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Posted in Editorials, Opinion

SYAF Responds to Criticisms

By
November 18, 2010

Dear Swarthmore Community,

I imagine many of you are aware of the minor firestorm the group Swarthmore Young America’s Foundation (SYAF) has ignited. I regret that this uproar has been, in part, because members like myself have not always embraced the best media tactics, and, in part, because controversies like these have a tendency to grow heads of their own.

We actually decided to call ourselves SYAF because, at the time, we assumed it might be more conducive to a heterogeneous campus such as Swarthmore. We considered the more traditional “College Republicans” route, and thought SYAF would provide us more plurality in not always abiding by strict party doctrine. We wanted the freedom to embrace libertarian candidates and fiscally-conservative Democrats as well.

For instance, I myself don’t think the United States government should be in the business of issuing marriage license to any couple, regardless of orientation. I embrace a civil-union styled government arrangement for all couples, and reserve marriage as a primarily religious ceremony. If folks want to belong to a denomination that embraces gay marriage, they will gravitate toward that particular church. If people do not wish to belong, they have the right to choose a different place of worship. If a church develops a reputation for being unabashedly intolerant, it may dry-up for lack of membership. Free market of the spirit, you might say.

To clarify, the national YAF does not sponsor specific campus groups. Rather, it encourages students to be politically active and embrace national YAF resources when appropriate or desirable. Our group, we realize, should not have labeled itself as SYAF. This implies we are in lockstep with the Washington-based group, which is not the case. Although we maintain that YAF is a respectable organization, other group-members and I cannot, truthfully, envision ourselves endorsing and defending every one of their platforms.

With good reason, many Swatties have referred to the YAF website and then desired to know how the Swarthmore group, SYAF, actually felt on these important issues. Suddenly, SYAF found itself deep in a quagmire that was far stickier than it looks. While we stand by our frustrations at the censoring of posters, we recognize that some of these posters took on a connotation we were unprepared to defend. To set the record straight, the poster some interpreted as implicating progressives in Stalin-styled murder were taken out of context from a Freedom Week initiative which never got off the ground. We certainly don’t feel all or even most liberals are remotely responsible for such deplorable totalitarian actions. We comprehend why students saw these flyers as problematic. Trust us when we say innuendo and fear-mongering is not our agenda.

We plan to soon contact Student Council and request that our group’s name be changed to the “Swarthmore Conservatives”. We love democracy, history, low taxes, and the constitution, and we’re confident those loves can find a niche and a discourse here at Swat. As for the national YAF, it offers excellent opportunities, like tickets to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. However, no where does it stipulate we must subscribe to its entire philosophy, and we never planned that that would be the case.

Now, by changing our name to the “Swarthmore Conservatives” our independence and admiration for the unique and nurturing Swarthmore atmosphere will be much clearer. Here’s to a dose of diplomatic discourse!

— Danielle Charette ’14
Swarthmore Young America’s Foundation

60 Responses to SYAF Responds to Criticisms

  1. Phil Chodrow

    November 18, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Danielle, thank you. This looks like the beginning of a great change in direction of the campus discourse, and I'll be looking forward to seeing what the Swarthmore Conservatives will be doing in the future.

    Cheers!

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  2. Cynical Yoda

    November 18, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Her plan all along, I think this was. To breed fear in the hearts of young Swatties. Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate…. Save Swarthmore from the dark-minded liberals, only young Charette can.

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  3. huckleburry

    November 18, 2010 at 11:14 am

    awww. she used the word problematic. she's learning the swarthmore language, how cute.

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  4. Elowyn

    November 18, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Thanks for bringing this to campus, Danielle. Although I myself tend to disagree with (especially socially) conservative platforms, I'm glad that there's a space for those who disagree with me to meet and discuss, and I look forward to open and mutually respectful dialogue in the future.

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  5. Wanting more of an apology

    November 18, 2010 at 11:40 am

    You may not be "sponsored" by the national group, but you are clearly affiliated with this organization.

    If not, why were you on the phone yesterday with YAF national headquarters, "raising their eyebrows" (see http://www.yaf.org/Blogs.aspx?id=5220&blogid=78)!? Their unfounded attacks on Swarthmore and its students are now spreading across the conservative blogosphere thanks to their misleading blog entry titled "Freedom Mocked at Swarthmore." And hmmm… I wonder who their informant was?

    So you're gonna take YAF's resources, follow their "Campus Conservative Battleplan," shamelessly use their "copyrighted" posters with little discretion to earn points to go to their "Reagan Ranch," AND then claim you're "independent." Really?

    And then you run and tell them when you get some criticism (or call them up or at least take their calls… how did they get your phone number anyway if you're so independent)?

    This "discourse" is far from diplomatic–as is YAF's incredibly irresponsible and hypocritical attack on students for one-sided journalism when their one-sided blog entry on their national website is no better.

    If you're gonna dissociate from them–do it. Don't let your actions belie your words. And maybe you should apologize more for this mess you've created.

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  6. Adriana Massi, 2012

    November 18, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Wait, now I'm confused: are you or are you not disassociating with YAF entirely?

    Also, I'm going to have to agree with Wanting in running to the national organization — or maybe you'd like to defend the quality of that article?

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  7. Rowen Jin

    November 18, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    The problem is not just that you implied that all/most liberals were involved for totalitarian actions, it's that you tried to introduce yourselves by demonizing the other side. It's not about who you are blaming, but about how you based yourself on blaming the other side. I think it's great that you are trying to start discussions on campus and trying to provide a conservative pov, but don't mud sling. Don't contribute to the inanity of political discussions. "Swarthmore Conservatives," talk to us.

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  8. Gabriella

    November 18, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Respect.

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  9. Ali

    November 18, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Danielle-
    I’m glad you’re working to define yourself as a group without ties to national agendas you might not agree with. I too think it’s great to have an informed conservative voice on campus. I hope this voice attempts to engage people in open, intelligent, and respectful dialogue across campus. There’s definitely a way to gain the respect of the Swarthmore community and to start good debate. I hope you do this; it looks from your latest action that you’re on the right track. Good luck.

