Archive for the ‘Media & Reviews’ Category

Good Lord, That’s Bad

February 16th, 2007 2 comments

Here’s a video clip from Fox’s new show, The 1/2 Hour News Hour. Intended to be the right wing’s answer to The Daily Show, you can see that they ripped off the studio design, camera moves, music style, and even the feel of the graphics directly from the Comedy Central show. Unfortunately, they couldn’t rip off a good sense of humor or a talented host.

The clip is almost painful to watch. The best gag they have is the name of a magazine for Barack Obama: “BO.” That’s about as good as it gets. But the bad jokes are not what’s painful–it’s the laugh track. During the in-studio news desk bits, the laughter comes from a live audience, but it is clearly forced, and sounds angry; for example, when Obama is stuck with a barb, the laughter seems to come mostly from three or four conspicuously loud men in the audience, one of whom shouts, “Yeah!!”

But during the video piece, the laughter is clearly canned. Aside from being very different in quality than the live-audience laughter a few moments before, each burst of laughter sounds nearly identical, and artificially timed. There is also too much effort to shove each joke in your face: in the piece, the “BO” magazine has five gag headlines; if The Daily Show makes such a mock-up, they might mention one or two and then comment on how people taping the show will be able to view the rest. On The 1/2 Hour News Hour, they painfully zoom in on every last one to make sure you don’t miss their cleverness, with the canned laughter punctuating each one, turning neatly to applause at the end.

The anchors themselves look like SNL “Weekend Update” rejects, reading their cue-card-driven conversation with less skill than an Academy Awards show presenter. The Daily Show became popular because Jon Stewart has real talent; this show is based rather on sheer political will in the absence of comic talent. And Stewart is not only clever, he also clearly enjoys himself and is open about the gags; the Fox hosts are rigid and posing, taking themselves as seriously as Colbert ironically pretends to. They lack the ability to project that we’re all having a good time, and come across more like amateurs reading cue cards with jokes they don’t quite get themselves.

As so many are pointing out, this show is not really a comedy show, it is a right-wing political attack show disguised as comedy. The Daily Show combs the news for anything that’s funny, and runs with that. They’ll go after anything stupid, a key strategy. If the Democrats can bolster their control of Congress and elect a president in 2008, you know that The Daily Show will shift focus onto them, simply because they’ll be in the news doing the most stupid stuff–and their liberal-leaning audience will still love the show. This new Fox show simply throws vicious barbs at Democrats; were the Republicans to take over Congress again and get a Republican in the White House in 2008, the show would just scrape deeper and deeper into the crap barrel for something angry to throw at what little there was to say about Democrats. They’re not going after anything stupid, they’re going after anything liberal. If Jon Stewart took the same strategy in the other direction, he’d fall flat and people would stop watching.

The question now is, will the show were to last for more than a few months. It’ll certainly gain the hardcore crowd that loves Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, but it will never gain the much broader audience that Stewart and Colbert enjoy. If it stays on the air for more than just the short time it’ll take for people to figure out it sucks, it’ll be because Murdoch and Fox are subsidizing it in the hope that one day it’ll catch on–like Bill Gates is doing with the Zune.

But just in case you want to see more really bad comedy, here you go.

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“Both Sides” Reporting

January 28th, 2007 4 comments

One meme that has repeatedly emerged in news reporting is the idea of “giving both sides” of a story. If you are willing to presume that any story has two sides (as opposed to one or more than two), then that sounds quite objective and balanced, of course–until you come across a story where one “side” is not only an outright lie, but a demonstrably outright lie. And in the recent age of media manipulation by the right wing, such stories are more numerous than one can count.

However, one such case has surfaced in the past few days, one which is so egregious in its nature that it bears commenting on, even though the source (Fox News) is one that you would naturally expect to bear such falsified witness.

Sean Hannity, of Fox News’ Hannity’s America, has decided to air at least one of the deleted scenes from ABC’s now-infamous right-wing fantasy screed The Path to 9/11.

The scene to be shown is most likely going to be the one where a CIA sharpshooter literally has Osama bin Laden in his sights and requires a “go” order from the White House–and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger is represented as chickening out and denying the team the ability to take the shot. Thus, the Clinton White House was directly responsible for 9/11 and the War on Terror™.

This “event” was completely fabricated, is totally false. It never happened. Former CIA chief George Tenet himself said that the mission referred to never got close to Osama bin Laden; the mission had been scrubbed by Tenet himself a few weeks before it was scheduled because it was considered to have a very low probability of success. Berger was informed of the decision, that being the sum total of his involvement. The 9/11 report did say that “working-level CIA officers were disappointed.”

Therefore, the Path to 9/11 scene should have played much differently: a CIA planner wants to go on the mission, but the head of the CIA gets briefed and concludes that it probably won’t work, so “he alone” decides to “‘turn off’ the operation.” The CIA planner is unhappy. End of scene. Now, that wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic, so the Path to 9/11 writer decides to punch the scene up. Instead of simply planning a mission that has a low probability of success, the mission is on the field and has a 100% chance of immediate success; instead of the CIA chief canceling the mission because it probably wouldn’t work, a senior Clinton White House staffer scrubs the mission in a chicken-hearted panic. Yes, that’ll certainly punch up the drama!

Later, the movie’s writer, Cyrus Nowrasteh, admitted to “improvising” the scene. “Improvising,” in this case, meaning that it was rewritten in a way that made it a virtually complete fabrication, indicting real people of having made catastrophically stupid miscalculations that were complete and utter fiction.

In short, it was a lie.

Enter Fox News. (Or, as Olbermann more accurately calls it, “Fox Noise.”) John Finley, producer of Hannity’s America, believes that the story has merit as “news”; according to a Fox News attorney, despite Fox not having the required permission from ABC to air the scene, “officials there believed that the newsworthiness of the material put it under the fair-use exception to the copyright statute.”

But what really merits attention is a statement by Finley:

We here at Fox — and myself personally — feel the American people deserve both sides.

And that, in a nutshell, pretty much describes the attitude taken by Fox News and a sizable chunk of the whole news media, in how it handles the “both sides” philosophy: even though one side consists of an utter, patent lie, the public deserves to hear that lie presented as if it were a viable, honest “alternate view.” Instead of just telling the public the facts and the facts alone, tell them the facts and a big, juicy lie–and then, “let them decide.”

Welcome to the 21st-century news media.

