The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

BEWITCHED
calling doctor bombay
TV Land is showing a Bewitched marathon all day long. Obviously, they're endorsing witchcraft and Satanism.

Bewitched was one of those shows that was forever in syndication on local TV while I was growing up. Because I watched so much of it as a little kid, and due to all it's fantastical elements (along with rather simplistic storylines), I still sort of think of it as a kid's show.

Boy, that Derwood--er, Darrin character is one sanctimonious asshole, isn't he? If I were Samantha, I'd have turned him into a houseplant or something.
NIX ON SAINTS & SINNERS
Upon further review... I bagged going to the Saints & Sinners schlockfest downtown. In the end, I really wasn't motivated enough. If the film lineup had looked more promising, I probably would've gone. Perhaps next year.
AOL TIME WARNER AND MICROSOFT: PEACE IN OUR TIME?
On the eve of sweeping rules changes from the FCC in media ownership (here's more), a business deal has been consummated that could go a long way toward defining next-generation media standards. I'm speaking of the rather unexpected dispute resolution between AOL Time Warner and Microsoft.

What brought this about, after years of intransigence? Amazingly, it may have come down to personalities, as longtime Bill Gates nemesis Steve Case is now out of the picture at AOLTW, and so the pact is more the handywork of the new, Time Warner-committed regime.

Beyond the negotiations that made this happen, the corporate motivations for striking this deal show what directions both companies are heading. In my mind, it represents a withdrawal by each of them out of the other's traditional turf. Microsoft has long been suspected of regretting ever gotten into media properties, directly (I recall MS President Steve Ballmer remarking that, if he had to do it over again, he never would have committed his company to ventures like MSN, MSNBC and the like; I realize that just because he said it doesn't mean he meant it, but still). This deal allows them to begin shuttering their ISP business and other money-losing non-core businesses, while still assuring their products and standards have favored access to future digital media development. For AOLTW, this is yet another step away from the tech arena which the company was dragged into after the AOL merger. In essence, it's a further refuting of the Internet strategy this company was supposed to be built for, in favor of the far more lucrative media properties. At the same time, it provides a means to extend, or at least hold steady, its AOL brand without the costly promotions.

I certainly don't think this is the end of the game in the digital media arena. Despite the size of these two powers, there are plenty of comparable players and wild cards out there that can throw monkey wrenches into any standards plan: Disney, Apple, Yahoo, Amazon, eBay, etc. It is a turning point, but of what reach, we'll have to see.
SAINTS & SINNERS FILM FEST
celluloid duality
Another weekend, another film festival. I guess. On the heels of last week's Cinema of Agitation at the Dali Museum, Saints & Sinners III is taking place in downtown St. Pete at the State Theatre.

Wow, back-to-back film fests in my town! Am I in Los Angeles, or New York, or San Francisco, for crying out loud?

Saints & Sinners shows films that are... not exactly the same calibre as at the Dali. This is a fest for local, shoestring-budget filmmakers who are looking for exposure and networking opportunities. What's more, the most thriving part of the low-budget scene is in the horror/slasher/schlocky genre--basically, a bunch of people who want to be the next George Romero. Think the source material for American Movie.

It's a fun little subculture, but you really have to be into it, and I'm not. I've never gone in for the zombie, satanism, vampire, etc. fare; doesn't make any difference to me if they're serious stories or the campy Troma-like treatments. I like so-bad-they're-funny movies too, but this subgenre just never caught my fancy.

In light of those comments, you wouldn't think I'd want to hit this one. Still... I've got nothing planned for this afternoon, and the early showings look interesting, sort of (Follow the Bitch looks like it has potential, although I'm not sure what the point is of showcasing a flick made in 1996--it's not like it's ever going to get a big-studio release at this point). There are worse ways to piss away an afternoon, I suppose. I'm sure as heck not going to stick around for the later fare, even if there wasn't a hocky game on tonight.

More than whatever's on the screen, what most attracts me to something like this is to check out the people there. It'd be interesting to meet and chat with some of them, see what they're like and what they're aspirations are. Shoot, maybe I can even get myself a guest acting gig into one of these no-budget epics! That'd be fun.

Friday, May 30, 2003

REALITY CHECK: REALITY JONESIN'
The apparent waning--or at least, leveling--of the reality TV phenomenon is being cheered by many. And yet, it undeniably is making the television landscape a bit more boring. I feel Collette Bancroft's pain, as she laments the absence of reality, even though she hates herself for indulging in it.

I share her sentiments only to a point, though. Despite being fascinated with its development as it grew over the last couple of years, I've never become a viewer--and it's not like I've had to fight any urges to watch any of it. At this point, I'm dissatisfied with most of what television offers these days, regardless of format or genre. In my mind, reality TV is no more worthless than the average sitcom or drama--they're all crap. If it wasn't for sports and the movie channels, I'd never turn the set on.

My favorite part of this article from the St. Pete Times has to do with Bancroft relating her brief experience as a Nielsen family:

The next week, a woman called from Nielsen. She wanted to be sure we understood how to keep the log, because we didn't seem to be watching nearly as much TV as most people.

"Now, you know," she said, "we want you to record everything you watch, not just the shows you like."

Pause at my end. "Why would I watch a show I didn't like?"

Pause at her end. "Well, you have to watch something."

Well, no, I don't. And reality TV has helped me remember that.


Hilarious!
BIG PUSSY TV
the biggest
Oh yes, the time has come for non-human television programming. First up: Felines. Thus the birth of Meow TV, a block of TV aimed straight at the silent majority of cat television viewers.

Please note that this groundbreaking fare is being presented on the Oxygen Channel. Plus, Vincent Pastore, aka Big Pussy from The Sopranos, was on hand for the sneak preview, appropriately.

Big Pussy.... Oxygen Channel for women... cats... I think I see a common, vaginal theme here.

Oh, I watched about 10 minutes of it tonight. It was pretty unbearable. I can't imagine even a brain-dead cat enduring it. I did make sure to ask many of my cat-owning friends to have their felines watch it, to see if it hooks them.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

WALK FASTER, YOU FAT FUCK
It's not that often that I feel totally cheated of my time and effort after reading something; and it's even less often that I subsequently write about the experience. But this is one of those times. For reasons I can't be sure of, I read this vapid filler of a story about a dumpy woman and her loser boyfriend attempting to walk the 20 miles from Tampa to St. Petersburg.

It was a journey that a normal pair of adults can do in, at most, 10-12 hours. This idiot needed a couple of days, after her boyfriend bailed on her halfway through. That wouldn't have been so bad, if only she could've found something, anything, interesting to write about along the way. Nope. She tries to talk to fishing pier regulars, bums, barflies, etc.--and nothing. What's worse, just to fill space, she brings up a moldy 3-year-old unsolved murder. Really pointless writing.

I wouldn't care normally, but it is a good example of how crappy the Weekly Planet has become. It used to be a bonafide alternative paper, with compelling stuff in it every week. Now, they put forth this kinda idiocy as their cover story. It's easy enough to assign the decline to their recent cutbacks in staff, their obfuscation on that notwithstanding. But really, it's been a slower downward slide, going back to the mid-90s. Too bad. Hopefully, a new alternative will set up shop and put the Planet out of our misery.
SIMON SAYS
go retro
This is a stone groove, my man. The old-time '70 family game Simon has been brought to Mac OS X. Wish I had a) a Mac, and b) OS X, because then I could download it and try it for myself!

Incidentally, it appears the Simon-on-the-Mac has a long history.
POLITICS AND THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
Reading Stephen Pickering's NY Times piece on the recent PSAT error reminded me of George Orwell's excellent essay from 1946, "Politics and the English Language".

Half a century later, Orwell still makes a lot of good points; and I can say that knowing full well that I break several of his rules of clarity every day. I can't say that I even strive to simplify my own, personal work (which includes this website). But at work, it's a big part of my routine.

I also present a link to the essay as an inspiration to the general blogging community. Lord knows I've seen enough incomprehensible blogs that could stand a dose of clarity. As Orwell points out:

What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one's meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose -- not simply accept -- the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one's words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

VIDEOGAMES MAKE YOU MO' BETTA
honing life skills
Starting with those of us from the Atari Generation, the claim of videogame playing improving hand-eye coordination and mental alertness has been made often, usually to contempuous reaction. But now, research at the University of Rochester seems to bear out that regular videogaming activities is good for your mental and motor skills.

