Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Well Fuck You Too, Chertoff
Beautiful pre-State-of-the-Union moment between Stephen Breyer and Michael Chertoff that I had to capture with my digital camera and present for your viewing pleasure.
Breyer is standing with Alito. Chertoff walks over to Alito to shake hands. Breyer stands by politely, smiling, trying to engage Chertoff to say hi. Chertoff ignores him and gabs with Alito. Breyer tries to make eye contact with Chertoff, and smiles when Chertoff breaks with Alito, looking like he's ready to say hello. Chertoff walks away. Breyer waves at him. Chertoff doesn't acknowledge him. Breyer rolls his eyes as if to say, "Asshole."
Here's the video. Just watch Breyer's face. It's worth it.
2) Aren't humans animals? Just asking.
Monday, January 30, 2006
Anyway, Ted is definitely wrong about one thing that gets repeated all the time and drives me nuts:
Oddly enough, there is a looming demographic reality that could help steer television news back toward its original purpose. There are tens of millions of baby boomers in their 40's and 50's and entering their 60's who have far more spending power than their 18-to-34-year-old counterparts. Television news may be debasing itself before the wrong demographic.It has nothing to do with spending power. In television, eyeballs are a commodity. And there are fewer 18-to-34-year-old eyeballs out there--younger people watch less TV--so they are more expensive to reach. Old people, on the other hand, are always there. As one ad-buying executive put it to me a few years ago for a Chicago Tribune column I wrote about my role as a then-30-year-old viewer: "The reason that you're a valuable target right now is because you're difficult to reach--you avoid advertising and understand it. Older people are easy. They just sit and watch TV."
Couple that with the (probably false) belief among "brand theorists" that younger viewers have less brand loyalty, and are therefore likelier than old people to, say, buy a six-pack of Budweiser when last week they were drinking Miller, and you get a hotter market for younger viewers. It's not about how much money they spend, it's about how likely they are to spend it the way an advertiser wants them to spend it.
In other words, Ted: If you want the network news divisions to stop debasing themselves before the false god of youth, watch less TV. As soon as the 50-and-older crowd becomes as hard to reach as their children, they'll become more valuable to advertisers, and we'll start to see the news divisions deploy the same sorts of shameless tactics to rope them in. Who knows? The networks could even go nuts "covering" health, because it's on the mind of those rapidly deteriorating hard-to-reach boomers, and start shoving cameras up their anchors' colons or something.
Chicago to Get Slightly Less Twee
Such a move has been rumored for some time now--I remember calling Ira Glass once to check it out when I was at the Tribune more than a year ago--so it's not really a surprise. But seeing as how the presence of Glass and his Show of Shows here in Chicago has long been central to the "we're just as good as New York" line of argument, you'd think his defection to the First City would merit a mention in the Chicago Tribune. You could spin it as a local boy makes good story.
Moreover, what does this mean for WBEZ, the public radio station here that produced This American Life, and presumably minted a good deal of money selling it, through Public Radio International, to public radio stations around the nation?
As for the show itself, I doubt it will make a difference. I guess the worst that can happen is that a TV-addled Glass, finding himself surrounded by pale sycophants in a soulless, expensive city that thrives on the accumulation of wealth and buzz, begins to whore his name out to the manufacturers of hip lifestyle gadgets. Or did that already happen?
Indie Rock at Big Box Prices
Monaghan threw a fit when he saw this Best Buy circular, which advertises "20 impress-your-friends selections" from "indie heroes" like the Arcade Fire, Cat Power, and Antony and the Johnsons on sale at Best Buy stores nationwide for $7.99. That's less than wholesale. In other words, Monaghan is scraping by making a living on independent music, buying records from the likes of Merge (the Arcade Fire's label) and selling them to independent records stores around the country, only to see Merge cut a deal with Best Buy to sell the same CDs in their stores for less than they're charging him as a distributor. So he wrote an angry open letter to all the labels whose bands are part of the Best Buy promotion, and posted it on his blog. The upshot of it is: Dealing with big box stores is bad for indie music and indie record stores, for some tired-sounding reasons--they don't care about the music, man!--and some real ones--they bankrupt the labels by over-ordering something that smells like a sleeper hit, fail to sell it because they're not a music store, and then saddle the label with exorbitant return costs.
