Patterico's Pontifications


Announcing A Blog Comment Section That Is Like Being in My Living Room

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 1:11 pm

Big news.

I have decided to create an alternative comment section, for the purpose of creating an environment where people can discuss matters in the way that they might discuss them in my living room.

Over the years, there has always been an undercurrent of discontent among some commenters with the tone of the comments section. The bottom line is: some people like a more rough and tumble and environment, and others prefer a more polite and respectful tone. I have always leaned towards allowing a certain amount of aggression, while trying to encourage a respectful atmosphere.

But for a while I have contemplated the idea of setting aside a separate comments section for those who want to discuss and debate with an absolute minimum of personal rancor and a maximum of respect. The problem was: I was stymied by the logistics of how to create such an area, how to police it, and so forth.

Recently someone reminded me that I have this other moribund blog called The Jury Talks Back. There have been no posts there since 2011. It was originally designed as a place where many commenters could write their own posts. But it fell into disuse, and nobody has posted there since 2011.

So yesterday I thought: why not run a parallel blog there, with the same posts I have here, but an explicitly different ethic? One that emphasizes civility and honest debate?

I ran a little experiment yesterday with a few commenters who I thought might enjoy such an experience. The posts from yesterday were cross-posted there, and a handful of people discussed them. DRJ was there. Machinist was there! I liked the way it worked. The main problem was that there were not enough people. I want more.

I have trashed the posts there from yesterday so we can have a fresh start today, with the involvement of anyone who wants to be involved and can follow the rules. This is something I am going to continue it for a while. I hope for a long time.

Here’s how it’s going to work. Every post I write will be cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back. I’m going to try to get the guest bloggers to do the same, although there may be some logistics involved with that. I will include a link to the Jury version of the post at the end of the post.

It’s a public blog. For right now, everyone is invited, but the guidelines for posting are different.

The basic rule is this: imagine that you have been invited to my house as a guest. You and the other guests are sitting around a living room engaged in a lively and spirited political discussion in which everyone might not agree, but everyone treats everyone else with complete respect.

Before you post, make sure your comment has the same sort of tone it would have if you were saying it in my living room.

That’s pretty much the basic idea. Here are some further thoughts I have that may help illustrate what I am going for:

  • In my living room, people would not mischaracterize other people’s positions. If A characterized B’s position, it would be with great trepidation. A would be very concerned to make sure B agreed with A’s characterization. Strawman arguments would almost never occur. “So you’re telling me your view is” followed by something that sounds ridiculous is not something anyone would ever say.
  • In my living room, people might disagree, but they would always do so in a manner that showed respect for the other person.
  • In my living room, if two people disagreed, they would actually address the points made by the other person. There would be no filibustering while ignoring the points made by another person.
  • In my living room, there would be an adult level of discourse. Words like “slut” or “piggy” or “retard” or “stinkypig” would not be uttered. It would never occur to anyone to even try.

These are not exhaustive requirements, just illustrations.

I realize that there will inevitably be two related criticisms: that I am creating a “safe space” or that I am trying to exclude pro-Trump commentary there.

Let me address the latter criticism first. I speak for myself and I know I speak for other when I say that I want this to be a place where people can actually discuss different views. A polite echo chamber is boring.

But it takes real effort to disagree without being disagreeable, especially on the Internet, where there is no way to hear tone of voice and where misunderstandings cannot necessarily be corrected instantly. So bring your pro-Trump arguments, but bring an extra measure of civility with them, and I expect anti-Trump arguments to be made in the same spirit.

As for the “safe space” argument, I understand that concern. But here’s the thing. Once again, this is not a place to avoid debate. It’s a place to avoid rancor. To me, “safe spaces” are bad because they imply escape from points of view that are too uncomfortable. That is not the purpose of The Jury Talks Back. The purpose is to have discussions about uncomfortable topics in a very respectful and honest manner.

At one point I would have been very nervous about starting something like this, because I would be worried that all the civil commenters would abandon the main platform, with bad consequences for the main platform. It’s not impossible, but yesterday I noticed civil commentary on both boards, with many commenters participating in both parallel threads. And I think this experiment will bring some people back to commenting that may be put off by the tone of the main comment threads.

The point is, you have a choice. You think this is a stupid idea? You don’t want to participate? Then don’t participate. It’s the simplest solution in the world. The bottom line is: this is my blog, and this is something I want to do, so I’m going to do it. If you don’t like comment boards with a “living room” ethic, don’t go to the Jury comment threads. If you can’t abide a blog that even contains such an option, then leave. America still has freedom of choice! Ain’t it great?

As for the physical layout of the Jury blog: it’s not an ideal space. The comments look a little different, as the template has not been updated in years. Recent comments don’t work, although I am trying to contact Admin Guy to see if it is possible to make it work.

