Sunday, March 28

Offense Taken and the Trouble With Words

Almost any reader of this would agree it is not OK to go over and trash somebody's house by spraying graffiti all over. In the world of blogs, it is considered gauche to visit blogs and leave ads for in blog post comments.

Some blogs post only items that provoke little disagreement of any serious nature that is likely to be expressed in comments. Birdwatching blogs, for example. Photography blogs for another. If you don't like the picture, the next post is likely to have one you will like. Still, even on such blogs, it's bad form to attack the blog author personally as - in "your dog ought to get poisoned!"

This is not that sort of blog. Mostly, I relate my experiences commuting by bike, with an emphasis on related things I have observed or learned, and which others might find useful as well. I think the "cycling community" (as if there really IS such a thing) often takes itself a little too seriously, and so I poke fun on occasion at my fellow bloggers. Twilight Zone, here, was such an attempt. Fundamentally, cycling is fun and safe and I'm really NOT a policy wonk. SOMETIMES, however, healthy disagreement or attempts at humor in writing are misunderstood, or taken the wrong way. It is ironic that the writeen world is at the same time both more precise and easier to misunderstand than the spoken one. If you are the target of one of my own posts and feel offended, please email me. I respect someone bringing a problem to my attention so we can deal with it like adults. The email is at the top. If necessary, Chandra knows my phone number and I give him permission to give it to you if he concludes you are not a telemarketer or crazy whacko.

However, I really am disturbed at comments that have come to my attention on Citizen Rider, summarized here, that I believe go "Beyond the Pale." Words do hurt. At least one of the commenters may have made comments on this blog. In all cases, his comments here were precise and I was happy to recieve them. It makes this perhaps more puzzling to me. Reading his comment below, it is somewhat LESS puzzling and so I have modified this paragraph.

Spam is easy to deal with. You just delete it. Disagreement is fine. Disagreement keeps things interesting and helps us all learn new things. Light ridicule, likewise - sometimes I get a little worked up about stuff and need to be reminded that I am not the sole source of knowledge in the Universe. Long personal attacks. Those bother me. To this point, I have never removed a comment made at this blog, and I hope I never do, but I do not promise never to do so. I applaud the way that Citizen Rider has dealt with this.


ToddBS said...

I think the commenter "Ham" from the linked post hit the nail on the head. Today it's Reed Bates. Who might it be tomorrow?

Commenter Ed seems to be miffed at VC proponents in general, so I say let him ride on his MUPs and take his comments for the vitriol that they appear to be.

Steve A said...

Todd, I think we need to be cautious about getting carried away with the Bates thing, and perhaps that is how cafiend set them off. I don't think either of us believes that the Ennis PD will come to our houses and knock on the door if Reed is convicted. If Reed wins, there will be other little towns doing stuff that might not be best when it comes to the law.

Still, make no mistake about it, I think it's rude and offensive to personally attack a blog author in a comment. Even if you are correct it is rude and offensive. You don't like a blog, don't go there. End of story.

Ed Sailland said...

Hyperbole is the norm in much Internet chatter, Steve, but characterizing my mildly critical comments around the pseudonymous cafiend's recent post as an "unprovoked attack" carries this hyperbole to a truly ludicrous extreme. But why don't we let the man himself decide if I've been "rude and offensive"? He's a more than competent scribbler, and he's certainly no shrinking violet. So he's quite capable of setting me straight if he thinks it warranted. I doubt he needs you to put words in his mouth.

As for ToddBS… I'm afraid he hasn't a clue. I'm not "miffed" by the VC mob. I'm both amused and dismayed. Amused because their antics make for welcome comic relief. Dismayed, because their wrongheaded campaigns make the public highways a more dangerous place for all cyclists, not just the True Believers. And this does concern me, because, just like ole ChipSeal, I live in a rural backwater and depend on my bike for primary transport. There's not an MUP within 50 miles of me. But there are a whole lot of cars, and I rely on their drivers' forbearance for my very survival. That's a point that ole Chip might wish to bear in mind the next time he unloads a gobful of phlegm at a passing motorist.

Or is his example the sort of polite and inoffensive "commentary" you wish me to emulate? If so, we really don't share a common language.

Steve A said...

Point taken, and I updated the post. I don't know Todd, so I can't say if he has a clue or not. I CAN say that there are no MUPs anywhere close to Ennis, and there are few road choices for many places outside town one wants to go on a bike. What's more, that's unlikely to change anytime soon. At least I live nearly two full counties away, with a lot more good road choices. I don't really know how the Ennis drivers are on a daily basis, but my own ones seem pretty decent.

I presume it is clear from my own posts that I do not advocate expectoration as a method of traveling in traffic. Even in Chip's case, however, I found the guy more subdued in reality than in his blog assertions. I even saw him ride in a Fort Worth bike lane and I know others that saw it too. OTOH, I don't follow him around with a camcorder because this isn't my year for Chipseal watch duty, nor, as I believe I have stated before, have I ridden any of these Ellis County roads. As Ed S knows, driving a road and riding it are NOT the same, even if it is an experienced cyclist doing the drive.

