Wow
July 20, 2013 2:55 PM   Subscribe

Just so I'm 100% clear on this. Is this is an acceptable standard for obit posts on the blue?

I may have gone against guidelines by saying that on the blue itself; my apologies to all mefites. My comment was subsequently deleted, but the comment I referred to (which I linked to here), was not. But this would be the appropriate place as everyone in the community can chime in.

It isn't the fact that there's some strong hatred here. Its the fact that its offensive because quite a few people respect the hell out of her work. So it just ends up being a rather contentious OBITUARY thread.

Is that how we want obit threads to go? If so, thats fine. I would just like a standard that everyone (including myself) knows about.

Thanks.
posted by hal_c_on to Etiquette/Policy at 2:55 PM (111 comments total)

This is going to go well...
posted by dfriedman at 3:01 PM on July 20, 2013


I'm not really sure what - specifically - you're complaining about. Some people respect her work. Others find some of her statements problematic. To my knowledge, there is no mandate to only say nice things about the dead in Metafilter obit threads.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 3:08 PM on July 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


If you're asking if similar arguments have been made before and the mods have said that there is no rule that you have to be nice in obit threads, yes. It is an acceptable standard on the blue.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:13 PM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, we do what we can to keep obit threads civil but when someone is controversial, there will generally be controversy - especially when it's about a subject that Metafilter as a community has trouble having discussions about at all.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:16 PM on July 20, 2013


If you're asking if similar arguments have been made before and the mods have said that there is no rule that you have to be nice in obit threads, yes. It is an acceptable standard on the blue.

The last incident I remember was this. So it leaves me kinda confused.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:18 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the extreme boundary for strong hatred in an obit thread will be set on Cheney's demise.
posted by klarck at 3:18 PM on July 20, 2013 [22 favorites]


Seems kinda disingenuous to link to one comment among many, in the middle of the discussion about her work & views (ya know, the things you *would* discuss in anyone's obit thread), and then pretend like it's name-calling.
posted by ish__ at 3:20 PM on July 20, 2013


i always prefer comments that give proper weight to the good and the bad as opposed to drive by snark - but that seems pretty appropriate as far as i understand the guidelines - whether people are thought to generally align with her or respect her shouldn't have any bearing on the appropriateness to me. if the strong critique style of remembrance was appropriate for thatcher (and i think it was) it's appropriate here. if you think that's a bad or lazy or overly simplistic take on her or her career - refute it. that's pretty easy to do without stumbling into meta territory (as the thread shows).
posted by nadawi at 3:21 PM on July 20, 2013


If the comment you link to had been deleted, and your comment had been allowed to remain, would you have still made this MetaTalk post?
posted by box at 3:22 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Going over that last link I provided, it brought me to these comments posted by two mods in a previous meta...which make me wonder why this is here.

If the comment you link to had been deleted, and your comment had been allowed to remain, would you have still made this MetaTalk post?

As long as the comment I linked to was deleted, I would thought "oh, ok. that be the standard. end of story." My comment being deleted had nothing to do with it. I was just apologizing to mefites for putting my comment where it wasn't appropriate.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:27 PM on July 20, 2013


I think Jerry Falwell's demise will beat Cheney's.
posted by seemoreglass at 3:30 PM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


If someone has made anti-Semitic statements on the public record, I don't see how it would be "uncivil" to call them an anti-Semite. In my mind, this would apply in a similar manner to people who have made, for example, racist, anti-homosexual, or anti-woman statements.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 3:32 PM on July 20, 2013


what is metafilter's official policy on my feelings being hurt or sensibilities offended?
posted by Teakettle at 3:39 PM on July 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


If someone has made anti-Semitic statements on the public record, I don't see how it would be "uncivil" to call them an anti-Semite. In my mind, this would apply in a similar manner to people who have made, for example, racist, anti-homosexual, or anti-woman statements.

Ok, cool. This seems logical. Thanks.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:40 PM on July 20, 2013


She responded to accusations of anti-semitism by pointing out that she was a Semite. Not that her view of the situation has to be the guiding star for her obituary, nor that a Semite can't engage in anti-semitism, but she did wade into the mess of her own volition so it doesn't seem out of place to talk about it in her obituary thread.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:04 PM on July 20, 2013


I think the extreme boundary for strong hatred in an obit thread will be set on Cheney's demise.

Oh, the unanimity!
posted by y2karl at 4:13 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I will never understand this notion that recent death ought to confer immunity from criticism, and that the only civilized response is bland gushing praise and cliches and emotes and long lists of "." and pussy-footing around anything that threatens to puncture the myth of the deceased as a model citizen.
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:15 PM on July 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


I will never understand this notion that recent death ought to confer immunity from criticism

Oh, I think there are quite a few social circles in which this is the norm. It's just that this website isn't one of them. Nor, in my opinion, should it be.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 4:18 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anti-semitism means "antipathy toward Jews," not "antipathy of people of Semitic origin." Wikipedia actually sums the phrase's origin up quite clearly:

While the term's etymology might suggest that antisemitism is directed against all Semitic peoples, the term was coined in the late 19th century in Germany as a more scientific-sounding term for Judenhass ("Jew-hatred"),[1] and that has been its normal use since then.

So, as was suggested above, is entirely possible for somebody of a Semitic background to be an antisemite. Her claiming otherwise was a literally parsing of the word that she should, in my opinion, have been better than. I'm not quick to call her an antisemite, but her telling a rabbi on the White House lawn on American Jewish Heritage Celebration Day that the Jews should get the Hell out Palestine and go back to Poland and Germany -- well, it was an antisemitic act, and happened at the end of her career (indeed, brought about the end of her career), and is bound to still sting quite a few people.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:20 PM on July 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


I still remember when she made those comments. I saw the headline and thought "is this going to be one of those things where right wing bloggers take something out of context?" Then I read it and was like "NOPE that sucked, Helen Thomas."

Considering it was really the last thing she was in the public eye for before she died, seems inevitable that it would come up. I've got no problem with it being in the obit thread.
posted by Hoopo at 4:25 PM on July 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I think those exact quotes about Jews running the White House and financial markets coming from anyone could be accurately described as anti-Semitic.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:39 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Responding to accusations of anti-Semitism with "but I'm a Semite too!" is like saying "but I have a color too!" if someone says you're bigoted towards people of color. It's disingenuous at the very best. It's not that Jews can't be bigoted against Jews, women against women, gays against gays, and so forth, but in this case the person accused wouldn't associate herself with the subject of her bigotry: she's just muddying the waters and playing a semantic game to deny her victims a way to articulate their grievance.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:00 PM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think the extreme boundary for strong hatred in an obit thread will be set on Cheney's demise.

But will Metafilter last the hundreds of years it'll take before such a post can be made?
posted by drezdn at 5:12 PM on July 20, 2013 [21 favorites]


I'm finding the idea that these threads are only for posting dots and building a little Internet shrine to be a bit tiresome. Example. A couple of months ago, a musician drank himself to death, and someone posted a comment to the effect of, wow, my friends and I drink a lot, and this concerns me. So a few people responded to that. Cue the outrage: this is not the time or the place to talk about, you know, how the guy actually died! I found that a little strange. Perhaps it would be rude to have a conversation like that on a memorial page that was set up to collect well-wishes for the family, or for fans, but that's not really what Metafilter is, though, is it?
posted by thelonius at 5:17 PM on July 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


Anti-semitism means "antipathy toward Jews," not "antipathy of people of Semitic origin." Wikipedia actually sums the phrase's origin up quite clearly:

I'm sure she knew all of that. She was making a point.

