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Author: Rick Moen
To: dng
Subject: Re: [DNG] [devuan-dev] Of confidence and support and the future of Devuan.
Quoting Jaromil (jaromil@???):

> On Mon, 22 Apr 2019, Rick Moen wrote:
> > Dan, it is _not_ time for you to leave. Please stay.
> Well Rick, at this point considering all the dust Dan is kicking up in
> public, apparently now intentionally, I'd say he better leave. All his
> past three actions in Devuan damaged the project. I doubt there will
> be recovery and start thinking we'll be better off. I am still in
> favor of listing CenturionDan among the professionals supporting
> Devuan for enterprise support, but I don't believe this is a useful
> caretaking attitude, since he seems to put his own interests and
> concerns before the project's health.

I have great respect for your good judgement, Jaromil, and IMO your
words to Dan about ci.devuan.org recovery were judicious and wise, even
though they included (justifiable) annoyance. I'm definitely _not_
going to say you're mistaken, in the above. In particular, yes, sure,
IMO Dan really should _not_ have escalated to two project mailing lists
(Dng + devuan-dev) without working more in private to resolve metters,
first, and you're certainly right that caretakers not doing that is a

Mostly what I'm saying is that the previously detailed interactions are
fixable: I believe I'm seeing a communication antipattern familiar to
me from my _own_ past errors. And I'm pleading for some tolerance while
seeing if that might be fixed, recognising that we're all flawed and
sometimes fall into avoidable pitfalls, where we have difficulty heeding
the First Rule of Holes. ('If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.')

I'm going to tell a story, and, just to make sure I don't commit the sin
of assigning myself a heroic role, I'll confess to a damning flaw that
was very damaging in this story: I tend to (in a rhetorical sense)
corner people, by which I mean mercilessly highlight in public their
having taken an unreasonable position and confront them, heedless of the
human tendency to 'double-down' when confronted, and go transrational.

For almost two decades, I was a member of the Board of Directors of my
local guild of system administrators, a non-profit corporation named
BayLISA (created in the 1990s as the San Francisco Bay Area independent
group inspired by USENIX's Large Installation System Administration
Conference). Around 2005, which if memory serves was during my second
two-year term, one of BayLISA's ongoing irritations was a person on our
mailing lists named Richard Childers, who first kept posting impassioned
attacks against Oracle Corporation and then started demanding admission
to the baylisa-women mailing list, claiming BayLISA would be violating
(uspecified) anti-discrimination laws if he were denied membership to a
forum for female system administrators, particularly since (he asserted)
this was his entitlement as a BayLISA member.

The other members of the Board, including BayLISA's President, whom I'll
anonymise (using cryptography's naming convention) as 'Alice', were
inclined to give in to Childers's blustering. I wrote to them, though,
and said 'Hang on, let me have a go at this.' I wrote a polite note to
Childers, CC'ed to the Board, asking what specific legal obligation he
believed BayLISA to be under that obliged us to give him admission to a
mailing list deliberately open only to women. I gave him a succinct
four-paragraph summary of all the USA and California anti-discrimination
statutes I'd researched, showing that none of them applied to BayLISA.
Last, to close that e-mail, I mentioned that, in my capacity as
BayLISA's Treasurer, I had reviewed our records for the past ~15 years
of BayLISA's existence, and found no evidence that he'd at any time been
a dues-paying BayLISA member. Was this correct, or had I missed
something? Mr. Childers, being what one would technically call a
'nutcase', exploded quite wonderfully with non-sequitur personal
attacks, which I considered to have made my point perfectly.

However, at this point, the real trouble began. A fellow Board member,
whom I'll pseudonymise following cryptography's naming convention as
'Bob', suddenly seemed very upset on the Board of Directors mailing
list. And this is where my damning personal flaw became a problem.

