Should political postings stay or go? A survey.

Should political postings stay or go? A survey.

Summary: I've been blogging for ZD Net for several years, writing for ZD publications for almost 20 years. I've always found readers to be intelligent and thoughtful, which is why I continue to do this while doing other things as "work.

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I've been blogging for ZD Net for several years, writing for ZD publications for almost 20 years. I've always found readers to be intelligent and thoughtful, which is why I continue to do this while doing other things as "work." My posting, A virus in your genes, think about that, yesterday elicited an interesting range of responses, most of which I'll reflect on below, but one email that echoes comments made over the years when I write about political issues raises an issue I'd like to discuss with you, dear readers. In a nutshell, it says "take your politics somewhere else." Here's the text for you to consider:

Subject: Your poliltical blog (sic) To: godsdog@ratcliffe.com ZDNET is not the place for politics, at least that is not the reason I subscribe to ZDNET. Your recent blog is in very bad taste and to place it in ZDNET is unseemly. We get enough politics in the news, tv, radio, and normal street conversations. We expect this site to be professional IT; if it is going to become political then what else follows? It appears to me that you can't afford to sponsor your own blog. If I were a sponsor of ZD I would object by cancellling my sponsorship over this political element you injected. IF I should come across another Political anything on ZD I will no longer allow it to be received on my system.

Many readers have replied to comments like this in TalkBack by pointing out that blogs are designed to sweep up many ideas and that anyone who doesn't want to read my postings, nor those by anyone else on ZD Net or about certain topics, can just ignore them. But I also don't want to do anything to wound ZD Net, which has been a kind of second home for my writing these many years. (See the survey below)

The simple fact is we are voting, among other things, about the approach the U.S. government takes to civilian and military research and development, which is one of the key engines of innovation, the benefits of which are shared by all the people of the United States and the world. Consider the amazing discoveries the Large Hadron Collider, going live next week in Switzerland (for an incredibly interesting report on the potential discoveries the LHC might produce, check out this great Times of London feature). That could have happened here, but it didn't, partly because the Superconducting Super Collider to be built in Texas, became a target of the far right's "anti-pork spending" campaigns in the early 90s because doing so also catered to the fundamentalist attack on science that is reaching its pinnacle with Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

The note also ignores the fact that many postings on the site are not about professional IT, but more importantly, it reflects a closed-mindedness similar to a comment on yesterday's virus-Creationism posting that said:

[quoting my previous comment]'...then why don't you leave people to their own decisions rather than impose your beliefs on them?' So you wrote Mitch. Pardon? I no more do the above you charge me with, than you do. That's painfully obvious. If you can prate on, so can I.... By the way, who called and ordained you to cite these rather lofty concepts?

It's another form of "take it somewhere else." It is pretty common in the blogosphere and the political discourse in America to demand not that one's opponents argue their position clearly, but that they just get out of here. That's a feature of "patriotic" comments everywhere.

Who ordained me? I'm a citizen of the United States. The Founders ordained me, when, in the very same sentence they guaranteed free speech and prevented the establishment of religion. That's what is great about America, it laid the foundation for freedom of religion and conscience in a way no other country has. It also provided this particular commenter to post his testimony of faith as a result. More power to him, though I wasn't challenging his faith.

I am not preaching an atheist position, simply a secular one, because I believe in America. Creationism is completely irrelevant to public policy--that's what my posting was about. When it comes to teaching science, it's correct to argue the logic of Creationism as public policy, but nothing I wrote here is atheistic. In fact, if you read carefully, I haven't said anything about what I believe about religion, because that isn't the issue. Unlike those advocating the teaching of Creationism, I am taking no religious position, just a scientifically sound civil libertarian position about what should be taught in the public schools as science and with regard to funding of research and development by the U.S. government without regard to religious opinion.

We, the people of the United States, desperately need to debate public policy issues and, based on the energetic and refreshingly civil tone of this debate I think I found a good hook to start it and all of us have contributed admirably. I particularly appreciated the civil tone of several of the Creationist-oriented commenters.

I also think the tech community is obligated to lead this debate, since we have been the beneficiaries of decades of discovery that are threatened by continuing attacks on the scope of R&D in the United States. As the journal Nature pointed out today in an editorial about the LHC, scientists need to do a much better job of speaking plainly about their discoveries, because they are fascinating and useful, not just the theoretical and philosophical tricks they can appear to be when explained badly.

