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Wednesday, December 31, 2003  

Blogospherics: Guys are saying

  • Good bloggers don't steal
  • Sometimes, people we want to consider friends in the blogosphere do things we can't approve. I recently learned a compiler of blogs by African-Americans behaved in a way my blog bro' George Kelly of All About George is thumbs down on. George has written him a letter.

    Dear Prince Campbell, operator of American Black:

    On Tuesday morning, I stopped by Prometheus 6 and read his "Sticking a Toe Back in the Water." P6's notice of your site, and his praise of American Black's list of black journalists and editorial bloggers, made me curious enough to visit.

    As soon as I saw the "Black Media Sources" links on your page (copied here ), I knew where you'd ripped them off: Negrophile's links page. Sure, you added a few extra links to your roll, but not enough for you to plausibly deny theft. I mean, what are the odds that your list, independently created, would reproduce all of Negrophile's name and code errors? Including at least one that I was asked to correct only yesterday?

    If you had wanted to use the list, it would have been fine. All you needed was permission. I mean, it's right there in the license on Negrophile's front page.

    The error in doing something like this is that it's on the Web. You want your site to be read. You even link to Negrophile. You want to be part of a community, to participate in it and to gain acceptance and consideration for your words and opinions. There are lots of ways to do this, but what you did isn't one of them that will work in either the short or long term. You're essentially admitting either an inability to create a list you like, or an unwillingness to create. Which is it?

    Come on. You can do better. The sooner you start, the better off you'll be. Hell, as soon as you do, I'll be the first to applaud you.

    Note the problem is not that Campbell borrowed someone else's expertise. It is that he did so surreptitiously. As George explains, all he had to do was ask. But, much too often in Bloggersville, people don't give credit where it is due, usually in regard to sources of information. Many bloggers don't cite where material they publish is coming from at all. I think they do that because they believe appearing to know it all makes them look smarter. It doesn't. It makes them appear egocentric and sneaky.

    I believe an apology from Campbell to Negrophile and George will put this unfortunate episode behind us.

    I commend George for speaking out. Months ago I was faced with a similar dilemma and didn't know what to do. A blogger who is one of the few other Native Americans around had padded her blog, Wampum, with phony links to make it climb in the blogosphere ratings. Someone circulated an email with proof of the fraud. When I received it, I decided to send it to another blogger who had known her longer with the suggestion he tell her to desist. I never wrote about the woman's dishonesty until now. Perhaps believing me to be a patsy, she subsequently joined an effort to destroy my blog by slandering me. Now, I wish I had spoken up when I initially realized what an unethical person she is.

  • Lousy links mislead readers
  • Another blog brother, Roger Ailes (not that one) has noticed a recurrent blogger sin -- citing a news story as saying something it doesn't.

    It must be something in the blog. Daniel Drezner fills in for Sully Joe and immediately laspes into Sully's habit of linking without reading. Drezner asserts that this Los Angeles Times article is "trying to predict the 2004 election" by "roll[ing] out th[e] fact" that since 1960, "'the party in the White House lost when the unemployment rate deteriorated during the first half of the year.

    In fact, the article doesn't try to predict the election. The article is about jobless rates. It cites the fact, and then cites an author of several books who says that it's not a coincidence that the President loses when unemployment increases before the election. But there's nothing in the article predicting the outcome of the 2004 election, or even suggesting the outcome in 2004 will follow past history. The Times article doesn't say it, and it doesn't quote the author as saying it either.

    Next time, Daniel, "[r]ead the whole thing -- yes, even if you need to register." And don't pick up Sully's bad habits.

    I suspect some bloggers just throw things up without reading them because:

  • They think they already know what the source is going to say based on their opinion of it.

  • Reading and comprehending an item takes time. It is faster to not do either.
  • They believe readers will not notice the discrepancy.
  • It is true that sometimes readers don't have time to follow up on links. That is why they trust bloggers to link accurately. I believe we let them down when we don't.

  • 'Joe' may be most common commenter
  • James McLaughlin of A Skeptical Blog, who I've known since my guest blogger days, has been getting visits to his comments from a sock puppet.

    I noticed our sock puppeteer is back. I can only assume he is not really reading the blog and is unaware that we know he is one person, or he is just to stupid to realize that we know he is one person. In any case the list is as follows.

    Poster: Mark IP address:
    Poster: Joe IP address:
    Poster: Joe IP address:
    Poster: Tim IP address:
    Poster: J Edgar IP address:
    Poster: Cliff IP address:

    Now I don't really mind the sock puppet, it reflects more upon our commentator than it does me. But I am a bit bothered by his attempt to copy someone else's identity (J Edgar, who has a different IP and email address than the J Edgar above).

    My commenting rules are real simple. Unless your post is 90 percent obscenity then I don't erase and I don't ban. So keep up the good work guy. All you are doing is provoking laughter.

    Which is not a bad thing.

    When I post at group blogs that have comments sections I often encounter a rude and disapproving fellow who calls himself Joe, too. But, come to think of it, a lot of sock puppets are probably just not-so-average Joes.

    10:20 AM

    Tuesday, December 30, 2003  

    News and analysis: Canada, U.S., have 'steak' in stopping epidemic

    I did a little leg work at a couple neighborhood groceries today. The manager at Trader Joe's said he believes the chain will withstand the fallout from the mad cow disease problem because people have more confidence in natural foods stores than in their mainstream counterparts. Clerks at general merchandiser Fred Meyer said they have not noticed any dimunition in sales of beef.

    "Actually, people are still buying beef, including hamburger and tube steaks. They don't seem to be aware of the situation. Or, maybe they don't care about it,' one of them told me.

    Meanwhile, more has been learned about the cow at the center of the controversy.

    The Mabton, Wash., farmer who owned a Holstein with mad cow disease now says the animal was born four months before the United States and Canada banned feed containing processed cow parts known in some cases to spread the fatal illness.

    That knowledge helped pinpoint the cow's origin and the likely means of infection on a day when officials revealed they are searching for eight cows thought to be from the same Canadian herd as the sick cow and imported to the United States.

    After checking his records more carefully, the Mabton farmer told U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian Dr. Ron DeHaven that the cow was 61/2 when slaughtered Dec. 9, two years older than he previously thought, DeHaven said Monday. The cow was born in April 1997; the ban went into effect in August 1997.

    "The age of the animal is especially important in that it is a likely explanation as to how this animal would have become infected. She would have been born before feed bans," DeHaven.

    Feed containing protein from animals with mad cow or a sister disease "is the primary, if not in fact the only, means by which" the disease spreads among animals, he said

    The ban on feeding cows cannibalistically, i.e., parts of other ruminants, went into effect because the practice is the major conduit for infecting healthy cattle with the disease. However, there are ways around it. Some farmers feed their chickens cow parts and then turn around and feed chicken litter, including feces and feathers, to their cows. Until evasions are legislated against, animal feed will likely to continue to be a vector for the disease.

    Once cows become infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, it gradually eats holes in their brains, leading to various physical anomalies. All cases of mad cow disease are fatal. Humans are believed to be capable of catching the disease if they come into contact with the brain, spinal column or intestines of an infected cow because most of the antagonistic prions are concentrated there. Its human variant is also fatal.

    It has been confirmed the cow was born in Canada and imported to the U.S. The eight cows from the same group not yet tracked may have also been exported. Canadian officials may respond to the outbreak by setting new rules to guard herds against mad cow disease.

    OTTAWA (CP) - Canada will increase its testing for mad cow disease and may further tighten its regulations on the feeding of slaughterhouse waste to cattle, says a spokeswoman for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

    Francine Lord said new policies to prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) will likely be announced soon in the new year.

    "Definitely, there's going to be more testing," said Lord, who is national manager of import-export issues for the federal agency.

    . . .Currently, Canada and the United States test only a tiny percentage of their cattle for BSE. Japan tests every cow before it is slaughtered and the European Union tests an estimated 25 per cent.

    The U.S. Agriculture Department tests only about 20,000 to 30,000 cows per year out of a total of 104 million - roughly two or three per 10,000.

    Cattle raisers balk at the prospect of more testing because they consider it too costly. However, not doing as much as possible to maintain confidence in the North American beef supply could prove more costly in the long run.

    More information about mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is available at The Official Mad Cow Disease Home Page.