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  10. A Freshman

    November 18, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    I am glad that you have finally stepped up and shown a degree of maturity in this issue, but I feel it is too little too late. The way that you personally and your organization overall have conducted yourselves throughout this indicates to me that you have enjoyed painting yourselves as victims to an almost perverse degree. Especially given the YAF article, I feel that you perhaps need to take a step back from this situation and remember what is at stake here:

    Posters.

    (Yes, posters represent a much larger free-speech issue.)

    But don't lose sight of the fact that this is because of posters.

    When your conservative viewpoint begins to deny you access to a job, housing, schooling, a safe neighborhood, or health care, call me.
    As soon as you begin to contemplate suicide because of what other people say about your conservatism, call me.
    If your conservatism ever prevents you from serving your country in uniform, call me.
    Should you ever be cursed at by a professor, teacher, or other trusted authority in your community because of your conservatism, call me.

    But until then? Frankly, Charette, I don't give a damn.

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  11. uhhhh

    November 18, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    uhhhh, when u applied to swarthmore, did you know that it is like one of the most liberal liberal arts colleges? swarthmore, as they say, is a self-selecting institution.

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  12. .....

    November 18, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    a freshman with wayyyy to much time on her hands. wait until she gets to the spring semester…

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  13. Proponent of Clean Politics

    November 18, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Really, really? Sure it's great to have more than one voice on campus politically, but it just seems as if you're playing dirty. Bad-mouthing Swarthmore on the YAF website, that's just not a cool move if you want to be taken seriously.

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  14. Adriana Massi, 2012

    November 18, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    Mad props to A Freshman and Proponent. I'm still waiting to see if ties have ACTUALLY been cut with YAF. Do you know "The Bible" heads their recommended reading list for high schoolers?

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  15. Argos

    November 18, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    I remain skeptical of anyone who introduces themselves to intelligent campus discourse by citing "The Black Book of Communism" as if it was a legit source.

    Also why is this article titled "SYAF" if they are no longer SYAF?

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  16. A Senior - R U All Serious?

    November 18, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    "Do you know 'The Bible' heads their recommended reading list for high schoolers?"

    Oh no! How awful! What a terrible organization that deserves to be demonized! This is terrible!

    "a freshman with wayyyy to much time on her hands."

    You're posting here, now aren't you?

    "Remember what's at stake here: posters."

    First they came for SYAF's posters, and I did nothing…

    "Bad-mouthing Swarthmore on the YAF website, that's just not a cool move if you want to be taken seriously."

    And bad-mouthing these kids with fake posters and an op-ed IS a cool move? Are you serious? I don't agree with YAF or Danielle or whatever, but I'm not publishing op-ed about it!

    Are you all serious? They think differently than we do. Man up. Who cares? If you don't agree with a poster, move on. Don't rip it down. Don't print a fake poster. Don't print an op-ed. Just move on.

    - A Senior Ashamed of All the Underclassmen Here

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  17. Another Senior

    November 18, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    To A Freshman and Adriana:

    Are you guys serious? By saying you don't care about tearing down posters and thus censoring others' views you are immediately conceding any moral high ground you pretended to stand on. If you say that because most conservatives aren't disadvantaged in other parts of life they should just shut up about getting their posters turned down, you say you are not standing for universal rights, but only for your group interest. Then, you have absolutely no right to claim those universal rights in other occasions.

    I really can't believe you guys just made that argument. I mean, a freshman during pass/fail – alright, maybe you were drunk or something. But, 2012… What have you done here at Swarthmore? Who have you been listening to?

    I can tell you one thing for sure. Purporting views like that will not help you get anyone to change their mind and support your cause. In fact, you probably make them feel more strongly that they are right.

    I really, really can't believe you two…

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  18. Adriana Massi, 2012

    November 18, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    A Senior,

    I was pointing out that tidbit because the president of Swarthmore Conservatives has claimed fiscal conservatism as the group's uniting interest repeatedly, as opposed to a social conservatism. It also reinforces the point that YAF is incredibly exclusive — where is the Quran? Where are the Vedas? Allying with this group allies oneself with a very particular set of traditional values.

    Another Senior,

    Um, sorry, did you read any of my comments? I have said both the tearing down and the parodies were inappropriate {not by law but by college policy}. Furthermore, yeah, conservatives aren't victims in our society.

    tl;dr: Game over. Try again? Yes/No

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  19. A Senior - R U All Serious?

    November 18, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    U mad?

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  20. hmmm?

    November 19, 2010 at 1:00 am

    When your conservative viewpoint begins to deny you access to a job, housing, schooling, a safe neighborhood, or health care, call me.
    As soon as you begin to contemplate suicide because of what other people say about your conservatism, call me.
    If your conservatism ever prevents you from serving your country in uniform, call me.
    Should you ever be cursed at by a professor, teacher, or other trusted authority in your community because of your conservatism, call me.

    But until then? Frankly, Charette, I don't give a damn.

    — A Freshman

    Mad props to A Freshman and Proponent.

    — Adriana Massi, 2012

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  21. Bob Dole

    November 19, 2010 at 4:40 am

    Seems to me the reasonably eloquent flamewar of the last several columns has finally degraded. I hereby declare this discussion over. If you need more reasons, then I declare you all to be Nazis. Or maybe even Hitlers. Yeah, you guys are like a whole pack of Hitlers, posting on the Daily Gazette like you want to make it into Hitler-land.

    And now can this be over? Please? I invoked Godwin's Law…

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  22. Adriana Massi, 2012

    November 19, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Bob Dole, I'd vote for you.

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  23. Um... okay?

    November 19, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Really?

    If you understand why many students "saw these flyers as problematic", why did you put them up?

    I'm curious as to what context could have obviated the plain logic of those posters: oppose "progressive social movements" (including, presumably, the ones advanced at Swarthmore), because they kill millions of people!

    Did you really not realize how that would come across beforehand? How could you not have?

