21 December 2008

Where's the morality of pro-traditional marriage figures?

It seems hard these days to find a "morally straight" advocate of traditional marriage (the "man and woman" type). A list of pundits (politicians, activists, etc.) serves to prove my point here. But first let me share my latest disappointment.

On Saturday, I watched a recording of the previous day's episode of Dateline NBC where Ann Curry interviewed pastor Rick Warren. Rev. Warren will speak at Pres.-Elect Obama's inauguration ceremony on Jan. 20, 2009 (the day after MLK, surprise!) Curry asked questions about the bad state of the economy and then on his position on "same-sex" marriage. Warren brought up some pretty good points in his interview that I bet no one could ever disprove. NBC News has posted a transcript on its website and a link to a video.

But then at the end of the interview Warren admitted this:

"I don't think gay marriage is any threat to marriage. So that's not why I'm voting the way I did. I think divorce is a bigger problem to marriage than anything else."

Whoa wait a second. Rev. Warren, if you really really think that divorce is so much more of a problem than SSM, why don't the churches start enacting anti-divorce laws? I predict that we'll see "Prop. 8.5" that'll outlaw divorce in the 2010 election ballot. Naw, I ain't serious, but I'm just saying that if the conservative "pro-family" activists really want a perfect society they've got to go after everything else that's wrong with the world.

And now I dare you to challenge these of Rev. Warren's remarks:
"Well, here what I'm saying. I've had many gay friends tell me, "Well, Rick, why shouldn't I have multiple sexual partners? It's the natural thing to do." Well, just because it seems natural doesn't mean it's best for you or society. I'm naturally inclined to have sex with every beautiful woman I see. But that doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. And why should I reign in my natural impulses and you say, "Well, because I have natural impulses towards the same sex, I shouldn't have to reign them in." Well, I disagree. I think that's part of maturity. I think it's part of delayed gratification. I think it's part of character."

"For 5,000 years every single culture and every single religion has defined marriage as a man and a woman, not just Christianity [but also] Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism."

"Tolerance used to mean, "I treat you with respect even though we disagree." Some people want tolerance to mean now that all ideas are equally valid. That's nonsense. There are some things that are right and there are some things that are wrong."

And now my list of "hypocritical" proponents of "traditional love"
Unfaithful = having divorced or cheated, or just hypocritical on opinion against alternative marriage
Faithful = married to one partner constantly; remarriage only due to death of current partner
The morality of...Pro-"Traditional Marriage" politicians
- Dick Cheney (Vice President, Republican, 2001-2009) - The Bush/Cheney team has like Clinton/Gore back in the day pushed for laws banning same-sex marriage, such as the Federal Marriage Amendment. But VP Cheney had no problem with his own daughter Mary getting married to another woman and having children with her.
- Bill Clinton (President, Democrat, 1993-2001) - signed Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 - but nearly cheated on Hillary! Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey sued him for sexual harassment; and then Bill's wild adventure with that White House intern almost got him expelled from office.
- Newt Gingrich (former Speaker of the House under Clinton) - From a man who's been married four times in his lifetime and has a lesbian half-sister who works for the pro-gay group Human Rights Campaign, try believing his proclamations supporting traditional marriage. Seriously!
- Phyllis Schlafly (activist, president of Eagle Forum) - Although she's an opponent of SSM, one of her sons, John, is gay.
- David Vitter (Senator, Louisiana, Republican, 2005-present) - typical Republican/conservative opponent of same-sex marriage but was a client of the "DC Madam" prostition ring.
- Larry Craig (Senator, Idaho, Republican, 1981-2008) - voted for DOMA and other oppositions to same-sex marriage; got arrested over the Minneapolis airport bathroom incident, doesn't exactly qualify as a gay act; stated in news conference he "love[s] his wife"

20 December 2008

Newstalgia on Bush

By now, a lot of Americans still remember the incident where Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw his shoes at President Bush during a press conference. That incident has been played often on the news, late-night shows, and even spun off into online Flash games!

With George W. Bush leaving office in about 30 days from today, why not have a look back at a funny incident that happened with Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, who served as Ronald Reagan's vice president from 1981-1989 and President from 1989-1993.

Here's a New York Times article on the incident. Happy holidays!

22 November 2008

Some thoughts on the newer Sansa plugin

I recently upgraded the firmware for my almost-dead Sansa e250 music player, and it has its advantages/disadvantages. The good thing is that hopefully it'll be more stable and not freeze up like the older version did. Also for my songs with multiple collaborating performers that are entered on Windows Media Player's media library simultaneously, the new firmware displays all their names, as in "Artist1/Artist2/Artist3", "Artist#" representing a name. That way the other performers get the credit they deserve, like let's say T-Pain for Kanye West's "Good Life". However my e250 now responds slower in reaction upon pressing buttons. But for now I can survive, but I still need to find Nas' Illmatic and It Was Written - I can't live without those hip hop golden age era works from perhaps the most talented MC out there! But thankfully I still have NWA's Straight Outta Compton, all my Metallica songs, and all my rare death metal songs too.

12 November 2008

I murdered my MP3 Player today...

...after it just refused to start up. After formatting it based on a blog suggestion I ended up losing a lot of my favourite music since I use my Sansa E250 MP3 Player as primary backup since I was trying to save disk space on my slowing-down computer. Here's a random list I could pull out of my head tonight--and it'll just keep getting bigger--of albums/songs I need to re-download:
* Freedom Writers soundtrack (it has some great old school hip hop cuts, trust me)
* The Game - Doctor's Advocate
* Nas - Illmatic; It Was Written
* Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero; The Slip
* The Roots - Game Theory; Phrenology; "Distortion 2 Static" (from Do You Want More?!); "Don't Say Nuthin'" (from The Tipping Point);
* Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

02 November 2008

Quick follow-ups

- I sincerely apologise for my previous smear article about school. That's what happens when I get mad. I just go on my computer and damage a small portion of the Internet. Because honestly, I don't want to damage the real world and become the next Seung-Hui Cho.
- And my parents decided against taking the ACT since I'm already way too familiar with the SAT and I need to focus on real stuff like growing up and the personal statement. I hope that Mr West goes over 'em tomorrow in addition to reviewing George Orwell's 1984 - a pretty damn good novel right there!

31 October 2008

Everything that's wrong with Evergreen Valley High School

Well, an hour ago I got home from the EVHS football team's embarrassing Homecoming Game loss to Independence High School, 22-21. That came after the EV Cougars were leading 21-14 with about 10 seconds left in the 4th quarter, when suddenly defense slipped up in the rainy weather and allowed an Independence player to score a touchdown (6 points) and a 2-point conversion, thus concluding the game at that. At the same time, we learned that the Juniors got 1st place at homecoming and Seniors 2nd (and of course, Sophomores 3rd and Freshmen 4th). And the Associated Student Body (ASB for short) invested lots of valuable money and had its president testify before the District in its September board meeting for a permit for halftime fireworks tonight. Wow. In a time when the economy is sucking so bad it's under Great Depression status and public schools from Puget Sound to the Rio Grande to the Florida Keys are strapped in cash and raped in the behind by President Bush's incompetent No Child Left Behind Act, it is simply a disgrace for a school that was recently ranked silver by US News & World Report magazine as among the best American high schools and having led the whole damn district in API (Academic Performance Index) to look like this in what's supposed to be the happiest time of the year.

So when I got home, I laid back on my futon and watched a DVR'ed episode of The Steve Wilkos Show, whose title host is a former US Marine, Chicago Police Officer, and security director for The Jerry Springer Show. No, I'm not joking, Wilkos is the bald-headed guy you've seen on Springer since the mid-90s or so. The episode I recorded, "Tragic Tale of 2 Sisters", was from Thursday, about an 18-year-old woman who wanted Wilkos to help her 11-year-old sister stop having sex with teen boys (I'm not joking, it IS the plot of the episode). Steve Wilkos later talks with the sister & parents, who are divorced. Soon it's revealed that the father once sexually molested the older daughter, so Steve didn't let the father see the younger daughter. Meanwhile, Steve also punishes the mother for not looking out for and loving her younger, whoring daughter. In the end, the father is evicted from the stage (in Steve's popular "GET OFF MY STAGE!!!" cry) and Steve gets the mother and children counseling.

