Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Nickelodeon, Sumner and Boston

I peddled high school yearbook portrait contracts in New England for 4 years in another lifetime. It was my grandfather's business in which I was lucky enough to cut my teeth on sales experience. My territory covered eastern Massachusetts, from New Hampshire to Providence. I remember calling on every school in the area, whether it was one we had under contract or not. Boston Latin High School was one of them.

Years prior to my endeavors in the greater Boston area, a guy graduated Boston Latin, went to Harvard, and would up in the military in WWII and then went on to work in his father's business--movie theater exhibiting. After years of success in expanding that enterprise, Sumner Redstone acquired several companies which he turned into world-class conglomerates, and he still heads two of them: CBS and Viacom.

How's my connection in Boston with Sumner's entrepreneurial ubber-success? As a graduate of Boston University with a Master's Degree in film production, I was invited to a "Conversation with Sumner Redstone" tonight at Paramount Studios in Hollywood--the oldest and most successful movie studio and owned, of course, by Viacom--Sumner Redstone.

So there I went to hear what this utter success of risky ventures has to say about how it's done. In a state-of-the-art theater that holds 580 people, most seats were empty. I felt real privileged in an intimate sort of way, to hear what this self-made guy thought of about how to become self-made. He had nothing to offer about that. His concern was about copyright violations and digital piracy--at his age of 84, I thought he'd be more concerned about how best to digest his next restaurant meal. No--Sumner is into his business and loves everything about it. If only his billions could buy back a few years so he could continue to have the fun he is obviously enjoying.

And that's when I realized why I went to this affair--I thought I might promote my blog or my wife's book--no, I was intended to be present to hear the one thing Sumner said that resonates and will resonate for my whole life: anyone can follow his or her dreams in this country, and see them fulfilled, regardless of ethnicity, back ground, or anything. That was the real message, although I think Mr. Redstone wanted us all to concentrate more on anti-piracy.

Oh--Nickelodeon along with MTV are huge world-wide entities--Mr. Redstone said when he bought Viacom he was told by "Wall Street" they were a flash in the pan. As was Viacom itself. MTV is watched by 1 billion people worldwide, and Nickelodeon is one of the top networks....

I am inspired to follow my dreams--how about you?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Writers Strike/Iraq War-Get Me the Numbers

Numbers are a funny thing. A headline recently indicated that the universe weighs less than was thought:

Revised calculations indicate the universe contains less normal and dark matter than previously thought, resulting in a "weight loss" of 10 to 20 percent.

I can't really comprehend what that means--I took my family on a whale-watch boat off Dana point, California last year, and we saw Blue Whales, the largest animal on the planet, which were over 100 feet long and weighed hundreds of tons--I couldn't tangibly grasp that concept, how am I going to do the whole universe?

As I try to get a grip on thse numbers, I read tonight that Jay Leno and David Letterman are giving up huge sums of income because they are not getting paid during the Writer's Guild Strike against the AMPTP:

The TV writers' strike is costing David Letterman and Jay Leno more than $100,000 a night each.
Because the late-night stars have stayed off the job since the walkout began last week, CBS and NBC have stopped paying them, according to TV-industry sources who asked not to be identified and are close to both hosts.

I made $100,000 over several years once, when I was younger and smarter. Most people don't make what these guys make in a year, in a lifetime. While the actions of Leno and Letterman are admirable in favor of the writers who, after all, provide the CONTENT of everything we watch on TV and at the movies, the "numbers" of dollars in actuality are hard on which to get a reality grip...

Forget about everything you have read so far--universe weight included--there are no human brains big enough to wrap around the numbers of Chris Dickey's latest foray into costs of the US incursion in Iraq:

As calculated by the Democratic side of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress and released Tuesday, the direct costs of the Iraq war from 2003 through 2008 will be $607 billion. If you add indirect costs ranging from interest payments and deferred investments, oil prices and medical care for thousands of veterans who've lost their health, limbs, faces, eyes and, in some cases, their minds, you're talking about roughly $1.3 trillion over the same six-year span.

In an effort to make those figures comprehensible, the committee tells us that for "the $432 million we spend in Iraq every day"—note, that is $432 million a day, per diem, seven days a three-billion-dollar week, or, looking at it another way, $18 million an hour, $300,000 a minute, $5,000 a second, and so on, ad nauseam—we could enroll 58,000 children in Head Start, hire 9,300 more teachers, or provide health insurance for 513,000 low-income kids. But … why would we want to do any of that? Sounds too much like "tax and spend" and "soft on security." Social responsibility doesn't sell at the polls or on the Hill.

OK. For the price of one day in the death of Iraq, according to the committee's calculations, we could hire 10,700 Border Patrol agents or 14,200 police officers in the United States. But would our Congress and our president ever pass such bills? Would the American people vote for such programs? Nah. Hard to imagine. The Bush administration has bet that most Americans feel pretty comfortable, and pretty safe, just the way they are, and so far it's been right.

The Joint Economic Committee and its Democratic chairman, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, tell us that the first half-decade of the Iraq war is costing each American family of four $16,500. If the politicians had really wanted to make an impression, they should have appealed to our selfishness. With that kind of money, Mr. and Ms. Average and their kids could put a flat-screen TV, or two, in every room of the house, or buy that third or fourth car they've been wanting. Maybe that would get a rise out of the American public. Clearly the loss of 4,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq hasn't had that much of an impact.

