Second update: I've just seen that Russ Nelson has withdrawn the article that was the topic of this discussion.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.