Author Archive for



13
Apr
14

world in my eyes

world eye

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Depeche Mode performing “The World in My Eyes”

12
Apr
14

blur

blur

Blur is an English rock band, formed in London in 1989. The group consists of singer/keyboardist Damon Albarn, guitarist/singer Graham Coxon, bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree.

Since Blur’s debut album Leisure in 1991, it has gone through many changes  which have spanned the genres of alternative rock, Britprop, and indie rock and included a four-year hiatus in the mid-nineties while members of the group worked on other projects including the band Gorillaz. The cohesion of the band was so poor that Coxon and James were replaced by a cardboard cutout and roadie for a lip-synced Blur performance broadcast on Italian television. A Blur biographer later wrote that, at the time, “Blur were sewn together very awkwardly”.

Although I have featured a couple of Blur songs as the Groove of the Day, I have never particularly drawn your attention to this band. The selection, “Song 2″ below, brought Blur mainstream success in the United States after 1997.

In late 2008, Blur announced its return for a series of concerts in the following year, and have continued to release several singles and retrospective releases, as well as tour internationally. In 2012, Blur received a Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Blur performing “Song 2

11
Apr
14

guilty until proven innocent

jury
The death of the presumption of innocence
A dirty secret of the American judicial system is that juries are hardly fair and impartial
By Andrew Cohen, The Week
April 10, 2014
Imagine you are a defendant awaiting trial on criminal charges that could send you to prison for the rest of your life. You are sitting at the counsel table during voir dire, the process by which a jury is selected before a trial.

The prosecutor asks a potential juror: “You haven’t heard any evidence. How would you vote?” The potential juror responds: “I would have to vote guilty.”

Your trial judge pipes up. He’s supposed to ensure that you receive a fair trial and that the jurors who will sit in judgment upon you are neutral, objective, and willing to see and hear the evidence with an open mind. The judge asks the prospective juror: “Could you return a verdict of not guilty if the government doesn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt?” The would-be juror responds: “I don’t think I would be able to.”

The prosecutor—who wants this juror on the panel because he wants to convict you—presses on. He asks the juror: “Let’s say the victim takes the stand [and] you flat-out don’t believe her. In fact, you think she’s lying. You look at her [and conclude], ‘I don’t believe a word coming out of her mouth.’ Are you going to convict this man anyway?”

The potential juror responds: “That depends. I still feel he was at fault.”

How would you feel if this juror were allowed to join the panel that determined your fate? Would you feel as though you had received a fair trial by an impartial panel, as the Sixth Amendment commands? Or would you feel that the trial judge had failed to protect your presumption of innocence?

My guess is you would feel cheated. I know I would. But yet this precise scenario unfolded in California in 2009. This juror was allowed to serve on this trial. And to date, no judge has declared it a violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights.

Now, in this particular case, the defendant, Jose Felipe Velasco, was accused of an extremely heinous crime. He was an alleged serial child rapist who had gotten a 14-year-old girl pregnant after having some form of sex with her 21 times. But that should not change our minds about whether this man should be presumed innocent and be entitled to a fair trial. Indeed, this is precisely why we have constitutional rights in criminal cases—so that fairness and due process come even to the despised.

R. Scott Moxley, a veteran reporter and columnist for OC Weekly, brought this story to national prominence this week—and it’s a remarkably ugly picture in every way. Not only were the charges awful, not only is this defendant as unsympathetic a figure as the criminal justice system churns out, but the way the case was handled was ignoble, too. Thousands of years’ worth of the presumption of innocence shouldn’t go out the window just because a defendant is accused of heinous crimes.

The potential juror in the case, known today only as Juror 112, was permitted to sit in judgment upon Velasco only after she promised—after extensive questioning by the prosecutor, and over the objection of defense attorneys—that she thought she could “try” to be fair to the defendant. This “promise” was good enough for the trial judge, a former prosecutor, as well as two federal judges who later reviewed the transcript to determine whether Velasco’s Sixth Amendment rights had been violated.

What were these judges thinking? We’ll never really know. Unlike Juror 112, the jurists did not volunteer any candid assessments of the situation. They did not fully explain how any reasonable person, reviewing the transcript of the jury selection process before Velasco’s trial, could have come away from it believing that this juror was going to give the defendant the benefit of all reasonable doubts. It was enough, they said, that she pledged to “try.”

The dirty secret here is that what happened in this case happens every day in courtrooms all over the country. Judges and lawyers are desperate to seat juries, while potential jurors are desperate to avoid jury duty or to put their stamp upon the proceedings. As a result, the business of selecting jurors occurs with a sort of wink and a nod. Jurors are asked to put aside whatever preconceived notions they have about a case—or about justice generally, or about the defendant in particular—and so long as they say they will do so they are allowed to join a panel that determines, in some cases, who lives and who dies, and who goes to prison for 123 years to life.

