Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Howard Dean on Free Speech: Ban Media from Campaign Events

Many people in the media are liberal, yet they often explain their discomfort with Republican politicians on the grounds that GOPers hate the media. Newsflash: so do Democratic politicians.

Witness Howard Dean's latest pronouncement:
The head of the Democratic Party said Wednesday that the best way to get presidential candidates to talk frankly about issues is to lock out the media.

During the Mortgage Bankers Association conference, a banker expressed frustration with candidates who only talk in sound bites and wondered how that could be changed. Howard Dean, once a presidential candidate, offered a simple solution.

"I suggest you have candidates in to meetings like this and bar the press," Dean said.

The Democratic National Committee chairman criticized media coverage, arguing that networks such as CBS used to put content first and didn't mind losing money for the prestige of delivering a quality news report. Dean said the days of Walter Cronkite are gone and the corporatization of the media has led to a desire to boost profits.

"The media has been reduced to info-tainment," Dean said. "Info-tainment sells, the problem is they reach the lowest common denominator instead of forcing a little education down our throats, which we are probably in need of from time to time."

I doubt Dean will suffer any kind of bad publicity for this remark. Very clearly, however, he believes that the press of any sort should not be allowed to challenge the things he says.

Bob Schieffer Behind Katie Couric's Troubles?

Bob Schieffer and Katie Couric Roger Friedman, gossip blogger for FNC has an interesting item about the anti-Katie Couric piece that I blogged about yesterday. According to Friedman, the piece was done partly at the behest of Couric's predecessor, the seemingly avuncular Bob Schieffer.

That wouldn't surprise me, but before I get into why, here's Friedman:

[O]ne of Couric's frequently mentioned enemies is Bob Schieffer, the lovable, durable veteran journalist who filled in as anchor of the "CBS Evening News" between Dan Rather's departure and Couric's arrival.

But sources say that Schieffer has been unhappy lately, mainly because his airtime, which was prominent when Couric first started, has dwindled in recent weeks.

It's been suggested that a hit piece on Couric written by Gail Shister in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer was inspired by Schieffer as its main source.

"He has a direct line to her," one insider said.

This type of thing is hardly unprecedented within the television news business. CBS isn't quite the San Diego of "Anchorman," but it's had no shortage of anchor feuds.

Back in 1981 when Dan Rather replaced Walter Cronkite as the anchor of the "CBS Evening News," there was a lot of bad blood between the two. Cronkite did not want to retire but was forced out. With Cronkite out, CBS News was remade into Dan Rather's personal image. That picture did include Cronkite.

Initially, Cronkite had intended to enjoy his retirement but also periodically file pieces for television. "Old anchormen, you see, don't fade away; they just keep coming back for more," was the way he described it.

But Cronkite's dream never happened. The new management team of Dan Rather and Van Sauter saw to it that Cronkite almost never appeared on "Evening," relegating him to special events coverage. Eventually, he was phased out entirely.

Cronkite never forgave Rather for this. Following Rather's infamous 1987 incident where he stormed off the set after a women's tennis match threatened to intrude on his show and left CBS with six minutes of dead air, Cronkite publicly said he would have fired his successor. In the intervening years, Cronkite has publicly and privately trashed Rather. After Rather was forced to quit in disgrace following his 2004 Memogate scandal, Cronkite showed Couric a helping hand by doing the voiceover for her "Evening News."

It wasn't just Rather and Cronkite who were at each other's throats, either. CBS's forgotten anchor, Connie Chung, also found herself subjected to merciless attacks from within CBS after she was hired to co-anchor "Evening" with Rather in 1993. The miffed Rather regularly called up the nation's TV columnists and trashed Chung and her coverage.

Now, it seems history is repeating itself. The new anchor, Couric, is finding an institution that is not her own (especially since she came over from NBC) turning against her. How long will she be able to hold out? Ratings probably are the only clue. Rather was able to last in part because shortly after he came in, he kept CBS number one for a while. If Couric does well, she'll stay. If she's in this spot two years from now, I doubt it.

Rosie May Leave 'View'

I for one will be forever saddened if this were to happen:
There is a strong buzz in Hollywood that Rosie O'Donnell will announce Wednesday (April 25th) that she is leaving "The View."

If it happens, it's likely Rosie will stick it out through the end of the season.

TMZ has spoken with multiple industry people who say the word is spreading and the info emanated from inside the show itself.

