Anything from current events, campaign finance reform, sports (especially baseball), corporate/political/legal ethics, pop culture, confessions of a recovering comic book addict, and probably some overly indulgent discourses about my 3-year old daughter. E-Mail: sardonicviews -at-
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Saturday, January 18, 2003

Four Straight Wins Over the Orangemen

Down in Zanesville, OH today so Angie could see her grandparents. It's around 160 miles, taking us through Akron and Canton and ever ongoing construction somewhere in that area on I-77. Managed to make the trip in a little over two hours. Since we left around 9 am, and all the grandparents care about is their granddaughter; I was able to wander up to the TV room and watch Pitt take Syracuse apart on ESPN.

I still worry about Pitt and their horrendous free throw shooting, but damn, they put on a clinic with defense, rebounding, passing, finding the open man, and finishing. I still can't believe this is my team that plays this well.

Friday, January 17, 2003

Gossip Pages Are Fun

The fun thing about gossip columns are that they puncture the pretentious images celebrities like to pretend they have. This one goes after the Anti-SUV group who fired off the terror-SUV ads, via Hit & Run (the comments are interesting too).

THE four founders of the Detroit Project - the anti-SUV campaign that blames the gas-guzzlers for aiding terrorism - have a blind spot when it comes to the use of gas-guzzling private jets. Arianna Huffington, producer Lawrence "Reservoir Dogs" Bender, talent agent Ari Emanuel - brother of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) - and Laurie David, wife of writer-comedian Larry David, all have gas-saving hybrid cars in their fleets of vehicles, but they all prefer private jets to commercial flights.

Reason Magazine contributor and syndicated columnist (though not around Cleveland), Jacob Sullum, offers another possible reason for the timing of the ads.

Arianna Huffington says her anti-SUV commercials have been misunderstood, and I think she's right. To really understand these ads, you have to know something that's not mentioned in the spots themselves: They premiered the same week her new book came out.

You mean there might be an ulterior motive from Arianna Huffington? Shocking!

Baseball Arbitration Numbers

Teams and players exchanged numbers today, and some settled on real contracts. I'm still trying to wrap my head around Torii Hunter getting a 4 year $32 million dollar deal, but what blew my mind was Danny Graves getting a $17.25 million, three-year contract from the Cincinnati Reds. Graves is a reliever/spot starter. Here are his career numbers:

Total -- 367 4 0 0 518.1 499 222 197 42 192 306 35 21 129 7 29 3.42

Elitism Alert

Jeez, could this review of Curb Your Enthusiasm be any more elitist, arrogant and snide. And did I mention, missing the point? The author seems to think of it only in terms of the bourgeois middle-class looking down on others. Ugh.

How did everyone miss this?

I can't believe it took this long for someone to have this realization:

One other theory on these reality-TV shows, something I was mulling over this week: Back in the late-'70s and early-'80s, Hollywood created shows like "The Love Boat," "Battle of the Network Stars" and "Fantasy Island," just so C-list celebs like Florence Henderson, Scott Baio and Vic Tayback had a place to pick up a few extra paychecks. Now we have shows like "The Surreal Life" and "Celebrity Mole" filling that void. When you think about it, if you put Kathy Griffin in a time machine and sent her back to 1979, she's probably putting moves on Gopher. And if you yanked Robert Conrad out of 1979 and brought him here, he's definitely trying to outwit Michael Boatman on "Celebrity Mole" within a matter of weeks. it's an interesting phenomenon: The evolution of the C-list celebrity.

It doesn't explain all the reality shows, but it takes a step. The article is also giving me hope for the "Jimmy Kimmel Show," just on the strength of the writers alone (Joel Hodgson, creator of "Mystery Science Theatre 3000", Steve O'Donnell, Letterman's head writer through the '80s and early-'90s, Adam Carolla). Key question will be how much patience does ABC/Disney show, and can they get guests?

Aren't you late late for "celebrity mole"?

