Friday, September 28, 2007

ABC 20/20 Diane Sawyer interviews Jenna Bush


Tonight, Friday Sept. 28, 2007, ABC's Diane Sawyer interviewed President Bush 's daughter Jenna Bush, who works for UNICEF as a teacher in Latin America and Jamaica. Story is here.

Much of her effort has been directed at STD prevention in countries where HIV and AIDS have become pandemic in poverty-stricken women, as it has in Africa. Women known to have AIDS are often ostracized by their families in Latin America. Jenna insists that moral theories about abstinence and such have little importance to her in practice.

The Jamaica segment was interesting, as Diane Sawyer encountered natives in the poor areas of town (Kingston) with extremely homophobic attitudes about what is "natural." 20/20 also showed a glitzy "house of ill repute."

Diane Sawyer asked Jenna about a quote from actor Matt Damon ("Good Will Hunting") who maintained that if the president and democratic processes really warranted a war in Iraq, then the president's only family should serve in the military. Jenna says she is "serving" as a teacher.

Jenna has a new book called "Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope," about an HIV-positive girl in a poor country, from Harper Collins. The girl's name is kept fictitious according to UNICEF confidentiality policies.

The idea of teaching an connection to kids as service is taking hold today in a way that I had not at all detected even ten years ago.

Update: On Sunday Sept. 30, the New York Times Magazine, on p. 111, has an article by Negar Azimi, "Why teach for America? A volunteer program for ambitious college graduates is getting great for the resume. But is it good for the country?"

Update: Monday Oct. 1, 2007
: Jenna was interviewed on the Today Show Oct. 1 in a "One-on-One" segment. President Bush was somewhat concerned about her placing herself in the limelight while he was still president.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

PBS: "Minor" Republican 2008 presidential candidates debate at Morgan State Univ. in Baltimore


Tonight (Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007) some of the Republican Presidential candidates for 2008 held a debate on PBS at Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD. The hosts were Tom Joyner and Tavid Smiley. The focus was African American issues.

The “mainstream” Republican candidates did not show up. Here is the short list of the "B squad" who came:

Sam Brownback TX
Ron Paul TX
Mike Huckabee AR
Tom Tancredo CO
Rep Duncan Hunter CA
Alan Keyes Ambassador

Alan Keyes seemed to lead the crusade about morality, blaming the decline of the nuclear family as hitting African Americans particularly hard. Social problems, in his view, are addressed by morally appropriate behavior and commitment by individuals, not government. He never quite gets around to saying how “family values” should affect those who do not marry or have children at all.

One of the other candidates indicated that African Americans were better off in the 1950s than they are today, before government programs created the welfare state.

There was some discussion of the Jena 6.

On health care, there was a suggestion to bring back the “family doctor” and free family doctors who charge reasonable rates from taxes, but Keyes retorted that you can’t bring back the family doctor without bringing back the family.

On voting rights for District of Columbia residents, there were mixed comments. Some felt that the District should be ceded to Maryland. Some opposed DC’s gun control laws.

Ron Paul was the only real “libertarian.”

Picture: The Saint's Paradise, an African American church (non denominational) in the Shaw area of Washington DC.

Oprah Winfrey invites Michael Moore back for "Sick in America"


Oprah Winfrey today (Thursday September 27, 2007, 4 PM, EDT on ABC) brought back Michael Moore (“Sicko”) for an episode called “Sick in America.” The link is here. The visitor is encouraged to look at individual panels for each guest today.

Her pitch was, should the kids of a gas station attendant get the same health care as the kids of an investment banker?

Michael Moore made his usual collectivist argument (“we” instead of “me”) and there is indeed a Biblical argument about Kingdom Economics. This time, Oprah brought some other guests: Dr. Uwe Reinhardt, a health care economist from Princeton; health care lobbyist Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, and Linda Peeno, former medical director for a large HMO, who appeared in Moore’s film testifying in 1996 that health care claims examiners make money by denying claims. Ignagni claimed that health insurance companies pay five billion claims a year (sounds high), but about 3% are denied and some of the “pays” may include partial denials. Several horror stories were presented of persons who could not get treatments (like bone marrow transplants) because they were not covered and were considered experimental. Ignangni claims that now insurance companies will cover these cases if they are treated at “centers of excellence.” The waiting list issue was discussed, and Moore claimed that they are longer in Canada and Europe because the system doesn’t throw poor people (or otherwise uninsured) out of the line.

Somewhere, the calculation that universal coverage would cost about what America spends in nine months in Iraq was mentioned.

I covered Moore on the Oprah show on this blog previously on June 5. My blog review of Sicko is here.

On Sept. 14 I reviewed John Stossel's "Sick in America: Whose Body Is it, Anyway?" on this blog.

