Yea, Egypt!

It is rare, indeed, to witness an important moment in world history: I’m old enough that I saw man’s first step on the moon, 63404977I saw the Berlin Wall fall (both on TV…thank you, TV), and today my old friend let me see an historic triumph of freedom and peaceful resistance to oppression in Egypt.   It’s an important reminder to us cynics to everyone about the power of ideas, and of the human spirit.  And like Gandhi and King and others taught, it shows that monumental change can be gained without resorting to violence.  How’s that taste, Al Qaeda?

I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but neither do the wingnuts who are certain that Muslim fundamentalists will soon be in power in Cairo.  Any assertion that Muslims, as a group, would rather live in a theocracy than a democracy is just flat wrong—as groups, Muslims and non-Muslims prefer democracy, and in virtually identical percentages.  Did hundreds of thousands of Muslims peacefully fill the streets of Cairo around the clock for the last three weeks to get out from under a secular dictator so they can submit to the whims of religious zealots?

Today the military is in charge in Egypt, and while on its surface “military assuming power from civilians” does seem to be the definition of “coup” this doesn’t feel that way.  It was the police that pushed back against the demonstrators in Cairo, but the army kept things from blowing up and seemed to be on the side of the people instead of the president.  The military leadership gives me the impression that even if they weren’t eager to see Mubarak go, they were smart enough to see that he couldn’t stay.  (And props to the protesters themselves for their patience and restraint after the disappointment of Mubarak’s Thursday speech when he said he wasn’t leaving; any other response might have forced the military to take another course.)

We shall see what comes next.  In the meantime, the old reliable Explainer at Slate has a very good list of answers to some nuts and bolts questions about what’s going on in Egypt.

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IPTV threatens democracy—more after Oprah

Does the delivery system really make a difference, or do we just like to let ourselves get all caught up in something new?  I think the answer is, yes.

Last week Lord Google announced Google TV, its proprietary flavor of The Next Big Thing: Internet television, IPTV.  I’m not surprised to see Google out front on this: a system to deliver television programs over a fast Internet connection to a set top box for presentation on the ginormous high definition display at the heart of the family entertainment center.  If I can sit in my big comfy chair and enjoy cool Internet stuff on the same big clear monitor where I watch my teevee shows, and can get my shows on demand instead of on someone else’s schedule, why wouldn’t I?

This nirvana is not without its perils, though (but you knew that, right?): along with further diminishment of shared communal experience, local broadcast TV stations and their news operations are at economic risk.  The respected former newsman and Silicon Valley CEO Alan Mutter makes the case for the threat to local stations: once I can watch anything on my giant TV on demand, I will; so, the value item that local TV stations offer advertisers—a mass audience at a time certain—will start to diminish; and with it, the high profits local stations earn.

Then Mutter takes the next step: reduced profits mean less revenue available for the local broadcaster to spend on programming, specifically local news, which is the majority of any local station’s local programming.

Now I have my issues with local TV news, but I agree with Mutter:

A contraction in local TV news coverage, combined with the recent curtailment of newspaper coverage in most communities, will deprive our society of even more of the authoritatively reported information that is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy.

So, it’s our convenience and amusement vs. an informed and active citizenry?  Uh oh…

TV rots your brain…and that’s not all

Television has been my friend since I was just a boy; it still is.  It’s taken me to the Enterprise for Tribbles and to the moon for Tranquility, to Yankee Stadium for Larsen’s perfect game, to Berlin to see the wall fall.  Color television made it clear that the Ponderosa was fake, and thrilled me when the peacock fanned its tail.  I’m still drooling at what I see on my HDTV.

Tee Vee has made me laugh, made me cry, and for years has made me my money…although I laugh about that part to keep from crying.

But who knew it was taking dead aim at my heart!

The conclusion of the Australian researchers, reported today in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, is that more time spent watching television comes with a significant increase in risk of death than does watching less television.  They also find that exercise alone is not the answer, that “we also need to promote avoiding long periods of sitting, such as spending long hours in front of the computer screen.”

Just a minute…gotta stretch.

No long periods of sitting?  What if I sit for four or more hours reading?  Have there been reports of high death rates among the world’s book editors?  And woe to those who sleep sitting up, like your cube farm neighbor.

Personally, I wonder if there’s any special dispensation: does it count against me when I watch TV professionally?  And, is there transitive benefit I can gain by watching other people exercise?