March 28, 2008

What a Day, and My Philosophy on Open Fora

Justin Katz

Forgive me if this post has a patchwork feel to it, but I've had a dreadful day. Here's a telling time line for you:

  • 6:12 a.m. (just before I begin getting ready for work) — A post of mine hits the Internet.
  • 7:21 a.m. (just about the time I'm pulling into my boss's shop) — Tim leaves an irresponsible and strategically foolish comment.
  • 7:41 a.m. (just about the time I'm pulling into my jobsite's driveway) — Pat Crowley leaves a comment attacking me for letting the comment stand.

Allow me some explanation for the benefit of those who've no experience (or memory, at least) of a working class day: In my line of work, carelessness can be fatal and mistakes can be costly (sometimes, especially in slow economies, for workers laid off due to delays). The pressure is on for productivity, and the atmosphere is far from water-cooler casual. By some cosmic quirk, I am currently personally responsible for an uncommonly detailed project, the very large (and very expensive) house involved, and all of the workers moving the thing along. At today's peak, there were eighteen of them.

I don't have a computer; I have a bells-and-whistles cell phone (which, of course, was being glitchy today). I get a fifteen minute break at 10:00 a.m. and a half-hour lunch at twelve. And on this particular day, I had to deal with a (we'll say) disconcerting personnel issue while resolving space complications between the plumber and the audio/video technician while clearing a tricky structural modification with an engineer while laying out cuts for the mason in old, structurally critical cinder blocks while helping the electricians to prioritize while going over alarm system details while ensuring that the plasterers were clear to cover up sheetrock while pushing the architect to commit to the placement of a sink vanity that would resolve the plumber-A/V conflict while wrapping a Band Aid around the one remaining finger on my right hand that hadn't previously been scraped while trying to figure out just how many hours a week I can work, because all of this doesn't pay quite as well as one might think.

I offer this synopsis of my day by way of illustration of the reason that I've little patience for the flicks and tugs of participants in a forum that I believe to be substantially distinct from Anchor Rising contributors' own writing, but which a cabal with a professional, financial, and ideological interest in marginalizing our research and analysis is apparently leveraging in a strategic effort to achieve that end.

Here's my opinion on the comment-section controversy of the day: Jerzyk's personal comportment and biography can't be otherwise than of legitimate interest in the sorts of debates into which he enters and issues concerning which he advocates. That's not a double standard; I don't consider myself immune. However, the line for public scrutiny is around the man (or woman) in question, although an inevitable gray area will arise whenever third-parties are intrinsic to his or her behavior.

As to commenters' methods of conveying valid information, well, here philosophies of rhetoric come into play. Word choice and focus are important components by which to understand and judge an argument, and were we to censor overly strong (and perhaps unfair) descriptive language, we would do a disservice to both sides: One side would have had its meaning changed, and the other side would be receiving an inaccurate gauge by which to judge what's said. If a commenter says something that invalidates his larger point, then it is eminently fair to treat him accordingly. It is not fair, however, to treat that tar-crusted brush as a weapon to be used against others.

That is to say: blame me for what I write, not what others write in my proximity. Ostensibly — if I'm personally so wrong and so vicious — that shouldn't present any difficulty for those who consider me an enemy.

Perhaps it's time for we Anchor Rising contributors to have our seemingly annual discussion about the state and future of the comments hereon, but I hope it will suffice, for now, to point out to our fellows on the Right that — though you may feel that you're cutting to the truth and exposing the other side for what it is — you are harming your own cause. You are providing ammunition for use against us all, no matter how unfair that usage might be. And you are providing an easy escape from the considered arguments with which we must continue to corner the other side.

I've no intention of allowing you to make it that easy for those who are sucking the vigor out of our state, and I hope you'll think twice before hitting the "Post" button henceforth. It only takes a tweak here and there to move a point from dismissible to utterly defensible, and if our case is as strong as we believe it to be, then the former can only do damage while the latter ought to come naturally.

