Thursday, February 28, 2008

Harpo / Oprah to produce philanthropy show called "The Big Give"; looks for contestants

Today, Feb. 28, Nate Berkus appeared on The View at the end of the show and described the upcoming show “The Big Give” on ABC, from Oprah Winfrey and “Harpo Productions”. Nate is one of the hosts. The “object of the game” among the contestants is to give or help people (sometimes but not always it is with money), over an eight-week content. The contestant is given money but must use it to give money or services or betterment away. Oprah's "Big Give" will premier Sunday March 2 at 9 PM EST.

The link for the casting call for the program is on Oprah’s site, here. As of this writing, there are still future casting calls (possibly for future contests) in New York and Chicago. The show looks for “ordinary people” as contestants, and not “angels.” Nevertheless, the show requires a long road and travel commitment.

The link for her Feb. 29 preview is here. The slogan for the show is "Give Big or Go Home."

Also, today on Oprah, Nate Berkus announced a viewer-participation opportunity to load personal "Big Give" ideas local to visitor communities on to Oprah's YouTube link. The best ideas may lead to invitation to appear on the show or to have the video shown on the show. Nate's announcement appears in the link for Oprah's Feb 29 show, above

Nate appeared on Jimmy Kimmel on ABC on Wednesday Feb. 26. Jimmy repeated Oprah’s claim that Nate is “The King of Décor.” There is a YouTube clip of the six-minute interview here. Jimmy gave Nate a portrait of himself (Jimmy), decorated with a red Valentine’s Day bow, and asked Nate not to regift it. Nate talked about introducing Jimmy to the gay world. Nate could answer all the questions cleverly (without WGA), so I think he would make a good Saturday Night Live host. The Kimmel appearance is now on YouTube, link here.

Stay tuned for more announcements about this show.

I haven't followed Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" on NBC because it did look silly. It's too hard to "fire" a proven celebrity! Former 'Nsync singer Lance Bass, in his book "Out of Sync" is described as a philanthropist on the dust jacket. (Note: On March 6, the "boardroom" scene had a crude slur at gay people and a takeoff on "Brokeback Mountain"; Omarosa got fired, for the second time!)

Update: March 2, 2008

Ty Pennington had a spirited show doing an extreme home makeover (in this case, an entire rebuild) for a soldier (on leave from Iraq) in Virginia and his family.

Pennington does a different state each week. Like Berkus, he often works with Oprah.

But the ABC event for the evening was indeed Orpah's The Big Give. Oprah calls each of the ten contestants, surprising them. They come together. There are three judges, and Nate Berkus oversees. They are to be judged on creativity, delivery, and accomplishment. They are split into five two-man teams with $2500, a plane ticket, a rental SUV, and a clue as to how to find the people to be helped. They they set up events, fundraisers, or arrange for corporations to make donations. One task involved a school for kids with Downs Syndrome.

The second week, in Denver, was more challenging. The contestants had to find the customers who needed assistance themselves.

Andre Agazzi appeared in Week 3 (and he looked hairless, completely; remember how he looked in 1989? -- The Advocate has noted this). This time the contestants held a huge Christmas party for an inner-city elementary school in LA. Each kid got a present and had to wait until all the other kids had theirs before opening them.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Oprah: the "freegans" lifestyle; a single mom takes a "controversial" occupation

Oprah today (Feb. 27, 2008) had two provocative episodes, as she named her show “Living on the Edge: How far would you go?” The link is here.

The first half-hour presented the new movement of “freegans.” These are individuals, economically capable, who voluntarily give up a conventional lifestyle of “competitive consumerism” and live on as little as possible. In a city, they may actually scavenge garbage for food.

One character was a former business executive who had earned six figures. She showed, on a “trash tour” (no pun on Andy Warhol) “techniques” for finding edible throw-away food. Restaurants and groceries will not give it to the homeless out of liability concerns.

The show went on to present the “moral” problem: America has 5% of the world’s population, and consumers 30% of the resources. (In bigger terms related to global warming, the West no longer not live off of current solar energy, as Di Caprio’s film “The 11th Hour” had pointed out (review link.

The second half of the show presented a single mother, Miriam, who, after her checking account reached a minimum of 19 cents while working in conventional fields, supplemented her income by becoming an exotic dancer. She did her performances in a “no touch” club, does not feel that her own “reputation” is injured by the job.

However, back in December 2006 (this blog) Dr. Phil had presented a case where a female middle school teacher lost her job when it was revealed she had been a porn star ten years before. That revelation had occurred by print and word of mouth, but obviously the Internet poses this risk today.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Quarterlife: web program starts on NBC: curiously layered; is it a "Gossip Girl 2"?

Tonight NBC premiered a new series “Quarterlife,” the first episode directed by Marshall Hershkovitz, who wrote the story in collaboration with Edward Zwick. Other visitors write that this started out as an Internet show only, and got picked up by NBC.

The show has a couple major websites: Quarterlife , where each character already has his or her own blog; or NBC’s site: and on Myspace. They’ve reserved every combination except Blogger itself. The main site suggests that the audience can participate in writing or even shooting future episodes.

And, as we know, the show name is the name of the fictitious site in the show, a video blog run by homely little magazine editor Dylan Krieger (Bitsie Tulloch), the blog being very “personal” and a record of all the little relationship intrigues among her friends, all of whom act like high school kids or college freshmen. Of course, they find out about it, and they realize that anyone in Russia or Pakistan can see it, but that doesn’t matter so much as the fact that she can manipulate their love lives. So, she is a kind of Gossip Girl (from CWTV), except that here her identity is not a mystery. Now the other kids don’t think of running to Dr. Phil (his recent show “Internet mistakes”) or “Reputation Defender”; instead they actually have to live out their lives.

