Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Business April 25th 2012, "THREE YEAR BIRTHDAY!" Edition


Hey Party People: While you were all busy filing your taxes at the last possible second, The Business, San Francisco’s longest running alternative comedy show and foam party, turned a distinguished THREE YEARS OLD on April 15th.  We’ve survived our terrible two’s (which were not terrible at all).  We’ve made it past the Sophomore Slump (which wasn’t very slumpy at all).  And as you know, three is a very lucky number that is very important to comedy.  So far this year has been the most fun and full collection of shows we’ve ever put on.  THE MAGIC IS WORKING ALREADY!  Please come out this Wednesday night and help celebrate with us and our party pals:

Nato Green will be on hand and ready to party like it’s 2012.  Known as “The Fifth Businessman” (even though we now are six members strong, so technically he’d be “The Seventh Businessman”) Nato is back at The Biz to help prep for his upcoming FULL LENGTH COMEDY ALBUM RECORDING!  Nato speaks truth to power through the international language of love: stand-up comedy.  When not prepping for CD recordings, Nato has also been working on a documentary with and about his fellow pinko commies Laughter Against The Machine. This party just became a political party yall!

Party Dog Mike Drucker visits The Biz again to do a keg stand off our pony keg...of laughs!  A recent transplant from the Northwest, Mike has already made his nerd dominance felt throughout the Bay.  A writer for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, McSweeny’s and Nintendo (that’s right, dorks)  Drucker also recently went head-to-head with Businessman Alex Koll during a Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction battle royale at Portland’s The Bridgetown Comedy Festival. How erotic will things get this Wednesday?  Probably not much at all!

To add to the party vibe, we will also have The DJ Real Vs. Joe Tobin Experience on-stage as our house band, some party snacks and many more surprises!

All of the regular Businessmen will be in the mix, except for Bucky, who is off pushing his poetry in Portland.  But not to worry, we’ve enlisted several holograms to take his place!  Come for the comedy, stay for the future technology!

As always, the party starts at 8pm, the party price is just $5 and party supplies are nearby at Taqueria Cancun and other hot party spots in the ‘hood.


Monday, 23 April 2012

The thorny problem of media pluralism

The term pluralism is regularly used in critiques of media and in arguments for public intervention. It is employed so loosely, however, that it allows varied interpretations to be attached and this makes it highly challenging to turn general support for the concept into specific policy. Much of the lack of clarity is the consequence of indefiniteness of the term and because it is used as a proxy for more involved concepts.

The term is derived from “plural”, an indistinct quantitative concept indicating the existence of more than a single thing and plurality itself merely indicates a state of being numerous. This alone allows the term plurality to be used in various ways when applied to media.

For some it means a plurality of media outlets. This is indicated by having multiple types of media and multiple units of each media and the existence of a range of print, broadcast, satellite, and Internet content providers can represent pluralism. For other observers pluralism means plurality in ownership, that is, a range of owners and different types of ownership. For others it is indicated by the existence of public service as well as private commercial firms so some provision is made by an organisation(s) without direct individual economic self-interest(s).

The amount of media, its ownership, and its operation are not in themselves the objects of concern about pluralism, however, and these usages are merely shorthand semantic devices that indicate a collection of political, economic, and cultural concepts and ideologies. Because that collection is not universally agreed, the term pluralism is disparately employed.

The term encompasses fundamental concepts in liberal democratic media ideology and neo-Marxist critiques of media. It incorporates ideas of the benefits of free flow of information, ideas and opinions and the value of a variety in artistic and cultural expression. It recognizes the amount of content that can be offered by any one provider is limited by temporal and spatial factors. It accepts that the abilities of individuals to obtain and attend to content are affected by monetary and temporal limitations. It recognizes that operation of media is accompanied by political and economic benefits such as access, privilege, influence, and power and that those can be used for personal advantage and interests.

Those who accept these concepts underlying the term pluralism differ widely about the proper means for its pursuit, however. They have divergent beliefs about the roles of the state and the market and differ widely about whether policy should promote beneficial outcomes through regulation or incentives and whether—and the extent to which—non-market provision of content is desirable.

The difficulty of achieving the ultimate objectives is further complicated by the fact that public policies promoting pluralism tend of focus on the overt evidences of plurality in media outlets, media ownership, and media operation. Although multiplicity of media outlets, ownership and operation increase the possibility of achieving the objectives of pluralism, they do not guarantee because they are not necessary and sufficient conditions for its existence. Thus ‘external pluralism’ is sometimes not enough. This has led many to advocate for ‘internal pluralism,’ meaning that within a single broadcasters or publisher as variety of content and perspectives are provided. The provision of internal pluralism is typically used to justify public service broadcasting and narrow internal pluralism is a typical critique of private media.

The contemporary world creates lower barriers to participation in communication by making production easier and shifting distribution away from technologies that limited the number of providers and content available—the fundamental rationale for concern about pluralism. In the digital media world, the fundamental challenge involving pluralism is not limitations on producing content, expressing divergent ideas and opinions, or access to distribution systems. The primary challenge is the ability to effectively reach audiences.

