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Law & Order: Golgotha

In Entertainment, Media, World on March 3, 2011 at 2:15 pm

“In the story of the killing of Jesus, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups – the Church, which has historically blamed the Jews for the killing – and the Church, which has persecuted them for it. These are their stories.”

(chung CHUNG!)

“Objection! Your honor. I mean, your Holiness! Mr. McCoy can’t be allowed to keep making statements that are totally irrelevant. Either he has the facts to back up his case or he doesn’t.”

“Irrelevant? Your honor. I mean, your Holiness. This is about motive. It goes straight to the heart of our case. Detective Torquemada is trying to explain why the Jews wanted Jesus dead.”

“Your honor. I mean, your Holiness. This is exactly what I’m saying. Detective Torquemada might be a member of The Church’s Finest but he wasn’t there. He wasn’t even born yet.”

(The Pope mutters something in German with a little bit of Latin thrown in)

“Thank you, your Honor. I mean, your Holiness.”

McCoy walks back to his desk and shuffles through some papers. He looks up at the witness stand. “Detective, thank you very much. You are dismissed. I would like to call the ghost of Lenny Bruce.”

The ghost of the stand-up comic takes the stand.

“Mr. Bruce, if you would kindly put the morphine and needle down. Thank you.”

The ghost does as told.

“Now, Mr. Bruce. When you were alive, you frequently take to the stage and talk about finding a note in your basement concerning the killing of Jesus. Is that right?”

“Well, um…”

“Yes or no, Mr. Bruce?”

“Yes.”

“And what did this note say?”

“We killed him.”

“And who was him?”
“Jesus.”

“And who was we?”

“The Jews.”

“And who signed the note?”

“My Uncle Morty.”

“A Jew. No further questions, your honor. I mean, your Holiness.”

Morty Moskowitz, the defense lawyer, leaps to his feet.

“Mr. Bruce. Thank you so much for being here. I know it must have been quite a journey from the afterlife.”

Bruce shrugs his shoulders.

“Mr. Bruce. Just a couple of quick questions. When you would talk about finding a note, what were you doing?”

“I was performing a stand-up comedy routine.”

“So, there was never really a note?”

“No. I made it up for comedic value.”

“Did you even have an Uncle Morty?”

“No.”

“Your honor, I mean, your Holiness. Mr. McCoy has thrown everything at the Jews but the kitchen sink, the kitchen sink and facts. Not once has he shown this court directly tying my client to the murder. An individual, maybe. But collective responsibility? Not even close.”

(The Pope again mutters something in German and Latin)

McCoy jumps up. “What about, His blood be—“

Moskowitz cuts him off. “Objection! Again, your honor, I mean, your Holiness, has already ruled that to be hearsay and even if it wasn’t. We have established that without a verb there is no way to determine the actual meaning of what Jesus was saying in that regard.”

(The Pope speaks in a combination of German and Latin before switching to English).

“Mr. McCoy. You just have not proved your case. I do not see how the whole people could have been present at this moment to clamor for Jesus’s death. Case dismissed.”

On their way out of the courtroom, Moskowitz goes up to McCoy.

“You know, Jack. No hard feelings. You did your best. I will tell you something, though.”

“What’s that!”

“It means the real killer is still out there.”

(chung CHUNG!)

Shopping for a New Democracy

In Media, Politics, Uncategorized, World on February 16, 2011 at 6:58 pm

“Welcome to Bed, Bath and Beyond Democracy,” says the impossibly cheery sales clerk. “What can I do for you today, Mr. President?”

“Well,” President Obama says, checking out the price tag on a set of flatware before moving on to a set of the collected writings of James Madison. “Egypt is getting a new government and Michelle and I thought it would be nice to get them a democracy-warming present.”

“I’m sure we can help you find something,” says the clerk. “Do you know if they’ve registered?”

“It all happened fairly suddenly,” President Obama says. “I don’t think they had a chance.”

“Not a problem. We have many great things for a fledgling democracy. If you would just follow me.”

The clerk leads the President over to a wall of rolled-up parchments.

“This is what we call Constitution Corner where we keep all sorts of founding documents to help a nation set up a government. We have everything from the U.S. Constitution to the Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown also known as the English Bill of Rights to the rules governing the Soviet Politboro to Robert’s Rules of Order.”