As I said, she waded into the whole thing voluntarily.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:20 PM on July 20, 2013


So, as was suggested above, is entirely possible for somebody of a Semitic background to be an antisemite.

Given some of the definitions kicking around it is entirely possible to be a Jewish anti-Semite as well.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:22 PM on July 20, 2013


she's just muddying the waters and playing a semantic game to deny her victims a way to articulate their grievance.

She was not the type to muddy the waters or hide behind semantics. If I had to guess I would say her response was meant to point out that in her mind the Israelis were being anti-Semetic. (Note capital)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:31 PM on July 20, 2013


I'm finding the idea that these threads are only for posting dots and building a little Internet shrine to be a bit tiresome.

It seems reasonable to move along then.

In my mind obituary threads should go for a day or wto before we break out the controversial stuff. Give people time to mourn and pay their respects and such.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:35 PM on July 20, 2013


from the MeTa hal_c_on linked (incidentally, almost precisely one year ago).
posted by sloe at 5:44 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems reasonable to move along then.

Well, if you feel that way, I am sorry to see you go!
posted by thelonius at 5:55 PM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


:-)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:07 PM on July 20, 2013


Well, MeFi didn't hold back when William F. Buckley died.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:35 PM on July 20, 2013


We made it through the Thatcher obit. I don't think the Helen Thomas obit is going to break us.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:36 PM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dick Cheney has tried to cancel Christmas every year since he was 7.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 6:37 PM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's only because he has a sad devotion to an ancient religion.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:02 PM on July 20, 2013


anti-Semetic. (Note capital)
posted by Tell Me No Lies


Capital noted. And it ain't Jerusalem.

Never correct other people online over grammar or spelling. It always turns out badly. Or is that baldly?
posted by spitbull at 7:24 PM on July 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Anti-Semitic, not anti-Semetic, if we're going to be pedantic. But I do note that many sources (e.g.) spell it as one word, unhyphenated, and with no capital.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:37 PM on July 20, 2013


if we're going to be pedantic

If? New in town?
posted by Hoopo at 7:51 PM on July 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


Science.
posted by planetesimal at 7:54 PM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Never correct other people online over grammar or spelling.

I wasn't. I was re-enacting Helen's failure to clearly present her position, and it looks like I did it pretty well.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:07 PM on July 20, 2013


I was pointing out that you spelled "Semitic" wrong.
posted by spitbull at 8:21 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


All she said was that the Jews need to be pushed into the sea. What's so anti-Semitic about that?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:42 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


She said that?
posted by Hoopo at 8:50 PM on July 20, 2013


In my mind obituary threads should go for a day or wto before we break out the controversial stuff. Give people time to mourn and pay their respects and such.

I agree for people I like. For assholes I think we should only have negative comments and disrespect. People that want to be nice should have to wait a day or two before expressing nice opinions about pedophiles, murderers, thieves, rapists, bankers, and people who don't return library books on time!

[...] We do what we can to keep obit threads civil but when someone is controversial, there will generally be controversy - especially when it's about a subject that Metafilter as a community has trouble having discussions about at all.

I am guessing I will be perma-banned when Rupert Murdoch dies (self-link). God I hate this man. Seriously, I am saving money to fly to wherever he's buried so I can personally piss on his grave. You have your life goals, I have mine. I don't judge you, so why should, ah, hell...you can me (what do I care?).

I was comforted when I was worried about being off the deep end when it came to my hatred for this individual when I read a comment that said something like "The amount of uric acid crystals on Rupert Murdoch's gave will be a foot thick and the line a mile long when he dies." I'm not sure what a uric acid crystal is, but I plan on getting in that line a few dozen times.

I have at least two crystals with my name on them.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:13 PM on July 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


No, that's not what she said, although it has the same connotations. Here's a video, and here's a transcript:
Rabbi Nessenoff: Any comments on Israel? We’re asking everybody today, any comments on Israel?
Helen Thomas: Tell em to get the hell out of Palestine.
Nessenoff: Oh. Any better comments on Israel?
Thomas: Remember, these people are occupied, and it’s their land. It’s not German, and it’s not Poland.
Nessenoff: So where should they go and what should they do?
Thomas: They should go home!
Nessenoff: Where’s their home?
Thomas: Poland. Germany.
Nessenoff: So you’re saying the Jews should go back to Poland and Germany?
Thomas: And America and everywhere else.
I should point out that the question didn't just pop out of nowhere: she was attending a White House function celebrating Jewish Heritage Month and in that context it's not an unreasonable question. Here's a link to a subsequent interview where she doubles down on her comments.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:22 PM on July 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Is that how we want obit threads to go?" The Metafilter will always have some edge to it, so the answer is "it depends, but probably yes".
posted by Mack Twain at 10:03 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here is the Thatcher obit and here is the Meta thread.
Just because a prominent figure has died does not mean everyone has to wring their hands and say 'oh dear what a pity'.
Balloons will be bust and in the end we should all be the better for realizing that our own preconceived view of the person is not neccessarily the same as everyone elses.
posted by adamvasco at 10:36 PM on July 20, 2013


After listening to the follow-up interview Joe in Australia posted, I think I can charitably interpret Helen Thomas’s comments as not antisemitic (in the general anti-Jewish sense).

It seems like she’s looking at the Zionist movement and the creation of Israel as current events, rather than something that’s over and done with. She’s saying, the Zionists should never have moved to Israel, and having just arrived (effectively, in her view) they should turn around and go back wherever they came from. Remember, she was in her late 20s when the state of Israel was formed, so this might seem a lot fresher to her than to somebody born later.

A similar, but somewhat less problematic, statement would be that Israeli settlers in the West Bank should go home (i.e. go back to Israel proper).

She’s also claiming that persecution of Jews was over after the end of World War II. So, right or wrong, she must have seen the creation of Israel primarily as a story about foreigners coming and taking land from the locals without a strong reason.

Note that this is my understanding of Helen Thomas’s view, and not her actual view, or my view.

To touch on whether the above is antisemitic, I think it’s a criticism of the Zionist movement, and not a criticism of Jewishness.

Back on topic, I would prefer to see criticisms left in obituary threads, even if I don’t agree with them.
posted by Renegade Duck at 10:37 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually, she explained her positions in more detail in a later Playboy interview, and they were classically, unambiguously antisemitic.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:18 PM on July 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thanks, Bunny Ultramod. Unfortunately, the link in that post is dead. The interview was reproduced on Veterans Today. There’s also a scan of the print version from Playboy on Scribd.

The post looks like it has a pretty significant discussion of the issue, including quotes of the more problematic parts of the interview.
posted by Renegade Duck at 12:02 AM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Obit threads are a place to discuss a famous or important person, positives or negatives. We shouldn't mindlessly speak ill of anyone, including the dead, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't speak the truth about them. Thomas was an amazing woman who also happened to hold some regretful views. It's a poor tribute to her - particularly as a journalist - to whitewash the truth just because she has died.
posted by jb at 12:16 AM on July 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


I think Israeli settlers in the West Bank should go home too. To Haifa and Tel Aviv, not Berlin and Odessa.

It doesn't lead me to think "the" Jews run Hollywood and control the US government.

