In re Hurricane Harvey and the future of the greater Houston area

First, the good news to my many friends and readers: I made it through Hurricane Harvey with just about everything intact. Where I am, the house took on only a small amount of water, and the most difficult part of the cleanup will probably be the wood chips and twigs deposited by the flood waters.

I have been watching the non-stop news coverage off and on, flipping between KPRC (channel 2), KTRK (channel 13), and KRIV (channel 26). (For some reason I have yet to figure out, I’m only intermittently able to pick up KHOU (channel 11) now. The last time I tried I could not get a usable picture, and I have a good antenna now (as opposed to the questionable antenna I was making do with for a while). The most recent weather reports I’m seeing suggest we might get a few more showers, but it’s an amount of rain measured in fractions of an inch versus measured in feet.

The National Weather Service tweeted this:

which is basically throwing their hands up in the air and saying “we’ve never seen this before.” In fact, the NWS had to adjust the coloring of their online rainfall maps, changing the previous dark purple that used to indicate merely “over 15 inches” now indicates “15 to 20 inches” with two new lighter shades of purple for “20 to 30 inches” and “over 30 inches”. The NWS spokesperson was quoted as saying this amount of rainfall was “literally and figuratively off the map”.

Per the Wikipedia article, the official totals at Bush Intercontinental Airport (which, by the way, is closed as I write this, but may be reopened by the time I actually post it) were 14.4 inches and 16.08 inches for August 26 and 27 respectively. That’s a combined two-day total of 30.48 inches. The average annual rainfall–and I emphasize that word for a reason–is 49.77 inches. That’s around 7 to 7½ months’ worth of rain in two days, with maybe another one or two inches of rain to come.

(Incidentally, this WGN story refers to the apparent official record for a one-day rainfall total of some 43 inches, caused by Tropical Storm Claudette in Alvin, Texas, back in 1979. From the same story, the worldwide one-day record is a staggering 73.62 inches, or just over 6 feet, which hit Reunion Island east of Madagascar in 1952.)

For obvious reasons, this weather event caught attention at the national and international level. Slate recently published a story about the preparedness of the Houston area for Harvey and future storms, and Quartz published a story which basically condemns the urban sprawl style of development that the Houston area is now known for. It is these stories that I want to focus on in this post, as I would like to see Hurricane Harvey be the last storm to affect our area in such a catastrophic fashion.

The most important takeaways from the Slate article are the reasons Houston was not evacuated. When people evacuated from Hurricane Rita in 2005, the death toll from the evacuation (over 100!) was worse than the death toll from the actual storm itself. (I stayed put for Rita, which made landfall near Orange, Texas, putting Houston on the “clean” side of the storm. There was no major damage in the part of west Houston I was staying in at the time; the most visible effects were a lot of traffic lights and signs being blown out of position, and some minor debris being blown onto the roads.) Given that that storm came on the heels of Hurricane Katrina earlier that year, people were a bit more on edge. However, New Orleans is a much smaller city than Houston, and Mayor Sylvester Turner is spot on in saying “you can’t put… 2.4 million people on the road [evacuating Houston]”.

This brings up the first point I’d like to make. Since the disaster that was the evacuation from Rita, improvements were made by the local authorities, with freeways such as I-45 having semi-permanent contraflow or “evaculane” capabilities at certain points. These haven’t been tested yet. If Mayor Turner is right, though, and our highways lack the capacity to evacuate the entire city in a reasonable amount of time, this is a problem that needs to be fixed. We need to look at the possibility that Houston has simply grown to be too big, at least in population.

If only population was the only issue. The Quartz article features a dramatic before-and-after sliding picture showing the difference in natural wetlands versus developed land between 1986 and 2017. The science doesn’t lie: keeping wetlands in their natural state is one of the best ways of mitigating flood damage. Houston’s lack of zoning laws, the willingness of developers to pave over wetlands, and the lack of a legal way for the government to stop them and the ever-increasing urban sprawl, have resulted in what we have today in 2017.

Back in the 1950s when my grandparents moved to this area, I-610 (“the Loop”) was essentially the city limits, with the house they bought being maybe a mile or so north of that highway. Then, Beltway 8 was built, first as a normal surface road, then a controlled-access toll road. Now, most recently, Texas 99 or the Grand Parkway was built, which actually goes into neighboring counties.

