ChristianForums: Offending the little ones


2006-11-09 21:08
Comments [2]

One of the quirks of CF is that it has always been dominated by people who feel the need to draw firm lines and boundaries to exclude the people who aren’t quite right. It’s generally phrased in terms of protecting people from bad doctrine.

The problem, of course, is that many of the people this is supposedly going to benefit, such as younger folks and people who recently converted, are the first to get kicked out.

As an example, consider the user “Moo Tipping”, who showed up one day. She’s from a small town, and grew up exposed to both Buddhist and Catholic teachings; in fact, she identified as both Buddhist and Catholic. Some people might argue that these are conflicting. I think there is certainly some potential for conflict, and I certainly wouldn’t hold her up as an example of pure Christian orthodoxy.

On the other hand, she was 14.

Needless to say, the inquisition was fierce and directed. So, rather than, say, leaving the question up to her actual priest, or anything like that, a bunch of people jumped on her for holding unorthodox positions, and accused her of being a liar when she said she was Christian. Apart from successfully defending the forums against a 14-year-old girl with more questions than answers, they also managed to convince her that, if this was Christianity, she should not be in confirmation classes, because she didn’t want to turn out that way.

This story repeats all the time. Every time the CF staff decide that someone doesn’t count as a “real” Christian, the result is a scorched-earth policy aimed at eliminating any possible middle ground. People are expected to abandon their own search for God and mouth the empty phrases favored by the administrators, or be forever exiled. The site admins always say “We are not trying to say anyone’s non-Christian”, but if the victim mistakenly follows a link to a Christians-only thread and tries to post, the forum software’s answer is clear; “You must be a Christian to post here”.

It’s perfectly reasonable to ask the question: Why should you care what some message board thinks of you?

However, I think it’s a bit ridiculous to ask a 14-year-old, or even a 15-year-old, being daily instructed in the necessity to listen to and obey adults, to suddenly realize that these particular adults are, in fact, just full of shit, and the right thing to do is ignore them. Being attacked like that, being called a liar and told that God will hate you, by people who claim authority and appear to be respected community leaders, is gonna be hurtful no matter what.

She’s still out there, somewhat older and wiser now. She knows better than to let some anonymous jerk on a message board tell her what God is, or isn’t.

I oughta point out that, as a fairly firmly convinced Christian, obviously I think the best case would have been for her to be welcomed into the community, in the hopes that she would end up being persuaded by us. But honestly, after the way “Christians” treated her, I can’t help but suspect she might be closer to God on the outside of that particular fence; after all, when we exclude people, we generally find that God has gone to the outcasts and the unwanted, and left us to our comforts.

I should point out that this is hardly the only example; it’s just one of the few where I’ve been able to get in touch with the person before the Sanhedrin drove her off completely.

Buy stock in Federated Millstone. I’m just sayin’.

Peter Seebach

Comments [2]


ChristianForums: Stray bullet, round 1


2006-11-09 18:37

Okay, so, in a previous episode, I mentioned how Stray Bullet got suspended from CF for claiming to be Christian.

Now, it’s time to get into the question of what he did while he was suspended. Most of this was in mid-2004, for those who care; I’m sorta jumping around a little chronologically.

What he did was create a sock. His sock, under the name “David Waffen”, was a borderline over-the-top parody of conservative Christianity. A sample quote:

Please, creationism the only way to be Christian.

What he found was this: No harassment, no warnings. He occasionally got told to edit posts. (The above sample was not the subject of moderator action, even though it unambiguously violates the forum’s rule against implying that other members aren’t Christian.)

In short, he could get away with anything. Now, this may seem surprising, but it’s not really; the majority of staff have usually been fairly conservative (enough so that a Catholic who holds to Church teachings is likely to be labeled a “liberal”), and have been the sorts of people who feel that the solution to accusations of bias is to treat them as personal attacks and deny everything. That is to say, people who are not only biased, but firmly convinced that they are perfectly objective, and thus totally unable to compensate for their own biases.

This came to the attention of staff after Stray posted about it on another forum, that being Internet Infidels (IIDB). The IIDB forum has been host to a lot of chatter about CF, because CF won’t let people discuss or criticize staff behaviors. Thus, a number of people who have been poorly treated have gathered there to chat about their experiences. (In fact, a number of people have reconciled there; more on that when I get to the story of sweetkitty.)

