Amazon's Locker Is Getting Music Companies Riled Up

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I'm not crazy about Amazon's new cloud drive digital locker service (Sarah Perez articulates many of the problems with it here) but I also think it's in poor taste to look a gift horse in the mouth. If Amazon wants to give you 5 GB of free storage, why should consumers complain about it?

Turns out that the music industry has complaints of a more litigious nature. From Reuters:

A new Amazon.com Inc service that lets customers store songs and play them on a variety of phones and computers is facing a backlash from the music industry that could ignite a legal battle. Amazon's Cloud Drive, announced on Tuesday, allows customers to store about 1,000 songs on the company's Web servers for free instead of their own hard drives and play them over an Internet connection directly from Web browsers and on phones running Google Inc's Android software. Sony Music, home to artists such as Shakira and Kings of Leon, was upset by Amazon's decision to launch the service without new licenses for music streaming, said spokeswoman Liz Young.

Because what the music industry really needs right now is a costly legal battle with one of the largest online retailers in the world (who, by the way, are trying to make it more convenient for you to listen to your music). Oh, music industry! When will you ever learn?

Update: Billboard has an interview with Amazon's director of music explaining why they don't believe they need music licenses for the service.

Your iPod May Soon Be Charged By Your Heart

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Cool breakthrough, but will we ever see it in practical applications?

The Whole Bloody Affair

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Mr. Beaks at AICN reviews Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair, which recently screened at the New Beverly:

Shorn of commerce-conceding baggage, turns out KILL BILL is a masterpiece after all. KILL BILL: THE WHOLE BLOODY AFFAIR is not be the value-added orgy of cinema it was rumored to be; it is instead the definitive cut of the film, the one Miramax would've released had there been $120 million worth of admissions out there for a four-hour-plus paean to martial arts and motherhood. This is not a surprise: Tarantino screened this cut for critics at Cannes in 2004, and would later show it at the Alamo Drafthouse and the American Cinematheque. It's a known quantity. Those pining for an extended anime sequence or a House of Blue Leaves showdown with grislier deaths will have to settle for the latter finally unfolding sans MPAA-friendly switch to black-and-white. Perhaps there will be gore-soaked outtakes whenever this cut makes its way to Blu-ray (don't ask when, 'cuz no one seems to know at the moment). Considering how Tarantino typically holds back deleted scenes (e.g. the missing Maggie Cheung footage from INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS), I wouldn't count on it. And, really, who needs to see it?

The whole thing sounds incredible, and I hope I get a chance to check it out some day....

Behind the Brutal College Admissions Process

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NPR has a story about my alma mater's admissions process. In this context, I can't believe I made it through!

The Extra Hot Great Podcast Is Extra Hot and Great

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When I first heard of the concept of the TV episode recap years ago, back during the internet's earlier days, I was pretty baffled. "How could a summary of an episode possibly be anywhere near as enjoyable as the episode itself?" I thought. But browsing through televisionwithoutpity -- a pioneer of the form -- I got my answer. The summaries were full of wit, insight, and trenchant commentary. Occasionally the humor reminded me of the format of the sitcom itself, an endless series of setups and satisfying payoffs. 

There's a certain art form to summarizing TV, film, or any other cultural element, and former TWoP staff members like Tara Ariano, Joe Reid, and David T. Cole have totally mastered it. But is it possible to transfer this hybrid of humor and pop culture appreciation into an audio format? After listening to their podcast, Extra Hot Great, my answer is a resounding "Yes!"

I'd listened to these guys' previous podcast experiments before, and while the content was good, I found the audio quality sorely lacking. Thus, when I heard they'd be starting up a new project, I was fairly intrigued. After listening to a few episodes this past week, not only did the Extra Hot Great podcast blow away my expectations, but it has become my new podcast love. I am tearing through older episodes in a way I haven't for any podcast I've ever listened to, and I'm deeply sad that I will soon run out. (Note: While the sound quality isn't perfect, it's vastly improved from their earlier efforts and definitely listen-able).

So what makes this show compulsive listening? To start with, each of the guests is insanely knowledgeable about pop culture, to an extent that deeply intimidates me. And while I often find myself violently disagreeing with them (especially Tara), they're able to communicate their love for TV and film in a way that I find insightful, and that sometimes makes me think, "Hm, I never thought about that episode/moment/series that way before...but that's definitely the way I'm going to think about it from now on!" We should long for these "Aha!" moments in general, but to get them from a podcast is a special sort of gift.

In addition to discussing recent TV shows and films, there are also some great segments such as "The Canon" where one of the hosts tries to present the case to "canonize" a specific episode of a beloved show, as well as "Game Time," an ultra-nerdy game show segment that will make any TV junkie feel right at home. A plethora of (what I assume are) painstakingly collected sound clips from all the TV shows discussed are interspersed throughout each episode to spice up the proceedings. At its best, the Extra Hot Great podcast is a celebration of the love of pop culture. It's a wonderful reminder that these TV shows we spend hours watching each week can illustrate truths about ourselves and, hopefully, bring us together in some small way. 

