Take Me Online to the Ballgame

When you think of perennial loser teams, the first name that leaps to mind is usually the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs are the Mr. Magoo of professional baseball, bumbling their way through decades of shameful performances, occasionally coming close to victory but somehow always eluding it. Sammy Sosa's almost-record-setting season this summer was in classic Cubs form, as he broke Roger Maris' home-run record but just missed surpassing Mark McGwire's new one. But somehow, throughout all the almosts and not-quites, the Cubs maintain a fanatical loyalty among their legions of fans. And on Sept. 28, their followers' patience was rewarded as the Cubs earned a wild-card spot in the playoffs by beating the San Francisco Giants 5-3.But while Cubs fans were partying like drunken frat boys, OC's own perennial loser squad, the Anaheim Angels, were trashing their fans' hopes once again. After a monster winning streak earlier this summer and a great series against the Yankees, the team returned home for a series against the Texas Rangers, which they lost pathetically, almost wiping out any hopes of making the playoffs. Those hopes were finally slaughtered and hung up to drain on Sept. 25 when the Oakland A's whomped them 7-2.And yet, with a reflection of the same irrational loyalty that keeps the Cubs alive, the fans remained loyal throughout the September massacre that buries the Angels nigh-annually. Dana Parsons complained in the Los Angeles Times about fans' lack of zeal during the team's series with the Rangers. But online, their energy was unflagging. In fact, while the Angels and the Rangers were renewing their intense rivalry on the field, online fans on both sides were declaring outright war. Angels fans on the alt.sports.baseball.calif-angels newsgroup were invaded by Rangers fans (dubbed "Texas trolls" for the duration) posting nasty messages about their fave team's chances. OC returned the favor, striking back in the alt.sports.baseball.texas-rangers newsgroup."IT'S PAYBACK TIME, ANGELS!!!!!" one Texan posted in the Angels newsgroup. "Hope you're enjoying yet another curse of September.""Texas is going to whip ass on the Angels," quoth another son of the South. "Y'all don't have a chance in hell to win."Angels supporters responded to the taunts with sports fans' usual grace and dignity. A number of them advised simply ignoring the trolls, but some simply couldn't resist. "I hope you DIEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" one Angels fan posted in the Rangers newsgroup. It was an appropriate end for a season in which an on-field dukeout was credited for the Angels' midsummer winning streak that brought them within reach of the playoffs. But unlike that previous fracas, the feuding online did little to inspire the Angels, who, as usual (sorry, Angels fans), choked.But in the end, despite the bitter words and death threats that flew back and forth between the newsgroups, most Angels and Rangers fans accepted their respective defeat and victory with grace. "Well, it went down to the wire, but the Rangers pulled it out," an Angels supporter wrote in the Rangers newsgroup. "Since the Halos are now eliminated, I am now pulling for the Rangers to beat the shit out of those stinking Yankees. Congratulations on winning the pennant, and good luck in the playoffs."Rangers fans responded in kind. "I realize that there have been some real jerks from the Rangers [newsgroup] posting here (watch, they'll blast me for that one), but all of the Texas fans are not like that," one wrote. "I'm not here to rub anything in. I'm happy we won, but the fight was AWESOME. "Y'all have a great team and even better fans. Just don't let a few Texas fans influence your perspective on the rest of us."PETE ON NON-MEATGovernor Pete Wilson signed into law two anti-spamming measures on Sept. 28, but it's questionable whether either will do much good. The first outlaws the use of California computer networks to send bulk e-mail in violation of service providers' policies; the second requires all spam to be clearly labeled as such. But critics of the laws, which take effect Jan. 1, argue that both are state attempts to regulate interstate commerce-a practice frowned on by the courts. Civil-liberties activists have also expressed concern over the labeling law, arguing it could have a chilling effect on free speech (for example, if political messages were classified as spam). The bills' sponsors, Assemblyman Jim Cunneen (R-San Jose) and Assemblywoman Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Ray), claim confidence that the laws will withstand court challenges. But even if they do, a patchwork, state-by-state approach to fighting spam is simply not going to cut it. That would require action by the federal government to effectively deal with a problem that has already significantly disrupted conversation on Usenet and costs individual service providers thousands of dollars each year. And to put it on a personal level, it clogs up my damn mailbox. So, of course, the folks in Congress are saying they probably won't take any action on spam this session. Get with it, people!STARR FISHYMost Internet pundits agree that the White House sex scandal is showing the true potential of the Net at its most breathtaking: its ability to spread unfiltered information instantaneously around the globe. Instead of the lurid excerpts from the Starr report provided by most media outlets, citizens could read the whole thing; rather than the few snippets of video from Clinton's grand jury testimony, viewers could watch all four hours. But, as a recent e-mail message from a friend shows, the Internet has also made it possible for anyone to transmit sheer horse pucky to millions.The message included a quotation from Independent Counsel Ken Starr, which was taken from an interview he gave on 60 Minutes in 1987: "Public media should not contain explicit or implied descriptions of sex acts. Our society should be purged of the perverts who provide the media with pornographic material while pretending it has some redeeming social value under the public's right to know."Given that civil libertarians (including me) have been gleefully pointing out that conservative attempts to clean up the Internet would, had they succeeded, prevented the dissemination of the Starr report online, the quotation had an instant ironic appeal. Which is probably why it wound up being distributed so widely. Unfortunately for the irony gods, the message is a hoax. The Wall Street Journal and Salon magazine confirmed with CBS that Starr has never appeared on 60 Minutes.No one knows who started the hoax, but some have suggested it was a reaction to another quotation that's been widely posted on the Internet, this one attributed to Bill Clinton in 1974: "No question that an admission of making false statements to government officials and interfering with the FBI and the CIA is an impeachable offense." This statement was actually made by Clinton (it's from an article in the Arkansas Gazette on the Watergate affair), but often those who post it online leave out crucial bits. The Orange County Young Republicans (OCYR) site (www.ocyr.org), for instance, cut out the part about the CIA but left in the FBI reference; perhaps coincidentally, the OCYR has been making political hay out of unproven allegations of White House misuse of FBI files for months now. Other postings I've seen fail to mention both the FBI and the CIA, implying that Clinton thought lying alone was grounds for impeaching a president.So we're left with the entertaining possibility of a hoax being used to strike back at a distortion, with both sides spreading misinformation at the speed of light.I love the Internet.Share your love with Wyn at whilty@sprynet.com.


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