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Thursday, Sep 20, 2007

When a 21-year-old Florida college student was tackled and Tasered by campus cops at a recent John Kerry speech, the ensuing YouTube footage set off a mini-debate about the issues of free speech and the use of excessive force. Andrew Meyer, the rambunctious—some may say obnoxious—student, began the melee by allegedly muscling his way up to the front of the question line, and proceeding to aggressively shout queries at the former presidential candidate.


“Clinton was impeached for what, a blowjob?” Meyer confidently stated, “Why don’t we impeach Bush?... Were you a member of Skull and Bones in college with Bush?” he continued, “Were you in the same secret society?”


The campus ‘tin-badge’ squad then moved in, trying to haul the loud-mouth student away—and here’s where things got complicated. Meyer resisted; escalating the episode by making a huge dramatic scene out of the whole mess. Campus cops then over-reacted by Tasing the guy after he was wrestled down to the floor.


The cable news coverage was ubiquitous. Tucker Carlson correctly stated that the cops should “be ashamed of themselves,” while Rachel Maddow, appearing on Countdown with Keith Olberman, agreed that the campus cops were overzealous but also called the student a “loud mouth activist.” (Good call on both counts.) Finally, America’s most popular (alleged) sexual predator, Bill O’Reilly, not only believes Meyer is “the biggest wimp in the United States of America” but also that “he should be prosecuted.”


My analysis:


Andrew Meyer: You’re an idiot. Ask your question and sit down. This forum was not meant to be about you and you conspiracy theories. Furthermore, when police attempt to contain you— don’t resist. Nothing good will come of it. That should be common sense.


Tin-Badge Squad: Turn in your Tasers and plastic pistols. There were about six of you surrounding this 21-year-old college student as he was sprawled out on the ground. Slap the cuffs on him and drag him out. A Taser? What were you thinking? You knew there were more than a few cameras aimed at you. Didn’t you learn anything from Rodney King. Enjoy your “leave of absence.”


Anyway, if you haven’t already seen the video, here it is:


 


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Thursday, Sep 20, 2007

In this public letter, the folks at website/news service antiMusic blast back at a PR firm who was trying to buy them off for good reviews.  Nowadays, people are so cynical about the press that buying editorial favor that might not surprise them.  With many pubs trying to survive, some have taken to ask for labels for ad money to ensure that their product gets reviewed (NY Rock did this for instance but insisted that it wouldn’t mean that they had to give a positive review).  The antiMusic folks note that several other pubs shunned the PR company for trying the same tactic.  Still, you have to wonder if some mags did say yes…


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Thursday, Sep 20, 2007
Mobile Phone for Dogs from Technoism.com

Mobile Phone for Dogs from Technoism.com


Sound Bites Are Getting Way Smaller


A couple of months ago (I think) on his blog New York based venture capitalist Fred Wilson mused that he’d like to get his news through Twitter: short, sharp, relevant, urgent. His company, Union Square Ventures, has investments in some of the new companies subtly and quietly changing the nature of the media, often in an intelligent way—the bookmarking service de.licio.us, and local news portal outside.in as well as twitter—and now he can.


Twittering turns a person into a human geotag, generating text-message-like thoughts, directions and comments. Now there’s ReportTWITTER.


Ever thought that your Twitters should become publicised just like the articles you pen every day? Or that your editors would respect you that tad more if they knew how you got hold of that crucial information? Guess what, we have a proposal for you. Sign up on our Twitter platform dedicated to reporters:


Let the world experience first hand how you go about your reporting. From the minute you think of an article idea until you hit the ‘publish now’ button.
Use your Twitters to set up interviews. Just twitter about the necessity of the interview and invite the candidate to your personal .article in progress page. and set the scene for a lively interaction.
Message other ReporTwitters and swap proofing favors, tips.
Your work might be spotted by news editors on the lookout for talent in your part of the world.


Home Page. reporTWITTERS


For an example of the kind of story that might be compiled from twittering, read Angelique van Engelen’s story “We Almost Know What The Voice of Money Sounds Like” published on Global Politician, based on The Economist’s index of what a Big Mac costs in various parts of the world, and ‘crowdsourced’ opinions for her essay about tracking people according their tastes and shopping habits, with reference to William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition.