At this point in the story, I must also briefly describe a legal problem
BayLISA then had, that I'd recently discovered and brought to the
Board's attention: BayLISA had entrusted (without checking) to a
professional accountant doing its tax filings to government regulators.
Having (unlike everyone else on the Board) a background in accounting
and finance, I'd double-checked our corporate status with the state of
California, and found our corporation had been _suspended_ for lack of
required filings. So, I was in the middle of repairing that lapse, and
had strongly advised the Board to be careful to exercise legal caution
while our corporate 'liabiiity shield' was non-existent during
that suspension of our corporate status.

With that background, and the Childers matter in the very recent past,
Board member 'Bob' now expressed extreme unhappiness with the
(unspecified) recent conduct of (unnamed) 'Board members', was weirdly
vague about who exactly he was talking about and what conduct he had in
mind, and proposed to hold a special Board of Directors meeting to
consider a motion of censure against them. In fact, he proposed to have
the Board meeting immediately via the Board of Directors mailing list.

This is where I made my judgement error, although it seemed perfectly
sensible at the time.

I reminded 'Bob' that we all needed to be particularly careful about
legal complications pending restoration of BayLISA's corporate status,
until which time any of us could be fully personally liable. I said I
really had no idea which Board members he had a problem with, but
advised the same basic caution I'd mentioned before, since we were
vulnerable, and pointed out that a vote censure against Board members
within the scope of their profession as system administrators would risk
(depending on the complaint) litigation for committing not just libel
but specifically 'libel per se' (where plaintiff wouldn't even need to
prove damages). Which would be A Bad Thing. However, I stressed, if
Bob were conviced there was a serious matter needing our immediate
attention despite these concerns, there was a right way to do it, and I
was prepared to help:

I pointed out that the BayLISA corporate Bylaws required that any Board
meeting have at least three days' notice, and that it must be real-time
interactive, and therefore it was not in accordance with our Bylaws to
hold any Board meeting via a mailing list. However, I would be glad to
pay for a voicemail bridge for 'Bob's' special Board meeting, which
_would_ satisfy the Bylaws. Just to drive home my point about why this
move would be reckless absent an _extremely_ compelling justification,
I said I'd be making a motion to hold any censure vote as a 'roll-call'
vote, i.e., requiring that the Secretary record who voted 'aye' and who
voted 'nay', because, I said, I wanted to be able to escape being a
defendant if the person(s) being censured sued us.

My intent was to cluebat 'Bob', to say, as politely as possible, that
whatever emotional problem he had with unnamed 'Board members' over
unspecified actions, that this was the worst possible time to to indulge
them through the Board. My implicit assumption was that 'Bob' was
rational, and able to take a broad hint. Oops.

There was an incredibly important thing in the background of all this,
that nobody had bothered to tell me: 'Alice's' husband was having an
extramarital affair with 'Bob's' wife. Two entire marriages were being
broken up, and 'Bob' was, in consequence, about as far as imaginable from
being rational and able to respond with equanimity when pushed hard. He
merely perceived me as having pushed hard -- so he did the one thing I
didn't antiicipate: He escalated. He posted back, also newly CC'ing
the public BayLISA 'members' mailing list, claiming that the unnamed
'Board members' he had intended to censure were me and my wife Deirdre
(also then a Board member), not explaining why, but now claiming that I
had threatened litigation against BayLISA, and demanding now that I and
Deirdre be expelled from the Board.

I belatedly realised that I'd misjudged the situation and had backed
'Bob' into a figurative corner, leaving him only escalation as the
likely next step. The specific reasons for 'Bob' being likely at that
moment to respond badly to being pushed were not made clear to me until
months later.

Given the extreme stress 'Bob' was under, that particular situation
might not have been repairable once I challenged him, but certainly
these days I'd be more empathetic and sensitive to emotional nuance and
have said 'Bob, I'm not totally sure what you're talking about, but this
sounds like something a bunch of us should meet face to fact to discuss'
-- and cease responding in e-mail, as it had starting to become apparent
that the drawbacks of the medium were being a problem.

All I ask is that Devuan Project learn from my error, and remember
to shift to synchronous communication when there are people problems.
Otherwise, we risk avoidably losing people. (I regret alienating even
'Bob', and Have tried to learn to stop backing people into corners.)