Already heart-breaking images of grieving family and friends only become more poignant when you hear this:
Some family members and friends of the 239 people who haven't been heard from since Malaysia Airlines flight 370 disappeared Saturday say they've been calling their loved ones' cellphones and hearing rings — though no one picked up the calls.
Could those rings be a sign, they wonder, that the phones are still working — which in turn could mean that the people they belong to are safe?
Sadly, the rings are not evidence that the worst hasn't happened.
Technology industry analyst Jeff Kagan talked to us this morning about what happens when cellphone calls are made.
"When a customer calls another number," he said, "the carrier has to decide what to do next."
Basically, it starts searching for the phone that's being called.
While the phone company's doing that, it sends a ring — or two, or three, or more — to the person who initiated the call. The phone company does that, Kagan said, "so that the customer doesn't hang up" while the search for that other phone is underway.
This happens to him quite frequently, Kagan told us. "My wife will call me and say she heard it ring two or three times. But I picked it up on the first ring [that he heard]." She was hearing the "rings" that the cellphone carrier sent while it was searching for his phone.
How long it takes to either find the other phone or determine that it can't be reached depends on many factors. They include whether the person making the call is trying to reach someone whose phone is part of a different network and whether the person being called is in a different country. Such variables can add to the time it takes to either complete the call or disconnect.
When a carrier can't find the phone that's being called, any one of several things may happen:
— The call might be dropped.
— The call might go to the person's voicemail.
— The call might go to a recorded message saying it couldn't be completed.
"There's not a standard way" that such uncompleted calls are handled, Kagan said.
Flight 370 was on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it disappeared. The airline says 154 of those on board were from mainland China or Taiwan. "According to Chinese media," the Mirror writes, "19 [Chinese] families have signed a joint statement confirming they made calls which connected to the missing passengers but without an answer."
Kagan says he understands why grieving families might get some comfort from or be confused by the "rings" they've heard. But he wishes their expectations weren't apparently raised needlessly. "I hate that they have hope" because of this bit of technology, he said.
Every reality show is an entirely true story.
It is not the story that it claims to be - the story of two tribes building a new civilization, the story of America's search for its next superstar - but it is a true story nevertheless. It is, or at least it contains, the true story of the conception, creation, marketing, viewing, analyzing, and evolution over time of a piece of entertainment that lives in the swampy, foggy, half-real version of the truth that it creates.
There are people who have met on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette (as well as on other shows) who have actually gotten married and had children and stayed together. That's the more-or-less kind-of-true plus-or-minus part when it comes to the on-screen story. It's popular to say everything is scripted, nothing is real, but that's far too simplistic. There are moments of authenticity, believe it or not, in many of these productions.
But the on-screen story of The Bachelor is, for the most part, a goony, tacky, stupid con. To repeat a statistic that's well-known by now, and one that's repeated as it becomes gaudier and gaudier: of 17 bachelors before Juan Pablo Galavis (whose season ended Monday night), exactly one — the most recent, Sean Lowe — had the experience the show sells with its diamonds-and-roses come-on: meet a woman, choose her in the finale, get married. Women on The Bachelorette have fared a little better for some reason: fully two out of the first eight Bachelorettes married their final picks, and the ninth is still engaged.
There are perhaps those viewers who still watch it straight-on, for the romance, who still thrill in the way the show overtly asks them to and who swoon when someone "finds" "love." But particularly with the help of Twitter, The Bachelor now has an entirely different following: people who find it amusing to watch and dissect the con and to treat the entire thing as a partially felt, entertainingly unctuous performance of what television has decided is "romantic."
Monday night's finale was catnip to this demographic, because more than it ever has before, the con came apart on screen.
As shattering as the light that fell from the sky in 1998's prescient The Truman Show, this particular finale capped a season that has gurgled and choked on its own chosen star as a series of women seemed to suddenly widen their eyes, straighten their spines and say, "Uhhhh ... bye." This isn't unprecedented - there have been people in the past who have still been in the running and said of the central figure that they are not, shall we say, feeling it. But generally, the show preserves the idea that this is either nobody's fault or the departing person's fault. Generally, the near-universal desirability of the Bachelor/ette is sacrosanct.
