Monkey feces and other forms of communication

I have extremely strong convictions about free speech and robust debate. Thus, I was rather unhappy the first time that I decided it was necessary to delete a comment on this blog. The rule I published at that time was that comments that were both (a) anonymous, and (b) content-free vitriol, would be subject to deletion.

Unfortunately, as this blog has become more popular, some semi-regular commenters have descended to the level of monkeys throwing feces. Often the feces are flung in my direction, but that bothers me very little. What concerns me more is that an increasing percentage of comments are not about ideas but solely about the personalities and motives of other commenters. That is not a useful direction for the blog, even when the accusations being hurled are justified ones originating from sensible people. The entire tone of the blog is being lowered.

Therefore, with great regret, I must announce that I am considering banning commenters who are persistently and virulently disruptive. This would not be from any particular desire to control the wrongdoers’ behavior, rather it would be to relieve more civilized persons from the temptation to get into slanging matches with the wrongdoers. I hope not to have to actually take this step; I hope this announcement will serve as a warning to those who need it that they must moderate their behavior or begone.

Bannings, if any, will not take place in the dark of night; my notion of honor forbids this. Should I ban anyone, I will do so publicly with an accounting of my reasons in each case, and accept any criticism that ensues.

74 thoughts on “Monkey feces and other forms of communication

  1. This is always the dilemma of freedom.

    I want you to be free. Really, I do. I want you to be able to say and do whatever you want.

    But sometimes, I want you to do it SOMEWHERE ELSE.

    That’s a difficult question. Whose rights prevail? I want to be here. You want to be here. But you also want to say something I don’t want to hear. The conventional wisdom is, you can sya what I don’t want to hear for a while, but then you have to shut up. If you won’t shut up, you have to leave.

    There is unfortunately no conventional wisdom on when and if you get to come back and resume saying things I don’t want to hear.

    Tough question. I don’t envy you the decision.

  2. >But sometimes, I want you to do it SOMEWHERE ELSE.

    That’s right. And since I’m not the U.S. government and this blog is not public space, the First Amendment doesn’t apply. It is only my personal principles that have hitherto barred me from banning people I find unpleasant.

  3. The problem with good blogs, which this is becoming, is the trolls and bottom feeders. It’s not a matter of responding to them or being able to respond to them. The problem is that it’s never enough. The 300th time you respond to the same argument, it gets boring.

    And if I’m bored, I’m going to go do something else.

    It is disheartening to argue with a sophist – they don’t give a damn about truth or facts, just about being a sophist. And the qualifications are incredibly easy – refute, lie, equivocate, nitpick, and move the goal posts. It’s getting easy to tell the difference between the sophists, whether they’re filled with bile or not, and people who genuinely want to discuss and argue.

  4. I’ve had discussions with people that seriously maintain the position that such ‘bannings’ are tantamount to censorship of free speech…of course it is no such thing, no moreso than slamming the door in a Jehova’s Witness’ face.

    Internet-as-pipes, anyone? ;-)

  5. Eric,
    Perhaps you can use technology to solve this problem, allowing full free speech, while at the same time, forcing the junk to be swept under the carpet — not deleted, but merly ignored.

    Have you thought about adding a self- moderation system to the comments? Like Digg, or Slashdot, where viewers can moderate flame-bait comments to the point where they are merly a headline.

    Also, it allows a thread to be self containted, so that the flame conversation is isolated from everythign else. Basically a way to respond to a particular comment, instead to the entire article.

  6. >Have you thought about adding a self- moderation system to the comments?

    I’d have to get far deeper into WordPress and PHP to do that than I have time for right now. Unless you know of a WordPress plugin that does this?

  7. No, no, please, moderation systems are popularity contests. Manually ban in extreme cases only.

  8. > The problem with good blogs, which this is becoming, is the trolls and bottom feeders.
    I don’t feel like reading whole discussions (and don’t have time too) but I did not see posts that were outright flame. No offense, but maybe you can be more tolerant to other opinions.

  9. If you don’t think this is the right forum for Eric, I’m in total agreeance that my posts have been OT. You’ve let it run for some time, however, and it’s up to you to make the final decision. That said, you’ve made a serious physical threat against someone, and you don’t think it’s reasonable to be made fun of for it? Please.

  10. DDG Says:

    It is disheartening to argue with a sophist – they don’t give a damn about truth or facts,

    Oh, please. If this is in reference to me, I suggest you go back and re-read my posts. I’ve been quite careful regarding the facts, especially of recent. If I weren’t, I’d have been torn to pieces by Eric’s legion of fanboys.

    just about being a sophist. And the qualifications are incredibly easy – refute, lie, equivocate, nitpick, and move the goal posts. It’s getting easy to tell the difference

    Translation: Don’t bother me with logic – I can’t keep up! You must be moving the goal-posts!

    between the sophists, whether they’re filled with bile or not, and people who genuinely want to discuss and argue.

    Translation: people who believe in rigorous logic, and people who just want to pat each other on the back and talk about how much the ‘liberals’ suck.

