Using an appropriate tone of response to personal questions December 18, 2005 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Fair criticism: "I think your post was just a little over the top."
Getting too personal: "Pretty poor showing - but hey, we need to hear what [commenter] thinks we need to hear. Who am I to argue with that?"
Over the top arrogance: "Look [commenter], if you had 2mm of latitude to accept some criticism about what you said, this would have been over a long time ago. Don't feel the need to defend yourself." [Because I prefer attacking people who don't fight back -- editorial comment and emphasis added].
Hypocritical lashing out and name-calling: "Senor [another commenter] - other than playing an incredibly biased referee, what are you doing here? Don't you have more important threads to not participate in?"
posted by orthogonality to Etiquette/Policy at 8:38 AM (108 comments total)

People are rougher on anonymous question askers because they are anonymous, and I think people feel they can get away with giving a nameless, faceless person some guff or call them into question (esp. since the anon person can't even answer).

It's like taunting a bully you know can't fight back.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:53 AM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


i think scarabic has a point. i found it odd how much people were attacking the anon poster in that thread and the only explanation i could find was that being vegetarian makes you sufficiently different (still?! this is 2005...) that people go for the easy cheap shots rather than trying to help.

i think scarabic was getting increasingly frustrated that no-one understood that. i'm unsure what posting just one side of an argument on meta does to help, though.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:56 AM on December 18, 2005


sorry "that" -> "him"
posted by andrew cooke at 8:57 AM on December 18, 2005


WCityMike: As for "feeling the need to defend myself," it's just a funny little quirk of mine when I get personally attacked. ;-)

That's how every train wreck starts. Though I think Mike was largely in the right in that exchange, it still needn't have taken place. We don't have to respond to every criticism just because we can. We can turn off the computer, go for a walk, bake some cookies. If you are being unfairly attacked, others will point it out, and the words will have more authority for having come from someone else. If no one comes to your aid, it is probably time for some honest reflection. In either case, this is just a web site.
posted by LarryC at 9:03 AM on December 18, 2005


I saw all of that when I got up this morning. I didn't see WCityMike's response as way off base, just a little strident, but his critique was clearly loaded with thoughful advice in addition to criticism. I saw it like the "What's the legality of people using secret cameras to spy on me?" question. There were people who thoughtfully replied "Um cameras may not be your problem..." and others who posted stuff like "ROFL CRAYZEE!!?"

When a thread has devolved into some sort of two-man wrestling match, someone really needs to step away. It's very hard to prune any comments without being seen to take someone's side because you left the other person's comment to be the last word. It's like the frog and the boiling water, at which comment precisely do the replies become unhelpful? I'm suprised one of them didn't take it to MetaTalk earlier
posted by jessamyn at 9:05 AM on December 18, 2005


i found it odd how much people were attacking the anon poster in that thread and the only explanation i could find was that being vegetarian makes you sufficiently different

I am an ex-vegan who understands and understood the need for tolerance of others' diets. I felt that the anonymous poster lacked empathy for her boyfriend and was unable to see how her ultimata were potentially harmful. In the past when I have felt that such an answer may be too off-topic to be in the thread, I have emailed the poster directly. That is not possible with anonymous questions.

I wish there were a better method for anons to respond in their threads, as a lot of these questions need further explication; the fact that anonymous qustions tend to be quite serious and also that they are unclarifiable makes them difficult to answer without people getting upset with one another.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:13 AM on December 18, 2005


Mathowie, did you note the last paragraph of my initial response, where I specifically advised the anonymous recipient that if she wanted to respond, Jessamyn had offered to relay anonymous posters' comments? With due respect, I think that defeats your point.

Andrew, as for attacking her because she was vegetarian, I really don't think that was the issue. It was more that people (including me) seemed to perceive a bias within her that people who didn't eat in a vegetarian style were somehow less-than, and when she is ascribing an eating disorder to her boyfriend, that actually becomes relevant. Anyone can post a question to Ask Metafilter that is properly slanted to get the response they want, by leaving out or misreporting key facts. The question then remains, if you perceive that bias, do you try to help the underlying situation as you perceive it, or do you help the question on its face? The former seems appropriate, the latter seems shallow.

LarryC, point taken. I could've just walked away. I chose not to; I was a little annoyed, although I hopefully came across as remaining courteous.

Jessamyn, to be honest, I've spent the time sincce I've registered my Metafilter account almost solely on Ask Metafilter, spending no time in MeFi proper or in MeTa. Had I realized this place's purpose, I would've done as you suggested. My last response, even after you suggested a threadclose, was admittedly a slight lapse.
posted by WCityMike at 9:18 AM on December 18, 2005


WCityMike:
"First, I must state outright that I suspect your discovery of his bills was not an accident. No one who discovers a problem by invading another's privacy by snooping will admit to same when they find they then need to frame the problem publicly; it always becomes a situation of accidentally coming across it due to some relatively plausible excuse"
That was way way out of line. Insinuation and character assasination. WCityMike, that was your opening and you consider that you were giving prudent advice.

If someone spoke to you and accused you of being a liar and a sneak and then proceeded to give detailed advice based on their best guesses about your motives and mindset, do you think that you would be receptive?

You may subscribe to the iron fist in a velvet glove approach to dispensing advice. Fair enough. But at least have the courtesy not to extrapolate your own fantasies onto the situation. There was no evidence whatsoever for that allegation. So the balance of your screed loses all credibility for mine.
posted by peacay at 9:22 AM on December 18, 2005


that exchange is really fucking priceless! scarabic meets himself and goes to war! i laughed harder with each volley! it's like Pot vs. Kettle at their best! really, do we know that WCityMike isn't scarabic's sock puppet?
posted by quonsar at 9:27 AM on December 18, 2005


Peacay, I'll openly admit that that paragraph was a mistake. Jessamyn, if you don't object, I'll go back to the AskMeFi thread and post an apology for that one paragraph.

That having been said, it doesn't poison the entire post, in my opinion. If it does in yours, well, then, I'll respect our difference of opinions.

