Tonight I attended a candlelight vigil for Mumbai at Boston’s City Hall. A few hundred people were there — more South Asian faces than I’d normally see in a Boston crowd, and other faces of all kinds. The service was sometimes muffled by the sounds of the city, but simply being among so many people and religious leaders of several faiths, holding candles in the comfort of a circle, felt good and meaningful.

At the bus stop next to the vigil, a bus pulled up. Along the top were images of coffee beans, an Indian man… it was an Incredible India ad. I tugged the sleeve of the man next to me, needing a witness. His eyes lit up.

After the service, I lined up to write my ‘message to Mumbai’ in a book provided by the organizers. Vigil for Mumbai, by my much taller friend, AlexisI quickly read a few other messages; they were long and heartfelt.

The attack upset me deeply. In trying to stay connected and inform my worry, I was surprised by how much the geographical distance actually mattered. The U.S. mainstream media — television, radio, and Internet — were blank. The Web provided pockets of information and corners for emotional togetherness, but searching for them became too much (though I did find a few sites I can turn to in the future).

Sometimes conversation isn’t useful, and images shouldn’t be processed alone. I am grateful to the organizers of tonight’s gathering for bringing people together, and giving us thoughtful people to listen to. I hope the people of Mumbai know just how much their loss of life and security has touched people so far away.

 

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Hooray!

November 6, 2008

I watched CNN, PBS, Current TV, BET, Fox News, and The Daily Show. I tracked Facebook statuses and Twitter updates. I piled my friends into the car and drove around Central and Harvard Squares, honking my horn and cheering out the pent-up frustration of the past eight years.

And then, I checked this Web site one more time, and teared up a little with the hope, dignity, and sheer elegance of it all.

BarackAsPresident

Why are the early voting lines so long… and why did NPR’s Carrie Kahn just report about them like they’re a big block party? We’re talking three to five hours long, when more than a half hour should be considered undemocratic.

A long voting line is not an act of nature. It is not inevitable. Nor can it be attributed to surprisingly high voter turnout — after the past eight years, there’s no surprise. Besides, election officials should have methods for handling “surprises” within their jurisdictions. Even with early voting.

“This has the potential to disenfranchise a heck of a lot more people than, dare I say it, hacked electronic voting machines,” said Tova Wang, vice president for research at Common Cause, which has been monitoring potential balloting problems ahead of this week’s vote. (LA Times, 11/2/08)

I want to know how and why long voting lines happen. If we don’t ask, and we don’t know, then we can’t press for change. We’re down to the wire now. If it’s true that the presidential race looks different when pollsters ‘narrow the pool of responses from registered voters to likely voters,’ then there should be no block-party reporting where voting isn’t smooth.

John and I just returned from a month of U.S. travel (travel-logs are forthcoming). Our mutually agreed news blackout was quickly obliterated by Hurricane Ike, and we were then free to marvel at the nomination of $7 Sunday NYT on TuesdaySarah Palin and the painful circus of financial collapse and executive bailout.  Our primary sources were motel CNN, John’s BlackBerry, and the very occasional New York Times. And boy was I hungry after a week in Montana where the only New York Times we could find was in downtown Missoula. The Sunday issue. For seven dollars. On Tuesday.

We’re home for a few days before heading off again. After weeks of being teased by television, BlackBerry-friendly newspaper sites, and email forwards, I’ve finally caught up on the internet video party. In this realm, it’s no contest between the financial scandals and Sarah Palin. Wall Street execs are smart enough to keep a low profile. So here’s what I’ve watched so far: 

At this point, I decided there was no need to watch Palin’s RNC speech, or even voyeuristically dig for videos of the child she’s leading into motherhood and (possible) marriage. The New York Times put it well in a Sept 13 editorial:

If [John McCain] seriously thought this first-term governor — with less than two years in office — was qualified to be president, if necessary, at such a dangerous time, it raises profound questions about his judgment. If the choice was, as we suspect, a tactical move, then it was shockingly irresponsible.

Nearly as shocking is that Palin accepted. Sarah Palin does not know just how much she does not know. That is beyond stupid, it’s dangerous. 

I am glad to have had only a couple of days for this bullshit. She’s wasting everyone’s time. Except that of McCain and his staff, who didn’t waste much time vetting her. Seasoned journalism operations and world leaders are having to treat this joker as though she is a real player. I have enjoyed learning about this nutter, but I should have been doing it in furtive scans of People magazine while in the doctor’s office.

However, don’t think for a minute I’ll be missing that VP debate… I’m searching for pubs in Kent with satellite dishes and Tivos as soon as I hit “Publish” on this post.

John read this passage about the Dalai Lama in The Times of London in an article entitled, “Defiant people yearn for the ‘political monk in Gucci shoes'”:

When he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 he described himself as “a simple monk from faraway Tibet”. His existence as a symbol of the struggle for freedom have won him a huge following in the West. But his position is complicated; he has been described as “a very political old monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes”.