New Book Reports on the Media


Phillip Adams’ “Late Night Live” on the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Radio National is a national treasure. There’s always the feeling that we’re eavesdropping from the next table at a fantastic, provocative wide-ranging dinner conversation between people fascinated by one another. As a podcast it has a national audience. This week don’t miss Phillip’s conversation with journalist and television producer David Salter about his book “The Media We Deserve: Underachievment in the Fourth Estate” which begins this way: “The Print and Broadcast material we consume every day is diverse, perverse, distracted, uneven, shallow, logically inconsistent, infuriatingly opportunistic, often crassly commercial, insufferably pretentious and rarely witty. But it is also generally competent and occasionally very good indeed. Trying to untangle that knot of contradictions is the task that occupies the pages ahead.”


MySpace Experiments With Advertising


MIT’s Technology Review reports that the social networking site is drawing from users’ profiles for an “interest targeting” experiment that’s in its first phase:


... culling likes and dislikes from its users’ pages to sell ads in 10 broad categories such as finance, autos, fashion and music.


MySpace advertisers can now get much more than the basic demographic data contained in site registration forms, Peter Levinsohn, who heads Fox Interactive Media, told an investor conference.


The site has more than 3 million users in each category and can place ads based on responses to questions about users’ likes and dislikes, favorite movies and music. Data is even extracted from blog entries, where users write at length about their lives.


Oliver Sacks, Writer and Neurologist Brings His Storytelling Skills to Columbia University


At the beginning of September the neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks was named as an artist in residence at Columbia University.


Attracted by his breadth of interests, ranging from schizophrenia to music, Columbia University has appointed Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and writer, as its first Columbia artist, a newly created designation. The new appointment will allow Dr. Sacks, the author of 10 books and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, to range freely across Columbia’s departments, teaching, giving public lectures, conducting seminars, seeing patients and collaborating with other faculty members. Many of the details of his appointment have yet to be worked out, but among other things, he will be teaching in the university’s creative writing department as well as at the medical school.


His newest story for The New Yorker is on amnesia and music.


 


 


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Wednesday, Sep 19, 2007


There is perhaps no more detail-oriented director than Roman Polanski. All his films, from his initial landmark productions to his later misguided efforts, have concentrated on the minutia and facets of life from which epic circumstances appear to arise. Movies like Chinatown or Rosemary’s Baby are not just well acted, brilliantly scripted works of creative cinematic construction, but they are carefully observed sketches of finely intricate scrutiny.


Everything is significant in a Polanski film; the setting, a character’s coat, the view in the window behind an actor, the placement of items on a desk. His moviemaking language, the importance of the camera and framing, the creation of an outside voice to generate tension and drama between the individuals onscreen is as imperative as the words they are saying and the emotions they are expressing.


When everything comes together, the technical and the emotional, there is no better filmmaker. When one is missing, however, or if both are weak, then there is no more artificial movie mind. Polanski is a student of film as a mechanical craft. He is also an artisan, a handmade creator of complex scenarios and interweaving undercurrents. Sometimes his style can substantially outweigh his substance, but he is usually able to balance both to create something magical out of a sort of cinematic geometry.


Polanski’s first full-length feature film, Knife in the Water, is a technical marvel, a masterpiece of composition and perfected camera work. It is filled with startling, glorious black and white imagery, obvious symbolism, and shots of staggering complexity and construction. At its core, it is a three person psychological drama that takes place over a period of 24 hours on a small sailboat adrift in a lake, a simple, subtle struggle between classes and emotions. Yet through its sweeping vistas and rampant artistic touches, it is also a movie of greater scope and universal platitudes.


One can look at Knife and see the start of a thousand future film projects: movies that capture interpersonal and sexual tension between lovers and strangers, spouses, and students. One can also feel the foundation for Polanski’s entire career, a series of movies that deal with untold secrets, unspoken pain, and unexpected connections. No one is who he or she seems to be in Knife in the Water.


The husband is not a brave, successful man; the wife is not a happy, contented partner; and the enigmatic, blond-haired hitchhiker is not the switchblade wielding threat he portrays. They are more than their outer face…but they are also less. Actually, the question becomes who exactly are these people and what do they really stand for? Unfortunately, Knife has little desire to address this quandary.


This is a major misstep in this film. The obvious ambiguousness to almost every event that happens on screen and the characters creating the scenarios renders Knife in the Water cold and calculating when it should be hot with untold tension. This is not a thriller in the traditional sense. We are not witnessing a true battle of wills or a deeply disturbed set of secretly acted-out agendas. Indeed, the characterization and dramatics play out like the languid day on a calm blue waterway. Issues are allowed to drift and stagnate, motives become ill defined and lazy, and the entire story sags beneath underdeveloped plot sails.


