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Victor Davis Hanson - The Israeli Spring

Victor Davis Hanson - The Israeli Spring | In and About the News | Scoop.it

srael could be forgiven for having a siege mentality — given that at any moment, old frontline enemies Syria and Egypt might spill their violence over common borders.

The Arab Spring has thrown Israel’s once-predictable adversaries into the chaotic state of a Sudan or Somalia. The old understandings between Jerusalem and the Assad and Mubarak kleptocracies seem in limbo.

Yet these tragic Arab revolutions swirling around Israel are paradoxically aiding it, both strategically and politically — well beyond just the erosion of conventional Arab military strength.

In terms of realpolitik, anti-Israeli authoritarians are fighting to the death against anti-Israeli insurgents and terrorists. Each is doing more damage to the other than Israel ever could — and in an unprecedented, grotesque fashion. Who now is gassing Arab innocents? Shooting Arab civilians in the streets? Rounding up and executing Arab civilians? Blowing up Arab houses? Answer: either Arab dictators or radical Islamists.

The old nexus of radical Islamic terror of the last three decades is unraveling. With a wink and a nod, Arab dictatorships routinely subsidized Islamic terrorists to divert popular anger away from their own failures to the West or Israel. In the deal, terrorists got money and sanctuary. The Arab Street blamed others for their own government-inflicted miseries. And thieving authoritarians posed as Islam’s popular champions.

But now, terrorists have turned on their dictator sponsors. And even the most ardent Middle East conspiracy theorists are having troubling blaming the United States and Israel.

Secretary of State John Kerry is still beating last century’s dead horse of a “comprehensive Middle East peace.” But does Kerry’s calcified diplomacy really assume that a peace agreement involving Israel would stop the ethnic cleansing of Egypt’s Coptic Christians? Does Israel have anything to do with Assad’s alleged gassing of his own people?

There are other losers as well. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted to turn a once-secular Turkish democracy into a neo-Ottoman Islamist sultanate, with grand dreams of eastern-Mediterranean hegemony. His selling point to former Ottoman Arab subjects was often a virulent anti-Semitism. Suddenly, Turkey became one of Israel’s worst enemies and the Obama administration’s best friends.

Yet if Erdogan has charmed President Obama, he has alienated almost everyone in the Middle East. Islamists such as former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi felt that Erdogan was a fickle and opportunistic conniver. The Gulf monarchies believed that he was a troublemaker who wanted to supplant their influence. Neither the Europeans nor the Russians trust him. The result is that Erdogan’s loud anti-Israeli foreign policy is increasingly irrelevant.

The oil-rich sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf once funded terrorists on the West Bank, but they are now fueling the secular military in Egypt. In Syria they are searching to find some third alternative to Assad’s Alawite regime and its al-Qaeda enemies. For the moment, oddly, the Middle East foreign policy of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the other oil monarchies dovetails with Israel’s: Predictable Sunni-Arab nationalism is preferable to one-vote, one-time Islamist radicals.

Israel no doubt prefers that the Arab world liberalize and embrace constitutional government. Yet the current bloodletting lends credence to Israel’s ancient complaints that it never had a constitutional or lawful partner in peace negotiations.

In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt dictatorship is gone. His radical Muslim Brotherhood successors were worse and are also gone. The military dictatorship that followed both is no more legitimate than either. In these cycles of revolution, the one common denominator is an absence of constitutional government.

In Syria, there never was a moderate middle. Take your pick between the murderous Shiite-backed Assad dictatorship or radical Sunni Islamists. In Libya, the choice degenerated to Moammar Qaddafi’s unhinged dictatorship or the tribal militias that overthrew it. Let us hope that one day westernized moderate democracy might prevail. But that moment seems a long way off.

What do the Egyptian military, the French in Mali, Americans at home, the Russians, the Gulf monarchies, persecuted Middle Eastern Christians, and the reformers of the Arab Spring all have in common? Like Israel, they are all fighting Islamic-inspired fanaticism. And most of them, like Israel, are opposed to the idea of a nuclear Iran.

In comparison with the ruined economies of the Arab Spring — tourism shattered, exports nonexistent, and billions of dollars in infrastructure lost through unending violence — Israel is an atoll of prosperity and stability. Factor in its recent huge gas and oil finds in the eastern Mediterranean, and it may soon become another Kuwait or Qatar, but with a real economy beyond its booming petroleum exports.

Israel had nothing to do with either the Arab Spring or its failure. The irony is that surviving embarrassed Arab regimes now share the same concerns with the Israelis. In short, the more violent and chaotic the Middle East becomes, the more secure and exceptional Israel appears.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His new book, The Savior Generals, is just out from Bloomsbury Books. You can reach him by e-mailing author@victorhanson.com. © 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc

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John Fugelsang: Dear Texas, It's OK, you can secede now - Viewpoint // Current TV

John Fugelsang: Dear Texas, It's OK, you can secede now - Viewpoint // Current TV | In and About the News | Scoop.it
"If they did secede, America should get to keep Austin. And San Antonio. And Willie Nelson." —John Fugelsang

 

Every year, Texas celebrates Texas Independence Day, where they commemorate their independence from Mexico. In recent years, though, it’s become a bit of a pep rally for some state residents who think Texas needs to secede from America — these tend to be guys who really just need to secede from AM radio and high-fructose corn syrup.

 

Seriously, earlier this year over 100,000 people signed an online petition demanding the Obama White House allow Texas to secede. At one point, even Gov. Rick Perry got in on the action, saying in speeches that Texas had the right to secede if they wanted to. Now, I love Texas. I’ve got family there, and I always thought this was an awful idea — but if they did secede, America should get to keep Austin. And San Antonio. And Willie Nelson.

Nowadays, Rick Perry’s in the news again by trying to bribe American businesses — with low taxes, low regulation and taxpayer funds — to secede from their own states and move to Texas. He’s running new commercials and hoping to pilfer enough corporations to help him run for president on job creation in 2016. I’d like to tell an original joke about Rick Perry running for president, but it’s hacky, it’s been done and — I forget the third thing.

 

But a Rick Perry candidacy is why I haven’t wanted Texas to secede because America really needs a leader who talks about quitting America.

This guy’s got a low-wage right-to-work state that’s 50th in high school graduations and first in worker deaths.

 

Now, I’m not here to put Rick Perry down, just to deny him clemency. But the great state of Texas has had some pretty bad PR this month.

Last week, Texas GOP Chair Ken Emanuelson said, “I’m going to be real honest with you: the Republican Party doesn’t want black people to vote if they’re going to vote 9 to 1 for Democrats.”

 

Used to be in Texas, a man would get arrested for exposing himself like that. But we let it slide.

 

But then, my friend, came Ezekiel Gilbert. Back on Christmas Eve 2009, he paid $150 for the company of a Craigslist escort. Her name was Lenora Frago, she was 23 and her ad did not guarantee sex, just her time. She decided she didn’t want sex with Mr. Gilbert. She left his home, her driver picked her up, and as they pulled away, Mr. Gilbert came out and shot her through the neck. She was paralyzed and died from complications seven months later.

 

And last week, because of a Texas law that allows people to use deadly force to recover property during a nighttime theft, the jury acquitted him and he walked free.

So what can I say except, ‘As of now, Texas, you’re free to go.’

Break it off at the panhandle and secede away. We’ll miss ya, but if legally murdering women for $150 is how it’s gonna be, we’re not gonna make you stick around. You can take the NAS, Big Oil, cotton, that new reboot of Dallas and Ted Nugent. I don’t even know if Ted lives in Texas, but please take him.

 

Go off on your own and become the whitest, twangiest, most northernmost province of Mexico. Your sane moral residents will be given free asylum here in America, and Gov. Perry will get to be el presidente del Republica de Tejico. Then he can woo even more American NAFTA jobs south of the border, where there’s no pesky minimum wage.

 

Keep all your guns, ban all your gays and here’s Puerto Rico to become the fiftieth star, so we don’t have to change the flag.

 

Oh, and we’ll be happy to finish that border fence — only it’s gonna be along your northern border. Try crossing and watch those Oklahoma militias go to town on you illegals. We’ll beg them not to shoot y’all, but they won’t have to listen, because, hey, states’ rights!

 

Now, of course, I’m just kidding. Nobody sane wants Texas to leave. In fact, if you look at the demographics you’ll see Texas is our biggest minority majority state. White folks — especially the mean ones — are becoming a minority. Which may be why Rick Perry is so hell-bent on cutting public education funds. But it doesn’t matter. Texas is becoming more blue every year. I’m not saying they’re about to become an all-solar-vegan-hemp-happy-clappy-gay-marriage-liberal colony, but it appears that within our lifetimes we can look forward to seeing the people of Texas secede — from the likes of Rick Perry.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Good article. Funny, in a dark humor kind of way.