A lot of the opposition to the Grand Parkway was that it is a “road to nowhere”. Well, so was Beltway 8 when it was first built. So was I-610 when it was first built. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem: developers won’t build where there are no roads, so when roads are first being built they appear to be useless “roads to nowhere”. Yet, the Grand Parkway can be seen as a symptom of the disease that is urban sprawl.

Yet more frightening is this quote from the Quartz article:

Obama had greatly expanded the number of wetlands protected by the Clean Water Act. This federal law requires developers who destroy wetlands to mitigate the ecological effects, for instance by creating new wetlands elsewhere. In February, the Trump administration said it would repeal (paywall) Obama’s decision, meaning a lot more wetlands would lose that protection. (The repeal process is still unfolding.)

Not that Houston has ever been a stickler for federal rules. To get a permit under the Clean Water Act, developers who build in protected wetland areas must submit paperwork showing they’ve completed mitigation measures. In 2015, Texas A&M and non-profit research group HARC analyzed a sample of permits issued from 1990 to 2012 in the greater Houston area. They found that in fewer than half of the cases had the developers submitted complete paperwork, and in two thirds of the cases, there was no documentation that any type of mitigation had happened. Another study (pdf) by the same two groups looked at a dozen projects that had obtained permits, and found that only two of them had successfully offset wetland destruction, seven were partially successful, and three were complete failures.

Given his track record, it’s not the least bit surprising that DJT plans to repeal this law passed by his predecessor. However, a lot of the blame has to be placed on the governments granting permits in the Houston area without proper regard to the Clean Water Act. It is inexcusable that fewer than half of the projects had the required documentation, and it is definitely inexcusable that those responsible for granting the permits overlooked this. Continuing on:

And that’s only projects subject to federal regulations. The researchers found that the vast majority of wetland-disrupting activities aren’t subject to those rules. “The inevitable resultant freshwater wetland loss is therefore often uncounted and unmitigated,” they wrote (pdf).

In other words, there are some cases where developers can build on or otherwise disrupt wetlands and there is no oversight from the government.

The Slate article touches on this too:

One underlying cause of Houston’s suffering is that developers and town officials in Harris County, which contains Houston, have for years advocated the development of the wetlands and prairies around the city—land that had long served to absorb the rainwater that now overwhelms the region’s sewers and streams every year. The flood-absorbent grasslands of the Katy Prairie have been cut by three-quarters over the past few decades as Houston sprawled west. The state played along, funding expansion of I-10, “the Katy Freeway,” and another road, the Grand Parkway, which further opened that land up for development. To make matters worse, money-hungry officials also encouraged development in low-lying, flood-prone areas without regard to future risk. There have been more than 7,000 units built in the hundred-year floodplain since 2010, according to a ProPublica/Texas Tribune analysis. Efforts to reform the city’s building codes have been met with strong resistance in an area where homebuilding has been a major economic engine.

Or, put another way: to hell with the future potential for flooding, the homebuilders and developers need to make money. Profits come before people. The home builders build a house, and once it’s sold, they don’t care if it floods, they’ve been paid and that’s now the new homeowner’s problem (and possibly the bank’s problem). It should be obvious that this is unsustainable. It’s going to take a radical shift in how we view our city, but it is obvious we can fix this into a more sustainable model.

The first step is that a significant portion of the paved-over wetlands and prairie need to be returned to their natural state. I’m not sure exactly how much, but I would say at least a third of what has been developed since 1986 at a bare minimum, but more likely at least half. The only way I see to do this is for the government to buy back houses and buildings built in these areas, using eminent domain if necessary. The people and businesses displaced will need to relocate into other areas, possibly further out from the center of Houston to preserve the wetlands and prairie. The properties that keep getting flooded the worst would be the highest priority. A lot of the problem, by the way, is not in the city of Houston proper, but out in the suburbs surrounding Houston. If we can fix this through zoning (real zoning, not just deed restrictions), then we would need a zoning authority that covered at minimum the counties of Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery, Waller, Liberty, Brazoria, and at least the mainland portion of Galveston County. I’m not sure what to do about cities with existing zoning regulations (I know of Tiki Island and Jersey Village, there may be others). If zoning is not the answer, we need some way to stop developers and say “no, you can’t build here, it will make flooding worse”. Yes, it’s going to be expensive to turn a lot of the built-up areas back to wetlands, prairie, and other natural states, but we would spend even more money cleaning up flood after flood after flood. A lot of the land should have stayed in its natural state (wetlands or prairie) to begin with.

