Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Corollary: Anchormen, Aweigh! XX

We just OK'd the PDF proofs for the CD and insert designs for the new Anchormen CD, "Nation of Interns." We missed a period and had some weird date formatting, as well as a questionable nickname spelling, but it would've cost $200 to make those small fixes. So we opted to send it on as is. Typos are punk rock. And therefore awesome!

Nervy, Pervy XIV

Oh, that Philip Kaplan. The proud papa of Fucked Company just rolled out a new "public service," Pud TV. Think Suicide Girls for the dotbomb set. From the site's opening page:

So my other site ... calls out companies that lie, cheat, and steal from their employees and customers. A lot of people are out of work and FC's various message boards give a voice to the unfortunate.

But what else I can do to help? Can any good come out of a bad economy?

Why, lots of newly-jobless girls willing to pose naked for money, of course.

Word is that the site features more than 1,500 pictures of disrobing dotbombshells partially clad in Fucked Company T-shirts. "Don't be surprised if you see that hottie in marketing you used to work with," quoth Philip.

I guess we should've seen this coming when Philip started hanging out with the CES/AVN set -- and when he approached adult movie studios about scripting three- to five-minute porn videos.

The Movie I Watched Last Night LXVI

From this past weekend:

Where the Buffalo Roam
This 1980 movie features Bill Murray, who portrays the father of gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson. It's a much more cartoony take than the film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but if you're a fan of Thompson's work, it's worth a watch. The movie tracks Thompson's interactions and relationship with his attorney, Carl Lazlo, played by Peter Boyle, but it's really Murray's rubber-legged aping that stands out, as shallow as it is. Bruno Kirby -- who also starred in a movie looking at alt.journalism in Boston -- stars as Marty Lewis, Thompson's largely ineffectual editor. Did Kirby do any other alt.journalism movies? Or was this a followup to his 1977 role in "Between the Lines"? Curious. The most effective scene in my opinion was the bit in which Thompson speaks at a college campus. His on-stage shenanigans mirror his once-lively campus speaking tours, as does the students' willing embrace of his countercultural confusion. Reminded me of the lackluster "debate" staged by Timothy Leary and G. Gordon Liddy at Northwestern University years ago. There's also a notable quote presaging Thompson's relatively recent writing stint at "What are you talking about, man? You're not a fucking sportswriter!" For Thompson buffs only, methinks.

Freeze Me
I'm pleased to report that Rareflix made good on my rentals, as dodgy as parts of their Web site seem. Their self-mailers aren't as slick as those used by Netflix, but the idea is basically the same -- even if the DVD's they stock are not. "Freeze Me" is a Japanese suspense film bordering on gore. It's the story of a young salary woman who is haunted by a rape in her past. Her assailants return when one of them is released from prison, one by one re-entering her life, much to her dismay. However, one by one, she manages to dispatch them, stowing their bodily remains in industrial-sized freezers that she stores in her apartment. "I'm opening a restaurant!" she chirps cheerily to one delivery man. Cinematically, the movie is well done, and there's a nicely tender and committed subplot involving her current lover that weaves in and out of the more horrible, staggered death scenes. But the highlight was how the cold provided by the freezers begins to affect her physically -- mirroring the increasingly deadening cold she feels emotionally as she reclaims her life for herself. Well done, and not as much of a slasher film as it could've been.

The Astro-Zombies
Another Rareflix rental, this is a loose retelling of the Frankenstein myth as seen through 1969 B-movie eyes, shades of the Milwaukee-based late-night horror program "Shock Theater" hosted by Tolouse NoNeck. Scientists are developing a technology with which a man's thoughts can be transmitted to another man's brain via radio waves and other means. They hope that this can ease space travel, as astronauts become host "zombies" controlled by people back on Earth. A slightly Soviet vixen Satana, played by Tura Satana of "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" fame -- and who also reprised her role in the 2002 TV reinterpretation "Mark of the Astro-Zombies," which I haven't seen -- strives to steal said technology for her foreign masters to use against the United States. In fact, the movie is largely made up of scenes featuring the Frankenstein-like laboratory and the noir-esque political proclivities of Satana and her henchmen -- some of which take place in a night club featuring a body-painted dancer. The Astro-Zombies themselves are few and far between. I only remember several scenes in which the Astro-Zombies are involved, largely in stalking and slaying scenes that weren't overly surprising. And it's interesting to note that even though dead bodies were harvested to create the Astro-Zombies, the director opted not to use your traditional zombie or undead makeup magic to portray the Astro-Zombies. Instead, the zombies are recognizable because they wear slightly oversized skull-shaped masks with plastic sheeting covering the mouth region. It's never made clear whether these masks are space helmets or some sort of helmet necessary for the transmission of the supposedly controlling brain waves, but it's a cheesy approach to costuming, regardless. They must have only had one, because I don't think you ever see more than one Astro-Zombie at a time. In the end, the Astro-Zombies escape Satana's control and run amok briefly before being put down once and for all. And yet again, the B-movie day is saved -- from the undead as well as from the Russians.

Event-O-Dex LIV

May 3: The Mary Reillys cuddle up with Zykos, Western Keys, and Aberdeen at TT the Bear's in Cambridge.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Anchormen, Aweigh! XX

Every day so far this week (OK, yesterday and today), I've been getting several progress notification emails from Tanya at CDman, where we're pressing the forthcoming Anchormen CD, "Nation of Interns." It's a pretty slick process. You upload your CD, tray card, and booklet designs online, they send you PDF proofs -- which I just now received -- and you OK every step of the process via email.

Some of the emails have been somewhat confusing in terms of whether they need us to confirm or not, but it's pretty seamless so far. And the design proofs look great! We'll see how the final product turns out, but the Operators have used CDman to good effect, so hopes are high. We're well on our way to being ready for the May 16 CD release party and Handstand Command anniversary celebration.


Corollary: Sketchy Ethics

In T-Salon, a largely China-centric blog, Media Dietician Andrea Leung comments on Steve Friess' response to my commentary on his Editor & Publisher column. She argues that "this foriegn journalist had no room to advocate for change in the way Chinese state media works" and considers how to balance financial interests and the public good in Chinese media. Say, we ask the same question here!

In the Cards II

Move over Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! Not only can you get a playing card deck of Iraq's most wanted, reputedly used by soldiers to identify enemies of the state. You can now get a deck of 55 Most Wanted that need to be ousted from power in the United States to change our current regime.

If only both decks were annotated with special powers, relative strength, and other collectible card game-like characteristics. Then Qusay Saddam Husayn Al-Tikriti could go head to head with Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney.

See You in the Funny Pages X

Did you know that John Byrne has been doing the layouts for Funky Winkerbean for the past several weeks? Word from the Worst Forum Ever is that he and Tom Batiuk are close friends.

Read But Dead XIII

Worth magazine questions its self-worth, finds itself lacking, and shuts up shop. If the current publishers can find a buyer, it may resume publication in the fall. I've never been a big fan of personal finance magazines, but Worth seemed slightly more thoughtful than its ilk. It had a solid design and featured writing by Robert X. Cringely, a writer whose name is only slightly better than my own.

Thanks to I Want Media.

Covering Comic Books II

Atlas Comics' 25 All-Time Greatest Covers of American Comic Books is a wonderful roundup of comic book design examples. Judged on impact, readability, uniqueness, and presentation, the online exhibit also features the 12 Dumbest Covers of American Comic Books We Could Find, which seems to be much more subjective in their selection.

Comic Books and Copyright

Copyright is a PDF comic book published by the National Institute for the Defense of Competition and Protection of Intellectual Property and the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2001 in Peru. Written and drawn by Juan Acevedo, it's a simplified primer to the benefits of copyright aimed at musicians and artists concerned about making a living off of their work. The comic likens copyright infringement to stealing a car, addresses authorship, and glosses over copyright renewal. Stephen Downes describes the comic as the party line: "Some days I wish I had access to the same propaganda machine to get the other side of the story out." Indeed. I had to chuckle when the parrot squawked "Copyrike!"

Discontinuing Education II

Even though I dogged out of the lecture I'd registered for at the Museum of Fine Art last week -- a late talk with the new editor seemed more important than a talk on "the many guises of contemporary art" -- I did drag myself out of the house in Saturday's cold rain for a historical walk and talk put on by the Museum of Science.

Larry Sands, former fire chief for Medford, led about 15 people on a two-hour stroll through downtown Boston to share some stories and sites about the great Boston fire of 1872. Starting at the Old South Meeting House, which was saved from the blaze by volunteers draping wet blankets over the roof, we walked around much of the area affected by the blaze, which destroyed almost 800 buildings. Sands talked about how building design and construction aided the blaze, the insufficient water supply in the booming commercial district (the financial district used to be a wealthy residential section with tree-lined boulevards), and the role that dynamiting buildings played in fighting the fire. It was kind of unsettling that Sands adopted the persona of the city's fire chief at the time -- his first-person accounts fell a little flat -- and I was amused that he mispronounced Peshtigo, a Wisconsin city also destroyed by a rampaging fire around the same time -- but all in all, this was an awesome program. Even if it was raining. I'm reading a couple of books about the fire now -- fascinating stuff.

