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Burying the Lede on an Interesting Article About the Military’s War Web-cams: The L.A. Times has been filled with interesting tidbits, weirdly presented, for the last few days. This story, for example, is about two Marine Corps Reserves officers, whose day jobs are in Hollywood, and who came up with the novel idea of sending digital-camera news crews to the frontlines, to make newsreel-type productions for consumption back home on the Internet and elsewhere. Great story, right? Complete with quotes like this:

"The two of us worked together on 'Windtalkers' and 'Rules of Engagement', so we were already friends," said Fairburn, 34. "When 9/11 happened, and people started heading to Afghanistan, we started talking about how we wished there was a way to raise awareness among the American people about the Marine Corps. Not as an advertisement but more like what they used to do."
And yet … reading this article is like talking to a very knowledgeable recovering meth addict -- information herks and jerks hither and yon. And somehow the writers fail to understand that they have a very interesting profile on their hands, choosing instead to muck it up with various librarians and historians. I dunno, maybe I’m being a jerk.

But this has been a pattern over the last few days. Here’s the final paragraph in a serviceable story about how the concession for the dilapidated Malibu Pier has been granted to 49-year-old surfshop dude Zuma Jay Wagner, who was the only one to bid:

Just think, he said, "all those millions of taxpayer dollars, and they're putting it in the hands of a surfer."
I'm obviously quite sympathetic to anyone named "Zuma Jay" with a sense of humor like that, but bidding processes that produce only one bidder deserve just a wee bit more scrutiny, no?

Here’s another killer quote buried at the end of a story, about how Police Chief William Bratton sent a congratulatory post-election note to the wrong City Council Latino -- losing Nick Pacheco instead of winner Antonio Villaraigosa:

Sgt. John Pasquariello, an LAPD spokesman, confirmed that the congratulatory letter was sent to Councilman-elect Villaraigosa at the City Hall office he will assume. "Probably in hindsight we should have sent it to his campaign office," Pasquariello said.
And here’s a strange story about an abandoned ship sitting in the Long Beach harbor, in which we have to read most of the confusing and twisted history and rumor-mongering around the vessel before learning that, oh yeah, some weird hobo named Frank has been living on the thing for four years.

03/08/2003 10:39 PM  | 

Don’t Mess With the Welches: Tonight, Costa Mesa High School tied Walnut High School, 0-0, in the championship game of the California Interscholastic Federation’s Southern Section Division III. The Southern Section of CIF, as this map shows, covers an enormous land mass, with well over 10 million inhabitants, 500-plus member schools and more than 300,000 fanatical young competitors. It is, by far, the highest quality high-school athletics organization in the country, especially for fair-weather sports like baseball, softball and soccer.

The starting goalie on Costa Mesa’s championship team tonight was my niece, Kindra Bailey (or, as the Orange County Register calls her, “Kristin” Bailey.

With Kindra at goal, Costa Mesa made the finals for the first time in school history. Oh, and she’s a sophomore, meaning she’s got two full years of high school competition ahead of her. She also plays pretty mean piano (her mother, my sister, is a classical pianist … with roughly as much athletic skill as an upper-class twit), and was better-read than I at around age 10.

Tonight KB played terrific. Walnut spent the first 60 minutes on Costa Mesa’s half of the field, consistently sprinting around defenders and playing with much more aggression and offensive skill. Kindra made a dozen or so saves, many of them scary, run-out-to-the-edge-of-the-box-while-the-forward-is-bearing-down affairs.

Then, at minute 64 or so, she and a Walnut player butted heads on a corner kick, and collapsed in heaps for several minutes. Both got up, groggily, and sat out the rest of the game. Kindra suffered a concussion, probably not too serious. Afterward, she had a lump on her forehead the size of a golf ball, a few cuts, and a goofy grin on her face.