John then wrote the following letter to The Times:

Interesting that the journalist does not mention that the person credited with the “monk in Gucci shoes” remark is none other than the proprietor of The Times, Rupert Murdoch. Mr Murdoch is hardly the most objective commentator given his considerable efforts to curry favour with the Chinese leadership while trying to expand his media empire into China.

I feel the journalist is being a little disingenuous with this omission, especially as the quote is used in the title of the piece…

— John Grant, Cambridge, MA

The BBC attributed the quote in question to Mr. Murdoch back in 1999. What’s striking about the Times reporter’s omission is that this remark did not pass quietly into obscurity. It’s still a favorite for watchers of the media mogul and his Buddhist nemesis.

What’s also striking — and amusing — is that both Murdoch and the reporter in his employ attribute the quote to nameless, faceless others (albeit in the way that a child closes her eyes and thinks no one can see her):

Murdoch, 1999: “I have heard cynics who say he’s a very political old monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes.” (I can’t source the original Vanity Fair interview where Murdoch reportedly said this because, as with much of our cultural heritage, it’s buried in some paid archive management service.)

Reporter, 2008: “…he has been described as ‘a very political old monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes'”.

Murdoch is known to strongly influence the coverage of the media properties he owns. But it’s always a little shocking to see that influence in action. Nice catch, John.

Just the other day, my friend B. and I were watching a segment on French TV5 about a conference for carrier pigeon enthusiasts. B., a French expat, commented that American news neglects the joys of everyday life and ordinary people. While I wouldn’t rest my case on pigeons (nor would she), I completely agree. American news, especially television news, is functionalist with a slant of fear: dangers to your health, your finances, your personal safety. Public media like NPR occasionally tune into subcultures, but less so in their core programming.

But now I offer a glimmer of hope! The Leap Year Baby endures to lighten up an otherwise depressing news menu!

Early yesterday morning, my friends gave birth to a little boy named Beni. That took 29 hours. Not long after, a local news station stretched the Leap Year part into an entire 2.5 minutes (about 2 minutes too long). Watch it here, if only to hear the phrase “strict Februarian” used in context. And, of course, to see Beni and his dazed but happy parents.

When I arrived at the hospital later that day, several other news crews were on hand. The hospital’s five Leap Year Babies were swaddled in blankets, stripes all in the same direction, and arranged on a bed, surrounded by cameras.

Having watched the above video, I tried to coach Beni’s parents on better sound bites. They smiled sweetly and dismissively. But, five minutes later, while trying to get a glimpse of his new son over the heads of the cameramen, Beni’s dad turns to me and says:

“Of course I thought he was famous when he was born… but then all these people with big cameras show up and it turns out he really is.”

I hope someone got that on tape.

Leap Year babies, pre-photo shoot Leap Year babies, pre-photo shoot Paparazzi

Watch Current.tv. On cable television or online.

It’s like what The Daily Show would be if it were a 24-hour network and Jon Stewart didn’t always have to be funny.

It’s like YouTube without the 99% crap.

It’s like watching a Buddha Bar DJ surf the Web.

It’s like MTV 20 years ago, but with more substance.

I am a highly targeted TV watcher – I focus on movies and specific shows like Heroes, Lost, Frontline/World, and The Daily Show. I have *never* watched a channel as an entity, keeping it on to see what comes next. Until Current. It draws from the best, not the worst, qualities of our present (avoided the use of “current” there, yup) media era, and I can’t stop watching.

The network launched barely two years ago with backing from Al Gore, among others. Short videos of 3-10 minutes each have production styles that are energetic without seeming contrived. The videos are interspersed with clever interstitials like “Google current_”, which teases out something from Google Zeitgeist. The production values are high – this is no amateur fling. That includes VC 2 – Viewer Created Content – which is vetted by an online community before it airs on TV. I haven’t hung out on the Web site much, but at first glance it appears that someone at Current has heard of the word “transmedia“.

My favorite feature? The progress bar in the lower left corner of every video! On television.

Ultimately, what makes Current shine is the depth and flow of its story-telling, the intelligence of its fun, and the breadth of its topics. One telling detail is that many pieces are in foreign languages with English subtitles.

A sampling of what I’ve seen (from memory):
-The return of Digable Planets
-A video postcard home from a Ukrainian man picking tulips in England
-A festival in Oakland where people joust with two Tessla coils
-A hidden-camera report about a Chinese village that processes electronics waste
-A jaunt on an American school bus being recycled in Nicaragua
-A profile of Forro in the Dark
-A tour of Buenos Aires through the eyes of a local graffiti artist
-A first-person story of a girl trying to quit smoking

No one is paying me to write this glowing review. I simply believe that if we want to see more high-quality media objects available for mass consumption, if we want to nudge mass media towards the realm of good, we need to recognize, support, and share these objects when they emerge.

So watch, share, and participate.