Signal And Noise

I’ve made the decision to disable comments on future posts. I’ll still be allowing open TrackBacks from other blogs, but not including comments.

The primary reason for this is that there are so few comments of any substance that it’s just not worth having any. So far it’s the same cast of characters making the same diatribes without any real intelligent discussion of the issues. People who have had intelligent and thoughtful things to say have been actively turned off by the caliber of comments on this site. That isn’t acceptable to me.

A worthwhile comment is something like “You failed to note the implications of X, for reasons Y and Z, and here’s why X impacts your argument.” A comment that is not worthwhile is something like “all Republicans are evil, and cannot be trusted.” The former is a intelligent, thoughtful criticism based on a good-faith reading of the argument. The latter is just mere cant grounded in bad faith. If I had more comments like the former, even ones that were challenging and contradictory, I’d be fine with leaving comments open. Sadly, those are few and far between.

Secondly, I have my own personal professional interests to look out for. I don’t blog under pseudonym specifically because it forces me to be more moderate in my tone and more thoughtful in my analysis. (And even then, sometimes my tone is more strident than it should, and my analysis been less than perfect.)

There’s a difference between being a partisan advocate and being an unthinking partisan, and sadly 99% of the political debate is being advanced by the latter. If I’m going to spend my time looking at contrary views, I’d rather read Kevin Drum, Joshua Micah Marshall or Andrew Sullivan, then go through the fever swamps of The Daily Kos or Eschaton. (For that matter, that’s why I don’t read a large number of right-wing blogs as well.)

Finally, managing the torrent of spam, while not as hard as it was in old days, is still an annoyance, and I have no desire to spend what little time I have not researching legal matters with commenting issues.

As a compromise, I will occasionally create “open threads” that will have comments enabled from time to time. I’ve never been a fan of the concept, but I’m willing to give it a try. If the level of rhetoric on those becomes such that I feel comfortable enabling comments on a more general basis, I will do so.

This site is and always has been my personal project, paid for by my own money and on my own time. To paraphrase Reagan, I paid for this mic, so I can set the rules. This isn’t a step I take lightly, but I’d rather not allow the signal to noise ratio on this site become such that people are actively discouraged from participating. If that’s going to be the case, it’s better to step back and re-evaluate whether it’s worth it to have comments at all.

Comments will be enabled on this post. Consider this the first “open thread.”

11 thoughts on “Signal And Noise

  1. I think that’s a great decision. When your most prolific commenter is all too comfortable suggesting his detractors commit mass suicide and compares them to Timothy McVeigh, it’s clear you’re dealing with an undesirable element.

    To the extent my own comments may have contributed to your decision, I apologize, for it was never my intent. But to paraphrase Edmund Burke, “All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to stand by and say nothing.”

    Given that silence would be contrued as consent, you’ve explained your only alternative. Good decision.

  2. As much as I’ve enjoyed sniping at people, I second this motion. It has become a little tiresome.

    I’ll remain a loyal reader.

  3. Even taking myself out of the equation, I think disabling comments is a huge mistake. Unless readers feel some sense of interactivity with a blogger, they will be inclined to pursue other venues where interactivity is an option. Judging by the commenters on this site, a very large percentage of your readership (if not an outright majority) disagrees with you politically. Take away their opportunity to challenge your posts and watch the number of hits on your blog plummet in correspondence. Just talk to Scott from if you don’t believe me. I know a number of people who frequented his site until comments were disabled. Now, I know nobody who regularly visits that site, as monologues just aren’t that interesting.

    Even your most strident fans are not likely to agree with you on everything. Many of your fans may have a worthwhile point to add to one of your arguments. If they too are silenced, they may decide to spend more time at Free Republic and less time at

    Ultimately, it comes down to whether you have to decide whether you have a thick enough skin to host a blog or if you simply want a private journal with which you congratulate yourself on your deep thoughts by putting them in writing. If you’re satisfied with the latter, then you will pretty much get your wish by snuffing out comments.

  4. Gee, looky. Another stupid, pointless, self-serving attack on Jay Reding. We would expect nothing less from you, Mark.

    Obviously, the beatings will continue until morale improves, Jay, which only more proves the wisdom in your decision.

