Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Joss Whedon is the mastermind behind some great television: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly. He has an unmatched talent for creating characters who are complex and fascinating, and for putting them into situations that you want to watch. His dialogue is fast, witty and frequently sparkling. Best of all, Joss knows how to write strong, believable women.

But he has a difficult relationship with the folks who run the studios that make the shows. And so he's not often on television these days. (Although he has a new show on FOX mid-season, Dollhouse, starring Buffy/Angel actress Eliza Dushku, that looks promising.)

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was a solution. It's a three-act "event" (his words) about the title character's struggle to beat his nemesis, Captain Hammer, and get the girl. This was produced and directed for the web and it's being shown (right now) only on the website! Whedon, who wrote and directed and wrote the songs -- oh, wait. Did I mention it's a musical? Yes, along the lines of the famous Buffy musical episode Once More With Feeling.

Neil Patrick Harris plays Dr. Horrible somewhat in the mode of his characters from Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle and How I Met Your Mother. People don't always know that Harris has done Broadway (He played The MC in Cabaret!) and that he has a fine singing voice.

Nathan Fillion (Captain Mal Reynolds of the lost and lamented Firefly.) is appropriately heroic and sings well. He brings a goofy edge to Captain Hammer, and a bit of preening and dimness and vainglory that make his character more complex than you'd expect. Felicia Day (the dark-haired girl from the Cheetos laundromat commercial, who also stars in, writes and produces the web series The Guild
) is all sweetness and spunk as the heroine. She needs to become a big star Right Now.

Dr. Horrible's songs aren't as memorable as I might like, a problem that Once More... had, at least for me. They all move at about the same pace and have similar show-tunish melodic constructions. Like other writers, when he makes songs he tends to want to cram too many words into his work, which makes for crowded songs. There also seems to be a Sondheim-ish tendency as well, which doesn't always fit.

That said, Captain Hammer's speech/song in the third act, "Everyone's a Hero (In Their Own Way)" is pretty funny, mostly sold by Fillion's wonderfully hammy performance. And Dr. Horrible's final song is sorrowful and foreboding in appropirate ways.

But the last act feels rushed toward the end, and muddled. I can't say much without spoiling what shouldn't be spoiled, but too much happens in the space of a few minutes. After, my first thought was "Ooooh, I see." and to start thinking of how it could have been done a little differently. Not a good sign. Felicia's final line should have had way more impact than it did -- it is the pivot on which so much hangs -- but was almost lost in the sound mix!

But still, very funny, especially for comic fans and Whedonites, and recommended! Hurry, though. My understanding is that the free streaming will stop soon.

SUNDAY UPDATE: I've since watched Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog a couple more times and wanted to post some more thoughts. Nothing spoilery. I'll likely post again in a few more days with a deeper discussion, though.

Remember, see it soon! It's not going to be a free webcast much longer.

Bad Horse is the name of the head of the Evil League of Evil, which Dr. Horrible would love to join. Whenever Bad Horse sends a message to Dr. Horrible, its contents are told to the audience via a trio of men in Western outfits, a kind of Greek chorus, singing it. Great joke, too, in that the "Thoroughbred of Sin" talks about making someone his "mare."

I also like that the other villains in the ELE have names like Dead Bowie and The Fake Thomas Jefferson. If you read the final credits, you'll see that a lot of the smaller roles, like the ELE, are filled by many former Buffy/Angel writers like Drew Goddard, David Fury and Marti Noxon. Nice touch.

Another nice touch is the warning on the container Dr. Horrible is trying to steal: Do Not Bounce. Not drop, bounce. It jars you in the pleasant way. Parts of the show are presented as a video blog (hence the title) and a later reminder that your enemies can watch/read your blog as easily as your intended audience is funny and smart.

I may have seemed a bit harsh on the songs in the original post. It's not that they're bad -- not at all. But there's a zip or sparkle or snap that's missing that would raise them into memorability. I do find myself still humming the opening and closing melody, a sort of staccato arpeggio and after a few viewings I can hum along with the songs while they're being sung. But later ... well, hard to remember them.

