Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dr. Phil: "dump your dreams" and family responsibility -- is it just a matter of choice and consequences?

Today, April 30, Dr. Phil hosted a segment called “Dump Your Dreams?”. It is show number 1250.

Dr. Phil introduced two married men with wives and families who were pursuing their dreams in music (with non-paying avocations) instead of supporting families that they had sired.

The second man had a circular rationalization. He said he was pursuing his dream so that he wouldn’t resent his family. He made the amazing statement, “I cannot get my outlet through my wife.”

He had run up debts, jeopardizing the family. (I can just see a Suze Orman smackdown here!) He had switched to hardware for his music because he couldn’t afford a better software package. (I didn’t get the sense of that.) A rapper evaluated his work and said that it looked simple, but that he should continue networking with other musicians if he could take care of his family first.

Dr. Phil also interviewed Kimberly Caldwell, who made it on American Idol. She had been a day care “teacher”. Dr. Phil mentioned that Harrison Ford had worked as a carpenter and Rodney Dangerfield had sold aluminum siding, and Danny De Vtio had worked as a hairdresser.

Dr. Phil lectured the first man on the need for him to be willing to see his value first in being a provider for his family. The audience applauded.

But there is a bit of a moral twist that needs to be delved into here. Dr. Phil later stressed that the two men had made choices to get married and have children, and had to own up to the consequences of their choices. I think he needs to go into a more subtle area. Sometimes people have family responsibilities that they don’t choose – for elderly parents, sometimes siblings. It seems to misrepresent the issue to put it in “transactional” terms of choice and consequences. Some people have to provide for others regardless of choices. Then we get into “community” or “social justice” issues as well, as I have covered on other blogs.

I wonder how other viewers felt about this program today. I'd like to see Dr. Phil and Oprah read up on Phillip Longman's views of birthrates and family responsibility, and see Mr. Longman invited to at least one of their shows.

I’ll add that I worked 31 years as an “individual contributor” in information technology, and sought no “fame” until toward the end, with a somewhat forced “retirement” and buyout. I do miss the “richness” of the career that I did have.

Picture: slave quarters, Gunston Hall, George Mason's home, Virginia.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Barack Obama gets a B+ from CNN's audience on 100-day news conference tonight

President Barack Obama gave his 100-day news conference tonight (April 29, 2009) for one hour on all major networks. Afterwords, CNN indicated that a poll indicated that the public gave him a B+ (like about 89%) on the conference.

When asked about closing borders and quarantine, Obama gave a measured statement on the “H1N1” flu (aka swine flu) epidemic.

He said that closing the borders with Mexico would be like closing the barn door after the horses escape. Note that he talked about washing your hands after shaking hands. It’s odd to hear a president giving personal habits advice. He did indicate that there was some uncertainty as to whether H1N1 would remain benign in most patients as it spreads person-to-person away from the porcine source. But he did not get into the alarming matter of “social distancing” raised by MSNBC and CDC yesterday (see my Issues blog, April 28). The comments came on the same day that WHO stepped up the level to “5”, which is “pandemic impending”.

Later on CNN analysts said that Mexico had handled the swine flu situation much “better” than Indonesia had handled bird flu (what about SARS?) That’s odd; the Washington Times today called the world’s rhetoric on swine flu “hysteria”.

Obama talked about the economy, and said that he had inherited 7 or 8 “big problems”. He talked about having Uncle Sugar be a shareholder or bond holder in many troubled companies (banks and car manufacturers). He said that we needed to reform our regulation so that we don’t create another "pile of sand" or “sandpile”. With that terminology, he seems to be referring explicitly to the controversial and sharp-edged existential book “The Age of the Unthinkable” by Joshua Cooper Ramo (“sandpile” is the name of part 1 of the book). Obama has surely read this book (promoted by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria).

Later in discussion the “Freedom of Choice Act” he talked about the “area of mutual agreement” (a concept developed in chapter 3 of my own “Do Ask Do Tell” book).

His answers on Pakistan were a little more muddled, but he seemed to think that the Pakistani military was coming around to standing up to the Taliban. Afterword, Anderson Cooper’s panel discussed whether India or now the Taliban constituted Pakistan’s “existential threat” (a term often used by Rudy Giuliani). If the Taliban gets its hands on the suitcase nukes, who knows what will happen. Call Sam Nunn.

President Obama said that waterboarding was torture, and hinted that the previous administration had broken the law.

Anderson Cooper’s CNN panel did mention afterward that Obama has not yet addressed repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” which has been promised.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Oprah, Dr. Oz cover "superbugs"

Today, partly out of sudden public concern about the swine flu, Oprah Winfrey today broadcast a program with Dr. Mehmet Oz on “superbugs”. The best link seems to be here.

The first topic was flesh-eating bacteria. The show presented a woman who was cut working at a restaurant, and in some hours or days, had a super-infection that quickly escalated. Doctors saw her flesh dissolve before their eyes. She lost an arm, a shoulder, breasts, and even ribs, and showed the largest surgical scar ever on television. The bacteria are usually streptococci, similar to those that cause strep throat or scarlet fever. Certain subspecies give out toxins that “dissolve” flesh.

There are other ways people lose limbs to bacteria. Certain kinds of meningitis bacteria give off toxins that block blood vessels, sometimes leaving to multiple amputations in young adult victims, which is one reason that campuses are starting to require vaccination.

The next topic was MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Dr. Oz explained in a video how MRSA grows when overuse of antibiotics kills off competing bacteria. NBA star Grant Hill gave the story of an injury, ankle surgery, and ugly infection that led to a hole in his leg. One parent described the loss of an eleven-year old girl from a cut. MRSA tends to cause disease suddenly and randomly, striking one or two people using a sports locker room and sparing everyone else. About 20% of the population has MRSA on the skin or in the nose. It could cause infection in these people after a cut, but it seems that many people are in some kind of immune equilibrium with it and do not become ill.

Hospitals routinely do nasal swabs on new patients, and place those positive in isolation, requiring gowns and gloves for entry into the patient’s room. But in many cases the patients do not seem to be harmed by the bacteria, but others could be if it spreads.

I had a bizarre dental infection in late 2004, resulting in massive swelling of my left jaw. A cat scan was ordered. There seemed to be a tiny seed that got in through a periodontal space and got down below the nerve track. I was treated with clindamycin, which cleared the swelling, and it did not return, so my body has apparently developed some immunity to the residual bacteria, which I believe was a staph aureus. If I were ever to become HIV-positive, I think the infection would return. I have intermittent slight numbness on the chin from this (and “numb chin” is normally a warning sign of malignancy, such as with the medical link.

The last segment of the show dealt with brain surgery for morbid obesity.

Dr. Oz has spoken about swine flu to the media. Here is a typical video appearance on ABC News.

