Sunday, February 28, 2010

Zakaria covers VAT, NATO, and reviews George Soros on market fundamentalism and "buying bubbles"

Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square (GPS) got into two interesting (to me) areas today. Note that Zakaria now broadcasts at both 10 AM and 1 PM EST (10 AM replaces 5 PM).

One was Zakaria’s suggestion, at the beginning, that the United States consider a VAT, or value added tax. It would probably come in at about 10%, but at 25% if could eliminate almost all income taxes, eliminate the deficit, start paying back the debt, strengthen the dollar, and even pay for most of universal health care. So he says.

One problem would be retirees. Those with substantial social security “annuities” and pensions and certain mixes of investments (such as tax free municipal bonds, a favorite of financial advisors for the elderly these days) often pay little income tax. A VAT would disproportionately hit them hard. That’s a good topic for retirement blogs.

Zakaria also suggested, at the end, that NATO is getting weak, since most countries have a defensive force based on the Cold War. Although Europe has more people in uniform than the US, European forces (except for Britain) are much less deployable. That observation could hurt arguments to lift “don’t ask don’t tell” for gays in the military in the US. Of course, Britain (and Israel) have lifted the ban and still do more than their fair share of the counter-terrorism fighting.

Zakaria interviewed George Soros (again), who again decried market fundamentalism and boasted that he “buys bubbles.”

Here is Zakaria’s “briefing book” for today with George Soros, Simon Schama and Lionel Barber, link.

By the way, I think Ben Stein (the “Expelled” movie) looks funny on CNN doing commercials for “”. It’s not really free.

Picture: It never hurts to window shop as long as you don't buy anything. (Personal picture, downtown Washington; the colors in the display really catch the eye at night.)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Oprah auctions away belongings in "her closet" (not quite "The Big Give"); a suggestion for a future show

Oprah started an auction on some of her handpicked clothes from her Chicago condo Friday Feb. 26, with the auction being conducted on Ebay, with proceeds for her leadership school for girls in South Africa. The web headline is “Oprah Cleans Out her Closet, Plus Jimmy Fallon”, link here.

It’s a little hard for me to imagine wanting to own a celebrity’s hand-me-downs. That’s just not how I am. I don’t know if Oprah wears Prada, or has invited Meryl Streep to her show.

The episode seems small, compared to Oprah’s big reality show effort a couple years ago, “The Big Give”, where contestants had to give away money and work closely with clients in need.

Just a suggestion for Oprah: she recently (Feb. 22) interviewed the Knox family about Amanda Know and the flakey and politicized criminal justice system in Italy. She could look at the recent decision in Italy on Internet law (the conviction of three executives of “privacy violations” for not pre-vetting YouTube videos, which would be impossible and destroy the Web as we know it) and invite the appropriate corporate guests. That could get interesting. But they say it’s hard to get onto Oprah!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bill Moyers Journal: Olson and Boies on California Proposition 8 trial (same-sex marriage case); Also "Marriage Trial" website and videos

On Friday, Feb. 26, Bill Moyers Journal presented an interview with Theodore Olson and David Boies, adversaries in the Bush v. Gore case in 2000, now joined in challenging California’s Proposition 8 which would try to prohibit same-sex marriage. The link for the show is (web url) here.

Moyers recommended the website “Marriage Trial” in which actors reenact the case in California, since it could not be videotaped as is. The case is Perry v.Schwarzenegger, and the filmmakers are John Ireland and John Ainsworth.

Moyers played devils advocate with both attorneys, getting into the deeper areas as to why gays feel that marriage law makes them second class citizens “sitting in the corner – this is not for you”, and particularly in Justice Scalia’s dissent in Lawrence v Texas (2003), in which Scalia argued that it would not be possible to stop a constitutional holding that gays have an equal right to marry (as they choose). Olson said, “he’s right”. Olson also got into the conservative case for supporting gay marriage. Olson also discussed the history of anti-gay discrimination, and mentioned the Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gays from teaching in California, defeated in 1978, partly with the help of then governor Ronald Reagan's disapproval. I remember being in Boots 'n' Saddle in New York City when word of the defeat of Briggs came across. The military is not the only institution to try to ban gays -- an important point in argument that Olson recognizes.