This season, of the last six women in the running, who are presumably the ones who got to know Galavis the best, two of them walked and another one almost did. And they didn't really leave because there was no spark, and they didn't really leave because they weren't "feeling it." The first, an opera singer named Sharleen, left after making a long series of comments amounting to variations on, "He has nothing to say and isn't very smart." The second, an Assistant District Attorney named Andi, left after spending a long night with him in which he apparently talked exclusively about himself and turned her off entirely.
And then a lady named Clare, when she was all the way down to the final two, found herself in a private moment with Juan Pablo outside the reach of cameras and microphones, hoping for a private avowal of warm feelings, at which point she later claimed (extrapolating from her bleeped retelling) that he instead said, "I loved [having sex with] you." With the brackets containing the part she wasn't so crazy about. She wound up staying, but he didn't pick her in the end, and she was immediately irate that he'd led her on. She told him she wouldn't want any child of hers to have him for a father — despite the fact that the show's favorite thing about him has been that he has a daughter. When she was gone, he chortled, "Hoo, I'm glad I didn't pick her."
So in the course of three departures, the show actually allowed their eligible bachelor, who represents the prize for which all these contestants are competing, to be portrayed as (1) not too bright, (2) kind of self-centered and boring, and (3) coarse and vulgar.
They'd had some PR issues with Galavis earlier in the season, when he was quoted saying that he didn't believe a show with a gay bachelor would be anything people would watch, would set a poor example for kids, and would be "too strong" because gay people are "more pervert in a sense." Galavis, a Venezuelan soccer player whose first language is not English, later claimed that when he said "pervert" he meant "more affectionate and intense."
But it certainly seems that at some point, whether because the PR was bad or because they couldn't avoid it, in showing all these interviews in which women dismissed him as kind of unappealing, the show decided to dump him. They steered into the skid, as it were, and the finale included lots of footage of the live audience frowning and booing and gasping with dismay at things he said and did - that's the true story part. The true story part is not Juan Pablo ultimately choosing a woman named Nikki. The true story is that somewhere, somebody who makes The Bachelor decided that they needed a different framing for the season - one in which their bachelor was kind of ... a jerk. They made a choice to cut him loose. To throw him, in reality show terms, under the bus.
And Galavis knows that's what happened, and while he was undoubtedly under all kinds of contractual obligations to come out on stage with Nikki and talk to host Chris Harrison, he made it as uncomfortable and awkward as possible and played along as little as he possibly could. Harrison had been teasing all along that Galavis had a big surprise; when it came time to reveal it on live TV, Juan Pablo basically said, "I don't know what you're talking about." It certainly appeared that he hosed the host on live television. That is, in this universe, Not Done. Live shows are choreographed; if there was supposed to be a bit there, pulling the plug on it would leave a hole. Indeed, Harrison seemed to be caught flat-footed, and settled for asking over and over and over again whether Juan Pablo would please just say he was in love with Nikki. (He wouldn't.)
It wasn't just that — Juan Pablo later darkly and coldly implied that he and Nikki had changed some of their plans for the future because of information he received in the last few weeks from the producers. Now what is that supposed to mean?
As things sputtered awkwardly, Harrison went to Sean and Catherine in the audience - that one bachelor who has ever married his final choice - and asked them to comment as Juan Pablo dug his heels in and didn't cooperate. And Catherine said the most fascinating thing to him: "Don't slap the hand that fed you." Now, the show played this as an exchange that was about Juan Pablo disrespecting the relationship he'd built on the show, but juuuuust barely concealed is what felt like it might be the real, true story: a woman who has derived a lot of financial benefit (including a splashy televised wedding) from staying on good terms with this franchise and playing along like she's supposed to, telling a guy who was in the process - the live process - of blowing off the producers that he might one day regret burning his bridges with them. They won't invite you back to do the thing I am doing right now and you'll have to get a job like a chump, you could easily imagine she might be saying.
It wasn't that the con fell apart because Juan Pablo came off like a cad. It was that the con fell apart because Juan Pablo was no shame-faced Brad Womack from a few seasons back, who allowed himself to be treated as a commitment-phobic punching bag because he chose nobody, and who in return for his cooperation got to come back and do another season. No, Juan Pablo sat on that couch, suddenly interested in his privacy, looking like every bit the self-involved, smug dude some of the women had come to believe he was. But he directed his smugness and his unpleasantness not at the women, but at the show.