The second step is that we must more closely follow the settlement patterns of other cities of comparable and larger size: namely higher-density development with an emphasis on pedestrian- and transit-friendly attributes. I would eventually like to see I-10, I-69, I-45, and US 290 rebuilt as narrower freeways with the excess land used for commuter rail. As for the Grand Parkway, parts of it have been built, so I’m torn between saying we may as well finish it, and the rest of it shouldn’t be built; if it is completed, particular attention needs to be paid to the environmental impacts of doing so. If this sounds crazy or like a pipe dream to you, take a look at pictures of Houston and how ridiculously big the Katy Freeway (I-10 west of downtown) and Southwest Freeway (I-69/US 59 southwest of downtown) are. Then look at the largest freeways in cities around the world. No other city in the world makes their freeways with this many lanes for miles and miles. Look at New York City with its subways and Chicago with its “el” trains. (I realize we can’t do subways in Houston, but we definitely can do better with public transit. To its credit, the reimagined bus route network from Metro is a huge improvement, but there still exists plenty of room for improvement.) Worse, we are now calling on Metro to spend money out of its budget for fixing roads, which is completely ass-backwards. Metro’s money should go for public transit and HOV lane operation. We should not be dipping into that to fix roads for cars at the expense of public transit.

The third step is that every developer needs to ask the questions “what happens when it floods?” and “if we build this, will it flood elsewhere?” Notice I don’t word that first one as “what happens if it floods?” because we know it’s going to flood at some point. For a long time, those in charge of building new homes and buildings have worried more about getting paid than flooding. I understand the need to stay in business, but past a certain point, building on previous wetlands and building too close to a reservoir (I forget where I read this, but it was described as effectively the same as “building homes in a lake”) is going to backfire and get somebody all wet.

Another thing is we have to lose this attitude that we can just build more roads to fix our traffic problems. More concrete is not the answer. I know everyone appreciates the convenience of not having to ride the bus back out to the park & ride lot to get the car at the end of the day, but for the same reason we can’t put a million cars on the road to evacuate from a hurricane, we can’t realistically expect that everyone can drive their car to work, especially when home is 25 or more miles from work.

Finally, the flood plains need to be redrawn based on the events of the past few years. Climate change has happened, and we no longer can count on the 50-year flood plain to be an area that’s going to flood once every 50 years. Speaking of which, the terminology is misleading. People point out that “50-year flood” really means it has a 2% chance of occurring in a given year. Maybe when meteorology first began being able to measure flood plains, the 50-year figure was truly accurate. They are calling Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey a 500-year, 800-year, or 1000-year flood depending on who you talk to. Unfortunately, Tropical Storm Allison only hit in 2001, 16 years ago. Hurricane Ike hit in 2008, then we had the Tax Day and Memorial Day floods in the past couple of years. Obviously, we don’t have data going back that far, but based on my observation, Harvey is maybe a 50-year storm based on the climate we have today. I would be more willing to label it a 25-year storm depending on what happens in the next few years in this area. This is climate change, and this is real. Those who are denying climate change are liars, and the effects of this storm are the proof.

I realize nobody can realistically plan for 30+ inches of rain over two days. There’s no way that is going to happen without some flooding happening somewhere. However, we can plan to reduce the impact of such an event. Urban sprawl and the uncoordinated, idiotic, and scatterbrained pattern of development in the Houston area have gone beyond a mere environmental issue to a public safety issue. We can’t just sit there and let this happen again next time a hurricane or tropical storm hits us.

In re Charlottesville, and related events of the past few days

Hopefully this didn’t take too long; as I’m putting the finishing touches on this post, the Charlottesville protests are about a week ago. For reasons that should be obvious, this post is one of my more difficult posts to write. It’s about many “hot” topics. I am using the Wikipedia article on the events as my main source for an account of the event. As with all things on Wikipedia, it may have been changed by the time you read this.

We have reached a point in our history where the symbols of the Confederacy are starting to be seen for what they are: symbols of hate, symbols of racism, and perhaps more importantly, symbols of defeat and failure. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the town of Charlottesville voted to take town a statue of the Confederate war figure Robert E. Lee.

I have no issues with peaceful, nonviolent protests. However, the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, even if it started as a nonviolent protest, was not going to remain such owing to several factors. One, racism and anti-Semitism is a hot-button issue. Waving of Confederate flags and chants such as “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” definitely approaches the line of so-called “fighting words” (as defined by Justice Frank Murphy, “those which by their very utterances inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace”). Some have argued that the Confederate and Nazi flags and symbols stand for, respectively, the enslavement and extermination of large masses of people, and based on that alone would run afoul of the “fighting words” exception to the First Amendment.

