Monday, June 25, 2007

Dr. Phil has bigoted enemies face off; Oprah has town hall on Imus

Dr. Phil today (Monday June 25) had a “Dr. Phil House” segment where people who hate those who are different from them were forced to face off.

He had a white supremacist sounding off against an African American woman, and it’s pretty easy to imagine the “arguments.” He had a lesbian faced off against a “homophobic” straight woman.

What came through these confrontations was the role of personal need. The straight woman apparently had a lesbian mother, whose neglect in her particular case had caused her social deprivation in her teen years. She blamed all homosexuals for what had been an isolated problem in her own family. Dr. Phil got this out of them and got them to talk to each other, and even to do an “Outward Bound” style rope climbing exercise where they had to count on one another.

Dr. Phil went on to make a distinction between “lifestyle” issues and orientation, or who someone is. A parent might object to a an adult child’s “staying out late” as a lifestyle conduct matter and not have to object to homosexuality itself.

Of course, the psychology of this gets a lot more complicated, as I noted in a couple postings recently on my GLBT blog (see profile). Parents sometimes feel that they need the emotional protection of child loyalty and shielding from competitive cultural challenges and distractions (that they may perceive as judgmental) in order to function.

Oprah last Thursday had a town hall on the fallout from the Don Imus firing. There was a general feeling that record companies should fire or cancel the contracts of rappers who consistently release pornographic or abusive rap lyrics, as these affect the self-image of many African American people, especially women.

On Monday, June 25, Oprah had Chicago interior decorator Nate Berkus as a guest, and took us through his own lakefront home. She did present one of his customers, and it is interesting how interior designers can make so much money by manipulating people's feelings in a living space. It may sound "Donald Trump like.: But, then again, don't all artists manipulate people's feelings? Of course they do. It just isn't always in person.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

ABC 20/20: Getting Real About Real Estate

ABC 20/20 presented a segment June 22, 2007 ("Getting Real About Real Estate") about the recent real estate boom and bust. Early in the show, the book: “The Automatic Millionaire Homeowner: A Powerful Plan to Finish Rich in Real Estate” by David Bach (Broadway, 2007, hardcover, 272 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0767921206) was presented. The author was asked to work with a couple in Detroit and another couple in Fresno, CA, both with weak credit and modest incomes. The author was able to help both couples, but he counseled the California couple to cut back on lifestyle items (including computer games for the kids) in order to be able to afford a home. He looks at home ownership as essential for every American.

The show presented some other success stories. Most were families with kids that needed the “surburban” houses for growth and needed to upscale when there were more children. But at least one was a single male uptrading on condos in New York City, buying with roommates, and a millionaire by age 30 doing so. The man rented most of his properties and became a property owner and manager.

Actually, property ownership, renting and development has become a popular “pseudo-Trump” “career” in the gay communities in New York, LA, San Francisco, and to some extent other cities like Dallas. Families are sometimes less likely to take the time to develop these skills, and seem more likely to make their money in careers, using the economies of scale of dual incomes.

One wonders how people afford the million dollar homes around many larger cities (or even the $500000 condos, say in Arlington). Lower interest rates and clever financing have reduced income and downpayment requirements, often eliminating downpayments. We all hear stories about people getting into trouble when rates change, and about the foreclosures, the sales for deficiencies and the possibilities of deficiency lawsuits on borrowers (even original owners in certain mortgage assumption situations). When more is owed on a property than it is worth (because of price drops or damage), one’s net worth is severely affected mathematically. Real estate does have downturns, and I got caught by the overbuilding-driven (and oil price related) downturn in Texas that started in the late 1980s and continued for much of the 90s. That’s why real estate, as a wealth building tool, has to be thought of the way you think of anything. Carefully. A middle class person with little money needs to make it almost a full time career (or at least a second career) and it will take a great deal of time and work. (But so does day trading in the stock market; there is no magic bullet to getting rich, Trump notwithstanding; just watch “The Apprentice.”) But people, outside of the obvious glamour areas like big media and Hollywood, often get wealthy by leveraging other people’s work. They call it sales. Sometimes there are elements of a pyramid, whether Amway, or something more “respectable” like renewal commissions in life insurance premiums. It involves manipulation of others, not for everyone. Mainly for the extroverted. I made a comfortable living as an individual contributor – computer programmer, not by manipulating others.

