Saturday, January 31, 2009

Today's Word is Clawbacks


Digby on "malefactors of great wealth"

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Charlatan by Pope Brock: "A Facinating book"

I just finished the new book Charlatan by Pope Brock. I was so excited by the book I wrote about it before I even finished. It reminded me of the time I called some friends in the middle of watching the TV show "Action" with Jay Mohr and said, "Turn on your TV right now, there is a hilarious new show on." Of course that show was designed for HBO but moved to Fox where it was too brilliant, so it was canceled. In the case of this book, it won't ever be canceled, it can only get more popular after more people read it.

I had no idea that it would touch so many of my areas of interest in such a gripping and entertaining way. It touches on the power of radio and radio personalities, politics, religion, the state of our country's pure food and drug laws and people who will say anything in exchange for enough money. It even included some famous characters like Sinclair Lewis, H.L. Menken and radio czar and secretary of commerce Herbert Hoover. (Hoover later went on to be the famous inventor of "Hoovervilles" which provided affordable housing to people who believed that the government should give more tax cuts to the rich during economic downturns.)

In 1932 Dr. Brinkley was broadcasting one million watts on XER-AM out of Villa Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico, making it the most powerful radio station on the planet. "On clear nights Brinkley reached Alaska, skipped across to Finland, was picked up ships on the Java Sea. In later years Russian spies reportedly used the station to help them learn English." In contrast, KSFO, out of San Francisco broadcasts on 5,000 watts reaches the entire Bay Area and "can be heard East to Reno, South past San Jose and North, nearly to Eureka." National syndication does for our modern day radio personalities what one million watts did for Dr. Brinkley.

[One Million Naomi Watts]

The fight about the radio air waves in the 1930's reminds me of stories from Eric Klinenberg's excellent book "Fighting for Air. The Battle to Control America's Media." Brock shares Klinenberg's crackling style and crisp characterization of the major players in the story.

Brinkley ran for governor of Kansas and came very close to winning. He used advertising, public relations, religion and powerful political connections to sell his ideas and his worthless (and in multiple cases deadly) medical procedures and tonics. In many ways he was a pioneer in spreading hope, fear and death in the guise of entertainment, medical rejuvenation and religion.

Like the best thriller fiction books, Brock's story sets up multiple clashes between the two main characters with the stakes getting higher and higher with each encounter.

I especially liked his portrayal of Dr. Morris Fishbein, editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association who fought against Dr. Brinkley. What is astonishing to me is just how long and hard he fought for things we take for granted today like medical licensing, regulation of drugs and medical devices. We have people like Fishbein, and Sinclair Lewis to thank for their hard work, but for every Fishbein and Lewis we had hundreds of quacks and hucksters who cheerfully sold false hope in a bottle.

As I said before, what makes Brock's book better than a simple retelling of an epic battle between two charismatic individuals is his answers to the question, "Why does this happen?"

Here is one of my favorite passages:
Still, there has probably never been a more quack-prone and quack-infested country than the United States. Flocking west with the pioneers, they struck in one town, vanished to the next, and taught their tricks to others. Dupes were as common as passenger pigeons. Many Americans viewed hospitals, sometimes with justice, as tricked-up funeral homes and doctors as crooks who had a financial stake in keeping them sick.

But quacks weren't just accepted; they were joyously embraced, thanks to a perverse seam in the American mind stretching back almost to the dawn of the republic.

It first appeared in the early nineteenth century. In the heady days of Jacksonian democracy, that delirious celebration of the ordinary, the nation's elite--preachers, doctors, lawyers--were overthrown (at least mentally) with an abandon reminiscent of the French Revolution. Suddenly, to be educated was to be despised. Now, when it came to physicians, Americans not only tolerated but demanded incompetence. So high was the common man exalted that state governments, all but three, actually repealed licensing requirements for doctors. In midcentury educator Lemuel Shattuck, asked by the Massachusetts legislature to conduct a sanitary survey of that state, reported back: "Any one, male or female, learned or ignorant, an honest man or a knave, can assume the name of physician, and 'practice' upon any one, to cure or to kill, as either may happen, without accountability. It's a free country!"
"Americans not only tolerated but demanded incompetence." Gee, does that sound like a time we know in the political world?

