"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Fox to Chase Christians

Still image from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the WardrobeAs I wrote in The Weekly Standard a few weeks ago, the best way for Christians to affect Hollywood is not to protest but to go to more movies, make clear their love for the medium, and praise Hollywood for what it does right.

(Regular readers of this site and the author's other writings will know that I live by those words.)

Now Fox Entertainment is showing exactly how quickly and surely such a strategy can work. The LA Times reports:

In the biggest commitment of its sort by a Hollywood studio, News Corp.'s Fox Filmed Entertainment is expected to unveil plans today to capture the gargantuan Christian audience that made "The Passion of the Christ" a global phenomenon.

The home entertainment division of Rupert Murdoch's movie studio plans to produce as many as a dozen films a year under a banner called FoxFaith. At least six of those films will be released in theaters under an agreement with two of the nation's largest chains, AMC Theatres and Carmike Cinemas.

The first theatrical release, called "Love's Abiding Joy," is scheduled to hit the big screen Oct. 6. The movie, which cost about $2 million to make, is based on the fourth installment of Christian novelist Janette Oke's popular series, "Love Comes Softly."
The production costs for this film do not sound exactly stunning, but the picture is obviously an experiment and a way of gauging exactly what the market is for such films on a regular basis, as opposed to big-budget "event" films such as The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings series. That makes good business sense for Fox and is good for the Christian audience in that success will not be defined as huge box office grosses but by a much more modest standard:

FoxFaith films, to be based on Christian bestsellers, will have small budgets of less than $5 million each, compared with the $60-million average. The movies each will be backed by $5-million marketing campaigns. Although that is skimpy compared with the $36 million Hollywood spends to market the average movie, the budget is significant for targeting a niche audience, especially one as fervent as many evangelical Christians.
There appears to be a huge market out there for Christian programming, the LA Times, story notes:
For instance, "The Passion" grossed $612 million worldwide, thanks in part to its appeal to Christians. Another spiritual odyssey, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," took in $745 million globally. Most recently, Christians came out for this summer's controversial "The Da Vinci Code," which has brought in $754 million worldwide.
The risk inherent in sending out a stream of low-budget films is that Fox will conclude that Christians will watch any kind of crud as long as it includes a scene in which a major character "accepts Christ into their life," which is what Christian fiction today all too commonly consists of. Fortunately, the studio seems to be after something quite different from that:
"A segment of the market is starving for this type of content," said Simon Swart, general manager of Fox's U.S. home entertainment unit.

"We want to push the production value, not videotape sermons or proselytize."

Aesthetic quality and an understanding of the subject matter will be essential to the plan's success:
"If this is something Fox is doing only to exploit the audience — or if it's something they don't believe in or are doing cynically — then there could be problems," said Brandon Gray, president of Box Office Mojo, a box-office reporting service. "There isn't a huge turnout for these films unless they speak to what Christianity is all about. People want a guide to life and Hollywood has ignored that by saying nothing or dwelling on vices."
It makes great business sense for Fox to pursue a new and strongly defined audience as movie box office intake has been decreasing in recent years:
Over the last four years, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has quietly built a network to mobilize evangelical Christian moviegoers in an era of diminishing box-office returns. The network includes 90,000 congregations and a database of more than 14 million mainly evangelical households.
Other studios are watching and considering whether to follow suit:
New Line Cinema's "The Nativity Story," scheduled to be released in December, tells the story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter to give birth to Jesus. Legendary Pictures, which has a multi-film deal with Warner Bros., is planning to make a movie version of John Milton's epic 17th century poem about the fall of man, "Paradise Lost."
The latter sounds very interesting indeed, with its clear potential for grand drama and powerful visual imagery.

One hopes that Christians have learned—or relearned—that a customer has much more influence than a scold.

From Karnick on Culture.

Microsoft to Compete with YouTube

Microsoft is developing an online video-sharing service modeled after YouTube. The Seattle Times reports:

Hopping aboard one of the Internet's white-hot trends, Microsoft introduced a test version of an online video-sharing service Monday night, with hopes it will snatch users away from market leader YouTube and generate revenue through advertising.

Soapbox on MSN Video, released to a select group of test customers, is designed to allow anyone to upload and share original videos on the Web.

Microsoft hopes Soapbox will both enhance and benefit from its other Web services to gain an edge in the explosive user-generated video market.

"The key is going to be getting a lot of users," said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. "It's one of those services that becomes more useful as more people access it. The biggest challenge will be to get people to use [Soapbox] instead of YouTube or other services."

Microsoft has an existing audience of 465 million monthly users across its various Web properties and aims to integrate Soapbox with its blogging and instant-messaging services, among others.

To keep its ad-funded business growing, it needs not only to grow its audience but also expand each user's involvement with its services, said Rob Bennett, general manager of entertainment and video services for MSN.

This is part of the continuing trend of business giants and government to harmess the Internet, as noted earlier on this site, here, here, and elsewhere.

From Karnick on Culture.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Evolution Of A Conservative: Playing Defense

One must have something in mind when applying a label to oneself. A label subject to as many divergent associations as "conservative" makes this requirement harder to meet, but no less urgent.

My preferred interpretation stems from an article written by Lew Rockwell, that appeared in Liberty magazine some years ago. Rockwell was, at that time, setting forth on the ideological journey that would put him at odds with most other American libertarians and conservatives. Yet there were several observations in that article that ought to have been taken quite seriously by members of both camps -- indeed, by members of all American political designations. Central among them was this:

Western civilization, most particularly American civilization, is eminently worthy of preservation and defense.

The key words of that assertion are the three at the end: preservation and defense. The target of such efforts, by Rockwell's lights, should be our civilization and culture as a whole and in fundamentals, rather than any detail excrescence. Thus, the top marginal tax rate, whatever it might be, is relatively unimportant, but the rule of law, a justice system blind to identity and group affiliation, free speech, free markets, and an ethic of public decency must be upheld at all costs.

To me, this expresses the core of conservatism. A conservative seeks to protect the fundamental principles from which the nation he loves has sprung. He's willing to entertain detail differences about specific policies with his fellows. He'll argue reasonably with anyone who's in accord with him on the pre-eminence of those fundamentals. But he'll brook no assault on them; that's tantamount to treason.

A conservative is a defender.

Here is where the Libertarian Party has committed its most grievous misstep. Party spokesmen and candidates have interpreted the assaults of Black Tuesday, and other Islamic terror attacks on Americans and their interests, as arguments for an American retreat from the Middle East and a return to a non-interventionist foreign policy. The milder ones argue that Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom were at best terrible mistakes; others claim that the expeditions exceeded the federal government's Constitutional authority. The question of what degree of political and military engagement with other nations would be best is debatable, but to argue that America had no right to respond to a terrorist atrocity on its own soil, thousands killed and tens of billions of dollars in property destroyed, puts its proponent beyond the pale for anyone who regards our civilization as worthy of defense.

Of course, Buchananites have taken the same position. They receive more tolerance from mainstream conservatives because of their premise: that our military expeditions have actually harmed American interests, and our ability to defend them, over the long term. Even so, the intimation that the best thing to have done was not to respond sits very poorly with the overwhelming majority of conservatives, sufficiently so that Buchanan is now considered unwelcome in mainstream conservative gatherings.

In the precursor to this essay, Tom Van Dyke counterpoised "conservative" to "progressive." Well, yes and no. Wholesome conservatism will embrace changes that are consistent with the fundamentals it seeks to preserve and defend, if those changes can be shown to yield net positive results -- progress -- by some widely accepted standard. Progressivism, historically, has been dismissive of such constraints. Its progenitors were fond of saying that "reality is inherently unfinished," and that a sufficient application of will and effort can transform it into whatever we want it to be. Such a doctrine vitiates the very notion of an enduring principle.

A classical liberal who upholds a set of fundamental principles is also a conservative, whether or not he chooses to style himself as such.

More anon.

Earmarks and the Constitution

Back from China, where, unlike California, capitalism and property rights actually mean something. Anyway, I notice today that Senator Jim DeMint argues that some 95 percent of all earmarks are listed in committee reports rather than in actual appropriation bills, that is, in actual law. And so DeMint argues that El Presidente W could simply refuse to spend, without need for an item veto.

