Don’t look at the photo of his lifeless body on the beach unless you’re prepared to do something about it 


Münchners getting in the spirit of welcoming refugees
There’s a photo from Reuters that’s all over the web today. Has been for a few days already, and it’s disturbing. It’s not at all nice. It’s the opposite of nice, even. It’s a shot of a little boy who’s drowned & washed up on the beach. I’m not putting it here, but I am linking to an editorial on Deutsche Welle in which they discuss their editorial decision to publish the photo. This photo isn’t for the faint of heart, though. You’ve hopefully been adequately warned. 

Opinion: an image that touches us all

If you’ve already seen this photo & many others of children washed up on beaches, maybe you didn’t bother going there. 

I’ve included the joyful photo above of the locals bringing donations for the recent arrivals as a counterbalance to the abject sadness that the other image brings. When I know people are visiting Munich and they express interest in Dachau, I often recommend that they schedule something/anything joyful afterwards. Not to pretend that the concentration camp didn’t exist, but because it’s so thoroughly depressing to go there and see the documentation of what occurred, it’s important to be reminded of hope and resilience and that there’s even still goodness. 

Yet we’re not quite there yet when it comes to the immigration situation in Europe right now. The Hungarians are furious that Germany has opened itself up so overtly as a safe haven for refugees, and the situation is still so fluid that anything I might write here will quickly become old news. 

Nevertheless, I hear plenty of reasonable people questioning the practicality of Europe in general and Germany in particular taking in so many refugees. This is purportedly the biggest migration of people in Europe since the Second World War, and the ramifications of this mass migration are far from predictable. I’ve even heard that these newcomers could make up as much as 1% of the population of contemporary Germany. 

Quite a number of the residents of Munich have been unquestionably generous by taking donations of food and clothing and toys (and I heard even portable wifi, so the refugees could communicate with their far flung family members) to the main train station. Football fans in many stadiums last weekend held up signs that said, ‘Refugees Welcome.’ 

What happens when the novelty of taking in all these people wears off? There’ll unquestionably be a new disaster or outlandish political reaction that’ll distract us from the outrageous news we’re reading on a daily basis. 

Here’s the thing, though: this immigration crisis isn’t new. It’s been a long time building. The Syrian refugees might be overwhelming the system at the moment, but any reasonable observation over the last decade or more has made it clear that Europe’s lack of unity on this issue was a disaster in the making. 

That’s where the photo of the child on the beach comes in. You can be as cynical as you like about this topic – I’ve certainly pontificated on both sides of the argument that we as a society are responsible for those fleeing war torn countries. I welcome the argument, even. 
But look at that photo tell me that we shouldn’t finally be able to come up with something better than what we’ve been doing. For years, some European politicians have pretended that it wasn’t their problem. That little boy’s lifeless body makes it harder to stomach such a position. 

six months at The Munich Times and then The Munich Eye

This week at enemy grounds in Ingolstadt
  • People hear again and again that print journalism is dead, but when it comes right down to it, some people just want to hold the paper in their hands.
  • You’d think that being a journalist opened doors for you, but often the worst thing you can do is say, ‘I write for a newspaper.‘ (I knew this one already, because I’ve been working for my wife’s journalist office for a decade now…however, I’ve seen it repeatedly while researching my own stories in the last six months – no one wants to talk to a journo. Unless they’re in PR and in that case they have nothing I really want to hear.)
  • Being a professional journalist sounds impressive, but it isn’t. Writing for The Guardian means something in my book. Having been published by some two bit publication? Not so much. Over the last half year, I’ve heard repeatedly, ‘He’s a professional journalist.‘ You know what that means? He says he’s a professional journalist. Nothing more. It’s a real profession, but very few people are making a living at it. Very. Very. Few.
  • Some say the future of news journalism is at the hands of bloggers. I certainly hope not. Don’t get me wrong. I love reading blogs and write a few myself, but do I really want Lucy’s Football giving me analysis on the European Debt Crisis? She can’t handle her debt crisis.
  • The Münchner Merkur isn’t a bad paper. I had no idea how well written it was and have used it as a gold mine to find ideas for stories. I’m still a snob about reading the Süddeutsche, but my horizons have expanded to include news source at which I’d previously scoffed.

The last week has been mostly about the Oktoberfest here in Munich on the old Miscellaneous Blog de Lahikmajoe. I’ll be getting back to that soon enough.

