Joe Wong Slays 'em at the Annual RTCA Dinner

Pres­i­dent Obama made the news for doing some standup the other night at the Annual Radio and Tele­vi­sion Cor­re­spon­dents’ Din­ner in Wash­ing­ton, DC, but I think the real news was some­one else on the pro­gram. I’d never seen this come­dian before,  but I was absolutely blown away by how funny he was and how good his tim­ing and deliv­ery were. If this is any indi­ca­tion of his tal­ent, I hope we’ll be see­ing more of Joe Wong:

I also hope he tours Canada soon. How about a dou­ble bill with Rus­sell Peters?

All the Emotions Fit To Broadcast

Pam and I still try and keep our eyes on the US, at least through the media that we get here in Canada, and there’s plenty of it, despite Can­con. So we have our TiVO set to record the evening news­casts of ABC, NBC and CBS. We also record the Van­cou­ver CBC report. We don’t watch all of that recorded news each and every night; we usu­ally pick one of those 3 or 4 and try and move around a lot (actu­ally, we’ve recently stopped record­ing ABC as Pam felt that Diane Sawyer was such a dis­ap­point­ment as a News Anchor that she can’t bear to watch that news­cast).
Maybe it has just crept in over time, per­haps it’s because I’m becom­ing more of an out­sider and view­ing media more as an observer, but I’ve noticed a change in the way news is reported in the US in the evening. There seems to a small and smaller por­tion of the news­cast devoted to facts and more and more involv­ing emo­tion. Nearly every story is about con­flict or a strug­gle, a cri­sis or a tragedy. Even the sto­ries that are com­plex and affect many dif­fer­ent things end up con­cen­trat­ing on one per­son about to lose their job (as the cov­er­age of that dis­as­trous and com­plex oil spill off the Louisiana Gulf Coast did) or search out the vio­lent edge of con­flict, (as the cov­er­age of the also dis­as­trous Ari­zona Immi­gra­tion Law).  In these cases, it’s clear that they are try­ing to per­son­al­ize the prob­lem or sim­ply make it more dra­matic. This isn’t just mil­lions of gal­lons of oil head­ing for the coast, it’s a Portly Shrimp Farmer about to lose his liveli­hood, it isn’t just a new law about to take in effect in the Ari­zona State Leg­is­la­ture, but a vio­lent clash between immi­grants and police.

I can’t help check off the scenes we will no doubt see as if I’m play­ing a drink­ing game:

  • Some­one cry­ing or break­ing down dur­ing a speech or interview.
  • Some­one look­ing into the cam­era and say­ing how they don’t know what they’ll do now.
  • Some­one declar­ing that ‘It’s all in God’s hands, now.’
  • A group of peo­ple fight­ing or running.
  • Some­one declar­ing that some­thing was ‘A Miracle!’
  • Peo­ple hug­ging, or an adult lift­ing a child in their arms.
  • A gov­ern­ment offi­cial being grilled in a meet­ing room or besieged in front of a build­ing by an angry mob (to be sure, that was more often seen last summer)
  • A crim­i­nal of some sort walk­ing try­ing to hide their face with either some papers or a hood.
  • A short and chop­pily edited inter­view with a per­son who is quirky and ‘Mak­ing a Dif­fer­ence’ — as a cou­ple of the net­works call them out.*
  • (Add your own stock sit­u­a­tion or dra­matic exclamation.)

My friends and I used to joke back when I was going to school in Cincin­nati that the evening news they always showed the same still snap­shot of a car in a ditch in Nor­wood (a still snap­shot? Hey, it was the early 80s, OK?), even if it was a dif­fer­ent acci­dent some­where else — they all looked the same. Now, every­thing is the same; it’s con­flict, it’s emo­tional, it’s extreme and some­how a deity is involved.

What’s going on now, is that because news is part of the bud­get for the net­works that involves enter­tain­ment, by golly, it bet­ter be enter­tain­ing. I’d like to know the exact amount of oil that is gush­ing out, what that num­ber means in terms of envi­ron­men­tal dam­age, how long it takes for oil to get from the ocean floor to the sur­face. I want to know the specifics of what the new law in Ari­zona will deal with some­one wrongly accused of being an immi­grant; Can they sue? Can an employer fire a worker for miss­ing work because of being picked up for false charges? I don’t know these things, how­ever, and I’m not likely to learn them from the Evening Newscast.

