Archive for February, 2008

Hello webmaster: Coping with clever spam

Posted in Writing and blogging on February 14th, 2008

Most blog spam attempts are pretty lame. LISHost’s server settings trap a lot of them, I think. My refusal to allow pings/linkbacks gets rid of many more. Setting a limit of six months for comments (unless a thread is active) helps–spammers are mostly out to improve their own pageranks, so they try to hide spam comments on very old posts that nobody looks at any more.

For the rest, there’s Spam Karma 2, which continues to do great work. As far as I can tell, no more than about one spamment (spam comment) makes it through to the blog itself every month, maybe not that many–and I rescue legitimate comments from the spam list about as often (maybe once a month–usually for having too many links). That means I do still check the Spam Karma logs, typically 20 to 40 a day.

I’m particularly amused by spam comments that try to disguise themselves as real comments, by referring directly to the topic of the post. That’s pretty transparent with most attempts here, because my post titles are, how shall we say it, not direct subject headings by any means. (“Obscure” and “peculiar” will do equally well.) So you get some, well, really strange comments–most of which get trapped for the usual reasons anyway (blacklist matches, “Flash Gordon was here” [comment completed faster than any human could type], etc.)

I saved a few over the last six days to give you a flavor. I won’t cite the commenter’s “name” (frequently not a name at all) and certainly not the URL… After looking at these, I’m almost pleased to see the blatant ones that start “Your post about X,” where X is the topic of the link URL and has nothing to do with the post. Where it might not be clear, I put the post title (or the portion they quote) in bold, noting that sometimes it’s the last portion of the title–apparently following something like an apostrophe or ampersand–that gets used. Anyway:

  • Hey! I found your site via Yahoo! when I was searching for [term not in this post], and this regarding Insights 7:11 available really sounds very interesting to me. Thanks.
  • Hello webmaster. These days you never know what you are going to find when you click through from the search engines. I searched for [term not in this post] – But this is a good blog, and its full of interesting and relevant content. I particularly liked your post Even fewer posts.
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  • Your view on Public Library Blogs: 252 Examples for your readers to be grateful for. My gratitude for this fabulous message!
  • Maybe it can get complicated if used in a different way. (Post: New position: Removing the uncertainty)
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  • I couldn’t understand some parts of this article ‘Tain’t funny. Never was., but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.
  • Skillful guests will use this research on Where are you? as many guests have already commented that the introduction is memorable. Thank You for the advice you gave.
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And, for something entirely different, submitted to Present at the Big Bang?

  • You got that right slick – but not sure how useful the comment is.

Whew! That’s! more! exclamation! points! than I’d usually use in a week–and more wholly sincere praise than I can really tolerate. Now, back to preparing uncommon suggestions that will show spectacularly…

And, to be sure, if you see comments! like! these! on other blogs…now you have a clue as to how they got there.

The blogging books: An invitation and a promise

Posted in C&I Books on February 13th, 2008

I’m curious, and maybe just a little frustrated.

Public Library Blogs: 252 Examples has been available from Lulu since August 25, 2007, and from Amazon/CreateSpace since August 30, 2007. To date, it’s sold 62 copies–disappointing for 5.5 months, but not disastrous.

But I haven’t seen any review or commentary anywhere–on any blog or list that I’m aware of. That’s the frustrating part.

I’m not necessarily looking for praise. Maybe the blogging books were bad ideas; maybe they were badly done. How would I know? You spend a couple hundred hours on something that you believe to be worthwhile, to contribute to the community, and you’re likely to have a blind spot about it.

One reason I’m so happy with the four reviews of Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity & Change (not quite at the 200-copy mark yet, if you’re wondering) is that, while all four were positive, none was an unalloyed rave. Every reviewer had negative as well as positive things to say.

And the first real review of that book appeared just under a month after the book became available. (The first comments appeared even sooner.)

Now, Academic Library Blogs: 231 Examples hasn’t quite been out for a month yet (here’s the Amazon/CreateSpace link). I wouldn’t expect much in the way of sales or comments yet, particularly since it appeared right after Midwinter.