No word on if the dreaded Space Invaders Wrist will break out again.

Are you reading this, Mom? Don't you regret nagging me to stop wasting all that time on my 2600 back in the day? Yeah, I thought so.

Of course, they had to include the cluck-clucking from that videogames-are-violent faction. These people never change. It's like they're just waiting for the first videogame-related homicide to provide some proof to their fears--and for nearly 30 years, they've been waiting.
GOOD NEWS (ONLINE AND OFFLINE) FOR NEWSPAPERS
When most of the data regarding the future of newspapers is of the gloom-and-doom variety, good news tends to stand out. So it is with these two nuggets:

- The Newspaper Association of America finds that 8 out of 10 adults in major media markets still read their newspapers on a regular weekly basis. Granted, it's not fabulous news that daily papers are being accessed somewhat less than daily (just guessing, I'd say most on-the-go people--and aren't we all?--sit down with a paper every other day), but it is siginificant:

“The story here is that nearly 80 percent of adults are making a conscious decision each week to pick up a newspaper – that kind of reach is hard to beat,” said NAA President and CEO John Sturm. “Newspapers don’t happen to be ‘on’ when you’re in the room. If you’re reading a newspaper, you’re engaged in it – and eight in 10 people choose to be engaged each week.”


Engagement is the key here. TV and radio have an advantage over print and Internet media because they can be left on as background noise; in some ways, they're more effective that way, since ads with catchy tunes and/or imagery tend to worm their way into the subconscious better when they're under the radar. In order to get anything out of print and Internet media, you have to pick it up and put it in front of your eyeballs and process the info. Even if it's in a lazy manner, you're still putting forth some effort. So, this is good news for papers, in that people are considering them worthy of some time (and money) investment.

- Meanwhile, industry consulting firm Borrell Associates finds that the Internet, which has long been viewed as a potential killer of the newsprint business, is becoming a major revenue source for many papers, thanks in large part to early investments and subsequent establishment as local Web outlets. The migration of classified advertising to the Web is central to this; far from being the choking point for newspapers, it's pulling in the cash. I think this is natural, in that there is a real market for localized transactions. If you want to sell off some garage sale items, the idea of putting them up for bid on eBay and having to contend with all that, in addition to the likelihood of shipping, is not particularly appealing. Electronic classified handled through the local paper as a clearinghouse makes more sense (in fact, eBay has recognized this and has partnered with many papers across the country on classifieds).
AIRPORT AUCTION
Oh, the bargains you'll find at an abandoned property auction at your nearest airport!

I always mean to go to one of these kinds of auctions, not necessarily to buy anything, but just to see what they're like. I think what's keeping me away is the fear that I'll get caught up in the action, bid on anything just to say I did, and wind up shelling out cash for something completely useless.

The article engages in a lot of head-scratching over the number of cars that are abandoned at the airport. What's the mystery? It makes perfect sense for someone who's leaving town for good to just dump off the car in the airport parking lot. Sure, it would make more sense to sell it beforehand and get some money. But I'm sure there are many instances when someone has to get out of town quick-fast-in-a-hurry, unexpectedly (running from the law, a psycho spouse, etc.), and the options narrow. Likewise, you'll probably find a good number of abandoned vehicles at bus and train depots.
A PART-TIME PUFF, AND A FORGETTING
My freshman year in college, I took up smoking. I was up to one a week before I quit. That's one cigarette per week. I was way hooked, I tell ya.

I look upon my smoking binge as evidence of my non-addictive nature. I guess that, at best, I could have been considered a part-time smoker--extremely part-time, at that. Today, part-time smoking appears to be catching on, to the consternation of health statisicians.

The woman in the opening paragraphs points out that she only smokes when she drinks (no word on how many packs a day/week that translates to). From the part-time smokers I know, that seems to be the common thread. This is especially the case with women. It seems like going out, having a few, and then firing up a smoke is all part of the same experience--that is, as long as you're getting loaded and out on the town, you might as well indulge in one more vice.

In fact, perhaps "situational smoker" is a more accurate name for these puffers, because their habit is the result of specific time and place, instead of infrequent urges. It's not like every few days, regardless of what they're doing, they suddenly feel like lighting up. It's only when they're partying, or working hard, or (like that old cliche) after having sex that they're reaching for the cigs.

It occurs to me that this part-time smoking phenomenon could be used by the tobacco industry as ammo against the argument that their products are addictive. After all, if tobacco and nicotine is so powerfully addictive, how is it that so many people are able to have a limited amount of them and not get hooked? Are they all not less prone to addiction generally (like me)? I'd be interested in seeing a study like that.

Of course, an alternate theory presents itself in the form of another study: Maybe they're smoking only part of the time because they're forgetting to light up more often.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

WINONA, THE MUSICAL!
five-finger discounter
The legend of Winona Ryder and her wild shoplifting spree continues to grow--at least, on the West Coast. San Diego's Point Loma High is putting on a comedic play based on Ryder's extra-legal escapades.

If this play has any real production values, it'll have to have a good supply of "Free Winona" t-shirts.

Ah, Winona! When did I first fall in love with Generation X's Official Actress Babe? Of course. It was in Heathers. The scene where she's in the convenience store, and that dork asks her, "Are you a Heather?", and she, perfectly framed and standing next to a slushie machine, demurely responds, "No; I'm a Veronica." Winner.
MONKEY AND DUCKS
the monkey's the one on the right
Let's see that one-note Rally Monkey do this! Canadian primate Maggie the Monkey has picked the Anaheim Mighty Ducks all the way through their Stanley Cup run, and has once again picked them to win it all. Go monkey!

So what if she's doing it with a wheel of fortune. I hear Jimmy the Greek used the same technique.
"HELLO GOD? IT'S ME, A DUMBASS"
Seems that this past weekend's box-office-buster, Bruce Almighty, contains some numerological religious theory--in the form of a phone number. Seems that part of the story has His phone number appearing on a beeper readout. Despite the lack of an area code, the number was onscreen long enough that a number of viewers decided to test the number by dialing it up in their local areas. The real-life people on the other end of those numbers are, understandably, not very amused.

All day long, I've talked to people who've remarked about how funny the whole situation is. Each time, I retorted how it is indeed funny, especially since it wasn't happening to me.

I'd like to think that everyone calling those numbers were doing it on a lark, just to see if there was something unusual awaiting them. However, I have underestimated the stupidity of the mass populace before. As pathetic as it is, I'm sure a couple of people out there dialed up and somehow thought they really were going to talk to God.

The film industry has used real phone numbers in movies for decades, sometimes as a gimmick to boost interest. In the 1999 movie Magnolia, a telephone number shown on infomercials within the movie led callers to a recording of star Tom Cruise's voice.


I think the studio flubbed this opportunity for Bruce Almighty. They should've accounted for this reaction (perhaps they did?), and obtained a toll-free number which would have had some kind of marketing pitch on it. Here's a thought: They should do just that for the home video version--replace the phone number in the theatrical release with a new number. Great idea, huh?
THE ELUSIVE FRANKFURTER
i actually prefer mine plain
Uncanny. Every time I feel like having a simple hotdog for lunch, the guy who operates a hotdog cart down on the corner of my office building takes the day off. He's there five days a week, except, of course, on those rare days (maybe once a month) when I'm a likely customer.

Of course, it's no big whoop. There are hotdog stands all over the place. Today, I just walked up a block and got my fix from another, more reliable vendor. Two of them, plain (as always), with chips and an orange soda. Now that's good eats.

Y'know, a hotdog is probably the only food I can't envision ever getting anywhere but from an outdoor setting: A hotdog cart/stand, a festival, a concert, a barbecue party, etc. The idea of ordering a wiener in an indoors, sit-down restaurant is unfathomable--it's like that particular food item doesn't belong there. Even making them at home, on the stove (or what have you; I think they sell microwavable ones now) is getting to be suspect.

Monday, May 26, 2003

MANCHURIAN REMAKE
First I've heard of this: They're going to remake The Manchurian Candidate, and Meryl Streep going to reprise the Angela Lansbury role.