Monaghan's post sparked some very measured and thoughtful responses in the comments sections from the likes Merge co-founder Mac McCaughan, Matador Records co-president Gerard Cosloy, Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar co-founder Chris Swanson, and a host of other indie bigwigs and smallwigs. I won't summarize the back-and-forth, but it all makes for interesting reading if you care about good music and are at all curious at how the nuts-and-bolts economics of the music business play out in the ideologically charged, anti-corporate world of indie rock.
Two things worth noting: First, I was shocked at how heavily the specter of the snotty, cooler-than-you kid behind the counter at your neighborhood record store hangs over the debate. On all sides, the people who make, distribute, and retail independent music are acutely aware of how annoying the sales staff at independent record stores can be, and they view it as an actual problem for the long-term health of the business. As one anonymous label owner put it: "Another thing that is going around in my head that needs to change is the indie record stores themselves. I've worked and shopped at many of them and have noticed that often when somebody comes in and asks about something new or even older/hard to find records that they need help finding, sometimes they are treated like idiots and given attitude for not knowing what the hip thing is at the moment. Isn't it the job of the indie store to turn people on to the next cool thing in a FRIENDLY/helpful way?" Half of me says, "Right on!", but the other half feels like steeling yourself for an onslaught of over-pierced condescension is part of the charm of walking into a place like Reckless Records (which isn't really so bad, by the way).
Point Two: The best record store in Chicago is the Virgin Megastore on Michigan Ave. There, I said it. You can bash the chains all you want, but Reckless Records does not have the Small Faces best-of I was looking for. Neither does Laurie's Planet of Sound. And they don't have "Greetings From Asbury Park," and they don't have "Something Else by The Kinks," and they don't have half the records I've been meaning to buy for years. But the Virgin Megastore does, and it has the Magnolia Electric Co. record I bought last time I was there, and my choice of three Okkervil River records, and "Zen Arcade," and every other record I've ever wanted in the last four years, plus well-displayed random records that I've picked up because I like the label, or I heard the band name somewhere once. It was only recently that I stopped even bothering to check Reckless for a record before heading straight downtown.
And that's not to say that Chicago's indie records stores suck. It's just that Virgin proves that you can actually run a shitty mega-retailer well enough to satisfy a lot of different people. Selection and shelf-space matter. Whoever does the buying at Virgin is clearly making an effort to appeal to the indie-store customer, and they're doing a damn good job of it. I hate to think of myself as the sort of person who shops at any retail outlet that un-self-consciously refers to itself as a Megastore, but having almost everything you want in one place goes a long ways toward tamping down that elitist impulse.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Steve Johnson Briefly Loses His Agile Mind
Sadly, his pursuit of forthrightness and actuality in discourse seems in this instance to have corresponded, Ahab-like, with a descent into madness. Because, if I read him correctly, it is his judgment that Chicago's ABC affiliate erred grievously in choosing to break into this morning's live broadcast of the Oprah Winfrey show, an entertainment chat show on which Mr. Frey happened to appear today for his punishment from Oprah, for news coverage of a press conference with President Bush.
In other words, the public interest is better served, Steve argues, by airing live footage of Oprah yelling at some tool who wrote some book than by airing live footage of some tool who runs the goddamned country.
Priorities, Steve. The thoughts of the President of the United States, on a morning when Hamas won the elections in Palestine, and at a time when pressing questions about domestic spying need answers, and just days after a Osama bin Laden sent another postcard from Waziristan, are more important than Oprah Winfrey's Clintonian efforts to maneuver into the slipstream of anti-Frey public sentiment.
