As promised. But first, I put a few links in. It appears that my "RSS feed" and "Atom feed" do the same thing, but maybe it's just because I look at it through IE. I have huge holes in my technological knowledge that I just don't bother to fix. You might think a guy as intellectually curious as I am would bother, but you'd be wrong, you idiot.
Ok, my google rsd searches turned up a few interesting threads circa 1997 (check for "Whither Spirit" or just "parinell refs" for others, but not what I was looking for, so this is off the top of my head.
I think I had a fairly typical path. After a brief introductory period with no opinions about the coolness of ultimate, I too often said "and the best part is that there are no refs!!!" (Yup, I used three exclamation points back then. That's probably the thing I'm least proud of in that statement.) After a while, I matter of factly stated that there were no refs, then I became sheepish about it. The deviation began in 1993, the year of the infidels. In short, we were tired of being pushed around, we thought, so under Joey G's tutelage, we became dicks and didn't care what anyone thought. We displayed unearned and faked bravado (note to the wordsmiths: bravado can be "real or pretended", says dictionary.com, but I'm not sure if you "display" bravado or if you just "have" it), made it a point to spike every point, and weren't going to let anyone push us around. Looking at my own play that year, the only action I took that I regret is choosing not to go to an observer on my marking foul because I was pretty sure that it was a foul (or would have been called a foul) and a contest kept the count at 6. (I also remember contesting an obvious foul in 1985 or 1986 Easterns because I thought that was the way the game was played.)
Since then, I've played pretty cleanly, to the point of being chastised by teammates for appearing lazy on the mark. (If the thrower takes a big pivot step around me but hasn't thrown it yet, I _could_ make an effort to reestablish position, but it would certainly be a foul, so I just stand there and let the guy throw it rather than foul him. There _are_ times when my mark may be lazy, but laziness isn't why I stand there right then.) Sometimes I'll raise my level of aggression to match the guy who is covering me, and I'm not above retaliating or name-calling in the heat of battle, but I tell myself that it's just that, the heat of the moment, and not a deliberate plot.
For about 5 years, I guess I was in the pro-ref camp, although it'd be more accurate to say that I favored a much stronger third-party arbitration process, be it refs or observers. My arguments against Observers instead of refs were purely practical. The advent of the Callahan Rules and accompanying Observer system have for the most part removed the practical concerns, although I still do feel that the qualify of Observing for the club season isn't up to the college standard.
Ok, I'm not sure where I'm going with this post anymore, so I'll try to wrap it up. I don't see the need for refs unless some promoter needs it to secure a television contract, but I'd like to see UPA ultimate continue to keep the primary decisions with the players and to use well-trained Observers to arbitrate (and make some calls that are not that subjective). I'm against WFDF's policy (or a proposed policy) of no Observers.
And we do need to keep preaching "fair play" as a tenet, with or without refs or observers, or else it will be easy for the sport to sanction strategic fouls.