Friday, March 28, 2014

No links in this blog.  Just some thoughts.

Reflecting on a moment can ruin the moment.  Not always.  But it might.  I learned that today.

I just got back from walking in the snow, the quiet broken only by my shoes scaring away snow from my path, a gentle breeze that should be cold but feels good on a January-like day. Surrounded by the woods and the hills of Tennessee that we graciously call mountains, while the real mountains reside in other parts of the state, I realized what a lovely moment it was.  How peaceful.  How right.

When I got back to my apartment, I saw three young people sledding down the new three inch offering of snow.  Two were sledding. One was taping on a cell phone.  Two were enjoying the moment.  One was taping the moment.  All three were apparently in fear that the moment was so transient that if it was not saved on video, it never happened.

It made me realize something about the phrase “in the moment.”  There are two versions of this.  One version of “in the moment” is actually three moments.  The current moment is surrounded by the moments of the past.  Some may experience these as moments of lacking.  Perhaps they remember lacking what are thought to have been essential elements needed for contentment.  Those missing elements of  past moments may cause a  focus on any present current needs—elements of life still perceived to be missing,  along with the realization of the moment’s transient nature. 

Directly in front of our current moment is the future, which becomes our hopes and fears of the benefits and consequences of the moment.    Those that surround themselves with the past and the future as they live each moment are missing so much.  So many moments are just perfect without having to overlay the context of a realized past and an uncertain future. 

There are those that are probably in the moment in its truest sense.  Each moment is individual.  There is certainly time for reflection upon the meaning of the past and the benefits and consequences perhaps derived from the moment.  But the moment is singular.  It is now.  It is unencumbered by context. Truly living “in the moment.”

Unfortunately, I fall in to the 3-moment category of experiencing life.  I know I am missing something.  I know I am not alone.  I am joined by all those that fear they have to have video of the moment.  To prove it existed.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013:The Year Trust Died

A year end summary.  It's required from all media.  A list is always preferred.  Polls about how people feel about a list is especially nice.  So here is my summary.  It starts off as a bummer but ends on a bright note.

2013:  The Year Trust Died

There is even a poll that somewhat proves trust is dead.  Well, not dead, but dying.  The percentage of people who trust their fellow man is at an all time low.    Two out of three people don't trust the person sitting next to them.  2/3 are not trusting.  That is up from one half some 40 years ago.  

And why do we doubt each other?  Well, Congress has a 9% approval rating.  Certain legislators would certainly filibuster their own stays of execution, especially if Obama supported the bill.   Global warming is being debated.  Because we can't trust anybody on this issue, obviously.  

Some mistrust science.  Not sure why science has become so politicized.  Oh wait, I do know why and so do you.  

Media have not helped the trust issue.. We can't even trust our most venerated institutions. 

60 Minutes screwed up this year. Apparently, a very adventuresome reporter with great personal demographics didn't check her source's credibility.  One of the most central tenets of journalism is to check your sources.  Lara Logan and her producers failed. And now we can't even trust the program CBS built into one of the few last vestiges of traditional journalism.

So we don't trust the media that much anymore.  FOX and MSNBC help with the mistrust telling us who not to trust but who to offer our full time hate to.  

That we don't trust the media that much anymore probably comes from the media not trusting us.  The media collectively think we're shallow, attention-deficit people with the collective IQ of a pop up toaster.  Proof?  When one of our greatest humans died, Nelson Mendela, his funeral was covered.  We didn't hear the impassioned pleas of world leaders and South Africans to use the great man as a role model.  We did hear that during this meeting of world leaders celebrating one of the unifying forces of all time that our President shook the hand of Cuba's leader.  We heard in great detail that the sign language interpreter was a fraud.  CNN offered about ten seconds of Obama's speech.  

The media didn't trust us to maybe hear words of wisdom. Instead, we heard words of trivia.  Words of sarcasm, derision and political implications regarding a handshake.  (The conversation, as it was, between Castro and Obama included 5 words.  Not even a verb was included.)  