In the past, moralists extolled the virtues of small town real estate, and country living. It’s true, investors in large city residential or commercial real estate have to worry about sudden wipeout caused by disaster, or even terrorism. But rural real estate can be wiped out, too, by wildfires or floods.

The program went into the pros and cons of using a professional realtor, with mixed results. Commissions are often negotiable, and it is not easy these days to get established as a realtor.

The program also went into the touchy topic of “toxic neighbors”, how they can cause litigation, and property values to drop.

Finally, the program showed the process of “staging” a home for sale at top dollar. (In medicine, “staging” definitely has a negative connotation.) Essentially, professional stagers, often rah-rah, come in and refurnish and redecorate a home according to the generic materialistic tastes of the current market rather than the personal tastes of the owners. This is much easier if the owners have left and moved out. It would be impossible, for example, to run an appearance-distracting home-base business very well while a home was being staged. Staging (and associated repairs) can cost thousands, but often pays off in getting an extra $20000 to $40000 on a contract offer on higher end homes.

ABC web reference here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Are You as Smart as a Fifth Grader?

Well, OK, Fox has some clean family fun with the board game-like (yes, Parker Brothers, maybe) quiz show "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?" The contestant is asked up to ten questions on the way to one million dollars, on a range of subjects from first to fifth grade. He/she can drop out at any point and keep the winnings. If he misses a question, he loses all or most of what he won. He gets one "cheat" and one "peak", a a kid who can help him. If he drops out or misses one question (and the kid doesn't bail him out), he has to look into the camera and say, "I am not smarter than a fifth grader."

Tonight 25 year old pastor Ben, of an evangelical church, won $300000. He stumbled on the fact that a killer whale or orca is a dolphin, but the kid bailed him out. (The orca may be the most intelligent animal except for man.) Now the show started with pastor Ben telling everyone that he had once, when a boy, vomited on another kid in choir practice. He bailed on the question, "Who is the Greek god of wine?" Sure, a pastor shouldn't know such pagan, idolatrous stuff. It's Dionysus.

Then they brought a salesman on, who had been a pre-med student at Kent State in Ohio. He thought that the passage from the mouth to the nose was the esophagus, a first grade true-false question.

Of course, they pick the smartest kids for this. The questions are probably not too different from what might show up on the Virginia SOL's (Standards of Learning), part of NCLB (no child left behind) . Maybe they were just a little harder.

Yet, it's fun to see the adults squirm with this. We wonder how we survived high school ourselves. In Arlington, VA., (Washington-Lee High School) in the 1950s to 1961, at least, it took 95 to get an A, then 89, 81, and 75. (74 was an E). How did we make it then?

I do think that Ken Jennings, David Madden, or Kevin Marshall (all from Jeopardy) could make this show look pretty silly.

Picture: Strong Hall at the University of Kansas (where I went to grad school -- MA, Math, 1968). Many of the math courses were in this building.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

NBC News and Matt Lauer interview Princes William and Harry

On Monday, June 18 2007 NBC News featured, at 10 PM (in a program that amounted to a Dateline special) an interview by Matt Lauer of the two princes of the House of Windsor in Britain, William and Harry.

The interview was motivated by the upcoming tenth anniversary of Princess Diana’s death in a horrific automobile accident in a tunnel in Paris on August 31, 1997. The princes plan a concert in honor of her would-be 46th birthday on July 1, and a special commemoration August 31.

The princes have objected to the showing on British TV of the UK Channel 4 documentary called “Diana: The Witnesses in the Tunnel” (dir. Janice Sutherland and Stuart Tanner) that would show graphic photos of the accident. This documentary was aired in Britain but has not yet been scheduled for airing in the US as far as I can tell. The imdb entry is this: UK Channel 4’s site is this: I believe that Channel 4 and "Film Four", often a production company of smaller UK arthouse films, are the same company. Some of the video was placed on You Tube and removed for copyright reasons.

The two men were very relaxed, sitting on a sofa, sleeves rolled up, dressed casually. They discussed their upbringing with their mother, how she shielded their privacy and taught them about charity. Harry appears to be taller. Toward the end, some of Harry’s behavior was glossed over. Both men discussed their affairs dating women gingerly, as they discussed their father’s well known personal life.