President Obama looks at a copy of the Magna Carta. “I think the constitution is something people there are going to have to come up with on their own. What else do you have?”

“Oh, plenty. Our free press starter kit is very popular with new democracies. It helps them transform a state-run media operation into privately run system and you can get attachments so they can have a public broadcasting component and social media network.”

“That could be interesting,” the president says. “Does it come in any other colors?”

“We also have — and this has proved very popular in Central America and Chicago — a rig your own election kit. Though it does tend to work better for more advanced democracies.”

The president looks at the box. “Recommended for countries 100 and older as well as military dictatorships pretending to be governments of the people,” he reads. “Yeah… I think this is what they’re trying to move away from. Let me look at the free press kit again. Does it come with freedom of information laws or are those sold separately?”

“They’re included.”

The president keeps walking through the store, finally stopping at a very large display case with people inside. “What’s this?” he asks.

“Oh, these are political consultants. We have all sorts of political persuasions and you can even get a sampler box that comes with one of each.”

The president looks at the price tags. “Kind of expensive, no?”

The clerk smiles. “Political campaigns aren’t cheap. But I guess I don’t have to tell you that.”

The president efforts a half-hearted smile. “No. You don’t.”

At that point, Michelle walks over and joins them.

“Did you find anything,” her husband asks her.

“All sorts of things. They have that internet kill switch I know you’ve been wanting.”

“We’re not here for me. Did you see anything for Egypt?”

“There were a couple of budget-balancing kits that I thought were nice but you know what I really liked?”

The president waits.

“Cuisinart has a really nice new mixer.”

“How much?”

She whispers in his ear.

The president smiles.

“We’ll take it,” he tells the clerk. “Do you ship?”

Welcome to Wylie World: An Agent's Bold Move Makes Sense

In Entertainment, Media, Technology, Uncategorized on July 27, 2010 at 2:50 pm
Image representing Amazon Kindle as depicted i...

Image via CrunchBase

When I originally heard about Andrew Wylie’s announcement last week that he was partnering with Amazon to create “Odyssey Editions” — 20 special e-book versions of modern classics by writers whom he represents that will only be available for Kindle and devices that support Kindle software such as the iPad, I thought:

This is bad news.

After all, at its face it seems to be exclusive deal with one retail outlet.

Here’s the thing, though.

As I like to point out, Kindle’s not just a device, it’s software that works on many devices.

What Wylie has done is take 20 great books that have not been available electronically and made them available to a pretty large audience.

Sure there are some people who are upset.

For instance, I suspect Wylie won’t be getting any holiday cards from Random House this year. And there’s a book store in Mississippi that’s making a big deal of this.

The only ones who seem to be taking a balanced, sensical approach to the whole kerfuffle is The Author’s Guild.

Is there any real difference between what Wylie has done and say, special editions for The Franklin Library or the Library of America?

Well, yes.

Wylie has created a series of affordable editions for a very wide audience.

Good for him.

Amazon Says Print is Dead, Long Live the Kindle (Not so fast…)

In Entertainment, Media, Technology, Uncategorized on July 21, 2010 at 9:27 am
IMG_0096.JPG

Image by Yoshimasa Niwa via Flickr

So, earlier this week Amazon put out a press release singing the glories of the Kindle.

It has been a tough few weeks for the Kindle as things have looked up for the iPad while they’ve been caught in a bit of an e-reader price war.

So, you really can’t blame Amazon for putting out a release that trumpets their device.

“Kindle Device Unit Accelerate Each Month in Second Quarter; New $189 Price Results in Tipping Point for Growth” says the release’s headline.

Well, geez. Wow. That’s great, huh? They must be selling gazillions of Kindles by now. How many? Well, let’s look at the release again. Hmm. It’s not there.

How about in The New York Times story about Amazon’s announcement?

Wait. It’s not there either though the Times does repeat Amazon’s claim that “the growth rate of Kindle sales tripled after Amazon lowered the price of the device in late June.”

The problem is that unlike Apple — which regularly touts how many iPads it’s selling — Amazon has never released exact sales figures for the device. paidContent.org has quoted Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos saying they may never release those figures.

So, when they say that growth has tripled… from one to three? Seven to 21? One million to three million? Who knows?

Now, let’s look at the rest of the release: “Amazon.com Now Selling More Kindle Books Than Hardcover Books.”

Again, wow. The previously mentioned New York Times story refers to this news “as a day for the history books — if those will even exit in the future.”