In recounting the story Brock hits upon another underlying theme. "[Brinkley's] career was sustained in part by America's deep reluctance to criminalize greed."

As we start to find out more about what happened during the Bush administration we often need to look at this perverse aspect of our national character. You will see it the "investigation" of the financial industry. Lack of regulation and oversight can generate tons of money for a few, but it can also cost many. When you see the admiration of someone who makes money off of "the rubes" is may be fun to pat yourself on the back that you weren't taken, but there is also a price that is paid for ignoring their plight. As my friend Athenae at First-Draft reminds us, we are all connected. Is losing your job and savings as devastating as losing your life? I don't know, I don't remember what it was like being dead, but I know how devastating losing money and the fear of losing money can be.

We have a lot to learn from Brock's book that applies to our time. We need more people like Dr. Morris Fishbein, Sinclair Lewis and H. L. Mencken. The hucksters will always be with us, but they can be regulated to do less harm when brave people stand up against them.

To be inspired, entertained and enlightened pick up Brock's book, Charlatan.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Love your Neighbour. Give him Soup. Or Kill him.

My friend (O) CT (O) PUS is ill with an eye infection. And since octopuses have such big eyes he's out for a while. He was going to post on talk radio, but instead ran an animation video by Norman McLaren called Neighbours. (The Swash Zone link) I remember when I first saw that animation technique. I remember thinking what fun it was to watch.

I also remember when I first heard the phrase, "Love your Neighbor." I liked my neighbors, they were just like me. Sometimes I ate dinner with them, we had Mrs. Grass' chicken noodle soup with the golden flavor nugget which "you drop in yourself!"

I remember thinking, "Loving your neighbor shouldn't be that hard." Then they described how it was everyone we were supposed to love. I thought that was crazy. "What about the people who want to kill us?" Were we supposed to love them?

As a child that was a hard one to grasp. I thought that was stupid so I followed my childlike view. If they hate you, hate them right back. And, as a child, I developed a whole system of hate levels. We even had a club where we hated people who wore white socks. We called it, "The White Socks Hater's Club." We sat on the swing set and talked about how much we hated people who wore White Socks.

It wasn't until Star Fleet Academy where I started seeing the radical nature of what Jesus was talking about. Using logic I could see a bigger answer in the question, "Who is our neighbor?"

I saw how we benefit from seeing us all connected. But being half human I also understood why people wanted to redefine the words "Love your Neighbor" so that it could include killing others, or at least hating them.

I was always amazed that people could call themselves Christians yet wanted to kill people, especially people who hadn't done anything to them. That they were convinced to kill people who MIGHT kill them in the future was astonishing to me. Clearly they weren't like us and they were in the same general area so they MUST be trying to kill us."PreCrime!"

When we found out that those people really weren't going to kill us in the future I remember thinking, "People who call themselves Christians started this? Boy, they REALLY didn't get the message."

Sometimes it's hard to be a "Love your Neighbor" kind of person. I understand that.

What if you felt it was your job to figure out a new way to hate your neighbor? What if your job depended on drumming up fear of and disgust for your neighbor every single day?
That would seem to be kind of unchristian. But of course you wouldn't tell yourself that. You would tell yourself that Jesus really was cool with hating your neighbor, that Jesus was an angry guy who would flip out at the slightest provocation, "Jesus flipped over TABLES in the temple! He TOTALLY would be down with killing people!"

You would tell yourself that you have a better understanding of who your neighbor was than Jesus. Jesus never had to fear airplanes crashing into his buildings. He never had to fear a smoking gun in the shape of a mushroom cloud. (Ah ha! He didn't even know what a smoking gun or a mushroom cloud was, they didn't exist so he couldn't have known a real threat!)

