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squiggleslash's Journal: Concerns about Russ Nelson (Resolved) 52

Journal by squiggleslash
Third update: My response to Nelson's resignation and the eWeek story is here. Tom Hudson cached the actual comment that attracted the controversy here - please remember on reading it that Nelson has (a) withdrawn it and (b) acknowledged it was poorly worded (and presumably, by implication, feels it means something that was not intended.) - S. Feb 8th/9th 2005.

Second update: I've just seen that Russ Nelson has withdrawn the article that was the topic of this discussion. I think this is the right thing to do, and FWIW I thank him for doing so. - S. 11.00am EST Feb 10th 2005

Interesting comments from Russ Nelson, recently appointed OSI president. I'm not sure what to make of it. If I wanted to be charitable, I'd say he's trolling, but for f---'s sake, why? Reading the rest of his blog (which I hoped would address some of the issues many of us have with the OSI that Nelson refused to address in public), it doesn't look like he's trolling, unless it's a fairly sophisticated spoof of right wing libertarians.

If I wanted to be slightly less charitable, I'd say Nelson is a classic "student debater", wording what he thinks is a plausible argument in the most controversial way possible. Then, once people respond angrily and with genuine hurt, he can easily blow away some emotional arguments with clear, reasoned ones. Except you have to start with a plausible argument. Nelson doesn't ever justify the headline - he comes up with half-arsed "explanations" that rely upon you accepting the headline as true to begin with, but he's really lost it if he thinks there's anything resembling a coherent argument there.

The final option I can think of is that Russ Nelson is a racist, which, despite the apparent disclaimer at the end (which doesn't really justify an unjustified statement) is a conclusion justified by the literal words used. It's hard to know for sure because Nelson doesn't give reasons.

And either way, none of these three situations bode particularly well for the OSI.

  • A leader of a software advocacy group shouldn't be trolling.
  • There's a reason people stop debating using emotionally charged language to rile opponents once they've done it a few times: those opponents get the support and you look like an obnoxious ass. Take it from me, I am an obnoxious ass. (The good news is that when I'm obnoxious in public these days it's genuinely felt, FWIW. But I wouldn't ask the OSI to appoint me President and if an advocacy group - well, at least, one I support - suggested they were considering me, I'd be pretty vocal in suggesting it's a bad idea.)
  • And, well, I definitely wouldn't want an advocacy group I'm involved in to have an individual who makes racist generalizations in public in charge. I don't care how relevant it is to the topic, it undermines the group, driving away good people and tarring the group with an image it doesn't deserve.

Couple this with Nelson's first act as OSI President, and I seriously question the wisdom of appointing him.

And therein is the irony. Open Source was invented in part to remove a "stigma" associated with Free Software that, supposedly, it was all about ideology. In practice Open Source has always been more ideological than FS, but the consensus has always seemed to me to be that it isn't because OS advocates argue "practical" benefits to the model whereas FS advocates just whitter on about "Freedom".

Much of this has to do with the way in which the case has been presented, but much has to do with the demonizing of RMS with the simultaneous ignoring of faults of the figureheads of the Open Source movement. With RMS being a committed socialist and a very poor public debater, the figureheads of Open Source being associated with "libertarianism" (usually the right wing variant), and the average American geek's general relative position on these issues, that's not overly surprising.

But FOSS-supporting geeks who think like this need to wake up a little. If the complaint is that the leadership of one group is too political, and too poor an advocate, then you can't improve matters by creating a replacement group whose leaders are also highly politicized, and also poor advocates.

In many ways, it doesn't really matter what Nelson's intentions are. The truth is he looks like a racist, he wrote an article that will appear racist to the vast majority of its readers. Whatever complaints are levied at the Free Software movement and RMS are pale in comparison. If the OSI wants to be taken seriously, they need to rethink their choice of President.

This discussion was created by squiggleslash (241428) for no Foes, but now has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Concerns about Russ Nelson (Resolved)

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  • Nelson is a highly ignorant loose cannon. It was a stupid move by OSI to pick him up for the job, and this is further proof.