The original is one of my favorite old movies. Aspects of it are a bit heavy-handed and obvious, but overall, it's a fascinating film. In some ways, it prefigures the coming of more mature movies starting in the '70s.
READING RAINBOW FADING
read on
Reading skills are getting hung out to dry of late... even more so than usual. First, libraries have to depend on luck to stock their shelves. Now, "Reading Rainbow", the PBS show that attempts to instill a love of reading into young'uns, is floundering for dollars and is in danger of going away. (I confess I don't know much about it; it started in 1983, by which time I was too old to have been part of it's 6-to-8 year-old audience.)

This, despite the fact that Kunta Kinte/Geordie from Star Trek himself, LeVar Burton, is the driving force behind it. (Does anyone else get surprised by the fact that Burton is nearly 50 years old? I know he was on Roots during the '70s, but he still seems so youngish.)

"Reading Rainbow" has several strikes against it in the battle for funding. For starters, it has no access to merchandise licensing deals, an increasingly important part of PBS' funding scheme for children's shows. There are no "Reading Rainbow" action figures to sell, no "Reading Rainbow" jammies to keep kids warm at night.


I don't really understand this. Why can't "Reading Rainbow" jump on the merchandising bandwagon? I mean, it's got a logo and identity, and Burton can be the saleable face for the show. Anything can be hawked, for crying out loud! PBS should be able to set a marketing wizard on this and make the show a revenue generator.
2003 STANLEY CUP FINALS: GO DUCKS!
swamp rats quack you!
I tell you, I don't know where my head's been. Ever since the Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, when the damned Devils won, I've been meaning to post my comments on the upcoming (finally!) Stanley Cup Finals.

An interesting matchup. The Devils are used to being here, the Ducks make their first appearance. Since there's not too much history between the two teams, the opening subplots are concentrated around the Niedermayer brothers facing off, the first time in 57 years siblings have gone head-to-head in the Final, and the blockbuster trade between the two teams this past summer. I think it'll be a lot of fun to watch.

As for predictions... Looks like my noggin nailed this matchup, although if you had asked me to pick it at the start of the postseason, I'd have said you were nutso. To a great degree, it all depends on Giguere, again. He's been the one who's carried Anaheim this whole way. His teammates have upped their level of play, but that's directly a result of his outstanding performance. If he keeps it up, and the team feeds off that, then Disney can add a Stanley Cup alongside its World Series Trophy for this sports season. And yet, it's hard to pick against the Devils. Their plodding style has won them Cups before, and Brodeur is playing as god-like as ever.

I'd give the edge to the Devils. But, I'll go with my bias as a Devils-hater, and pull for the Quack-Quacks to win it all! I hope so, anyway. Anybody but the Devils. Go Anaheim!

Here's an idea for all the Ducks supporters out there: Instead of shying away from the Disney connection, embrace it by crafting a Mighty Ducks fight song with the same tune as the old Mickey Mouse Club theme song! It would work especially well if Anaheim wins it all:

Who's the winner of the Cup
That's named for Lord Stanley,
M-I-G, H-T-Y, D-U-C-K-S


Granted, it's a little corny. But hey, if they pound the Devils, I'll happily sing it!

Sunday, May 25, 2003

CINEMA OF AGITATION: EPILOGUE
So, as I mentioned at the outset of this past weekend, I spent a large chunk of my time over the past couple of days at the Cinema of Agitation: Russian and Slavic Fantastic Film Festival at the Salvador Dali Museum. Time very well spent, too.

The crowd was pretty good. There was a preponderance of old Russians and a couple of younger ones, which I guess should have been expected. Also the usual suspects: Film buffs, amateur filmmakers, avant-garders, etc. Much better turnout than the usual bi-weekly Dali evening film showing, anyway.

The showcase movies, I felt, were during the second day's showings: Stalker and Man With A Movie Camera. Both were fantastic. Movie Camera was a fascinating piecing-together of snippets of life in Moscow and other Russian locales in the late '20s. The rapid-fire film editing techniques were years ahead of their time, and kept hitting you with so much visual imagery that you feel overwhelmed by the end. Stalker was an absorbing meditation that, in startling ways, foretold what would happen at Chernobyl a few years after this was filmed (one person at the showing brought up this little tidbit: The rumor that there was an antecedent, unpublicized Chernobyl-like disaster in the U.S.S.R. during the '50s, and this was what Tarkovsky was using as his source material, aside from the short story "The Roadside Picnic"). The animation clips were great, too; I really liked the early-20th century stuff.

That's not to say that Friday was lacking. Daisies lived up to it's billing: Very New Wave, and dripping with the symbolism that comes from living in a repressive regime. The Color of Pomegranates was a trip too. I originally described it as minimalist film-making; it was as far as dialogue and pacing, but certainly not in terms of cinematography. Breathtaking, if somewhat draining to watch. In fact, Friday was a draining day all around for me, to the point where I had to cut out early. I really wanted to stick around for W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism that night, but I felt I was so mentally out of it, I wouldn't be able to appreciate it properly. Just have to try to rent or buy it.

I also, ultimately, couldn't stick around late into the night for Underground on Saturday night. Seven hours seemed to be my limit for movie consumption, especially for movies so dense with concept and content. Another for the rental/purchase route.

All told, I really enjoyed it. It was a different way to spend a weekend. I wish there were more of these kinds of festivals in the area. Maybe this one will inspire others.
AMAZON WISH LISTS HELP LIBRARIES
With the advent of the Internet, libraries have been viewed as institutions whose days are numbered. With all the information online, it seems archaic, almost primitive, to trudge down to the library and actually deal with physical books and card catalogues to get your research done. (Actually, I'm pretty sure card catalogues are a thing of the past at 99% of all American libraries out there). Of course, I am speaking from the perspective of the relatively affluent members of our society; there are plenty of people who can't afford a home computer, home Internet access, maybe even a home phone, and so the library is their primary source for research and information (including, almost ironically, Internet access).

Even before the spread of the Web, libraries had to do a lot with only a little funding from the government. Now, they have do the same with even less. They rely very much on donations of all kinds. As it happens, the Web is proving to be an unexpected facilitator in getting some libraries their most basic commodity: Books. Such is the example of the Oakland Public Library, which has seen its Amazon Wish List of books fulfilled for it by what amount to donors.

It's a nice feel-good story. I'll ignore the specter is raises of giving local governments an added excuse to cut funding back even more, to the point where librarians and non-book equipment can't be covered.

As I said, a nice idea. As suggested by some of the feedback, it'd be ideal for people who want to contribute to this to do it for their local libraries, instead of one thousands of miles away (although that's good too). Maybe every gol-darn library in the country can get on board, and a whole system will develop! Hopefully, it'll never be marred by something like a dumb librarian putting a book that she wants to keep on it; think of the scandal and fallout!

I see my city's library's not on the ball enough to have set up a Wish List. Neighboring St. Pete Beach Library is, but it has only one book on there right now, and it's out of print. Across the Bay, Tampa's public library doesn't seem to have one either. So much for my trying to donate at the present! I cleared out my home bookshelves a while back, too, so nothing to donate there.
HITLER: RISE OF A MINISERIES
As my earlier post about Hitler passes into the archive section, it occurred to me that I never mentioned what I thought of the CBS miniseries. The short and sweet:

My expectations were low going into it, and I'd have to say there were well-met. It was only OK. I don't know what it is about mainstream TV that can't produce notable entertainment programming (too much groupthink, maybe?), but it's pretty obvious that something with the potential scope of Hitler's rise to power is too complex for a network miniseries. Still, they had four damn hours to work with, and they still couldn't pull off anything more than an extremely average effort.

It wasn't totally terrible. The machinations and intrigue during the Beer Hall Putsch were depicted pretty well, as were the events leading up to Hitler's appointment as Chancellor. The performances were at least decent.

But overall... The opening sequences of Hitler's childhood were hamhandedly butchered. The actor playing the adult Hitler didn't have blue eyes--which, next to his moustache, was probably his most distincitive characteristic (they couldn't have given him blue contact lenses, or digitally changed the color afterward?). The panic environment that led to Hitler's rapid rise (i.e., the Depression) wasn't established very well at all.

I could go on. Basically, it was a big to-do over a not-very-noteworthy work. Such is network fare, and a big reason why I never watch the stuff.

