Category Archives: Television

German TV

So I woke up last night at 2 a.m. Frankfurt time, and that was after sleeping five hours.  Unfortunately I knew right away that I wasn’t going to get back to sleep any time soon so I decided to call home and then do some reading.  After the call and an hour or two of reading I clicked on the TV and started surfing through the 40 or so channels of TV that the hotel carries.  In the process I discovered some interesting things:

  1. Girls doing things to girls, if you get my drift, is a staple of German late night television.  At first I thought this was an interesting departure from the infomercials that are a staple of late night TV in the states, but then I realized that they were all hawking SMS p-rn services and s-x lines.  As I surfed the channels I counted at least five that ran these things, which means that over 10% of the stations had them.

    I’m still trying to figure out what kind of guy would get worked up with some supposed woman sending him messages like "U R so hot U R mkg me…" Of course the wireless services here are so far ahead of ours in the US that it would be a good bet that they deliver high quality video to pervs’ phones and they’re just using "SMS" in the same way that some people call all sodas "Coke".  Either way, you don’t see the "commercials" or the wireless p-rn back in the states. 

  2. They carry Al Jazeera and I have to tell you that if it wasn’t for the little symbol in the corner I would have thought it was another version of CNN, except with real reporters.  All the reporters I saw were British and considering that they were running opposite Wolf Blitzer they came off looking like geniuses.  Only when you get a chance to watch BBC, Sky TV and, yes, Al Jazeera do you begin to appreciate what unmitigated crap we have for national TV news programming in the states.  I think what I like best about the non-US networks is that they don’t all assume that the average viewer is ADHD and on his sixth cup of coffee in the last hour.  Stories have depth, some running several minutes, and the reporters and commentators address the audience with a calm and reserve that we haven’t seen on US television in at least 20 years.  What’s interesting to me is that Sky and Fox are both owned by Rupert Murdoch, but Sky makes Fox look like a production of some local high school’s Young Republicans group. Shows you what he thinks of we Amerikaners.  Not that Sky comes across as particularly great, but in comparison to our junk it seems almost NPR-worthy.  FYI, one of the most viewed videos on Sky’s site is the manager at the KFC in Statesville NC (about 1/2 hour from my house) fighting off a shotgun-toting robber.  It really is a small world.
  3. EuroSport is the anti-ESPN.  Nary a studio full of retired players or coaches as panelists to be found and lets just say that the sports they carry are hard to come by on the west side of the Atlantic.  In the course of browsing I saw sumo wrestling, snooker and team handball.  The last is a hybrid of soccer and basketball that I’d love to give a try, but I doubt I’ll ever get the chance.  Note to ESPN execs: can you please dial back the BS and start just giving us the sports?  You’re beginning to remind me of MTV (what happened to the music?) and not in a good way.
  4. It’s a trip seeing movies with German voice-overs, especially the male voices.  The Germans all sound much more "manly" than the original actors, especially guys like Steven Seagall. 

Hopefully that will be the extent of my German television reviews since I’d like to get at least a little sleep over the next few days.

Smithsonian Debate

One of the more vivid childhood memories I have is of going to weekend classes at the Smithsonian.  One class was nature drawing (I’ll never forget the smell of the stuffed beaver they put in the middle of the table for us to draw) and another was black and white photography using a pinhole camera that I made myself in class (I’ll never forget the smells from the darkroom either).  That was right after my parents split up and we were pretty broke, so I’m not sure how my mom swung it but I’m glad she did.

Anyway I thought about those experiences when I was reading this NY Times article on a joint venture between the Smithsonian and Showtime that should mean some big dollars for the Smithsonian.  It is also raising the ire of many folks and it is worrying others who think that it will closet off some of the Smithsonian’s collection.

But as the Times article points out the Smithsonian is always struggling with cash issues, in no small part because access to all the Smithsonian museums is free.  To be honest I never knew that any museums charged admission until I was asked to pony up to get into MOMA in NY.  I was shocked and then very appreciative of what the Smithsonian is and does for free.

So my question is this: is the Smithsonian justified in entering joint ventures with commercial enterprises if it means that they can keep admission free?  It is quite possible that one issue has nothing to do with the other, I really don’t know, but if they are related and deals like this help keep admission free is it worth it?

Critical Thinking a Critical Skill

Anyone with kids can tell you what a challenge it is to teach your kids how to discern "truth" from "advertising."  My kids went through a phase where every product they’d seen a commercial for was the "best" or the "coolest."  It got really annoying when they would suggest a solution for a problem based on an ad that they’d seen.

"Dad, you should use Exxon for gas because it puts a tiger in your tank," my oldest said when he was about seven or eight as we hurtled down the road with fumes spewing from under my hood thanks to an oil leak.  I haven’t liked Exxon since.

The problem has moved beyond advertising since the kids started doing projects for school.  The first stop for any research is the web, and take it from me you don’t want to know what passes for historical information these days. 

As an adult whose done a fair amount of research in my day it is relatively easy for me to separate legitimate info sources from the crackpots, but to a child operating without the same points of reference the job is imminently more difficult.  I can look at a web page and within moments know that it’s a mainstream or "quality" source.  But my kids don’t know Merriam Webster from a hole in the wall so they will give "Joe’s Dictionary Blog" the same weight as the venerable Webster.

Amazingly my kids’ frame of reference has grown exponentially in a very short time.  I think my wife and I have succeeded in giving them an appropriately jaundiced view of the world (i.e. all advertisements are lies, and any product that appears on Nickelodeon the Cartoon Channel or any other kid station most likely causes cancer).

But the kids aren’t the only ones who sometimes struggle with the "truth vs. BS" question these days.  With the kudzu-like spread of information sources beyond traditional media outlets we adults are also learning that we need to re-calibrate our own BS meters.  That means we need to hone our critical thinking skills, and an article I read today called "Media/Political Bias" (Rhetorica) provides a great starting point.

I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here are some highlights:

"There is no such thing as an objective point of view.

No matter how much we may try to ignore it, human communication always takes place in a context,
through a medium, and among individuals and groups who are situated
historically, politically, economically, and socially. This state of affairs is
neither bad nor good. It simply is…

Critical questions for detecting bias

  1. What is the author’s / speaker’s socio-political position? With what
       social, political, or professional groups is the speaker identified?
  2. Does the speaker have anything to gain personally from delivering the
  3. Who is paying for the message? Where does the message appear? What is the
       bias of the medium? Who stands to gain?
  4. What sources does the speaker use, and how credible are they? Does the
       speaker cite statistics? If so, how were the data gathered, who gathered the
       data, and are the data being presented fully?
  5. How does the speaker present arguments? Is the message one-sided, or does
       it include alternative points of view? Does the speaker fairly present
       alternative arguments? Does the speaker ignore obviously conflicting
  6. If the message includes alternative points of view, how are those views
       characterized? Does the speaker use positive words and images to describe
       his/her point of view and negative words and images to describe other points
       of view? Does the speaker ascribe positive motivations to his/her point of
       view and negative motivations to alternative points of view?"

The author goes on to dig more specifically into the current debate on bias in the media, and makes a very strong argument for the fact that there is both liberal and conservative bias in the media (it depends on who you talk to), but that the stronger biases in media are commercial bias, temporal bias, visual bias, bad news bias, etc.

Anyway you might want to keep these questions in mind as you try to parse through the white noise that is modern info-communication and wonder whatever happened to Walter Cronkite and the certainty of "That’s the way it was…"