I'm obsessed with OC Mom

She's a frequent contributor to comments on the OC Register's website. Here is her latest about a story about crime in Santa Ana:

bestocmom wrote:
If we build a wall around Santa Ana, no one goes in, no one comes out the problem will die off in a few months. it's just gross there. They are nasty people that do nothing but look for a hand out, and if they don't get the hand out how they want it, then they think committing crime is okay.

Blind faith in the pews

One of the contributing factors to my loss of faith was the unwavering devotion of Catholics to their molesting priests.

For example, in 1986, Father Andrew Christian Andersen faced up to 56 years in state prison after being convicted of 26 felony counts of child molestation.

Letters from parishioners and brother priests flooded into the courthouse, pleading for leniency.

George Niederauer, Andersen's spiritual director at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo and now archbishop of San Francisco, wrote to Luis A. Cardenas, an Orange County Superior Court judge at the time:

Andersen "might well have misjudged what was appropriate physical expression especially given the atmosphere of adult-child contacts in our society at present," wrote Niederauer, adding that the boys might have misconstrued "wrestling" or "horse play" as sexual abuse. [Yeah, it's an easily mixed up: getting sodomized and a game of grab-ass."]

Jaime Soto, now bishop of Fresno, also wrote to the judge, downplaying Andersen's crimes.

"Our work brings us into intimate contact with people's lives," he wrote. "In a time when the exchange of simple affection within the most intimate of circles has become a rare commodity, our associations with others run the grave risk of being misunderstood by all parties including perhaps the priest himself." [Misunderstood: anal sex versus a hug. Happens all the time.]

The judge gave Andersen no prison time and instead ordered him to enter a Catholic rehabilitation center in New Mexico. Four years later, in 1990, Andersen was arrested in Albuquerque on suspicion of trying to sodomize a 14-year-old boy, and was ordered to serve six years in prison for violating his probation in the California case. You can read the sorted details here.

This week, an Orange County judge received 2,000 letters from parishioners of Our Lady of the Pillar in Anaheim, asking for leniency after their priest, Father Luis Eduardo Ramirez, plead guilty to attempting to molest a boy in a hotel room.

Orange County Register reporter Rachanee Srisavasdi captured the scene:

Parishioners packed the room. When the judge announced his decision, two burst out sobbing. One supporter had to be dragged outside, his face red with anger.

"He's a good man," said another parishioner, Leonardo Cortez. "These are lies.''

Ramirez, who plead guilty to two misdemeanors, received 180 days in jail. He got off easy. Let's hope there aren't any more victims out there. But we may never know since the Diocese of Orange has kept this as secret as it possibly can in this day and age.

Niederauer and Soto, despite trying to defend a serial molester and assigning some of the blame to his victims, continue their rise in the Catholic Church hierarchy. And parishioners continue to devoting themselves to the men behind the altar and NOT on the man on the cross.

A new reformation is needed, but where's Martin Luther?

Dangers of a godly presidency

Mega-Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest told the world Monday on CNN’s “Larry King Live” that the President of the United States should believe in God.

Polls show that Americans would rather vote for a Catholic, Jew, Mormon or Muslim than an atheist. But how wise it that?

I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a Pentecostal president who believed he was getting his instructions directly from God and talked in tongues and had the ability to heal.

I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a Mormon president who believed his/her religious leader — the church’s prophet — can receive direct revelations from God.

I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a Catholic president who believed it was his duty to promote the teachings of his church above all else (which is what a good Catholic should do).

I wouldn’t feel comfortable with an Orthodox Jewish president who believed women on their periods were “unclean” and that men and women have to be divided during services at the synagogue.

I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a Muslim president who believed in Sharia, the Islamic system of law that requires that convicted adulterers be stoned to death and thieves get a hand and foot chopped off.

I’d feel more more comfortable with an intelligent atheist who based his decisions strictly on facts and reason. Even if I was super-religious, I’d feel that way — unless miraculously the president held the exact religious views I did. And what’s the chances of that?

The unchanging Catholic Church

If you're Catholic and think the clergy sexual abuse scandal is behind you, think again.

Here's a "post"-scandal story of Father Luis Eduardo Ramirez, who was arrested in January in Anaheim for suspicion of child annoyance or molestation and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The city of Anaheim didn't publicize the case, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange -- which fancies itself as being "open and transparent" when it comes to priests who mess around with children -- only placed an item in the church bulletin of the accused priest's church, Our Lady of the Pillar.

As a sexual abuse expert will tell you, the vast majority of molesters have many victims. The idea of being open and transparent is so a) the community is warned and b) other victims can come forward. A single article in a parish bulletin doesn't cut it. What if another victim left the church? Or didn't go to church that Sunday? Or wasn't a member of that parish?

I also love that the priest's religious order bailed him out of jail and allowed him to continue his holy work in a monastery. Actually, putting molesting priests in monasteries is a perfect spot for them -- if they are never allowed to be around children or given leave without a chaperon. But that's not usually the program. If only Catholic leaders who listen to the advice of St. Basil of Caesarea. The fourth (4th!) century priest got so fed up with sexual abuse that he set up a detailed system of punishment to deal with clerics at his monastery who molested boys. Among other punishments, perpetrators were to be flogged and put in chains for six months; they were never again allowed unsupervised interaction with minors.

But the church's reaction to Father Ramirez's arrest tells it all. The church still has two priorities: to protect the institution and to help its brother priests. Nothing else matters. You can't change 2,000 years of culture is a five-year period. The Catholic Church -- and its high-priced PR consultants -- can speak of openness, transparency and caring for the victim first, but that's not how the priest, bishops, cardinals and pope have been trained. Not even more than $1 billion in payouts can change that.

Playtime is over ... for now

When I left the Los Angeles Times three weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a friend who said I'd be twice as happy and make twice as much money within six months.

