January 25, 2006

Frey’s Lies: The Oprah Spin Cycle Begins

Filed under: Corporate Outrage,Scams — Tom @ 7:50 pm

Today I received a PR e-mail, presumably in reaction to my various posts about the devastating Smoking Gun and New York Times articles that skewered and essentially disproved the truthfulness of James Frey’s book, “A Million Little Pieces.”

The release is dated January 18, so I don’t know whether the author is fully aware of what yesterday’s New York Times piece did to what remained of Mr. Frey’s and Oprah’s credibility.

But, for the record, if you can stand it, here are the first five paras:

Christian Prison Evangelist Sides with Oprah Winfrey over “A Million Little Pieces” Controversy

Christian prison evangelist Marty Angelo speaks out in support of television talk show host Oprah Winfrey and her stand on the “redemptive” value of author Jim Frey’s controversial best-seller “A Million Little Pieces.”

LOS ANGELES, CA (PRWEB) JANUARY 18, 2006 -— In the wake of recent controversy over the issue of embellishments and unverified facts in author James Frey’s best-selling book, “A Million Little Pieces,” Christian prison evangelist Marty Angelo today spoke out in support of television talk show host Oprah Winfrey and her stand on the “redemptive” value of Frey’s controversial best-seller.

Angelo has recently finished writing a book entitled, “Once Life Matters: A New Beginning,” chronicling the true story of his struggle as a major entertainment industry executive caught up in a life of drugs, booze, rock/disco music, and a six-year sentence to a federal prison for possession and conspiracy to distribute cocaine. It is a powerful, life-changing account of his delivery from addiction, and is scheduled for release on January 30, 2006.

“I think Oprah should be commended for not only standing behind her ‘redemptive’ remarks regarding Frey’s book, but also for her willingness to keep the book on her ‘Oprah’s Book Club’ picks list,” said Angelo during a recent Christian drug rehab founder’s meeting.

While Angelo does not condone the inclusion of fictional elements in a book marketed as non-fiction, he says, “The controversy surrounding the recent accusations that Frey embellished some of his statements in his book is relatively minor compared to the fact this man claims he cleared one of the biggest hurdles in his life—his substance abuse. That’s the bottom line issue.”

“Right now the media seems to be negatively attacking the messenger instead of concentrating on promoting the positive message of redemption, as Oprah so clearly points out,” Angelo adds. “In terms of the benefit to readers as a self-help book, the message is the key issue, not the minor story details. One needs to stay focused on what the real message is—overcoming addiction.”

I cannot come up with words to describe the contempt I have for people like Mr. Angelo who remain so willfully blind, and who should (and I believe actually do) know better.
_________________________________

UPDATE: John Leo’s sarcastic column title sums it all up — “Lying Isn’t So Bad If It Makes You Feel Good”

Kelo Sand Springs Church-Taking Update:
The Case Gains National Attention

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:44 pm

Most recent developments:

  • Ralph Blumenthal of the New York Times has a story today (requires free registration) excerpted below on the Centennial Baptist Church controversy.
  • The matter is receiving a great deal of local and national attention — (from the Times article) “The Sand Springs Leader stepped up coverage of Mr. Gildon, and a local radio host, Dillon Dodge, broadcast a program on the dispute. ‘Hannity and Colmes,’ the talk show on the Fox News Channel, plans a program from Sand Springs on Wednesday, Ms. Wilhelm said.” Heather Wilhelm is the author of the National Review Online article that has ultimately led to the Sand Springs Project’s national visibility.
  • Contrary to contentions in the comments section at another blog (which also erroneously characterized this entire controversy as a “hoax”), vision2025.info IS the official web site of Vision 2025, per David Arnett of Program Management Group LLC in Tulsa, which operates the web site.
  • I also spoke with Mr. Arnett on his personal take in the Sand Springs matter, which I will go into after The Times excerpt.

Now to The Times story (excellent journalism — since I’ve beaten up on them often in the past, they deserve their due on this one; bolds mine; links within article added by me):

Humble Church Is at Center of Debate on Eminent Domain

SAND SPRINGS, Okla. – With bulldozers churning up the earth at the front door, the small Centennial Baptist Church in this struggling industrial hub west of Tulsa seems about to fall to the wrecker.

But the construction is just roadwork, for now. And that is all it will ever be if the congregation has its way.

