Sunday, August 24, 2008

The New York Times
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Heaven’s Angels

THEY met on the local hot rod scene. They saw one another at tattoo conventions around the area, comparing bikes. They looked like heavies, a band of Hells Angels, with nicknames equally tough: Mike Tattoo, Big Ant, Johnny O, Batso, Sal, Angel, Des.

They meant no harm. Clad in leather, inked to the hilt in skulls and dragons, with images of bloodied barbed wire looped about their necks, they shared something else — a peculiar tenderness for animals, and the intensity needed to act on the animals’ behalf when people abuse them.

“I’m a vegetarian,” said Mike Tattoo (real name Mike Ostrosky), a former bodybuilding champion with a shaved head, great arms covered in art and a probing clarity in his blue eyes. “And Big Ant has in his backyard three guinea pigs, a couple of rabbits, birds, cats — and fish everywhere. But just because a person has tattoos, they wouldn’t come running with us.”

The group became a little larger over the course of about 15 years, with various animal-loving, tattooed bikers in the New York area joining the conversation. One member, Angel Nieves, a 47-year-old retired city police detective, grew up in the projects on West 125th Street and remembered taking in strays from the streets as a boy, as did many of his cohorts. He owns a tiny, white bichon frisé named Cris.

Having run in crowds where animal abuse was rampant, often involving pit bull fights, the men volunteered at shelters and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Toward Animals, and they tried to solve cases of missing or abused animals that other organizations had neither the time nor the resources to address.

Next month, the bikers will begin a program in the city’s public schools to educate children about being kind to all animals, even the less attractive breeds. They will be accompanied by Elwood, a small, hairless Chihuahua mix judged in an annual California contest to be the World’s Ugliest Dog.

A man named Robert Missari pulled everything together. Mike Tattoo met Mr. Missari about 18 months ago at a hot rod convention called the Rumbler. Though Mr. Missari is not inked — he works in catering — he loves animals and broached the idea that the bikers should become more than just friends bound by a commitment to a common cause; he wanted them to become an organization. About a year ago, they took up the name Rescue Ink, and now work full time investigating cases of animal abuse.

Mr. Missari is the executive director and the dispatcher for this biker brotherhood, working from his office in Manhattan, where he spends some of his time phoning in leads to the men on the road (“Yo, we got a report of five pit bulls living in 55-gallon drums”). He gets up to 250 calls a day.

One case: On Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side, a woman left her pedigreed Maltese, Mao, in her car as she stepped away to get something to eat. When she returned, the window was smashed and the dog was gone. Rescue Ink put up fliers and checked the street’s video cameras.

“It was a crackhead,” Angel said, “sold the dog for a few hundred dollars, drug money to a woman walking down the street. We got a tip. Someone said they had bought the dog on 129th Street, I think it was. We picked the dog up from somebody else, on First Avenue.”

The men rescue pedigreed animals sold for a pittance to buy drugs, animals used for fighting and bait, and colonies of feral cats that angry neighbors have tried to shoot or poison. They have received calls from Australia (“Dingoes, I guess,” Angel said) and reports of a serial cat killer in Pennsylvania.

They hand cases of criminal activities to the police. “That’s not our specialty,” Mr. Missari said. “We specialize in getting the abuser away from the dog. We truly work with the abuser. We go to a house; if it’s really cold out, we see two dogs in the back, we build them a doghouse.”

Slower days begin like this one. Setting out from their meeting site at the stables in Van Cortlandt Park, in the north Bronx, a band of four rode in Angel’s S.U.V. on a warm morning in mid-August. All but 3 of the 11 members of Rescue Ink live scattered around the boroughs. Each day begins differently, with any number of men traveling in any number of vehicles to help any number of species.

The first stop was Elmhurst, Queens, where a caller had reported that five pit bulls were caged in the back of a used-car lot.

A large man with dark hair and a tidy goatee, Angel is built like a bouncer who might ruin someone’s night. A retired police detective with 20 years on the force, he investigated killings, narcotics and larceny, and speaks with the clipped cadence of a good film noir.

“It’s a big extreme between homicide and a stolen dog,” he said. “Homicide is an A felony, and a stolen dog is larceny. But the comparison here is that person can’t tell no tales. Neither can a dog.”

In the back seat, Nick Maccharoli, who goes by the name Batso, chatted with Desi Calderon, known as Des, the Cat Man. Batso, 74, who holds a record for power lifting in Connecticut, wore a Fu Manchu mustache and a pointed beard. His head is shaved as bald as a snow globe, except for a skinny black ponytail. Tattooed spider webs creep about the back of his neck, a snake coils over an ear, and where the ponytail begins, the two wings of a huge bat conjoin. On his left calf, Jesus hoists a barbell.

As the men reached the Major Deegan Expressway, Des took a call about strays found on 141st Street in Manhattan, writing the details in neat script on his pad. Soft-spoken and gray-haired, Des held a gym bag on his lap. When the call ended, he looked over his notes, then unzipped the bag to produce a tiny kitten, which had been sleeping on a newspaper.

“What the——!” said Batso. “He’s got a cat back here! Why you got a cat with you, Desi?”

The kitten clambered over Des’s leather wristband and gnawed at his spiked silver ring. With one finger, Des stroked the pale underside of its neck. He had been carrying the cat everywhere for a week and a half.

“This little guy has to eat every few hours,” he said, “He’s a he, but I keep calling him a she.”