Also, a quick note on the ads during the broadcast: Stinko! How many times could they show that no-budget "Swingin' to the '50" CD set commercial? I swear, at times I wondered if I wasn't watching some nondescript cable channel. I guess the ads were targeting the expected senior demographic that would be attracted to historical drama, but still, the commercials were pretty cut-rate. I guess this is the current state of network TV. The big ad budget/efforts go to more narrowly-defined cable channels.
LIVE FROM BUMBLEFUCK, MIDDLE AMERICA
First there was Michael Essany. Now The Brendan Leonard Show, featuring a 19-year-old impresario, is making it's national debut.

Adam Sandler's popularity aside, it appears the ascent of these guys means we're living in the Revenge of the Nerd era.

HE'S GOT THE NAME, SOON THE FAME?
Now this is a name you notice. From today's sports transactions:

Calgary Stampeders (CFL) - Signed linebacker Charles Assmann.


This is perhaps the greatest football name since "He Hate Me", aka XFL poster boy Rod Smart.

It's either a misspelling, or else an unfortunate translation of a non-English name (perhaps African or Arabic, my guess).

Saturday, May 24, 2003

CINEMA OF AGITATION: DAY TWO COMING UP
Getting ready to head back to the Dali for the second day of the film festival. Last night was fun; would have been more fun if I hadn't be slightly out of it. It was a long day, at the end of a long week. I'm more refreshed today, so I should be more into it. In any case, I'll post a more complete review of the flicks and festival on Sunday.

One thing: I ran into a couple of long-lost colleagues at the museum! Rick Kenney and Susan Keith, both former copy editors in the St. Pete Times Sports Department, were back in town. They're both journalism professors now (Rick at Florida Southern College, Susan at Arizona State), and were taking a bunch of college kids on a field trip to the Poynter Institute. It was a nice little surprise to see them and swap stories for a few minutes.
REVENGE OF THE ISP
I've always thought that the media companies/associations (like the RIAA, etc.) were fighting a losing battle by attacking endusers, when the more obvious target was the ISPs that enabled all that fileswapping. It makes more sense to choke off that activity at the source, rather than trying to convince (and prosecute) millions of consumers.

Those efforts are slowly moving forward, but in the meantime, some of the ISPs are looking to stem their own internal fileswapping issues. While this is being framed as a housecleaning project, in reality it dovetails nicely with the media companies' aims.

ISPs tend to rack up high bandwidth costs when a customer trades files with a customer at an outside ISP. The costs escalate further when a user in the UK trades a file with somebody in, say, Asia.


To me, this sounds like a dubious claim. How does the origination and endsource of fileswapping activity impact the amount of bandwith use? I'm no expert on this, but doesn't seem logical. I'm betting the real aim here is to attract people to stick with their current ISP, and perhaps compel community of friends/colleagues to join the same ones.
DOONESBURY JOINS SLATE
duke in charge
Deciding that the Web is a lonely place for a comic strip, Gary Trudeau has decided to fold his Doonesbury website into Slate. As you can see, the URL remains the same, but the interior content is now tied to Slate.

Interesting approach. Doonesbury will be an additional draw for Slate, bringing in people who might not otherwise visit. I'm not sure how much that's the case for Doonesbury--certainly Doonesbury is more well-known than Slate is.

There's some speculation that this could be a model for other online mags and good-fit content. As far as strips go, most other popular strips are owned by syndicates--Trudeau's creator ownership is still, sadly, an exception--so if that happens, it would probably be on a group level.
THE MARTIANS ARE WATCHING
destination earth
Change-of-perspective time! This shot of the home planet was taken by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, currently orbiting the Red Planet. Wicked wild. Maybe within my lifetime, we'll be able to gaze up at the night sky, see the Moon, Mars and other dots and know that there are people living there.

Friday, May 23, 2003

SPRITE REMIX
old school the new style
I've never been a big fan of Sprite or 7-Up. Despite the claims by both that they had lemon-lime flavor, all I could ever taste in them was sugar. Colas were just as full of sugar, but their caramel-like flavors tended to come through to my tastebuds.

But I gotta say, I like this new iteration of Sprite, Sprite Remix. Bursting with tropical flavorfullness. I realize it's just as sugary as before, and it has no caffeine (pretty much a requirement for my soft drinks, despite my cutting back on that drug), but the fruity flavors they pumped into it make up for all that. I'd like to try it as a mixer.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

CINEMA OF AGITATION
red menaced
Where will I be tomorrow night and most of the day Saturday? Glad you asked.

I'll be at the Salvador Dali Museum for the Cinema of Agitation: Russian and Slavic Fantastic Film Festival. It starts at 6 PM Friday, runs until 11 PM that night, then starts up again the next day at 1 PM, and ends at 11 PM Saturday. In that time, they'll be showing a bunch of movies with Slavic accents and English subtitles. To quote the promotional flyers, it'll be "a two-day festival exploring the use of Surrealist and fantastic techniques and concepts in Russian and Slavic films".

I'm really looking forward to this. I don't think I've seen any of the films on the slate, so it will will be a fresh experience. Lots of mind-bending stuff. Even better, there's a heavy dose of model-based (versus drawing-based) animated shorts in this, which I just love.

Here's some of the offerings, listed by directors (in no particular order):

Andrei Tarkovsky: Stalker (I love what I've seen of Tarkovsky, and can't wait for this one.)

Wladyslaw Starewicz: The Frogs Who Wanted A King, The Mascot, The Cameraman's Revenge (A forgotten animation pioneer, with his signature works.)

Fyodor Khitruk: Film, Film, Film (More provocative animation.)

Emir Kusturica: Underground (A contemporary piece, over 3 hours long; I'm not sure if I'll stick around for this one, scheduled as the wrap-up presentation on Saturday night.)

Vera Chytilova: Daisies (New Wave cinema, Czech style; the kickoff presentation. Also the only female director in the whole festival.)

Jan Svankmajer: The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia (This fest wouldn't be complete without a contribution from the renowned Svankmajer. I may have actually already seen this one, but I'm not sure.)

Sergei Parajanov: The Color of Pomegranates (A cult classic of minimalist cinematic expression.)

Dusan Makavejev: W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (This one is purportedly a wild ride; originally earned an X rating back when it was released thirty years ago. A tribute to the works of Wilhelm Reich.)

Dziga Vertov: Man With A Movie Camera (A groundbreaking piece that captures slice-of-life perspectives behind the Iron Curtain.)

If you're in the Tampa Bay area, and you dig alternative / experimental cinema, there are worse ways to spend a couple of days. Come on down to the Dali!
SO MUCH FOR A LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION
You've probably seen the recent survey findings that said most Americans don't think a person is truly all "grown-up" until they reach the age of 26. As if to prove that theory, the graduating class of tiny Rockford College displayed their childish close-mindedness by shouting down a New York Times reporter who was speaking at their graduation ceremony.

Let me get this straight: These people just completed around four years of higher education, when they allegedly were exposed to a range of different ideas and concepts. Yet as they're ready to embark upon the world, they couldn't handle listening to a viewpoint that they didn't agree with. Way to go, kids.

Of course, I have no illusions that these dweebs actually learned anything as mentally taxing as critical thinking while in class. I'm sure they did whatever they had to do to merely get their paper, and that was that. I hope these idiots run into several instances in the real world where they're reduced to tears, or worse, because someone is telling them "bad words". Morons.

In case you're interested, here's a transcript of NY Times reporter Chris Hedges' aborted speech, including some of the action that took place.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

POTTSVILLE MAROONS AND THE SPIRIT OF '25
gettin' the record straight
So you think you know who the NFL Champion was in 1925, huh, smart guy? You honestly think it's the Chicago Cardinals, don't you? Well, about 18,000 people in the Pennsylvania town of Pottsville beg to differ, as they take their argument for the long-gone hometown Maroons all the way to Paul Tagliabue himself. And the Commish looks like he's going along on revising the history books.

Quick note: Did the governor of Pennsylvania really need to make an appearance over a records-book dispute? Like he has nothing better to do, perhaps running a state government?? If I lived in Penna, I'd be a bit perturbed.

I like this news item because it harkens back to the early days of the National Football League, when it was more like a league in name only. Hard to believe this sports entertainment behemoth at one point was such a joke that it couldn't win a player-poaching war with the Canadian Football League.
DARTH RUPERT AND HIS DIGITAL DEATH STAR
i am your father
The image you see here is of my own making. I know it's a clumsy job; I'm no Michaelangelo. If you want to swipe the pic and improve on it, be my guest.

