Sunday, February 27, 2005

Tooting Our Own Horn

Maybe you didn't notice, but we, uh, our, um, all of our Oscar predictions were correct. Take that, Roger Ebert.

The Big Winner: Million Dollar Baby

Everyone else has weighed in with their Oscar picks, so we figure we might as well, too. After all, we are blogging from Los Angeles and like to think we know more about the film business than the ordinary blogger.

Best Supporting Actress Nominees: Cate Blanchett, Laura Linney, Virginia Madsen, Sophie Okonedo, Natalie Portman

Madsen is the sentimental choice, but we think Blanchett is pretty much a lock. (Though we could be wrong.) We saw her work in The Aviator and were very impressed -- as were we with Portman's work in Closer.

Our Pick: Cate Blanchett

Best Supporting Actor: Alan Alda, Thomas Haden Church, Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman, Clive Owen

Foxx was better in Collateral (where his supporting nod comes from) than in Ray. Alda is the wistful pick (a la Madsen), but his work in The Aviator, though good, wasn't great, so he won't win. Freeman was the rock of Million Dollar Baby. If people remember that he's never won an Oscar, he's the favorite. Clive Owen did good work in Closer, and is the dark horse.

Our Pick: Morgan Freeman

Best Actress: Annette Bening, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Imelda Staunton, Hilary Swank, Kate Winslet

If Bening wins, it will be good for the ratings -- kids will likely confuse her with Clay Aiken and flock to the TV. (She won't win.) Swank and Winslet are head-and-shoulders above their fellow nominees, but Swank has the momentum. Winslet's work in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, however, was truly amazing, and deserving of an Oscar.

Our Pick: Hilary Swank

Best Actor: Don Cheadle, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, Jamie Foxx

DiCaprio did good work in The Aviator; people seem to forget that he can actually act. Eastwood wasn't easy to watch, but he was right for the part. Cheadle is a great actor (we didn't see Hotel Rwanda; we assume he was typically good) but his film was too small. Foxx is the popular choice. And the obvious one -- he turned in a great Ray Charles impersonation, but that, to us, is not the essence of acting.

Our Pick: Jamie Foxx

Best Original Screenplay: John Logan (The Aviator), Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, Pierre Bismuth (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Terry George, Keir Pearson (Hotel Rwanda), Brad Bird (The Incredibles), Mike Leigh (Vera Drake).

That Leigh was nominated is a joke -- he doesn't even write out scripts for his movies. (He had to type up a transcript of the film to submit to the Academy.) Bird will win for Best Animated Film, so he won't here. But The Incredibles was solid storytelling. The story for The Aviator was its weakest link, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Logan's script was poor (we wouldn't be surprised if it was changed by director/producers/stars, which is the norm in Hollywood). Kaufman's script was landmark -- just enough Charlie Kaufman but not crazy enough for it to pull you out of the story. A great film about the nature of relationships for the younger generation.

Our Pick: Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, Pierre Bismuth

Best Adapted Screenplay: Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke (Before Sunset), David Magee (Finding Neverland), Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby), Jose Rivera (Motorcycle Diaries), Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor (Sideways)

Magees's script was horribly inaccurate, historically speaking. Haggis wrote a great screenplay -- except for the third act. Payne and Taylor haven't written a bad movie yet.

Our Pick: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor

Best Director: Clint Eastwood, Taylor Hackford, Mike Leigh, Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese

Eastwood deserves it. Scorsese did good work but not better than Eastwood; he might win because he should have won in the past but didn't. Hackford, who did Ray, is a hack and doesn't belong here at all. Payne is a great writer and a capable director. It's between Eastwood and Scorsese.

Our Pick: Clint Eastwood

Best Picture: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Ray, Sideways

If Million Dollar Baby wasn't so good, The Aviator would win. Sideways is a good picture but never had a chance to win this category. Ray, like Hackford, doesn't belong here. Finding, we didn't see it. (But how good can it be?)

Our Pick: Million Dollar Baby

We'll post a scorecard after the Oscars -- accountability!

We Interrupt Oscar-Blogging...

Diane Diamond has an interesting column in today's New York Post about the genesis of Michael Jackson's relationship with his current accuser.
Michael Jackson surely did a good thing when he called a young cancer patient struggling to survive in a California hospital. The phone call lifted the boy's spirits and for a brief moment helped him re-engage in life.

The entertainer told the 11-year-old about his mystical home called Neverland Ranch, and invited him to visit when he felt better. They spoke about famous people Michael Jackson knew and the show "The Simpsons," and the boy shared his dream of becoming an actor.

But the youngster was seriously ill. His weight had dropped from 100 to just 68 pounds. Doctors warned his parents that few survive fourth-stage cancer and suggested they start thinking about funeral plans. But somehow, the boy endured the cancer and the removal of his spleen, one of his kidneys and several lymph nodes. When the cancer moved into his lungs, he beat that, too. In August 2000, the boy felt well enough to travel. He and his family — his father, mother, younger brother and older sister — accepted Jackson's invitation and were picked up in a limousine and driven to Neverland.

That first night the two boys, aged 11 and 9, slept in Jackson's bedroom, and the rest of the family was guided to guest quarters away from the main house. And on that first trip, the boys told the grand jury, Jackson gave them the gift of a laptop computer.

The children would later tell a grand jury that on that first night, the gift helped bring about their introduction to Internet porn sites — XXX-rated pornography — that Jackson and his adult friend Frank Cascio Tyson helped them reach and navigate. These brothers had just entered an entirely new way of life.
RELATED: Our previous Michael Jackson post

Oscar Fashion

We really don't care who is wearing what - let Joan Rivers worry about that. But it's going to be hard to top this number that Prince wore back in the 80s when he won the Oscar for Best Song for Purple Rain. (Note: the photo doesn't really do the cape justice.)

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Other Side of Oscar

For the rest of the world, the Oscars are a magical night filled with entertainment superstars - the closest Hollywood gets to its wistfully-remembered glamourous earlier years. But living in Los Angeles, you see the other side of the Oscars. The business of Oscar. The politics of Oscar. The overkill of Oscar.

Oscar is important to Hollywood for one reason: money. Yes, there's the "prestige" associated with winning an Academy Award, but not for the suits that run the industry.

The Oscars have always been a multi-hour commercial for Hollywood, publicity the networks pay to air, but today that's true to an even larger degree. The biggest movies of 2004, in terms of box office receipts (which is the industry measuring stick) are not going to be talked about much on Sunday night. Spiderman 2 is not up for best picture, nor is The Passion of the Christ.

The movies that will be getting air time -- Sideways, Hotel Rwanda, and Million Dollar Baby, among others -- are not of the blockbuster mold. No, these are different kind of movies. Movies that Hollywood doesn't know how to sell. Clint Eastwood as an aging boxing trainer and Hilary Swank as a wannabe female pugilist? How, the marketing department asks, do we sell that to 13 year-olds in Peoria?

And so the major Hollywood studios have turned to using the Oscars to sell these kinds of movies -- movies that would otherwise have gotten little attention (read: promotion). An Oscar win is worth millions of extra dollars at the box office and in DVD sales.

Most people don't realize that companies like Miramax, Focus Features, and Fox Searchlight are actually divisions of larger studios like Disney, Universal, and 20th Century Fox, respectively. And when a cheap, artsy film is financially successful, those profits can subsidize a studio's losses on a big budget turkey like, say, Gigli. Which is why the Oscars are a big deal to Hollywood. Yes, the prestige of winning an Academy Award is nice, but what that does to the bottom line is more important. Because keeping your job in this industry isn't predicated on how many Oscars you have on your shelf but by how much money you make.

Hyperbole? We think not!

From Sunday's LA Times Magazine:
"[Oscar host] Chris [Rock] is one of the smartest guys I've ever met," says [Gil] Cates, who has produced 11 Oscars shows. "If he weren't a comedian, he would be a molecular biologist or something. If you take the expletives out, [his work] is social and political satire—he's the De Tocqueville of this century."

