Daddy's Little Obfuscator

New Times' blockbuster story last September about Bruce McMahan, the New York and Fisher Island hedge-fund manager who married his own daughter ("Daddy's Girl," by Kelly Cramer), shook up Wall Street, got rehashed by the New York Post, inspired a (surprisingly accurate) retelling by Geraldo Rivera's TV show, and garnered McMahan the unenviable distinction of being labeled "scum" by the diminutive Rivera himself.

But then someone (Tailpipe swears it wasn't him) decided that with all that notoriety, McMahan deserved a page of his own on Wikipedia.

The ubiquitous online encyclopedia has taken it on the chin lately, though, with almost weekly attacks on the accuracy of its entries and usefulness of a free compendium of knowledge compiled by a worldwide army of busybodies sometimes woefully lacking in basic writing skills and, well, encyclopedic knowledge.

But how hard could it be to summarize McMahan's stunning deeds in a Wikipedia entry? Here's what Tailpipe would have written: "Born in California and raised by a furniture tycoon, McMahan became a wealthy hedge-fund manager who, in 1990, discovered that besides his six other children, a woman of 20 named Linda Marie Hodge (later Linda Schutt) claimed to be his biological spawn, the result of a 1969 affair. A paternity test proved that Linda was, in fact, McMahan's daughter, and he welcomed her into the family, helped pay for her graduate studies, and then provided her with lucrative employment in his financial empire. However, in litigation spanning five U.S. states, Linda later alleged that in 1998, McMahan began a years-long sexual relationship with her, culminating in a bizarre wedding ritual the two allegedly staged at Westminster Abbey in 2004. To back up Linda's claims, attorneys introduced photographs of the Westminster Abbey event, salacious e-mails between McMahan and his daughter, and a DNA test performed on a vibrator Linda's legal husband had retrieved from her luggage, which was found to be coated with Linda's skin cells and the sperm cells of her biological father. After news of the litigation broke in New Times Broward-Palm Beach, however, McMahan paid an undisclosed amount to settle the lawsuits, and he has managed to seal four out of five of them."

There, was that so hard?

As of this writing, however (it changes by the hour), Wikipedia's entry is a pathetic thing, opening with three paragraphs of pure pap. (McMahan is chief executive officer of blah blah blah, he founded the financial firm so-and-such, his charities include whatzitmatter... as if anyone were looking up McMahan for that drivel.) Finally, it gets to the point, watered down by so much editing and reediting that it reads like an afterthought:

"Linda Schutt, his biological daughter, who was raised by adoptive parents through adulthood, has claimed in a lawsuit that she had a sexual relationship with him as an adult. Documents from this suit became the source of information for a series of articles in the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, with further coverage in other tabloid journals."

Ouch. The "tabloid" touch hurts so much.

Anyway, what really drew the 'Pipe to the ever-evolving entry was the war going on behind the scenes, brought to this newspaper's attention by Wikipedia attorney Brad Patrick. It seems that anonymous folks have been dive-bombing the Wikipedia entry with acts of vandalism, wiping it out entirely, replacing paragraphs, and demanding that legal documents from the court cases be taken down. Patrick called to see if it were true that there was a court order making it illegal to post the documents.

New Times was happy to explain that Patrick was being snowed. Although McMahan (whom Tailpipe couldn't imagine wasn't behind the onslaught of attacks on Wikipedia) had persuaded judges to seal four of the lawsuits in the legal morass, there is still one federal judge in Connecticut who has stood up for public access and refuses to seal the fifth lawsuit.

Patrick was happy to hear that, and the links to documents in the case — the paternity test showing with 99.7 percent accuracy that McMahan is Linda's father, and the DNA test of the vibrator — remain at the site.

Behind every Wikipedia entry, meanwhile, there's a discussion page, which is where the war of words over McMahan's entry has really been taking place. This includes a several-thousand-words-long screed trashing Cramer and her story by "CabbageFairy," who claims to be something of a journalism expert. CabbageFairy accused New Times of the basest unethical practices in the McMahan story.

Something about CabbageFairy's profile at the site, however, made Tailpipe suspicious. Could the mysterious "researcher" be, gulp, none other than Bruce McMahan's eldest daughter, Alison? Tailpipe looked into it further and discovered that, yes, Alison McMahan is a film historian who has written a book about early film pioneer Alice Guy Blaché, whose first feature film, in 1897, bore a French title that translates to — you guessed it — "The Cabbage Fairy."

This auto part also found that Alison had submitted another copy of her attack on Cramer's article to a television program under her own name. So the 'Pipe called her up, wondering how she could trash Cramer and New Times for our journalistic ethics without, um, mentioning her own conflict of interest.

"I can't believe you are calling me," she responded when we called. "I am not speaking to you!" Click.

Ah, well. Hell hath no fury like a girl in white-knuckled denial about her daddy.