Helen Thomas was 90, but contemporary politics was her beat and she had a sharp mind to the end. I really doubt she would accept the excuses we are making for her here.
posted by spitbull at 4:12 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't know. To be honest, she doesn't seem altogether coherent in some of those interviews and the arguments she made (e.g., "I have brothers who were in World War II so Jews shouldn't complain about the Holocaust!") are pretty weak . I wouldn't say that she was entirely out of it, of course, but in the original interview at 49s you can overhear someone who sounds very much like a "minder" trying to laugh her comment off.

I think Israeli settlers in the West Bank should go home too. To Haifa and Tel Aviv, not Berlin and Odessa.

The West Bank is their home. Part of the reason Thomas' remarks are so objectionable is that they reflect the classic antisemitic view of Jews as aliens, displacing natives. In Europe they told Jews to "go back to Palestine"; it's ironic that anti-Semites today tell Jews to "go back to Germany". Saying that any group of people "should go home" is racist, even if you think you're reversing an historic injustice.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:08 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Saying that any group of people "should go home" is racist, even if you think you're reversing an historic injustice.

So if I say the Americans and British should get out of Afghanistan, I'm a racist?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:01 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have some personal experience with this: My father was a violent abusive alcoholic growing up. He caused a lot of damage to our family. I hated him. At some point his drinking slowed down and he began to have a positive affect on the local community through extensive volunteer work. I came to terms with him and accepted him as he was. A few months before he died it was brought to my attention that when we were growing up he had sexually abused a relative. All my old feelings came back, anger, resentment and especially self righteousness.

Then he died suddenly before I could confront him. I decided that at his eulogy I would get up and tell everyone the truth about him. The day before the funeral I was teaching a class on leadership and communication. A young student was talking about his boss's effective communication style. He said one thing the boss taught him to always do was "praise in public, scorn in private'.

That did it for me. At the funeral I told a positive story about something good my dad had done and let bygones be bygones. I fail to see why we have to speak ill of the dead on MetaFilter no matter how great their human failings may have been.
posted by Xurando at 6:22 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eutheria out of Gondwana!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:26 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


On MetaFilter, biography (facts), not eulogy (praise), is my preference.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:35 AM on July 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


I fail to see why we have to speak ill of the dead on MetaFilter no matter how great their human failings may have been.

You don't have to. That doesn't mean those that hold ill have to be nice either.

It's great you can be the bigger person. Some people can't do this. Some people don't consider refraining from negative commentary to be a positive thing.

Personally, I think some people are evil douchebags that don't deserve oxygen. I don't see any reason to refrain from pointing this out just because the person died. Michael Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Kim Jong-il, Margret Thatcher, etc. Your opinions of these people may vary, you opinion might be the same. Just because you don't want to say anything negative out of some sort of respect or other motivations, doesn't mean those that want to dance the happy dance should be deprived of this.

If you want to take the glee out of it, some people just like to be accurate when it comes to discussing a person.

I would argue if you want people to be nice about you when you are dead you should live a life that is beyond reproach. I would also argue that when you are dead you won't much care what people say.

I give people permission to say whatever they like about me when I am gone. I would prefer you are accurate about what you say, but honestly, if you wait until I am dead before you talk about me, I am also fine with you making up bad shit.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:48 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


That did it for me. At the funeral I told a positive story about something good my dad had done and let bygones be bygones. I fail to see why we have to speak ill of the dead on MetaFilter no matter how great their human failings may have been.

Xurando, I completely respect this-- at the person's memorial service, where people who knew the dead person have come to say goodbye. I don't think I have ever been to a service for the dead where a person's negative characteristic were more than glancingly alluded to.

But an obituary thread on a discussion board is not someone's memorial service. There's no reason why anyone close to the person in real life would have to see it. Even if they saw it by accident they would not be seeing the person's private failings or family grievances exposed. They'd be seeing stuff that was known to the general public. Even so, I could see someone thinking it was in poor taste when, say, a novelist died, to come into the thread and say "I think their work was shit." Why say that now? But in a case like this, people are talking about actual issues that are still controversial. In fact I think if you are concerned about people's feelings being hurt, they are probably more likely to be hurt by seeing a big tribute to someone with no mention of the fact that they'd made antisemitic comments quite recently.

I don't think you can build absolutely objective guidelines around any of this. But I think it is nearly a hard rule not to say anything harsh at someone's eulogy-- called "eulogy" after all-- while the reasons for that kind of hard rule are not present here.
posted by BibiRose at 7:22 AM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think Israeli settlers in the West Bank should go home too. To Haifa and Tel Aviv, not Berlin and Odessa.

The West Bank is their home. Part of the reason Thomas' remarks are so objectionable is that they reflect the classic antisemitic view of Jews as aliens, displacing natives. In Europe they told Jews to "go back to Palestine"; it's ironic that anti-Semites today tell Jews to "go back to Germany". Saying that any group of people "should go home" is racist, even if you think you're reversing an historic injustice.
Everyone should have a home. Even Palestinians in Palestine. Questioning those who support atrocious methods used to further the political interests of the state of Israel does not make one racist or antisemetic unless one buys the divine ordination argument which is questionable at best and oddly ethnocentric at best.

The quotes pulled to show her distasteful antisemitism all seem to center around an... inelegant criticism of Zionism and the unwavering support thereof. I could be wrong. I know that I certainly am biased and am trying not view purely from my personal perspective. I have trouble with the idea that the same group of people who view Israel's right to exist at all costs 'because holocaust' would sing a very different tune if their own homes were repatriated in the name of righting wrongs done on this side of the Atlantic. And in this part of the continent in living memory. Y' know, to my grandparents.

This is an issue that is hard to discuss , let alone peacefully settle (all puns intended) when it is almost impossible to have any kind of honest discourse without being labeled (rather disingenuously) a racist.
posted by mce at 7:47 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just a reminder to keep us on track, and not saying anyone has done anything wrong here, but we are not having an Israel/Palestine discussion in this thread. We are talking about how things go in MeFi obit threads.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:52 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


We are talking about how things go in MeFi obit threads.

I think that this is an issue about which there is a great deal of confusion and inconsistent advice/practice from the mods and the broader community. Look at the comment from jessamyn in the metatalk thread on Cockburn that sloe linked to above. That really is almost directly contrary to the advice in this thread. And this fight happens over and over again. If someone dies who has broad popularity and support among mefites we will hear repeated invocations of the de mortuis nil nisi bonum line, but when someone dies who doesn't have that kind of support it is suddenly open season.
posted by yoink at 8:20 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The West Bank is their home. Part of the reason Thomas' remarks are so objectionable is that they reflect the classic antisemitic view of Jews as aliens, displacing natives.

Criticism of Israel and Israeli Jews is not automatically antisemitism. Ownership of the Settlements is disputed, as you well know. And in this case, to the Palestinians and many other observers worldwide, Jews did indeed displace the natives.

Whether you personally believe the Settlers are occupiers or not, there are enough people who disagree on this issue that this particular sentiment: that Hareidi Jews should leave the Settlements to the Palestinians, whom they wrongfully displaced, should not be considered automatically offensive. To many of us, they don't own the land and are not entitled to it. They are occupiers.

Thomas' statements were antisemitic and offensive for many reasons. She spewed a shocking number of antisemitic tropes. I see no reason why we shouldn't be able to talk about that in an obituary thread. It was something she said, and something she did and part of her legacy.