And reading the release, you can’t blame them.

Amazon claims that “over the past three months, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 143 Kindle books. Over the past month, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 180 Kindle books.”

Again, wow.

But…

Since they don’t give us actual sales figures (other than the fact that James Patterson has sold 867,881 Kindle books, one of five writers to sell more than 500,000 KIndle books; the others being: Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephanie Meyer and Nora Roberts), we really don’t know what that means.

Yes, it’s a lot — based on those five writers alone — but how much? And what does it really mean?

Is it that — as Bezos claims — “the Kindle format has now overtaken the hardcover format.”

Is it that e-readers, whether they be Kindles or iPads, are the way things are going?

The second is more likely.

At the same time, as great as the devices are, as I’ve pointed out, e-readers will only really be the future when we figure out how to get them to everyone. Otherwise we need to keep helping libraries and schools make sure they have regular, old, printed books for kids.

Print may not be quite as robust as it used to be but it’s far from dead.

The New York Times, The Washington Post and Irony

In Media, Politics, Technology, Uncategorized on July 20, 2010 at 8:56 am

Where would we be without Mondays?

Today’s life lesson in irony comes from The New York Times and The Washington Post. Actually it’s from Politico but it’s thanks to a New York Times story.

(maybe you should buckle up)

The New York Times had a story yesterday, In a World of Online News, Burnout Starts Younger.

The focus is websites like the hyperactive political website Politico and gossip site Gawker and the conclusion:

“Such is the state of the media business these days: frantic and fatigued. Young journalists who once dreamed of trotting the globe in pursuit of a story are instead shackled to their computers, where they try to eke out a fresh thought or be first to report even the smallest nugget of news — anything that will impress Google algorithms and draw readers their way.”

There’s talk of high turnover rates and frantic obsession with page views and that we live “in a media environment crowded with virtual content farms where no detail is too small to report as long as it was reported there first.”

What isn’t there is a lot of talk of long-term projects and in-depth reporting. Not to say that there isn’t in-depth online reporting, it’s just that the emphasis is fast fast fast. It’s as if suddenly everybody’s a wire service reporter.

Except Dana Priest of The Washington Post.

Bless her and her ability to report the hell out of a story.

In the past five years, Priest has won two Pulitzers — for her exposure of the CIA’s secret prisons and for her series on the lousy treatment Americans veterans were receiving at Walter Reed.

Now she’s back with a hell of a story running in installments in her paper.

Top Secret America is the result of more than two years of reporting, breathtaking in its scope and an amazing example of not only why newspapers are important but how effective they can be when embracing changes in technology.

At its heart, the series explores how “the government has built a national security and intelligence system so big, so complex and so hard to manage, no one really knows if it’s fulfilling its most important purpose: keeping its citizens safe.”

Priest, her colleague William Arkin and nearly a dozen other Post staffers have put together what appears to be an astoundingly well-reported, well-written series. And not only have they written some great articles (part two is live today), they’ve created an interactive website with a searchable database, a Facebook page, a Twitter account. There’s going to be a special on Frontline (won’t be airing until the fall, watch the seven-minute teaser video here).

So, on a day that The New York Times reports on how the world of online journalism is leading to burnout, The Washington Post comes out with a great series that reminds people of why newspapers are important — essential — and shows the potential of in-depth reporting on the web.

Brilliant.

Hey, Janet Evanovich! Spread the Wealth!

In Entertainment, Media on July 16, 2010 at 9:42 am
Cover of "One for the Money (Stephanie Pl...

Cover via Amazon

It’s summer, which is usually a very good time for Janet Evanovich, whose Stephanie Plum mysteries can be seen at beaches and on airplanes around the country as people devour books they know they can toss when they’re done with them.

I’m not knocking Evanovich’s books — One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Hot Six and so forth — they’re fun and quickly forgettable so there’s no issue with leaving the book wherever you finish them.

This, though, is turning into a Summer of Discontent, to some degree for her.

Deadline New York’s Mike Fleming reported earlier this week that Evanovich — St. Martin’s Press’s “biggest fiction author” — is moving on after 15 years because the publisher refused to pay her request for $50 million for her next four books.

That’s right. $50 million.

Now I’m not saying that Evanovich doesn’t make a lot of money for St. Martin’s — her books regularly sell hundreds of thousands of copies as they camp out on best-seller lists. And it’s not like there’s not a bunch of authors who make even more (let’s not forget JK Rowling, who leaves all others in her wake).

