[Last-Call] OT: change BCP 83 [Re: Last Call: BCP 83 PR-Action Against Dan Harkins]

Eliot Lear <lear@lear.ch> Sun, 02 October 2022 07:08 UTC

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To: Adam Roach <adam@nostrum.com>, last-call@ietf.org, IETF Chair <chair@ietf.org>
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Subject: [Last-Call] OT: change BCP 83 [Re: Last Call: BCP 83 PR-Action Against Dan Harkins]
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I'm not sure this message belongs on this list in this last call, but 
I'll admit that at this point I'm a bit flummoxed where to reply such 
that a productive community discussion can take place about the issue 
Adam raises.

On 02.10.22 06:37, Adam Roach wrote:
> [about why he's been in the organization a long time]

Me too, and somewhat longer.

> Dan's behavior is an extreme example of a pathology that I've seen 
> grow in the IETF over the past decade or so: while the magnitude of 
> his actions is exceptional, the general direction they're taken in is 
> sadly less so. 

Alas, I did a bit of a review of ancient IETF archives just to try to 
understand the trajectory.  This involved reading email via emacs, 
compiling Columbia MM written by Fuat Baran and others in the hopes that 
what I was looking at was mtxt (it wasn't; sigh).

What I discovered is that we have occasionally had these outbursts 
pretty much all along, including some (regrettably) from me.  This has 
happened in some rather heated debates, particularly where people felt 
that the direction of the organization was at stake.  To give you some 
idea how far back this goes, there was heat in the network management 
protocol wars back around 1987 involving SGMP, HEMS/HEMP, etc.  There 
was heat in discussions around IGPs, and there was a LOT of heat in PPP 
discussions.  In one instance, a participant shouted and screamed in 
person at another one for not having read the specifications.  There was 
some heat in the early smtpext discussions.  Oh those umlauts! There was 
a LOT of heat around CIDR because end user control of the address space 
was pitted against ISP and router COGS issues. There are other examples 
that predate Adam's arrival, and a good number that come later.  Who can 
forget the war that took place in the RRG around 2008?  And I believe 
there was one instance in which one participant challenged another 
person to a duel with swords.

I will note that in all of these instances, the group got on with the 
work at hand, either in spite of or with the help of some heat.  Hard to 

Two things have changed, in my opinion:

  * Many people's tolerance for that sort of behavior; and
  * How we choose to resolve it.

I mostly *do* like that we are not so tolerant, but I don't like how we 
resolve these sorts of PR actions.  The openness we like engenders 
humiliation of the individual involved.  This began with 
sergeants-at-arms and seemingly has gotten (in my opinion) worse.  In 
any other standards organization, the matter would be handled a lot more 

I would much rather that we redid BCP 83 to reflect this, that the 
matter fall to the IETF chair to resolve, and that that person should 
have some freedom of action, so long as it proposed and reported to the 
IESG.  This can result in better outcomes and can be effected more 
quickly.  While there is a risk of abuse of power, that risk is 
mitigated by having a handful of people with different perspectives 
review the proposed action.

That lack of openness is actually a benefit.  When matters are dealt 
with quietly and decisively, they can happen faster.  For instance, when 
I was chairing a calendaring working group, there was one participant 
who had a tendency to be disruptive.  In consultation with the AD, we 
agreed that I would moderate his participation for some period of time, 
and reject posts I felt were offensive, a copy of which would go to the 
AD when such a decision was made.  He was made aware of his right to 
appeal.  Not a single message needed to be moderated, and he contributed 
as a productive member of the group.

Also, IMHO there are benefits to the community in not having these 
debates out in the open.  We're here to develop technical standards and 
guidance, not to debate people's behavior.  Also, these actions can 
happen with more alacrity.

So I would prefer to reopen BCP 83 along the above lines.  I'd propose a 
mailing list if others are interested.