A sample of one of the trail sessions from Marriage Trial on YouTube is here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

MSNBC televises Health Care Summit at Blair House in Washington

MSNBC is televising the Health Care Summit in Washington DC at Blair House.

The summary link is here.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The live link was here.

(MSNBC's video link online is actually about 30 seconds ahead of the cable TV link.)

The room is beautifully decorated, with landscaped wallpaper and a lot of green, and the tables are arranged in a U-shape, which seems to have psychological significance for the politics.

The president opened with a statement about the hardships that ordinary hard-working Americans face because of the capricious nature of the fragmented health care system, especially with pre-existing condition problems and a pre-occupation with personal “moral hazard.”

Mitch McConnell (Senate Republican leader) and then Lamar Alexander (R-TN) spoke. Alexander seemed to want to scrap the current proposals and start over. He said that universal coverage would be like letting everybody wait for a bus that almost never runs.

Nancy Pelosi then spoke, and invoked the question “is health care a right or a privilege?”

The link for C-SPAN coverage is here.

Obama said to John McCain, something like: "The election is over. This is not the campaign."

Everybody wanted to prove he or she was the smartest in the room.

I’ll try to find a text transcript. The Huffington Post site has the transcripts starting here.

CNN also has a live video link from its home page.

Obama and Alexander got into an argument as to whether individual premiums will rise and provide poorer coverage, or "be reduced" under same proposals. The facts were to be resolved by mid-afternoon (as if by a "professional" journalist doing fact-checking!). Obama says he supports purchase of insurance across state lines.

Later there was discussion of "conflict of interest" in the delivery of health care, and the malpractice system which amounts to "extortion." There was discussion of "undercover patients" and even mention of the idea that the summit could be "fillibustered".

On Wednesday night, on CNN AC360, Sanjay Gupta examined the implements in a hospital operating room and went over why the “list price” for supplies, compared to what insurance companies and Medicare negotiate, is so high (this is what gets charged to uninsured patients). Gupta also described some emergency neurosurgery that he had just performed on the Naval ship in Haita.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Blair House at 1651 Pennsylvania Ave NW Washington DC 20001 (very near the White House).

Monday, February 22, 2010

PBS airs "For Love of Liberty: The Story of America's Black Patriots" (2 nights)

On Monday and Tuesday, February 22 and 23, 2010, MPT (a PBS station in Annapolis, MD) reruns the four hour film “For Love of Liberty: The Story of America’s Black Patriots”, directed by Frank Martin, with Halle Berry as on-camera host, and Avery Brooks as narrator. Many other well known Hollywood and public personalities appear, including Morgan Freeman, Alan Rickman, John Travolta, Mel Gibson, Susan Sarandon, Chris Cooper, James Garner, John Goodman, and Sam Elliot.

The website for the film is here.

The first hour covers the period from the Revolutionary War through the War Between the States. An African-American spy was instrumental in winning the Battle of Yorktown. During the War of 1812, many sailors were African American.

The film rather briefly covers the participation of African Americans in the Civil War, especially the battle for Richmond. After the war, during Reconstruction, southern states started chipping away at theoretical equality supposedly guaranteed by the 14th and other amendments, finally passing many Jim Crow laws. The practice of lynching would start, sometimes even making victims of soldiers.

During World War I, some commanders told white soldiers not to fraternize with black soldiers except for military purposes. One black soldier would win the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously from President George H. W. Bush, who would honor the man’s service for a cause greater than himself, despite not being treated equally.

At the beginning of World War II, the Navy at first wanted to relegate black sailors to menial positions.

The Marine Corps started accepting African American recruits in 1942, the first time since the Revolutionary War.

The film covered "Operation Firefly" which was to defend the West Coast from Japanese balloon attacks to start fires.

During the Battle of the Bulge, Eisenhower allowed some units to be integrated, a move that may have been critical for winning the battle. But black soldiers had to sign away previously earned rights.

Tokyo Rose broadcast propaganda exploiting the lack of support for civil rights at home for black soldiers. The same propaganda would occur from Communists later during the Vietnam war.