Sometimes, as we see here, the benefit inures to prosecutors. Velasco’s prosecutor wanted this juror on the panel because he knew that she would vote to convict the defendant. And so he attempted to “rehabilitate” her in the eyes of the judge. Think about the metaphysical ramifications of that: we ask citizens, like this juror, to lie about their open-mindedness so that we may place them on juries where they then are charged with determining which witnesses are lying during their trial testimony.

But sometimes this fuzziness during voir dire helps the defendant. I will never forget Michael Tigar, the greatest trial lawyer I ever saw, save Oklahoma City bombing defendant Terry Nichols’ life during jury selection when he convinced a juror who was opposed to the death penalty (and thus technically ineligible to sit on a capital jury) to keep an open mind about it. On and on the questioning went until she promised to do so. And then, guess what? She was likely one of the jurors who refused to recommend a death sentence for Timothy McVeigh’s co-conspirator.

Why does it matter if a child rapist is judged by people who consider him guilty before they have seen any of the evidence against him? Because the presumption of innocence goes back thousands of years, to the Old Testament, to Greek and to Roman law, and to English common law, from which American law was born. Because the United States Supreme Court, 120 years ago in a case styled Coffin v. United States, decreed that “the principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our current law.”

That is still the law of this land. It has not since been overturned. There are no exceptions to that rule in cases of alleged murderers or child rapists. Judges and jurors don’t get to decide when they will honor this rule and when they won’t. The “rehabilitation” of jurors like Juror 112 may have sped up the pace of Velasco’s trial but it created a result that violates the Constitution and is unworthy of any respect.

The lesson here isn’t that Juror 112 should have just kept to herself her visceral prejudgment of the case. The lesson is that our justice system needs to react more justly when citizens like this are so candid in declaring their unworthiness to serve.

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News. He has covered the law and justice beat since 1997 and was the 2012 winner of the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award for commentary.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Atoms For Peace at a live performance of ” Judge, Jury and Executioner”

Listen to Atoms For Peace in a studio performance of “Judge, Jury and Executioner”

Which do you like best?

10
Apr
14

can money buy happiness?

There are apparently a lot of basic questions being asked about money at Harvard these days. Scientists are being paid and put to the task. If we keep score by how many toys you can afford to buy, is making a lot of money really going to make you happy?

I’d guess that having money is kind of a “given,” a social norm, common to Harvard students. So I’m glad these basic questions are being asked at Harvard. They need it more than most.

One Harvard professor has focused on the question: “Does money make you mean?”

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Piff 1600x1200Watch Paul Piff’s TED Talk: “Does Money Make You Mean?”

Another Harvard professor, putting a little more positive spin on it, has looked at the happy people and asked the question: “How does money buy you happiness?”

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Norton

Watch Michael Norton’s TED Talk: “How to Buy Happiness

Their findings are, in short: Yes, money does have have a tendency (in as much as 40% of people) to turn you into a self-absorbed, selfish person who may be regarded as a jerk by other people. The most effective antidote is to spend a little bit of your money on other people. Keep being generous towards your girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, or kids, but don’t forget the distant friend or even a complete stranger. The academics call this prosocial behavior. The whole world needs sweetening.

You can listen to one or both of these TED talks; the researcher’s findings are fascinating. I really mean it. You can also count on this as being true and proved by science: you will be happy, no matter how well-off or average you may be, if you make generosity a habit, a characteristic with which you interact with the world.

donate hands

Make a contribution to the Redemption Project by clicking the link at the top of this page or clicking here.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to The Beatles performing “Can’t Buy Me Love”

09
Apr
14

nickel creek

Nickel Creek4

A few days ago I wrote a bit about the Clemens Initiative, and then gave in again to procrastination. Pursuing new tunes was supposed to provide new motivation to overcoming my writing hump, but instead became a diversion… at least for a day or two. So here’s another attempt to move on.

There are three things which contribute to parricides having one of the lowest recidivism rates among former inmates.

First, statistics tell us that once the abusive parent is out of the picture, more than 90% of parricides will never go on to commit another crime of any kind. This is not attributable to the rehabilitative qualities of our prisons but, rather, to the fact that parricides are not common criminals, but a niche subset all to themselves.

Second, strength of character is the decisive factor in my determination of whether or not to take on a young person. This work got started for me when I received a letter from Derek King in which he was absolutely honest with me about having committed the murder of his father. Since then, the first step in deciding whether to back a young person is receipt of a letter describing his/her story. Often times, such a letter is the first time a young person retells their story since the parricide event. These letters are very revealing and are the primary basis upon which I decide whether to make an investment in their futures.

