town Rob lives in should not be allowed to put a religious symbol on the front lawn of city hall. Rob's 19, I hear, so I'll explain the difference in a few.

One minor point. Your ideas are much stronger if you post your full name. Why? Because that tells me you're willing to put up with the consequences of your ideas. Not putting your full name on your ideas is cowardly. It's telling me "I don't want my future bosses to read my ideas on Google." Well, you might look into why you feel your ideas aren't worth signing.

OK, let's get into the meat.

One thing before we begin. I used to believe the same way Rob does. I used to attend Church and was a "born again" Christian. Back when I was 19 I saw the world in black and white. Thought that Christians should be in charge of America. Saw the world as "you're either for us, or against us." And when I was thinking "us" I wasn't thinking Americans. I was thinking "believers."

Funny thing, though. Silicon Valley back then was mostly white. Mostly Christian. At least to my world-view (I grew up in Cupertino and Saratoga, on the west side of the valley).

As I got older, Silicon Valley started to change. Vietnamese moved in. Chinese moved in. Indians moved in. Iranians moved in.

Last weekend I was at the Great Mall in Milpitas with my Iranian brother-in-law. As thousands of people swirled around us (it was standing room only inside the mall) Aram asked me "so, how does it feel to be the only American in the mall?"

I looked at him with a glare and said "everyone here is an American." He clarified what he meant. "I mean you're the only guy I see who's white." I looked around and damn if it wasn't true.

I've had a unique view -- I've married into a family that didn't live here 20 years ago. The reason they came here? Religious persecution. Why again is the ideas that Rob puts forth repugnant? Ask my wife. She and her friends were harrassed by government thugs with machine guns for simply laughing. This was during the Iran/Iraq war. Other friends were harrassed for holding hands. Some were even caned.

Even today people are killed and/or harrassed for not sticking in line with what the government's leaders believe. Women must wear "appropriate" clothing (even while participating in sports).

If you have a party in your home, you must not serve alcohol and men and women who are not married must be separated into separate rooms. I watched a wedding video, taken recently, where the wedding party had separate rooms for men and women. All because of religious beliefs. All because religious leaders have control of the political system.

Now, this might sound like I'm anti-religious. Please, that's a separate issue altogether. Religion is an idea. We can discuss whether that idea is a good one some other time.

This might also sound like I'm anti-Christian. Please, that's also a separate idea. We can discuss the thousands of world's religions and whether one is better than another some other time.

Instead, focus in on what Rob's asking for. He wants it to be OK for schools to establish religion. Market it. Push it. Think about it. A teacher who is allowed to make her class sing a "Christian" song. Hello, what about the Muslim kid in the back row? What about the atheist kid? What about the Jewish kid? What about the kid who believes in some new-age religion? The JW kid (they aren't allowed to celebrate Christmas, by the way)?

But, no, Rob wants it to be OK to push his ideas on others who have other ideas about how to lead their lives.

Rob does have some other points. For instance, he says that we should consistently deal with all religious displays. Implicit in his arguments is an "display them all, or display none" point of view. I totally agree with that, although I'd take the "display none" point of view. Governments should not establish religion. At least that's what our constitution says. So, government officials. You know, teachers, staff, mayors, senators, etc should not do anything that favors one religion over another. And, yes, I include Atheism in that bunch.

Yeah, I know, our money says "in God we trust" and they "swear in" presidents and other elected officials over bibles and such. Personally these are rituals that are repugnant and should be removed. They are unconstitutional on their face and they are a slap in the face of the millions of Americans who do not believe them (or believe differently).

Now, to wrap this up. Why is this issue important to geeks? Well, what is being a geek? It's being someone who comes up with ideas and implements those ideas.

Our society is best served when we have the freedom to explore ideas without the worry of reprisals of government interference. In Iran, for instance, can you really be a geek? I say no. You aren't free to dream and come up with a wacky idea.

It's the wacky ideas that will cure cancer. Improve our lives. Get us to Mars. Feed the world's people.

In America we've watched what happens when we have a population that's free from religious persecution. We've become the richest and most powerful nation on earth.

But Rob's idea wants to turn us into the Christian equivilent of Iran. That's repugnant.

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Robert Scoble works at Microsoft. Everything here, though, is his personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. No warranties or other guarantees will be offered as to the quality of the opinions or anything else offered here.

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© Copyright 2004 Robert Scoble Last updated: 1/3/2004; 3:31:39 AM.