It's a bluff.

Singer Jackson Browne is demanding that cable superstation TBS remove scenes from a film on the life of John F. Kennedy Jr. which suggest that the singer assaulted a former girlfriend, actress Daryl Hannah, his lawyer said on Thursday.
Browne's attorney, Lawrence Iser, said that he demanded in a letter to TBS that it "cease and desist" airing the program again "until false and defamatory scenes accusing Mr. Browne of assaulting actress Daryl Hannah are removed."

"Mr. Browne has never assaulted Daryl Hannah. Ms. Hannah never filed a police report claiming such an assault and Mr. Browne was never arrested for or charged with such an assault," a spokesman for the singer said. Hannah was a former girlfriend of both Browne and Kennedy.

Go ahead and sue. Then you risk Hannah having to take the stand. Just shut up and fade off to your irrelevancy on soft rock stations.

Lake County Captains Hotel Tax

The coming Eastlake minor league baseball team, Lake County Captains, have their new publicly stadium coming along quite nicely. Eastlake sought to convince Lake County to raise the hotel tax from 1.25% to 3%. Then part of the additional taxes would go to get another $2 million for the park and the capital improvements to the streets in bond money (total costs of the park, land acquisition and improvements are around $22 million). The two neighboring cities, Willoughby and Wickliffe go along with the idea. Funny, though, Mentor has decided to oppose it. Why? They won't see any of the money, yet they (and Willoughby) have a good deal of the hotels nearby. Raising the tax, would reduce occupancy, since many of the users are business travelers who stay further away from downtown Cleveland for the lower costs. Increase the costs and what is the benefit of being 20 some miles from downtown?

I don't like public money for stadiums, and I think this whole project stinks. Eastlake abused eminent domain powers, the mayor seemed to engage in a bit of cronyism on the project and who gets certain deals, and it has all been wrapped in a lie of helping the economy.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

The Right Team

The Baseball Hall of Fame got it right. Gary Carter's HoF plaque will have a Montreal Expo logo on his cap. Carter expressed a desire to go in as a Met, but he had his best stretch and established his credentials as an Expo for 11 years, not as a Met for 5.

Who Said They Had to Be Logical

Great comment from Damian Penny about the idiots who want to be "human shields" in Iraq:

Note that the entire "human shields" movement is based on this premise: that Americans, allegedly the most imperialistic warmongers on the planet, won't take action that would kill civilians.

To which, I can only speculate that they believe that it would be bad publicity, and that will stop anything. Personally, I think of it as thinning out the gene pool.

Bad Investment for a Moron

Need more proof that Lotteries don't pay off in the long run?

Patrick Murray went on the most prodigious gambling spree in the history of the Ohio Lottery last November when he spent nearly $1.5 million over a seven-day period on the Pick 3 game, a lottery official said yesterday.

It was not a good investment. The Wickliffe man won $850,000 on the first $1 million in bets, lottery records show.

Chasing his losses, he bet $470,000 on Nov. 11, the final day of his binge, and won a few dollars, at most.

There's just one other problem.

Now police are trying to determine where the money came from.

Detective Sgt. Joe Matteo of the Wickliffe Police Department said Murray, 42, had a history of spending large amounts of money on the lottery. Murray has been charged with passing $141,000 in bad checks during the spree.

Some of the tickets, which cost 50 cents to $6 each, were paid for with checks drawn on an account Murray held with his 91-year-old grandmother, police said.

Of course, he's learned his lesson ... now.

Marilyn Smith said her grandson is no longer using her checking account. Nor is he playing the lottery.

"He won't touch it now," she said.

I guess for some it takes a little more to learn.

A Fine Rant

Lileks' Bleat today is a classic. He uses John LeCarre's cries of imperial America as the basis of blasting most of the trite anti-war arguments. How? By using those niggling things called facts.