Still, here’s an invitation and a promise that apply to both books:

You’re invited to review either or both–on your own blog, presumably–and let me know you’ve done that. Or, for that matter, to comment on either or both books in some way short of a full review: Even maybe “why I wouldn’t advise anyone, including myself, to spend $20 or $29.50 for this book.” ($20 is the Lulu download price, $29.50 the paperback price. Still no way of bundling the two for, say, $40.)

If you review or comment on either or both, I’ll link to the review or comment. That’s part of the invitation.

Here’s the promise: No matter how negative the review or comment is,

  • I won’t hold it against you personally. If you’re a friend/acquaintance now (and I’d guess that most people who read this blog fall into those categories), you’ll be a friend/acquaintance no matter what you say about the books or the advisability of doing them.
  • I won’t argue about what you say. The only response I might make to negative comments/reviews is if you say something factually wrong that’s also important–e.g., if you said “Crawford probably didn’t actually look at all of these blogs; he probably just made most of it up.” I can’t imagine anyone would come that close to slander, and I really can’t imagine what someone would say that was factually erroneous. “Crawford can’t write his way out of a paper bag” is opinion; I wouldn’t argue.

I’m pondering future projects. (I’m also pondering buying a very small number of review copies to send to traditional library media–but given my recent history with print reviews, as in the lack of them for First Have Something to Say, I’m not in any great hurry…) Some of those projects might be research projects involving a fair amount of work–like the blogging books. A reality check would be useful.


Update April 11, 2008: Library Technology in Texas mentioned both books (and the series of “quintile” posts) in a nice post. Thanks!

Update December 28, 2008: Kate Davis (virtually a librarian) offered a nice comment on Public Library Blogs.

Update June 28, 2009: To my considerable surprise, the Queen City gazette (Cincinnati chapter of SLA) has a positive review of Academic Library Blogs in the March 2008 issue.

Respecting your readers…and your profession

Posted in Language, Libraries, Writing and blogging on February 11th, 2008

When I “discover” a liblog I hadn’t read before–usually through a reference–I’ll check the current posts and, frequently, subscribe to it for a while. I’ve added some interesting new voices to my library reading through that process.

Today, though, I was made aware of a liblog, tried to read the recent posts…and gave up after a while.

I think there might have been some good content–but the presentation was so lacking that it kept getting in the way. Not visual presentation (after all, in an aggregator, even orange-text-on-maroon-background comes through readable, and this wasn’t one of those light-on-dark blogs), but the language.

Homophones were consistently misused–they’re/there/their, it’s/its, lose/loose, you’re/your and so many others. Worse, lots of words were missing letters and whole syllables–and some sentences were missing important words. Worst, this was happening in post titles and topic sentences, not down in the second or third paragraph.

I don’t expect blog posts to be perfect. I assume that most bloggers post the way I do–on the fly, directly in blogging software, skimmed through once over lightly and posted. Sure, some people actually edit their own posts carefully; some even write offline, let posts sit and polish them until they shine–or so they tell us. Not me, and I’m guessing not most of you. When I spot what I think of as a typo (e.g., most homophones) in a blog post where I’m at all acquainted with the blogger, I might send a quick email saying “You might want to fix that” (especially if it’s in the first paragraph), but that’s as far as it goes (and, as one who almost never makes “quiet changes” in posts–that is, changes that aren’t flagged by strikeouts and the like–I believe that it’s legitimate and desirable to make quiet changes to typos, unless doing so makes a commenter look like an idiot).

I think of most blogging as casual speech–a trifle more formal than casual conversation but more casual than most written communication. It makes sense to forgive occasional sloppiness in casual writing. And, since I don’t believe I’ve yet seen an issue of Cites & Insights that’s totally free of typos or other errors, I’m not going to play Mr. Perfectionist here.

What I ran into on this blog was something different. It was somewhere between sloppy and slovenly: I’d guess that at least one-third of the blog titles were wrong. And the errors were so common, and so extreme, that I really couldn’t read through them to the content. So I gave up.
This isn’t a call to apply Strunk & White to blog posts. (I’m not that wild about Strunk & White anyway.) It’s not a call for 100% perfect grammar/syntax/spelling, by anyone’s set of rules, in blog posts. That’s ridiculous.

