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Question to all candidates: Code of Conduct and Community Team - how do you feel about them?

Hi Andy,

On Sat, Mar 19, 2022 at 12:36 PM Andrew M.A. Cater <amacater@einval.com> wrote:
> We've had the Code of Conduct for about eight years now and the Community Team
> for about as long. There are still significant differences about how some
> people feel about them, despite the Code of Conduct having been adopted by the
> Project as a whole.
> How do _you_ feel about the Code of Conduct - and the role of a Community Team?
> More widely: where something is adopted by the Project but opposition remains -
> how would you deal with differences of opinion and attempt to reconcile
> different viewpoints to consensus?

Sorry about the delayed response. I had to think about a good way to
balance the parts.

First off, I'll point out that you recently received a delegation to
the Community Team. [1] Please accept my congratulations!

Like some recent questions about legal matters here, your question may
also not belong in the public realm. According to Debian custom, our
disciplinary process is entirely private and generally not even open to
the accused. My answer here can never be complete, but like
before—feathers and all—I'll try to do my best.

The Code of Conduct reads great but I disagree with how it is applied.
I think it's one of those proverbial cases where "the way to h--- is
paved with good intentions."

My concerns revolve mostly about the Code's arbitrary and capricious
enforcement, which appears to apply only to some folks and never to
people in leadership positions (except for me, more below).

I also think the Code should be simpler. I would prefer something like
George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can't Say on TV" (warning, offensive)
[2] plus maybe another dozen words or so. Personally, I dislike "wtf" a
lot, but it is popular with some of my friends.

Your team, however, is taking the opposite approach. You are making the
Code longer and even more open-ended. Earlier today, you posted a
message [3] with a link to what appears to be your team's proprietary
interpretation [4] of our Code of Conduct. Did that text receive any
kind of community review?

To me, your "interpretation" looks too pliable to serve as a reliable
basis for any disciplinary action. It is "a living document" and offers
several "non-exhaustive lists." It could hardly be more clear that the
rules are of your own team's making and subject to your adjustment, as

Ideally, I'd like to see some rules governing the conduct of the
Community Team, as well.

For example, I found it worrisome that you investigate members. In
January of 2021, I received an unsolicited email that I perceived as
fishing: "I don't know if other incidents have happened since this, but
I wanted to know if everything was ok from your point of view."

At the time, it seemed like the person was being considered for a
delegation. The message read like a background check to me. I declined
to cooperate with the investigation, and never told the affected
member. The delegation went to someone else.

I am also uncomfortable that you, as a Community Team member, would look
to the candidates for answers. Maybe I would be your boss, but you
should really seek input from the people. I plan to listen to the

In Fremont, we hold monthly "Coffee with the Cops" events to foster
trust and stronger community ties. At those events, I like to tease the
Chief of Police that the library has many books on how to reach a
"consent of the governed."

I wish that our Community Team, too, would embrace better relationships
with the public. You should especially reach out to your critics. Please
appease them—or explain to me why they are crazy—and you won't have any
problems with me.

Despite any worries you may have, my goal is not to abolish the Debian
Account Managers or to get rid of the Community Team. I would like to
cure Debian of what I perceive to be a dangerous and persistent social
condition. As outlined in Eckart Tolle's books (especially, the second)
no task is more hazardous than to show a society its own mirror.

I, too, sometimes pick the wrong words. Please help me with that.

Let's make Debian a happier place together!

Finally, this reply would not be complete if I did not address my own

By running, I ceded some rights to my privacy when I applied for the
job. As potentially your sole elected representative, my own conduct is
a matter of public interest, even if I do not like it. In the second
half of 2021, I was censured by the Debian Account Managers (DAM) for an
interaction on IRC. I do not wish to re-litigate it here or anywhere

I also ask that no one else does, please.

At the same time, I believe that voters should be free to discuss their
candidate's flaws without any fear of reprisal. After careful
consideration, I hereby declassify all parts of my private censure to
which I could reasonably have rights, but please without violating the
rights of others. (Yes, that includes my goofy letter with the video
from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off.") This message is signed.

In the spirit of transparency that I hope is a theme in my campaign, I
included at the bottom of this message my redacted plea for mercy to the
d-private list. (I received no reply.) It outlines some of my grievances
with our enforcement activity.

If elected, I look forward to working with you, Andy, with the Debian
Account Managers, and with the Community Team to resolve those issues
together. I know you all love Debian, too.