    7:29 PM

    Monday, December 29, 2003  

    News and analysis: Mad cow disease outbreak impacts us all

    I've been rather relaxed in regard to the American mad cow disease problem. As a vegetarian, I thought I could afford to be. But, let's not understimate the disease -- officially bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Other countries have banned the importation of American beef and the industry is reeling from the blow. The recall now includes products anyone other than someone obsessed with reading labels might use.

    PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Cow parts - including hooves, bones, fat and innards - are used in everything from hand cream and antifreeze to poultry feed and gardening soils.

    In the next tangled phase of the mad cow investigation, federal inspectors are concentrating on byproducts from the tainted Holstein, which might have gone to a half-dozen distributors in the Northwest, said Dalton Hobbs, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

    Now, it's the secondary parts, the raw material for soil, soaps and candles, that are being recalled.

    While some people fear consumers could be infected by inhaling particles of fertilizer or other products containing the mutated protein responsible for mad cow disease, a bigger concern is stopping tainted byproducts from infecting animal feed, believed to be the main agent for spreading the disease.

    But tracing all of the sick cow's parts to their final destination, including numerous possible incarnations in household products, has proved challenging.

    ``It's like the old Upton Sinclair line - 'We use everything but the squeal,''' Hobbs said. ``We have nearly 100 percent utilization of the animal. But when you have so many niche markets, it makes it incredibly challenging to trace where this one cow may have gone.''

    A major renderer with Portland facilities said Friday it was recalling rendered material that might have been effected by a mad cow corpse processed there.

    Los Angeles-based Baker Commodities Inc., announced Friday that it has voluntarily withheld 800 tons of cow byproduct processed in its Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., plants. The company, like other "renderers," takes what is left of the cow after it is slaughtered and boils it down into tallow, used for candles, lubricants and soaps, and bone meal used in fertilizer and animal feed.

    If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determines that the material is tainted, the company's loss could total $200,000, spokesman Ray Kelly said.

    "It's obviously a tragic thing for the whole beef industry, but it's definitely a sizable hit for us," he said.

    The cow was traced to a dairy in Washington.

    The dairy cow tentatively diagnosed with mad cow disease is a four-year-old Holstein from Sunny Dene Ranch in Mabton.

    The ranch owner, veterinarian Bill Wavrin, declined to comment today, but referred questions to Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine's Charlie Powell, who confirmed the U.S. Department of Agriculture had gathered records from the ranch regarding the cow.

    . . .Should further testing confirm an earlier test, it is possible that all 4,000 head of cattle at Sunny Dene Ranch could be euthanized and tested for mad cow disease, according to state protocols.

    The cow was purchased in October 2001, likely from sale yards in Central Washington, according to Bill Brookreson, deputy director of the state agriculture department. It was sent to Vern's Moses Lake Meat Co., in Moses Lake, for slaughter, where it was classified as a "downer" cow because it was unable to walk after complications from an earlier pregnancy, Brookreson said.

    Tom Ellestad, co-owner of Vern's, told the Columbia Basin Herald that the federal process set up to detect mad cow disease worked well. "We have done nothing wrong," he said. "The inspection system works because we caught this cow."

    After a sample of nerve tissue was extracted from the cow for testing, the animal's brain and spinal cord were sent to a rendering plant in Spokane. That tissue was processed, but had not left the rendering plant, said Ray Kelly, executive vice president of Baker Commodities, Inc., which owns the facility.

    The meat from the cow was made into hamburger.

    Agriculture officials say the chance of humans developing becoming ill, either by eating tainted meat or being exposed to poisoned byproducts, are miniscule. But,

    Since 1996, evidence has been increasing for a causal relationship between ongoing outbreaks in Europe of a disease in cattle, called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or "mad cow disease"), and a disease in humans, called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). Both disorders are invariably fatal brain diseases with unusually long incubation periods measured in years, and are caused by an unconventional transmissible agent.

    Yesterday, the recall effort was expanded to several more states. The list now includes Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana and Guam, along with Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada.

    Reasonably related

  • At The Wh0rehouse, Victoria Pitt has recipes for people who like to eat brains.

  • Bill McCabe of Leaning Towards the Dark Side and Alan of Bubbalogic note the mad cow may have been imported to the U.S. from Canada. Alan is skeptical.

  • 1:33 PM

    Saturday, December 27, 2003  

    A bite of the Apple: The iPod

    As the New York Times observed in a six-page article Nov. 30, Apple's iPod is now two years old. And, as Bob Dylan observed decades ago, the changes, they just keep on comin.'

  • An iPod and a side of fries?
  • People have called the iPod many things. Insanely great. The Rolls Royce of MP3 players. The product that has best exploited and popularized FireWire, an innovation by Apple Computer. But, one adjective that has not been applied to the iPod is cheap. That may be about to change.

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - When Apple Computer Inc. chief executive Steve Jobs takes the stage at MacWorld next month, analysts expect him to unveil smaller, cheaper iPods and hope he will detail the company's strategy to move into the digital living room.

    The lower-end iPods, which are expected to carry a price tag of about $100 and will hold 400 to 800 songs, are a necessary answer to the bevy of MP3 digital music players now on the market that cost $100 or less, analysts said.

    "Odds are it's a flash-memory-based player, something to position Apple against the low-cost offerings from Creative and Rio," said Rob Enderle, principal of market search firm the Enderle Group.

    . . .Apple's iPod and its iTunes Online Music Store has been a huge hit since their debut earlier this year. Apple has sold more than 25 million songs since it launched the online service and it sold 336,000 iPods in its fourth quarter ended Sept. 27, up 140 percent from a year-ago.

    But Creative Technology Ltd. and Rio make less expensive players and others are popular models are made by Panasonic, Samsung Corp., Archos, iRover, RCA and Dell Inc.

    In addition to the lower-cost iPods, the Cupertino, California-based Apple is also expected to unveil them with different colors and even in stripes, as well as variously colored cases for Apple's traditional iPods, according to Enderle and Mac rumor Web site Thinksecret.com.

    But, can a lower-cost iPod really be an iPod? Yes, most of the iPod's appeal is that it is a great little piece of technology -- both functional and elegant. But, much of its cachet comes from being the MP3 player of note. Will lowering the price on the 'Pod also lower the boom? When I was a kid, Izod shirts were de rigeur for prep school types. Then they became mass produced and cheaper. Soon, their cachet was gone. Will the same thing happen to cheap seat iPods?

  • Dutch court rules for peer-to-peer
  • Apple's invention of the iPod for Windows and extension of ITMS to that platform have been very successful. But, future success may turn on whether peer-to-peer music services are on their way out. A recent European court ruling on the legality of file-sharing of music spotlights the controversy.

    AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- The makers of Kazaa, the world's most popular computer file-sharing program, cannot be held liable for copyright infringement of music or movies swapped on its free software, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled Friday.

    The decision upheld a 2002 appellate-court verdict in Amsterdam that dismissed a suit filed by Buma/Stemra, which protects the interests of the music industry.

    Kazaa's Media Desktop software is one of a variety of file-swapping programs used by tens of millions of people worldwide. Kazaa alone has 3 million to 4 million users at any given time.

    Kazaa said the ruling, the first by a national court dealing with the legality of file-sharing websites, affirms not just the legality of its software, but all file-sharing programs.

    Buma/Stemra had demanded that Kazaa stop offering free downloads from its website, or face a daily fine of $124,000.

    "This victory sets the precedent about the legality of peer-to-peer technology across the European Union, and around the world," Kazaa founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis said in a statement distributed on the Internet. They called the ruling a "historic victory for the evolution of the Internet and for consumers."

    In the United States, a federal judge already has dismissed the entertainment industry's lawsuits against two rival file-sharing services, Grokster and StreamCast Networks, saying they could not be held liable for what their users do with the software. That ruling has been appealed, with a decision expected in February.

    The conventional wisdom is that listeners will buy music from ITMS and other sources if using peer-to-peer services becomes more onerous. However, I am not yet convinced that the two sources for music can't continue to exist simultaneously. My own usage has followed that pattern. I still access LimeWire to listen to new music. However, if I am attracted to the artist(s), I buy the album either from a music store or ITMS. The music industry seems not to accept the reality of a seeding function for peer-to-peer, but I'm a believer. Apple and other purveyors of paid downloads may benefit from peer-to-peer in the long run. As the manufacturer of the leading MP3 player, Apple may benefit the most.

  • Apple offers better warranty on iPod

  • A chronic complaint about the best MP3 player/hard drive in the world has been Apple Computer's very limited warranty on the product. Our lamentations have been heard.