Anyone can participate, but I am going to be brutal about enforcing the norms. Brutal. I’m starting this on a Sunday so I can be active in monitoring it on the first day. If I think your comment is not in the spirit of The Jury Talks Back, I’ll just delete it outright. If there is whining about it, I’ll recommend that you simply return to the main comments section.

Another word of warning: I don’t know of a way of moderating people on one blog but not another. So if you venture to the Jury, and you can’t behave there, and it becomes a repeated problem, I may have no choice but to ban or moderate you from both blogs — even if your commentary is the sort of thing that would normally be accepted here.

I hope this is something that people try, even if just for the novelty of a comment board on the Internet with smart and interesting people who are bound and determined to discuss things in a civil manner.

[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]

Trump Advisor: Spicer’s Falsehoods Were Just “Alternative Facts”

Filed under: Alternative Facts,General — Patterico @ 12:26 pm

Chuck Todd asked Trump spokespiehole Kellyanne Conway about Sean Spicer’s pack of falsehoods in yesterday’s press conference on the trivial (but important to Trump’s ego) issue of crowd size at the inauguration. Conway did her usual shtick of aggressive deflection combined with aggressive horseshit, but one moment stood out: Conway’s statement that Spicer was simply offering “alternative facts”:

CONWAY: I did answer your question.

TODD: No, you did not.

CONWAY: Yes I did.

TODD: You did not answer the question of why the President asked the White House Press Secretary to come out in front of the podium for the first time and utter a falsehood. Why did he do that? It undermines the credibility of the entire White House press office on Day One.

CONWAY: No, it doesn’t. Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What it — you’re saying it’s a falsehood, and they’re giving — Sean Spicer, our Press Secretary — gave alternative facts to that. But the point, really —

TODD: Wait a minute. Alternative facts? Alternative facts? Four of the five facts he uttered . . . the one thing he got right was Zeke Miller [about the MLK bust]. Four of the five facts he uttered were just not true. Look: alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.

Here is what Conway looked like immediately after making the “alternative facts” declaration.

Conway Realizes She Screwed Up 1
Haha, isn’t it funny when I say things like that?

Followed quickly by this:

Conway Realizes She Screwed Up 2
Hmmm. That one might actually stick. Crap.

I looked at these issues yesterday in a detailed and restrained post and laid out the facts. Spicer was flatly wrong, time and time again. I think this one is indeed going to stick, Kellyanne.

I’m going ahead and creating a new category called “Alternative Facts” to use if and when the Trump administration decides to baldly lie to the American people again.

Chuck Todd overall did a poor job in the interview, by the way . . . feeding into Conway’s narrative by mocking Spicer’s performance as “ridiculous” rather than calmly citing the facts that Spicer got wrong. Nevertheless, while it may not have been apparent to his viewers, Todd is exactly right that Spicer’s performance was indeed ridiculous and does indeed call the White House’s credibility into question.

By the way, Donald Trump offered some “alternative facts” of his own yesterday, as he told the intelligence community yesterday that the notion of a feud between him and the intelligence community was made up by the media.

So I can only say that I am with you 1000%. And the reason you’re my first stop is that as you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on our Earth. Right?

And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the Intelligence Community. And I just want to let you know, the reason you’re the number one stop is exactly the opposite. Exactly. And they understand that too.

There was laughter and applause after his statement that the media is dishonest. There was no applause following his dishonest claim that the media made up his feud with the IC. This is the same man who compared the IC to Nazis less than two weeks ago:

When you’re comparing the Intelligence Community to Nazis, it’s not the media making up a feud between you and the Intelligence Community.

Peter Wehner has an excellent op-ed in today’s New York Times. Here is a sample:

Because Republicans control Congress, they have the unique ability and the institutional responsibility to confront President Trump.

What this means is that Republican leaders in Congress need to be ready to call Mr. Trump on his abuses and excesses, now that he is actually in office. It is a variation of the Golden Rule, in this case treating others, including a Republican president, as they deserve to be treated. They need to ask themselves a simple, searching question: “If Barack Obama did this very thing, what would I be saying and doing now?” — and then say and do it.

In anticipating a Trump presidency, I wish my hopes exceeded my fears. But Donald Trump has given us many reasons to worry. A man with illiberal tendencies, a volatile personality and no internal checks is now president. This isn’t going to end well.

The quoted language applies to conservatives outside of government as well. But the reverse side of the coin applies to Big Media. They should be asking themselves: “If Barack Obama did this very thing, why didn’t I speak out then the way I am speaking out now?”

After the last eight years, with “if you like your plan you can keep it” and the rest, it is quite interesting to watch the media all of a sudden concerned with falsehoods emanating from the White House. When they fly into a frenzy over lies told by the Trump administration, as they inevitably will continue to do, we should all bear in mind how so many of them circled the wagons around Obama for eight solid years.

I was right here that entire time, vociferously calling out both the lies from the White House, and the press’s failure to report them. I will continue to call out the lies from the White House for the next four years, if and when they occur (and I confidently predict they will). It is nice to know that I will, all of a sudden, have a companion in that effort in the form of Big Media.