Speeding across the Triborough Bridge into Queens, the S.U.V. pulled into the parking lot of a McDonald’s on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst. There, Big Ant, also known as Anthony Missano, was waiting, reclining on his Harley, along with Mike Tattoo on a 1959 Honda.

Big Ant, “a little guy,” as the others describe him, is a little more than 6 feet tall and around 320 pounds. He was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and sunglasses with small orange lenses. The tattoo of a red lightning bolt sliced down his enormous arm.

Other members of the squad arrived, among them Johnny O (John Orlandini), a former bodyguard who once waded waist deep into a pond near a sewage pipe to rescue a duck; and Biagi, who is to dogs what Des is to cats: a psychic force.

Bruce Feinberg, the group’s organizer, distributed copies of the day’s schedule. A middle-aged woman who had alerted Rescue Ink about the first case on the list stood awkwardly among them.

The group was joined by a man from the Humane Society and an investor from Canada, a tall, slim figure with gelled hair who saw Rescue Ink on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in May and flew down from Vancouver to ride along and talk about branding.

The used-car lot around the corner at 76th Road and Queens Boulevard was the place they had come to investigate. The men approached from the back, across a sidewalk that was under construction. The workers stopped their jackhammers and stared as a half-dozen tattooed men followed a nervous woman wearing a floral blouse.

Several of the men climbed up a stack of concrete slabs to peer over a wall into the lot. In a large enclosure behind a chain-link fence, four pit bulls stared back at them, tails wagging, coats sleek and mouths wide open, like smiling crocodiles. As it turned out, they were not confined and in fact had ample space.

“We get calls from everywhere,” Mr. Feinberg said as they walked around to the front of the office. “They’re more often false alarms. We get a call: ‘There’s a fish in the ocean!’ ‘What’s the matter with it?’ ‘It’s wet!’ ”

Inside was a female pit bull. A litter of pups yelped in a room behind her. Batso rubbed the dog’s head, and she wagged her tail. He fed her a treat from his pocket and patted her neck. “Aw,” he said, “she’s O.K., she’s a good girl.”

Like a gust of authority, Biagi, who uses only his last name for security reasons, strode over. “This is no good,” he announced. “You see that? You see the saggy teats? She’s a breeder. It puts a big strain on the dog.”

When members of Rescue Ink reached the owner by phone, they asked if he needed help placing the puppies. Big Ant adopted one, and the owner agreed to let the bikers take the mother and the other three female dogs to be spayed and returned to him at no cost.

Next on the schedule came reports of two German shepherds being kept as guard dogs in a wooden cage with bars in Long Island City, Queens.

“You know how old I am?” Batso announced as they headed toward the site. “I’m 75 next month. Born in 1933. Yesterday, I ran two hours on the treadmill, and then I did 120 minutes on the rowing machine. And you know what else I can do?” he said. “I can pull 100 pounds. With my neck.”

At an auto shop on Queens Boulevard and 37th Street, in a small shed with a corrugated iron roof, dogs barked and lunged at the bars around their enclosure. Biagi spoke with four men who stood nearby, smoking cigars.

“These dogs get out?” he demanded, his huge arms folded across his chest. He was assured that yes, the dogs got out at night.

“You need anything for these dogs,” Mike Tattoo asked. “Food? Shots?”

Big Ant was examining the angle that the sun struck the roof of the shelter.

“Is there a way you can move the roof over a bit?” he asked. The men shrugged. One placed an electric fan in front of the shed. “When the angle of the sun changes,” Big Ant explained, “it gets them.” Before they left, he added menacingly: “We’ll be back. To check out your construction work.”

The S.U.V. pushed on, following the Harley and the Honda, a formidable cavalcade that prompted heads to turn at every stoplight.

Soon, they pulled in at an old-fashioned diner below the No. 7 train on Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside and piled in. Des removed the kitten from his bag and dabbed ointment on its chin. Batso mentioned that he often took his dog with him to church. The investor from Canada talked about how he might help the men turn news media attention into money, like a music manager discovering the next big boy band.

As the day wound down, they pursued a follow-up matter. Recently, they had encountered a man selling puppies, possibly for fighting, out of his car, and had warned him they’d be back. And so they returned to Thompson Avenue and 30th Place, in Long Island City, where they first saw him.

“A lot of people think a pit bull fighting is millions of people sitting in a ring cheering,” Big Ant said. “It’s not. It goes on in an abandoned box truck. A van is perfect. Just two guys. They throw the dog in the back; then one guy goes in there and says which dog is dead. Two teenagers that think they’re tough.”

The men see a lot of pit bull fights in the city, most of it unreported. Mainly, they say, the fighting is organized by teenagers or young men, often in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Sometimes gentler breeds are used as training bait, their mouths duct-taped shut so they cannot fight back.

Rescue Ink works closely with law enforcement agencies, as members are quick to point out when they are accused of vigilantism. While they may get rough, they never break the law. “If Option A doesn’t work, we go to Option B,” Mike Tattoo said. “If that fails, there’s always Option C.”

Since they started doing this work, which takes up more time than most full-time employment, two of the men have lost their construction jobs. They spend their nights researching and making phone calls, and spend fair amounts of money on pet food and vet bills.

En route to the final stop, an undercover investigation of illegal exotic animal sales, the men got lost on Northern Boulevard. Following the bikes, laughing, meowing at Des, bouncing around the S.U.V. like 18-year-olds, they looked around and realized that the signs on the stores provided little help.