“The Lord didn’t send me here to build a minimall,” said the longtime pastor, the Rev. Roosevelt Gildon.

In what a local newspaper called “a battle between God Almighty and the almighty dollar,” Sand Springs is moving ahead with a redevelopment plan to clear the church and other occupants from the rundown district near downtown to make way for superstores like the Home Depot.

“I’m open to anyone telling me how we’re going to pay for city services,” said Mayor Bob Walker, who said the city was seeking to negotiate fair prices with Mr. Gildon and other property owners – 41 offers have been accepted – and would use eminent domain only as a last resort.

Strengthened by a United States Supreme Court ruling last summer that approved the condemnation of private property by New London, Conn., for resale to other private interests for what the court called “public purpose,” municipalities around the country are considering similar forced takings, to a chorus of opposition by local interests and state legislators.

….. Here in Sand Springs, a city of 17,600 on the Arkansas River founded by Charles Page, the oilman, industrialist and philanthropist, the redevelopment plan dates from 2003. County voters agreed to add fractions of a penny to the sales tax for special projects, in the Sand Springs case $14.5 million to acquire private tracts on 96 acres along the highway for redevelopment.

But the project was thrust into the national spotlight on Jan. 17 with an article posted on National Review Online by a conservative group, Americans for Limited Government, based in Glenview, Ill., that has been working with Oklahomans in Action and other groups to gather signatures for the “Protect Our Homes” movement and budget-curbing measures on state ballots.

….. City officials, mortified at being portrayed as villains, protested that they had not seized any property and might not. “Eminent domain is not being used at this time to acquire property,” City Manager Loy Calhoun said in a statement Friday. “Media reports to the contrary are inaccurate.”

But in interviews, Mr. Calhoun and Mayor Walker acknowledged that it remained a last resort if the city and property owners could not agree on price.

Mr. Gildon, sitting in a pew of the church that he has led for 14 years, the last seven in a new building that cost $90,000, said he and other leaders of the congregation met last week with a relocation agent working for the city, the Cinnabar Service Company, and came away believing that they had little choice but to sell.

“If you tell me this is going to happen,” he said, “that tells me it’s eminent domain.”

He said the offer of $142,000 for the church and two extra lots was not enough to move to a new location where he could serve his 50 or so regular members. He said he was “praying over” the question of a counteroffer. “If I have to move,” he said, “we’re not going out of existence.”

“….. (he) said he told city officials, “The Lord did not lead me here to sell out the church.”

If the parties cannot agree, a team of three appointed appraisers devises a final offer, and whether or not the seller is happy, the city can take it for that price – and sell it to someone else.

Other property owners in the first 25-acre redevelopment zone said they felt that the city’s initial offer of $1 a square foot was far too low. A fairer figure, several said, would be $8.50.

“I don’t have a problem with the city,” said Joe Harrison, who runs the Firestone dealership downtown. “I just don’t want them stealing my land.”

In the Muffler Stop a few blocks from the church, Ernie Nanney said the city first offered him $65,000 “which is less than I paid 25 years ago.” He said that he counteroffered $350,000 and that the city came back with $85,000. (NOTE: Based on this, the status of the Muffler Shop at this post has been changed to BEING TAKEN; note that the McDonald’s in the area is NOT–Ed.)

In her small wood-frame house on Oak Street, Ray Jean Smith-Knight, 72, said that when she grew up a few houses away the neighborhood was “a little old Wall Street” of black professionals, and survivors of the Tulsa race riot of 1921 were welcomed to Sand Springs by Charles Page.

Ms. Smith-Knight said that she had yet to receive a buyout offer and that despite the deterioration of the area did not relish leaving.

“I’m not happy about it but I don’t have a choice,” she said. “So many people have passed away that used to be fighters. One or two cannot fight.”

Leave it to Reverend Gildon to cut to the chase: The forced acceptance of the city’s offer, with the threat of eminent domain backing it up, means that the government’s expanded right of eminent domain (thanks to Kelo) made the property transfer happen, whether or not the city is ever forced to condemn the property.

