Meta: A few minor modifications to the site rules

Some modifications to the site rules.

In light of the terrible news out of Tuscon, Arizona this weekend, and in the interest of furthering civil debate here in this forum–we have made a few modifications to the site rules. Most commenters will be utterly unaffected by these.

The additions are:

3. Hyperbole can help make a point, but carried too far detracts from the conversation, specfically:

  • Anything proposing, suggesting, or even hinting at violence is out of bounds.
  • Use of inflammatory words or comparisons (“tyranny”, “fascism”, “communist”, “genocide”, “Hitler”, “un-American”) in the context of discussing transportation or land-use issues, is out of bounds.

The first item should be uncontroversial, and requires little explanation. I do not recall any past violations of that principle here–it is merely added for completeness. In national politics, though, there have been several examples of political campaigns which crossed this line, including a few notorious ads directed at one of the victims of Saturday’s shooting.

The second items might be a bit more controversial, and does merit some further explanation.

Portland Transport is not a blog about political theory or history, and in particular does not cover countries such as Germany or the former Soviet Union, where totalitarian regimes have in fact arisen. As such, discussion of Nazis, communists, and similar subjects is not a legitimate primary topic of this site. This blog is about transportation (particularly public transit) and land-use planning, with a geographic focus on the Portland, OR metropolitan area. And in that context, you’ll find utterly nobody who is a significant player in the debate advocating any such ideologies, or who can be reasonably called an adherent of them. As a result of these two facts, any invocation of terms such as “Nazi” is either likely to be off-topic, or excessively polemic rather than informative. In the context of the vast majority of political debate in the US at this time, these words only function as terms of abuse–when used in the context of (small-d) democratic politics, they are almost always intended to demean or delegitimize something or someone, and as Andrew Sullivan notes, suggests they are “beyond the pale”, and thus outside the norms of normal democratic debate. These terms generally not used to shed light on a topic. There are some cases where uses of these terms might be appropriate in a domestic public transit context (the LA Bus Riders’ Union has some noticeable Marxist leanings, for example), but the vast majority of public transit supporters in town with any influence aren’t Marxists or Nazis, and neither are their opponents.

It is permissible to focus on aspects of public transit or SOV-use which one finds distasteful–if a commenter believes that public subsidy of transit with general-fund taxes is undesirable, he or she is welcome to say so. But calling the practice “socialist” or “communist” is needlessly pejorative, and incorrect to boot–modern capitalist societies have been providing public transit to their citizens for decades, without embracing Marxism. Likewise, it’s acceptable to point out that excessive use of single-occupancy vehicles increases dependence on foreign oil and increases pollution; it’s not acceptable, however, to accuse auto commuters of “genocide” due to the unsavory nature and practices of some of the petroleum-exporting states in the world.

Feel free to discuss or ask questions.

13 responses to “Meta: A few minor modifications to the site rules”

  1. “there have been several examples of political campaigns which crossed this line, including a few notorious ads directed at one of the victims of Saturday’s shooting”

    No kidding.

    The use of targets is horrible.

    Daily Kos actually put a “bulls eye” (sic) on Gabrielle Giffords back in June of 2008:

    But how about the use of words like “silly” and “disingenuous”?

    Which is what I found your recent conversion of the MLR debate into “better to spend $1.5 billion on Light Rail instead of on a freeway”.

    Since MLR is spending $1.5 billion on light rail instead of regional infrastruture upgrades, schools, public safety, TriMet operations, Sellwood Bridge, all the under funded lottery programs and other higher priorities your freeway comment is offensive and undermines civil discourse.

    You may think this regular PT manipulation of a topic is clever or useful but it is counter productive to genuine discussion.

  2. Steve, next time you try to make this a partisan issue, link to a factual article. There is no evidence that the Daily Kos site ever put a graphical “bulls eye” on anybody.

    Since you brought it up, here’s the response from Kos:,-lies-about-Daily-Kos

    That’s the end of that distraction.

    I’m glad you agree that the use of targets is horrible. As someone who has managed a political group that has literally been fired upon, and who has friends who have had their homes shot up and their cars run off the road, I’m sensitive to this issue.

    The gyrations the far-right is going through right now to try and pin some kind of false equivalency on the left with “they do it too” reek of desperation.

    You may think this regular PT manipulation of a topic is clever or useful but it is counter productive to genuine discussion.

    Everything Scotty wrote, above, was done from a neutral perspective and was not intended to pit one side against another. Quite the contrary. Yet you characterize this as come kind of “manipulation”.

    This topic is now closed.

  3. Inappropriate rhetoric is inappropriate regardless from wherever it comes from. I deliberately avoided trying to make it a left-vs-right issue (other than a brief mention of the circumstances around Saturday’s intended victim) precisely to avoid the whole “conservatives do it/liberals do it too” distraction. Much like fighting children arguing over which one is more guilty and thus deserving of a more severe punishment from Dad, the argument over “whudunit” is likewise pointless. The point is, such over-the-topic rhetoric is poisonous to civil debate, and I don’t much care where it comes from, nor do I want to entertain that debate here.

    If you would like to discuss how the policy applies here, the floor is open. If you want to discuss which of Sarah Palin or Markos Moulitsas has been naughtier at polluting the national public debate, take it elsewhere.

  4. As far as words like “disingenuous” go, that depends on context. Application of words like “disingenuous” to other commenters here, particularly without explaination, is generally a no-no. It’s rude, and if you really think that someone else is not being intellectually honest, there are better ways to make that point, such as pointing out contradictions in one’s position and politely asking for a clarification. I’m generally not opposed to referring to public officials as such–especially if you can demonstrate how–but again, if you can show that someone is trying to pull a fast one, you’ll have a stronger argument.

    A good rule of thumb–and one I’ll admit I don’t always remember to follow–is that harsh words often give cover to weak arguments. Anyone can feign outrage by salting their prose with four-letter words, anyone can sidestep the substance of a dispute by attacking their motives or character of the other side, anyone can try to bully an opponent by getting personal. Convincing people without doing these things is much harder.

    The word “silly”, which I freely admit to using often, doesn’t bother me much at all–especially when applied to a position or idea (“thinking that you can build your way out of congestion is silly”) rather than to an individual. Even in the personal context, it’s a rather mild rebuke– suggesting unseriousness or simple lack of knowledge of a subject, rather than any form of malign intent.

  5. [Moderator: Further responses and defenses of article attacking Kos site, manipulation of topics by this site, etc., this moderator’s supposed inability to grasp real points, etc., removed. When I tell you I’ve closed a topic, I mean it. Moderator’s prerogative. – Bob R.]

  6. Oh you guys can really disappoint me ya know that?

    Censorship is censorship, it is completely contrary to the entire premise of internet freedom.

    There are always going to be crazy people and always be violence, stopping words is not the answer!

  7. Censorship is something governments do to people. Private publications, including blogs, can choose to publish and solicit comments according to their own rules. To force a blog to carry comments which violate blog rules is not “free speech”.

    If you disagree with the moderation policies of this blog, or in particular are taken aback by the removal of a comment you make, you are free in this society to go create a blog of your own and share your particular view of the world, and I for one strongly defend your right to do so.

    Editorial viewpoint and moderation policy are not “censorship”.

  8. Ya ok Scot, Bob, Chris et al.

    Just found it curious that you guys would post that on this blog.

    It gets crazy here sometimes but this blog actually functions with discourse properly.

    Right, left, liberal, conservative, whatever label you choose to use, always stick with the words and rhetoric, not veiled threats of physical violence.

    The culture would do well to emulate this blog actually as an example of the proper way to handle very diverse points of view in a civilized manner.

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