Monday, March 31, 2008

Oprah: Suze on financial crisis; New Earth Web Event

Today (March 31, 2008), Oprah had financial expert Suze Orman back on again, this time to give the audience a pep talk on how to handle the financial downturn.

I had reviewed Suze’s book on Feb. 14, here, during the “freebie” period for the book on Oprah. Suze was also on Oprah Feb. 13 (review).

Suze has a pretty lucid explanation for the current financial crisis. In 2002, as she explains, President Bush wanted to make it easier for minorities to become homeowners. The political incentive to do so may be apparent, but it’s dangerous to encourage people to go into debt for more than what they can earn. Regulation was eased, and Wall Street was encouraged to “securitize” the mortgage debt of buyers who often could not have qualified in a conventional way. (Why the usual mechanisms of FHA and Fannie Mae weren’t enough, I wonder.) Since banks were insulated from consumer defaults, Wall Street bore the risk, and big investment banks like Bear Stearns could come into risk if creditors made a run on them with “margin calls.”

Suze also blames consumers for wanting something for nothing, and for over investment in material possessions as compared to relations with other people and with their own inner selves. Suze and Oprah hint at some kind of balance between self-interest and caring for others that is always hard to pin down, but the latter obviously has moral importance. A recession, Suze says, is like the normal contraction of the lungs in breathing: you inhale, you exhale. But we did some of this to ourselves.

The program interviewed a couple of distressed consumers. Then Suze pointed out that the current Fed actions would hurt small savers or retirees on fixed incomes because the Fed had to artificially lower interest rates, encouraging inflation for commodities and necessities. She suggested savers invest in certain dividend-paying stocks. She also advocated dollar-cost averaging. (Others say there are desirable rations of stocks and bonds in investing; a ratio that decreases with age, but 75% stocks is typical.)

Oprah went on to summarize the latest episode of The Big Give (which went against the HBO “John Adams Part IV”). This time the contestants had to gumshoe and hunt down families in need in Atlanta and do grunt work, helping them out in person with chores, as well as with raising money. One of the families had just had a death. There are four contestants left, and next week Donald Trump will be on the show.

Suze Orman also appeared on NBC's "World News Tonight" on March 31 to discuss personal financial advice briefly.

This week, I tried the Oprah’s New Earth Web Event, which is now in Week 5. It required downloading a new media player, “Move Media”. The Event overlayed Oprah’s site, and access to the rest of the site was suppressed during the Event. I don’t know why this was necessary; why not put it on another domain with a link. Maybe she wants to force people to try the event. The guest speaker was Eckhart Tolle. Attendees can queue up to ask questions (I don’t know if they need a webcam in order to be seen.) The show also showed a real "class" at a Borders store in Chicago.

There was discussion of the concept of “pain body.” Some movies and shows recreate or feed the “pain body” by playing out fantasies. Artists sometimes believe that they need to be in touch with a "pain body" in order to have something to say. A screenwriter from Copenhagen called in to question this idea. A film that provides interpretation of an event rather than just exploiting the “pain” doesn’t raise this objection. It’s possible for people to want to demand atonement from others who have caused pain when those others may have had no consciousness of the pain they were causing. (Of course, recreating the incident to teach others could be a kind of atonement that is constructive, as compared to revenge.) Oprah and Tolle mentioned Senator Barack Obama ‘s idea of “communal pain body,” as to how the wealth of America (particularly the South) was based on slave labor of African Americans, and the question as to whether non-blacks have any moral responsibility for this today. But to obsess on that would be counter-productive. They also discussed "worry" as an obsessive-compulsive pattern that makes thoughts omnipotent for their own sake. Some of this show reminded me of an East Village Ninth Street Center talk group from the 1970s. The voyeuristic enjoyment of someone else's "pain body" is what Paul Rosenfels would have called sadism, and a typical "psychological defense" for the "feminine personality."

Also, last week, Oprah had a couple of shows on household “pack rats”. The show suggested that giving up “stuff” was a way to accept living in a community with other people.

Update: April 3

Today Oprah did an interview with the world's first "pregnant man" and his wife. He was inseminated after a partial sex change from female to male, and is legally married to a woman as a heterosexual man in Oregon. Link is here. It's interesting to check out the PBS Nature film "Secret Life of Seahorses," here. The Oprah story surprises us because with mammals, the female always carries the young. In some fish, such as the seahorse, the male can carry the eggs after fertilization.

There is a site that refers to "women in the Bible."