You seem to be more of scarabic's mindset — I've already explained my reasoning (actually, I've ventured the explanation about four times) behind commenting about the poster's intentions and motivations, which I think is perfectly relevant. I only wish you weren't also adopting the hyperbole, too (cf. "extrapolate [my] own fantasies").

Perhaps a larger or renamed MeTa thread might be appropriate, asking if it's appropriate to go into how you more deeply perceive the problems underlying an Ask MeFi question, or if you should just answer it on its face.
posted by WCityMike at 9:33 AM on December 18, 2005


You should have deleted the last post from scarabic. It didn't address the question at all, only the other posters.
posted by smackfu at 9:33 AM on December 18, 2005


I'd leave the thread alone actually, since it seems to me that the signpost to MeTa has already been placed there. However this may because I harbor some of the same suspicions and decided to leave them out of that thread. We see a lot of threads in AskMe where a poster comes across damning evidence against their partner/co-worker/best friend and wants advice about how to deal with their shocking revelation.

Often people in the thread will also have advice about dealing with the fact that there will be consequences for the "how I learned this bad bad thing about you" part of the story. With non-anonymous questions, this tends to go better with clarification or possibly revealing shifty denial from the poster. In situations like this, it can be construed as anonymous being unable to defend him/herself. I think this is the pesky downside to anonymous question-asking, you sort of have to try to get all of your mitigating circumstances into one discrete question and this can often come across like an exercise in "it's not me it's them" in an attempt to work on the part of the problem that you are really asking for help with.
posted by jessamyn at 9:45 AM on December 18, 2005


anonymous' wording was a tiny bit problematic, let's be frank. threads about overweight people and their eating habit need very little to become trainwrecks around here. it happened. it's not surprising.

mistaking MetaFilter for a doctor's office or a support group is quite often a bad mistake -- we aren't supposed to be either.
posted by matteo at 9:46 AM on December 18, 2005


There's a simple solution for allowing anonymous posters to post anonymously in their own threads, but this margin is too small to contain it.

Matt is welcome to email me for it.
posted by orthogonality at 9:48 AM on December 18, 2005


Okay. I'll respect your advice on that one, then.
posted by WCityMike at 9:49 AM on December 18, 2005


It was more that people (including me) seemed to perceive a bias within her that people who didn't eat in a vegetarian style were somehow less-than, and when she is ascribing an eating disorder to her boyfriend, that actually becomes relevant.

WCityMike, I think this really motivated a lot of the problems here. You may be right, she could believe that, even if she doesn't seem to be aware of it. As a vegetarian and on-again-off-again vegan, I could easily accept that if I were to find a partner hiding fast-food receipts from me, I would have a hard time seperating out my judgment of that sort of behavior from a potential psychological assement. You were also right that none of us really has the ability to make these judgments.

In my book, good advice would have taken the form: "It may be hard for you to seperate out your feelings regarding his food choices from your assement of his mental state." However, instead of raising the point, you chose to use it as a starting point to undermine her.

I read your initial post as though you believed that anyone who judges those they see as potential partners based on their lifestyle decisions are making a mistake. Guess what, if she's not interested in dating someone who regularly eats at McDonalds, or drives a Hummer, or goes to strip clubs, or goes to anti-war rallies, or is a Mormon, or whatever, that's fine. If you want to be helpful, just ask her if that's what's really going on and cause her to think. Don't attack her for it.

PS I would definitely not date a Mormon who ordered drive-through in their Hummer on the way to a protest having just frequented a strip club and then lied to me about all of it. Unless she was really fit and had her own car and I knew she wasn't going to steal from me.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:12 AM on December 18, 2005


People were hardly attacking anonymous for being vegetarian. They were picking up on the fact that anonymous's response to the situation at hand - namely, "he eats meat? at McDs?" - doesn't seem like a decent or kind place to start with this man who has a serious and health-related addiction/disorder/issue. It seemed like it was such an important and deal-breaker issue for her - most were saying that it was simply not the best fight to pick out of all the options at the moment, and that other aspects about this situation warranted more care and consideration than she let on that she was showing.

Like the other thread about whether or not a vegan and a meat-eater can ever be in a relationship together -- the point being that it's not the circumstances of difference, it's how it's handled. She made a decision to be with the guy thinking he was/is vegetarian and non-junk-food-eating, but the revelation that he does eat that stuff and might be merely doing it to spite her, as she seemed to think, is hardly the most prescient issue - that issue being a deep-seated addiction. People were saying, "don't focus on the smoke, focus on the fire". Not that being a vegetarian is strange in 2005/6.

Food is so imbued with cultural meaning and ideology. The original poster and her partner are both struggling with this at different ends of the specturm. People suggest that the OP get help because clearly she's upset at the way this has transpired, and needs support in how to move forward from here with this relationship and how to help him -- not that she needed help for being a veggy.

Although a little bacon never hurt anyone...just kidding just kidding.

On preview: allan.spaulding elucidates this a little better. But I'm off to find some Sunday morning pancakes...
posted by fionab at 10:21 AM on December 18, 2005


So I'm not the only Mefite who thinks scarabic is an asshole.
posted by davy at 10:38 AM on December 18, 2005


andrew cooke noted "i think scarabic was getting increasingly frustrated that no-one understood [him]."

Uh, yeah, I think I can relate to that phenomenon, though.
posted by davy at 10:42 AM on December 18, 2005


It's like the frog and the boiling water, at which comment precisely do the replies become unhelpful? I'm suprised one of them didn't take it to MetaTalk earlier

<nasily voice>
mmm..Actualy, if you put a frog in boiling water, it will just die right away. On the other hand, if you slowly heat up the water, the frog will jump out as soon as it gets to hot.
</nasily voice>
posted by delmoi at 11:12 AM on December 18, 2005


That's a really interesting thread. Actually I just got to the part where scrabic picked a fight with WCityMike (which is basically what happened). I can see jess not wanting to disrupt the flow of the comments, but the argument was way inappropriate for AskMe.
posted by delmoi at 11:23 AM on December 18, 2005


Jeezus H, some of you people have way too much time on your hands.
posted by xmutex at 11:23 AM on December 18, 2005


You're so cool, xmutex. Your sense of apathetic cynicism is so new and relevant that I wish to emulate you man.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 11:27 AM on December 18, 2005


STD: Shall I send you my packet of motivational material and lifestyle plans for you to peruse?
posted by xmutex at 11:35 AM on December 18, 2005


xmx: No, but you might want to change your "I'm so bored with you all" schtick. It's become quite a cliché for you.
posted by mediareport at 11:42 AM on December 18, 2005


On the subject of AskMe helpfulness, I think there are two basics:

1. Prioritize helping the person asking the question over helping someone else they mention.
2. Work on the basic assumption that they are telling you the truth. Don't pick their words apart to find the lies and then tell them what you think they "need to know" about themselves.