Update: On Friday, Sept. 28, Oprah presented a program "Born in the Wrong Body" on transgendered people, including one girl becoming a man (she had a mastectomy at 16), with a younger brother in the family. Later the show presented a sexual reassignment surgeon who had been married eleven years as a man and had three children, and then had the change herself, remaining legally married (that seems possible in transgender situations like this, as most states would regard them as legally of biologically opposite gender still). Link.

Update: Oct. 12, 2007

Oprah had a followup show on Oct. 12, 2007, on families with one transgendered parent (often resulting in a "same sex couple") here.

Dartmouth hosts Democrat Candidates debate


On Wednesday, September 26, 2007, the eight Democratic presidential candidates had another debate, this time at Dartmouth College in Hanover New Hampshire. The debate, moderated by NBC’s Tim Russert, was broadcast on MSNBC at 9 PM EDT. Outdoors, even that far north, foliage looked pretty green on campus before the debate.

Although starting with Iraq, where leading candidates could not promise a specific timetable for withdrawal, the debates quickly ventured into many areas. At one point the candidates were asked about lowering the drinking age to 18 out of fairness, and a few of the candidates (not Clinton, Edwards or Obama) favored doing so. One wanted to lower the voting age to 16. On energy, the idea of a $3 per gallon gasoline tax was tossed, and the idea of a more neutral carbon footprint tax was advanced. One candidate wanted to invest heavily in windmills, as on Don Quixote. Mr. Gravel admitted to a real estate bankruptcy in his past, but said the same has happened to Donald Trump.

On gay rights, the candidates were asked about presentation of gay-friendly material, such as stories of same-sex couples, in the public schools. Edwards said that, while he did not support gay marriage, he favored his own children being exposed to all points of view so they could make up their own minds as adults. Other candidates expressed the view that the next generation would want to allow same-sex marriage and would soon want to do away with “don’t ask don’t tell.”

Candidates mentioned that the solvency expiration date for social security is now 2041 because of Bush's deficits, when it should have been 2055. There was support for taxing all of the wage base rather than capping at $97000. In health care, Hillary mentioned that her plan is different from 1993 in that everyone must purchase coverage somehow (either through employer or individually, with help as necessary).

There was a question about whether torture should ever be used in questioning Al Qaeda suspects, followed by looking the other way and a presidential pardon. It was said that Bill Clinton had himself made such a proposal.

Candidates were asked about favorite Bible verses. The Golden Rule and the Beatitutdes were mentioned, and empathy was mentioned as a primary moral virtue.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Chuck -- a "replacement" for "Jake 2.0"?


Is Chuck a new Jake 2.0, the long lost show from David Greenwalt about a nice nerd Jake (Christopher Gorham) “infected” with nano-technology giving him “powers”? UPN abruptly canceled this in early 2004, to the consternation of many. (Smallville has prospered, and a show “Numbr3s” about a math professor geek Charlie Epps (David Krumholz) helping the FBI, has prospered on CBS.

Chuck is more of a dramedy or comic-book comedy. Created by Chris Fadek and Josh Schwartz, directed by McG (Joehph McGinty Nichol) is presents a likeable geek, twenty-something Chuck (Zachary Levi), working in shirt and tie for the Nerd Herd at a kiosk (sort of like Apple geniuses) for a retail chain called Buy More. (Guess who they really are.) Nerd Herd has its own zipcar-like fleet similar to those of other geekolator companies. His sidekick is Morgan (Joshua Gomez) and Sarah Lancaster (“Madison” in Everwood) is Ellie, his physician sister who has so far "outperformed" him in life. Yvonne Strzechowski plays the "CIA agent" helping protecting him by taking him to discos. His "real" name "Chuck Bartowski" and imaginary name "Chuck Carmichael" are curious choices.

Chuck gets an email from a former roommate. After fixing a couple of video games on his computer, he opens an email and gets “infected” with all of the government’s knowledge about black-ops, and pretty soon is in the crossfire of a turf war between the NSA and CIA, as well as real enemies of the state. It all starts with an explosion, comic book style, and literally it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The nano technology idea in Jake was better, but what this show can go for is comedy. It’s supposed to be the comic book stuff, but Smallville, in the early seasons, proved that comedy can work. And it is on a bigger network.

Chuck, in fact, seems happenstance and gawky compared to the articulate "Jake 2.0" who (a bit like Clark on Smallville) could take his "powers" into moral battles with some premeditation. He learns some physical tricks, like the magic cape trick at a dinner party (he doesn't know that baked alaska really is supposed to be flamed), and he babbles with fear when forced to learn to fly a helicopter. I'm not so sure, after two episodes, that the character is convincing.

In Episode 3, we learn that Chuck was falsely accused of cheating at Stanford, so that seems to explain why he is making only $11 an hour. His boss confronts him with his "goals" (beyond existentialism) and wants to groom him for being an assistant manager at $13 an hour. That means, other people report to him; he makes decisions, maybe. Though he screams and hollers at physical danger, he likes what is in his head.