Steve has put in a call to WLS, the Chicago ABC affiliate, to ask why they cut away from such a riveting live TV event to something so flimsy and pointless as a presidential press conference. I just wish I could have seen the looks on their faces.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
The Unbearable Hackdom of Bill Carter
Two small television networks became a large one yesterday when CBS and the Warner Brothers Entertainment unit of Time Warner joined forces to form a new, youth-oriented network out of the programs on UPN and WB.This would lead the reasonable reader to believe that something about the merged network will be in some sense larger than its constituent antecedents. Will it be larger in that it airs more programming? No, it will air precisely the same number of hours of network programming per week that the WB aired. Will it be larger in terms of the number of people who work there? Perhaps, though no reporting has indicated that, and it would defy logic to hire substantially more people to work at the CW than worked at the WB or UPN, since the new network will air no more content than the old ones did and will have precisely the same mission--snag young viewers. Will it be larger in terms of viewers? Well, let's see--if you count the fact that there's ABSOLUTELY NO EARTHLY REASON to assume that any more people will tune into the CW than separately tuned into the WB or UPN, then no. On the other hand, if you count the fact that LES MOONVES IS AWESOME, than sure, why the hell not? Larger it is.
The move underscored the expanding power in the television industry of the CBS chief executive, Leslie Moonves, just a few weeks into his tenure atop a stand-alone media company. He will now oversee not only CBS, the most-watched of the broadcast networks, but also an enhanced part-time network aimed at viewers under 35 years old -- the audience that CBS reaches least well.This would lead a reasonable reader to believe that, after the merger, Moonves will have more power than he had prior to the merger. Well, let's see: Right now, pre-merger, Moonves controls a massively powerful broadcast network in the form of CBS, a struggling mini-network in the form of UPN, and a bunch of other shit. Post-merger, he will control a massively powerful broadcast network in the form of CBS, share control in a 50-50 partnership with Warner Bros. over a mini-network that for all we know could lose more money than UPN and the WB put together, and the same bunch of other shit that he controlled pre-merger. Sounds like an expansion to me.
Way to swing for the fences, Bill.
Monday, January 23, 2006
I Guess They Added a New Pulitzer Category For Blogger Profiles
I Swear, I Seen It on the CSI.
It's true: Fetuses tend to be much more quiet and withdrawn than their mothers, a phenomenon only recently revealed by the advent of DNA testing.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
So, Honey, How Was Your Day?
Story No. 1: "The oldest prisoner on California's death row was executed yesterday, a frail, blind and wheelchair-bound convicted killer who turned 76 hours before he died."
Story No. 2: "Keira Knightley lost out on a Golden Globe but that didn't stop her dancing the night away at the Beverly Hills Hilton."
Tip Your Soundguy
A host of benefit shows to pay off Gary's medical bills are coming up in the next week or so, and you should attend at least one of them:
Friday, January 20th:
In the side bar:
Devil in a Woodpile
Tickets are $25 for the main room, and $10 minimum donation for the side
New Duncan Imperials
Mr. Rudy Day
Diamond Jim Greene
Tickets $10 advance, $12 at the door.
Sunday, January 22nd:
Kids show: The Blisters
Wee Hairy Beasties (featuring Jon Langford, Sally Timms, Kelly Hogan, Scott
Ligon and Devil in a Woodpile)
Starts at noon and goes until 4.
Adults $10, kids $5
Chris Mills (solo)
Thursday, January 26th:
Dave & Jim Boquist and Mike Heidorn
Mark Sheehy aka Sleepydog
Lisa DeRosia & Lush Budgett
Tickets on sale now for $15.
Friday, January 27:
Tickets on sale now for $12.
