Monthly Archives: July 2004

This Land

There’s a great story on Wired News (and elsewhere in previous days) about a copyright lawsuit against the two brothers who produced the brilliant “This Land” campaign parody. The people who own the rights to Woody Guthrie’s songs, the Richmond Organization, have demanded “This Land” be removed from the Net because the brothers stole Guthrie’s music. The Wired News story ends with this note on Guthrie’s reported wishes regarding the song’s copyright:

“According to various Internet sources, including the website of the Museum of Musical Instruments in Santa Cruz, California, Guthrie allegedly wrote, ‘This song is copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.’ ”

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John Brown’s Body

Oddest moments (for me) in tonight’s sporadic convention viewing:

–Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, extolling remarkable Kansas citizens of the past, included John Brown, the abolitionist. I guess it was startling to hear the name of one of the most radical characters in U.S. history, and one generally held responsible for killing five pro-slavery farmers in Kansas, because the proceedings have such a carefully crafted moderation to them. But maybe I’m wrong and John Brown is on his way back as a hero of the New Democrats.

–PBS vs. MSNBC vs. Fox vs. C-SPAN:
PBS: Jim Lehrer looks like he’s sleepwalking through this thing. The New York Times’ David Brooks doesn’t seem to have much insight to add, and no one, Republican or Democrat, has done anything to deserve the torture of watching Mark Shields paw through the proceedings in search of meaning nuggets. We next switched to …
MSNBC: I thought I might be able to stomach Chris Matthews. I didn’t watch long enough to really find out, because of the jittery way he kept leaping from correspondent to correspondent after John Edwards’s speech. Next up was …
Fox: Tuned in while Brit Hume was holding court, and Kate insisted I refrain from switching so we could see what “the other side” is saying. It was surprisingly un-awful — in the context of how awful network news in general has become. Hume’s panel included Morton Kondracke, who termed Edwards’ speech 95 percent positive but took points off for his having uttered the “fiction” that there are two Americas with different levels of privilege; NPR’s Mara Liasson, whose startled looking (not to say bug-eyed) expression explains why she’s not on the tube more often, stuck to her guns in analyzing Edwards’ speech as effective; and the most damning thing conservative lion Bill Kristol could come up with was to say the speech was the most hawkish heard at a Democratic convention since John F. Kennedy was nominated in 1960. Hume’s most memorable contribution was a complaint about the volume of the Black-Eyed Peas performance after Edwards finished. Later on, Greta van Susteren took over and provided a frightening look at face-work gone bad. To recover from the Botox scare, we tuned to …
C-SPAN: Thank the deity, if any, for a channel that won’t get in the way of the Guam delegation’s long introduction (60 years since liberation from the Japanese, 100 years under U.S rule) to its vote.

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X Prize: The Motel

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OK, sometimes I think I’m immune to learning anything. Kate and I went down to the SpaceShipOne launch in June and wound up staying in Lancaster, about 25 miles from the Mojave Airport, the staging site. That meant we had to get up ridiculously early (2:30 a.m.) to make sure we got to Mojave by 4 a.m. to avoid getting stuck in a monster traffic jam that never really materialized. Ever since then, I’ve been telling myself that the really smart thing to do for the X Prize launch, which logic dictated would happen in September sometime, would be to call a motel in Mojave to see if anyone would put a room on hold. But since that was the eminently sensible thing to do, I hesitated to act.

Then Burt Rutan announced yesterday the first prize launch will be attempted September 29. So first thing, I filed my story. Then I called the Best Western down there in Mojave, which is just outside what turned out to be the press entrance to the airport. Rutan announced the launch about 11 a.m. When I called the motel at 1:30 p.m. or so, the clerk told me the entire 50-room joint was sold out from September 28 through October 6 (Rutan hopes to do the second flight on the 4th of October, the anniversary of the launch of Sputnik I in 1957).