Keeping a Coach

The UCLA men's basketball coach is expected to be fired at the end of the season. The coach, Steve Lavin, seems to have been on the hot seat from the moment he was elevated from assistant coach to interim head coach to getting the full-time gig. With an expected firing comes the speculation as to who would replace him. The online Sports Illustrated columnist, Seth Davis, makes present Pitt head coach, Ben Howland, the favorite.

Ben Howland 3:1. Howland satisfies two important criteria: He has West Coast roots (he grew up in Santa Barbara, spent 11 years as an assistant at UC-Santa Barbara, and was head coach at Northern Arizona for five years), plus he's just long enough in the tooth to make people forget that Lavin was hired at the age of 31 with no prior college head-coaching experience.

Howland, wisely, fell into coachspeak regarding the job.

Howland called it "upsetting" that his name is already is being mentioned for the job at UCLA, even though Steve Lavin still has the job. "It's so tiresome to see that. It happens every year. Lavin's a friend of mine. I want them to be successful."

No actual denial as to possible interest or if he would take the job, just that he does not want to discuss it, and it upsets him.

Naturally my friends and I are not enthused over the possibility of losing the coach that has done an amazing job of turning around the Pitt basketball program. From a league doormat to a top 5 team in only 3 years is astounding. I don't know whether Pitt can keep Howland if UCLA comes hard after him. While debating the reasons with my friends, the ledger looks like this:

The Big East Conference has solid national (re: TV) exposure.

Recruiting is not a problem, even if local talent isn't much to see.

The Petersen Event Center and all the shiny new facilities.

Money - Pitt has the ability to keep up with salary demands, mainly because
of Chancellor Nordenberg, who is a huge athletics booster (my friend Pat put it this way: "I doubt there is a college President/Chancellor anywhere who will go the extra mile that Nordenberg has proven he will go to ensure the sports teams excel. He realizes that a well supported athletic department goes hand in hand with a well funded university. If he needs to, he will open up the check book."). UCLA as a state school, is bound by California law, not to pay any coach above a certain % of the highest paid professor or administrator.

Pitt is his program. He rebuilt it, and the expectations are lower at Pitt than at UCLA. The hope is that he looks at someone like Jim Calhoun, head coach at U Conn, who built the program from nothing to a perennial power and stayed there.

John Wooden and the amazing run he had in the 60s and 70s still lingers at UCLA. Programs that have that kind of sustained runs of excellence tend to create unrealistic expectations in the fans and alumni. There is a feeling of entitlement that the school should be or deserves to be a Championship or at least a Final Four team every year (see also, North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke).

Money. UCLA may not be able to directly offer a contract that Pitt can't match, but the other contracts that the head basketball coach of UCLA can sign -- radio/TV show; sneaker contract; endorsements -- far dwarf anything comparable at Pitt.

Home state. Howland is from California, he would be closer to home. Not to mention, living in Pittsburgh or living in LA.

Richer recruiting base. The base starts in LA and just extends. The name "UCLA" is huge for helping with recruiting.

The job itself. Head coach of one of the most storied college basketball programs. The prestige is tremendous.

PAC-10 is no slouch in being a great league, and with only 10 teams, it is easier to be shown on national TV than the rotation for the Big East.

Elite Programs
The debate eventually went to what constitutes an elite college basketball program. This is not just a program that has had a good run for even a decade (U Conn, Maryland). The talk is of a storied program that conjures up images of great players, coaches, teams, games and tradition. In all honesty, a lot of it has to do with the coach.

Factors that go into being an elite status program
Traditions of excellence. Championships won in different decades. Great players who were also great pro players.

One great coach who had such a sustained run of excellence (20 years minimum) where the program won at least 3 national championships and/or several Final Four appearances. (Adolph Rupp -- Kentucky; John Wooden -- UCLA; Dean Smith -- North Carolina) (Pat, accurately refers to this as a cult of personality around the coach. Present examples include Bob Knight -- formerly Indiana and Mike Krzyzewski -- Duke).