    Your insinuation here is that if a respondent is making a case you can’t shoot down, then it’s not that it’s bullet-proof, it’s that they’re just a sophist using dirty tricks like ‘logic’.

    Btw, I make the presumption that both this and the OP are aimed at either Jim Thompson or myself, as I haven’t noticed anyone else who fits the description.

  11. I’m with David McCabe. I dislike Slashdot’s moderation system, in particular, because it’s very much a mechanism for people to degrade others with little or no justification or correction mechanism.

    This is Eric’s blog. He can do whatever he damned well wants to with it.

  12. I’d have to get far deeper into WordPress and PHP

    b.t.w WordPress, PHP and plugins – You still haven’t fixed the Google Reader related bug I have emailed you about a few days ago.

  13. BIG_HACKING, your attempts at insult are so pathetically off the mark that I just laugh. You make me look just as confident and secure as I am every time you rail about my supposed character defects and I don’t even bother to take notice. My rule for dealing with people like you is “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get covered in mud, and the pig enjoys it.”

    But lately you have been dragging others down towards your level. When I see someone as civilized and gentlemanly as Walter Hunt blow up, and another regular link to photoshopped ugly-baby pictures as a way of flinging at you, I know the disruption has reached a level that is no longer tolerable. You are not just a twerp, you are a cause of twerpery in others. I will not have my comment space degenerate into a pig-wallow because of it.

    You are not the only name on the better-banned list, but you are #1. Learn civilized manners or you will be kicked out. I do not mean by ‘civilized manners’ that I expect you to refrain from criticizing my ideas or behavior; I don’t require that of anyone here, and never will. But mere flinging of spiteful insults is not criticism. If you don’t understand the difference, you don’t belong here.

    If you wish to demonstrate that you are learning civilized manners, you may begin by apologizing — not to me, I have no need for your approval — but to the other regular commenters on this blog for having spewed disruptive bile in a place where mutual respect has generally (though not, alas, invariably) been the rule.

  14. The best way to stop trolling is still to find the strength not to respond to it, and to repeatedly ask responders to stop.

  15. esr Says:

    BIG_HACKING, your attempts at insult are so pathetically off the mark that I just laugh. You make me look just as confident and secure as I am every time you rail about my supposed character defects and I don’t even bother to take notice.

    You don’t need me to make yourself look bad, Eric. I’m just pointing it out for the edification of people who haven’t read as much of your writing as I have.

    My rule for dealing with people like you is “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get covered in mud, and the pig enjoys it.”

    I’m being impolite, but you’re comparing me to a ‘pig’? If you were half as clever as you claim to be, you’d at least be able to come up with a witty come-back, rather than just asserting that I make you look good.

    But lately you have been dragging others down towards your level. When I see someone as civilized and gentlemanly as Walter Hunt blow up, and another regular link to photoshopped ugly-baby pictures as a way of flinging at you, I know the disruption has reached a level that is no longer tolerable. You are not just a twerp, you are a cause of twerpery in others. I will not have my comment space degenerate into a pig-wallow because of it.

    I’m being impolite, but you’re calling me a twerp? Surely if Eric Raymond can get away with threatening people with assault, then others can get away with posting pictures evidencing the laughable nature of such threats. Is there one set of rules for you, and another for everyone else?

    You are not the only name on the better-banned list, but you are #1. Learn civilized manners or you will be kicked out.

    For someone who recently told “apologists for Islam” to “shut the fuck up” if they couldn’t pass a shaky hypothetical test, it is rather presumptuous of you to lecture others on politeness.

    I do not mean by ‘civilized manners’ that I expect you to refrain from criticizing my ideas or behavior; I don’t require that of anyone here, and never will. But mere flinging of spiteful insults is not criticism. If you don’t understand the difference, you don’t belong here.

    I have offered criticism, and I have offered evidence to back it up. Your assertion that I “don’t belong here” if I “don’t understand” is just a transparent way of avoiding having to show that my argument is without merit.

    If you wish to demonstrate that you are learning civilized manners, you may begin by apologizing — not to me, I have no need for your approval — but to the other regular commenters on this blog for having spewed disruptive bile in a place where mutual respect has generally (though not, alas, invariably) been the rule.

    I have been extremely polite, doubly so given your repeated insults. Just then you likened me to a pig, called me a twerp, and you recently made some bizarre accusations regarding trouble with women. None of these things were evidenced in any way.

    You seek to lecture others in the ways of civility, and yet you’ve sent at least one violent threat to Jim Thompson. You’ve also bullied Bruce Perens. This is hypocritical in the extreme. You have split from the program, and have shown by your repeated limp attempts at responses that you are unable to answer the accusations made against you. This is nothing more than a cop-out.

  16. adrian10,
    >The best way to stop trolling is still to find the strength not to respond to it

    I disagree. You have to pay attention to the tone of a place. I am moderately anti-abortion and I think that those who believe that abortion is murder, and who go around shouting the same while displaying gruesome photos of aborted fetuses, have the right to speak in public.

    But not at the mall. And certainly not at the food court where people are trying to eat.

    Just as the law recognizes that ‘public goodwill’ or ‘reputation’ is property which can be stolen from a business or a person, so tone and mood can be part of a product being sold, and attempts to disrupt that mood tantamount to vandalism.