Friday, March 28, 2008

Barack Obama appears on ABC's "The View"

Today, March 28, Barack Obama appeared on ABC’s “The View” at 11 AM EDT. The most important part of his appearance was his “three point plan” for his first 100 days in office if elected. They are (1) Assembled the Joint Chiefs and plan an orderly withdrawal from Iraq. The Iraqis, he says, have to be cut loose with cold turkey and prove they can run a democratic Islamic society (like Turkey, perhaps) on their own. (2) Develop Universal Health Care. Enable anyone to have health insurance as good as what Congress has. Here, he sounded more like Hillary Clinton than before, although he stopped short of proposing mandatory individual coverage (3) move toward energy independence and curb oil consumption, which is making our “enemies” rich.

Obama criticized the tax cuts for the wealthy, as adding to the $4 trillion federal deficit (President Clinton left office with a surplus). He also proposed reducing taxes for those (individuals or families?) who make less than $75000 a year.

Obama also discussed “the Reverend,” answered rumors about being related to Brad Pitt, and discussed how he handles attacks

Thursday, March 27, 2008

ABC Nightline: Jose Canseco fingers other players in steroid scandal, challenges Mitchell Report

Tonight, March 27, ABC Nightline interviewed baseball slugger Jose Canseco, who has the book “Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars, and the Battle to Save Baseball” from Simon Spotlight, available March 28. His earlier book had been “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and how Baseball Got Big” (2005), published by Amazon itself. Canseco fingered Alex Rodriquez, third baseman and baseball’s highest paid player. However, Canseco questions the Mitchell report and other hearing evidence against Roger Clemens, who he says did not come to a critical party. Clemens, according to Caseco’s interview tonight, might not be guilty, despite doubts raised by the fact that Canseco seemed to get stronger as he got older. Canseco says he also helped Sox slugger Magglio Ordonez obtain steroids. Martin Bashir did the interview. The visuals showed Canseco in the batting cage., and later in show-biz appearances. He was also shown taking a lie detector (polygraph) test. He is trying to fill the void in his life left by leaving baseball. Canseco, from Cuba, says he promised his mother to be the best baseball player in history. But, he took the wrong route to it.

The ABC news story is titled: “Canseco: My motive is to attack major league baseball. Joze Canseco names new names, challenges findings in Mitchell report,” by Martin Bashir and Mary Marsh, link here.

I seem to remember Canseco

The use of the word “Juiced” for the first book title is interesting. The character Kyle (Matt Dallas), in ABC Family’s “Kyle XY” says “Juice Me” when he is learning English in the first episode. A very “logical” phrase for the circumstances.

I do recall his slugging when he played for Oakland. Later in his career he was involved in a bizarre outfield mishap where a ball hit him on the head and went over the fence (I think in the old Cleveland stadium) for a homer.

Major league baseball started with a two-game series “Boston at Oakland” in Tokyo, and the Nationals open in their new Stadium in Washington at 8:05 Sunday March 30. Atlanta at Washinton (Hudson v. Perez), on ESPN.

Picture: Old Griffith Stadium in the late 1950s; a homemade boyhood "board game" stadium. Besides Griffith and RFK, I've been in the old Cleveland stadium (the "Mistake by the Lake"), Shea, Yankee Stadium, old Detroit, the Seattle Kingdome, and Mile High in Denver, old Arlington Stadium (during the Charlie Hough days) and, of course, The Minneapolis Metrodome, where I sat in the stands as an extra for "Major League 3" in 1997.

Monday, March 24, 2008

PBS Frontline: Bush's War (in Iraq)

PBS Frontline: “Bush’s War” is the most detailed documentary of how we went from 9/11 to the War in Iraq yet. Part I (150 minutes) aired tonight (March 24). The link is here.

The film starts with a brief re-enactment of 9/11, especially the attack on the Pentagon, followed by the rush, especially by Dick Cheney, to implicate Saddam Hussein. Much is made of the fact that during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, we had apparently missed nuclear weapons facilities in Iraq. The credibility of our intelligence services was already suspect, inasmuch as 9/11 had been allowed to happen.

The administration began to invent rationalizations for its policies of rendition and “packaging.” The film shows prisoners being brought to Gitmo (“Camp XRay”) tied to stretchers, and laboriously escorted to plywood interrogation rooms while shackled. The president gradually determined that the Geneva Convention need not apply to prisoners in these circumstances. Now, I recall the Geneva Convention from my own Army Basic in 1968 at Fort Jackson, and it was one of the items on our Basic Training G-3 “final exam.” That (and military justice) constituted about 1/3 of the exam, the part you could get with “brains alone.” That all seems ironic now. (The other part was the UCMJ and military justice. How about that and “don’t ask don’t tell”? How ironic.)

The film gradually shifts to the determination to pursue Saddam Hussein. All along, there were dubious reports about Saddam’s attempts to procure uranium, as from Niger. There were disputed reports that Mohammed Atta had been to Iraq. There have been claims that anthrax might have come from Iraq. The 2001 post 9/11 anthrax events have never been solved, and it is apparent that the attacker ran out of the supply he had (and there were other arrests in New Jersey that the media have never followed up on), and that supply could have come from overseas, or possibly been illegally diverted in the US (Ames, perhaps). It’s inconclusive (even the “person of interest” matter), from what has been made public.

What follows, all the way through Colin Powell’s UN speech (and the evidence from “Curveball” with no western witnesses) was the classic case of what psychologists call “rationalization.” They taught us that in Health class in 9th Grade. Finally, “The Sixteen Words” (remember “The 123 Words” from Randy Shilts ‘s “Conduct Unbecoming”?) got into a Bush speech, and the images of mushroom clouds got circulated. I wondered what it would feel like to be a CIA employee involved in this and to be pressured (as by the unprecedented sequence of visits to Langley from Dick Cheney himself) to stretch the truth or falsify the record for the administration's pre-determined international political agenda. Well, um, it's good money, and provides for a family -- follow the leader and keep your mouth shut, and keep a low profile, maybe.

The film, before the 2-1/2-hour break, gives a detailed account of events at the White House the night of March 19, 2003, when the Shock and Awe started with a single attack on a building where Saddam supposedly hid out.

One wonders, if Saddam had no WMD’s, why did he play possum? Was it because he thought it was hopeless? Was this like the case of the boss putting an employee on “discipline” and then giving him intermediate goals he knows the employee can’t achieve in order to terminate him with cause?

The second half (120 minutes) carries the history to the present day. The Bush administration, besides finding no WMD's, had no clear idea what "freedom" would mean in Iraq once Saddam was gone. Various insurgent factions saw the opportunity to wage civil war to impose their religious agendas. Bush finally settled on a hold and containment strategy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008, The Washington Times featured a major editorial "Saddam tied to terrorists," link here. A couple of points: on Sept. 17, 2001, Saddam Hussein apparently gave orders to recruit operatives for suicide missions within the United States. There is also some discussion of the controversial IDA report discussed in the PBS film. Although the events subsequent to Saddam's overthrow have failed to detect ongoing operational contact between Saddam and Al Qaeda, there seem to have been ties between Ayman al-Zawahiri and Saddam, and the Iraqi dictator has certainly helped finance suicide operations by Hamas, etc. inside Israel.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

CNN: Race Front and Center

Tonight, Rick Sanchez in CNN Newsroom hosted a three-person panel, "Race Front and Center" (including Martha Zoller) examining Barack Obama's speech on race in America. Obama stressed that Americans, and especially minorities, need to stop thinking in terms of "zero sum game" . There is a perceived problem in that illegal immigrants take jobs away from minority citizens. Yet many of these jobs are those that most Americans, including minorities, don't want, as discussed in the recent book by Jackson and Perkins, "Personal Faith, Public Policy." Obama seemed to suggest that extreme capitalism encourages corporations to eliminate infrastructural jobs at home. African American citizens financial performance in earnings tends to approach (sometimes surpass) that of whites once they have at least a college degree or professional degrees.

Sanchez asked for email responses "Should Barack Obama talk about America's blemishes?"

One response: "You cannot change what you cannot acknowledge" (Dr. Phil quote.)
Another was based on the "opposing viewpoints" philosophy: put it all on the table.
Another thought that talking about "blemishes" was a smokescreen for the pastor Jeremiah Wright 's speech. Here is a piece by Chad Groening and Allie Martin, "One News Show," "Black conservative leaders weigh-in on Obama's 'race' speech," here.

The program was followed by Anderson Cooper's report "Hock and Awe," a retrospect of five years of war in Iraq, launched with the "shock and awe" attack March 19, 2003, when I was in the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis as a film party wrapped up, and it came on the TV in the theater.

Obama has admitted that he is likely to lose Pennsylvania to Hillary, and novelist John Grisham ("The Appeal") believes that Hillary Clinton will be in a clear lead by June. But Bill Richardson, reduced from candidate to super-delegate, has announced for Obama.

Monday, March 17, 2008

CNBC Mad Money: Is your money safe after the Bear Stearns meltdown?

CNBC did a comedy gig tonight by Dave Cramer (as bald as Dr. Phil and as bald as me) on the “Mad Money” program to make fun of the entire Bear Stearns and mortgage meltdown mess. This was about the same time Lou Dobbs was chastising the Federal Reserve for ignoring “moral hazard” and saying that big boy banks will be rewarded for reckless behavior. In a sense, the point of the program is to determine whether “your money is safe.”

Cramer explained what the Bear Stearns bailout means. The Fed is providing “FDIC insurance for hedge funds” and derivatives, and “securitizations.” Actually, the accounts at Bear Stearns were never in danger. What was lost, almost wiped out at the stroke of a pen, was the equity in the investment bank Bear Stearns itself.

The real economy, where real goods and services are produced, doesn’t seem to be affected the way the paper economy or “financial Phantom Zone” is. Cramer later talked to somebody at CSX (the freight railroad) about how it makes money. (But, I remember that in the 1970s, the Penn Central went under, “couldn’t pay its bills”.)

He also interviewed the CEO of Airgas (ARG), a large distributed of safety products. Cramer called Airgas “a new kind of bank.”

As for the mortgage meltdown, how much sense does it make to offer low-wage consumers below-market payments for five years, and assume that most of them will be making more in five years, and that the houses will appreciate, meaning that “black balloons” could be refinanced. That happens only if real wealth is increasing enough. It doesn’t sound as though even the traders on Wall Street understand Algebra II very well.

Paula Deen followed with a report on Dubai, "The Big Idea". They showed the space-age "Arabia", all built in the last 30 years with oil money (an indoor ski resort, and a new shopping center four times the size of the Minneapolis Mall of America), and "The Palms", artificial peninsulas for homes that would seem to be vulnerable to flooding if sea levels rise too much with global warming.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

HBO starts mini-series "John Adams"

Tonight, March 16, 2008 HBO presented the first two segments (1:10 and 1:35 in length) of its seven-part miniseries “John Adams” about the second president of the United States. Each segment looks like a movie suitable for theatrical presentation (Picturehouse) if suitable later.

Paul Giamati (“Sideways”) plays the headstrong Adams, and Laura Linney is wife Abigail. Stephen Dillane is Thomas Jefferson, David Morse is George Washington, and Tom Wilkinson is a hippy-like Ben Franklin.

The first segment “Join or Die” John Adams, after standing with the colonists opposing the Stamp Act, defends British soldiers. Near the end of the segment, there is a graphic and horrific tarring of a man’s body on camera.

The second segment “Independence” opens up. Ben Franklin populates the dialogue with his clever epigrams, like, you have to let the British win, and that he is an extreme moderate. Later he says something like, introspection is not such a good thing, especially when it becomes public. (Does that mean he would not have approved of Internet blogs?) The founding fathers talk about Mother Country (the way we were taught about it in Va. and US History), and then about their rights as Englishmen being violated. So they must seize the moment and reinvent themselves, like using The Secret.

South Carolina plays devil’s advocate, at one time saying that the country, without the British, could be overrun by “Indians” and “Negroes.” But S.C. comes around. The final vote for independence is 12-0, with New York abstaining.

This will be the kind of film that history teachers will show (especially when substitutes work), and hand out video worksheets for student attention to detail.

Some of the remaining segments will have scenes in Colonial Williamsburg, and it has been said that this is the first time that “Hollywood” has been allowed to film on location in Colonial Williamsburg (outside of Paramount’s “Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot” (1957), a VistaVision short that plays continuously in the Visitor’s Center). If my own story, that starts at William and Mary, were ever to be filmed and done well, one would have to create Williamsburg as it was around 1961, and then as it is today. The lecture at the Old Capitol (with the tracing of the three branches of US government) would apply. Revolutionary City (which started in March 2006) demonstrates, in skits at the Capitol and on the main colonial street, many of the historical incidents in Williamsburg leading up to and through independence, including the effect of the Revolutionary War on the slaves. It will be interesting to see if this is worked into the HBO miniseries.

Friday, March 14, 2008

ABC 20.20: presentation of controversies around "age of consent"

Tonight, libertarian-leaning John Stossel did, on the second hour of ABC "20/20", a major story on the issue of The Age of Consent. The show amounted to a probing, hour-long "Give me a break!" in which Stossel examined both inconsistencies among states and how the desire to protect minors and convey a sense of "public morality" can have horrible unintended consequences, with some people bearing punishment out of proportion to their conduct because the association, in the mind of the public, with much more egregious conduct of others.

The age of consent in the United States varies from 16 to 18, but it is 18 in several major states, including California, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Virginia. In Texas it is 17. In Canada and in many European countries it is 16; in Yemen it is as low as 9 but the person must be married. Some states have “Romeo and Juliet” laws mandating lesser penalties when the older partner is only slightly older than the minor.

Earlier societies (such as that of Shakespeare's own "Romeo and Juliet") have encouraged men and women to marry and start families shortly after they were biologically capable of doing so. Our society, with its long adolescence for education and preparation, has developed very different values and encourages waiting until later for family function, and therefore has developed later ages of consent. Recent studies show that the brain is not fully developed biologically until the mid twenties.

The show focused on several issues, the biggest of which was the prosecution of older teens (usually boys) for relations with girls slightly younger than legal age, with the result that they are on registries for life, and lumped with people who have committed violent offenses against minors. The show explored whether society has a double standard with respect to gender. The law does not, but culture does.

The basic link is this. Also, the basic "20/20" link today (March 14 2008) has a video link that appears to rebroadcast the program. The AoC link leads to many sublinks with very detailed stories covering what was explained in the program. The material was quite disturbing. The visitor is encouraged to study all the links in detail. Stossel says that 20/20 is seeking more life stories of unjust prosecutions or threats of prosecutions. Stossel also appeared on Barbara Walters 's "The View" today and explained the program tonight.

The increased prosecutions started in the 1990s with Jessica’s Law and Megan’s Law.

The “moral” problem seems to be the punishment of people for almost “natural” teen behavior for crimes committed by much older and violent people. Some prosecutors defended the laws and the lifetime pariah status as a necessary deterrent. Some religious observers seemed to want to use the laws to reinforce the idea that sex is only for marriage.

Stossel also discussed the hypocrisy of some fallen politicians: Spitzer, Larry Craig, and Mark Foley. They indeed fell on their own swords. Oddly, he didn't cover the case or Genarlow Wilson in Georgia (details here).

The previously very useful website no longer exists. It used to list the age of consent by country and by state within the United States, with separate columns for homosexuals (invalidated by Lawrence v. Texas in 2003). The program did not discuss Ohio's civil registry, which does not require conviction, but has apparently been used on only one person.

Compare this presentation with a panicky one on “Dr. Phil Now” on Friday March 7, 2008, link here.

There is a professional law office blog on federal s.o. treatment programs, and it makes for rather sobering reading, here. It mentions the Butner Program, and for inmates it is psychologically and physically quite intrusive, with measurements of progress by plethysmographs.

Visitors will also want to view my blogger entry on the Sept 7 20/20 on Brian Ross ‘s investigation of the notorious NBC Dateline series, here.

It's also fitting (maybe just a coincidence) that on the next day after this broadcast, the Metropolitan Opera performed Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes, which, symbolically at least, deals with vigilantism and mob rule against "different" men suspected of these crimes (after tragedy). Link to the review here.

Visitors may want to check out an organization that calls for legal reform in this area.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Days may lose Bo and Shawn; filial blood loyalty to the limits

Well, “Days of our Lives” is carrying the melodrama of blood loyalty as far as it can go. Bo is dying of a mysterious shutdown of his pancreas (it’s not clear if he was poisoned) that is not cancer. He is going to get a partial pancreas transplant, an unusual procedure although available literature says it can be done. It looks like the donor is to be Shawn.

The show claims that the donor himself bear quite a lot of risk. Filial responsibility in this show’s family environment is so strong that other family members are expected to put their lives on the line for a relative. The characters overflow with gratuitous emotion. "Fancy Face" Hope challenges Bo to swallow "pride" and let younger relatives lay their own lives on the line for him. Is that what respect for life means? Stefano (no Marlon Brando, no godfather) was said "family conquers all." I love the way Marlena made Stefano a vegetable, but that's probably not forever. (Whatever became of Jan? She's a vegetable, too.) I love the way Marlena told robot John to "be more sensitive, please," when John insists "it's the truth." How psychologically feminine!

Here are a couple of medical references that mention partial pancreas transplant from a living blood relative. 1 2

It’s more common, in fact, to get a matched pancreas from someone just deceased, and it is more common to do a kidney and pancreas transplant at the same time, when the environment is juvenile diabetes. But here, Bo has some kind of unexplained pancreatitis without diabetes and without malignancy. The pancreas, unlike the liver, doesn't grow back, so the donor's health can be seriously compromised.

Supermarket tabloids gloat with rumors that both Bo and Shawn are being written out of the show. Shawn used to be played by Jason Cook, and Brandon Beemer has never quite seemed like or looked like “Shawn.”

The family loyalties and emotions in this show are so exaggerated that it is hard to imagine that a gay character could ever have been fit into the plot. Nick Fallon could have been convincing as a gay character, but then there would seem to be nothing for him to connect with the characters. (In fact, his "presence," just as in a military unit, would disrupt the emotional "cohesion" of the other characters, by making them look vulnerable.) The relationship with Chelsea has never been believable. Why wouldn’t a heterosexual Nick prefer another college graduate on his academic level?

What the writers have done with Nick’s character (played by Blake Berris) is interesting, though. Nick, believing himself to be virtuous (like his model from Fitzgerald’s novel) has been challenged, long before getting married and fathering a child himself, to look after other people when their needs are imposed on him. He even was tricked into “adopting” two boys for a couple months. I wonder where the writers’ muse came from for this character.

Actress Mary Beth Evans (Kayla Brady in Days) appeared on the Today show demonstrating her sudden success with her apple pie business, started in her own kitchen, which has gone commercial.

Tonight, CWTV's Smallville, pickup of new epsiodes to finish Season 7, called "Hero", showed the return of Pete Ross (Sam Jones III), still wanting to make himself more than he is with green kryptonite (the comic book world’s equivalent of steroids for ordinary people). Remember an episode in Season III “Velocity” where Pete raced a kryptonite-driven car and tried to match Clark’s powers, otherwise “live through you vicariously.” (Where did they get that idea of upward affiliation?) Clark rejects his apology in that episode in a leisurely scene on a hoops court. Tonight Pete learns his lesson, and actually shoots hoops pretty well.

Also, tonight (March 13), ABC Nightline interviewed novelist James Patterson, who runs a "factory" (a term invented for Andy Warhol); with 48 titles, he hand-writes outlines for his genre novels, which are then actually written by employees. Maybe I have a factory for blogging, but my novel will be absolutely my own. Nobody else could come up with it.

Update: March 14

OK, Shawn fooled us in the preview. It's not Shawn. Even in fiction, the hospital can't disclose the donor until he/she is notified. But today they "told." It's Chelsea. Of course, they try to call her while she's out getting soused, without Nick's supervision. I thought she was the illegitimate daughter of Bo, as I recall. Sounds like "spare parts." Days knows how to milk every little situation for melodrama. Who knows, maybe they'll find another, but less close, match (Shawn after all, or Max).

March 17, 2008

Dr. Jonas chastized Chelsea for getting drunk when she was "on call" to be a partial pancreas donor for her Dad. The confrontation was bizarre, but then he explained that the point was to get her heart rate up to get the alcohol out of her system faster.

On March 19, Jonas et al did the surgery, which was abbreviated in presentation. Nick said he wanted to be a "better boyfriend" to Chelsea. In his shoes, I could never "function" myself and deal with all of this effluent emotion ("my Dad", etc).

A subsequent episode demonstrated the scary possibility of attempted bribery of a Homeland Security official in inspecting incoming cargo (in the show, this must have been in Cleveland, on Lake Erie).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

History Channel: Universe: Colonizing Space (Mars)

On March 11, 2008 The History Channel presented “Colonizing Space” in its Universe series. The focus was, of course on Mars, and the general impression is that it might be possible to have a very small human settlement near the Martian equator by about 2040, and that the planet could be terraformed in about a century with the introduction of greenhouse gases and cultivation of photosynthetic plants.

Apparently computer models show that a warmer Mars with an atmosphere would be about half-covered with water, and would have green plants at least along the “coasts” or beaches. It is surprising that a planet with lower gravity and half the sunlight would be warm enough even with an atmosphere, but apparently there would be relatively little cloud cover, allowing daytime sun warming to earthlike temperatures, at least near the equator.

However it remains to be seen if humans could live indefinitely at 38% Earth’s gravity. Possibly a new “species” would be genetically engineered to do so, and to be able to live outside in solar radiation and very low atmospheric pressure. But that poses profound moral and “political” problems, as often explored in science fiction.

However, it would take many years to a few decades to get a colony established. The minimum crew for the six month one way voyage is four, and they would have to live in extremely close quarters (the stay is eighteen months) on only three gallons of water a day. There would be problems of gravity (possibly a rotating spaceship), and there would be problems of the social relationships in a crew in such a confined space, problems known by the US military and capable of creating political controversy (such as now with the controversy over gays).

There is a parallel between Mars and the Moon as destinations for “Man in Space” and “the New World” and Greenland for the colonists in the last millennium.

Visitors might enjoy the “Dan Fry” Understanding “Man in Space” Symposium in Tonopah, Arizona in 1978 (the pamphlet says 1966, but I attended the event in 1978), link.

Picture: Lunar Eclipse in Feb 2008. Saturn is nearby. It takes light 20 minutes to get to Mars at closest approach, about 70 minutes to Saturn (and Titan).

Saturday, March 08, 2008

National Geographic: A Man Among Bears

On March 8, 2008 The National Geographic Channel aired “A Man Among Bears,” a one-hour documentary about Ben Kilham, a son of a biology professor, himself dyslexic but gifted mechanically and in other communicative ways, in his one-man project to raise black bear cubs as if he were the parent, release them into the wilds into the New Hampshire White Mountains foothills (Winnepsaukee link), and study their social behaviors. One particular female bear was named “Squirty.” The bears have a body language capable of establishing territorial rights and social orders. The bears that Ben raised used the same body language (which could include small bites) with him, to show the kind of behavior they expected from Ben (in terms of food, for example). Bear society seems somewhat matriarchal. They can build nests in trees to sleep to keep insects away in the summer. They hibernate by lowering their body temperatures, and they have a special olfactory organ, name now the Kilham organ, in the roofs of their mouths that enables them to determine what plants are edible and probably even which ones are toxic. Remember that in the tragic film “Into the Wild” Chris apparently ate some poisonous roots that bears living in the area knew to avoid.

When continuously around humans, bears can communicate with humans (whom they perceive as “hairless bears” and as connected to their “society”) with body language. For example, looking a male in the eye will tell the male that he is intruding in your territory. It’s not clear if grizzly bears, which are much larger, would adapt and accept the presence of humans.

A scientist from the University of Minnesota tried to assist Ben with the idea of getting truly quantifiable data from more than one animal. Squirty was thought to be an unusually assertive bear. Did Squirty and her siblings exhibit a greater degree of social cooperation because they learned that from humans, or would they do so naturally in the wild? Can wild animals (carnivores and omnivores) with intelligence and cognition approaching that of humans learn to behave in "human" ways when around humans continuously? Squirty demonstrated other human-like problem-solving behaviors, like building nests in trees for physical comfort (to keep insects away). Squirty and her siblings had children, and could conceivably "teach" their cubs additional social concepts.

Kilham tried an experiment to see if Squirty would recognize herself in a mirror, but Squirty never tried to remove the mark on her forehead.

I once saw a black bear at a distance on the Katahdin trail in Maine. I also once encountered a mother black bear with her club on the Appalachian trail in Shenandoah in Virginia, near Stony Man. She simply crossed the trail with her cub and ignored me. I was alone both times.

Other animals with problem-solving ability, besides wolves and dogs and even foxes, and cats (especially cheetah's as in the film "Duma" and servals) would include cetaceans and killer whales or orcas ("Free Willy") and elephants (which are herbivores).

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Weather Channel: "Delta 191 Crash"

The Weather Channel tonight (Wednesday March 5 2008) aired a one-hour documentary “Delta 191 Crash,” about the sensational plane crash of a wide-bodied Lockheed jet at DFW airport around 6 PM on August 2, 1985.

I was living in Dallas at the time, in the last condo that I would own there, and I happened to be arriving at the Skillman President’s Health Club when I heard about the accident over the car radio. I remember the white Dodge Colt with eight gears that I had at the time.

The program documented the crash, which was caused when the jetliner flew into a mircroburst during a sudden thunderstorm. The plane essentially broke apart on impact just south of Highway 114, on the north side of the airport.

There are a couple of YouTube videos, such as this.
Or this
with the cockpit recordings.

A local fire company from Irving got the call and found a car crushed on SH 114 without realizing that an airline had hit it.

There were political fallouts from the incident. One life insurance company tried to investigate the claim of one victim and claim that his life was worth less because apparently he had AIDS. That incident contributed to my wanting to leave the credit industry in 1988.

Monday, March 03, 2008

"The Royal Family": ABC 20/20 Film

ABC aired the two-hour (with commercials) “The Royal Family” tonight, Monday, March 3, 2008, with Barbara Walters as narrator. It was very much in the style of a documentary film, a suitable followup for Miramax ‘s “The Queen” in 2006. (Mirimax, like ABC, belongs to Disney.)

One thread in the documentary was the hard and form-precise work of all of the Royal support staff. There was special attention to the state dinners at Buckingham palace, with the elaborate menus (starting with the fish course) recalling Emily Post. The state went through the food preparation and service with great meticulous care. People in these “service” positions seem to be very proud to have the jobs. I thought about a time when I got into a party at Congress in 1996, by taking up the question, “Would you like to serve food?”

The middle portion of the film covered her visit to the United States in the spring of 2007. The visit occurred after the Va, Tech tragedy and she addressed it in her speech. The film also covered the unusual “white tie” state dinner at the White House. The Royal Family does not own its own planes; it charters British Airways.

The royal family members involve themselves with charity and various causes (related to global warming, AIDS in Africa, education). The Queen was shown visiting a school, and Prince William, a halfway house. The film tried to convey a low-keyed concept of “The Big Give.” Prince William offered an interesting comment about the moral importance of "responsibility for others" (curiously similar to a comment in President Bush's 2001 inaugural address and at Ohio state).

The film purported to show the “private lives” and quarters of the Royal Family, but it showed relatively little of that. It did show a little of Holyroodhouse in Scotland. It did add a last minute segment about Prince Harry’s service in Afghanistan, which was disclosed last week in Australia and then reported everywhere by the media. The film covered the military service of other royal family members. One of the other princes visits Shiite southern Iraq (Basra) in uniform. There was some "drill and ceremony," and commoners really do have to kneel or curtsy when approaching the Queen -- such are (as the Army called them when I was in) the expected "social graces."

The Queen sometimes speaks, and made interesting comments about the cold war. The end of the film deals with the balance of monarchy and democracy. The monarchy costs the British citizen 62 pence a year, but there are demonstrations to end it.

The ABC 20/20 link is “The Royal Family: The Business of the Monarchy: Cameras follow the public and private lives of the British monarchy,” by Martin Clancy and Kate Escherich, link here.

It strikes me that a private citizen of middle class means but relatively few “family responsibilities” sometimes can see much more of the real world than any royal member ever could. Someone like me just makes airline reservations, rents a car and goes. What are the most remote places I have ever been to? The crater of Haleakala. Maybe Kiruna Sweden. Maybe a roadside stop toward Yuma, Arizona where a couple of hours of my life just disappeared. Maybe Snowflake, AZ and the Mogollon Rim. Maybe Sterling, CO, cattle-mutilation country, where I had my 1994 epiphany. Maybe a drafty Newark, NJ apartment, in the slums, where I overhear the far left plan a “takeover” in 1972. I don’t think the princes could run their own blogs (although the Royal Family does have a Myspace page, according to the search engines). The Queen reportedly doesn’t use a computer. Somebody does it for her.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

SNL: Hillary and Rudy

Hillary Clinton appeared live and introduced the Saturday Night Live show tonight, hosted by Ellen Page from "Juno." Juno introduced her screenwriter Diablo Cody (in drag imitation; even Jake Gyllenhaal has done drag).

The Seth-Amy dialogue introduced Rudy "Giuliani Time" live, and Seth asked Rudy what he would have done differently so as not to leave all of his eggs in Florida. Rudy said he wouldn't have appeared on SNL before in a dress.

They played a good animated short "Podiums: The Obama Files" where the Clintons drop Sharpton and Jesse Jackson into the storm sewers below Austin, TX, and send Obama off to sunshine. Then there was a (second) SNL digital short, no title, so I'll call it "Candyman's Boudoir" as from Clive Barker's film. Andy Samberg plays the mirror ghost to Ellen Page, but it gets complicated. It seems like SNL short films take a lot of effort and expense, much more than possible for those new directors "On the Lot" last summer.

I think that "the boys" (that is, Princes William and Harry) should host Saturday Night Live, at the Queen's convenience. Go ahead and have it from Wembley. Seth Meyers, Amy Pohler, and Andy Samberg can travel. Royal blood is incompatible with military service.

Picture: Trees really fall down in February ice storms.