And DAMN if girls soccer isn't exponentially better in this country than it was in the mid-1980s, last time I watched! The Walnut halfbacks, especially, had serious Mia Hamm legs & moves, and most of the teens out there ran faster, and longer, than I ever did. And I used to be not so slow.

I’ll link to the post-writes when they come out (here’s a decent pre-write in the Daily Pilot). Congratulations, Kindra!

03/08/2003 10:03 PM  |  Comment (2)

Today’s National Post Column -- Race and War: Weird column, hard to summarize. Mentions, in order: Tim Blair, the Glendale Galleria, Sean Penn, Charlton Heston, Japanese action figures named “Ken,” swarthy Armenians, then a bunch of stuff about how racism in America might have affected foreign policy.

03/08/2003 09:53 AM  |  Comment (10)

Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement, Looking Back and Forward: An interesting and measured essay, by Christopher Hitchens.

One of the first five articles I ever wrote involved interviewing a half-dozen FSM leaders, 20-plus years later. I had never heard of them, or their movement, before the assignment. Such things aren't taught in the Long Beach Unified School District ... as a matter of fact, nothing occurring after WWII was taught to me by the LBUSD, except for an afternoon in 9th-grade Economics class when Ms. Whittington explained, very accurately, why Communism was an inefficient economic system. Of course, I thought she was biased....

03/07/2003 11:46 PM  |  Comment (7)

Funniest Political Blog Post in a Month: Via Matthew Yglesias.

03/06/2003 05:14 AM  |  Comment (1)

Sharks? Meat. Meat? Sharks: From “Cyberia” columnist Jack Kapica in the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Sorry — I shouldn't sound so negative toward blogging. There are many intelligent people who blog eloquently, and I don't mean to run them down. And I don't think there's anything evil in power-to-the-people publishing — it's just that I get uncomfortable when it seems to come at the cost of publications like Salon. […]

[W]hen bloggers achieve ascendancy while an outfit like Salon lies in the intensive-care unit crying for a cash transfusion, the entire sense of trust changes. The social contract to which we have subscribed is no longer valid.

For some actually intelligent opinion, see Sandy McMurray’s thoughtful response to this phone-it-in job. (Thanks, as ever, to Marc Weisblott for the Canadian media poop.)

03/06/2003 01:20 AM  |  Comment (6)

About That War: How many of you are still undecided, conflicted, Gollum-like, etc.? Seems a large portion of my group of thirty-something Blue-state friends -- the vast majority of whom supported the Afghan campaign -- have been untouched by the Certainty Fairy. I’m looking for a simple, short-winded straw poll among the thousand or so of you who frequent this site: Yea, Nay, or Still-can’t-say? If you want to include a blog-link in your answer, obviously, go crazy. UPDATE: After a quick read of the first 73 comments, we're roughly at 37 Yes'ms and 13 Nu-uhs, with 12 Gollums. Many of the yeas and nays were extremely conditional, however. UPDATE II: After 113 comments, I figure the yes-no-maybe count to be 63-19-12. I'm guessing the vote was stronger pro-war, and weaker pro-maybe, than that of the readership.

03/05/2003 08:57 PM  |  Comment (114)

Why the U.S. and France ‘Deserve Each Other’: Nick Denton should write a national weekly syndicated column, exactly one paragraph long, entitled “The Straddler.” Why? Because that’s what he loves to do, putting his loafers squarely in two opposing camps -- Europeans and Americans, New Media and Old Media, ruthless career-climbing capitalists and gentler web-geek revolutionaries, and so on -- then looking down and making clever observations. Today’s example:

Above all, American sanctimoniousness is a constant, and it has always irritated outsiders. It was, and is, almost as annoying as the French version: the pompous belief in France's worldwide mission civilatrice.

Why are they so alike? A nation based on a value system -- as are the US and France -- has qualities. Both France and the US are more open to outsiders than ethnocentric states. The French establishment has always loved those Africans who read Voltaire in the original. But the presumption of superior values, upon which both countries are founded, is as narrow-minded in its way as a traditional assertion of ethnic superiority. In their current squabble, France and the US deserve each other.