Categories: Media & Reviews, Political Ranting Tags:

Kristol’s Shallowness

January 23rd, 2007 Comments off

When Bill Kristol appeared on The Daily Show a few weeks back, Stewart nailed him in a way that seems to have been overlooked, pointing out Kristol’s common wingnut double-standard in regarding Bush:

Kristol: Bush has been right about taking the war to them, not letting them come to us, he was right about the fact that with aggressive tactics…

Stewart: So he was, waitwaitwait, I heard a phrase that I hadn’t heard, waitwaitwait. He was right about…

Kristol: …the fact that with aggressive tactics on our part we wouldn’t be attacked, for the last five years, which is something he deserves some credit for, I think.

Stewart: I disagree.

Kristol: Really?

Stewart: Yeah. I mean, 1993 …

Kristol: We all thought we would be attacked again…

Stewart: 1993, they bombed the World Trade Center, and they didn’t bomb again until, what, 2001. That’s what, eight years? So, Clinton needs more credit than Bush, it would seem.

Kristol: Well, they attacked us, unfortunately, they attacked in Africa in 1998…

Stewart: If we’re gonna add in attacks in Africa, we gotta go Spain, we gotta go England, and then we gotta say, they actually have attacked us, quite frequently, since…

Kristol: Yeah, and you know, we’re in a global war.

I noticed this when it got played last week on the International Edition of The Daily Show, and just got around to looking it up now. You can find a video clip of the of the interview, as always, on C&L here; the part I transcribed above starts at about a quarter of the way into the video.

What surprises me is that when you look at the commentary on the interview, nobody notes that Kristol’s argument was completely hypocritical, and that Stewart completely nailed him for it–or that Kristol just shrugged it off, instead of thoughtfully reflecting, “Hey, you’re right on that one.”… because for right-wingers, there’s nothing wrong with that kind of “logic.” It’s the standard double-standard for Clinton and Bush that right-wingers love; in this case, Bush gets all the credit for no major attacks, but Clinton doesn’t because there were overseas embassy attacks in his 8-year stretch of quiet, ignoring all the overseas attacks during Bush’s term.

The thing is, how can someone of Kristol’s media stature, one of the top-tier conservative intellectuals, get away with such openly sloppy “reasoning”? Unless, of course, everyone simply shrugs it off as Kristol did, and considers it ‘par for the course’?

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Debunking Fox

January 23rd, 2007 6 comments

Wow. Very rarely does the media go for actually defending a Democratic candidate rather than joining en masse to repeat the smear. Usually the media just gloms on to a lie like this and then goes silent when the truth is made clear.

This time it is a rumor that Barack Obama attended an Islamic Madrassa school, like those in Pakistan, which teach hardcore Islamic hatred of Christianity and the West. The rumor was released by a right-wing site (owned by the Washington Times), which in a double-whammy claimed that the rumor came directly from Hillary Clinton, despite naming no names and producing no documents to back that up. Fox News immediately jumped all over the story, gleefully broadcasting what amounted to a huge smear on both front-running Democratic candidates, and the deepest right-wing elements of the media and blogosphere began their swarm.

As for the Hillary part of the smear, is standing by its story, saying that they had direct contact with “researchers connected to Senator Clinton” who said that:

“Ms. Clinton regards Mr. Obama as her most formidable opponent and the biggest obstacle to the Democratic Party’s 2008 presidential nomination. They said Ms. Clinton has been angered by Mr. Obama’s efforts to tap her supporters for donations.”

When you consider this, it comes across as the biggest load of crap ever heard. One of the things about Clinton is that she is a savvy political operator, and her campaign doesn’t make completely idiotic newbie mistakes. So for her own researchers to go to a right-wing organization, and to say, “hey, tell everyone that Hillary hates Obama and wants to trash him!” is so stupidly and transparently a lie as to be laughable.

This is where organizations like CNN usually chime in with the popular smear, ignoring little details like the one I just mentioned and foregoing things like investigating the truth first. In a turnabout from their usual routine, however, CNN is now savaging the rumor, calling it, accurately for once, a right-wing smear. Wolf Blitzer is even making a big deal about it, saying that “CNN did what any responsible news organization should do,” which is investigate the claim. Yeah, as if that’s what they have always done. Instead, this time, they actually went to Indonesia, discovered that the school was not a madrassa but instead a normal school where Christianity was taught side-by-side with Islam (but only once a week for both), and that there’s nothing subversive or dangerous about anything there–nor was there ever. But CNN didn’t stop there, they also went to lengths to show where the smear was coming from; Blitzer repeatedly mentioned Fox and “right-wing” news organizations and blogs as being responsible for spreading the story, and pointed out the connection between the conservative Washington Times and the web site that began the rumor.

Well, better late than never.

Categories: GOP & The Election, Media & Reviews Tags:

Which One Is Different… ?

January 22nd, 2007 Comments off

Here is a sampling of the headlines from major news services reporting on Hillary Clinton’s announcement to join the 2008 presidential race:

MSNBC: Clinton voices confidence in her 2008 prospects
CBS: Hillary Clinton Awaits “Great Contest”
ABC: Clinton Confident in Her 2008 Prospects
CNN: Hillary Clinton launches White House bid: ‘I’m in’
BBC: Hillary Clinton Joins 2008 Race
NYTimes: Clinton’s Success in Presidential Race Is No Sure Thing
LA Times: Clinton joins 2008 race for president
Boston Globe: Clinton gives her answer to voters: I’m in

And then, the lead Fox News story highlighted on Google News:

Fox News: Fear and Loathing on Sen. Clinton’s Trail

The story, actually, is written by someone at RealClear Politics, a right-wing site, and focuses on how Obama will sink a Clinton candidacy, and uses expressions like “discombobulated near-panic” and “liberal candidate” (as opposed to “Democratic candidate”).

Nice to see they are so vociferously fighting to maintain their fair and balanced perspective. While they don’t seem to be pitching that line too much any more, they still print the slogan, “We report; You decide.” Which, in line with its obvious falseness, brings to mind the fact that if they weren’t slanting their news so egregiously, they wouldn’t have to emphasize the idea that they weren’t trying to plant preconceived notions in readers’ minds. Kind of like a used car dealer calling himself “Honest Joe’s.”

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Understated Partiality

January 9th, 2007 Comments off

This from CNN, via Media Matters; CNN correspondent Elaine Quijano spoke on the naming of Bush’s new policy:

Democrats are seeking to cast a surge as an escalation of the unpopular Iraq war.

That from within a piece that is otherwise balanced–but this characterization near the beginning of the piece shows either bias or incredibly poor reporting. A reporter should be as unbiased as possible, casting the events reported on in as neutral and objective a light as possible.

With this story, both the words “escalation” and “surge” are political buzzwords; in both cases, politicians are “casting” the proposed policy in a way that sounds favorable to their agenda. But Quijano states the issue in such a way that makes Bush’s buzzword sound like the accepted neutral term, while it is the Democrats who are playing politics with language–when in fact, Bush was the first to inject politics into the wording.

