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Who controls glibc? (lwn.net)
339 points by CJefferson on May 7, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 506 comments

Lots of people seem to be rooting around like truffle hogs looking for the partisan politics embedded in this story, but you won't find any.

The conflict happening here is between maintainers, who don't want a dated left-leaning joke embedded in the glibc documentation, and Stallman, who does.

If there's "political correctness" involved, it's right-leaning. But, as a left-leaning pro-choice person: there's no "political correctness" here at all.

It's a story because Stallman has played the "I'm the boss, you can't outvote me" card, not because anyone's in a tizzy over the politics.

Spot on. At the end of the day, nobody really cares about the joke, and nobody in the conversation indicated they actually were offended or upset by it, as far as I can tell. The joke will not be the downfall of glibc whether it stays or goes.

But RMS' order may be. He just reminded everyone working on that project that their authority ends on any given issue wherever RMS' whims begin.

Lets think how many hours RMS has put into GNU over the years. That should count for something, no?

I'm a big fan of RMS, but I've got to say "No". He's not a maintainer. He doesn't get a vote. If he wants to work his way back into that project, then I've got no problem with it. But he doesn't. It's like the CEO telling you that he wants a joke in the technical documentation for one of your libraries. They might get away with it because of their position, but it's an abuse of that position even if the CEO used to be coder #1 on the project.

Not that it doesn't happen all over the place...

If there is business justification of joke in documentation then maintainer has no authority to say no.

RMS is a CEO and he ultimately controls the project goals. If you think otherwise you fork.

Is there really a clear line of authority between the glibc maintainers and RMS? It certainly doesn't seem like it. Authority decays, and RMS's is gone, over glibc at least. Compare with GvR: Guido is involved day-to-day, talks to people, makes decisions. No one questions whether he has power, because he uses it, although they certainly question the way he uses it.

I think the monarchy of the United Kingdom is good way to look at RMS's position here. On paper the monarch has a lot of power, but the reality is that they don't and trying to use it would provoke exactly the kind of crisis we're seeing here.

I have a hard time imagining the monarch insisting on a joke. Not just Queen Elizabeth, but any hereditary monarch from the modern age. Monarchs retain authority because they're good at politics... RMS, not so much. That's not to say his political positions are wrong, just that the man is impolitic at times.

Monarchs exert soft power pretty much constantly, with public appearances, knighthoods, and recognition of great deeds. They often end up as the most popular political figures of their republics. So while monarchs are a fossil species in modern governments (since WWI), they retain enough of the royal prerogative to exercise those paper rights it when it actually matters. I think we're all second-guessing RMS here because he's using the perogative in a situation where it truly doesn't matter.

Case in point: In Japan Prime Minister Abe wanted to change the constitution to allow Japan to engage in external conflicts if allies were in danger. The emperor of Japan suddenly said, "I'm old, you know. I think I want to retire, but there is no constitutional law that will allow me to abdicate. Please write this law ASAP". Prime Minister Abe does not have resources to do both constitutional changes at the same time...

The emperor of Japan is really awesome.

I guess they learned from the last few times when military juntas took control of Japan and burned everything to the ground, in the end.

> Monarchs [...] often end up as the most popular political figures of their republics.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think there's something wrong with that statement :p

I'm going to... stick my neck out... and venture that republics have usually got rid of their monarchs.

Har har, yeah, point taken, but many constitutional monarchies are de facto republics. The UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, Japan, Norway. I was trying to distinguish from the hereditary monarchies that aren't republican, like the People's Democratic Republic of Korea.

> Har har, yeah, point taken, but many constitutional monarchies are de facto republics.

No, they are just representative democracies. Which aren't coextensive with republics: you can be either without being the other.

> Is there really a clear line of authority between the glibc maintainers and RMS?

Obviously, yes. RMS is currently the president of the FSF and glibc is a FSF project, created and directed and maintained and funded by the FSF.

Just because some developer parachutes into a project that doesn't mean the project owners lose their rights over the project, or that the developer becomes the new owner.

If you want to contribute to a project, you do so by respecting and complying with the wishes of those directing the policy. The FSF started the glibc project and manages glibc's development and establishes the policies followed by the glibc project. It's the FSF, and not any random developer who just so happena to have commit access to a repository.

That's not the way a company works. A CEO is not dictator, and there are more paths to resolution than simply following orders or quitting.

Why then should the dictatorial mode be the way a non-profit or volunteer effort works?

Moreover, in a company it's the Board of Directors which delegates authority to the CEO. And the shareholders could override even them.

So if we interpret glibc as as a cooperative where the shareholders are also the developers and others working on the project, then certainly the shareholders could override management.

>>> A CEO is not dictator

well, he definitely is for those under him (not those besides).

I've been trying to figure out an answer which was more concrete than "I disagree", and ran into the problem that I can't figure out what "dictator" is supposed to mean, other than "person in authority whom I disagree with."

I mean, people called Obama a dictator (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/americans-newly-see-obama-... ), Jeremy Corby (http://www.livetradingnews.com/jeremy-corbyn-turns-dictator-... ), a teacher's union (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-stieber/i-am-a-dictator-... ), and more.

When I wrote that, I was thinking specifically of how a union could override a CEO's demands demands, eg, by (threat of) lawsuit over breaking an employment agreement, or by collective action.

Then again, a dictator also has to worry about a mass uprising.

Then again again, so does a president - the US president is the chief of the executive branch of the US.

Do you think a CEO is dictator by definition, or that there is no way for a CEO to be anything other than a dictator? If so, what do you mean by dictator?

I think there is no other way to be a dictator (as long as he's appointed byt the board).

Now what is a dictator to me ? A dictator is someone you can't disagree with. The dictator may be benevolent or not, may exercise his power or not, but in the end he's the one in power. And you can't disagree with him because you have much less power (he can fire you, he's got the money, he decides on what you work, you're the one who needs the job, etc.). Just try to contest the authority (not the ideas, the style or whatever, just the authority) of your boss, and you'll see what happens.

Now from the board of director point of view, the CEO is not a dictator, he's someone who's running the company and giving advice on how to make it grow, make it better, whatever. So he's definitely in a positive role.

Could he be something else than a dictator ? Maybe. He could be "secretary" and then the power could be given to a part of the company's personnel, like a union. Those people would attend the board of director. But that would assume the fact that the board is willing to do that... I guess it's easier to scream on the CEO than on a group of people :-)

The Roman office of dictator (which is the origin of the term) was elected with absolute power in order to deal with a crisis -- generally speaking, a major war, and that usually involving an invasion of Roman territory by hostile forces. The term of office was limited to one year, though dictators were sometimes re-elected.

Roman dictator terms were generally either 6 months or until the task they were appointed to complete was finished. The Senate was capable of extending this term or re-electing the dictator depending on the circumstances.

You are right, I was relying on memory.

Thank you for your clarification.

I found an example of a CEO who fired an at-will employee and as a result the company was successfully sued for breaking an oral contract where the board of directors had promised that the employee would not be fired for speaking about workplace problems. https://www.jacksonlewis.com/publication/south-carolina-jury...

That would be an example of where the CEO is not a dictator, yes?

In some states, a CEO cannot fire someone without just cause, or for reasons motivated by malice or made in bad faith. And there are civil rights, disability rights, etc. which also prevent certain CEO actions. But these can also be viewed as dictatorial government actions overriding dictatorial corporate actions. :)

That's why I brought up union representation and employee contract rights which prohibit the CEO from certain actions.

I think there are also cases where the CEO is unable to impose demands because certain key staff would ignore them or leave the job, or the CEO fears the public reaction should that happen. Eg, http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/UltimateJobSecuri... .

I think it's important to distinguish between limitations on power imposed after the fact, and limitations on power that prevent one from exercising their power. CEOs are not dictators in that they answer to a board, shareholders and, ultimately, the law. But those limits tend not to prevent CEOs from exercising their power, but are rather consequences of exercising their power. On a particular day, when CEOs say something should be done (such as firing a particular person or saying something publicly) it tends to happen.

Whether or not we call a CEO a "dictator" is perhaps a distraction - although I think the word usually fits in the colloquial way people tend to use it. The important thing, I think, is the recognition that CEOs orders tend to be followed, sometimes even against the desires of people executing those orders. The controls placed on CEO's power tend to be consequences rather than immediate limitations.

People call all sorts of things, all sorts of words. It's common in discourse to use a little hyperbole. That does not make Obama, or Jeremy Corbyn, bona fide dictators.

Even as stated, you miss the mark. The president is chief of the executive branch of the US, yes. But the president is not chief of congress, or the judicial system.

Certainly. I was the one who wrote that "the CEO is not a dictator".

This is trivially true as the CEO is not the authoritarian head of a country.

So I must have meant something a little hyperbolic.

I just don't know how to define that in any meaningful sense so as to be able to talk about it.

I don't know what mark I missed. I objected to the llukas' proposition that the CEO in a business "ultimately controls the project goals." I agree that in the US government, the chief executive does not have full control. I think it's meaningful point that the chief executive does not necessarily have final control.

Personally, I think it's a simpler story to talk about the CEO as some sort of heroic authoritarian leader, which is why we end up with those sorts of stories.

They should. Glibc breaks its interface every few years. I’d love to see all the GNU tools migrate over to the Linux foundation, where they would be stable, safe, and free from autocracy.

Well, let's not forget that "CEO" wrote that technical documentation. And probably also wrote (at least an older version of) the code, too.

Which counts for absolutely nothing. A CEO running around the floor of the business telling programmers what jokes belong in what docs is a shit CEO no matter what he didn’t years past.

I fail to see why, if that joke is actually a clear statement of the fundamental message that the project was designed to convey, and the whole reason why the FSF exists.

He might not be the maintainer, but he is the BDFL. It's about respect. See what happened to Drepper who violated his respect.

I like the joke, and I sympathize with RMS to let it in. In any case he opposed it so there is now a power struggle about the control of his project. I would love to see a better maintained glibc btw. Too much politics, not enough competence.

