Thursday, March 31, 2011

Covering the Beatles: Please Please Me

Track one: "I Saw Her Standing There"

In 1964, Motown guru Berry Gordy put together an album called A Bit of Liverpool featuring The Supremes covering British Invasion tunes. Critically regarded as a disappointment, it featured five Lennon/McCartney tunes and even two Motown songs covered by The Beatles. This Beatles cover, featuring Florence Ballard on lead vocals, was left on the cutting room floor, however, until a 2008 compilation album.

On tour in January 1963, The Beatles wrote this song for a planned country album by tour headliner Helen Shapiro called Helen In Nashville, but it was rejected. Also on the tour was singer Kenny Lynch, who recorded his own version, the first ever cover of a Beatles song. The Beatles, needing material for their debut alubm, recorded it themselves. Lynch's version was issued as a single the same day that Please Please Me was released, March 22, 1963.

Track three: "Anna (Go to Him)"

Soul singer Arthur Alexander deserves to be a lot less obscure than he is, and after you hear this you may agree. Penned and released by Alexander in late 1962, the song became a favorite of John Lennon's and The Beatles regularly covered it in their early shows.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Unpacking the crazy: Larry Klayman's Clinton Birther/Assassination Theory

There's right-wing stories that you should pay attention to because Fox News or chain emails or Brietbart will inject them into the mainstream. There's right-wing stories that you can safely ignore because they are so preposterously stupid as to be self-refuting. And then there's Larry Klayman.

Klayman is the founder of Judicial Watch, an organization of legal trolls which spent the 90s suing the Clinton Administration eighteen times and even, amusingly, Dick Cheney's notorious energy task force. So lawsuit happy was he that he sued Judicial Watch itself, ending up in a long legal battle with them after he left the organization. He's also columnist for that wretched internet hive of scum and villainy called World Net Daily.

Klayman's writings are almost certainly worth ignoring if one is looking originality or someone grappling with ideas of some weight, or any ideas at all really. But they can be taken a good representation of the wingnut zeitgeist, and if nothing else it's always an amusing intellectual exercise to unpack the crazy contained within one of his columns.

Case in point is this recent contribution to the wingnut gutters of the internet, where Klayman breathlessly informs his readers of the latest nefarious secrets and schemes of that femme fatale, Hillary Clinton. (Don't worry if you don't want to give WND any clicks or expose yourself to that kind of nuttery, I'll tell you everything you need to know here.) Amusingly, he even calls her a "femme fatale" in the piece, helpfully informing his slower and less literate readers (i.e., all of them) that it is a "French expression". For a dash of added classiness, he even seasons his article with some French language phrases, leading one to imagine a beret-wearing Klayman sitting in some Left Bank bar with a cigarette listlessly dangling from his mouth.

But before we get the lastest news, Klayman recycles a bunch of two-decade old conspiracy theories about Clinton. He hits all the notes, packing them into a couple of paragraphs: Vince Foster, John Huang, Bill Clinton's promiscuity, a masculine Hillary feminizing men, backhanded praise of her ruthlessness, the Clinton "death toll", etc. Then he moves on to Obama, "Barack Hussein Obama", of course, even as he only refers to the Secretary of State as "Hillary". The usual suspects have been rounded up: Jeremiah Wright, Louis Farrakhan, and Bill Ayers. Some new memes have been thrown in: Obama has been dithering on ESPN, supports the Muslim Brotherhood, won't act on Libya (soon to be, I'm sure, replaced Newt Gingrich-style by complaints about his actions in Libya) and Iran. He even works in a sales pitch for his book, the charmingly-titled Whores. "C'est la vie," Monsieur Klayman might sigh.

Finally, finally, Klayman saunters to the sensational revelation: Hillary's plot to run for president in 2012 by assassinating Obama. He reveals it not as a stunning new development, but mentions it as if you already knew, and to Klayman's readers, it's already a matter of faith. This isn't a surprise, as many of his geriatric readers spent the 90s devouring myths about the Clinton "body count", concern trolling over lists of "victims" headed by clinically depressed Vince Foster, and buying conspiracy videotapes hawked by Jerry Fallwell. So of course Hillary plans to kill Obama! Hillary's reputation as a murder of suicide and plane crash victims is so well established that Klayman writes "In 2011, it may be passé for Hillary to get rid of people by having them disappear." He doesn't explain that passé is a "French expression" or why Hillary didn't knock Obama off the first time she ran for president, or back in 2004 when he first burst onto the national stage and became a threat to her ambitions.

But if we paused to examine such logical flaws, we couldn't get to the next revelation: Hillary's embrace of Birtherism. Apparently she's on the trail of the fake birth certificates again, and tells us the whole Birther conspiracy theory isn't a result of wingnuts like him relentlessly attempting to de-legitimize the citizenship of an African-American, but Hillary's relentless ambition, an altar upon which all sins can be laid, apparently. Birtherism, not assassination, will be the weapon Hillary chooses from her arsenal to knock off Obama. Why not assassination, since the Clintons are apparently so effective and practiced at it? Why employ Bitherism now? Why not in 2008 or earlier? I guess that mythical long-form birth certificate is pretty illusive.

So what foundation of pseudofact is this house of conjecture built upon? Klayman claims that this revelation comes from "sources close to Hillary". Seriously? This may be the most far-fetched assertion in the piece. We are supposed to believe that Klayman, who is no Bob Woodward or Seymour Hersh, has cultivated sources in Hillary's camp, a group he build an entire career out of attacking and blaming for everything from the black plague to the cancellation of Firefly. Perhaps the lives of many Bothans were lost to bring Klayman this crucial information. Perhaps some disgruntled Clinton flunkie was forced into a gay marriage or to have an abortion thanks to Obama's imposition of Sharia law and has formed a heroic fifth column inside the administration.

