Monday, December 17, 2012

Pycon Code of Conduct

I have stated that opinions about the Code of Conduct should be discussed in a public forum.  I’ve had, at their request, ex parte emails with Jesse Noller and Steve Holden over the subsequent reaction to my post on Hacker News.  The substance of the objections to my post and my responses have been addressed in these emails.  In his last email, Steve suggested that if I wanted to discuss it in a public forum, which I have always advocated, I should try his blog  So this is being posted there and at  my blog

This all started with my post
I’ve not had any desire to be anonymous and signed the Hacker New post as bob_hancock.  I would suggest reading the original post before proceeding so that there is no misunderstanding of what was said.

Steve says, referring to the event, that “first the quote is inaccurate”.  This is where we can agree to disagree.  I remember it clearly and I am sure that I’ve accurately recounted the conversation.  I’ve been told that “you didn't express your opinion, except in the most oblique way” .   I think I’ve been clear.  I don’t see how I have been oblique.

My post was to take issue with the code.  “The Code has a very broad definition of harassment that makes no distinction between a one time comment and a pattern of repetitive behaviour intended to intimidate or cause harm.”  I recounted the one-eyed snake event not to imply that the organizers should have taken some action, since the woman in question took no more umbrage than, "No, it is just creepy, but I'm an adult.", but to illustrate that one of the people who approved the wording was engaged in behavior that under the current wording could have been grounds for a complaint.  

Specifically, the Code of Conduct states “Be careful in the words that you choose. Remember that sexist, racist, and other exclusionary jokes can be offensive to those around you. Excessive swearing and offensive jokes are not appropriate for PyCon. and I believe this is the type of conduct to which they are referring which is why I referenced it.  I thought the joke was in bad taste, and mentioned that to Steve later, but it did not rise to the level of something that required action by the organizers--which was the point.

I’ve been told that Hacker News was not an appropriate forum to discuss this.  My post was in response to a thread in which Jesse had already responded, so I added my opinion.

I recieved emails stating that the purpose of my post was of “malicious intent”, that I am “sadly misinformed about gender diversity issues”, my behavior is “inept”, that as a result “staff is being bullied and harassed due to this”, and that I have “pulled the rug out from under” Jesse.  

Some people have taken the fallout from this situation as an opportunity to dump on Jesse and engage in cyber-bullying.  The amount of work that Jesse puts into Pycon is unbelievable and has immeasurably improved Pycon.  The conference in its current form would have been impossible without him.  To personally criticize Jesse or to question his commitment to the Python community is to willfully ignore the substance of the issue.

Jesse clarified the difference between the Board’s ratification and Pycon.  The difference which was not clear to me and why I asked “From what I understand, the code was approved by the Board of Directors of the PSF, and not the PSF as a whole. Please, correct me if I am wrong.”   The board resolution says “RESOLVED, that the PSF will only sponsor conferences that have or agree to create and publish a Code of Conduct/Anti Harassment guide for their conference. A basic template to work from has been generated by the Ada Initiative at”  So, we should make a clear distinction between the Board’s resolution and Pycon’s choice of a Code.  

They could have chosen the Pycon UK version or the O’Reilly Conference version, and be in full compliance with the PSF resolution.

I’ve not read, except for a couple of vituperative Tweets by Zed Shaw to Diana Clarke, the broadsides that have been aimed at Jesse and Steve.  I would be interested to know if the content is primarily personal attacks or people taking issue with the wording of the Code of Conduct.  Hate mail is inevitable when you take a stand for something you believe in.  The only way to avoid this is to take no stand at all, and I applaud the Pycon organizers for making their intentions clear.

To link the hate mail and cyber-bullying with my post is specious.  It may have acted as a catalyst for some disgruntled people predisposed to invective, but the demeaning outbursts of the peevish cannot be a deterrent to rational and civil discourse.

pythonchelle has made the most pertinent comment so far “Let's not derail the conversation that needs to be had about CoCs. It's a little ridiculous to discount the attempts that are being made to make the community better because one of the directors that helped write it told an off-color joke at a conference that one time.”


  1. Fine, you want this to be a public conversation? Now damage limitation is over, here are my thoughts. I am going to deal with you directly rather than run a battle of the blogs, so this is a long comment (which I may make the start of another post on similar topics later).

    Even supposing that my actions at PyCon were found to be harassing (which I currently haven't seen any evidence for) I still don't see what's wrong with me voting for a Code of Conduct that would allow people to take action against me for such behavior, and approving PyCon's code? Surely that just says that I am prepared to accept that I am subject to the same disciplinary rules as everyone else. Should I have voted against?

    Unless you are trying to demonstrate that I am a hypocrite I still don't see the point of you writing 'This is ironic since one of the Board members was walking around the conference last year with a damaged stuffed python toy asking, "Would you like to see my one eyed snake?"'. Where's the irony?

