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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sunday Morning News and Views


January 31, 2010

News: Lighter Side

Only 40% of healthcare workers in this country wash their hands when they should. The truth is the protocol calls for washing hands before you see a patient and after you see them, far more often than in any other industry including food service. Some hospitals have wireless devices using badges to record if hands were washed when they should be, track time with each patient and potentially track movements.

Thorton Wilder’s 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning play “Our Town” is the most produced play in America. There have been 4,000 professional productions in the last decade alone, with more licensed productions in schools and community theaters than any other play published. The small details of our lives, the subtle interactions and our love of small town and simple America keep brining audiences, actors and artist to Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Paul Newman, William Holden, Dustin Hoffman and just about every star, of both sexes, have done “Our Town” at least once in their career. The play celebrates the ordinary overlooked details of life, and how we do not even think about how we live our lives, about the moments of our lives we fail to think about or see that make up the wealth of our lives. The message is universal, transcending generation, media and even cultural experience.

Yes, I have been in “Our Town.” I played Joe Crowell the paperboy my freshman year of high school. The other paperboy my brother in the play, was Sean Grennan, who went on to a life long career as an actor and playwright. Sean is now living in New York City, with his wife who is currently on stage in “Wicked”.

Another crack in the glass ceiling as Kathryn Bigalow has won the Directors Guild of America’s top award for “The Hurt Locker”, reinforcing that pictures position as the favorite to earn the best picture Oscar. Bigalow is the first woman to take her professions top motion picture prize. It also makes the 58-year-old seasoned veteran the leader to earn the Oscar for “Best Director”. She edged out James Cameron and new all time box office champion “Avatar”, Jason Reitman and “Up in the Air”, Lee Daniels and “Precious”, and Quinton Tarantino and “Inglorious Bastards”.  The DGA winner has earned the directors Oscar all but six times in the Guild’s sixty-year history.

The Producers Guild also named “The Hurt Locker” Best Picture. When both Guilds select the same picture, that picture has never lost the Academy’s Oscar for Best Picture.

What is American music? The Great American songbook, filled with melodies that have haunted for years? Broadways storied history? Rock and Roll? Rap music? Hip hop? Blues and jazz? America has led the world in popular music trends, borrowing as cultures migrate to our shores, adapting their cultures and sounds. We also borrow form previous generations, with modern audiences refusing to believe that their artists are performing jazz, blues, or cultural standards in their own adapted way.

The Greatest Generation defied their parents with the music of a handful of big bands and crooners, using record players and radio. Baby boomers had the experiences of the Kennedy Administration, the Viet Nam War, hippies, Woodstock and disillusionment orchestrated through a limited number of radio stations and the evolution from 45’s to cassettes and 8 Tracks.

With downloads, the Internet and new ways of listening to music the popular standards may be dying forever.  There are fewer and fewer super bands, stadium filling acts and popular artists who appeal across a wide range of America’s diversity of age and culture. How will we define the soundtrack of our lives, and the commonalities now that we have less in common than generations before?

A journalism major from Virginia, Caressa Cameron, was crowed Miss America last night at Planet Hollywood here in Las Vegas. She performed Beonce’s “Listen” from “Dreamgirls” and advised children to get outside more often.

On February 17th a mystery of the ages will be revealed. The DNA and catscan results of a study of the mummy of King Tut (Tutankamun) will reveal his lineage. Also to be announced will be the results of what a robot finds as it travels into the Great Pyramid of Khufu exploring hidden passageways.

While the African cup of what we call soccer dominated the BBC, here in the US news that Roger Federer has won his 16th Grand Slam title, beating And Murray in the Australian Open leads the headline.

Health

Studies are showing that even minor exercise improves muscle health; the ability to think clearly, memory, reduced unneeded aggression, helps the heart and may reduce the dangers of diabetes or heart disease. Mild exercise increases the oxygen flow and with it nutrients and other elements your body needs to remain healthy. Rushing around and coffee do not help. It takes consistent and often simple exercise for twenty minutes to forty minutes a day, as few as four days a week.