If you have any appreciation of pop culture, I'd urge you to give it a listen. I can't wait to hear more!

[P.S. Tara, if you end up reading this, I'd love to get you on my own podcast at some point. Let me know if you're interested.]

Their Eyes Were Watching You

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According to the NYTimes, you may be under surveillance RIGHT NOW:

[W]e are already continually being tracked whether we volunteer to be or not. Cellphone companies do not typically divulge how much information they collect, so Mr. Spitz went to court to find out exactly what his cellphone company, Deutsche Telekom, knew about his whereabouts.

The results were astounding. In a six-month period — from Aug 31, 2009, to Feb. 28, 2010, Deutsche Telekom had recorded and saved his longitude and latitude coordinates more than 35,000 times. It traced him from a train on the way to Erlangen at the start through to that last night, when he was home in Berlin.

Behind Google's Failed Book Deal

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Google's recent settlement with book publishers to digitize millions of books was rejected by a federal today. Paidcontent takes a look at what that means:

Ultimately, the settlement failed because it was too ambitious. Yes, Judge Denny Chin didn’t like a variety of things about the way Google executed the project, but in the end that was secondary. This was just too big for a class-action settlement. The settlement created a books registry and arranged specific revenue splits; it created methods for dealing with “orphan works,” a longstanding copyright problem that, as Chin noted, should be dealt with by Congress. All those things go far beyond simply ending a dispute. The proposed settlement was without precedent in its scope. The settlement had the potential to change the way we all interact with books—to actually change human culture. A class-action settlement just wasn’t the right tool for that serious work. Even for strong supporters of the Google Books project, it’s hard to argue with that logic.

“Basically he’s saying, this is a big deal for copyright law, and a big deal for the U.S. internationally,” said James Grimmelmann, a professor at New York Law School who has studied the settlement extensively. “In light of those things, it’s better for Congress to set this policy, than for me, a judge hearing a case between private parties.”

Women Are Less Likely To Date Outside Their Own Race

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Via the NYTimes (via Kimberly) comes an interesting report about racial preferences in the dating realm:

Consider “Racial Preferences in Dating,” a study of more than 400 graduate and professional students who participated in speed dating sessions at Columbia University organized by Raymond Fisman, Sheena S. Iyengar, Emir Kamenica and Itamar Simonson. The researchers conclude: “Even in a population of relatively progressive individuals who have self-selected into participation in a multi-cultural Speed Dating event, we observe strong racial preferences.”

There’s also a clear gender divide, as the researchers note: “Women of all races exhibit strong same race preferences, while men of no race exhibit a statistically significant same race preference.” You might think the gender gap is the result of different dating goals: perhaps the men are more interested in short-term flings, whereas the women are looking for a lasting relationship and are concerned about potential complications from cultural differences. But the researchers conclude otherwise after looking at the data: “Since older subjects (who are more likely to attend the Speed Dating sessions in hope of starting a serious relationship) have a weaker same race preference, this gender difference is unlikely to result from differential dating goals between men and women.”

The Death of Lendle

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Farhad Manjoo has written an analysis of the death of Lendle that reads as a lament for the loss of physical media. I think his heart is in the right place:

Of course, the ways in which our rights get chipped away as we move away from analog content is a constant worry in the digital age. I'm not the first pundit to note how terrible it is that we can no longer share, resell, or modify the books, movies, and video games that we get over the Internet. But the sharing restrictions that publishers have placed on e-books strike me as particularly stringent, a rule that underlines how we'll mourn physical media when it goes away. Under Amazon's and Barnes & Noble's sharing model, you're allowed to loan out a book just once, for two weeks, and while it's loaned out, you don't have access to it. The fact that publishers can't stomach even this milquetoast model should have us scared for a future in which physical media loses its primacy.

Update: And apparently, Lendle is back online!

Mortified

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The other day, Wired ran a photo of Limor "Ladyada" Fried, the first female engineer to ever to make it to the magazine's front cover. You'd think this would be cause for celebration, a sign that a publication as influential Wired was finally getting with the program and reversing its painful trend of only featuring woman primarily known as sex objects. But the internet still knows how to FUBAR this thing like nobody's business.

I'm usually a huge fan of the writings of Cord Jefferson, but this piece he wrote for Good magazine really got my blood boiling:

Wired didn't put Limor Fried on their new cover. What Fried actually looks like is below—she's a normal young woman with a lip ring and an abnormally strong brain, and that's worked wonders for her her entire life. What Wired put on its cover is an almost cartoonish Photoshop that caused one friend to look at these photos next to each other and ask, "That's the same woman?"

