Bono Says Ghana “Rebranding” Africa
When Barack Obama arrives in Ghana Friday for his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as president, it will be the new face of America meeting “the new face of Africa,” says Irish rocker and anti-poverty activist Bono.In a New York Times column Friday hours before Obama arrives in Ghana, Bono wrote that if America’s first black president were making a sentimental journey to Africa, “he’d have gone to Kenya,” the birthplace of his father.
“He’s made a different choice, and he’s been quite straight about the reason,” Bono added. “Despite Kenya’s unspeakable beauty and its recent victories against the anopheles mosquito, the country’s still-stinging corruption and political unrest confirm too many of the headlines we in the West read about Africa.
“Ghana confounds them,” wrote Bono, the U2 frontman who has long campaigned against poverty and AIDS in Africa.
“Quietly, modestly — but also heroically — Ghana’s going about the business of rebranding a continent. New face of America, meet the new face of Africa.”
Bono said the West African nation was a well-governed state where power changed hands peacefully after the last election and which was also weathering the global economic storm.
“No one’s leaked me a copy of the president’s speech in Ghana, but it’s pretty clear he’s going to focus not on the problems that afflict the continent but on the opportunities of an Africa on the rise,” wrote Bono.
“If that’s what he does, the biggest cheers will come from members of the growing African middle class, who are fed up with being patronized and hearing the song of their majestic continent in a minor key.”
Bono noted that he himself had often talked of the crises and tragedies besetting Africa, “but as the example of Ghana makes clear, that’s only one chord.
“Amid poverty and disease are opportunities for investment and growth — investment and growth that won’t eliminate overnight the need for assistance … but that in time can build roads, schools and power grids and propel commerce to the point where aid is replaced by trade pacts, business deals and home-grown income,” wrote the singer.
Bono said Obama could speed that process by taking aim at corruption in Africa.
Citing the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the U.S. government’s main development fund set up by former President George W. Bush, Bono said U.S. aid dollars “increasingly go to countries that use them and don’t blow them.
“Ghana is one. There’s a growing number of others.”
Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/07/10/arts/entertainment-us-obama-africa-bono.html
DATELINE: Imminent. About now, actually.
Soon, Air Force One will touch down in Accra, Ghana; Africans will be welcoming the first African-American president. Press coverage on the continent is placing equal weight on both sides of the hyphen.
And we thought it was big when President Kennedy visited Ireland in 1963. (It was big, though I was small. Where I come from, J.F.K. is remembered as a local boy made very, very good.)
But President Obama’s African-ness is only part (a thrilling part) of the story today. Cable news may think it’s all about him — but my guess is that he doesn’t. If he was in it for a sentimental journey he’d have gone to Kenya, chased down some of those dreams from his father.
He’s made a different choice, and he’s been quite straight about the reason. Despite Kenya’s unspeakable beauty and its recent victories against the anopheles mosquito, the country’s still-stinging corruption and political unrest confirms too many of the headlines we in the West read about Africa. Ghana confounds them.
Not defiantly or angrily, but in that cool, offhand Ghanaian way. This is a country whose music of choice is jazz; a country that long ago invented a genre called highlife that spread across Africa — and, more recently, hiplife, which is what happens when hip-hop meets reggaetón meets rhythm and blues meets Ghanaian melody, if you’re keeping track (and you really should be). On a visit there, I met the minister for tourism and pitched the idea of marketing the country as the “birthplace of cool.” (Just think, the music of Miles, the conversation of Kofi.) He demurred … too cool, I guess.
Quietly, modestly — but also heroically — Ghana’s going about the business of rebranding a continent. New face of America, meet the new face of Africa.
Ghana is well governed. After a close election, power changed hands peacefully. Civil society is becoming stronger. The country’s economy was growing at a good clip even before oil was found off the coast a few years ago. Though it has been a little battered by the global economic meltdown, Ghana appears to be weathering the storm. I don’t normally give investment tips — sound the alarm at Times headquarters — but here is one: buy Ghanaian.
So it’s not a coincidence that Ghana’s making steady progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Right now it’s one of the few African nations that has a shot at getting there by 2015.
No one’s leaked me a copy of the president’s speech in Ghana, but it’s pretty clear he’s going to focus not on the problems that afflict the continent but on the opportunities of an Africa on the rise. If that’s what he does, the biggest cheers will come from members of the growing African middle class, who are fed up with being patronized and hearing the song of their majestic continent in a minor key.
