Happy Birthday Dad!

I haven’t posted to this blog in months because I’m no longer covering news, politics and culture in Ventura.

Today, however, would have been my father’s 80th birthday. Edward L. Lascher was a prominent, deeply-respected and well-loved appellate attorney in Ventura, California (he previously practiced law in Van Nuys and briefly in Indiana). A Chicago native, Dad was an excellent writer as well. Part of my passion for journalism is certainly an inheritance from a man who penned the beloved Lascher at Large column in the California Bar Journal and later the Los Angeles Daily Journal, not to mention untold amounts of legal writing and even a novel. For a more detailed biography of him and for copies of old Lascher at Large columns you can visit the Web site of Lascher & Lascher, the law firm my father founded at which he met my mother, Wendy Lascher, an equally tremendous individual who continues to practice appellate law.

I’m always a bit disappointed I haven’t had the opportunity to share my own growth as a writer or as a man with my father, who passed away in 1991, but I certainly do enjoy the personal memories he left me with, as well as the legacy remaining in his legal and other writing.

Today I’m also wondering what he, as a Chicago native and passionate historian, would be thinking about the long-awaited moment approaching in Washington D.C. tomorrow.

I will soon be moving the content of this blog to another site, and launching a new reporting and commentary page. In honor of my father, it will be dubbed Lascher at Large. Please check back here for pointers to the new site soon. I’ll be working hard to get the word out, and if I know you personally you’ll probably get some other word on the transition.


Frightening possibilities

I hadn’t thought about the possibility of McCain withdrawing from the presidential race before November — or not, in fact, securing the nomination at the Republican convention. Frank Dwyer’s piece on the Huffington Post today about just such a possibility does not seem unfeasible when given some thought. It could indeed be the one dramatic surprise move the GOP could conjure up to effectively compete against Barack Obama. Ultimately I break with Dwyer’s argument that Jeb Bush would be that surprise candidate. Different as he may be from his brother, Jeb, as one commenter points out after Dwyer’s piece, will now be tainted by the Bush name and have as difficult a time distancing himself from George W. as John McCain will have distancing himself from association based on their shared party (and positions). No, if such an 11th-hour surprise were to occur it would have to be a different name carrying the mantle. Those who don’t want to see it happen should nevertheless prepare themselves for the possibility.

Here’s Dwyer’s piece.

The other side of the story

Often, what gets reported in the mainstream media doesn’t tell the full story, even though after a particular bit of information is reported the noise machine can make it seem like it’s the total, complete truth. That’s not news, nor or is it news that what is left untold about a particular story can complete shape public reactions to it. Moreover, it isn’t news that what is reported often has a tremendous impact on current events, thus shaping ensuing events and the evolution of follow-up stories.

We have just such a situation in the widely-reported case of 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who was forced to declare a mistrial in an obscenity case he was presiding over after the Los Angeles Times ran a report about the contents of his home computer server. As the following letter written by Kozinski’s wife, Marcy Tiffany, illustrates, the truth of that story may be far from what was reported by Times reporter Scott Glover, and, thus, far from the bandwagon reports from news outlets nationwide following up on Glover’s story. Convinced by the sincerity in Tiffany’s letter and the accompanying professionalism Kozinski has illustrated throughout this ordeal, in the interest of not perpetuating the spread of misinformation Tiffany perceives, I’ll extend her the benefit of the doubt and not include direct links to Glover’s report or other news articles. Those can be found easily enough by anyone capable of finding this blog.

Instead, please take some time to read this letter from Tiffany, originally sent to the blog Patterico’s Pontifications:

“Mr. Frey:

My name is Marcy Tiffany. I have been married to Alex Kozinski for over thirty years and we have raised three sons together. First, let me thank you for making the effort to discover the truth about what happened, and for giving me an opportunity to respond to the stories that have been circulating about Alex.

Turning to the facts of the matter, the LA Times story, authored by Scott Glover, is riddled with half-truths, gross mischaracterizations and outright lies.

One significant mischaracterization is that Alex was maintaining some kind of “website” to which he posted pornographic material.

Obviously, Glover’s use of the word “website” was intended to convey a false image of a carefully designed and maintained graphical interface, with text, pictures, sound and hyperlinks, such as businesses maintain or that individuals can set up on Facebook, rather than a bunch of random files located in one of many folders stored on our family’s file server. The “server” is actually just another home computer that sits next to my desk in our home office, and that we use to store files, perform back-ups, and route the Internet to the family network. It has no graphical interface, but if you know the precise location of a file, you can access it either from one of the home computers or remotely.

