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June  15

In a Despotic Mood Lately?

Things too wild and woolly for you here at Baristanet? Want to sift through dozens of recommendations for dentists and roofers? Feel you haven't pissed off enough people lately?

In other words, do you want to be a moderator (aka Benevolent Despot) at the Montclair Watercooler?

Sound like a dream job? There are openings. (If you can't click through on this link, you're automatically disqualified so don't get your knickers all twisted.) Hurry. This opportunity can't last long.

June 15, 2005 in Tweaked | Permalink


If I say "no" to it, they might reject it as not appropriate for their site!

Responses go into the reject pile faster than the questions come in...

Posted by: Barbara | Jun 15, 2005 9:47:59 AM

I didn't realize being an enforcer/moderator of unreasonable policies was such a dream job...

Posted by: Jim | Jun 15, 2005 10:13:01 AM

You'll need to do a little reading first!

"The Internet has profited many people but it also has brought many problems, such as sex, violence and feudal superstitions and other harmful information that has seriously poisoned people's spirits."

--The Chinese "Ministry of Information Industry" on the purpose of internet censoring.

"Let you alone! That's all very well, but how can I leave myself alone? We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?
People don't talk about anything. Oh, they must! No, not anything. They name a lot of cars or clothes or swimming-pools mostly and say how swell! But they all say the same things and nobody says anything different from anyone else.
We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against.
People want to be happy, isn't that right? Haven't you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren't they? Don't we keep them moving, don't we give them fun? That's all we live for, isn't it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these.
If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.

--"Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury.

"As a rule of thumb, if you think your mom or dad would wince at one of your posts, it’s a good idea to think about putting your thoughts another way. The Moderators are all Montclairians like you---they are volunteers who are committed to keeping everyone on the Watercooler playing by the rules. Think of it as a great backyard barbecue—we want everyone to have a good time, yack their heads off about Montclair, not get too boisterous and please---don’t lean against the hot grill."

--The Guidelines of the Montclair Watercooler. (emphasis added)

For good or for ill the watercooler is a political centerpoint in the life of the town - the online public square. Our's is controlled for the "benefit" of the people.

There are no "benevolent" despots, no such thing as "worthy" censorship.

Posted by: Right of Center | Jun 15, 2005 10:24:20 AM

nice post, ROC. i tried registering there long ago, but my basic bio wasn't detail-oriented enough and i was thusly rejected. should i have jotted down my social security number and medical ailments?

methinks i'll stay away from the cooler.

Posted by: E. | Jun 15, 2005 10:33:55 AM

The Cooler has good and bad things about it. I sold my old car through them, found a used refrigerator, and when I need advice about general practitioners, bakeries, restaurants, etc., it's a fount of information.

That being said, I do think it relies too heavily on censorship. I don't mean flame wars and curse words, I mean silly things. For example, a while back, someone had a question about hooking up their DVD player to a TV with cable. Having had the same problem, I offered a possible solution. My post was returned to me, with an explanation that it wasn't "Montclairish enough" or some other such nonsense. What's wrong with offering your fellow man or woman some technical advice? Isn't this kind of stuff discussed at backyard barbecues or am I missing something?

Posted by: Miss Martta | Jun 15, 2005 10:41:37 AM

I’ll speak for myself even though I am a BD on the Watercooler. Richard is entitled to his opinion, selective excerpts from really good books and what is generally a distorted and inaccurate representation of what the moderators do. In fact any moderated list has rules and people to ensure participants play by the rules. That is far from censorship. If that’s not your bag, then don’t show up. Richard, your tone---angry, accusatory, uncivil and disrespectful---is your burden and trademark. So be it.

“These guidelines were developed in response to citizen concerns about the tone of discussions that have taken place throughout the community and the effect that tone has on both the community and on Lexington’s children. As a concerned citizen pointed out, “We need to model the behavior we teach in our school system.” This can, as the steering committee recognizes, be difficult, especially when people who care deeply about an issue disagree. However, it behooves us all to make an effort to model the behavior we teach our children.” – Guidelines for Civil Discourse, Lexington, MA

"We may please ourselves with the prospect of free and popular governments, God grant us the way. But I fear that in every assembly members will obtain an influence by noise rather than sense, by meanness rather than greatness, and by ignorance and not learning, by contracted hearts and not large souls. There is one thing, my dear sir, that must be attempted and most sacredly observed, or we are all undone. There must be decency and respect and veneration introduced for persons of every rank, or we are undone. In a popular government, this is our only way." – John Adams

“It’s incivility that frustrates the democratic ambition of fully airing honest differences. It’s difficult to focus public attention on choices among legitimate alternatives when rhetoric is dominated by personal demonization. Civility is no obstacle to passionate advocacy, partisanship, wit, and yes, even humor, but it requires some agreement on fundamentals, and it certainly requires mutual respect. In the words of the political philosopher Glenn Tinder, ‘a society in which people listen seriously to those with whom they fundamentally disagree, an attentive society, is the proper setting for freedom. An attentive society would provide room for strong convictions, but its defining characteristic would be a widespread willingness to give and receive assistance on the road to truth.’” – Thomas Mann, The Brookings Institution

Posted by: John Barth | Jun 15, 2005 10:53:38 AM

"Richard is entitled to his opinion"

Well on Baristanet, anyway.

