July 8, 2013

The comments vacation.

We've closed the door to comments... for a while at least, but there is still a backdoor, manned by Meade.

Will the comments section ever reopen, or is this a permanent vacation? I expect to reopen, well refreshed, and with some new ideas about how to make the ongoing experience rewarding for commenters of good faith.

ADDED: A reader emails:
Just a note from the peanut gallery that's been around since at least the Bush/Kerry election and a non participant in the comments section (I think I've commented 3 times in the history of the blog.)

I preferred the no comment policy.

Sometimes it feels more like an attempt to generate a discussion and I'm not looking for a group exercise to reach some conclusion. I read because I'm interested in what Ann actually thinks about something and I like to see her explain her view, and lately it's felt more like she's trying to lead a class discussion and she's gotten fairly frustrated when the class came to the "wrong" conclusion. I also live in Madison and enjoy the local flavor, especially the "how the hell did they think that was going to be a good idea" variety.

I don't know what goes on in the comments, good or bad, I've never really read them. Since most of the comments are by definition going to come from the people who comment... I thought I'd chime in from the side that liked the blog better when there were no comments, and I'm hoping they stay closed.
Thanks. I know there are lots of people who only read the front page, and this vacation is helping me think more about the blog as it feels to them. As for the notion that I'm "trying to lead a class discussion," I love starting and furthering conversation, here and in law school class, but there are many differences about the conversation here, where there is no particular goal, and commenters could do all sorts of amusingly creative things that would be way out of line in class. Wonderful, beloved commenters like rhhardin, Chip Ahoy, and betamax3000 would have no way to do their thing in class, where I must keep the discussion on track for the sake of the entire group, which is sitting there in real time with specific needs that must be met. There is no "right" conclusion that I'm trying to extract from either group — law students or commenters — but in law school there are readings that must be understood and issues that must be explored in ways that relate to the profession the students are there to learn. Commenters have far more leeway, and I love diversity of opinion and all sorts of weird things that aren't opinions at all. I want all manner of interesting material in the comments.

There are a few ways that commenters can go wrong, but it's not that they've reached the "'wrong' conclusion." And I wasn't putting up posts for the purpose of getting people to figure out some right answer that I had in mind and was Socratically trying to get them to say. And I don't feel "frustrated" when they don't come up with what I would say. My commenters pretty systematically disagree with me about same-sex marriage and abortion rights, and that's been going on for the entire life of this blog, and it doesn't bother me. I think it's possible that things got especially ugly after the Supreme Court decided the gay marriage cases, and a few people seemed almost to have a nervous breakdown. Then, when I started talking about the consequences of unmarried heterosexual sex, there was some severe cognitive dissonance for the opponents of gay marriage. Their supposed profound reverence for the union of a man and a woman got subordinated to their enthusiasm for the fornicating man's interest in escaping child support payments. That had to hurt, and I felt fine expressing respect for the marital bonds of love for everyone.

That's when things went to hell around here, and the really destructive commenters showed who they are.

26 comments:

Meade said...

from Matthew Sablan:

There is a light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe it is time for this (http://althouse.blogspot.com/2011/06/when-this-blog-goes-independent-youll.html) to actually happen?

Meade said...

from Scott M:

Just my $.02, but a hard and fast rule on personal attacks might drain the swamp a bit. Calling someone a liar is an attack. Pointing out that someone is being less than truthful with a given statement and then showing why that is, isn't.

It would require policing, but I think the goal should be to minimize ad hominem attacks while still allowing for those of us with a wry side to post wry things about wry topics or topics that demand wry comments. This can be done creatively without personal attacks.

Meade said...

from Houston:

Good morning, Meade...

Just a note to say I agree with "ADDED: A reader emails:" that Ann just posted on the above subject. What he writes is just about how I feel about things...I rarely read the comments because they are usually written by people trying to "outcute" the other commenter's. If they would just say what they believe and move on, it would be different...because I value what (thinking) people have to say about various subjects. I read the blog to get Ann's point of view, even though her beliefs and mine are often different. Nevertheless, since they are well thought out and reasoned, I read them. And, of course, the walks with the dogs, pictures of the lake, snow pictures, et al, are a lot of fun!

