Saturday, February 25, 2017

Should There Be a Market for Censored Movies?

Yes, you read the title correctly. Did you know that there are millions of people who would pay good money to watch movies and TV shows that have been edited for content?

Most of you will probably ask, "Why would anyone want to do that?" Let's go ahead and get this out of the way.

Say you want to show your kids this great movie, but you can't because of that one nudie scene, or the 100 F-bombs. Without censorship, you're out of luck. If only that one scene could be omitted or the F-bombs bleeped out! Would the movie be just as good with the nudie scene and cussing removed? In most cases, the answer is, "Yes."

Enter in the Mormon entrepreneurs. If ever there were a perfect target market for this magical censoring service, it would be the great state of Utah, where Mormons are taught to shy away from nudie scenes, cussing, and other things that bring on the "R" rating. Provide these millions of people the means to watch these cleaned-up movies, and they will pay money that Hollywood would likewise never see.

Censoring movies for TV and airplane family viewing is nothing new, but beyond that, there appears to be a dearth of censoring services. There's a reason for this, which I'll come to in a moment.

First, check out this commercial for VidAngel, the most recent attempt to bring voluntary censored streaming.

Here's how it worked (yeah -- past tense -- I'm getting there). These Mormon guys hired people to watch movies and TV shows to flag anything that might be considered offensive to anyone. Much like this famous scene from "Cinema Paradiso."

With each instance marked, a family can then choose at home what to filter out, and what to let through. For example, they could choose to let in nudie scenes, but bleep out the curse words. VidAngel has even enabled the ability to filter out Jar Jar Binks from the first three Star Wars movies!

Once the filters are in place, the movie will then stream with the "bad" stuff taken out. It works pretty well. I watched the latest "Mad Max" with my two boys with both curse words and nudie scenes taken out. It only removed less than a minute from the run time, and there evidently weren't very many curse words. We had a good laugh, though, when Max uttered a bad word and the soundtrack went silent.

But wait. Why the past tense, again? Because there's evidently an issue.

Directors and producers hate others censoring their art works. How would we like it if someone smeared brown paint all over the Mona Lisa?

But then again, who's suggesting that we censor the original product? I can download a picture of the Mona Lisa and do whatever I want with it using the Paint app, but none of my actions affect the original.

So, for the past couple of decades, different companies have tried to find ways to offer filtered movies, and each time they are shut down. The Family Home Movie Act of 2005 provides for the legal right for a company to alter a DVD for the purposes of presenting a censored version, but where can one go to enjoy this service?

Watch this video for an explanation of the current lawsuit against VidAngel (which is entertainingly narrated by Studio-C's own Matt Meese):

Now that you're caught up with the happenings in this market that you've probably never heard of before, you are sufficiently armed to enter the discussion. What do you think? Should this market exist? Is VidAngel in the wrong?

I personally enjoy the option of being able to filter out stuff that I don't want to see. Being able to edit out one or two scenes in order to enjoy the whole movie is very attractive to Mormons and other conservatively-inclined families. In other words, there definitely is a market.

For example, in November 2016, VidAngel offered a limited IPO and raised over $10 million dollars. VidAngel claims to have enough funds to take this battle all the way to the Supreme Court.

To me it seems a no-brainer. Why miss out on this pool of money waiting for the taking? Let the Mormons censor their own copies of movies they buy. It would only be more money for the directors and producers.

Currently, VidAngel is under an injunction that practically puts them out of business until the case is settled.

If you feel so inclined to stand up for this right, you can go here for more details, sign the petition, and even donate to the cause:

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Trump's Landslide in Perspective

Oh, my gosh, President Trump! Could you please stop saying you won in a "landslide"? Today you claimed the biggest electoral victory since Reagan. Really?

Let's do some simple math. For each election, take the number of electoral votes won and divide it by the total number of electoral votes possible. Then put them in rank order, and see where you stand, President.

Here is where you can find the raw data -- no spin -- no bias -- no adjustments for inflation -- no nothing but black-and-white numbers:

President Trump, do you see where you fall in the rankings? You are #46 out of 58. Why don't we put this on a graph?

George Washington wins the top spot for obtaining 100% 1st-choice votes. Also note where all the recent presidents are, from Ronald Reagan up to now.

Do you see where you are on the graph, Mr. President? You're all the way over to the right. So, where is this big landslide win? It appears to me that the only person you beat since Reagan was George W. Bush!

Seriously, Mr. Trump. You need to fire the idiot who keeps telling you that you won bigly, as those of us who can do math cannot be fooled by these shenanigans. You're only embarrassing yourself, and you're embarrassing our nation.

Yet, why should any of us care? You won the race! Congratulations! Now, can we move on?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Yes, Virginia, It Is a Muslim Ban

Dear Virginia,

I understand why you ask your question, as we grown ups can't seem to agree on the answer. Let's take a close look, using the simplest language possible, and see if we can figure out for ourselves if Trump's executive order is a Muslim ban.

A long time ago, when George Washington and his friends got together and created the United States, they decided to fix things so that people could choose what religion to believe. The First Amendment of our Constitution tells us that we cannot make any law respecting an establishment of religion. That means no one can say, "Everyone has to be Christian," since that wouldn't be fair to non-Christians. And no one can say, "No one is allowed to be Muslim," since that wouldn't be fair to Muslims.

They created these rules to protect the minority. That last word is important. It means a small group of people that are different than most other people. Without these rules in place, people of one religion would get gifts, while other people are punished. Does that sound fair to you?