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  24. Justin Timberlaked

    November 19, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Oh boo hoo. somebody put up a flyer saying liberals are bad. I'm soo offended. Boo hoo they said Obama sucks, i'm so offended.

    cry me a river.

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  25. Michael

    November 19, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    Oh, please.
    If what you wanted was to engage in productive political discourse, do you honestly believe that the correct move was to hurl baseless insults at the other side of the political spectrum…through a poster?
    If you want to be taken seriously as a political organization, there are more effective – and certainly less divisive – ways to represent your group and affirm your principles. Your poster was clearly intended to villify the opposition, not to define your own group.

    As for YAC… give us a break. Everyone here's smart enough to see through that ruse. You named your group after a national organization. You can say that you're not legally tied to them all you want, but it's pretty clear that you're affiliated. If a Swarthmore student had the initiative to create a 'MoveOn Political Committee' on campus, it wouldn't be a stretch to assume that they'd share the beliefs of
    Oh, and as others have pointed out you're quoted in their site as having been involved in a telephone conversation with their national headquarters. Whoops, so much for dissociation.

    I think that everyone has been able to piece together enough to take away two bits of information from this debacle;
    1) Your posters more inflammatory than any rational organization head would have ever allowed.
    2) Your attempts to distance yourself from the national group are hollow at best.

    I don't think enough people have been paying attention to how extreme Mrs. Charette's views are, even when she's trying to appear conciliatory.

    " To set the record straight, the poster some interpreted as implicating progressives in Stalin-styled murder were taken out of context from a Freedom Week initiative which never got off the ground. We certainly don’t feel all or even most liberals are remotely responsible for such deplorable totalitarian actions."
    Well, it's certainly comforting to know that Danielle doesn't think that all – or even most – liberals are responsible for "Stalin-style murder"; just a few of us, I guess. Meanwhile, spending our tax dollars on killing overseas is met with thunderous applause and healthcare for our citizens decried for socialism…but I digress, Danielle. Maybe you're right, some liberals are mass-murderers.

    I'd advise you to re-evaluate how you run your organization, Danielle. While you're at it, maybe it'd be a worthwhile investment of your time to re-evaluate why you think the opposition supports mass murder. I'm no conservative and I never supported the wars, but even I think that comparisons to a man who killed millions of his own citizens is a bit rash.

    There's a persistent belief, I think, in political discourse that both sides should be treated as if they raise a valid point. This is incorrect. Nobody on campus is going to be willing to engage in the 'diplomatic discourse' you yearn for when you're so far-right you're willing to compare even a small fraction of your political opponents to Stalin. We'll meet you in the middle when you learn the definition of 'moderation'.

    The Constitution is a proper noun, by the way.

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  26. GO OBAMA

    November 19, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Fuck conservatives. I don't want political discourse bullshit. If you want to be conservative, don't come to Swarthmore. Go bring your homo hating, rifle toting, rich person loving crap somewhere else.

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  27. Yet another senior

    November 22, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    The following facts:

    1. This person is a 1st semester freshman
    2. This freshman, upon entering college, very quickly begins a campaign to establish a branch of a very socially conservative organization on our campus.
    3. This campaign involves posters designed to push the buttons of Swarthmore students.

    And the following assumption:

    1. The freshman knew, when she applied to and then matriculated at Swarthmore, that it was an extremely liberal community.

    Have lead me to believe:

    1. Freshman is trying to distinguish herself, stand out in a crowd.
    2. To do so, she is trying to be this year's "conservative Swattie." Seriously, has anyone else noticed that a few kids each year try for the title? (Although kudos to Danielle for doing it with way more pizazz)

    Therefore:

    1. Freshman is just trying to get attention and I don't really care what she or any organization she creates will say or stand for.

    If you don't like what she has to say, don't listen. Have fun with your super special club, and if you guys have good enough food at your meetings, maybe I'll stop by and feign interest until you run out of snacks.

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  28. Phil Chodrow

    November 22, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Yet another senior,

    Really?

    Are there any good reasons to believe that Danielle is just looking for social distinction? Any good reasons not to take her at her word that she's furthering a cause in which she believes? Any good reasons to keep referring to her as "freshman?"

    If you want a response that's a bit more analytical, Fact 3 looks much more to me like a misguided attempt to recruit for group members than to "push buttons" for the sake of personal reputation. That interpretation, if correct, would derail your inference. Danielle has stated that this was her goal, and only an a priori commitment to the view that she's lying would indicate otherwise.

    Pulling rank in order to refuse to take someone seriously is not cool. So don't do it. If your point is that this iteration of the conservative movement isn't serious, then you need to argue for that in ways which don't beg the question through condescension.

    Cheers!

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  29. Peter '11

    November 22, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    I agree with everything "Yet another senior" said until the Therefore part. You know, the part where you overly extrapolate off the data to form an ad hominem (Freshman is trying to get attention, sure. Freshman is JUST trying to get attention? No evidence for that) and then use that ad hominem to justify ignoring her viewpoint ("I don't really care what she or any organization she creates will say or stand for.")

    I love this "we're a liberal school" business as an attempt to argue that she shouldn't have been invited here or she shouldn't want to go here. Why don't we just be an "intellectual school" and, if either her methods for arguing or the content of what she's arguing is wrong (and they both are at this point, in some respects), you can debate her rationally and civilly on those grounds.

    The only reason why the previous op-ed failed is it had the wrong target (Braun's email) and argued with the wrong information (posters that were never put up) on the wrong grounds (vandalism and impersonation are ok if the posters offend our sensibilities).

    And "Yet another senior"'s approach is no better. "Right" and "wrong" opinions mean nothing if we don't debate them with the proper intellectual rigor (and if Danielle isn't doing the same, call her out on it, rather than acting like two wrongs make a right). Danielle presents an opportunity to force us to actually justify our beliefs in a thoughtful manner. Is that why we're so dismissive of her?

    Let's be an "intellectual school," please.

