Monday, July 30, 2007

NBC Dateline interviews JK Rowling, Harry Potter author


Sunday July 28, 2007 NBC Dateline offered a change in pace from its frequent and familiar repertoire of crime stings: an interview by Katie Couric in Edinburgh Castle in Scotland with J. K. Rowling. The story is “J. K. Rowling, the author with the magic touch. 'It’s going to be really emotional to say goodbye,' says Rowling as she writes the last book in the Harry Potter saga.” The story (from July 18) is here.
An audience of kids asked questions that led to spoilers. By now, most readers know that there is a kind of “resurrection” for Harry. Rowling had told Daniel Radcliffe at a dinner meeting that he would have a death scene, and left it at that. Each time a spoiler comes up the show put a warning on the bottom of the screen.

Of course, what is interest now, is a 17 year saga, starting in 1990, before the death of her mother, when the “idea” came to JK while on a train. She went to Portugal (which I visited myself in 2001 – Fatima) and came back to the UK on welfare, but started writing her book by hand. It would first be bought for about $4000 from a small British publisher Bloomsbury, before Scholastic bid for it and started the roll in 1997, the same year I pubbed my own DADT book.

The sensational success is hard to explain (especially with the lengths of the later books), but everyone tells me, kids love it. The books are intricately and accurately plotted with great integrity. The plots seem to generate themselves, rather than be constructed for a particular moral agenda. Yet there is an overriding moral, about loss, about integrity and overcoming loss in childhood.

It would seem right now to make a documentary movie about the writing of the books, and to explain the publishing phenomenon. She was not necessarily enthusiastic about the movies when Warner Brothers first approached her, but she says they maintain the imagery of the books. The first film appeared in 2001, when Radcliffe was 12, and I still remember the chess scene (where the Scandanavian Defense 1 e4 d5) is played.

Jen Brown has a story by Jen Brown, Exclusive: Potter author on the importance of death in her books (the story line above it is misleading, “Rowling: I wanted to kill parents.” Link is here.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

NASA cable documentary on water on Mars


On Saturday, July 28, 2007 Arlington Public Schools broadcast the NASA film “Following the Water” (“Is Mars with Mer”?) (Mer means sea – Debussy’s La Mer) about the efforts by NASA scientists (including Steve Squyres) to locate water on Mars, conducted from JPL Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Southern California.

The effort was traced over several years, with many breathtaking shots of Mars, often looking a but like the Australian outback. Gradually the discovery of large amounts of sulfur in certain rocks, let to the conclusion of the presence of various iron sulfates with trapped water of hydration enclosed in the rock crystal structure (hydration is common in inorganic crystals). This was taken as strong evidence that the area was under water at one time, maybe relatively recently.

Mars probably lost most of its water and atmosphere because it is not big enough, as well as the lack of magnetic field.

This film makes a good supplement to the Disney IMAX film “Mars Rover,” reviewed here.

Research into Venus has suggested that the catastrophic runaway greenhouse effect leading to Dante’s Inferno temperatures might have happened somewhat quickly and relatively recently, maybe less than a billion years ago. Is that another “inconvenient truth” of what could happen to us? Could there have been a civilization there before?

Earlier (April 2007) on these blogs there was a report of other possible earthlike planets in the nearby Milky Way neighborhood.

Picture: No, not Mars, but near the Wichita River, west Texas

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Card counting in Vegas on Days of our Lives


Today NBC-Corday “Days of our Lives” made an interesting ploy on a topic of controversy even within libertarians. Geek Nick Fallon (Blake Berris – aka Nick Carraway), dazed from a head wound when he took the blast from Stefano’s “honeypot” ntended for Sami, and on the hunt for Chelsea (to prove that he is a man), plays blackjack in Vegas. An older man, who may be intending to make a homosexual proposal (he keeps talking about a chest Sherwood forest) prods Nick on, and lets him use a glass eye, that seems to be a device to assist with card counting. It seems that this is all set up with other schemers. Nick wins $50000 and wants a Vegas elopement with Chelsea. Jeremy, in another segment, refers to Nick as a geeky loser with girls.

Card counting really is a skill, and is perfectly legal, although in Las Vegas casinos try to keep card counters out. In a meritocracy, shouldn’t the best competitor win? That’s libertarian, but them so are the casino operator’s property rights. Wiki discussion.

“Days of our Lives” is a bizarre soap opera, on the air for over 40 years, with MacDonald Carey’s soothing voice. It does leave the impression that central Ohio is the province of the Irish mafia. It is hard to explain its hook. Mrs. H said recently, “Sami’s troubles are just beginning.”

Blake Berris is pulling out all the stops in making Nick’s character as schizophrenic as possible. Is a major movie part coming? It’s easy to imagine that he could have played Matt (Justin Long) in “Live Free or Die Hard.” Shia La Beouf is called the next “Tom Hanks.” Gregory Smith (Everwood) sometimes seems like a young Ed Norton. Will Blake become the “geek everyman”?