Friday, February 25, 2005

Acting Cool

In the mail today: Acoustic Orphans, the first CD from BT4, an up-and-coming artist we say play at the Whisky a few weeks ago. (Yes, that Whisky.) We're not big into the indie rock scene -- it's just too hard (and expensive) to stay on top of it in a place crawling with young bands like Los Angeles.

But this kid got our attention. Maybe that's partly because we're used to suffering through Green Day wannabees -- BT4 doesn't plug in, so you can actually hear the lyrics, the melody, the song.

We like Acoustic Orphans (and we're hard to please). It's good acoustic rock that's well-produced, with samples and synthesizers that don't overpower the songs. BT4's got a nice vocal range and can clearly play the guitar. It's always exciting to hear someone with talent who has the chance to be on a major record label one day - to tell your friends to listen to so-and-so because one day he's going to be big. We got that feeling while listening to Acoustic Orphans, which might be why we've already told our friends about it.

Listen to previews from Acoustic Orphans at

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Everyone's Favorite

Forget Doug Wead's harmless Bush Tapes -- some former friends of Michael Moore are revealing what he's really like in the March issue of Vanity Fair.
A former manager, Douglas Urbanski, tells VF that Moore was the "only client I ever fired."

Urbanski says the liberal Moore was obsessively focused on money. "He never had enough money," Urbanski recalled.

Arrogance may have also played a role in Moore's negative political impact with "Fahrenheit."

Urbanski described Moore as "exasperatingly rude."

"We walked out of restaurants because Michael found the service too slow," he remembered.
Some other interesting tidbits:
Moore once thought he could be the "the biggest star of a sitcom in America." He likened himself to the next Jackie Gleason. "I can be bigger than Jackie Gleason and I don't know why it's not happening ... I am a movie star," Moore said.

Moore is still angry with Mel Gibson, whose Icon productions backed out of producing "Fahrenheit." Moore claims Gibson backed out of Fahreheit after being threatened with no more invitations to the White House. Gibson's spokesman, Alan Nierob, told VF that Mel has not accepted any invitations from the White House, "so why would he be concerned about not getting one?"

Moore is also miffed with Gibson because TIME magazine wanted to feature both he and Gibson as possible co-Persons of the Year. But Gibson balked at the idea he would sit down with Moore for an interview with TIME.

As for Disney and its CEO Michael Eisner backing out of plans to back "Fahrenheit," Moore sees more conspiracies. He suggested to VF that a Saudi investment in Euro Disney caused Disney to bail on him. Previously, Moore has alleged that Eisner was worried Bush's brother, Fla. governor Jeb Bush, would pull tax breaks that benefits Disney's Florida theme park.

Changing Their Tune? (Not Likely)

The New York Times prints a story that presents our military efforts in Iraq in a surprisingly positive the sports section. Pete Thamel writes about the friendship between Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Brown, a colonel in the Army serving in Iraq who played for Krzyzewski at West Point.
Brown has experienced an array of emotions since arriving in Iraq late last year. He oversaw the elections in Mosul last month but also had to deal with a suicide bombing at a mess tent in December that killed 22 people, including 14 American soldiers.

In both situations, triumphant and tragic, Brown said he leaned on principles that Krzyzewski taught him.

After the bombing at the mess hall, Brown said, everyone was evacuated within 20 minutes, which he estimated saved 10 lives. He credited communication and teamwork in a time of chaos for the smooth response.

He said those same tenets were also used when organizing the Iraqi elections.

"It was like playing the undefeated team in the N.C.A.A. championships and we kicked their butts," Brown said. "The terrorists tried everything they could, but the elections were an incredible success."
And get this: the Times didn't follow that paragraph with a contradictory quote from Juan Cole ("Col. Brown clearly does not speak Arabic...") to balance out the positiveness. In fact, Thamel even managed to slip this closing paragraph past the, editors:
"The idea of teamwork is what's making us successful in Iraq," Brown said. "I learned a lot about teamwork at West Point, but nowhere more than on the basketball court from Coach K."
Successful? Thank goodness the Times hasn't been our sole source of news. Otherwise we wouldn't know what Brown was talking about!

Dispatches from a Parallel Universe

The rain in Los Angeles has lifted -- at least temporarily -- so we turn our attention to Sunday's Oscar telecast. It's another opportunity for our favorite Hollywood activists to tell us what's wrong with this county.
“As long as you salute the right wing, you are endowed with great intelligence and patriotic spirit. But anyone else who speaks up with independence is some sort of traitorous bastard. It’s such a tired act,” says Hollywood activist Mike Farrell (M.A.S.H., Providence) defending [Oscar host Chris] Rock’s right to be funny. “I just turned down a Geraldo interview about why Hollywood is out of step with the rest of the country. This is such bullshit.”
Yeah. Interesting.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

This Is What Happens When You Teach Animals To Communicate With Humans

The story of the day:
Two women who helped care for a famous gorilla have sued the foundation nurturing Koko, saying they were fired for refusing to show the animal their breasts, lawyers said on Friday.

The lawsuit says the president of the Gorilla Foundation, Francine Patterson, sought to have the women bond with the gorilla by performing "bizarre sexual acts with Koko."

"Through sign language, as interpreted by Patterson, Koko 'demanded' plaintiffs remove their clothing and show Koko their breasts," the lawsuit said.

"Patterson pressured plaintiffs to perform such acts, regularly and consistently, and on at least one occasion, outdoors where others could see," the lawsuit added.
Reuters seems to miss out on the most important part of the story: Koko is a female gorilla...which means she's a lesbian!

The Tragedy Continues...

The tragic unintended economic consequences of a Hollywood breakup reverberate throughout the world:
Sculptors in London's Madame Tussaud's museum were forced to break up a waxwork figure of Hollywood superstars Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston embracing following their separation last month.

"It involved quite a lot of work, because they were entwined and had their arms around each other," said museum spokeswoman Diane Moon Monday. "Jen had one of her hands on Brad's chest and her other hand was resting on his bottom."

The procedure, which involved remolding their arms, cost around 10,000 pounds, or the equivalent of $19,000, and the separated figures have been put back on display with their backs to each other.
Like middle-aged women who believe they once again have a chance with Pitt, you'd think that Moon would want the two to stay estranged. But apparently not.

Despite the cost of separation, Moon is hopeful the couple, who separated in January this year, will reunite.

"We would like them to get back together again because that would be a nice happy ending and we don't mind spending the money entwining them again," she said.
It seems that Moon hasn't heard that Aniston is, uh, switching teams.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

For those of you unfamiliar with this prodigious blog, we're based in southern California. Most of the time, we get to laugh and snicker while the rest of the country endures frigid winds, ice storms, blizzards, tornadoes, get the picture. About the only things you have to worry about out here are earthquakes (no small matter) and rain. Yes, that's right, rain.

When it comes to water falling from the sky, most southern Californian are pansies. They're girlie men. But not us. We're originally from the midwest, so we know what real weather is like -- and that includes real rain storms. The rain that you've been hearing about in the news over the last few days isn't quite as apocalyptic as it's been made out to be. The problem isn't the rain itself, but the flooding (which is caused by the poor drainage systems more than anything else) and the telegenic mudslides.

We're used to sunny, clear days with a day or two of rain every four months or so. Over the past few years, rain has been quite rare. In fact, we were -- were -- in the midst of a lengthy drought. But now the rain has returned, which shouldn't come as a surprise to any southern California resident. February is notorious for bringing wet weather to the southland. Unless you're living in a canyon or at the foot of a mountain or on a street with clogged sewers, it's usually a nice change of pace.

Of course, now that we've had clouds and rain for a few days, we think it's time for things to get back to normal. And by normal we mean sunshine and 72 degrees.

Bush Breaks Out the Vaunted Ass-Palm?

Back to Regularly Scheduled Programming

There's an interesting piece in Tuesday's NY Times about Netflix, the online DVD rental subscription service. We just happened to sign up for Netflix at the beginning of this month, and already we've seen nine movies, with more on the way. Because of our day job, we watch more than the average person, but we think the service is a good deal even if you're not a power user.