03/05/2003 11:10 AM  | 

A Military Man on Patriotic Music: Paul Palubicki explains:

One Ell Michele started up TroopTrax for those willing to donate CD's to folks currently having to suffer through Proud to be an American for the billionth time. I recommend Kid Rock. They played American Badass on the Cole when it finally left Terror Harbor in Yemen. I'll take American Badass over Lee Greenwood anyday. You can't field strip your enemy to soft rock ballads. Well you can, but it just don't feel right.

03/04/2003 10:34 PM  |  Comment (6)

All-News Radio France International Switches to Musical Format: At least for the day. Imagine BBC International playing nothing but music for 24 hours (and not just music, but Bob Marley’s “Get up, Stand up” and such), and you’ll have some idea of the unlikely strike that my wife, a lowly stringer, has successfully organized. She’s also being interviewed (and misquoted) all over the place. UPDATE: I don't want to jump the gun, but it appears after just one day that the RFI stringers have won major concessions, especially for the poor freelancers in Africa. Vive la Spartacus!

03/04/2003 10:22 PM  |  Comment (8)

Renegade Teenage Web Journalist Runs for School Board: Sergio Bichao, “New Jersey’s Teen Matt Drudge,” as I called him in this March 2001 profile, has decided to bum-rush the school district he’s been raking over the coals since his sophomore year in high school. His explanation somehow echoes both Hunter Thompson and Vaclav Havel:

My long-standing crusade for truth and information, as chronicled on this website, has given me much insight into the inner workings of the school board, not to mention a greater understanding of how this government body makes and implements policy.

Secondly, (and just as importantly as the first, although some may argue more), if I don’t do it, just who will? This has been the mantra under which I have done all my civic and activist work. I do the dirty work no one else does. Very few have had the courage, the initiative, and the resolve as I have had to question Hillside’s elected officials and expose the sordid underbelly of this town’s politics. […]

I would like to stress that I am not doing this for the “experience of it” or just to “dabble in something new”; I am serious about my candidacy and I am prepared to take on the challenge of helping to oversee a school district.

He’s got a slate of candidates, a platform, and (of course) a website. You go, Sergio!

03/04/2003 10:03 PM  | 

Where Technology and French Strikes Meet: At InfoGreves.com, naturally! (Via RadioSpartacus)

03/04/2003 03:25 PM  | 

Matt’s Early Baseball Longshot Bets: I’m contemplating a cleansing trip to Vegas at the end of the month, and figured it might be time to finally bet on sporting events, specifically baseball. Since every baseball season brings “shocking” surprises (for last year, see: Angels and Twins, and conversely Mets and White Sox), picking a few longshots seems the most fun.

Before looking at the odds, my Cinderella hunches are:
San Diego Padres -- tons of good young pitching, snakebitten with injuries last year, playing in an aging and potentially mediocre division, voodoo points for preparing to move into a new stadium.
Montreal Expos -- tons of good young talent, snakebitten with contraction last year, playing in an aging division, crazy voodoo points for playing 22 home games in Puerto Rico this year.
Florida Marlins -- tons of good young pitching, snakebitten with turmoil last year, playing in an aging division, just added the second-best catcher in baseball.
Texas Rangers -- tons of promising young talent, a new ball-busting manager (these types tend to register their biggest gains during their first year), the best player in baseball, and a ridiculous weakness (pitching) that could easily be improved by 20 percent or more.
Chicago Cubs -- tons of good young pitching, a new toothpick-chewing manager, playing in an aging and mediocre division, the best right fielder in baseball.

You’ll notice some, er, common themes in my approach. You’ll also notice that much of the same could have been said about the Angels and Twins last Spring Traiing….

