White is the New Black?

I came across this Gothamist post about a study out of Tufts and Harvard which argues that “whites see racism as a zero-sum game that they are now losing.” In other words, the study indicates a shift in public opinion concerning perception of racial bias, which in turn could have a greater impact on matters of public policy — in spite of clear economic evidence that, as a group, Blacks still fall behind Whites on everything from home ownership and education to employment.

I’ve heard all the reverse racism arguments from my conservative friends and family on trips back to Oklahoma. The arguments from people who say in one breath that they’re “not racist,” while in the next they argue the success of Asian immigrant families as “proof” that problems of poverty and gangs and violence among poor African-American families and Latino families are about race, not about social disparity. Or that the problems of the “welfare class” are about people being lazy, not about people having lack of access to opportunity, or being set up to fail. Or my favorite, the argument that “it’s not about race, it’s about class.” Oy.
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Pardon Me, Your Bias is Showing

I’ve been meaning to jot down some thoughts on gender and media since a luncheon at the Sarasota Film Festival, when Geena Davis, representing her Institute on Gender and Media, gave a speech about the mission of the organization, which was announcing a partnership with the festival to promote the creation of films in which gender roles are portrayed equitably.

A fellow journalist who was at the fest noted that the speech Davis gave was very similar to what she had to say in a speech from Newsweek’s Women in Media Conference held in September, 2010, and when I looked it up, sure enough, she was right. No matter, though … Davis certainly delivered the speech passionately and eloquently, and the points she raises about how kids are exposed to ideas around gender from the time they’re old enough to be plopped in front of television to watch Dora the Explorer are surprising.
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Making Hillary Clinton Invisible: Is Criticism of Hasidism Antisemitism?

So I was reading this post over on Jezebel this morning about Orthodox Hasidic newspaper Der Tzitung editing the images of Hillary Clinton and counter-terrorism expert Audrey Thomason out of the photo of the Osama bin Laden raid Situation Room. Why? Because the paper doesn’t publish photos of women, of course. Pictures of women, apparently, are considered “sexually suggestive.”
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The Other Cost of the War on Terror

My friend Matt Zoller Seitz posted this thoughtful Salon piece by Glenn Greenwald to Facebook the other day, and it made me stop and think. In the piece, Greenwald notes while many of us (myself included in this) have been vocal in expressing our dismay about the public display of jubilation over the news of Osama bin Laden’s death, not as many of us have been questioning the whys and wherefores of how his death happened. And that maybe this is a problem.

Leaving aside for the moment the issue of whether or not Osama bin Laden was a Bad Man, IF there was an order to kill, not capture, do you have a problem with that? IF he was unarmed and not fighting back when his compound was overtaken, IF he was shot and killed while unarmed, do you have a problem with that? Should he have been arrested and tried rather than killed?

Greenwald makes some excellent points in his piece, and I encourage you to read it if you haven’t. He raises issues that really need to be discussed in public and in private, and at the core of these issues is the question of whether we’ve given up so much in the War on Terror that we’ve lost sight of the very freedoms we’ve been supposedly fighting to protect.

Domestic Terror?

These people scare me as much, if not more than, the most fundamentalist of Islamic jihadists. The older I get, the more I become convinced that learning to overcome hate and intolerance is the single biggest lesson we all have to learn in this life. And clearly, it’s not an easy lesson.

(Hat tip to Tori McDonough, via Facebook.)

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Celebrating Osama bin Laden’s Death: What Would Jesus Do?

As I was watching the celebrations and reading reactions on Twitter and on comments sections of news stories into the wee hours, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the people celebrating so joyfully on the death of a terrorist leader consider themselves Christians. So, in all seriousness: What would Jesus do?

Didn’t Jesus teach that we should judge not lest we be judged? That we should first remove the plank from our own eye, so we can see clearly to remove the speck from our brother’s? Most importantly, didn’t Jesus teach on the importance of forgiving those who have harmed us? That we should turn the other cheek?

