A recent online posting of Richard Stallman's astonishingly long set of instructions for those who would hire him as an event speaker has spawned a parody website -- The Stallman Dialogues -- as well as some debate over the propriety of people constantly poking fun at the enigmatic and controversial founder of the Free Software Foundation.
Stallman himself has an opinion on the latter issue, which we'll get to in a minute.
First, there's the instruction manual -- we'll call it the "How to Hire Richard Stallman Manifesto" -- which covers everything from his preferences in air travel -- coach over business class, with the caveat that he would appreciate being paid the difference in the fares; hotels -- he hates them and would prefer someone's couch; beverages -- tea with milk and sugar, unless it's tea he really likes (oddly unspecified), in which case no milk or sugar is necessary, and non-diet Pepsi rather than Coke, since he dislikes the taste of all diet soda and he's boycotting Coca-Cola; audio-visual equipment -- a microphone only; proper use of "free software" nomenclature -- a dissertation unto itself; pre-event publicity, press coverage, signage, social obligations, sightseeing likes and dislikes, and ... I could go on, because he goes on and on and on.
It's roughly 9,000 words, which would fill 20 pages. Some see all ego and arrogance in the document. But I see it also as the accumulated pleadings of a man who knows he can be a handful and figures the best way to help others deal with (and please him) is candid and complete disclosure. He's doing you a favor, too, in essence.
And while the document has been seen on the Internet before, this time it inspired someone -- we don't know who -- to launch "The Stallman Dialogues" on Oct. 27.
The site, which has a Twitter account, encourages readers to create and submit their own fictitious dialogues between Stallman and a "friendly conference organizer" based on factual snippets pulled from the "How to Hire Richard Stallman Manifesto." Here's one example involving Stallman's actual warning to those hosts who might deem it necessary to offer him help in safely negotiating his way across a daunting urban intersection:
Friendly conference organizer: Mr. Stallman, want to hear a joke?
Friendly conference organizer: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Friendly conference organizer: To get to ...
Stallman: [interrupting] One situation where I do not need help, let alone supervision, is in crossing streets.
Friendly conference organizer: ... it's a joke.
Subtle, to be sure, and I would suggest that this one and most all of the other parody entries are far better appreciated if you've read the full "How to Hire Richard Stallman Manifesto."
But not everyone is amused. When someone submitted the parody site to Reddit, there was disagreement as to whether it was fair or foul. Figuring Stallman would be best equipped to make that judgment, I sent him an email asking if he'd seen "The Stallman Dialogues" and if so what he thought of it. His reply:
"I saw it just a few minutes ago. I'm going to put a link to it from the humor section in stallman.org."
Guess that settles that.
I'm well aware that not everyone finds Stallman amusing either. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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