“They’re all in Chinese!” someone cried out.

“It’s Korean,” Des said. “You’re so uncouth.”

Monday, August 11, 2008

The incredible story behind "Generation Kill"


You see it on the screen, and it seems very realistic: A group of the U.S. military's elite fighting forces, the First Reconnaissance Battalion of Marines, operating behind enemy lines in the opening days of the Iraq War in HBO's gritty new drama miniseries, "Generation Kill."

What you probably don't know is how amazingly realistic it is — and what one journalist went through in order to write the story that the creators of "The Wire" would then convert into the television event of the summer.

At the time, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 seemed like a high-tech race to Baghdad, with bunker busters and 3-D maps and real-time video from sat phones.

But in Evan Wright’s mesmerizing book Generation Kill — and the faithful adaptation of it currently airing on HBO — the war plays out more like Hannibal’s army on elephants: slower, dustier and a whole lot bloodier than what we saw on the news.

On assignment for Rolling Stone, Wright was an embedded reporter with the Marines of Bravo Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, who acted as the “spear tip” of the invasion. Severing all contact with the outside world, Wright joined the fewer than 400 men who lumbered northward in aging Humvees toward the Iraqi capital, often ahead of all other U.S. forces, taking on and returning enemy fire through 16 firefights.

Despite the constant peril — the chilling ambush that opens the book would prove typical — Wright stayed embedded and won the Marines’ trust. He kept copious notes, in pen. When there was a break in the action, he would interview others, triangulating their recollections to create vivid and accurate accounts of what they were going through.

The first Marine he bonded with was Lt. Nathaniel Fick, the platoon’s Dartmouth-educated commander. Wright had studied medieval history, and Fick, who was interested in antiquity, would soon become Virgil to his Dante, guiding the author through the rings of Hell en route to Baghdad.

“Every time (the convoy stopped), I would get out and go to Fick and say, ‘What happened?’ ” Wright says. “As a result, my book is written with an artificial omniscience.”

Wright says Fick made one request of him, and it’s a line heard in this second episode of “Generation Kill”: Turning to the reporter (played by Lee Tergesen), Fick (Stark Sands) says simply, “Write this as you see it.”

The author wrote down what he heard as well, and these conversations among the men of Bravo Company are what endear them to the reader. Postmodern accounts of war, like the novel The Farther Shore by Kansas Citian Matthew Eck, plunge the reader into the disorienting fog of war.

Wright, by contrast, calls attention to the community formed by the Marines of Bravo Company, primarily through storytelling and shared experience. The fog, or dust cloud, is still there, but it often seems unimportant to these expertly trained killers, who pride themselves on being utterly prepared for anything.

When Wright got home, he transcribed 1,000 pages of material from his notes and wrote “The Killer Elite,” a three-part series for the magazine. Empathy combined with hard work and the luxury of magazine deadlines resulted in an instant classic of war journalism.

“Not only did he have the time to construct a coherent and almost artistic narrative,” an admiring reviewer later wrote, “but also he was writing for a publication willing to print the unexpurgated musings of the Marines. Wright could include the homoerotic joking, their violent fantasies and even their discussions of bowel movements.”

“The Killer Elite” was optioned by HBO, which also bought the rights to Wright’s book-length version. Yet it would be two years before the story of this new band of brothers would find its way into the hands of producers who were ideally suited — perhaps even predestined — to bring it to the small screen.

Through storytelling and shared experience, HBO’s “Generation Kill” focuses on the community of the Marines of Bravo Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. Jonah Lotan, who plays Doc, helps a child in this scene.

David Simon had just wrapped the third season of “The Wire,” another gritty study of an American subculture, when Kary Antholis, a senior vice president of HBO Films, offered him Generation Kill.

A former newspaper writer, Simon had read In the Company of Soldiers by former KC Star reporter Rick Atkinson, but hadn’t heard of Wright’s book until then. He immediately took to it and told the author at their first meeting that he wanted to reproduce it as closely as possible.

“We’re going to make your book if we can,” he said.

Ed Burns, Simon’s co-executive producer, broke down the book into scripts while Simon involved Wright in writing, casting and the training of actors on location in Africa.


Both men credit Eric Kocher — who served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and was hired as a key military adviser for the TV series— with ensuring the final product was both accurate and realistic from a Marine’s point of view. (Above: Simon, Kocher and Burns on the set in Africa.)

During the intensive mixing of the series’ multilayered audio track, Kocher wrote much of the radio chatter and suggested other lines that could be dropped into the background (“Semper Gumby — always flexible!”).

As the final episodes were in post-production, Kocher started firing off increasingly antagonistic e-mails complaining about the so-called light armored vehicles. They were not actual “LAVs,” in fact, but South African-made trucks that the producers tried to pass off as LAVs on screen. Finally, Kocher declared that the fake LAVs made him “want to vomit.”

Freedom isn’t free — nor, it turns out, is verisimilitude. HBO spent $210,000 to have the vehicles digitally altered to look like the real deals.

I’m at poolside with Kocher, Wright, Simon, P.J. Ransone (one of the actors) and another First Recon member, Jeff Carisalez, who advised on the series.

They’re sitting around a table, eating, drinking, telling stories on one another and laughing uproariously. Having gone through unbelievable violence together, both inflicted and suffered, these men now proudly belong to the P-T-S fraternity. (“To me,” says Kocher, “it’s not a disorder. It’s just P-T-S: post-traumatic stress.”)