Saturday, February 4th:
Afternoon show starting @ 4:30
If you can't make any of the above, a trust has been set up in Gary's name at National City Bank, 1520 N. Damen Chicago IL 60622, or you can send donations to Bloodshot Records, 3039 W. Irving Park Rd. Chicago, IL 60618
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Spy v. Spy
So why isn't the headline, "Secret NSA Wiretaps Led FBI to 'Potential Terrorists"? I don't know what a potential terrorist is, but it seems pretty clear that the NSA program turned up at least one. It seems like the FBI sources are attempting to attack the wiretap program on bureaucratic and pragmatic grounds: Screw the Constitution, it's a waste of time and shoeleather anyway. But that's a very tough argument to make, because all you need is one good hit to justify all the effort. And the FBI obviously can't make the case that zero good leads have emerged, or you wouldn't have all that ass-covering language attributed to counterterrorism sources.
Of course, if you oppose the illegal wiretaps, as I do, you have to be willing to do so even if they work. Their utility or efficacy shouldn't enter into the argument.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Friday, January 13, 2006
Last Call For Avocet
Why I Am Glad I Don't Work For a Newspaper
Here's how that showed up in the Washington Post: "peepers, prowlers, pederasts, [knickers enthusiasts], punks and pimps."
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
The View From Room 101
Keep Your Friends Close and the Gleeful Chroniclers of Your Ignominous Decline Closer
Which is why this tidbit, dated December 7, 2005, on Frey's web site made me choke up a bit at the Fox and the Hound-ness of it all:
Have a friend Jessica Coen doing a reading next week in NY she runs a great site called Gawker ceck [sic] her out if you have a chance.
Someone Appears to Be Awake at the Chicago Tribune
The interesting cultural news story at hand is the revelation that James Frey made a bunch of stuff up, and it is an ideal candidate for being sidelined by the Tribune's "Interesting + Timely = Too Much Work" ethos. It would require acknowledging the existence of New York City, for one, which is exhausting. And who reads books anyway?
But lo! What is this? James Janega has not only written a news account of the Frey flap, but he actually traveled to Frey's hometown of St. Joseph, Mich. And in the course of actually reporting on a cultural news story, he appears to have advanced it, uncovering previously unreported police records that buttress the case the Frey was more of a reckless frat boy than a self-destructive monster. And it appeared in today's Tribune. I'm speechless.
The implications are astounding: The Tribune is now seemingly prepared to not only acknowledge interesting, culturally significant news stories that don't relate to White House-appropriate footwear or dognapping, but they actually approved travel to catch up on a story almost immediately after reading about it in the New York Times.
(I am left to wonder, however, whether they would have jumped on it so quickly it had Oprah Winfrey's name not been attached--she was an early champion of Frey's and is largely responsible for his success. Half of me has to assume that the only way anyone in the Tribune Tower even came across the story was via an "Oprah Winfrey" Google News Alert. On the other hand, Janega's story manages to name her without citing her connection to Chicago, another astounding shift in the Tribune's news principles.)
Monday, January 09, 2006
Avocet Flies Again
Celebrated rock and roll band Avocet is headlining this Friday night--Friday the Thirteenth--at the Viaduct. That's the theater right by the, um, viaduct at Western and Belmont. It's a great and odd venue: Off the beaten path, theater seating, with actual theatrical productions earlier in the evening and rock later at night. Plus a full-service bar and the hospitality of co-owners Rob and Whitney. It's a very cool place to play, and a fun place to see a show. So come on by:
Avocet, with Trio in Stereo and The Lesser Scene
Friday January 13th
3111 N. Western Ave.
Doors: 9:30 p.m.
Show: 10 p.m.
Here are some Avocet live recordings if you want to prepare yourself.
Sunday, January 08, 2006
Friday, January 06, 2006
Great Moments in Drudgery
Martin Peretz, Real-Time Curmudgeon
So what was this wild wind blowing through the Plank yesterday? "And, instead of what one might think would have been from the 'other side,' at least in elementary fairness, NPR presented the misanthropic left-wing Israeli novelist David Grossman sputtering the bile that only a very few still feel for Sharon in Israel." As I read the post--an unreconstructed, angry rant about NPR's (you know, National Palestinian Radio) coverage of Sharon's stroke bearing all the subtlety of a Free Republic dispatch--I had a sense that the unhinged correspondent on the other side of the screen couldn't be a blog regular. And lo, the sign-off at the end revealed that it was none other than Martin Peretz, the doctrinaire owner of the New Republic and Grandpa Simpson of the blogosphere.