By the end of October, Chuck certainly has increased his people skills, able to manage Morgan, but his tendency to act scared during the slapstick episodes seems a bit out of character.

When I was working in mainframe computer programming, back in the early 90s when we took dumb terminals home for nightcall, we sat around in the breakroom and made up pitches for a horror movie (to be called “Nightcall”) where someone gets paged and logs on and monsters come out of the computer terminal and eat the programmer. I finally wrote a script where a gay man on call gets a nightcall while he has “company” and, while downloading a fix, gets infected while the company, who is a space alien, turns him into a Gray. How is that for a horror movie, maybe on SNL?

Update: Nov 5

So, Chuck was "framed" for cheating at Stanford in order to recruit him to the CIA. After all, Chuck is a "good person." And back in 1999 he was working with C++.

On Nov. 19, the show presented the problem of screening international cargo (at Long Beach), which Chuck does with the help of his mental powers, and it isn't exactly all that funny.

I find myself wondering, could Zachary Levi have played Jake -- I think yes, and could Christopher Gorham play Chuck -- less likely.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

PBS: Ken Burns: The War


Tonight, Sunday Sept. 23, 2007, PBS aired the first 2-1/2 hours of the 15 hour film “The War” by Ken Burns. The first segment was previewed at the Lincoln Theater in the Cardoza area of Washington DC Sept. 20. This week the film runs through Wed. Sept. 26 and it should cover the first ten hours. The first part was called "A Necessary War."

The film will traces the effect of World War II on four towns: Mobile, AL; Luverne, MN; Waterbury, CN; Sacramento, CA. It starts out with an account of how a temperamental young man got into a brawl in a Mobile bar in 1941 and joined the Marines the next day to volunteer for Pacific duty, having no idea that combat would come in a few months.

In those days, people got their news from radio and Movietone newsreels at the local movie theaters. Movietone was the “TV” of its day, and it was actually pretty effective in keeping up with war. After Pearl Harbor, it did not take long for average people to figure out that the War would affect them all personally and require personal sacrifice, a concept that Burns says people today really don’t grasp, even after 9/11.

Men would get “greetings” letters in the mail – that is draft notices, from “the President and your neighbors,” a way of expressing collective duty that seems offensive today. Men generally passed the physical, and soon the Army took illiterate men. The “moral” question was “Do you like girls?” and in those days no one had a modern concept of gays or of the idea that gays could serve openly in the military – when journalists like Randy Shilts (Conduct Unbecoming) would show that they did, all the time, during the War.

The roundup of the Nisei – native Japanese, including American citizens, into domestic internment camps, was covered. They were classified 4C – resident enemy aliens – for the draft.

Another bit of history concerns the U-boat or submarine attacks on shipping close to the East Coast in early 1942. It was months before cities would be willing to institute blackouts. The nighttime light helped German submarines locate merchant ships, and oil would wash up on the East Coast and Gulf Coast beaches.

The early war with Japan, including Japan, the Bataan March, and Guadacanal, are covered. Guadacanal was secured with an unusual “Los Angeles Raiders” unit in which team members made decisions as a group, rather than just by taking orders through the chain of command in a usual military manner.

The film has a lot of live footage, mostly black and white, both domestic and combat. Earlier Ken Burns films of older historical periods tended to have a lot of drawings.

Part 2 was called "When Things Get Tough." It starts with a discussion of a Waterbury family where a nineteen year old single son is drafted, but an older married son is not. I thought that everyone went, but maybe not always. (There were "Kennedy fathers" deferments in the Vietnam era until about 1965; JFK had proposed exempting "married men" from the draft, an idea whose social significance did not resonate yet). The North African campaign is covered, while one prisoner's life in Japan is traced. Home front rationing was discussed. "If the soldier's don't have it, then you shouldn't have it." The government was not afraid to "moralize" this way to the civilians at home.

Over the war, about 25% of the medical discharges from the war front were related to psychiatric stress, potentially a "moral" issue.

Part 3 was called "A Deadly Calling" and it covers the Allied taking of Rome and Italy. On the home front, the sacrifices continue, as people are asked to postpone buying what they can do without and children collect scrap metal in drives. Society becomes very collective and the greater good becomes a compelling moral value. In Mobile, not nearly as much housing is built for African American workers as white workers. Japanese Nisei are finally allowed to "volunteer" for a segregated unit with infantry combat only, and take training in Mississippi, where the governor guarantees that they will be treated as "white." A family in Waterbury agonizes over the loss of its son in Italy just before his 21st birthday. Communication was by Western Union telegram, the email of the day, and it was often quite inadequate.