And too often, witty lyrics get lost in the rush of words that I mentioned before. Dr. Horrible sings of Bad Horse and the Evil League of Evil, mentioning his application packet. But in the flow a great line about a "letter of condemnation from the vice-mayor" is almost lost. Funny stuff is too-often lost this way in Dr. Horrible.

But still, I just feel that in other hands and other performances a couple of the songs might be wonderful. "So They Say" just begs for a bouncier beat. The crunchy guitars of "Brand New Day" are gone before they really get riffing. "On The Rise" has a nice paired melody -- standard showtune stuff -- that doesn't quite soar; almost, not quite. It's frustrating as you can feel how close the songs are to something arresting.

It's really noticeable on repeated viewings how variable the sound mix can be. Some of the quieter moments could use a bumping up of the volume so that quiet line deliveries (and there are at least two important ones) don't get muddled. As I said before, Penny's last line must be heard clearly for the point to be driven home; if you don't quite catch it, then the drama is leached out.

One last observation before I go. This one does get close to a spoiler, though not entirely one. Watch Dr. Horrible's color scheme. His outfit in most of the show is white: gloves, lab coat and boots. He wears heavy-duty goggles on his head through the entire thing. Watch for the change of color; note the new colors; and watch for when he finally puts the goggles over his eyes.

I usually hate "playing up" things in movies -- it's why I dislike Spielberg so much. He just can't let anything not be clearly seen and understood by an audience. Makes you feel like you're stupid and must be led around. LOOK here! FEEL that! CRY now! LOOK over there now! But I think a little more care with the final scenes, some different editing or pacing, or camera angles, might make what those scenes are telling us pop out a bit more and really wallop the audience with the enormity of what's happened. Same with the movie's last shot.

I'll discuss this in serious detail in a few more days. For now, GO! SEE this! ENJOY!

SUNDAY NIGHT UPDATE: Thanks to a visitor, I have some lyrics and guitar tabs to share.

I also see search engines bringing folks in. Welcome! Please note that while I have mixed but generally positive feelings on Dr. Horrible, I'm a solid fan of Buffy, Angel and the glorious Firefly. Just to be clear.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


I just updated myself on Facebook and suddenly got 7 invites. Sheesh. Two were from Argentinian guys; why, I don't know. And one was from a woman in Australia. She looks rather cute but again, I don't know her so down the chute with her invite. Is this kind of blind inviting the norm at Facebook? What's the motivation?

If you are going to invite me, please make sure to identify yourself in some way if you think there's a chance I might not know or remember you. And there's a good chance I might not! My brain is like a Teflon-covered sieve these days. It's part of the reason I backed off blogging for a while. If I can't be sure of my facts, then my arguments are suspect, too, and then what's the point?

Don't expect me to keep up with the Facebook or do social networking or whatever through it. I think I've found the outer edges of my ability to adapt to a changing world and the e-social networking world is just past it. So are Flickr and Twitter. Too much personal information, all the time. Don't like it; don't want it.

I'm a huge loner (not an agoraphobe, mind you) and really don't care to socialise with you via these social networks. I was a loner pre-Internet and am still one today. Unless it's email or comments here. Those I love. They give you some immediacy but still leave room for consideration in response.

On the gripping hand, there's the cell phone. HATE THEM! I finally had to break down last Fall and get one. Can't stand it. For some reason, you can't lock the outside controls on mine and so I'm forever turning off the ringer or turning down the volume. I have to remember to bring it from my bedside at night to the desk or else it will stay in the bedroom until I remember to retrieve it. And I miss calls as a result. Grrr. Plus, now people know my phone is with me, so I am always reachable. Not answering cell calls is always seen as rude, instead of expecting an answer to whatever call is being made at whatever moment being seen as rude.

