Hearst said today that it may sell, or totally shutter, San Francisco's main daily newspaper. The San Francisco Chronicle lost $50 million in 2008, and has been losing money consistently since 2001. If the paper cannot recoup losses "within weeks" via job cuts and other measures, Hearst officials said via a statement today, "...we will have no choice but to quickly seek a buyer for the Chronicle or, should a buyer not be found, to shut the newspaper down." According to Reuters, the Chronicle employs nearly 300 people on its news staff alone, and is the 12th largest daily in the nation.

So what does it mean for San Francisco to lose the Chronicle? For Bay Area folks, there are a number of newspapers that could possibly step up coverage to fill the gap, like the excellent San Jose Mercury News or the Oakland Tribune. Television news crews could conceivably lengthen their broadcasts. So far, all I've seen is that one of the of the city's smaller dailies, the San Francisco Examiner, is hiring. The Examiner also has only half the Chronicle's circulation, and is given away free instead of sold. While many San Franciscans have pooh-poohed the Chronicle for its heavy slant toward lightweight stories, surely the Examiner is not what they envisioned as a solution.

More disturbing than the Examiner taking over San Francisco is the idea that liberal, literate, San Francisco might not have a newspaper to call its own. Even Cleveland and La Crosse, Wisconsin, have their own papers. Granted, a Sunday morning in San Francisco will show you as many people reading the New York Times as the Sunday Chronicle, but still, the Chronicle has been there and there really isn't another paper in town of similar quality or distribution. As much as I'd like to think a major city can survive without a newspaper, I'm not super-excited to try the experiment personally. San Francisco has some of the nation's most tech-savvy citizens, but are they really ready to get their local news only from virtual sources? If the Chronicle gets shut down within weeks, as seems to be Hearst's intention, they may have no choice but to find out the hard way.

"Sources say." Rumors of a film version of cult-favorite TV show Arrested Development have been flying around like badly-imitated chickens for a while now, with everybody from Jeffrey Tambor to David Cross jumping on board. But young Michael Cera, now a big movie star, appeared to be the last holdout, and you couldn't make an Arrested Development movie without George Michael. But now, E Online has it on good authority that Cera has agreed to do the film. "Insiders" are saying production may even get going by the end of the year, with show creator Mitchell Hurwitz as writer/director. Finally, I'll be able to eat frozen bananas again without crying.
The bailout got you down? Does it feel like the members of Congress just aren't listening? Got a video camera and too much spare time? Don't fret, sad little big-government-haters: You can heed the advice of Meghan McCain, get your fifteen micro-seconds of fame, and win your bailout burden back.

Yes, Republicans do know how to use the internets.  Right.org (you got to give them credit for the snazzy URL), launched an online video contest that asks DIY film makers to "Be creative. Make us laugh. Teach us. Above all, make us oppose the bailouts."

The winning entry receives $27,599, or one person's share of the bailouts. Entrants will flood YouTube until a winner is chosen by a "panel of qualified judges" in July. The idea for a video contest follows hard on the heels of the Best Job in the World put on by the Queensland Tourism. Though there are, understandably and sadly, far fewer bikinis in the Right.org contest.

Joel Best's Stat-Spotting: A Field Guide to Identifying Dubious Data, belongs on the nightstand of anyone who regularly encounters statistics—which is to say, everyone. In my line of work as a fact-checker, the book's case studies are even more of a must-read.

Take, for example, this health statistic, repeated on a number of websites: Each year, 20,000 people die from taking aspirin.

It's BlitzHas everybody in America thrown out their guitars? When do we get to call this a trend? Okay, sure, a quick look at the iTunes Top 100 shows All-American Rejects and Jason Mraz still wielding the axes in the Top 20. But there's something New Wave-y in the air when even rapper Flo Rida hits #1 with a Dead or Alive cover and bisexual robo-pixie Lady Gaga is America's sweetheart. Into this synthtastic moment strut the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and while Nick Zinner's noisy, careening guitar work has always defined the band's sound, they're also respectably New Wave, with an appreciation for accessible, dramatic pop melodies, not to mention Karen O's colorful outfits. Over the last few years, they've even started offering up their hits for remixes, and Zinner himself has tried reworking the band's songs for the dance floor. It feels completely natural that they'd turn to drum machines and keyboards on It's Blitz!, and they still wring an organic, rich noise out of their gadgets.
Want to know what Mardi Gras looked like during WWII? Watch this 1941 home video:




From the Prelinger Archives, via BoingBoing.



Happy Fat Tuesday!

The problem with food festivals is that it is always little unclear if the judges are there because they are interested in truly rendering an objective decision or because they're just, well, hungry.  

This becomes particularly obvious if the food in question is a grilled cheese sandwich. Um yeah I'm a "judge," feed me lunch.

