Archive for August, 2008|Monthly archive page

If your only experience of the Olympics is through NBC …

In Culture, Sports, The news biz on August 16, 2008 at 8:07 pm

… you’d think they consisted of swimming, synchronized diving, women’s (pfft, as if these 12-year-olds masquerading as 16-year-olds could be called “women”) gymnastics and volleyball. 

If your experience of the Olympics is through ESPN reports, you’d think it consisted of the U.S. men’s basketball “redeem” team. 

Maybe it’s just rotten luck, but I have yet to tune in and catch so much as track and field, let alone the exotica of pentathlon, sailing, handball, archery, judo, Greco-Roman wrestling or table tennis. I presume I’m in the minority, but for me that’s a big part of the fun of the Olympics: people who are fantastic at stuff I don’t usually see. I’ve seen LeBron James before, I don’t need to see more of him during his off-season. 

I understand the excitement over Michael Phelps, but does that mean we have to watch every qualifying race in the pool, including the ones he’s not in? Or could NBC not afford to set up cameras for pole vaulting?

Fake fireworks in China?

In Culture, Politics, Sports, The news biz, Unfettered stupidity on August 13, 2008 at 5:45 pm

So now it’s being reported that some of the exceptional Olympic opening ceremonies, which really were impressive, were faked. When I watch the Olympics, I realize some of the stuff I see isn’t going to be live — NBC, et al., show the popular stuff during prime time, regardless of when it really took place halfway ’round the world. I understand about the scheduling. 

But I don’t expect computer-generated fireworks. WTF, NBC? You don’t have your own cameras? You just blandly let the Chinese pop a tape in the machine? Those overhead shots really brought to us by the Politburo, not Goodyear, as advertised? It’ll be interesting to see how this happened; haven’t seen the reporting on that. 

Now, the little girl lip-synching, I can understand. The networks have no control over that. But it does seem like they’d have control over their video feeds. Makes you wonder about some of the other cool visuals. Were those thousands of tai chi practitioners really in sync that closely? Or did they use the same CGI software that movie directors use to create huge battle scenes? 

What’s next: CGI balloons at the Democratic convention, inserted by special agreement with the networks? Will we be able to see unretouched coverage on C-SPAN?

Update: Better reporting here from Bloomberg.

“You’re looking at a cinematic device employed by Zhang Yimou here. This is actually almost animation. A footstep a second, 29 in all, to signify the 29 Olympiads,” (Matt) Lauer said, according to a transcript ….

(Bob) Costas replied: “We said earlier that aspects of this opening ceremony are almost like cinema in real time. Well this is quite literally cinematic.”

I missed that part of the broadcast. Did Lauer and Costas admit that some of the broadcast was faked?

Memo: Blackwater fudged numbers to win fat contracts (and other items of interest)

In Biz, Fayetteville, Fort Bragg, N.C., Politics on August 1, 2008 at 6:00 pm

I try to keep an eye on news items related to Blackwater Worldwide, a North Carolina-based company that supplies mercenaries private security in hellholes like Iraq, Afghanistan, New Orleans. Partly because the privatization of the U.S. military is fascinating, partly because the Fayetteville area, home of so many elite, special ops guys, is a fertile recruiting ground. Lately, there’s been another flurry of stories.

Federal investigators are raising new questions about whether an affiliate of the controversial security firm Blackwater Worldwide should have received more than $100 million in federal contracts set aside for small businesses.

In a memorandum made public Monday, internal investigators for the Small Business Administration said the agency “did not adequately explain” how it concluded that Blackwater falls within size limits for small-business contracts.

Meanwhile, Blackwater’s getting into the private eye biz:

“Blackwater started a private intelligence company,” (Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army) explained, “a private CIA essentially, called Total Intelligence Solutions. And the man running Total Intelligence Solutions is J. Cofer Black. He’s a thirty-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency. He also was the guy who ran the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, the government-sanctioned kidnap-and-torture program.”

And here’s an interesting backgrounder on Blackwater:

Critics see Blackwater as a company that recklessly abuses the gears of war to make a buck. (Founder Erik) Prince and his devoted team view themselves as a military support staff that helps the government save a buck through an obsessive commitment to identifying and fixing inefficiencies in operations and training.