November 1, 2003

It's not every weekend that a Melanie Lynskey movie gets released, and there are some insane match-ups today in college football, so I probably won't be back 'til Monday. Go Blue !!!

October 31, 2003

My lil' nephew wishes you all a Happy Halloween !!

Dixiecrat Watch: Former Lester Maddox aide (and gay rights opponent) Zell Miller has endorsed George Bush in the 2004 election.

Awhile back I removed all the pseudonymous sites from my blogroll, out of fear that I might have legal exposure if one of those sites made a defamatory statement or criminal threat against a third party. As it turns out, that fear was unfounded, although I kept the general policy of not linking to anonymous sites. I made an exception for Eschaton, the wildly popular website of the blogger known as "Atrios". I figured that since I went to his site several times a day anyways, and people whose judgment I trusted, such as James Capozzola, vouched for him, I might as well.

In any event, the issue in the blogosphere the last couple of days (mentioned here on Wednesday) is the threatening letter sent from an attorney for another blogger, Donald Luskin, accusing "Atrios" (whose real name is "Donovan McNabb") of libeling him by calling him a "stalker" of esteemed columnist Paul Krugman, and of tolerating the presence of third-party commenters, who supposedly said even crueler things. Obviously, a successful lawsuit would irreparably damage the internet, and the fact that Luskin has jokingly admitted to being a stalker of Prof. Krugman in the past makes this an example of everything people hate about the legal system. For those of you who are interested, though, TalkLeft has a legal analysis of blogger liability for third-party comments with which I concur.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the post-Vail era in Laker history has been the "revelation" that Kobe Bryant is not a popular person within the Laker organization. For a number of writers, the fact that he remains a beloved figure with fans is difficult to fathom; after all, if Shaq doesn't like him, and reporters think he's an a-hole, and he's currently facing rape charges to boot, then how dare the fans give him a standing-o at Staples. This article is typical of the emerging meme, that for fans to disbelieve the rape charges against Kobe is itself an outrage, even though, as this writer puts it, no one has seen the evidence yet.

In fact, the reason why the fans are waiving "Free Kobe" signs is the same reason political activists thirty years ago were demanding freedom for Hurricane Carter: they believe that the charges are bogus, and that the notion that Kobe Bryant may spend the rest of his life in prison for the actions of that night is itself an outrage. To put it another, they think (with good reason after the preliminary hearing) that the accuser is lying, that real rape victims don't party up a storm and boast about their assailant's "size" several days after the attack, as this woman supposedly did, or, when she was examined only hours after the attack, wear a pair of undergarments stained with another man's semon. Rape is not a victimless crime, not when the accused may go to prison for a long, long time, so where is the injured party here? The fact that Kobe can afford Atticus Finch to represent him does not make him any more guilty, nor does it make his fans sexist pigs for supporting him.

And, in any event, since when does Shaq have any credibility as a team leader? The Lakers' drive for a fourth straight title was thwarted last year when Shaq chose not to get surgery until the last second, and played most of the season out-of-shape. Until Kobe became "the Man", the go-to guy on the floor, O'Neill had won a total of zero rings, and having the Mailman and Payton on the floor with The Big Diesel this season will not mean a thing come the last week of May against the Spurs (and considering how the Lakers obtained The Three Tenors who starred opening night, it would be hypocritical for fans to disparage Kobe's wish to test the free agency waters at the end of the season).

Fact of the matter is, the fans like Kobe because they see in his drive to excel, his passion for the spotlight, something they hadn't seen since Magic Johnson. I fell in love with the guy in Game 5 against Utah in 1997, when he threw up two airballs in overtime with the game on the line. This was someone who wanted the ball, who knew he was a star, even if his talent wasn't at that level yet, and the unbelievable yarbles of a rookie off the bench insisting that he was The Man won me over, even if it ended the Lakers' playoff run early that year. I suspect that a lot of other Laker fans share that feeling, and that is why the sports media is barking up the wrong tree on this one.

