Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama debate tonight in CA on CNN

Tonight, Thursday Jan. 31, the remaining 2008 Democratic presidential candidates (Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) held a two hour debate in Los Angeles at the Kodak Theater, the same venue as is used for the Academy Awards, at 6 PM PST. Wolf Blitzer moderated on CNN. Mr. MacMannus from the Los Angeles Times and Jean Cummings from helped moderate and select user-supplied questions.

The CNN site story is "Clinton, Obama debate with less finger-pointing," here.

A major part of the first hour was spent on health care. Hillary Clinton stressed mandatory universal coverage and offering the uninsured access to the Congressional health plan at reasonable prices, with outlawing exclusion for pre-existing conditions. Hillary accused insurance companies of "cherry picking" and insuring only the healthy. Apparently there would be mandatory purchase of individual coverage for some people.

Barack Obama wants a program that covers adults not already covered by employers, and children. He does not want to make it mandatory for uninsured adults (it would be for kids) but he claims it is universal. Obama gave a graphic example of the cost of diabetic leg amputations that result from neglect.

The CNN link on all the candidates on health care is here.

Hillary was very critical of laws that criminalize "Good Samaritan" help to illegal immigrants, who often take jobs that Americans don't want (as migrant farm workers, or in nursing homes).

Hillary Clinton talked about going to work for the Children's Defense Fund out of law school (that is, she worked for a charity as a "profession") and says later that she was instrumental in tripling the rate of adoption of children in California out of foster care.

A viewer asked about thirty years in which a Bush or Clinton had been in the White House (back to 1981, with G.H.W. Bush was vice president). Hillary said, it took a Clinton to clean up after the first Bush, and it may take another Clinton to clean up after the second.

Hillary was also asked how she would control her spouse, essentially getting third and fourth terms in the White House (FDR?)

According to ABC's "The View," Barack Obama has said that he would take away tax benefits from companies that offshore jobs.

There is talk of a "dream ticket" of Hillary and Obama.

I still wonder if Al Gore could upset the applecart and decide suddenly to run. That's possible if there is no nominee after one ballot at the Democratic Convention in Denver in Aug. 2008. I suppose with only two serious contenders now, it's wishful thinking. But if it did happen, no more movies (just like Schwarzenegger).

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Return of the Taliban (PBS Frontline)

PBS Frontline tonight (Jan. 29) aired a one hour documentary "Return of the Taliban," link here, produced by Martin Smith.

The film documented the gradual return of the Taliban, mainly in orders in the mountainous areas of the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan ("Land of the Pure"). The Pakistani government has never had much influence over the seven autonomous tribal areas along the border, with the famous Khyber Pass in the middle, and the city of Peshawar as the gateway to the region. Therefore, the Taliban has been able to regain a foothold and re-expand in its drive to regain control of the entire region after being driven underground in the fall of 2001 after 9/11, by coalition forces (mostly the United States) and the Northern Alliance.

The show discussed the culture of the tribal areas, with the strong sense of collective consciousness of people in the area that gives them a sense of identity. The psychology is similar to extreme extended family loyalty in our own culture, similar to what one sometimes sees in soap operas.

The view was expressed that Osama bin Laden (or Usama bin Laden) is likely to be in a tribal area to the north, near one of the highest mountains along the border. However, other people have suggested that bin Laden could have fled through Karachi on the coast.

Toward the end of the show, a visit of President Bush to Pakistan was documented, with the colorful Pakistani flag behind. According to a NYU professor, Bush apparently insulted Musharraf, making a comment that suggested he thought he was checking up on a schoolboy.

Update: Feb. 17, 2007

Tonight CNN reported that Al Qaeda's "popularity" has fallen in the mountainous tribal areas of Pakistan, down to 4%. This was an interview with Peter Bergen. This contradicts the reports that the tribes have driven out the legitimate Pakistani military. This is indeed murky.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

SAG awards on TBS and TNT tonight

On Sunday, January 27, 2008 the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) presented its 14th Annual awards ceremony on the TBS and TNT cable channels in most cities, live at 8 PM EST (5 PM PST). The show was not affected by the WGA strike.

The SAG Press Release and related links are here.

The best motion picture cast ensemble award (SAG's terminology for "best picture" for practical purposes) went to "No Country for Old Men," a thriller and black comedy-western from the Coen Brothers that Billy Bob Thornton called a "moral contemplation" -- about greed.

