Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tales from the TT Departure Lounge I: The "Umpire's Verdict"

I don't intend to devote all that many threads to the things going down on TT in response to my departure.  Further thoughts may be posted in comments to this one.   I strongly believe my departure is permanent, but there are negotiations going on that may enable excerpts from my future articles and alerts about live blogging (which, once I master it, will hopefully become live-means-live) to appear on the site down the track.  Just without the author of course; if you want to ask him questions you'll have to do so over here, or wherever I am at the time.

My original brief announcement that I was leaving can be seen here, with comments.  As full an announcement of my reasons as I could manage before making a failed attempt to get significant sleep before work today can be seen here and comments on that entry have very wisely been closed.   Strangely, single quotation marks have appeared around the title of my piece that were not there in the otherwise apparently unaltered submitted version; I'll take it as some gremlin paying accidental homage to Bob Dylan's ' "Love&Theft" ' and pass on by. 

I'd like to thank those who've posted intelligent and thoughtful comments whether they agreed with me or not ( two thoughtful comments for every braindead troll in the first 12 posts is not too bad).

I'd like to take up just one thing that interests me in all this so far; the metaphor of the "umpire's decision" used in Bob Hawkins' generally friendly post #4.

As noted on the site,my comment was referred to "TT’s independent adjudicator."

As not noted on the site, TT's supposedly independent adjudicator is anonymousThis is supposedly essential.  In reality, it's daft.

I know a few things about "umpiring", although in chess we usually call it refereeing or arbiting, and I've been doing it for most of my life.  I've observed how it works in a lot of other sports too. 

The institution of respect for umpires relies on many things that help the players to have confidence the umpire is doing a fair job, and that if the umpire is wrong now and then they are just doing their best and making errors without bias and at a hopefully minimal level. But that respect does not appear out of thin air.  It appears because steps are taken to ensure that it is earned.

The players know who the umpire is, so they have an opportunity to object to the appointment of an umpire who might be biased against them.  Chances are that vetting for bias, through such mechanisms as bars on same-nation umpires in internationals, or bans on parents umpiring their own children, will often occur anyway, depending on the sport.  The umpire is frequently someone who is a known former player, so that the players realise that the umpire understands their situation and is likely to display empathy.  Knowledge of who the umpire is also helps the players to be aware of whether they tend to consistently interpret the laws of the game in a certain manner.  And it helps the players to know that they have an umpire who has hopefully displayed good standards of fairness and accuracy.

My situation as regards the deleted post and the verdict on it is this.  In the sense of wanting to post a certain kind of comment about the consistency of Richard Flanagan to a given thread, I have been given out, under the laws of some kind of one-sided croquet, though I thought that it was cricket we were playing (with bumpers and sledging allowed, within some specified limits).   I don't know who appealled, but it certainly wasn't the bowler, and it might have just been some drunk lout in the crowd.  I don't know what they appealled for.  I don't know who the umpire is and I don't know if they have really played the game (though I suspect they've been playing a different one, that can be found in courtrooms).  I don't know if they've been watching the ball bounce off the pitch for the last several overs, or if they were just beamed down to referee one ball.  I can't know if they're really neutral, or if they really want one side to win, or have some other ideological stake in how this all pans out, or a questionable view of what is in the interests of the site.

In my experience, Lindsay Tuffin has displayed generally excellent judgement when he has had to deal with incidents involving me himself.  Not flawless, and I have become frustrated at times, but generally very good especially given how far he is from the political centre.  I appreciate it and I hope others have experienced it too.  And I know from experience in so many things that he is right to worry that personal bias, or bias motivated by his own view of the value of some posters, may mar some of his decisions.  So there is no problem with delegating or letting others do the work, in principle.  It's how you do it that counts.

When it comes to picking his assistants on TT, the so-called "elves", Lindsay's judgement has been terrible and the moderation they've inflicted on non-leftist posters has significantly damaged the site.  Can I trust that someone coming from a position as way to the left as Lindsay is is going to do a perfect job of picking a truly fair, unbiased referee?  Can I trust this knowing nothing even of this person's background, how they were selected or what the editor knows about them?  Can I trust even that one referee, if they become familiar with debates involving the same suspects over time, will not develop views about their cases?

Sorry, no, I do not think I can.

Sports umpires are not anonymous.  Debating referees were not anonymous at least when I was in highschool.  Judges are not anonymous.  So why on earth is anonymity necessary for a jumped-up forum moderator? 

The view that anonymous refereeing works could perhaps be borrowed from the sciences.  But in the sciences, it is actually on the rack if not on the way out - a centuries-old institution that many scientists are realising serves to slow the flow of ideas and waste the time of academics while delivering standards of quality control so inconsistent as to be bordering on arbitrary, all in the name of an implied argument from authority. 

If TT is going to have these referees, it should have a panel of them, not just one.  And readers should know of their names and backgrounds, and I'm sorry to unload the b-word again in my quest for appeasement here, but the panel should be politically balanced.

