One of my regular stops on the Internet trail is at Professor Hex's blog. The professor calls himself a "scholar of the strange and mysterious," and his site mainly consists of links to news accounts and stories on the web about flying saucers, bigfoot, ghosts, and other paranormal subjects.
Most of the links are interesting if you are intriqued, as I am, by weird stuff. But today, well, the ol' professor linked to one of the dumbest stories I've ever seen. It's a hilarious report by a Minnesota television station on some locals whose brooms stand up by themselves — as in they don't fall over when you stand them upright. The report is mind-bogglingly stupid faux journalism, the kind that is rampant all over the country, particularly in small markets. The formula is as follows: Raise a ridiculous question — in this case, "Standing Brooms: Is it spirits? Is it science? Is it simply the style of the brooms?" — then find "experts" to talk about it, i.e. a physics professor and a "pyschic." Simply hilarious. Trust me.
And what's even more hilarious is that it turns out that this "phenomenon" is happening all over the country. How do I know? I googled "standing brooms." Check out the headlines from local television "reports" from around the country: "Brooms Standing Up: Planets Aligning?"; "Magical Standing Broom Stuns Alabama Town"; "Standing Broom: Is It Paranormal?".
I love America. I can't wait to go home and stand up my broom. Then I'm calling Fox 13.
There has been some discussion lately in journalism circles about the burgeoning phenomenon of anonymous comments on newspaper websites. Proponents for eliminating anonymity say it will improve the level of civic discourse and make people much less likely to post libelous, obscene, or irresponsible statements. That's probably true. "Muskrat" is much less likely to call "boogerholler" a "stupid, racist, dickweed" if he has to post under his real name of Ned Gene Flanderson. That's because Boogerholler, aka Percy Leon Smithers, may look up Ned's address and shoot his tires out in his driveway. Or worse.
There is little doubt that fear of bodily harm will make people a more careful with their words. Of course, there's also the very real possibility that two high-strung non-anonymous people will challenge each other to a fight in the real world, with tragic consequences. That's not something we want any part of.
Still, I must admit, I find it admirable when people post under their own names. It's like walking into the saloon unarmed. It's badass. Which is why I do it on the Flyer site. I'm a badass. Not really. I post anonymously on other sites, just like most people. I post as myself on the Flyer site because I believe it would be unethical of me to post under a pseudonym on my own site.
The fact is, I don't believe anonymity is necessarily a bad thing. I get many weird, scary, unbelievable communications from people anonymously that I wouldn't get if they used their real identities. I think this is helpful. It lets me know that real evil, real assholes, and really twisted people exist out there. I like being forewarned. (All their IP addresses, emails, comments, and grungy hand-scrawled letters and envelopes, etc. are neatly preserved, in case they are ever needed.)
On a less serious note, I just like it that people can create noms du web that allow them to express themselves without restraint. They may be at work (most likely) and posting under their real names could jeopardize their job. There are many reasons people may prefer to remain anonymous. And that's okay by me. If they cross the line, we can just eliminate the comment. If they cross the line repeatedly, we can simply block them from participating.
I liken the Flyer website to a big neighborhood saloon. You may not know the guy you started talking politics with at the bar, but you argue in a civil way, if at all possible. If things get out of hand, the ol' bartender walks over with his Louisville Slugger and gently thumps the table.
In a chat room, ideas are the important thing, not identities. If someone's an ass, or a "troll" as they're called in cyberworld, it's best to let them stew in the corner rather than provoking them. But I say let's keep the conversation flowing. Let's enjoy the camaraderie with our anonymous and not-so-anonymous pals on MemphisFlyer.com. Better to communicate anonymously than to fume alone in the dark.
And should we ever meet in the real world, feel free to introduce yourself. Or not.
So, here I sit in my Flyer office, with its thin gray carpet and faded yellow walls. My desk is utilitarian — steel-and-fake-wood, with one drawer that won't close all the way. There's a window to the larger office outside, but it's got a curtain, and when I shut my door and draw the curtain, this place is a great spot to focus on writing and editing and blogging. Dark and cozy.
At least, it used to be. But now the bottom of my computer screen is constantly teasing me, trying to divert me from the task at hand. As I write this, for example, the e-mail icon is tirelessly bouncing up and down, indicating some fresh e-juice awaits. The Twitter alert is popping onscreen in the lower right-hand corner every few seconds, letting me know that one or more of my "friends" has posted an update.
How the hell am I supposed to work? How can I possibly ignore my friends? See, here's an email letting me know that someone wants to be my friend on Facebook. A new friend!! How great is that!
I know. I know. I could and should turn off the alerts. Shut out the cyberworld. Focus.
But I don't wanna. Besides, I'm in the news and entertainment biz. If I shut off the outside world, I'll miss something important.
For instance, since 8:00 this morning I've learned the following from Twitter:
A man was arrested for trying to burn the gay pride flag in Cooper-Young; Hippolite Tsafack will play basketball for the University of Memphis; there will be a speed-dating event at SOB tonight; WREG reporter Mike Matthews joked that he is known as the King of cold cuts; the Memphis Airport has become a nation-wide joke on Twitter, thanks to R.C. Johnson's referring to it as a recruiting asset. And that's just the minimal highlights gleaned from 148 tweets. There's so much more.
E-mail, for instance. All day long, my email has been delivering even more exciting news: Marsha Blackburn is doing something patriotic for Veterans Day; four bands want their CD reviewed; several folks think my penis needs improvement; my buddy Jerry wants to play golf Saturday; somebody thinks we should run a different astrology column (the one he writes) in the Flyer; there's a new recycling thingie called "trash talk" that's perfect for tailgating and parties. And those are just a very few of the highlights from the more than 220 e-mails I've received so far today.
So you see, I couldn't possibly shut off the outside cyber-world. This is vital information, necessary for my work. Without it, for example, I couldn't possibly have written this blog post.
There has been a great public outcry over the deplorable conditions at Memphis Animal Shelter. Mayor Wharton has reacted quickly and decisively. Today, he fired shelter director Ernest Alexander and appointed former Med CEO Lucy Shaw as interim director. Cameras are being installed at the facility and criminal charges may be filed.
The Commercial Appeal reported today that there were similar problems at Alexander's previous employer, the Animal Services Division of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Alexander was hired by the Herenton administration after the proverbial "nationwide search."
The public's outrage was fueled by photos in local media of starving animals and the disgusting conditions at the shelter. There have been dozens of letters to the editor, comments on websites and, last night, a candlelight vigil. And as might have been predicted, numerous reactive letters and comments immediately appeared along the lines of: "How come all these people are outraged about animals when (pick one) 1) babies are being aborted 2) children are being shot 3) people are being murdered at Fort Hood ..."
It's so tiresome and misguided. The director and employees of the Animal Shelter betrayed the public's trust. We expected them to treat animals in their care humanely and compassionately. Instead, they ran an animal holocaust. Why shouldn't people be pissed and why shouldn't they protest vociferously? And what's that got to do with drive-by shootings? They are also horrible, but caring passionately about one cause does not preclude people from caring passionately about another cause.
I don't understand why it's somehow deemed clever or insightful to demean the outrage because it's "just about animals." As in, "I love my dog, but he's not as important as my Momma." Well, duh.
Comparing the importance of causes is not insightful or clever. It's predictable and meaningless. If you feel your issues are more important, then by all means organize, protest, make your voice heard. But lay off the silly conflation of issues. It's apples and kittens.