Here, Jefferson is basically the online equivalent of Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura, but instead he's screaming "THAT'S NOT WHAT SHE LOOKS LIKE! SHE'S REALLY HOMELY AND BLEMISHED." Sheesh.

Remarkably, Fried herself was incredibly gracious. Here's the comment she left in response to Jefferson's piece:

You found a 3+ year old photo of me in Japan, after a 20 hour flight and short hair.
The cover is stylized but that is really what I looked like. I was not 'plasticized' or 'heavily photoshopped'. if I take off my glasses, have my hair done, and wear make-up its what I look like. Jill uses lighting and makeup to create a glossy look, we saw the shots right off the camera and the only things that changed are the background color and the tool. Its her style and it looks cool! Its a bit different than my every day look, especially when shot with a proper camera and lighting, but it -is- me. I do get dressed up from time to time, being a magazine cover is one of those times! :)

My lip ring wasn't in for most of this year so far, WIRED didn't remove it or airbrush it. I wasn't wearing it, just like I wasn't wearing my glasses. If I'm happy with this and I say it's looks like me isn't that GOOD :)

A lot of things anger me about this situation. First of all, Jefferson is really complaining about a practice (airbrushing/photoshopping) that's endemic to magazine covers as a whole. So why bitch about it in this particular case? According to Jefferson, "it makes at least a little bit of sense when the women being Photoshopped are musicians and actresses, professions that, like it or not, often require their members to possess otherworldly features. Where Photoshopping makes no sense at all, not even a little, is in the world of science." I don't buy that at all. Regardless of who it is, magazines will still be following the same scripts regarding how their cover models should look. That may be troubling, but it's no more troubling because it's Wired's first cover for a female engineer.

More importantly, here's a woman who's put herself (and her face) out there in front of a national audience. Who among us has the courage to face the slings and arrows of a critical public, especially on a cover as attention-getting as this one? And you, Cord Jefferson, are going to try and "unmask" her in such a ridiculous fashion? Get a sense of decency, man.

Matt Buchanan over at Gizmodo made a great point about this too:

[M]ore interesting is what [this situation] says about the ways ultra-smart woman are perceived. What's implicit in Good's outrage is the assumption that Fried, badass engineer and genius, couldn't have possibly been as attractive as she appears on Wired's cover. The underlying message is that there has to be a distance between brains and beauty. Consider any article that marvels over the fact that Natalie Portman isn't just an attractive celebrity, she's like, smart. The general cultural narrative for attractive women who are recognizably intelligent is almost always one of surprise, one way or another—it's shocking that an attractive woman is intelligent, or that an intelligent woman is attractive...

I'm not really offering a solution (unhelpful, I know!) beyond that we need more nerdy women and more exposure for them, but in a way that's not misogynist or generally shitty. Oh, except to buy this month's issue, so hopefully Chris Anderson won't have that excuse for very much longer.

Right on.

Nobody Talks on the Phone Anymore

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Lots of anecdotal evidence, but it squares with my own experiences.

The New NYTimes.com Paywall Is Completely Incomprehensible

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Felix Salmon tries to unravel the mysteries:

This paywall is anything but simple, with dozens of different variables for consumers to try to understand. Start with the price: the website is free, so long as you read fewer than 20 items per month, and so are the apps, so long as you confine yourself to the “Top News” section. You can also read articles for free by going in through a side door. Following links from Twitter or Facebook or Reuters.com should never be a problem, unless and until you try to navigate away from the item that was linked to.

Beyond that, $15 per four-week period gives you access to the website and also its smartphone app, while $20 gives you access to the website also its iPad app. But if you want to read the NYT on both your smartphone and your iPad, you’ll need to buy both digital subscriptions separately, and pay an eye-popping $35 every four weeks. That’s $455 a year.

The message being sent here is weird: that access to the website is worth nothing. Mathematically, if A+B=$15, A+C=$20, and A+B+C=$35, then A=$0.

Why We Still Can't Close Down Guantanamo

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And we probably won't be able to for a long time, if ever:

After Obama’s election, a team led by the Pentagon’s top detainee official, Sandra Hodgkinson, was tasked with determining whether it would be possible to close Gitmo and move all detainees to military prisons in the U.S. A person familiar with the team’s work said that it examined four possible locations: the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C.; the Army prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; the Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton, Calif.; and the Marine Corps Air Station at Miramar, Calif. The team concluded that the incoming administration could meet its 12-month deadline for closing the facility if work got started immediately. The Pentagon conveyed the findings to Obama and his national-security team. Shortly after taking office, the president issued the executive order officially promising to close the prison within a year.

A person who has read the Hodgkinson team’s report said, however, that it failed to adequately take into account the political and logistical challenges of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The group didn’t consider whether Congress was likely to provide the necessary funding to build a new prison, and it didn’t examine the sheer bureaucratic challenges of doing major construction on domestic military bases, a lengthy process that involves environmental-impact studies and other hurdles, this person said.