The best actor was Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood." (Though not nominated, the Paul Dano gave a riveting performance as the young pentacoastal "preacher" and financier.) The best actress was Julie Christie as an Alzheimer's Disease patient in "Away from Her."

At the beginning, a number of SAG members introduced themselves with a short byline, followed by "I am an actor." This included the women. The table settings at the event were ornate, with champagne bottles and flowers. There was talk about how SAG got started in the 1930s, in response to abuse by the studios then, and the concept of "all for one, one for all" -- solidarity.

It seemed that slightly more time was spent on the primetime television series awards than on movies awards.

There was a brief moment to remember Heath Ledger. Later Sunday night, many NBC stations aired an "Access Hollywood" report on Heath Ledger.

Zac Efron appeared, apparently fully recovered from a very recent appendectomy. Nikki Blonsky appeared with John Travolta.

I had some experience networking with the acting community in Minneapolis with MNTalent, which apparently is going on hiatus. I hope they return, as it is now looking more feasible that I could see Minneapolis again. The weekend forums did present the life of a professional actor.

In seventh grade, in the late spring, I appeared in an school operetta called "The Sunbonnet Girl." I do not recall the composer. I recall walking to school with makeup on my hands. I was very sensitive about my body as a boy, and as an adult I see that actors sometimes put themselves through all kinds of "humiliations" to become another person (aka John Travolta in "Hairspray" or "Staying Alive", or, for that matter, Steve Carell in "The 40 Year Old Virgin." It's interesting how conditioning so early in life affects opportunities one will have later.

SAG made a presentation at the Reel Affirmations GLBT film festival in Washington DC in October 2007. The SAG Independent Film link is here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Days of our Lives: The characters need "Reputation Defender"

Today (Thurs. Jan. 24), NBC / Corday’s “Days of our Lives” weighed in on “reputation defense,” however indirectly. To start with, Marlena used a great metaphor in describing the resurrection of her supposedly lost husband, John. “Stefano dry-cleaned your brain.” Great line. But more important was when supercop Bo (aka "Beau") tells his purloined daughter Chelsea, as he senses the relationship between Chelsea and her sorority pledges, “loyalty is a great thing, but the Truth is more important.”

Chelsea, remember, along with her sorority sisters, had plastered photos of Ford Decker (a most attractive Matthew Florida in real life) all over the Salem (Ohio? - they talk about Route 13 sometimes) college campus, accusing him or drugging the girls with date-rape ecstasy-like compounds and following up – a “truth” that the show clearly establishes (Nick and Chelsea even get the evidence illegally by climbing into his apartment through an open second-story window from a tree – no fire escape needed.) The non-WGA writers (probably management right now) didn’t bother to have his reputation plundered on Myspace -- but that would have been a much more contemporary way to do it than with photos in the bricks and mortar world. Never mind, college campuses have lots of post-it bulletin boards, so the idea would work. Now, Billie (a “CIA” agent) and Gatsby-like Nick (Blake Berris) (now a 23-year-old college professor with lab reports to grade, having lost his job in the medical lab protecting Chelsea and Willow before) stand to lose their jobs (Nick, again) for “protecting” Chelsea. Again, the “reputation card” (and they actually said, Billie will lose her “reputation”) gets played. I wonder why good guy Max (Darin Brooks) caves in and hides Ford’s body – twice. (Stephanie's really not worth it.) That’s out of character for this level-headed race car driver (an oxymoron, perhaps). Now, the trouble with Ford is that he’s dead.

On Jan. 30 Ford Decker's father makes a deal with the DA to prosecute Chelsea, and Roman from the Salem police moves in to make an arrest. That perhaps can be done in Ohio (where the show is supposed to take place), but in some states, like Virginia, a DA cannot prosecute without an independent police investigation first. That sounds like a safer criminal procedure.

Note: The Republican candidates had a "kinder, gentler" debate on MSNBC tonight from Boca Raton, FL, link here. Huckabee made a job comparing "undesirables" to "non-Republicans" and pitched his "fair tax" a little. One reporter (Tim Russert) asked the candidates how they would run against a Democratic candidacy that effectively offers a third term for a "Hilly and Billy" co-presidency.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Soap opera shows go on - in the New -- during "endless love" WGA strike

The Arts Section (B1) of the Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 21, 2008, the coldest day of the year by average in Washington DC) New York Times has a story by Jacques Steinberg, “Scripting the Soaps Is the Hidden Drama of Strike-Plagued Daytime,” link here. The WGA and Producers seem to be in a breath-holding contest, as if frozen into ice sculptures.