Back to the Future

Sometimes something pops in Tailpipe's addled brain and he can see the future as clearly as the asphalt under his pipe. Suddenly it's mid-April, and Pat Riley is stepping up to a bank of microphones. He's about to give the Top Ten Reasons Riley's Quitting the Heat:

10. The price of Brylcreem is going way up because of the oil shortage.

9. The titanium in his hip tends to rust in Florida humidity.

8. Shaq went law 'n' order on him, busting him for shameless opportunism.

7. The fans really love Ron Rothstein.

6. Charles Barkley took him off his list of cell phone faves.

5. Lou Saban wants him to teach Alabama quarterbacks to shoot the j.

4. Antoine Walker.

3. He wants to spend more time with his family.

2. He wants to spend more time with Stan Van Gundy's family.

1. The Heat is on a three-game losing streak.

The Mouse Roars

Knock on Disney's door these days and you're liable to get not that plucky little mouse with a high-pitched voice but another familiar movie studio icon — the roaring lion. Make that the studio lion around dinnertime on a really bad day. For a lot of ordinary people, the hungry roar and the glimpse of corporate teeth are enough to get them to shell out thousands of dollars.

We're talking about alleged home "pirates," accused of illegally downloading films from so-called "file-sharing networks."

Jay Bartels, recovering addict, God-fearing single dad, and web entrepreneur, found himself being sued by Disney Enterprises Inc. for — he can hardly believe it — copyright infringement.

"They called me a pirate and insinuated that I was making DVD-quality movies and selling them," Bartels told Tailpipe the other day, still smarting over the insult published on the MPAA website. "They said, 'You can click, but you can't hide. '"

Disney lawyers say Bartels pirated copies of The Incredibles and National Treasure back in 2004, while the movies were still in theaters. Hollywood studios have been suing batches of individuals for two or three years now over sharing, sometimes even a single film. The bulk of those cases wind up settled out of court, says Elizabeth Kaltman, communications director of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), an organization that helps the movie business fight copyright theft.

Most defendants would rather settle for $6,000 than risk losing the case, which could mean forking over $30,000 and perhaps facing jail time. At least, those are the intimidating figures Bartels says he was given by Disney's lawyers.

Kaltman said she couldn't recall a single case going to trial.

But Bartels — a loquacious 47-year-old who often talks like a character from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and who, as far as the 'Pipe can see, is the last person in the world you'd expect to be plotting to distribute thousands of bootlegged DVDs in Phnom Penh or Maracaibo — is different. He says that he was, in effect, the victim in the case, charging that Disney's private investigators violated his privacy by tapping into the computer in his Boca Raton home.

Bartels admits he downloaded the movies — by accident, he says. He had set up a home entertainment system by wiring his computer to his large television set, but he found that some of his DVDs were in the wrong format to view that way. So he turned to the file-sharing network Kazaa to download movies he already owned. Because of the confusing nature of the downloading process, he says, he sometimes got more movies than he asked for.

An excellent adventure went terribly wrong. First, there were the lousy copies he got. File-sharing networks often put up grainy copies of a film, procured with portable videocams filming screens in movie theaters, complete with the silhouettes of other moviegoers sitting closer to the screen. The downloads that Bartels got were unwatchable, he says.

Instead of deleting the movies, though, he left them on his computer. Through clandestine means on the Internet, investigators found those along with all the other movies Bartels downloaded in his MySharedFolder.

Bartels has since moved from Boca Raton to Tampa, but soon he'll be driving back down in his 1988 Dodge Caravan, which at the moment has a broken window he can't afford to fix, for his day in court. He'll represent himself, he says. No date has been set yet. Tailpipe hopes he wins, maybe even setting a precedent for other unassuming Kazaa users facing the prospect of handing over six grand for sharing a movie.

The Oily Bird Saves the Warm

Maine transplant Emma Donovan spent more than $1,500 to convert her 1998 Jetta to run on vegetable oil. You'll recognize the smell when she drives past: just like French fries bubbling in the deep fryer. The recent arrival is part of a growing wave of people getting their vehicles off the gasoline grid, but she's finding that South Florida is a bit assbackward. Some restaurants are surprised when she asks to drain their fryers into a tank in her trunk, though they comply with her seemingly odd request. But the bigger places usually balk. A few have even been rude to the 30-something, Hollywood-based Earth mama, not understanding that their spent cooking oil can power an automobile and refusing to even entertain the possibility.

"Some people just don't believe me," she says. More than once, Donovan has been reduced to buying gallons of Wesson Oil from Winn-Dixie.

Grease cars, as they're called, don't seem to have caught on in South Florida like Brazilian bikini waxes, though the 'Pipe could find no data tracking them. They get the same mileage an ordinary vehicle would, and they require only the addition of a second fuel tank and filter mechanism. As Donovan demonstrates, it smells better — or at least more edible — than sulphur-laden exhaust when it's idling.

Donovan's helping the planet, since vegetable oil doesn't contribute to global warming. But what's with these Florida cook fry Neanderthals? Donovan says she didn't have a problem getting donated grease up in the land of red lobsters and maple syrup. Here's hoping the grease car can keep on truckin'.

— As told to Edmund Newton

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