Realised this week that I joined my paper (then The Munich Times, whose name I preferred, and later The Munich Eye) exactly six months ago. What a way to celebrate the half anniversary, right? With an assessment of what I’ve learned.

Here’s to another six months of sometimes quality writing and covering the news and events going on in Bavaria’s capital. Hope you’ll be along for the ride.

a grand total of seventy-four

really? only seventy-four? what're we doing here?

Stumbling round the web today, I happened upon McSweeney’s, which I’m certain I’ll be returning to for inspiration. I’m not kidding; there was so much wisdom (or satire of wisdom) to pass on that I could easily make this whole blog a ‘What I read on McSweeney’s site’.

Wait, let me ponder that one a minute.

No, I think I’ll keep on with the course I’ve been following. Whatever amuses, concerns or baffles me. That’s what you get here. Haven’t heard many complaints. That’s not an invitation for complaints. Really.

But then I found Teddy Wayne’s Unpopular Proverbs. How could you deny yourself taking a gander at such a thing? I would not be denied. It’s one of my superpowers. Unless I’m tired. Or distracted. But if I’m well-rested and have even a minimum level of focus, then I cannot be denied.

Here’s ol’ Teddy Wayne’s Unpopular Proverb when it comes to Writing:

‘A drop of ink may make a million think, though to be technically accurate, this isn’t printed, it’s just on the Internet, and with the fragmentation of modern media, I’d be surprised if it gets more than a few thousand readers and, let’s be honest, this isn’t very thought-provoking. So: An electronic display of characters may amuse a few thousand. Except the number of people actually amused is probably under a hundred. Therefore: An electronic display of characters amuses seventy-four.’

I’m ok with seventy-four. Well, for today I am. I didn’t create much here today. But on a day when I come up with some of my usual whimsy, I expect a few more of you to happen by. It’s not as if it’s going to affect you adversely. At least I hope it won’t.

the facts from your worldview

no iPads in the Shanghai tea house

This one is going to be hard to tell without you actually going to some of the links I provide. I normally try to make my blog easy to follow without you having to go anywhere else. While telling you a story, and I try to tell you where I came up with the genesis of the idea – how I got to my way of thinking about it – but I still want you to be able to get the main idea without it being necessary to click on any of those sources.

In this case, you’ll get much more out of this if you listen to the source material.

A few months ago I heard a story on This American Life, a show which I’ve mentioned here before, and I was transfixed while listening to it. Maybe you’ve been so busy with other things and haven’t heard about Mike Daisey‘s monologue The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, in which he talks about the working conditions in Chinese factories where Apple products are assembled. You should hear the original program here, but I couldn’t embed that into the blogpost, so I’ve found footage of him stating his main points elsewhere and want you to see for yourself what he says:

It’s intriguing what he’s saying, isn’t it? Although I hear some people grousing about Apple’s success, for the most part I hear only what a great company it is and how happy their customers are. Truly happy. It’s a success story unlike the world has ever seen. Right?

But isn’t there even a little part of you that hears Mike Daisey state his case, and thinks to yourself, ‘I knew something wasn’t right. No company could be that successful and not have unfair practices.

If you didn’t actually click on the This American Life link, I’d highly recommend it. It’s compelling radio and what I want to say really relies on the emotions that one potentially has when hearing of the plight of those Chinese factory workers. It’s not nice.

Ok, did you hear it? Was I right? That was emotionally exhausting, wasn’t it?

Well, I have some uncomfortable news for you. Mike Daisey made some of the stuff up. Not all of it, and the main thrust of his point might even have some merit. It seems like it must. Nevertheless, he hemmed and hawed when confronted with it, but the truth has slowly emerged that he played fast and loose with the facts.

This is actually the part I wanted to get to. I went into all that detail, so you could hear the folks at This American Life invite him back to give him an Oprah-and-James Frey dressing down. That’s a misrepresentation. The show’s host, Ira Glass, is actually very compassionate and candid with Mike Daisey, but you can tell he’s seething. There are more pregnant pauses than William Shatner at a Star Trek Convention.

The buildup to the second episode of This American Life was intense. I read about it all the way over here in the German press. It’s news when someone fabricates such a story…even if that’s not how Mike Daisey presents it. He still disputes that it was a fabrication. A difference of worldview as he calls it at one point.

I’ll leave my own pregnant pause at the very thought of that one.