Best regards,

billied
Houston

Ann Althouse said...

"It would require policing, but I think the goal should be to minimize ad hominem attacks..."

You have to understand that we had bad faith commenters who would not follow the rules and who, despite deletions, would repost and repost, including many times per minute.

That's was the problem and it was not policeable through deletion.

Now, I think that kind of interference with my website is a criminal law violation, and I know the name of the commenter who was doing that, and it is a former student of mine who is a member of the Wisconsin Bar and a practicing lawyer, incredibly enough.

Meade said...

from AJ Lynch:

Dear Althouse & Mead:

How coincidental that last week on July 1st, I made a decision to stop commenting on Althouse for one straight month. So I missed the recent rhubarb [of course, I am kinda thick so I may not have noticed it even if I had been here]. I decided to stop commenting because, in the last year or so, the blog topics and postings changed or perhaps I did. I grew tired of the many navel-gazing NY Times links and also thought Althouse took Repubs especially Limbaugh to the woodshed for alleged race / gender faux pas but rationalized the same when a lib did it. For some reason, Althouse has stopped evolving into what I saw as a pragmatic, slightly cynical but smart senior citizen and future grandmother - her 1960's liberal lineage consistently now dominates her logical mind. I got tired of the non-stop gay marriage, gay rights posts.

I will miss many of the commenters including Pogo, Fen's Law, Bago, Revenant, Methadras, Palladian, DBQ, DADvocate, Big Mike and many many others. There are several I won't miss. I wish Meadehouse the best in life and on the internets and am appreciative of the hard hard work Althouse has put into her blog where I have loitered and regularly spluttered for about six or seven years or so.

And btw, in sending this email I have broken my promise to stop commenting for one month.

Best regards,

AJ Lynch

Meade said...

from Washington Blogger:

I am relatively new to this blog, though not new to social/political/law oriented blog sites. I have commented only a couple of times (though it appears one of my comments was "disappeared" shortly after submittal.)

I find it odd that you highlight the comment by a reader who does not read comments. I would think a reader like that would be mostly ambivalent to comments since they are free to read the front page and move on. Having or not having comments has little impact to them, though I could see that if Prof. Althouse is not monitoring comments she would then possibly be freer to produce more front page material. On the other hand, I would bet that the exercise of reading comments may very well inspire or at least effect the content of subsequent posts as the comments give a barometric reading on the readership.

As for me, I would probably make far fewer visits to the blog were comments to be discontinued or even remain in the heavily "Meade-iated" state. When I comment on any blog, I want to see how others respond. Yes, there might be myriad irrelevant and even condescending replies, but there are also some that get me to truly evaluate my suppositions and conclusions.

An active debate helps us all to strengthen our understanding of very complex issues. I enjoy the debate in the comments much more than the original post which I see as simply the opening remarks of the prosecution. Let the prosecution lay out her case, but then give the defense an opportunity to counter.

Meade said...

from Bagoh20:

Althouse wrote:" I think it's possible that things got especially ugly after the Supreme Court decided the gay marriage cases, and a few people seemed almost to have a nervous breakdown. Then, when I started talking about the consequences of unmarried heterosexualsex, there was some severe cognitive dissonance for the opponents of gay marriage. Their supposed profound reverence for the union of a man and a woman got subordinated to their enthusiasm for the fornicating man's interest in escaping child support payments. That had to hurt, and I felt fine expressing respect for the marital bonds of love for everyone.

