Tuesday, December 30, 2008

PBS: Independent Lens: Grey Gardens


On Tuesday, December 30, 2008, MPT of PBS stations ran an “Operation Filmmaker” segment of “Independent Lens”, “Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway,” link here. The concerned Edith Bouvoir Beale and her daughter, aunt and cousin to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, living in squalor in an East Hampton estate. This is becoming a new documentary for HBO in 2009, directed by Michale Suczy, but there was film in 1975 directed by Ellen Hoyde and Albert Maysles, from Portrait films. The story is controversial because the daughter came home apparently to be cared for rather than become a caregiver.

The film would become the subject matter for a Broadway musical in 2006, at the Walter Kerr Theater, with the site here, “Meet Jackie O’s Most Scandalous Relatives!” with Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson.

Portions of the film and Broadway stage setup were shown, with cats milling around the household clutter, which would have deserved a show from Oprah.

Picture: where I lived in NYC in the 1970s, 6th floor. My apartment wasn't quite as messy as that shown in the show here, but, as on "I Love Lucy," it looked "lived in".

Monday, December 29, 2008

Oprah: The difference between cats and dogs


Oprah Winfrey today (Dec. 29) aired a program about man’s best friend, called “The Tiniest Dog in the World.” That’s Boo Boo, a Chihuahua, and the link to the show text and pics is here.

The highlight of the show as the video of a female Labrador Retriever nursing tiger cubs. It’s interesting to see the Lap mother not just pups that are not her own, but the young of a different species. The animal experts explained that sometimes in the wild, mothers reject their young or show little interest (as happens all to often with humans).

That leads to another observation. It’s common in nature for animals to be very similar genetically but have enormously different social behaviors. The best example is man itself, because people vary so much, even within one culture, as to their basic need for socialization and interaction. Among animals, usually these differences lead to different species. But sometimes the species can cross. Tigers are solitary animals and lions live in prides but are almost identical biologically (the mane is a superficial secondary sexual characteristic selected for mating in a social organization). They almost never mate in nature, but can in captivity, forming “ligers” or “tigrons”. Let these come on to Oprah. Night show hosts sometimes bring on big cats (with Jack Hanna, along with other critters) and usually plenty of playthings to keep them occupied

Oprah’s show went on to cover dog training (even dog mathematics), puppy mills, and animal adoption.

It's interesting to wonder about the brain wiring of cats and dogs, why cats usually are independent and dogs (and wolves) are social animals. Foxes seem to have the bodies of dogs and personalities of cats. Wikipedia has an entry on "cat intelligence" here.

It's time for "Fun with Spot and Puff".

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Zakaria rebroadcasts Obama's Ohio interview on foreign policy; panel talks about "free trade"


Fareed Zakaria, today Dec. 28, on his GPS program, rebroadcast his interview with Barack Obama in Ohio last spring. Zakaria says it is the longest television interview (a little under 40 minutes) Obama gave as a candidate.

Obama first noted his admiration for the first President Bush (1988-1993) and that president’s hiring of knowledgeable people like Scocroft and James Baker, who understood “how to engage the world.”

Obama talked about his mother’s telling him that they would move to Indonesia as a boy as a formative influence later on his interests in international affairs, which he would study at Columbia. He said that this impressed upon him how big and diverse the world is culturally.

He talked about Indonesia’s losses in the Asian financial crisis of 1997, noted that Indonesia is very different as an Islamic country from the Middle East, and seemed to suggest that economic instability tends to drive fanaticism in the Islamic world. But he believes that the Islamic world itself is very diverse.

Obama promised to bring the full weight of American and international justice on Osama bin Laden if he is captured alive. He said that this situation is a rare justification for the death penalty.

Obama spoke against an open-ended policy for withdrawal from Iraq, saying that it weakened our presence in Afghanistan and allowed the Taliban to regroup while they are still on the run.

Zakaria concluded the program with a panel discussion on trade, with Josepth Stiglitz, Carlos Gutierrez, Jagdish Bhagwadi, Hernando De Soto (“The Mystery of Capital”). Stiglitz says that what we call “free trade” is really “managed trade” and that some sort of social protectionism is necessary. De Soto talked about property rights, in almost a libertarian sense, and said that the economic problems are a result of loss of trust and lack of identification of responsible parties (lack of transparency).

The panel suggested that it could be legitimate not to trade with countries who do not follow certain environmental friendly practices with regard to global warming.

Fareed Zakaria has authored a book, “The Post-American World”, published by W. W. Norton, May 2008.

Zakaria recommended the new book by Paul Krugman, "The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008", published by W.W. Norton on Dec. 1, 2008. He said that the book was depressing but it would make us all "smarter." I'll see.

Friday, December 26, 2008

NBC Dateline "A Twist of Fate": an Indiana auto accident leads to mistaken identity


NBC Dateline aired a two hour episode hosted by Matt Lauer, “A Twist of Fate” tonight (Dec. 26, 2008), updated from an earlier broadcast in March 2008. The story concerns mistaken identity between two victims (Whitney Cerak and Laura Van Ryn) a tragic (and horrific) high speed automobile wreck in Indiana on an interstate in April 2006. Whitney was a freshman, and Taylor was a senior at Taylor University, an evangelical school in Indiana.

The MSNBC link, with full interview texts, is this.

Whitney was believed to have died in the accident, when actually she survived and the Van Ryn family was tending to her rather than Laura. The NBC episode, with successive interviews of all the different family members, goes into detail as to the medical issues and the relationships between the families; and it covers the way Whitney’s identity was discovered by Laura’s sister, and the emotional issues for the families after that discovery at the end of May 2006, about five weeks after the crash. It’s clear that their evangelical Christian background was very important to both families’ (from Michigan and Indiana) dealing with this.

It appears that the coroner did not do all the possible forensic tests to ensure the identity of the victim.

Laura’s sister maintained a blog about the episode. That blog appears to be empty now, and was apparently closed. But there is a related blog by Whitney, and a post by “Millner’s Dream” here; the latter blog appears to have rather large traffic volumes.

At the end of the show, Matt Lauer interviewed Whitney, who had gradually recovered after extensive rehabilitation. She remembers very little of the five weeks when the Van Ryn family looked after her. She wants to become a physical therapist.

The families wrote a book, “Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope,” from Howard Books, published March 2008. It is on Amazon.

Oprah Winfrey has aired a show on the event, with link here.

There is a 2008 film “Changeling” about a case of mistaken identity of a child from Universal and directed by Clint Eastwood. In that film (a true story), a boy is kidnapped in the 1920s, and then the police return the wrong boy to the mother but do not want to admit their mistake.

I had a serious accident at age 54, a fall in a convenience store in 1998, with an acetabular hip fracture. It could have been a grave injury with months of traction, but I was referred to a top surgeon at the University of Minnesota for an experimental device to hold the pelvis together. The surgery worked perfectly, and I was back to work in three weeks (there was one week of rehab in what was essentially a skilled nursing facility), and recovered fully. The surgeon travels among a number of hospitals in the upper Midwest and said that most of his work is restoration after horrific car crashes. I have misplaced his name but could dig it up if someone in an accident wants a referral. For me, he worked a miracle.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

ABC Nightline presents English cleric with novel view of life after death, and of faith


On December 24, ABC Nightline presented a brief story questioning our Christian belief in Heaven or the hereafter as it is commonly perceived. An Anglican bishop from northern England, Tom Wright, says that what we should focus on is “life after life after death.” He says that some day God will recreate another world for us but that how well we take care of the planet now really matters. If it were so simple that you go to Heaven on faith alone, we wouldn’t have to worry about global warming, HIV, poverty, greed in financial markets, and the like.

Is Wright talking about works instead of faith? Or are the two concepts equivalent.

Wright was critical of the popular “Left Behind” series of novels in which the Believers undergo The Rapture (itself a movie in the 1990s with David Duchovny) and the people left behind undergo a world of tribulations. When I moved to Dallas in 1979, I found that the “rapture” a frequent pulpit topic down there.

People say that the Mormon Church is a religion of “works” because there is so much emphasis on social duty and on “eternal marriage” in the kingdoms above this one, which take on a certain reality.

The History Channel, with its program on “Parallel Universes” in the Universe Series, would suggest that Heaven and Hell are simply other worlds in parallel universes, and that we enter them through worm holes. But the planet Venus fits how we describe Hell, and it may have been an abode of life as few as a billion years ago.

