Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dr. Phil tackles Internet fame as the new "currency"

On Tuesday, March 27, 2007, NBC's Dr. Phil show did an interesting segment on Internet "fame" -- a takeoff on the New Line film "15 Minutes" and the movie title "Fame" itself, perhaps. The general topic of the show was the trend for people to do silly things and make videos of them and post them in order to enjoy public notoriety. As noted often on these blogs, this trend (especially with social networking sites) has drawn unfavorable attention from employers in the past two or three years. The other major trend is for people to do "anything" in order to get onto reality television, no matter how unfavorable or silly their behavior.

Dr. Phil presented Perry and Michael as directors of the new documentary American Cannibal: The Road to Reality, imdb reference here.

He also presented former "The Apprentice" contestant Sam Solevey, who has a professional life as an auctioneer raising money for charity, as a realtor, and as a n operator of several web information services with job bank information (like Potomac Tech Wire in the Washington DC area). Sam was Donald Trump's "wild man" on The Apprentice, whom Donald said would make someone a lot of money, just not The Donald. Sam seemed troubled by his experience with The Apprentice, even though it was with a legitimate show.

Dr. Phil also presented a female fashion model who was developing fame on the Internet, and the model's friend was concerned that she had attracted a stalker. However Dr. Phil seemed to feel that her presence on the Web represented a real business with real income potential and real content (fashion).

The issue of Internet self-publishing, where the content is legitimate in intent but not professionally edited (because of lack of income or resources) was not really discussed, but that sounds like a good topic for another show.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

NBC Today: Girls Gone Wise; ABC 20-20: Practicing what they Preach?

NBC Today Saturday March 24, 2007 had an interesting report from Seventeen magazine about “girls gone wise.” College students are more likely to spend spring break volunteering doing manual labor, especially in hurricane (Katrina) or tornado ravaged areas, with groups like Habitat for Humanity, or which faith-based groups. One student who was interviewed said, yes, they want the sense of accomplishment to look back on.

The interviewer indicated that twenty years ago Spring Break was a beach bash, filled with sun and disco parties, and sometimes drugs. But today students are more aware that things can go wrong. That is especially true, ironically, because of social networking sites (Myspace, Facebook) and the risk that a student who does something “stupid” will wind up on a video on the Internet and been seen by college administrators, police, or worse, perspective employers. So, ironically, social networking sites are actually encouraging more volunteerism in a libertarian manner. A recent story by me on this is here:

Seventeen sometimes sponsors cast visits from major television series to major shopping malls, such as Everwood in 2005.

Also, on ABC “20-20” last night, John Stossel had a “Give Me a Break” segment in which he showed evangelistic pastors living in luxury based on member offerings. The story by Glenn Ruppel and John Stossel is “Philanthropic Donations Come from your Heart, but Where Do They Wind Up?: Ex-Money Manager Says Enough to Secretive Christian Ministry Spending,” here.
Particularly important was an interview with Rusty Leonard, formerly with Templeton Investments.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

History Channel: Ancient Discoveries, Ancient Computers

The History Channel has an interesting series "Ancient Discoveries" and a major episode March 20, 2007 was "Ancient Computers," a documentary about the Antikythera Mechanism found in the Mediterranean between Kythera and Crete by sponge divers.

The mechanism was associated with calendar functions but may very well have functioned as a primitive computer, with real input and output, anticipating the Babbage invention in the 1830s. The device may have been invented by Archimedes, whose work actually helped advance the technological superiority of Rome. Archimedes may have developed his work based on an earlier mathematician (who had studied water flow) in Alexandria, Egypt, which had the famous "library of Congress" that functioned as the "Google" of its day. Wouldn't it befit Egypt to restore the library to its former greatness, as a gesture that Muslim culture could return to the intellectual heights it had achieved in the First Century. (Instead, Egypt is imprisoning bloggers; see this post.)

There was an ancient device, a manual astronomical computer, called the astrolabe, complete with dials, gears, and pewter mater. I bought a small one for $35 at a Rennaissance fair near Minneapolis in 2001, and lost it when I moved. This was not mentioned in the History Channel show, but here is a good introductory link.

It's interesting to trace how computing advanced up to modern times, including all of the teletype communications and code breaking machinery and Turing devices during World War II.

Monday, March 19, 2007

UFO Files: Texas' Roswell

The History Channel offers an interesting "pre-Roswell" documentary -- UFO Files: Texas Roswell -- of an incident in April 1897 in Aurora, Texas, in southeastern Wise County, NW of Fort Worth. Some of the reconstructions for the film have more mountains than would be in the area, where the plains start to role, although some juniper-covered ridges called the Palo Pinto Mountains occur twenty miles to the West, and there is a big grade on I-20 near Ranger, TX.