That's when things went to hell around here, and the really destructive commenters showed who they are."
~~~
To me, the statement above seems blind to what really happened, and entirely backwards.

I'm having a gay wedding at my house next month for a couple of male friends who have had a long relationship and are coming to California to do it now that it's legal, so I don't have a problem with those unions, and I also go way past Althouse's recommendation for hetero men in protecting my DNA. So although I in some ways agree with Althouse on these two issues, I also disagree her in some respects, but the reason it got hot in here was not the issues, but the approach taken by the host. She adopted the persona of her worst commenters, got in the dirt, and then blamed everyone else for the inevitable mess. Did you really expect something else. I bet you did, and that's my point, as follows:

The gay marriage decision was a blow to some people, including me - because many of us have sincere concerns about the real problems with how that was done and what it means, but what made it get nasty was when Althouse went over the line from her side apparently without expecting to get the predictable response it did. She gloated, demeaned, and accused people of bigotry for disagreeing.

On the spooge stooge issue, she was likewise dismissive, and chose lazy attacks while ignoring the real issues brought up, and she kept flinging the mud only to ultimately complain about the mess it made. On both issues, the serious effects to the culture, children, and the structure and foundation of our society were the real concerns. Conservatives get especially angry when that is ignored, or told it's not a problem as they have been repeatedly told in the past, because then they are forced to watch the predicted destruction come with no apologies following, but rather a new set of mistakes led through with the same lazy dismissal of the concerns. Conservatives are just entirely fed up with the "we have to pass it to see what's in it" approach that seems to be the hallmark of modern liberal policy. Just like the law that made that phrase famous, the proponents just wanted their damned goodies, and to hell with the costs. I know apologies or admitting mistakes is way to much to ask, but maybe the people ruining things could not gloat about their destruction while they're at it.

Ann Althouse said...

Here's one from Maryland Geezer:

----------------------------

I am a recent reader of your blog and I think I've commented twice (Maryland Geezer). Some random thoughts on blogs and comments:

1. My primary interest in reading your blog, and others, is to see if you (or others) have something insightful to say on the events of the day. I'm looking for your comments. I find your comments to be, on average, more insightful than most other blogs I read, whether or not I agree with you. When I disagree with your observations, I still learn something. This is my incentive for returning.

2. A second reason to read your blog. et al, is to learn of things happening in the world that I don't know about. You have diverse interests, that suits me. Some posts interest me, some do not. It's easy to skim the blog much like headlines of the newspaper.

3. I rarely read comments. I will sometimes look to see what the reaction is to a controversial or hot topic.

4. Generally, reading comments is a waste of time. Most commentors do not have anything insightful to say. Who knows what motivates them? Anonymity contributes greatly to the poor quality of the overwhelming majority of the comments, therefore the time consumed reading them is not sufficiently rewarded. Separating wheat from chaff in comments is daunting, therefore little incentive to look there.

5. I understand that a benefit of having a robust discussion is that it has the potential to create a sense of community among your readers thus enhancing the appeal and popularity of the blog. Discovering a formula for making that work likely to by a Sisyphean task.

6. In sum, for me the value-added of "Althouse" consists of two things: Your comments/insights and the diversity of topics posted. 'nuff said

Meade said...

email from Will:

Meade: I'd like to put my two cents in on the blog comments. I rarely comment on the blog, though I do have my own tag for inspiring this post (http://althouse.blogspot.com/2009/10/rush-limbaugh-cares-more-than-you-do.html) in 2009.
If you and Althouse could find a way to pre-clear only certain commenters on the blog, that would be ideal. The ones that Althouse mentioned in the post about the "comments vacation", plus Fr. Fox and Freeman Hunt make for interesting reading. On the other hand, I have no interest in reading Titus or the Crack Emcee, or many of the other commenters that have no ability to argue civilly. I think it would be a shame if the few bad-faith posters wreck the comment party for everybody else. And if you don't decide to reopen comments, well, the world won't end. It'll just be a little less interesting.

Meade said...

email from I Callahan:

I think most of the other commenters have stolen my thunder, but count me in as one who finds the comment section as important as the author's posts.

What's nice about blogs is that you can vent your views with more candor than you can with your own friends, family, or coworkers. And the Althouse commenting group brings all walks of life, which means its one of the few out there that are not echo chambers. Without the comments, 1/2 the blog is gone.

I think the blog should go private and have its own comment registration system - one that's more robust than blogspot. Then you can at least restrict some of the crackpots.

I hope this can be resolved. I'll miss reading the commenters here.

Meade said...

email from a reader:

Hello Meade,

I have never commented but generally read them as part of the post and I feel I appreciate them for what they are: frequently clever or witty responses that either entertain or enlighten, mixed in with hateful and spiteful comments intended to insult and injure, which need to be overlooked like other such ugliness in life.

I do value greatly the blog and have spent hours pondering the content. I find you and the Professor’s online personas to be consistently genuine and, most importantly, thought-provoking. Feel free to post this, or not, but please honor my request for anonymity.

Meade said...

email from RAH:

I know of no reason for me to say I am sorry since I only made a single comment on the thread where it was the woman asking if she should confess for getting pregnant many years ago. By the way I would say no to that woman . She would damage her child , her husband, her other child and the biological father just for her to free up her conscience.

I rarely comment, but I do read comments on some threads if I want to hear what others say. I think that is on the more controversial threads since they engaged my interests.

I have noticed, despite Ann wanting no comments, she has addressed this issue several times today . It appears she does protest too much.

However to ask for people to say they are sorry when she attacked many since the gay marriage debacle is ironic. To use another cliche , Physician Heal thyself.

So I am following this issue today but closing comments seems to me that she does not want disagreement. That is her right, but it will reduce the amount of times I check her blog. She is on my daily visit list

Meade said...

email from CStanley:

I'm a relative newcomer. I prefer blogs with comments because the interaction seems to be the main point of the medium.

I've seen a lot of comments here that would have been quickly deleted if I were running a blog, and if I had unlimited time to police it (which is why I don't have a blog.)

If recent stuff has been even worse then I can understand this reaction and call for apologies, but I think self reflection is in order as well. The tone of posts on marriage and gender issues is decidely different than what I read here when I first became aquainted with the blog. The recent posts that seemed to have triggered this employ the same tactics that I had come here hoping to avoid: gratuitous provocation followed by mocking the reactionaries who take the bait, with subsequent claims of victory. This is the modus operandi of the modern Democratic Party, but until recently I rarely saw it here.

What made (makes?) this blog interesting to me is the more classically liberal approach of defending ideas through reason (sometimes emotion guided by reason, but not irrational emoting.) If it returns to that then I'll probably continue reading with or without comments, but another left wing echo chamber where an author claims that the correctness of progressive ideology is simply self evident is superfluous and boring.

Meade said...

from Washington Blogger:

I have to agree with Callahan. This is one of few blogs I have found that is not an echo chamber. Many other blogs will either run opposing views out on a rail or treat them with such contempt that it is painful to read. In this blog, there are many contributors that have views that oppose the those of the author and thus we have the debate I mentioned earlier. Until I stumbled upon Althouse I was starving for a source of balanced debate, forced in a lot of ways, to reinforce the echo chamber mentality because I could not contribute on sites where my views ran counter to the author.

I also like the suggestion of a registration for comments. One negative about this blog was that it was so popular that by the time I could comment, the thread had veered away from the point I cared about. I don't have time to check in every 15 minutes to be Jonny-on-the-spot. Thus a more limited group of thoughtful contributors will help keep the focus. It may be that this new method will result in my not "making the cut", since I am new and untested, but I would still enjoy seeing a more focused debate, as long as it is a debate of the central ideas.

Meade said...

A reader emails:


My experience with being a reader/occasional commenter on a wide variety of blogs is that those with some type of limited moderation of comments work best overall. Given free rein, some commenters will invariably go too far with personal attacks. I suggest either temporary suspensions of commenting privileges for violators (with an increasing length for repeat offenders), or more aggressive deletion of comments for the first X hours after a column is posted.

Meade said...

email from John Lynch:

I solved my own comment problem- I found a way to avoid being a total jerk while writing comments.

I use my real name. That keeps myself in check. Anyone who really wants to can figure out who exactly I am, where I live, and what I do. I find that anonymity makes people act like jerks, so I made the decision to be accountable. If the blogger isn't anonymous, it isn't fair for me to be.

On the whole gay marriage/fornication thing-

In my view marriage fell apart a long time ago and blaming gay people for what happened is scapegoating. They had nothing to do with it. Althouse was exactly right in stating that if heterosexual marriage is falling apart then heterosexuals need to fix it. What gays are doing has little or nothing to do with the problems of illegitimacy or divorce or single parents. While sympathetic to the argument that we need to defend our institutions, I woke up one day and realized that if all the people voting against gay marriage would vote for laws strengthening heterosexual marriage we'd all be better off. Instead, people seem to want maximum freedom for heterosexuals but want to limit homosexuals because of who they are, not what they do. Marriage is a voluntary limit on freedom. Our society's obsession with sexual freedom is destroying lives every day but we've focused on gays who want to give up that freedom for their own good? This makes no sense.

Jesus Christ took a dim view toward homosexuality, but he spent more time condemning adultery and fornication. In the Old Testament there's a commandment prohibiting adultery. And yet adulterers face no legal consequence, while homosexuals are prohibited from even the ability to make a legal commitment at all. It's a sin, but there are bigger sins, it seems to me.

Gay people exist. The question is whether we integrate them into society or keep them out. I'm a conservative, which means I like having a place for everyone and strong social norms. Social sanctions are fine with me, but if marriage is falling apart and we're raising entire generations without strong families people who aren't having biological children at all are not the problem. It's a distraction at worst.

Meade said...

A reader emails:


I'd like my name/handle kept private for obvious reasons, but 2 months ago I got a bad cancer diagnosis. I'm currently undergoing chemo and my immunity is low so I was recently admitted for 8 days for a cough and fever. NO FUN AT ALL. Consequently, I am pretty homebound, not by choice.

Being very bored led to a lot of comment reading lately. This last series of birth control threads were so negative that I began to draw analogies between my immunity and the attitude of the commenters. Someone else compared it to a virus of rage. I began to suspect that in my current condition it was very unhealthy for me to even read them as I had "lost my immunity" and would become completely depressed and bewildered at the levels of anger thrown at real ppl on a subject which for many is likely academic due to age or current circumstance. Why people would choose to actively spew extreme anger instead of working towards understanding is completely incomprehensible in my current state. In other words, it is not fun and games any more. It can do real damage.

So I view your new policy as a metaphorical "sign from God" as it were. Bored as I am, I cannot afford to expose myself to a mental diet that toxic whether you took the action or I did. So thanks for recognizing how bad it had gotten and taking a stand for higher standards. I thought maybe it was just me.

Meade said...

from gadfly:

Sorry for all the kerfuffle at the Althouse blog, which I have been reading and commenting on for years as "gadfly."

To add some perspective, Ann's blog works because of (not in spite of) the comments section. As i see it, she has a talent of finding interesting topics that set off the imagination of her readers. She hangs onto the "legal" aspect within her blog, but people don't come to Althouse to read about the latest SCOTUS ruling.

If registering users is the answer, you can have that without taking the blog independent from Google Blogspot. Do what all the other blogs have done - adopt Disqus or Intense Debate as your comment section. Both have far more options and indented comments not available in Blogger.

I cannot imagine reading a post from Ann without having an opportunity to comment. Other blogs have taken this route and my attention waned very quickly. It is easy to see bloggers going through personal changes as the daily burden of turning out material beats up on the writer. Right now I can see two bloggers with that problem - Ann and Warren Meyer over at Coyote Blog who has gone over the top in pursuing a same sex marriage law for Arizona. Minority interests don't do well as blog subjects when presented as righteous causes.

