March 22, 2009

Anonymous comments on this blog: Why I allow them and, for now, welcome them

My post, “Big, ugly spaceship-looking building or beautiful ‘sacred place?’” has garnered far more than the usual number of comments than Crazy in Suburbia is accustomed to.

Lots of strong feelings and opinions are surfacing about the appropriateness of erecting this 66,000-square-foot religious sanctuary project in the residential Saranap neighborhood between Walnut Creek and Lafayette. Most notably, many have expressed strong feelings—pro and con—about its builders, Sufism Reoriented, as well as Save our Saranap, the group raising questions about the project’s size and design.

One commenter, calling herself 21stCenturyMom, was concerned about people being able to leave anonymous comments on this blog. She thought that allowing people to comment without having to sign their names denigrated the level of discourse. She was especially disturbed by the hyperbole used by some commenters, specifically language one commenter employed to liken people on one side of the issue to a gang of rapists.

I agree that this imagery is pretty over the top. Depending on your point of view, this imagery will confirm your perception that these people have evil intentions—or will make this “gang of rapists” writer sound like a reactionary and melodramatic idiot.

But I’m not going to stop people from making these kinds of comments. To me, this particular comment, with and without its interesting word choice, expressed something deep and real about this sanctuary debate: how this proposal has unleashed anger, bitterness and fear on both sides.

Requiring people to sign their names would certainly stop the melodrama, but I’m certain that it would also stop the comments, or the majority of them.

I like the comments, and not just because it gives the impression that people are reading what some think is my stupid blog. I also like the comments because I read a dialogue going on about a subject that’s important to people in this neighborhood. To me, the debate going on among commenters, even anonymous ones, is an exercise in free speech.

I love Internet message boards for that reason. Whether I’m reading a message board about restaurants, celebrity gossip, or President Obama’s handling of the economy, I feel like I’m reading what people really think. These comments are unedited and uncensored—both by the publication and by the writers themselves—unlike signed and usually carefully crafted letters to the editor in a traditional newspaper.

I still like reading signed letters to the editor in traditional publications. They offer one way to get information and to acquaint myself with different people's viewpoints.

Now we have Internet message boards, which give the public yet another forum for expressing their personal viewpoints and disseminating information. I’m not saying one is better than the other. They are just different, and I like having the choice.

Publications moving to the web have for years wrestled with the question, legally and ethically, of how to set up their Internet message boards. They want to uphold ideals of free speech and allow people to comment freely, but they want to keep comments respectful, and they don’t want to provide forums for personal attacks or obscene or libelous speech. (I’ll remove comments that I judge obscene, offensive or libelous.) Some websites require registration; some require pre-approval of comments. Some don’t allow comments, while others do, but in weird, hard-to-navigate ways. Some don’t allow anonymous comments. Others do.

As you can see, I belong to the laissez-faire camp of message board hosters, including when it comes to anonymous comments.

This in part comes from my experience as a reporter.

It’s human nature that most people want to keep difficult thoughts and feelings to themselves. They worry about being judged or shunned. They worry about that revealing certain things could hurt their families or cost them their jobs. Sometimes they just don’t want to deal with even the small hassle of being the public face of a situation that is in the least bit uncomfortable or controversial.

I’ve worked for publications that only allow information and quotes that are “on the record.” That is, from a source—public record, public official—that is “authoritative,” including from a source willing to be named. I respect the principle behind this standard. At the same time, most stories involving only “on the record” information and comments tend to skate on the surface of what’s really going on, whether it’s a debate over a civic issue or a crime. You could say the on-the-record accounts are accurate, and might give all the basic facts many of us need to know.

But as a reporter, I usually knew more than I could report, and the things I knew often were what I thought the story was really about.

With regard to this Sufism sanctuary debate taking place on my blog, the anonymous comments offer a window into what might be going on in this neighborhood. With the ability to post instantly and with the cloak of anonymity, people are likely to be posting what’s really on their minds. Not all the things that people are thinking and then writing are pretty, or socially correct. Some comments have been labeled “offensive” and or as “hate speech.”

It seems that these boards are revealing a neighborhood that houses people, on both sides, who are angry, fearful, frustrated, and fed up. If that’s what is really going on, then that is a situation that the different groups involved--Sufism Reoriented, Save Our Saranap, the Saranap Homeowners Organization, and the Saranap Community Association—are having to deal with.

I expect that people reading or participating in the comments are technologically and culturally sophisticated enough to approach these boards with healthy skepticism, both with regard to the information presented and to the identity of the commenters.

One commenter, him/herself anonymous, suggested I was posting all the pro-Save Our Saranap-related comments. Who knows? Then again, I don't really have the time to be on the computer all day, posting comments on my own blog.

Another anonymous commenter asked whether the people identifying themselves as friends of Sufis were really just friends or were, in fact, members of Sufism Reoriented, deviously trying to sway public opinion. Once again, we’ll never know.

I’ve been mostly impressed with the dialogue going on about this project. The comments from different perspectives have been informative and given me new ways to think about it. Some have offered important details about the project and the legal and development issues involved. Others reveal the history of discord over the project, while others contain heart-felt expressions of feelings both for and against.

To me, this is free speech in action. Bring it on.


Anonymous said...

You and the Mayor of claycord are doing it!

Anonymous said...

So, Soccer Mom unlike friends of the Sufis isn't denying she posted some of the comments in favor of the Save Our Saranap side.

Anonymous said...

Hitler was a painter, you're a painter, therefore you are a maniacal mass genocidal killer.

6:50 makes as much sense.

Anonymous said...

Soccer Mom,

Are you and the Mayor of Claycord married?

Anonymous said...

I’m the person who posted the comment about group-think. It appears perhaps I should have said “angry mob” instead of “gang rapists”. I invite people to substitute the phrase “angry mob” for “gang rapists” in order to reduce the sense of it having been inflamed rhetoric or hyperbole that this choice of terms caused.

However, I stand by the intent of what I meant: which is that group-think can influence us to think ourselves “right” about something that, had we been alone or with friends, we would never had considered to be within the realm of “right thinking.”

Here’s what I posted:

“While I can understand your thinking on it, here's the thing:

RLUPIA allows churches to build with designs that match their faith symbols, not YOUR idea of beauty.

As to most of your other comments: neighbohoods since time began, have been upset by dust and noise. It used to be called progress.

I am guessing that if someone told you how to landscape your yard or how design an addition to your house, you might just have a HUGE problem with that...

but somehow, it seems okay to you to tell a religious group (protected by first amendment) how you think they should design their building and grounds. Not only that, you think it is okay on aesthetic reasons - you sy so yourself - so it is not about "land use" in your case.

Perhaps you and the SOS think it is okay to do this since you are in a group and being in a group helps you think your thinking is right; you sit there and tell each other - "yes you are RIGHT!"

Well, a gang of rapists thinks they "are right" in some perverted way too when they tell themselves they are entitled to enforce their will on a victim.

I think we can all easily see that a gang of rapists is misguided in their desire for control, and quite a few of us non-Sufi neighbors can see that the SOS is misguided in their clear desire for control.

Hope this helps!”

Again, hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

6:50 - I think those of us who have followed this dialogue for the past week now could use less of the "so and so is pretending to be this or that".

I think it's great that Soccer Mom posted the reasons for allowing the anonymous comments, and I think she is dad on in suggesting that more of the truth has surfaced as a result. That can only be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

11:28 meant "dead on", not "dad on"

Anna said...

I don't think Soccer Mom and the Mayor are married. That is too far fetched, but funny I guess.

Anonymous said...

So only SOS, not the Sufis, are guilty of group think. Interesting denial of reality, considering the words I've heard spouted from the mouths of Sufi leaders, including on the CBS broadcast, sounded like it came from someone's script.

Soccer Mom said...

Dear Anon 12:47, 10:17 and 11:47,
As I've said before, my publicist from the firm Larry, Curly and Moe (or is it Moe, Larry, Curly) has advised me, and the Mayor, to say that we are just friends.

And 11:23: Thanks for explaining your "gang of rapists," or "angry mob" description.

I don't know, though. "Angry mob" makes me think of some cheesy scene out of an old Frankenstein movie--satirized by the Simpsons--with the group shaking pitchforks and brandishing torches.

21stCenturyMom said...

Thanks for the explanation.

My belief is that it is far easier to fling thoughtless, baseless poo than to think through what you are are feeling and wrap it in reasonable words to try to make a reasonable point. It's the difference between knee-jerk name calling and reasoned debate. No one wants their name associated with poo flinging, hence my post about anonymous comments.

Not all anonymous commenters are poo flingers so to anyone who thinks I'm accusing them of that behavior, you'll never know to whom I'm referring. All of you, intelligent, reasoned and poo flingers alike are named 'anonymous' so I can't really say. I'd like to thank the folks who gave themselves names (like First Guy, Guy Bailing and Old Fart) thereby allowing us to distinguish one poster from another.

Anonymous said...

1:25 Soccer Mom -


I am definitely guilty of not being more selective about terminology, but both "angry mob" and "gang of rapists" are not uncommon group-think examples used in social psychology - which is my background - and so I am guilty of not thinking it through enough how it might come across to others who might not have had that background.

Unfortunately, I am not sure what other language could have been used, gang or mob, that would have done what I intended: use a strong enough allegory such that folks might increase stop and take stock for a few minutes - and ask themselves harder Civics and First Amendment questions about the situation.

So I think I've beat this drum enough, but did want to get back to you on it. Thanks for responding Soccer Mom.

Soccer Mom said...

21st Century Mom: "Poo flingers." I love it. I'll have to use that sometime, unless it's your own special creation...

2:28: You know, we don't always say things perfectly, myself included. I know what you're trying to say, and I'm sure other people do, too. There's nothing wrong with "angry mob," it just has certain connotations for me, with in my twisted universe of pop culture references. Thanks for taking the time to comment and to offer your viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

I think 11:23 is a major douchebag for reposting that drivel.

Suck it 11:23!

Anonymous said...

I finally feel like I need to speak up in this debate.

To the person who called the poster a "douchebag," I wholeheartedly agree that this "gang of rapists" poster is full of you know what, but I don't think we need to be calling that person names. We don't need to resort to that.

Reason will carry the day on this one. Come on, saying that oridnary Saranap residents who oppose this horror of construction are guilty of groupthink? GIve me a break. We're just sick of being group-thinked into submission of political correctness by the master group thinkers of all, the Sufis. Oh, no, those people are not into group think or mind control. They are independent thinkers... Give me a break.

Someone else uttered the "c" word in describing the Sufis on these boards. Yeah, that's right, CULT. And I'm NOT sinking low in stating this word. They are a cult in every sense of the word. That's what this person said, who had been in this organization and suffered major psychological damage as a result, and saw others suffer in similar ways.

Cult=mind control. Oh, the thing about Sufis working so hard to say that they are contributing members of society? That's what a lot of classic cults like to say to make it seem like they aren't actually locked off in their own insular world

Whoever accuses opponents of this project of "group think" or "mind control": I think you're doing some projecting. If anyone would know first hand about groupthink or mind control, it would be a Sufi, or, excuse me, a "friend" of the Sufis.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous posting wouldn't end, even if you ended anonymous posting!

It's so easy to create a web email account and a posting ID. Any time someone wants a new posting ID, they just create a new web email account.

IMO, it might stop some but I don't think most or all...

Anonymous said...

The Canadian professor was never a member of Sufism (although their are several former Canadian members). He claimed to know someone who had been a disaffected member who, getting no local satisfaction, took his/her dissatisfaction to the Indian followers of Meher Baba (if so, it was sometime in the distant past I expect...around the early 1980's). The charge of a charter, reviewed and edited by Meher Baba himself, being "revoked" by later followers is ridiculous. That would be like someone in Africa revoking our Constitution. Not really their call is it!

This professor claimed to know something about a period of time when the leadership of the group was changing from one teacher to another. Usually a teacher holds this "office" until their death. Often students, who have placed a particular personal attachment on the physical form and style of a specific teacher they are familiar with--and have respected and loved for many years--have a very difficult time beginning a new association with the new teacher (always named by the last teacher). Almost invariably the style and "outer shell" of the new teacher is a departure from the old. This is often the way of things, and is probably not an accident!

Perhaps the lesson is to not attach too much importance to the outward form of the guide, but it is also understandable because the bond of love and devotion with the teacher is so strong.

It was so in this case. That was even one transition back! Now, there has been yet another transition, and there are usually disaffected students at each turn of the page. It is always a great irony that the former teacher names the new teacher, and so is the instrument themselves of this potential disaffection in this transition. It never occurs to the student that the former teacher they respected so much, and loved so dearly, in their wisdom and guidance, sets the course for the next period of learning by naming the new teacher!

It is not common in the United States to have this tradition of student and teacher in our religious traditions. It is very common in other parts of the world, whether it be represented in the spiritual traditions of Buddhist traditions of China, Tibet, India or South Asia (the Lama or Roche); or main stream traditions of esoteric Islam in Turkey or Morocco or Egypt (murshid, friend or beloved); or in the subcontinent of India where Hindu and Sikh manifestations of the many streams of wisdom share these archetype (guru, bhagwan or master). All simply terms for teacher or guide.

The Native American traditions on this continent expressed these relationships millenia before westerners from Europe turned their expansionist agendas towards the "new world."

So, this traditional diad of student and teacher (that the teacher might not necessarily express as a diad, but rather as a oneness), is unfamiliar to many in North America. This makes it seem foreign, but it is not, and the roots of it go back thousands of years all over the world in the great religious streams ever refreshed by the divine.

