Quick news roundup

In between playing with TiVo and not having my Powerbook around, I’ve not paid much attention to the news the last few days. So, having just gotten to reading the paper, let me point out a few interesting tidbits:

Media Consolidation
There’s in interesting article in today’s Washington Post detailing a centralized news operation by media conglomerate Sinclair. The central studio provides news and weather for far flung stations. Viewers don’t even realize that their weather man is off in Maryland:

“We look to newspapers and TV stations as the most basic sources of information about a community,” says Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a longtime Washington communications lawyer. “You’re not going to find out who’s running for mayor or city council from the cable networks or even the Internet. And they [Sinclair executives] are degrading that localism.”

Schwartzman acknowledges that he hasn’t seen a News Central broadcast. But he says it’s an outgrowth of growing corporate ownership of the news media: “This is what happens when you have local media controlled by national companies that don’t have any roots in the community. Sinclair not only isn’t local, it’s supplanting the people who are.”

Says Deborah Potter, the executive director of Newslab, a Washington nonprofit that trains TV journalists, “When you eliminate the local forecaster for someone on tape who’s coming in on computer, you’re eliminating community values — the immediacy and local connection. This is a recipe, if not for disaster, than for leaving viewers with a very misleading impression. I think they’re eventually going to figure it out.”

… With limited reporting resources of its own, News Central mostly repackages national and international footage from outside news sources like the Associated Press and CNN. When it ventures into the field to do its own reporting, the field tends to be close to Hunt Valley. A spokesman for the Baltimore chapter of the ACLU, for example, was a key interview for a recent story about abortion. DeFeo says News Central will expand its reach by opening a Washington bureau within a few weeks.

On the other hand, every News Central broadcast features commentary, a species virtually extinct on local TV news these days. They all include “The Point,” a one-minute editorial by Mark Hyman (who, though viewers may be unaware, also happens to be Sinclair’s chief corporate spokesman). Although David Smith says Hyman’s perspective is one of “common sense,” most of Hyman’s “points” seem to be the conservative kind — taxes are too high, government is too big, etc. DeFeo, News Central’s top executive, say he intends to put alternative opinions on the air as well.

There’s also an editorial about media consolidation.

Oh, was there an alert?
Evidently, the terror alert was lowered yesterday back to yellow. This continued up and down action really shows the folly of such a system – the short attention span of Americans. That’s a knife that cuts both ways: that short attention span is what is keeping Bush’s popularity ratings high because people have already forgotten his ridiculous and disproven claims for war with Iraq, his previous tax cut that failed to stimulate the economy, his ineptitude of… well, never mind. All that is past. We’ve forgotten. As for the orange alert, did anyone even realize we were under one?

A Baseball Boondoggle
A high-powered consortium of developers and rich idiots is pushing a proposal to build a baseball stadium here in Arlington, Virginia, the smallest jurisdiction in the area. There’s simply no place to put one, and the traffic would be of nightmarish proportions. But dammit, they want baseball. Two things: we haven’t had baseball in my lifetime and I think it’s time they just moved on with their lives. We have football, basketball, hockey, soccer… just deal with it.
Second, this is not Field of Dreams. Just because you tear down buildings and put a huge, expensive ball park in a small neighborhood, they do not come.

There’s always something to be annoyed about when I read the paper. I think I’ll return to the living room and bask in the blue glow of TiVo’s suggestions. TiVo knows how to make me relax. TiVo is my one true friend. TiVo loves me. Mmmm, TiVo…

