@KobeBryant Tweets #BrokenNotBeaten But At His Age Enough Breaks Will Leave Him Beat.

Los Angeles Lakers fans will hate to admit this but “father time” seems to be catching up with their superstar shooting guard, Kobe Bryant, who’m returned briefly this season after tearing his Achilles at the end of last season.  Bryant played just six games, shooting three for sixteen from the three point line, averaging fourteen points and six turnovers a game before injuring his knee.  It does not really matter though because Kobe Bryant is Kobe Bryant and what is the best part about Kobe Bryant?

His passion for the game of basketball.

In this section : Sports

By Gary Washburn

|  Globe Staff  December 29, 2013

Kobe Bryant is once again in street clothes, but he says he’ll return this season.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant is once again in street clothes, but he says he’ll return this season.

Kobe Bryant is despised here in Boston because he is a Los Angeles Laker and he lived at the free throw line in the fourth quarter of that painful Game 7 of the 2010 Finals, but the NBA is a better and more entertaining product when he is healthy and scoring buckets.

Bryant returned from a torn left Achilles’ tendon for a total of six games before fracturing his left kneecap in a collision with former Celtic Tony Allen on Dec. 17. Bryant remained quiet for eight days but finally broke his silence on Christmas Day, once again addressing a potential long-term injury.

Considered one of the league’s toughest and sturdiest players for 16 years, Bryant has been relegated to the sidelines and rehabilitation for much of the past eight months.

Based on the two injuries, some NBA observers have suggested he sit out the remainder of the season to allow his body to completely heal so he can be prepared for the final two seasons of his contract.

Bryant, as expected, dismissed that notion and plans to return this season, despite the Lakers being out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference and playing with a patchwork lineup filled with journeymen.

This is no surprise. Bryant is not going to miss an opportunity to play basketball, despite how meaningless the games may be. A few years ago, Bryant was trying to prove he wasn’t being eclipsed by LeBron James as the league’s most talented player.

And when James did become the game’s premier player, Bryant was relegated to proving he was still in his prime.

Following the first major injury of his career, Bryant was asked to prove he is capable of even approaching his previous form.

“It’s funny hearing all the comments and things like that. It can’t help but enhance my focus more,” he said before the Lakers lost to the Heat on Christmas Day.

“Obviously it’s not something I wanted to have happen, but there’s nothing you can do about it. From that standpoint, you have to look at an injury for exactly what it is, which is something that’s going to heal, and be as strong as it ever was.

“I was fortunate it wasn’t a meniscus or anything else. There’s nothing I really have to do from a recovery standpoint other than letting the bones heal and letting the fracture heal. You kind of just have to look at the injury in a vacuum.”

Bryant averaged just 13.8 points in his six games, shooting 42.5 percent and committing a whopping 5.7 turnovers per game. Bryant was 3 for 16 from the 3-point line and attempted eight fewer shots per game than the previous season.

There was apprehension in Bryant’s game, but he strangely said the six-game stint was a positive experience.

“Obviously, you have the negative side of the injury, but aside from that, I felt like I had some really good questions answered in terms of what I can do on a basketball floor,” he said. “It was kind of like you’re experimenting from game to game and measuring things and trying to figure things out. I felt pretty good about that, which was the biggest question mark.

“The knee is not really a concern to me. The fracture will heal, but the biggest question mark was how would my Achilles’ respond to my game, and I felt pretty good about that.”

The only player to ever come back strong from a torn Achilles’ tendon is Dominique Wilkins in 1991-92, but Wilkins was 32 years old and played another seven seasons.

Bryant is 35, has already played 17 seasons in the NBA (nearly half of his life), and has a history of knee troubles. His game was so predicated on his physical prowess, the question now becomes whether Bryant can remain one of the league’s premier players from the ground level.

“I felt like I learned that I pretty much could do everything I could before, particularly in the last game [against Memphis],” he said.

“The biggest part of my game in the last two or three years has always been getting to a space on the floor, being able to elevate and shoot pull-up jump shots, and getting into the paint. It was a great test going up against Tony Allen, who in my opinion has been the guy who’s defended me the best individually since I got into the league. [It was my] fourth game in five nights and to be able to go up against him, and respond to that challenge, I feel really good about it.”

Bryant has vowed to return, and he’s been a man of his word throughout his career. Meanwhile, watching the Lakers fight to remain competitive is difficult, as they throw out a plethora of journeymen — many of them major disappointments at their previous stops — while Bryant sits and watches in street clothes from the sideline.

The NBA is healthier when Bryant is healthy.

“The Achilles’ felt fine. It was strong. From getting out on the court from that, it was a matter of the rest of the body catching up,” Bryant said. “Also, like I said before, there was some natural tentativeness, and what you can and what you can’t do, so you kind of just go down the list and try to improve from game to game.

“My spirits are fine. I feel more locked in now than I have been my entire career because of it. The spirit is fine, the focus is great, and we’re just going to have to see what happens when I come back.”


Williams glad he took one-and-done route

Shawne Williams of the Lakers was the first player drafted under the NBA’s one-and-done policy in 2006, and he said he doesn’t regret his decision to leave the University of Memphis after one season, despite myriad troubles and playing for five teams.

Williams said he should have handled the situation more maturely, but staying in college for additional years could only have resulted in increased scrutiny by scouts.

“If you averaged 13 or 14 [points per game], the pressure automatically goes up,” he said. “They want you to average 18 the next year, and then the next year they want you to average 21, and then the next year they want you to average [more], but it’s not that easy in college. College ball is the toughest ball to me because everybody plays hard, 94 feet, no defensive [three-second call] and centers can sit in the paint all day, so it’s hard.”

Williams said he has no regrets about leaving school, comparing a high-level college program to the NBA.