Relation to the legendary coach -- the importance the school and alumni place on bloodlines. Top schools have a past tradition and it is vital to the schools and the fans that the coach somehow have the connection. North Carolina's search for a new head coach, a couple years ago was almost an extreme example of that desperate need to have the bloodline to Dean Smith and UNC.

Unrealistic expectations/sense of entitlement of fans and alumni. Schools where they almost treat it like a birthright that their school should be winning championships. There are only a few schools where the fans and alumni feel their team can be a final four team every year. Other schools may expect their team to be a Tournament team every year, but the schools where it is a disappointing season to not make it past the Sweet Sixteen are limited.

Using that basis, I find only six programs meet the standards:

North Carolina

Indiana and Duke lie on the fringe because their legendary coaches are much more recent and are still coaching. A legitimate argument could be made that they have not yet stood the test of time. Still, both have had incredible sustained runs of excellence (over 20 years); at least 3 National Championships (Indiana 5, Duke 3) or Final Four appearances (Duke 7 [not including the 3 championships]); and insane fans.

After that, you have the colleges that may have had past successes, but are as much a result of a particular era, coach or even a player (Cincinnati in the 50s and early 60s and Mich. St. in the 70s/early 80s). These schools are looking to reclaim past glory and have the money and means to do so. Most of these present schools have (or are in the process of being identified with the coach and you can expect some dormancy after the coach leaves/dies). Their name still has a certain cache in basketball, and ESPN wants to drool over them. Examples include:

Michigan State
Georgetown [post-John Thompson, it is in dormancy]
There are others, but you get the picture.

Then the jobs really start blending (in relation to the seven power conferences -- Big East, ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 10, Conference USA -- and yes I'm excluding the Atlantic 10 because outside of Temple, Xavier and St. Joseph's the schools tend to have their coaches cherry-picked). You could probably make a full ranking, but I think there is much more room for debate the attractiveness of one job over another is dependent on

Conference exposure
Reality of the team's ability to compete and recruit
School factors (academic standards, commitment/support of the school and alumni to seeing the program succeed, historic success, and ties to the school for the coach)

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Not Exactly

Well the state and federal authorities in Ohio raided the home and offices of the owners of Holy Land Imports -- a grocery store in Cleveland. The store is owned by Mohammad Mohammad, a Palestinian from Ramallah in the West Bank and his family. The owners are being charged with food stamp fraud to the the tune of at least $1.5 million. Some of what they found:

Agents researched Holy Land Imports' records and found that food stamps paid for 48 percent of the food purchases at the store in 1998. At nearby stores, food stamps were used for as little as 11 percent of the food sales.

Police also found that a group of customers repeatedly made purchases - for hundreds of dollars - within seconds of each other, an indication that the store had the customers' food stamp cards and used them for other sales, according to the documents. In two cases, records showed sales after the store had closed for the night. [Emphasis added]

Of course Mohammad x2 knows the real reason. Can you guess what it is really about?

"This isn't really about food stamps. It's because they want to search the businesses and homes of Muslims. They believe that we support terrorism, and we don't."
Mohammad, the store's owner, said relatives from Illinois and Florida have told him similar stories of friends who endured such raids because of their nationality.

"They want to make it hard for us to live in this country," Mohammad said. "We love it here, and we want to stay here, but I just hope they let us."

The article stated that there was absolutely no mention of terrorism or money laundering to terror groups in the affidavits submitted to the courts to obtain the warrants.

I doubt CAIR will be rushing to publicize this incident, or rush to his legal defense. Will CAIR and Human Rights Watch, however, throw this arrest into the mix with other arrests of arab-muslims in the US as "proof" of anti-arab attitudes? Probably.

Forgetting the Best Part

Doug Dever gets a good laugh at the prospect of antiwar Congressman Dennis (Insert flaming toupee joke here) Kucinich (D-OH) possibly considering a run for the Presidency.