Interestingly, some of the staff were stunned enough by the fairly egregious nonsense that “David Waffen” got away with to actually suggest that other staff do something about it. Of course, not much ever came of it; the people who were biased were not about to accept merely empirical evidence.

Stray eventually managed to get his record cleared up, and applied for a role as a moderator on CF staff. He got it.

That’s when things get interesting. Unspecified anonymous people complained about stray, and demanded that he be removed from staff. He was told to step down from staff, and he was told that, if he said it was for personal reasons, he could come back later. Of course, neither part of this was true; it wasn’t for his own personal reasons, and they didn’t let him back until after the Great Reform of 2006.

There’s more to it; for instance, after stray “stepped down”, staff started gossipping about him, now that they had a safe forum to do so in. The nominal reason for kicking him off staff was that he was “anti-Protestant”, and senior staff began telling more junior staff that this was the case, despite the incredibly weak substantiation. Of course, this happened after he was gone, so he couldn’t defend himself.

The practice of faking up a story to avoid the appearance of anything being wrong in staff land continues to this day, although it’s sometimes more overt and sometimes more subtle.

Peter Seebach



ChristianForums: The fortress mentality


2006-11-09 17:08
Comments [8]

A major shift in CF occurred in 2003-2004. Staff began to adopt a fortress mentality, in which they viewed themselves as being under constant attack from all sorts of sources. One of the funniest examples of this was masks.

CF, like many graphically-heavy sites, allows people to select little images which go with their posts. A couple of the regular participants in General Apologetics adopted avatars which had masks on. By coincidence, they were atheists. They began making a joke about it, and other atheists added masks to their avatars. A couple of Christians did too, possibly just because it was funny.

Staff proposed active efforts to crack down on this clear attack on the site. I am not kidding. People concluded that a pattern of users whose avatars had a running joke in them were clearly a threat to the site’s ability to be an effective “ministry”.

The fortress mentality has generally gotten worse over time, and the most visible form of this is the ever-increasing secrecy of, well, just about everything. The rule about criticising staff actions grew and morphed until it became “you may not comment on specific staff actions”. No exceptions, no places where it’s okay; all staff actions must be kept entirely secret. (For quite a while, there was no attempt at all to enforce this as applying to other sites.)

The most visible example is probably the Shaman’s Place incident. One regular poster, who went by SqueezetheShaman, opened her own forum where a number of CF folks hung around, and some of them were banned members or ex-members, and some of them even went so far as to create new sock accounts to stir up trouble.

Needless to say, after the level of worry inspired by people doing nothing at all, an actual attempt to disrupt the site, however playful, merited a serious response, and a CF staffer broke into the Shaman’s Place by guessing someone’s password. What ensued was a substantial bit of drama, as CF staff egged him on and encouraged him to repost information, including information from the private administrator-only forums at Shaman’s Place. As it became clear that information from these forums was leaked, the Shaman’s Place admins looked into things, and identified the compromised account… But they didn’t realize it was compromised. Recriminations, hurt feelings, and anger ensued.

At the same time, a user broke into CF, using a more subtle method, and got all sorts of information from CF staff forums. When this information was made available — some of it posted on shaman’s place — the CF staff went wild, with the same sorts of anger and accusations, only without any specific person being identified.

Drama ensued.

Eventually, the CF staffer who had broken into Shaman’s Place came clean, and apologized, and was encouraged to “step down” from staff. (Very few people have ever been fired from CF staff; I can think of two, both liberal.)

The person who broke into CF was convinced to come clean to Erwin and reveal the security hole he’d used.

There is some followup to this, and it’s one of the things I’m happiest writing about, because it’s a genuinely good thing. The guy who broke into Shaman’s Place, after a few months, and after offering sincere apologies, ended up getting back on staff on CF, under a new user name. After a bit of drama, it was revealed that staff knew it was him, and had decided to forgive him and give him another chance. The notion of forgiving someone who has visibly repented is a good one, and he turned out to be an excellent staff member. He’s no longer active on staff, and he’s always been sensitive to the desires of the people who aren’t in power. He also has a much more personal view of privacy questions, and the famous confidentiality of staff forums, than many other members. He has never denied that he screwed up, and that what he did was wrong, and he has also never repeated it. He is, these days, one of the most sincere and thoughtful participants in discussions of CF policy.

