The Death of Threaded Comments

Knight on Horseback - Don QuixoteCurrently, on Frankly Curious, comments are “threaded.” That means that people can respond to the article as a whole or they can respond to a specific comment. If they respond to a specific comment, then the new comment is positioned below, and indented from, what it is responding to. This has been a nice change from our previous blogging platform — Nucleus — where we were limited to comments that were “flat” — just one after another with no relationship to each other.

But recently, I wrote an article for my paying job about forum software and I was surprised to find that the most popular forum — phpBB — doesn’t even offer threading. That seemed odd to me. I would have thought that threading should at least be an option. But the truth is that it really has gone out of style. Even forums that have had it are getting rid of it. I remember when threaded news readers first showed up and they were cool:

  • Commenter1: This is a stupid article!
    • Commenter2: You just think that because you’re a doody-head!!
      • Commenter1: No, you’re the doody-head!!!
      • Commenter4: Don’t feed the doody-heads.
    • Commenter4: I agree. Because I am a doody-head.

It seems logical and works very well on forums were there isn’t a great deal of discussion. That’s why I’ve decided to keep it on Frankly Curious for the time being; there isn’t enough commenting for it to be a problem. When there is a lot of discussion, however, it can be very distracting and user-unfriendly. What’s more, commenters can use it to get their comments placed higher by “responding” to the first comment.

How Conversations Really Work

The biggest objection to threaded forums is not practical, however; it’s philosophical. Real conversations are not threaded. People talk one after the other. People may respond to something said long before, but it is in the context of everything that was said since. If two people want to talk about some sub-topic, they usually do it alone, while the main conversation continues on without them.

If I had Eschaton Blog, with hundreds of comments on every one word post, I might change over to a flat mode. But that will never happen here. So I think we are fine. Just the same, most long conversations tend to go on between just two people, so a flat model wouldn’t really change anything.

Colfax Massacre

InjusticesThree days later, on March 28, 1873, white Democratic leaders began plotting to retake the courthouse by force. When word of these plans reached the Republicans, armed black men started mustering at the courthouse to defend it against the white aggressors.

Led by Christopher Columbus Nash, an ex-Confederate army lieutenant who was also the Democratic candidate for Grant Parish sheriff, Democratic forces marched on Colfax on April 13. Though the approximately 150 black men defending the courthouse slightly outnumbered Nash’s men, the Republican forces were massively outgunned. About half of Nash’s men were Confederate veterans, including four officers. Each of them was well armed, many of them with multiple guns, and they had even brought a small cannon to Colfax on a two-horse wagon.

Meanwhile, as many as half of the black men protecting the courthouse had no guns whatsoever, and those with guns had only enough powder and ammunition to allow each man to fire about two rounds. The closest thing the freedmen had to artillery were three makeshift guns rigged from old steam pipes. When they attempted to fire one of these would-be cannons, the entire gun exploded.

The result was a rout. White forces outflanked the freedmen, positioning their cannon behind the black army’s trench line. Not long after the cannon started spewing buckshot at the exposed men around the courthouse, black combatants began to flee — only to be hunted down and captured or killed by white men on horseback. Though dozens of freedmen continued to fight from within the courthouse, Nash ordered the courthouse to be set ablaze. When the black Republicans laid down their arms and fled the burning building, many of them waving white flags of surrender, Nash’s men opened fire.

Nor did the killing stop there. Nash eventually ordered his men to cease fire, and the remaining freedmen were taken prisoner. Two hours before midnight, however, Nash left the prisoners under the control of a group of men led by Bill Cruikshank, a white supremacist cotton planter. Not long thereafter, Cruikshank ordered the captured freedmen to march away from the courthouse under armed guard. The column did not get far before Cruikshank’s men drew their pistols and began executing their prisoners. A black man named Levi Nelson, who later served as a star witness against Cruikshank at his criminal trial, survived this death march only because Cruikshank tried to make sport out of murder by lining up Nelson and another man close enough together that they could both be shot with a single bullet, rather than spending two shots to ensure that both men would die.

