Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Blogger Tourettes

"Gilles de la Tourette syndrome (Tourette Syndrome or TS) is a neurological disorder which becomes evident in early childhood or adolescence before the age of 18 years.  Tourette syndrome is defined by multiple motor and vocal tics lasting for more than one year.  The first symptoms usually are involuntary movements (tics) of the face, arms, limbs or trunk.  These tics are frequent, repetitive and rapid.  The most common first symptom is a facial tic (eye blink, nose twitch, grimace), and is replaced or added to by other tics of the neck, trunk, and limbs. . .

There are also verbal tics.  These verbal tics (vocalizations) usually occur with the movements.  These vocalizations include grunting, throat clearing, shouting and barking.  The verbal tics may also be expressed as coprolalia (the involuntary use of obscene words or socially inappropriate words and phrases) or copropraxia (obscene gestures). Despite widespread publicity, coprolalia/copropraxia is uncommon with tic disorders." [From here.  Emphasis Added]
So, if a blogger whose career has included being in corrections, a Harbor Master, in radio, and a respected classical musician among other things who writes about politics has outbursts of "[seemingly] involuntary use of obscene words or socially inappropriate words and phrases" are we seeing a case of blogger Tourettes?

Words fascinate me and I like to watch people who know how to use them well. It's an art form.  Some words, like fuck, used to be reserved for very special situations and settings.  When someone used them outside those settings, they got people's attention because they were so rarely used in what used to be called "mixed company."  But now the words are used so often that they have little shock value, though people still notice their inappropriateness.  I lament the loss of those words which can be used in times of crisis to communicate how extreme the situation is. 

To throw them at someone like mud, doesn't fit my notion of 'appropriate' on a blog that purports to be a serious force for social and political change. When Phil Munger called Sarah Palin a slut, I winced.   As I walk around the Capitol building these days and introduce myself as a blogger, people's eyebrows rise and I hear words like credibility.  In part this is due to people like Phil when he's having a bout of blogger Tourettes.

And so when he gets threatening comments in response, my reaction is similar to when someone jumps into the lion's cage at the zoo.  I'm sorry he's hurt, but that's why they give out Darwin awards. I'm sure someone will accuse me here of blaming the victim, and I agree that the threats are inexcusable.  But given that other local bloggers have suffered the same fate, it seems prudent not to poke the crazies (on the other side) in the eye with gratuitous insults.  Can you explain how this is different from Limbaugh and Fagan?  You give the Tea Party folks solid evidence that the left has its share of frothing madmen.

Free speech gives us the right to say many things (though not to libel), but just because one may, doesn't mean someone should. 

I've covered this ground in other posts (here's one on blogging guidelines for instance) and I'm tired of repeating it. And Mel Green has already done a better job than I'm doing.  But I do want to say this on the record.  I've emailed Phil with my specific problems and asked him to explain himself.  I'm not objecting to obscenity per se, but I think it is counterproductive in a serious political blog.  Unless it is necessary to the story (and sometimes even then) it distracts from the message, alienates some allies, and confirms the negative stereotypes of those of differing ideological persuasions.

So, Phil, I ask you again to explain the purpose of your expletives and gratuitous insults and why you think their use does more good than harm on your blog. Or perhaps get tested for blogger Tourettes.


  1. Great post Steve. Thoughtful and insiteful.

  2. The beautiful thing about blogging is that a blogger doesn't have to explain him or her self. What they write speaks for them. I also winced at the word 'slut' and chose not to participate in the poll for that reason.
    In my Journalism career I covered an awful lot of 'bad' cops. If I stopped to label them 'pigs' or other nasty names, there was no way I would have been able to talk to them. If I can't talk to them, then I don't know the 'why' of their behavior and can't explain it to my readers. And behavior nearly always has a 'why' if we listen and observe.
    I also don't appreciate the mangling of surnames by progressives (-like McLame,) etc. I don't like it by the tea-baggers, but I have no affinity for them so I don't count on good behavior from them. It does nothing but shows the name-caller has trouble with civil discourse.
    Do I think Palin bargains for money like a prostitute? Yes. Would I call her a slut? No.
    I think Phil did the right thing by speaking his piece, posting Mel's piece and letting the discussion continue.
    I am surprised at the number of people who don't want to discuss the incident, but want to play disapproving parent to him "Explain yourself young man."
    It is his blog. It is what it is. Visit or not is your choice. What he writes or puts up on his blog is his choice.