The dictator in question certainly doesn't seem Benevolent to me in this case.

> The dictator in question certainly doesn't seem Benevolent to me in this case.

I don't see the point. RMS directs the organization and establises the policy it follows. I fail to see how a maintainer could feel entitled to dictate that policy just because he has access to the repository. That would be like a printing press janitor feeling entitled to censor what he feels a newspaper should not publish.

It's not like he is not benevolent either.

He certainly is. He tries to protect the project from morons, which invaded most bigger projects which are not cultured in technical discussions anymore.

Compare that to the education of doctors. They need to persist on proper terminology and are hardened in a long process. PC is absolutely counterproductive there.

Many obviously did not get the reference in this paragraph, but it still relevant, as this episode showed. Abort vs kill is loaded by a long fight, hence the reference about future censorship attempts.

> PC is absolutely counterproductive there

A. No, the terminology used by medical professionals is constantly shifting to do things like acknowledge that people with issues are still people.

B. Your reasoning is presumably about confusion and lack of clarity, yes? How exactly is a reference to a law that has never been proposed serving that?

Well see what Drepper did. CTRL-f for "Stallman" in these glibc release notes:


While I agree with Ulrich, it is pretty brutal.

Yes, that was what I was referring to. It backfired big time.

See what Drepper is doing now: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ulrichdrepper He went from Technical Director at Redhat (i.e. glibc maintainer), to VP at Goldman Sachs (i.e. booted and being called an asshole), and now he is Engineer at Redhat.

Glibc spent over a decade under Ulrich Drepper, who many viewed as a dictator. This resulted in forks and major linux distributions no longer using glibc. About 6 years ago, Drepper was removed and glibc moved to "cooperative community development"[0].

The community spoke and said they did not like dictators in development of glibc. Since Drepper's removal, many would agree that the quality of glibc has increased significantly. RMS is well aware of this and the delicate political situation. He should recognize that coming in and declaring himself in charge would not play well with a community that stated about their maintainers following Drepper: "This does not confer any extra ability to make decisions for the project; community consensus is what matters there."

[0] https://sourceware.org/ml/libc-alpha/2012-03/msg01040.html

I beg to disagree. The quality post-Drepper certainly did not improve. Bugs are getting worse, needed features are still not implemented, needed performance improvements are sidelined (bsd libc still 20% faster with modern CPUs), crazy but useless ASM optimizations are being added, where e.g. proper loops written in C gain much more. Just not on gcc.

Same as with stdlib++ btw, where strings are now uselessly bloated and most data structures are getting useless also.

Where are utf8 strings? u8"" constants only is for nothing. Everybody needs an u8 api.

Where are the secure _s extensions? Pickering about callbacks and Microsoft is all they can do. But they rather add env hooks. __bos/alloc_size support is getting better, but gcc still cannot do proper usable const expressions in C. It's a nightmare.

You still cannot compare strings, even not with the crazy wchar_t strings (size 2 or 4), nobody uses anymore. wcscmp only compares buffers, but not strings according to the unicode rules. I believe strings would be pretty important to support, not?

What about a fast malloc? Not even ptmalloc3 went in, there's still stone-age ptmalloc2.

double-close leads to crashes, really? Similar to freopen with NULL.

This is your great community consensus. BSD or even musl are far ahead.

> (bsd libc still 20% faster with modern CPUs

You have a source for that? it wouldn't surprise me, GNU code tends to be more bloated than a similar BSD licensed project.

My own benchmarks. The trick is SSE support. darwin/bsd has that builtin, esp. since darwin can guarantee that their chips do support SSE. Generic linux builds do not, and -march-native or switching to sse optimized shared libs is rarely used.

But recently also bos and align_size support got better in other libc's, which do use clang and not gcc. gcc sucks big time with those optimizations. freebsd and darwin all use clang. This is in the ~60% ball figure.

Every 64-bit OS can guarantee SSE2 support, because it's baked into the x86-64 spec. Every single 64-bit Linux build can and does use SSE2 (unless someone explicitly turned that off for no reason). If there are performance differences, it's not due to chip support and crippled builds for compatibility.

oops: s,align_size,alloc_size,

The size of dynamically allocated malloc'ed structures, not just constants. The majority of pointers have an alloc_size, but no object_size (i.e. bos: __builtin_object_size).

> Lets think how many hours RMS has put into GNU over the years. That should count for something, no?

In terms of personal respect, sure.

In terms of attention given to an argument, maybe, but that's also how you end up with a narrow bubble.

In terms of retaining a unclear joke designed as backhanded political advocacy on an issue that isn't central to the shared ideology that defines GNU in the technical documentation of a GNU project? I can't see it, no.

I thought the whole point of Free Software idea is that contributing to a software project does not make you its exclusive owner (after you released it under Free Software license) and its users subject to your whims. It is ironic that at the top of this project is a person who would very much like to subject the project to his whims, and for quite a trivial reason at that.

No. Free software is about respecting the four freedoms not about what you say above. If it counts to anything, you get the choice to fork the project at any time.

Count for what? Should it excuse his behavior? Should we excuse the behavior of famous and notable people because of their accomplishments?

I don't think it's a matter of excusing, it's whether he has ultimate authority based on the fact that he created glibc and he's the head of GNU. Talking about excusing assumes he did something wrong, which is jumping the gun, since that's exactly what's being discussed.

I have a hard time seeing where he did something right here. He is behaving like a petulant child because people didn't find his joke funny two decades later.

He is the "boss". No doubt about it, he is the copyright holder, everyone working on the project has surrendered copyright over to him. I've got my strong reservations on BDFLs and the way their egos get stroked, but it is what it is.

But he is not a "leader". Because a leader does not cut the legs out from under the people he delegates to run things. He has every right to insist that GNU maintains his dumb joke... and everyone who's put in all of the hard work and effort into the project over these more recent years has the absolute right to leave over it.

Oh, I don't disagree. I just don't think we have anything to excuse, that's between the maintainers and him.

If RMS wasn't the project lead, but any other maintainer, then his behavior of making such a big fuss about this particular thing (which, very importantly, _is not a very important thing!_), against the consensus of many other maintainers, is something.

If he were on the same level as other people, this behavior wouldn't be accepted. So the question then becomes:

Does the fact that he's "the boss" excuse his behavior of fighting against the consensus on an issue of this level of importance?

Alright, so where is that line drawn? RMS is the project lead, but it's a community project and at some point the consensus will be that he is just wrong. Clearly that line must exist somewhere, or eglibc would never have been. But the existence of a fork isn't the minimum point since that takes quite a lot to overcome the inertia of forming a new project.

The point I keep coming back to is: What is the purpose of the documentation? What goal does it achieve?

What is the point of the project? What goal does it achieve?

There was a gcc frontend/backend clean architecture dispute: some wanted it so that gcc could be used for more things that clang is being used for. RMS argued against it, on the basis that GCC technical architecture should deliberately avoid it working with proprietary non-GPL backends.

The official story is that a technically worse compiler than loses market share is still superior for the FSF goals of pushing free software: they are willing to accept people moving to clang to avoid GCC from being the front half of a non-free compiler.

That goal is inherently political. It isn't obvious whether drawing attention to harmful suppression of information by the government is also in the projects mandate, but it is obvious that the projects mandate isn't just to make the best technical and professional result.



People sometimes overlook the fact that the FSF is clearly a political organization, the GNU project places politics over technology, and Stallman himself is a political activist first and foremost. Yet people forget this and treat GNU stuff like technology-driven projects.

Personally, I'm much more comfortable with the approach Linus Torvalds takes, where writing good, functional software takes precedence over purity concerns, and where technical limitations would not be introduced with the purpose of complicating interactions with proprietary software.

Those arguments don't work.

Just because a goal of the project is an inherently political one doesn't mean that any outcome or action even remotely political is inherently the goal of the project. That's an absurd hasty generalization.

Further, just because one of the overall goals of the project is political doesn't mean that every goal of the project is political. That's a composition fallacy.

What arguments don't work?

The truth is that FSF is primarily a political organization. It is more of a political organization than any other open source foundation, eg they do things like refuse to endorse any OS that distributes any piece of non-free (read: GPL) software. They advocate against non-GPL open source as harmful. They guide their projects to be technically worse if it supports the political mission.

There is confusion here about what Stallmans role even is since he isn't an active technical contributor: his role to make sure the political vision is being enforced in the projects under FSF/GNU stewardship and that is exactly what he is doing here.

Basically, if something is not advancing the goals of the FSF then it shouldn't be a part of the FSF. It isn't news that the goal of the FSF isn't to make high quality software and they just think free software is the pragmatically best model to achieve that:



> The truth is that FSF is primarily a political organization.

So what? That doesn't matter. What part of the FSF[0] or GNU[1] project suggests that abortion is an issue relevant to their mission or goals? Why is abortion a software freedom issue? How about we say RMS does adopt it. Does that benefit the other stated goals of the organizations? How?

What happens when the FSF runs a fund raiser, and they hear, "I'd love to give to your organization because I support free software ideals, but I can't because I disagree with your stance on abortion." Does that benefit free software? What happens when they're working with legislators on bills to re-enforce net neutrality, and the legislator says, "I'd love to help you on net neutrality, but I can't. My constituents are overwhelmingly pro-life, and I've gotten hundreds of voters contacting me since Fox News ran a piece on how your organization is pushing this bill to promote pro-choice laws. The National Right to Life and National Pro-Life Alliance have been calling to lobby against this bill as well. I'm sorry, but it seems that people think net neutrality is a pro-choice issue." Does that benefit free software?

So, is the FSF and GNU willing to sacrifice their software freedom goals in order to further pro-choice goals? Should they be?

0: https://www.fsf.org/about/ 1: https://www.gnu.org/gnu/manifesto.en.html

The issue at hand seems to be about suppression of information (information that happens to be about abortion), not pro-abortion.

> but it's a community project and at some point the consensus will be that he is just wrong.