If you’re a born-again Christian, you probably believe that everyone who hasn’t accepted Jesus as their lord and savior is going to hell, right? So shouldn’t a born-again Christian, rather than celebrating the death of a terrorist leader, be instead mourning the loss of an opportunity to save that soul? Because Christianity teaches, does it not, that no matter how many bad things a person does in his life — even if that person was responsible for thousands of deaths — all he has to do is accept Jesus and ask for forgiveness, and forgiveness is given, right? If you are a Christian, and you believe the Bible is God’s word, then didn’t Jesus die for everyone’s sins? Even the sins of Osama bin Laden?

I’m not being snarky here, I’m genuinely curious what my Christian friends’ point of view is on this. Would Jesus have been celebrating Osama bin Laden’s death in front of the White House or in Times Square early this morning? Would he have been there in the crowd chanting “USA! USA! USA!?”

Update: A friend pointed me to this post, which is a response by one Buddhist to bin Laden’s death. For me, this piece sums it up pretty well.


So. We Finally Got Osama bin Laden. Uh, “Rah, Rah, USA?”

If you were sick to death of media coverage of the Royal Wedding and tornadoes in the South and the beautification of Pope John Paul II, are you in luck! Get ready to be pummeled relentlessly with every conceivable angle of coverage over the death of Osama bin Laden.

As a country we will never tolerate our security being threatened or stand idly by when our people have been killed.” So sayeth President Barack Obama.

Am I the only one who finds the spontaneous street celebrations over Osama Bin Laden’s death a little, er … I dunno, disturbing? Primal? Reminiscent, even, of the celebrations in certain corners of the Middle East, when the Twin Towers fell?
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Breaking News! The Rent is Too High!

The Washington Post has this story today about the crunch in the rental housing market, which apparently is migrating up from lower income families to pinch the middle class even more.

Here in Seattle, where foreclosed houses are saturating the market and former homeowners are looking for rentals, rent prices are worse than they were when I first moved out here 16 years ago. We just renewed our lease, and had to negotiate like hell to keep the rent increase down to JUST $110 a month.

One of the things the Post piece addresses is the lack of new low-income housing. What it doesn’t get into, so much, is the problem addressed by the doc The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: that because there are incentives to build low-income housing, but not so much to maintain them, part of what happens is that even when lower-income housing is built, it quickly deteriorates once they build it and fill it.

We’ve seen that first-hand over the past two years at the apartment complex my oldest daughter lives in in Seattle. She moved in (with my mom) when the place was so brand-new, they were the first tenants in there besides the maintenance guy. She stayed another year, with her fiance, after my mom moved out. And when I say “lower income,” btw, what that means is that they are “just” paying $1100 a month for a very tiny two-bedroom (technically, it’s a 1 1/2 BR, but we’ll be generous).

In just 24 months, this complex has gone from being a nice place for lower-income families to a crime-ridden ghetto. The police are out there several times a night. Little kids are running wild around the grounds at 2AM. It’s Lord of the Flies over there. They are moving out this weekend, into a bigger, cheaper apartment in a small quad in Shoreline.

It’s certainly not news to any of my friends in NY and LA that the cost of rent is ridiculous. But as my friend Hank Stuever (who also writes for the post) pointed out: Since when is the “norm” for rent and utilities 30 percent of pre-tax income?

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Arianna Update: Class Act(ion)

Journalist and union organizer Jonathan Tasini, who was also a HuffPo blogger for five years, has filed a class action lawsuit against Arianna Huffington and Huffington post for $105 million — a third of the value of the sale of HuffPo to AOL. Jeff Bercovici, writing for Forbes, has a couple of great pieces up on the lawsuit here and here.

Also, here’s a copy of the filed complaint if you like to read things written in legalese.

The interesting angle in this lawsuit, which may just give them a legal leg to stand on, is that the filing is based on common law, not contract law — which makes the fact that the bloggers agreed to write for free irrelevant to the case (at least, according to the attorneys for the plaintiff — we’ll see what a judge thinks once all the arguments have been heard).

What it boils down to is that the case alleges that Huffington Post built something of value on the backs of unpaid labor, and that the labor that contributed to that has a fair expectation of compensation now that it’s been sold for a ton of money.

