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?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Catching Up With Change--Part 2

Part 2 of playing catch up with all going on in the media.  It's all about the media which means it's all about us.  We're the end users.  Are we getting any use?

Sometimes television does good.  It doesn't mean all will be happy.  A recent Glee episode included an extended scene dramatizing a shooter in the high school while students and faculty took responsible actions to stay safe.  It turns out in the program that there was no shooter though a gun was discharged on campus.

Those perhaps most qualified to comment on the appropriateness of the show, the people of Sandy Hook, contended that the episode was too soon after the massacre.  Others suggest that the episode keeps the issue front and center.  The show was written before Sandy Hook happened.  The terror was recreated well.  Was it too soon after the massacre or was Fox serving to dramatize the effects of such violence?  I am unqualified to have a conclusion.  Fox did include a vague warning at the beginning of the show that the episode involved school violence.  Glee dealt with a fear we all now share.  Since Columbine there have been 31+ massacres.  Was Glee too soon or too real? Or both?

The ratings for Glee jumped 20% for the episode. However, on April 18, Glee lost in the ratings to a rerun of The Big Bang Theory.  Perhaps the most shocking news is that the five combined networks (apparently there is a CW network that airs various programming) got a combined rating of 9.1.  This means that fewer than one out of ten viewers watched a broadcast network at that time.  This compares to a combined rating of 90 for three broadcast networks a few decades ago.

A recent study found that five million homes have become "zero TV homes."  These homes have no antenna, no cable, satellite or other television program provider.  That is up from two million such homes in 2007.  They watch everything they want to on their computers.  Some folks I spoke to have a large HDTV.  It is hooked up to their computers to watch whatever they want online.

Cable bills are too high.  There is so much available on the internet.  There are many reasons to go to zero-TV.  Perhaps if viewers didn't have to sit through 20 minutes of commercials per hour, they would be more patient?  Perhaps broadcasters (and cable) could air fewer commercials, charge more for each and make just as much money?  

If there were fewer commercials and shorter breaks, I would not be as prone to going to Weather Channel.  I will keep TV in my home for various reasons I have rationalized.  I love watching sports.  I love watching Walking Dead.  HBO does amazing documentaries and PBS has some great shows.  It just ain't worth $100+, as my wife reminds me once a month when the bill comes.

Broadcast TV may be just a memory anyway if Fox goes through with its threat.  And the FCC is aware of this threat and responded publicly.  More about this in part 3 of "What's Changing in the Media?"

Media Are/Is Changing--for good and bad...

It's changing.  Constantly.  Quickly.  Some change is good.  Some change is bad.  Some change is just, well….change.
Since I checked in last the media has run amok.  Joan Rivers' mouth ran amok.  AMC ratings ran amok.  The Bible ran amok.  Jon Stewart is running away.  And broadcast networks may be going away.

This may take more than one column to catch us all up.  

First let's take out the trash.  Which means a comment about Joan Rivers.  Her comments on Adele's weight may have been funny 30 years ago when Ms. Rivers was relevant.  Yes, there was a time she was relevant.  She did an excellent job subbing for Johnny Carson.  Somehow, subbing for Johnny has made her an expert on clothing and weight.  (The link here contains strong language, all directed at Joan Rivers.)

Joan is far from the only contributor to the problem of eating disorders.  Just as culpable are the stories of miraculous weight loss.  Snooki, whose sole contribution to society has yet to be determined, lost 42 pounds not too long ago. We know this because of a story about her miraculous weight loss.  

And by publicizing this story and all stories about actresses that gave birth, had a nanny raise their kid and lost a bunch of weight, the message is reinforced: Lose weight or women who had criminally negligent plastic surgery will criticize you.  Or far worse and more seriously, some women and men may see themselves as less worthy and develop an eating disorder.  

Another bad change:  Talk of the Nation (TOTN) on NPR is going away.  TOTN offered daily in depth discussions on a range of issues from the immediately relevant to the humorously trivial.  NPR is canceling the show this summer. Is canceling TOTN another episode of broadcasters giving in to our increasingly short attention span?  The network announced it was replacing the show with more magazine style news programming.  

The result of this cancellation and presumably the cancellation of Science Friday, is I will be less informed about a range of topics.  I may know about stuff, but the depth of that knowledge will be truncated.  Yes, I can research on my own.  But I loved the way NPR did the research for me and presented it fairly, professionally and with a hint of perspective.  I am sorry for our shorter attention spans.  I am sure I am guilty also.  Must we all suffer for it and have the trait reinforced by broadcasters?  

We will miss Neil Conan, host of TOTN and Ira Flatow, host of Science Friday.  I thank them for making me smarter and allowing me to enjoy the process.

So much to talk about.  A column ain't enough room.  Give me a few minutes and I will continue.  Not all the news is bad.  Just wait. Some of it is good and some of the news is truly neutral but still interesting...