The inspiration is the much-traveled headline that accompanies the AlterNet article that decries the upcoming dismantling of the FCC media regulations while Rupert Murdoch attempts to close his long-sought DirecTV acquisition. "Digital Death Star" is a catchy phrase; I have a feeling it'll take on a life of its own.

As for the arguments made by AlterNet writer Jeffrey Chester... They're a little off the deep end. The premise is that Murdoch's motivation for getting DirecTV--a deal he's tried to consummate for years now--is to extend a right-wing political agenda. Sorry, no. No question, News Corp. has been pushing Fox News to the hilt, but that's because it's making money. That's all that matters to moguls like Murdoch. If the public mood swerved tomorrow, he'd put Fox News on a liberal track in no time. Are there political overtones? Of course, but there are political overtones in everything.

I guess this article highlights how scared shitless the left is of Fox News' quick rise to popularity. I'd like to see what this story would read like if the head of News Corp. were outspokenly liberal.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

REAL ADS, "REAL" PEOPLE
Has the concept of "reality" programming seeped into the advertising business? Maybe. A few companies and their ad agencies are delving into using the average schmoe, instead of celebrities or professional actors, as the centerpieces of their campaigns.

They may say they want reality, but as always, be careful what you wish for. To quote Dr. Dre (from back in the day):

"Yeah they want reality
But you won't hear none
They'd rather exaggerate a little fiction."
-NWA, Express Yourself


To expand on that: Just as reality TV is very often anything but connected to reality, I don't expect these spots to fool anyone into thinking they found any old random person. For instance, you're not going to see anyone especially ugly or even plain-looking, because no one wants their product identified with that image.

Actually, I seem to recall that the use of "real" people was in vogue in the '70s too. And we all know what happened to the '70s, folks: They ended. So this is a fad that will run it's course soon enough.

One last thing: Take note that the McDonald's example was a Tampa-centric experiment. I wasn't aware of that when I was watching those spots, which I believe are no longer airing.

* McDonald's. Trying everything from new menu items to training techniques to rejuvenate sales, McDonald's is also testing restaurant crew workers and managers in two ads by DDB Chicago. The ads, running in Tampa, feature 16 different workers ages 18 to 60 talking about their customer service. ''We got feedback that customers wanted to know more about McDonald's employees,'' says Bill Whitman, a McDonald's spokesman.


I gotta tell you, I don't think I ever, in my life, wanted to know more about the guy/girl/whatever who was serving up my McNuggets. Call me crazy; you won't be the first.

Update: Upon reflection, I have to retract that last statement about never wanting to know more about any particular McDonald's employee. Back when I was 12 or 13, and the adolescent horomones started kicking in, I vividly recall a girl who worked at the local McD's. She was something else: Shoulder-length dark brown hair, big bright brown eyes, great smile. What really made her memorable to me was the shade of lipstick she always wore: A dark purple-plum color, the likes of which I had never seen before or even suspected had existed (I was a boy; to the extent that I thought about lipstick at all, to that point I guess I had just assumed that all lipstick was some shade of red). It probably corresponds to perennial plum today (isn't the Internet amazing?).

Of course, the extent of my relationship with this girl was ordering a couple of hamburgers and fries from her once a week. She had to be at least 16 or 17 at the time, an unfathomable age gap. And come to think of it, I bet I never saw her more than 5 or 6 times, total. I doubt I even knew her name. Yet nearly 20 years later, the memory of her is burned into my brain. I had hundreds of other fantasy crushes over the remainder of my teenage years, but none of them stayed with me like this one. She must have been the first, and of course, you don't forget your first.
MILK MINUTIAE
euromilk
I've never been much of a milk fan. Didn't care a whole lot for it as a kid [NOTE: I've since discovered, after a chat with my mother, that as a baby I couldn't get enough of the white stuff, to the point where the doctor told Mom to force-feed me baby food. I guess I got my fill of milk before my first birthday, then.], and though I drank enough of it, I probably didn't as much as my peers did (probably why I peaked at five-foot-ten). Nowadays, I can go months without ever buying a carton for my fridge, and if I don't drink it at home, I'm sure as shoot not going to drink it outside the house.

However, I've embarked, sort of, on a new diet. It involves eating a cup of pure-cut oat/wheat bran (the stuff is incredibly cheap, like 60 cents a pound at the healthfood store) accompanied by a cup of milk. You're supposed to eat it every day; if nothing else, it provides you with mucho roughage.

Problem: The idea of drinking milk, even in a cereal-like serving like this, doesn't appeal much to me. What typically happens is that I'll buy a half-gallon, and barely get halfway through it before I've reached or surpassed the expiration date. So then, I feel like I've been ripped off for having to dispose of the now-spoiled milk (when actually, I've ripped myself off). That's part of what I don't like about milk anyway: You can't keep the stuff for any considerable length of time.

I mentioned this at work, and a coworker recommended I try Parmalat super-homogenized milk to solve the spoilage problem. You might have seen the stuff on a grocery store shelf and scratched your head in wonder: Milk, among the most perishable of foods, sitting on an unrefrigerated shelf? With an expiration date months away? Get outta town.

But it's the real deal. The stuff is super-popular in Europe. So I went shopping tonight and picked up a box (not without some trepidation). Expiration date: October 3rd, 2003! But, there's a catch: As soon as you crack it open, the expiration date ramps up to 10 days. It occurs to me that that's what the freshness cycle is for regular ol' refrigerated milk! So what's the point? I mean, I guess it helps for the next couple of days, since I don't plan on having it until later in the week. But after it's open, I'm on the clock! Sheesh.

Oh well. I'll try anything once, I guess. If it's good enough for the French, Italians, Germans et al, I can take a taste. And, I found out that there's another kind of Parmalat milk that's refrigerated from the get-go, and lasts a good deal longer than regular milk even after you open it. I'll have to seek that out next.

Monday, May 19, 2003

WAS IT SOMETHING I SAID
Actually, I am about to sign off soon, just so I don't get fried. But before I go...

It seems this little slice 'o blog has been unusually popular today. If my hit counter is at all accurate, I've had about two hundred visitors today! Wow! To what do I owe this honor? I beseech you, someone, anyone, please drop me a comment below and give me a clue as to what compelled you to visit. I'm dying to know.
INCLEMENT WEATHER
Ah, it's that time of year again: The onset of summer in Florida. For the Tampa Bay area, that means regular late afternoon/evening thunderstorms. And these things don't fool around. It's coming down like a banshee right now, with plenty of lightning and thunder and all that; quite a breathtaking sight. It gives blogging a little bit of risky edge--one well-placed lightning bolt, and it's curtains for this computer (surge protectors be damned--they can't do shit against a direct hit).

If you're in the area, you're already in on the meteorological fun! If not, join in online.
SHARK FINNY GOODNESS
chomp!
It appears that it's now safer to go into the water. The world's population of large predatory fish has dropped some 90%, according to recent studies. The reason? Commercial fishing has decimated fish populations, causing a domino-like effect throughout the marine food chain.

I'm sure the increased yen for that old-time Asian delicacy, shark-fin soup, has contributed to this sharp decline.

Could it get any worse for the fishies? Heck, I bet any day now, a rumor will break out that shark-fin soup is an effective cure for SARS. Why not? It makes about as much sense as thinking that a facemask is actually going to prevent an airborne virus from getting into your system. Like it won't be able to get in through your nose, eyes, ears and skin pores...
SEARCH ENGINES ALL BLOGGED OUT
All kinds of websites rely on search engine rankings to build an audience. Getting listed on Google isn't the be-all end-all in promotion and visibility--ultimately, if you're serious about pulling in lots of visitors, you need to advertise offline, get press exposure, etc. But especially for non-commercial sites, the exposure that comes with search engine indexing is vital for getting word out about what they've got. Blogs are at the top of the list.

The explosion of blogging has been duly indexed by all the search engines out there. In fact, they've accounted for blogs so well that a lot of people conducting searches for information are getting deluged with hits from blogs that sometimes have little or nothing to offer them in the way of substantive information. In response, it appears that Google is preparing to exclude blog hits from standard Web search results.