It is a call to show a little respect for your readers and your profession. After all, a blog that’s rife with wrong words and spelling errors suggests a level of literacy that casts doubt on the ML[I]S: “Geez, this idiot has a master’s?”

Gentle suggestions (not “rules” or anything like that–who am I to dictate to you?):

  • Make sure your post titles use the words you think you’re using.

Homophone errors and missing syllables are one thing in the second paragraph of a post. In the two to five words of a post title, they’re much worse.

  • If you know you have problems, try composing in Word or something like it–or at least run spellcheck before you publish.

When I say “try composing in Word or something like it,” I do mean with spellcheck and grammar checking on. I’m still using Word 2000 (not for long, I hope). The grammar check isn’t all that great: Most of the time, its suggestions are either wrong or flag “errors” that I intend to make (usually, when I have a sentence fragment or closing preposition, it’s because I damn well intend to have a sentence fragment or closing preposition). But even that particular blunt tool catches things just often enough that it’s worth my time to right-click on greenlined areas and see what’s up. I’m a halfway decent speller, so spelling errors are pretty rare–and Word catches those pretty well.

WordPress has a spell checker (or is that Firefox? It’s a right-click option). It’s not great, but it’s better than nothing.

  • It’s not about perfection. It’s about perception.

Make a typo here and there? We’ll assume I’ll assume you’re typing quickly and possibly multitasking. No big deal. I’ll probably pass right on by. Screw up every other post title? I’ll assume you don’t much care about what you’re doing–and I’ll suspect that your thinking might be as sloppy as your typing. (Incidentally, that wasn’t a post modification. It was one of those cute rhetorical tricks that blogging encourages: An interlinear clarification and rethinking-on-the-spot using crossout to give my first thought, before I backed away from universalizing.)

  • If you don’t respect your readers, at least respect your profession.

Professional librarians have higher degrees. The public may not know that, but I believe the assumption is that most of you are at least reasonably well educated. When a blog comes across as semiliterate and claims to be written by a librarian, it makes librarians look bad.

Yes, this is a blind item–for what I believe to be obvious reasons. You can eliminate several hundred candidates by checking my public Bloglines subscription list, since I chose not to add this particular blog. That leaves several hundred (maybe several thousand) others. And that’s the only clue you’re going to get; maybe this particular person was having a really bad few weeks, and will snap right out of it.Now, back to writing and editing, knowing I’ll never be perfect…

Bye bye, Independence: A nostalgic post

Posted in Travel on February 9th, 2008

Today’s paper has a story about the Independence–”the last [ocean] liner built in the United States to sail under the American flag”–being towed out of its San Francisco berth to an unknown future, most likely as scrap.

The Independence–now it’s called the Oceanic, since they seem to rename ships bound for scrapyards–was 57 years old. It spent its final two decades doing one-week Hawaii cruises for American Hawaii, until late 2001 when, partly because of 9/11, the parent company went bankrupt. NCL purchased the ship (probably as part of the strange deal that allowed NCL to reflag some foreign-built ships as American-built so they could do Hawaii cruises without going to foreign ports), but didn’t find it worthwhile to refit it and bring it up to contemporary cruise standards.

We were never on the Independence–but our very first cruise, a long time ago, was on her sister ship, the Constitution. They both did seven-day Hawaii cruises, visiting five ports on four islands and spending half a day cruising slowly past the magnificent cliffs and waterfalls of Molokai.

The ship was old even then. We couldn’t really afford a cruise, but we saved up and found a bargain price. Our cabin was directly below the bridge, which meant our portholes were covered at night with big wooden shutters (so light from our cabin wouldn’t mess up people on the bridge). That also meant that, when there was a good-sized tropical storm, we caught the brunt of it and found that, at least back then, neither of us seemed to suffer from seasickness at sea. (Half the crew got sick that night; it was a real storm, and these ships didn’t have modern stabilizers.)

The cruise was a magnificent way to see Hawaii in its varied splendors. When we went back for a land vacation, we stayed on Molokai–hardly the usual tourist spot. A few years later, we managed to pay for an Alaska cruise–and we’ve been seeing the world by cruise ship ever since (with a two-year interruption that will end late this spring). The Constitution wasn’t the worst ship we’ve been on, and certainly not the best; I’m not sure it was even the oldest.