If you figure that most DVDs cost between $15 - $20, paying a little under $20 a month for unlimited (er, three at a time) rentals without the threat of late fees is very reasonable. There aren't any hidden fees (such as return postage) and Netflix has a very impressive selection to choose from. It's that selection that really sets them apart from your neighborhood Blockbuster or local library. If it's out on DVD, you can get it from Netflix. And if you live near a major metropolitan area, turnaround time is minimal; you send one back and two days later the next arrives. It's not as fast as FedEx overnight, but it's also not bad, considering you aren't paying for shipping. True, you can't make an impulse rental like you can in the video store, but most of us rent things that we've already added to a mental list of movies we want to see. Netflix just let's you write that list down and sends you those DVDs in order.

We're not getting paid to shill for the company (and we doubt that they're going to buy a BlogAd on this site), but we'd recommend their service. If you don't have an extra $20 a month to spend, then don't spend it. But if you can spare the cash and rent a decent amount of movies, and don't want to have to worry about late fees, you ought to investigate signing up.

UPDATE: We just stumbled upon this Netflix user blog. It's a good mix of praise and criticism.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Who Cares? (Um...We Do)

It appears that our previous post on Dan Rather hasn't ignited the firestorm we thought it would. That's fine -- what each blogger finds linkworthy is their prerogative. But before everyone writes it off as just a tempest in a teapot, let's take a look at it again and try to figure out if it really is a newsworthy story.

Back in 1965, while covering the Vietnam War for CBS, Dan Rather helped carry a wounded U.S. soldier, which was caught on film by Rather's cameraman. Rather then requested that the incident not be aired by the network. Dan Bauder included this anecdote in his piece on the retirement special CBS is airing on Rather's final night.
While reporting in Vietnam in 1965, Rather helped carry a wounded soldier to a helicopter and held a tourniquet to stop his bleeding - but the footage was never aired at his request.
Bauder's source was Susan Zirinsky, who is producing the special, has a longtime working relationship with Rather and was at one time known as his personal producer, a position that Mary Mapes seemed to inhabit the last few years.

In the March 2005 issue of Texas Monthly magazine, Gary Cartwright (who has produced several made-for-TV movies at CBS, all based on his fiction writings) interviewed Rather and others at CBS News about the memos and Rather's career. One of the people he spoke with was Zirinsky, who showed Cartwright clips of Rather's work during the turbulent 1960s. One of the clips was of the aforementioned Vietnam incident. This is how Cartwright described what he saw:
On this last clip I see a soldier rush to help a fallen comrade and hear him call out, “We need some help here.” Then I see a very young Dan Rather hurrying toward them, yelling, “I’ll give you a hand.” Moments later Rather is carrying one corner of the litter as they evacuate the dying Marine. “Note to New York,” he says on film a little later. “Don’t use that part of me carrying out that wounded soldier.” “Of course CBS used it,” Zirinsky tells me. “It showed our humanity.”
Cartwright doesn't mention Rather holding a tourniquet (as Bauder does), but that doesn't mean it wasn't in the footage. That's a discrepancy that can be easily resolved by viewing the clip. (It's worth noting that Cartwright has but Bauder has not; he was only repeating what Zirinsky told him.) We're assuming that did hold a tourniquet but Cartwright neglected to mention it in his story. Fair enough.

But what Cartwright quotes Zirinsky as saying -- "Of course CBS used it" -- clearly conflicts with what she told Dan Bauder. Before we go any further, let us point out that this controversy has nothing to do with Dan Rather himself. He clearly acted heroically in the field, and that he didn't want the footage to be used is admirable. The headline of our previous post (Another Rather Lie?) was written before all of the additional reporting was done and added in the form of updates. Prior to finding out who Bauder's source was, it was conceivable that this story had come from Rather himself. That's why we added a question mark to the end -- and then went to work to find the answer. It's "no." Let's be clear: other than that he's the individual depicted in the footage, this has little to do with Dan Rather.

It does, however, have everything to do with one of the following: Susan Zirinsky and Gary Cartwright. Either Gary Cartwright misquoted Zirinsky when she said that CBS aired the incident (which is what Matthew Sheffield at RatherBiased thinks happened), or Zirinsky changed her story between January 11th (when she met with Cartwright) and last week. If Cartwright's at fault, this whole incident is just another example of why people don't think they can believe much of anything they read in newspapers or magazines. But because Cartwright quoted Zirinsky directly, instead of paraphrasing what she said, we're not ready to jump to that conclusion just yet. If the quote is accurate, Cartwright is absolved of any journalistic malfeasance.

Which leaves us with Susan Zirinsky. It's quite possible that when she talked to Cartwright, she thought the clip had aired. Then, sometime before she talked to Bauder, she learned that it hadn't aired. If that's the case, it's her responsibility to call Cartwright and correct herself. Even if the magazine's already out (we're not 100% positive, but we think it is), they have a right to know and their readers deserve a correction. The rest of us who've seen these conflicting reports deserve to know which one is the truth.

That's assuming that CBS didn't air the footage. If it did, Zirinsky has major explaining to do, the Associated Press has a retraction to print, and the rest of us have a question to ponder: why would a CBS employee lie about actions the network took forty years ago against the wishes of the man they're currently forcing out of the anchor chair?

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Another Lie From Rather?

Dan Rather -- in any form -- seems to be bad luck for journalists. In a recent Associated Press article on CBS's "one-hour prime-time tribute to Dan Rather," reporter David Bauder writes:
While reporting in Vietnam in 1965, Rather helped carry a wounded soldier to a helicopter and held a tourniquet to stop his bleeding - but the footage was never aired at his request.
Oh really? That's interesting, because we just read an article in Texas Monthly ("Dan Rather Retorting") and there seems to be some, uh, misunderstanding:
While showing me a video of old clips of Rather in action, [48 Hours Mystery executive producer Susan] Zirinsky tells me, “Dan will do anything—anything. The clips are live reports from a Louisiana civil rights march in 1962, in which dozens of blacks were teargassed; that ugly moment in history when Governor George Wallace blocked the door of the registrar’s office at the University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, to prevent two blacks from enrolling; and the jungles of Vietnam in 1965. On this last clip I see a soldier rush to help a fallen comrade and hear him call out, “We need some help here.” Then I see a very young Dan Rather hurrying toward them, yelling, “I’ll give you a hand.” Moments later Rather is carrying one corner of the litter as they evacuate the dying Marine. “Note to New York,” he says on film a little later. “Don’t use that part of me carrying out that wounded soldier.” “Of course CBS used it,” Zirinsky tells me. “It showed our humanity.” [Emphasis added]
No word yet on whether Bauder's false reporting was meant as an homage to Rather. Or if Bauder's misleading source was a CBS press release (we demand an investigation!) or Rather himself.

UPDATE: If the Vietnam anecdote did come from CBS, then someone is lying -- either the press contact at CBS who gave the info to Bauder (and perhaps the rest of the media, via press release), or -- more likely -- the CBS press contact's source. Who could very well be Rather himself. [See further update below: RatherBiased finds out from Bauder who his source was.]

GIANT UPDATE: The Rather Special is being produced by Susan Zirinisky. Zirinsky is quoted at length in the full-version of the AP article we cited above, which makes her the probable source of the anecdote. And if not, she certainly didn't make an effort to correct the AP. (Because she was quoted in it, we're pretty sure she read the article.) Somewhere along the line, her story seems to have changed. WHY?

ANOTHER UPDATE: An earlier post from RatherBiased has some background information on Zirinksy:
Zirinsky, incidentally, worked for Rather for decades as a producer of the "CBS Evening News" and as the executive producer of "48 Hours." She also made some waves during the first Bush adminisration for attending an interview the president gave to CBS (but not to Rather who was persona non grata after his infamous ambush interview) and shouting at her colleagues to confront Bush on Iran-contra.
THE LATEST UPDATE: The big question that needs to be answered is why CBS/Zirinsky would lie about whether they aired Rather's assisting the wounded soldier. Because it makes for a better postscript than, "CBS News ignored Rather and ran the piece anyway"? Airing it against his wishes doesn't seem to be something that would be all that damning to network and certainly not to Rather. If anything, lying about such a small point undercuts the power of what the story is supposed to illustrate about Rather's character. By not getting it right, CBS/Zirinsky/the AP are shining a big, bright light on the kind of credibility problems that got Rather in trouble in the first place.