We have no time to digest this world-shattering news before Klayman winds up his column. And you can't conclude a column of wingnut cliches without the de rigueur quoting of a bon mot from Saint Reagan, this time by way of Bachman Turner Overdrive: "You ain't seen nothing yet!"

Mot juste, Monsieur Klayman! Au revoir!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Boing Boing gets it wrong on Wikipedia deletions

Boing Boing today has an item about the deletion of a Wikipedia article on the seminal gaming website Old Man Murray. Like much outside coverage of Wikipedia deletions it is hysterical and inaccurate.

A lot of people don't seem to grok the idea that you can delete things from Wikipedia. People who can largely grasp the concept of "the encyclopedia anyone can edit" choke on the idea that those same people can delete things too. But it's not that simple; any single person can edit, but a single person can't delete an article, they can only suggest that an article be deleted. This is done on a page called Articles for Deletion. When the article is submitted to this page, a discussion begins, with references to Wikipedia policies and guidelines and reliable sources about the subject of the article. For some reason, the idea that, on an encyclopedia anyone can edit, anyone can suggest something be deleted makes them go absolutely apeshit. Someone who would never blame Wikipedia as an entity for something like an eight-grader changing George Washington's occupation to "ass pirate" reacts like a hysterical lunatic to a deletion discussion: OMG THOSE WIKIPEDIA BASTARDS WANT TO DESTROY MY FAVORITE THING AND ALL THAT IS GOOD IN THE UNIVERSE. Sometimes, a specialized blog or message board gets wind of the discussion and the fans descend like locusts on the discussion, armed with profanity and little else.

Look, anybody can edit. Anybody can suggest things be deleted. Some guy even proposed that the article on Jean-Luc Picard be deleted and he was laughed out of the virtual room. And yet, somehow, Wikipedia and the universe survived. Deal with it.

It's bad enough for random forums and blogs to perpetuate this, but it's unfortunate and bizarre for the tech-savvy Boing Boing do so as well. Rob Beschizza of Boing Boing takes it one step further into insanity and instead of blaming some anonymous mass of Wikipedians, he specifically name one person, some poor schmuck named Ben Schumin. By following Wikipedia's proper procedures for suggesting an article for deletion and having a bunch of other Wikipedians agree with him in a public discussion open to all, he has "quietly orchestrate[d]" the elimination of this article.

There's a bunch of problems with this piece, primarily the focus on Schumin. The title of the piece is "Did an old grudge get Old Man Murray deleted from Wikipedia?" But the question of the title quickly becomes a statement of fact - Beschizza calls it "a fact not disclosed in the nomination" by Schumin in the third sentence. What is this grudge? Beschizza quotes the blog Rock Paper Shotgun: "It is claimed in the discussion page on Wikipedia that Schumin has a long-running dispute with OMM." What is the grudge? What is the dispute? No one seems to know or is willing to spell it out, but anonymous comments on a website anyone can edit have made their way to a becoming statement of fact on one of the internet's more popular websites.

This is the height of irresponsibility, not just because of the dubious factual inaccuracy, but also because of the asymmetric warfare going on here. Beschizza has access to one of the most prominent platforms on the internet and when he presents allegations about Schumin as fact, Schumin has no similar platform with which to respond. (I suspect Beschizza would be willing to print or excerpt a response from Schumin, but Beschizza would be the gatekeeper.) Wikipedia may be one of the most used websites on Earth, but that doesn't grant any particular Wikipedian any piece of that traffic. It's not like Schumin can post a response on the front page of Wikipedia, right under the latest news from Libya. The best he can do is post a message on his user page, where few will likely read it. This bizarre mix of visibility and powerlessness makes individual Wikipedia editors particularly vulnerable to people with large platforms and/or persistent insanity. The website, to its discredit, does little to protect individual editors of the consequences of pissing someone off and there are plenty of examples of victimization at the hands of everyone from random internet trolls to a vengeful Hollywood producer. It's sad to see Boing Boing participate in that sort of thing by passing off anonymous allegations about some random editor as fact.

Those sorts of allegations are distressingly quite common on Wikipedia and are one of the least fun things about editing there. For a large percentage of trolls and combative editors, allegations of "bias" and "conflict of interest" are thrown out as an opening gambit. It is distressing to see so many evidence-free allegations thrown at Schumin in the deletion discussions and it was irresponsible of Wikipedia editors and administrators not to remove them. So does Schumin have a grudge against OMM? He may very well have one, but it doesn't matter. The proposed deletion should have been decided on its merits, and a bunch of Wikipedians did and decided they agreed with Schumin.

Beschizza writes "a useful resource is history" as a result of this discussion. You may agree because you know that OMM was a genuinely important website. But the discussion wasn't so much "Is OMM important?" but "Does this article demonstrate that OMM is important?" and "Does this article establish that using reliable sources that belong in an encyclopedia?" Many of the people attacking Schumin in the discussion merely asserted the importance of OMM, self-evident to them but not to someone who never heard of it. Others claimed that sources were provided by the dissenters, but most of those "sources" were passing mentions of OMM. At the time of its deletion, most of the references in the OMM article were to the website itself or message board posts. This clearly wasn't enough to support an encyclopedia article, which should not rely on message board posts, anonymous allegations, or self-interested assertions.

The article has been restored through the deletion review process and is now full of proper references. If half the energy devoted to attacking Wikipedia and demonizing Schumin had been devoted to improving the article, it never would have been deleted in the first place. Deleting the article was the wrong decision in the long run, but this mistake (one easily corrected through deletion review) isn't an excuse for the opprobrium directed at the website and largely defenseless individual editors. Based on the evidence available at the time, it was the right decision.