Media Monkeying

Here’s another example of why media outlets suck. WJLA (ABC) here in Washington DC has demanded that their signal be removed from the Dish Network satellite service. I don’t know the reasoning behind this, but I can only assume that they want more money or carriage of another one of their channels. (Albritton Communications, the owner of WJLA, also owns a cable channel here, NewsChannel 8. Albritton is known as a union-busting, harsh management corporation. They recently consolidated their two stations and laid off a huge number of employees. The Albrittons also own Riggs Bank.)
In the end, it doesn’t matter to me – Dish will always win over WJLA in my house. Why? WJLA has never once responded to a single phone call or e-mail I’ve sent in response to their poor HDTV station. For years, WJLA broadcast a standard digital signal without passing through an HD picture. Then, when they moved last year to a new facility they began sending HD. Sometimes. More often than not, they simply forgot to flip the switch. I’d be frustrated watching a little “In HDTV” caption, when the show wasn’t HD. So, I’d switch to WMAR in Baltimore – who not only send a full high definition picture, but accompany it with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Even Disney-owned ABC has complained – it didn’t help that the ABC affiliate in Washington didn’t transmit HDTV when Disney was working in Congress to shape digital television. So, my attitude toward losing WJLA on satellite is… “eh.”
Dish Network has suffered some growing pains in the customer service department in recent years. The company that began as an audacious start up about 9 years ago or so is now so large that it’s attempted to buy DirectTV. But they use their clout to fight for equitable treatment of consumers in the face of powerful cable monopolies with Congress and the FCC in their pockets. I enjoy a David vs. Goliath fight. Dish Network was the instigator of the Satellite Home Viewer Act, which allows satellite providers to retransmit local stations, putting them on par with cable companies. In fact, Dish was transmitting locals long before it was legal!
In the midst of this dispute with WJLA, Dish Network puts it’s CEO on the air, explaining the Dish position and offering DC subscribers a credit on their bills for the duration of the dispute – for the cost of all the local stations. That’s a class act. And an attention to detail that has kept me a Dish subscriber for 9 years.
Regardless, a lot of people will find this disruptive and annoying. Can you imagine what will happen when the FCC eliminates ownership rules? A single company like Fox could own nearly all the stations in your home town. Then they could strong-arm the cable and satellite companies into carrying other expensive networks as a prerequisite for carrying the locals.
[In another development, I just discovered that some states are taxing satellite TV services, even though satellite TV doesn’t in any way use state or local resources or infrastructure – the satellite is in orbit. See www.stopsatellitetax.com.]
[Update: I’m now being told that even cable subscribers in the Washington area are without WJLA. I can only assume that Albritton is making some pretty ridiculous demands.]
[Update 2: I just received a canned response to my e-mail to WJLA. It’s laughable. Read it in the extended entry.]
[Update 3: I know that it’s rather stupid to be harping on this, especially since I never really watch WJLA anyway, but… it annoys me. Evidently Albritton has removed all their stations from Dish Network. Read more at DBSTalk.com.]

This is the response I received from WJLA informing them that their tactics are not appreciated:

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Date: Sat May 31, 2003 6:40:43 PM US/Eastern

All of us in the WJLA family are disappointed that EchoStar has chosen to take WJLA off its DISH programming line-up. In light of our commitment to local viewers in the Washington, DC area, we have worked hard to reach an agreement with EchoStar for the carriage of WJLA on the DISH.

Finally, after one year of long and complex negotiations, we reached an agreement with EchoStar on Friday and executed our portion of a long-term agreement.

Unfortunately, EchoStar has now decided that it no longer wants to accept that agreement. As a result, EchoStar dropped WJLA.

This means that EchoStar?s local customers can no longer watch WJLA?s ABC news, entertainment and sports programming, as well as WJLA?s local news, weather, and emergency programming.

EchoStar?s last minute decision apparently was based on its belief that Washington, DC?s viewers should watch ABC network and our station?s other programming as broadcast from television stations located in New York or Los Angeles rather than Washington, DC. We believe, however, that EchoStar should carry the Washington, DC ABC affiliate with WJLA?s news, programming, and local sponsors.

From the very beginning, WJLA has been committed to the concept of localism in all our efforts ? and in all of our discussions with EchoStar. We regret that EchoStar does not share this commitment, and we are disappointed that its last-minute decision impacts DISH subscribers.

We remain hopeful that EchoStar will re-evaluate its commitment to Washington, DC and restore WJLA?s programming for its customers. We therefore will continue our year-long efforts at negotiating in good faith with EchoStar, despite its anti-consumer tactics. WJLA will continue to be available for free over-the-air, through local cable systems, and through DirecTV at 1-888-238-7177.

Love the spin on this – they always blame it on the carrier – Dish in this instance – by making it sound like Dish made the decision to pull their programming. Ridiculous. I also love the way they put in a plug and phone number for DirecTV… It’s strange. People in Fairfax told me today that they didn’t have WJLA on cable, either. I wonder…

A More Detailed Look at Hollywood

Pity poor pock-marked Cameron Diaz and other stars as they look into the high definition future – and an unflattering mirror.
The arrival and beginning of mass acceptance of high definition television is worrying make up artists because of the incredibly clear and detailed picture, which shows each and every flaw on the faces of Hollywood. From Television Week:

People sometimes say that an actor looks better-or worse-on TV than in person. Well, there’s a reason for that. Heavy makeup-combined with the imprecise picture of an analog TV channel-can make an average-looking person look attractive.

However, HDTV’s ultra-realistic picture is the great equalizer. Someone like Catherine Zeta-Jones, who has naturally beautiful skin and hair, looks even better on HDTV while Diaz suffers in comparison. Younger actors look more vibrant while older actors, such as Becker’s Ted Danson, look their age or worse. Sorry, Ted.

In the early days of HDTV, makeup artists piled on the goo, thinking it would cover everything from wrinkles to blemishes. But heavy makeup is noticeable on HDTV, which can detract from a show’s realism.