I’ve played that tune. I’ve talked of tragedy, of emergency. And it is an emergency when almost 2,000 children in Africa a day die of a mosquito bite; this kind of hemorrhaging of human capital is not something we can accept as normal.
But as the example of Ghana makes clear, that’s only one chord. Amid poverty and disease are opportunities for investment and growth — investment and growth that won’t eliminate overnight the need for assistance, much as we and Africans yearn for it to end, but that in time can build roads, schools and power grids and propel commerce to the point where aid is replaced by trade pacts, business deals and home-grown income.
President Obama can hasten that day. He knows change won’t come easily. Corruption stalks Africa’s reformers. “If you fight corruption, it fights you back,” a former Nigerian anti-corruption official has said.
From his bully pulpit, the president can take aim at the bullies. Without accountability — no opportunity. If that’s not a maxim, it ought to be. It’s a truism, anyway. The work of the American government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation is founded on that principle, even if it doesn’t put it that bluntly. United States aid dollars increasingly go to countries that use them and don’t blow them. Ghana is one. There’s a growing number of others.
That’s thanks to Africans like John Githongo, the former anticorruption chief of Kenya — a hero of mine who is pioneering a new brand of bottom-up accountability. Efforts like his, which are taking place across the continent, deserve more support. The presidential kind. Then there’s Nigeria’s moral and financial fist — Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a managing director of the World Bank and the country’s former finance minister — who is on a quest to help African countries recover stolen assets looted by corrupt officials. And the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which is helping countries like Ghana clean up the oil, gas and mining business, to make sure that profits don’t wind up in the hands of kleptocrats.
Presidential attention would be a shot in the arm for these efforts — an infusion of moral and political amino acids that, by the way, will make aid dollars go further. That should be welcome news to the Group of 8 leaders gathered in Italy to whom Mr. Obama bids a Hawaii-via-Chicago-inflected “arrivederci,” as he leaves for Africa.
This week’s summit meeting looks as if it will yield some welcome new G-8 promises on agriculture. (So far, new money: America. Old money: everyone else.) This is the good news that President Obama will bring from Europe to Ghana.
The not-so-good news — that countries like Italy and France are not meeting their Africa commitments — makes the president’s visit all the more essential. The United States is one of the countries on track to keep its promises, and Mr. Obama has already said he’ll more than build on the impressive Bush legacy.
President Obama plans to return to Africa for the World Cup in 2010. Between now and then he’s got the chance to lead others in building — from the bottom up — on the successes of recent efforts within Africa and to learn from the failures. There’s been plenty of both. We’ve witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly in our fraught relationship with this dynamic continent.
The president can facilitate the new, the fresh and the different. Many existing promises are expiring in 2010, some of old age and others of chronic neglect. New promises from usual and unusual partners, from the G-8 to the G-20, need to be made — and this time kept. If more African nations (not just Ghana) are going to meet the millennium goals, they are going to need smart partners in business and development. That’s Smart as in sustainable, measurable, accountable, responsive and transparent.
Africa is not just Barack Obama’s homeland. It’s ours, too. The birthplace of humanity. Wherever our journeys have taken us, they all began there. The word Desmond Tutu uses is “ubuntu”: I am because we are. As he says, until we accept and appreciate this we cannot be fully whole.
Could it be that all Americans are, in that sense, African-Americans?
China to Build Own Neverland as Michael Jackson Tribute
Chinese developers are commemorating the late Michael Jackson by building a scaled-down replica of his Neverland Ranch on an island off Shanghai, a state-run newspaper said on Friday.Investors in the project, which will cost about 100 million yuan ($15 million) to build, hope it will open on Chongming island ahead of next year’s Expo in Shanghai, the China Daily newspaper reported.
While they are not as popular as the Taiwanese and Hong Kong stars who dominate the music scene in China, Western artists are making inroads in the local market, thanks to young fans.
“By building a Neverland here in China, we want to pay tribute to him and at the same time offer the Chinese people an outlet for expressing their love toward him,” the report quoted Qiu Xuefan, one of the investors, as saying.
Jackson, who died on June 25 in Los Angeles, abandoned Neverland — once filled with theme-park rides and even a zoo — after his child molestation trial in 2005.
The Shanghai version will have “Chinese characteristics to have it blend in with the local environment,” the paper added, without elaborating.
But not everyone is convinced it’s a good idea.
