Sunday, December 30, 2007

"Angels in America" is still the best LGBT miniseries so far

The HBO miniseries “Angels in America” (2003, directed by Mike Nichols) is a series of what had been six one hour programs, grouped into two parts of three hours each. This series is based on the famous play by Tony Kushner that traces the lives of several characters as the AIDS epidemic unfolds during the 1980s. One of the characters is Reagan-era "conservative" Roy Cohn (connected to J. Edgar Hoover in some quarters), played by Al Pacino, who becomes the master of double-talk and denial, as his road downhill is riveting. Another is his Mormon assistant and attorney Joe Pitt, played by Patrick Wilson, who has to come to terms with his own identity. Toward the end, there is an important personal confrontation that covers some of the legal ground of the military ban in the gays before DADT. The same fight covers the ethical problems if ghost-writing for a living, as opposed (in the future) to telling the truth from one's soap-box regardless of a paying audience or accountabilities. The conclusion poses questions about "heaven" and earthly life. The two parts are called “The Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika.” The film gains by a schmaltzy music score, as well as dream sequences with angels. It also demonstrates how a long, segmented story can be adapted to television as a miniseries (screenplay) of limited length. It would not have lent itself to multiple seasons.

The film is much more dramatic than the earlier HBO television film “And the Band Played On” (1993) based on the famous book by Randy Shilts, directed by Roger Spottiswoode, with Matthew Moldine as CDC’s Dr. Don Francis.

The Kushner miniseries is now marketed on two DVD’s as a film I and II, like a typical franchise. PBS has also shown a 75 minute film dir. Freida Lee Mock, “Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner” which had a platform theatrical release from Balcony Films.

PBS presented a major documentary “The Age of AIDS”, dir. Greg Barker, four hours, in 2006.

There are at least two "major" one hour films on the subject: Christopher Reeves ‘s “In the Gloaming” (1997) on HBO, and John Erman ‘s “An Early Frost" (1985) on NBC, the latter of which appeared in the early days of the epidemic when the identity of the HIV virus had only recently been known.

Against all of this, Here! 's spoofy soap opera “Dante’s Cove” seems frivolous indeed, although idea of basing a supernatural story on a forbidden love back in the 1840s is interesting (if tried before). It seems like a gay version of “Passions” (on Direct TV now) or even “Port Charles” (discontinued).

It’s too bad, though, that NBC didn’t give it’s series “The Book of Daniel” (2006) about a liberal Episcopal priest with a gay son a longer airing (some local affiliates of NBC refused to air it over religious objections), as some genuine comic tension was building up in the series.

Update: Dec 31

I am told (see the Comment) that most of the materials discussed here are available on Logo (cable). Dante's Cove is available on Here! (not Logo, as I had originally said). I do not get either Logo or Here! on Comcast here in DC; I don't know what the holdup is on Logo. I believe Logo is on Verizon and Direct-TV. If others know more about the availability of these on cable channels, I would appreciate the comments. Many titles, at least shorter films, are viewable at Logoonline; I don't know about these but some are likely to appear.

Angels in America and Dante's Cove are available through Netflix. The Book of Daniel appears to have six hours of material available from Netflix (this may be more than what was broadcast). The Frontline series The Age of AIDS is available from Netflix. An Early Frost is available from Netflix, but In the Gloaming brings up a "Save" and is not yet available that way. These comments refer to conventional DVD rentals. Netflix is gradually adding many titles for online viewing, but none of these came up yet, but some may well do so soon.

Update: Jan 8, 2007

I see that Logo is now available on Comcast in the DC area. In Arlington, it appears to be Ch 163. It doesn't connect, so apparently my package doesn't include it unless I pay for it.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Letterman's company and WGA will sign A Separate Peace; will rest of "Hollywood" settle now?

Media sources report today that David Letterman’s (and Craig Ferguson ‘s) production company Worldwide Pants will sign a “separate peace” (I use the term loosely, following John Knowles ‘s novel) with the WGA (Writers Guild of America), and that writers will go back to work for Letterman’s show Jan. 2. A typical story is by Paul J. Gough, “Pants, WGA sew up deal for shows’ return”, in Hollywoord Reporter today ). It is expected that CBS late night television will enjoy and advantage over other networks, as Letterman will be able to attract major personalities to his show (they don’t have to cross a picket line), which will improve his Nielsen ratings and their for sponsoring advertising revenues. This could pressure the other networks and the producers’ association to make a substantially similar settlement. The other late night shows will try to return to live production without WGA writers Jan. 2.

Does Letterman’s “right to work” undermine the whole collective bargaining process with some kind of asymmetry? Did the proponent of the “zipper club” do this “because I can?” Will he pop jokes about it?

CNN is reporting on the strike, “the longer it goes” --- it become self-sustaining, like a vicious circle -- like the explanation of the Great Depression on a free-response SAT test.