The industry has recently developed a special makeup technique called “airbrushing.” Similar to the gloss-over done in glamour stills, airbrushing is intended to soften facial imperfections. The technique is not perfect, although it has been used well on the HD broadcast of NBC’s The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.

However, the makeup industry will continue its search. Because as Blanche DuBois begged to stay away from the light in A Streetcar Named Desire, the stars of tomorrow may beg to stay away from HDTV.

Thanks for the Memory

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how Bob Hope (who turns 100 today) came to be associated so firmly with the song “Thanks for the Memory” – and in turn, the song took on a meaning unlike it had when it started out.
We all associate the song with feelings of warmth and remembrance, a way of saying goodbye. Yes, that’s part of the song’s focus – but did you ever listen to the actual, original recording of it with Bob Hope and Shirley Ross? Well, here’s your chance. Listen carefully to the song, and you’ll discover that it’s actually a bittersweet story of a couple who are splitting up, an ode to a failed love.
[Listen to “Thanks for the Memory”]

Powerless

My Powerbook is about to be wrapped carefully in plastic and dispatched in an Airborne Express box to the mothership. If I had a pet name for my laptop, like Betsy, I’d be saying “Oh, how I will miss Betsy. How will I ever get along without her?”
In fact, Apple has a pretty good track record for repair speed – or so I’ve heard – so I hope to have it back early next week, with a pristine new case.
In case you missed the entry on Tuesday, I stopped by the Apple store to complain about the constant flaking of the paint on the “Titanium” Powerbook. It started soon after I bought it and has just gotten worse and worse, and now the front of the laptop looks terrible:

badpaint.jpg

But I was assured by the Apple Genius that it was covered under warranty. When I spoke to the AppleCare guys via phone, they were a little more circumspect about it and indicated that they would take a look at it – if it was truly bad paint, they’d put a new casing on it. But they also made it seem as if they were not going to do it if it was due to me, oh, scraping it on the sidewalk or something.
It’s very telling that Apple’s new laptops are cased in anodized aluminum with no paint at all. I guess Apple’s policy is to quietly fix the problem in future models, accomodate those who complain the loudest, but never acknowledge that there was a problem in the first place.
I’m used to that. As long as I get the paint fixed on what was once a very stylish computer.

Just as I Said: A Bad Day

Just As I Said audio entry. Click to listen.

An audio entry on being an accidental taker of a life, today on the way home.
(Transcript in the extended entry.)

At first, it was a blur of black that just appeared on the left hand side of my car. Less than a second later, it was the horrifying realization that I had hit it. It was a bird. I’m a little emotional about it, and I think a lot of people would immediately say, “well, it was just a bird.” That doesn’t work with me. To me, it’s an actual living, breathing creature. At least, it was.
I immediately felt a seizing in my chest and started crying, and as I drove, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a shape on the road, knowing that I had put it there. And then I saw another car run over it. And I was filled with thoughts about, “did it suffer?” “What had I done?” “How quickly did it die?”
I don’t like this feeling of having taken a life. However accidental.
I’m a very compulsive driver. I drive very safely. I generally drive around the speed limit, I follow all the rules of the road compulsively; and I also stop whenever I see a squirrel running across the street, or slow down when a bird seems to be flying too low. This one just dove down in front of the car, and there was nothing I could do.
It doesn’t stop me from feeling really, really horrible.

For May 28, this is Just as I Said.

Bachelor Number 2: Are you straight?

I find “reality shows” such as The Bachelor and Married By America to be incredibly stupid, insipid, and annoying.
So, will I be watching the new gay “reality” dating show, Boy Meets Boy on Bravo? Maybe, just to live vicariously through the dating experiences of the leading man. From Lisa de Moraes in the Post:

Imagine a TV dating show in which a gay guy has the hots for another gay guy, only the producers have fooled him and it turns out the other guy is straight.

No, it’s not the never-aired episode of “The Jenny Jones Show,” it’s “Boy Meets Boy,” a dating reality series coming to Bravo cable network this summer.

The six-episode series, shot over eight days in Palm Springs, Calif., features a gay man who thinks he’s getting the chance to pick a mate from among 15 gay contestants. Only when he has winnowed the pool considerably does he learn that some of the guys are heterosexual.

… Gay contestants on the show, which has already been shot, were all cast under the pretense of it being a gay dating series. Straight contestants were told that it was a reality game show and that they would be given more information later.

The producers sought hetero men who were “interested in exploring the same issues we were,” Ross said, including “pushing the boundaries of what is normally considered straight and gay, to tear down stereotypes and blur the lines of commonly held beliefs.” They ended up casting straight men with important people in their lives — a relative, a college roommate, etc. — who happened to be gay, Ross said. They were guys who were “willing to take this challenge and do it on television but who also wanted to walk a mile in a gay man’s shoes.

