Archive for October 6th, 2009

“I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side.”
– Treebeard in The Lord of the Rings

I despise over-simplification, so I’m often in a state of ambiguity. In fact, I’m there so often that I’m considering applying for citizenship and a passport. But I find myself saddened to be in that state where the new site Boycott Boycott Novell (BBN) is concerned.

As you probably know, Boycott Novell is a site that is notorious in free software and open source circles for its hatred of Microsoft and Novell, the ability of its writers to jump to pre-determined conclusions at the expense of logic or grammar, and the viciousness of its personal attacks. Some people find it entertaining, but I prefer to avoid it because of these characteristics.

Also, I am semi-regularly attacked on the site. A few times, I’ve answered back, but mostly I can’t be bothered.

Under these circumstances, I was amused when David “Lefty” Schlesinger’s Boycott Boycott Novell was suddenly revealed last week. Schlesinger was one of the few other men who shared my opinions about the sexism in the community, and for the first few days I enjoyed the site’s skewering of Boycott Novell and Sam Varghese, a journalist who is, if anything, even nastier than Boycott Novell – and is even fonder of attacking me.

I was not altogether comfortable that BBN is dedicated to attacking people, but I thought its targets could only blame themselves for receiving some of their own back. Besides, BBN is better written and has a higher regard for logic and evidence than its targets.

If BBN had stopped there, it might have proved a real service to the community. Too often, such voices go uncountered, possibly because everyone hopes they will go away if ignored. But BBN didn’t stop there.

Instead, Schlesinger posted an article reviving the old discussions about using “GNU/Linux” rather than “Linux.” When I suggested (as politely as I knew how) that digging up old grievances was not the best use of the site, Schlesinger replied with comments about the Free Software Foundation that suggested that he saw it as little different from the Boycott Novell crowd. The free software movement, he suggested, was fully of zealots at all levels.

These remarks were followed by a guest post about the negativity of the Free Software Foundation and an anonymous picture of Richard Stallman as Ivan the Terrible. Looking at that picture and thinking disparaging thoughts about its artist, who refused to sign it, I realized that BNN had quickly developed an obsessional tone that contained too many echoes of its namesake.

Instead of being the debunking site I had hoped, BNN was revealing itself as sharing something of the obsessional tendencies of Boycott Novell. Boycott Novell almost certainly had jumped to conclusions to suggest that Schlesinger and his supporters were motivated by their support of Mono and other Microsoft-inspired technology, but it does seem reasonable to conclude that the site was a place where people who self-identified themselves as open source advocates were attacking and ridiculing free software and the Free Software Foundation.

Since I am a free software supporter myself, I find this tendency distasteful. More importantly, though, BNN seems inconsistent to decry personal attacks and obsession while showing similar tendencies.

But what really disturbed me was the apparent willingness of BBN to operate on spite. If half what I hear is true, then Schlesinger can hardly be expected to be fond of Stallman. Yet I fail to see what yet another a site at least partly dedicated to venting spite can achieve.

The community of free and open source software is too divided already. Too many are increasing those divisions instead of trying to find common ground. It is as though more than the names of the two sites suggested an infinite regression, as though Boycott Novell and Boycott Boycott Novell were mirror images of each other, reflecting each others’ spitefulness. BBN’s writers, so fact as I can see, have yet to understand that stooping to the same level as its enemy robs the site’s writers of any claim to moral superiority.

Perhaps I expected too much after BBN’s promising start. After all, it is a new site, and could still manage to settle down into a kind of Snopes.com for free and open source software. But it looks like another occasion for ambiguity, with me enjoying the skewering of those who deserve it and disliking the anti-free software rants.

I can’t deny that both are part of BBN, so I suppose I’ll have to accept the fact. But I think I can appreciate it more if I delete the site’s bookmark and stop visiting it regularly. Already, I regret the few comments I made on the site, knowing that some people will take them as a sign of approval. As things are, they’d only be half-right.

Read Full Post »