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    Wednesday, October 7, 2009

    CNN - 'SNL' Obama sketch marks end of honeymoon

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    'SNL' Obama sketch marks end of honeymoon

    "Saturday Night Live" was formed in the crucible of the mid-1970s, when Watergate brought respect for politicians to all-time lows, the counterculture was taking over comedy, and many television viewers were seeking out something fresh and bold.

    It was a powerful combination -- and after 34 years, the combination of "SNL" and politics can still strike sparks among political observers.

    The most recent example came this past weekend when Fred Armisen, as President Obama, chided "those on the right" for saying that he was "turning this great country into something that resembles the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany."

    Not true, said Armisen as Obama.

    "When you look at my record," he said, "it's very clear what I've done so far -- and that is nothing."

    The sketch has caused a rumble among the inside-the-Beltway chattering classes and New York news nabobs. Wrote Washington Post blogger Jonathan Capehart, "When your 'friends' start talking about you like this -- and friends with a huge megaphone and a feel for the national mood -- the White House should listen."

    "Humor with some truth in it is always dangerous. Make no mistake, a drumbeat of belittlement can damage a president," added CNN political contributor Ed Rollins in a column.

    The White House had no comment when asked about the sketch by CNN.

    "SNL" cast members weren't available for interviews, an NBC representative said. "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels also turned down an interview request but has said the show doesn't take sides.

    "I think 'SNL's' role is, the moment they're in power, we're the opposition," he told CNN's Alina Cho last year. "We're not partisan. We're not, you know, we're not putting on anything that we don't believe is funny."

    The recent sketch is indicative of the end of Obama's honeymoon, Syracuse University pop culture professor Robert Thompson says, but he doesn't want to read more into it than that.

    "Comedy is about going after the people in power," he said.

    The president has also taken recent shots from "The Daily Show" and "Real Time with Bill Maher." "What this says is that the comedy-industrial complex has turned its sights on the reigning president of the United States," he said.

    But, he added, "I wouldn't put this into the meme category," referring to concepts that travel so quickly they take on a life of their own, such as Tina Fey's Sarah Palin sketches from last year. "The [Obama] sketch wasn't that funny."

    Indeed, the show's overall impact is often mixed, observes Slate columnist and Rutgers media studies professor David Greenberg. It can "capture or intensify" a storyline that's being passed through the news media, but the show is more a barometer that can change with events.

    "It's not incapable of influencing things," he said, noting the show's slash-and-burn '70s satire and Fey's Palin parody. "But since the early '80s, those moments are pretty rare. ... You'll see good impersonations but not the underlying critique you had with, say, Dan Aykroyd as [Richard] Nixon."

    Besides, he added, the Obama sketch may have titillated the politico-media crowd, but he wonders whether its impact went any wider.

    "I'm a political junkie," he said, "and this is the first I've heard of it."

    Indeed, the ratings for the episode were a far cry from last year's Palin-fest -- from a 7.3 rating for the same week in 2008, to 4.7 -- and the Armisen sketch didn't get the frenzied online dispersion the Palin sketches did.

    However, Obama should be concerned about one thing, observes Thompson.

    In general, "SNL" mocked previous presidents' personal characteristics, such as Clinton's outsized appetites or George W. Bush's struggles with spoken English. With Obama -- who lacks the same kind of easily caricatured traits, Thompson says -- the show went after his record.

    "In some ways," Thompson said, "he's vulnerable to more serious damage."

    Reuters - Dell plans first U.S. smartphone with AT&T: report

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    Dell plans first U.S. smartphone with AT&T: report

    Wednesday, Oct 07, 2009 8:28PM UTC

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Dell plans to launch a smartphone with Google's Android mobile software on carrier AT&T's network as soon as early 2010, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

    That would mark Dell's first foray into the booming and competitive U.S. smartphone market, now fought over by the likes of Apple and Research in Motion.

    The Wall Street Journal, citing people briefed on the matter, reported that Dell's phone would come with a touch-screen and a camera.

    Last summer Dell confirmed it was developing mobile devices for China Mobile Ltd, but the company wouldn't say what type of devices or give any details on the timing.

    Dell spokesman Andrew Bowins declined to comment on the Journal report Wednesday but said, "We are deeply engaged with our operator partners around the world to deliver mobile broadband enabled computing devices."

    The Dell spokesman said: "We haven't announced anything around voice or Android although we continue to explore opportunities in those areas with operators around the world."

    AT&T also declined comment, but spokesman Michael Coe said "we expect to sell Android phones in the future."

    Google declined to comment.

    On Tuesday, Google announced it was partnering with Verizon Wireless to co-develop multiple phones based on Android. They plan to bring two phones to market this year.

    Verizon Wireless is a venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc.

    There have been a number of announcements recently relating to Android phones, including Motorola Inc's recent introduction of the Cliq phone and HTC's Hero, slated for U.S. release next week.

    (Reporting by Gabriel Madway, Ritsuko Ando and Anupreeta Das; Editing by Carol Bishopric, Gary Hill)

    Reuters - AT&T allows Internet voice calls on Apple's iPhone

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    AT&T allows Internet voice calls on Apple's iPhone

    Wednesday, Oct 07, 2009 1:48AM UTC

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - AT&T Inc will open its third-generation wireless network to third-party Internet voice applications on Apple Inc's iPhone, clearing the way for services such as Skype.