Still, the stage was set; even when it became clear that CF had been broken into, staff were set to worry about leaks. Of course, this was nothing new; CF staff have been leaking things to their friends since the forum was founded, and still do today, at every level of staff, up to the top. Still, it has become a gradually bigger and bigger deal when other people do it, and even accusations that someone has leaked may be enough to get them in serious trouble, with or without any evidence. Conspiracy theories continue to abound.

Another major outcome of this was the growth of a widespread belief that CF is “under attack”, in that there are people who actively oppose CF and wish to see it destroyed. We’ll see more on that in coming episodes; there’s a lot of paranoia out there, and some of it is really quite funny.

Peter Seebach

Comments [8]


ChristianForums: Technical enforcement rears its ugly head


2006-11-09 13:16
Comments [6]

So, the time has come to examine what I think is probably the real beginning of the end in many ways. Technical enforcement.

Up until sometime in 2003, non-Christians were not in general supposed to debate in the “Christians-only” forums, but there was no technical barrier to them doing so. A couple of friendly non-Christian members were regular participants in the “Reilly’s Pub” thread in the Catholic forum.

The new policy was simple. Members have always been asked to identify their religious persuasion in their profiles. The new rule allowed only people whose identified church was considered Christian by the site to post in the Christians-only forums.

This sounds, at first blush, like an excellent idea. In fact, it has been one of the most harmful and divisive things ever done, and has led to a number of similar policies which have done immense harm to a number of people.

One of the most subtle points in this is simply the actual text of the message one receives when trying to post in a prohibited forum. “You must be a Christian to post in this forum.” Now, you might think this makes sense, but there’s a small problem: Many people who are very devout followers of Jesus do not meet the site’s formal definition. The technical enforcement has no capacity for sympathy or understanding. It can’t look at questions like “Jill just converted, and is still unclear on some of the formalized teachings, obviously we should let her post here”.

However, even this could have been liveable. The problem is that staff lie about it. Time and time again, staff say “when we order someone to change their icon to a non-Christian icon, we are not saying they’re not Christian.” It’s a lie. The forum software message is quite clear, as is the phrase “non-Christian icon”.

The definition of Christianity at CF did some evolving. Most of this is hidden in the Great Crash. Many Christians do not actually use the Nicene Creed; they use a shorter creed called the Apostles’ Creed. For a brief period, Erwin was persuaded to use this as an alternative. Unfortunately, this allowed Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses to participate in the Christians-only forums, and many people believe that these groups are “cults”, rather than “real Christians”. (The definition of “cult” is very elastic at CF; it means “people most of staff dislike”.) So, the rule was changed back; Nicene Creed only.

Unfortunately, the Nicene Creed has a couple of problems, some of which are even acknowledged, for an ecumenical site. Most Calvinists do not actually agree with what the Nicene Creed says about baptism (“We believe in one baptism for the remission of sins”).

CF’s solution is an excellent example of sheer dishonesty:

***This can be interpreted to mean that baptism is a matter of obedience and not a requirement for salvation or a regenerating ordinance.

That is to say, you can believe that baptism is in no way “for the remission of sins”. In fact, CF has other exceptions; you are allowed to disbelieve in apostolic succession, and you are allowed to ignore “Whose Kingdom shall have no end.”. They don’t even bother to footnote the last one; it’s obvious to the casual observer that there are too many Rapture-believers to enforce the Creed’s statement of amillennialism.

In fact, to this day, many people at CF do not know about or understand the Creed. They are in theory supposed to notice it in the tiny little scrolling box containing many pages of rules that they see at registration, but many don’t. Furthermore, the division of churches into “Christian” and “non-Christian” does not reflect the Creed at all. A sizeable number of Baptists openly reject some or all of the Creed. (A poll I ran confirmed that about 10% believed that the Creed was wrong on significant issues.) However, they are all counted as “Christian”. Proposals have been floated to ask the “Do you accept the Nicene Creed” question separately; they cannot be adopted, because they would exclude hundreds of people who go to churches that are too large to risk offending.

What this did, though, is set the stage for a number of similar rules. The marital status in the profile is used to control access to the Married Couples forum, and so on and so forth. It also made the icons important enough that their number has burgeoned substantially. This has consistently been a source of division, as people pick fights based on assumptions about someone based on an icon.

