Some Things In The News

Fetus with Intent

Whoever came up with the word "twinseparable" needs medication and institutionalization. The most irritating part about this soft news piece (aside from being soft news, of course) is the reporter's insistence on ascribing intent to a fetus:

Mrs Jones decided to let doctors operate to terminate Gabriel's life.

Firstly they tried to sever his umbilical cord to cut off his blood supply, but the cord was too strong.

They then cut Mrs Jones's placenta in half so that when Gabriel died, it would not affect his twin brother.

But after the operation which was meant to end his life, tiny Gabriel had other ideas.

Although he weighed less than a pound, he put up such a fight for survival that doctors called him Rocky.

Bold added. No, tiny Gabriel did not have other ideas. He didn't have any ideas.

Writers' Block

The WGA goes on strike Monday morning at 12:01am. I cannot imagine that if they do strike, other Hollywood unions wouldn't join them.

Hollywood is a de facto closed shop, of the sort outlawed by Taft-Hartley in 1947. If a movie has a budget over about $2M (which is a really low budget; think late nite Cinemax), it'll have to be unionized if it wants crew, cast, or distribution. Of course, a person could scrape together $20M and make a movie himself, but he won't get professional equipment (rental houses rent sophisticated equipment like high-end cameras or motion controlled cranes with approved operators, who are always union, and are basically prohibited from working on non-union shoots with budgets over $2M), he won't get actors (SAG also pulls its members out of "high" budget shoots), and he won't get theatrical distribution (The major distributors, Warners, Universal, Paramout, etc., are all MPAA signatories, along with every first-run theatre in the country; theatres don't get first-run films from MPAA distributors unless they play by the MPAA's rules). A producer could make and distribute a $50M non-union film for around $500M, and he would not be able to shop any of the work out to the existing professional infrastructure. He'd have to do it himself, right down to negotiating for screens in independent theatres and mailing out prints.

Last I heard, a federal mediator has been sent in. Because, you know, the Federal government has power to force the studios to negotiate with the unions under the National Labor Relations Act. Thank you, Justice Owen J. Roberts, who switched sides in West Coast Hotel just one month before appearing among the majority in Laughton Steel. (Yet another reason 1937 was probably the very worst year in American history.)

The union apparently wants more residuals from DVD and Internet distribution. And that's fine; they can ask for that. But they don't have the right to drag the government in and force the studios to give it to them. If it weren't illegal, the studios should just refuse to deal with the union. But alas, they do not have that option, and they are certainly not principled enough to try.

More "Public Property" Problems

There are apparently cell phone jammers out there. So, like, if you're a movie theatre manager, you could jam cell signals inside the theatre so the ringing and the talking wouldn't interrupt the movie. Sounds great, right? But because the airwaves are "public property," using them is illegal, even for private people on private property. Like roads, "public" "ownership" of the airwaves gives the government extensive control over how private people use their own property.

The news article only confuses the issues, and the confusion is nicely summarized by this quote from James Katz, director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers University:

If anything characterizes the 21st century, it’s our inability to restrain ourselves for the benefit of other people. The cellphone talker thinks his rights go above that of people around him, and the jammer thinks his are the more important rights.
There is no conflict of rights here. Or at least, there wouldn't be if the government got out of the broadcasting business.

There are two examples of jammer users offered in the article: private property owners, and persons on "public property." There certainly aren't any competing rights between shop owners (or theatre owners, or restaurant owners, or therapists, all of whom appear as examples in the article) and their customers. If the shop owner says "No phones," his wish prevails on his property.

However, if the airwaves were private property, would there be a conflict in private shops? A topic for another day, I think.

Tom G Varik