The counterprotesters chanted slogans such as “Kill all Nazis” and “punch a Nazi in the mouth.” There is no question these phrases definitely cross the line of “fighting words.” In addition, both the protesters and counter-protesters were carrying firearms, including semi-automatic weapons. It is difficult to say with certainty that the armed protesters and counter-protesters intended this to be a non-violent protest.

Given this, on one hand it’s a good thing that there was no shootout. On the other hand, there were deaths related to the aborted rally: two were from a Virginia State Police helicopter crash, and one was of course Heather Heyer from an auto-pedestrian crash that also non-fatally injured 19 other counter-protesters. Heather’s death in particular was tragic, senseless, and completely unnecessary. This does not imply the deaths of Troopers H. Jay Cullen and Berke M. M. Bates were not tragic–they were, though we do not have the full accident reports from the NTSB yet to better understand how their deaths happened.

As a rule, I condemn violence in protests of this sort. This is definitely not a case where I feel I can make an exception; we are intelligent creatures, not jungle animals, and protests like this are more the sort of thing that jungle animals do.

I can’t keep talking about this without talking about the campaign that elected our current president, who I will only refer to by his initials, DJT. DJT built his campaign on divisiveness and hate, and was elected by a popular minority of the people due to the way the Electoral College is set up. Those of us who voted otherwise watched in horror as the ballots were totalled up. It’s a bit off-topic, so I’m not going to devote pages to this, but to say the least I think DJT winning is the strongest indictment of the Electoral College system to date.

At least the other presidents to win elections despite not winning a popular majority were at least somewhat qualified. Wikipedia’s list of presidents of the US by experience shows DJT as the fifth president to have never held office before being elected president, after Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Herbert Hoover, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Taylor won a plurality but not a majority of the popular vote in his first election; Grant, Hoover, and Eisenhower all won the popular vote in their respective first elections. That leaves DJT alone as a president elected with a minority of the popular vote and without holding office before.

While the disaster in Charlottesville was not directly the result of DJT winning the election, I find it difficult to believe it would have happened with anyone else as president, whether that was Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, or Daffy Duck. (Yes, I think a cartoon character would be more fit for the office than DJT, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant I’ll have to post later.) It even took a while for DJT to find the right words after Charlottesville; at first he condemned both sides, those protesting against the monuments being taken down who wanted them to remain up, and those counter-protesting against those who wanted the monuments to remain up.

Again, George Santayana’s quote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” comes into play. At first glance, DJT clearly doesn’t remember World War II and what happened to Nazi Germany as led by Adolf Hitler. Alternatively, he does remember and just flat out doesn’t care. That in many ways is far worse if it’s true. Either way it’s inexcusable for the leader of a world superpower to fail to immediately and decisively condemn racist, discriminatory, and violent conduct.

DJT needs to accept that part of the blame for the events in Charlottesville falls directly on him and his campaign. At numerous times during the campaign, DJT was compared to none other than Adolf Hitler. I was derided for sharing the comparisons among my Facebook friends, but unfortunately the accuracy of those comparisons is now starting to show. I will more directly address this in a later post.

The witch-hunt against Larry Garfield, part 3: How far down does this rabbit hole go, anyway?

I’m going to set aside the original plans for part 3 of this series, since apparently there have been new developments that Larry has posted about in the past couple of weeks that I only found out about the morning I started writing this (Sunday 8/6).

Larry’s post is entitled “Deception and discrimination in Drupal” and, combined with the Drupal Association (DA) blog’s post with statements from both Dries Buytaert and Megan Sanicki, are by far the saddest such posts made in relation to this controversy thus far.

From the DA blog post, we learn that now Larry has been stripped of all remaining leadership roles, leaving intact only his role as an individual contributor. I’ll get back to that toward the end of the post.

Larry’s blog post, on the other hand, lays out a lot of details that were touched on in the DA blog post. Several emails and a police report are included in his latest post.

The first thing Larry refers to is a series of phone calls, of which he is not allowed to discuss the content of due to a confidentiality agreement:

[…] Dries refused to speak to any relevant details unless I signed a confidentiality agreement. (Although it did prompt my 4th post on 16 April.) Sorting out that agreement took several weeks, and we did not speak of anything substantive until 15 May, long after DrupalCon. Megan was added to the agreement for a second call on 9 June and for three further calls, the last of which was on Wednesday 12 July. At Dries’ recommendation we were also joined on the calls by Whitney Hess as an independent mediator, and I thank her for her willingness to attempt to help broker peace.