Mathowie sums up exactly how I felt about the anonymous angle.

I regret participating in the derail. One less bitchy comment from me would have been plenty.

Thanks for the callout, ortho!
posted by scarabic at 11:43 AM on December 18, 2005


I'll openly admit that that paragraph was a mistake.

This, sooner, would also have been plenty.
posted by scarabic at 11:45 AM on December 18, 2005


that exchange is really fucking priceless! scarabic meets himself and goes to war! i laughed harder with each volley! it's like Pot vs. Kettle at their best! really, do we know that WCityMike isn't scarabic's sock puppet?

Creating a sock puppet so you can argue with yourself online -- the new hotness.
posted by clevershark at 11:47 AM on December 18, 2005


I regret participating in the derail. One less bitchy comment from me would have been plenty.

Great attitude, scrabic. I wish more people took to being called out this way, rather then getting all defensive and soforth. :)
posted by delmoi at 11:48 AM on December 18, 2005


scarabic said "I regret participating in the derail. One less bitchy comment from me would have been plenty."

Hey no fair! This makes it really hard to crap all over you! Now I have to find some other way to handle my medication's side effects and withdrawal symptoms!
posted by davy at 11:55 AM on December 18, 2005


People were attacking anonymous because they could get away with it. End of story. All this "perceived bias" rationalizing is bullshit. There's nothing in the question that suggests that anonymous thinks people who eat meat/McDonalds are lesser forms of beings. There's nothing in the question to suggest that anonymous controls or manipulates her boyfriend's behavior. And there's certainly nothing in the question to suggest that anonymous is somehow contributing to or the cause of her boyfriend's sickness. Indeed, just the oppossite is present e.g. "I promised not to judge him." And even if there were elements in the question to suggest this, good advice wouldn't take the form of many of those posts. What's going on there is the same bullshit that's happened so many times in the past. A bunch of mefis jump in, make the absolute worst assumptions about the asker (Mike's accusing her of lying is priceless), and then proceed to chastise her "for her own good." It's sick. Unfortunately, I don't think there's much that can be done about this disgusting element of the green. I just hope anonymous is wise enough to dismiss many of the commenters as assholes. The derail was probably a good thing.
posted by nixerman at 1:11 PM on December 18, 2005


That was a truly convincing post there, nixerman. Plato would be proud.
posted by WCityMike at 1:43 PM on December 18, 2005


I agree with smackfu. Scarabec, if you have a problem with someone's comment in AskMe then bring it to metatalk ... and keep AskMe dedicated to answers. A simple link to a thread here would have allowed you to fight all you want, while the poster would be able to read advice without having to wade through all that hostile jetslam.
posted by lester at 1:46 PM on December 18, 2005


There's nothing in the question to suggest that anonymous controls or manipulates her boyfriend's behavior.
posted by nixerman at 1:11 PM PST on December 18


"[After finding the bank statements] I freaked out. I freaked out a lot, I yelled, screamed, sobbed, called my best friend, and took a bath."

That is not normal behavior. If you have to have an addiction, I'd say that food addiction is one of the less harmful ones. Over the long term it's unhealthy, but in the short term, there's only so much food you can eat in a day. This is not a man $10,000 in debt over gambling losses or who embezzled money to pay for high-priced escorts. He spent money he didn't have on food, and here's why:

As an ex-vegan/current omnivore, I can tell you that months upon months of lentil soup, falafel, steamed aparagus, and water can cause certain people serious psychological discomfort; the week after I said "fuck this, life's too short" I probably spent a hundred bucks on animal flesh. I am absolutely not surprised that forcing oneself to convert to veganism to please a partner ended in horrific failure. Some people do very well on animal-free diets and some do not. He needs help with overeating and forced adherence to a vegan diet is absolutely not going to help. As smokers know, you crave a cigarette much worse when the pack is empty.

"I made it clear from the get go that I have no interest in dating someone who eats meat"

Your boyfriend eats meat. His diet is his own choice, not yours, and you cannot change what is ingrained - only he can. Either deal with his carnivorism or break up with him; there is no other solution.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:27 PM on December 18, 2005


That is not normal behavior.

Maybe I missed the class on what normal behavior is when discovering a partner is being dishonest, but I didn't realize that there was a universal standard. This is like a prior discussion on "appropriate response to rape" in that everyone handles it differently. I thought her reaction was surprisingly positive in that she didn't immediately confront him, but then again, for some people this is normal and part of the healing process.

I'd say that food addiction is one of the less harmful ones

What is this, the oppression olympics? Obviously this is important to the OP, why trivialize it?
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:37 PM on December 18, 2005


It's unfortunate the post slid into a derail-fight. Any question regarding addiction, not to mention the unique nature of a personal relationship cannot have one clear and absolute answer. I didn't get the feeling anyone was trying to attack anonymous, they seemed to be merely responding frankly. It's difficult not to get caught up in personal emotions when dealing with questions regarding addictive behaviours such as this one.
posted by Radio7 at 2:37 PM on December 18, 2005


Either deal with his carnivorism or break up with him; there is no other solution.

First he has to accept his carnivorism. She told him at the start that she didn't want to date a meat-eater:

I made it clear from the get go that I have no interest in dating someone who eats meat


The guy signed up for this. Then he lied to cover up the fact that he couldn't hack it. And you're blaming her for having unreal expectations? At least she made them clear. He didn't have to sign on to fulfill them. That was his choice. His dishonesty and failure to live up to his commitment is the easy target in this picture.
posted by scarabic at 2:47 PM on December 18, 2005


The guy signed up for this. Then he lied to cover up the fact that he couldn't hack it. And you're blaming her for having unreal expectations?