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Nelson Mandela Life Support Shut Down as Respected Humanitarian Dies Age 94

Nelson Mandela Life Support Shut Down as Respected Humanitarian Dies Age 94 | In and About the News | Scoop.it

A reliable source has revealed that Nelson Mandela’s life support machine was shut down and he has died in hospital aged 94. According to the source, the iconic Mandela died last night while he was still in hospital for the recurring lung infection that left him in critical condition for several days.

 

Rumours have flooded the newspapers and the internet with several sources reporting his death days earlier in a cruel attempt to fool the public and to upset the many people who have respect for this great humanitarian. The loss of the great man will be felt across the world.

 

Earlier today one of our writers, Laura Oneale, wrote an article questioning whether or not Nelson Mandela was still alive. He had been in the hospital 19 days for a recurring lung infection. As speculation surrounding his health continued to grow with many asking whether he was still alive or if, in fact, he had died. Until recently authorities would only confirm that he was on a life support system and remained in a critical condition.

 

Authorities have confirmed that Nelson Mandela has been taken off his life support machine. Adding fuel to the speculation that he had died. Because of this, the rumor has been spreading that Nelson Mandela died last night and that the government and his family have “kept a lid” on the news because of American Present Obama’s upcoming trip to South Africa. Obviously, the president’s vist will be overshadowed by the announcement of the Noble Prize wining Mandela.

 

The Noble Prize winning humanitarian Nelson Mandela had his life support shut down after he died last night aged 94 at the end of a long battle with illness that ended with his hospitalisation and finally his death. While his health problems started in 2011, it was the summer of this year when his condition worsened.

 

In February 2011, he was briefly hospitalised with a respiratory infection, attracting international attention. He was then re-hospitalised for a lung infection and gallstone removal in in December 2012. After His successful medical procedure in March 2013 did not prevent his lung infection from reoccurring and he was briefly hospitalised in Pretoria.

 

On June 8, 2013, his lung infection worsened and he was rehospitalized in Pretoria in a serious condition. After four days, it was reported that he had stabilized and that he remained in a “serious, but stable condition”.

 

While on his way to the hospital, The ambulance carrying Mandela broke down and was stranded on the roadside for 40 minutes. The South African government was criticized for the incident when it confirmed the report weeks later. President Jacob Zuma protested that, “There were seven doctors in the convoy who were in full control of the situation throughout the period. He had expert medical care.”

 

On June 22, 2013 CBS News reported that Mandela had not opened his eyes in days and that he was unresponsive. The family began discussing just how much medical intervention should be given.

 

On June 23, 2013 President Jacob Zuma issued a statement saying that Mandela’s condition had become “critical.” Zuma, who was accompanied by the Deputy President of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, met with Mandela’s wife Graca Machel at the hospital in Pretoria and discussed his condition.

 

On June 25, 2013, Cape Town Archbishop Thabo Makgoba visited Mandela at the hospital and prayed with Graca Machel Mandela “at this hard time of watching and waiting.”

 

On June 26, 2013, Nelson Mandela was taken on life support after his condition deteriorated further. Sources have said that the 94 year-old Mandela died last night after his life support was shut down.

 

The Los Vegas Guardian Express writer Laura Oneale also wrote that in Qunu, the home town of Nelson Mandela, his family got together with the elders to discuss specific events surrounding the well-being of Mandela. It has been confirmed that they were talking about highly sensitive issues.

 

The grandson of Nelson Mandela angrily left the meeting over a disagreement of where the former president was to be buried. Mandela’s daughter, who was seen wearing a red blanket over her and other family members were at the gravesite. It has been reported that the “red blanket” is part of a tribal ceremony of the Xhosa. According to Xhosa custom the blanket is used when a family member has died.

 

Later in the same day, gravediggers arrived at the Mandela burial site.

 

Sources have confirmed that Nelson Mandela died last night after his life support was shut down and the respected iconic humanitarian has died age 94. Details of the funeral arrangements will be released when they become available.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

He changed the world. I never thought I would live to see it, but he changed the world and made it a better place.

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Sharla Shults's curator insight, June 29, 2013 8:51 PM

Nelson Mandela inspired individuals to take action to help change the world for the better, and in doing so build a global movement for good.

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The Olympus E-P5, is it worth it?

The Olympus E-P5, is it worth it? | In and About the News | Scoop.it

I mentioned on last Friday’s post that I thought the E-P5 was Olympus’ take on Fujfilm X100S. — the retro style, the packaged 35mm prime (34mm to be exact) lens and the premium pricing to match. My friend Mike aptly says it’s closer to a Fuji X-E1 because of the interchangeable lenses. Even though the X-E1 does not yet off a 35mm equivalent, he has a good point. Either way, it seems like Olympus created an upscale camera that echoes cameras of a bygone era. The big question is, is it worth the premium price?


I’ve been busy with my, yet unannounced, equipment changes so I really didn’t look into the E-P5, until today. I knew I wasn’t going to get one any time soon. After all, I already bought an E-PM2, late last year and the image quality should be the same. But what if I didn’t get the E-PM2? Would it make sense to buy the E-P5? As I already mentioned, it’s pretty much the camera I wanted last year — it has most the features on my wish list.

 

First, let’s compare the E-P5 vs. the OM-D E-M5. The two cameras mostly share the same feature set. Sure the body style is different, but they both have the same sensor, same image processor, the roughly the same 5 axis image stabilizer and the same speedy focusing system. You lose the water resistance and the EVF (Electronic View Finder) on the E-P5 but gain WiFi, 1/8000s max shutter speed and a faster 1/320s flash sync speed. The OM-D body is $999, the same price as the E-P5. However, keep in mind that the body-only E-P5 doesn’t come with an EVF. Bought separately, the EVF costs more than $200. So effectively, the E-P5 body is sold at at least a $200 premium.

 

Second, the E-P5 replaces the E-P3 introduced in 2011. The E-P3 with the standard $100 kit lens ran $899. Subtract out the kit lens and a fictional body-only E-P3 configuration should run $799, again $200 lower than the E-P5 body-only price.

 

Third, assuming you support my premise that Olympus is competing against the Fuji X100S with the 35mm equivalent lens, consider this. The Fujifilm X100S is priced at $1299. The Olympus E-P5 with the 17mm lens (34mm equivalent) and the EVF is packaged at $1499. Now, despite the retro look of both cameras, they are very different beasts. Direct comparisons are a bit of a stretch, but let me try. On the plus side for Fuji, you get a very good hybrid optical/EVF, arguably better image quality, true analog exposure controls and an attractive well designed body with a seamlessly integrated viewfinder. The E-P5 has the advantage of a world-class in-body image stabilizer and the flexibility of interchangeable lenses. People can quibble of the price but I believe the two cameras should be priced the same. Certainly, I find it hard to justify a $200 premium over the X100S.

 

My conclusion, the Olympus E-P5 is overpriced by $200. The body only price should be $799 and the kit price should be $1299. Still expensive, but it makes sense based on the competition. So is the camera worth it? Only you can answer that question, however, if I were in the market for an Olympus, I wouldn’t pay $999 for the body or $1499 for the kit. So despite my fondness for Olympus micro 4/3, I can’t recommend the E-P5 at the current price.

 

I also predict that the prices will fall fairly quickly. Olympus will inevitably have a $200 rebate or just reduce the price. No guarantees of course, but that’s been Olympus’ pattern over the last couple of years. What do you think? Is the E-P5 worth it to you?

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Adobe goes all in on the cloud, ditches Creative Suite | ZDNet

Adobe goes all in on the cloud, ditches Creative Suite | ZDNet | In and About the News | Scoop.it
Creative Suite? Sayonara. The Creative Cloud is the way of the future.

 

The latest version of Adobe's Creative Suite—the exceedingly popular design, web and multimedia software suite that includes Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, After Effects, Dreamweaver and Acrobat—will be its last, the company announced at its MAX conference in Los Angeles.

 

The latest version of Adobe's Creative Suite—the exceedingly popular design, web and multimedia software suite that includes Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, After Effects, Dreamweaver and Acrobat—will be its last, the company announced at its MAX conference in Los Angeles.

Moving forward, the company will double down on its Creative Cloud software-as-a-service offering, introduced last year.

 

Creative Suite 6 -- the current version of the desktop-based offering -- will still be available for purchase, but it is the final version and will not be updated beyond routine maintenance.

 

Goodbye, CS. Hello, CC.

 

This is a big step for Adobe and its customers. For one, the company is finally ditching the boxed software concept, even though it has offered downloadable versions for some time. Secondly, the move triggers a major revenue shift, from the one-and-done model of old to the subcription-based one so in vogue in recent years. Finally, the decision indicates that connectivity is ubiquitous enough—at least for the group that spends $1,300 or more on professional software—that it can be fully and deeply integrated into the default experience.