Because of the confidentiality agreement Dries and Megan required, I am not permitted to discuss what we talked about in any of those calls. I can say that my intent going into them was to get clarity and, ideally, reach a point where we could all issue a joint statement that retracted the insinuations against me and then move on together, with me welcome in Drupal just as anyone else.

Clearly, that did not happen. The timing and speed with which their latest post on 13 July was made (barely 24 hours after the end of our last call) suggests it may have been written even before we concluded talking, and clearly tries to blame me for daring to act in my own defense. It also contains multiple misleading statements that, sadly, I feel need to be corrected.

Let’s think about this for a minute. The last of these phone calls took place on Wednesday, July 12, and the DA blog post goes up on Thursday, July 13. I am willing to give Mr. Buytaert, Ms. Sanicki, and others at the DA the benefit of the doubt that the post was not written before the conversations with Larry had concluded, until and unless proof beyond a reasonable doubt surfaces to the contrary. I don’t feel Larry’s accusation is necessarily out of line; it’s certainly plausible, but it’s pretty damned low even given the past conduct of the parties in the past.

Most of the rest of Larry’s post is a recap of events from February on, this time with (redacted) screenshots of emails. We see that this has morphed from an issue with Larry’s participation in the Gorean and BDSM communities. Specifically, somehow now it’s about Larry’s former housemate and an assumption that the relationship he had with her was non-consensual. The assumption, of course, winds up being proven false (the police report of the welfare check proves that). Quoting from later in Larry’s post:

So now, Dries and Megan are claiming that the issue was, and always was, entirely based on concern about the ability of my housemate to consent. To consent to what is unclear; usually that phrasing refers to sex, but my interactions with her in public (Drupal or otherwise) were always extremely G-rated. To the best of my knowledge, the only information about her they had was “Community Member A’s” single paragraph of being uneasy in-hindsight after she didn’t want to talk to him (being mute and shy) and wouldn’t make eye contact (being autistic).

Somehow, “she’s quiet and shy” turned into “we think there might be a consent issue here”.

For those not familiar with it, autism can have a very wide variety of symptoms […] My former housemate has extreme introversion and eye contact with anyone, even me, is extremely uncomfortable for her. She is still an intelligent woman with her own thoughts and feelings and moral stances. Every single bit of her atypical behavior in public was due to her autism, which is why she specifically instructed me to tell people that she was autistic as a way to explain her odd behavior. All of which could have been found out by Dries et al if they had simply spoken to me and asked before summarily dismissing me because of “beliefs”.

Excuse my French here, but I can’t believe that Larry actually has to say all this shit. And I certainly can’t believe I’m reading this shit.

The most troubling parts of Larry’s post are the things like this:

This information [that there was an issue with Larry’s autistic former housemate] was actively withheld from me for months during our conversations in February through April. Yet now my open and honest explanations to the Board on 16 March (after Dries and Megan decided in February to summarily remove me from Drupal) are being retroactively used to justify their actions against me.

Or, put another way, Larry was honest and had his honesty used against him in a retroactive justification for the actions taken against him. Which, of course, was different than the previous reasons given to him and others.

And then:

This is also completely at odds with Dries’ original statements to me — that the issue was avoiding anyone finding out that there were Goreans involved in Drupal — and in his original blog post — that the issue was entirely “beliefs” of which he did not approve — which made no mention of my former housemate at all. These statements cannot both be true.

Again, Mr. Buytaert has proven himself to be a complete two-faced liar, changing the story for his own convenience, with absolutely no integrity or respect for the truth. This is not how responsible leaders act.

Megan further states “The Drupal Association can not and should not investigate or adjudicate legal matters.”

At least on this point we 100% completely agree! And yet she is willing to take harmful action against someone anyway given nothing more than hearsay. That is, she is adjudicating legal matters.

So again, Ms. Sanicki is showing her dishonesty or at least flagrant inconsistency.

The most “damning” (and I use that word ironically) accusation they are even able to make is that I “allowed” my former housemate to contribute to Drupal, as though I was preventing her from doing so otherwise. Bollocks. Here’s the actual quote from my second blog post:

She is very intelligent and curious and was interested in programming, so after she took a free online coding course I allowed her to help me with some small Drupal core patches. Her shyness, however, prevented her from posting any issues in her own name, so we abandoned that endeavour. She still wanted to learn, though, so I brought her along to a number of Drupal and tech conferences in the Chicago area.