Now I'm here all angry about how low my school is sinking. Here's a rough list of everything that is wrong, wrong, incorrect, inaccurate, stupid, messed up, FUBAR, abominable, unbelievable, and silly about Evergreen Valley High School:
1. During the part of the 05-06 academic year when private colleges are asking for letters of recommendation and such, counselors were borderline deadbeat--Steve Wilkos might've beaten them up severely.
2. EVHS has acknowledged repeatedly its over-crowding controversy, but its solution--the off-campus Biotech Academy for 11th/12th graders--was killed late in 2006, thus resuming the bottleneck. This year, the overcrowding got so bad that some students were denied certain classes merely with the excuse that there wasn't enough space. One friend of mine passed the AP Calculus AB exam but was denied Calculus BC for that very reason, yet two FRESHMEN who took a shallow summer calculus I course at community college got in. And while she was repeatedly refused a seat in Calc BC, another student (a leadership student who got a 2 on the exam, a failing score) and another random student were granted space! This is affirmative action and disorganization gone WRONG. I've heard of seniors who were forced to repeat English 3 despite passing it with at least a B just because "oh, there ain't enough space". Yet I know that this year there are students in English 4 who got C/D grades in English 3.
3. EVHS made a terrible mistake by neglecting meritocracy in considering attendance priority. That's why it's more likely that a dirty ghetto kid from the borderline Mt. Pleasant/EV attendance area gets enrolled and eventually wastes our taxpayers' money by repeating Algebra 1 until eleventh grade. At the same time, a rich, hardworking student from, lessay the Silver Creek/EV attendance borderline is rejected because of..."overcrowding". Had EV used meritocracy on its borderline attendance areas, then we'd be chasing after Cupertino and Palo Alto high schools.
4. The ASB has gotten away with childish/just plain silly homecoming and battle themes.
5. An incident in November 2007 where a great mob of students hurled Skittles at each other and at staff members illustrated the students' dissatisfaction that the administration was going all North Korea on extracurricular activities. It took that much pressure for the principal to back off.
6. EVHS knowingly hired registered sex offenders in its arts programs! In November 2006, the drama teacher was arrested for sexual misconduct. Ditto with a former band teacher a couple years later. That teacher willfully allowed a registered sex offender to volunteer at the Band Boosters!!!!!!!!
7. Racism and imbalance is rampant in EVHS's course catalogue. Why can EV provide special ed yet not have foreign language classes beyond Spanish, French, and Vietnamese? Shouldn't we save our API and reputation and harbor off the special ed to Silver Creek/Mt. Pleasant for the sake of our achieving students? Also, EVHS refuses to hire a competent AP Computer Science teacher--the one right now is lying about his 67% pass rate by a HUGE margin, to be honest.
8. Gov. Ahnuld Arnold Schwarzenegger's struggle with the state budget was somehow a tolerable excuse for the school library not to be open before 6th period, but it's almost Election Day now and this still applies. Testimony from many many district parents/students/teachers was not enough either to persuade the district to finalise hours/budget for libraries!
9. I'm still angry at EV for not telling in advance that there'd be only ONE APCS section this year--so I couldn't get in AP English Language, which I planned to be a "backup" in case I didn't get APCS. When I appealed to the APLang teacher, she just gave me a "fuck you" (no, not really) and explained that I should've done the summer stuff. Still--both me and EV are equally guilty of arrogance.
10. EV has no problem with the Gay/Straight Alliance flamboyantly posting pro-gay propaganda throughout campus during "Gay Pride Week" or whatever that is. If a pro-Proposition 8 group were to come up on campus, the ICC would evict them, and if that group were ever to practice their First Amendment rights by posting their opinions in appropriate places, the Thought Police of EV would tear 'em down within minutes. Obviously, EV holds an agenda to brainwash all students with a perverted, blind message of "tolerance for all regardless or whatever" without critical thinking.

Sadly, these are only a few problems. I've got to go to sleep now. More will come later.

23 October 2008

Goodbye SAT, hello ACT!

Well I did worse on the SAT than my previous time - a 1950 in Oct. 2008, compared to a 1990 back in May. I got the same score on the writing section (690) as last time but 20 points down on math (710 --> 690) and reading (590 --> 570). How could this happen, when I've gotten a 770 on the SAT Math level 2 subject test??!? Oh well it could be because of those pesky free-response questions or my inability to read the fine print. As for the reading section, often the reading passage questions tend to be so deceptive that only Valerie Plame could solve them...I kid you not, just ask anyone who's studied hard for the SAT (and eventually got a good or bad score).

Thus I have officially parted ways with the SAT starting today and will begin preparation for the much better and supposedly easier & more honest ACT. I picked up ACT registration materials at a college night held by my local school district and after finding my disappointing SAT score online I looked through the overview, and the ACT I think I can handle better. The ACT website (ACT.org) provides outline of the test, which goes in this order:
1. English (75 questions, 45 minutes) - questions cover both grammar and rhetoric. None of those pesky SAT "fill-in-the-blank" vocabulary questions! :D
2. Mathematics (60 questions, 1 hour) - covers most of everything from pre-Algebra to Trigonometry, similar to the SAT Subject Test in Math Level 2, again which I got a 770 score (on the 800 SAT scale)
3. Reading (40 questions, 35 minutes) - five passages organised into specific topics (i.e. humanities, sciences, literature) and multiple-choice questions. The ACT's description of this section makes it similar to the SAT reading passages section or any other reading comprehension test in general. But I hope that there are no "SAT Trick Questions" here with ambiguous answer choices
4. Science (40 questions, 35 minutes)- Unlike the SAT Subject Tests in Science, which test on the facts, the ACT Science section is more like a "scientific" version of section 3, with the main task to interpret graphs and other data based on basic scientific knowledge and reasoning.
5. Writing (optional) (1 essay, 30 minutes) - the optional and very last section of the SAT. It's a good thing that this is 5 minutes longer than the SAT essay, so I get more time to develop my ideas, something that 25 minutes hasn't given me an opportunity to do. Scholars have criticized the SAT essay section for not being reflective enough on real writing prompts that teachers normally assign.

And off to ACT prep I go! I will take the test 13 December, the last chance for me to take any SAT/ACT type test for college; deadline is 7 November (3 days after Election Day, to be easier). As I pointed out earlier, there requires extensive tutouring and "gaming the system" just to get above 2000 on the SAT! But the ACT seems more based on the facts rather than unnecessary junk "reasoning", so I hope to have a better chance there.

11 October 2008

What's going on at the Parents Television Council? - 12 Oct 2008

To be honest, nothing much really except the weekly regulars, as the PTC's front-page press release index still expresses complaints about the 25 September episode of Survivor: Gabon with the hidden private part. But anyhow...(these were all written on 10 October 2008)
- Best Show of the Week: America's Got Talent (NBC)
- Worst Show of the Week: Bones (Fox) (not to be surprising; any crime drama will always wind up on PTC's worst section)
- Worst Cable Content of the Week: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
- Misrated: N/A (still not updated as of 12 September - looks like the networks are properly rating their shows!)
- TV Trends: "The Fall 2008 Season: Teens Having Sex"

Now the Best Show of the Week pick - being NBC's America's Got Talent was pretty surprising given that the show was a topic of two Worst of the Week reviews in the past (7 July 2006 and 9 August 2006) when the more "family-oriented" Regis Philbin was host. In 2007, talk show host Jerry Springer (who most of us know as the host of that controversial daytime trash talk show) came in as host. PTC didn't comment on that for 2007; 2008 comes with the third season, Springer again hosts. PTC discusses AGT in TV Trends columns (27 June 2008, 17 July 2008 and 25 July 2008) before this "Best of the Week" review, which mentions only the positive, and not negative, aspects of the show that PTC sees. I find this as an example of how PTC knows that TV shows can be a bit off-colour yet still be "family-friendly". Another example of this attitude is with ABC's Dancing With the Stars, whose 2007-2008 season finale was the Best Show of the Week just over a month after PTC put up an episode of the series as "misrated" for being "TV-PG" sans an "L" for some bleeped language.

Moving on to PTC's "Worst Show" review of Fox crime drama Bones, a show I don't watch as I prefer CBS's Cold Case, Criminal Minds, and CSI, and NBC's Law & Order. Personally I don't know how Bones is conceptually different from CSI, but if you'd like to clarify me feel free to drop me a comment and I'll think about it. Just browse through PTC's Best/Worst shows list and notice that a lot of crime dramas and medical shows get recognised for the graphic violence and other abysmal content. In this case, the reviewer asserts: "Admittedly, the rest of the show is relatively tame, but it should be noted that the series’ goriest material consistently airs at the beginning of the Family Hour." Sorry, the Family Hour is simply the product of opinion; factually the concept has been dormant for over 30 years now, and new technology like the V-Chip can block bad shows like Bones if parents don't want their kids to see that kind of show. At the end of the review, the reviewer devotes a whole paragraph to the FCC's lack of oversight over TV violence and complains that parents can't really prevent kids from seeing this show while channel-surfing. Well, that's why you look up the darn TV listings (on sites like TVGuide.com, Zap2It.com, network webpages, or your local newspaper) or set your V-Chip to block all TV-14 shows or whatever - in fact the Fox network website maintains a list of all ratings for Bones episodes seasons 1-3 (these are links to popup window pages for the old schedule format from Fox.com; the newer schedule format no longer uses this format.) But I found this press release that puts up a "TV-14-DL" rating for the episode, so I think most kids under 14 whose parents properly set up the V-Chip are safe.

