Interview with Ted Walther (Was: KROOGER SPEAKS!!!)

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For the second year in a row Ted Walther (formerly known as Jonathan Walther) runs as a candidate in Debian Project Leader (DPL) elections. Last year "None of the above" got more voter support then Ted. Inside the Debian project he is used as a poster boy for chauvinistic, racist and rude behavior on a mailing list and for causing a few huge flame-wars in years 2003 and 2004. Ted claims that his behavior was misunderstood and that he has learned from those events. After getting a very sane and reasonable impression from Ted's this years platform I was surprised when I was reminded that he is in fact still the same Jonathan (now Ted) Walther we all know from those times. Fascinated by this discrepancy I decided to make a one-to-one interview with Ted to clarify. The interview follows after the break. Ted's replies are indented.


Note: The interview is very long, so if you want to skip some of it, I'd recommend reading the Debian related issues part and my thoughts after the interview.

Debian related issues

Flame-wars and Debian

All in all, in the last years DPL election the now infamous thread on debian-women from July 2004 and earlier thread on debian-project had been raised to show you being a very sexist person. Could you please summarize: What was your position then? What do you think made so many people so angry about that? And what is you position about that today?

My position today is that I misjudged how much I had in common with my audience. Email is a relatively context-free environment. The only context is what you supply. Anton LaVey pointed out that people tend to see what they expect to see, and not see things they don't. My mistake was forgetting that important fact of human nature. The context in my head is not the same as the context in other people's heads. Many allusions, metaphors, and references I use in my speech, turn out wrong when read by people of other cultures, religious upbringings, political ideologies, and languages. Debian, because it is so international in scope, with such a diverse developer base, is far more prone to such misunderstandings than most voluntary gatherings of people.

It wasn't my intention to start multiple flame wars. I'm an Irish bulldog by temperament, and that means I love a good heated discussion, with everyone going to the pub for cheery beer afterward. It seems many in Debian have more sensitive personality types, and they have a hard time putting their differences aside after the fun is all over. So, for the past year I've trained myself to back away from potential flame-fests before they explode.

I hate repeating myself, which, in a context-free environment like email, is really essential. I often think if I'd used three, four, or five times as many words, spelling out in detail what I assumed people already knew, people would have had a hard time being offended by what I had to say.

Finally, when people make agressive, rude, and insulting remarks, I've had a hard time in the past not sending in witty one-line rejoinders. I've stopped these, for the most part, since the recipients only get more angry, without putting in the mental effort to get the point.

Voltaire would never have lasted long in Debian, bless his freethinking soul.

What would you do differently now to prevent such heated debates in Debian mailing lists? (I will not even mention the biggest flame-war in the history of debian-private in January 2004 :))

If you have two parties to a transaction, and one party isn't having fun, then it isn't fun for anyone. I try to limit myself to technical discussions on IRC and in the mailing lists these days, since many people have made it apparent they weren't having fun. A witty put-down by a popular developer causes laughter; when someone is defending an unpopular viewpoint his witty comebacks and slaughtering of sacred cows only causes outrage.

Debian-Women

You didn't ask me directly about the whole debian-women fiasco. But I'll tell you anyway. :-)

Ten years ago, trying to break into the industry as a Unix System administrator, I was turned down time and again. Each time there would be a woman, or a aboriginal person, or a gay or disabled person with no training or Unix knowledge who would be hired, because of the affirmative action rules the government of Canada had chosen to finally start enforcing at that time. I did finally find work with small companies that didn't care what color I was, as long as the work got done.

When I joined Debian, nine years ago, it was more like a pure meritocracy. At last, a place where anyone could contribute. After all, on the Internet, noone knows if you are an elephant or a Martian. Finally, a place free of affirmative action and limits on free speech; just a bunch of people doing their best to make something great. You stand or fall on your own merits. Freethinking and refusal to compromise with political correctness was the order of the day. I was in heaven.

When I saw the charter of Debian-Woman, and the type of posts certain people were making, I saw the end of paradise, a fall from grace, as certain parties made it clear their goal with D-W to bring all the politically correct affirmative action crap in, in the name of "being nice", even if that meant compromising the project itself.

This concerned me; I wanted women to be able to participate in Debian, without changing our performance oriented nature.

I've worked on construction sites. Construction workers have a meritocracy of their own, similar to that in the Free Software world. Either you perform, or you get out. The sex ratio in construction is the same as what I've observed in Free Software, and I suspect, for the same reasons.