She took a free online programming class all on her own; I reviewed her assignments to give constructive feedback. She then helped me with some minor PSR-0 refactoring for Drupal 8, on a patch I submitted. Yes, I “allowed” her to help me directly with a patch, at her request. How terrible. She wanted to do more to help, but was too uncomfortable posting in her own name and I was not comfortable posting her work under my name as though I had done it.

It sounds like “tried to help someone who wanted to contribute to Drupal to contribute to Drupal” is the actual accusation against me. I certainly hope we’re all guilty of that.

If this is really the main reason Larry was stripped of his leadership roles, it’s nothing short of outrageous.

If it’s not, and it’s his participation in Gorean and BDSM communities, it’s still nothing short of outrageous. This is before even factoring in that that information got to the Community Working Group (CWG) and others in an unethical and possibly unlawful manner (from a website which forbids that type of sharing in its terms of service).

Even if it’s some combination of the two, it’s still nothing short of outrageous.

Dries further states:

Larry’s posts created material disruption to the project and the Association based on incomplete and inaccurate information.

And Megan continues:

Larry’s subsequent blog posts harmed the community and had a material impact on the Drupal Association, including membership cancellations from those who believed we doxed, bullied, and discriminated against Larry as well as significant staff disruption. Due to the harm caused, the Drupal Association is removing Larry Garfield from leadership roles that we are responsible for, effective today.

People canceled their DA memberships because they felt the DA was mistreating me. And somehow Megan is trying to make that seem my fault for stating facts. I reject that characterization outright.

I fail to see how it could possibly be harmful to the Drupal project for someone in Larry’s position to counter rumors, innuendo, gossip, and lies with the truth. Unless, of course, it’s because the truth is inconvenient to Mr. Buytaert, Ms. Sanicki, the CWG, and others, and they would prefer those rumors, innuendo, gossip, and lies to remain unchallenged and unanswered. If so, I’ve seen high schoolers act with more respect to their peers, and that’s saying a lot.

The “material disruption” came from Mr. Buytaert’s, Ms. Sanicki’s, and the CWG’s piss-poor handling of the situation. To attempt to pin that “material disruption” on Larry crosses outside the boundary line of conduct deemed acceptable in decent society and should be retracted without further undue delay, with the appropriate apology to Larry issued as part of that retraction. (Not that I’m holding my breath, mind you.)

Finally, the end of the post:

What have we learned

A number of things, unfortunately.

  • We’ve learned that a vocal significant minority of people in Drupal do not believe Dominant/submissive relationships can be consensual at all.
  • We’ve learned that Drupal’s senior-most leadership feels autistics cannot consent, at least if they’re mute, although consent to what is unclear.
  • We’ve learned that the penalty for bringing an autistic person to a DrupalCamp and making someone uncomfortable because she doesn’t talk is to be summarily dismissed from any and all positions of responsibility.
  • We’ve learned that the penalty for actively soliciting blackmail material and then trying to blackmail fellow members of the community is also to be removed from any positions of authority, as Klaus has been. (It seems odd that both of these warrant the same action.)
  • We’ve learned that collecting “dirt” on a fellow member of the senior team with intent to use it to force the person out warrants no penalty.

The first three of these things are absolutely fucking outrageous, excuse my French. The fourth one (referring to Klaus Purer) is reasonable, perhaps the only reasonable action taken by the Drupal community’s leadership related to this whole affair, and thus the faint silver lining on this cloud. Mr. Purer deserved to be held accountable for his egregious, despicable, and indecorous conduct.

The fifth of these (about “collecting ‘dirt’”)? I’m not even sure “absolutely fucking outrageous” does it justice. This/these jerk(s), unfortunately, got what he/she/they wanted. This person or group succeeded in splattering dirt on the reputation of a high-profile contributor to a high-profile free software project, resulting in his eventual removal from all leadership posts, and quite possibly irreversible damage to his career which took over a decade to build… and got away with it. This goes beyond even the most permissive bounds of anything that we as a society could possibly label as a standard of decency.

Worse, we don’t even have one or more names to associate with this act. That only speaks volumes about the egregious cowardice, flagrant indecency, and patently derelict character of this person or group of people. I don’t know who is more at fault: the person or group that collected the “dirt” that started this, or the people like Mr. Buytaert and Ms. Sanicki that helped this despicable person or group fulfill such despicable desires.