In a sense, Chris Harrison and Juan Pablo Galavis were on a terrible, awkward fifth date: Harrison trying to make conversation, feeling resentful and entitled because his date wouldn't engage; Galavis glowering and bored and checked out, ticked off and ready to leave.
The con cracked in half because all of a sudden, you were watching the struggle between a network production trying to put together a neat narrative about a guy women could have fun gabbing about as a Bad Boyfriend and a guy who was not at all prepared to have that happen, regardless of whether he deserved it. There's a true story there somewhere, and it's a true story of what looks like a hugely tense taping in which everybody was genuinely, truly, really, non-pretend mad.
Now, you can go out in levels of complexity: maybe it's a true story about an entirely different con in which they persuaded the audience that they were at odds with their Bachelor; maybe that's what they wanted you to think. Or maybe "that's what they wanted you to think" is ... what they wanted you to think. But somewhere here, there is a true story of television and some substantial shifts in the planning and execution of one of the few long-running reality franchises that's been this resilient (particularly given its appalling track record). A franchise, it must be said, that makes a lot of money for a lot of folks.
And Monday night, that true story was a little ... fascinating.
"My mouse pad broke, and I had to get my great-aunt some diabetes shoes."
That's how comedian Zach Galifianakis begins his segment with President Obama, in an episode of the online interview show Between Two Ferns that was posted today. It was an interview unlike any other for a sitting U.S. president, as Galifianakis probed the commander-in-chief's views with a range of oddball questions.
As The New York Times reports, Obama appeared on the comedy show in an attempt to get more young Americans to enroll for health care under the Affordable Care Act before the program's March 31 deadline.
"We have to find ways to break through," White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer tells the newspaper, which notes other turns in the not-so-serious media taken by presidents Bush (Deal or No Deal), Clinton (MTV's Enough is Enough forum) and Ford (Saturday Night Live).
Sitting across from Galifianakis on the spare set that sets the tone for the show's awkwardly funny moments, Obama kept a straight face throughout — and seized a chance to talk about the new health care program.
Here are some of the questions Obama fielded that no U.S. president has faced before:
"Why would you get the guy who created the Zune to make your website?"
"Is this what they mean by 'drones'?"
"I don't have a phone; I'm off the grid. I don't want you people looking at my texts ... know what I mean?"
We won't spoil all the jokes — the segment ends with an elaborate one that's best seen for yourself. The short video made a splash after it was posted Tuesday morning. Within two hours, it had been viewed more than 320,000 times, and the servers at Funny or Die, the comedy site behind the show, seemed to have trouble keeping up with demand.
To prepare for this week's show, All Songs hosts Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton and NPR Music's Stephen Thompson listened to 1,540 songs by musicians who will be playing at SXSW this week in Austin, Tex. Each narrowed that enormous list down to just a few songs by previously unknown bands that they're now planning to check out in Austin. NPR Music's Frannie Kelley and Ann Powers also stop by to offer a couple of suggestions, along with Katie Presley.
Discovery is the name of the game for many at SXSW, and this show is all about up-and-coming talent. Whether it's the upbeat, celebratory feel of Louisiana's Royal Teeth or the ghostly experimental electronic music of Alligator Indian, this edition of All Songs Considered is bursting with passion and unique voices. Hopefully we'll uncover a lot more of that feeling this week in Austin.
Our early headlines:
Other news of the day:
— Sen. McCaskill's bill on sexual assaults in military passes Senate by 97-0 vote. (Politico)
— At Oscar Pistorius trial, witness says the accused murderer "loved weapons." (Los Angeles Times)
— "Venezuelan student leader killed in anti-government clashes." (Time)
— "Swedish journalist shot dead in central Kabul." (Reuters)
— NHL game stopped, then postponed after Dallas Stars player Rich Peverley collapses; he's recuperating from heart problem. (Dallas Morning News)
— On third anniversary of earthquake and tsunami, Japan debates building "great wall" to protect against the sea. (Morning Edition)