October 29, 2003

Another thin-skinned wingnut is heading to the courts. It's amazing that for all the whining conservatives do about "frivolous lawsuits" and trial lawyers, they're the first ones to threaten litigation when their feelings are hurt.
Death Is Just a Statistic Dept.: This is a truly despicable quote, which, which, heaven forbid, is awful.

October 28, 2003

"Professor" Camille Paglia, on blogging:
Blog reading for me is like going down to the cellar amid shelves and shelves of musty books that you're condemned to turn the pages of. Bad prose, endless reams of bad prose! There's a lack of discipline, a feeling that anything that crosses one's mind is important or interesting to others. People say that the best part about writing a blog is that there's no editing -- it's free speech without institutional control. Well, sure, but writing isn't masturbation -- you've got to self-edit.
I'm so glad we got that cleared up. You should also read her tribute to Rush Limbaugh; it's easily the funniest thing I've read this year !!
I doubt this bill will ever get out of committee, or be signed by Herr Ziffel if if comes to that, but a pair of influential legislators in California have finally put the NCAA's feet to the fire by introducing a bill that would forbid colleges in the Golden State from obeying regulations mandating amateurism for student-athletes. It's always amazed me the amount of newsprint that gets wasted on investigating whether some booster gives a campus superstar a loaner to drive around town, and perhaps some spending money for dates and such, as if it were a sin to receive something that wouldn't even raise an eyebrow if the beneficiary weren't a college athlete. Colleges rake in hundreds of [CONTINUED]

Mickey Kaus has an already much-commented-on piece defending blogs as a method of communication, or journalism, or whatever the hell it is. Most of his argument is devoted to justifying the one thing that all blogs have in common: that the editor and the author are the same person. A "blog" with a third-party editor, such as the SacBee columnist Daniel Weintraub, is entirely different fauna, like comparing a man with a mannequin, or a Sierra Nevada P.A. to a Samuel Adams.

If I have an argument with Kaus, it is over a specific weakness that blogs have which he seems to gloss over (in comparing this type of journalism to Matt Drudge, for instance), something that might be alleviated with an editor, but is really more a reflection of the blogger himself. That is, the lack of due diligence paid to making sure you get the post right. Sometimes, it's just a matter of using spellcheck a little more faithfully. But more often, it is the nasty habit a lot of bloggers have of publishing something because it sounds like a good story, rather than checking to ensure its accuracy. Spreading discredited stories undermines our craft, and it happens all too frequently with blogging.

For example, last month several right-wing bloggers picked up and ran with the story that actor Ed Asner had made some glowing remarks about Joseph Stalin, to the effect that he was "misunderstood" and that he would love to portray him in a movie. The story came from a conservative radio host who was recounting a conversation he had with the man some time ago. As it turns out, the Limbaugh-wannabee had gotten it wrong, and to his credit, retracted his accusation; an audio recording of the conversation revealed that Asner had merely noted the lack of movies and TV portraying Stalin, and had stated that he would like to take a crack at the role.

Those in the blogosphere who had so uncritically linked to a story smearing one of our most distinguished actors reacted with outrage towards their source's retraction, when a sense of humility would have more appropriate. Did any of these people think to contact their source for this story, to see how legitimate it was (the way a real journalist-blogger e-mailed me to find out how much of my October 6 posting on Gray Davis was truthful)? Did they exhibit any skepticism about what was clearly hearsay evidence? Obviously not. Asner's alleged quote fit within the prism of their ideological worldview, one that views any leftist thought as per se treasonous, and they fisked away. Those who bothered to make a correction blamed their source, rather than questioned their own methods.

This isn't the only example that comes to mind; some of you might recall the bogus definition of the MeChA slogan that made it's way from racist websites to bloggers to Fox News. Nor is this limited to the right; if Michael Moore were to claim that President Bush relieved himself on a homeless person while on the way to this morning's press conference, you can be rest assured that MWO would link to that account before the afternoon, just as it tried to spread a rumor about the homosexuality of one of Bush's judicial nominees last spring. Since not all of us can hire factcheckers to work on our vanity sites, it is incumbent on bloggers to act ethically when posting, and that means treating all outside information with skepticism.