“College is the same as the NBA, you’ve just got more money in the NBA and more downtime,” he said. “In college, coaches kind of micromanage your time — early-morning workouts, early-morning breakfasts, got to have lunch together and dinner together. In the league, it’s like, let’s practice and after practice you’re done and it’s, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’ That’s the only difference, but I feel like you have to grow up one way or another.

“I’d rather grow up in the NBA than wait around in college and not growing up when you still have people that are kind of coddling you a little bit.”

The NBA is not a league for development. Many young players have been told what to work on to improve and have been waived or traded when the ascension didn’t occur.

“Some organizations you go in, they have the structure where they want you to work and put the coaches in place [to help you],” said Williams, who signed a one-year, non-guaranteed deal with the Lakers in the offseason. “Some coaches, they know you are a pro and you’ve got to do your job and you’ve got to get better over the summer. It ain’t the time to work on it during the season, it’s time to work on it in the summer.”

The NBA is considering extending the limit of years in college before turning pro to two, but the players’ union would have to approve the change.

“I feel like they already took away from the high school kids and I feel like if you are worthy of getting picked out of 60 picks, then that’s a great accomplishment,” Williams said. “They shouldn’t hold people back. I think most college players have big dominant years and the next year it’s the same. It’s like the NBA. [College teams] get a scouting report, they know what you do.

“[Kentucky coach John] Calipari said it best: You’ve got to try to hide your weaknesses because the one thing about the NBA personnel and scouts, they take their jobs very seriously. They evaluate you over four years and they see if you stay the same or if you grow, and it ends up hurting the college kid.”

There are plenty of early-entry draftees floating around the league, looking for an opportunity. In Philadelphia, Tony Wroten has been discovered following an empty first season with the Memphis Grizzlies. Guaranteed contracts are not convincing NBA teams to hold on to those younger players living only on potential. Patience is shorter than in the past.

“It’s a revolving door; this is not a stuck-in-cement league,” said Williams. “Everybody is trying to look to get better, so nowadays a lot of people bounce around, not like the 1990s when teams used to be together for seven or eight years. It’s a thin line of patience, and everyone wants to win right now.

“I feel like it’s a totally different structure in the league than when I came out. You were coming out on guaranteed, four-year deals; you had four years to get yourself together. Now it’s not like that. You’ve got to get yourself together quick or come in ready.”


Injury bug continues to claim star players

The NBA has been besieged with injuries this season, more than even in the lockout-shortened season of 2011-12. On Friday, the Thunder quietly announced that point guard Russell Westbrook underwent arthroscopic surgery on the same knee that he had two previous procedures on in the past six months.

“Russell has been playing pain-free, but recently had experienced increased swelling. After consultation and consideration by his surgeon in Los Angeles, a plan was established to monitor the swelling that included a series of scheduled MRIs,” general manager Sam Presti said. “On the most recent MRI it was determined by the surgeon that there was an area of concern that had not previously existed, nor was detectable in the previous procedures, and it was necessary to evaluate Russell further. The consulting physician determined that arthroscopic surgery was necessary to address the swelling that was taking place. We know that Russell’s work ethic and commitment will help him return to the level of play that we have all come to appreciate.”

Westbrook looked flawless in notching a triple-double in the Christmas Day win over the Knicks. His absence means more playing time for ex-Boston College standout ReggieJackson, who flourished in Westbrook’s absence during last season’s playoffs and during the early stages of this season.

Portland, Oklahoma City, and San Antonio are currently fighting for the top spot in the Western Conference, while the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston, Phoenix, Golden State, and Dallas are in the second tier. Westbrook’s absence could cause the Thunder to drop in the standings, and there is additional concern about whether this knee injury is chronic.

Meanwhile, a few hours after the Westbrook injury was announced, the Atlanta Hawks revealed that center Al Horford, arguably their best player, would miss extended time with a torn right pectoral muscle, sustained in a double-overtime win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Horford missed all but 11 games of the lockout season with a torn left pectoral muscle.

And how does this affect the Celtics? They have the rights to the lower of the first-round picks between the Nets and Hawks, and both teams have just lost their best players to long-term injuries. Brook Lopez will miss the season with a broken bone in his right foot, sustained in the Dec. 22 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

So, Brooklyn and Atlanta will be shorthanded for the remainder of the regular season, which most likely will affect their draft status and ensure the Celtics get a quality pick in what is expected to be the best draft class since 2003. Westbrook, Horford and Lopez join Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Marc Gasol, RajonRondo, and Danilo Gallinari as players who have sustained, or are recovering from, significant injuries this season.


Paul Pierce perhaps exemplified his frustrations in Brooklyn with his clothesline of Indiana’s George Hill during Monday’s loss to the Pacers. Not only did Pierce receive a Flagrant 2 foul and an automatic ejection, but also a $15,000 fine. Pierce was also scoreless for the evening, his first zero-point game since 1999, when he was with the Celtics. It’s been a nightmarish season for Pierce, who is a free agent at season’s end and could be on the trade market if the Nets don’t dramatically improve. The Clippers are in need of a productive small forward as the experiment with Jared Dudley has been uneven at best . . . The Bobcats could be in the market for small forward help after backup Jeffery Taylor was felled by a torn Achilles’ tendon. Starter Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is already out with a broken hand, leaving the improved Bobcats to use journeyman Chris Douglas-Roberts and Ben Gordon at the position . . . Former NBA guard Bobby Brown scored 74 points in a Chinese Basketball Association game last week and will be available to clubs when the CBA season ends in March. Brown has always been a high-scoring, dynamic guard but has been unable to stick with an NBA team. The lack of backup point guards in the league should create a market for Brown. Speaking of backup point guards, D.J. Augustin is flourishing with the opportunity he was given by the Bulls after being dumped by Toronto following the Rudy Gay trade. He’s averaging 10.4 points and 6.3 assists in seven games since joining the club. He is averaging 30.7 minutes. . . . The Magic are trying to work out a contract settlement with Hedo Turkoglu, who has no future with the organization and is in the final year of his deal that pays him $12 million but only $6 million guaranteed if he is waived by Jan. 10. The Magic will certainly dump Turkoglu — one of their top players from the team that defeated the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals and reached the 2009 Finals — but perhaps there could be a deal with a contending team before that Jan. 10 deadline. How much does Turkoglu have left? . . . The Celtics don’t have any players on their roster on non-guaranteed contracts, so there will be no concern about players being waived. The club does, however, have an open roster spot and perhaps enough salary cap space to absorb a 10-day contract if needed. Players can be signed to 10-day contracts after Jan. 10. The Celtics are so close to the luxury tax, they did not want to sign even a minimum contract for fear of exceeding the tax line. A 10-day contract could be a different story.