I'd blame him, too, but I doubt anonymous is going to show her boyfriend the thread, so anything I say along those lines is useless.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:59 PM on December 18, 2005


The guy signed up for this.

It's not bob's fault he keeps beating up his wife, she signed up for this.

Seriously though, even described through the woman's perspective this sounds like pretty serious emotional manipulation on her part, borderline emotional abuse and that's from her perspective.

Since we're not in the ask-me thread anymore I guess I can unload. It really sounds like this woman is making this guy's life absolutely miserable. And why? Because he likes to eat at McD's once in a while? He lost 50 pounds and put only a few more on, there's absolutely no reason to 'freak out'. You need food to live and everyone is 'addicted' to it, the only problem is when it really starts to impact their health -- there's no indication that this is impacting anything other then his girlfriend's psychotic control complex.

I'm not saying it's as bad as being physically abused but flipping out over a few McDonalds receipts isn't a healthy attitude to have (is it normal? certainly not in our general culture)
posted by delmoi at 3:28 PM on December 18, 2005


Maybe I missed the class on what normal behavior is when discovering a partner is being dishonest, but I didn't realize that there was a universal standard. This is like a prior discussion on "appropriate response to rape" in that everyone handles it differently.

There's a pretty big difference between being raped and having a boyfriend who likes a big Mac or two every once in a while.
posted by delmoi at 3:31 PM on December 18, 2005


There's nothing in the question to suggest that anonymous controls or manipulates her boyfriend's behavior.

Dude, what are you talking about? The entire question was "how can I control my bf and get him to stop eating meat?"
posted by delmoi at 3:35 PM on December 18, 2005


People are rougher on anonymous question askers because they are anonymous, and I think people feel they can get away with giving a nameless, faceless person some guff or call them into question (esp. since the anon person can't even answer).

It's like taunting a bully you know can't fight back.


Nice blanket insult, there, mathowie. Very classy. For my part, if I was 'rough' on the anonymous asker of the thread, it was because I think that person has been and continues to psychologically abuse her partner (who it seems is no great prize either, but we only see him through the lens of her disapprobation), and the only way she's going to be able 'to help [her]self' -- because in everything else in the story except the solution, it seems, it's all about her -- is if she stops.

My opinion, and no less valid than the opinions every other commenter in that thread pulled out of their asses, because in threads of that type, there is no right answer.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:43 PM on December 18, 2005


People are rougher on anonymous question askers because they are anonymous, and I think people feel they can get away with giving a nameless, faceless person some guff or call them into question (esp. since the anon person can't even answer).

It's like taunting a bully you know can't fight back.
posted by mathowie at 8:53 AM PST on December 18 [!]


Perhaps, but the lower level of courage in posting anonymously engenders a stronger response. I think it is less about the inability to fight back and more about the anonymity. If you gave these people the ability to comment in their own thread, i.e. a one thread useful password, I would bet they would still receive the additional grief, but many instances of mistaken impression could perhaps be quelled. It is funny how after being jumped on for ill motives many people explain their motives in a way that makes the issue fade away. Right now anon gets but one chance to get it right. If they fail to perceive how their intentions may be misperceived based upon the initial wording, too bad. They have to just sit there and suffer the abuse.
posted by caddis at 3:55 PM on December 18, 2005


stavros, your opinion is worthless because it helps nobody. Well, I suppose it may help you. Perhaps you feel better about yourself by putting down anonymous. I won't even go into how idiotic your enormous, unfounded assumptions are -- yeah, a woman psychologically abuses her partner and then goes to AskMe for advice on how to continue the abuse? Makes perfect sense! -- the fact is that if you were concerned, at all, for the welfare of her boyfriend then the tone of your response would reflect this. It doesn't. It just reflects your desire to get your licks in. This isn't about bad advice at all. People give stupid advice all the time on the green. This is about being civil to a person who asks for help and not taking advantage of their problematic state. You might've suggested anonymous break up with her boyfriend in a respectful manner. You didn't. Very classy on your part. And then you have the nerve to hide behind the "no right answer" device. Sheesh.

They have to just sit there and suffer the abuse.

Er, yeah. That makes sense. Maybe mathowie should also include some sort of warning for anonymous askers? Something along the lines of "You will be abused but the abuse is your fault for being a coward and asking an anonymous question." That might fix the problem.
posted by nixerman at 4:00 PM on December 18, 2005


Dude, what are you talking about? The entire question was "how can I control my bf and get him to stop eating meat?"

Did anyone read the fucking question? The dude is eating 4 meals consecutively, and I don't give a fuck if it's at McDs (which I totally want now, by the way), or Neela's Vegan Palace of Soy - 3 consecutive dinners BEFORE going out to eat with friends several days a week is NOT GOOD. It's a sign that something is very, very wrong with this guy and he needs help regardless of whether or not his vegan girlfriend thinks meat is gross or whatever.

It's not about meat or McDs, it's about extremely compulsive overeating.
posted by tristeza at 4:02 PM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


The bias here is amazing. A guy who compulsively overeats, lies, and can't manage money gets about equal consideration to the woman who wants a vegetarian partner. What a couple of sickos! :)

Seriously, it's a pretty fucked situation so I don't see all that much point pursuing it further. But to bring it back to what I considered the core point: try to help the MeFite asking the question. Come on. Anonymous is one of our own, whoever it is. At least pretend to care about their plight improving.

Some people take the approach that showing someone the error of their ways is helping them, and some people go even further than that. Flipping it all around and making her out to be a psychological abuser - whew. I just don't know, folks. There are times when I see a really screwed up question and my thought is: "Fuck that. I can't help that sicko." The correct response is to move on in silence.

Your first response was one thing, stavros, but calling her a bitch was beneath you. With moments like that, your occasional criticism of my attitude means very little.
posted by scarabic at 4:12 PM on December 18, 2005


delmoi - you've been pretty reasonable throughout, but consider that:

compulsively overeats, lies, and can't manage money

does not equal

"likes a big Mac or two every once in a while."