In late 1896 and early 1897 there were numerous newspaper reports of flying objects all over the midwest, moving too quickly to be balloons -- Jules Verne aviation that was all that was available during that era. On April 19, 1897, a wooden tower in Aurora was destroyed when an object collided with it. Newspaper accounts report metallic debris and a humanoid body similar to the 1947 Roswell aliens. Objectively, it is difficult to discount this story. The property is fenced off today and not available to filmmakers, and some metallic evidence (an aluminum-iron alloy that curiously is non-metallic and that does not occur often) has been removed.

Will Oliver Stone some day make his own account of all of this? The History Channel link is here.

The same evening (March 19) the History Channel offered "Digging for the Truth: Lost Treasure of Petra" about a lost city in SW Jordan, hidden in cliffs in the mountains, that was a kind of Wall Street of its day, a couple of centuries before Christ. The City supposedly is related to the Indiana Jones movies. It was built by a tribe called the Naviteans. The desert city residents collected water through gutter channels carved in the canyon walls.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Decoding the Past: Earth's Black Hole

The History Channel, on March 18, presented an hour-long documentary "Decoding the Past: Earth's Black Hole" that presents the controversial idea that a mini-black hole could exist in the earth, possibly below the ocean in the Bermuda Triangle, and a hemisphere away in the Dragon's Gulch. The disappearance of planes and ships, such as the five Avengers in December 1945, followe by a flying boat looking for them (they show up in the first scene of Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"), according to this documentary, could be explained this way. Some scientists are interviewed with their devices to measure magnetic and compass anomalies in the Triangle.

There has been science-fiction like speculation that micro black holes could be created, maybe by certain transformations in radioactive elements, or maybe by physics experiments that tinker with the nature of matter, creating "strangelets", a quark-like configuration change that could restructure all matter by template change the way prions can infect brains and cause scrapie. Martin Rees raised that speculation in his book "Our Final Hour." If mini-black holes really exist, in time they could become disruptive. This movie offers speculation that they can cause hurricanes, just like global warming.

Here is the Wikipedia reference on micro black holes. Even elementary particles like electrons might be "micro black holes" according to some theories.

Also broadcast today was Siberian Apocalypse, about the 1908 comet (or, perhaps more likely, carbonaceous or stony asteroid -- maybe an "old" comet, compared to a dense iron-nickel asteroid) hit on the tundra on June 30 1908 at Tunguska. The sky remained a "bright night" in Europe. A similar blast over New York City would obliterate the city.

Another important History Channel show today was "Last Days on Earth," blogger review here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

HBO Series: Addiction

On March 15, 2007 HBO Documentary Films ("Life Happens") premiered the first of its series on substance addiction, a documentary simply and prosaically called "Addiction: Centerpiece Documentary", 90 min, dir. Jon Alpert. The film is in many titled parts and summarizes many of the medical aspects of addiction, including the tug-of-war in organic brain function, between reward (as you study it in psychology 101) and cognitive frontal lobe assessment of risks. There is an interesting segment that considers the relationship between employers, labor unions, and employees in treatment when the employees need complete medical and social privacy.

The home page for the series is this.

Here is a directory of the nine feature films. The most important may be "Insurance Roes" directed by Susan Froemke.

There are thirteen supplementary films, including "The Adolescent Addict" directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner.

Here is the Full Schedule. Here are all available from HBO on Demand from March 15 2007 to April 16 2007.

Filmmaker biographies are here.

Picture: (unrelated) Habitat for Humanity workshop on the Mall in Washington DC in November 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

October Road

On the Ides of March 2007, ABC premiered this miniseries "October Road" with an interesting premise. A thirty-something novelist Nick Garret (Bryan Greenberg) returns to his home town after ten years of absence, with a controversial novel "Turtle on a Snare Drum". The trouble is, the townspeople feel that the novel (and probable movie) are about them, and they feel like they have been depicted in a kind of Peyton Place (represented by the metaphor of the drum).

There is some discussion of literary agents and A-list publisher promotions -- they changed his pen-name to "Nicholson". Legal literature and books on publisher law have always talked about the risks of using recongizable characters in fiction. It can lead to libel suits (Touching; The Bell Jar). What's more interesting is if the book self-libels the author, too. A lot of kids do that on the Internet on blogs and social networking profiles already, to the consternation of potential employers who see liability risks in this practice.

The script of the first 60-minute episode has some funny lines, like when one townsman says "I have two boys. I only have to worry about two p-- rather than a thousand." That is the kind of town that the young novelist has come back to, in order to get on with his life.

Nice guy Lee Norris (One Tree Hill) has a role in this episode, and throws a punch in a bar fight -- a first for him.

The title of the episode does remind one of "October Sky" -- the movie about wanne be rocket scientist Homer Hickum. This is a different kind of small town story.