And DO NOT look for me to get a MySpace page. Jeez, but those are some godawful places. If you subscribe as I do to Ann Landers' Three Maxims for Conversation (Intelligent people discuss ideas and concepts. Average people discuss current events. Ignorant people discuss each other.) then it's hard to shake the belief that MySpace is a haven for the third kind of people.
Wire & Love

Tooling around the intertubes today and found some music to share.

First, one of my favorite bands from the late Seventies and Eighties: Wire! The first video is a live performance of Map Ref. 41°N 93°W, a favorite. You can read more about Wire and their music here; the link is about the production of their best album by far, 154. (Note: The live performance here is frakked up. The second guitar is almost completely mixed out. But it gives you the idea of the song.) It's well worth seeking out the original.

I couldn't find a real "video" of the song Reuters but this is close. It's actually about five songs, so you don't necessarily have to listen to them all. Reuters is up first. Listen to the lyrics!

The band took a hiatus of a couple of years then came back with a retooled sound. They were more jam-based, with smoother electronic textures. Still kicked all kinds of ass. This is Ahead:

And this is from the Late Show! A performance of Drill with a game Suzanne Somers introducing:

And now for something completely different -- Blondie in a live performance of Donna Summer's I Feel Love! This song is one of the greatest songs ever recorded, period. In my all-time Top Ten with a lock. The contrast between the warm and oh-so human voice singing about the most ineffable human emotion of all and the unwavering, steady beat of the machines is what makes it awesome. To today's ears? Maybe not so much, but it was revolutionary in the early Seventies. A real revelation.

This version is really good, though the guitars that rock it up change the song's underlying tension. By the way, there is supposedly a version of this where Robert Fripp and his Frippertronics guitar sit in with Blondie. If you know where to find it, I will trade appendages to get hold of it.

[Digression: Have you ever heard the two versions of Republika's Ready To Go? The original was very rave-y sounding, built on the rhythm and the electronics. But when it was released in America, the band remixed it so that the electronics were pushed to the back and the guitars were brought to the front. I'm as much a guitar-lover as anyone, but I'm endlessly amused by decisions like this. The assumptions about American listening tastes is illustrative, I think.]

And, finally, the Blue Man Group tackle the same song. The BMG's schtick sorta fits the song's theme but the full-on rock band treatment subsumes it. Not to say it's not a really kick-ass version, with the multiple guitars and all that percussion! Plus Venus Hum's Annette Strean (a Nashvillain, it turns out) is clearly having too much fun singing it.

Nerdy rock chicks. Mmmmmmmm....

But wait! One last video, a live performance by Blondie of one of their very best songs from their early years, Picture This. "If you could only oo-oh-whoa ... picture this...." Pop perfection.

OK, that's it. I hope you've got a tune stuck in your head now.

A couple of previous music posts here and here.

The new Batman movie opens tonight and expectations are astronomical for this one:
Studio sources tell me that record-breaking advance ticket sales for Warner Bros' Batman: The Dark Knight "continue to grow at a pace unlike any other film in history". Even the number of locations in North America where the comic book caper will be playing -- 4,366 -- is an Industry record. There are also approximately 3,000 theaters that will start screening the actioner at 12:01AM Friday. Meanwhile, every IMAX show in New York City this weekend is sold out. By all accounts this should be Hollywood's best-ever 3-day overall North American weekend at the box office: the number to beat is last year's $151+ million....

But the WB insiders point to all the increased competition at the megaplex now as opposed to the beginning of May. Whereas my box office gurus are predicting domestic gross as high as $130M for the wildly anticipated Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale film because of all those record-breaking early ticket sales at North American runs, including IMAX. That would put it 3rd in terms of all-time opening 3-day weekends -- behind Spider-Man 3 ($151.1M on May 4-6, 2007)and Pirates Of The Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest ($131.6M on July 7, 2006).

It will be huge. I'll go see it, but I'll likely wait a week or so for the crowds to die down.

This will be the first movie I've gone to since 300. I just don't go to theaters any more. Overpriced, for one. I only go to afternoon matinees, so I can avoid the obnoxious masses. Plus, most movies just don't appeal any more.