Gary Washburn can be reached a gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @gwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

President Obama, the merciless?


By P.S. Ruckman, Jr.
updated 7:03 AM EST, Tue December 31, 2013

  • President Obama has granted 52 pardons to date; George W. Bush granted almost 200
  • P.S. Ruckman: Obama is one of the least merciful presidents in U.S. history
  • He says Christmas pardons may seem warm and fuzzy, but it makes them seem like a gift
  • Ruckman: Instead of last minute pardons, politicians should grant pardons regularly

Editor’s note: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. is professor of political science at Rock Valley College and editor of the Pardon Power blog. He is the author of the forthcoming book, “Pardon Me, Mr. President: Adventures in Crime, Politics and Mercy.”

(CNN) — This month, one of the least merciful presidents in the history of the United States granted 13 pardons and eight commutations of sentence. The grants moved President Barack Obama’s overall mark past the administrations of John Adams (who served only one term), William H. Harrison (who died of pneumonia after serving only 30 days), James Garfield (who was fatally wounded by an assassin after serving only four months) and George Washington.

The New York Times complained that, when it came to the pardon power, there was just “no excuse” for Obama’s “lack of compassion” and encouraged him to “do much more.” The American Civil Liberties Union called the pardons “a step” and hoped the President would “continue to exercise his clemency powers.” Meanwhile, the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, lamented the “drought” of pardons in the Obama administration and called the recent grants “mingy and belated.” Conservative columnist Debra Saunders wrote that it was “about time” Obama acted, and even tossed out the possibility/hope that he might “do it again soon.”

While it is true that Obama’s grants included no one comparable to Scooter Libby, or Marc Rich, much less President Richard Nixon, the intensity and commonality of reactions is noteworthy. Political executives — presidents and governors — may not be quite aware of or in tune with it just yet, but the times, they are a-changing.

P.S. Ruckman, Jr.

P.S. Ruckman, Jr.

No one is clamoring for violent criminals to be yanked out of prisons and tossed into the streets to wreak havoc on society. No one is lusting for the considered judgment of judges and juries to be whimsically overturned by politicians leaving office and, in the process, sidestepping accountability.

But, increasingly, there is recognition that budgets are tight, and prisons are both overcrowded and expensive. The recidivism of those who spend time in prisons and exit without anything like serious rehabilitation is also costly. Congress’ recent recognition of the failure (if not outright unjust nature) of sentencing laws appears, to many, as still yet another indicator that there is consensus regarding the status of the so-called war on drugs: It has not worked out very well.

Judges have complained loudly about mandatory minimum and three-strikes laws which have limited their ability to tailor punishments to fit crimes — a basic notion of justice. Public opinion polls also suggest Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with over-criminalization in the law.

The pardon power will always carry an inherent political “risk,” because no one can perfectly predict the future behavior of recipients and everyone’s judgment can be second-guessed, if not mischaracterized. Informed persons know Mike Huckabee did not “pardon” Maurice Clemmons and Michael Dukakis did not “pardon” Willie Horton. But, of course, executives cannot always survive political storms with the support and encouragement of informed persons.

Nonetheless, the Founding Fathers considered the pardon power an integral part of our system of separation of powers and checks and balances. Its presence in the Constitution is premised on the notion that Congress and the Courts are not always perfect. Anyone care to disagree? It simply follows that, if the pardon power is being neglected or abused, then government is not doing what it was meant to do.

Alexander Hamilton furthermore noted, in the Federalist Papers, that the criminal codes of nations have an almost natural tendency toward over-severity. For that reason, he argued, there should be easy access to mercy. Yes, you read that right, “easy access,” or, in other words, something very different than what is going on in the Obama administration.

The fortunate thing is, presidents and governors can very easily minimize the political “risk” of pardoning by granting pardons regularly, consistently, throughout terms, as opposed to, very questionably, at the “last minute.”

While Christmas pardons may make some feel warm and fuzzy, they also send a message that is more counterproductive than anything. They seem to say mercy is an afterthought, or worse, a gift, that may or may not be deserved.

The fact of the matter is the majority of individual acts of executive clemency in our lifetime have been pardons, which simply restored the civil rights of the recipients. No one was sprung from jail. Violent criminals were not tossed into the streets. Judges and juries were not overturned. Recipients have typically committed minor offenses, many involving no incarceration whatsoever, and usually, many years if not decades before pardon. FBI background checks documented they had integrated back into society as law-abiding productive members. Their pardons were not “gifts” so much as they were well deserved recognition.

Have these pardons been high-wire maneuvers? Have they required presidents to spend precious political capital? Not at all. Obama has granted 52 pardons to date. There is a much better than average chance that readers cannot name a single recipient. George W. Bush granted almost 200.

So, why can’t Obama restore the civil rights of more applicants? Why doesn’t he? There is no obvious answer to that question, save lack of care and concern. Where is the President who said his religion teaches him the importance of redemption and second chances? Where is the hope?

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of P.S. Ruckman, Jr.



You Know Who Else Uses Unpaid Interns? Colleges and Universities


Over the past year, unpaid internships in journalism, film, and government have drawn more scrutiny. But some schools—notably, their athletic departments—have sought out unpaid interns, too.

December 30, 2013 • By
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For students interested in a career in sports management, Arizona State University has what seems like a great opportunity. The school’s athletic program, which boasts of 138 national championships, is advertising for an intern to help with “event staging” for the Sun Devils’ football, basketball, and other games.

There are just a few drawbacks. “This position requires physical labor,” the ad states. “The intern must be able to lift up to 50 pounds and work outdoors in extreme weather conditions.” The work is also completely unpaid.

Over the past year, unpaid internships in journalism, film, and government have drawn increasing scrutiny. But it turns out, universities aren’t simply sending off kids to internships in these and other fields. Some schools—notably, their athletic departments—are themselves hiring unpaid interns whose responsibilities can sound quite similar to those of everyday employees.

Florida Gulf Coast University, for instance, advertises for an unpaid “Business Operations Intern” whose responsibility would include “processing purchase orders and payment on invoices” and “accurate paperwork filing procedures.” A university website also advertised for an “Athletics’ Facilities and Operations Intern” whose responsibilities include “supervision of the part time Event Staff to hold them accountable for the jobs they perform.” (The department removed that ad after we contacted them, saying the phrasing was inaccurate. They have not reposted it.) Ads for paid jobs at the university list similar responsibilities.

In order to be legal, most internships must not replace paid positions and must also offer significant educational benefits. But the federal government gives non-profits, including universities, more leeway.

In order to be legal, most internships must not replace paid positions and must also offer significant educational benefits. But the federal government gives non-profits, including universities, more leeway. (Federal internship guidelines also don’t apply to work-study arrangements, which have long existed as a way to allow students to work part-time to earn money toward their degrees.)

Whatever the law, internships at universities should have clearly defined academic components, said Messiah College internships director Michael True. Otherwise, universities may not be any better than an employer who doesn’t pay but still benefits from the intern’s work.

True oversees internships at Pennsylvania‘s Messiah College, and has for two decades overseen an online discussion forum for college internship coordinators. Whether or not a student gets academic credit for an internship, said True, it needs to go beyond doing clerical or administrative tasks.

“Internships need to provide opportunities for setting learning goals and reflective activities to help students grow personally and professionally, not to just work,” True said.

A spokesman for Arizona State University athletic department, Doug Tammarro, said students work with the department in many ways, paid and unpaid, but that the department doesn’t have specific guidelines for who counts an “intern.” As for advertising the possibility of performing physical labor as an unpaid intern, Tammarro said they’re careful not to overwork the students, but “if you work in athletics and facilities, you’re probably going to be asked to do some type of physical labor.”

A university spokeswoman said the school’s human resources department does not manage student internship programs, but she was not able to provide additional comment as of the time of publication.

Bruce Banko II, spokesman for Florida Gulf Coast’s athletic department, said his university’s ads don’t give a full picture of interns’ experience. Interns, he said, spend a majority of their time shadowing a paid staff member.

Still, without the help of the department’s interns, Banko said that “some of those would have to be paid positions.” He said working without interns would still be feasible, but “would it make my days much longer? Yes.” As of publication time, a university official said no one was available to comment further on the school’s on-campus internship policies.

Of course, even unpaid internships can benefit students, helping them get a foot in the door to what is ultimately a very competitive industry. Duane Bailey, deputy athletic director at Seton Hall University, said he’s seen firsthand “how difficult and frustrating it is for a lot of kids looking for work.” Bailey himself started as an unpaid intern.

Seton Hall University’s athletics department offers unpaid internships to students looking to gain experience, but Bailey said unpaid interns don’t replace paid employees and are simply “an answer to the constant stream of requests that we’ve received from students looking to get experience.” Career Center Director Reesa Greenwald said all on-campus internships are expected to adhere to the same standards as off-campus ones, and that the school prioritizes educational aspects and oversight above compensation.

“I do know that there are many institutions that rely on their intern programs to supplement their workforce but that’s not our model,” Bailey wrote in an email. “If we were to discontinue our program tomorrow there would be zero impact to us.”

But the work doesn’t give all students a leg up. George Twill, a former Seton Hall intern who graduated last year from Fairleigh Dickinson University, said there wasn’t anything necessarily negative about his experience—except for the lack of pay—but it did make him rethink a career in college athletics.

Twill said the work he was doing, which included a lot of data entry related to ticketing, related somewhat to his work toward his master’s degree in sports administration, but the position seemed to teach him more about event ticketing than the athletics industry. Interning without pay was difficult, too, he said: “It gets old really fast.”

In one of the few legal cases involving unpaid internships at universities, a former intern at New York’s Hamilton College filed a lawsuit last year, seeking class-action status, alleging that the school’s athletic department improperly classified its interns to avoid paying the minimum wage. Attorneys for Benjamin Kozik—who wasn’t a student at the time of his internship—say their client was paid about $1,000 a month but sometimes worked up to 90 hours per week and “was given additional responsibilities as a Special Teams Coordinator without an increase in pay,” among other allegations.

That case has yet to be decided, and a Hamilton spokesperson declined comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

Massachusetts-based lawyer William E. Hannum III—who specializes in labor law and often represents universities—said schools don’t have a “special deal” on unpaid internships and still need to “refer to and comply with applicable wage and hour laws.”

“An unpaid internship at a college could be problematic if it were not consistent with the college’s mission, and were simply an attempt to get free labor without any educational purpose,” Hannum wrote in an email, adding that the situation could be more problematic if “an unpaid internship served to displace an employee who would otherwise perform the same work.”

Mike Julius said his unpaid internship with Florida Gulf Coast University’s athletics department gave him valuable experience in sports marketing, and that he often felt less like an intern than a regular staff member. At the time of his internship, Julius said, the department was down a full-time employee, so he picked up some additional responsibilities. He got lots of hands-on experience, but no paycheck.

Julius graduated in management (with a sports concentration), but he isn’t working in the industry anymore. After losing his full-time job when the minor league baseball team he was with downsized, he began working at a department store in Toledo, Ohio.

Now, Julius said he’s looking for another job in sports. He says his search thus far has included plenty of positions that pay “basically nothing.” But he expected that.

“It’s a hard field to get into,” he said. “It’s more about love of the job than the money.”

This post originally appeared on ProPublica, a Pacific Standard partner site.



How the Video of Saddam Hussein’s Execution Went Viral Before You Owned a Smartphone

William Youmans's avatar image By William Youmans  December 30, 2013

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How the Video of Saddam Hussein‘s Execution Went Viral Before You Owned a Smartphone
Image Credit: AP

One of the earliest leaked, newsworthy cell phone recordings to go viral was of the December 30, 2006 execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. It revealed the potential of mobile phone recordings to undermine the official telling of news events.

Today, citizen-produced media content is integral to the news we consume, whether used in regular coverage or posted directly to a social media platform.  The photos and videos taken by ordinary people at scenes of violence, from the Boston Marathon bombing to chemical weapons attacks in Syria, shape how those events will be remembered by those of us who only saw the destruction from afar.

Rarely does one video totally alter the tenor of news coverage, however. The leaked cell phone video of Saddam Hussein’s hanging did just that, making it a notable moment in citizen journalism history.

The execution was a tale of two recordings: the controlled, stage-managed official video and the viral, leaked cell phone clip. They depicted the same event but with important differences that expose the promise and peril of mobile recording devices for changing how news is produced and consumed.

The Backstory

Iraq’s new government rushed the deposed tyrant’s hanging after a lengthy, controversial trial. If they thought it would help bring a cessation to the sectarian and factional fighting that wracked an Iraq under American military occupation, they were wrong.

Many saw the trial itself as corrupt, political theater. The conclusion of a guilty verdict seemed preordained. The fallen tyrant tried to use it as a podium for grandiose rhetoric. Critics of the war questioned the legality of the invasion that brought about the deposed leader’s trial.

Image Credit: AP

However, the continued fighting was not clearly related to Hussein’s fate. There was historical score-settling, longstanding tribal and regional rivalries, shifting alliances with foreign actors, including the United States and Iran, and groups motivated by religion or ideology conducted campaigns of violence. They all made Iraq bleed.

Hussein’s execution proved to be but a hiccup in the complex civil war that embroiled Iraq in 2006-2007 and it still felt today. The country is being rocked by its highest levels of violence since 2007.

The Two Videos

On the day of the hanging seven years ago, US helicopters flew Iraqi officials and witnesses who testified against Hussein to the site of the execution, an old military intelligence facility. It was the Hussein regime’s execution chamber.

The first video was the official one, taken on a professional grade camera. It was broadcast on networks around the world. The audio track, however, was not provided by the Iraqi government.

Less than 48 hours afterwards, someone leaked online a cell phone video of the execution. Whoever shot it was below, in front of the gallows, while the official cameraman was at the top.  Since the guests were made to give up their cell phones before entering, it had to be smuggled in.

This video circulated online after it was posted on the video website, www.anwarweb.net.

Warning (Graphic video):

The poor quality recording is a reminder of how bad cell phone cameras were. Yet, the grainy and jerky two-and-half minute video proved to be the more potent and memorable of the videos.

The sound caught in the mobile phone recording told a very different story. The audio hinted at the deep sectarianism and lack of procedural care that made the hanging seem more like vulgar retribution than the outcome of a just and sound legal proceeding.

Some of those in attendance chanted “Moqtada” repeatedly.  This referred to a Shia political leader and cleric whose Grand Ayatollah father was gunned down in 1999, probably on Hussein’s orders.

When Hussein was hung, 1:40 into the video, the snap of his neck was audible, betraying a gruesomeness absent from the official clip. The on-looking officials and guards hovered over his body, shouting in celebration. Someone yelled, “The tyrant has fallen!”

The Fallout

The leaked video made for alluring TV. It was off-script and unmanicured, outside the desires of professional image managers.  It seemed real. The video went viral and news media had to follow.

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Al-Jazeera showed an edited version. Soon, it was on the American networks that previously aired the official version.  American news anchors comforted viewers that it would stop short of the actual moment of the trap door’s release. Hordes went online to see the video unfiltered.

The stark differences in the two videos were quite apparent to ABC News’s senior vice president at the time, Bob Murphy:

“It’s a different angle on the same event. It has much more audio and ambient sound. They’re clearly taunting him. It’s a much more hostile environment than you get from watching the video this morning. The earlier video makes it seem much more passive and serene than it actually was.”

It was seen as lacking the composed, disciplined ceremonial style of an official execution.

Some argued this leaked version benefitted Hussein. Michael Newton and Michael Scharf felt that the “taunting made Saddam appear somewhat stoic and dignified as his evil life drew to an end.”  They argued that it let him appear more convincingly as the Arab nationalist hero of Iraq, the primary message of his defense during the trial.

Hisham Melham, of Al-Arabiya, said that the cell footage undercut the government’s narrative: “He was not trembling or in a state of panic as some Iraqi officials claimed him to be before the videos were released.”  It made Hussein “a sort of victim or martyr” and appear “more dignified than his executioner.”

After this execution video leaked, it generated new discussion about the execution. Vivian Salama wrote,“[t]he role of citizen journalists had never been so prominent as in the coverage of Saddam Hussein’s demise.”  The clip was discussed extensively in the blogosphere.

The leaked video was also compelling because of what it said about Iraq.  The country still suffers from broken legal and political institutions. It sees fighting along the same factional lines that came to the fore in the leaked video.

As John Burns of the New York Times said about the video:

“This whole event had the most terrible, ghastly — I’m sorry to use the phrase — beauty about it, in the sense that it told us so much, almost in a Shakespearean way, about all else that is happening in Iraq.”

The Lesson for Consuming News

Traditional news media from CNN to Al Jazeera seek such user-generated content. They encourage viewers to record events and upload the files that let them report more fully. They work to verify the content they receive, of course, to make sure the videos accurately depict what they claim.

The differential impact of these two videos shows that verification of videos does not erase subtle bias. Both quite accurately represented the same event, but the angles, lighting and audio were different enough to completely alter the meaning and reception of the video.

Big news stories, such as Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign rhetoric behind closed doors and the extracurricular activities of Toronto’s infamous mayor Rob Ford were spawned by these kinds of videos.

On the anniversary of Hussein’s hanging, it is worth remembering how a smuggled cell phone camera shattered the official story of the dictator’s final moments, and what it means for consuming leaked videos, or first-hand, amateur recordings today.

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William Youmans

Assistant Professor, School of Media and Public Affairs, The George Washington University.


Here’s why Google is building a robot army


Annalee Newitz on io9

Here's why Google is building a robot army1Expand

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve all been wondering why Google bought Boston Dynamics, the company that makes those creepy Big Dog and PETMAN robots for the military. This comes after the company announced a project to eliminate death, and after building a secret installation out of cargo crates on a barge in San Francisco Bay. It’s as if Google is in the early stages of building a city state.

Historically, city states like Athens in ancient Greece were contained within physical walls, anchored to one location. But their tentacles of influence might reach far and wide, just as the Greek culture that bloomed in Athens is said to have Hellenized many parts of the Middle East. And what are the main ingredients of a city state? It must have a ruling elite of course, much as a corporation does in its various executives and VPs. It must have a shared ideology, hopefully one that’s boastfully vague — sort of like Google’s motto “Don’t be evil.” Perhaps most importantly, it must have an army and an economy.

If you think of Google’s Mountain View campus as a city state, and all its satellite campuses as colonies, then it was kind of inevitable that the company would raise an army. Already, it has a culture within its walls that is as strong as any city-state’s. Googlers across the globe share common values, types of work and meals. They exist within a social hierarchy as clear-cut as any caste system in ancient Greece (though Google doesn’t have slaves, which is nice). And they’ve even taken on a state-like role in defending U.S. assets against Chinese hackers.

But recently, Google’s cultural goals have gotten a little more pronounced. They’re not just out to make great web services like search, maps, and gmail. They’re making driverless cars and funding Ray Kurzweil‘s efforts to eliminate human death. It’s almost like the company is trying to build its own religion, based on vaguely environmentalist and Singulatarian ideas. They’re acting less like a company, whose goals are entirely economic, and more like a city-state, whose goals include ineffable things like quality of life.

Google’s robot army reminds me of novels like Neal Stephenson‘s Diamond Age or Marge Piercy’s He, She and It, where companies form city-states that occasionally go to war with each other. In He, She, and It, the company/city makes its living from selling software, but has to build cyborg soldiers to defend its walls against hostile takeovers. And in Diamond Age, corporations create islands devoted to pursuits like recreating the Victorian age. The companies in these novels are no longer just economic entities. They are cultures, conducting social experiments and propagating belief systems that won’t lead directly to profit.

These days, Google reaches into almost every corner of our lives in the West — it shapes the way we see the digital world. Those of us whose culture comes from the internet are already living in a Googlized world, just as people beyond Greece lived in a Hellenized world back in the 300s BCE. It makes sense that this city-state corporation known as Google now has the ability to wage war in the real world as well as cyberspace.

Though Google’s leadership may believe its acquisition of Boston Dynamics will help usher in a future of AI robots, it may actually be ushering in a future that looks more like history than The Matrix. We may be witnessing the return of the city-state, led by corporations rather than governments. Inside Google’s walls, this transformation might be Utopia. Outside — well, we don’t have to worry about outside. We’ll have the robots to protect us against that.



Tomorrow, I’m Going to Buy Legal Weed

Elan Nelson, a cannabis industry consultant, looks over Medicine Man‘s cannabis inventory in anticipation of a high-volume sales day.

Weed has already been legal in Colorado and Washington state for more than a year, only there’s exactly nowhere to legally buy it, unless you’re an approved medical marijuana patient. Tomorrow, however, that’s going to change, dramatically, when America‘s first retail marijuana stores open their doors to anyone 21-and-over, no matter where you live, and without a note from your doctor.

This slow rollout of legal pot began back in November 2012, when voters heartily approved two separate ballot initiatives that immediately ended criminal penalties for adult marijuana possession, while mandating the creation of statewide regulations governing commercial cultivation and distribution. Now, after a long and often contentious political process, Colorado has at last fully licensed 136 marijuana retailers, 178 cultivation facilities, 31 infused-product manufacturers (who make everything from cannabis chocolates to BHO), and three laboratories charged with testing all of these intoxicants for potency and potential contamination.

The first of these stores will open in less than 24 hours, and naturally I’ll be there, cash in hand, and most likely a tear in my eye. Even if it means standing in line for hours in the freezing cold. Because after more than a decade spent reporting on cannabis from the front lines, I desperately want to witness the beginning of the end of America’s longest, stupidest war. Though I also know I’ll look back some day and find myself filled with nostalgia for the outlaw days of yore. Before big business and corporate cannabis ever muscled in on our turf.