Third is the unstinting and unconditional support of each young person, regardless of innocence or guilt. Whatever a young person says he/she needs to level the playing field and provide a genuine second chance, we will attempt to meet their needs over the course of their entire life. This includes the provision of skilled legal representation during the defense or appeal of the crime; in the absence of other financial support, a monthly stipend during their incarceration; books and tuition assistance to help them pursue their individual interests, skills, and goals; help in securing health care, adequate housing, transportation, and a good job in the prison-to-freedom transition; etc. In addition to these standard ways of supporting youth, we are committed to supporting their particular plans. Austin Eversole is currently engaged in getting the prison to reopen its woodworking shop and building cabinetry and furniture for internal and external clients. David McCullough, an artist, sells paintings and drawings on the outside. We will assist them however we can.

This commitment to individualized support is a tall order, and the unknowns of the future provide unlimited opportunities for promises not being kept or expectations not being met. For this reason, the parricide’s inheritance to a piece of Estrella Vista is the first thing provided. If all else fails, parricides are at least provided with the hope of a permanent home whenever they are eventually released.

The thing that initially so interested me about supporting a cluster of parricides is to encourage the idea of parricides supporting other parricides. I have Lone Heron–a 40-something parricide, author of Inherited Rage, and someone who is making it in the real world–corresponding with two of the four inmates at Clemens. It has been invaluable tracking her progress. The differences between life experiences among the correspondents have proved to be a real challenge for Lone Heron, and I hesitate to ask her to take additional correspondents into her circle. Yet she may find it refreshing to talk with people who have an older perspective. They have learned more.

I am gratified and impressed by Lone Heron’s dedication to this task. It shows the grit of her commitment to helping other people who have gone through similar events. It takes one’s acceptance of the past to a whole new level.

These developments within the Clemens Initiative are time-consuming and take their own twists and turns. Sometimes this leads to periods of quiet, like now, when new music takes center stage. Last weekend I discovered a band called Nickel Creek.

Nickel Creek (formerly known as The Nickel Creek Band) is an American progressive acoustic music trio consisting of Chris Thile (mandolin), Sara Watkins (fiddle) and Sean Watkins (guitar). Formed in 1989 in Southern California when Sean Watkins and Chris Thile had mandolin lessons with the same music instructor, they released six albums between 1993 and 2006. The band broke out in 2000 with a platinum-selling self-titled album produced by Alison Krauss, earning a number of Grammy and CMA nominations.

Their fourth album won a 2003 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Following a fifth studio album and a compilation album, the band announced an indefinite hiatus at the conclusion of their 2007 Farewell (For Now) Tour.Following numerous solo projects from the band members, Nickel Creek reformed in 2014 with announcement of a new album, A Dotted Line, and subsequent tour.

Nickel Creek Tx Road Sign

Just when I was beginning to view new music as the high-point of an otherwise eventless day, the film about Paul Henry Gingerich has aired again on the UK’s Channel 4, and in the last hour, over 3,000 people have found some of the posts I have written about him, Colt, and the crime. I have to go now and answer some emails from the Brits.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Nickel Creek performing “Destination

08
Apr
14

bye bye baby

andy hardy

Andy Hardy

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whitey marsh

Whitey Marsh

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dan troop 2

Dan Troop

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Huck Finn

Huck Finn

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joseph yule jr

Joseph Yule, Jr.

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Mr. Yunioshi

Mr. Yunioshi

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bill

Bill

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1920-2014

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Janis Joplin performing “Bye Bye Baby”

07
Apr
14

marmalade

citrus 1

I’m avoiding writing again, and instead familiarizing myself with old music that I haven’t known of before. Case in point: The Marmalade.

The Marmalade was a Scottish pop rock group from the east end of Glasgow, originally formed in 1961 as the Gaylords, and then later billed as Dean Ford and the Gaylords. In 1966 they changed the group name to The Marmalade. The most successful period for the band, in terms of UK chart success, was between 1968 and 1972.

marmalade

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It rained very briefly last night… about five raindrops fell on my roof. I wish this event had been an inspiration for today’s selection. My pond needs filling.

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citrus 2

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Groove of the Day

Listen to The Marmalade performing “I See The Rain”

06
Apr
14

the war on drugs

Smoking Youth 2

No, this post is not about America’s failed policy of prohibition, but about a band I have just discovered while putting off writing you a post about my latest experiment in parricide support, underway for some time now, here in Texas.

Yes, Texas.