I'm already twice as happy. It's difficult to put into words what it's like working at a newspaper you love knowing that it's in steep decline and there's nothing you can do to stop it. You can't really measure what that does to your psyche until you remove yourself from the newsroom.

Though I haven't seen cent one, my friend's money prediction also appears to be on target. I'm putting together several business partnerships (including an exciting one with former Daily Pilot publisher Tom Johnson), working nearly full-time on my wife's business (Greer's OC -- please sign up for the "FREE Daily Dose of OC" that gives readers the latest in Orange County fashion, dining and trends), and getting my book ("Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America -- and Found Unexpected Peace") ready for its February launch.

So I need to stop blogging at Lobdell's OC -- at least for now. This gig doesn't pay, but is highly addicting. A bad combination for someone needing to put money in the bank for his family of six. Thanks for reading, and I'll be in touch. If you're dying to read something by me, you'll still be blogging about religion at www.williamlobdell.com.

OC Register = OC Enquirer?

Disclaimer: I LOVE the National Enquirer. It follows its editorial mission better than almost any of U.S. publication, and its investigative reporters are underrated. I read it with a boulder of salt, but read it I do (I make my wife buy it for me).

I've been following the Orange County Register more closely in recent weeks, and I'm beginning to wonder: is the Register trying to take over the National Enquirer niche in Orange County? Among the Enquirer-esque stories published Wednesday:

Is there a $100,000 penny in your couch cushions?

OC beauties junkies gobble up battery-powered mascara

Mother gives birth on lawn ... her own

Homeless patient spent hospital money on crack

It's a gas: Human waste being turned into car fuel

The poop on Fountain Valley's drinking water

There was a remarkable article in the New York Times Magazine last weekend, featuring Fountain Valley's effort -- both technologically and psychologically -- to turn sewage water into drinking water.

Warren's commission

The Los Angeles Times had a nice story on Pastor Rick Warren and Saturday's appearance of presidential candidates Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest.

I've become a big fan of Warren over the years. Despite being the Billy Graham of his generation, Warren has avoided the pitfalls of fame and fortune. He now gives 90% of his income away, he's purposefully stayed clear of any a whiff of a scandal (he handles none of the church's money, he turned down chances for a television show, and he won't be alone in a room -- or even an elevator -- with a woman who is not his wife).

He's also grown over the years and has more fully embraced the message of Jesus by, among other things, leading the way for evangelicals to get involved in the fight against AIDS in Africa. Prior to Warren's involvement, the Christian Right had been shamefully silent on the issue.

All that said, I'm guessing Saturday's "debate" will be disappointing to most Americans. The format is the problem. Warren, a friend of both candidates, will introduce McCain and Obama, and then interview them separate. If candidates on "Meet the Press" get thrown fastballs and curves by the moderator, McCain and Obama will get a series of slow, juicy pitches right down the middle of the plate that they will hit over the fence. The presidential hopefuls will look, ah, presidential, but viewers will leave unsatisfied by the powder-puff format.

Too bad. Warren would have been the perfect person to referee an exciting, provocative, unscripted, free form AND civilized exchange between the two candidates. That's what voters want to see. Not a job interview. Not a stilted debate with time limits and manufactured sound bites. Just two hopefuls, sitting around the table, passionately detailing their vision for America and pointing out the weakness in their opponent's argument.

Pilot Down: The Sequel

John O'Laughlin, one of Sam Zell's geniuses who is "redefining" newspapers, sent a memo out Tuesday to employees at Times Community News, the community news division of the Los Angeles Times. Tell Zell blogged about it.

This could prove to be the final nail in the coffin of the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot, once one of the best daily community newspapers in the country. (This is a very personal issue for me because I worked as editor of the Pilot for 10 years, helping resurrect it from near-bankruptcy into a top-flight local paper, editorially and financially).

First, Zell's boys drove off Publisher Tom Johnson, the finest newspaper executive and advertising salesman I've known in 25 years in the business. Then Ron Katzman, the Pilot's best salesperson (by far), announced Tuesday he's leaving the Pilot because his "brother" (Tom Johnson) had been forced out. (Katzman will be working at Greer's OC, a new media company run by my wife -- she knows how to take advantage of an opportunity.) Finally, O'Laughlin's memo arrives in everyone's in-boxes, leaving the demoralized staff comatose. Great work, John! Take the rest of the week off!

OK, let's parse this memo -- designed, I guess, to inspire the troops.

Dear TCN Colleague
(John never bothered to visit the Pilot's headquarters until the day Tom Johnson left, the markings of a loyal "colleague.")

As we embark on a new era at TCN,
(The dark ages?)

our future success will be grounded in our ability to collaborate and consolidate where needed,
(I know it sounds stupid, but we need to centralize our community newspapers so one size fits all. This means more layoffs and other exciting innovations. If the LONG BEACH Press-Telegram can be run out of the South Bay, we have the brainpower to do something similar; I know this type of arrangement has never been done before but we're going to shift the paradigm! Soon, we'll be able to centralize all operations in India -- imagine the mind-blowing cost savings.)

scrutinize all policy and procedure that limit growth,
(Sam loves this shit so I just threw this in. Sam also loves the word "shit.")

and relentless focus on reinventing our daily process.
(Sam loves this shit, too, so I just threw it in.)

To get started, I want to briefly share the following updates:
(The following is bad news in case you're not demoralized enough. But there's an upside. If everyone bails out of TCN, we're talking HUGE profit margins!)

1. Content- All editorial functions need to be reviewed across all of TCN.
(There will be blood.)

While reporters and their beats are local, copy editing and design can be, to varying degrees, optimized across the whole empire. Tony Dodero and Danette Goulet will jointly determine how all TCN editorial resources can be optimized across the entire organization.
(We'll have a centralized operation, with the few reporters we have left staying in their communities -- for now. This strategy has been successful in many markets, including ... ah ... uh .... never mind.)

