Sunday, February 28, 2016

"48 Hours" airs "A Student of Murder" about an apparent thrill kill by an academically gifted person; Dateline airs a push over a cliff in Colorado

CBS “48 Hours” re-aired, on Feb. 27, an episode titled “A Student of Murder”, about the death of Yancy Noll in Seattle, shot by a young man named Dinh Bowman, through the right window of Dinh’s car in what at first looked like a road-rage incident, link here.

But this turned out to be a very disturbing case of an intellectually gifted young man of 29, of partially Vietnamese ancestry, going down a dark path, or putative “thrill killing”, possibly on compulsion, or to “find out what it feels like to kill somebody.”  The only other case that comes to mind of someone with advanced education is James Holmes in Colorado.  But I vaguely remember cases like this in Washington DC in 1991 and in Kansas City in the 1960s.  It wouldn’t require a gun; this could happen with a car itself.

Investigation showed a fascination with methods of murder, and with weapons.  He had a relationship of bizarre affection for his wife.  He also engaged in numerous acts to cover his tracks after the incident on Sept. 1, 2012.

When he was arrested, he complained that the interrogation was taking too long.  At the trial, he claimed self-defense.  At sentencing, he broke down and cried, but only that people didn’t believe him. He was sentenced to 29 years in prison.

KIRO7 has a detailed story of the prosecution’s evidence here.

Also, on Feb. 26, NBC Dateline aired “Over the Edge(link) where Andrea Canning narrates the death of Toni Henthorn in Rocky Mountain National Park, when, as federal park officials believe, her husband Harold Henthorn pushed her for life insurance benefits.   He was presented as a long time manipulator and parasite on her ophthalmology practice, which she had moved from Mississippi to Colorado after marriage.  The mystery was not as compelling as some other Dateline episodes. The prosecution was federal.

Wikipedia attribution link for Seattle Great Wheel, by James Pressley, under CCSA 3.0.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Hillary Clinton plays the right move in identifying a female chess champion on the Steve Harvey show

The syndicated Steve Harvey show (on NBC at 2 PM in the DC area) gave us an unusual interview of Hillary Clinton today, link.
Hillary was asked to decide which of three women who claimed to be chess champions was the real chess master.  She picked the right one, number 3. One of the other contestants claimed to be a refugee.  Another described a championship chess FIDE match conducted, as she described it, not according to FIDE rules.  
Wikipedia does cover the World Women’s Chess Championship. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

"Chicago Med" episode explores the "parental" ethics of the vaccine debate, bluntly

Chicago Med” on NBC, judging from tonight’s episode, “Intervention”, seems to be a lively expose on the risks of working as a resident or admitting physician in any major hospital.
In an early scene, surgeons are removing most of the chest skin from a male patient with flesh-eating bacteria.  It’s gross.  It had started as a pimple.  An older admitting doctor gets called on a missed diagnosis.

Then another patient on an LVAC pump for a bad heart wants it out, and the surgery would amount to assisted suicide.  He can’t stand the pain.  And a transplant is too far down the list.

Then a young physician dispenses the wrong antibiotic by a simple mistake, and his nurse sister wants to write him up.

But the biggest part of the drama concerns the discipline of a young doctor Will Halstead (Nick Gehlfuss). Apparently an earlier case had resulted in litigation, but Halstead insists on expressing his opinions, to the consternation of supervisor Goodwin (S. Epatha Merkeson).  A child comes in with a contagious bacterial infection, apparently a meningitis.  Later, a teacher at the school gets it and needs a tracheotomy, on camera.  It seems that the disease can be prevented by vaccination, and the earlier litigation has to do with the supposed side effects of a vaccine (which are probably bogus – ironically a theme of “X-Files” Monday night). Will accuses the parents who oppose vaccines as living off the risks taken by parents who do get their kids vaccinated, the whole moral dilemma resembling conscription.

The official site is here.

Monday, February 22, 2016

"The X-Files" is back on Fox, and rather over-the-top with a super AIDS-like pandemic from alien sources

I returned to a favorite of the 90s, Chris Carter’s “The X-Files”, with the latest of a renewal miniseries completing tonight on Fox (8 PM EST). Tonight’s pseudo-finale was titled “My Struggle II” (hopefully not “Mein Kampf”).