Anyhow, this was my intent.

Although Debian-Women banished me from all of their communication channels, and made me their "posterboy", several feminists who posted to the Debian-Women list, saying the SAME THINGS I was.

How saying, were also run off, banished. Various women emailed me in private saying they agreed with what I was saying, but were too intimidated to speak up in the Debian-Women project lest they be run off and harassed as well.

You see, I support a woman's right to have a career and a family. When I brought up the fact that women have some UNIQUE abilities that men do not have, abilities which must be exercised if society is to survive, that outraged those who were trying to push their agenda through the Debian-Women subproject using Debians own resources.

A friend helped me realize why my posts were so controversial; most Europeans and Left-wing Americans have been raised with femininity as their "fnord", their taboo, their shibboleth. To mention child-bearing or child-raising is to trigger in their propagandized heads the image of thousands of years of slavery, chained to a kitchen stove, naked, barefoot, covered with bruises and black eyes, with a dozen screaming babies crawling over their feet twenty-four hours a day.

Now, such an image is far from reality and pure nonsense. Nor would I ever endorse such a scenario. Women have an important job to do in our society which ONLY THEY are capable of doing, and deserve to be amply rewarded for doing it. I would do it if I could. Really.

In today's automated society, and even in the more enlightened societies of ancient times, women could have families AND the leisure to engage in projects like Debian.

I feel women should be able to participate in Debian without compromising their femininity, and WITHOUT PENALIZING the male members of Debian for their masculinity. Yet that is the direction I saw the Debian-Women group going in.

My favorite feminist author, Germaine Greer, said that Western society as a whole hates children. It would rather import grown adults than integrate its own youngsters. The behavior I witnessed on Debian-Women proved that she was right.

Anyone who consults the mailing list archives can see that my bad behavior consists almost entirely of voicing opinions, in a reasonable, calm way, that didn't jive with the equalitarian brainwashing we all experience. I was doing the mental equivalent of chasing a bobcat up a tree; there is nothing more dangerous than a cornered animal, or a person who feels their very reality is threatened.

Diplomacy and PR effects

I would like to reiterate another question from last years debate: if you're elected as a DPL and if one of your activities done without your DPL hat on would start to affect Debian's image negatively in a real and unmistakable way, would you stop that activity to minimize damage to the project?

Absolutely. I'd stop the activity right away.

Could you please tell us more about http://reactor-core.org/irc-help.html ?

Back in the day, IRC was the best Linux support medium available. A lot of people got a lot of help. But a lot of people never got any help. I wrote the IRC Help HOWTO to give Joe Average some survival skills in an environment with almost no emotional context or cues, and where many people like to take out their aggression on innocent bystanders.

And what about http://www.open-mag.com/features/Vol_61/trademarks/trademarks.htm ?

I think the article speaks well for itself. I may have views that are offensive to some vocal entities, but I arrive at them through careful reason and study of facts. Fearlessness, reasonableness to the point of self-harm, and willingness to see every side of every story works well when you have two conflicting parties that really do want to arrive at a solution. In the Firefox/Firebird conflict, that attitude was the right one.

It doesn't work well though unless people are getting a lot of pressure to re-examine their assumptions. I re-examine two or three fundamental assumptions almost every day.

I can be a silver-tongued Irishman when I want to be. :-)

Religion related issues

Religion in general

You look to be a very religious person and there has been a lot of concern about that, so some of my questions will be related to that. I personally do not believe in any gods and I think that all religions were made up by rulers of the time to have better control over peoples' minds.

I wouldn't go that far. I believe most religions developed organically, hand in glove with the natures and sensitivities of the cultures they represented. But I agree that religion serves as a type of governing mechanism for society. Even today we don't have enough technology to force people to do things they don't want to; therefore people must be self-governing. That means you have to implant their moral and ethical sense at an early age, so they govern themselves in ways that are compatible with the rest of society. When you change the religion, you change the society itself. Religion is only controls society in the sense that DNA and genes control human beings.

I not sure if it is of much interest to many out there, but for my reference, what exactly is your religion?

I'm not sure if there is a name for it. I follow the Law of Moses. I eat kosher, wear tzitzit, and keep all the other mitzvot. I have the most in common with the Karaites, except I believe in Jesus, and also practice bits of the Law that even they don't follow anymore, such as keeping Pesach according to the instructions in Exodus 12.

