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The Backpage

By Ben Okopnik

The Ghoulzette Attacks Again: Guns of Cardboard, Balls of Wax

It seems that SSC - our old webhost, who contrary to all sense and practice, decided to keep our name when we gave up that hosting arrangement - is up to their old tricks again. During the past week, I was contacted by somebody named Taran Rampersad who claimed to be "in charge at LinuxGazette.com", and who bluffed, blustered, and threatened me, unless we gave up our name as the Linux Gazette, with mysterious "[sic] others who have been preparing handle this situation" while at the same time insisting that we are "a part of [his] community". Was he confused, stoned, or crazy? I didn't know, and - after the first exchange, in which he threatened court action and insisted that "LinuxGazette is a trademark of SSC", despite the fact that no trademark can exist without commercial trade - didn't care. (In his second email, he became so abusive and irrational that I simply killfiled him.) SSC had done this before, including having their lawyer send us a threatening letter... the simple fact remains that LG is a volunteer effort, always has been, and when there's no money at stake, lawyers (and courts) tend to shrug and lose interest. Add to it the fact of their latest attack chihuahua's complete ignorance of the law - and of his employer's previous attempts to force the issue by threats - and the picture adds up to the usual null rhetoric, a complete waste of time.

So... if that's the case, why am I bothering to talk about it here?

The issue involves a strong moral principle. One of my earliest self-imposed rules, one of the iron-hard lessons learned as a lone Jewish kid in a Russian boarding school where the students felt safe in beating the hell out of a "Christ-killing Jew" because they had the teachers' tacit approval, was, and remains:

Never let a bully's intimidation attempt pass unchallenged.

There were times when this rule cost me; blood, and pain, and throwing myself at the attacker no matter what his size, over and over until I could not get up any longer. But the attacks stopped in very short order... and being known as "that crazy Jew" kept me alive through the years following that insane time.

Many years have passed, but the principle remains. Even in the small things - especially in the small things.

The heroic hours of life do not announce their presence by drum and
trumpet, challenging us to be true to ourselves by appeals to the martial
spirit that keeps the blood at heat. Some little, unassuming, unobtrusive
choice presents itself before us slyly and craftily, glib and insinuating,
in the modest garb of innocence. To yield to its blandishments is so easy.
The wrong, it seems, is venial... Then it is that you will be summoned to
show the courage of adventurous youth.
 -- Benjamin Cardozo

SSC, namely Phil Hughes, had tried these scare tactics before; he had managed to intimidate several of our people, who faded away or minimized their involvement with LG for fear of legal retribution. Let me underscore this here and now - I do not blame any of them in any way, but feel compassion for their pain, sorrow that they should have been exposed to those strong-arm tactics because they tried to give their effort to the Linux community, and anger toward those who have harmed them. ("Where lies the danger?", cry many Linux pundits. "Is it Microsoft? Is it SCO?" Oh, if it was only those external attacks we had to guard against...)

However, in the main, Hughes failed, and failed miserably: there was a core of people here who refused to kowtow to his threats, whom attacks and intimidation made only more stubborn and willing to resist and fight - and, as is often the case with bullies, all his threats turned out to be nothing more than hot air. More than that, when Phil's tactics were exposed to the public, we received many emails supporting our position and excoriating SSC, and several of their subscribers (they publish the Linux Journal, among other things) contacted us to say that they were cancelling their subscriptions in protest (something we advised them not to do, since that action would harm SSC as a whole rather than just the one person responsible.)

At the time, I believed in the above principle just as much as I always have - but the balance of the opinions here at LG was that "we should be the nice guys in this conflict", and thus the exposure of the above bullying was minimal. Now, threatened by the tremendous popularity of LG - the initial email cited a Google hit statistic that showed LG.net gaining on LG.com at a tremendous rate, despite a large differential in length of existence - they're cranking up the threat machine again.

The stakes in this conflict remain the same; our response to strong-arm tactics will be the same disdain and disgust with which we treated it previously. But this time, I will not be silent. From this point forward, I will grant the bullies neither the comforting shield of obscurity nor the undeserved respect of privacy for their actions. That time is over.

And, just as with those other cowards in the past, I believe that it will end here and now, or at least in very short order. As a wise man said once, echoing my belief in different and perhaps better words, every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

Let there be light.

B. Okopnik


picture Ben is the Editor-in-Chief for Linux Gazette and a member of The Answer Gang.

Ben was born in Moscow, Russia in 1962. He became interested in electricity at the tender age of six, promptly demonstrated it by sticking a fork into a socket and starting a fire, and has been falling down technological mineshafts ever since. He has been working with computers since the Elder Days, when they had to be built by soldering parts onto printed circuit boards and programs had to fit into 4k of memory. He would gladly pay good money to any psychologist who can cure him of the recurrent nightmares.

His subsequent experiences include creating software in nearly a dozen languages, network and database maintenance during the approach of a hurricane, and writing articles for publications ranging from sailing magazines to technological journals. After a seven-year Atlantic/Caribbean cruise under sail and passages up and down the East coast of the US, he is currently anchored in St. Augustine, Florida. He works as a technical instructor for Sun Microsystems and a private Open Source consultant/Web developer. His current set of hobbies includes flying, yoga, martial arts, motorcycles, writing, and Roman history; his Palm Pilot is crammed full of alarms, many of which contain exclamation points.

He has been working with Linux since 1997, and credits it with his complete loss of interest in waging nuclear warfare on parts of the Pacific Northwest.

Copyright © 2005, Ben Okopnik. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 111 of Linux Gazette, February 2005

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