The strike was covered earlier on this blog on Nov. 4, and on another blog here Dec. 9:

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Reputation Defender appears on several TV networks; video clips are available

During the last year or more, a number of major television networks or owned/afilliated stations on ABC, NBC, Fox have reported on the increasing problem on online reputation and a company called Reputation Defender, started by Michael Fertik, that offers a service monitoring and repairing online reputations. The clips are substantial, varying in length from 5 to 12 minutes. Some network anchors, like Martin Bashir, interview Mr. Fertik. One of the best clips is the Forbes Magazine clip (with Poppy Harlow), which is one of the shorter ones. The link is this.

The basic issue starts with the fact that major search engines make it very easy to retrieve information about almost anyone who is active on the Web under his or her own name, or about whom others post information, true or not. The information stays indefinitely unless removed, and spreads in open public in a "viral" manner. Unlike the practices in the old world of print and formal broadcast (and cable) media, people generally have not been trained in the legal risks involved (for themselves and others) and essentially no due diligence is practiced in these postings. Legally, information posted by amateurs can run the same risks as those posted by media companies: copyright infringement, libel or slander, and invasion of privacy. However, amateurs (often kids and teens) have no real sense of accountability, and many postings are anonymous. In practice, it is difficult to go after parties that don’t have “deep pockets.” (An exception has been the individual civil suits filed against consumers by media companies for copyright infringement in P2P downloads, but this is fundamentally a different issue.)

Most of the problems presented in these clips have to do with individuals spreading malicious (usually false) information against others out of spite or desire for revenge, or sometimes (with kids) as pranks. In a few cases big lawsuits and judgments and garnishments have resulted, but these are relatively rare. In a few other cases (as one in particular involving a tragic car crash caused by a teenager’s negligence) the information (or photos) posted are true but obviously mean-spirited.

Although Fertik doesn’t get into this part of the problem as much as he could, it is the “true” postings that may present the bigger ethical and societal challenges. Many objectionable postings “truthfully” show other individuals involved in mildly anti-social and technically illegal behavior, like underage drinking at discos, or sometimes, marijuana use. Less frequently, but perhaps just as troubling, websites or blogs run by others may include truthful somewhat trivial information about a person that normally would become irrelevant with time (perhaps a careless public statement or press release), but remains like a splinter on the person’s “reputation” as others may perceive it. As the media has been reporting for the past two years or so, many employers have been looking at blogs and social networking profiles or objectionable “public” behavior, and some have misused search engines to run “skip traces” or “background checks” on people and read comments made by or photos taken by others. When employers (or perhaps potential dates or even maybe landlords) find such information, they often exclude the person without a second thought because doubt has been cast, even in cases where they may have identified the wrong person. (The likelihood of this happening with a particular individual can obviously depend on how common his or her name is, and on how it is spelled.)

Fertik’s company (as do some others) offers to monitor a person’s online reputation, and in some cases he goes beyond the obvious searches and looks at other sources not found by search engines (sometimes from supposedly white-listed profiles or sites but still out in the wild) -- what he calls the “deep Internet”. Presumably he would look for potential misidentification. (I wrote about this problem on my main blog Dec 19: link is here. The second picture on this posting, at the very bottom, gives an example of an employer's search -- identifiable on a server log by IP address -- for a troubling combination of words with my name, when the actual use of the words on a real file to a human being may be meaningless or harmless if properly read and understood in context -- but this is the kind of knee-jerk reaction from employers that Fertik is talking about.) The visitor should watch some of the videos on his link where he describes in detail his services and charges. Fertik’s company will then contact websites that have posted bad information about someone and try to have them removed, although his company cannot itself take legal action for libel. It is unclear how pressure his company can exert with truthful, if petty (particularly after the passage of time), information that does not actually invade privacy according to established standards of intellectual property law. It's also noteworthy that ISP's (and social networking companies in particular) generally have a limited ability to flag and remove objectionable material after reviewing complaints from specific parties, but that takes staff!

One expensive service, used by established celebrities, involves re-arranging the results of search engines to make a more favorable impression.

As an ethical issue, employers (and schools) should develop “best practices” that include telling applicants what kind of Internet “background checks” will be done and, particularly, tailoring the “background check” to the kind of job that will be done. In some jobs, online reputation (right or wrong) can have an effect on a person’s performance in publicly representing the interests of the company and stakeholders or clients. A subtle problem can occur with parody or satirical blog postings or profile entries: when done in the movies or television, with a certain amount of mass, or when said by organizations, this sort of speech is well accepted now; but when said by individuals in an asymmetric fashion, it could create the perception of a "sharp edge" or hostility with stakeholders, possibly with legal implications in the workplace.