Part of the problem here is that we really don’t have anyone to identify with. The husband and wife appear content, yet there is a thread of hatred between them that only flares up once. When it does, the movie crackles and burns. Finally, we are seeing something of the subconscious. But it’s one of the few times where we experience such insight or shock.


The rest of the movie is just too vague, too sub-textual to spell out—or in some cases even hint at—the issues irritating the characters. A great deal of the dynamic between the players here has to be inferred, created in the mind of the viewer from half-heard lines of dialogue, a stolen glance or two, and most unfortunately, from a backlog of similarly structured post-Polanski storylines. If Knife in the Water is indeed a creepy, suspenseful love/hate/horror triangle between disaffected marrieds and an ingenious, insane interloper, the reason for its success as such is purely cinematic craft. Just like any summarization, we keep waiting for the real meat of the story to step forward and be recognized.


Maybe it’s better to view Knife in the Water as not about a marriage on the brink or a young man trying to unseat a dominant male. This is Communist Poland, after all, and no amount of Western allusion can dilute the fact that we are dealing with a strict class structure and sense of social composition. The youth (as this is how he is referred to in the credits) is supposed to be a scared, wild-eyed dreamer, the kind of impressionable mind the Party recruits and debases for the sake of the common good.


Krystyna is supposed to be subservient and dissatisfied with life: wives behind the Iron Curtain don’t have the liberation of America or Europe and marry more out of convenience than love or sex. And the older businessman (or bureaucrat or ranking government official) is indeed the boss, the controlling and commanding dispassionate pawn to dogma that makes the political machine ebb and flow. So there’s not much more of a dynamic that can be created or challenged. These people are doomed to fulfill their State-sponsored roles.


In interviews, Polanski’s stated desire to strip the dialogue back, to only present small, selected portions of these people’s thoughts and personas, is irreparable to Knife in the Water. Perhaps he felt his camera would fill in the blanks, but in reality, that attitude backfires and it becomes increasingly impossible to understand the individual’s motivation or if they even have any. Tension and suspense only work when we feel something is at stake, when something we care for or understand is threatened or about to be. In Knife in the Water, the characters never truly come alive for us. So, in turn, we never really care what happens.


Yet the visual scope and sense of artistic structure mostly makes up for the lack of a fully realized internal element. Indeed, you can watch this film, never once worrying about the people or the plot and simply sit back and enjoy a cinematic impressionist at work. Polanski piles on the unique angles (only Kubrick indulged in more lens and placement machinations) and faultless compositions, making the superficial facets of his film simply exquisite. He uses everything at his disposal to maintain a moody, atmospheric tone. Costumes and setting, blocking and in-frame tableaus, even a fantastically multi-faceted jazz score all combine to create a sense of dread and foreboding. It is easy to see why this is a much praised motion picture. It is probably as close to visual perfection as you will witness, the ultimate blending of the monochrome medium to light and shadow, image and presentation.


Yet one can’t help but be bothered by the vagueness, the sheer lack of specificity that runs throughout the story being told. Like the irritating bearer of information that keeps hinting over and over as to what the secret or the story really is (and eventually fails to divulge everything completely), Knife in the Water‘s all too well hidden agendas eventually grow tiresome. You want someone to rage. You want someone to lust. All this polite positioning is just not dramatic.


But perhaps Knife in the Water is not supposed to represent anything more than these hidden desires and sequestered sentiments of people under the rule of a totalitarian thumb. Setting is as important to Polanski as anything else, and Poland circa 1960 was not a wellspring of openness and experimentation. This trip on the lake is a chance to escape the complex prerequisites of a society under Soviet domination. It is these people’s brief chance to shed the images impressed upon them by the Marxist ideals. These are citizens without power, with only their place within the class configuration to preserve their identity. How they interact on the boat is perhaps how they would do so within any other social setting or Party meeting. This is not a time for in-depth personal revelation, nor is there a communal climate for such.


At most, it’s a chance to test the waters, so to speak, to barely open the door to the psyche and discover the undercurrents of discontent running through each of them. Or maybe this is all just an excuse for Polanski to create a love letter to his favorite pastime of that moment: sailing. Indeed, a boat is merely a knife in the water, cutting a swath along the glass-like stillness of the surface, revealing a small wake of what’s underneath before quickly closing back up. Just like the nick of a blade to the skin. Just like our trio of isolated souls. While far from perfect on the interpersonal level, Polanski’s first feature heralds an artist in full effect.


