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Attack of the wild blogs

Al Martinez's column appears Mondays and Fridays. He can be reached at al.martinez @latimes.com.

IN the beginning, there was the word, then there was the newspaper, then television, then e-mail and today, lo, the blog.

When I first heard the term, I thought it defined a loathsome place of brackish water and quicksand where little children and lost drunks were swallowed up in the gooey mess, never to be heard of again.

One suspected that trolls could be seen around blogs, sneaking in and out of the surrounding underbrush, delighting in the agony they were witnessing.

Since then I have learned that, with some notable exceptions, blogs are largely the habitat of unemployed writers, enraged misanthropes, retired teachers, aging journalists and people who normally pass their time doodling or making obscene telephone calls.

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A blogger occupies a website from which comments emerge in various forms to clutter cyberspace with his or her opinions on politics, war, movies, sex, music, medicine, health, aerobics, food, marriage, animals ... and, well, just about everything. No subject is too lofty or too inane for the blogger.

The term is a short way of saying Web log and is thought to be the modern version of a person who keeps a diary, the difference being that a diarist rarely runs around shoving his words in everyone’s face. The computer allows one to do just that in a sense, to hurl messages at us whether we want them or not. And once in a while, they’re hurled at me.

Under normal circumstances, I shrug off personal attacks as an element of my job. Strong opinions occasionally engender outraged responses. A constant letter writer, for instance, one Paul Knopick, has twice urged editor Dean Baquet to fire me. He refers to me as a “liberal hack” and “the old liberal sloganeer.” I think it was also Knopick who created the term “liberal puke.” I believe I thanked him for that.

In the age of the blog, attacks have expanded from brief letters to the editor into entire essays of vitriol. A blogger named Paul Coates breaks down columns he disagrees with and comments on virtually every paragraph. But he does it in such a civil manner that occasionally I find myself agreeing with him.

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And then there is my old colleague Ken Reich.

He is proprietor of a blog he calls “Take Back the Times,” which has to do with events that relate to journalistic and political issues, including whatever occurs at the newspaper that once employed him. Recently, he e-mailed me and sent along a posting he was planning to use that involved imaginative conversations with me and with filmmaker and antiwar activist Oliver Stone.

Stone doesn’t require my representation in Reich’s quaint but disquieting effort at satire, so I’ll just leave him out of it and concentrate on the proposed blog’s attitudes toward me. For instance:

“Q -- What would you have done after 9/11?

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“Martinez -- Complimented Osama bin Laden on a well-planned operation and started trying to win him over by being nice to him.”

Another:

“Q -- And what would you have done on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor?

“Martinez -- Stood down the remaining ships of the U.S. Navy and offered Hirohito Hawaii as a personal possession in hopes the Japanese would be mollified.”

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And:

“Q -- Coming to the present day, what do you think of Saddam Hussein?

“Martinez -- I like him personally.”

You get the idea.

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Generally a pretty good reporter, Reich can be a little flaky sometimes, but this seemed over the top to me. He was implying that I would have applauded a murderer responsible for orchestrating the deaths of 3,000 human beings in the attack on the twin towers and the Pentagon, and of “liking” a man on trial for genocide. I e-mailed Reich to the effect that he was way off base.

Acknowledging my “unhappiness,” he altered my responses in the final blog, the first quote changed to say, “I’m not fond of Osama bin Laden, but I wouldn’t have confronted him in Iraq. Maybe, he’d be more pleasant if we were nicer to him.”

And on Saddam Hussein: “I do not like him, personally. But I’m convinced, as Bob Woodward now apparently is, that the Iraq war was a mistake.”

In my “answer” to the Pearl Harbor question, he becomes the narrator and concludes, “as far as the past is concerned, Martinez is not such a pacifist after all.”

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Although I appreciate Reich’s effort to “soften” my fanciful responses, it would be wiser of him to offer his opinions in a form more in keeping with his style of bluster and to avoid satire; in other words, return to the bludgeon and leave the stylus to those more adept at using it.

My antiwar bias is rooted in a war I fought and at evolving intelligence that the invasion of Iraq was based on lies and stupidity. No one ought to die for duplicity.

But Reich is not one to mess around with the kind of hesitant manner we girlish liberal sloganeers often display. His blog the next day offered a title in large red type, “Bomb the North Korean Nuclear Facilities -- Now.”

Oh, dear.

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