In 1943, the War Department authorized a graphic technicolor newsreel "With the Marines at Tarawa" showing footage of Marine casualties in the Pacific, and that brought the horror of war to the home front, in the movie theaters.

Part 4 (2-1/2 hours) is called "Pride of our Nation" and covers the turnaround in the War in 1944, most of all with D Day ("The Longest Day"). A soldier wrote to his sister and told her to look after her parents and that it was likely he would not make it back. The Americans did badly on Omaha Beach (near Bayeux, where, ironically, the William the Conqueror Museum is located -- I visited it in 1999) during the first several hours on June 6, 1944 (partly because the early paratroopers, gliders and shellings of the pillboxes missed their targets) but persistence (and improvised shelling my the neighbor) had turned things around by mid afternoon.

In the Philippines, civilian prisoners as well as soldiers are treated very badly. But the Holocaust was hardly known yet.

Episode 5 (September 30) "FUBAR" (an expletive) covers the progress in Europe after D-Day (the "Market Garden" campaign) and the Pacific, with the waste of 1200 men on an island that no longer mattered, and the Allied bombing of the Jap positions in the Philippines, where American POW's were placed in harms way. The interviews continue to be graphic, as one account of an airman most of whose skin came off while he was still alive. Yet some young men in those days really wanted the chance to go into combat. An interesting tidbit is that Americans first walked into German territory on September 11, 1944.

Episode 6 (October 1) "Ghost Front" starts in late 1944 with Allied "rest" in the Ardennes. Hitler began preparing one desperate counterattack, drafting men up to age 60 even from captured countries. On December 16, the Germans attacked, pushing back a "bulge" in to Belgium. In about six weeks, the Allies took all the territory back (some areas changed hands several times) and the Germans were fatally weakened.

In the Pacific, the Philippines were liberated. The film covers Iwo Jima (the subject of two Spielberg / Clint Eastwood Dreamworks films in 2006) relatively briefly. In the Pacific, especially, the Marines were learning to accept racial integration of units and of providing medical and personal services. In Europe, Japanese Americans, formerly Nisei, fought as units.

Episdoe 7 (Octoer 2) "A World Without War" starts when President Roosevelt warns Americans that, while victory in Europe is near, a fight with Japan could take years. The Americans take Okinawa, first without resistance, but then losing more men than in any battle in the war. In Europe, the Russians begin finding the concentration camps, and the film contains graphic original footage of the victims of the Holocaust. One of the soldiers says that it shocked him to learn that the War, in Nazi view, had been a "crusade" motivated by ideology. Some of the Holocaust victims actually died after being fed too much suddenly (a fact that I recall being told in high school). The film shifts quickly to a brief account of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese surrendered without knowing that we had no more atomic bombs. The film ends with the return of a few of the GI's home. One of the GI's, Eugene Sledge. would, after a difficult adaptation, become a teacher and write a book, "With the Old Breed."

I believe that I recognize music of Shostakovich (the 8th and/or 11th symphonies) and Britten in the background score. Maybe some visitor can identify the music in a comment.

It's good to note here that on Sept. 9, 2001 (two days before 9/11) HBO and Dreamworks premiered Band of Brothers, dir. by Dave Frankel and Tom Hanks, based on the book by Stephen Ambrose, tracing three brothers from the Overlord operation through victory in Japan.

A couple of important films about the Nisei were "Come See the Paradise" (1990, dir, Alan Parker, 20th Century Fox), a film that seems largely forgotten, and "Snow Falling on Cedars", dir. Scott Hicks, Universal; also Robert Pirosh, "Go For Broke!" (1951, MGM).

Saturday, September 22, 2007

CNN: Judgment in Jena


CNN Special Investigations Unit today presented a one hour documentary report, “Judgment in Jena”, a history and analysis of the racial controversy in the small north central Louisiana town of Jena in La Salle Parrish. Kyra Phillips narrated. The town is named after a city in Germany.

The problem started in 2005 when three white students hung nooses on a wide tree before the high school. The local district attorney, Reed Walters, spoke at a school assembly and said something like, “With the stroke of a pen I can end your life.” The white students received brief suspensions. (The principal wanted to expel them, but the school board, and the prodding of white parents, reduced the punishment to suspension and detention. Other acts of vandalism were handled lightly.) The town and high school were peaceful during the football season, but problems escalated, starting with a fire after Thanksgiving, and then six African Americans were accused of beating, nearly fatally, one white student. It is not clear that the first student charged was present at the beating, but he was convicted (and apparently he was the only defendant charged as an adult), and a complicated legal battle ensued. All six students were charged with attempted second degree murder. Each defendant’s family had to mortgage homes or raise other money for defense.