This particular episode aired on a day where, on ABC's Regis and Kelly, Ms Ripa told of being an actress in another soap opera, and how it is hard work. "You get fired if you're late one day," she said, as actors are a dime a dozen. I wonder about that. Look at May 27 on this blog (see archives) for my own experiences working on the set of Somerset in the 1970s.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

New FX series "Damages"


Damages, directed by Allen Coulter and written by Glenn Kessler and Todd A. Kessler, premiered today on the FX cablework, owned by FOX (but distinguished from the mainline FOX network in most cities). FX has a series called “Damages” in 2006 also, directed by Jonathan Lisco, but that did not get traction. The name of the series is transparent, as it refers to what people sue for in litigation.

The opening episode (55 min), sponsored by Cadillac, was presented without interruption and ran like a short movie. So many of the cable series are stronger than the big network series, and the movie had a sophisticated dramatic style and detailed plot that requires close attention. I wonder if this (lengthened to 90 min) would have been stronger as a feature film to start, maybe an independent style (Fox Searchlight) release for art chains like Landmark.

Glenn Close plays Patty Hewes, the aggressive female CEO of a law firm, who goes after an Enron-style executive Arthur Frobisher (an aging Ted Danson), for a “pump and dump” scheme to defraud his employees of their savings and pensions while he gets rich during the accounting scandal. Young law school grad Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) interviews Hewes and a competing film. She can’t make the Saturday interview because of her sister’s wedding, but Hewes shows up at the reception (in the ladies room) and hires her. The law firm life is 24x7, and in one humorous shot a make associate is seen in his office in his underpants while he awaits his suit to come back from the cleaners! Pretty soon the plaintiffs want to settle for what would be $20000 a person, but Hewes sidesteps it. In the ensuing complications Ellen wonders is she was hired for an accidental family connection, leading to a climax (actually told in flashback style) where her own fiancĂ©e is murdered and she winds up being picked up by the NYPD. Her last words in the episode, “I want a lawyer.”

There is plenty of nibbling at the social issues in the story. Hewes asks Ellen if she has husband prospects, but late in the episode she advises Ellen that ambitious people don’t have kids. You can leave wives but not your kids, she says. What about parents and filial responsibility laws?

I was lucky to see this. A dry thunderstorm knocked out cable service for an hour and a half tonight where I live. But that is nothing compared to the power failure in San Francisco today that shut down many major web sites.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

CBS 60 Minutes on a "corporate populist" lobbyist Rick Berman; CNN America Votes 2008


Today, Sunday, July 22, 2007. CBS “60 Minutes” and Morley Safer interviewed Rick Berman, aka “Dr. Evil”, the libertarian Washington lobbyist who opposes efforts by other pressure groups to cajole government into restricting our freedoms as consumers. They talked about the vigorous anti-smoking campaigns, anti-fast-foot (like the trans fats bans in some cities), and even MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving). He could certainly add other causes, such as the difficulties of adult clubs displaced by the Washington Nationals’ stadium find with relocation. He is paid good money by various corporations. Link is here.

Now, it sounds like he has found “sponsors” to pay for what bloggers try to achieve on their own. Of course, the question is always, when somebody pays you to say something (even something good and “libertarian”) for their benefit in public, you have gone the road of Faust. Yet, you probably can’t be publicly visible, “neutral” and make a decent living forever.

Also tonight, CNN “America Votes 2008” featured a preview of the YouTube debate (the Countdown to the debate Monday at the Citadel in Charleston, SC) with the presidential candidates, and talked to six college students from Georgia. One independent student said he would go to Iraq if really needed and did not oppose reinstituting the draft if really needed. Another talked about religious people imposing their moral values on others.

UPDATE July 23, 2007

The writeup of the debate even is on the movies blog (since it is generated by user generated home movies), here.

Friday, July 20, 2007

ABC 20-20: Vanity


ABC 20/20 Tonight had a program “Vanity” as one of the Seven Deadly Sins (remember the film Se7en?) A middle aged woman goes to Costa Rica for multiple plastic surgeries (including tummy tuck) for $7000, and finds multiple complications when she gets home. She eventually goes back and gets them redone.

Wealthy parents give a teenager daughter a breast implantation for $8000 as a “graduation present.” There was an episode like this on TheWB series “Everwood.” The series warns that when surgery is done so young, there are likely to be complications later in life and even an inability to lactate. Still, parents wealthier think this is a cool gift for a teen daughter.

A spa instructor in Florida spends $1600 a month on routine beauty treatments. And so on.