It also set the stage for the first time the ability to change a given profile entry was denied to members. There was a problem of people changing their icon, posting in a given forum, then changing it back. A rule was adopted against putting in false profile information to gain access to restricted forums. When this didn’t work, technical enforcement reentered: Users cannot change their own icons. Staff can change their icons for them.

What this means is that, for sound technical reasons, staff who decide a given user isn’t really Christian just label the user something else. They don’t have to ask, and the user doesn’t get a vote. In principle, they’re supposed to ask; it doesn’t always happen.

Finally, since we’re on the topic of icon changes, let’s have a little story time. It involves a user by the name of “stray bullet”. Stray is a Catholic. Stray is also a serious thinker and questioner. At one point, back when users could change their own icons, Stray changed his to “Agnostic” for a bit. (He may have had it as Muslim for a while, for reasons unknown to me.) Then he changed it back. (He may have had it as Muslim for a while, for reasons unknown to me.) He posted in the Catholic forum.

Edited to add:

Stray dropped me a line. In his own words:

saw your log- thought I could explain the icon. It was changed for a number of reasons, but the primary one was to prevent me from going into CO areas to debate Christians- like members that ask for ‘bans’, I just wanted to give myself a break. Another part of it was in seeing if ‘agnostic’ or ‘Muslim’ icons meant different attitudes from staff members following complaints I heard from those of other faiths. It was sort of a preliminary study that led me to David Waffen, to see how one is treated when in the ‘in’ crowd.

… I’ll get to the David Waffen thing in a bit.

End of edit

He got warned for “falsifying” his profile information, by one of the mods. He was told that he was not Catholic, and should not pretend to be. Of course, he is Catholic. Once a number of people pointed this out, the mods did the obvious thing; they lied. They said it had never been about him pretending to be Catholic, but about him being “disruptive” by changing his icon too frequently. In fact, it may well be that this case is the real basis for getting the icon change power restricted to staff.

It took stray months to get his warnings reversed, despite the obvious fact that any staff who were involved ought to have known that the actual basis for the warning was fictitious.

What did he do while he was suspended for his warnings? That’ll come up next, in the Saga of David Waffen.

Peter Seebach

Comments [6]


ChristianForums case studdy: Gunny, trolling, and funding.


2006-11-09 05:00

Okay, time for another case study. Gunny. Gunny went by various names; Gunny, gunnysgt, GySgt, and others. (He changed his name away from GySgt after someone thought it meant Gay Sargeant.)

Gunny was a very active poster at CF, a member of staff, an active participant, and so on. He was also a major donator; at one point, when blessings were given for contributions, he had a ludicrously large number of blessings, because he was a financial contributor to CF.

Gunny was sometimes pretty cool, and sometimes viciously mean. It took a while for a pattern to emerge. When dealing with issues like substance abuse and recovery, he was one of the kindest and most patient people at CF. When dealing with atheists, he was heartless. After a number of complaints about flames, he settled on the solution of posting chunks of Scripture with no explanation, insisting that there was no personal commentary there, just the words of God. Of course, when someone picks “The fool says in his heart that there is no God” as a response, one might take it as suggesting something.

One day, Gunny was participating in a debate at IIDB about CF’s moderation, and he made an interesting claim:

Originally posted by GySgt

Interesting scenario.

An individual created two(2) identical user names and used the exact same dialogue generated by a slang translator. One of the user names was created at CF and one at IIDB.

The user name account lasted less than twenty-four (24) hours at IIDB. The user name account lasted just shy of seventy-two (72) hours at CF.

The user name account at IIDB was booted by negating entrance into forum (same script prior to original administration approval to post). No message regarding why user name account was getting the boot.

The user name account at CF was negated after two personal messages by administrative staff.

Interesting observations?

The user name account at IIDB received public objection by a professing Christian that migrated from CF.

(The very formalized language is typical of Gunny in many cases.)

Now, there’s just one problem: Back in the day, IIDB did not announce user bans, and there was no designator on banned accounts. There was no way for anyone but a given user to know that a user was banned, unless that user told people. More interestingly, a particular account matched this scenario: The account “2PAC”, posting racist garbage using the “jive” translator. The jive translator is fairly well-known. Sorry, “De JIBE translato’ be fairly well-knode.”

