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Quite the World, Isn't It?

Oops -- military flack seems to admit abuses at Gitmo

The Washington Post had a piece over the weekend about a male Navy flack dealing with Guantanamo Bay complaining to the Miami Herald that its female reporter covering Gitmo had subjected him to sexual harassment through rude comments.

Sexual harassment, like racial harassment, sometimes lies in the eyes of the victim, so I'm willing to give the flack room to make his case. But buried in the Post story is this quote from the flack, Commander Jeffrey Gordon:

"Her behavior has been so atrocious over the years," Gordon said in an interview. "I've been abused worse than the detainees have been abused."

"Worse than the detainess have been abused." That rings like a hell of an admission by a military spokesman that the military ha been abusing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Read More 
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Barreling through the mine field

UPDATE: The ,a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jqwi0TSVtxC458-6AKpUuaTpH5FgD99N2MB00""target=_blank">911 tapes indicate the neighbor who called might not have been a neighbor, just a passerby ho had been hailed by another woman, and that she didn't delve into the race of the men at the door until pressed. The more we know, the murkier it gets.

The Henry Louis Gates, Jr.-Cambridge PD showdown caught my eye when it first cropped up -- Facebook friends might remember I posted it there -- and I planned to just ignore it afterward. But that's proven impossible, since you can't escape it. And that echo effect is what has been preying on my mind.

The back story: Gates returned to his rented home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He was with a male friend -- both of them black. He had trouble entering his own front door, so used his shoulder to force it, an action that caught the eye of a neighbor (I think she was white based on scene photo when this first broke that I can't find now). She phoned police, reporting a possible break-in.

The first cop to arrive, Sgt. James Crowley, spotted Gates -- whom he didn't know -- standing in the foyer. He identified himself through the front door, said he was investigating a possible break in and asked Gates to step outside. Gates opened the door and said, "Why, because I'm a black man in America?" The discussion deteriorated from there, all of it inside the house (Gates during the encounter eventually provided the cop with ID). Crowley's version of events are in the police report, available in several places on the Internet, including here.

Context is key. I won't pretend to know what it is like to go through life as a black man in America, but the hurdles, prejudices and lifelong encounters are pretty clear. Like all of us, Gates responded to the situation framed by his personal experience and expectations. As, one presumes, did Crowley, augmented by professional training. It seems to me as though he was doing his job fine until this point -- responding to a call, ascertaining whether there was indeed a crime being committed.

Where he stumbled was when, with Gates yelling, he asked the professor to step outside (ostensibly because Crowley couldn't hear his radio in the loud confines of the house). Once outside he told Gates, in essence, to pipe down. And when Gates didn't, he arrested him for creating a public nuisance. Gates wasn't creating a public nuisance until he obeyed the officer's request to step outside. Inside his own home, Gates was committing no public nuisance -- unless his voice really resonates (the charge eventually was dropped).

I won't go into all the political fallout from this -- it's been as much a distraction as whether Miss California hates gays -- including President Obama's decision a couple of hours ago to skin back his defense of Gates (or at least the words he used). But it's frustrating to see it soaking up so much of our attention -- driven in part by asinine media questions. I am dismayed that this caught fire after a reporter raised the issue during a press conference about health care -- why can't my fellow journos stick to a topic, rather than light a political fire that does not need lighting?

Missed in all of this is who exactly may have been guilty of racial profiling. My nominee: The woman who didn't recognize her own neighbor and mistook him for a burglar. Gates over-reacted, the cop appears to have entrapped him (asking him to step outside where his bellowing could be a crime) and now the news cycle is dominated not by efforts to fix a health care system that is helping bankrupt the country, or even over the scope of racial profiling in America, but over whether the president dissed a cop.

Please. Read More 
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Tuesday will be a good day NOT to be in LA

As the lunacy surrounding Michael Jackson's death and wake intensify, I'm increasingly happy I'll be in San Francisco this coming week (giving a talk and signing copies of Blood Passion Wednesday night). Jackson's family has agreed to a memorial program at Staples Center Tuesday night, which seems reasonable.