Or perhaps other civilizations that we don’t know about yet (Roswell) have something to do with the afterlife. Perhaps there is a civilization where man has been replaced by machines that have built Dyson spheres. Perhaps worm holes can take us to them some day.

The Nightline video is viewable this morning here.

Picture: The Falls Church, Episcopal, in Falls Church VA

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"Living in Space": from The History Channel, Universe series


On December 23, the History Channel broadcast another Universe series program, “Living in Space.”

Most if the program showed how man might live on Mars in 2-3 year deployments after six-month voyages some time after 2030. A central living quarter would be built as a geodesic dome, with satellite domes for greenhouses and food preparation. Green plants will help generate the oxygen needed by the colonists.

Living conditions will be Spartan, with little in the way of luxury or entertainment. Messages from earth (even emails or Internet or chat) would be limited by the speed of light, perhaps 20 minutes to close to an hour, depending on relative positions of the planets in orbit.

To go outside “and play in the sand” crew members will don pressurized suits with much higher pressure than normal air. To go out on rovers, there will be a buddy system; if one rover broker down and help could not come, the crew members would die when their air ran out.

The end of the film discussed the mining of asteroids for precious metals, and suggested that miners might live in domes inside asteroids to shelter them from radiation, or that asteroids might be mined by “low cost” robots.

Back in April, 1978, Understanding (the group west of Phoenix, founded by Dan Fry had a convention called “Man in Space”, which I attended.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Superhuman": History Channel Modern Marvels emulates our TV heroes with inventions.


On Monday December 22 the History Channel aired an intriguing episode of “Modern Marvels” called “Super Human”. (There’s only accidental relation here to Marvel Comics.) The theme of the one-hour show was putting man and machine together to emulate some of the feats of “Superman” or of other heroes or cyborg (like some of Schwarzenegger’s “terminators”) characters in television shows and movies. The website is this.

Many of the characters are well known. Clark Kent is Superman, both in the movies and in the "Smallville" series where Tom Welling has played a teen/young adult Clark for eight years, with his “speed” and powers. In terms of modern physics, the only possible way this could happen would be if a living being could distort space-time while he or she moves. Other characters include “Kyle XY”, cloned and born as a “gifted” teen (Matt Dallas) on ABC Family, and some of “The 4400” characters who have powers (like the healing powers of Shawn Farrell (Patrick Flueger)), or even Dean and (particularly) Sam (Jared Padalecki) in “Supernatural.” “Jake 2.0” (Christopher Gorham), no longer aired, has an NSA good guy with powers caused with nanobots get into his bloodstream in a lab accident. A theme of all of these shows is the morality with which the heroes use their powers. (That's not always the case in the NBC series "Heroes" by Tim Kring.) Perhaps the most famous comic book and movie franchise of all is Batman.

The show started with a British inventor, Warwick, who had surgery done on his forearms to implant chips that would enable him, with arm movements, to control distant robots. Potentially Warwick could move the robot with thoughts alone, or, even more dangerously, update or “hack” a computer with thoughts alone (a good sci-fi scenario). This is the only time I know of where someone had potentially disfiguring surgery (there were scars) to gain artificial powers. The show also demonstrated the reverse situation: a Bluetooth link in a robot takes signals from a rat’s brain.

The show went on to cover competitive swimming. The best Olympic swimmers like Michael Phelps convert less than 10% of their energy to speed, whereas dolphins convert 80%. (It’s pretty easy to imagine Michael making friends with individual dolphins, who have almost human intelligence.) There was discussion of the ideal material for the Speedo swim suit. Competitive swimmers shave their entire bodies to reduce water resistance, as if hairs could make a measurable distance, but maybe that’s meaningful when the winning margin is in hundredth’s of a second. Maybe this is more a matter (as with cyclists) of psychological peaking (there was a great reference to this in the 1985 movie “American Flyers”). Perhaps the laser is next.

The show presented a Georgia inventor named Ciamillo who had designed a lunocet, a foot fin that would enable human swimmers to greatly increase their energy conversion toward forward motion speed. I wonder if should a device would be allowed in competitive events like the Olympics.

The film covered a new form of simulated sky diving from small prop planes, that could become a kind of amateur sport, or outing that individual groups can pay for outings with. (The DC outdoors gay group Adventuring used to do hot air ballooning and has done parachute jumps; this could be next. An event like this is relatively expensive for the participant, costing hundreds of dollars and requiring training.)

The film then showed a device for joggers: vertical motions stilts, invented by Jeff Jay, springloaded devices that could enable joggers to approach 25 mph with ease. So now we don’t just have rollerblading: we can have stilts.

Picture: Gulf of Mexico at Bay St. Louis MS, six months after Katrina.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dr. Phil covers parents falsely accused of child abuse


Today (Monday December 22) Dr. Phil covered the topic of parents falsely accused of child neglect and then child homicide, with some interesting results. The link is here.

In the first segment, Treffly, a young mother in Illinois, left her toddler child in a locked car on a cool day to walk about thirty feet to a Salvation Army drop, and was arrested when she came back for child neglect. Eventually the district attorney dropped charges, although the police were not happy. Illinois law is vague as to what constitutes child neglect. The mother said it was sleeting and cold and that the child would be more comfortable for a few minutes in the car.

Dr. Phil polled some people, including a web viewer, and found relatively little sympathy for the mother; the viewers felt that a child should never be left alone. Dr. Phil felt that there should be some common sense. A defense attorney said that Treffly’s actions did not constitute child abuse.

The second case involved a woman, Lynn, who left a thirteen year old daughter home alone and the girl would be strangled, apparently in a home invasion. The show was not detailed as to how it happened or where. But she was wrongly accused and convicted of the crime, to be exonerated 13 years later by DNA evidence. Her son had grown and served two years in Iraq. She gave chilling accounts of abuse in prison (being called a “baby killer”).

Dr. Phil then talked about the foster care system (regarding the son) and pitched CASA, “Court Appointed Special Advocates”, who are lay persons who monitor foster children and become friends of the court. People can become CASA agents or volunteers (at least in California and many states) without being parents or foster parents. It was not clear what the qualifications are (or whether sexual orientation could matter). The website for National CASA (where Dr. Phil appears with his wife Robin) is this.

There have been a few tragic cases around the country where parents have forgotten that a kid was in the car and have been left in while the parent went to work or on an errand.

The film “Just Ask My Children” (2001, directed by Arvin Brown) dramatizes as situation where parents are falsely accused of sexual abuse of their own children and where the children are manipulated by prosecutors to testify. Gregory Smith appears as the boy who helps clear his parents when he is old enough to understand what happened.

Donna St. George has an important story on the front page of the Sunday Dec. 21, 2008 Washington Post, “Squeezed on All Sides, Parents Forgo Day Care; Education, Safety Sacrificed in Fiscal Crunch” link here. States and localities vary on at what age children or minors may be left home alone for extended periods of time, with 13 often a critical age.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

History Channel: Modern Marvels: "Walt Disney World"


Tonight (Dec. 21, 2006) the History Channel rebroadcast, as part of its "Modern Marvels" series, its 2006 two-hour episode “Walt Disney World”. The link for the show is this.

The first part of the show traced the history of the Walt Disney studios, which had always specialized in cartoon features and science or animal documentaries (like “The Living Desert” and “The Vanishing Prairie”). Disney, over the years, gradually added conventional action motion pictures, often based on major historical incidents or novels. (Today, Disney operates these as Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures, which offer a full range of conventional big studio movies.) Walt Disney was born in 1901 and started out as a cartoonist.

In 1954, the company broke ground on Disneyland in Anaheim, California, which would open on a hot day in July 1955, to great fanfare. I recall the televised opening during my summers in Ohio. The park had a Main Street and four “lands”: Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland, with a surrounding train. (I’ve always thought of a Disney theme park as rather like the set of a Lars von Trier dogme movie.) The park had many serious kinks for a while. I visited the park three times, in 1967 (on a bus trip from graduate school in Kansas over Thanksgiving), and in 1969 (just before interviewing Rand Corporation when I was about to get out of the Army), and again in 2002, when many additional attractions had been added. Disney would provide some material for the 1964-1965 New York Worlds Fair, which I visited twice, once each year.

I also recall that about 1955, the Howdy Doody show pretended to open a fantasy park called “Doodyville” but nothing came of it.