We have become obsessed with becoming and remaining perfect, it seems. Or is it more the sense of competition. People believe they will not find and keep desirable spouses. It comes to become perceived as essential to having and keeping a family. Even Dr. Phil encouraged a husband to let his wife pay for a tummy tuck.

I don’t know where this is all heading. It seems like this episode deserved a John Stossel “give me a break.”

Also, on “Days” today, it looks like Nick Carroway aka Fallon is getting ready to “tell” the truth.

Picture: in the bird world, it is often the male that is "beautiful" with colorful plumage.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Anderson Cooper 360-God's Country


CNN Anderson Cooper 360 tonight (Thursday July 19 2007) had an extended segment called “God’s Country.” Tom Foreman narrated a story on the growing belief that the wall of separation between church and state, attributed to Thomas Jefferson, is an urban legend, and does not directly follow from the First Amendment. The Spiritual Heritage Tours in Washington DC given by Stephen McDowell were shown. Then an Ohio megachurch (World Harvest Church) pastor Ron Parsley was interviewed. He called the separation a “perversion of language and law.” Foreman claims that 51% of Americans want churches involved with politics. He said that for evangelicals, the economy and terrorism are the big issues; for moderate protestants, health care; for Catholics, the economy. David Mattingly present a gathering of Evangelical young people in a Nashville TN stadium, and less than 40% say they would vote Republican.

Earlier today NBC Today presented a story about a town of Ave Maria, FL, whose developers have tried to develop a covenant to exclude many kinds of businesses based on religious grounds.

Particularly with depictions of Evangelicals, I am struck by the emotion in their gatherings. I experience emotion with music, but in gatherings of people worshipping. It creates the appearance that their positions on issues may be driven by emotion and “belief” rather than intellect and analysis of responsibilities and rights the way an individualist sees these. This is particularly noteworthy in the “debate” on gay marriage. Faith and religion are generally understood to offer people a community (and “Grace”) that would shield them from responsibility for their own circumstances beyond a certain point of control. Even Rick Warren (“the Purpose-Driven Life”) has said, “it isn’t about you.” Indeed, leaving some matters to "Faith" keeps us from having to pin ourselves down to taking and answering to tough positions on some life-threatening questions.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Oprah presents John Travolta in drag for Hairspray


Oprah Winfrey, on Wednesday July 18, 2007, introduced the leading cast members of the remake of the musical film Hairspray (directed by Adam Shankman, PG), which is due for general release from New Line Cinema Friday July 20.

The musical deals with segregation in Baltimore in 1962 (when the prevailing culture of the time thought nothing of setting aside an “N Day” for a TV dance show). The casting director did a lot of auditions and picked an ice cream shop employee Nikki Blonsky to play Tracy Turnblad, who will do a lot, when she lands a spot, to change attitudes and mores in the days just before the Civil Rights March on Washington in 1963. But Mother is played by John Travolta in drag.

Now acting means you can convince the audience you’re almost anybody, and Travolta’s career certain supports that. Starting as the likeable disco dancer boy in Saturday Night Fever (1978), he could play a macho renegade Air Force pilot in Broken Arrow (1996 – “ain’t it cool?) But he turned to his metrosexual side when he waxed up for his role in ballet in Staying Alive (1985), but as Edna, he has made his most incredible transformation (with the help of prosthetics and – yes – depilatories) yet. This looks funnier than Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire. On Oprah today Travolta, pretty well covered up, looked a bit aged and pudgy.

Also appearing today were Queen Latifah (as Motormouth Maybelle) and Zac Efron (as Link Larkin), hair dyed dark, sitting in the audience.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

TB patient has lung resected in front of CNN cameras


Tonight (Tuesday July 17, 2007) CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 Exclusive program featured an apparently real taping of the surgery given to Andrew Speaker to remove one lobe of his left lung infected with a drug resistant strain of tuberculosis. The film demonstrated the surgery with a mannequin, and it appeared to be laproscopic, with three relatively small holes, similar to keyhole surgery for gall bladder removal or sometimes less invasive coronary bypass surgery. Dr. Sanjay Gupta apparently scrubbed and was there for the surgery, and it appeared that the surgical field through his probably shaved chest was shown.

This is certainly a horrific episode for Speaker. He never seems to have been very sick, and was forced into quarantine and forced isolation on the theory that someone might be infected. Some patients on the flights that he took have sued in Canada. Speaker says he will not deal with the legal problems until he is well.

Doctors explained that his recovery would be more complete with the surgery to remove the lobe with the tennis-ball sized area of infection, but with some healthy tissue removed. It is like cancer surgery. But Speaker is expected to recover completely, and (at 31) be able to run a marathon. The surgery was reported to have some risk but was not as invasive as it might have been.

An earlier link covering this story was on May 30, here.

I can recall the cartoons after David Letterman had his emergency coronary bypass surgery in 2000 and joined the zipper club. He did not have the benefit of the keyhole operation.