Monday, March 4, 2013

Media Fixed: Proclaimed "Neutered"

"Intellectually neutered."  A great phrase. No way to interpret that as a compliment.
That is how Will Cain of the Blaze recently described journalists on CNN’s 'Reliable Sources.'

Will also dismissed our news gatherers as "shallow theater critics." 
Evidence of this:  according to polls, most do not know what the 'sequester' is or its effects, but we know that each party blames the other for it. More evidence:  Some may actually have believed it was inevitable.  Still more: We don't know what Marco Rubio said after the SOTU, but we know he was thirsty.  A bit more:  much attention paid to Obama confusing Star Wars and Star Trek.  Mind melds were Vulcan.  All school children should have learned that in first grade.  (Maybe just my kids learned that in first grade.)  Not much attention paid to actual effects of, well, the sequester.

It is so easy to analyze what doesn't matter.  How else could Joan Rivers justify making a living critiquing clothing at the Oscars when her sole expertise comes from 50+ years as a comedienne?
Another question:  why call the budget cut a 'sequester?"  Was our government depending on the "kardashianism" of our media in the hope that the public would hear a three syllable, nine letter word and tune out?  Thanks to Will Cain, among others, for giving us the term "Kardashianism."

Maybe we get what we want. Actually trending recently:  Britney Spear's shopping list.  Trending as I write this: Paul McCartney arrived at his daughter’s show late.  Trying to sleep now will be hopeless.
By the way, is there a need to know the difference between a Kardashian and a Snooki? Is there a difference?  I am sure there is a newly neutered news correspondent covering this important issue.

Friday, February 15, 2013

While We Were Watching The Poop Hit The Deck

A great story. Trapped in a flood of sewage on a luxury liner.  Even without actual video, word pictures did wonders to make the story work. I mean having Sanjay Gupta call it a 'floating petri dish.'  Dang.  Now that's visuals.  I watched CNN's exclusive video of a non-moving ship at sea. I watched Fox News lacking the budget to actually send a reporter to the scene, depending on studio hosts talking via cell phone.
I bought the story and watched the reunions.  I got sucked in hearing how bad things sucked.  I wonder if many politicians and the media were glad to have us distracted.  From what I gather, our leaders would much rather have us pay attention to stories of poop in the hallways then know what is going on in Des Moines and the world.

Wait, another passenger is talking to CNN:  “We walked through…well, stuff that had overflowed…but the crew never stopped smiling…”

Oskaloosa (Iowa) republican Guy Vander Linden reading from his party’s talking points, did admit this week that his party is pushing through a voter id law.  He wants to make sure that our fair legal elections are altered to assure that some are excluded.  Well, that’s not what he said but considering there were few (or no) reports of voting irregularity in Iowa, or America, what other motivation could there be?

"Oh, the crew went above and beyond..."
Campaign finance reform is on the table. Thanks to DM Register for a fair and balanced story.  (seriously) Few have more to lose if such reform is passed than the media.  One billion dollars were spent on the last election.  Republicans vow to kill it. We could join 20+ states that have introduced some form of common sense campaign finance reform.  It is no wonder that 4 of 5 Supreme Court justices that voted for Citizens United didn’t show up for the state of the union address.  They know how much they injured the state of the union.  Do the media really want campaign finance reform?  The people that own the media have so much to lose if such regulations spread.

"We give thanks to God and the crew."

Since I got back from Thailand on February 1, the price of a gallon of gas has gone up 24 cents.  No reason except an improving economy makes oil speculators more optimistic that we will travel more, hence price gouging.  Oh, you want an update on returning luxury cruise passengers?  OK.
"Conditions were deplorable, food was scarce a couple of days but the crew was fantastic."
Yes, I was among the distracted.  Passengers are safe.  What I learned from that story is that the crew did great work.  Time to get back to our world.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

reflections of a well respected guava

I am a guava in Thailand.  Foreigners, especially Americans, are referred to as "farangs", a Thai word for guava.  It is said with respect.  As much respect as a traveling guava might get.  I am treated very well here.  I have learned a lot.  And have many questions.  And I answered many questions from the students from the dozen or so countries that I have met.

Why doesn't America release Burma from all of the economic sanctions.  The Burmese students answer the question in a way that Hillary Clinton was too politic to answer.   It is because they are not free.  Yet.  They are optimistic that the process that has begun will be successful.  In about 15 years, they say.  A long process they admit, but freedom takes time.  I have not met citizens of any country with more pride and hope for its future than those of Burma.

My Nigerian students ask why do the American media portray Nigeria as a country wholly consumed with civil war and the bombings that serve as evidence of such a war?  Nigerian students speak with pride about their country.  There are divisions and troubles and prejudice, they admit.  There is also peace in much of the country, a strong culture and an articulate people.

Why does America portray Somalia as the land of pirates and starvation?  The pirates and terrorists are a small percentage of the population.  Somalia has a strong culture and a strong people.  Simple respect would be appreciated.