“If the purpose is simply to pay tribute to Michael, I would suggest investors open it for free, just as Michael did for the children,” said Wei Wei, deputy head of Jackson’s Chinese fan club. “Otherwise, they are just making money from it.”
But Qiu, who professes his love for Jackson’s music, said the ranch would help keep the King of Pop’s legacy alive.
“His music is a legacy to the world and should not be forgotten. We also would like to set up a fund, with profits being used to help encourage children with musical talent.”
Last week, an “instant” biography of Jackson in Chinese hit the bookshelves, which local newspapers said was penned by two Chinese writers who worked on it for two days straight but who had never met their subject.
Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/07/10/arts/entertainment-us-jackson-shanghai.html
Billy Mays Remains a TV Pitchman, Even in Death
Death won’t still the voice of Billy Mays or his mighty powers of persuasion. Viewers will continue to find the boisterous, bearded TV pitchman hawking household products for the indefinite future. And at least one of his commercials is being introduced posthumously.”Just stretch, wrap and it fuses fast,” says Mays, demonstrating a product called Mighty Tape on a kitchen drain pipe in the new commercial. Moments later, he’s seen, still wearing his signature sport shirt and khaki slacks but accessorized with scuba gear, as he repairs a hole in another diver’s air hose underwater using Mighty Tape.
The commercial will begin airing July 20. Mays’ advertising for other products in the Mighty brand line returned to the air earlier this week. The commercials were pulled after Mays’ death June 28 of an apparent heart attack.
”Our feeling is, everyone wants to have Billy go on,” said Bill McAlister, president of Media Enterprises, a sales and marketing company based in Trevose, Penn. ”This is what he would have wanted.”
Besides Media Enterprises, the 50-year-old Mays had worked with several other companies as the yell-and-sell spokesman for products with rousing names like OxiClean, Awesome Auger, WashMatik and Orange Glo.
It’s not yet certain which among Mays’ product pitches will continue to be broadcast, and for how long, said his attorney, Roger Pliakas.
”We’re waiting to hear what the companies want to do,” said Pliakis, who declined to specify the firms with which Mays was associated when he died.
”It’s not a legal conversation but an informal conversation” with each company, Pliakas said. ”We don’t know all the specifics. We’re just hoping it’s all done in a tasteful manner.”
On Thursday at 9 p.m. EDT, Discovery Channel will air a one-hour documentary, ”Pitchman: A Tribute to Billy Mays.” Mays had been featured in a 12-part series on the network called ”Pitchmen.”
Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/07/09/arts/AP-US-TV-Billy-Mays.html
The downturn forces sweeping changes on a reputedly recession-proof business
JOHN DAVIS has produced films such as “I, Robot” and “Norbit”, and is working on an adaptation of “Gulliver’s Travels”. He also invests in businesses as diverse as restaurants and scaffolding. These days he is much more optimistic about the film industry than anything else. It is a measure of the recession’s severity that a business built on fickle teenage audiences and multi-million-dollar wagers has come to seem comparatively reliable.
The downturn has affected Hollywood in a way that few expected. Michael Lynton, head of Sony Pictures Entertainment, says that if he had been asked to predict whether the recession would encourage people to stay at home watching the large televisions on which they had spent so much or go out to cinemas, he would have guessed wrong. So far this year box-office receipts are up by 12% over last year. Yet sales of DVDs are falling.
Odder still, the film business is proving hardier than the conglomerates of which the big studios are a part. Sony made ¥30 billion ($299m) on film and television in the year that ended in March, but it lost ¥168 billion on electronics. Disney, Fox and Universal used to rake in profits from their local television stations; the slump in car advertising has put an end to that. Time Warner has been weighed down by AOL and magazines. So the message has been dispatched to Tinseltown: spend less money, and do not do anything risky.
Unfortunately that has become difficult. Last year a torrent of Wall Street money, which had allowed the big studios and independent outfits to share the risk and expense of making films, abruptly dried up. Equity investors have learned, like many before them, that the film business produces better parties than profits. Domestic lenders are concentrating on repairing their balance sheets; foreign ones are being pressured to focus on their home countries. David Shaheen, head of the entertainment group at JPMorgan, reckons there were 25 to 30 banks active in film financing before the credit crisis. Now there are no more than 12.