October 27, 2003

Attn Alias Fans: The Russian word for "Peace" is mir, nor "Irina". However, "Irene" is the Greek Goddess of Peace, and that sort of sounds like "Irina". Now go back to your chat rooms.
Outside the window of my Warner Center office, I can see the first evidence that the worst fire in almost a decade has finally reached Los Angeles County. The hills above Chatsworth are aflame, and the air quality outside looks like it came from a Mexican location scene from the movie Traffic. For the first time, we're starting to see ashes floating down from the sky. The fires so far have been in relatively sparsely-populated areas to the north and east of the city; if they extend to the Valley itself, the damage, in terms of property and lives, will increase geometrically.

BTW, my esteemed bloghomie Matt Welch will be in the No-Spin Zone tonight, speaking on the efficacy of the government insuring hillside residences in fire zones. No doubt, O'Reilly will blame it all on the Clintons.
The SF Chronicle gives my brother's club a good write-up. I've always wanted to go to The Smell, and even wanted to have my 40th birthday there, but then I realized the lack of a liquor license would mean that I would either have to pay for the drinks, or I would be telling the invitees to "BYOB", and that didn't seem right. Though I probably missed Deerhoof. [link via LA Observed]

October 26, 2003

Frank Rich doesn't have a twice-a-week column anymore, so when he does opine about politics, it is well worth reading. Here, he attacks the complacent media coverage of The Bush Debacle, and the slow emergence of a press willing to call this Administration on its lies. Disappointingly, he doesn't mention his own paper's sorry track record in this area. The post-Raines coverage of the war and its aftermath has been toothless, particularly over the Plame Affair, where it has been completely outclassed by the Washington Post.

Speaking of the New York Times, a much-derided historical footnote has been in the news this past week. A Russian historian at Columbia, hired by the Times to investigate the reporting of long-deceased correspondent Walter Duranty, has concluded that the 1931 dispatches from Moscow that won him the Pulizer Prize were, by and large, Stalinist propaganda, and has privately urged that said prize be revoked. Duranty, who played the same role with Stalin that Howard Kurtz plays with the current President, with a little Krauthammerian tolerance for authoritarianism mixed in, has been a target for some time; back in the 1930's, his "reporting" was attacked by none other than Leon Trotsky, and Ukrainian groups in this country have more recently focused on his subsequent whitewashing of a famine that claimed the lives of millions. In fact, much of the commentary about the Pulitzer's investigation of Duranty has focused on his coverage of the famine, even though it had nothing to do with the original award.

Here's hoping the Pulitzer Prize Board does the right thing and rejects the efforts at revisionist history. Duranty was a disgrace to journalism, and his stories aided and abetted one of the great mass murderers of history. But the people who dole out the Pulitzer Prize didn't care at the time that it was honoring someone who was explaining away a tyrant's actions, and who was rationalizing the emergence of a totalitarian state. Duranty's columns at the time frankly mentioned that Stalin was an absolute dictator, but said it didn't matter. In 1932, the Pulitzer Prize Board could have cared less.

Revoking an award should be done only if the honoree cheated to win (ie., Janet Cooke making up stories, or JFK winning the award for a book that was ghostwritten for him), or is subsequently discovered to have done something totally inconsistent with that honor (ie., the Hockey H.O.F.'s efforts at revoking the membership given to Alan Eagleson, founder of the player's union, after he pled guilty to embezzling money from said union). It should not happen just because we have changed our minds about obsequious journalism about mass murder. In sports, it is akin to revoking OJ Simpson's Heisman Trophy because he subsequently killed two people; no matter what sort of rat the Juice became later in life, he was still the best college football player in 1968. Letting Duranty keep his dirty honor reminds us that achievement and character are completely different concepts.

UPDATE: The Great Duranty lives !!

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