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  30. Michael

    November 22, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Phil, you seem like a reasonable guy. I'd like to be able to say the same of anyone willing to engage in what's become an extremely convoluted and ugly political discourse, but given the current circumstances I think that'd be a little too generous, so to expedite things let's just stick with you for a second…

    My own response and the one you responded to converged on quite a few points, but you seem to have only responded to him in particular. Now, I'd like to keep this discussion as substantive as possible, but it's clear that you're trying to attack his points based on his argument structure – essentially you're arguing that because his premises are false or at least not supportive of his conclusion, his conclusion's invalid. I mean, I think you'd agree with that much – you conclude with "If your point is that this iteration of the conservative movement isn't serious, then you need to argue for that in ways which don't beg the question through condescension.".

    Fair point, Phil. You examine his

    But I think you're missing something. A few somethings, as it were, and they're pretty big. For one, the conclusion that he's posing – that this "response to criticism" can hardly be deemed either sincere or rational – has been echoed by a dozen others (including me) with premises you did not refute. Did it not cross your mind that what 'yet another senior' put forth was intended to supplement those premises already suggested by those in the conversation, and that it was never meant to be tested for logical validity by itself? I know that's how my response was meant to be taken. I didn't detail some points I could have because others had already done it more thoroughly than I'd care to do (e.g. depth of Danielle's affiliation with SYAF, which appears to be a lot more than she lets on). What you're saying is that Yet Another Senior's argument doesn't hold up because his premises don't provide adequate support for his conclusion, yet you never considered the possibility – no, probability – that his premises were merely an addendum for those which were already established and thus was totally valid provided you don't refute all of the other premises (which you didn't).

    What I'm trying to say – like this conversation, perhaps too wordily – is that you should take a stand rather than cut in with pointless bits of moderation. You're a bright kid, Phil, I'm sure you are – but you're not a logic clinician. There's really no need for you to chide others with some vaguely ascribed notion of intellectual superiority. If you don't have an opinion on this issue – and we all know you do, even if you're making quite the concerted effort to hide it – it's not a mark of honor, Phil.
    "In this theater of life, it is reserved only for God and for angels to be lookers on."
    You're no angel, Phil!

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  31. Rob Purcell

    November 22, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    Huh, distancing the group from the YAF? That's eminently reasonable. Here's to independent thought at Swarthmore, untarnished by the specter of that particular distasteful organization.

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  32. Phil Chodrow

    November 22, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Michael,

    I think that your points here are fair. I did only jump in to attack what I saw as a piece of nasty rhetoric. My goals in this were relatively short-sighted, and if I suggested that I was attempting to do anything more than “pointless bits of moderation,” I clearly miscommunicated. Of course, you’re quite right that I’m neither angel nor logic clinician, though I’d deny that one needs to be either of these things in order to take an active role in upholding the quality of discourse. I also find it a bit strange that you’d think I’m making a “concerted effort to hide” my opinions—all I’ve been doing is not making much of an effort to show them.

    However, it’s probably worth responding to your insight here, and in the process I’ll end up presenting some of those opinions you want. Here are some thoughts:

    It’s easy to read sinister or insincere motives in those with whom we disagree. I don’t think that the facts of this interaction really support those kinds of readings. Though Danielle is really the only one who can set this straight, maybe it would help for me to outline my own perception of events. Danielle, if you are reading, please accept my apologies for any expostulation which I get wrong.

    Danielle arrives at Swarthmore College, and either develops or cultivates an interest in starting a conservative group on campus. Knowing that the campus is extremely liberal, and knowing that Swatties have a penchant for eye-catching posters, Danielle decides to affiliate with a national conservative organization and use their posters. In this way, apart from advertising, she can get support for her group from YAF. I doubt that she was ever committed to pushing every inch of the YAF national agenda.

    If this is the right account of what happened, then there are a few mistakes she made. One is misjudging the reaction which the posters would encounter on campus. Another is affiliating with YAF in any way shape or form. A third was probably accepting their support, resulting in the article published on their website. To my mind, all of these moves displayed some measure of bad judgment. But it seems to me that in the letter published above, Danielle has apologized for most or all of this bad judgment. I suppose it’s always possible that she hasn’t apologized enough (though I’m not sure quite what that would mean). In any case, I see relatively little point in continuing to hammer her for that. I must miss your thought that Danielle is more deeply affiliated with YAF than she has stated—maybe you could point to what you have in mind there?

    Now, as per other motivations. If my account of events is correct, I see no reason to believe that Danielle is seeking attention for herself, rather than her causes. I doubt that she would want to be “that conservative” unless she saw a need for “that conservative” on campus. I don’t think that she is the pawn of YAF, and I don’t think that she needs to apologize for YAF’s actions much beyond the extent to which she has apologized for her affiliation with them.

    I’ve certainly made mistakes about how to begin an organization, how to represent my aims to those around me, and to whom I should turn for help, and for these reasons I try to have sympathy with Danielle. To my mind, she’s been thoughtless in at least a few ways. But I see no reason to believe that she’s not in earnest, and no reason not to take her seriously.

    Of course, I am by nature a trusting person. Perhaps this is a flaw in me. I find this plausible, though I’m not inclined to think so.

    Cheers!

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  33. Peter '11

    November 22, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Michael,

    I'd just say take another look at Yet another senior's post. Look at how it's structured. It presents "facts," an assumption, beliefs, and a summary judgment made from them. That form has a particular tradition of logical/philosophical reasoning and, if one is really trying to supplement information that's already been outlined, that's not the form in which to express it.

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  34. John

    November 23, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    A Freshman: Please, don't rank oppressions.

    "When your conservative viewpoint begins to deny you access to a job, housing, schooling, a safe neighborhood, or health care, call me.
    As soon as you begin to contemplate suicide because of what other people say about your conservatism, call me.
    If your conservatism ever prevents you from serving your country in uniform, call me.
    Should you ever be cursed at by a professor, teacher, or other trusted authority in your community because of your conservatism, call me. "

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  35. Robot

    November 24, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Phil, a polite suggestion. You probably intend the 'Cheers!' as a civil and sincere nicety, but when it comes at the end of gobs and gobs of condescension and bile, it just makes you come off as even more of a passive aggressive jerk.

