Letters + Opinion » The Town Dandy

Dog Days



These are the days when we're most blessed to be Humboldters. The Pacific takes us under her wing, blowing her cool breath upon our faces. We start most days under a crisp shield of morning fog, like civilized people. Meanwhile, our enemy, the sun, defenestrates the rest of the country — and, indeed, most of the Earth — with its ugly rays. Citizens of the Northern Hemisphere either retreat to the beach or the hills, or they walk through their lives in a dumb stupor.

In newspaper terms, this is known as "the silly season." Even if something were to happen, the brains of readers and reporters alike are too roasted to think straight. With the average national IQ down by about 20 points, everyone's happiest with simple stories that end with either chortles, tears or blind rage. In past years, tornadoes and shark attacks had their moment. This year, a brand new Internet tool called Wikiscanner seems to be all the rage.

Wikiscanner is the work of a clever young man who figured out how to easily trace changes made to Wikipedia, the online collaborative encyclopedia, back to their source. The result has been a pleasing parade of red faces at a myriad of "respectable" institutions, including Exxon, Diebold, Philip Morris, Fox News, the Church of Scientologyand theFBI. All were caught whitewashing embarrassing material from their own Wikipedia entries, or appending embarrassing material to the entries of their enemies. The clever young man has given the media a very welcome and timely gift.

Though our arrangement with the ocean spares Humboldt County from the sun's scorched-Earth campaign, we thought it might be worthwhile to take a poke around the Wikiscanner to see how locals have been adding to or subtracting from the world's store of knowledge. With Wikiscanner, it's possible to do this for any entity large enough to have its own dedicated computer addresses. Several in Humboldt County do.

All in all, the results of our survey were humdrum. For instance, someone working for the Humboldt Area Foundation has fond memories of "Slope Day," an annual celebration at Cornell University. He or she contributed memories of Slope Day 1987, when the Robert Cray Band rocked the party.

Someone at Internews, the Arcata-based international media advocacy nonprofit, appears to have an intense fascination with gossyphobia, the fear of cotton balls. And just last month, someone at Internews — maybe the gossyphobic, maybe not — took time from his or her busy day to object to Wikipedia's physical description of supermodel Kate Moss. "WHY does the opening description of Kate Moss (here or anywhere else) describe her as 'waifish'?" the Internewser asks. "A quick review of the 850+ readily available photographs on the web show her looking 'waifish' in fewer than one-half of one percent." Meanwhile, a colleague in Internews' Bulgaria office helpfully let the world know that it is considered bad manners to give an even-numbered bouquet of flowers in that country, except at funerals.

Our hearts quickened when we discovered that in 2005, someone at Pacific Lumber had tinkered with the Wikipedia page devoted to the marbled murrelet, a declining speciesthat has affected the company's timber harvesting operations. But the Palco employee's edits were strictly fact-based, alas — he or she noted that the murrelet had been listed as a "threatened" species rather than an "endangered" one, and noted that the loss of nesting habitat was the problem. The employee didn't touch a line written by an earlier Wikipedia contributor, who had noted that the "biggest threat to the murrelet is the loss of the old growth forest to logging."

On Jan. 19, 2007 — the day after Pacific Lumber declared bankruptcy — someone at the company revised its Wikipedia entry to more accurately reflect its total workforce. "The company has only around 350 employees at this time," the Palco Wikipedia editor noted, subtracting 200 workers from the previous version of the entry. In sum, it appears that when it comes to Wikipedia, anyway, the only inaccurate information to come out of Pacific Lumberinvolves basketball's Kobe Bryant. In March, someone at Palco changed his height from 6-foot-6 to 7-foot-6, only to have an on-the-ball Wikipedian change it back minutes later.

Hardly the stuff of scandal. In closing, though, we'll note that no one in Humboldt County is as devoted to the Wikipedia mission ("Knowledge Shared") as the knowledgeable sales staff at Mid City Motor World. Starting in January 2006, these folks have consistently made numerous contributions to any number of Wikipedia entries — everything from "transgender" to "pornographic film" to "Marilyn Chambers." A short sample should suffice. We'll redact the name to entice you to check out the entry yourself, but it describes an obscure actor in the history of "fetish" films:

"The single most popular porn star to evolve from this film genre is [redacted], a self-professed 'sex animal' who tired of B-movies, and wanted a little more verve in his acting career. He later suffered erectile dysfunction, a condition that promptly halted his career in porn. [He] is now a car salesman in Eureka, California."

What research! But Mid City is full of movie buffs, apparently. The latest Wikipedia edit to come from that quarter concerns Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, a graveyard containing the remains of many notable Hollywood figures. In June, someone at the dealership noted that Westwood Village is also the final resting place of little-known character actor Ed Penis.

So whetherwe're out working the lot or taking part in our hobbies, summer doesn't slow Humboldt County down. For example: Take Larry Parker of Eureka's Benchmark Realty. Last week in this space we indulged ourselves in some speculation about what Pacific Lumber might be up to in its bankruptcy proceedings, given that: a) it has been asking weird questions about the subdividability of its 200,000 acres of timber land, and b) it has hired the chair of the Humboldt County Planning Commission. After scratching our scalps for some time, we came to the conclusion that the company may go to the bankruptcy court with a "reorganization plan" that would involve subdividing and selling off its lands.

What we hadn't quite realized, at the time, was that the company is already selling off its lands — or, at least some of them. Reached last week, Parker confirmed that he has the unenviable task of trying to scare up buyers for a pretty sweet 240-acre spread off Jacoby Creek Road that Palco listed in June. Beautiful views, water, building sites. Asking price — $1.4 million.

What's the problem? The whole thing is in strange legal limbo. Parker, who had a sense of humor about everything, was off to show the property to a potential buyer, but he had no idea whether or not he would legally be allowed to move it. All his calls these days are directed to Houston, home of Palco's parent company, Maxxam.

"Right now I have a call into Pacific Lumber to see if selling it is even possible," Parker said. Nevertheless, he was going to ride out there on an ATV to show the client around. If not now, maybe someday. And in a year or so, maybe there'll be a few more rural parcels the client might like to see.

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