A United States attorney, Mr. Washington, from western Louisiana, himself African American, indicated that there was little or no connection between the noose incidents and the assault in December, and that from a legal point of view, there was plenty of justification for energetic prosecution of the assault (assuming enough actual evidence against each defendant; some of the kids' testimony reported in the show sounded like it could lack credibility).

Emotions have run high, as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton spoke at the town, and on Thursday Sept. 21, 2007 there was a large demonstration in Jena, which some people believe reminds them of Selma. People came from all over the country. The CNN story is here. There is a point in the show where the La Salle Parrish sheriff says that the ability of people to incite things and spread rumors on the Internet with no accountability (often anonymously) is contributing to tensions in Jena. There are disturbing reports in the major media outlets (mentioned in the show also) and from the FBI of white supremacist websites targeting the defendants (this sort of security problem with the web has been addressed before) (AP story about FBI probe by Becky Bohrer here), and of another arrest in Alexandria, LA for another noose incident.

Website for American Lynching film project. I was present at one filming session in June 2005 in the Capitol in Washington, on a day that the Senate passed a non-binding resolution apologizing for not doing more about lynching from the Civil War to the 1960s.

Update
: On Friday September 28, 2007, Dr. Phil had a segment on Jena, and it continues Monday October 1. Dr. Phil kept the show objective and the guests in line, who were quite emotional from both sides.

Update: On Saturday Oct. 6 CNN presented an interview with University of Maryland law professor Sherrilyn Ifill, author of "On the CourtHouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-First Century," published by Beacon (available in hardcover and paperback). She said that the EEIC has over 50000 racial complaints, and that nooses have been left on chairs in workplaces on 20 occasions. Rich Sanchez also gave a brief report on the noose as a "Symbol of Hate," and showed items from the Allen Littlefield collection. The team "lynching" originally came from the name of a person. CNN also presented Elijah Cummings, and mentioned a museum in Tallahassee, FL that had a conspicuous noose to make a point, and many people found it offensive even though it was intended to make a political point. Use of them for teaching purposes has also created issues on some campuses.

Update: Nov. 4, 2007


Tonight CNN presented a related one-hour report by Kyra Phillips: The Noose: An American Nightmare. The show presents several examples where the noose has been used to make threats (including one in Minnesota, and another at a company in Conroe, Texas, resulting in litigation) and gives more examples of nooses and lynchings from the early part of this century. The show discussed hate crimes laws, and the fact that New York State does not yet include the noose in its hate symbols, although it does include the swastika. Kyra then interviews one white supremacist, who, the program says, is very cagey about how he stays within what is protected by the First Amendment (spilling over into incitement), especially on the Internet. The CNN link is here.

Friday, September 21, 2007

ABC 20-20 "Toughest Call"


ABC 20/20 tonight (Friday Sept. 21) had a two hour show “The Toughest Call” about a number of difficult situations.

Jenny McCarty talked about her son’s changing diagnosis, from epilepsy to autism, and how he improved after a dietary change, eliminating gluten.

Christine Copp’s boyfriend as paralyzed after a motorcycle rodeo accident (I attended an event like that once in the Minneapolis Metrodome).

A woman made pregnant by rape and her husband keep and raise the baby boy.

“Conversion therapy” (like reparative therapy) for ex-gays in several religious groups is covered. A Mormon man has persistent fantasies and eventually divorces, with three teenage children. Love in Action and Exodus International are shown. The religious idea that one changes to please God’s plan and does not question it or focus on one’s own psychic needs is covered. Another Mormon "convert" simply says "I am a Man," and won't discuss choice or inborn nature.

A soldier (Private Moss) in Afghanistan has shrapnel with live ordnance in his pelvis, and Army surgeons take terrible risks to get it out. Live video of the actual surgery is shown.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Dr. Phil presents a case of "Catch Me If You Can"


Dr. Phil tends to invite people to his shows who have harmed or cheated others, and one wonders why they agree to come on (and go to “Man Camp” or the “Dr. Phil House”). Today, Monday Sept. 17, 2007 his show was dedicated to a couple people who “lie or fake their way through life.” He presented a 52-year-old con artist (“The Great Prentender” or “Master of Deception” who resembles the protagonist of the Dreamworks film “Catch Me If You Can” of Fox's The Flim-Flam Man. He has pretended to be a priest, gotten a job with the Red Cross under false pretenses, and fabricated various identities. He would set up cell phone accounts in different area codes to fake his own reference checks for job applications. This all started when he lived with a sugar daddy celebrity, and was kicked out, and then got a rap sheet for grand theft auto for not returning leased or rented cars.

What’s interesting is his claim to have written a book, and be working on two more books. But the first book “Conversations with God” was actually authored by another party (check Amazon); Dr. Phil’s “guest” only added a foreword and afterword. Dr. Phil invited the man to come back to the show if he gets either of the other books published and has actually written them himself. (According to imdb, “Conversations with God” became a movie from Samuel Goldwyn Films in 2006, as a journey of a homeless man; I just added the film to my own Netflix queue. (The guest had been homeless before pulling of his charades.)

