Monday, December 27, 2010

ToMA: Ignorance runs rampant in online comments

City bureaucrat Linda Hartmann steps up to defend her co-workers from the "hateful diatribes" in the online comments, and calls on the editors to quit publishing them.

The twist in her undies is clearly caused by the Elks Theatre intrigue, but she won't talk about that directly. She thinks Steve Norwood is the best city manager in recent memory (she's wrong -- Mark Stevens was a fair bit smarter -- but they've all been mediocre at best), that Prescott PD is above reproach (wrong again, of course), and our Council is "doing what they think is right," which to Ms Hartmann apparently equates with "doing the right thing." She dogs on former employees who criticize current ones. She goes on for 800 words or so refuting the "uninformed" commenters, but ends by claiming she doesn't care what they think.

I can understand how a white, salaried, mid-level City desk worker could sincerely believe all these things. What she lacks is experience dealing with City Hall as an outsider. Courier employees often express the same sort of institutional defensiveness. It's to be expected. But it demonstrates how hard it can be to communicate with City employees about the problems they create and participate in. A far better response would be to give people the benefit of the doubt and try to see how you can be part of the solution.

This is the second major public display of official sensitivity about Courier comments, following the Mayor's attempt to strongarm Deb Thurston a few months ago. It demonstrates that many City employees and elected officials pay close attention to the comments on an ongoing basis, therefore the comments are a strong tool for communicating with City Hall. I would hope that might make commenters a little more serious about what they're writing.

Ms Hartmann is correct, of course, that a lot of comments are idiotic, emotionally driven BS and gratuitous and often unwarranted personal attacks. (She misses that her own opinions here are emotional and poorly informed.) She's also right that anonymity increases incivility. The commenters who defend anonymity don't realize how many reasonable, informed and civil people are so put off by the uncivil environment that they refrain from getting involved. This has all been true since online communities began in the '80s and it will always be true. With more personal skin in the game, there's a lot less venting and lying. Registration and real names would be a good and responsible thing for the Courier to institute.

Regular readers know that I'm very skeptical about the claim that using one's own name on a comment commonly leads to harassment by employers or ideological opponents. I've been a high-profile commenter taking unpopular positions for years without any untoward social consequences other than the odd hairy eyeball from a certain Courier employee. If you're afraid of consequences, what makes it so important to comment on the paper? Like as not you're really just afraid of shadows. Try taking a few months off from TV and see how you feel about it then.

Bonus track, Wednesday: A comment appears today titled "The Susan Thomas Story," in which the commmenter pulls some interesting research from the Courier archive. Excellent!

Air Force recruiter tries to help people better their lives

There are a couple of ways to look at this little puff piece for military life, and neither recommends it.

From the standpoint of the kid who's considering joining up, there's no mention of the purpose and sole mission of the organization: to kill people and blow stuff up at the behest of people who never have to deal with the consequences directly. If I'd read this without knowing what the Air Force is, I might've concluded that it was some sort of job-training program. There ought to be at least a nod to the gravity of the decision this boy is considering, for the benefit of other boys and girls coming out of our starved education system without the skills to work in the real world.

From the taxpayer's perspective, I always resent that we are encouraged to think of the military option as a career step for young people, even as therapy to give them maturity or a sense of responsibility. I'm not interested in hiring people into that sort of job who are chasing public benefits. It's serious business and should never be undertaken lightly.

This piece is light on both counts, mere stenography for the PR department of the military-industrial complex.

It hits close to home for me because my nephew, always unstable and irresponsible as well as brain-damaged in a car accident when he was 16, got the Army to take him on the fourth try and did three tours in Iraq as a grunt. Well, almost three -- before he finished the last one he was completely out of his mind and accused of murdering a civilian. Two years later they're still trying to figure out whether he's competent to stand trial. Had the adults around him taken the decision more seriously, we might have prevented this tragedy.

Followup: Catch-22

The results are in from our annual holiday perp walk of most-wanted evildoers. Of the 22 listees, five are new to the list. The rest are old familiar faces. Six are wanted for nonviolent offenses, and all are white. Of the 16 violent offenders, all but one are Hispanic.

My analysis is unchanged from May, and you can read that here. My bottom line is that this list and the practice of running it twice a year is either pointedly or negligently racist, and it ought to stop, both for its offense to the public discourse and its lack of news value. The particulars:

Miguel Franco: murder, 2006 4x
Claudio Lopez: murder, 2006 4x
Domingo Valdez-Anguiano: murder, 2004 4x
Joel Medina-Ortiz: murder, 2006 3x
Manuel Dera: homicide, 1998 3x

Valentine Hernandez: vehicular assault, 2003 4x
Luis Florez: vehicular assault, 2000 4x
Joel Vidrio: assault with a deadly weapon, 2004 4x
Carlos Pimentel: home invasion, 2007 4x
Eleazar Valdez, DUI hit and run, 2009, new
Juan Dominguez: assault, 2010, new
Lanny Kearns: arson, assault, 2010, new

Enrique Soto, child abuse, 2009, new
Ruth Cardoso-Gomez: negligent homicide, child abuse 4x
(Note that Nancy Collins, wanted in the Sylar Newton case, didn't make the list. Update: Flagstaff police found her on Dec 26.)

(sexual assault)
Jose Herrera-Martinez: child molestation 4x
Ernesto Romero-Salcedo: sexual conduct with a minor 3x

Kory France: drug mule, jumped bail 2x
Kristen Martin: meth possession and auto theft, 2005 2x
Olivia Sobelman: pot mule, jumped bail, 2010, new
Patrick Waibel: pot mule, jumped bail, 2010, new

David Dehart: failure to register 4x
Herschell Scott: failure to register 2x

I didn't see the stories detailing the apprehension of former most-wanteds Pablo Arredondo-Herrera (attempted murder, aggravated assault and kidnapping 3x), Travis Brewer (assault 2x) or Adam Stevenson (sexual assault on a minor 3x), but two out-of-state drug mules made the new list. How odd.

Time off

I had to take a couple of weeks off from the blog during our annual paroxysm of naked consumption disguised under quaint religiosity and pretended tradition. The continuous barrage of non-stories purportedly about the season but ultimately about buying more stuff was just too much to bear this year, sorry.