Now, do you know what a religious test is? That is when you ask someone what religion they are, and you use the answer to make a decision. For example, let's say I'm a Muslim and my friend is a Christian. We both want to come into the United States. The guy at the gate asks what religion we are. I say, "Muslim" and my friend says, "Christian." If the guy lets my friend in, but tells me to go back home, would that be fair? According to the First Amendment, it is not fair, because the gate guy established Christianity as a good religion, and Muslim as bad. This is also called discrimination.

So, remember that. A religious test is bad, because it ignores the First Amendment, establishes one religion over another, and causes discrimination.

What about Trump's order? Does it have a religious test? If you look at just the words, you won't find "Muslims are not allowed to enter the United States." This is why Trump and his friends keep saying, "It is not a Muslim ban." But why do people keep calling it a Muslim ban?

At first, all people from seven countries are not allowed to come into the United States for 90 days. There are a few exceptions, but those aren't important right now. All seven of these countries have Muslims in the majority. That is, most of the people in those countries are Muslims.

After 90 days, we'll start letting people in, but they have to come in a special order, and there's a limit at 50,000 people. Here are some words from Trump's order.
We will "prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality."
Do you see a religious test in there? Does it say anything about Muslim? No? Then maybe it isn't a religious test, and therefore not a Muslim ban.

But wait. What are these words right here? Let me make them real big for you.

... minority religion ...

There's that word again. "Minority," which is the opposite of "majority." If a refugee belongs to a minority religion, and they are fleeing religious-based persecution, then they will go to the front of the line. That means that if you belong to the majority religion (remember that majority is the opposite of minority), then you have to go to the end of the line, even if you're fleeing persecution.

And what is the majority religion in those seven countries? Yes, you remember! Muslim!

Okay, let's give this a try. My friend and I are fleeing persecution and we come to the United States. The gate guy asks my friend, "What is your religion?" He says, "Christian." The guy at the gate looks at his checklist, sees that Christianity is a minority religion, so he asks, "Are you fleeing religious persecution?" My friend says, "Yes," to which the gate guy says, "Welcome to the US."

Then it's my turn. The gate guy asks me, "What is your religion?" I say, "Muslim." The gate guy looks at his checklist, sees Muslim is a NOT a minority religion, so I fail the test. He doesn't even have to ask me any more questions, so he tells me, "Go to the end of the line, mister."

And if there happen to be 50,000 Christians fleeing religious persecution, how many Muslims are going to make it through the gate? I'll let you do the math. What is 50,000 minus 50,000?

Is there a religious test in Trump's order? Before you answer, let's look at one last thing. You're old enough to watch the Simpson's, right? Watch this clip on the FXX website, come back here, and then I will ask you some follow-up questions.

In this clip, Sideshow Bob clearly wants to kill Bart Simpson. Toward the end of the clip (at about 1:05), he drives a ice-cream truck and says over the loudspeaker: "The following neighborhood residents will not be killed by me. Ned Flanders. Maude Flanders. Homer Simpson. Marge Simpson. Lisa Simpson. That little baby Simpson. ... That is all."

Did Sideshow Bob say he was going to kill Bart? If you look at his words, it's not in there at all, is it? All he did was omit Bart's name from the list. Is that really the same as saying, "I will kill Bart Simpson"?

Many people would say, "No. It's not the same." But we all know what Bob intends.

It is clear that Bob wants to kill Bart. He had tried to kill him in an earlier episode, and from the first part of the clip, you can see that he's throwing darts at Bart's face, and his chest says, "Die, Bart, Die."

I want you to notice something else. Remember how happy Ned Flanders and Homer were when they hear their names on the no-kill list? Only Bart worries. And that's exactly how we grown-ups react when a policy has no effect on us. We're safe. We can travel in and out of the US as much as we want. Why should we care about people we don't know?

At the end, when you see Bart's sad face, that should help you to realize that what Sideshow Bob said was bad, even though it made so many people happy. If we can't protect the minority, then what good is our country?

So, does Trump's order have a religious test? Yes, Virginia. Yes, it does. You cannot determine a "minority religion" without first identifying the "majority religion," which is Islam. The moment the gate guy asks, "Are you part of a minority religion?" he is in violation of the First Amendment.

Plus, it is more than clear what Trump's intent is. A year ago, he campaigned on the idea of instituting a Muslim ban. That's what he called it himself. Then as it got closer to election time, Trump said he was backing away from the ban. However, we now know he just wanted to say it a different way. He told former Mayor Rudy Giuliani that he wanted him to show the "right way to do it legally." In a recent interview on CBN News, Trump even said how Christians would be given priority in applying for refugee status.

The intent is clear. The results are the same. Trump never backed down. For all intents and purposes, his order IS a Muslim ban. It prioritizes Christians over Muslims, and it is in violation of the First Amendment, and eventually will be struck down by the courts.

Is there a way to remove the Muslim part of the ban? Yes, Virginia. Yes we can. All Trump would have to do is remove the religious test. Cut out the "minority religion" piece, and he would then have a travel ban consistent with all other travel bans ordered by other presidents in the past. None of those bans had a religious test, and none of them violated the First Amendment.

Here is what the revised policy would say:
We will "prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution."
See? Just cut out that extra discriminatory clause, and it's perfectly fine. Nothing about minority religions and penalizing the majority religion. Now Muslims fleeing their own religion could be placed at the top of the list as well as Christians, and no religion is being placed over another.

Now, Virginia, wouldn't that sound much better?