When The New York Times profiled James Patterson earlier this year, they titled the piece: “James Patterson, Inc.

I have no doubt that Evanovich’s agent, her son Peter, will be able to get someone to pay her what she wants. And I certainly am not saying that St. Martin’s should get rich off of her work…

My issue is that when you read stories about small-press publishers that manage to find the occasional Pulitzer-winner or another one getting shut down from lack of funds or a charity working to make sure school kids have enough books (any books!) to read and then you read about someone balking because she can’t $50 million?

Please.

Here’s an idea.

Find a new publisher who is going to give you, say $30 million for the four books and make them use the other $20 million to discover new talent or to help keep a literary magazine afloat or something.

So many people are struggling, so many great artists toil for nothing.

Make your money, Evanovich but spread the wealth.

If it's Good Enough for Oprah…

In Entertainment, Media, Technology on July 15, 2010 at 4:06 pm
According to Keirsey, Oprah Winfrey may be a T...

Image via Wikipedia

So, now that Oprah’s given every member of her magazine’s staff an iPad, publisher Hearst is going to make sure they can read their work on the device.

AdAge reports that Hearst is readying iPad app versions of O, Esquire, Food Network Magazine and its other popular titles, following in the footsteps of its Popular Mechanics app, which has sold more than 12,000 downloads.

“Capitalizing on Oprah Winfrey’s huge role recommending books to her fans, the iPad edition of O, The Oprah Magazine, that’s expected in the fourth quarter will let users buy e-books and read them within the app itself,” the magazine reports. “The app preserve the basic magazine experience but include visual tags that let users know they can see a video message from Ms. Winfrey or interact in some other way. A module on articles will let users make comments and see other readers’ remarks.”

And they’re far from alone.

Peter Kaplan, the former editor of The New York Observer who has just been hired as editorial director of Fairchild Fashion Group (publishers of Women’s Wear Daily, among other publications) tells his old colleagues: “There’s a new generation of readers coming up and they’ll be readingWomen’s Wear and these other publications, and they want a first-rate web site, and they’re gonna want something for the iPad. They want apps!”

And who can blame them?

Sports Illustrated has truly capitalized on the new technology.

When word of the death of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner broke earlier this week, Sports Illustrated quickly swapped out the cover on the iPad version of their magazine from LeBron James to Steinbrenner.

Apparently, take that antiquated print and hello new technology (though, of course, i write this on a table strewn with newspapers and magazines, the way it should be)>

But, like I said yesterday, the writing does appear to be on the tablet.

iPads vs. E-Readers: Things Looking Good for Apple

In Entertainment, Media, Technology on July 14, 2010 at 12:22 pm
Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

It’s not a new theme — in fact, earlier this month, I touched upon it — but the evidence seems to be building that e-readers face a tough road ahead.

According to Mashable, a new report by Resolve Media seems to indicate that anyone selling e-readers better do whatever it takes to keep iPads out of the hands of consumers.

The report states that after buying an iPad, 49 percent of people said they would not be buying another e-reader.

There’s also bad news for other devices — 38 percent said they wouldn’t buy a portable gaming device, 32 percent said they wouldn’t buy a netbook or laptop — but it paints a very stark picture for the e-reader industry.

“E-readers should be worried,” Mashable writes. “Even before the Kindle and Nook price cuts, we were already seeing some movement with lower-priced e-readers. We think that reading-only devices will ultimately find a new market at the sub $100 price point. Even at $200, the value proposition for an e-reader versus an iPad is tough to overcome.”

So, while Amazon is shipping its newest iteration of the Kindle and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos keeps talking about how the iPad and Kindle aren’t really competitors, it seems the more people discover the iPad, the more hurt is in store for the Kindle and similar devices.

Fortunately for Amazon, the Kindle isn’t just a device, it’s a software platform, an app that works on the iPad and, I have to say, on the iPad, it’s wonderful, well-built software that makes reading on the iPad a really nice experience.

And the same’s true for Barnes and Noble. They have the Nook but they also have software that works on the iPad.

I’m the thinking that for e-reader companies, the writing’s on the wall, er, tablet.