As the storytelling gets louder, Wright leans over my recorder.

“Strange as it sounds,” he says, “when I was in Iraq, we were up on this one bridge about 20 kilometers from any other U.S. forces. We were totally surrounded. There were only about 50 of us. And — it was fun. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the way we’re wired as humans, or as men.”

The New York Times
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August 11, 2008

The Classic Rock Magazine Is Switching to a Smaller, Rack-Friendly Size

Some packages like the curvaceous old Coke bottle become so iconic that they are recognizable at 30 paces. So it is with Rolling Stone, whose large format has stood out on magazine racks for more than three decades. It won’t for much longer, however. With the Oct. 30 issue, which will go on sale Oct. 17, Rolling Stone, published by Wenner Media, will adopt the standard size used by all but a few magazines.

In an interview in his office, Jann Wenner, founder, publisher, editor and general guiding force behind the nation’s biggest music magazine, was characteristically brash about the change. Leaning back in his chair, one leg slung over the side of it, he said, “All you’re getting from that large size is nostalgia.”

But as he knows well, nostalgia is a powerful marketing force, as is a package that instantly evokes not only the product, but an era. It is tempting to apply that logic to a 41-year-old magazine that seems to put as many pensioners as teenagers on its cover, but Rolling Stone’s readership, bigger than it has ever been, has a surprisingly young median age, in the early 30s, according to market research firms.

Rolling Stone, published every other week, has paid circulation in the United States of more than 1.4 million, the highest in its history, but its single-copy sales have fallen from 189,000 in 1999, to 132,000 last year. Magazine racks at bookstores, newsstands and checkout counters tend to be made for the standard dimensions, and if Rolling Stone is there, it is often on a high or low shelf, out of eye level, or even on its side or folded over.

Gary Armstrong, chief marketing officer for Wenner Media, pointed to Vanity Fair, which has lower overall circulation than Rolling Stone, but nearly three times the single-copy sales. With a standard format, he said, it should be possible to raise newsstand sales significantly.

“The consumer we want to reach watches ‘Lost’ on a big TV screen, on a computer screen and on an iPhone,” he said. “They’re agnostic on format.”

While the people who run the magazine argue that there is much to be gained from the change — in advertising, sales and aesthetics — they also admit to losing something that made Rolling Stone distinctive. “I myself was kind of torn about it,” Mr. Wenner admitted.

Along with the change in size, Rolling Stone will switch to heavier, glossy paper and sleeker page designs, and it will be glued rather than stapled — “perfect bound” instead of “saddle stitched,” in magazine lingo — giving it a flat spine rather than a tapered edge. In all, the revisions make for a more professional, more grown-up look.

Those might be fighting words to Rolling Stone’s original audience, and no big deal to a generation raised on desktop publishing that makes even dorm-room projects look polished. The changes fit a magazine that, after taking a much-maligned detour in the 1990s toward more celebrity, pop culture and bite-sized reports, has returned to form in the last few years, winning awards for long articles on topics from Iraq to presidential politics.

To save money on paper, many newspapers and magazines have taken to printing smaller pages, fewer pages or both. But Rolling Stone says it will spend more and print more, not less: in addition to using more expensive paper and binding, it plans to add 16 to 20 pages per issue.

Magazine size has become increasingly standardized, at around 8 by 11 inches, give or take a fraction. Rolling Stone, at 10 by 11 3/4 inches, is, like ESPN and W, one of the few large-circulation magazines left that are significantly taller and wider.

Rolling Stone is profitable, according to Wenner, a privately held company — outside analysts agree — but like the industry as a whole, it is going through a rough period. The magazine had 486 ad pages in the first half of 2008, according to the Publishers Information Bureau, down 33 percent from the same period in 2005.

On balance, going to standard size should appeal to advertisers, according to Brenda White, senior vice president for publishing at Starcom USA, a major media agency. “But when you change something that’s been that way for — how many years? — people might hesitate,” she said.

For most advertisers, she said, the improved picture quality on glossy paper more than compensates for the smaller size, and it will save many of them the expense of revising their usual ads to fit in Rolling Stone.

Media buyers and Rolling Stone executives say the change in size is likely to make a bigger difference in selling insert ads, like those with scent strips or tear-out postcards. For technical reasons, it is more difficult and more expensive to put them into saddle-stitched magazines than into perfect-bound ones.

Independent experts agree that the new size could help Rolling Stone strike better deals with retailers, distributors, even printers — all fields that, over the last decade, have experienced great consolidation and a drive toward standardization.

“There are disadvantages to being an odd size in handling, moving it through distribution centers, in addition to retail display,” said John Harrington, editor of The New Single Copy, a newsletter about magazine marketing. “If you came forward trying to sell a brand new magazine today with that size, you’d have to have a lot of money behind it for it to be accepted.”

Rolling Stone created a prototype issue at the smaller size in July, sent it to more than 3,000 readers and asked them to take a survey. The company says the reaction was overwhelmingly positive, and it showed the survey results to some of its major advertisers and ad buyers.

In the large format, long articles often turn up as daunting expanses of almost uninterrupted type. With the revision, such pages are smaller and less intimidating, and more likely to be broken up with photographs. Sections filled with shorter items look less cluttered with fewer of them on a page. Smaller design changes give the pages a slightly airier, cleaner look.

“We’ve evolved,” Mr. Wenner said. “But the core tradition, the mission, remains the same.”