The clerk directed me to another motel, the Mariah Country Inn. They already had a waiting list, and the clerk there told me it would take three or four days to get back to people about room availability. Then I called the Econo Lodge, which advertises “nice clean rooms, away from train” (Mojave’s got a fairly substantial railroad yard).

The clerk there checked the nights I asked for — from September 27 through October 6. Yes, they had a couple rooms still available. But he wanted to tell me about a few ground rules first. The rate would be $159.95. I could cancel, but only with 30 days’ notice. And once that 30-day notice deadline passed, I’d be on the hook for the entire 10 nights I had reserved; I couldn’t cancel a couple nights in the middle or cut the stay short without paying for it.

I asked the normal rate for the room we were discussing. “Oh — 69 dollars.” “So you guys are really making out on this deal.” “Yes, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.” Ah — the beauty of the free market at work.

All of which reminded me of two comments from our June visit. A couple of California Highway Patrol cadets who were directing traffic all night before the launch said they had never seen so many people in Mojave. “All the motels are booked,” one said, “even the ghetto ones.” Later, Kate overheard another woman in town telling a friend about the launch: “Wow — this really put Mojave on the map.” And her friend answered, “And tomorrow it’ll go back to being a ghost town.”

Yep, one with plenty of cheap motel rooms. I finally threw up my hands and booked a room in Tehachapi, again about 25 miles away, for half the price of the Econo Lodge room.

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X Prize snaps

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Some pictures from Tuesday’s X Prize press conference in Santa Monica.

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Barack Obama

Well, last week Kate told me a friend was begging off a social engagement — well, it was actually a planned reading aloud of “A Tale of Two Cities” — because she wanted to watch John Kerry’s speech at the Democratic convention instead. My response was, “No way I’m changing anything in my personal life to watch John Kerry talk.” Yeah, I’m still stuck on wondering what in the world he was thinking when he voted to give Bush the OK to pound Saddam. But I won’t wander down that trail now.

But tonight after picking me up at the airport, Kate wanted to get home quickly to watch Barack Obama’s speech to the convention. I didn’t bad mouth Obama. I’m curious about him as a native Illinoisan and also — just having seen “Fahrenheit 9/11” last night — really wondering if there is anyone out there who might appeal to “the better angels of our nature” (no, I don’t think it’s Michael Moore, though he did succeed in making an occasionally funny, often wrenching film).

So I heard Obama tonight, and right away I was thinking he should be on the ticket. He’s articulate. He speaks from experience. He talks convincingly about inclusion and unity, about looking out for each other and about the keys to helping the poor and disenfranchised succeed. Hope he makes it to the Senate in November (running virtually unopposed in Illinois, I suppose he will). We need a presence and a voice like that on the national scene.

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X Prize News 7.27.04

In Santa Monica (a Starbuck’s on National Boulevard, the first wireless place I could find)). Just filed my Wired News story on this morning’s announcement that Burt Rutan’s group will launch SpaceShipOne on a prize attempt at the end of September. I was far from first to get the story online; would have done better if there had been an open Wi-Fi node at the airport, but I couldn’t find one. Anyway, I did get a story written and, soon, posted.

More later, including some snaps from the press conference.

And later: Wired News posted the story at 2 p.m. So: The press conference was all done with about 11 a.m. I was finished writing about 12:45 p.m. (hmmm — that seems on the slow side, but whatever). Drove off to find a place to get online and emailed the story at 1:12 p.m., and it was live just after 2.

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Tour de A.M.

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That’s our neighbor Marie, who with close confrere Steve and another cyclistically inclined neighbor, Christine, came over at 6 a.m. Sunday to watch the final live broadcast of the Tour de France. They all were over to watch Stage 1, too, on the Fourth of July. Hey, there’s nothing else to do that early on a Sunday morning in Berkeley.

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The Tour’s Over

The quick takeaways:

–It’s a little hard to take in the dimensions of Lance Armstrong’s accomplishment. On the sporting level, I think it’s on a par with Muhammad Ali’s domination of the heavyweight division before he was drafted or Michael Jordan’s taking over the NBA. They existed on planes above their contemporaries, and so does Lance.