 

Customers' early reactions have been mixed. "I really can't see this working out too well," one self-proclaimed "art nerd" wrote on Twitter. "A brave move," another person tweeted. Adobe is "moving to a new model called BS," a third wrote. And most damningly, professional photographer David Hobby wrote that the decision "feels like the biggest money grab in the history of software."

 

He has a point. Individual licenses for the software suite, which comes in various configurations suited to different creative roles, range from $20 to $70 per month in a one-year contract. That's as low as $240 and upwards of $840 per year—far less than the $1,299 to $2,599 you might spend on the desktop suite.

 

The catch: just how many professionals (or companies) actually upgrade their software each year? (Adobe has traditionally introduced a new full version of the Creative Suite every two years.) If individual users or companies were slow to upgrade (and many are, including this author), this move is ultimately a price hike. On the other hand, for occasional users and power users, the extremes of the usage spectrum, it becomes a deal: you always get the newest and best stuff for less than you used to pay, or you get access to Adobe's software for far less than it used to cost.

 

For Adobe, the benefits are clear. A subscription model ensures regular, stable revenue streams. Focus on a cloud offering allows it to update its entire customer base immediately. Dropping the desktop offering allows it to focus on the cloud and deeper integration of its products. And the new pricing and distributon scheme could result in reduced piracy.

 

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

How many of us cannot possibly afford $49 a month, especially the advanced amateurs among us for whom photography is not a money-making venture, but a beloved hobby? Effectively shutting us out of the market, there are also a great many people who will not be willing to "rent" software. Personally, I want to own my tools. They may be selling a cloud, but some of us are not buying it.

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Boston locked down for massive manhunt; one bombing suspect killed by police, the other at-large

Boston locked down for massive manhunt; one bombing suspect killed by police, the other at-large | In and About the News | Scoop.it
By Annie Gowen, Clarence Williams and Debbi Wilgoren, Updated: Friday, April 19, 9:39 AM

WATERTOWN, Mass. — A massive manhunt was underway Friday morning in Boston and its suburbs, after one suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings died in a confrontation with police and the second was identified as a 19-year-old immigrant from Kyrgystan who, a classmate said, attended high school in Cambridge, Mass.

 

The two suspects are brothers, authorities said, and are believed to have lived in the United States with their family for several years. State Department officials said the family appears to have arrived in the country legally.


Alleged motive remains unclear, but they appear to be from the Southern Russian republic of Chechnya.

 

Boston, Watertown and several other suburbs were in an unprecedented state of lockdown on Friday, with mass transit canceled, schools and business closed and residents ordered to stay indoors.

Law enforcement officials said they believed the at-large suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, may be strapped with explosives. They were taking extreme precautions in an effort to avoid further loss of life.

 

A campus security officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was killed in a confrontation with the suspects Thursday night, and a transit officer was critically wounded.

 

“This situation is grave. We are here to protect public safety,” Police Commissioner Ed Davis said. “We believe this to be a terrorist. We believe this to be a man here to kill people.”

 

The suspects were introduced to the world via photos and video footage Thursday night. The one who was killed was identified as Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26.

 

The brothers’ alleged motive in the bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 170, remains unknown, but their family appears to have immigrated from the Southern Russian republic of Chechnya, and two law enforcement officials said there is a “Chechen connection” to the bombings.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was born in Kyrgystan, law enforcement authorities said. He has a Massachusetts driver’s license. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was born in Russia and became a legal U.S. resident in 2007.

 

All public transportation was shut down in the greater Boston area Friday morning, officials said, and no vehicle traffic was permitted in or out of Watertown during the massive manhunt.

 

Residents of Boston, Watertown, Newton, Waltham and elsewhere were asked to stay inside, with their doors locked. Colleges and universities announced they would close for the day, and businesses were instructed not to open. Streets were ghostly quiet. Thousands of officers searched house-to-house, and some areas were evacuated.

 

A Massachusetts State Police spokesman says police closed down a stretch of Norfolk Street in Cambridge, where they think Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his family lived. “We don’t know if he’s there. There is a possibility the suspect is there,” the spokesman, David Procopio, said.

 

Procopio said the manhunt was triggered after the brothers apparently robbed a 7-Eleven store on or near the MIT campus, about 10:20 p.m. Thursday night. They allegedly shot the Sean Collier, a 26-year-old MIT campus police officer, as he sat in his car. Collier, of Somerville, joined the force in January, 2012 after working as a civilian for the Somerville Police Department, officials said.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

I hope they get someone alive. Chechnya? Have we ever done something to them? Like, when and what? And why the Marathon? Huh?

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Egypt Issues Arrest Warrant For Jon Stewart

Egypt Issues Arrest Warrant For Jon Stewart | In and About the News | Scoop.it
The Egyptian government has issued an arrest warrant for American comedian Jon Stewart, accusing him of blasphemy and fomenting "anti-Egyptian" sentiment.
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Right. He's in good company.

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Roger Ebert, RIP – Whatever

Roger Ebert, RIP – Whatever | In and About the News | Scoop.it

I can’t say that I ever spoke to Roger Ebert, but I can say I was once in the same room with him — specifically, the critics’ screening room in Chicago, where as the entertainment editor for my college newspaper I watched a terrible movie called Farewell to the King, and he and Gene Siskel were there as well, sitting, if I remember correctly, in the back of the little theater. Other critics were snarking and catcalling the screen (I mentioned it wasn’t a very good film), and either Siskel or Ebert (it was dark and I was facing the screen) told them to shut it. They shut it. After the movie was done I rode down in the elevator with him. And that was my brush with greatness, film critic style.

 

For all that I consider Ebert to be one of my most important writing teachers. He was my teacher in a real and practical sense — I was hired at age 22 to be a newspaper film critic, with very little direct practical experience in film criticism (not withstanding Farewell to the King, I mostly reviewed music for my college paper). I was hired in May of 1991, but wouldn’t start until September, which left me the summer to get up to speed. I did it by watching three classic movies a night (to the delight of my then-roommates), and by buying every single review book Roger Ebert had out and reading every single review in them.

 

He was a great teacher. He was passionate about film — not just knowledgeable about films and directors and actors, but in love with the form, in a way that came through in every review. Even when a movie was bad, you could tell that at least part of the reason Ebert was annoyed was because the film failed its medium, which could achieve amazing things. But as passionate as he was about film, he wasn’t precious about it. Ebert loved film, but what I think he loved most of all was the fact that it entertained him so. He loved being entertained, and he loved telling people, in language which was direct and to the point (he worked for the Sun-Times, the blue collar paper in town) what about the films was so entertaining. What he taught me about film criticism is that film criticism isn’t about showing off what you know about film, it was about sharing what made you love film.

 

I saw how much Roger Ebert loved film that summer, through his reviews and his words. By the end of the summer, I loved film too. And I wanted to do what he did: Share that love and make people excited about going to the movies, sitting there with their popcorn, waiting to be entertained in the way only film can entertain you.

 

I left newspaper film criticism — not entirely voluntarily — but even after I left that grind I still loved writing about film and went back to it when I could. I wrote freelance reviews for newspapers, magazines and online sites; I’ve published two books about film. Every year I make predictions about the Oscars here on the site. And I can tell you (roughly) the domestic box office of just about every studio film since 1991. All of that flows back to sitting there with Roger Ebert’s words, catching the film bug from him. There are other great film critics, of course (I also have a soft spot for Pauline Kael, which is not entirely surprising), but Ebert was the one I related to the most, and learned the most from.

 

In these later years and after everything that he’d been through with cancer and with losing the ability to physically speak, I read and was contemplative about the essays and pieces he put up on his Web site. Much of that had nothing to do with film criticism, but was a matter of him writing… well, whatever. Which meant it was something I could identify with to a significant degree, since that is what I do here. It would be foolish to say that Ebert losing his physical voice freed him to find his voice elsewhere. What I think may be more accurate was that losing his physical voice reminded Ebert that he still had things he wanted to say before he ran out of time to say them.

 

His Web essays have a sharp, bright but autumnal quality to them; the leaves were still on the trees but the colors were changing and the snap was in the air. It seemed to me Ebert wrote them with the joy of living while there is still life left. I loved these essays but they also made me sad. I knew as a reader they couldn’t last. And of course they didn’t.