Another Consumer Scammed By is NOT actually free, nor is it related to, the free credit report that you are entitled to under federal law. So why are people still being tricked into signing up for a credit monitoring service in order to get something that they are entitled to under federal-freaking-law? Because the credit bureaus are linking them to the website and most consumers don't believe that a major credit bureau would try to trick them. Always read the fine print!

Reader Brian is one such consumer. He clicked through to from a credit bureau website and was later socked with a charge for a credit monitoring service he knew nothing about. Here's his letter:

A few weeks ago I decided that it was time to do my annual check of my credit report. All of the major credit reporting agencies seem to strong arm you towards

I went through the sign-up and authentication procedure. As a part of the procedure you have to enter a valid credit card that appears on your report. It’s followed by the usual legalize eye-watering disclaimers.

Last week I checked my current MasterCard bill online. I was greeted by the following entry:

07/28/08 CIC*Triple Advantage 877-4816825 CA $14.95
Not immediately recognizing the company, I called the company and found out that it was an alias for After navigating the menu tree I was eventually connected to a woman who seemed to be annoyed that she had to deal with a customer. I asked her about the charge and she started asking far more personal information than was contained in my credit report. When I refused to provide more than the basic information, she relented and insisted that I had signed up for the monthly monitor. She further stated that since I hadn’t cancelled it within the first month (I didn’t know about it until the bill came) I was obligated for a one year membership.

Not one to take this type of thing sitting down, I advised the woman in direct (not offensive) terms that
· I did not knowingly sign up for the service.
· I did not authorize this service
· I do not want this service
· I will not pay for this service
· I will be filing a formal complaint with the AG’s office in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts about their deceptive marketing practices

The woman put me on hold for about five minutes and finally came back and said that the account had been cancelled and that a refund would be forthcoming. As of this morning, approximately a week later, the credit has yet to show up on my credit card statement.

The moral to this story is that is a scam set up by the credit reporting agencies. It is not there to fulfill their legal obligation to provide you with your credit reports. It is, instead, a sleazy way of selling their “value-added” services. I think that most people would be afraid to stand up to a reporting agency.

If you're a regular reader of Consumerist, you may have known about this issue for a long time, (or are the type of person who always reads the fine print, which is very admirable) but most consumers are simply not aware that isn't the "free credit report" that they're entitled to by law. What's more, they implicitly trust the heavily advertised guitar playing loser from the commercials, or the recommendation of a major credit bureau.

Warn your friends. isn't free.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The New York Times
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August 9, 2008

Scientist Officially Exonerated in Anthrax Attacks

WASHINGTON — Six years after labeling Steven J. Hatfill a “person of interest” in the anthrax attacks, the Justice Department formally exonerated him on Friday and told his lawyer it had concluded that Dr. Hatfill “was not involved in the anthrax mailings.”

The department agreed in June to pay $4.6 million to settle Dr. Hatfill’s lawsuit against the government, but until Friday it had conspicuously avoided declaring that he had nothing to do with the attacks.

Jeffrey A. Taylor, the United States attorney for the District of Columbia, said in the letter to Dr. Hatfill’s lawyer that “we have concluded, based on laboratory access records, witness accounts and other information, that Dr. Hatfill did not have access to the particular anthrax used in the attacks, and that he was not involved in the anthrax mailings.”

The lawyer, Thomas G. Connolly, declined to comment Friday, except to say that “the letter speaks for itself.”

The formal exoneration underscored the wrong path that the investigation had taken before the F.B.I. began looking two years ago at a colleague of Dr. Hatfill, another military scientist named Bruce E. Ivins.

The Justice Department said this week that it was now convinced that Dr. Ivins — who died 11 days ago after taking an overdose of painkillers — was the anthrax killer and that he had acted alone in a crime that killed five people and shook the country.

Leading lawmakers have promised to examine the course of the F.B.I.’s investigation and called on the Justice Department to explain how a scientist who appeared to have been hiding in plain sight was missed for so long. Dr. Ivins, who had specialized in anthrax vaccines at a military research facility at Fort Detrick, Md., assisted the F.B.I. in the early stages of its investigation, but his mental instability and suspicious habits appeared to have been well known to many acquaintances and co-workers.

Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee and has been a critic of the pace of the F.B.I.’s anthrax investigation, said in a telephone interview Friday that Congress needed to conduct hearings to determine what went wrong in the investigation.

“We’ve had a seven-year investigation and $15 million spent on it and one of the ‘people of interest’ bought off for $5.8 million over what was obviously an F.B.I. screw-up,” Mr. Grassley said. “We need answers.”

The F.B.I. bought Dr. Hatfill an annuity that will be worth $5.8 million to him and his lawyers.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will expand its investigation into the risks of government laboratories to include the screening of personnel at Fort Detrick and elsewhere, said the committee chairman, Representative John D. Dingell, and the chairman of the investigations subcommittee, Representative Bart Stupak, both Democrats of Michigan. They urged a moratorium on construction of laboratories housing research into highly infectious agents.

Beginning in 2002, within months of the anthrax attacks in the fall of 2001, Dr. Hatfill became the sole suspect publicly linked to the case, in part through news reports and in part through the public statements of the authorities. John Ashcroft, who was then the attorney general, said in an unusual pronouncement in August 2002 that Dr. Hatfill was “a person of interest” in the anthrax investigation.

Dr. Hatfill declared his innocence from the start, saying the notoriety threatened to ruin his career and his life. “I am not the anthrax killer,” he declared outside his lawyer’s office in an emotional pronouncement a week after Mr. Ashcroft’s statement.

But the F.B.I. searched his home and maintained nearly round-the-clock surveillance on him for years.

In June, the Justice Department agreed to the multimillion-dollar settlement with Dr. Hatfill to end the lawsuit he had brought alleging that his privacy was violated by the government’s leaks linking him to the case. Dr. Hatfill also sued The New York Times and the columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, saying that columns Mr. Kristof wrote about the case had libeled him by suggesting that he might be the anthrax mailer. That lawsuit was dismissed last year, but Dr. Hatfill has appealed the dismissal.

The Justice Department’s announcement of its settlement with Dr. Hatfill, unlike some of its past agreements with people wrongfully suspected in investigations, did not include any exoneration of Dr. Hatfill or an apology to him. Officials said later that when they reached the settlement, they did not want to alert Dr. Ivins to their possible interest in him by declaring that they had cleared Dr. Hatfill.

At a news conference on Wednesday laying out the case against Dr. Ivins, officials went out of their way to avoid mentioning Dr. Hatfill by name, and they stopped short of clearing him.

“With respect to the other individual you mentioned,” Joseph Persichini Jr., the head of the F.B.I.’s Washington field office, told a reporter who asked about Dr. Hatfill, “we were able to determine that at no time could that individual be put in the presence of that flask from which these spores came.”

But Dr. Hatfill’s lawyers were said to be unsatisfied and pressed the department for an explicit exoneration, according to one person close to the case who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Olympics Judo

Exclusive Summer Olympics news & widgets at NBC!

MySpace president is Paris Hilton's latest accessory ???

DeWolfe (in the gray jacket) and Hilton (in the pink dress) leaving a club in L.A. together.

It's not the sort of TechCrunch post you see every day: the Valley blog reported on Friday night that Chris DeWolfe, president of News Corp.'s MySpace, is dating ubiquitous heiress Paris Hilton.

It's been going on for a few weeks, editor Michael Arrington wrote, adding that he was tipped off to it when he saw the two together in a video clip from paparazzi site X17.

The gossip column of the New York Post has also mentioned offhand that Hilton has been spotted at parties in a house that DeWolfe has rented in Southampton, N.Y. (That's an upscale summer party town on Long Island, for those of you unfamiliar with mid-Atlantic geography.)

DeWolfe, 42, is married but going through a separation process, according to TechCrunch. Hilton, 27, ostensibly still has a boyfriend, but really, who the heck knows?

Maybe this is what happens after Paris Hilton articulates her proposed energy policy via Web video and receives a resoundingly positive response: she stops dating Greek shipping heirs, B-list musicians, and reality show stars, opting instead for digital-media executives.

It also might be a publicity stunt, a sort of way for DeWolfe to make a statement about MySpace's identity. I mean, could you ever see Mark Zuckerberg doing something like this? once hounded the young Facebook founder as he walked out of a chic restaurant in L.A. with a cute date. In fact, she was his girlfriend of several years; all the pair was willing to do for the cameras was laugh for a few minutes and then walk away.

Some say ad casts Obama as the antichrist

McCain spot may have themes on the apocalypse

Supporters of Barack Obama said the ad from the McCain campaign furthered rumors that Obama is the antichrist. Supporters of Barack Obama said the ad from the McCain campaign furthered rumors that Obama is the antichrist.

By Foon Rhee Globe Staff
August 9, 2008

Does John McCain's Web ad that mocks Barack Obama as "The One" have a darker design?

Outraged Christian supporters of Obama say it does - that it is intended to further Internet-fueled rumors that Obama is the antichrist. Deconstructing and analyzing the ad, they say the images and language play into apocalyptic themes, including those featured in the best-selling "Left Behind" series, fictionalized accounts of the end of the world.

McCain's campaign, which did not respond to requests for comment yesterday, has said that the ad was intended merely to poke fun at what they see as Obama's arrogance.

But the buzz over possible apocalyptic subtexts in the ad, which has been viewed nearly 1.1 million times since it was posted a week ago on YouTube, has become so loud that yesterday Time magazine and The Wall Street Journal reported on the controversy and the authors of "Left Behind" issued a statement about it.

Authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, in the statement issued through their public relations firm, said they don't believe Obama is the antichrist mentioned in the biblical prophecies in the Book of Revelation. Their series of 16 novels has sold more than 63 million copies worldwide.

"I've gotten a lot of questions the last few weeks asking if Obama is the antichrist," Jenkins said in the statement. "I tell everyone that I don't think the antichrist will come out of politics, especially American politics."

LaHaye added: "I can see by the language he uses why people think he could be the antichrist, but from my reading of scripture, he doesn't meet the criteria. There is no indication in the Bible that the antichrist will be an American."

Those analyzing the ad point to the opening words - "It should be known that in 2008 the world shall be blessed. They will call him The One" - and a clip of Obama saying in a speech: "A nation healed, a world repaired. We are the ones that we've been waiting for."

In the "Left Behind" series, the antichrist is a charismatic young political leader who is founder of The One World religion and promises to heal the world.

"Short of 666, they used every single symbol of the antichrist in this ad," Eric Sapp, a Democratic operative who advises Democrats on reaching out to faith communities, told the Journal. "There are way too many things to just be coincidence."

LaHaye and other believers say the antichrist will come from Europe, maybe Romania and possibly a leader of the European Union.

