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GNU is Not Unix

Richard Stallman Demands Return Of Abortion Joke To libc Documentation (theregister.co.uk) 522

An anonymous reader quotes The Register: Late last month, open-source contributor Raymond Nicholson proposed a change to the manual for glibc, the GNU implementation of the C programming language's standard library, to remove "the abortion joke," which accompanied the explanation of libc's abort() function... The joke, which has been around since the 1990s and is referred to as a censorship joke by those supporting its inclusion, reads as follows:

25.7.4 Aborting a Program... Future Change Warning: Proposed Federal censorship regulations may prohibit us from giving you information about the possibility of calling this function. We would be required to say that this is not an acceptable way of terminating a program.

On April 30, the proposed change was made, removing the passage from the documentation. That didn't sit well with a number of people involved in the glibc project, including the joke's author, none other than Free Software Foundation president and firebrand Richard Stallman, who argued that the removal of the joke qualified as censorship... Carlos O'Donnell, a senior software engineer at Red Hat, recommended avoiding jokes altogether, a position supported by many of those weighing in on the issue. Among those voicing opinions, a majority appears to favor removal.

But in a post to the project mailing list, Stallman wrote "Please do not remove it. GNU is not a purely technical project, so the fact that this is not strictly and grimly technical is not a reason to remove this." He added later that "I exercise my authority over glibc very rarely -- and when I have done so, I have talked with the official maintainers. So rarely that some of you thought that you are entirely autonomous. But that is not the case. On this particular question, I made a decision long ago and stated it where all of you could see it."

The Register reports that "On Monday, the joke was restored by project contributor Alexandre Oliva, having taken Stallman's demand as approval to do so."

Richard Stallman Demands Return Of Abortion Joke To libc Documentation

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I mean not to put too fine a point on it but this kind of nattering over minutiae is almost quaint. A relic from a bygone age of outspoken egotists who Did Shit(tm)

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Did I wander into a Politics forum?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I am socially pro-life and I consider this joke to be not only perfectly reasonable, but as a programmer who knows that calling abort() may kill a program without doing proper garbage collection and thus create memory leaks, the point of it being an unacceptable way to terminate a program is quite reasonable as well.

  • Opinion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by thegreatbob ( 693104 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @05:28PM (#56591084) Journal
    I, personally, thought to the joke was funny enough, albeit off-color. Black humor is still humor, and I personally recommend its persistence if only as a defense against the professionally offended. That being said, I can sympathize a bit with folks who are legitimately offended by something like this (primarily because death as a whole is a subject that requires concern/consideration when talking about it in certain contexts), in contrast to those who are essentially allowing themselves to be offended on behalf of some other entity/group. As a final note, if someone has read this comment, and assumed that they are a target of my labeling as a professional offense taker, some soul-searching is recommended, as that was basically my intention.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm offended at the suggestion I have a soul! How dare you! I demand you take that back!

      - Soulless professional offense taker

      • Re: Opinion (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ArmoredDragon ( 3450605 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @06:29PM (#56591508)

        The proper term is "professional victim". You know, like feminazis, social justice warriors, and certain minorites that take the mere fact that they're a minority to mean they're entitled to label everything as being racist or sexist, like that lady who attacked the Hugh Mungus guy.

    • Re:Opinion (Score:5, Funny)

      by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @05:44PM (#56591184) Journal
      Meh. They are both right and both wrong. May I suggest that they simply fork libc...
      • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @08:11PM (#56592066) Journal

        May I suggest that they simply fork libc...

        You're welcome to suggest it. I suggest anyone considering such a thing reject the proposal, or only continue using and developing on the un-forked version.

        Contributors to open source projects (ESPECIALY the seminal projects and the pioneers like Stallman) are giving us their work. But it's not for free. They still expect to be paid - but in things far more valuable than money.

        Removing this joke is stealing part of Stallman's pay for his work. And it's a piece of his pay that he values enough to raise a stink about it.

        For thousands of years the prescription of essentially every moral code has been "pay the worker what you promised". Example: "... the labourer is worthy of his hire." (Luke 10:7, King James Version).

        Let's not succumb to the censor's tactic of punishing people who don't totally conform to the current group-think prescription by stealing their stuff - starting with those things they value the most, and with those most connected to denying them free speech.

      • Re:Opinion (Score:4, Funny)

        by Swave An deBwoner ( 907414 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @08:28PM (#56592160)

        No reason to fork the library, just rename the function. Instead of "abort()", which is clearly upsetting to some on the committee, call it "terminate_with_extreme_prejudice()"; which has no such unpleasant connotations.

    • Re: Opinion (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jd ( 1658 )

      It's less about death than it is about religious extremism in politics denying people access to information and resources.

      The joke satirises extremists, which is admittedly more airtime than the extremists deserve.

      However, we live in a free() country that was previously malloced.

    • by taustin ( 171655 )

      I prefer the term "outrage monkey," throwing their poo at the tourists.

