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…