I know I have been reluctant, until meeting Austin Eversole, to take on any Texas cases because I had wanted the extra insulation from lawsuits and physical threats this “rule” would provide. But I have discovered a cluster of parricides serving time in a prison, Clemens Unit, in the greater Houston area, and my interest in the possibilities of such a situation overcame any feelings of queasiness I previously felt about taking on Texas cases.

Besides Austin Eversole (aged 21 and serving a 40-year sentence), are: David Childress (aged 24 and serving a 40-year sentence), Travis Tyler (aged 35 and serving a 99-year sentence), and David McCullough (aged 32 and serving a 40-year sentence). All in one place. All parricides. Each one with a different story. But all thrown away by society.

In most cases, we are the first to express an interest in helping them in any way since their sentences began.

Texas, at any rate, is experiencing some changes which may well affect the rest of America, and I want us to be a part of those changes.

First of all, Texas is changing from a “Red” state to a “Purple” state in its politics. Second, it is experiencing an apparent economic “boom” in its growth. Third, its burgeoning minority population is questioning the “cowboy justice” mentality which has dominated Texas culture up until now.

Hell yes, I want us involved in that action.

We have not been invited into the prison by the state, but by the inmates. The inmates have agreed to our basic plan of action, if not the particulars. They are still trying to get their heads around the enormity of our commitment to them; they do not yet know what they should be asking for. There is no “grand plan” or “program.” It is an inductive process that unfolds gradually, opportunistically, the future lying hidden around the next curve.

The only things we know for sure is that we will help them to win shorter sentences at the parole board, that we will offer a place to live and work after prison (a permanent anchor in their lives), that we will support each of these young men in their goal of tapping their innate talents and abilities in forging worthwhile, rewarding lives for themselves. We will publicize their stories in the media as a means for building public support for them. What happens to them in the prison will brought to the attention of the public. If there are legal reasons for the appeals of their sentences, we will pursue those.

But we don’t know how these objectives will be achieved, only what they are. We are aware that making progress towards these objectives will depend on getting along with the state authorities every step of the way.

It’s hard to write about such prospective activity without blowing smoke up your ass (to put it crudely). This is more a matter of adopting a realistic position than selling a vision. Our first site visit to Clemens won’t happen for 60 days as part of a filming project being undertaken by an international news network. We are still working out the permissions of state and facility officials, so there is a lot that can still fall out of bed. So far, everything looks good, but experience shows that it pays to be skeptical.

But I digress. This post is about a band which is new to me. A sound I’m pretty excited about.

The War on Drugs is an American indie rock band from Philadelphia PA, formed in 2005. The band consists of Adam Granduciel (vocals, guitar), David Hartley (bass, guitar), Robbie Bennett (keyboards, guitar), and Patrick Berkery (drums). Founded by close collaborators Granduciel and Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs released their debut studio album, Wagonwheel Blues, in 2008. Vile departed shortly after its release to focus on his solo career. The band’s second studio album Slave Ambient was released in 2011 to critical acclaim and extensive touring. A third album, Lost in the Dream, was released in March 2014.

I like the following selection because of its energy level. Having enough energy to meet the growing expectations of me has recently been quite a challenge. Lately I have been turning into a grumpy old man, and find myself easily aggravated by any contacts with people on the outside. I think it is because I find it so difficult to deal with people and things outside the predictable norms of my daily routine.

Maybe if I keep listening to music like this, I will be motivated to write more about my Clemens Initiative.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to The War On Drugs performing “Red Eyes”

 

 

05
Apr
14

out

This is a development that seems to have taken “political correctness” a step too far. I don’t agree with Eich’s views, but I do believe he has a right to hold his opinions as long as they do not interfere with the way he runs a public company. Tyranny is a real possibility on both ends of the political spectrum and every step in between.

I have chosen this article for re-publication, not only because its views reflect my own, but because it came from a magazine once led by a famously-gay publisher.

We should all feel we can privately hold unpopular views without fear of losing our jobs or worse.

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Mozilla’s Brendan Eich: Persecutor Or Persecuted?

by Susan Adams, Forbes
April 4, 2014

brendan eichThe ousting of Brendan Eich as CEO of Mozilla seems to be a first in the history of American corporations. After just two weeks in the top job, Eich stepped down as chief of the company that makes the popular Firefox web browser. Though CEOs have taken heat for their positions on controversial issues—Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein has said the investment bank lost at least one major client because he holds the opposite view from Eich, in favor of gay marriage—none have ever resigned their posts as a result of public protest.

Eich was apparently pushed out by the board.  Yesterday executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker put up a blog post that said, “We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves.”