Oh, and a six year old was suspended for kissing a girl. Apparently six year olds can not get partway to first base without prior written permission.
Teaching six year olds to mistrust each other is a good start to the process.

I can discuss the NSA and its contributions to a lack of trust but so many others already have.  

So, losing trust, we retreat into our cocoons.  Our comfort zone where we are assured of truths that we have always had.  Where we have always known what was right and real and true.  And the other side is, of course, wrong to the point of delusion with a side order of stupidity.  

There is, however, much room for hope that all trust is not dead.  

The new Pope has been such a welcome change.  Instead of focusing on who to hate and what to condemn, he asked for and showed by example, that compassion is a gift to be shared.  Even Jewish folks like me can appreciate his messages.

And an act of random kindness did remarkable things for my own trust.  Two days before Christmas, my wife was using the snow blower on our driveway when she fell, breaking her ankle.  She started crawling toward our house where I was sleeping.  Her pain was extraordinary as her shattered ankle swelled.  Crawling a few feet at a time until she had to stop because the pain was overwhelming.  A stranger in a pickup truck noticed someone making snow angels.  Then he and his wife noticed it wasn't a child doing snow angels but a grown person crawling.

He and his wife pulled up our driveway, assessed my wife and rang our doorbell.  I quickly dressed and he and I put my wife in the front seat of his truck.  His wonderful wife sat in the back with me offering support and encouragement as he drove over 8 inches of new snow covering a bed of ice to get us to the hospital.  Upon arriving, he ran in to the emergency ward, grabbed a wheelchair and got it outside to help me get my wife onto the wheelchair and into the hospital.  

He gave me his card as he drove away.  He gave us his card in case we needed a ride home or anywhere else on this snowy, icy day.  On his way home, he finished shoveling off our driveway so we could return home. 

I called to thank him and get his address so we could send him something. He did not want anything in return.  He said he did it because it was the right thing to do and his faith calls him toward such actions.  

He is one of many who would have done the same thing.  There are also many who would have chosen not to get involved.  

So, my trust levels have taken a turn for the positive.  There is still a long road to recover the trust levels of my youth.  There is a long road to recovery just from the damage done to trust by 2013.  Nelson Mendela was a source of trust.  The Pope is a source of trust.  And a stranger named Mike is a source of trust that I will share via this story and hopefully, I will pay it forward.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hope and Journalism Are Not Dead. Just ask Sorkin.

"The Newsroom" concluded its second season.  If this is like the last break after season one, it will be just 43 weeks before we see season three.  

Show creator Aaron Sorkin did for news what he did for government in "The West Wing."   He painted a picture of an ideal world of virtuous people doing what they would be doing in an ideal world where pride, service to the public and professionalism still reign.  And he makes it fun to watch.  I lost my youthful idealism.  Aaron Sorkin never lost his and I appreciate that.

Some have pointed out flaws in the writing and storyline of "The Newsroom."  This is still a rare show that assumes the audience is not dopey. The show hopes that the audience has not become so overwhelmed by the cynicism that cable news offers that its viewers can accept the idea of hope.  

While its realism has been severely doubted by those that actually do this for a living, a relief from cynicism and a reassertion of journalism as a profession that needs to reattain its position as a respected and truthful industry is very welcome. 

While star Jeff Daniels tweeted that the show will be back for season three and HBO hinted the same, Sorkin has not committed.  Come on Aaron.  43 weeks from now, I will need the recharge in my faith.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

So, has Facebook made us less human?

In the movie "Network", Howard Beall asked the rhetorical question, "What's so bad about dehumanization?"  Like so many issues raised by that movie 37 years ago, this question is relevant today.  Facebook is under fire for planning changes to its privacy policy. There is much hyperventilation.

We are commodities. Corporations break us down into demographic and psychographic categories being judged by our marketing attractiveness.  Our government breaks us down into categories based on the degree of national threat we pose, based on our digital communication.  We are categorized.  We always were but now what we buy, where we shop, what we say, what we view online, what we say online---is all being scrutinized by someone who doesn't know or care about us.

