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That old hoary chestnut, the question of women being selected on merit for work/positions in the technology industry, has reared its head again. And this time it is on a mailing list hosted by Linux Australia, the umbrella group for Linux associations Down Under.

On the Linux Australia main mailing list, one member, David Newall, had this to offer: "Apparently we need special programmes to address an imbalance between the sexes; in politics, employment, management and elsewhere, this is widely accepted as appropriate.

"Linux Australia is not immune to this; we give opportunities and support to females. This puts an elephant in the corner: women gain opportunities at the expense of more capable (or more needy) men. This undermines their credibility; it raises reasonable doubts about their competence. Are they there from merit or merely to make up the numbers?"

There was a lot more in similar vein, but I'm sure you, gentle reader, would have got the point.

It wasn't that long ago that the recently elected prime minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, was trotting out a similar argument to account for the fact that there was just one woman on his front bench of 20. The assurance offered was the tired one that as soon as women of merit made their appearance, they would be accommodated on the front bench.

This, of course, presupposes that all the men in that group of 20 had earned their places on merit - and not because they were of some particular race, religion, nationality, etc. And this group includes Christopher Pyne!

Newall posted this garbage on Tuesday. It took half a day for Linux Australia vice-president Hugh Blemings to react - after a number of members had made their views, mostly against Newall's opinions, known - and offer the weak response that the thread would be moderated.

The simple fact that this kind of dinosaur had to be deprived of oxygen did not occur to Blemings or to any of the others on a list where most would be offended if they were considered to have anything other than superior intelligence. To defend the Newall post, I'm sure most would trot out the weary excuse of not believing in censorship.

But if anyone was asked about the censorship practised by The Ada Initiative - and detailed here - I'm sure they would definitely back that organisation. What's that word that begins with "h" and ends with "y"?

The fact that a so-called community organisation is playing host to such tripe does not seem to amaze any member. Newall's views are his own but should Linux Australia provide him space to propagate such rubbish?

The FOSS community - of which Linux users consider themselves to be part - is at pains to try and project itself as progressive and welcoming. In allowing such postings to go unchecked, it is plain that Linux Australia's claims of living in the 21st century need to be taken with a big pinch of salt.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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