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!

The Same Sex Marriage Bigots Time Will Pass By

Wes AllenI’m very pleased that the Supreme Court narrowly found a Constitutional right to marry. But I’m also with Jonathan Chait in thinking, “The Supreme Court’s decision affirming marriage equality hastens what was already a fait accompli.” It is a great day, but the only thing that makes it notable is that the Supreme Court isn’t decades behind public opinion. What I do think is kind of stupendous is that the decision came today, the day before San Francisco Pride. What a great coincidence that is! But not all people are celebrating.

Yesterday evening, the Associated Press reported, Gay Couples Wed on Historic Day as Conservatives Resist. Apparently, when the decision came down, a lot of LGBT couples across the country rushed to courthouses to get married. It’s sweet really. As a typically straight guy who never had to think of marriage as anything special, it’s nice to see people running towards it even as I have run screaming from it twice. And in many cases, these eager LGBT couples were treated with the openness and joy that the occasion deserves. For example, the article mentioned one couple in Louisville, Kentucky who were greeted by the mayor with a bottle of champagne. We have a word for that here in the Bay Area: class.

But in Pike County, Alabama, Probate Judge Wes Allen has decided that he’s just not going to issue any marriage licenses at all. Think about the irony of this. For decades, conservatives have been telling us that if LGBT couples get the right to marry, it will destroy the institution of marriage. I never imagined that same sex marriage opponents meant that destruction would come in this form: that there would be no more opposite sex marriages because the opponents would stop allowing them out of pure spite.

There does seem to be something wrong with conservatives. They just can’t let things go. When it came to Jim Crow, it was going to destroy “white culture.” But it didn’t. And this is going to destroy “straight marriage” and “the family.” It’s all so ridiculous! But I do understand where it comes from. I remember when I was younger, I would get mad about something. And I was right about it — it was a righteous anger. And so I wanted to hang onto it. But it took so much energy! Eventually, I just learned to let things go. I also learned that often when I thought I was righteous, I actually wasn’t.

Look at Judge Pike above. That picture was taken a few years ago. He’s 39 years old right now: too young to be that bigoted and too old to act so childishly. I really don’t get it. Even if you feel that same sex marriage is wrong, don’t you have a duty to, you know, do your job? There are parts of every job that aren’t pleasant. The loophole that Pike has found is certainly not one that his God is going to approve of. So what is he really doing but putting off the day when he will have to go along, and in the mean time looking like a real jerk. And he’s not alone.

LGBT Rights Move Apace

Glenn GreenwaldAlthough the result was expected on a rational level, today’s ruling is still viscerally shocking for any LGBT citizen who grew up in the US, or their family members and close friends. It’s almost hard to believe that same-sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states. Just consider how embedded, pervasive and recent anti-gay sentiment has been in the fabric of American life…

It’s breathtaking to consider the amount of courage and human suffering that led to today’s decision. In the late 1940s, Harry Hay created the Mattachine Society, which combined highly progressive politics with a campaign for gay rights in an indescribably hostile and oppressive climate. The Stonewall Riot of 1968, driven by outrage over endless police harassment, was led by the most marginalized members of the community, and sparked the modern LGBT movement. In the late 1980s and 1990s, ACT UP — driven primarily by sick gay men and their lesbian allies — pioneered political activism with a union of defiance, dissent, and shrewd expertise and strategizing that unquestionably saved countless lives around the world and emboldened an entire generation of gay people (passively attending ACT UP meetings at Cooper Union during my law schools years was incredibly formative).

The experience of being gay in the US has long been one of intense stigma, condemnation and exclusion; for many, it was worse than that. The tragically conclusive empirical data on the highly disproportionate suicide rates for gay adolescents, by itself, tells much of that story. To witness the arrival of full-scale legal equality is something many never expected to see in their lifetime, and now that it has happened, still seems surreal.

—Glenn Greenwald
Today’s Court Ruling, Though Expected, is Still Shocking – Especially for Those Who Grew Up LGBT in the US

Is Marriage Equality Good for the GOP?

Brian BeutlerWas Brian Beutler right when he explained, Why Conservatives Should Praise God for the Supreme Court’s Gay Marriage Decision? His argument is pretty standard. The decision allowing same sex marriage across the country has saved the Republicans from themselves. He compared it to Brown v Board of Education. He noted, “If a different Supreme Court hadn’t helped end the civil rights debate, a big segment of the country would’ve remained separate-but-equal fanatics for years and years, and driven their elected officials into that dead end with them.” He’s right about this, of course. In another couple of years, same sex marriage is going to have 80% approval and it helps the Republicans a lot to not have to talk about it.

But there is a bigger point here: conservatives are always on the trailing end of history. And the Republican Party has set up a system where they have to use these ancillary issues in order to further their primary goal of enriching the already rich and empowering the already powerful. And they really do get stuck in their own traps. But it is hard to feel sorry for them because issues like same sex marriage serve them well for a long time. And they would be lost without them.

The more important point is that, as same sex marriage becomes a thing of the past, they will simply find new things to stand against. This is Corey Robin’s very definition of conservatism: being against liberation movements. The point is always and forever that whoever are in charge at any given time are the right people to be in charge. So we always will hear things from conservatives like, “Well certainly Jim Crow was bad, but that’s all a thing of the past!” Whatever it is that people are asking for now must be resisted because freedom is a limited quantity. In fact, that’s been quite explicit in the same sex marriage debate where it was bizarrely claimed that it would harm heterosexual marriage — like there is some law of conservation of marriage.