Of these, I would have guessed the longest shots by far would be the Rangers (who play in baseball’s best and most pitching-rich division, yet have no pitching), and the Cubs (who stunk last year, then traded for some worthless aging Dodgers). But lo! The Cubs are 3-1 to win the NL Central, 6-1 for the NL Pennant (!), and 12-1 to win the World Series (equal to the Atlanta Braves, and better than the San Francisco Giants). So scratch the Cubs.

The Rangers are 10-1 for the division, 40-1 for the pennant, 80-1 for the Series. 10-1 makes it seem entirely plausible that Texas might win a division with three clearly superior teams; at best I’d give about 25-1 odds on that … so, scratch the Rangers.

My three best bets are the Marlins (10-1, 40-1, 100-1), Pads (15-1, 100-1, 200-1) and especially the Expos (an incredible 30-1, 100-1, and 200-1).

The Expos, remember, came in second place last year. They will split time between Major League Baseball’s worst (and least-crowded) baseball stadium, in friggin’ Quebec, and what will surely be Major League Baseball’s craziest (and loudest) baseball stadium, in friggin’ Puerto Rico. Two of their best players (Jose Vidro and Javier Vazquez) are actually from Puerto Rico, and the other young stars are basically all from the baseball-mad Caribbean basin (superstar Vladimir Guerrero and former all-star Fernando Tatis are from the Dominican Republic, my favorite pitcher Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez is of course from Cuba, fireballer Tony Armas, Jr. is from Venezuela, shortstop Orlando Cabrera is from Colombia … plus there are assorted Panamians, West Covinans, etc.). This has the potential to be one hell of a crazy storybook season.

So not only are the Expos the best longshot bet by far, they’re also going to be the most fun team to root for. Besides the Angels, of course.

03/04/2003 02:48 PM  |  Comment (4)

RadioSpartacus.com! My lovely French wife has organized another strike of 50 stringers for Radio France International, beginning today. The complaint? Laughably low rates (unaffected by the per-story raise given a few years back … because it was never implemented!), “Kafaesque” expense-reimbursement procedures, a lack of special care given to people who work in difficult circumstances (Cuba, Colombia, etc.), inability of Paris editors to use fancy technology like e-mail, etc. The grand irony in this, for those of you who know Emmanuelle, is that she is one of les grenouilles most critical of France’s “sick” working culture of non-stop theatrical labor strife. So why strike? Because it’s the only currency those mothers respect. Everyone, including management, knows stringers are treated like crap -- in no small part due to the absurd 35-hour work week, which draws an even thicker line between the Full-time and the Not -- but management will do little or nothing in a calm negotiation, unless it’s backed by a strike. (I wrote about all this last time she led a walk-out, way before cheap Frog-bashing became hip with the kis.)

Here’s a fun fact: Did you know France was the last Western European country to legalize trade unions?

Anyway, what I’m really excited about is the snazzy website Emmanuelle designed, complete (of course!) with a blog.

03/04/2003 11:46 AM  | 

Globe and Mail -- Welch is ‘Quite Wrong-Headed’!: William Thorsell, director and CEO of the Royal Ontario Museum, dedicates most of an entire column in the Toronto Globe and Mail throwing water on my National Post essay last week about newspaper populism and the new tabloids. The headline on his piece is “All Papers Should Target an Elite Few.”

I could try to nitpick this perfectly fine column, but mostly I’m just tickled to see some guy slagging “Mr. Welch” in the Toronto Globe and Mail…. Still, there is one point where Thorsell’s Toronto-ness gets the best of him (Toronto having an actually competitive media market, unlike 98% of American cities):

Mr. Welch notes that circulation was once valued by papers over profit. But the cost of printing and distributing newspapers is generally greater than the revenues received from selling them to readers. The more you sell, the more you lose, unless advertising revenue (which accounts for about 70 per cent of total revenue) rises faster than readership. At some point it doesn't, and selling more papers makes no business sense. Quantity becomes your foe.

