Where is the News on the Evening News?

Ever since my family moved to the United States in the late 1980s, we have been loyal viewers of the CBS Evening News. This tradition was unanimously ended two weeks ago, when we simply could not stand the decreasing amount of actual news in the broadcast any longer.
The CBS Evening News generally features a little over ten minutes of news, followed by commercials, an investigative report, more commercials, and finally a “heart warming” segment or some kind of other story.
I wanted to find out if this was the format of choice for all three major 6:30pm newscasts, so I did a little study. I also observed one broadcast of the BBC America News at 6pm. I began with CBS, which I observed on Wednesday, February 28:
CBS Evening News on February 28:

  • Market drop/economy (3 minutes)

  • “Beyond Wall Street,” a personal story about a dentist who has some money invested (5 minutes, 20 seconds)
  • Upcoming Iraqi Neighbors Meeting (50 seconds)

Then came a segment entitled “Matters of the Heart” about babies with heart defects and the recent successful heart surgery of a fetus.
There was a 25-second mention of John McCain’s announcement that he’s running for president, followed by a story about illegal immigration from the view of a farmer who lives on the U.S./Mexico border. Finally, there was a segment about the book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.
BBC America World News on February 28 (6pm):

  • Airbus to cut 10,000 jobs over the next four years (2 minutes, 30 seconds)

  • Market drop/economy (3 minutes)
  • Israeli military, Jordan/Iraq Referendum, North Korea talks (1 minute total)
  • Italian politics (2 minutes, 30 seconds)
  • Stolen Picasso painting in France (2 minutes)
  • Repeat of headlines (15 seconds)
  • South Africa’s Elephant problem (2 minutes 15 seconds)
  • Scientists attempting to recreate the Big Bang at a Geneva laboratory (3 minutes)
  • Controversy over Israel’s Eurovision entry, “Push the Button” (2 minutes)
  • Early bird migration (1 minute, 30 seconds)

NBC Nightly News on March 2:

  • Walter Reed Medical Center Scandal/Francis Harvey resignation (3 minutes)

  • Tornados in the Southeastern United States (4 minutes, 20 seconds)
  • Bus accident in Atlanta (2 minutes, 30 seconds)
  • Markets (30 seconds)

There was then an “In Depth” segment on medical teams in Iraq, a report on cough medicines for children under the age of five, and a segment entitled “Making a Difference” on Project Cuddle
ABC World News on March 2:

  • Tornados in the Southeastern United States (7 minutes, 10 seconds)

  • Other storms from the same weather system (20 seconds)
  • Atlanta bus accident (2 minutes, 30 seconds)
  • Walter Reed Medical Center Scandal/Francis Harvey resignation (2 minutes, 30 seconds)
  • Conservative Political Action Conference (20 seconds)
  • Markets (15 seconds)
    Just like on NBC, there was a report on cough medicines for children. Subsequently there was a 20-second mention of today being the birthday of Dr. Seuss, followed by a “Person of the Week” segment.
    Conclusion: I found that all three major American evening newscasts have a similar format. They begin with a little over ten minutes of “top stories,” covered rather thoroughly, before switching to an even more in-depth segment about a recent report (such as the one on cough medicines for children) or an ongoing issue (such as illegal immigration). Finally, there’s a lighter segment on a person or organization.
    This is drastically different for the news from BBC America, which “covers more stories with less story.” Also drastically different is where the stories come from. Despite calling itself ABC World News, there was not one piece of international news in the broadcast I watched.
    I wonder if the increasing emphasis on reports rather than simply news is a result of the effects of the internet. It could be, that since we are exposed to news headlines all day in nowadays, that the networks feel that they have to provide something different. Further possible evidence for this is the switch of Headline News from their famous “Headline News Wheel” all day to including news shows such as Glen Beck and Nancy Grace.
    I have also found that the three major networks will generally only feature international news if it directly affects the United States. A statement by the President of Iran on that country’s nuclear ambitions might get a mention. Elections in Senegal almost certainly will not.

Video for Last Friday’s “New Rules”

The video to what I called “Bill Maher’s Best Monologue to Date” is now available on YouTube. I highly recommend you check it out:
Bill Maher, Final New Rule 10/27/06
If you want to laugh a little before it gets serious, check out the entire set of New Rules (about two extra minutes):
Bill Maher, New Rules 10/27/06

Lou Dobbs: “Multi-culturalism does not work in any country in the world”

Map of Swiss LanguagesHere’s a little excerpt from the transcript of October 13th Real Time with Bill Maher, which featured Lou Dobbs, Danielle Pletka, and Ben Affleck on the panel:

DOBBS: The fact of the matter is that “English Only” is not racist, and we have to – we have to come to terms with it. And I don’t like the issue of race in this discussion. Because there is this sort of patronizing view that 40 million legal citizens of this country who just happen to be Hispanic are somehow identified on an equivalency with the illegal immigration issue. Half of those people, at least in the state of Arizona, voted for Proposition 200.
And these – these activist groups, whether they be like MALDEF or La Raza, suggesting they’re speaking for the Hispanic American population in this country, is absurd. And for us to adopt some sort of idea that “English Only” is racist is absurd. It is a reaction to a cultural phenomenon in which you are walking in and saying, “Hit one – press two for Spanish,” walking into a school in which you have bilingual requirements that are crushing some school districts, while half of the Hispanic students in this country are dropping out of high school. We have a crisis in public education. [applause]
MAHER: Yes, that’s—
DOBBS: And we’re talking about nonsense.
AFFLECK: But we also, like many countries – and again, I don’t really have a big position – but many countries seem to function with, like, two languages. For example, you go to Canada. You press one for—
DOBBS: Yeah, I’ll tell you. They’ve had a great time up there in Quebec and the rest of the country. It’s been fascinating.
AFFLECK: They haven’t had a great time, but they’ve—
PLETKA: They haven’t had a great time. That’s the point.
DOBBS: It’s a disaster. Multi-culturalism does not work in any country in the world. Name one.
MAHER: Iraq. [laughter] [applause]
AFFLECK: Well, multi – you’re talking multi – multi-language.
MAHER: Yes.
AFFLECK: Multi-culturalism—
DOBBS: I’m talking both.
AFFLECK: [overlapping]—is the foundation of this country. I mean—[applause]
DOBBS: No, it is not. No, it is not.

Bill Maher didn’t exactly use the best example when he mentioned Canada. They’ve had their share of issues up there. But what about Switzerland!? There are four official languages, and, for the most part, four corresponding cultures. Yet, the Swiss have achieved a national unity, which is placed above (in terms of living together in peace) those differences.
Swiss International Airlines PlaneEven the less than one percent of Swiss that speak Romansh are represented all over the place. Their language can be spoken in parliament and is on the national airline (Svizra =Switzerland).
India has 23 official languages. And while it’s not the most stable country in the world, it does decently well.
Hispanic students are primarily dropping out of school because their parents are making minimum wage (if they’re legal) or less (if they’re not). Yes, they should learn to speak English, but Dobbs is overlooking the primary problem here.
There is a reason why Spanish is the most-learned second language in the United States… You can actually speak it places. And the U.S. has always lagged behind in foreign language education, which is tied in with foreign culture education, which expands the scope of students’ thinking and allows them to think outside of the “blind patriotic box” that so many do.
A study by Simmons Market Research found that 19% of the Hispanic population speak only Spanish while 9% speak only English, 55% have limited English proficiency and 17% are fully English-Spanish bilingual. It’s no wonder there’s the “press two for spanish” option when calling many 1-800 numbers.
If the increasing number of Spanish-speakers as a result of immigration does nothing but increase the number of English-only speakers that have to learn another language, in this case Spanish, then I already consider it a success. I don’t completely denounce the possibility that the increasing two-language society is going to cause structural problems in this country, but it shouldn’t be something that cannot be managed by the often-called “greatest country in the world,” which goes back to my entry from yesterday.
Image Credit:

  1. “Map of the geographical distribution of the official languages of Switzerland (2000)”. Copyright Marco Zanoli. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike Version 2.5 License.
  2. Swiss Air Lines ARJ-100 HB-IXN. Copyright Flickr user ‘caribb‘. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Version 2.0 License.

Bill Maher’s Best Monologue to Date

Real Time with Bill Maher screenshotFrom the October 27, 2006 “New Rules”:

MAHER: And finally, New Rule: America must stop bragging that it’s the greatest country on earth and start acting like it. Now, I know — I know this is uncomfortable for the faith-over-facts crowd, but the greatness of a country can, to a large degree, be measured. Here are some numbers: Infant mortality rate, America ranks 48th in the world; overall health, 72nd; freedom of the press, 44; literacy, 55th. Do you realize there are 12-year-old kids in this country who can’t spell the name of the teacher they’re having sex with?
Now, America, I will admit, has done many great things: making the New World democratic comes to mind, the Marshall Plan, curing polio, beating Hitler, the deep-fried Twinkie. But what have we done for us lately? We’re not the freest country. That would be Holland, where you can smoke hash in church, and Janet Jackson’s nipple is on their flag.
And, sadly, we’re no longer a country that can get things done, either. Not big things, like building a tunnel under Boston or running a war with competence. We had six years to fix the voting machines. Couldn’t get that done. The FBI is just now getting email!
Prop 87 out here in California is about lessening our dependence on oil by using alternative fuels, and Bill Clinton comes on at the end of the ad and says, “If Brazil can do it, America can, too.” Excuse me, since when did America have to buck itself up by saying we could catch up to Brazil?! We invented the airplane and the lightbulb. They invented the bikini wax, and now they’re ahead?!
In most of the industrialized world, nearly everyone has health care. And hardly anyone doubts evolution. And, yes, having to live amid so many superstitious dimwits is also something that affects quality of life. It’s why America isn’t going to be the country that gets the inevitable patents in stem cell cures, because Jesus thinks it’s too close to cloning!
Oh, and did I mention we owe China a trillion dollars? We owe everybody money. America is a debtor nation to Mexico! We’re not on a bridge to the 21st century. We’re on a bus to Atlantic City with a roll of quarters.
WHITMAN: Take those — bring those quarters to Atlantic City, yes.
MAHER: And this is why it bugs me that so many people talk like it’s 1955 and we’re still number one in everything. We’re not. And I take no glee in saying this, because I love my country, and I wish we were. But when you’re number 55 in this category and number 92 in that one, you look a little silly waving the big foam “Number One” finger.
As long as we believe being the greatest country in the world is a birthright, we’ll keep coasting on the achievements of earlier generations and we’ll keep losing the moral high ground. Because we may not be the biggest or the healthiest or the best educated. But we always did have one thing no other place did. We knew soccer was bullshit.
And…and we also had a little thing called the Bill of Rights. A great nation doesn’t torture people or make them disappear without a trial. Bush keeps saying the terrorists hate us for our freedom. And he’s working damn hard to see that pretty soon that won’t be a problem.

Wal-Mart Drops Gun Sales at Select Stores

Wal-Mart protest photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/walmartmovieThis is a good one…
Wal-Mart, the largest seller of rifles and shotguns in the United States, has announced that it will stop carrying firearms in about one-third of its stores, essentially those where there’s not much of a market.
The chain, most likely trying to match some of the appeals of Target, recently opened a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Plano, Texas, an upscale suburb of Dallas, where it offers microwbrews, sushi and coffee. This is the kind of market where guns apparently don’t really fit into the picture. (Yes, even in Texas!)
I’ve always considered Wal-Mart hypocritical for selling guns but not explicit-labeled CDs (edited versions are offered instead). Additionally Wal-Mart does not carry FXM or Maxim, but does stock R-rated movies. Strange country values…
The National Rifle Association isn’t too pleased with the gun decision, worried that rural areas that only have a Wal-Mart might be cut off from gun access! Heaven forbid someone might actually have to drive 30 minutes or even an hour to purchase a firearm! But even in all seriousness, their concern is unwarranted, mainly because these are the areas where Wal-Mart will continue to sell guns (unless they completely discontinue them chain-wide, which I doubt). Furthermore, if for some bizarre reason Wal-Mart were to end gun sales where there is a demand, some mom-and-pop store would take over.
The United States and firearms… Always a fun topic.
Further Reading:

What’s Behind the $6.95 Pants and 3-Cent Eggs?

This is a followup for “Ultra-Capitalism Strikes Again” and “Ripped Off, Cut Off, Drove Off.”
That’s right, Steve and Barry’s at the Carousel Center (and many other locations) currently has its entire store reduced to $6.95. That includes pants, shorts, sweaters, and even coats. A recent pair of pants I purchased was manufactured in Botswana. A previous pair was made in Malawi. Apparently African labor is even cheaper than that of the Pacific Islands, allowing for these ridiculous prices.
However, it’s possible to have such cheap production in the United States too… Just not with people, but with chickens instead. Wegmans, the Rochester-based, growing super-regional supermarket chain is being accused of abusing its 750,000-plus chickens that live in cages on its chicken farm in Wolcott, New York. No, they don’t whip them or anything, but instead force them to live in ridiculously overcrowded cages where they often get their heads stuck, fall and rot in manure, etc.
Wegmans 39-cent eggsTwo years ago Wegmans was chosen as the “Best Company to Work For” by Fortune Magazine (last year they ranked #2). This obviously doesn’t apply if you’re a chicken though. The result of the abuse? Wegmans can afford to have sales such as a dozen eggs for 39 cents. That’s 3.25 cents an egg. Wegmans’ excuse for continuing caged-hen farming is that otherwise their eggs would be too expensive for their customers.
Apparently Wegmans doesn’t understand its market very well, namely that of the suburban middle-to-upper classes. Many of their stores are essentially resort destinations, offering products such as truffles for $399 per pound. Those customers not wishing to pay the extra dollar (if even) per dozen, can always visit Aldi or Save-A-Lot. In fact, they probably already do.
Wegmans Cruelty (I wouldn’t visit around meal time)