As a result there will be fewer films. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, 606 new films were released last year, although many were destined for just a handful of cinemas in New York and Los Angeles. This year the number can be expected to drop to 400 or below. It will not happen immediately. The film business is like a snake digesting a large meal: the production bulge caused by the surge of money in 2006 and 2007 will take a year or so to work its way through the system.
The prospect of a slowdown rather cheers the studios and the larger independent distributors. In retrospect, they reckon, the ready availability of film financing meant too many titles were competing for attention. With a clutch of new releases every Friday, steep drop-offs in audiences have become routine. Ticket sales for “Wolverine” fell by 69% between the first and second weekends of its release in May. And that film was a success.
Better yet, from the studios’ point of view, the price of talent is falling. With fewer films being put into production it is a buyers’ market for actors and directors—one reason an actors’ strike failed to materialise this year. Middling stars are being offered much smaller guaranteed fees in return for a bigger cut of the profits if a film sells well on DVD and television. The top tier of talent still commands huge sums. But that club has shrunk, in part because big-budget films these days are sold less on the appeal of an actor than on familiarity with the television programmes, books or comics that so often inspire them.
The films loaded with special effects that dominate the summer and Christmas holidays will not, however, become much less common or cheaper to make. In the past few years films costing more than $150m to produce have proven reliably profitable. Healthy returns this summer from 3-D animated films, which are more expensive to make than the two-dimensional sort, are encouraging studios to put more into production. Nor are the studios likely to tinker much with their carpet-bombing approach to marketing big films. After all, the cost of advertising is falling.
Kevin Misher, the producer behind “Public Enemies”, believes the film business will become increasingly polarised. There will be plenty of spectacular, big-budget summer action films and a steady supply of cheap comedies (at a big studio, a “cheap” film is one that costs less than about $40m to produce). What these films have in common, Mr Misher points out, is that they promise a collective experience. People like to watch spectacular action films, comedies and horror films in groups and will abandon their televisions and mobile phones to do so.
The inevitable losers in all this will be complex, well-made films that do not fit neatly in a single genre, such as “Duplicity”, a hybrid of comedy, drama and romance starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. It failed at the box office earlier this year. Studio executives have long known that such films are chancy. The ease of spreading financial risk allowed them to suspend their disbelief. No longer.
Hollywood’s ability to respond quickly to change has helped the film business to remain stable, with the same number of big studios now as in the early 20th century. Yet the new austerity comes at a cost. Cutbacks in development and production mean studios will have fewer films to release when the recession ends. That means less potential profit from discs, television rights, toys and the rest of it—not to mention less variety for filmgoers.
Full article and photo: http://www.economist.com/businessfinance/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13998640&source=hptextfeature
The DVD is not dead, but its best years are behind it
IT IS the hottest topic in Hollywood: is the DVD dying? Ten years ago the discs rejuvenated the film business. DVDs not only offered cleaner pictures and better sound than videotape; they also looked smarter on bookshelves. People were persuaded to own films rather than simply watch them. Studios began to make twice as much from disc sales as from cinema tickets. But DVD sales, which began declining gradually in 2006, are now falling more steeply (see chart). And there is always the threat that online piracy might take off.
There is probably still some life in the format—but that does not mean Hollywood can relax. About one-third of the drop in DVD sales in the first quarter was counteracted by rising sales of high-definition Blu-ray discs, which are more profitable. Much of the remainder can be put down to belt-tightening amid the downturn. “People are still going into the shop and buying a DVD; they just aren’t buying two or three DVDs,” says Amir Malin of Qualia Capital, a media investment firm.
Yet people are still getting hold of films. In the past year the value of DVD and Blu-ray rentals increased by 1%, according to Rentrak. In a generally dismal climate for media companies two outfits are thriving. Netflix, which rents DVDs and Blu-ray discs by post, signed up 25% more customers in the past year. Redbox, which rents films cheaply from self-service kiosks, has been adding machines at the rate of more than 500 per month. Many kiosks are located in the same shops that sell discs. The real worry, then, is not that people are abandoning DVDs but that they are abandoning the notion of owning them.
Studios would prefer people to get their films in almost any way other than renting them from a kiosk. It is much more profitable to stream a film digitally or sell it through a cable operator as a video-on-demand (VOD). Recognising this, Warner Bros now releases many films simultaneously on DVD and VOD. The big studios have overcome their initial reluctance to sell digital copies of films through Apple’s iTunes store. Although it is a long way off, there is much talk of creating a premium VOD “window”, charging perhaps $40 for a film soon after it appears in cinemas. “We need to give people as many options as possible without confusing them,” says Kevin Tsujihara, head of home entertainment at Warner Bros.