This aspect of newspaper economics is difficult even for seasoned newspaper executives to grasp, so steeped are they in the siren call of higher circulation. But the math shows that the only way to make money, and thus to sustain newsrooms and high-quality printing and distribution, is to define a subset of the total market for newspaper readers, penetrate it to a convincing degree, and then prevent wasteful printing of extra newspapers that do nothing but raise costs and kill trees.

In the States, this “aspect of newspaper economics” has, to the contrary, been the dominant reality for decades. When every monopolist newspaper tries to upgrade circulation demographics, to fend off that nasty foe “quantity” (also known in abstract business theory as “customers”), then A) circulation will go down, even during times of population booms and economic prosperity, and B) they will leave themselves vulnerable to competition for the discarded readers. With production and overhead costs absolutely slashed compared to 10 years ago, and with monopolists having done what monopolies do -- fatten up on staff, establish hidebound bureaucracies, act in a hostile fashion toward customers -- it is now possible for new daily publishers to turn Thorsell’s quite conventional wisdom on its ear. Whether these new free tabloids will be great papers is a mostly separate question, and the answer for the moment is “no, they definitely are not.”

But to dismiss them out of hand on editorial grounds strikes me as silly. You have an industry that has seen precious little innovation for 40 years of nonstop newspaper consolidation and shutdowns (most of which was duly -- and correctly -- whined at by the Columbia Journalism Review crowd), then within three years nearly a dozen new dailies start up, some of which even claim to be profitable ... and newspaper industry people bend over backwards pooh-poohing the things, if they notice them at all. Sure, the papers should be judged, and harshly too, for their editorial content. And yes, I am an incorrigible newspaper optimist, thrilling at the vaguest news of some new publication starting up anywhere. But I see a business model upon which you can graft all kinds of interesting editorial experiments, and I think it’s both exciting and very significant for the newspaper industry. Maybe the new free dailies will be no more than trashier new versions of the old afternoon papers, forever nipping at the heels of the dominant highbrow broadsheet … Well, wouldn’t that be great?

03/04/2003 12:44 AM  |  Comment (4)

A Sad Day for Stat-Heads: Baseball Prospectus, which has grown from a bunch of statistics fanatics posting freely on the Internet into a book-publishing mini-empire now affiliated with (I believe) ESPN, is now forcing readers to pay for “premium content.” They’ll still have a loyal and growing base of readers for their annual books, but they’ve now created a market opening for someone to gather all that restless amateur talent at one location. Suggestions, anyone?

03/03/2003 11:49 PM  |  Comment (7)

Wanna Read my 10-Year-old UPI Stories From Slovakia? Me neither. They are clumsily written and edited, and mostly concern minor governing hiccups. But I found ‘em, so I posted ‘em. Among the few highlights: Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar tells me in an interview: "I don't eat children and … I can use a knife and fork." An aide to then-Polish President Lech Walesa, pissed that Bill Clinton was offering a lukewarm "Partnership for Peace" instead of the promise of full NATO membership, tells me: "We've gone from Chamberlain's umbrella to President Clinton's saxophone." (That was the trip where I got drunk with Helen Thomas.)

Anything else? I’d forgotten completely about the mysterious car crash that killed Roman Zelenay. There was a two-year period around then when WAY too many important politicians and journalists -- including Alexander Dubcek -- died in mysterious car crashes there. Ach, reading these stories reminds me anew of my failure to write the definitive profile of ol’ Vlado, for which I tramped all over the damn country, interviewing his crazy mother, a guy at a small-town swimming club who once watched Meciar kick some dude’s teeth in against a curb; another guy who shoveled coal with him at the local plant after Meciar was punished for his Prague Spring agitating (yes, he was an anti-communist … even though he was later accused of spying for the StB … on Dubcek!) Ah, youth!

03/03/2003 11:18 PM  |  Comment (5)

California Stars: Ken Layne posts a nice mini-essay provoked by Brian Doherty’s Grateful Dead piece; then, with California juices flowing through his icy Reno veins, points us to CaliforniaAuthors.com, which runs a fine new weblog.