But it was nearly unique: A relic of a time when American shipyards actually built liner-size ships and American crews ran them. You still get that on a number of riverboats and very small ships, but American Hawaii’s attempt to build two new, larger ships in American shipyards foundered.

The Constitution? It was deemed to expensive to bring it up to Safety of Life at Sea standards when that was done for the Independence. It was sold for scrap and sank somewhere at sea on its way to the scrapyards.

And now the Independence has left America, probably for the last time. Things change.

50 Movie Western Classics, Disc 7

Posted in Movies and TV on February 8th, 2008

This disc is also available separately as a four-movie one-disc pack. At $4 or less, I’d buy it–for the first movie on each side, primarily for the true classic that takes up most of the B side. The second movie on each side…well, nobody’s forcing you to watch them.

China 9, Liberty 37, 1978, color. Monte Hellman and Tony Brandt (dirs.), Warren Oates, Fabio Testi, Jenny Agutter, Sam Peckinpah. Original title Amore, piombo e furore. 1:38 [1:32].

It’s a Spanish-Italian Western: Good production values, good background music, some odd accents from some of the actors, and in this case at least an unhurried plot marked by two or three big gun battles. The sleeve description almost gets it right. A condemned gunfighter Clayton Drumm (Testi), just about to be hanged in China (a tiny little Western town, 46 miles from Liberty), is reprieved so that he can shoot down Matthew Sebanek (Oates), a rancher, on behalf of the railroad that wants Matthew’s land. Only Clayton doesn’t do it, meets Matthew’s whole clan (three brothers)—and when he leaves, Matthew’s wife Catherine (Agutter) (who knifes Matthew in self-defense and mistakenly thinks she killed him) catches up with him.

This is all pretty slow-moving: lots of talk and essentially no action. Then the sleeve goes awry: “an enraged Matthew joins forces with the equally peeved railroad company to hunt the pair down.” Not exactly. Matthew and brothers try to gun down Clayton (and fail), and Matthew takes back his wife—but later, the railroad stooges are trying to get rid of both Clayton and Matthew, resulting in a 2.5-way gun battle that’s interesting and a little above the usual gunplay. Not to provide spoilers, but Clayton and Matthew (and Matthew’s wife) all wind up alive, with a fair number of other corpses around.

In the middle, there are some nice little side-plots, including Sam Peckinpah as a dime novelist trying to buy Clayton Drumm’s story—or, rather, lies—to sell to the folks back east, and a non-animal circus (acrobats, little people) whose head wants to hire Drumm as a sharpshooter/showman. If you can get past Clayton’s accent (explained by some dialogue about him coming over from Europe as a child) and the rather curious acting of the bride, it’s a decent flick if you like the slow, sometimes languid, actually fairly naturalistic style—which I do. $1.50.

Gone with the West, 1975, color. Bernard Girard (dir.), James Caan, Stefanie Powers, Aldo Ray, Barbara Werle, Robert Walker Jr., Sammy Davis Jr.. 1:32 [1:30].

Great cast. Good filming, decent print, good color, OK sound. Interesting acting. Stefanie Powers as an odd woman of unclear heritage is, well, odd, manic, amusing. Sammie Davis Jr. as Kid Dandy, a fast-draw artist, possibly a Marshal, mostly a pool player, is as subtle and convincing an actor as in Rat Pack outings. Aldo Ray is loud and stupid. James Caan is relatively subdued—but no scenery went unchewed in the making of this flick.

Remarkable last ten minutes or so. Lots of barroom brawls—indeed, a barroom that seems to be nothing but hysterical brawls and breaking furniture, a nonstop riot frequently spilling out to the streets of a really bad town full of really bad people. Repeated over-the-top operatic singing at barroom funerals, or maybe it’s the same footage used several times—there are a lot of deaths in this flick. Long catfight. Long “wrestling” match. Also some of the worst writing and editing I’ve ever seen in a professional production.

