Saturday, January 27, 2007

CNN: The War Within, Christiane Amanpour


CNN has recently broadcast a one hour documentary by Christiane Amanpour, "The War Within" as part of the CNN Special Investiagions series, about radical Islam in Britain.

Radical young men see democracy as "hyprocrisy" and believe that, even when they live in a western country, they have the right to live under Sharia law. One idea that they seem to resent is the emphasis in the west of equality for women, which they feel denies them a sense of manhood. (What Islam really teaches about women may be quite a different matter from what they feel.)

The documentary presented an Islamic artist in Birmingham, England, who was inviting the entire community to do a colorful outdoor wall painting.

It also presented a debate on Islam in Ireland.

It also presented plans to build the largest mosque outside of Islamic countries in East London.

Bruce Bawer had commented on the refusal of young Muslim men to assimilate into European society in his recent book While Europe Slept.

This CNN film should not be confused with a feature from Magnolia Pictures, directed by Joseph Castelo, in 2005. Link is here for review.

Friday, January 26, 2007

ABC 20-20 "Waiting for the World to Change"


On January 26, 2007, ABC 20-20 presented an outstanding one hour documentary "Waiting for the World to Change", about homeless kids in Camden, NJ, the nation's poorest medium-sized city (a suburb of Philadelphia). One boy enters school, and an African American male teacher or administrator sits with him to see if he knows how to count by "threes" (leading to the three's multiplication table). Another boy treasures every little pronoun and preposition as he learns to read. The teenage boys struggle with holding down part-time minimum wage jobs to support their families and keeping their grades up enough to graduate. One little boy says that he wants to get out of his community by becoming "Superman," and being different enough to excel (like Clark in the series in the next post). The show says, an ordinary person should be able to lift himself or herself out.

In poor communities, blood family loyalty is everything. The unfairness of the outside world is accepted, to the point that everyone in a family must put other family members first. In a sense, that sometimes seems like the viewpoint of the Gospels. That is why gender roles are so important in minority communities. That is also a reason that the civil rights movement and the attempts to overturn racism and economic injustice became connected, in the 60s and 70s, to fighting sexism and homophobia.

On my first job after the Army, I lived near Hightstown, near the NJ Turnpike, and drove 30 miles to one assignment in Cherry Hill, which, while only a few miles away, is economically another planet. In the show, kids from well-off Moorestown meet kids from Camden.

ABC "Nightline" also continued the Camden story. 13 million children live below the poverty line in the United States.

NBC Nightly News: High School Student helps boost small midwestern town

17 year old Nick Graham was shown as having opened, as an entrepreneur, a grocery store in tiny Truman MN, somewhat east of Worthington on I-90 (traffic from the Twin Cities typically goes through Worthington on the way to South Dakota). He has been so successful that Wal-Mart plans to come to town.

NBC4 Local News, Washington DC, Jan. 27, 2007

A 14-year old high school freshman Zach Peterson, in Charles County, MD, has raised money to send "silly string" to troops in Iraq to detect land mines.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Smallville and Supernatural: Redux


On January 25, 2007 Smallville had an remarkable and dramatic episode ("Labyrinth" [not "Pan's Labyrinth"!]), after a run of gee-whiz comic book stories for the past couple of seasons. (Okay, matter of taste, if you like it.) Clark is in his barn when his shaggy dog (Krypto) tries to warn him of an invader. Clark suddenly awakens in a mental hospital, in what seems like either a dream or a parallel world. The "explanation" is that an entity from the Phantom Zone possesses him and has stripped him of his powers, and he must annilhilate the entity to return to his defined world of being "different" (or even "special").

He reviews the past five years, and is told different interpretations of the events, back to the day (in the 2001 Pilot) that he saved Lex from drowning after the car accident on the bridge. Finally, another m.p. who claims to be from Mars (sure!) gives him "the truth."

Visually, the episode is striking, lots of black and white and blue, a stark world of being institutionalized, rather than the garish, rainbow-colored world of Smallville in the usual comic book episodes. The episode takes on the character of a social commentary, that sometimes people are put into mental institutions to satisfy the political and social goals of others. Here, Lex, maybe, or the entities from the Phantom Zone.

Clark is supposed to be 19 now, and that was my age when I was "hospitalized" at the National Institues of Health for seven months for mildly "reparative" therapy after my 1961 William and Mary expulsion (detailed here). The Pilot episode in 2001 has a curious parallel to my own experience in that chapter, in that the scarecrow corresponds to college hazing ceremonies to bring in line freshmen who are "different". In Season 3, I believe, there is an retrospective episode called 1961, in which Jor-El visits Smallville, and there is a theater marquee of the movie hit that year "Splendor in the Grass" which figured into my own story at William and Mary in a curious way.

