Sunday, August 31, 2008

MSNBC does "10 top UFO photos"

Sunday, Aug. 31, NBC Dateline (which online lives on MSNBC) aired “10 Close Encounters Caught on Tape.” The program picked the 10 most “controversial” sightings from its files, although the reports were a bit too brief to be effective. These would have been called “Close Encounters of the First Kind.”

The link is here. Much of the commentary came from Phil Imbrogno. The site has an index to the available videos on the left side of the boxed summary. MSNBC also offers a submission form for amateur UFO reports.

The program started with a film made by an Oregon woman in the 1950s, with some credibility issues because she had talked about seeing them before.

Much more credible may have been the sighting photographed by the Gemini 11 crew with “The Right Stuff.” NORAD investigated, and there was some idea that the flashes could have been explained by space debris.

The show discussed the “Belgian Triangle” of triangular objects seen over Belgium. It went on to discuss multiple sightings over Gulf Breeze, FL in 1987.

A sighing new southern Australia might have been explained by bright lights reflected by squid being chased by a fishing boat.

There was one report of a sighting more or less in the Yucatan Maya area.

There was a report of sightings in the Hudson Valley, New York in 1983, near Kent, NY. However, back around 1976 there had been some sightings, with one transsexual female-to-male person documenting a close encounter that he explained to an “Undertanding” meeting held in New York about that time. Some of us went on a nighttime hike (in snow, in early March) in an area around Harrison, NY where he claimed to have had the encounter.

The report covered the sightings over Stepehenville, TX (also covered in July on Larry King Live on this blog), thought by some people to have been related to President Bush’s ranch in Crawford.

The number one event was the “Phoenix Lights” from 1997. James Fox has included them in his documentary. Governor Fife Symington played a joke on the public, and then admitted that he was not as skeptical as he had led them to believe. The show posed the anti-libertarian question "Do you trust your government?" The military later said that it had been conducting tests with flares during that period, but the explanation was no more convincing than that of Roswell crash dummies. Some photographers reported seeing large objects that could be seen through thin paper, like an eclipse.

I visited the Phoenix area a few times in the 1970s, to visit Dan Fry’s group called “Understanding,” 40 miles west along I-10 near a village named Tonopah. In April 1978, some of us saw a flashing red and green object in the sky east of Tonopah.

The show did not deal with the “close encounters of the third kind” like Betty and Barney Hill, or Travis Walton.

Of course, we can no longer say that "photos don't lie."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

History Channel: "Tougher in Alaska" visits Fairbanks

Tougher in Alaska” is a History Channel series that shows a lot of the “geography” of our 49th State (remember how lucky the US was to get it from Russia on the cheap in the 19th Century; we might not be here if we hadn’t.) Yes, the series seems to anticipate Sarah Palin’s nomination, and I hope the state’s character gives her the needed libertarian streak (although they say she is socially conservative).

The particular episode this week, “Fairbanks”, depicts winter life in Alaska’s interior city of 80,000. It’s 380 miles to anchorage, and 280 miles to the Arctic Circle. Yes, the climate may be getting a bit milder with global warming. Still, winter is six long months with regular temperatures as low as -40 F. I wouldn’t take my 97 Escort out into the sticks in the winter. (Remember, in “Into the Wild” Chris McCandless perishes in an abandoned Fairbanks city bus.)

G.L. Beach is the narrator, and he pays his dues by joining the Fairbanks Volunteer Fire Department, for a week. He meets naturalist Bill Blizzard. With the higher oil prices, more homeowners are burning wood, which leaves houses vulnerable to ignition (almost spontaneous combustion) when creosote accumulates in the chimneys. So the old-fashioned chimney sweep has a job in Fairbanks.

Beach also spends a night at a Boy Scouts winter camp, where it is a lot colder than scout camps in Minnesota, even. The boys build igloos to sleep in, and warm up with hot cocoa and butter (400 calories) before going to sleep. When working in extreme cold, one has to remain hydrated.

In winters with lighter snow, there is a problem with wolves, which will consume domestic dogs (which evolved from wolves). We didn’t hear much about bears or mountain lions.

The city looks like a typical American burg, with moderate high rises down town. In the winter, the city is often obscured by ice fog, that leads almost to whiteout conditions.

I visited Alaska in 1980, and took a private seaplane tour of the Mt. McKinley area, with a party afterwards in the woods. I rode around Anchorage in a car rented by a young lawyer whom I met on the plane (from Hawaii – in the days that Braniff was flying high, still) who happened by accident to get the next room in the same Holiday Inn. It’s weird to get into Anchorage at 2 AM in early August, when the sun is almost ready to come up.

I’ve been north of the Arctic Circle once, in 1972, when I visited Narvik, Norway and Kiruna, Sweden, in a two week Scandanavian trip.

Picture: "filmstrip" picture ("Cinerama") that I drew in 1954 of a scene from Alaska

Friday, August 29, 2008

Dr. Phil covers "Internet addiction"

Dr. Phil has tackled Internet misuse several times (in January 2008 I wrote about his “Internet mistakes” show), and today (apparently a repeat) he did a show on “Internet Dramas” aka “Internet addiction”. The URL link is this.

The first segment was about a man with an “addiction” to a computer fantasy game called EverQuest. He was neglecting his wife and three kids, and Dr. Phil, quite predictably, warned that he would lose his “family.” Of course, this was a family that he had created of his own volition.

The second segment was much darker. A ten year old girl was receiving inappropriate messages (to say the least) from “stranger” men. (I’m putting this gently.) Dr. Phil asked why there were so many computers in the home, and why the child was left alone with a computer with an Internet connection. He says children should not use chat rooms. He makes the valid point (not much mentioned in the COPA trial that I cover elsewhere) that filters don’t block chat rooms.

Then a mother neglects her family by spending all her time on Myspace pages for her dogs. Cute, “creative”, harmless – but what about her family.

Of course, nobody questions, parents have to spend time with their kids in “real world” (all it “Fifth Dominion”) conversation and activities. But, not everybody has spouses and kids. Going in another direction, computers and Internet have real use in school with students mature enough to use them properly. For kids, learning to use the Internet is like learning to drive a car.

Dr. Phil is asking for more people to contact him if they have been libeled by others on the Internet (the “reputation defense” problem again). But his presentation seems a but sensational and simplistic.

The index page for this show contains links to Dr. Phil’s own Internet safety tips for parents. For parents with younger children, the security “rules” (regarding photos, personal information, etc) may be much more absolute because of the practical danger of attracting the “bad people.” It’s particularly worrisome if a child closes a browser window when a parent enters the room.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Democrats have grand finale in Denver with Obama's theatrical speech; "personal responsibility" is hit hard

The Democratic National Convention put on a grand finale tonight at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver in front of 75,000 people. The grand stage was built to look like a monument. Much of the speech text is at the PBS Newshour website here. PBS stations covered the evening sessions of the convention, whereas major television networks broke in only for the most major speeches.

Hillary Clinton had spoken Tuesday night in the Convention Center, as had Joseph Biden on Wednesday, introduced by his son, who told a story of Biden’s giving up a chance to serve in the Senate to care for his family when there was a serious automobile accident when the son was four years old.

Al Gore spoke early, and warned that we were borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Arab countries and pollute the planet. He said that global warming presents the greatest crisis the planet has ever faced. He also said that we have a culture in which marketing (personal manipulation of the potential customer) is more important than the quality of the product or service.

Later commentators from NewsHour mentioned that Al Gore started in politics young but quit after the 2000 election Florida fiasco (with the Supreme Court’s unwelcome intervention) in order to make movies (“An Inconvenient Truth”), and helping stir up environmental activism in Hollywood (as with Leonardo Di Caprio, who made a similar film, and now CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper, who is making a series “Planet in Peril”). .

Bill Richardson mentioned explicitly the loose nuclear materials in Russia and the former components of the Soviet Union as perhaps our greatest national security threat.

A number of retired generals, some of them female, appeared, and ratified Barack Obama as a potential commander in chief.

Several ordinary citizens gave testimonials. One woman from North Carolina told of a successful career, until her husband’s job was offshored, with loss of health insurance for them both. Then both of them needed coronary bypass surgery. Doing without health insurance is fine if you’re healthy, she said.

Another “citizen” made a great quote, about putting “Barney Smith before Smith Barney.” All the citizens were great public speakers.

The climax of the evening was, of course, "Rock Star" Barack Obama’s speech, which hit the moral issues. (No Justin Timberlake or Janet Jackson as half-time entertainment, please.) Obama criticized George W. Bush’s “ownership society” as meaning “you’re on your own.” He spoke for “personal responsibility” but said that it needed to be understood in our being in it together as a nation. “You are your brother’s keeper” he said, “and your sister’s keeper.” But the emphasis on Biblical charity seemed to emphasize more public spending rather than just personal service and personal restraint (the Internet comes to mind). He did say that young people who volunteered for national service should receive tuition and college expense assistance or scholarships later.

Obama did not specifically target oil companies as the "evil enemies" or working people (because they aren't). His restraint on that matter was welcome. But Friday John McCain named Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate, silently playing the domestic oil industry card (assuming that most Americans really want cheaper gasoline and agree that we need to drill a lot more at home, which we do). McCain did this from a stage in Dayton, Ohio with some fanfare. The "female" card (since Hillary Clinton is not on the Democratic ticket) almost seemed like an afterthought. Also, the efforts of blogger Adam Brickley seem to speak to the effectiveness of one blogger in promoting a particularly political candidate (his blog is here).

Actually, the tone of Obama's speech reminds me of a quote from Bill Clinton in his 1996 State of the Union address, after his having to battle Newt Gingrich: “The days of big government are over. But we’re not going back to the days of fending for yourself."

On social issues, he said that we could disagree on abortion but should agree on reducing teen pregnancy and single parenthood. He said we could disagree on the terminology of gay marriage but could agree that same sex couples should have all the legal rights they need. He spoke for an end to all discrimination against LGBT people but did not specifically mention ending “don’t ask don’t tell” but it’s pretty easy to read between the lines. Gore also called for an end to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

I had attended the old Mile High Stadium on Aug. 5, 1994, to see the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Rockies on an oversized field. The next day, while driving north in a stickshift rental car with much cheaper gasoline (and stopping for lunch in “cattle mutilation country”), I would have a personal epiphany that I should describe in more detail some day. That year a strike would end the baseball season, and then Denver would get new stadiums. Later that week I would drive Pikes Peak and visit a friend in Colorado Springs, in a state then preoccupied with Amendment 2 and the local gay paper was “Ground Zero News.” The are has changed a lot since I was there last.

Obama's speech apparently marks the 45th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1963. That was not a good time for me. I was 20, living at home and working at the old National Bureau of Standards (now the UDC campus), going to GW part time at night, not having a normal young man's social life because of what had happened in 1961. The "new" Washington Senators baseball team suspended play (at the "new" RFK stadium) for two days during the march, and then got whacked by the Minnesota Twins in a doubleheader that Thursday (14-2, 10-1). In 1993, there would be another, but very different, March on Washington.

Picture: Grade school drawing (mine) of a Rocky Mountain scene in Colorado.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Today Show: author talks about delay of marriage, longer adolescence

This morning, Aug. 27, the NBC Today Show, the “extended” 9:30 AM (EDT) slot featured an interview with author Michael Kimmel, author of the new book “Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men” (published by Harper). He described the “guyland” years as 16-26 and presents the point that men are waiting longer to get married and have families. Call it the “anti-Marty” syndrome (based on the 50s movie). Or call it, forever an adolescent!

Actually, the same could be said of women, and that seemed to be one of his points. Women are more “self-sufficient” and, with social supports for equal pay and removing glass ceilings, men may feel that women don’t need them. It sounds as though the metrosexuals (other than competitive swimmers) need to let their chest hair grow back in order to distinguish themselves.

Seriously, Kimmel talks about early adulthood as a “missing decade”, often filled with wild frat parties, rites of passage (even “branding of pledges”), drinking, drugs, porn, and promiscuity. It seems a little off-base, because for some men (and women) its filled with grad school or medical school (which presents a singularly unifocal existence). He also talks about “intensely patient” helicopter parents, and economic pressures, which often keep young adults “living at home”.

Another reason for indefinite postponement of marriage, he says, is longer life spans. If I’m going to live to my mid 90s, I’ll wait, because I really don’t want to share my bed with the same person for six decades. Women, however, will probably always outlive men somewhat, and from a biological perspective, cannot postpone motherhood forever.

The issue of philandering comes to mind. Anthropologists love to talk about the basic neuro-biology of it. Men have a hard-wired incentive or at least an instinct to spread their genes as far as possible, as do the males of most animal species. After all, that sounds like the best chance their biological legacy will “survive” and go forward after they’re gone. It’s up to women to “tame them” (especially according to George Will and George Gilder) and attach them to specific families; the institution of monogamous marriage is supposed to mean that a man focuses his energies on raising his own children, fathered with only one woman – so that there will be one woman for every man, and so that every (no matter how “competitive” in “Darwinian” terms) man gets a “fair shake.” Because pregnancy and motherhood intrinsically create a “biological commitment”, women are supposedly incentivized for long term raising of children and have a reason to induce men to follow suit. Marriage is a social invention, and a socializing institution. We’ve heard social conservatives say that for years. Even people from areas of society considered more pluralistic or liberal (such as Rabbi Boteach on Oprah yesterday) make this point.

Of course, modern technological, open society complicates this. Men and women both find other ways to propagate themselves to as many people as possible, even with no biological process (subject to manipulation by society or by hierarchies of permission) at all. A college student invents a new web service that hundreds of millions of customers can use and launches it from a dorm room; isn’t that the psychological equivalent of “male propagation.”

The gay angle wasn’t mentioned. But it’s clear that not all men desire to propagate their genes at all, or they may pick some other artificial means to have a family with a same-sex partner, requiring much more expense and effort.

There are other opportunities for “self-definition” or even “self-promotion” besides family. That seems like a big factor. Of course, a technological system has to remain sustainable enough, and that becomes an issue. You can start to understand how the Amish think.

In the 10 AM hour, the show continued the discussion about marriage delay with Kathie Lee and Heda “on the Scoop.” Children’s author Judy Bloom got into the discussion.

"TheWB" is back as a website, separate from "CWTV"

TheWB” has apparently returned as a website. (It works.) It appears to offer online video of episodes from popular series on TheWB, especially some that no longer are aired, such as “Angel” and “Everwood”. The site starts playing a touching sequence from an early episode of “Everwood” and shows Gregory Smith and Treat Williams. There is a blog where the first entry is called “The Hills Are Alive.” There is a “Create TV” link to “recreate TV, start a channel, and make TheWB yours.” “Smallville” is there, but “Supernatural” is not. “” and "" appear to go to the same place.

CWTV, where TheWB and CBS’s UPN merged, still operates with its chartreuse-themed (call it “going green”) site for the current shows. The message boards seem harder to use than they used to be on TheWB.

The press release, in an email to me from Robert Pietranton, said “THE WB IS OFFICIALLY BACK IN BUSINESS, WITH THE PUBLIC LAUNCH TODAY OF THEWB.COM.”

I’ll watch to see what becomes of this. ABC Family ("a new kind of family") has shown some of the old WB shows (especially reruns of Everwood and Smallville). (My favorite show on ABC Family is "Kyle XY"; "Greek" is moderately eventful. Personally, I think the early seasons of Smallville were better than the last two or three, as to plot, issues, and character. The Smallville Pilot is a masterpiece of television episode screenwriting.

Maybe TheWB could resurrect "Jake 2.0", too. (The newer “Chuck”, and “Heroes” all are apparently alive and well on NBC, for this fall.)

Update: Sept. 7, 2008

The New York Times Magazine has an article on p 26 by Virginia Heffernan, "World Wide Warner: With, and entertainment giant stakes its claim online," link here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Oprah features Rabbi Shmuley Boteach counseling troubled families

Today, Aug. 26, 2008 (maybe a repeat), Oprah Winfrey hosted Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, from The Learning Channel’s (TLC) “Shalom in the Home,” (link) with reports of his monitoring and intervention in a few troubled families, link here. “Shalom” generally means “peace” or “wellbeing.”

Rabbi Boteach was critical of American value systems that place so much emphasis on individual competitiveness and success, as measured by “money” or “fame.” He believes that this attitude makes many men and women uncomfortable with themselves as husbands and wives and as mothers and fathers of cohesive nuclear family units. Over time, such parents become dispassionate about their marriages. He described many homes as “dormitories” inhabited by “strangers.” He hosted one troubled family, the Huron family (with two teenage boys) on a trip to New York City and had the family volunteer as a unit at the Bowery Mission preparing and serving meals to the homeless.

He was critical of another family’s obsession with showering its children with material things. He believes that families do not spend much time becoming socialized into units.

It seems ironic, then, if Oprah herself is still single, although the Wikipedia article on her maintains that she has a partner Stedman Graham whom she has never married (at least as of the time of writing the article).

I say this, because I wonder what the “moral” connection of singles to this problem of family “disintegration” and “decentralization” which Boteach calls a national emergency. Singles, who in terms of karma come from families (well, not always) add a lot of individual competitiveness to the culture.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

PBS: Frontline: "The Tank Man" at Tiananmen Square, and China's transformation toward authoritarian capitalism

Given the attention paid to China recently for the Olympics, and Ted Koppel’s Discovery Channel series “The People’s Republic of Capitalism” (reviewed on this blog July 9, 2008), it’s a good time to look at the PBS Frontline film “The Tank Man,” directed by Antony Thomas, originally aired April 11, 2006 (transcript link).

The film documents how China converted from statist Communism to statist capitalism, which somehow manages to hide the underlying trend toward fascism. It opens with a shot of the open Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world, treeless, overwhelming, said to dwarf the significance of the individual in relation to the state. The film then accounts for the encounter of an “unknown rebel” (since called “Tank Man” on June 5, 1989, at the close of the Tiananmen Square protests. For about five minutes, the young man challenged a meandering column of tanks by standing in front of it (a kind of one man “sit in”) until some people removed him. One journalist in a hotel (Jeff Widener?) tells of hiding his film in the commode when he realized that the secret police could see him filming. Sure enough, soon they knocked – banged – on his hotel door to confiscate his film, but the commode saved the footage that counts. It got out. No one is sure what happened to the young man, who may have been Wang Weilin, and who might have been executed. But the knowledge of his protests is thought to have helped propel changes in China toward capitalism, and also to encourage protests in Berlin and Romania (and falls in those countries later in 1989) and maybe the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The film documents the history that led to the protests, including a fear by the Communist government not so much of students, but of protests spreading to workers. That led to martial law, but then an uprising of the people led to blocking every intersection along the boulevard leading to the square. The Chinese military used expanding military rounds, appropriate for battle, to inflict maximum casualties on the civilian victims. But, in the aftermath of the Tank Man footage, the Chinese government began to change its strategy. It was willing to separate economics and politics. It told the anti-establishment: you can get rich, but you can’t criticize us or challenge one-party rule. The government began to allow free-trade zones, and eventually “disaster capitalism” (of the Naomi Klein terminology as in my books blog) leading to normal capitalism would start to transform the country. The old egalitarian “ethic” that had led to Mao’s cultural revolution was replaced by acceptance of a new divide between the rich and poor, with a Confucian attitude toward family values (despite the “one child per family” policy).

The film shows city-scapes, like Shanghai’s, that had not existed before. The Maglev trains are the fastest in the world, even if not heavily used. Luxury homes and shopping for the rich abound. But in the countryside, the state “privatized” all the services, which particularly resulted in removing state provision of health care and pensions, and leaving that up to Confucian “family responsibility.” Farmers could lease land from the state and sell crops on the free market, but this did not always work for them.

So some young people went away to the cities to work in 90-hour-a-week factory jobs, often living in dormitories, sometimes twelve to a room. One girl tells of sending money back to the family to pay for education for two younger brothers (it’s not clear what happened to the “one child” policy then, but it illustrates that in China “family responsibility” is not a matter of personal choice). The government hires contractors to do its construction, and contractors don’t pay workers until the end of job (just giving them room and board), and often the workers don’t get paid at all. A few workers have threatened suicide by jumping from forklifts.

China employs about 30000 people censoring and filtering Internet content for over 100 million users, and forces major software companies to comply in order to do business in China. A search on “Tank Man” brings up many references in western countries but is blocked in China. American law prohibits the sale of weapons to China, but it is not clear that it would prohibit software and hardware (or router companies like Cisco) from complying with Chinese terms of use when doing business in China.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

PBS Independent Lens: "Today's Man" - a young man in NYC with Asperger's Syndrome

Today, Howard University (Washington DC) PBS station aired the Independent Lens 45 minute documentary “Today’s Man,” hosted by Terrence Howard (“Hustle and Flow”), directed by Lizzie Gottlieb, about her brother Nicky with Asperger’s Syndrome. The web site is this.

There is footage of Nicky as a baby, whom the family saw as “on a throne”. The pediatrician thought he would be autistic or severely disabled. But Nicky eventually learned to talk, and developed focused intellectual skills (like perpetual calendar calculations). He grew up in New York City, living at home, celebrating his 21st birthday at the beginning of the film. His father says that his brain cannot process body language or subjective interpersonal communication. Therefore he enjoys “acting out.” He sits at home and enjoys his world of soap operas, which he says exude romance, glamour, and plot, and some sort of moral lessons. (He doesn’t mention “Days of our Lives” with all of Sami’s troubles but he probably should have.)

But then he has to deal with “my place in the world of work.” He gets a job in the mailroom of a prestigious media firm. He makes some kind of comment that, judging from the people, he feels like the place is more like Harlem than Park Avenue (if he were in Amsterdam, with a similarly named area, that might be all right, literally speaking, but not in New York – again, the point, he does not respect “social context”). Then he asks his boss for time to go home for a moment, and he gets fired. Three years later he tries another job, and gets reprimanded for looking at other people’s mail.

His behavior seems gratuitous, perhaps offensive. It would seem that he does not take enough responsibility to be able to live on his own, as an “independent man.” But, his sister (the filmmaker) feels that this may our, the public’s, moral value judgment based on public values. It really does not seem real to Nicky.

The film presents only one case of Asperger’s. Some people with Asperger’s live very well, working in intellectual pursuits like computers, but simply seem inflexible in social connections with people. They may be able to interact with people on their own terms, if they follow certain patterns that they have learned well. Some do not marry, but some do.
In a few cases, some become very accomplished in some intellectual or artistic area. The converse is not always true. Some great composers and concert performers were very eccentric, but by no means all. Perhaps Beethoven might have been considered to have Asperger’s. I have a review of a book by another person with Asperger’s, John Elder Robinson, on the book review blog in Oct 2007, here.

I have been told by other friends (as I am in my 60s) that I have “it.” One filmmaker told me that at a Friday’s based on lack of body language. My behavior as an early teen was often inappropriate sometimes (in a few instances, particularly), but I learned and “outgrew” some of it. But as a young adult, particularly early in my working life, I committed a few social gaffes that I cringe at now (particularly a few in the 1970s), and one or two of them were psychologically similar to Nicky’s in the film. I would not commit these today. I worked in information technology for 31 years (1970-2001) with no significant periods of unemployment and lived in four different cities.

There is an issue with introversion and self-focus, and emotional diffidence or aloofness in situations where others expect emotional connection and preferential empathy (especially family members). This might happen on the mild end of Asperger’s, or might be thought of as “schizoid personality” (a term that sounds scarier than it is), or narcissism. These will mix into moral issues, in some people’s minds.

You know, they just said on Larry King Live, that democratic vice-presidential choice Joe Biden tends to “commit gaffes.” Oh, well. He is no Lloyd Bensen.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

HBO: "Thank You Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House"

Tonight, HBO aired the short documentary film “Thank You Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House,” directed by Rory Kennedy, about 40 minutes. The web site is this. The film covers the career of the chief of the White House Press Corps since 1961 (when I was graduating from high school). Helen Thomas, born in 1920, was a “career woman” although she married Douglas B. Cornell during the Nixon years, with great social approbation.

Helen was always outspoken. She challenged President Kennedy to explain the concept of “Managed News.” Decades later, during the Iraq war, she would challenge the press secretary about the loss of “innocent” civilian lives in Iraq. “Regret doesn’t buy back a life” she said. She also asked President Bush about the separation of church and state when Bush promoted his faith-based initiatives (although now Barack Obama wants to do something similar). There are intermediate-era scenes, as when she quizzes Ronald Reagan about the Iran contras.

The film runs through many of the major highlights of history, including Nixon’s Watergate resignation in 1974, which was largely the result of the press (Woodward and Bernstein), and Gerald Ford’s first speech in which Ford said that the long nightmare was over. I remember that (I was changing jobs then and going to NBC in New York); I remember hearing Ford say “I am a Ford, not a Model T.” (Ford also put his foot in his mouth with a comment about Poland, when I shared an office at NBC with a man whose ancestors had come from Communist Ukraine.)

One of the interesting things about the film is the progress of technology. Until the 90s, press reporters did not have cell phones, and had to rush to find real land phones and find computer terminals (in earlier days, teletypes) for their stories.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

PBS Wide Angle: "Iraqi Exodus" to Jordan and Syria (and the U.S.)

On August 19, PBS “Wide Angle” aired a one-hour program “Iraqi Exodus” giving the stories of Iraqi families that have fled Iraq, during the sectarian “civil war” following Saddam Hussein’s fall in 2003, to Jordan and Syria. CNN reporter Aaron Brown reported. The program started in Amman, Jordan. The WETA (Washington DC Channel 26) link for the program is here. PBS has its own link to this show with video links ("Syrian Ambassador on the Impact of Refugees") and comments, here.

Much of the program focused on a Mandaian family, which was targeted and attacked for religious, pacifistic non-conformity. The father was falsely accused of homosexuality, taboo in both Sunni and Shiite cultures. He had been an accountant in Baghdad, but in Jordan he could not get a work permit. Exiled families in both Jordan and Syria were gradually sinking into poverty, although some were able to start “entrepreneurial” service businesses within their own enclaves. A concert was held to raise money for refugees, but the show maintains that major international relief is necessary. One family was shown moving to Portland, OR but the man still could not get work.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dr. Phil explains "reactive attachment disorder", an important clinical concept

Today (Aug. 19) the Dr. Phil show (a repeat) covered two mothers who had extreme difficulties with their children. The show was called “Tired of Being a Mom.” The first parent had adopted a child from the Ukraine and wanted to “give back” the child. The details need not be repeated here, as they appear on Dr. Phil’s site (link here.

Dr. Phil mentioned (and introduced) an important clinical term, “reactive attachment disorder.” Dr. Phil explained it as follows: “Reactive attachment disorder means that children can neither give nor receive love.” He did go on to explain the situation in terms of this particular child’s desertion overseas. But the clinical concept is important, as discussed in detail in Wikipedia here. The disorder is supposedly characterized by social inertia without a pervasive developmental disorder (autism or even Asperger’s). It may turn out to be related to the convenient term “schizoid personality” in adults. Yet, a lot of it has to do with society’s demands that people develop empathy for others in a family relationship.

The term probably would have occurred in the context of my stay (with many other patients) at NIH in 1962, an event that I have discussed previously on my other blogs.

The second half of the show featured a mother with extreme challenges with a child with autism and Down syndrome, and the third who is simply overwhelmed by having four children. I wonder if Heather Armstrong’s “Mommy” (dooce) blogs have dealt with situations like these on Dr. Phil’s today,

Monday, August 18, 2008

History Channel: "The Universe: Beyond the Big Bang"

On Saturday Aug. 16 The History Channel aired its two-hour special in “The Universe” series, called “Beyond the Big Bang.” The link is here.

The documentary supposes that the universe started about 13.7 billion years ago at when an infinitely small singularity “exploded.” The “Big Bang” is a bit of a misnomer: it was small at first, and in a vacuum (or in nothing) there could be no sound. Gravity may have separated from the “superforce” allowing a sudden expansion, faster than the speed of light because light didn’t exist yet. In two or three seconds, the other three forces separated out to form the four that physics knows today, with all the physical constants in play.

Narrators include Alan Guth (MIT), Lawrence Klaus (“Hiding in the Mirror”), Neil Tyson, and Michio Kaku (“Parallel Worlds”).

The documentary traces the evolution of theory from an earth-centered “universe” to a sun centered one to eventually the modern cosmology. It goes through Ptolomy (with the positions of the planet), Copernicus with an aesthetic idea of a sun-centered world, then Kepler’s mathematics, and finally Galileo with his telescope. The Church accepted Galileo’s observations at first, but then put him on trial for heresy when he tried his hand at public scriptural interpretations. Galileo could not resist the self-indulgence of a high public profile, and misplayed his relations with the Pope. Galileo spent the end of his life in “exile” in a villa, were he worked out more theories about falling objects, to be picked up by Newton.

The documentary goes on to discuss Einstein, showing the bank in Bern, Switzerland where he worked in 1905. Special relativity would lead to general relativity, but there would be controversy over whether the universe was steady-state or expanding, and a Catholic priest (Georges Lamaitre "A Day Without Yesterday", descriptive link) would join in the work. Hubble would discover that the Milky Way was just one galaxy on the 1920s, on one night, when he studied the Andromeda object and determined that it was a galaxy too. The film makes the comment that the priest believed that both science and religion could converge at the truth with a story of creation.

The documentary goes on to predict how the solar system will end, with the Sun becoming a red giant, frying the earth and even blowing away the gas from Jupiter and Saturn. Eventually the solar system falls apart. But even after that, the Universe expands past another singularity, when the ultimate mega-disaster called “the Big Rip” occurs.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Rick Warren holds Civil Forum with separate interviews of Obama and McCain, at Saddleback Church in CA

Reverend Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose-Driven Life” (he actually trademarked the term) and pastor of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, held the presidents’ candidates “Civil Forum” tonight, Saturdaym Aug. 16, at 5 PM PDT. The format was separate one-hour interviews of each candidate with Warren asking the same questions that he culled from those submitted by the congregation. The price of a ticket to attend was $2000. The broadcast took place on CNN.

Barack Obama went first, and then John McCain.

The questions were supposed to be divided into four sections. The first section was leadership. Warren mentioned a Proverb about listening, and asked who each candidate thought was the wisest person on his life. Obama mentioned Senator Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar. Obama was asked about America’s “moral fiber” and Obama mentioned our inability to do right for the “least among us.” He mentioned the “common good.” Obama said that he had struggled with too much self-consciousness, and his having to accept the idea, "it's not about me" (to quote Rick Warren's "it's not about you"). Obama was asked about when he changed his mind, and said that he had come to respect the need for the strictness and work requirements in welfare reform.

Warren followed his script less strictly with McCain, who immediately talked about how we needed to do everything regarding energy: drilling, hydrogen and hybrid cars, solar and wind power.

The second portion concerned “world view.” One question was about abortion, and Obama said that he was pro-choice, but would work to reduce the temptation for the procedure at all. He wouldn’t answer when life began. But McCain said that life begins at conception and that he had always been pro-life.

Obama came out in favor of civil unions for same-sex couples, but not for formal marriage. He did not favor a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage, on grounds of “federalism.” He spoke of the practical issues for same-sex couples, like hospital visits.

McCain favored the effort to amend the California state constitution overturning the recent state supreme court decision that struck down California’s laws forbidding gay marriage. But McCain insisted that gays are equal under the law as individuals. He didn’t seem to get the idea that the marriage laws mean that gays subsidize the marriages of others.

Obama thought that it was acceptable to use embryos that would be discarded for stem-cell research, but favored research on adult tissue. McCain said that skin cell research could make the question obsolete.

Obama talked about the question of evil, and mentioned Darfur. McCain said you have to defeat evil, and that he would capture Osama bin Laden.

Somewhere in the discussion, early on (in having to account for a change of mind), McCain talked about his years of captivity in North Vietnam, about the rendition, and about his captors’ drawing a cross for him in the dirt on Christmas day. Apparently he might have been given the chance to leave if he would talk, but he complied with the Code of Conduct, not knowing that the Vietnam war would go on for three more years.

On domestic issues, Warren asked the candidates about Supreme Court appointees. Obama said he would not have appointed Clarence Thomas, or Anthony Scalia. He felt that John Roberts allows the executive branch too much power.

Both candidates seemed to have similar positions on performance pay for teachers, but McCain added that parents should be able to get vouchers for better performing private schools.

McCain called for a $7000 tax exemption per child, and a $5000 tax credit to purchase health insurance. Obama said that we needed health care and not “disease care.” Neither talked about the difficulties with pre-existing conditions or the ability to join large groups for discounts.

Both candidates seemed to agree to emergency measures to adopt overseas orphans, but McCain felt that we needed to make adoption easier in this country.

Both were asked where the cutoffs were for the middle class and the “Rich.” Obama drew the lines at $150000 and $250000 a year. McCain would not draw the line, but wanted everybody to “get rich” (like Donald Trump!) Remember, the People’s Party of New Jersey back in 1972 wanted to limit incomes to $50000 a year!

The last section was a single question: why do you want to run for president?

Obama talked about sacrifice: that “The Greatest Generation” had sacrificed for us during WWII, and that our generation needed to think about this with respect to environmental issues. McCain said that it was important for every person to “find a cause greater than self-interest.” He had said that back in 2001. He also said that it was shallow for the administration to tell people to "go shopping" after 9/11 when they should have been talking about joining the Peace Corps or similar services. Actually, the administration did push Americorps publicly after 9/11.

Neither candidate mentioned eldercare or the demographic problems associated with it (although Obama mentioned Alzheimer's in conjunction with stem cell research).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

PBS: Forgetting: A Portrait of Alzheimer's

Tonight (Aug. 14), some PBS stations, particularly WETA in Washington DC, aired the 2004 film “Forgetting: A Portrait of Alzheimer’s” followed by a panel discussion of medical and social experts to bring progress up to date. The link is this. The film is produced and directed by Elizabeth Arledge.

The program started characterizing the disease as one which robs the person of his or her identity, or everything that makes him or her who he or she is. The film then shows some of the common early symptoms and diagnostic tests. A female is asked to recall a list of three objects, several minutes after distraction, and to be able to spell “world” both forwards and backwards. The backward spelling would require short-term memory skills.

The program gave some of the history, with the characterization of the disease by German physician Alois Alzheimer in 1901.

In 1993, there were about 500,000 cases in the United States. Now, in 2008, there are five million. The primary cause for the increase is the rapidly lengthening life spans, long enough to trigger changes in genetically susceptible people. During the ninth decade of life, the incidence increases rapidly. If a younger person is diagnosed and does not have other medical issues, the life expectancy ranges from 8 to 20 years; death often occurs from other causes.

The documentary explained the physiology of the disease. There is the development of a toxic amyloid plaque, and of tangles. Synapses are destroyed, but so are neurons in such a way that some functions are lost completely. There are other forms of dementia probably related to vascular insufficiency. These may be milder and the memory disabilities may be more specific, and sometimes be more tied to emotional or attachment issues.

The documentary discussed the possible genetic susceptibility, especially chromosome 21. A few people have developed the disease as early as the fourth decade. One woman in her 50s was shown, and the family was shown making end-of-life plans. The disease is different from Huntington’s Chorea, which also strikes in mid-life and is genetic and easily tested for.

The panel afterwards discussed the improvement in pharmaceutical therapy for the various manifestations of disease progress. But toward the end, the question was asked, are we ready for the demographic shock? This is a catastrophe no one is ready for. We had AIDS in the 1980s (through the present day) and learned to manage it. He had 9/11 and Katrina. But as of now, the problem, as one commentator said, we have a “diverse” population which may not be “competent” to handle the problem. Society has no organized plan, so the burden falls back on “unlucky” families. We have a culture that encourages individual sovereignty with reduced birth rate in many communities, so adults may not be prepared for the unchosen duties of caregiving (compared to child bearing which is supposed to be governed by personal choices). The panel also pointed out that sometimes patients outlive their caregivers, whose health may suffer from the tremendous sacrifices; so this is indeed the next huge "public health problem" that could turn into a slow "pandemic." Medicine makes it possible for people to live longer, but not to function without the former family structures that have broken apart and dissolved away. The problem could have a big effect on the way we reinvent “moral values.” But, medically, we may be starting to turn the corner.

There are reviews of several programs on eldercare on this blog in early April 2008 (see archives).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

ABC Nightline examines gas prices in UK, then controversy over movie "Tropic Thunder."

ABC "Nightline" had two interesting segments, hosted by Martin Bashir.

The first part showed how Brits deal with $10 a gallon gasoline, 58% of which is tax (since the UK is a producer of oil off the coast of Scotland). There was a 50’s style newsreel propaganda movie (with Nick Watt), featuring a tiny scareb-car. 50% of the cars are diesel, and biofuel diesels are becoming popular. There is even a car that runs on wood. Roundabouts (traffic circles) can save gas. Washington DC has them here.

Britain has never had drive-in movie theaters. (The last drive-in that I saw was in Morrisville, PA in 1970, “The Boys in the Band”).

The second part (Chris Connelly reporting) examined Ben Stiller’s controversial new comedy (rated R) “Tropic Thunder,” from Dreamworks (written with Justin Theroux). We are familiar with the controversy over the script that calls an intellectually challenged character with a derogatory word. The premise of the movie is that actors playing in a Vietnam war movie suddenly find themselves in the ar. Stiller says that the high concept of the movie is to make fun of Hollywood’s values, and that only the character is being ridiculed, not a class of people. Nevertheless, there have been demonstrations, shown in the segment, involving real members of the class, who call the movie “hate speech.” There have been calls for a boycott, and some polls suggest most people won't see this film (It cost $90 million to make). In that sense, the movie is a test of the public acceptance of the use of “irony” in presenting an otherwise troubling concept. I got into trouble when substitute teaching over a screenplay that I had authored and placed on my own website (on my own time) that parodied a different problem as a “thought experiment” with a similar kind of irony.

Stiller says he always wanted to be a director and started directing films with Super 8 as a kid. Tom Cruise does an uncredited cameo in the film. But Aaron Eckhart does a lot of uncredited cameos, too (as in Nicholas Cage's "Wicker Man" remake).

The ABC News link for this (with Sarah Netter and Arash Ghadishah, “Taking Chances with ‘Tropic Thunder’) is here. The movie opened in LA today.

The closing argument allows viewers to vote for the greatest Olympian of all time. They talked again about Michael Phelps with his size 14 feet. Remember, Smallville had an episode called ‘Aquaman.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

ABC Primetime reports on unusual medical mysteries: a rare paralysis of surfers

ABC News “Primetime” tonight (August 12) reported several interesting “Medical Mysteries.”

A 37 year old man, Dede Koswara, in Indonesia has a rare inability to control warts, benign skin tumors that result from the human papilloma virus, or HPV. One variation of this DNA virus causes cervical cancer in women. His face and body, and especially hands, became covered with amalgamating tumors that looked like tree sprouts (hence “tree man”). Another condition that could look like this is neurofibramatosis (“elephant man diseases”) which is genetic but might have a viral trigger. It’s interesting that HPV does not generally behave this way in HIV-infected people, but it might cause unusual brain tumors in infected people. Dede’s wife left him, and relatives had to take care of his children. He was made into an “attraction” at a carnival (Hanny Enterprises). But eventually he received surgeries to remove the tumors at Bandung, Indonesia.

Another bizarre medical problem is surfer’s myelopathy. It is very rare, but strikes young healthy surfers suddenly. Somehow tissues in the spine swell and cut off circulation, resulting in paralysis over several hours. The disability could be irreversible. The condition is nicknamed “stroke of the spine.”

Another report concerned a Minnesota man’s sudden severe headaches. At the Mayo Clinic, he learned that he had a congenital Chiara Malformation, where the bony structure at the base of his skull was not large enough.

There was also a report, already previewed on Good Morning America, of a girl with two XX chromosomes, but who developed female because of AIS, or androgen insensitivity syndrome, where her body interprets testosterone as estrogen. She does not have internal reproductive structures, and learned of her condition when she had a hernia operation. She actually had vestigial testes. She is married (to a man) and as a couple has adopted one child.

ABC Nightline aired a story on new survivalism, from Seward, Alaska. A man had eight months of canned goods in a basement “grocery store” and nitro-preserved foods, and offered a school where clients learn survival schools and hunting and fishing. “No one is going to rescue you,” he said. But survivalism has flourished before, such as just before Y2K.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Oprah joins Dr. Phil for his 1000th show

Today (Aug. 11), Dr. Phil broadcast his 1000th show. It appeared to be a repeat. For much of the show, Oprah Winfrey joined him on the large stage with the blue background. Chairs were brought in and they crossed their legs. Oprah said that they were the only two major daily shows whose hosts “own themselves.” That comment sounded like a monument to personal sovereignty.

Oprah thanked Dr. Phil for accompanying her to Texas in 1998 when the Texas cattlemen sued her for libel for suggesting a connection between Texas cattle and mad cow disease, on a 1996 show. The plaintiffs lost that suit, and, as Oprah repeated today, “Free speech rocks.” CNN and US News still have the story of the verdict, here. The case is thought to have set a reassuring precedent.

In the second half of the show, Dr. Phil recapped some of the people he has “helped,” including Brandon, who now has a steady job and works 55 hours a week. They made mention of “Man Camp” and probably the “Dr. Phil House” where a guest’s “privacy” will be invaded.

Dr. Phil has recently asked for viewers who have been defamed on the Internet to submit stories and apply to be on the show. This would include students or perhaps teachers who have been disciplined in school systems because of their social networking site pages.

Most of Dr. Phil’s “guests” exhibit rather extreme behaviors, and rather gross failures to keep marital promises or other kinds of obviously wrong acts. To my knowledge, Dr. Phil has not gone into some of the more subtle “moral” problems that we face yet that are beyond our control with choice, such as eldercare. I wish he would. I sent him an email about this late last year.

Friday, August 08, 2008

NBC broadcasts gaudy 4-hour Olympics opening ceremony from Beijing (delayed 12 hrs)

The 2008 Summer Olympics (the 29th Olympiad in modern times) in Beijing, China actually got underway with the four-hour opening ceremony starting at 8 AM this morning EDT. But NBC broadcast the event this evening, with a pre-show at 7:30 PM and the official even tape starting at 8:08 PM EDT, twelve hours later. It's interesting, by the way, that all of China, with the width of the US, is in one time zone called CST. Wikipedia already has a detailed log of the event here, but I’ll add a few notes now.

The three NBC hosts were Bob Costas, Matt Lauer, and China specialist Joshua Cooper Ramo. The weather in Beijing was apparently in the low to mid 80s F with high humidity. According to meteorologists, most of the haze in the atmosphere was due to August humidity. The Chinese program of greatly reducing driving and closing factories has cleaned out the air somewhat. Because Beijing is in a bowl with mountains to the west, it tends to have pollution problems similar to that of Denver in the US, but perhaps worse because of lower elevation and greater humidity.

Everyone talks about the Bird’s Nest stadium, which reminds one of the Quidditch Stadium in the Harry Potter movies. The “mesh” is designed in fractals and lends itself to lighting, leading the spectacular results. Throughout the long program, the Chinese impressed everyone with their use of garish colors, a feature already well known from their films. The constant fireworks from the rim of the stadium far outdid American Independence Day celebrations, and emphasized white and brilliant colors.

Filmmaker Zhang Yimou (“Jet Li’s Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers”) directed the outdoor choreography, which included the “29 steps” from the old Beijing center at Tiananmen Square to the stadium. The countdown to the start of the ceremony was accomplished with the disciplined drill of thousands of drummers making numbers with lights, and many of the other acts used hundred of people with incredibly complicated group mechanics. The opening ceremony cost $300 million to produce. One of the concepts of all the dances is the oriental notion the "artist is equivalent to the work of art."

Early in the ceremony the Chinese National Anthem, “The March of the Volunteers” (YouTube) was sung. The music at the ceremony sounded surprisingly western, often loud, sometimes a bit French or Ravelian.

One of the most interesting acts celebrated man in space, with a globe of Earth, followed by an orange globe that was said to be a Chinese lantern, but that could have been interpreted as Titan, since Saturn was shown on the screen above simultaneously, or perhaps even as Venus. Either one would serve as a subtle warning that we must protect this planet.

The longest portion of the program was the march of the athletes from over 200 nations, some very small. The nations were paraded in a sequence defined thy the number of strokes in the Chinese character in the Chinese language name for the country. That placed the United States two thirds down the sequence. President Bush and his wife were in attendance.

The games officially opened about 3-1/2 hours into the ceremony.

The American marching athletes did not include the flamboyant swimmer Michael Phelps, who has an early event. The sinewy, "smooth" Phelps has been quite conspicuous in the media, which makes a lot of his vulnerable short beard, almost the only temporarily allowable hair (except for his head) left, and even the 'stache and chin stubble has to be gone soon (when he “peaks”) to remove water resistance. He comes from the same city as Gossip Girl actor Penn Badgley: Baltimore, MD. Will Phelps take the American male even further into the metrosexual look? As conservative writer David Skinner noted (and perhaps lamented) in a June 1999 Weekly Standard piece, we seem to be in a media era where men and women look even more alike. I’ve only attended one swim meet, at the SMU natatorium in Dallas in 1982 when Steve Lundquist was all the rage.

At the end Li Ning did a high wire act, going around the upper reaches of the stadium, with the torch to light the Olympic Cauldron. Some genuinely Chinese music from one of Yimou’s films played. NBC showed the entire city from the distance along the river as the final fireworks displayed.

The entire show was nothing short of colossal. I've never seen anything like this in the United States!

I wonder how much a ticket (just to the opening) cost in US dollars, and how much a hotel room in Beijing is during the Olympics. Maybe a visitor knows.

Boxer Russell (from Capitol Heights, MD, near Washington DC) collapsed in a workout trying to make weight because of dehydration, and cannot compete on the US boxing team. The NBC Olympics (and AP) story is here.

Update: Aug. 10

The gymnastics, rowing, swimming, and cycling were all spectacular yesterday; the cycling events allow viewers to see the mountainous countryside near Beijing. The haze and humidity in the air is quite noticeable.

The gymnastics, however, makes me ponder some comparisons. Yes, the upper body definition of the athletes is spectacular. But we humans pale in comparison to all other primates as to strength and agility swinging from trees and things. Look how we compare in strength to some of our favorite wild animals, big cats, that seem to fascinate us so much! Genes really do matter.

Since China is twelve hours ahead, many of the events are being broadcast on NBC after the results are known. Imagine if China and Japan had teams in US Major League Baseball, what road trips would be like. Home team advantage would really matter.

August 13:

Baltimore, MD has the Orioles, the Ravens, and now Michael Phelps.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

ABC: Bob Woodruff: "China Inside Out"

On Aug. 6, ABC Primetime presented a one hour report by Bob Woodruff, “China Inside Out.” The show emphasized China’s own need for imports from third world countries.

For example, the show started with a discussion of Chinese investment in Angola, particularly the off-shore oil industry. The report mentioned that American companies like Exxon have been able to operate there (at one time a Portuguese colony) despite political instability. The report showed Chinese men living in cramped hot dormitory-like quarters for oil and other jobs.

The report went on to discuss China’s imports from Brazil, especially of soy material. Because Chinese cities have been expanding (especially Chongqing, as in Ted Koppel’s earlier report) there is less arable land in China than there used to be. China may one day have to import close to half its food. The program featured spectacular footage of the Sao Paulo harbor areas.

Next, the report covered China’s past links to Cambodia. Back in the late 70s, the Khmer Rouge forced a policy of ethnic cleansing, trying to remove the Vietnamese, as documented in the 1984 film “The Killing Fields.” The film showed some of the remains of the fields. China was complicit with these efforts. There is an interesting Yale blog entry that deals with this history, here.

The report concluded with a discussion of the reasons why China’s population is so hardworking and willing to work for low wages to make exports.

Bob Woodruff, Gabrielle Tenenbaum, Susan Schaefer, and Meena Hartenstein have a report on ABC’s site, Why Every American Should Care About China: The Emerging Superpower Is Forging Relationships Where the U.S. Isn’t,” link here. The headline page at ABC reads "Is a Powerful China Good for the U.S.?"

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Parents Television Council critical of the way major networks portray marriage and "outside of marriage"

Conservative media sources are making a lot of a recent report from the Parents Television Council, with a survey released Aug. 5. The press release is titled “Happily Never After: New PTC Study Reveals TV Favors Non-Marital Sex.” The link is here. The Washington Times ran a summary story by Kara Rowland on p A11 this morning (Wednesday) summarizing the numerical findings of the study.

A particularly interesting statistic was that ratio of nonmarital sexual references to marital ones was the highest during the “family hour” of 8 PM to 9 PM.

However, the report could be deceiving. Time zones matter, for one thing. More important is the way content is interpreted. Producers of shows may not believe that referring to marriage with that “Song of Solomon” touch may fit into the story line of an episode, and may believe that audiences simply understand that it takes place. For example, the WB show “Seventh Heaven” was certainly very “pro-family” (and in the East it aired between 8 PM and 9 PM on Mondays for a long time) but it never referred much to intimacy in the sense that the study would have demanded.

It seems as if the PTC is “complaining” or even whining that network television does not promote the idea of marriage and family for its own sake enough. I’m not sure that’s true: the recent series “The Baby Borrowers” on NBC, however controversial, certainly, as a whole, promotes the idea of a teenager’s waiting until mature enough to have a career and marry before having children.

The wrap-up of "The Baby Borrowers" mentions the concerns over "The Juno Effect", after the popular movie last Christmas (Juno); the more "irresponsibility" teens see in entertainment, the more likely they are to behave "irresponsibly." Is Hollywood responsible for this when it has to honor Wall Street's bottom line and provide "entertainment"?

Another concept is “indecency” which is not illegal but which the Federal Communications Commission regulated between 6 AM and 10 PM on broadcast television. For example, some jokes on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” after 11:30 PM might not be acceptable at earlier hours, and the same may be true of some late night shows like Leno or Kimmel. A recent FCC fine against CBS for a Super Bowl 2004 half-time show incident (with Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson) was overturned. According to media sources, such as a story by Daisy Whitney “Supreme Court Agrees to Hear ‘Fleeting Expletive’ Case,” in TV Week News, May 17, 2008, link here.

Monday, August 04, 2008

ABC's "The View" features Obama (Monday) and McCain (Tuesday)

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama appeared today (Monday, August 4) on ABC’s “The View”.

Obama “admitted” that we might be in a national emergency when he took office and that he might have to go into some sort of FDR mode for the first days of office, before advancing his own policy initiatives.

Obama denied that he was for higher taxes, but the thought that those who make the most money ought to pay “a little more” and working people scraping by ought to pay “a little less.”

He said that his wife did not have a passion for being involved in policy making 24 x7, and he described himself as “skinny but tough.”

He has been somewhat vague on energy, but indicated that oil drilling cannot solve our supply problems in any time frame, and that American companies control only 3% of reserves. He said that he supported a technological revolution in promoting efficient use of energy. He wants 20% of our energy to come from renewable sources in ten years, and he wants 6 million hybrid vehicles that get 150 miles per gallon or more.

There is some debate as to whether inflating tires will save as much energy as offshore drilling would produce in ten years, but Obama's campaign has been giving away tire pressure gauges.

Republican candidate John McCain will appear on the program Tuesday August 5.

The website for the program is this. Today I had some problems making the links on the site work (the "learn more" for Barack Obama's appearance kept on bringing up a page for ABC's soap operas).

The cohosts for this women’s daily “gabfest” are Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Sherri Shepherd.

Update: August 5:

McCain first talked about Iraq, and said that the we have a way to go before the “rule of law” comes back in Iraq.

He recalled his time as a prisoner of war, of speakers blaring into his cell a the “Hanoi Hilton,” of his learning of the Martin Luther King assassination and subsequent riots, but not of when man walked on the Moon.

He was asked about the shortage of military manpower and said he did not support a draft and did believe that an all “volunteer” military was effective. He did support the idea that people should volunteer for causes “higher than themselves” (something he has said in early 2001). He suggested that more should be done to provide educational incentives to join the military or perhaps other forms of national service.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

CNN: Amanpour and "Buddha's Warriors"

On August 2, Christiane Amanpour, CNN Chief International Correspondent, presented her one hour documentary “Buddha’s Warriors,” about the lack of religious and personal freedom for Buddhists, and especially their monks, in both Tibet and Myanmar (Burma).

The basic question of the broadcast is why both governments consider this religious and cultural “minority”, with its gentled and devoted nature and pacifism, a “threat”. One major issue appears to be the idea that many people in the past considered Tibet to be a separate, autonomous, almost independent country. When I grew up in the 1950s I was taught to view it as separate in geography classes. China claims that Tibet is comparable to an American “state” like Texas or California. The Chinese claim that they have raised the standard of living for Tibetans, with a life span rising from 35 to 67. The claim they have helped develop the area with the high speed mountain passenger train, shown coming into Lhasa through a decorated gate.

Amanpour interviewed the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, in March, commemorating an anniversary of when the Dalai Lama fled in 1959 into exile. The program also covered a pilgrimage to Tibet from Dharamsala. Amanpour had just covered the visit of the New York Philharmonic to North Korea. (See the review of her “Notes on North Korea on this blog May 10, 2008, following the Archive links).

The second half of the program focused on Myanmar, and especially the horrible response to the May cyclone. Oddly, Rangoon looks like a relatively modern city on television, compared to Pyongyang (North Korea) which, with its weird unfinished triangular hotel, looks emptied out.

CNN provides a useful link with some video excerpts from the program here.

I actually met the Dalai Lama in the boarding line at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam when about to fly back to Minneapolis, on May 7, 2001. I have a review of the film "10 Questions for the Dalai Lama" (June 2007) here.

ABC "Good Morning America" has considered Lhasa's Potala Palace to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Picture: Bhutan exhibit, Smithsonian Folklife Festival, June 2008.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

ABC 20-20, "Ellen" present The Jonas Brothers

Last night (Aug. 1, 2008) ABC 20/20 featured a couple of interesting segments, the crowd-drawer being a report on the Jonas Brothers. The segment interviewed the parents in their Wyckoff, New Jersey home, and showed them on the road in their tour bus, that contains bunks with a plasma TV in each cubicle.

The report depicted Kevin (20) as the lead guitar, Joe (18) as a lead vocal with tambourine and guitar, and the Joe (15), the pianist, as the soul of the group.

The boy band did not hit pay dirt immediately. It’s first CD did not sell (a lot of CD’s don’t these days, competing with downloads) but they built up a huge following on (site), and they then got a contract with Disney.

The brothers are famous for their clean-cut image and the parents talked about the purity rings. They also related how suddenly the youngest. Nick (15) was diagnosed in 2005 with Type 1 diabetes after sudden weight loss and now wears a new kind of insulin pump.

The ABC News story is “The Summer’s Biggest Act? The Jonas Brothers: Teen sensations talk music, life on the road, here by Patricia Arico and Sarah Netter.

The Jonas Brothers also appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show Aug. 2, with a web reference here.

The ABC 20/20 presented a profile of SALO, a staffing firm in Minneapolis, which has installed office treadmills and devices to get employees to walk more. Many employees had gained about ten pounds during their first year of work and then lost the pounds at work without having to join a gym. The quarters appeared to be in the Warehouse District or perhaps on Washington Ave near the Metrodome; the surroundings looked familiar to me from my six years in Minneapolis, 1997-2003.