I used to rent a lot of DVDs but I stopped that too. Haven't rented one in almost a year, I think. Even with the killer selection at Midtown Videos on Union, right around the corner, I'm just not interested.

I read Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey many years ago. Vogler was a reader of movie scripts for a Hollywood studio and he developed a framework that he felt all scripts should follow if they wanted to be successful. It was based on the Joseph Campbell book Hero With a Thousand Faces, which I've also read, and the theories of Carl Jung. It's basically "The Hero's Journey" distilled.

Every Hollywood movie seems to have adopted his formula and ever since every movie seems formulaic and predictable. In addition, most movies are geared for stupid people, pull punches and consistently take the easy way out. I hate it and won't watch it.

I'm also bothered by the attitudes of the people who make these movies today. It's as if the orchestra no longer falls in behind the conductor, trying to work together, but each instrument is playing as though they are the only and most important element. Each element isn't balancing against the others under the director's guidance, but playing at 11 so everyone notices them and their work.

But enough of that rant! What I'm most looking forward to in the new Batman movie is the Joker. I've heard many great things so far about Heath Ledger's portrayal and the way the screenwriters have written this Joker. It's the first time the character is being presented in movies or TV not as a comic figure but as a terrifying one, the embodiment of anarchism and sadism. As I've told friends: With this Joker, when he tells a joke, he's the only one who laughs. Everyone else is either sick to their stomach or frightened out of their mind.

This Joker presents you with impossible choices: two people are going to die at the same moment, which will you save? The one you love or the ones you've sworn to protect? Then he laughs no matter which way you choose! Save someone you love? He laughs at your weakness. Save the people? He laughs at your principles and the loss of your loved one! And the movie doesn't pull punches about real peril, either. Important people really die.

A lot of folks like Jack Nicholson's Joker, but to me he was awful. He was a braying buffoon who was as much about "Nicholson is the Joker" as anything else. Nicholson was, frankly, too old and fat for the part. He was long past his scary days in Five Easy Pieces and The Shining, when his playing the Joker might have given us something revealing.

Speaking of actors past their prime, it's too bad Clint Eastwood wasn't able to play Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns Batman when he was in his fifties. That would have been absolutely spectacular, with the right script and director.

While we're on tangents, I have to say that one of my most favorite film moments was in the first Bale/Nolan Batman movie. When Batman hauls the fat, corrupt cop up a rope, upside down, dozens of feet above the sidewalk in a rain-slashed alley, and grills him on what he knows about corruption, the cop wails, "That's all I know! I swear to God!" Batman grabs him and pulls their faces together, then roars in that gravelly growl, "SWEAR to ME!"

Whoo. Chills right up the spine.

I'm hoping for more of those kinds of moments in the new Batman movie.

Where the first Bale/Nolan Batman went wrong, for me, was in the ending, with the whole of the city being gassed, terrified people running around and the monorail car fight with Ras Al'Ghul. It seemed too Hollywood-formulaic in its "let's escalate this OVER THE TOP!" Yeah, it's right for a superhero movie, but after the resolute way the movie kept things small-scale and personal up to that point, it just felt wrong.

My understanding of the new movie is that the battle is between Batman and Joker (with Two-Face's story intertwined). The big explosions and what-not are the backdrop, not the main item, so that the movie feels more epic in sweep this time, and not inflated. I hope so.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Civil War in Four Minutes

(Update: See below.)

Yep, you read that right -- the battles and progress of the Civil War in graphic form in just four minutes. I've been reading a lot on the Civil War the past couple of years -- both from the library and I've found a great local source of books on the era very cheap. As I think I've already noted, the parallels between then and today are enlightening.

Watch the video (It's only four minutes!) and painlessly learn a little history at the same time.

But wait! There's more!

Via fellow Mid-South board-gamer Chris Boothe, we also have a Flash version of the Battle of Gettysburg. It glosses over some things (like the heroism of Union Col. Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine in holding Little Round Top) but captures much of the sense of the battle and the titanic forces unleashed there.