 

I had always meant to send Ebert a copy of Old Man’s War, for no other reason than as a token of appreciation. I knew he was a science fiction geek through and through (he had a penchant for giving science fiction films an extra star if they were especially groovy in the departments of effects and atmosphere). I wanted to sign the book to him and let him know how much his work meant to me — and for him to have the experience of the book before the movie, whenever that might be. I tried getting in touch with one of his editors at the Sun-Times, who I used to freelance for in college, to get it to him, but never heard back from her. Later it would turn out he and I had the same film/tv agent, who offered to forward on the book for me. I kept meaning to send off the book. I never did. I regret it now.

 

Although he can’t know it now, I still think it’s worth saying: Thank you, Roger Ebert, for being my teacher and for being such a good writer, critic and observer of the world. You made a difference in my life, and it is richer for having your words in it.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

His voice will indeed be missed, as well as his humor and his humanity.

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Roku -- The Little Streaming WiFi Unit That Can

Roku -- The Little Streaming WiFi Unit That Can | In and About the News | Scoop.it

Every once in a while, someone invents something that makes life a little brighter. In this case, let me introduce you to Roku.

 

Roku is a little streaming device that works off your wi-fi connection so that you can stream movie and premium channels, both free and subscription-based to your television. I wanted  to get Netflix and Hulu Plus, but I don’t like watching movies and other stuff on my computer and have no use for an expensive gaming device. I have a living room with comfy chairs and a big screen. That’s where I want to watch movies and television.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

If you've been looking for an inexpensive way to access those other channels that you can only see on your computer, this is an answer for you. Not yet perfect, but pretty darn good.

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Customer Disservice: A Multi-Act Comedy

Customer Disservice: A Multi-Act Comedy | In and About the News | Scoop.it

It took me five months to get a new oncologist from Fallon, the HMO that runs my Medicare Advantage plan. It began last November when, in a necessary cost-cutting move, I gave up my Medigap policy and signed on with Fallon Senior Medicare Advantage plan.


To get started on the wrong foot, the customer service person who signed me up gave me incorrect information. She had assured me Dana-Farber in Milford was covered by Fallon. This turned out to be untrue and left me without an oncologist. I was annoyed, but not wildly upset. They said I could see my Dana-Farber oncologist once more and I figured I’d get a referral from him.


That turned out to be overly optimistic. My oncologist didn’t know anyone at UMass in Worcester — Fallon’s only cancer care facility in Worcester County. Like many satellite facilities  for larger institutions, it’s hard for them to keep ambitious young doctors on staff. They stay a while, then move to better paying jobs at bigger more, prestigious hospitals. A few doctors stay, usually those who live locally, but most move on. It’s a bit of a revolving door, personnel-wise, though it really isn’t their fault.

 

Even this didn’t faze me. I’m past surgery and chemo. I’m in the maintenance phase. I go for checkups and blood tests. Once a year they scan me to make sure nothing is growing someplace it shouldn’t. Nonetheless, I’m only 2 years from the initial discovery of two separate tumors and there have been a lot of cancer deaths in my family. Mother. Brother. Both maternal grandparents and I’ve had cancer twice, so there’s no reason to assume I’ll ever be entirely safe. I’m not acting crazy because I feel it’s a bit soon to stop monitoring me.

 

My doctor assured me that the facility is good, but he couldn’t help me find a new doctor. He suggested I call the HMO and ask them who do they have in medical oncology with a speciality in breast cancer.  I already knew my PCP couldn’t give me a referral because she said so. She had suggested I get the referral from my oncologist. Back to square one.


Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

How come so  many blatantly incompetent people have jobs? Why are they working when so many others are unemployed?

 

Something is terribly wrong. I just don’t have enough strength to figure out what it is, much less fix it.

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Sharla Shults's curator insight, March 20, 2013 5:11 PM

This is HOT, folks  and it IS real life! The epitome of screw-ups with our so-call efficient medical system. Read it and no longer wonder what is wrong with our system! Need a job? Go to work for an insurance company...no qualifications necessary! What a hoot! Welcome to life!

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'A Late Quartet' brings some beautiful music to the small screen

'A Late Quartet' brings some beautiful music to the small screen | In and About the News | Scoop.it

Much like we can't always go to see our favorite musicians perform live whenever we want, we can't always make it out to the movies. However much like music, it doesn't mean we catch up on things in the comfort of our own home. "A Late Quartet" is an emotional look at the complexities and passions that can run through a relationship that has lasted nearly 25 years.

 

"A Late Quartet" looks at the complex relationship held by a world renowned string quartet on the eve of their 25thanniversary together who struggle to stay together as its members, portrayed by Christopher Walken,Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keenerand Mark Ivanir, come face to face with an incomprehensible life and career change as one of their own faces a horrible illness and a forced retirement. The rest grapple with their own hidden fears and desires that come to the surface with this news as they try to sustain what was 25 years in the making or move on to a new chapter in their lives.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

A movie for grown ups that isn't dull? Be still my heart!

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The Dance of the Woodcock

The Dance of the Woodcock | In and About the News | Scoop.it

It’s an annual rite of passage. As the snow melts away and the first traces of greenery return to the woods of New England, our breeding birds begin the courtship process. And no bird is more of an exhibitionist then the American woodcock.

 

Early March, these elusive birds gather at the forest’s edge to perform their famous “sky-dance.”

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

Nothing says spring is coming better than the return of the birds!

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Why you have not crashed yet

Why you have not crashed yet | In and About the News | Scoop.it

Well, the sequester event, or whatever you want to call it, has come and gone.  Now that didn’t seem so bad, did it?  The stock market didn’t crash, the politicians didn’t yell as much as during the last supposed Fiscal Cliff crisis and gas is not yet 5 dollars a gallon. 

 

Your friends, neighbors and relatives in government jobs are still employed.  Not much seems to have changed, actually.  So why can’t we get out of this vehicle and walk away?

 

It seems we have not crashed but we are tumbling downward.  When the bus went over the cliff, it had not built up enough speed so it is bouncing down the cliff and it may take months to actually hit bottom. In the meantime, we can listen to the left and the right side of the aisle telling us why the other side is to blame for going over the edge. Now that we are bouncing our way down to the canyon floor, it does not look like anyone is in the driver’s seat. Of course it does not matter if anyone is sitting up there. No one wanted to drive anyway.

 

Perhaps we will make a soft landing, you may think. We all pray for the best before the moment of doom, even while realizing the outcome of this accident is not going to be pleasant. It is certain we will be on life support soon, no thanks to the do nothing Congress, and the cuts, scrapes and broken bones might be the least of our worries.  Automatic spending cuts will eventually eat into the amount doctors and hospitals will be reimbursed for those dependent on Medicare or other government programs.  Of course, if you are a member of Congress you need not worry.  Your excellent medical benefits means that someone will scoop you up like Humpty Dumpty and try to put you back together again.  For all the Obamacare covered passengers, there are no worries, because yours is protected through tax credits and immune to the budget cuts demanded by those who did not want you to have coverage in the first place.

 

So what happens at the bottom?  Who does not walk away from this disaster?  If you think the impact will be minor, think again.  We may  be weeks or even months away from full impact but hundreds of thousands will be hurt by this stunt.  A deadlocked and gridlocked crew of alleged representatives of the average person, think that many of us are neither entitled to jobs nor benefits.  They have decided to treat the patient by cutting off his head to see if he lives.  As we already know, that only works for Ted Williams.

 

An Associated Press article seen on a Comcast news page detailed the hundreds of thousands who would be hit, not just in the wallet, but also in their benefits and savings.  Somehow this is supposed to make things better.  Surprising are the Defense Department cuts.  This is an area that usually wiggles free of the budget knife, but not this time.  Since every department gets hit almost equally, Defense must make a staggering amount of cuts to meet its share.  The Navy will let its prized USS Harry S Truman sit in dock as will USS Gettysburg.  They will shut down air wings and delay deployments.  They will force furloughs on an estimated 800,000 and lay off and cancel contracts affecting about 8,000 more.  And if you were thinking you will see the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels at an air show this summer, think again.

 

While I don’t wish to scare you or anything like that, I have to tell you there will be even more casualties when this thing finally tumbles to a stop.  The AP article lays out cuts back in these areas: Homeland Security (it is cheaper to release illegal immigrants than keep them in jail), Food Safety (who needsFDA inspectors anyway?), Health Care (hospitals and doctors have lots of cash, don’t they?), Transportation (what do you mean there is no one in the tower?), National Parks (go camp at Jellystone, Yellowstone is closed), Federal Workers (those furlough days only equal a 20 percent pay cut, what’s the problem?), Education (Head Start?  Special Needs?  We can eliminate over 21,000 teachers with out that stuff.), Congress (now we are making real cuts!  No more military planes for foreign excursions), IRS (no lay-offs until after the tax season!), Labor (unemployment benefits will have to be cut.).  When you consider all the people who will be unemployed in a few months, it stands to reason we can not keep paying out at the same rate.  You better get direct deposit because it is certain your unemployment check will not arrive on a Saturday.