No, that's just your prejudice talking. The consensus can just as well be that RMS has a point and that a lone maintainer has no legitimacy to dictate policy, let alone override executive decisions. RMS is the founder of many GNU projects and is also the president of the FSF. Just because some dude has access to a repository of a FSF project that doesn't give him the right to hijack the project to suit his fancy. It's a FSF project and the project's driving policy is set by the FSF.

The benefits of the doc is purely subjective (obviously) so asking what purpose it serves is a dick move.

And it specifically says not to remove. RMS only objected when they tried to introduce a change he specifically said not to remove. Calling this an unwarranted exercise in authority is also a dick move.

It isn't even a code change. Let's talk priorities: glibc could see improvements preventing y2038 bugs and fuzzing, but we fret over a joke.

Also there is no evidence that the joke could be traumatic to anyone.

There are a lot of other people who have spent countless hours on glibc, also.

>>He just reminded everyone working on that project that their authority ends on any given issue wherever RMS' whims begin.

The tech world is still largely based on prime movers. May be that will stay like that forever in engineering disciplines.

People who make it rain, call the shots. This includes their political positions too. I'm not sure why this is so surprising to people.

I’m much more concerned about him playing the “childbirth is far more traumatic than having an abortion” card in the discussion about the patch. Until this moment, I wasn’t even aware that was a card. It’s difficult to fathom the logic that would arrive at that statement making sense to someone typing it, particularly a person who will never experience the situations upon which he’s speaking conclusively.

You’re right, the conflict is elsewhere. However, something about Richard Stallman making that statement, which marginalizes the intense conflict women often feel over intentional abortion in their own lives, not to mention traumatic abortions brought on by rape or medical issues, really speaks to a yawning gap existing between him and empathy for other people. It seems to imply that he thinks women leveraging their right to choose are pleased or joyful that they can do so, and this distantly makes the joke worth keeping. He might be pro-choice, and keen to defend it, but the way he defends it models an entire cadre of people who look up to him. He’s speaking from a position with multiple layers of privilege, on account of his stature, race, and gender, and basically saying “abortion, no biggie, right?” How does that help us recruit women in tech?

Did my nose find it, or do we care more about who maintains a C runtime?

Immediate future prediction: -4 on this comment, a disengaging reply from you, a barrage of comments below me lining up to defend Stallman (likely calling him Dr. Stallman) or tell me I’m misinterpreting a direct quote and/or its context, and I sign out again and return to dormancy and lament this community’s symptomatic demonstration of this industry’s faults: it’s about who runs glibc! That matters! Ignore everything else, it’s a tizzy! Just look at the top thread. Not an abortion joke, an abortion law joke. That makes it all better.

Edit: Oh good, we are on to the apt-get cow.

I guess I understand the downvotes here, but I really do think you've hit on at least an issue. Maybe not the issue, but it's a pretty big problem.

RMS's conduct here is just... pretty inappropriate. Jokes about abortion, rape, race, sexual orientation, etc, etc, are not something you should be touching as the maintainer of a public project, no matter what your opinions are or how strongly you hold them. The glibc maintainers (completely reasonably) decided that the man pages weren't a good place for potentially-charged jokes like this, and removed it. RMS overruled them in a pretty childlike and insensitive fashion, and that's not appropriate when you're the public face of anything.

I don't give a shit about the politics of glibc - but I do care that someone who is a role model and a public figure acts like this.

Why did you bring in "Jokes about abortion, rape, race, sexual orientation, etc, etc,". When the joke was actually about censorship?

someone who is a role model

But is he? Who considers rms as a role model generally? Barely anyone even knows his positions on anything other than software, and those are often derided. And that's on HN, where he's actually known. My colleagues wouldn't even know his name.

I do care that someone who is a role model and a public figure acts like this.

Why? It's fine to be offended. It's his project. Just fork and move on, if necessary.

This ignores both the fact that RMS is much more than just the maintainer of glibc, and the fact that 'just forking' glibc doesn't stop the maintainer from having a significant amount of public influence.

The problem is not anything to do with glibc - it's the conduct of someone who, like it or not, is a role model for a lot of people in the community, and has taken on a very public role.


Policing humor is a trope in dystopian novels for a reason.

If someone wants to make unsightly jokes, you're free to be offended. But implying that it's not acceptable to act that way is probably a bit far.

Counter to your glorious Fahrenheit 451 perception of either contemporary society or our future one, it’s just as dystopian to permit humor to be used as suppression of a marginalized subset of people. It is perfectly acceptable to expect that people not discriminate against others that are unlike them, in any way, lest that be a possibility. The key to humor that is actually funny is understanding that, particularly how the word I intentionally emphasized applies to comedy.

(Not saying that happened here, just reacting to your broadening to “policing humor.” Humor is also, you know, funny. That did happen here. Stallman should stick to his day gig.)

Isn't it a little hyperbolic to imply that an offhanded joke is suppressing a marginalized subset of people? Or that it was discriminatory?

Here's his full reply in context:


You guys both seem to really want there to be high-stakes politics implicated in this story, but there aren't, and pretending that there are looks pretty dumb. It is unlikely in the extreme that the maintainers who want to remove Stallman's dated, unfunny joke are pro-lifers. Presumably, they just think it's a cringey distraction, like this subthread.

The issue is whether Stallman gets veto rights on glibc commits. The maintainers say he doesn't. Since Stallman doesn't do much glibc work, and the maintainers do, presumably Stallman is going to lose this, unless they let him save face out of affection.

The disengaging prophecy is fulfilled! For my next trick, I shall make this subthread disappear!

(Focus, people. Stallman’s commit bit. Stay on target and let’s figure this thing out. Did we get closure on the apt-get cow, or are we tabling that?)

Because it hasn't been just his project since he began accepting patches. It's a reflection on every contributor and every member of the community. When a project is the product of many peoples work, dirtying the face of the project affects everyone.

> I guess I understand the downvotes here

You’d be surprised. It bottomed out at -3 and is now oscillating around 0 and -1. That’s a surprisingly encouraging sign.

I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of a problem. I think the industry’s reaction to it is an even bigger one and it’s right here, in this thread. Or lack thereof.

RMS has always struck me as the kind of person you generally avoid, except when you can't because they're family, and when they say things you smile and change the subject. Where he's unusual is that the ranting isn't about minority groups or political parties, it's proprietary software.

> Immediate future prediction: -4 on this comment

Commenting on downvotes is discouraged in the HN guidelines. It's boring, it's trite and this isn't Reddit/Voat.

It is discouraged yes, but also it's human nature to want to understand why ones opinion isn't popular. I have seen previously my own posts be downvoted with no comments given and no clear idea of what I was doing to displease the hive mind.

I've come to accept the occasional downvote as noise in the process.

It's probably not healthy to take them seriously.

Definitely. Agree with you on both points. Maybe I find it strange as commenting on your downvotes is shunned, but it's largely OK to downvote something without explanation. This is only HN after all and I'm very comfortable being different from the 'average-HN'er'.

  > this isn't Reddit/Voat.
Indeed, sometimes it feels like Stepford.

I agree with you. I think it's possible to ignore the content of the joke and examine the interplay between the glibc maintainers and RMS, and I think that's an interesting conflict all of its own.

But... there's also an unnecessary joke in the public documentation of an important free software project involved here, and I think it's also interesting (perhaps even important) to talk about the content of the joke, and if things like that are ok/productive/positive/offensive/bad/exclusionary in our world.

Unfortunately, I wouldn't really expect any discussion of this latter point to be particularly productive on HN. I don't say this with any amount of derision; I just feel that's the way it is.

(For the record, I say good riddance to that particularly unfunny joke, and I think it's worthwhile to remove dreck like that from our projects.)

> I’m much more concerned about him playing the “childbirth is far more traumatic than having an abortion” card in the discussion about the patch. Until this moment, I wasn’t even aware that was a card. It’s difficult to fathom the logic that would arrive at that statement making sense to someone typing it, particularly a person who will never experience the situations upon which he’s speaking conclusively.

It's a standard talking point in the pro-abortion (I am solidly pro-choice and I use pro-abortion deliberately here) crowd who feel the need not merely to negate but to invert everything the anti-abortion right argues.

Well aren't the majority of what rabid pro life considers abortions taking some pills and having a bad morning or in some loonies cases putting on a condom?

"It’s difficult to fathom the logic that would arrive at that statement making sense to someone typing it"

In https://stallman.org/articles/children.html Stallman describes "Why it is important not to have children."

I can easily see "don't have children because it's a traumatic experience" as fitting on the list.

Among other things, btw, he says that his decision to not have children opened up time to work on GNU and free software.

It's a story because Stallman has played the "I'm the boss, you can't outvote me" card, not because anyone's in a tizzy over the politics.

If you're going to pull the "I'm the boss, you can't outvote me" card, the best place to do it is somewhere trivial. Especially when you added it yourself a long time ago. Even though I would prefer some sort of vote for these things.

there's no "political correctness" here at all.

Of course there is, Is anyone trying to remove apt-get moo?

It seems like a really silly hill to die on, but then this whole debate seems like a boring pissing match. My only thought on finishing the article was, “what a waste of my time this was,” and that was just reading it, not living it. Maybe there’s some strategic value to making a big deal of something trivial like this, but I don’t see it. I just come away from this thinking Stallman is a controlling, thin-skinned, dick. If that was his plan, then as they say, mission accomplished. I couldn’t care less about the politics, it’s the personality that’s offensive.

* I couldn’t care less about the politics, it’s the personality that’s offensive.*

Fair enough, though for me the personality is what I like. It's the same way I feel about ESR, even if I don't agree with whatever point is being made, I enjoy intelligent outspoken brashness.

I enjoy that when the intelligence and brashness has a point other than stroking its own ego. Linus for example, is an example of the positive (imo) face of what you’re talking about, because it’s not about something petty from nearly 30 years ago and his desire to be in some kind of control. You know that even when he’s harsh and outspoken, odds are he’s making a really good and relevant point.

I’m not seeing that here, just a lot of heat and no light.