PTC has tackled the issue of a "TV-14-DL" rating for Bones before; that was back in December 2007 because PTC believes that graphic imagery itself = violence. But the truth is that the V descriptor is really for violent actions not consequential images! Today I was just watching a recorded copy of a CSI: Miami episode ("Miami Confidential") that was "TV-14-DLV" and had several scenes of violence (as most CSI episodes do) to demonstrate what the criminals allegedly did and in context of police tracking down suspect. THESE are the perfect examples of rating TV shows, as PTC asks the question "So You Think You Can Rate a TV Show?"

Moving on to the Cable Worst review for the FX comedy It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - a show I'm not too familiar with, so I won't go too deep here. PTC makes a good case for cable choice: the renewal of the series. "This past summer, FX announced that it had bought three more 13-episode seasons of Sunny beyond the current fourth, thus ensuring that the show will continue to take the most vulgar terms and turn them into storylines." But readers and parents should also note that Dirt and The Riches - both among FX's line of "edgy" TV-MA late-night dramas too risky for Fox - both got cancelled due to ratings and production troubles (especially due to the writers' strike) so I'd think twice about whether my cable bill would be subsidizing "everything" on FX. By the way, two - TWO - PTC "Seal of Approval"-winning films are to be shown on FX in coming days! Invincible, a 2006 film based on the beginning of Vince Papale's career with the Philadlephia Eagles, is to be shown Tuesday the 14th at 7:30 PM and the next day at 5:00 PM (Eastern/Pacific time, check local listings) on FX; Radio, another "football movie", is on Monday the 13th at 9PM and the next day 4:30PM. For some reason, PTC seldom reports on its "Seal of Approval" programmes shown on FX or other networks (last year FX dedicated all Thanksgiving Day to family films - and PTC was dreadfully silent). Don't forget that The Bernie Mac Show, King of the Hill, and Malcolm in the Middle are all relatively clean TV-PG sitcoms shown frequently in weekday daytime hours on FX.

Which brings me to PTC's continued silence on the cancellation of BET's Rap City (see update #2 below) or BET's syndication of Smart Guy, a show that's been on PTC's "Best Shows of the Year" list in the past. Why is it that PTC almost always is quick to report on the negatives on the cable networks yet ignores the positive (even Seal of Approval!) programming on the networks? If PTC could get more families to watch Radio or Invincible on FX maybe that'll encourage FX to lean more towards family audiences. But making sure that FX continues to schedule the usual TV-MA raunch during the 10PM hour (when it's really really hard for young children to watch) is part of PTC's strategy to put more power in the cable consumer's wallets from the Big Media. That's why parents shouldn't rely on PTC as their sole guide for TV - look up shows on the TV listings, for crying out loud! That's how I knew that FX would be showing those movies - I keep tabs on the local cable company listings on my Zap2It account even though I personally don't have cable myself, to fact-check on the PTC's biased coverage of cable TV.

And finally, to this week's TV Trends article "The Fall 2008 Season: Teens Having Sex". Programs in question include: the 15 September episode of CW's 90210 (back in 1997 PTC picked the original Fox version as among the worst shows of the year) that had the infamous "oral sex in the car" scene. That episode was rated "TV-14-DLS"; I watched the first few minutes of the show, and the scene itself, and I question if it directly implied the girl had her mouth on the boy's crotch. Then there are scenes from CW's Gossip Girl and Privileged and ABC's Private Practice (spinoff of the network's Grey's Anatomy) that seem to glorify teen sex. To demonstrate the perceived bias of Hollywood in favour of sex, the author states: "Of course, to Hollywood, sex is an activity to be indulged in without the slightest thought, and it never, ever has negative consequences. Now added to this longtime perspective is a seemingly an organized agenda on the part of the entertainment industry to convince viewers that 14-year-olds are adults, fully competent to make adult decisions about drinking, using drugs and having sexual relationships…and that the most “responsible” way of helping teens be happy is to urge them to use condoms, rather than abstaining from sexual activity for which they are not ready."

In other words, to Hollywood, abstaining from sex is uncool and boo-worthy. The author concludes: "Hollywood’s producers would no doubt hide behind the excuse that this is 'just a TV show,' and that what they show has no influence whatsoever on their teen viewers. But when top fashion designers compete to have their clothing seen on Gossip Girl, and when corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars on TV commercials aimed at children and teens, such an argument seems spurious at best. TV does not force teens to engage in sexual activity; but by portraying such activity as normal and even exciting, it is definitely encouraging teens to make decisions they may regret." Yep, I've heard the "family values" people argue about TV being able to influence the kids' worldviews. But then: that's why parents talk to their kids about sex, and schools educate about protection! Here's my challenge: How can teens "regret" having sex if they've used protection and thus have less consequences? And isn't abstinence an all-too-obvious choice that the Family Values Right has been advancing way too far by spreading blatant misinformation about?

Before I leave I'd like to quickly mention that the PTC hasn't found a "misrated" TV show since Gossip Girl back in mid-September. Obviously that might mean that every TV show on since then has been properly rated. In fact, Fox network Standards & Practices seems to be reading from the PTC's playbook: The first two episodes of the new season were both "TV-14-DLSV", and the season premiere of The Simpsons was "TV-14-DLSV" (although that's a rating normally reserved for the Treehouse of Horror shows, but this episode was not). I wonder how long the PTC will continue to slack on that column, just as it did for much of 2008 with the Worst Cable Content reviews.

Follow-up (12 Oct): I just happened to realise that PTC does have "weekly picks" of the most family-friendly programmes on cable television. For the 13th and 14th I see no sign of Invincible or Radio, but for some reason PTC finds the contemporary romantic comedy You've Got Mail on ABC Family to be more "Family-friendly" than Radio on FX - is it because you don't want families' eyes to be on the same channel that produces Sons of Anarchy?

Follow-up 2: Actually the PTC issued statement to the news but for some reason not on its own website, to The Washington Times for instance. The PTC and other groups like Industry Ears/Enough is Enough issued the statement jointly - I apologise for my mistake.

10 October 2008

The long-lost albums we've been waiting for

This morning, the Woody Show on local rock station 105.3 "Live 105" reported that Guns N' Roses's long-awaited Chinese Democracy album is finally coming out on 23 November 2008. Wikipedia cites articles from MTV News and Reuters for the date.

Meanwhile, Dr. Dre's Detox is now scheduled for sometime in December 2008, as confirmed by an official press release.

07 October 2008

today's town hall debate

I spent dinnertime and afterwards watching today's "Town hall" presidential debate between Obama and McCain on NBC. It was a fairly interesting and attention-grabbing one, with former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw moderating at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Obama and McCain had some strong answers to all of Brokaw's questions, all of which came from potential voters. Topics discussed today included health care, the War on Terror, and the bailout. The final debate will be next Wednesday.

It was pretty funny to see the poor camera setup as sometimes when the camera was pointed at Brokaw's face, Obama's and McCain's bodies suddenly obfuscate Brokaw. xD Also the candidates seemed to babble on beyond their time limits! Brokaw joked that keeping that up would give the debate a time deficit bigger than the government's budget/financial deficits!

This morning on NBC's Today show, political correspondent Chuck Todd noticed a lot of the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls predicting a win for Barack Obama in several battleground states.

Also it's funny how Ann Curry and a lot of other mainstream media pundits (not in Fox News) are so sensitive to Barack Obama's middle name "Hussein".

04 October 2008

What's going on at the Parents Television Council? (Oct. 4, 2008)

[Before I get to the juicy realm of the PTC a little personal note:] This morning I took the SAT college entrance examination at my school, the second time after receiving a 1990 from the May 2008 administration. After getting to my senses and studying some more vocabulary and math strategies over the summer, I'm confident that I'll get a score at least in the 2000 range this time. If I still get lower than 2100 my brain might as well be wired for the ACT instead. Now that the SAT is out of the way my focus now will shift to driver's education and college applications.