An objective reporter would have said this:

Both Republicans and Democrats are seeking to cast the president’s new approach to the unpopular Iraq war in ways that suit their interests. President Bush and some Republicans are calling the troop increase a “surge”; Democrats responded by calling it an “escalation.”

The thing is, wording like Quijano’s very much colors people’s perception of who is right and who is wrong, who is serious, and who is playing politics. Since most of the piece is balanced and the bias is subtle enough to slide under most people’s radar, it has an even stronger ability to sway opinions than an editorial piece, which many people automatically discount for bias.

Quijano’s example of media bias, however, is the kind of thing that goes on all the time. If it were simply a matter of chance, it would favor liberal and conservative interests equally. The thing is, it seems to be quite lopsided in favor of conservative interests–though who knows, maye that’s my own bias speaking. But whatever the direction of the tilt, all of us should be alert to and aware of such subtle bias, and be ready to discount for that bias in straight reporting as well as in editorial speech–a boundary, by the way, which is becoming increasingly blurred in today’s “news” media.

Categories: Media & Reviews, Political Ranting Tags:


January 7th, 2007 Comments off

Oops. The RIAA may have made a little tactical error. They did not account for the possibility that some people would not knuckle under to their “legal” extortion and actually fight back in court. But that’s what some people are doing, and it is beginning to expose some of the recording industry’s trade secrets.

In UMG v. Lindor, the defendants are challenging the RIAA’s supposition that when someone pirates a single piece of music on the Internet, the music labels lose $750 and should be compensated accordingly. The legal representatives of Marie Lindor make the counter-argument that “in a proper case, a court may extend its current due process jurisprudence prohibiting grossly excessive punitive jury awards to prohibit the award of statutory damages mandated under the Copyright Act if they are grossly in excess of the actual damages suffered.” Seeing as how the RIAA’s bottom-level figure of $750 per song is roughly 1000 times the actual maximum loss a music label would suffer in such a case, they argue that $2.80 to $7.00 per song (4 to 10 times the real value, supposing that the defendant would have purchased the song in the first place) is slightly more reasonable. Such punitive damages are far more in line with reality.

However, the big fish that the defendants are after is information on what pricing structure the labels use–how much they make per song, and more revealingly, how they collude to fix prices in the marketplace:

The pricing data really may not be all that secret. Late in 2005, former New York Attorney General (and current Governor) Eliot Spitzer launched an investigation into price fixing by the record labels, alleging collusion between the major labels in their dealings with the online music industry. Gabriel believes that making the pricing information public would “implicate [sic] very real antitrust concerns” as the labels are not supposed to share contract information with one another. …

[Defense counsel Ray] Beckerman argues in a letter to the judge that the only reason the labels want to keep this information confidential is to “serve their strategic objectives for other cases,” which he says does not rise to the legal threshold necessary for a protective order. The proposed order would force the labels to turn over contracts with their 12 largest customers. Most details—such as the identities of the parties—would be kept confidential, but pricing information and volume would not.

That’s how to hurt the industry back–show that if they want to extort money from grandfathers and 12-year-old honor students, they risk having their illegal market strategies exposed. The Inquirer puts it a bit more clearly:

This would reveal to the world if any price shenanigans were going on between the RIAA members and could cause them more problems with regulators than it would like.

Already investigations into industry pricing have revealed a Byzantine system of backscratching between record labels and distributors and the last thing the RIAA wants is to have details of this information made public.

If Lindor wins then the most the RIAA would ever be able to charge a pirate in the US will be between $2.80 and $7.00 per song. However the RIAA might also find itself up in front of a Senate inquiry.

Ah, it would be such sweet justice if the RIAA’s reign of courtroom terror would end up with them being stuck with punitive damages so reasonable that it would not be worth their while to sue anyone, while at the same time having their own corruption exposed in such a way to get them into real trouble.

I know, it probably won’t happen. But in a just world, it would.

Darlene vs. Nancy

January 3rd, 2007 3 comments

Apparently, Darlene and Nancy over at the Associated Press don’t cross-check their stories. Both writers took the same AP-AOL poll from mid-December and wrote a story based on it. Here’s Nancy’s article:

AP poll: Americans optimistic for 2007

By NANCY BENAC, Associated Press Writer
Sat Dec 30, 7:22 PM ET

WASHINGTON – The news from Iraq and other national headlines may be grim, but in Greenville, N.C., John Given has a new baby and his first home, and life is good. [Continued]

The next day, Darlene wrote this:

Poll: Americans see gloom, doom in 2007

By DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press Writer
Sun Dec 31, 6:11 PM ET

WASHINGTON – Another terrorist attack, a warmer planet, death and destruction from a natural disaster. These are among Americans’ grim predictions for the United States in 2007. [Continued]

Who knows, maybe it was a contrasting-piece set. But neither article references the other. Whatever the case, it most certainly highlights the opinions I’ve recently written saying that you have to be careful of the press as its members often contradict each other in impossible ways. Of course, I did not expect the same news agency to contradict itself quite so starkly.

Or maybe this is all one of the glass-half-empty, glass-half-full deals.

Of note: the poll claims that 25% “anticipate the second coming of Jesus Christ,” and only slightly fewer believe we’ll meet E.T. I have to figure that most of those two groups overlap. About half as many people foresee Congress passing a minimum wage hike. So, maybe the entire thing is April Fool’s, come four months early. But then again, I am in the optimist’s group.

Hat tip to FARK.

Someone at the RIAA Flunked Math

January 2nd, 2007 2 comments

The RIAA has filed a $1.65 trillion (that’s right) lawsuit against Russian media download company, an outfit that claims that it operates legally under Russian statute–but which charges ridiculously low prices for music. The closest I can place their pricing is that they seem to charge 7 cents for the first minute of music, and 3 cents per minute after that.

Now, clearly, the Russian company is not selling any of this music by any agreement with the copyright holders, and I cannot vouch for the legal justification the firm uses.

All that notwithstanding, exactly what are the idiots are the RIAA thinking in suing this company for $150,000 per song, after 11 million downloads at maybe 15 cents per song? My math may not be the greatest, but it would seem that the RIAA is asking for something along the lines of a million times more than the company has so far brought in–and that’s not counting the money they’ve probably blown on salaries and office supplies and stuff like that already. And something tells me that these people are probably not trillionaires in the first place. They have already responded to the RIAA announcement, claiming that they don’t operate in New York and what they do is legal where they are.