This is also evident from his work in short films. As part of this DVD package, Criterion collects eight of Polanski’s mini movies. They span the period of 1957-62 and cover all genres, from drama to absurdist comedy. Each movie looks fantastic with only minimal defects. The only real visual issues come with the final short, Mammals. It has a fuzzy, faded look that may have been intentional, or may be the result of age or production problems (after all, it must be difficult to film in the bleak whiteness of snow). Each one of these movies is a masterwork of form, style, and simple near-silent storytelling, even when the plots seem obtuse or illogical. Murder is a brief snippet of crime in controlled shots. Teeth Smile tells a voyeur’s tale from a wonderful, beautifully framed mise-en-scène.


Break Up the Dance is the first experiment in more long form narrative. Here, Polanski tries to challenge tone and show a happy set-up (a swanky, invite only party) followed by an anarchic ending (a gang of thugs literally break things up). Lamp is the notion of progress competing with old world ways. A new electrical system destroys a dollmaker’s shop, and the magic inside, when it replaces the reliable oil lamp therein. The aforementioned Mammals is really an allegory for the battle between man and his nature for evolutionary and social superiority. Basically boiled down to a snowbound tale of one rube forced to pull another along on a sleigh, it’s a game of one-upmanship to see who gets to play master and who gets to be subservient.


The three longest shorts, however, are also the best. Two Men and a Wardrobe tells the tender tale of a couple of jolly furniture movers who suddenly appear from out of the ocean, oversized cupboard in hand. As they move around a cityscape devolving into crime and brutality, the good-natured duo are put upon and ridiculed, refused service in restaurants, and beaten by thugs. The dichotomy between people who are different and the stubborn prejudice of the community strikes chords of instant recognition.


What is not so readily apparent is the quiet gentility in the story and the painful pathos of watching the innocent be oppressed. Equally stirring is The Fat and the Lean, a strange tale of ritualistic patterns that reveals how the ties than bind are more damaging than the ability to break free. As a sad servant tries his best to entertain and care for his obese, dictatorial master, he longs for freedom and a life in the big city, away from service and supplication. It is funny, sad, and stupid all in one big bravura cinematic performance.


But probably the best piece of moviemaking in the whole DVD package is When Angels Fall, the brutally devastating story of an old woman forced to live out her last days with haunting memories of her past as she monitors a men’s bathroom. Surrounded by bums and hustlers, urinals dripping with running water, we see a face devastated by time and fate thinking back and recalling: remembering her youth, remembering young love, remembering family, and always, remembering loss in wartime. Shifting from the black and white realities of the toilet to the faded colors of memory, it shows that Polanski, even as a graduating student from school, was a genius of visual arts.


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Wednesday, Sep 19, 2007

The Golden Rule #8


By Chris Justice


Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca


With so many reflections and images of 9/11 resurfacing last week, and a reinvigorated national debate about the future of Iraq bubbling once again, I cannot help but think of Afghanistan. Then my mind wanders…to the 1942 classic Casablanca and its many lessons about coping with war. I’m reminded of Rick and Ilsa, how they’d always have Paris, and how war shapes our collective memories.

Then, it wanders to George Bush and Dick Cheney and how, amidst so many failures in Iraq, they can so easily and conveniently turn to Afghanistan and reminisce about their successes in that forgotten war. Like Bogie and Bergman, Bush and Cheney will always have Afghanistan and its successes to trumpet their many victories in the War on Terrorism; however, an elephant lurks, and it’s not the Republican Party. It’s Bush and Cheney’s lies, fuzzy long-term memory, and numerous manipulations: they never had Afghanistan, not in 2001 and not today.


Why are more Americans not outraged and harping on the failures in Afghanistan? One reason is the way U.S. media has covered this war, which is now almost six years old. But coverage alone is not the problem. A few journalists are covering stories there well; what producers do with those stories and how they prioritize Afghanistan are larger issues. How can Americans learn about Afghanistan if they have no idea what is happening there? The American Journalism Review and The Columbia Journalism Review, among a few other media outlets, have been reporting information about Afghanistan since the war began, but they are a small minority, and I wonder how many journalists are listening.


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