mardi 4 août 2009

No Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I decided not to display comments on my blog and also to subject them to moderation. I came to this decision after some Nasty Anon (which is practically redundant) left a mean-spirited and ill-tempered comment on my blog entry about the Alliance française. The comment had nothing to do with my blog entry. It was about my supposed "activism" in the alleged "witch hunt" campaign whose aim is to "lynch" Amanda Knox. The comment can only have been made by a very small number of individuals, so Nasty Anon was not being quite as anon as she imagined.

This comment came on the heels of another comment that was sent on to me by a friend. My friend had seen it on the Seattle PI Reader blog run by Candace Dempsey, who is writing a book on the Meredith Kercher murder case. I don't read Candace Dempsey's blog, so I would have missed the comment. The person commenting, who goes by the screen name To Turn To Turn, made a perfectly ludicrous statement about the psychology of people following this case from a colpevisti angle - bolstered by some obviously made-up statistics - and noted that one of the local "activists" in the "anti-Amanda" campaign was someone she had known in graduate school at the University of Washington. There was that word again: activist. Worse, she went on to make an oblique comparison (if I understood correctly - when people make cryptic comments dressed up not to look like idle gossip it is hard to tell) between me and Ann Coulter, which convinced me that she really did not know me in graduate school, a period during which I had spiky short hair and was a Marxist. I started thinking about who in my very small, very male department (1) might have a festering grudge against me and (2) could have morphed into a bitter Catholic who never left Seattle. I came up with (2) after checking out some of her other posts on the Seattle PI. She's really worked up about the Jesuits and the seeming inability of some of their members to keep their members to themselves. I sensed a fervid Catholic behind the rather pompous comments, many of them mean-spirited but dressed up in fancy though rather dull formulations.

I came away convinced that whoever she is, this person did not go to graduate school with me. For one thing, it is really hard to imagine a life so devoid of movement that a grudge from 25 years ago could keep burning. For another, like I said, I was no Ann Coulter. Not by a long shot. However, Catholics do tend to hold grudges for, like, ever, and do tend to become bitter with age, especially if they have not managed to step outside the Church for a bit of fresh air. (So sue me, all you Catholics out there. That's what I think.) Catholicism does not encourage largesse. Catholics tend to be terribly judgemental and terribly concerned about appearances, in spite of their denials. Speaking of denial....

There is also a possible tie-in with the murder case. Seattle suspect Amanda Knox, though she is not Catholic, attended Seattle Prep -- a Catholic high school founded by the Jesuits. It is really no longer a school where one gets a Jesuit education, however, since the faculty is not comprised of priests, let alone those of the Jesuit persuasion. Check out the website; I think there might be a total of two priests teaching there. Knox has been in jail for almost two years now, suspected of playing a role in the brutal murder of her roommate. I gotta believe that for Seattle Prep and for the local Catholic community, this is a big blemish. Seattle Prep has played a significant, but largely behind-the-scenes, role in the effort to get public opinion behind Amanda Knox, mainly by painting the Italian prosecutor as an evil, deluded maniac who hates Americans. It has mostly backfired in America and is viewed as a joke in Italy, the UK and the rest of Europe. Nonetheless, the official arm of the movement (the FOA or Friends of Amanda)has been somewhat successful in shifting the focus from the evidence against Knox to the prosecutor and, as needed, the corrupt and backwards country that they believe Italy to be. This is partly because the FOA is staffed by some influential and media-savvy people: Doug Preston, a best-selling novelist; Anne Bremner, a lawyer for King County cops who has gained some notoriety and a part-time slot as a television legal pundit through her involvement in some high-profile cases (Mary Kay Le Tourneau, anyone? Michael Jackson?); Tom Wright, a former Hollywood director turned producer. They are interested in imposing a particular meta-story on this case and have the media access needed to pull it off. I don't know what drives them.

