POVonline

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Recommended Viewing

I finally got around to watching the recent Bill Moyers special, Buying the War, which is about how the Iraq War was "sold" to the American people, how the press went along with it and how even a lot of prominent Democrats fell right in line with the narrative.

A lot of pro-Bush folks are quite upset at this show...and I suppose that if one is still clinging to the idea that our leaders did everything right, I understand that. I can also understand why newsfolks and pundits whose faulty predictions and disproven "facts" are reaired would be upset. (Nothing seems to upset Bill O'Reilly more than having someone haul out his old words.) I'm not sure though why anyone who can get past the "our team" mentality is bothered by anything other than the long, sad litany of how our leaders — Republican and Democrat, in the press and out — screwed up. Interestingly enough, a friend of mine who's still gung ho and supportive of the Iraq War urged me to watch Buying the War. He thinks the U.S. did the right thing to take out Hussein but is mad that it was justified with fibs and incompetent reporting.

You can decide for yourself since the whole thing can be watched online at this site. You can also watch Moyers' weekly show online on this page. He has a nice interview up with Jon Stewart, which includes the host of The Daily Show reflecting on his recent, contentious interview with John McCain. You might also enjoy Moyers' interview with Joshua Micah Marshall, the Master Blogger I quoted here the other day. I don't know how long these videos will be up but last night here, I told you about a program called Orbit Downloader which can be used to capture the video clip to your harddisk for later viewing.

Nothing above, by the way, should be taken to infer that I've changed my view that public money should not be used for television programming. I watch a lot of things on PBS but I still don't agree with the idea of government funding of the arts.

Posted at 7:29 PM · LINK

Boom-Boom Remembered

I don't think this link will work for very long but while it's operative, you might want to read the 2001 profile of late Jack Valenti that ran in The New Yorker. Mr. Valenti had an amazing life and during the decades that he worked for the Motion Picture Association of America, he served that organization well. This is not to say I liked all or even most of what he did, which included consolidating the majors in ways that would suppress the minors and step on unions. Before that, he served a flawed Chief Executive who did a lot of damage. Jack Valenti is the man who said in 1965, "I sleep each night a little better, a little more confidently because Lyndon Johnson is my President." A lot of us were glad someone did.

I'm sorry that I have no great Jack Valenti anecdotes to report here. I met him twice for a grand total of about three minutes and the only thing I recall is that I asked him which was tougher — working for the studio heads he then served or working for Lyndon Johnson. His precise response has long since escaped my memory but I recall noting it was a very measured, political answer. He was just talking to a jerky kid, not a reporter, but he still wanted to make sure he didn't say the wrong thing. I guess that's why he lasted as long as he did in both those jobs.

Posted at 4:28 PM · LINK

The Mouse Marches On!

A great old Disney tradition fades away. The corporation is getting rid of the name "Buena Vista" wherever it was used on business enterprises.

Posted at 3:55 PM · LINK

It's In The Bag!

A childhood memory. During the early sixties, my family (Mother + Father + me) used to drive down to San Diego every summer to visit my Uncle Henry and Aunt Tillie, and to go to the zoo. Nowadays, I drive down to San Diego every summer to attend a big mother of a comic convention which is also kind of a zoo but that's another matter. Back then, we made those trips...and my Father drove at a leisurely pace, stopping off a half-dozen times along the way so it took all day. I was in the back seat with a pile of comic books I'd acquired but refrained from reading so I could enjoy them on the trip.

One year, we stopped off at a little lunch place in Long Beach and then went into a nearby drugstore to get a few items we needed. There, I saw a large, well-filled display of Comicpacs — a whole rack of plastic bags of DC Comics. In each, you got four comics which then sold individually for twelve cents each, and you got them for the amazing discounted price of forty-seven cents. Only it really wasn't a bargain because the store there charged sales tax, which they didn't do at newsstands where comics were sold without the plastic bags. There was also the obvious drawback that you could only see one of the four comics you were buying. What if the other three were books you didn't like? Or worse, books you already owned?

I had so many comics, the odds were I'd wind up with dupes but I still decided to gamble. I bought one package where the visible comic was one I didn't have — a recent issue of Superman I'd somehow missed. As luck would have it, two of the other three were comics I not only owned, they were in my pile to read on that trip.

That was why Comicpacs did not work for me. Insofar as I could tell, they didn't work for anyone. Several companies in the sixties tried selling comics in packs of three or four and every attempt was a failure.

I now understand why the companies tried it. Their regular comic offerings were on a returnable basis. Newsstands got them, in effect, on consignment. If they sold, the newsstand made a few pennies. If they didn't sell, the stand shipped them back and the publisher ate the cost of printing...but it was worse than that because if the comic got damaged or frayed on the rack, it could get shipped back and the publisher was out the cost of printing it. Or if the newsstand got cluttered and the dealers just decided to return books a few days after they went on sale — or not to even put them out at all — the publisher was out. At one point, DC considered an acceptable sale of a comic to be a 50% sale, meaning that they'd print 400,000 and sell 200,000. Not an efficient way to do business.

That whole system pretty much crashed and burned during the seventies. Some comics are still distributed that way but not many. Most go through an alternate system of non-returnable distribution that replaced it and saved the industry...but that came later. The bagged comics were the sixties' attempt to sell comics on a non-returnable basis. A store got a shipment and the bags stayed on the racks until they sold, whether it was one month or six or longer. Often it was longer.