But this US Army presentation also comes with a lot of supplementary materials that fill out the broader story, and tell you something of the arms of the time.

Highly recommended. Thanks, Chris!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More on the Obama Effect on Wall Street and the Economy

In a recent post, I noted the decline of the stock market even as Obama's poll numbers have been rising.

Today's MSN Money has a column looking at the same thing and projecting some into the future. It's not pretty:
Investors this summer have been placing their bets on an Obama presidency, and for the most part that hasn't been good for the market.

Without giving him a chance to explain himself in detail on the campaign trail or at the Democratic National Convention, they are voting with their shares by tossing financial, health insurance, manufacturing and high-dividend stocks into the ash can, and are growing skeptical about energy companies as well.

It's not that major institutional investors don't like the man -- far from it. He has many backers among the financial elite, including multibillionaires George Soros and Ron Burkle. And it's not that there aren't many other reasons for investors to sell stocks now, as the global economy tangles with the terrible twin beasts of bank deleveraging and inflation.

It's just that Obama's rhetoric on taxes and health care is scaring common wealthy people with large capital gains from investments made over the past decade, and a lot of them don't want to wait around to see whether it's just populist fluff that might be set aside once he takes office....

Speaking to reporters recently, the Illinois senator complained that the United States has developed a "winner take all" economy in which profits from economic success have largely benefited the wealthy and left the middle class and poor behind. He told The Wall Street Journal that "globalization, technology and automation all weaken the position of workers" and argued that the government needs to make sure the fruits of success are distributed in a more evenhanded manner.

That kind of campaign talk is red meat for laid-off autoworkers and construction workers in Midwestern swing states, but they're fightin' words to those whose wealth is targeted for redistribution. And the latter just happen to own most of the nation's stocks.

For one measure of investors' fear that their hard-won battle for better tax treatment of stock dividends is in danger of being overturned, look at the behavior of the iShares Select Dividend Index Fund (DVY, news, msgs), an exchange-traded fund that tracks the performance of the stocks that pay the highest dividend yields. It's down 24% this year -- almost twice the 13% decline of the broad market. The steepest part of that decline came after June 1, when it became clear that Obama had bested New York Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

Of course, it's not just dividend treatment that has investors pushing the sell button. It's also concern that Obama's tax plans would make the federal government even more reliant on relatively few high-income people to pay most U.S. taxes -- and thereby provide less incentive for business owners to augment their wealth by growing their companies.

That's backed up by this:
Strangely enough, government statistics show that the U.S. tax system is already evolving into one in which a majority of Americans pay little or nothing. Between 1999 and 2006, evidence suggests that the number of tax filers who had no income tax liability after taking advantage of credits and deductions grew to nearly 44 million, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan (but right-leaning) think tank in Washington, D.C., and Duke University law professor Lawrence Zelenak.

And here's what's coming:
In this environment, shares of companies that have thrived during the Bush and Clinton administrations and are representative of industrial growth -- such as technology, energy, capital goods and transportation -- are likely to falter badly. In their place, we're likely to see large makers of consumer staples such as toothpaste, detergent, tobacco and drugs shake off their recent torpor and emerge as new leaders, as they did during the plunge in shares last Wednesday.

Companies such as Procter & Gamble (PG, news, msgs), Colgate Palmolive (CL, news, msgs), Altria (MO, news, msgs) and Merck (MRK, news, msgs) have been hammered in the past year as they've been pressured by rising costs of raw materials. But if commodity prices stabilize, as they appear to be doing, staples could return to favor as big investors rein in their more speculative impulses and retreat to defensive positions ahead of the election.

A possible pair of scenarios:
The best-case scenario for investors laying bets on buying stocks that will succeed in the event of an Obama win: If raw-materials prices stay close to where they are, big companies will raise prices to accommodate the higher costs, squeezing out smaller competitors and fattening profit margins. This combination will provide a setup for modestly positive action among large companies' stocks, trouble for smaller stocks and a mood of mild unease as the stock market indexes trudge fitfully higher yet remain under water for the year through the election, then blast higher to celebrate the fact that the world didn't end after his rival's concession speech.