  17. That’s it, BIG_HACKING. You’re gone.

    Then so am I. Not that it matters, but call it a vote of protest.

    BIG HACKING in my opinion added valuable insight. No, I don’t like his “steps” thing, and a lot of other things, but if you were intellectually honest enough you would discover it was all fair, and as such is a window into you.

    ESR, I hope you are big enough to change your mind.

  18. Yeah… BH and the gang have made me tired of reading the comments in previous threads, so I understand why you would banned him anyways, but what he said just now didn’t really seem like grounds for banning, unless there’s something I’m missing since I checked out for most of the spat.

    Anyways, I agree with banning BH on grounds of his previous posts — he has single-handedly made this blog tiresome to read.

  19. Personally, the only BIG_HACKING habit that bothered me was the drive-by-shooting style of posting one-liner insults where a real argument or a valid point could have been made. Who knows what we might have learned from BIG_HACKING if he/she wasn’t reflexively abrasive?

    The waste of so many opportunities to say something constructive was the real crime. Maybe sometime ESR will lift that ban and BIG_HACKING can explain in detail some of his/her points of view (apart from the dislike of ESR or anyone BIG_HACKING assumes is a “fanboy” of ESR).

    I wonder how BIG_HACKING would use that opportunity…

  20. >Might as well ban me too, so you can make your point complete. You’ve certainly made BH’s point.

    You’re #2 on the list, and on probation. I won’t ban even my enemies for just being enemies, but the next comment you post that is not a substantive contribution will get you banned.

  21. >what he said just now didn’t really seem like grounds for banning

    It was his refusal to apologize to the other regulars for his previous misbehavior that did him in.

  22. >You still haven’t fixed the Google Reader related bug I have emailed you about a few days ago.

    It’s not reproducing for me at the moment.

  23. >Who knows what we might have learned from BIG_HACKING if he/she wasn’t reflexively abrasive?

    That’s a good question, and it’s a major reason why I’ve never banned anybody before. I normally figure that even the flakes and twerps and looneytunes have their story, and that I might learn something from any of them. I’ve given up on BIG_HACKING, though; he’s all spleen and bile, with even the occasional flash of rudimentary intelligence only sharpening the bile.

  24. Personally, the only BIG_HACKING habit that bothered me was the drive-by-shooting style of posting one-liner insults where a real argument or a valid point could have been made. Who knows what we might have learned from BIG_HACKING if he/she wasn’t reflexively abrasive?

    If you’re referring to the help you with the stairs post, allow me to relate my experience when I first read same.

    I laughed, then I felt guilty for laughing, and then I laughed some more, while still feeling guilty for laughing. I forwarded the link to John Leech (who was also copied when ESR made his threats) who had a nearly identical reaction.

    Remember that it was me who ESR threatened (twice), with a follow-up threat (later withdrawn) from Russ Nelson.

    We’re taught to not laugh at people’s disabilities, and being so taught, it makes us uncomforable.

    I don’t think anyone (including BH) was doing that, but it is human nature to find amusement in somone who so inflates their online persona (“alpha silverback”, anyone?) that they feel comfortable leveling threats of violence in retaliation for having their false claims in the intelectual realm unmasked subsequently and further unmasked with a single photo.

    I fully expect to be “banned” by Eric as well.

    The waste of so many opportunities to say something constructive was the real crime.

    My construcctive advice is thus: back down on the rhetoric, Eric and you might gain back some stature “in your tribe”. As it stands, the more you rant, and the more you make claims that don’t hold up, the more damage you do to your “tribe”. As your “tribe” distances itself from you, seeking retribution will not restore the bonds, only leadership can do that.

    The situation is thus:

    Either you found yourself at the forefront of “OSS” some years ago purely by accident, with nothing real to contribute other than a certain “cult of personality”, or you really are a hacker, and you will shut up and show them the code. Meritocracy, and all that.

    Allow me to paraphrase:

    So when ESR insists that we talk about “the danger of Islam”, he’s issuing a dangerously attractive invitation to us to go off-message. It’s one we should reject — not just because his principles are wrong, but because that kind of language, simply does not persuade anybody. In fact, it confuses and repels most people outside our culture, and allows them to dismiss the rest of what we have to offer.

  25. You may wish to consider that you’ve got something of a “salon” going on here, and that makes it interesting, even for those who don’t (perhaps “always”) agree with you.

    But if you seek to “ban” those who you feel aren’t in alignment you risk creating nothing but an echo chamber.

  26. Nobody has been or wiil be banned for not being “in alignment”.

    The “unmasked” bullshit above almost got you banned. You have done no such thing, because I have nothing to hide. Your pretense that you are a disinterested seeker after truth courageously exposing my feet of clay fools neither me (on the evidence) nor most of the other commenters. And if you ever have the guts to run your BS to my face I will hammer you into the ground.

    You remain unbanned only because, unlike BIG_HACKING, you occasionally fall out of delusional-asshole mode long enough to adduce an actual fact. Consider it a demonstration that I’m serious when I speak of being willing to learn from twerps and looneytunes. But my patience is not infinite and you have almost exhausted it.