    I don't think it's racist, however. A racist would have taken the time to construct a tighter argument than just "blacks are lazy because once they were slaves and now they're making up for it". He presented a weak idea, didn't provide any evidence to back it up, and wrapped the whole thing in sloppy writing techniques that would embarrass a ninth grader turning in a term paper.

    No, I
    • I was considering submitting it too, but I wanted the benefit of having others look at it in case there was something "obvious" I wasn't seeing - Nelson's Angry Economist blog being some kind of subtle satire or something.

      I don't know if he's racist. The argument itself, as far as I can see, is racist whatever Nelson's intent might have been. And to some extent, more to the point from the "OSI President suitability" point of view, Nelson must have been aware when writing it how it'd have been taken by the

      • Aye, perhaps. However, satire doesn't work well on the net and if he's going to be a major figurehead in an entire "movement", then he's going to have to be accountable for putting a respectable face foward to the public. Even if this is satire and I'm not getting it either, it was still a pretty stupid thing to write as head of OSI.
      • The argument, as far as I can tell, is that if societal racism means that blacks earn less money for the same work, they'll work less. This is the exact same argument for eliminating progressive taxation because the rich will simply laze away and live comfortable lives of leisure instead of creating jobs for the working class and being busy beaver capitalists. That idea has been a bulwark of center-right thought for decades and, like it or not, the only thing that would be racist would be to *not* apply it
        • The argument, as far as I can tell, is that if societal racism means that blacks earn less money for the same work, they'll work less.

          The concern is two fold. The first, that Nelson's column actually says blacks are working less (not merely that an abstract group might work less if discriminated against), and presents this using the prejudicial term "lazy". The second is that someone is accusing blacks of being lazy in public who's also representing the OSI.

          The "logic" of Nelson's argument for why a gr

          • If you have any data that shows that standard eco 101 principles don't apply to blacks I'll be all ears. Please remember me in your Nobel acceptance speech. You seem to be arguing that economists should not take their field too seriously and apply it to real life.

            This was an anti-racist post explaining the real perception of black laziness is an artifact of real racism which will disappear as a color-blind society takes hold over generations.
            • If you have any data that shows that standard eco 101 principles don't apply to blacks I'll be all ears. Please remember me in your Nobel acceptance speech. You seem to be arguing that economists should not take their field too seriously and apply it to real life.

              Ah, so you're arguing that Russ doesn't actually know if Blacks are Lazy or not, he's just saying that in theory they are, therefore, ergo, they are? And you're criticising me for having a problem with that logic? This is the kind of thing that

    • I don't think they even bother reading my submissions... someone else ought to try it. BTW, I mirrored the entry here [gh-sts.com] in case it mysteriously vanishes.
    • Hey, look, he responded! (in the blog entry.)
  • He is sub-human. We don't stand for this shit from nobody - not even Bill Cosby.
  • I'm wondering if he got hacked. So, is this the same old rant for him or something out of the blue?
    • Hard to tell. I've emailed him (about four hours ago) and I don't see anything new occurring. Then again, he might just not have checked his mail. The other thing is his entry has been up since yesterday morning (according to the date, at the latest yesterday afternoon given it was then that I noticed), so it's been up an awfully long time without him noticing, if he's been hacked.

      One thing I noticed while Googling is that ESR has had accusations of racism thrown at him too. Cite [slashdot.org]. Are Open Source Libertar

      • Oops, I keep thinking today is Tuesday. It's been up since Monday, according to the site at least.

        Also he's semi-responded. Given it's just the usual "I'll be happy to discuss this via email" message, rather than a "My site was hacked!", I think it's safe to say the message is genuine. The message is still up there with a new, somewhat wierd, message about the "N" word.

  • I'd be happy to discuss this via email. nelson@crynwr.com.
    -russ
    • You're more than welcome to respond to the email I sent you (my Slashdot nick at yahoo.com); I'm sure more people than just me would be interested in the answers however.
      • This deserves a public response.

        There are a few problems with the "analysis".