The severity of the guy's condition cannot be denied, if you accept the basic truth of what the questioner posted. Saying "lay off lady, and let him enjoy his burger!" does seem to ignore the gravity of the situation. He's not enjoying it. He's binging on it. You don't have to be a vegetarian to find that gross.
posted by scarabic at 4:16 PM on December 18, 2005


I won't even go into how idiotic your enormous, unfounded assumptions

It is the nature of these 'help me with the intimate details of my personal life' questions that anyone who wades in to try and give their opinion -- and I reiterate that not only is any commenter's 'answer' only an opinion, it's one that by the very nature of the exercise is based on unfounded assumptions, because nobody can get a real handle on the dynamics of other people's relationships in a few paragraphs of text -- must do so with only the information they can glean from the description of the situation. These kinds of questions suck, in my opinion.

AskMe is about answers, nixerman, right? My answer was the only one I could give, given how utterly unpleasant a person I thought the original poster seemed to be, that I thought would help the situation. Simple as that. You may ascribe that to 'getting my licks in', but that says more about you than it does about me, I'm afraid.

a woman psychologically abuses her partner and then goes to AskMe for advice on how to continue the abuse?

That seems to me to be perfectly reasonable, if the woman in question is so deeply wrapped up in self-regard that she does not realize she is committing the abuse, yes. This is what I believed when I commented, and still believe. Whether it's true or not, neither you nor I can know, unless you are or know the person in question personally. The OP is presumably a grown up who could take my comments, those of WCityMike, and those of anyone else in the thread for what they were worth, and what the nature of AskMe, particularly when it's situations like this force them to be: semi-informed opinion.

Whatever. I wasn't taken to task by anyone in the original thread, but I was annoyed to be included in mathowie's blanket accusation about behaviour in anonymous threads, which may be true some of the time, but which is far from being true across the board.

But to bring it back to what I considered the core point: try to help the MeFite asking the question

Like I said, I was trying to help, though it clearly doesn't seem so.

The bitch thing was a dig at you, scarabic, with an unnecessary sideswipe at the OP, and for that, I will apologize. Just for that bit, though.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:20 PM on December 18, 2005


Exactly, tristeza. Actually, I think the sense of priorities is what got a lot of people on edge; imagine if his terrible compulsion involved dissembling bicycles and consuming them piece by piece in secret, only to have her response be to cry, "I can't believe he's doing this, when he knows how highly I esteem alternative transportation!"

The guy clearly has a hugely serious health problem and the asker is zooming right past that forest for the one particular tree she hates most, but I agree that heaping abuse on her head is less likely to help than would a careful explanation of why his disesase his more important that her unease. Several people provided that, thankfully, so it's a rather shame it had to devolve into such rancor at the end.
posted by melissa may at 4:23 PM on December 18, 2005


One anonymous asker's perspective: "[I]t's possible, as demonstrated by several thoughtful people in this thread, to be frank about the facts of matters like this without being reproachful."

I really think we need to ask ourselves, "Will this help, or will it make the asker pull back and regret asking for help at all?"
posted by Gator at 4:27 PM on December 18, 2005


You can call me a bitch anytime you like, of course. But calling her an even bigger bitch than me -- whoo! them's harsh words :)
posted by scarabic at 4:28 PM on December 18, 2005


Actually, I'll fess up even more, thinking about my response to the OP. There were so many clues (including the ones WCityMike mentioned) scattered throughout anonymous's description of the situation that led me to my opinion, clues that I've seen in destructive relationships of friends of mine both male and female, relationships that invariably ended in grief, that warning klaxons went off, deafeningly.

It has nothing to do with diet.

I've personally been on both ends of the situation -- as a vegetarian with a non-veggie partner, and as an omnivore with a veggie partner. I reiterate -- my opinion and comments had nothing to do with diet. That's why I did not even address it. Further, it's my opinion -- and I address this in particular to nixerman and scarabic -- that addressing the issue of diet missed the point, and quite possibly could cause more harm than it could help, by focussing on something that is not the core of the problem.

My opinion.

All we can do when we listen to someone's story is listen carefully to how they tell it, and try and glean as much information as we can from that. There's no other way.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:30 PM on December 18, 2005


caddis writes "If you gave these people the ability to comment in their own thread, i.e. a one thread useful password"

As I alluded to upthread, there's an even easier way to implement allowing anons to post in their own anon threads.
posted by orthogonality at 5:02 PM on December 18, 2005


You may be right about the actual truth of the situation between them, stavros. In your final sentence I hear a note of "don't just read the question, intuit the real truth." I think this is where we disagree.

In my opinion, we can only do so much in AskMe, and where we cannot teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, we should confine ourselves to doing what's helpful. I would rather work with the question as provided than "glean" anything. One of the basic problems with the anon format is you don't always get all the info you need. But the gleaning that was going on in this one was long-legged and rangy - past the point of reliability, usefulness, helpfulness. The approach I'm proposing is certainly more limited: work only with what you're given. But AskMe is limited. And I think it should be limited to what's helpful.

I'm not saying people were necessarily wrong. Their intuition could be right on. I'm just saying they went outside what was provided in the question, and didn't always proceed with the questioner's service at the absolute forefront of their mind. I think that's what AskMe is about. Answer the question asked. Help the questioner.

(and give a MeFite the benefit of the doubt - it's a community, ffs).

My opinion!
posted by scarabic at 5:03 PM on December 18, 2005


what's this method, orthogonality?
posted by scarabic at 5:03 PM on December 18, 2005


Stavros for MVP.
posted by Kwantsar at 5:07 PM on December 18, 2005


scarabic writes "what's this method, orthogonality?"

Matt can email me if he wants an implementation.

As for how, well, I'll leave that as an exercise. Anyone who has read my technical AskMe comments won't have much difficultly in figuring out how'd I'd go about it. Really, it's a simple thing, just think it out.
posted by orthogonality at 5:10 PM on December 18, 2005


ooookay then.
posted by scarabic at 5:21 PM on December 18, 2005


Matt, please email orthogonality. It would be a useful feature, and it is clear he is a skilled programmer.
posted by caddis at 5:23 PM on December 18, 2005


The approach I'm proposing is certainly more limited: work only with what you're given.