But you Joe, are muddying the waters (deliberately, I assume) by declaring that a divisive, disputed situation regarding the Settlements MUST be antisemitism without acknowledging that MANY groups of people disagree with your assessment.
posted by zarq at 8:33 AM on July 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


How does this compare to the Margaret Thatcher obit thread? I seem to recall fewer '.'s there.
posted by acb at 8:41 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The quotes pulled to show her distasteful antisemitism all seem to center around an... inelegant criticism of Zionism and the unwavering support thereof.

Did you read the Playboy interview?

It's interesting how quickly people jump to clarify that being anti-Israel is not being anti-semitic, but when someone says shit that is clearly protocols of zion variety anti-semitic, people search for any way at all to rationalize it by saying it's really just criticism of Israel.
posted by lullaby at 8:47 AM on July 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


My internet has been down the last few days, and I've been relying on a weak connection to my landlords' router. So I might not be able to stay in this thread and debate/discuss Helen Thomas's death or the way folks have reacted here on MeFi. But I want to say my piece before I duck out:

I found the whole episode extremely disheartening, particularly when the I/P derail continued even after r_n said to cut it out.

Helen Thomas was 92. She did not spend all ninety-two of her years on earth saying nasty offensive things -- she spent most of those years reporting, self-censoring, and just generally challenging American presidents over everything from George H.W. Bush's decision not to cut defense budgets after the fall of the Soviet Union to George W. Bush's fake WMDs in Iraq.

There are few people out there for whom I have more respect than Helen Thomas. It's because of Helen Thomas that women are allowed to join the National Press Club now, because of her that women have a bigger place in political journalism than covering the first lady's apparel. She's one of those people who achieved so many historic, game-changing victories that I can't even figure out where to begin.

I think the problem with the (a) vitriol against Ms. Thomas, and (b) the I/P de-rail is that all of it ignores her achievements. To spend an entire obit thread arguing about whether or not someone was anti-Semitic (and she may have been) is to disregard every other thing that person has ever done.

The worst part of it is Helen Thomas didn't make any of those statements until she was almost ninety years old. I'm not saying it's okay for little old ladies to be anti-Semitic or bigoted in any way. But "rot in hell" is not what I expected to see when I looked at my role model's obit thread. I expected some folks -- maybe not all, but some -- to focus on some of Ms. Thomas's incredible work. That's why I come to MeFi -- for the finer details. Those were missing this time around.

I have never been so shocked or angered by an obit thread before. I had to close the window, shut the computer and walk away. Which, look, I'm not saying Thomas's nasty anti-Israel comments shouldn't have been discussed at all. But maybe we shouldn't say "rot in hell" to anyone, or maybe we should at least reserve those kinds of fighting words for dictators and serial killers.
posted by brina at 8:48 AM on July 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Len's comment on the thread raises a good point, and bears repeating.
As someone who had previously thought Thomas one of the great figures of American journalism, I went into this thread expecting encomium after encomium (bar that incident back in 2010); that said, I happily cheered the death of Thatcher for reasons too numerous to mention, for mostly visceral, personal reasons. I'm not sure why I should now give Thomas the benefit of the doubt for her nakedly anti-Semitic "DA JOOZ RUN THE SHOW" nonsense, when I never gave Thatcher a pass for her odious reign.
There are things about Helen Thomas that are amazing and wonderful. And she was human and had some serious flaws. One of those makes her an objectionable figure to some degree, myself included I'll admit. Some people like her in spite of that flaw or try to explain it away. And some appear to like her because of her statements which they agree with.

Unless obit threads are places where only universally-agreed goodness is recognized, this thread went as it probably should. It reflects her life and views she stood by, however objectionable and even painful they were to some.

The "." custom on Metafilter obits is based on the Jewish custom of leaving a stone at a grave, some say as a lasting reminder that a mourner remembers her or him. How especially ironic in this case.
posted by Stoatfarm at 8:54 AM on July 21, 2013


yoink, I guess my sense of this - and here I'm not making an official pronouncement, just trying to articulate my own sense of where the line is - is that you're right and it does depend a lot on context. Who has died, what are the circumstances, how do people around here feel about the person. What negative thing was said about them and how.

For a unanimously reviled figure like Falwell, nobody here was coming into that thread hoping for a shared time of mourning, or a discussion of the positive parts of his legacy. See also Kim Jong Il. (Thatcher is more of a mixed case, but still on the negative side.) In those cases, there is a lot more latitude to speak ill of the dead without being a jerk to/starting a fight with people who are feeling the loss keenly. We still want people to be at least minimally decent, though stating facts about their views and their effects in the world is absolutely fair game.

For a unanimously beloved figure like Mr Rogers - if someone came into such a thread to bring up something negative, it would be much more jerky/fighty to do so, because of the 'read the room'/'time and place' issue.

For Helen Thomas, perception of her here is mixed and passions mostly do not run super-deep about her. She had a long and interesting and pioneering career, which is mainly what I know her for. But she had most recently been in the news for this (at best) monumentally ill-considered set of public remarks. In this case it seems fair and inevitable that people would want to mention or discuss that most recent chapter in her story. I think mostly that thread was laying out what she did or didn't say, and whether that stuff counts as anti-semitic or just anti-Zionist. There were some over-the-line things deleted, and possibly there were some more things that should have been deleted (I don't have anything in mind, just acknowledging that moderation is fallible).

For myself, I think it would have been a lot more interesting, once the initial airing of the recent comments was done, to hear or read more about the rest of her long career. I was disappointed to learn that she had these views I disagree with, but that's not remotely the most interesting thing about her to me. But I don't get to dictate what people want to talk about, and maybe people here just don't have that many memories of her from earlier than the late-life stuff, so tough for me.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:59 AM on July 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


When I go, I want everyone to be honest about the imprint I left on the world. I also expect it, whether I want it or not, since I didn't live in a bubble - by the time I go, I'll have interacted with so many people in so many different ways. They have the right to discuss the impression I left upon them, because my rights end where theirs begin. It doesn't hurt me to have the truth discussed and for people to have feelings about that truth.

This means I feel that when other people pass, we can simultaneously be touched by the loss of their positive contributions and reflective on the ignoble features of their time here. And I also feel that the same people won't be covering either base - some will have been so affected by the negative, they can't see the positive. And vice-versa.

It's all part of the complexity of being human and having other humans know who we are, particularly and especially if we've lived long lives with a majority of it in the public eye with willing participation in recording some of our more controversial moments on the planet.

Processing the total contribution is a valid expectation - I believe there's more harm in not looking at the whole picture, really, because how else are we to learn? How else are we to understand the true value and impact an individual human can have? That's really important, I think.

As to Helen Thomas specifically, she wasn't shy or regretful about these thoughts and feelings. She seemed to completely understand that a certain number of people would be thoroughly put off by this and honestly didn't care, because she'd packaged them up in her mind and dismissed that package as irrelevant. Just because she dismissed those she alienated with her comments doesn't mean they were suddenly divorced from having feelings and thoughts of their own on her very public, consensual, voluntary statements.

So, yeah, fair enough.
posted by batmonkey at 9:05 AM on July 21, 2013


Stoatfarm: The "." custom on Metafilter obits is based on the Jewish custom of leaving a stone at a grave, some say as a lasting reminder that a mourner remembers her or him. How especially ironic in this case"

Is this really based on the custom, or just a passing similarity?
posted by HFSH at 9:40 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


For a unanimously reviled figure like Falwell, nobody here was coming into that thread hoping for a shared time of mourning, or a discussion of the positive parts of his legacy. See also Kim Jong Il. (Thatcher is more of a mixed case, but still on the negative side.)