But I can tell you one thing that the RIAA has achieved: they have made me aware of this service. And now you. Hmmm. I will have to check out the company and see if it is fly-by-night or anything–for all I know, they are mafia types and your credit card number will be used for nefarious purposes. But if they are not, and better yet, if their service does turn out to be legit and legal via convoluted international copyright and Internet laws, I am going to seriously consider buying all my music from them in the future–for no better reason than to spite the RIAA.

Greedy bastards.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

December 21st, 2006 2 comments

That’s the given title for the last Harry Potter novel. No details on it yet, aside from JK Rowling’s statements about writing the novel, including her experience about having an “epic dream” where she was both Harry Potter and the Narrator. That’s interesting in that the Harry Potter novels have almost exclusively been told from Harry’s standpoint (the exceptions being the first few chapters of the sixth novel only). But then, the dream was more dreamlike than storylike:

The author says: “For years now, people have asked me whether I ever dream that I am ‘in’ Harry’s world.

“The answer was ‘no’ until a few nights ago, when I had an epic dream in which I was, simultaneously, Harry and the narrator.”

She says: “I was searching for a Horcrux in a gigantic, crowded hall which bore no resemblance to the Great Hall as I imagine it.”

So far, it seems like she’s in the Harry Potter novel…

“As the narrator I knew perfectly well that the Horcrux was jammed in a hidden nook in the fireplace, while as Harry I was searching for it in all kinds of other places, while trying to make the people around me say lines I had pre-arranged for them.”

…and we begin to see the author entering the dream. And then:

“Meanwhile waiters and waitresses who work in the real cafe in which I have written huge parts of book seven roamed around me as though on stilts, all of them at last 15ft high.”

She adds: “Perhaps I should cut back on the caffeine.”

…then it gets to look much more like the frenzied dream of a harried author under a demanding deadline. OK.

Of course, if one wants to read a fully-completed Harry Potter novel series, then read the first five published and then my brother’s sixth, seventh–and later, eighth novels to complement Rowling’s first five.

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Bad News

December 18th, 2006 Comments off

For Judith Regan. I mean, really. If you’re too scummy even for Fox News, then who on Earth would ever hire you? Outside of the RNC, that is.

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iMac of the Year

December 18th, 2006 2 comments

Apple has got to be happy about this:

Image from Mac Daily News; alternate image from TIME here

The use of the iMac is not directly referential to the article; they simply had to use some computer, so they chose an iMac, probably for the simplicity of the appearance–though they over-painted the already-simple front-panel interface with a YouTube screen, used to indicate what you communicate over the World Wide Web. And as happy as I am that an Mac was chosen to represent the everyman’s interface with the web, I am even more pleased at the subject matter it represents.

I think that TIME made a fantastic choice here, though in the flowery prose and short storytelling, they do not explain the central point or theme all that well. They did run a story recently which also spoke to the heart of this issue but which also only described it peripherally. Maybe there’s an ink-and-paper version, or even an on-line one, which I am not seeing. But they do seem to be making a point here which I fully agree with, even if they are not making it clearly.

This is something of a special point to me, which I have blogged on before, about how the Internet is wonderfully subversive in that it opens up the potential for the individual to communicate to a world audience in a way never before possible. The main point is that before the Internet, communication was controlled by a very few people, a rarified “publishing class” to whom you had to genuflect in order to communicate with more than just a few hundred people in the world. The Internet bypasses the publishing class for the first time in history, and makes it possible for anyone to speak to the world based solely upon the strength of their message.

This is also one of the reasons I favor Network Neutrality so much: it keeps the playing field of communication relatively level and uncensored. Allow the Telecoms to control the Internet, and that becomes hobbled, with the average person’s voice suddenly becoming muted and leveraged, potentially even destroying the Internet as the free tool of communication I describe above and instead supplanting that new avenue of social discourse with simply yet another stripe of the publishing class, controlling what you say and taking tolls on yet another controlled and muted road.

Hopefully the Internet will stay what it is; the Democrats taking control of Congress, while not a guarantee, is a very good sign that it will. As such, the Internet is not a perfect answer; it is not a solution to the problem of unequal speech, but it is a step in the right direction. And any public celebration of that aspect of the Internet is something that I gladly welcome.

A Stiff Drink of Bond (Spoiler-free)

December 10th, 2006 2 comments

Casinoroyale TixI went to see Casino Royale today, and like many others, I was impressed. To me, that’s what a Bond film should be more like. Sure, the gadgets, bad puns, cartoon villains, and contrived elaborate death traps can be fun, but hardcore Bond can be so much better. One of the most impressive Bond scenes in the past, for me at least, was the fight between Connery’s Bond and Robert Shaw’s Donovan Grant in the train compartment in From Russia with Love. The fight came across as very realistic, unlike so many of the cartoonish Bond fights since. And I’m sorry to fans who like Roger Moore, but to me the man was a dreadful Bond, and most of the films with him were little more than bad jokes. Connery was the best, though I think Craig will give him a run for him money; I liked Brosnan best after that, then Timothy Dalton. I don’t think there was quite enough of Lazenby to form too much of an opinion, but he scores higher than Moore, of course.

The new Casino Royale is a return to a more serious Bond. Brosnan was pretty good and did come closer with his last Bond movie, but it just wasn’t quite good enough, and was still too gimmicky. The unconventional choice of Daniel Craig as 007 and the harsh, hardcore treatment in Royale made the movie less a whiz-bang comic-relief funfest and much more of a realistic, hard-hitting action spy thriller. I hope they keep up with the new/old style; I’d much rather have this than the nonstop one-liners and the wristwatches that can kill a man seven different ways (Now, do pay attention, Bond!).

Past Bonds came across as cool; Craig comes across as cold. Something he even carries somewhat convincingly into the romantic scenes of the film. He is brutal, relentless, and in any other Bond film would have made a more convincing villain than other actors who have taken on such roles. And yet they were able to maintain this cold, hard killer’s image without making him unlikable or an asshole; he comes across as safe to anyone not in his way, but you know that he could be ruthlessly brutal to the bad guys. This allows for the character to be much more likeable even as he is made out to be something of an anti-hero. In short, both Daniel Craig and the new way Bond has been written are a success.

The romance is also very well written; this is far more than a woman unconvincingly swooning over Bond simply because he walked in front of her. Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd is one of the best Bond women, along with (and in many ways better than) Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies. Hopefully this is not a fluke and the Bond producers have caught on to the idea that strong, serious, intelligent women make Bond films much more enjoyable. Even the disposable bimbo in Royale had more substance than most other Bond girls.