I can see why most peo­ple are get­ting their news through the Inter­net these days, as the TV news has shrunken into a drama­ti­za­tion of the events of the day, done in broad strokes with an empha­sis on the sim­plest rep­e­ti­tious images and scenes. The net­works have decided that their audi­ences want their news a dumbed down as pos­si­ble. There is no point in pro­vid­ing much in the way of facts. And that’s for the net­works. Cable News, like Fox… I won’t even go there. (CNN’s also slip­ping into propaganda-laced sto­ries as well. I can only assume this is because their rat­ings have been so bad that they are emu­lat­ing Fox. )

Rather than com­plain about the way the news is pre­sented, most view­ers either take it at face value and aren’t aware of what’s miss­ing, or they are adapt­ing, by mov­ing to the Web.  I’n fact, I’m pre­dict­ing that there will even­tu­ally be an iPad app for delv­ing into facts (on an Inter­net site) dur­ing the broad­cast. The main facts of the news will be in someone’s lap, while they see the drama on the big­ger screen.

Per­haps we’ll some­day see the kind of news­cast that they sim­u­lated in the future depicted by the movie Star­ship Troop­ers, where each set of State Pro­pa­ganda fas­cist slo­gans is fol­lowed by a screen that looks like a but­ton and a voiceover that asks: ‘Would you like to know more?’

*I must con­fess that I’m get­ting really to loathe these ‘human inter­est’ pieces, because they are always cut and pre­sented the same way and try so hard to appeal. Harry Smith, who some­times is a guest Anchor on CBS is one of the worst offend­ers in this regard. Nearly every­thing he does smacks of that ‘human inter­est’ treacle.

Back In the Saddle

I’ve learned what it’s like to get out of the habit of writ­ing in this blog. For me, at least, just start­ing again has been excru­ci­at­ing.  Part of the prob­lem is the first few para­graphs. I’ve been try­ing to invent a clever, or unique way of resum­ing, but there doesn’t seem to be any­thing I can do that’s novel, witty or deliv­ers a sat­is­fac­tory expla­na­tion as to why I’ve not added any­thing here since we were on the beach in Hoi An, Viet­nam. I’ve been told that you should never, never apol­o­gize for not hav­ing writ­ten in a blog for quite some time. In fact, some par­tic­u­larly pathetic blogs are noth­ing but a series of these ‘O-I’m-so-sorry-I-haven’t-written-lately’ posts. So there, no apologies.

OK, since I’m break­ing a long, awk­ward silence at this table, I’m going to clear my throat and move the con­ver­sa­tion back to you. So, what have you been doing for the past 2 months, dear reader? Noth­ing much?

With no smi­ley equiv­a­lent of a shrug, I’m just going to pick up with the here and now, and prob­a­bly will fill in some of the details about the past 10 weeks or so in due course.

So, from the here and now front… Today:

The Van­dusen Gar­den Sale

Pam, a friend of ours and I all got up early this morn­ing and drove down Oak street and parked about a block before the entrance. Before we got out of the car, there were 4–5 cars pulling in behind us along Oak! We got in line, and soon the rain started. About a half hour later, they opened the doors, and we all sloshed in, many folks with wag­ons, carts and bas­kets. For us, this year was herb year. We picked up some sweet basil, Thai basil, Rose­mary, Viet­namese corian­der and thyme. I’ll be cook­ing with most of that, and hope­fully the herbs will grow all sum­mer enough to keep up with my har­vest­ing them. We found out at the check­out that any­thing edi­ble (i.e. herbs) was tax-free! Note: Oddly enough, we learned that manure is also tax-free, although I have no idea why.
We were in and out within about 2 hours, and Pam is repot­ting some of the plants now. Good times.

Paradise Found

One of the hard things about blog­ging on the road when you travel far east­ward, is that you tend to conk out ear­lier in the evening. Com­bine that with early morn­ing starts, and, well, I’m not mak­ing excuses, but upload­ing my pho­tos is just about all I’ve been able manage.

So, with about an hour before din­ner, and a bit of the day’s adven­tures behind me, I can try and write a bit.

I won’t try and catch up com­pletely the last 6 days or so, which included our visit to Bangkok, Siem Reap, and Ho Chi Minh City, but will try to get back to them in a future entry. If I have to go through all of my notes and write them back in Van­cou­ver, I guess I’ll do that.

Let me try and describe the scene before me. We are in what they call a ‘Villa’ in the Nam Hai resort, near the town of Hoi An, in Cen­tral Viet­nam. This place has been listed as one of the lead­ing resorts of the world, and I can’t argue. As it grows dark out­side, we can hear the surf of China Beach on the South China Sea, as well as my iPhone, which is con­nected to their iPod plug, play­ing some Chopin on the invis­i­ble sound sys­tem. The tem­per­a­ture is cool, around 24C, with a strong breeze, which is toss­ing the palm trees. Pam found a cou­ple of fra­grant Frangi­pani blooms on the front lawn and brought them in to per­fume our laun­dry bag.