One important difference is that for Falwell, Kim, or Thatcher, the things that people object to are intrinsic and vital parts of their public character. This is less true for Thomas. You can think that Thomas was a great reporter with an interesting career who also had some wrongheaded ideas that are less important or interesting than her public life in toto. Saying that about Falwell or Thatcher, whose public lives were clearly devoted to the very things people find terrible and hateful, marks you as ignorant or delusional.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:53 AM on July 21, 2013


These two threads have proved to be an interesting counterpoint to the oft-repeated "Being anti-Israel doesn't make you anti-Semitic" mantra that is frequently trotted out on this site. This flip side being that some people appear to be so vociferous in their opposition to Israeli government policy that they have lost the ability to recognize genuine antisemitism even when it is right in front of their faces, particularly when the comments are coming from someone they view as a political ally with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As the first person to have brought up Thomas' anti-Semitism in the obit thread (in response to a comment describing her as "wonderful") I would have been fine with just making the one comment and having the thread move on to other parts of her life. But watching people twist themselves into knots trying to rationalize objectively anti-Semitic statements (up to and including variations on "The Jews control the media!") into (paraphrasing) "She was just criticizing Israeli governmental policy and America's support of it" was troubling and deserved to be rebutted.

To me, the most offensive comment in the obit post was this one from localroger, which not only gave Thomas' even most horrific comments the absolute most charitable reading humanly possible, but also branded anyone who dared find her anti-Semitic comments anti-Semitic as "carrying the water for certain corrupt and mainfestly evil groups", as if it is impossible to have a nuanced view on the Israeili-Palestianian conflict while simultaneously being able to recognize hateful comments towards Jews for what they are.

I hate to be overdramatic and pull out the "As a Jewish person" bonafide (especially since I know my comments in no way speak for all Jews), but it seems appropriate here to mention that I find comments throughout these two threads that are any variation on, "Thomas did a lot of great things, do we have to just focus on just this one part?", "Can't you just give it a rest (in regards to bringing up Thomas' anti-Semitic episode) out of respect for the dead?")", "She was old and the person interviewing her was being mean" to be incredibly offensive, and frankly no different than the folks who jump into sexism threads to tell women exactly how offended they are allowed to be in response to any particular sexist episode.
posted by The Gooch at 10:04 AM on July 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


Mefi Wiki: The Period
posted by zarq at 10:06 AM on July 21, 2013


The "." custom on Metafilter obits is based on the Jewish custom of leaving a stone at a grave, some say as a lasting reminder that a mourner remembers her or him. How especially ironic in this case.

Is it? I've always read it as a moment of silence, with no religious connection at all. That's quite surprising.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:34 AM on July 21, 2013


HFSH and BP, I believe the "." is most often meant as a moment of silence but there is a nice resonance with the leave-a-stone tradition and some people think of it that way. Certainly they're similar in spirit, a mute acknowledgment.

The Gooch, in fairness, her obit thread is about her life, overall, not about just her anti-semitic comments or views. It does not seem offensive to me to say her views on that subject are not the only part of her life worth talking about.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:37 AM on July 21, 2013


Its the fact that its offensive because quite a few people respect the hell out of her work. So it just ends up being a rather contentious OBITUARY thread.


An obituary thread is not funeral home calling hours, where the gathered are there to pay their respects to the deceased. It's a thread on a discussion forum. Unless the person was universally loved (Mr. Rogers, for example) people are going to discuss the dead person. The more controversial the person (Margaret Thatcher, for example) the more grar-y that discussion is going to be. That is always the way it's been, and I can't imagine any reason to expect it will be different in future.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:38 AM on July 21, 2013


I was disappointed to learn that she had these views I disagree with, but that's not remotely the most interesting thing about her to me.

This. Her anti-semitic comments were ugly, disappointing and depressing. She shouldn't be let off the hook for them and it's totally appropriate to criticize her for it in the obit thread. But what I find more interesting about her is that she was one of the few reporters who was unrelenting in calling bullshit on the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. She has my respect for that.
posted by homunculus at 12:02 PM on July 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


I would be appalled if someone shouted angry comments at Ms. Thomas' memorial service, or desecrated her grave. A front page post about the death of a news-worthy person is a news item as well as an opportunity for people who admired the deceased to pay respects. It's poor form to be sarcastic or rant-y, but fair to post accurate information and reasoned opinions about the deceased.

The Falwell thread? There was a lot of accurate information about him being a bigoted, fatuous hater, as well as a plethora of well-reasoned opinions about what he deserves, should there be an afterlife. You sow, you reap.
posted by theora55 at 12:04 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The "." custom on Metafilter obits is based on the Jewish custom of leaving a stone at a grave, some say as a lasting reminder that a mourner remembers her or him. How especially ironic in this case.

Not necessarily as ironic as all that, Stoatfarm; stoning was a scripturally-prescribed punishment for many different offenses in ancient Israel.

For me either custom inescapably recalls the other, giving the act of leaving a stone on a grave an essential ambiguity.
posted by jamjam at 12:10 PM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


But "rot in hell" is not what I expected to see when I looked at my role model's obit thread. I expected some folks -- maybe not all, but some -- to focus on some of Ms. Thomas's incredible work. That's why I come to MeFi -- for the finer details. Those were missing this time around.

This is kind of how I felt about Baroness Thatcher. I also felt that we should be less focused on the negative and I was very upset by some of the frankly celebratory comments there. I agree that in general, one should not speak in certain ways of the dead.

But that is not how Metafilter rolls. If there is no reverence for the dead, I say everyone's ox deserves to be equally gored.
posted by corb at 12:42 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, I think rather the more salient point is reflecting on the deceased's life as a whole in obit threads as being the better way to go. This means that if their ugliness arose in isolated areas, then it is still acknowledged, but within the context of their entire lives. If they were just relentlessly evil, then we can reflect on that, too.

I don't at all like the idea of some waiting period before mentioning the ugliness in a dead person's life. But I do think the fairest approach is to consider the entire life that was lived, rather than to zoom in on - or ignore - the brute, mean or stupid bits.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:57 PM on July 21, 2013


But that is not how Metafilter rolls. If there is no reverence for the dead, I say everyone's ox deserves to be equally gored.

Perhaps so. What I, personally, find annoying is the double standard. I think it would be o.k. if Metafites agreed that obit threads were not the place to "speak ill of the dead" and I think it would be o.k. if we agreed that they were a place for robust debate about the person's whole life. What I dislike is the sententious cries of "this is not the time and place!" that are wielded to shut down criticism of people the community mostly likes (even if they are, clearly, divisive and controversial people) and the gleeful "whee, let's all get our hate on!" that characterizes obit threads for those the community largely dislikes. I almost never participate in obit threads because they just feel like exercises in bad faith to me.
posted by yoink at 1:37 PM on July 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


Ignore the "this is not the time and place" people. Or do what I do and ignore the obit threads in the first place.

Except for the Iain Banks obit thread which was necessary for anyone with a soul.
posted by Justinian at 3:18 PM on July 21, 2013


" Not necessarily as ironic as all that, Stoatfarm; stoning was a scripturally-prescribed punishment for many different offenses in
ancient Israel. For me either custom inescapably recalls the
other, giving the act of leaving a stone on a
grave an essential ambiguity."