In a couple of the video clips, Fertik advises people to go ahead and set up their own blogs, which often automatically index toward the top with most search engines, to present the impression that they want and need. This could comport with the desire of some businesses to have the online reputations of their key people managed "professionally" as by, for example, Ziggs.

Another major area where reputations matter is, of course, social relationships. People often check out prospective dates with search engines, and can be distracted by malicious comments, sometimes made about a misidentified person.

This whole subject (of reputation as mediated by the Internet) could clearly inspire some good original plays or movies. I have my own treatments underway on my own computer. There is a series on CWTV, "Gossip Girl" that starts off with this idea.

By all means, watch these clips. They are a wake-up call.

I have posted a related item on the "taken as a whole" or "context" problem of the Internet, on my COPA blog, here.
There is another related posting on my I.T. job market blog here.

Update: Jan 15, 2008

There is more about this problem from the Dr. Phil show today. Please see my blog for that day.

Monday, December 24, 2007

CNN: Sanjay Gupta: Rescuing Youssif

Tonight, Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, CNN Presents showed a report by Sanjay Gupta, “Impact your World: Rescuing Youssif.” This one-hour documentary tells the story of a four year old boy who was deliberately burned by four masked men outside his family’s home in Baghdad. Volunteer donations and CNN arranged his temporary visa and travel to Los Angeles, and treatment at the Grossman Burn Center at Sherman Oaks Hospital for his facial injuries. Youssif did not understand why only he was disfigured. The program documented the steps of his treatment, of up to six plastic surgeries. The first couple of them involved the insertion of tissue expanders underneath old scar tissue to prepare for permanent grafts. The temporary appearance was quite difficult to watch.

The program also examined the values of society in Iraq in which such violent crimes are committed. In some segments of religious society (in both Sunni and Shiite communities) tribal honor, as a “moral” concept is so strong that attacks against innocent family members are accepted as a way to enforce it. There is a belief in communal honor that is alien to western ideas of individual accountability for one’s own acts and the rule of law, although most responsible Muslim scholars will say that such anarchistic notions are not supported by the Koran at all. It tends to break down into a world where people act out with violence when they feel they have been wronged and nothing will be done. The same behavior occurs in inner cities and with gangs in the United States, with no religious excuses.

At the end of treatment, Youssif's family will have to consider whether to go back to Baghdad, and face the practical difficulties of getting along with others in his community. The last names and identifies of the parents were not disclosed in the show (and their pictures were blurred) in order to protect other relatives from reprisals, especially if the family returns to Baghdad. A similar problem exists with the young actors in the film "The Kite Runner."

(For the "Chasing Life" report that followed immediately, please see this blog for April 23, 2007.)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

CNN: The Mystery of Jesus

CNN Presents: The Mystery of Jesus: The Inside Story. This one hour Christmas special reviews the scripture passages and compares it to archeological evidence about the life of Jesus. A British anthropologist reconstructs what Jesus may have looked at from a skeleton of a contemporary. It is likely that he was short and swarthy.

The film reviews the life of Jesus and appears to use a model of Jerusalem. It focuses on why a teacher and, in some ways, political agitator like Jesus attracted persecution from the authorities. This all happened on foot and by word of mouth or courier in a society without electricity or an Internet, although geographically the area was compact. Much is written about the expectations of the Jews for a Messiah, and the Romans could feel that any such person could undermine their control. Pontius Pilate tried to engineer a political tightrope which involved the Jewish leadership, which could gain relief by placing all blame on Jesus.

There is discussion of the fact that Mary was very young, that Joseph was probably much older (women married and bore children much earlier in ancient and Middle Ages cultures, a fact that English teachers have to explain when teaching "Romeo and Juliet"). It discounts the idea that Mary Magdalene could have married Jesus.

One wonders why the government was so insecure that it had to overreact to the speech of one person. One reason is that he did attract such a large following, especially with the miracles, and with the apparent paradoxes in his teachings about the law and the value of people. Yet, the government seemed to give him all the more credibility by treating him as a threat. It did not have to.

The last part of the documentary describes the physical processes associated with death by crucifixion.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dr. Phil on autism

I usually don’t cover the same show with two successive entries, but Dr. Phil covered a critical topic today, Dec. 19, 2007: autism. The formal title of the show was: "Parents' Ultimate Test: Dealing with Autism." The show link is this. . I covered this topic before, most recently on stories connecting autism to Wi-Fi, here. Also, earlier on this blog. (1, 2).

Dr. Phil started the show by covering a mixed-marriage family where the boy is extremely aggressive and hard to control. Later in the show he gave all the typical symptoms, and one of the most important is regression in the ability to communicate. One point that is very important is that this can happen to any family when having kids. The family in question had two other children. The mother had told the older child that taking care of the autistic brother could be his responsibility some day, and then said on the show that this is a terrible thing for a mother to have to say to a healthy child and impose on the child, involuntarily.

