6/27/2005

Award-winning Journalism

That's right. In case you had not heard -- although I don't see how you couldn't have, since, you know, it was all anyone was talking about last month -- I am now an award-winning journalist. That's because I won an award at the awards ceremony of the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The judges recognized my outstanding work with an award of 2nd Place in the Breaking News category for articles published during calendar year 2004.

It is nice to finally be recognized for the kind of journalism I do -- you know, the award-winning kind. Sure, I waste time at work writing e-mail and reading the New York Times online, but I also take the opportunity here and there to win some awards for my journalism. Below, I've pasted a picture from the ceremony. I am the good-looking fellow on the left.



Those gentlemen behind me are my bodyguards. Not all journalists have bodyguards; only the award-winning ones.

Anyway, enough bullshit. Not everyone wins awards -- except at this particular awards ceremony, which I have taken to referring to as "Everybody Gets A Trophy Day." Our chapter of SPJ covers a rather small area, and there are just a handful of newspapers here. Not only were there numerous categories for entrants to submit their work, they divided those categories by circulation (i.e., newspapers over 75,000; newspapers under 75,000). So if you give 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place awards for each category, that's six winners. Multiply that by a dozen categories, and all of a sudden every reporter in town is going to be fluffing their resume with these bogus awards.

To be honest, I don't actually know for a fact that I won. I did see my name on the list of winners, and I also read that I got 2nd Place in the article that our newspaper wrote about the awards. (To its detriment, the paper played the article on the front page. No class.) However, I don't know for sure because I don't have the plaque, and that is because I didn't go to the ceremony. I think I was busy vacuuming my car, or washing the dog. You know, doing something important.

6/22/2005

The Right Thing To Do

You may recall this post in which I complained about people who write in the margins of library books. I reminisced about the good times I had erasing comments from previous books I'd checked out. Well, it turns out this was not The Right Thing To Do. From a New York Times article on the federal government's efforts to spy on our libraries:

Last June, a library user who took out a book there, "Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America," noticed a handwritten note in the margin remarking that "Hostility toward America is a religious duty and we hope to be rewarded by God," and went to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Agents, in turn, went to the library seeking names and information on anyone checking out the biography since 2001.

Obviously, erasing comments from the pages of library books is not The Right Thing To Do. The Right Thing To Do is to call the FBI. I'll keep that in mind next time.

6/18/2005

Math is not that hard, people

You may have heard on the news about a child molester arrested in San Jose who is believed to have abused as many as 36,000 boys during his long and disgusting career as a pedophile. The story is here if you haven't heard.

While it seems clear that this guy is a monster and is responsible for some very despicable crimes, I think we need to stop drinking the exaggerated Kool-Aid on this story and instead take a big, deep hit from the reality bong. That is to say, it is absolutely impossible that this man molested 36,000 kids.

Let's be clear: the police are not saying he molested 36,000 kids. They're saying that in his home they found notebooks with about 36,000 entries in them, listing names, descriptions, sex acts, etc. The New York Times got it right when they pointed out that police don't know if any of those names are duplicates. I would add that they don't know if any of those names are even real. But at least they quoted a San Jose police officer handling the case: "If you assume 10 percent of them are actual cases, that's 3,600 acts," Lieutenant Cornfield said. "Even if you assume 1 percent, that's 360 victims."

However, some idiot journalists have interpreted the obviously fictional list as evidence that this guy is suspected of molesting thousands of boys. For example, as an AP reporter put it, "A convicted child molester jailed in California may have committed sex crimes against thousands of victims, police said Thursday ..."

Back down here on Earth, the plausibility of that notion ranks a few notches below the tooth fairy and Lamarckian evolution. A quick rundown on the numbers: The man is 63 years old. Let's say he started molesting boys when he was 8 -- which is ridiculous, but bear with me. Also, don't forget to take into account the fact that the suspect has served about 11 years in prison, according to media reports. (The data on his actual prison time is spotty.) That leaves him 44 years in which to commit his crimes. 36,000 divided by 44 years is 818.18 distinct victims each year, for an average of 2.24 unique victims a day, every day, for four and a half decades.

Needless to say, this is impossible. The man could not conceivably have met and molested two children every day, no matter how many different places he lived. Keeping up that kind of activity and remaining largely undetected would be impossible for even a month. And I've skewed the numbers in favor of making them more plausible. In reality, he would not have begun molesting until he was older, probably in his teens. So the average he would have had to keep up is even higher.

Naturally, the math above gives us an average, which isn't the same as a daily requirement. So he could have had widely divergent numbers of molestations on any given day and eventually add up to 36,000. Except that's still not even close to reality. Say he was unable to molest any kids for an entire week. That would mean he'd have to 15 in a day to keep up the pace. I might also add that math aside, police know most child molesters exhibit a pathology where they find a few familiar victims and stick with them, instead of roaming from victim to victim to victim. That doesn't mean this guy couldn't be an aberration, but let's try to be realistic.

I'm sorry I made you read this much about child molestation. Whatever the number, this guy sickens me, and I'm extremely disturbed about the state of the criminal justice system that he remained at large for so long. But I can't put aside the anger that this errant reporting has stirred in me. Shame on those reporters who flatly repeated and misinterpreted what is obviously a number that has no connection with reality. People pick up their news from fleeting contacts with TV, newspapers, the radio, and by word of mouth. That means they remember what is most sensational about different news stories. They'll remember this one as the guy who molested 36,000 kids, regardless of whether the story is later corrected or not. They'll believe that such a thing is possible, even though it's obviously not. They'll become even more fearful than they already are about the world, and they'll react -- in a wide variety of ways, from praying to writing fascistic legislation to attacking people who have been wrongly accused of similar crimes. And all of it will be based on a lie.