Human rights vs. Gods blessings

In http://reactor-core.org/~djw/myblog/archives/2005/06/28/T02_00_42/ you say that "I am not a believer in 'rights'. My God hands out blessings and cursings.". This phrase alone would ignite a lot of criticism and (maybe) misunderstanding. One would argue that it is not up to god to give out human rights, but it rather the job of the human society, which it has done well via the universal human rights declaration. Could you please elaborate on you view on human rights and what do you mean in quote above?

You may have noticed I have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on my website, along with the Bill of Rights, and some other historical documents.

My view on human rights is that in the end, you face consequences for your actions, and the highest court in the land cannot protect your "rights" if you are unpopular. So the concept of rights is meaningless. A person has to be pragmatic and go with what works. Abstract reasoning ideals are very Greek, antithetical to Semitic thought. I should point out that Richard Feynman, possibly the greatest physicist of all time, solved problem after problem because he tossed Greek abstraction out on its ear with his Semitic empiricism.

So you do respect the rights declared in the Universal Humar Rights Declaration?

Almost everything in the Universal Declaration is taken from the Law of Moses, so yes, I respect the heck out of the "rights" outlined therein.

I desire to be peaceable with all men. As long as noone prevents me from following the Torah, we'll all get along fine.

When speaking of rights I was contrasting arrogance with humility. It is about frame of reference more than anything. Does man arrogantly take what he wants from nature, because he has "rights", or does he humbly accept his place in nature and try to work within it to bless everyone?

Racism, interracial marriage and incest

In http://reactor-core.org/~djw/myblog/archives/2005/08/02/T22_44_46/ you recommend this essay: http://www.littlegeneva.com/interracial.html . The essay clearly states that the bible is against interracial marriages or even marriages with people from neighborhood villages. Also the essay shows the bible favoring incest to interracial marriage. What is you opinion about the essay?

I thought the essay was refreshingly unconventional. Most people who debunk racism from the Bible do it in a hand-waving and dismissive way, without getting into the actual issues involved. The author of the article actually did do the leg-work of researching all the facts in the ground and putting them together in a coherent way. That alone, is valuable, knowing what the Bible really has to say.

It takes a strong mind to think deeply and rationally on topics that are taboo and forbidden. I honor that, even when I disagree with the conclusions people come to.

As another example, I disagree with abortion, but for the same reasons as outlined above, I posted a deeply-thought out and well-informed article that claims abortion is lawful in the Bible. You can read it here: http://reactor-core.org/bible-abortion.html

What is your opinion on bible recommending incest?

I was not aware that the Bible recommended incest. My study of genetics shows that incest creates a Balkanized, splintered world as the genetic diversity mushrooms uncontrollably. Not really desirable for building stable societies.

Incest in Bible from the essay above:

"The post-Flood chosen line diversified very slowly. Abraham married his half-sister. Abraham's brother Nahor married his niece, and these were the grandparents of Rebekah. Isaac was specifically forbidden from marrying a Canaanite and was paired instead with Rebekah, his cousin. Abraham commanded his chief slave, "I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac" (Gen. 24:2-4)."

Is that not a clear message that Bible prefers incest over interracial marriages?

In my experience with farm animals and breeding dogs and hamsters, incest is the main technique used today, and always has been, to stabilize and establish a new breed. Incest accelerates the rate of mutation, outbreeding reduces it. Once you have the breed where you want it, then you back off on the incest to stop it from diverging any farther. That is why the Bible forbids brother-sister marriages. Cousin-marriages have been practiced throughout the world and history, and the taboo against them is an extremely modern and misguided Western prejudice, like the laws penalizing alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana consumption.

What is your opinion about interracial marriage?

My observation is that most people who married outside their race had a grudge against their family or their culture and society, or feel they don't fit into it for some reason. Often, these grudges are justifiable. Why walk down the hall for a drink when there's a water fountain right next to you? You need a reason to put out extra effort to court and marry someone of a different race.

What would you do/say if one of your daughters decided to marry a person of different race?

Being half Filipino, half Irish, it will be rather hard for her to marry someone of the SAME race. I'll love her no matter who she marries.

Globalization and multiculture

Isn't the author of http://www.littlegeneva.com/kinism.html being ignorant about the very religion he seems to be supporting and mixing the Tower of Babel (an act of people trying to be better then God) with the universal language that was the common language of the mankind. The author seems to assume for given that uniting nations would bring another punishment from Gog (unlike all the supertowers that are like hundreds of times higher then the Tower of Babel). What do you think about that fact bending to justify dislike to people of different races socializing?