Using the term “website” also gives the impression that Alex was actively aware of all of the material, when, in fact, it had accumulated over a number of years and he didn’t even remember that some of that stuff had been stored there or whether it had been put there by him or one of our sons, who also have access to the server.

Glover also wrote that “the sexually explicit material on the site was extensive.” In fact, of the several hundred items in the “stuff” folder, the vast majority was cute, amusing, and not in the least bit sexual in nature.

For example, there’s a program that lets you build a snowman (no private parts involved). There’s a “stress reliever” that lets you take a virtual hammer to your desktop (which I’ve been using a lot lately). There’s a picture of freshly painted double-yellow lines that go right over road kill, with the caption “not my job award.” There’s something called “cool juggle” that shows a video of a guy juggling who drops a ball outside the frame and becomes a stick figure when he goes to pick it up. There are over 300 individual items in the “stuff” folder, the vast majority of which are of this nature. In addition, this folder contains about a half-dozen items that, while humorous, also have some kind of sexual aspect. Most of these you have already identified on your website.

I would note that in addition to the “stuff” folder, which Alex and my sons used to store a hodge-podge of miscellaneous humorous items, we use to the server to store several dozen other folders that contain a lot of personal material. For example, there is a folder that has copies of papers my kids have written in school. There is another folder that has family photos. There is a folder that has copies of articles that Alex has written.

Obviously, the advantage of using a server is so that we can access the material from other computers and also send family members and friends links that will allow them to see a specific item in a folder. For example, this allows me to send links to my sisters so that they can see the latest photo of our grandchild.

This brings us to another falsity in the LA Times article. The reporter describes the handful of comic-sexual items as follows: “the sexually explicit material on the site was extensive.” He then includes graphic descriptions that make the material sound like hard-core porn when, in fact, it is more accurately described as raunchy humor.

One especially egregious misrepresentation is that there was a “video of a half- dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal.” In subsequent articles, including one in the S.F. Chronicle, this has been described as a “bestiality” video. In fact, as you reveal on your Blog, it is a widely available video of a man trying to relieve himself a field when he is attacked by a donkey he fights off with one hand while trying to hold up his pants with the other. I would note that there is a version of this video on YouTube that apparently aired on the Fox channel. Crude and juvenile, for sure, but not by any stretch of the imagination is it bestiality. The fact is, Alex is not into porn – he is into funny – and sometimes funny has a sexual character.

The tiny percentage of the material that was sexual in nature was all of a humorous character. For example, the “women’s crotches” was one of the many “camel toe” series that is widely available on the net. The insidious effect of these misleading descriptions is that even many of those who have come to Alex’s defense have expressed the view that judges are entitled to look at “porn” if they choose, as if that’s what was really going on here, when it is not.

I think that there is another very important piece of this story that has not received the attention it deserves, and that is the role of Cyrus Sanai.

Cyrus Sanai, a disgruntled attorney/litigant, has widely claimed credit for engineering this smear campaign. In a 2005 decision, District Judge Zilly USDC Western District Seattle, describes Sanai’s conduct in a case before him as “an indescribable abuse of the legal process, unlike anything this Judge has experienced in more than 17 years on the bench and 26 years in private practice: outrageous, disrespectful, and in bad faith.”

Judge Zilly references a decision by LA Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Grimes where she describes Sanai’s conduct in a different lawsuit as follows: “Plaintiff has proliferated needless, baseless pleadings that now occupy about 15 volumes of Superior Court files, not to mention the numerous briefs submitted in the course of the forays into the Court of Appeal and attempts to get before the Supreme Court, and not one pleading appears to have had substantial merit. The genesis of this lawsuit, and the unwarranted grief and expense it has spawned, are an outrage.”

Washington State Superior Court Judge Joseph A. Thibodeau also had a run-in with Sanai, who harassed him to the point that he had to recuse himself from Sanai’s case. I believe you have a copy of the transcript of that hearing. (You may want to link to Overlawyered.com which has some additional details about how Sanai’s conduct).

Sanai wrote a vicious attack against the Ninth Circuit panel (Judges Leavy, Gould and Clifton) that ruled against his efforts to get the federal court to take jurisdiction over his parents’ ugly divorce case. You can read his vitriol at www.ninthcircuit.us (a website obviously designed so that people trying to find the Ninth Circuit website would stumble on his page instead).