David Arnett’s Take

Mr. Arnett and I had an extensive conversation about the Sand Springs project and his personal views of it. Here are the main things I took away from it:

  • City officials are sincere in their belief, and he also believes, that they are doing what they believe is in the best interest of the community, and they don’t want to have to use eminent domain.
  • The area involved is very blighted, and most people living there are renters in non owner-occupied housing. Most have been oblivious to the city’s hopes and plans for the area, though they have been known and publicized for many years.
  • There are properties in the area that have been sitting idle for 20-30 years and more.
  • If the church doesn’t sell and most others in the area do, Rev. Gildon’s congregation, who apparently mostly walk to church now, will have mostly moved out on him, and may not come back for services.
  • It’s a low population-density community that he believes won’t be able to do effective development on a piecemeal basis, because no single retail enterprise can justify being the first one in.
  • If the city and county’s agenda is going to be questioned, the agenda of others involved in this fight should be brought to light.

All right. Let’s assume for the moment that everyone involved in all sides of this controversy, regardless of their “agenda,” is sincere and believes they are doing the right thing.

It still all comes back to Kelo. Before that ruling, the city, for better or worse, would have had no choice but to let the Centennial Baptist Church stay right where it is, and to let any other holdouts do the same. Kelo changed that. On balance, I don’t believe that’s a good thing.

As I said in this previous post about New London, CT:

“If the Kelo Seven are being selfish, shortsighted, obtuse, etc., it’s their right. They earned that right when they took ownership of their property. So-called larger societal goals beyond those that truly benefit the common good (roads, bridges, etc.) don’t enter into the equation.”

I believe that the same holds for the Reverend and others in the Sand Springs Project area.

If enough people decide my view of things is wrong, the proper avenue for redress is to appropriately amend the Constitution. It is not pretending, as the majority in Kelo did, that it allows something it clearly doesn’t.
_______________________

UDPATE, Jan. 25 3PM ET: In an e-mail, Mr. Arnett provided me with the city’s Jan. 20 response to the original NRO article. His e-mail added, in part (his opinions, not mine):

Sand Springs is a delightful small community, but the area in question is in desperate disrepair. The majority of homes in the area designated are not owner occupied – slums really – and empty warehouses that have sat unused for so long that even metal For Sale and For Lease signs have rusted falling to the ground. The area is considered blighted in the heart of the city adjacent to an expressway. That expressway provides traffic counts of significant levels to draw investment from retail, dining, and entertainment entrepreneurs beyond what a small city could measure otherwise. Thus, the location is critical for a higher quality of life Sand Springs residents’ desire.

….. I do certainly understand the concern over the recent Supreme Court “Kelo” decision. From what I can gather, the Phillips Foundation and Americans for Limited Government are both fine efforts, but Sand Springs, Oklahoma is not the poster child for a campaign to reverse Kelo.

_______________________

Selected Previous Property Rights Posts:

Yet Another Reason (As If Needed) to Drill in ANWR

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:14 am

Richard L. Russell, writing in OpinionJournal.com (may require free registration), provides a very compelling reason:

Oil for Missiles
Our friends the Saudis make friends with the Chinese.

….. Humiliated by their dependence on Washington for survival in the wake of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the Saudi royal family has long been seeking to forge closer ties with Beijing in the hope of reducing their dependence on the U.S. The Saudis began moving in this direction even before the first Gulf War, secretly negotiating a deal with China in the mid-’80s to purchase CSS-2 ballistic missiles. That was an affront to the Reagan administration and its policy of preventing the proliferation of ballistic missiles. But the Saudis risked American ire because they saw Iran, Iraq and Israel all armed with ballistic missiles and did not want to be left out. In return, China won hard currency for the missile sale, as well as diplomatic relations with Riyadh in a snub to Taiwan.

Since 9/11, and the American public’s backlash over the fact that the majority of the hijackers were Saudi nationals, Riyadh’s search for a new strategic partner has assumed fresh impetus. China, for its part, is importing ever increasing amounts of oil from the Gulf to fuel its rapidly expanding economy. That has prompted a degree of paranoia over “energy insecurity.” Beijing military strategists worry that, because they lack America’s “blue water” navy, the country is potentially vulnerable to a U.S. blockade of oil shipments from the Gulf to China.

Hence the mutual interest in a closer relationship demonstrated during King Abdullah’s three-day visit, which ended yesterday. For all the headlines about the agreements he signed with President Hu Jintao on issues such as energy cooperation and double taxation, it’s a safe assumption that strategic issues were also on the agenda away from the bright lights of the media. Saudi Arabia’s CSS-2 missiles are now obsolescent and Riyadh would welcome modern Chinese models as replacements. For Beijing, that offers a useful tit-for-tat should Washington agree to further large arms sales to Taiwan.