What if you felt it was your job to STOP people who wanted to love your neighbors more? What if you felt that you needed to actively work against anything that involved forgiveness, turning the other cheek and loving your neighbor? I guess that would be fine just as long as you didn't call yourself Christian. What if you sat in a pew every Sunday for 20 years and heard messages like "Love your neighbor" and then 5 days a week for 3 hours a day you preached to millions, not, "Love your Neighbor", but kill and torture your neighbor? (I'll have to ask my friend Padre Mickey at Padre Mickey's Dance Party about the kind of person who doesn't get the message, then maybe I can get on his blog roll.)

It would be nice if they just stopped calling themselves Christians, that would be more honest, but on the other hand it does allow us to use the words spoken by their namesake to challenge them.

How do they get around defying the words said by their namesake? Easy. They have a system for getting around accusations of failure to follow the guidelines of Jesus . "I'm not perfect. Forgive me. Love me. I'm your neighbor. I'm just like you! If you were a good Christian you would love me. Now please purchase Campbell's Chunky™ Chicken Noodle soup. Mmmm, Mmmm. Good. Now about waterboarding it is not torturing your neighbor..."

I'm Vulcan so I can see the flaws in their "logic" (such as it is) and the inconsistent reading of their own text. I don't have to follow the guidelines of their namesake even though I can see the logic in his words. It's too bad humans who claim to follow him can't.

Live Long and Prosper,
Your Neighbor,

Padre Mickey said...

Well, since you asked the question, I had to put you on the blogroll. Rules are rules!

Also, in answer to your question: We call those people "really stupidly slow learners" and "Republican politicians." You know, the kind of people who, after giving tax cuts to the wealthy for years and years and then seeing the economy collapse believe that the solution to the problem is to give the wealthy more tax cuts!

Thanks Padre Mickey!

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Saturday, January 24, 2009


I'm reading the new book Charlatan by Pope Brock.

It's really fascinating. As I'm reading about the foremost huckster of the 1920's I'm thinking about our current brand of hucksters. Financial hucksters. Political hucksters. Radio hucksters. What do they sell? What do they offer in return? What aspects of the human psyche did the prey upon? What was done to encourage them? Who tried to stop them? Who protected them?

The main character, Dr. J.R. Brinkley, preys on men's fear of impotency, frailness and death and women's desire for children.

I've just started but it is extremely well written with vivid descriptions of the main characters. It also works to explain some of the deeper principles that makes these flimflam artists succeed.

Of course the vivid history part of it reminds me of my friend Allison Hantschel's book "It Doesn't End with Us" about the history of the University of the Daily Cardinal, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's 115-year-old student newspaper (do you like the way I got a plug in there for one of my favorite authors? Buy her book and make an ol' Vulcan happy. It reads like a novel and has some of the same vivid details as Brock's book).

I was cogitating on the power of talk radio hosts, as I'm wont to do, and I'm struck by how much they have in common with the charlatan Dr. J.R. Brinkley. I'll probably find more parallels as I read more of the book, but I find it interesting how talk radio host programs are THE place (besides spam) to sell Viagra and Viagra-like herbal drugs. What a natural fit!

I can envision the sales reps letters to the Viagra companies now. I think they would look a little like this:

Dear Boner Pill Company:

I think that your product would be a great fit with our station. Our hosts talk about testicles all the time! Talking about testicles is such a favo activity that one of our hosts has even written a song about Hitler's testicles! (The song was requested by the other host, so you can see that the whole morning show team is really on the Testicle Town Express. In fact, one of the more sophisticated hosts often uses cojones 's in place of testicles a (although Wikipedia says that cojones is a vulgar Spanish word for testicles, corresponding to "balls" or "bollocks" he is an international traveler and he believes that saying conjones ads a cosmopolitan feel to the show. Note: he does NOT drink Cosmopolitans, that is a drink for those silly women on Sex in the City!)