In 1964 Walt Disney started purchasing a lot of land clandestinely in northern Florida, under assumed names to get the land cheaply. Lawyers would travel to Florida to supervise the purchases and return by circuitous routes to avoid the media. Walt Disney would die of cancer, but his brother Roy would go ahead with the project, the totality of which would be called "Walt Disney World". First, he built the Magic Kingdom which is similar to Disneyland in layout and concept but twice as big. I visited that in April 1973. He then built the enormous Epcot Center, with its famous geodesic dome and fireworks shows, and the ability to project video on the dome (a feat which the Chinese developed further for the 2008 Beijing Olympics). I would visit Epcot in June 1983. I would also visit Universal Studios in 1983, but that is not part of Disney.

But MGM/Disney studios is part of the park. This is a corporate collaboration, because normally Disney and MGM (which has ties to Sony Pictures now) operate as separate companies with separate publicly traded ownership. (MGM has emphasized smaller pictures in recent years, but is rebuilding its brand relationship with United Artists.)
The studio has a number of futuristic rides, including the Hollywood Terror tower, and a roller coaster (modeled after 50s convertibles) that starts immediately with acceleration.

The last attraction is Animal Kingdom, which (unlike the original Adventureland in California) uses real animals (especially big cats) which are goaded into appropriate behaviors with clever design. The park is now building a 200-foot Everest tower.

Picture: Boca Raton, Florida, my visit, Nov. 2004.

Friday, December 19, 2008

NBC Dateline: Interview with Rick Warren on economic crisis, "gay rights"


Tonight, December 19, NBC Dateline started with a story on the hardship of the foreclosures, which bridged to Anne Curry’s interview with Rick Warren, pastor of the Camelback Church in California, and author of “The Purpose-Driven Life.” That book is actually the best selling book ever outside of the Bible.

The segment had shown some brutal sheriff’s foreclosures in Florida and in Las Vegas, with people even required to abandon belongings. A rental foreclosure was shown, and a man was crying that he felt like a loser. But there have been problems where tenants have been evicted because owners failed to pay the mortgage. (There have even been cases where apartments are converted to condos "for people with more money" and tenants are "blackmailed" into taking these risky mortgages to have a place to live.) A high school principal had lost her home after refinancing it, after 29 years, to send her daughter to an Ivy League school, and the principal had not understood that the mortgage was adjustable rate.

Curry asked Rick Warren for his take on the economic crisis, and predictably Warren said we had gotten away from the Biblical virtues of thrift and delayed gratification. “We buy things with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like,” he said.

Curry then went to the topic of gay marriage and Warren’s support of California’s Proposition 8. Barack Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to read the invocation at the Jan. 20 inauguration has drawn anger, or at least disappointment, in the gay community. (The LGBT community’s first choice during the Democratic primaries probably was Hillary Clinton.)

The discussion was elliptical. At the end, in fact, Warren said that he did not believe that accepting gay marriage would harm heterosexual marriage. Divorce harms it a lot more. What’s the beef then? He says he is “tolerant” of people who are different. (There have been some demonstration signs shown with the word “bigot”.) Curry got him into a discussion about immutability. He said something like, we all have different biologically driven inclinations, but that doesn’t make following them right. He says it is his biological urge to have as many women as possible, but that doesn’t make succeeding at the urge right. (He would probably agree that he should do something about his obvious biological propensity to be overweight – the so called “thrift gene”).

He seems to have a problem with homosexuality per se, then. He seems to believe that it interferes with one’s “obligations” to family and community, in the sense of being “purpose-driven.” We all have a moral obligation to overcome our inborn "weaknesses" before we expect equal rights, he seems to be saying.

He did say that the "rules" in Leviticus applied to three areas: the nation of Israel, the clergy, and "all of us", the last being basic moral rules, but he did not specify which rules were which. There seems (by implication, in the Bible) to be a concern to keep a social and political climate favorable to procreation. But he said that on most issues he has always fought for equal rights for all people -- but on this he is a bit muddy.

The segment did show him getting him an award from President Bush on his international work to combat AIDS.

Rick Warren's interview can be viewed at MSNBC here.

Later in the evening, John Stossel, on 20/20 with "Give Me a Break" talked about the endless bailouts and the lack of oversight as to what was done with the bailout money already handed out. We don't know what institutions the bailout has gone to, or what collateral has come back. Barney Frank was interviewed and said the questions are "baffling." The politicians say that if they tell us where the money is going, we'll have a run on the banks again. John Stossel gave the Bailouts "The Big Rip."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

CNBC: "Scam of the Century": special report on the $50 billion Madoff scandal


Although Anderson Cooper normally doesn’t appear on CNBC, his “Culprits of the Collapse” exercise in naming names (a la Randy Shilts) certainly fits the CNBC “Century" special tonight, Dec. 18, called “Scam of the Century: The Thief of Wall Street: The 50 Billion Dollar Heist.” The CNBC link for the show is here. Somehow Lionsgate’s “Bank Job” comes to mind, even if this was bloodless. Or maybe I can imagine Matt Damon saying “smash and grab job” (Oceans 11) even if this was all in the virtual world of numbers.

Bernie Madoff, (Bernard L. Madoff) the Master if the pinkish "Prada-like" Lipstick Building, the ovoid skyscraper on the East Side at 53rd St and 3rd Ave, kept his inner sanctum on the 17th floor. There was some management on the 18th, and an apparently legitimate broker-dealer operation on the 19th. Everyone said he was a good employer.

Madoff has a website which gives a link to a court pleading for protection under the SIPC, the Securities Investor Protection Corporation. There is a possibility that many of the “smaller rich” who invested in Madoff can recover up to $500000 a piece in the settlement with the government, long after Madoff goes to jail.

The show interviews many victims, one a female stockbroker herself. Several times in the past twenty years, people became suspicious, partly because the returns were so steady year after year, a statistical improbability in a volatile economy. Frank Casey, in Boston, is particularly suspicious, and talks from an office building that looks like it is next to the mall in which I had an important meeting with a friend about movie ideas in May 2002; some déjà vu here. Later, Christopher Cox of the SEC suggests that the agency is simply understaffed and overwhelmed, but must no longer take investment managers at their word. In the financial business, “reputation” is a nebulous notion it seems, just as on the Internet.

The show covered a much smaller Ponzi scheme case, Hakan Yalincaf, a young man from Turkey who developed a scheme to support his family, including father. He gave a typical rationalization: he expected to make the business legitimate and pay all the investors back. That is a common “excuse.” But it’s hard to believe that Madoff could have run the Lipstick fraud for twenty years and ever expected to make it right.

The show also briefly covered the history of the original Italian immigrant Charles Ponzi. Some people say that Social Security is nothing but a legal Ponzi scheme. But we could say that CDO’s and credit default swaps formed one, to unravel once the economy weakened. Ponzi schemes are exposed as money sources run out and investors call in for their money.

The film showed the effect om charities, especially Jewish in origin, and on the community in Palm Beach, FL. Ironically, the Madoff case shows the results of corporate "social networking" (even the Facebook variety) run amok. "Reputation" has turned out to have a double meaning.

Madoff was led away in handcuffs on Dec 11, 2008, in a story that developed with shocking suddenness. He is now under house arrest in his palatial condo. They made an "example" of Martha Stewart, and they were smug about it. Too bad.

Binyamin Applebaum has a story in The Washington Post Dec. 19 (link) that documents the attempt in 2005 by Boston analyst Harry Markpolos to demonstrate to the SEC that Makoff's fund could not be legitimate. Unfortunately, Makoff was apparently able to produce fake documents that his investments were "real".

David B. Caruso of the Associated Press has a story today (Dec 18) to the effect that most experts don’t believe that Madoff is the only “bad apple” in the Big Apple or elsewhere, link here.

Back in 1964 I received a letter inviting me to send a quarter to someone. Without knowing that these things were illegal, I did so and got two quarters back, a 100% return – on $.25.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

History Channel: UFO Files: "Hangar 18: The UFO Warehouse"


The History Channel’s “UFO Files: Hangar 18: The UFO Warehouse” is a documentary about the stories that the government hides crashed saucers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. There is some question as to which building today was the site of “Hangar 18”; it may be a brick building 23.

Black Mack Magruder (according to his son Mark) saw self-repairing flex metal crafts and one alien body at Wright after the 1947 Roswell crash (when the Ohio base was called Wright Field). Magruder kept the secret from his family for 50 years because of classification, but indirectly told his son at his death in 1997. He needed to let his children know that we aren’t alone.

Retired General Robert Collins says that alien crafts and bodies from a number of crashes were brought to the base.

The Foreign Technology Division (FTD) performed scientific intelligence on air and space matters at the base, reverse engineering Soviet equipment and perhaps alien craft. The Base now houses the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.