Jed (22 year old Scott Foster, from ABC Family’s “Greek”) and Danny (David Walton) have gotten a quick job (seemingly through film school) to make a car commercial. Jed becomes a “mark” for this little blog of “Gossip Girl #2”. He plays the part with the same cockiness as a frat brother in the ABC show. Lisa (Maite Schwartz) is struggling to become an actress, and her drama coach doesn’t think she has what it takes. It’s interesting how the show embeds the works and plays it talks about as if their stories were part of the plot.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Bob Woodruff visited North Korea on Nightline

Bob Woodruff appeared on ABC Nightline tonight, from North Korea (the "Hermit Kingdom" and "hermit" does not mean "hobbit" here), where he visited a nuclear fuel plant where North Korea is supposedly pulling out rods and disassembling the plant. He and other reporters and workers had to don a tight "bunny suit" to enter, form-fitted body garments sometimes found in semiconductor factories.

He also visited a shoe factory and found it now employed about 2100 workers instead of 300 a few years ago. He also visited a music school, where people practiced in ice cold conditions.

The New York Philharmonic will play a concert on Feb. 26 in Pyongyang, a city that often empties out as people are forced to work in the countryside, and where there are human traffic lights for few cars. North Korea is now allowing the privileged few (it's always that way with Communism) limited Internet access in state controlled rooms.

The ABC report is "American Culture in the Capital of Communism: Can an American Orchestra Help to Open Up a New Relationship with North Korea?," by Bob Woodruff, link here.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

NBC Saturday Night Live returns after WGA settlement; Mike Huckabee appears

NBC’s Saturday Night Live returned “Live” for the first time last night (Feb. 23), for the first time since the end of the WGA writers’ strike, with Tina Fey as host. Steve Martin (“The Spanish Prisoner”) kept slapping her.

The highlight of the show was in the middle, with the fake news broadcast by Seth Meyers and Amy Pohler, when Republican “Christian” presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, (former) governor of Arkansas, made a live appearance. Seth asked him why he doesn’t drop out, given the idea that it is mathematically impossible for him to have enough delegates to get the Republican Party “GOP” nomination this summer in Minneapolis. He answered that he doesn’t do math well (he probably couldn’t pass the test for “No Child Left Behind”) but believes in miracles in the Bible. (Even God can’t change the facts of mathematics, just the constants of space-time.) He said he was counting on the super delegates. Meyers asked him, aren’t those only in the Democrat party? Huckabee didn’t "realize" that. Meyers had to provide Huckabee a gentle reminder that it was time to leave. Here’s the link. I wonder if Huckabee's appearance matters in McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

The show started with a face-off between “Hillary” and “Barack.”

There was an SNL Digital Short with a senior citizen making fun of being old, with Andy Samberg and Will Forte coming in to mimic parts in this year’s Academy Award nominees, especially “There Will Be Blood,:” “Juno”, and “No Country for Old Men.” Later, near the end, there was a skit where oil man Daniel Plainview steals milkshakes from other café guests with an extended draw mimicking and oil rig, and the other films were parodied. Surprisingly, Paul Dano’s role as the Pentecostal Eli Sunday was not parodied, but Ellen Page 's Juno’s was included, as was Javier Bardem’s from “No Country.” (Ellen Page is due to host SNL on March 1.)

One of my favorite earlier SNL Digital Shorts was Samberg's "Laser Cats." No real cats, lions or tigers were harmed.

People stood in line at NBC Rockefeller Center to get tickets.

On Sunday Morning Feb. 24, the NBC Today show (Matt Lauer) interviewed Mike Huckabee and said it was possible that McCain would not have the necessary 1191 delegates for the first vote in the convention. He says he did do his arithmetic and algebra "story problems". In politics, "things can happen very quickly."

Breaking News! At 10:34 AM this morning on NBC's "Meet the Press", Ralph Nader, 74, announced (to Tim Russert) that he would run for president in 2008 as an independent. He did advocate single payer health insurance and claims that this is what most Americans really want. He was challenged as to whether he spoiled the 2000 election for Al Gore. Nader's website is I had to try several times to get past the timeout errors from heavy use. Book review of Nader's 17 Traditions here.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

NBC Today show covers Roswell, Area 51

The NBC Today show this morning (Feb. 23 2008) did an extended story (by Matt Lauer) on a couple of sites notorious with UFO hunters: Roswell, and Area 51. The link for today's story is not up yet, but an earlier story "Roswell embraces past and turns a buck: When it comes to playing up its space oddities, this town doesn't hold back" from July 6 2007 is here.

In July 1947 there was a crash on a ranch thirty miles north of Roswell, NM. Pieces of wreckage were found that some people believe could only have come from alien spacecraft, and some witnesses supposedly saw alien corpses. Over many decades, the story has expanded, with complex accounts of witnesses. Some films have been made, such as Artisan’s “Roswell: The UFO Cover-Up" (1994) (book by Kevin Randle and Donald Schmitt), that focus particularly on Jesse Marcel. Roswell has become a major tourist center with its International UFO Museum and Research Center, link, which inspired a 1999 film by Minnesotan Timothy Johnson, "Six Days in Roswell".

I took the tour of the Roswell crash site in late April, 1998, on a long weekend-airfare trip to the region after moving to Minneapolis. The family that owns the land had delayed tours for a few months because of private matters, but tours had opened again. One took a tour bus from Roswell.

There have been rumors over the years that some remains were taken to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, link. There is a museum there, which I visited in 1984. There is also a brick biological sciences building on the premises, visible from the street, which some claim contains the remains. There were also rumors that some materials were kept at Carswell in Fort Worth, TX.

As the show indicates, the Pentagon acknowledged the 1947 incident in the mid 1990s, and claimed that the remains were those of crash dummies.