Now to the PTC, in the abscence of PTC posts from the I Am a Child of TV blog (last time a "Who does the PTC hate This Week?" was posted was 15 August) Basically, over the past few weeks or so PTC has been focusing on:
- FCC Complaints (Regarding alleged indecency on Survivor: Gabon [CBS] and Today [NBC])
- Dr. Delman L. Coates, leader of the "Enough is Enough" campaign and advisor for PTC's April 2008 Rap on Rap research report, joins the Advisory Board
- Regarding CW's new show 90210 (remake of the 1990s Fox series Beverly Hills, 90210) Darden Restaurants, which owns such chains as Olive Garden and Red Lobster, wins the "Seal of Approval" for pulling out sponsorship the show; PTC also praised the CW network itself for allowing some advertiser advance screening after it reportedly did not.
- PTC has filed an amicus curiae brief to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) "against NYPD Blue" (in case you don't understand the controversy surrounding Blue, an award-winning crime drama that ran on ABC from 1993-2005, see this article from The Washington Post)
- And finally, an appeal to both "Democrats and Republicans" to advance "cable choice"

The following are the latest items from PTC's weekly entertainment reviews, updated 3 Oct.
- Best Show of the Week: Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (ABC) (I've seen PTC award EMHE "Best Show" 15 or more times before in the past year)
- Worst Show of the Week: Survivor (CBS) (all because of the indecent incident, see below)
- Worst Cable Content of the Week: Skins (BBC America)
- Misrated: N/A (most recent was the Gossip Girl report from 12 September)
- TV Trends: "Broadcast Networks: More Gore in Store For Viewers"

Now for my opinions on PTC's latest front-page headlines. Could the Survivor: Gabon wardrobe malfunction - in which part of the penis of contestant Marcus Lehman (not sure if he's related to the Lehman Brothers) flew out of his boxers for just less than a second in normal video time - be a repeat of the Janet Jackson "Nipplegate" scandal from the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show? The episode originally aired on CBS Thurs., 25 Sept.; the earliest source that I could find reporting on the nudity was a Defamer blog post from Monday the 29th. Next day on my RSS reader (feed of Google News searching keyword "Parents Television Council" exact phrase) came both PTC and Broadcasting & Cable reporting on the exposure; following up were news outlets Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Cleveland Plain Dealer, E! Online, KNBC Television, Knoxville News-Sentinel and The Washington Post; and blogs Buzzkilled, Jossip and TMZ. Dang, that was a LOT of blog attention spawned by PTC! But here's my question: How come it took an entire weekend for the PTC to figure out that it was indeed Lehman's penis. All the video I've been able to find was either modified or slo-mo so I can't judge anything for now. PTC even acknowledges that it took high technology rather than real-time viewing to see Lehman's private: "...in the age of HD, digital video recorders, and high-speed internet, it quickly became immortalized as an unending slow-motion loop on numerous blogs." That's true, given all the links I've provided. Now that PTC's admitted it, I suppose it's just another badge on PTC's overcrowded coat of achievements and milestones, to ensure that the networks get as much money sucked out by the FCC as possible so that they can stop producing all that sludge that's destroying our children's innocence. Wait, actually only girls' innocences are at risk here; don't males already know what their privates look like? (another issue at stake here is the disturbance of being "flashed") Compare the five-day reaction time to realise, "Oh no! That was a penis!" to the less-than-12-hour reaction to Hans Lange's S-word on his 11 Sept. Today show interview (PTC's press release in response to that is dated 11 September)

Next is the Cable Worst of the Week, Skins, which currently airs in the US on the BBC America cable channel, which last time I checked is available only on digital cable/satellite in my area and possibly other places. I first heard of the show on the 19 September TV Trends column "Britain pushes Gossip Girl envelope with Skins". According to the author, the show "was nominated for British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards (equivalent to the American Emmys) for Best Drama and Break-Thru Talent...won for Best Title Sequence...[and] was also given the prestigious Europe-wide Rose d’Or award for Best Drama in 2008."

As I'm reading down the transcript provided in the column, I'm a bit shocked to see that such language would be used in an ostensibly "Teen-targeted" programme; this show sounds more like The Sopranos, whose first season I've been watching lately on DVD and enjoying. Columnist Christopher Gildemeister also asserts that in the UK Skins is shown on digital-cable channel E4, owned by broadcaster Channel 4. Wikipedia claims that Channel 4 (a terrestrial channel over in Britain) shows the series "3 days after the digital". Wikipedia's entry about the programme also lists channels worldwide that reportedly show Skins; the earliest timeslots for the show are apparently in New Zealand (8:30 PM Mondays, C4TV) Norway (8:40 PM Thursdays, NRK). Everywhere else, you'll have to stay up past 10PM local time (or 22:00 as they might say), since those nations might have American type of sensitivities to Sopranos-level swearing and sexuality.

Now it's pretty dubious to consider Skins "teen-targeted" to begin with; in the US, BBC America rates the show "TV-MA". Or is this another type of "Family Guy strawman" that PTC uses to consider the "TV-14" Family Guy targeted to children (I mean younger than 14 if that's what they mean). If that's the case then I guess it's absolutely absurd to compare Skins with Gossip Girl - I've followed much of the first GG season, and the storylines seem much more polished and thoughtful compared to the alleged cheap raunch of Skins. In fact, the official sites of Skins for the US, UK, and NZ all have "mature audience" warnings!

The TV Trends author also suggests that "the show’s rancid content which should cause every parent who receives BBC America to look into blocking the channel" - using the standard "every American pays for every channel" rhetoric used all the campaign for cable choice. Really? Never mind the other less ranchy shows on BBC America! Any parent wishing to find out if BBC America really belongs on the family cable lineup would want to look up Common Sense Media's list of BBCA shows - there seem to be family-friendly programmes on BBCA like You Are What You Eat, Top Gear, and Cash in the Attic. And BBCA also has a daily World News America show and has even broadcast the US presidential debates! Did you know that BBC also produced ABC's Dancing with the Stars, a show that PTC has frequently lauded It ain't the end of the world yet...

Regarding me and British TV, the only BBC programme I watch regularly is the simulcast of the BBC World News on my local PBS station. I've also watched some of the BBC-produced documentary Planet Earth (shown in the US on the Discovery Channel) and on PBS earlier in the year I watched the BBC's miniseries adaption of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, a novel I studied in AP English Literature at the time. Where I live, the PBS stations (KQED and KTEH) show heavy bunch of British programming, such as Doctor Who (the old version) and Are You Being Served?, in addition to BBC World News. Heroes, a favourite show of mine that's on NBC, is shown on BBC2 in UK!

Unfortunately my only choice if I ever want to watch Skins is to either download it illegally of P2P (and avoid subsidising BBC America for importing that trashy show across the Atlantic, as PTC suggests) or to find a friend who legally subscribes to digital cable/satellite and ask for a DVR copy.

Moving on to Dr. Coates' entry into The PTC Advisory Board: I appreciate what he's done to advise the PTC to take action against the flood of trashy, sleazy rap videos that used to be rampant on MTV and BET when kids could be watching. However, PTC has yet to report on BET's "cleaner" lineup, which includes the former WB network sitcom Smart Guy (a past "Best Show of the Year" as ranked by PTC) or The Steve Harvey Show, a more reverent type of show. Also for some reason Rap City is not going to be shown on BET next week, but for now it's too early to determine cancellation status. Finally, MTV hasn't shown Sucker Free since June - JUNE! - but PTC has been long silent on this and other "improvements" while having time to report on other trivial business like the Survivor: Gabon wardrobe malfunction. I wish PTC would at least report more on "positive" programming on TV rather than focus on cleaning up the "negative" - given PTC's influence upon FCC legislation would PTC influence viewership well by promoting the good stuff rather than stressing the bad stuff?

24 September 2008

Some follow-ups from the last time

Band has improved a far shot from the Friday tragedy! Thank you everybody for your cooperation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Also, regarding the NACAC's report on the SAT that urged colleges to put less emphasis on such tests, that story was also reported on Monday's edition of ABC World News.

21 September 2008

The Option of Standardised Testing

As Sunday draws this weekend to a close, I decided to spend it happily and wisely. For those of you who were terrified by my previous diatribe against the symphonic band, I apologise for being so gratuitously angry. Me, you, and Barnhill will forget about that and just move on as a great group of students; I know it.