If you want to advertise on our show we can guarantee at least 3 suckers listeners will buy your products. Also, could you please send some samples for our hosts? The don't need them or anything, they just want to be able to hand them to listeners they meet at the gun shows.

Joe "One's born every day and two on Sunday" Sales Rep

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Obama Swag: Chia Pet Obama!

See? It's possible to joke around about the President! Cha, cha, cha Chia! And people thought that comedians will be barren without a President who is a horrible, horrible man as comedy fodder. I'll suggest that the comedians turn their attention to the right wing media for comedy fodder.

h/t to the good folks at Boing Boing Gadgets

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Can the TV series "Lie to me" Help Defeat Terrorists?

The fictional TV show "24" has a character, played by Kiefer Sutherland, who tortures people to get information. Actual non-fictional humans agree with this practice. Hard to believe, but it's true. I sometimes wonder:
  • Who are these people?
  • Who or what provides their moral compass?
  • What kind of religious faith or ethical system do they follow that supports torturing others?
  • What kind of corporations hire people who are for torture?
  • Do these people work for my company?

A new fictional TV show (based on the research of Dr. Paul Ekman) called "Lie to Me' uses a close understanding of human behavior to tell if people are lying. It appears successful and, get this, no torture!

Since they are both Fox shows that means that Fox News watchers might be exposed to it. Will that make them want to give up torture? I doubt it. Some people just seem to get off on the "tough guyness" of fictional character Jack Bauer. The idea of torturing other humans is something they seem to want to do. I don't know why decent organizations and humans want to continue to be associated with these people who want to torture, but apparently some do.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Renewing the land: Pete Seeger, Joy and Obama

Seeing joy in movies, TV and real life is one of my favorite things. There has been a dearth of joy in the last 8 years. The joy you can see in Pete Seeger's face singing "This land is your land" is the real thing.

There is a scene in the movie Excalibur when the king is healthy again and the land is renewed. I think of that scene because I think of how sick our land has been. I think of the people who encouraged the sickness. They are not going to shut up because they feel it is their job to stay true to the sickness that is movement Conservatism and the Bush policies. They don't get to enjoy this joy. It's not for them. I'm very happy. I'll spend some time enjoying the joy this week.

Watch it at HBO . Th HBO site crashed my Firefox, so I can't watch it there. I would love to show you just the Seeger video, but HBO is taking down the YouTube copies put up. The one above might still available or if HBO eventually figures out that people might want to see just parts of the concert on their site or in a browser other than Internet Explorer.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

ABC Radio Host Wants Full-Frontal Nudity from Bush Press Sec. Dana Perino

December 3, 2008, ABC Radio hosts Lee Rodgers, "Officer Vic" and Wall Street Journal Reporter "Buck" McQuillian discuss the possibility of hiring outgoing Presidential Press Secretary Dana Perino to work at top conservative San Francisco station KSFO.

Rodgers wonders if "full frontal nudity" in the studio would be part of Parino's role, to show off her "great rack". (Windows Audio link, MP3, transcript)

Imagine you are a communications professional. You have successfully managed a tough job dealing with complex issues of international importance. Your old job is going away in a few days. You hear that a big communications company wants to hire you, but the men who work there are known for being crude and sexist. How sexist? Their top money maker has said publicly that he wants you personally to provide him and his colleagues with full-frontal nudity in the office. Another guy, whose colleagues you've worked with daily, chimes in that if nudity is involved he's interested!

The job market is tight. This other company will pay you a TON of money. What do you do?

The job offers challenging work and the COO of the organization is one of the most influential women in the industry. They support, defend and encourage this guys' comments. If they can do that, maybe you could too. Of course nobody is forcing you to take this job, but this company works with most of the really important people in your industry.

Everyone tells you that the guys were just joking. You are used to frat boys and their jokes, like gas passing in the office. You know how to hang out with "the guys".