But 1.6 million people apparently registered for the lottery to win one of 8,750 pair of tickets. For the rest, not to worry -- nearly all the major television networks and a bunch of cable channels will be airing the event live. Katie Couric, the CBS News anchor, will be on hand for that network, which as of a little bit ago was the only major network not planning live coverage.

Give it time.

Live prime time coverage of a funeral for a pop star? At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly... oh, never mind. I'll be in San Francisco, hopefully at a baseball game that night. You have your entertainment diversions, I have mine ... Read More 
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U2, Barcelona and some shrewd web marketing

A Facebook friend posted this U2 video embedded below, built around the start of their world tour earlier this week in Barcelona. It's an interesting ten minutes, watching the gig come together and getting a sense of the sheer size of the Nou Camp arena, where FC Barcelona plays soccer. The stadium holds 98,000 people, which makes it a little smaller than the football stadium at the University of Michigan, where I used to do occasional stories on the UM-MSU and UM-Notre Dame rivalries. But it's still pretty damn big. For the concert, some 90,000 seats were available. And it took less than an hour to sell out.

What strikes me about this video, though, is the shrewd way U2 uses it for marketing. The video generates some excitement, gives fans a taste of the stage design, offers some close-up, high-resolution video -- but only snippets of songs, presumably to thwart piracy.

So far, only 7,000 views on YouTube, but expect that to grow quickly.

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Digital TV conversion, or how the kitchen went silent

A couple of weeks ago the nation's TV stations went completely digital, dropping the longtime analog system for a digital system that ostensibly frees up airwaves for public safety uses. In general, a good plan. In execution not so much.

I do most of the cooking in our house (when I'm not on the road), and have a small TV on which I watch sports, the news, and the occasional Sunday morning talking-heads show while I work. The TV is older, I think, than our sons, one of those clunky, remote-less 13-inch models that takes up way more space than it needs to.

But it's worked perfectly fine, except for some snow on Channel 2 and a few of the UHF stations, which is understandable -- we live 45 or 50 miles from where most of the Los Angeles TV stations have their antennas.

So now we've been forced into digital land -- and can't get diddly on the set, even with a new antenna and the federally subsidized converter box. I've moved the antenna, re-scanned, moved it again, re-scanned again, but still get hardly any of the major stations, and even those are so weak we get that impromptu stop-action as the screen pixilates and freezes for a few seconds.

There are other sets in the house hooked up to cable so we're not cut off from the world but it has me wondering -- how has this affected low-income, cable-less families in sprawling metro areas like this, or in rural areas?

I have to think this has been a boon for the cable and satellite providers -- I'm contemplating adding a line to the kitchen -- and the phone companies (from whom the government chose not to take bandwidth). But I also have to think a few more ounces of flesh have been taken from the poor. Read More 
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A few thoughts on Michael Jackson and new media

By now you all know Michael Jackson died yesterday, seemingly of a heart attack. There's a ton of coverage out there, some very solid (check out my friend Ann Powers' lovely tribute at the LA Times) and some pretty bizarre, such as the fan who told KABC-7 here in Los Angeles that the death was "life-changing." Well, yeah, in a binary, lights on/lights off kind of way.

A few things jump out at me. Jackson was a powerfully talented singer, songwriter and entertainer, with a shrewd sense of media manipulation and an admirable ability to break down barriers. He was also a tragic figure with a suspicious devotion to children that eventually overwhelmed his standing as a pop music icon (to most of the public, at least).

But I quibble with the hyperbole about his influence on pop music. Pop culture, definitely. Pop music, not as much. Most of Jackson's influence was in a specific cul de sac in pop music, the hit-hunting R&B neighborhood. He built on the creativity of predecessors like James Brown and wisely put himself in Quincy Jones' hands, but while he was toe-dancing and twirling and bringing old R&B showmanship on tour and to MTV, punk visionaries and the hip-hop generation emerged and radically transformed popular music. Against that backdrop, Jackson was less revolutionary than evolutionary.