After World War II, president Truman would order the military integrated. The military had a policy not to “intermingle” the races out of concern over “unit cohesion”. (Sound familiar?)

African Americans bonded into units during Vietnam and often lot their lives sacficially. The military draft, with its student deferment structure, caused a disproportionate proportion of African Americans to be drafted and put into infrantry and sent into combat.

When I took Basic Training at Fort Jackson, SC starting in February 1968, an Afrian American, who said he wanted to go to medical school, was our trainee squad leader.

In the late 1970s on, real progress occurred in providing opportunities for African Americans to move up in the military, leading eventually to the appointment of Colin Powell as Chairman of the JCS.

The film moves on to cover the Persian Gulf War, and then the events (including the USS Cole) that led to September 11, 2001, and then to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Finally the film covers the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first African American Commander in Chief.

It may be politically effective to show the film as the debate on “don’t ask don’t tell” winds. It's also interesting that as the film re-airs, Defense Secretary Gates announces that he will provide the capability for women to serve on submarines and in almost all combat jobs.

At the very end, Halle Berry asks, the right question is not "would the African American fight, but why?"

Sunday, February 21, 2010

CBS "60 Minutes": The Bloom Box: is this our civilization-changing energy innovation?; also why is WTC still unbuilt?

Tonight, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010, CBS “60 Minutes” presented a heartening story with Lesliey Stahl about a new energy invention, “The Bloom Box”, now being tried by a number of California companies as a supplementary power source. The device comprises some silicate wafers painted with rare earth layers which, when passed over with fuel (bio-emissions or natural gas) generates electricity like a fuel cell. It would use much less fossil fuel than any commercial generation. The inventor’s idea is that a home box would cost about $3000 in a few years, about as much as a small furnace. The inventor, K.R. Sridhar, had invented a device to generate oxygen for future astronauts on Mars.

Note that the Bloom Box would communicate with the Pickens Plan to shift to a system of using natural gas rather than oil.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Here is a blog entry on CNN about the invention
There is a website called bloombox which seems to be an unrelated product.

The last segment of 60 Minutes tonight covered the inability of the Port Authority to get the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site moving. Originally it had been supposed to be built by 2008. Now, only the “bunker foundation” has been started.

Here’s a quick amateur YouTube video of the site in May 2009.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Recalling Lerman's role in "Jack & Bobby" om TheWB; why didn't that series do better?

Since Logan Lerman, now turned 18 (a month older than Taylor Lautner) has attracted some buzz for his “super hero” role in the Fox “Percy Jackson” movie (reviewed Feb 18 on the movies blog), and since some of the plot has to do with the character’s finding and protecting his mother, I thought I would honor the interesting 2004-2005 series “Jack & Bobby” (or "Jack and Bobby"), which, as I recall, just lasted one season on TheWB (now CWTV).

Nevertheless, the premise is interesting. In 2049, commentators offer retrospects of the presidency of Bobby McAllister, who had to deal with a terrorist nuclear strike at Chicago that it turned out came from a domestic mad scientist and not Al Qaeda. Most of the show, however, is set in Bobby’s boyhood, where he is about twelve and played by Logan Lerman then. His older brother Jack, a track star in high school, is played by Matt Long. Their college professor mother Grace is played by Christine Lahti.

There is an episode where Grace is pursued by a middle-aged suitor, and she takes the boys on a camping trip. The suitor, unbeknownst to the family, went separately. He shows up, and tries to get Grace’s attention. Bobby starts to question him. “Just because I am a kid, you think I don’t see things. Well I do.” Great line. Bobby protects his mother in this J&B episode just as Lerman’s character will in the Percy Jackson movie.

The series was conceived in part and directed by Greg Berlanti, who had originated “Everwood”, which ran for four seasons on TheWB. I don’t know why “Jack & Bobby” never took off in the ratings. Another interesting WB series that didn't last long was "Just Legal" about an 18-year-old lawyer.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Shaun White stars today on NBC, on and off the snowboards

Shaun White (link) (one of American Express's "poster kids") has an ESPN Insider Shoot here on YouTube.