Really? To be honest, Linus also comes across as an egomaniac. Sometimes, he says what must be said. Mostly, he's just extremely abusive. The problem with BDFL positions is it removes the sort of checks and bounds that people need, to stop them growing into assholes.

The advantage is, for better or worse, they tend to have the kind of vision and consistency that allows a project to thrive.

I think it'd be nice if they had a HR department they had to answer to, or something like that.

I don't think Torvalds grew into anything; the Tanenbaum–Torvalds debate from '92 already had quotes like:

your job is being a professor and researcher: That's one hell of a good excuse for some of the brain-damages of minix. I can only hope (and assume) that Amoeba doesn't suck like minix does.

>> there's no "political correctness" here at all.

> Of course there is, Is anyone trying to remove apt-get moo?

If the joke only showed up in some joke manpage, that would be one thing. But the joke was in a real manpage, and I think it seemed out of place regardless of one’s political leanings.

it is mentioned in --help as super cow powers, and I'm glad it is.

Wow then we need to annihilate the Gnus manual...

I think there is a difference. Not so much because of political correctness, but because it is an inherently political joke.

Secondly, the joke is extremely US centric, and might make no sense to somebody now familiar on the US stance on abortion and its political impact.

I think it's misplaced for those reasons, and I am left-leaning and pro-choice. So while i agree with the political viewpoint in the joke, i don't think it should be in the software documentation.

That being said, i think easter eggs are fine, but this feels misplaced to me.

How is moo related to political correctness? Doesn't it just ask if you've mooed today? That's an innocent joke that you never need to stumble upon.

Joking about social/religious/political topics in deep technical docs is something else entirely, unless I'm missing something about moo.

I brought up moo because it is not related to political correctness.

EDIT: If you're not a native speaker, I'll try to explain it better. First I quoted the statement that it was not about political correctness. This indicates that the next line is in direct response. Then I wrote "of course there is" Which is to say that of course the comment in the original post was about political correctness. Then I gave the example of apt-get moo as a joke that is very public, and not political at all, to point out that nobody wants to get rid of it.

> Of course there is, Is anyone trying to remove apt-get moo?

If forced to choose, I would actually prefer touchy political jokes in the documentation over non-political easter eggs baked into the code, because IAGNI.

It's just RMS continuing to be an authoritarian, as he's always been. He's always been unwilling to compromise on big things, he's still unwilling to compromise on small things.

Being uncompromising in your politics and values is hardly authoritarian. RMS runs the ship and these people knew it when they started working on a GNU project, especially since it's well known RMS has shot down things he didn't like before.

> Being uncompromising in your politics and values is hardly authoritarian

In general, yes, but in this particular case it is clearly "I am the Law!" case - he's being authoritarian. And your next two sentences pretty much confirm that, even if you dismiss it with "they knew he was an authoritarian when they joined" and "he's been an authoritarian for a long time". Maybe true, but doesn't make it better.

I don't remember confirming his authoritarianism, I'm not sure why you think that's what I'm doing. If you think any exercise of rightful power is authoritarian than that's a childish definition and waters down what actual authoritarianism is.

"RMS runs the ship", "RMS has shot down things he didn't like before".

> If you think any exercise of rightful power is authoritarian

No, not any - this particular one, and in general one that is done "because I want it so, and your opinion doesn't matter because I decide here".

So vendor lock-in, but instead of the evil corp it is RMS this time? The irony.

Why is the joke dated? It refers to a current (and recently expanded) US government policy.

It's also horribly written and essentially a bad joke. I don't have anything against Apocrypha in an otherwise serious document, but this is so badly written that I know people who only understood what it was talking about on the third read of it, specifically looking for the meaning.

It's so low quality that I suspect many people simply don't care about keeping it in, especially as it comes out of left field and not, let's say, general snarky tone (which can be great as anyone in the trenches can recall from time to time).

In fact that was one of rms' points. The broader story is about the joke. TFA's take is TFA's take, it's part of the story but the joke also matters.

Current US poitical debates run in the other direction. Some states like Hawaii and California are mandating that anti-abortion preganacy counseling centers post prominent instructions on where their clients can get abortions.

So there is concern about free speech and abortion but the government is compelling pro-abortion (or at least anti-anti-abortion) speech this time.

This isn't the first time he's pulled this. I remember the hostile takeover attempt against Ulrich Drepper back in the early 2000s.

Bottom line: Don't make your project a GNU project if you want control of it. Benevolent dictators aren't always benevolent.

The good news is that the devs can fork Glibc, which has happened at least twice before IIRC.

I've gone into a bit of detail on my view of the cultural/generational gap here: https://lobste.rs/s/ei9fcf/who_controls_glibc#c_lfucpv - but the bottom line is that RMS' values are very different to those of the project, and he's not going to change them. GNU's values were founded in the counterculture movements of the 70s, and the social issues of those times, which are different to those commonly adopted today.

As always, the Simpsons did it best: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMqZ2PPOLik

Drepper's take on that takeover attempt: https://sourceware.org/ml/libc-announce/2001/msg00000.html

Starts at "And now for some not so nice things".

No, even though this seems like exactly the kind of thing which should offend right wingers, the "political correctness" involved isn't right-leaning - that's the most astounding thing about this. The objections to including this are fundamentally feminist, left-leaning ones about how it could be "triggering" to women. This doesn't even seem to be a case of the right adopting feminist language as they sometimes do - its removal is backed mainly by left-wing campaigners like Matthew Garrett, some of whom are implacably opposed to the idea that free software should even be welcoming to people with right-wing views.

Somehow, using the glibc documentation to attack US anti-abortion policy offended not the right wing, but the modern feminist left; ironically enough, the same folks who believe that everything must be political and that any developer who doesn't care about politics is an active enemy of the cause.

It’s also a reaction against political correctness culture and social justice warriors.

No, it isn't. It doesn't even make sense in that light. The "reaction" here was to remove a political statement. This is what I mean people people rooting like truffle hogs for a political faction to cheerlead.

So what annoys me about this discussion is that both sides are not being very honest. Calling it an "abortion joke" is to me highly misleading. It's an "abortion law joke" & has nothing to do with the procedure of abortion! The people arguing against it seem to be implying its much more inappropriate than it is.

Anyway, no where in the article is the actual "joke" mentioned. So I'd like to include it here just so people can judge for themselves.

"Proposed Federal censorship regulations may prohibit us from giving you information about the possibility of calling this function. We would be required to say that this is not an acceptable way of terminating a program."

As someone that was not aware of the gag rule before the mailing list thread brought it up, I thought it was an abortion joke, especially with the "we would be required to say this is not an acceptable way of terminating a program". It is in the man page for abort(). The context clues are there, but the wrong ones.

So, on that level, it fails as a joke: if you aren't aware of the policy it's trying to criticize and make people aware of, it reads like a clunky abortion joke, and one that isn't very funny.

And yet, you're now aware of the gag rule and GNUs opposition. So, on that level, it's succeeding.

Yes, after the original writer had to explain it when it came up through a heated mailing list discussion about removing it partly because some misinterpreted it. That's not the excellence in communication you probably think it is. And it doesn't belong in a manual.

Even the term "gag rule" is a political position. The law was originally intended to keep national policy out of abortion, so consciences of abortion objectors won't be violated. It's commonly referred to as the Mexico City Policy. Similar rules have been in effect in the past on other highly controversial subjects like slavery.

Yes, it's vague enough that you can probably find what you want in it. For that reason alone, there probably is a legitimate case to remove it.

I think it's interesting how one's background can affect this too. I think everyone agrees that GNU & FSF are left-wing projects but where the "left" falls on different issues depends on where you're from. For RMS & most American lefties, "freedom" includes things like abortion rights. I think in other countries like Latin America & Catholic Europe the "left" generally favors restrictions on abortion. Lots of people that have become involved in the free software movement recently are from Latin America & RMS probably doesn't pick up on what his core audience believes on these things.

I don't know why you say the left in Latin America favors restrictions on abortion.

I am a Latin American and can say it's just not so - at least in the countries I know, the left is usually pushing for more sex ed, and more availability of abortion.

It'd be interesting to know _where_ in Latin America the left favors the restrictions on abortion - at least to document that perspective and share it around.

I was predominantly thinking of Hugo Chavez & Venezuela. Maybe I am not understanding his positions, but he was extremely left-wing (at least in the American context) on almost every issue except abortion. IIUC all countries in Latin America with the exception of Cuba & Uruguay have really bad abortion rights records. Maybe the left supports abortion rights, but at the least, it's not been enough support to effect changes to these laws.

Thanks for explaining.

Cuba & Venezuela are not within the normalcy of LatAm - different economic models, different politics. Mexico has good abortion laws - at least in the capital.

There are awful abortion rights records. Agreed - even in my own country, where we're fighting to have it allowed at least for extreme cases (nonviable fetus, or situations that put the mother at big risk, like ectopic pregnancies). Most LatAm countries at least allow abortion to save the mother's life.

Agreed that there's not been enough support to effect changes to the laws. It's an uphill battle; most of America is historically very right-leaning; military dictatorships and rights infringement were the norm for most of the 20th century in much of the subcontinent, and people who lived - but mostly those who _grew up_ - through that have the lingering effects of those predispositions.

But - yeah, the left is generally out of the circles of power in LatAm, and the laws - in particular abortion and other religion-endorsed observations - are very right leaning.

>GNU & FSF are left wing projects

What?. You'll have to explain to me how you've come to such a conclussion.

You can add Romania to that list even if it's not part of Catholic Europe. It's part of Orthodox Europe. Abortion was outlawed under communism, but after the fall of Iron Curtain it was immediately legalized.

> Abortion was outlawed under communism

It was also fully legalised under communism.

The USSR was very big on getting women into the workforce (to help fill some of the enormous manpower shortage caused by WW2 casualties); improved reproductive health & choice obviously let women contribute more to industry & helped post-war rebuilding efforts.

Abortion was fully legalised in 1957 (after being controlled by communists since 1947): it was Nicolae Ceaușescu (the second Communist leader) who criminalised it in 1966, as part of his totalitarian autocrasy.