    This is your second warning. You won’t get a third.

  27. And if you ever have the guts to run your BS to my face I will hammer you into the ground.

    You may have forgotten that we’ve already met (in Austin, TX) and that I tweaked you then, at the height of your popularity. I have no idea when or where we might meet next, but you can be sure I won’t start a fight, but if you do, I will act to defend myself, and there will be consequences.

    “If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologize.” — Muhammad Ali

    “I believe in the religion of Islam. I believe in Allah and peace.” — (also) Muhammad Ali

  28. For clarification, my point wasn’t aimed at anyone in particular. It was just a truism. Given the way it was taken proves the point rather well, though – it was in danger of becoming ontological.

    Now can we get back to philosophically beating the shit out of Islamofascism? Or whatever … I’m content to drink Scotch and listen to Jim heroically save us all from … well, I’m not sure what he’s fighting exactly, but given the amount of energy he spends at it, it certainly deserves a drink.

  29. Jim — Eric actually *does* have feet of clay. Trouble is that you don’t know what they are, and I’m not telling. :-) We all have feet of clay. Yours are that you simply cannot help but offend people. You are clearly torn between taking other humans seriously, and treating everyone as the slime beneath your feet. Your life would be much easier if you truly believed that other people continued to exist even after you ceased to think of them. It’s a small net out there, and you will continue to run into me, Eric, and other people who have offended. If you constantly get annoyed by our behavior, then you will be constantly annoyed, and that’s no way to live. I strongly suggest that you make your peace with the inferior humans in your life, because we’re not going away.

    My minions haven’t told me what my feet of clay are, so I don’t know yet.

  30. Russ,

    I don’t consider you or Eric to be inferior or beneath me (much less “slime”), and have never stated same. I am not “constantly annoyed at your behavior”, either, and I’m not the one who brought up “feet of clay” either directly or metaphoricly.

    So much for your feeble attempt at putitng words in my mouth.

    If Eric has points of weakness (which would impair his dominance in a physical confrontation), I don’t care to understand them, because I have no plans to attack Eric (or you), despite the fact that you’ve both stated your proclivity for same in public.

    If either you or Eric turn out to pose a real-ilfe threat to me then I have a moral duty in that I can act to defend myself, but must only act to stop his attack, using no more ‘force’ than either you or he employs, and must stop as soon as the attack is over or withdrawn, and then must render aid, if I am the victor or otherwise able.

    And yes, I understand that you exist outside my thoughts. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Russ.

    I’ve never said that you (or Eric) have nothing to contribute, or that your contributions are worthless. I think your “economics” are somewhat shallow, (while you in turn refuse to engage on the subject because I “wouldn’t understand”), that Eric has blown up his persona at times, and that all three of us have occasionally have trouble choosing appropriate words and phrases.

    I too have “feet of clay”, but, like you, I’m not going to publish them in a public forum.

  31. Have you considered disemvowelling agitators? It’s a fun and effective way to discourage trolls without the need to bring out the banhammer.

  32. Hv y cnsdrd dsmvwllng agttrs? t’s fn nd ffctv wy t dscrg trlls wtht th nd to brng t th bnhmmr.
    Tht’s rdcls d. Wht n rth r y thnkng???

  33. I think that disemvowelling isn’t much of a solution.

    Consider the fun someone could have with a “mirror” of ESR’s writings (and/or this blog) where all the content that wasn’t dimemvowelled was, or the alternative weblog where all the content that was disembowelled … isn’t. How quickly would that site become the new place to view this blog?

    The second programming problem is obviously harder, but likely falls prey to table lookup. The trivial table-lookup algorithm likely doesn’t generate 100% of the original text, due to potential ambiguities, but it would be a great first pass, and highly effective nonetheless.

  34. > Consider it a demonstration that I’m serious when I speak of being willing to learn from twerps and looneytunes.

    I fell sorry for this blog. I have read some of your works, I do agree with some of your opinions. But I have only one word on my mind now. Bigot. If you can’t see my point, don’t bother banning me. I don’t have anything more to say.

  35. Disemvowelling works pretty well at Making Light, where it was invented.

    If someone wants to do a reverse-disemvowelled mirror site, it won’t affect the reading experience at this one.

  36. ESR,

    you could probably perform even the comments moderation in a libertarian way too. Some friends are doing it at a chat site (jatek.hu) and it’s working very well. The basic idea is that of the freedom to bear arms: every chatter after a writing a given amount of lines gots the right to kick and ban others from the chat, of course, not permanently. Those abusing this right usually get swiftly kicked and banned by others, therefore there is a healthy balance now, kicks and bans usually happen in the situation where most people agree it’s the right thing to do.

  37. Sorry, did not read comments before posting. “I’d have to get far deeper into WordPress and PHP to do that than I have time for right now. Unless you know of a WordPress plugin that does this?”