That was the first I'd noticed of Peretz popping up on the Plank, and since then he's contributed two more communiques that point to a T. Herman Zweibel in the offing. Here's Peretz in an apparently unprovoked and utterly baffling attack on Jack Shafer for a percieved slight incurred two decades ago--it's marred only by Peretz's failure to note that, back then, a gentlemen wore an onion on his belt, as was the fashion at the time:
Every time I see Jack Shafer's name, as I did on The Plank this morning, I recall him writing a nasty squib about me in the Washington City Paper some 20-odd years ago apropos my obsession with the Syrians thinking that Lebanon and other independent states (including Turkey and Israel) were actually parts of Greater Syria. Squib, squat. Now, Shafer knows just about squat of the Middle East, let alone the Syrians' view of their historic destiny. But recent events--like the Syrian assassination of Rafik Hariri after the nearly three decades occupation of poor Lebanon--also stirred my memory of Shafer's haughty ignorance. Did you, dear reader, know for example that Syria never had an ambassador in Lebanon? What does that mean about Syria's ambitions and designs?Ha! Take that, Shafer, you vile squibster, you!
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Stranger in the House
Chris Can Be Quite Saucy When The Fancy Strikes
She is perpetually described as saucy but has been married for years to Chris Lehmann, a writer for Congressional Quarterly.What is that supposed to mean? You can't be both saucy and married to Chris Lehmann? Or any CQ staffer?
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Klein Lowers the Bar
"Our coverage was outstanding on every level," Klein told the Associated Press. "Unlike print, which has to live with its mistakes etched in stone, TV is able to correct itself immediately. I think the audience accepts that."
Two things. Firstly: No matter how you assign the blame, to describe as "outstanding" your network's uneqivocal, unsourced, and unleavened assertions over the course of three hours that 12 miners survived, when in fact only one did, is sophistry. This is not an instance of "we just report what we're told." No matter how you cut it, and even if you accept no blame for reporting the word of 12 survivors, any reasonable and self-aware leader of a news organization would have to regret, given subsequent events, the fervor and conviction with which Cooper and others asserted an essentially unsourced fact. Maybe CNN did the best job they could--I don't think they did--but even if all are blameless, someone in Klein's position ought to have the tact to recognize that misreporting crucial details of life and death for three hours is not outstanding journalism.
Secondly: So what if TV is able to correct itself immediately? Does that mean that it's OK to say things that you don't know to be true, so long as you stop saying them if you find out that they aren't true? The only thing CNN flacks have left to trumpet is the perception that CNN is more reliable and trusted than its cable competitors. I know that everyone got it equally wrong on the miners, and I am singling CNN out here. But if Klein actually believes that CNN's commitment to the accuracy of the assertions its anchors make ought to be less rigorous than that of a newspaper, then he's taking away the one last feather in the poor, lost network's cap.
Bill Hemmer's Mother Says She Loves Him
In other words, the cable news channels elevated a bullshit rumor to a miracle last night, despite the protestations of some of their own--Bob Hager on MSNBC made an honorable but futile attempt to puncture Rita Cosby's increasingly desperate proclamations of heavenly intervention by pointedly noting the lack of a company news conference, but he failed to articulate exactly why it should be troubling.
The whole bunch behaved like third-rate rookies who'd never seen a false rumor overtake a media frenzy. It was a shameful performance.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Do the Seats Recline?
Now we know why Anderson Cooper jetted off to West Virginia at the very first whiff of methane:
Cooper: Some perspective now on what these crews and, we hope, what these miners are still going through. Bruce Dial, a mining consultant, is with us in Charlotte, North Carolina, tonight. Bruce, thanks for being with us. What exactly is a manbus?And where can I get one?