Still, rereading the Ed S comment that got cafiend worked up, three of the four paragraphs are directed more at the blog owner's intelligence than the subject that prompted the comment. At least that was my impression. "Some folks will follow anything that moves" - indeed.

Ed Sailland said...

You're right, Steve. I WAS indeed questioning cafiend's intelligence in embracing the ChipSeal crusade -- or rather, I was lampooning the altogether uncharacteristic lapse in discernment that I thought (and still think) his uncritical embrace reflected. To say nothing of the histrionic note achieved by lumping ChipSeal together -- by implication -- with the likes of Patrick Henry and Rosa Parks. Spare me.

I was also -- to use ToddBS' phrase -- "miffed" at cafiend's effrontery in demanding to know the credentials of anyone (i.e, "Mystified") daring to post a gently critical comment to his blog, not to mention the absurdity of a pseudonymous blogger taking a pseudonymous commentator to task for failing to disclose the name recorded on his (her?) birth certificate. Since when have casual correspondents been subject to credentialing? Not yet, at least in my experience.

Don't misunderstand me. Had I thought cafiend a true idiot, I'd have been less scathing. Or simply ignored his post altogether. But cafiend's no fool. I've been reading his stuff for years, with considerable pleasure. He a good wordsmith, a keen observer, and a critical thinker -- most of the time. A stout and well-found vessel, in other words. So I figured he could take a few roundshot betwixt wind and water without foundering. And I fired away.

Still at a loss to understand my mindset? OK. Consider this little riff from one of America's most gifted scribblers, the Sage of Baltimore hisself. Despite the fact that he and I are poles apart on nearly every matter of consequence, I warm myself at the fire of his intellect whenever I fell the chill wind of collective human stupidity blowing over me:

"I cannot recall a case in which any suggestion offered by a 'constructive' critic has helped me in the slightest, or even actively interested me. ... All the benefits I have ever got from the critics of my work have come from the destructive variety. A hearty slating always does me good, particularly if it is well written. It begins by enlisting my professional respect; it ends by making me examine my ideas coldly in the privacy of my chamber.... '[C]onstructive' criticism irritates me. I do not object to being denounced, but I can't abide being schoolmastered, especially by men I regard as imbeciles." (H.L. Mencken, "Footnote on Criticism")

Bracing, that, isn't it? If ever a man deserved the questionable blessings of immortality, H.L.M. was that man. We'll not see his like again.

Ham said...

Trolls under bridges in Texas, huh? who would have thought.

ToddBS said...

Knocking on our door? No. But it has already happened to another cyclist in my neck of the woods. Cited - and convicted - of "impeding traffic". Even though Florida code clearly specifies that the statute in question applies to motor vehicles only. He was on no wrongheaded campaign, he was just on his way somewhere.

And while I may not have a clue on Ed the-man-behind-the-keyboard, I've been around teh Interwebz long enough to certainly know the type.

cafiend said...

Do a Google search on Ed Sailland and you will find an array of comments on bike blogs, some scathing and others just concisely informative and insightful. I don't think he's just a troll or he would be more provocative more of the time. He does like to rake people, though. And he did it to me.

By credentials, I hope a commenter, especially one who is not a regular, to give a little background on their cycling style and typical venue. In my case, pseudonymous though I may be, I can be traced back to my pit of hyperbole from my comments elsewhere. Thus I lay myself out for the Ed Saillands of the world to praise or blast as they see fit.

Ed W said...

I think some push-back against ChipSeal and those of us supporting him is only natural. Some people ascribe the lowest of motives to the actions of others, a perception that's not without merit since Thomas Jefferson used it as the basis of our form of government. There's a great temptation to say that those people are projecting, assuming that their own base motivations are the operative ones in the ChipSeal case. Only those making the assertion can know if that's true.

Regardless, the push-back and the motivations behind it are irrelevant. The first order of business is for Chip's attorney to get him absolved of charges. After that, if this is an appelate court case, there may be some precedent set that other courts in Texas will have to follow. As I understand it (and I hope Steve will correct me if I'm wrong) the next stage is NOT an appelate court, so no precedent will be set. There's the possibility that Chip will be absolved, yet there will be no guidelines established for other courts to follow. That means we get to go through all this again sometime.

Don't lose sight of the fact that this case is about the fundamental right to use the public road. The presence or absence of a shoulder, the speed limit, or an alternative route is irrelevant. Whether any of us would feel confident or comfortable in a similar situation is irrelevant. The central problem we face is whether the police can use the impeding law to force cyclists off the roadways in Ellis County. Any cyclist who thinks this is right, who thinks this is a lawful expression of police authority, is invited to take their place in the back of the bus.

Finally, as an editor once told me, those of us who write for public consumption need to be very thick-skinned. We'll be the focus of both well-deserved and entirely inappropriate criticism when we put our thoughts out in public. Still, no one should have to suffer fools gladly, so I keep a 'nutjobs' folder just for them. It's dark in there. Let's hope they don't breed.

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