Rosie's rep could not be reached for comment.

Update 04-25. It's official. ABC has announced Rosie's departure.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Spider-Man, the Musical?!

From the please-god-make-it-stop department:
Spider-Man is swinging his way to the Great White Way.

A Broadway musical based on the web-slinging superhero is in the works, Marvel Studios said Friday. It will be directed by Tony winner Julie Taymor with new music and lyrics by U2 frontman Bono and guitarist The Edge.

The musical will be the first time a Marvel Comics character has been the subject of a show on Broadway, the company said. No opening date was announced, but Marvel said a reading would take place this summer. "We are certain this project will delight fans of Spider-Man and new audiences alike," said David Maisel, chairman of Marvel Studios, in a statement.

"Spider-Man 3," starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson, will be released May 4 by Columbia Pictures.

"Marvel continues to look to every entertainment medium to support the enduring popularity of our Super Heroes, and we are thrilled with the talent on board," Maisel said. "The all-star creative team … led by Julie Taymor, Bono and The Edge … is second to none."

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mormon Filmmaker Leaves Church

Despite the fact that I was raised Mormon, I never took to their sub-culture at all. I didn't even know there was such a sub-culture (as in a culture that wants to feel mainstream while still spurning it) until I heard of a movie about Mormon missionaries called "God's Army."

I never went and saw it, or any of the other films made by Richard Dutcher. That someone would make a movie about one of the things I thought was most embarrassing about my then-religion was mortifying to me.

Up until tonight, I probably never would have thought about the guy until I caught a news piece saying that Dutcher has announced he's leaving the Mormon faith.

That takes guts for someone who made his living from it, especially considering the regular Mormon practice of demonizing anyone who has chosen a different path. To combat this, Dutcher has been posting comments on Mormon blogs to warn more objective observers about the attacks he's just starting to face:

It’s unpleasant to acknowledge, but the LDS community has a history of character assassination. It is an ugly truth, but it is the truth. I have often joked (darkly, and among friends only) that when wandering sheep stray from the fold, Mormons don’t go looking for them. What happens is: somebody climbs up on a really tall tower, takes out a high-powered rifle, gets the poor straying soul in the cross-hairs, and then blows his wandering brain out.

When individuals leave the fold, why do we find it necessary to blacken their names? This has been the case since the earliest days. Back then, a church member or leader could be in full fellowship one day and considered a wonderful, decent, loveable human being. The next day, if that individual chose to make an exit, he was the “blackest, basest of scoundrels,” an “adulterer” and a “counterfeiter,” etc.

Today, we’re a little less melodramatic. But still, when a scholar, artist, intellectual, or even a rank and file member of the Church decides to leave, his character is instantly under attack: “I think he’s gay” or “I bet she’s having an affair” or “I’ve heard he’s a drug addict,” etc.

Just for the record: I’m not having an affair. I’m not gay. I’m not a drug addict. I’ve never tried to illegally reproduce hundred dollar bills and I haven’t killed anyone. Sadly, I can’t even claim to have beaten anyone up, not since the 9th grade anyway. (Actually, now that I think of it, I didn’t win that particular fight. A neanderthalic 12th grader beat the snot out of me.)

However, I’m far from perfect: I do like to swear sometimes (seldom in anger, mostly for fun), and I’ve recently grown fond of really expensive dark Irish beer (enjoyed in moderation, of course). On occasion I’ve even been known to swear while drinking a beer. I’ve always been good at multi-tasking.

I tried smoking cigars, but didn’t care for them. Cigarettes I hate. Coffee’s not for me, but I have found some great dark teas that I really like. There’s one in particular, Lapsang Souchong, that I highly recommend.

Also, sometimes I daydream that Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie are both madly in love with me and I have to become a polygamist so that I can keep them both and not lose Gwen (my equally gorgeous wife).

There you go. Not very juicy. Downright silly in fact. On to more serious matters.

Many have jumped to the conclusion that I left because I’m angry that LDS audiences didn’t line up for my movies. If such was the case, I would be a truly shallow human being.

First of all, LDS audiences did line up for my movies. Even my lowest-grossing film, STATES OF GRACE, made $200,000.00 at the box office. True, that’s less than 1/10 of what GOD’S ARMY grossed, but still…most independent filmmakers would kill (or, at least, maim) for a $200,000.00 theatrical gross.