Also, note that the Jan. 11 episode "Hydro" (repeated on March 29) features a visual of the free Metropolis rag "The Daily Dish". Is this a deliberate reference to Andrew Sullivan's blog. Maybe, because Smallville is trying to make a political statement about "political marriage" -- that is, Lex and Lana, to create political or economic hegemony with a procreation event. (EJ Wells is doing the same thing to Sami on "Days of our Lives," procreating in her womb "Rosemary's Baby".) Now a marriage between Clark and Lana could have been the most hetero possible -- opposite planets as well as genders. How is that for supporting the ultimate "pro-child" institution. Of course, creating children for political purposes is not pro-child or really pro-family. So we come full circle back to wondering about Andrew Sullivan's claim of "a right to marry" (including gays). Oddly, Tom Welling directed this episode himself. An episode in season 3 called "Velocity" had odd social-political contexts, seeming to build on my own writings about "living vicariously" through upward affiliation -- but Pete is now gone as a character.

Supernatural had an episode ("Night Shifter") in which Sam and Dean pull off their usual impersonations in order to foil a bank heist, kind of a replay of the movie "Inside Man". This episode takes place in Milwaukee. Sam (Jared Padalecki), a pre-law student, is supposed to be the more stable of the two brothers (Jared was, according to imdb, a good student in high school and the character he plays seems to resemble him), as Dean (Jensen Ackles) is the hothead cop -- both actors grew up in Texas. In a later episode, Sam will be deflowered by a female werewolf -- out of character, as it is hard to believe that Sam could become a werewolf himself -- but remember the canceled soap opera "Port Charles" and how it ends? (Caleb (Michael Easton) went on to "One Life to Live".) Jared's wrist fracture seems to have finally healed. Like Brad Pitt in Se7en, he just went on filming with it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

McLaughlin 1:1 Fantastic Voyage


On Sunday January 21 the McLaughlin Group (on NBC) interviewed author Ray Kurzweil, co-author of a new book Fantastic Voyage, as well as S. Jay Oshansky, about the possibility of extending life almost indefinitely, creating a Methuselah society. The panelists believe that it could happen in stages, one of which (antibiotics, sanitation, anti-cancer treatments) has essentially occurred. The next stage is biotechnology, and then nanotechnology in a few decades. There is no evolutionary advantage to very long life, but there is no genetic advantage to death either (by making room for descendents). Cells age because of environmental abuse (oxidation -- we rust to death-- maybe we need to learn to live in a chemically reducing environment like the atmosphere ot Titan!).

Much longer lifespans would create demographic issues for which we are totally unprepared. Could we keep people employed for centuries? Would they practically stop having children? What would the effect be on our concept of family values?

One can check the book on Amazon, it is available on sale, so I ordered it. Remember the 20th Century Fox film (about a miniaturized submarine in the bloodstream and lymphatic system of a fallen diplomat) by this name in 1966?

PictureHouse: Maybe the surface of Titan looks like this. (No, I haven't been there. Light takes about 69 minutes to get there.)

Friday, January 19, 2007

ABC 20-20 on Debtors and Debt Collectors; Nightline on Collections and Blog Slappers


On Friday January 19, 2006 ABC 20/20 had an hour report "Flat Broke: Begging and Borrowing in America." It started out covering how typical couples get into trouble (even with timeshares) but pretty soon it was on the topic of debt collectors. It presented a significant minority of the debt collection industry as engaging in abusive tactics, in one case suggesting that a debtor commit suicide. Among the abusive tactics of "Mr. Mean" is calling neighbors or employers, or threatening to, or saying that the debtor can be prosecuted criminally (as with debtor's prison in mid millennial England, up to the 19th Century with Charles Dickens novels). Teen performer Dustin Diamond was shown as having gone into "cyberbegging" (selling T-shirts) and then porn in order to pay debts as an adult. The ABC News story is here, by Martin Bashir, Elizabeth Joseph, and Ethan Nelson.

That same evening ABC Nightline presented an even more dire collection practice, "scavenger lawsuits" often files against debtors (here, in Broward County, FL), in one case against many debtors because of a bankcard error. These collection companies have actually bought the debt from other more conventional collection agencies. About 90% of people served with these suits fail to show and the collection companies win default judgments automatically, for debts that were not owed in the first place, but now the judgments are on public records databases and on collection reports. (You would have to be properly served, however.) One consumer fought for 2-1/2 years and won, but at tremendous personal expense. Isn't this an argument for tort reform and for "loser pays"?

In 2000, I found a $680 debt on my Trans-Union and Equifax (not Experian) reports for Chase, owned by a National Credit Systems in New York. I was hustled into paying it. I was told that notices had been sent to an address in NYC where I had not lived since 1979. The original debt had been a Chemical Bank card taken out perhaps in 1979. (It is true that Chase had bought out Chemical.) Maybe it slipped through the cracks when I moved, but why didn't it show up in 1984 when I bought a condo? I am not sure that the debt was valid, but I was threatened over the phone at work with a suit. I paid. I still wonder.