I agree with RMS on this. People need to grow up. It's ok to be offended, but not ok to try and correct everyone just because you are offended. A line needs to be drawn somewhere and this is harmless.

Nobody who removed the joke said they were offended by it, they just said that they didn't believe it was the sort of thing that belonged in technical documentation. If anyone is offended, it is RMS, in the sense that he seems personally affronted that he doesn't carry the line-item veto power he thinks he had over all of GNU and people did not ask him before removing something he added 25 years ago.

Not everyone who disagrees with something is offended by the thing they disagree with. Shall I say that someone who prefers writing documentation in man pages instead of Markdown is offended by Markdown? Is Project Zero offended by buffer overflows?

Technical documentation isn't the place for a joke full stop. Documentation is for people who are typically busy, uncertain and potentially dealing with something that is going wrong.

They want clear, concise and accessible help. They don't want or need tasteless jokes. It is disrespectful to their time to include random garbage.

This is supposed to be read by people who need it, not people who know what is going on and want to enjoy a good laugh.

"Technical documentation isn't the place for a joke full stop"

This is a bad take. When wading through dry technical documentation a little humor can make it much less laborious.

As long as the humor doesn't result in ambiguity, there's no problem.

Something like "You can tune a filesystem, but you can't tune a fish." at the end of a manpage may elicit a chuckle but doesn't reduce understanding.

For what it's worth, at least one member of the glibc steering committee appears to agree:

"I agree with removing this joke. A bit of humor is fine - indeed, the manual could use a bit more than it has - but this attempt at humor does not work. The manual should be high-quality, and that includes high-quality jokes."


For what it's worth, that only high quality jokes bit made me laugh more than Stallman's joke.

Yeah, it should probably be more

"your technical documentation should have a consistent tone"

I appreciate light-hearted asides in documentation. But more if I expect it than when it's unexpected. Like you wouldn't want to end up confusing some ESL programmer who goes ask a lawyer whether they should be worried about this?

Or if you're really ambitious, make all your docs super funny! But if you mix the tone it's disorienting and maybe bad writing.

> a little humor can make it much less laborious

Here, here!

I would even go so far as to say that Why's (Poignant) Guide to Ruby directly contributed a great deal to Ruby's popularity because of the witty content alone.

The TexBook was a technical documentation for TeX written by Donald Knuth. The book had a lot of jokes, and I enjoyed reading it.

Leaving aside the question of the nature of its jokes, the TeXBook is the sort of thing you read straight through. It's a narrative about how some code came to be. It's not the same sort of reference as the glibc manual, and I think a narrative form of documentation benefits from a casual tone and a four-sentence standalone reference about a function (especially where one of those sentences is "Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Unsafe corrupt | AC-Unsafe lock corrupt") benefits from a terse tone.

Knuth is actually funny.

What is and is not funny, is highly subjective. (Just to be clear, I really like Donald Knuth's sense of humor.)

Knuth has a great sense of humor in his books and exercices. I also like Stallman's jokes, but I can concede that they are sligthly less funny than Knuth's.

I'm not that hardcore about it, but I still agree this really shouldn't be in the official docs. Maybe in a tutorial or a set of slides.

I do agree with some professionalism in things that want to be taken seriously. I don't even really like the "Apt with super cow powers."

I do agree this isn't about political correctness. At one time GNU tools were just a bunch of devs trying to write open source tooling for fun or to learn. But with it being such a huge part of our industry now, it does need to grow up.

If you're working on your own small open source projects, have fun with the docs and comments. But don't be like Stallman. Realize if your tools are really successful, those quips might get cut out one day. c'est la vie

My feeling is that most of GNU manuals in texinfo format are borderline useless because the structure is simply wrong, the random jokes are somewhat tangential issue.

I Don't know if we're talking about the same thing but I've found the format of man pages to be absolutely useless for me. Maybe I'm too dumb/noob to understand them, but then what's left for the folk who just switched to linux and wamts to learn about commands.

Texinfo and man are different.


> "Notably, man is not available as an output format from the standard Texinfo tools. While Texinfo is used for writing the documentation of GNU software, which typically is used in Unix-like environments such as GNU/Linux, where man pages are the traditional format for documentation, the rationale for this is that man pages have a strict conventional format, used traditionally as quick reference guides, whereas typical Texinfo applications are for tutorials as well as reference manuals. As such, no benefit is seen in expressing Texinfo content in man page format. Moreover, many GNU projects eschew man pages almost completely, referring the reader of the provided man page (which often describes itself as seldom maintained) to the Info document."


They can take some getting used to if you're not familiar with them, but given how much documentation is available in these formats, it's worth taking a few hours to become accustomed to them. A lot of it is duplicated online as well, so you can often use your favorite search engine.

Word. GNU texinfo is so fucking confusing that I only ever invoke it as

  info --subnodes -o - $PROGRAM | less
That dumps the entire manual for $PROGRAM into `less`, where I can then use regex-searches like a normal humanbeing.

It's wonderful to use in emacs, and back before I started using emacs ISTR that pinfo was a great way to read info.

I used to hate how GNU manpages would point me at the info docs, but honestly nowadays I prefer info. It really is nice — like a pre-CSS, pre-JavaScript HTML, only it can be beautifully typeset too.

Yeah, I hate info, but the problem is info(1), not the entire texinfo stack. The html output is pretty good and I already know how to navigate it, so I usually use that

Yeah, Python docs need to stop using variable names like 'spam' & 'eggs', Monty Python's too jokey, no room for it in docs

If you genuinely believe that these are comparable situations (and you're not just making a strained comparison to argue in favor of the side you favor), I'm not sure how to explain my position to you.

Although I think I would start by saying this: where "spam" and "eggs" is used in Python, it is in the place of any other word, usually a nonsense word like "foo" or "bar", and its presence does not distract. I doubt anyone thinks of actual SPAM or actual eggs when they run across it, and I seriously doubt the documentation authors intended or expected anyone to.

The (so-called) joke in this glibc discussion is a) essentially a pun on the name of the function, i.e., introducing mental confusion; b) a political subject; c) an ill-explained reference to a political subject (did you know it's about the global gag rule? do you know what the global gag rule is?); d) intended to make you think about that subject instead of tuning it out.

Python's use of "spam" and "eggs" adds some character, that's about it. (Python's insistence on "eggs" and "wheels" and "cheeseshop", on the other hand... I find the names cute but if you wanted to get rid of them all in favor of slightly more descriptive words, I'd honestly be in favor.) This joke serves no purpose other than, at best, to distract the attention of the person looking up documentation onto a completely different subject.

I think that's a little different. Even with the fun variable names, the Python docs are pretty damn professional.

They haven't always been that way. The Python docs back around 2000 were not that great. A lot of work has been put in by people in the community to get them to the state they're in.

Python docs are very good and professional, but somewhat chaotic unless you have pretty good grasp on what belongs where.

Just last friday I tried to find authoritative definition of the leading underscore mangling behavior in the docs and was not able to do so.

Not the same thing. "spam" & "eggs" are very neutral. If they used politically charged terms, and inserted example code like "if brains(republicans) == 0 # always true!" then the situation would be similar. The difference is between neutral light-heartedness and non-neutral political message.

How do you know which words will and will not become politically charged in fourty years?

You update the docs in forty years as needed.

In any case that question seems wildly unrelated to the question at hand, which is about a joke that's intended to be a present-day political reference.

The same way you know what technical details will be needed in forty years: By actively maintaining the documentation, as they're doing.

They're probably just trying to give wide berth of the world's most dangerous joke.

The early days of computing was very informal and full of jokes. Didn't stop people from creating some of the most long-lasting and technically successful tools.

Maybe even helped them. Those tools create in informal atmosphere seem much more robust and useful than what the present day brings.

I think a large part of this is survivorship bias. We just don't see all the crap that was created back in the day because it didn't stick around.

Come to think of it, I guess you're right.

A well-constructed joke can make documentation more useful. I can't think of an example off the top of my head, but there've been plenty of times that something made me laugh and go "NOW I get it!" to the technical material.

This isn't a well-constructed joke in that sense - it's likely to cause confusion, not increased understanding.

We're humans, not robots. We don't run on information alone.

Hey meatbag, even robots like a good joke

Agreed with RMS in spirit

Disagree with his application in this context

I don’t give a damn about your politics when I’m trying to solve a problem unrelated to them

> they just said that they didn't believe it was the sort of thing that belonged in technical documentation

I've been dreading the day OSS projects became as soulless and boring as corporate ones. If we can't have jokes in technical documentation then it seems that day has come.

Next the FOSS HR department will be asking them to rename the abort function.

There's certainly something lost here, I won't deny that.

But glibc, and huge other parts of the FOSS ecosystem, has been a corporate project for years. Maintenance comes from stodgy companies like Red Hat who install glibc on the sort of extremely stodgy companies who are Red Hat customers.

And for those of us whose day jobs involve using glibc and reading its documentation, we deserve the benefits of free software as much as everyone else. If it is an ethical imperative (as RMS says!) for all software to be free and for proprietary software to die, it follows that the primary battleground is the servers of soulless, boring corporations. Your hobbyist laptop is important, too, because everyone deserves free software. But if free software weren't around, you would have installed a pirated copy of Windows with a keygen with some hentai as its background image and enjoyed the non-HR-compliance of the process, and Microsoft would have been quite okay with it because you would be locked into their proprietary software.

If free software is an ethical imperative - or even if it's not, but even if open source is simply a better way to develop software - then everyone who wants a job in software engineering and is qualified for it should be able to have a job in writing and maintaining FOSS. Human society has determined that if we want everyone to participate in an activity, things work better if everyone agrees to uphold a few norms. They don't have to be the same norms as boring corporations uphold (and you can quite easily argue that the norms of boring corporations aren't that good, actually, at making sure everyone is welcome to participate on equal terms). But the fact that we open our shared infrastructural work to accountability and public judgment is sort of how civilization works.