Part of any major breaking news story is the media covering the media, including this bit from Robert Niles at the Online Journalism Review. Okay, so here goes an assessment of the assessment. Niles points out that people who use Twitter were tweeting away about the death long before it had been confirmed anywhere outside TMZ, which apparently got the scoop (and a hearty congrats to them). Ignoring the point that the tweets were, in effect, lightning-fast gossip, Niles argues media outlets should drop their use of email alerts about major news events because they make the outlets seem "clueless and slow."

Maybe, but only to the folks who rely on tweets for their news. And this strikes at one of the flawed undercurrents of a lot of media analysis right now -- it focuses on the technology more than the message. Twitter is still a new and growing social network with some intriguing potential for use (and abuse). But it is hardly pervasive. I have an account but don't receive tweets because I don't use text-messaging. The vast majority of people in this country don't use Twitter. In this eternal rush to the new we tend to forget about the established. Even with the startling decline of newspapers, outlets like my former employer, the LA Times, still sell hundreds of thousands of printed copies a day.

We can't forsake the old just because there's new. What's emerging aren't full replacements for newspapers but added avenues of information distribution (with some serious economic consequences, to be sure). Radio didn't kill newspapers, TV didn't kill radio and the Internet and Twitter aren't going to be murderous entities either. Like Jackson, they're more evolutionary than revolutionary. With all due respect to Marshall McLuhan, the message is the message. Read More 
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Chris Anderson, Wikipedia and borrowed passages

A blogger at Virginia Quarterly Review (one of the best periodicals out there) dug into Chris Anderson, of Wired fame, and his book Free: The Future of a Radical Idea, and found Anderson had lifted portions of it from Wikipedia. (Ironically, I lifted this book jacket from Anderson's blog page).

Anderson copped to the problems in an email with VQR (the magazine was preparing a review of the book), blaming it on a last-minute decision to not use footnotes. Beyond the fact that nonfiction books without footnotes always make me suspicious, for the life of me I can't figure out why deciding late in the process to drop the footnotes makes a difference. Lifting passages verbatim and then footnoting is just as lazy -- and dishonest -- as cribbing them in the first place, as Ed Champion also notes on his blog.

But Wikipedia? I mean, if you're going to steal ...
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Now it's easier to keep track

You'll notice over to the side the little RSS icon, which you can use to load up the blog on your RSS readers. For those not familiar, it's an easy way to keep track of multiple online sources with one easy mechanism.

There are a variety of readers out there. I use Newsgater but Google has its own reader that seems to be pretty user friendly. Read More 
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There I go getting all multimedia

The travel piece that ran the other day in the Los Angeles Times landed me a fun moment with San Diego radio station KBZT-FM 94.9 this morning, with hosts Hansen and Tommy.

Every Friday morning they do a session with folks from the Stone Brewing Co., which brews some great ales, with smart marketing, i.e., Arrogant Bastard Ale, with the label that warns, "You're not worthy."

After seeing the travel piece the other day, Tommy got in touch and they book me for a short chat about the story. So I got to relive -- briefly -- the road trip I took with Steve Dollar. This is the audio here.

Turns out Hansen and Tommy are doing a July 3 remote broadcast from the Stone brewery, and they suggested I stop down. Though 7 a.m. is a little early for an Arrogant Bastard -- read that any way you want -- I might just show up. Could be fun. Read More 
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This could be a blues song: 'Sentenced to Write'

You often hear writers say that they don't write for pleasure but out of a sense of compulsion -- they have to write.

But there's a difference between that and being sentenced to write. Pity the poor Bristol-Myers Squibb exec ordered by New York Judge Ricardo M. Urbina to serve two years' probation, during which he must write a book about his experiences -- including lying to federal officials over the firm's attempt to settle a patent dispute over Plavix, the blood thinner.

Yes, he sentenced sentences.

The New York Times reports Urbina issued a similar sentence in 1998 to a lobbyist who admitted breaking campaign finance laws. Urbina ordered James H. Lake to pay a $150,000 fine and write and distribute at his own cost a monograph about campaign finance laws covering corporate contributions, and distribute it at his own cost to 2,000 fellow lobbyists.

Our particular little writers' prison is already over-crowded, but what the hell, one more can't hurt ... Read More 
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