        If someone is paid less, they have to work more hours to cover the basic necessities of life, so that means they're working more, not less.

        And the same argument goes for "white trash". When you're underpaid, you HAVE to work harder and longer and still you end up with less.

        This whole thing is a slap in the face at anyone who's ever known want.

        Sure, if someone's pulling down a million a year, they're not going to bother if

        • If someone is paid less, they have to work more hours to cover the basic necessities of life, so that means they're working more, not less.

          That's actually not correct at all, particularly within the framework Russ is using (economics).

          A person places a certain value on their free time. They will only work if what is gained from turning that free time to some other activity exceeds that value.

          Economic hardship and happenstance are colour-blind.

          I think you actually mean 'finanical' hardship. AFAIK, the
          • This doesn't apply when people are at the minimum-wage level, or lower (yes, there are people who work for less than minimum wage: see footnote 1).

            Also, there are many areas where there is either no minimum wage, such as Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arizona (unless you're working on a federal project) or the minimum wage is way below subsistence level [dol.gov] - Kansas - $2.65/hr, or Ohio - as low as $2.80/hr.

            At those wage rates, even holding down two jobs won't give you an

            • We're talking about two different things. I'm talking about economics, and you're talking about finances. No small wonder we disagree. If you want to talk about my economics, I invite you to send me email. nelson@crynwr.com.
              -russ
              • You made your statements in a very public fashion, and my response will be in the same manner, thank you.

                Since when is economic policy divorced from the reality of individual finances? Last I looked, Adam Smith's "invisible hand" worked through individuals. Also, your argument spoke about individuals and their motivations.

                Here's what you said:

                If everything else is the same, a black person is less likely to want to work as hard as a white person.

                "A black person". "A white person". Individuals.

                IOW, you

                • The fact that you have so badly understood my point says that I must have written badly. I have consequently withdrawn that posting. Sorry if it offended you.
                  -russ
                  • The fact that you have so badly understood my point says that I must have written badly. I have consequently withdrawn that posting. Sorry if it offended you.

                    Instead of just claiming that it's a misunderstanding, why not explain why?

                    Show us some proof, some controlled studies that show the relationship between skin colour and "economic laziness", for example.

                    Or you could respond to the specific points I've made and enlighten us as to how those who disagree with you have it wrong.

                    You could start with

                    • Only someone with a serious disconnect from reality would fail to see that your original post was race-baiting.

                      Nope. I wasn't race baiting. What I was doing was making a very small and specific point about economics and racism. To wit:
                      1. That there are racists.
                      2. That racists cause blacks to be paid less than whites.
                      3. That everyone prefers leisure to work if all else is the same.
                      4. That blacks have less of an incentive to work than whites.
                      5. That racists will then conclude (based on partial evidence) that blac
        • Actually, while you have to work harder to meet your basic requirements, you'll tend to work less if the level of work needed to meet those requirements is nowhere near the maximum work you could put out. A black and white worker at McDonalds will both work for every penny just to get by but a black who's in the middle class will, on average, fight less hard for overtime at the plant than his better compensated white co-workers when he's gotten beyond hand-to-mouth economics but not economic Jim Crow.

          At ro
    • Also license-discuss@opensource.org [opensource.org] has a thread going about it. Doesn't seem to be archived [crynwr.com] yet though.
      • Doesn't come up in the topic list but does if you go to "Messages by date". Here's the start [crynwr.com].
        • Did someone get an article posted? It seems to be suffering a 500 error now when you click off of that page. There is no story that I see on the front page, but something is waiting for subscribers.

          • I'm not having any problem accessing the site. To the best of my knowledge, no story has been published.

            I'm not sure how worthwhile it would be to publish one. Right now, everyone - me, certain OSI people, Russ, etc - are very heated about this. Nelson's response seemed to sound rehearsed to me, "I'll write this, and I know exactly what I'll write if someone accuses me of being racist!" which is probably why he ignored what I actually wrote. When everyone sits down and looks at the situation, perhaps they

            • These people are idiots:

              If others similarly "misunderstood" then it certainly does matter.
              Communicating with clarity is a virtue.