For the first three-quarters of the movie, I couldn’t make any sense of the plot at all. I guess it comes down to this: James Caan saw his homestead burned out and wife and children killed by the town bad man (Aldo Ray), who also molested Powers’ (Native American? Come on!) character. He comes back and, with her help (when he’s not kicking her in the backside or otherwise showing unspoken affection) does everyone in, little by little. Since the townspeople are caricatures of the worst of the old west, I guess that’s OK. I’m supposed to get from the very start that this is a spoof, a sendup of westerns. That certainly becomes clear, when James Caan and Powers are walking back into the mountains and Powers—who up to now has spoken mostly some tongue Caan doesn’t know—says in clear English “You killed everybody except the cameraman”—and Caan turns around and shoots the cameraman. It’s just not a coherent spoof. It is, to put it bluntly, a mess. An amusing mess, I guess, but a mess. Balancing the good, the incredibly bad (one insightful reviewer says it was edited by a Mixmaster) and the empty, I’ll give it $0.75, at least when viewed sober.

The Outlaw, 1943, b&w. Howard Hughes (dir.), Jack Buetel, Jane Russell, Thomas Mitchell, Walter Huston. 1:56.

Sometimes, they really are classics! I’d never seen Howard Hughes’ story of Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday, Pat Garrett and Rio McDonald before, and I’m glad I finally did. I expected a spectacular, with lots of action—and got a well-played story of four people’s trails and how they cross, mostly a low-key psychological drama.

Fine acting, solid production and direction, fine screenwriting. I can’t imagine why this movie was considered defiant of the Hayes Code, censored, and banned in some countries—unless there’s even more somewhere than the 116 minutes on this DVD. (There may be—IMDB mentions a 20-minute scene between Billy and Rio—but what’s on the disc is the 116-minute version, not the 95-minute cut version.) Walter Huston is particularly fine as Doc Holliday, but Jack Buetel (Billy the Kid) also does a first-rate job, and the other major characters aren’t half bad. The music works, making extensive use of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony (first movement) and “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie,” although it’s sometimes a bit much.

After writing most of this review, I made the mistake of reading the IMDB reader reviews. I suppose if you’re looking for a shoot-‘em-up or hot sex, this would come off as pretty awful: In fact, the major shooting scenes aren’t won by the fastest draws and, at least in this cut, there’s very little explicit sex. I’ll stick with my original judgment: This is a fine movie, well acted and well filmed. It just isn’t a traditional western. This is definitely one I’ll watch again—atypical as a western but first-rate as a movie. Generally a very good to excellent print as well, although the sound is slightly edgy once in a while. That slight flaw is all that keeps this from getting the highest possible rating. Instead, it gets $2.25.

Arizona Stagecoach, 1942, b&w. S. Roy Luby (dir.), Ray Corrigan, John King, Max Terhune, Elmer, Nell O’Day. 0:58 [0:52].

On one hand, the print’s choppy—you lose lots of syllables and whole words, maybe more than that. On the other, it doesn’t much matter: This one’s so ludicrous that a pristine print wouldn’t help much. Where do we begin? How about with a mock lynching—but it’s a white guy, so it’s OK Turns out it’s just the devil-may-care Range Busters forcing one of their own to make good on a bet—to sing a song while upside down, in this case hanging from a tree. We’ve got three characters, all using their own names—Ray “Crash” Corrigan, John “Dusty” King and Max “Alibi” Terhune—oh, and Elmer, a ventriloquist’s dummy that acts as a lookout while the boys are chatting (!) and is later the only occupant of a house, chatting away as they enter. It’s Another Range Busters movie, one in a series (of 20!)—the opening and closing credits leave no doubt about that—and it’s bizarre.

Some elements are standard: The good guys always wear white (except when they’re pretending to be bad guys). The bad guys always wear black, which makes it easy to spot the apparent good guys that are actually bad guys—naturally with one of the prominent citizens being bad-guy-in-chief. Wells Fargo wagons to and from an Arizona town are consistently getting held up: consistently, much as though the bad guys knew whenever there was going to be a payload on the stage. So, of course, Wells Fargo doesn’t hire security to ride along with the stage, or maybe investigate the local Wells Fargo agent—no, they hire this bunch of clowns to look into it.