You know that in this environment when someone proclaims "It's a JOKE!" the burden is switched to you to prove it's not a joke. If you challenged them they reply, "What? Can't you take a joke? " To management, not having the "guy" sense of humor about sexist comments is really a bigger problem than what was said. It's almost as bad as being seen as being "politically correct".

Your previous job was with powerful men, this job is with money-making men. Your job is to keep him earning and protect him. He's a producer, you are staff. He's seen as an asset, not a liability. The company has other assets and other earners, but he's made tens of millions of dollars for the firm. In management's eyes as long as he doesn't break the law he's golden (even then they will defend him). He's not going to change.

It turns out almost all the top guys seem to be sexist, even the company's latest hire. The more money the guy makes, the more people support him. What's especially strange is the way people who disagree with these guys still say they will fight "to the death" for this guys' right to talk about you nude. It's like in their universe the normal rules of 21st century professionalism and human resources don't exist.

What is perplexing to you is all the women and decent guys who support this guy. You are told to just ignore what he says publicly, it's just a "shtick", you hear in private he's not that bad. All the big moneymakers are like this, or worse. What do you do?

If you walk into this environment, you can't ever complain to the head of HR or the company's legal counsel they will point out you knew what the guys were like before you joined. If you say anything it will be you who doesn't have a "good sense of humor", is easily offended, isn't a team player, or is trying to be "politically correct."

You talk to your friends about this and they are astonished that this guy doesn't get a talking to from management. You explain that the rules are different in this industry. Management actively hires people who are known sexist and racists, just as long as they generate cash. One of their top earners even insults the nationality and race of the top boss saying that "[For Egyptians and other Arab cultures], lying is as natural as breathing" (audio link) You would think that a combination of racist AND sexism would be a problem, but the boss doesn't worry about what a top earner says about anyone. He actively looks for and hires guys like this. Everyone is afraid to say something that might make the top earner angry because he might go elsewhere.

What do you do? The easy answer is to stay away. But these are your "tribe", they are tops in the field, and if you don't take the job people will think that YOU are the crazy one for taking some joking sexist comments seriously.

Many big commercial organizations want to be associated with him even though they would NEVER allow one of their executives to talk like this.

The rules of 21st century professionalism don't seem exist at this firm or within this industry. It's all about the top earners' "right" to broadcast to the whold world his desire to talk about seeing you naked in the office.

What do you do?


I've asked my favorite feminist blogger, Echidne, to allow me to guest post this on her blog because it was there that it was pointed out to me the ubiquitous of sexist talk on AM radio and how it is ignored, especially as compared to racism.

I'm proud to call myself a feminist since 8th grade. When I look at my life I see that my best friends, biggest supporters and strongest allies have been feminists.

After Sarah Palin became part of the Republican ticket some talk radio hosts suddenly became supporters of women. I think they loved doing the switch because it supposedly caused liberals heads to explode.

If you haven't yet, please listen to the audio. Hear their exact words, the tone, the guffawing. I'm not making this up. I WANT people to hear this. I would especially like the women who run Citadel Broadcasting to hear these three men.

Rodgers' KSFO producer is a woman. Rodgers regularly refers to her as his "executive seducer".
(instead of executive producer. Get it? It's a JOKE!) She knows that she is supposed to be just one of the guys and, like Robin Quivers, is supposed to make stern frowny faces when he goes too far. But for these guys nothing is too far. The host of this program has talked about killing millions of innocent Muslims, torturing and executing a man with multiple arrests, and beating to death protesters. I thought that maybe losing 28 advertisers because of this violent rhetoric would have caught the management's attention. They just kept supporting him. They still mistakenly see him as an asset, not a liability. How much money do these hosts have to cost them? I tried to tell the Disney people over and over again these people are not good for the bottom line.

Old men cackling about professional women having to get naked for their enjoyment. Nothing new there. Tune into any Morning Zoo programs like "Dingo and the Baby" and you might hear something like this, but this program is sold to advertisers as the number one conservative political talk program in the Bay Area. Contrary to my Vulcan appearance, I do know the difference between a comedy show and a political talk show. I know the difference between a journalist and a ideologue.