WE LOVE TO UPDATE: RatherBiased has done some additional reporting, contacting David Bauder of the AP. Bauder confirms that Zirinsky was his source for the Vietnam anecdote.
After conferring with Bauder, we're inclined to think that the discrepancy is arising from some unclear wording on Zirinsky's part since she was also the source for Bauder's statement that CBS had not used the footage.

At this point, it seems likely that Zirinsky meant to say that CBS did not use the video back in the 1970s [sic] but did decide to use it in the upcoming Rather-hosted self-tribute CBS will be broadcasting on the day of his retirement from the "Evening News" anchor desk.

In other words, Bauder stands by his story and thinks that the Texas Monthly writer misquoted Zirinsky. We're not willing to believe (as RatherBiased seems to) Zirinsky "meant" to say that CBS did not air it back in the 60s but would air it on the day of Rather's retirement. Read the passage from Texas Monthly again:
On this last clip I see a soldier rush to help a fallen comrade and hear him call out, “We need some help here.” Then I see a very young Dan Rather hurrying toward them, yelling, “I’ll give you a hand.” Moments later Rather is carrying one corner of the litter as they evacuate the dying Marine. “Note to New York,” he says on film a little later. “Don’t use that part of me carrying out that wounded soldier.” “Of course CBS used it,” Zirinsky tells me. “It showed our humanity.”
When Zirinksky says, "Of course CBS used it," that sounds like past tense to us. And it doesn't sound like unclear wording, either.

According to the article, Zirinsky showed him these clips on the day after the Thornburg Report was released: January 11th. The AP article was written more than a month later. Either Zirinsky found out she was wrong, or she decided to change her story.

It's unlikely we're going to get a straight answer from anyone at CBS, but certainly if they did air the piece, there's someone out in the blogosphere who remembers watching it. If we start hearing from these people, we'll know that Zirinsky was lying, and that the AP report was wrong. If not, Zirinsky ought to come forward and explain herself, and then see that the Texas Monthly article is corrected.

The NY Times is Smart!

In a breaking story, the New York Times reveals that a friend (or former friend) of President Bush's taped many of their conversations between 1998 and 2000. It seems that the geniuses at the Times have learned their lesson from Dan Rather:
The New York Times hired Tom Owen, an expert on audio authentication, to examine samples from the tapes. He concluded the voice was that of the president.
Apparently the guys at PowerLine were unavailable.

Friday, February 18, 2005

New Calvin Klein Ad Campaign Announced


Jeff Greenfield: Foot In Mouth?

CNN's Jeff Greenfield spoke this week at UCLA at an event that was sponsored in part by the Daniel Pearl Foundation. Pearl's father, Judea, is a professor of computer science at UCLA; he and his wife Ruth run the foundation. It was the third in a series of annual lectures on journalism and international relations held in Daniel Pearl's memory. (Pearl's widow, Mariane, has been in the news recently because of her an affair with flavor-of-the-month Eason Jordan, though it appears that Jordan has moved on and is now dating former screen siren Sharon Stone.)

We learned of Greenfield's speech in the UCLA student newspaper, the Daily Bruin. It might seem a little unfair to call out a student operation, but its article neglects to include some very important parts of Daniel Pearl's story.
A prominent writer for The Wall Street Journal, Pearl was kidnapped and executed in 2002 while doing a story in Pakistan. His captors released a home video documenting Pearl's death and demanding the release of prisoners and warning other American journalists in Muslim countries.
But why was Pearl captured and killed? Because he was Jewish and suspected of being a spy. His captors titled that home video, "
The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl." That's particularly relevant information, especially considering that Greenfield's lecture was given at the Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center of Jewish Life at UCLA and that like Pearl, Greenfield is a Jewish journalist. And it's quite ironic that it's not included in the article, in light of this, the very next paragraph:
The Daniel Pearl foundation, run by Pearl's parents, has sponsored the lecture series as an attempt to continue and promote what they described as their son's legacy of unbiased reporting. [emphasis added]
We disagree with their assessment of his legacy (that's not to insinuate that his reporting was biased; we simply think that his legacy is more related to illumating the depravity of the Islamofacist enemy), but assuming for a moment that they're correct, couldn't leaving out a key part of the Pearl story -- his heritage and its integral role in his death -- in an article on a lecture given by the foundation established in his memory be construed as an example of biased reporting?

But let's not sit here and pile on the Daily Bruin; they're still learning. Greenfield, on the other hand, has been a professional journalist for a long time. What's his excuse?
Speaking about American media in a 45-minute speech, Greenfield refrained from analyzing specific incidents of bias in the media, and instead asked people to look inward to determine the root of the alleged problem.

"Are you part of the problem?" Greenfield rhetorically asked.
Finally, someone (from CNN, no less) willing to stick his neck out on the subject of MSM bias and point the finger students?!
Greenfield also spoke about the public['s] aversion to reading material that goes against their own core beliefs. To many people, Greenfield explained, "unwelcome info is proof of bias."
Especially CNN executives, who have an aversion to reading the latest ratings showing them getting spanked by FOX News...because that unwelcome information is clearly biased!
Greenfield cited the profusion of various media sources, from satellite news to Internet Web logs, as partially responsible for creating an atmosphere of unaccountability where people struggle to find trustworthy sources.
That's interesting. Blogs creating an atmosphere of unnaccountability? Tell that to Dan Rather. Or Eason Jordan. Or Trent Lott. If anything, the blogosphere and satellite networks like FOX News are the ones holding the rest of the media responsible -- and it's that irresponsibility exhibited by the MSM that has sent people looking for trustworthing sources in the first place. But Greenfield doesn't seem to get that. Big surprise.

UPDATE: Speaking of Rather, we just broke a story that one of the stories being told about his "legacy" isn't exactly accurate. Is it too late for CBS to re-edit their special send-off? Maybe they'll decide that the anecdote is fake but accurate. (You should read our post now before Instapundit links to it, then brag to all your friends.)

NOTE: We've refrained from mentioning the name of the article's author because his editors are equally likely to be responsible for what is or wasn't in his piece. We're not claiming that any of the parties involved were biased; just that they left out some very important information. Because the Daily Bruin is run by students (and therefore more prone to misquoting than, say, the professionals at the New York Times), we acknowledge the possibility that Greenfield's remarks were taken out of context or incorrectly paraphrased. If Greenfield believes this to have happened, he (or the Daniel Pearl Foundation) is welcome to provide us with a transcript of his remarks (shades of Eason!) and we'll gladly post it here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Steroid Mania!

Mark McGwire in Oakland and later with St. Louis

There's been much talk in the sports world recently about former baseball player Jose Canseco's new tell-all book, most of it centered around his allegations of steroid use by potential Hall of Famers like Sammy Sosa, Ivan Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, and, most notably Mark McGwire.

That Canseco writes about injecting McGwire in the buttocks while both were members of the Oakland A's is particularly interesting, not so much for the shock value of one 250 lb. man injecting a substance into another 250 lb. man's ass (after all, Canseco claims this took place in the Oakland locker room, in the heart of the Bay Area) but because, unlike fellow home run record-breakers Sosa and Barry Bonds, McGwire had generally been considered as a clean player, at least as far as steriods were concerned. (McGwire admitted taking androsterone, a supplement later outlawed by Major League Baseball, during the season he broke Roger Maris' home run record. Canseco thinks McGwire put a bottle of andro in his own locker as misdirection, to ward off talk of steroid use.)

Tony LaRussa, the man who managed McGwire and Canseco in Oakland, came to McGwire's defense as soon as Canseco's allegations surfaced in the media. Wednesday, he told 60 Minutes II (yes, that fine institution) that he knew that Canseco had been using steroids; earlier he went on record as saying that McGwire's growth was natural. But we're not convinced.

As a rookie, McGwire hit 49 home runs -- an incredible number during the 1980s. He was clearly a talented player with seemingly preternatural slugging ability. But that doesn't mean he didn't take advantage of that ability -- intensify it -- by using steroids.