Well, ok. But, for the record, traditionally, You leave a stone bc, yes, flowers die, but really because a) to warn kohanim (priests) of a grave so they stay away (makes them "unclean"), and b) it is a mitzvah (commandment) to bury a body, so by leaving a stone one is continually burying the body, following said commandment. It's considered a very valuable mitzvah since the receiver can never repay you. There's nothing religiously related to stoning.
posted by atomicstone at 5:24 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


White House press conferences aren't an Australian thing, obviously, so I didn't grow up with Helen Thomas. Her life and work before she made these statements are mostly opaque to me. Those comments and her subsequent fall from grace are why I find her notable, just as (I suppose) many people had no interest in Paula Deen before the reports of her "inappropriate and hurtful language".

I thought Margaret Thatcher was criticised for things that would have been forgotten if she were a man, and I was not pleased with the gendered insults some people used. But she was a public figure and it is inconceivable that people should have been asked to refrain from criticism: Margaret Thatcher's life story is false and incomplete without the voices of her policies' victims.

In narrative terms Helen Thomas is the hero with a tragic flaw, every bit as much as she is the feminist pioneer or the crusading reporter. Her life is left without a coda if we don't note that she had an award named after her, a White House reporter's seat allocated for her, innumerable privileges that were stripped from her because of her comments and the way she defended them. To suppress discussion of this by calling it indecorous or inappropriate is to leave the story half finished. Most of her career is opaque to me, as I said above, but I think I can say that it is not the sort of thing she would have tolerated.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:45 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


You should see what Metafilter said about Hitler in his obit thread.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:40 PM on July 21, 2013


I think it made Baroness Thatcher blush.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:50 PM on July 21, 2013


As much as we might like to deny it, what people thought of the reaction to Thatcher's death basically reflects their politics and background more than anything else.

That's true in most posts, I suppose, but I think doubly so when it comes to Thatcher.
posted by hoyland at 6:29 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I actually missed Ms Thomas' antisemitic comments the first time around, (I dont live in the US no more) so I was surprised and saddened to see them here.

She remains for me a reporter who stuck it to Bush time and again, who did something I would never be in a position to do and for whose voice and presence I was grateful.

Third: I know/ have met some older people who seem to have fallen back on racist stereotyping from their own youth/ childhood, though they had not shown any such tendency prior. I mean, I think in some people as they age they fall back on these shitty stereotypes because holding all the shades of grey becomes too much work. At least that's what I tell myself. It could also be that they are simply tired of trying to reason with themselves over something they believe to be true.

Fourth: whenever I hear someone blaming group X for secretly running Y, I always assume the kernel of truth that some organizations would like to convey that they have more power than they really do, and my interlocutor has mistakenly believed them. A relative told me that the train wreck in Lake Megantic was because Obama wanted to build the Keystone pipeline. Or was opposed to it, my eyes glaze when people extract "the real story" from what they see on tv/read on the interwebs.

That is to say, Everyone knows French-Canadians run Environmental Policy In Washington DC. Those tricky Frogs with their loud fashion sense are At It Again!

Warts and all in the Obits threads.
posted by From Bklyn at 6:35 AM on July 22, 2013


LobsterMitten: " For myself, I think it would have been a lot more interesting, once the initial airing of the recent comments was done, to hear or read more about the rest of her long career. I was disappointed to learn that she had these views I disagree with, but that's not remotely the most interesting thing about her to me. But I don't get to dictate what people want to talk about, and maybe people here just don't have that many memories of her from earlier than the late-life stuff, so tough for me."

Serious question: why not research and add content you were interested in discussing to the thread? Is there a reason you decided not to do so?

We get out of threads what we put into them. That has been impressed upon me time and time again. The posts we create can direct the initial conversation, depending on how they are framed. The comments we make can steer threads. If the content is interesting enough, people will talk about it, and if enough people start talking about other aspects of her life, that could conceivably change the direction of the discussion. And if not, folks who read your hypothetical comment would learn more about her. Seems like a win-win to me.
posted by zarq at 7:30 AM on July 22, 2013


Look at the comment from jessamyn in the metatalk thread on Cockburn that sloe linked to above. That really is almost directly contrary to the advice in this thread.

If I had been working, I might have deleted that comment because it's basically a content-free nasty comment which isn't adding to the discussion. However it did not provoke a wretched derail as similar comments in similar obit threads have done and I can see why r_n left it alone. Generally speaking if all you have to add to an obit thread is some variant of "Well *I* didn't like them" and/or "They sucked" that's usually not particularly useful. People somehow feel like the presence of an obit thread is somehow saying "This person was worthwhile/good/worth mentioning/whatever" and so act like the thread is for everyone to chime in about how much they liked and/or will miss them or, worse, feel that they are speaking truth to power by making some threadshitting comment to keep it real. This is rarely helpful.

Our advice remains that we'd appreciate if people could read the room and join the conversation already in progress or, if it's really early in a thread, consider that early shitty comments can doom what might otherwise be a productive and interesting (if not entirely positive) thread. There is no "be nice" guideline, there is a "don't be an asshole" guideline. And it's true that this is somewhat contextualzed in thread by whether you are going with the flow (i.e. most people did not have nice things to say about Thatcher) or going against it (most people had nice things to say about Douglas Adams). That will chafe if you dislike someone who is widely liked or like someone widely disliked. That does not keep you from making comments, it just means you need to be realistic about how they are going to go, on this website, with this community.

Some people have a specifically bad time "reading the room" to make these decisions for themselves or just want to be the contrarian in the room. This position has the side effect (if not the intended effect) of making the thread about them and not the topic of the thread. This is also not useful. This is easier to do in obit threads because people are often upset and they are easier to rile up. Making comments specifically for the purpose of riling people up and no other purpose is considered trolling. If we think you are trolling we will give you some chances to show that you are not trolling but from that point forward we will consider you a troll. Making comments on a website is something that we consider to be 100% within your ability to control (both the fact that you comment and the content of your comment). We're very understanding about new folks here who may have trouble getting the lay of the land down. We are less understanding about people who have been here forever but just angrily want the site to be different than it is.

I think this general outline of how to interact in obit threads is actually pretty consistent, it's just more nuanced than people's oversimplified "there's a be nice edict in effect" statements.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:57 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think this general outline of how to interact in obit threads is actually pretty consistent

I think it is--in the sense that it is consistently "not O.K." to say bad things about people who are popular with the Metafilter in-crowd and consistently "O.K." to say bad things about people who are unpopular with the Metafilter in-crowd, but I don't think that's a standard that reflects all that well on us as a community. If the ethos behind "read the room" is that we don't want to inflict needless hurt on people who are grieving the loss of someone who just recently died, then that concern should extend--perhaps above all--to minorities within the membership. In any real social setting "reading the room" would include noticing if a certain vein in a conversation was causing distress to just one or two among the participants and choosing to move on to other topics. If, on the other hand, we were to say "we're all grown-ups here and we all go into these discussions knowing that we might disagree fundamentally about issues that are important to us," then people who are deeply upset by some public figure's death would know that they enter an obit thread at their own risk. Either of these would seem to me principled and reasonable positions. "Be offensive about dead people so long as they're unpopular according to a pretty fuzzy, in-crowd-y definition of unpopularity" does not.
posted by yoink at 9:45 AM on July 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


What I learned from the Thomas obit is that if I go on the internet and stumble across an interview in which a person makes various anti-Semitic remarks, and if I express concern and sadness about these remarks, and recommend that others read the remarks, I will be told that I am, in fact, an agent who is part of a "campaign ... that flows directly from Israeli state politics" and that I am, therefore, "carrying the water for certain corrupt and mainfestly evil groups."