Now I'm off to bed. It's back to the jobsite for me tomorrow morning. On the bright side, there's a chance that the sun will shine through the clouds, and for at least some of the day, I'll likely have the place to myself and actually manage to get some work done.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

While I am somewhat sympathetic to many of your points, and indeed, may have indirectly contributed to the open fora content debate, I do take issue with one point you made - to some extent, you must take some responsibility for what those "in your proximity" write, especially if the "prompt" (as they say in education-speak) was your own writing. That does not mean you need to monitor responses 24/7, but that you should address those that our outrageous.

Ironically, it was in response to a "prompt" about Barack Obama and his pastor, and his obligation to address those comments, that our most recent misunderstanding arose. Also, ironically, if history predicts future behavior, just seeing my name at the end of this post (even as I openly predict the outcome) will generate a great deal of bile, mostly off topic, that you may wish to address (after your work day is complete).

Posted by: Bob Walsh at March 28, 2008 11:40 PM

Justin-Don't get too bent out of shape about this-on RI's Future I've seen Jerzyk,Segal,and Crowley engage in ad hominem attacks against Joe Trillo and Terry Gorman just to name two people,referring to Trillo as a proto-fascist(this directly from Jerzyk)and Terry Gorman is regularly accused of being a "hater"-they end any debate with their stock party line names for people.It seems they are just a little thin skinned.Jerzyk seems to want to be a big mover and shaker in the state.Well,a lot of crap gets slung your way if that's what you want.Maybe if he didn't horn into every conceivable issue with his propaganda for the marxist point of view,he'd draw less heat.Why doesn't he run for office?He might get about 2 votes.

Posted by: joe bernstein at March 28, 2008 11:43 PM

There was no misunderstanding, Bob. I was making a point about a high-profile public figure — presidential candidate — and you turned it into a vile and condescending attack on me. That's fine; comes with the territory. I let it drop, though, when it came to seem that your first priority is to marginalize Anchor Rising with regard to completely separate topics.

I'll insist, though, that there's a difference between being a contributing audience member to the offender and being the hands-off-ish moderator of an open forum of online strangers.

As for my "prompt," well, I did expect to take heat for my own commentary, but I was very disappointed to see Tim turn it so far south and your assistant gleefully punt the ball out of bounds so quickly after I'd posted my entry. Little wonder discourse is in its current state, although I've my suspicions that you're hardly disappointed that my reading-and-writing time for the day was wasted thus.

Posted by: Justin Katz at March 29, 2008 12:14 AM


I'm well aware of the standard comment thread over on RIFuture. We've got to rise above that, though, so that we're not merely two sides of a coin.

Posted by: Justin Katz at March 29, 2008 12:16 AM

Threads like that make me thankful we don't all know each other's names, occupations and addresses.
The anonymity of the Internet is a double-edged sword: it makes ad hominem personal attacks possible, but it also spares us the possible bloodshed today's back-and-forth might have caused.
We all enjoy a little competitive give and take (even with steel chairs, as it sometimes seems here). But when we bring family members into it, as was the case today, we've crossed a line.

Posted by: rhody at March 29, 2008 12:44 AM

rhody-speak for yourself please.I make no secret of my name or my former occupation because I do not like to make comments from the cloak of anonymity.If someone doesn't like what I say,too bad.I am not a person who can be intimidated nor am I seeking to "be"anything-I'm just plain old retired,but for most of my working life I was not allowed to voice an opinion publicly and I understood the rules.If you've ever noticed I've tried to stick to criticizing what people say,write,or do,but I admit I have made personal attacks on Steven Brown and Charles Bakst because I despise them.I have gone back and forth with Brown quite a few times on radio and the reason I hate him is his support for convicted pedophiles-that goes for anyone who opposed Jessica's Law.If Joe Trillo and Rhoda Perry can both be for the same law,it must be good.I have made personal remarks about David Segal being a "trust fund baby"and I probably shouldn't have done that because it had nothing to do with why I was on his case.I don't think you'll find personal attacks from me on Jerzyk as an individual because I don't know him at all and only saw him speak once,on Laborvision quite a while back,where he was on a panel with Sara Mersha and Scott Malloy.But I do go after him every chance I get on the things he does and says because he seems to have a very specific agenda of using Rhode Island as a socialist laboratory model.He's far from alone in this,but he shows up in more different organizations and events than anyone else.I guess he could be described as a polyfaceted radical/propagandist.
I understand that some people cannot use their names for fear of economic retribution or even physical threat-I've had more than one person attempt to kill me,and I'm still here-so much for that.But that came with the territory on my job.