—Ian Millhiser

Republicans’ Shortsightedly Convenient Beliefs

Bobby JindalMartin Longman brought my attention to something interesting in a brief post yesterday, The 50’s Called: They Want Bobby Jindal Back. After last week’s three moderate (the Supreme Court doesn’t do “liberal”) decisions on housing, marriage, and Obamacare, Jindal was beside himself. He told The Advocate in Louisiana, “The Supreme Court is completely out of control, making laws on their own, and has become a public opinion poll instead of a judicial body. If we want to save some money lets just get rid of the Court.” Longman responded, “Over here on the left side of the aisle, we’ve been increasingly frustrated with the decision making of the Supreme Court, from Bush v Gore to the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act, but you don’t see any of our governors or presidential candidates calling for the abolishment of the entire Court.”

But this is what has become to the conservative movement in this country. It really is best to see it like an authoritarian movement. There is no thought to consistency. Their ideology is one of results: how do we keep power so that we can continue to enrich ourselves. So it is nonsense to imagine that Bobby Jindal actually believes in anything coherent. Whatever furthers the cause of the conservative movement is good. This week, the Supreme Court was bad for the conservative movement so abolish it.

To some extent, you could say the same thing about ideological coherence about liberals. The big difference is that liberals are not shortsighted. They aren’t willing to destroy democracy in order to “save” it. But when listening to someone like Jindal, I’m reminded of how the Nazis used the democratic system until they had power and then abolished it. Is this what Jindal would do? It’s hard to say. We’ve already seen plenty of Republicans pushing for laws designed to make voting harder. And now they are going after “one person: one vote.” Regardless, the impulse is there.

This “destroy the Supreme Court” impulse isn’t the only one. There is also the “destroy the IRS” impulse. It’s curious. Destroying the IRS would be the same as destroying the government. It just sounds better. It’s kind of like the Walmart CEO saying, “Let’s stop charging people for stuff.” That decision has ramifications — namely, that Walmart would go out of business. But conservatives change what they want to destroy from day to day. For example, Jindal is afraid that the Supreme Court is getting too democratic — having “become a public opinion poll.” But conservatives make populist arguments all the time against Court decisions they don’t like. If they don’t like a Supreme Court decision, it is either that the Court is wrong because it is just following public opinion, or it is wrong because it is going against the will of the people. Reasonable people can’t have it both ways. But Republicans can!

A lot of people have talked about the Republicans being post-truth. It’s actually worse than that. They are post-meaning. And post-planning. If they took the Marshmallow Challenge, they wouldn’t even wait until the proctor was out of the room before eating it. They are the party of the haves who think it is due to their own greatness. As Ann Richards said about George HW Bush, “He was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.” So whatever offers the easiest way to their goals, they follow it. You know, it’s called our bad luck.


That last sentence was a reference to this song:

Fed Continues Doing Bidding of Power Elite

Fed Has Missed Inflation Target 37 Straight Months

There is no better place in society to look to see how the power elite rig the economic system than the Federal Reserve. And the best example of this is the way that most people have been entirely brainwashed into self-oppressing regarding monetary policy. Ask anyone which they think is better: a strong dollar or a weak dollar? Unless they know economics, they will say a strong dollar. Yet it is a weak dollar that that is good for workers. It is a weak dollar that makes our exports competitive. The strong dollar is primarily a prize only to people who already have a lot of money — not for people who have to work each week to pay the bills.

So all the time, on CNBC and Fox Business, you will hear people worrying about inflation. Actually, you will hear that same thing pretty much everywhere else. We can’t have inflation! That would reduce the value of the dollar! That might encourage the business community to stop sitting on piles of money and invest instead! They might be forced to hire some unemployed Americans! We can’t have that, now, can we?! Of course, inflation and a strong dollar are not exactly the same thing, but they are related and they both affect how well workers do. And the two things that are constantly pushed — a strong dollar and low inflation — are bad for workers.

Given all this, I was intrigued to see a Ben Leubsdorf article at The Wall Street Journal, US Inflation Undershoots Fed’s 2% Target for 37th Consecutive Month. The Federal Reserve has decided that it should keep inflation right at 2%. So that ought to mean that sometimes it is above and sometimes it is below. But it’s now been over three years and the Fed has managed to keep it under that value without error. I can assure you this: if the Fed kept the inflation rate 0.5 percentage points above 2% for three years, you would see heads exploding on CNBC.