This ‘house’ (which is nearly as large as our condo back at home) has what I can only describe as a ‘room within a room’. A frame of dark wood encom­passes a bed, lounge, desk, bath­tub and white tapes­tries (almost like mos­quito net­ting, but there’s no need for that). The bed faces the sand lead­ing to the beach. There is an exquis­ite bon­sai tree at one end, and indoor and out­door show­ers of our own. The floor (aside from the inner ‘room’) is dark stone, with steps lead­ing down to the back of the room and exit to the beach. The 60 Vil­las are laid out in 5 horse­shoes, with the beach behind them. The com­plex includes 2 Restau­rants and bar, Library, swim­ming pool, Spa, Gym and Ten­nis, Bas­ket­ball and Bad­minton courts.

The only bad thing about this place is how short a time we’ll be here; just two nights, and dur­ing the day, I’ll be in Hoi An, attend­ing a cook­ing class. Still, it’s an extra­or­di­nary resort, and even though some of the places we’ve stayed dur­ing this trip have been pretty good, they just can’t com­pare with this, which I’d say is about as lux­u­ri­ous a spot as I’ve ever seen. I could eas­ily spend a week here, but that kind of a stay is some­thing only a movie star or Steve Jobs could afford. I haven’t spot­ted him, but we haven’t ven­tured out to the main com­plex yet. Dare I say, we feel a lit­tle underdressed.

On the Road

Years ago we decided that we’d make room for some of the vis­i­tors to Van­cou­ver dur­ing the Olympics. So, on Mon­day evening, we set out, rolling our suit­cases down the hill to the Olympic street­car. Four min­utes later, we got on the Canada­line Sky­train and got off at the Van­cou­ver air­port. It couldn’t be eas­ier, and I’d rec­om­mend any­one who’s on the fence about the new mass tran­sit vs. a taxi to look seri­ously at tak­ing the Canada­line, espe­cially if you have lug­gage on wheels (which the vast major­ity of bags are these days). About the only down-side was the Olympic crowds, even at 8:45PM.

Our flight on Cathay Pacific left at 2:00 AM, so we had a quiet air­port and some time to use the Wi-fi to make some last tweets (and to chat with a friend in Hun­gary — what a small world this is becoming…but more about that in a later post).

The flight was OK, but very, very cold. Hon­estly, it was like spend­ing 10 hours in a meat locker; You could almost see your breath. Pam and I had coats with hoods, which we kept up the whole time. There was one blan­ket per per­son, and no more. We got in to Hong Kong at their 7:30 AM or so (a day later). After a short lay­over of about an hour, we boarded another flight to Bangkok. A cou­ple of hours later, we touched down and saw their new(ish) air­port, that had been built 3 years ago. It’s a very impres­sive struc­ture, with caterpillar-like gates con­nected to a steel, con­crete and glass main sec­tion. We were imme­di­ately met by two young reps. for the tour com­pany (Aber­crom­bie & Kent, who Pam used for her tour of Antarc­tica). They whisked us through bag­gage and cus­toms, and we then were handed off to one of the tour guides here, who goes by the nick­name Tukke (Tookie). She, and a dri­ver, drove us through the enor­mous city of Bangkok, to the hotel where we are stay­ing here, the Man­darin Ori­en­tal. It’s a very fine hotel (offi­cially 130 years old), albeit old enough that I saw echoes of my grandmother’s taste through­out: the Eng­lish colo­nial fur­ni­ture, the palms and white palm tea­room, the pool with cabanas and teak walk­ways through­out. It’s well main­tained, how­ever, and the Inter­net in the room was good enough that I could phone my par­ents back in the states via Skype on my iPhone and it was good enough for them that my father thought it sounded like I was ‘next door’. The view, of the Chao Phraya river (River of Kings) is pretty impres­sive too:

The View out our Hotel Win­dow — That’s the French Embassy’s Gar­den in the Lower Right

We man­aged to stay awake (barely) until about 7:30 PM before col­laps­ing and then wak­ing up at 3, and then 6 this morn­ing. After one of the best break­fast buf­fets I’ve ever eaten (included with the room — I’ll try and take some pho­tos tomor­row), we returned to the room, and after a short rest, I write this update.
I’m going to try and update the Flickr set of our trip as we go, and it’s here

Update: After many prob­lems with the set get­ting too big, I’ve split it into 7 sets, including:

So, it’s off for a short boat trip across the river to explore some of the city (after we change into shorts to adjust for the heat). Then, per­haps a ride on the Sky­train (Hah, Just like home!). I’m also plan­ning on a mas­sage for my aching shoul­der, back and neck, which may be from the plane ride, plus accu­mu­lated stress from the past few weeks.

More to come…