    AT&T, which has exclusive rights to the iPhone, said in a statement that the company informed Apple and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission of its decision, which was in response to a regulatory inquiry into the wireless industry.

    "Today's decision was made after evaluating our customers' expectations and use of the device compared to dozens of others we offer," said Ralph de la Vega, head of AT&T Mobility & Consumer Markets.

    The move allows Skype, owned by eBay Inc, to file an application with Apple, which would then review it and decide whether to approve the app for its iPhone.

    Apple praised AT&T's move and said it would move swiftly to make voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) apps available on the iPhone

    "We are very happy that AT&T is now supporting VoIP applications," Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris said. "We will be amending our developer agreements to get VoIP apps on the App Store and in customers' hands as soon as possible."

    Apple had previously not made Google Inc's Voice application available for downloading on its iPhone. The two companies have bickered in recent statements to the FCC about why Google's Voice application is not available on the iPhone.

    Google said Apple rejected it. But Apple said it is still studying it because the application alters the iPhone's telephone functionality and user interface.

    AT&T's action, which is a reversal from a previous position to ban such calls on its 3G network due to revenue concerns, does not affect the Google Voice app spat.

    The FCC, which has launched an inquiry into the state of competition, innovation and investment in the wireless industry, welcomed the move.

    "When AT&T indicated, in response to the FCC's inquiry, that it would take another look at permitting VoIP on its 3G network I was encouraged," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.

    "I commend AT&T's decision to open its network to VoIP. Opening wireless services to greater consumer choice will drive investment and innovation in the mobile marketplace," he said.

    On October 22 the FCC is expected to propose a Net neutrality rule aimed at ensuring that network operators like AT&T and Verizon treat the flow of Internet content and applications without discrimination.

    But the move by AT&T is not likely to deter the FCC from going ahead with the Net neutrality rule.

    "We believe the announcement is good news for Skype and other VoIP providers, and it also improves AT&T's political and rhetorical position as the FCC attempts to write network neutrality rules, including for wireless broadband providers," Stifel Nicolaus analyst David Kaut said.

    "AT&T's announcement should remove one likely thorn with regulators, but does not, in our view, halt the movement toward applying Net neutrality to wireless," Kaut said.

    The move was made the same day Verizon Wireless announced it will sell two mobile phones with Google's Android operating system this year, part of a partnership that could boost Google's efforts to challenge Apple in the fast-growing smartphone market.

    The first Android phones from Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc, will support the Google Voice software application -- allowing consumers to make low-priced international calls and which Apple had yet to approve for its iPhone.

    Skype President Josh Silverman called AT&T's move the "right step" but cautioned that government actions are still needed to maintain an open Internet. Skype's application has been downloaded on 10 percent of all iPhone and iPod Touch devices, where it previously could be used over Wi-Fi, but not AT&T's 3G network.

    "Nonetheless, the positive actions of one company are no substitute for a government policy that protects openness and benefits consumers," Silverman said.

    (Reporting by John Poirier and Gabriel Madway; Editing by Bernard Orr, Gary Hill)

    CNN - Scientists discover massive ring around Saturn

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    Scientists discover massive ring around Saturn

    Scientists at NASA have discovered a nearly invisible ring around Saturn -- one so large that it would take 1 billion Earths to fill it.

    The ring's orbit is tilted 27 degrees from the planet's main ring plane. The bulk of it starts about 3.7 million miles (6 million km) away from the planet and extends outward another 7.4 million miles (12 million km).

    Its diameter is equivalent to 300 Saturns lined up side to side. And its entire volume can hold one billion Earths, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said late Tuesday.

    "This is one supersized ring," said Anne Verbiscer, an astronomer at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

    Verbiscer and two others are authors of a paper about the discovery published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

    The obvious question: Why did it take scientists so long to discover something so massive?

    The ring is made up of ice and dust particles that are so far apart that "if you were to stand in the ring, you wouldn't even know it," Verbiscer said in a statement.

    Also, Saturn doesn't receive a lot of sunlight, and the rings don't reflect much visible light.

    But the cool dust -- about 80 Kelvin (minus 316 degrees Fahrenheit) -- glows with thermal radiation. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, used to spot the ring, picked up on the heat.

    One of Saturn's moons, Phoebe, orbits within the ring. As Phoebe collides with comets, it kicks up planetary dust. Scientists believe the ice and dust particles that make up the ring stems from those collisions.

    The ring may also help explain an age-old mystery surrounding another of Saturn's moons: Iapetus.

    Astronomer Giovanni Cassini, who first spotted Iapetus in 1671, deduced the moon has a white and dark side -- akin to a yin-yang symbol. But scientists did not know why.

    The new ring orbits in the opposite direction to Iapetus. And, say researchers, it's possible that the moon's dark coloring is a result of the ring's dust particles splattering against Iapetus like bugs on a windshield.

    "Astronomers have long suspected that there is a connection between Saturn's outer moon Phoebe and the dark material on Iapetus," said Douglas Hamilton of the University of Maryland in College Park -- one of the three authors reporting on the findings in the journal Nature.

    "This new ring provided convincing evidence of that relationship."

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