Shaun (not Sean or even Shawn) got a lot of attention from NBC today (including the half-hour Access Hollywood), documenting how much he has changed since age 14 (he’s 23 now), when it wasn’t clear that snowboarding would take off as an extreme sport. The media also showed Shaun in his “pay it forward” efforts.

Shaun did a double flip this evening Vancouver. I remember approaching tumbling in gym class with trepidation. I don’t know what genetic ability it takes to flip your body through the air. You can’t be afraid of getting hurt.

Wikipedia notes that Shaun had surgical repair of Tetralogy of Fallot (link) of the heart as a baby, apparently with excellent results and very little visible scar.

The Winter Olympics (much like a disco floor) is giving us confidence that obesity is not necessarily taking us over. To do well in almost any winter sport, you have to be lean and thin.

Shaun would make an SNL host.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Vancouver night life location. I visited the area once, in December 1966. Even then it was a very modern city.

Update: Feb, 19

Shaun appeared live on Oprah Winfrey today. They must have flown him to Chicago for a day.

I did see the gratuitous triple flip (I forget the name) Wednesday night.

Update: Feb. 23

See Shaun White ring the closing bell on Wall Street (MSNBC)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Discovery's "Dirty Jobs" with Mike Rowe: a visit to an Arizona chicken and egg farm

Mike Rowe produces a series on the Discovery Channel called “Dirty Jobs” and on Feb. 15, there was a particularly notable segment about a chicken and egg farm run by the Hickman family somewhat west of Phoenix. In 1944 the farm had about 50 chickens, now there are over one million, with 160000 I each chicken house.

Rowe took his turn doing face-paced, regimented dirty jobs involving shoveling or funneling poop, to assembly line work involving packing the egg cartons themselves.

Rowe’s website is here.
The Hickman location may be near where Dan Fry had his “saucer city” in the 1970s, near Tonopah, just north of I-10. Generally, the area is populated by cotton ranches today. I last visited the area in Many 2000.

My own father used to rail me about the moral value of manual labor, of “learning to work” and of “formation of proper habits.”

The show emphasizes that these jobs have to be done by someone for us to have our standard of living.

Wikipedia attribution link for Scottsdale AZ picture here

Sunday, February 14, 2010

PBS: "Freedom Songs: The Music of the Civil Rights Movement"

On Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010, Valentine’s Day, Maryland Public Television re-aired a one-hour documentary from June 2009, “Freedom Songs: The Music of the Civil Rights Movement”, with descriptive link here. Apparently the airing was motivated by the White House concert Thursday Feb. 11, also called “A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement” (see drama blog, Feb. 11).

The show was interrupted several times by appeals for funding.

The film includes music of Pete Seeger, Billie Holiday to Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin, and from Curtis Mayfield and Sly Stone to Gil Scott-Heron, and the Staple Singers. Stevie Wonder as a young man appears. There is some black and white footage of 60s riots and particularly from the 1968 “Medium Cool” convention in Chicago.

A great quote: “soul carries a heavy load. Music is the soundtrack of our lives”. There is a chicken-and-egg problem: did the music generate the Civil Rights movement, or vice versa?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Nightline: Las Vegas convention of adult industry: drowned by web "free content"

On Thursday night (Feb. 11), ABC Nightline ran a curious story from the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, to the effect that piracy and free content have become an existential threat to the “adult entertainment” industry on the web. The news story is by Neal Karlinsky and Arash Ghadishah, “Porn in the Digital Age: Why Pay?: Adult Entertainment Industry Reports Low Profits in Face of Free Content, Piracy”, link here. People at the AVN awards ceremony say that their profits are down 25% this year because of “free content”.

The report interviewed Scott Coffman, CEO of the Adult Entertainment Broadcast Network (AEBN), a kind of “youtube”. But the problem is that the free content has buried the business, and Coffman admits that his business sense was wrong.

The legality of the content, even when for pay and “commercial”, has been made safer since a federal court struck down COPA in 2007, and the Supreme Court refused to rehear it in 2009 (covered on my COPA blog).

The "free content" and "free entry" problems with respect to the World Wide Web have been widely debated recently in other contexts, including "online reputation defense" and the economic difficulties of the traditional newspaper and magazine industries.

The Nightline report Thursday also covered the “job” of greeting card writers at Hallmark in Kansas City, in advance of Valentine’s Day. It is a “non visual” job and it requires a very focused, practical kind of verbal creativity.

The report also briefly covered the procedure putting in Bill Clinton’s heart stents, only a few years after his corornay bypass surgery.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of downtown Las Vegas My last visit there occurred in December 1997.

Friday, February 12, 2010

PBS: Blueprint America: Beyond the Major City

On Feb. 12 PBS WETA aired the 90-minute film “Beyond the Motor City” in the “Blueprint America” series about infrastructure, hosted by Miles O’Brien. The original air date was Feb. 8.

The video link for the film is here.

The film traces the early development of transportation infrastructure in Detroit, back to the days of the Erie Canal, and the passenger rail traffic and streetcar network built early in the 20th Century. Even by the 1930s, the automobile was beginning to undermine the market for public transportation, ultimately resegregating the city and leading to its decay. The city is known for its “mile road” arteries, than tend to isolate the more affluent suburbs.

The film showed the high speed rail train in Spain (including a model railroad of it), as well as the plans for a high speed train in California that can actually do a steep grade.

The film traces American relucatance to spend on public infrastructure, quoting a notorious remark by Ronald Reagan in 1982 about fixing potholes.

The film discusses the dead-end People Mover project on the Detroit riverfront, and the new light rail project scheduled to start in 2011. California's high speed rail project also starts in 2011.

I last visited Detroit in September 1984.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fox has a curious series called "Human Target"

Fox has a curious "new" (09) series called “Human Target” in which a bodyguard Crhistopher Chance (Mark Valley) impersonates the intended targets or marks of hit men (the character’s last name sounds like a pun). The series is based on a graphic novel (by Peter Milligan) and DC Comics (Vertigo imprint) book. But to the general public, The title of the series itself communicates the logline, and seems intended as a “brand”, as if the average television viewer will immediately recognize the point of the series. The concept may seem cynical, as if the need for “protection” were an everyday social reality, and the style of the series (filmed in Vancouver, of course) is a bit stereotyped as an action series with the usual narrow escapes and car chases – rather like 70s and 80s filmmaking. It’s not nearly as original or cute as something like NBC’s “Chuck” (“no more Mr. Nice Spy”) – but consider the tagline for the show “He’s a guardian, not an angel”. The series does seem to fit the particular cultural style and values of (politically “conservative”) Fox, when compared to the “larger” networks. You keep expecting Tommy Lee Jones to appear. Fox provides this link with current trailers.

It does seem to me that the writing of so many of these series gets formulaic and stereotyped. Even the best series (like Smallville) run into this kind of problem. In this episode, serious social issues get buried by the writing style.

Chance has a business partner Winston (Chi McBride) and forward observer Guerroro (Jack ie Earle Haley).

In episode 10, “Run” aired Wed. Feb 10 (during the East Coast blizzard – it looks like it had first aired Feb. 8), directed by Kevin Hooks. A young female district attorney, recently having prosecuted some gang cases in the Bay Area, finds herself hunted down (even her email is hacked). Chance, after grilling her, “of course” takes the job. It seems that she has a troubled past because of her family. Apparently she had been offered $50000 which she says she returned. But she had depleted her own savings to take care of her ill mother (the series plays the filial responsibility card here) and her elderly father is a shady figure from the past. Early in the show, there is a particularly graphic Bullitt-style car chase where a man is almost decapitated when his head is pushed out the door.

The series is produced by 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, and DC Comics.

Wednesday night (Feb. 10), Fox cut back to this series after a full day of blizzard coverage in East Coast cities, and followed with American Idol as usual.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

PBS "Faces of America" with Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Wednesday February 10 PBS presented the one hour documentary series episode of “Faces of America” with host Henry Louis Gates, Jr., interviewing celebrities for how the fortunes of their families ancestors overseas set up their lives today. The show had done a formal genealogy of each person it interviewed, and most of the people were surprised at the deep "family secrets" of the past. Genealogy is very important to the LDS church.

Movie director Mike Nichols was especially grateful for the fact that his “wealthy” Russian Jewish father eventually went to the United States, before the Holocaust, and relected on the capriciousness of being fortunate for what one’s family did.

Kristi Yamaguchi discussed how Japanese Americans, despite the Nisei internment camps, fought for America.

Novelist Louise Erdrich talked about how some of her family died in Allied bombing (subject of previous post).

Cellist Yo Yo Ma explained how he could have wound up living in France.

Meryl Streep was interviewed.

The website is here.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Oprah covers a "nun's story"

Today, Tuesday Feb. 9, Oprah presented a report by Lisa Ling from a “real life nunnery” in Michigan, after spending a night there. Despite popular misconception, it’s not necessary to be a virgin to join a convent. The main link (“Keeping the Faith”) is here. But a woman does give up her career, all her possessions and the possibility of ever having children. Nuns however do not have to behave like Luddites: the reverend mother used a blackberry to keep up with her classes.

There is an irony all of this, as one young woman explained how she “found her true self” through her special Calling after giving everything up. I remember a conversation about 12 years ago with another novelist who announced at an outdoor August dinner, “I have an ego.” I thought this is a good thing. It seems that for some us, to accomplish something publicly notable primarily on our own effort seems to be our calling, and we can’t tolerate having it taken away or expropriated from us.

Lisa also took the program into the environment of a modern geisha.

Oprah got after Lisa for admitting that she uses the cell phone when driving, although she doesn’t text.

Monday, February 08, 2010

PBS: "The Bombing of Germany" (American Masters) and policies regarding civilians

On Monday Feb. 8 PBS aired a one hour documentary “The Bombing of Germany” directed by Zwi Docher, about the development of the “acceptability” of bombing of civilians in the war against Nazi Germany during WWII.

At the beginning of America’s involvement, FDR had insisted that Americans would never bomb civilians, but instead developed the concept of “precision bombing.” FDR had wanted to project the idea that America was different, more moral. But Britain has already been hardened by the Battle of Britain with the Nazi bombing of London in 1940. Britain became efficient in bombings against Germany, especially nearby ports like Hamburg.

After D-Day, Americans became more interested in massive bombing around Berlin, especially of railroad marshalling yards, often near worker homes. The Battle of the Bulge resulted in German V-rockets against London, and the Allies revived “Operation Thunderclap” including a massive air assault on Berlin (also Dresden and other cities – I visited some of these in 1999). Americans still insisted that they hit specific locations in cities.

The bombing campaigns made it easier to contemplate using the atomic bomb to end the war with Japan.

The official website, with video trailer, is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Dresden bombing.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Ashton Kutcher hosts SNL on his 32nd birthday; early skit makes fun of "don't ask don't tell"!

Ashton Kutcher hosts SNL (again!) tonight, Feb. 6, and he turns 32 years old at midnight. He has his own company of 41 employees, and has to act “responsible”. He also has to practice “self-control” so he can’t jump up and down like he did in 2003 on SNL at age 25. He seems to be using a lot of my DADT buzzwords. His Myspace site used to have more to look at than did his Facebook, but that’s changing. And remember, he has over one million twitter followers.

I think his company is Katalyst Films, Facebook link here.

The first skit is a “reading of the will”, as if based on John Knowles’s story (does Ashton know his American Lit?)

The next script dealt with “don’t ask don’t tell”. “Why are gay people against don’t ask don’t tell? Gay people love secrets”. The Democrats want to end it, the military brass wants to end it, the president wants to. It’s just those Republicans who don’t belong to Log Cabin.

At the Facebook page’s beckoning, I wrote something on Katalyst’s wall “I'll speak for myself, something political: it looks like "don't ask don't tell" will finally come to an end soon! “ just before the skit started. I couldn’t find it afterward. But I did not know that the show would deal with DADT.

Seth Meyers" Owners of Toyotas should stop driving their vehicles! He made fun of the accomplishments of the defunked 60 seat Democratic supermajority: "cash for clunkers". Sorry, my old Escort last July was not a clunker (according to Koons Ford). Andy Samberg offered his thoughts on Obama's budget.

There's a real difference between having Kutcher host SNL and a jock (Michael Phelps) host it. Taylor Lautner, that was interesting. They could try Shawn White, even after his skateboard slip. Shawn is good for American Express.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Revisiting Stephen King's "Storm of the Century" (1999) and maybe the Roanoke Island mystery

In February 1999 ABC aired, in three parts, Stephen King’s epic teleplay (and sold as a screenplay only in book form) “Storm of the Century”. It would be an appropriate rerun this weekend, as the East Coast braces for its own “storm of the century”.

Little Tall Island, off the coast of Maine, gets cut off by a February blizzard. Now along the New England coast, February is the worst month. That’s because the arctic air to the north has reached its minimum temperatures, and starts to warm finally as the sun returns to far northern latitudes. Cold arctic high pressure drives the low pressure storms south and east, where they form Nor’easters, putting east coast cities on the “cold side” of the storms. Boston gets its biggest storms in February most years, and the mid-Atlantic blizzard forecast for today would be an average blizzard this time of year for Boston or Cape Cod.

But the story itself is creepy. A mysterious visitor Andre Linoge (Colm Feore) starts taunting the island town’s residents, mostly of questionable morality themselves, by scribbling graffiti like “Give me what I want and I’ll go away.” But “what” do “you” want? We’ll learn eventually that it’s a biological lineage. Linoge (pun intended) is not quite a vampire and not quite immortal without making babies.

The denouement doesn’t come until the residents have some scary dreams of being marches to their watery ends, and without revisiting the history of Roanoke Island, NC, which might have become our Jamestown had it not been for an unsolved historical mystery.

Wikipedia attribution link for Zuniga map of Roanoke Island.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Oprah and Oz cover diabetes, America's #1 silent killer

Orpah Winfrey offered a show on diabetes today with Dr. Mehmet Oz. The show link is here and the show title was “America's Silent Killer: Oprah and Dr. Oz Want to Save Your Life”.
Oprah gave some alarming statistics on the growing incidence of particularly Type II diabetes, which accounts for 90% of cases. About 80 million Americans have diabetes or at least pre-diabetes.

Dr. Oz presented a clever animation of how digestion and metabolism work, how the pancreas fits in and how insulin is produced and it may disappear or fail to be effective.

Type 1 diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, most often appears early in life, as a result of viral infection, autoimmune reaction and genetic susceptibility. Type 2 diabetes seems related to lifestyle habits, especially over consumption of refined sugars and abdominal obesity, which causes the release of internal chemicals that interfere with the effectiveness of natural insulin. Whereas in Type 1 diabetes the pancreas fails produce insulin or enough insulin, in Type 2 the body’s metabolic cells become resistant to insulin. In both conditions, blood sugar rises, and the extra sugar molecules inflame and damage artery walls. This can lead to heart attack, loss of eyesight, kidney failure, and loss of feet and legs. A 44 year old female patient was shown with dialysis (after a transplant wore out), amputations and extremely deteriorated skin over the legs. Premature loss of hair from legs may mean artery disease and could be a subtle warning sign of diabetes. But the main signs are thirst, urination, eyesight disturbances, and with Type 1, sometimes, sudden weight loss.

Type 1 diabetes especially is sometimes treated with a pancreas transplant. Diabetic patients often try kidney transplant, but transplanted kidneys fail if blood sugar is not carefully maintained.

Type II diabetes is increasing because of lifestyle, especially in minority populations. Humans evolved with scarcity, with metabolisms not geared for overwhelming consumption of refined sugars or starches or too many calories. Native Americans are severely affected when they eat western diets because of genetic adaptation to scarcity. Many wild animals would develop diabetes if fed human diets.

Early diabetes is detected with some rather rigorous bloodwork, such as fasting glucose and glucose tolerance.

Back in the mid 1990s, Dr. Gabe Mirkin used to talk about diabetes on his radio talk show in the DC area a lot, and recommended low fat diets as well as low sugar.

Media have reported a link between sugary soft drink consumption and pancreatic cancer.

Nick Jonas has been reported widely as having Type 1 diabetes.
Picture: graffiti showing a kid’s impression of a sine function, on a local 7-11 (Arlington VA).

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

PBS NOVA: Ghosts of Machu Picchu

On Tuesday February 2, PBS NOVA aired the new one hour documentary “Ghosts of Machu Picchu”, which was not exactly along the lines of “Ghosts of Mars”. Machu Picchu is the ancient city ontop an 8500 foot mountain peak in southern Peru, hidden away and apparently missed by the Spaniards in the 15th and 16th centuries, when they sacked a once proud Inca civilization.

The link is here.

The film shows a lot of the by-hand archeological work, which is very demanding physically, and the steep trails around the site, which seem almost vertical. Guided hikes can be taken there; a friend of mine did this for three days in 2001.

The film examines the question as to why the site was built and then abandoned, as well as showing the mummies. The film also shows the Christian ceremonies in nearby Cuzco (11000 feet) which combine with Inca rituals. How did the Incas and pre-Incas build such perfect stonework without iron and without mortar?

Wikipedia attribution link for map of Peru

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

PBS Frontline: "Digital Nation"

Tuesday Feb. 2, PBS Frontline aired the 90 minute documentary “Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier”, (web URL) link here.

Douglas Rushkoff, who was a pioneer of the Web in the early 90s as the Internet was turned loose, examines the effect of being wired all the time on today’s generations of students.

The biggest concern is how constant “multi-tasking” affects learning, paying attention in class, ability to solve deeper problems requiring concentration (like in math), and writing. Kids tend to write in disconnected paragraphs and not be able to sustain a longer train of thought. (In a high school exercise when I was subbing a few years back, kids had to construct an essay on “brains v. brawn” based on the Connell short story “The Most Dangerous Game”. They would have trouble doing this.

The film covered internet use in South Korea, with the best broadband in the world, where kids get addicted to playing games in cafes (I remember being addicted to playing chess in the 60s). The South Korean government even has two-week Internet Rescue Camps for Internet addicted teens.

The film also showed school principals monitoring middle school kids’ computer use and showed considerable multi-tasking even then.

The film also examines virtual reality, with attention to Philip Rosedale’s Second Life, which he says was devised to modify the way people interact, not just to make money, although Second Life has its own monetary system and introduces the idea of the avatar, much as in the recent movie. Progressive companies are using virtual reality for meetings, and the military is using it for training maneuvers, and to develop attack drones.

Second Life can complicate the problem of online reputation. Should one have relationships in Second Life with workplace or even military subordinates? That's like asking if it's OK to make subordinates Myspace or Facebook friends.

The Army set up an Army Experience Center with virtual reality experiences for teens in Philadelphia, and attracted protests (War is not a game!).

Technology may be changing the way people think and grow, but this is a meta-process: it happened with the printing press (memory went down) and then radio and television. Kids may be engaged in ways we don't understand, even if English teachers say they are afraid to assign novels longer than 200 pages!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Oprah previews "Undercover Boss"

Today, Monday, Feb.1, Oprah Winfrey offered a preview of the CBS reality series “The Undercover Boss”, where corporate executives have to trade places with those who work for them. The "workers" get to decide if the bosses would get fired (maybe not quite in Trump style). The reality show starts on February 7.

A waste management executive took his turn doing the real job of cleaning portable toilets, where the goal is to clean fifteen stalls of poop in an hour. He didn’t quite keep up.

Then a 7-11 manager took his turn doing the graveyard shift. Actually, in convenience stores it looks pretty common for managers and assistant managers to do the work alongside their subordinates.

The most descriptive link for the show today is here.

It would be difficult for many executives to deal with the regimentation of "real jobs" even today. What if everybody had to trade places?

How many retail jobs are like these?

The show seems to take off on the notion that the “bourgeoisie” exploits the “proletariat”, an idea that we studied in history in high school even around 1960. While in the Army (1968-1970) I sketched out a novel about a world fractured by nuclear war, and was going to call it “The Proles.”

One of my father's moral maxims was "to learn to work" and "formation of proper habits."