The current black-box stuff is just a blot on what TT is meant to stand for.


  1. Sadly the quality of the TT thread has declined in the last few posts (now at #17). An example - Bronwyn Williams in #17 writes:

    "I recently submitted an article to TT, and was happy to revise it in order to comply with the site’s legal requirements, even though I am a qualified legal practitioner, and I considered some of the amendments unnecessary."

    Now I was happy to revise my comment in light with the site's legal requirements if needed. I wouldn't have been happy to revise my comment in light with the site's subjective "tone" requirements, for the reasons stated in my long post on TT, but I probably would have done it.

    No, the point that Bronwyn is missing is that I wanted to make a particular legitimate point and I was not allowed to make it, whatever my tone, whatever unnecessary legal changes I accepted, on that thread. Trying to make herself sound morally superior by saying she sucked something up and so should I just doesn't work when the circumstances are so blatantly different. And inserting yourself into the story when you don't belong there because your situation is small fry by comparison is, well, your words Bronwyn ...

  2. Big comprehension fail by poster mate (#24) who describes me as a Libertarian although my article stating my reasons for leaving explicitly and correctly stated that I'm not.

    Also there was this:

    "Theatrically flouncing out won’t impress anyone, especially when you proceed to moderate and edit the bejeezus out of comments on your own blog."

    This is not about the right to moderate and nor is it about free speech.

    It is about a site providing a level playing field so that people with differing views in the issues being canvassed on that site can compete on an equal setting (unless they have misbehaved and hence incurred banning, for example). That is an issue which is independent of the level of moderation on a blog.

  3. Poor, poor effort Stephen Jeffrey (#28):

    "Contrarians Greg Barns and Kevin Bonham have both now walked away from Tasmanian Times. Perish the thought that the magnificent edifice that is logic should have its limits set by that most base of human attributes - the Achilles’ heel of ego."

    Logic requires a person to remain on Tasmanian Times and have John Hayward make Nazi references in their direction? The limits of logic are whether or not a person stays on a patchily moderated website awash with deep green diatribes and 100+ versions of more or less the same thread about foxes? Sorry Stephen but you've gotta do much, much better than that if you want a place in the About Me section.

    I've filed a defo and C of C complaint against #27 by Michael Chellis (who I bet will be coming here just to look for his name) ; I also did so against what was #1. Those have been the only posts I've objected to so far.

  4. Merk (#33):

    "For a man who presents his views as being above all objective and dispassionate, he seems remarkably interested in eavesdropping on what other people say about him."

    Now this is what we know in the business as a great big greasy non sequitur. Whether or not a person prides themselves on being objective and dispassionate has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not they read what is said about them. And heck, I only said I was quitting TT as a writer and regular commenter, not that I was going to stop reading or discussing it!

    That said I can already tell that this site is not going to be my TT-away-from-TT; I won't be continually cluttering it with responses to every post I would have jumped on while I was there, just as I didn't seek to clutter TT with constant analysis of every disagreeable post on other forums I don't post on. Having left I am obviously not going to post responses to that thread but that doesn't mean I'm not interested in reading and at times commenting on what people have to say. When you're on an ego wave "as big as Texas" you gotta surf it!

    The premise of Merk's comment is an oversimplification anyway. Indeed, it's my passion for certain kinds of "objectivity" that have brought me to this point. I'm rather glad that it has done so.

  5. Peter Smith (#41)

    "Will Dr Bonham be taking comments on his blog and if so, I would be intrigued to see his moderating criteria."

    Now if you had actually bothered to examine the blog in question you would see that I have already accepted two comments from people other than me and already made a brief (albeit very informal) statement about moderation.

    I've also rejected almost every comment submitted by one Axiom, who is also the author of the "Reality Analyst" comment (#38) and is a conspiracy theorist who has a grudge against me over his banning from Chesschat.

    Given that Smith failed to do the basic research to partly answer his own question I doubt much effort has gone into the rest of his comment either!

  6. NB the Axiom comments rejected have been rejected for being off-topic.

  7. Another rather feeble comment from "Mark" (#47). Mark accuses me of using a reference to RF as a fiction writer as a "dog whistle" to imply that RF's comments on issues are incorrect (as I have clarified I certainly don't think RF lies; I just think he just doesn't get it.) Unfortunately there are so many factual errors in some Flanagan polemics that the dog does not need whistling.

    Mark writes:

    "I remember writing a response to Mr Barns at the time regarding “Death of a River Guide” where Mr Flanagan’s fiction included the true history of Tasmania from the early convict years to sealers and their treatment of Aboriginal women and the Franklin River campaign."

    So? Just because a novel (which I haven't read) contains aspects of broad historical truth doesn't mean everything in it is accurate - indeed by the nature of the form it is usually the opposite. And this is what I think of when I read many RF polemics - that I am reading loosely factoidal literature rather than high-quality objective political commentary.

    An example of the sorts of errors and premature declarations of fact that can be found in an RF polemic (in twenty minutes during a coffee break, even) is at #7 of