There was some discussion with experts as to whether vaccines (or other environmental toxins) could cause autism. There was no specific mention of Wi-Fi on this show. One point is that the symptoms of autism sometimes appear suddenly, and seem to have occurred shortly after vaccinations in some cases. However, many medical authorities dispute that vaccinations are likely to be involved. The CDC’s link is this. Could some sort of auto-immune reaction happen (like what causes juvenile diabetes?) If so, why more often in boys? The vaccine issue is important for public health, as school districts usually require that kids have certain vaccines.

The show did not specifically mention Asperger Syndrome, which is seen as a milder pervasive developmental disorder related to autism (the "little professor" syndrome).

The last section of the show dealt with a parental lawsuit against an elementary school teacher in Las Vegas for misconduct with autistic students, who are not able to report what happened verbally. The teacher is also under investigation for prosecution. The point was made that special education certification does not mean that the teacher has the training to deal specifically with autism. School districts, in many states, throw substitutes at autistic and retarded (not the same thing) kids in situations where the subs have no idea what to do and that they will even be expected to work with them. I was put in that situation as a sub more than once. Who is going to do this kind of work?

Update: Feb. 27, 2008

Larry King Live had a program on autism tonight. The links are the index, and transcripts. One of the most important guests was Jason McElwain ("J-Mac") who became famous for consecutive shots at a high school basketball game. A physician on the show claims that autism has gone from 1:6000 in 1988 to 1:1000 in 1997 to 1:150 now, and believes that the bundling of vaccines could be related, despite other findings of genetic causes and denials by authorities that vaccines are involved. He says "there is no such thing as a genetic epidemic.

Update: March 6, 2008

There is an AP story by Mike Stobbe, "Parents speak out on vaccine settlement," where the government acknowledged that use of a mercury compound in a vaccine preservative could have caused the autism of a female with an unusual mitochondria disorder. The link is here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Dr. Phil "House of Judgment"

The Dr. Phil Show today, Monday Dec. 17, “House of Judgment,” put a few men and women in the Dr. Phil House, when these individuals professed various negative social attitudes about others. One woman judged others according the religious standards, another according to social ideas, another was racist. One man professed to be a male chauvinist, another to have a “get them before they get me” attitude. It was not that clear what incidents or situations led them to be on the show. The link is here.

Besides some group therapy sessions, the participants were asked to volunteer at the Los Angeles Mission, cooking and serving food. The participants varied in their enthusiasm for this “pay your dues” activity.

One of the men made the point that he had been excluded socially as a youngster and did not become violent. However Dr. Phil made the point that if someone took the trouble to reach out to socially ostracized kids, some tragic incidents (at schools, malls, etc) might be prevented. This show, compared to most of his other shows, very much conveyed the “I am my brother’s keeper” point of view about moral issues.

Last week I sent the Dr. Phil show and email, somewhat (if tangentially) related to the show today, that includes this text:

"I wonder if the Dr. Phil show is interested in the issue of eldercare, particularly when it is performed by adult children who did not have their own families.

"There are subtle ethical and emotional questions that come up, and the media generally doesn’t deal with these. One is that the single or childless or particularly GLBT caregiver’s “rights” may not be respected by others, and he or she may be viewed as a “family slave.”

"Many people don’t realize that 28 states have filial responsibility laws, which can force adult children to pay for custodial care for parents. These laws have been rarely enforced, but they may be in the future as demographics force the issue. Just like “deadbeat dads” you could have “deadbeat adult children.” Beyond the considerable financial issues, there are emotional ones. Some adult children, especially GLBT may seem aloof to the “soap opera-like” emotional climate that blood relatives used to older more communal cultures of “public morality” and “family values” expect. Family responsibility exists even without having children.

"This sort of problem seems upside down from the cases (deserving of “Man Camp” or the “Dr. Phil House”) you usually present on the show. It doesn’t fit any of the situations you list as future topics. Maybe you could phrase it as a new topic: “How much freedom should single people expect when there are major health or eldercare problems elsewhere in the family?”

Quick Note:

NBC reports that Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien late night shows will be back on the air without a formal agreement from WGA starting Jan. 2. There are details about the strike on the Nov 14 posting on this blog.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

CNN: Lifting the Veil (update on Afghanistan)

CNN tonight (Dec 16, 2007) followed up on an earlier film from late 2001 “Beneath the Veil” by Saira Shah (directed Cassian Harrison) with the Special Investigations Unit 's “Lifting the Veil” by journalist Sharmeen Obaid-Chino. The report is timely since Paramount-Dreamwork ‘s controversial film “The Kite Runner” started its delayed release this weekend.

Afghan law no longer requires women to wear the burqa, and the new constitution is supposed to guarantee women their rights. Practice, especially in rural areas, is another matter. Husbands (and mothers-in-law) often have considerable control of their wives. The report detailed stories of women who had immolated themselves. One girl had tried unsuccessfully at 11 and had disfiguring caked and keloid-like scars completely covering her legs.