Precisely what I suggest. I think we can agree there's a spectrum here. A mundane example:

Q: Why Didn't I get teh proufreaderz job i applyed for?

A: Well, duh.


It's impossible to separate the way in which words are used from the meaning the speaker is trying to impart, even if the two messages are (forgive me, orthogonality)... orthogonal. This is something I believe quite strongly (and lies also behind my occasional jihad against unironic LOLisms and stuff).
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:26 PM on December 18, 2005


scarabic writes "ooookay then."

No, seriously, work it out: what is the minimum necessary information for a user to add a comment to a thread? (The answer is implicit in the question.)

What format does that information take in order to be persisted?

Then, what additional information is necessary to add that information, but attribute it to "Anonymous"?

Finally, how can you persistently add that comment, but attribute it to "Anonymous"?

When you break this down, the answer, again, is implicit in the questions.
posted by orthogonality at 5:31 PM on December 18, 2005


I'd guess a temporary cookie would work fine, but I have no idea if it would be unhackable.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:34 PM on December 18, 2005


What format does that information take in order to be persisted?

Then, what additional information is necessary to add that information, but attribute it to "Anonymous"?

Finally, how can you persistently add that comment, but attribute it to "Anonymous"?

When you break this down, the answer, again, is implicit in the questions.
posted by orthogonality at 5:31 PM PST on December 18


I'd wager it's some sort of walking clock.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:36 PM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


If it weighs the same as a duck....
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:38 PM on December 18, 2005


"There are times when I see a really screwed up question and my thought is: 'Fuck that. I can't help that sicko.'"

Substitute "comment" for "question" and I do that a lot.

"The correct response is to move on in silence."

I even do that sometimes, though it's seldom the correct response for ME.

(By the way scarabic, will you hop a flight out here to Louisville and massage my neck? I'll never pick on you again if you do, I swear!)

Anyway. What IS this thread about, again?
posted by davy at 5:41 PM on December 18, 2005


Yeah I can think of several ways this all could happen. As I believe Matt has said in the past, a re-tool of the existing anon functionality might be a dependency. Anon is kind of a hack as it is. That would be the real question in my mind. Not how to engineer it as quickly as possible on top of what exists.
posted by scarabic at 5:43 PM on December 18, 2005


No need for another cookie. Think!
posted by orthogonality at 5:43 PM on December 18, 2005


I'm pretty sure this thread is not about hitting on me, davy :)
posted by scarabic at 5:44 PM on December 18, 2005


ortho - you're cracking me up. If my engineers or architect proceeded like this in a meeting, I'd fire them :D
posted by scarabic at 5:45 PM on December 18, 2005


*stamps his feet, demands a cookie. and some milk*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:46 PM on December 18, 2005


The severity of the guy's condition cannot be denied, if you accept the basic truth of what the questioner posted.

Well, I simply disagree. He lost 50 pounds on weight watchers and 'gained a few back' later. He lies about what he eats, yes, but that doesn't mean he has a problem with eating in general, just that she has a problem with his eating. Particularly what he eats.

And as far as money management goes, well, that’s her opinion, but money management doesn't have much to do with eating. Unless he's dropping more then $500 a month on food for himself or something. But that's another issue. Again, if he were allowed to buy meat at the store and cook it at home, he'd save a lot of money.

I mean, if we're really only talking about "a few pounds" back in a few months, then this just isn't that huge of a problem, and it's also being exacerbated by her attempting to (perhaps wrong-headedly) control his food intake so much.

Ultimately the severity of his problem can be diagnosed only if we know how much he actually weighs. If it's 300 pounds, I could see the issue, if it's 220... I donno.

---

Matt, please email orthogonality. It would be a useful feature, and it is clear he is a skilled programmer.
Well, the real issue is how to integrate the feature with the existing codebase, rather then coding the feature itself. Really not that hard to do, and of course you'll want to make it hack-proof as well.

What format does that information take in order to be persisted?

orthogonality One of the problems is that we don't want that information to be persistent. Yes, really. Matt wants anon questions to be truly anonymous once he deletes the notification email, there will be no link anywhere between the original question and the original poster.

Not only that, there are issues of how to present the information on the page, etc. It's not quite so simple, and compounded by the code that exists already (which, I imagine to be quite a mess :P)
posted by delmoi at 5:50 PM on December 18, 2005


scarabic writes "ortho - you're cracking me up. If my engineers or architect proceeded like this in a meeting, I'd fire them :D"


Yes, you probably would. I'm not trying to be your engineer-- I'm trying to get you to think.
posted by orthogonality at 5:51 PM on December 18, 2005


The basic problem with anon answering is two-fold as I see it:

1) If you create a new token for people, they might lose it or it could be guessed.

2) If you attach it to the person's real account, then the secret identity could be extracted by a hacker or the FEDS.

If it were up to me, there would be two classes of anon questions, 'cloaked' psudo-anonymous questions (this one would probably fall under that category) and "hard" anonymous questions where the user gets two tokens (a number and a password that they choose, both should be written down). The user would then need to enter their tokens in 24hrs later in order to prove that yes, they did write down or memorize their tokens.

Neither one would take much coding, but whatever.
posted by delmoi at 5:55 PM on December 18, 2005


delmoi writes "Matt wants anon questions to be truly anonymous once he deletes the notification email, there will be no link anywhere between the original question and the original poster."


If the anon is that anonymous, then -- by definition -- there's no way to identify the anon asker so they can post anonymously to their question thread. If that is the requirement, then you're right so far as that goes -- there's no way to allow the asker to post anonymously to the thread later.

But is that really the requirement? We already know an anon asker can add to the thread by going through Matt or Jessamyn.
posted by orthogonality at 5:56 PM on December 18, 2005


Just display a password on the "question posted" page, which can be later entered for adding comments. An association between thread numbers and passwords is saved, but no association between real usernames and anonymous threads is saved. The problem I see with this is that someone submitted anonymous comments probably shoud logout and delete cookies first. And it's not at all secure.