  3. Thanks, Steve -- great post. I read your blogging guidelines when you first wrote them -- this is a good time for me to review them.

    Anon @ 7:25 PM -- I've done a certain amount of mangling of surnames too -- something I'm now trying to check myself on as well. I often find myself typing in some insulting word ("jerk," "idiot," etc.) -- & then finding myself revising it for something more neutral. I've not always succeeded at restraining myself... but I'll keep trying to do my best.

    -- Mel

  4. I have never thought of the word "slut" as an expletive. I checked Webster's definition. "A slovenly woman. A promiscuous woman; esp. Prostitute; A saucy girl. Insult? Sure. Expletive? I looked up the definition of the word expletive. "A syllable, word, or phrase inserted to fill a vacancy." Uh... really? I guess "Uh" is an expletive! Lets look at definition b; "... an exclamatory word or phrase; escecially: one that is obscene or profane." "Obscene or profane" is spot on. The word slut is not obscene, or profane. The meaning of expletive is especially important to me as a broadcaster. The Supreme Court was thinking of obscene, indecent, and profane in the recent F.C.C. v. Fox decition where they wrote about fleeting expletives.

    Steve, I think you are over reacting to what is clearly a typical, internet, ad hominem insult. It was not helpful, but it was not what I, or the Supreme Court, think of as an expletive.

  5. Anon1 and Mel, thanks.

    Anon2, Thanks for your thoughtful comments. You do question folks who "want to play disapproving parent to him "Explain yourself young man."" Since I asked Phil to explain his purpose, I assume I've been caught in this net.

    I agree that the blogosphere allows everyone to express themselves in their own way. I didn't get involved in this until Phil sent an email asking me (and others) to take part in his poll.

    I'm not an anonymous stranger for Phil. He's praised my blog frequently and so his failings also rub off on What Do I Know? My comment was more like questioning a teammate about strategy for scoring.

    I've spent a fair amount of space here examining the what blogging is all about. Anarchy has pluses and minuses and it's reasonable to reiewing both.

    I consider Phil a friend and I was just telling him the equivalent of "I think you've had too much to drink and you shouldn't drive home."

  6. Jeremy, you are absolutely right about the meaning of expletives. However, except for the last short paragraph of my post, I never used that word. And there I was referring to Phil's blog more broadly than just that one post. Uh!!!

  7. I try not to drive or blog drunk or even inebriated.

    Thanks for this essay. I've learned from it, as I often do reading your posts on all sorts of things. That's what your blog is about.

    With your permission, I'll re-post this at PA, as I did Mel's essay. I'll reply to both, and to any other considered critiques of my poll and style, this weekend.

    Thanks, Jeremy.

  8. I've strongly complained to Phil. I was one of the first people who jumped on him a couple days ago. I'm a lot closer to the middle of the spectrum than he is, but his loud divisive voice deafens and drowns out mine-- the only thing we're left with is far loud left and far loud right.

    I've worried about getting criticized personally for speaking my opinion, but we average Americans need to get loud and get our country returned to us from the noisy extremists on both sides.

    When I express my opinion, I'll try to be as honest and decent as I can be. Unfortunately I think Phil made degrading comments that really don't belong in the house of humanity.

  9. A post to a fellow maker-of-waves:

    Hello, Phil. I don't know what demons inhabit your mind. Your word choice is, of course, yours to decide. Your friends, however, are telling you there’s a problem. You know who you’re trying to attract--perhaps it's those like yourself, I don’t know.

    You are a partisan in a mighty political struggle. I get that. Many years ago, the newly-hired director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union received a death-threat on his message machine. His comment when the ‘Ear’ got hold of this? "I grew up in Alaska. I should tell you I'm armed!" It got quite a laugh.

    Can liberals--progressives--pack guns? Some do, but I’ve come to believe that I can be defended by freedom-loving, bible-thumping, flag-waving conservative patriots as they can agree to be defended by equality-loving, idea-welcoming, first-amendment clutching, progressive agitators for our promised 'more perfect union'.

    Maybe you, like that former ACLU executive director, are the love-child of contemporary American civic life. Then again, maybe you’re just short of words.

    Whatever. I’ll read your blog when you choose to use more clever words than ‘slut’ to describe an opponent.


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