Yes, we can

November 6, 2008

Does Obama’s win balance out Abu Grhaib?
Does it balance out waterboarding?
Does it balance out secret extradition flights?
Does it balance out weapons of mass destruction?
Does it balance out economic turmoil?

Does it balance out The Rumsfeld? (And if you’re looking for a book about Rumsfeld, the war in Iraq, Bush’s presidency or how leadership fails those it leads, look no further than Bob Woodward’s great book, State of Denial. Well worth a read in how not to get things done).

Does it balance out “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”?

I don’t know but it goes a hell of a long way towards it. Well done, America. Welcome back.

Now, get down to business. There’s a lot to do.

It would seem the world is enamoured with Michelle as much as with Barack and I can understand why having heard her speak (well, via the Tubes at any rate). This story seems to cover all the bases.

Here she is doing what she seems to do so well.

I’ve just had to train my spell checker to accept Barack as a real thing. I can imagine there are a lot of re-settings going on around the world today.

Finally a word about the online coverage. I watched this election via the BBC, CNN and Twitter. Rarely have I felt so involved. I dashed home ready to watch the speech (sorry, The Speech) only to find that TVNZ had decided to stop screening its coverage of the election in favour of a game show.

For the love of god, people, have you no idea what you’re doing? This man will be on a dollar bill one day. They will name airports and high schools and aircraft carriers after him and you cut to Wheel of Fortune? On the plus side, a man correctly guessed ‘Chocolate Brownies’ and won a photograph of any New Zealand landscape he cared to name, so that was nice.

I imagine that will be the last time I consider watching such events on TV. It’s the tubes from here on in, all the way.

Favourite online graphic: the BBC’s historical map of voting in previous US elections. Classy.

And Tom Scott, as always, does a splendid job of it.

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It’s always a tricky business, achieving balance in news reporting.

Sure, some stories are easy – it’s a fire, at a warehouse, so you write about that. Not much balance needed really, just some good pictures and a quote or two.

Most news, however, needs balance. Each reporter brings his or her own bias, each editor has a point of view. For many years I wrote – and indeed crusaded – on the topic of broadband. I decided early on that not only was the topic important to my readers but that I needed to take an editorial stance in favour of one side of the many broadband debates. That is, I sided with unbundling instead of against it. That was an editorial decision and I stuck to it but constantly reviewed the value of that decision. Eventually the mainstream reporting came round to my point of view (even my editor, who once famously asked me “what’s the point of broadband?” and was unconvinced by my argument and who has since gone on to win awards writing about the urgent need for … broadband. But I digress. And gloat) and now everyone writes about broadband without a second thought.

If there’s one journalist I’ve always envied it’s Kim Griggs. She writes about science. She writes about New Zealand. She writes about science in New Zealand and she does it for Wired magazine and the BBC and The Guardian and any number of proper publications. I’d hate her but she writes so very well. I’d hate her for that as well, but what can you do…?

She is pro science. It’s hard not to be, and of course it’s her round so you’d expect her to have a bias towards science.

She also used to write for The Listener and, following the debacle over The Listener’s censorship of another journalist’s blog on the matter (go on, send me a letter as well, I dare you) Kim posted about it to Russell Brown’s Hard News on the matter. I’ll recreate it here – Russell, Kim, let me know if that’s not OK with you and I’ll paraphrase instead.

I was part of a group of four writers who wrote a science column for The Listener for a couple of years. Our idea, promoted to Pamela in the first instance by Marilyn Head, was to provide stories about the abundance of interesting science that is being done in New Zealand. Our hope was that the stories would show the array of different aspects of New Zealand’s science community – there are some great stories out there – but also build up an appreciation of science so that there is an understanding, and critical thought about what science can and can’t do. So that when we debate climate change or nanotechnology or GE or xenotransplantation or the Large Hadron Collider, there can be more light and less heat in our discussions.

We eventually quit – spat the dummy truth to be told – when we were told our stories had an endorsing (of science) tone. This, from a magazine that had run a story about laughter yoga (well written though it was) under the science and health banner.

Seriously – their stories had a tone that implied they were endorsing science.