    Every iPod comes standard with 90 days of phone support and one year of hardware service coverage. The AppleCare Protection Plan extends your service and support coverage for your iPod, its included accessories, and iTunes software for up to two years from the original purchase date of your iPod. With this plan, you get direct access to Apple experts for answers by phone and anytime access to web-based resources. If your iPod or the included accessories should need service, Apple-certified technicians will repair it or provide a replacement using genuine Apple parts. We recommend that you purchase the AppleCare Protection Plan with your new iPod to take maximum advantage of the coverage the plan provides. This comprehensive plan is available for all iPod models within their one-year limited warranty that connect to either Macintosh computers or Windows PCs.

    Peace of mind at home or on the road

    With the iPod, you can take your entire music collection everywhere you go. But should your iPod need service, the AppleCare Protection Plan gives you the peace of mind of knowing that Apple provides global repair or replacement coverage.

    I happened across the new warranty at CompUSA, but it is also available directly from Apple and other resellers. Amazon has the lowest price at $46.99. My current iPod is under CompUSA's own warranty, but I will consider Apple's next time around.

    Residents of Florida are excluded.

    Note: The Mac Observer has summarized the NYT's anniversary analysis of the iPod here.

    10:33 AM

    Friday, December 26, 2003  

    The news desk: Strange stuff

    Georgian eats mad coon

    Georgia frat boys have again proven their perspicacity.

    Possibly Rabid Racoon Becomes Dinner

    ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - A fraternity member was treated for possible exposure to rabies, and he and two others could be expelled for beating, skinning and then eating a raccoon that might have had the disease, the fraternity's president said.

    The men had spotted the raccoon behaving erratically outside the Phi Kappa Psi house at the University of Georgia on Dec. 12. One hit it with construction pylon and shot it with a pellet gun in the fraternity's parking lot, Athens-Clarke County Animal Control officials said. Another skinned the raccoon, and a third cooked and ate some of its meat.

    Erratic behavior can be a symptom of rabies in an animal, but the raccoon could not be tested because its carcass was burned. At least one fraternity member was treated for possible exposure to rabies, which can be fatal if left untreated.

    The three members involved will go before the fraternity's grievance committee and face possible sanctions from reprimands to expulsion, said Larry Bales, fraternity president.

    ``It was a ridiculous situation - an isolated incident,'' Bales said. ``It was not a fraternity-sanctioned event.''

    And some people wonder why Ricky West is so, um, intelligence challenged.

    Fido, call home

    Well, you can name an interplanetary probe after a hunting dog, but you can't make it point.

    European Mars Lander Still Not Located

    LONDON (AP) - Scientists waited in vain for a sign that Europe's tiny Mars lander, the Beagle 2, had survived a landing on the Red Planet. Both a U.S. satellite and British radio telescope failed to pick up its signal.

    The Beagle 2, designed to search for signs of life on Mars, was believed to have landed shortly before 10 p.m. Wednesday, its impact softened by parachutes and gas bags.

    An early effort by an American satellite orbiting Mars, the Mars Odyssey, failed to pick up a signal from the Beagle. Late Thursday, scientists at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, England, scanned the Martian surface with a huge radio telescope between 5 p.m. EST and 7 p.m. EST, but received no transmission, the British physics and astronomy research agency said.

    . . .Officials said reasons for not hearing back from Beagle could include its antenna pointing at the wrong angle, and the extreme Martian cold distorting its radio frequency.

    Perhaps relayed broadcasts of Lassie will solve the problem.

    Andy and Barney get tough

    I may use the color-coded terrorism alerts as a fashion guide, but some folks in ole Virginny take them seriously.

    Small town beefs up terror patrol

    (CNN) - The Tappahannock Police Department doubled its typical Christmas Day task force Thursday to handle the remote possibility that the small Virginia town may be the target of a terrorist attack, Mayor Ray Gladding said.

    Instead of one officer patrolling the streets, the town will have two of its 10 officers working the holiday shift to keep Tappahannock's 2,000 residents safe.

    The stepped-up patrol follows the raising of the national terror alert to orange (high).

    The eastern Virginia town ended up on the FBI's worry list, which includes Los Angeles, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; New York; and Washington. Another rural Virginia area made the list of areas of concern too -- Rappahannock County, with 7,000 residents about 50 miles west of Washington.

    "The FBI just told us they intercepted some chatter. They just heard the name," Gladding said. "Somewhere, in translation, the name Tappahannock, Rappahannock [was heard] -- they weren't really sure."

    "They couldn't tell what context the words was used in."

    As a result, state highway patrols have been beefed up through the town, and residents have been told to keep their eyes open for anything unusual. So far, little has attracted attention.

    I think they're needlessly scaring Aunt Bea. But then, you are reading someone who actually wore orange the other day.

    6:44 AM

    Wednesday, December 24, 2003  

    The Diva does Christmas

  • Beware of bothersome gifts

  • Tuesday, while cleaning out closets, I took a tour of gift blunders. Some were things people have mistakenly given me. Others items I bought as potential gifts but never got around to matching up with recipients. Though I've made my share of mistakes, there are people who have me beat.

    LONGMONT, Colo. (AP) - Gary and Karri Clark haven't forgotten their second Christmas together. He knew she wanted bathroom accessories, so he wrapped up a couple of gifts and waited.

    The toilet seat and towel rack didn't go over too well.

    ``Here I thought I was doing good,'' he recalled with a laugh. ``It was something she can always use, day after day. It's the gift that keeps on giving.''

    The Clarks were among those who responded to requests by the Daily Times-Call newspaper to share their stories about bungled gifts and best intentions - the waffle makers, blenders and vacuum cleaners given with love and practicality in mind that will never be forgotten or forgiven.

    Karri Clark admits she wanted a new toilet seat a decade ago because there was a crack in the old one. She just didn't think she'd get one gift wrapped.

    ``I could not believe it,'' she said. ``What man gives you a toilet seat for Christmas?''

    . . .Gary Clark admits his bathroom gifts were out of desperation: It was Christmas Eve, he was at Kmart and he couldn't think of what to buy his wife.

    ``She wanted it, but not for Christmas,'' he said. Since then, he's done better: His wife received a Ford Explorer for her birthday this year.

    Fellows (and any boneheaded women, too) hold off on anything having to do with elimination. Yes, I know there are some really big collections of toilet paper in very pretty colors, but. . . .

    Meanwhile, I need to unload kids' softwear, 100 percent wool sweaters and several SLR camera/binocular sets.

  • A time for miracles

  • Blogger and civil rights activist Natalie Davis has been thinking about what a challenging year this has been for her while lighting her Chanukah candles.

    This has been quite a year, what with losing Father Henry and my great-grandmother; witnessing my father's suffering and death; surviving a hellish time in New York City and a horrid time of painful poverty; spending most of the year separated from my family; warring with my teenage child; seeing the world go to pieces thanks to the activities of a certain selected charlatan; and so much more. Now, I have a new job -- outside of my field, with an inhumane and unjust corporate employer I fear naming -- that feels like the worst one ever. Can't complain too much -- many people have no work at all, and this job, though soul-crushing and not lucrative in any way, at least keeps a roof overhead.

    Bottom line: I am drowning in a sea of despair.

    So, miracles mean much to me, even if I only can ponder the possibility of them, much like a hungry person peering through a window to see a wealthy family's sumptuous feast. This is why I love Chanukah so dearly: This period of eight nights is a reminder that real miracles have happened. And it offers hope that perhaps one day, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, there is a miracle out there for me. Will it be finally seeing Jackman on Broadway? A new pair of shoes? My daughter caring about school? A new job in journalism? The means to expatriate? Marriage equality in the US? A progressive president? And end to hunger and homelessness? Or peace, real peace, throughout the world?

    The invasion of Iraq and its attendant propaganda has hung over 2003 like smog in Los Angeles for me. I actually found the year more disheartening than post 9/11 2001. I think that may be because the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and other targets were real, but so much of what we've experienced this year has been made up or tailored to fit what the power mongers want us to believe. From the saga of soldier Jessica Lynch to the current national alert, the American people have been shamelessly manipulated.

    The positive aspect of this for me is that bad times can actually be good for my writing. I've negotiated a new book deal for the coming year. The book will be about race, the topic some people have tried to drive me from the blogosphere for discussing honestly. So, in a way, even being ill-treated has been beneficial. I would not feel so motivated about producing that book but for the abuse.