Personally, I'd love to see Dennis get the Democratic nomination - he would finish the job of marginalizing the Democratic National Committee to a fringe group of environemental wackos, tax and spenders, and the occassional union puppet.

Actually, Doug forgets the one thing that would split the left on Kucinich. Denny-boy is a staunch anti-abortionist. Might be fun, though, to see how big a tent the DNC really has.

Interview With a Screenwriter

I had mentioned that an old friend of mine, Howard Walper, has a screenplay, that he co-wrote, that is a top ten finalist for Project Greenlight. As a finalist, Howard and Steve Gottlieb are going to be flown out to Sundance in Park City, Utah this week for the Sundance Film Festival. Howard was kind enough to do an interview with me via e-mail this past Saturday and Sunday. The answers are all his, I did nothing but check the spelling and provide some links. Howard and I go back about 13 years, is a fellow comic book geek, longtime drinking buddy and a good friend. I am hardly an unbiased interviewer.

Chas: How were you contacted when you made the top ten, by who, and how did you react?

Howard: This is the story I like telling. Picture this: It's 9:30 at night and I have just worked a 13 hour day. I crawl into bed where I lay like a corpse. I am in that half-awake, half asleep stage where all you're horrible ideas suddenly seem like good ones.

The phone rings.

"Hi, this is Chris Moore, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck from Project Greenlight. How are you?"

Now at this point I am trying to remain cool, assuming, of course, that my writing partner Steve has somehow mustered the resources to get a bunch of people on a speaker phone to play an evil trick on me.

"Good," I say, somewhat unenthusiastically.

"Well, we wanted to tell you you made the top 10."

"Cool. Who is this."

"It's Ben, Matt and Chris."

"Fuck you Steve."

I could go on like this for a while (and did) but the gist of it is that this was really them (and some other people, though I was too stuperous to understand that). After that, I know I was talking, but have no idea what I said. I'm sure it was intelligent and pithy - riiiight! Basically I babbled like a diuretic ass. Those who know me, know I do that quite well. My left arm was numb. I think I might have had a minor coronary episode.

I closed, quite elegantly I thought, by shouting "YOU GUYS ROCK!" Damn, what an ass I am. Party on Wayne.

Then I called Steve to tell him we were going to Sundance. My wife, Erin, translated what I was trying to say through grunts, screams, and hyperventilation, into words.

See below:

Erin: Steve, Ben and Matt called to say you guys made the top 10

Erin: They are sending you both to the Sundance Film Festival. Howard is really excited.

Erin: Why don't you come over and let's celebrate.

So Steve came over, we cracked a really, really good bottle of scotch that my dad had given me (um, or that I liberated from the clutches of my father) and dreamed about the future.

Chas: In the first Project Greenlight, the final product was hardly considered very good. Entertainment Weekly in looking ahead to Project Greenlight 2 said this:

... this time yet another player will be brought in to struggle for creative control. Instead of a single writer-director, the jobs will be divided, with the winning director filming a script by the winning screenwriter as the whole event is chronicled in a multi-episode TV documentary. What a bargain: Audiences will be able to watch a screen scribe being reduced to rubble before ''Adaptation'' even makes it to video stores.

Fans stayed away in droves when Pete Jones' sapfest ''Summer'' hit theaters in 2002, but his behind-the-scenes nightmare was irresistible as it unraveled on the TV show. We can only hope the producers don't learn from their mistakes: A mediocre movie is a reasonable price to pay for addictive TV.

It suggests that people really want to see a train wreck, not the actual product. So the question is, why do it? The whole HBO documentary of it seems to be the actual goal, and not necessarily having the movie made.

Howard: As far as the last contest goes, everything is a learning process. I saw Stolen Summer, and from all the trashing, I expect something much worse. It was a sweet film, competently directed. I am a writer - I know nothing about directing. If I had to direct my own film with a limited budget, it would be a disaster. Pete did a hell of a job, for a first film.