Their parents seem to think so. The mother of Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail—the 10-year-old who plays the lead character's brother, Salim, in the Oscar-sweeping film—still lives lives with her son in a hovel made of tarps and blankets in Mumbai's Behrampada shanty, where rats roam and sewage runs untreated. "He's supposed to be the hero in the movie, but look how he's living," she told Australia's Herald Sun. "We need money and help now. It is hard living like this. I am worried that after the Oscars are over they will forget us."

And then there's the movie's other slum star:

Rubina Ali, 9, who plays the young version of Latika, the film's heroine, lives nearby. Her shack is brightly coloured but an open sewer runs close by.
Her father, Rafiq Ali Kureshi, a carpenter, broke his leg during filming and has been out of work since.

"I am very happy the movie is doing so well but it is making so much money and so much fame, and the money they paid us is nothing. They should pay more," he said.

But British director Danny Boyle says he's trying to be smart about how he pays the child actors:

They said they paid painstaking attention to how Azharuddin and Rubina's involvement in the film could be of lasting benefit over and above the payment for their work.
The children, who have never received formal eduction, have been enrolled in school since last June at the production company's expense until they are 18.
Azharuddin and Rubina will receive a lump sum when they finish their education, and Boyle said money was in place to cover health care and emergencies.
They decided not to shower the children with cash because they could not handle it psychologically and practically.

For the most part, Boyle's approach sounds wise. But in addition, why not give the parents just enough money to move out of the slums into a half-decent apartment somewhere? They certainly deserve it now that the film has grossed $155 million. And even if the adults blow the cash, it's hard to see how that kind of modest aid would skew the kids' priorities.

UPDATE from the Daily Mail:

The filmmakers also claim they have now agreed to buy apartments for the two children and allow the families to move in, with the stipulation that they will not own the property unless the youngsters complete their education.
Tonight, however, a spokesman for the film was unable to provide further details about the apartment plans.

UPDATE #2: The Hindu reports that the Oscars have apparently shamed the Indian government into giving flats to the families.

It's actually kind of nice to know that the guy is fallible. After correctly predicting just about every aspect of the 2008 elections, if statistical superhero Nate Silver had gotten the Oscars right too, he might have been burned as a witch by an angry, frightened populace. But as Kevin mentioned last night, Silver got two of his six predictions wrong: Penelope Cruz beat Taraji P. Henson for Best Supporting Actress, while Sean Penn prevailed over Mickey Rourke. Silver has posted a lengthy bit of navel-gazing over at 538.com, and while he attributes his supercomputer's error on the Supporting Actress call to the "unusual circumstance" surrounding the shift of Kate Winslett's Reader role to the lead category, his explanation of the Penn win is a little less, well, technical:

In the Best Actor category, we might also have learned a thing or two last night. Namely, it probably doesn't help to be a huge jackass (like Mickey Rourke) to all of your peers when those peers are responsible for deciding whether you receive a major, life-altering award.

Darn those jackasses: they're always screwing up the computer models! Well, we forgive you, Nate, and I don't think I'm going out on a limb if I say that if you had to get something wrong, we're glad it was the Oscars and not the election.

Despite the terrible odds given by America's favorite statistician Nate Silver, Sean Penn snagged the Oscar for Best Actor over favorite Mickey Rourke at the Academy Awards Sunday night in Los Angeles. It was an astonishing upset, on an equal level with 2005 2006's Best Picture shocker Crash over Brokeback Mountain, and it's hard not to take the award as a bit of a comeuppance for the gays. Hooray gays! Penn gave a classy, heartfelt speech, ending with a plea for equal rights for gays and lesbians, but the most important part about Penn's win seems to be the acknowledgment of what was truly the greater performance. While Rourke's comeback was admirable, it was Penn who buried himself inside his character, elevating Gus Van Sant's Milk above a faithful retelling of a great documentary into something special. Penn's speech called the Academy "commie, homo-loving sons of guns," which is pretty funny, considering Brokeback's loss, but when you think about it, the Academy really does like straights who play gay: Tom Hanks, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Charlize Theron, Hillary Swank and William Hurt have all won Oscars for queer characters in the last 25 years. Hmm. One of these days, gays will win for playing straight! (Go ahead and insert Hugh Jackman joke here.)

In other Oscar news, Slumdog Millionaire dominated, as expected, with eight total awards including Best Picture, while The Curious Case of Benjamin Button won three of its thirteen nominations. The ceremony started off amusingly, with Jackman performing a cute song-and-dance number paying tribute to the nominees, but went downhill from there—using five previous actress and actor winners to present the current nominees was kind of creepy. One of us, one of us! In any event, one hopes that Slumdog's win might open some doors for Bollywood to gain a greater audience, but in reality, Slumdog has about as much to do with Bollywood as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had to do with Hong Kong cinema, so that might be a little far-fetched. Either way, I won the Oscar pool for the third year in a row (thanks, Sound Editing!), so I'm spending my ten bucks on a ticket to actually see one of the movies.