The attribution link for the CDC picture of MRSA is here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dr. Phil covers the Boston Craigslist case -- a real tragedy; see late ABC story

Today (April 27) the Dr. Phil show examined the evidence around the Craigslist Killer. The suspect is Philip Markoff, a medical student at Boston University. (Names that end in “off” have become bad news – Madoff). I usually don’t name suspects before conviction – until the media converage is overwhelming, as it is here.

The link for the show is here but now Dr. Phil offers less material from the show online after the fact, selling DVD’s and downloadable transcripts.

A former college friend of Markoff, James Kehoe, described him as brilliant and well-adjusted.

Former prosecutor Rikki Klieman and Candace DeLong spoke to the strength of the prosecution’s case, and the unlikelihood of an insanity defense and the likelihood of jury indignation. Here was someone who “had it all.” Chris Pixley, a defense attorney from Atlanta, on the other hand, found the prosecution’s case incredible as to detail. There were questions about his “carelessness” in leaving clues on the Internet and physically.

Dr. Phil, speaking about the "double life", said that brilliance or stardom is no guarantee of character and made a comparison to O.J. Simpson. But cases like this are very rare.

The incident highlights the risk of meeting people on the Internet -- even a normal search on Markoff's "online reputation" wouldn't have turned up anything for a long time.

A story on ABC News by Yunji De Nies, Lee Ferran, and Michele McPhee have a story “Accused 'Craigslist Killer' Markoff 'Extremely Withdrawn,' But Off Suicide Watch: Murder Suspect Philip Markoff Breaks Down When Family Visits Jail, Wedding Band Canceled”, link here. So this does sound like a horrifying tragedy.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

CBS 60 Minutes creates showdown on the future of coal-fired plants and carbon dioxide emissions

On Sunday April 26 CEO Jim Rogers of Duke Power talked to veteran correspondent Scott Pelley about his view of what it takes to reduce the carbon footprint. Rogers overseas twenty coal-fired utility plants, and says that the utility industry must end carbon emissions by 2050. But Jim Hanson, one of the top climate scientists from NASA, says that we have to phase out emissions from coal-fired plants within the next two decades – or else.

There is one plant – in North Dakota, burning lignite – that converts the carbon dioxide and stores it underground. It was built in the 1980s for $1.5 billion. But the point of the North Dakota operation (“God’s country, as a coworker used to say) is to prepare natural gas from coal. Such plants would cost $4 billion a piece today, and engineers are not certain of the safety of underground storage.

The United States has long been the “Persian Gulf” of coal, with the largest single field in the world being the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, with enormous strip mines, build in flat land, however. (I drove past this area in May 1998.)

The title of the CBS News story is “The Dilemma Over Coal Generated Power: 60 Minutes: Coal Power Plants Supply Power To Millions, But Cutting Carbon Dioxide Could Take A Long Time”, link here.

The electric utility industry is the largest consumer of coal mined by “mountaintop removal” in Appalachia, also. Most coal plants in the eastern US depend on mountain strip mines.

The report also discussed the opening of new coal power plants in China.

Watch CBS Videos Online

The picture comes from Wikimedia Commons and comes from the US Geological Survey, attribution page here. This is the Deckers coal mine in southeastern Montana, slightly north of the area that I drove through.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Greensburg: Planet Earth cable series from Leonardo DiCaprio

Greensburg: A Story of Community Rebuilding” is a television series on the “Planet Green” cable network, with Leonardo Di Caprio and Craig Piligian as creators, about the “green” rebuilding of a southern Kansas town after it was leveled by an F5 tornado on May 4, 2007. Netflix offers four DVD’s of the series. The first DVD has four episodes titled “The Tornado”, “Homecoming”, “The Building Begins” and “The Ice Storm” (the last of these was the name of a famous 1997 indie movie).

The coverage of the wedge tornado (some of it from station KAKE) is quite harrowing, and families had only about twenty minutes notice. The tornado was over 1.5 miles wide. Families quickly discovered the extent of the devastation as they came out from the storm. The aerial shots in the film are impressive, and show the pancake-flat countryside.

In time, some of the townspeople start to become “characters” in the story. Steve Hewitt is the faithful city administrator, and high school student Taylor Schmidt, after losing his grandfather in the storm, starts appearing and makes a trip to a green building conference in Chicago. Another student who appears frequently is Levi Smith. Gradually they become the "stars" of the docudrama. I think I've seen Taylor Schmidt in an antidrug television ad and apparently he has a small part in the new indie film "The Quiet Ones". Is that the same person? It appears that the tornado may have given him the chance to start a career. (Tree Hugger's interview with Taylor Schmidt is here.)

The town decides to rebuild green to a Leed Platinum certification standard, and become the greenest town in America.

A mother signs a deal with a contractor for $197000 to rebuild her two-story home green, and he disappears after $180000 is spent and the house is one-third built.

Many residents live in FEMA manufactured housing for a long time and will celebrate moving into new homes. But there was a question as to how many residents would stay.

The fourth episode does show an ice storm, but it was not as severe as the storms in Arkansas and Kentucky in 2009. The southern plains are prone to ice, particularly in the late fall or early winter. The fourth episode ends with the Christmas parade.

One of the best live videos is by Verne Carlson.

There are other storm-chasing videos, and some of the weather maps of the storm.

The closest I ever came to having a home damaged by a tornado was in December 1987 in Dallas, when a small F1 tornado missed me by about one mile. When I attended the University of Kansas in the 1960s, students would go out and “chase tornados” with every watch. Severe storms would occur in the fall as well as the spring. When I worked for Chilton in Dallas, a coworker told of surviving the Wichita Falls, Texas 1979 wedge tornado while working in a fast food restaurant that took a direct hit.

I grew up in the East Coast in the DC area, but I could see when living in mid-continent (Dallas, Minneapolis and Kansas) that the weather is more extreme there. Lawrence Kansas was at the same latitude as Washington but seemed to have much colder winters.

Picture: Flint Hills, Kansas (mine), August 2006.

Second picture is a White House photo in public domain, from the Bush Administration, in Wikimedia Commons, attribution page here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

History Channel: "Asteroids" in "How the Earth Was Made" series

I’ve talked about History Channel films on asteroids in connection with the possibility of disaster – and indeed we could face one in 2029, according to the latest.

The “How the Earth Was Made” episode "Asteroids" aired on April 21, 2009 started out by examining Meteor Crater in Arizona (there is another one near Odessa Texas that I have seen more often). But this film went on to cover the “good” done by meteors from asteroids – oil deposits in the Gulf, a nickel mine in Ontario (way north of where most of the road maps show) and a gold mine in South Africa. The basic link is here.

The History Channel has its own “encyclopedia” article that discusses carbonaceous chondrites that sometimes contain amino acids as well as water and other carbon compounds. I’ve talked about History Channel films on asteroids in connection with the possibility of disaster – and indeed we could face one in 2029, according to the latest.

The History Channel has its own “encyclopedia” article that discusses carbonaceous chondrites that sometimes contain amino acids as well as water and other carbon compounds.