Another landing occurred in Aztec NM in March 1948, and this time the military supposedly retrieved the craft and bodies quietly. The military still ordered the locals to be sworn to secrecy. There may have been over 14 burned alien bodies.

There supposedly were also other crafts, including one in Kecksburg, PA in 1965, shipped to Wright-Patterson.

A James Clarkson interviewed (on radio) a Wright-Patterson clerk-typist named June Crain in 1997. She said that she had once handled the self-recovering UFO metallic skin. She heard about three alien crashes, including Roswell. Crain had kept a secret for 45 years until age 72.

In the early 1950s, Project Moon Dust examined wrecks of crashes submitted to the FTD.

Investigator Len Stringfield claimed that bodies were kept in a frozen morgue, but would not reveal his sources.

The alien bodies apparently had four fingers on each hand, webbed. Stanton Friedman talked about the rumors that live aliens (looking like the “Grays”) were kept at the base.

The program documents in animation the supposed underground vaults leading to cryogenic chambers.

J. Edgar Hoover supposedly was not able to get access to the contents of “Hangar 18” and neither could Senator Barry Goldwater.

Wright Patterson supposedly had a “Project Silver Bug” in the 1950s to make a flying saucer.

Dayton would have UFO sightings in the summer of 1980, possibly military testing of “Silver Bug” craft.

The stories about alien craft and bodies stop after about 1980, but some of the activity might go on at Area 51 north of Las Vegas, NV.

Could the alien myths be a cover-up for some other classified project?

I visited the base with a rental car in 1984, but saw only the biology building, not Hangar 18.

Picture: Kecksburg PA, NE of Pittsburgh, in the Laurel Hills.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

History Channel: The French Revolution


In 2004, The History Channel aired a 100 minute documentary “The French Revolution”. The straightforward and vivid history program, with live action, stills and drawings, brings up many issues that are quite relevant today. It would be a lesson in how a corrupt aristocracy and monarchy could fall to the “power of its own people.”

The story starts with the political marriage of Marie Antoinette to Henry XVI, and of the social tensions created when for a long time the married did not seem to be consummated. It was the job of the Queen to produce a male heir (like in soap opera). Finally, Louis had a delicate minor operation and they were able to conceive. But damage was done to the royalty’s “reputation” in a way that seems politically relevant to today’s problems with “reputation”. Marie earned the nickname of “Madame Deficit” with her reckless spending on personal luxuries.

The story of Marie Antoinette was also covered in the 2006 Columbia film (titled with her name) from Sofia Coppola, and in a PBS documentary.

The common people (97% of the population, behind the Clergy and Nobility) suffered from famine, as the price of flour and bread rose, with one loaf consuming a month’s wages. In the mean time, even the intelligentsia began to discuss ideas of the Enlightenment and equality. Freedom, not so much of speech as of the ability to acquire knowledge began to become an issue. Even the nobles resented that the Church could tell them what to believe. They wanted to master knowledge on their own, a vision of some future Wikipedia.

The history of the French Revolution is quite detailed and progressed in various escalations, leading finally to the Reign of Terror (and finally the Great Terror). The “humane” guillotine became the “national razor.” There was a formal “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen”, Columbia University link here. There was an attempted escape of Louis and Marie, their recapture, eventual trial and execution (separately) on the Guillotine. Marie’s children were taught not to think of her as royalty. The “people’s revolution” became violent, demanding a new kind of conformity, with people turning each other in for the slightest infraction against “the people”. Again, “reputation” meant everything. There was even a revolutionary ten day calendar (with no Sundays) to turn against the Church. Maximilien Robespierre, “the Incorruptible” at one time had been a progressive championing freedom of speech but became a dictator and moralist. He aimed for a “Republic of Virtue” and was willing to use terror to promote virtue, in a way that sounds analogous to radical Islam today. Robespierre tried to create a new religion with “The Goddess of Reason”. Robespierre, “The Grand Master of Oratory” would be silenced by his own suicide attempt, before he would go to the Scaffold (as in the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique) himself. The only way to end the Terror is to execute Robespierre. The accomplishments of the revolution, “liberty, equality, fraternity” would transform, but power would eventually migrate to Napoleon.

The ultimate question posed by the French Revolution (according to the conclusion of the film) is, how much violence from the people is justified to overthrow an oppressive system? The question is always a disturbing one.

Monday, December 15, 2008

ABC 20-20: Affluent VA high school (Westfield) produces an African American "high school musical"


Tonight, ABC 20/20 presented a special two-hour docudrama: “Drama High: The Making of a High School Musical.” The show reported the auditions and rehearsals at a largely white northern Virginia high school of the African American musical “Wiz”, based on “The Wizard of Oz.”

The high school is Westfield High School, a new high school somewhat north of I-66 near Dulles Airport, still within Fairfax County. When I substitute taught, I subbed there several times, including a week of math sections in April 2007. At an earlier substitute assignment back in May 2005, I happened to be working there the day that a teacher was arrested on a weapons charge, a rare but disturbing event. All of this history plays back in my mind. It is modern, with a somewhat complex floor plan (also shared by South County High School in Lorton, ironically within sight of the prison). Since I stopped subbing, I feel I can blog with just a little more candor.

I also saw the Capps group perform “Senioritis” at McLean High School in August 2007, reviewed on the drama blog during that month.

I did get to sub in drama a few times, once particularly at Yorktown High School in Arlington in 2005, when there was a guest group teaching dance and body language exercises.

Since I deal with movies and have networked with independent film people, I have a natural tendency to compare the effort to the work of “prodigy” actors, in their late teens or now in their twenties common in film. Zac Efron is the obvious big star (of the "High School Musical" movies), and was reportedly a great student, as was Jared Padalecki. Directors, in the notes accompanying some Netflix DVD’s, sometimes talk about real talent in youth. It’s a tremendous challenge to be able to carry a film at age 14 and still go to school, but kids (like Gregory Smith from Everwood, who made "Small Soldiers" at that age while his voice was changing) do it, and directors talk about unusual maturity in a select few kids, such as ability to learn the lines and moves and behave in a manner expected of professional actors while still very young. Only a few kids can do that.

I actually got into talking about IMDB on one substitute teaching assignment (when comparing the story and 1932 movie “The Most Dangerous Game”) and explaining what you can find out about actors and directors on IMDB. It was an assignment that would end in controversy because of my own work on the web.

But let’s get back to the ABC special, hosted by Deborah Roberts, with a bit of “real world” outside (critical, maybe even brutal) perspective. The ABC link is “'You've Got to Feel It': Westfield's High School Musical: Virginia High School Performs 'The Wiz,' Hoping to Attract Diversity to Theater Program”, by Muriel Pearson, link here. The first hour profiles a number of the kids trying out for the leading parts in the musical. One white male makes the odd comment that he is “quite hairy” as if that were an issue in playing an African American part, but the show doesn’t take that further. The home life of a few of the kids is shown, with the impressions of the parents documented. A few of the students, in comparison to what one gets used to with imdb, look a bit overweight, and that issue comes up in one of the home interviews, where the boy criticizes his mother for bringing up his weight on national television. The documentary goes on to show the kids’ excitement when the results of the auditions and tryouts are posted (like grades) and the parts are assigned.

The second hour covers the intense rehearsals and finally the performance. The ability to capture the mood or idiom of “soul” is an issue, and the ABC docudrama does make something of the race issue. (The high school, in a very affluent exurban area about 20 miles from Washington DC, has a relatively low African American population compared to many of northern Virginia schools.) The drama teacher does want to cast one or two roles with African Americans if possible. At one point he says to one white female student, “you are more African than American” (or "more African than you are American"), a strange comment perhaps related to the ability to get into the mood of soul. The makeup is exotic and complicated, and so are the dance numbers. Real voice talent is shown in the songs. The teacher makes a lot of students knowing their lines --- and for anyone in the professional acting business, that’s a big deal. I worked (back in 1976) on the set of a soap opera production for a while, and it is really a big deal for soaps, which are very hard work! Actors have to know the scripts perfectly, every day, with limited time to get shows done.

Finally, the big night for the show comes. I’d love to watch a DVD of the final production, if the school has made it available.

When I subbed at the Arlington Career Center, I got familiar with a student film, called “Slices of Life”, actually 2 films, both of which I got to see (I have the DVD of the first one). There is a commercial film of a high school play called “Were the World Mine”, reviewed on my movies blog in October 2008.