The most important issue that came up was the intended deployment of Harry to Iraq, and the decision of the British Army not to deploy him because his “presence” would attract attacks and endanger other troops. Harry, and to a lesser extent William, both talked about unit cohesion in the military, and how the members of a military unit do everything together. (Of course, “unit cohesion” has become a major element in the debate over gays in the military in the US; this issue itself did not come up directly and Britain has lifted the ban.) The “fairness” of the non-deployment came up; it seemed wrong to shelter someone because of “who he is” – and a female soldier close to the royal family had been killed in Iraq recently. Harry is trained as a tank commander, and still could be deployed to Afghanistan.

I was in the middle of relocation to Minneapolis for a corporate transfer and six very interesting years that Labor Day weekend in 1997. I heard about Princess Di while staying with an aunt in a senior center in Oberlin, Ohio, from another resident in the elevator. Later that weekend, I would read a compelling novel manuscript by a friend, whenever possible at food stops while driving the turnpikes and freeways northwest. Once in Minneapolis and got hooked up to Time Warner Cable, the first words that I heard were from Kitty Kelly discussing the Royals and how truth is not a defense to libel in Britain. And I had just made myself a published author. It is a time that I remember well.

Of course, when we interview royalty, even in a modern constitutional monarchy like Britain, we are reminded of the past view of the family and marriage, partly as a way to legitimatize property and political power -- everything. (Remember the opening of the recent Coppola film "Marie Antoinette".) Today, the best concept of the family may be what Kay Hymowitz calls "republican marriage" in her recent book on marriage and caste, reference here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Valtrex television ad raises an interesting (potentially legal) question

One important part of the film business is commercial advertising, and many actors are gainfully employed doing commercials, mostly for television (sometimes for pre-show commercials in movie theaters). Some of the best commercials are genuine entertainment, with the “beginning, middle and end” of any script. For example, one soft drink ad shows an actor bounced around like a billiard ball through the streets of San Francisco.

I want to discuss a potential legal point about Valtrex, medication (apparently prescription) that would control herpes virus infections. Pharmaceutical television ads have always been problematic, as they are loaded down with medical disclaimers (required for legal protection) that distract from the flow of the ad.

Herpes itself is worthy of a summary. It is a group of DNA viruses that tend to lend inside certain cells, especially nerve cells. Just before HIV came along, herpes was the new “scarlet letter” among the heterosexually active, as indicated in a Time magazine story in 1982. Besides genital herpes, there are many others: chickenpox (which can get reactivated later in life as shingles), cytomegalovirus, and especially Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis, but also has been suspected of causing Hodgkin’s Disease and certain non Hodgkin’s lymphomas in genetically susceptible people. HH6 is suspected of causing Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a multifocal blood vessel “cancer” in immunocompromised patients, which used to comprise largely HIV infected gay men. HIV is a retrovirus (RNA, not a DNA virus), but a relative called HTLV-1 was known to cause a kind of leukemia even before HIV was identified.

So it’s understandable that a company will want to advertise an anti genital herpes drug to a targeted audience. The Valtrex ad features an attractive young couple outside on bicycles. The young man is very tall and particularly handsome, almost breathtaking. He boasts, “I have genital herpes,” and the young woman says, “and I don’t.” Later there is a line like “We can keep it that way.” The ad does say that the medication is intended for heterosexual use only.

Now, normally we understand that an actor is playing a fictitious role, and that statements made in a show or film are not to be taken as literally true of the actor. In publishing and media law (including television and motion pictures), however, there is a legal precedent that claims that when a character resembles an identifiable person and the person is defamed, the person can sue for defamation (libel). This has particularly affected a few famous novels (“The Bell Jar”). Now, in this particular commercial, the actor looks the viewer in the eye and makes a statement that would normally, in a public view, be viewed as possibly derogatory. He utters it with such conviction as to convince the visitor of its apparent truth, as if he had taken this particular ad gig to express a personal issue. Is this to be taken this way in this case. Or, is this, after all, just “acting”? I wonder, because there is another situation I am aware of where it can matter.

Friday, June 15, 2007

CNN shows Nifong hearing over Duke lacrosse scandal

Most of this morning, CNN gave us reality TV "courtroom drama" -- although really it was a North Carolina State Bar Ethics Committee hearing of District Attorney Mike Nifong, who may well face disbarment because of his withholding DNA test results and public comments during the investigations of the three members of the Duke lacrosse team, who were eventually cleared of all charges.

Reade Seligmann testified, and went into tears as he described a period when he believed his life to be ruined. Particularly disturbing was his account of his call to his mother.