The user’s account page at IIDB has a link to browse his posts. A sample follows:

Hell yes- I hate dat fucking wite nig bullshit noise brace yourself foo’!

Anyway, a couple of people noticed that there was no way for anyone to easily confirm the claim that 2PAC had been banned, and that GySgt and 2PAC posted from the same IP address.

Gunny entered a hilarious series of histrionics in which he denied having confirmed anything, insisted that he owed no one any apologies, and so on, but generally stayed a little clear of actually admitting anything — not that this fooled anyone.

When this was brought to the attention of CF staff, they did exactly what you’d expect from the people who hounded Annabel Lee to the ends of the earth. They denied everything. They said it didn’t matter, that he was a Good Christian. And they pretended nothing had happened.

Eventually, some of them did become convinced, and Gunny’s habit of trolling and picking fights did result in a parting of the ways.

But, to this day, many of them remain vaguely convinced that somehow this didn’t really happen, because they couldn’t believe that a person who held the same beliefs they did about God could possibly have done something dishonest. The belief that Christians are always honest is a popular one, and the world is full of very sleazy companies that take full advantage of it by promoting Christian loans, even Christian legal services.

In and of itself, this might not be so bad; it’s perfectly reasonable to give people the benefit of the doubt, within reason.

What’s bad is that it speaks to a double standard. Militant conservatives are given the benefit of the doubt; people who might be sorta liberal are hunted to the ends of the earth. We can only wonder how much it mattered that he was a major financial supporter of the site. When I get around to the 2005-2006 stuff, there’s an interesting comparison with the abortion ads that now fund CF’s discussions. (Yes, ads for abortions, provided by Google ads.)

Peter Seebach



ChristianForums case study: Annabel Lee


2006-11-09 03:13
Comments [3]

I’m going to use an example here, but I have to give you a caveat first: One of the CF staff, some time after this, came out and gave a real apology for it. In a very real sense, this offense has been addressed.

However, it gives a huge amount of insight into crucial components of the CF experience as it has gradually changed over time. This story was, once, one of the first things I ever wrote about on my blog; the entry was WinAce, Annabel Lee, and Hypocrisy.

The story goes like this. CF used to have some pretty vehement anti-Catholics, and often they would get pretty hostile about the Catholics. For instance, LouisBooth used to accuse Annabel of ignoring the Bible and just making things up. (One of the staffers commented, in response to a complaint about this, something to the effect of “well, isn’t it true?”)

Anyway, at some point, Annabel got kicked out of the Christians-only forums. Why? Because someone decided she wasn’t really Christian. One of her posts was removed, and so on.

Did anyone ask her? No. Did anything happen? Well, when she complained, staff mobilized. They had a problem — a completely baseless accusation — and they reacted in the way that the Sanhedrin and Pharisees have always reacted. They went out searching for a basis. Eventually, they found a sarcastic and bitter remark about their total failure to moderate insults directed at Catholics in general, and Annabel Lee in particular, and they cited it as proof that she was not really a Christian.

This one has a happy ending; when nyj, a senior staffer (and an honest one at that) found out that her continued complaints about this were related to the failure of anyone at CF to actually acknowledge that these actions were wrong and harmful, he apologized. He acknowledged that the actions were wrong, and that they should not have happened, and that he would do his best to ensure that they did not happen in the future.

So, although it took a couple of years, during some of which time an especially devout woman was too hurt by Christians to feel comfortable claiming the title “Christian”, it was eventually resolved.

But… Were any of the people involved actually apologetic? No. The only people who apologized were the people who weren’t involved. This tells you a lot.

CF has always had a problem with people too proud to admit that they’ve ever made a mistake.

More to come!

Peter Seebach

Comments [3]


ChristianForums, 2002-2003


2006-11-09 00:37
Comments [3]

It’s funny to imagine that this was the good old days. (And given how far back it is, and that no one realized back then how crucial it was to save everything in case it got deleted, I may have some subtle errors. Feel free to submit corrections, ideally with documentation. Alleged corrections submitted without supporting evidence will be remarked on, but not necessarily accepted as truth.) Throughout this article, there’s some references to “Erwin” — that’s Erwin Loh, founder of “Loh Enterprises”, which is the company that actually owns CF legally. Erwin is an Australian member of a Willow Creek church. His management of CF is often influenced by his lack of involvement with a lot of American politics.