Suddenly the idea that Saudis might turn off the spigot doesn’t seem so outlandish. And it’s not like China doesn’t have the hard currency to pay for as much oil as its energy-sucking economy needs.

Jan. 29: Wizbang Weekend Carnival participant.

Here We Go Again: Another Faux Author?

Filed under: Corporate Outrage,Scams — Tom @ 9:35 am

The literary world’s January of facing cold, hard facts has just gotten a bit chillier.

First, it was James Frey (third item at link).

Then it was JT Leroy.
.
Now there’s Nasdijj the Navajo:

Navahoax

Did a struggling white writer of gay erotica become one of multicultural literature’s most celebrated memoirists — by passing himself off as Native American?

Is it time to ask the publishing industry to do a bit of due diligence before it puts out nonfiction books yet?

Update, Feb. 6: The answer to the question in this post’s title is “YES”:

Mystery of author JT LeRoy ends with partner’s confession

SAN FRANCISCO: A writer that penned novels claiming to be “JT LeRoy” has now been unmasked by The New York Times as a 40-year-old San Francisco woman who claimed she rescued LeRoy from a hard life on the streets.
Laura Albert was the author behind the ruse, said Geoffrey Knoop (kuh-noop), her recently estranged partner of 16 years.

Knoop has now apologized for playing a role in the hoax. He says the stress of keeping it secret had become too much to bear.

LeRoy’s gritty novels were purported to be based on his own experiences of drug addiction, prostitution and life on the streets.

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ Links (012506)

Free Links:

  • iTunes traffic soarsUp 241% in the past year to 20.7 million unique visitors in December 2005. Nielsen has come up with some interesting comparisons of iTunes users vs. the general population.
  • Someone’s getting nervous — Iran Blocks BBC Persian web site.
  • Survive This Howler — “US reality TV show winner Richard Hatch has told a court he thought the show’s producers would be paying tax on his $1m winnings from the programme.”
  • One word: Collectibles — Austrian police have recovered a $60m (£33.9m) 16th Century figurine stolen in 2003 called Saliera, or salt cellar, after a suspect turned himself in.
  • The TimesSelect service of The New York Times has 156,000 paying subscribers — That is up from 135,000 reported in mid-November (first item at link). I don’t see how they get above 250,000 by the one-year anniversary of the service in late September. Even 250,000 subscribers would translate to only about $12 million in revenue, which isn’t enough to matter for a company this size. Then the big question will be how much attrition occurs at renewal time. The company’s overall fourth quarter of 2005 was not good. EU Rota has more about the Times’ elitism.
  • Yahoo! gives up quest for search dominance — Have you ever seen a company besides Avis concede that they’ll be number 2, and they don’t care?
  • When you hear the Big 2 US automakers tell the story, you have to believe that healthcare costs make US plants uncompetitive. Then why is Ford closing one plant and reducing another to one shift in that supposed universal healthcare mecca known as Canada (third paragraph at link)?
  • Another UN scandal of billion-dollar proportions.

Subscription required:

  • Fluoridated Spring Water? — So you and your kids don’t drink tap water? Dentists are expressing concern that kids aren’t getting enough fluoride. (It’s always something, isn’t it?) So some bottlers are stepping into the breach and have come up with fluoridated lunch-box size versions of their spring-water brands. One thing I didn’t know: Some water springs actually have fluoride already.
  • Quote of the day, on compassion“Compassion and altruism are moral only when voluntarily rendered.”

Positivity: Handbag with $110,000 in Jewelry Returned

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:09 am

The Good Samaritan only wanted to be known by her first name:

(more…)

Internet Wall of Shame Update: Google Cements Its Position

Filed under: Corporate Outrage,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:20 am

Googag

– from Michelle Malkin

Here’s a roundup of the basic news for those who need it, and selected comments from the blogosphere about Google’s China annoucement.

“HARD” NEWS

Breitbart/AP:

Google agrees to censor results in China

Online search engine leader Google Inc. has agreed to censor its results in China, adhering to the country’s free-speech restrictions in return for better access in the Internet’s fastest growing market.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company planned to roll out a new version of its search engine bearing China’s Web suffix “.cn,” on Wednesday. A Chinese-language version of Google’s search engine has previously been available through the company’s dot-com address in the United States.

