Friday, November 9, 2007

First Post - Yesterday's News

Welcome to Canuckopia, a place where I'll be posting the news that I thought was interesting or enraging enough to warrant a mention. After posting no fewer than six items in one day to my Facebook profile, I figured that a blog might be a better alternative to bugging all of my friends.

I'm going to start by re-posting here the news that I posted yesterday, and then I'll take it from there. Excelsior, reader of discriminatin' tastes.

My Comments on the WGA Strike

Some of you who follow entertainment news (or hell, some of you who are actually in the entertainment industry) may have heard about this little strike that the unionists in the Writer's Guild of America have gotten into.

Now, some of you might think that you know my position already - that I'm anti-union. And if this were concerning any other group of workers, like automotive manufacturing worker, nurses, or teachers, you'd be right on the money. But this isn't about those grunts. No, no, gentle reader - read, and be both shocked and awed: I agree with the union this time. After all, was it not a "union" of sorts that went on strike in Atlas Shrugged?

For the most part, anyway. See, I'm only against unions when they engage in the tactics that are described here:

or when they otherwise coerce others by denying them a living (e.g. strong-arming employees into joining the union, paying dues, having those dues invested into businesses or causes that they don't support; not allowing the company to hire temporary workers or replace the lousy ones, even if there are throngs of potential employees throwing their resumes through the front gates).

Okay, I need to go on a short deviation from the flight plan for a second to tell you a funny story about unions. I know a guy who works in a slaughterhouse/meat-packing plant. This is an industry where if you've had experience crossing the street without incident, you're over-qualified. Anyway, the union there are in such a position that they've dictated that an employee cannot get a raise unless everyone in the plant (minus management, of course) gets the same raise. Are you with me so far? That amounts to saying that if a twenty-year veteran employee who's never missed work and has never had an issue with management deserves more money, so does the complete cluster-fuck who shows up once every two weeks and goes home early because he's scared of all the men walking around with knives. So, you'd assume that, naturally, there's no incentive to work harder. Hell, they've made such a convoluted mess of how you can fire someone that there's no incentive to work at all. But here's the kicker: management motivates employees using the union's own machinations against them. Employees are able to get extra pay for over-time, so a frequent practice within this particular meat-packing plant is for management to do some "creative" wage reporting. Since they can't pay a man what he's worth in a straight-forward, honest manner, they'll just add a few hours of over-time to his record. "We'll tell them he came in on Saturday," if anyone asks - but they never do. The union forces people to lie if they want to keep a valuable employee valuable.

Anyway, back to talking about other unions.

The issue at the heart of this strike involves "residual payments." Residuals are the money that a creator is paid when their work (a TV show, movie, song, whatever) is shown to the public. For example, every time a rerun of the original Star Trek is shown, William Shatner makes a little more money.

The process of paying out residuals is usually complicated whenever a new technology comes out. When movies began to be broadcast on television, the Screen Actors' Guild had to fight to get the studios to pay them for those showings, because television wasn't even a consideration when the original contracts were drafted. Likewise, home video and the rise of the VCR created trouble for producers, writers, and actors. The latest method of distribution to cause Hollywood lawyers headaches is the internet. How can creators be paid if there's no physical product being manufactured, and no real way to track "broadcasts?" Obviously, the distribution of entertainment over the internet isn't going to go away any time soon, so this is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Hollywood unions are unique in the world of organized labour. The revenues from a Tom Cruise are such that, if he were to simply stop working, or threaten to stop working over a grievance, millions, possibly billions, of dollars could be lost. Even a highly-trained computer programmer can be replaced by an equally talented programmer who'll work for less. But you can't replace Tom Cruise. Lord knows, we've tried. Hollywood unions don't have to resort to the thuggish tactics of their more menial counterparts in other industries: sure, "Heroes" might be able to continue production under a different writer who doesn't mind working for cheap, but it'll definitely not be the same show. There's little difference between an engine put together by a Canadian and one put together by a Japanese, but there are huge differences between a book written by Nick Hornby and one written by Dean Koontz.