    • Re:Opinion (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pots ( 5047349 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @06:37PM (#56591568)
      Most of the people here aren't seeing the positive angle here. This is complicated by the fact that this particular joke has a political aspect, but setting that aside most of the criticism boils down to: "It isn't professional."

      Okay. That is true, but that's also its virtue. Little bits of humanity like this in an otherwise incredibly dry and boring technical manual are a reminder that GNU isn't professional. That has value. It's not easily quantified, but GNU is a passion project that really needs people to care about it in order for it to go on. And professionalism is all about squashing passions.

      ... Come to think of it, does "professionalism" have any other meaning?
      • Professionalism is more about consistency than killing passion, when I deal with one "professional" I should get much the same result and work product as I would if I did with any other "professional" in the same field. That can often result in blandness or lack of passion but it is certainly not the goal. Jokes being subjective are unlikely to ever have a place in a "professional" setting because one person's joke is another's insult.

        I'm not too familiar with GNU but if it is indeed a passion project then
      • Re: Opinion (Score:2, Insightful)

        by phantomfive ( 622387 )
        Exactly. If we lose humor in the next of professionalism, we've lost a major benefit of open source. Open source is not professional, it's a hack that ends up better than professional. If it were professional we'd have a registry and would eschew bsd lsd.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I, personally, thought to the joke was funny enough, albeit off-color.

      I don't care if they keep it in the documentation or not... but it seems like a rather pathetic attempt at humor.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jrumney ( 197329 )
      The joke doesn't mention death. It only mentions censorship of speech. To be offended by this takes a special brand of snowflake.
  • Version (Score:5, Funny)

    by ghoul ( 157158 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @05:29PM (#56591096)

    Will this be added only to versions .1,.2,.3 or will it be allowed all the way upto version .9 of the documentation?

  • glibc? (Score:4, Funny)

    by TWX ( 665546 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @05:30PM (#56591100)

    or just glib?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10, 2018 @05:31PM (#56591110)

    After all, OSS documentation itself is one big joke.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10, 2018 @05:32PM (#56591116)

    I would rather politics be discussed elsewhere and let's also remember that these docs are read all over the world, including users who may not understand the humour

  • by Balial ( 39889 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @05:32PM (#56591122) Homepage

    Offensive or not, that deserves to be removed based on it being just plain lame.

  • by perlstar ( 245756 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @05:33PM (#56591132)

    It didn't make me laugh, but I have to admit that I find it a clever way to comment on a political issue: not abortion itself, but rather the way anti-abortion proponents try to exert control on abortion clinics by forcing them to talk-down to their patients as if they were ignorant children.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    mysql --i-am-a-dummy

    Permit only those UPDATE and DELETE statements that specify which rows to modify by using key values. If you have set this option in
    an option file, you can override it by using --safe-updates on the command line. See the section called “MYSQL TIPS”, for more

    • It's not a joke. It's a very useful feature which has a very well chosen name (although a little bit humorous).
  • We All Need Jokes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lsllll ( 830002 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @05:37PM (#56591146)

    One thing that pulls me through my day (and life for that matter) is humor. It belong everywhere, even at some funerals. It lightens life. As a programmer, I have many comments that would amount to jokes. Hell, for many of my stored procedures, the first parameter is called @fiscal_year and right at the top when I'm explaining the parameters, the comment for that one says "Duh!"

    Nobody's ever complained about humor peppered in the comments. Never in the output, but comments are fair game.

    • the first parameter is called @fiscal_year and right at the top when I'm explaining the parameters, the comment for that one says "Duh!"

      Yeah, those are great until 5 years later when someone like me comes along and has to look through the code to see if you used a 2-digit or 4-digit year before calling the procedure.

      In theory, Y2K made everyone start using 4-digit years. In practice, notsomuch.

      • by lsllll ( 830002 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @06:10PM (#56591368)

        Yeah, those are great until 5 years later when someone like me comes along and has to look through the code to see if you used a 2-digit or 4-digit year before calling the procedure.

        Well, by that logic I'd have to write a paragraph just to clarify what the fiscal year actually is, that it runs from 7/1 of previous year to 6/30 of the fiscal year, that we're using the Gregorian calendar and not the Islamic calendar, blah blah. If by the time you're modifying or looking at my code you don't know what the corporation calls their fiscal year, then you have no business in that code to begin with.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Here here. I agree. Can not remember how it went but the comment describing a math function required you to sole a math problem, the only text in that comment said if you could not solve it then you were lacking in the education required to modify the function and should leave it alone.
          It was not a joke per se but that complicated function were left untouched for many years. Some did ignore the comment and tried to modify it which resulted in the boss ripping them a new one. It was a glorious blood bath man

    • I've seen humor in code comments that I've had to delete, or insist on deletion, at code reviews. It's sometimes very rudely personal, and thus unprofessional or even embarrassing if the subject of the humor ever sees it.