I will be told this despite the fact that I expressed no opinion whatsoever about Israel or US foreign policy toward Israel. The person telling me this will literally know nothing about me or my political views, so I will feel the need to briefly offer a few sentences of commentary about Israel in order to demonstrate that, no, I'm just a Jewish person who is concerned and saddened by the continued existence of anti-Semitism.
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 10:09 AM on July 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


If, on the other hand, we were to say "we're all grown-ups here and we all go into these discussions knowing that we might disagree fundamentally about issues that are important to us," then people who are deeply upset by some public figure's death would know that they enter an obit thread at their own risk.

That's actually more the basic policy than anything, for obit threads and for all other threads on mefi; you seem to object to the fact that that, like with anything here, that's of course going to be modulated a bit by the specific context and where people are. I think trying to take the "we're grownups and we'll take our lumps or get out" thing to an absolutist level is the impractical thing, however much saying so is a dalliance from pure principle, but there's not a whole lot that happens here that would have ever worked in the first place if it was constrained to pure principle for principle's sake.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:16 AM on July 22, 2013


In any real social setting "reading the room" would include noticing if a certain vein in a conversation was causing distress to just one or two among the participants and choosing to move on to other topics.

Yeah, this is why I find the admonitions of "Reading the room" kind of weird - because it doesn't seem to apply to "Have a nice conversation that doesn't hurt people" - if you have a minority position, there isn't a lot of concern about people not reading the room when they are offensive to you. Instead, it seems more this strange "Don't upset the majority of people" thing that goes along a lot better with preserving the status quo than anything else. And it jibes oddly with the way Metafilter often tries to protect minority groups from hurt even when they are very tiny - but only if everyone collectively agrees that that minority is "worth protecting."
posted by corb at 10:27 AM on July 22, 2013


That's actually more the basic policy than anything, for obit threads and for all other threads on mefi; you seem to object to the fact that that, like with anything here, that's of course going to be modulated a bit by the specific context and where people are.

Except that when it comes to obit threads there is an explicit set of obit-thread-specific conventions and admonitions that are invoked in order to police the dialogue (both by mods and by participants in the conversation)--except that they don't apply when the deceased crosses some fairly arbitrary line of collective disapproval. Again, look at Jessamyn's comment on the Cockburn thread:
If people want to talk about Cockburn's anti-semitism they pretty much need to do so being mindful of the fact that it's an obit thread, we have a pretty longstanding "These are some things to consider when posting in obit threads" set of suggestions, and their own identity as being "that guy" on the particular topic. This is why I specifically said in my comment that if Cockburn's anti-semitism is really what you want to talk about, consider another thread at another time perhaps.
All that "this is neither the time nor the place" stuff comes up every time someone at all controversial--who, nonetheless, is broadly popular among Mefites--dies. And yet, in fact, that injunction is essentially hypocritical. No actual principle of "not causing needless distress to the afflicted" is in play here: what is in play is simply a reaffirming of the Metafilter majority's shared values.

I should hasten to say that I don't think that this is deliberately what you moderators are trying to achieve. I understand the reasonable series of "let's try to keep this conversation from degenerating into something ugly" decisions that bring you to this point. But unfortunately, in this one area--the obit threads--the general guiding principles that serve Metafilter so well in its moderation in every other area just break down and produce what I find a really unhappy outcome. There are few places where those who hold relatively unpopular opinions on Metafilter are likely to have their noses rubbed in it quite so strongly as in obit threads: when controversial-but-popular person A dies it's all "how DARE you defile this sacred space of mourning!" when they post a comment critical of the deceased, and when controversial-but-unpopular person B dies it's all "boo, you're killing our hate-fest fun!" if they try to post a comment praising the deceased.
posted by yoink at 10:52 AM on July 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


As is usually the case, not putting what you would like people you despise to be saying in quote marks would be a good idea here.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:54 AM on July 22, 2013


Civil conversations are enjoyable for most readers and participants, and shouting matches are generally only fun for those who are shouting.

Everything else kind of flows from that.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:57 AM on July 22, 2013


It feels like there is a question here about whether the issue is speaking ill of people in general in their obit threads, or whether there is something specific about Israel/Palestine being brought into obit threads, as in the Thomas and Cockburn examples.

AFAICT, Israel/Palestine is the kudzu of discussion; if it turns up, it is going to strangle whatever a thread was actually about, because half a dozen people are going to hang around shouting at each other about it. So, after a certain point the Helen Thomas/Alexander Cockburn part of that turns into a general argument, which becomes a derail.

The Falwell/Thatcher threads, on the other hand, were ontopic for as far as I read down them - they were talking about people's impressions of Jerry Falwell and Margaret Thatcher.

Americans who happened to like Margaret Thatcher a lot are not really a minority group - they are just a group. Probably a discussion of her legacy which is open to people whose lives were actually affected by her policies is not going to be a place where they are going to find people agreeing with them all the time, but isn't really an issue of mistreatment of minorities, fairly obviously - it's simply a difference of opinion.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:35 AM on July 22, 2013


running order squabble fest: "AFAICT, Israel/Palestine is the kudzu of discussion; if it turns up, it is going to strangle whatever a thread was actually about, because half a dozen people are going to hang around shouting at each other about it. "

Most of the time. Not always. We've had a few posts about the topic that haven't devolved into shouting matches. And it's been raised in a few others and not derailed 'em
posted by zarq at 11:48 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mention this not to be contrarian, but to point out that we're capable of being civil about the topic when it suits us.
posted by zarq at 12:01 PM on July 22, 2013


No, that's a very good point, and worth making - it just struck me that, when it came to an obit thread, that might be more of a concern (although I don't know how heavily the Cockburn thread was moderated), whereas the Thatcher thread, although it had a number of comments deleted, apparently for being too snarky, stayed on the topic of Thatcher and her legacy.

Basically, I'm not sure if the lesson here is "MetaFilter moderation preserves attacks on dead people whom the MetaFilter hive mind disliked, and deletes attacks on dead people the MetaFilter hive mind liked" so much as "MetaFilter moderation is specifically cautious of accusations of anti-Semitism in obit threads" - which is what this and the Cockburn MeTa are largely about.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:17 PM on July 22, 2013


isn't really an issue of mistreatment of minorities, fairly obviously - it's simply a difference of opinion.

Well, sort of. And this goes back to the kind of reading the room thing.

In a real life discussion, "Don't speak of the rope in the house of the hanged man." It's important not to hurt people by discussing things that will hurt them, in order to create a civil conversation. And that includes, if you know someone is a member of a small group, trying your best not to insult that group in their presence. If someone is a member of a controversial religion, not telling them every member of their church is crazy. If someone is a member of a controversial political group, it is not well-done to talk about how all members of that political group are bastards. If someone is a member of a small, oppressed minority, it is not a kind thing to talk about how terrible their people are. (See: Israel/Palestine, on either side)

And the thing that I think people forget, is on Metafilter, we have all kinds. So whatever group you want to insult or be cruel to as a group, we have those people here.