Hobbyist projects are still as possible as ever. Twenty years ago, you wouldn't have been able to get inappropriate jokes in the technical documentation for Solaris libc, or into MSDN, or whatever, but you could work on some upstart free software project with your friends and do whatever you want. You can still do that. If you want to be the young, upstart libc with some off-color political jokes that's being an alternative to the boring corporate libc, more power to you. Not everyone will participate, but that's what you want. Meanwhile, the libc whose goal in life was to displace the corporate libcs has won - and needs to step into its role.

You see it too in people going around telling people to stop saying master/slave for clusters


I think you're looking at the wrong axis. This isn't an order-vs-chaos question, it's one of constructive vs destructive. This particular joke makes the manual worse, not better, at being a manual. Cut it and move on, and always keep an eye out for places it could be improved, whether that be through better descriptive prose or a good, understanding-building joke.

The main justification for why it shouldn't be there is that it was offensive. The idea that software should not be political is, in fact, itself just as offensive to the community of campaigners who've joined the calls to have this removed as this joke is. The last big controversy I saw was the entire console jailbreaking community being declared a bunch of bigots because someone mocked the idea that code could have views on LGBTQ rights.

> The main justification for why it shouldn't be there is that it was offensive.

This is simply untrue; you can look at the patch's commit message and the review thread. The primary justification was that it wasn't appropriate, and the secondary one is that it wasn't actually funny and was tasteless. Nobody said "offensive". You can read the thread yourself.


(The April history shows the conversation between maintainers regarding the patch itself; if you want to see RMS' reply, go to the May index. RMS and Alexandre Oliva, the two people defending the joke, brought up the concept of "offense", and people repeatedly say in reply that they're not offended. Oliva later says he's offended by other people in the discussion.)

Of course, you're also welcome to believe that everyone who disagrees with you must be offended; you're entitled to your opinions.

I agree with RMS's pro-choice opinion, but I honestly see no reason a 20-something year old joke about abortion needed to remain in the documentation.

The consensus was that it be removed. It was removed. Just because HMS is a FOSS legend doesn't make him God.

> Just because RMS is a FOSS legend doesn't make him God.

According to RMS he does have ultimate authority over all GNU packages, including Glibc: https://lwn.net/Articles/753661/

He probably owns some root certs. Likely if he were to start exercising such authority without being an active developer, there would be a fork soon enough.

Isn't that what happened to emacs?

It happened with GCC. Today's GCC is actually a fork of the original, which became the "blessed" version once the forkers and RMS worked out resolved some issues that led to the fork.

The unforked (for lack of a better term) GCC was set aside, and the fork became the official version.

Just for the sake of completeness: the EGCS fork you are talking about was alive 1997-1999.

A few times, but so far GNU has held on.

Fork, take maintainers and contributors with you, convince others to use your fork.

Yes I'm 100% with you on this. I mainly dislike how the LWN article is framed.

One thing that may not be well-appreciated:

This is walking very close to the line of outright political advocacy. If you read the entire email thread, one of the examples [1] clearly crosses that threshold. Once that threshold is crossed, it is illegal for a government employee to contribute to glibc in an official capacity, or even a private employee contracted by the government. This includes things like people who need to modify glibc to get them to run on government supercomputers.

[1] Someone suggests blocking out code with #ifdef REPUBLICANS.

Actually, GNU is a 501(c)(3) organisation. They can’t really be politically active and maintain such a status.

501(c)(3) can support issues but not people in election for office.

Most worthwhile things are political. If there really is such a rule in some country, it should not condemn organisations to self censorship & apathy.

I wish I could make RMS, and you, and everyone who agrees with you, live in a sort of reverse-Kantian world, where whatever you advocate for as acceptable behavior when you do it becomes a universal law of conduct for other people to use when interacting with you.

No matter how much of a "thick skin" you may think you have, I'd lay money that in a world which truly worked this way, you'd last under an hour before abandoning your position and calling for stronger social norms against being an ass to people.

I think RMS has been "attacked" quite a lot of times since he founded FSF and even before it, yet look at him, he's still advocating for what he believes in.

Ah, but aren't you pretty famous yourself for being just that?

> I wish I could make RMS, and you, and everyone who agrees with you, live in a sort of reverse-Kantian world, where whatever you advocate for as acceptable behavior when you do it becomes a universal law of conduct for other people to use when interacting with you.

You want to transport me back to the 70's MIT AI lab? I'm so there!

Considering the stories of the breakdown of MIT AI Lab, you might be... surprised.

(No, Levy's book was not honest to the facts)

I don't know the context of this, explanation?

"Hackers: Heroes of the Computing Revolution" is probably the most common source for those who "weren't there" about AI Lab, and it paints a story of the lab being destroyed by Symbolics, proprietary software etc. - I have personally seen the meme of "AI Lab hackers got bought out" with referrals to the book itself.

What a lot of people don't know is that one of the descriptions used by RMS to talk about how "AI Lab lost people", the story of how he couldn't meet people at lunch, isn't because they left AI Lab for "evil corporations". It was because a lot of people avoided RMS, especially after lawsuit often considered more crucial for the creation of GNU than the Xerox printer story (Stallman violated Symbolics-MIT source licensing deal).

From better sources, I have met two AI Lab members from 1970s - one even claimed to have been RMS' supervisor back when RMS was Harvard Undergrad working part-time (and if certain war story is to be believed, is indirectly responsible for Emacs happening) - the impression left was that a lot of RMS' AI Lab contemporaries wouldn't shake hands with him since 1980s.

Heard also interesting stories on RMS' mismanagement of early Hurd initiative and how it resulted in close to 0 work being done.

You should practice what you preach, because your statement doesn't make me feel very welcome or safe right now. You seem to make a lot of assumptions about me and the world I live in.

I just said I agree with RMS on this, and you straight up attacked me personally.

I just said I agree with RMS on this, and you straight up attacked me personally.

The worst thing I would wish on you is for you to live a while in a world run according to your own espoused values.

If you feel that's an attack, it's a problem with your values.

(at least, that's how I think I'm supposed to respond here, since people aren't supposed to "feel attacked" or "get offended" by such things, apparently)

You're basically saying his values are wrong without any explanation of how you came to such a conclusion. You're also making wild statements about how he would react to some imaginary world.

Probably not the right way to have a discussion.

The comment was "People need to grow up", accompanied by blaming people for being offended.

I do think that's wrong. And I do think having to live in a world where everyone operated by those values would quickly cure the original commenter of believing this sort of thing. In fact, I think it's a very easy way to communicate what's wrong.

Yeah, this is one of those spots where RMS is stubbornly and stupidly standing up for principle in a context where the rest of us just clearly see that it shouldn't matter and he's just being a jerk.

But... damn if he's not right about this. The joke has meaning. It still means what he meant when he wrote it. The issue is an important one (to RMS, at least). And no one else has a real argument here other than "it's unprofessional and embarassing and we want it gone".

Same old, same old. The crusty bearded guy is a jerk, but he's right.

> And no one else has a real argument here other than "it's unprofessional and embarassing and we want it gone".

No one needs any better argument. It's unprofessional, and it's embarrassing (both as poorly executed joke and as political advocacy bolted onto the technical manual). RMS has a perfectly good personal site and lots of speaking engagements where he is very welcome to advocate whatever he likes and people are happy to see him to do just that. And nobody has a problem with it - nobody ever, as far as I know, demanded to close his site or protested him speaking anywhere, let alone demanded him to be banned. His advocacy (the fact that he's doing what he's doing) is very accepted even among people who disagree with him. However, he insists on doing in in the place where people don't want it. That's just being annoying and stubborn for no other reason but "because I want it so".

> No one needs any better argument. It's unprofessional

I do. If you want professional, there are plenty of professional proprietary vendors out there. Or if you insist on Free Software, probably the BSDs are more professional.

GNU is a social project first, with quality and professionalism being secondary considerations.

The whole argument is about the removal of a statement against censorship (interpreted by some as an "abortion joke"). Of course a GNU project shouldn't remove such a thing for reasons of "being professional". I agree with rms here.

On the other side is the scope. Why is rms being so difficult here? Even though I think he's right, why not shrug it off? Why even bother?

I would disagree with rms here, were it not that in the past he's often been ridiculed for being quirky and irrational about minutiae, and yet here we are, with Facebook and Google controlling the internet, each one of us carrying a personal tracking device and loving it, and e-books being deleted remotely from devices we thought we owned.

So maybe this silly, trivial disagreement about some documentation is more important than I give it credit for at this moment.

rms is known for being difficult, not for being wrong.

> If you want professional, there are plenty of professional proprietary vendors out there

I do not see existence of other professional vendors a valid reason for behaving unprofessionaly. Nobody says RMS should behave professionally because otherwise there would be no professional vendors left. He should behave professionally because it's the right thing to do in this context, not because of availability concerns.

> GNU is a social project first

No, not really. Almost all effort is dedicated to code and surrounding matters (yes, GPL too), and very little is dedicated to societal change as such.

> with quality and professionalism being secondary considerations.

If it were true, GNU projects would die long ago. Nobody needs a compiler or a shell that is social project first and quality software second. Nobody would use it (ok, maybe a dozen or so of people would, but that's it). Fortunately, it is not the case at all.

> rms is known for being difficult, not for being wrong.

He's known for both. He has been wrong plenty. He also has been right plenty, including in many important things, but that doesn't make him infallible.

>The joke has meaning

Only if you're American and also have the requisite background knowledge to understand it, which many don't.

If you don't know the context, it's meaningless. Which is not a good thing to have in technical documentation.

I am not American but get the joke. Also, I can think of only a handful countries w/o any significant amount of opposers to abortion, and even those probably have quite a bit of them.

I'm European and we learned about the global gag rule in HS.

You really have to be clueless to not get the joke.

'Clueless' is an offensively derogatory word in this context. An incredibly niche piece of legislation that applies to 5% of the World's population?

I had no idea it related to abortion . I have no knowledge of or interest in abortion laws. I assumed it was something related to US munitions export laws.