The show also discussed the National Intelligence Estimates report released today.

Anderson Cooper certainly has an enviable career as a journalist covering controversial and meaty stories, and he paid his dues covering the Third World early in his career.

Tidbits:

On the Tuesday July 17 of "Days of our Lives" Jeremy's girlfriend, while they are in a whirlpool in Vegas, calls him "chicken man -- buck buck" like they used to call me in the Army. (He's everywhere.) Jett almost drowns her on the spot.

On Wednesday, Buck, about to be stripsearched by Roman (for a tattoo drawing of "the Island") says, "nobody undresses me but a girl."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

NBC: McLaughlin Group presents libertarian writers


Today, Sunday, July 15, 2007, the NBC McLaughin Group presented the topic of libertarianism, with guests David Boaz, from the Cato Institute, and Nick Gillespie, from Reason Magazine. Boaz authored two major books in the 90s from the Free Press: Libertarianism, A Primer, and The Libertarian Reader, an anthology of essays over history, a collection which he edited. The central point of the discussion was that moral (and even altruistic or benevolent) behavior belongs to people, not to government. Morality seems to come from spontaneous order. Both guests were critical of President Bush for wanting to federalize so much (ranging from airport security, which they think should go back to private hands, to standards in education – “No Child Left Behind”). They did approve of the president's touching the "third rail" (social security) with the idea of privatizing it and converting it to a personal ownership paradigm, but too much of the rest of Bush's presidency invited more big government. They also indicated that the past three or four decades have seen a spontaneous increase in personal freedom, more driven by culture than law. There was discussion of whether libertarianism is still a valid political movement or more of a personal philosophy, rooted partly in classical liberalism. Brief biographies of both men were presented.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

ABC 20-20 "The Fear and Fascination; CNN LKL: Dirty Jobs that Nobody Wants


On Friday July 13 (Friday the Thirteenth) ABC 20-20 had a provocative broadcast “Hell: The Fear and Fascination” with Bill Weir.

It took a lot of material to fill the show, to challenge people who may have decided that they don’t believe in the usual Christian interpretations of the afterlife. Actually, there are multiple interpretations. The Vatican used to accept the idea of Limbo for babies who had not been baptized. And Purgatory is an unpleasant place where you “pay for” your sins. But most Protestant and certainly evangelical Christianity broadcasts the belief that anyone can go to heaven, regardless of his or her performance in life or sins, by accepting the fact that Jesus died for his sins, by accepting salvation by grace alone. It’s hard to reconcile that idea with the competitive idea of capitalism, and the Rosicrucian idea of karma (which could be connected to Purgatory if one wished) has made sense to me.

The show suggests that Hell had an inconspicuous beginning, with a certain ravine near Jerusalem as mentioned in a gospel verse as burning, but today that ravine is a verdant park. Satan supposedly originally worked for God, as his “attorney general”, prosecuting people for sin, before he Fell himself. The show went on to show one sadistic person serving consecutive life terms, showing no remorse, and demanding (like Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech) that others experience and know his pain. The show presented another man who had a positive near-death experience at 12 when kids tried to hold him underwater as a prank. He became addicted to drugs and tried to achieve the afterlike by taking pills to commit suicide in Alaska. Instead he saw a glimpse of hell similar to the traditional idea, and came back to life. He claims that the place is real, and resembles the surface of the planet Venus.

On Saturday July 14 CNN Larry King Live had a show on “dirty jobs that nobody wants,” like cleaning septic tanks, moving manure, or collecting owl vomit. The idea that some of us depend on the unpleasant labor of others used to drive left-wing politics, and books like Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

PBS: The Dark Side


PBS Frontline: The Dark Side, dir. by Michael Kirk, 90 min, 2006.

This PBS Frontline program (the title refers to what Lex Luthor thinks this phrase means only indirectly or with irony) documents the history of Vice President Dick Cheney and his role in directing the administration toward intervention in Iraq in 2003, starting almost immediately after Sept. 11, 2001. The film shows the collapse of the face of the Pentagon that was struck by the airliner. Cheney, while secluded separately from the president, authorized the shoot-down order during the morning of 9/11 and for a while he actually believed he had caused Flight 93 to be shot down in Pennsylvania.