I woke up around 8 this morning, unlike most Sundays, to watch ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos to watch Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson discuss the government's bank rescue plan. Since August I've been watching the Sunday morning news talk shows regularly to keep up with the latest developments in the White House and the election. Later today I took a practice SAT exam, and I received a 2010 on that, by my own reasonable estimations. My actual SAT score, from May 2008, was 1990, and I think I'll be on the Improvement Road as I keep on trying. For now, I feel that I need to improve on following directions on some of the more deceptive, pesky questions - it's true, all 3 sections (Readin', Ritin', and 'Rithmetic Reading, Writing, and Math) contain "trap answers" to certainly worded questions in order to test our attention span. The most difficult section there is Critical Reading (the full name of the Reading section) due to its testing of obscure English words and the tendency for me to imagine "hidden" elements of the reading passages.

And just now I came upon this New York Times education section article "College Panel Calls for Less Focus on SATs" by Sara Rimer, who reported on a report led by William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions/financial aid at Harvard University. Fitzsimmons's report argued that the SAT/ACT standardised testing is screwing up secondary education and is out of touch with what students need to prepare for life college & beyond. The article page links to the report, titled "Report of the Commission on the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admission" and published by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling. Arguments in the report included:
- Colleges should make the SAT/ACT optional if their admissions directors have good reason to believe that the SAT will be useless in determining student merit.
- "Cutscores", minimum SAT scores required for admission, should end; the more advantaged students would have a nearly unfair advantage over others who probably cannot afford tutouring. (Personal note: For the earlier part of 2008 I had tutouring for the SAT Writing Section and AP Calculus AB Exam; the California State University system currently uses "cutscores" system)
- The PSAT seems to be a less-than-reliable way to determine National Merit Scholarships
- SAT/ACT scores should not and cannot be seen to correlate with college's financial resources.
- Such scores can under- or over-predict first-year GPA's, especially for English learners/women/minorities, or "calcify" racial, ethnic, or parental educational gaps.
- It's a better idea to emphasize the SAT Subject Tests/Advanced Placement (AP) Exams/High School Exit Exams instead, since those products will further motivate state educational boards. (Regional note: In my state the public school students get "Early Assessment Program" exams from the CSU system to determine college readiness)
After having read through the 56 pages of the report, I almost have to agree. Even the SAT prep book that I own, Cracking the SAT, admits that the way the SAT evaluates - among other anamolies! - is different from how teachers instruct in the classroom. I really think that this "unfair advantage" system of getting better score on college admission test needs to stop - trust me, I've had coaching, and I still haven't done the best job I thought that I could. As Fitzsimmons's report states, students should be able to prepare for the SAT/college in general through the high school curriculum, not through extra coaching. It's no wonder public schools get so much heat these days.

19 September 2008

Symphonic band on strike?

Today was a pretty good end of the week, with an easy calculus quiz on integration by parts, followed by the usual 15-minute break, where I got to wish my friend Rachel a happy 17th birthday. All went well until the next period, which was Symphonic Band. The ensemble rehearsed two pieces out of four to be played this 11 December for the school band concert and had been playing them since the week of Labor Day. Most of the days since then, the band has been practicing around an average level, with certain mistakes or anamolies making the conductor stop the band and advise on corrections, which turn out to be usually simple. "That's all you gotta do," he'd say.

But today, 19 September, the ensemble sunk to a new low. Guess what kind of errors happened today? Trombone players were nearly a measure behind, trumpets played too slow, drums were off-beat, and soon the whole ensemble "falls asleep" and literally slows down to ritardando when they are not supposed to. All when I, a mallet player, am keeping my eyes between the conductor and my score and waiting for my turn on the music, having done a competent job all along. Those parts of today's rehearsal sounded so disorganized and chaotic that Soulja Boy's annoying, ubitiquous "Crank That" song even sounds more musical than a high school symphonic band!

So the conductor stops the band and furiously wants to know what has happened with them. He felt that the players were on "last day of school" mode rather than September & "excited for school/concert" mode. Wow. We're really supposed to be superior to the average dumb high school students. Given how much bull$#!7 I had to suffer today thanks to the other morons who were supposed to be concentrating together as an ensemble - two people even lost some of their musical sheets - I feel compelled to turn up Weezer's new song "Troublemaker".

Don't worry, my fellow Symphonic Bandmembers. I've been through your kind of trouble before when I joined the ensemble last year to make up for a lack of performing arts class for my college entrance requirement (both the University of California and California State University systems require "at least one year" of Performing/visual arts type of class) I made a lot of effort to learn how to grip mallet sticks properly and follow the conducting. A year has passed, and I've become a welcome member of the family. But now we need to sink so low as to THIS crappy level - which as I mentioned earlier sounds even WORSE than the most annoying pop punk/emo/pop rap/bubblegum MTV corporate radio pop/MMMBop/Britney/NSYNC/Backstreet Boys/Simple Plan/Good Charlotte/Soulja Boy/Fall Out Boy/Limp Bizkit songs out there?!?!?!?! Maybe now it's OK for Michael Savage to trash-talk about Muslims and the mentally disabled. I think I'll just quit life and start smoking all the marijuana and drinking all the beer/alcoholic drinks I want and fail all my classes and eventually end up homeless/single/still a virgin after high school and spend the rest of my life in who knows where. College sounds worthless. Finding a job sounds meaningless. Everyone is an idiot. My local school district is a run by a mob of brainless drunken bastards for failing to fix a dying softball field at one school yet fixing other stuff everywhere else. MY school does things even worse by denying the right of one of my best friends to attend Calculus BC after having passed the Calculus AB exam

Back to the main topic. For this weekend, we all need to rethink this stupid situation and redeem ourselves and prove that we are all TRUE students and authentically-trained musicians and wanting to be among the best students out there. A CHANGE IS GONNA COME. If not, I might probably start ditching band class and later put the blame on whoever is causing me the most problems there, Barack Obama might lose the election simply because we weren't willing to accept change for the better, the world will decompose into a violent anarchy...OK sorry enough with the insane doomsday predictions right there. But seriously. You and I ALL NEED TO F\/|
PS: I thank all members of the Wind Ensemble, the highest level of band at school, for their hard work and making class "fun" for my other friend Jamie, who advised me on the state of that ensemble today after 6th period ended today. I guess that means that the WE was actually being cooperative unlike the Symphonic knuckleheads.

13 September 2008

What's going on at the Parents Television Council? (Sept. 13, 2008)

Turning now to the mainstream TV viewer's all-time bete noire: the Parents Television Council. (Brent McKee used to write a semi-weekly column "Who Does the PTC Hate THIS Week?" on his blog I Am A Child of Television, but that column hasn't been written since mid-August, and right now he's focusing on the fall 2008 premieres, so I shall do the business for now until further notice.) Their lead headline as of the time I'm writing this up? "NBC Airs Unbleeped S-Word on Today Show" Holy cow! I took a deep breath and opened up the link, which explained that on the Thur., Sept. 11 edition of the show guest Hans Lange used the S-word uncensored, and Matt Lauer laughed but did not apologize. Lange recently made headlines in the US for surviving a malfunctioned BASE jump. The expletive was shown unbleeped only on the East Coast; everywhere else in the US it was edited out (since the morning shows are usually shown on tape delay in the West unless there's a breaking news story, say for instance the recent Hurricanes Gustav and Ike). The video in question can be seen below but is excised of the profanity.

I happened to be watching the "preview" of the Lange interview that morning but had to leave for school before it came on! Dang, I missed a funny event in morning show history! But oh well since I live in the Western US and wouldn't have heard the profanity anyways. That's the third time this year uncensored profanity made it on morning shows: On the Jan. 15 Good Morning America (ABC): Diane Keaton dropped the four-letter F-word, and on the Feb. 14 Today (NBC), Jane Fonda dropped the C-word that rhymes with a certain word used to describe, err, an action that would be executed in searching for animals for food.

Now I can understand why parents would be concerned over the morning shows - PTC has primarily been concerned with primetime programs - because what if they had those shows on while the kids were having breakfast/preparing for school? In the cases of Keaton and Fonda, their interviews came on around 8:20 AM (Eastern Time); most K-12 schools begin the day around 8-8:30 AM so I do find some reason to be concerned. And Lange's interview had the profanity on about "7:37 AM [Eastern]" as PTC estimated - kids wouldn't be in school yet so there is reason for concern. PTC has filed complaints with FCC for all three profanity incidents, but the thing is that if FCC does decide to fine ABC and NBC then the fines will be small - say around $1 million since it covers all the Owned and Operated stations in the Eastern Time Zone - as compared to the whole nation.

