There are several people in the CNN newsroom and elsewhere who refuse to accept my cynical standpoint on Christmas. I have grudgingly grinned and borne it, despite the following defenses for my dislike:
But while Christmas has its plus points (family togetherness and food chief among them), I cannot fathom why anyone would choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I’m not the cynical one here. The whole occasion is a cynically conceived and cynically executed exercise in fakery.
I was going to call this post “The Strife of Supporting Scottish Sportspeople” but I appreciate there’s only so much alliteration people can stomach in one sitting.
Let me first make my shocking confession: I really do admire Andy Murray. His tennis style can be spectacularly entertaining – but his off-court antics delight me just as much. In the Age of Beige, when sports stars are typically media trained to within an inch of a coma, Murray is nothing if not unpredictable. In his post-match interviews, he is frequently grouchy. But he is just as often very funny. In fact, only Australian Open comedy queen Caroline Wozniacki has challenged him in this department of late.
It's the size of France and Germany combined. It's the size of Texas. It's the size of Egypt.
All impressive facts to convey the scale of the flooding affecting northeastern Australia. But comparisons like these – thrown casually into a broadcast script – are now so commonplace that (in the words of an episode of Cougar Town I watched last night) the news becomes white noise. We work in TV, so we have a duty not just to tell people how big a floodzone is; we have a duty to show them.
News Stream prides itself on the strength of its visuals. And visuals are key when telling a story like the Queensland floods.
At the moment, floodwaters in places like the city of Rockhampton have reached a peak and have – give or take a few centimeters – remained at that peak for three days. They're expected to remain there for another week. It's safe to assume life is getting worse for the hundreds of people who've been displaced. Frustration, anger and exhaustion are sure to be on the increase.
But the numbers, the comparisons and the extremities in this story are going nowhere. So it's up to us as writers, producers and newsgatherers to take our output forward in an engaging way.
Thursday's News Stream offered an example of this. We've seen countless aerial shots captured from the skies above Rockhampton, Bundaberg and elsewhere. But we hadn't yet seen the view from further up. Thanks to our friends at NASA, we were able to demonstrate what three weeks of record rainfall looks like from space.
Here's the view of the Fitzroy River Basin on December 14:
And here's the same view on January 4:
There. That probably conveys more than saying something's the same size as somewhere half the world away, doesn't it?
But if you're going to do comparisons from space, it's pertinent to show how the situation has changed from a Queenslander's perspective.
We were fortunate that CNN meteorologist Mari Ramos drew our attention to a particularly eyecatching example. The image below may look like your average estate agent web page, advertising a two-storey home in need of a spot of repair. "Roll up your sleeves," the site advises prospective buyers. "There's work to be done."
Now have a look at this shot from Getty Images, taken this week:
As we stated on News Stream, the website might want to consider changing its health warning to "Roll up your trouser legs. There's even more work to be done".
The home described as being "a stone's throw from the Fitzroy River" has now found itself in the middle of it.
A useful exercise in comparison and a sobering depiction of the human cost of the Queensland floods, rolled into one.
Tune into News Stream today at 9pm Hong Kong, to see (and hear!) where we take the story next.
Is it an ECG monitor? Is it an especially spindly cantilever bridge? Is it one of those weird sea creatures that you can never remember the name of?
Well, no. It's none of the above. This image does in fact depict the heart of a mosquito, magnified 100 times over and aided by fluorescence technology. The shot – taken by Vanderbilt University's Jonas King – was awarded first prize in the 2010 Nikon Small World Photomicography Competition. And a worthy winner it is too.
By looking this closely into the biting beast's insides, King has aided life scientists in the study of malaria. As Nikon puts it, the photo "provides insight into how mosquitoes move blood to all regions of their bodies". So it's not just striking; it could be a lifesaver.
Fancy getting involved in the world of photomicography? Well, beware. Taking pictures of tiny things entails a mighty price-tag. But watch News Stream's segment on the Small World phenomenon, and we're sure you'll be inspired nonetheless.
Congratulations to U.S. satirist Stephen Colbert, author of the most retweeted message of the year. In the BP-bating summer of 2010, this was the definitive social media contribution:
Colbert was able to triumph over a plethora of pop stars, including News Stream's guilty obsession Justin Bieber (who had to settle for fourth place). That's not say young Justin didn't feature heavily in the top ten. Both Joe Jonas ("I cry because I love Justin Bieber!!!") and Rihanna ("Justin Bieber just flashed me his abs in the middle of a restaurant! Wow! He actually had a lil 6 pack! Sexy, lol!") offered belieber-themed nuggets that thousands saw fit to forward.
But Colbert is riding high. So influential are his outpourings that he was among the favorites to be named "Time"'s Person of the Year. And not content to lose out on the prize quietly, his thoughts on the actual recipient are now trending highly in America and around the world:
Stephen Colbert has apparently inspired countless skeptics to take to Twitter and vent their feelings on Mr. Facebook. Whether swayed by the less-than-flattering portrayal Zuckerberg received in "The Social Network" or merely objecting to the mighty scale of his cultural phenomenon, it appears Twitter fans aren't the biggest Facebook fans.
Here's a selection of the cleaner offerings:
Yes, the last of these is a lie. But just as we were outraged by Susan Boyle's snub in favor of Ben Bernanke last year, our small team would like to reach out to Mr. Bieber in his hour of isolation. Your "Time" will come, Justin. We, er, beliebe.
With not a little smugness I have sat in the hazy yet clement climes of Hong Kong, watching our esteemed colleagues at the CNN International Weather Center report on the unyielding snow that's dropping on the heads and homes of my friends and family back in Scotland.
But I have one teensy issue.
Why must our nation, birthplace of the Enlightenment and blessed with vibrant, cosmopolitan cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh, be represented by pictures like the one below?
Don't get me wrong. I appreciate that Scotland is largely rural and that sheep do exist in considerable numbers. But I often wish we could treat CNN's global audience to something a little more stirring.
Imagine my joy yesterday when I learned that the pictures used to portray the week's wintry weather had changed. I sat excitedly as Ivan Cabrera told us how the latest snowfall had left schools shut, homes cut off and cars stranded. (In retrospect, maybe 'excitedly' is the wrong word to use. Sorry, Scotland.) But then I saw this:
No longer was my nation a land of fields and farm animals. It had become a place where clearly unhinged individuals frolic in their underwear while risking hypothermia. Another sublime depiction to transmit to the world.
I have trawled the CNN image library and – while horses and highland cattle are certainly more prevalent than modern metropolises – I wanted to find something to redress the balance. So here is a perfectly pretty shot devoid of sheep or simpletons, showing that Scotland – in addition to rural charm – has roads and electricity. Rant over. And Merry Christmas to one and all.
An average of 30,000 Japanese people take their own lives every year. Today, News Stream examines the role the internet is playing in this challenging national issue.
While web discussion boards have attracted their share of criticism for 'promoting' suicide online, another phenomenon has emerged that is more shocking still – live suicide streaming. A recent case in Japan has made international headlines, and today's edition of News Stream looks at the webcast that drew an audience of more than 4000.
We also examine the hidden side of the country's suicide epidemic – a remote forest in the shadow of Mount Fuji where up to one hundred people go each year to take their own lives. The sign above is one of a number in the Aokigahara woodlands that ask troubled individuals to consider the effects of their actions.
You can read more about Japan's 'suicide forest' on CNN.com. And click here to see the work of New York company VBS.TV – a sobering examination of the chosen final destination for scores of troubled souls.