As the muscles move they use Oxygen to liberate the energy, which is energy that is used instead of stored as sugar and fat. Walking up stairs, parking away from the stores, enjoying a park or beach, mild but consistent walking the dog…

The trick is to find out your target heart rate zone and stay in it for twenty minutes. It is not that hard, but knowing the zone, finding the time and motivation to exercise and then not blowing it by eating wrong are difficult and could require a larger life style change.

As you age you lose one to two percent of fitness a year, with greater loss if you gain weight.

13,000 women in there 50’s were studied in groups over periods of years. They were studied for twenty years. Moderately brisk walkers were 90% more likely to be free of major disease then those who did not exercise moderately for twenty minutes a day five days a week (cancer and arthritis were exempted).

When children are made to exercise moderately and non-competitively in school, aggression is reduced and study skills within three hours of the exercise improve. It is the old adage of “working out” your anger and aggression, or “taking the time to think things through.”

Exercise can be thought of as a drug. 30% of the billions of dollars spent on care for chronic diseases could be saved if Americas took simples steps.

I know it is not that easy. Schedule, mental blocks, physical limitations and simple attitude get in the way, and very easily.

iPad
The iPad was featured on NPR and on CBS news this morning. Mixed reviews for now, but much anticipation of the future Apple is only now launching. “Its’ nice”, with a good touch pad feature, color books, interactive books, textbooks with interactive features and easy to read. Live television is coming in the near future, but for now it is a video, audio, internet, e-mail, limited computer programs, books, text and, of course, aps.

Mac is expected to partner with educational publishers to make the iPad a must have for students, who could read their textbooks on any computer, but who will find it cleaner, easier and interactive if they do so on their Mac iPad. This is a return to Apple’s educational focus, which lost momentum when low-cost large computer companies such as Gateway and Dell aggressively moved in using the “save money” and free with “service contract” sales strategies.

On the downside, NPR pointed to the three “no’”.

“No camera, no phone, no flash” (flash web feature for animation on some sites).

There is also concern about potential encryption on books or television shows, eliminating sharing on multiple devices.

The verdict: So far the iPad is not revolutionary device. It will take a while for it to catch on and build.

Go to Weekend Edition Sunday or NPR.org/soapbox to view Steve Jobs 1984 presentation launching the original Mac.

Amazon.com has given in to publishers and will end its practice of selling best sellers as e-books for $9.00 each, a price that could lose publishers and authors billions of dollars. The surrender comes due to an agreement with Apple to sell books for its new iPad for prices set by the publisher. The price may go up one to as much as much as six dollars a bestseller title.

It remains to be seeing if Wal-Mart, which could care less if authors make money off their creative works, will stop its “war” with Amazon and increase its prices.



Finance

Toyota built its reputation on reliability. Now they face the largest recalls, cumulatively, in history, over two issues, both potentially fatal.

Honda faced its own problems with recalls and declining sales in 2009.

Japan is facing pressure from its Asian rivals. Sony may have to file bankruptcy. Japan Air suffered a major setback when many of its planes were grounded for safety issues. Korea and other Asian countries are undercutting production costs, causing layoffs and loss of “face” for many Japanese companies and workers.

I remember the time when Japan was the major exporter of low cost goods ten evolved into an engineering and manufacturer of quality products. There was a time when the perception was that Japan was buying up America, owning Universal Studios, major advertising agencies, Japanese cars “took over” the market (with several Japanese makes actually have more American parts and workers in their construction then their America counterparts) and popular media making it look as if we were all “turning Japanese.”

France has passed a law requiring four out of the, 40%, of the board members on any French company be women. The law was passed proposed by the conservative party with support from the communist, and is intended to help boost French productivity and jobs. France faces the highest unemployment for citizens under 35 in Europe.