The "Worst Show of the Week" was a rather unexpected one, much like McCain picking Palin, the ABC special America United: In Support of Our Troops. The reviewer acknowledged so and admitted freely that the program was rated "TV-14-DL" - due to vulgar performances by not-so-family-friendly celebs like Snoop Dogg, DL Hughley, and Kathy Griffin. It seemed disappointing that this special was supposed to be a moment of unity yet "not everyone could enjoy the show". But then PTC reviewer extends concerns to the kids attending the live audience of the program and uses them as evidence to claim that the program was supposed to be family-friendly. America United was Worst this week because of "targeting families without delivering family-friendly content". That's the same argument PTC uses when condemning such "smut" as Family Guy and Two and a Half Men - the former being animated and starring a family as lead characters and the latter starring a child as a main character and both often being rated "TV-14-DL".

Yet on their weekly "Misrated" report targeting the CW's Gossip Girl, whose first season I've actively followed & enjoyed (esp. Leighton Meester) but whose second season I haven't been able to watch due to problems with receiving the local CW station in my home. Although the CW rated the episode "TV-14-DL" as had ABC with America United, PTC made absolutely no suggestion that Gossip Girl was "intended for families" despite the lead characters of the show being high-schoolers - meaning they'd be minors by age, like the characters of Family Guy and Two and a Half Men. Based on several sex scenes in the episode, PTC believed that the show should've been rated "TV-14-DLS", due to scene of Dan and Blair making out in a bus bathroom and Nate having sex with a 40-year-old woman. Sure, PTC is worried about parents of teenagers whose pure minds have been burned down by watching this episode, but I have another question. Why would parents of teens set up the V-Chip so that teens can hear suggestive dialogue and coarse language at the TV-14 level but not sexual behaviour at the TV-14 level? I mean, the D and L descriptors also warn of sexual content in the verbal sense - as there do exist colloquial English language expressions implying such evils. This "descriptor-harvesting" argument has been used by PTC countless other instances without much thought. What's even funnier? PTC's mainpage for "So You Think You Can Rate a TV Show?" (official title for its Misrated column) has blatant typographical errors in some spots, such as considering a Grey's Anatomy episode to be rated "PG-14" (even in the review itself), and right beneath that lies a "TV-14" graphic in the description for a Misrated ep of Dancing with the Stars that they affirm is actually rated "TV-PG". So flippin' hilarious for an organizaion that claims to be experts on how corrupt the TV Parental Guidelines rating system is.

The "Worst Cable TV Show of the Week" column resumed sometime in August after a seven-month-long hiatus. The previous two columns dealt with Saving Grace (TNT) and The Shield (FX). This week's confronts the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards, solely based on Russell Brand's controversial jokes over "purity rings" worn by Jordin Sparks and The Jonas Brothers to indicate sexual abstinence. That, the most recent "TV Trends" column "Cable Continues Its Downward Crawl", and the July 11 TV Trends column "BET: Bad Entertainment for Teens" show the PTC's heavily biased, one-sided reporting on cable TV. While PTC has been spending most homepage space on hunting down the demons of indecency, nowhere has PTC ever commented on some rather "decent" moves that networks have made:
- MTV hasn't shown Sucker Free, a program that PTC included in its April 2008 rap music video study, since mid-June 2008
- Brand did apologize for the purity ring joke, and it doesn't matter to the PTC if "clean" music videos like Chris Brown's "With You", Linkin Park's "Shadow of the Day", Gnarls Barkley's "Run", and Erykah Badu's "Honey" were winners. Everybody run, a comedian just promoted SEX to teens! (Like anyone over 13 doesn't know the human reproductive system yet.)
- BET has shown Diff'rent Strokes for much of the time before August 2008 and has picked up the former WB sitcom Smart Guy, which PTC ranked among the Best TV Shows of the 97-98 and 98-99 seasons, for syndication. According to the BET website, Smart Guy began airing Mondays 5 and 5:30 PM (Eastern and Pacific) Sept. 8, moving Rap City (also included in PTC's rap study) up to 3PM. And never mind that Smart Guy once was syndicated on the Disney Channel, which got the PTC Seal of approval in July 2007.
- If TNT is such a sleazy network for Saving Grace and countless Law & Order and Without a Trace reruns, has PTC forgotten about its own review for TNT original film The Ron Clark Story, TNT's annual showing of The Wizard of Oz, or ongoing sports events?
It seems that PTC covers certain cable channels only for the "sleaze" they deliver. Once a certain channel carries an evil, red-lighted shows (even at 10PM), it doesn't matter if the channel shows "cleaner" shows other hours - the case of FX, which shows reruns of The Bernie Mac Show, King of the Hill, and Malcolm in the Middle (all of which PTC has rated "yellow" in their traffic light rating system) during the daytime, or Spike, with its Star Trek: Voyager reruns late afternoons. PTC has left the one-sided impression that those channels are all-day smut peddlers, as it's taken extensive action against FX's The Shield and labelled Spike programs MANswers and movie presentation of Sin City as "worst cable shows of the week". (Surprisingly, PTC hasn't commented about Spike's heavy reruns of CSI!)

I do support PTC's efforts to push for "cable choice" - although I don't have cable, if I did, I'd love the luxury of being able to pick-and-choose! But things do look fishy when you have an influential organization that's complained to the FCC like an angry mob to influence broadcasting law.

Surviving senior year and the real world so far!

Time is moving along from Week 3 to Week 4 of school, and the countdown to probably the golden age of my life is coming up!
- Oct. 4 - SAT (I will got above 2100; I KNOW it; the UC/CSU systems require finishing the SAT by December)
- Sometime later in October: Training for poll working! I shalt riggeth thee election in favour of Barack Hussein Obama serveth the publick voters and earneth $120 - just on time for the holidays!
- Nov. 4 - ELECTION DAY! G0BAMA!!!!
- Various dates between October and November - writing up college apps & essays & all that business. So far SJSU, San Francisco State, and University of Washington (Seattle) are on my mind, although I as of late have been receiving invitations to attend local admissions presentations by Boston University and Washington University (St. Louis). Given my disappointingly scarce GPA and extracurricular record, I think I'll more likely be admitted to a public university (UoW is public too) or probably a private one - not all private universities equal Stanford given that they can set all their own standards whatever they please.

Today I had cross country tryouts up at the hill near my neighbourhood; it's my first year trying athletics at high school, and this is my attempt to pump up my transcript for the admissions officers. Given that I've never been a hardcore athlete in my life, the uphill runs were torturous. Although I finished at last place among all runners, chances are that I could still make the team by lucky chance given that the coaches count other factors like attendance & behavior - I've kept my attitude clean and attended all but one day of practice since they began back around late June of this year.

After cross country I sat down to watch the last of Charles Gibson's interview with Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin. Not just ABC, but ALL the news networks have been hyping the Gibson/Palin interview - it's been "Palinmania" ever since the surprise dark horse entrance of Palin, gov. of Alaska, as John McCain's running mate. Gibson did have some tough questions for Palin in the beginning but later became easier on her as he got to know more about her, as issues like the "Bridge to Nowhere" and Troopergate were brought up. Is this media bias? Maybe not, as when Joe Biden was confirmed as Barack Obama's running mate, the media was quick to point out Biden's 1987 plagiarism and more recent criticisms of Obama, such as the "first articulate African-American" comment and general claims that Obama didn't have enough experience. Oh well, but I'm in favor of Obama/Biden since they have shown the best potential to reunite the nation and help those who have been betrayed by 8 years of a less-than-stellar Bush administration. Still, I'm pretty open-minded and keeping watch at the McCain/Palin ticket and exploring the election from both the Democratic and Republican sides.

24 August 2008

The state of modern American hip-hop: Part 1: Morality

With just two days left before The Last Year of High School, I'm desperately trying to spend time as dutifully as possible. I woke up this morning to watch Sunday morning news coverage of the upcoming Democratic National Convention and Barack Obama's pick of Joe Biden as VP. I later went to Barnes & Noble to buy Chris Matthews' book Hardball: How Politics Is Played--Told By One Who Knows the Game, which supposedly inspired his current cable TV news/talk show Hardball. I read a library copy of the book already and liked it; for AP U.S. Government & Politics class I'll be referencing that book. When I got home, I just watched the documentary California Schools: America's Future and later the movie Prom Night that I rented from Netflix. That film was one of the oddest films I've seen: a crime drama merged with high school story, as it's about a serial killer who wreaks havoc on a high school prom. It's odd how so many critics disliked it. Was it because that concept was too stupid? Maybe. I must be a maverick in thought...(and I love Brittany Snow, the lead actress of the film; I don't know why there aren't any girls as cute as her who go to my high school) In a striking conincidence, there was a character named "Howard K. Ramsey" who was murdered in Prom Night, while the man arrested for sending threatening letters to a John McCain campaign office in Denver was Marc Harold Ramsey.

