Ad hominem

Posted by Kilkenni on 2 December 2018 in English (English)

A funny thing OSMWeekly mentions my posts as “ad hominem”. Whether it truly is or is not, I’m not sure.

However the thing I know is, this discussion is not about exclusively professional topics. It is not a “perfectly sterile scientific discussion”. We are talking politics since OSMF and DWG are essentially OSM politicians. OSM is heavily used by many organizations related to governments. OSM depends on grants offered by international organizations and corporate sponsorship, it uses infrastructure provided by corporations. It does not exist in a vacuum, and is related to the processes happening in the real world. It influences said processes and is, in turn, influenced by them, whether we like it or not. OSM’s independence is important - but it is independence from corporate politics, not public responsibility. Since OSM itself is not commercial, its success is greatly dependent on its reputation and public image. In this situation the one who makes decisions should understand that his decisions do not concern him alone. Like circles on the water from a thrown stone, these decisions cause consequences, both close and far-reaching, both for OSM and outside OSM, and it is paramount to understand these consequences. Legal consequences. Commercial consequences. Influence on mass-media and public opinion. In our century sources of information can start and stop wars, make or break a man. Or an organization, for that matter.

(Seriously though, I feel really uneasy now, as I perceive all of the above as self-explanatory, and it is extremely hard to explain something you see as obvious).

OSMF officials and DWG members like to call themselves volunteers. In a sense, they are. But they also are something much more than that, and I suspect they are still oblivious to that. OSM is not a small sandbox for a handful of programmer enthusiasts any more, it is an international project with thousands of people contributing to it and millions using it on a daily basis. Behavior that was acceptable for a small project is no longer acceptable of a large one. Any OSMF member, any DWG member is a public figure. He trades a part of his privacy for a chance to steer the project. This is politics. And just like common politics, this one requires total transparency, honesty and wisdom. If a judge or a police officer makes questionable decisions, people start digging information on him and pointing at questionable and suspicious details. It is a collective immune system of sorts, preventing corruption and ensuring the governing body is healthy. Can it really be called “ad hominem”?

When I criticize concrete people, I am driven by two ideas:

*1. If a person presents OSM on an official level, we should always ask ourselves if his actions benefit the project or harm it.

It is my firm belief that lack of transparency (and calls to “be quiet” and “avoid pressure on OSMF”) harms the project. Once again, it is politics. Organized peaceful actions, manifestations, petitions are all legit forms of politics. Complaining that these forms “harm someone’s feelings” show that these people are not ready for their position. While the protest stays civilized (and I’m all in for civilized) I see no reason why it should be avoided.

*2. Public figures either present their own opinions or collective opinions.

As I’ve said elsewhere in my blog and posts, a public figure takes full responsibility for his actions. We either hold him accountable, or we hold the entire collective accountable. I, for one, don’t think we should extrapolate responsibility of one man on the group without having facts supporting this. We should give everyone a chance to explain the situation. Still, I’ve yet to see detailed DWG explanation beyond their purely official “resolution”.

Another thing concerning individual and collective. I see some people calling not to question DWG decision but to explain its “non-political” ground. For me, this stance is a faulty one. As I’ve mentioned, OSM has many users, both corporate and private. Explaining it on a person-to-person level is not an appropriate way to resolve the situation. Nor is it right to tell people who do not support your decisions to essentially protect you from possible repercussions, shifting and extrapolating responsibility from a handful of people to the entirety of OSM community. If we talk about the future of OSM, it is especially questionable in corporate part. “You need it, you fix it” works good for small opensource projects. For global projects (and I see OSM as one) this approach is irresponsible and can do a lot of harm, seeing that we are said to value quality data.

Still, I once again stress that this discussion should remain civilized. If I allowed myself some rough words in the past, I apologize for them.

That being said, caution this is Internet.

Comment from alexkemp on 3 December 2018 at 01:07

I feel really uneasy now

One possible reason for this is that at no point do you set out what the point of your Diary post is.

“Ad hominem” is defined as an attack on a person rather than their argument. If you only present the people that you are criticising, and never raise the argument that they are making, then you can only ever make an Ad hominem attack.

Well, if nothing else you now know why “OSMWeekly mentions my posts as “ad hominem””.

Comment from Kilkenni on 3 December 2018 at 02:02

Not sure. Adding “ad hominem” labels tends to cheapen the argument. Maybe limited attacks on a person are perfectly valid in case when a person acts from a position of physical power. I mean, if we entrust a banhammer to a man, we should be pretty sure he is a decent one in terms of following and applying rules, right?