6/15/2005

Put it in a bottle

A few weeks ago I was driving home after spending an evening in Los Angeles with some friends. It must have been a Friday, because I was listening to Super Twin Turntables of Soul on KXLU. Yes, this is a radio station that has a program schedule, rather than just playing the same thing all day regardless of who is the DJ. (KROQ, I'm looking in your direction.) It is also a college radio station, which means they actually play good music. (Ahem, KROQ.)

If you read this blog between October and February, you know that I moved out of L.A. eight months ago, and that I miss it. So it's always fun for me to go back there, even if it's just for an evening. The experience of being back in the city is uplifting for me in a strange way that defies description. Especially on a Spring evening, when it's warm enough to roll down your window as you coast down the city streets, and the scent of jasmine wafts through the air.

Yes, I just said I like the smell of flowers in Los Angeles. I suppose to be technical, the jasmine is a flowering shrub, not a flower. But there are places where these shrubs are planted in street medians and along sidewalks, and when you drive by with your window open, you can smell them. They smell nice. Go ahead, make fun. There's nothing you can do to me. For God's sake, I live in Fontana. How much lower do you think I can fall?

Anyway, so there I am, driving around with my window down, smelling the jasmine, feeling good about being back in L.A., and listening to some really good music on the radio. I'm not even sure what genre you would say it was -- "soul," probably, but not like what you heard on Soul Train. This was mostly instrumental stuff, and the kind of music that DJs like Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash were cutting back in the day, whenever that was.

Track after track of great music kept rolling out of the radio, and I was thinking, I've got to pay attention when the jock back-announces -- i.e., when he comes back on the air and says the names of the last four or five songs. They don't really do that on commercial radio, but you can typically count on a college radio DJ to do at least a truncated back-announce, unless he or she fell asleep during the show (which I have witnessed, on KUCI). Eventually, the DJ comes back on and says the following: "You are listening to the Super Twin Turntables of Soul." And then he goes into the next track.

I guess that was it. Kinda disappointing. Maybe he could have told me who recorded all that badass music I was listening to. I probably would have bought one of their CDs at the record store. I've bought at least 10 CDs of artists I first heard on KXLU that no one I know has ever heard of. It's a great way to find new music that I otherwise would never be exposed to.

And yet this DJ let me down. No names, no titles, no back-announce. I was bummed for a minute, but the music kept spinning, my car kept moving down the street, and I got over it. The experience was not lessened by the fact that I would not be able to locate those same tracks later on.

Besides, haven't you ever had the experience where you really like a CD, only to be bored with it after you've listened to it seven or eight times? There's something about living the experience when it happens that is better than trying to re-enact it later. Have you ever met someone who refuses to take pictures when they go on vacation? That's pretty rare, I suppose. How about people who don't write down amusing jokes when they hear them? That's probably most of us. The point is that life is ephemeral, and no amount of archiving and acquisition is going to change that. We are all going to die, after all. Sometimes you've just got to let things flow.

I could have called up the KXLU request line and asked the DJ what he was spinning, and then wrote it down, and then driven across town to buy the same thing. But I wouldn't be able to recreate the experience of driving down Sunset Boulevard at night and discovering some great music that I'd never heard before. If I were to put that CD on my stereo at home a day later, I wouldn't be feeling the same things that I felt that night, with the cool breeze and the scent of jasmine in the air. That's something that I can't put in a bottle and save for later.

6/13/2005

The End of Blogs

Do any real-life blogs exist any more? Let's take a look at what I got when I hit the "Next Blog" button up there in the right corner five times.

1. Buy Ambien Online. Site intended to Google-bomb people looking for information about the prescription drug
Ambien. Most recent post: Thanks! http://buy-ambien.mail333.com ambien buy cod: ambien buy cheap, Also http://adipex-online.newfreehost.com adipex buy cheap online here.

2. alyssa milano. Site intended to Google-bomb people looking for porn. Or, as I hear the kids are spelling it these days, pr0n. Most recent post: Two Babes Take On One Guy

3. Zaid. I can't really tell what this site is, since it appears to be in Arabic. Most recent post: المساكين
بخلق
الاساطير
والابطال
في
اذهانهم،
فمازالوا
بالعقلية
الجاهلية
"الصنمية"
حيث
يخلقون
صنم
ويعبدونه،
علما
بانه
صنيعتهم،


4. Dallas Cowboys Daily. Site intended to Google-bomb people looking for info or rumors on the Cowboys. Most recent post: Dallas Cowboys A fan's page. Site includes Dallas Cowboys news Dallas Cowboys A fan's page. Site includes Dallas Cowboys news and other information.


5. My Tech Diary. Blog of a webmaster who posts extremely technical discussions of, yes, Google algorithms. Most recent post: Redirect 301 from "www" to non-www domain by modifying .htaccess Redirect 301 from "www" to non-www domain To implement a 301 redirect (Moved permanently) from
"www" to non-www domain. Put the following code in .htaccess


Options +FollowSymLinksRewriteEngine onRewriteCond
%{HTTP_HOST} ^www\.domain\.com [NC]RewriteRule ^(.*)$
http://domain\.com/$1 [L,R=301]


That is the evidence. Conclusion: Blogs no longer exist.

Thank God for that.