Posted by: rhody at March 29, 2008 1:26 AM


Out of respect for you I promise to curtail the bluntness of the truth I speak about our leftist 'friends' and I apologize to you over any offense you have taken over my commentary.
However with all due respect I honestly think you are so wrong in believing that only discourse carried out in politeness and proper etiquette moves the ball down the field for your side. Politeness has been the signature trademark of the political right in Rhode Island for the past 60+ years. Look around you to see all the good it's done! But as I said out of respect to you and your fine blog I shall refrain from speaking the truth in such blunt terms.

Posted by: Tim at March 29, 2008 7:45 AM

I'm not quite sure what the "prompt" by Justin being referred to is, other than that he allows for an open debate on public policy issues from a conservative perspective which are largely ignored by other media in Rhode Island. I guess people who derive their livings off of perpetuating inefficient and under-performing educational monopolies might see the promulgation of conservative viewpoints as a problem.

As for the analogy you attempted to draw regarding "proximity" between Justin and the commenters and Obama and his ex-Pastor, you seemed to have actually reversed what would have been a perfectly logical analogy, in an attempt to fit your own point. A pastor is a leader of a congregation with followers. Justin is the site administrator of a blog. It would be more logical to analogize Justin as a pastor of sorts, and the various commenters as followers (again, it's a loose analogy).

Taking the analogy further, it would not be reasonable to blame the pastor of a megachurch for what any of his followers believes or does, because you cannot really assume that the pastor knows what is going on with each individual congregant, or that he could ever been in agreement with everyone in his congregation. It is the followers who choose to associate themselves with a pastor; not vice-versa. It's a largely one way relationship.

Obama has rightly felt the heat from the wider public for deliberately associating himself with a kook pastor for over 20 years, because it was he who made an active decision to associate himself with that particular pastor for whatever reason. I don't see any evidence whatsoever that Justin has ever done anything irresponsible or even remotely "kooky" to deliberately stir anything up other than encouraging people to think differently. If anything, he's been the epitome of courtesy (which is a far cry from much of the vitriol coming from the political left).

Perhaps Bob would prefer a more structured format here, with less back and forth? Of course, before we do anything as conservatives, we always ask ourselves "WWBWD?" ... What Would Bob Walsh Do?

PS I believe that if we as conservatives focus on promoting the "right" solutions to issues, that we can win any debate -- as long as there is a debate. We're pretty much always right. We win; they lose. We can't let them tie our hands or to define the terms or boundaries of the debate. If we ever let them do for us, what we should be doing for ourselves, then we will have lost. Hopefully, that won't be permitted to occur. I don't think it will.

Posted by: Will at March 29, 2008 5:59 PM

A few posts back, I did not tell myself to speak for myself. I'm assuming it's Joe Bernstein from the style and syntax - Joe, I just hope I'm not on your brain to the point where you sign posts as me.

From Will:
"I believe that if we as conservatives focus on promoting the "right" solutions to issues, that we can win any debate -- as long as there is a debate. We're pretty much always right. We win; they lose."
Will, you just illustrated the arrogance of hardcore conservatism than I or any liberal possibly could.

Posted by: rhody at March 30, 2008 11:35 AM

rhody-you're right!how did that happen?well,I'm not one to play tricks or mess around on someone's blog-so yes it sure was me-not hard to tell in the context of this discussion

Posted by: joe bernstein at March 30, 2008 1:25 PM

"We're pretty much always right."


If I was arrogant, I wouldn't have qualified it with "pretty much," would I?

I think of it more as confidence.

Posted by: Will at March 30, 2008 2:46 PM

Tomato or tom-athto, Will.
Joe, no hard feelings - I'm just making a bigger impact than I ever envisioned, I guess.

Posted by: rhody at March 30, 2008 3:47 PM