Tuesday, February 27, 2007

ABC: To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports

This evening (Feb. 27, 2007) ABC News presented a one hour special with journalist Bob Woodruff discussing his own recovery from grave head injuries caused by shrapnel from an explosion in Iraq, followed by discussion of the care of other veterans in Iraq.

The pictures of Woodruff in the earlier stages of his treatment are graphic. For a while one side of his skull was completely removed, leaving a caved-in appearance. Today, there is little obvious evidence of his grave injuries to the observer, as his surgical repairs and plastic surgery have been that effective. His recovery of speech functions was also described.

The grave injuries to other servicemembers in Iraq are graphic and difficult to take. The emotional toll on familie is obvious. The emphasis of the external media culture on appearances and lookism from people who do not share the same level of sacrifice raises profound and existential moral arguments.

Woodruff will continue the series with more reports.

Anderson Cooper 360 -- Edge of Disaster

On Feb. 20, 2007 Anderson Cooper 360 presented a documentary “Edge of Disaster,” featuring interviews with author Stephen Flynn, with a new book, “Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation.”

The show analyzed several possible future terror and disaster scenarios. In one situation, baseball fans at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia are exposed to hydrogen fluoride gas when a truck is driven into a storage depot at a nearby Sunoco facility. This causes a kind of Black Sunday scenario. This could be prevented by changing the chemicals used in oil refining. HF is the most active of the halogen acids (it can etch glass) since fluorine has the greatest electronegativity of any element (ask any honors chemistry student).

In another scene, a tanker filled with liquefied natural gas (LNG) enters the Boston harbor, and approaches the Mystic River (in the famous Clint Eastwood movie). Nearby are hundreds of thousands of people in office buildings, condos, and Logan International Airport, as well as the tunnels and subways.

Other scenarios are natural. An earthquake ruptures the levees in the California central valley, endangering hundreds of thousands of people in Sacramento and surrounding cities.

The rest of the broadcast reviewed disasters that have already occurred. One is the massive northeast power failure in August 2003 when a tree fell on an overloaded power line in Ohio, and the Erie feedback loop failed. Another was the huge fire at the Great White -- Station nightclub in Warwick, RI in February 2003, and the way that medical emergency response was overwhelmed by a relatively small (in comparison to potentiality) catastrophe. Finally, the program reviewed response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Anderson Cooper also traveled to the Amazon rain forest in Brazil, where explorer Corwin, his own body and arms covered with temporary native tattoos, explored the environment of the native indigenous peoples, whose environment is being destroyed by the cutting down and burning of the forest for commercial agriculture, probably contributing to global warming.

Monday, February 26, 2007

ABC Nightline covers story on tomb of Jesus, might lead to "doubt"

Several media outlets, most notably ABC "Nightline" covered the story that a tomb has been found under an apartment building in Jerusalem, near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher . (The limestone box was reportedly found originally in 1980 but only recently re-examined.) James Cameron, who directed Paramount's 1997 film Titanic, directs a Discovery Channel documentary called The Lost Tomb of Jesus, (or "Tomb of the King", or "Jesus Family Tomb"), to air on March 4, 2007. The Discovery Channel link is here.

Cameron and other archeologist feel that this could be physical evidence of the body of Jesus, and of Mary Magdalene, who, because they do not share enough mitochondrial DNA, may have been husband and wife, a claim of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, a 2006 Columbia film. There is evidence from inscriptions that this could be Jesus's family, but others maintain that Jesus was a common name. If this were the remains of Jesus, it might refute the story of the Resurrection and Ascension and Pentecost. There will be more to report when the film is aired.

I remember those communion prayers, "I am a believer, not a doubter."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Justin Timberlake makes grand entrance on Saturday Night Live (sorry, it's a repeat)

First, I see from search engines that this program was taped on 12/17/2006, so when I saw Justin Timberlake host Saturday Night Live last night, it really wasn't "live" as I first thought. Indeed, there were plenty of Christmas lights around, although in a wintry mix with Valentine's Day pink.

I'd love to see this program live some day. But this episode deserves some special attention.

Timberlake prances in, singing, doing his post-boy-band act. Now I had attended an 'Nsync concert in the Minneapolis Metrodome June 24, 2001 (a Sunday, as Pride Day in Loring Park was winding down) ... and had noticed how the five boys had to perform athletic, high wire acts with military precision. The favorite song then was "bye ..." and the best video was the clip where they pretend to become toy soldiers in a Target checkout line, maybe to make fun indirectly of "don't ask don't tell."