We have an “old west” where people are only too happy to string other people up on the spot—but where these three Range Busters (always in spotless dude attire) laugh and joke around as they drink their presumably nonalcoholic drinks in the tamest saloon I’ve ever seen in a western. The chief bad guy, when he’s listening at an open window and realizes the stagecoach driver’s spilling the beans (of course the holdups are inside jobs—that may be a spoiler, but this one’s pretty rotten already), doesn’t shoot the driver through the open window. Nope, he rides off to join the other crooks in a hopeless shootout with the good guys, then manages to ride off on his own after his group is mostly shot down. Just awful, even as they ride off, turn around and say “See you next time.” (Incidentally, the sole IMDB review is nonsense, misstating what little plot there is.) I’m being charitable at $0.50.

Why I’m a library professional

Posted in Libraries, Worklife on February 7th, 2008

There’s a meme of sorts going around, along the lines of “Why am I a librarian?” When Steve Lawson posted his response, he broadened the theme by tagging a couple of people who are, as he calls it, “library-types” rather than honest-to-MLS librarians.

I’ll use “library professional,” which is part of a phrase I’ve used in the past: “I’m a library professional but not a professional librarian.” That is, I don’t have an ML[I]S and am increasingly unlikely ever to get one–but I’m not a “paraprofessional” or “support staff,” and indeed I’ve been in exempt (“professional”) positions for longer than I can remember, always either within a library or working on behalf of libraries. And my ALA card says “Continuous Years 34.”

There seem to be two parts to this topic: How (why?) did I become one of those library types, and why am I still in the field?

How I got here

Luck, chance, recognizing in one situation that I could provide unique skills and make a difference. To wit (sorry, long answer):

  • As an undergrad (in rhetoric, then called speech, at UC Berkeley), my first part-time job (summer after freshman year–freshmen weren’t supposed to work back then) was busing at the Bear’s Lair, the on-campus dive. A few weeks later, when a library page position came open, I got out of that busing position as fast as I could. So I was a page/reshelver in Doe Library (the main library, some two million volumes, primarily humanities) from then on–and at some point, as an early riser, became one of those who helped with the Hollerith-card overdue system (the due date was punched in to the charge cards, which were then sorted manually into call number order; at 6 every morning, someone had to pull out the overdues to send notice).
  • As a fledgling grad student–still in rhetoric, and beginning to realize how much I hated grad school–I was told that the full-time circ system supervisor was leaving and asked whether I’d train the replacement. I said I wouldn’t, but that I’d do the job–as a two-thirds-time employee, and I’d guarantee it would get done in a timely fashion. They bit. At two-thirds-time, I was sitting on my hands after the two or three hours a day that a diligent worker needed to carry out all the duties…
  • Then I learned that, for the third or fourth time, an order had been placed for an IBM Collator–nine-month waiting period and you could cancel without penalty up to the eighth month. The idea was more automated circulation; the problem was that nobody knew how to do it, particularly since the university librarian wouldn’t allow book card pockets to disfigure the books. Doe used five different call number systems, which didn’t help. Since I’d done a lot of paging and maybe even more reshelving, I knew the call number systems cold–and said “If I can come up with a design that will work, without using book pockets, will you let the order stand?” They did, I did, I took a temporary timeout from grad school–one that eventually became permanent–and the rest follows.
  • And, let’s face it, I liked the people in libraries, I always felt that libraries were about as unmixed a social good as you could find, and I’ve had reasonably frequent occasions to provide unique services: To do something nobody else would (or could) do or to do something particularly well. So I stuck with it. Didn’t hurt that I met my wife (who is a professional librarian, but was in library school at the time) in the library…

Why I’m still here

  • “Where else would I be?” may not be a satisfactory answer. At this point, I’m mostly a writer and editor–but I’m a library writer and editor, after 5 decades of being that as a sideline but a library systems analyst/programmer for a living.
  • I still like the people, I still regard libraries as an almost entirely unmixed societal good, I still find challenges and, once in a while, feel I’m making a real contribution.

Who I’ll tag

  • Nobody. I’ve never been much for tagging. If you feel like answering, consider yourself tagged.
  • My curiosity would suggest tagging a few people who write as though they dislike most libraries (at least in their current state) and most librarians. But that’s pathological curiosity, so I won’t indulge it.