And tonight, a four-week class I'm taking at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education on Boston, Cambridge, and the American Revolution begins tonight. This is the first class I've been able to take at the CCAE -- the class I signed up for last September was canceled -- and I'm quite excited. As spring continues to come, I'm a bigger and bigger fan of historical walks and talks and continuing education courses. If you've never looked into them, consider doing so. They're a lot of fun, and you just might learn something.

Rock Shows of Note LXIII

This past season of the Boston Chamber Music Society, I only made it to about half of the performances. Sunday night, I made a point of stopping by Sanders Theatre for the season's final concert, a celebration of the BCMS' 20th year. I wasn't really into the idea of sitting inside in the dark on such a nice spring evening, but I figured I'd give it a go and leave when I lost interest.

The first piece did me in. Despite the enthusiastic audience response at the end of Johannes Brahms' Quintet in F minor for Piano and Strings, I found the almost 45-minute selection relatively uniteresting. The cyclical nature of the first movement was wearing, and while I can appreciate false endings, the almost stops in this piece only made the final conclusion of the piece even more satisfying. That said, I did enjoy artistic director Ronald Thomas' cello work in the third movement, the Scherzo. And violist Marcus Thompson secured himself as my favorite musician of the evening. With his sprawling slouch and slightly ill-fitting tuxedo, Thompson is a study in apparent relaxation blended with intense playing. He was a standout for the evening.

But when the intermission hit, the urge to leave also hit. Which was a shame. Had Bela Bartok's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion not followed before Camille Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals, I would have stuck around. Saint-Saens' piece is a fascinating example of John Oswald-like musical appropriation or mash up from within the classical music world. Only performed live twice during Saint-Saens' lifetime, the piece wasn't even fully published until after his death. The piece quotes a can-can melody from Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld. Saint-Saens parodies Berlioz's Valse des Sylphe. And he samples two French nursery rhymes, the aria "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's opera The Barber of Seville, and his own Danse Macabre. I wonder if he kept the piece private because of his heavy usage of other composers' themes and work. And I wish I'd had the stamina to stick it out until the end, even if I wouldn't have recognized many of the appropriated selections.

I left Sanders Theatre to head home to Central Square, stopping off at the Field for a quick pint. There, I ran into two regulars of Paddy Burke's, a bar some colleagues frequent after work. I hung out a little longer than I'd intended initially, and when I finally left the bar, I left my shoulder bag behind. That was the cause of no little distress yesterday. Nevertheless, I called the Field yesterday morning, and they had the bag on hand, having stored it in the kitchen over night. When I stopped by after work yesterday, they'd hung it on a coat hook. Had I left my bag another place, it might have not been there the next day, and it speaks well of the staff and patrons of the Field that my bag remained intact, with nothing taken from it. Phew!

Last night, then, after a quick Indian dinner at home, I walked to the Kendall Cafe for the Sinkcharmer show. I arrived in time to catch Jef, Jen, Paul, and Kathleen finishing their dinner -- and just before So & So took the stage. I've been meaning to see So & So for a long time, but this is the first chance I've had. Comprising my friends Erin and Dan, the band is a fun three-piece that is almost two bands. The first "band" took up the first half of the set, featuring what seemed to be the songs of a woman I haven't met yet. They were well-written and slightly dour in their poppiness, but despite the apparent thematic sadness, I enjoyed them a lot. Sometimes, So & So reminded me of the Indigo Girls, but not overly so. The second "band" took the stage for the second half of the set, adding Dave on guitar and swapping Dan for Erin on the stand-up drums. These songs seemed to be Erin's songs, and they were quite a bit different. Much more energetic and bouncy, even bordering on punkish in a Go-Go's kind of way, this was a little more enjoyable. Kudos to all involved. Now, if you can figure out how to share songwriting duties or perhaps mix up your set list so it's not so schizophrenic! Just kidding, although I did suggest to Erin that they keep the split sets but play under two band names in the same show, kind of like the Hi-Fives and Thee Shatners did in days gone by.

The next act was a two-piece from Albany, Gay Tastee. Reminding me of Neil Young by way of Mecca Normal -- and Suzanne of Vic Chestnut -- the singer had quite a distinctive voice that took awhile to grow on me. When it did, I could appreciate the lyrical content of his songs much more. For the most part, the band has a MDC-like political twist, combining caustic cultural commentary with self-effacing personal narrative. It's not totally my cup of tea, but I reallly appreciated what they were trying to do. At the end, the drummer sang along during one song, making me think that he should sing more often. The harmony added a lot, as did his sitting on the floor to play glockenspiel for one song. But the best part of their show came afterwards, when I approached the singer and guitarist to buy a CD. The CD cost $5, giving no indication how many songs were on it, and when I opened it, I discovered that it's a two-CD, 15-song collection. Best CD snag I've made at a show in ages (if you don't count Tim from Verona Downs giving me their record for free). Thanks, Gay Tastee!

Last up, Sinkcharmer. As always, they were excellent. Paul had been up since 5:30, so he was a little tired, but Jen and Jef carried the energy for him until he caught his stride, punctuating "Half Life" with a gleeful "Woohoo!" I still don't know all of Paul's song catalog by title, but I love his work and recognized a lot of the pieces they played. I also think that Jen and Jef bring a lot to his stage show. Good, good stuff.

Digesting the Daily XII

Recent editions of the Daily Northwestern, the student newspaper of my alma mater, featured several media-, technology-, and activism-related items that might be of interest to Media Dieticians.

City hangs up on phone booths
Cell phones blamed for demise of street-corner fixtures in Chicago
(April 10, 2003)

"The Journey" documents college grad's 5-year trip
Filmmaker interviews students, actors, former president in quest for identity
(April 14, 2003)

Al-Jazeera hits campus TVs nationwide; NU will wait for vote
University official says no requests made for channel offered in Arabic
(April 15, 2003)

Journalists urge women to be daring while reporting
"Pioneers" chronicle history, influence of females working in the newsroom
(April 15, 2003)

Weekend detention to Bottom of the Food Chain cartoonist Alex Thomas for his cryptically homophobic comic strip about the TV show "Will and Grace" on April 16. While the punchline is sentimentally clever, the portrayal of the show's content begs some question.

If you work for a college newspaper and would like to sign me up for a complimentary subscription, please feel free to do so. My address is in the grey bar over on the left.

Corollary: Comic Books and Commerce II

Ninth Art's David Lewis considers the shape of comic book reading in an essay yesterday. Drawing on the work of Jorge Luis Borges, Scott McCloud, Dylan Horrocks, Lawrence Abbott and others, Lewis explains why comic book readers are considered readers instead of viewers, the balance of verbal and visual narrative, and what readers bring to the equation as they lend meaning to white space. One of the longer Ninth Art articles I've read, Lewis' look at the comics reading process and narrative model is quite insightful. Worth reading.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Corollary: Workaday World XXVII

Things just keep getting better today! Not only do I not have my shoulder bag with me. Not only is my arm still tingling. (Whatever could it be?) But I just realized that I'll be in New York City the night Dr. Frank plays in Cambridge. I fly down the night he's playing in New York City, so maybe I can catch that show. Aargh and aargh again.

Corollary: Daily Dosage II

Like one-time blogger Dan Pink, science-fiction author William Gibson plans to stop blogging soon in order to concentrate on a book in progress. Wait a minute. Has "no longer doing a blog" become the new "starting a blog" already? Or is it true -- as Art Kleiner suggested five years ago -- that writing blogs, personal Web sites, and messages in discussion forums can edge out "real" writing.

Workaday World XXVII

Not only am I thrown today because I don't have my shoulder bag with me, but I've been experiencing an odd, disconcerting tingling in my right arm. It's mostly in the palm and wrist of my right hand but is noticeable even up into the forearm. Is it repetitive strain injury? The lingering prelude to a heart attack? Something else? I have no idea, but I hope that it goes away.

Event-O-Dex LIII

April 28: Sinkcharmer and So & So get busy at the Kendall Cafe in Cambridge.

May 2: Good Experience Live happens in New York City.

May 2-4: The Media in Transition conference turns its attention to television at MIT.

Hanging out with Hicks III

Soft Skull Press impresario Sander Hicks interviewed 911 commission member Richard Ben-Veniste for INN Report recently. The transcript is a quick read, and I'm not quite sure what to make of it. The video is also worth watching, if not for the following two moments:

RB: I think you are going right for the capillary, if I may say so.
SH: You mean the jugular?
RB: No, I mean the capillary.
SH: You mean the fine detail?
RB: I mean the things that are ... certainly not central.