One woman wrote and had published a book of controversial poems. Apparently her husband felt dishonored, or at least jealous, and killed her. He got only five months in prison, as her family offered “forgiveness.” The husband claims that she killed herself.

Slowly, more schools are appearing in rural areas, and many women are starting to get some education.

Whereas men refer to Islamic law as justifying their patriarchal behavior, the real questions are psychological. In this kind of society, men believe that their self-worth (as it stems from male sexual performance) depends upon securing the loyalty of other family members. Even some better educated men even say that they could not control themselves in public if women took off their burqas.


The CBS 60 minutes coverage of "don't ask don't tell" Sunday Dec. 16 is discussed here.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Discovery: Secret History of the Freemasons

Tonight Sat Dec 15 The Discovery Channel presented “National Treasure’s Secret History of the Freemasons,” punctuated by ads for Disney’s new movie “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” hosted by Nicholas Cage.

The program unfolded in typical Discovery documentary style, with lots of rhetorical questions asked repeatedly. The basic thesis was the idea that the Freemasons are the custodians of secret knowledge which they use to “rule the world” and impose a new world order. There are loose connections to many developments in history, going back to the building of King Solomon’s Temple and the attempt to get secrets from a stone craftsman named Hiram Abiff.

Some people connect them to the Knights Templar, an exotic order of warrior monks that became powerful during the Crusades. The cultural fraternity as we know it developed from the stonemasons’ guilds in the middle ages. The secret passwords and symbols were associated with the passage of “trade secrets” within a profession. In the 18th Century, “speculative masons” started forming fraternities just to explore knowledge.

The program explores several urban legends connecting the Masons to a sensational underworld murder in Britain in 1982, to Jack the Ripper, and to an accidental shooting in a Lodge in New York.

The program ends with a televised rendition of an initiation into the First Degree. It is essentially a harmless acting out of the incident in Solomon’s Temple but does involve a fake slaying. In the end, Freemasonry is more about self-improvement and the general promotion of virtues associated with liberty than anything else.

There are other cultural fraternities, such as the Rosicrucian Order AMORC, which also has a system of degrees and rituals. AMORC does speak of “mysteries” or of knowledge passed by avatars over the ages, with Christ such an avatar. Like the Freemasons, AMORC insists that it is not a church as such. But New Age writers sometimes speak of “the invisible empire of the Rosicrucians.”

The idea that some of knowledge is secret and passed on by organizations really grows out of the idea before that knowledge should be passed within churches, families or trades. The Internet is changing this perception. Ideas like wikis (and Wikipedia), search engines (Google, etc), Web 2.0, and knowledge databases are taking what started with systematic indexing by libraries (still done and sold in compilations by companies like LexisNexis) and uncoiling them in a manner that they are much more usable, at kuch lower cost, by the “average person.”

Friday, December 14, 2007

Discovery Channel: Killer Jellyfish; Killer Squid

"Killer Jellyfish": This one hour biology science documentary, narrated by JV Martin (who narrates the History Channel "Mega-Disaster" series) examines a zoological oddity: the box jellyfish, a coelenterate with four groups of fifteen tentacles each, four groups or six eyes each, and four primitive brains. They reproduce with a complex life cycle: first a sexual cycle creates a polyp, which crawls along the ocean floor like a blob (literally like that of Steve McQueen's famous horror movie) and then spawns identical copies (so far like corals) and then become mobile.

The scientific name of their class (a pun here on object-oriented programming, given their "behaviors" or "methods") is cubozoa. The true jellies (much more common and less deadly) are called scyphozoa. Some examples of the box jellyfish are the larger Chironex fleckeri and the thumbnail-sized irukandji or "sea wasps". The poison emitted by their nematocycts is the most potent known in the animal kingdom. In Australia, nets are able to keep out larger species nit irukandji. The film documents the symptoms of two scientists who get apparently trivial stings by sea wasps and have days of agonizing pain. The instantly fatal nature of the poison is an important part of the box jellyfish's feeding strategy.

The creature sounds so bizarre that it seems alien, as if one could find them in the under-ice ocean on Europa; in fact, however, they require tropical waters, and away from Australia most species are not as venomous. Study of the creature, with its basic life functions and cycle, fits well into any invertebrate zoology course and gives a perspective on just how varied animal life can be.

The Discovery Channel link is this.

A similar film (Sat Dec 15) was Killer Squid, about the Humboldt squid, the most advanced of the mollusca, but which live only a year (until they breed) and actually go into cannibalistic feeding frenzies. The tentacles have 36000 teeth and the food is manipulated with a beak. But they can hunt in schools, and actually have social behavior not seen before in cephalapods. They have good problem solving ability, like octopuses. Over-fishing may have created the impression that they behave aggressively. This is as high as invertebrate evolution ever got.