If so, where could the amino acids have come from? We’ve heard about the Antarctic discovery of a rock that apparently came from Mars and that had possible “tubules” associated with bacteria-like life. There could be amino acids on Titan, or perhaps in the atmospheres of the gas giants. But it seems more likely that they come from other solar systems. About 30 light years away or so, there are number of Class M stars, some of which are likely to have earth-like planets. They would be smaller than Earth and may face their parent stars all the time (at least as suggested on a National Geographic Film “Extraterrestrials” in 2005 and another History Channel film “Alien Worlds” in 2008, with the fictitious planet "Arinelle"). That would mean that any civilization would live in a twilight circle slightly smaller than the diameter great circle of the planet (but there could still be a tilt and therefore there could be seasons). Because M stars are more common, this sort of situation may happen frequently in the galaxy. Amino acids from such a system might take a hundred thousand years or so to reach us through deep space.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Jimmy Kimmel brings on Justin Timberlake: big mountain to climb

Tonight ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” interviewed “justified” Justin Timberlake, now 28, who, wearing a curious black shirt, made his most hesitating grand entrance.

Timberlake mentioned that he planned to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and then talked briefly about the problems of clean water in the developing world, as leading to more deaths than malaria and HIV. These blogs have mentioned other water projects in connection with other sponsors like Matt Damon (see my books blog, June 2, 2007). Kilimanjaro may be losing its glacier quickly (to climate change) and fail soon as a source of water.

Kimmel mentioned that Timberlake is producing a new series for MTV, "The Phone", CelebTV announcement here.

He also did a play-golf exhibition. This is not miniature golf; instead, a huge jumbo screen projects a computer simulation of the results of the golfer’s shot.

Timberlake’s appearance has been, shall we say, variable in the past few years, since ‘Nsync broke up (notice how he “looked” in “Alpha Dog” and then “Southland Tales”. He gave Kimmel a bear hug.

I attended the ‘Nsync “Popodyssey” concert in the Minneapolis Metrodome in 2001. In its day, the groups website was one of the most sophisticated ever, but those were the good old days.

Kimmel’s show tonight started with some anagrams on the names of team’s uniforms: the Washington “Natinals” and the “Red Sox” scrambled (switch the vowels).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

ABC Nightline covers proletariat "viral videos" and other dangerous things

ABC Nightline tonight (April 21), with Terry Moran reporting, provided an opening lesson in asymmetry or Ramo’s “unthinkable” with a presentation of the problems caused by “viral videos” on the Internet.

The most notorious was the video of misbehavior of employees soiling food in a North Carolina Dominos. A site called the Consumerist (Marko and Ben Popken) helped publicize the incident, and quickly the video got about a million views. The company CEO put up a rebuttal video that got, well, not so much attention. But the minimum wage employees were not only fired, they have felony arrest warrants. Nevertheless, is this a kind of “class warfare” from the proletariat of low wage workers? Maybe it will result in jail. Think about it, though, standing on your feet, working fast food, getting yelled at – not an easy environment. There’s more story here. What if everybody really had to “pay their dues”?

A similar episode occurred at a Burger King where a minimum wage employee took a bath in a restaurant sink.

But passengers stuck on a tarmac by Jet Blue could make and later post videos, and force future concessions from the airline, including a “passenger’s bill or rights”.

Companies have taken to special public relations consulting companies on “brand online reputation”. One such operation is “The Daily Influence.” John Bell has a blog entry called “Why We Created the Daily Influence” here. And MarkteingVox has a report called “’The Daily Influence’ The Marketer’s Social Media Feed Reader”, here.

It was followed by a report on a parolee making money by giving “advice” to white collar convicts about to enter prison. (No, they didn’t “stay out of the penitentiary”). Don’t snitch. Show respect. Some of the men aren’t too bright, he said. He went over prison vocabulary (“chomo”), which need not be fully covered here. The convict seeking advice was going to do seven years for identity theft.

Moran also reported on the arrest of the “Craigslist killer” in Boston. Craigslist has gotten unfavorable media attention from some in law enforcement (such as a sheriff in Illinois bringing suit) for its alleged facilitation of prostitution and the placing of young women in danger. (Well, that's rather much to say about offering lap dances, just like in the soaps.) However, the idea that the suspect could be a pre-med student with such a clean past (and a “double life”) and commit the acts of a psychopath is indeed shocking. The original motive is said to have been robbery and gambling debts, and defense attorneys insist that the police have the wrong man. The arrest was also covered on Larry King Live tonight on CNN. Remember that on LKL, Judge Judy Sheindlin had said that someone either has this kind of violence in him or he (or she) doesn’t.

Craigslist has a link called “Your safety” here.

Monday night, AC 360 covered the Arizona “strip search” case heard today (April 21) by the Supreme Court. CNN legal expert Jeffrey Toobin said that the courts were tending to come down on letting schools do anything necessary to secure safety for minors (who have no rights, it seems), but from media reports on the Court’s questions today, it doesn’t seem so clear.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ashton Kutcher on CNN Larry King Live: About Twitter, and nothing else but Twitter

Larry King Live hosted an almost full hour with Ashton Kutcher last week (repeated Sunday night April 19) talking about nothing but Twitter and tweats. Kutcher has made himself the world champion of the “microblogging” world of Twitter. I'd be more impressed by a world championship in chess.

Here’s one account of the show with the video.

In fact, CNN has the transcript, here.

Kutcher sat there, in a polo shirt, very big muscles, with his gentle overpowering nature, and said things like, well, I probably wouldn’t get up in the middle of the night just to Twitter, but “I don't sleep that much, so don't -- I try not to interrupt it with a Twitter”. Later he said, “Twitter is not about celebrities. It's not a platform for celebrities.”

They didn’t talk about anything else, not even the mini-waxing on “Access Hollywood” (it was nothing compared to what happened to Steve Carell).

Later they showed clips about Oprah Winfrey being tweeted, and went on to interview Jimmy Fallon.

“Dark Reading” claims that a new Twitter worm has ensnared both Kutcher and Winfrey, link here.

Right now Kutcher’s microblog offers a link to a YouTube video on Saudi road skating (the desert is pancake flat). One up on rollerblading. He also manages to say something about the privatization of Homeland Security.

Actually, I like Kutcher’s Myspace page better, which he calls “My spot” – like the dog in Dick and Jane. His blog is pretty interesting as to content for its own sake.

His "Facebook spot" isn’t quite as compelling (at least when it comes to organizing a page with eye appeal).

But Adam Ostrow, on Mashable, The Social Media Guide (yup, the “mashups” in Joshua Cooper Ramo’s book on “The Unthinkable”) predicts “Ashton will hit one million fans on Facebook before Twitter,” here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Zakaria's GPS today examines Pakistan, Afghanistan: Karzai says he didn't know what he signed into law

Fareed Zakaria’s “Global Public Square” on CNN today focused on the quick unraveling of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The link is here.

