Category: Media Reviews (Page 1 of 2)

I Told You So: Book Written By George Soros Supported Author, Gabriel Sherman, Is a 600-Page Anti-Roger Ailes Attack Ad

9780812992854Gabriel Sherman said he was writing a fair take on Roger Ailes, the Northwest Daily Marker warned you, here that it would be attack journalism. When Gabriel Sherman said it would be accurate, the Northwest Daily Marker warned you that accuracy is not Gabriel Sherman’s strength and when Gabriel Sherman and his water carriers demonstrated that Sherman was practicing stalkeratzi tactics, the Northwest Daily Marker gave him the opportunity to do the right thing. Then Sherman’s book came out.

If one takes a swing at the King, one should be sure to knock him out. Gabriel Sherman has not even knocked Roger Ailes down. We are not the only one’s who noticed. Behold: the NY Times, the Washington Post, Slate, the Baltimore SunUSA Today and The Hollywood Reporter. Not a right wing writer in the bunch. And one, Erik Wemple of the Washington Post, was a very consistent and constant defender of Gabriel Sherman and his tactics … even tactics like cyber harassing Ailes’ wife.

What even the left wing media has noticed is that Sherman–despite the years-long time to research–has simply gotten it wrong. From the big picture–Sherman’s imaginary whale, an Ailes that divided America, failed to appear–to the details, where Sherman’s own fact-checkers erase one of Gabriel Sherman’s few salacious selling points of “The Loudest Voice In The Room,” the book cannot back up its charges and adds nothing of note to the man with whom the author never spoke in its pursuit.

After four years of studying Roger Ailes, Gabriel Sherman failed to do the one thing that any author with that much time to focus should have easily accomplished. In nearly 600 pages of writing, Gabriel Sherman failed to prove the very thesis that appears on the cover of his own book, namely that Roger Ailes somehow divided a country.

A TV network dividing a nation is an odd case to make in the first place; the math is simply not on Sherman’s side and no “writing around” his subject (as Gabriel Sherman was left to do when Ailes didn’t speak with him) gets anywhere near proving Sherman’s central thesis on Ailes. Yes, Fox News dominates cable news and has for 141 consecutive months, but about 95% of Americans never watch the network. Based on total viewers, the three most popular programs on Fox News in 2013 account for a combined viewership of roughly 6,199,000 people in a country of over 319,000,000 people (or about 239,250,000 people over eighteen years of age). Even if every person who views Fox is somehow magically changed into copies of Gabriel Sherman’s imaginary Roger Ailes, 6 million people who watch TV a lot simply do not divide 239 million who can’t be bothered to tune in. As Erik Wemple points out, Gabriel Sherman himself cannot explain his assertion.

If Sherman had only missed on the big picture but added details that provided the reader a new understanding of Roger Ailes, the book would be, while not meaningful, at least interesting. But, in “The Loudest Voice In The Room,” the reader simply cannot trust the details. Gabriel Sherman recounts a story of a dinner between two media power brokers, an intimate dinner between Roger Ailes and Discovery Network President, David Zaslav. According to Gabriel Sherman, at that very dinner, Roger Ailes issued an anti-semitic slur against Mr. Zaslav. Random House, the publisher of “The Loudest Voice In The Room,” found that particular passage so important that it was among the teaser passages they released to the media. The problem? According to the two men who actually attended the dinner, it never happened, as Breitbart notes by way of quoting The New York Times. To make the problem worse and to drive the trust rating for Sherman even lower, readers don’t learn that both men deny it from Sherman’s prose, they only learn it from the footnotes of “The Loudest Voice In The Room” … if anyone besides book reviewers–or Random House’s fact checkers and lawyers–ever read the footnotes.

By failing to provide any proof at all for his central theme that Ailes has divided a country, to selling stories that his own fact-checkers do not support, the rest of the tales about Roger Ailes that Gabriel Sherman relays in “The Loudest Voice In The Room,” while salacious and larger than life, can only been seen in the light of what they actually are: second and third hand musings in a book that hoped to reveal a new Citizen Kane, but instead introduces readers to a new Kitty Kelly.

Book Review: Steven Brill’s ‘Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools’

Steven Brill will be speaking Tuesday, November 1, at the Seattle Public Library downtown. For more information, click here.

As the title suggests, this book about public education in America is explained as a two-sided war. On one side stands America’s students, entrepreneurial and moneyed professionals, enlightened elected officials, and amazingly idealistic and energetic teachers. The other side is a bureaucratic monstrosity filled with paper-pushers, taciturn union officials, lazy teachers, and an intransigent and backward worldview.

In “Class Warfare,” Steven Brill, a ridiculously successful journalist and entrepreneur (he founded Court TV!), attempts to capture the origins, leaders, and timeline of the modern public education reform movement. The Book is filled with the usual suspects. The list includes, but is not limited to, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Wendy Kopp (the founder of Teach For America), Bill Gates, Eva Moskowitz, Robert Gordon, Rupert Murdoch, Steven Brill, and, finally, Beelzebub herself, Randi Weingarten. Weingarten must truly despise this book.

I’m only half joking by referring to her as Beelzebub. Brill explains in the book that he spent more time talking to Weingarten while writing this book than any of the other characters that appear on its pages. I imagine that’s part of his rationalization for painting her as the symbol for what is wrong with public education in America.