Well, excuse me, but the last time I read the Constitution---Article 1, section 9, but who's counting?---it said something to the effect that "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law..." That means something rather different than DeMint's point: W has a duty not to spend, rather than merely the right not to do so. Of course, W, among his other virtues, seems to have forgotten that enforcement of the Constitution is his job; his casual approval of McCain-Feingold is all the proof we need. This apparently is what it means to be a uniter, not a divider.

Football Rules the Box Office

Promo shot of The Gridiron Gang movieFor the second time in th last month, a football film is the weekend's top box-office attraction. The Gridiron Gang, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, led the way in weekend receipts with an estimated total of $15 million.

The Gridiron Gang is another in a long line of sports movies that show how troubled individuals develop character by participating in sports, where excellence is the pursuit and achieving real, visible results is the only way to succeed.

An important aspect of these films is the leadership brought by a coach who has battles of his or her own to fight. Mentorship and the responsibility of each generation to train the next one are central concerns of such films.

Movies such as Invincible, The Replacements, Friday Night Lights, The Longest Yard, and The Ice Princess all pursue this approach, and the underlying concern is the same: redemption. As such, they can be quite moving despite their often formulaic story lines.

(In fact, a great deal of their power is the direct result of their formulaic nature, about which we will write more in due course.)

The Brian DePalma crime story The Black Dahlia brought in a lackluster $10 mil in its opening week, and attendance overall for the weekend was weak, off 12 percent from the week before.

The E! Online story attributes this to school being back in session and the large number of football games available to watch on TV. The first seems unlikely, given that in most places school started at least a couple of weeks ago, and few people attend classes on weekends (although some do actually do homework over the weekends).

The likely reason for the box office dropoff is the attraction of football. Several football games were in the top twenty rated TV shows last week, with NFL games at the 1 and 3 positions.

I think that's a good thing. If you're like most people, you'll get more enjoyment and learn more about life watching a football game than in watching most movies—and what you enjoy will be the pursuit of excellence and what you learn will be true.

If only more movies were like that.

From Karnick on Culture.

This Pope's a Funny Guy

“We would ask that violence and anger subside and that serious dialogue begin.

“We are therefore planning to invite several leading Muslim religious leaders to visit us here in the Vatican where we can have detailed and inter-faith discussions."

“After that, we would like Muslim religious leaders to invite us to continue the conversation in their holy places: Mecca, Medina, Qum and Najaf for example. Our Jewish brothers should be invited to attend, too. And why not add in people of faith from the Buddhist and Hindu communities?"

As if you didn't know Mecca and Medina are forbidden for non-Muslims to enter. And while we're at it, let's bring some Jews!

Benedictus, you slay me.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Evolution Of A Conservative, Part One: First Delineations

I've been piqued by S. T. Karnick's recent statements, in the comments to a couple of his own essays, that he's "not a conservative." Now, he didn't make it sound as if it were somehow an unworthy thing to be; he just stated that he wasn't one. Yet in the absence of those statements, what I've learned of Mr. Karnick's values and general political posture would have caused me to conclude that he is a conservative. You see, I share those values and that posture, and "conservative" (of the libertarian variety) is what I call myself.

Political labels are always at least a tad fuzzy. These days, they appear to be more indistinct than they've been since before FDR. But most people do label themselves one thing or another. One of the reasons has always been to provide others with a condensed guide to their positions. Another has been the psychic comfort that comes with group identification. It seems that despite the gray zones around all of today's conventionally labeled political poles, labels still serve those purposes to an extent sufficient to make them attractive to most Americans. Which compels us to ask:

  • If Pat Buchanan, Charles Krauthammer, George Bush, and my old friend Smith who thinks that no one except soldiers should be permitted to cross the border in either direction are all conservatives;
  • If William Safire, Mark Steyn, William F. Buckley and my old friend Jones whose favorite pastime is hauling his Uzi and his bipod to Central Park and killing drug dealers in the wee hours are all conservatives;
  • If Steve Forbes, Bob Dole, Ernest van den Haag and my old friend Davis who's called for a 50% tax on all profits and the outright confiscation of all estates are all conservatives;

...what does "conservative" really mean? Could it be that the word has been drained of all objective significance?

(Incidentally, the names Smith, Jones, and Davis are used above as pseudonyms for real persons. My friends form a rather diverse lot.)

A century ago, a European observer of our society, a certain Herbert George Wells, wrote in his book The Future Of America that "All Americans are, from the English point of view, Liberals of one sort or another," by which he meant what we would call classical liberals. Wells, a socialist, was hostile to classical liberalism, the dominant political posture of the time. He saw it as the principal obstacle socialists such as he, the Webbs, and the Bloomsbury group would need to surmount to achieve their vision of a just society. This makes his observation all the more striking for the time it was made: the heyday of the Progressives, the muckrakers, and the Benthamites, not one of whom would have endorsed the principles of classical liberalism without first registering heavy qualifications to all of them. More, within fifteen years, the United States would go to war in Europe against powers that had not attacked it, Prohibition would be fastened onto the necks of Americans nationwide, and major elements of the program laid out in The Communist Manifesto would be incorporated into federal law.

Gentle Reader, all of that happened in a nation whose favorite nonfiction author was classical liberal titan Herbert Spencer. Let that sink in for a moment. Clearly, "liberal" had at least as much fuzz around it then as "conservative" does today. So "conservative" isn't the first widely used political label to suffer from a certain indeterminacy in specifics.

I've long been of the opinion that "liberal" and "conservative" more suitably designate particular attitudes of welcome or unease toward large social and political changes than coherent political philosophies. Neither term's adopters command a significant consensus about core principles. The political postures of conservatives, in particular, vary greatly and often contradict themselves on specific issues. Yet "conservative" is at this time the most commonplace political self-assessment in America. It must mean something to the persons who use it.

More anon.

Art That Bites

Artists in the twentieth-century increasingly operated on the insight that it is vain, stupid, and boring to paint a beautiful and emotionally moving portrait of a landscape or person or pieces of fruit or a scene from the Bible or a war fight or a group of local burghers gathered for their nightly guarding of the town, and that those who did so were captives of bourgeois values whose work spread false consciousness and destroyed souls (and by the way, there is no such thing as a soul).

An example of repugnantm, soul-destroying, false consciousness, painted by Dutch artist Vermeer

This phenomenon has been well documented over the past couple of decades in books such as Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word and in the excellent culture magazine The New Criterion.

Of course, for most people the best response to such things is to ignore them and, when they cannot be avoided, ridicule them.

A Los Angeles art show this weekend shows that the anti-art, anti-bourgeois, anti-social art movement is still strong.

The show, called Barely Legal, is put on by Banksy, a British prankster and graffiti artist, whose work pushes what passes for serious art today into open absurdity. It is the reductio ad absurdum of modern art, which is not much of a reduction at all.


Unfortunately, the show is not meant to satirize the contemporary art world but is in fact simply a cheesy and self-consciously ludicrous manifestation of it.

Banko's installations have a clear "anti-capitalist" (in the words of the Reuters article quoted below), anti-bourgeois message. Too bad, for he really does seem to have an ability to create mildly amusing if decidely unimaginative faux contemporary art scenarios.

Reuters reports:

A live Asian elephant, painted in pink and gold, stands in a makeshift living room.

Giant cockroaches swarm over copies of Paris Hilton's pop CD. A dummy angel wearing a gas mask and a white parachute flaps in the blue skies.

Even in free-wheeling Los Angeles, they'd never seen anything quite like this.

British graffiti artist and prankster Banksy opened his first Los Angeles show on Friday in an obscure warehouse in industrial Downtown, bringing his subversive humor and anti-capitalist message to a city better known for wealth and self-obsession.

"Barely Legal," a free three-day event billed as a "vandalized warehouse extravaganza," opened with the excitement and puzzlement that has come to be the hallmark of the elusive "guerrilla artist."

Banksy keeps his identity secret but has built up a cult following in Europe over the last four years, placing his work in top museums, zoos or on the streets.

"It is really amazing. I think he is hilarious," said Los Angeles graphic designer Manny Skiles, 30, who has spent two years following Banksy's work mostly through the Internet.

Banksy's works show about the usual level of imagination evident in these contemporary art scenarios, which is to say, very little:

On one wall, a stencil art picture shows bush hunters in loincloths raising their spears at empty supermarket shopping carts. On another, a masked street anarchist with a thrown back arm prepares to hurl -- a bunch of flowers.

But the placid pink elephant takes pride of place. Tai, 38, looms large in a room decked out with a sofa, a television, rugs on the floor and a man and woman sitting reading obliviously on the couch. It is titled "Home Sweet Home."