I wondered, what happens if he self-publishes the book? Does that “count”? Or uses a cooperative publisher like Author House (recently merged with iUniverse). Now cooperative publishing companies (with print-on-demand) often provide the imprint and brand like trade publishers, and do have publishing contracts similar in some respects to those of trade publishers (which could include legal indemnification, as for copyright infringement or gross plagiarism).

I suspect that the public won’t be interested in hearing from this gentlemen until he atones more (pays restitution or serves jail time), something not to expect with sociopathy. In any case, it’s easy to prove that a book is your own work, if you keep the manuscript and notes on your hard drive. I did.

On Friday, Sept. 21, Dr. Phil had a segment about a 38 year old woman (who looked like she was 50) having an affair with her son's best friend, who was 18 (so the affair was legal according to California law). Dr, Phil, nevertheless, called the friend a "child" even though he spoke up for himself quite eloquently from the audience. Dr. Phil expressed moral repugnance at this legal relationship. Of course, if there were children from the relationship, there would be issues. But the repugnance seemed more collectivistic: what is supposed to happen to people her own age? That is one thing marriage is for. Dr. Phil did present another (married) couple, where the male was three decades older than the female.

The "Dr. Phil" show is produced by CBS but aired on NBC (at least in the DC area). Go figure.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

History Channel: The Next Plague: Avian Influenza


The History Channel also has a fifty minute film “The Next Plague: Avian Influenza” (2005). The film presents a hypothetical scenario of how a bird flu epidemic could arise suddenly and paralyze the globe’s economy for as long as two years, while killing millions. Perhaps it makes an effective companion piece to the longeon the black plague (reviewed Thursday Sept. 13). The film interrupts itself with a couple of disclaimers to the effect that this is a simulation.

It may not be quite as graphic as the ABC TV film “Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America” (2006). It presents the idea of the final mutation creating a single index case in Vietnam. The person boards an airliner (as a “flying Petri dish”) and the pandemic starts. It seems unlikely that it the mutation could happen that suddenly; it’s transition into a human-human transmitted disease would probably be more gradual. But it is already avian-human transmitted and in rare cases in Indonesia may have been transmitted person-person. The film claims that about 50% of the mutation necessary for such a pandemic has already happened. The virus would probably first colonize in the back of the throat or in the bronchial tubes, and a person could be a “carrier” for several days without symptoms. Some people might never have symptoms.

The film claims that the US has only enough anti-viral medication on hand to treat 1% of the population, which it compares to the UK’s 25%. France’s 20%, and Canada’s 17%.

Unlike a tsunami or hurricane, whose effects are regional, a pandemic, the film claims, could shut down the entire economy as we know it for two years, and change all of our political institutions, our notions of political freedom. Persons who had recovered from the flu would be expected to help care for the sick, since they would be immune.

Recent posting on public health policy on issues blog, here.

Earlier posting on other films on bird flu: here

Friday, September 14, 2007

ABC 20/20 "Whose Body Is It, Anyway?" (Sick in America)


Tonight, Sept. 14, 2007, ABC 20/20, hosted by John Stossel, featured a report "Sick in America: Whose Body Is It Anyway?" Stossel went through the major problems in the health insurance market, as with the uninsured and out-of-control costs, just as did Michael Moore. But Stossel believes that the free market really can fix health care financing. For one thing, divorce it from employment (he gave horror stories of people losing "temporary insurance" with their jobs). Use tax-deferred health savings accounts instead. There are mixed opinions on how well health savings accounts work with preventive care.

In some areas, where patients tend to pay out of their own pockets, like cosmetic surgery, prices are actually coming down.

Doctors are not reimbursed for modernization of information systems, but Stossel feels that market forces can compel the health care industry to do a better job with medical records (he doesn't mention HIPAA).

Most of all, Stossel claims that waiting lists are a huge problem in Britain and Canada. Patients often come to the US for Canada.

Stossel does challenge Michael Moore ("Sicko") directly in the broadcast.

One thing that is interesting about all of this is that another ABC reporter, Dr. Tim Johnson, has often, on Good Morning America, seemed to promote single payer. So even within ABC there is disagreement.

Update: Sept. 16 Where to go for the Emmy's.

The most current list of the Emmy awards (Sunday night -- hosted by Ryan Seacrest, who brags that he hosts events, like a Donald Trump Apprentice, for a living) seems to be on imdb.com . The shows that won don't happen to be the ones that I follow on this blog (unlike the situation with the Oscars and Golden Globes for movies). I've ordered the HBO "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" for review. It will air Sept. 21.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

History Channel: The Plague: 14th Century bubonic plague provides a warning for today


The History Channel offers a vivid documentary, The Plague (2005, 90 min) about the Black Death, the bubonic (and perhaps pneumonic) plague that swept through Europe during the mid 14th Century, and wiped out thirty percent of its population. In some cities, like Barcelona, as much as sixty percent of the population died.