In 2002, when I first signed up, ChristianForums was a very odd bulletin board, with a lot of weird features tacked on. The forum was fairly loosely policed, but there was some policing. Users were asked to enter various profile information, such as gender, or marital status, but there was very little enforcement. There were some forums identified as “for Christians only”, with the understanding that this was understood to mean acceptance of the Nicene Creed. Users accumulated “blessings”, which could be given to other users, or used to buy items from a selection of “armor of God”, which were tiny icons that would show up by your account when you posted. Blessings were originally handed out by staff, but eventually Erwin added a feature where you got blessings for posting or starting threads.

The forum was run by moderators, who were picked from the user base primarily based on perceived devotion to Christian ideals, and on whether or not they were believed to make good moderators. The selection process was a bit ambiguous. There was a staff hierarchy, running from moderators to senior moderators, administrators, and senior administrators. Erwin had absolute authority, but in practice, a huge number of decisions were made by a user who went by “AngelAmidala”; AngelAmidala was originally just a Senior Administrator, but was later assigned the unique title “Senator”.

One of the then-staff, who posted under the name LouisBooth, deleted a post of mine on the grounds that a particular forum was only for Christians, and he personally didn’t feel I was Christian. Not much came of this at the time, but I do have some saved messages from around that period. One staffer wrote me, out of the blue, to ask whether I accepted the Nicene Creed. (Back in 2002, there were no footnotes or modifications to the Creed.) I received the following very interesting message:

Thank you seebs! Just bear in mind your posts will be watched to see if you will post in contradiction of your claim.

But you must know I encourage free thought and if you feel these beliefs do not reflect your own in the future or whatever then that is your choice and there are plenty of forums for you to debate in! So don’t feel obligated to please anyone.

Now, you might take this as a sort of threatening thing, but it’s not really anything like the modern efforts. Still, it was interesting.

In 2002, there was a section called “Congregation” which contained a couple of discussion forums; one for Catholics, and one for Protestant, Reformed, and Evangelical Christians. This was, frankly, one of the most impressive things about ChristianForums. In a world where some bulletin boards have emoticons like “smiley face puking on consecrated Host”, it was interesting to see a predominately Protestant board that was generally willing to accept Catholics.

That said, even back then, some of the early signs of trouble were in the air. Threads on homosexuality often got closed by staff for being long and disruptive, and some staff members had a pronounced tendency to edit posts they didn’t like.

Back in 2002, there was a rule against “questioning” moderator decisions in-thread. For instance, if a moderator posted stating that a given topic should not be pursued in a particular thread, you weren’t allowed to argue with the moderator in that thread, although you could start discussions of that in the support forums.

From the beginning of the forum, staff were encouraged to maintain separate accounts to debate with, so their moderating would be viewed as separate from their posting habits. This is, of course, inherently deceptive, but it highlights an early policy decision of CF: Favor the appearance of justice over the practice. Rather than trying to confront the inevitable reality of bias, try to hide any evidence.

2003 is a hard time to write about, because of the Great Crash. Due to a large and nasty series of hardware and software problems, a few months of forum records were permanently lost. Posts from this period are simply gone, except in the rare case where someone happens to have saved some.

I have one example thread from this period. The original thread is long gone, but this summarizes the reasons for which many people viewed LouisBooth as a problematic administrator; the account “Outspoken” was his sock puppet:

The Belief-O-Matic Thread

The interesting stuff starts at post #32 (in 43508-4.html), where I point out that many Orthodox Jews believe in reincarnation. Outspoken (aka LouisBooth) then goes absolutely nuts. It’s a wonder to behold. Note that, while LouisBooth often had a reputation for fairness, this did not survive once people noticed that Outspoken tended to bait and troll (this thread is fairly typical), so that other staff, or even LouisBooth, could warn and ban the people he picked fights with. A public comment linking Outspoken to LouisBooth was attacked by staff on the grounds that revealing staff sock puppet names was considered problematic.

One of the biggest events of 2003 was the “no promotion of sin” rule. This rule stated, in essence, that it was forbidden to “promote sin” in the Christians-only forums of CF. There were a number of examples offered, every last one of them having to do with modern American sexual morality. Other things (such as usury, or violence) were not covered. The rule was very broad, and it was used very badly. Users who were perceived to be violating the rules were in some cases told that they were no longer allowed to post in the Christians-only section. One girl, who was sleeping with her boyfriend, tearfully begged and pleaded that she’d shut up, she’d never mention her personal life again, if only she could be Christian again, because she’d just converted a couple of weeks earlier.

After much fuss, the rule was turned into a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy; if you didn’t specifically mention premarital or extramarital sex, you were okay, as long as you didn’t bring it up. At this point, Erwin made an interesting policy ruling. “Marriage” had to be a legal marriage between a man and a woman. In the specific case of, say, missionaries in a country that does not recognize Christian marriages, they would be prohibited from stating that they felt it was morally acceptable for them to have sex, because that would be promoting premarital sex.

After the Great Crash, a whole lot of features which had gradually accumulated on the site were removed; the software modifications in question were gone, and the board became a lot simpler. Briefly. Erwin loves hacking on the vBulletin code, and his bulletin board is constantly acquiring innovative new features.

One feature which began to be more prominent over time is the Warning system. (vBulletin now has a similar feature built in, but at the time, it was a local hack.) Warnings were issued by staff for alleged violations of forum rules. Users who accumulated 7 warnings were banned. Additional rules were added, such as a rule stating that a user who received three warnings in one week would receive a permanent ban. Staff also handed out “unofficial warnings”, which did not count for a ban, and were in effect warnings that you might be about to receive a warning. Warnings were tracked on a user’s account, and for quite a while, staff would see, in any user’s posts, a big red number indicating how many warnings the user had received, if the user had any warnings. (This was eventually removed on the grounds that it seemed to make users into targets. Duh.)

So, that’s some of the backdrop. Up next, some of the wild and crazy stories of the 2003 era, in which we find out just how “moderation” is handled.

Peter Seebach

Comments [3]


The saga of ChristianForums


2006-11-08 21:37
Comments [4]

So, ChristianForums. It’s this site I spent a lot of time at for a bit over four and a half years.

It proudly claims to be the largest Christian forum in the world. It is certainly one of the largest forums primarily aimed at Christians.

Throughout the history of CF, there have been things done which were questionable. Recently the forum’s owner, Erwin Loh, handed control over the forum’s policy to a group of “ordained” people. Well, sort of. One of them’s a Catholic Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion (EMHC), which means he’s allowed to hand people blessed wafers; it is not any kind of ordination. One of them runs a tiny little church with very unusual doctrine. One is apparently some variety of Baptist. One is in the Salvation Army.

Well, the thing is, someone sent me a copy of a thread in which the Baptist was gossipping about whether or not my spouse had sex reassignment surgery — and I saw him publically pretending ignorance of the question a day or so after that.

Now, it’s not that this is new. It’s that this is just part of a long, long, series of events, most of which have been cleverly hidden or kept secret, that make me feel that it’s about time that the truth come out about ChristianForums.

As time allows, I’ll be passing on some of the stories. Now, by “stories”, I don’t just mean things someone told me; in many cases, I mean things where I have copies of the discussion, multiple witnesses, and so on.

Because the fact is, the site’s been handed to people some of whom are big on claiming a moral high ground that they haven’t even looked at, and I think that’s hurting a lot of innocents who come to the site thinking they’ve found a place for Christians to hang out.

We have it all. Someone getting fired and accused of sexual harassment based on the claims of someone who was mad at him for not reacting positively to her nudie pictures. Gossip, systematic abuses, and open lies. Staff ordered to tell lies to keep other staff from finding out what happened. Claims of divine authority.

It’s all crazy, and it’s all happening right here on the internet.

A lot of people have asked why I spent so much time trying to fix the problems of CF. The answer is, Christianity has a long tradition of believing in redemption. We’re supposed to get involved, to care, and to try to redeem things if they can be redeemed. That’s why people don’t always just go elsewhere when they aren’t happy; because they think it’s worth fixing. In its prime, ChristianForums was, really, better than many of the competing forums. Unlike nearly every other Christian site out there, CF tried to make room for Catholics [b]and[/b] Protestants, and in general, to welcome anyone who could accept at least most of the Nicene Creed.

Anyway, it’ll take time to come up with some of the material, but rest assured, there’s plenty of it.

Peter Seebach

Comments [4]


Virtue is its own reward, but this is just awesome


2006-11-01 05:27
Comments [1]

When I was a kid, when I was really sick, there was no help for it but to pick up a 4-pack of “Jamaican Olde Tyme” ginger beer. Good ginger beer is something special; it’s sweet, but also genuinely spicy — spicy enough that you find yourself wanting a cold drink to wash it down with, sometimes. Unfortunately, so far as I can tell, the product is long gone.

Our roommate, Rain, is one of those astoundingly thoughtful people. If you mention, in passing, that you’ve been looking for something, she will somehow find it. I don’t know how. She managed to get me a copy of Whipping Star, which is one of my all-time favorite novels of any sort. It’s one of Frank Herbert’s best novels; it’s better, IMHO, than the best of the Dune series. That may not sound impressive, but it’s been out of print forever, and it’s one of the books I’ve spent the longest looking for. The other record-holder in that category was The Dosadi Experiment, which is actually sort of a sequel to Whipping Star; one of the tragedies of the success of Dune is that Herbert’s other material is not getting as many reprints as it needs.

Anyway, back to the ginger beer. Having heard my lament of not being able to find anything quite like this ginger beer, Rain apparently started noticing and remembering ginger ales and ginger beers. And, a while back, she stumbled across a very interesting ginger ale, which was hot and spicy. (This is a bit odd; normally, the ones that are stronger flavored call themselves ginger beer.) And she told me about it, and I declared that I would find some and try it out. Only, of course, I forgot.

Well, what should happen today, but a crate of it shows up. A while back, we did a couple of favors for Rain’s family, and apparently her mom decided that this merited the delivery of 24 bottles of absolutely excellent ginger ale, with a very touching note.

I’m not sure why this makes me so happy; it just does. It’s not that I could never have afforded ginger ale on my own, or anything. It’s not that the favors we did them were undertaken in the hopes of obtaining flavored fizzy water. It’s just… No warning, no explanation. BAM! Ginger ale.

And man, oh man, is it good.

A bit of effort at google turned this page up:

Blenheim Ginger Ale

And yes, it really is that spicy. If you would not put a full teaspoon of cayenne pepper on a plate of pasta, it may be a bit much.

Mmm. Ginger ale.

Anyway, thanks, Jenine. Very much appreciated.

Peter Seebach

Comments [1]


Windows, again.


2006-10-08 04:27

So, Fireball’s computer is acting up. Can’t play videos. Research reveals that it can maybe play them with acceleration turned off, which leads to the discovery that the BIOS is not assigning an interrupt to the video card.

Nor, apparently, can it. There is not a BIOS setting for this, so don’t tell me to enable it.

Update BIOS; no change.

Well, the machine has onboard video. So Windows runs it… In 640×480, 16-color, and whenever it’s using this video, it is GLACIALLY slow. Even in the installer, which said it had approximately 7 minutes left for close to 20 minutes. There’s no excuse for this; it’s just a framebuffer. But someone, somewhere, wrote some clever code that is trying to outsmart the hardware and bypass the spec, so it’s unusable.

In about two or three hours, I will be privileged to be allowed to try to run the drivers for that video card, assuming I got the right drivers; there’s no documentation for the motherboard, but I have some indirect evidence of what kind of hardware it is. Since, even after the install, Windows will be glacially, unusably, slow, running that 6MB executable and installing drivers may take an hour.

It might, or might not, begin to fix anything.

Why am I reloading the machine? Well, the previous install seemed to go okay, but then it wouldn’t run the third-party firewall I normally use. The install before that worked okay for a while, but while trying to get it to use the onboard video instead of the add-in card, I ended up with a system which immediately reset the machine even in “safe mode”.

This is, as it happens, about par for the course. If Windows goes wrong, your option (singular) is to completely reinstall. There is no way to get at anything; boot-time configuration is handled entirely by binaries which are reacting in undocumented ways to configuration data stored in a giant binary database. There’s nothing you can look at.

Why is Windows glacially slow talking to VGA hardware in plain framebuffer mode? No one can say. It could be for any reason or none.

That people put up with this is convincing evidence that Microsoft has a functional monopoly. That they have to put up with this, rather than getting anything close to the ease and convenience that everyone else offers, is evidence that they are continuing to abuse it.

At this point, I can’t even recommend Windows for gaming. It just isn’t worth the hassle.

Peter Seebach



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