2. Advertising - Scott Pompe is working with Hector Cabral and Lisa Cosenza on sales force management. The new structure will be performance based and will focus on selling across the entire spectrum of TCN products; LAT MARCOM under Anna Magzanyan and Mike Kechichian is aggressively working on improvements in collateral, cross-media packages, promo opps, etc.
(This is going to work FOR SURE because local advertisers in Newport Beach REALLY need to reach Times Community News readers in Glendale and Burbank. Customers will FOR SURE drive 60 miles to patronize a local merchant.)

3. Special Sections - Under Lana Johnson's leadership, the excellent content that has served OC so well will now be applied to all of TCN. In addition, coordinated planning w/LAT Custom Publishing / Annastasia Stafford's team will be paramount and processes/calendar reviewed and established.
(Despite Sam Zell's initial words, we HATE local autonomy. We like the business model of the Soviet Union -- centralization works; I learned that in business school!)

4. Web - Under Tony Dodero, this function will now service all of TCN including site maintenance, redesigns, site launch and expansion
(Again, WE DON'T WANT LOCAL PAPERS TO HAVE LOCAL CONTROL. This goes against my MBA-trained mind.)

5. Adv Opns – These functions will be migrating to LATMG over the next two periods, this function will be optimized within the context of the larger LATMG organization
(You probably don't know what "Adv Opns" is -- it's a term I learned in business school! And you probably don't know what this sentence means -- good!)

Over the next few weeks, Gordon, Scott and I will be asking a LOT of questions,
(You might as well bend over right now)

including exploration of options for GM/Publisher role(s),
(This seems to be an unnecessary expense when you have ME!)

all with the goal to better assess structure to increase revenue and readership. What is certain is that managing TCN as a whole we will be better able to serve our communities, revitalize our existing products and launch new dramatic new initiatives while enhancing opportunities for all.
(Did you see what I did? I combined the crap Sam Zell loves -- "dramatic new initiatives" -- with my MBA-speak -- "to better assess structure" and "enhancing opportunities for all" -- and the Soviet Union model of centralization. It's PURE brilliance! I just hope the new publisher of The Times doesn't catch on to what I'm doing.)

Thanks for your continued commitment to our readers and advertisers.
(That you're still thinking about your readers and advertisers is amazing considering everything I've done.)

Best, JTO
(JTO -- that was my frat nickname at Notre Dame! Don't you just love it?!)

Today's most saintly reader of the Register

As usual, there's tons of competition for the Orange County Register's most saintly reader of the day. But I've selected three finalists who left their tender and loving comments on the paper's website about a story of a drive-by shooting in Santa Ana. The runners-up:

jrmmx88 wrote:
I think one of my 10th grade teachers in Maryland in '78 summed up the Latin-American Hispanic mindset perfectly when she said (on more than one occasion) that the males all want to prove they how macho they are, and the females all want to show how fertile they are. I wondered why she was telling us that back then, but now I think I know.

In Lieu of a 'Clock Chime' or 'Church Bell' ringing or sounding, Staba-ana has chosen to use sounds familiar with the residents. Gun shots, screams, Push-cart Ice cream bells and La'Banda are now standard sounds used to alert residents where 'Clock Chimes' or 'Church Bells' are used in other Modern communities or societys.

And now for the winner -- a sensitive soul who calls herself "bestocmom":

bestocmom wrote:
I'm telling you. Fence them in and let themselves kill eachother off.

Shameless Self Promotion: The Early Buzz

I've received some nice early praise for my memoir, "Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America -- and Found Unexpected Peace." Here are some of the highlights:

"This is the most intellectually honest and emotionally courageous book I have ever read, and it's a page turner from cover to cover. The new atheist community will embrace it, of course, but I think all Christians owe it to themselves to read the spiritual journey of this once devout evangelical born-again Christian whose penetrating insights into the soul of that religion--and all religions--will test the faith of even the most faithful, not because of cogent counter arguments to Christian apologetics, but because Lobdell is willing to go where few religious believers can. To find out where that place is you must read this book."

--Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, author of "How We Believe," "Why Darwin Matters," and "The Mind of the Market"

“William Lobdell has written a heart/mind/soul-wrenching spiritual autobiography. He has been inspired by followers of Jesus who have served their Lord with integrity. But he has also been devastated by observing, up-close, the ugly, sinful underbelly of a critical, self-serving, institutional and individual religion. This is a must-read filled with warnings and wake-up calls to those of us in leadership positions. I respect Bill for his honest reporting of his odyssey to this point and pray that someday there may be a future book, just as honest, with a grace-filled conclusion.”
The Rev. John Huffman, chairman of the board, Christianity Today

“William Lobdell really and truly wanted to believe. When he came to realize that wanting and believing are two sides of the same coin, he decided to take the risk of basing morality on the modesty of human reason and solidarity instead of on the self-defeating arrogance of faith. Now he feels much better, and so will you when you read this honest and decent account of his – forgive the expression – evolution.”
Christopher Hitchens, author of "God is Not Great"

“As the senior astor of a church for the last 12 years, I wholeheartedly believe that every Christian who wants to equip themselves to do the Great Commission, and not just talk about the Great Commission, better think through the passionate and detailed account of William Lobdell’s de-conversion. The book did not harm my faith in the Lord Jesus, it just demonstrated that the emperor has no clothes--and that I am one of the emperors.”
Barry Minkow, senior pastor of Community Bible Church in San Diego

10 facts about an Olympic hero

Jason Lezak, 32 of Irvine, will go down as one of the greatest Olympians of all-time for his incredible, world-record setting, come-from-behind, anchor-leg swim in the 4x100 freestyle relay in the Beijing Olympics. Here are 10 facts you may not know about Lezak.