And even the 2% inflation target is a joke. Jeff Madrick in his book Seven Bad Ideas, explained that this target was pretty much made up out of whole cloth by Alan Greenspan. “Persuasive studies find that only annual rates of inflation into the double digits affect economic growth.” But we have the 2% inflation target — not because everyone thinks Greenspan is a genius — but because it is good for the power elite.

Do you know what the core inflation was during the 1980s? It was 4%. That was considered reasonable. But over time, the tax rates that are considered reasonable for the rich to pay go down and down. And the inflation rate that the rich are expected to face goes down and down. It’s a feedback. The more policy changes to enrich the power elite, the more money they have to buy further policy changes that will enrich them. We still commonly see conservative plans to cut the top marginal tax rate down to 25%. We don’t hear much about cutting the Fed’s inflation target down. But it isn’t really necessary, since the Fed seems afraid to ever get much above it, and has no problem coasting way below it. The power elite know the Fed does its bidding: 37 straight months!

Morning Music: Chet Powers

Chet PowersI walked through the mall yesterday, and The Youngbloods were singing “Get Together” off their second album, The Youngbloods. The song was written by Chet Powers of Quicksilver Messenger Service. But even if you are a fan of that band, you’ve probably never heard his name. That’s because he bizarrely played in the band under the name Dino Valenti; and he wrote songs under the name Jesse Oris Farrow. Curious fellow.

To be honest, all my life I’ve loved the song — but despite the flower power performance, not because of it. Powers’ performance of the song is far superior. For one thing, he just has an incredible voice. But here is a performance from 1986 under the name Dino Valenti on what looks like a cable access show called, On Stage. It’s beautiful music, performed really close to edge. After two folk songs accompanying himself on the 12-string guitar, he brings out the band and does some rock-n-roll. There is a second part to the video, if you are interested.

Anniversary Post: Stonewall Riots

Stonewall Inn - 1969I mentioned yesterday that it was interesting that the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage throughout the United States just the day before San Francisco Pride, which is always held at the end of June each year. I didn’t think to ask why that was. Well, I should have. According to Wikipedia, “The festival is traditionally held in the last full weekend in June. This commemorates the Stonewall riots.” On this day in 1968, the Stonewall riots started. It is generally taken as the beginning of the gay rights movement.

Even people of my age don’t generally know the horrible state of the institutional oppression of the LGBT community in the past. (Of course, it is as bad or worse in some places.) The most obvious example of this was the forced castration of Alan Turing. But the gay community in cities throughout the United States were subjected to constant police harassment. The Stonewall Inn was a very low-rent gay bar in Greenwich Village in the late 1960s. And so from time to time, the police would come by and arrest people because… Well, frankly, because the police have always been more interested in abusing marginalized members of the society than fighting real crime where they might get hurt.

Very early on 28 June 1968, four plain-clothes police officers raided the bar. But things did not go as planned. Part of it was certainly that resentment had been building up for years — decades — centuries. But the bigger issue was the police screwed up. They weren’t prepared. Things got delayed. And before long, a crowd of a hundred or more people gathered outside the bar. The mood was at first festive as the onlookers mocked the police, but there was also anger. Eventually, the police got into a scuffle with a lesbian who was complaining about her handcuffs being too tight. (Entirely typical — a common form of torture police officers use when they don’t like the person they are arresting.) After they beat her up, she yelled at the crowd, “Why don’t you guys do something?!” And it exploded. Wikipedia provides a good overview. Read it; it’s very exciting!

Anyway, the riot led to more riots and then to demonstrations and a much more active “gay liberation” movement. I don’t believe in violence. Just the same, the authorities will never do anything but abuse you unless you push back. The Mattachine Society was very important. But the Stonewall riots marked a turning point — something new and more radical was required. And Friday’s Supreme Court decision was one of the many good results of that. Of course people are still getting beaten up, raped, and murdered because of sexual orientation and gender identity. But it cannot be denied that things have greatly improved.

Happy anniversary Stonewall riots!