Meanwhile strenuous efforts are under way to stimulate disc sales. Disney is selling some films in three formats in a single box—DVD, Blu-ray and digital file. Studios are adding puzzles, interviews and other special features to discs intended for sale, but not to discs intended for rental. Mike Dunn, head of home entertainment at Fox, sums up the strategy: “If you buy a Blu-ray disc you get a BMW. If you rent one you get a Chevrolet.”
Full article: http://www.economist.com/businessfinance/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13998656
Mark Duplass, left, and Joshua Leonard in “Humpday.”
Putting a Bromance to an Erotic Test
To guys everywhere: “Humpday” has your number. With X-ray vision, this serious indie comedy, written and directed by Lynn Shelton, sees through its male characters’ macho pretensions to contemplate the underlying forces hard-wired into men’s psyches in a homophobic culture. Think of it as a Judd Apatow or Kevin Smith buddy film turned inside out.
It is all the more remarkable for having been conceived by an empathetic woman with no apparent ax to grind and a sensibility tuned to the minutiae of straight-male bonding rituals. Men may be from Mars and women from Venus, but some observant Venusians understand the brute fundamentals of Martian psychology
Its subjects, schlubby, soft-bellied Ben (Mark Duplass) and bearded, laughing-eyed Andrew (Joshua Leonard), are best friends from college who fancied themselves latter-day disciples of Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise from “On the Road.” A decade later Ben, a transportation engineer with a house in Seattle and a warm, supportive wife, Anna (Alycia Delmore), who is trying to become pregnant, has abandoned whatever romantic beatnik fantasies he once nurtured to pursue a staid middle-class existence.
Andrew, still a free-spirited rogue and artist (at least in his own mind), hasn’t landed yet, and a lurking anxiety about his future is beginning to leak through his twinkling bohemian swagger. He reappears in Ben’s life late one night after Ben and Anna have gone to bed following a botched baby-making opportunity. Andrew, just back from Mexico, needs a place to stay. As the friends exchange hugs, punches and raucous dude slang, instant regression sets in.
The next night Andrew invites Ben to a wild party given by a bisexual woman (Ms. Shelton) he has just met. As the liquor flows and joints are smoked, Ben forgets Anna is at home cooking a special pork-chop dinner. Several of the guests are associated with Humpfest, a film festival devoted to experimental homemade pornography. In a daredevil moment, Andrew and Ben, feeling pressured to demonstrate they are unflappably cool, hip swingers, announce they have thought up “the ultimate art project.” They will film themselves — two straight guys — having sex. In the language of their pitch: “It’s not gay; it’s beyond gay. It’s not porn; it’s art.”
Even in the cold light of morning, when the terrifying prospect of making good on their promise looms, they are unable to back down. There is also the troubling question of how to explain all this to Anna.
As the put-up-or-shut-up moment in a Seattle hotel room approaches, “Humpday” explores the ramifications of their decision in a free-form Mumblecore style. Much of the dialogue in a film that rarely stops talking was semi-improvised, and as Ben and Andrew, who are perfectly cast, consider the fine print of their verbal agreement, most of what they say sounds convincingly spontaneous. For starters there is the matter of role playing, a question that is too daunting to explore when the subject is broached.
“Humpday” is utterly lacking in titillation. Although Ben remembers a confused momentary attraction to a male video-store clerk years earlier, there is no intimation of any lurking erotic subtext in their friendship. And in a revealing moment Andrew, about to have a threesome with the party hostess and her girlfriend, loses his nerve when they produce an array of sex toys.
Under his free-spirited, anything-for-a-lark pose he is deeply conventional. A question the movie doesn’t address is how Ben and Andrew imagine they can complete the project without any sexual attraction between them
The camera’s view of the characters, although intimate, is almost antiseptic. The film sees Ben and Andrew the way they see each other: as blobs of flesh with hairy parts but without the tiniest suggestion of latent heat. Neither Ben nor Andrew is especially good looking (in a beauty contest, Andrew would probably win), but neither is ugly.
I won’t reveal what transpires when they keep their date, except to say that the movie’s unblinking observation of a friendship put to the test is amused, queasy making, kindhearted and unfailingly truthful.
Full article and photo: http://movies.nytimes.com/2009/07/10/movies/10hump.html
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