Books, Television

North Korea Fascinates Me

North Korea is a crazy place.  I recently learned that the 3 generation regime in North Korea has killed more people than Hitler and Stalin combined.  That’s a lot of misery.  I am so sad and disappointed that there is no solution that can immediately end the misery of millions of North Koreans.  This PBS video linked to above shows a bit of that misery.  The HBO editorial news show Vice had a great episode about a visit to the “hermit nation.” Last year I read Adam Johnson’s excellent novelization of aspects of what we know about the lives of everyday North Koreans titled The Orphan Master’s Son.  This book won the Pulitzer Prize.  Perhaps the only way that I can try to get in touch with this issue is to continue to learn about it.  I do hear some hope in this PBS documentary, particularly the bit about cell phones flowing into the country.  But if North Korea’s government were to change tomorrow, it would be a herculean task to bring the country into the 20th century, let alone the 21st.  Young people’s education consists of memorizing the speeches of the regime’s potentates, learning about how foreign powers want to kill them, and make Texas’s insane propagandized textbooks seem a beacon of truth.  I happened to meet Adam Johnson at a book event about a year ago, and he was a fascinating speaker.  One of the books he recommended on this topic is The Aquariums of Pyongyang.  I am going to take his advice finally, I think.

I don’t think I would ever agree to go to North Korea, even if I had an all-expenses paid trip paid for by Bob Barker from Showcase #2.  There is, of course, the danger of being in the country and falling afoul of the security state.  But what I’m more concerned about is supporting such a terrible dictatorship.  Bringing my foreign currency in and turning it over to the security state isn’t exactly what I have in mind for vacation.  I can’t help but imagine that it would go to support the misery and the gulags and the torture.

Can you teach me something about North Korea? If so, please comment below!

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Television

Cutting the Cable

I’ve been hearing from so many friends and acquaintances that they do just fine without cable TV.  Who are these insane people who get by without a Tivo or DVR?  How do they get HBO?  How do they watch sports?

Marta and I have become one of these households.  Our 2-year contract with Comcast ended and they wouldn’t budge on the bill without another commitment, so we cut the cable.  No Dish, either!  And no, we aren’t downloading TV illegally.  We’re too old for such shenanigans.  So how are we coping since we cut off cable in November?

  1. We buy shows we really like.  I have 2 guilty pleasures in Discovery Channel shows Moonshiners and Gold Rush.  I purchase those online for $3 each in HD.  I’m going to be buying a few shows from cable networks.  Among those are Longmire, Justified.  I prefer the Amazon Instant Watch service to purchase these TV shows as I like their ecosystem the best, however many friends prefer to use iTunes.  Either one works great.  After I buy the show, it’s mine forever.  I don’t have to find shelf space for a set of Blurays or DVDs, I don’t have to worry about freeing up space on my DVR’s hard drive.  It’s just there whenever I want it.  Shows that just took up time are now abandoned.  Sorry to The Walking Dead and Mad Men.  You just weren’t good enough to justify the 42 minutes to watch and $3 per episode.  I’m just not that into you.
  2. Lots of shows are available free online through legitimate services.  I have a full-blown windows PC which uses our TV as a monitor.  We have a wireless keyboard and mouse setup to control it, so we can stream anything that is available on your PC.  I do have to watch lots of commercials now, whereas before I just flipped through them with my remote.  However I can put up with a few commercials for $100/month savings. Free sites include big names like ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, PBS, and FOX.
  3. Marta and I watched Netflix original shows for a little while and particularly enjoyed House of Cards with the lovably naughty Kevin Spacey, but we’ve discontinued that service as the original programming is pretty limited and much of it doesn’t appeal to us.
  4. We watch quite a bit of content free through Amazon’s streaming service.  Since we already subscribe to the Prime service, this is pretty much free entertainment for us.  Our current favorite is their original show Alpha House with the amazing John Goodman playing a right-wing Senator from North Carolina who shares a house in DC with 3 other similarly quirky Republican colleagues, which is our after work Friday TV treat.  There’s lots of other content there, too.
  5. The pies de la resistance is a bit of a surprise to me.  I thought Hulu Plus was a complete waste of money.  After all, aren’t they just selling the same content that you get for free on your PC?  Nope.  They have a plethora of shows, mostly from the UK, which I’d never heard of that are stellar.  In fact, I’d never have heard of them if I didn’t cut cable.  I can’t recommend Moone Boy highly enough.  It’s the story of a 6th grader who has an imaginary adult friend, and reminds me of an Irish Calvin and Hobbes.  Watch it now.  But we’ve also found Pramface, The Wrong Mans, The Thick of It, and Braquo.  I bet that if you have cable you haven’t heard of many/any of these titles.  And they are spectacular.  And if these don’t appeal to you, they seem to have shows that appeal to many demographics besides mine.  There are other competing services out there that we haven’t explored like Crackle and Vudu that I’m sure we’ll get around to soon enough.

I do miss a few shows.  I enjoyed Pawn Stars, but I can’t justify $3 for a 22-minute episode.  So maybe I’ll wait for the episodes to get older and catch up on them when they’re on a streaming service or the whole season is on sale at Amazon.  I finally got into Game of Thrones during season 3, and now I’m going to be out in the cold when season 4 airs.  However I can wait a few months for the whole fourth season to be released at once.  I’m not going to die if I don’t see them exactly when they come out.  That gives me more time for other things like reading, video games, walking the dog, or maybe I’ll go absolutely crazy and exercise or something.

But what about sports, John?  I must admit that I’m not too into sports and I get an out here by cheating.  The only thing I really ever watch is University of Tennessee football (Go Vols!).  Since I live in Washington State, outside the normal viewing fanbase of the Tennessee Volunteers, I can see most of the games for free online.  Those that I can’t are going to be the big ones that I can go to my local watering hole and watch while enjoying my favorite libations.  Or I can visit a friend’s house.  Surprisingly there are lots of SEC refugees up here in the Seattle area, and unsurprisingly they are hospitable.

We do have high speed internet through the telephone company, and that’s no pleasure.  The internet is slower than Comcast.  While there are times when our speed goes down to a crawl, it hasn’t died during wind & snow storms like our cable did.  Of course it’s just been 2 months, so I’ll withhold judgment on that front.  But we pay less than $40/month with taxes and modem rental, and I really like that price difference.  That is a promotional rate for 12 months, so at the end of that we’ll see what options are available to us.  But it beats the $70/month + fees that Comcast would charge us without the modem rental.

This has been an enjoyable experiment.  Comcast did make parting company easier by calling me a half dozen times after I’d cancelled my service to ask for cable boxes I’d already returned.  It feels good to take back a little power and go around Comcast for my content.  It’s a shame that our politicians don’t reintroduce competition to the marketplace and break up the old cable monopoly.  In the meantime, this is what I’m doing and it is great fun.

-John

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