The show started with a brief interview with Afghan president Hamid Karzai. In his green attire, Karzai amazingly claimed that he did not know the details of the law he signed recently, essentially allowing marital rape. Incredibly, he admits to signing a law he didn't take the trouble to understand! He also claims that the Taliban was driven out of Afghanistan at the end of 2001, and that what is left is a mishmash of general rogue elements.

Today Fareed also interviewed Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, who spoke to the grave concerns over the stability of Pakistan, and the government’s surrendering to Taliban demands for Sharia law in the Swat valley, after major concession by Asif Ali Zardari in mid March. They talked about the movement of the Tailban into Punjab.

Ahmed Rashid (“Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia”, Penguin, 2009) appeared and warned about the possibility of total collapse of Pakistan. The Taliban is a Pashtun movement, and is joining forces with other radical elements. Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world.

Zakaria asks the audience to share with him opinions: should the US take drastic action in Pakistan to prevent it's falling into the hands of radical Islam (the Taliban and others), and gaining access to the suitcase nukes.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sanjay Gupta's documentary "Addiction: Life on the Edge"

On Saturday night April 18, CNN offered two showings of Sanjay Gupta’s one-hour documentary “Addiction: Life on the Edge”. The show will be repeated Sunday night.

CNN did not at first appear to have a permanent page for the program yet, but here is another blog (“Why don’t they just quit”?) referring to it. The show starts by posing the philosophical question as to whether addiction is a "character disorder" or a physical, probably genetic, probably metabolic and treatable disease. The show as a whole strongly confirms the latter.

Sunday, however, the following page appeared in the "Turner Newsroom" with the story "CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta Investigates Addiction -- is Medicine or Counseling Best?" link here. Also appearing now is an interview by Gupta with retiree Walter Kent, link here.

The early part of the show showed a number of rehabilitation centers (Promises, Hazelden, Ironwood, Betty Ford). Hazelden (in Minneapolis) showed a “red chair” in the group therapy lounge (like one I had in kindergarten), for patients put on the spot at crisis points in therapy. Month long stays cost about $30000, and insurance does not always cover it. The show was billed as covering a writer, student (teenage girl), a retiree, and mother.

Much of the show covered the heartbreaking story of a young man, Nic Sheff, who has gone off methamphetamine but relapsed several times, even after writing his book “Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines”, published by Atheneum in early 2009. Although straight and having girl friends, he would hustle men in San Francisco to pay for his drug habit. The father has a book published at the same time, (by Mariner), "Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction."

Gupta showed the brain scans of addicts, and explained how the drugs destroy the cognitive portions of the brain that regulate impulse control.

The show also covered "recovery high schools" which have been developed in several states as part of their public school systems.

There is medication which may reduce the cravings for many drugs, but drug treatment centers tend to use psychotherapy only (and cold turkey) and not use them.

Friday, April 17, 2009

ABC 20-20 covers Somalia/Indian Ocean piracy problem

ABC “20-20” tonight (April 17) covered the problem of piracy in the Indian Ocean, particularly in the vicinity of Somalia. John Quinones reported.

The main text report of the show is by Eamon McNiff, “Among the Somali Pirates: Codes of Conduct, Life on Land: As Captain Phillips Returns Home, Watch Never-Before-Seen Footage of a Pirate's Life” link here. The report discussed the pirates’ “code of conduct” which includes not harming the passengers (normally) and paying the man who enters first and takes the most risk the most. However, in recent years pirates have become heavily armed and take on much larger commercial ships.

The pirates say that the main reason for the increase in activity is economic. Major companies came in about twenty years ago and destroyed all the fishing off the coast, driving young men with families into unemployment.

CEOs of private companies defended the practice of ransom because they say they are pledged to get their unarmed crews home safely.

There was a brief scene at the US Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island with a piracy-repelling training exercise.

Another segment on tonight’s 20-20 covered out the reluctance of AIG to payout claims to Iraqi war veterans despite the lavish behavior of executives during the bailout period.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Southland" -- a new kind of "Southland Tales"? You have to know the SoCal vernacular

NBC seems to be working with older formulas with its new series “Southland” about a “bad cop” and “good” rookie cop. The show takes the place of “ER” in the primetime lineup (and is produced by the same team of John Wells and Chris Chulack), and, although a lot of viewers seem to like it so far, it’s not clear how much traction it will get. The location and setting – the LAPD – and it makes the whole term “Southland” seem quaint. Yet, that’s what Californians call it. (The Blue Cross plan there is called “Blue Cross South”). Not so long ago there was the escapist terror fantasy “Southland Tales” where Justin Timberlake looked, well, so plucked. This show is in much more staid territory.

NBC’s website for the show today gives you the “lover’s lane” panoramic view of distant downtown. That’s what I’ve seen a few times from planes as they land at 2 in the morning, or once (back on an interview trip in 1978) from a friend’s swimming pool in the Hills. It’s smoggy, it smells sweet, and it’s glorious.

The “good cop” Ben Sherman is played by Benjamin McKenzie. Well, remember he was the boy from the wrong side of the tracks in “The O.C.” (Seth Cohen didn't quite unscramble him in the end, as I recall.) Well, the Southland is just a bit north of Disneyland and the Crystal Cathedral (I’ve visited both), and it gives this boy a kind of redemption. The show is as conservative as “Dragnet” from the 50s. It’s warm in Los Angeles, always. The older cop is played by Michael Cudlitz

The plots are episodic, and give the show the appearance of a docudrama. But, that’s the point, isn’t it? The show is supposed to impart what it feels like to be a 22-year-old rookie cop and live the unifocal life (almost like that of a medical intern). In the pilot, bad cop tells good rookie cop, “you put on your uniform every day for the spectacle.” Not exactly. Texan McKenzie (in the company of Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki as to his origins) is now 30, but looks baby faced as a cop, making his moves with suitable aggression when he screams at suspects to freeze. The second episode has some curious situations: a weird mother lets her child be found by a pedestrian, then later says she goes to MCC, an mentions its gay affiliation almost in passing. That led to a curious gay link on imdb today (to a site called “After Elton”).

The show does pay a lot of attention to the technical details of police work – the arrest techniques, the medical rescues, and the graphic details of emergency care, intubation and everything else -- which is to be expected in a film from the ER team, isn’t it?

Picture: as close as I could come to seeing an old jail cell in old Lorton prison (VA). The comic's motto is "stay out of the penitentiary".

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Matt Damon hosts PBS "Journey to Planet Earth": Open with "State of the Planet's Oceans", with global warming

Tuesday, April 14, Matt Damon narrated the first of a series on PBS, “Journey to Planet Earth”, with the episode called “State of the Planet’s Oceans”, link here. The website offers teacher’s guides. The closing credits mentioned an interesting corporate name, “Screenscope.”

The program started with a view of the “Venice of Portugal”, Navarro. The town depended on cod fishing for decades, but in the past few decades the yield is way down from overfishing, leading fishermen to troll in poverty. Some migrated to Ned Bedford, MA, and repeated the same cycle.

Off the coast of Florida, the program documents the Tortugas reserve, where fishing is strictly regulated by patrol boats.