    Read the rest of Natalie's entry at All Facts and Opinions.

  • Christmas jury gives Malvo life sentence

  • Speaking of miracles, a Virginia jury has decided to spare convicted killer Lee Boyd Malvo's life.

    CHESAPEAKE, Virginia (CNN) -- A Virginia jury Tuesday decided Lee Boyd Malvo should be sentenced to life in prison without parole for his role in the Washington, D.C.-area sniper killings, rejecting prosecutors' call for his execution.

    Malvo watched intently, blinking as the verdict was read; defense attorney Craig Cooley sat with his head bowed, while co-counsel Michael Arif patted Cooley's back.

    The Associated Press reported that Malvo, wearing a blue sweater that made him look like a schoolboy, sat expressionless, with his elbows on the defense table.

    Malvo was convicted last week of capital murder, terrorism and weapons charges. Prosecutors had asked the same jury to recommend a death sentence.

    Judge Jane Marum Roush set formal sentencing for March 10. She cannot increase the penalty. Jurors also called for Malvo to be fined $100,000 on the each of the two capital counts against him.

    Malvo was convicted in the killing of Linda Franklin, an FBI analyst gunned down outside a Home Depot in Falls Church, Virginia, on October 14, 2002. Franklin was one of 10 people killed and three wounded in the sniper attacks that gripped the capital and its suburbs that month.

    What is this news item doing in a Christmas roundup, you ask? It is here because I had hoped the jurors would show the ill-fated youth some mercy. Perhaps partly because of the time of year, they did.

    Asked whether the approaching Christmas holiday had anything to do with the decision to spare Malvo's life, Cooley told reporters, "All of us believe that people are of goodwill and people want to be fair. And to the extent that Christmastime accentuates that, good."

    "Whatever you do, don't try one on Christmas week," Horan said. "I'm sure it played a part."

    It is extremely rare for defendants using the insanity defense to be acquitted or receive lighter sentences, such as life in prison when a jury is death qualified. It is almost miraculous for a black defendant not to be sentenced to death when convicted of killing a white person in a Southern state. Malvo, who is from Antigua, may not realize it, but he has received an unexpected gift from an American jury -- the rest of his life.

    1:47 PM

    Wednesday, December 17, 2003  

    People are saying: Politics

  • Flemming feels Shrub's pain

  • Filmmaker and blogger Brian Flemming has been having a problem with embarassment. I'm not saying that Brian has done anything to be ashamed of. (Why would a smart and attractive fellow who uses a Mac?) It seems Brian is very empathetic. He becomes embarrassed on behalf of other people. I'll let him tell you about it.

    Our National Deer Caught In the National Headlights

    For one of the productions of a play I co-wrote, Bat Boy: The Musical, there was a performer who got an audition as a courtesy -- he was connected to a potential investor, and he wanted to be an actor, so he was allowed to come in at the last stage of auditions to "see what it is like" to audition for a play. And he sang. And he was tone deaf. And he didn't know it. And we all sat there, listening to this man embarrass himself in front of us. For one whole song. And then the second song -- a ballad.

    The experience was painful. For me, being embarrassed for someone is a very physical sensation. My gut clenches a bit. No doubt my heartbeat increases somewhat. I have to consciously stop my face muscles from wincing. For some reason, I reflexively bring my hand up to my chin and rest my head on it -- kind of like the "Thinker" pose. My legs cross, too.

    It's a very unpleasant sensation that fills my entire body.

    And this is what happens to me almost every time I see President Bush on video. He starts his awkward stumble through whatever it is he is trying to say, and I feel those same physical sensations, and I just can't stand it. I can't even listen to his words, because his utter failure to convincingly play his role -- competent leader of the free world -- is too distracting.

    This happens a lot: I go to watch a video clip of President Bush delivering a speech or conducting a press conference, and within one minute I have to turn it off, because I truly can't stand the feeling of being embarrassed for him.

    In these moments, I don't feel hate for the man, any more than I feel hate for an unskilled actor at an audition. In fact, the visceral response would seem to require sympathy at a certain level--and that's definitely what it feels like. You don't have to like or even know someone to feel sympathy for him. It's like watching someone get hit by a car -- Oh my God, that could be me, and that would be horrible.

    I know this feeling I get is not a result of my disagreement with the President on his policies. I didn't get this feeling when I watched his father on television. Or Reagan, from what I remember. I don't get this feeling from watching Cheney or Rumsfeld, two men whose political views I find appalling. I don't get this feeling from any other politician I can think of.

    No, I only get the feeling of being embarrassed for someone from George W. Bush. Watching President Bush deliver a speech is like watching a child who has forgotten his lines in the Christmas pageant. It's so painful that I just can't do it. I'd rather read a summary or a transcript of what he said.

    I am aware that I am out of step with much of the rest of the nation on this. The speech the President gave to Congress after 9-11 apparently gave many Americans greater confidence in him. I saw roughly one minute of that speech and became more scared of him than I have ever been. This was around the time I stopped watching TV for good.

    A writer recently described President Bush as "our national deer caught in the national headlights." It was the most apt description of him I have ever read, and I wish I could remember who wrote it.

    I generally read what our national non-leaders are saying instead of watching it on television, though I hadn't given much thought to why until I read Brian's commentary. It may be because I find them less immediate, and therefore less insulting when I don't have to see them or hear their voices.

    I'm a regular reader of Brian's fine blog and think you should be, too.

  • Make way for McLieb

  • Vance at Begging to Differ has made a novel proposal.

    A Not-So-Modest Proposal

    In this morning's Wall Street Journal, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, in response to the question, "If you had to rely upon a single person as your foremost foreign policy advisor, who would it be?", answers, "Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain." (Sorry, no link, I read it on dead trees.)

    And then it hit me. Lieberman's best chance at winning the election is to forget the Democratic party. He should similarly ask McCain to forget the GOP and instead be his running mate. They could represent the Demopublican Party. Or, if you prefer, the Republicrats. When you think about it, the concept isn't so far fetched. Lieberman certainly isn't pleased that the Democratic party seems to have written him off before the first snowflake even fell in New Hampshire. And McCain is undoubtedly still bitter about the 2000 GOP primary. They both have some decent crossover appeal with their respective opposition party.

    Either man alone would stand no chance. Together they very well could win.

    Do I believe a McLieb candidacy could win? Nah. But, Vance's idea does bring back youthful memories of having wanted to see a viable moderate-progressive third party or third party candidate emerge. I think we can all learn something about the political process in the United States by considering why neither is possible.

  • The man who would be king

  • Speaking of embarrassment, perhaps I should be embarrassed to admit I still don't know who I am supporting in the upcoming Presidential election. The folks at the Edwards Grass Roots Blog have some thoughts on the topic. They're not too pleased that a 'coronation' may have occurred.

    Elections, Not Coronations

    Boy, was John Edwards ever right when he responded to Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean by pointing out that "we Democrats have elections, not coronations".

    Here's William Saletan, writing in Slate Magazine:

    What was that again about counting every vote?

    Three years ago, Al Gore, trailing in the Florida recount, urged the nation to wait until all the votes were tallied. "There are some who would have us bring this election to the fastest conclusion possible. I have a different view," Gore pleaded.

    Gore's view was that the urge to unite and win must never shortcut the electorate's verdict. "What is at stake is more important than who wins the presidency," he argued. "What is at stake is the integrity of our democracy, making sure that the will of the American people is expressed and accurately received."

    That will must be expressed "without any intervening interference," Gore insisted. Elections should be determined "by the votes cast by the people, not by politicians."

    That was then. This is now.

    Now the presidential candidate Gore prefers is ahead. Not in the vote count—the first votes haven't been cast yet—but in Democratic polls and money. In Iowa, Howard Dean leads his nearest competitor by eight points. In New Hampshire, he leads by 14 points to 25 points. Financially, he's blowing the field away. He has already renounced matching funds, allowing him to ignore the customary spending caps and outspend his opponents with impunity in the early primaries.

    Should Democrats fight it out and see who wins? Not if Gore has his way. "Democracy is a team sport," he declared as he endorsed Dean in Harlem this morning. "All of us need to get behind the strongest candidate."

    Who decided Dean was the strongest candidate? Not the voters: They haven't voted. Not the polls, either: They've shown Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, and Wesley Clark scoring better than Dean in hypothetical match-ups with President Bush. The person who anointed Dean the strongest candidate is the same intervening politician who complained three years ago about intervening politicians.