      A bit of clever humor, and especially a clever metaphor, can be helpful to understand the original code. But saying "Duh!" all the time in one's code would simply be insulting to the later reviewers.

  • by Murdoch5 ( 1563847 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @05:42PM (#56591174)
    Well I don't find the joke funny, mostly because it's a lame joke, censorship should always be fought.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 10, 2018 @05:48PM (#56591204)

    How about: No jokes and no political commentary in the documentation and source code, period?

    Does the OSS community work overtime to invent controversies that make them look like a bunch of kids working in their parents' basement?

  • This is a perfect example the classic Prisoner's Dilemma problem, except instead of two prisoners there's only one prisoner, and if the prisoner chooses to delete the offensive joke nothing happens to him, and if he chooses to restore the offensive joke he's being an ass because he doesn't like the kind of person who finds it offensive

  • Other jokes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SkOink ( 212592 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @06:39PM (#56591580) Homepage

    There are other jokes/easter-eggs in Glibc's documentation. I get a kick out of them every time I run across one.

    Should we also go through and strip all of those out? What if I decide that EIEIO is insulting to farmers? Who decides what's a trigger-warning and what isn't?

    Should we remove HTTP error 418?

    The UNIX/Linux hacker subculture of the 80s and 90s produced a ton of interesting technology, and arguably shaped the internet into what it is today.

    I don't want my operating system to be a sterile, soulless entity. I like the in-jokes, the fact that 'fortune' exists, and the recursive acronyms. People have poured their vitality into making tools that are free for the world - the least we can do is let them express a sense of humor if they choose.

    UNIX cultureLinux/UNIX is born from a really unique, amazing kind of culture, which

    • by solanum ( 80810 )

      Absolutely. I remember the first time I saw Linux running and the whole culture around it was amazing (I'm not an IT bod). My first install was from Walnut Creek disks that I ordered through the mail and all this quirky irreverence was a big part of my interest.

      That is a time gone by now, but I totally agree, without those folks writing open code we wouldn't have the software infrastructure we rely on and I think we can afford enough respect to the culture that produced it to leave this sort of stuff alone.

  • It's a joke... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by meerling ( 1487879 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @07:10PM (#56591730)
    It's a joke about censorship, and it is rather ironic that someone decided to censor it.
    It's not even offensive, unless you actually work at trying to be offended.
    It's not about aborting a pregnancy, it's about aborting a program.
    You people do know that words, especially verbs and adjectives (Or nouns based on such verbs and adjectives) are not exclusively used with one single thing in the universe don't you?

    Besides, if independent, or at least non-commercial devs can't have a sense of humor, they should just put on a monkey suit and go work for IBM.
    Or a bank.

    Stop trying to take the humor out of life and stop trying to turn it into an Orwellian nightmare.
    Realize that not everything is an insult.
    Think of the uncompiled software, do you want to run them in this environment?
    (Yes, that was a weak attempt at a programming joke.)
  • Here comes the fun police.

    Time to remove all jokes from the internet.

    What's next? The Teapot protocol? [ietf.org] Avian carriers? [ietf.org]

  • Why not jokes? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @07:43PM (#56591932)
    Many years ago, I worked as a consultant at HP. The HP Linux distro had default screen savers, one of which simulated an old green monochrome terminal and typed out entries from the fortune files. One of the fortune files was of Zippy the Pinhead quotes, in particular one that said, "I want to kill everyone with a cute, colorful hydrogen bomb!" I'd never seen it, but at 3am one morning the night security guard walks by my cubicle, sees this message on my computer, shouts "Terrorist!" -- and reports me to HR. They call me into a meeting with HR a couple days later, start asking me questions about hydrogen bombs, and suspend me because "That message was on YOUR computer, therefore YOU are responsible for it!" It took a week for one of my coworkers to examine the computer and explain to them exactly where the message came from (I had no idea). Stupidly enough, they had suspended me with pay, but I was now a week behind on my project and had taken the week off to interview for other jobs since I did not expect to be coming back, so I left a few weeks after they let me come back anyway.

    Long story short: sometimes cute little jokes have unintended consequences.

  • by MMC Monster ( 602931 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @07:52PM (#56591982)

    I exercise my authority over glibc very rarely [...]. So rarely that some of you thought that you are entirely autonomous. But that is not the case.

    This line should be on a page of greatest quotes of all time.

  • by Brockmire ( 4931623 ) on Thursday May 10, 2018 @09:35PM (#56592486)
    Not only do you restore the joke, you add at least another one.
  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Friday May 11, 2018 @11:00AM (#56595688)

    It really does not matter what you think about the joke. There is no good reason to remove it and removing it validates a horribly wrong stance that some people fantasize would make the world better. (Even the Nazis though they were making the world better. Good intentions are not at all ensuring good deeds.) Hence it is quite refreshing that a high-profile person does not bow to this nonsense and just states "you have no say in this".

Where there's a will, there's an Inheritance Tax.

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