The film presents the view that the organization of power within the administration after 9/11 built in some conflicts of interest that led to the less-than-objective assessment of the real problem with Saddam Hussein. Cheney for a long time held on to a story about a Czech story about a meeting between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi operative in Prague, but in time the story seemed to become an imaginary urban legend. Similar stories went around with widely circulated reports about WMD’s in Iraq. They would seem to be credible with Colin Powell’s sales culture presentation to the United Nations in February 2003. There had been a meeting between Bush and Tenet in December 2002 in which Bush realized that the actual evidence of WMD’s was limited and questionable, and required stretching (the “16 words” with the “yellowcake controversy”; later mystery figure “curveball” – we had no agents in Iraq). Powell had by then developed a rift with Cheney. In general, the process was a lot like that of UFO buffs: the administration picked and chose hard-to-prove allegations (such as one about Niger [not Nigeria]) that could support its case for war in Iraq. Intelligence agencies were expected to provide analysis that was not truthful (in my sense of the “eternal feminine”) but manipulative and supportive of the president’s political agenda. The White House could congratulate itself and the intelligence services at its Christmas parties (which were not book signing parties), and then have to face the reality of the quicksand that bureaucracy can drive those in power into when having to face ambiguous information and ferret out the truth.

Indeed, in 2003, the President celebrated his victory after the fall of Saddam in three weeks, and his manipulative strategy seemed vindicated. But quickly it would become apparent that the WMD would not stand, even though Saddam Hussein had played possum. It's good to go back and look at Scott Ritter's film In Shifting Sands (link).

The film ends with a discussion of the Scooter Libby case involving the politics of the CIA. The bowels of Langley are shown as David Kay is interviewed. One effect of Cheney's maneuvers was that much of the "power" of the CIA got transferred to the Pentagon.

Update: Oct. 18, 2007

Michael Kirk has another similar film, "Cheney's Law" (60 min) that was broadcast by MPT on Oct. 16, 2007. The film says that Cheney never uses email and never writes down his conversations, because he doesn't want any incriminating audit trails. After 9/11, he contemplated the idea that we would need a "government of men" rather than the rule of law, to deal with the asymmetric threats.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

CNN: Michael Moore v. Sanjay Gupta and Wolf Blitzer


Michael Moore appeared twice on CNN very recently, including the 9 PM EDT Larry King Live show on July 10, 2007, where Michael Moore faced off against its own medical doctor-journalist Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The quibbled a bit about the facts in the film Sicko. Earlier, Michael Moore was questioned by Wolf Blitzer, and the interview can be viewed on CNN at this site. The Blitzer interview is here and runs about ten minutes (download time at high speed, about a minute). Michael Moore posted all of his own rebuttals on his own website.

Gupta claims that in Canada an “emergency” heart patient can wait six days for a cardiac catheterization, and several weeks in non-emergency. In the United States it is almost immediate in an emergency. Another procedure with wait times is hip replacement. Moore spoke out again for HR 676, and wants to remove insurance company profits from health care costs—remove private insurance companies all together. Moore claims that waits are longer in other countries because the poor people are also in line.

Gupta acknowledged that major reforms are needed in the delivery of care to poor people in our system.

Gupta is himself an accomplished neurosurgeon, who reportedly helped out the US Army with a procedure in Iraq.

Gupta also mentioned that Medicare will be bankrupt in little more than a decade. No one discussed nursing home custodial care, which is not covered by Medicare, but by a combination of self-pay, adult children (filial responsibility), long term care insurance, and Medicaid. This complicated topic definitely needs an airing on CNN.

The June 5 entry on this blog (see the Archive links by month) discussed Moore's appearance on Oprah, and has the link to the movie review.

ABC Family "Greek": TV and movies have the new male hero paradigm: The Geek


Today, July 10, 2007 (my birthday), the NBC Today show pandered to the conventional wisdom about What Women Want (that was really a movie, wasn’t it). They want a burly muscular guy for short term flings, and they want to entice a gentler, more subtle person for long term marriage, someone who will be stable enough to stick around to raise the kinds. Other anthropologists write that male pattern baldness is an evolutionary trick, whereby men prove they can survive long enough to raise families.

All sounds like George Gilder (“Why Men Marry” or “Men and Marriage”) poppycock. They showed a buff guy, even with underarms shaved, for the silly short term stereotype. But current tastes in television in the movies, one must say, are making the geek more appealing as the New Man.

Last night, ABC Family premiered “Greek” (directed by Patrick Sean Smith -- on imdb the quotes are part of the show title for any TV series; here the e's are supposed to be epsilons) with an SAT geek freshman Rusty Cartwright (played by the new Jacob Zachar) as trying to rush a fraternity and live up to his morals based on family loyalty. He even gets into an uncharacteristic bar brawl over the blood loyalty issue, to protect his older sister. In the end, the geekness wins out. His effeminate but right-wing roommate is less convincing. (The show really didn't get that far into conventional rush week hazing.) ABC Family’s “Kyle XY”, with the cloned Kyle played by Matt Dallas, while capable of looking buff, plays up his character and mental brilliance, in the latest episode in solving a robbery that impacts the family. Other geek role models are Nick Fallon (Blake Berris) on the soap “Days,” who has to navigate the moral muddies of crime family life.