The Treacherous Path to Massage Therapy

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Christy Vannoy has written an account of her training to be a yoga teacher that simultaneously makes me laugh and makes my blood boil.

"This is the beginning of the end of petroleum-based plastics"

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I hope so. (via Reddit)

Sensible Talk About Nuclear Power

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Because nuclear power is still probably among the safer of the powers (via Melissa)

Cambria & Friends

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On a whim last night, I went out on the town in Cambridge, Massachusetts to see if i could find a concert to photograph. I succeeded when I stumbled into the Cantab Lounge in Central Square. Andy Cambria and a bunch of his bluegrass colleagues put on a hell of a show. Who would have thought that Boston was a thriving community for fans of bluegrass? Here is a photoset of the concert that I threw together:


Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

More of Andy's music here

The Villifcation of Teachers

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You can say what you want about teacher's unions. We can probably have totally civil disagreements as to their efficacy and to their place in the U.S. education system. But can we all agree that villifying teachers, as the GOP have been relentlessly doing, is deplorable? Teachers are among the hardest working people in the world. There are a crapton of bad apples, but for every lazy teacher who coasts, there are a dozen that bust their ass to try and give some time and attention to students who the system has often forgotten.

Sarah Averill explains:

The real sting, though, is that suddenly, teachers are characterized by politicians and pundits alike as greedy money-grubbers with powerful unions and bloated benefits, who work a few hours a day with summers off, and can't even get a kid to pass an exam. There have always been people who say this, and normally we can laugh it off -- you need to have a good sense of humor, after all, to be a teacher. But now, it's not just anyone saying these things -- it's our leaders, the ones we voted for and listen to. And people, from school boards to parents, are listening to them as well.

The Inhumane Treatment of Bradley Manning

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David House's recounting of his visits with friend Bradley Manning is a must-read for those concerned with how the U.S. is upholding its own rule of law. The entire piece is tragic but this excerpt stuck out to me:

Riding the overnight train, one of the things House says he tries to put out of his mind is the hate mail resulting from his part in the campaign to support the solitary young man accused of being the "hacktivist" behind all the notorious recent publications of Wiki-Leaks. "I receive probably 10-15 pieces a day. It's quite a lot, but only one or two a week are actual death threats."

When the best part of the hate mail you receive is that "only one or two a week are actual death threats," then you know the odds are skewed against you.

The New Gatsby

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Eric Puchner has written a story about his father that's quite reminiscent (in storyline and style) of Fitzgerald's classic tale of a man trying to overcome his station in life. But while Gatsby was a tragic figure who we could all relate to, Puchner's father seems like kind of like a monster. This piece is so rich in its descriptions and in its vivid evocations of hope and promise that I didn't want it to end. Beautiful.

The Disco Stick Problem

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A fascinating piece on how sign language interpreters translate Lady Gaga and Bon Jovi into ASL:


Lady Gaga's "Love Game" is metaphorical, but exactly how metaphorical is it? Is the tone coy? Callous? Flirty? Dirty? . . . She has asked her interpreter friends how they would handle what shall now be referred to as the Disco Stick Problem. "One suggested I do this," Ison says - mimicking an aggressive hip thrust. But that solution seemed more vulgar than the playful lyrics implied. All of this would be easier if she knew more about her audience - how well they spoke American Sign Language, how well they spoke Gaga - but interpreters at performing arts gigs rarely know their audiences until they arrive at the show.

It Wasn't Meant To Be

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Denise Grollmus' essay on the disintegration of her marriage to Black Keys frontman Patrick Carney is so achingly beautiful that it's undoubtedly going to become one of my favorite longreads of 2011. The framing device she uses -- that of various objects from their relationship -- is so appropriate and painful, a reminder of how much emotion we can attach to things during our ill-fated relationships.

One of the few pieces I've read that can bring tears to my eyes. Read it.

A Word of Thanks

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Just wanted to give a shout out to my online buddy, Scott Neumyer. In addition to his day job, Scott is an author as well as a photographer. Coincidentally, these are two fields that I've recently made some inroads into, with the new Kindle Single Stephen and I just published, as well as my increasingly serious photographic pursuits.

Occasionally in my online travels, I've had the privilege to encounter super nice people who are willing to help me out, just out of the kind goodness of their hearts. Scott has certainly been one of those people, guiding me through some very uncertain processes and doing so with lots of patience, generosity, and graciousness. Thanks, Scott. Any success in my future endeavors in these fields will be partially due to you.

Check out Scott's book on Amazon's e-book store!

Videos from the Japan Earthquake

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This morning, Japan was hit with its largest recorded earthquake in history, measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale. This earthquake also caused a 10-meter tsunami to destroy untold numbers of houses and ships along the coast.