A few small notes: I liked the details that were incorporated into the film. The fractals that were incorporated into the opening sequence were a nice touch, as was the fact that the sequence did not involve the once-normal collage of flying naked women. Virgin Airlines must have had some tie-in (there were, in fact, several incidents of product placement), but I enjoyed catching Sir Richard Branson with his arms out, being searched at at an airport security checkpoint. And I think that it was a good idea to change Baccarat to Poker, despite all the cinema cliches involved. Baccarat has always been a bit too unfamiliar for me to get into it.

My only big complaint for the film, however, is the way you are kept in the dark about so much; you see stuff happening and only find out what it was all about ten or twenty minutes later, by way of someone explaining what happened to someone else–and even then, some things still don’t get explained, or at least there are so many small details that I missed a few along the way. You had to go too long without understanding what the hell was going on some times, and then had to work too hard to remember all the events and what significance the explanations have to the story.

Still, it was a great film, and the “Parkour”-style chase sequence at the beginning is one of the better action sequences for a Bond film that I can remember.

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Jumping the Shark

December 1st, 2006 7 comments

There are some authors who, quite frankly, should leave their politics at the door. It seems to me that when an author of popular fiction whose work I tended to enjoy starts injecting their politics in their writing, it usually also happens to be the case that their writing has fallen below a certain level of quality that makes them no longer readable in any case.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I am not necessarily suggesting a cause-and-effect relationship. I just happen to notice the two things tend to happen at about the same time. It certainly happened to Tom Clancy. I greatly enjoyed his early books, including The Hunt for Red October, The Cardinal and the Kremlin, The Sum of All Fears, and Without Remorse (which I am re-reading right now). Guy books, certainly, but that describes all of Clancy’s books. Debt of Honor is a special case–part of my problem with the book is that I am familiar with Japan, and so most times when Clancy writes about things in Japan, I wince at how horribly wrong he gets so much of the stuff. I could write a long blog post just on that, and maybe I will, if I re-read that book again as well.

But you could see that Clancy was getting stilted with Executive Orders, and by the time he did The Bear and the Dragon, his writing was horrible. And it was with those last two books that Clancy also started preaching politics. Like I said, the two are not connected–Bear was unreadable for so many reasons having nothing to do with the politics, but the politics came right when Clancy was so markedly going downhill. One passage stood out to me from that book, where Ryan was discussing abortion with van Damm. Ryan predicated his argument on this concept:

“Arnie, it’s like this. The pro-abortion crowd says that whether or not a fetus is human is beside the point because it’s inside a woman’s body, and therefore her property to do with as she pleases.”

The whole line of reasoning started with that presumption, that abortion rights were based upon the idea of a fetus as property even if the fetus were considered a human life, a predication so absurd as to be laughable; and yet, Ryan’s supposedly left-leaning and pro-choice counselor, van Damm, accepts this without challenge.

It’s passages like these that can usually turn a book sour for me; for example, my brother gave me a crime novel once called No Lesser Plea. I was already having trouble with the premise, that the state could have a brutal killer dead to rights, and he gets off by throwing a fit in court and then the liberal pansies put him in psychological rehabilitation for a short time and then set him loose on the streets again. I stopped reading altogether when the author described a court-appointed psychologist thusly: “He considered himself a liberal, in that he believed that when black people were violent and committed crimes it was not really their fault.” The abortion passage in Bear did not turn me off from the whole book like that line in Plea, but it sure didn’t help.

I tried reading Rainbow Six, the next Clancy book after Bear, thinking Clancy may have come back into form, but it was just as bad if not worse. The contrived opening had members of an elite squad of counter-terrorism agents taking a commercial flight–which then just happens to get hijacked! Sure!

Now I’m seeing the same kind of thing happening again, this time with a different author. Orson Scott Card has been highly controversial outside his writing, but as long as that kind of thing stays separate, I am able to enjoy the fiction without the person’s politics interfering–else I would never be able to enjoy a movie featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, or Mel Gibson. And three of Card’s works remain my favorites: Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Pastwatch. In his public persona, Card has been something of an asswipe. Despite claiming to be a Democrat and saying he has nothing against gays, he nevertheless has advocated that “laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books” and that gays “cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens” within a society with certain sexual mores. He has also been a rather vociferous and outspoken advocate of George W. Bush, the war in Iraq, and the whole “War on Terror” paradigm; just a few weeks ago, before the midterm elections, he wrote this:

There is only one issue in this election that will matter five or ten years from now, and that’s the War on Terror….I say this as a Democrat, for whom the Republican domination of government threatens many values that I hold to be important to America’s role as a light among nations. But there are no values that matter to me that will not be gravely endangered if we lose this war.

Card is also pro-life, believes a right to privacy does not legally exist, and believes that the Democratic Party is “self-destructive,” “extremist-dominated,” and “insane.” He lauds Fox News and urges everyone to vote Republican. But he says he’s a Democrat because he is pro-gun-control and is critical of free-market capitalism and southern racism.

It goes without saying that venturing into Card’s politics is, to say the least, an ugly, sticky affair. But in the past, much of his fiction has been superlative (not all of it, to be sure). A lot of people didn’t like Speaker for the Dead as much as I did, but Ender and Pastwatch tend to be greatly popular, and I certainly can read them again and again–but only in the way that I can still read the early Clancy novels. For some time, however, Card’s writing has been sliding (his Bean-centered Ender books marked this slide), and now it seems that Card is officially jumping his own literary shark with his new book, Empire.

The plot: a terrorist attack which kills the president and vice-president touches off a new American civil war when blue-state liberals declare New York the capital and claim control of the country. You can read the first five chapters on Card’s site (a usual preview he does for his new books). The politics surge in with Chapter Two, in which we meet a conceited, snotty, East-coast Ivy-League liberal who preaches the virtues of Empire over a Republic and acts all condescending to the reasonable, intelligent veteran whom he calls “Soldier Boy.” The conservative hero sees the liberal student body as:

…ignorant of any real-world data that didn’t fit their preconceived notions. And even those who tried to remain genuinely open-minded simply did not realize the magnitude of the lies they had been told about history, about values, about religion, about everything. So they took the facts of history and averaged them with the dogmas of the leftist university professors and thought that the truth lay somewhere in the middle.

Card does something even more manipulative, which is to make the right-wing protagonist appear to be questioning his own worldview, and, of course, concluding logically and objectively that he is in fact correct to be conservative. The presence of such soul-searching simply marks Card’s realization that the reader will question Card’s bias, so Card inserts the language to try to make it seem like it has been reasoned out–but it comes across as just as self-serving as Clancy’s taking both “sides” of the abortion debate, with a right-wing author using a falsely “objective” device to validate a biased view.