Europe had been, relatively speaking (given its feudal society), economically prosperous as the epidemic swept across from China through Muslim lands, brought by invaders from Mongolia. The speed with which it spread suggests pneumonic plague, which could be casually contagious, as well as bubonic, spread by flea bites. It is even possible that it could have been accelerated by something like Ebola. The plague may have provided the first known opportunity for biological warfare (it would occur again in the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars with smallpox, as well in the conquests of South America by the Spaniards and Portuguese). Ken Gage, from the Centers for Disease Control, provides some commentary.

During the worst of the epidemic, religious authorities scapegoated people for vices like prostitution and gambling, and then blamed the Jews. People tried to atone by self-flagellation. The legacy of anti-Semitism has many roots in the plague.

After the plague subsided, with a population reduced by a “purification”, social and economic changes advanced. Former peasants became landowners, and former nobles did manual labor, since labor was more scarce. The printing press was invented, and the more efficient spread of information undermined some of the seedier practice of the Church (like simony). The stage was set for Renaissance and a gradual growth of individualism.

But the epidemic certainly provides an object lesson for today, about how changing social conditions can accelerate an epidemic (whether HIV, SARS, or H5N1). The film ends with a warning to that effect.

Friday, September 07, 2007

ABC 20/20 investigates NBC Dateline's work in Chris Hansen's controversial TCAP series


ABC 20/20 had quite a show tonight. Let’s go in reverse order.

John Stossel gave a brief interview to filmmaker Michael Moore, and presented other evidence contradicting his episode in “Sicko” claiming that socialized medicine in Cuba gives good health care.

The show then presented (“The Numbers Game”) trader and mathematician Mike Byster, who now volunteers in public schools teaching middle school kids how to do arithmetic in their heads, without calculators, using number theory tricks. For example, 25 x 25 = 625: Concatenate (3 x 2) and (5 x 5). I guess I could prove this with the binomial theorem. Byster has been blacklisted from a few casinos for counting cards, something libertarians like.

Then the show (“Inside Out”) showed us high definition photography of the inside of the human body, a preview of “Inside the Living Body” to air on the National Geographic Channel Sept. 16. They showed a clip from the 1966 Sci-Fi film “Fantastic Voyage.”

But the most provocative report, “Brian Ross Investigates” was the first one, of the Dateline TCAP Peej sting in Murphy, Texas. The district attorney John Rauch has dropped charges against all defendants. He claims that NBC Dateline set up all the busts and controlled the police work, which was deliberately staged to look good as reality television. From a professional law enforcement point of view, the sting was an example of amateurism and even vigilante "work," not a concept that encourages public respect and confidence in the law. According to Roach, one of the biggest legal problems is that, once the suspect entered the sting house and were talking to Chris Hansen, they really were under de facto arrest without being read their Miranda Rights while Hansen continued to encourage them to incriminate themselves by quizzing them about the chat logs and personally judgmental questions like “Why are you here?” (Actually, Rabbi David Kaye, in the previous NBC Dateline Virginia sting, said, “you know I’m in trouble, I know I’m in trouble” and that point was used in Kaye’s federal trial – Kaye is now under a 78 month federal prison sentence; but then, in VA Kaye was not under de facto "arrest" with federal prosecution under USC 2422 still possible, an interesting legal conundrum, perhaps. Also, another "obvious question: has to be, what about all of the state-level TCAP prosecutions, pleas and convictions for stings in the other states, like CA, OH, GA, FL, NJ? There were no immediate state arrests in VA and NY, possibly because of procedural rules of because of Miranda concerns.) Roach also reminded Ross that under Texas law, the men did not have to come to the house to be charged with a crime (that’s not necessarily true in all states). The report covered the suicide of assistant DA Louis William Conradt when police broke into his home in Terrell, TX on a Sunday afternoon, again with Dateline provoking the shots. The family is suing NBC (the report asks, why not the police department). The police seemed to want its 15 Minutes of Fame. Brian Ross’s blog and blotter report is here.

This is the first case I know of where one major network (ABC, belonging to Disney) has investigated the work of a competitor (NBC, belonging now to Universal).

Brian Ross has a report about all this online on his ABC "Blotter" blog ("A Sting Gone Bad"), here.

NBC's response to this claim by the Texas DA is to be found on MSNBC here. With some bemusement, I recall how often Chris Hansen, in later episodes, asks the marks "Do you watch television?" A few marks did ask if they were under arrest, and Hansen said, not from him, they were free to go. But yes, that raises the Miranda question.