Only 16% of the French legislature is women. Studies confirm the companies were the boards are at least one-third women are more productive and do stimulate employment.

The theory is that there will be changes at the strategic center of companies where hiring, compensation, career opportunities and work place conditions are decided. France has one of the lowest percentages of women on board in the Europe, at fewer than 8%, on a par with Turkey. In Norway a law has been in place for over a decade requiring gender equality, raising women on corporate board to over 40%.

The percentage of women on the boards of Fortune 500 companies is under fifteen percent.  

The World Economic Forum wraps up in Davos, Switzerland today, where international ecconomist are optimistic, but still uncertain of the short-term future. Investment of funds is being held back while waiting for new demand and the stability they are predicting but not acting upon. China and the emerging markets are looked upon as the hero at Davos, sought after and seen as the countries to lead the world out of the recession, not the traditional savior the United States. This represents a major shift in the position of the US in the world economy. Reporting on the Wall Street Journal Report were Harvard University’s Ken Rogoff and the former White House Economic Advisor University of California’s Laura Tyson.

Billionaire financier George Soros believes that if the US had not acted fast the way it did, with bailouts and stimulus funds, the world could have seen a depression. He credits the US, and to a lesser extent major European governments, with reversing the downward trend, which he now sees in a bumpy stability, not yet on the upswing.

Soros is behind a plan to help developing countries go green, with the help of the developed world. There is resistance in the United States because of a lack of congressional approval. He says in these days we only talk in trillions. So his over one billion dollars of his own money invested in green technology is just a start. We need to find a way to take carbon out of coal, build up solar energy, and harness the oceans and the wind. He is not a believer in the use of atomic energy.

Soros says the economy has begun to move forward, but it is only moving forward because of the stimulus. Again congress is the major obstacle to further positive growth, with concerns about the deficit, national debt and properly addressing spiraling health care costs. Constitutional limitations of various US states, keeping them from having a deficit legally, will prolong the recession in the US and could spill over into the international economy. He feels investment banking must be separated from commercial banking.  China is overheating, with cut backs needed due to inflation and a lack of capital reserves. Civil rights are an issue as well.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan believes massive humanitarian aid to earthquake ravaged Haiti is essential for the word economy, as well as the soul of the international community. It will drain or slow some of the world’s growth, but without helping Haiti we face long-term questions, issues and expenses that will be much worse.  Effective coordination is needed, with as many as one third of the countries population directly effected by the earthquake. Over two million residents need direct assistance. The infrastructure must be rebuilt. Annan says for the first time he is hearing leaders and investors talking about long term development, requiring over ten years of solid work and investment. In the past we have patched failed states up after an election then forget them. He says that modern day Somalia, the Taliban’s Afghanistan and the bases of world terrorism resulted from quick fixes instead of long term investment.

International News

Haitian officials are suspending all international adoptions following fears of child trafficking. There is precedence. During and after wars in El Salvador and elsewhere many children were adopted without the permission of their parents, one or both of whom were still alive. A US missionary and 33 children are being held in Haiti because the attempted to cross into the Dominican Republic without the proper papers.


On Africa, Kofi Annan says that the continent is growing economically at a rate of 5% a year, which is remarkable. There are blockages in infrastructure, built to serve colonial masters and geared to flow to the coasts. There are political blockages. There is the trend of decrease in investments due to the world economy, although China and India are increasing their investments there. He says increased cooperation between African nations has improved living conditions in large areas of the continent.

Britain has files suit against China for espionage, Internet fraud, unfair business practices and a long list of other alleged organized attacks against the British economy and British citizens.

The leader of the Taliban in Pakistan is dead of wounds suffered in an attack by the US. Hakimullah Mehsud dies of injuries suffered from a US Drone attack, launched in retaliation for the suicide bombing that killed seven CIA employees, an attack he allegedly ordered.

The price tag for creating jobs will exceed $100 billion dollars, according to Obama spokesperson Robert Gibbs, who told CNN part of the cost of the plan includes tax breaks for small businesses to increase their work force.