"We are sitting on the couch not seeing her. From what I understand, the elephant is a symbol of all the world's problems being ignored," said Kari Johnson, Tai's caretaker. Johnson said Tai lives on a private southern California elephant ranch and has appeared in several commercials.

This is all highly reminiscent of much 1960s hippie "art." And the "artist's" politics are just as nuanced and deeply informed as those of his '60s prankster predecessors:

Banksy, as is his custom, was not around to discuss his show, which followed a prank at Disneyland this month in which he placed a blow-up figure dressed in orange Guantanamo Bay prison overalls beside a roller-coaster ride.

Last month, Banksy placed remixed copies of Paris Hilton's debut CD in stores across England. He gave them titles such as "Why Am I Famous?" and "What Am I For?"

In the "Barely Legal" show, the fake Hilton CDs are displayed in a plexiglass case alongside photo-shopped pictures of the hotel heiress and live cockroaches.

What this world needs is an installation that makes appropriate fun of all this nonsense. Banko could be just the one to do it, if he could only get past his own idological complacency. That, however, is one thing that he, like his contemporaries, appears unlikely to challenge.

For extensive coverage of this topic and others, go to Karnick on Culture.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bush "Snuff" Film Premieres in Toronto

Death of a President depicts imagined assassination of President George W. BushJames Pinkerton of Tech Central Station went all the way up to Toronto for the city's annual film festival this year, and he has brought back an excellent article on one of the most vivid manifestations of Bush hatred seen so far, the film The Death of a President. In an article appropriately and only slightly hyperbolically titled "Snuff Cinema," Pinkerton writes:

Five years after 9-11, it's apparent that we all aren't getting along. And the political left is throwing plenty of mean punches. A case in point is that new Bush snuff movie, "Death of a President." Some might say that "snuff movie" is too strong a term -- but how else to describe a movie that clearly revels in the prospect of George W. Bush's being assassinated? . . .

"Death" is a pseudo-documentary that purports to show what happens to America in the year after President George W. Bush is assassinated on October 19, 2007 (stock market nerds might note that 10/19/07 is the 20th anniversary of the 500-point stock market crash, for whatever symbolism that's worth).

A few points about the movie: First, it has a "big" look. As film-society types would say, "Death" is fluent in cinematic language; it brings one into the action, it's well paced, the music enhances the mood. Interestingly, the film was made for a mere $2 million; if so, such a large movie on such a small budget could only be possible for an offshoot of a big network, such as More4. The parent company, Channel 4, used its own deep resources to acquire archival footage and to help out on the slick special optical effects. So "Death" looks like a theatrical release, not a made-for-TVer.

Pinkerton sees extremely sinister motives at work here:

In the 12th century, King Henry II grew distinctly weary of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas à Becket. "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?" Henry asked, and the next thing he knew, four loyal knights did just the ridding Henry was hoping for. Now fast-forward nine centuries: Is it really all that hard to believe that the "Death" filmmakers hope that somebody gets a "bright idea" to rid the world of a troublesome president?

For my full, extensive article on this and its very interesting implications, go to Karnick on Culture.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Get Your Red Meat Before the Store Closes. . . .

The rumors are flying, that the left-wing radio network Air America is about to shut down. The New York Post reports:
All-liberal, all-the-time Air America is denying intense rumors that the ratings-challenged radio network will declare bankruptcy this week and attempt to reorganize to stay on the air for the November elections.

A high-level source told The Post that Rob Glaser, the Real Networks founder who rescued the 2-year-old network from its first financial crisis, "walked away last week" and took his moneybags with him.

Earlier this week, as first reported in The Post, Air America laid off six people and shuffled its on-air lineup - including deleting Jerry Springer and returning him to independent syndication.

Radio Equalizer, a blog that closely monitors Air America, claims the lefty net hasn't been able to pay its Associated Press bill and that staffers "have been bracing for the worst possible news."

Late yesterday, Air America spokeswoman Jaime Horn denied rumors of doom.

"If Air America had filed for bankruptcy every time someone rumored it to be doing so, we would have ceased to exist long ago," Horn told The Post. "No decision has been taken to make any filing of any kind."
From Karnick on Culture.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Are We Winning the War on Terror?

I dunno.

Iraq seems to sink deeper into fratricide. Afghanistan seems to be getting hairier.

But are we losing the war on terror? No way. These people are incapable of holding a single square mile of turf anywhere on this earth unless we let them. Radical Islamis mocked the US about the Iraqi city of Fallujah, saying the US would get its comeuppance there especially after we withdrew for aesthetic reasons the first time.

Well, we turned half of it into ash, and as for the rest, people can live there if they want.

As persistent as cockroaches are, they can never take over. They can never win. Unless we do nothing, of course. There might be a best way to kill cockroaches, and maybe we haven't found it yet. But you just keep stomping, and life goes on.

A National Scandal: Brad Pitt, Beloved Sweetheart Angelina Tragically Prevented from Marrying!

The great Mr. Matt Huisman has given his opinion on this subject below, but for those who cannot get enough of it, here's my take.

Actor Brad Pitt and actress Angelina Jolie, tragically kept apart by government editsI am regrettably rather late in mentioning the actor Brad Pitt's enlightening recent comment regarding why he has not yet married the acclaimed actress Angelina Jolie, a subject which he believes should have an important effect on the nation's political process.

USA Today reports the tragic, earth-shattering news:
Brad Pitt, ever the social activist, says he won't be marrying Angelina Jolie until the restrictions on who can marry whom are dropped. "Angie and I will consider tying the knot when everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able," the 42-year-old actor reveals in Esquire magazine's October issue, on newsstands Sept. 19.
I think he's referring to domestic animals here, but I'm not entirely sure, as he has refrained from providing specifics. In any case, let's get together and change the laws to Brad's liking so that he and Angelina can move in together and have kids and whatnot, OK?

It's little enough to ask a country to do, after all, for such an important person.

From Karnick on Culture.

Media Consolidation Reversing?

Numerous writers and analysts have pointed out that large media conglomerates' purchases of movie studios, magazines, and book publishing companies have had a deleterious effect on the quality of production in these media by forcing them to bring in higher profits than were historically attainable.

I suspect that the decline of American education has had a much more important effect on the quality of popular culture in the past half-century, but there were always two additional interesting questions regarding media conglomeration that needed to be asked and seldom were.

Question one was whether these two industries would remain as appealing to corporations as they had become during the 1970s and the two decades thereafter.

Question two was whether the decline in quality and increasing sameness of product from corporatized major publishers and film studios would cause a rise in competition from independent producers and publishers. And if the latter happened, might not the answer to question one be that the big corporations might wish to unload some of these firms?

That does appear to be the case, with the well-documented rise of independent media productions, proliferation of new magazines (which has slowed only in the past few years), and increasing success of university presses, small book-publishing houses, and other such ventures.

We are seeing some signs of a reversal of the media consolidation of the past couple of decades.

In today's news, for example, The Wall Street Journal reports that Time-Warner is jettisoning numerous magazines "as it looks to prune its portfolio of smaller, less-profitable titles."

This move is significant because it includes very popular titles such as Popular Science, Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Skiing, Parenting, and Babytalk. Of course these will all be sold to other big investors, because they are still worth a lot of money, but this looks to me like part of what may be a continuing devolution to a more reasonable scale of organization for these publications.

Equally significant in today's news is the announcement by the New York Times Co. that it is selling off its television stations:

"The decision to explore the sale of our broadcast stations is a result of our ongoing analysis of our business portfolio," said Janet L. Robinson, president and CEO. "These are well-managed and profitable stations that generate substantial cash flows and are located in attractive markets. We believe a divestiture would allow us to sharpen our focus on developing our newspaper and rapidly growing digital businesses, and the synergies between them, thereby increasing the value of our Company for our shareholders."

The stations that comprise the Broadcast Media Group are:

  • WHO-TV in Des Moines, Iowa (NBC);
  • KFSM-TV in Ft. Smith, Ark. (CBS);
  • WHNT-TV in Huntsville, Ala. (CBS);
  • WREG-TV in Memphis, Tenn. (CBS);
  • WQAD-TV in Moline, Ill. (ABC);
  • WTKR-TV in Norfolk, Va. (CBS);
  • KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, Okla. (NBC);
  • KAUT-TV in Oklahoma City, Okla. (MyNetworkTV); and
  • WNEP-TV in Scranton, Penn. (ABC).

