Friday, November 30, 2007
Today, Friday, Nov. 30, Bill Moyers Journal on PBS examined the Annapolis peace talks. The major focus of the program was Christians United for Israel under evangelical Pastor John Hagee. The was a lot of rhetoric to the effect that Israel is the only nation explicitly created by God or Jehovah (other countries were created by monarchs or wars) and that the Palestinians never had any right to the land that was taken, because God had given it to the Israelites (hence, in their frame of reference, no legitimate "property rights" were violated). Their extremist rhetoric also refuses to allow negotiation with the Palestinians or any of Islam, and they talked a lot about Islam as the enemy. One pastor said that the scourge caused by Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for allowing any damage to his chosen nation of Israel.
The second part of the show interviewed Evangelicals for Social Action President Ronald J. Snider, and Israel Policy Forum director M J Rosenberg.
There is, it seems, in the extremist rhetoric, "a desire to be right." (The same is true within radical Islam.) If one is "right" according to the Scriptures, then it does not matter who is injured by the process. Religious extremism often creates a psychology where the individual perceives himself, his family, sexuality (usually in monogamous marriage) and faith as a continuous entity that cannot exist if any piece of it is seriously challenged by others. Within the confines of that life, there can sometimes be a lot of caring (for each other in the family and faith) and good, but sometimes there is a refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the outside world.
Individualism, when coupled with the idea of karma, can become very much like a religion -- certainly an ideology and belief system that is capable of its own self-righteousness, to the extent that individually many people can be left out, im any family. All very interesting.
Bill Moyers Journal is here.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Today (Wednesday Nov. 28) Dr. Phil presented, in the second part of the show, a gay male couple, Alex and Lynn. The link is here; go to the bottom and look for "Can their relationship be saved, or should they call it quits?" They had been married in Canada. There was discussion of which partner "takes care" of the other. Dr. Phil then presented Lynn Toler from "Divorce Court" and author of My Mother's Rules: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Emotional Genius. She hosts the cable show "Decision House" (not the Dr. Phil House or Man Camp) on MyNetworkTV.
The earlier segment was rather unpleasant and dealt with a married Marine facing divorce and some very serious accusations that can put him on a registry.
In Washington DC NBC4 carries this show at 3 PM. I've wondered why the credits say that the show comes from CBS (and Paramount).
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Tonight, Nov. 26, the History Channel presented its season premier of The Universe, with the program "Alien Planets". The subject tonight was planets outside the solar system, in other systems mostly within 200 light years of earth.
Planets are discovered from the wobbles of their stars. A star and planets all revolve around a center of gravity, and even the star moves slightly.
The first planets to be found were "hot Jupiters" close to their parent stars, usually larger than Jupiter. Then other gas giants were found in highly elliptical orbits, resulting in extremely strong, hemisphere sized storms on the "planets."
Finally we started finding more earth-like planets. A planet with seven or so earth masses might be completely covered with water, and it might get so dense that at depths the water behaves like ice even though it is warm. (Neptune is said to be like this.) The show also discussed a planet near a red dwarf, which would be in the habitable zone at a much closer distance and cause an easier-to-detect wobble.
The show also presented a pulsar (neutron star) that actually had small rocky planets around it. Apparently after a supernova, there is still a small cloud left that can coalesce into new small planets. The pulsar from the planet's surface is a beacon or lighthouse, and quite deadly.
An earlier show from last season's Universe, with discussion of Venus with respect to global warming, is discussed on my "disaster movies" blog here.
Update: Jan. 8, 2007
"Alien Moons" discussed the mechanics of the moons of the solar system planets, with "irregular moons" mostly captured from outside the solar system, and "regular moons" usually larger and more spherical and in the same motion as the planet's rotation. Io, Europa and Triton (Neptune, irregular) were discussed in detail, but Titan (Saturn) was not. That's a disappointment, as Titan is the solar system's most interesting (and earth-like) moon. Probably it will be covered on a later program.
Monday, November 26, 2007
PBS continued its series "America at a Crossroads" tonight (Nov 26 2007) with two more episodes. My coverage of the earlier episodes was April 15, here.