Nifong himself testified, and admitted that he talked to the media with inappropriate comments. He also claimed that the complexity of the case was overwhelming and he simply could not keep up with all of the evidence, given his political distractions.

Two major points stood out. One is that when district attorneys (and perhaps judges) are elected, they may perceive political pressure to obtain or render convictions when the evidence does not support a finding of guilt.

The other is that public officials -- especially prosecutors -- are not free to vent their personal views to the press (or in blogs for that matter) on cases or sometimes many other matters.

Later on Friday June 15 2007, Mike Nifong announced his intention to resign as District Attorney in Durham County. Media sources seemed to indicate that Seligmann's emotional testimony on live CNN was a major factor. The story is here. However Nifong still faces a possible recommendation of disbarment by the Ethics Committee, even given his resignation.

Update: Saturday June 16, 2007.

MSNBC and CNN showed the findings of the ethics committee live mid-afternoon. Nifong has been summarily disbarred. Here is the CNN story.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Oprah shows straight military men living in gay community as a social experiment

Today (Thursday, June 14) Oprah featured a twenty-minute segment where a heterosexual man and Army officer or NCO (not sure if still active) Ryan Hickmott, lives for thirty days with a gay man Ed Coller, in San Francisco, in order to understand the culture of the gay male world. The social experiment was filmed for the FX Networks (not to be confused with the FX show).

The first event shown was a dinner with twelve men. Then there were a couple of gay bar visits, spread apart (the bar was “Daddy’s”), and in the second visit he stripped off his own shirt. He came into the experiment believing that homosexuality was wrong essentially because it was “unnatural”, and without much of any rational understanding of the moral thinking. Oprah thought that he once equated the “sin” as that with murder, byt Ryan claimed that his religious beliefs did not put all sin on the same level. Oprah said that she believes people are born gay but that they choose (or do not choose) to live a particular lifestyle.

In the last segment, Ryan visited a group of parents with gay children.

The “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for those in the military does not preclude visiting gay bars or associating socially with gay people (the 1994 DOD regulations specifically say that), although in many individual cases commanders have (perhaps illegally) pursued discharges for soldiers seen in gay surroundings.

The link for the "Gay for 30 Days" segment is here. I believe that it is a repeat, and that I had seen it before (October 2005).

There is a USA Today story called "Reality Check" on this episode here.


On Wed. June 13 Jay Leno had Shia La Beouf on his NBC Night Show for Shia's 21st Birthday that day. (Actually, imdb has the birthday as June 11, so maybe the show was taped Monday. All interesting, because some day I will try to get tickets to it.) Yes, they pretended to have a bash, and Shia talked about grown-up things to do. Shia admitted to smoking cigars. Shia's next movie is Transformers.

Jay Leno also showed mock footage of the Pentagon's legendary "gay bomb."

Monday, June 11, 2007

UFO Secret: Tunguska: The Russian Roswell

UFO Secret: Tunguska: The Russian Roswell UFO-TV 55 min Prod. Direc. Henry Kirk, Al Stillman (1997 / 2006, 33 min + 22 min of interviews and extras)

An account of the 1908 Tunguska explosion from one of the last survivors. The account was supposedly covered up by the KGB and the Russian government, and the film claims that the event is related to the 1947 Roswell incident in New Mexico. The official explanation was a comet, but the movie claims there is evidence of radiation after the blast (with radiation sickness in the area – whether this can really be confirmed today is questionable), and geomagnetic storms before the explosion. An approaching comet could have presented some of the variable lighting in the sky, however. The film claims that, with the KGB gone, the new Russian government should be more receptive to the idea that “the truth is out there.” The film does show some stunning shots of the crash site, which did not leave a crater. The explosion was over a hundred times as strong as Hiroshima. The film ends with a reference to Roswell. There are also interviews with Don Yoemans (JPL Sr. Research) and Paul Chadas (NASA).

Update: Tuesday June 26, 2007

Italian researchers are exploring Lake Cheko, five miles from the crash impact site, for physical evidence from the impact. The 164-foot-deep lake might have been formed by the impact.

See related posting: March 18 2007 on this blog (archives).

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Redux on debates on CNN: Faith, Values and Politics; then 1:1

On Sunday night (June 10) CNN produced an interview with some of the Democratic candidates on matters closely related to faith. The tone was generally non-committal. Sen. Edwards was asked if he believed in evolution or creationism, and he said, "evolution." Edwards went to great lengths to distinguish his personal beliefs on some things and what his responsibilities would be for president (reminding us of Jimmy Carter). Of course, many people take anything one does as evidentiary of their ultimate intentions and don't accept that.

