[svlug] Richard M. Stallman has resigned from FSF and from MIT CSAIL

Michael Eager eager at eagerm.com
Tue Sep 17 09:59:18 PDT 2019

On 9/17/19 12:31 AM, Rick Moen wrote:
> tl;dr:  https://www.fsf.org/news/richard-m-stallman-resigns

I'm sure that Bradley Kuhn will put his name forward as president of 
FSF.  FSF would be wise to not accept.

> In the wake of the Jeffrey Epstein matter, controvery arose about
> dealings between him and the (also now-late) MIT AI scientist Marvin
> Minsky, and about MIT administration actions related to Epstein.
> Richard M. Stallman is intimately associated with not just the Free
> Software Foundation (that he created) but with MIT CSAIL (Computer
> Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory) operation.  Fairly
> recently, there was a discussion on one of CSAIL's unadvertised and
> privately archived mailing lists, csail-related, where Stallman posted
> comments.[1]  Those comments (mostly about matters peripheral to the
> late Dr. Minsky) became known to MIT alumna, grad student, and
> mechanical engineer Selam Jie Gano, who is said to have been sent them
> by a subscriber.  Ms. Gano was very incensed by Stallman's views that
> she asserted were, among other things, 'defending Epstein'.  She
> publishes an essay on Medium entitled 'Remove Richard Stallman. And
> everyone else horrible in tech':
> https://medium.com/@selamie/remove-richard-stallman-fec6ec210794

It's a good rant, and she makes good points, in particular about 
Stallman's lack of sensitivity or social awareness, his comments on 
mailing lists, and his apparent inability to perceive how his comments 
would be interpreted.

Brief anecdote:  Some time ago I was on a mailing list for an occasional 
Berkeley dinner group consisting mostly (I think) of transplanted MIT 
folks.  Someone on the list posted a note that they had just had a baby. 
  Most people who knew the couple sent congratulations.  RMS sent a note 
chastising them and calling them inconsiderate for adding to the 
population and increasing the burden on the earth.

> She also provided what is asserted to be the entire thread to Vice.com's
> regular 'Motherboard' feature, which published a rather inaccurate piece
> based largely on her allegations, though providing a curated copy of the
> mailing list thread with all participant names except Stallman's blacked
> out.
> Article:
> https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/9ke3ke/famed-computer-scientist-richard-stallman-described-epstein-victims-as-entirely-willing
> Direct link to Vice.com/Motherboard's curated thread copy:
> https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6405929-09132019142056-0001.html?embed=true&responsive=false&sidebar=false

Yes, RMS's comments are somewhat mischaracterized, taking the "entirely 
willing" comment out of context.

RMS was responding to an announcement of an event in Minsky's honor 
which referred to the assault accusation.  In his effort to defend 
Minsky's reputation, he hypothesizes that Minsky was unaware of the 
woman's age or that she was coerced by Epstine.  RMS can hardly speak to 
what Minsky was aware or unaware of.  Offering "plausible scenarios" is 
fraught, especially when it concerns sexual assault.  He did this after 
disputing the definitions of rape and assault, a classic example of 
picking at details while missing the point, and which seems to excuse 
both Minsky and Epstein, and implies (whether he meant to or not) that 
they were falsely accused.

This, in itself, is perhaps is inept but justifiable, but he did it by 
characterizing the woman as willing, not something that can be 
supported.  Yes, he was offering a conjecture about what might have 
Minsky thought, but it provided the quote. (As a thought, at the time 
Minsky was 73, the woman was 17, in the company of Epstein.  Would 
Minsky have thought that a young woman, whether 17 or 18, was so charmed 
my him that she willingly fell into his bed?)

> Quite a number of other outfits have picked up the story in various
> ways.  Stallman responded by objecting (with perfect justification, as
> far as I can see) that in no way was he defending Epstein; that this is
> just not at all what he said.
> The persons now running Software Freedom Conservancy took advantage of
> this squalor by 'calling for' Richard to retire from the free software
> organisation & movement he created (unsigned because they have _that_
> little moral backbone).
> https://sfconservancy.org/news/2019/sep/16/rms-does-not-speak-for-us/
 >> There was also pressure for Richard to resign from his position at
> CSAIL (where ISTR he's been Visiting Professor).  He has now done so,
> citing 'pressure on MIT' -- along with resigning as President and Board
> of Directors member at Free Software Foundation.
> IMO, this affair (e.g., things like the unsigned editorial from the
> jackals at Software Freedom Conservancy) has opportunism written all
> over it.

I'm acquainted with Bradley Kuhn and he frequently gives me the 
impression of being the outcast priest who founds his own church to 
preach the True Religion.

> One of the less-sucky bits of news/analysis (apparently just before
> things came to a head) was here:
> https://fudzilla.com/news/49393-stallman-defends-himself-over-epstein-comments
> https://lwn.net/ have not yet caught up with events, and can be expected
> as usual to be guarded to a fault when they do.
> https://lists.gnu.org/archive/html/libreplanet-discuss/ has some
> discussion, but likewise has not caught up with events.
> [1] None of what I'm writing here imply endorsement of Richard's
> assertions in the mailing list thread, by the way.  In fact, I very much
> do not concur with some, and would have, among other things, politely
> corrected his factually incorrect understanding of the legal concept of
> 'assault'.

Everybody else in the Epstein-MIT scandal is using measured and 
carefully crafted language to comment on the situation, specifically to 
avoid further inflaming the situation and causing more damage.  Stallman 
is perhaps constitutionally unable or philosophically unwilling to think 
about what he has written before hitting send.  The defenses "it's a 
free country and I can say what I want" or "it's the media's fault for 
inaccurate reporting" are lame.  Actions and words have consequences. 
This was self-inflicted damage.

Michael Eager    eager at eagerm.com
1960 Park Blvd., Palo Alto, CA 94306

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