Relief workers in Haiti are now handing out food coupons to women only, to assure that the weakest are no longer left out in mobs of mostly men who grab the provisions.

Afghanistan’s president is inviting the Taliban to lay down its arms and work with the government. He is making it clear that his offer of reconciliation does not extend to terrorists.

Face the Nation
Guest this week on CBS’s “Face the Nation” are…
Republican Senator Haley Barbour of Mississippi
Democratic Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania
Demoratic Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan
And Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota

On the president’s call for a “tone of civility” instead of “slash and burn” is needed in Washington. Senator Barbour says it is the president and the Democrats that are being uncivil and refusing to listen to sound policy from the Republicans. Of course the Democratic governors feel the opposite.

On the president’s call for jobs to be the number one priority, Michigan Governor Granholm faces almost a 15% unemployment rate statewide, much higher in Detroit. The deficit and health care in important, but jobs are urgent. Republican Senator Thune says that the massive health care expansion needs to be put on the shelf while we work on small businesses and avoid the proposals that the president has put forward, which he calls “job killers.” He feels the president’s agenda is far to the left.

On Scott Brown’s election, the Republicans say he is a moderate Republican who will kept the Democrats from “ramming things down America’s throat.”

The Democrats said that thirty minutes after the president completed his olive branch with Republicans at their retreat, the party put our a war-like message on strong party-line requirements and attacked the president with both barrels.

Rendell says the tea party movement is fired up more by frustration and the loss of jobs, then deficit and health care. Their organizers may hand feed them lines and signs, but the anger is much deeper and not in the area being painted in the media.

Barbour says the tea party folks are good folks and should be welcomed into the Republican Party with open arms.

The Democrats say that those facing unemployment are more concerned about finding jobs and having health insurance than the deficit, national debt, taxes or any of the key Republican issues. They are angry at both parties for not taking actions quickly, for forgetting their needs and for being deadlocked at their expense.

Ann Kornburth of CBS and Jim  Vanderhei of Politico took a look at the jobs bill. Republican objections are general and not specific, which indicates a lack of commitment to alienating groups that may benefit from the bill.

Vanderei observed “there is no way the Republicans want to work with Obama on anything..they are looking at polls and the fall elections in drawing clear lines against Obama and the Democrats because they feel they can win back the house in the fall…we want to defeat him on each and every issue.”

Kornburth says the message is that 65% of the voters who voted for Scott Brown want Scott Brown to work with Democrats to make break a deadlock and make things happen, including on health care and jobs bills. The vote was, she says, more against the governor of the state and the way the Democratic Party has been unable to make things happen despite a clear majority in both houses of Congress.

Obama has to break the logjam, or his party will lose serious ground in the fall. Since Republicans know this, there seems to be no chance of compromise or anything but block voting in the Senate, and a divided by issue and geographic needs Democratic party in the house. Both reporters feel that due to Republican politics ad division within both parties, there is only slim hope for the Democrats and for any progress in American government, despite the desperate needs of the American people. Not good news for America.

Monitization of Music

 NPR reports that The band KISS has come a long way from selling t-shirts and albums. Now, when you go to one of their concerts, you can leave with a recording of the show on a thumb drive. This kind of marketing has become a necessity, not an option, for a lot of acts. With record sales on the decline, musicians are searching for more creative ways to peddle their tunes.

"Monitization" is the key word in the music industry. How to keep the industry paying for itself and profitable in age when the album and CD sales revenue is on the decline, and audiences are not paying for huge concert venue appearances at premium prices.

Thumb flash drives of a concert for concertgoers who stay for the entire concert. Discounts at on-line stores with the code on your ticket stub. Online streaming such as Spots5 and We7 in Europe. Incentives offered for spending money on a band and its music are growing in cost with little proven return for the artists.