And the recent “Die Hard IV” (that is, “Live Free or Die Hard”) movie hangs together only because of the acting performance of Justin Long as the “good” hacker Matt, who carries the audience along the whole ride. It is Matt, not John McClane (Schwarzenegger-clone Bruce Willis) who is the hero this time. (Even with "everyman" Shia La Beouf playing the kid, the film would not have the right effect; Long was the right casting choice.) And, after all, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is morphing into the latest geek hero, with wizardry equivalent to Second Life.

Update: July 30

On "Greek" it seems that Rusty outed himself in the last scene, in a conversation with a gay African American hockey player in the fraternity. So, gays in a fraternity. Interesting. (As a reader points out, it is Calvin (Paul James) who outs himself directly (to his dad, and to Rusty at the very end of the show). But it seemed that Rusty then suggested that he was gay himself. Time will tell. See comments. (Though in the Volcano episode he seemed to want a girl friend again.)

The Advocate has an article by Louis Virtel "Greek Goes Gay, with Suburbia Watching," July 19, 2007. Or "Gay TV Recap" here, note the comments.

Rusty is an appealing role model character; he more resembles "Nick" on "Days of our Lives" than Justin Taylor in "Queer as Folk."

The series ended on Sept. 10. Rusty becomes more hetero indeed as the series progresses, befriending a girl who writes an article about the Greek system on campus without mentioning any names, but "everyone knows" (the old "Touching Problem" discussed on my main blog July 27). Calvin appears in the last episode, and his self-outing figures into the story in a minor way.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Live Earth: The Concerts for a Climate in Crisis


NBC Live Earth: The Concerts for a Climate in Crisis

Tonight (Saturday July 7, 2007 -- Gustav Mahler's birthday (1860)) NBC broadcast portions of seven concerts (spanning 22 hours) on seven continents around the world. The main event live was at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ (the Meadowlands) about ten miles from New York City. Ironically, the Meadowlands probably would be flooded eventually if global warming did not stop. Other events were held in London, Johannesburg, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai, and even Antarctica (in front of “Happy Feet” penguins). The main corporate sponsors were American Express (The Members Project), Apple, and General Motors.

Al Gore spoke several times in New Jersey. The usual suggestions of small changes, such as using compact fluorescent light bulbs (which I am finding local drug stores do not stock) and disconnecting cell phone chargers when not in use, were a start.

Gore would not commit himself to the prediction that he really would run for president as the Democratic candidate in 2008, but the suggestion was made that no other Democratic candidate (or Republican candidate) could bring about the needed leadership.

The New Jersey event started with Leonardo Di Caprio as the MC. Di Caprio has made a film called “The Eleventh Hour” following on behind Al Gore’s film last year “An Inconvenient Truth.”

This Live Earth event was the largest musical event in the history of the world.

Here is the NBC link: http://www.nbc.com/liveearth/

Here is the MSNBC Link to Al Gore's "7 Point Pledge" ("Seven Point Pledge:).

Picture: Damage in Bay St. Louis, MS after Hurricane Katrina, as of Feb, 2006.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Oprah documents children who have to raise their younger siblings; Nightline on UFOs


Today, (Friday, July 6, 2007) Oprah Winfrey gave us a particularly troubling topic: children raising other children. That was already presented on CNN last week as a problem in the New Orleans public school system as it tries to get back on its feet, blog link here. )

But today, the problem was pervasive and nationwide, about 1.4 million kids-as-parent. The circumstances that led to this were varied. In one case, a father lost his job and health insurance and the mother had cancer (a scenario that Michael Moore could present). In another, the parents had been murdered. More often, however, there had been parental “misconduct”, especially drug abuse.

Kids were forced to grow up and become “parents” to their younger siblings by age 13 or 14 or so. They lost their opportunity to have their own friends, and to pursue their own interests and talents (like music). In some cases they did poorly in school, but one kid wound up going to Clemson, another to Berkeley, and was trying to get her siblings into college.

It is striking that we don’t have much of a moral language to deal with involuntary responsibilities like this being forced on people. Yes, we talk about the issue of making babies and being unable to provide for them. We certainly can ask whether socialized programs (like Mike Moore points to as working in Canada and Europe) would help. The other issue is personal, how well we share family responsibility in a personal way, even when we don’t have our own children and don’t choose to. The kids in the Oprah show did not have an opportunity to ponder the social "unfairness" of their birth circumstances or of the behavior of others that led to this increased responsibility against their choice. One overriding principle seems to be a presumption of "loyalty to blood" as pointed out in a 2003 "Jake 2.0" episode. We have lost the ability to develop this into any kind of systematic moral thinking. I was an only child, had certain issues as a youngster, and spent much more energy looking after myself than others like me have been allowed to.

Links: Childhood Interrupted Children in Charge

No NBC soaps were aired today -- how about that sensational come-from-behind upset of Andy Roddick by Richard Gasquet today at Wimbledon?

