I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Blog matters

A few "blogging-about-the-blog" items:

(1) I’ve alluded several times to what I hope and believe will be a meaningful and significant project I have started working on relating generally to the radical theories of power seized by the Bush Administration and the profound threats it poses to the core principles on which our country is based. I’m sorry to be so cryptic and Dick Cheney-ish about it, but I still can’t announce the project (as much as I want to) until everything is ready – which should be by the middle of this week or at the end of this week at the latest. I raise it now despite not yet being able to meaningfully talk about it for two reasons:

(a) For the next three weeks or so, it’s necessary that I devote a considerable amount of time to that project and, as a result, I need to reduce (at least somewhat) the amount of time I devote to this blog (which isn’t going to be easy, since I appear to have developed a raging blogging addiction, but I'll be strong). I will still try to post every day, but I will probably have to post shorter items, not be able to participate in the comments threads as actively, not be able to post on every development, etc.

In order to ensure that the blog stays active and vibrant over this period, and particularly to ensure that the blog continues to provide comprehensive analysis of the NSA scandal, I am going to have a couple of excellent guest bloggers whose identities are not yet fully known (another exciting announcement to look forward to) post here during this period At least one of them will post everyday exclusively on the NSA scandal (and related issues), while the other will post on all issues. I probably will also periodically have guest posts from regular commenters here.

(b) I am in need of one or two persons to work with me on this project, primarily to research certain matters. It wouldn’t require a huge amount of time - probably 5 hours a week or so. Whoever wants to do it ought to be motivated by the desire to work on a project devoted to increasing public understanding of just how radical and dangerous this Administration really is, rather than motivated by financial compensation (there may be a small stipend that can be paid, but there also may not be; that has to be worked out).

If you are interested, please contact me by e-mail, let me know generally what your time constraints are and just a little bit about your professional background/current situation. All that’s really required is a basic understanding of the issues discussed most frequently on this blog, some decent research skills, and a desire to have the ideas and arguments that have been generated on this blog regarding the Administration's excesses and abuses reach a lot more people in order to maximize their impact.

(2) Yesterday, in response to a large number of requests from regular readers here, I asked one commenter who was posting in what I believed was an extremely disruptive manner, often between 15 and 20 times in each thread on matters having nothing to do with the topic of the posts, to restrict his comments to one comment per post in order to minimize the disruption. My views about the comments section from the beginning is that I want it to be composed of all views, including ones that are the opposite of mine, and I would never ban or restrict anyone due to their viewpoint, only for being deliberately disruptive.

I previously described my views of comment sections here, and explained my specific rationale for this particular action here. Many of you disagree, and I can’t say you’re without good arguments. I’ve made those same arguments myself many times and in many other contexts, and if I were a participant here, I’d probably be making them now. As I said, I did this very reluctantly and with ambivalence, and I am not entirely sure it was the right thing to do, but on balance, I obviously concluded that it was.

I don’t think anyone can fairly claim that this action was viewpoint-based, and I know that it wasn’t. There are numerous other commenters besides the one who was restricted who express views that are the opposite of mine and/or who are uniformly pro-Bush. They comment prolifically and continue and can continue to do so without any restriction. This restriction was applied only to one person who, in my view, contributed nothing to the discussion and, for various reasons, degraded the quality of the comment threads.

I’m familiar with all of the arguments as to why it’s better to ignore people who are disruptive than restrict them, why this can be a slippery slope, etc. I would ask anyone wanting to discuss this matter (and I created this thread because many people seemed to want to discuss and I requested that it wait so that the First thread didn’t get overwhelmed by this topic) to consider and address these questions:

(a) As a general proposition, is it possible for someone’s conduct and intent to be so disruptive, and so inconsistent with worthwhile discsussions, that it becomes legitimate to restrict ban or them? Or should everyone and anyone be free to post however they want, no matter their conduct, their frequency of posting, their refusal to post on matters relating to the posts, the extent of their disruption, etc.? If you recognize the justifiability of some type of restriction in some instance, what is the standard?

(b) While it’s true that one can ignore a disruptive commenter, it’s simply reality that many people won’t. When someone comes here and sees empty, trite pro-Bush talking points that are devoid of substance but are childishly insulting and fundamentally false, it is difficult for many people to avoid answering them. New commenters in particular reflexively do so.

All of that easily results in the comment section being flooded with the standard pro-Bush/anti-Bush food fights that one can find anywhere on the Internet, rather than worthwhile, substantive discussions. People who want to have a substantive discussion of issues can’t and won’t because they can’t wade through all the junk. Does that matter? Is it legitimate to take steps to maintain the quality of the Comments discussion at a high level, and if so, what steps can be taken?

(c) If, for whatever reasons, a particular commenter’s behavior is extremely bothersome to the person who operates the blog – to the point where the person who operates the blog actually finds it bordering on unpleasant to venture into his own comment section – is that something which can legitimately be taken into account or serve as the basis for restricting or banning someone?

(d) What’s the purpose of the comments section at this blog or blogs generally? Is it to provide a wide-open, free-for-all conversation for anyone on the Internet, or does it have a narrower or more specific function?

I don’t know of any blogs, especially ones with large numbers of comments, which haven’t restricted or deleted comments (I’m not saying they don’t exist, just that I don’t know of any). Most large pro-Bush blogs don’t even allow comments, and the ones which do (again, that I know of) delete comments and ban participants. The action I took was short of banning anyone and, given my preference for a diverse comments section, is something I expect will be extremely rare.

One last point: one of the things I have to come like best about this blog is the quality of the discussion in the comment section. I almost always learn things about whatever topic I post about by reading the comment sections to the post. Beyond that, having very informed and substantive people contribute to the comments section helps the blog enormously. I found the Reid and Frist letters, for instance, as a result of a commenter at the end of a thread on Friday posting the link to those letters. For those reasons, it's more important to me than I would have anticipated it would be to maintain the quality of the comment section and to prevent it from degrading into low-level insult fests involving the reptitious exchange of generic political slogans.

(3) Voting for the annual Wampum blog awards has begun. Most blogs that you like are probably nominated somewhere in one of the 15 categories. This blog has been nominated in the Best New Blog and Best Writing categories. As anyone with a blog knows, maintaining a blog requires a lot of time and anyone who does it is devoting a lot of their energy to it. Especially for a lot of the great blogs which get less attention than they deserve, and there a lot of those, these awards are a good way to provide some positive and gratifying feedback. To vote in any category, you just leave a comment in that particular thread.

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