Update: Dec. 20

Westfield High School was on NBC-4's "It's Academic" today, as was Robinson Secondary School (right next to the George Mason University Campus in Fairfax, VA).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

C-Span runs documentary series on The White House


This week, Dec 14-20, is White House Week on C-Span. The link is this. On Sunday December 14, 2008, the first segment. Two hours, “The White House: Inside America’s Most Famous Home,” was aired.

The film showed the complicated floor plans of the White House. The best website showing the complex floor plans seems to be the White House Museum, link here.

The film gives a lot of history. It talks about the original plans for the House form George Washington, Dolly Madison’s parlor parties with 18th Century music, the fire during the War of 1812 (one charred interior entrance remains), the rebuilding, Lincoln’s activities, President Roosevelt’s extensive renovations (and his making of a museum within the House), and then the Nixon years, with his resignation speech on Aug. 9, 1974. “If a man hates you, he wins only if you hate him.” It goes on to President Ford’s expanded use of the White House in the 1970s, and then the state dinners that would follow from the Reagan Years to present day (where the women wear very bright dresses, coming down the new staircase).

The film covers the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue to car traffic after an attempted “attack” in 1994 during the Clinton administration, and then the clamping down on 9/11, when the White House would be closed to tours for quite some time.

The website for White House tours today is this. Unfortunately, it appears that cameras are not allowed inside the White House on the tours, which are free.

C-Span is a "public service" channel formed by cable companies, and included automatically in cable service. It generally broadcasts Congressional hearings and various other government-related events. It has been unusual in the past for C-span to present documentary films, like this one, which is developed in a style similar to PBS Frontline films.

I have visited the White House twice, most recently in 1994. But back in 1993 I worked with someone who had some contact with the Clinton White House.

Ironically, Russia has a government building called “The White House” in Moscow, description here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

PBS: Bill Moyers Journal: Glenn Greenwald and Emma Coleman Jordan


Bill Moyers Journal tonight (Dec 12) started with an interview of attorney and Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald. (Salon was a COPA plaintiff.) The tone of the discussion was to question whether “might makes right.” Or, to quote “Frost / Nixon”, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal. Or, do you have the right to do wrong in order to do good, when you are on the side of “Good”, v. “Evil”. This has to do with the lack of self control (grade school variety) of the Bush Administration in the way it wielded power after 9/11, after having the goodwill of the country. Greenwald mentioned the detention of Joseph Padilla, a US citizen on American soil, in a Navy brig without charge or access to an attorney, on suspicion of participation in a particular terrorist plot. The Moyers link is here.

Then he interviewed Georgetown University law professor Emma Coleman Jordan, about the chicanery and lack of accountability even in a few weeks of the $700 billion TARP bailout. Her two recent books are “Economic Justice: Race, Gender, Identity and Economics” and in the future “Lynching: The Dark Metaphor of American Law” (maybe a complement to Gode Davis’s work in progress, the documentary “American Lynching”). They started with coverage of the closing of a Chicago plant and denial of severance and health insurance benefits to workers, who protested and threatened a boycott of Bank of America, which finally gave in and paid their benefits. Coleman went on to say that much bailout money has been used to allow financial institutions to make “tactical acquisitions” for writeoffs of tax losses of acquired companies (Countrywide, Merrill Lynch) or to pay investors dividends, rather than to loan money to consumers and unfreeze the credit markets (the mantra of CNN’s Ali Velshi). Time Magazine has an article by Stephen Gandel, “New Tax Rules: The Hidden Corporate Bailout”, Dec. 10, 2008, link here. Jordan has warned that China has told us to “shape up or else” because it holds so much of our debt. Jordan does support the need for an auto industry bailout. The Moyers link for Joran;s interview is here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Anderson Cooper: "Planet in Peril" continues ("Battle Lines") on CNN


Tonight Dec. 11 CNN aired Anderson Cooper’s latest installment of “Planet in Peril” called "Battle Lines", link here. True, the highlight may occur at midpoint where Anderson Cooper goes cage diving with sharks to examine how dangerous it is, teaching great whites to associate humans with food.

But most of the segments were much more critical. The first portion showed the general problem in the Cameroon of higher population and hunters finding less food. The same process about a hundred years may have exposed humans to money viruses and introduced HIV, which exploded in the 1980s. But the danger exists that any other pandemics could be introduced by larger populations, including SARS and avian influenza, which started causes pockets of deaths in 2003. Sanjay Gupta and Anderson Cooper both went on the hunting safaris, in other areas including the Congo. One of the diseases is monkeypox, which gets transmitted to humans but that does down in virulence as it passes among people.

The show covered the lead poisoning epidemic in children in Peru by the Ranco Doe Ruma company. Among spectacular Andes mountain scenery there (near La Roya) is industrial waste, ruin and poison. Some of it was visible from the train that used to go up to a 15000 pass. In El Alto, Bolivia there may be similar pollution. In Peru, 100 children get to go to a special education school, and are lucky to get selected. A comparable industry at a town in Missouri produces no lead poisoning.

Then Lisa Ling filmed a rebel group in Nigeria or the Niger Delta called MENS, a group that kidnaps oil refinery employees or blows up pipelines. The group seems left-wing and demands that oil be nationalized. It caused a 20% drop in oil production in 2008 from Nigeria. The film showed environmental damage from the oil industry in Nigeria. I got a bizarre email from this group in August 2008 which I show on my environmental blog, link here.

The film portrayed poaching of elephants in Africa for ivory tusks, and poaching of gorillas Anderson visited an unfamiliar gorilla family in Rwanda.

Update: Dec. 12

On "Live with Regis and Kelly" (rather "Live with Anderson Cooper and Kelly") on ABC, Anderson Cooper raced Michael Phelps, who agreed to the handicap of no stroke. Phelps still beat him by a factor of 3:2 by staying underwater with a dolphin kick. Phelps did not look as "versatile" in appearance today as on the recent "Sports Illustrated."

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

History Channel, The Universe: Alien Faces: life on 5 hypothetical worlds


The History Channel tonight aired an interesting study of what alien life could look like on five hypothetical planets. Part of "The Universe" series it was called "Alien Faces."

The first planet was a small planet “Arinelle” close to a red dwarf, and always turned the same side toward its sun. So the hardiest life forms lived in the twilight zone and could go all over the planet. According to a similar National Geographic film, the warm side would have an ocean and a permanent hurricane in the warmest area.

Then the probe visited AG143 near a desert planet 3 times the size of earth, near an F star bigger than the sun, with some surface water that hardy animals would dig in and grow wells to The planet is a bit like Frank Herbert’s “Dune”.

Then it visited GPC925, a planet about the size of a terraformed Mars around a cooler sun, with a climate a bit like the arctic, and with animals that fly through the forest as big bags.

Then it found a moon around a gas giant, the moon a bit like Jupiter’s moon Europa, with bizarre underwater life, including an animal that using electric fields as a sense organ. Energy comes from tidal forces and possibly volcanic vents.

The last planet was populated by artificial intelligence, beings of silica and steel, that could capture all the energy of their suns with Dyson spheres, and move among many planets.

Update: January 13, 2009

"Another Earth" ("The Universe") reexamines the Dyson equation to calculate the number of worlds in our Galaxy with advanced civilizations. It may be lower than had thought becuase so many factors (besides being in the "Goldilox Zone" around a star) have to be perfect. This includes a stable star, right size, right distance, plate tectonics, and a stablizing moon, and a good Jupiter in the system. You have to be in the right part of the galaxy, too, not too near neutron stars, black holes, or magnetars.

Alpha Centauri could have stable earth-sized planets in its system, but it doesn't have a Jupiter to take up the asteroids and debris. And a binary system might not allow the planets to have stable enough orbits.

Remember the program "Earth 2" back in 1992, with Anthony Sabato (before he was "ruined")?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Dr. Phil takes up debt crisis and its effect on marriage


Today, Monday Dec. 8, 2008 the Dr. Phil show was called “Marriage Crisis: Drowning in Debt” and dealt with how debt, in the current economic crisis, was destroying marriages. The link is here.

The couple was Pam and Chris, who are over $620000 in debt. Chris had gone through tens of thousands with unfinished projects, which seemed to be around the home; he let his grown daughter, “California Princess” live there rent free. Pam was considering bankruptcy. In the audience sat Amelia Warren Tyagi who (with Elizabeth Warren) had authored “All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan,” published in 2006 by the Free Press (also available in Kindle). Dr. Phil urged penny-pitching, with the book as an exception!

