Letters to the Editor

Do Web sites want a community they can't control? Plus: Misplaced sympathy in Matthew Shepard murder; Mr. Blue should recognize teen's privacy.


Letters to the Editor
October 27, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Microsoft chess: Call it a draw?
BY MARK GIMEIN

(10/20/99)

The world chess debacle follows a pattern I've seen repeated virtually
blow for blow in my work on commercial Web sites striving for
"community":

  • Company sets up infrastructure for online community; people come
    and enjoy the interaction with like-minded others; everything is
    hunky-dory.

  • Being human, people explore their surroundings (including
    experimentation in how easily the "system" is spoofed); natural
    interpersonal frictions develop and the society evolves in ways that
    the corporate sponsors didn't envision (largely because they didn't
    have the interest or imagination, having been lulled into believing that management fiat dictates
    reality).

  • Company sees possibility of finely spun image being tainted, and steps
    in with some heavy-handed moves; whatever semblance of democracy
    and freedom once existed is destroyed.

What I can't figure is how you wind up pointing the finger at
democracy itself, rather than at the corporate "image-scrubbing" that
steamrolled over it. Yes, democracy is messy. Yes, it is often loud
and occasionally vulgar in making its point. But without resorting to
jingoism, dammit, that's the American way. And I can do nothing but
cheer whenever it breaks free from the grip of the corporate weasels
who think they can keep it on a leash.

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-- Adam Clark

At the start of the match, the conventional wisdom was that Kasparov
would easily beat moves selected by a consensus of average players.
But what actually happened was that early on, a 15-year-old girl
who happens to be one of the best players in the world decided to
put some serious time and effort into analyzing the game. Her lucid
and insightful commentary quickly generated a coalescence of
opinion. The World team started following her advice, even when she
chose bold and speculative moves in the opening.
Irina not only played Garry to a draw, but also did it while publicly
presenting her ideas with such force and clarity that an entire
community of strangers recognized and supported her.

The screw-up at the end is unimportant; but what is important is the
lesson in the psychology of online community. Opinion is not always
formed by averaging the guesses of the ignorant. In this case, one
person -- a 15-year-old, no less -- became the leader of the group by
virtue of obvious merit and high interest. Of all the official
analysts, she was the only one who obviously took a personal interest
in the game and truly wanted to win. She communicated that drive
through her writing and analysis; and the community lined up with her
and produced a wonderful and complex game.

That's the lesson -- that merit and commitment are recognized and
honored by online communities. Rather than the World team being
dumbed down to mediocrity, one person catalyzed the entire group to
brilliance. I think this chess game was a fascinating and wonderful illustration
of the power of true potential of the mass mind enabled by the Internet.

-- Steve Leibel

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Mark Gimein doesn't even talk about the key issue: whether it was legitimate for Microsoft to
disallow the suicide move, even if there was some evidence of
"ballot-stuffing."

Instead, Gimein says, "Setting up an online democracy is a scary thing. The citizens are rarely
grateful -- more often than not they tend to rise up and complain."
The fact is that the online community is exceedingly grateful every day for
the democracy they have. They do get their backs up when it is perceived
that their democracy is being tampered with. However, this is the
obligation of every citizen in a democratic community, don't you think?

Let's see a good discussion of the pros and cons of Microsoft's actions
here.

-- Tom Cmajdalka


Beached whale or bitchin' babe?

BY HELENE STAPINSKI

(10/20/99)

I must agree. My wife is six months pregnant with our second child, and she is still very sexy
and very attractive. I remember in my teenage years seeing attractive women who were pregnant and
finding them very appealing. To attribute a
man's attraction to an obviously pregnant woman to something primordial or Freudian is misguided.
Being an attractive, sexy woman doesn't change upon becoming pregnant. Indeed, it may be the
fullest manifestation of what it means to be a woman -- and that can be very attractive.

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-- Doug McDonnell

Portland, Ore.


Russell, Aaron and me

BY DONNA MINKOWITZ

(10/20/99)

The killing of Matthew Shepard wasn't about love or longing or sweetness. It
was the brutal bashing of the life out of another human being for nothing
even approaching a good reason. I read the entire article again just in
case I missed the hint that this was meant to be taken as a joke. Sad to
say, it appears Donna Minkowitz means every word seriously. I find
Minkowitz's version of love to be quite chilling. Would she say a rapist
was motivated by love? What about the abusive husband who insists he loves
his wife even as the violence escalates toward murder? Was this murder
motivated by fear? Maybe. Raw power? Perhaps. Arrogance? Quite likely.
Hate? Certainly. Love? Give us all a break.