In other words, basically what a lot of HuffPo bloggers have been arguing since the sale, but now a class-action suit’s been filed making exactly that allegation.

Tasini, by the way, was previously the lead plaintiff in the landmark 2001 case New York Times Co. vs Tasini, which dealt with newspapers re-using the work of freelancers for inclusion in electronic databases without additional compensation.

The plaintiffs won that case. We’ll see how things go with this one. It’s good to see the HuffPo bloggers have Tasini in their corner, though, and I expect it’s at least a bit of a relief for those who have been frustrated by Arianna’s refusal to offer any compensation to her corps of unpaid labor to at least have the suit filed so they’ll get their day in court.

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Arianna, Can You Spare a Dime?

It’s been a few days since I posted anything related to Arianna Huffington, so just in case you thought I was off that soapbox, sorry. Back in my project management days, my favorite slogan was, “Gentle pressure, relentlessly applied,” and that is exactly what I intend to do with regard to Ms. Huffington.

Well, unless she suddenly makes a television appearance on Rachel Maddow saying, “Holy shit, guys! I was held captive by corporate swine and forced to say all that stupid shit about not valuing the bloggers who helped build HuffPo! Of course I’m actually consistent with the values I espouse in my book and in my speeches!” Until then, I will continue to keep attention on HuffPo and the writers because the world has a short attention span, and writers are always getting crapped on.
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Thelma Adams on Why She’s Joining the HuffPo Strike

Writer Thelma Adams has a piece up explaining why she’s joined the writer’s strike against HuffPo/AOL. I’m glad she decided to write this, because I think it’s important for people like Thelma to put their faces out there and say, I was one of those writers who helped make Arianna Huffington rich, and this is why I’m on strike. And if you are such a person and you do write such a piece, email me with the URL, because I want to continue putting faces to the story of HuffPo’s exploitation of writers.

Thelma Adams is not some hack, or an amateur blogger. She’s a professional writer, the film critic for USA Today Us Weekly, two time chair of the New York Film Critics Circle. She’s been published in The New York Times, O: The Oprah Magazine, Maire Claire. Her novel, Playdate, was recently published by St. Martin’s Press. She holds an MFA in fiction from Columbia.

And by the bye? Nowhere on Thelma Adams’ bio page at HuffPo does it tell readers that the piece they are enjoying reading by her was NOT PAID FOR BY HUFFINGTON POST.

I’m not linking to the bio page because I’m not sending hits their way. If you want to look it up, knock yourself out.

It’s a misconception that all of the writers who wrote for HuffPo for free are a bunch of amateurs who should just be grateful for the exposure. Even if it was true, there’s just not a world for me where building your media empire on the backs of thousands of unpaid laborers and then cashing a $315 million payday for yourself while demeaning the very people who built that empire for you is okay.

It’s a shit thing to do, and Arianna Huffington is reprehensible to me. I’m talking Sarah Palin-level reprehensible (apologies if you like Palin, but for me she’s practically the Antichrist, or at the least a heralding sign of the coming zombie apocalypse).



More Death Knells at AOL as 30 Sites Get Folded

And the bloodbath around AOL/HuffPo continues, as 30 sites get shuttered completely or folded into duplicate content sites. Boy, too bad no one saw that coming.

Cinematical has apparently been spared, thus far anyhow. TV Squad is being folded, along with a bunch of other former Weblogs, Inc. properties. And so AOL continues its marvelous tradition of buying something cool and unique and then ruthlessly killing it by a combination of gross mismanagement and arrogant incompetence. Probably some sheer stupidity in there as well.

Meanwhile, over at Engadget, AOL has yet to fill the positions recently vacated by EIC Josh Topolosky and managing editor Nilay Patel, which followed the earlier exits by Engadget editors Paul Miller and Ross Miller. Oh, and let’s not forget 2008 departures of Engadget rock stars Peter Rojas and Ryan Block, who bailed out to start gdgt.com.