In 1999, Eva Moskowitz, a Johns Hopkins PhD-holder, a former professor at Vanderbilt, and an unrelenting critic of New York City public schools, won a seat on NYC’s City Council. By 2002 she had become the chair of the Council’s education committee. Just a year later, she decided to openly challenge Weingarten in the public sphere. She challenged Weingarten on her union’s contracts with the City and came out swinging, orchestrating testimony, lambasting the union head for protecting her interests – students be damned – , and generally being a “pain in the ass.” Weingarten punted, deciding to blame poor management for the City’s struggles and refusing to give in to a single point Moskowitz made. She survived, but barely. And so Weingarten decided to get even. Less than two years later, with Moskowitz running for Borough president, Weingarten used her union’s largesse to orchestrate a nasty campaign against her – on the radio, on sidewalks, and through phone calls – highlighted by a ridiculous charge that Moskowitz was opposed to anti-sweatshop laws. Moskowitz lost, big time, and the reader is left to imagine the grin on the face of a cruel and unwavering Weingarten while she laughs chillingly in a dark basement.

Brilliantly, in more than 80 tidy chapters, Brill contrasts “rubber rooms” and powerful, anti-reform union officials – Weingarten being numero uno – with a cast of characters that inspire hope.

Brill’s greatest show of persuasion is by continually showing his reader the diverse professionals behind the education reform movement. As diverse as his cast of characters are, they all have one thing in common: remarkable success. Whether in business, technology, society, or politics, Brill does a convincing and charming job of painting education reform as the side of winners. In other words, if his reader happens to be opposed to charters or vouchers, bonus pay or strict teacher evaluations, or any of the other hallmarks of education reformers, than chances are, that reader is dumb. Is it possible to second-guess Bill Gates? Or Michelle Rhee or her fiancé, and Mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson?

The villians in Warfare, like Weingarten, are interested in protecting the status quo of public education. Nearly every chapter of the book makes the reader wonder what there is to protect? One passage in particular showcases the mindset of the status quo.

During a public hearing over co-location of a traditional public school and a NYC charter school, Brill brings a little girl named Tiana and her mother Bernice into the good versus evil story-arch. Tiana gets up and grabs the microphone to address the packed auditorium: “My name is Tiana Wynn, and at my Harlem Success school they teach us to share and care about each other. Why can’t you?” she asks the crowd, to cheers from one side and silence from the other (good versus evil, again). Then, Brill quotes Tiana’s mother: “I’ve got one child in a charter and have had two in public schools…there’s no comparison. Tiana is in kindergarten and already reading books and writing stories.” At that point, Brill introduces the reader to New York state senator Bill Perkins, who proceeds to make an ass of himself: “[p]eople have to start to think about what a racket charters are…and how a lot of rich people are making money off of them…[w]e have to focus on improving the public schools for everyone. Choice creates a diversion. It divides the community.”

Brill’s book shows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the incredible power of the NEA and the AFT is systematically declining. The only hope the status quo has is democratic politicians whose coffers are filled by union activists (Bill Perkins). Eventually, though, even those elected officials will quietly recede from a truly indefensible position. Change is coming, no doubt about it.

Interestingly, while reading this book, I was alerted to three news items. First, the Wall Street Journal editorial page published another pro-charter school piece, eviscerating the oft-heard complaints about charter schools. Second, this piece of interesting news. And finally, on Saturday in Newcastle, democratic candidate for governor, Jay Inslee, was quoted saying this about education: “we are no longer going to tolerate a two-to three-year delay in removing underperforming teachers from the classroom.”

Soon, Washington State will join the reform that is shaking up states like New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, Colorado, and many others. A charter school bill will pass through the legislature in Olympia very soon. Don’t expect the WEA to be happy about it. Class Warfare is just starting in Washington.


[photo credit: thethingsitdoes]

CD Review: Mayer Hawthorne’s ‘How Do You Do’

Beautiful and simple, “How Do You Do” is another hit for the neo-soul savant.

Mayer Hawthorne (link), the falsetto-voiced neo-soul hit maker, has something in common with Republican presidential candidate Hermain Cain. Cain’s appeal, in a word, is simplicity. Hawthorne’s newest album, “How Do You Do” (link) is simple as well: love, loss, and loneliness. However, unlike Cain, Hawthorne’s music and message is multilayered, wholly original, and has staying power.

I suppose a track like “You Called Me” could be misconstrued as simple: the story of a man who is so in love with his lady that a simple message of “I love you” can change his miserable circumstances. First, the protagonist spills coffee on his shirt and, subsequently, misses his bus. Next, he realizes he’s a little short on cash while attempting to buy a dress for his sugarbear. In both circumstances, a message of I Love You from a special-lady saves the day. But the simple lyrics of You Called Me belie a sophisticated overall effort.

Funky rhymes, strings, horns, beautiful percussion arrangements, “How Do You Do” is a tour-de-force for the listener: dance-inducing, soul-grabbing and a reminder that good music is abundant, as long as one is willing to look for it. As far as I’m concerned, Hawthorne’s only contemporary in the neo-soul movement is Raphael Saadiq (link), a man best known as a member of Tony! Toni! Tone! Coincidently, Hawthorne begins the album by speaking in smooth, dulcet tones: a nod to the good ol’ days of 90’s R ‘n’ B when Keith Sweat, DeAngelo, and, yes, Tony! Toni! Tone! (link) made young people want to find love at the mall or in the backseat of a car or on their Mom and Dad’s couch. He croons, “I really wanna get to know ya/I wanna learn you inside out. I really want to get to know ya/we can have some fun right now. I really want to get to know you/I wanna make you feel all right…” – I think you get the picture.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Hawthorne’s sophomore effort is not some sleazy ride through his teenage years. It’s a soulful throwback. Its music kids can listen to with their parents. Hell, its music teenagers can listen to with their grandparents. It’s like the Temptations and O’Jays and Teddy Pendergrass (link) and Clarence Carter all rolled into one. “A Long Time,” the album’s second track, is an ode to old-time Detroit: the cars, the grit and Motown. On track three, “Can’t Stop,” Snoop Dogg makes an appearance. It’s a little off-putting, but a valiant effort to expand the horizons of a hip-hop legend.