 

For some strange reason, laying off or eliminating jobs for hundreds of thousands of Americans, then paying them not to work, seems like a good idea to your well paid representatives.  When all of those people cut back on spending on everything, maybe even some basic needs, then companies won’t need as many employees and they can lay off too.  You may recall from a previous rant from the left side of this bus, it is not the rich who provide jobs, it is the middle class who buy stuff.  Then if companies lay off, there are more unemployed and less buying and then even more companies will lay off and there will be less buying and…  OK, you get the idea.  Unfortunately Representative SoandSo and Senator Whatshisname don’t get it.

 

So why did they allow the bus to go over the cliff this time?  They are counting on the impact being so gradual over time that perhaps no one will notice.  Maybe they will actually walk away from this calamity without a scratch.  After all, we re-elected most of them last November so they have reason to hope no will notice the hundreds of thousands of workers affected by the sequester.  While the stock market is now finally back up to former success, let’s see where it is in a few months.  I know you are hoping this is the last chapter of this sad saga, but just wait.  The brain trust is working on Fiscal Cliff 3, The Debt Ceiling Disaster.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

I don't know about any of you, but I'm scared to death. I think if you aren't, you are either a member of Congress, rich enough so nothing is going to affect your lifestyle, of you've got you head in a hole. Regardless of your political alignment, this is going to hurt you, me, and everyone except the aforemention few individuals.

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NCIS Boss Opens Up About Cote de Pablo's Surprising Decision ('I Really Wasn't Planning for This'), Hints at 'Romantic' Exit Storyline

NCIS Boss Opens Up About Cote de Pablo's Surprising Decision ('I Really Wasn't Planning for This'), Hints at 'Romantic' Exit Storyline | In and About the News | Scoop.it

As caught off-guard as he was byCote de Pablo‘s decision to walk away from NCIS after eight seasons as Ziva David, showrunner Gary Glasbergrecognizes the seriousness of the situation and as such hopes he will do the character justice during her swan song.

On Monday night at CBS’ Television Critics Assoc. summer press tour party, Glasberg spoke with TVLine about the “very” surprising news, how he reacted to it and what “Tiva” fans can expect when Season 11 gets underway Sept. 24.

 

RELATED |CBS Boss on Cote de Pablo’s NCIS Exit: ‘We Offered Her a Lot of Money’

 

TVLINE| How surprised were you by Cote’s decision?
I was very, very surprised. I think it was you that I told at some point, that I was “very confident” that this was going to work out. And I was very confident. This is not what I was planning on. As [CBS Corp. CEO Les] Moonves said earlier [Monday], everyone really wanted this to work. She’s a part of this family and a part of this team, and the efforts were being made by everyone.

TVLINE | Was it, like, a matter of Cote wanting to re-up for just one year versus multiple years…?
It wasn’t even the specifics. It was clear at the end of the day that this was her decision. And we have to respect it. Someone asked me if I was planning for this, but I really wasn’t, so basically the minute that this became real, I had to throw out a lot of what I was planning to do and start from scratch. But what came out of it is a really terrific [season-opening] two-parter that I think people are going to be really blown away by.

 

RELATED |NCIS: Read the First Details on Ziva’s ‘Emotional’ Exit

 

TVLINE | You previously said that we would find out what Ziva and the others were up to during the four-month time jump. Will Ziva’s story now be different?
Basically, the Ziva story sort of intertwines with where we left Gibbs off at the end of the season, with the sniper rifle. That whole story arc unfolds through the first episode, and then Cote/Ziva plays very prominently in the second one. There’s a really significant Tony/Ziva payoff — everything I hope the Tiva fans have been waiting for.

TVLINE | Oh, but I can’t imagine it’s much better than heartbreak for those fans and for Tony.
It informs her in ways that I think the fans will enjoy. It gives us some insight into this decision that she’s going to make. It’s exciting. And it’s romantic.

TVLINE | Is Tony the first person she shares this “decision” with?
Oh yeah. Look, it’s a storyline that I took very, very seriously — I felt like I had to, for the fans. I recognize what this means to them, and I recognize what her absence is going to mean. Someone asked me what I plan beyond this, and I can’t replace her. I can’t even use the word “replacement” for Ziva and what she means to this team. The only thing I can try and do down the road is come up with another character who feels organic and fills a void of some kind.

TVLINE | Because at the end of the day, Gibbs’ team will be down a man.
Exactly. That desk, at the end of the day, is going to be empty.

TVLINE | So, what are we talking as far as the timeframe for filling that void? November sweeps? February…?
It’s going to be a little while, and I really don’t know who that character is yet. But that’s something we’re talking about right now.

 

Want more scoop on NCIS, or for any other show? Email insideline@tvline.com and your question may be answered via Matt’s Inside Line.


 
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

We are going to miss her a lot.

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Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City Review

Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City Review | In and About the News | Scoop.it

When Silver Dollar City announced Outlaw Run, their new coaster for 2013, I, like everyone else, was amazed. It broke numerous world records including steepest drop of a wooden coaster and first woody since Son of Beast to include inversions. Of course, we were all excited to see how it would turn out. Ladies and Gentlemen, Outlaw Run does not disappoint.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

If you love roller coaster, this one sounds like a big winner!

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'Star Trek: Into Darkness' will bring movie fans into the light

'Star Trek: Into Darkness' will bring movie fans into the light | In and About the News | Scoop.it

"To Boldly Go, Where No One Has Gone Before"... a simple, yet iconic phrase that has delighted TV viewers and film fans for decades and is attached to the journeys of "Star Trek" in all of its forms. Open today in theatres everywhere "Star Trek: Into Darkness" takes us deep into the universe in ways that will delight the hardcore fans and not alienate the casual ones either.

 

After an attack of terror from one of their own within the Federation, Captain James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) leads the crew of the Enterprise into uncharted waters risking interplanetary war to try and track down this one man weapon of mass destruction.

As J.J. Abrams gets to dive into this world for a second time, the results range from thrilling and brilliant to occasionally maddening but it is never dull and even the most dedicated and hardcore 'Trekker' cannot deny that "Star Trek: Into Darkness" is a wall to wall thrill ride that will delight all ranges of fans considering how brazenly nervy the material does get at times. The script from frequent Abrams collaborators Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof have craft a big and bold action adventure told on a pretty grand scale, that flows like an easy current allowing us more time to really get to know and exist with these characters. The differences and similarities that we saw in the first film that referenced the original franchise, weren't as subtle this time out as they clubbed the viewer over the head with some obvious story parallels but it is such a fun ride, that even the ardent 'Trekker" won't give up on this one. Always visually stunning to a fault, the film successfully never loses sight of the human element of the "Star Trek" universe as it is these interpersonal stories that have always made the franchise click. As Abrams throws as many lens flares at the screen as he possible can, this film like so many of his other projects keeps the people first and that is truly where the magic lies as the ensemble returns getting fully ensconced in their characters with some excellent performances.

 

Surprisingly enough, in this second film it is the supporting cast that shines just a brightly as the leads. Chris Pine is embracing the swarthy, arrogant swagger of Kirk that will all love so very much as he leads his crew into battle against this new villain. Benedict Cumberbatch simply tears up the screen as the best kind of bad guy there is, the one we love to hate and he gloriously chewed the scenery at every turn.

Zachary Quinto truly became Spock in this one channelling both emotional sides of his character really becoming Spock's equal this time out. Karl Urban chews the scenery with his one liners and Simon Pegg provided some fantastic comic relief as John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Zoe Saldana and newcomer Alice Eve rounded out the supporting ensemble making this film a real ensemble piece, just like a Star Trek film should be.

As they pay homage to the old, while trying to bring in new fans, "Star Trek: Into Darkness" despite the occasional hiccup works as an across the board action ode to the countless adventures that are out there in the universe for this crew to explore.

 

"Star Trek: Into Darkness" is now playing at theatres all across the country; please check with your local listings for show times.

Don't forget to subscribe to my feed above or follow me on Facebook and Twitter as the Pop Culture Poet for all the latest and greatest news and reviews from the world of entertainment.

 

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With Windows Blue, Microsoft may (finally) do the right thing | ZDNet

With Windows Blue, Microsoft may (finally) do the right thing | ZDNet | In and About the News | Scoop.it

Over the past week, I've been surprised how many armchair pundits have lambasted Microsoft forits still not officially-admitted but largely expected decisions to add an optional Start Button and boot-to-desktop capability to Windows Blue.

 

There've been reports claiming everything from Microsoft is doing a 180-degree reversal with Windows Blue, to others advising the Redmondians to dig in their heels and stay the current UI course with its coming Blue update.