Laws seem to be the main export of the US these days, so you probably have the context. You definitely should have it if you work in computing, as almost everything in this industry is defined by how US of A sees things.

> Only if [you...] have the requisite background knowledge to understand it, which many don't.

It's literally the C library reference manual. That's true of the whole thing!

The point is that it has meaning, however obscure, and reflects a particular principled intent of the author. And the request to remove it is cosmetic. And you resolve that by holding to the author's intent and not just polishing it to fit your sense of aesthetics.

Your argument would be an excellent reason to reject a submitted joke that didn't reflect a consensus of the active maintainers; not so much to remove one decades after the fact.

I find your line of reasoning vague and...I don't know the word, it seems very one-sided.

what do you mean by the "C library reference manual"? The glibc man or something else? Cause to me glibc is just GNU's implementation of the C standard.

RMS can decide what goes in the GNU manual, sure. But you didn't even address the fact that the joke is not understandable unless you're from a very specific background (how many people are familiar with US imperialistic politics and the global gag rule?)

> (how many people are familiar with US imperialistic politics and the global gag rule?)

Many of us are, more or less. RMS's intention may be to inform more people about such rule(s), since US politics affects the whole world and it is good to be informed.

>It's literally the C library reference manual. That's true of the whole thing!

You have to know about the global gag rule prohibiting health providers that receive federal funds from discussing abortion with their patients to understand the entire C library reference manual? News to me.

No, the manual is a dry retelling of software capabilities without tutorial content, so its readers might reasonably be expected to be familiar with the idea of a section or two requiring some external context to interpret.

All you're telling me is that you'd prefer to be googling for strftime() examples on StackOverflow than reading an explainer on US abortion rights policy. Which is fine. But it's not like it would hurt you to learn a little extra stuff along the way, and RMS thinks it would be good for you. And he wrote the manual.

It's never helped anyone understand the technical material and it's caused at least one instance of confusion (https://stackoverflow.com/questions/48445031/why-would-it-be...), that's reason enough. Jokes in documentation are good, but only if they serve the documentation.

I disagree with RMS because I don't think the joke adds to my ability to understand the usage of the function.

Then you didn't read the fine line. He was making a subtle reference to power politics how to abort a process. Properly or abrupt. A certain fraction of the group wanted to forbid this abrupt termination and only go through signals, so that everyone involved can have their say and be informed. This particular function sidestepped it, and as such was politically loaded. Removing this reference would remove the questioning of proper usage and the politics behind. But since current glibc maintainers are more worried about their profile than good documentation RMS vetoed.

The joke doesn't really make sense to non-Americans

The proper term for the first variant is "kill all children", which is equally loaded. Next would be to change kill child to something worse, and go away with master slave.

This is harmless - probably true, nobody would die or suffer harm from having irrelevant content in the manual. We could splice full seven books of Harry Potter into it, and provided it is clearly marked up, it won't cause any serious harm. But glibc technical manuals are not exactly the place for RMS - or anybody else - to wage political advocacy campaigns, criticize US federal government or joke on the topics unrelated to the technical content. It's not harmful (which is a very high bar), but it's also not appropriate. Do we want to see political debate and advocacy in glibc manuals, commit messages, code comments and other places? Probably not. There are ample venues for this - and especially for a person with the name recognition RMS deservedly enjoys - to advocate anything he likes. He doesn't need the venue of glibc manuals for that, and shouldn't use it.

Try reading GPL license... is a political statement itself.

Is joke in documentation useful? Probably not...

True (which is one of the reasons I don't use GPL for my personal projects) but that doesn't mean GNU technical space should be a venue for every other political discussion in the world. There are far better venues out there.

Maybe, maybe not. I think the core issue is that RMS doesn't believe in that strong "technical" vs. "political" separation - to him, the whole GNU project is a political endeavour, including all the tech in it.

> that RMS doesn't believe in that strong "technical" vs. "political" separation

I do not believe that for a second. RMS is completely capable of seeing it, and he himself on his own site has this separation, and in there's no indication he is incapable of distinguishing between UNIX API and political advocacy. He just wants to use his considerable technical capital to promote his political agenda. In places, where such promotion is not appropriate.

That's up for the people in the "GNU technical space" to determine.

>But glibc technical manuals are not exactly the place for RMS - or anybody else - to wage political advocacy campaigns, criticize US federal government

What I write or not write in my manuals is not for you to decide. If I want pro-choice or pro-life advocacy in there, that's my decision. If I want "I'm with Her" or "MAGA" in there, still my decision. If I make a sucky hoke, you cannot and should not be able to force me to stop telling it.

Of course, you're free to criticize me, or offer feedback on how to improve, or just go with or create a competitor to my stuff, or even just resort to call me a "poohead" if you prefer. But don't ever presume you can just dictate to me what is OK, or "professional".

Same goes for RMS, whom I agree with in his argumentation in favor of his joke, but utterly wrong for trying to dictate to the actual maintainers of the glibc to keep it in against their wishes.

I doubt anyone cares hugely about political messages in commit comments.

Not hugely, probably, as one doesn't care hugely about stepping in dog's turd while walking on the street. Not the end of the world. Still better to have turd-less streets?

I read it the other way around, with RMS being the one offended and trying to correct everyone: the people maintaining glibc agreed to change part of the documentation because it wasn't serving a useful purpose, either as technical material, core philosophical material, or as material reinforcing one of those two (which can include a carefully-crafted joke, don't get me wrong). RMS got offended and tried to force them to keep it.

This is absolutely an abortion joke, in that it's taking a function that has nothing to do with human reproduction at all and treating it as the same thing as having an abortion. The object of mockery of the joke itself is in fact law, not the act of abortion, but that doesn't really matter.

It absolutely does matter.

The notion that making mockery of law that prohibits one's freedom of choice being the same as mockery of the said choice itself is astoundingly absurd.

The first, mockery of law-- specially one that imposes restrictions on citizens is a political consideration, while mockery of a personal subject outside the context of politics is an ideological concern.

To make it more clear, please consider that it is possible to be against prohibition of any choice while simultaneously find said choice unfavorable.

This isn't about "freedom of choice", and the fact that you're even suggesting that means you've missed the point. This is about the fact that a joke that has anything to do with a sensitive topic like abortion is wildly inappropriate to have in technical documentation. Even if you ignore the abortion angle, this is still a political joke, which is also inappropriate for this context. In fact, most jokes are fairly inappropriate in this context, but I'm having trouble thinking of anything more inappropriate than an abortion joke.

Edit: I'm really curious what kind of people are downvoting me. To those who are, I'd really like to know what your rationale is for believing that an abortion joke belongs in technical documentation.

As already pointed out, the whole FOSS movement and so GNU project is a political enterprise, technology is only the means to an end.

In fact, it could be argued that the core principal and objective of FOSS and GNU project is reinforcement of liberty by protection and promotion of freedom of choice in the digital age.

God forbid there be any politics in GNU software. Oh, wait, GNU software is inherently political.

The politics of GNU is not only completely separate from the politics of abortion debate, but we're also talking about technical documentation here, which is an apolitical thing. Someone reading technical documentation is not doing so because they're trying to be involved in the politics, they're doing so because they're looking for, you guessed it, technical documentation.

"talking about technical documentation here, which is an apolitical thing"

There's no requirement of that, just like there's no requirement that technical documentation be stab-your-eyes-out dry and boring rather than having an occasional bit of humor.

Apolitical technical documentation is a style choice, saying that you want to emulate a certain style of documentation.

I didn't say the technical documentation has to be completely dry and devoid of any humor. But when you're putting humor into technical documentation, you need to avoid any kind of divisive or political topic. The worst response to the humor you put in there should a groan.

I would argue that the texinfo documentation is not only technical documentation, but also political documentation with a cultural legacy.

RMS started the FSF for political reasons, as a reaction to the sudden intersection of code sharing, business and copyright law. Not only was it not in any way separate from RMS' political views, but it is in fact entirely an expression of them down to texinfo and his uncompromising views that helped spawn an entire culture around Free Software.

There are those that would like to separate and divide these from what they see as purely technical matter, but I would argue the mistake they are making in this case is in looking at it as merely technical documentation. It is that, but it is also more than this.

Maybe I'm old fashioned in my sensibilities, but whether I agree with someone or not is immaterial, I will always appreciate being able to catch a glimpse of the human face behind their work. RMS may not be the most agreeable man on the face of the planet, but I'm inclined to respect the man's legacy and how he sees fit to leave it, particularly as he still maintains an incredibly active role in the policies of the culture he helped to shape through his Foundation.

As others have said, the glibc is part of a political organization. If the Chinese government had forbid GNU from speaking on forks and required the exclusive use of chopsticks, you'd see a similar joke on the page for fork. Nobody is trying to deny that abortion is a sensitive topic, politics is always about sensitive topics, and it's sensitivity might have something to do with why the US government legislated on it.

'abort' as word is more offensive/triggering than the joke.

The discussion is a proxy for how executive decisions are made for glibc, and in particular by whom.

The merit of a stale joke from the 90s is meaningless, and posturing about its appropriateness is disingenuous. Open source principals have always been eccentric (Torvalds, Raymond(!), etc.), and the FOSS community tolerated it not only because of their technical contributions, but because the open source community itself is an expression of tolerance based on shared objectives.

Of course others would like to wield their influence in the generation of the DNA of the internet, and there is a tremendous amount to be gained by scandalizing, discrediting, and isolating its core maintainers.

Perhaps eventually RMS will come around and remove the joke himself, after finding it does not stand the test of time. But it would go a long way to resolving this if they could demonstrate they aren't just using the joke as a pretext for scandal to undermine the decision making structure of a project.

It's clearly not about the joke.

This seems to ascribe a high amount of ill will to glibc maintainers who have been faithful and productive GNU maintainers for many years, and I don't believe there's any other evidence that they wish to undermine RMS' authority.