The message below may also help you and everyone else find more answers
to the questions you posed here.

Thank you for asking about a topic that is dear to my heart!

Kind regards,
Felix Lechner

[1] https://lists.debian.org/debian-devel-announce/2022/01/msg00000.html
[1] WARNING: offensive, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_dirty_words
[3] https://lists.debian.org/debian-project/2022/03/msg00081.html
[4] https://www.debian.org/code_of_conduct_interpretation

* * *

Hi [Debian Account Manager],

Throughout the process of my DAM warning and the melee that followed,
no one ever asked for my side of the story. This message is intended
to complete the record.

You will also find a request for mercy, at your pleasure.

[excerpt from violation notice omitted]

From my perspective, I sent the apology at the earliest possible time.
I was not contacted by anyone from DAM or the Community Team until
after the warning was issued.

For the time in between, I did not think the word "freak" was an
insult, much less actionable by DAM. Debianites use a lot of
invective, and DAM allows all of it. (Just on this list, I recently
read the words d----bag, a--hole, and f--ing without any apparent
consequences.) Upon realizing my error, I immediately wrote a letter
to [the victim], which everyone can see below this message. I sent it
the day I got the warning.

Given the extraordinary leeway you enjoy when doling out warnings, I
am truly terrified by the meager compassion you expend for your fellow
human beings, all while holding high office. For example, you could
have pointed out that my apology was most certainly a product of real
contrition. After your warning, I could no longer evade punishment.
The apology was a free-will offering from my heart.

Similar apologies that DAM considers from people before a warning are
probably not entitled to the same presumption of sincerity.

Aside from a lack of due process, I do not believe I was afforded the
procedural protections for non-native English speakers enshrined in
the Code of Conduct's rule #2. [1] I was twenty years old when I left
my native Germany and transferred to an American university (Harvard)
on an academic scholarship from the German President
("Studienstiftung"). In early schooling, English was my third

From my recollection, the word "Freak" is commonly used untranslated
in German to denote someone who is overly eager, especially around
computers. That meaning is marked as humorous and pejorative in Leo
[2] but not in TFD. [3]

Should DAM have considered my explanation before issuing the warning?
Or, did it not matter because the word "freak" was simply too
egregious a transgression?

Was my behavior truly so vile that it deserved one of the harshest
punishments available to you? How could it, compared to the other
awful words we read so often on Debian channels?

I did not even repeat the word "freak" during the incident, or thereafter.

Is there a way DAM would please consider withdrawing the warning in
light of the new information presented herein?

By the way, the "over-eager" meaning is supported by the record. I
thought [the victim] and a fellow member were ganging up over an old
Lintian research tag that was never shown to the public (except for a
description on the website [4]). There had been a similar but
unrelated interaction a day prior. To make their point as forcefully
as possible—as many in Debian like to do—the other [redacted] later
filed a release-critical bug (wow!) against Lintian. [5] Again, I
resolved the matter on the same day.

Please allow me to briefly thank everyone who sent friendly private
messages during the past month. I received many dozens, but with my
dream of working on Debian in the balance I was too shy to reply.

[The victim] also never responded to my apology. I hope that one day
[pronoun] will forgive me. We had a brief exchange on IRC a few days
ago. Perhaps it was a start.

Thanks to everyone for indulging one more email on this subject.
Debian is like a dream!

Kind regards
Felix Lechner

[1] https://www.debian.org/code_of_conduct
[2] https://dict.leo.org/german-english/freak
[3] https://www.thefreedictionary.com/freak
[4] [redacted for privacy]
[5] [redacted for privacy]

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Felix Lechner <felix.lechner@lease-up.com>
Subject: An apology

Hi [victim's first name],

As I am sure you saw, DAM issued a disciplinary action today in
connection with our exchange on IRC a week ago. Their letter did not
prohibit me from writing. and you helped me on #[redacted] yesterday.
(Thank you!) With this letter I hope to reach a gentle reconciliation
so we can interact and perhaps help each other again in the future.

First of all, please accept my apologies for calling you a freak.
Aside from my poor choice of words, it is also not what I meant. The
primary meaning of the word is a kind of monster or other aberrant
creature, and that is not you. I pondered a few approaches to explain
myself, but all of them would detract from the purpose of this
message, which is to make peace with you.

I almost did not write and hope this letter was not too much of a
burden to you. Please forgive me.

Thank you for everything you do for Debian!

Kind regards
Felix Lechner

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