Saturday, December 31, 2016

Still Life with Robin: The CP Listserv 2016 Year in Review

Photo by Bill Adler
by Peggy Robin

By general consensus 2016 was the year most of us would have chosen for a great big do-over….if only we could! This wish seems to apply as much to the Cleveland Park Listserv as to anything else this year. There have been 10,772 messages posted in 2016, and I have to say, I’m not finding a lot of highlights to celebrate here. In the past I’ve used this end-of-the-year review to hand out “The CP Listies”- awards to the best posts in a number of categories: Best Giveaway, Best Returned Animal Message, Most Dramatic Post; Best Debate Thread Over a 5-day Period, and others (you can read about the 2015 winners here: For 2016 it’s a lot easier to find things to complain about. Twenty-sixteen, in terms of listserv posts, is a bit like one of those Nobel years so filled with conflict that the Peace Prize Committee can’t find anyone to award the prize.   

Take, for example, the category of Best Giveaway. Nothing really stands out. Sure, lots of things were given away on the listserv: beds in all sizes, sofas, TVs, computer parts and peripherals, all kinds of exercise equipment, desks, dressers, shelving units, chairs, tables, rugs, futons, sports equipment and games (including a foosball table in excellent condition with the dutifully-noted exception of a slightly dog-chewed ball), toys, plants, leftover construction materials including flooring and flagstones, used appliances and barbecue grills, leftover pet food, baby items including diapers left over after potty-training success, bassinets, a bat house, live koi (due to overcrowding in someone’s pond), and lots and lots of books, magazines, CDs and various types of tapes. Perfectly fine, all of it – just not especially noteworthy. Wait, there was a giveaway of a baby grand piano on April 29th. But it did need restoration work, and that probably cost a bundle. And we did not get to find out how that giveaway worked out.

There was just one contender for the Best Dramatic Episode of the year: posted on Valentine’s Day when a list member reported coming across a Politics & Prose bag containing a wrapped Valentine’s Day present and card left on the street (message #111334); in a follow-up message (#111336), a list member reported thefts from cars and front porches along Macomb St, and in the third and final message in the thread (#111340), readers learned that staff at Politics and Prose were able to locate the buyer based on information on the receipt. Valentine’s Day was saved! That’s nice….but it’s just not in the same league with some of the nominees from past years: see, for example, “Snakes Falling Out of Trees?!" a 10-message thread from June 11-12, 2013, or “Things That Go Blam! In the Night” (message #88815, Sept 2, 2013) , or the sightings of the elusive, perhaps mythical coy-wolf in 2014 (starting with message #96893 “Re: WOLF/FOX and Coyotes in our neighborhood,” or last year’s “The Flower Thief Is Back” (4 message-thread from May 16-22, 2015).

But it’s in the “Best Lengthy Debate” category that I actually become disheartened. While in past years we have some respectful and even productive exchanges on varied topics such as: jaywalking; proper disposal of dog doo; and the merits and demerits of brick sidewalks -- what strikes me about the 2016 on-list arguments is how polarizing and unproductive they’ve become. Rather like a microcosm of debates nationally. Posters will stake out their opposing positions and they don’t seem to be looking for common ground or a way to move forward; the argument gets more heated but sheds no light. It goes on for a few more days, and then non-combatants write in and complain that the discussion is going nowhere, and the moderators start looking for ways to wind it down.

Looking over some of the lengthier threads this year, I discovered a 5-point pattern that went something like this:

1. Original poster complains about _______ problem.  (You can fill in the blank with: “terrible mail/package delivery”; “aggressive or troublesome behavior by door to door solicitors” or “ear-splitting leaf blowers multiple times a week, in season or out”).
2. Others write in to give additional, often worse examples of the problem, and call for some sort of remedy.
3. Opponents of the remedy write in, making either of two points. Point A: “It’s not really a problem.” (Sent in by people with wonderful mail delivery, who don’t mind the noise of leaf-blowers, who have bought things from legitimate door-to-door solicitors who were just kids trying to learn sales techniques.) Or Point B: “You may think it’s a problem but your proposed remedy will make it worse.” (Sent in by people who don’t want to put more requirements on landscaping companies, or who want to make sure that people appreciate the hardworking, competent postal employees, or don’t want legitimate solicitors to be subject to suspicion based on their appearance.)
4. In the next round there’s an escalation in tone and/or substance. Now we get reports of: frustration at failed attempts to report the problem to authorities, failed attempts to persuade other posters of the seriousness of harm caused by the problem; and worst of all, questioning of the motives or character of those who take the opposing view. (Most of the latter type of comment never make it on-list.)  
5. The moderators start writing to posters off-list to say that we think all the main arguments have been made already, and the discussion is getting repetitive, and we think we’ve reached the end of the thread.

And then, four to six months later, there’s another incident of one of those fill-in-the-blank problems, and here we go again. Because the new incident is not something to be ignored, we can’t really subvert the 5-point pattern. Besides, there’s always the hope that this time, this year, someone will come up with a new way of framing the problem, a way to draw the community together, to form a consensus over what can and should be done.

Something to aspire to in 2017!

Happy New Year to you all!


Still Life with Robin is posted on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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