A Catholic priest in the audience criticized hyper-individualism and asked Senator Clinton on what we could do to work together. Senator Clinton talked about health care, and indicated that in order to insure everyone, every politician would have to budge a bit on their ideological position in order to pass effective health care reform. Senator Clinton ended her answer with "Something has to be taken away from some people."

One thing that makes single payer health care harder is that giving up the idea of individual "moral hazard" makes "private behaviors" more of the public's business. It is also a delicate political matter to determine exactly what any universal (especially single payer) system will actually cover.

The next two hours Sunday night had Wold Blitzer matching the Democratic and Republican responses on particular topics (including gays in the military) from the previous New Hampshire debates.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Oprah presents skinhead befriending victim; Holocaust survivor meets daughter of Nazi officer; IAT test

Oprah again today put on a hard-hitting show, in three parts. The link for the show today is this.

First she presented the recent friendship of gay man Matthew Boger, who was kicked out of his home by his mother and lived on the streets, where he was beaten by skinhead Timothy Zaal. In the years that followed, Tom changed his ways and worked for The Tolerance Center, where he would meet Matthew.

Tim described his mindset as a younger man, belonging to the White Aryan Resistance, and believing that anyone who was “different” constituted a threat to his own family or group.

The second part of the show presented Monika Hertwig daughter of Amon Goeth, presented in the Steven Speilberg film “Schindler’s List” (1993) as a guard at Auschwitz and very brutal. The woman Helen, who worked in a house near Cracow for Amon, was reunited. The show visited the house as it is still standing. I visited Cracow in 1999, taking the night train from Berlin, and hired a taxi to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Author Malcom Gladwell, whose book is called “Blink”, discussed the Implicit Association Test, at this link, which detects “first impression” prejudices that have been built by social conditioning. The test reminds me of the notorious pupilometric test from the movie "The Parallax View".

The idea of family and tribal “loyalty” is certainly becoming double edged. As Robert Merry describes in his book “Sands of Empire,” tribal consciousness, which forms the foundation of Arab and Muslim culture, develops over centuries of history as a way for cultural groups to survive in a hazardous world. Modern culture emphasizes the individual and overcoming prejudices against those who are different, and it is not always easy to reconcile this with a demand to look after the best interest of other family members.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

CNN: NH Republican candidate presidential debates

Wolf Blitzer moderated the 2008 Republican candidates’ second debate from Manchester, NH on Tuesday June 5, 2007.

The candidates were:

Sen. Dam Brownback, KS
Jim Gilmore, former Gov. VA
Rudolf Giuliani, former mayor New York City
Mike Huckabee, former Gov. AR
Duncan Hunter, former Rep. AR
Sen. John McCain, AZ
Rep Ron Paul, MD, TX
Gov. Mitt Romney, MA
Rep Tom Tancredo, CO
Tommy Thomson, former Gov, WI

About half of the first hour was spent on the war in Iraq, the controversy over the lack of WMD’s. One senator suggested that a preventive first strike against Iran with tactical nuclear weapons could be acceptable, where as libertarian-leaning Ron Paul said that attacking (or even threatening) a country that has not attacked us is our worst moral problem.

McCain suggested that calling the war in Iraq Bush’s war was like calling Bosnia Clinton’s war.

Huckabee was put on the spot about evolution, and indicated that one either believes we were created or we were not.

Brownback suggested partitioning Iraq into three "states" (Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish) and then applying an "Articles of Confederation" type of national government.

On the question about gays in the military and “don’t ask don’t tell”, all of the candidates punted (in comparison to the Democrats). Ron Paul came the closest to calling this a matter of individual rights and responsibilities and conduct (rather than "group rights", a concept that he assailed), which could amount to repeal. The others wanted to defer to military leaders and not make sensitive changes that could affect unit cohesion during wartime.

On health care, the candidates call for very large tax credits to purchase health insurance, along with health savings accounts. But they seemed to insist that every person own his own moral risk.

On immigration, they sounded a bit tongue-tied on the issue of weakening the importance of family ties, since this forces some contradictions in their positions.