But tell me, sir, do you suppose in the quote above that John Adams spoke in advocacy of the control of "permissible" or "civil" speech by others?

Posted by: Right of Center | Jun 15, 2005 11:01:52 AM

***“These guidelines were developed in response to citizen concerns about the tone of discussions that have taken place throughout the community and the effect that tone has on both the community and on Lexington’s children. As a concerned citizen pointed out, “We need to model the behavior we teach in our school system.” This can, as the steering committee recognizes, be difficult, especially when people who care deeply about an issue disagree. However, it behooves us all to make an effort to model the behavior we teach our children.” – Guidelines for Civil Discourse, Lexington, MA***

Ahem, not in Montclair!

Posted by: The Barista | Jun 15, 2005 11:09:11 AM

It's interesting how much of ROC's lengthy post bumps up against an ad for old patriotic posters from Poster Glory. I like that. I see the Lord's hand at work here more than the Barista's.

I also looked up Glenn Tinder, cited in John Barth's post (and shouldn't Mr. Barth really be living down in Tidewater country and tending to his dense, oft impenetrable novels?), and I gotta say, Tinder seems to be your typically distanced pompous academic. (As befits someone who writes a book with the title of "The Political Meaning of Christianity.") Thus most likely not someone whose Olympian and patronizing admonitions should be cited in defense of the "lively" give and take that I gather from others' postings here is supposed to be reflected on the Watercooler (which could probably use some more John Wilkes or Edmund Burke-style outspoken discourse anyway).

Posted by: cathar | Jun 15, 2005 11:15:04 AM

What I object to about cooler moderators is that their application of the rules often seems arbitrary, or at the very least not well thought out. For instance, they'll allow a thread to go on on some topic, and then all of a sudden they'll truncate the discussion. Or they'll allow somebody to hurl an accusation but then not allow the accused to respond, on some rules-of-proceudure grounds. Perhaps they're just too busy to think much.

I also don't understand why ROC seems to get such a bad rap over there. Now I'm the first one to admit that he can be as annoying as sandpaper bedsheets. But uncivil? I just don't see it.

Posted by: walleroo | Jun 15, 2005 11:24:11 AM

I am not THAT John Barth---he of the painful-to-read novels. I gave up after Lost in the Funhouse.

Posted by: John Barth | Jun 15, 2005 11:29:33 AM

One more gripe about the BDs: they seem to have a perversely literal interpretation of topicality that works to discourage brevity and wit, which by nature is often indirect. It drives me nuts.

Posted by: walleroo | Jun 15, 2005 11:39:47 AM

[post changed at author's request - the Barista]


I think the problem is always the same in any form of
censorship. The censor, "benevolent" or not, decides
whether or not something is "uncivil". And often
depending on the target or subject of the "incivility"
the infraction is then recognized or not.

So when someone posts that the Mayor and members of
the Parking Authority are href="http://groups.yahoo.com/group/
with an eminent domain issue pertaining to a
terminally ill citizen's property because she
would not be able to vote in the next election. (my
characterization of the remarks, read the whole post
linked to above to decide for yourself)

The post is allowed. Seems pretty "uncivil" to me.

Yet my response:

"Such over the top character assassination. Is it
really necessary?

Did they twirl their black moustaches whilst holding
their black capes up over their faces and boom 'nah
ahh ahh' ?"

Was deemed "uncivil" because as the BD said in the
denial email I had charged a private citizen with
character assisination and this was neither civil or

"charged" there needs to be a "charge" in this case?
It need be "alleged"?

Anyway, you see how it works?

I have an "inbox" full of such lessons in "civility".

The watercooler is read by many town citizens, many of
them influential. It has direct political effect on
local leaders and citizens, yet it is not a "free
speech" zone. If all they talked about was
refrigerators and used cars, I certainly wouldn't care
much. But if only one-sided (in my opinion) political
points are allowed, then it is time to fly the "Don't
Tread on Me" flag and call a spade a spade.

Astonishing really to see John Adams' words used in
defence of any kind of censorship!

I suspect there have been witnessed this morning
rapidly spinning bumps in the yard of the First
Unitarian Church, in Quincy, Massachussetts.

