The Fish
for 10 May 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
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Dr. Death,
Attorney at Law

Though I am basically in
agreement with your thesis,
your discourse about the
Mumia Abu-Jamal case
surprises me. Granted Mr.
Abu-Jamal did himself no
favors with his conduct
during the original trial,
but your statement, "... given
the defense's inability to
explain away key physical
evidence and the fact that
one of its strategies
involves a search for an
unidentified gunman with
'Johnny Mathis hair' - he
will almost certainly be
given a lethal injection," is
highly irresponsible. Casting
aside the more outrageous
arguments on his behalf for
the moment, did you consider
- or even know - that the
judge in the case has a
strong affiliation with the
Fraternal Order of Police,
that certain ballistics
reports show the bullet that
killed the police officer
could not have come from Mr.
Abu-Jamal's gun, that many
defense witnesses now claim
they were threatened by the
police, and that these same
police didn't even check to
see if Mr. Abu-Jamal's weapon
had been fired?

Any one of these things
should merit a new trial,
especially in a capital case.
Not acquittal mind you, but a
new trial. Given that the
mainstream media has been so
biased in reporting this
case, it does not help when
"pundits" such as you stir
the shit just so you can have
an essay that flows well. (By
disregarding, either
intentionally or
unintentionally, inconvenient
facts that would serve to
discredit your point of view,
I hereby beatify you with the
title of "Pundit" Rapture.)

Please do not associate my
opinions with my employer,
for then I will be forced to
act as my own attorney and
only belabor your point.

Ben Scharp

What a shame you cast aside
the more outrageous arguments
on Mumia's behalf, as they
seem to be what's drawing out
the Hollywood crowd.

You will find no one more
suspicious of the police in
general than this mischievous
imp from another dimension.
Indeed, as a being who spent
a couple of years in the City
of Brudderly Love and almost
daily walked past the actual
site of the shooting in
question, you will find no
one more suspicious of the
Philadelphia police than
yours truly. And yet, simply
because the police are evil
(and may or may not be a
necessary evil), that hardly
exonerates everyone taken
into police custody or
convicted in a court of law.

Contrary to your ballistics
story, the wounds in the cop
were consistent with a .38
pistol; Mumia (who had been
shot by the cop) was found at
the scene with the .38 pistol
registered to him and five
freshly spent cases on the
ground. The gun had clearly
been fired recently; while
some witnesses have reported
being pressured (and I'm sure
they were), others have stuck
to their stories. Sure, Judge
Albert Sabo is a
law-and-order asshole who did
Mumia no favor by allowing
him to represent himself, but
the jury that returned the
guilty charges was mixed
race, deflating charges of
the most blatant sort of
racism. The local press at
the time of the trial was
decidedly on Mumia's side -
Philadelphia's cops are known
for their thuggery - but
became convinced of Mumia's
guilt as the trial proceeded,
which should tell you
something. Contrary to
Mumia's defenders, he does
not claim innocence via a
clear denial of the charges,
but rather goes into larger
contextual issues (e.g.,
racism, poverty, etc.) when
discussing the topic. And
indeed, many of his defenders
- including those
small-screen glitter boys, Ed
Asner and Mike Farrell - are
really against the death
penalty. That's a cause worth
fighting for - look for Mr. M
in the front row of that
demonstration - but that's
not the same as claiming
innocence for a guilty man.

Mr. M

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

Without getting into the
merits of your general thesis
that it is a mistake to
represent oneself in a murder
trial, it seems important to
point out that in fact Mumia
Abu-Jamal was NOT permitted
to defend himself in court.

Also, your linking of Mumia
to Charles Manson and Colin
Ferguson seems like a
particularly cheap shot,
given that Mumia has
steadfastly maintained his
innocence, and in the 15
years since the original
trial virtually every element
of the prosecution's case has
been dismantled. Most
significantly, the key
prosecution witness has
admitted to lying about
Mumia's participation in
order to avoid a jail
sentence.