The 10 PM EST episode was "Campus Battleground." Segments were shown at Berkeley, University of California, and Columbia University in New York City. At Berkeley, one student summed it up by saying that Israel's view is "We are a Chosen People, the Holocaust proved that this is our only safe homeland, and we must do anything necessary to protect security." That was a reference to the complicated Wall running around the West Bank and many towns. There was discussion of the mandatory conscripted military service for everyone 18-21. (The show didn't mention it, but gays are able to serve openly in the military in Israel without difficulty, according to many other sources.) There was also a pretend "checkpoint" on the Berkeley campus where "Palestinians" were stopped. (That concept provides a motive in Brian de Palma's recent film "Redacted"). A professor asked students, as part of the final exercise of a seminar, to design next year's symposium. The PBS link is here.
I missed the episode "Homegrown: Islam in Prison," with the link here. I. I forgot to record it, and was more "captivated" by the idea of the Shanti Virus (possible pandemic) on NBC's "Heroes".
Picture: Naval Academy from across the Severn River in Annapolis, MD, site of a peace conference this week.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Today, Sunday Nov. 25, the McLaughlin Group (NBC) had a lively debate on the “most pressing problems.” Conservatives Pat Buchanan and Tom Blankley (of the The Washington Times) insisted that the free market could deal with global warming and the questions about peaking oil discovery and production. Eventually, the market will provide the infrastructure necessary to support other or more renewable forms of energy in personal transportation. They both insisted that terrorism was out most dangerous problem, because a single asymmetric nuclear attack could change our way of life forever. Buchanan boasted that he drives a 10-year-old car without particularly good gas mileage (I drive a ten year old stickshift Escort that still does 30 mph on the open road), and warned that global warming was the perfect issue to allow politicians to take control over the lives of people.
Eleanor Clift, and to a lesser extent Chrystia Freeland, agreed that global warming could become a crisis quickly, especially as countries like China try to catch up with us in standard of living. Clift talked about the “tipping point” and reminded those who want to get away from fossil fuels that switchgrass could eventually provide an efficient source of ethanol. McLaughin offered his suspicion that oil companies were slow to install E-85 pumps in gas stations that they own. There was a question whether we would be using the internal combustion engine for automobile transportation in another half century.
The success of Spain in constructing windmills (following Cervantes and “Don Quixote”) to supply 12% of its electricity was shown. The city of Seville, Spain provides more energy from solar than any other major city on earth.
Then McLaughlin interviewed Sir Harold Evans, author of “They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine: Two Centuries of Innovators” (Little Brown, 2004). Evans discusses the way social pressures and political climates often discourage individuals from innovating and especially have often refused to recognize the accomplishments of women and minorities. Evans defended the concept of royalty as head of state only in a constitutional monarchy (Britain).
Friday, November 23, 2007
My goodness, Shawn and Belle FINALLY got married on "Days of our Lives" today. It was supposed to be a Thanksgiving Day wedding, but Thanksgiving Day dog shows (sorry, not cat shows) on NBC pre-empted. Belle Black (Martha Anne Madison now) and Shawn-Douglas Brady (now Brandon Beemer -- one of whose imdb head shots is in leather -- but he has never seemed like the real Shawn -- Jason Cook, who suddenly left the show in 2006) finally did it, and King Phillip Kiriakis (Jay Kenneth Johnson) actually stayed away from the wedding (don't most soap opera weddings get busted? When Belle and Phillip married, Shawn crashed it with a motorcycle).
Three years or so ago, Belle lied to Shawn to protect her mother Marlena (Deidre Hall) when the later was the Salem Stalker. Well, they undid that with the island-replica of Salem thing (it would have been better to make it Purgatory, like in the film "Wristcutters").
So Belle has two smooth, metrosexual men chasing her. Phillip (remember, King Philip II of Spain tried to invade Elizabeth's England). I doubt that peg-legged Phillip (that doesn't bother Belle) will let go. He doesn't want to sleep alone.
By the way, the idea that one can end a "vendetta" by forcing a specific woman Sami -- Allison Sweeney) to marry the godfather's (Stefano) son and giving him grandchildren by her is pretty horrible. But maybe it goes on.