The author, inside Medicine Man’s green milegrow room.

Countdown to Burn Down

Marijuana is not anti-establishment because it’s illegal. It’s illegal because it’s anti-establishment. Or so I’ve believed ever since taking my first illicit toke as a teenager. But what if a certain willingness to question authority, long associated with smoking herb, comes to us not from any of the plant’s inherent properties, but from its prohibition?

I know I first started seriously questioning authority based on the vast discrepancy between my own adolescent high times and the anti-pot propaganda ads on television. Looking back now, in fact, I have my own competing gateway theory. I believe that, for myself and many others, marijuana serves as the gateway social justice issue of our time. A form of arbitrary oppression so egregious and ubiquitous that even a white, suburban teenager can experience the violence inherent in the system firsthand.

In Larry “Ratso” Sloman‘s book Reefer Madness (1998), for example, beat poet laureate Allen Ginsberg related his own personal gateway experience, a life-altering epiphany that took place the very first time he got baked.

When I smoked grass I suddenly realized how amazing it was that on the evidence of my own senses, which I did not doubt, here was a very mild stimulator of perception that led me into all sorts of awes and cosmic vibrations and appreciations of Cezanne and Renaissance paintings and color and tastes. And here was this great big government plot to suppress it and make it seem as if it were something diabolic, satanic, full of hatred and fiendishness and madness… It was the very first time I ever had solid evidence in my own body that there was a difference between reality as I saw it myself and reality as it was described officially by the state, the government, the police and the media. From then on I realized that marijuana was going to be an enormous political catalyst, because anybody who got high would immediately see through the official hallucination that had been laid down and would begin questioning, “What is this War? What is the military budget?”

Ginsberg went on to form the first pro-marijuana lobbying and activism organization in America, an effort duly noted in his Federal Bureau of Narcotics file.

On December 27, 1964, GINSBERG and _____ marched in front of the Department of Welfare Building… with signs reading “Smoke Pot, It’s Cheaper and Healthier Than Liquor,” and “Pot Is a Reality Kick.” These individuals are members of an organization called LEMAR (Legalize Marijuana) and their names appear in the files of Interpol.

Nearly 50 years later, those first green shoots of organized resistance have finally cracked through the pavement, for all the world to see. To celebrate, I spent a day in Denver touring the (sigh) Mile High City’s retail cannabis stores and cultivation facilities as they prepare to make history.

Back when I first started working this beat, pot reporters wore blindfolds on the way to a “stash house” or a “grow operation,” or better yet we rode in the trunk of the car, so as not to compromise the safety our sources, but nowadays, I’m far more likely to meet the head of a marijuana private equity firm for drinks at an upscale hotel bar. I’ll let you guess which scenario makes for a more enjoyable afternoon.

Julie Berliner, proprietress of Sweet Grass Kitchen, prepares a batch of pot-infused brownies.

Wake and Bakery

First stop on the pot tour: Sweet Grass Kitchen, a Denver-based edibles bakery, where owner and operator Julie Berliner greets me with a plate of pot-less pot cookies, so I can sample her merchandise for breakfast without missing my next three appointments.

Julie started up the company way back in the “wild west” days of 2008, when supplying medical marijuana patients with cannabis-infused food required little more than a home kitchen and the nerve to do it. Now she operates a licensed commercial kitchen that employs two full-time bakers, with plans to expand into cultivation as well, so she can produce enough cannabis in-house to supply her growing business.

Sweet Grass won’t be selling their THC-laden cookies, brownies, and pies in any of the retail pot stores when they open tomorrow, however. Mostly because Colorado’s exploding dab scene makes sourcing enough marijuana trim to make enough cannabutter to supply 75 medical marijuana centers an ongoing challenge, never mind expanding into the recreational market. Hence the 40-light grow room currently under construction. All part of the $300,000 investment she’s made in the business since serious regulations kicked in three years ago.

So does Julie miss the carefree days before pot fell fully under the government’s thumb?

“In ways, yes,” She admits. “But back then I was always incredibly anxious. We could have lost everything in a crackdown. And meanwhile, I would wake up some mornings to discover I was breaking a new law that just passed.”

Medicine Man’s budtenders prepare to start selling their wares over the counter.

Growing Pains

Twenty construction workers hammer and saw around the clock at one of just a dozen or so retail marijuana stores fully licensed to open tomorrow in Denver. It’s like some dumb reality show where they remodel a restaurant in 24 hours, only we’re talking converting a medical marijuana center into a “dual-use facility” that also sells recreational pot. So perhaps we should call it an altered-reality show.

Elan Nelson, a leading cannabis industry consultant, takes me on a tour of Medicine Man’s 20,000 square-foot facility, including a fully stocked sales counter and a massive grow operation in the back. Elan describes herself as a “once-a-year” herb smoker, who entered the pot industry seeking an exciting career path with serious upside potential.

Then she learned it’s a lot more.

“At one of my first jobs, a customer came in to buy medical marijuana legally and told me he’d just gotten out of jail after serving several years on a pot charge. That made me realize just how much people have suffered for this, something I never experienced directly.”

Meanwhile, ever since they were among the first to announce a January 1 opening for recreational sales, Medicine Man has been inundated with reporters. So as we stop to chat with the dozens of diligent employees that make this place hum along like a hash-oiled machine, Elan takes care to inform them that I actually know a thing or two about getting high—as apparently the vast majority of my colleagues in the media haven’t got a clue.

At our last tour stop, one of Medicine Man’s top budtenders sets off my jaydar as a guy who got into this thing of ours sometime before selling lots and lots of marijuana was quite so legal. So I ask if he ever fondly recalls the black market?

“Working here is way more uplifting and way less stressful,” my source asserts while setting out huge jars of top-shelf herb for me to sniff. “I don’t have to worry about who’s following me home. Or doing business with the kind of people I’d really rather not know.”