And the worst-case scenario, based on recent signals from investors? Well, it's not pretty: It would be a repeat of the 2000 election, with investors on edge all year before deciding an Obama victory was worse than they thought -- resulting in a selling frenzy that ends, much like 2002, with every sector collapsing and the S&P 500 sinking to around 960.

I'll say it again: an Obama presidency will be another Carter term. A disaster for America on several fronts with long term consequences.
A Novel Approach to Tropical Deforestation and Pollution

Via Jerry Pournelle comes a link to a story in the LA TImes about the Vatican's new "solution" to balancing their pollution output by building new forests. Inside the story, where you might miss it, is this incredible bit:
The good news is that stopping that destruction -- by purchasing the land outright or paying landowners and others to conserve it -- is a bargain. Because of the low cost of tropical land, protecting these forests can cost as little as $1 per ton of CO2 saved and almost never more than $10 a ton. (For comparison, cleanups based primarily on energy now trade for more than $40 a ton on European markets.)

As a result, the World Bank and others estimate that global deforestation could be completely halted for the relatively tiny sum of $11 billion to $15 billion a year. That one move alone would eliminate 20% of total global warming pollution....

This isn't as pie-in-the-sky as it might seem. Bush already has approved several significant tropical forest conservation projects in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama and elsewhere. With this deal, Bush could legitimately claim that he'd done far more, far sooner, for far less money to stop global warming than either the Kyoto Protocol or the failed congressional climate bill would have.

Eleven or fifteen billion is chump change as far as Federal expenditures go; easily achievable. The benefits -- both poltical and environmental -- are profound. We should explore this idea ASAP.

By the way, last year the US actually decreased its pollution output, and by more than was called for in the now-discredited Kyoto Treaty. New Zealand, meanwhile, is exploring a sheep tax or special dietary additives because they are producing methane (from sheep farts) far in excess of their allowable levels.

Now you know.

I am a serious skeptic of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). It is far, far more likely that solar output variations are responsible for the changes in average temperature around the Earth, and there is solid science to support this. History records the previous variations in the Late Medieval Warming and then the 19th century Little Ice Age.

But the above idea of buying up tropical rainforests shows promise if only in that, should the whole scheme prove wrong-headed, we can simply return the land to private hands and be done with it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

You Have to Wonder

Via Paul Ryburn's blog, I spotted this:
There’s going to be an Obama meetup this coming Sunday, July 20 in Midtown. Let me start right off with the most important detail of this event: THERE WILL BE A KEG.

Because worship at the Church of Obama requires you to be really, really drunk.
Midtown Redevelopment News

A couple of Midtown blogs have some welcome news about redevelopment in Midtown.

First, Fertile Ground has news and photos about renovations being done to the Chicago Pizza Factory building on Madison:
Jerry Carruthers decided he was sick of the Chicago Pizza Factory building sitting empty. He's got two guys gutting the inside and fixing up the outside. "We're even gonna fix the lights on the sign," the guy in the shirt told me.

Once they get a renter, they're going to fix the inside up to suit them.

Good to hear, as the area around Overton Square has been in a long, slow decline as its owner and managers have been trying to ready the site for a hoped-to-come big retailer. In the meantime, we all suffer, as does every business and residence nearby.

I'm like most Midtowners who are baffled why this has been happening for so long. Overton Square is ideally located and past history has shown that it can be a people-magnet when it's full of businesses. With the rise of Cooper-Young and the renewed business atmosphere along Madison (heck, Midtown in general), for Overton Square to languish is nearly criminal. Business after business is being slowly strangled by one company's desire for the Big Score.

