[conspire] A sometimes scarily small community, is ours

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Sun Jan 1 18:17:30 PST 2006

Quoting Adrien Lamothe (a_lamothe at yahoo.com):

> I attended a panel discussion event, at which the audience was invited
> to make contributory statements. A couple of audience members made
> what could be concieved as provocative statements (which were also, as
> far as I could tell, true statements.) One of the "experts" in the
> panel then stated that he "came from an era where people claimed
> ownership of their words, and there was none of this anonymous sniping
> from the sidelines." His statement sounded a lot like "no comments
> from the peanut gallery."

Adrien --

1.  There are certainly situations where the capacity for anonymous
commentary os very much A Good Thing.  We can both probably think of

2.  Certainly, not everyone who posts anonymously (let alone using
LWN-style "handles") in the community is a passive-agressive shithead
trying to backstab people.  But a large number of such backstabbing
shitheads in the Linux community _do_ seem to resort to anonymous
posting for attempted smear jobs.  Very often.  Thus my point.

I of course _never advised_ giving people credence for no better reason
than them being known "names".  What I said was that a significant
number of morally-challenged people in our community choose to use
anonymous (or pseudonymous) smear campaigns to personally attack
particular of our better known members to whom they've taken a dislike
for (generally) undisclosed reasons.

I would not _completely_ refuse to consider an apparent backstab from a
nameless (or effectively nameless) source -- but I would always be
pretty damned skeptical and want to know _why_ the accuser is unwilling
to stand behind his/her statement.  And it had bloody well better be
something a lot less pathetic than "But if I reveal my name, Eric Raymond 
might fly out with his guns and shoot me."

Experience shows that, statistically, it's actually because the accuser
doesn't want his/her own personal axe-grinding to be known, or knows
his/her charges are flimsy and doesn't want to be (justly) implicated
when the subterfuge is uncovered.  Or one accuser is posting under a
dozen fake logins, trying to convince the easily swayed that a vast
movement share the same views.  Or just basically the poster knows
he/she is doing something shameful and wants to get off scot-free.

I'm sorry, but I believe in names.  I believe in accountability.  People 
unwilling to stand behind what they say, who don't have an _extremely_
compelling reason, tend to get from me a quick gesture of contempt and
summary dismissal.

My point to Jim, in drawing the parallel between two such situations,
the other being (ongoing) anonymous backstabbing against Eric Raymond, 
was to politely suggest that Jim should do the same.

As should you.  As should everyone.

This also came up on the OSI license-discuss mailing list:  A critic
("Squiggle Slash <squiggleslash at yahoo.com>") sought to hound
then-president Russ Nelson out of his position, and therefore posted a
melodramatic and distortive characterisation of (and pointer to) a
rather poorly worded entry in Russ's personal blog on economics topics,
where Russ had attempted to make a sort of reductio ad absurdum argument
about blacks and the labour market.  The critic was (very obviously
erroneously) calling Russ a racist -- which was not at all the nature of
the blog post if you bothered to actually read it attentively.

You know what really pissed me off?  The tactic worked.  Even though I
and some others on OSI license-discuss mocked "Squiggle Slash" and
expressed extreme distaste, Russ was forced to resign -- because, in an
organisational setting, if even some anonymous shithead can succeed in
making you be perceived as being "controversial", you are a liability
and must be removed.

I think that is loathesome, and is sufficient reason why anonymous
mudslingers should always be received with the greatest of skepticism.

Here was my on-list reply to Squiggle Slash's initial post:

  Subject: Re: [OT] Russ Nelson's public relations 
  From: Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com> 
  Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2005 18:41:25 -0800 
  Quoting Squiggle Slash (squiggleslash at yahoo.com):
  To: license-discuss at opensoruce.org

  > Hi, squiggleslash here.


  >  I will try to keep this brief

  You know, Franz Kafka once had a really droll joke about that.

  Here's a suggestion:  If you ever really intend for your bizarre little
  context-challenged monomanias to be taken seriously, _start_ by putting
  a real name on them.  Preferably your own.

  > If you are the public face of an advocacy group, you
  > owe it to that group to be polite, diplomatic, and to
  > show tact, when in public.

  On the other hand, the smartest thing to do with cranks is generally to
  dismiss them out of hand.

(The Kafka joke was something like "Only a lawyer could write a 250 page
paper and call it a 'brief'.")  

Squiggle Slash then wrote me a whiney personal e-mail, talking about how
horribly disapointed he was that I was unwilling to take seriously his
urgent and vital critical comments merely because he wasn't using his 
real name.  Why, if he took potshots at people using his real name, he
might not get jobs in the future, or something like that.  I wasn't
very impressed:

  Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2005 20:45:11 -0800
  From: Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com>
  To: Squiggle Slash <squiggleslash at yahoo.com>
  Subject: Re: [OT] Russ Nelson's public relations

  Quoting Squiggle Slash (squiggleslash at yahoo.com):

  > I'm disappointed you feel that way Rick.