And you thought the universe was heavy!!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Waterboarding & Injustice in Public Schools

Couple of items today seem totally unconnected to me are right on the front burner one-and-the-same:

I my former congressional district in Orange County, which is so hugely overrun with republicans, there lives a courageous, or maybe foolhardy, or even fun-loving, democratic opposition candidate without a prayer of being elected to the US House of Representatives--and because of this "hopeless" dream, and his drive and determination and commitment--he probably will be!

Steve Young sent an email today describing the incumbent's stand on the AG nomination and waterboarding:

Today my Republican opponent made a statement on waterboarding that I felt you need to see. The Daily Pilot, a local insert in the Los Angeles Times has a weekly feature entitled "That's Debatable." The feature poses a question and asks John Campbell [R,Ca-48] to answer. Today's question was:

"Michael B. Mukasey, the nominee for attorney general, has been criticized for his views on interrogation techniques, specifically his comments on waterboarding. But Mukasey has said he would enforce a law banning waterboarding if Congress approved it. Do you think if he is confirmed as the next attorney general Congress should move swiftly to approve a law banning waterboarding, and would you vote for such a law?"

Of course Campbell did not answer the question whether he would vote to ban waterboarding, but his dancing in a buffalo heard answer is even more revealing:

"Waterboarding is a psychological interrogation technique that does not inflict physical pain or permanent damage. Nonetheless, it is reserved only for the worst terrorists who have information that could save dozens, hundreds or thousands of American lives. I do not think it is an excessive response to the threats that we face in the world today. John Campbell Congressman (R-Newport Beach)"

I doubt that Campbell would vote to ban a "psychological interrogation technique" he sees as so important and that does not inflict pain nor risk of death. Campbell is wrong.

Waterboarding induces panic and suffering by forcing a person to inhale water into the sinuses, pharynx, larynx, trachea, and lungs. The head is tilted back and water is poured into the upturned mouth or nose. Eventually the subject cannot exhale more air or cough out more water, the lungs are collapsed, and the sinuses and trachea are filled with water. The subject is drowned from the inside, filling with water from the head down. The chest and lungs are kept higher than the head so that coughing draws water up and into the lungs while avoiding total suffocation. "His suffering must be that of a man who is drowning, but cannot drown."

Mr. Campbell, if waterboarding does not inflict pain or death, why is it effective? If it does not inflict pain or death why was a Texas sheriff convicted under Governor George Bush of using waterboarding? Mr. Campbell, if waterboarding is not painful, and does not threaten death, will you Mr. Campbell agree to be waterboarded so we know you are not mistaken?

I can see why I wouldn't want to have this torture done to me! Now let me tell you about my 10 year old daughter who got in my car when I picked her up from public school today crying. She is in an advanced class for gifted children (not our choice--it's state-mandated based on testing) and has one teacher in the morning, and a different one from 11:30 til dismissal at 2:34 PM. (Seems like a long day to me for pre-teens, although we all went through it didn't we...)

The morning teacher has issues and is not a happy person, and this reflects on the children. The late-morning afternoon teacher is completely the opposite and the children also relate to that. Today, the MORNING teacher was there for the entire day. She set up rules for the mis-behaving students who would not "settle down" so that the whole class had to forfeit recess time, lunch time, and had to stay AFTER closing time, even those students who were not "talking out of turn," or otherwise disrupting the order-at-hand.

My daughter was upset about this seeming injustice--even the disruptive students should not have to lose precious recess minutes and lunch time etc. So she was in tears about this when I picked her up.

I have read a few books about the US public school system, written by experts on education and learning, rather than by school administrators. It has become clear to me that our public school system and curriculum is outdated and arcane compared to what experts know about how to teach. There are even books written about the harmful effects of homework on young children and why they should be allowed to play with their friends rather than be sequestered in their homes doing repetitive math exercises.

I dropped my daughter at home and drove back to the school and confronted her teacher as she was leaving. I told her that my daughter was excited to get to school early today, as every day, and wound up in tears because of her teacher's actions. This teacher told me I had to explain to my daughter about the "real world," and consequences etc I can't go on...

This teacher and I had a difference of opinion, but the teacher is also pretty burnt out and even admitted it. I told her I could not do the job she has chosen, and I respected what her goals and challenges are.

Waterboarding and children in school--while the media reports on the interesting and obnoxious controversy over whether it's OK for US foreign intel to torture possible anti-American antagonists, and while the definition of torture is up-for-grabs even though I think yelling at your children is a form of torture--aren't we all jerking ourselves off with these pandering news issues while the real problems of American society run downhill like water from a broken dam: arcane public school curricula, health care for everyone, bigotry and racism every day, homeless fellow citizens in the richest country in the world, forays in the middle east and elsewhere not backed by the American voter/taxpayer?

How convenient for the sponsored media to have waterboarding to distract and entertain us in order to sell soap and cereal. Waterboarding as torture is not acceptable, but instead of interrogating the appointee for US Attorney General in congress, and showing this spectacle on TV for hours, we the people should concern oursleves with the issues affecting our lives, and our children's future! Now!