For similar reasons, please check out westmag.com, the interesting weblog for the brand-new West magazine, which is attempting to chronicle “the unfolding story of the American frontier.” Sign me up! In other local-publishing news, the LA Examiner mentions a Patt Morrison item about a new putative successor to George magazine that is scheduled to be launched here in L.A. this fall. They’re calling it Common Good for now.

Even more locally, you can find HighwayRobbery.net, a site that “discusses red light camera defects that are not widely known and that may invalidate a large number of tickets in Culver City, West Hollywood, and other California cities.” Also, a local version of FlavorPill.net was scheduled to launch today, though I don’t remember getting an invite to the party. (Hey Nick! When do we get our very own Gawker?)

And, have you visited TabloidBaby yet? Did you know that that free entertainment magazine you see lying around 40 universities, Campus Circle, was launched by a USC student 13 years ago? Finally, give it up for local journalist Todd Everett, whose resume just isn’t complete without a picture of Mr. T, and whose pictures are truly worth more than a thousand words.

03/03/2003 08:44 PM  | 

Luke Ford Prints a Letter or Two From His Mom:

Have you ever thought you might be devil possessed? Of course, you don't believe in one, but that figures. Have you ever thought of going to a Catholic priest about it? Don't think the Jews believe in the devil so they are not likely to try and push him out. There are two yous and that giggly one is the one that needs to come out. Do you remember in India when you were 3 or 4 when you were convinced you saw the devil. Woke up very excited and chatted about the devil for a long time. You were a funny kid and always hyper-. Well, we were in India and there were a lot of dark men at the time, so it could have triggered a dream.
To which Luke responds: "May I quote you?"

03/03/2003 07:31 PM  | 

Lonewacko Re-Contextualizes Unpopular Garofalo Quote: For noble reasons of accuracy … well, mostly.

03/03/2003 06:22 PM  | 

Tim Blair Has the Scoop on Bill Maher’s Pigment: Meanwhile, your favorite Aussie is also conducting a one-day pledge drive. Help keep a pirate unemployed!

03/03/2003 02:50 PM  | 

Report -- Unnamed Saudis Invest in Company That Counts Overseas Absentee Ballots: Newsday reports:

Election.com, a struggling Garden City start-up scheduled to provide online absentee ballots for U.S. military personnel in the 2004 federal election, has quietly sold controlling power to an investment group with ties to unnamed Saudi nationals, according to company correspondence.

In a letter sent to a select group of well-heeled Election.com investors Jan. 21, the online voting and voter registration company disclosed that the investment group Osan Ltd. paid $1.2 million to acquire 20 million preferred shares to control 51.6 percent of the voting power.

In a Newsday interview in October, Charles Smith, a representative of Osan who sits on Election.com's board, declined to name the Saudi Arabian investors with a stake in the company, other than to say they were "passive” and part of a larger group that included Americans and Europeans.

Via Mark Kleiman via Matthew Yglesias.

03/03/2003 02:34 PM  | 

Blog-Hiatus Note of the Day: From Andrew Northrup:

I don't know if anyone out there is sick of hearing my thoughts on politics, but I sure am. I don't know anything. From now on, whenever anyone asks me my opinion on any political issue, I am going to throw my hands in the air, say "I delegated that", and motion in the general direction of Washington, D.C. The outcomes of any policy decisions will be evaluated after the fact, on a ten-point scale, just like on "Are You Hot?" When voting time comes around, I will add up the candidate's scores, make appropriate adjustments for style and degree of difficulty, compare these scores against the median score for all politicians (both for the modern era and over history; for America and world-wide), compute an overall political competance differential (OPD), and then vote Democrat. While you may scoff that my sabermetric political calculus is a cop-out and a willful embrace of ignorance, at least it's quiet.

03/02/2003 11:12 PM  | 

Hi! What are you doing down here?

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