Before I get to the very last thing Larry reveals in his post, I’d like to suggest a sixth thing we learned from this, which is something I also feel “absolutely fucking outrageous” fails to justly describe: Attempting to protect one’s reputation in the Drupal community when someone involved wants you gone is enough reason to lose one’s leadership roles in and of itself. That’s part of what I read from this: that the real issue now is that Larry dared stand up for himself. That he dared defend his reputation instead of just taking it lying down could only legitimately piss off those who value their own completely fucking absurd lies which smack of a rookie flack’s first weeks on a new PR job. (Excuse my French, again.)

Larry says it himself that it was not easy coming out about the details of his personal life. As I see it, he made the brave move to do so to beat the blackmailers to the punch, and also to set the record straight instead of letting the gossip and rumors be what everyone based their decisions on.

And now, the truly sad conclusion, quoting Larry’s blog post one last time:

At this point, I cannot in good conscience continue to be an advocate for Drupal in the broader tech community. Though it pains me to say it after 12 years with this project, to be stabbed in the back by so many, even if they’re a minority, is unbearable. Doubly so when it’s by the project lead, a man whom I had considered a friend.

Up until this point, despite all that had happened, I had not canceled my Drupal Association membership, in the hopes that this matter could be resolved honestly. Unfortunately, I now see that honesty is not going to be forthcoming. I have now canceled my DA membership as I can no longer, in good conscience, financially support those who continue to discriminate against — and spread misinformation about — me and those in marginalized groups.

I can only imagine how many more DA membership cancellations have followed Larry’s. We know at least a few preceded it when Larry made his first couple of posts.

That Larry considered Mr. Buytaert a friend before all this shit hit the fan is quite telling. I have had plenty of experience with friends willing to throw me under the bus, so to speak. I have also had an experience where my honesty was used against me and it cost me quite a few potential friends. We are taught that being honest and transparent are qualities of good character­, and then there are situations like this where those same qualities are used against those that have them by people with character that can only be described as putrid.

So, there you have it. I’m not going to get into the comments, or go into the DA blog’s post in much detail beyond what Larry has quoted, though I will say both are worth reading for a more complete and rounded understanding of what’s going on.

Before I wrap up this post, I’d like to say that the fact Larry can’t comment now as much as he’d like to due to the confidentiality agreement, is the exact reason I’m extremely leery of these agreements.

Briefly, what this means for me personally:

  • I am removing Drupal from consideration for my future personal website projects indefinitely. (There was at least one prior to this post, which I’m going to try to either figure out how to do with WordPress, or explore other options.)
  • For the moment, I will accept client assignments which require me to maintain an existing Drupal site, but not assignments which require me to set up a new Drupal site. This also means I will be steering clients who want me to set up new websites away from Drupal to other platforms (not necessarily WordPress, but that remains a possibility).
  • Going forward, the main reason I learn any more about Drupal is for the purpose of migrating existing Drupal sites to other platforms, something I will happily do given what appears to be the final outcome of this situation.

I base these strictly on the handling of the situation by Dries Buytaert and Megan Sanicki. It has nothing to do with Larry’s alleged misdeeds at all; to sum it up, I really think Larry did nothing wrong that would warrant the sanctions dealt to him. As I see it, the damage to the Drupal brand can be traced back to its leadership and their poor handling of the situation. To me, it does not make sense to blame it on what Larry did (which was simply to protect his own interests and reputation).

I am, of course, open to re-evaluating my stance at a later date.

Sex robots and thought crimes

A recent op-ed in The New York Times discusses some ethical and moral issues with sex robots. In particular, the issues with one such robotic personality dubbed “Frigid Farrah” which the company describes in their FAQ as “reserved and shy”.

From the op-ed:

Frigid Farrah is not alone in providing her user with a replica of a human partner without the nagging complication of consent. […]

One of the authors of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics report, Noel Sharkey, a professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, England, said there are ethical arguments within the field about sex robots with “frigid” settings.

“The idea is robots would resist your sexual advances so that you could rape them,” Professor Sharkey said. “Some people say it’s better they rape robots than rape real people. There are other people saying this would just encourage rapists more.”

Like the argument that women-only train compartments are an answer to sexual harassment and assault, the notion that sex robots could reduce rape is deeply flawed. […]

Rape is not an act of sexual passion. It is a violent crime. We should no more be encouraging rapists to find a supposedly safe outlet for it than we should facilitate murderers by giving them realistic, blood-spurting dummies to stab.