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-- Frank Perch

Philadelphia

I can easily follow Donna Minkowitz's theory that Matthew Shepard's killers were
both enthralled and enraged by the young gay man. Whether he made
the open passes at the two murderers as Minkowitz described is --
as far as I know -- still a matter of speculation. Nonetheless,
Minkowitz's arguments tread so closely to the "gay rage" defense
that she should voluntarily give up her Queer Card.

Sure, it's possible these two rough-and-tumble guys could have been
strangely threatened by the tiny young man because of his flirty
friendliness, femininity and openness. But for Minkowitz to make
the leap that their response -- to beat him to death and leave
him to die -- is understandable (and thereby somehow acceptable)
is twisted and wrong.

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Her statement "The girls I get involved with always make me want
to kill them" should scare the shit out of any of her paramours,
past, present or future. For their sake, I hope her
girlfriends read this column for the red flag that it is. I'm
just glad she'll never fall in love with me.

-- John Burger

Atlanta

There is no evidence that any of
the things the author speculated about the night Matthew Shepard was
murdered actually happened, and her romantic notion that this violent
death was about beauty and desire is a reckless, foolish exercise of
undergraduate navel gazing. Her theories about what prompts straight and
gay men to intimacy and violence indicate a profound lack of exposure to
men of any kind. And what excuse could there possibly be to further
victimize Matthew Shepard by describing him with such florid
ejaculations as "lips wine dark and soft ... hands flower-like ... slight as a wand."
While I'm sure her identification with these depraved murderers is worthy of further investigation, perhaps therapy would be a better forum. And may I suggest that she also spend a little
time looking into why her latent heterosexual desires fill her with such rage.

-- Laurence Schwartz

New York

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Shepard's killing was a terrible hate crime, and no matter how hard Donna Minkowitz tries to milk some meaning out if it, the two roofers were bashing the fag who bought them drinks at a
bar. This is real life, a real person was killed, and a real loss was felt
by those who knew and loved Shepard. Minkowitz can save her purple prose for her novels.

-- Ramin Zahed


Against maternity clothes

BY SARAH MADSEN HARDY
(10/20/99)

All maternity bunny outfits should be consigned to the flames! I have
no idea why pregnant woman are encouraged by the fashion industry to
dress like infants. It's not as if we won't be hip-deep in ruffled
frocks and Winnie the Pooh ensembles once our babies arrive. (My inner
cynical feminist tells me that it's a conspiracy to marginalize and
infantilize pregnant women; it reinforces the traditional idea of the
passive, demure, feminine mother ... and consumer. But I digress.)

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I too was appalled at the lack of choice in maternity clothes during my
two pregnancies. I'm not exactly a stylish hipster, but even I could
not abide wearing ruffled jumpers with teddy bears on them. There
seemed to be just two choices -- power maternity clothes (way too
expensive, but stylish), or teddy bear jumpers and tent tops embroidered with Minnie Mouse (affordable, but tacky). Being tall made the situation worse; most of the reasonable-looking maternity items that I did find were too short in the sleeves and legs. And although all of my pregnancy books endorsed swimming as an excellent way to exercise while pregnant, it was very difficult to find a maternity bathing suit that could actually be used for swimming laps.

I did manage to pull together maternity outfits that expressed
my sense of style. I found some simple jean overalls and black stretch
overalls at a used maternity-clothing shop (no embroidery, no bunnies,
no ruffles). I bought some stretchy tunics (which I can still wear
tucked into my pants) and vests (which I also still wear). I wore extra-large men's turtlenecks. I picked up a few items at plus size shops. It took me days to locate a maternity
swimsuit that didn't have a drag-inducing ruffled skirt or a design
that prohibited freedom of movement; although the one I finally bought
had a lurid floral pattern, it was actually simple and functional.

A pregnant woman must improvise to preserve her
sense of self -- even if it's in a trivial arena like fashion.

-- Nancy Ott

Pittsburgh

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Mr. Blue: Caught looking
BY GARRISON KEILLOR

(10/19/99)

I'm surprised Mr. Blue didn't remind the mother of the 15-year-old that her son is
becoming a man and as such is entitled to privacy regarding his sexual practices. If I were 15, there is no way I would "confess" to my mother that I was enjoying adult sites. At 27, I still wouldn't do that. It's a part of my life to which she is not privy and will not be invited.