Justin's appearance has changed since those glory days of virility, even his Larry King Live appearances at 19. Now, he is bulked up, almost to the point of looking a tad chubby-- Lance Bass had already found out that bloggers could say that about him, too. But Justin (despite the not-so-secret accumulation of tattoos, leading up to "Alpha Dog"), is buffed, as his forearms are obviously shaved, as is his chest when he does the drag show skit half way through the show. Yup, Justin in drag actually plays the part of buxom beautease from those 50s burlesque movies at the Pix Theater in downtown Washington during the Eisenhower years. This episode could have been a kickoff for Atlanta pride. I hadn't thought of SNL as an overdressed drag show, but in a sense it is. Bahze had talked about the transformations of drag in his globe-trotting non-fiction adventure Damages, going back to his origins in the Balkans.

In fact, the week before, Justin had looked more like his old virile self playing piano for the Grammy's, so this episode was a surprise, until I saw that it had been taped two months earlier. (Previous blog post).

Now the remaining skits on this SNL episode were wicked. They talked about barbie dolls and shaved parts, about the Amish and real blackberries (their tragedy had happened not too long before the taping). about the president's throwing up inside his mouth. They had two clones of Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, and he is hairy) pretend to be a New Jersey gay couple enjoying a civil union. (Remember Sacha's scatalogical acceptance speech at the Golden Globes?) And Justin, still buffed, joined the Hip Hop Kids in an appeal to stop truancy, but in a place called the Mineshaft (well known as a NYC leather bar, with premonitions of the Connection Disco in Berlin, Germany). Lou Dobbs (where have all of America's jobs gone, and the War on the Middle Class) was spoofed, as was Nancy Grace, with her takeoff on Nifong, and her poking fun at made-up-rape-victims (remember that a student at a Connecticut college was censured for a similar editorial in the college paper, considered offensive and politically incorrect).

It does seem that the days of the boy band, as a fad, are over. The boys have gone their separate ways.

Remember, most cross-dressers are straight, and psychologically masculine.

Note well, also: Britney Spears has shaved her own head. Not much to say, other than, is there some kind of connection?

Update: 2/28/2007

Rapidly maturing movie actor Jake Gyllenhaal ("Jarhead", latest film "Zodiac", also "Donnie Darko") appeared in drag with a wig (hairy chest intact) on Saturday Night live Feb. 24. The skit was rebroadcast on ABC Good Morning America on Feb. 28. Remember the moral lesson of "The Rocky Picture Horro Show" -- everybody has to do drag at least once, and that apparently includes Justin Timberlake. Does anyone know that in original Dutch, Jake's last name would be pronounced with a long "a" -- that is what doubling a vowel does in Dutch. Jake is supposed to host SNL on March 3.

Picture: RCA-GE-NBC building in NYC, where I worked as a computer programmer analyst for NBC 1974-1977, when they had Univac mainframes.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

NBC covers teen with autism who becomes basketball hero

NBC's Today Show, on Feb. 15, 2007, twice presented interviews with Jason McElwain, a teen who overcame autism and became a basketball hero in high school in 2006 (Greece Athena High School in Rochester NY). A typical story is here Jason's family was also present. Jason's feats were something like Clark Kent's in a Smallville episode, and they are hard to explain. Jason spoke comfortably in the interviews, and the television viewer would not have known that he was or had been autistic without explanation. Possibly he will soon be able to do media interviews on his own.

The program explained some of the treatment, which included desensitizing his auditory experience to extraneous and distracting "white noise."

Also, this week NBC Night News has run a series "Trading Places: Caring for our Parents" feature eldercare situations of NBC news anchors so far.

See also item from Feb 7 on CBS "60 Minutes" broadcast on this blog.

Picture: from the Valentine's Day ice storm.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Apprentice LA -- redux: the bourgeoisie becomes the proletariat

The Donald Trump has defined his classful society well in Los Angeles with winner take all. The losers live outside in balmy LA in tent city. OK, food is provided for them, but they learn to live with bunk mates and do without creature comforts -- because they failed to compete successfully. Is this setting a good moral example?

Moreover, on the Feb. 11, 2007 episode, the teams had to harvest honey on a bee farm. Yes, these preppies donned space suits and got stung through the suits. This was real pain. Then, before selling their honey, they learned to work on an assembly line, like a working, non-exempt blue collar guy who presses a time clock. They learned what it's like to become fungible proles.


Note that on the Grammy's last night (CBS), Justin Timberlake was at the electronic piano, and he looks "recovered" from his role in Alpha Dog. Let's say he looks more like he did in the glory days of 'Nsync.