But for the last few months, there have been viral e-mails that compare Obama to Nimrod, whom some evangelicals believe was the first evil king of world history and who is black in some accounts, said James Tabor, chairman of the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

While the Obama-as-antichrist accusation is on the fringes now and not seriously mentioned from the pulpit, Tabor said, "I think that could come."

After reviewing the video yesterday, Tabor, a specialist in ancient apocalyptic thought, said that while the ad's creators might have wanted to play with apocalyptic themes in a tongue-in-cheek way, it could have "serious consequences."

"Is anyone naive enough to believe and watch that and say, 'Oh no, I won't vote for him because he's the antichrist?' I'd have to say in our country, yeah," Tabor said.

And, he noted, another biblical prophecy is that the antichrist gets wounded, and a disturbed believer could try to fulfill that prophecy. A man has been charged in Florida for threatening to assassinate Obama, who requested and received Secret Service protection last year at the earliest point for any presidential candidate after his campaign received hate mail.

"This stuff is very, very dangerous," Tabor said. "It can be seen as playful, but too many times in history it has led to armies marching and people dying. The ad is really unfortunate."

Friday, August 08, 2008

L.A. Superior Court


Jane Doe


Splash News & Picture Agency Inc.; Kevin Smith; Gary Morgan; Eric Munn; Darren Banks; Does


A reporter for People magazine claims paparazzi drugged the late actor Heath Ledger and videotaped him against his will during a seven-hour cocaine party at the Chateau Marmont Hotel. The paparazzi, who threw the party, made $1 million by publishing the footage after Ledger died, the Jane Doe plaintiff claims in Los Angeles Superior Court. She sued the photographers and their employer, Splash News & Picture Agency, claiming fraud and intrusion.

Doe says she and two photographers met Ledger at a Screen Actors Guild Award after-party. She claims her date, Darren Banks, and his friend, Eric Munn, invited Ledger to her hotel room, and concealed their professions from Ledger.

She claims the following took place: In the hotel room, Banks and Munn gave Ledger cocaine, which Doe says they bought with Splash’s money. Ledger also had some of his own cocaine. The three men snorted the cocaine, then Munn left the room. Eventually, Doe saw that Munn was hiding on the balcony, shooting video footage through an open window. Ledger got angry when he discovered that the men were paparazzi. Munn bought more cocaine for Ledger in an effort to calm him down.

Doe says she and Ledger demanded that the two men destroy the video. Munn left the room with the video, claiming he was going to throw the tape away, but he took the tape to his car instead. Munn and Banks “kept insisting” that the tape would “never see the light of day,” the lawsuit states.

Then, Doe says, Munn invited his cocaine dealer to the party. She says she told Munn to leave at least five times, but he refused. Munn and the dealer raided the plaintiff’s minibar, racking up $700 in charges.

“At least three times she tried to bodily lift up Munn from the couch, in an attempt to get him out of her room,” the suit states.

Doe says she forgot about the incident for several months. But shortly after Ledger’s death, “Entertainment Tonight” ran the footage, calling it the “Heath Ledger Drug Tape.”

Doe claims “Entertainment Tonight” made it appear that the video depicted hotel guests partying with Ledger, rather than a paparazzi entrapment scheme.

“Splash spun the story so that it sounded like they had purchased the video from a hotel guest and not from their staffers, who first drugged Mr. Ledger and then videotaped him, with plaintiff’s image and voice clearly present in the background,” the complaint claims.

“Entertainment Tonight” allegedly bought part of the video for $200,000. Splash has sold the video all over the world, according to the complaint. The video also allegedly shows the plaintiff, and contains her voice, which is enhanced with subtitles.“In short, employees of Splash drugged Mr. Ledger, a known drug user, and then videotaped him without his consent for the purpose of damaging his reputation and to make money,” the suit claims. Doe says defendants“victimized and duped” her in order to “create a story by getting this actor to take drugs and then secretly film him and exploit his illness.”

Causes of action: Fraud; negligence; trespass; intrusion; privacy invasion; unjust enrichment; intentional infliction of emotional distress; intentional and negligent interference with prospective economic advantage; negligent supervision; violations of civil and penal codes

Filing counsel:
Neville Johnson, Douglas Johnson and Nicholas Kurtz of Johnson & Johnson (Beverly Hills, Calif.)

Hollywood player Bernie Brillstein dies at 77

Brillstein helped guide the careers of John Belushi and Jim Henson, and bring "Saturday Night Live" and "The Sopranos" to the screen.

August 8, 2008

Bernie Brillstein, a Hollywood talent agent, manager, producer and studio head who over half a century guided the careers of "Saturday Night Live" comedians and helped package a slew of TV and movie hits, has died. He was 77.

Brillstein died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Thursday night at a Los Angeles hospital, according to information provided Friday by Brillstein Entertainment Partners.

Starting in the mail room of the William Morris talent agency in 1956, Brillstein moved up to become a Hollywood power broker famous for putting together TV and movie deals, often starring talent he represented and with himself as executive producer.

Brillstein helped guide the careers of John Belushi and Muppets creator Jim Henson, and bring "Saturday Night Live" and "The Sopranos" to the screen.

With partner Brad Grey he founded the influential management and production company Brillstein-Grey Entertainment in 1991.

Among the successful shows he helped bring to TV were the long-running variety show "Hee Haw" and "Alf." He was executive producer on Dan Ackroyd's hit movie, "Ghostbusters."