Leftist critics complained about the corporatization and consolidation of the media as an unwelcome phenomenon in the '70s and thereafter, and they were correct to point out that there would be deleterious effects.

Market-oriented analysts simply replied by saying that the consolidation would be good because people wouldn't do it if it didn't make sense.

That was not the correct response, however. People do stupid things, and corporations do stupid things too.

The sensible response should have been that the media consolidation that began in the 1960s was most likely part of a societal and technological transition that would ultimately work toward everybody's benefit, as free markets typically do over the long term.

And that appears to be what has happened and is happening today.

Contrary to the leftists' claims, competition among media providers actually increased during the period of consolidation, as a simple glance at the current media landscape should make abundantly clear. In response to that competition, big media companies are beginning to divest themselves of some of their media holdings in order to make themselves leaner and more effective at responding to competition, as the New York Times statement makes clear.

That process will increase media competition further, and will create increased capacity for variety, efficiency, and customer satisfaction in our communications media.

That is what markets do, and it is always to the good in the long term.

From Karnick on Culture.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Whither Justice In Transaction?

As our technologies have ramified, certain aspects of knowledge have become more, not less, problematical. Much of this stems from the recognition that a new device or practice can have long-range effects that might not be visible in the near term. Much of the rest arises from the entirely excusable ignorance of the average citizen about, well, just about everything.

The extremely simple legal environment of the nineteenth century was founded on a set of extremely simple principles, which are no longer honored. One of these, the doctrine of assumption of risk, undergirded all commercial transactions. It made it possible for employers and employees to contract for any sort of labor, under any sort of conditions, and for vendors to sell potentially harmful products to customers, without fear that a lawsuit might reverse their a priori agreements to indemnify / hold harmless. But assumption of risk came under heavy fire in the early twentieth century, and began to be displaced by the doctrine of informed consent: the principle that a man could not be bound by a contractual agreement of any sort unless he had been fully informed of all the pertinent risks and had explicitly consented to them.

Informed consent has been taking a beating these past few decades, mostly because of Calabresian "legal positivism" and "deep pockets" liability theory. In essence, the prevailing view in American civil courts today is that, given the complexity of technology and society, no one is sufficiently well informed of the risks pertaining to anything to enter into a binding agreement to indemnify or hold harmless any other involved party under any conceivable set of circumstances. In consequence, such agreements, wherever we may find them -- and they're more numerous than one might imagine -- are considered "flypaper," and are dismissed or rewritten by judges at whim. The same is true for every sort of contract, for, once accepted, the assumption that only judges have the insight required to write a binding agreement knows no bounds.

The rot in our tort law proceeds directly from this absence of contractability. Without the ability to enter into a binding contract, persons desirous of transacting with one another must commit to a sequel of infinite uncertainty. Each is at the mercy of the intentions and character of the other. Under these circumstances, the most valuable thing a man can have, the sole protection he can offer a would-be partner in commerce, is an unstained reputation...the very thing one can most easily lose in a milieu where law is infinitely luxurious and infinitely elastic, slander is commonplace and usually escapes punishment, and no standard of proof can free a man from the invidiousness of the lumpenproletariat or the Fourth Estate. It puts one in mind of a passage from Atlas Shrugged:

Rearden, that evening, his coat collar raised, his hat slanted low over his eyes, the snow drifts rising to his knees, was tramping through an abandoned open-pit coal mine, in a forsaken corner of Pennsylvania, supervising the loading of pirated coal upon the trucks which he had provided. Nobody owned the mine, nobody could afford the cost of working it. But a young man with a brusque voice and dark, angry eyes, who came from a starving settlement, had organized a gang of the unemployed and made a deal with Rearden to deliver the coal. They mined it at night, they stored it in hidden culverts, they were paid in cash, with no questions asked or answered. Guilty of a fierce desire to remain alive, they and Rearden traded like savages, without rights, titles, contracts, or protection, with nothing but mutual understanding and a ruthlessly absolute observance of one's given word. Rearden did not even know the name of the young leader. Watching him at the job of loading the trucks, Rearden thought that this boy, if born a generation earlier, would have become a great industrialist; now, he would probably end his brief life as a plain criminal in a few more years.

However, few legal scholars -- Thomas and Epstein are exceptions -- are willing to consider returning even to an informed-consent standard, much less the sterner assumption-of-risk rules that governed the Nineteenth Century.

From where is the next fundamental principle of justice-in-transaction to come? Will it be some product centuries in the making, slowly turned by jurists from Blackstone through Holmes on the lathe of our legal system, or will it arrive all at once, a jewel unearthed by a single brilliant mind in a flash of unprecedented insight, as the theory of property rights occurred to John Locke?

More important, with the costs of human interaction mounting steadily in consequence of the mounting uncertainty of all dealings, what, apart from our sterling characters, shall we use in the meantime?

The Need for Moral Courage (ABC's Path to 9/11, Part 2)

Part 2 of the ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11, which aired last night, was, if anything, more critical of the Bush administration's obliviousness to the threat of al Quaeda than it was of the Clinton admin. Yet I hear no complaints about it, nor any threats of censorship.

The film's critique of the Bush administration is basically that it didn't get up to speed quickly enough (which is rather to be expected when the enormous White House bureaucracy switches parties) and was too devoted to political correctness prior to 9/11.

Regarding the former, then-National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice comes off as manipulative and unprepared to run a big office. That may be true or it may not be, but it certainly does not suggest that she is responsible for 9/11. Hence: no harm, no foul.

Regarding the Bush administration's continuation of the previous team's concern for political correctness, throughout the narrative leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, a concern over "racial profiling" prevents the nation's defense and policing agencies from picking up and holding obvious terrorists. This was a huge error, of course, and was something many people had warned was posing a serious danger. Now we know.

In a very revealing scene in episode 2, a terrorist who has been taken in for questioning insists that the agency release him, stating, "I have rights!" The agents accept this and ultimately release him. This was a disastrous policy.

Fortunately, the notion that aliens have the same constitutional rights as citizens has been set aside, as it should, in the years since 9/11. I recommended this less than a week after that day, in fact.

The lesson to learn from this aspect of the 9/11 story is clear:

People without moral courage hate to make distinctions.

The making of distinctions is central to human reason and is a good thing that should never be suppressed. In real life, relativism is not an option. And, based as it is on relativism, hard multiculturalism is not an option.

An alien is a person of different status from a citizen, and that is a distinction that society must accept. Certainly vistors to our country should not be mistreated, but holding an obvious terrorist in custody for more than 24 hours is not an atrocity; it is simple common sense.

The other impression one gets from last night's episode is that the sub-agencies of the Bush administration had more than enough information to suspect that the 9/11 attacks were coming and could have prevented it by grounding all air traffic on that day. That appears to be more than a bit of a stretch, but it makes for compelling TV drama and fulfills the central purpose of a docudrama. That is, as I mentioned yesterday, "to tell a whacking good story through the use of historical events" and thereby afford us insights into human nature and the world around us, in addition to helping us understand the issues surrounding the matter at hand.

The big lesson to learn from The Path to 9/11 and the real life events that inspired it is the need for moral courage. A people without it is a people doomed to destruction.

From Karnick on Culture.

Brad Pitt: 'I'll marry when everyone can'

Oh dear. Is it already time for another installment of Hollywood’s social conscience?

Brad Pitt, ever the social activist, says he won't be marrying Angelina Jolie until the restrictions on who can marry whom are dropped. "Angie and I will consider tying the knot when everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able," the 42-year-old actor reveals in Esquire magazine's October issue, on newsstands Sept. 19.

One wonders what Mr. Pitt expects us to make of such a statement. Had he employed such a line to keep some mistress du jour at bay, we would simply smirk and move on. But since Ms. Jolie does not strike me as someone unable to get her way, I think we can safely assume that she’s in on the whole thing too. Far be it from moi to question their motives, but what exactly are a couple of millionaire divorcees who have been living together for over a year sacrificing by not getting married? Are they going to go Old School, and forswear sex until same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land?

Or is it more likely that, in an effort to keep the Billy Bush’s and Nancy O’Dell’s of the world from asking the same friggin ‘When are you two kids gonna get married?’ question for the umpteenth-thousand time, Mr. Pitt figured that throwing traditional marriage under the bus might be a classic Hollywood Win-Win?