SH: If Mohamed Atta is technically a fundamentalist Muslim, what is he doing cocaine and going to strip bars with Rudi Dekkers’ girlfriend?
RB: You know, that’s a heck of a question.
SH: It sure is. Right. Well, then we agree on that.

File under Spoof to Power.

The Story of Spam IV

This is the best name ever, found in the From: field of a spam I just read.

Queenie Dinnerville

Wow. If it were Queenie McDinnerville, it'd be the perfect name. But this is pretty good. Wow.

Rules for Fools XVI

Rule No. 20: If you leave your satchel somewhere over night, you will feel absolutely naked the next day. Naked!

The Free-Range Comic Book Project XX

This is an installment of Media Diet's Free-Range Comic Book Project.

Boof #3 (Image, September 1994). Writer: Beau Smith. Artist: John Cleary. Location: On the floor outside the Million Year Picnic.

For more information on this project, please refer to this Media Diet entry.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Among the Literati XXXIII

A bookstore in Ohio has come under fire for throwing away hundreds of unsold books when it went out of business. A local TV news reporter came across the overflowing dumpster and got upset that the books weren't donated to area nonprofits. The reporter became even more upset when she learned that taking the books out of the trash was illegal.

NewsChannel5 was told that tearing front covers off new books is standard procedure when a bookstore closes. It's called "stripping a book." ... [T]o take these books from the trash bin is illegal; the books would be considered stolen property. Inside the front cover, a warning states that a book without its cover is unauthorized. It was reported to the publisher as unsold and destroyed, and neither the author nor the publisher received payment.

I just checked a mass-market paperback -- Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World -- and it has no such warning. Ah, here in Stephen King's A Bag of Bones, it says, "The sale of this book without a cover is unauthorized."

Dumpster dive away, Media Dieticians. It's legal unless you sell the books.

Thanks to MobyLives.

Nervy, Pervy XIII

Steve Almond advises a new generation of erotica writers.

Thanks to Bookslut.

Rock Shows of Note LXII

After Anchormen practice, we went to the Cambridgeport Saloon in Central Square for a couple of drinks with Leslie. We headed home around 11, and I thought I'd swing by TT the Bear's to see if Kurt and Geraldine were within eyeshot from the doorway. They were there with friends to see the Mendoza Line, and I said I'd try to stop by after practice. As it turns out, Kurt saw me as soon as I stepped inside and I arrived just as the band before the Mendoza Line was wrapping up, so I had some time to talk to Kurt and Geraldine before their set started.

Having not heard the Mendoza Line before -- and occasionally confusing them with the Verona Downs much like I confuse the Hudsucker Proxy with the Shawshank Redemption -- I was in for quite a pleasant surprise. The five piece blends with unabashed power pop, and they have so much fun on stage that they're a joy to watch. When Tim sings, it's with gusto, and his sometimes straining melodies are extremely enthusiastic. But it's Shannon's voice and gentle tambourine playing that's the highlight, most likely, especially when she's playing off of lead and pedal steel guitarist John. Wonderful, wonderful songs. Well worth the $8 even if I didn't catch any of the other bands.

The Free-Range Comic Book Project XIX

This is an installment of Media Diet's Free-Range Comic Book Project.

Blue Devil #22 (DC, March 1986). Writers: Gary Cohn and Dan Mishkin. Artist: Alan Kupperberg. Location: On a bench in the Sound Museum in the South End.

For more information on this project, please refer to this Media Diet entry.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Mention Me! XXXVII

A Humor Me entry earned me a listing in this directory of acupuncture joke resources. The Web can work in funny ways sometimes.

From the In Box: Sketchy Ethics

Almost a year after I commented on an opinion piece Steve Friess wrote for Editor & Publisher, Steve replies:

This is Steve Friess. I'm having a bit of an insomniacal night here in Hong Kong, where I'm handling SARS coverage for USAT. I decided to Google myself (actually Yahoo, but it's not as pleasing a verb) and unearthed your blog blast of my E&P column from last year about working at China Daily. I'm amused you criticized me for writing a predictable column with criticism that was at least as predictable and easy. It was the sort of facile response to journalism "ethics" that would make a Medill Law & Ethics prof proud but has little bearing on the realities of working abroad and in difficult situations. As Eason Jordan gets beaten up all over town by misinformed journalistic moralists and opportunists for the practices of CNN in Iraq in the 1990s, I'm reminded of just how arrogant and simplistic it is to sit back from stateside and presume to know what is possible and viable when attempting to work under a dictatorship.

I knew what I was getting into when I went to China Daily. It wasn't intended as a journalistic exercise, it was intended as a cultural and political learning experience. The exposure to the mentality of the Chinese Information Ministry was unique and valuable and has informed much of the rest of my coverage of Chinese issues at that time and since then. The editing work at China Daily would have been done with or without me. By doing it, I got to see how it's done. I didn't mock their "foibles" in terms of the silly words they used or the amusing malaproprisms that surfaced; I mocked their "news" judgment. But there never was a realistic sense that anything could be "done" about the Chinese efforts to publish propaganda.

Your criticism is schizophrenic. On the one hand, I was rude to my hosts by writing critically about China (and later China Daily) while I was there working for their mouthpiece. On the other hand, I betrayed my journalistic soul by not somehow standing up for American press standards in a totalitarian dictatorship. The answer that you suggest, as I'm hearing from the CNN critics, is that I shouldn't have been there in the first place, that I should have just left. And that's just stupid because if journalists didn't make compromises or place themselves in difficult ethical situations from time to time, we'd get even less foreign news than we already do.

The theory always is that once you sell your soul to the devil, you can never buy it back. Please. I challenge anyone to look over my website's archive and suggest that my coverage in USA Today, The New York Times, Wired, Poz and any number of other publications on a wide range of Chinese issues wasn't hard-hitting and balanced. You can spend the time analyzing whether it was all tainted by my other purpose for being in China or by acquiescing from time to time to the Chinese limits on press freedoms, but the reality is that my readers received better, more insightful coverage because I knew more about what I was writing about than I otherwise might have.

I'm just simply offended by the out-of-hand dismissal of my efforts to help Chinese staffers genuinely interested in pursuing work in the free media obtain admissions to Western journalism schools. To date, I've assisted four journalists come to American or British schools by advising them on the process, reviewing their essays and mailing them admissions and applications material they might otherwise have trouble obtaining. This has cost me plenty of time and money, but it's probably the best anybody can do to affect change in China's media.

Finally, I spent hours upon hours in China explaining to my Chinese colleagues how our media system works. That's valuable cultural exchange that may someday come in handy if the people of China do obtain more freedoms. I'm never going to directly force the Chinese regime to change itself in any meaningful way, but I can plant seeds among its youth at a time when the Internet threatens to make government censorship irrelevant anyway.

Media Diet: One bug in my bonnet was the assumption that American journalism was better. Sure, propaganda from the government, and press limitations are bad, but is there a locally appropriate journalism for China that's not a cookie cutter of our kind of journalism? British journalism, for example, is much different than it is here. And I don't think it's a worse form of journalism. The same could be argued about Al-Jazeera.

Let's agree that any media incapable of providing any balance or vague semblance of truth is absolutely "worse." I don't know why it's so hard for Americans to be proud of the liberties we have and recognize them as desirable to all people, not just us. Because to the rest of the world that seems like arrogance? Just because our motives are constantly misunderstood doesn't make the misunderstandings true.

This is a variation on other debates I had about the Chinese situation while I was here the first time, namely this question of whether liberal democracy is really soemthing the Chinese would want or could handle. The thinking goes that they've been oppressed for so long or so accustomed to centuries of being ruled that they couldn't possibly culturally accept the idea of self-governance without falling into utter chaos. I do agree that gradual transition is appropriate, lest we wind up with Russia, but I also know that the transition Chinese leaders are working towards does NOT include expanded personal freedoms but merely economic expansion. Economic freedom doesn't necessarily lead to political freedom unless the leaders actually intend for it to do so. Singapore is an economically successful and yet horribly repressive society.

As for the question about Chinese culture, I just point to Hong Kong and Taiwan, both Western-style democracies that have been among the most prosperous Asian nations/territories for decades. Somehow these people had precisely the same cultural backgrounds as the mainland Chinese, but THEY can handle liberties just fine. I _do_ believe there are absolute truths about humanity, and one is that most people, if they could, would govern themselves and reject tyranny. Most people, if they understood what they were missing, would want what Americans have, the rights to self-determination that are proven over and over again as the most expedient path to economic success for the most number of people. You just don't see boatloads of Indonesians washing up on China's shores begging to be taken in, do you? But they DO wash up on Australia's shores all the time. Why do people risk their lives to live in our country and countries like ours but not to live in China, Syria, Egypt, Mexico, wherever?