These videos show what it was like to be there. They are insane. (via Peter Kafka)





The Atrocious Sexual Assault Reporting of the NYTimes

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The New York Times recently published a piece by James C. McKinley about the brutal gang rape of an 11-year old girl. Here's an excerpt from the piece:

The police investigation began shortly after Thanksgiving, when an elementary school student alerted a teacher to a lurid cellphone video that included one of her classmates. The video led the police to an abandoned trailer, more evidence and, eventually, to a roundup over the last month of 18 young men and teenage boys on charges of participating in the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in the abandoned trailer home, the authorities said...

Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said. “Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?” said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record. “How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?”

Even on its face, the implication that the victim might have somehow been responsible for her own assault seems abhorrent in such a story (conveniently, the people explaining her proclivities are relegated to the anonymous "some").

Emily Long explains why she thinks this article is a pretty poor piece of reporting:

And here we have another variation on blaming the victim, which is blaming the victim’s parents. For one thing, the girl’s mother did not grant permission for a child to be viciously assaulted. We have no background on what was going on in the victim’s private life (which is as it should be; she and her family deserve anonymity). For all we know, the girl was no more supervised at home than she was in the Quarters, and the reasons for that could be any number of possibilities. Within the article, that makes for two quotes working against the victim, and none against the accused beyond statements about how devastated the community is by the attack as a whole.

Mary Elizabeth Williams chimes in with a thoughtful, well-written analysis (as usual):

The question, however, is not what that girl or her mother did to bring this on. And it's sloppy journalism for a reporter to run a story that casts a victim and her mother as somehow responsible for an attack, especially without including a single quote from anyone in town with a more sympathetic view of the family. That's far from the balanced journalism the Times aspires to. The girl's mother, identified only as Maria, told the New York Daily news this week that the family has received several angry phone calls, and that the child has been moved to foster care for her protection. "These guys knew she was in middle school," she said. "You could tell whenever you talked to her. She still loves stuffed teddy bears." Where's that quote in the Times story?

It's a painful thing to contemplate that a girl's circumstances may have made her more vulnerable to attack. But being vulnerable does not put the burden of what happens on the victim. No 11-year-old deserves a word of questioning or doubt on that front. No one who has ever been sexually assaulted, and certainly none who has ever been sexually assaulted in such a sustained and inhumane way, deserves to have her makeup or clothing brought into the conversation, regardless of her age. And how demoralizing, how outrageous, how sickening that once again, when a female is brutally and inhumanely attacked, the issue of what her multiple assailants apparently did somehow pales next to the curiosity over what she must have done to provoke it.

Reject Radio Revamps

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I'm usually keenly aware about most of our "competitors" in the film podcasting world (and that word is in quotes only because podcasting is not a zero sum game; people can obviously listen to more than one in any given week). That being said, there are few movie podcasts that I feel truly elevate the genre and offer a good mix of entertainment and information. The ones that come to mind immediately are probably obvious to anyone with even a cursory interest in this field: The Treatment, Filmspotting, Creative Screenwriting Magazine, not to mention the podcasts I've mentioned I can't live without. Aside from these, most of the podcasts that I hear about represent some minor variation of the "Random Guys Talking About Movies" genre, which I have no real interest in, primarily because I produce one of those shows myself (Of course, there are exceptions to this).

For a time, I felt like Reject Radio fell into the latter, less favorable camp. In my opinion, that show (under the umbrella of Filmschoolrejects) had a rough start but really started to find its voice towards its more recent episodes. However, its host, Cole Abaius, has recently "rebooted" the show with some pretty impressive results. The new format involves interviews with a variety of interesting people (a format I'm attempting myself), as well as an awesome game-show segment towards the front end that will delight anyone who reads these movie blogs on a regular basis.

My only concern is: Man, this must take a helluva lot of work! Hopefully Cole can keep it up. But regardless of whether you're a fan of Reject Radio you gotta give them props for trying something new and different.

You can check out the first revamped episode here.

In Mississippi, Half of the People with HIV Aren't Receiving Treatment

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An upsetting report from Human Rights Watch via @jimmurphysf:

The 59-page report, "Rights at Risk: State Response to HIV in Mississippi," documents the harmful impact of Mississippi's policies on state residents, including people living with HIV and those at high risk of contracting it. Mississippi refuses to provide complete, accurate information about HIV prevention to students and threatens criminal penalties for failing to disclose one's HIV status to sexual partners. At the same time, Mississippi provides little or no funding for HIV prevention, housing, transportation, or prescription drug programs for people living with HIV, and the state fails to take full advantage of federal subsidies to bolster these programs. In Mississippi, half of people testing positive for the virus are not receiving treatment, a rate comparable to that in Botswana, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.

Pornography Will Ruin Your Teaching Career

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The sad story of Tera Myers, who was unable to escape her past involvement in pornography:

A Parkway North High School science teacher has been placed on administrative leave and will not return to her job after disclosing she had worked in pornographic films before becoming a teacher, according to school district officials. The teacher, Tera Myers, requested the leave Friday after a student approached her about her past, according to the district. Previously, Myers had been suspended from a Kentucky school district for similar reasons.