The second episode has the townspeople talking about a "Blowback" (that was the name of a movie, review here). He tries to get a job teaching a seminar at the local college, and the English department chair tells him, "what do you have to offer the kids, when you abandoned your community in order to write a book about it?" She calls him a dilettante (rather like he was an object of derision by conservative author George Gilder). I say, the townspeople need to be shaken up. Eventually she relents and he gets his seminar.

Update: 2/25/2008

As the series resumes on Feb. 2008, Nick, after long writer's block, tries to get a small business loan, and is rebuffed. The loan officer says, "you're a writer. Get an advance for your next book from your publisher. And can I have an autograph?" Indeed. Authors Guild has, or at least used to have a rule, that it was open to membership only to authors who normally get advances from publishers. A concept that seems out of date.

I'm struck by the view "writer-ness" as a state of being rather than the production of content.

On March 10, ABC provided a two-hour season finale, which rather lumbered as soap opera and wasn't very "movie like." Eddie (Geoff Stults) gets beat up and put in the hospital; but "Dad" (Tom Berenger) gets diagnosed with a cancer and will need a bone marrow transplant. The sons will have to look after him, but yet here the story hardly goes into "One True Thing" territory.

The story is supposed to be based on the 1996 Miramax film "Beautiful Girls" directed by Ted Demme, but that film deals with a piano player. I put it in my Netflix queue, but it has a "very long wait" because of the publicity from this show.

On "One Tree Hill" (Cw) Lucas has also written a novel.

Monday, March 12, 2007

History Channel: The Day After Roswell

This documentary, "The Day After Roswell", aired on Monday March 12, 2007, documents the career of US Army Lt Col Philip Corso, who wrote a book by the same name, published in 1997 by Pocket Books. The documentary film examines the idea that Corso, as a lead military researcher in the 1960s, reverse engineered technology found in alien spacecraft found at the Roswell, NM crash site, from the July 1947 crash. I visited the crash site myself in April 1998.

Some of the artefacts include semi-conductor chips (responsible for personal computers, laptops, cell phones, even the information revolution with the Internet, peer-to-peer and search engines), lasers, brain scan devices, and fiber optic cables. Now the documentary does present Corso as having enjoyed an interesting career as a military intelligence officer starting as a young man in World War II (he was apparently drafted but made the most of it). His career stalled out in the late 1950s in the reserves, and then he was mysteriously invited to join the Pentagon working for Lt. Gen Trudeau in 1961 (when I was graduating from high school). It is indeed true that technology took off during the Kennedy years. (In those days, tests at school had been duplicated on mimeograph machines!)

There is considerable objective rebuttal to his claims, that most of these technological advances were made by systematic investment and hard work.

Relatively little of the film deals with the aliens or the crash site. I do recall a film "Alien Autopsy" being shown on cable in the middle 1990s a lot (once, as I was about to go out for New Years Eve).

An earlier posting about Area 51 appears in the November 2006 archive (Nov 16) for this blog.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

CBS 60 Minutes on anthrax, draft

On Sunday March 11, 2007 CBS "60 Minutes" reviewed the anthrax investigation and the lawsuit (against the government) by the one "person of interest" leaked by the FBI and DOJ to reporters. The report indicated that there were perhaps a dozen other "persons of interest" whose identities had never been leaked, and that physical evidence of actual tampering at Ft. Dietrich Maryland did not exist.

There was an interesting story in The Weekly Standard in April 2002, link here.

The 60 Minutes report also included a story about the difficulty in bringing Iraqi translators and friends to the United States to protect them. There was a third story about a mine-accident deceased coal miner's wife in Harlan County, Kentucky (which I visited in a tour of strip mines in 1972), and about the threats her family received as she became outspoken about mine safety.

But the most shocking story of all was Andy Rooney's segment. Admitting that he never had thought he would say this, he called for conscription (the draft) to support any war that the United States, through its democracy, decides to engage in. He talked a lot about the "moral waivers" being given by the military to find new recruits. Ironically, these waivers don't seem to revoke the "don't ask don't tell" policy for gays.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

ABC GMA story on teacher behavior

ABC “Good Morning America” this morning (Saturday March 10, 2007) carried a very disturbing report on inappropriate behavior with students by teachers. In this specific report, the emphasis was on female teachers. The web link on ABC is this. One teacher, when released from jail, actually restarted sending inappropriate text messages to a former student.

The media has been reporting on these problems heavily for about two years. Last summer, CNN commented on the screening of substitute teachers after the John Mark Karr incident when he “confessed” in Thailand.

Because of media coverage, students are more likely to report incidents, and parents are more likely to encourage them to. There has even been concern about inaccurate reports or false or made-up charges, and the possibility, however rare, that a student could provoke an inappropriate contact, as demonstrated in a 2003 Lifetime Cable film reviewed here (first film on that file). (In that film, the chemistry teacher is female and the student is a teenage male.)