I have no horse in this race and no role to play. I do not stand to gain financially from it in any way. I am not an activist. And I am neither an "innocentisti" nor a "colpevisti" -- in spite of blogosphere rumors to the contrary. Why do these people bother with me at all? I co-moderate a message board devoted to a discussion of the evidence and the media coverage. I am doing it as a favor to a friend, a very talented true crime blogger named Steve Huff ( He asked me to do it because, for personal and professional reasons, he could no longer do it himself. He chose me because he found me skeptical, aloof, not turned on by the grisly aspects of crime, fair-minded, objective, etc. And I said yes. That's when the trouble began. The board was quickly joined by Amanda Knox's stepfather and a couple of his friends, who proceeded in a rather clumsy way to try and dismantle it in order to put a stop to all discussion. I ended up banning them, for reasons that anyone who is really interested can find out by googling a bit. They discovered my real name, again for reasons that anyone can discover, and quickly began to focus on me: comments about my appearance, my personal life, even my friends. My life was and is an open book. I have a little blog, where I mostly write about subjects that interest me, but occasionally about things that happen in my life. I set it to private when they took a photo from it, blew it up and posted it on the PI website. Then I set it back to public because it is my blog, damn it. I set my facebook page to private when one of them posted an anonymous comment about the breasts of one of my facebook friends. I have left it set to private because my friends deserve no less. Had they stopped there, things would have been fine. But they didn't. Soon I began to see comments about where I live, who I am married to, who I am divorced from, what I smell like, where I shop, my status as a childless woman (they came up with a cute name for me: Barren Shrew), etc. No fact about me was too trivial for twisting and use out of context.

To make a long story short, I filed a complaint with the Seattle Police when my requests for decency were ignored and in fact only served to up the ante. For reasons that anyone who is curious can read on the Internet, I had a good idea who was behind the harassment and the attempts to intimidate. I did some research of my own, aided by some pretty smart people with Internet sleuthing skills I don't have, and my harassers were sloppy on occasion. They left tracks. I gave their names to the investigating officer. The case is ongoing, though I am not holding my breath for a conviction. I just wanted the focus on me to stop. I am not the person I have been painted to be by these morons. Excuse me, but they are hotheaded morons. I am not an activist in some campaign to lynch innocent people. I only moderate a board and my aim is to keep the discussion civil and productive. I don't like falsehoods, whether they are deliberate or not. I believe that the investigation conducted in Italy was in good faith -- though mistakes were made -- and also that there are some troubling questions that must be answered by Knox and her defense team. I believe that if those questions are answered, then she will be cleared of wrongdoing. But I also believe that the trial underway is being conducted transparently and fairly.

So far, most of the questions have not been answered to anyone's satisfaction. Knox's defense team has not done a good job, and her defenders in Seattle have done an even worse job of winning over hearts and minds. Hiring a PR firm so early on was a huge mistake. The PR firm in question has done a horrible job, but then again it has not been helped by members of the family. Chris Mellas seems out of control and angry (see my earlier comments about the blogosphere harassment). He has been a huge liability. Going after people in Seattle because they beg to differ with the strategy of sliming the prosecutor and his country of origin; loudly proclaiming that there is not a shred of evidence instead of patiently rebutting it; calling people who ask legitimate questions retards, shitheads, fucktards, etc. Please pardon me for not wanting to be associated with these tactics or those who employ them. And yes, I know there are one or two people who post on my board who do not mince words and whose statements about the defendent and her family make me wince. I don't agree with them, and I try behind the scenes to temper the tone. But these comments are so few and far between and, more importantly, they are protected under the First Amendment.

I think that what the Knox and Mellas families are going through must be just horrible. It is draining them, financially and emotionally, and it shows. I would not want to be in their shoes and I have no antipathy toward them. No long-standing grudge, no ill will. I don't even know them. But I feel that I am facing an "if you aren't with us you're against us" mindset, and that nothing I might say to introduce nuance will be heard. Nonetheless, I wanted to say it. And I wanted to say that in this magical age of instant communication, people can and apparently do say whatever they want. It is so easy, so easy to be mean, to tell lies, to gossip behind other people's backs, to keep old grudges alive, to give license to your nastiest self. It is so much harder to be fair, to be kind, to see good in others, to debate ideas instead of trashing people.

I think people take the low road and go for the jugular for one simple reason: because it is the easy way. It is so much easier than taking the time to do a self-examination and recognize that what drives judgements and idle gossip about others is resentment --that and insecurity. In this day and age, anyone can vent their anger on the page and hit send. It takes a bit more intelligence and humanity to refrain from doing so.