For the greater good . . .

Meade said...

from mariner:

Bagoh2O, CStanley and Michelle Dulak Thompson have said most of what I'd
say, and better besides.

The tone of some commenters is certainly worse than before, but so
lately is the tone of the hostess. A fish rots from the head. Or, as
another commenter emailed, "Physician, heal thyself."

That said I have been dismayed lately at the very personal hateful
remarks of some commenters.

Should you open comments again please don't limit their number. If
comments become too derogatory or repetitive I'll just skip to the next
post as before.

Meade said...

email from KheSanh0802:

Meade;

I have really enjoyed Ann's blog for its variety, humor and for her insight into the legal issues that surround us today. The only blogs I read, pretty much daily, are Ann's and James Taranto's. Both authors deal with interesting topics that I usually don't follow, make intelligent comments ( even to the point of doing research, which I appreciate) and can communicate effectively in written English - a real rarity, it seems.

I missed the comments that precipitated the "comment vacation". My memory is that Ann has a gay son. I too have one who is married (gay) with 6 month old twins. Having a gay child certainly changes your attitude toward what the fuss is all about. Perhaps that is what is confusing and frustrating many of Ann's regular readers. One of the comments today is that heterosexuals should fix heterosexual marriage and not worry about "gay marriage". Very true. After all gay marriage only concerns a miniscule percentage of the population.

I do agree that those commenters who have been mentioned have been the most informative for me. I have never understood the rudeness that blogs inspire in so many. I am not sure that, in the real world, you can exclude the trolls and the inconsiderate. I do hope you keep trying because good comments can be very educating.

Thanks for Ann's efforts.

KheSanh0802

PS: I still think your Amazon scorekeeping is tacky!

Meade said...

email from NC:

Freeman Hunt said it very well for me -- "I am a bit at a loss. This commenting community has been a major intellectual social outlet for me."

And, unless I've just missed them, I haven't noticed any e-mailed comments by any of the resident left-wingers -- Inga, Ritmo et al. Looks like they really didn't appreciate this blog after all. Edutcher always did say they were just paid shills.

Meade said...

email from Inga:

Ann and Meade, I can't blame you for turning off the comments. I felt this was coming for quite sometime due to the increasing amount of viciousness and harassment of some commenters to others and yourselves. Ann, I will continue to read and enjoy your blog posts and I hope you continue blogging and expressing your views as succinctly as you have been doing. I thank you for being a fair observer of human nature, politics and law, I've learned quite a bit over the last two years, thanks so much.

Inga

Meade said...

from Sydney:

This is for the post "The comments vacation," though it may be a little late to the session.
I am the sometimes commenter "Sydney" - if you do post this please use my commenter name.

I'm sorry to see the comments closed. I've learned things from your commentariat that I would have learned - especially things about writing, art, and the law. As others have said before me, there really isn't an equivalent blog on the internet these days with the variety of commentary and variety of posts that you had here.

If, as I have come to suspect, the catalyst of this decision was the return of [...], I just want to say I understand. I have a [...] in my life, too. It must be nearly impossible to ignore harassment iwhen it comes pouring in every minute on the internet. Hope you are able to come up with a solution that works for you and preserves the spirit of your blog.

Meade said...

from JA:

Stay on vacation! I think Ann should leave the comments off. Some people are
in the habit of reading comments, as I am. Maybe this would be an
improvement: allow private comments and only publish the ones that you find
insightful. I'd say that would be a better method than a dedicated contact
email, which would be abused immediately.

I read blogs to learn something from a writer who has earned a degree of my
trust, whether or not I agree with the post. With the Althouse blog, I often
disagree, but I find the ideas presented to be interesting and challenging,
and from an honest point of view. I believe that's what Ms. Althouse strives
for. I do not care to find out what some troll thinks, or to hear an
anonymous person agree with the post by re-wording what I've just read it in
a comment. On the other hand, I would miss finding out how someone's
sister's brother-in-law's barber made $x in 2 hours from home...

Either way, enjoy the vacation!

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