Oprah previews Michael Moore's "Sicko"

Oprah Winfrey today hosted controversial filmmaker Michael Moore, who previewed some footage from his new documentary “Sicko” about the broken American health care financing system. The film has been shown in Cannes, and is due to open June 29, 2007. The distributors are The Weinstein Company, which split off from Miramax in 2006, and Lions Gate. (Disney-owned Miramax had refused to distribute “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which was picked up by Lions Gate in 2005). It was the highest grossing documentary of all time.

Moore showed at least three major segments from his film. In the first, he tells us this film is for the people who have “health insurance”, not for the millions of uninsured. He presents short interview clips of patients who were denied life-saving procedures for various reasons, like pre-existing conditions or “lack of medical necessity.”

Nevertheless, about 43.6 million people in the U.S. do not have health insurance, according to CDC figures. The Census Bureau reports that as 44.8 million. Lack of health insurance coverage leads to 18,000 premature deaths a year. Many of these arguably would not happen in a system with effective universal coverage, as in Canada, but this is debatable. If our culture is dedicated to respect or reverence for human life for its own sake, this becomes a moral issue comparable to abortion.

In the clip, he shows a health care company executive talking to Congress, and the woman testifies that her income shot up into six figures after she learned how to deny claims, even though she was a physician who had presumably taken the Hippocratic Oath. She also told Congress that employees of health insurance companies were told not to talk to the media or especially to Michael Moore's people (there was even a joke about the Detroit Tigers and Lions to get attention away from their practices.) What happens if the employees simply blog about these claims-denying practices at home? (That gets interesting: there may be a first amendment issue, but are unethical practices a legally protected trade secret?) Moore goes on to tell Oprah that this is “the problem”: we accept that police and fire services, and public education, should be provided from public funds without a profit motive, but we don’t accept that idea for life-saving health care. Moore even admitted that private insurance companies have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to deny all possible claims. This problem was documented in John Grisham's novel Rainmaker, which became a movie with Matt Damon and Danny De Vito in 1997 ("everybody hates the insurance company"). Moore was critical of our hyper-individualism, our idea "I took care of myself, so you do the same," and he maintains that for some things we need to be willing to row in the same boat and sink or swim together. (Mother Jones had an article "Hyper-individualism v. Solidarity" by Bill McKibben in June 2004, discussion here.)

He then shows a clip of Guantanamo, where prisoners are getting top-flight medical care. At the same time, volunteers who had helped clean up the World Trade Center site after 9/11 could not get the government to pay for their respiratory disorders. A few of these made the trip with Moore and apparently wound up in Cuba, where they got some medical attention on the film.

I have heard by the grapevine that church groups that have sent volunteers (including, often enough, high school kids) to New Orleans to help with the cleanup after Hurricane Katrina have not been allowed inside the flooded homes to work on them because of mold, which raises health and liability lists. The volunteers have often done only street and debris cleanup. Apparently, this development tracks the experience where volunteers on the 9/11 site have had severe health consequences that could not be adequately treated/

Moore is being investigated by the government, which claims that he traveled to Cuba illegally, which he claims he did not. Guantanamo is legally US soil, and the contact of the other volunteers with Cuba was somehow incidental. The government obviously has an incentive to "cover up" the problems he wants to expose.

The link for Oprah’s show today is here:

Update: Sunday June 10


On Monday, June 18, ABC "Good Morning America" had attorney/host Chris Cuomo present a story about rescission of individual policies for trivial omissions concerning pre-existing conditions. The specific case concerned a girl with an eye tumor, needing surgery, and Blue Cross of California had threatened a rescission investigation for failure to disclose "headaches." After media pressure, Blue Cross backed down. Related link is here.

On Tuesday June 19 ABC's "The View" presented Michael Moore again, and showed a segment (of "Sicko") where an uninsured man who has lost two fingers to a buzz saw is faced with a Hobson's choice. Moore talked about the free health care and day care in Europe, and did not explain how the political problems in providing them (at everyone's expense, regardless of use) were surmounted.

Update: 6/30/2007 CNN

On Saturday June 30 CNN Larry King Live presented Michael Moore, who this time answered questions about waiting periods in Canada. He said that for elective surgery it is about four weeks, but that care is triaged. Emergency surgery does not wait. He did not discuss whether there are age limits, but presumably risky surgery is not attempted if there is not an expectation of medical benefit. Conservative courses claim that Canadian medicine is less enterprising and has less incentive to try new therapies (like the plate I got in 1998 in Minnestoa for my acetabular fracture). Moore also said he gets very good insurance through his guild (the Directors' Union), and he buys the best possible health insurance for his own employees, without waiting periods. He also mentioned that the HMO started with Nixon, and that one of the tapes from 1971 with Ehrlichman shows that Nixon nodded on the idea that HMO's could make more money by providing less care.