How you acquire a company like Weblogs, Inc with a flagship site the quality of Engadget, and other sites that were tops (or growing strongly) at the time of acquisition — sites like Cinematical, and TV Squad, and Blogging Baby and Luxist and screw up the management of it so completely is beyond me. What a clusterfuck.

Support the Strike! Let Arianna Write Her Own Damn Content

All right, people. This is a call to action to support the writers who are striking against Arianna Huffington.

We need to unite against the business practices of Ms. “Let Them Eat Cake” Huffington and support the writer’s strike by boycotting all AOL/HuffPo content until and unless they negotiate a fair and equitable contract for the writers who have helped Ms. Huffington build her media empire. If you are not a striking writer, you can support them by NOT reading or linking to any AOL/HuffPo content for the duration of the strike.

If you are a writer who is still contributing to AOL/HuffPo — even if you are getting paid to do so — you are supporting Ms. Huffington. (Yes, my good friends who are Cinematical writers, I am looking at you, too. Sorry. And this includes editors writing for “free” instead of paying writers to write posts.)

As you may be aware, I’ve been writing a lot recently about the AOL/HuffPo merger, and about Arianna Huffington’s practice of building her media empire on the backs of legions of unpaid writers. This isn’t some state secret. The Queen Bee-yatch has been perfectly open about her contempt for the people who have been writing for her for free, helping her build HuffPo up into a site that she could talk AOL into paying $315 million for. Pretty smart, Arianna, I’ll give you that. Unethical, but smart.

Now the writers are striking back. Finally. Arianna thinks “no one will notice” if all her unpaid writers go on strike. It’s time to take Her Arrogance down a few notches, my friends.

By the bye, studio people: You are not helping, either. The writers who write about your movies need to pay the rent and keep food on their family tables just like you do. If you are paying AOL/HuffPo to run ads on sites that are using free content, you are contributing to the problem too. This means Moviefone, and Cinematical, because they are now a part of Arianna Huffington’s empire, like it or not — and whether those sites directly use free content or not.

Other folks on the strike:

Here’s the call to strike by the Newspapers Guild.

Bill Lasarow explains in a piece for the Guardian why Visual Art Source is encouraging their writers to strike and no longer give content to AOL/HuffPo.

Here’s an LA Times piece on the strike.


Cinematical’s Scott Weinberg Resigns Over TechCrunch/Moviefone Battle

Cinematical’s Managing Editor Scott Weinberg called me yesterday to let me know that he resigned Tuesday over the Moviefone/TechCrunch issue. Here’s Scott, in his own words, on why he quit:

As I tweeted a few days ago, the specific people (although many of them have been laid off recently) I’ve worked with at Moviefone were always very professional to me. And yes, that definitely includes Patricia Chui. I have serious complaints about what’s happened to Cinematical over the last year, but I have no idea who those complaints should be directed towards. I do know that it’s not the “fault” of the Moviefone team, who always showed Cinematical respect as a separate entity.

I chose to stay as long as I did because I love the entire Cinematical team, and I’m really proud of the site Erik Davis and I inherited (which was already pretty excellent) and then, hopefully, improved upon. I chose to leave when I did because, frankly, I didn’t like what I was hearing about the Huffington Post / AOL partnership in relation to the people who actually SIT DOWN AND CREATE THE CONTENT. The TechCrunch story was probably just the ass-kick I needed.

My only regret is that my frustration compelled me to quit “effective immediately,” which leaves Erik Davis, Pete Hall, and the rest of our team without an extra editor during one of the busiest film festivals of the year. I’m also concerned that I indirectly knocked Patricia and the Moviefone team, which was definitely not my intention. Whatever the future holds for Moviefone, they need more people like Ms, Chui; not fewer.

-Scott Weinberg


Film Geek QOTD: Do Studios Have a Right to Control Content?

I was talking to David about the whole AOL/Moviefone/TechCrunch battle, and he pointed out that no one is discussing the other side of the issue: Whether studios generally have a right to an expectation of a particular type of coverage when they give journalists access to parties (or for that matter, screenings).
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Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon