Friday, February 27, 2009

Rocky Mountain News writes its obituary

The bad times for the newspaper industry reached a milestone Thursday when the Rocky Mountain News announced it would close and publish its final edition on Friday.
E.W. Scripps Co. said it was shutting down the 150-year-old Denver newspaper after failing to find a buyer for the money-losing publication. The action leaves the Denver Post as the city’s only major newspaper.
And it probably won’t be the last major metro newspaper to go under either. Hearst Corp.’s San Francisco Chronicle and Gannett Co.’s Tucson Citizen in Arizona also are on the chopping block if they can’t find buyers. Hearst also said it may shutter the Seattle Post-Intelligencer or turn it into a Web-only operation if it’s not sold by March, according to Bloomberg.
Still other newspaper companies have sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, including Chicago’s Tribune Co.
Newspapers are suffering from a poor economy, fewer subscribers and declining advertising. Freely available news on the Internet has drawn away readers and advertisers in droves. Newspaper web sites are popular, but don’t generate enough revenue to support large newsroom operations.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Northwestern's Medill magazine program scores again; Brings back memories


The latest product of the magazine publishing program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism is a prototype for a hip science magazine called Sci Q.
As a graduate of the program from 1993, I received a copy of the prototype issue. Like other class projects from the magazine program, it’s a stellar piece of work. A group of 15 master’s students produced the magazine and a business plan for the publication and Web site.
I attended the class presentation for the magazine in early December on the Evanston, Ill., campus and received the actual magazine earlier this month.
It’s a tough time for the magazine industry. Slumping ad sales have hurt magazines across the board. And people just aren’t reading as many magazines and newspapers – in their paper versions at least – anymore.
In the last two months alone, I’ve counted 20 magazines that have shut down, based on reports by Cision’s The Navigator. They've included Hearst’s Teen magazine, Ziff Davis’ Electronic Gaming Monthly and Meredith’s Country Home. Some were folded into sister publications and others are keeping their Web sites operating.
My hope is that the newest graduates of Medill’s magazine publishing program will find good journalism and media jobs. They’re certainly a talented bunch.
Their project, Sci Q magazine, was targeted to men ages 25-44 who are interested in cool, weird and wild science and technology stories. The prototype issue features articles on a mystery illness killing off bats in the northeastern U.S., how watching sports can be good for your brain, and the possibility of Earth getting clobbered by the asteroid Apophis in 2036.
Watching the student presentation and reading the magazine brought back memories of my own experience in the Medill program. I graduated from the master’s program in 1993.
Our class project was a comedy-focused entertainment news magazine called Inside Comedy. Our goal was to cover the world of comedy – from stand-up and sitcoms to movies and comic strips. We wanted to be “a reader’s guide to a good laugh and a backstage pass to revealing profiles, intriguing behind-the-scenes stories and entertaining commentary.”
We had a small, but talented class of 15 students working on the magazine.
The best-known graduate from our class is Clinton Kelly, co-host of TLC’s “What Not To Wear” and author of the book “Freakin’ Fabulous: How To Dress, Speak, Behave, Eat, Drink, Entertain, Decorate, and Generally Be Better Than Everyone Else.” Not surprisingly, given his great sense of style, Kelly served as design director for Inside Comedy.
Other staffers included David Willey, now editor-in-chief at Runner’s World and president of the American Society of Magazine Editors; Arlene Weintraub, now a senior writer with BusinessWeek; and Jeff Favre, now a Los Angeles writer and comedian.
Looking back, I’m still amazed by the access we got with big-name talent. Being students at a prestigious university certainly helped open doors. But we also were pretty persistent.
Our cover story was on Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Our writer spent time with her on the L.A. set of “Seinfeld” and chatted with Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards for the article.
We also interviewed the up-and-coming stars of a little-watched, but influential sketch comedy show called “The Ben Stiller Show.” Those comic actors – Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Bob Odenkirk and Andy Dick – would later find fame elsewhere.
Other subjects of the Inside Comedy prototype were writer Dave Barry; stoner comedian Tommy Chong; “Dilbert” comic strip creator Scott Adams; and Gary Dontzig and Steven Peterman, writers of the sitcom “Murphy Brown.”
Director and actor Garry Marshall visited our class and gave us some worldly advice. And I got to interview actor-writer-director Harold Ramis about his then-upcoming film “Groundhog Day” and his body of work.
Good times. Good times.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mike Myers dines on Golden Raspberries

In all the excitement over the Oscars, I neglected to congratulate conceited comic actor Mike Myers on his multiple awards for “The Love Guru”: worst picture, worst actor and worst screenplay.
The Golden Raspberry Award Foundation bestowed those awards on Myers last Saturday, on the eve of the Oscars.
I don’t always agree with the nominees and winners of the Razzies, but this year they’re spot on.
He should have won in 2003 for desecrating Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat.” But alas, he lost to “Gigli.”

Monday, February 23, 2009

Penélope Cruz: From worst to first

Movie critics reject the idea of giving acting Oscars based on career achievement instead of just the one performance an actor is nominated for in any given year.
As a movie fan, I don’t have a problem with the idea per se. There should be a balancing act. Both should be considered.
When Academy voters choose a relative unknown on the basis of one movie, their picks sometimes come back to haunt them. If only they could get back that best actor Oscar awarded to Roberto Benigni in 1998 or the best supporting actor Oscar given to Cuba Gooding Jr. in 1996.
Oscar voters sometimes find out later that an actor they thought at first was cute is pretty annoying or another actor they thought was talented was simply playing himself.
That brings me to Penélope Cruz, who won the best supporting actress Oscar at last night’s awards ceremony for her work in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”
She’s great in her native Spanish language in the films of Pedro Almodóvar or movies like “Open Your Eyes.”
But for some reason she can be horrible in English language movies. Maybe she’s bad at picking Hollywood scripts.
She was nominated for worst actress by the Golden Raspberry Awards, or Razzies, in 2001 for three films: “Blow,” “Captain Corelli's Mandolin” and “Vanilla Sky.” She lost to Mariah Carey for “Glitter.”
When it comes to the Academy Award for best supporting actress another factor comes into play: looks.
The award these days often goes to attractive young starlets. (Rachel Weisz, Renée Zellweger, Jennifer Connelly, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Angelina Jolie, etc.) Cruz certainly fits that bill.

‘Slumdog Millionaire’ Is This Year’s ‘The Last Emperor’

“Slumdog Millionaire” won the Oscar for best picture tonight, following in the footsteps of 1987 winner “The Last Emperor.”
Both films hold the distinction of winning the top prize at the Academy Awards without having any of their actors nominated. Voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences apparently couldn’t tell if the acting was any good because they hadn’t seen the actors before. For all they knew, the Indians in “Slumdog Millionaire” were playing themselves.
It’s easier to pick English actress Kate Winslet doing a German accent for "The Reader." That’s ACTING!, as Jon Lovitz’s Master Thespian character on SNL would shout.
As usual the comedic actors stole the show at the 81st Academy Awards.
Ben Stiller riffed on actor Joaquin Phoenix’s recent bizarre appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman.” Stiller wore a shaggy, unkempt beard and sunglasses and acted dazed and confused while co-presenting an award with Natalie Portman.
Steve Martin and Tina Fey were quite funny presenting the screenwriting awards.
And James Franco and Seth Rogen reprised their stoner roles from the movie “Pineapple Express” in a bit co-written by Judd Apatow. The segment was meant to spotlight comedy movies from 2008, but showed the guys sitting on a couch, laughing uproariously to serious films like “The Reader” and “Doubt.” Very funny.
Director Baz Luhrmann really needs to make another musical. After bombing with the epic drama “Australia” last year, he created a nifty musical and dance montage for the Oscars featuring Hugh Jackman and Beyonce Knowles. Luhrmann directed the modern musical masterpiece “Moulin Rouge!” (2001).
Speaking of musical numbers, the performances of two Bollywood songs from “Slumdog Millionaire” on the Oscar telecast were spectacular.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Blockbuster’s set-top box a loser


The Motley Fool recently rated Blockbuster the worst stock for 2009. Based on Blockbuster's first attempt at a set-top box for delivering movies from the Internet to the TV, I’d say they may be on to something.
Fool writer Rich Smith predicted Jan. 28 that Blockbuster “is going to zero” this year. He said Blockbuster is drowning in debt and is being beaten by rival Netflix at every turn.
Blockbuster certainly hasn’t kept up with Netflix in the market for digital delivery of movies to consumers.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to try out Blockbuster’s first set-top box, which is made by 2Wire. I already own the Netflix Player by Roku, so it was easy to do a side-by-side comparison.
Blockbuster trotted out the 2Wire MediaPoint digital media player in late November, six months after Netflix debuted its first set-top box, the Roku digital video player.
They both stream movies from the Internet to the TV, but have very different business models. Both devices cost $99. But content on the Blockbuster box is pay-per-view, while content from Netflix comes at no extra charge when subscribing to its DVDs-by-mail service.
Blockbuster charges $3.99 for most online movies, but some are available for $1.99. For a limited time, the Blockbuster 2Wire box is free when subscribers rent 25 movies in advance for $99.
Sounds like a good deal, if the service has a lot of new releases and the box works without a hitch. In my experience, the Blockbuster box failed on both counts.
Installation was as easy as the Netflix box. I linked both to my wireless router.
My issues with the Blockbuster OnDemand service began with the opening screen. Looking for the hot new releases, I clicked the remote over to “Featured” films. The first movies I saw were ones I’d never heard of: “Blindsight,” “Cyborg Soldier,” “Ghouls,” “I Do,” and “Miss Conception”
I searched through other categories, including “New Releases,” “Top Rentals” and “Just Added,” and found very few new releases. I was shocked. I thought this was going to be like an online video store, packed with new releases.
Eventually, I stumbled on new releases by looking in the “All Rentals” category. It listed 1,644 titles, of which 61 were labeled “new.”
They included “Get Smart,” “Ghost Town,” “Hancock,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” “Iron Man,” “Nights in Rodanthe,” “Pineapple Express” and “Snow Angels.”
Navigating through the Blockbuster OnDemand service is a chore. The menus are ugly and feature tiny box-shot images of the movies.
The Netflix box only presents you with movies you’ve preselected from your computer. It makes for a much cleaner interface.
I clicked through a couple hundred movies on the Blockbuster box and eventually got the “blue screen of death.” The device locked up and gave me an on-screen message of “Your Blockbuster OnDemand service is starting.” After a time, the system rebooted on its own. But it was very frustrating.
Later I chose my first movie to watch – “The House Bunny” starring Anna Faris. Everything was going fine until 40-some minutes into the movie when the picture locked up and the soundtrack continued. I tried skipping ahead and backing up, but I either got a still frame with sound or video and no sound. Eventually I gave up for the night.
The next day, I tried to start fresh. I experienced the same problem at the same point in the movie.
After a first-time experience like that, most consumers would do what I did – pack up the box and return it.
By contrast, my experience with the Netflix Roku box has been flawless.
After the Blockbuster box failed to show “The House Bunny” on a second try, I gave up and switched to the Netflix box. There I selected the Oscar-nominated documentary “Man On Wire.” Great movie. No technical problems either.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Oscar for worst dressed goes to … me

As part of its publicity campaign for this year’s Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been holding a “Meet the Oscars” exhibit in Chicago.
The exhibit lets movie fans hold an actual Oscar statuette and get their photo taken. The Oscars are made in Chicago at R.S. Owens & Co.
The one-of-a-kind exhibit features six of the Oscars to be presented at the 2010 Academy Awards ceremony. Also on display is the Oscar won by Clark Gable for his performance in “It Happened One Night” (1934). Gable’s estate sold the Oscar at auction in 1996 for $607,500 to director Steven Spielberg. He returned it to the Motion Picture Academy later that year.
The “Meet the Oscars” exhibit runs Feb. 13-22 at The Shops At North Bridge on Michigan Avenue at Grand Avenue.
I stopped by with the kids on Monday. Wearing an old pair of jeans and a University of Illinois sweatshirt, I proudly accepted my Oscar for worst-dressed visitor. My thanks to the Academy.
The Oscars will be presented on Sunday evening and televised on ABC.

First wave of digital TV transition goes smoothly

Remind me, why did we have to push back the digital television transition deadline to June 12?
Oh, yeah, President Barack Obama was worried about making his first major gaffe in office and played it super safe.
All that handwringing about people not being ready for the digital TV switchover was apparently for naught.
On Tuesday, the original deadline, 421 full-power TV stations made the switch to digital-only broadcasts. The Federal Communications Commission and the stations themselves reported a minimal number of phone calls from concerned viewers.
“The volume of viewer calls received following the transition paled in comparison to the 12.4 million over-the-air only households that were in affected markets,” Jonathan Collegio, vice president for digital television transition at the National Association of Broadcasters, said in a statement today.
The NAB estimates that most stations received an average of 50 to 200 calls each, according to news reports.
A third of U.S. TV stations now have switched to digital-only broadcasts. The stations that shut off their analog signals on Tuesday joined 220 other stations that the FCC allowed to make the switch early.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Phelps probe reaches obvious conclusion

It took the Richland County, S.C., Sheriff’s Department nearly two weeks to reach the same conclusion most rational people would make in two seconds: There was no way to charge Olympic swimming champ Michael Phelps with marijuana possession or use based on a photo.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Monday that there was not enough evidence to prosecute those at the party where the photo was reportedly taken, according to Reuters.
Well, duh. Even Barney Fife (pictured above) would have reached the same conclusion – only sooner.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My wife discovers another woman vying for my affections

Now you’ve gone and done it, Summercusp.
You’ve gotten me in trouble with my wife.
I was sitting at my computer in my home office tonight when my wife walked in. She started to ask me a question, then looked at my computer screen and her eyes widened. “Are you chatting with her?” she asked.
I looked back at my screen, which was displaying my Yahoo e-mail page with one of those ubiquitous ads for online dating service True.com.
I barely even notice them even more. This one was a little different however. It was bigger for one thing. It featured the same video of a woman named “Summercusp” waving to her Webcam and laughing at responses from an unseen Romeo.
What probably caught my wife’s eye, other than the well-endowed honey on screen, was the scrolling chat log beneath it. This Flash animation makes it look like you’re actually chatting with Webcam girl.
“No. It’s just an ad. I wasn’t chatting with anyone,” I said.
My wife seemed skeptical.
It’s too bad Yahoo doesn’t have a way to opt out of certain types of ads. It would be better for the users and the advertisers. I wouldn’t be presented with ads that I wouldn’t act on and advertisers would get a more responsive audience. I’d opt out of online dating services (sorry, Summercusp), mortgage refinance and free credit report ads.

Friday, February 13, 2009

All hail the king of viral marketing: Burger King

Burger King is a master of generating press from its viral marketing campaigns.
When the company said in December it was getting into the fragrance business with a scent called Flame, bloggers and the mainstream media treated it like the real deal.
It was as if Burger King wanted to give Axe body spray a run for its money. Burger King described Flame as the “scent of seduction with a hint of flame-broiled meat.”
Bloggers and wire services wrote about how outrageous it was for Burger King to come out with a burger-themed scent. Some bought it to smell for themselves.
When the product sold out before Christmas, they covered it again. (It was only sold online and through a novelty gift shop chain in New York City.)
Comedians and late-night talk show hosts had a field day with the Burger King fragrance.
But it was all a viral marketing stunt, designed to get people talking about Burger King.
Burger King has had similar success with its Whopper Sacrifice application on Facebook, its Whopper Virgins videos, Burger King video games on Xbox 360, Simpsonize Me and Subservient Chicken web sites.
For more on Burger King’s viral marketing strategy, check out my story in Investor’s Business Daily.
I spoke with Russ Klein, president of global marketing strategy and innovation for Burger King Holdings Inc. for the article.
I wasn’t able to get much detail about the Flame scent promotion in my IBD article, so I’ll provide that here on Tech-media-tainment.
This past December was the one-year anniversary of Burger King’s successful Whopper Freakout campaign. For that advertising campaign, Burger King set up hidden cameras in one of its restaurants and had workers tell customers that the Whopper had been discontinued. Needless to say, some customers freaked out. They demanded to speak to the manager and get a full explanation. The gag was revealed when the King mascot emerged to hand deliver a Whopper to each of the wigged-out customers.
Burger King considered that campaign a high water mark and wanted to top it, Klein says.
The result of the company’s creative brainstorming was the Whopper Virgins campaign – videos showing the “world’s purest taste test” – and the Flame cologne promotion, Klein says.
“We’re obviously not really in the perfume or cologne business, but we thought that it would add additional messaging around the core idea that people who love the Whopper really love the Whopper,” Klein said.
Burger King worked with a contract fragrance house to put together its own recipe for Flame. Klein describes the cologne as having a “woody, mesquite smell.”
Burger King produced over 10,000 units of the Flame cologne and sold out in three days. The product retailed for $3.99.
Flame is now back for an encore release for Valentine’s Day, he said.

Raisin Bran Extra is a disappointment

When I saw the commercial for Kellogg's new Raisin Bran Extra cereal during this year’s Super Bowl, I was intrigued. The idea of adding dried cranberries and other stuff to one of my favorite breakfast cereals, Kellogg’s Raisin Bran, sounded delicious.
Like Jerry Seinfeld, I’m sort of a cereal freak. I can eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. My other favorites include Quaker’s Life Cereal – Cinnamon, Kellogg’s Corn Pops, General Mills’ Lucky Charms and Reese’s Puffs. Yeah, I’ve got a sweet tooth.
First off, Raisin Bran Extra comes in a tiny box, 14 ounces, probably because some of the new ingredients like cranberries and almond slices are a bit expensive.
After sampling a few bowls of the cereal, I’m underwhelmed. Kellogg’s should have ditched the almond slices and “yogurty clusters” and doubled down on the cranberries. The mix of raisins and cranberries make a tasty combination. The almond slices are so thin and sparse that they’re just there for appearance. And those “yogurty clusters” are a sugary distraction from an otherwise healthy cereal.
Kellogg’s should have come out with “Kellogg’s Raisin Bran With Cranberries” instead. That’s a winning dried fruit combo.
And about those “yogurty clusters,” PepsiCo’s Quaker tried adding those to a version of its Life Cereal called Life Vanilla Yogurt Crunch. It lasted about two years before being discontinued during the summer of 2008. Time to give up on adding “yogurty clusters” to cereal.
Besides, they don’t sound very healthy.
Kellogg’s lists the ingredients of its vanilla-flavored yogurt clusters as: yogurt confectionary coating (sugar, palm kernel and palm oil, nonfat milk powder, reduced mineral whey powder, yogurt powder (cultured whey, nonfat milk) yogurt heat treated after culturing, lactic acid, color added, soy lecithin, artificial color), vanilla crunch (bleached wheat flour, sugar, palm oil, salt, baking soda, artificial flavor and soy lecithin).
That sounds like something Clark Griswold from the Vacation movies might have made. In “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989), Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, boasts about making a new cereal varnish.
When a coworker asks him about it, he says, “Oh, the crunch enhancer? Yeah it’s a non-nutritive cereal varnish. It's semi-permeable. It's not osmotic. What it does is it coats and seals the flake, prevents the milk from penetrating it."
Yummy.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Subway sticks with Phelps, doesn't want to offend customers with the munchies

Give the Subway sandwich chain some credit. They’re sticking with Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps as a sponsor, even after a photo surfaced of him smoking pot from a bong.
Subway probably doesn’t want to tick off its marijuana-smoking customers who get the munchies.
The blogosphere has been cracking wise about this latest development in golden boy Phelps’ fall from grace.
One wag suggested that Subway offer a sandwich for $4.20 after the marijuana culture term 420. (See Wikipedia entry on 420 for background.)
Another thought White Castle would be a better endorsement deal for the swimmer and proposed that he star in “Harold, Kumar and Michael Phelps Go to White Castle.”
And so on and so on.
Breakfast cereal giant Kellogg dropped its endorsement deal with Phelps because of the controversy. But most of his major sponsors, including Visa, Speedo, luxury Swiss watchmaker Omega and sports beverage PureSport’s maker Human Performance Labs, have stood by the athlete, according to news reports.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

At Life Time Fitness, sometimes you’re the show

Health club chain Life Time Fitness must spend a fortune on shower curtains, based on my observations at the company’s Skokie, Ill., facility.
I’ve been a member of LTF since 2004 and a while back I noticed that many of the shower curtains in the men’s locker room had small holes in them.
At first, I naively assumed that the holes were tears in the plastic from normal wear. Then it dawned on me, based on location of the holes (eye level or slightly below), that they were deliberately cut as peep holes. Duh.
When enough of the curtains get holes, LTF has to replace them. They’ve had to do this a lot at my local LTF. For Life Time Fitness, it’s a necessary cost of doing business, I guess.
Any gym is probably going to attract a few pervs.
An Internet search reveals a few other men with similar observations. They’re experiences occurred at a Life Time Fitness in Centreville, Va,; a Gold’s Gym in Austin, Texas; and an unidentified gym in New York City.
Am I bothered by the fact that some guy might be checking me out in the shower?
Not really. As Woody Allen once said in one of his movies, “Can I help it if I turn on both sexes?” (Or something to that effect.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Oscars catch the viral marketing bug



The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is using some online viral marketing to drum up interest in this year’s Oscars telecast.
With a slate of nominees heavy on art films rather than Hollywood blockbusters, this year’s movie awards ceremony could be similar to last year’s low-rated affair. So the Academy has revamped its Oscars.com Web site and created a fun interactive marketing campaign to promote what it’s calling “the biggest movie event of the year.”
At one Web site, people can create a custom video where they are the subject of an Entertainment Tonight-style gossip story. You type in your name and it appears printed on screen, on tattoos, a license plate and even protester signs throughout the fictitious news report. (See photos above featuring yours truly as a bad boy Hollywood celeb.) You can then e-mail the video to friends and family.
Will this viral marketing approach get people to tune into the Feb. 22 show? We'll see. But the Academy has its fingers crossed that this year’s show, hosted by actor Hugh Jackman, does better than last year’s show, which was the lowest rated since Nielsen began using its “people meter” measuring system in 1983, according to the New York Times.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Deadline schmeadline. Hard cutoff date for analog TV broadcasts not so firm after all

Just kidding, America. You know all those ads and public service announcements you’ve been seeing for over a year now about the last day for analog TV broadcasts being Feb. 17, 2009. Well, we weren’t serious after all.
That’s the message Congress is sending with its passage of a bill today to extend the digital television transition date by four months until June 12. President Barack Obama has pledged to sign the bill into law.
The move was strictly political. Lawmakers were worried about upsetting constituents who aren’t ready for the change. (Read: procrastinators.)
The delay will impact emergency responders who are waiting for the freed-up wireless spectrum for enhanced communications. The delay also will postpone the launch of new commercial wireless Internet services that will use some of the spectrum.
Measuring service Nielsen estimates that 5.8 million U.S. households — or 5.1% of all homes — are not ready for the upcoming transition to all-digital broadcasting. The least prepared segments of the population are African-Americans (8.7% unready), Hispanics (8.5%) and people under 35 (8.6%), Nielsen reported Feb. 5.
Households affected are those with analog TV sets that receive over-the-air programming with antennas. They need to get special converter boxes, which the federal government is subsidizing. People with cable, satellite or telco television are not affected because those services already use converter boxes.
News flash: Americans will never be 100% ready for the analog-to-digital TV switchover. Come June 12, there is likely to be a set of stubborn, lazy, ignorant or very poor people who still haven’t made the switch. I’m estimating 2% to 3% of U.S. households will not be ready by the new date. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Some police departments have too much time on their hands

A lot of stories have been written about the photo of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps smoking a bong at a November party at the University of South Carolina.
Enough already.
He fessed up and apologized. He called the behavior "regrettable," "inappropriate" and said it showed "bad judgment."
Now the Richland County, S.C., sheriff’s department is investigating the case to see if charges can be brought against Phelps.
Seriously? I can’t believe they’d waste their time investigating what is likely a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge.
Talk about demonstrating bad judgment. What’s going to be their evidence? A photo that could have been taken who knows where and who knows when. Maybe some eyewitness statements, if they’re lucky. Any hard evidence has gone up in smoke.
Doesn’t Richland County have any real criminals – murderers, rapists, pedophiles, burglars, thieves, robbers, scam artists and the like to track down? If not, I’d suggest that the department is overstaffed based on the crime rate and needs to be downsized.
The taxpayers in Richland County should be upset that the sheriff’s department is wasting resources on a nothing crime.
The time might be right to decriminalize marijuana. After all, we now have a president in Barack Obama who admits trying marijuana (and cocaine) in his teenage years. The so-called drug war has lasted decades and doesn’t have much to show for it, except overcrowded prisons.
If the government legalized marijuana, it could reap billions in taxes to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure. Tax dollars spent on law enforcement efforts to stop the cultivation and trafficking of marijuana could go to health care, including helping those people with addiction problems.
Legalizing marijuana should be seriously investigated and considered. But it would take some brave politicians to bring it up.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Cancellation of Lingerie Bowl bodes ill for nascent Lingerie Football League

