Is China Banning U.S. Movies?

A combat-ready robot in "Transformers," a sci-fi film based on the 1980s toys and cartoon TV series of the same name, which debuted in first place at the box office the weekend of July 6, 2007. (AP Photo/DreamWorks-File)
AP Photo/DreamWorks

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China was none too pleased when the United States ran and tattled to the World Trade Organization this spring - in the form of a intellectual property rights case - that its government wasn't doing enough to fight the pirating of American movies.

Now, the New York Times reports, Hollywood fears that China is delivering a retaliatory kick where it really hurts: at the box office.

China has stopped granting permission for American films to be shown in theaters in an apparent trade dispute with the U.S., according to several Hollywood executives and American government officials. The Chinese government has not announced any ban, but American movies are no longer being approved for release early next year.

U.S. government officials brought it up during the trade talks in Beijing on Tuesday, but they didn't tell reporters how China responded. A spokeswoman at China's film regulatory body said any ban would have been announced.

But Dan Glickman, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, is worried anyway. "There are strong indications that there is at least a stoppage of American films, that the approval process has been closed," he said.

China already limits the number of foreign films shown here to about 20 per year, and films shown here are must pass Chinese censors and often heavy edits. Nonetheless, film execs think it will be an important market eventually.

This year, the Hollywood movie "Transformers" was the top film at the Chinese box office. Before you take this as a measure of the Chinese movie-going public's juvenile taste, consider that the film was only beaten in the U.S. by two well-worn sequels: "Shrek" and "Spiderman."

Still the dispute, as the Times' mostly anonymous sources describe it, does have a ring of a schoolyard squabble.

This year, after the United States filed its intellectual property rights case, Chinese officials complained that it would not help cooperation between the two countries. Wang Ziqiang, a spokesman for China's National Copyright Administration, said he didn't deny that piracy was going on, "but that doesn't mean the United States is founded to file complaints against China in the W.T.O."

More Teachers Coming From The Top Of The Class

Could all that hand-wringing and law-passing over education in the last decade have actually yielded some results?

Yes, says USA Today, in reporting the front-page news that beginning teachers have better academic credentials than their predecessors did a decade ago. The news suggests "that tougher requirements at all levels have forced teachers' colleges to improve offerings while luring more qualified candidates into teaching."

The news comes from a study released by the Educational Testing Service, which designs the Praxis test taken by most new teachers. It found that candidates' verbal SAT scores rose 13 points and math scores rose 17 points. The percentage of candidates who reported at 3.5 GPA or higher rose from 27 percent to 40 percent.

The gains hold across gender, racial and ethnic lines, USA Today reports.

But the New York Times, not called the Grey Lady for nothing, finds a cloud in that silver lining. Tucking the story deep in the A section, it goes high with the report's finding that "those attracted to the profession continued to make up a strikingly homogenous group - prospective teachers were overwhelmingly white and female - at a time when the proportion of public school students nationwide who are black, Hispanic or other minorities was nearly half and rising."

Lame Rover Wheel Kicks Up New Evidence Of Mars' Former Habitability

Had things functioned perfectly, perhaps it would have been many more years before we knew about the rock on Mars further suggesting its watery past.

But as it happened, the New York Times reports, a lame wheel on the NASA Mars rover Spirit, which it stopped turning in March 2006, dragged along the ground and turned up a bright spot in the dirt that made scientist circle it back for a closer look.

The rock turned out to have high levels of silica. The scientists directed the rover to crack it open to see if it was silica all the way through, or just on the outside. That didn't work, but a nearby rock was cracked open and found to be rich in silica.
On Earth, a rock like that can form in only two places: One is a hot spring, where the silica is dissolved away and deposited elsewhere. The other is a fumarole, an environment often near a volcano where acidic steam rises through the cracks, dissolving other minerals and leaving silica. On Earth, both environments teem with life.

The silica discovery is the first time that Spirit has seen signs of widespread water in its surroundings, a 90-mile-wide impact known as the Gusev Crater.

"Whichever of those conditions produced it, this concentration of silica is probably the most significant discovery by Spirit for revealing a habitable niche that existed on Mars in the past."

Which just goes to show, sometimes a broken wheel is more useful than a working one.

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