    Does Gore's endorsement of Dean matter to this independent voter? Yes, it carries some weight. However, it will not be dispositive in regard to my eventual decision.

    On other channels

    At Blog Sisters: Are women more rational than men?

    At Silver Rights: Late Sen. Strom Thurmond's segregationist career and parentage of a mixed-race woman is considered.

    At Blogcritics: A moderate explains why not being ecstatic over Saddam Hussein's capture does not mean one is sleeping with the enemy.

    11:46 AM

    Tuesday, December 16, 2003  

    Law: Camera phones and the expectation of privacy

    As longterm readers know, I've had an interest in issues of private and public space since writing a law note on an aspect of the topic years ago. A new form of the interplay between private and public has arisen and it intrigues me. If you bought a new cellphone during the last year (something we all seem to do much too often) there is a high probability it came with a built-in low resolution digital camera. PDAs-plus and enhanced phones are currently the leaders in the wireless communications market. So, you have or will soon will get a cellphone with a camera. You take your phone just about everywhere with you because that's the point of having it. You want to be reachable away from home. One of the places you take your phone is to the health club. Sometimes you chat on it while pumping away on the stationary bicycle or trudging the treadmill. But, one day your gym posts a sign: Cell phones are prohibited in changing and showering areas of this facility. Will you leave your phone in the car or at home?

    If a developing trend catches on, the answer is 'yes.' But, why, you ask? The Sunday New York Times explored the topic.

    What grabbed my attention," said Alderman Edward M. Burke, "was that TV commercial when the guy is eating the pasta like a slob, and the girl sends a photo of him acting like a slob to the fiancee."

    The commercial, for Sprint PCS , was meant to convey the spontaneity and reach afforded by the wireless world's latest craze, the camera phone. But what Mr. Burke saw was the peril.

    "If I'm in a locker room changing clothes," he said, "there shouldn't be some pervert taking photos of me that could wind up on the Internet."

    Accordingly, as early as Dec. 17, the Chicago City Council is to vote on a proposal by Mr. Burke to ban the use of camera phones in public bathrooms, locker rooms and showers.

    There will be no provision to protect messy restaurant patrons. But Mr. Burke wanted to ban the use of camera phones in places where "the average Chicagoan would expect a reasonable right to privacy."

    . . .The Chicago proposal, setting a fine of $5 to $500 for offenders, echoes restrictions adopted in several smaller jurisdictions. What remains to be seen is how and when such laws will be enforced.

    Would you go phoneless at the gym rather than subject yourself to possible legal action?

    It seems to me the decision turns on the reasonableness of such a law. We are less likely to follow rules we find unreasonable, especially when those rules are difficult for the polity to enforce. Lewd and voyeuristic behavior is common enough that I don't doubt some percentage of users of small cameras, whether on a cell phone or not, will use them to take surreptitious photographs of people in revealing clothing or nude. But, is the problem of invasion of privacy by the minority of camera phone users of sufficient weight to justify trammeling what would normally be an individual's decision? And, since an argument can be made that cellphones are inherently intrusive devices, why stop with camera phones? At least one jurisdiction has not.

    Trying to distinguish between a camera phone and any other cellphone has also complicated matters. The Elk Grove Park District in suburban Chicago enacted a ban in November that covered the possession of any cellphone - not just camera phones - in park-owned restrooms, locker rooms and showers.

    "There is no reason to have a cellphone while you're changing and showering," said Ron Nunes, one of the park district's commissioners. "I'd rather protect the children and the public more than someone who wants to call home and see what's for dinner." Fresh in the town's memory was a 2001 incident in which a man used a fiber-optic camera to secretly take pictures of children in a park shower.

    . . .Though they are permitted in gym areas, patrons say they often leave their phones in the car when they work out there because they usually have to use the changing room first, where the phones are not permitted.

    Some commentators point out that there could be legal action from the other end of the equation - for example, by the cellphone owner who is unable to make an emergency call because he was forced to leave his phone behind when he entered a protected area.

    Others find the legislation currently being passed generally overbroad.

    L. Richard Fischer, a Washington lawyer who deals with privacy issues, said the park district's ban goes too far. "People have to pass laws very carefully and recognize there is a broad but flexible standard of reasonable expectation of privacy," he said. "You have to do it very selectively or you really are treading on people's rights."

    Perhaps it is time to redefine what a reasonable expectation of privacy is. Considering that most wireless communications are not secure, don't we assume little privacy in regard to our and others' use of the devices? We are all photographed numerous times per day, in public buildings, stores and other businesses. Most of those videos are recycled in surveillance cameras or discarded. Still, we all know we are being watched and recorded. So, again, do we expect privacy in public places? It seems to me that for such laws to be reasonable, it would be necessary to target the kind of behavior society wants to curtail - that which involves secret photography of people for sexual purposes. Though that is the intent behind the laws discussed in the in article in the NYT, none of the statutes are drawn narrowly enough to limit their reach to such situations.

    I have more questions than answers to the connundrum of the clandestine camera phone. But, I believe concerns like this one will become increasingly important as high tech devices proliferate and become smaller and smaller.

    6:02 AM

    Monday, December 15, 2003  

    News: That's entertainment

  • Hilton to star in second show

  • Oh, to be vapid, rich and loose. That seems to be the ticket to success. Just ask Paris Hilton. The Herald-Sun has the latest.

    Who said porn was a career killer? The suddenly everywhere Paris Hilton is about to become even more omnipresent, reports The New York Post.

    Fox is so happy with the runaway success of Hilton's riches-to-rags reality TV show The Simple Life, it's now in talks with her to star in another reality show. Word is Hilton - who became the talk of the town after a sex tape with her ex-boyfriend surfaced - could get up to $US3 million for her next TV foray, but that her comedic costar Nicole Richie is not included.

    A family friend said: "The negotiations have just started. Fox always had a first-look option with Paris for another show and they are picking it up."

    Meanwhile, The Simple Life is so popular (13 million people tuned in), Fox scrounged up some outtakes and has put together a sixth "bonus" episode to air Dec. 17.

    Who deserves the blame? As a former liberal, I'm supposed to bash a crass and greedy media. I do. But, this sure looks like a kind of comparative negligence to me. The media may serve up the superficial silliness of a show like The Simple Life, but millions of people choose to indulge. But for the lack of judgment, and taste, of those viewers, media creations such as Paris Hilton could not exist. Yes, a former liberal can be a current realist.

  • George Clinton says drug search illegal

  • Johno told us the captain of the Mother Ship may be headed for the brig earlier. Details of how granddaddy of funk George Clinton came to be busted last weekend are now available. Though he doesn't deny possessing illegal drugs, Clinton says the police should not have searched him.

    TALLAHASSEE, Florida (AP) -- An attorney for funk music pioneer George Clinton said Tuesday the musician was illegally searched before he was charged last weekend with drug possession.

    Attorney Matt Willard said he would file an innocent plea Wednesday morning at the Leon County Courthouse.

    Clinton, 62, was arrested early Saturday outside a convenience store, near his recording studio. Police said he had a bag of crack cocaine and a glass crack pipe. He was released on $2,650 bail.

    The former funk impresario and frontman for Parliament and Funkadelic now performs in a melange of the old and some new called the P-Funk All Stars. The last time I saw the group, about three years ago, it seemed to be limping along. However, with the addition of guitar and mandolin maestro Eric McFadden, I thought it might have the potential to reignite Clinton's career. But, will the funkmeister continue to be available for the P-Funk All Stars or anyone else?

    Cocaine possession, a felony, carries a maximum five years in prison. Clinton also faces a possession of paraphernalia charge.

  • Game maker says it will delete slur
  • Another game maker is facing the music for mocking an African-derived population. Apparently, Haitians don't much care to be targeted in Grand Theft Auto.

    New York-based video game company announced yesterday that it would make changes to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, a game that had provoked angry protests from Haitian immigrants and city officials.

    The best-selling game features dialogue at one point that exhorts players to "kill all the Haitians."

    Bending to pressure from the community and from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who spoke out against the game on Sunday at a Haitian church in Brooklyn, the game company, Take-Two Interactive Software Inc., apologized, saying it would delete the dialogue from new copies of the game.

    . . ."We are aware of the hurt and anger in the Haitian community and have listened to the community's objections to certain statements made in the game," the company said in a statement. "Accordingly, we will remove the objectionable statements from future copies."

    The video game was published by, Rockstar Games Inc., one of Take-Two Interactive Software's labels. The company is the second-largest publisher of video games in the United States, and employs about 1,000 people.

    Weeks ago retailers stopped carrying Ghettopoly, a board game designed by a Korean immigrant that mocks African-Americans.

    8:53 AM

    Thursday, December 11, 2003  

    Apple aficionado explains attraction

    A consequence of being known as someone who wrote about Apple and the Macintosh before I became a blogger is that some of my readers expect me to have more to say about those topics than I do at Mac-a-ro-nies. Well, I am using the Mac Diva sobriquet. But, my intention is that this be a general assignment weblog. Since Apple has a niche market, I don't focus on it as much as I do computers and the Internet generally. But, that doesn't mean I've stopped following news about the Macintosh and other Apple products. I'm still tuned in.

    Gary Allen isn't just tuned in. He lives the Mac. The Apple enthusiast makes a practice of attending the openings of Apple Stores as if they were A list movies. Leander Kahney of Wired talked to him recently.

    On Thanksgiving, Gary Allen and his teenage son caught a plane to Japan from their home in Berkeley, California, to attend the grand opening of Apple Computer's new store in Tokyo.

    Rising early Friday, the pair spent the next 28 hours standing outside the store in the rain to be the first in line when the doors were thrown open Saturday morning. Objective achieved, and commemorative T-shirts in hand, the pair flew home the next day.

    "It was definitely the most exciting grand opening of all the stores I've been to," said Allen, who has turned the gala openings of Apple Stores into something of a hobby.

    Allen, the 56-year-old publisher of Dispatch, a magazine for emergency dispatchers, and his son Devin, 16, have attended the openings of five Apple Stores in the United States, which they have documented in detail on Allen's 300-page website, IFO Apple Store (IFO = In Front Of).

    "My wife doesn't quite understand the fascination," he said. "I try to explain to her it's a social experience. It's a fun thing. But Tokyo in the rain. She was mystified by that."

    Allen's behavior is the kind of devotion that makes some people describe Mac users as a cult. However, I don't believe that. Cult members share a range of attributes. In my experience, Mac users often just have their choice of computer platform in common. Yes, I'm aware of the assumption that all Apple users are liberals. Yet, I've encountered my share of conservatives who use Macs, and even a few Right Wing wackos. On the other hand, I know people who consider themselves progressives who would never detour from the Wintel platform. Another claim that appeals to our egos as members of the Macintosh minority is that we are all individualists. Sorry to break it to you, but it is not so, either. Indeed, Mac sites such as the Mac Addict forums and Mac NN can be as much echo chambers as Windows locales.

    So, what is it that makes Mac users different? I believe Allen has identified that distinction.

    Perhaps most significantly, Allen said the stores are clearly designed to be meeting places and laid-back showrooms for Apple's technology.

    "They are a focal point for many types of experiences, not just selling," he said. "They are very open to the social experience. They are not just for people to come in and buy."

    . . .Allen said store staffers are extremely laid-back, and their hands-off approach encourages customers to come in and play around. Allen said he's used machines in the store to video conference with his son when out of town, which requires changing the machines' settings. "You can't do that in other stores," he said.

    Allen visits his local Apple Store in Emeryville, California, every couple of weeks or so to hang out and chat with staff. One of the things he likes is the ease with which he can chat with other customers.

    "You can talk because you know they are a Mac person," he said. "You can't do that in any other store. You can't talk to a stranger about refrigerators. You can't say, 'Hey, isn't this a great ice maker?' because you would feel foolish. In the Apple store, there's no barrier to talking. There's an instant connection kind of thing."

    I believe it is that sense of being part of a community, a minority community, that binds Apple users together. It is something I've experienced and observed to an extent in other settings as a multiple minority. One may not be in agreement with everyone who shares the attribute about everything, but in a very combative society like ours, being able to engage in pleasant discourse about the aspect we have in common helps.

    And, oh, in regard to that Apple Store opening in Tokyo -- check it out. Actually seeing thousands of people waiting in line will make an impression whether you are an Apple aficionado or not. The video is in a sidebar on this page.

    3:50 PM

    Tuesday, December 09, 2003  

    California child agency cleared Jackson

    The Associated Press reports:

    LOS ANGELES (AP) - Child welfare investigators earlier this year found there was no basis for allegations that Michael Jackson had abused the boy now accusing him of molestation, according to a confidential memo.

    The memo from an administrator with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services was based on an investigation last February and was leaked to the Web site thesmokinggun.com, which posted it Tuesday. A source familiar with the document confirmed its authenticity to The Associated Press.

    The memo was dated Nov. 26, 2003 - a week after the Santa Barbara County district attorney announced child molestation allegations against Jackson.

    Both the boy and his brother told investigators Jackson had not sexually abused them, according to the memo. Their older sister said she had never witnessed anything sexually inappropriate between her brothers and the entertainer.

    The memo was sent from a regional administrator to bureau chief Charles Sophy and detailed a probe completed before Sophy joined the agency.

    Jackson's defense is certain to seize on the memo.

    Santa Barbara County District Attorney Thomas Sneddon did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday.

    The memo, which refers to Jackson as ``the entertainer,'' said the department began a 13-day inquiry after a Los Angeles school district official called its hot line Feb. 14 out of concern for the boy and his brother. The investigation was conducted with the Los Angeles police.

    I haven't written about Michael Jackson's latest legal problems until now because I did not want to fuel the kind of speculation I derided in the previous entry. However, now that there is one solid piece of evidence, I'll break my silence. I believe Jackson could well end up in the same position as the defendant in Franz Kafka's The Trial -- damned for what he is, not for what he has done. What Jackson is is too unusual for most of us to comprehend. Some of the behavior he engages in can be filed under 'different strokes for different folks." But, some of his oddities are serious and possibly pathological. I would list the bizarre way he has approached having and rearing children among those. Include his having apparently managed to run through much of a fortune that most people cannot even imagine possessing in that category, too.

    But, does the fact Jackson is very peculiar mean he is a child molester? No, it doesn't. I am unwilling to reach such a conclusion until after any and all evidence in his case is known.

    Though this new evidence is not conclusive, it makes the decision to charge Jackson look a lot less reasonable. District Attorney Thomas Sneddon has some 'plainin' to do. If the same agency he used to assemble the evidence for charging Jackson previously cleared him in another investigation, what, if anything, changed? Unless Sneddon has good reason for going forward with charges against Jackson anyway, this may be a malicious prosecution. Why would one someone do that? Prosecutors are political animals. Their conviction records are helpful in seeking reelection and pursuing aspirations for higher office. One of these men is in the wrong. We'll wait and see which of them it is.

    4:55 PM

    Monday, December 08, 2003  

    Prosecutor's murder reveals flip side of Internet

    The story has a made-for-TV quality. Bad guys, a rapper and his sidekick, who also are drug dealers, have supposedly had the lead prosecutor in their heroin dealing case kidnapped and murdered.

    WASHINGTON - Jonathan Luna, a federal prosecutor in Baltimore whose bloody body was found in rural Pennsylvania, had been stabbed 36 times and may have been tortured before he was thrown into a rural creek to drown, officials said Friday.

    Luna's body was discovered near the town of Ephrata, south of Reading, Pa., Thursday morning, just hours before he was scheduled to appear in court in Baltimore, 70 miles away, in the case of a rapper accused of running a violent heroin ring.

    At some Internet forums, commenters are already calling for the death penalty for the drug dealing rapper, Deon Smith, and his associate, Walter Poindexter -- if they willing to allow a trial. But, there is a problem -- this movie of the week storyline that appeals to many people's preconceptions may not be true.

    Federal prosecutor Jonathan Luna traveled several times in recent months to the area of Pennsylvania where his body was found, and authorities were not immediately aware of any work-related business that would have taken him to the region, The Associated Press learned Sunday.

    Investigators also were looking into a credit card Luna held without his wife's knowledge and into postings of messages by someone who went by the name of Jonathan Luna in Web sites where people advertise for female sex partners, according to a federal law enforcement official who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity.

    Baltimore FBI spokesman Larry Foust said Sunday that investigators were still trying to determine a motive for Luna's killing. His body was found Thursday, stabbed 36 times and left face down in a creek.

    "This is a full-court press, but we just don't know. There's a lot of information and a lot of misinformation out there," Foust said. "We have people working nonstop, overturning every stone, going where the facts lead them."

    Investigators now doubt the murder is related to the case. In fact, there seems to be little motive for the rapper and his friend to have the prosecutor killed. They entered guilty pleas before Luna disappeared.

    Many commenters online are sure the defendants in the recent case are responsible for the murder, though.

    What kind of message does his death send in the rap community and Baltimore's streets? Drugs are rampant all over this country. I hope the police finds the person and gives he/she the death penalty - or worse. Amateur rappers killing a "federal" prosecutor. I think even other rappers are calling these guys idiots. What did ordering this hit accomplish ... nothing. Anyone who thinks these rappers had nothing to do with this death is an idiot!!!!

    State Police and Feds need to show up at "the Hampden studio of the ... upstart music label, Stash House Records and work a little back-door street justice to find out who did this.

    Identify the killer(s), hunt them down, and destroy them.

    They believe they know what happened because of who the parties are -- black hoods who produced rap and sold heroin and the son of a Filipino immigrant who had always worked as a prosecutor. In other words, their stereotypical assumptions must be accurate. Perhaps people like these don't understand human nature, which is often complex. If they did, they would know there is nothing to preclude Luna having become entangled in personal problems that resulted in his death, which is what investigators now suspect. When the idea the prosecutor may have been killed by a lover or someone else with a personal conflict with him was raised at the Baltimore Sun's forum, some commenters became apoplectic. They either dismissed the suggestion as an insult to Luna and his family or said that if its true, the media should not report that story. Yes, you heard me right. They believe that if the man died as the result of a personal relationship gone awry, the story should be suppressed.

    Often, the Internet is hailed as a method of dispensing useful and accurate information. However, when I observe the kind of puerile and biased commentary that occurs in episodes like this one, I wonder if the bumper crop of bad information disseminated on the Net buries the good.

    10:47 AM

    Thursday, December 04, 2003  

    Vigilante site targets eBay scammers

    I have several acquaintances who are just getting into the Internet. They consider me their Web resource person. A recurring topic of conversation with them is eBay. Bill, a clerk at a grocery store I sometimes use, is typical. He has purchased items on eBay, but hasn't sold anything so far. Bill is pleased with some of his purchases, mainly books and compact discs, but wary of being taken advantage of. He has encountered the usual problems such as inflated postage, items that don't fit their description and negative feedback from sellers he has done no harm. And, as is also the norm, his complaints to eBay have fallen on deaf ears. Now, someone claims to be providing an alternative complaint system. Court TV has the story.

    Christina, a pre-med student at Georgetown University and self-described "denim-fanatic," bought a pair of trendy, low-slung jeans on eBay. But after three weeks, she still had no jeans and no response from the seller to her repeated e-mails.

    Christina, who declined to give her last name, knew she had been gypped, but other than leaving the seller negative feedback through the voluntary review system, there was little she could do but file a complaint with eBay.

    "I got an e-mail from eBay that said, 'You are not at fault, but we're not going to do anything about it,'" Christina recalls, interpreting the company's response.

    So she went to ebayersthatsuck.com, a Web site that encourages a new trend in online auctions -- online vigilantism.

    Many new users of eBay don't realize the company purposely makes it difficult to make live contact with it, ignores complaints from buyers and sellers who do a small volume of business and approves a subsidiary, Square Trade, that removes legitimate complaints against savvy eBayers for a fee. The vigilante site may be the only recourse for most small-timers.

    The FTC received 51,000 online auction fraud-related complaints in 2002, making it the second largest consumer complaint behind identity theft. Although the crimes are usually simple, tracking down a scammer through his e-mail address or telephone number can be difficult because both are easily changed.

    At ebayersthatsuck.com, eBay members concerned about fraud can track down the con artists themselves. They post the user names of buyers and sellers they believe to be deceptive, discuss tips on how to trade safely and exchange information on the latest scams.

    But, any site that routinely publishes unproven information that can harm people's reputations is also problematic. I would expect such a site to have difficulty knowing who is telling the truth. Often, the scammer is the person who will complain the loudest. And, what is to prevent eBayers involved in cheating from targeting their victims? Furthermore, if the site is a business, its interest is in encouraging complaints, regardless of their merit.

    The proprietor of eBayersthatsuck.com, in addition to being grammatically challenged, has a mixed history at eBay himself.

    Ebayersthatsuck.com was created a year ago by Steve Klink, a patrolman with the Paramus, N.J., police department after he paid $80 for a chewed-up wireless speaker. Instead of waiting for eBay to act, he posted his story and the seller's user name on a Web page and e-mailed the link to his offender. Klink even spoke with the seller's mother, and eventually the man returned the money.

    But instead of taking the page down then, Klink decided to expand it.

    . . . In any case, eBay and ebayersthatsuck.com have a somewhat contentious history. Klink was briefly NARUed this month because his site listed the e-mail addresses of certain suspected fraudulent eBayers, a company no-no. EBay provides an e-mail service that allows members to contact each other via user name alone. Klink says he was reinstated after explaining that he was in the process of removing them anyway.

    Earlier, eBay asked Klink to alter his logo for trademark reasons, which he did.

    Though it is difficult to determine whether the site has, in fact, led eBay to close the accounts of scammers, the high level of participation suggests ebayersthatsuck.com is influential with the FTC, eBay and eBay users.

    Now the site has nearly a thousand registered members and receives an average of 30,000 visits a month. It lists about 200 eBay users to avoid. According to Klink, most of them were "NARU-ed'" (made Not A Registered User) by eBay shortly after he posted their names, although whether their outing was a result of Klink's actions is unknown.

    I was disturbed by several aspects of the site when I visited. To do anything at it, including read the listing of alleged scammers or the stories of the victimized, one must join ebayersthatsuck.com. Sites that require membership usually are more interested in compiling information about visitors than anything else. Often, that information is sold to advertisers and spammers. There is no material about privacy posted at the site, so not only could Klink be selling visitor information, he could determine the identities of visitors and use the information for his own purposes. In addition, Klink's Internet business and the ebay complaint forum share the same space, doubtlessly inflating traffic to his sales site.

    The track record for auction watchdog sites is not good. Only Klink's outfit seems to be currently active. A successful lawsuit by anyone who has been damaged by being outed there could easily bring ebayersthatsuck.com to an end.

    I will tell friends who have complaints regarding transactions on eBay about the site. However, I will not tout it as a solution to being ripped off. The best advice I can give them is to be vigilant. I suspect most new users are taken a few times when they first begin participating in auctions. But, with experience, they learn to recognize dubious propositions and avoid them.

    1:24 PM

    Wednesday, December 03, 2003  

    The news desk

  • Polygamist declares right to privacy

  • The Supreme Court of the United States' ruling on privacy in sexual matters is getting an interesting challenge from an unlikely source.

    SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (AP) - A lawyer for a Utah man with five wives argued Monday that his bigamy convictions should be thrown out following a Supreme Court decision decriminalizing gay sex.

    The nation's high court in June struck down a Texas sodomy law, ruling that what gay men and women do in the privacy of their homes is no business of government.

    It's no different for polygamists, argued Tom Green's attorney, John Bucher, to the Utah Supreme Court.

    "It doesn't bother anyone, [and with] no compelling state interest in what you do in your own home with consenting adults, you should be allowed to do so," Bucher said.

    . . .Green, who is not affiliated with any church, was convicted of four counts of bigamy and one count of criminal nonsupport of his 30 children in August 2001.

    Polygamists and gays are not similarly situated. The consenting adults involved in sodomy are the only persons effected. But, multiple marriage has wide-ranging negative impacts. Both the women and the children involved are harmed by the practice. Since only one of the wives can be legally married to the man, the others have none of the legal rights of matrimony. Children born into polygamous unions are usually supported by the government's Aid to Families With Dependent Children program since the parents care rarely afford the cost of the father's numerous offspring. That guarantees they will live in poverty, in addition to lacking the parental attention available to most children.

    Since the state has an interest in protecting the women and children victimized by polygamy, as well as its purse, I expect the Supreme Court of Utah to easily distinguish between homosexual acts and polygamy.

  • Iraqi leader not captured

  • Another American 'victory' in Iraq has turned out to be a hoax.

    BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) - U.S. forces in Iraq have indeed captured a man named "al-Duri" as earlier news reports announced, but he is not the second-most-wanted former Iraqi official the troops have been hunting, the U.S. military said Tuesday.

    The reports about the capture of a top member of deposed President Saddam Hussein's regime were false, Maj. Robert Cargie of the 4th Infantry Division said.

    Cargie spoke with Maj. Doug Vincent of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Kirkuk, who said forces conducting overnight operations had not caught Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, the former vice chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council and a former member of Saddam's inner circle.

    Sources said an Iraqi police official identified the captured man as Saad Mohammed al-Duri.

    This pattern of inflated reports of American success in battles and untrue tales of captures of Iraqi leaders, followed by retrenchment, is becoming tiresome. Reporters, embedded and otherwise, could save themselves considerable embarassment by waiting for such claims to be confirmed by reliable sources.

  • Pit bulls kill neighbor

  • Just when you thought it was safe to go outside. . . .

    DENVER (AP) - A woman was killed in a gruesome attack by a pack of pit bull dogs that residents say had been a roaming menace for months. Another man was injured but escaped after his son shot at the dogs.

    Authorities began weighing charges Monday against the owners of the dogs.

    Jennifer Brooke, 40, was killed early Sunday when she went to a barn to care for her horses, officials said. A friend worried about her, Bjorn Osmunsen, 24, was attacked when he went to look for her.

    ``It's a gruesome thing; it's kind of hard to deal with,'' Elbert County Undersheriff James Underwood said of Brooke's injuries. ``Even the fire department and the rescue personnel were having a hard time dealing with some of it.''

    One dog had allegedly mauled a neighbor earlier this year, and officials said the dogs were well known in the rolling ranch land near Kiowa, southeast of Denver.

    ``The people in the area had their own sort of emergency phone network to warn each other if the dogs were loose before they would go out,'' Rattlesnake Fire District Chief Dale Goetz said.

    Seriously, something is broken in society when people wait until someone is killed by vicious dogs to take effective action against them. Perhaps it is the belief we are not our brothers' keeper. I wonder how many people just shrugged off the previous attacks by the dogs. Maybe the extremists of the animal rights movement have made reporting of out of control canines less likely to occur. But, curbing attacks by animals is not evidence of contempt for them. Let's not let our concern about animal rights stop us from preventing animal wrongs.

    2:43 PM

    Monday, December 01, 2003  

    Reportage: Sacco sifts Mideast conflict

    Pulitzer prize winner Art Spiegelman is America's foremost practitioner of comics as current events and history. However, Joe Sacco, who has brought his pencil to bear on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is coming on strong. I had reason to think about the oppression of Palestinians anew after Little Green Football's proprietor Charles Johnson attempted to stifle to discussion of the invasion of Iraq at Blogcritics. That interest happened to coincide with the return of Sacco, who spent much of his youth here, to Portland.

    Joe Sacco has a motto. - "Me like to party." - The 43-year-old, who is one of the most original cartoonists in the world, moved back to Portland this summer.

    "I couldn't handle being hung-over all the time," he says with a smile.

    Sacco spent the last year in Switzerland and the previous two in New York, where his work was endorsed by political writers Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens.

    "And now I have a deadline."

    Sacco expects to deliver his next manuscript in spring 2006. The man who wrote the book on "cartoon journalism" has done the shoe-leather reporting on Rafah, a refugee camp in Gaza. Now he just needs his peace and quiet.

    The new book will be the second Sacco has set in the Middle East. Palestine described the experience of a novice in that war-torn territory in the 1992-93. A reviewer at Amazon captures the zeitgeist of the revelatory comic.

    Starting with a typical attitude of "Who cares?" Sacco shows us how his visit to the West Bank and Gaza in the early 1990s transformed him completely. Palestinians have much against them in todays world, not least the stereotypes of "supporting terror" . . . that the Israeli propaganda machine heaps on them every day. These stereotypes create a formidable barrier between the Palestinian people and Americans. Americans do not feel like they should even pay attention to these "insignificant terrorists" - and that is precisely the goal of the propagandists in the first place: to silence the Palestinians and prevent their very humanity (let alone their message) from being recognized.

    Enter Joe Sacco, with master strokes of a cartoonist's pencil, he succeeds singlehandedly in shattering those barriers. For the first time in an American [publication], you actually see Palestinians as people, you enter their households, you talk to them, you listen to their problems, and you think about it. Well, so what?

    If you always thought that the middle east problem is "too complicated" or "has been going on for too long" to be able to understand it, it is time to get out your credit card and buy this book. In the most enjoyable cartoon style that makes it hard for you to let go of the book, you will see things like you've never witnessed them before. This is the raw human story, not the clinically sterilized CNN version of events, or the dry history book polemics. I guarantee that after reading Sacco's Palestine, something will click and you will finally understand what's been going on, more clearly than you ever have before.

    WARNING: Not for the faint of heart!

    If the West Bank is purgatory, then the Gaza Strip is Hell. So, Sacco returned to live there there for a time.

    "I like Gaza. I like the people," he says in his soft voice, still tinged by the Australian accent, where he lived until he was 12. "You don't have this middle-class moaning that you hear in Ramallah and east Jerusalem from Palestinians. These people are refugees. They've got something to moan about."

    Sacco was determined to get a close-up look at the second intifada.

    "The intifada now is militarized. They've picked up Kalashnikovs, and they fire mortars and rockets, while the Israelis have gone from Jeeps to tanks, Apache helicopters and F-16s," he says.

    So he made trips to Rafah, on the border with Egypt, where the Israeli army demolishes houses and gun-smuggling tunnels, last November, then February through March, and May. Through connections, he rented a six-room house (with three toilets and four balconies) for $150 a month.

    "You see people who are doing OK and people in abject poverty," he says.

    The press corps rarely goes there, though, because roadblocks make it a long drive from Jerusalem. Western reporters don't stay for two months. Journalistically, he's shooting fish in a barrel.

    The writer is careful not to surrender his journalistic objectivity.

    He's more interested in how the locals react to the bombers, what they say. Old people in his books often make anti-Jewish remarks: "I might be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but if (they) were saying things that I felt made them look bad, they're still going to go in."

    Take it from someone who worked in journalism for years, the average reporter is not about to give up a comfortable leather swivel chair in front of his computer to run around in places where people get killed. So, where, did is Joe Sacco coming from?

    Sacco received his bachelor of arts degree in journalism at the University of Oregon in 1981. Two years later he returned to his native Malta, where his first professional cartooning work (a series of romance comics) was published. After relocating back to Portland, he co-edited and co-published the monthly comics newspaper Portland Permanent Press from 1985 to 1986; PPP lasted 15 issues, and included early work by such cartoonists as John Callahan and J.R. Williams. In 1986, Sacco moved to the Los Angeles area, where he worked on staff for Fantagraphics Books, editing the news section for the trade publication The Comics Journal and creating the satirical comic magazine Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy.

    From 1988 to 1992, Sacco criss-crossed the globe, producing six issues of his own comic book Yahoo for Fantagraphics Books as he traveled. He returned to Malta for a half a year; he spent a couple of months traveling around Europe with a rock band (an experience he recorded in Yahoo #2); he lived for close to two years in Berlin, where he drew dozens of record sleeves and posters for German record labels and concert promoters; and, in late 1991 and early 1992, he spent two months in Israel and the occupied territories, traveling and taking notes. When he finally returned again to Portland in mid-1992, it was with the intention of communicating what he had witnessed and heard during his Mid-Eastern jaunt - to combine the techniques of eyewitness reportage with the medium of comics storytelling to explore this complex, emotionally weighted situation. Palestine, the first issue of which was released in January, 1993, was the result.

    If you have read Maus, Spiegelman's epic about the dehumanization and destruction of Jews in Germany, I'm sure it is an experience that stayed with you. You will find Sacco's works just as stimulating.

    A major aspect of the blogosphere being dominated by the Right is that too many bloggers conform to received wisdom that is not necessarily wise. One is not 'supposed to' criticize the hateful motivation behind a large blog such as Little Green Footballs. So, most bloggers either bow in obeisance or ignore the harm being done to the dissemination of information by the squelching of anything other than a Zionist perspective. Mac-a-ro-nies will do neither.

    I await the release of Sacco's latest two years from now. Meanwhile, I'm going to reread his earlier books, which include The Fixer and Notes from a Defeatist. What this cartoonist and journalist is achieving is no ordinary feat. But, then, he is not your average Joe.

    5:57 AM