Whether or not you believe Canseco is a credible source, it's clear that among baseball players, steroid use was not a taboo. It wasn't looked down on. No one, including managers like Tony LaRussa, stepped in a told players to stop.

How likely is it, then, that while Canseco was reaping the benefits of juicing up, his teammate McGwire watched and then, instead of trying to take advantage of Canseco's secret weapon, he went off to the weight room to try to match Canseco's unnatural physique in a natural manner? When there was no peer pressure in baseball not to use steroids.

McGwire (and anyone in similar circumstances) would had to have had an incredible moral compass for that to be the case, a rock solid sense of right and wrong. But great athletes -- and McGwire certainly qualifies as that -- are not always the mythical, moral heroes we make them out to be; they're very human, with flaws just like the rest of us. So to expect McGwire to resist such a temptation -- well, it's not the first conclusion we'd jump to.

That's not to say that McGwire didn't resist. We're just acknowledging it existed (in the form of Canseco, who says that McGwire did succumb), and that our common sense says Canseco is probably telling the truth. Remember, McGwire's ability rapidly deteriorated after his record-breaking season -- a sign of possible steroid use.

We'll probably never know the truth, and as far as we're concerned, that's just as well. What matters, at the end of the day, is not that McGwire did or didn't take steroids. What matters is that the hundreds of thousands of kids trying to emulate his physique know that using steroids is not a safe way to do that.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Why We Love Our Governor

Perusing the Drudge Report this afternoon, we noticed this headline: "California Considers Taxing Drivers -- By The Mile." Our initial reaction was that this was likely another instance of the California legislature attempting to penalize citizens who do things like drive environmentally unfriendly cars under the guise of curbing pollution. Think of it as a morality tax, similar to the taxes states place on cigarettes: the equivalent of a punitive tax on SUVs in an effort to prevent people from buying them, because, as we all know, anyone who drives an SUV hates the environment and deserves to be punished. In years past, stories like these were doubly troubling, because it was likely such measures would be passed into law. Today, however, our first thought was: the Governor would never let that happen.

Yes, we mean Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger has restored a healthy dose of common sense to the statehouse, and not a moment too soon. Under Gray Davis it had been a haven for liberals looking to test out their radical (and often debilitating, economically and otherwise) ideas on the people of California. That's part of the reason that the state was in such bad shape when Davis was recalled back in 2003, and why Schwarzenegger was the perfect man to replace him. Yes, he is the most politically astute politician California has seen since Ronald Reagan, but good political instincts don't necessarily mean you'll do a good job once you're elected. The reason the Governor has started to turn the state around isn't all that complicated: unlike most of the elected officials in Sacramento, he has a lot of common sense. And he's not afraid to use it.

We think it's partly due to his background, growing up around communism in Austria, then coming to the United States with little more than his insatiable drive to be the best. He made his money the old-fashioned way: by earning it. He knows what it takes to build a successful business, and he understands why small businesses are vital to the state's health, economically and otherwise. He's lived, worked, and succeeded in the real world; unlike career politicians or those who have never worked in the private sector, Schwarzenegger doesn't need a bevy of "experts" to tell him what works and what doesn't. Thank goodness he has veto power over any crazy idea to come out of the General Assembly.

* * *

After reading the article about the per-mile tax, we realized that our assumption was incorrect. It seems that as more and more people buy hybrid cars that use considerably less gasoline, states are concerned that they will bring in less revenue from their gasoline tax. As a possible replacement, Oregon is testing a new "per-mile" tax measured by a GPS system installed on the car itself.

If the gas tax is intended to be equivalent to a service fee for using the state's roads and highways, it makes sense that a per-mile tax would be a better gauge of what that fee ought to be, as it factors out the wildly divergent miles-per-gallon rates of various types of automobiles.

However, it should be noted that integral to this tax being levied is the state knowing, at all times, where your car is. From a community safety/law enforcement standpoint, that might be a good thing, but in terms of civil liberties, it certainly is not. Also subject to debate is the nature of the gas tax itself -- is it really meant to be a road use fee, or is it meant to be a tax on gas? We thought it was a tax on gas. We're aware that taxes go toward the construction and upkeep of our roads and highways, but we didn't realize the relationship was so direct. (Nor should it be, in our opinion.) Changing the tax seems to be a way for states to maintain their revenue levels. But we don't think the purpose of taxation is so that the government ensures it brings in x amount of dollars, regardless of the particulars of each tax.

Replacing the gas tax also eliminates part of the reason why people are buying higher-mileage hybrids in the first place. Certainly states don't want to discourage their citizens from buying these more environmentally-conscious automobiles.

We admit, however, that if states are intent on obtaining the amount of revenue they're accustomed to by whatever means necessary, the per-mile tax being discussed is preferable to the alternative, which is simply increasing the gas tax -- an unlikely move but not out of the realm of possibility. Doing anthing that raises the price of gas, especially now, is not going to be a popular move, but it could be justified by a politician as an environmentally important measure in that it would potentially spur on more citizens to buy hybrids. But that would penalize anyone without a hybrid (most of us) or the means to buy one (again, most of us).

So, what's the best move? We're not sure. But we know one thing: as long as Schwarzenegger's in office, we don't have to worry about every kook proposal discussed in the statehouse being signed into law anymore. And that's why, next year, we think the Governator will be soundly re-elected...that is, elected for his first full term.

Monday, February 14, 2005

More Intrigue!

The New York Post is reporting (rather cryptically) that Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart is considering leaving USC for the NFL.

The Post has learned that two-time Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart is considering attempting to qualify for the supplemental draft, which would allow him to play in the NFL this fall. Leinart would either have to graduate USC in May or drop out of school to qualify, according to Greg Aiello, the league's VP of public relations.

"The purpose of the supplemental draft is not a means for players to avoid the regular draft," Aiello said. "You have to qualify."

Should Leinart enter the supplemental draft, which would be held in July, the 49ers would have the best chance at the top pick, but it would not be guaranteed. The league would conduct a weighted lottery with teams divided into three categories — those with six or fewer wins, non-playoff teams and playoff teams.

A Southern Cal spokesman told The Post that Leinart, who lost offensive coordinator Norm Chow to the NFL's Titans, has alerted the school that he didn't plan to graduate until after the fall semester.

The Post neglects to mention how they learned that Leinart is "considering" leaving school, but let's assume for a moment that what they're reporting is true. It's not surprising, considering this Bill Plaschke column from last week about Leinart's displeasure over Norm Chow's departure. In it, Plaschke insinuates that the main reason Leinart decided to return for his fifth year was to spend another year learning from Chow. Now, of course, we all know that's not going to happen. So it's not a stretch to assume that Leinart would be upset enough to look into how he could still go to the NFL. (He missed the league's early-entry deadline, which was in mid-January.)

But considering what teammate Mike Williams went through last year with the NFL Draft, we'd be surprised if Leinart really leaves. (It should be noted that if Leinart does qualify for a supplemental draft and decides to leave, unlike Williams, he doesn't have to worry about a court ruling preventing him from playing in the NFL.) Steve Sarkisian, the new co-offensive coordinator, was Leinart's quarterback coach for his first three years at USC, and since Sarkisian spent last season coaching quarterbacks for the Oakland Raiders, he'll be able to prepare Leinart for the next level almost as well as Chow, who, before being hired by the Titans, had no experience coaching in the NFL.

Happier days for Carroll and Leinart

More important -- and again, that's assuming that the Post's report is true -- is the damage the Chow situation has done to the relationship between Leinart and Pete Carroll. When Leinart announced that he was staying, it was clear that Carroll had heavily lobbied his quarterback to remain at USC (much of Leinart's comments to the press echoed earlier statements made by Carroll), but it sounds like Leinart made that decision under the assumption that Chow would still be at USC. If Carroll was -- as most reports indicate -- considering "replacing" Chow before Leinart made his decision but neglected to tell that to his quarterback, it constitutes a major breach of trust between a coach and player who appeared to have a great relationship up to that point.

Leinart is clearly the leader of the team (as well as a bona fide college football superstar), and Carroll can't afford to spend next season butting heads with him. Remember, Leinart just had surgery and will be sitting out spring practice (another reason why he's unlikely to turn pro), meaning that he'll have plenty of time to fester a grudge while sitting on the sidelines watching John David Booty lead the first team offense. If Carroll is smart, he'll do whatever he has to do to make up with his star quarterback -- assuming Leinart stays. If he decides to go pro, well, we all know how Carroll feels about players being irreplaceable, but then again, he did seem to lobby Leinart awfully hard to stay for one more year...

Our guess is that Leinart did inquire about a supplemental draft -- it would be foolish not to investigate all of his options -- which would confirm that he really is upset about the Chow situation. Unlike the rumors about Chow and Carroll, the conflict between Leinart and Carroll certainly seems real -- and we'd wager that it will have a bigger impact than Chow's departure on how the Trojans fare in 2005. That's why, of everything written about the Trojans in the last two weeks, this is the big story.

UPDATE: On Friday, the Daily Trojan ran an item about Leinart possibly leaving:
Bob Leinart, father of USC quarterback and defending Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, denied that his son would petition for a supplemental draft to enter the NFL.

"No, he's not going in the supplemental draft," the elder Leinart said Thursday. "He can't, because he's not taking enough units this semester to graduate. But even if he could go in the supplemental, he wouldn't."
A couple of thoughts. First, as long as Bob Leinart is acting as Matt's spokesman and not speaking of his own accord, we think it's fine that Dad is the one handling talking to the press. Leinart has been dealing with intense media scrutiny for a long time, and there's no reason that his father shouldn't be able to take some of that pressure off of his son. This is a smart move.

Secondly, though it's nice (as a USC fan) to hear Bob deny that Matt is going to leave via a supplemental draft, we don't put much stock in what he says. Nothing personal against Mr. Leinart, but so much has been said and not said since the flareup between Carroll and Chow that words don't carry a whole lot of weight anymore. Mike Williams said last year that he was going to stay at USC, and then decided to go pro. We don't have a problem with that -- athletes, like the rest of us, retain the right to change their minds. But that means we're not naive enough to believe everything they (or their fathers) say.

Finally, Bob Leinart, it seems to us, has got it wrong. He told the Daily Trojan that Matt couldn't go in a supplemental draft because he's not taking enough units to graduate this May. But according to the NFL's Greg Aiello (quoted in the NY Post story), Leinart would be eligible for a supplemental draft if he either graduated OR dropped out of school. Thus, he doesn't have to graduate to leave for the NFL -- there are worse things in the world than finishing a few credits short of a degree from USC, especially when you're making millions of dollars playing in the NFL.

Boi From Troy notes that Leinart left an awards ceremony early to make it back to campus for a class, but we don't take that as a sign of Leinart's intentions. He saw what happened to Mike Williams last year, who was declared ineligible for the 2004 season not because he decided to turn pro, but because even before he made that decision, he had stopped going to class. Leinart's smart enough to know he ought to keep his options open, which means going to class and retaining his NCAA eligibility, regardless of what he's planning to do right now.

That being said, we still don't think that Leinart is leaving. Yes, going in a supplemental draft would be a way of -- potentially -- avoiding ending up with a woeful team like the San Francisco 49ers. But all of the reasons Leinart gave for staying at USC still apply. The only thing that's changed is the presence of Chow and his relationship with Carroll. Leinart knows that Chow isn't coming back (and that he's not likely to end up being drafted by the Titans), and we know that Pete Carroll is too smart to let Leinart remain upset with him. That's why we think Leinart will be back in the fall.

And even if he's not, we'd still bet on the Trojans to win it all.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Triumph Strikes Again

From tomorrow's New York Times Magazine: finally, an interview by Deborah Solomon worth reading! (We've noted Solomon's poor -- even for the Times -- interviews here, here, and here.) This time, she's talking to a puppet...and, surprisingly, rising to the occasion! Well, sort of. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (and owner Robert Smigel) has a talent for using Solomon's brand of denseness as a breeding ground for humor. Here he discusses his nomination for Best Comedy Album at the upcoming Grammy Awards.

The Grammy judges are notorious for bad choices, so you might actually win.

In that case it will be the first Grammy to ever go to an album with a song dedicated to roundworm.

I see your album is up against one by Al Franken, as well as another by Jon Stewart.

Forces to be reckoned with, yes? They sure took down the president. And Franken's liberal radio is really taking off. I own a conch shell with more listeners.
It's vintage Triumph, but apparently Solomon didn't get the memo. And she seems to be bitter that she's being upstaged by a plastic dog puppet.
I realize your full name is Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, but your obsessive disparaging of celebrities is unbelievably boring. Do you ever think about anything else?

You're trying to turn this interview into something serious. I'm just a two-dimensional character.
Then Triumph gets back to doing what he does best.
This happens to be an excellent age for puppets, what with ''Avenue Q'' winning a Tony for Best Musical. Don't you agree that puppets are flourishing?

Sure, just look at the president -- wait, I've got Al Franken's jokes here by mistake.
Then, unlike any of the real live people she's interviewed, Triumph actually calls out Solomon, throwing a textbook "some people say..." question back in her face:
Some people say dogs are what Democrats profess to be, because they are so inclusive and welcoming of people regardless of social class. What do you think?

You're not going to get me, liberal media, but I do grasp the concept. Like a lot of Democrats, we dogs can remain loyal for reasons we can no longer understand.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Professor Nut Job

For the last three and a half years, we've been living in an alternate universe: on a college campus. Our loyal readers (or those who scroll down to the next post) know which university we're talking about -- in fact, we went back to this undisclosed institution of higher learning last night to visit some friends. We make this uncharacteristic personal disclosure as a preface to our comments on the current Ward Churchill controversy.

There's been much discussion as to whether or not Churchill ought to be fired for his reprehensible comments about the victims of 9/11, much of it framed within the context of the First Amendment. That's all well and good, but, to paraphrase another nutty professor, Juan Cole, you pundits out there were not in college six weeks ago. We were. Thus, our opinion supersedes yours. (Okay, okay, we don't really believe that, but we do think that our recent proximity to the world of academia gives us a unique and post-worthy perspective on the Churchill flap.)

What's been lost in the controversy is the fact that there is more than one issue at play. (It should be noted that David Horowitz tried to point this out, but it seems that all anyone heard was his opposition to firing Churchill.) First of all, the First Amendment, as any college graduate should know, does not protect all speech. It prevents Congress from making any laws abridging the freedom of speech. Therefore, the Churchill situation is clearly -- clearly -- not a First Amendment issue. So let's stop discussing it as such.

It is, however, an issue of what our society deems to be appropriate. And that's where things get murkier.

The University of Colorado, Churchill's employer, is partially funded by taxpayers, and it follows that Churchill is thus responsible to those taxpayers (who provide 7% of the university's budget). Many have used that argument to support a Churchill dismissal; aside from the 7% figure, its flaw is that it renders the opinions of all non-residents of Colorado irrelevant in determining Churchill's fate. And most people who have been citing it are non-residents.

That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that Churchill shouldn't be dismissed. In fact, we think that he should. Here's why:

What Churchill says as a professor at an institution of higher learning (yes, we know...try not to snicker) ought to be "protected," in our estimation. He and all of his colleagues in America's colleges and university should be allowed to say things that are controversial -- whether they're from the far left or far right. Neither the university nor the taxpayers should fire people who say something that they disagree with, or which is unpopular. If it happens to Churchill, what's to keep it from happening to a conservative professor who condemns reparations for slavery or says something negative about affirmative action? That's not to equate his comments with those positions, but remember, college campuses are not controlled, generally speaking, by political moderates but by hypersensitive members of the left.

Now, just because Churchill should be allowed to make outrageous claims doesn't mean that others -- his students, fellow professors, interested third parties -- shouldn't be allowed to stand up and say, "Those claims are outrageous!" Academic freedom is a two-way street (something forgotten -- or conveniently ignored -- by most radicals like Churchill), and having a debate about his comments transforms them from mindless vitriol into a worthwhile academic experience. We could segue here into a lengthy discussion on pursuit of the truth and the existence of objective truth and the notion that we all have our own truths, but we won't bore you with that. Just know that, when presented with the facts that disprove his claim, Churchill will likely fall back on the "that's your truth, this is mine" meme which has been such an impediment to the progress of academia.

