Saturday, July 22, 2006

In a Word, #^$%*!

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, the American version of the Canadian Radio, Telephone and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), while not as dithering, has proven to be just a priggish.

Documentarian Ken Burns has just finished The War, a film about soldiers' experiences in the Second World War. It includes, funnily, some profanities. So, in its infantile wisdom, the FCC has issued a edict on naughty words. In other words, war is (bleep).

The only two ways audience-supported broadcaster PBS can air this show is either 1)bleep out the profanities and digitally obscure the lips (for the benefit of the visually impaired), or 2) air the program after 10pm when Junior is in bed. PBS has chosen option number 2, as reported by the New York Times.
Mr. Burns, perhaps best known for his prize-winning series “The Civil War,” insisted that “The War” would be shown in the preferred time slot of 8 p.m. He said he was “flabbergasted” that FCC policy was being applied to documentaries, particularly when President Bush himself was inadvertently heard using vulgar language, broadcast on some cable newscasts, at the recent Group of Eight summit meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia.

(For those who missed Bush's cuss, it was "shit" as bleeped by the Beeb and revealed by the Ceeb. I, for one, am shocked. Naughty prezzie.)

At first glance, one would think Burns was being unreasonable. Ten o'clock seems like a reasonable hour at which to broadcast The Wars. But it isn't. One audience for documentary is the uninformed, among whom are children. Sure, it's highly unlikely that kids will want to watch this; hell, their parents are more likely to chew their nails over The One than over The National. But the opportunity to watch a program that informs current affairs (i.e., Iraq, Lebanon, Afganistan) is critical.

This also raises the question of why PBS is following FCC guidelines. Well, first it needs a licence. Second, and more important, is funding. While viewers donate money to the station, it must also get funding from the CPB which accounts for 24 per cent of its budget. This is not an insignificant chunk. While there is some foundation and corporate support, PBS relies on what seems to have become a politcally influenced body (See the Washington Post articles and FAIR piece below.)

This leads us to donating. I'll be transparent: while I'd love to give money regularly to my local PBS affliate, WNED, I can't afford to. I have done the equivalent in the past (CKCU, CIUT, WFMU), but those salad days are on hold for now. At some point, I do plan to support the quality programming on PBS...and hope that they will still be there to accept it. I encourage you to watch this great station, and if you can afford to, support it. It serves as a model of what the CBC should be. (More on that later.)

1)Paul Farhi, "PBS Scrutiny Raises Political Antennas," Washington Post, April 22, 2005.

2)Paul Farhi, "Public Broadcasting Targeted by House," Washington Post, June 10, 2005.

3)Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, "CPB Funding Threatened...Again," media advisory, June 8, 2006.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Grow a Brain

So U.S. president George Bush has vetoed a bill for federal support of stem cell research. His rationale?
"This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others," Mr. Bush said at a White House event where he was surrounded by 18 families who "adopted" frozen embryos not used by other couples, and then used those embryos to have children.

But, it's perfectly ok to drop bombs on them, though. Bush is also quoted as saying:
"These boys and girls are not spare parts," he said.

Just cannon fodder.

from the Globe and Mail

Friday, July 14, 2006

Ach, those Crazy Amish!

You can always, without fail, count on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for a laugh. Seems buggy-drivin' Amish, retired flea market goers, and petting zoo school groups are on their hit list.

From the New York Times:
In addition to the petting zoo, in Woodville, Ala., and the Mule Day Parade in Columbia, Tenn., the auditors questioned many entries, including “Nix’s Check Cashing,” “Mall at Sears,” “Ice Cream Parlor,” “Tackle Shop,” “Donut Shop,” “Anti-Cruelty Society” and “Bean Fest.” ...

New York City officials, who have questioned the rationale for the reduction in this year’s antiterrorism grants, were similarly blunt.

“Now we know why the Homeland Security grant formula came out as wacky as it was,” Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said Tuesday. “This report is the smoking gun that thoroughly indicts the system.”

Honestly, don't take my word for it, read the NYT piece, "Come One, Come All, Join the Terror Target List," for yourself.

Meanwhile, take a good, long look at the chicken on the right:

photo by Bill Johnson/Horse Pix Photography

In the Kitchen at Parties

'Tis summer cocktail party season and if your circle of tipplers are anything like mine, you'll appreciate my love for the July 3, 2006 edition of "Tomorrow" from the Village Voice.

Online Books

The Wall Street Journal reported Rice University's (Houston, Texas) announcement that the school will revive it's press, which has been defunct for a decade. This time 'round, it will be a cyper-press so to speak:

Rice's program, to be launched later this year or early in 2007, could be even more ambitious. The new press plans to publish all of its books online through Connexions, which will essentially absorb the press's editing and transmission costs, says Chuck Henry, a Rice vice-provost who is also the press's new publisher. Readers can freely view the online works under a special online publishing license, though they may be charged a small fee for downloading them to a computer.

What is even more interesting, to me at least, is the ability of authors to revise their books without having to go into reprint---a costly and risky venture for publishers.

Because all books will be in digital form, authors can amend their tomes online, link to multimedia files elsewhere on the Internet, or even chat with readers. Books would never go out of print, and more might be published because of the press's lower cost structure, Rice officials say. Rice officials are also considering asking authors whether they want to allow "derivatives" of their works to be created online. The Connexions site operates under an "open-source" model, letting readers update online course material.

It appears to solve the "publish or perish" dilema faced by young profs whose work must past academic muster to make a monograph about, say post-modern Welsh grammar, worth the hit to the bottom line.

The university's initiative with Connexions likely have a ripple effect for other academic/scholarly and educational publishing houses, at least the small ones. How Rice's model will effect costs and book prices remains to be seen. And I really doubt this will have any effect with trade pushlishers (electricution being a very real consequence of taking a laptop in the tub, sending revenues down the drain). Nevertheless, the move is refreshing.