    Is WordPress worth keeping? It seems to me it’s like three tables or so, could be rewritten in Rails in minutes. I have written a tutorial on how to write a simple, bare-bones Reddit in Rails in twenty minutes, it might be interesting as an example: http://ideasonrails.blogspot.com/2006/06/rewriting-reddit-in-rails-in-less-than.html

  38. If someone wants to do a reverse-disemvowelled mirror site, it won’t affect the reading experience at this one.

    Do you really think its your >site

  39. Well, I bothered RMS this week, so I might as well come and bother you…

    I, too, have been wrestling with how to moderate comments on my blog. Right now there’s hardly anyone, so not much problem – anarchy is the current policy. I recently had a high-temperature flamer, to whom I responded with disarming good humor (hey, he was one of the entertaining ones!) over many posts. It eventually got to where he calmed down, and even almost accidentally paid me a compliment the last post or so!

    Meanwhile, I have the comfort of a worst-case scenario I can point to to show how pro-free-speech I am (and that’s why I allow comments anyway, to hear what the public has to say back – even if it’s “you suck!” and they’re right!). Thus, when a posted comment tells me I’m ‘right-on’, I know it came genuinely from the heart and not out of the ‘chilling effect’. Interesting little controlled-environment political problem-poser is a blog, isn’t it?

    PS Since the late ’90s, I have repeated this philosophy to myself: “Flames happen!” It’s a big Internet, it happens. God knows, I’ve gone off the trolley myself and said a few things I’d not be proud of later. Of course, some people tend to do it as a career…

    PPS With utmost respect for your enduring wisdom and writing in the world. Your writings were right there when I were a wee widdle gwasshopper to point me in the right direction, so thank you, even though I don’t always agree with you…

  40. “you could probably perform even the comments moderation in a libertarian way too. … every chatter after a writing a given amount of lines gots the right to kick and ban others from the chat, of course, not permanently.”

    That doesn’t sound like a libertarian system, that sounds like a hierachial oligarchy, where an inner sanctum of members has power over the others. Very un-libertarian.

    Now, a libertarian system would be based on Rule of Law. The site has certain rules that must be followed by everybody – regardless of how long they’ve been posting or how special they feel they are. And if somebody sufficiently breaks those rules, they get banned. Kind of like the system Eric has now…

  41. > Remember that it was me who ESR threatened (twice), with a follow-up threat (later withdrawn) from Russ Nelson.

    > Perens isn’t the only person to receive death threats from ESR.
    > http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=292#comment-39952

    Jim Thompson,

    None of the quotes you recently… um, quoted are death threats. One of them is a generic threat (“Watch your step”) and the other was an assault threat. ESR spelled it out in the latter quote that making such a threat was not something he did lightly. (Was there a death threat you left out?)

    Now, I don’t know ESR personally, so maybe he really is full of BS as you seem to think, but this is a man who is famous across a large community of smart people for being highly intelligent. On a related note, did you know that around 50% of the murders in the U.S. go unsolved? Maybe you should show your intelligence by not blatently antagonizing somebody who is obviously at his rope’s end with you. Advice you didn’t ask for, I know.

    I am a peaceful man but one who has had a *little* bit of experience with violence. Not karate classes, the real thing.

    In real life, as opposed to typing on the internet, its not so easy to be fearless in the face of somebody who wants to do you harm. The more primitive parts of your brain mess with your willpower. I tell you this only out of curiousity. I find it amusing that ESR has a couple angry followers who want to embarass him for talking tough. Is it really worth it? And why?

    Also, ESR, I appreciate that if the allegations are untrue you may be comfortable ignoring them. You have been generous overall it not banning people who disagree with you (only one person who was blindly abusive of you beyond the point of reason). Maybe we need some blog entries discussing what happened from your point of view. We are all, after all, interested in you on some level or none of us would be here.

    Shawn

  42. Jim Thompson,

    When you said to ESR,

    >You may have forgotten that we’ve already met (in Austin, TX) and that I tweaked you then, at the height of your popularity.

    Does this mean Jim, you envy ESR for his popularity?

    ESR,

    Thanks for taking out the garbage. But, I do have one regret, I’d like to know what BIG_HACKING’s fanboys are.

    Stephen

  43. Shaun,

    I’ll leave your taunts unanswered, except for this:

    One of them is a generic threat (”Watch your step”) and the other was an assault threat. ESR spelled it out in the latter quote that making such a threat was not something he did lightly. (Was there a death threat you left out?)

    The death part is implicit in Eric’s threat to “beat you within an inch of your life”. This represents a judgement call, and the mistake could be fatal.

    For all Eric (or I) know, I could have some undiagnosed condition (perhaps an aneurysm which, if it fails during or after an assult), would cause my death. If this were to happen, my attacker could be liable for severe criminal sanctions and civil penalties.

    Felony murder is any killing of a human being as a result of a felony, intended or not, and assult is certainly a felony. To “qualify” for the felony murder rule, the felony must present a foreseeable danger to life, and the link between the underlying felony and the death must not be too remote. (The lawyers call this “merging”.)

    Even in the absence of felony murder, the consequences can still be severe.