              --- David

              > -----Original Message-----
              > From: Ian Lance Taylor [mailto:ian@airs.com]
              > Sent: Wednesday, February 09, 2005 12:49 PM
              > To: Stephen Pollei
              > Cc: license discuss
              > Subject: Re: [OT] Russ Nelson's public relations
              >
              > Stephen Pollei <stephen_pollei@comcast.net> writes:
              >
              > > http://slashdot.org/~squiggleslash/journal/97860 has
              > compla

            • Well, ONE (out of a half-dozen) "gets it" and sees this as more than "just a misconstruing" or "tacky": her [crynwr.com]

              Subject: Re: [OT] Russ Nelson's public relations
              From: Mike Wattier <geek@devcompany.com>
              Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2005 13:24:19 -0700

              Hi,
              > As a rule, I don't feel it is my place to pass moral judgements on others.
              > I also am a strong believer in innocence until proven guilt, free speech,
              > and Voltaire's contention. I most certainly do not believe in pre-emptive
              > condemnation based on opinion

    • You've made a public statement and you are, now, a very public face in a public movement. I think it would be more appropriate to discuss it in a public forum, don't you?

      I had planned on e-mailing you a letter about it, but it seems to me that your posting is little more than the poorly informed ranting of a pompous baboon, and you're not so much a racist as you are a lousy persuasive writer and incompetent debater. I came to this conclusion after realizing that you had done nothing but present a premise w
      • You've made a public statement and you are, now, a very public face in a public movement. I think it would be more appropriate to discuss it in a public forum, don't you?

        No, I don't. Rude people are generally a lot more polite when they're speaking directly to someone. I'd like to have a polite conversation with you. Are you going to LWE next week? We could talk about this subject there.
        -russ
        • Alas, I am not. I am neither a fan of Linux, nor am I available to attend if I were.

          I note, however, that you've pulled the article stating that it was not well written. That's sufficient for me, and I'm happy to see that it was

          1) a mistake
          2) a mistake you admitted to

          and not something worse. My main problem here is that as a figurehead in the "open source movement" you no longer have the freedom to go around half-cocked like the rest of us and you need to be more tactful when you write things that go pub
          • Almost like a politician running for office, you don't want to have dirty laundry lying around that people can pick up and throw at you.

            Yeah, well, there's always Google and alt.sex. Just as every everybody currently running for political office smoked marijuana in college (and some of them DID inhale), soon everybody running for office will have posted to Usenet, or a mailing list, or forum, or blogged. The media will have a witch-burning.

            At any rate, I'm satisfied with the outcome and that you are n
    • Reading your blog entry again, it seems that the problem is with the word 'lazy'. The rest seems to be perfectly accurate from an economic analysis: blacks paid less, therefore they work less. Classic economic discussion about value of leisure time ensues.

      Perhaps you could have started by pointing out that 'crime doesn't pay' is a load of rubbish.
      • Classic economic discussion about value of leisure time ensues.

        I get the impression that was his "point", but he presented it in such a loose, poorly-articulated, and undefended manner that the whole thing just comes off as highly ignornant, and once you make that conclusion, it's not hard to jump straight into the assumption that he's being racist.

        I'm beginning to think the problem here is that Mr. Nelson has no tact, and isn't very good at articulating his points clearly, or defending his arguments suf
        • once you make that conclusion, it's not hard to jump straight into the assumption that he's being racist.

          Well, the other problem is that never is it explained why Nelson considers blacks lazy to begin with. Or at least, if his argument is his reason, then he's acting like a classic economist from a joke about economists - inventing a world to fit the logic rather than vice versa.

          If he were posting entitled something like "Possible reasons for high unemployment amongst blacks", with a little link to a c

          • This is the part you've completely, embarassingly missed.

            They're [blacks are] not [lazy]; it's an economically-ignorant idea to say that they are. They're just rationally valuing their leisure time at the same rate as whites, getting paid less for the same work, and deciding to work less because of it.