Bob Stein
<caxton@earthlink.net>

Again, Mumia has not
maintained his innocence; his
supporters do that for him in
ways that are less and less
persuasive over time (hence
their shifting stories about
what really happened). And
Mumia did conduct his own
defense (though his attempt
to place MOVE member John
Africa as co-counsel was shot
down), choosing long
harangues about racial
inequity over a presentation
of facts that might have
exonerated him or at least
made a jury think twice. From
time to time, Mumia would be
ejected from the court, then
allowed back in until the
next flare-up.

Mr. M

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

Mr. Mxyzptlk:

Excellent article. Honorable
Mention should go to
67-year-old James Taylor Sr.,
sentenced to die on 5 June
for killing a newlywed couple
at the Fraternal Order of
Eagles St. Valentine's Day
dance. The first person in
modern Ohio to represent
himself in a death penalty
case, Taylor dazzled the
court with his oratory
acumen:

"You can put me to death, but
that's all you can do after
I'm dead."

Jeffrey Jones

Truer words were never
spoken.

Mr. M

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 
Bit Rot

Sucksters:

Having been a part of the
Digital Revolution since 1994
(and still no part of any IPO
and as broke as always), I do
take (albeit limited)
objections with your swipe at
Negroponte. In late '94 and
early '95, no one was laying
any sort of groundwork for
what the hell the Web or a
digital future meant. I sat
in countless meetings with
Fortune 100 senior management
teams with malodorous
propeller heads who spoke in
code that no one understood.
Being Digital was a lot like a
Dick & Jane book for the
time. It gave its readers
some sort of grounding as
to what the hell this
"Web thing" (I miss Bush!)
was and allowed for some sort
of baseline thinking to be
put in place.

On top of that, technology
forums (with CEOs and VPs of
the same companies whose
meetings I attended) were
rife with pundits who
disappeared up their own
assholes as they tried to
come across as having a clue
as to what the future would
hold. Negroponte was the only
one to get out from behind
the podium and speak in very
real-world applications of
the Web and its impact.
Commerce, portals, and the
youth of the world driving
the change were his topics (I
remember this from my notes
of an Atlanta conference in
April '95). Granted, smart
shoes and personal networks
were a little too George
Jetson for me, as was his
direct swipe of Apple's
Knowledge Navigator.

Negroponte is not all that
evil. The Juan Antonio
Smaranch aspect to his
lifestyle doesn't jibe with
mine, but so be it. (Please
show me one of the original
Well founders and I'm sure
you'll find a cellar full of
overpriced wine and a
collection of obscure and
arcane social habits and
beliefs.) Hell, Al Shugart
(inventor of the disk drive)
ran his dog for Congress
every two years and had a
syndicated cartoon produced
about the dog. How goddamned
pretentious is that?

The book, for the time it was
published - as with Wired
articles (oftentimes there
are only one or two things of
value in that ever-sagging
magazine) - served its
purpose.

Bye Nick, and I do miss you.
I didn't believe a lot of
what you put forward, but it
was nice to have you around -
sort of like that crazy uncle
we all have.

Martin C. Flaherty
<mflaherty@elementalinteractive.com>

No one said a thing about
evil. And not everyone has a
crazy uncle who's nice to
have around. Some people's
crazy uncles molest them.
Some people would really
prefer not to have their
crazy uncles around at all,
ever.

But mostly we can't get over
the fact that you took notes
at a conference.

You dork.

Sucksters

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

Subject: 100 percent Trench
Coat Mafia free!!

"Bit Rot": Whoa!
Thanks for pointing out that
Negroponte is a Panglossian
schmeedle. That was so, like,
not glaringly obvious. I also
like how Mark Dery mentions
Hiroshima, Bhopal and
Chernobyl (Dude! You forgot
the Exxon Valdez!),
unemployed blue-collar types,
and maquiladora workers (I
bet he uses authentic
pronunciation when he says
maquiladora too, to show his
authentic fight-the-power
attitude). Big questions
remain: Does Mr. Dery know how
to pronounce bathos? What
straw man will Suck
shamelessly set alight next
(idea for Monday's Suck: Dan
Quayle is dumb)? And finally,
does Tom Frank know you're
stealing his schtick?

Just wondering.