    For instance, check this out:
    Desmon Venn, 27, was sentenced to 29 months to 30 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter in the death of a high school classmate who had been in a coma for 10 years after a fight with Mr. Venn. Mr. Venn pleaded guilty in the death of Zuhair Pattah, who hit his head at West Bloomfield High School in 1994 and died in January 2003. Mr. Venn will serve at least 15 months.

    Nine years previously, Desmon Venn threw a single punch at a high school classmate and put him in a coma. Venn pleaded guilty to assault, spent two months in a boot camp and figured he had paid his debt to society. Then, when the victim died of his injuries, and prosecutors brought involuntary manslaughter charges against Venn, and they stuck. (No “double jeopardy”, either.)

    Perhaps interesting to this blog, Pattah, (who was called Steve), was a Chaldean Catholic whose parents emigrated from Iraq to the United States about 30 years before his death.

    See also here.

    Even if I didn’t die as a result, most proscecutors would describe the assult as “pre-meditated” in response to (only) verbal provication. OTOH IANAL, so.. who knows?

    Cathy, apparently, is a lawyer, so she likely understands the position better than both you and I.

    I too have some experience with violence, but I don’t claim to be a bad-ass (those days are gone). I understand (and have experienced) the physioligic response to a threatening situation you describe.

  44. Jim — As Eric said … you have attacks of sanity from which you inevitably recover to your usual condition. I’m unimpressed by a few sane postings from you. In my experience, you’ll go off your meds and around the bend back to la la land.

  45. I was more unhappy, Eric, as the post you deleted was
    a) mine
    b)an inoffensive response to an ofensive posting.

    Still, as long as in your history of things it comes across as your tortured soul’s struggle for freedom of speech versus offensiveness, rather than a rashly executed mistake…

    And the ‘offensive’ post? It’s still there… http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=281#comment-36225

  46. I can’t remember when or if I’ve commented here before. I do read the posts quite often, but I tend to ignore most of the comments, as they stray from the topic too quickly.

    Eric, you may consider, if you want to go to the work, to set up a “flame” post, to where you can move comments that are straying from the topic too far. This would achieve a few things. First, you would have the more relavent comments left (of course, this could chop up the flow a bit). Second, the flamers could carry on with their special persuits, in an appropriate forum (which could be an entertaining read if there are comments moved from several posts). Of course, third, you could feel more aligned with your sensibilities and not have to ban anyone (although I do realize that you’ve already taken steps before this comment).

    Of course, this means more work and I don’t know what you can devote to it for time and effort.

  47. esr – while you seem to be something of a phenomenon in the industry (IMO), seems to me that you coud not have spent much time as a sysop (multiuser – am I dating myself?). After a while, you learn to be ruthless – in the interest of the health of the whole community, not to mention your own peace of mind. If you are infested with creeps, boot ’em fast. You can always get as a replacement a new creep (there is an endless supply in the world, and at least a new one will be novel for a while), a better grade of creep, or someone genuinely interesting and who will positively contribute to the ‘system’ (or at least not screw it up) – and as you pointed out, the latter may not be attracted initially with all the flotsam about. So it’s all good to boot the disruptors.

    My 2 cents.

  48. the herb weighs in…

    Let’s talk about skimming. I skim. Some people come to a favored site and hang on every word. Others skim to varying degrees, depending on mood, time of day, etc. When I’m faced with 200+ comments at this salon, I’m more likely to skim than not.

    I recognize the name Big Hacking. Yes, I read a few of his comments. I recall sometimes focussing on his line of inquiry and sometimes skimming. It’s harder to ignore the “drive-bys” though, the quips.

    You have a big decision Eric. It is possible to change your mind, but then that may or may not say something about your backbone (i.e. does it exist? what’s it made out of?).

    I don’t think BH is going to change all that much. I didn’t mind his bile: sometimes I chuckled, sometimes I skimmed ahead.

    It WAS nice to see that you let your detractors post. Yes, the thought crossed my mind a few times: “Wow, that ESR sure has guts and reserve to let these guys rag on him. What a patient, cool customer this ESR must be.”

    But you have a site to build, Eric. You must think BH is driving away more visitors than he’s attracting.

    I have continued to like the flavor of this place on the web. That’s why I’ve come back again and again. Yes, you will have other dissenters here, commenting, raging! Will BH be missed? Not really. Offhand, I can’t recall anything in particular that he said that was, you know, memorable.

    ‘Course, then again, maybe that I can’t recall any specifics from him is testament to the possibility that I skimmed him too much… and if this site is more and more filled with skimmable comments, then it will go downhill.

    I almost always read your full entries though, Eric. Great site.

  49. I think the situations vary. When I was an op on IRC, I banned the jerks as soon as they uttered their first idiocy. Nothing destroys chat faster than a single jerk intent on being a jerk. OTOH, on blogs I’ve run, I’ve never banned anyone, even the most offensive, although I’ve warned a couple of times. I just ignore BH and Jim Thompson, on this particular blog, because there is nothing valuable for me in what they have to say. It has nothing to do with being an ESR “fan boy”, since I’m not and have no reason to be. It has everything to do with their complete lack of commentary that I find useful in any substantial fashion.