Alex, who did not participate in the decision, wrote a public defense of the panel, and thus made himself a target. Sanai apparently made it his mission to retaliate against Alex. He managed to access our private computer and copy these files, which he then shopped around to reporters for months. Finally, he got the LA Times reporter to print the story that set off this firestorm. Sanai not only admits his involvement in all this – he brags about it.

As to how Sanai accessed our server and was able to rummage through our personal files, frankly we are still trying figure it out. Apparently, if a person is able to find a link to an item in the “stuff” file, and he knows what he is doing, it is possible for him to reverse engineer his way into other items stored in that file without our knowledge or consent. Although we typically would only send links to friends and family – who would be unlikely to do such a thing and who would certainly not try to injure us with what they found if they did – it is possible that a link to something in the “stuff” file became public, and Sanai used it to access the other material stored there. Moreover, since there wasn’t anything that remotely resembles a “collection of porn” stored there, we didn’t pay as much attention to the security risks as we obviously should have.

This is a sad and dangerous lesson to anyone who dares to stand on principle and publicly speak out against people like Cyrus Sanai, who are willing to stop at nothing to wreak his petty vengeance on a good and decent man like my husband. It is even more disturbing that Sanai,
who is a member of the bar and an officer of the court, can get away with attacking judge after judge after judge, in this fashion.

It is also an indictment of Scott Glover and the LA Times, who are willing to knowingly distort the facts and with cavalier disregard of the injury they are causing to the reputation of a brilliant and distinguished jurist, in order to sell a few newspapers. And then, of course, there are the bevy of other purportedly respectable publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle, that are willing to repeat Mr. Glover’s story, while adding embellishments and further mischaracterizations along the way. This is apparently what now substitutes for responsible journalism.

While I’m on the topic of responsible journalism, it has recently come to light that the LA Times learned about this material months ago, and sat on it until it would do the maximum damage. Selecting the jury was a very grueling undertaking. Over 150 potential jurors were screened for
hour after painful hour on Monday and Tuesday. Scores of men and women took the trip into the jury box, only to leave soon thereafter because they confessed themselves unable to view the materials. A number of others disclosed embarrassing facts about themselves and their families in order to explain why they could not sit on this jury. It was a difficult and painful process for just about everyone who was called into the jury box. Finally, after considering 109 members of the panel, a jury was selected and sworn at the end of the day on Tuesday. And Glover was present in court while all this was going on, biding his time. Only on Wednesday, after the jury had started to hear the case – and jeopardy had attached – did the LA Times choose to “break” its story.

A newspaper – especially a major newspaper as the Los Angeles Times purports to be – is supposed to be a responsible member of the community, not a predator. If the presence of certain files on a judge’s computer is a truly a newsworthy matter, it would have been so months earlier, before Alex was assigned this trial, and certainly a few days earlier, before a jury had been chosen and the trial had commenced. But what excuse is there for timing the story with surgical precision so as to do maximum damage to the judicial process? In doing so, the LA Times caused the effort of the court, the parties and the 150 citizens who answered the call of duty by reporting for jury service from near and far to go to waste, just to make a big splash. This strikes me as worse than irresponsible.

On the brighter side, once again, it is the bloggers such as you, who are willing to look behind the story to discover the real facts. One can only hope that through these efforts, the truth will eventually come out.

Marcy J.K. Tiffany, Esq.”

Well duh

The Los Angeles Times and other media today ran frantic stories noting how rising gasoline prices are prompting rises in mass transit ridership and telecommuting as well as altering vacation plans. Um. Yeah. Isn’t this all a given? Sadly, though, I guess it’s just another sign of our reactive society. Is it better late than never? It would really be nice to have had effective mass transit network and more robust communications infrastructure before the current price increases hit.

Anyhow, don’t say nobody saw this coming.

Here’s the link: http://www.latimes.com/news/custom/scimedemail/la-fi-gas3-2008jun03,0,4792360.story


Apparently the Times isn’t alone in the obvious department. The Star ran a similar story today. I guess it’s good the story’s getting localized, and I don’t blame Stephanie for it. Still, my response remains, “Well duh.”