The show-stopper is “The Walk.” Filled with the kind of rhythm, style, and lyrical poeticism that is difficult to find, the track is an immediate classic. It’s the kind of cut that makes me want to simply transcribe the lyrics so I can take some derived pride in it, like quoting movie lines. Just trust me when I write that you want to listen to “The Walk” while you’re heading down the interstate around dusk.

Purchasing albums rather than downloading tracks from the internet – legally or illegally – is a worthwhile effort for many reasons, one of which is getting the chance to read the artist’s liner notes. Before thanking “all the beautiful women” for the inspiration, Hawthorne makes mention of his music in his notes as a thank-you to his crew: “thank you for showing me, and the rest of the world, that good music can still win.” A simple message from a musical genius on an album that is anything but simple.


[photo credit: Super 45 | Música Independiente]

Review: ‘Eco-Fads’ Is a Smart, Common Sense Assessment of Enviro Policy

When it comes to the environment, mere good intentions are not enough. We have to evaluate “green” practices for their true effectiveness. That is the basic premise behind Todd Myers’ new book, Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism Is Harming the Environment” (now available at or the Washington Policy Center website, hardcover $26.95, Kindle $9.95).

As the title suggests, Myers’ book calls attention to “eco-fads” that are simply trends currently in vogue that purport to address environmental dilemmas. His book brings an honest perspective on green accountability to the existing volatile discussion on energy and environment issues.

Myers’ book can be defined by what it is not. It is not a conspiracy-theory book. It does not try to debate the science behind climate change. It is not political-insider baseball.  Anybody who wants to help the environment will benefit by reading “Eco-Fads.”

Some would argue that if you truly loved the environment, you’d spend unlimited money on green policies. But there is an issue beyond just money here: eco-fads are often not so eco-friendly after all. Myers explains that simply spending money on anything labeled green is not necessarily environmentally friendly. Consider:

  1. We understand that we should conserve resources and avoid waste. Wasting money is wasting resources.
  2. Money wasted on bad ideas is money we can’t spend on effective ideas. And it detracts from solving real problems.
  3. Often these plans backfire and aren’t actually environmentally friendly after all. This is the signature of an eco-fad.

Myers goes into detail with examples of eco-fads in areas diverse as forestry, energy production, climate, and lifestyles. For example, in forestry, green certification systems can be somewhat arbitrary and actually penalize green practices. In energy, saving one ton of carbon only costs $20 on the European market, so a carbon-reduction project that costs $300 per ton of carbon reduced is wasting 90% of the funds. Subsidies may sound enticing, but they can encourage gaming the system via environmentally-poor behavior like shipping biofuels around the world just to collect a subsidy. And “buy local” isn’t necessarily greener because transportation is only 11 percent of CO2 emissions for food production.

Diving deeply into each issue and avoiding shallow politicized talking points, Myers explains why well-intentioned, rational people in business, politics, the media, and even science would succumb to an eco-fad.

Fortunately, Myers also offers solutions. He’s careful to emphasize that not all environmental policies are eco-fads. For example, windmills can be cost effective in certain scenarios in the right regions. A smart grid can help consumers shift energy consumption off peak usage where it is more environmentally-friendly to produce. And he shows how to avoid eco-fads by asking the hard questions:

  1. Efficiency: “Is that the best way to spend the money to accomplish that goal?”
  2. Accountability: “How well did the green program actually deliver on its promises?”
  3. Opportunity cost: “How much did that green job cost to create? And where did the money come from? How many jobs were lost to extract those funds?”

“Eco-Fads” is a must-read book for anybody who wants to be part of the environmental solution.


[photo credit: DonkeyHotey]

Review: ‘Eco-Fads’ Exposes the Roots of Errant Environmentalism

In a love triangle betwixt people, their common sense, and passion for the environment, the seduction of so-called green choices is leaving rational choices out in the cold, so argues environmental policy expert and author Todd Myers in his new examination of errant environmentalism, “Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism Is Harming the Environment” [for Kindle ($9.95) or in hardcover ($26.95) at or the Washington Policy Center website].

The people of the Pacific Northwest have a special connection with the natural world around them, one that transcends appreciation to approach what some might call love. Take a ferry ride, drive over a mountain pass, or just walk outside and open your eyes. In the case of a lack of emotional response, check your pulse.

It comes as no surprise to long-time Northwesterners then that, as a global conversation about environmental dangers has grown, people in our Cascadia region have often been first-responders in the cause of saving the planet. Nothing motivates mankind to act like the mixture of hot passion and perceived imminent danger. In the realm of myth, twelve hundred Spartan ships raced across the Aegean to rescue the beauteous Helen; today a green movement of millions of individuals are being urged by powerful special interests on a crusade to save Mother Earth.