  • He's the fourth U.S. Jewish gold medalist.
  • At 32, he's the oldest man on the U.S. Olympic team.
  • He trains, without a coach, in Irvine.
  • He's a graduate of Irvine High School.
  • His wife was an Olympic world swimmer.
  • He was a high-school All-American water polo player before concentrating on swimming.
  • He started swimming with the Irvine Novaquatics at age 5.
  • His father is in leather goods.
  • His mother is an elementary school teacher.
  • When he was 10, he had to make a tough decision between the finals of a run, hit, and throw competition at Angel Stadium for baseball and Junior Olympics for swimming. Swimming turned out to be the best choice where he went on to win a couple of events at the competition.
  • He's a huge weightlifter.

Register: All the police briefs that fit!

Above: Screen captures of the top stories on the Orange County Register website and also the top viewed.

Anyone else notice the top stories on the Orange County Register's home page are typically police blotter briefs or puffy self-help articles?

The screen capture of the stories above taken today at 4 p.m. shows a newsy day for the Register, if you can believe it. You have the UCI climate change study, and a poll about the presidential race. But then you get the typical:

  • Learn secrets to bargain-priced homes
  • Drive-by shooting leaves cars riddled with bullets
  • Famima!!, Fresh & Easy face off
  • Passerby tried to keep woman from jumping from overpass
  • It gets even more depressing when you look at the top-viewed stories:
    If I ran a newspaper website around there, I'd give equal play to the high readership stories ("Lady Wrestler won't be pinned by a bed sore" -- you're just got to read it, right?), and quality news and feature stories about Orange County. (I always thought the Los Angeles Times could feature both high-end entertainment coverage and the Perez Hilton variety -- just as movie studios have different companies that produced different kinds of films, newspapers should be able to branch out in similar ways.)

    I'd also feature prominently Frank Mickadeit, the Register's best brand and one of the last remaining reasons the Register still is a must read for Orange Countians.

    Pilot Down

    It didn't get a lot of fanfare outside of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, but last week, longtime Daily Pilot Publisher Tom Johnson was forced out of his job by meddling executives at the Los Angeles Times.

    Letting Johnson get away from the Pilot is like having Apple's board of directors run off Steve Jobs. Sheer stupidity. Tom was, by far, the best publisher and advertising salesperson I've seen in more than two decades in the business. Smart, innovative, inspiring, passionate.

    Over 17 years, Tom had turned the Pilot into a miniature cash cow for its owner, The Times. But in just a few months, his MBA-loving bosses put the paper into what could be a death spiral by allowing its beloved leader -- in the newsroom, in the advertising department and in the community -- to leave.

    Besides the good folks who work at the paper, the communities of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa stand to be the biggest losers. Now they have access to a rare commodity: a small daily paper that watches over their city councils and school boards, reports on the cities' births, deaths and arrests, and sends reporters to their high school football games and school plays. But coverage tomorrow, who knows?

    I'm very biased on this one. I've known Tom for 17 years. We took over the Daily Pilot in the early 1990s at a time it was losing $250,000 a month and was on the verge of closing down. No one believed the Pilot would survive, but it did. More than that, it thrived. Editorially, the California Newspaper Publishers Assn. named the Pilot the best community daily in the state. Financially, Tom delivered profit margins as high as 28.5 percent.

    OK, here's a test to see if you have what it takes to be an executive at The Times. Let's say you've been put in charge of the Daily Pilot, in addition to all your duties. Do you:

    A. Give Tom Johnson the freedom, support and incentive to continue to manage the Pilot as he successfully has for the past 17 years?

    B. Despite the large problems you face at The Times, spend valuable time micro-managing the Pilot from 45 miles away while making sure you never step foot inside the newspaper's headquarters, never talk to the employees or never meet anyone in the community?

    For most, the answer would be rhetorical. For Tribune-trained execs, the answer is B.

    I still have many friends at the Pilot, and they've been in a daze since Tom's abrupt departure. No new publisher has been named, and I can see that position being left vacant (what does a local paper need a publisher for, anyway?). One of the Tribune geniuses better give Tony Dodero, who had been Tom's right hand man and is highly respected at the paper and in the community, a big fat raise and no-layoff promise to keep him.

    The irony is that Tom will be just fine. Better than fine. He's already received many job offers and promises of venture capital from fans of his in the community (I'm hoping to team up with him for a business venture or two).

    It's the Pilot at risk now. For no good reason. We've seen the Tribune Co.'s inability to manage large newspapers. Now its resume is complete. When it comes to the Tribune Co.'s panache for screwing up papers, size doesn't matter.

    OC reporter takes down poker pros

    Stuart Pfeifer about to school poker pro Mimi Tran.

    In Saturday's Los Angeles Times, reporter Stuart Pfeifer wrote a great first-person essay (along with some cool web features by graphic artist Tia Lai that allow you to "play" some of Pfeifer's hands) about his recent quest to win a World Series of Poker tournament in Las Vegas. I don't want to spoil the ending, but Pfeifer's journey makes for fascinating reading. When not playing Texas Hold 'Em, Pfeifer -- a friend of mine -- has been covering the story of indicted Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona.

    Who's more dangerous?

    On the heals of the arrest of biker gang leader/Pastor Phil Aguilar of Anaheim on suspicion of attempted murder, I started to wonder: Who is the more dangerous man who appeared regularly on Trinity Broadcasting Network: a person who allegedly broke a pool cue over someone's head in a barroom brawl in Newport Beach or a self-proclaimed faith healer who tells believers with incurable illnesses that they've been miraculously healed by God?