Eich’s departure came shortly after employees at Mozilla brought to light the fact that back in 2008, he had donated $1,000 to support Proposition 8, a California law that banned same-sex marriage (courts have since struck down the measure). That news made its way across Twitter and the popular dating site, OkCupid, which posted a letter saying “Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples.” It went on, “We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.” Though Eich apologized for causing “pain” and insisted he could separate his personal views from the way he ran the company, that didn’t wash with the board.

Since the Eich news broke yesterday, there has been a flood of opinion both for and against his move. Among those in favor: Sam Biddle, a writer at the online publication Valley Wag, who wrote, “Good for Mozilla, good for OkCupid, and good for everyone, really. Now let’s do racism next!” In the San Jose Mercury News, Michelle Quinn wrote, “[I]n this era of transparency, he didn’t do enough to save his job. He failed to realize that these days, the CEO of a tech company is more like a politician than a business executive.”

On the other side, the sharpest critic of Eich’s ouster is Andrew Sullivan, the popular writer of the Daily Dish blog who is openly gay and an early supporter of gay marriage. “The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society,” he wrote. “If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out.” On Twitter, many agreed with Sullivan. “The mob got their man,” wrote Matt Galligan, CEO of news startup Circa. “While I disagree with his beliefs @BrendanEich gave us JavaScript and helped build Mozilla & Netscape. Just $1,000 to Prop 8 now his legacy.”  The news even prompted Michael Barbaro, a reporter at The New York Times, where news writers are supposed to keep their personal opinions to themselves, to tweet, “This is giant news, and makes me wonder, is opposition to gay marriage now a boardroom crime?”

The answer to that question seems to be yes. I talked to two crisis communications consultants who said that the not-so-new reality in Silicon Valley is that if executives want to hold the top job, they can’t oppose gay rights. Paul Argenti, a professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business who is also a corporate communications consultant and the author of the textbook, Corporate Communications, regrets Eich’s firing. “We should respect the privacy of people to believe and do whatever they want,” he says. “Otherwise who is going to become a leader?” But, he adds, “If you have designs on being the CEO, you have to realize your private life is not as private as you think.” Though Argenti believes that Mozilla should have protected Eich’s right to hold private political views that conflicted with popular opinion, “he made a bad decision by not realizing this could happen.”

Eric Dezenhall, who runs a crisis communications firm in Washington DC, agrees with Argenti and goes a step further. “There is a very specific narrative today on certain issues and if you step an inch out of bounds, you’re going to get fouled or worse,” he says. “He stepped on one of the three great land mines: gay rights, race and the environment. You don’t have to have made flagrantly terrible statements to get into trouble now.” Though most people view corporate America as being right wing, contends Dezenhall, over the last three decades, companies have increasingly made public statements that show their progressive stripes.

There are exceptions: Chief operating officer Dan Cathy of fast food chain Chick-fil-A has made millions in donations to anti-LGBT organizations and has spoken out strongly against gay marriage. But the company is closely held and based in Atlanta, rather than Silicon Valley and Cathy has kept his job. DIY chain Hobby Lobby is in the news now for opposing a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires company health insurance to cover contraception. But like Chick-fil-A, the company is based far from Silicon Valley, in Oklahoma City and its position isn’t held by a lone executive.

Though I am a strong supporter of gay rights and marriage equality and I thought Proposition 8 was a travesty, my first reaction to the Eich news was the same as Andrew Sullivan’s: If Eich wanted privately to support that bill, but didn’t discriminate against gay employees or advocate the company quit providing benefits to domestic partners, then he shouldn’t be fired for his views. But the news of the past day underlines the points made by Argenti and Dezenhall: We live in a time when it’s nearly impossible to keep private views private and as Quinn says, corporate leaders must realize that they are now subject to the same scrutiny as politicians, especially on radioactive issues like gay marriage.

A piece in today’s Wall Street Journal points out another practical reason that Eich’s private views could have presented a problem for Mozilla: the company is hoping to renew a major contract with Google, a company that strongly supports gay rights. The Journal talked to a Mozilla insider who said the deal might have been put in jeopardy by Eich’s leadership.

One more irony in the controversy: Mozilla, which grew out of Netscape, is made up of a nonprofit foundation and its taxpaying subsidiary. The organization develops open-source, free software relying on its own employees and a community of third-party developers. You would think that such an open, transparent set-up would invite tolerance of private beliefs that may run against what has become the mainstream. But that is obviously not the case.

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Susan Adams is a staff writer for Forbes.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Gayle Barnett performing “We’ll Sing In The Sunshine

 

04
Apr
14

change the world

change the world

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Ten Years After performing “I’d Love to Change the World”




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