The cancellation of last weekend’s Lingerie Bowl is evidence that plans for a Lingerie Football League are in trouble.
Organizers pulled the plug on Lingerie Bowl VI on Tues. Jan. 27 after weeks of problems, according to the St. Petersburg Times.
First, they had trouble finding a venue.
Then, after finding a new home at Caliente, a nudist resort near Tampa Bay, Fla., they clashed with owners who wanted the Lingerie Bowl to be “clothing optional” for attendees. Event organizers say they weren’t comfortable with having naked people at the game and Caliente didn’t want to make more parts of its resort restricted to “clothing required.”
The Lingerie Bowl, in which teams of attractive, scantily clad young women play football, was to have taken place on Sat. Jan. 31. It was then going to air on pay-per-view during the Super Bowl halftime.
Organizers of Lingerie Bowl VI had a whole year to plan for the event, but still couldn’t pull it off. Plus, the organizers didn’t even post the news on their Web site, which as of tonight still listed details of the event that never was.
It’s the second year in a row that the Lingerie Bowl has been canceled. Last year, organizers were forced to cancel the event after they failed to get special-use permits from Scottsdale, Ariz., in time, according to news reports.
That can’t bode well for plans to have a Lingerie Football League this fall.

(Photo of Chicago Bliss safety Lindsey Vecchione)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Best and worst movie trailers from Super Bowl


Who won Super Bowl XLIII?
I’d say either “Star Trek” or “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”
Yes, it was a great last-minute victory by the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they were heavily favored anyway. So, let’s turn to the commercials, which are a major part of the annual TV spectacle.
To me, the movie trailers were the most memorable and enjoyable part of the commercial breaks.
The studios promoted 11 movies during the big game. With 30-second spots costing $3 million, these are the movies that Hollywood is betting on to score big at the box office.
Trailers for the “Star Trek” franchise reboot by J.J. Abrams and the “Transformers” sequel both grabbed my attention. They were the only two I replayed on my DVR during the game. Let’s call it a tie for best movie trailer during the game.
In interviews, Abrams says he looked more to the original “Star Wars” films for inspiration for his young Kirk, Spock and McCoy movie than the previous “Star Trek” films. That was probably a wise move. The Star Trek universe has gotten too bogged down with its own mythology. Judging from the trailer, Abrams obviously wants to deliver a fun space adventure.
The “Transformers” sequel looks like another mega-budget, action-packed, explosion-filled picture from Michael Bay. Although it was hard to tell what was going on in the trailer, it had enough robot-on-robot fighting and Megan Fox to keep the fanboys happy.
Two issues though: One, although I really liked the first chapter, I’m not sure there’s much else they can do with these Transformer movies. Probably just new robots and new locales to destroy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the filmmakers are going to hit the law of diminishing returns.
Two, everyone’s going to call this movie “Transformers 2.” So why not just call it that? Instead of the pretentious, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” This ain’t “The Lord of the Rings.”
I’d also give thumbs up to the comedy “The Year One” starring Jack Black and Michael Cera and directed and co-written by the consistently funny Harold Ramis.
The worst movie trailer was probably “Land of the Lost” starring Will Farrell. Dorky and unfunny.
For technical reasons, the “Monsters Vs. Aliens” trailer was pretty unwatchable. The 3-D home viewing experience is terrible with those paper glasses with yellow and blue lenses. The colors are washed out and the 3-D experience wasn’t that compelling. It gave me a headache.
Other movies previewed during the Super Bowl included “Duplicity,” a spy rom-com starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen; “Up,” the latest Disney/Pixar animated film; “Race to Witch Mountain,” Disney’s remake of its own “Escape to Witch Mountain”; “Angels & Demons,” the follow-up to “The Da Vinci Code”; and “The Fast and the Furious,” the fourth in the street racing series.
Then there’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” starring Dennis Quaid. This trailer actually looks pretty good until the movie’s title appears. “G.I. Joe”? Who’s the target market? I’d be embarrassed to say that name at the box office window.
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