By the way, these traditions--master and student--are common place in current religious traditions making up some 3.6 Billion people on earth. So...catch up north America, and get in touch with your first nations roots!

There will always be an orthodoxy developed following a great world teacher, to take up the charge of the "other" being apostates. It must be comforting to those feeling threatened to vilify those they don't understand. Everyone finds a good enemy such a help in SEPARATING themselves from their fellow humans.

I think that is what we see happening in the Saranap. This separation of "convenience."

So, everyone will have to decide for themselves who they think is busy separating from them, or who they think is attempting to join people together. It is a useful dialogue for each reader of this blog thread (and the two others about this Sufism Reoriented sanctuary project in the Saranap) to have with their own conscience.

Next time you hear someone refer to a "cult of personality" ask yourselves exactly who could be referred to in that remark--and why?

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:30 from Have a Sufi Friend.

I'd been struggling with whether or not to respond to the Canadian guy and the whole Murshid concept.

But both needed addressing, particularly with the now overt claims being made that the Sufis are a cult.

So, I appreciate you coming forward, since I don't have enough understanding to explain what I thought the spiritual teacher-student thing is about. As a person who is also “on a path”, as we seekers of Self-knowing like to say, I think you nailed it.

Anonymous said...

I think everyone should have a Sufi friend. They are friendly, and like to leave you alone...which is nice. They also listen, and are responsive:

If you don't like their building, they put two thirds under ground. If you don't like loud HVAC equipment, they propose a ground source heat pump ground loop system to make it quiet. If you don't like white stepped saucer domes, they plant screening trees around the building, and design the landscape to maximize the growth to better screen it. If you don't like fire access on your little driveway, they redesign to provide it from another street. If you don't like a solid 6' wall, they redesign it to be open and more lacey with pockets for planting. If you don't like asphalt, they entirely eliminate it from the project (NO asphalt!), and use grass pave2 and pervious concrete to filter the rain water and reduce the storm drains. They add a bioswale to further reduce runoff. If you don't like lights at night, they promise to reduce them. If you don't like traffic, they produce and model (for two years) a plan to reduce traffic. If you don't like someone amassing property, they promise (again and again!) to sell ALL the property to pay for their building. If you don't like high structures like nearby apartments, condos and neighbor houses, they soften the edges of their building, and by making it round and graduated in its roof form, the average height is 17', and it is lower than the neighbors house. If you can't visualize it, they produce dozens of renderings, created with GPS data and CAD modeling equipment (working with their landscaper designers...who did the SF Academy of Sciences Building in Golden Gate Park) to explicate the look from every conceivable direction. If you say you don't know anything about them, since they weren't proselytizing for 35 years, they produce material and distribute it to 1,000 households in the neighborhood, and send newsletters about themselves and their programs so people know who they are and what they stand for.

Pay attention...they are!

Anonymous said...

All that's left is to talk about flying monkey cults! It's the signal that they are at the end, scraping bottom, and have...


21stCenturyMom said...

Soccer Mom - poo flingers is just a couple of words I strung together. They're yours for the taking!

Anonymous said...

again with the monkey references!


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

To Soccer Mom:

There now have been at least 5 or 6 comments and requests from different people asking what happened with SCA's property and taxes, implying perhaps fraud and perhaps theft.

As such, I hope that you find enough interest here from readers that you look into it in some detail, as you did with the first blog on “Big Ugly Building or Beautiful Sanctuary” Maybe you could generate interest by larger media organizations to see if they have any interest in finding out if any laws were broken.

Personally, I'd love to know what really happened.

Soccer Mom said...

Dear Anon 5:49 p.m.
Please feel free to repost the first part of your post.

The second part? That originated from Anon 4:57: You--or the person who originally posted those specific attacks on a person who is easily identifiable--are invited to rephrase and re-post. Those personal attacks cross a line that I am not going to allow on my blog. If you would like me to explain my reasons, feel free to e-mail me at

Anonymous said...

I see a post was removed by Admin. Couldn't it be edited of too offensive items and posted in some useful form? Use #@% etc. Context is everything!

Anonymous said...

Did Soccer Mom jsut take off a post that had no swear words - and in fact was just a re-posting from the first blog on the topic...but in other blogs she left on someone being called a "beyotch"?

and someone being called a "douchebag"?

ok, did I miss something in her post on anything goes and "bring it on"?

Anonymous said...

ok - thanks for the clarification Soccer Mom - I see your point

I'll just repost the first person's items

Anonymous said...

Ok, point of this post is my trying to not let some serious issues that people have raised get buried by people calling the Sufis a cult. Calling the Sufis a cult seems to give credence to the Sufis’ claim that there is a lot of bigotry going on.