I really don’t know what to say to that. I’d encourage Pamela the editor to post about it here if it’s not accurate, but my fear is that this is exactly the kind of thing Pamela and the editorial masters at The Listener would say.

It goes beyond dumbing down and becomes something much worse – the promoting of ignorance. Can we really stand by and watch that happen?

On Star Wars (the new lot)

November 3, 2007

As a late-comer to blogging I reserve the right to be late to a lot of other things as well. For instance, I’d just like to point you all to Jane Espenson’s blog. Jane is a TV writer (Buffy, Gilmore Girls and Friends and we’re so not worthy) and all round nice person if her blog is to be believed (and you can’t believe half of what you hear and none of what you blog) and she’s telling us all about writing.

Then there’s Neil Gaiman who is a God Among Men and Wil Wheaton who is a Geek Among Guys both also looking at the whole writing thing from their own perspective (and don’t you all find yourselves rooting for Wil as an actor/writer/husband/father as well? I know I do).

But writing itself is not what this post is about. No no. Don’t be fooled by the packaging.

It’s about Star Wars. More particularly, it’s about the prequels, the three new films. Specifically it’s about Why They Sucked.

First off, allow me to stipulate a few things.

Yes, I know I’m no longer in the target audience. I was, when Star Wars first came out and remember queuing up with my little brother to go and see said epic in North Wales.

Actually, the very first inkling of Star Wars came with a TV series called The Krypton Factor which aired in Britain that summer. As quiz shows go, it was pretty good. Contestants had to not only answer stupid questions and beat the clock but they had to solve IQ puzzles and do an assault course. They also had to watch a segment of film and answer a question.

The segment they showed on the first episode was the Cantina sequence. Then they asked the contestants to pick out the human bartender from a line-up. Ha.

Remember, this is 1977 Britain and nobody has any idea about anything to do with Star Wars, science fiction in general or blockbuster movies in particular.

Second point of stipulation: I have never made a movie in my life, couldn’t do it if you held a gun to my head (or gave me a big fat cheque) and George The Lucas can, and did, and is very successful at it, so clearly he’s onto something and I should shut my big fat mouth.

OK. The first movie – The Phantom Menace. OK, it’s about a trade dispute. OK, it’s about taxes, but you could see something glimmering under the surface… something nasty and lurking. There’s all that lovely talk about “the one who will bring balance to the force”. Then there’s whiny Anakin. Sigh. Do you remember the posters that came out? Anakin playing on what was clearly Tatooine with his shadow cast large on the wall behind him – and his shadow was Vader’s shadow? By the gods the hairs stood up on the back of my neck when I noticed that. They’re doing it now. Ooooooh.

Naturally, Qui Gon Jinn gets slaughtered, but he doesn’t disappear! This is a difference that made everyone in the theatre where I saw it sit up and say OMG! STFU! The Jedi don’t know how to do everything yet!

Then we have episode two or Attack of the Black Hawk Down Syndrome as I like to think of it.

Yadda yadda, story line, plot points, awful dialogue, sand is irritating just like me, etc. I’ll put up with that crap falling-in-love scene between Anakin and Padme because at one point you can hear Qui Gon clearly shout “Anakin, no!” and that was another goose bump moment. It’s OK, the boss is coming back to help sort things out.

And then he never does.

Instead, in the final movie we get Yoda telling Obi-Wan that soon he’ll be trained in the new strange ways that have never been mentioned before and he should go to the desert and become a hermit.

Puhleeze.

I wonder if Liam Neeson had some big ass falling out with Teh George himself.

Qui Gon should have been in the third movie. He should have been there explaining things.

And most importantly of all he should have been there explaining to Obi Wan that he, and Yoda, and possibly even Anakin himself knew what we all knew but dared not whisper: that Anakin DOES bring balance to the Force. That the overally goody-two-shoes Republic is stagnant and devoid of humanity and we need more than just plain niceness and “This is Jedi business, nothing to see here” crap.

Instead we get Darth Vader being born because his wife’s gynecologist can’t do a simple scan to see if there are twins on the way. Sheesh.

Given the movies that Neeson chose to be involved in following TPM and the roles he played (“Gangs of New York” and “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Batman Begins” in particular) you’d have to think he was rubbing someone’s nose in it. Could that nose by George’s?

That is all.