Now to the main topic that I promised to my readers from Friday night's report: the Parents Television Council's The Rap on Rap, its April 2008 report on "adult content" on rap music videos shown during daytime hours on cable programs Sucker Free (MTV), Rap City (BET), and 106 & Park (BET). The Rev. Delman Coates, organizer of the Enough is Enough Campaign, requested that PTC organize this report. Among its core claims: those programs are so much raunchier than even the worst prime-time TV shows! Why? In their own words:
"The PTC documented 1,647 instances of offensive/adult content in the 27.5 hours of programming analyzed during the December 2007 study period, for an average of 59.9 instances per hour, or nearly one instance every minute.

"In March 2008, there were 1,342 instances of offensive/adult content in a mere 14 hours of programming, or 95.8 instances per hour, 1.6 instances per minute, or one instance of adult content every 38 seconds.

"To put this data in perspective, in the PTC’s most recent analysis of prime time broadcast TV Family Hour programming, the data revealed an average 12.5 instances of violent, profane and sexual content per hour. This is equivalent to one instance every 4.8 minutes."

Next, the press release drones on over the excess amounts of sex/violence/drugs/lack of morality just like Lois Griffin puts in on the theme song to Fox's cartoon sitcom Family Guy: "It seems to me that all you see is violence in movies and sex on TV..." But now here's some more amazing findings:
"All episodes of Sucker Free on MTV included in this analysis were rated TV-14. By contrast, almost every episode of 106 & Park and Rap City on BET carried only a TV-PG rating. An exception was found with one show that aired in December, which was rated TV-14 and included descriptors for suggestive dialogue, foul language, and sex.

"During the two-week December 2007 study period, children under 18 made up approximately 40% of the viewing audience for 106 & Park, 41% of the audience for Rap City and 39% of the audience for Sucker Free on MTV. Because all of these programs re-air throughout the day, study results underestimate the percentage of unique children who are exposed or have been exposed to these programs in total."

Oh noes! MTV and BET deliberately mis-rate their programs in an effort to brainwash our children into thug life! And their schemes have actually worked!

But let's get a bit more serious now. Again I shall emphasize that PTC asserts: "Because all of these programs re-air throughout the day, study results underestimate the percentage of unique children who are exposed or have been exposed to these programs in total." How does it back up this claim? For the time periods included in its study here were the timeslots of each program: (times are Eastern & Pacific time zones; adjust back one hour for everywhere else in the US)
- 106 & Park (BET) (TV-PG): Mon-Fri 11AM-12:30PM & 6PM-7:30PM; Saturdays 11AM-12:30PM
- Rap City (BET) (TV-PG): Mon-Sat 5-6PM (but for some reason PTC says that RC "airs each Saturday" on BET yet quickly points out there exists a weekday broadcast, without having asserted so previously)
- Sucker Free (MTV) (TV-14): Tues-Thu 8AM-8:30AM (an example of MTV's odd, arbitrary scheduling: This show used to be shown 7PM, then 3PM, 8AM, 4:30PM, then was pulled from the MTV schedule around early June but is still shown on MTV's [more competent] sister channel MTV2)
So given that PTC freely suggests that some of the shows were shown during school hours, "unique children who are exposed or have been exposed to these programs in total" might mean kids who cut class to watch these shows, who happen to be able to watch cable TV at school, or unsupervised kindergarteners who are flipping through their cable-equipped TV set before afternoon session.

As noted here, PTC has claimed to have found numerous dirty words in these programs - which would give a sailor a heart attack perhaps? But how honest is their ability to view things through the perspective of the average viewer of these programs? On page 8 of the PDF: (I had to type this out since the whole darn PDF apparantly was printed off a scanner rather than converted from something like Microsoft Office, so I can't cut & paste text)
"Each episode was viewed by a trained analyst who conducted a detailed analysis of both visual and verbal content. Programs were analyzed in their entirety...

"For all categories of offensive content the analysis was determined by what aired in the video. This is significant given many instances in which a song's lyrics are changed from what is heard on the album to what is heard on the music video. In the event of a muted profanity or reference, the word was verified either by reviewing lyrics from a third-party webpage or listening to an uncensored version of a song.

"Language was coded for specific words uttered throughout programming and certain related euphemisms - such as the word 'screw' when used as a euphemism for 'fuck.' Also coded were cases of bleeped and otherwise obscured language. This included words that were partially obscured but identifiable, as well as obscene gestures."

Wow...they freely admit that they had to look beyond the program just to uncover the sleaze with which BET and MTV are planning to indoctrinate the innocent children of America! This is getting ridiculous now; I've seen enough "edited" rap music videos in my adolescence to know that I, the hip-hop fan, need to do my own verification before I can know what Standards & Practices wanted to block from my ears. It's true that kids can go on the Internet and find out what got censored - but parents have the ability to filter kids' Internet access given all the filtering software out there, thus putting PTC's profanity argument into scrutiny. But next PTC claims that in March 2008 some expletives that were censored from Dec. 2007 were not censored. The words in question? (VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED) "ass" and "hell" Ironically PTC fails to point out that in March 2008 there were no unedited uses of (VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED) "bitch" while in December 2007 there were 5 logged uses of "bitch" on Rap City...making the network standards stricter than NBC Universal Television Distribution's standards for the Jerry Springer, Maury, and Steve Wilkos daytime tabloid talk shows (whose uncensored B-words outnumber those from the rap music shows by a truckload, based on my viewing experiences this summer, I'll get to those shows later). And in December 2007, PTC couldn't find any use of "hell" (censored or not), so their claim is pure puffery.

Off with the swear words now; other issues that PTC evaluated included illegal and sexual and violent activities, including the usual suspects as drugs & drinking. But I was surprised to find out that some rap videos promoted "underage drinking"...I thought that was the stuff of other of the PTC's "bete noire" shows The O.C. and Gossip Girl! I've never seen a rap video that promotes "u can drank b4 age 21"...indeed a lot of rap songs do promote drinking but I doubt that they promote blatantly underage drinking. Seems that PTC wants to argue that no media aimed towards minors should ever depict drinking in a positive light.

And finally there comes the list of videos that PTC used for the report, which also brings up insight about which videos were popular during 12/07 and 3/08. The top two "full-length" videos played (only Rap City plays full-length videos, according to the report) were "Superstar" by Lupe Fiasco and "Playas Rock" by Hurricane Chris. But third in line is "100 Million" by Birdman, one of the more "gangsta/edgier" types that Rev. Delman Coates (who was an advisor to the study) discussed on NPR back in May. And then is "Speedin'" by Rick Ross. Both videos play out like CSI: Miami, only told more from the criminals' (rappers') point of view. At least they show the "police" portion of the story as well but obscure them in a "Fuck tha Police" tone with all the cash-throwing and escapism. As I go down the list, I find that some videos that get a lot of "full-length" plays get few "excerpted" plays, and vice versa. Which means that a video like "Speedin'" or "100 Million" would've been played a lot on Rap City but few times on 106 or SF. So it can possibly assert that Rap City plays out videos for a certain amount of time, and voting on 106 & Park (which is BET's version of MTV's Total Request Live, a top-10 countdown show voted on by viewers) can increase airtime on television.

It should be noted that 106 and SF show both rap and R&B videos, while Rap City plays only rap videos (hence the title), something PTC won't point out, thus putting the report further into question. So that means that the R&B videos in the PTC's study could be seen only on BET if a viewer were to watch all three of the said programs habitually. Now I'm seeing that BET gave R&B videos "Just Fine" by Mary J. Blige and "Suffocate" by J. Holiday were shown only once in full length and about ten times in excerpt - apparantly I guess that is how 106 & Park makes a point when showing newer videos.

So this is ironic. Turns out that although the "cleaner" R&B videos are given more rotation than "dirty" rap videos, overall there are more rap videos in the "rap fan habitual pattern" that I shall refer a viewer who watches all three said programs.

Rap music, ever since the late 80s when some rappers like 2 Live Crew and N.W.A began using profanity and other explicit content in their lyrics than other rappers had, has always been controversial for that content. So have other genres of music: for example some 80s heavy metal music that came under criticism by the Parents Music Resource Center - which the PTC might as well be paying tribute to with The Rap on Rap. Indeed, it seems that the networks are taking PTC more seriously, as MTV isn't showing Sucker Free for the time being this summer (but still shows some rap videos within other general programs Friday Night MTV (FNMTV) and Total Request Live, and BET did rate the July 11 episode of 106 & Park "TV-PG-DLS". I've tried looking up specific, descriptor ratings for other BET programming but can't seem to find any. Finally, BET had this to say after NPR hosted Rev. Coates and PTC president Tim Winter:
"BET Networks takes our responsibility to our viewers seriously, and that's why we voluntarily established a standards process that reviews all the programming we air, including music videos. We routinely reject videos that do not meet our programming guidelines, and we have an ongoing dialogue with the labels and artists to find a balance between free and responsible expression. We encourage the Enough is Enough Campaign and the Parents Television Council to do the same."