    "Faith healer" and suspected multi-millionaire Benny Hinn is one of TBN's most celebrated pastors. His daily "This Is Your Day!" television show airs in primetime, and during the network's twice yearly "praise-a-thons" he serves as one of the network's most effective fund-raisers. Hinn's (and TBN's) basic pitch: if you want to be wealthy and/or healthy, provide God with evidence of your faith (by giving money to TBN/Hinn's ministry).

    Many channel surfers view Hinn -- with the Nehru suits and comb-over -- as a harmless buffoon of televangelism, healing folks by "slaying in the spirit" on stage with a wave of his hand and sending them falling over backward like so many bowling pins.

    Do you know how many people have died because they believed they had been cured by the "faith healer" Hinn (he's always quick to point out that he is only God's instrument and it's the Lord who heals) and stopped their medications and trips to the doctors? I don't know and neither does Hinn. But several national television news shows have interviewed survivors who say their loved ones did just that and died.

    A few years back, I attended a Benny Hinn Miracle Crusade at the Honda Center in Anaheim and found a kid named Jordie who had come down from Canada. Jordie proudly showed me the shunt in his arm that he used for dialysis and said, "I watch Pastor Benny, and he says we need to step in faith to show God we truly believe He can heal us. So I stopped getting dialysis a few days ago. I had to. I mean, what kind of faith do I have if I keep doing dialysis when God will heal me."

    To his doctor's dismay, Jordie stayed off dialysis throughout the Miracle Crusade weekend. Fortunately, he didn't die -- no thanks God or Hinn. (He had to go on dialysis as soon as he arrived home.)

    From a logic standpoint, I understood Jordie's thinking. Pastor Benny promises (over and over again each day) that God will heal you IF your faith is strong enough. And what's a better sign of faith than to toss aside medical treatment and really solely on God's healing powers?

    There is perhaps no cruelly sad place on Earth that a sports arena after a Hinn Miracle Crusade "heals" its last person. The facility is littered with people -- the terminally ill, the paralyzed, the diseased, the misshapened -- who believed (because they were told) that they would be restored to health that very night. They had fantasies of walking or running or laughing or simply scratching their nose again. But they were still broken, same as before. And now they had another burden, believing they had been barred from God's healing touch because they didn't have enough faith.

    Hinn's rewards for all this heartache are plentiful. He lives in a ministry-owned home -- valued at more than $20 million -- in Ritz Cove on the Pacific in Dana Point. He drives luxury cars, flies in a corporate jet, stays in presidential suites, eats in five-star restaurants and is usually flanked, for unfathomable reasons, by two burly bodyguards. I often wonder if Hinn sleeps well at night in his mansion overlooking the cliffs of Dana Point. I'm guessing that he does -- with a big smile on his face.

    Hinn's "healings" -- even if completely bogus -- are protected by the First Amendment. No civil or criminal court can prove whether Hinn really hears from God (though judging by his failed prophesies, we can at least assume the connection is really, really poor). Or whether someone is healed by Hinn's touch. Or whether Hinn believes the crap he spouts. An attempt to prove any of that would amount to a heresy trial and the Constitution doesn't allow that.

    In my opinion, that means the world's most famous "faith healer" -- whose followers hang his every word -- can do much more damage to people (emotionally, spiritually and physically) than someone involved in a single bar fight.

    Orange County story of the day

    In this story, Adam Townsend and Doug Irving of the Orange County Register land an interview with the family of Pastor Phil Aguilar, the leader of a biker gang who was arrested earlier this week on suspicion of attempted murder. Good work, guys.

    Lee Abrams: Translated

    Lee Abrams (left) and the Unabomber

    As a public service, I've decided to take a stab at translating the latest memo from Lee "The 2x4 Tool" Abrams, the Tribune Co.'s "innovation chief" and most hated man in journalism (the Tribune Co. owns the Los Angeles Times and the Newport Beach-Costa Mesa Daily Pilot, making this an Orange County item -- at least in my mind).

    Here is the translation to just a small portion of his memo. If there's a demand, I'll supply more translations (FYI, the Unabomber-esque ALL CAPS punctuation is all The Tool's). Here goes:

    By "quality," I'm talking about the quality of the lay-offs. We're well on our way to eliminating big salaries, medium salaries and any journalist over the age of 30.

    It's time to pick up the pace of the lay-offs. I suspect there are still some people who are only working 40-hours a week. We've got loans to pay, people! There's no time to rest. As NEIL YOUNG says: "Rust never sleeps!" Either should we!

    I'm not insane, so I don't believe this bullshit. It defies logic. But I'm being paid well into the six-figures to write these crazy effing memos and I have to say something.

    When pigs fly out of my butt.

    This is our ultimate plan. At The Times, for example, where we once had 1,200 editorial employees, we'll soon have 120!

    At our newspapers, we're going to have readers generate the content and readers will also snatch their own paper off the press (they'll been able to SMELL THE INK!) and deliver the paper to THEMselves! That's taking ADVANTAGE of today's economics. And because of high gas prices, we'll give each reader a FREE BUS PASS to travel to our printing facilities. That's called THINKING OUT OF THE BOX, folks! Newspaper people, who can't THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX, have NEVER DONE THIS before I arrived on the scene.

    For example, ah ... ah ... better move to the NEXT SUBJECT and hope no one NOTICES.

    Emotions aside, you're screwed -- unless you don't make much money, are willing to go along with the nonsense I'm spewing, and resemble Dwight from "The Office" -- because the character of Michael Scott from "The Office" was based on ME! Seriously!

    Like a mental patient.

    If you think Newspapers [editor's note: not sure why the capital letter but let's go with it] are in a difficult state, try the record Industry.
    Actually, sailing ships are a better example, but we don't want to FRIGHTEN THE EMPLOYEES we have left.