Myers’ “Eco-Fads” is a reminder to environmentalists that while love is intoxicating, when taken to blind excess it can become toxic. In its rush to adopt and endorse anything blessed as green by champions of the environment – a mad scramble in which politically correct action is assigned greater value than measurable benefits – the whole Gaia-loving green world has gone mad.

Whether in Myers’ debunking of expensive green schools (they most often use more energy than traditionally-built alternatives), compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) light bulbs (they contain compounds long known to be toxic to humans), or dozens of other “eco-fads,” he has asked critical questions to assess the true impact of green policies and solutions.

A former employee in the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and current director of the Washington Policy Center’s Center for the Environmental, Myers is certainly not a newcomer to the business of evaluating the environmental gain from the choices consumers and businesses make. Nor can Myers be painted into the corner of being unsympathetic to the goal of keeping our environment clean.

“Eco-Fads” is a caution to Greenies to stop behaving like a herd of color-blind bulls, charging en masse every time a green cape is waved in front of their eyes without first pausing to consider the full impact of their actions. In this way, the greatest value in Myers book is not the shockingly long list of green flops he documents. After all, if monetary costs and benefits were the only factors affecting people’s decisions about green products and policies the free market would have sorted this out by now. But Myers cracks open the mind of a green-minded individual to suggest that the critical exchange functioning in the green movement has nothing to do with money.

Nowhere has green madness taken hold more in the U.S. than in the Pacific Northwest, an ecotopian Petri dish and a politically correct society in which the emotional satisfaction of conspicuous environmental consciousness also has value as social currency. As Myers writes, “Green is the new blue-blood.”

Myers makes a strong case that perceived morality and social standing are what many consumers are really buying when electing to pay more for green options, an observation that provides a good explanation for why accountability for results is often dismissed or ignored as long as the intent is for a green outcome.

But the fact that Myers’ bases his skeptical approach on science and metrics – most often using environmental impact as the standard – is why the green movement should resist reacting to “Eco-Fads” as a vampire to holy water. Ill-considered eco-fads tread harshly on public goodwill and as their inefficacy is revealed over time will make it harder to convince the public to adopt real, rational and beneficial solutions. If we have a common goal to keep the world around us clean, it only makes sense to have a smart conversation not only one that makes people feel good.

Myers’ well-written, meticulously documented book draws upon anecdotal evidence, academic work, and the author’s own solid use of logic to identify why eco-fads bypass science to gather support on a sociological level. “Eco-Fads” should be required reading for anyone with a voice or a vote on environmental policies.


Book Review: ‘The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers’


The Verdict of History

It is the story of Sanlu and its chairwoman Tian Wenhua that helps encapsulate the essence and importance of today’s China. Richard McGregor, the author of “The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers,” writes with astonishing detail and powerful insight about the company that began as a local dairy in Shijiazhuang and transformed into a milk-marketing giant – a company for The Party to be proud of. For fifteen years, Sanlu’s steady and entrepreneurial rise helped it become the top seller of baby formula in China. And as Sanlu grew in power, so did Ms. Tian: in 2005, she was named the ‘Most Respected Entrepreneur of the Chinese Dairy Industry’, a title that had as much to do with her powerful position in China’s communist party as it did with her position as chairwoman of Sanlu. You see, The Party began grooming Ms. Tian for a career in government as soon as her business acumen was evident.

So when stories began circulating in early 2007 that infants fed Sanlu’s formula were producing red urine and some were unable to produce any urine at all due to kidney failure, The Party knew it had a problem on its hands. In what McGregor describes as a ‘baleful coincidence’, the stories began circulating at the same time the propaganda department was tightening restrictions on reporters in a pre-Olympics crackdown. Therefore, rather than the scandal leaking out in the press and on television, the opposite became reality: breathless reporting about the high quality products being produced at Sanlu and the company’s impeccable service to the people of China since its founding. As the horror-stories continued to mount, however, some in the press attempted to report the truth only to be blocked by the local arm of the propaganda department. Sanlu’s board wanted to recall the tainted products; communist officials in Shijiazhaung overruled them. The problem was to be kept a secret. The Party could not suffer through controversy during the Olympic Games. But finally, on September 9, the New Zealand ambassador to Beijing alerted central government authorities to the undeniable truth and the propaganda arm of The Party went into full crisis communication mode.

Three individuals were swiftly executed for their role in distributing the tainted formula. The Mayor of Shijiazhaung was fired and the head of the food inspection service was forced to resign. For her role Ms. Tian earned a life sentence and victims were, essentially paid-off for their cooperation – their silence. As Mr. McGregor explained, “Other than passing references to Ms. Tian’s position as the party secretary, the Communist Party’s role was barely acknowledged at all.” In the end, a Party that helped build a company into a behemoth also helped destroy it – quickly and quietly.

Mr. McGregor, a reporter for the Financial Times, and the publication’s former China bureau chief, does a superb job of explaining the mind-numbingly complex intricacies of The Party machine and its role in the incredible economic explosion that has vaulted China into the world’s second-most powerful economy. If one looks at the Fortune 500 list today, many state enterprises in China hover near the top of the list when little more than a decade ago those same state companies didn’t even make the list.