Well played, Mr. Pitt. But I hope realize that you're not the only one with deeply held beliefs, and there are a large number of us that still hold traditional marriage to be sacred. Are you really willing to pay the price for your convictions? You don't need to work in Hollywood to be an activist, and we watch an awful lot of movies.

So I hope you'll hear me loud and clear when I pledge to never watch or buy some of your movies ever again.

Take that.

* I absolutely adored 'A River Runs Through It' - so there's no way I'm giving that one up. And people really seem to enjoy the 'Ocean's' series - so I still plan on seeing those sometime too. But the promos for 'Interview with a Vampire' always creeped me out, and given your disdain for marriage, you can definitely count me out on that one. Unless some friends want to come over and watch it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

My Own Private 9/11

At 7:46 AM Central Daylight Time on September 11, 2001, I was rushing my kids out the front door to the bus stop. It was a typical early fall day in the Upper Midwest: gray, chilly, and unpromising. I argued briefly with Rachel about wearing a jacket. I lost.

My husband was a 3L at the University of Minnesota School of Law; I was a research fellow in the School of Public Health. He had only been back in Minneapolis for a few days, after a Washington DC summer associateship at a large, well heeled downtown firm. We were anxious about receiving a permanent offer for 2002, but otherwise life was going about as smoothly as it ever seemed to go for us. We owned a little Arts and Crafts Tudor revival on the western edge of Minneapolis proper, next to a city park. Our neighbors were mostly liberal neo-urbanists with "Free Leonard Peltier" bumper stickers and bake sale flyers for Sara Jane Olsen's defense fund, but Minneapolis civic etiquette is largely live and let live and they overlooked our American flag/Fox News/Catholic school household's peculiarities as long as we kept our sidewalk shoveled in the winter.

John wasn't re-adjusting to a school schedule very smoothly, and I heard low-level radio snooze alarm warfare proceeding upstairs. I put a load of clothes in the dryer and headed towards the back door to leave for work when John barreled down the stairs, practically knocking me down and in obvious alarm. "Turn the TV on. The radio just said a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center."

We switched on Fox. I still don't know if we saw the second plane impact live at 8:03, or if they were already replaying it. John started surfing for news on the computer. I sat on the couch and stared for awhile. I was very shaken, but this was something remote, that was taking place hundreds of miles away. It certainly didn't seem a good excuse to miss work or school. No one on screen seemed to know anything concrete either, and it was still not absolutely clear that it wasn't some hideous accident. So after half an hour or so John started for the shower, and I fumbled for my purse. And Fox News reported that a plane had hit the Pentagon, and I yelled at John, and sat down again.

What seems strange now is that it took so long for it to sink in that this was not analogous to a hurricane or a tornado or even the Oklahoma City bombing. This affected the whole country. I was still thinking I needed to get to work. Our federal contract for Medicare data support had just been renewed, and Tuesday afternoons were my shift on the help desk. I still had no notion that the entire country would be paralyzed. So I left for work, now more than an hour late. In the few moments between the back door and the garage, the first tower collapsed. On the way to campus, local news announced that the university was closing and all students were being sent home. Evacuation of the 57-story IDS Tower, Minneapolis's tallest building, was under discussion. I thought it all sounded silly. This was happening in strategically important cities, not Minneapolis.

The parking lot was almost completely empty by the time I arrived on campus. I parked anyway, and walked to my office. The shuttle buses didn't seem to be running. The office was deserted. My boss was in Atlanta for a conference, so it wouldn't be surprising even under normal circumstances that the secretaries would bug out early for lunch. But none of the other faculty or fellows were around either. I sat down for my shift anyway, the radio tuned to KSTP and searching the computer for live news feeds.

No one called all afternoon. I was alone in the building. I kept picking up the phone to make sure the lines weren't dead. John called when the kids got off the schoolbus. They were a little spooked, but the school hadn't made a big fuss. They had held a prayer service. They knew something very bad had happened, but not exactly what, and were fuzzy on the where as well.

There were seven cars in the parking lot when I left work. The parking attendant was gone. Someone had tied an improvised American flag to the open gate. I stopped at the liquor store on my way up University Avenue. I was still trying to make the day normal; I stopped there every Tuesday and Friday. There was a radio tuned to the news. The employees looked worn and old, pale green under the fluorescent lights. I bought cider and wine, spent more than usual. I tried to chat up the cashier. She tried to respond.

I guess I made dinner that night. I made dinner every night. I guess I bathed the kids and read them a story and tucked them in. I did that every night. But I don't remember that. I remember seeing John Fund interviewed on Fox. John Fund, who is usually so brash and caustic, so snarky, so full of himself. John Fund looked out his window and saw people jump from the tops of the towers, and watched them fall, and his voice broke, and he couldn't speak any more. I opened a bottle of wine, watched the self-confident and unflappable public personae at a loss for words, and I got very, very drunk.

The next morning, I didn't just shoo the kids out the door to the bus stop. I walked to the corner with them. And I turned around to walk back to our house, and looked down the length of York Avenue. Every house was flying an American flag.

I sat on this post a long time, because the potential for saccharine self-indulgence is almost limitless. In the end, the pros seemed to outweigh the cons. The comments are open to anyone who wants to post a private reflection. No partisan bickering, please.

ABC's Path to 9/11: Analysis

Part 1 of ABC's The Path to 9/11 two-part docudrama aired last night, and reactions from political types were largely as expected.
This photo, supplied by ABC, shows Harvey Keitel who plays FBI counterterrorism expert John O'Neill, in a scene from ABC's miniseries'The Path to 9/11.' The two-part film is a dramatization of the events detailed in The 9/11 Commission Report and other sources which airs on Sunday. Sept. 10, and Monday, Sept. 11, 2006. Former Clinton administration officials criticized the miniseries, saying it distorts history so drastically that it should be corrected or shelved.(AP Photo/ABC, Peter Stranks)

Supporters of former president Bill Clinton complained about some scenes in advance copies of the program (which were altered before airing, to reflect their concerns), some on the political right were disgusted by leftists' calls for censorship and retaliation against ABC, and others on the right took what they apparently considered to be the high road, claiming that the film's condensation of certain events into dramatic scenes was outrageous. The latter included Bill Bennett, Bill O'Reilly, John Podhoretz, and John Fund.

Fund, in his Opinion Journal article on the film, even goes so far as to say that it is fundamentally dishonorable to make docudramas: "Their rules simply aren't good enough when dealing with events that are still fresh in the minds of so many. At worst, they can be used by ideological gunslingers like director Oliver Stone, who smeared the reputations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in paranoid fantasy films."

That seems to me to be a serious overreaction to this film, as indeed were the reactions of the Democrat opponents of the film. The rules for dramas are different from the rules for histories, and they should be.

It's a movie, people.

Everyone involved seems to have no idea whatever of the purpose of a docudrama.

For the rest of this analysis, click here.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

New Film to "Speak Language of Sex" to Mainstream Audiences

Another item for our ongoing Everything Happens in the Omniculture department:

Shortbus, a film that is highly sexually explicit but allegedly not salacious according to its director, has received a distribution agreement to appear in mainstream theaters in the United States and elsewhere. It is not clear at this point how widely it will be distributed in the United States. Reuters reports:
Three months after John Cameron Mitchell showed his sexually explicit film "Shortbus" out of competition at the Cannes film festival, he said it had attracted distributors in dozens of countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan, France and Singapore.

"People are ready for change. There is a thirst for something different," Mitchell told reporters on Friday at the Toronto International Film Festival, where "Shortbus" was set for its North American premiere before an October opening in the United States.

Mitchell aims to use sex as a metaphor to tell a story about people looking for solace and searching for something more in their lives in a post-September 11 world.

"What pissed me off was that it was ... generically identified of as porn," Mitchell said of his film. "We are not trying to do anything salacious here. That is just the language which we speak."

The film is graphic: Scenes include a man being whipped by a dominatrix as he masturbates and a straight couple having sex in a variety of positions.

But pornographic? Mitchell argues not.

"Porn is really to arouse. This film explores the other areas of sex," he said.

The story revolves around two couples, one straight and one gay, accompanied by a few other lonely souls.

From Karnick on Culture.

Does a Man Own Himself?

Who is the only Jewish winner of a Heisman Trophy?

---Fred Goldman.