Pictures: The other LA (French Quarter, after Katrina) and a relatively intact area of Bay Saint Louis MN

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

CBS 60 Minutes has several broadcasts on autism and musical gifts

Recently CBS "60 Minutes" has a spot that showed several blind and apparently mentally challenged persons with usual mental gifts. One child was an eight year old boy who had learned to play the piano at 2; another was a teenage girl who could improvise jazz; a third was a 26-year-old man. The boy was able to play "Fur Elise" (Beethoven) as Mozart could have composed it, or as Rimsky-Korsakoff could have written it. I believe that the report is called "Musically Speaking" and was broadcast on Aug 1, 2004, with the CBS link here. According to the CBS story, the boy is Rex Lewis-Clark. Another site with the story is the "Volvo for Life awards." Another prodigy is violinist Jay Greenberg, described on a site called "Bagatellen."

There have been other such broadcasts. In 1983 there was broadcast on the so-called savant syndrome, presenting Alonzo the Sculptor, and Leslie Lemke, who apparently gave a concert in Wisconsin in 2006. There are details on a webpage by the Wisconsin Medical Society and Savant Syndrome, here.

Followup (2/8):

I was musically talented (piano) as a boy and a teen, and somewhat a social outcast, a "sissy boy." That sounds derogatory here, but what I am getting at is this: I had certain talents, but I perceived that others (parents, "the world") would not let me use them effectively until I proved that I could compete by their standards "as a man". I would wonder, why do I have to do there other things that are really unnecessary just to prove myself to others? This was an earlier time, the Cold War, draft world where men were expected to protect women and children before they have their own lives. People say that I had mild "Aspergers" so what I suspect here is that autistic children with musical gifts wonder why others want to "make them" conform to external standards of performance. On the other hand, non-academic teens wonder why they are required to pass algebra courses in order to graduate and become viewed as acceptable people.

I found a world to live in -- a technological world -- where I could live as an adult the way I wanted to, without unwanted social obligations. But that world can fail -- as we know from all of the external pressures. Austistic children presumably could not live as adults the way they wanted to -- or could they? It is good to go back and review the CNN film "Autism is a World." My own review of that is here.

Picture: some college exams!

(For an earlier story about a composer prodigy in the DC area visit this link.)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

PBS Series on The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court (2006, PBS, about 220 minutes) is a fascinating narrative history of the Supreme Court, which in the beginning was not considered to have significant power.

There are two parts:
Part 1 is One Nation Under Law: A New Kind of Justice.

Part 2 is A Nation of Liberties: The Rehnquist Revolution. It covers the history of the Court since about 1940.

Website on pbs: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/index.html This website has a schedule or broadcasts.

The film often features the new Chief Justice John G. Roberts offering commentary.

The Marbury v. Madison opinion that established judicial review grew out of a philosophical struggle between Jeffersonians and John Marshall, and the opinion itself is somewhat of a "monument to convolution" of delicate logical implications with far reaching impacts. The intellectual contructions to rationalize a result that was both politically practical and able to give the Court real meaning are really quite tortuous and labyrinthine. For years, there was always a question if Court opinions were just "words" or would really be enforced.

For years the justices boarded together as "bachelors" (like David Souter today, perhaps) in a hotel near the Capitol when in session (for about twelve weeks a term) to get almost like a "band of brothers". McCullough v. Maryland would establish that a state could not supersede the federal government. The Dred Scott decision would repudiate the idea that slaves had been intended to be included as equals. But after the Civil War, the Court would, after the 14th Amendment with the incorporation doctrine, have to establish the idea that blacks were supposed to be equal under the law, not subject to separate protection. The same would be true of laborers -- an idea related to "liberty of contract" from Stephen Field. The Court would not establish that individuals could prevent private individuals or entities from discriminating against them, for a long time "Darwinian" or "Spencerian" philosophy would hold sway against what seems unjust to many in the modern world. Protection of private property rights -- almost as libertarians understand the concept -- would often be a major priority for the court.

There was a philosophy that society had to allow inequality at the private level so that it could progress. There always had to be the possibility of winners and losers.

After World War II, the Court would gradually take a new look at social unfairness, and basic philosophical questions where individual rights come into conflict with public morality, or the established order of things. The lingering effects of past institutionalized discrimination became an issue. Famous rulings would includ Brown v. Board of Education (for school desegregation -- and the enforcement "with all deliberate speed" illustrates the "just words" problem) in 1954, and Roe v. Wade in 1973, as well as Lawrence v. Texas in 2003.

The Supreme Court offers a 24-minute film to visitors at the building in Washington DC, across one street from The Capitol, near the Library of Congress.