Monday, November 19, 2007
PBS: NOVA: Athens, the Dawn of Democracy (it aired at 10 PM EST Nov. 19, 2007 on PBS WETA in Washington DC), a one hour documentary, lays out the basic paradoxes and conflicts that arose out of the first major democracy in western history. Democracy in Athens spanned about 150 years and prospered relatively well until challenged by war with Sparta and by internal tensions that seem to follow the speech of philosophers like Socrates.
The early part of the film showed the realism of Athenian sculpture, compared to Egyptian art. It appears that the realism was achieved by having live models covered with casts. The process was demonstrated as a cast was placed around the leg of a male model, then carefully removed, leaving a hollow cast into which wax could be poured to make a component of the statue.
Athenian democracy ran into the paradoxes implied by majority rile, which we know can turn into the "tyranny of the majority." Many people became sensitive to having their religious ideas challenged, just as in today's world. Democracy, as the film implies early, is itself a continuous experiment where change is an essential experience.
In Athenian society, men often congregated socially, and discussed philosophy. The film says that some of the associations were homoerotic, which has long been reported. Socrates was well regarded for many years but became increasingly controversial as Athenian society was challenged from within and especially from without. Socrates was something like the equivalent of an 18th century pamphleteer or early 21st century blogger, and he preferred to investigate, muse, write and broadcast and let the chips fall where they may, rather than seek direct political power and authority and have specific recognized relationships with others. His approach to debate and solitary self-examination led to the term "Socratic" (and I recall a tenth grade plane geometry teacher who extolled the virtues of "socratism" and also of the "sophists" in ancient Greece). Yet this very diffidence seemed to contribute to the anger of the "people", and eventually led to his execution by hemlock poisoning. People sometimes believe that the ideas of others are articulated in order to "toy" with their ability to make intimate commitments; in that sense, "freedom of speech" might paradoxically undermine freedom, as the film points out.
Plato was Socrates's most famous pupil, and the film notes the ambiguity of some of Plato's ideas (Leonard Bernstein's Violin Serenade was dedicate to Plato). It notes that Hitler and Stalin claim to have extracted ideas from Plato.
Update: Nov. 21
The PBS Frontline documentary on Darfur ("On our Watch") aired Nov 20 is discussed here.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Today (Friday Nov. 16) the usually gentle-mannered Judge Alex Ferrer on Fox (the same channel that carries Judge Judy and several other reality TV court programs) had an interesting case. A woman was sued for libel for creating a Myspace page in which she took photographs of her previous roommate from Craigslist and then presented her as a prostitute and other things. Curiously, the defendant brought another woman with her who admitted to setting up the page. The Judge finally told them that the other woman could be pursued for a libel judgment. At the same time, the other woman had, on Craigslist, presented herself as "disease free" and the Judge questioned as to whether that carried the suggestion of prostitution. The Judge, however, still felt that the Myspace page (clearly in violation of Myspace own terms of service) could be libelous for other reasons. Judge Judy once called some of the people on her show as like kids playing in a sandbox, and today's case definitely came out of the sandbox (no jungle jim).
We've seen this sort of thing before, as an episode on Dr. Phil (Dec 6 2006 on this blog) where someone created fake Myspace pages for a school assistant principal. Ordinary people, and not just "professionals", can get themselves into trouble when they defame others online -- and we hear more and more about this all the time.
CNN also reports a case near St. Louis where a teenager girl was bullied by an apparent "friend's" Myspace page, and it turned out that the page was set up by other parents to "spy" on the girl. The end results were tragic. Law enforcement said that no laws were broken. NBC Today show also reported this on Nov. 18, and the MSNBC / AP story "Mom: Girl killed herself over online hoax: Teen distraught at end of MySpace relationship; neighbor family created ID" is here.
Update: Nov. 23
ABC World News Tonight has a story "Town Will Punish Cyberbullies; Officials Respond to Young Girl's Suicide" by Barbara Pinto, here. The town is Dardenne Prairie, Mo. .