Windows Blue, from all leaks and tips I've received, is not a do-over. (If it were, it would take Microsoft a lot longer than nine or ten months to deliver it.) And ignoring customer confusion isn't a virtue; it's stupidity.

This armchair pundit finds it refreshing to hear Windows honchos admit that Windows 8 isn't selling as well as they hoped and that they want to make its successor more comfortable, familiar and usable for the Windows installed base.

 

In addition to the optional Start Button and boot-to-desktop options, there may be other interface adjustments in the works, according to one of my Blue tipsters. I hear the Windows team may also be tweaking the Charms to make them a bit easier to use with a mouse. There might be new built-in tutorials and in-context help coming to Blue. And word is there may be adjustments to the Start Screen designed to make Blue easier to use for Desktop users. One of my sources said some of these tweaks may not be in the Windows Blue preview release coming at the end of June, but that they still could make it into the final product.

 

If any or all of these tweaks make it into the final version of Blue, it's nothing but goodness. If you're a user who likes Windows 8 already, great. Just ignore new options and keep on keepin' on. If you're someone like me -- who is still running Windows 7 on two of my three Windows devices (with Windows RT running on my Surface RT) -- maybe Blue will make you reconsider whether you might find the new Metro-centric Windows a little more palatable because of these changes.

 

Last summer, before Windows 8 launched, I said I thought the operating system would face a rough road. My reasoning at the time was there were few PCs or tablets that made Windows 8 usable. And for those of us who might be interested in putting Windows 8 on existing non-touch hardware, the usability was questionable. Now that Windows 8's been out for about six months, I feel like my early inklings were true. I wouldn't call Windows 8 a disaster (with 100 million licenses sold), but I also wouldn't call it a barn-burner success.

 

My biggest criticism for Microsoft in all this isn't that the company is trying to make some adjustments to improve usability with Blue. Instead, I can't but help wonder why Microsoft -- with all its telemetry information, customer satisfaction data, and beta-testing input -- still went ahead with what its Windows execs must have known full well would be a confusing and less-than-optimal experience for many Windows users.

 

It's possible to project a bit by reading one of the recent blog posts of former Windows President Steven Sinofsky, who spearheaded Windows 8's development, for some insights into that question. In a May 8 post (a day after Microsoft's latest Blue disclosures), Sinofsky blogged about the damned-if-they-do/damned-if-they-don't choice that companies face when launching a disruptive technology:

 

"If you listen to customers (and vector back to the previous path in some way: undo, product modes, multiple products/SKUs, etc.) you will probably cede the market to the new entrants or at least give them more precious time. If technology product history is any guide, pundits will declare you will be roadkill in fairly short order as you lack a strategic response. There’s a good chance your influential customers will rejoice as they can go back and do what they always did. You will then be left without an answer for what comes next for your declining usage patterns.

 

"If you don’t listen to customers (and stick to your guns) you are going to 'alienate' folks and cede the market to someone who listens. If technology product history is any guide, pundits will declare that your new product is not resonating with the core audience. Pundits will also declare that you are stubborn and not listening to customers."

 

The Windows organization that Sinofsky left behind in November is facing this very choice right now, and seems to be heading toward Option A (after already trying Option B under Sinofsky).

 

Given Microsoft's installed base of 1.4 billion and the reticence of some of its key partners to back Microsoft's claim that the whole device world is going touch (something else I have to say I'm relieved to hear), I am liking Microsoft's new direction here. 

 

I believe Microsoft can stay its Metro-centric, touch-centric course with Windows Blue, while still making some changes that will make the OS more usable and comfortable for a bigger pool of users. While it would have been great if Windows 8 debuted this way last October, I say better late than never.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

And about time, wouldn''t you say?

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Question Time XVII - Community Building

Question Time XVII - Community Building | In and About the News | Scoop.it

This week I want to get to know a little bit about if and how you incorporate other bloggers into your site. I have highlighted a few examples, and there might even be some tips on offer for those looking to build and increase their community (Note: Tips are not guaranteed, if these methods don’t work please see my lawyer,Mr Mark Walker) 

 

Since the news broke that I was nominated for a Lammy as Best Community Builder, I figure this weeksQuestion Time should really tie in with that theme. I’m not really talking about getting comments on posts, as although that is great getting the interaction from your fellow bloggers, a) I covered that HERE in a previous question and b) it’s more the projects that involve directly working with fellow bloggers that I’m interested in with this post.

 

So, what projects do you run on your site that involve other bloggers??


To me, getting other bloggers involved with my projects was a huge deal. I felt that if I could get a few people working with me, not only would it mean they have to visit my site, but joking aside and more importantly I believed it would give us a connection. As time has gone on, I have worked with more and more people and these connections have formed and got stronger, ultimately leading to my site having the best community I could ever have wished for. Award or no award. There will always be sites that get more views, likes or comments, but having had the pleasure of working with around 90+ different bloggers on various projects, I can honestly say I’m very grateful and humbled to have spoken and worked with so many different people.

 

My projects involving other bloggers would be getting the Guest Contributors reviews for the IMDB Top 250 Films, Face Off battles where a few of us get together and attack or defend a film, and the Desert Island Filmsproject. They wouldn’t work without other bloggers, and I’m always overwhelmed with the response to them. Doing my horror/De Niro reviews, and working with film-makers to Promote them is all well and good, but it’s a nice change of pace to do something with another blogger. I can’t understand why anyone would vote for me to have got this far with the Lammy’s, but for whatever reason people did and keep coming back here.

 

That has to be down to my awesome reviews collaborative projects, people seem to enjoy joining in out here and helping me, and that’s what I put my community building skills and success down to. People not only doing all the work for me, but thinking I’m the one doing them the favour. Fools 

 

Lots of bloggers run projects that depend on the input of others. Here are a few examples and anyone that I’ve missed I apologise, it’s purely just a random selection!

Chris at Film Hipster allows people to be a Hipster for the Day, giving other bloggers a chance to review a film in his style, whilst showcasing their work and site to a different audience.Eric from Isaacs Picture Conclusions does Isaacs Interviews, where he interviews other bloggers in his unique and humourous manner.Andy from Rorschach Reviews also does Blogger Interviews which are slightly more serious in tone.Nick from The Cinematic Katzenjammer has DVD Court where he and a jury of other bloggers give their verdict on new film releases.Bubba from Flights, Tights & Movie Nights runs Follow Friday, which is another variation of interviews, in which he promotes another blogger and site.Catalin from CinEnemA runs 3 for 1, where he gives people a year and they have to link 3 films to that year which all share something in common.Issy from The Filmster has The Movie House Roundtable where he asks fellow bloggers some questions, and at the end his readers vote for whose answers you like the best.Fogs from Fogs’ Movie Reviews has his Reader’s Recommendations where he watches a film based on one of his readers recommendations and asks him or her some questions about it.Anthony from 262pages has set up a spin off from one of my projects, and he runs Desert Island Books.

There are lots more, but there are also a whole host of blogs that don’t have any collaborative projects. There is no right and wrong, obviously, and to each their own. I just want to try and find out why you chose the project you created and how you feel it has helped you build your own community. If you purely blog alone, and don’t work with other people on a feature, I’d love to know your reasons, and maybe if you ever considered starting a project?

 

I know I’m maybe a little vague with this post, and I don’t want it to come across as me saying how great my projects are. Ultimately I’m trying to find out if you feel collaborative projects are vital to building a community or not in your opinion. Just answer however you see fit, and as a one time deal, I will even allow shameful plugging of your project if it fits the working with others criteria. And you have done/currently writing/will join my Desert Island project 


If you would like to see all the other questions from this series, please click HERE and check them out!

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Firefly Watch Update

Firefly Watch Update | In and About the News | Scoop.it

Greetings,

The sixth year of Firefly Watch has officially begun! The first fireflies of the year were spotted in South Carolina on March 12. You can download the First and Last Sightings Chart to estimate when you might expect to see them in your neighborhood.

Here in the Northeast, we won't see any fireflies for about six more weeks, at least not the summer variety. Even so, we still have firefly activity here. In late March I noticed the winter fireflies, Ellychnia corrusca, beginning to emerge from hibernation and moving about on their hibernating trees. To learn more about winter fireflies, read our February featured research paper , "Notes on the Life History and Mating Behavior of Ellychnia corrusca." 

Speaking of the winter firefly, remember to report only those fireflies that you see flashing. Our study does not include daytime fireflies like the winter firefly, or larval fireflies. It is very important to report as accurately as possible. If you have any doubts at all about what you are seeing, it is better to report no fireflies. 

Don Salvatore
Firefly Watch
fireflywatch@mos.org 

Firefly Watch | My Field Journal | View and Explore Data Click here to edit the title

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

It's almost time up here in New England! I hope they are back soon.