  Ahd who were you, again?

  > I regularly post on Slashdot and often post
  > information related to my job. I don't particularly
  > want to feel like I'm risking my career when I do.

  See, here's my perspective:  I always stand behind what I say, and it's
  a significant part of why I'm taken seriously -- in part because pretty
  much everyone's noticed the high correlation between irresponsible and
  scurrilous commentary and the trait of taking shots of others behind
  cover of anonymity.

  There are excellent reasons why some people occasionally have to hide
  their identities.  Engaging in personal attacks on significant public
  figures isn't among them.

  But I figure you already knew that.

He kept trying, in the same vein.  Why, he's a _whistleblower_!  I
should be fitting him for a halo.  Feh.  Just to clear the air:

  Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2005 10:42:28 -0800 
  From: Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com>
  To: Squiggle Slash <squiggleslash at yahoo.com>
  Subject: Re: [OT] Russ Nelson's public relations
  Reply-To: squiggleslash at yahoo.com

  Quoting Squiggle Slash (squiggleslash at yahoo.com):
  > And that, ultimately, is why you'll never get it. My comments weren't
  > a "personal attack on Russ Nelson", they were expressing strong
  > concerns about Russ Nelson's acts.

  On his friggin' _personal blog_.

  You sound really stupid nattering endlessly about a _personal blog_.
  But that doesn't bother you, because you have no common sense or sense
  of perspective.

  And, of course, no accountability.  Thus my point.

  > I'm going to let this issue rest. I invite you to act with the same
  > degree of maturity.

  And who were you, again?  I'm sorry, but you and all other anonymous
  Slashdot flamers can go to bloody blazes in my view, immediately,
  directly, and permanently, just like all other types of morally
  defective backstabbers.

  Scum.  Get out of my mailbox.

> His reference to the "sidelines" implied that the audience member's
> viewpoints were not as valid as the "expert" panel members, which is
> really funny when you consider that the audience was packed with
> "heavyweights."

Had I been one of those critics in the audience, I would have politely
rejoined by identifying myself, giving my full contact information,
stating that I absolutely stand behind what I maintain to others, and
(in very extreme cases) offering my attorney's name in case service of
process might be required.

The speaker can't have it both ways:  He can't dismiss critics "on the
sidelines" simply because they aren't identified and _also_ not let them
come forth and stand behind their claims.

And, were I one of those critics, if possible, I would _also_ point out
ways in which my claims could be verified, so that it's more obviously
not just a matter of personal authority.

You may recall from my prior e-mail my saying that, by training, I try
to carefully avoid staking my arguments on personal authority from the
beginning -- in part because that is an invitation to cheap-shot personal
attack that is irresistable to our passive-aggressive shithead faction, 
and in part because talking about the technology is simply more
interesting than arguing about personalities.

On matters within our field, finding an "expert" to listen to is for
technopeasants.  We shouldn't have to do that:  We're supposed to be
competent to examine evidence on its objective merits.

In your cited example, it sounds like very likely the speaker was,
actually, fooling approximately nobody in his handwave about "this
anonymous sniping from the sidelines".  Funny thing about that:  We 
tend to allow people to use transparent bullshit to move onwards, when 
they're in an awkward spot and otherwise trapped.  Everyone knows that
the excuse is devoid of merit, but nobody comments on it.  It's just 
social lubricant.  Pointing out that he was floating a fallacy was true
but pretty much beside the point:  The crowd had decided to allow the 
speaker to proceed under cover of a meritless-but-convenient excuse, the
audience-based critics having made their point.

That may or may not be an accurate description of _that_ particular
panel (you were there; I wasn't) -- but it sure resembles a number
_I've_ attended.

> [In the cited context] what is important are the concepts and
> information relevant to the topic, which is of vital concern to the
> community of people affected; what difference does it make who
> presents the points [...?]

None.  However, the fact that someone is unwilling to stand behind (by
name) his/her claim, especially a claim that's difficult or troublesome 
to verify and seems suspiciously similar to a facile backstab from the
shadows, and who can't cite a credible reason for anonymity -- does 
make a difference, and should be seen as damning.

Again -- thus my point.

Apologies if I am stomping all over what you intended to be a
(basically) completely _unrelated_ subject, but I couldn't resist the
urge to hammer on mine a bit more.  ;->

Cheers,                   Now, it's time to hack the real world, and let other
Rick Moen                 people write Web sites about it.
rick at linuxmafia.com                                   -- Donald B. Marti

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