  5. Eracus, your childish need to always have the last word almost assuredly contributed to Reding’s decision. Funny how this site has allowed comments for years but two months after Eracus shows up and suddenly the host will have no part of them anymore. Hope you’re satisfied.

  6. So kind of like when a fine, patriotic American such as yourself wishes for another American to be killed by Osama bin Laden’s group of terrorists because of a political disagreement (see here: Takes a real patriotic American with balls to suggest that. Plus, it was a great example of an argument along the lines of “You failed to note the implications of X, for reasons Y and Z, and here’s why X impacts your argument.” Your constant bitching about people commenting without decency or rational arguments is interrupted only by your constant posts and comments without decency or rational arguments.

    I tend to think this is more about your ego than anything else. Don’t like a comment on your site? Don’t respond to it. Heck, don’t even read it. When I ran a blog, there were several mindless hacks to whom I wouldn’t respond.

    The cure for ignorant speech is always more speech, never less.

    When it comes down to it, you are really the biggest smut-peddler on this site.

  7. I am so delighted, Mark, that you finally recognize and concede to my awesome power. You may now kiss my ring.

  8. This is a mistake, in my opinion. But hey, it’s your blog. I know moderating comments can be a drag, especially when dealing with span, but ending them altogether seems to be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Though I rarely wade into the waters here, I’ve generally found the comments to be much more cordial than most other places on the Internets.

  9. Here’s my compromise. I’ll keep regular (even daily) open threads. If the level of discourse is interesting enough to reopen generally, I’ll do.

    The problem is that only a tiny fraction (usually less than 1% of the total audience) has ever commented. (In fact, a shockingly high number only get the RSS feed which doesn’t have comments at all.) Some people who might want to comment don’t feel like they can in the current environment.

    In general, I’m all for more speech, but what I want are comments that are more incisive than the usual partisan bickering. That, quite frankly, bores me. How many different ways can someone say the same thing over and over again? Yes, we get it that Mark thinks that all Republicans are plutocrats. That’s fine, except it doesn’t break new ground.

    Granted, this isn’t a law review. I don’t expect every argument to be meticulously sourced and perfectly logical. Mine usually aren’t. However, what I’m looking for is something that’s challenging from an intellectual standpoint, not the same PR piece I could get from Media Matters.

    For instance, on the US Attorneys piece, here’s an argument that would be challenging:

    What about the allegations that Sen. Domenici put political pressure on the Department of Justice to fire attorneys who didn’t bring up election fraud charges against Democrats prior to the 2006 elections? Does that present a conflict of interest that politicizes the Department of Justice? And what if the allegations that one of the attorneys was investigating a political scandal that may have involved the White House? Would such a firing have at least the appearance of impropriety and call into question whether the Bush Administration is engaging in political retaliation?

    Something like “Bush is a crook and we all know it” is just a waste of time. For one, nobody’s going to be convinced by that. Secondly, it doesn’t shed any new light on the subject. Why does the firing of 8 US Attorney’s make Bush a “crook?” Is it because he did something that violates the Constitution? Because the President shouldn’t fire US Attorneys?

    I spend almost all of my time reading arguments, and usually good ones. I spend several hours a day getting grilled by people who can demolish an argument like a hammer in one sentence. In fact, I’ll probably end up doing that for the rest of my life. I just don’t have time to respond to arguments that don’t have any real substance to them.

    That doesn’t mean I want nothing but comments that agree with me. In fact, those are the most boring, because while I like praise, even that doesn’t really advance the argument.

    Granted, there are some great comments that come out from time to time. I can tell when someone is doing their research, and so can everyone else.

    If I can get more of those comments, I’ll gladly rescind my decision. If I don’t, I’m not losing all that much. In the end, consider this a social experiment – if I get some good comments on the open threads, I’ll be glad to reopen comments more widely.

  10. Aw, c’mon, Jay! If it weren’t for your comments section, I wouldn’t have ever discovered this site, thus giving you the opportunity back in Feb 2003 to make me look really, really insightful, especially in hindsight.

    I mean, it’s no Jonah Goldberg/Juan Cole piefight, but it still serves to remind us all that the conservative movement should have paid more attention to the Dirty Hippies four years ago.

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