As a professional researcher, I endorse this approach. Of course, I don't use Google as my engine of choice, but I'm sure others will follow the 800-pound gorilla's lead on this. I should also note that I haven't really experience a problem of blog-overload in my search results; I know how to conduct fairly specific, targeted searches, with the aim of avoiding undue clutter. But with every passing day, that gets harder. It's not just blogs by any means. But as noted, the nature of blogs, with their high frequency of updating and preponderance of cross-links, are just the kind of objects that exploit the way search engines work. (The underlying issue, of course, is finding something beyond the increasingly-outdated text-based search syntax that all search engines use... but that's a whole other ball o' wax.)

Sunday, May 18, 2003

HITLER: ALL TOO HUMAN
bad man
I'm about to settle in to watch Hitler: The Rise of Evil on CBS. I was so sure that it was going to be broadcast last Sunday, that I kept turning the TV onto CBS that night, only to find the Survivor finale. I guess the network execs figured Hitler and Mother's Day didn't quite mix...

Anyway, this miniseries has been preceded by a great deal of hype and controversy (actually the same thing, in terms of raising awareness for the show; don't think for a minute that CBS' PR machine didn't fuel a lot of that). So much so, in fact, that I took notice of it--me, who never even thinks to switch on one of the network channels (except for latenight). I have only a little hope that it'll be good--it is television, after all.

There's more than enough written about who Hitler was, what he meant and what his ultimate legacy is. I could write on the subject all night and into morning, and repeat points brought up by numerous other writers over the years. Rather than do that, let me focus, briefly, on the key critique over this subject matter seeing network air: The "humanization" of Adolf Hitler.

Ever since this project was announced in mid-2002, well-meaning scholars and other authorities have fretted over whether a biopic of Hitler would serve mainly to create sympathy for him. To stem this concern, CBS put the script through several rewrites, with these thoughts in mind, to the point where the final product was heavily influenced by these ideas.

With all due respect to Elie Wiesel and other accomplished experts in this field, I cannot help but think how wrongheaded it is to be frightened away from the concept of Hitler as a human being.

Hannah Arendt highlighted the banality of evil that was at the heart of the Nazi regime and the atrocities that Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler et al committed. This is a message that, in my opinion, has been lost, in favor of viewing Hitler and his cohorts as some sort of inhuman monsters. This concept survives today: Notice how every bad-guy dictator that runs afoul of the West, and specifically the United States, is characterized as an evil, insane madman. Manuel Noreiga, Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein were all propagandized as deranged lunatics--never mind that their actions were hardly different from dozens of other Third World strongmen.

This approach, in fact, only serves to lessen the impact of the crimes perpetrated by people like Hitler. By labeling him an inhuman monster, the implication is that only a being apart from humanity could ever be capable of such acts as the Holocaust, or of killing fellow countrymen. Therefore, by extension, the mass of humankind doesn't have to worry about another Hitler coming along, nor do they have to take a particularly severe look at themselves and their role in fostering the development of such demagogues.

To me, taking into account the fact that Hitler (and Stalin, and Pol Pot, and every other dictator great or small) was a living, breathing human being, who grew up in conditions not much different than their contemporaries, is the truly scary thing. That is the true horror. Remembering that it was a man, or group of men, who ordered the death of millions of people in the last century is a difficult thing, but it's necessary. If you forget that, you forget the core lessons that came from history.

So yes: Hitler was a man. He grew up, was exposed to the same prejudices, the same influences, the same stimuli as others in the late 19th-early 20th century. He certainly exploited a rich tradition of anti-semetic feeling in European civilization (one that I don't think Europeans have every really come to terms with); he certainly didn't create it. He didn't suddenly, in the 1920s, morph into an unrecognizable monster; if he was a monster, he was a decidedly human one.
OH MY
oh me oh my
Much of the praise directed toward the blogging phenomenon deals with blogging as a challenge to old-line media. The idea is that blogging is a new form of journalism, a straight-from-the-people alternative to what's perceived to be an unreliable, overly conservative/overly liberal (depending on viewpoint), corporatist news industry. Actually, journalism itself, as a profession and vocation, is as distrusted as the vehicles that carries journalists' reports (see The New York Times' Jayson Blair Affair), and so it might be more proper to describe blogging as news-gathering.

This interpretation of blogs tends to ignore the fact that the vast majority of bloggers don't actually do any first-hand reporting themselves: They don't track down leads, they don't interview the players at the heart of a story, etc. Rather, those blogs that do deal with news items (this one included) specialize in presenting news reports from media organizations, and then adding the blog author's commentary on the specific report or the topic. That's why it's always seemed to me that the notion of blogs replacing newspapers and other traditional media was laughable, because where would blogs get their source material if the news media were to disappear? (More likely, if all the free news content on the Web were to dry up and become pay-access, what kind of effect would this have on blogs?)

It's more accurate to characterize blogs as punditry and commentary sources, where a reader can get supplemental and alternate perspectives on current events (as with all things, the quality varies depending on who's doing the writing). That doesn't make them any less important in the grand media mix. It does mean that blogs are dependent on old-fashioned reporting and reporters in order to have something to write about in the first place. In the other direction, established media has slowly come around to regarding blogs as feedback and sounding boards that can help them improve their process and product.

So, this state of affairs has developed into something of a symbiotic relationship. Is this where this relationship has settled? Or will it further evolve?

An indication of this may be found in South Korea. Traditional media there is viewed with extreme skeptism by both the general public and the government. In response, aided by a high percentage (70%) of broadband Internet saturation in Korean households and a strong preference for getting news online, a sprawling online news media network, composed of blog-like input from everyday people, has come into being and is becoming the first choice of Koreans looking for first-hand news.

As I said, the key difference between a blogger and a reporter is that bloggers don't get the news directly, and in fact don't blog for a living (with very few exceptions, all told). Ohmynews.com seems to be a model for putting the news reporting into bloggers' hands, changing their roles from pundits to first-hand sources.

"It's entertaining, it's heartfelt and it's caring," said Don Park, a Korean-American reader who said he visits OhmyNews daily. "It's like blogs. It has a personal side and an emotional side. It has human texture. It's not bland and objective like traditional news. There's a definite bias. It's not professional, but you get the facts…. I trust it."

Park said he'd love to see something like OhmyNews in the United States. Bored with what he sees as the button-down objectivity of U.S. media, he's sophisticated enough to read between the lines or take stories with a pinch of salt.


This is the same mindset I get from people who rely on blogs and (even worse) message boards for all their news. I seriously question how well-informed you can be from such sources. As many faults and biases the mainstream media may have, there's at least usually an effort to be thorough and comprehensive. Commando reporting like this, I don't know.

The more pertinent question is: Is blending blogging and reporting feasible?

It seems to me that being subject to editorial supervision and review is fairly repellent to most bloggers. Blogs are typically set up as unfiltered outputs of the writer's opinions and expressions; indeed, often they're created to avoid the editorial grind of traditional media. Instead of having their work scrutinized and reshaped by editors (and I can just imagine what a headache that editorial staff has in trying to fact-check with some of these citizen-reporters--professional writers are big enough pains sometimes), I'd imagine most bloggers would sooner just post their stuff on their own sites. The incentive to join in on a site like ohmynews,aside from the wide audience exposure, is getting paid. Yet, $16 per story can't be much of an incentive (I realize this might represent a bigger sum of real money in South Korea than in the U.S.; still, I don't think it's enough to live on).

The trends cited among Koreans in their 20s and 30s of relying on the Web, instead of newspapers, for news is a familiar one in America, too. To this point, however, the migration online for American news consumers has led to familiar sites, namely the online editions of broadcast and print news organizations--a stark contrast from Korea. As much as there's skepticism over traditional media in the U.S., I think there's more of an established basis of trust there than there is other political cultures (deserved or not).
WATCH EXISTENZ
death to existenz
Kickass! eXistenZ is on TV in a little over an hour. Not-so-kickass: It's on the Sci-Fi Channel, so it'll be all cut up--I mean edited--and full of commercial breaks. (I find it just about impossible to sit through a movie on commercial TV nowadays. I tried watching Charlie's Angels on ABC last night, and it barely kept my attention; I suppose the flick itself is partly responsible for that.)

eXistenZ is a fun ride. Lots of trademark Cronenberg "wetware" imagery and devices. I can think of worse ways to kill off the remainder of a Sunday afternoon.
FOLLOW THE BOUNCING BALL
In fitting tribute to Mark McCormack's life work, a recent survey found that advertisers consider sports a high-octane way to reach consumers.