This show books governors, ambassadors and congress people. They regularly book intellectual heavyweights from the conservative right. This isn't sold to advertisers as wacky sound effects and celebrity gossip. This is "News and views you won't hear anywhere else."

They discuss important issues with:
  • Thomas Del Beccaro, the Vice Chairman of the California Republican Party
  • John Fund from the Wall Street Journal
  • Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family has his own segment during the show.
    "Dear Dr. Dobson. My 7 year old boy wants to know what full-frontal nudity is. I can't imagine where he even heard the phrase. We listen to your show faithfully on KSFO in San Francisco."
What if the guy who says this stuff represented YOUR product? What if he read your ads?
What if he was your spokesperson? Maybe they expect all the women who listen to be "team players" who "can take a joke". Maybe they expect no women to listen at all.

I know that there will be a group of women and men who will be disgusted by this but still launch into the mantra, "Rodgers has his right to say what ever he wants on the radio."

But as Matt Zimmerman from the Electronic Frontier Foundation said, "While such radio personalities certainly have a right to air their views, the First Amendment says nothing about a right to advertiser-subsidized speech."

The company Rodgers works for, Citadel Broadcasting Corporation (NYSE:CDL) is the third largest radio group in the United States. It is run by highly-paid professionals. But apparently the rules of 21st century professionalism don't exist at this firm.
Updated 1-16-2009 Changed Givens to Quivers, thanks Abel Undercity!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Citadel to Hire Bush Press Sec Perino?

Radio hosts from conservative talk show KSFO have been talking about hiring outgoing Presidential press Secretary Dana Perino for their San Francisco based program. KSFO is part of ABC Radio and Citadel Broadcasting (NYSE:CDL) which is is the third largest radio group in the United States.

The drive to hire Perino was begun by "Officer Vic", pseudonym for Tom Benner, KSFO's morning traffic reporter who in early December said,
"She's going to be out of work soon and I think she needs a place to feel at home and we have we have a need we have an opening for someone like this. We need a press secretary. And I think Dana Perino would be an excellent addition to this program."
Lee Rodgers, the long time morning host for KSFO, wondered, "Would full-frontal nudity be involved in her [Perino's] role?" (Audio link) (transcript)

Rodgers discussed hiring Perino with Wall Street Journal reporter "Big Buck" McQuillian.
"And I would assume if we were successful in luring Ms. Perino to join this program, "Big Buck" probably would wanna move his base of operations from the Wall Street Journal back there on the East Coast out here to also join us. I'm just guessing. I don't know."
McQuillian's response? "If there is nudity involved, then possibly."

"Officer Vic" said, "I'm just thinking content here. What great content she would bring to the program."

Lee Rogers, "What a great rack, I know."

Perino, who is currently the Assistant to the President and Press Secretary at the White House, has a master's in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois (summa cum laude) and her bachelor's in mass communications from the University of Southern Colorado (cum laude).

Will Perino accept the challenge to defending the talk radio hosts who are more interested in her body than her brains or experience?

I'm sure that all will be revealed after President Bush leaves office.


I doubt that Andrew Gardiner, the CEO of was aware of how Rodgers talked about Perino in the studio. ( provides clients with radio spots on KSFO as part of a promotion package. ) What will he say to his potential clients?

Imagine how embarrassing it must have been for Applied Signal Technology (one of BAjobs clients whose recruitment ads he runs on KSFO) to find out that a job recruiting ad ran right after Lee Rodgers talked about hoping for full-frontal nudity from Perino, a highly qualified professional woman. Seeing as Applied Signal Technology is looking for a director of human resources, they probably didn't notice.