The ABC report this morning mentioned several states that were increasing background check and fingerprint check requirements for all employees working on public school property. The report said that no states were (yet) considering personality screening for military-ban-style “propensities” but the suggestion certainly is that such intrusive screening could be next.

This certainly opens a pandora’s box. We all know about the controversies already over employer-given personality tests (often a huge list of True-False questions that catch inconsistencies giving away dishonesty). Now in the age of search engines we can scan the Internet for what prospective teachers say about themselves or, worse, for what others say about them. There are even Orwellian style brain scan technologies that could try to read thoughts (“pupilometrics”, etc.) One idea that could crop up is that an older person unable to show a stable marital relationship with someone his own age presents an unusual risk. But the experience with this problem does not really confirm such a theory, even if it were ethically acceptable to apply it (I don’t think it is.)

Teachers have already been denied contracts because of past activities, such as demonstrated on a December 6, 2006 Dr. Phil segment, discussed here.

A contribution in the Greenhaven Opposing Viewpoints series of books “Teenage Sexuality” (reviewed here on blogger Sept. 19 (also look at Sept. 16), or here on my domain)
by Linda P. Harvey suggested that homosexuals, even those with just “feelings” or tendencies, have a greater than average risk of inappropriate behavior with minors and therefore should be excluded from teaching with a military-style ban (at least, “don’t ask don’t tell”). I have another book review dealing with teacher free speech, and the effect on their jobs, here, Feb. 12.

All of this negative media coverage goes on, while school districts struggle to hire good teachers, and must often go overseas. Many applicants are being scared off by the new witchhunt mentality.

CNN Saturday Night also covered the offender problem on March 10, with Dr. Gupta, and there is a lot of emphasis in "treatment" in controlling fantasies and thoughts. The New York Times Magazine, March 11, 2007, has a long article by Jeffrey Rosen, "The Brain on the Stand," suggests that new technology may make it much easier to monitor thoughts or "pre-crime" as in the movie "Minority Report."

Update: Tuesday March 13, 2006:

The NBC Today show carried a detailed story about a scandal at a Colorado public school, where a 29-year-old female social studies teacher carried on a relationship with a male student while on a field trip. The main trouble is that the teacher is the principal's wife, and the school tried to cover it up. The kid actually didn't want to report the incident to police and thought that the teacher's job and marriage were more important than punishing her illegal behavior with a student. For a while, the students believed that it was OK for a male student to "conquer" a female teacher soap-opera-style (where on "Days of our Lives" a young college graduate brags that he has conquered an older woman). But pressure forced this incident out into the open, and the police had to press felony charges against the teacher. The boy was suspended for a while, but appeared on the Today Show. In Colorado, the age of consent is 17, but there are also laws regarding being in a position of authority and custody, which is the case here. In TheWB series Everwood (set in CO), a twenty-year-old female college student "Madison" has a relationship with a sixteen year old male piano prodigy (Ephram), which ruins his chance to go to Julliard, the female character's conduct would have been a crime in Colorado.

Friday, March 02, 2007

ABC 20-20 Bad Is Good: People Seek Instant Fame on Internet

ABC "20-20" had a short segment by John Stossel tonight about people seeking fame by posting videos of themselves engaging in silly or destructive behavior on the Internet. Teens sometimes make embarassing YouTube postings to humiliate partners who jilt them. A twenty-something year old man (Adam Schleichkorn) made a mockmentary of "Jackass", with his sport of "fence plowing" in a hurricane damaged area, attracted lots of hits and seems to be starting a production company and getting offers.

The story on ABC is by Natale Jaquez, and is titled "Fame is just a few clicks away, but is the cost too high? One teen used online video to catalpult his career, while others have turned it into a dangerous trend", at this link.

One wonders if more intellectually demanding content being found could lead to offers. How about challenges to "don't ask don't tell"? That's a problem, and the paradox: different visitors find legitimate value in widely differing material.

Yet, I can also see the other side of this. Employers, colleges, school officials and sometimes police find these and may act on them in a negative way. Employers may fear that if they hire someone who has "defamed" himself or herself with a video showing reckless behavior, that they could incur liability of there is an incident at work.

I know that there will be people who will say that we should put the brakes on seeking fame without interacting with people in a "normal way" or "paying your dues." That's a way down the pike, but I can see how it could really happen.

The broadcast had two other interesting stories: (1) "My Splitting Image" -- unrelated people who look almost identical (you notice this in fasion mags like GQ), and (2) a story about a pond on Kauai, whose owner destroyed the spillway and compromised and earthen dam for real estate development, resulting in a catastrophic rupture and flood below. Kauai (a Hawaiian Island, without a major volanic peak on it) is one of the rainiest inhabited spots one arth,