The other area covered in the broadcast was Area 51 in Nevada, about 100 miles NE of Las Vegas. The closest approach is along highway 375, the supposed “Extraterrestrial Highway”. The nearest town is Rachel, NV, and there is an attraction called the Little A’Le’Inn (or Rachel Bar and Grill). I visited the area in late May, 2000. One cannot see any of the Area 51 facility from public roads, and the area is heavily guarded. There is a YouTube video "Area 51 Revisited" here. Here is a reference on Lake Groom.

The area of the Travis Walton abduction in 1975 is East of Flagstaff Arizona and near the Mogollon Rim escarpment, near the town of Heber, AZ. The forest road is normally accessible to the public. I visited it in 1976.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Clinton-Obama debate in Austin, TX on CNN

Tonight, Thurs. Feb. 22, there was no “Smallville” on CW (there were two Supernatural’s), but there was another Clinton-Obama debate, this time in Austin, Texas, in preparation for the March 4 primary. I know, there will be Rollerball. We’re not quite ready for something like Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960, which I recall (as my senior year in high school started).

Present were Jorge Ramos, Campbell Brown, and John King, to ask questions. Anderson Cooper provided the wrap-up immediately after the 105 minute event on CNN.

Hillary Clinton started out with a comment to the effect that health insurance companies discriminate against sick people. We don’t discriminate by race, sex, religion, etc., but we do on health status. Barbara Ehrenreich has written about this in The Progressive.

In fact, the “middle” of the debate was about the semantics of health care reform. Hillary stuck to her guns and insisted that purchase of health insurance needs to be mandatory the way payment of social security and Medicare taxes is mandatory. I know that the conservatives are going to come right out of the starting block with “socialized medicine” or at least the Canadian system. She says no other way will work, and that we will all wind up paying an extra $900 a year to cover the uninsured anyway.

Barack Obama answered to the effect that people who don’t buy health insurance don’t buy it because they can’t afford it.

Obama supported the Dream Act, which would allow children of illegal immigrants already in high school to stay in the country if they go to college or join the military upon graduation.

Obama claims that weapons needed in Afghanistan have been diverted to Iraq, causing troops to be undersupplied and to use weapons captured from the Taliban. Senator John Warner (R-Va) has sent a letter to Obama about the matter, as the story seems questionable.

There were some trite phrases. Hillary said that “English is an important part of American experience.” No kidding. Both candidates favor strengthen foreign language instruction in schools, and blame “no child left behind” for hindering the ability and interest of Americans in learning the harder languages like Chinese and Arabic.

Clinton said, "if the debate is going to be about words, you should use your own words." Obama said the words were given to him. (That's a favorite concept in sales culture, "We give you the words." Actors expect that from screenwriters. Late show hosts expect that from WGA writers.) Before the FEC settled the matter about bloggers and McCain-Feingold, those "given words" might have been construed as a "campaign contribution." Do we use on politicians the way teachers use it on kids' term papers?

Clinton then said that Obama was the candidate of "change you can xerox," ridiculing him as an amateur despite the fact that she also called him her friend and that she was honored to be on the same stage as him. Her behavior was quixotic, to say the least.

Obama said that “President Bush doesn’t listen well.” Hillary said that we will “breathe a sigh of relief” when he is out of office (her words were stronger, maybe a slip).

Anderson Cooper noted afterward that this was the first debate in which Obama came in as the frontrunner. Another commentator criticized her body language; she would not look Obama in the eye.

The CNN link is here.

CNN commentators are saying that if Hillary loses Texas and Ohio, her run is over. Obama is the nominee. It's Obama v. McCain as the pitching matchups, as if for opening day in the Nationals new stadium (Atlanta at Washington Mar. 30; we need to find a Cubs v. Diamondbacks game, May 9, in Chicago.)

Update: Feb. 26, 2008

The MSNBC link for the debate from Cleveland, Ohio (at Cleveland State University) as carried on MSNBC tonight is here. Hillary offered to drop NAFTA after six months. Yet, I recall getting a survey call at home from the Clinton Administration in late 1993 about NAFTA.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

PBS: Nova: "Ape Genius"

Tonight, PBS aired a most interesting Nova series presentation called “Ape Genius,” produced and directed by John Rubin. The link is here.

The program started with some footage that showed chimpanzees engaging in complex recreational play and in making small pointed wooden spears with which to call very small primates as food. To a human, it may be disturbing that chimpanzees would “canalbalize” another primate.

It seemed that chimpanzees could conceptualize goals and repeat patterns of observed behaviors to obtain those goals, a process related to what humans call culture. Chimpanzees actually have the beginnings of culture/

It then asked the question, what makes us different? Why do we study them (Twilight Zone style perhaps) rather than the other way around?

The program moved into a series of experiments that tested the ability of chimpanzee social interaction and cooperation. It would was more difficult for chimpanzees than children to suppress emotions and obtain goals by delayed gratification. But some chimpanzees could do this. Bonobo chimpanzees especially displayed some socialization.
Chimpanzees also displayed skills in arithmetic, as in sequencing numbers.

Staged experiments, especially in Germany and in Texas, finally established that chimpanzees, compared to humans, lack “staged” cooperation. That is, they lack the ability to “teach” each other in sequential communications. Toddlers typically learn this social skill by age 4. (It’s interesting to note that age 3 to 4 is when most prodigies, such as in music or art, or even acting, show the first signs of their gifts.) “Teaching” involves a “communications triangle.” Curiously, some domesticated animals (carnivores) learn “teaching”. Dogs do, cats do not in the usual sense (although it seems lions can “teach” each other in the wild). Cooperation and communication skills are essential to all sophisticated learning; in humans, autism represent the failure of these to develop. Animals that hunt for a living or that need to go through complicated activities to get food are more likely to develop intellectual, problem solving, and even eventually cooperation skills as these confer an eventual reproductive advantage. But extended “teaching” seems uniquely human, enabling one generation to build on the knowledge gained by past generations.