The Party makes no apologies for its bold and borderline reckless forays into foreign markets, like its economic successes in Africa and its 2005 bid for Unocal, a company headquartered in California with assets in the United States and Asia. The Party’s success lies in its ability to insulate its state enterprises, shielding companies from foreign competitors while at the same time inviting the kind of foreign investment China shunned under the old Party of the 70s and early 80s. Additionally, The Party is embracing the entrepreneurial and innovative instincts of its people like never before. For instance, Nian Guangjiu, a man jailed on three separate occasions, the first time, in 1963, for operating a fruit stand in his own home, is now viewed as a hero and man to be respected for his entrepreneurial drive and incessant ingenuity. In 1984, Deng Xiaoping decided The Party must celebrate his salesmanship, so, by the time Mr. McGregor sat down to interview him in 2008, Mr. Nian “had morphed from subversive capitalist into a state-sponsored business celebrity” and an example of The Party’s willingness to relax controls on economic matters all while tightening them on political ones.

Perhaps there is no better example of China’s tight political controls than the Central Organization Department. Centrally located just west of Tiananmen Square, the Department is not unlike the human resource management arm of any organization, public or private – except that it’s reach is unending. Anything related to the hiring, firing, or transferring of people within The Party or any state run enterprise is the business of the Department. Mr. McGregor – in perhaps the most chilling section of his book – explains the Department’s responsibilities this way:

“The best way to get a sense of the dimensions of the department’s job is to conjure up an imaginary parallel body in Washington. A similar department in the US would oversee the appointment of the entire US cabinet, state governors and their deputies, the mayors of major cities, the heads of all federal regulatory agencies, the chief executives of GE, Exxon-Mobil, Wal-Mart and about fifty of the remaining largest US companies, the justices on the Supreme Court, the editors of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, the bosses of the TV networks and cable stations, the presidents of Yale and Harvard and other big universities, and the heads of think-tanks like the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation.”

Mr. McGregor is an Australian now living in London and one gets the sense that although he misses reporting in China, he is truly ambivalent about its future. He is brutally honest about the regressive and onerous controls in China, while staying away from too many democratic comparisons because, as he makes clear, The Party and the people of China are not interested in western democracy – the pride and spirit of China is distinctly Chinese. The Chinese people live in a country of rich history and incredible wealth that is forward-looking. Nothing will get in the way of China’s rise, and they’re proud of that. On NBC’s 30 Rock, Liz Lemon is slowing coming to grips with the idea that she will have to settle for a Brit she keeps bumping into on the streets of New York City. The Brit, an uptight and recently unemployed man, bemoans the Olympics coming to London because, as he explained it, “[W]e’re not prepared, Liz. Did you see the Beijing opening Ceremonies? We don’t have control over our people like that!” The Party doesn’t control the people of China. Rather, as Mr. McGregor puts it, The Party “harnesses and channels” the people.

In the coming decades, as China is forced to confront issues detrimental to its economic success – intellectual property rights and a level economic playing field being two – one must wonder whether the legitimacy the economy provides The Party is sustainable. As The Party and its people look outward and upward, will something be missed at home? And as the US continues moving forward despite an economic downturn that, mercilessly, seems to have no end, and looks toward – either longingly or loathsomely – a presidential election year, the rising dragon that is China must be handled with a deft touch.


[photo credit: flickr]


DVD Review: ‘Beer Wars’ Documentary Leaves No Bitter After-Taste

BeerWarsPosterFinal5Beer originated elsewhere, but it has become the quintessential American drink. Gallup polls since 1939 have consistently reported that roughly two-thirds of Americans identify themselves as alcohol drinkers; the 2008 poll reported that 42 percent of drinkers drink beer more often than either wine or hard liquor. Sports teams and events, big ticket music acts, and cultural happenings all have become little more than advertising media for brewers to increase their reach to the beer-buying public, and more often than not those headline sponsors are Coors, Budweiser, or Miller.

Although beer is infused into our culture in a way that few other things are, the ways in which government regulation affect (or restrict, depending on your point of view) the choices available to the quaffing masses are given scarce thought. Beer Wars is a documentary by Anat Baron – herself a veteran of the malt beverage industry – that seeks to examine the state of America’s brewing industry by using the experience of two idealistic beer makers as a baseline from which larger issues about free markets and consumer choice are discussed.

The film’s timeliness – available September 22 on DVD at – is uncanny, as it releases when the beer world seems poised for change, simultaneously sustaining a small number of massive and powerful producers and a flourishing appetite for craft brewed alternatives to the mass-produced light lager that seeks to crowd out competition in the grocery store cold case.

Beer Wars is neither a staid and static analysis of beer economics, nor an exposé-styled escapade. (Even when Baron is face-to-face with August Busch IV, Anheuser-Busch’s CEO, after having multiple interview requests ignored, she allows him to walk away without any confrontation.) What Baron seeks to persuade audiences of is that alcohol distribution laws – the “three-tier” system implemented after the repeal of Prohibition – although created to protect consumers, have actually erected immense barriers to entry that in turn reduce the opportunities consumers have to choose from a variety of quality beverages. Because the three-tier system prohibits breweries from selling directly to the retailer or the individual customer, the basic mechanism of a free market system – producers and consumers “communicating” about needs, wants, prices, and such – is not functioning.

Despite its theme of economic disparity, the brilliance of the film is that it chooses not to focus on the economics. Those lessons are taken care of in short segments with the use of clever and clear animations. (They inspired in me visions of Monty Python’s genius Terry Gilliam being set loose with a stack of 1950s LIFE magazines and a pair of scissors.) Baron’s message is conveyed by the stories of Sam Calgagione (founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery) and Rhonda Kallman (founder and CEO of New Century Brewing Co., and co-founder of The Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams), passionate entrepreneurs who she follows as they sacrifice and toil almost quixotically toward their goals of brewing success. In their stories lies Baron’s best argument for why passionate entrepreneurs should be encouraged, not have their efforts hampered by antiquated hedgerow regulations.