I didn't see anything in there that was opposed to different races socializing. The problem was with the whole One World Order concept, which destroys diversity and leads to monoculture, things which are universally recognized to be bad in agriculture. I don't believe humans are above the Laws of Nature; they apply to us as much as to plants and animals. Heck, diversity of operating systems is even recognized to be beneficial; diversity is a good thing across the board.

However, abolishing of national boundaries is a violation on the national level of the earlier commandment not to move your neighbors land marker. In modern language that means "don't sneak into the county commisioners office and modify the survey map in your favor". Bible. Deuteronomy 32:7,8 (the Song of Moses) says God separated the nations. Genesis 10:32 says which nations they were divided into. Genesis 11:4 says that the problem at Babel wasn't that men were competing with God; it was that they were resisting the implementation of diversity. Acts 17:27 says that the reason for separating the nations was so that each nation would be better able to come to God. This sounds to me similar to the reasoning of people that send their children to all-girl or all-boy schools. The children at such schools do seem to come out with higher marks.

To be a nation means to have borders, and to have lands that noone can take away from you, guaranteed by God himself. The principle of non-alienable land rights is very fundamental, and was supposed to extend down to the tribal, clan, and family level.

Multiculturalism is communism applied to nations. Under communism, you don't have any property rights; when you die your house returns to the state, who might give it to a complete stranger. Under the Law of Moses, your children inherit your land, although strangers are welcome to rent it from you. It all works out though, because the stranger has lands that they have hereditary rights to as well. If a refugee is fleeing oppression, the right thing to do is to let him stay with you a while, then help him return to his native land with the resources and manpower to put and end to the oppression. You never know when it will be you that needs to flee, and if you helped your neighbor to get his land back, then you'll have a place to stay when your turn comes.

By your principle of Gods given land, occupying land of another nation is a sin. USA and Canada are formed almost exclusively out of people that occupied those territories from native inhabitants. So - are these countries ungodly countries? Or does the "Gods given land" migrate with time along the people and simply means "my people lived here longer then your people" or "I was born here, you were not"?

God gave the land of the Canaanites to Israel because the Canaanites were being unusually bad. Not only did he divide the nations, but he can redivide them if he chooses to. Without better knowing how much of American history you know, I don't care to speak about the case of the USA and Canada; the truth needs context, just as a diamond needs gold to form a ring.

I will say this; an understanding of the mandate laid out in the Bible, and of who those ancient nations and tribes have become today, will match up with history in an uncanny way. I recommend the books by Steven Collins and The Other End of the World, by physics professor Roger Rusk.

Jews and Law of Moses

What do you think about Jews, really?

As far as I'm concerned, anyone with the last name of Cohen or Levi should get first pick of any government or administrative offices, such as supreme court judges, lawyers, senators, congressmen, presidents, high school principals, chairman of the Federal Reserve, etc. Those were their hereditary positions under the Law of Moses, and I don't see any provisions to cancel that. This also entitles them to 10% of the net revenue of the nation, to do with as they please.

Why do you think that that Moses Law applies to any modern society?

Because the Law of Moses are actually sociological laws, based on human nature. They are like the law of gravity; you can disobey them all you want; the consequences are inevitable. No skin off my back what you choose to do. You can pretend gravity doesn't exist too. I don't really care. I'll do what works for me, and we can see how it all turns out in the end.

They do not inherit obligations or laws from the societies of that time, so even if there were privileges defined in some law in that specific 12 nations, those laws do not apply in any way to any other nation out there regardless of number of Jewish people there.

The prophet Jeremiah (at the end of chapter 12) said that the laws applied to every nation, not just the Jews. Most Jews I meet try to keep the Torah to themselves, as a sort of secret weapon.

The entitlements of the Levites were "forever". I don't know how long forever is, but I know it hasn't arrived yet. The Cohens and Levi's are not only Jews, but Levites. Counterbalancing their entitlement to 10% of a nations net revenue is the fact they aren't allowed to own land, and must be held accountable to the same laws they are expected to judge others by. Current Jewish practice is quite far from this.

For example USA has been founded without any reference to adherence to any Jewish laws, so no Jewish laws apply to USA. Don't you agree?

The Torah applies to the USA the same as the laws of physics do.

The personal letters, diaries, and public writings of the founding fathers show that their intent was that the USA be a Torah-keeping, Jesus-believing nation.