My Muslim student from Thailand answers my dopey questions about her religion.  I get to admit to her the very much that I don't know about her religion.  She is glad to share since it is her belief that once I understand her religion that the next natural step is that I will want to join her religion.  We compared and contrasted our religions, Judaism and Islam.  We share much and also differ significantly.  She asked why Americans think that she and all her Islamic friends are all terrorists.  I truthfully tell her that not all Americans think all Muslims are alike.  I tell her it is just the ignorant ones.  

She says that watching American media, how could Americans come to any other conclusion except that they are all terrorists?  A fair question and I have no answer.

The person from Bhutan is proud of her country that consistently rates among the ten happiest countries in the world.  She is proud to share literature from her national airline.  The overly complex English sentences included in the magazine tells me that her country does not look down on those that read about it. They lift them up with articulate, though overly complex sentences.  It is also a country that wants tourists but will not sacrifice the safety of its treasured natural resources just to accommodate a few more tourists. Very wise people.  It is a beautiful country.

My Zambian student does not talk about her country that much.  I do know that she is 19 years old and has written a novel and keeps a blog with tips for young women on how to stay safe.  Based on all the people I now know from Zambia, it is a remarkable place.  Victoria Falls, according to those that have visited the Zambian treasure, is worth the trip all by itself.

I ask, to no one in particular, why can't all Americans learn about these and other countries?  Why do American media have to define countries and religions by the acts of a few?  The first answer is that I have been given the gift of meeting these people through my travels to Thailand.  The second answer is also easy.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

Watching America From Afar--part 2

Here in Bangkok, my students from Asia, Europe, Canada and Africa asked me about things they see trending on Yahoo.  I can only do an eye roll and explain...that I can't explain.  I can only apologize.  And then I explain the eye roll video.

Thanks to Yahoo, I relearned that people can read nonverbal behavior, particularly that of Michelle Obama.  I learned that a blogger can draw conclusions about what certain nonverbal behavior  is reacting to, though the blogger is utterly ignorant of the context of the reaction.

Video from the inaugural luncheon shows Michelle Obama doing an eye roll after Speaker of the House Boehner says something.  We can not hear what the Speaker said.  Maybe he was talking basketball and Michelle may be tired of talking basketball.  Maybe the Speaker was saying that gays should only be allowed to marry aardvarks.  We don't know.  But her eye roll video went viral and trended number one on Yahoo.  How sad.

I learned a new word today. Photobomb.  Bill Clinton can be seen supposedly gawking at Kelly Clarkson during the inauguration.  Nice to know Bill Clinton can still recognize a pretty girl when he sees one.  And knowing he still knows one when he sees one makes me.....quite shallow, actually.

With all the important things that President Obama said during the inauguration speech, so many are focusing on the trivial.  It is easy to understand the trivial.  Journalists do not have to analyze and provide context to the trivial.  And nobody ever accused Yahoo of challenging its readers to new ideas.

There is so much to talk about as the President laid out his hopes for a second term.  And intelligent people can debate those priorities.  If such debate is going on, it will not be via Yahoo. 
It makes me sad to see what the priorities are of people searching the internet.  It is hard for me to explain to my students.  Picture me doing an eye roll.  Because I am.   

Monday, January 14, 2013

Watching America From Afar...

Watching America from afar is fun.  Watching CNN international in Bangkok and staying updated via internet while spending days with students from a bunch of different countries is fascinating.  A great perspective change.  CNN in America covers politics. CNN International  It's a very nice change.  Here is some of what else I have learned so far:

For one thing, America, let's not get too cocky about how cool we are.  According to Reporters Without Borders  rankings of countries by degree of press freedom, the USA ranks 47th out of 179 countries. (Why can't we be actually cool like Canada in tenth place?) 

Some other notes I gathered in my travels in Bangkok:
--A young lady from Iran wants to know why American media focus on the Iranian president when the actual power in Iran resides in its religious leaders.
--Young people from Burma tell me that through the extraordinary work of Aung San Suu Kyi, the country is on the rise but still very much a work in progress.  The Burmese media are sources of amusement, though not sources of facts.
--Some Canadian and British nationals say that socialized medicine is not perfect--but it works very well and they don't understand the American issues regarding health care reform.
--A charming young woman from Bhutan taught me two things:  the country of Bhutan exists and it is has been ranked the 6th happiest country in the world. (United States is merely average among the happy countries of the world.) 

Finally, why is Piers Morgan doing whatever he does?  Intelligent debate about gun control is necessary.  He is not capable of carrying such on such a debate or interview or apparently any other journalistic endeavor.  His "questions"--and "questions" needs to be in quotes--seems to be rattling off statistics that he wants opponents of gun control to acknowledge.  Piers, getting people to acknowledge a statistic is as useful as getting people to agree the flu makes you sick.  Develop points of view, debate perspectives... oh, c'mon Piers, you have actually made me miss Larry King.

This is some of what I have observed in Thailand while watching America from afar.  America is great.  With some hard work by our journalists helping us understand our world a bit better, we can definitely be greater.