Perhaps the next time Mr. Blue gets a letter from someone upset at not being invited into someone else's private sexual life, you will remind him or her that until they have proven themselves to be someone who will not scold or pass judgment, they are unlikely to gain that invitation. For many children and adolescents, the best a parent can do is set up an atmosphere of open sharing and dialogue. It's usually too late to do this at 15 if distrust has already become such an issue, but it's never too late to butt out and remember that even children are entitled to their own lives.

-- Anna Basden

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Old Bhagwan, new bottles
BY DENNIS MCCAFFERTY

(10/20/99)

In his nasty pretense of a book review, apparently Dennis McCafferty was so busy looking for conspiracies in the author bio that he forgot to read the books. Only a tabloid journalist's mind could continue to be so fixated on the "sex guru" aspect of Osho's reputation (or Bhagwan's reputation, if you insist) -- a label generated way back in the 1960s by a bunch of repressed
Indian mahatmas who thought it unseemly to mention sex in public.

As for the truly regrettable salad-bar affair, if McCafferty had done his
research he might have discovered that at least one of the perpetrators of
that outrage was forgiven by the government and placed in a witness
protection program. This gift was in exchange for testimony that did not implicate Osho in any way in this or any of the other insane criminal activities that give so much extra spice to McCafferty's report.

And finally, about the implied "cover-up" of Osho's former identity as
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. As early as 1976, Osho explained that he had taken
the name "Bhagwan" as a device to get rid of a certain crowd of intellectual
Hindus and Gandhians who were hanging around him, who he knew would be
offended by his use of this particular honorific. "Sooner or later, when you
have grown up and you have understood the point, I will stop calling myself
Bhagwan," he said. "But in the beginning it was needed, and it has been of
tremendous help."

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This piece does indeed appear in the upcoming autobiography, along with lots
of other things that I hope will tie up the most ragged "loose
connections" in people's understanding of the phenomenon now called Osho.
I hope you can find a real book reviewer to look at that one.

-- Sarito Carol Neiman

Editor, Osho International

Sympathy for fools and suckers who would give over their wealth and
reason to blathering mystics is entirely misplaced; they deserve all the
suffering reality can inflict. The fraud perpetrated was not
Bhagwan's, but his self-enslaved followers. Humans who do not want
to be free are the rightful prey of intellectual cannibals like the old Bhagwan, and we do ourselves a disservice if we try in any way to interfere. Bhagwanistas past and present have
volunteered for a curried lobotomy. I say, let them have it; it's just
nature's gentle way of improving the breed.

-- Richard D. Henkus

For your readers who have a nose for a hatchet job, here is another view:
At Rajneeshpuram the essential scenario was of a non-white,
non-Christian who wore a dress and drove a fleet of fancy foreign cars
around a city with a Sanskrit name, where all the residents wore red, danced in the
streets and were vegetarians -- right in the middle of redneck cowboy
country. The property was bombed, mercenaries were hired to kill Osho, the laws twisted
-- you know the game in those parts. The idea was to show the residents of Rajneeshpuram in
particular, and the world in general, that the American
Constitution will not permit the kind of fundamental
changes for which this bleeding earth and its sad occupants so
desperately yearn.

Yes, Osho's methods are intended to shock. From his perspective, a somnambulistic humanity is walking over the cliff without realizing it. He has a fairly brief opportunity to toss
cold water into the sleepers' faces. So he invents Bhagwan Shree
Rajneesh, sprays ice-cold water in all directions, and then deconstructs
the whole game, leaving a vision called Osho, an opportunity for all to
explore their own conscious potential. No master, no guide, no priest, no
religion, no God, no dogma, no holy books -- just a street lamp outside
the door marked, "Go in."

By the way -- details of the "secret" name change were sent in press
releases all over the world and it was covered by Time magazine at the time.

-- George Meredith


For the bad times

BY LAUREN KESSLER

(10/19/99)

So often I have wondered how it is that other women can have all
these deep, lasting relationships, while my friendships
have been tentative, wary, tenuous and often
short-lived. The axiom that women easily develop
friendships while men have trouble being intimate was
reversed for me, and I despaired of ever finding the secret to turn that around.

Lauren Kessler's article reminded me of all the friendships that have been there only for a particular
rough patch in my life, and freed me to celebrate them rather than feeling somehow less than womanly for not keeping them up. I suppose we each make friends in our own way, molded to our own peculiar personalities and circumstances. We often do find ourselves passing the type of friendship we received on to someone else rather than turning it back to the person who gave it.

-- Laura Monteros


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