But I will remember the ones who failed to aid me in that effort over the last eight years — just as I remember the ones who fail to aid me in that effort in the years to come.

[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]

Shocking Development: Throwing Money at Troubled Schools Doesn’t Seem to Accomplish Much

Filed under: General — JVW @ 6:39 am

[guest post by JVW]

On the last full day in office for the 44th President, the Washington Post took a brief respite from its mostly fawning coverage of his eight-year reign to actually acknowledge an area in which the vaunted brilliance of the team of experts serving the Obama Administration was found to be a bit lacking. In an article titled “Obama administration spent billions to fix failing schools, and it didn’t work” [why do modern headlines no longer follow traditional rules of capitalization?] staff writer Emma Brown, who covers the education beat, paints a pretty disheartening picture of expensive government meddling failing to achieve its lofty goals (bolded emphasis is in all cases added by me):

Test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment were no different in schools that received money through the School Improvement Grants program — the largest federal investment ever targeted to failing schools — than in schools that did not.

The Education Department published the findings on the website of its research division on Wednesday, hours before President Obama’s political appointees walked out the door.

Pretty much the entire premise of the Obama Presidency is that credentialed “experts” chosen by progressive politicians and given largely unaccountable regulatory authorization can enact policies that benefit whatever area it is in which they are called upon to meddle. It goes without saying, of course, that the new and enlightened policies always involve significant increases in spending:

The School Improvement Grants program has been around since the administration of President George W. Bush, but it received an enormous boost under Obama. The administration funneled $7 billion into the program between 2010 and 2015 — far exceeding the $4 billion it spent on Race to the Top grants.

The money went to states to distribute to their poorest-performing schools — those with exceedingly low graduation rates, or poor math and reading test scores, or both. Individual schools could receive up to $2 million per year for three years, on the condition that they adopt one of the Obama administration’s four preferred measures: replacing the principal and at least half the teachers, converting into a charter school, closing altogether, or undergoing a “transformation,” including hiring a new principal and adopting new instructional strategies, new teacher evaluations and a longer school day.

The Education Department did not track how the money was spent, other than to note which of the four strategies schools chose.

And there you have it: money thrown at a problem without any understanding of how it is being used other than at a categorical big-picture level. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you progressive governance in the Obama Era. Of the four categories, which do you think were the most popular? Closing the school and starting over? Ending the tyranny of a union-dominated public school by replacing it with a more lean and lively charter school? Don’t kid yourselves, folks:

Just a tiny fraction of schools chose the most dramatic measures, according to the new study. Three percent became charter schools, and 1 percent closed. Half the schools chose transformation, arguably the least intrusive option available to them.

In other words, at least 95 percent of the schools — 19 out of every 20 of them — took the money, brought in new administration, made a few curriculum changes, purchased some tablet computers, and perhaps extended the school day by 30 minutes, yet failed to move the needle at all in terms of graduation rates and test scores.

If you think the outgoing Obama Administration education officials are embarrassed by these results, or even slightly chagrined by them for that matter, you haven’t been paying much attention to the Obama Administration over the past eight years. The reactions range from the standard claim that the results are incomplete:

[Education Department spokeswoman Dorie] Nolt emphasized that the study focused on schools that received School Improvement Grants money between 2010 and 2013. The administration awarded a total of $3.5 billion to those schools, most of it stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. “Since then,” she said, “the program has evolved toward greater flexibility in the selection of school improvement models and the use of evidence-based interventions.”

Never fear, friends: spokeswoman Nolt suggests that we’ll see gangbuster improvements when we analyze results for post-2013 recipients. Would any of you bet your house on that proposition? And here’s the Big Cheese, former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, wishing away the failures by insisting that his rotting tree will eventually bear delicious fruit, as it allegedly has at a Boston high school which underwent a program transformation that served as a model for the Obama education program:

“Here in Massachusetts, it actually took several years to see real improvement in some areas,” Duncan said [in 2015]. “Scores were flat or even down in some subjects and grades for a while. Many people questioned whether the state should hit the brakes on change. But you had the courage to stick with it, and the results are clear to all.”

But, to her credit, the reporter Ms. Brown appears to be skeptical. She actually allows Andy Smarick, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, to have the last word as she closes her piece with these three paragraphs:

Smarick said he had never seen such a huge investment produce zero results.

That could end up being a gift, he said, from Duncan to Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary and a prominent proponent of taxpayer-supported vouchers for private and religious schools.

Results from the School Improvement Grants have shored up previous research showing that pouring money into dysfunctional schools and systems does not work, Smarick said: “I can imagine Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump saying this is exactly why kids need school choice.”

I am one of those grumpy right-wingers who thinks the entire Department of Education ought to be closed and that money should be sent back to the states. After a quarter-century of the attitude that more government involvement in education would yield better results, I hope most rational Americans are waking up to the idea that it just doesn’t work that way.


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