    The flip side of that is the commenters who are opposed in some fashion, but have valuable, clear insights and good debate to clarify the idea being discussed, such as Adrian10. He annoys the hell out of me with his ideas, but is well mannered and well spoken. Jim Thompson and BH could learn a lot from Adrian, and I might actually read their comments. There’s a couple of folks whose names I can’t bring to mind that I should mention. They are going in the same direction as ESR, but are offensive and impolite and I’ve begun to ignore them as well. Does your point really gain any value when you degrade the person you are debating?

    A self-moderation system seems to me to be the ultimate libertarian solution. Provide a tool that allows me to hide discussion from people I don’t like. You don’t have to ban anyone. If I don’t like reading BH, I can click a button, or something, and not have to. If I prefer to see all the comments, I can leave well enough alone. It shouldn’t be that hard to do since WP is table driven.

  50. I swing by this site every couple of weeks simply to read for the purpose of entertainment. One of the wonderful aspects of this site (and one reason I return to read more) is that in the course of being entertained I am also sometimes introduced to new ideas or perspectives that give me pause for thought.

    I would like to state that, IMHO, the banning of BIG_HACKING will lower the entertainment value of the dialog found here and that the action smacks of ego. I fully appreciate that this is your site to moderate as you see fit, free speech does not apply, but on principle I trust you also censured those who sank to BH’s level. BH was not a cause of twerpery in others, people chose to excercise that latent twerp that resides in each of us through the manner of their response.

    I have always considered the first purpose of reading to be entertainment, even before learning, as any learning derived from written word (or discourse as is the case here) is an added benefit to the pleasure of reading, even when teaching is the words primary purpose.

    Thanks for the space.

  51. Jim — while I feel that there is God in everyone, I can see that you are hiding your teeny bit of God under a bushel. Thus, I feel no call to reply seriously to either your insults or your faux-sane postings. You claim that you’re not taking any sanity medicine. That much is obvious.

  52. He will punish you for saying that. Of course, you’ll be dead at the time, so it would be unfair of the rest of us who have eternal life to gloat. So rest assured that I’ll feel sorry for you. I won’t actually *do* anything to help you, but I’ll be keeping you in mind as you suffer.

  53. >but I’ll be keeping you in mind as you suffer.

    Is he willing to prevent evil but not able? then he is impotent.

    Is he able but not willing? then he is malevolent.

    Is he both willing and able? whence then is evil?

    or

    From where does evil come?

  54. God created us with free will as ethical beings. God cannot do that AND prevent us from being evil at the same time. Unless, of course, you believe in a branching universe …. but then, if you do, then you also don’t. :-)

  55. >God created us with free will as ethical beings.

    It seems to be that way, but by creating evil is that god ethical and does he have free
    will? If so why include evil? Why not leave it out of the creation?

  56. Is Free Will really better than an existance without Evil? Seriously, God is pretty dumb.

  57. How would you know there was good without evil? Hot without cold? Happy without sad? Ying / Yang — they aren’t different things, but are instead both part of the Tao.

  58. OK…I’ll bite… ;-)

    “How would you know there was good without evil?”

    Why is it necessary to experience the ravages of such a contrast? Why not simply have the good, and be blissfully unaware that life could be any other way?

    PS. The only proof of Satan that I need is Oscar Meyer wieners…that’s just not right

  59. “…Pick a theology and stick with it…”

    No thanks, they’re all garbage ;-)

  60. “…Pick a theology and stick with it…”

    No thanks, they’re all garbage ;-)

    Agreed. But if Russel is going to argue from a theological standpoint, he should stick with one theology.

  61. Joh — I have chosen a theology. Just because it’s customized to my own experience and needs, that doesn’t make it any less legitimate than any other theology. Maybe the Tao wants me to worship Him in this manner?

  62. I share your disdain for deletions of posts and the like, but I also share a sadness at the level to which the national debate has descended recently. We have commentators like Ann Coulter, for example who commonly calls for people she disagrees with to be executed. And then there’s Bill O’Reilly and his ‘O Shut up’ I was really reminded of this recently when I listened to a old debate between Noam Chomsky and William Buckley from 1969, I believe it was. They dbated, the disagreed, completely. But they were so extremely civil to each other.

    Chomsky-Buckley Debate

    So, who has the responsibility for reversing this trend? The media companies? The Government? I don’t think either one will step up to the plate unless WE the consumers vote with our comments and our viewing habits by just saying no to hate mongers who play such a large role in the debate today.

  63. First time here, only read 2 posts re: deletion of posts due to potty mouths.

    Let me start off by saying I think it’s great the author of this blogsite has his liberal views on our system of govering, but this my friend is Your Opinion based on very few facts you read about either published on the Net or in the paper.

    Either way, You sir are deleting your very inspiration for the origin of your writings.

    See, if you were the Scientist (per say) who researches tests and publishes your findings for others to live or learn by (the journalists, governments…) so that the world may be informed, then you are different from the people posting Blogs distasteful to your likings.

    But unfortunately, YOU are the people posting, replying and badmouthing or agreeing to your Blogs and theirs.

    Ever ponder on the fact you are popular or becoming popular due to the rants about your OPINION.