As, for example, the French Quarter Suites:
I'd like to say something here. Everyone in midtown knows that we desperately need a new grocery store. Even though we have 3 in a 4 mile radius, we all know that they are pathetic. Everyone has their horror stories and their opinions on the matter but when it comes right down to it, they are all far below par compared to ones in the rest of the city. So people like Rasberry know they can dangle that lovely carrot in front of the midtown community and lots of people will get their hopes up and shut up about the fact that Overton Square is quickly becoming a ghost town without any reason to hope for the betterment of the situation. Maybe I'm wrong or maybe I'm just jaded from hearing this spiel for the 234 time but I don't trust any development promise in midtown until I actually see dirt being dug up. And even then I'm still slightly wary.

Via My Midtown Memphis, who also reports on the planned development at Poplar and Cleveland.

It's complex and ambitious, no doubt. But notice that it won't touch any of the current strip shopping centers and house-based and other small businesses along Poplar, Cleveland and Madison! That's welcome news. There's a lot of nice diversity in those businesses.

You can study a plan of the redevelopment here. One big negative that I spotted was the addition of another stop light just east of Cleveland on Poplar, at Watkins. (Madison, too.) It's necessary, traffic-wise, but a pain in the bazoo nonetheless.
Newspaper Bellwether

The Tribune Co. has had two flagship employees -- Chicago Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski and Los Angeles Times publisher David Hiller -- resign this week in the wake of further, sharp cuts in jobs:
Tribune Co. is cutting costs to offset declines in advertising and circulation revenue that have sharpened this year for most newspapers in the United States.

Hiller, who stepped down after 21 months at the helm of Tribune Co.'s largest paper, was the paper's third publisher since Tribune bought it in 2000....

The paper plans to cut 250 positions, including 150 in the print and online news departments, and reduce its weekly page count by 15 percent. Some sections will be eliminated and stories are to run shorter....

The Sun plans to stop printing business news in a separate section at the end of this month, and the Sentinel has changed its layout to include more graphics and charts, and it has reduced news staff.

Newspaper revenues and circulation have shrunk as readers -- with advertisers in tow -- increasingly move online. Advertisers spend online a small fraction of what they used to pay newspapers for prime ad space.

Hiller took over as Times publisher after Johnson publicly criticized measures to cost-cutting measures including reducing the paper's foreign coverage.

Hiller then forced out editor Dean Baquet, who also opposed the cutbacks. In January, Times editor James O'Shea stepped down, also in protest of cuts that Tribune had ordered. He was the third editor to leave the paper since 2005. The paper's current editor is Russ Stanton.

Tribune Co. Chief Operating Officer Randy Michaels told lenders on a conference call last month that the company can save a lot of money by trimming staff and "rightsizing" its newspapers. Michaels said Tribune executives were evaluating the productivity of individual journalists with an eye toward cutbacks.

A spokesman said Lipinski's departure is not related to the cutbacks.

Yeah, right.
Danger: Science!

Longtime readers know that Mr. Mike is a bit of a science geek. I also love to share my enthusiasm for the scientific method, empiricism, inquiry, and odd bits of knowledge.

Imagine my joy to discover some professors at the University of Nottingham, England, have made a series of short videos explaining, in very graphic ways, the various properties of the elements of the periodic table!

"Ever since this, I get quite excited." I know the feeling.

I'm a fan of Mythbusters, as you'd guess, and its British cousin, the more wild'n'crazy Brainiac: Science Abuse. And the Discovery and History Channels; if I could afford the Military Channel, which is sort of now what History used to be, I'd have that.

My childhood bedroom wall had a funny dark blue spot on it from when I mixed some random ingredients from my chemistry set. (Can you even buy those any more? I'm guessing the potential lawsuits and hazardous materials concerns have killed them off.) I built and flew model rockets, so yes, I am, in fact, a rocket scientist!

Remember, it's not science until something explodes.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Gotta Love the O

Comedian Bernie Mac did a little show before an Obama fund-raising crowd and earned some heckles for his sexist jokes, off-color language and general crudity.

Obama was, as is usual for a politician, made to come out and straighten out Bernie Mac. Here's what he said:
"We can't afford to be divided by race. We can't afford to be divided by region or by class and we can't afford to be divided by gender, which by the way, that means, Bernie, you've got to clean up your act next time," Obama said. "This is a family affair. By the way, I'm just messing with you, man."

