August 23-29, 2006

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Silicon Valley News Notes

The Valley's Worst New Trend

Perhaps the weirdest thing about this summer's spate of local hate crimes is that no one's put the pieces together. Is this really a series of random incidents, or is there a more disturbing trend creeping up on one of the most diverse urban centers in the country? Here are the facts: according to Delorme McKee-Stovall, the county's coordinator for the Network for a Hate Free Community, Santa Clara County has historically gotten by with three or four incidents a month that could be characterized as hate crimes. In June, however, the number spiked to 10, with three additional hate incidents that were not crime. Meanwhile, by mid-August, the county has already seen at least six such incidents, the highest-profile one being the beating of an African American man in Mountain View by two Central Valley men shouting "white power" slogans. Combined with the stabbing of a Sikh man in Santa Clara on the last day of July (the assailant is said to not have been mentally sound and allegedly mistook the turbaned Sikh for a member of the Taliban), we see that not only have the numbers increased, but the violence has too. The question, naturally, is what gives? Bart Charlow, the president of the Silicon Valley Conference for Community & Justice, for one, is not buying the idea that the incidents are only random events. "I'm not as comfortable as some with the idea that these incidents are isolated and not organized," he writes. "Lone bigots kill people ... they don't need mob support to do it." McKee-Stovall, meanwhile, says that there aren't any clear explanations. She categorized the hate crimes into three broad categories: conflicts on school campuses between black and brown youth; crimes directed at the people who appear to be part of the Arab and Muslim community; and a target that she describes as "new," crimes directed at disabled tenants. The crimes, meanwhile, have ranged from those of violence, such as the Sikh stabbing, to vandalism and harassment. "I thought maybe it was summer," McKee-Stovall tells Fly. "Three incidents happened on school campuses." But maybe there's a larger issue fueling the flames, she says: "[There's] also tension that is brewing about the immigration issue. People are confused and frightened, and when people are confused they tend to not act their best. I don't have an answer. I just have this data."

Is One Picture Worth 1,000 Fees?

Mercury News folks are thumping their chests over winning a recent legal battle against a Tennessee photographer who sued the paper for reprinting his copyrighted work. But some media experts warn that the victory may not be the green light newspaper editors around the country have anticipated. In case you haven't followed the story, it goes like this: three years ago the News published a book review with a photo of Southern author Walker Percy. While it's common practice in the industry to illustrate reviews with photos from the book, Christopher Harris claimed his copyrights were violated because he had a special agreement with the publisher not to use his work for promotional purposes. It wouldn't be the first time that a photographer railed against a newspaper over copyright. But what's unusual is that a federal judge didn't dismiss the case under Fair Use, the law that protects newspapers by allowing them to use portions of copyrighted works. Fly gave you the scoop in February when a federal judge dissatisfied with the Merc's defense under this law allowed Harris's case to go to trial—a decision that had many in the newspaper industry on the edge of their seats. Six months later, a sigh of relief. Jurors cleared the News under Fair Use and the disgruntled Harris flew back to Tennessee, where he teaches as a university professor. "The big guys won, but we were ethically right," he told Fly. But these "big guys" won only after costly legal battle, and don't think that won't be on the minds of a lot of publishers. "I think newspaper editors will be more cautious now," says Santa Clara University professor Tyler Ochoa. "Litigation tends to make people gun-shy."

It's Educational!

Fly was asked about Scientology's link to one of the most in-your-face exhibits to hit San Jose in quite some time. So we checked it out at the San Jose Convention Center, where a darkened room punctured with the eerie glow of plasma screens did indeed show signs of Ron Hubbard's self-help-philosophy-turned-religion. At the very least, Hubbard would have been happy with what he saw. A series of vivid displays snaked through 4,000 square feet under the daunting title Psychology: an Industry of Death. The panels depicted gruesome images not suitable for children or the faint of heart: pre-20th-century torture techniques used on the mentally ill, child patients squirming in straitjackets, the steps of a lobotomy procedure formerly used by shrinks to slice a person's frontal lobe through their eyeball, and skeleton-thin bodies piled upon each other in mass graves—victims of the Holocaust and Hitler's take on eugenics. "Anyway you measure it," a booming voice concluded, "psychiatry has spelled nothing but ruin." Doesn't that sound like something Tom Cruise once declared on Oprah? Dr. Karl Hoffower shook his head and quickly dismissed the comparison. "This is nothing about Scientology," he said of the traveling exhibit created by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights. Never mind that Hubbard established the commission in 1969 as a political arm of the Church of Scientology. Hoffower, head of the local CCHR chapter, remains adamant that his group's outreach to victims of human rights abuses is not a guise to spread religious views. Its purpose—and the purpose of this hair-raising exhibit—is to raise awareness about the money-sucking, pill-pushing, mind-warping evils of psychiatry. But they really ought to have kept it up until Halloween; it kicks the butt of any house-of-horror that Fly's ever seen.

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