Well, that's more than I needed to say, but I'm now sufficiently sleepy. All this notwithstanding, I love your site and have bookmarked it for regular checks. -- Steve Friess

Thanks for the response, Steve. And best of luck in Hong Kong!

Music to My Eyes XVII

I used to date a woman with whom I could almost never agree with about music. In the car, she'd always change the radio station too fast. She rejected almost every mix tape I ever made her. In her room, I'd sit on the hardwood floor bored while she danced like a dervish to Madonna. We did, to be fair, agree on the Weakerthans, which was a gift to me. Now, Go Home Productions' online assortment of mash-ups and bastard pop is a gift.

The blokes mix the Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant" and "God Save the Queen" with Madonna's "Ray of Light" to good effect. TLC's "Unpretty" bumps uglies with the Specials' "A Message to You Rudy." And the Strokes' "Someday" pops the cork on Christian Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle." Maybe she and I could have agreed on these!

Thanks to Retrorocket.

Television-Impaired XII

Charles Rolland Douglass, inventor of the TV sitcom laugh track, died earlier this month. TV Barn offers an appreciative look at the impact Douglass' invention has had on television, the laugh track's origin in radio broadcasting, and the technological innovation race several inventors ran to "improve" the laugh track first. A little-known piece of media history!

Read But Dead XII

Travel Holiday is going on a permanent vacation. The staffs of other travel mags say that it wasn't the travel industry's ad dollar that was weak -- but Travel Holiday itself. Time will tell, I suppose.

Corollary: Blogging About Blogging LVIII

Six Apart, maker of Moveable Type, is rolling out a new hosting service intended to butt heads with Blogger. The announcement of Ben and Mena's TypePad brings with it the news of a partnership with Neoteny and the hire of Anil Dash, whom I met briefly at SXSW.

People often debate the merits of using Blogger, Moveable Type, and Radio Userland -- much less the host of other tools available -- and with one leading contender rolling out a service quite akin to another's, the landscape is sure to shift slightly. I've been an avid Blogger user since day one of Media Diet, and I'm hopeful that its new relationship with Google -- and coming new version of its software -- will keep it in the clear. I'm also hopeful that the new version of Blogger rocks. Looking forward to it.

Blogging About Blogging LVIII

Part of the promise -- and charm -- of blogs and LiveJournals, much less personal Web sites in general is that they're, well, personal. There are people behind the pages. And the best sites work well because of their publishers' personalities. Invisiblog is a new service that enables people to post to blogs using an anonymous remailer network.

While I understand the allure of anonymity, I'm not sure how I feel about Invisiblogs. Sure, the best blogs need to have solid content, but in many cases you can forgive a favorite blogger a less-than-necessary post because of who they are and what they normally do. Identity has currency as well as the content. Invisiblogs will need to stand solely on content... and the writing of the publisher. There will be less leeway.

That said, blogs such as Gizmodo, which I read daily, are already largely anonymous. What's the value of blogging via an anonymous remailer? And what does this mean for the interactive aspect of blogging? Sure, you will probably be able to comment on posts, but who are you commenting on?

Thanks to Slashdot.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

IM'erview with a Ween Fan

I don't get many random IM's from people I don't know via Media Diet, but I just got pinged by a Ween fan in Pennsylvania. Here's the "fan"-script:

boognishdeciple: hellow
h3athrow: And you are...?
b: a fellow ween fan
h: Friend of Jodie? [I'd just IM'd Jodie about Weezer not too long ago, not Ween.]
b: jodie???
h: Never mind.
h: How'd you find me?
b: google
h: I'm not the biggest Ween fan, so I'm slightly confused.
b: looking at ween shit
b: saw your im name
h: Ah, I blogged about the pizza adverts
b: yes
b: i downloaded them
h: Funny stuff, hey?
b: all ween
b: they are comedic geniouses
h: Who else do you listen to?
h: Any recommendations?
b: i really like the white stripes
b: tool
b: nine inch nails
h: The Stripes just played Boston on Sunday
b: omg
b: i just got their new album
b: so great
h: Do you like Hot Hot Heat?
b: is that a band
h: Yes, from Victoria, British Columbia
h: Brilliant
b: i will download sometime
b: ok
b: ty dude
b: allways looking for new good music
h: Also, I'm in a band called the Anchormen you might get a kick out of
b: i will whrite this down
b: ok
b: i will definetly check you guys out
b: i cant spell
h: Our third CD comes out next month
b: i will look
h: Where are you?
b: PA
h: Do you know Atom and His Package? [Atom's from Pennsylvania.]
h: Another band you may enjoy
b: whriting down
h: Heh
h: Sorry to overwhelm you, but it's not often I get IM'd by randoms
b: is that bad
h: No. It's fun
b: i was looking for ween fans
h: Well, sorry to disappoint... I hardly ever listen to them
h: Haven't really since 1991
h: But I was interested in the aborted adverts
b: its cool
b: you are not into them anymore
h: Do you know Meetup?
h: There's a Ween Meetup in almost 600 cities [Actually, that wasn't true.]
b: no
h: Nothing in PA though
b: pa sucks ass
h: Also... [this discussion forum]
h: might be up your alley
b: ok
b: lots of new shit to check out
h: Thanks for saying hey
b: its cool
b: ran into AmyCrawfordISM aswell
h: Who she?
b: a big ween fan
h: Ah
b: just looken for some suckas
b: i had a dream once of getting michel jackson in the face with a flame thrower
h: I don't think you need to... he's had enough done to his face
h: Might melt
b: thats the point
b: it was a cool dream
b: exept nothing would happen to his face
h: Teflon
b: it wan infaseable
h: Well, I've got to get back to work.
b: seeya
h: Mind if I blog this, it being my first Media Diet IM with someone I don't know? [Outside of Victor Cayro, whom I've also IM'erviewed, but I knew of Victor.]
b: what do you mean
h: Post the transcript in my blog
b: no
b: go ahead
h: Cool.
h: Have a good night! Sun's getting dim
b: you aswell

And that's a wrap. Or rap. Media Dieticians, if you're on AIM, don't be shy.

From the In Box: Read But Dead XI

In response to an entry published earlier today, Nick comments:

Boys are discouraged to read by their peers and environment. It's just not "manly" enough. They're also discouraged from asking questions, it being better to be independent and self-sufficient. Having doubts about yourself and seeking answers in magazines is not something one can be seen doing.

An interesting point, especially given this article from the Toronto Star. Philip Marchand reports that less than 20% of people who buy novels are men -- and that most boys stop reading fiction at the age of 12 or 13.

Is it true that men read less than women?

Thanks to MobyLives.

Technofetishism XXXIV

Thanks to News Is Free's premium export service and NetNewsWire, I'm now set up better than many wire editors at daily newspapers. This is fun, fun stuff.

Employee of the Week III

Media Diet would like to recognize the following Fifth Man Media employees for their service above and beyond the call of duty:

Always willing to listen

Jack "Jack" Jackson is almost constantly called on as a sounding board, devil's advocate, and source of feedback. He may not know what you're saying -- he might not understand what you're talking about -- but he's always available to lend a listening ear. "I'm a good listener," Jackson says. "Sometimes the most important thing isn't what people don't say, but what they're saying." Well-known around the Fifth Man Media offices for his colorful, abstract ties and quizzical, occasionally totally confused look, Jackson is "the man" (in the words of one colleague) to corner by the water cooler if you need to bend someone's ear. While Jackson is a good listener, however, he's not that great a speaker. That's part of his charm! Every so often, Jackson will repeat back to co-workers what he thinks they're saying, sometimes expressing the exact opposite of the point they were making. Correcting him and "setting Jackson straight," as it's become known around the office, helps clarify your thinking -- and that spells "good business."

Tele-Phony IV

The Payphone Project is an impressive of payphone-related news items; photographs of payphones in New York City, Georgia, Denmark, and Africa; and an online database of payphone numbers around the world. Searching for payphones in Massachusetts, I learned that the payphone outside the Harvard COOP on Harvard Square in Cambridge is 617-868-0695. Calling it just now, I got a data squelch. Do they still disable incoming calls to payphones because of the War on Drugs?

This project reminds me slightly of the payphone photos in 2600, and the directory could make for some fine Media Diet fun. If you have half a mo, make a payphone call near you today. "Calling William Morris!"

Thanks to Memepool.

Magazine Me XXX

Scott Dickensheets has compiled a handy guide to Radar magazine based on reviews and news releases. After reading this roundup, you might not need to read Radar.

Thanks to Bookslut.

Business Media Reportage Goes Bust, Now Boom? VIII

June 2 marks the 25th anniversary of Crain's Chicago Business, long held as one of the better regional business journals. Blending business reportage, regional magazine-style writing, and some lifestyle coverage, the 50,000-circulation weekly often gives the dailies in Chicago a run for their business section money. Happy birthday, Crain's Chicago Business!

Thanks to I Want Media.