Some of you don't agree, so I want to put this question to all of you. I will take the results as advice rather than a decision. I'd like to know your opinion, because I also don't want to waste time for either you or me.

[poll id=20]

For the record, here's my response to the email above:

I'm sorry you feel that way. Rational Rants is about the relationship between technology and society, one element of which is politics. I have occasionally written about politics for ZD publications for many years, as well. If you choose not to read all of ZD Net because of my postings I think you will be missing a lot of value, but you are not required to read my stuff, either. That's one of the good things about living in the United States, we have choices. Those scope of those choices increase as the world progresses, because we are creating technologies and discovering so much about our world. Some of those discoveries challenge deeply held convictions, yet humanity has pressed on despite the discomfort it creates. And those choices need to be discussed, in all their dimensions, which may bother you but will not hold everyone back or silence contrary views. So, I hope you'll continue to read ZD, ignoring my work as you choose. I'll continue to write about what I believe needs to be discussed.

Best,

Mitch

Topics: Browser, Enterprise Software

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Talkback

23 comments
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  • Please Speak Freely

    Admittedly, the subject matter was off-topic but adding the occasional non-relevant opinion is a very human thing to do, certainly not to be chastised, regardless of idealogical objection.

    Kevin, G-Portal UK
    http://cms.da.gp
    kevin@...
    • Thanks -- not chastised

      Kevin -- I just want to make sure I am putting this where it is
      going to do some good for someone. Thanks for the
      feedback.
      Mitch Ratcliffe
  • RE: Should political postings stay or go? A survey.

    Mitch you have at your disposal a powerful tool for exercising the 1st amendment of our Constitution. If people have an issue with that, well they can go somewhere else.

    But what I see is just how divided this nation has become on issues that are important. And this is what is causing a weakening of our nation. But what is annoying are the zealots on either side that insist on shouting down an opposing view with little to no factual data to corroborate their stance.

    While they are getting easier to spot, they are also a fundamental problem with this nations infrastructure. And what I mean by that is these blow hards are in positions of influence and power. And they are pushing to change policies that are not in the best interest of the entire nation as a whole.

    A case in point would be a post [url=http://talkback.zdnet.com/5208-11515-0.html?forumID=1&threadID=51533&messageID=970026&start=-9931]from a person identifying themselves[/url] as Linuxuser147560. Up until the last paragraph he provided information that I was not aware of. Information that completely changes the issue.

    And there are others as well, Michael Kelly, Richard Flude and osreinstall each are examples of what it takes to debate. They each will pull in supporting data and documentation and present it tactfully.

    I only come around occasionally and normally I don't post. But of late some of the irrational postings that detract from the truth or blur the issues with irrelevant trash talk, I felt compelled to respond to at least try to get a modicum of intelligence into the conversation.

    I digress, yes keep posting controversial topics. Keep the debates going. This is how grass roots movements start and this is how change really happens, especially in the political arena. The citizens of this country really need to take a more active role in the government. Otherwise we end up with choices like Obama or McCain. Neither of which will be very good for the country as a whole, in my opinion.

    Have a pleasant Friday and a safe and enjoyable weekend.

    Sincerely, Jim Blaine
    Jim Blaine - Bellingham WA.
    • The vote split proves your point

      The votes are running dead even, which shows exactly how
      split we are, not just ideologically but also with regard to our
      willingness to engage with ideas outside a certain range of
      approved thought. I think that media, big and small/citizen,
      have contributed to this creation of silos or echo-chambers.
      Hope to see that change.
      Mitch Ratcliffe
  • Emphasis on ZDNet should be tech

    But you can't compartmentalize discussion they way some people would like. Tech affects public policy and vice-versa, so politics will, of necessity, enter the discussion on a regular basis.

    That said, I don't think it's appropriate to debate the virtues (or lack thereof) of candidates and parties in a tech forum. To the extent that we debate politics here, the focus should be on laws and policies, not individuals or factions. Helps to keep the partisanship (and associated vitriol) to a minimum.
    John L. Ries
    • Even when the candidate is going to set tech policy?

      I agree with you about the inter-relationship of technology
      and so many other areas of life, but why draw a line when
      talking about policy at the individual candidate? After all,
      they are the ones getting up and saying we should decide
      one way or the other, they want to lead so why not debate
      their ideas?
      Mitch Ratcliffe
      • Debate the ideas...