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  36. Phil Chodrow

    November 28, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    Robot, ouch! "Condescension and bile" is somewhat mysterious to me; maybe you could explain? I think err has voiced the condescension charge before, though I respectfully disagree there. "Bile" is new, and I'm curious as to why you'd think that.

    Cheers!
    Phil

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  37. Cheers!

    November 29, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Hey Phil – I'm generally a fan of what you write on the Gazette, but when a critical (if sophomoric) comment about your argumentative style gets a +19 (on an issue that's been raised before)…it's probably time to acknowledge some flaws in the way you communicate and be proactive about changing them. Rather than disagreeing about what constitutes condescension and starting a discussion about the definition of "bile." As a general rule, splitting hairs is less productive than looking inward.

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  38. Phil Chodrow

    November 29, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Cheers!,

    Thanks for your comment, and your thought is well-taken. I agree that if +19 worth of people think that Robot’s comment was worthy, then something is clearly amiss in how I interact with others on the Daily Gazette. Err has raised this point in the most detail, and I appreciate the conversations we had on the topic before.

    I guess where I see things differently than you is on what counts as being proactive (I suppose I’m hair-splitting again). In particular, an important part of being proactive is, to my mind, exploring why others might have the criticisms of me which they do. Most prominently in my own conversational style, this means asking questions. And this whole process is, hopefully, one of looking inward and self-betterment.

    I simply disagree that looking inward is a particularly private act—engaging in conversation is one way to do it. I try to begin these conversations with questions, for a few reasons. The first reason is probably just that I like questions. The second is perhaps more pointed. I figure that when I ask a question like the one I asked Robot, I’m opening at least two possibilities:

    1). The comment is entirely inaccurate, or, more likely,
    2). The comment holds some insight, and I need Robot’s help in figuring that insight out.

    I generally assume that this is, at the very least, a reasonable way of establishing whether Robot’s criticism is correct, and, if it is, how I might understand it and go about acting on it. Am I wrong on that? Conceivably, though I’m not sure how the objection would go.

    In this particular case, I have to admit I’m a bit skeptical—I’m still looking for instances of my writing which I can recognize as condescension, and even more as bile. But I look forward to being shown wrong on these counts, and my question to Robot was an invitation to do so. I don’t think that any of this is unrelated to the project of looking inward, or even that it’s “splitting hairs” in the usual pejorative sense. But perhaps that’s just philosophy.

    Interestingly, this will likely be my first communication with both begins AND ends with this apparently noxious phrase.

    Cheers!

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  39. Argos

    November 29, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    I will again vouch for the extent to which your sign-off is noxious.

    The problem is that you behave as a moderator, giving suggestions to all sides of the argument as to how they could better their points. This suggests that you believe that you know best what constitutes a good argument, that your beliefs are objective to the extent that you can serve as a neutral source of moderation, and that people on this thread desire or need your help.

    I think it is fairly evident that a lot of people do not desire your help and are in fact a bit annoyed by it.

    The problem with your sign-off is that it sounds detached and indulgent, the way you might offer a couple of lolly pops and kisses to a pair of five-year olds after stepping in to resolve a fight.

    One more issue that has struck me: you tell people when they are correct or incorrect, even when their points are subjective. You can't do that if you are a human being. You're views and ethics are subjective as well, no matter how fervently you may believe otherwise.

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  40. Argos

    November 29, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Fix that you're/your issue above. Was gonna say two things at once.

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  41. Phil Chodrow

    November 29, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    Argos,

    Again, thank you for your insight. Here are my own thoughts:

    I guess I’d reject most of the beliefs you say are “suggested” by my comments. In general, I think that I know as well as the next person what constitutes a good argument. My views on things are not objective, though, if we assume that there is indeed a truth to most matters of dispute, I try to get them right to the best of my ability. And most people on various threads don’t need my help to make good arguments.

    One thing I try to do is to offer my own views, which goes well sometimes and less well other times. Another thing I do is try to point out where, to my mind, arguments succeed and what arguments don’t. I also like to point out ways to strengthen arguments, and perhaps some unexpected consequences as well. None of this is because anyone needs help arguing anything—rather, it’s because people’s arguments are interesting and worth discussing. If I try to add to someone’s point, I consider that an (attempted) contribution to the community, not to them per se. If people get annoyed by my contribution or criticism of their argument, that could be due to a few problems. If my tone is poor, which is quite plausible to me, then I need to work on my forum prose style. If they don’t like people carefully considering their arguments, then, at least to my mind, they probably shouldn’t be putting them in public.

    Re telling people when they are correct or incorrect: isn’t that what we do on these threads on most issues? Argue against points and support others? If someone presents a point, and I disagree with the final point, then I seem to be committed to the stance that their argument has failed. I can’t really have a stand on much of anything unless I’m prepared to reject some arguments. Or am I missing something here?

    Re “Cheers!”: Are we really still ragging on this? I guess so. Anyways, if you want explanation, here is some. “Cheers” is one of my ways of showing respect to people. It’s a reminder that we’re all still friends, that each of us is human, and therefore worthy of salutation. It’s an expression of trust, and of gratitude. I guess you can argue that it doesn’t come off that way. That may be true, though I’d say that at least part of that is your reading into it what you like. In any case, this particular question doesn’t really concern me that much.

    Maybe it’s less grating on you without the exclamation point.

    Cheers,

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  42. mclovin'

    November 30, 2010 at 4:12 am

    Phil, I think you just suffer from a critical lack of online empathy. If someone walks up to you and says "Hey, f*** you, you're an a**hole," you can't just tip your hat to them and say "My word, you just might be right! Maybe I am an asshole! Cheers!" That is simply not empathetic. If you wanted to express genuine empathy, you'd question why the person feels that way, and try to understand their viewpoint better. Your bubbly, lighthearted "Cheers!" sign-offs, especially when in response to scathing criticisms of your methods and/or character, come off as definitively out of touch with the reality of the situation, unempathetic, and frankly, jackassy.