I’ll take the heat for re-posting this, but I am really concerned that we have moved the conversation away from some things that have surfaced that I sense are very important issues.

To paraphrase something that Soccer Mom found violates her guidelines, two posters have said that taxes were not paid by the old SCA board, and the most recent post re: taxes suggested that there may have been other financial improprieties. This is really a serious issue here folks!

On March 21, 2009 9:40 AM, Anonymous said...
“Being of the "on the fence" crowd –

Ya know - - not to start the heat all up again, but this is what’s starting to gnaw at me. There's been some repeated accusations here that Sufis are putting their friends "up to" posting here, i.e. getting them to do their “dirty work” for them.

But, after thinking through who exactly will benefit the most if the design is changed (i.e. Rasmussens and Trenors), how is it that we are not facing facts:

The folks who most benefit if the design changes are also “putting their friends up to it" by taking advantage of our fear. This will be even more embarrassing than the name calling if they do sell their adjacent houses to the Sufis. So, here we are, yammering against the folks who are probably going to be staying, and yet we’ll have spent months or years essentially doing free labor for a few others who will benefit financially if we keep the pressure on – particularly if it goes through as designed. I know I did not sign up for that.

There are still some major trouble spots on this thing that I want more info about:

1) I’ve asked myself if I can tolerate 3-4 years of tree growth and the answer is yes, if that were the only thing.
2) I’m also re-thinking my opposition to the 66,000 sq ft. I can see why they can use that much space IF indeed they are not using the top floor for events other than worship services. Kind of weird, but whatever floats yer boat.
3) BUT - I think I need to understand a bit more about the parking. I went by there last night and there were few cars along Blvd Way, so they really seem to have done what they said they have done on that, but what about overflow for perhaps the occasional larger event where they invite maybe even some more of us (assuming they’ll still be talking to us by then)?
4) Also, I would like to understand more about the construction process. It is a huge amount of soil to be moved. Can we get a draft of what the expected schedule of excavation will be? (BTW: I feel totally stupid in not questioning the number of trucks – of course they won’t use trucks that small, and it's just illogical to think they would.)

Fact is, I have to be honest and say that I do not want the SOS guys in my way if I want to get a variance. This thing has quickly spiraled and I am very unhappy with my so-called “leaders”. I know these guys a whole lot better now after that SOS meeting and so I find myself believing what’s been posted about the SCA transition.

I think Dennis needs to do less complaining and more explaining. If the old board has any SCA property, they should give it back – period, end of story – including the website, the mailing list, and office supplies. The leadership undermines everything we say we are doing if they do indeed possess any such items – it makes the rest of us look complicit and untrustworthy to anyone else who is taking a look at this situation, in fact, they may have already indicted us.”

Anonymous said...

Dear Soccer Mom,

I agree with the request from yesterday that maybe you could do some digging on the old SCA board complaints people have brought up. I find the allegations very disturbing.

I also find it very disturbing that no one has come forward to deny the allegations.

If the claims were being fabricated, it seems to me a simple: "You have your facts wrong!" would have surfaced at least 4 times by now - once for each time someone brought up the allegations. So, for at least 4 days, by my count, no one has said a thing!

anyways, that's how I see the SOS pattern to have been so far - denial - so why not on this topic?

as someone said: if it quacks like a duck, look for substantive poo flinging.

Anonymous said...

Re 7:35's request to Soccer Mom -

I could not agree with you more. I feel we have a right to know if something illegal went on since they (SOS &/or SHO) are saying they are representing us to the county people.

Soccer Mom, here's another "vote" that you do some more digging.

Anonymous said...

I remember Dennis standing at the podium at the July SCA election meeting, and saying there was nothing in the bylaws that required the board to be "representative" of anyone in the Saranap! An absolutely astounding moment of candor by him! I think he had no idea how it would sound to a room of about 250 people.

If you believe he is representing you in SOS or SHO, I think you may be sadly disappointed.

Either find someone who WILL listen to you, and takes in all comments and points of view, or represent yourself to those the County has asked to review projects in the Saranap.

One group has people who are experienced reviewers, and have done this kind of review for a decade. The other group was born yesterday. Don't you be.

One has a publicly elected group of board members. Another...not so much. When do they even meet? SHO doesn't even list contact names on their website. Ask yourself who is being secretive?

Decide for yourself.

Anonymous said...

If the statements were being designed, it seems to be a simple. You have your information wrong! would have appeared at least 4 periods by now. once for every time someone raised the accusations. So, for at least 4 periods, by my depend, no one has said a thing!