    You know there's a problem when it's still called the "record" industry but records hardly exist.
    Our language is filled with words that no longer hold their original meaning, but let's not go there.

    Along comes Steve Jobs with the I-pod thing.
    An aside: I wish Steve would hire me, but apparently he's too good for an "innovative chief."

    If you think WE are getting nuked by the pundits [and journalists, Wall Street, our employees, readers, advertisers, and anyone else who can fog a mirror] this guy was getting it World War Three [ah, how about World War III] style from the "what does this geek know about OUR business." I don't think he cared too much about what THEY thought.
    I know it's a stretch to equate what I'm doing (rehashing ideas from the past 30 years combined with massive layoffs) with a visionary like Jobs who so clearly understood the business model for the 21st century -- but WTF.

    Today's best Orange County story

    Times photo by Mark Boster

    Recently laid-off Los Angeles Times reporter Janet Eastman wrote a beautiful obituary today on Hortense Miller, 99 of Laguna Beach, who created one of Southern California's most enchanting gardens. Here's how the obit starts:

    Hortense Miller, a feisty environmentalist and author who created one of the best private gardens in the country and whose knowledge of plants was sought by leading horticulturists, has died. She was 99.

    Miller died Monday of natural causes at an assisted-living facility in Mission Viejo, said her friend Marsha Bode.

    Fiercely protective of her 2 1/2 -acre property in Laguna Beach's rugged Boat Canyon, off Coast Highway and about a five-minute drive from Main Beach, Miller gave the land to the city in 1976. She wanted the public to continue to see it the way she liked it, as a wild mix of native coastal scrub, tropical succulents, blooming perennials and exotics such as towering puya stalks from Chile.

    "Age hasn't done a thing for me," she once said of the land she nurtured for five decades. "But it's done wonders for the garden. It gets better all the time."

    Christian bike gang, attempted murder charges and TBN

    The story broke today that authorities in Orange County arrested six members of the Set Free Soldiers Christian motorcycle gang and charged them with conspiracy to commit murder. Phil Aguilar, leader of the Set Free Soldiers and founding pastor of the Set Free Worldwide Ministries movement, was among those arrested.

    During my multi-year investigation into the Trinity Broadcasting Network, Aguilar’s name came up often. The convicted felon (I was told of the charges, but never confirmed them so I won’t repeat them here; but I think it’s safe to say he wasn’t in prison for shoplifting). Aguilar had close ties to the Tustin-based network, which is the world’s largest religious broadcaster.

    He had been a semi-regular on-air guest and at one point was given his own show. Aguilar also served with TBN co-founder Paul Crouch on the board of the National Minority Television Network, an organization that federal officials called a sham TBN used to get around limits on television station ownership.

    John Casoria, TBN’s in-house counsel and nephew of TBN co-founder Jan Crouch, has represented Aguilar. And Aguilar ran a drug treatment facility in the early 1990s at a TBN-owned ranch in Texas.

    On-air, Jan Crouch called Aguilar “the closest thing to Jesus” she ever saw and once declared that those who didn’t give money to Set Free were going to Hell, according to a 1995 edition of the Christian Sentinel.

    Several observers have wondered over the years why TBN had maintained a close relationship with Aguilar and his ministry, which has been criticized in print and by former members as being an abusive cult. And now the “closest thing to Jesus” is being held in jail on $1 million bail for allegedly participating in a 15-person barroom brawl — police say it was Set Free Soldiers vs. Hell’s Angels — in Newport Beach and trying to kill someone.

    What a story. More, I’m sure, to come.

    Coming tomorrow: A murder in Newport

    Stay tuned.

    Orange County Olympians: SO Hot Right Now!

    The august website, Campus Squeeze, just released its "26 Hottest US Olympic Women." (Please, no questions about how I came across Campus Squeeze. Let's just say I'm scouring all corners of the Internet to bring you OC news) And guess what? Orange County had, by far, the most athletes on the list (though Amanda Beard should have been No. 1 by a mile). The OC picks:

    Questions about the OC Marathon

    There's nothing surprising about organizers for the Orange County Marathon attempting to change the race's route. The current path -- basically along a concrete riverbed from Newport Beach to Irvine -- has to be the least scenic in America. The new route would spent more time on the Newport Beach coast before heading to Costa Mesa and finishing around South Coast Plaza.

    But in reporting the story, Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit, not known for his svelte figure, reveals a real bombshell: that he once ran a 3:35 marathon. That's sick fast. I'm not sure I would believe this tale, except I've seen hard evidence that my friend Hugh Hewitt pulled off a 3:12 marathon in his skinny youth.

    P.S. On a serious note, news reports keep describing the OC Marathon as "profitable." But I've heard from several charities over the years that weren't happy with their cuts of the "profits." Anyone with more information can e-mail me at williamlobdell@yahoo.com.

    Christian biker gang raided

    This just in.

    Summer Daze

    It's been an extremely slow news week in Orange County, but thank God for kids.

    The biggest story today (partly because of the photo above from the Newport Beach Fire Department) comes from the Daily Pilot (also kudos to the headline writer who came up with: Quick Sand Rescue). Joseph Serna reports on a teenager who dug a narrow, five-foot hole in the wet sand, only to have it collapse and bury him up to his neck. It took 20 rescuers to dig him out. And yes, the young man was a 909er.

    In Laguna Beach, the Orange County Register reported that some kids got in trouble for using a potato launcher to try and hit a kayaker with a spud.

    And finally in Mission Viejo, the Register has a story about a 14-year-old boy who was skateboarding on the gym roof at Trabuco Hills High School and crashed through a skylight and fell 40 feet to the gym floor. He had a fractured right wrist, ribs and pelvis, and bruised lung.

    Tattle Tale

    The official motto of Lobdell's OC: If it happens in Orange County, it's news to us!