Marketing data captured from scanned ticket data, data recovered from a fan's web use, "Unreleased" studio recordings offered as teasers for free, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, charity events and performances, media appearances, downloads, file sharing,  phone aps, Google ads, You Tube and other marketing techniques are necessary, time consuming and have yet to really prove their profitability.

As with the hotel casinos here in Las Vegas, making money in the music industry is more of a gamble than ever. You have to roll the dice but no one is sure where the money will come from or when.

The person who creates a system that will work now that the pay for play and record sales models of the recording industry are drying up, will become a very popular and potentially rich woman or man!

Who is that old lady at White House Press Coferences?

Helen Thomas is a bad-ass lady. She is still working 70 hours a week at the age of 89. Of course she has the reputation of being a.....when she was in her thirties.  Nothing changed.

The Washington Press Corps reporter still sits front and center at White House Press Conferences, after over 50 years covering the president, staring with President Eisenhower. She holds the honorary title of "Dean of the Press Corp"

Her depth of knowledge on world and domestic affairs is unequaled. He knowledge of the public and private lives of ten US presidents is unmatched. She is a champion of Freedom of the Press and the accountability of elected officials. This endeared her to many presidents and all but shut her out from other presidents.

She is respected by her fellow reporters, and often resented by some of the younger ones seeking career advancement or credit for breaking stories. Her insight is respected my other reporters and often feared by presidential press secretaries and presidents alike.

The media is getting tougher, more penetrating, and more critical than at any time in the past. They look for fault rather then truth, and the truth is far more interesting and revealing. She asks long and often combative questions, taking time from other journalist and sometimes keeping them from asking the questions they want to ask. Other reporters say she is "great with the one-two punch."

She became the first woman in the White House Press Corp, the first woman to head a wire service Washington Bureau, the first woman to enter the National Press Club, the Gridiron Club and other milestones. She does not take credit, pointing to other women who helped beat the doors down. She said she was "The Man Who Came to Dinner", she would just show up and say "this is my beat," and not move or leave.

Today these clubs are social, but "in that era if you were not in those rooms, you could not get a story."

She feels "everything belongs in the public domain, except for where the atomic arsenal is."

She is ashamed that the press had a "lack of guts" with President Bush said we were going to war "and nobody asked him why...we let the country down."

"President's don't like to have news conferences...they are presidents. How dare you question them and their motives."

If the president or press secretary is evading another questions valid question, she has their back, moving in and not accepting no for an answer.

She also has fun with her celebrity, as shown during a press corp charity baseball game, and in her frequent appearences in movies and on television.

"Listen Up Mr Pesident" is her latest book, her diatrab on teh role of the media "Watchdogs of Domocracy," was published in 2006.

A party was held in Washington last night to celebrate her 50 years covering Washington. NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday was there. 

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Storied Pasadena Playhouse to Close

 Photo: The Pasadena Playhouse is a state historical landmark that has seen many future and current stars pass through its doors. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Named the official California state theater in 1937, The Pasadina Playhouse will shut its door February 7th.  The Los Angeles Times says the Pasadena Playhouse is almost $2 million in debt, and that a bankruptcy filing is possible. Founded in 1917, the theater has seen world premiers and American premiers of many of the most famous theater works of the century, and been the stage home for Hollywood stars from the silent era to today. While fund raising continues, decline in private endowments and the financial situation of the state mean that this world famous theater may become the latest victim of this great recession. America and Americans are among the lowest in support of the arts on a per person average. The potential closure was also reported in SAGWATCH, Variety, the Hollywood Reporter and other media.


A Facebook Group has been launched to try and save the playhouse.

Cheech And Chong Reunite, At Long Last 

 

The "Get it Legal" tour is underway, reuniting Cheech and Chong for the first time in 25 years for a series of concert stage appearances, and specials. They became comedy sensations in the early 1970's with strong refernces to drugs, sex, Chicano culture, hippies, music and politics. Their movies are classics. NPR's All Things Considered interviewed the two friends on Friday.