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Threads, bare: Some comments on comments
by Andrew Kiraly & Scott Dickensheets | posted January 29, 2015

SCOTT: So, citing uncivil behavior, the Review-Journal has turned off its comment threads, long derided by many as witch cauldrons of bigotry, whackadoodle aggression and horrid grammar, with the occasional nugget of useful perspective buried within. Your first response?

ANDREW: Purely as a reader, I’m celebrating this victory for a refreshingly dread-free online reading experience. Under the former free-for-all comment regime, I could never manage to resist the churning undertow sucking me into the comments section, that black-bubbling whirlpool of Cro-Mag anger, hatred and racism. I know, I know: Dude, just ignore it! Easier said than scrolled. Maybe I felt some vague duty to face the ugly face of a very real segment of the RJ readership — and a very real segment of Las Vegas. Then again, maybe it was just Sherm Frederick under multiple nicknames.

But seriously, I applaud the spirit behind the decision if not the specific method for carrying it out. Call me naive, but I’m heartened that the RJ has found it in the scaly folds of its reptilian medulla oblongata to make a public acknowledgment that civility means something. 

SCOTT: I too am relieved that the sucktide of seething, posturing, smug, troglodyte angst is gone, and with it so much inability to distinguish between your and you’re. Though I, for one, am somewhat unconvinced by the RJ’s sudden blush of rectitude here. As if they were shocked — shocked! — to discover bad behavior on the part of the very readers they’ve courted so assiduously over the years with the paper’s awkward, Frankenstein lunges at Harry Reid (gawd, remember the campaign of 2010?!), the president, public education, public employees — pretty much anyone to the left of Ayn Rand. The folks befouling the content threads were their people. So one wonders if the threads finally achieved some critical mass of skank — one too many comparisons of certain ethnic groups to cockroaches, for pungent example — or if something else is in play. A few speculations are afoot that the paper may eventually be for sale, with owner Warren Stephens having recently unloaded his other newspaper chain; if that’s true, debugging the RJ’s comment threads may just be one shipshaping move among many, the equivalent of scraping the black gunk off the bottom of your car before driving it to Carmax.

A larger context beckons: Does the community lose out in some way? Was there, embedded in the goop, enough legit public dialogue to make all the vile crap worthwhile?

ANDREW: Go ahead, smash my dreams. Eh, you’re probably right — lurking ulterior motives galore. But I hope what may just be a grasping, mercenary pantomime of civility will rouse some brain over there into considering the zany idea that some (not all!) of a media outlet’s fundamental journalistic responsibilities and values extend to the comments: Comments count; they’re content. They’re more than just incidental graffiti on the wall; they’re one of the walls. They’re not journalism, but they’re not not-journalism.

If this wholesale shutdown of comments is the operation — and not just the first incision in some badly needed reconstructive surgery — then yeah, I feel there’d be some marginal loss to public dialogue. Buried deep in the muck was a dim pearl here, a nugget there, a frayed rope of intelligent thought to hold on to. At least on pieces that naturally invite different perspectives and opinions (op-eds, political columns) and perhaps service journalism that benefits from interaction and info-sharing (The Road Warrior, say), a careful curation could amplify and enrich the discussion rather than drown it out in a chorus of primal banshee shrieking about chemtrailsObamacareillegals911insidejobReidisevilallhailFoxNews. 

But that would require, oh, an actual new editorial position. And we all know the RJ, if it could, would not have actual employees, but instead just use ritual blood sacrifice to embody the newspaper as a transdimensional physical excretion of its wicked sponsor god, Q’thlorrg the Befouler.

SCOTT: What would that new employee’s job title be? Cerberus?

Okay, okay, as I step away from the fish barrel to reload my gun, I should note that not everyone agrees on the rightness of the RJ’s action. (Which, the paper says, may only be temporary.) Howard Beckerman, a civic leader from Temple Sinai, said on KNPR’s State of Nevada that the threads often have “one or two comments that are very reasonable, and should be the grounds for a dialogue and discourse. Those are the ones worth reading and worth keeping the comments for.” And, according to a Facebook post by a Review-Journal reporter, someone sent the paper a “news tip” that included this: “The RJ has joined sides with such groups as the Al Qaida and ISIS in banning comments on news stories that are deemed uncivil (a cheap little word that can have broad reaching interpretations).” This tipster suggests the RJ have its right to practice journalism revoked.

Well! Sure, that’s silly, and it’s hard to see any real free-speech conflict here —journalism existed before Internet commenting, and the First Amendment guarantees no one a platform — but Beckerman’s thought echoes yours about reconstructive surgery, and makes one hope the RJ eventually devises, buys or stumbles upon a way to thresh the useful comments and toss the hate-crud. In these fraught times, the city could use more real dialogue. Meantime, at least we can read in peace.

ANDREW: Agreed. And if and when they pull the lever to turn the system back on, I plan to shock RJ readers with my earnest, thoughtful, polite comments that will find common ground on divisive issues and point to realistic bipartisan solutions. It will shock them because those comments will be delivered under the nickname ShermFrederick2.


Powder hour
by Heidi Kyser | posted January 27, 2015

As of 7 a.m. this morning, there were 4 inches of new snow at Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort, raising the base to 22 inches. All three lifts are open and nearly half of the 30 runs. A quick check of the live webcam reveals a small crowd of lucky school- and work-ditchers shredding the fresh powder under a low-hanging cloud that promises to replenish the slopes for tomorrow. 