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Roger Ebert, RIP – Whatever

Roger Ebert, RIP – Whatever | In and About the News | Scoop.it

I can’t say that I ever spoke to Roger Ebert, but I can say I was once in the same room with him — specifically, the critics’ screening room in Chicago, where as the entertainment editor for my college newspaper I watched a terrible movie called Farewell to the King, and he and Gene Siskel were there as well, sitting, if I remember correctly, in the back of the little theater. Other critics were snarking and catcalling the screen (I mentioned it wasn’t a very good film), and either Siskel or Ebert (it was dark and I was facing the screen) told them to shut it. They shut it. After the movie was done I rode down in the elevator with him. And that was my brush with greatness, film critic style.

 

For all that I consider Ebert to be one of my most important writing teachers. He was my teacher in a real and practical sense — I was hired at age 22 to be a newspaper film critic, with very little direct practical experience in film criticism (not withstanding Farewell to the King, I mostly reviewed music for my college paper). I was hired in May of 1991, but wouldn’t start until September, which left me the summer to get up to speed. I did it by watching three classic movies a night (to the delight of my then-roommates), and by buying every single review book Roger Ebert had out and reading every single review in them.

 

He was a great teacher. He was passionate about film — not just knowledgeable about films and directors and actors, but in love with the form, in a way that came through in every review. Even when a movie was bad, you could tell that at least part of the reason Ebert was annoyed was because the film failed its medium, which could achieve amazing things. But as passionate as he was about film, he wasn’t precious about it. Ebert loved film, but what I think he loved most of all was the fact that it entertained him so. He loved being entertained, and he loved telling people, in language which was direct and to the point (he worked for the Sun-Times, the blue collar paper in town) what about the films was so entertaining. What he taught me about film criticism is that film criticism isn’t about showing off what you know about film, it was about sharing what made you love film.

 

I saw how much Roger Ebert loved film that summer, through his reviews and his words. By the end of the summer, I loved film too. And I wanted to do what he did: Share that love and make people excited about going to the movies, sitting there with their popcorn, waiting to be entertained in the way only film can entertain you.

 

I left newspaper film criticism — not entirely voluntarily — but even after I left that grind I still loved writing about film and went back to it when I could. I wrote freelance reviews for newspapers, magazines and online sites; I’ve published two books about film. Every year I make predictions about the Oscars here on the site. And I can tell you (roughly) the domestic box office of just about every studio film since 1991. All of that flows back to sitting there with Roger Ebert’s words, catching the film bug from him. There are other great film critics, of course (I also have a soft spot for Pauline Kael, which is not entirely surprising), but Ebert was the one I related to the most, and learned the most from.

 

In these later years and after everything that he’d been through with cancer and with losing the ability to physically speak, I read and was contemplative about the essays and pieces he put up on his Web site. Much of that had nothing to do with film criticism, but was a matter of him writing… well, whatever. Which meant it was something I could identify with to a significant degree, since that is what I do here. It would be foolish to say that Ebert losing his physical voice freed him to find his voice elsewhere. What I think may be more accurate was that losing his physical voice reminded Ebert that he still had things he wanted to say before he ran out of time to say them.

 

His Web essays have a sharp, bright but autumnal quality to them; the leaves were still on the trees but the colors were changing and the snap was in the air. It seemed to me Ebert wrote them with the joy of living while there is still life left. I loved these essays but they also made me sad. I knew as a reader they couldn’t last. And of course they didn’t.

 

I had always meant to send Ebert a copy of Old Man’s War, for no other reason than as a token of appreciation. I knew he was a science fiction geek through and through (he had a penchant for giving science fiction films an extra star if they were especially groovy in the departments of effects and atmosphere). I wanted to sign the book to him and let him know how much his work meant to me — and for him to have the experience of the book before the movie, whenever that might be. I tried getting in touch with one of his editors at the Sun-Times, who I used to freelance for in college, to get it to him, but never heard back from her. Later it would turn out he and I had the same film/tv agent, who offered to forward on the book for me. I kept meaning to send off the book. I never did. I regret it now.

 

Although he can’t know it now, I still think it’s worth saying: Thank you, Roger Ebert, for being my teacher and for being such a good writer, critic and observer of the world. You made a difference in my life, and it is richer for having your words in it.

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Marilyn Armstrong's curator insight, April 4, 2013 11:10 PM

His voice will indeed be missed, as well as his humor and his humanity.

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The Myth-Busting Mourning Cloak

The Myth-Busting Mourning Cloak | In and About the News | Scoop.it

Every year I wait eagerly to see my first butterfly of spring. Most likely, it will be a mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), a large butterfly with velvety black wings and yellowish white wing edges. This beautiful “harbinger of spring” emerges on the first warm days, often before all the snow has melted.

How does the mourning cloak appear so early in the season? Hold onto your hats because this gorgeous insect contradicts everything we tend to believe about butterflies:

 

Myth 1: Butterflies die or head south for the winter.
Mourning cloak adults hibernate through the New England winter. Relying on “antifreeze” chemicals in their blood, mourning cloaks spend the winter in a sheltered place, such as in rock crevices, under bark, or in a woodpile. They emerge on warm days, sometimes as early as February, and treat us to visions of spring with their graceful flight. Other overwintering butterflies in New England to watch for include eastern commas, question marks, and compton tortoiseshells.

 

Myth 2: Adult butterflies only live for a few days.
Due to their overwintering strategy, mourning cloaks can have a lifespan of over 10 months. One of our longest-lived butterflies, mourning cloaks have been seen in flight in Massachusetts during every month of the year.

 

Myth 3: Butterflies nectar on flowers.
There are no blooming flowers in early spring when mourning cloaks emerge, so how do they feed? Mostly on tree sap, particularly from oaks. Mourning cloaks will also feed—brace yourself—on animal droppings and decaying things. Occasionally, if I have been hiking hard, a mourning cloak will land on my hand or head, attracted by the minerals in human sweat.

So, on the first warm day head toward a sun-dappled opening in the woods, preferably with storm-damaged trees and broken branches dripping sap, and wait for this resilient insect to make its appearance. Like you, it has managed to survive another New England winter.

 

To learn more about the mourning cloak and other butterflies of Massachusetts, check out Mass Audubon’s Butterfly Atlas.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

We have had years during which these beatufiul butterflies filled the air and covered our deck and gardens. We didn't see them much last year, but I hope they come back this summer. They are jewel-like, prettier than the pictures shows. Even their caterpillars are lovely.

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Awakenings: Beauty of America: Lighthouses

Awakenings: Beauty of America: Lighthouses | In and About the News | Scoop.it

Lighthouses have been the sentinels, the protectors, of shoreline after shoreline for centuries upon centuries. In the beginning, these were not 'houses' at all but instead simply bonfires built on hillsides as beacons to guide ships. Many a seafaring vessel would have crashed upon the rocks had it not been for the angel of light shining through the darkest of night or penetrating the thickest fog. Throughout history, the lighthouse has cast mysterious auras, sometimes romantic and often times echoing a ghostly resonance.


Via Sharla Shults
Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

New England has so many beautiful lighthouses ... all up and down the coast.

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Sharla Shults's curator insight, March 20, 2013 11:57 PM

Have you ever vacationed or lived near a lighthouse? If so, did you sense its romanticism or feel a ghostly presence?

MARY HELEN FERRIS's curator insight, March 21, 2013 12:01 AM

this writer and her subject of lighthouses   is pure poetry to me....thanks Sharla Schultz

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Your Great Outdoors

Your Great Outdoors | In and About the News | Scoop.it

Excerpted from Sanctuarymagazine

 

Beginning in March some of our best-known, most-loved migratory birds will arrive in Massachusetts as harbingers of spring. March is also the month when, 100 years ago, theWeeks-McLean Act, the precursor to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, passed—the first legislation in the nation to place migrants under federal jurisdiction and prohibit their killing without the permission of the US government.

 

The pre-spring arrivals that can move freely and safely from state to state thanks to such early 19th-century advocacy initiatives—sandy-colored piping plovers to beaches, winsome red-winged blackbirds to marshland, and melodious song sparrows to yards and open spaces—are just representative of the many species that still benefit from the efforts begun by pioneering conservationists.

 

“The Weeks-McLean Act was the primary legislation protecting native birds in the United States,” says Mass Audubon’s Director of Public Policy & Government Relations Jack Clarke, “and one of the country’s earliest environmental laws.” Without these protections put into place at the outset of the 1900s, other avian species would undoubtedly have been subjected to the same fate as the passenger pigeon and Carolina parakeet, whose species no longer had representative wild individuals as of 1900 and 1904, respectively, leading ultimately to their extinction.