That's why I support the WGA strike. Writing is a harsh mistress, and only a few will come close to mastering it. If their contract guarantees them revenues for every exhibition of their work (I specifically used this phrasing to avoid "work for hire" contracts, like those that used to be common in the comic book industry), then they deserve the money, no matter what technological medium is used.

But along with being problematic, this strike is also very exciting. It's a sort of legitimisation of the internet as a method of distribution, and an admission that there is big money for the taking. The industry would not be fighting it otherwise: if it wasn't worth it, the studios would specify residuals in their contracts, but then cut back efforts to use the web as a broadcast medium. And, unlike television, there's really no limit to how many shows can be made or become popular: timeslots would become a delightful anachronism. If five of your favorite shows all premiered at 9:00 Monday night, you wouldn't need to decide which one to miss; you could see them all. And don't forget the fact that the internet is cheap as hell.

This strike is, for now at least, a lot more of an "Atlas Shrugged" type than a "French Riot." It is a strike by creative people who are trying to show that their output can't just be replaced by someone else. They aren't trashing studios, or demanding that they get longer paid vacations, they just want to show that they are what drives Hollywood. Ideas and creative men drive the movie and television industries, just as they drive every other business. And for once, those creative minds can pull a "Wyatt's Torch" and consign an entire summer of blockbuster movies to the flames.

Let's just hope this doesn't get ugly.


The Aqua-dots recall: just another leaky hole in the hull of China's manufacturing "industry."

You would think that a company would have a chemist or a scientist or something who would be able to look at the list of ingredients in a children's product and say, "You know, I think this one may contain a bit too much Roofie. We may need to go back to the drawing board and decrease the level of poison here."

Jimmy Carter is an Idiot

You know, a quotation attributed to Robert Heinlein reads: "An elephant: a mouse built to government specifications." And I really don't think there's any greater proof of the truth of that sentiment (or of the stunted psychology that is required to be a successful politician) than the revelation that Jimmy Carter once thought it'd be within the boundaries of a reasonable response to shoot a cat because he was a little too close to the birdies.

And that hook?

"Lamentably, I killed your cat."

Kills me every time I read it.

So he killed your cat. There'll always be more cats, and besides, his intentions were good. He just wanted to help the little birdies.

CBC - For the Glory of the State

CBC pulls a documentary on the Falun Gung after "concerns" expressed by Chinese bureaucrats.

Ah, the CBC... if it's a "documentary" showing us how Wal-mart is the harbinger of the end-times and only socialized medicine can stop it, it'll get play five nights a week - but we can't risk angering the communists, now can we?

Energy Drinks and Alcohol?

Yes, apparently heeding the warning on the can (you know, the one that says "Do not mix with alcohol") is a good idea. Remember folks: SCIENCE!

From ScienceDaily:
Twenty-nine state attorneys general have already condemned alcoholic energy drinks,” said O’Brien. “We believe the FDA has a responsibility to investigate the health risks of energy drink cocktails, and to make that information available to consumers. Students should be informed about the risks of mixing alcohol with energy drinks, as part of an overall program to reduce high-risk drinking and its consequences. And colleges should reconsider the free distribution of energy drinks at campus-sponsored events.
I have two comments regarding this:

1 - "State attorneys" are, like members of the UN's IPCC, not scientists, so I don't see why their opinion is relevant.

2 - Energy drinks are, as I've already said, labelled with a warning against drinking alcoholic cocktails: Red Bull says right on the can, "Do not mix with alcohol." It is simply unnecessary for tax-payers' money to be wasted investigating the effects of the ever-popular Red Bull/Vodka cocktail when it is already known that mixing the two types of drinks is not a good idea. If a private research company wanted to examine the specific effects of these drinks, then I'd be all for it - but an investigation into the health risks posed to University/College students (a group that would smoke arsenic if you told them it gave you a pretty good buzz), a group that is, collectively, more reckless and dissociated from reality than any other (except for their professors, maybe), should be on the bottom of the FDA's list of priorities.


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