Comment from Kilkenni on 3 December 2018 at 02:12

Oh, and for the love of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, please, can someone tell Andy Townsend and Frederik Ramm that Russia did not annex Ukraine. I’m tired of seeing that in the blocking comments.

You may dream about Russia annexing Ukraine privately, but please, do not share your dreams with us.

Comment from Adamant1 on 3 December 2018 at 04:45

Personally, coming from an American perspective I’m not super educated on the geo politics of Europe. Especially as it relates to the current mess between Russia and Ukraine. That being said, I think there are some universal standards of cartography that should be followed, in spite of any individual incident. Otherwise there is the risk that what is mapped where ends up being based on a sorta of outrage meter. There is no such thing as one exception. If they make an exception here by ignoring the facts on the ground, it risks leading to a slippery slope where the side that complains the most gets the map how they want it and facts on the ground stop mattering. Which essentially renders the map useless as a cartographic tool.

So, ultimately, what solution is there? Its all well and good to attack Andy and Fredrik for applying the rules by banning people for modifying the border, but its better then letting an endless edit war happen. There might be your suggestion of a dotted line for a disputed border, but that’s only a half remedy that doesn’t actually deal with the problem. As you say yourself, there are a lot of disputed borders. Why suddenly rendering them differently because of this one incident? Who then decides what is a disputed border and what isn’t? Why would their standard be better that of DWGs (when its the DWGs map)?

A doted line is a bad idea for many reasons. One of the main ones in my opinion is it insinuates that the border between the annexed area and the none annexed one is a “soft border.” Which it isn’t. Its not like the border between the USA and Mexico in Texas where someone in either country can cross to the other simply by paddling across a river, without there being consequences. If someone from the Ukraine crosses over the Russian side though there are real consequences. Therefore, there is a real border there. Whatever the dispute about who owns it. There’s still a clear demarcation line where a person has crossed into enemy territory. That can’t be ignored or not mapped. It also wouldn’t be fair to random travelers or Ukrainian citizens to give the impression that they go over into the Russian side by making it look like its still Ukrainian property on the ground. Whatever it might be technically. Clearly Russia is the aggressor here and this is on them. Its not giving them any sort of win by making the map this way though. Its just acknowledging that there is a boundary there between the parts they occupy and the ones they don’t. Which there clearly is.

While the DWG might be “playing politics” by picking a side. There political clout is tiny in the grand of scheme of things. Russia’s claim was already seen by most of the civilized western world as illegitimate. What the DWG does won’t have any effect on that. Maybe your correct that some companies or mappers will stop using OSM over this, but if so its on them for not respecting the DWGs position and for not seeing the nuance of the situation. Its not any NGOs or users map. Most importantly the core OSM users and business associates will remain. Considering that, most of the arguments against the DWGs decision is mostly just fear mongering and hyper bull. Ultimately this means nothing in the grand scheme of things and will probably have zero effect on OSM long-term. There’s no reason it would.

Comment from alexkemp on 3 December 2018 at 05:22


Why would their standard be better that of DWGs (when its the DWGs map)?

It emphatically is not DWG’s map. I certainly hope that DWG do not have that attitude, and from my small exposure to them do not believe that they do. If ever that belief gets a hold in those that map for OSM then I would expect most to stop mapping.

Folks that map for OSM feel that in doing so that they have skin in the game. That is why they are so committed to mapping for OSM. That is (a part of) why the boundary disputes are so bitter.

Comment from Adamant1 on 3 December 2018 at 06:42

Realistically though there’s always gate keepers. Even in an open project. Although it might sound cool, “the community” can’t make these types of decisions democratically and nor do I think we should because we don’t have the experience as a group. 99% of the users in America are either Pokemon Go mappers or businesses that rather spam us then contribute anything meaningful. I’m glad they don’t make the decisions. So its the DWGs map in that respect and its not a bad thing. We should honor their decisions even if we might disagree with them. Both Andy and Frederik are good people. They do the best they can. They shouldn’t get dragged through the mud because of one bad decision because they have made many more good ones and we wouldn’t be able to do any better. As someone who has contributed a good chunk of my life to this project in the last couple of years and have had a few arguments with Frederik myself, I’m OK with them making a few mistakes once in a while. It will probably be forgotten in a short time like every other controversy anyway. Plus, its not like there’s an alternative. That’s all I have to say about it.

Comment from Kilkenni on 3 December 2018 at 20:31

@Adamant1 >Its not giving them any sort of win by making the map this way though.