Brash, sharp and rotundly rumpled, Brillstein exemplified the old-school stereotype of an agent rather than the slick, corporate "Jerry Maguire" operator.

In his 1999 memoir, "Where Did I Go Right? -- You're No One in Hollywood Unless Someone Wants You Dead," he recalled that early on at William Morris Agency in New York, he helped negotiate a Broadway musical deal for an actress -- only to find out that she had been dead for four years.

"Now that's classic agenting," he recalled. "We got a dead person a $250-a-week raise. I knew I was in the right business."

Brillstein had a reputation for caring deeply for his clients. Agenting, he told CNN in 1999, was much more than cutting deals for clients.

"You're a wife. You really are," he said. "You take care of everything and get them ready for the day."

"How do you take an actor or comedian or a writer and point them in the right direction and go through all that garbage unless you love it and love them and think they're talented and worth it?," he said. "It's an amazing experience."

Brillstein, who was married several times, is survived by his wife, Carrie; sons Michael Brillstein, David Koskoff and Nick Koskoff; daughters Kate Brillstein and Leigh Brillstein, and a grandson, Alden.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Howard Stern Sidekick Artie Lange Heads to Rehab

August 06, 2008


Artie Lange, the plus-sized sidekick on Howard Stern's Sirius radio show, has checked himself into an intensive outpatient rehab program, the New York Post reports.

The comedian, 41, was scheduled to appear at the filming of the Comedy Central roast of close friend Bob Saget on Sunday, and a source told the newspaper he "felt awful for not being there for Bob, but needed to make his health a priority."

Lange's rep confirmed the news for the Post.

Lange, who has appeared on "MadTV" and in the movie "Elf," also canceled his stand-up shows this weekend, but plans to resume his role on "The Howard Stern Show" when it returns from hiatus.

The comedian has had well-publicized struggles with drugs, food and alcohol. In 2007, he told the Miami New Times that "I don't think I can keep doing what I'm doing right now as far as my health is concerned. The lifestyle I'm leading is brutally bad. I'm fatter than I've ever been. It's depressing."

Paris Hilton responds to McCain, announces her presidential candidacy and profound energy policy

Aug 5 2008

Parisversusmccain Paris Hilton has finally responded to the taunting attack ad which so insensitively compared her to Barack Obama.

Paris shows that unlike either Obama or rival John McCain (to whom she refers herein as "that wrinkly white-haired guy"), that she can gracefully and eloquently explain complicated matters of energy policy...while wearing a bikini and heels and looking at magazines.

"I'm not from the olden days and I'm not promising change like that other guy," she explained. "I'm just hot."

But though her aspirations may have been limited before, that all changed when McCain exploited her image in his ad. "Which I guess means I'm running for president," Hilton pledged.

Hilton then explains her energy plan, an incredible feat unto itself, as the heiress explodes all prejudices against her intellectual prowess by saying like 25 big words in a row without messing up.

If no one else has done so yet, I would like to be the first to endorse Paris Hilton for president of the United States.

UPDATE (5:01 pm): The McCain camp has apparently responded to the Paris video, telling TMZ: "Sounds like Paris is taking the 'All of the Above' energy approach that John McCain has advocated -- both alternatives and drilling. Perhaps the reality is that Paris has a more substantive energy plan than Barack Obama." Wow, seriously, is this an election for 5th grade class president?

UPDATE 2 (5:48 pm): The video's creator, Adam Mckay (the guy behind "The Landlord") talks about the moment he came up with the idea here.

Dr. Bill Dauber's Top Five Books

Journalism instructor Bill Dauber shares his top five books that students might enjoy.
Journalism Professor Dr. Bill Dauber (UC Berkeley alumnus) shares his top five books that students might enjoy.

Many of my students say they don't have time to read and that books just don't hold their attention. It's with their words in mind that I compiled my list, not of my top five books, but a list of books that start fast and end faster.

1. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Give O'Brien one paragraph, the first 271 words, and you'll be hooked. This novel details the lives of Vietnam soldiers and the things they carried into battle, both physical and mental, and the things they carried home. The writing is just plain great, and I think the subject is important today.

2. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
My favorites of McCarthy include the border trilogy: "All the Pretty Horses," "The Crossing," and "Cities of the Plain." "No Country" is a good place to start because this book is less work than his others, and it features a fantastic beginning. It's a dark novel about a drug deal that went bad and an old-fashioned sheriff who realizes that he's dealing with a different type of criminal, one that he doesn't want to become like in order to catch.

3. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
I was living alone when I first picked up this book and made the mistake of reading it at night. The book details the murder of a Kansas farm family in 1959, and the author takes you so close to the residents of Holcomb and the killers that it's scary. This book introduced me to literature as non-fiction. Read it during the day.

4. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
My hope is that once you start reading Didion you won't stop. With all her books, you get a sense that Didion spends a lot of time searching for the perfect paragraph, sentence and word. "Magical Thinking" is a gift to Didion's readers as she writes about her husband who died suddenly and a daughter who is battling a life-threatening illness. Didion consults experts about the medical and psychological experiences of grief, but it's her feelings of grief and the ability to express them perfectly that makes this book great.

5. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
I remember calling friends on the telephone just to read them passages from Ondaatje's book. This novel, which has been translated into 300 languages, chronicles the lives of four damaged people living in an Italian villa at the end of World War II. Read this book for the language and share it with a friend.