In other words, it’s a good time to head up to Lee Canyon in Mount Charleston — especially for newbs. The snow sports industry has dubbed January “Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month” (undoubtedly due to the likelihood of good conditions), and in honor of the occasion, LVSSR is offering first-timers age 13-plus the Get Started Package with equipment rental, four coaching sessions and four days of lift tickets for $199.  Those who complete all four sessions can also get an unrestricted 2014-15 season pass, normally worth $299 for teens and $599 for adults. 

If you’re the type who craves individual attention but fears commitment, there’s another option: complimentary coaching. Described by the resort as a sample of its ski school lessons, it works like the free chocolates that Godiva workers hand to passers-by at the mall, hoping to lure them in for a bulk purchase. Beginning and intermediate skiers and snowboarders struggling on the slopes can flag down a coach and get on-the-spot tips without having to schedule a lesson. The idea, conceived by ski school director Chris Lange, is to show how great the instructors are at their job, thus enticing students to enroll in group classes. And, Lange says, the program is working like a charm, having quadrupled ski school sales since it began in 2013.

One more thing to enjoy in what’s left of January: the Lil’ Air Comp this Saturday, the 31st, at 1:30. This competition for kids age 14 and under shows off the skills obtained in the resort’s Mountaineers and Freeride programs for skiers and snowboarders ages 3-6 and 7-plus, respectively. Spectators are encouraged, and what could be more adorable than a bunch of preschoolers going all Shaun White on the booter? That I’d pay to see.


Scratch that itch, walk this way
by Heidi Kyser and Andrew Kiraly | posted January 26, 2015

Feel the squirm

Arriving just 10 minutes before curtain time at Cockroach Theater Company’s production of Tracy Letts’ mid-’90s play Bug, my group and I had slim pickings on seating. I ended up in a lone open chair on the front row. Also “curtain time” is inaccurate, since there was no curtain. The black box staging of Art Square’s theater placed me about five feet from the set’s centerpiece: an unkempt hotel room bed. The set alone was enough to put a neatnik like me on edge — dirty clothes strewn across the floor, dishes piled in the sink, drug paraphernalia scattered on every surface. Then, there was the production team’s brilliant use of sound, slowly escalating from the creepy murmur of a cheap AC unit, to the screeching white noise inside a delusional paranoiac’s head. Add to all that the plot’s inherent tension, and Bug had me fidgeting and scratching uncontrollably by intermission. In other words, directors Will Adamson and Aaron Oetting fulfilled the unnerving promise of Letts’ story, in which two people — a middle-aged waitress (played by Sabrina Cofield) who’s suffered both domestic violence and the loss of a child, and a mentally disturbed military vet (Levi Fackrell) with a mysterious past — hole up together and slowly stoke one another’s fears. The inevitable fire that results is a deeply satisfying end to a two-hour journey into the angsty heart of the human condition. When it was all over, I thanked my lucky stars for the placid life that awaited me outside the theater’s doors. — Heidi Kyser


Hikers who aren’t jerks

So, drove out to Red Rock National Conservation Area yesterday for a short afternoon hik—OMG THIS PLACE HAS TURNED INTO LIKE A SANDSTONE DISNEYLAND CIRCUS OF NATURE. Three lanes of cars — representing a cross-section of The People, from crustilated OG hikers in battered pickups to minivan brood clans to silver-haired sugar daddies in gleaming convertibles — are backed up ten, twelve deep. On the loop, runners and cyclists and tour group shamblers thread around cars, motorcycles, scooters sidelined in the ad hoc parking lanes of the road’s shoulders. Traffic on the loop itself is a crawling midway carousel of vehicles. During the half-hour drive to reach the La Madre Springs pulloff, I was bracing for more madhouse — if not pure obnoxiousness, then, you know, that general, low-grade aggravated nervy populist proto-hysteria that certain crowds can manifest when they’re all bustling toward the same end zone — in this case, ironically, To Get Away From People For a While. And by the time I hit the trail, my expectations had subliminally bottomed out to such a degree that I was having visions of boorish throngs of loud-talking mopes leaving in their wake personal waste streams of empty Dasani bottles and Slim Jim wrappers.

Well, gotta say. Go ahead and credit the power of harboring dim-to-nil expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised: Given the crazy Sunday afternoon population bomb dropped on Red Rock, the trail was clean and the hikers were polite (save for one understimulated tween sharing with the world the syrupy R&B glugging from her pink smartphone). It very well might be selection bias at work: Could be that people who hike are generally more conscientious when it comes to using shared public amenities. Or it may be that the grandeur of nature rouses our inner angels, say, nudging the hand that would otherwise leave Fido’s freshly pinched handiwork piled in the middle of the trail. Or it may just be that all those years of owl-based pro-hoot anti-litter programming have taken proper root in the collective psyche. Whatever the cause, I didn’t mind the crowds this Sunday at Red Rock, because their good behavior suggested to me that they weren’t just other bodies, other persons to contend with and navigate and negotiate, but rather fellow aficionados enlisted in an active appreciation. Can I get a hoot? — Andrew Kiraly



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