And let’s not forget that the ultimate fall back for conservatives is the poor. LGBT rights has always been a sideshow. The true popular power of the Republican Party has been its veiled (and not so veiled) attacks on African Americans and Latinos as the moocher class. This has the advantage of being fairly straightforward. It really goes along with what conservatives believe: the rich are rich because they are better and the poor are poor because they suck. This was, by the way, one of the primary arguments for chattel slavery. Not much has changed.

So I think that Beutler is basically correct: for the Republican Party, the legalization of same sex marriage is helpful. There will, of course, continue to be culture warriors like Mike Huckabee who will pander to that consistent 20% of the population that hates everyone and everything. But mostly, the party will abandon it. But it will continue on with its usual bigotry. And it will find new things to demagogue against. Cheer up Republicans, the dream is not dead!

Why the Confederate Flag Issue Took Off

Confederate Flag South CarolinaHans Noel via Jonathan Bernstein explained an issue that a lot of people have no doubt found puzzling, The Flag Was No Fluke. The question at hand is why did the murders at the Emanuel AME Church end in political action about the Confederate flag and not the more obvious gun control. I’ll tell you what I had assumed: everyone is tired of gun control.

After Sandy Hook, even the smallest changes to our gun laws were out of the question. To even talk about them, we were told, was to politicize the tragedy — as though telling people not to talk about guns is a less political act. So it isn’t surprising that for a lot of liberals, it doesn’t make sense to start talking about guns when even many Democrats will be against doing even the smallest things.

What Noel highlighted was that the gun control movement and the African American community are two constituencies of the Democratic Party. But the African American community is far more important. The truth is that although most Democrats would like to see more reasonable gun laws, it is at the top of the list for very few. So when the Charleston massacre happened, and there were two possible responses, the Democrats followed with the stronger and better organized group.

The Confederate flag has been a big issue for activists for decades. I don’t consider racism to be one of my core issues and yet I’ve written about the Confederate flag obsessively over the last five years. It isn’t personally offensive to me the way it is to many African Americans. But it is such an obvious offense. I’m sure there are a lot of white liberals like me, but who haven’t given the issue much thought. And when it was brought up in such a barbaric way, it’s clear, “Get rid of that flag!”

The other side, of course, is that there are people in the Republican Party who have long wanted to get rid of the flag. It is not welcoming to African Americans, or for that matter, anyone except for those who fetishize the flag. And those people are already big Republican boosters. It goes back to Lee Atwater’s idea that racist appeals have to be made more subtle over time. Well, the Confederate flag ain’t subtle.

We’ll see how far this goes. I’d like to get rid of it completely. Clearly, it should be scrubbed from state grounds and courthouses. But I’d like to see more. I would like to see the display of the Confederate flag be treated with the same public distaste as the display of the Nazi flag. But we can start with the Confederate flag at the South Carolina capital.

Morning Music: Kiss Me, Kate

Kiss Me, KateKiss Me, Kate first appeared on Broadway in 1948. It’s a musical with a lot of great songs by Cole Porter. But it is a modern version of one of Shakespeare’s more troublesome plays, The Taming of the Shrew. I understand: for thousands of years, people have enjoyed seeing uppity women get put in their place. But it’s pretty tired by now. In fact, at the end of Shrew, Kate makes a big speech about how women should always obey their husbands. Now days, the play is edited to make it more palatable. But in its place in Kiss Me, Kate, is the truly vile “I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple.” Maybe modern productions present the song ironically. I don’t know. But really: “So hold your temper, wife, and meekly put; your hand ‘neath the sole of your husband’s foot”?!

But the big song from the play is “Too Darn Hot.” And it is too darned hot. In the play, it is sung by the men at the opening of the second act. In the film, it is done by Lois — Bianca in Shrew. You know, the obedient and vapid female in all of Shakespeare’s comedies. But that doesn’t mean in 1953 she couldn’t also be a sexpot:

Anniversary Post: IRIS

IRISOn this day, two years ago, NASA launched the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS). It was created to study the sun’s chromosphere. And it has a single device on it: an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer. It takes a picture every second. And the pictures have a spatial resolution of 0.3 arcseconds. That’s about 1/6,000 the diameter of the sun.

But the really cool thing about ISIS is that it is in sun-synchronous orbit. That means that it is orbiting the earth from pole to pole. But it precesses at a rate of once per year. Thus, the satellite is always pointing at the sun! I had never even heard of such a thing before. I’ll tell you, those astronomers are very clever!

sun-synchronous orbitThe results from IRIS are pretty technical. All I can really say is that the sun’s chromosphere appears to have a much more complex structure than previously thought. And different parts quite close together can have drastically different temperatures and pressures. I’m sure it will help us understand better how the sun releases its energy.

The IRIS mission length was supposed to be two years and it is now two years. But you know how NASA is. They are like Scotty from Star Trek, always providing bad estimates so they can look like miracle workers. Although in the case of NASA engineers, they really do seem to work miracles once projects are underway.

Happy birthday IRIS!