Baron’s treatment of Kallman as she tirelessly markets her “Moonshot” caffeinated beer to tavern-goers, store owners, and anyone who will listen is adept at capturing the particular tone of melancholy recognizable to anyone who has participating in a failing venture that they were desperately passionate about. In particular, footage of Kallman comforting her crying daughter before leaving home for a late night tour of bars where she would undoubtedly face additional rejection was heart-rending. Juxtaposed against news clips announcing Anheuser-Busch’s intent to produce a caffeinated beer, one can almost hear her dreams being crushed under the trotting hooves of eight Clydesdales.

An incredible bonus to the 89-minute documentary feature is a nearly half-hour panel interview moderated by writer and economist Ben Stein with the filmmaker and several familiar faces from the film, including Calgagione and Kallman. The discussion that ensues provides further information about the topic, and was extremely entertaining in its own right.

Above all, Anat Baron’s Beer Wars is a film that cuts through the glaring neon of Big Beer to prompt viewers to consider whether a system of regulations that benefits big business and discourages people from pursuing their dreams is such a good system to have. Films that show the human cost of government over-regulation are rare, films that do it as well as Baron’s work are rarer still.

Three and a half stars out of four for Anat Baron’s Beer Wars.


[This post originally appeared on at]


Book Review: ‘Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom,’ by Bruce Bawer

SurrenderWhen Bruce Bawer’s first book, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West From Within, began to hit bookstores in 2006, among dozens of books that dissected the apparatus of Islamic terror and analyzed in fine detail its many evil acts, the book was one title  that suggested a greater threat was posed by global Islam, greater even than the triumvirate of jihadist violence against Western democracies—September 11, 2001 in the U.S., the March 11, 2004 train bombings in Madrid, and the July 7, 2005 subway bombings in London that claimed a combined 3,221 innocent lives.

In a climate of rising anti-war sentiment, and in which liberals cheerfully inserted Abu Ghraib references into the most unlikely places, While Europe Slept shed light on the growing influence of Sharia—the set of laws that the world Islamic community believes must be upheld above all others. The book argued that the acquiescence of the West to tolerate extreme cultural behavior, even when it ran counter to the West’s laws and values, represented a more serious danger to free societies already weakened by the inverse control allowed fringe minorities through the dysfunctional social lens of runaway political correctness.

Having lived in Europe for several years by the time While Europe Slept was written, Bawer’s observations about the nature of Europe’s capitulation to intimidation by Islamic pressure groups had the ring of credibility. As a gay man (understandably more alert to the ultra-extreme positions in Sharia on homosexuality) the rampant hooliganism of Muslim youth in Europe directed at gay men, in countries where acceptance among the native people was the norm, was described in the chilling context that can only come from someone who themselves are in the crosshairs of evil-intentioned intolerants. His accounts of religio-political assassinations of those European voices willing to suggest that Muslims must integrate into European society (while, for some leaders, it seemed easier to accommodate practices that were in complete conflict with the core value of individual freedom) further illustrated that the knee-jerk response of the ‘enlightened’ class was simply to whitewash atrocious behavior with the broad brushes of multiculturalism and political correctness. By offering anecdotes of the treatment of the wives and daughters of Muslim men in Europe, and the way that the European government and system bent to avoid punishing acts that would only be legal under strict Sharia law—beatings, rape, and honor killings, to name but a few of the horrors—readers are given the best set of arguments for why the West should be afraid of radical Islam.

In Bawer’s latest offering, Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom, the enemy seems to be not only radical Islam, but the values inherent in Islam itself, a belief system that Bawer sees as being intrinsically resistant to the kind of moderation that has occurred in all other major surviving religions. Because of Islam’s core beliefs, it is antithetical to Western democracies in which freedom of the individual is a core principle. Bawer’s interpretation of Islam—a word which he translates as submission—and its designs for the West, is one in which the freedom to coexist is not in the ultimate plan of Islamists, radical or not. America, in particular, with our radical attachment to freedoms of speech and religion, has always been the natural antithesis of global Islam, a religion that has submission as its central value. For Bawer, as long as the world’s democracies hold these freedoms dear, they will always be at war with Islam in some way, but leveraging the plurality of opinions in a society like America has been the strategy of global Islamists for decades. It was a sobering and well-made argument that began to weigh larger on my mind with each paragraph.

Even a casual observer unequipped with Bawer’s ground-level experience and sharp research skills can see that despite the statements from pro-Muslim groups to the effect that most of the world’s Muslims are not radical and do not support violence as a means of following through on the commands of their faith, Islam is not a religion that is steered by its moderate elements. In the clash of cultures, one firm and unflinching and its beliefs and the functionally ambivalent due to its ‘higher’ stage of enlightenment, the more intransigent among them will survive, as history shows us. Bawer assembles convincing evidence that this is occurring not only in Europe, but also in America, where the politically correct climates of the mainstream media and academia have helped to create an “Orwellian world” in which “bravery is cowardice, bullying is victimhood, and standing up for freedom in the face of religious totalitarians is a demonstration of racism.”