Coordinate movie review (June 29) here.

Around June 9, CNN presented a few clips from Morgan Spurlock's film "Chalk" about the challenge that teachers face today.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

CNN: NH Democratic presidential candidates debate

CNN today broadcast the Democratic Party debate from New Hampshire. Wolf Blitzer moderated, and enforced only informal courtesy rules in comparison to normal debate procedures. He even asked for a one-sentence opening statement like, “I am Wolf Blitzer from CNN.”

The candidates are Sen. Joe Biden (DE), Sen. Hillary Clinton (NY), Sen. Christopher Dodd (CT), former Sen. John Edwards (NC), former Sen. Mike Gravel (AK), Rep. Sennis Kucinich (OH), Sen. Barack Obama (IL), Gov. Bill Richardson (NM).

On Iraq, Sen. Clinton indicated that Congress was never given the ability to send inspectors back into Iraq to make sure that Saddam Hussein really had WMD’s. Remember Scott Ritter’s controversial 1999 film had cast doubt on whether they would be there. Sen. John Edwards gave Obama “credit” for voting against the second war in Iraq.

On health care, the candidates indicated that there had always been a lack of political will to force a universal health care program through. There was mention that Obama’s program was not quite universal. There was a general agreement to roll back tax cuts for those making over $250K a year to help pay for the coverage, which Edwards was particularly emphatic about.

Immigration was debated, and Bill Richardson criticized the “touchback” provision of the new proposal, and emphasized that he comes from a border state.

The most heated debate seemed to be over gays in the military and the controversial 1993 “don’t ask don’t tell” policy at the beginning of Bill Clinton’s term. Hillary Clinton characterized it as a “transition policy” which had often been miss-implemented by military commanders. Blitzer offered for a show of hands, and all the candidates indicated that DADT should be scrapped for a policy centered on (as Hillary said), “conduct,” which is what Bill Clinton had said in 1993. The loss of Arabic translators, and the tendency to discharge people when the need for combat was lower, were discussed. The idea of civil unions seemed to be supported, but not formal gay marriage. Aggressive hate crimes legislation and employment discrimination laws (probably covering other sensitive areas like teachers and of course security clearances) were supported.

A student from the audience, Tim O’Connor, asked about the possibility of the draft, and mentioned the draft in Germany where he had lived. The candidates supported the idea of strong carrots for national service, relieving student loan burdens and scandals, and supplying people for the Peace Corps, but especially storm reconstruction, eldercare, and especially tutoring disadvantaged (and probably special education) children.

Gov. Bill Richardson suggested that Bill Clinton become a peace envoy to the Middle East in a Democratic administration.

Kuchinich wants to end Nafta and go back to bilateral trade agreements.

Bringing the troops home and moving on health care seem to be the highest priorities, as well as education, and much better pay for teachers.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Yes, I made it to TV, in 1998 (and actually before)

Shortly after moving to Minneapolis in September 1997, I got to appear on Minneapolis Cable, with a lecture at Hamline University about my "Do Ask Do Tell" book. The lecture took place on February 25, 1998, while on was on crutches from an acetabular fracture sustained in an accidental convenience store fall in January (my only surgery so far in life). It was sponsored by the Libertarian Party of Minnesota, and the 57 minute lecture, videotaped, was broken into two thirty-minute programs. It was aired several times, and various people, even from work, saw it. I expected word of mouth, with cable appearances like this, to be the main way to spread the word on the book. I did not yet realize how effective search engines would become.

I have appeared on television one other time, on NBC4 in Washington in April 2006, calling for volunteers for FilmfestDC.

Some of the talk groups at the Ninth Street Center in New York City in the 1970s were broadcast on local "Channel C" as New York then had several cable companies in different areas of the city (the alternative was a master antenna connection in most apartment buildings). Many MCC events were televised in Dallas in the 80s. In those days, people worried about falling into the television camera and being seen as gay. Maybe they still do (especially in the military). One coworker in Dallas spotted me in Dallas at a pride march in Lee Park in 1980, and mentioned "that was you!: with amazement. Have times changed enough?

Picture: My giving another talk at Dakota Unitarian Fellowship in Rosemont, MN, Feb. 3, 2002.