Read But Dead XI

Fucked Company reports that Transworld Stance may be folding. An offshoot of the Transworld Skateboarding media empire, this magazine covering "lifestyles of the young and the dangerous" is a rare modern example of a general-interest magazine aimed at young men. Of the men's magazines, Details has long skewed a little younger than it's Esquire and GQ counterparts, as did the defunct POV, but it wasn't really until the emergence of the lad mags that men's magazines appealed to the younger set.

This fascinates me. In the history of magazines, publishers have long been able to support tiered general-interest magazines for female readers. You had your Teen, Seventeen, and Sassy, and then you had your Cosmopolitan, Elle, Mademoiselle, Glamour, etc. Now many of the women's magazines -- excluding the seven sisters of yore -- are skewing younger with slightly different titles such as Cosmo Girl! But I wonder: Why not just read Cosmo? Part of the allure of those magazines to younger readers is the aspirational aspect of pending maturity.

Men's magazines don't have this. When you're young, you get Boys' Life. Then you're left to a few older men's general-interest magazines and special interest magazines aimed at men. Sports, cars, crafts, hunting, and so on. Is this because men's interests specialize earlier on in life? Or do men just not need a general-interest magazine outside of the big three? Curious. Back in the day, there were several magazines aimed at college-aged men including titles such as the digest-sized 21 (not the wonderfully sexy French magazine).

Does the rumored nail in Transworld Stance's coffin indicate that the title didn't work -- or that the premise of a general-interest magazine for young men doesn't work?

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

New School, New Media Style

Stephen Downes, the educational technologist -- or technological educator -- behind the OLDaily newsletter, recently launched Edu_RSS, which "automatically harvests metadata from about 50 educational bloggers, displays the results (updated hourly) and provides a database search of all aggregated submissions."

Feeds harvested include many of the usual suspects -- such as Gillmor, Lessig, Megnut -- but also feature some nice, focused news services such as CogDogBlog, EdTechPost, and the Shifted Librarian.

Once the service is stable, Downes plans to release the code under GPL. An excellent project.

Big Brother Is Watching XIII

The more you improve security, the more people will improve ways to work around it. Yet the race continues. Hollywood has long battled against bootleggers who videotape films during closed screenings. Now, two companies funded by the Advanced Technology Program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology at the rate of $2 million are developing a technology that will embed flickering patterns in digitally projected movies to stymie folks with handheld camcorders. While the flickering patterns will be unnoticeable by the human eye, they will render the resulting recordings unviewable. While the anti-piracy captain for the Motion Picture Association of America says that the system will not stop videotaping, it will stop bootlegs from reaching the market before a domestic release.

Thanks to Lockergnome.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Rock Shows of Note LXI

I've been remiss in terms of reporting on the bands I've seen play lately, so this is a less in-depth catch-up entry. Scads of great shows lately and an overly active social schedule as spring emerges!

Saturday, April 19: Plunge Into Death played under their moniker DGXJC because of their recent show at TT the Bear's. They went on first, which was a little iffy because new member Mac Swell was running late (He got on the T heading in the wrong direction, he says.). So what seemed to be a sound check and technical difficulties troubleshooting actually turned out to be the beginning of their set. The band wasn't in the fine form they were in at TT's previously, but the set was still solid. Geisslah stepped off the stage, and the several songs that Mac joined them for were quite solid. One is quite impressive. And another, well, it kind of reminded me of boys jumping around in a basement, shouting sing-along songs. It sounds great, but visually, more could be done musically, perhaps. Still, excellent sequenced noise rap rock or whatever it is! Next up, the Japanese Karaoke Afterlife Experiment, a masked noise duo that reminded me of Tunnel of Love by way of the Boredoms. It also made me think that maybe Chris and I shouldn't pursue our nascent side project Cruel Ranch. This is basically what we'd do, only skronkier. Nice dramatic bleep-box, keyboard-bashing, drum set-slamming noise. Scads of fun, and charmingly staged. Their CD comes in a handmade sleeve encapsulated in duct tape. Then came the Janet Pants Dans Theeatre, a small, independent modern dance troupe from Los Angeles and New York City. With three dancers and a sound engineer/keyboardist, the Theeatre performed three pieces and screened a video. Despite my initial skepticism, I was quite impressed by their performance. Definitely one of the better independent dance troupes I've encountered -- much less performing at a bar. The dude playing under the name Pleasurehorse took forever to set up, but it was pretty much worth the wait. Using a PowerBook, touchpad, video game console controller, CD player, and microphone, this former member of Six Finger Satellite created a static- and scratch-drenched noise collage that was quite interesting. I do wish that when he found a groove, he kept it for a spell, or that he incorporated more tunefulness, because despite the fun I had trying to figure out how he was making all of his noises, his dramatic jumping around, touchpad pen in mouth, machine manipulation struck me as so much noodling. Make some music, dude. The technology is impressive, and the gimmick is great, but focus on the sound. Regardless, worth checking out. The last band, Life Partners, we didn't stick around for. More noise, much later. Time to go home. Kudos to Mr. Records for continuing their extremely impressive series of shows at the Choppin' Block!

Friday, April 18: I wasn't going to go out, but true to form lately, I decided to brave the springtime streets around 10 o'clock. Unfortunately, that meant that I'd miss the Mary Reillys set -- I arrived just in time to catch Deb, Keira, and Ben on the front stoop. It also meant that it'd be too crowded for me to get in to see Emergency Music. From the bar side, where I met up with the gang, they sounded like pleasing power pop. I did however get into the show side for the Brett Rosenberg Problem set. With a new CD just out, the band's added a rhythm guitarist, and this was the first of two CD release shows. They played an energetic, bash-pop set that seemed to expand on Brett's melodic songwriting, and I look forward to the new disc. The place was packed, so I was smashed into the back with Deb and Keira. Still, a good show, and I was lucky to get in because word is the show sold out.

Wednesday, April 16: This was the best Plunge into Death show I have ever seen. Their costuming was the best it's ever been. Their stage presence was the most confidence it's ever been. The sequencing of and transitions between the songs were the best they've ever been. And it was just a great show all around. The show Saturday was a bit of a let down given this evening's epiphany, but that's the way the ball bounces. You can't be the best all the time! This was also Mac Swell's first night with the band, and Mac hammed it up old-scholl style, decking himself out in an amazing track suit. Very, very good. Best PID show ever. King Cobra played next. Featuring Betsy Kwo, Tara Jane O'Neil, and Rachel Carns, the band is a Needs-like no-wave wunderkind. I quite enjoyed their set even though I didn't know any of the songs -- and it's been awhile since I've spun my Needs records. A nice followup to PID. Last up, Tracy and the Plastics, another fine no-wave band. A skronky night, and much appreciated.

North End Moment XXXVII

Parking and traffic is a mess in Boss Town today because of the Boston Marathon and a Red Sox game. So I had to smile slightly when I found this in the back alley.

Indeed: Read the sign.

Music to My Ears XXXV

The Mr. T Experience's Dr. Frank (or is that the other way around?) has written a war-related song entitled "Democracy, Whisky, Sexy." In his blog, Blogs of War, which is more politically than punk rock oriented, he describes his thinking about making live demos available on the Web, why he offers limited-run CD's only at his shows, and why listener feedback is important early in the songwriting and recording "process."

Dr. Frank's statement that "I'm not sure how many fans of my songwriting read this blog, nor how many readers of the blog might be interested in my songs" made me grin, as I rank among both circles in that Venn diagram, just as I follow Chris Imlay's songwriting and design work at MacAddict (where, I learned this weekend, a fellow NU alum also works). Thrilled silly that he'll be playing at the Kendall in Cambridge while he's on a brief Northeast tour. We didn't meet up when I was last in the Bay Area. Maybe I'll be able to meet him while he's in town.

I've been following his music since I got "Big Black Bugs Bleed Blue Blood" from Blacklist Mailorder, and I interviewed someone from MTX for my very first zine ever, Blow #1 in 1988. Thanks for the songs, Dr. Frank!

Rules for Fools XV

Rule No. 19: While it is true that if you play with fire, you will get burned, it is equally true that if you do not pay close attention to the proximity of the edge of a cookie sheet to the crook of your arm, you will also get burned.

Magazine Me XXIX

Reasons You Should Read TV Guide Even If You Don't Need To:

1. What I'm Watching This Week. Celebrities such as Leann Rimes and Shannen Doherty weigh in with their TV recommendations -- and why they watch them. On one level, who cares? But on another, the featurette gives a nice personal approach to TV viewing.

2. Cheers & Jeers. Like the Columbia Journalism Review's Darts and Laurels feature, this weekly commentary column takes on the best and worst of broadcast media. Items range from the snarkily shallow to the substantial.

3. The Robins Report. J. Max Robins' tracking of trends and developments in broadcast news lends the Guide a semblance of credibility and legitimacy in professional news journalism.