    I just got turned on to a news website I should have known about since January: the Irvine Tattler. Filling the gap left by the retreating forces of the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register, Stephen Smith has developed a wonderful muckracking site focused on Irvine politics.

    He's broken several big stories (for instance, he recently reported that "councilman and mayoral candidate Sukhee Kang used a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request in August 2006 to obtain an estimated 90,000 records with personal information about Irvine voters, including birth dates, home addresses and e-mail addresses").

    With councilman and Great Park Chairman for Life Larry Agran and his cronies for material, he's got plenty of targets. He also provides plenty of primary documents and audio to back-up his stories. It's great stuff and an indication that all is not lost in journalism. Here's an excerpt from a recent article, "Supervisors More Ethical Than Agran":

    The irony is not lost on those of us who fought the proposed El Toro International Airport that the Orange County Board of Supervisors now seem to have a higher ethical standard than Agran and his allies.

    During the 1990s and early 2000s, airport opponents criticized the County for secret meetings, misleading propaganda and wasting taxpayer dollars on endless designs that seemed to change with the political winds.

    Now the roles are reversed.

    After the public embarrassment of Sheriff Mike Carona's arrest and resignation, the Supervisors chose to hire the new sheriff in public. They reviewed the applications in public, interviewed candidates in public, and deliberated in public to select their new sheriff, Sandra Hutchens.

    Agran, in contrast, has insisted on keeping the CEO selection process secret. The search committee members were all Agran political allies. The search committee consultant, Lisa Mills, was once a Santa Ana City Council member allied with Miguel Pulido. Agran's relationship with Kurt Haunfelner, the committee's choice, was also kept secret from the board.

    When Choi and Shea insisted that Agran open the selection process to the public, Agran refused.

    Debbie Cook: A longshot to bet on

    Congresswoman Debbie Cook. That has a nice ring to it.

    I've had a mad crush on Huntington Beach Mayor Debbie Cook for nearly 20 years now (I know, we both don't look at old, right?). Something about hot, smart, independent, unafraid-to-back-down women I find appealing.

    She's currently running against ten-term incumbent Dana "I Believe in Term Limits" Rohrabacher for the 46th District congressional seat. Usually Rohrabacher sleepwalks through the election because Democrats concede the district and put up a sacrificial lamb.

    Not that Rohrabacher isn't vulnerable. He's not worshiped in his own district like some members of Congress. The rap on Rohrabacher has long been that he doesn't pay much attention to the folks at home, choosing instead to concentrate on national and international issues.

    He also brings a lot of political baggage to an election. To name a few. He's close friends with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, going on free trips with him, being used as a personal reference for him, and calling the felon a "selfless patriot" to a federal judge. He also initially endorsed the Taliban as a stabilizing political force in Afghanistan, according to a 1996 edition of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. And in 2005, he miraculously sold a 30-year-old screenplay to now-indicted "televison producer" Joseph Medawar; Rohrabacher said the sale of the script was not in exchange for the introduction to congressional and federal officials the he provided Medawar (Rohrabacher has since returned the money).

    All this to say that despite serving a solidly Republican district, Rohrabacher isn't unbeatable -- especially in a year when voters are unhappy with the incumbent Republican president (disclosure: I'm a registered Republican and middle-of-the-road politically).

    And Cook is the perfect candidate to pull off an upset. She has a long record of quality public service, a first-rate environmental record, rich experience as a small business owner, huge popularity within Huntington Beach, a resume of winning long-shot political campaigns against well-funded foes, and a home life that could be on a poster for "family values."

    For the past two reporting cycles, she has raised more campaign funds than Rohrabacher -- gaining the attention of national political watchers and likely giving the congressman a few sleepless nights.

    When Cook was forced to vote against putting "In God We Trust" on the city seal recently, the trumped-up issue had more than a whiff of a desperate, McCarthy-esque political tactic engineered by the hardcore right. Put that on a hit piece in October ("Debbie Cook wants to keep God out of Huntington Beach!"), and I don't think it flies with anyone but the fringe of the Religious Right -- which wouldn't have voted for her anyway.

    You're going to see an epic political battle unfold in the coming months. It would be great for the citizens of the 46th to be able to view -- in person, on television and on the Internet -- a series of debates between Cook and Rohrabacher.

    But I'm guessing that won't happen. The last thing Rohrabacher wants is for voters to watch the two candidates side by side, matching wits, policies, records, and likability. If that happened, Cook would win the debates in a landslide.

    And, just maybe, bring a needed new voice to Congress.

    42 things I know

    Sign of The Times: The ruins of the Orange County edition.

    I left the Los Angeles Times Friday after 18 years working for The Times and its community newspapers (including eight years as editor of the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot).

    Most days, this blog will center around news and commentary about Orange County, but I have some unfinished business I'd like to tackle before we move on. I wrote a short farewell note to my colleagues, but I had some other thoughts I'd like to share -- especially after being freed from the corporate shackles (and, to my wife's dismay, paycheck). OK, here goes.