Card’s adulation of Bush is clear:

Truth to tell, this President had changed things. Without ever getting a bit of credit for it, he had transformed the military from the cripple it had been when he took office into the robust force with new doctrines that had the enemies of the United States on the run.

I could go into detail in knocking over this fantasy, but I think you know the fallacies here as well as I do. (Trust me, I could go into a long rant here about how Bush has decimated our military capability in a war completely divorced from terrorism, but to go into more detail would detour too long from the present topic.) In any case, that passage begins Chapter Four, which describes the terrorist attack–in detail which is as bizarre as it is beyond one’s ability to suspend disbelief. From there:

…a radical leftist army calling itself the Progressive Restoration takes over New York City and declares itself the rightful government of the United States. Other blue states officially recognize the legitimacy of the group, thus starting a second civil war.

Interestingly, the Publisher’s Weekly review on the page for the novel (the source of the above synopsis) rather flatly pans the book, saying that “right-wing rhetoric trumps the logic of story and character,” and “the action is overshadowed by the novel’s polemical message.” But I guess that Amazon prints their reviews automatically, good or bad (some of the other reviews are good, which is surprising, as the first chapters–not to mention the plot–are so abysmally bad.

Maybe Clancy and Card are exceptions, and the seepage of personal politics into writing is not a sign of an author going downhill. But within the miniature statistical universe of these two writers, it’s certainly no question that the two events coincided.

Update: I just remembered that Michael Crichton might be a member of the club, though I think his drop-off in writing quality came somewhat before his anti-environmentalist polemic.

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Fox’s Daily Show Wannabe

November 21st, 2006 2 comments

Fox is making noises about creating its own Daily Show style comedy show for conservatives. Lamenting that Comedy Central’s Daily Show and Colbert Report are left-leaning, Joel Surnow (co-creator of 24 and the creative force behind the new show) said, “The other side hasn’t been skewered in a fair and balanced way.” Isn’t that interesting–someone from within Fox News lamenting that others aren’t “fair and balanced.” I’m glad I had my irony sensors off when I read that, I don’t like replacing them after they’ve been burnt out from overload.

This should be interesting, though; one thing I have noticed is that good-quality right-wing entertainment, especially comedy, is rare to non-existent. It’ll be interesting to see if it can be done successfully without seeming shrill, and if they will include skewering of the right as well, just as The Daily Show will skewer left-wing politicians should they make the news.

One also has to wonder if this show would have been given the go-ahead if the Dems had not taken control of Congress. Anything that happens on Fox News, after all, does not happen without a political agenda.

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Old Shows, New Shows

October 24th, 2006 2 comments

Well, the alien-invasion-style series have all died off, it seems. Threshold was the first to go (formulaic, but interesting). Invasion died off next (too soap-operaish for my tastes). And Surface (very promising, at least it was) seems to have quietly passed away, without even word of its cancellation, as far as I can find at least. Its star, Lake Bell, is back on Boston Legal. At least The 4400 is still around, even though it runs only 13 or 14 hours per year.

The West Wing finished its run last year, and Commander in Chief died in the cradle (rightly so–it could have been very good, but was very poorly written). CinC might actually come back for a TV movie sendoff next year, though. Stargate SG-1 will end after the current season, after ten years on the air. And despite its promise, Rome seems to have been a one-shot, unless HBO is going for a very long-delayed second season.

In the meantime, I have found some other new series, ranging from the very iffy to the good enough to watch.

Torchwood is the latest, just having premiered. A British series, it’s a spin-off of the most recent Doctor Who. It takes from several Doctor Who episodes over the past two years. The lead male character, Captain Jack Harkness, was introduced in the 2005 Doctor Who two-parter, The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances; he was introduced as an American time traveling mercenary, last seen in WWII (an appearance which is referenced to in the premier). He is presented in Torchwood as an immortal being of sorts with a mysterious past. The name “Torchwood” comes from the Doctor Who episode Tooth and Claw, where Rose and the Doctor meet with a not-amused Queen Victoria at the Torchwood estate; when Victoria sees the Doctor as a danger, she establishes Torchwood as an institute to collect extra-normal evidence and technology–an institute which shows up in the second-season two-part finale, Army of Ghosts and Doomsday, where Torchwood is presented as a highly advanced super-secret agency with all the latest in alien tech.

The series Torchwood establishes that there are different branches of the institute, the one we encounter consisting of just five people, led by Captain Jack; their digs are dingy and dungeonesque, in stark contrast to the modern high-rise fortress shown in Doctor Who. But the goofy alien technology is very Doctor Who-ish. The main character of the new series is Gwen Cooper, a constable who gets drawn into Torchwood as a newbie and has to learn the ropes.

The show has the same entertaining edginess of the new Who, and shows promise; I’ll keep my eyes on this one.

Next newest is Heroes, which is sort of a TV rip-off of X-Men with a smattering of The 4400 (also derivative of X-Men). Just like X-Men, Heroes has humans evolving super powers, a different superpower for each mutant. A central character is Mohinder Suresh, a non-mutant (so far as we know) scientist from India whose father was onto the whole mutation thing, but got killed by forces unknown. The father might not actually be dead–one photo of him was shown, and it was Erick Avari–a character actor (from the Stargate movie and TV shows, and countless TV appearances) of enough note to not just be limited to a photo reference (IMDB actually has him listed as guest-starring in three upcoming episodes). There is also a mystery agent going around collecting the mutants and doing… something with them–and discovers his daughter is a mutant. She’s a cheerleader who can’t be killed, despite fatal falls, running into a burning train wreck, and having a tree branch impale her skull. The last gets her dead only long enough for the coroner to have partially dissected her; pulling the branch out of her brain brings her back to life. You can see that this series has a dark edge to it.

Other “heroes” include Hiro, a Japanese otaku salaryman, into Star Trek and The X-Men (no hiding of borrowed influences here) with a high-pitched voice and goofy character; Hiro can bend space and time, stopping the clock or moving to other continents or time periods by squinting real hard. Nathan Petrell is running for Congress when he finds out he can fly; his brother Peter thought he could, but in actuality, he just borrows the powers of mutants he gets near to. One of them is Isaac Mendez, an artist who can paint the future, but only when high on heroin. And Niki Sanders is an Internet sex-cam model in Las Vegas who owes the mob big-time, with a little boy whose father is in jail. Her “power” is, apparently, to have a split personality, her alter-ego being able to rip men apart while Niki is blacking out. Apparently the series will introduce more “heroes” as time goes on; making a late appearance is Matt Parkman, a mind-reading cop.