Here’s the retraction of the story. It’s admirable that the programme took such care in the way this was done. Like I say, I think you can hear the fury in Ira Glass‘s voice. It’s not as if he hides his frustration, but some people get very terse when they’re upset. Mr Glass seems to be just such a person.

And the already-mentioned lengthy and noticeable pauses. Those are excruciating.

update: I found a clip on Soundcloud that plays the most painful moments of the whole thing. Here it is:

Mike Daisey dances around the truth…avoids it with all he has, parses a few sentences that would make a contract lawyer blush, and then leaves in disgrace only to make a later appointment, in which he makes a double-fisted attempt to go back and continue perpetuating his charade.

second update: a friend who read this pointed me to one of Mike Daisey‘s most recent performances of not just The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, but a bit of Daisey’s agony when it came to this scandal, as well. He goes into detail about his career up to this point and what exactly led up to his self-created ordeal. Here that is:

Here’s the funny thing, though. His point is muddled and questionable. His method deserved to be mocked, and his ethics are not to be excused. However, he makes an important case.

That doesn’t seem right, does it? If he’s disgraced and sent packing back to his falsely-labelled stage show, how can he simultaneously be right? Those two things are mutually exclusive.  You can’t have both.

Really? You can’t? Why the hell not?

Before the retraction, when many people still thought this was a factually honourable story, I discussed this at length with several business people I know in my daily life. One in particular is the head of a production factory in a highly successful German company.

His response to the allegations in the original story was essentially, ‘Yes, so what? There is, in fact, modern slavery. Many places in the world have labour practices that’d make you cringe. Possibly even embarrass you to be a part of humanity.

Then he and I both turned back to our respective Apple products. Distracted by the shiny buttons and lulled into a false sense of superiority.

Welcome to the club

I’m mailing it in a bit this time around. There are so many things on my mind that I’m excited to blog about, but I really need a bit more time to develop the ideas. So instead, I’ve decided to include a video that the The Guardian put together. It’s on their open journalism page, and it’s really worth watching. You don’t even have to click over to it. I’ve embedded the video into the post. Have a look:

There’s so much to think about, right?

There’s so much visual stimuli, but the things that jumped out at me were:

‘keep your chinny chin chins up fellas’

‘I knew the wolf. There’s no way he could’ve blown down those houses. He had asthma’

‘”Huff and Puff” simulation’

and my favorite was one of the signs at the demonstration that said:Wake up and smell the bacon

Although, when I saw this the first time there was plenty  of both positive and even negative feedback on the whole idea. The future of media seems to be one of those darling topics of both serious and not-so-serious thinkers. Last week at South by Southwest in Austin, the editor-in-chief of the New York TimesJill Abramson, spoke at length about this very thing. Oh wait, here’s Jill Abramson Plays the Tech Neophyte at SXSW over at The New York Observer.

But I’m not going to rehash any of the things that were said about The Guardian‘s foray into all of this. You came here for my take.

For me, there’s no question that modern organisations have to grapple with how to deal with new media. Specifically with the way that the reader/viewer has grown accustomed to being a participant. I must admit that when I see a cable news show letting their programming be steered by the idiocy of their viewers, I get irritable. It’s one of those things that really makes me worry about our future collective intelligence.

Yet if I’m honest, I must admit that you take the good with the bad. If we’re going to open media up to the masses, and the genie has been let out of the bottle on this one, then we’re going to sometimes see the dark underbelly of humanity.

In a very critical way, it makes us responsible in a way that we’ve never seen. Even though there will likely always be more trusted news sources than others, we have to be more particular about what/who we believe than any other time in history. We joke about it. We say, ‘I saw it on the internet – it must be true,‘ while knowingly winking at the utter ridiculousness of such a statement.

One of my closest friends tells a story about Sunday mornings at his grandfather’s house. His eyes light up when he tells it. My heart warms a bit just thinking of it, as well. Are you ready? You’re going to love this.

Early in the morning, before everyone was awake, grandfather would amble down to the store and buy a selection of various newspapers. He’d come home with freshly-baked bread from the panadería, and spread all those papers out on the floor. They’d spend hours reading the same stories from different perspectives. As a result, my friend is one of the most balanced and curious people I’ve ever known.

What do I want? 

Glad you asked. Don’t read the same old newspapers you’ve always read. Don’t go to the same websites and assume that the information is good enough. It’s not. Read something that challenges you – something you are sure you disagree with. It’s worth it. It really is.

What’re you scared of? 

Being wrong.

Welcome to the club.

the smart pigs who're sometimes wrong club