One interesting fact was that, at least in California and probably many states, when a home is refinanced or when a home equity loan is taken out, the homestead exemption is lost, and creditors can come after the home. Therefore, Tyagi was advising Pam to “walk” from the home, or at least go to the bank and arrange a short sale. That would throw the couple back into an apartment. Pam was expecting an inheritance some day, and feared that it could be lost to a bankruptcy.

It wasn’t clear how much the couple’s debts were comingled, which can vary a lot. In community property states the co-responsibility element is much stronger.

As the show progressed, it got more personal. Pam said that she was no longer attracted to her husband, partly because he had gained too much weight, and partly because he didn’t own up to responsibility. Pam was seriously considering divorce, and strictly now out of "self-interest", to the consternation of her hubby, who looked hapless on the show.

Dr. Phil said that he offered a number of financial tips on his site, including paying off the credit cards with the highest interest rates first, and cutting up credit cards (which is not a good idea if it takes down your total credit limit).

I still wonder how Dr. Phil gets some of these "characters" to come on the show. Some of them do make fools of themselves.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

NBC "Meet the Press" (Tom Brokaw) interviews Barack Obama


Today, NBC Meet the Press presented a 50-minute interview between Tom Brokaw and president elect Barack Obama.

The interview was intellectually satisfying but sobering. Obama said that the economic crisis would get worse before it gets better. He said, however, that the situation was not as dire as that faced by FDR in 1933, when FDR had to create a whole new economic structure, and he said we would probably not repeat the suffering of Tom Brokaw's own "greatest generation." He said that job growth should occur in areas that produce real wealth and sustainability, like clean energy.

Obama talked about the idea of an auto industry bailout. He suggested that structured Chapter 11 bankruptcy response may not be practical for car manufacturers the way it is for airlines because of the actions of consumers. He also said that many homeowners will need help with their mortgages.

He mentioned the concept of “moral hazard” and agreed that consumers had been given unhealthful incentives so go into debt recklessly. But he did not believe that it was wise to “punish” consumers over “moral” concerns because, in a Biblical fashion, their problems would affect others.

He said that history proves that economies are more stable and healthful when wealth is more fairly distributed among the middle class, where most constructive consumer spending and employment occur. When the middle class does not share enough wealth, he suggested, people do not buy the goods and services that get produced and economic recession or depression becomes inevitable. He criticized the “greed is good” philosophy (as in the Michael Douglas movie “Wall Street” with the Gordon Gekko character) as leading to instability, as with the criticisms by George Soros (a big funder of the Democratic Party) of “market fundamentalism.”

He also talked about take very pointed and direct actions in foreign policy and security. He would not comment on how India should react to the recent Mumbai attacks with respect to Pakistan.

The MSNBC story is called “Obama warns economy will get even worse
U.S. ‘fragility’ tied to worldwide financial crisis, president-elect says”. The link is here.

Tom Brokaw announced, at the end of the show, that NBC’s David Gregory would take over “Meet the Press,” a responsibility formerly held by the late Tim Russert, link here.

At 2 PM EDT Sunday, Barack Obama held a press conference on CNN. He named retired general Eric Shenseki as secretary of Veterans Affairs. Gen. Shenseki had crossed former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in saying that a war in Iraq would require many more troops than the Bush administration would admit. He is the highest ranking Asian American ever in the military. The CNN story is here.

After the press conference, a CNN panel discussed Obama’s picks, and made a curious anology to the soap opera “Days of our Lives” after suggesting that appointing Hillary Clinton to Secretary of State would keep her for dabbling in health care, which will no longer be her business. Vice President Joe Biden, they said, will be expected to keep a “low profile” and be Obama’s top confidant. But the responsibility for “creative thinking” and setting policy “will be mine” Obama has said.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Dr. Phil on excessive school discipline: a timely topic (especially for me)


Today (Friday, Dec. 5, 2008) the Dr. Phil show was on a topic timely for me, at least on the recent past: “School Discipline: Out of Control?” The link is here.

There were several disturbing episodes. The first piece concerned an autistic girl in special education who was kept in a “timeout room” for some hours at a time. Teachers would physically shove her into the room. There was a videotape that showed various tantrums. Experts said that timeout sessions for children, at least special needs children, should only be in minutes, not hours.

A middle school girl was strip searched when suspected wrongfully of stealing, and her parents are suing.

A kindergarten boy was humiliated by his teacher in front of classmates repeatedly. So his parents put a cassette tape in his backpack to record the abuse. The parents presented the tape to the school, and the teacher was suspended with pay, and then quit and moved.

Then the program reviewed the topic of bullying with Dr. Phil’s son Jay, and reviewed a tragic case of an adolescent suicide.

When I was a substitute teacher from 2004-2007, there were a few complaints, particularly from middle schools, that I had “difficulty disciplining my students” or was “unwilling or unable” to maintain discipline. These were short-term assignments of one to a few days, where I didn’t know the students. In one case, a regular special education teacher was brought in to help with the class, and he order tell students to “stand up.” There were time-out procedures of reasonable length. Substitutes were supposed to “greet” students as they came into the room, but this seems overly manipulative to me.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

ABC: Barbara Walters picks the 10 "Most Fascinating of 2008"


Tonight (on what seemed like an ABC 20/20 special) “Barbara’s Most Fascinating of 2008” seemed a bit like a revision of CNN Heroes a week ago. This time, thought, they were a bit more glamorous, with less sacrifice.

Barbara Walters did host, and made it only a little personal. Here were her winners:

10- Will Smith, now 40, star of “Seven Pounds.” Smith said that marriage was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life, and that if you even think about divorce, you will get divorced. He also says that Barack Obama has told him that he would be the first choice as a star to play Obama if a movie were made.

9- Michael Phelps, 23, showed off his double-jointed elbows and talked about his flipper feet and how he bypassed Mark Spitz and took home eight gold medals. He was no actor on Saturday Night Live. But in Sports Illustrated, it looks like he has changed back.

He did say he had ADD as a kid, and that swimming took him out of it. When I was substitute teaching, I knew a senior AP student who was a champion swimmer that might have given him a run. The student is now a junior in college in pre-med. (Ashton Kutcher almost went pre-med.)

8- Miley Cyrus, 16, start of Hannah Montana, created controversy at 15 with her appearance in Vanity Fair with Justin Gaston.

7- Tina Fey, raised near Philadelphia, and Saturday Night Live’s first lead female writer. She says she really doesn’t look like Sarah Palin that much.

6- Rush Limbaugh, conservative talk show host, signed a deal for $38 million a year. This is no recession for him. He did have to go through rehab (after agreement with a Florida prosecutor) for prescription drug addiction, and he says he learned it was all right to be himself. He had grown up with the idea that “you don’t embarrass the family” which means don’t be who you are.

5- Thomas Beatie, the pregnant man, pregnant for a second time. He is a legal male who was born female and went through the change, but kept a uterus. He is legally married to a female in Oregon.

4- Frank Langella, 70, plays Richard Nixon in “Frost / Nixon.” A great line is, “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Langella never wanted the limelight and despite his versatility had spells where he couldn’t get work or even an agent as an actor.

3- Sarah Palin. Let her impersonate Tina Fey.

2- Tom Cruise Mapother, wiser at 46, and he says that the role of Count Stauffenberg (with an eye patch) in the movie Valkyrie is his most important yet.

1- Barack Obama, of course. Yes we can!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

History Channel: UFO Hunters: The Real Roswell (that is, "Roswell 2")


Tonight, Dec. 3, 2008 the History Channel presented the latest in its “UFO Hunters” series, “The Real Roswell”, or perhaps the Second Roswell.

The show maintains that 250 miles west of the area of crash debris (there are several of them) near Roswell is another crash site, on the Plains of San Augustin, near the Very Large Array, west of Albuquerque, maybe not too far from Chaco country. Researchers Ted Acworth and Pat Uskert directed the investigation of several interesting areas: caves on the Plains where ranchers may have hid the debris from the military.

The military tried to explain away Roswell a few days after the early July 1947 crash, as weather balloons. In the 1990s, the Air Force came up with a story about a Project Mogul with string weather balloons. Eyewitnesses in all locations were repeatedly told by the military to keep quiet about what they had seen, including those in the San Augustin area.

Acworth and Uskert focus on two particular witnesses: Earl Fulford, who says he saw disks near the air base a few days before the Roswell crash, and Jesse Marcel Jr., who says his father showed him the “memory metal” foil from the crash before it was taken away. Fulford also found such remains.