The thing about a contest like this is that it really begs for more cutting edge content. The purpose of PGL is to open the "back door" to Hollywood and expose talent that otherwise would not have a chance. I think Stolen Summer was, to the judges, the safest bet. It was nice, inoffensive, dealt with issues of faith and innocence, and generally the type of story you'd expect a studio to churn out. If you look at this round of screenplays, the content is a little darker, the pieces a little edgier. There are some really nice, character driven pieces in there. I am really proud to be a part of this group of writers.

As to the TV show? It will probably be more compelling this year, with the director arguing with the writer, etc. Honestly, though, this is how it should be. It is probably more true to the Hollywood model, as the writer is considered the lowest rung on the celebrity ladder. I understand that the directors are having a say in which screenplay gets picked. This is how it should be. It would stink to have a director who was not as passionate about the work as the writer.

As far as being reduced to rubble, anyone who has ever presented a piece of creative work to an audience learns early on that you have to have a thick skin. A lot of this contest is about who wants it the most. I want to succeed as a screenwriter, even if it means being entertainment fodder for a few weeks on HBO.

So, it could be a train wreck, but it could be good too - we'll see. I think it would benefit Live Planet and Miramax a lot more to have a hit. There are some really good scripts in the top 10 - we'll see.

Chas: How would you describe the themes of the screenplay?

Howard: Redemption. Good and evil. All that kind of shit. Seriously, what we would like people to come away with from this is that they question themselves: what can be forgiven?

Chas: How did you and Steve develop this story?

Howard: Just kind of popped into my head on the way to a screenwriting class. I ran it by Steve - he said I was an idiot. He was not wrong, necessarily, but I think the script came out pretty well.

Chas: What kind of research did you do?

Howard: I could tell you this, but it would REALLY give away the ending - something I don't want to do.

Chas: How long did it take to write? When did you actually write it, since the entry time was quite short. Just how many screenplays do you have lying about?

Howard: Well, that's a funny story. We took this class that gave you all these exercises to help you develop your screenplay. At the end of the class (6 weeks) we had all these notes and stuff, and were expected to turn a screenplay in for review 2 weeks later. Of course, during those 2 weeks, I got slammed at work, I ended up starting the day before it was due. So, the 1st draft was written in one day. People hate when I say that, but it was true. The revision, actually only took a couple of weeks. As stories go, this one pretty much jumped out on the page. Sometimes it happens. I try not to question it. It's pretty rare and fantastic when the planets align like that.

Between Steve and I we have about 6 screenplays sitting in various drawers. This was actually written a few years ago, and revised last year. It's the screenplay everyone always said they liked, but had no idea what to do with, since it was so controversial.

Chas: Why use the Holocaust as the backdrop? Isn’t there a risk of “not another one?” Or a risk of repeating themes used in other stories or movies (as an example, the movie “Enemies: A Love Story,” based on the Isaac Singer story) dealing with Holocaust survivors? Did you consider another background like the atrocities and war crimes committed in Croatia?

Howard: Well, actually this doesn’t take place during the Holocaust, it all takes place afterwards. The reason this screenplay needed to use the context of the Holocaust however, is that it needed a reference point that everyone sort of knew about. Basically, we wanted to get some universal themes about forgiveness and redemption contrasted with the best and worst of human behavior. We could have set it, say, in Bosnia, but we'd have to do too much to explain the context, and not spend as much time with our characters. At its heart, this is not a "Holocaust Story." It's a love story, through and through.

I can't really tell you more without giving out the ending. So read the screenplay!

Chas: I understood that it did not take place during the Holocaust, I said it was as a backdrop. Judging by your answer, though, I assume it is safe to say, "No, we never really considered another time or event."

Howard: Yes make that assumption.

Chas: You have always been a big fan of the slasher flicks and comedies. Yet your screenplay is a rather grim and sad tale. Why?

Howard: I like to:
a. enjoy the hell out of a movie
b. learn something
c. be spiritually moved and have my ideas and philosophies about life held up to the harsh light of contemplation
d. All of the above

Short answer - I like movies - period. Some just because they are fun, some for other, deeper reasons.

Chas: You were an English major in college, and I know you and Steve took a screenplay writing seminar a few years back. Did either actually help you in the writing of the screenplay (I mean beyond teaching you the proper screenplay format)? If so, in what way/how?

Howard: This Screenplay was actually written for the seminar. The class is called Writers Boot Camp they have classes in NY and LA, plus a great on-line course. It's fantastic. Learn more about them if you are interested in writing scripts.

As far as college, not so much! Basically, in college I learned how to bash other people's work, something I find more useless every year.

Chas: Sundance is in Park City, Utah. Have you looked into how late the bars are open? Are there any bars there? Do you plan on packing a couple extra bottles just in case? What is your drink of choice these days?

Howard: Hmmm. Bars? Mormons? Polygamy? Sounds like my kind of state!

Naw - these days the only bottles I pack have milk in them - not even that anymore! I am sure that if I get the urge to dive into the dark side, I will be able to find a can of sterno somewhere.

Chas: Do you get to meet Ben and Matt? Will you get to see an advance screening of Daredevil?

Howard: Yes. They actually called me when we made the top 10, along with Chris Moore (producer, American Pie). Apparently, they will all be interrogating us out at Sundance. If they ask me what my ambitions are, I am going to respond "World's Sexiest Man, 2004."

Howard: No Daredevil screenings, so far as I know. It's just not Sundance's style.

Chas: Are you going to offer to buy Ben a drink?

Howard: No - I am the starving writer, remember! Ben, if you are there, mine's a Bombay Sapphire martini, straight up, 1 olive.
[Editor note: I applaud Howard's choice in drinks. Howard, however, was apparently unaware that Ben Affleck came out of rehab in the last year, this was a joke made in poor taste by me.]

Chas: Favorite movies from Ben, Chris and Matt?

Howard: Has to be Good Will Hunting, for all three. Though I do like the "Once at Band Camp" girl. Also liked Matt in the Bourne Identity.

Chas: Gwyneth or J-Lo? (Will J-Lo be there?)

Howard: I have answered my quota of J-Lo questions! You are number 753. Next!

Chas: Do you have any meetings planned? Do you get to meet with agents and producers?

Howard: We sent out about 250 query letters to agents. We actually got about 25 people wanting to see our script. Apparently, in this business, that's amazing. We're honored.

Chas: Given the contacts you stand to make in Sundance, might it not be better to lose so you are in position to pursue other chances without a camera crew following you around?

Howard: A wonderful option would be if they took us aside, told us that we were not going to win, but they were going to buy out script outright. I would love that! That happened in the last round - fingers crossed! Actually, either way would be fun.

Chas: What comic books are you reading these days?

Howard: Being as broke as I am, I am rereading my entire collection. I am currently indulging in the guilty pleasure of Neil Gaiman's Technophage. Seriously!

Chas: How do you feel about Xingu now being sold in 12 oz bottles?

Howard: REALLY???? WHERE!!! (It is probably 10 points on the Weight Watchers program, but Hell, who needs dinner!)

Monday, January 13, 2003

Ownership of the Law

One of the sons of legendary maverick baseball owner (Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox at different times), Bill Veeck, is getting a case heard before the US Supreme Court. The case, Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc. v. Veeck involves Peter Veeck posting the municipal building codes for Anna and Savoy, Texas on Veeck's Website, Texoma Regional Information. Veeck was informed by SBCCI that he could not post the building codes since they were copyrighted by them. Veeck filed an action and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with him this past June (here is a good case summary, rather than the entire opinion). This outcome was noted by Ernie the Attorney. SBCCI has since appealed and the US Supreme Court will hear the case.

Essentially the court declared that model codes, once enacted into a specific law, lose copyright protection -- insofar as they are the law in the municipality.

Model Codes are tricky items. Uniform state laws are created by quasi-private organizations. The Uniform Commercial Code is a model code that states adopt in part, completely, or with variations and amendments. As such, the UCC is posted on the Web without infringing copyright, either in the original form, or as enacted by a particular state. What remains copyrightable and of significant value (able to be sold) are the "comments" to the uniform law. These comments serve to explain and provide examples of how the particular law was intended to work.

The SBCCI case, entails a claim that the entire code is protected by copyright, and even if it was enacted into law by a municipality (with changes to the labeling of the section numbers and tailoring to a particular municipality's bureaucratic system), the work does not enter the public domain. Part of the problem is simply the cost.

Lakewood Building Commissioner Charles Barrett has three copies of the city's combined building code in his office, which cost about $200 apiece.

If you're trying to renovate a building and need to know what width your doors have to be or the fire-resistance rating of the walls, you can look at his books.

But if you want a copy of the code, you're out of luck. You're going to have to go to the library and try to copy it there, or you're going to have to buy it from the organization that wrote it.

"We used to run them a copy off, charge them at that time a quarter a page," Barrett said. "Well, we found out you can't do that because it's not ours to do.

"People still come in and say, 'I want a copy of this and a copy of that,' and I have to tell them, 'I can't give you a copy.' "

Charges for copies of the combined codes are fairly uniform. Ohio's model building code was written by a nonprofit organization known as Building Officials and Code Administrators International, which charges nonmembers $83 for a copy of the 2002 state code.

The Ohio plumbing and mechanical codes are another $61 apiece. If you want to buy the building, plumbing and mechanical codes combined, the package runs $189.

This makes it harder for the average citizen to have reasonable access to information that pertains to them. If the old cliche, "ignorance of the law is no excuse," is still valid, then the citizenry must have a reasonable opportunity to access the law. In this day and age, the Internet could be considered the best and fairest method.

UPDATE: My bad, the US Supreme Court has not decided whether it will hear the case yet. They will decide in May. Thanks to Ernie the Attorney who posted the correction in a link to this, and Howard Bashman who let him know about the error.

Not So Open Records

It doesn't look good when a newspaper that continually seeks to have court files open in the name of "the public's right to know," has to explain how it is no big deal when its publisher files to have his own divorce proceedings sealed.

The Cincinnati Enquirer likes to pry open public records that government officials try to hide.

But its publisher wants to protect his own privacy.

He got a court order that keeps records of the dissolution of his marriage off the Internet site of the Hamilton County clerk of courts.

Harry M. Whipple, 55, obtained the ruling last summer while the Enquirer was arguing in another case that Ohio's legal system should be an open, public forum.

The Enquirer's lawyers called it a "shameful affront to the public's right to know" when a judge sealed legal documents about a TV anchorwoman's age-discrimination lawsuit against her station.

That ruling kept the records off the Internet site.

Since 1999, virtually every document filed in the clerk's office - from traffic tickets to divorces, debts, income tax returns, even psychiatric reports - has been available online. The site gets more than 30 million hits a month.

But in July, a Common Pleas Court judge ruled the records on Whipple's case would be available only at the courthouse. Looking them up requires a trip to a county office during business hours, poring over record books and asking to see a file - tedious processes that limit public exposure.

The Cininnati Enquirer spokespeople and attorneys don't see any conflict, Whipple merely followed a procedure that was available to anyone.

Of course this allows every Hamilton County official the opportunity to laugh, feel smug, and scream "hypocrite" at the Enquirer. Oh, and according to the records:

The divorce court files contained financial details about his annual salary, $234,000; average yearly bonus, $76,333; stock options received since 1998, 66,500; and company retirement account of nearly $1 million, which he was dividing with his former wife.

"He's saying that when they are my records, I want them to be kept quiet. But when they are your records, everybody should get to see them," said Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota.

"It's the kind of thing that causes people to look at news organizations and say, You hypocrites.' "


(Copyright © 2002-2005 Chas Rich All rights Reserved.);
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