Not surprising that football is the top preferred vehicle; I'm sure most of the responses had the Super Bowl in mind. Also not surprising is that my favorite sport, hockey, came in so low, at 1% of respondents (and I'm sure that represents the one Canadian guy they interviewed, ha-ha). Hockey always ranks at the bottom of the barrel for these things. I view that as a mixed blessing. I like that hockey remains something of a niche sport; I guess that's what gives it some of its appeal among its fanbase. The other edge of that sword is that niche sports tend not to stay on the air as much, or as long.

The polling universe here is obviously focused on targeting high-end demographics (naturally). That's why golf ranks so high on the scale: Despite the Tiger Woods effect, it's still an affluents' sport. And notice that autoracing, the ultimate bluecollar sport, is nowhere to be found. That's really strange, considering the point of this was supposed to be in how to reach broad audiences, instead of segmented age groups (which is usually how advertisers break these things down).
MAGAZINE ALCOHOL ADS TARGETING TEENS?
Will flipping through an issue of Sports Illustrated or Vibe compell you to drink more? According to a new study, there appears to be a correlation between increases in teenage readership and the amount of alcohol ad pages some mags get.

From this reading, I'm not at all convinced that the alcohol pushers are targeting kids. The magazines cited here mostly are concerned with youth culture, which these days applies to a broad swath of people between age 12 and 39 (and since youth is so appealing, reaches well beyond those limits). As mentioned, the lifestyle is what the advertisers are hooking onto. Teens are attracted to a title's focus, but so are the real target audience of young adults with lots of disposable income. It's no secret that the alcohol companies appreciate the groundwork being laid by their efforts--you gotta grab them young, so that when they are of age, they'll zero in on your brand. But if companies are going to be called to the carpet over residual effects, you might as well ban all types of advertising altogether.

Beyond the specifics, I see this report as another argument for creating some kind of extended, sterile children's playground. The clear implication is that these magazines should clean up their act because some kids are reading them, and meanwhile ignore the millions of adults who (presumably, age is no surefire measurement of maturity/competence) can handle the advertising and content in those mags. I really resent this "please think of the children" crap. It's an adult's world. If parents want to insulate their kids from all the nasties out there, they're entitled to (although I don't think they're doing anybody any favors with that track). But stop trying to suppress everything that's not kid-approved.

I guess this article also answers my question about who actually reads Reader's Digest--teens! Apparently a big chunk of RD's readership is in that 12-19 demo. Who woulda guessed? I always thought of that mag as an old people's hangout. What would attract the youngsters? There's little to no real pop culture content in it.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

R.I.P. MARK MCCORMACK
The sports and entertainment worlds (are they really separate and distinct?) lost a trendsetting pioneer yesterday. Mark McCormack, the head of the marketing and representation powerhouse IMG, died at age 72.

Depending on your viewpoint, McCormack represented the best, or the worst, of modern-day sports entertainment. It's hard to accurately gauge the kind of impact he and his company had on the business of sports. It's safe to say, though, that had McCormack not helped Arnold Palmer reap a bonanza of endorsement and sponsorship deals, based on Palmer's cache as one of the top golfers of his time, then the concept of athletes marketing themselves for maximum marketplace value would have been much slower in developing. The idea of using popular sports figures in moneymaking ventures off the field didn't originate with McCormack. But those deals almost always were originated and directed by team/league ownership, and they kept it on a short leash. After seeing the success of Palmer, other athletes, across different sports, saw there was gold in them thar hills.

I think it's significant that McCormack cut his teeth in pro golfing. Consider: In the sports world of the 1960s, the major sports leagues (baseball, football, hockey, basketball) had a stranglehold on their players. The last thing owners in those sports wanted was for their players to start a lot of self-promotion, which would inevitably lead to demands for increased salary. Had McCormack tried to launch his business with Micky Mantle, Don Drysdale or Gordie Howe, he never would have gotten off the ground.

But as luck would have it, he had no problem with Palmer. Golf and tennis players were much more like independent contractors (like today), and had a lot more latitude in managing their careers. There was no heavyhanded league interested in holding back player marketing--if anything, the PGA and USGA were more than happy to let the players pump themselves up. Since there are no team owners in those sports, no one was worrying about having to pay salaries to star players.

If you think about it, the birth of high-powered talent marketing really spurred the growth of bigtime sports. After other golf stars raised the visibility of golf, tennis stars followed the trend. Baseball and hockey players started to get organized. The NFL, under Pete Rozell (who undoubtedly was inspired by what was going on in the rest of the sporting world), started to get its act together. Rival leagues like the AFL, WFA, ABA and WHA fed the expanded desire of long-shut-out cities and fans to get a piece of the major league sports action, and their success led to expansion in all four major leagues. Media took notice and fueled further growth. And all along the way, the stars of the show--the athletes--gradually got their share of the proceeds (whether they're now getting too much, or not enough, of a share is a subject of constant debate).

McCormack guided IMG beyond sports into practically other entertainment circles. The client list includes a star-spangled roster of models, movie stars, broadcasters, musicians and (by the way) athletes. Some of the names to ogle at include:

Michael Schumacher, Jennifer Capriati, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe, Joe Montana, Charles Barkley, Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Fedorov, Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Sergio Garcia, Nancy Lopez, Elizabeth Hurley, Liv Tyler, Itzhak Perlman, Gisele Bundchen, Tyra Banks, Kate Moss, Scott Hamilton, Kristi Yamaguchi, Michael Johnson, Picabo Street, Jim Nantz, (FOX broadcaster) James Brown
TOP TEN MEDIA TRENDS, REVISITED
You may recall my list of the ten most intriguing media trends to watch for the rest of 2003. As I mentioned, the list was written for MediaPost, and they published it as commentary yesterday.

Friday, May 16, 2003

OFFICE DYNAMICS
It's funny how people in office buildings interact. Over the last couple of days, I've bumped into one of my co-workers frequently: In the hallway, in the bathroom, by the elevators, etc. Prior to this, I'd see this guy, maybe, once a week--and that's only because my office area is somewhat close to his. All of a sudden, I'm running into him like 4-5 times a day. Weird.

This really seemed odd because I was wondering about another co-worker who's in a separate department (Web Publishing). I used to see him frequently in the hallways, etc. for months. It just occurred to me earlier this week that I hadn't seen any sign of him in a couple of months now. I was even wondering if he might have left the company (that's the thing about working in a big building, you sometimes don't realize that someone's gone until well after the fact).

There are plenty of familiar faces I see every morning and every evening in my office building. Some people I know on a first-name basis; most of them, I don't. But we develop some sort of weird quasi-relationship, based solely on passing each other in the halls, riding up the elevator, seeing each other in the cafeteria, and so on. Such is the life of an office denizen, I guess.

As it is, there is a certain gorgeous co-worker who I can't help but notice lately, and would like to move from having a quasi-relationship to a more substantial one. What's more, call me crazy, but I could swear that, lately, she's been giving me the eye. As luck would have it, I didn't run into her the last couple of days, else I would've tried striking up a conversation (gasp!) with her. I'm crossing my fingers for next week. She's too attractive for there to be any hope of her being available, but you never know...
DISPOSABLE DVD
heading for self-destruction
When software solutions fail, it's time to target the hardware. And physical DVDs/CDs are, essentially, hardware media--it's the content on them (music, movies, programs) that's the software. To combat piracy and duplication, it makes more sense to build in a physical roadblock right onto the discs, rather than monkey around with encryption and other crackable safeguards.

This is what Disney has in mind as it gears up to release self-destructing DVDs in retail stores. These products have a limited shelf life, due to a chemical process on the disk surface that, when exposed to oxygen (i.e., as soon as the case is cracked open), causes that surface to "rust", and thus becom unplayable after a couple of days. (This technique was foretold months ago, as part of a James Bond media promotion.)

This makes a lot of sense for the industry. They can sell these discs for deep discounts; I doubt they'll cost more than 5-7 bucks. As the article points out, this targets the video-rental market, which is important because consumers are already in the habit of content rental. What's more, the added benefit of not having to return the discs should be enticing (I hate to think of how many of these spent things will start filling up garbage landfills, though).