Why Movies Succeed And Fail

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Drew McWeeny on why you shouldn't give Universal crap for deciding not to finance Guillermo Del Toro's newest film:

There are so many reasons good movies fail to find an audience, and it is myopic to claim marketing is the only key. I've seen good movies that were marketed well die. Just plain die. And you can sift through the ashes of a disaster and proclaim this and assert that, but all you really know for sure is that people did not want to see the movie in the theater. Maybe the movie was misrepresented to them, and they would have loved it, and they will kick themselves years later, a la "The Shawshank Redemption" or "The Iron Giant." Maybe so. Or maybe the general audience just plain didn't want something. And no matter how good it is, no matter how sure you are it deserved an audience, it just wasn't meant to be. It happens. Sometimes it's about timing. Harry kept telling me how "The Thing" was mismarketed back in 1982 today, and I'm afraid I don't agree at all. That was the same summer "E.T." came out, and if you look at what did well that year, there was an optimism that was embraced, and it simply looks to me like audiences wanted their aliens sweet and cuddly that year, instead of shape-shifty and nightmarish. It happens. You can't control that. You can't make the audience go see something. There was 100% nothing anyone in 1982 could have done differently to make "Blade Runner" into a $300 million grossing hit movie. Nothing. Absolutely no trailer or poster would have changed that movie's fate. You take Han Solo and Indiana Jones and you put him in a movie where he's an emotionally vacant "hero" who murders one woman in cold blood, gets his ass beat by another, and who has one of the most ineffective final showdowns possible with a bad guy who wins and who chooses to spare his life. I love that film, but I can understand why it failed.

Universal's been on a pretty spectacular run lately, and I don't necessarily mean that in a good way. They've made some pretty ballsy moves and when I read about the box office returns in the news, I see more misses than hits. Nonetheless, I agree with McWeeny's overall point: at least they're trying. Movies like State of Play, Land of the Lost, Paul, Duplicity and Your Highness might not all be your cup of tea, but they are all, to a significant degree, different than the big studio pap that they are shoving into our faces. Universal deserves our support.

The Case Against Anonymity

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Facebook has recently rolled out Facebook Comments, an exciting new commenting system for blogs and websites. Why is it so exciting? Because it forces people to comment using their real names (or at least, makes it more difficult to continue creating fake ones). TechCrunch has tried implementing the system, and it's had some pretty interesting results so far.

Steve Cheney, for one, claimed that the new comments were killing authenticity:

People yearn to be individuals. They want to be authentic. They have numerous different groups of real-life friends. They stylize conversations. They are emotional and have an innate need to connect on different levels with different people. This is because humans are born with an instinctual desire to understand the broader context of their surroundings and build rapport, a social awareness often called emotional intelligence.

In the beginning, Facebook catered to this instinct we all have. But FB in its current form, a big graph of people who may or may not know anything about one another, does not. And forcing people to comment – and more broadly speaking to log-on – with one identity puts a massive stranglehold on our very nature. I'm not too worried about FB Comments in isolation, but the writing is on the wall: all of this off-site encroachment of the Facebook graph portends where FB is really going in pushing one identity. And a uniform identity defies us.

The argument is basically: you're only free to be yourself when you're not being yourself.

Robert Scoble responded thusly:

Where did my authenticity come from? I knew that REAL change comes from people putting their necks on the line. I couldn’t remember a time when an anonymous person really enacted change in, well, anything. It’s why I sign my name to everything, even stuff that could get me fired. Hell, I live in an “at will” state. THIS post could get me fired! My boss could wake up tomorrow and decide he doesn’t like the shirt I’m wearing and fire me. People have been fired in Silicon Valley for less you know. Look at all the images from Egypt (and I hope you don’t think I’m comparing myself to those heroes who sacrificed their lives there) but they put their necks on the line and they signed their name to the ultimate sacrifice. They were NOT cowards. THEY LOVE FACEBOOK AND THE VOICE IT GIVES THEM!

As usual, I think the true answer lies somewhere in between. We can't all be like Robert Scoble. Not everyone has his outsized personality, his willingness to put himself out there, his defiance of any potential consequences that could arise from the things he says. That being said, Facebook Comments seem like they'd be a boon to any website that finds itself in a never-ending battle with trolls. As Scoble points out, for a site such as Techcrunch, "the flow has gone down," but "the quality has gone way up." Facebook Comments still have a long way to go to compete with more flexible commenting systems like Disqus, but you can't really argue with a system that makes your website a more pleasant place to be.

Update: Laura June at Engadget has weighed on this debate with a thoughtful piece on the costs of forcing identity disclosure.