On NBC Today show Nov. 29 an internet safety expert noted that there is a federal statute against anonymous cyber-bullying that might apply this case. The safety expert encouraged parents "Google your child" and look for what others are saying about the child (common names or synonyms are an obvious problems). She also encouraged parents to monitor their teen kids social networking sites and to keep them whitelisted.
Picture: Demonstration (against hate crimes) in Washington DC today.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Tonight (Nov. 15, 2007) Wolf Blitzer hosted a debate on CNN at 8 PM EST (5 PM PST) in Las Vegas. The event ran 130 minutes. The first 75 minutes consisted of questions to the candidates (there are seven remaining now -- Clinton, Edwards, Richardson, Biden, Dodds, Kucinich, Obama).
Near the end, Hillary mentioned a 95-year-old constituent who was born when women could not vote (not sure that is correct), and wanted to live to see a female president.
Hillary Clinton seemed to change her strategy a bit, not always on the high plane; instead she got into scraps with other candidates, especially Obama on health care and social security. She believes that Obama's plan to eliminate the wage limit to which FICA tax applies to be excessive; Obama says it would balance the trust fund, and affect only the 6% of Americans earning over $97000. That would essentially make the portion of 97000 a real "tax." Hilary denies that her program for health care is mandatory coverage; she talks about making it choice (with tax credits) and affordable, but so does Obama.
Most of the candidates (except for Richardson and Kucinich) opposed giving drivers licenses to illegal aliens.
On education, generally the candidates want to measure teacher performance not just on test scores as in NCLB, but on the performance relative to the income levels of the kids that they teach, so that working more "intimately" in inner-city schools is encouraged. Richardson wants a carrot-type national service program with two years college tuition paid for by one year of national service.
There were questions about Yucca Mountain (the nuclear waste depot). There was discussion of renewable energy and Richardson said that Americans would have to learn to make personal sacrifice.
There was some discussion of NAFTA and GATT, and Kucincich gave the usual "socialist" response about international workers agreements. There was discussion of safety of products made in China.
Blitzer at one point asked if personal liberties could be more important than national security, and Bill Richardson said, most emphatically, yes.
The last fifty minutes of the program comprised questions from undecided voters in the audience, and many of the questions were about how to get out of Iraq.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
The History Channel presented its documentary on Global Warming today, the second major television documentary on this in less than a month (the other was Anderson Cooper’s “Planet in Peril”, discussed on this blog Oct. 23). It is called “A Global Warning” (by Chris Hoskins?) and presents much more material about natural change in global temperatures than have other documentaries.
About 650 million years ago we had “snowball” earth because somehow a lot of carbon dioxide dissolved, leading to freezing and ice reflection. Evidence of this can be found with dropstones in the Mojave Desert (the film incorrectly placed Death Valley in Nevada). Even at the Equator the earth froze. Then volcanic activity released more CO-2 and the ice melted. A couple other major warmings and extinctions happened about 250 million years ago and then 60 million years ago. They could have been caused by massive volcanism in Siberia, or by changes in the earth’s orbit (becoming more elliptical) that happen as part of a natural cycle. The Ice Age about 30000 years ago might have come to an end with the release of some methane hyrdrates after volcanism and earthquakes.
The program covered the Little Ice age about the time of Colonial America, as possibly related to fewer sunspots. There were also sudden coolings after volcanic eruptions, such as the Year Without a Summer in 1816, because some volcanoes release sulfur dioxide, which is relective. An eruption of the Yellowstone caldera, 50 miles across, could cause a nuclear winter and the end of civilization.
The evidence of recent warming certainly points to man’s influence, in increasing greenhouse gas emissions. This could be offset by future cooling, such as another volcanic eruption or astronomical changes. But it could also be exacerbated. One scientist suggested that rapid warming of the tundra could cause catastrophic release of methane (as a greenhouse gas) with a much more rapid increase in global warming and flooding.
The end of the film presents the grim possibility of a mass extinction of man (just like many species going extinct as in Anderson Cooper’s film) because of sudden global climactic cataclysm. Hurricane Katrina and the Europe Heat Wave of 2003 were warnings; what about a Category 5 going into New York City? The behavior of China in the sudden explosion of its use of fossil fuels is a factor.