There really isn't anything that the BAJobs or Applied Signal Technology people can do about the environment their ad will drop into on KSFO. One minute they might be suggesting:
  • Supporters of a Republican presidential candidate traced so he can "run you down and kill you like a mad dog." (video link. audio link) transcript 5
the next they want
  • Liberals to be hanged; (audio link)

Rodgers reminds everyone, "Nobody is gonna tell me, what to talk about or not talk about or in what fashion on this radio program! It ain't gonna happen!" (audio link) I'm certainly not going to tell him what to talk about. I don't want to be tracked down and killed.

BTW, management knew of and approved of all these comments. Rodgers proudly acknowledged them (audio link)

I wonder if Citadel's Chief Operating Officer Judy Ellis, or General Counsel and Vice President Jacquelyn Orr have the same support for Rodgers as the boys club in San Francisco? I suppose just as long as they meet their numbers it's no big deal. I hope Citadel's human resources lead Susan Arville can figure out which HR rules apply. I suppose that Rodgers' behavior is beneath the notice of Patricia Stratford, the SVP of Finance and Adminstration, and IR contact as long as he is a top earner and his antics don't impact projected revenue (like they did in 2007).

The ones I feel sorry for are hard working folks at BAjobs. They probably expected that KSFO was a safe place to advertise. These conservative hosts can and will say almost anything and it is accepted and embraced at the highest levels of management. Because management supports this, advertisers need to be prepared so they can protect their brands and clients. For example, I'll bet that Nike would have like to disengage from Michael Vick before he got arrested for dog fighting. When you spot a pattern of behavior and you don't act on it, who is to blame?

Hopefully the host's next inapporpriate comment, verbal atrocity, attack on an advertiser or their customers faith will miss their client's ad window. Good luck!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Reminder: 24 is a Fictional TV Show!

Kiefer Sutherland is saying words that were written for him in a script.

When someone in the show says something about following the law and states it in a very lame strawman way WHILE THE CLOCK IS TICKING it is still an actor reading lines. Lines that were written by three or four guys sitting in front of a computer.

Who are these guys? From IMDB this season.

Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow holding their Emmys. (Those wings look sharp, I wonder if they will be used as a weapon in season 7?)
Joel Surnow
(creator) &
Robert Cochran

Howard Gordon
(written by) &
Joel Surnow
(written by) &
Michael Loceff
(written by)

Now if you look at their credits, they've written some science fiction, some cop stories and some night time soap operas (Falcon Crest!). Click on the links to see what else they have written.

These men, the writers who created dialog and plots for Jane Wyman and Morgan Fairchild in Falcon Crest are doing the same for Kiefer Sutherland. They are probably aware that their program, designed to entertain, has had a profound effect on the acceptability and perceived necessity of torture.

By setting up and embracing the perfect situation with the ultimate hero they have given people a useful excuse that lets them embrace their most base emotions. Would they be horrified if they realized that they have created thousands of fans who use the show as a guideline for how to deal with people? Would they, like Mike Judge had to do with Beavis and Butt-head, be forced to remind the people:
Beavis and Butt-head are not role models. They're not even human. They're cartoons. Some of the things they do could cause a person to get hurt, expelled, arrested, possibly deported. To put it another way: Don't try this at home.

The original disclaimer in the first and second seasons shown before each episode was:

Beavis and Butt-head are not real. They are stupid cartoon people completely made up by this Texas guy who we hardly even know. Beavis and Butt-head are dumb, crude, ugly, thoughtless, sexist, self-destructive fools. But for some reason the little wiener heads make us laugh.
Now the people putting on the TV show 24" have no obligation to say, "Jack Bauer is not a role model. He's not even human. He's a character created my some guys we hardly even know. Do not really torture people like the character does. His deadline is fake! There really is no bomb! Please do not use this fictional TV show's character as your moral compass."

I don't know what the writers' real life moral touchstones are. They don't have to show them in their writing, either, but it would be interesting to find out. I don't know if they go to church or a synagogue on the weekend. I don't know if they are atheists or Buddhists. Did they study moral ethics in college or volunteer at a center for victims of torture in South America?