So BET appears to accept that it's been accused of hurting our generation and gives a thumbs up to PTC.

As more people come to realize that "Enough is Enough" indeed, they'll probably stop accepting gratuitous sexual and "gangsta values" and start demanding more positive, competent hip-hop. I'm glad that at least BET chooses to side some more positive artists like Lupe Fiasco and Alicia Keys and Chris Brown besides the other junk and has approved PTC's complaints. Back before NWA/2 Live Crew most rap was less profane/vulgar than the PTC's worst nightmares; examples straight out of my MP3 player include Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, LL Cool J (before 2000, his newer stuff sucks), Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West (who cares if he once said "George Bush doesn't care about black people?"), Eric B & Rakim, Talib Kweli, and Mos Def. Some of the mentioned artists fall under the "socially concious hip hop" banner. I hope that someday you'll join us and unite as one against excess sleaze - yes I admit I do listen to some gangsta rap but it's not to be enlisted in the vast corporate conspiracy, it's to open my mind to see "the other America".

Next time on "The state of modern American hip-hop", I'll look at how there's way too many cliches and "copyright infringement" in some of the newer rap songs...I thought that us music fans had more trouble for illegal downloading! Stay tuned...

22 August 2008

How will senior year go?

So today I picked up the revised version of my senior year schedule because of an error in class placement. I at least got into symphonic band rather than orchestra (I don't play string instruments; I play only piano and mallets) but did not get AP Computer Science. Which leaves my schedule as follows:
2nd - Teacher's assistant
3rd - AP Calculus BC
4th - Symphonic Band
5th - AP U.S. Government (1st sem.)/Economics (2nd sem.)
6th - English 4 (possibly might change to AP English Language if I can work something out with the counselors)
As far as this goes, it might be a lightly scheduled yet difficult senior year. Besides the complexity of the AP classes, there are other things I must deal with, including college apps, SAT's, and preparation for independent living. After having surfed CollegeBoard.com for the past two weeks, my college lookout so far aims at: San Jose State University, University of the Pacific, University of Washington (in Seattle, not DC), Reed College, Washington University (in St. Louis, again not Seattle or DC), UC Irvine, UC Riverside, and some others in certain areas of the US I'm eager to "temporarily" reside in.

Now that I'm lacking in AP Computer Science yet I still plan on majoring in a computer science/IT-related field in college, the question is: How will I be able to "prepare" myself for my major? I doubt that colleges would want a candidate for such a major who lacked any high school experience in the field. Luckily I still have other academic interests like business and mathematics (I got a 5 on the AP Calculus AB exam!) which I think I might as well advance my interests in in the time to come. This summer I've been exploring Java programming with the APCS homework (which the teacher recommended for ALL the potential APCS students) and the editing of Wikipedia.

Next year, I hope to be able to learn from the mistakes I made the past three years of high school and reverse them so that I can perform better this year, possibly even straight A's (something I so far haven't been able to get to in high school)! Luckily my "light" schedule will give me more time to practice for the SAT's and polish an impressive application - unintentionally increasing my acceptance chances. I've done many more practice problems for SAT thanks to the Princeton Review using a passcode provided in an SAT prep book I bought from Barnes & Noble. The same "learning from my mistakes" philosophy I shall use for SAT and everything else in life.

Anyways, after having picked up my schedule, I went home, had lunch, watched some Inuyasha, and practiced the piano.

And just a few minutes ago, I decided to revisit the Parents Television Council's April 2008 report The Rap on Rap that complained that the impressionable children watching the hip-hop video shows on BET and MTV are being corrupted by images of thug life, gratuitous images of women's body parts, foul language, and basically everything you dislike about rap music. This isn't a surprise given that rap music has always been controversial - even back in the late 80s/early 90s with N.W.A and 2 Live Crew. As a longtime fan of hip hop music I won't deny that a lot of it is morally incorrect. I certainly agree with the PTC's position that those programs are not "kid-friendly" and was quite surprised to notice that a sizable audience of kids age 2-11 watch such shows! But here's the thing: the PTC is an organization that many claim insist that TV be "politically correct" in the field of tradition values and accuse of dubious research, blatant deceit, and inflation of FCC complaint numbers. As I read through the PTC's report (which I've already done a few times) I also have some suspicions. Sure, I'd agree that the average viewer would be offended by much of the content on those shows, but the report doesn't note exactly which videos are "really" offensive and which aren't. The report also includes a table of videos included in the research, which ranged from gangsta rap ("100 Million" by Birdman, "Speedin'" by Rick Ross, "I'm So Hood" by DJ Khaled), rap "ballads" ("Fly Like Me" by Chingy, "Girl You Know" by Scarface, "I Won't Tell" by Fat Joe), R&B (various videos by Mary J. Blige, Chris Brown, etc.) among others. I've already gone on YouTube and previewed two of the "not-so-raunchy" choices: "Superstar" by Lupe Fiasco and "Independent" by Webbie, and I doubt that they'd match the PTC's fear-mongering impression of rap music. Furthermore, as pretty much all the videos shown on BET/MTV were edited for content, PTC freely admitted that its researchers referred to the "uncensored" versions to find out what got muted out - to get around the censors, maybe? As I have far much more to say afterwards, I'll continue this tomorrow.

25 July 2008

Tabloids hit reality

On June 4, I commentated about the US network news' lack of Tiananmen protest retrospective coverage - largely in part from Barack Obama's victory in the US Democratic Party primaries for the 2008 election.

However, I just came upon this BBC News article today that reports on the Beijing News tabloid getting banned from mainland Chinese newsstands after it dared shed light on Democracy by posting a photo from the 1989 Tiananmen protests. So apparantly the free-speech-granted ABC, CBS, Fox News, MSNBC, and NBC didn't say anything about the massacre, but the Communist-censored Beijing News could?! How ironic...in a real world the exact opposite would've happened...apparantly the same darn thing happened to the state-run CCTV too

Back home in the red, white, and blue, during the dog days of summer with about 30-35 days left until school resumes, I've been dividing my days between studying, slacking, the Internet, and the Idiot Box. During the daytime, the local channels show all sorts of "Tabloid talk shows", such as Jerry Springer and Maury. Those types of programs are for me just guilty pleasure but not really my regular taste...they ain't "must see TV" compared to quality, actually "entertaining" stuff like CSI, The Office, or The Simpsons.

On Thursday, local Fox station KTVU re-ran an old Maury episode from May 2008, titled "You're 14 and Having a Baby, Your Wild Ways End Today!" - pretty much all Maury episode titles read like a New York Post or National Enquirer headline (even his occaasional "clean" episode like his "Most Talented Kids" shows...with all the exclamation and question marks) As you might've predicted or known, that episode was among his countless "wild teens" episodes that feature teen girls who engage in sexually devious behavior. One girl featured had a baby at age 11 and repeated the 6th grade twice, and another girl was a sex & drug addict who failed 8th grade twice! Luckily, Maury Povich at least knows how to be morally correct, as he talks to the girls in a serious, concerned tone and invites motivational speakers/counselor type people like D. West, Raphael B. Johnson, and Harvey Walden to fix 'em up. After show, the girls go to "rehabilitation" places like an AIDS treatment facility (for the third-time 6th grade student) or even the Monmouth County Correctional Facility (for the others).

Later that day, I tuned to local PBS station KQED to watch The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. It was the first time in a while I actually saw Lehrer host his own show; in many previous times I watched Newshour other substitute hosts like Ray Suarez or Gwen Ifill. Thursday's edition had a story about a reform school district down in New Orleans that serviced "overage" students...yep the same type of students I saw on Maury earlier that day. The story featured...a 19-year old woman who failed 12th grade twice (mostly due to failing the Science section of Louisiana's high school exit exam...here in California we take only English & Math in our exit exam). If her situation isn't bad enough, wait till you hear in that story about a 16-year-old boy who failed eighth grade twice; the reporter also asserted the existence of overage sixth- and seventh-grade students.

Whether in Communist China or Free-Speech America, "edgy" journalism like tabloids can ocassionally be eye-opener despite being general eye candy. It really depends on what the tabloid is covering, usually smearing public figures such as celebrities or politicians. But sometimes they're willing to cover where the MSM simply is too cowardly to go.