In 2003 I worked for RMA, a debt collection company. The company followed the FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) to the letter. Once I was scolded by my boss on monitoring for speaking to the mother of a disabled man without validating that she was a legal guardian (that is a third party FDCPA violation). In a few states (Massachusetts) you can't even talk to a legal spouse.

Blog slapping

The Nightline segment also covered "Blog splapping," the practice of camcorder taping people being rude in public (like changing a baby's diapers at a restaurant table) and posting the videos on the Internet. I do wonder about the legality of some of it. Two sites are advicegoddess and rudepeople.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

PBS: 22nd Century


22nd Century (2006: Boston Science Communication), 56 min, aired Jan 17, 2007.

Although the program started with a stage-play-like comic dialogue including Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) who died in 1963 the same day as Kennedy, it quickly maps out an interesting paradigm. Today we have the World Wide Web and personal publishing of blogs, profiles and sites that can reach the entire globe in seconds and get indexed by search engines quickly. In a few decades (or by the twenty-second century), we could have a World Wide Mind (WHIM), where human beings have microimplants that transmit their thoughts at will and allow others to experience their essence and being (as a gay pyschiatrist in Dallas, Texas once said to me in the gym in the 1980s, we need to know "what it's going to be like.") We would learn to walk in others' shoes. Of course, this sounds a bit like the Group Mind scenario that Arthur C. Clarke imagined with "Childhood's End."

A number of inventions were covered, especially the cochlear implant, and the movie demonstrated what a patient with such a device hears when it is switched on. One MIT student demonstrated wires thinner than capillaries, that could be threated through the groin into the brain without invasive surgery. Another topic is the "locked-in syndrome" that occurs after severe brain stem injury.

Back in the early 1990s North Carolina mag "Omni" had an article that speculated abou the ability to download someone's body onto a computer as an alternative to heaven. It also had photographic demos of "datasuits" that enveloped the entire body for virtual reality. In this movie, a Dr. Mann (from Toronto) demonstrated very small virtual reality spectacles.

The ability to connect ordinary people instantly, pretty much in effect now with the World Wide Web, chat, P2P, etc. and later with brain devices, changes our entire paradigm for socialization. Privacy as we used to understand it is compromised, in exchange for a "do ask do tell" kind of openness that precludes tribalism.

Such a capability would also have legal repercussions. Fantasies could be perceived as threats or solicitations. The "thought police" could evolve to punish "pre-crime" to prevent it from becoming real crime (as in the film Minority Report) and the legal notion of intent could change.

Monday, January 08, 2007

PBS: Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence


On Monday Jan 8 2006 PBS broadcast an important documentary, Anti-Semitism in the Twenty-First Century: The Resurgence. The film (60 min, dir. Andrew Goldberg, with Judy Woodruff) covers important concepts, such as "theocide" where Christians in the middle ages imagined that the Jews killed their God or Christ, and then "blood libel" where again the Church spread the myth that the Jews killed infants in order to recreate the crucifixion. The term "blood libel" is important in intellectual property law in Europe, but not in the U.S. Muslim anti-Semitism, however, does not really seem justified by the Koran or Islamic theology, taken literally, as the religions coexisted in Spain a thousand years ago when the Jews were dhimmis. The film goes on to cover recent history. The film covers the book "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", about which an independent film was made, reviewed here.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Sci-Fi Channel brings back Jake 2.0 reruns


After disappearing for a couple years, I'm at least glad to see David Greenwalt's Jake 2.0 the Sci-Fi channel on Cable showing three reruns of "Jake 2.0" on Friday, Jan. 5, 2007. The series had originally run on UPN in 2003-2004 (just 16 episodes), usually on Wednesday nights. That year, TheWB ran Smallville on Wednesdays at 8 PM, so the show made a good match.

I had an original blogger entry on this here.

I also have some details at my tv link and at my emergency story, an old posting.

The snazzy musical soundtrack (in the opening credits) and Jake's own self-narration -- "then, everything changed" -- doesn't show up until episode 2. In the pilot, he gets "infected" by the nanobots that give him super powers a bit like Clark Kent's. The character, played by Christopher Gorham, is a wonderful role model, somewhat like law student (not exactly geeky) Sam Wincester (Jared Padalecki) who keeps his cop brother Dean in line as the two go demon hunting in TheWB's Supernatural. Jake, in this series, is supposed to be the stereotyped geek, but more like a geek-plus, a little bit like Nick Fallon (Blake Berris) in "Days of our Lives." Even Jake's kid brother, when the two bar-hop in Georgetown (probably actually filmed in Toronto) likes the idea of their playing NSA agents, because girls don't usually go for geeks.

I don't see a DVD of the Jake 2.0 series yet.