However, if those maintainers find that their faithfulness is rewarded by being told that they don't actually maintain the project, they're just tending it while RMS is busy, it seems entirely reasonable to me that they would become upset at RMS trying to undermine the decision-making structure of glibc. The principals here, the people making the technical contributions, are the glibc maintainers.

Except that perhaps RMS's approval and veto are no longer legitimate?

It's not ascribing ill will at all. They've stumbled on a canary or a "brown M&M," where regardless of how good they think they are, they've transgressed a boundary of the implicit agreement of who has final say.

They would have to be good and faithful to have contributions approved to glibc, so I would argue that's not the point. As the principals age, the question of succession and governance in key open source projects will become more explicit. Seems they walked into this one.

Yeah, I think they stumbled into this, and having realized where they were, decided that having a proxy fight about RMS' authority in general is something they were needing to do at some point. I just don't think they set out to end up here because they were looking for the fight, and I read your comment as accusing the glibc maintainers of being non-core maintainers who were looking for a way to cause a scandal. If I misread it, I apologize.

I could have been more clear and less punchy. It's a sensitive topic and perhaps my pen leapt from its scabbard a bit. :)

> It's not ascribing ill will at all. They've stumbled on a canary or a "brown M&M," where regardless of how good they think they are, they've transgressed a boundary of the implicit agreement of who has final say.

I dunno, is it fair to call it an "agreement" if one side doesn't think they agreed to it?

zwol says:

> I don't think I did anything wrong procedurally. RMS may be the project leader, but he is not a glibc maintainer. His wishes regarding glibc are perhaps to be given _some_ more weight than those of any other individual, particularly when he is also the author of text under dispute, but we have never, to my knowledge, treated them as mandates.

Seems pretty clear he isn't party to this agreement, implicit or otherwise.

> However, if those maintainers find that their faithfulness is rewarded by being told that they don't actually maintain the project, they're just tending it while RMS is busy

Someone or some group/process has to be in charge, be the final decision-maker for a group. In the case of the GNU Project, the Free Software Foundation is likely that decision-maker as the owner of the trademark for "GNU". The FSF as a non-profit organization has articles of incorporation and bylaws [1] describing its process for making decisions - but it is a corporation, just like any corporation, and its decisions concerning its assets are binding in the same way as if Google made a decision about one of its products.

I haven't read the FSF bylaws in detail, but it sounds like RMS believes that he has decision-making authority over the FSF and GNU Project, which he probably does. Someone has to - what's the alternative? In organizations like the FSF and Wikipedia, someone or some process has to have the authority to make decisions. There is no way to delegate actual decision-making to the "community" at large. A person has to have it, either individually or as the executor of a process.

I suppose the alternative is having no trademark nor legal organization in charge of a project, but in that case, a disagreement could result in two different projects contending for the same name. Besides, someone or some organization ultimately has to be in control of properties such as domain names and source control accounts. The moment that a project manages any properties like this, there has to be a formal decision-making process or the project is at risk of chaos. The person who has legal control over project properties like the project domain name, or IP like its trademark, is in de facto final control over the project itself.

There are undoubtedly options for going over RMS's head, such as convincing the directors of the FSF [2] to take a vote on the issue, or take a vote to remove him as president or as a director. Alternatively, people who feel passionately about this issue could lobby the FSF directors to put pressure on RMS to reverse this decision or delegate it, without using the mechanics of a formal vote, such as by threatening resignation. Furthermore, donors of the FSF could threaten to pull their funding over the issue.

Alternatively, project maintainers can fork the codebase and carry on under a new name, managed by a new organization, which is their right to do since the code is open source and free software. To the extent that an open source project or any project is operating under a specific name, managed by a corporation, we should all understand that someone is always "in charge", though that person or group may act with a light touch or operate largely behind the scenes.

[1] https://www.fsf.org/about/financial

[2] https://www.fsf.org/about/people/board

P.S. This comment is not an endorsement of either side of the issue in a normative sense. It is intended to be a positive comment concerning the expectations we should have in working with corporations.

When Django started out, the original two biggest contributors were "BDFLs" (i.e., had final decision-making authority).

They stepped back from that years and years ago. If for some reason there's a decision that desperately needs to be made, but for which no decision is coming out of the normal processes, there's a technical board, elected by committers, rotating every release cycle, that can be asked to make the call (disclaimer: I've served three terms on Django's technical board).

But in both the BDFL era, and the current technical-board era, the people with final decision-making authority only exercised it when asked to, as a last resort when other mechanisms had failed.

For the final decision-maker to actively step in and veto something the normal decision process already has consensus around, or just pre-emptively declare something decided against what seems to be a consensus buliding the other way... is unthinkable for me. I'd treat it as a sign that it's time either to fork away from that person, or to remove that person's decision-making authority and put the authority in the hands of someone more responsible.

Sadly, I very much agree. I think RMS has done an incredible amount to protect software freedom, and virtually every single person in the world benefits in some way or another. However, this is an authoritarian response and assertion of control where one need not be. We have plenty of power-hungry dicks out there, we don't need them to have a famous example to emulate.

Note: I am not convinced yet that RMS was serious. I'm waiting for him to come out and say, "lol jk wuz troll." My opinion stated here assumes he was being serious.

I don't think you can have one without the other. GNU was successful in large part because of RMS's uncompromising position on issues both big and small. RMS is not, and never was, a "power-hungry dick". He just has strong and well-defined political views, and the GNU project was created to reflect those views.

Unfortunately, at times I look at GNU and see that it's a project whose success is in spite of RMS. He gave a good basis in the original manifest, gave generally good inspiration, but that's what it is - inspiration. Said inspiration made people work on the projects that over time somehow managed to end up under GNU umbrella. But a lot of RMS-managed, top-down GNU projects? Never got anywhere.

See also the discussion mentioned by Ulrich Drepper back in 2001, regarding RMS' behaviour back when Ulrich started to port glibc to linux.

> For the final decision-maker to actively step in and veto something the normal decision process already has consensus around, or just pre-emptively declare something decided against what seems to be a consensus buliding the other way... is unthinkable for me.

Especially on so trivial an issue. This is what RMS wants to throw his weight around for?

> Someone or some group/process has to be in charge, be the final decision-maker for a group.

That is certainly true. And if this were a situation where, say, some subtle techno-political decision about the codebase or the license threatened to split the community, you'd expect a leader from high-- like Stallman-- to come in and lay down a prudent decision.

But in this case, the leader from high has come in and created a problem that would require a higher leader to come in and resolve. AFAICT that higher leader doesn't exist.

That's a weird situation to get into. I can't fathom why Stallman would force the issue when the stakes are so low.

Then again, perhaps it's serendipity that this puts a spotlight on governance on an issue nearly nobody cares about. There's much less possibility of splitting the devs than there would be if there were a big technical feature at stake.

> Open source principals have always been eccentric (Torvalds, Raymond(!), etc.), and the FOSS community tolerated it not only because of their technical contributions, but because the open source community itself is an expression of tolerance based on shared objectives.

I think you're confusing two separate issues.

Torvalds' acidic method of communication is certainly eccentric. But from my casual reading of LKML what he communicates is not. Like:

* some patch is prone to bugginess and not suitable to merge

* some patch shows that the submitter doesn't understand some fundamental aspect of C and thus isn't suitable to merge as written

* some patchset looks similar to some previous subsystem that caused massive problems and should therefore be avoided

* the patch was measured to break things or perform poorly

* the patch is shoehorning in a feature that doesn't belong in the kernel

* some non-technical proposal would cause future problems for Kernel devs and should be avoided

In the case of Stallman's joke, we can certainly say his method of communication-- popping in to make a surprise decision by fiat-- is eccentric. But we can also say the content of what he is communicating is also eccentric. What possible rationale could there be to tying up volunteer glibc maintainers' time for a bike-shedding session about a decades-old joke?

It's the difference between someone with a Penguin fetish favoring Penguin-based metaphors, and someone with a Gnu fetish forcing you to sit through 125 "funny" videos of Gnus.

Scratch that-- there are 10 more "Abortion Joke" messages from April. So make that 126 "funny" videos about Gnus.

I just finished reading The Dictators Handbook and it's crazy how these same principals seem to apply to OSS organizations.

This is more about politics than anything else, and hopefully everyone involved will learn it shouldn't be.

Regarding standing the test of time, one of Donald Trump's first acts in office was to reinstate and expand the global gag rule:


That isn't a comment on whether the joke should be removed or retained, but it's worth noting that this "stale joke from the '90s" is actually very relevant to contemporary politics.

Should they also faithfully maintain the pretense of every damn pointer he initiated? Their the ones doing the work of maintaining the project, removing no-value jokes in the documentation should not warrant this amount of weight throwing nomatter who put them there.

I am one of those people who subscribe to some of Stallman's crazier ideas, and one of those people who thinks trigger warnings are often misused[1].

That being said, I am really for professionalism in code and documentation. This might have been a fun joke for a pet project at one point in time, but I totally agree it should be removed.

I really feel like Stallman is lacking some serious maturity here as well. It nothing to even do with being offended about the joke, it's just a basic idea of professionalism around documentation.

It'd be different if the joke was in a comment, or even in a tutorial on how to use a library (if it wasn't an official tutorial or was intended to have a humorous tone).

To be clear, I don't even like the stupid "Apt has super cow powers" at the bottom of apt-get. If you want to make jokes, put them in your blog, or your YouTube screencast, or at most in the comments.

[1]: Trigger warnings came from the idea of post traumatic stress. But you don't know what can trigger memories of trauma. A rainbow could invoke a PTSD episode for someone who associates that with a loved one that was killed. I think a better approach is the old TV saying, "Viewer/Listener discretion is advised" if something might be offensive.

I don't see the difference between "viewer discretion is advised" and trigger warnings. "This show contains scenes of domestic violence, viewer discretion is advised" and "Trigger warning: domestic violence" are just different ways of saying the same thing. A lot of people are using "content warning" or "content advisory" these days anyway, partially to avoid the impression that it's strictly about PTSD.

Actually it has nothing to do with joke or professionalism, it's pure political power play through and through.

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