Valentine’s Day is Nothing but Christmas II

Think about it… Take Christmas, change green to pink (keep the red and white), replace Santa Claus with chocolate, and you get Valentine’s Day.
Working at Target has shown me that holidays are nothing but different color crayons shading in stencils. We have a section called “Mini-Seasonal,” which contains all the food products and other small accessories for each respective holiday. What really changes as the seasons pass? Not much but the colors. In essentially the exact same spot that you could find christmas cookie cutters, frosting, and sprinkles just two months ago, you can now find the equivalent for Valentine’s Day. The shapes of the cutters have changed from trees to hearts, and the frosting and sprinkles have merely changed from green/red/white to pink/red/white. Starting later this week you’ll be able to see bunnies and green/yellow/pink. And the cycle continues…
What does my Valentine’s Day look like? I start off with a German class, followed by a horribly hard chemistry test. After that it’s straight off to another German class and a chemistry recitation. To finish my evening I have a three-hour chemistry lab.
Happy Valentine’s Day.

Separation of Church and Retail

I’ve been too busy with studying for my final exams and subsequently working at Target the last few weeks to check on holiday news lately, but I did some catching up lately.
Apparently this year, more than ever, a very hot item of debate is “Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays.” Before I even discuss this issue, let’s reflect on what Christmas in retailing has become… Insanity. What does fighting your way through toy aisles looking to grab the last model of a toy that some celebrity on TV made “a hot item” even have to do with Christmas? Take a look in the bible. You won’t find “Black Friday”, the “Doodle Monster”, or “Apples to Apples.”
Around Thanksgiving this year, a rumor began to spread that my employer, Target, was banning their team members from saying “Merry Christmas,” a rumor that is completely false. Once again, is this most likely an example of the exaggeration of one experience at one Target store. This has happened before, often sparking mass chain letters, such as the Dick Forrey Letter. After the “Merry Christmas Ban Rumor” came out, conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel apparently questioned some team members in the Detroit area and claims that they said they’d be fired if they were caught saying “Merry Christmas.”
Even if there were a couple Target managers who were misinformed about Target policy is, it’s ridiculous to hold the entire 1400-store chain accountable. As soon as this rumor came out, a notice was posted at my Target explaining that it was false.
Let’s take a look at the issue as a whole now. I exclusively used “Happy Holidays” over the past few weeks for one major reason: I have no clue what religion a complete stranger is! If I really wanted to, I suppose I could do some profiling of every guest I talked to. Maybe I could check to see if they were wearing a religious symbol, or what items they had in their cart. But why? Why does retailing have to be so religious?
If a guest said “Merry Christmas” to me, I would respond with “Merry Christmas” as well. I did this several dozen times. There’s no reason to force “Happy Holidays” then. But just as I don’t assume that every female shopper with a belly is expecting, and thus don’t automatically congratulate for fear of offending, I don’t assume every guest is Christian.
Apparently some Christians are offended by not being offered a “Merry Christmas” when shopping their local discount store. I just don’t understand this. As a little kid, before I had a real understanding about religions other than my own, I thought people said “Happy Holidays” because there are multiple holidays in Christianity that people celebrate this time of year. There’s Christmas, New Year’s, and for some more traditional Christians there is Epiphany of the Lord or Three Kings Day on January 6. To my conservative friends, may I suggest you look at it this way?
This is not to say that there isn’t the other extreme of political correctness. Boston, among other cities, began calling its main Christmas tree “Holiday Tree” this year. Let’s face it… It is a symbol of a certain religion, and it’s probably more offensive than tolerant to force it as a symbol of all the holidays this time of year. The same goes for “holiday stockings” as well as “holiday wrap” and “holiday ornaments” with Christmas themes on it.
I don’t feel retailers shouldn’t make reference to Christmas in their flyers or in their obvious Christmas sections in their stores. I’m definitely not an extremist in this regard. But I don’t think retail stores (with the obvious exception of Christmas stores) should promote greeting customers they don’t know with a greeting that doesn’t apply to one out of five Americans. Tonight is Christmas Eve, and if you’re Christian, now is the right time to practice your beliefs with your own family and friends. But if I don’t know you, you’ll still get a friendly “Happy Holidays” from me if I see you out in public… Or on this weblog…
Happy Holidays!

Good Night and Good Luck.

Tuesday night I saw Good Night and Good Luck. at the Palace Theatre in the Eastwood Neighborhood of Syracuse, in what would be the first of a two-night tour of old-school Syracusan theaters. The Palace reopened this year after a half-million dollar renovation. It’s a pretty cool place… It even has a café. About 25 people were there. I estimated that the theater holds about 600.
Movie PosterAnyways, the movie was pretty good. McCarthyism is a pretty relevant topic again today. With Bush authorizing wire tapping and people randomly being labeled as terrorists simply because they look Islamic. It is quite ridiculous that Senator McCarthy got away with what he did for several years. A great moment in the movie was the rebuttal segment, where his arguments started falling apart.
The whole fifties flair was great too, including the TV cigarette ads, and somebody lighting a cigarette virtually every five seconds.