5 Jun 2007 NoWhereMan   » (Observer)

Where do we go from here?

For the last five years, I have been working on a BSEE after my midlife layoff. The schoolwork forced me to change my priorities and allocate time cautiously. But everything has changed within the last few weeks so it is time again to assess where things stand. The Sven issue erupted again when someone mistakenly deleted his alioth account without any notification. A simple mistake was made but Sven escalated it into a flamefest with his typical diatribes. I contributed to this mess with a single post suggesting that there might be rhetorical questions we should consider.

I now have time to reflect on these issues and their meaning. I have been proud of the Debian project even though my time was allocated elsewhere and I could not contribute as much as I wanted. The few hours I could spend every week quickly got consumed on mailing list traffic and debian-private flamewars. I did participate through private email exchanges but my actual list responses were more subdued. The Debian folk enjoy a good debate. But some alpha geeks refuse to yield a nanometer. They cherish the 'last post wins' philosophy. It seems as if Sven subscribed to this mindset. He obviously felt compelled to challenge and reply to almost all the messages about the topics involving him. With over 1000 developers, it is expected that few of us will post on any particular topic. If a significant percentage of us do participate, the list gets flooded and our individual mailboxes quickly fill up. This becomes a problem for someone like me who actually reads the content of messages. I feel it is my duty to read everything posted to debian-private out of respect for my fellow developers. So if 5% to 10% of my peers express a thought and Sven feels compelled to respond to most of them, it quickly spirals out of hand. It is even worse when other DDs share the need to get the last word.

This annoying habit of Sven was not limited to the private discussion list for DDs. He also flooded public lists with his dogmatic claims. He was quick to list how many DDs opposed his expulsion request. The Debian community is full of fair minded people who recognize there was plenty of blame to go around. It should not be surprising that a number of DDs wanted to make sure this issue was handled properly. Could a DD be expelled for words alone? Was the timing appropriate? There were a lot of questions worthy of consideration. While the entire community is free to debate these issues, the actual decision rested with the Debian Account Managers. A guideline had been posted to describe this process, but the DAMs are free to use their own discretion. The Debian project likes to work through consensus, but this type of issue is too divisive. There are too many value systems represented in this international community to establish a consensus for dealing with Sven.

After deliberation, the DAMs decision was announced and Sven sought to make it public. This warning was ignored and treated as more fuel to the fire as Sven added the DAMs to the list of people whom he blamed for his predicament. The Ad Hominem attacks continued and baseless assertions resumed with new people added to his list. This situation finally came to a head as Frans Pop retired from the Debian project. It has been very disruptive to Debian while this 'pissing contest' progressed. I have exchanged private email with both Frans and Sven about the issues. Neither side was lily white in their conduct from my perspective. I tried to keep most of my concerns and observations off the mailing lists but I did post public responses a few times. It is finally time for a summation of my thoughts for anyone who might care to read them.

I can understand how it was no longer fun dealing with Debian issues. While I may have written criticisms about this 'pissing contest', I actually admire how Frans thought about the welfare of Debian. It is unfortunate that a criticism may sting more than the praise of a good decision. I hope my views about accountability and 'pissing contests' were not taken personally as harsh judgements. I try to express my views with the hope that it will serve as a data point about perceptions. I can offer my perception and then it is up to the reader to decide if they find any value in it. The response from Sven has convinced me that he treats such inputs as worthless. I suspect he will only cherish a view that coincides with his conclusions. I have no desire to be listed as a person agreeing with the claims Sven rehashed regularly. While I wanted Sven to get a fair shake, I found it difficult to understand him. He would claim things and make assertions that he did not justify. I would question him about things I did not understand and his response would leave me unsatisfied. I finally reached a conclusion that he had a different definition for words that I thought were common. I could follow his logic if I knew to substitute his meanings instead of online dictionary definitions. This burden was not worth my time. I expect that Sven will add me to his list of enemies because I am unwilling to accept that burden. He has already made various accusations because I dared point out these differences.

I do not want to say Sven is an evil person or he does hateful things, but he refuses to acknowledge we have a right to our own views. In isolation, he makes statements about him admitting to making mistakes and glorifies his calls for conciliation. But he fails to see how the rest of his behaviour belies these statements. When all else fails, he falls back on the excuse that English is not his native tongue. I am not willing to excuse his behaviour. I have repeatedly made attempts to explain what is going on. He chooses to turn a blind eye as if he expects me to mold to his will. He obviously has not learned from his attempts to force the Debian project to conform. I am sure he explains himself much better in his native tongue. It would make sense that French DDs plead for leniency in dealing with him. But I speak English and I do not have enough time to parse everything he writes using his distinct definitions. He can assert anything he wants but I find it easier to just reject his claims instead of wasting lots of time seeking the nuanced conditions and loopholes that make him seem reasonable. I was not put on this planet to blindly accept his standards. It seems like there are a lot of other DDs who understand this view. I think they share my genuine hope that Sven will find happiness elsewhere. He causes more damage than he is worth from a Debian perspective. It is now time for me to cut my loss and wash my hands of this affair.

So why would I post this information to this blog? Because I need to move on. For the last few years I have tried to contribute to Debian with miniscule amounts of time available. A public post here or there, more significant private exchanges with Sven and others, and extensive reading of DDs viewpoints have left me with these conclusions. Now I have more time to express them and act accordingly. If any of this seems strange, feel free to contact me via my hecker@d.o email address. I am more than willing to entertain questions and provide more details. My explanations may not always make sense, but I am willing to share my thoughts. My priority at the moment is to find my next job. A big chunk of my spare time will involve Debian. If I can identify specific areas or tasks where I can help, that is where I will channel my efforts. I am not sure where to go from here, but I hope to share details about my journey.

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