    By voting for the PSF to require a code of conduct in subsidized conferences I am simply trying to ensure that they approach the same high standards that PyCon strives for. You appear to be trying to imply that I somehow believe myself above such actions, but that is far from the case.

    We can of course agree to differ about whether your quotation is accurate, but even if I used the literal words you attribute to me you grossly and deliberately misrepresented the nature of the response. Pythonchelle, as you now know, is a friend, yet you chose to represent her remarks as expressing at least a mild tone of disapproval, which she assures me they did not. I will leave aside the question of why you represented her as a colleague.

    The simple fact is that nobody complained so there was no need for action, because no breach of the CoC took place. If any complaint had been made, action would have had to be taken, and Jesse assures me it would have been. In fact the only person who appears to have found my behavior even remotely offensive is you, and you chose to essentially keep this to yourself for eight months after your patronizing attempt ("woud you like me to say something?") to get a woman to be the source of a complaint.

    Rather than say at the time "you know, Steve, I found your behavior rather offensive" you said to me (in the PyCon bar, where I typically have at least three conversations going at once) "You know that can be a little creepy." You have explained in private mail "that was sufficient to express what I thought. I don't want to be an arbiter of other people's behavior." Later in the same mail you suggest that you wanted "to highlight that a member of a body that had approved a code of conduct was, in my opinion, acting contrary to the spirit of the code." So why didn't you complain, either to me personally or to the organizers?

    Surely the best way to deal with that is to raise a complaint at the time under the code of conduct, but you chose not to do that, and instead to make destructive comments in a public forum eight months after the event.

    In my opinion, if this brou-hah-hah can be traced to a single source it is your mealy-mouthed behavior. I have until now treated you as a friend. I am no longer convinced that is appropriate. You are, of course, entitled to your views, but I despise the manner in which you chose to express them.

  2. This is possibly better clarified on the psf-members list than on this blog. I dunno, I just happen to notice the comment here now.

    Anyway, Bob comments in several places:

    "From what I understand, the code was approved by the Board of Directors of the PSF, and not the PSF as a whole."

    This question misunderstands the organization of the PSF, I believe. *ALL* decisions of the PSF are made by *elected* Board of Directors--unless they are delegated to appropriate committees by the Board.

    The only actions that can be taken by the entire membership of the PSF are voting for new members, voting for Directors, and amending the Bylaws. Passing a rule for what funding requests will be considered (i.e. only for conferences with a CoC--and certainly not automatic funding just because a CoC exists) is an action only the Board can take under the Bylaws.

    So trivially, yes, this action (like all other actions) was one voted by the Board.

    Yours, David Mertz
    Director, PSF

  3. Hello Bob,

    I'm sorry this whole discussion has gotten so out of hand. I'd like to step back for a moment and make sure I've understood your concerns. My hope is that we can salvage this conversation, pivot in a more constructive direction, and perhaps come up with some proposed changes to the code of conduct as a result.

    If I'm not mistaken (and please correct me if I'm wrong):

    1) You think a code of conduct is a good thing, but that ours needs some work/clarity

    2) You think the snake thing was in bad taste, but not necessarily actionable/threatening (in context)

    3) You would like to see a CoC that differentiates between acceptable adult content and harassment

    4) You agree that the larger the audience (think talks), the more careful you need to be

    5) But that in smaller groups, we should be able to use our judgment, self-police, and then escalate as needed

    Personally, I read the code of conduct with a grain of salt, trust that the best of intentions are behind it, and focus on the spirit of it rather than the fine print. That said, us developers are known for being a bit pedantic and anti-authoritarian at times. Knowing that, perhaps the code of conduct could be worded a bit differently to encourage larger buy-in, and not distract from the bigger picture. At the end of the day, I'm pretty certain we can all agree on the basic premises: diversity outreach and safety.

    Like all things open source, it's about stepping up and putting in the time and effort. I see no reason why we can't brainstorm changes to the current code of conduct and then send them to the PSF. Let me know if you're interested in working together on making the code of conduct less "controversial" and yet effective. You can reach me at diana.joan.clarke via gmail.

    Beer with me at PyCon?



    PS. I wasn't calling *you* pedantic and anti-authoritarian. I've had so many horrible words put in my mouth recently; please don't take that the wrong way.

  4. Diana, all five of your points are spot on. You have understood exactly what I meant. I was beginning to feel like I was speaking Greek.

    I think that the Pycon U.K. and O'Reilly codes of conduct are not just acceptable but where we should look for inspiration.

    Your civil, articulate, and thoughtful response is encouraging. It is good to know that there are people like you out there willing to step up and discuss the issues.

    I need to take some time to consider how much, and what type of, effort I want to put in after the past couple of days. I welcome vigorous and strong statements of points of view, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate your response. I will give it serious consideration. And if I attend Pycon, I'll take you up on that beer.

    Thanks again, and I'll be in touch.