Saturday, July 15, 2017

Toned News

Listening to the news in Israel is a cultural norm.  Summaries are broadcast every half an hour on ratio as well as during morning and evening news-related programs, making it virtually impossible to escape the voice of the news announcer. Contrary to foreign reports, Israel enjoys many days without terrorist incidents.  Actually, traffic accidents are the major non-health related killer in the country but that would not surprise anybody that has ever had the pleasure of driving in a Mediterranean country.

Curiously, it is not even necessary to hear the words to know how good or bad the day has been. The most important story is always first and sets the tone, literally and figuratively, for the rest of the broadcast. If the voice is clearly happy, the lead story is an Israeli winning the bronze medal in Judo or something similar (Israelis have low expectations of their athletes). If there is excitement in the voice, however restrained, another politician is being investigated by the police, with the peak being him entering prison. There is nothing the fourth estate enjoys more than having its accusations proven correct. The flat voice is reserved for economic data since employment and inflationary statistics are notoriously dry regardless of their actual effect on people’s lives. The dreaded tone is serious and quiet, reserved for terrorist incidents and their immediate reporting. Listeners everywhere become quiet, sensing that bad news is about to follow, for the umpteenth time. After an hour or so, when the reporters start interviewing the third cousin of a witness because there is nothing new to say, the announcers struggle to maintain their earnest tone and become more businesslike.


Just as there is a science in reading faces or, in the past, reading the Soviet government owned newspapers, listening to the news in Israel is an acquired talent, going beyond understanding Hebrew. It is all in the tone.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Internet alternative plots

“How did people manage before Internet” is a rather common question today. The blunt answer is quite well and much happier but no one under the age of 30 will believe it. A much more interesting issue is how Internet would have changed the world if it had been around some 1000 years ago.

Historically, its impact would have been huge.  Clearly, the Spanish and Mongols would not have launched their Armadas to conquer England and Japan, respectively, if they had been able to access a long term weather forecast.  Logically, Alexander Graham Bell would have never invented the telephone for the simple reasons that there was no need for it. The list of world-changing potential effects is endless, limited only by a person’s imagination and knowledge. More intriguing would have been the Internet’s impact on entertainment, specifically how its existence would have changed the plots of the stories.

For example, communication issues would be much simplified. Simenon’s Maigret would not have to wait for wires and wake up operators in the middle of the night to receive the information he needed. The whos of Horton and Dr. Seuss fame would not have had to organize everybody but instead simply could have sent a message via whatsapp or tweeter.

Furthermore, characters would be more certain of where they are. Dorothy would have been certain, not merely having a feeling, that she was not in Kansas anymore anda checked for return flights instead of taking the yellow brick road. Likewise, all those characters in movies whose vehicles ran out of gas would have known where the next gas station was.

Logistics and travel would have been much easier. Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg and Passepartout could have ordered tickets for all their means of transportation in advance, significantly reducing their stress. For that matter, if Brad and Janet from the Rocky Horror Picture Show had done a proper search for a well-rated B&B, their honeymoon would have much ordinary. On a humanitarian (or is that canine) level, wouldn’t it have much simpler if Lassie had been picked up by a local farmer, who published her picture on the Internet, leading to either a nice ride back to her original owners or, at worst, a new home?

How much suffering the Internet could have saved. Algernon, of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keys, could have read the result of the trials on rats and realized that his increased intelligence was only temporary. Moliere’s Imaginary Invalid would have known that the last doctor is a quack, thus avoiding premature death.

I should note that I could not think of a single Shakespearean plot that would have “benefited” from an Internet retrofit, but that may be from lack of knowledge or imagination.

It is clear that the plots of countless tales would be completely different if the Internet had existed at the time of their writing. However, different does not mean better. I prefer the non-www version of these stories as they are somehow quite richer and more focused on the essential. I could argue that so was pre-Internet real life in many ways but that might sound dinasaurish.


I welcome any ideas for alternative “what if” plots.