This article gives a reasonably quick summary of the topic: http://www.forerunner.com/forerunner/X0127_A_Christian_Nation.html

Children vs. parents

What did you mean by "Seducing a man's daughter is usurpation; for when she is defiled, he cannot sell her for a good price, or make a good match for her." at http://reactor-core.org/~djw/myblog/archives/2005/10/05/T12_47_23/ ? Do you think that if there is a daughter in a family, this girl belongs to the father? She is not a independent human being?

Noone is independent. From cradle to grave, we depend on the people around us. Dependency leads to duties, obligations, and reciprocity. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. If a man didn't get some benefit from having children, would hormones be enough to make him have children anyway?

When you consume someones food and live under their roof, you do incur duty and obligation.

Dr. Daniel Amneus covered this topic fairly well in his book "Garbage Generation"

The only biological reason to our existence is continuation of our genetic line. Raising good and healthy children is the only way to accomplish that. Given that, is not the investment into a child only an act of selfcontinuation for which the children have no reason to be indebted to? Also you only say that a girl belongs to her father, but never that boy belongs to his father or that both of them belong to their mother too, why do you make that distinction?

The first commandment (found in Genesis 1:28) was to become many. Not us only, as humans, but all forms of life are supposed to flourish in abundance, and it is our job to aid and abet that. Driving species into extinction is a direct violation of our mandate.

So, passing on your genes is a holy duty. So is honoring your parents; after all, it is really THEIR genes you are passing on.

We all depend on each other. I said a daughter belongs to her father in the context of who she will marry; a good father also has a lot of power over his son, since he controls the only land the son is allowed to inherit.

Passing on your genes is not enough to perpetuate them; you have to look at the big picture. You have to treat your wife well, so she will want to look after your children. You have to get along with your neighbors so they don't kill your children. You need to be able to pass on your accumulated knowledge to your children. Where are the watering holes, who are your enemies, who are your friends, who will betray you, who won't, when is the next year the Thread will fall, that sort of thing.

Also, you need some guarantees that the children really are yours, and that they will perpetuate your line, and not someone elses line. That means having them marry close in. The daughters of Zelophehad were not to marry outside their tribe because otherwise the land of their tribe would have gone over to another tribe, thus changing tribal boundaries.

Most of Europe's wars in the Middle Ages would have been avoided if the royalty had remained connected to their local kin groups instead of intermarrying with each other so everyone had a duchy here, a province there, always leading to the need for wars of consolidation and repatriation. England would not have ended up with a German monarch, nor Greece with a Danish monarch.


My thoughts after the interview

This interview came to life in multiple stages or waves in which the contents became more clear and detailed. In the end I came away with an impression of a person that thinks much of the religion - the topic that I do not know much about, because I do not see it as being an important topic in a life of a reasonable person nowadays. In contrast to me Ted seems to be building his very life on religion, seeking answers in ancient texts and, strangely enough, finding some that are quite coherent. I am not sure whether all the knowledge embedded into the structure of Christian and Jewish religions is relevant today - societies have changed rapidly with the abilities that people have gained trough modern technology. Ancient knowledge must be carefully reevaluated before applying it today. But to do that one must first understand what was the motivation behind the knowledge at that time, an I think that Ted is slowly moving towards that understanding in ways that other people would not want nor dear go.

I do not see Ted as being a racist or a particularly strong anti-feminist, especially if we talk about practical questions and not just pure theory. In theory Ted might have been enjoying the role of a devils advocate a bit too much a few years back earning him the reputation that is now almost impossible to erase from people memories.

Regarding Debian related issues Ted has shown pragmatism sometime even better then other candidates. I even have some concerns regarding debian-women project where before I had none - it is true that DD's should be evaluated on neutral criteria only and that any kind of favoritism to women, racial groups, sexual minorities or any other groups of people will compromise the meritocratic foundation of Debian. I mean - it is ok to help a person become a better DD, but the difficulty of NM testing must just as strict as for any other candidate. And also it would be nice to have the training materials available to all interested people and from time to time train not only women, but also some shy (and in some way feministic) men. And from what I have heard from the project, they have come to the same decisions too and actually do all of that for some time already, so these worries are purely theoretical.

Verdict: I will not say that I call to vote Ted for DPL, but I can definitely say that I will vote Ted over NOTA this year. I am very sure that Ted will not be elected DPL for at least another 3-4 years, but I really think that he deserves to be preferred over the NOTA.

Current rating: 4

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