    There is plenty of uncertainty about the newspapers, but this much I know:

    1. I made the right decision leaving the newspaper business.
    2. That’s not to say I’m happy about breaking up with my one true career love.
    3. But the business model for newspapers is broken.
    4. No one has figured out how to fix it.
    5. That’s probably because it can’t be fixed.
    6. The smaller the newspaper, the longer its life span in print (four exceptions: the New York Times, Wall St. Journal, Washington Post and USA Today).
    7. Technology has run laps around the print media — giving readers instant news, open-source journalism, no barriers to become publishers, and an infinite news hole.
    8. The idea that your daily news is collected, written, edited, paginated, printed on dead trees, put in a series of trucks and cars and delivered on your driveway — at least 12 hours stale — is anachronistic in 2008.
    9. As a friend told me last week, “Bro, face it. You guys are the 8-track cassette of news.”
    10. Other seemingly indispensable industries have been rubbed out by technology, leading to the unemployment of scribes, steamship captains, and the Pony Express riders. Why not newspaper reporters?
    11. Newspapers were unbelievably slow in embracing the Internet, even though younger reporters have been pleading with their bosses for years to embrace the Web.
    12. Amazingly, it took until 2005 for top editors at The Times to realize the Internet not only wasn’t going away but might lead to the demise of newspaper.
    13. Prior to that, the Internet operation at The Times was used as a place to hide reporters and editors who had fallen out of favor.
    14. For a news operation filled with journalists with a mostly liberal bent, few people embrace the kind of progressive change necessary to save, or at least delay the fall of, the franchise.
    15. Business side of the paper was worse in recognizing the Internet’s potential and its threat to the newspaper business. I once suggested that, since Craig’s List had arrived on the scene, The Times should match that business model and give away most of its classified ads (since we were already losing it already) in exchange for Internet readership and premium ad prices for corporate advertisers (such as employers). The business people laughed.
    16. Even after realizing the Internet was the future, newspapers are having a difficult time adapting to the Web.
    17. You can’t just transfer a news gathering operation from print to the web. Revenue on the web is fractured (like cable TV) and a news web operation can support far fewer journalists and layers of editors. It requires a different mindset.
    18. Entrepreneurs — for example, Kevin Rose at Digg — have developed news sites in just a few years that have drawn far more readers than the Los Angeles Times. Digg doesn't feature original content, but The Times (and other newspapers) could have added a Digg element to its site.
    19. And The Times, despite its journalistic credentials, has launched only one blog (Top of the Ticket) that has cracked the top 1,000 list. On this point, the mainstream media has gotten its butt kicked, repeatedly, by the Pajamas Media.
    20. Sam Zell isn’t the ultimate villain. Though I originally thought he might be the kick in the ass we needed, I can't stand the guy. But in the long run, he’s just an accelerator for a downfall that is happening naturally.
    21. For all his business acumen, Zell has allowed his executives to concentrate, at least publicly, on the stuff that needs the least fixing (editorial content and design). I'd argue that, for now, 100% of their effort should be given to increasing sales and readership -- in print and online.
    22. Maybe Lee Abrams could direct his memos to the sales, marketing and circulation staff.
    23. The fall of The Times had other accelerators.
    24. First, the editorial department. We operated as though we had a monopoly on truth and great journalism for far too long. We didn't listen to our critics and sometimes our readers. That cost us.
    25. Second, the Chandler family. The heirs of Gen. Otis, wanting dollars in their pockets, cashed out and handed the family newspaper over to the Tribune Co.
    26. Third, the Tribune Co. Its MBA-worshipping executives were great at managing a monopolistic enterprise that threw off a high profit margin. But they were completely baffled when faced with a business situation that required innovation and not textbook, budget-cutting measures.
    27. Fourth (and it pains me to say this), former top editors John Carroll and (and to a lesser extent) Dean Baquet. During their combined tenure, the local news operation was gutted in order to re-establish The Times’ international and national reputation. The result: shuttered Ventura and valley editions, a decimated Orange County edition (which had great reader demographics and tons of local advertising), and one reporter each left in the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.
    28. Fifth, the business side of the newspaper. This is the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, especially evident in the revolving door of ad directors (and no one in that position since February, despite it being the most critical sales period in Times’ history).
    29. Maybe that says something: that great salespeople don’t want to lead the Los Angeles Times at this time.
    30. The paper also doesn't have a publisher for the first time in its 125-year history.
    31. The Times could extend its lifespan significantly with some innovative leadership in sales.
    32. If I were publisher (a job I wouldn't take, thank you), I’d explore a partnership with Google or, more realistically, Yahoo or another proven Internet company that would combine news gathering and advertising forces.
    33. If I were publisher, I'd have a clear mission statement for The Times' editorial department (if you ask 100 journalists at The Times about their mission, you'd likely get 100 different answers).
    34. I’d stop Lee Abrams from writing his dumb-ass memos that are supposed to inspire Tribune workers, but only serve to piss everyone off. It says something about Zell’s leadership that scores of great journalists -- many wanting to embrace the future and lead the newspaper -- have voluntarily walked away from their jobs/careers while Mr. Abrams continues to pull down a large salary.
    35. I’d get realistic estimation on the size of The Times' future work force and then make one large cut to get it there (good sources say another 150-200 layoffs are on the horizon). An internet operation can’t support a huge newsgathering operation, and morale would improve if everyone knew no more major layoffs loomed. People can deal with reality; it's just this surrealistic no-man's-land that make it impossible to move forward and has good people bailing out.
    36. I’d take the very talented journalists I had and develop a SERIES of websites that provided the best information for that beat/subject matter. The Web is all about niches. The Times, for instance, could have the premiere sites for every professional and college sports team in Southern California. It could be THE place to turn to for news on City Hall, Los Angeles Unified School District, and Los Angeles Police Department. Not to mention Southern California environmental issues, LAX and the coast.
    37. These could run under the banner: Another Los Angeles Times website/blog.
    38. You could combine all these different blogs/websites under the www.latimes.com banner, but make it simple for readers to navigate to the sites they want to become attached/devoted to.
    39. For The Times to survive -- in print or even on the web as one of the nation's top news sources -- it's going to take herculean efforts by all departments within the company.
    40. I have no doubt my newsroom colleagues who I left behind can adapt to the challenges of the New Media environment.
    41. But I've seen no evidence that other parts of the company -- especially the "leaders" -- are willing, able and competent.
    42. And this is ultimately why I left The Times. Though the paper has been in business for 125 years, it had become riskier to stay than to go.