Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce No LUV in the air as polls approach

No LUV in the air as polls approach

It's election time at the bigger of the two Linux user groups in Melbourne. There normally wouldn't be any need to write about it as this is something that comes by every year and passes without incident.

But this year things are somewhat different. For one, there is no candidate who has put up his or her hand to take on the role of president for the Linux Users of Victoria user group.

Donna Bemjamin, who has been president for the last two years, did not accept renomination. Another two members of LUV who were nominated - Ben Sturmfels and Ben Dechrau - did not accept the nominations either.

(Before I continue, disclosure: I am a member of LUV, I receive posts from the two main lists and occasionally post myself.)

Secondly, the reason why there is no nomination appears to be the nature of discussions on one of the mailing lists which, over the period since June, has been veering into areas that could broadly be categorised as misogynistic.

Benjamin, an energetic and able person who was the chief organiser of a well-attended Australian national Linux conference in 2008, has not given a clear cut reason as to why she did not accept a nomination for another term.

She, however, has expressed a degree of disgust with the mailing lists and the discussions therein. LUV has a number of such lists, the main ones being the LUV list and the LUV-Talk list. On the latter, any topic can be raised for discussion while the former is only for posts relevant to Linux.

Benjamin's disgust was evident on July 21 following a long discussion, over many threads, about the degree to which rape is caused by the victim or the perpetrator. The discussion began innocently enough in June as a thread about the Australian government's willingness to look at archiving internet user data in order to link it to one's passport, and morphed several times before being resurrected, in a totally different thread in July.

Benjamin was obviously distraught when she wrote: "I'd say this entire thread is 'unbecoming a member of LUV' as is that under the subject line 'Re: Religion/Bible/Quran / Sex/Rape, am I really looking for trouble??

"I'm quite quite sickened, offended and threatened by some of the views I've glanced at. Heartened by some of the repudiation of those views, but seriously amazed this thread even exists. It's totally, totally unacceptable. This is a cess pit."

Another respected and regular contributor, Jason White, found the discussions quite reprehensible as well. In response to a post by Benjamin announcing that there was nobody in the running for president, White wrote, "without entering into the details, some of the views expressed on luv-talk (on more than one occasion over the last year) I find deeply offensive. Consequently, I am not enthusiastic about the prospect of assuming a leadership role in the Association.

"Moreover, I don't want to be in the position of potentially having to serve as a moderator or mediator in mailing list discussions that might be (or at least ought to be) the subject of complaint to the Committee.

"I know that the gender-related prejudices to which I am principally referring have been expressed by a minority of luv-talk participants and vigorously criticised by more responsible contributors; but, at the same time, some of the opinions expressed make me tempted to... unsubscribe in disgust and are likely to be very discouraging to others, including existing and potential members of this group. In short, this isn't the kind of environment I want to step into."

A number of the posts which have been considered offensive are those which attempt to cast some of the blame for rape on the victim, citing the Bible as an authority. In other cases, there have been similar views which have not cited any authority.

Several regular LUV-talk posters took a great deal of offence at these posts and offered contrary views - the language which was used was, at times, quite raw.

The nomination for the LUV elections closes on September 7. If there is no nomination for president, before that, then there is provision for someone to be nominated from the floor during the annual general meeting to assume the post.



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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.