Both men were taken to Wonder Works in Los Angeles and shown samples of “Home Depot” like material in a kind of “lineup”. Both men, separately, picked out acetate as the “spring back” foil like the material they saw. But acetate was not used in the weather balloons. Furthermore, researchers found a large seashell-like object at the San Augustin site, and had it analyzed. It turned out to be high density polyethylene, not invented until 1953, but commonly used in aircraft today. One theory is that the spacecraft might have crashed with a “cue-ball” effect, sending one craft to crash further west.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

History Channel: The Universe: Intimacy in Space: could the human race go on in space?


On Dec. 2, 2008 the History Channel presented one of its most provocative episodes in “The Universe” series: “Sex in Space.” The link is here.

The general impression is that intimacy in space is likely to happen and be easy to facilitate, but babies may need gravity to develop normally, especially during the last three months of gestation.

Experiments were done with Medaca fish on a space voyage in 1994, and they reproduced and developed normally. Rats, however, did not develop normal reflexes after birth.

Human procreation would be absolutely essential if man had to travel for centuries to other stars. Living on Earth, it is exposed to a “single point of failure” like an extinction asteroid hit.

Nevertheless, scientists have experimented with intimacy in space, as with Vanna’s “Two Suit” which she tried on a parabolic space shot even though she is married.

NASA does not allow married couples on missions generally, although one couple married just before one. NASA does not have a formal policy regarding intimacy in space.

Intimacy will be an issue for longer voyages, such as three years to Mars (after returning to the Moon in 2020). Imagine a voyage to Titan (near Saturn). One recalls the journey to Jupiter of two male astronauts (in platonic friendship) in the famous MGM movie "2001: A Space Odyssey". NASA would wonder whether crews could include couples, or should be single gender, or even include (even welcome) gays (an interesting question given the military policy).

There may be private voyages in space, such as Virgin Galactic. The British owner Richard Branson says he would not want to encourage procreation (or marriage honeymoon consummation) on his voyages without a lot more science. But one imagines the quarters, with a “snuggle tunnel” or a sphere of warm water held together in a weightless environment by wind.

Another blog covering the show is “Now Public” link here.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Oprah Winfrey interviews Barbara Walters for the inside stories on "The View"


Today, Monday December 1, 2008, Oprah Winfrey, on her daily ABC show at 4 PM EST, interviewed Barbara Walters, particularly about personal life but also about the controversies on the show “The View” over Star Jones and subsequently Rosie O’Donnell. The tone of Walters’s comments was brutally frank. The link is this. She has recently authored a book, “Audition,” published by Knopf, and the Amazon site has a video.

Oprah made some interesting comments. “You can do anything if you tell the truth.” Later, “no man has ever taken care of me.” And in a commercial she said, “You don’t have the right to tell other people what to do unless you do it yourself.” Maybe that’s true even in the Democratic Party! It sounds like a reference to “the privilege of being listened to.”

Star Jones had been a cohost of ABC’s “The View” from 1997-2006. She had a number of personal issues. Ratings on the show were dropping and managing produce Bill Getty wanted to replace her. It was decided that she would leave in a festive manner in June 2006. But two days before she “spilled the beans” with an interview in People about how she had been canned, so she didn’t even come in the last day. Walters went on to discuss the two year “era” of Rosie O’Donnell, who, Barbara said, liked being the “bus driver” rather than a passenger. Rosie’s feud with Donald Trump took center stage, and led to a blow up necessitating a conference call from Barbara from a boat in the Caribbean while she was on vacation (with Judge Judy!). Trump had been vocal about his side of the feud, remember. The feud with Trump actually raised the ratings of The View for a while, but Rosie left the show in the middle of 2008, more or less on her own personal decision.

Barbara discussed her three marriages, as well as her father who had owned Latin clubs, and her disabled sister, who died while Barbara was on speaking engagements. The sister’s death was quite traumatic. (She also talked about her affair with African American senator Edward Brooke, about the time she switched to ABC from NBC, I time that I personally remember when I was living in New York). She said that the most difficult chapter in the book to write was about her adopted daughter Jackie, who went through some teenage rebellion herself and now runs a school for troubled teens herself in Maine. Somewhere near the end of the Oprah interview, Barbara echoed a sentiment once articulated by John McCain, that one needs to find something beyond oneself to fight for.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

PBS: Liberty: American Revolution: Parts 5 and 6, 1 to 4


PBS (Public Broadcasting System) offers a three-DVD series on the American Revolution called “Liberty: The American Revolution” (year 2004). The six-part film was produced by Twin Cities (MN) public television and Middlemarch Films, and it’s ironic that the cable program that aired my lectures at Hamline University in 1998 was also called Liberty!, as sponsored then by the Libertarian Party of Minnesota.

I have not been able to get down to Williamsburg to see the last part of its outdoor play “Revolutionary City”, called “Building a Nation” that this year aired only on Mondays. (I hope that changes in March when it restarts.) So I ordered the third DVD first from Netflix, which covers pretty much the same material. By the way, I think Colonial Williamsburg ought to film its Revolutionary City and release a commercial film, or sell DVD’s of the play.

The third DVD has two episodes (showed in full screen), both narrated by Forrest Sawyer, both directed by Muffie Meyer and Ellen Hovde. The narrator is Edward Herrmann. The link for all the episode descriptions is here.

Episode 5 is called “The World Turned Upside Down: 1778-1783” and covers the latter part of the Revolutionary War, with particular emphasis on the South. As Revolutionary City also points out, the British tried to use a strategy of using the slaves to rise up and oppose the “rebels”. Southerners feared the loss of the slave system because of the structure of their plantation economy. Nevertheless, the British were sometimes so brutal with southern families that this strategy backfired. (A good example is provided by the 2000 film “The Patriot” with Mel Gibson, centering on South Carolina). The film covers the “strategy” of General Greene (as discussed here: “Greene’s Southern Campaign”; don't confuse with historian Jack Greene). The British could win battles but could not control the people. They would eventually have an experience comparable to what the United States (and French earlier) would experience in Vietnam and now, perhaps, Iraq. So history has a lesson here. The film concludes with an account of the Battle of Yorktown, which turned out to be one long siege where the British eventually capitulated. Even thereafter, it was not immediately clear that the British would give up.

Episode 6 is called “Are We to Be a Nation?: 1783-1788” In the beginning, the colonies thought of themselves as almost sovereign countries rather like those of Europe (or perhaps the “Commonwealth of Independent States” after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991). European countries expected to have separate relations with each colony. In the beginning, the idea of a strong country as a republic, without a monarchy and without the idea of “subjugation” was thought so novel as to be unworkable. The Articles of Confederation, not covered in detail, were very weak.

The film covers the role of Shay’s Rebellion, in Massachusetts, as a catalyst for the formation of a nation with a Constitution. The rebellion came about as a result of a war-related financial crisis with some parallels to our crisis today and perhaps some lessons to teach, as there were calls to repudiate debts, and claims that this violated the property rights of creditors. The film at least mentions the idea of the militia and bearing arms. People realized that rights and responsibilities would need to be recognized in a more formal manner, with a centralized government that would be ruled by law at least as to matters of basic governance, even if the interpretation of many ideas about individual rights as we know them today (speech, bearing arms, and eventually “privacy”, and, of course, servitude) would not be resolved for decades or centuries later.

Dec. 22, 2008

Part 1 is called "The Reluctant Revolutionaries" and Part 2 is "Blows Must Decide".
Part 1 covers the Stamp Act followed by the Declaratory Act, and the naive behavior of the British Parliament in the 1760s in not grasping how colonists would react despite their relative pride in being Englishmen. Being taxed without representation made them feel "inferior" much as the men treated women as being "inferior" with respect to public life, and, of course, slaves were inferior. (Turnabout was fair play.) There was a belief in those days that some people were inherently superior to others, and that was how the world works. But in the colonies people were starting to question the idea of "superiority" through family and lineage. Benjamin Franklin, ambassador to England from Pennsylvania, was one of the first to struggle with these ideas, as would John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, in different ways. It's interesting that we perceive the American Revolution as civilization-changing because it introduced a new format for democratic governance; but underneath the "representative government" issue were deep issues of self-worth, just as today.

In Part 2 the effect of Thomas Paine's work "Common Sense" is explained (it is shown coming off of 18th Century presses), and Thomas Jefferson's skill as a writer (for being a writer's sake) figures into writing the Declaration of Independence, the preamble of which would change the world.

In the 18th Century it took six weeks for "messages" to cross the Atlantic.