4. SportsGuide. The week's sporting events in a wide range of games -- at a glance.

5. Cable Conversion Chart. Hella easier to use than the little card that comes with your cable box -- or the online channel guide. Want to know what's where? Start here.

6. Close-Up. The Guide's more in-depth descriptions of and commentaries on programs -- while hardly at-length -- still provide useful insights on what might be particularly noteworthy on a given day.

7. TV Guide Crossword. 'Nuff said.

8. Easy multitasking. I've never really enjoyed watching TV while navigating the on-screen channel guide, program listings, or show descriptions. I'd much rather read while watching, and the Guide is something I can reach for when I need it -- and without reaching for the remote. If I wanted to watch TV Guide on TV, I wouldn't really want to watch TV, now, would I?

9. You don't have Tivo. 'Nuff said.

10. What it is. TV Guide interests me for several reasons. Beyond the actual listings and program grids, the Guide is equal parts users' guide to the television -- how we watch, why we watch -- and news source on the state of TV production and promotion. Oh, it's no Broadcast & Cable or Television Broadcast, but it's as close to a consumer-oriented sociological or anthropological look at TV viewing as we can get right now.

Comics and Conversation V

Slashdot is interviewing Warren Ellis as we speak, so to speak. Slashdot participants can post questions to the discussion forum, and CmdrTaco will pass the "highly moderated" ones onto Mr. Ellis, who will then answer the questions. A nice example of community-oriented, grassroots Q&A journalism.

The Movie I Watched Last Night LXV

At the behest of Andrea, I watched this wonderfully bad 1972 horror movie last night. I love frogs. I really do. I have no idea whether I have a totem animal, but I wouldn't mind if it turned out to be the frog. This movie, then, fits right into my frog fetish. It's a throw-away groaner of a horror film, but it's got several things going for it. At base, it's an environmental cautionary tale. If we keep polluting the planet and mistreating the animals that share it with us, eventually, nature and its denizens might rise up against us. A domineering patriarch hell bent on quashing any and all natural infringements on his island home hosts a Fourth of July party for his extended family. An amateur ecologist and nature photographer played by Sam Elliott stumbles across the family gathering while documenting the environmental ills caused by the patriarch. He emerges as the hero figure as, one by one, the family members are isolated from the rest of the pack and killed by a host of frogs, snakes, spiders, Spanish mosses, quicksand pits, alligators, and other natural slayers. Shades of Friday the 13th, this is your basic divide and conquer horror plotline. If someone wanders off, they die. The scene in which one victim is overwhelmed by Spanish moss is particularly interesting, and the almost-constant representations of frogs and toads of various sizes is an absolute hoot. The frogs are so not frightening. Yet the sense of impending, almost Lovecraftian doom is quite effective. In the end, the patriarch comes to a deserved end, and the danger is left open as the nature photographer and his love interest escape. Or do they? Also of interest are the portrayals of interracial dating, alcoholism, and other social concerns. All are given a passing glance, but they're there. Thanks, Andrea. I wouldn't have come across this without you.

Corollary: Technofetishism II

Thanks to Anime on DVD -- I think -- I learned last night about a Netflix-like online rental service that specializes in anime, Asian cinema, exploitation, and martial arts films. Rareflix supposedly offers several tiered levels of service, much like Netflix, with the lowest running $20/month for three DVD's. But I can't seem to sign up for anything beyond the pay-as-you-go plan, which is fine to take it for a test run, I guess. The site sports some awkward -- and concerning -- typos (a la a Comdey genre subsection and typos in the FAQ), but the selection of DVD's available is quite appealing. With the pay-as-you-go plan, rentals cost $3 a piece, with a two-DVD minimum, and you get to keep the movies seven days from the date you receive them. Odd. Even though I just rented three DVD's -- The Astro-Zombies, Freeze Me, and Evil Dead Trap -- and I just got an email confirmation, my rental queue online indicates I've made no rentals. Fingers crossed that Rareflix doesn't rip me off, but if I get the DVD's -- and if they get their Web service in order -- this could be an amazing Filmfax- or Asian Cult Cinema-styled Netflix complement.

Digesting the Daily XI

Recent editions of the Daily Northwestern, the student newspaper of my alma mater, featured several media-, technology-, and activism-related items that might be of interest to Media Dieticians.

For the thrill
Chicago-based independent records label Thrill Jockey celebrates a decade of success with a broad, ecclectic roster of musicians
(Jan. 23, 2003)

Evanston resident sues theater chain for showing ads
Plaintiff says movies starting late violate contract on ticket; Loews calls lawsuit "frivolous"
(Feb. 27, 2003)

Getting active
Northwestern breathes new life into the peace movement with education, marches and social gatherings
(Feb. 27, 2003)

Eye spy
Webcams let NU students -- and the rest of the world -- play voyeur to The Rock and Lake Michigan
(Feb. 28, 2003)

Studies find heavy backpacks a drag on students, lower backs
Chiropractors advise using both straps, limiting load to 15 percent of body mass
(March 4, 2003)

Hot for teacher
A Web site lets college students rate professors on what CTECs leave out
(March 5, 2003)

NUIT to premier revamped WebEmail site Wednesday
(April 8, 2003)

Pitt study fails MS Word grammar, spell checker
Profs warn against "blindly" following software's imperfect correction system
(April 8, 2003)

If you work for a college newspaper and would like to sign me up for a complimentary subscription, please feel free to do so. My address is in the grey bar over on the left.

Comics and Conversation IV

Rich Watson offers a transcript of the "Open Minds" panel he moderated at the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo held April 5 in Ohio. The discussion addresses approaching readers, retailers, libraries, and other potential customers and venues. Good stuff.

Thanks to Slashdot.

Music to My Ears XXXIV

War Child, an international nonprofit that focuses on helping children affected by war, released a benefit album today to aid Iraqi children. Musicians including Avril Lavigne, Spiritualized, Beth Orton, and Billy Bragg -- as well as the commercial ringers Paul McCartney and David Bowie -- donated songs, and the CD was released by London Records, which agreed not to take any profit on the project. The playlist represents a nice round-up of political pop. But Avril Lavigne singing "Knocking on Heaven's Door"? Ugh.

The Free-Range Comic Book Project XVIII

This is an installment of Media Diet's Free-Range Comic Book Project.

Saturday: The Blair Witch Chronicles #2 (Oni, April 2000). Writer: Jen Van Meter. Artists: Bernie Mireault and Abu. Location: On the Green Line between Park Street and Brigham Circle.

Sunday: Blood of the Innocent #1 (Warp, Jan. 7, 1986). Writers: Rickey Shanklin and Mark Wheatley. Artist: Marc Hempel. Location: On a bench in Central Square.

Sunday's installment is the first Free-Range Comic Book I've actually seen get picked up by somebody. After walking through Boston Common, the Public Garden, down Beacon Street, across the Harvard Bridge, and up Mass. Ave. to Central Square, Andrea and I hung out for awhile on a bench in front of the Coquette clothing store. I placed the comic on the bench opposite us. While we were sitting there, an elderly man walked up and picked up the comic. He read the front cover -- and the Free-Range Comic Book card. He turned the comic over and read the back cover. He then flipped through the comic back to front, pausing briefly to turn back to the middle. Decision made, he rolled the comic up with a packet of paper he was carrying and walked away. I hope he actually reads the comic. And I hope he passes it on.

For more information on this project, please refer to this Media Diet entry.

The Commerce of Cartoons

Instead of starting the day resolved not to watch CNN, like I do on some mornings, in the name of TV Turnoff Week, I decided to take another route. Having read a listing of anime currently aired on American TV stations in Animerica, I decided to set my alarm clock a little early, get up a little early, and turn on the television a little early.

This morning's targets? The anime Medabots. Released stateside by ADV Films, Medabots is an anime skewed at younger viewers that incorporates an evident toy line tie-in. This morning's episode on ABC Family at 7 a.m. was "There's Something About Miss Mimosa", a simple tale about three men warring over the affections of Ikki's teacher, Miss Mimosa. The animation isn't that solid, and the Medabots are used almost as afterthoughts. That said, the multimedia evolution of the Medabots is intriguing. Initially launched as a video game in Japan, the Medabots then spawned a toy line that features 2-inch figures and two-piece Ro-Battle kits. Each Medabot comes complete with Ro-Battle statistics and fighting specialties. While it's clear that the anime was introduced to the States to help market the toy line, the battle and competitive aspect of the toys and game don't really communicate well in the cartoon. Regardless, this isn't your standard fighting anime. The romantic aspect of this episode, and the occasionally Rumiko Takahashi-like character designs give this a little more depth. But just a little. (Extra credit for the student journalist character Erika.)