That was the joke a few years back when O.J. Simpson was found liable in a civil trial for the wrongful death of Ron Goldman on the awful night of June 12, 1994. Father Fred won a judgment of what is now with accrued interest $38 million, which Simpson has never paid off.

Yes, he really did get the trophy, which was auctioned off for $382,000, the proceeds split with Nicole Brown Simpson's survivors, the only money they've seen. And so, he and the Brown family want to own O.J. Simpson, at least his public self, even his autograph.

Now, John Locke was very big on self-ownership, and it certainly was ludicrous when the copyright holder of the Creedence Clearwater Revival catalog, Saul Zaentz, sued John Fogerty for plagiarizing himself.

But a public image has been recognized as a legal and commercial commodity entirely separate from one's private personhood. Such a weird world we live in.

A Los Angeles attorney, Bela Lugosi, Jr. (yes, that one), has become a specialist in defending the commercial rights of name and likeness for the estates, survivors and copyright holders of the famous. Lugosi, Jr. helped win a trial for the legal owners of the Three Stooges' images, so I guess he's pretty good.

I wish he'd been around a few years ago.

"If only I'd sent that blue dress to Dan's Dry Cleaners. I would've
got Osama bin Laden, and 9/11 would never have happened."

Bill Clinton™, Inc., ©2006 is a wholly owned subsidiary
of Paula Jones Enterprises. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

More on The Path to 9/11

Our new friend Akaky Bashmachkin weighs in very thoughtfully on the controversy, and by popular demand, we gratefully promote his considerations from our comments section to the mainpage:

This, I think, brings up the question of just how much accuracy can anyone expect from any art form depicting a historical event. Hollywood is notorious for rewriting history in order to get a better story on film, but it isn’t just Hollywood that has done this over the years. In Henry V, for example, Shakespeare has his Chorus apologize to the audience for mangling the full course of his characters’ glory and for turning the accomplishment of many years into an hourglass. The play contains the battle of Agincourt and then follows the battle with the Treaty of Troyes, where in fact Henry fought the battle in 1415 and signed the treaty with the French in 1420. In 1942, Warner Brothers had Gary Cooper play the great Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees. One of the high points of that film is Cooper’s rendition of Gehrig’s famous speech at Yankee Stadium, the one in which he proclaimed himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Cooper gives a moving performance, giving the speech wonderfully, until you realize, as many people did at the time, that Gary Cooper gives the speech in his own Montana accent, whereas Lou Gehrig not only played for a New York team, he was born and raised in New York City, and spoke with a New York accent. And in the greatest of all historical fictions, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Tolstoy depicts Field Marshal Kutuzov as an earthy son of the Russian soil, almost a peasant military genius, not at all like the smooth courtier the actual Kutuzov really was.

So, what is the responsibility of artists when it comes to depicting actual events? I think that the standard in such a case must be that the producers and writers do their level best to be historically accurate. You do not have major historical characters say or do things they did not actually say or do. The producers should restrict compression of time and character to events and people not absolutely central to the story. If a historical character must deal with a fictional character, then it behooves the artist putting these two people together to have the historical character say or do nothing that would offend the historical record. In Shelby Foote’s Shiloh and in Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, for example, both authors made certain that they had their historical characters interact with the fictional ones in the places where the real people really were at the time depicted, and both men had all their characters hew closely to the historical record.

In the case of this film, if the charges of slanting are true, and I should point out that as I write this it is the Saturday before the film is broadcast, so I have not seen it yet, then at least some of the Clinton administration officials upset by this film have every right to be. Ms. Albright, for one, is a woman whose opinions on foreign policy I almost never agree with, but she has spent years serving this country faithfully and deserves better than to have someone basically accuse her of tipping off Osama bin Laden that the United States had launched a cruise missile strike against him. This, I think, is uncalled for and unnecessary.

As for Mr. Berger’s complaint, it strikes me that Mr. Berger is singularly lacking in irony here. A man who tries to distort the historical record by stealing documents out of the National Archives should be the last person on the planet to accuse others of trying to alter history. Still, his ire, and the ire of the Clintonistas is understandable; no one likes being accused of aiding and abetting a mass murderer, no one likes being accused of negligence and dereliction of duty. It is easy, five years after the event, to pick out the relevant intelligence from all of the background noise, to see the dots that someone should have connected, to see that certain policies harmed rather than helped those responsible for the day to day running of the nation’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies. And yet, for eight years, these were the people responsible for those agencies.

What happened in New York on September 11, 2001 did not come out of the blue; it was the final blow in an ever-mounting series of attacks on Americans and American interests around the world. From the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 to the attacks on the Khobar towers in 1996 to the East African embassy bombings in 1998 to the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, al-Qaeda and its minions hit the United States again and again, even, at one point, publicly declaring war on the United States. The Clinton Administration did launch missile attacks on al-Qaeda camps after these attacks, and did set up intelligence groups to track and locate bin Laden, but it is clear that they did not take the threat seriously enough and neither did the incoming Bush Administration in 2001. Both administrations dropped the ball when it came to this threat, both administrations refusing to take bin Laden at his word. Both administrations filed him away as a minor annoyance, a man capable of minor terrorist attacks that might get a few people killed but unable to harm any long-term American interest. Both administrations were wrong, and three thousand people paid for their mistakes with their lives.

ABC Continues Edits on 9/11 Miniseries, Will Air It Despite Dems' Protests

Still shot from ABC TV miniseries The Path to 9/11E! Online reports that ABC is carrying on with its Path to 9/11 miniseries despite complaints by former president Bill Clinton and threats of retaliation from high-ranking Democrat politicians:

Don't believe the hype. Or believe it. Either way, don't decide either way until you've watched all five hours.

That's pretty much the gist of ABC's message to potential viewers of the network's two-part miniseries The Path to 9/11, which airs commercial-free Sunday and Monday. (Ironically there will now be a 20-minute break Monday at 9 p.m. to accommodate a speech from President Bush.

While ABC has stated that the $40 million production is still in the editing process and is being slightly tweaked in response to concerns that it unfairly attacks the Clinton administration for failure to act on terrorist threats in the years leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the network has not bowed to pressure from former Cabinet members and left-wing groups to "dump," "yank" or otherwise pull the movie from the schedule.

ABC has altered at least some of the scenes that have been criticized:

According to reports, a scene alluding to the idea that then-National Security Adviser Sandy Berger put the kibosh on an order to kill bin Laden has been "toned down."

"That sequence has been the focus of attention," a source close to the production told the Los Angeles Times.

ABC has also altered the credits to say that the film is "based in part" on the 9/11 Commission Report rather than "based on" the document.

An ABC executive told the Washington Post that any changes that were made "intended to make clearer that it was general indecisiveness, not any one individual," that left the United States vulnerable to attack on 9/11.

Hopes of opponents of the miniseries were disappointed when 9/11 commission member Tom Keane not only refused to condemn the film but instead strongly endorsed it:

Ex-New Jersey Governor Thomas Keane, who chaired the 9/11 commission and served as a consultant on The Path to 9/11, was asked to pull his weight with the filmmakers to have the project scrapped, but he has since spoken out in support of the picture.

"It's something the American people should see," Keane said during an interview on Good Morning America Friday. "Because you understand how these people wanted to do us harm, developed this plot and how the machinations of the American government under two administrations not only failed to stop them, but even failed to slow them down."

Keane did ask the filmmakers to take some of the complaints into consideration, however.

"These are people of integrity," Keane told the Post. "I know there are some scenes where words are put in characters' mouths. But the whole thing is true to the spirit of 9/11."

My opinion: The events that led up to the 9/11 attack are an important matter for public discussion which greatly merits further analysis, as we should all want to know exactly what in American policy worked and what did not, and the presentation of this miniseries will be a very good thing if it stimulates such a discussion.

From Karnick on Culture.

Perry Mason Season 1, Volume 2 DVD Announced

CBS Home Video has announced that volume two of season one of Perry Mason, the popular 1950s-'60s TV series based on the character created by Erle Stanley Gardner will go on sale on November 21.

The five-disc set will include the last twenty episodes of the first season. Volume 1 included the first 19 episodes.

That is all the information about the new DVD set available at this time. For information on the Perry Mason Season 1, Volume 1 DVD, click here.

For more on Perry Mason and author Gardner, see my Weekly Standard article on "The Case of the Bestselling Author" here. For more information on the Season 1 Volume 1 DVD and an important addition to my Weekly Standard article, see this Karnick on Culture post.