    Cheers! (couldn't resist)

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  43. Phil Chodrow

    November 30, 2010 at 7:54 am

    mclovin',

    I think my point in my response to Cheers! and Argos is that I have been questioning why people have the criticisms of me that they do, and that I have been trying to understand their viewpoint better. Isn't this what I've been doing by asking people to expand on their criticisms? It's certainly what I've intended to do. Much of the time, sadly, I don't seem to get anywhere. Interestingly, this is often because those people get annoyed, precisely because of those questions. But that seems like a different problem, at least in part. I'm a bit unclear as to what you might mean by "the reality of the situation." This seems like a key comment, and I'd appreciate it if you could expand.

    With regards to your hypothetical heckler: well, if "Cheers!" were something I said to people in person, then I'd probably say it to them too. The interaction would go something like this:

    "Hey, f*** you, you're an a**hole!"

    "Oh, why do you think that?"

    [[either discussion or further expletives follow]]

    "Thanks for your time and insight. Cheers!"

    Of course that's idiosyncratic. Unempathetic? I'm not so sure. But maybe I'm missing something here?

    Cheers!

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  44. Holden Caulfield

    November 30, 2010 at 8:29 am

    Phil,

    You're a philosophy lover, right? Maybe I'll try to use some of my beloved Plato here. Socrates was famous for his use of irony and the sarcasm he used to expose the ignorance of his interlocutors. He spent much time displaying a somewhat obnoxious idealism, complimenting individuals who were clearly disliked by others in the group so that he would "stir discussion." How did he function in the conversations? He asked questions in a manner that made others in the discusion looked like fools and THEN offered his insights.

    Now I haven't taken logic, I don't know enough about the structure of arguments, etc. to get into a debate over whether you TRULY take a Socratic approach on these threads. All I know is that I cannot help but think, "here comes Phil trying to act like Socrates," whenever I see you act like a contrarian (sp.?), try to come off as the defender of the unheard (i.e. Danielle on earlier posts), and question others to the point at which they appear foolish. But this last point occurs not because you have a greater level of intelligence and are able to expose the follies of everyone who made be advocating a strong point (the kind of firm points Argos often makes for example). It occurs because you don't often supply a firm argument yourself, making it difficult for others to provide the same criticisms and leading questions.

    Whether Socrates was really as big of an asshole as he comes off in Plato is disputed. Kierkegaard thought he was even more of one and acting this way simply to mess with people/for fun. Regardless of his intentions, he *came across* as a jerk, and in reality it hindered rather than helped discussion. It turned dialogues from conversations between two individuals into cross examinations by an old man who loved to act ignorant/kind/idealistic so as to have some sort of defense against criticisms.

    Ultimately I guess I'm saying, you come across as some sort of jerk. Once the phrase "condescending professor" (or something like that) was used. I think it fits/stands. I'm sure you really are as energetic and "cheerful" in real life, it just does not come across that way online, and I think the +17 stands a testament to that. You once said to me in a Facebook group that sarcasm does is not conveyed well online (maybe you'll now figure out who I am haha). Well I'd say that the same applies here. Even if you truly do wish to stir discussion, your intentions are not conveyed well, and the "Cheers!" just seems to resemble Socrates' over the top praise of Euthyphro before he was convicted of impiety (largely because of his obnoxiousness).

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  45. Paul Cato

    November 30, 2010 at 8:30 am

    N.B. I apologize for the philosophy references guys – I swear i was NOT trying to show off, I just thought philosophy might be a good way to get across my ideas, seeing as Phil clearly sees himself as some of philosopher (which is not a bad thing at all by the way, I just think it comes across the wrong way)

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  46. Still another senior

    November 30, 2010 at 8:54 am

    Phil, to get away from the metadiscussion about your rhetorical style, what IS your solution here? Do you believe we should take all viewpoints seriously if they are presented in earnest, no matter how blatantly stupid they are?

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  47. Phil Chodrow

    November 30, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Paul,

    As always, I appreciate your insights. Your comparison on Socrates is an interesting one to me. I suppose here’s what I’d think about it.

    Some of what Socrates did was to expose poor arguments, and I suppose that’s part of what I like to do too. Something Socrates did less, at least in the Platonic dialogues, was to look for arguments which are strong, and to attempt to understand and support them. I guess I’d say I’m trying to do a bit of both.

    Do you need to be Socrates in order to do this? I don’t really think so—to my mind, this is part of what critical discussion entails: looking for strengths and weaknesses where they occur. These are tasks open to all, and I don’t think that one needs to be a smug or condescending professor to be interested in taking them up. I guess you and I disagree that he hindered discussion: it may be that he got in the way, but my thought is that his doing so did good. There is likely some truth to both our views here.

    Is my intention to turn conversations into cross examinations? No, because they’re not about me, unless someone decides to make them so =). When I ask someone a question on a thread, it’s because I want to hear their answer, so that I can better understand what they’re saying. The purpose isn’t cross examination. If the discussion then blows in that direction, that will be interesting. But I don’t think this amounts to getting in the way, and I certainly don’t do it to defend against criticisms. On the other hand, your point suggests to me that it is possible to be more tactful, and that is a possibility which intrigues me. Of course, if it’s impossible to ask these questions on these forums at all, well…I suppose there are number of conclusions to draw there, and I’ll leave it to you to pick your favorite.

    Why don’t I frequently offer firm arguments? A few reasons. First is that I don’t always have very strong views about things, and don’t have much interest in supporting views I don’t hold. Second is that many arguments I might make are often well-made by others, and I find myself with little to add. Third might be that I don’t always see the point of presenting my own argument. If it will add to the discussion, contribute a unique insight, good (though this is rare). If it won’t, then I don’t see much purpose in writing it.

    Your comment on online communication seems right to me. I continue to wonder that “Cheers” could be so noxious a salutation, but I suppose that just shows I don’t understand the burdens of communication.

    In any case, thank you for your thought. Of course, I’ll still need to sign off somehow.