Also, check out the March 2008 National Geographic. The link is here, let the "almost human" on the slide slow appear. Cover is "Inside Animal Minds: Birds, Apes, Dolphins and a Dog with a world-class vocabulary"; Story by Virginia Morell is "Minds of their Own: Animals are smarter than you think." In 1993, Time had run a cover story, "Do animals think?" Yes.

Picture: (unrelated): near Dupont Circle, Washington DC

Monday, February 18, 2008

NBC starts "My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad" -- reality show

NBC’s “My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad” premiered tonight (Monday Feb 18) seems to be the ultimately silly reality show. Dan Cortese is the host. I don’t know whether it is serious about “family values” or making fun of them. Four family “teams” consisting of a father his grade-school-age child compete in exercises of strength, speed, and smarts.

For example, in the Desk Smash, the dads have to hack a desk to pieces and, with the help of the kids, load the maximum amount of scrap weight in a container in a time. It’s interesting that USAA (a life insurance company that focuses on the military) was advertising on NBC’s web page for the show tonight.

Then the kids, harnessed as in a rope climb, try to carry targets to bulls eyes on a Velcro Wall. Yes, Okay, it looked life fun, and maybe dangerous if not done right. Then the Dads have to take a quiz (like “Beauty and the Geek) but play “Kid May I” before answering the question.

I’ve heard this all my life. Men say that the most important thing in life to them is how good they are as fathers. It's particularly noticeable to me than often "family men" male a lot of being able to provide more for their children than do their "neighbors" -- that one competes through progeny. I don’t think that they always "mean it." On this show, maybe they do. But the show does seem to mimic a value system that tells couples that their psychic needs should be reinforced by the social supports of the outside world, without allowing distractions.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

ABC Extreme Makeover Home Addition helps family with young musician

On Sunday Feb. 17, ABC Extreme Makeover Home Edition (website), led by Ty Pennington, did another sensational makeover for a family. This two hour special would have made Oprah proud, but her shows are one-hour. The family had four children, with one of them, now 19, Patrick Henry Hughes, born without eyes or feet. Over time, Patrick had developed a talent for music, especially piano and brass instruments, and had worked with high school marching bands. He both performed and composed. The music seemed to consist largely of accompanied songs. Patrick has never known what it is like to see, so on the show he says he does not miss it.

The family went on vacation, and Patrick was honored at various points of the show, while the workers and volunteers renovated the entire large house in Louisville, Ky. (visit the city's website). The program paid the mortgage on the house and gave the family $100,000. Patrick got an entire studio apartment with a door that opens on voice command. Patrick also has a recording studio including not only keyboard and midi and the processing capabilities expected of packages like Cakewalk or Finale but also a Braille component. Packages like Cakewalk/Sonar have sophisticated music notation and instrumentation-related graphics and many detailed instructions (in Help) that must be followed to make them work. (I have it but need to become much more proficient.) I suppose that the Help in these packages could be rendered in audio by a conversion method. The TheWB “Everwood” series had shown a studio like that for the fictitious piano prodigy character Ephram.

Also, tonight, CBS "60 Minutes" presented a story on young Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel; more information with links on another blog, here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

NBC "Lipstick Jungle" episode touches on a potential legal issue in fiction publishing

Lipstick Jungle is a new glitzy show on NBC about three powerful women in the Big Apple: Victory (Lindsay Price), Nico (Kim Raser), and Wendy (Brooke Shields). It sounds like a serialization of “The Devil Wears Prada” mixed with a little paprika from “Gossip Girl.” But this is NBC, not CWTV. The show starts at 10:01 PM. I’m not sure what the point of that is, except maybe to make it stand out in TV listings.

The show envisions a fictitious magazine called “Royals” (the title of Kitty Kelly’s 1997 book), and the publisher is singing a contract with the “two boys” (Princes William and Harry).

The episode tonight (Feb. 14) covered an important problem. Wendy gets an unpublished manuscript for a “novel” from an agent (Lorraine Bracco) that was written by a nanny whom she had fired, and the “novel” closely parallels her life and presents her in a poor light. She is presented as a “bad mother”. (Remember the film “The Good Mother”?)

There is case law on novels resembling fiction, such as the famous “Touching” case in California in 1979. I discussed this on another blog last July in reference to a script I had written and put on my own website, to be found later by a high school principal when I was substitute teaching, link here. If a fictitious character too closely resembles a real character, in some states (particularly California) there could be grounds for libel (if the material is false) or invasion of privacy (especially false light), or possibly breach of an employment confidentiality agreement, as in the circumstances in the episode on this show.

In the show, the “author” threatens to take it to another publisher, and claims that Warner Brothers will buy the movie rights. A likely story! (It’s not that easy for novices to get money from movie studios, especially for gripe stories.) What the author could have done is self-publish it with print-on-demand (if she had about $400) or post the text on her own website (which is pretty cheap these days), to be found by search engines. The episode didn’t cover those possibilities. There was another case recently about "fiction" in blogs, discussion in my main blog, here.

On March 6, the episode had a clothing design being "stolen" and the show made the point that clothing designs are not covered by copyright law. That is one reason why designs are kept "secret." (Actually, trade secrets as such are protected by law!)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Oprah: Wife stranded by abusive husband; Women & Money

Once again, Oprah presented a wrenching situation, where other family members had to step in. The link is here.
The story has a surprising twist in the middle.

It starts as a warning as to what can happen to wives who have become economically dependent on the husband’s “family wage” and how the old fashioned idea of patriarchal marriage gets abused. A woman with four kids (plus one adult child) finds that her husband has committed suicide as an act of spite, after having dominated her, kept his debt-ridden finances a secret, and then canceled a life insurance company. Suze Orman comes to intervene. Suze asks her to take off her makeup to face herself, and then they come to grips with the finances. The wife had actually wanted to ask for a divorce. But she had remained largely ignorant and dependent. The 5-bedroom house had to be sold with an estate sale, with much material owned on debt.