In this environment promoting pluralism must focuses on reducing control over what flows through new digital distribution systems so dominant owners of production and distribution systems are not able to marginalize alternative perspectives and make them difficult to locate. And the fundamental content and attention problem remains.

Although digital media provide many more opportunity to be heard, the issue today is not ‘share of voice’, but ‘share of ear’. We need to seek ways to promote knowledge about alternative content and to make it more readily accessible. Otherwise the concentration of where the audience goes—in terms of aggregators and sites—is every bit as damaging to pluralism as limitations on spectrum and concentration of ownership. This is especially true by the Internet service providers, content aggregators, search engines, and video on demand services that pursue their own interests through in-transparent practices and algorithms that skew the access to and distribution of information, even when it is ‘personalized’ by individuals.

Those who hold that pluralism is no longer an issue in the digital world argue that its underlying infrastructures are neutral. That technology may be neutral, but the systems necessary to make them function are under the control of companies with their own agendas and the abilities to limit or direct its use in ways that harm pluralism.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Business April 18th 2012, "The Maximilian Affair" Edition

This week, The Business regulars are stuffing your enchiladas with baguettes as we welcome a bill of guests that would have Napoleon III plieing in his grave hard enough to knock off the sugar skulls.

Clara Bijl is visiting us from The City of Angels, but was born in The City of Light. PARIS, FRANCE. She was raised in the Alps, attended schools in Germany, Switzerland, and South Carolina; then one day, she moved to The City that Never Sleeps to begin a career in stand-up comedy. Performing all around the Big Apple and the rest of the country, she became a prolific writer of cutting, witty, internationally flavored comedy.

She will truffle your butter.

Frankie Quinones is a rising star to search for and catch. He is a founding member of For The People Comedy, is a collective of artists who share a common goal of producing colorful events fueled by positivity and laughter. Always maintaining a diverse lineup to represent San Francisco culture through high energy shows filled with humor and music. Frankie has also toured with some of the industry’s top headliners including the legendary Paul Rodriguez, and has performed for our troops overseas in Japan, Europe, and the Middle East.

He is also quite dapper. Muy rico suave.

This show is gonna feel like French kissing a churro. It’s gonna be like peeping on the Dos Equis guy with a French maid. It’s gonna make you wanna escarGO(silentT) see more live comedy!!! EIYIYI!!!! (I’m sorry)

Grab $5, your burrito and your beret and come join our fantastic guests and all the regulars! (except Alex, who we wish well in the wilds of the Northwest. If you are reading this in Tacoma, Washington- go see his shows this weekend at the Comedy Underground!)

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Racing Fatalities: Not So Simple After All

In the wake of an unprecedented number of fatalities during Aqueduct's inner-track winter meeting, both NYRA and the New York State Racing and Wagering Board (NYSRWB) have been very busy indeed. At NYRA, racing was moved to the main track a week or two earlier than usual, the NYRA vets who conduct pre-race inspections at the barns have been busily scratching horses at a far greater rate than is normal, and the casino-inflated purses have been cut back for low-level claiming races. The result so far: smaller fields, lower handle, and only a small drop in the fatality rate. In the 11 racing days since the changes went into effect, two more horses died on the track.

Meanwhile, the state racing board has also taken three steps seemingly reacting to the fatalities. The board appointed a four-member task force to investigate the deaths, changed the claiming rules to void an claim where a horse dies on the track, and made public its online database of equine fatalities and other "incidents."

The claiming rule is a step in the right direction. Its goal is to deter trainers from entering unsound horses in low-level claimers in the hope that some other trainer will take the bait and end up with the problem, or perhaps end up with a dead horse. A better rule, though, would have allowed the trainer making the claim to void it not only if the horse died on the track, but also if the horse failed to finish the race and to return to the unsaddling area after the race. As Teresa Genaro has pointed out, the new NYSRWB rule puts track veterinarians in a difficult position. If they think there's a chance of saving the horse, they'd prefer to take it off the track in the ambulance and make a decision about putting it down later. But if the do that, rather than euthanizing the horse on the track, they're probably dumping an unsound horse on the trainer that just claimed it. In the suspicious world of racing, vets' decisions will be endlessly second-guessed.

The big news, or perhaps, as explained below, non-news, is the release of the equine fatality data, going back to March, 2009. I'm sure that a number of racing's critics headed over to the website, hoping for confirmation that a few bad guys were killing horses at a great rate. I wonder how many times the data has already been searched for, say, Rudy Rodriguez, Dick Dutrow or David Jacobson.

But when one goes to the data, what stands out is the lack of clarity, the lack of easy-to-identify scapegoats, and, for that matter, the difficulty of determining when a horse's death can even be attributed to the trainer.

Let's start with that last point. The NYSRWB database includes all deaths of horses at the track, including, by my count, three stable ponies that seem to have died of old age. The database also includes horses that died from colic, laminitis, infections, heart attacks, getting loose and running into tractors, flipping in the paddock and fracturing their skulls, and just about an other improbable way of dying that you can think of.