I am thinking, ortho. Probably not very intelligently, though.
posted by scarabic at 6:08 PM on December 18, 2005


An automated anonymous post system is just a system begging to be abused.
posted by Roger Dodger at 6:13 PM on December 18, 2005


Well, I simply disagree. He lost 50 pounds on weight watchers and 'gained a few back' later. He lies about what he eats, yes, but that doesn't mean he has a problem with eating in general, just that she has a problem with his eating. Particularly what he eats.

OMG I'm gonna shit a brick here. From the original question:

"...when our relationship went through a long-distance period and I was living a few hundred miles away he would go to three different restaurants for three different meals before going out to eat with friends, or he'd get a few frozen pizzas and eat them all at home...(now, after he did OK on Weight Watchers) There are hundreds of dollars in fast food charges on his statement."

HUNDREDS of dollars. How many McNuggets is that? Can you honestly read this and NOT think there's a problem??
posted by tristeza at 6:14 PM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


Okay I'm officially passing the "brick of shit" to tristeza. You go, girl!
posted by scarabic at 6:33 PM on December 18, 2005


Anon asks Matt to approve a question. Matt approves, sends original asker (whose user name and email address he knows, at least initially) the thread number and a 17,573-digit prime number code that allows for commenting anonymously in that thread only (there's an input to enter the necessary code on all anon askme pages). Matt doesn't need to know the identity of anons any longer than he does now (and shorter than if he or jessamyn respond for the anon via email). Pretty_Generic or whoever can knock himself out trying to crack the code (and simple safeguards can make that extremely unlikely) but it isn't really going to do him much good other than to impersonate anon in that one thread.
posted by TimeFactor at 6:36 PM on December 18, 2005


I wonder how many anon posters even *want* to follow-up. I read AskMeFi pretty frequently and don't recall seeing many posts from matt or jessamyn saying, "the original poster asked me to add this clarification..."
posted by cedar at 6:40 PM on December 18, 2005


Just display a password on the "question posted" page, which can be later entered for adding comments. An association between thread numbers and passwords is saved, but no association between real usernames and anonymous threads is saved.

That would allow anyone with some patience to break any thread with a weak password. If I pick "dog" as my anon password, anyone can guess it, and that would be a total mess.
posted by delmoi at 7:13 PM on December 18, 2005


Anon asks Matt to approve a question. Matt approves, sends original asker (whose user name and email address he knows, at least initially) the thread number and a 17,573-digit prime number code

Any particular reason for using a 17,573 digit prime number code? That would only be equivilant to a 4,139 random digit passcode, by the way.
posted by delmoi at 7:16 PM on December 18, 2005


Right, delmoi, but I think the password should be selected for you. Something harder than that.
posted by scarabic at 7:20 PM on December 18, 2005


HUNDREDS of dollars. How many McNuggets is that? Can you honestly read this and NOT think there's a problem??

I budget about $400 a month for food, and eat between 1,500 and 1,800 calories a day. Granted, I don't actually spend nearly that much, but that's what I budget for food, for myself.

Ever once in a while I'll go to burger king and order as follows 1 BK tendercrisp chicken sandwich (790 kcal), 1 9pc chicken fries (390 kcal) and small French fries (~200 kcal). That about 1,400 food Calories. It costs me about $7. If I did that every day, it would cost $210 in a month, and 1,400 a day is a very harsh weight-loss diet.

By the way. IIRC a 10pc chicken nugget is about $3.50. so $100 is only 285 nuggets. Each nugget is about 42 food Calories, so for every $100 spent per month, you're going to be consuming about 399 calories. In order to get 2,000 calories a day from McNuggets alone, you'd need to spend $500 a month.
posted by delmoi at 7:30 PM on December 18, 2005


Sorry, I mean for every $100 spent per month, you'll be eating about 399 calories per day.
posted by delmoi at 7:35 PM on December 18, 2005


I wonder how many anon posters even *want* to follow-up

But getting rid of all the MeTa threads and comments requesting anon follow-ups would be significant progress.

Any particular reason for using a 17,573 digit prime number code?

"17,573-digit" is itself code for "mega-humongo-titanically super-big"
posted by TimeFactor at 7:37 PM on December 18, 2005


delmoi: That's a great analysis if you think calorie counting is the sole dimension for evaluating diet. Eating hundreds of dollars in fast food per month is nasty in terms of fat content and nutritional value per calorie. It's not about sheer number of calories. It's about quality. And I'm not even going to get into the economic and environmental arguments against fast food.
posted by scarabic at 7:43 PM on December 18, 2005


delmoi, i give up - you're being willfully obtuse and it's too frustrating to continue arguing. If you think eating 4 dinners a night and "a few" pizzas in a sitting is normal, well, then I can't disabuse you of that notion.
posted by tristeza at 7:44 PM on December 18, 2005


That would only be equivalent to a 4,139 random digit passcode, by the way.

Ugh, crap. That's wrong. The actual answer number of random digits would be log((1/17573)*(1017573)).

Which is actually just 17573 - 4.8, or ~17568. So that's not much of a reduction. Still kind of redundant, though.
posted by delmoi at 7:49 PM on December 18, 2005


delmoi, i give up - you're being willfully obtuse and it's too frustrating to continue arguing. If you think eating 4 dinners a night and "a few" pizzas in a sitting is normal, well, then I can't disabuse you of that notion.

It's normal if you do that a couple of times a month and you're starving yourself the rest of the time.

If you think eating 399 calories a day is too much because it costs "hundreds" of dollars a month, then you're simply out of your mind.

The fact is, we simply don't know enough information to determine how much food he's eating and if it's an unhealthy amount. As I think I've clearly shown, spending a few hundred dollars at McD's a month is clearly not over eating if he's not getting much food in other ways.
posted by delmoi at 7:52 PM on December 18, 2005


I'm curious -- anyone else think it odd that all of these fast-food restaurants accept credit cards? Or even debit cards? (It's not clear from the OP's question whether her boyfriend used his debit card or a credit card; only that the charges show up on his bank statement.)

Full disclosure: I eat meat and I also eat at fast-food restaurants. I can't tell you how often I *wish* I knew where a Wendy's or a McDonald's that takes credit cards was. But I don't - because most fast-food places I frequent don't take them. So no one would ever find out anything about my eating habits by scrutinizing my bank statement...