At 7:30, Medabots was followed by Beyblade, another fighting anime aimed at younger viewers. Done more in the style of Dragonball Z, this anime also has an evident toy line tie-in. This morning's episode, "The Race Is On" carries a light message about teamwork, trust, and patience, but for the most part, it's a tense, bide-your-time approach to a straight-ahead stadium-battle. It seems rather silly that someone could base an anime on competitive tops -- at least in Medabots, the 'bots can be fleshed out as characters -- so even though the animation is better here, the story stops short of interesting. Unless you're into fighting narratives where a team faces an ever-changing line up of competitors. Of the two toy lines, Beyblades seems more fun. In some ways, the Beyblades toys fit into the collectible toy and card game menace a la Pokemon, but, come on... battling tops? If someone wants to gift me a Griffolyon A-28, I wouldn't say no.

Why is all of this interesting? Cartoons have long been used to market toys. It's not that cartoons spawn licensed toy lines, but that the toys almost always come first. The horribly designed "He-Man Vs. the Advertisers" page indicates that many characters and plotlines in the Masters of the Universe cartoons were catalyzed by the introduction of new toys. And Norma Pecora's The Business of Children's Entertainment suggests that this effect might be best seen in the light of a market exchange model. Media organizations are suppliers. Advertisers are the source of the demand. And what do they want? An audience. Children. This is nothing new, but it highlights the fact that this has nothing to do with anime or toys.

So if cartoons and children's programming are at base advertisements, stateside or otherwise, wherefore the future of children's programming? Are kids consumers? To a certain age, their parents are in their stead. How do you reach them? One Web writer offers a brief analysis of the G.I. Joe cartoon series that aired in the '80s, positioning it within a broader cartoon cultural context -- and in a post-911 light -- barely touching on the educational and occasionally ethical messages that capped each episode. Those messages were the result of Congress intervening in children's broadcasting in the '80s as part of the Children's Television Act. By couching an otherwise commercial program in an apologetic, educational afterthought, networks could better guarantee that affiliates would air a given program.

Medabots and Beyblade have no such educational aspirations or apologies. They are commercials pure and simple. Is the CTA on the wane? Does it matter less on cable? Do international imports fall under different guidelines in the name of cultural exchange? All food for thought on the first day of TV Turnoff Week.

From the In Box: Kill Your Television VI

Lest it get lost in the Comments box of history, Media Dietician Joe Clark points out an interesting project organized as a response to TV Turnoff Week, which starts today. Turn on the TV 2003 is a week-long "exercise in living through our favorite appliance." Every day, Matt May will issue an assignment to critically assess television. Today's assignment is to watch a foreign-based news broadcast.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Comics and Computers II

Between 1984 and 1991, Radio Shack distributed free copies of the comic book Tandy Computer Whiz Kids at their stores. Blending adventure stories, computer programming, and frequent mentions of Radio Shack, TRS-80, and Tandy products, the infrequently published series is a good example of corporate comic books. The first issue, which was published in conjunction with Archie Comic Publications, featured artwork by Dick Ayers and Chic Stone. It appears that the issues, each of which featured the young computer users Alec and Shanna, were all produced under the auspices of William Palmer, director of in-house publications for Radio Shack. Kudos to the Classic Computer Magazine Archive for making these comics available online. Other magazines available in the archive include Antic, STart, Creative Computing, and Hi-Res. Does anyone have an archive of inCider or A+ magazines available online? Or Enter, for that matter? Oh, those were the days.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Event-O-Dex LII

April 18: The Mary Reillys, Emergency Music, and the Brett Rosenberg Problem sing in the release of Brett's new record at the Abbey in Somerville.

April 18-20: Anime Boston 2003 gets cute at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.

Corollary: Blogging About Blogging LVII

I've now also added Media Diet's RSS feeds to Syndic8 and News Is Free. It also struck me that while Media Diet now has an RSS feed, I didn't really know how to get RSS feeds myself. So I downloaded NetNewsWire Lite for OS X. Now I'm up and running with the RSS set! Woot.

Blogging About Blogging LVII

Thanks to Media Dietician Gregory Blake, Media Diet now has an RSS feed. Also, thanks are due to Marm0t for the introduction.
It's an Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad World XXVI
Jason Kottke shared some thoughts yesterday on whether advertising in books would make books cost less to readers -- and the publishing industry more cost-effective. His vision entails books being broken up with ads every 3-4 pages, much like in magazines, but I don't think that this is the correct model. I've long wondered why more book publishers don't include adverts in the backs of books, much like book ads in literary and cultural journals. Many small publishers already do this, including ads for their back catalog -- and perhaps other related or like-minded publishers. If you're a press that has a sensibility that people can trust -- a la, "I'll buy anything that Publisher X publishes." -- this is a good way to cross-promote your books within the books themselves. Like tucking a record label's mail-order catalog into every CD.

But Kottke's got me wondering. What if the ads weren't relegated to the back of the book like the above model -- or even school yearbooks? What if there were ads sprinkled throughout the book? I don't think his proposal of every 3-4 pages is workable. Even if books would cost substantially less because you're getting ads with your read, I think this is too intrusive and interrupting. That said, if there was an ad or two or three at chapter breaks, I don't think it'd interrupt the flow of the read much at all. My guess is that all of us tend to pause and assess what we've read at chapter breaks. I'd also wager that we read books by chapter. Chapter breaks are where we take our breaks, tucking in the ol' bookmark and putting the book down to return to later. So ads at chapter breaks might be quite feasible. They'd have a better chance of being seen, not being ghettoized to the back, and they wouldn't infringe on the reading experience as much as ads punctuating chapters might.

That said, ads are sold because of the demographics of the readers. Are books so targeted that book ads could be sold on reader profiles like magazine ads are?
Kill Your Television VI
It's that time of year again! TV Turnoff Week starts on Patriot's Day, and the fine folks at Adbusters have hit a wall trying to get an ad aired on MTV. So the scrappy media activism mag has turned to its Culture Jammers network to help "jam" MTV.

Regardless of any headway made on the MTV front, Adbusters will air a subvert on CNN Headline News, which is a coup, and the organization is helping connect media activists around the world to organize direct actions. There's not much going on in Boston proper -- where's Rich Mackin when we need him? -- but I just hung up some fliers at work.
Just One Pink
Let the Pink Watch begin! Former Fast Company contributing editor, Dan Pink, former purveyor of the blog Just One Thing -- and a big supporter of the Company of Friends -- has an excellent article about the bell curve in Wired, of all places. He's got a good eye, and a good mind. Look for his name.
Read But Dead X
After an almost-70-year run, the intellectual and cultural journal Partisan Review, perhaps best known for its anti-Communism stance in the '30s and '40s, is calling it quits with the new issue. Boston University, which has funded the journal since 1978, hopes to reintroduce a new publication in the future.
Magazine Me XXVIII
I first encountered Reinhold Aman not too long after I got into zines in the late '80s. A self-described "cunning linguist," his Maledicta Press has been in operation for almost 20 years and "specializes in offensive and negatively-valued words and expressions from all languages and cultures, past and present. Its main areas of interest are the origin, etymology, meaning, use, and influence of verbal aggression and verbal abuse of any kind, as well as language usually considered vulgar, obscene, or blasphemous."

The site features excerpts from and information about the 13 320- and 160-page collections issued to date, and includes some intriguing subsections, including looks at prison slang, outhouse poetry and graffiti, polyglot exclamations, and ribald jokes. And even though Aman now resides in California, he put in time at the University of Wisconsin and went on to teach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which he dubs "Dungheap U."

One of the longer-running small-press projects I'm aware of -- and extremely fun stuff. It seems that Joi Ito and the Metafilter set has rediscovered his work because of the forthcoming -- and long-awaited -- Vol. 13. Good to see Maledicta still plugging along.
The Free-Range Comic Book Project XVII
This is an installment of Media Diet's Free-Range Comic Book Project.

Black & White #1 (Image, October 1994). Writers: Art Thibert and Pamela Thibert. Artist: Art Thibert. Location: On the Green Line between Park Street and Haymarket.

For more information on this project, please refer to this Media Diet entry.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

The Free-Range Comic Book Project XVI
This is an installment of Media Diet's Free-Range Comic Book Project.

Black Panther Vol. 2, #17 (Marvel, April 2000). Writer: Christopher Priest. Artist: Sal Velluto. Location: On the Green Line between Haymarket and Park Street.

For more information on this project, please refer to this Media Diet entry.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

From the In Box: Street Art IV
The Artomat at the ABC Carpet & Home store in Union Square was lovely! I am so happy with it and will go there bi-weekly now. It's $6 for a shiny Artomat token, and you can just throw it in the machine and pick your art. The fellow there is very sweet and offered us sweet potato brownie samples (much better than they sound), and my friend and I picked up some great jewelery (though I really want a "dumpster painting" and will get that next time). The price of a froofy drink for my own leetle art, hurrah! -- Alex
Magazine Me XXVII
Justin Hall bought an issue of Military History last weekend at a gas station in Nebraska. Then he read it and thought about it. Hard. His post in Links yesterday considers "how folks everywhere like to learn" -- as well as what kind of person might read Military History.

