A sporting chance

Before we get started this week, a plea from your Betty Ford-ready correspondent: Two dozen home-baked cookies in REWARD to the first kind reader who can recommend a 24-hour espresso emporium that is not the alt paper-;hatin' Starbucks. Prefer within 15-minute drive of downtown. Parking for large car with poor turning radius a plus. Cookie testimonials furnished on request. Mail to the usual address. And yes, it's still a Starbucks if it's in the U Village QFC. That's the problem I'm trying to solve here, don't you know.

But it's a small problem because my life is grand this week, grand and shiny and full of renewed hope for the future of television, that medium Microsoft still thinks we want the Internet to turn into (if they're serious about loading that interactive-TV code bloat into the next consumer-market version of Windows, due in 2001). I refer of course to Comedy Central's BattleBots, the sort of spectacle that makes any true geek's heart beat faster. Bender! KillerHurtz! Minion! REMOTE-CONTROLLED ROBOTS BEATING ON EACH OTHER WITH SPIKES AND SAW BLADES! All this and Seattle's own Bill Nye commentating—this is the best week in the history of the best country on the greatest planet in the galaxy. I'm proud to be alive and to be an American cable subscriber. Life is good.

To activate the patriotic fervor of the rest of y'all, there's the Olympics, and you can have 'em. Seattle ought to be proud of running that multinational gravy train out of town, and though I wish Sydney well in their two-week excursion into "amateur" athleticism, I can't help but think they might have put at least a sliver of the energy it took to set this shindig up into making things right in their part of the world, things like the high toxin levels reported in parts of the Olympic Village complex. Imagine honing your body to a world-class instrument only to get exposed to toxic waste at the very apex of your achievement. Yuck.

But the Olympics can slime you even if you're not there—if, for instance, you're hoping to follow the progress of the Games online. After the 1996 debacle in which the Games' IBM-built site imploded under massive traffic, the Olympic folk stuck their heads in the sand and prayed the Net would go the hell away. Time passed. Four years later, the Olympic folk have given out a whopping 21,000 press passes—with a whopping none (zero, zilch, nada) for dot-com news outlets. If you're getting your news from online-only news outlets, you're out of luck; they're relying on generic wire-service reports. If you look to Net-print hybrids like The New York Times, their sites will be relying on the kindness of the strangers on the print side of the fence, and you can trust me that in many cases they are quite literally strangers.

If you're thinking video broadcast, only NBC is authorized to do video coverage, and when you see it is up to NBC (read: prime time, and damn the time differences that mean some events will be broadcast nearly a day after the fact). After that, maybe they'll drop clips to nbcolympics.com if they're in the mood, but those will go no further. And no cheating; even though the International Olympics Committee couldn't manage to pull themselves together in time to work out press access for Web sites (claiming that the list is worked out 12-;18 months in advance; you nice kids at go.com weren't doing the ESPN site back then, were you?), they did manage to retain two firms to make sure the precious video doesn't escape NBC's $2.8 billion clutches.

Allegedly all this anti-Net bias has to do with the fact that the Net audience "can't be measured," which in the case of the IOC probably means they couldn't figure out who to lean on for the "gifts" that make Olympics happen in nice places like Salt Lake City. God knows it's got nothing to do with money; didn't your mom ever tell you that the Olympics are about fostering amateur competition and international goodwill?

Unkind souls (the sort that want to muddy my columnar thinking on deadline, and is that charitable with me decaffeinated, I ask you?) point out that BattleBots is derivative of shows that aired on cable in other places before and exploitative of a subculture that's only gotten my attention now that it's co-opted by a damn Viacom network. Well . . . OK. If you don't mind, though, I'll let the unkind souls worry about that for me. To reiterate: Robots, on TV, destroying other robots. And not a steroids scandal, obsessive coach, or news blackout by Luddite International Olympics Committees in sight.

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