“The overarching goal of the series is to examine what it is like in a gay world where the straight guys are the ones in the closet,” said Ross, who also produced the well-received documentary series “Gay Wedding” that ran on Bravo last summer.

… Adding the straight guys to the dating pool, Ross speculated, will bring straight viewers to a show that might otherwise have attracted only a gay audience. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Among those additional viewers are sure to be members of the Traditional Values Coalition, whose executive director was already alerting its 43,000 member churches about the series so that they could protest it, the Associated Press reported.

“What’s next,” Andrea Lafferty asked, ” ‘Boy Meets Sheep’?”
If it weren’t for the fact that the “Traditional Values Coalition” was spouting hateful rhetoric because this show includes gay people, I’d laugh at that quote – don’t worry, Fox will be producing that show soon enough.

Bury the bad news

Just in case you weren’t aware:

Without comment or ceremony, President Bush yesterday signed a bill allowing a record $984 billion increase in the amount the federal government can borrow, to a record $7.4 trillion. The increased federal borrowing will enable the government to pay for the $350 billion economic stimulus package that the GOP-led Congress passed last week at Bush’s behest.

Bush will hold a signing ceremony at the White House today to celebrate the passage of that legislation, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. The package includes $330 billion in tax cuts and $20 billion in aid for states.

Passage of the bill raising the debt ceiling came on Friday, only hours after the tax cut bill was approved. Democrats had sought to spotlight the IOUs that have resumed piling up under Bush. But Republicans maneuvered to get the debt-ceiling measure passed quickly, and with little fanfare. [Washington Post]
So, in his inimitable style, Bush has secretively signed legislation to allow us to be in record debt; then he’ll follow it with a media hoopla to sign the bill that puts us into record debt. This debt legislation points out a very important fact: we don’t have the money for this tax cut, we’re going to borrow it.
Even this tiny article was buried in the “Washington in Brief” column.

Just funny

This is just amusing, via Fark: Google turns up third on it’s own search engine when searching for search engines.

A good day

So far, so good.
First, John called to tell me that our 48 Hour Film, which did not win a “best of screening” honor, has nevertheless been judged a winner! It’ll be awarded something tonight, but I’ll be at a condo board meeting so I’ll miss it.
Then, I stopped at the Apple store to complain about the bubbling, flaky paint that is coming off of my Powerbook. And if there’s anything better than a Mac Genius, it’s a gorgeous Mac Genius. I waited for Aubrey to help me for about half an hour, but it was worth it because I just got to sit there and look at him. He was truly, stupendously hot, a total fantasy man — dark, handsome, muscular, smart, and a Mac guy. Woof.
To make things even better, he informed me that the paint problem was covered under warranty, so I will be contacting Apple in the next day or so to get the Powerbook fixed. I can only assume that they put a new casing on it. The only bad thing about this is that I will be without my laptop for a while, and I’m not sure I can handle it!
They had iPod remotes on sale for $19 and a 6-port Firewire hub for $40, so another impulse purchase made me feel good, too. And gave me an excuse to hang around the store a little while longer and catch another glimpse.
Speaking of hot guys, when I got home my TiVo had recorded a few things for me on a whim – “suggestions.” Among them was an episode of The Nanny, where Maggie moves in with a hot underwear model. Yum. In only one day, TiVo knows me very well. ::grin::

[Update 9pm: WE WON! An embarrassment of riches – our film won three awards! Best Screenplay, Best Music, and, one that I take very personally, Best Graphics! I’m astounded and thrilled — I thought that we were completely out of the running after losing in the audience voting, but this time it was the results of judges, not a biased audience. Woo hoo!!!!]

Another “oh, please” moment

USA Today reports that now there are suspicions that the American Idol voting was not completely fair. (My initial reaction to that – who cares? My second reaction – recent history shows that voting is not fair anyway.)
The load on the voting telephone systems was too much to bear, and people couldn’t get through. Duh.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s this ridiculous, asinine quote:

“My daughter dialed more than a hundred times and couldn’t get through,” says Cynthia McGinnes of Chestertown, Md. “This is a show we all watch as a family, and I guarantee you we will never watch again. My daughter was in tears.”

I am aghast at this. Where to begin? Did they actually count how many times she dialed? Wouldn’t a normal person have given up after, say, 10? She was in TEARS? Let’s see. Dialed more than a hundred times, in tears ’cause she couldn’t get through, and that’s enough to make them stop watching… seems like someone’s a little too invested in a TV show.

Let’s just be friends

It’s somewhat telling that in two posts on his blog today, my ex referred to me as his “friend,” while I generally refer to him as “my ex.”
So, one of us has moved on, and one of us hasn’t. I leave it to you to figure out which is which.