 

Mass Audubon was one the first players promoting legislation to save birds, so it was fitting that the Weeks-McLean Act had its origins in Massachusetts. In 1908, Charles H. Hudson, a farmer in Needham Heights, wrote to his Congressional representative, John Wingate Weeks, imploring him sponsor “a national law put on all kinds of birds in every State in the country, as the gunners are shooting our birds that Nature put here….”

 

Five years in the making, the 1913 bill, introduced by Representative John W. Weeks of Massachusetts and Senator George P. McLean of Connecticut—set the stage for bird national bird conservation on a scale that was necessary to change the path of history for the good of our priceless avian life.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

I'm glad we still have birds. It was the extinction of the passenger pigeon that triggered the legislation, too late for them but it has helped other species. Not that people still don't feel obliged to shoot anything that can't shoot back because it's there. When we aren't killing each other, we seem happy enough to kill anything that walks or flies, and not because we are hungry. Just because we can. Shame on us.

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Sharla Shults's curator insight, March 14, 2013 12:31 PM

I agree with Marilyn in that we have become a society too quick to kill and what's the reason? Who knows?

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Just Back: Patagonia

Just Back: Patagonia | In and About the News | Scoop.it

In January 2013, 14 travelers joined Mass Audubon ornithologist Wayne Petersen for our Patagonia birding trip in southern Argentina and Chile.

 

Over the course of 14 days, we saw the towering spires of the Andes mountains as a backdrop to a soaring Andean condor; emerald waters of the Laguna Sucia with huge Magellanic woodpeckers (South America’s largest woodpecker species); and hanging glaciers with torrent ducks diving in the rushing river water.

 

he new Ice Museum in Calafate, Argentina was particularly amazing and as was the stunningly blue ice on the face of the Moreno Glacier calving right before our eyes.

 

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

If you love birds ... well ... what could be better than a trip to Patagonia?

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The Man Who Saved Mr. Spock

The Man Who Saved Mr. Spock | In and About the News | Scoop.it

There have been entertainment news stories recently about how Harrison Ford might return in the nextStar Wars film, though his one condition appears to be that his 'Han Solo' character be killed off. The speculation reminded me of another similar tale, when a reluctant star of a fabled movie-series was sought to make a return, but couldn't be budged -- until, of all people, the screenwriter got involved. It's actually a pretty renowned incident, but the tale behind it is little-known. To the point of probably unknown.

 

And in the end, it not only saved a movie, but also a franchise. And perhaps a franchise that followed. And more.

 

The screenwriter in question was a friend of mine, Jack Sowards. Or -- Jack B. Sowards, as he wrote by. Jack was a joy. A crusty, warm-hearted, nurturing free-spirit -- recognized by all from his gray ponytail -- who'd had a long career, first as a very minor actor, and then as an accomplished writer, almost exclusively for TV. Notably Westerns. Jack wrote a whole lot of episodes of Bonanza, as well as The High Chaparral and Daniel Boone. But he also wrote extensively for Falcon Crest, The Streets of San Francisco and Barnaby Jones, and many others, including some made-for-TV movies. However, in his long career, he only wrote one feature film. But boy, howdy, it was a doozy.

For his one feature film, Jack Sowards wrote Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Not only was it an impressive credential, especially when it's your only feature-film for some reason, but The Wrath of Khan is considered by Star Trek fans and others as one of probably the two best of that film series. To many, it is the best. (It's worth noting that Jack did also later write one episode of the TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation. The episode is titled, "Where Silence Has Lease," if you ever decide to track it down.)

 

Great as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was, it almost didn't come to be, at least not in the form we know it. That's because after a lifetime of being fed up playing the character of Mr. Spock -- even to the point of writing an autobiography titled, I Am Not Spock, actor Leonard Nimoy had finally had enough. No more. He wouldn't play the character again. That's it, over and done. No, he wouldnot be in Star Trek II. He'd done the first fe.ature film, but that was all. Sorry, goodbye.

 

The film's producers were ready to throw in the towel. They'd tried everything to interest Nimoy, but it was to no avail. The would have to make the next Star Trek movie without one of its two most iconic characters, Mr. Spock. Okay, that's it. Suck it in and let's move on.

 

That's when Jack Sowards stepped in. He'd been signed as the screenwriter of the film, and told the producers that "I know how to get Leonard to agree." The producers were deeply reticent -- not only because they'd tried, but additionally because in Hollywood few people are used to listening to the screenwriter. But in this case, the producers decided to listen to the writer. After all, what did they have to lose? And they'd known Jack for years, so they knew that if Jack said he could do something, there was a good chance it good be done. All he asked was that the producers set up a call between himself and Leonard Nimoy. He would do the rest.

 

And what he did was quite remarkable. Not so much what he said -- which was smart enough -- but how we went about doing it. Which was brilliant. A lesson of diplomacy, art and most of all, clever planning. All twined together.

What follows is as close to what was actually said as I remember Jack telling it.

 

When Jack Sowards and Leonard Nimoy spoke, the actor reiterated his decision to not appear inStar Trek anymore. He was adamant. So, there was nothing Jack could say.

 

But Jack did have something to say. He just asked on simple question -- "Leonard, how would you like to play Spock's death scene?"

 

And that was it, that was the magic question. Not only would Leonard Nimoy get to play an actor's dream -- a big, heart-wrenching dramatic scene that would garner world-wide attention -- but (and perhaps this was even more important), he would never have to face a question about playing Spock ever again. Never more. Spock would be dead.

 

"I'll write the scene near the beginning of the movie," Jack told him. "You'll play Spock's death scene. Be done with it. Leave. You won't have to be in the rest of the movie. And the others can go on without you." It would be a week or two of his time. And Spock would be finished.

 

That was all it took. "Leonard is on board," Jack told the unbelieving producers. Unbelieving, but thrilled. They didn't care that Nimoy wouldn't be in the whole film, all they cared about was being able to make a Star Trek movie that had Mr. Spock in it and that could be advertised as being with Leonard Nimoy. If Spoke died in the first 10 minutes, so be it. It still would be Star Trek II with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.

 

It was was brilliant move by Jack Sowards -- but -- (and this is the big point) it wasn't the brilliant move. The move that saved everything. Because, you see, in addition to being a wonderful writer, Jack Sowards was a really smart guy, and a Hollywood veteran who knew far more than a thing or two about storytelling and drama. He had another trick up his sleeve.

 

Jack went back to the drawing board, began writing the screenplay to Star Trek II, wrote the death scene for Mr. Spock that indeed took place as he promised early on in the script, and showed it to Leonard Nimoy. The actor loved what he read, and couldn't wait to film the scene. Fine, great, thanks very much. He went off, and Jack went back to working on his screenplay.

 

But, of course, like any good professional screenwriter, there's always a lot of rewriting done. And so, as Jack continued along with the draft, he did what he had always planned to do from the first -- he shifted things around. Spock's death was still there -- but... well, it got moved back a little. Now, it was about a third of the way into the script. The new draft then got shown to Nimoy, and he still loved the death scene. And the thing is, he also liked the new material Jack had come up for Spock. And then again, he went off.

 

And Jack went back to...rewriting. And in the next draft, the death scene was now pushed back to halfway into the story.

 

Again showing it to Leonard Nimoy, again getting his approval. And in the next draft, it was moved a little further still. And then moved back some more. All the while, Leonard Nimoy was always shown the script, really liked the death scene, but was now especially enjoying the new Spock material, and what Jack was doing with the character. What Jack had intended to do all along.

And then, finally, Jack Sowards had pushed the death scene all the way to the end of the movie.

 

By this time, Leonoard Nimoy absolutely loved everything Jack Sowards had written, loved the script, loved the character, and was there to play Mr. Spock -- for the entire film. Right up to his death scene.

 

But even that's not the end of the story!

 

Because, you see, what Jack Sowards had done was turn the Spock character into something that Leonard Nimoy liked so much that he not only agreed to make Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan -- but he wanted now to keep playing Mr. Spock. And he came back for all the rest of the Star Trekfilms. And then reprised the character in two episodes of the series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, wrote a new autobiography, I Am Spock -- and even agreed to portray the character yet again when the new Star Trek movie re-launch was made, giving the new franchise an important sense of legitimacy.

 

All because producers listened to their screenwriter when Jack Sowards said, "I know how to get Leonard."

 

And in the end, Jack Sowards not only saved Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan -- but he well may have helped save the rest of the Star Trek movie series... which, in turn, arguably allowed there to be enough interest to start the new franchise all over again. And perhaps it was the continued success of the original feature film series that helped spur interest in the subsequent TV series, as well.

 

Jack Sowards is a name you should know. And if you like Star Trek, be grateful to. A man who really took the meaning of "Live long and prosper" to heart.

Marilyn Armstrong's insight:

For all the Trekkies, a special something for you.

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