Toni Fox, of 3D Cannabis Center, gazes into the bright future of legal marijuana.

High Demand

“What’s ‘an eighth?’”

Toni Fox suppresses a wry smile before explaining to a German reporter that one eighth of an ounce serves as a standard unit of measure in the underground ganja world. And so, in order to undercut that very same black market, her 3D Cannabis Center will offer a wide variety of high-quality eighths at prices ranging from $35 to $50 pre-taxes. Sixty different strains in all are grown on-site. Customers can even check out 3D’s 14,000 square-foot cultivation operation in the back through a specially designed viewing window.

Toni then informs me that she doesn’t harbor any nostalgia whatsoever for the outlaw days of marijuana. Nor does her brother, who spent ten years in prison over probably less pot than her store will sell tomorrow.

Between now and then, the shop’s closed for final preparations. Including making arrangements to deal with the hundreds of eager cannabis enthusiasts from around the world expected to start lining up outside hours before the big grand opening.

Including me.

After all, wild rumors have been flying around town about immediate supply shortages, and I’d surely hate to miss out. Toni assures me she’s got enough product on hand to make it to the end of the week at the very least, and hopefully well into February, without having to dramatically raise prices or take other drastic measures.

But why take the risk of showing up late to the greatest pot party of all time?

Can’t make it to Colorado? Check VICE.com tomorrow for further adventures in search of legal weed.



It’s the Simple Things

In Seattle, when the sun is out, the boats come out to play. So, yesterday, the Ballard Bridge was up a lot. If you lived in this part of Seattle, you’d understand what that means—a ton of traffic backups.

Unfortunately, yesterday was also a busy errand day for me, and before I knew it, it was 1:30 p.m. and I hadn’t had any lunch. My original plan was to drive back to my home in the Magnolia neighborhood, which is just over the bridge, but after sitting in traffic for a good 10 minutes, I ditched that plan and pulled into the Ballard Wendy’s.

I’m not a big fan of fast food, but sometimes you just need a quick, cheap bite, and generally Wendy’s fits the bill best for me. I like the variety of their menu, and the chili is a guilty pleasure. I also like the homey vibe, and I love the hidden “mom” in their new logo (even if it was unintentional).

But honestly, this is not a post to puff up Wendy’s. I’m not a fan boy. And I’m aware of the debates and controversies surrounding the fast food industry, from wage issues to health issues.

No, this post is about someone that works for Wendy’s, the surprising and delightful service he gave, and the way in which brand experience is really about human experience…and it all started with a dropped Frosty.

“I’ve got it.”

Those were the words I heard when the girl in front of me dropped her Frosty in the carpet. A well-dressed man in suit slacks and a tailored dress shirt hopped up from the back of the restaurant and jumped into action. We’ll call him Joe. Joe quickly got a new Frosty for the girl, and asked for a towel from the woman working the cash register behind the counter.

“Is this your store?” I asked.

“I’m with the ownership group,” Joe said.

“How many stores do you own?”

“Oh, I just work for the owners, but there are twenty-six stores. Great owners, and great people,” he said, gesturing towards the team behind the counter.

I was surprised. Joe carried himself like an owner, so I had assumed he was the owner.

As I sat down, he came over with the towel and got down on his hands and knees, in his nice clothing, and cleaned up the spilt Frosty. The girl behind the counter had volunteered to clean it up, but Joe waved her off with a smile and said, “I’ve got it.”

And while he was cleaning up the mess, he started chatting with me again. Did I come to the store often? I told him no, but when I did fast food, I liked that Wendy’s had some better food options health-wise than others. He then told me about some of the healthier options on the menu, what he liked to eat since he ate fast food a lot, and what his wife liked to eat too.

As he finished cleaning up, I thanked him for his time and suggestions, and watched as he interacted congenially with his staff and other customers, including the girl who dropped her Frosty and her mother. “You should have seen the look on her face when she dropped that Frosty,” he said to the mom. “I just had to get her a new one!”

It was a level of customer service and care that was refreshing to watch.

It was clear to me that Joe “got it.”

Lived values

Now, did Joe do anything revolutionary? Not really. But he was genuine, human, and caring. He got the little things right. And it’s the little things that add up to the big thing—happy customers and great brand experiences.

It was clear to me that Joe was committed to providing great customer service, took pride in his work, and knew that good leadership meant being willing to clean up Frosty in your suit pants instead of making someone else who was further down the ladder do it. I immediately liked Joe.

This got me thinking about Wendy’s as an organization. Was Joe an anomaly, or did the company have values and a culture that fostered this kind of ownership. So, today, I spent some time on their corporate website and found this:

When everyday people sort through all the ‘spin’ there is one quick-service restaurant that is ‘A Cut Above’… that’s Wendy’s … we stand for honest food … higher quality, fresh, wholesome food … prepared when you order it … prepared by Wendy’s kind of people … people that believe this is My Wendy’s … we do it Dave’s Way … we don’t cut corners. (My emphasis)

I found it interesting that I initially mistook Joe as an owner because he treated the store like it was his through his demeanor and actions. He truly believed it was his Wendy’s. In short, he was living out Wendy’s values, and in the process created a very human moment.

A good brand experience is one that rings true. You can have great design and stores, and you can create an incredible product, but if you don’t know why you exist, what your values are, and have people working with you that live out those values, your brand experience will fall short.

Authenticity isn’t always that easy to come by, so when you run into it, even in unexpected places like the Ballard Wendy’s, it makes an impression.

I don’t eat fast food often, but when I do, I’ll be doing it at the Ballard Wendy’s. Why? Because now it’s not just one place among many. It’s Joe’s place, and I like Joe.

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Husband. Father. Writer. “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.” | Twitter: @thejakers