Here's the cover art for the DVD edition:

Perry Mason s 1 v 2 DVD cover art

From Karnick on Culture.

Friday, September 08, 2006

If It's on Film, It's Got to Be True

Realizing that many people get their education in history from the movies, Michael Moore dashed off a passionate note to Roger Ebert: "If I state something as a fact, I need the viewers to trust that those facts are correct." (And we do, Michael.)

So Bill Clinton and members of his administration have a bulletproof point here: If Sandy Berger didn't hang up the phone on a CIA operative ready to whack Osama bin Laden, and if Madeleine Albright didn't tip off Pakistan resulting in Osama slipping away on another occasion, such actions should not be attributed to actual political personages---living or dead.

There is always a duty to truth. Now, it really doesn't matter that the Philadelphia Eagle in Invincible didn't, in actual fact, scoop up the fumble and return it for the winning touchdown, and it's only a minor irritation that people think the Roman emperor Commodus died at the hands of Russell Crowe and not the Pretorian Guard. But the acts ascribed to Berger and Albright are more of the same info-nonsense, and are potentially far more corrosive. The Clintonites have a reason to kick.

Apparently unnoticed by the producers of The Path To 9/11, though, was that the Clinton administration often and provably did nothing (and worse) when it could have: turning down Sudan's offer to hand over bin Laden, and instituting the perverse legal "wall" of separation between intelligence agencies that likely let the 9-11 attackers slip through. (The latter being the work of administration attorney Jamie Gorelick, who eventually sat on the 9-11 commission. Hmmm.)

The proper slapping down of the producers' overreach and dramatic license, which in fine Hollywood tradition did not let the truth stand in the way of a good story, will result in an apparent vindication of the Clinton administration, and throw more dirt on where the skeletons are really buried. And that's the real offense to history and to truth, especially in these epistemologically troubled times.

Bill Clinton's lucky streak continues. He dropped the ball many times, but so far there has been no Eagle to pick it up and run it back.

"It is critically important to the safety of our nation that our citizens, and particularly our school children, understand what actually happened and why - so that we can proceed from a common understanding of what went wrong and act with unity to make our country safer."---Jamie Gorelick

You got one right for once, ma'am. The tragedies of the Clinton administration were never in what they did, but in what they couldn't bring themselves to do.

Did I mention I'm from Philadelphia?


Late Add: John Podhoretz agrees, to the letter. Scary.


The Disney organization's production "The Path To 9/11" has prompted Senate Democrats to threaten to revoke ABC's broadcasting license unless the mini-series is revamped to conform to their specifications.

We have at last a genuine example of a threat of censorship: the use of State power to punish an organization for something it has said. Indeed, this goes further than that, in that those Democratic Senators are exercising their threat prior to the "statement" represented by the mini-series. That makes it a case of politically powered extortion, which would surely be adjudged a felony if any private party were to try it.

But wait! There is an exception to the First Amendment's protection of freedom of speech: the laws against slander and libel. Smith has slandered Jones if he has made defamatory oral statements about Jones that Smith cannot substantiate. Smith has libeled Jones if he has allowed such statements to be printed or broadcast.

Note the qualifying clause: " that Smith cannot substantiate." A defendant in a slander or libel action can escape unscathed by asserting and demonstrating the truth of his statements. So if ABC could produce evidence to support the statements made in "The Path To 9/11" to which those Senate Democrats object, the objectors would lose their case.

Does ABC have such evidence? Unclear, especially given the statement by the series's executive producer:

Executive Producer Marc Platt acknowledged that "there is dramatic license taken" in the docudrama to "render the program effective and accessible for viewers."

"But we do try within the boundaries of what is fair and reasonable to communicate the essence of what occurred (and) the intentions of those individuals involved," he told Reuters in a telephone interview from London. "We have no intention or desire to be political, to intentionally distort."

Since the series is being billed as a "docu-drama," the implication of dramatic license, to heighten the entertainment value of the series at some expense to its provability, should have gone without saying. But that opens a larger question: is it morally defensible to write fiction about the actions of persons who have occupied high office in the real past?

The BBC production "The Death Of A President," which chronicles events in the aftermath of the assassination of President George W. Bush, should be included in this sheaf of conundra, don't you think? And what about the many statements by Democratic partisans imputing felonious behavior to Vice-President Dick Cheney, to presidential advisor Karl Rove, and to others for political advantage -- imputations for which there was never any substantive backing, and all of which are now provably false?

Shouldn't all of these defamations be weighed for addressability under the slander and libel laws? Shouldn't those who made them have to rise to the same standard, at the minimum, that the Senate Democrats are demanding of ABC and Disney? After we've settled all that, perhaps we can make a group appointment to have our teeth filed down to points.

Senate Dems Join Push to Censor ABC 9/11 Miniseries

In a furor echoing conservatives' continuing claims of left-wing bias among the media, Democrat Sen. Harry Reid (NV) and other senate Democrats have joined former U.S. president BIll Clinton in pressing ABC to cancel its showing of The Road to 9/11, the network's docudrama based on the 9/11 commission report and other factual sources.

A production still from ABC's upcoming film 'The Path to 9/11' shows actor Stephen Root portraying Richard Clarke. Amid an election-year debate over who can best defend America, U.S. congressional Democrats urged ABC-TV on Thursday to cancel a miniseries about the September 11 attacks that is critical of former Democratic President Bill Clinton and his top aides. NO SALES NO ARCHIVES (2006 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc./Handout/Reuters)

Reuters reports:

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada denounced the five-hour television movie, set to air in two parts on Sunday and Monday nights, as "a work of fiction."

Reid and other leading Senate Democrats wrote to Robert Iger, president and CEO of ABC's corporate parent, the Walt Disney Co., urging him to "cancel this factually inaccurate and deeply misguided program."

Chronicling events leading to the September 11 attacks, the movie suggests the Clinton administration was too distracted by the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal to deal properly with the gathering threat posed by Islamic militants.

The furor comes as Democrats and Republicans jockey for political position in advance of the November 7 congressional elections over who can best secure the United States from another attack. . . .

In recent days, former members of the Clinton administration also lodged complaints with Iger, urging ABC and Disney to fix or eliminate what they called errors and fabrications.

ABC issued a statement saying the production, "The Path to 9/11," was still being edited and that criticism of the film's specifics were thus "premature and irresponsible."

From Karnick on Culture.

Bill Clinton Protests ABC 9/11 Miniseries, Demands Revision or Shutdown

Still image from ABC-TV miniseries The Path to 9/11The New York Post reports that former President Bill Clinton has sent ABC president Bob Iger a letter protesting the network's depiction of his administration's response to terrorist threats as shown in the upcoming miniseries, The Path to 9/11, to be broadcast by the network this coming Sunday and Monday at 8-10 p.m. EST. The Post reports:
A furious Bill Clinton is warning ABC that its mini-series "The Path to 9/11" grossly misrepresents his pursuit of Osama bin Laden - and he is demanding the network "pull the drama" if changes aren't made.

Clinton pointedly refuted several fictionalized scenes that he claims insinuate he was too distracted by the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal to care about bin Laden and that a top adviser pulled the plug on CIA operatives who were just moments away from bagging the terror master, according to a letter to ABC boss Bob Iger obtained by The Post.

The former president also disputed the portrayal of then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as having tipped off Pakistani officials that a strike was coming, giving bin Laden a chance to flee.

"The content of this drama is factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate and ABC has the duty to fully correct all errors or pull the drama entirely," the four-page letter said.

The movie is set to air on Sunday and Monday nights. Monday is the fifth anniversary of the attacks.

The docudrama does indeed include some fictionalized scenes to help compress the story into a manageable form, as such productions customarily do, but appears to be accurate overall. It is based on the comprehensive 9/11 Commission Report and other factual sources. The cast includes Harvey Keitel, Patricia Heaton, Penny Johnson Jerald (of Fox's 24), Amy Madigan, and Donnie Wahlberg, none of whom will ever work in Hollywood again if the former president has anything to say about it, as he clearly wishes to do.

From Karnick on Culture.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Trial by Media

David Broder points out in his column today, "One Leak and a Flood of Silliness," that the press owe Karl Rove a big apology for their asinine treatment of him in the Valerie Plame leak incident.

I agree entirely with Broder's indictment of the press's rush to judgment in this case.