Is it that different elsewhere in the U.S.?
posted by jenii at 8:00 PM on December 18, 2005


I'm trying to get you to think.

*thinks*

*thinks some more*

*pauses, stops thinking about the awful betrayal of the poor by New Orleans banking interests during the aftermath of the 1927 flood*

Oh, you mean think about web programming? Or search through your comment history to find out what you really mean? Uh, yeah, I'll get right on that.

Now would you stop being so goddamn coy and just post your solution? Jesus H, man; you're a trip.
posted by mediareport at 8:20 PM on December 18, 2005


jenii McD's has taken credit cards for a while, in fact I've recently seen MasterCard ads that talk about how they're accepted at McDonald's (which struck me as something shameful, something you shouldn't advertise, but oh well).

Personally I really can't stand eating at McDonald's very often, the food just really isn't that good. But I like BK. Rather pathetic :P I think BK takes debit cards too, but I'm not sure. Both places are open 24 hrs too, maybe that's a factor. (this is in the middle of Iowa)

You should try asking the next time you go through.
posted by delmoi at 8:28 PM on December 18, 2005


Huh. Well, much as I sometimes wish I could use my credit card (days so busy I forget to eat lunch and am starving on my hour-long commute home but realize too late I have no cash), it is probably just as well that most of the fast-food places near me (this is in southeast Michigan) don't take credit cards -- yet.

I am one of those people who eats at McDonald's guiltily and seldom. But I would certainly eat there more often if my significant other made me promise not to. Perverse, yes. But human nature.

(On the other hand, I would never get involved with someone who made it clear from the get-go that my not eating meat was a condition of our relationship. But that's me.)
posted by jenii at 8:44 PM on December 18, 2005


The fact is, we simply don't know enough information to determine how much food he's eating and if it's an unhealthy amount.

Dood! How about this information:

My boyfriend of three years has an eating disorder. ... he is a compulsive overeater ... he would go to three different restaurants for three different meals before going out to eat with friends, or he'd get a few frozen pizzas and eat them all at home

You are really straining here to make it possible that this guy is not eating an unhealthy diet. Why are you going to such lengths to give him the extreme benefit of the doubt? I really cannot understand it. You drew up this spreadsheet of what "hundreds of dollars in fast food charges" might actually boil down to in calories, and are telling us that it might actually be okay IF HE'S STARVING HIMSELF OTHERWISE? Come on, delmoi. You're not being reasonable anymore.

The hundreds of dollars in fast food charges were all surreptitious meals his gf didn't know about, so it's incredibly unlikely that this is all he ate.

I'm really stunned at the way folks will go out of their way to rationalize this guy's behavior. I am forced to conclude that an overweight male fast-food junkie just has more demographic representation on MetaFilter than a female vegetarian.
posted by scarabic at 8:55 PM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


scarabic writes "I am forced to conclude that an overweight male fast-food junkie just has more demographic representation on MetaFilter than a female vegetarian."

Vegan chicks are out communing with the tofu trees.

But dude, fat guys with greasy hair and crumbs in their beards built the internet.
posted by orthogonality at 9:13 PM on December 18, 2005


Oh and by the way, I'm not as down on fast food as Scarabic is, but I gotta admit he's making a lot of sense.

(What have you done with the REAL Scarabic, you pod you?)
posted by davy at 9:32 PM on December 18, 2005


Vegan chicks are out communing with the tofu trees.

Actually, they seem to be on the internet looking for advice on how to dealth with their disgusting boyfriends (who built it). Ah the irony!
posted by scarabic at 9:41 PM on December 18, 2005




Part of the problem I tend to see on Ask.Me is that people tend to approach it very much from the "If I were you, I wouldn't start from here" mindset which just isn't helpful. People don't come to Ask.Me to say "What would you have done differently?" (in the main), they come to say "What you do now?"
posted by benzo8 at 10:59 PM on December 18, 2005


(And I tend to use "tend" too often...)
posted by benzo8 at 11:00 PM on December 18, 2005


Yeah, but sometimes backing up and reframing the problem is the first step in a solution, benzo8. You're probably right that it tends to happen too often in AskMe, but this sort of approach has its time and place. This anonymous poster, for example, seems to have painted herself into a corner with a particularly unproductive approach to her boyfriend's problem. Advising her to back up and rethink her framing of the problem is perhaps the most helpful thing to do.
posted by squirrel at 11:12 PM on December 18, 2005


That's true to a degree, squirrel, but there's a difference between suggesting someone take a step back and see if they can recover themselves from a misplaced leap than saying "You stupid bitch, why did you jump there?"
posted by benzo8 at 11:23 PM on December 18, 2005


Advising her to back up and rethink her framing of the problem is perhaps the most helpful thing to do.

I can only sort of agree there. You can tell her to get out of this relationship. But you can't tell her she shouldn't have gotten into it. Well, you could. But you'd be a busybody toldjaso, not a helpful AskMe participant. benzo8 says it well: AskMe should be 'let me tell you what to do now' not 'let me tell you where you went wrong.'
posted by scarabic at 11:27 PM on December 18, 2005


Guide to Community Double Standards, #XIV:

Heroin addicts, crack addicts, alcoholics: poor bastards.
Smokers, grease-n-sugar addicts: disgusting wastes of flesh.
posted by darukaru at 6:54 AM on December 19, 2005


You can tell her to get out of this relationship. But you can't tell her she shouldn't have gotten into it.

I agree with you; that's worthless advise. What I'm talking about is advising the asker to reframe the problem now, so that previously hidden solutions may appear. This is an action item in the present, not a worthless criticism for having done something wrong in the past.
posted by squirrel at 10:14 AM on December 19, 2005


As if the original thread wasn't surreal enough, ortho somehow manages to pick one instance of doucebaggery out of many to call-out and then has some weird stream-of-consciousness swami/systems design lecture in the middle.

Who needs peyote?
posted by phearlez at 4:36 PM on December 19, 2005


The approach I'm proposing is certainly more limited: work only with what you're given.

Speaking only for myself:

No.
posted by bingo at 8:22 PM on December 19, 2005


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