Picture: Cable TV box suddenly random rebooting, which it does a lot of these days. I don't know why it drops connections so often.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dem debates today still on CSPAN, pre-empted and delayed on MSNBC by baseball steroid scandal

Six of the Democratic presidential candidates for the 2008 election are debating today. This is the last televised debate before the Jan. 3, 2008 Iowa Caucuses. CSPAN is carrying the debate on live broadband connection here. The connection may stall occasionally because so many users are watching it.

MSNBC had promised to broadcast the debate today at 2 PM EST, but it was pre-empted by the announcement of the baseball steroid investigation, headed by former Senator George Mitchell. As of 2:53 PM the pre-emption "Breaking News" was still in progress. Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn and Gary Sheffield, Andy Pettitte, Eric Gange were named as an abuser (CNN story). The Barry Bonds fiasco (and obstruction of justice indictment) have been widely reported. Steroid use in baseball, making statistic records meaningless, is symptomatic of what Princeton Professor David Callahan calls "The Cheating Culture" of extreme capitalism in his 2004 book.

Mitchell suggested that current violators not be punished, but Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig (who spoke on the air at 4:30 PM EST) took a wait-and-see attitude. The "Report to the Commissioner of Baseball on Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball" is here (pdf).

CNN, however, was also carrying the debate on its "Newsroom" program (the main CNN channel, like 29 in DC), at least by 2.55 when I checked. MSNBC got back to the debate by 3 PM. It seems to be playing it one hour behind.

So far the candidates have debated the usual energy independence and education issues. Senator Edwards proposes setting up a "Teachers Academy" rather like a military service academy (I hope no "don't ask don't tell"). The candidates say, scrap "no child left behind" if necessary because it is an unfunded mandate.

Senator Biden warned that average American consumers could face sacrifice over energy and global warming issues, but Hillary Clinton wants to set up pollution or carbon footprint debits that will be somewhat transparent to consumers.

Later, Sen. Edwards said that "George Bush is not King."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

PBS: Frontline: Inside the Teenage Brain

PBS Frontline originally showed the one hour program "Inside the Teenage Brain," directed by Sarah Spinks, on January 31, 2002. It was reshown tonight Dec. 11, 2007.

The program focuses on a few families, especially in Rhode Island and Minnesota. The child's brain reaches 95% of its future size by age 6, but the cerebral cortex thickens, and in adolescence the process of pruning starts, conceptually like pruning a tree into its final shape. Abilities that get used are kept. This is particularly true of skills that require unusual mental abilities (like art, music, chess) or athletic skills for specific sports. It is desirable to be versatile, but to be really good in several specific talents is biologically a significant challenge. (Hence the phrase, "Jack of all trades but master of none.") The cerebellum is also important. Teenagers apparently do not have the circuitry developed to calculate the consequences of risky behavior. (Obviously, there are exceptions. A person who becomes a grandmaster of chess by the teen years obviously can calculate "consequences" and apply the same skills in life.)

The program also examined the need for sleep in teens, which is over 9 hours, and includes REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when the brain consolidates what it has learned (like a computer encrypting and compacting data) and builds associate memories. Circadian biological rhythms for teens move into later portions of the day, which encourages high schools to encourage later start times to encourage better behavior and performance.

One wonders, are the brains of prodigies different?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

History Channel: 1968, with Tom Brokaw

Tonight the History Channel aired a 2 hour documentary "pseudo-movie" with Tom Brokaw, standing on Haight Street in San Francisco, remembering what it was like there as a young reporter in 1968, which he views as the pivotal year of the cultural revolution. A key feature of society that year was the draft (when sharing the risks of society was supposed to be morally mandatory), with some people going to Canada, leaving us wondering if it was out of sincere belief or out of physical cowardice; student deferments would come to an end in 1969 with the lottery. Brokaw chronicles all the events of that year: the Tet Offensive, Johnson's famous speech not to run, the Orangeburg Massacre, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the "Medium Cool" riots (complete with police fish nets and tear gas of The Eighteen Minutes) at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August, the November election when Nixon squeaked by. He covers "Alice's Restaurant", the Smothers Brothers and the government's attempts to censor it, the mounting casualties of the Vietnam war (16,500 soldiers died, more than in any other year, even as Westmoreland kept asking for more troops), and the candidacies of George Wallace and Eugene McCarthy. He interviews a nurse who now helps maimed veterans returning for Iraq just as she had as a young nurse in Vietnam, she thought, out of patriotic duty. The comment was made that in both wars, men were asked to die for a lie: in Vietnam, the Domino theory; today, the WMD-in-Iraq myth. He also mentioned protests overseas (the Paris protest was the subject of Bertolucci's "The Dreamers" as well as Avellis 's "My Super 8 Season") and, with Pat Buchanan (who is also shown young, as if he ever were young -- he was), discussion of Nixon's "Silent Majority."