Now, I agree with the condemnation of rape. To their credit, True Companion now says in their FAQ (which may or may not have been there at the time the op-ed was published):

We absolutely agree with Laura Bates, campaigner and founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, that “rape is not an act of sexual passion…”

Roxxxy, our True Companion sex robot is simply not programmed to participate in a rape scenario and the fact that she is, is pure conjecture on the part of others. […]

Frigid Farrah can be used to help people understand how to be intimate with a partner.

Rape simply isn’t an interaction that Roxxxy supports nor is it something that our customers are requesting.

That said, I would much rather someone rape a human-like robot instead of raping a real person. I understand others may not feel the same way, but I would compare an attempt to outlaw rape victim scenario robot software because others feel it can be used to practice for the rapes of real women paramount to banning certain video games like the Grand Theft Auto series because they can be used to practice real scenarios of crime and evading arrest. If you think the latter is just plain silly, you understand how I see the former.

The logical extreme of this–and I use the word “logical” a bit loosely here–is to make it a crime to partake in a simulated rape involving a sex robot. We already have laws that have run amok outlawing the possession of simulated child porn (not involving actual children). The original purpose of child porn laws was to prevent child abuse, similar to the actual laws against child abuse itself. If there are no children involved, all you really have left is thoughtcrime (a la George Orwell’s 1984). There are people who have been arrested and convicted for possessing only simulated child porn. While I find even simulated child porn repulsive, having our laws establish crimes where there is no real victim makes me even queasier.

Not surprisingly, there have also been calls for child sex robots to be banned at least in Britain, per the op-ed. I would certainly hope the demand for the child-sized versions to be in much lower demand. I find the sexual abuse of children particularly revolting, and I would expect most of decent society to concur. Again, better a robot than the real thing. The perverts get their perverse desires satisfied, no humans are harmed, and everyone wins.

Unless, of course, the legislators run amok and outlaw them. When child-size sex robots are outlawed, only outlaws will have child-size sex robots, and yet another thoughtcrime will be on the books. Can someone please remind our legislators that George Orwell’s book 1984 is not an instruction manual?

Matt McMullen, quoted in a linked article from The Guardian in the op-ed summarizes it rather nicely:

“Is it ethically dubious to force my toaster to make my toast?”

On the future of this blog and many other blogs and websites like it

I realize this is somewhat US-centric, but since a lot of internet traffic passes through the US, it does have global implications.

For those of you who missed it, today many sites, like this one and my other blog, SKQ Record Quest are participating in a protest and awareness effort regarding net neutrality. A lot of people don’t realize what net neutrality is, so I will try to explain. To say the least, there is a reason I titled this post the way I did.

Net neutrality is the idea that all sites on the internet, all types of internet traffic, and all types of content are treated equally. If your small blog is on a 10 megabits per second connection, it gets the same treatment that a 10 megabit per second connection to NBC, CBS, The Houston Chronicle, USA Today, Netflix, Microsoft, Apple, or Google. It is not throttled just because you don’t have the deep pockets of a large corporation. It also means protocols like Freenet, BitTorrent, and XMPP are not throttled or restricted in favor of proprietary alternatives. It also means software like Tor and I2P is not arbitrarily blocked or censored, and that those unhappy with the likes of Twitter can join something like Mastodon or even start their own node. For that matter, Twitter itself may not have come into being without net neutrality.

(Outside of the US, particularly in countries like China and North Korea where the rights to free speech and expression are not recognized, the government does attempt to censor many of these protocols and networks, with varying degrees of success and failure. This only serves to underscore how important net neutrality is for the rest of us: while some creative citizens have been able to bypass the government’s censorship, they really should not have to,)

Simply put, if the FCC gets rid of the rules protecting net neutrality, there would be nothing stopping Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, Verizon, and other ISPs from putting “the rest of the internet” in a separate “box” and either slowing them down to almost nothing, or perhaps even charging extra on top of the “normal” internet access that gives you all the sites you could want to visit that are owned by or have cut deals with your ISP’s parent company. In short, it would take away most of the good things about the internet, and drop everything bad about TV and other mass media in its place.

The last thing I want is for the next generation of bloggers to hear “don’t bother starting a new blog on your own, the only way to get an audience is to land a spot at <insert names of mass media companies here>.” Or for someone trying to read my blog and having to wait forever for it to load, because they are connected to the internet through Time Warner, and Time Warner would rather have my readers reading CNN’s bloggers or even just watching CNN.

If you are in the US, you can (and should) take a minute to make a public comment to the FCC through battleforthenet.com. The comment period is open for a couple of days, and the more public outrage the FCC gets over this issue, the better.