What magazine have you thought about lately?
The Blogging of Business II
Sense is an international network of almost 1,000 business leaders and innovators that provides market research, forecasts, and consulting services to companies such as IDEO, Procter & Gamble, and the BBC. Parallel to the Global Business Network, participants are recruited by word of mouth and vetted for their forward thinking, observations, and creativity. The network members, or sensers, also maintain a collaborative blog authored by five participants. Other members help create auxiliary blogs, including Tiger's Leap, Zen Kapital, and Counterculture. An interesting project!

Thanks to CommonMe.
Among the Literati XXXII
Dave Koch, founding editor of the new Land-Grant College Review journal of fiction, nonfiction, and artwork, tells me that their first issue has just gone to the printers. The first issue looks like a solid showing, with stories by Aimee Bender, Josip Novakovich, Robert Olmstead, and Stephen Dixon. Can't wait to see it! The world needs more little magazines.

Almost simultaneously, the third issue of Quick Fiction will be released this week. This edition includes new, quick fiction by David Barringer, Kirby Congdon, Barry Silesky, and Cecilia Woloch.  Stories are rumored to address bad women, a haunted car, baseball, boyfriends, and Ben Kingsley. The folks at the appropriately named JP Press -- they're based in Jamaica Plain -- also rolled out a new Quick Fiction of the Week feature on their home page. This operation continues to emerge as a solid source of short, short stories and prose poems.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Games People Play X
Remember the Eamon series of text-based role-playing games? Well, it turns out that you can download them, and with an Apple II emulator or the program MultiAventures, as well as the basic Eamon software, you can play Eamon and other text-adventure games from AdvSys, AGT, Infocom, Scott Adams, Level 9, Quill, and C64 Basic. Hello Main Hall & Beginners Cave!

You are in the outer chamber of the hall of the guild of free adventurers. Many men and women are guzzling beer and there is loud singing and laughter.

On the north side of the chamber is a cubbyhole with a desk. Over the desk is a sign which says 'register here or else!'

Do you go over to the desk or join the men drinking the beer?

And then after some completed actions...

He studies you for a moment and says, 'here is a booklet of instruction for you to read, and your prime attributes are--

22-2 Eam_FN SYNTAX ERROR IN 110-1 HD=FNA(8) 110-1 HD=FNA(8)

Huh. Well, I'll figure it out. Awesome!
Selling Out
Well, the second DVD I'd listed with Amazon Marketplace, "Dr. No," has also been purchased. This time by a fellow in New York City. Aflush with the rush of two successful sales in pretty short order, I've since listed about 15 books for sale. We'll see how they do. I'm sure there's an emergent science about what sells well and quickly in services like this. Cleaning, cleaning, clean!
Games People Play IX
Clive Thompson's commentary on Andrew Phelps' look at how game design is taught offers some interesting insight on how the game industry might be too creative -- and how reuse is good.
Corollary: Pulling the Plug XI
The RAVE Act passed. Enjoy live music while you can!
The Free-Range Comic Book Project XV
This is an installment of Media Diet's Free-Range Comic Book Project.

Black Cross: Dirty Work (Dark Horse, April 1997). Writer and artist: Chris Warner. Location: On the Green Line between Haymarket and Park Street.

For more information on this project, please refer to this Media Diet entry.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Event-O-Dex LI
April 15: The Trouble Dolls, Reverend Glasseye and His Wooden Legs, and Ad Frank and the Fast Easy Women take up residency at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge.

April 16: Plunge into Death, the King Cobra, and Tracy and the Plastics take charge at TT the Bear's in Cambridge.

April 19: DGXJC acts all mysterious with Life Partners, Pleasurehorse, Janet Pants Dans Theatre, and Japanese Karaoke Afterlife Experiment at the Choppin' Block in Boston.

April 22: Wish for Fire and Orange Park settle in at TT the Bear's in Cambridge.
Rock Shows of Note LX
Kurt and I headed to the Middle East Corner last night around 9 for the opening reception for the Creepshow Art Extravaganza, which runs until May 15. Featuring work by "The Count," "Salty Dave," and "Joe Keinberger," it's a good showing of comics, paintings, and rock poster art by three locals. I may be off my rocker, but I think the three artists are in fact Ed Curran, Dave Bryson, and Joe Keinberger -- the folks behind the Comb-Over minicomics.

The place was packed. Packed! Saw TD and Jamie and tried to find some open space to stand and chat after making the rounds to see the showing. Of the three, I'm the biggest fan of Keinberger's work. His Brian Ralph-meets-Ralph Steadman drawings continue to impress me with their scritchy-scratch. Bryson also had some excellent pieces on display, and Curran seems to be specializing in pretty straight-forward rock poster art these days. We didn't stick around for the performances, which included a burlesque act by Ms. Firecracker and a set by the act Lenny and the Piss Poor Boys, because it was so crowded. Instead we headed down the street to the Cambridgeport Saloon for more conversation and some video game action.

If you haven't seen the Creepshow yet, it runs through May 15. Well worth checking out.
Mix Tapeology II
Don't forget that I am almost always open to mix tape and CD-R trades. I recently received two mix CD's worth mentioning.

Shannon Okey mailed me a personalized mix CD entitled "Eleven-Headed Kuan Yin" that sports a specially printed disc sleeve sporting a photograph she took at the Cleveland Museum of Art in December 2002. The mix includes some wonderful songs by Lush, Supreme Music Program, Frank Black, Renegade Soundwave, and Pagoda Red. Shannon even included a liner note sheet offering commentary and a breakdown of categories that include South Americans Dancing and Ohioans.

I also got a mix CD recently from Jodie Peotter, an old friend from high school. Lacking any kind of playlist, the mix, which is entitled "To Lodi and Back," is a great assortment of punk rock, pop punk, and ska punk songs. If this is what she remembers me liking from high school, I fear my tastes haven't wandered too far. Even though the CD didn't come with a playlist, it did come with this handwritten explanation: "Formerly 'Jodie's Punk Junk,' renamed because I listen to it in the car b/t work and Lodi... Plus I lost the file that had the original songlist and title. Oops." No worries. Mixes without playlists can be fun. In college, I'd occasionally DJ radio programs without announcing the playlist -- we'd mention a P.O. Box people could write in to if they wanted our show's playlist zine.
The Movie I Watched Last Night LXIV
It took me three sittings to make it through this movie. I'm not quite sure what it was, but I couldn't bring myself to watch it all the way through the first time. Or the second time. It's depressing! Even though the documentary was released shortly after the initial Net economy crash in 2000, the failings, foibles, and future of dotcoms still resonate strongly in the ongoing economic downturn. The mockumentary "Dot" is not just a parody of the whole dotcom craze; it's clearly a parody of this movie, which is even more effective in its emotional impact because it's real. Some of the actors in "Dot" even look like the real people in And the parallels continue -- the edits, the high fives, the New Age references to meditation, the language -- such as "keeps me up at night" -- the self-referential place-based references to Silicon Alley and Silicon Valley, the buzzword-driven hyperbole, and the boosterish enthusiasm. The ill-fitting suits and made-up price points! Who knew that such an of-the-moment documentary would be fodder for such an accurate mockumentary? The language, the personal dynamics, and the shared metaphoric pretense ("We were in our confrontation and debate space." Who talks like that?) all resonate, perhaps embarrassingly so. is the story of one company's rise and fall. I kind of wish I hadn't seen "Dot" first. To make fun of something that was relatively sad and silly in so many ways just adds salt to the Net economy's wounds.

Sunday: Strange Days
A nice palate cleanser after the emotional up and down of This 1995 film is a somewhat hot and cold look at virtual reality via recordings of people's actual experiences, feelings, and memories; race-based urban politics; and the turning of the millennium. As a cyberpunk movie running slightly parallel to "Existenz," it works quite well. Ralph Fiennes plays a former cop turned street peddler of stolen moments. The cinematography for the jacked-in scenes isn't that impressive, but the concept is good. I'm assuming the movie was set in a stylized Los Angeles, given the Rodney King-like killing of Jeriko One, a hip-hop artist working to organize the "gang bangers." Surprisingly, Ice-T wasn't cast in this role. The racial politics aspect of the movie also works well, as the film considers street justice, the role of the police and the media in local politics, and people's responsibilities to catalyze change even if that change will bring pains of its own. Some of the best dialogue comes from Angela Bassett's bodyguard character, as she goes off on why they need to make public the disk that kicked off the movie's mystery plot line in the first place. Because in the end, this is a film noir-esque mystery movie. The cyberpunk setting is just a backdrop for a proper whodunnit storyline. In the end, the serial killings and events that set them off comes as quite a surprise, and the theoretical technology really helps amplify the suspense.