So, what's so bad about dehumanization?  We will go to work today or look for work today, care about our families and complain about the deficiencies in our government and take for granted those things in our government that do work.  We are going to have the same day we had 37 years ago.  Except our privacy is being compromised and we are aware of it.  Have we truly lost our freedom and have our lives materially changed due to all this information being tracked?  The philosophical arguments with these practices are compelling. The practical effects of this seem a bit less obtrusive or life changing.  

Are we any less human today then 37 years ago?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

So how many are watching the Walking Dead elsewhere...

They say that the marketplace will decide.  And so it shall.  And when it comes to television viewing, or should we say media usage, what the marketplace decides will effect all of us for the next 50 years.

Some in the marketplace are deciding to dump cable and satellite.  And what was once considered a statistical glitch has become a statistic to reckon with.  Combining the second quarter of 2012 and 2013, 645,000 cable subs dropped cable, or as insiders call it, “cut the cord.” 

Now Digital Trends also reports that a significant number attached their cables.
However and overall, 2012 marked the first time when cable lost more subs than they gained.

And Magna Global predicts that nine million households will cut the cord before we elect the next president.  Some say that estimate should be more like four to five million.  And with 100 million households, shouldn’t cable be doing more of an Alfred E Neuman’s “What me worry?”

Well, did you find yourself cheering on the cord cutters?  And was my wife, your spouse and many young people also among the cheering?  Anybody who made out a cable bill this month is thinking right now, "hmmmm."  And all who already disowned cable and satellite are thinking, "Only 645,000 canned cable?  What's taking the rest of you so long?"  Has your neighbor who only pays about $30 a month to watch all the TV he wants using Hulu and Netflix made fun of you yet?

Money magazine reports that triple play prices—cable, internet and phone—have jumped 20% over the last three years.  Keep in mind that overall inflation was about 2%.  76% said that if they had to cut budgets, pay-tv would go first.  And why not, with the average triple play costing an average of $273 per month.

So are there options? A la carte cable gets brought up in barroom discussions when all interesting topics have been exhausted.  A la carte would allow consumers to pick and choose which cable nets they get in their homes.  This, in theory, would cut our costs since we would not pay for all the cable nets we never watch. 

Is cable listening?  Yes.  And giggling.  Chief Operating Officer of 21st Century Fox, Chase Carey summed it up:  “A la carte is a fantasy.”  Carey claims that the current trend of bundling a bunch of cable networks together for our consumption is actually what the public wants. 

Speaking to 21st Century Fox execs, boss Rupert Murdoch pushed away fears of cord cutting and dismissed any move toward a la carte saying simply, "Let me be absolutely clear: Content is still king."
But where will we get our content is the question. Netflix’ new offering “Orange is the New Black” has an estimated 3 million plus viewers early in its run.  That is only 10 percent of the 29.17 million Netflix subscribers.  Netflix has announced plans to double its original offerings.  Many of those are already choosing to watch “House of Cards.”

And last January, Hulu recently announced its own foray into original programming.
So, we can’t do a la carte when it comes to cable.  But we can do a la carte with a lot of other programming.  We can pick and choose individual programs through Netflix and Hulu.  We can choose to watch sports online.  Cable denies us a la carte programming, but our media menu is shifting more to a la carte all the time.

Without cable and satellite subs, who will be paying for the production of "Walking Dead?"  Or "Duck Dynasty?"  Can broadcast and cable continue to produce programming when there are fewer watching and if they're watching, perhaps not paying?  Broadcast and cable are ducking such questions, at least publicly.

And by the way, when will Honey Boo-Boo cameo on "Duck Dynasty?" (an unrelated rhetorical question.)

As for cord cutting, Fox COO Carey acknowledges that the newly graduated college students who never had cable before may choose to not get cable.  Ever.  But Carey believes those statistical changes will happen next decade, not in the next three years. 