Update: March 10, 2008

The New York Times has an op-ed by Andy Cohen about the Texas DA case, "What’s on TV Tonight? Humiliation to the Point of Suicide," link here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

PBS reruns "Dimming the Sun" -- making global warming even look worse


On Tuesday Sept. 4, PBS rebroadcast a WGBH Boston Nova show (one hour), “Dimming the Sun.” It had aired early in 2006, and I made a brief note on it in my “major issues” blog in an early entry in April 2006. Now, with Leonardo Di Caprio’s movie “The 11th Hour” having just started, this is a timely rerun. (See my movies blog for Aug. 28 for that film).

The subject of “global dimming” is a bit like an algebra problem. Solve for x this equation: x -1 = 1, where x is the amount of real global warming; where -1 is the global cooling from dimming, and 1 (in degrees Celsius) is the effective net warming. Of course, as in middle school Algebra I, you get x = 2. That is, the actual rate of global warming might really be about twice what has been observed so far, because the global dimming from particulate pollution has offset it. It's sort of like uncovering an "accounting problem" where some "losses" are cooked and hidden. But in the past decade or so, Western countries have cleared up a lot of solid pollutants (relieving a horrible drought in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s). If China and India were to do the same, global warming might get much worse, because the net global warming from greenhouse gases would go up even more.

Global dimming has an explanation in the physical properties of water (and maybe in the bonding angle that every high school chemistry student answers test questions on). When there are more microparticles in the stratosphere (good old earth science), water droplets get smaller and more numerous, making clouds more reflective. The principle is the same as the way snowpacks keep daytime late winter temperatures down even as the sun angle rises (and how loss of snow and glaciers could accelerate warming even more).

The show actually started with a review of the weather on September 11, 2001, one of the clearest days on the East Coast in memory. Scientist reviewed the temperature records for the three nights that there were no airliner contrails when the temperature variation between night and day increased almost 2 degrees F. (It’s possible that some of that could have been explained by an unusually clear pattern, at least on 9/11 itself.)

Some worst case scenarios have global warming increasing average earth temperature by 18 degrees F by 2100, or almost up to 77 deg. F. There is even the grim possibility that methane hydrates, frozen solid in the ocean bottoms, could be released, literally setting oceans on fire. (The entire Amazon basin could burn, too.) CH-4 is much more greenhouse-enhancing than CO-2. That’s why some scientists worry about a Venus effect here.

Update: On Tuesday Sept 18, 2007 ABC "Good Morning America" presented the theory that carbon soot from industrial output (especially in Asia) is making snow that falls on Greenland, the polar ice caps (especially the Arctic) and mountain glaciers less "white" and reflective, and therefore contributing to global warming, so the dimming effect could be less than reported in the PBS Nova report.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

NBC Dateline: Thief of Hearts, World Rooftop Rescue


Today, Sunday, September 2, 2007, Dateline NBC presented an interesting report on a mortgage fraud artist, Michael Bevan Cox, now facing 54 years in prison. The 65 minute spot was called “Thief of Hearts” and hosted by Keith Morrison.

What makes this report interesting is that Cox had authored a blueprint for his crimes in a novel called “The Associates.” I don’t find this on Amazon, so apparently it may not have been published or even self-published, although it seems like a number of individuals (including the police, FBI and Secret Service) read it. As with the Cho Va Tech case, it seems like a future crime spree could be predicted by the contents of a “fictitious” document that the suspect had authored. This sort of thing has been reported more in the media recently and seems to raise disturbing new questions in the free speech area.

The series of girl friends and scams was intricate. The story shows how many loopholes there are in the mortgage and title insurance business, a fact that certainly contributes to the current mortgage industry “crisis” as well as crises in the past (such as the Texas Savings and Loan meltdown in the late 1980s).

In the novel, the protagonist finally escapes to a life of leisure. Not so. After as series of twists, including becoming the victim himself of burglarly (bad karma), Cox is apprehended. The program ends with an interview in the prison orange jumpers. His rationalization is that no “individual” was hurt, just title companies. Not so.

The second segment (“Rescue on Top of the World”) was the harrowing story of Australian mountain climber Lincoln Hall, thought to be dead by serpas for 12 hours before being found in -20 F temperatures in May 2006, at 28000 feet. Two climbers passed and would not stop to help. However Masur’s team did give up the chance to reach the summit in order to save him (he had been paid $20000 a piece to guide to other climbers). The program ends with Matt Lauer interviewing Lincoln. His wife had thought he had died, and the son found out about his survival on the Internet.

Sidebar:
On Thurs. Aug 30, on Regis & Kelly on ABC, Regis Philbin and David Letterman showed off their battle scars from involuntarily joining the "zipper club" -- at least their ladylike gams. (Remember Ronald Reagan in "John Loves Mary"?) No one was impressed.