–His accomplishment will remain under a cloud, I think, until there’s a definitive answer to questions about whether Armstrong used “illegal substances.” (Good piece in Velonews on this today from former racer and l’Alpe d’Huez stage winner Andy Hampsten.) The cynical assumption, from which I’ve tried to refrain, is that he’s been on something. Maybe the definitive answer will never come and the cynical assumptions will win the day. What a shame.

–The Tour next year: Will Lance ride again? It’s hard to imagine him not defending the title. One thing I’m interested in what will happen to race coverage here when he’s finally out of the race. The Outdoor Life Network has had a ready-made hometown superstar to promote and has done a good job of building its coverage around him. But what if the favorites were a German, an Italian, and a Russian? For serious cycling fans, the Tour would still be compelling. But I think OLN would lose most everyone else without another legitimate U.S. threat.

–Speaking of the next U.S. threat: Who is it? I have no idea, and that means nothing, because I don’t know much about what’s happening in the pro cycling ranks. I think it’s fair to say that when LeMond’s star faded, few saw Armstrong’s rising as a great Tour rider, and virtually no one saw him as a future champion.

–Speaking of OLN: As I said, they did a nice job building and marketing a month-plus of programming built around Armstrong (even if “The Cyclysm” is a cataclysmically dumb banner for the programming event. But: You wonder if they could do better with the broadcasting team. On the plus side, Bob Roll is great: Knowledgeable, funny, with a winning way of never taking himself or the Tour too seriously. But Al Trautwig combines lack of cycling knowledge with a suave, empty broadcasting style that’s got to go. And the play-by-play/color team of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen are trapped in a cyclysm of gasping superlatives, butchered metaphors, and pure and simple miscalls of the action. The final one came today, when Liggett announced that Fabian Cancellara, the young rider who had won the prologue three weeks ago, had gone off the front on the next-to-last lap of the street circuit in Paris. Both he and Sherwen narrated his big push up the Champs Elysee and his attempt to stay clear of the peloton. Then, after a good two or three minutes of this, the rider made the turn just before the Arc d’ Triomphe and voila, the OLN twins noticed it was not Cancellara at all but Juan Antonio Flecha. Think about that kind of mistake in any other sporting event you can think of. Hard to imagine it being tolerated.

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The Son Also Snoozes

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Kate and I are no longer childless! Tom returned from Germany this afternoon. Spent the afternoon regaling us with stories and pictures and poring over his amazing German candy trove and explaining the finer points of German beer and beer glasses. Just before dinner, when the evening replay of the Tour came on, he hit the wall.

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X Prize News 7.22.04

Wednesday, the X Prize Foundation put out a release announcing a press conference in Santa Monica next Tuesday, July 27. The subject: “Several announcements” about the $10 million prize competition. You don’t need to be a rocket surgeon or a brain scientist to know that the Number One announcement will be dates for a prize attempt by Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne team (earlier news on the possible timing on Wired News and MSNBC.com).

An official involved in X Prize launch planning — I interviewed him for Wired News, which chose not to do a story yesterday; since we spoke under that understanding, I don’t want to quote him by name — wouldn’t confirm the SpaceShipOne news. But he did says this about the announcement: “They’re just going to announce the dates of one of the applicants’ next flights, their next prospective flights.” The official said his organization, which I would describe as being a key partner in Rutan’s launch preparations, would participate in next week’s announcement.

The X Prize people say that in addition to Rutan, Brian Feeney of Toronto’s da Vinci Project will participate. Feeney likewise wouldn’t comment on the announcement. He did say that his group will be holding a press event up in Toronto on August 4 (it was orginally planned for Wednesday, July 21, but was cancelled partly because of the imminent X Prize press conference, he said. He also said that since the da Vinci Project is an all-volunteer effort, “Sometimes it’s hard to tell people what to do” and pull off something like a press day. But he said the August 4 session will definitely happen.

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