Selling snake oil as news

I long ago stopped watching TV news and talk shows, either on local stations or on the national networks. They never said anything that I did not hear about elsewhere and instead spent a lot of time on mindless blather that was truly irritating. And of course there were the numerous commercial breaks.

But sometimes you cannot avoid them, such as when the TV is on in a doctor’s waiting room or in the boarding areas for flights and then you would often see segments where the host would interview people who were talking about some new product that supposedly has beneficial effects on health.

On his show Last Week Tonight on Sunday, John Oliver dissected such segments, showing how often they were what are called ‘sponsored content’, i.e. essentially advertisements paid for by the manufacturer of the product that the ‘news’ shows presented without clearly disclosing this key fact.

Towards the end of the segment, Oliver’s team pulls off one of the pranks they are famous for and that is worth watching. They clearly plan these shows well in advance of airing.

How to write memos

One of the things I realized early on in my working life is that what follows after the first few lines of an email or other communication rarely registers in the consciousness of people, although they may have ‘read’ it in the sense that their eyes scanned over it. So you need to make the most important point right at the start.

This cartoon captures it exactly.


John Oliver and Samantha Bee on combating gun violence

Oliver discussed how pernicious so-called Stand Your Ground laws are, since they seem to give a license to many people to shoot at the slightest provocation.

Meanwhile, Bee points to some hopeful grassroots groups that are trying to reduce the number of gun deaths and injuries, such as Moms Demand Action that seeks to combat the NRA at the local level and violence interrupters who try to identify potential dangers in their local communities before they occur and step in to mediate conflicts.

The weird British national anthem

I am someone who thinks that patriotism is a silly and even dangerous concept, implying as it does that one’s own national tribe is somehow special and to be valued over all others. Hence I am also not a fan of the associated symbols of patriotism, such as flags and anthems.

The comic strip Get Fuzzy had a series on national anthems and ran three strips in sequence on a a particularly silly one and that is the British national anthem that captured what I feel about it. The lines “Send her victorious/ Happy and glorious” never fails to get a chuckle from me. I mean, really?

You can see the above strip here and then click on the next two days to see the full set on this topic.