Earlier tonight, the History Channel presented two segments of “Modern Marvels” with presentations of renewable energy, with windmill farms and ocean tide power, and, in Iceland especially, geothermal power. Those programs presented rosy pictures that the nation’s demand for electricity could be met with entirely renewable sources. The use of various plant oils as motor fuel (pratical with diesel engines found mainly in Europe -- the car I rented in France was diesel -- was shown. Ethanol from sawgrass, sugar cane and corn were compared, with sawgrass the most promising. (Don't use linseed oil!)
Related posting on History Channel "Oil Apocalypse" is here.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Last night (Wed. Nov. 7) ABC "Nightline" presented and interviewed American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, and showed him working at his call-in radio program where he says his job is to "invent pop culture." That really means, continuously reinvent the culture. No one works harder that does the 32-year-old Georgianm who also used the stage name John Renold Aufenstein.
The story by Julia Hoppock is "Ryan Seacrest's Entertainment Empire: The Media Mogul on Simon Cowell, His Own Idols and Producing Pop Culture," here.
Seacrest is sometimes the butt of deprecating jokes, as on Regis and Kelly, where he once recounted how he got in trouble with the TSA when he went out of bounds to fetch some personal items at an airport. He says he doesn't mind the rumors and intrusive personal media questions, but says he is simply a straight white male.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
I remember, as far back as 1955, in seventh grade, teachers saying, “Read, don’t watch television.” That was when black-and-white TV was still just a bit of a novelty, westerns (Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey) were popular, as was Amos ‘n’ Andy (not accepted well today), I Love Lucy and My Little Margie. Ed Sullivan and Diana Shore were typical TV entertainers. Or, remember "Life with Elizabeth" (not the Queen) with the "Elizabeth, aren't you ashamed?" and she would shake her head (I would tease a grade school girl named Betsy about this, to the point that she wanted a name change), or "The People's Choice" with Cleo, the talking dog (who could sit in the oven). Remember "Howdy Doody" with, besides the lead puppet, characters like Buffalo Bob, Clarabelle, Mr. Bluster, and the fictional city of Doodyville? Or how about Kukla, Fran and Ollie? Or Jack Benny, and George and Gracie (remember how Gracie "didn't understand things.") I remember in seventh grade a classmate in the cafeteria accusing me of watching too much (black and white) television and playing with toy soldiers -- over lunch table "football" (remember that?)
Actually, some of the ideas in these were pretty interesting. “I Love Lucy,” half-hour segments, were masterpieces in screenwriting – how to make innocuous domestic situations funny. I recall one where Lucy hires a maid and doesn’t have the self-confidence to fire here.
Cheryl Wetzstein has an interesting story in the November 1, 2007 The Washington Times, p A1, based on the Census Bureau’s new report “A Child’s Day: 2004”. The URL seems to be this:
The report is called “More parents setting limits on TV: Census finds rise in reading.” Most of all, parents are discovering pediatric warnings that children under two should not see TV at all (I know one family that enforces this strictly, and counts on two dogs and two cats to help the infant daughter develop self-awareness – a good idea in psychological terms, probably), and parents are more restrictive of television and computer hours at all ages (most of all the youngest) than they were in the mid 1990s. Parents were more concerned about ads for adult programming creeping into children’s hours. Even the Dr. Phil segments, on at 3 PM in the East after some kids are home, certainly deal with disturbing adult topics.
It’s not so much about pornography or anything like that, it’s just maturity level. How do kids deal with all of this until they can understand the context in which things are presented?
This is all interesting, as we live in an age where people, young adults and even high schoolers, expect some independence in how they get their information from all media. At the same time, Sunday school teachers speak of "news fasts".
It's of "moral" concern to me as I would like to make media a second career.
All the while, the WGA and producers argue over residual rights and television writers (even more than movie writers) could gut a lot of shows in a few weeks if they walk off the job. SNL made fun of all of this last night. Both sides ought to stop, think, and settle.
Update: Nov. 5, 2007 Strike Starts
The WGA strike has started. Late night comedy shows will be forced into immediate reruns. Here is the CNN story today.