The series is building up to a climax involving a mutant villain named Sylar who, among other things, impales victims with household objects, and maybe removes mutants’ brains from their skulls. Or maybe that’s some other villain, who may or may not be responsible for a nuclear bomb destroying New York, an event foreseen by two different characters. Stay tuned.

Less science-fictiony is Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. This show has the most promise, and may be the most short-lived. Aaron Sorkin is commanding this one like he did with Sports Night and The West Wing, and it is classic Sorkin. Not so much walk-and-talk stuff that Tommy Schlamme was known to bring in The West Wing, but the Sorkin story-and-dialog touch is unmistakable. If the series survives, it’ll be great. However, it’s not getting off to a blazing start, and could be an unfortunate early casualty of the season.

The show is about a Saturday Night Live-style weekend comedy skit show. In the first episode, Judd Hirsch guest stars as a Lorne Michaels type of executive producer who melts down on live TV (like Peter Finch’s character in Network) after he sees the suits and the censors reduce his show to mindless pap. A new network president promises to remake the show and brings in Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford) and Matt Albie (Matthew Perry), a close writer-producer team who left Studio 60 a few years ago, and now can’t continue their successful new career of making movies for two years because Danny violated a drug probation; being free, they accept the challenge of re-making Studio 60. Sorkin’s writing is top-class as usual, but one unfortunate side issue is that Sorkin can’t write sketch comedy nearly as well as he can write good drama; the skits on the show don’t come across as very funny.

Other characters include Timothy Busfield (also a producer) as the show’s chief engineer (or whatever you call it); Sarah Paulson as the star of the show and Matthew Perry’s love interest (they broke up years ago, thus creating the present sexual tension), Evan Handler as a chief writer who pissed off Matt Albie years back, and D.L. Hughley and Nathan Cordry among the show’s leading talent.

Strangely similar in concept, 30 Rock is about a late night comedy skit show run by Tina Fey, whose job is overrun by a new network executive played by Alec Baldwin, who takes the woman-driven “Girlie Show” and makes a half-insane, controversial black male comedian the new star of the show. 30 Rock is off-the-wall, and, frankly, not very funny at all. I got through the premiere, but couldn’t watch through the whole second episode. Alas, this bad show will probably out-survive Studio 60, unless there’s any tastefulness left in TV.

One more new show is Ugly Betty, a series brought in by Salma Hayek, who cameos in every episode as a star in a telenovela, a job she used to have some time ago. Ugly Betty is based upon the hit Colombian telenovela, Yo Soy Betty, la Fea (“I Am Betty, the Ugly”)–this is even playing on TV in Japan. The story is about Betty, an unattractive young woman with blue braces and a terrible fashion sense. A Latina from Queens, she aspires to work in the magazine industry. She is initially brushed off just because of her looks, until she is hired because of her looks–the publisher of a fashion magazine called “Mode” has installed his playboy son as the new chief editor and wants him to have an assistant he won’t be tempted to have sex with. Betty stands out like a sore thumb among the ultra-chic snobs that populate most of the staff.

The melodrama has two arenas: Betty’s home and her work. At home, there is her charming father, her attitude-prone sister, and her smart young nephew, who adores high fashion. There is also her boyfriend, who in the first episode runs off with the manipulative neighborhood slut, who also figures strongly in the show. The boyfriend must win his way back into Betty’s heart after the slut dumps him after using his employee discount to buy a plasma TV.

Then there is the office: Betty’s boss, Daniel, after initially trying to make Betty quit, comes to respect her, but they are pitted against conniving office staff. The chief villain is played by Vanessa Williams, who should have gotten the editor’s job and regularly schemes to sabotage Daniel, with her effete, sycophantic assistant Marc, and the snooty, slutty receptionist, Amanda. Williams’ character reports to Daniel’s mother, former editor of “Mode,” thought to be dead in a car crash perhaps engineered by Daniel’s father, who is assisted by a shady henchman.

Usually I would not watch stuff like this, but I heard some good things about it and decided to give it a try. So far, I like it; it has just the right balance of goofy comedy and good storyline, and doesn’t go too far off the dramatic edge into melodrama.

That’s it for the present. Along with other continuing shows, it’s more than enough to fill up one’s free time…

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Less Crowing than I Expected

October 22nd, 2006 1 comment

So far, I haven’t gotten the expected wave of conservatives I thought would swarm in to gloat about the recent bankruptcy filing by Air America Radio (AAR). That, of course, doesn’t mean that conservatives in general haven’t been gloating.

Of course, what they have been overlooking is the fact that conservative outlets like Fox News and the Washington Times lost far greater truckloads of money for many years, and only survived because of super-rich sugar daddies who were willing to subsidize the news operations at their personal expense. Thom Hartman does an excellent job of outlining how Rupert Murdoch lost hundreds of millions of dollars with Fox News before it started turning a profit.

Originally, Murdoch started “News Corp,” a precursor to Fox News, which lost so much money that Murdoch had to put up his personal assets as collateral, and still almost lost everything when a Pittsburgh bank threatened to do the exact same thing to Murdoch that one of AAR’s creditors just did–demanding payment that would force a Chapter 11 filing. That’s where AAR is now, doing worse, but not that much worse. AAR is still on the air and has a good chance of staying on.

But Murdoch’s money problems did not end there. After creating the Fox News Channel in 1996, the operation lost huge amounts of money for about five years. According to Brit Hume, the über-conservative mothership lost around $80 to $90 million per year before it finally started turning a profit. Compare this to AAR losing $10 to $20 million a year. AAR went bankrupt partly because of management issues, but more so because it doesn’t have the kind of billionaire sugar daddy that conservative outfits enjoy. Conservatives would have you believe that it’s liberal programming that’s doing the damage, but by that measure, conservative programming was far more unpopular even in the conservative 90’s, because Fox News performed even worse then.

AAR has only been out there for just a few years. If it is able to survive its current bout with creditors, it still has the same chance (just as it is having the same problems) that Fox or other conservative news outlets had when they started.

And in case you think that I am just making up excuses on the fly in the face of AAR’s mortal demise, keep in mind that I and others were pointing out expected growing pains from the start. Back in the first month of AAR’s operation, I blogged about Fox News’ starting woes, and a few months later reminded readers that Rush Limbaugh took five years to get ratings worth talking about. AAR is starting from a tougher place than any of these conservative bastions did, and still has years to go before it takes them longer than Fox, Limbaugh, and others took to reach a point of profitability.

As I have noted before, I am a Mac user, so I am very much used to people crowing prematurely about the demise of a company I respect.

Not to mention that there are hopes for the future. The swing towards conservatism has ended, and the pendulum is very clearly moving back towards liberalism; the same political tide that buoyed Fox and Limbaugh and others in the 90’s is turning, and could very well sweep up the liberal voices on the air.