The media's overheated and absurd reaction to the Plame case reflects a common but utterly irresponsible and unacceptable phenomenon in journalism today: the assumption that people are guilty simply on the say-so of someone the members of the press want to like, as in the outrageous public execution of the Duke lacrosse team, or because the accused is an individual they are disposed to dislike.

Regarding the press's mistreatment of Rove in the Plame case, I will let David Broder speak for himself in the following excerpts:

For much of the past five years, dark suspicions have been voiced about the Bush White House undermining its critics, and Karl Rove has been fingered as the chief culprit in this supposed plot to suppress the opposition.

Now at least one count in that indictment has been substantially weakened—the charge that Rove masterminded a conspiracy to discredit Iraq intelligence critic Joseph Wilson by "outing" his CIA-operative wife, Valerie Plame. . . .

No one behaved well in the whole mess—not Wilson, not [Lewis "Scooter"] Libby, [Vice President Cheney's chief of staff,] not special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and not the reporters involved.

The only time I commented on the case was to caution reporters who offered bold First Amendment defenses for keeping their sources' names secret that they had better examine the motivations of the people leaking the information to be sure they deserve protection.

But caution has been notably lacking in some of the press treatment of this subject -- especially when it comes to Karl Rove. And it behooves us in the media to examine that behavior, not just sweep it under the rug. . . .

In fact, the prosecutor concluded that there was no crime; hence, no indictment. And we now know that the original "leak," in casual conversations with reporters Novak and Bob Woodward, came not from the conspiracy theorists' target in the White House but from the deputy secretary of state at the time, Richard Armitage, an esteemed member of the Washington establishment and no pal of Rove or President Bush. . . .

[Salon.com, Newsweek, The American Prospect] and other publications owe Karl Rove an apology. And all of journalism needs to relearn the lesson: Can the conspiracy theories and stick to the facts.

From Karnick on Culture.

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Daunte Culpepper of the Miami DolphinsThe college football season started last week with a great set of games, and continues this week with a showdown between no. 1 USC and no. 2 Ohio State University. And the NFL season starts tonight, with a game between the reigning Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the up-and-coming Miami Dolphins.

The Steelers will be without the services of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, recovering from an emergency appendectomy. The Dolphins, under second-year coach Nick Saban, are attempting to return to respectability after a long drought. With Daunte Culpepper at quarterback, they should be better, even though the former Minnesota gunslinger is still recovering from knee surgery.

Tonight's game aptly represents one of the great strengths of the NFL as a sports entertainment venture: parity.

Parity—the relatively small gap in ability between the league's best and worst teams—in the past decade has made the NFL in some ways an even more exciting proposition than before. Only one team in the NFC, for example, has reached the playoffs the last two years in a row (the Seattle Seahawks).

Hence in week 1 nearly everybody starts out with both optimism and great concern: we can almost imagine that anybody might end up anywhere. There is great drama as teams struggle for position and some players and organizations rise while other perform less impressively than expected and fall into the also-rans.

It's America in microcosm.

From Karnick on Culture.

A Magazine for the Modern Lady's Hectic Schedule

Here's a publication no one should be without: Four Weeks is a new monthly magazine that includes a variety of articles in four categories customized for the four weeks of a woman's menstrual cycle.

In week 1, the magazine informs us, ladies like things to be "Fun, Familiar," and in subsequent weeks "Exciting, Exotic," "Indulgent, Introspective," and "Cautious, Caring," respectively.

A yummy treat for a lady in week 4
This is information that could be very useful to any smart fellow as well, as it is obviously disastrous for a chap to give his lady fair a gift that is of the wrong type for her particular week of the month. We've all been forced to puzzle through the mystery of the wrong-week gift, haven't we?

Also of great interest is the magazine's Hormone Horoscope, which deftly combines two things of utter inscutability into an easily understood guide to life.

Thanks, gals!

From Karnick on Culture.

Tell Someone the Truth

The earnest young women speak directly into the camera, begging the listeners to "Tell someone.....tell someone about HPV." The message is repeated several times, so the target audience will not forget that cervical cancer is caused by human papilloma virus. OK, so let's tell someone -- but let's tell the whole truth.

This message is not new. Medical researchers have known for fifteen years that cervical cancer is caused by a subset of human papilloma virii. Physicians have also known three other uncomfortable truths about human papilloma virus: it is spread by sexual contact, only females contract a lethal disease from exposure, and its spread is not prevented by the use of condoms. But this information has been practically impossible to glean from either the popular medical press or from direct questioning of physicians. I know because I've tried to get doctors to tell me what I already knew to be the truth -- and concluded that you already had to know in order to get your OB-GYN to admit it, and even then it wasn't easy.

Every young woman in this country is constantly harangued, beginning in puberty, to submit to annual gynecological exams including Pap smears. The Pap test is indeed a true marvel of modern medicine: a relatively inexpensive, noninvasive, and safe test that provides accurate early detection of a potentially lethal cancer. There is nothing wrong with advocating regular examinations, but annual tests in an otherwise young and healthy population would under any other circumstances be considered intrusive and unnecessary. At the very least, some consideration of potential exposure to the disease would be made, to offset the very real costs, both monetary and emotional, that high numbers of false positive tests entail.

Why the silence and obfuscation? And why no outcry from the interest groups that are usually eager to publicize sex discrimination in medicine? For years, the only ready source of this information came from the pro-life grassroots. I long ago concluded that organizations like NOW and Planned Parenthood are not interested in advising young women that there is, for them, no such thing as "safe sex."

There is a controversy surrounding the "Tell Someone" campaign -- because it is funded by Merck, the pharmaceutical company that earlier this summer obtained FDA approval for an HPV vaccine that covers the virus subtypes responsible for about 70% of cervical cancers. Medical ethicists are upset that the information is being presented by a party who stands to profit. But they were not bothered, and are still not bothered, that no public or nonprofit agency saw fit to publicize this information in the past, nor are they bothered that failing to tell women all the facts about HPV will probably lead to many women to accept vaccination for themselves and in the future their infant daughters, without fully understanding that this disease is only completely avoidable, even for the vaccinated, by abstaining from sex.

The bioethics community is obsessed with "informed consent," but only consents to share some of the information.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Protecting Our Freedom From Our Duopoly

Pardon the coinage. It's merely a succinct way of saying that the Democratic and Republican parties have used legal means to prevent any new party from seriously threatening their shared control of the political system. In consequence, their power brokers are relatively well insulated from the displeasure of the electorate, since each can point to the other and say, "Oh yeah? Well, if you don't stick by me, look at what you'll get instead!"

For a freedom lover, the most galling thing about this arrangement is that each party, when in power, applies far more energy to advancing the anti-freedom parts of its agenda than it does to the pro-freedom parts. When the party in power is deposed and its adversary takes the helm, rather than undoing its predecessor's crimes against individual liberty, it adds its own.

In The God Of The Machine, Isabel Paterson made reference to the political ratchet effect:

Further, political power has a ratchet action; it works only one way, to augment itself. A transfer occurs by which the power cannot be retracted, once it is bestowed.

Paterson's major example, the persistence of the Prohibition enforcement agencies even after the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, suggests that her focus was on "issue" usurpations, independent of party involvement. I wonder what she would have thought of today's "ping-pong ratchet," wherein citizens are encouraged to look to the Democrats to undo the excesses of the Republicans, and vice-versa, but are almost always disappointed and worse.

We who consider the global anti-terrorism campaign to be the most important issue of our time have been strongly encouraged to return Republican officeholders to power, despite their excessive federal spending and their repeated trouser-dropping for various interest groups. Come November, quite a lot of Americans will pull the Republican levers with distaste, for those very reasons. Similarly, a lot of left-of-center types will pull the Democratic levers with a grimace, because of Democrats' clear unwillingness to fight the War Against Islamic Aggression without the French alongside them. But if history is a guide, whichever party should have hegemony after the fall elections will do further damage to freedom through its domestic policies.

Given the stability of the duopoly, what alternatives does the freedom lover have? Is there any way to discipline the G.O.P. out of its profligacy? Is there any way to turn the party of Jefferson and Jackson away from special-interest statism and back toward Constitutional liberty?

I've long been a fan of "None Of The Above" -- the only "candidate" that never, ever lies or abuses his powers -- but that choice has been forbidden to nearly all of us as well. Apart from a massive tax rebellion or an armed uprising, what other avenues remain?

November draws ever nearer. We should give the matter some thought.