    Regards,

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  48. Phil Chodrow

    November 30, 2010 at 10:11 am

    Still another senior,

    That’s an interesting question, and one to which I won’t pretend to have anything even approaching a comprehensive solution. Here are some intuitions:

    When people believe something, that belief is significant. It might not signify that the belief is correct, or even reasonable, but it does indicate that it is desirable or attractive in some way. I do believe that it is a profitable project to try to figure out what that allure might be, in order to better understand the belief and the people who hold it. Thus, there is good reason to seriously pursue beliefs through open inquiry, even when those beliefs might appear over the top. Of course, one might learn that there is no reasoning to be had with those who hold these beliefs. That raises the questions of what that failure indicates, where the breakdown occurs, and whether there exist guides beyond reason to help us in such cases. But, while this case certainly not rare, I don’t expect to run into it case here at Swarthmore very frequently.

    I also think that often people find themselves defending things they don’t believe. Only Danielle can know for certain, but my guess is that she’s not really interested in defending the claim that socialists need to take responsibility for the brutalities of authoritarian communism. This, of course, is a ridiculous claim, and I think she realizes that. As I understand things, she found herself defending it because she had (perhaps mistakenly) decided to ally the group with the national YAF, and had used that organization’s advertisements to further the cause of her own group. I’d say there are plenty of problems with what she did here, but I don’t think that holding that laughable view is one. The point here is probably just that “blatantly stupid” viewpoints are more rarely presented in earnest than they appear, at least at here. One worthy end of critical discussion is to point out to those who defend such viewpoints that they can’t actually reconcile them with their other beliefs and intuitions—this is a Socratic project, as Paul mentioned above.

    I do think that there exists a duty of civility with respect to viewpoints. I haven’t really fleshed out what might be encompassed in this duty, but here are some things which are probably prohibited by it: tearing down posters, poorly marked parody, libel, uninformed dismissal (“freshman”), etc. This duty might be overridden when there are compelling consequentialist reasons to do so; for instance, it’s plausible to me that the duty of civility might be overridden with respect to hate speech. But to suggest that Danielle was engaging in hate speech seems a stretch to me. With this in mind, I think there have been a number of ways in which people here and elsewhere have failed in their duty of civility toward Danielle, and I’ve pointed this out occasionally.

    Finally, I’m not really sympathetic to strong subjectivist sentiments, though I’d love to discuss these issues with anyone interested. In general, I doubt that there exists, in general, one right answer to most questions of value. However, I do think that it’s possible to be wrong, sometimes profoundly. With this in mind, I’d certainly reject the notion that everyone in a discussion is right “in their own way,” that each is “entitled to her opinion” or that “it’s all just subjective, anyway.” One implication is that I won’t hesitate to firmly reject arguments when I think they’ve failed. Indeed, to the extent that she has presented arguments, I think Danielle’s arguments have failed. As a fairly committed liberal, I think that the philosophical underpinnings of conservatism are unacceptable. But nevertheless, I think it’s possible to argue badly and unfairly against even mistaken viewpoints, and I think that this is one of the greatest ways to malign better views.

    These thoughts may or may not address your questions. I’m happy to try to expand on anything that might be unclear, though I might not succeed. And any problems you see with these ideas would be greatly appreciated.

    Best,

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  49. your conscience

    November 30, 2010 at 10:43 am

    don't you have homework to be doing?

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  50. procrastinator

    November 30, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Hi Phil. I think you're a smart guy with good intentions, but I'll try my best to flesh out the criticisms a bit more.

    So, you don't feel strongly about most issues, many times you feel like you don't have much to add to those you do feel strongly about, yet you ask Socratic questions to ameliorate the content of the arguments? Doesn't that show that you're acting as a "condescending professor" by putting yourself in the position to ameliorate, yet not add much, to the discussion? It makes you seem like a self-proclaimed referee, which by being self-proclaimed is condescending by itself. It may not be your intention, but this is how it comes off.

    And what I think the previous posters mean by a lack of sense of reality is that there seems to be a disconnect between the criticisms you receive and your responses. By putting the peppy "Cheers!" at the end of a response which was largely composed by criticisms to and from you, mostly in which you refute whatever the other person was saying, it seems as if you were not listening to the person in the first place and could not put yourself in their shoes. "Cheers!" just makes it idiosyncratic, and it makes it seem as if you did not take the person seriously, giving a vibe of condescension. "Regards" is much better, I think.

    Those are my two cents. I should really get back to my homework, my conscience even invaded this thread!

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  51. Bob Dole

    November 30, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    I don't really feel strongly about any of the recent discussion here, but I feel compelled to offer my opinion. Why? Well, if you were to ask me, I'd probably tell you it's because I can't bear the thought of your not seeing my views, regardless of subject.

    Also, you guys could probably improve your arguments by avoiding multi-clause sentences and using more WORDS IN CAPS LOCK.

    Cheers!

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  52. Another explanatory attempt

    November 30, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Phil,

    "Third might be that I don’t always see the point of presenting my own argument. If it will add to the discussion, contribute a unique insight, good (though this is rare). If it won’t, then I don’t see much purpose in writing it."

    If you truly don't think your own points would contribute beneficially to most conversations, I don't see why you insist on requesting clarification on the tiniest details of everyone else's arguments. Do you believe that what everyone else has to say is more valuable than what you have to say? Considering the length, frequency, and self-indulgent style of your comments, I somehow doubt it.

    If you're going to pick at the arguments that other people go out on a limb to express, try taking the risk of putting forth your own opinions once in a while. Even in this very discussion, instead of asserting how you feel (like maybe even that these comments are hurting your feelings! Come on, humanize yourself a little!), you usually ask others to clarify what exactly they mean when they say–well, usually, when they say exactly what they mean. For example, you might ask me to clarify what I mean in the first sentence of this paragraph when I say "pick at"; you might oh-so-respectfully disagree and say that you are trying to understand, not "pick at," our arguments. But what I mean when I say "pick at" is that IT FEELS as though as you're critiquing us. So regardless of your intention, your communicative style does not bode well with me, or, it seems, with many other Swatties.