And AAR is not the only operation out there. The same folks who started up AAR have just started up a new network, Nova M Radio, which streams live over the Internet (listen on iTunes).

In short, the jury is still out and liberal radio’s demise has been greatly exaggerated.

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Why I Don’t Like Reading the Japanese News

October 18th, 2006 Comments off

There are too many stories like this one [short-lived link]:

Woman, who made 9-year-old stepdaughter eat rubbish off floor, arrested

There are just too many stories about horrendously depressing personal tragedies in the Japanese press, more often than not having to do with child abuse and family members killing each other. A few examples from the last few week’s news include:

  • Woman commits suicide after losing boyfriend in derailment
  • Aichi man sentenced to life in prison for killing 6 relatives
  • Osaka man arrested for beating woman, letting her freeze to death
  • Mother given 12-year prison term for starving 19-year-old son to death
  • Body of woman wanted for questioning in deaths of Nagano family found in river
  • Three found dead with nails stuck in their heads in Nagano home
  • Couple admits to strangling woman in Gunma apartment
  • Aichi woman slashed by knife-wielding stranger
  • Driver who killed 4 children in Saitama caused accident in May due to same reason

— Stories gleaned from Japan Today

Now, I’m not one of those people who want the press only to publish feel-good, positive news stories; I simply have little desire to read about the gruesome details about how badly individuals abuse each other, and the Japanese press simply seems to me to have far more than the usual share of stories about how people abuse, maim, and kill each other, with the grisly details spelled out in the headlines so you can’t avoid cringing at them.

I’m not sure about this, but I really started seeing this trend grow in the 1990’s. In the 80’s, there would be some stories of this nature, but not so many. However, after the bursting bubble and economic decline between those decades, I started seeing a lot more in this vein, especially after a few landmark stories, like the serial killer of little girls who had massive amounts of porn in his apartment, and the student who decapitated another student and put the head in a storage locker at a train station. This was about the same time that Japan fell from it’s superior Japan-is-safe mentality, when people were afraid to travel to places like Hawaii for fear of the horrible crime wave that awaited them; that reversed in the 90’s as people saw Japan as falling apart, full of crime–despite the actual crime stats not wavering all that much.

There is some personal preference involved in my reaction as well; I am averse to news which peers too closely into the private lives of others. I deliberately avoid reading the stories about celebrities’ private lives; I could not tell you much if anything at all about Michael Jackson’s escapades, Britney Spear’s baby troubles, Brangelina’s bouts with paparazzi, or Madonna’s current adoption story, outside of what I glance in the headlines as I pass the stories by. I could care less. But the same goes for the private lives of anyone, doubly so for depressing stories. Maybe I’m just not a people person, but I just don’t want to hear about it. I’d sooner read stories about local zoning ordinance changes discussed in the city council chambers.

(OK, I’ll fess up to approving of the spilling of details about Republican politicians’ private lives, but only because [a] they sell themselves as the high-family-values-and-morals crowd, an [b] they do the same in spades to Democrats–it’s more of a sauce-for-the-goose kind of thing.)

Part of this is also my standing on what the press should be reporting. Zoning ordinances aren’t sexy, but they are relevant and important. People’s private melodramas are sexy, but have zero relevance to anyone not immediately related to the participants, unless it somehow or other touches on law or social issues.

And I seriously believe that news organizations should be restricted when it comes top reporting on private matters. Yes, I know, the First Amendment in inviolate–but not when it conflicts with other rights just as important. You can’t publish libel, you can’t incite murder, etc.

And it seems to me that freedom of the press was intended to report to people about what was happening publicly, so as to lead to an informed population; it was not intended to make the entire population into an inviolate peeping tom. Gossip columns, “news” stories about personal affairs and dalliances, and stories about others’ personal details might be entertaining to most, but that does not make them protected. The right to a free press is being taken and abused in a way that I do not see as necessary for maintaining a free press; I do not believe that gossip is a necessary evil.

Just as much as I believe in the right to a free press, I believe in the right to privacy; and where there is a conflict, the freedom of the press should only win out in cases where public relevancy can be demonstrated. I think that this is a clear enough distinction that there would be no risk to losing the true protections of the First Amendment were this to be enforced.

Okay, I’ve strayed a bit. But there is a common thread here–we really should stop nosing into the private affairs of strangers. For me, that’s easy: I have no desire to in the first place. But for those who love it, it is still none of their business, and only serves to harm.

This all brings to mind a line I very much enjoyed from an episode of the new TV show Ugly Betty (a surprisingly good new series), where a fashion gossip show host smugly told her audience: “Remember, we only make other people feel bad to make you feel good.”

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Down But Not Out

October 14th, 2006 Comments off

Air America Radio filed for bankruptcy today when negotiations with a creditor broke down. It has apparently been losing money for some time. This is normal for a startup, but AAR apparently has not been able to get up off the ground financially, despite good demographics and a listener base of 4 million. Since it does not have a zillionaire backer like Rupert Murdoch, there was no one who was able to pour a billion dollars into the network to start it up and then run it at a loss for many years until things shaped up. Instead, it is a small startup, having the same problems as other small startups. Is it a matter of delivering the goods for advertisers, or simply selling the concept of liberal talk radio to advertisers who simply buy into the right-wing pitch that it just won’t work? Are the demographics as good as they have been painted generally, or was that a selective reading? (So far, there has been no unbiased analysis either way.) Or is it simply the stigma of an unproven startup without much backing? If only the right-wing conspiracy theorists were right and George Soros would pour the money into AAR that Murdoch did into Fox, then the story would be different. Instead, there are struggles–but, at least for the time being, AAR is still on the air. It might continue to struggle and then die out, or it might shape up and do better, perhaps after the social pendulum continues to swing back towards liberalism.

Until then, one can be sure that there will be a tremendous amount of crowing and celebrating among conservatives over this development; I predict that the same people who cower and stay away from commenting when news is bad for Republicans, will come out in force, doing Google searches for blog posts on AAR so they can come in and gloat, ignoring how long it took people like Limbaugh or networks like Fox to pick up steam…

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Murdoch, Ailes, and Winning

October 1st, 2006 Comments off

A recent quote from Faux News chief Roger Ailes:

Murdoch didn’t invest a billion dollars in this company so people can have jobs. … He did it to WIN. … He wants to win and so do I.

One question is, how does Ailes define the word “win”? Win in the ratings game? Or win politically? The conventional wisdom would point to the former, but you have to wonder… if suddenly the market turned liberal and you had to be liberal to get ratings, how badly would Ailes and Murdoch want to “win” the market then?

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