However, those points aside, Churchill does deserve to be dismissed -- but for a different reason: his shoddy scholarship. In the real world, it's called dismissal with just cause, and Churchill's academic negligence has been duly documented: lying about his military service and falsely claiming to be an American Indian are likely just the tip of the iceberg for a man who trained members of a terrorist group in firing weapons and making bombs in the mid-1980s. The University of Colorado has opened an inquiry into Churchill's past, but, unfortunately, it appears as if it too is conflating the contentiousness of Churchill's comments (which should not be a factor) with the relevant question of their veracity, as well as the accuracy of his curriculum vitae.
At a special University of Colorado Board of Regents meeting Feb. 3, Chancellor Phil DiStefano announced that he and two University deans would launch a ''thorough examination of Professor Churchill's writings, speeches, tape recordings and other works'' to see if he had overstepped the bounds of proper faculty conduct [emphasis added]. DiStefano said the review would provide due process for a decision whether to fire Churchill, a tenured professor.
This is exactly the wrong way to deal with Churchill. Who decides what constitutes "the bounds of proper faculty conduct"? Such a subjective standard is not just inadequate -- it's dangerous. That's why those calling for Churchill's scalp -- er, head -- need to be careful. It's one thing to remove Churchill; it's quite another to do it for the wrong reasons.
Pandora's Boxes don't come labeled as such. Otherwise, no one would ever open one.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

More on Chow & Carroll

Arash Markazi, a former classmate of ours at USC who currently writes for Sports Illustrated On Campus and has weighed in on the Norm Chow/Pete Carroll Breakup Saga. Markazi has been around the program as a sports writer for the Daily Trojan (the school newspaper) since Carroll's first season and we put more stock in his analysis than most of what's been written up to this point. Markazi seems to confirm that there really was a rift between the head coach and his offensive coordinator, one that developed after Chow told Tim Layden how much he loved working for Carroll.
Chow never wanted to leave the college game. If he had it his way he would be a head coach at a major university. His ideal job would have been to take over the struggling Stanford program, but it was offered to former Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris instead.

But something happened from the time Chow was turned down for the Stanford job to the time he accepted the Titans position this week. The beginning of this saga probably can be traced to Dec. 15, when USC defensive line coach Ed Orgeron was named head coach at Ole Miss. Following his hiring, Orgeron offered the offensive coordinator job to Trojans receivers coach Lane Kiffin. The 29-year-old passed. Was it a simple case of wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time or was their something more?

It had been rumored for weeks Carroll was considering shaking up his staff. After winning back-to-back national championships, it made as much sense as taking a smooth-running Porsche into a Jiffy Lube. The person who would benefit the most from the shakeup was Kiffin. Under the wide range of scenarios Carroll had drawn up for his staff, the one constant was that Carroll and Kiffin, the son of Carroll's mentor and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, would assume greater roles with the offense[...]

Chow will not say publicly he was forced out, but those close to the situation say Carroll basically opened the door for his offensive coordinator's departure. One of the reasons Chow wanted to leave was the uncertainty he had regarding his role on the team. He was told there was a chance that he would be named assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach, which sounds like a promotion and an expansion of his responsibilities but, in reality, was a demotion. Carroll never gave Chow the commitment he felt he deserved from his head coach.

While Carroll will receive heat from fans and media members who believe he pushed out Chow, it's not clear if the tension was caused from a clash of egos. Or perhaps it simply was a situation in which Carroll felt the need to expedite Chow's imminent departure in favor of having two of college football's top young offensive assistants in Kiffin and Sarkisian[...]

Some people in the USC athletic department believe Carroll might be relieved to see Chow leave because Carroll had grown weary of the rumors surrounding Chow's imminent departure or because Carroll was tired of hearing that Chow was the reason for the Trojans' success on offense. That kind of talk went against Carroll's program-first ideology. It was also not true in Carroll's mind since Chow didn't have the carte blanche on offense that people thought.

Not only did Carroll assume a greater offensive role following the 2001 season, he promoted Kiffin to "passing-game coordinator" last season. It was a title that Chow, the most proficient passing guru in college football, didn't love and at times resented as was apparent during one practice before the Orange Bowl when the two were involved in a shouting match.
After following this story for the last few weeks (news of a Chow/Carroll rift surfaced just prior to the 2005 Orange Bowl), we tend to think that Markazi's got it right. It's been clear ever since Norm Chow arrived at USC that his goal was to become a college head coach, and Carroll said he understood that when he hired Chow.

We suspect that Carroll believed Chow was going to get the Stanford job (after all, Chow certainly did) and had begun preparations for dealing with his loss. As Markazi notes, Lane Kiffin had already taken on more responsibilities in the USC offense, no doubt to learn from Chow and smooth the transistion when Chow left. (More on Kiffin from the Orange County Register's Steve Bischeff, a Daily Trojan alum himself) When Chow didn't get the Stanford job, the pieces were already in place to succeed him, and he became expendable.

Whether Chow's departure was exacerbated by a personality conflict will likely remain unanswered, but it's not clear that another successful year at USC would have helped him achieve his goal of becoming a head coach. What more could he do with the Trojans that he hadn't already done? His last two quarterbacks won the Heisman Trophy and his last two teams won the national championship. Would another Heisman for Leinart or another national title sway athletic directors who weren't otherwise convinced of his worthiness?

As for Carroll, the perception will be that he ran off his resident offensive genius. And maybe he did. But after four seasons, three Pac 10 titles and two national championships, he's earned the benefit of the doubt, at least in our minds. Perhaps he realized that Chow wasn't going to get a head coaching job without NFL experience but didn't think the offensive coordinator would leave of his own volition. Or he thought that the constant speculation surrounding Chow's next job was having a detrimental effect on the Trojans (though that didn't seem to be the case as far as recruiting was concerned), and that with next year's team being so talented and experienced, he could afford to break in a new offensive coordinator. Or, as some allege, he really was jealous of the credit Chow was receiving for USC's success, though we find that a little hard to believe. Five years ago, Carroll was on the ash heap of coaches (along with luminaries like Rich Kotite and Wayne Fontes); today, he's stands alongside his successor in New England, Bill Belichick, as the most successful coach of the 21st century. That he's lived life at the bottom of the mountain makes him much more likely to appreciate things at the top.

Can he stay there without Norm Chow? We're about to find out.

UPDATE: LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke, who first broke the story of the rift between Carroll and Chow, writes about a very interested third party: Matt Leinart, who stayed for his fifth year in large part to continue to learn from Chow. It doesn't sound like Leinart is too happy about Chow's departure.
"This was about Matt and Norm," said his father, Bob. "They were doing this together. One last year together."

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Insulting the Bay Area?

Another non-sequitur from the NY Times:
Salon [the online magazine] has its headquarters in San Francisco, so the fact that it has had a long, strange trip makes sense.

The Truth!

Former lovers, er, coaches Carroll and Chow

Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden offers a different narrative in the Pete Carroll - Norm Chow break-up saga: that Chow was frustrated about not getting the Stanford job (which went to Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris, a friend of Carroll's) and decided he needed to make a change to make himself more marketable to college athletic directors.
Two possibilities: First, Chow began to realize that he might never be hotter than he is right now, off two national titles and two Heisman trophies (Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart). He is 58 years old. If he ever wanted to jump, this was the time. Second, top college programs often seek head coaches with NFL experience, like Harris and Charlie Weis. If Chow is successful with Titans, it's a big, bold line on his resume, maybe the one he needs to become a head coach in college three or four years down the road. If he's not successful, he won't have any problem going back and finding a coordinator's job in college.
Layden also does his best to douse the flames on the Carroll/Chow Falling Out story:
When I talked to Chow in mid-January, he raved about Carroll's football brain and the challenge of working with and against Carroll every day in practice. He acknowledged that Carroll has had a major role in shaping the USC offense, even though he's regarded as a defensive mind.