But while on the topic of Adams' quotes, here is one
of my fav's:

"The jaws of power are always open to devour, and
her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to
destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and

Posted by: Right of Center | Jun 15, 2005 12:00:08 PM

"There's a very fine line between clever and stupid"

Spinal Tap

Posted by: UnoHU | Jun 15, 2005 12:29:36 PM

Right of Center: your labeling of what the BDs do is so over the top wrong. this is not censorship. and to equate the Cooler with the blood lust of a dictator like Mao should illustrate to anyone how your interpretations are lacking all perspective. describing a private citizen's views as you have--in fact posting it here--is really low. there are a lot of ways to respond to a post from someone else and you are bright enough to know what is civil and what is not. and no the 'Cooler is not a free speech zone. that's why there are Guidelines.

Posted by: John Barth | Jun 15, 2005 12:44:15 PM

UnoHO, true enough, but what are you referring to, exactly?

Posted by: walleroo | Jun 15, 2005 12:46:21 PM


I'll take back the little red book link. Do you really think I meant to say the BD's had blood lust? Really?

No. They don't. I only want ed to draw a comparison in terms of "protection of the people." So, I'll take that the link back.

I have also asked Barista to revise my post to remove the accidental name mentioned, if she is so inclined.

But, honestly, and without derision. If the Watercooler is going to be the "public square" that it most certainly is, and local politics are to be discussed (at length). Shouldn't it be a "free speech zone" ?

Posted by: Right of Center | Jun 15, 2005 1:10:15 PM

The line's not that fine, UnoHo. Bill Murray is generally clever, Adam Sandler is generally very, very stupid.

Posted by: cathar | Jun 15, 2005 1:11:44 PM


I left the Watercooler about 6 months ago when I was reprimanded for using the word "sucks" too many times. And it's funny because it's not usually my style to use "sucks."

But also, I was deluged with people complaining about their cable service, why there garbage hadn't been picked up yet (and what is the town going to do about it!!!!) and all other manners of pedestrian nonsense that I was bored out of my mind.

so i left. now, i come here to connect with montclairians, find out whats going on in town, etc. and it serves the purpose fine for me.

the only thing I wish (and I am looking at you Ms. Barista) would be more info on local events here. I have a sneaking suspicion that there is more happening in Montclair than we all know about.

Anyway, ROC, with all the bigger issues we (lovingly) disagree on, why get all up in a tizzy about someone elses mailing list? It's not a free-speech zone. Neither is the Jessica Simposon Yahoo Mailing Group.

Who cares? If it doesn't serve your needs, move on and create an alternative.

(and don't even get me started on the SPAM-orrific Waterheater!)

Posted by: Left Of Center, like Suzanne Vega | Jun 15, 2005 2:09:17 PM

For real--post some addresses of Montclair social-lite parties so we can crash them....

Posted by: lc | Jun 15, 2005 2:21:10 PM

LOC, (sigh) I have said it soooo many time, yet no one believes me.

Why? To entertain Walleroo!

Posted by: Right of Center | Jun 15, 2005 2:27:24 PM

Besides, LOC, as someone once said, "all politics are local".

One regularly sees criticisms of local officals and citizens migrate directly off the phosphors of the watercooler and on to the printed pages of the local paper. Sometimes almost verbatum.

"so lets have a little free speech all around" says I.

Posted by: Right of Center | Jun 15, 2005 3:06:57 PM

"I am not THAT John Barth---he of the painful-to-read novels. I gave up after Lost in the Funhouse."

Well, I loved The Tidewater Tales. Certainly easier to read than Karl Barth.

Posted by: Nancy | Jun 15, 2005 4:56:11 PM

Free speech is a must! As long as we are hearing both the pros and the cons/ left brain vs. right/blue & red states of mind and even Caesar and the Papists! There's room for all, even those who own $300. colanders. Vive le difference!

Posted by: PAZatlargess | Jun 15, 2005 8:05:16 PM

Ironically, I left the Watercooler because a fact-filled and Montclair-related post I made in response to one of Center's (which I believed was biased and wrong) was rejected. In speaking with a couple of BDs they told me the obvious: every BD has different standards and different pet peeves. I think the problem with the cooler is that there are some BDs who would be much more comfortable if it were a classic bulletin board (lost cat posters, baby-sitters available, guitar teacher flyers with tear-off phone numbers, etc.) while there are others who want to discuss town issues in depth and until there is no orator left standing. Whether your post is accepted depends on who you get as a moderator and that is a matter of luck (and what time of day you post.)

But moderation can be a good thing. Many of the most prolific local posters refuse to post here because the occasional lack of restraint makes it unrewarding for them. Our loss, I think. Moderation, if done properly, is not censorship; it is the enforcement of rules of engagement, not selection of opinions. I agree that the BDs have not always distinguished well between the two, so I left and found greener pastures, as will everyone else as they become savvy to the other local resources available.

There's a middle ground: either well-understood rules that are consistently applied, or user moderated systems (the Slashdot.org "karma" system is one of the most evolved.)

In sum, I rather liked Giles Goat-Boy when I was an undergrad, and the Tidewater Tales a few years later. I have an inkling I would find the former pretentious now and the latter sleep-inducing, though.

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