He have to shout from a “mountaintop” and ask for help from family and friends in various relationships. One relative offers to give $1000 a month. Another cosigns on the lease of a one bedroom apartment for her and four children. (Co-signature would be required by most corporate landlords in these circumstances, although once she has enough monthly income it would not be.) Indeed, the family is asked to make personal sacrifices because of someone else’s sins (the husbands). Suze essentially explained all of this help is a kind of good karma (she used different words). The wife is able to collect social security for her children (up to a family maximum) because the husband is deceased. At the end, the friends and family were able to help her get on her feet, and she was on her way back to work in the personal care business.

Suze Orman’s book “Women & Money: Owning Power to Control Your Own Destiny” is available for free download until 8 PM EST Feb 14, 2008,(link no longer available now) here. After that time, there is an excerpt available here. The Amazon link (for credit card purchase) is here. For the download copy, you just click on a link, and you need a recent version of Adobe Acrobat reader. It’s about 1.5 meg and the traffic on the site is quite heavy. At the end of the program Suze and Oprah discussed how married women can protect themselves and be ready to save themselves (and only then their kids). Here is a link to my review of Suze's book.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Oprah and Nate help a family taking on raising three nieces get a "dream house"

Today, Oprah Winfrey presented one of her most moving stories over. It was an “extreme makeover” done by Minneapolis-raised Nate Berkus and his design company from Chicago. The Oprah show link for today (Monday Feb. 11, 2008) is here.

The story starts with a family in Seattle that had bought a 60s tract house. The family had one small boy. But the wife’s brother was, for reasons largely not disclosed, unable to raise his three young girls, so the family eventually took custody of the three nieces, in a kind of “Raising Helen” scenario (also demonstrated on the WB show “Summerland” a few years ago). This sort of situation, where adults wind up raising siblings’ children, happens more often than one would think.

The family was housed in a nearby furnished apartment while Nate and his company practically rebuilt the house, adding a new wing and second floor with individual bedrooms for each child, a new master bedroom, family space, and parents’ foyer upstairs. Outdoors he built a new porch and play room. (I was wondering if a model railroad or baseball stadium was going to appear.)

Organizing such a project obviously takes a lot of effort from the Oprah show (Harpo Productions, which has also made three feature films), getting donations from major corporations, labor from the Seattle Seahawks (yes, they did beat the Redskins), and even a video from the High School Musical cast and an appearance by Zac Efron. Berkus took the girls to a local chain bistro (the Red Robin) to find out what they wanted in their rooms. A project like this requires a lot of “people skills” and communicating with clients at different levels of interaction.

Berkus was present in Sri Lanka and rescued when the Indonesian tsunami "mega-disaster" struck on Dec. 26, 2004. story Oprah’s link on this is here. The Advocate has a link here.

Oprah Winfrey appeared today on Dr. Phil’s 1000th Anniversary show, which was probably taped a few days ago. The link is here. Oprah is omnipresent: she would be supporting Barack Obama in the DC area today; Dr. Phil's show (NBC) came from LA, and Oprah's comes (ABC) from Chicago. The other major daily show from Chicgo is (NBC) iVillage with “The Apprentice” Bill Rancic. contains numerous references to Berkus’s work rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, for example, here.

I mentioned an earlier appearance by Nate on the Oprah show on this blog June 25 2007. Nate and Oprah say that they plan more makeovers, and invite the submission of deserving family stories through Oprah's site.

Picture (unrelated): Greek Orthodox church in Washington DC.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

WGA strike has tentative settlement

There are major media reports this morning, Sat. Feb. 9, 2008, of a tentative agreement between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Producers Assocation. The deal must be consolidated by both West Coast and East Coast guilds and voted by members. The Reuters story is by Steve Gorman and is titled "Screenwriters union leaders said to back contract," link here. The Hollywood Reporter story by Liza Foreman is "Writers, producers reach tentative deal," link here.

The WGA website also says "We have a tentative deal." Only WGA members can log in to see the exact text now, although probably major media services will report more details during the day. Stay tuned.

The vote could come as early as Monday Feb. 11. Writers could get back to work Wednesday.

Let's hope so. While I have some scripts I would like to agent in the foreseeable feature and while we can talk about guerilla filmmaking, the marketing of newbie ideas has a much better chance if the entire show business infrastructure is back to normal.

Update: Feb. 12, 2008

Shelley Widhalm has a story on p B1 of the Feb. 11, 2008 Washington Times, "Dialogue with Film Audience: Screenwriters tell their stories visually," link here. Kevin Downs is quoted as saying "no longer is the dream to write the great American novel; it is writing the great American screenplay." Later the article says, "Newcomers do not need industry connections or a membership in the Writers Guild of America..." In fact, WGA allows non-members to register their screenplays for copyright protection evidence for a small fee. Television scripts, although in essentially the same format, have tighter rules, as to exact time lengths, commercial breaks, etc. FinalDraft has different templates for different venues (including television). That is one reason why professional skill matters.

In the New York Times, Feb. 12, Business, Section C, there are two front page stories ("Viewed from all angles, who won?). David Carr has "Who won the writers' strike? Digital revenue is still small, so final outcome is in the distance", here. The short term cost to writers and associated businesses were quite large. There is also a story by Stuart Elliott, "Agencies see a window to alter the business of television," here.

The New York Times also has a "Times topics" story on this here.

The WGA has added materials to its website. The basic voting page is here. WGA provides a link to the Los Angeles Times story "Writers Guild board approves tentative contract," by Richard Verrier, Claudia Eller and Maria Elena Fernandez, here. Cynthia Littleton and Dade Hayes have a story in Variety, "WGA to hold 48-hour vote
Scribes embrace pact at Saturday meetings," link here.

Update: Feb. 13

Writers have voted overwhelmingly to accept the agreement. The New York Times story is by Michael Cieply, Business, link here. Bill Carter has an article "No Pause Button: TV Studios and Writers Play Catch-Up After Strike," link here.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

UFO Hunters and UFO Files on History Channel

The History Channel was supposed to present a new season of "UFO Hunters" tonight (Wed. Feb. 6), at 10 PM EST. The newspapers mentioned a show having to do with a 1947 incident in Washington state, but instead the show as about USO's, unidentified submerged objects. The link for the miniseries is here. The show had four young scientists investigation a small plane crash in 1980 near Catalina Island, 25 miles SW of Los Angeles or Long Beach. The survivor claims that his plane was hit by two beams from an object below, and then crashed into the water. He was rescued about 20 minutes later, having survived what should have drowned him. His cousin died in the crash. The scientists try to find the object which the call a USO, and do laboratory demonstrations to show how the plane wreckage would sink (common sink) and try to locate the craft. They also demonstrate that an EMP effect could have disabled the plane. The program claims that there was a USO sighting (with the USO emerging from the ocean and becoming a UFO) in April 1966.

The USO theme (the acronym sounds like a bit of a parody of "Southpark" it seems to me) continues in the "UFO Files" show at 11 PM, called "The Pacific Bermuda Triangle". This episode discussed the "Dragon's Triangle" east of Japan in the Pacific Ocean, a complement across the earth to the notorious Bermuda Triangle. The documentary had a "gee whiz" feel to it. It mentioned books by Charles Berlitz, the disappearance of Amelia Earhardt in 1937 near Howland Island, the accident of Arthur Godfrey, and the legends of "ghost ships" that seem like scavengers of sailors. There is a supposed CEIII in Japan in 1803, and around 1860 a blue spherical UFO that resembles the Times Square ball or even the plasma UFO that returns "The 4400" in the USA series.

I wonder if the History Channel has considered doing a UFO Files on Dan Fry and the Understanding organization at Tonopah, AZ in the 1970s.

Update: Feb. 13, 2008

The UFO Hunters segment was "Alien Abductions". The Betty and Barney Hill incident from Sept 19, 1961 near Conway, NH was reconstructed in animation. (This became the NBC film "The UFO Incident" in 1975 and a book "The Interrupted Journey" by John Fuller.) Curiously, I had been there on a high school science trip in May of that year. I believe that I visited the area of the abduction in a rental car in June 1973, after hiking in the area. Then the researches examine tiny objects removed from two men, one from a wrist and one a thigh. The second man does not know when it appeared, but had experienced heavy metal poisoning in 2001. The second object seemed to broadcast radio frequencies until it was removed. Both objects had human tissue growing in to the object, that consisted mostly of iron. The objects were quite magnetic, and might have disturbed computer disks or harddrives very near to the men, it would seem.

UFO Files tonight did "Cattle Mutilations" which actually were the subject of a Playboy article in the mid 1970s. Some incidents in Nebraska are examined. Northeast Colorado used to be an area where they were reported.

There was a B-movie made around 1983 about cattle mutilations and the government's supposed complicity in them. I cannot remember the title or locate it on imdb, although I did see it in a theater. Does someone remember the title?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

From "Seventh Heaven" to "Kyle XY": visions of "family values": an important lesson for GLBT issues?

In one episode of WB’s series “Seventh Heaven,” about Rev. Camden (Stephen Collins), his wife (Catherine Hicks) and seven children (including two young twin boys), teenager Ruthie (Mackenzie Rosman) calls her oldest brother Matt, a medical resident (Barry Watson) at the hospital, complaining that he doesn’t care anymore about his own family. (Not true.) Later, Mrs. Hicks begs for him to get time off from the hospital to spend Thanksgiving with his “family,” as she is oblivious to the fact that medical interns can’t do that very often.

The series ended, but during its reign it certainly extended the “Ozzie and Harriet” ideal. Sometimes it could be progressive, as with episodes in which oldest daughter Lucy (Beverly Mitchell) became a pastor herself. There was one critical episode where Rev. Camden says to Simon (David Gallagher), “sex is for married people.” I don’t recall an episode where “Seventh Heaven” ever touched on gay issues or people (the program that often followed, “Everwood”, sometimes did). But the whole religious paradigm of reserving sexuality strictly for marriage tells us a lot about why homosexuality used to be seen as a sin as bad as any, and still is in many parts of the world or in some religious groups.

To be sure, if it were a sin, it’s not wrong the way other things are (like adultery – taking someone’s wife – or stealing, etc). It has much more to do with collective values that melt away once the principles of individual sovereignty are accepted. I certainly suffered severe consequences for accidentally outing myself at college as a freshman in 1961, and ever since, I have found myself wondering, what is the big deal anyway? There has to be something people want that they feel I am taking away from them.

I think that “Seventh Heaven” did dramatize the awesome amount of psychic energy a marriage commitment “in sickness and in health, etc.” demands. Husband and wife – and usually future parents – accept the regulation of the deepest intimacy in their lives – sexual intercourse – for the benefit of the family and the “common good.” In return for accepting that kind of channeling, they expect their committed relationship to be honored and revered by other people. The social supports are indeed critical. It’s even OK for them to demand sacrifices of other family members – even as adults – for the overall good of the family they have created.

That’s the rub, isn’t it. “Family values,” to work, seems to demand the subordination of single adults created by a family until they form families (usually biological, but sometimes by adoption) of their own. "Marriage and parenthood" (or "Love and Marriage") is what bridges adolescent "selfishness" to a necessary other-centeredness, with a modest amount of awareness of the transformation. Parents have additional children (by socially and legally supported intercourse) and have the right to make older siblings take care of younger ones as a result of their chosen intimacies. In practice, in many families, this mandatory filial responsibility extends to adulthood. As lifespans increase, society has to entertain the possibility of enforcing filial responsibility laws, where adult children could be required to support their parents (by “karma,” as if they owed it) when indigent. So it whole idea that sexual intercourse generates family responsibility is challenged. It does, but the idea of "mandatory" family responsibility can be imposed on children (even as adults) by the sexuality of parents anyway. They call it "loyalty to blood."

Modern individualism, the extension of radical individualism to its logical limits, and liberal notions and arguments around sexual orientation challenge this set of values. But so do other things, including expanded roles for women. Society has always had many adults who did not have their own children. In the past, they were expected to remain chaste and tethered to their own families, which were supposed to take care of them and given them “value” (the childless were always the first to be expected to come home and render eldercare) while discouraging them from competing in the “global world” without marrying and having their own families, supposedly earning the right to full respect. The childless were supposed to perceive themselves as intrinsic to families that the marital heterosexuality of their parents had created, and accept relief from having to compete as individuals on a world stage, which modern radical individualism promotes and celebrates (and which almost all singles now want). That hierarchal socialization, known from ancient cultures, seemed to support the psychological investment that parents made in their own marriages. During the past few decades, that "family hierarchy" has largely melted away. But many people find this unsettling, and say that the radical individualism makes it impossible for many people to form and keep stable families. Gay children (especially only ones like me) can challenge parental beliefs that biological lineage is a birthright. They can, therefore, challenge the safety and comfort of mentality that puts the welfare of the family and group above accountabilities of individuals within the family, and they can challenge the idea that the value of life is to be found in collective faith rather than individual adult choices with resultant individualized responsibilities.

Religious faith does lay down some rules to close off loops of existential reasoning. Not wanting to intrude too much here, I am still struck by arguments about the value of human life and how they could be correlated to an expectation of openness to "transmitting new life" or at least supporting those who do. Or, to put it another way, to have a rule that the "benefits" of experiencing sexuality must always engender the risk of responsibility (children) in order to be "fair" to the people who do take on parenting. But, the line about "... only for married people" could, if the show had wanted, have explored the possibility of committed same-sex relationships that do exist. The moral arguments could have dealt more nuanced ideas about self-absorption or narcissism rather than the idea of a single monolithic plan for family values. We come back, however, to a simple observation: traditional families sometimes feel so challenged by the practical demands on them that parents feel that they need a moral monopoly on sexuality. It does get back eventually to need. (The confrontation between outed gay Mormon missionary Aaron (Steve Sandvoss) with his mother near the end of the film "Latter Days" (2003) illustrates why parents can feel the way they do.) The moral compromise (between necessary family and community loyalty, and individualism, would be a philosophy of "pay your dues."

I say all this not to agree with the older traditional notions of family (as on this show), but just to make sure that we know how to articulate them. That is how many people saw things. Sexual intercourse, when managed by marriage, owned the right to drive the emotional lives of everyone else in the family. It even gives parents the right to strongly influences the choices their kids will make about what to do with their own lives, even when adults. (I, for one, hate to be told whose goals to follow when they aren’t my own.) On global terms, it even generated political alliances (throughout much of history – look at Marie Antoinette). It still can generate family vendettas (whether in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, or in the soap operas like “Days of our Lives” where the character Sami (Allison Sweeney) is the lynchpin for this kind of abuse.) People thought that this held society together. It did, but it also generated class privileges and helped hide racism (look at the two film versions of “Imitation of Life”, especially the second film by Douglas Sirk).

Not all “family friendly” paradigms support this, as we know from the gay marriage debate. There is a show on “ABC Family” called “Kyle XY” where a couple of middle aged professionals adopt what seems like the perfect teenage boy (Kyle aka Noah, played by a charismatic Matt Dallas, who completely [acting in the style of Tom Welling playing a teenage Clark Kent on Smallville] dominates the show, although Jean Luc Bilodeau is lively as the younger teen brother). Actually, he is found wandering, with amnesia and apparently autistic when they take him in, but in a month he is the star of his high school. I wonder what kind of comment the show really makes on the commitment of “family values” – to have the “perfect” kid, and then to find out that he was essentially manufactured in a laboratory rather than born of love. Interesting. In Smallville, the Kents raise “superman” Clark (who spends his teen years playing “don’t ask don’t tell” with respect to his powers and extraterrestrial origins) after finding him in a cornfield after a “mega disaster” meteor hit. That’s a pitch for the idea that accidental adoption can be expected of almost anyone. Again, from a moral viewpoint, interesting. ABC Family does represent "a new kind of family." (Just don't tell Focus on the Family!)

Monday, February 04, 2008

CNN: Health Care: Critical Condition, with Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Recently, CNN has been broadcasting a one hour documentary “Health Care: Critical Condition” narrated by physician journalist Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This is a level-headed piece of journalistic film that effectively backs up Michael Moore’s “Sicko” – without the grandstanding and theatrics, and a willingness to present both sides, but the show ought to be viewed alongside the Moore film from Lionsgate. (Review at this URL June 29. Also Michael Moore’s interview with Oprah Winfrey here. )

The CNN show started by examining several horrific personal stories (much as Michael Moore does). Gupta reinforces Moore’s contention that many people who have health insurance, even through the workplace, are not adequately protected. One family had twins prematurely and ran up $700,000 in medical bills over and above the insurance company’s limits. It declared bankruptcy. In fact, almost half of personal bankruptcies in the United States involve medical expenses. One problem is that the uninsured don’t get deep in-network group discounts even on out-of-pocket expenses. Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2004 article “Gouging the Poor” in The Progressive makes good sense here. When parents have several children, they increase the risks that one child will cause extreme medical expenses, limiting the opportunities for siblings. That doesn’t sit well with demographic arguments in some conservative circles for larger families. Gupta gave some other harrowing cases. An optometrist in South Carolina had heart surgery at age 55 and needs to retire but can’t be underwritten because of his pre-existing condition, so he keeps working so that he can get a “small business association” policy. Another man with a spinal tumor has no insurance and got free surgery but could not get the radiation therapy and will probably have a greatly shortened life expectancy. His posture was distorted as the tumor returned. The show presented a statistic that uninsured cancer patients were 60% more likely to die within five years in the United States.

Gupta says that Truman wanted to set up a national health system, but that was shot down by conservatives. In the 1960s, Ronald Reagan (who became California’s governor in 1967) criticized Medicare as bringing on socialized medicine and threatening American “freedom.” Gupta’s program claimed that France has the world’s best health care system, where all essential care is free and where the French pay small premiums for additional care options according to ability to pay. (I once had a conversation with a French family in the Toulouse train station in 2001 about this; they said, “our system meets our needs fine.”) Britain has a national care system, and Canada has a single payer system with individual choice of physicians (which sounds to many people more like the best of both worlds). However, Gupta admitted that all systems with government-paid health care tend to have longer waiting periods, even for critical procedures like cancer chemotherapy. I wonder if I would have gotten my new operation immediately for my acetabular fracture in 1998 had I been in Canada instead of Minneapolis, where I got a new titanium fracture reduction system installed immediately with no wait or red tape (I had good employer-provided insurance).

There are some compelling global arguments for a national payer system. Private companies have to compete with companies in other countries that do not have to pay health insurance premiums. Instead, employers could pay higher wages, and then individuals could purchase insurance with pre-tax dollars. That is the system Republicans want.

The show covered the mandatory health insurance system passed in Massachusetts. Individuals who do not get insurance through work must purchase individual policies or pay fines. If their incomes are under certain limits they can get state assistance to get insurance. If they do not become insured they pay increasing fines each year. Mandatory insurance supposedly addresses the question that the uninsured will get free care in emergency rooms anyway, raising prices for everyone else. However, some people claimed the individual premiums were still way too high. A couple of musicians were not getting the insurance, and said that the law could threaten their ability to remain “entrepreneurs” in the music industry.

The program did not address eldercare or custodial care issues in nursing homes. In that regard, I recall that in the 1970s Massachusetts had an “old age” tax on restaurant meals and hotel rooms.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Republican candidates debate at Reagan Library (Jan 30)

The remaining Republican candidates -- Mitt Romney, Michael Huckabee, John McCain, and Ron Paul, held a debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA on Jan. 30, apparently their last debate before the Super Tuesday primaries on Feb. 5. The debate was rebroadcast on CNN during the Super Bowl which was airing on Fox (where the New Jersey Giants upset the suburban Massachusetts Patriots 17-14).

The CNN link is here. Anderson Cooper hosted, but Wolf Blitzer has interviewed them individually since then.

The candidates made the point that today's global, competitive economy requires workers to become "job ready" very quickly, a cultural change hard for many people to take. But Huckabee suggested that a president needed to be able to see the world from the point of view of the worker as well as a CEO. For me, an example comes to mind. One of the weekend news inserts talked about disabled football players, that pro-football is a sport of "collision" rather than contact. But how many people
understand that?

Huckabee talked about the importance of infrastructure investment to stimulate the economy. Ron Paul criticized the Fed's priming the economy with money and give-backs that it doesn't have. No one was too critical of American corporate or consumer behavior (the "get something for nothing" mentality that the Coen Brothers make fun of in their movies) from a "moral" perspective.

Both Romney and Huckabee have stressed the importance of honoring immigration laws. Huckabee has outlined a plan to give illegals time to comply but to make them "wait in line" to comply with the system, with some allowance for their kids.

The candidates were asked how they could carry on the Reagan Legacy. Romney stressed the importance of being "pro-life" and protecting "marriage" with a constitutional amendment. One certainly sees a huge cultural gap between the parties, but when analyzed, the cultural differences seem to grow more out of history than out of logic.

Giuliani has withdrawn and endorsed McCain. Giuliani was probably socially much more liberal than McCain, Huckabee or Romney. But there will not be a "subway world series general election." Of the candidates, McCain might be the most likely to closely follow President Bush's plan in Iraq, but he has spoken a lot about the problems of soldiers (repeated deployments) and veterans, especially medical care issues.

Ron Paul is the candidate of libertarians, and would be of libetarian gays (such as with GLIL), but there has been controversy over some anti-gay letters in the past, such as here.

The 2008 Republican Convention will be held Sept 1-4 in the Xcel Center in St. Paul MN, link here. My first exposure to national political conventions as a boy was in summer of 1952 (age 9) when suddenly all the channels had boring (to a kid) speeches all day long for a week and my parents said "Republic(an) Convention." They liked Ike.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

NBC Today (weekend) on paid paternity leave

This morning, Saturday Feb. 2, 2008 the NBC Today show did a story about fathers getting more benefits in the workplace for paternity leave. One law firm offers associates with enough seniority up to six weeks paid paternity leave. Men have complained that companies have started to give mothers paid maternity leave, so father should have the same benefits.

The United States is one of the few advanced countries that does not require employers to offer paid parental leave. Here is a chart from Wikipedia.

The MSNBC site does not have a link to the story yet. Here is a similar link “Dads and Paternity Leave: Buying Time With Kids”, here. Another is a story by Teresa M. McAleavy in a Hampton Roads, VA paper, “Paid paternity leave catching on,” link here.(great photo there).

In April 2007 a financial planning enterprise, The Phoenix Companies, offered a paid paternity leave policy, here. The company will also offer associates adoption assistance.

Of course, when paid parental leave is required, the childless must do more work for the same pay, so it is not “equal.” But one could ask, what about paid leave for eldercare, which may be more like to fall on the shoulders of the childless? Libertarians favor allowing companies to set their own paid leave policies according to the best interests of their own stakeholders.

I wonder if the presidential candidates will be willing to debate this? It's very sensitive and it can easily drive away voters.

The text of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which mandates that employers grant unpaid leave in many circumstances, is here.