The contents of Surrender have importance in a time in which U.S. leadership has set a tone of appeasement with the Muslim world (President Obama’s Cairo speech), suggesting that the Muslim religion is “misunderstood” by Americans. If President Obama is right in painting a picture of two Islams—one portrayed as America’s friend and ally, and the other as deluded madmen wanting to drink in the blood of all infidels—Bawer’s entire worldview is shattered. But if we observe that our “friends” in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to inflict the same kinds of oppression on their people, how does it not become impossible to distinguish between Obama’s imagined factions of Islam? The government of Afghani president and U.S. ally Hamid Karzai has had its power protected by the might of a U.S.-led coalition only to pass a law allowing husbands of a certain sect to starve their wives for withholding sex. In Iraq, liberated by the shedding of American blood, Human Rights Watch reported today that hundreds of gay men have been tortured and executed in recent months as Iraqi clerics continue to publicly embrace Sharia’s intolerance of what it deems unclean behavior.

Because Surrender unravels the twisted skein of pro-Muslim misinformation campaigns, shoddy journalism, and the multicultural worldview of our institutes of higher learning, Bawer gives us a tool for wiping clean the lens through which we must view the events surrounding us. With momentous decisions looming for U.S. foreign policymakers on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Surrender is a lifeline to an alternate way of thinking that can illuminate your discussions with elected officials and friends. It is highly recommended as an addition to your personal library.


[This post originally appeared on at]

Big Screen ‘Star Trek’ Reboot is As Close to a Guaranteed Good Time as Life Offers

trekmovietrailer2From the moment I saw the first trailers for J.J. Abrams’s (Lost, Alias) new take on the monolithic science fiction franchise that is Star Trek, as clichéd as it may sound, I had the sensation of knowing I was being reunited with a group of old friends.  The decision by Paramount to back the project and bring back together Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, Bones, and Chekov revealed to me that, in my chest, the heart of a Trekkie beats. And I’m okay with that, especially so after seeing the outstanding piece of movie magic.

I don’t plan on purchasing a regulation uniform, or obtaining rank through the local chapter Starfleet, the oldest and most organized Star Trek fan group in existence. I will allow myself to correct those who use the phrase “Vulcan death grip” as it is, in fact, a nerve pinch. If that makes me a TINO – Trekkie In Name Only – so be it.

startrek20081020065356617_640wIn a way, the overhaul of the ailing Star Trek franchise by dusting off the old characters from the original television series parallels the nature of series creator Gene Roddenberry’s ground-breaking science-fiction program itself.  Star Trek was a blend of the familiar and the future as Roddenberry hoped it would be.  Doctor McCoy and Captain Kirk came from real places on Earth, and enjoyed real  things. (A good mint julep was “Bones” favorite drink to cool down after dealing with Spock’s rigid Vulcan nature.)  Yet, in the time of the 1970s, when sentiment in certain corners of American society was still mixed on the civil rights reforms of the 1960s, earthlings and extragalactic creatures functioned side by side without any evidence of prejudice.  In this way, Roddenberry’s universe and stories did what all good science fiction should do: give the audience a way to inform their behavior in the present to make society a better place.

None of these profound thoughts occurred to me as I stood with several family members outside of the downtown Cinerama this past Sunday.  No, it was a pure nostalgia-driven craving that was behind my bookmarking the recent Star Trek film as one of the few each year I label in my planner as “must see in theater” attractions.  The recycling of the original cast of characters (something I despise in other ventures) was more than a welcome change in a series in each generation of its development had become geared to increasingly narrow audiences, watering down the original Roddenberry formula until the franchise was indistinguishable from its competition.

startrek20090415110050724_640wWhat will surprise many moviegoers is how exactly the soul and mannerisms of the original cast are preserved by this new group of stellar performers. Even more amazing is that it is done without the feeling of watching actors do impressions of other actors. In a breakout role of galactic scale, Chris Pine’s James T. Kirk retains the same swagger and overflowing bravado of William Shatner, absent any trace of patronizing mimicry. Zachary Quinto’s (Heroes) Spock is a full-featured character, just as are the other familiar faces. And voices! The spirit of the late DeForest Kelly must have found its earthly avatar in Karl Urban who plays the role of Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy.  His performance is an absolute thrill to hear and watch.

Set in the years prior to the timeframe of the original television series, Star Trek (2009) tells the story of how the crew of the USS Enterprise were thrown together in a sequence of events that contorts many events and facts that stood firm from previous plots.  Don’t worry though.  The writers have accomplished this in a way that should satisfy even the most detail-oriented techno-geeks out there.  Audiences will not be either disappointed or confused.

startrek20090415110057912_640wThe story itself is one that will thrill fans of the series and non-fans alike, a peek at the brilliance of the film’s creators.  By transporting the audience to a time before what has already taken place, every single viewer can enjoy the story that unfolds as an original work.  Maybe that is due to the genius of Abrams who, by his own admission, was not a fan of Star Trek but has shown an ability to create fascinating tension between characters while maintaining a high rate of momentum in his work as a writer and director.

Bring the story to life are outstanding acting performances from: Zoe Saldana, as Nyota Uhura; Bruce Greenwood, as Captain Christopher Pike, a character from the original 1964 pilot “The Cage” that never aired); John Cho, as Hikaru Sulu; and Simon Pegg, as the irascible Montgomery Scott. Of notable brilliance are the comic moments contained in the role given to Pavel Chekov, played by Anton Yelchin, who steals many of his scenes.  Of course, I can’t neglect to mention that fan favorite Leonard Nimoy does appear in the movie in the role that he will forever be known for.  It is refreshing to see an actor with the humility to embrace the fans appreciation for a beloved character instead of fleeing under a

If anything is missing from Roddenberry’s format that might still offer legacy fans a reason to complain it is the lack of any heavy-handed political themes. Not that the film doesn’t have themes, but they aren’t the sort of black-and-white polemic that was typical of the original television series and its offspring. Really, though, the purpose of this picture was almost certainly to reestablish these characters, give time for the audience to get to know them. Heavy plot has a way of crowding out character development, but now that millions are reconnected with the crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701, expect the next film to dig once again use its platform to offer statements on present-day issues.