Part 3 is called "The Times that Try Men's Souls", based on the famous essay by Thomas Paine just before the time of George Washington's crossing of the Deleware River Christmas night of 1776. The was the first war fought by common people and volunteers with enlistment contracts over an ideal. European power had always been implemented by structured and hired armies, and Trenton had been defended by Hessians. Washington had warned that the men were fighting for the freedom of their descendants, who would otherwise be slaves.

Part 4 is called "Oh, Fatal Ambition." American volunteers often brought their families with them on campaigns. The inoculation of colonist troops against smallpox is interesting (an old precursor to biological warfare), as is the ability of locals (as in Vermont and the Hudson Valley) to bear arms, which British civilians could not do. The Americans in Vermont, by using wild turkey calls, also practiced an early form of steganography. Burgoyne was guilty of "not keeping a low profile", another interesting concept.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

CNN Heroes: 10 finalists, one winner as "The Hero" chosen by audience (Anderson Cooper hosts)


Tonight, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2008, Anderson Cooper hosted “CNN Heroes: An All Star Tribute” of the top ten volunteers worldwide as picked by the network (for 2008). Each award winner presented a short video or his or her work. Cooper was dressed in black and white (as for a 40s movie), with gray tie, dwarfed by an enormous and opulent stage with its blue pillars and huge studio audience (in Atlanta?). The CNN link is here. According to CNN, the heroes were first announced by Anderson on American Morning on Thanksgiving Morning (there is a video link for the announcement). The Sponsor is the Children’s Safe Drinking Water Initiative. The organization showed conspicuously dirty drinking water common in parts of the developing world, and discussed a Proctor and Gamble invention for purification.

CNN has offered “heroes” segments before, as with water projects noted on a blog entry in 2007 (entry below at the end of the article). There is no relation to NBC’s popular TV series.

The winners are
10- Viola Vaughn, for starting and supporting a girls
school in Senegal. Graduation rates have improved enormously, in a society where teenagers and pre-teens have to raise younger siblings because parents are lost to HIV. The story reminds one of Oprah Winfrey’s girl’s school in South Africa.

9- Liz McCartney, presented by Terrence Howard. Liz quit a job in Washington DC and rebuilt homes in New Orleans, helping 154 families after Hurricane Katrina, particularly in the Ninth Ward. She came down six months after Katrina with partner Zach Rosenberg. She founded Project St. Bernard, with 8000 volunteers. Most of the rebuilding work was “hands on.” Another 35 families are still in the pipeline for help. Brad Pitt will discuss his commitment to New Orleans on Larry King Live on Tuesday Dec. 2.

8- Maria Ruiz, from El Paso TX, presented by Salena Gomez from UNICEF, cooked, raise money and provided food for people in Juarez Mexico, across the border (1200 children a day for over 3 years). Juarez is beset by drug wars and retribution widely reported in the media now. Juarez also has severe water problems. She quoted Philippians 4:13.

7- Marie DaSilva, presented by Cameron Diaz, for an orphanage in Malawi (or Nyasaland). The video played music by Britten in the background. She pays for the school with the wages she earns as a nanny. “You don’t have to be Bill Gates to be able to give.”

6- .Tad Agoglia and his First Response Team. presented by John Krasinski, who runs multiple disaster relief over the country. His team watches and tracks storms (rather like on the Weather or Discovery Channel “Storm Tracker” and responds within a few hours.

5- Phymean Noun, a survivor of Pol Pot (often portrayed by Ted Koppel in the 1970s), who built a school in Cambodia for kids who pick up trash from a dump for family income, presented by Lucy Lu from UNICEF. The school has 600 students.

4- Carolyn Le Croy, who, when leaving prison, set up a program (the “Messages Project”) to connect parents in prison with their children, presented by Meg Ryan. She seems to have been incarcerated for a relatively minor drug violation. An inner city African American class showed about 1/3 of children having parents in jail. Th Project “lets children of incarcerated parents know that they are loved.”

Alicia Keyes sung “I Am a Super Woman”.

Before announcing the next hero, Anderson announced that 18% of the world’s population is illiterate.

3- Yohannes Gebregeorgis, who brings libraries to children in his native Ethiopia, presented by Forest Whittaker. A special challenge was to provide books in both English and in native African languages.

2- David Puckett, makes and services artificial prosthetic limbs and orthopedic braces for people in rural Mexico, presented by Selma Hayak. Puckett said that people are put on this earth to help others overcome their obstacles.

Anderson Cooper talked about homelessness and the tendency for many people to drop “spare change”. This gets a bit closer to the spirit of the Gospels!

1- Marathon runner Anne Mahlum, who organized running events for homeless people, and started the “Back on My Feet” program in North Philadelphia (near the old Pennsylvania Railroad station), presented by Jessica Biel. (Remember "Rocky"!)

Hugh Jackman (“Australia” – Anderson Cooper mention that he had been crowned by People Magazine as “sexiest man alive”) paid tribute to “Heroes among us”. He mentioned Elizabeth Smart’s ordeal, among many other examples (in a short video). Then the “Heroes Among Us” appeared on stage.

The hero with the most television and Internet audience wins $100000. Anderson announced the Hero as Liz McCartney, who volunteered in New Orleans (#9 above). Liz said “I didn’t think we would win, so I didn’t prepare a speech.”

My own vote would have been for the Philadelphia homeless project (picture) or particularly the Ethiopia library project.

John Legend from the International Agape Choir performed, "If You're Out There".

Larry King Live presented a followup at midnight EST.

Here is a link to a 2007 book review that mentions water projects (like Matt Damon's, and a Christian foundation's) toward the end of the post.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bill Moyers on food sustainability; ABC 20/20 on foreign adoption problems; Nightline on St. Jude Hospital


On Friday Nov. 28, 2008 there were several socially important programs.

On PBS, "Bill Moyers Journal" introduced Michael Pollan in a program “Changing the Way We Eat.” Pollan says that we expel more greenhouse gasses and consumer more fuel with corporate farming, ranching, food processing and transportation than we do in personal automobile transportation. The program showed local gardening and food growing, urban food coops and farmers’ markets, and the like. The program predicted a day when Americans will have to obtain most of their food from within 200 miles of where they live, if energy shortages and global warming catch up with us. That theme has already been articulated in the film “The End of Suburbia” (and the sequel “Escape from Suburbia”). The link is here.

The segment talked about the "joys" of doing manual labor for oneself and the virtue of becoming less dependent on work that is "outsourced" through monetized trade. It did put a different moral perspective on "self-sufficiency."

ABC "20/20" presented a detailed segment (Elizabeth Vargas reporting) on the details that parents who adopt older children from overseas (in this case, Russia but probably also Romania and some other previously Communist countries) can run into. There are about 19000 overseas adoptions from the United States, but 10-25% can end in “disruption.” The show presented the Mulligan family, which adopted two girls and then a boy. The older girl and boy had serious behavioral and emotional problems that psychologists call “reactive attachment disorder”. Dr. Phil has mentioned this problem before. Some kids are sent to a ranch in Montana where they live a bare-bones life, doing chores and learning a work ethic. The ABC news story (“From Russia With Love -- Dealing With Difficult Adoptions: Adoptive Parents Say They've Struggled to Integrate Foreign-Born Children”, link and story by Juju Chang, Jin Dubreuil and Keturah Gray, is here. The story already has a very large volume of visitor comments.

Of course, the show raises questions about the volume of need for adoptive parents, and their ability to handle special needs children, particularly older children. (Mrs. Mulligan made a comment that she thought an older child was what they wanted; they didn’t want to face the “potty training” and the constancy of parenting like on the NBC series “The Baby Borrowers”.) Another serious question is whether overseas adoption agencies level with them on the emotional difficulties experienced by many overseas older children. The Mulligan family seeks damages from the agency for misinformation.

ABC "Nightline" is due to run (Nov. 28) “Daniel’s Story” about a 12 year old boy with a brain malignancy and his treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. I did see the exterior of the campus in 1992 on a weekend visit to the area. The story is titled “Boy's Brave Battle Against Brain Cancer at 'the Best Place'; St. Jude Research Hospital Helps 'Hopeless Children With Hopeless Diseases'”, link here, story by Cynthia McFadden, Melia Patria and Deborah Apton.

All of the boy's treatment was free or already paid for by donations. The first symptoms were simply double vision, but the specific tumor was one of the worst possible diagnoses. The treatment is grueling. But he came through the treatment and, despite concerns about the effects of treatment, has returned to school and is doing well, as in algebra (shown in the report).