Monday, September 1, 2008

On cable television

A few days ago, on the day of Obama’s speech to the Democratic convention, Jenna and I woke up at 4am to watch it live here on CNN. (Excellent speech, I thought. I wish he said more about Iraq, but I was pleased to see him go after the Republicans pretty aggressively.) It was also being broadcast on a few other channels which we get, including Al-Jazeera International. Al-Jazeera is great, and has a lot more substantive commentary. So, for example, after Obama’s speech, there was an Iranian political scientist who discussed why so many liberal and progressive intellectuals in Iran support Obama. His main argument was that his willingness to meet with and talk to all leaders should not be underestimated. He sees this, even more than the outcomes those talks would yield, as representing a massive change in the political relationship between the US and the rest of the world. Fascinating commentary, and I am glad to be able to watch it here.

Let me say a little bit about our television situation here, which we got set up right before we left for Dahab. We bought a 21-inch color Samsung TV, a LG DVD player, and a cable box for a total of 2,000 LE (a little bit less than $400 US). The difference between here and the US is the cable box purchase, which was 400 LE. Our apartment comes with a satellite cable from the roof (this, along with a telephone line, is standard apartment hardware here). The electrician ran the cable into our flat and we plugged everything up (with the help of our neighbor), and we get 43 cable channels for free—among them the aforementioned Al-Jazeera and CNN. Also, EuroNews, BBC, several sports networks, Nickelodeon, MTV Arabia, and a bunch of other regional programming. Most of the regional channels show movies or US television series in English with Arabic subtitles. A sampling of recent offerings include: Lost, Friends, Law and Order: SVU, Dharma and Greg, The Daily Show, JFK (Oliver Stone), The Day After Tomorrow, and True Hollywood Stories: Who’s the Boss? There is quite a lot to choose from. For all of this, we pay nothing beyond the purchase of the cable box.

The cable box has a slot for a card the size of a credit card. This is how you subscribe to premium channels. There are two main offerings here, and then several specialty networks for sports or children’s programming. You would go to the cable office or a retail outlet and choose your plan and pay the monthly fee—around 200 LE for a premium package that includes about a dozen movie channels. They give you a card that you insert into the card reader on your cable box and voilà. There are no contracts or deposits. You pay by the month and if you don’t pay the card stops working. As long as your account is current, the card continues to work. So far, it seems to be a pretty efficient system. We have not elected a premium package yet. For now, the basic service along with the DVDs we received in our shipment is keeping us entertained.

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