Read This: A Middle School is Still Trying to Recover from Katrina

In Media, Politics, Uncategorized on July 8, 2010 at 9:15 am

Now that I’ve written the headline, I’m thinking it’s a little misleading because it really wasn’t Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans, it was the failure of the levees after the fact that caused so much destruction.

Anyway, that’s another argument for another time.

Today we’re talking about one of the most fabulous organizations on the planet — Read This. I’ve written about them before and feel I could never really write enough about them. They solicit books for school libraries and other places that need them. They make sure that kids have something to read.

They’ve helped kids in the Bronx and Brooklyn and the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is truly noble work.

Among their current projects is helping collect books for the library in the soon-to-reopen Andrew Jackson Middle School in St. Bernard Parish. (for those of you who don’t know, Jackson is huge down there because it was in New Orleans that he defeated the British during the War of 1812).

Their goal is 1,400 books by September. As of July 1, they had collected 605 and had 795 to go. They are not the only ones helping the schools down there, which really need some assistance.

So, take a minute, head to either Read This or the website of the Garden District Book Shop, an independent store down there helping in the effort and buy a book.

A kid will be thankful.

I guarantee it.

If Only Rolling Stone had had a McChrystal Ball

In Entertainment, Media, Uncategorized on June 28, 2010 at 11:15 am
General Stanley McChrystal, Commander of US Fo...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via @daylife

Rolling Stone, which last week published the profile of General Stanley McChrystal that got him removed as the head of the US war effort in Afghanistan, received a lot of criticism over how they had handled the story on the web.

I mean

A

Lot

of

Flak.

And, to some degree, they certainly deserved it, right? They had the scoop of year, maybe, and they failed to handle it in a way that guaranteed it would drive people to their website. People were somewhat apoplectic that much of Rolling Stone exists behind a paywall accessible through a subscription.

And why not charge for their content? Rolling Stone’s not a charity, a not-for-profit employing people who donate their time putting the magazine together.

Rolling Stone chief Jann Wenner apparently believes that it cost some investment to create the content, it’s not unreasonable to ask people to pay a little — and really is a bit of a bargain. For less than the cost of one issue every month, you get two issues and online access to the complete archives.

And it’s not like Wenner’s some freak out in the wilderness on this. The New Yorker’s David Remnick believes that charging people for content is not unreasonable.

So, here’s my question: is it possible that maybe there was something else behind all of this criticism, some sort of ulterior motive, perhaps?

Probably not — at least on purpose.

What the reaction to the article does show is just how lousy a job the media’s been doing in general (no pun intended).

Pretty much all of the reaction to the story has been about the most salacious quotes in the story — about how McChrystal and his aides personally criticized President Obama and others — and whether the quotes were on the record or off the record.

CBS’s Lara Logan even slammed Rolling Stone writer Michael Hastings, saying he’s “never served his country the way McChrystal has.”

It’s almost as if none of these critics have actually read the piece — just the prurient quotes that have been pulled out.

And why do I think this?

Because if you read the story, you might find that the most disturbing part is not that a general and his top aides are occasionally outspoken and maybe not all that politic.

The most disturbing part is that you get the sense they seem to have doubts about the war itself.

“If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular,” one top aide tells the magazine.

And while much has been made of McChrystal’s supposedly close relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the article makes it clear, the relationship ain’t perfect.

Hastings recounts how the day before the “doomed offensive” in Marja, the general needed to talk to Karzai but was told he was sleeping.

“After several hours of haggling, McChrystal finally enlisted the aid of Afghanistan’s defense minister, who persuaded Karzai’s people to wake the president from his nap.”

A lot of reporters, perhaps upset about being beat or perhaps upset by a freelancer writing something a lot of beat reporters haven’t written (see Politico’s now infamously deleted: “And as a freelance reporter, Hastings would be considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks”), chose to ignore the substance of what Hastings wrote and focused on the titilating.

And, if you have any doubt that the thing about the paywall is a red herring, for weeks Rolling Stone has been running astoundingly detailed pieces about the failure of the Interior Department to do its job, the pieces have been free on the website and really, no one’s picked them up.

People should not be surprised that Rolling Stone does great reporting.

And maybe they should do a better job of promoting their own stuff.

But let’s be real about what this is all about. People would rather focus on salacious than substance (I’m not saying everyone, clearly there’s lots of great, great, great reporting going on) and, as a result, sometimes they miss stuff and they’d rather have people not notice so they engage in misdirection.