Except it does. You are not familiar with Russian propaganda. They are already using it to state that the world recognizes Crimea. They are not interested in disclaimers about DWG’s “non-political” stance, nor are most of the people. And by telling us to explain that to millions of people DWG is shifting responsibility from itself on us.

We should honor their decisions even if we might disagree with them.

Why? They are common people, just like us. Their position alone does not make them more qualified.

It will probably be forgotten in a short time like every other controversy anyway.

Sorry to ruin your mood, but many people tend to say that about the war we have on our hands for the last 4 years. That it will “dissipate” on its own. WW2 didn’t just “dissipate”, nor will this war. Just so with this case. We can’t forbid OSM use Leaflet, but its author already regrets making it for OSM. This is a showcase situation. DWG’s intentions could be good, but the results are threatening - we tend to call such people useful idiots (no insult intended).

its better then letting an endless edit war happen

The problem is, Andy and Frederik are the opposing side in this “edit war”, while “true” moderators should maintain neutrality.

There is no such thing as one exception.

I totally agree. That’s why we also oppose this decision. We either use “ground truth” rule for every disputed territory (and drown in conflicts, tearing the community apart and ruining the project in the process) or find a compromise that every side will follow.

DWG did not even try to find a compromise here, and they prefer bans to talking things over. In my opinion, it’s not what I would call ‘productive’.

Comment from rorym 🏳️‍🌈 on 4 December 2018 at 12:52

OSM’s country borders are based on “de facto control”, which is clear. has low ambiguity and reflects how things work on the ground. I still haven’t seen any good proposal for what to replace that with. If you don’t like this rule, please suggest a better rule for how to decide where a border is!

Comment from tkk on 5 December 2018 at 09:07

Hi, I’m from Czech Republic and must admit, the whole situation on Crimea seems very similar to what happened in CZ in 1939 and in 1968. With this on my mind - I can just tell you I can understand your position, I see you have no other choice, but your chances to change anything are almost zero. Western world just talks about human rights, democracy and all other “right” stuff, but they will never do anything “right” if they do not have a profit from that. And Russia is more important to them then Ukraine, China is rather then Tibet, Taiwan …

Comment from rorym 🏳️‍🌈 on 5 December 2018 at 09:49

@tkk OSM is a volunteer community. We’re not doing it for profit. We’re mapping things “as they are on the ground”. One outcome of that is this border. Can you suggest a better, neutral, unambiguous way to decide where to draw country borders?

Comment from tkk on 5 December 2018 at 10:33

@rorym - OSM is for profit, at least for a lot of companies these days. And they are even members of OSMF. Trying to pretend there are no pushes to give someone an advantage is just hypocrisy. There are only two options for any disputed object (area, name etc.) - either you want to decide the only right one, then you have to stand with results of your decision. Or you declare, that you prepare the system such that there could be more parallel views for the same thing and you accept them all.

As I see it people like @Kilkenni may use better tone/words within their complains, but they have very few options (and this way, it makes bigger wave). They are under BIG pressure, much bigger then you, me or DWG is.

I see this as a failure of DWG too. Not mainly because of their decision, which can be changed, but because the way, they (do not) present and communicate it.

Last from me.

Comment from rorym 🏳️‍🌈 on 5 December 2018 at 10:47

OSM is for profit? I haven’t seen my payment. Do I need to sign a special form for that? How much do I get?

Comment from Kilkenni on 6 December 2018 at 01:30


I believe what tkk meant was that OSM data is used by commercial companies, and there are companies that turned using OSM data into a business of its own (like Geofabrik or Mapbox). Moreover, many companies not only use the data but contribute back to the project, like providing hardware for running tile servers, programming (Google conducted a summer of code to help develop some OSM tools) etc. Also, corporate OSMF members and corporate representatives on the Advisory board.

Mind you, that’s not a bad thing. It is beneficial for both the companies (as many see this activity as “work for public good”, which it is in my humble opinion) and OSM (as our membership fee alone is not enough to keep the hamster running). However this is also dangerous if we make ambiguous decisions on the future of OSM.

@tkk Thanks for your support. I don’t think I can explain the pain and danger of war to someone who’s never seen it firsthand. I know I’m harsh sometimes, but that is one of the effects of personal experience in this case. I know how this media propaganda machine works on my own home region, how it shatters families and uses every chance to incite hatred. Seeing how DWG exposes OSM for it is… difficult.

I am currently participating in proposal discussions on disputed borders, and I suggest all the others to do the same. If DWG can’t do its work properly, it’s up to us to resolve this in a civilized and productive way.

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