Some have very pointedly claimed that if my films had been more financially successful, I wouldn’t be leaving. Believe me, it has nothing to do with money. I didn’t make GOD’S ARMY because I thought it would make me rich, and I haven’t left Mormon Cinema because I’m afraid it’s going to make me poor. If STATES OF GRACE had made 20 million dollars, I’d still have made the same choice.

Others have said that I’m angry because Mormons didn’t “get” my movies. I think the majority of those who saw them “got” them. I’ve tried not to pay too much attention to the very vocal minority who didn’t.

Some have speculated that I may have been offended by a church leader or member. That’s not the case. Church leadership has never been anything but supportive, and I’ve never lost any sleep over disapproval from individual church members. I would never let a personal offense from a fellow traveler detour me from the path.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

YouTube 'Very Close' to Copyright Filter

Another interesting YouTube development:

Google is very near enacting a filtering service that would prevent copyright content from being uploaded to video-sharing site YouTube, CEO Eric Schmidt said Monday.

Schmidt made the comments to about 300 people here at the National Association of Broadcasters conference during a one-on-one interview with John Seigenthaler, a former reporter with NBC's "Nightly News."

The new system, which Schmidt called Claim Your Content, will automatically identify copyright material so that it can be removed, Schmidt said.

"We are very close to turning this on," Schmidt said.

The filtering system was supposed to have launched last year at YouTube, which Google acquired for $1.6 billion in October 2006. Delays in rolling it out have angered movie and television executives. Executives at NBC and Viacom have accused Google of dragging its feet on preventing YouTube users from uploading clips from hit shows and movies.

Network executives accused Google of stalling so YouTube could reap the big traffic that professionally-created shows generate. Viacom filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Google last month and accused Google of massive intentional copyright infringement.

"Ah Viacom," Schmidt said. "You're either doing business with them or being sued by them...we chose the former, but ended up the latter."

I highly doubt that the filter will be effective, especially as time goes by and savvier users figure out how to circumvent it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

In Beijing, Spitting Gets the Spotlight

As China gears up to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, it's trying to do a number of things to clean up its capital city, Beijing. One of them is an anti-spitting initiative:

Still, some Communist Party officials have publicly fretted that Beijing may not measure up. One delegate at the country's annual political meetings in March recommended heavy fines and a public education campaign to curb spitting, cutting ahead in line, smoking and foul language.
"They are stubborn diseases that stain the image of the capital city," Zi Huayun, the delegate, told the country's English-language newspaper, China Daily.

In fact, Beijing had already announced that people caught spitting in public before the Olympics could face fines up to 50 yuan, or about $6.50, hardly small change in China. Wang, the anti-spitting activist, said the Olympic spirit inspired him to begin his campaign. "I felt I must do something to contribute," he said.

He chose a very dirty task. Public spitting is a frequent practice in Beijing and even more common elsewhere in China. (The sinus-clearing, phlegmy pre-spit hawking sound is so common that one foreigner wryly dubbed it "the national anthem of China.") Health officials, worried about communicable disease, have long tried to curb public spitting, with limited success, given that many people do not consider it unacceptable behavior.

"I spent six months trying to figure out how to stop people from spitting," Wang said. "I first wanted to wipe their spit up myself, but just how much could I wipe? So I decided the best way was to ask the spitting person to stop." [...]

His campaign has since gained momentum. He has attracted hundreds of volunteers for his group, known as the Green Woodpecker Project. They carry tissues, which they offer to people as an alternative to spitting on the ground, and try to convince the offender, usually male, to change his ways. Wang himself carries a small camcorder and posts spitting action shots on his Web site.

"Woodpeckers pick up worms and clean up the forest," Wang said. "I want to clean up the city the same way."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Adobe's Next Flash to Boost Online Ads

Big news for web video fans: video adverts are going to become a very real part of the equation very soon. The next version of Adobe's Flash software is going to include digital rights management (DRM) and mandatory portions of the clip, making online video advertising much easier:
Adobe has unveiled a version of its Flash media software to let copyright holders embed ads and control usage.

The new software should also allow video to be played offline, whether on computers or portable devices.

Flash is used on websites such as YouTube, the Google-owned video sharing site dogged by rows over the use of copyrighted material. [...]

But the big seller for Adobe is the ability to include in Flash movies so-called digital rights management (DRM) - allowing copyright holders to require the viewing of adverts, or restrict copying.