The WGA website lists picketing assignments, and it looks like it is an onerous duty for WGA members. The list of signatory companies is long and instructive to look at; go here.
Seriously, I hope this strike is settled quickly. Use "the area of mutual agreement."
Nov. 17: Media reports indicate that formal talks will resume Monday Nov. 26.
Update: Dec 4, 2007
Intermittent talks have resumed, but progress is hard to predict. Here is one story.
Dec. 4: Reuters: "Striking writers, studios renew talks as hopes fade" by Steve Gorman, here.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Produces has its stand today here.
The WGA's stand is here.
The "Soap Opera Fan" site gives some analysis here.
Update: Dec. 8, 2007
Various media outlets report that that the WGA-AMPTP talks have stalled again, in anger -- although it's hard to tell whether the madness is a bluff, as this happens with most strikes. The AMPTP accuses the Guild leadership people of putting their personal ideologies and agendas above the interests of their membership, and the WGA accuses the AMPTP of trying to do to the Internet "what it did to home video." I'm not sure what that is. WGA also wants jurisdiction over reality TV and animation. Of course, regular workers would have a legal right to organize and ask the WGA to represent them; I'm not sure how labor law would apply to reality show "contestants" but it would surprise me if it does. A typical story today is on CNN, " Tempers flare as studios break off talks with writers," link here. Any visitor (from either side, or neutral) with constructive comments is certainly invited to make them (monitored, but I check frequently).
Last picture above: a boyhood drawing (about 1955) when I was making amateur "movies" with drawings and projecting them as film strips (which had commonly been used in schools then).
On Dec. 10, 2007 ABC's "The View" discussed the Writers Strike.
Vanity Fair has a blog on the Writer's Strike here.
Although a couple of NBC nighttime comedy shows will restart in January without the writers, the WGA has forbidden writers to participate in the Golden Globe or Academy Awards, and forbidden old clips from films to be shown.
Friday, November 02, 2007
Thursday and Friday, Nov. 1 and 2 2007, Dr. Phil presented a hard-to-resolve case about a high school French teacher “Joelle” from Glen Rose, Texas who was accused of inappropriate behavior with male high school students. The link to the Thursday show is here; the second show has number 965.
At one point she was indicted and arrested, and threatened with 160 years in prison. The district attorney offered a misdemeanor plea bargain that would have resulted in permanent loss of teaching license. She maintains that she didn’t do it and refused, and worried that she put her own kids in danger. However, on the second day the DA agreed to a mistrial and that there was not enough credible evidence for a conviction.
The school district fired her and will not even let her work as a volunteer. She is suing the school district for lack of due process.
Three male students came forward. One recanted, but two took lie detector tests arranged by Dr. Phil and failed. Dr. Phil noted that the testimony of the young men did not have the consistency usually expected when people have been victimized. But he also noted that her response was rather analytical and not as emphatic as usually seen from someone who is completely innocent.
Dr. Phil noted that teachers must avoid every “appearance of impropriety” but that teachers are not paid adequately for what we expect of them and for the position we put them in. I’ll echo that.
She had invited a male student, Matt, to her home during the summer, supposedly to help her move a piano. Matt accused her of inappropriate advances during that visit. Later, next year, she gave Matt coded messages on paper. Matt, for an English assignment, wrote a poem in the style of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales that depicted an affair. It became a joke at the school.
It is, of course, dangerous for teachers to become involved with students socially after school. However, Joelle actually married her former English teacher, an older man.
The two day show had the effect of a docudrama movie, and reminds me of the Lifetime film “Student Seduction” (2003, dir. Peter Svatek, wr. Edithe Swensen) in which a happily married young female chemistry teacher carelessly socializes with a student, who then makes advances at her and then, when disciplined, accuses her of advances. I saw this film the weekend after my first substitute teaching assignment, in 2004, and it scared me.
I had covered other teacher conduct issues (from the Dr. Phil show) on this blog Dec 6, 2006.
Since 2005, the media have reported a large number of convictions for teacher, including female teacher, misconduct around the country.