            Go back to the original article [russnelson.com] and verify the context. Then you'll see that he's attempting to dismantle the racist justification of a longstanding stereotype, that blacks are lazy. His ending paragraph s

            • This is the part you've completely, embarassingly missed.

              They're [blacks are] not [lazy]; it's an economically-ignorant idea to say that they are.

              The actual quote (for one moment I thought that Nelson had edited his blog entry) is:

              I think that is what led people into the mistaken idea that blacks are lazy--as a characteristic of being black. They're not; it's an economically-ignorant idea to say that they are.

              In your version he's saying they're not lazy. In the original version, he's saying they a

              • You are as sure as I am that our respective interpretations is how "reasonable" people will read it. Both positions are assertions of ego, not fact. In your world, people see bad words, shut down their brains, and think and say mean thoughts without any real effort to actually ensure that the writer truly conforms to their prejudice. While a statistically significant portion of the population that reads it will have, and has had, that reaction, I'd hardly call them reasonable. In fact, they're quite the opp
                • No, my position is one of fact. The fact is that Russ Nelson says, repeatedly, that people of a certain skin colour are "lazy". You actually had to edit his words, to actually lie about what he wrote, to get him to say the opposite, to fit the argument you wanted to make. You stated that he'd written that people of a particular skin colour weren't lazy. He had, actually, written that they are. His entire post is about why he "thinks" they are.

                  I don't care whether Russ thinks he's not being racist because

              • The actual quote (for one moment I thought that Nelson had edited his blog entry) is:

                I think that is what led people into the mistaken idea that blacks are lazy--as a characteristic of being black. They're not; it's an economically-ignorant idea to say that they are.

                In your version he's saying they're not lazy. In the original version, he's saying they are, but not for the reason "people" think. Perhaps you could explain why you edited that out.

                Look closely at what you yourself quoted. Where in that

                • Look closely at what you yourself quoted. Where in that statement does Russ Nelson say that blacks are lazy?

                  Be careful about context. My sentence saying it does imply that existed in a specific context (arguing against someone who'd deliberately edited it to say the opposite), and the sentence itself also exists in a wider context. The sentence under question is merely one in a large paragraph that begins:

                  Black people are lazy in that they work less hard than whites. Not only that, but they are rationa

        • FWIW, this is exactly what I'm trying to say.

          I think it also assumes facts not in evidence. He makes the unwarranted assumption that blacks are 'lazy' and then proceeds to explain why.
  • Hard to believe that someone who is trying to position themselves as a credible spokensmen for any community would post something so obviously inflammatory, and sure to engender hostility, knee-jerk or otherwise, for no apparent purpose. I'm sure conspiracy theories will abound.

    I think we can mark this day, as the day when OSI becomes more of an in-joke than a respectable part of the open source landscape.

  • My opinion, in a nutshell and for whatever it's worth: Russ Nelson is an idiot, his angry economics are intellectually corrupt, and the OSI is irrelevent.

    He consistently starts from flawed assumptions and then makes flawed arguments to back them up. It's barely worth discussing, though his racial baiting is extraordinarily distasteful (even for an idiot).

    The OSI has always been flawed, ideologically and in practice. Nelson's presidency is unlikely to change this. Let it slide into the cesspool of politics
    • The OSI has always been flawed, ideologically and in practice.

      Are you going to Linux World Expo next week, or FUDCon? I'd be happy to talk to you to find out why you feel this way. Send me email and we'll set up a time to meet. nelson@crynwr.com .
      -russ
      • Don't piss off The Angry Economist [russnelson.com].
        Maybe you can give a speech telling everyone how many shares of SCO Microsoft promised you in return for discrediting the next release of the Hallowe'en Documents.

        Pissed off yet?

        If you want to debate your whole "blacks are lazier than whites" soi-disant "economic analysis" in public, let me know next time you're in town. I'll even give you a two-for-one advantage in terms of debate time.

  • ... that you are one of the people who thinks that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be banned because it's obviously racist.

As in certain cults it is possible to kill a process if you know its true name. -- Ken Thompson and Dennis M. Ritchie

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