"Adobe has created the first way for media companies to release video content, secure in the knowledge that advertising goes with it," James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research said.

Content publishers are promised "better ways to deliver, monetize, brand, track and protect video content."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Time to Fire Jackson and Sharpton

Back when I lived in Kansas City, I used to regularly read the columns of Jason Whitlock on the sports page of the KC Star. Since those days, Whitlock has expanded his reach. He currently writes for AOL.

His most recent column is spot-on, although it's not about sports. It's about race and politics and how Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton ought to have no credibility:

I’m calling for Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, the president and vice president of Black America, to step down.

Their leadership is stale. Their ideas are outdated. And they don’t give a damn about us.

We need to take a cue from White America and re-elect our leadership every four years. White folks realize that power corrupts. That’s why they placed term limits on the presidency. They know if you leave a man in power too long he quits looking out for the interest of his constituency and starts looking out for his own best interest.

We’ve turned Jesse and Al into Supreme Court justices. They get to speak for us for a lifetime.


If judged by the results they’ve produced the last 20 years, you’d have to regard their administration as a total failure. Seriously, compared to Martin and Malcolm and the freedoms and progress their leadership produced, Jesse and Al are an embarrassment.

Their job the last two decades was to show black people how to take advantage of the opportunities Martin and Malcolm won.

Have we at the level we should have? No.

Rather than inspire us to seize hard-earned opportunities, Jesse and Al have specialized in blackmailing white folks for profit and attention. They were at it again last week, helping to turn radio shock jock Don Imus’ stupidity into a world-wide crisis that reached its crescendo Tuesday afternoon when Rutgers women’s basketball coach Vivian Stringer led a massive pity party/recruiting rally. [...]

Had Imus’ predictably poor attempt at humor not been turned into an international incident by the deluge of media coverage, 97 percent of America would’ve never known what Imus said. His platform isn’t that large and it has zero penetration into the sports world.

Imus certainly doesn’t resonate in the world frequented by college women. The insistence by these young women that they have been emotionally scarred by an old white man with no currency in their world is laughably dishonest.

The Rutgers players are nothing more than pawns in a game being played by Jackson, Sharpton and Stringer.

Jesse and Al are flexing their muscle and setting up their next sting. Bringing down Imus, despite his sincere attempts at apologizing, would serve notice to their next potential victim that it is far better to pay up than stand up to Jesse and Al James.

Monday, April 09, 2007

New Zealand's Strange Politics

I haven't looked much into the "why" of this, but it appears that it is illegal to operate a business in New Zealand during Easter Sunday. Has it always been this way?
Labour Department inspectors are deciding whether to prosecute 22 out of two dozen businesses they visited to check compliance with Easter Sunday trading laws.

Despite finding so many businesses apparently breaching the law, the department says it's generally pleased at the way shop owners complied.

But ONE News found plenty of examples of businesses apparently flouting the law.

On Auckland's North Shore, the big brand furniture and electronics barns were all shut up and the streets deserted when they are normally a-bustle with spenders on a Sunday.

But there were plenty of mavericks.

American-owned Borders book shops opened, its management refusing to comment.

Australian-owned hardware chain Bunnings were doing business as well and staff there also wouldn't talk about the decision to open.

Bunnings has pleaded guilty to charges in the past and paid up the $1,000 fine for each shop.

Like Bunnings, a Mitre 10 store incorporates a garden centre taking up about one-tenth of the floor-space. Staff said the garden centre is exempt, so the rest of the store was open legally too.

The major supermarkets stayed closed but a raft of Auckland's Asian outlets like the Silver Bell and nearby Taiping supermarket were doing brisk business.

The manageress of the Silver Bell market professed profound ignorance of the law. She said as far as she was aware they weren't breaking it and her boss had told her to open on Sunday, so she did.

The union for retail workers says stores should close to give their employees a rare break.

"At the same time, there's a lot of economic pressure on the workers to work today because many retail workers get paid less than $12 an hour. So when it comes to between money and spending time with your family, it's hard for them to make that choice, " says Ingrid Beckers, National Distribution Union organiser.

As for the shoppers, they said they want to just - shop.

"The law's an ass in this case, isn't it. [If] they want to be open, let them be open," says one shopper, a sentiment echoed by others.

"I needed that paint and I had to go and buy it today rather than wait," says another."

The Labour Department sent inspectors out on Sunday and prosecutions are likely to result.