Obama and the “white vote”

Just saw this interesting post at Barack Oblogger. It’s a simple post, but it makes the point effectively. Despite the past week’s scuttlebutt over Hillary Clinton and “white, working class voters,” Barack Obama has won nominating contests in eight of the nation’s 15 whitest states (I’m trusting it’s quantified by a percentage of the overall population, the definition of whiteness or nonwhiteness — always somewhat frought — seems somewhat hard to actually hang a number upon). Results aren’t in yet for Montana (which votes June 3) or Kentucky, which votes tomorrow (along with Oregon). I think the vote in Kentucky¬† will be much closer than it was in West Virginia but still lean toward’s Hillary, but Obama has run away with the vote in mountainous, western states (and might I say, Republican bastions), so he’ll sew it up in Montana. I also predict he’ll blow Hillary out of the water in Oregon (also tomorrow), not in this list of 15 but still far from a bastion of diversity (not to mention a place where working class ideals have incredible mileage).

Not having been there for almost four years I still feel I can speak from experience that Maine, which tops the whiteness chart (and how!) is undoubtedly Obama country, and Mainers are so wicked far from elitist that it alone shatters the “working class” myth Hillary’s campaign touts.

Kudos to Chris Matthews! Has the world gone topsy-turvy?

This is unbelievable. Amidst all the brouhaha over George Bush’s attack on Barack Obama in the Israeli Knesset was this hilarious (if grating) exchange between Hardball-host Chris Matthews and conservative pundit Kevin James. I never thought I’d be admiring Matthews twice in one year, let alone one week, but it has happened as he seized on James’ ignorance of world history (see his criticism of Bill O’Reilly’s perspective on race in America for more).

Many people already realize the saddening lack of historical knowledge in contemporary society, but for this cheerleader of the Bush regime — ostensibly expected to be somewhat well-educated if he’s attempting to articulate a political position in the mainstream media — to so blatantly lack understanding of modern world history still shocks me. It just saddens me, it really does, because thousands of American students and families will continue to eat this tripe up, to make such basic arguments without even knowing the circumstance upon which they are basing their opinion. Ugh, I’m getting ranty and this video (it takes a couple minutes to get to the good/horrible part) speaks for itself, but it’s just outstanding. While I don’t personally buy the appeasement comparison, I’d hope at least those making the argument realize at the very least that Chamberlain’s appeasement policy allowed Hitler to annex Czechoslovakia (amusing note: While writing Czechoslovakia, for some reason, I typed Poland. Who’s the idiot now? The egg is on my face. Oh I can only imagine what comments I’d have received).

Anyhow, I meant to publish this Friday and now this has probably been all over the Internet:

Further dispatches from the Tour de Taco

Loyal In Good Taste readers should be aware by now that I joined three compadres for a sampling of Downtown Oxnard’s Tour de Taco this week. My account of the experience is available here. However, two of my fellow taco samplers provided me with much more entertaining and detailed descriptions than I was able to include. Unfortunately, they didn’t arrive in time for publication, but I think they capture the Tour de Taco excellently. Here they are (They’ve asked to be credited by their pseudonyms, Nena and Rico Taco):

Pilar’s had great black and white photos on the wall, and a friendly hostess/waitress. This was definitely a date-type restaurant, where you could slide into a booth and not be bothered unless they were refilling your chip basket. Our tacos took FOREVER to come out, but my carne asada was moist and flavorful. The fish taco was much more crowded – cabbage, runny Mexican-style sour cream, and big old beer battered fish hunks. The beer batter was good at first, but by the end of the first “half-taco,” I couldn’t take any more of it. The crema sauce was too rich for how much they put on it. The tortillas were thick and seemed like they’d been pan-fried.

Jesse’s had it going on. You walk right up to the edge of the kitchen and then sort of have to scoot along the street window wall to get inside, and the guy munching at bar seemed to be enjoying his plate. My little tacos were by far the best here – the meat was unbelievably tender and the chicken – I’m guessing thigh meat – came to pieces in my mouth. The cilantro was a perfect complement for the carnitas taco. These tacos were way smaller than the ones at Pilar, but were the size you’d expect. You would probably order four or five for a meal. This was much more the kind of place you’d stop in for lunch on a work day, or grab some dinner before heading to the game. We were surprised and disappointed, though, that they couldn’t serve beer.

Sabor was low on ambience, but that may have been because it was 9 p.m. on a Monday. My taco al pastor was saucy in a good way. The staff was really, really friendly. I’m pretty sure it was the owner who took our order, and the food came out quickly, brought by two nice young women. This was more family-style of a restaurant, with big plastic marlin on the wall and music videos playing on a TV hung from the ceiling. Sabor didn’t have their liquor license yet, either, which was a total downer. It’s bring-your-own-cerveza at some of these places.

(Also, we should note that the Taco Stand was closed at 6:50 p.m. Major suckage.)