    I can't speak for others (and many have already spoken for themselves), but this is how your conservational style (on the Gazette–I've never felt this strongly in person) makes me feel: frustrated and belittled. I feel frustrated because, instead of allowing the astute, eloquent points people make to propel the situation further (which, you say, is exactly what you intend to do), you often derail the conversation and give the impression that you think your conversation partners are incompetent expressers of their thoughts (and we're Swatties, so that's like someone telling us we've failed at life). Even on the occasions when you point out gaps in people's thoughts that are crucially relevant or pose a question that has the potential to significantly further the discussion (and I give you credit; you do this often and very impressively organize and express your own and others' ideas), your condescending tone (and, if you really have no idea how your tone is condescending, I don't know how to explain it to you) makes people not want to explain it to you. It feels like you're setting up a trap for us–you want to point out the flaws in our thinking–rather than truly believing that you or the community could grow intellectually or in some other way from a crystal clear understanding of our arguments. Having a goal of pointing out flaws is probably why you don't often contribute your own beliefs–why would you point out the flaws in your own thinking? This goal, and the way you go about achieving it, are, I believe, what Paul was referring to when he compared you to Socrates. And this desire to expose the flaws in other arguments, while it likely makes you a very good WA, can be extremely frustrating when people are not looking for it, especially when you disguise it as an attempt to understand the valuable comments we're all making. Then we can't call you out on it because how can we possibly say you're doing something wrong when you're trying to clarify our precious arguments that have the potential to make a difference in the world? If you stop focusing on the teeny little things you "don't understand" in people's arguments, you might actually learn a lot more from your peers. But then again, this might only be what you claim you want and not what you really do.

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  53. Phil Chodrow

    November 30, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Hello all,

    First, it occurs to me that I should thank Argos, Paul, procrastinator, and Another explanatory attempt for your time and thought, both of which you have generously directed toward me. It’s certainly not my intention to selfishly occupy the conversational spotlight in this thread, but I do deeply appreciate your attention and explanation. Here are some responses to two of the most recent posts.

    procrastinator:

    I’m not quite sure on your inference here. Professors can and typically should work toward the quality of arguments of their students, without necessarily contributing a particular viewpoint themselves. Does this mean that one has to be a professor to do so? This seems to me like an interesting question of ethics, actually. Don’t we all have an interest in and reason to promote the quality of our collective discussions? And isn’t the opportunity open to anyone?

    Does what I am doing come off as something different? Maybe, but it’s unclear what else I should be doing here. I certainly haven’t proclaimed myself an umpire of discussion, and have consistently attempted not to imply that. I’m all for improving tone, perhaps you might have some advice?

    Hmmm…I’m not quite sure what to make of your last point, probably just because I don’t seem to understand the ways in which “Cheers!” gets read. In any case, I suppose the point here is past by now.

    Another explanatory attempt:

    You’ve read into a passage something I didn’t really mean, though the words themselves might support your point—I guess I’d say you’ve taken that thought out of context. What I had been asked was why I didn’t often give first-order arguments relevant to the particular points at hand, rather than asking questions and making occasional second-order arguments. I do think that there’s good to be found in doing both of these things, as I’ve articulated before. As for self-indulgent, well…I’d ask you what you mean here, though it doesn’t sound like you’re interested in answering.

    That brings me to your second thought, on “picking on the tiniest details” of arguments. This is a judgment call, but I’d simply disagree with you here. For instance, when I was in conversation with Danielle about neutrality, one of the arguments she presented suggested to me that she and I shared different conceptions of what is demanded by justice. So, I asked her about that. Is that a highly abstract question, relative to the realities of the Inn project? Yes. Is it a tiny detail? Well, to my mind, nothing either of us would have to say would be comprehensible without something of an answer to that question. You might disagree, and then we can start doing philosophy. I’d like that conversation; I think both of us would have a lot to learn.

    You’re right: I don’t understand how my tone is condescending, and I agree that it might be futile to try to explain it to me. I’m simply unclear as to how direct questions might suggest that there’s a trap being laid. And, as I think you know, my goal is certainly not to point out flaws. If you want a goal, it’s twofold: to understand the thoughts of my peers, and to get to the truth of the matter insofar as possible. Pointing out flaws in arguments is probably instrumental to both of these tasks, though it’s hardly central. But attempting to understand (the big things!) is critical. I don’t think that this is in opposition to the project of learning from my peers; rather, it is precisely part of what that parcel contains.

    As a quick aside, I’d suggest that your view of the Writing Program and what WAs do is a bit distorted, though that’s surely a discussion for another time.

    Thanks all,

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  54. Peter '11

    December 1, 2010 at 1:30 am

    Procastinator: "you ask Socratic questions to ameliorate the content of the arguments?"

    Another explanatory attempt: "you usually ask others to clarify what exactly they mean when they say–well, usually, when they say exactly what they mean. For example, you might ask me to clarify what I mean in the first sentence of this paragraph"

    Phil->Procrastinator: "I’m not quite sure on your inference here."

    Aaaaaaaand we've verged into the realm of near-self-parody.

    I'm really happy with how far the content of this Gazette thread has derailed. I truly mean that.

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  55. Lauren Adderley

    December 1, 2010 at 2:10 am

    Hi guys. =D

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  56. Sara Blanco

    December 1, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Why on earth has this become a "let's criticize Phil" party?

    Off topic?

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  57. Bob Dole

    December 1, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Welcome to the Internet, Sara.

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  58. Phil Chodrow

    December 1, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    I should probably apologize for the thread derailing, as I think it is at least in part my fault. In any case, it looks like things have calmed.

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  59. Wordohc Lihp

    December 2, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    Phil,

    I don't quite understand what you mean. What are you getting at? I'd be happy to dialogue with you on this platform if you could make your points a little more clear. How has this thread derailed?

    Applause!

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  60. George

    December 3, 2010 at 2:34 am

    Of course, the shame about all of this is that while I think the commentary on Phil's apparent lack of online empathy is, to a considerable extent, accurate, he'd – before the conversation became one about him – been one of the few attempting to give Danielle the proper consideration she deserves.

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