But when it comes time to discuss torture in America, how it is practiced, portrayed and supported we need to understand the world view created by these men. They have to be part of the conversation. They, in many ways are the largest driving force for solidifying many people's attitude toward torture.

I don't expect THEM to give my arguments against torture on their show. Why? Because they will do what wingnuts always do, throw out a weak argument and put it into the mouths of an unlovable character. That is how they satisfy their critics. "See, we had the FBI make the case for following the book, but it didn't work! The Terrorist got away when we followed the book!"

But dude, you WROTE THAT IT DIDN'T WORK. You wrote that Jack got the right info when he needed it from the right people. You could also have written it the other way. When you control the script you always have the last word. Please don't do me any favors and misstate my views in your script where you control the speaker, the argument and the outcome.

I'd write some more but "THERE IS NO TIME!"
boop beep boop beep.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Brief Spocko Story

Two years ago today was the famous "Get Spocko" day on KSFO. For people unfamiliar with the story below are a few links to fill you in.

I objected to the violent rhetoric from the hosts on ABC Radio station KSFO. I contacted the advertisers with audio clips so they could hear for themselves. ABC Radio Disney had my blog shut down with a meritless copyright claim. They did not want the advertisers to hear what the hosts were saying and what the sponsors were paying for so instead of telling the hosts to knock off the violent rhetoric, the station management threatened to sue me "for everything I've got".

The Electronic Frontier Foundation defended me and pointed out my use of audio clips to alert the advertisers to what the hosts were saying was fair use.

As Matt Zimmerman from the EFF said, "While such radio personalities certainly have a right to air their views, the First Amendment says nothing about a right to advertiser-subsidized speech."

The courts have since ruled in favor of bloggers' fair use of audio clips in this fashion. Sadly, I now expect privacy invasion and more character assassination from KSFO. This is their preferred method rather than addressing their own hosts' attacks on companies, groups or individuals.

By January 2007 28 advertisers, including Bank of American, Fed Ex, Master Card, The Michigan Economic Development Corporation, had pulled their ads when they decided that they didn't want to be associated with these hosts. Many companies own internal advertising policies don't support this kind of violent rhetoric.

The first big blog post from Mike Stark at Daily Kos

Excellent coverage from Media Post Tom Siebert (link)

Online Blogintegrity (link) Link to some of the offensive audio clip from KSFO hosts

SF Chronicle (link)

New York Times (link)

SF Bay Guardian (link)

CBS KPIX 5 (video link)

Guardian in the UK (link)

Pushing Rope has a great collection of stories (link)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Spocko Knows Funny

And right now it lives at Cakewrecks.

You would think that me being a Vulcan and all would make me unaware of humor, but that is a rumor spread by Romulans. We know funny. But instead of laughing we say, "Now THAT'S funny."

Professional comedians say, "Now THAT'S funny." It's one of the highest compliments you can get from one. What will make another comedian laugh isn't the same stuff that will make a normal audience laugh. Also, the skill to write something funny is NOT the same as saying something funny, or talking in a funny way or just having excellent timing. I appreciate all these skills. I've never heard Jen speak, but I have read her blog and her comedy writing is what rocks.

Bizarrely, she is in the food blog category of the Weblog Awards instead of the humor category. But I predict after reading her blog you will want to vote for her. So go to and read a bunch of posts, look at some horrible cakes decorated by professionals. If you are like me you will say, "Now THAT'S funny." if you are human or a non-professional comedian you will probably laugh out loud.

I'm going to be focusing on some serious stuff soon and I realize that people REALLY, REALLY don't like to talk about serious stuff. So I appreciate people like Jen making the world a funnier place.

To Jen: Live Long and Prosper
Your fan,

Saturday, January 03, 2009

George Bush: America's mean ex-husband

George Bush: America's mean ex-husband

And we are all just waiting for the final divorce papers to come through.

I've seen him holding hands with Saudi princes. I'm sure that has nothing to do with anything. What happens between him and Laura behind closed doors is none of my business.

(h/t Digby)