ABC Nightline on UFO's

Tonight ABC Nightline did a short on the upcoming documentary "Out of the Blue" by James Fox. Link is here. The Drake Equation was mentioned, and credibility of UFOs among some in the scientific community was discussed. Brian Rooney reported. The film does not appear in IMDB yet.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Male role models on TV: a reprise for Days (and Gatsby): Is Nick Fallon based on Nick Carraway?


When I was substitute teaching, I would mention young adult “role models” in Hollywood. Some female students would say, “Paris Hilton is not a good role model.” Indeed, as she couldn’t stay out of jail. I would mention Jared Paradlecki, who plays “Sam” in Supernatural, since he was named a candidate for the Presidential Scholars Program as he graduated from high school in 2000. IMDB says his favorite book is “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott FitzGerald. This is taught in Advanced Placement English these days in 10th or 11th Grade. (You can search for teacher’s sites on this novel, intended just for their classes, but still on the public web.) I divert for that great quote at the end of Chapter 3

“Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”

When I was on a sub AP English assignment this year, some of the kids (11th Grade) really jumped on that one passage.

I have to diverge further. Nick Carraway, as a young man, considers himself a “role model” I think (relative to the 1920s), and it seems that he is the obvious inspiration for the geeky character Nick Fallon (played by new icon Blake Berris, shown “on the beach” on an ABC series on soaps last week) on the NBC Corday soap “Days of our Lives.” The harder Nick tries to be honorable, the more of a target he becomes for corruption by members (most of all, “Katrina”) of the crime families ruling Salem (presented as being in, of all states, Ohio). By the way, it looks as though godfather Stefano (no Marlon Brando) will die of the stem cell transplant because Nick falsified the parentage report (for the unborn of the hapless Sami). (If anybody noticed, Roman is on the take, too, which is how Nick got off when he killed the blackmailing slut Willow “accidentally”.) To get back to “Supernatural,” Sam plays a law student, having just finished undergraduate work at Stanford, as he and his hothead policeman brother Dean (Jensen Ackles – both actors are from Texas) go on a nationwide roadtrip squashing the demons that destroyed their family when they were boys. Sam is the steady person, who keeps Dean in check. He even has to keep his cool when he learns that when Dean is possessed, he is destined to kill Sam. But, mysteriously, Sam sometimes gets possessed himself, although that is out of character. Sam is the “Nick” of the show. Sam is apparently a lot like the real Jared. I would tell students, you don’t make the A List by age 21 or so by skipping school when there is a sub.

But most of the male “role models” in contemporary series not only fit the genotype of the “desirable” European white male (we used to make fun of the word “desirable” in the Army by parsing it), but they also have to be supernaturally or specially created. Sam, above, after all, is a bit supernatural. So Clark Kent, who is supposed to be 20 now in the upcoming season of Smallville, is played by a youthful but 30-year-old Tom Welling. Clark, to be the man he is, had to come from another planet, and ignore the speed of light barrier in physics. One could look at him as an angel. Most of the time, he has a positive moral effect on everything, except when on red kryptonite (when he robbed some ATM’s in Seasion3). That inconsistency comes from the comic book world, perhaps. A more perfect role model might be Kyle XY (aka Noah) played by 24-year-old Matt Dallas, the wonderful teen taken in by a generous family on ABC Family, now in its second season. The trouble here is that Kyle has to be created artificially, and nurtured in an artificial womb until about age 17 (no umbilical cord). Kyle is not quite the superman Clark is, as his mentor is making him go through physical training in an abandoned Seattle (aka Vancouver) warehouse until he becomes another superman. (There is also a mysterious matching female XX who will fill the role of Lana.) I can imagine what a socially conservative writer like Maggie Gallagher might say about the concept of "Kyle XY" on a channel set up to support (heterosexual) "family values": can one take seriously the idea that the "perfect kid" can be cloned and created and born "ready to go" without years of nurturing, starting as a helpless baby, from a couple committed in lifelong marriage? (The family, though, is a stable monogamous couple with two other likable teen kids played by Jean-Luc Bolideau and Lori Trager.)

A better role model was Jake Foley, (on Jake 2.0, “The Ultimate Human Upgrade”, directed by David Greenwalt, in the 2003-2004 season on UPN) played by Christopher Gorham, a tech support guy at NSA who becomes superman when infected in an accident with nanobots. He always stands up to moral challenges (particularly in meetings with the powers that be) and does the right thing with his powers (even serving as an example for his irresponsible kid brother). Problem is, the show ran out of steam and got canceled after about 20 episodes, although ABC Family has rerun a few of the episodes. This is a great character and would make a good movie.