Let's translate that. The "we can't afford" means "I can't afford to have my electoral base dividing before the election." The only unity he's worried about is the votes that will help him win.

Obama then chides BM, satisfying the money-bags cash cows supporters, while making a joke out of it, mollifying BM for calling him out in front of a crowd. Obama gets to have it both ways. He can tell people he corrected BM, demonstrating his principles, while simultaneously being able to say it was all a joke and light-hearted, don't get so worked up, man.

What a tool.

Obama's been showing a lot of tool-like behavior since he locked up the Democratic nomination. Now that he's the presumptive nominee, he's tacking fast back to the middle. The anti-war, DailyKos, progressive left who propelled him into place are, understandably, very angry. They want him to stay on the far left. After all, they paid for him!

But, as he seems to be learning or maybe always knew, he's got to get those Reagan Democrats and undecided moderates -- you know, the god- and gun-clinging rubes in the backwoods of rural America he derided earlier this year. Can't do that from where he won the nomination. So, as the old saying goes, he ran to his base for the nomination, now he's running to the perceived middle for the win.

Hence all the backtracking from previous positions. Watch for more to come as the fall nears.

And why the McCain campaign isn't building a huge bonfire with all this, I don't know. Are they waiting for more people to start paying attention as the election nears, calculating that most Americans are on vacation right now and uninterested in politics? It's a good calculation with a lot of truth in it. Saving this for later helps to avoid the Clintonian counter-response that it's all rehashing "old news."

Or are they just incompetent? There's some evidence of that too. It's what I fear. I'm not a McCain supporter (Vote Libertarian!) but the reality is he's more likely to win than Bob Barr, the best candidate the Libertarians have put forward ever. And Obama would be a disaster for this country. He's already on record many times during the primaries as supporting nationalised health care and raising taxes. When presented with problems that "need solutions," his usual response is to suggest a government or legalistic action. I don't want that kind of president, no thank you.

I have a suspicion that even with the press and news media's complicity/participation in his campaign, Obama's in for a long autumn, much like Kerry.

At least, here's hoping anyway.
Why the Second Amendment is So Important

How Newspapers View Their Decline

From the Instapundit comes the following reader letter, with a revealing look at how at least one newspaper sees itself in the current media world, and its explanations for what's going on:
My son recently interviewed for a job with a newspaper that is a part of one of the large chains. What he learned from the interview, which lasted 80 minutes with both the Executive and Managing Editors, points to a divide that I think is worth noting.

This paper produces a wide variety of niche products. The figure that they reach about 80% of their region with one of their products. The products are focused on parenting, retirees, entertainment, etc, as well as online and print versions of the daily paper. They are making money.

One of the explanations for the demise of the print edition of the traditional newspaper that they gave him was the change in the demographics of the community. They told him that increasingly people move there, spend a few years, and move elsewhere. They don’t move into town and take up an intimate concern for the community. They find that the percentage of the local population that is engaged in local issues is shrinking, and therefore the numbers of people who are interested in a newspaper is shrinking. As a result, the problems of local newspapers are the connected to the problems of local communities. May explain why the quality of people who run for local public office is so poor.

My guess is that many of these old traditional newspaper companies don’t have the resources nor the capacity to shift to a multi-product format. Hence, they are tied to the past, and the past is passing away. Of course, nature abhors a vacuum, and it will be filled by some form of information retrieval system.

The Commercial Appeal is shifting to the online world, but they seem tenaciously tied to their print product. I can't name the number of times they demonstrate a strange cluelessness about how to work their web product. Stories don't always have links to original sources or to the related websites. They don't always put up copies of documents mentioned in stories. More than a few reporters and editors just don't seem at all familiar with the internet; they seem to subordinate good web practices to the needs of making a profit from the paper version.

The CA has been pretty lightly touched by the steep circulation declines common to the rest of the industry. I'm not sure why that is, as most everyone I talk with complains about the quality and focus of the paper. Any thoughts?