Darin H.,
Bitter & Isolated

Your fit of spleen afforded
much merriment, albeit
unwittingly. I take your
point, and have given myself
a Michael Fay-style caning
in penance - or would have,
had you not driven home your
point with the subtlety of a
flying mallet. Indeed, how
grindingly tedious of me to
have invoked the environmental
disasters that make a mockery of
Negroponte's line of bull, or
the maquiladora workers who
aren't well served by the New
World Order of Wired
cybercapitalism. Shedding
bleeding-heart tears for
what Kipling called "the
lesser breed without the law"
is, like, so over, dude.
Even so, if you weren't quite so
self-assured in your
off-the-rack McAlienation,
you'd recollect in tranquility
that Negroponte, for all his
obvious obsolescence,
continues to cast a long
shadow over our collective
discussion of who we are and
where we're going, and
therefore merits criticism.
But who am I to intrude on
the hyperbaric chamber of
bitterness and isolation
you've cocooned yourself in,
secure in the knowledge that
your aching hipness is
unassailable? By all means,
carry on!

Happy Schadenfreude,

M. Dery
<DKH7607@aol.com>

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

Hi all!

Negroponte may have been a
"silver spoon" baby, but he
has nevertheless been a
significant contributor to
the digital dialogue. Agree
with him or not, he has been
and will continue to be a
major contributor of
technological and social
ideas and insights.

Social insights? You may not
have been aware of
Negroponte's work in involving
children in Third-World
countries participating
in online communities and
dialogs about youth issues,
etc.

Because in the end, it is the
dialog, isn't it? After all,
that's why we all read you
guys.

Regards,

Tom Cmajdalka
<tom.cmajdalka@intel.com>

Well, dialog is important,
sure. But lots of people can
write good dialog. Story
structure is really the Holy
Grail. You don't need Robert
Mckee to tell you that. I
mean, if the questions you
put forth don't get answered
by the Second Act break, then
where are you? Up shitty
aimless hipster movie creek,
that's where. A bulletproof
outline is where it's at,
let's face it.

Anyway, good luck with your
screenplay!

Sucksters

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

I am generally loath to
respond in kind to letters to
the editor - infinite loops,
vicious circles, and such.
But how can you be so
unpedantic as to let slide a
correspondent's reference to
Daniel Shore as being
"associated with the Pentagon
Papers"? You're thinking
maybe of, uhhh, Daniel
Ellsberg? Otherwise, an
unusually apposite slam on
Negroponte.

I spent a few years working
at a corporate counterpart of
the Media Lab; if my former
colleagues succeed in
creating the future they
envision, I may move to a
cabin in Montana (minus, of
course, the bombs, hate mail,
and manifestos).

Jonathan Kulick
<jd_kulick@ yahoo.com>

Don't speak too soon. You
move to the cabin, you start
growing tomatoes out back,
and the next thing you know
you're testing plastic
explosives and scrawling out
one manifesto after another.
Or, worse yet, you're keeping
notes for a screenplay.



Loath to respond to this
letter and much, much more,



Sucksters

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 


 The Shit
Left for Dead in Malaysia, Neil Hamburger, Drag City, 1999
The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink, Mark Dery, Grove/Atlantic, 1999
Crazy from the Heat, David Lee Roth, Hyperion, 1998
Keep It Like a Secret, Built to Spill, WEA/Warner Brothers, 1999
Abbott's Pizza Company, near the corner of Abbott-Kinney and California, Venice Beach, Los Angeles (delivery hours limited)
Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Pink Floyd, CD remaster, EMI 1994
Motorhead, CD remasters, all
Det Som Engang Var, Burzum, Misanthropy, 1998
Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, Nashville, Tennessee
A History of the Modern Fact, Mary Poovey, University of Chicago Press, 1998
V., Thomas Pynchon, HarperCollins Publishers, 1999
The Coffee Mill, Emeq Refaim, Jerusalem, Israel
The Salesman and Bernadette, Vic Chesnutt, Capricorn Records, 1998
Good Morning Spider, Sparklehorse, Cema/Capitol, 1999
Third Floor, Anderson Building, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

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