UPDATE: We reserve the right to change our minds! New infomation has come to light, man! This is a very complicated situation! (Lot of ins, lot of outs, lot of what-have-yous.) Read our most recent post on Carroll/Chow Breakup 2005.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Corey Feldman Mania!

According to ABC News' website, former child star Corey Feldman is about to go public with some information about his [former] friendship with Michael Jackson, which dates back to the 80s. It's almost as easy to make fun of Feldman as it is of Jackson (see this comprehensive post on Jacko), but we're not prejudging Feldman's interview as a publicity stunt. (For that, we'll wait until we hear what he says.) But it does give us a reason to tell one of our favorite Corey Feldman stories (there are just so many!).

Mr. and Mrs. Corey Feldman

It takes place in late December of 2003, around New Year's Eve. One of our friends, of the female persuasion, was sitting in a hotel lobby waiting to meet some friends. Feldman and his wife approached, and asked her if she'd like to join them in a three-some. No "Hi, I'm Corey. What's your name?" and then some small talk and then "Wanna have a three-some?" Corey got right to the point. Our friend was, uh, flattered (she's a Goonies fan) but wisely turned down the request.

In Lieu of Lame Cat Photos

Yes, this is a photo of an elephant taking a crap in a specially-designed elephant toilet. Ah, progress.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Tom Friedman Is Making Sense

From Sunday's NY Times:
The U.S. should announce that it is lowering the reward for bin Laden from $25 million to one penny, along with an autographed picture of George W. Bush. At the same time, it should reduce the $25 million reward for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the chief terrorist in Iraq, to one pistachio and an autographed picture of Dick Cheney.

Don't get me wrong. Bin Laden and Zarqawi have murdered thousands of people. I want them brought in dead or alive - and preferably the former. If I thought $100 million would do it, I'd be for it. But these megarewards clearly are not working, and in many ways they are sending the totally wrong signals.

First, both of these guys are obviously megalomaniacs, who think the world is just hanging on their every word and waiting for their next video. All we are doing is feeding their egos, and telling them how incredibly important they are, when we not only put a $25 million bounty on their heads, but in the case of bin Laden, double the figure. We are just enhancing their status on the Arab street as the Muslim warriors standing up to America, and only encouraging other megalomaniacs out there who might have similar fantasies to follow suit. We should be doing just the opposite - letting these two losers know that we don't think they are worth more than a penny or a pistachio.

But there is an even more important issue of principle at stake. We should not be paying Iraqis or Arabs or Pakistanis to get rid of their problem. Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are a curse on their civilization. Their capture will have meaning or real value to them, to us and to the world, only if it is done by Arabs and Muslims for the sole purpose of purging their civilization of these two cancer cells.

Also, if bin Laden's or Zarqawi's own neighbors turn them in for nothing, it will have a much greater deterrent effect on others.


Deborah Solomon weighs in with another "culturally edifying" interview in the New York Times Magazine, this time with MPAA head Dan Glickman (who looks a lot like Uncle Fester).

Some of our favorite, uh, zingers:
Have you met President Bush?

I did see President Bush at the Alfalfa Club dinner in Washington recently. The president looked over to me, and he said, ''Hello, Glick.''

You mean he got your name wrong?

Well, he has nicknames for everyone.

Is Glick a nickname?

I don't know. It's the name he called me, so what was I going to say?


Have you ever experienced a setback?

I was voted out of Congress in 1994. It is not great to be fired from your job, particularly so publicly. But a month later I was picked to be secretary of agriculture. When one door closes, another opens. But you have to be standing right by the door.

What if the door opens too quickly and breaks your nose?

Well, it could. But you still have to be right by the door. It can just as easily open for you as it can against you.
Indeed, what if the door opens too quickly and you get smashed in the nose? See, we would never have thought to ask that question!

The More Things Change...

Richard A. Clarke, still getting it wrong:
Zarqawi and his followers do oppose democracy in Iraq, but they do so partly because they believe that the continuing electoral process (a constitutional referendum is planned for October of this year and a national election for December) is an American imposition. In this they are joined by the many Iraqis who simply want an occupying army to leave. In addition, Zarqawi's group seeks support from the Sunni Arab minority, which in any democratic process will lose power as compared with what it had in the decades of Baath Party rule [...]

President Bush's democracy-promotion policy will be appropriate and laudable at the right time in the right nations, but it is not the cure for terrorism and may divert us from efforts needed to rout Al Qaeda and reduce our vulnerabilities at home. The president is right that resentment is growing and that it is breeding terrorism, but it is chiefly resentment of us, not of the absence of democracy. The 9/11 Commission had a proposal similar to the president's, but more on point: a battle of ideas to persuade more Muslims that jihadist terrorism is a perversion of Islam. Most Middle East experts agree, however, that any American hand in the battle of ideas will, for now, be counterproductive. For many in the Islamic world, the United States is still associated with such acts as having made the 250,000 person city of Falluja uninhabitable. Because of the enormous resentment of the United States government in the Islamic world, documented in numerous opinion polls, we will have to look to nongovernmental organizations and other nations to lead the battle of ideas.
Apparently he missed coverage of last week's election.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Must-See TV

This embrace, between Iraqi Safia Taleb al-Suhail and Janet Norwood, was the defining moment of last night's State of the Union address. As many have noted, it was difficult not to be overcome with emotion at a gesture that was so symbolic and yet at the same time so personal. That al-Suhail's father had been killed by Saddam's regime and she could thus understand what it meant for Norwood to have lost her son in the battle for Fallujah added to its power. What made the moment even more special was that it was clearly (at least, clear to non-conspiracy theorists) an unscripted, spontaneous gesture -- a signature image in this President's legacy of remaking the Middle East.

Another Less-Notable Hug at the SOTU

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


It's been a slow news day, as far as we're concerned, which is why posting has been, um, "light." Also, we've been experiencing trouble with our internet service provider (Adelphia, in case you were interested -- we didn't think so) so browsing, let alone blogging, has been difficult. But we notice that proto-blogger Andrew Sullivan announced that he's taking an extended leave of absence to concentrate on other things, like writing books.

We started reading Sullivan before the 2000 election, before the word "blog" even existed; indeed, Sullivan was one of the first real bloggers, and his literary pedigree no doubt attracted other serious writers to join in the online conversation. Sullivan's skills helped to define the meritocracy upon which the blogosphere is based: his rise was due to the quality of his writing, not his level of notoriety or the circles in which he traveled. That a British homosexual former editor of the New Republic would become one of the country's most-read conservative thinkers is a testament to just how good his website -- er, blog -- really was.

So good, in fact, that as his readership continued to grow and his site required more bandwith, he started losing money. The "Tipping Point" model he created, asking readers to donate in lieu of charging a subscribtion fee, was effective enough to keep things afloat, but by no means provided him a salary.

The arrival of BlogAds changed that, but, ironically, their timing coincided with his uncharacteristic wavering on the Iraq War that drove down his readership numbers. After taking a vacation from blogging in August 2004, he returned from Provincetown with a different mindset; upset about the President's position on same-sex marriage, he began questioning the management of the War and the capability of the President. For a man who had a clarity of vision reminiscent of George Orwell and made the case for war much more eloquently and often than anyone in the administration, Sullivan's tack was too much for many of his loyal readers to accept (us included).

It wasn't that he was changing his mind -- it was that he seemed to be changing his mind without without reason ("excitable Andrew," Mickey Kaus called it). Here was a man who had been a veritable rock up to, during, and certainly after Baghdad fell, and now he seemed to be twisting in the wind. A man who had lauded the President's vision and resolute leadership was now endorsing John Kerry for president. It was quite un-Sullivan-like. And, because of the blogging meritocracy he helped create, many of his readers turned elsewhere.

Now, after the historic Iraqi elections, a moment that vindicated not just the President but Sullivan as well, he is taking a break from the responsibilities of daily blogging. In many ways, it's apropos, for Sullivan's mission has been accomplished. The freedom for Iraqis of which he so eloquently wrote has been achieved -- perhaps not in perpetuity but certainly more than symbolically. Their voices have been heard, and now Sullivan, who spoke for them for so long, can be silent.

For now.