The episode begins with the standard prologue, explaining how Scully (Gillian Anderson) got into the FBI as a skeptical check on Fox Mulder (an aging but still vigorous David Duchovny, with that English professor look), and got drawn into believing there was something really to the X-Files.  Then she got abducted herself.

In the episode, she reports how she was infected while with the aliens, and now the infection may or may not protect her from a new super AIDS-like pandemic hitting the world.  It’s a “virus within a virus” (rather like Clive Barker’s “fish within a fish”, etc.) it seems as though the pre-1972 smallpox virus infected everyone with a Trojan horse, that now destroys their immunity to everything (not “just” the opportunistic infections and Kaposi’s sarcoma of the 1980s).  Particularly, an anthrax epidemic rages.  But George W. Bush is safe from it. At worst, the episode could pander to right wing arguments from the past about what happens if a "gay disease" mutates.  And this is on Fox, of course.
There is a super villain, a totally exfoliated old man, who turns out not to be the Cigarette Smoking Man, who still smokes through his tracheotomy (but is wearing a mask to conceal the mutilation of his face by cancer). Mulder escapes him, and winds up joining Scully escaping DC on the 14th St. Bridge.

The scenes in DC are technically flawed, and interrupted by what looks like Peachtree St. in downtown Atlanta.  There’s a sign that implies that Mulder had been driving north along I-81 into S. C., around Greenville, politically a Tea Party stronghold. So this seems like "conservative" entertainment.

The official site from Fox is here.

Michah Haley has a posting on "The Real X-Files" at the CIA here.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

ABC 20-20 presents bizarre case of disappearance of wife from heavily monitored Georgia home

ABC 20-20 presented “A Wife Vanishes” Friday night, a bizarre case where a husband, a tech security specialist, filled his house with cameras to watch his family.  He wife would disappear (June 28, 2011), and later it would be found that he had deleted some of the footage around the time of the disappearance.  Her body would be found some days later (July 16) in the woods in north Georgia after her disappearance. The best link is here

The couple was Matt and Nique Leili, living in Lawrenceville, GA, Gwinett County.

The deletion of the video would lead to charges, four years after the body was discovered. So would perusal of a life insurance settlement   Also did the suspect’s delay in reporting her missing and filing for divorce. It does seem that his eventual conviction was based on circumstantial evidence, as the medical examiner could not absolutely prove a cause of death.  Even some jury members had expressed doubts later at the outset of the prosecution’s case.  But then why did they convict?
His teenage daughters tried to defend their father.  There were questions about Nique’s mental health.  ABC’s legal expert Dan Abrams seemed to feel this was a weak case.

I can remember being foreman of a jury on a weapons case in Dallas in 1982, and coming around to a conviction in two days despite initial reservations.

It seems shockingly easy to get framed if the circumstances in one’s life don’t look good to the outside world.  

Thursday, February 18, 2016

"You, Me and the Apocalypse": an 8-mile-wide comet would not be a laughing matter

Stories about an unavoidable apocalypse provide a lot of fodder for sci-fi, but the idea of total obliteration in the near future, after sudden notification, may not be as appealing as it sounds.  Especially for comedy, which is what NBC does with “You, Me and the Apocalypse” (aka “Apocalypse Slough”), first aired in Britain in 2015 and now aired in the US.  The end is to come from an 8-mile wide comet striking Earth in 34 days.

A number of disparate characters will migrate to hunkering down below a bank called the “Slough”, maybe for laziness, to watch the end of the world on TV in comfort.  Maybe they can get on a spaceship for another world. We all know this day will come eventually, as the Sun will become a red giant in a few billion years.

The episode tonight was “What Happens to Idiots” (with 26 days to go).  Spike (Fabian McCallum), a likable teen, hacks into some NSA computers and is waylaid.  Rhonda (Jenna Fischer) gets framed and has to take the blame, and then takes a lot of hostages in old west style. And a priest Father Jude (Rob Lowe) keeps a man from jumping at the Vatican, so it looks.

From my distant view, it’s dubious that this kind of comedy should work.

NBC’s link is here (“Rhonda Breaks Bad”).

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

PBS Digital Studios produces its "Space Time" channel on YouTube, great little short films about cosmology

PBS Digital Studios offers a large collection of videos called “PBS Space Time”, narrated mostly by two British physics professors, each thirty-somethings, in casual dress.  They range in length from 8 to 15 minutes each, and end with a quiz question, and a review of last week’s take-home physics test.

Let’s look at three of them for now.

The Real Meaning of E=mC-Squared” (link) looks at the idea that the mass of an object is not exactly just the sum of the masses of component parts.  It also includes energy of the component pieces.  The mass of a chess clock that is running (like in a five minute game) is greater than the mass of one that is turned off, because of the kinetic and heat energy of component pieces. However, there is such an idea as negative energy.  The mass of an atom is less than the sum of the masses of the individual protons, electrons and neutrons, for most elements of the Periodic Table.

I can remember in physics class in eleventh grade high school (in 1960), being taught that the neutrino has no rest mass.  But “rest mass” is now an antiquated, pleonastic term.

He says that “mass is a property”, the way Microsoft uses the term. (In OOP, objects in a class share properties.)

There is a certain film (Drama blog, Nov.4, 2012) when a teen picks up several children off the ground at a single moment.  The physics question is, does the mass of the Earth increase because the potential energy of the smaller kids increases?  I think the answer is no, because energy has already been expended to hold them securely.  But it’s a tricky physics question with possibly a subtle moral point about engagement.

The next two films deal with traveling to other solar systems, even the nearest one, a triple-star, the Centauri system, about 4.5 light years away.  They are not thought to have as good a chance of habitable planets as some stars hosting the Gliese systems about 20 light years away.

5 Real Possibilities for Interstellar Travel” (link) asks, what if, to survive, we have to send a cohort of survivors away to another system, say because of an approaching black hole.  That sounds like the “Evacuate Earth” NatGeo movie scenario (Aug. 30, 2013, “CF” blog).  We’d have to worry about family values and fertility and baby viability in space.  (Artificial gravity isn’t quite as good as the real thing.) The “quick and dirty” if we have to act quickly is rockets from nuclear weapons.  Much cleaner might be fusion reactors (and Taylor Wilson already built one – a mini star --  in his family garage in Reno, NV at age 14 and is now proposing radical changes to the power industry – Wilson, now 21, could very well host some episodes of this series if PBS wanted him to).  Then there is the sapphire pion light sail idea.  There is also the idea of building a small black hole from lasers to provide the thrust.  It might be possible for robots to build such a machine on the Moon, away from people.

 Another film would be “Is the Albucierre Warp Drive Possible?” Wikipedia explains the drive here. The idea is that, while the speed of light is absolute for matter and energy (and maybe information), space-time itself can change in unlimited ways.  The warp drive eats space, like a pac-man.  This gets into metric tensors and negative energy.  It also considers ball lightning, maybe Kugelblitz, Rydberg Matter, maybe the stuff of Brown Mountain lights after all.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

CNN airs special on career of Antonin Scalia; fracas at GOP debate in SC

CNN aired a special on the passing and career of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Saturday night at 10 PM. Scalia passed away in his sleep, apparently of cardiac arrest, at a ranch resort in West Texas early Saturday morning.

Much of the broadcast comprised a 2012 interview of Scalia, then 66, by liberal British columnist Piers Morgan, who several years ago had his own hour on CNN.

Scalia claimed he had no social agenda. He describes himself as a "peaceful man."  There was some discussion of Roe v. Wade, decided in 1973, decided before Scalia joined the Court. Scalia said that there was no such thing as a woman’s fundamental right to terminate the life of an unborn, but there was also no such thing as the baby’s right to live until born.  He said that this was a moral choice to be made by the will of the people through normal democratic processes.  He said he was critical of the extreme Right for a self-serving idea that a just-conceived unborn child had a fundamental right to life.  He then criticized the doctrine of  “substantive due process” .  I had discussed the idea in the “Bill of Rights II” chapter of my own “Do Ask Do Tell II” book in 2002.  He believed that the Fifth Amendment protects only procedural due process.  I don’t see personally how he can get away from the idea of Substantive Due Process when considering the Fourteenth Amendment.

I wonder how he would respond to questions about whether religious preferences of the majority can be upheld by the democratic process without judicial intervention.

I do think he sees homosexuality as a moral enigma, something that a court should not resolve. He thinks that the majority can legitimately try to stop behavior which the majority, with some rationality, can conclude disrupts the potential common good, even if the mechanisms are indirect, motivational, and beyond the simple sum of provable acts.  But he would probably also say that at a certain intellectual level, the arguments of "both" sides are weak:  admitting one's own easy distraction (on the homophobic side), and overdepending on immutability, as opposed to conduct that results, on the pro-gay side.

Note, however, some anti-gay language in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas dissent, as pointed out by Kevin Naff (GLBT blog Feb. 15.)

Early Sunday morning, CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin said that the fight over Obama’s desire to appoint a replacement now was nothing more than a fight over changing a 5-4 conservative majority (which has upheld same-sex marriage and Obamacare) to a 5-4 liberal majority.
The fracas during the second hour of the Republican candidates' debate, in reaction to the Scalia vacancy. is covered in Truthout here.  I'm not sure who broadcast the debate live. Matthew Yglesias on Vox comments on Trump's attack on George W. Bush's performance regarding 9/11 and Iraq.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

"Silence Broken: A Mother's Reckoning": Sue Klebold speaks to Diane Sawyer on ABC 20-20

Friday night, February 12, 2016, ABC 20-20 aired a special “Silence Broken: A Mother’s Reckoning”, as Diane Sawyer interviewed Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold. A major preview had been aired on World News Tonight.  The details of the April 19, 1999 incident in Littleton, CO are here .

Sue Klebold would later survive an episode of breast cancer.  She describes it as beautiful winter scenery in Colorado passes.

School shootings had not been on the national radar screen until the late 1990s, and then has exploded.  Most of the incidents involve people getting guns formerly purchased legally, in homes of parents or relatives.

The interview leaves the impression that there is very little mothers can do ahead of time to know when something is wrong.

Wikipedia attribution link for Invesco Field picture in Devner .

Friday, February 12, 2016

PBS, CNN join in sponsoring a Clinton-Sanders duel

There are too many presidential candidate debates, but CBS and PBS co-produced last night’s Democratic debate from Milwaukee.

The key moment came when Sanders said to Clinton, “That was a low blow” after Clinton accused him of making a criticism of Obama usually coming from Republicans.  The Business Insider link is here  Sanders said he is proud that Henry Kissinger is not one of his friends (on Facebook or in real life).

Vox has a summary piece by Andrew Prokop, about Hillary’s best argument, that she’s not a one-issue, narrow candidate.

Sanders also warned Clinton that she wasn’t in office yet, which sounds ironic.
Gwen Ifill from PBS News Hour moderated.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

"The Search for Life: The Drake Equation" from BBC

Dallas Campbell narrates, almost in mocmumentary fashion, his journey, largely in California and New Mexico, for “The Search for Life: The Drake Equation” (2010), a one hour BBC television documentary directed by Tim Usborne.
The film opens with the disturbing question, what if we really are alone in the Universe, or at least the Galaxy.
The film then starts with the work of Dr. Frank Drake in 1961, coming up with his Drake Equation.
The film then looks at some modern evidence supporting various speculations about the factors.
Campbell visits a professor in San Diego who has created an RNA molecule that can replicate itself.

 He then visits a very large array in northern California (I have visited the one in New Mexico, and have been around Tulelake and Susanville), before visiting another professor who has examined arsenic-resistant life in Mono Lake, somewhat south of Lake Tahoe in California (I visited it in 2012).  The main point is that arenic-feeding proto-bacteria might have jump started as a separate formation of self-replicating molecules.  If this happened more than once on Earth, there’s a good chance it has happened on Mars, maybe Europa, maybe Titan, and maybe on many earth-like planets. 
Dallas examines convergent evolution, showing that the eye of the octopus is like ours, and that non-mammals such as crows and jays (corvids) had amazing problem-solving ability and the ability for abstraction (crows steal, so they protect their own food from other birds;  they will also bond with people in their environment, as happened with me right before Hurricane Sandy as a crow kept flying down to the garage to “warn me” of the storm).
He also shows us an example of photosynthesis in Death Valley.  He argues that photosynthesis by single-celled organisms produces oxygen, which facilitates conventional metabolism and encourages multi-cellular organisms to evolve.
Another important factor is how long an intelligent civilization lasts, before destroying itself with nukes or getting destroyed by space disasters.
The film examines the lack of detection of alien radio signals so far, from SETI.
The recent flap about a possible Dyson Sphere 1400 light years away around Tabby’s Star could show an alien artefact, and it may well be that something went wrong with the civilization and it perished, so we see no signals.
Or it maybe that we just haven’t looked enough, given the wide range of possible radio frequencies, and the unlikelihood that a civilization would broadcast just toward us.
BBC’s link is here.  I do wonder if it will air on PBS or NatGeo. 

Saturday, February 06, 2016

"The Comic Book Murder" on Dateline; a cold circumstantial case comes back to nab an ex-husband 17 years later in Michigan

Dateline reaired a 2013 2-hour episode “The Comic Book Murder”, as detailed in this story in Inquisitor.
On Friday, July 13 1990, Barbara George was found collapsed by two teens in the comic book store she managed.  Police soon found she had been shot, and she did not survive.  Her husband Michael was of some interest because he remained aloof and collected on a life insurance policy.

Michael remarried, moved to Pennsylvania and re-opened the comic book business, and ran it for 17 years later, until one day police from Michigan showed up, having reopened a cold case because a detective found a note about a phone call that seemed to place Michael in the store at the time.
Michael was convicted, even though the trial judge almost threw out the case.  A retrial happened because of various irregularities, and Michael was convicted again.

The case has many disturbing “lessons”.  One is the idea of a conviction based on circumstantial evidence, with little direct physical evidence.  Another is the defendant’s claim that this had been a robbery attempt and that he was home.  It is indeed possible to be convicted of a crime against one’s own business, but that is more likely today to happen on the Internet.  It sounds like bad karma.  Stilll another is the importance of cold cases.  There is an open case in Prince Georges County, MD (two of them that may be related) from late 2008 that I hope Dateline will cover;  I’ve written about them before.

Still another is the apparent problem in George’s marriage.  Barbara (the first wife, who was murdered) had gained a lot of weight after the first pregnancy, and Michael seemed no longer attracted to her, while Michael was then himself still attractive by societal values  This sometimes happens to mothers as a result of a first child;  I knew of a couple like this in Dallas in the 1980s.  It led to divorce.  It isn’t pretty.  You think of this (“upward affiliation”) as a “gay world” problem, but it happens in the world of heterosexual marriage a lot.

Dateline will soon an episode about the Steve Avery (Netflix) case in Wisconsin.  NBC Dateline consistently produces documentaries of mystery cases as interesting as most Hollywood acted films.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

"Madoff": ABC miniseries about the fall of the world's biggest Ponzi scheme (except maybe Social Security)

Madoff” is an ABC mini-series, in two 120-mnute segments on successive nights, dramatizing the fall of the investment Ponzi scheme run for years by Bernie Madoff (Richard Dreyfuss),  directed by Raymond De Felitta.

The film emphasizes tension between Bernie and his sons, especially Mark (Tom Lipinski) employed in running the film.  The screenplay, through the first half, makes it credible that employees didn’t know what was going on, especially on a hidden floor of the Lipstick Building on the Upper East Side.  Neither did his wife (Blythe Danner) suspect much.  Harry Markapolos (Frank Whaley) appears, having predicted that Madoff’s operation couldn’t be legitimate based on mathematical models.

But the film gives little attention to explaining how Madoff fooled himself into believing he could pretend this was legitimate.  It does show some scenes of him as a young man working with old technology and pencil and paper creating fake intermediate accounting ledgers.  It also shows his ability to manipulate customers, particularly face-to-face, with doubletalk.  He would “overcome objections” before they could be raised.

Some of his (Jewish) clients were famous, like Holocaust survivor author Elie Wiesel (David Marguiles), author of “Night”, for which high school students read abridged versions.

At the end of the first half, Madoff has a meeting with the SEC, and has to come up with an authorization code which he doesn’t have. The next day, at the office, he waits to be arrested. He finally knows he will not have a happy ending, and won't be "free" much longer.

“You want to know how to get people to trust you with their money?  You present it as an exclusive thing.”

The conclusion shows how his two sons turned him in, his sudden arrest, and his guilty plea a few months later, with immediate imprisonment.

The film has Madoff often narrating himself as in a mockumentary.

ABC’s main link is here.

ABC followed with a one-hour supplement by Brian Ross, "Madoff: After the Fall".  The suicide of Mark is covered (he had tried to change his last name), as is the death of the other son to leukemia. The lawyers say that jail could have been delayed a year by a trial, but that would have been harder on everyone.

Markapolos says that the SEC listens to him now, and that he has 61 open investigations of other possible Ponzi schemes.  Retirees should talk to trusted financial planners (hopefully affiliated with major institutions) about the possibility of any suspicious items in their portfolios.

Madoff has a humble prison job, serving others. 

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

"The People v. O.J. Simpson" starts on FX just as the discussion of football-related concussion and personality disorders heats up

Tuesday, the FX network launched the Pilot (78 min) of its series “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” , a series that seems timely due to recent statements that O.J. may have concussion-related brain injury from his football career, by Bennet Omalu of the film “Concussion”.  The concussions could have contributed to impulsive behavior, poor judgment, and poor "dream like" memory.  The Pilot has the title “From the Ashes of Tragedy”.

After a quick reference to Rodney King, the film places us with the grisly finding of Nicole Simpson (Kekky Dowdle) on June 12, 1994.  Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays OJ, and is at first dispassionate.  By the end of the episode, he is threatening suicide in front of his lawyer, before escaping to start the famous “low speed chase”.

Marcia Clark (author of the book “Without a Doubt”) is played by Sarah Paulson, and is shown smoking at work.  I thought by 1994 this practice had pretty much stopped.

The funniest character is Kato Kaelin (Billy Magnussen), living in the guest house, telling the cops he is a “non person”, standing there shirtless, his chest absolutely hairless.  Later he takes the Fifth in the Preliminary Hearing, even though he is not a suspect.

The series is based on the book "The Run of His Life" by CNN legal reporter Jeffrey Toobin.  "Access Hollywood" discussed its liberties with fact.  Supposedly OJ asked "Who killed her?" when first told while he was in Chicago.  The stuff about the polygraph is said to be accurate.  Many viewers did not like watching it, according to AH, and thought it would still be painful for the Goldman family.

I remember Vicki Jones, “The British Lady”, doing talk radio in 1994, asking the audience for verdicts on OJ.

Update:  March 4

New evidence has been found in the case, a knife, CNN story by Ray Sanchez.

Monday, February 01, 2016

"CSI Cyber" shows compromise of the 911 system

CSI Cyber” on January 31, on CBS, aired a particularly disturbing episode “Going Viral”, where a psychopath or domestic terrorist infects that 911 system (in NYC) with malware to prevent calls from going through.  Then the criminal stalks a particular victim and “gets off” on watching the victim’s fear.
But whether this is even possible would be a good question.  The 911 system, like the power grid, should not be accessible from the public Internet, but it might be infected by an inside job with a thumb drive or some sort of external device, or it might be physically attacked somewhere with a device.  The major carriers (Comcast, ATT, etc) probably do manage the infrastructure of the emergency systems, so it is conceivable there is some point of potential compromise.

Back in 1998, author Edmund Contoski had suggested the idea of a telephone virus in his novel "The Trojan Project" (American Liberty Publishers, Minneapolis).
Ted Danson and Patricia Arquette star.  Danson’s charcter (D.B.) meets a woman who sent him a mistaken text.  I have gotten these, maybe once or twice a year.