The result of cord cutting may mean fewer cable networks survive, fewer new ones get a chance or it could be that cable realizes that we can live without them at its current cost.  Maybe, just maybe, the following chain of events will take place:
1.  major sports, both college and pro, will realize the fees they charge to broadcast and cable are too high and will lower their costs, given so many subscribers are threatening to leave cable and satellite so...
2.  ESPN will be able to lower its expenses so…
3.  ESPN and others will cut costs to cable and satellite companies…
4.  and  this trend will allow cable to lower its expenses and its cost per subscriber leading to...
5.  much joy and more profits for cable and satellite.
Because we know that large companies always make wise decisions based on statistical projections given current trends. 
And we also know that Republicans will seek a centrist presidential candidate to accommodate recent polling trends and  Democrats will make gutsy decisions.    

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Of swastikas and public relations

        Sometimes a great public relations firm will count on the laziness of the journalist.  The hope of organizations is that the lazy editor of a newspaper will print the press release verbatim without fact checking.  The country of Thailand thanks the lazy journalists of America for letting them get away with one...or more.
So when Chulalongkorn University, a prestigious Thai university, allowed students to include Hitler among superheroes painted on a wall, many around the world responded with shock.  When the university responded with an apology explaining that the students didn't really know who Hitler was, the matter was settled.  American and international journalists ran the apology.
What journalists did not follow up on is that the issue goes back to 2011, when an article noted that the swastika had become chic attire for Thailand's young.  What journalists did not mention was a fried chicken stand in Bangkok that uses a picture of Hitler with a bow tie on its window.  What journalists missed is pieces of a story were there among the t-shirts of swastikas and fried chicken parts.
I can tell you that not one Thai student I spoke with here in Bangkok knows what the swastika means or who Hitler is.  A separate comment on the state of education may well be needed here.  And perhaps might make a good story.  What you read here is not an indictment of Thailand or the excellent people I have met here.  It's an indictment and one more bit of evidence that some of our journalists are getting lazier. And public relations firms thank them for their support.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Aaron Sorkin, source of a perfect world

        While here in Thailand I missed the season premiere of HBO's Newsroom.  I am bummed.  Like West Wing, creator Aaron Sorkin has created a perfect world where idealism mixed with professional pride and extraordinary talent accomplishes great things.  
I asked a friend with 20+ years of network news experience and 20+ Emmy awards to show for it whether Newsroom is at all realistic.  Sadly, I learned it is not.  A real newsroom lacks the time for pontification and the great speeches that Sorkin offers.  Perhaps, what Sorkin really wants to offer us is a journalistic ideal.  No, not perhaps.  That is what he is doing.  Not to mention a lot of very good looking people.  And Jeff Daniels. 
I see things close to that ideal while In Thailand.  Getting CNN International and BBC I learn about actual news.  Not the news through the eyes of politicians like CNN in America, FOX and MSNBC offer, but through the eyes of experts who actually tell me why the news is important, who is effected and what are the possibilities for actions and reactions.  Actual news.  
The world does not care about Republicans and Democrats.  They care about important things.  Not watching American cable news networks, I get to learn about important things.  The worst thing about CNN International is that they still have Piers Morgan.  Why?  Piers Morgan is to journalism what Ke$ha is to fine art.  But I digress.
Keep giving us ideals, Mr. Sorkin.  We need things to aspire to.  We need to think there is hope and a world where journalistic skill,  intellect and ethics override greed, the thirst for ratings and the belief that if you put enough attractive women on a news set, that some sort of news might be delivered. 
Ever shrinking budgets make gathering news so much harder.  Newsrooms of TV stations and now a Georgia newspaper chain have fired photographers and told the reporters they are now photographers AND videographers AND reporters AND editors AND bloggers AND tweeters..... They are called "One Man Bands."  (Pardon the sexism.  I just report this stuff, I don't give it names.)
Burnout among journalists is high, pay remains pretty low and the quality is diminishing.  Journalists are now sadly among the least trusted professions.  Perhaps because so many believe a blogger is a journalist, but that's another story.  
We need journalistic ideals.  We need Aaron Sorkin to reassure us that there are still those that want to inform us and do so without a political agenda.  I know my friend in the actual newsroom takes great pride in the content he offers and has the awards and respect to show for it.  
In America, we have CNN, Fox, MSNBC and thousands of bloggers.  What do we viewers have to show for it?