When Iranian Democracy And Pop Culture Collides

When the news that Michael Jackson had died broke yesterday, my initial response was in this tweet.

“Who wants to bet that Michael Jackson’s death will push the Iranian election out of the U.S. news?”

Less than 24 hours later, the U.S. news media is saturated with stories about Michael Jackson. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

The real death yesterday was the Iranian election protest movement in the U.S. news media.  The lead story was how the now illegitimate Iranian government was systematically shutting down the protest movement by beating, gassing and shooting protesters, arresting anyone who had shown support against the election result, and suppressing all news reporting in the name of restoring order.  Today, in the wake of Michael Jackson’s untimely death, you have to hunt for the lead story—if there is one—in the U.S. news media.

Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett both died this week.  But neither one of them had the same paparazzi-fueled celebrity cachet of Michael Jackson to push the Iranian election protest out of the U.S. news media—and the American consciousness.  Why is it that U.S. news media is so eager to switch away from a protest movement that might change the balance of power in the Middle East if given the opportunity to blossom, flourish and moderate the tone of an anti-Western government?

With the illegitimate Iranian government cracking down on the opposition news media, restricting journalists access to people and protest sites, and sending international journalists out of the country, there’s no one on the ground to report the news.  The traditional U.S. news media had to rely on the non-traditional sources like Twitter and YouTube.  Technology that wasn’t around during the Tiananmen Square protest movement in China twenty years ago (except for one video that made popular culture).  Now Iranian citizens can bypass the restrictions of their own corrupt government to report the news to the outside world.  Citizen journalism has always been regarded as inferior to traditional journalism for lacking the ethical training to report the story without bias (which seems to be an endangered species as the media companies promote controversies to gain market share and sell advertising), but citizens can get into areas of society where a government-authorized press badge cannot.

Not only has technology undermine the U.S. news media traditional role as gatekeepers of what is seen and heard in America, they can be shellacked into providing more coverage.  Both CNN and MSNBC been criticized for not having relevant weekend coverage during the height of the protests when people wanted more news.  With Michael Jackson’s untimely death, who represented the best and the worse of American society, the U.S. news media can now conveniently switch away from the serious to the frivolous while the illegitimate Iranian government can breath a sigh of relief that they can continue to consolidate power without the harsh glare of the U.S. news media shining down on them.

The Terrible Twos

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My family gathered today for an early birthday party for my great-nephew, Travis, who will turn two in July, and a Father’s Day celebration.  As Travis had learned how to run before walking, he already started in on being a Terrible Two to the dismay of his parents.  Since his mother and three of her coworkers all got pregnant at the same time, there were four Terrible Twos running around the place.  Only the adults with cameras outnumbered the Terrible Twos to prevent them from overrunning the neighborhood.

I gave my Dad a rough draft copy of my short story collection (23 short stories and a novella from the last three years) in a binder.  He haven’t read any of my stuff.  When he saw what I was giving him, he said: “I don’t need a binder.”

That made me paused.  My Dad is a very practical person.  If he really needed a binder, he wouldn’t hesitate to recycle whatever was inside for toilet paper.  (He did install a new toilet in his trailer yesterday.)  The irony was not lost on me as a writer.  My work may very well be appreciated in other ways in my immediate family.  The dedication page is made out to my mother.  Her death from breast cancer in March 2004 helped me find myself as a writer.  (No doubt some hidebound critic will criticize my collection as “therapy stories” or worse.)  That alone should prevent my Dad from recycling the pages—or keeping only that one page before disposing the rest.


“Weird Al” Yankovic – Craigslist Parody


You know a Silicon Valley technology company has gone mainstream is when “Weird Al” Yankovic makes a signature song around the company’s signature product. The parody music video, “Craigslist,” based on the classified ads website, Craigslist, has music from The Doors and a very 1960’s psychedelic background. Previous songs included “White & Nerdy” (Segway), “It’s All About The Pentiums” (Intel), and “eBay” (eBay).

Are You Funemployed?

According to the Los Angeles Times, a new word got added to the English language: “funemployment.”

Never heard of funemployment? Here’s Urban Dictionary’s definition: “The condition of a person who takes advantage of being out of a job to have the time of their life. “I spent all day Tuesday at the pool; funemployment rocks!”

I’ve known roommates who took a funemployment while living off their six-month unemployment benefits, enjoying the casual life and not worrying about finding another job until they have to pay bills out of savings. The results weren’t pretty. And that was before the Great Recession.

One roommate tried to find his purpose in life. I told him that would be fine if he upgraded his job skills in preparation to re-enter the job market. He didn’t do that because it wasn’t fun. Six months later, he was unemployable. The computer science degree from 20 years ago carried little weight with obsolete job skills. His purpose became a full-blown mid-life crisis while working as a drug store clerk and living with his parents.

A second roommate was let go from being an assistant stock broker. He cashed out his modest retirement account to become a day trader for six months, easily doubling his money during that time. When he visited his relatives in Florida for six weeks, he left his cash fully invested in high-flying tech stocks and took a vacation from day trading. He came back well rested, tanned and dead broke. The dot com bust sent so many funemployed day traders scurrying back to a real job.

A third roommate was always finding ways to get rich quick without much success. After getting let go from marketing company, he used his funemployment to try many different kinds of multilevel marketing programs. Nothing worked. He eventually moved to the Philippines since the cost of living was lower there, making it easier for him to get rich quicker. His Filipino wife would love for him to return to the United States to get a job here and wire the money back to her.

My approach to unemployment is similar to what this Harvard Business Review blog post advocates: spend a few hours looking for a job and enjoy the rest of the day. My previous job searches always ended after three interviews in six weeks. I spent a lot of time playing “Age of Mythology” on the PC during those six weeks, probably one of the best real-time strategy games that never get old.

Since I was laid off on Friday the 13th this past February, I talked to three recruiters during the first six weeks without getting a new job. (I showed up for one interview to find out that the position was already filled that morning.) The job market went dead after that. Taking a funemployment vacation wasn’t an option for me. As my past roommates have proven, it would be a very stupid thing to do.