Another interesting example is Shawn Farrell, played by Minnesotan Patrick Flueger, who is abducted "from the future" for three years as a teenager and comes back with the power to heal, in the USA/Paramount series The 4400.

Ironically, Tim Kring 's Heroes (NBC) was so complicated that the characters it presented (the prescient painter, the scientist, cheerleader, etc) were not clearcut as "heroes" as those in the other series.

So, can you be "good" without being specially created to be such? (Critics sometimes actually compare Clark Kent to Jesus.)

We have other semi role models, some who are earth-grounded. There is the piano prodigy Ephram (Gregory Smith) on Everwood (which finished four seasons in 2006), who loses his chance to go to Julliard because of a Shakespearian failure involving his relationship with his widowed MD father; the torch passes to another kid Kyle Hunter (again, played by Steven R. McQueen). In Maryland, a composition student really did win a scholarship there recently, so maybe the show provided a preemptory lesson. You can think of others. For example, Bobby in “Jack and Bobby” (one season), or teenage lawyer Skip Ross (Jay Baruchel), in Just Legal which flopped after a few episodes because WB ran it against Monday Night Football, a big mistake.

Maybe Hollywood is getting this right with the Everyman teen character Sam Witwicky played by all purpose kid Shia La Beouf in the new Transformers. He runs with that rubic cube the way a receiver runs with a football.

In the gay series "Queer as Folk" on Showtime, Randy Harrison, as artist Justin Taylor, plays the role of hero. There is one line where he says, "I am the only kind of man I can be."

By the way, if Salem in Days is run by pseudo-Mafia; families of witches rule Harmony in the similar Passions. The latter soap the other day had an interesting confrontation where Teresa confronts a gay man who also slept with her about the medical dangers he could have posed to her. Some good writing there.

As a general rule, in developing a story (a screenplay or a novel) with this sort of character as a protagonist, it often seems more effective to start the main part of the story in the teen years or young adulthood. Smallville (after the 1989 meteor shower prologue) picks up when Clark would be 14 but looks and acts like an older teen, almost an adult. Kyle XY is literally created to be 17, and Shawn (in the 4400) starts out at 17 and, after three years as an abductee, comes back without having changed physically. He gets to take over the 4400 Center at "19".

Sunday, July 01, 2007

William and Harry: Concert for Diana (NBC)


The “boys” William and Harry (not William and Mary) gave their Concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium, northwest of Central London (Wimbledon is SW) today, and NBC broadcast an hour of the highlights tonight (Sunday July 1 2007) at 8 PM EDT. The charity event made the boys into a kind of "final task" putting on a big event for Donald Trump and The Apprentice. The Donald should have shown up.

From the air, the stadium (with 66000 people) looked like the Quidditch stadium from Harry Potter, and inside the event seemed like a bash from one of the movies. Daniel Radcliffe was missing, but he should have been there. Numerous artists like Elton John from the disco scene filled out the time with splash and color, and the stadium was filled with audience, clapping and singing, even in the pits. Also absent were Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson, so there could be no wardrobe malfunction. Yet, the concert seemed a bit like a glorious Super Bowl halftime.

The concert was, of course, a celebration of the Princess’s life – her charities, her causes, her music, and most of all of modernity. This was a young people’s party concert, with lots of splashes of red. The show closed with some 60s home movies of Di, including a perfect pre-school birthday party.

As for the boys – Harry really did look dressed for clubbing, particularly for the dirty dancing set, maybe for a cleaner-cut version of the movie “54.” Harry, who looks bulked up and buff even in business casual or even party street clothes, was particularly prepared to meet the demands of metrosexuality. For all of that, the event was definitely rated G.

Harry greeted his unit-mates in Iraq and told the crowd that he did want to go to Iraq and would serve there if allowed to by his commander (as a tank officer). This has raised the moral question about shared risk (as well as creating a mark) as noted before. William appeared to be slightly taller than Harry at the concert, but during the interviews it was the other way around. I am not sure which is taller. NBC's Matt Lauer did appear at the concert.

This is a celebration of the Union Jack, of Britannia, in the post-colonial modern age of The Kids – the games, the user-content, the digital media, the Second Life -- while the tempest rages outside from the religious disaffected, covered by CNN. No cancellations happened this weekend in London (which included gay pride), as the threats occurred right after Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair, and that’s a good thing.

The pink countries on the globe were, by and large, once part of the British empire. I can recall flying from Minneapolis to Amsterdam Schipol, about 4400 great circle air miles, leaving at 3:30 PM CDT, and crossing Scotland around 4 AM (almost no night in May) and wishing I could have a room down there on the ground; only to arrive in Schipol at 6 AM.

Trivia:

NBC Access Hollywood today recalled John Travolta, and what happened to him when he was buffed for "Staying Alive" back in 1985. People noticed, but nobody talked about it then. Remember "Broken Arrow". Ain't it cool?