Now, at the beginning of 1968, I took and squeaked by my Masters Orals in Mathematics at the University of Kansas, and enlisted for two years on Feb. 8, 1968, going in two weeks early after getting my draft notice. I had taken the physical after my William and Mary debacle (Nov 28 2006 entry on my main blog) and gone from 4-F to 1-Y to 1-A in three physicals. Other guys in the dorm at KU pasted notes on the doors that I had offered myself as cannon fodder.

I would spend fourteen weeks in Basic Training at Fort Jackson, SC, spending a few of them in Special Training ("Tent City"). I recall that period so well that I could direct a movie about it. We heard about the Orangeburg mess on the radio while mopping the barracks floors at night ("Simple Simon" would play); after the King assassination, we were actually put on "red alert" as if BCT soldiers could actually quell riots by mere authoritarian presence. I was 24 years old, and still had the hair on my legs, although then I never thought to check. In the end, I would be sheltered and coddled, and "serve without serving". I would get the Mathematician 01E20 MOS, and get station at the Pentagon the summer of 1968. Then, after my top secret security clearance investigation, I would get a mysterious transfer to Fort Eustis, VA, to a little white building (no longer there) called USACDCTA (Combat Developments Command Transportation Agency). In the eyebrowed barracks, I would come to be known as "Chicken Man" while other men there got animal names (The Lizard, The Ostrich, The Ocelot) like they were imaginary playmate daemons from The Golden Compass. I was "out" the way the Sicilian Defense is a semi-open defense in chess. By the time of the November election, most of the troops were "Nixon men" because they thought Nixon would be more likely to get us out of Vietnam. A favorite epigram them was "Back to the Bay."

Picture: Medical records from pseudo-reparative therapy at NIH in 1962. The government -- even a "liberal Democrat" administration -- actually did things like that then, but not for long.

Friday, December 07, 2007

ABC 20/20 on Internet bad, "disturbing" behavior

Tonight, Friday Dec. 7, 2007, ABC 20/20 did a report of more disturbing misuse of the Internet.

The case of impersonation and harassment in Missouri that led to the death of a 13 year old girl is covered on my Internet safety blog, here.

The show started with an account of a horrific teenage girl's auto accident in her dad's Porsche, and then the posting of tasteless pictures of the incident apparently leaked by the California Highway Patrol. The story by John Avila, Eamon McNiff, Scott Michels, "A Family's Nightmare: Accident Photos of Their Beautiful Daughter Released
Family of Nikki Catsouras Has Sued Investigators for Allegedly Releasing Accident Pictures," here. The company Reputation Defender has tried to get "amateur" postings of the pictures on the Internet taken down as requested by the family, but with limited success because of First Amendment claims.

In another case, a Peruvian woman who was charged for manslaughter for a drunk driving accident in Austin, TX in 1996 fled to Peru, but has posted brazen pictures of her partying on the Internet, and a reporter found this online with search engines. A Texas congressman wants to strengthen the law to have people like her extradited back. The story by Emily Friedman is "Manslaughter Fugitive Lives High Life in Peru: On MySpace Page, Woman Who Fled Drunken Driving Crash Says Drinking a Favorite Pastime," link here.

Then Bill Ritter and Ann Varney have a report about school fight clubs on the Internet (e.g. the famous film "Fight Club"), "Teen Violence Made Popular Online Fighting, Pranks Made Popular on YouTube and MySpace," link here. Now teenage girls have their fight clubs. College admissions and employers will be able to see these unless they are removed. (For fun, one can look up the "Bad Girls Cub Webisodes" on YouTube with its slogan "Broadcast Yourself").

These stories seem to make the point that global fame without fair individual "competition" for it (as it existed before the Internet) is not necessarily a "fundamental right" and the ease of self-broadcast can undermine the technically legal First Amendment claims that are usually made to defend this material.

Lynn Sherr and Chris Kilmer did a report on cell phones on planes, and found a theoretical risk of bringing a plane down that has never been verified. Engineer John Nance questions that there is a practical risk, and Jet Blue and other airlines are adding new shielding that may soon permit cell phone and Internet use on planes. The story is called "Cell Phones Are Dangerous in Flight: Myth, or Fact?; 20/20 Asks Whether or Not a Cell Phone Can Bring Down a Plane", here.

Update: 12/9

NBC Today reported Sunday morning that people have been creating fake blogs under Lori's name to harass her. So anonymity and deception works both ways. Maybe legal, but disturbing.

On Monday, Dec. 10, I saw a car overturned along southbound I-95 south of Baltimore with occupants in it. Police and fire had just arrived. No, no pictures of something like that. It actually is one of the most horrific accidents I've ever seen. In Ennis, TX in 1984, I did see the aftermath of an accident with a fatality visible.