        ...not the candidates.

        I don't think it's appropriate in this forum to debate whether particular persons are fit to hold public office. Seems to me that the thesis of your previous post was that Sarah Palin is unfit because of her expressed opinions on evolution. It may be true (or not), but I don't think it has anything to do with tech.
        John L. Ries
        • It does have to do with R&D policy

          The thesis was that religious views had no place in policy-
          making. If, by extension, that rules out a candidate, then
          that's relevant to the policy of the U.S. government, is it not?
          How are we supposed to talk about issues in the abstract
          when they are related to the people who are campaigning to
          enact policy?
          Mitch Ratcliffe
          • I do disagree with the thesis

            Religious views are not easily separable from one's other opinions and are an integral part of one's world view and one's ideas about right and wrong. Thus, to claim that religion has no place in the formulation of public policy is to argue that religious people should neither vote nor hold public office (it's not like atheists or agnostics are expected to set their anti-religious opinions aside when discussing public policy).

            There are those who would argue that government should have no role in scientific research. I disagree, but if government's role as patron of the sciences requires officeholders and candidates to not hold any opinions that conflict with mainstream scientific theories, then I think it better for the state to surrender that role to the private sector, than to restrict freedom of conscience.

            I think we want officeholders who will say what they think, why they think it, and serve the public interest as they see it; not those who timidly follow established party line and leave their real opinions at home.
            John L. Ries
          • I'll grant that it's perfectly okay to disagree

            I just think we need to discuss the issues and the leaders,
            as that is one of the ways citizens have to exert
            accountability upon elected officials.

            Your point about atheists or agnostics not having to put
            their opinions aside when debating policy is an interesting
            one. On the one hand, there is nothing to set aside when
            talking about the separation of church and state, albeit
            they often make a case against religion through policy. But
            I don't see that fact as something the requires a form of
            "affirmative action" on behalf of religious views, because
            the religious position enjoys a privileged position in the
            Constitution already. On the other hand, the religious right
            has erected several straw men, among them "secularism,"
            which have exaggerated the views of civil libertarians to
            appear as a form of extremism. That's not fair, either,
            because it is perfectly normal to be religious and against
            mixing religion and government, like most of my
            Presbyterian family would tell you.

            We want officeholder to say what they think and do what
            they do based on their principles. I completely agree. I also
            think we should discuss those principles during the
            election and while the elected official holds office.
            Mitch Ratcliffe
          • Mitch Ratcliffe's blog

            I believe, Mitch, that you have in fact been actually far too narrow and restrictive in your comments and criticisms.
            There is already (and has been for too long) too much influence exercised in your country on public school (and to some extent post secondary) education by obscurantist, anti-intellectual, anti-science Christian religious literalists who persistently attempt, and too frequently succeed, in injecting their own personal mythology and narrow religious beliefs into the American school classroom.
            This is not a issue of simply producing school graduates with a distorted and mistaken notion of the biological world, it has far greater ramifications in terms of the most critical skills of thinking and analysis that American students leave school with. This impacts the entire society and certainly the technology fields.
            Sarah Palin and her ilk are obviously entitled to their personal opinions but the last thing the US needs at his juncture are more "leaders" with yet more backward, regressive attitudes of this type, attempting to influence and control how American students are taught and the direction of key components of science and technology in the US.
            David Spencer-20660146163390554490918120654216
          • Thanks much!

            I appreciate the vote of confidence.
            Mitch Ratcliffe
  • Blogs are about ideas, opinion, and assertion

    In my opinion, bloggers are similar to columnists. It's a forum for the blogger to highlight and analyze ideas and opinions he or she thinks would be interesting to the audience. That's the blogger's job.

    If the blogger handles this job well -- carefully researched, well-written, properly crafted -- the blog is by definition successful.

    We all possess different views of the world and gravitate toward things with which we share commonality. In other words, idea bloggers have a responsibility to state their views; readers have the choice of sticking around or leaving.
    mkrigsman@...
  • RE: Should political postings stay or go? A survey.