    You are NO different then they who badmouth you. They are you and YOU are THEM.

    Start off with the premise you aren’t the allmighty fact distributor/ law king of blogging and take pride in your average I.Q.

    Those who do take pride in All they are made of, good and bad, tend to enjoy life more so than those who cover the not so terrible truths of their existence in our reality.

    We are all the same PEOPLE, we live the same lives, have the same experiences, same feelings…. all the same. No one here is “special” in the sense that they have not invented a new way of live. Or a new feeling no one has EVER had before.

    Jesus people get it right and just pay homeage to our freedoms liberties and beliefs.

    The true Civilian who believes he is Liberal would be understanding of all things, peoples opinions and so called unfairness we all face throughout life. He may not understand why people must do what it is they do- yet he can be Understanding.

  64. Hey. I myself am strongly in favor of free speech. So much so that I have made myself very unpopular with some people by suggesting that I do not think that *virtual* (entirely computer generated) child pornography should be a crime. My reason for it is this: The reason actual child pornography is a crime is that a crime, namely molesting actual children, must be committed first in order to photograph it and create the child porn. This is not the case with computer generated images. No actual children were harmed in making it. Creating an image of a crime, however disgusting we might think of the crime or the image, should not be a crime. This is the same reason why snuff films are illegal, but movies such as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” which show very realistic images of murders, but where no actors where actually killed, are not illegal.

    For the record, I find child pornography, actual or virtual, to be highly disgusting, and those who like to look at it to be creepy. But I do not think my opinions of disgust are sufficient reason to lock someone in jail.

    That said, there are a few other limits which do apply to the freedom of speech. Freedom of speech does not include the right to *fraudulent* speech. This is why you do not have the right to shout “FIRE” in a crowded theater, when there is no actual fire, and why you do not have the right to print false, slanderous accusations against people in a newspaper.

    In addition, your right to freedom of speech ends where someone else’s self begins. Just the same way your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. My opinion is that a person has a right to say anything they like in any PUBLIC venue, or in any private venue, UNLESS THE OWNER OF THAT VENUE has said THEY DO NOT WANT TO HEAR IT!

    Let us say, for instance, that you do not like barbers. Maybe you had a bad haircut, maybe your significant other ran away with a barber. You have the right to stand in the town square and complain about barbers. You have the right to send a letter to the editor of the paper, telling about how much you hate barbers, and think they charge too much for haircuts. If the editor chooses, he will print it. Others do not have a right to demand that he not print it. It is his newspaper, and by reading that newspaper, they have given their consent to read opinions they might not agree with.

    You do not, however, have the right to follow the local barber around everywhere he goes and tell him what a rotten fellow he is, if he tells you he does not want to hear it. His right to his ears (in places where he is your sole audience as opposed to the public) trumps your right to freedom of speech. Ditto for calling him on his phone. It is his phone, and if he tells you not to call him, you do not have the right to continue to call him. The same also applies to his website. If you leave nasty remarks on his website, he has the right to remove them, an ban you from his site. But not to worry, you still have a perfect right to make your OWN website, and fill it up with as many nasty remarks about barbers as you wish.

  65. “..Freedom of speech is the concept of the inherent human right to voice one’s opinion publicly without fear of censorship or punishment…”

    There will be “noise” in any environment online, whether it be wanted or not, it occupies public forums which allow input. Moderators of various kinds, feel the need to “tidy” up, to ensure that direction is heading in the prescribed path, and that should it stray for whatever reason, they themselves will be there to ensure its re-routed back to the original objective.

    It’s a facade of controlled power vs upholding the belief of “Freedom of Speech”. Its if you will a back-handed comment.

    Never under estimate the ability of the reader to simply “skim” past the noise and review / read the commentry that they choose to view. If someone were to post commentry on your blog that insulted every religion in the world and then some over all in one hit, and as a result your comments went from 10 to 10,000 over night would this be a good thing? or a bad thing?

    I’m sure you’re getting hounded from every weirdo in all the hidden “wooden work” but in the end, you’re taking an Academic posture mixed with a morale compass but in truth, its power, control and censership all ruled into one – Just like all those corporations you have sense of dislike for happen to do aswell. As they are protecting various commodities and shareholders – just like I guess you are, the readers of your blog.

    “..Therefore, with great regret, I must announce that I am considering banning commenters ..”.

    Be truthful, do you? do you regret it?

  66. I fully support banning. From one point of view, this is your blog, so if you want to ban someone, your decision.

    From another point of view, the blog represents a community of people sharing opinions. While diverse opinions are to be cultivated, there is no reason the community should have to accept vandalism.

    Self-monitoring doesn’t work. There are too many ass—-s who will do their own thing regardless of the feelings of others; some even seem to enjoy the negative attention.

    I think the only question is the best way to go about. Here views differ. Some say that a person should be banned quietly to spare his dignity. However, I prefer your approach of being open about it. It is like the legal system; it works best when transparents. Also, this way, if someday you are prehaps too hasty, there is a chance for people to provide feedback on your decision.

  67. the amount of intellectual energy that gets wasted here….

    if only words were watts…

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