But the most important part of the program examined global warming. As have previous programs, Damon explained how glaciers in Greenland melt more rapidly and slide off as they become “lubricated” by melt-throughs. The rise in sea level might affect not only Navarro (above) and Venice or Amsterdam, and Florida, but become catastrophic for Bangladesh, most of which is less than ten feet above sea level. Tens of millions would migrate to Dacca, introducing political instability.

But another frightening prospect is the total loss of glaciers in the Andes by 2015. That will force rural post-Incas from the Altiplano to migrate to Lima, where they would probably live in desert shantytowns that even now have practically no water. The photography of the shantytowns was graphic.

The show concludes by showing a wildlife refuge, visited by the whale shark, off the coast of Belize.

Note also
: If you notice once in a while that the spelling in an internal link on a posting doesn't quite match the name of the posting, it's because I made an undetected typo in the heading (here an accidental "s" on Matt Damom's name) and later corrected it. Blogger will let you post without titles and make a link name based on the first words in the posting.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

PBS Frontline World: Taliban in Pakistan; Internet addiction in Korea

PBS Frontline World tonight presented two disturbing international reports. The basic link is this.

The first story, 40 minutes, as “Pakistan: Children of the Taliban”, reported by Obaid-Chimoy. The report focused on a village (“Swat”), just outside the tribal areas, that the Pakistani government “surrendered” to the Taliban for peace. The Taliban is reinstalling Sharia law for the family, and recruiting young men into its tribal values, which, in western views, means submission of women. In these areas, women are again being forced to wear burqas. In some areas, the Taliban seems to be reinstalling the madrassas, which force young boys to memorize the Koran in Arabic, when they speak Urdu. The rhetoric of the young men and mullahs seemed to be purely religious rather than psychological. That contradicts other media report that the Taliban's recent aims have become "financial". The Taliban swears that it will topple the entire Pakistani government, which could leave it with access to Pakistan’s “suitcase nukes.”

An article in the New York Times by Jane Perlez, April 16, 2009, "Taliban Exploit Class Rifts in Pakistan", (link) talks about the issues in the Swat Valley and indicates that the Taliban is trying to exploit left-wing ideology about "undeserved wealth" to implement a right-wing style oppression of women and the family. The article says, "The Taliban’s ability to exploit class divisions adds a new dimension to the insurgency and is raising alarm about the risks to Pakistan, which remains largely feudal."

The second part of the program, “Korea: The Most Wired Place on Earth” documented a camp for Internet addiction in teenagers, particularly to online games. The kids go ten days without the computer. Earlier the report showed tournaments in alien Starquest computer games. The government effort to offer high quality broadband to all of South Korea ten years ago seems to have had consequences (which could affect the debate on broadband extension in the United States). Some kids see their schoolwork deteriorate and have tinnitus or hearing problems. The report tended to convey the impression that South Korea has a high standard of living, yet under the shadow of North Korea.

Monday, April 13, 2009

PBS starts "Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People"

On Monday, April 13, 2009 PBS stations aired the first of a four-part series, "Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People,” narrated by Sissy Spacek, directed by Jamie Ross and written with Ross Spears.

PBS does not have a full webpage on the series yet, but here is one on NPR. Channel 26, PBS station WETA (in Washington DC) has a link with minimal description here.

Most of the first series dealt with the description and natural history of the Appalachians, with a lot of history of the indigenous peoples, and of the wildlife. Native Americans actually wiped out many of the wild populations. The name of the mountain range actually comes from a tribe in Florida, Apalche, after interaction with French Hugenots. Many early explorers, like De Soto, plundered and left nothing of value. The native peoples did not have written languages, so when they died off in battle or because of smallpox, much of their history was lost.

People living in the area speak of attachment to the mountains, and early native Americans believed that the mountains protected them and gave them life. The show gave a lot of history of native tribes in the area, like the Cherokees.

The film tends to show a lot of scenery from the Smokies in North Carolina, but it asl shows the Knife Edge of Katahdin in Maine. Appalachia runs from Maine to Alabama, and as far west as mid Ohio (around Mt. Vernon). The poverty is mostly in the coal mining regions west of the Eastern Continental Divide in southern W Va and eastern Kentucky.

Here is a link for a related PBS show “Razing Appalachia”, about strip mining and mountantop removal, from the “Independent Lens” series. Strip mining will be covered later in this series.

About a year ago PBS broadcast a two-hour documentary “The Adirondacks”.

Picture: Stripmine highwall in far western MD (2007, my picture).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Zac Efron hosts SNL, most of his humor is G-rated (but maybe not all)

Saturday night, April 11, 2009, Zachary David Alexander Efron hosted NBC's "Saturday Night Live", and he started out by thanking the “tweens”. If it weren’t for “them”, he’d be a regular college student now. Instead, he gets to make a living pretending to be a high school student.

Zac Efron participated in a few other skits, including one in which Eliot Spitzer, former attorney general of New York State, is “reincarnated” to bust a bar for underage drinking. (Zac is 21, so this is OK – but Shia LaBeouf hosted SNL when he was 20). Then, Zac played G-rated Troy Bolton, and said that colleges wouldn’t let him sing. At the end of the show, Zac’s “brother” played footsie – really, with a bit of a Freudian metaphor (following a barefoot massage), as if threatening an inspection despite the long pants. Remember, Zac is “only” 21, and looks perfect in all images. By the way, the name "Bolton" rings a bell. I had an Algebra I teacher named "Miss Bolton" in the 1950s, and nobody ever had a drop in grades after struggling with her course after going on.

USA Weekend has a story on Zac (“I’m growing up”) here, included in the print version of The Washington Times Easter Sunday April 12.

Zac was a good student, with a 4.3 grade point (hence the mention of college), as was “Supernatural’s” Jared Padalecki, who graduated in Texas in 2000 as a presidential scholar. Producers and directors like young stars who never get into trouble, who come into the business with a good academic record.

Efron first attracted notice when he played the likable "Cameron Bale" on the Spelling series "Summerland" on TheWB in 2005.

Last night, Seth Meyers included a skit on gay marriage with a New Jersey male couple (not sure why New Jersey).

The previous week, with Seth Rogen, there was a skit in which Obama was depicted as playing “Mother May I” with American corporations, deciding which ones would succeed and fail. Such is the world of Bailouts on SNL.

AOL has a 100+ image photo gallery of Zac today (Apr. 13, requires disabling pop-up blocker; direct link won't work). Or try the "Charismatic" "Zefron" site for an account of his Today Show appearance and more videos. He also appeared on ABC's "The View" April 13.

Zac appeared on "Ellen" on April 14, and spun a basketball on his finger and made it look like Jupiter.

My picture (unrelated but taken same day): Ford's Theater, Washington DC.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Natgeo and PBS air film "Stress: Portrait of a Killer"

On March 31, 2009 PBS broadcast a one-hour National Geographic film “Stress: Portrait of a Killer,” featuring the work of wildlife researcher Robert Sapolsky. The link is here. The film was first shown in the fall of 2008.

The two most important pieces of research included British civil servants, and baboons and macaque monkeys. Baboons impose social stress with their own social hierarchy. Researchers find that those highest on the social chain have the fewest stress hormones. Similar findings were made with British civil servants, relative to their status at work. A cardiologist drove through Richmond, CA, with incomes of various levels, and noted that life expectancies in lower income areas are less because of the effect of stress hormones on the cardiovascular system.

Stress hormones affect the length of telomeres at the end of human chromosomes.

Another experiment was done with a baboon troop that lost many of its alpha males to tuberculosis after eating contaminated food. The dominant males that were left were “good guy” males, and the nature of the community became “kinder and gentler.”

Parents who must raise disabled or autistic children face higher levels of stress and were shown to age faster biologically. Probably the same would be found for many caregivers of the elderly.

When mothers give birth under stressful conditions, the babies have higher levels of stress hormones, as was found in a Dutch study.

Stomach or gastric ulcers are related to stress indirectly. With stress, the immune system is less effective, allowing Helicobacter pylori to proliferate.

The relationship between stress and social position is troubling. In a “meritocracy”, people tend to correlate social position with moral qualities, as a measure of the person’s competitive worth. Yet this conveys a certain paradox: social organizations – most of all, families – are supposed to take care of their own.

Friday, April 10, 2009

ABC 20-20 examines the perils of self-defense with personal weapons by amateurs

Tonight, ABC 20-20, with David Muir and Diane Sawyer reporting, aired one of its most powerful programs ever, and one which will not please the 2nd Amendment crowd. The one-hour episode was called “If Only I Had a Gun.” The show, however, says that the episode is not a debate about the right to bear arms. It shows what happens if an “amateur” decides to arm himself or herself.

The first portion showed a classroom (at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania) exercise with students, heavily protected in “armor”, must reach to a fake attack with fake weapons (more or less like paintball). The show demonstrated that ordinarily people, even those who have trained themselves on pistol ranges, cannot react quickly enough to respond to a determined attacker. Students (like “Joey”) cannot get their pistol out of their shirt. The explanations are physiological. Adrenaline takes over, and blood leaves the hands, and one cannot aim. Police and military are trained to re-condition their reflexes, and they lose this edge if they do not train regularly. Gender made no difference; many of the students and police officers were women.

The show moves on to show how kids play with weapons left around the house by careless parents, and airs a portion of an episode ten years ago. The same kids are interviewed ten years later, and some are careless with weapons, which they do not know whether they are loaded or empty.

David Muir then visited a gun show in Richmond, VA, where the “gun show exception” to background check and waiting periods applies. A brother, Omar, of one of the Virginia Tech victims agreed to see how many weapons he could buy with no questions asked, and the results were astonishing. A dealer even walked away after challenging the student to show identification, which Omar did not. He accumulated an arsenal, which would then be turned over to Richmond police.

This portion of the show has a text report by Naria Halliwell, “Easy Access: $5,000 and One Hour Buys 10 Guns: Omar Samaha, Whose Sister Was Killed at VTech, Found Out How Simple It Is to Buy a Gun”, link here.

Army Basic Training, for me in 1968, included rifle range with the M14. It would not make someone effective with hand weapons.


Tonight, ABC Nightline included a report on Hyundai, the Korean car manufacturer that was apparently the first to offer a 100000 mile new car warranty. They showed the non-union assembly line and say that they like the hire fast-food workers because they have to stand on their feet and multi-task at regimented jobs, and “have a good attitude.” I had a friend with a Hyundai in Dallas in the mid 1980s.

Update: Sunday, April 12, 2009

CBS 60 Minutes has a similar report on the Richmond, VA gun show here, with Lesley Stahl. Omar aslo appears in this report, which is very similar to the ABC report. But Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who helped push the assault weapons ban in 1994, also spoke to Stahl.

Watch CBS Videos Online

First still picture (mine!): from Richmond VA (park near Monuments, taken 3/31/2009); second: an electric car, not necessarily Hyundai (not sure what), from DC Auto show in January.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

USO's (Unidentified Submerged Objects) on H.C. "UFO Hunters"

On Wednesday, April 8, the History Channel “UFO Hunters” series aired “USO”, or “Unidentified Submerged Objects”. On Wednesday, April 8, the History Channel “UFO Hunters” series aired “USO”, or “Unidentified Submerged Objects”. The History Channel offers a link to a discussion board on the show, here.

Part of the show dealt with sightings near Guantanamo, Cuba, before 2000. The show depicted civilian young men as having been living there as American civilians. I wondered about that; were they family members of Marines stationed there? I thought that the whole presentation was ironic given the controversy over Guantanamo, especially since Natgeo presented a major movie on Gitmo Sunday night (reviewed here).

There was also a section on “Gulf Breeze” which seems to be the area south of Pensacola, FL (an area that I visited in 1998).

Bill Birnes of UFO Magazine spoke, about “plasma tunnels” under the oceans connecting various continents with thousand mile subway tunnels for the USO’s, a kind of alien “Metro Opens Doors” (maybe with SmartCard). The undersea patterns rather come and go (rather like the camouflage of a cuttlefish).

Another area examined was near Mobile, AL. Remember that nearby Pascagoula, MS became notorious in 1973 when Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker claimed to have been abducted by aliens on the pier.

There was some discussion of whether UFO photos can be faked with double imagery.

There are several YouTube excerpts from History Channel USO footage, but I don’t know if they were put there by the copyright owners.

Picture: Bay St. Louis, MS, February 2006 (my trip)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

PBS Frontline: "Black Money", echoes of "Syriana"

On Tuesday, April 7, 2009, PBS Frontline aired a one-hour documentary “Black Money”, written by Lowell Bergman and Oriana Grandos, about the use of bribery of overseas officials, especially in the Middle East, to win contracts and get jobs for American, British and other European companies. The link is here and it provides a video sublink for watching the entire program online.

The legal issues would stem from the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 (FCPA). The DOJ site for this law is here and it links to a “lay person’s guide”. Another guide on “Bisnis” is here.

The early part of the documentary focused on Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, who served as ambassador to the United States (Saudi writeup of "His Royal Highness" is here). Jimmy Carter is interviewed, and Carter speaks unexpectedly favorably of Bandar, even as a golf partner.

The documentary then focused on former CIA official Robert Baer, author of “See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism”. Baer appeared as himself in the 2005 Warner Brothers/Participant film “Syriana” (directed by Stephen Gaghan). Baer is also author of “Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude” (Crown, 2003). According to the show, it was Baer’s job to orchestrate the bribes. I can imagine working for the CIA as an analyst, connecting the dots and ferreting out the truth, but not engineering violations of the law. And, yes, their agents have to take polygraphs.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

PBS Nova: "Doctors' Diaries" (Parts I and 2)

On Tuesday April 7, 2009 PBS Nova broadcast Part 1 of “Doctors’ Diaries,” produced and directed by Michael Barnes, link here.

The series follows seven doctors starting at the beginning of Harvard Medical School in 1987, when the initial videos had to be made. Most are in their twenties (one seems to be older), so they would be in their forties now.

The series shows the intimacy that happens in hands-on medical training, as students practice doing examinations. One is in another space where actions take on a different meaning than they would in the normal world.

The early sections of the show also gave us a view of the insides of human cadavers, which are surprisingly drab in color and intricate.

In their third and fourth years the doctors start working at teaching hospitals in Boston. They examine patients, but are also given practical tests examining doctors, as in a scene where a doctor presents with chest tightening, a sign of angina pectoris or sometimes an outright myocardial infarction, or sometimes congestive heart failure. The film shows the surgical scrubdown briefly, as it was in the 1980s. Later the film shows the doctors assisting with coronary bypass surgery, and a patient dies during one such operation (most patients survive – Larry King and David Letterman have made membership in the “zipper club” cool).

As students, most of the seven resemble “the best kids” in a junior or senior high school class. They all did well in school. I remember, when substitute teaching, one could always tell who was going to be able to “handle it.”

Update: April 14, 2009

Part II aired tonight, and showed the doctors having aged twenty years. Their faces and bodies showed it. The most troubling story was that of Dr. Turner, who became an emergency room physician in Indiana; but found his contract was not renewed, possibly because of his appearance (the film showed him smoking). So he had to travel to temporary gigs to work. The film also showed how the heavy demands of medicine affected marriages.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Dr. Phil, Oprah cover unusual problems for motherhood today

On Dr. Phil today, the third portion ("The Search for a Mom") of the show was particularly “bizarre”. A thirty-three year old mother of four, Keyana, had written saying that she wanted to be “adopted” (as an adult) by a new family, with a new mother that would become emotionally closer to her. She is even planning to take on the new mother’s maiden name. She wants the personal attention of a new mother, and says that her current mother gives attention to her sisters, but not to her.

Dr. Phil asked if she understood how this comes across on national TV.

The URL for the transcript of the portion is here.

This is one of the strangest requests for personal “blood family” attention that I have ever heard of. But to some people, “loyalty to blood” means everything.

On Oprah Winfrey today, Utah super-mom blogger Heather Armstrong appeared, and discussed how her blog saved her life, from post-partum depression, before becoming the family business earning almost a half-million a year. (Sorry, I can't come close to that.) She didn’t go into how her blog got her fired in 2002, leading to the creation of the verb “dooce”. The link for Oprah’s “Truth about Motherhood” today is here. See also May 5, 2008 on this blog for the account of Armstrong’s Nightline appearance last year.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

NatGeo: "Inside Guantanamo"

The National Geographic two hour "Explorer" film “Inside Guantanamo” was aired at 9 PM EDT on Sunday, April 5, 2009, with the following URL giving details of and clips from the film.

Guantanamo is located on the southeast coast of Cuba, and is, in a sense, “on another planet” legally, which makes it possible for the United States to hold international terror suspects there. The 1992 film "A Few Good Men" with Tom Cruise is partially set at Guantanamo.

There are ten camps on the 45 sq mile base (7000 personnel), one of which has never been shown to journalists. The film then moves into showing the daily life of prisoners, where there are suicide checks every three minutes 24 x 7. The Bush administration maintained that since Al Qaeda was not signatory to the Geneva Convention (as we learned about it in Army Basic in 1968), the US military did not have to abide by the convention.

The original tempoaray camp was “Camp Xray” which closed in 2002. Then the Bush administration narrowed the definition of torture for Guantanamo. The film goes on to describe the extreme renditions, with stress positions, isolation, dogs, and sometimes waterboarding.

The prisoners are in orange and red jumper suits and often scream at the jobs. The military guards wear face shields.

The film covers the lack of habeas corpus rights for prisoners of war, and Bush claimed that the detainees had no right to federal court review of their detention. However the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that detainees did have the right to review by the federal courts. Gitmo turned out to be within reach of US Courts after all. But then Congress passed a law to keep detainee cases out of federal court. Eventually detainees had to be tried in front of military judges. The Supreme Court made a stronger ruling in 2008 that Congress could not end-around.

The base has a library with Arabic books (including a translation of Harry Potter), and manually censors newspapers, a tedious process.

A 19-year-old Navy guard, on duty station for three months, says that he was in middle school when the first Gitmo prisoners arrived.

American female lawyers went down to help with habeas corpus, and say that the charges were classified and that they couldn’t tell the defendants the charges.

Some detainees had been arrested because of mistaken identities.

Some detainees were released and sent back to their home countries, on condition that they not associated with terrorists, but obviously there is no way to ensure compliance. One released detainee was shown under “house arrest” in Kabul (on location) but active in Taliban politics.

There is a discussion toward the end of the film as to whether Gitmo feeds jihad, but there was no Gitmo before 9/11. Yet one female guard there for 26 months says she heard one prisoner say he would go right back to jihad.

The film describes prisoners on hunger strikes, one who has refused 2300 meals, and another who covers himself with feces, even for fighting with his fingernails. In American prisons people are not allowed to die on hunger strikes. In the military prison, things are not so clear.

A the end of the film a "call to prayer" is shown. American soldiers would stop and listen.

There are sixty prisoners cleared to leave now that no country will take back. Prisoners abused for a few years are not fit to be released anywhere. A federal judge has ruled that Camp XRay must be retained as evidence. President Obama has promised to close Gitmo, but there is a real problem with remaining prisoners.

The movie had a lot of unusually long, annoying commercial interruptions.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

CNN "Your Money" wraps up on grim unemployment report; some practical advice given

CNN’s “Your Money” show on Saturday, April 4 at 1 PM, with Ali Velshi, went through all of the major components of the economic crisis.

It started with an assessment from Richard Quest at the G-20 conference. Quest said, it’s not the economic stimulus that Sarkozy and other ministers object to; it’s that the “era of unfettered capitalism is over.”

The show went on to cover the now frightening 8.5% unemployment rate, the highest since 1982. The rate breaks down as: men 8.7%, women 7.0%; whites: 7.9%, African Americans, 13.3%, Hispanics 11.4%.

Lashman Achuthan said that the worst of the economic shocks may have bottomed at the end of 2008, and that after some number of months a normal business cycle recovery should start, perhaps before the end of 2009. Unemployment tends to reverse relatively late in a recovery cycle, as the stock market usually starts to recover first.

In all recessions, blue collar employment is hit hardest first, but this time, because so many banks and Wall Street were involved, white collar employment dived quickly too.

Brad Karsh gave advice as to how to keep your job. The first point was make yourself indispensable. The second point is to “volunteer” for more work (like in Army Basic when the drill sergeant screams in the snow flurries on a Sunday afternoon, “I need some volunteers”). The third part was to "look forward". He didn't say take down your Myspace page, but I was afraid he would. Employers may demand Faustian loyalty now.

This is not a time for self-indulgence. This is a time for discipline. That seemed to be the message. We have lived beyond our means too long.

Louis Barajas gave some advice to the newly unemployed.

There was a brief report on how long it will take California to recover. The report showed an 84 year old woman still waiting on tables to supplement her social security, but her house was paid for. People with little debt and simpler lifestyles came out of this recession with much less harm, the show said.

The last part of the show indicated that Hollywood is doing relatively well in the recession, and the movie business typically has done better, even if the Suze Orman’s of the world go around telling people not to spend money on guilty pleasures.

Anderson Cooper followed with am AC360 segment (at 2 PM Saturday) about President Obama’s European tour, and Obama’s “Blunt Speech” Friday. Obama warned that Europe could be the next target of Al Qaeda.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

History Channel UFO Hunters: "The Grays" and what kind of world(s) do they come from?

On Wednesday, April 1, the History Channel aired a “UFO Hunters” episode that I can’t find listed on their site, but it seems to be called simply “The Grays.” The show examined the “Starchild Skull” found in Mexico and tried to extrapolate the idea that the corpse came from an alien “Gray”. There are various forums on the Internet that claim that this evidence is discredited, such as here.

The investigators claim that the shull was found next to a normal skull, and that the Starchild Skull yielded only mitochondrial DNA, which would come from the mother. There was no nuclear DNA, some of which could come from the father, so there is speculation that the “starchild” is a hyprid alien-human, and that other babies could have been born with much lower percentages of “alien” blood.

The show suggested that the aliens could come from a world orbiting an M star. (This may be related to the Betty and Barney Hill star maps, as presented in this show and discussed in more detail in another program in this series.) An M star is on the main sequence but smaller and cooler; a planet with life would be closer and might always face the sun with one side. Scientific American had an issue in April 2008 by Nancy Y. Kiang, “The Color of Plants on Other Worlds.” Stable M stars would be likely to have black plants, link here.

So plant life on an M-star world is different from ours, but maybe not that different. Does it make sense, then, to suppose that animal life would resemble that on earth enough that “humans” could mate with earth humans? That sounds extremely improbable, unless there is a Creator, or some unknown influence causing “convergent evolution” among different worlds. The concept of “convergent evolution” is known on earth, as animals that look very different (say cephalopods and mammals) might develop similar intellectual or problem solving abilities and even comparable anatomies and can communicate and even form emotional bonds. But social adaptation and actual biological similarity are different, and the idea of a hybrid is most unlikely unless there is some grand, quasi-creation-driven plan to make this happen.

There was even a more bizarre concept expressed: that the Grays are some sort of second-class citizens or servants, without full capabilities, invented by the people above them – an idea that in our culture has unacceptable political and social implications. Another concept is that Grays communicate by telepathy, which takes “cyberspace” into still another “dimension” where new protocols and legal doctrines become necessary. (Imagine “reputation defense” in a world where telepathy, possibly moving faster than light and skipping through space-time, has been developed.)

Perhaps the religious concept of “angels” is relevant – different kinds of “people” that can migrate (through hyperspace) among worlds and bring them together, even biologically, but only following certain strict rules of equilibrium. Perhaps within a universe consciousness is somehow finite or at least countable, and the “angels” bring separate people together and redefine identity in ways we can only map out in theory.

If a world was going to come to an end, angels might select some people from the world to carry on at another planet (as in the movie “Knowing”), or might even be able to return after the cataclysm.

The overall impression one gets from all of this is, if there is something to it at all, alien societies are more structured than ours, and may not even use fiat money at all, replacing it with “karma” and various forms of metamorphosis of identity itself. The universe may not be that safe for democracy. We should treasure our political experiment.

Oprah invites Suze Orman back for revised advice on recession; it may surprise everyone!

Today, Oprah invited back Suze Orman to give updated financial advice. The show was called “Recession Rescue with Suze Orman”, link here.

Her idea of “economic stimulus” is to cut personal expenses to the bone.

The show started with a couple where both husband and wife lost their jobs and both kids had medical expenses. Suze said that the couple had not cut expenses to the bone quickly enough. Cut out everything unnecessary, like cable and eating out. She even asked everyone who was still working to live on one income, and single people to live on half their income. What economic stimulus!

After denying that she would issue any more "Suze Smackdowns", she also gave updated advice on credit cards. She said, pay only the minimum until you have a 6-12 month supply of cash. Why? It’s a vicious cycle. Banks are pulling cards once paid up, leaving people without cash no way to get money at all, which can lead to homelessness for entire families. Suze considered the behavior of banks quite alarming, but understandable because credit card debit is unsecured.

She also explained how unemployment works, and how it is extended in many states. You can collect severance and unemployment at the same time, she said; don’t let your employer (who may have a perverse incentive to avoid unemployment insurance premiums increased) tell you otherwise. But you have to be laid off to collect unemployment, and then be actively looking for work. It’s the parameters of what work you will accept that becomes controversial. If you were an I.T. person working for an insurance company, should you be expected to go out and sell insurance on commission only?

She also gave some advice on COBRA health coverage, and there is now a program to reduce a worker’s responsibility for premiums.

I did wonder about this advice from people not facing these problems now. But Orman, now 57, has picked herself off the floor before in life.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

PBS: "Jerusalem: Center of the World"

On Wednesday April 1 2009 PBS stations aired the two-hour documentary (115 minutes) “Jerusalem: Center of the World.” The website is this and has an embedded video trailer. The director is Andrew Goldberg and the production companies include Oregon Public Broadcasting and Two Cats Productions.

The documentary traces the location of Jerusalem, 35 miles inland from the Mediterranean and on a plateau (to be known as Mount Moriah), as where Abraham took his son to be sacrificed, just to show that he would obey the one God. By the time of Moses, the Jews, as Abraham’s descendents became known, knew of a promised land to be the center of their religion, but during the Exodus did not know exactly where it was.

But during the time of the wanderings, the “capital” of Judaism was wherever the mobile Ark of the Covenant was located.

The documentary quickly moves to the time of David, and then Solomon, for the building of the Temple.

The middle part of the film covers the life of Jesus, including the Passion, and points out where Judas committed suicide.

Partly as a result of Roman occupation, the Jews went into Diaspora, while Christianity began to grow. Nearby was the siege of Massada. The documentary traces the history of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

In the Sixth Century, Mohammed’s life and prophecy took place, and Jerusalem came to be viewed as the “furthest Mosque”. Eventually, Muslim rule would take over, peacefully, and build many important structures, including the Dome of the Rock, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The documentary then goes on to cover the history of the Crusades, with its religious and political importance that continues until today. However caliph Saladin made unusual use of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and allowed many Jews to return, with some peaceful coexistence for some time. The city would live under Muslim rule for over 650 years.

The history of the city, however, remains complicated, which makes “filmmaking” as we usually expect it more difficult. Mark Twain would visit Jerusalem in the 1860s. (during Ottoman rule). Here is a passage from his “Innocents Abroad”.

The music score quotes some passages from Mahler symphonies, as well as Mozart’s Requiem.