And that is hard, I think, because one of the way people shortcut into a tribal identity is by othering - by marking out "These people are one of us, those people are not." People are used to belittling and dismissing by large group - be it political party/ideology, religion, ethnicity, taste in literature, taste in cars, possession of objects, or what have you.

And so references to those crazy "insert small group of people here" is mistreatment, if the goal is indeed a civil conversation that doesn't offend.
posted by corb at 12:21 PM on July 22, 2013


I don't really have any sense of how that ties into obituaries, though. "Americans who thought Margaret Thatcher was pretty cool" is not a minority. It isn't a religion, it isn't even a political group. It's just a fairly large group of people.

If you're now comparing the oppression of you as a person on the Internet having to tolerate people speaking ill of a Prime Minister they actually lived under, of whom you approved from afar, with the experience of the Jews in Europe, or indeed the experience of the Palestinians in the West Bank, then... well, that's a thing you can do, but it's not I think a very wise shot.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:37 PM on July 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


running order squabble fest: "Basically, I'm not sure if the lesson here is "MetaFilter moderation preserves attacks on dead people whom the MetaFilter hive mind disliked, and deletes attacks on dead people the MetaFilter hive mind liked" so much as "MetaFilter moderation is specifically cautious of accusations of anti-Semitism in obit threads" - which is what this and the Cockburn MeTa are largely about."

*nod* Makes sense to me. :)

You know, perhaps we should qualify a term for what happens when someone "I/P Godwins" a thread by introducing the topic. I mean, it happens often enough that the exceptions are infrequent.
posted by zarq at 1:07 PM on July 22, 2013


the goal is indeed a civil conversation that doesn't offend.

Civil conversation, yes. Doesn't offend, not always. If you're offended by a thing you can come to MeTa and talk about the thing, flag it, or drop us a note. We don't moderate based on what might be offensive except in a few categories that we've already discussed.

As I've said before, we draw a bit of a line between things people choose (political party, religion) and things people don't choose (race, sexual orientation) and we understand that there are a lot of "Not quite choices" things in the middle (how much you identify with your cultural background, state or country of residence). Lazy potshots are generally not okay. People disagreeing, even strongly, with other people's positions on things are usually okay. People making the thread all about them, all about their GARRARARA about a topic, or all about their own pet derail topic, not that okay.

I think it can be challenging because when the thread is about a topic, starting a conversation about "Why I hate this topic" or "What is wrong with this topic" seems like it's continuing the conversation but very often it's not. So a thread that is about someone's legacy can include the good and bad parts of their legacy while the "My opinion about why this person/thing sucks" absent any other context is rarely on topic.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:20 PM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


we draw a bit of a line between things people choose (political party, religion) and things people don't choose (race, sexual orientation) and we understand that there are a lot of "Not quite choices" things in the middle (how much you identify with your cultural background, state or country of residence

I understand that this is done, but I think these things are not as hard and fast categories as they might appear on the surface, and maybe not a great way of considering "who it is okay to insult." For example: many religions you are born into/baptized into as an infant. When it comes to political party, that is often correlated with a lot of other factors, some of which you are born into as well. (And the cultural background that people come from can be pretty serious)

More specifically, I think it leaves the door open for really vile language directed at entire classes of people, as long as that class of people can somehow be said to have "Chosen" their status, and that feels like a not-awesome thing. It becomes not as much about ideas, and more about denigration. "This person sucks" may not stand, but "Complex thought + "those fucking crazy X Group and its members suck" does stand, and I'm not sure the one is worth the other.

Pet derail topics suck, but I think sometimes pet derail topics (probably including Israel/Palestine) are less about someone just being a jerk, and more about a perceived attack on someone's identity.
posted by corb at 1:45 PM on July 22, 2013


More specifically, I think it leaves the door open for really vile language directed at entire classes of people, as long as that class of people can somehow be said to have "Chosen" their status, and that feels like a not-awesome thing.

Flag it when you see it and/or send us a note and/or come to MetaTalk with it then, please. Vile language is generally not okay no matter what. We're happy to discuss this over email if you'd like or here if you have links to specific examples.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:02 PM on July 22, 2013


corb: " More specifically, I think it leaves the door open for really vile language directed at entire classes of people, as long as that class of people can somehow be said to have "Chosen" their status, and that feels like a not-awesome thing. It becomes not as much about ideas, and more about denigration. "This person sucks" may not stand, but "Complex thought + "those fucking crazy X Group and its members suck" does stand, and I'm not sure the one is worth the other."

Those sorts of comments happen somewhat often in contentious threads about religion. At least, it feels like they happen often. Which can be unpleasant. But flagging and using the contact form usually works. So does making posts in meta. The mods do step in and ask people to cool it if they're going after each other too viciously. And they may be deleting more in a thread than you or I are aware of.

However, the mods have made it abundantly clear that their role is not to protect our sacred cows (if you'll excuse the phrase) from criticism. They definitely won't delete criticism of (for example) religion and religious institutions or atheists and atheism because people might be offended. So there's that to consider.

In general, I've found that calmly answering questions or countering mistaken assumptions about my own religion with facts works to various degrees depending on the topic. Especially when people are reacting out of anger.
posted by zarq at 2:31 PM on July 22, 2013



You should see what Metafilter said about Hitler in his obit thread.


At least he was a vegatarian.

If somebody dies who's an artist who I don't know about or don't like, I don't shit up their obit thread. Everyone else is fair game.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 12:01 AM on July 23, 2013


More specifically, I think it leaves the door open for really vile language directed at entire classes of people, as long as that class of people can somehow be said to have "Chosen" their status, and that feels like a not-awesome thing. It becomes not as much about ideas, and more about denigration. "This person sucks" may not stand, but "Complex thought + "those fucking crazy X Group and its members suck" does stand, and I'm not sure the one is worth the other.

I don't disagree, but I think we already know how this works - LOLRepublicans, LOLTexans or LOLChristians, for example, is a discouraged approach because it is offensive to MetaFilter members as collateral damage, and also because it tends to derail threads.

However, in discussions like the Wendy Davis filibuster, it is not out of court to discuss that the lawmakers trying to limit women's reproductive freedoms are Texan, and were elected by Texans (as is Wendy Davis), that this is the activity the Texas GOP is spending its energy on and that many of the groups which support them politically and financially are Christian. However, there's a difference between that and saying "this proves that all Texans/Republicans/Christians are evil and stupid", which I think could be flagged as offensive, or as a derail, as I understand it.

Likewise, it is not a hate crime to disagree about the contribution of Margaret Thatcher to the world, or to the UK, even if that disagreement is vehement. On the other hand, there are ways to register disapproval of Thatcher which are sexist and ways to register disapproval that are not.

So, "her ultimately successful agitation for the release of Augusto Pinochet was shameful, and undermined international law" is going to be hard to make a case for as offensive, unless really disliking the poetry of Pablo Neruda is now sufficient to qualify one as a minority group. Whereas "I wish I had had a chance to bitchslap the c*** to death personally" is pretty obviously flaggable as offensive, because it is an offensive way to talk about women in general, separate from the personal qualities of the specific woman being talked about. And then there is a grey area about her qualities as a mother, say, which is probably going to be harder to adjudicate, but can still be adjudicated. Those judgments may or may not be agreeable, but you can't please all the people all the time.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:16 AM on July 23, 2013


« Older Shortly after the update on th...  |  Today I picked up Starglass, t... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments