Sunday, December 24, 2006

CNN Presents: Welcome to the Future


Christmas 2006 weekend CNN Presents has been hosting a panel discussion, led mainly by Miles O'Brien, about the legal and social implications of the rapid increase in personal technology in the past fifteen years or so.

The point was made that many parents did not grow up in an Internet and cell phone era, and do not have an concept of how to monitor their kids' use. Of course, we had parallel problems in earlier generations with television, when junior high school teachers would implore "read, don't just watch television" and we survived.

Another point is that new legal concepts about balancing free speech on the Internet with the implicit impact on privacy and reputation will have to be developed. Old clearly established torts may not work properly in an era of search engines and free entry.

The book by Irshad Manji, "The Trouble with Islam Today" was discussed, and her putting it online (as I did with my "Do Ask Do Tell" was seen as provocative. The panel discussed the idea of "the globalization of grievance." The website is "Muslim Refusenik".

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Oprah Winfrey runs report on North Korea Dec 19 2006


Oprah Winfrey also did an interesting report on North Korea on Dec 19, 2006. Christiana Amanpour started with a report about the nuclear testing, and then the journalist Lisa Ling made a report after getting in by pretending undercover to be a medical board assistant to an eye surgeon from Nepal.

The journalist says that the North Koreans could have done a search engine check before letting her in, and didn't. The North Koreans are not allowed to have cell phones, as they don't want people to get ideas about the outside world. They went into one apartment, which was decorated only with pictures of Kim Song Il. The control of the individual people is astounding.

Friday, December 22, 2006

CNN: After Jesus: The First Christians


After Jesus: The First Christians (2006, CNN, prod. Anderson Cooper 360) is a 110 min documentary (with commercials) about the first few centuries after Christ, about the growth of Christianity and about all of the paradoxes it invoked. It was first aired Dec. 22, 2006.

The film traces the early apostles: Peter and Paul, and the stoning of Stephen, and deals with the controversy over whether Gentiles could become Christians without first converting to Judaism.

It then covers the problems of the paradigm: is this a religion of faith and salvation (the four canonical Gospels) or of knowledge and wisdom (the Gnostic gospels, as found in scrolls in the 1940s and almost burned frivolously). What is the relationship of man's mastery of himself and his logical facilities with his experience and his faith? We see that dichotomy in moral and social issues today. The way books get carried forward is covered: writings not accepted simply don't get manually "copied", an idea that bears an interesting contrast when one thinks about the controversies today over the Internet and free entry. Yet, even in that time, ideas could circulate rapidly and become politiclaly destabilizing. The early church would itself become very political, and challenge the authority of Rome.

The earliest Christian society was a socialistic culture, in which property was held in common and family life was very much the "village" concept. It contradicts the competitive, meritocratic culture of today. One was very much his "brother's keeper."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

PBS Nova: World in the Balance: The People Paradox


PBS Nova: World in the Balance: The People Paradox (56 min) was aired on MPT (Annapolis, MD) on Dec. 21, 2006. We have lately heard a lot of concern about the lower reproduction rates in Europe and Japan, well below replacement rate. Russia will lose 20% of its population by 2050, and Japan’s rate is 1.3 children per family. More women have joined Japanese corporate culture, which is so demanding that families cannot afford the time to have children. There is also the problem of “parasite singles” who deny becoming “Christmas cakes” at 25. In Japanese culture, families, especially women, are expected to take care of their aging parents, so they are heading toward a dead end.

India has a birth rate of 3 per child, but needs to reduce it further to get hold a reasonable population level. The educated south has a rate of 2, but much of the rest of the country has an illiterate patriarchal society with arranged marriages, dowries, and burnings of women who fail to bear male heirs, which keeps the population exploding and impoverished.

Sub Saharan Africa still has a huge birth rate, providing reproduction age men, but AIDS is creating a “knob” style pyramid, especially in Kenya. AIDS is often transmitted in marriage, and a new gel may kill HIV and allow children to be conceived more safely.

The United States has an almost sufficient replacement rate, and replenishes its workforce partly with immigration, so its demographic shrinkwrap is not as bad as Europe’s (despite the social security and Medicare debate).

Of course, all of these observations are collective in nature. People in poorer societies behave according to the familial demands of their cultures. People in richer countries have other options for self-fulfillment, and it leaves some career women and homosexual men in the position of being regarded as potential moral parasites. All of this makes up an “inconvenient truth 2” perhaps. Ultimately, we are left with debating how global problems translate into moral demands upon individuals.

Related book review, Philip Longman's The Empty Cradle.

Friday, December 08, 2006

ABC PrimetimeLive: North Korea: Inside the Shadows

I had earlier reported on Diane Sawyer's Good Morning America report on this on this blog on Oct 19 (look here>).

Tonight ABC Primetime Live had a full hour "North Korea: Inside the Shadows" where Diane Sawyer made a twelve day visit to Pyongang and the surronding, purifying "countryside."

The show characterized the trip as a voyage to a different universe, or perhaps a reconciled Dominion, if you use Clive Barker's terminology from his 1991 novel "Imajica." The people tend to behave like social insects in a group-mind hive (again, the 1996 Bill Pullman sci-fi film "Independence Day"), putting on shows at public stadiums with cards acting in unison a hundred thousand at a time. They seem like a cult that workships Kim Jong-il. The children are very disciplined, and expect very little in the way of freedom as we know it. The people are four inches shorter in the north than in the south because of poor diet. They use human beings as stoplights, and have little traffic, and the apartment buildings in the city are rather like movie props of shells with little functionality inside. Indeed, this is a collectivist utopia.

The show does bring up our moral thinking, about what happens when you try to have a perfect utopia where no one can take advantage of anyone else. Left wing pundits, you got your wish.

I noticed a rainbow symbol on a storefront in Pyongang. I don't think it means what it means here. I wonder if Kim Jong-il even knows it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Dr. Phil on bigtime issues with teacher/principal reputations


On Dec 6, 2006 the Dr. Phil show (NBC, 3 PM weekdays EST) featured two troubling stories involving teachers and public school administrators. The story URL is this.

The first story presented a 32 year old female high school science teacher in Kentucky who had, eleven years before, worked in the "adult film" industry and had appeared in up to 25 "films" some of which are still available. The show did not mention whether they could be found on the Internet or Web. Some students found hardcopies of the films and watched them, and in time they came to the attention of school administrators and the school board, which suspended her with pay for the year and refused to renew her contract. She was non-tenured.

She had not violated any laws, and was clearly dismissed for off-duty conduct that was objectively legal. In fact, as her lawyer pointed out on the show, she had not even engaged in this particular off-duty conduct since starting her teaching contract, and she had not been asked about such past conduct. There was a debate, and about 60% of Dr. Phil's audience felt that she could be allowed to teach today, as this had happened a long time ago. There were serious concerns about her ability to serve as a "role model." It was suggested that she try for other school jobs, but she is excluded because she has been suspended from teaching.

Dr. Phil sounded sympathetic to her situation.

I definitely believe that the school board should be receptive to rehiring her. Perhaps her classroom duties should involve only more mature students (Honors and AP in high school chemistry or physics) although this raises philosophical questions of fairness to other teachers. But she did not break the law and her activities were protected by the First Amendment, to the extent that the films are non-obscene but intended only for adults, but likely to wind up in the hands of minors through happenstance, which is what did "happen." So the legal problem is more like "conflict of interest." To resume teaching she would have to agree not to participate in producing or publishing such "adult" materials and to remove from circulation (including from the Internet and search engines) any such materials under her control. (I would believe that she actually has no such mateirals under her ownership, since she says that she gave this up eleven years ago and regrets her "choice" of engaging in it.) She would not be expected to remove "residuals" under the control of others, and these will always exist any publication or entertainment distribution.

Some of this discussion applies to public employees. A private employer may feel it is appropriate to announce a policy that it will not hire someone who has earned a living at any time in the past in some morally objectionable but legal way (say, employment with a tobacco company, or maybe even in telemarketing). However, carried too far, this would sound objectionable, might involve legal issues, and would seem to promote blackballing. A public school system will need to have more specific personnel policies to deal with situations like the one presented on this show, and announce the policies in public (as on a school system website and to the media) to all teachers, including substitutes (who may not have as much training in teacher legal issues).

There was a second story where a school assistant principal sued at least two students and their parents after the students posted a fake page in her name on myspace.com, and made a "self-presentation" that would be perceived as derogatory by most people. She is apparently suing for defamation (libel) and intentional infliction of emotional distress. At least one boy may be prosecuted. Dr. Phil expressed the idea that protection of school employees is the duty of the state legislature (in structuring disciplinary procedues in the school system) to protect employees and teachers, and not for the courts after the fact.

The incident does sound like one of the worst abuses of social networking sites known.

There was also an incident in Richmond VA where a teacher was suspended for selling artwork that was produced in an offensive manner ("butt-printing" art). "Teachers must set an example to students through their personal conduct" was the comment made by the Chesterfield County school district. The story is here.

The story does feed into the online reputation defense, that I discussed on another posting, here. Some of the companies involved include Reputation Defender, Naymz, and Ziggs.

There is a related blog here on teachers and gay issues (outing) here.

Update: Oct 4, 2007:
The Chesterfield County teacher was eventually fired but has sued. The AP story by Bob Lewis on Oct 4, 2007 is here.

Update: Oct. 12, 2007


Today Dr. Phil had a show on school security issues, given the incident in Cleveland, Ohio on Oct. 10, 2007 at the Success Tech school. Dr. Phil expressed the opinion that medical records of students should not be shown to administrators because they are not very predictive, and could simply complicate lives for students. Here is the link.



Update: Feb. 16, 2008

The Chesterfield school district case with the middle school teacher fired when his off-duty "offensive" art work appeared on the Internet, goes to civil trial in March 2008. Here is the NBC4 story.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Oprah Winfrey hosts Al Gore on global warming


On Tuesday Dec 5, 2006, Oprah Winfrey hosted Al Gore, narrator and filmmaker of An Inconvenient Truth (2006, Paramount Vantage). Mr. Gore reproduced a number of the charts and illustrations from the film, which was a colorful college lecture. Oprah also presented a supportive comment from Leonardo Di Caprio (on the day before, where he mentioned his own documentary, 11th Hour), and she also presented the counter argument from Marlo Lewis, who has a book "A Skeptic's Guide to An Inconvenient Truth."

The link for Oprah's show is here.

There were many disturbing images, like a polar bear trying to get on the ice. The disappearing glaciers on Kilomanjaro and in Patagonia were shown.

Julia Whitty has a major article in the Novevember + December 2006 issue of Mother Jones, "The Thirteenth Tipping Point," about voluntary cooperation to reverse global catastrophe. Social animals like dolphins understand this; why don't we? The magazine cover featured a chimpanzee with the coverline "Evolve or Die: Will humans get past denial and deal with global warming?"

My own review of this here.

A discussion of the Dec 4 show is here.

NBC4 presented a "Going Green" segment the same day, and had a spot about the Willard Interntational Hotel in downtown Washington DC, as a hotel with voluntary conservation programs like not washing sheets every day during multiple-day stays.

The picture shown is of the Natural Tunnel in SW Virginia.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

David Letterman and duct tape

CBS Comedy king David Letterman invited Michigan teenager William Beacom to his show on Dec 1, 2006, in which William demonstrated how to make all kinds of products, including athletic shoes, from duct tape. It used to be called "duck tape" during World War II. It became a household name in the Levittown suburban housing booms after World War II. Of course, there has been a lot of humor about civilian WMD preparedness by using "duct tape" to keep out radiation and bad stuff. Sounds like Dr. Strangelove.

Letterman, back in January 2000, had taught us never to go to the doctor. One Friday morning he went to his Manhattan physician and he didn't come home. A few hours later he was in suspended animation undergoing emergency coronary bypass surgery. Again, never to go the doctor.