….. To obtain the Chinese license, Google agreed to omit Web content that the country’s government finds objectionable. Google will base its censorship decisons on guidance provided by Chinese government officials.

Although China has loosened some of its controls in recent years, some topics, such as Taiwan’s independence and 1989′s Tiananmen Square massacre, remain forbidden subjects.

Reuters:

Google says offers self-censored Chinese service

Web search leader Google Inc. said on Tuesday that it was introducing a new service for China that seeks to avoid a confrontation with the government by restricting access to services to which users contribute such as e-mail, chat rooms and blogs.

The new Chinese service at http://www.google.cn will offer a self-censored version of Google’s popular search system that restricts access to thousands of terms and Web sites.

Pajamas Media has a longer treatment courtesy of Newstex.

EXCERPT FROM Reporters Without Borders statement:

“The launch of Google.cn is a black day for freedom of expression in China,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “The firm defends the rights of US Internet users before the US government but fails to defend its Chinese users against theirs.

“Google’s statements about respecting online privacy are the height of hypocrisy in view of its strategy in China. Like its competitors, the company says it has no choice and must obey Chinese laws, but this is a tired argument. Freedom of expression isn’t a minor principle that can be pushed aside when dealing with a dictatorship. It’s a principle recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and features in the Chinese national constitution itself.

“US firms are now bending to the same censorship rules as their Chinese competitors but they continue to justify themselves by saying their presence has a long-term benefit. Yet the Internet in China is becoming more and more isolated from the outside world and freedom of expression there is shrinking. These firms’ lofty predictions about the future of a free and limitless Internet conveniently hide their unacceptable moral errors.”

SELECTED BLOG comments:

  • Stephen Green“What they’re doing isn’t only evil in and of itself, it’s willingly acting in concert with the far greater evil of the Chi-Com dictatorship.”
  • Democracy Project“If this were 60-years ago, would Google be agreeing to censor out news of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in order to have access to Nazi Germany’s Europe? Why are we tolerating this corporate immorality?”
  • Publius Pundit“….. it makes me wonder — just a little — what its motivation is to resisting the U.S. government and giving in to the Chinese. Perhaps they should change their motto to, ‘It’s just business.’”
  • UnCorrelated is not troubled“The American view of the public interest isn’t a universal ethic.” Sorry, I’m not buying. This isn’t about “the public interest,” it’s about the basic human right of free speech and expression. His bomb-making instruction analogy is silly.
  • The Zero Point“Don’t Be Evil, Except When You Help Oppress Freedom”
  • Stones Cry Out” Does filtering search results rise to the level of being truly “evil”. No, not really. But it does make it complicit in doing a disservice to Chinese users who want to learn about what freedom really means.” Hey Stones, that’s exactly why it IS evil.
  • Kaiser Snuggle“As GOOGLE claims they needs to protect people in the US who maybe searching for child porn, the gladly cooperate with the commies in China for fear of losing market share. Although GOOGLE may be right to fight the US government on privacy grounds, there is no excuse for their (and everyone else’s) behavior in China.”
  • The Tension“This is a business decision in a market where free speech isn’t a right. If you don’t understand the concept I submit that you need to open up your narrow view of the world. It’s just further proof that Google is the Wal-Mart of the Web.” Zheesh.

__________________________________

UPDATE: Data Poobah, who turned Google’s Code of Conduct back on itself: “….. this is why Codes of Conduct, Vision Statements, Etc. have such a dismal reputation among American corporate workers. They’re either rah-rah bs designed to get us to put more time and effort into a company than it’s worth. Or simply a waste of time to keep the executives busy.”

UPDATE 2: RConversation points out a few mitigating circumstances (e.g., users will definitely know they’re being shut out of content, which is not the case with other search engines in China; there will supposedly be an ability to go to the old US-based Google service, which though slower, is apparently less filtered; and they are avoiding having to turn e-mail info over to the government by locating e-mail servers in the US), but concludes, “At the end of the day, this compromise puts Google a little lower on the evil scale than many other internet companies in China. But is this compromise something Google should be proud of? No. They have put a foot further into the mud. Now let’s see whether they get sucked in deeper or whether they end up holding their ground.”

UPDATE 3: The error message users see when they try to access forbidden content (with translation).