[I]f I have to be the Laura June that my step-mother (who was friends with me on Facebook, back when I had an account) knows when I'm commenting on Gawker, well, my behavior will be much different. In fact, I might not comment at all. The problem isn't that idea: it is of course, absolutely true. The problem is that very few people seem to be questioning whether or not that is, in fact, a good thing. Because... is it? Am I no longer entitled to some separation between who I am when I'm talking about technology rather than when I'm talking about my political beliefs, should I choose to separate those things? Is a teenager no longer entitled to explore and even comment on blogs about, say, homosexuality, without logging in to Facebook to do so? Does everybody need to know everything that I like? Do they even want to?

If I was that exploring teenager, of course, and the whole world had flipped the Facebook switch, I could always just make a fake Facebook account, for sure. But it seems to me that this is a false necessity, where we force people to lie about who they are, rather than merely enabling them to choose not to disclose who they are to begin with.

Past instances in which I professed to like you were fraudulent

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Tablet magazine reveals that those pitch-perfect call-ins for talk radio shows might be a little bit TOO perfect...

The job, the email indicated, paid $40 an hour, with one hour guaranteed per day. But what exactly was the work? The question popped up during the audition and was explained, the actor said, clearly and simply: If he passed the audition, he would be invited periodically to call in to various talk shows and recite various scenarios that made for interesting radio. He would never be identified as an actor, and his scenarios would never be identified as fabricated—which they always were.

“I was surprised that it seemed so open,” the actor told me in an interview. “There was really no pretense of covering it up.”

...[A] great radio show depends as much on great callers as it does on great hosts: Enter Premiere On Call. “Premiere On Call is our new custom caller service,” read the service’s website, which disappeared as this story was being reported (for a cached version of the site click here). “We supply voice talent to take/make your on-air calls, improvise your scenes or deliver your scripts. Using our simple online booking tool, specify the kind of voice you need, and we’ll get your the right person fast. Unless you request it, you won’t hear that same voice again for at least two months, ensuring the authenticity of your programming for avid listeners.”

USA Today's Top 10 Film Podcasts

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Humbled and honored that Whitney Matheson from USA Today's awesome Popcandy blog chose to list The Tobolowsky Files and the /Filmcast in her Top 10 Film Podcasts. Some of the stalwarts are also on there, including Elvis Mitchell's The Treatment, Slate's Spoiler Specials, and of course, Filmspotting.

Charlie Sheen's War Against Women

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Jezebel founder Anna Holmes has written a NYTimes op-ed detailing Charlie Sheen's violent run against his fairer halves. It's not only a smart piece about Sheen, it's also an incisive look at how society devalues certain types of women, and the implications that that devaluation has:

The privilege afforded wealthy white men like Charlie Sheen may not be a particularly new point, but it’s an important one nonetheless. Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears are endlessly derided for their extracurricular meltdowns and lack of professionalism on set; the R&B star Chris Brown was made a veritable pariah after beating up his equally, if not more, famous girlfriend, the singer Rihanna. Their careers have all suffered, and understandably so.

This hasn’t been the case with Mr. Sheen, whose behavior has been repeatedly and affectionately dismissed as the antics of a “bad boy” (see: any news article in the past 20 years), a “rock star” (see: Piers Morgan, again) and a “rebel” (see: Andrea Canning’s “20/20” interview on Tuesday). He has in essence, achieved a sort of folk-hero status; on Wednesday, his just-created Twitter account hit a million followers, setting a Guinness World Record.

But there’s something else at work here: the seeming imperfection of Mr. Sheen’s numerous accusers. The women are of a type, which is to say, highly unsympathetic. Some are sex workers — pornographic film stars and escorts — whose compliance with churlish conduct is assumed to be part of the deal. (For the record: It is not.)

I had the privilege to speak with Holmes today by phone. While I haven't always agreed with all of her viewpoints, I've constantly looked up to her and respected her as a writer and thinker, so it was a thrill to chat with her regarding her thoughts on the whole Sheen situation. We also discussed my (extremely negative) thoughts on Piers Morgan, as well as the fact that Jezebel was recently parodied by 30 Rock. I've released the conversation as this week's Chencast.

You can download the episode by clicking here (right-click and "Save As").

Or, even better, subscribe to the Chencast in iTunes to have future interesting conversations downloaded automatically!

Ken Jennings Does a Q&A with Reddit

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Hilarious. In response to someone commenting on his username, "Watsonsbitch," Jennings writes:

Lots of people think it's a Jeopardy reference, but actually I was thinking of that time Watson and I were cellmates in prison, and it kept raping me.

How Google Earth Led To a Revolt

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The inflammatory, awesome Powerpoint presentation that sparked the protests in Bahrain.

The Most E-Mailed Story

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On The Media [transcript] has a fascinating exploration of what makes a story on a news website climb up the "most e-mailed articles" list. The most common factor among them? Awe:

We had a number of research assistants read stories and we described to them what the concept of awe is; it’s something that opens the mind and is inspiring. And we made sure that they had a good understanding of this concept. We had them read some articles with us and come to a conclusion about what an awe-inspiring piece would be. And then they rated about 3,000 stories each on how much awe they inspired...