It never worked for most publishers, though Western Publishing (aka Gold Key Comics) had better luck than most because Western was a giant in selling activity books, puzzle books, jigsaw puzzles and books for kids. That gave them momentum with many kinds of stores and national chains, and they were able to sell their bagged comics at the same time. The problem was, as I learned in the seventies when I worked for Western, that they were sometimes too successful selling the books...which meant that they were not successful enough. That sentence obviously needs a heap of explaining so let me try to do so by example...

You have a store and I'm a salesguy for Western Publishing. I do a great job of convincing you to buy bagged comics from me to sell in your shop. Let's say we consummate this deal in January. In March, we deliver to you a crate of 300 units, each unit being a plastic bag containing the March issues of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck, with the Bugs Bunny in the front and therefore visible to consumers. I've made a tidy profit but I've also trapped myself out from selling you more. It may take you six months or a year to sell enough of those 300 bags so that you'll want to order additional bags containing other books. All that time, kids who might buy those other packs are looking at your display and saying, "Oh, I have that issue of Bugs Bunny." And they don't buy.

And if by some chance, I do get you to order more bagged comics before you're out of the previous shipment, we find that the two selections work against each other. You get in a crate of units that contain the July issues of Woody Woodpecker, Scooby Doo, Pink Panther and Yosemite Sam with the Yosemite Sam in the front and you put them on display alongside all the bags you still have from the earlier shipment. What we then find (what Western found) is that consumers would look at the two bags and worry that they contained the same comics in a different order. And when they thought that way, research found, they tended to view the whole product with suspicion and not buy anything.

In the seventies, Western's newsstand distribution was dying. They were selling so poorly in some states that they simply pulled their wares off the racks in those regions because they were getting so many returns. (So were DC and Marvel but unlike Western, DC and Marvel received revenues when their characters were merchandised. They owned Superman and Spider-Man, whereas Western did not own most of the characters in their comics. So there was no point in putting out books that were, in essence, loss leaders for licensing.) Western tried hard to make the plastic bags work. They built special displays and they tried putting stickers on the bags that told you what was inside. They even had their salespeople talk stores out of ordering too many of one bag and they experimented with limited returnability. Still, the distribution method never succeeded and when they finally gave up on it, they gave up publishing comic books at all.

I could have told them it wouldn't work. I could have told them that back when I was ten and going to San Diego with my parents. I didn't want to buy my comics in plastic bags and as it turned out, neither did almost anyone else. We want to buy our comics on an individual basis. And then we take them home and put them into plastic bags. That's how it's done.

Posted at 2:40 PM · LINK

Today's Video Link

This is silent home movie footage of Stan Laurel at his apartment in the Oceana Apartments out in Santa Monica. He spends most of it admiring the Academy Award he received in 1961 for — and I quote: "Creative Pioneering in the Field of Cinema Comedy." Laurel did not attend the ceremony due to poor health so Danny Kaye accepted for him. Stan was quite proud of the award — as you may be able to tell in this film — although he did nickname it "Mr. Clean."

In the years after Oliver Hardy died, Laurel made no public appearances despite many offers. He told visitors to his home that he was afraid audiences would be disappointed to see him as an old man. He doesn't look bad to me in this film. Matter of fact, he still looks like a very alive, able performer. See what you think.

Posted at 1:01 AM · LINK

Software You May Need

When I see or hear something I like on the Internet, I like to save a copy to my harddisk. Streaming audio and video, after all, has the tendency to go away. So how do you do this? Here are some tips but they're only for PC users, I'm afraid.

I've tried a number of ways to save videos from sites like YouTube and Google Video. The best thing I've found — which is not to say it works everywhere — is Orbit Downloader. This is a free program that acts as an add-on to your browser. It works best when you're on the home site of a video clip and not on a web page that has it embedded. Let's say you see a YouTube video on my site and you'd like to capture a copy. Click on my embedded copy anywhere except where you click to start or stop the video. That should take you to the YouTube page where the clip originates. If you have Orbit installed and the clip is playing, hover your mouse over it and in a second or two, it'll give you a little window you can clip which will enable you to save the video as an FLV file.

You'll need an FLV player installed to run these clips later. The one I use is FLV Player and it's also free but you may have to root around on this page for a company called Applian Technologies to find it.

If you download FLV Player there, the installer may also ask you if you want to install a couple demos of Applian products. You may want to do this or you may not. Applian makes an array of programs that capture streaming audio and video from websites. They are not free and in some cases, they take a little effort to set up properly. Depending on how badly you want to capture the stuff that Orbit won't grab for you, the time and expense may be worth it. Many of their products like Replay A/V have a timer function and a tuner for Internet radio broadcasts so you can use them like a TiVo to record online programs. I've captured shows from BBC Radio and Internet radio stations (like Shokus Internet Radio) with Applian software.

I've been using their wares for some time and have generally been happy with them...but I'll caution you about one other thing. They seem to come out with a new product every month instead of upgrading the old ones. Many of their products provide overlapping functions and when a new one comes out, I'm never sure what it does that my old Applian products don't do. Make sure you experiment with a demo before you cough up any money. That's good advice, of course, for any software you purchase but it seems especially prudent in this case.

Posted at 12:57 AM · LINK

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