There was a movie called "Disturbing Behavior" a few years ago.

Monday, December 03, 2007

CNN: Czar Putin

On Sunday Dec. 2, 2007 CNN Special Investigations Unit presented Christiane Amanpour’s report “Czar Putin” about politics in Russia, especially in the wake of Sunday’s vote. Putin’s term as president ends in 2008, so a seat in parliament and a successful outcome with his United Russia Party would effectively let him continue to wield power as prime minister, and there are other combinations. The CNN report on Sunday’s election is here. “Putin: Vote Victory is a Mandate”

But the film was largely concerned with Putin’s crackdown on dissent and disagreement, and with the apparent murder of over 200 journalists, as well as the polonium murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvenenko in 2006 in Britain. Former World chess champion Garry Kasparov has led opposition for open government and democratic reforms and is interviewed in the film. Recently Kasparov was jailed for leading a protest.

Members of a group called “Young Russians” were interviewed (spokesman Maxim), and seemed to be loyal nationalists. Even back in the 1990s, after the fall of Communism, the possibility of Russian nationalism was seen as dangerous. Many Russians sank into poverty under Yeltsin as many of the safety nets under Communism were shorn, under Putin many average Russians (as well as the upper classes) have been economically better off because of oil revenue. In fact, the Young Russians (who depicted Kasparov in drag – Putin’s appearance in a bathing suit photo is not very flattering) talk about Kasparov as an “American” who panders to American lifestyles and desire for oil (a complaint from the Arab world).

I discussed Kasparov’s book “How Life Imitates Chess” in the books blog here.

The film did show a lot of the glitz of modern Moscow, as it replaces the sameness of the old working class ringed city (outside of the spectacular Kremlin).


I have some coverage of the broadcast of the Sean Taylor funeral today on another blog, here.

Note: Today (Dec 4) I made some updates on the WGA strike progress on the Nov. 4 entry on this blog (see archives).

CNN: "Where Have All the Parents Gone?" AIDS in Kenya

On Sunday Dec. 2 Christiane Amanpour reported on AIDS in Kenya with the CNN Special Investigations Unit report “Where Have All the Parents Gone?” She traced the lives of some children orphaned by AIDS in Kenya. Only ten percent of pregnant women in Africa have access to anti-retroviral drugs to prevent transmission of HIV to their children; in the West, use of these drugs is 99% successful in preventing transmission.

The film showed a girl Beatrice collecting plastic rubble for recycle income to help support her siblings. The film depicted the squalor of the living conditions there well.

A related story by Karen Allen appears in BBC News “Kenya struggles to combat HIV: Sub-Saharan Africa continues to bear the brunt of the Aids pandemic but Kenya stands out as one country that appears to be turning the tide,” from May 31, 2006. The link is here.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation can be accessed here.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

PBS WETA: Homefront: WWII in Washington

Tonight, Dec. 2, WETA in Arlington VA broadcast the new film “Homefront: World War II in Washington,” filmed by the local PBS station. It probably ran about 80 minutes, as it was often interrupted (over two hours lapsed) by lengthy appeals for donations, with “Single Volunteers of DC” manning the red phones.

I wrote a term paper in eighth grade in middle school “The Home Front During World War II” and I still have the typewritten copy. Much of the subject matter concerned the sacrifices expected of civilians, who in those times all understood “pay your dues.” Likewise, here: the film examined the ration boards, and showed how in an emergency government can supervise citizens in a democracy with duties and rules that operate outside of the normal market economy. Here, though, kids could earn “ration points” for their families by picking up scrap metal like tin off the streets.

But, visually, the film, mostly in black and white with tricky color overlays of the people being interviewed, gives a stunning picture of what life was like about the time I was born (1943, in Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington, near GWU). There are shots of the temporary offices along the reflecting pool near the Lincoln Memorial. There are steam trains coming in to the Washington Navy Yard, the one manufacturing plant in the city. Glen Echo with its “Crystal Pool” at the end of a streetcar line was shown. (It reminded me of “Crystal Beach” on Lake Erie in Ohio). The downtown F Street stores (like Woodies, Lansburghs, and Hechts) and theaters (the Capitol, Palace, Columbia, and Warner) with their stage shows, shorts, comedies, westerns and features and most of all, news reels, were mentioned (and the marquee for the notorious “Pix” with its “Burlesque in Harlem” was shown), as was the Torpedo Arts Factory, now in Alexandria.

The social history, particularly of the women (“government girls” -- not "gossip girls") who moved to Washington to work, is fascinating. Homeowners were pressured to rent out rooms to girls, and hotels (sometimes Y’s) packed them several to a room sometimes; they lived in essentially military conditions. The shortage of office space was so severe that people worked in lavatories. And the government had to run drives to get typewriters in this pre-computer age. Rental services manually kept records of available rooms in these days before computers.