Thanks, Steve. Sorry for the long reply. I’ve been posting so little recently that a free topic was too good to pass up.

Now, back to (other) writing…

The perils of commenting

Posted in Writing and blogging on February 5th, 2008

I had another odd experience today. The details and personae don’t matter (and haven’t appeared here in many months). Basically, I read a direct quotation from a person I’m professionally acquainted with, on a third-party site. I found the quotation troublesome. I sent email to the person noting this (in an offhanded manner that could certainly be perceived as snark). I got back email noting:

  • That the quotation was from a much longer response
  • That I should know the person well enough to give them the benefit of the doubt
  • That my snarkiness wasn’t appreciated

Here’s the thing. I sent private email indicating that I was surprised (offended?) by what was said. I did not blog about it. I don’t intend to blog about it (and never did).

I learned some time back how dangerous it is to comment on what somebody is reported to have said or displayed during a conference presentation, even if that person doesn’t choose to say they were misinterpreted. I wasn’t there; how could I understand the context? So I don’t do that any more. (It’s hard. Some of the conference writeups I read make my head hurt and inspire long, argumentative responses. Those responses don’t get written. Not anymore.)

Let’s not even get into what happens when you make perfectly reasonable interpretations and paraphrases of what someone’s said. Straw men! Nobody ever said that! You’re making it up! BAD blogger!

This is a little different. It’s a direct quote, a long enough quote to (presumably) be in context. I would have felt justified in blogging about it–but my impression is now that, at least here, that would be considered mean-spirited and unfair. Why? Because the person, prominent enough to be interviewed more than once, said other things–and, in some ways, what was quoted could be considered out of a broader context.

What next? If I comment on somebody’s own blog post or on an article someone writes, and say anything that’s less than favorable, can I be accused of taking the post or article out of the lifelong context of the person involved?

I should also report a separate email incident. A person I barely know at all had a typo at the beginning of a substantive post, a typo (the wrong word rather than an obvious error) that stood out just enough to make it harder to focus on the substance of the post. I didn’t say so in a comment (this wasn’t one of the very few bloggers who prides themself on the exquisite and well-edited nature of their posts). I sent a quick email saying “you might want to fix this.” The blogger did. Problem solved. And for several months now I’ve been correcting spelling and obvious syntax problems in posts that I quote (here, at C&I, or in books), without “sic”ing them–unless, again, it’s one of those rare cases where the person is A Superior Writer and makes sure we all know it.

There’s an easy solution, to be sure. Never disagree with anyone about anything. Never say anything that could be considered negative or snarky or even constructive criticism (which is still criticism). “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Heck, I could start a new Blogger’s Code of Conduct, with a badge bearing a smiley face: “We only see the sunny days.”

I would have naively assumed that people who take public roles would consider themselves open to criticism. I would have naively assumed that people who (unlike me) are frequently interviewed would be wary of selective quotation. I would have naively assumed that people would stand behind what they say, understanding that some of us learn over time and have been known to change our minds. Heck, some of us are even wrong once in a while; I certainly am.

Maybe I’m getting less naive. Maybe the rule now is that nobody is responsible for anything they say, directly or indirectly, unless you agree with them. I’d like to think otherwise. But I’m beginning to wonder.


Comments welcome–whether you agree or disagree. I reserve the right to delete obscene or patently abusive comments, especially those that aren’t signed or are off-topic–but “patently abusive” has to do with language, not with agreement. Think I’m a whiney asshat? You’re free to say so.

Addition, February 6: The particular situation mentioned was a fluke, I now believe–but I’ll stand behind much of the rest of the post. The comments so far are great, but I should clarify one thing:

No, I’m not going to follow the shining path of only positive comments, and I’m not going to disappear. I assume that pretty much all of you who I’ve had discussions with over the past two years are open to criticism; many of you have been quite explicit about that (and that you feel free to criticize me, as you should).

So, while you’re certainly free to (encouraged to!) add to this interesting discussion, you don’t need to assure me that it’s OK to disagree with you in public. If I get one odd email a year, I can handle that… And, frankly, I’m always a little surprised by the extent to which many blogs seem to get nothing but 100% “agreeable” comments. Fortunately, this isn’t one of those blogs.


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