But what we should focus on are breakdowns, muscular-skeletal injuries that happen when a horse is running at high speed in a race. So I went through the database to isolate only that kind of fatality. And even that isn't always clear from the data. While some fatality reports are precise -- "horse fell at 1/8th pole, fractured sesamoids" -- others aren't. Some of the reports simply say that the horse fell, without indicating the cause. So sorting the data involves making judgment calls.

Moreover, the mere fact that a horse breaks a bone or ruptures a suspensory ligament in a race doesn't mean that the trainer knew he or she was sending out an unsound horse. Accidents happen. But still, the perception among the public is that some trainers are more callous, more uncaring than others. Or perhaps the perception is that they're all uncaring. So I thought it useful to sort the data by trainer to see  if anything stood out.

I narrowed the data down to only those fatalities that resulted from muscular-skeletal breakdowns while racing or while breezing in training. For the three-year period from March 2009 through March 2012, there were, as well as I can determine from the records, 163 such fatalities, involving 99 different trainers. And the "usual suspects" were no more likely to be involved than most other trainers who made a lot of starts. Only two trainers had more than four breakdown fatalities in the three-year period, and only two had more than two in a single year; none of those were in the "usual suspect" category.

A dozen or so of the better-known trainers on the NYRA circuit, including Allen Jerkens, Shug McGaughey, Tom Bush and Stanley Hough, managed to go the entire period without losing a horse to a breakdown, though I suspect they would tell us that it was as much luck as any particular training acumen.

So to what can we attribute the increase in fatal breakdowns in the first quarter of 2012? By my count, there were 21 breakdown fatalities in that period, an annual rate of 84, far above the three-year average. the blue-ribbon panel appointed by the NYSRWB will be poring through the data and reaching its own conclusions, but I think that the data already tell us a couple of things.

First, it's not the inner track. Trainers have always said that the Aqueduct inner track is the safest racing surface on the NRA circuit, and this year's mild weather made it even easier to maintain.

Second, it's not the fault of a few bad apples among the trainers. The fatalities, both this year and over the past three years, are too widely distributed to blame it on a small number of rule-breakers.

Which leaves us with only one plausible explanation: the increase in purse levels for cheap claiming and maiden-claiming races. Racing is a tough economic game; many trainers barely squeak by. The temptation to run a horse just one more time for a big purse, even though the trainer knows it should really be retired, was too great to pass up. Fatalities were often high during the inner-track meet in earlier ears, though not as high as in 2012, but that's probably because NYRA cards many more low-level claimers in the winter anyway, when the good horses are on vacation or in  Florida, and because there's no turf racing in the winter. Turf is uniformly a safer surface than an kind of dirt.

So kudos to NYRA for reducing that temptation by cutting the purses for bottom-level races, and for telling its vets to be more aggressive in their morning inspections. With luck, by the time the NYSRWB panel makes its report, the problem will have been solved.

[For those who want the gory details, I have a spreadsheet showing breakdown fatalities by year and by trainer. Email me at  CVFRacing@gmail.com if you'd like a copy.]

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Business April 4th 2012, "Where Eagles Dare to Fly through the American Dream" Edition

This week our guests help us soar like we’ve never soared before. Business regulars Sean Kean, Alex Koll, Chris Garcia, Caitlin Gill and Chris Thayer (Bucky Sinister can’t be with us, though he’s still a proud eagle dreamer) welcome two of the finest comedians to come out of America since the birth of our Nation (by caesarean).

Matt Leib’s parents named him after the famous beef of Mattlieb, Japan, which they saw on a restaurant menu. He and former-teammate Shaquille O'Neal (actually, just him) led the Lakers to three consecutive NBA championships from 2000 to 2002. In 2003, he made headlines when he was accused of sexual assault at a ski resort in Eagle, Colorado by hotel employee Katelyn Faber. He admitted an adulterous sexual encounter with the accuser, but denies the sexual assault allegation. In September 2004, prosecutors dropped the case after Faber informed them that she was unwilling to testify.

(I asked Matt if Shaq is as friendly in real life as he seems in the movies. He just dunked on me, so I’m still not sure.)

You can also catch his weekly show on FCCFree Radio, Where Eagles Dare.

Kurt Weitzmann began performing stand up in 1987 at the infamous Holy City Zoo in San Francisco, a dark and wondrous place. His act has been seen on Comedy central and (ashamedly) MTV but more recently at The Vancouver Comedy Festival and at San Francisco Sketchfest. In between Stand Up performances Kurt founded numerous Bay Area sketch groups, including Nervous laughter, Comedy Noir and The Twist Off Cabaret. Kurt was honored as a semifinalist in the Reverie Next Generation Playwrights Competition last year for his dramatic feature length play, The Abnormal Psychology of God.

(He has also been honored with the award for Best Sushi Rolled by a German.)

His highly acclaimed comedy sketch album Talented is now available on American Dream Records.

THIS SHOW COSTS ONLY $5 AMERICAN. Bring your dead presidents and a burrito to The Dark Room, patriots!