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Sunday, 01 November 2009 22:01

ESR pressure made feminists host detractor's code

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Pressure from open source luminary Eric S. Raymond led to geek feminists hosting code created by one of their detractors, which otherwise would have disappeared for good, a post on Raymond's blog reveals.

It may be recalled that open source developer Kirrily Robert had triumphantly announced that the geek feminism site, which she runs, would be hosting the code of a man who uses the handle mikeeUSA.

The code had been deleted from SourceForge after a complaint made by Beth Lynn Eicher, a director of the Ohio LinuxFest.

Eicher had announced this on her blog on October 13.

Robert also poked fun at the man, whose real name is Mikhail Kvaratskhelia, saying that he did not appear to have a copy of his code anymore, and was inept at simple jobs like making back-ups.

But neither Robert nor Eicher gave readers of either of their blogs any inkling that hosting the code came about only after intervention by Raymond – and both were fully aware of it.

A second blog entry by Eicher did not make mention of what had transpired either, saying, in part: "A troll, who had undermined contributors with terrorware has now been given his just deserts (sic) with the help of my dear friends from geekfeminist.org. I want to thank Eric S. Raymond for seeing the cleverness of the solution."

From this post, Eicher linked to another entry where she described what she referred to as "terrorware". Once again, there was no mention of Raymond or what had transpired.

She wrote, in part: "When I asked sourceforge to look into the mikeeusa account, I did not expect all of the copies of the removed projects to be gone. mikeeusa says he has lost about 3 years work which is a consequence that I did not anticipate. Aren’t there users who enjoy this content? I assumed wrongly that mikeeusa himself or one of his fans had a copy somewhere. Come on folks, it’s 2009 with the price per megabyte going for fractional pennies."


But truth, like oil and cadavers, has a troublesome way of floating to the surface.

Raymond's post makes it clear that had he not intervened, there would have been no hosting of Kvaratskhelia's code.

While he makes no secret of his contempt for Kvaratskhelia, whom he describes as a werewolf, Raymond also makes it clear that if people really care about freedom of speech then it is not enough if they defend it when they are comfortable doing so.

As background it must be pointed out that Kvaratskhelia has been posting to various forums — including the iTWire discussion forums from which his posts were removed as they were found to contravene Australian media laws — justifying discrimination against women in FOSS.

According to Raymond, Kvaratskhelia had written to FSF chief Richard Stallman, Linux creator Linus Torvalds, senior Open Source personality Bruce Perens, and Raymond, after his code was taken down by SourceForge, complaining about what had transpired.

Raymond says he did not pursue the matter until Stallman replied on October 15 "asking whether Kvaratskhelia had made backups of the censored material".

He then searched for Eicher's original blog entry and read it. "I felt, at that point, the pricking of my conscience for not having responded to Kvaratskhelia’s earlier complaint immediately," he wrote. "I wrote Ms. Eicher an email condemning the suppression of speech and expressing my judgment that she owed Kvaratskhelia an apology for her suppressive conduct – which she refused to do."

He says the precedent that Eicher wanted people to accept would have been dangerous to liberty in general and to the hacker community in particular.

Raymond gives Eicher credit for coming up with the idea of getting someone to host the code, while warning people about its origins.

There were 199 responses to Raymond's post, but there was very little flaming, if any. While some did disagree with what he had done, the tone of discussion was generally civil.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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