Granted, the viewing window these things give you still provides plenty of time for someone to rip a copy off, but it will put a dent in the file-swapping world.

Will these catch on? I dunno. People still like the idea of "owning" their media. For instance, looking at Disney's core audience, think of how many families buy childrens' videos for the purposes of playing the things hundreds of times for the little ragamuffins. Having to buy a fresh copy over and over again would get old pretty quick (and in fact, would probably spur people who never considered ripping a disc to do just that, for personal use). Also, consider that video-on-demand does the same thing but makes it even easier by never having to go to a store and deal with a physical disc; this destructible media could just take the average consumer one step closer to adopting VOD.

Ultimately, I don't see this format being a permanent or long-term solution; digital files will become the norm. But it'll be interesting to see what becomes of this.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

DON CHERRY ON YOUR XBOX AND PS2
cherry, on top
The Electronic Entertainment Expo is in full swing, so you just know there's going to be lots of videogame news floating from it. The fun part is where you find it.

Like at Canada's The Sports Network, for instance. They present the frightening concept of outspoken and flamboyant hockey commentator Don Cherry coming at you in digital form on the next hockey videogame you play.

You'd better believe I'd be hitting the mute button on that sucker.

For those that don't know, Cherry is a curmudgeony old cuss who's mouth is matched only by his bizarre wardrobe tastes. (The suit he's wearing in the above photo is probably among the more conservative things in his closet.) Once a player and coach in the NHL, he's now largely just a talking head, albiet a loud one. More or less like Canada's version of Howard Cosell, or, to come up with a contemporary example, Chris Berman. You pretty much either love him or hate him, with no middle ground.

Old-school Don Cherry in a videogame. What's next, a game based on the classic bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron?? Actually, hold onto your hats, because according to Arnold Schwarzenegger, that could be the case.
EARTHSHADOW
eclipsed
If you're in North America, and you're planning on sitting indoors the rest of tonight, watching TV or screwing around on the Web--don't. You'll miss out on a relatively rare lunar eclipse, starting a little after 10PM EST. Of course, if you absolutely can't catch it tonight, you can always wait for the next one, coming this November. (The one after that, for North America, won't come around for several years.)

Hopefully, the weather is cooperating more for you than it is for me. It's a nice enough night, but pretty substantial cloud cover. I can't see the moon at all right now. Dammit! It's always something...

Update: All was well. The clouds pretty much cleared up, and I had a peach of a view from my living room window. I saw the start of the eclipse all the way through to totality. I didn't stay up all night to see the complete reemergence, but I saw enough of that to satisfy me. Only thing: There was no (or perhaps only very slight) color change. Bummer. That depends largely on the air quality in your particular area; I guess the air here isn't funky enough.
KENNEDY'S "LEWINSKY"
Call it a retroactive scandal, 40 years later. Responding to general piqued interest over the revelation that John F. Kennedy had an Clintonesque affair with an intern, Marion "Mimi" Fahnestock has stepped forward to reveal that she was that boinked intern.

Incidentally, this whole thing started with the release of a Kennedy biography, An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963", by Robert Dallek. The focus of that book is on JFK's numerous health problems (he was given last rites three times before he was 40 years old, well before his assassination in 1963). All I can say is, considering all the women he was fucking, he couldn't have been that sick.

Anyway, back to "the Mimi" (as she calls herself): I find it curious that she decided to come out public with this at all, considering in the very next breath she says she doesn't want to be bothered about it after this point. That's a crock. If she didn't want any intrusion of her privacy, she wouldn't have talked to the media at all. It would've been easy enough to tell just her family and leave it at that, but she didn't. Her daughters weren't the ones who called the papers and networks, she did. The notion that she guards her private life in this matter so closely, while at the same time making a grab for some minor glory as the original Lewinsky, is just phony. (By the way, while she didn't want the New York Daily News to take her photo, she seemed to have no problem with CNN taking it.)

Whether she wants repercussions from this or not (and she does), she'll get them. For one, she can probably kiss her job at her church goodbye. Regardless of the church's moral view on this (and it's not like Presbyterians are all that tolerant, even on a past-tense sin like this), they'll undoubtedly get plenty of unwanted attention off this, and won't put up with it for long. Secondly, apparently all her neighbors know now; so much for privacy. And who knows how many Kennedy fanatics are going to start hounding her now? Given all this, I find it extremely hard to believe that she wasn't aware that her opening her mouth would bring about some drastic changes in her life. In fact, I'm betting she's going to welcome it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

PUNISHER IN TAMPA
first stop: ybor
You could have knocked me over with a feather when I read this. The Punisher, another in a line of Marvel Comics characters slated for major motion picture treatment (to be released, as of the current schedule, next year), will be set and shot in Tampa, Florida.

Why do I care? I live in St. Petersburg, Florida--right across the Bay from Tampa. As the article intimates, there's not a whole lot of extensive movie production in this area. So it's something notable.

Like I say, I was floored by this news. I mean, of all places for a Punisher movie--Tampa?? Even though the Punisher's storyline has changed a bit over the decades, a central core has been that it's taken place in the gritty urban jungle of New York. Tampa does not resemble New York--not even a little bit. Don't get me wrong, my adopted home area has it's own charms, and a little bit of urban panache to it, but it's not the place I'd pick for urban drama. Heck, I'd take Miami over Tampa for that.

The hook here, of course, is that the co-writer of the script lives in the area (St. Pete Beach). Talk about hometown dedication!

I was never a big fan of the Punisher character, and couldn't really understand why his popularity mushroomed so much starting in the mid-80s. He seemed way too one-dimensional for me. Given this, I can't say I'm looking forward to the movie. In light of this news, I might--only might--be tempted to catch it just to see how the locales show up on screen.

And hey, at least this new production will supplant that terrible Dolph Lundgren version.

Update: John Travolta has signed on to play the villian. Yikes! I hope there won't be any undue Scientological overtones as a result. The world doesn't need another Battlefield Earth.
VEGAS TRIES TO RECLAIM ITS ROOTS
For those of you who think that Las Vegas has gone too far off the deep end to become Middle America/family friendly, take heart. Some people in Sin City are doing their part to reinject a sleazy image into the desert town.

Is there something screwed up in the world when Las Vegas, formerly the sleaze capital of the U.S., has to reestablish itself as a grownup's playground? It's as bad as what Times Square in NYC has become.
PRISON SLOP TO GET WORSE
Yet another way to scare kids straight: The prospect of eating nothing but hotdogs in the big house. (Hotdogs... oh, never mind...) Budget cuts across the country are forcing states to improvise when feeding the incarcerated.

I hear that vitaminized orange drink can be fermented into a helluva rotgut...

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

BANKING ON "R"
restrict this
I remember, as a little kid, how deliciously appealing R-rated movies were. They were officially off-limits for the jazillion years it would take me to reach age 17, and so I connived for ways to see them every chance I got.

More recently, the R-rating has been seen as something of an albatross around the movies industry's neck. Slapping a movie with that rating automatically limits (or Restricts) the potential audience for that movie, as kids are such a huge moviegoing audience. At the same time, it's not so much of a taboo label as to completely sink a movie (NC-17 and the long-ago abandoned X are the ratings that studios can't work with at all, practically).

For whatever reasons, studios are putting their money where the R is this summer, as they're anticipating plenty of R-rated blockbusters.

Are they playing with fire? It's hard to believe that the Matrix sequels could fizzle over a rating label, but consider: One of the reasons cited for The Real Cancun bombing was that the R-rating it earned shut out all the 12-16 year-olds who would've been the core audience; and Cancun was anticipated to be a huuuuge hit. Of course, the other reason for the flop was perceived to be the easy availability of similar reality fare, and I guess you can't say that about the Matrix crap.

I love this bit:

Dan Fellman, president theatrical distribution for Warner Bros., predicts "The Matrix Reloaded" will set box office records for an R-rated film, but he would have liked to have seen it be given a PG-13 rating. He's not given up hope yet that "The Matrix Revolutions" will be rated PG-13, although he vows there won't be cuts made in the third movie to win that rating.


My ass, he vows that. If "Reloaded" comes up even a little bit short of the sky-high projections they've got, they'll hack "Revolutions" to bits if they have to to get it down to PG-13. At that point, it's all about simply maximizing the number of bodies willing to buy a ticket.