    Everything is politics and/or religion, especially when it has to do with computers (or doesn't have to do with computers). And everything has a definite Right and Wrong side - no shades of grey allowed - which have to be proclaimed or countered AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS. This is why I don't usually read (or contribute to) the Talkbacks to any of these ZDNet blogs, because I can almost always predict exactly what I'm going to read (or be attacked on) by the author's name.
    cd2_z
    • I hope you feel my name is worth the time

      thanks!
      Mitch Ratcliffe
  • Censorship a bad thing, just like not thinking is a bad thing

    It's important to resist all forms of censorship, otherwise we move dangerously close to the era of Nazi book burnings, or even toward the thought suppression we've seen so deftly orchestrated by Karl Rove. Rove learned many lessons from Hitler's Goebbels, btw, especially the secret that in order to control your population at home, make them fear an outside enemy). Put in practice by Rove, this enemy is embodied by the liberal unpatriotic left who want to take your guns, control your lives, take away your religion, destroy the "sanctity" of marriage by allowing gays and lesbians to marry, and hack our unborn babies to pieces. It boggles my mind that President Bush, Rove's messenger, still has a 30% approval rating. What are his supporters thinking?

    If a differing opinion threatens a person so much (with the exception of hate speech or threats of violence), it's only because that person is struggling to maintain firewalls to keep logical reason from entering their thought processes. And maintaining such firewalls, IMHO, has to impact a person's ability to live a contented life, or lead politically as is the case with Gov. Palin, because if they open their eyes and ears, science is constantly bombarding them with reasons to question the literal teachings of their faith.

    So Mitch, I encourage you to share all your opinions on your blog. Science, religion, technology and politics are inseparable, and your readers are free to agree, disagree, or run away.
    Mark Coker
  • RE: Should political postings stay or go? A survey.

    Point to consider... When I was a young 17 years old a wise man (My Dad)gave me some advise... now that I am 74 I have come to realize how smart he really was..Oh yea..the advise..."Try to keep Sex, Relegion and Politics out of meaniful decussions...They are discussion TURN OFFS" Most (I think) people read these blogs and responses to gain insight into tech info and debate the pros & cons of tech world happenings...Sooo, I voted to keep politics out...Sleep well..Puppa
    puppadave
  • If the politics are intimately connected to the tech, go for it

    Government policy affects the tech sector and R&D, so it seems fairly ripe for discussion. Many folks bring their religion and politics to discussions, on this site and everywhere else, so why should you be barred from presenting your point of view?

    As far as Creationism goes, if they want it taught in schools, having both the support and funding of voters, I'd say they should go for it as well, providing they don't attempt in any way to pass it off as Science, which it isn't. This means: Teach it in Creation class, not a Science class. I don't really know what one could teach about Creationism, anyway. It's just a couple of pages in the beginning of Genesis. Although I suppose one could try to cite some sort of supporting evidence, I don't see the point, as one should either take it on faith, or not.
    seanferd
  • Here is the real reason readers object

    Politics and tech are connected in many ways, but the real reason people object to political posts is because many people these days do not like to read anything that is against the views that they have and is the core reason the country is so divided along political lines. One side of the political debate (Republicans) have for many years now been more inclined to make comments like this. I hosted a radio show called WebTalk Radio for many years with Mitch as a regular co-host and we always had right leaning listeners complaining because we talk to much about politics on the show and yes, we did lean to the left in our discussion. But we also had valid evidence and views that are consistant with the US constitution and talked openly about important issues. I just feel that many in this country just don't want to hear that our government is to be distrusted and that for a democracy to be a democracy that we all need to be allowed to express our beliefs and like Mitch said, we all have a choice in what we read, listen to and watch. I just hope that folks on the right side of the political world start seeing the realities and not always believe the govenments PR spin, we need to think logically for ourselves. Which is happening less and less all the time these days. I say, Mitch keep give us blog posts that share the real truth in the political area as the "The truth is out there" as Mulder would say.

    Good Friend,
    Rob Greenlee
    robgreenlee
  • Yes; if the technology relates to polics

    I think the term "political postings" should be defined or restricted to tech related issues. Abortion really does not relate to anything tech and really should not be part of zdnet as its just out of place; however, it would be foolish for zdnet to stop postings related to internet privacy which can relate to politic as well as tech as internet privacy may be defined by government as well as the technology you are using -ie; google chrome. The same can be said for drm which also crosses both boudaries of politics (ie:dmca) and tech (ie:vista has drm and one can talk about the technology of drm and how it may help 'or hurt vista;' but one may also need to refer to the dmca when referring to drm).
    bicard