One is “Rare Treatment is Reported to Cure AIDS Patient.” Another story was called “The Promise and Power of RNA.” A final example would be “Found: An Ancient Monument to the Soul,” a story about the archeological discovery of an inscription on a Turkish monument from the eighth century, indicating a belief that the body and the soul were separate. What we find interesting is the connectivity issue. People tend to proselytize about awe-inspiring experiences. This is one of the main ways that religion has been thought to spread. When I have an amazing experience, I tell others about it.

Taking Down The Hype Ma-Sheen

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Sure, Charlie Sheen has been making the rounds non-stop on the talkshow circuit, but for my money, his Today Show interview is still absolutely astonishing. It was one of the first ones he did and not only does Sheen look like complete and utter crap, but the interview also shows him spouting off his incoherent babble before it became extremely rehearsed:



Here are some of my favorite takes on the topic of Charlie Sheen and the media frenzy he's stirred up. First up, James Poniewozik:

Sheen's problems may be psychological, pharmaceutical, moral—but above all, he's a poster boy for that most dangerous and common of celebrity intoxicants, entitlement. He was "tired of pretending I'm not special," he said. He had decided to embrace his "rock star life," and while he claimed to be clean now, he was proud of his epic run of partying: "I exposed people to magic." Was that drug lifestyle dangerous? Oh sure—for "normal" people. For losers. Overdosing, he said, "is for amateurs."

Where could he have gotten that sense of entitlement from? Oh, maybe from being essentially celebrated for the same lifestyle that brought him down. From being a notorious playboy paid a couple million an episode to play a notorious playboy, named Charlie, on TV. For continuing to stay thus employed even after abuse complaints, rampages and an assault plea—things that might get you fired if you were a normal person, a loser, an amateur.

Jeff Jarvis writes on how the media is doing a disservice to mental illness:

So why are they interviewing him? Not because they expect him to say smart things that give insight. Neither are they trying to give a picture of mental illness, for they give no context. On Piers Morgan’s nightly exhibition of ratings neediness, the star dismissed doctors’ mentions of bipolar disease and then Morgan stepped up to give him a clean bill of mental health, telling Sheen he is “alarmingly normal.” I think in the field they call that enabling.

But my favorite take comes from Linda Holmes over at Monkey See:

There could hardly be a starker contrast than the one between Ferguson's treatment of Sheen and the treatment Sheen got from Piers Morgan last night on CNN, where Morgan poked him and enraged him, coddled him and encouraged him. It's exactly like paying your penny at Bedlam, only Morgan gets the penny.

The people who watch his show are, in effect, paying Piers Morgan to provoke Charlie Sheen for them. To push his buttons, ask him about the women he prefers, coyly compliment him on his benders, all because it's so easy to get him to brag about all of that. Sheen wants to say "epic" and "winning" and "the scoreboard doesn't lie." He's got a pocket full of speed-related metaphors — he returns over and over to rocket fuel, jets, bombs, the let's go of it all — and he wants to share all of them.

The Tobolowsky Files Goes to Amazon's Kindle Store

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From my post at /Film:

Today, I'm pleased to announce the next phase in getting Stephen's stories out into the world: the first Stephen Tobolowsky Kindle Single, Cautionary Tales.

Launched by Amazon just a month or two ago, Kindle Singles offers "compelling ideas, expressed at their natural length." It's a new, curated program that emphasizes long-form reading, with works lengthier than a magazine article but shorter than a full-on e-book (and priced accordingly). As a huge fan of services like Instapaper, I've grown to love the long-form reading I can do with my Kindle, and I've found that Kindle Singles are an awesome way to consume these bite-sized nuggets of high-quality writing.

The easiest way to get the new story is just to head on over to Amazon and buy it right now. It'll be automatically delivered to your Kindle, wirelessly. But what if you don't have a Kindle? No problem. Amazon has released Kindle apps for every conceivable OS, including iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Android, or even for your Mac or PC. Basically, if you're reading this blog post right now, you can also buy and read Stephen's new story (which, by the way, has a super cool cover created by artist Mark Crilley).

Working on the Tobolowsky Files has been a joy, but it's also been an intensive process that has consumed hundreds of hours of my life over the past year. During that time, we've put out about 30-40 hours worth of content and done so completely for free. Buying this Kindle Single not only gives you a great new piece of content from Stephen, which you won't be able to find the podcast (I've read the story and, as usual, it's hilarious and profound), it also helps support all the work that Stephen and I do together. If enough people chip in the $1.99 it takes to buy this Kindle Single, it will ensure we can keep hearing Stephen's stories continue for many months to come, both in podcast form and in Kindle form.

Buy the new Tobolowsky Kindle Single by clicking here. And thanks for listening!