(The next film, according to the Internet Movie Database, is tentatively slated for release in 2011.  One would assume that the producers of the current Star Trek film signed the pivotal actors to obligations for sequels, so it is likely that all of the current cast will return.)

I will not reveal anything about the plot, other than to say that there is action, drama, sexual chemistry, plenty of moments providing laughter, and a warmth in the film’s resolution that I dare you not to carry with you for at least a day or two after seeing the movie.

My advice: Gather a group of friends or your family and head to your nearest big screen at warp speed.


[This post originally appeared on at]

DVD Preview: Frank Miller’s ‘The Spirit’ Entertains But Falls Far Short of Greatness

context_00019_the_spiritFor those outside of the oft-maligned geekdom that is the world of comic books, the name of Frank Miller is no more recognizable than name of the bagger at the corner grocery store. Those in the know, however, recognize Miller as one of the masters in a medium that has a significant influence on popular culture. He is a brilliant artist and storyteller able to animate and give depth to characters in a form that is inherently resistant is nothing short of genius.

It should come then as no surprise that when Hollywood finally gave him the keys to an entire film – directing and writing responsibilities – it would be the project of bringing the Spirit to life, a comic hero of unique complexity that was the creation of Miller’s mentor and fellow comic hall of famer, Will Eisner. What Miller brings to the screen in The Spirit (releasing April 14 on DVD and Blu-ray) is a near-perfect representation on film of both Miller’s distinctive visual style and the comic book form.

The Spirit (Gabriel Macht, Because I Said So, The Good Shepherd) is the assumed moniker of Denny Colt, who was shot down in the line of duty, died, and was brought back to life by a compound created by a criminal mastermind called the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson, Kill Bill, Star Wars Episodes I-III, Pulp Fiction). The Octopus’ procedure gives Denny Colt powers of regeneration rendering him effectively invulnerable, but having been laid to rest he makes the decision to hide his identity and become the spirit of his hometown, Central City. Observing that his compound was successful, the Octopus undergoes the procedure and a hero/villain relationship is born. For the record, invulnerable enemies make for intensely cataclysmic but non-conclusive battle sequences.

Aiding the Spirit are Police Commissioner Dolan (Dan Lauria, The Wonder Years) and Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson, Down with Love), the commissioner’s daughter and physician who both patches up the Spirit and pines for his affection. Assisting the Octopus is Silken Floss (Scarlett Johannson, Lost in Translation, The Nanny Diaries), hyper-organized and patiently malevolent in contrast to the impulsive madness of her benefactor.  Together, Floss and the Octopus are scheming to obtain a case containing the blood of the Greek demi-god Heracles, the only substance that can correct genetic abnormalities that arose from imperfections in the procedure for which the Spirit and his nemesis owe their powers of regeneration. At this point, the story intersects with a character from the Spirit’s past, Sand Saref (Eva Mendes, Ghost Rider, Hitch) who possesses the blood of Heracles and will trade the item for something that she desires and which the Octopus possesses.

358_hmg08_thespirit_081218_2All of the characters and storylines are woven into an interesting narrative, visualized in the dark and dramatic manner characteristic of Miller. As might be expected, the women in The Spirit are femme fatales without parallel, and in this way the talent involved should be acknowledged. The performances of Mendes, Johansson, and Paulson (as well as the minor role of Officer Morgenstern, played by Stana Katic) are sexy and solid, and the exquisite camera work captures every sweep of flesh in voluptuous detail, including the graceful curves of Sand Saref’s bare posterior.

But, as worthwhile as a film is that gives us a backstage pass to Ms. Mendes’, um, backstage, there is something static about the movie’s imagery and it may stem from Miller’s discipline as a creator of comic art and his lack of training as a filmmaker. The camera never tilts, pans or trucks; a sign of respect for the visual power of medium from which The Spirit is adapted. Each shot is a carefully planned composition that is able to tell its story without using the adjoining shots for context, in the same way that each frame of a comic book is a miniature story that can stand independent of its neighbors. But, while the result is a dazzling exhibition of the Miller style – film noir with the contrast flared and tint added to achieve striking emotional effect – the film leaves much lacking in its ability to draw audiences into the world of the characters and to build suspense.

One of the acknowledged drawbacks of comic books, even when they achieve the level of artistry in Miller’s work (Dark Knight Returns, Sin City), has nothing to do with the artist or writer. The limitation of comic books is the lack of control over the reader. Pacing can never be dictated, and as time is the primary component of rhythm and suspense, and a secondary component of character development, these elements are usually left out of the mix, replaced by blunt dialogue and action.

Despite its weakness, The Spirit provides a lot of action, thrills, and beautiful visuals that are sure to entertain viewers. As for Miller, he is going to be make additional movies and I think he will learn as he goes along. His mind is too creative to stop learning this craft that is relatively new to him and I cannot wait to see what his next project provides for audiences.


[This post originally appeared on at]

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