For the eight daytime soap operas, the scripts are somehow getting written. There are various methods. Some can use a WGA designation called “financial core.” Many are getting written by management, or possibly freelancers. Some make hidden visits to writers. With the Internet, it’s possible to work without getting caught crossing the picket line or working as a scab.

The WGA has a legitimate interest in the soaps even though they are thought not to be recycled the way other shows are. Some are shown on the Internet (“Coastal Dreams” and possibly “Passions”). This trend may continue as some shows don’t do well enough to stay on network TV but might have a niche audience (like GLBT).

Still, “Days or our Lives” continues to have some genuinely interesting adventures, as silly as the central family fued or vendetta seems. The issue of involuntary father’s responsibility without procreation is explored with the Gatsby-like character Nick Fallon (Blake Berris), as well as a bigger problem of being responsive to the needy without being run over by them (a recent theme on Oprah, just last week). Then, there is a “Trouble with Harry” subplot with Ford Decker (hope that the actor Matthew Florida gets to play a nicer character in the future). When I substitute taught, I often saw “Days” running in the teacher’s lounge, and everybody (teachers and teenage girls alike) know who Sami (Allison Sweeney) is. And now, Drake Hogestyn seems to have settled his feud with Corday Productions and is back as a zombie version of the Pie'oh'Pah assassin, in the likeness of a withering John Black. Marlena (Deidre Hall) is in love with a fantasy.

Soap opera is very hard work. I know from working on the set of Somerset in 1976 as a boom operator during the Nabet Strike, as NBC’s Brooklyn studio. I don’t know it the production facility is still there. And it seems that many actors don’t get to work every day, which would make it hard to retain an income for many of them good enough to live in NY or LA.

Update: Jan. 22, 2008

TruTV has a show "The Real Hustle," discussion on the consumer protection blog, here.

Update: Feb. 3, 2008

Michael Cieply reports in The New York Times, "Progress Toward Ending Writers’ Strike", that there could be a settlement in the WGA strike within a few days. The link is here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Oprah does a "Dr. Phil" style program with Suze's intervention on a mooching sibling

Oprah Winfrey’s show today (Fri. Jan. 18) dealt with the problem of needy relatives, and advocated a tough love approach. The URL is this.

In the first episode a woman who owns two homes has to deal with a sister who lives in one of them rent free, asks for money, and apparently spends careless and has a poor credit score. The tradition of “loyalty to blood” in the family among siblings was so strong that what was one’s belonged to everybody. Sharing was a “proof of love.” The stronger sister had a hard time saying no because of fear that this was lack of love. A staff person (“Suze”) from Oprah intervened, and refuted that idea with counseling in what turned out to be a formal intervention or “smackdown”. "Money is the medium of life," she said, or something like that. Fiat money, indeed. Of course, there are intangible assets in life, like what the sisters experience as family ties. Finally the stronger sister decided to sell both houses and move to Texas, and help her sister for only a month to get into an apartment.

It’s worthy of note that a number of states (28) have filial responsibility laws, and for a few of them the close relatives can include siblings as well as parents or grandparents.

The rest of the show was a little less controversial. One mother of six children was spending the family broke, and had failed to provide health insurance for her children. Another married couple insisted on separate bank accounts and lives, but their lack of awareness of each other’s spending was driving apart the marriage.

This Oprah show as a bit like a Dr. Phil episode. I recall that one of the characters in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is named "Wesley Mooch." (Actually, I'm told it's "Mouch".)

Update: Jan. 21, 2008

Oprah did her Martin Luther King's Day show today, link here. I was not aware that the Loving v. Virginia case, resolved in 1967 (interracial marriage) took 25 years to resolve.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

By the People: Democracy in the Wild

By the People: Democracy in the Wild (2006, Hyperbaric Films, dir. Malinda Picke) was produced for PBS. It gives segments from Election Day (and some of the training preparations) in November, 2004 for the presidential election in Marion County (Indianapolis), Indiana.

The DVD title has the quote from John Adams in 1814, “There has not been a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” The management of polls is presented by the film as an exercise in guarding democracy. Every county runs its own elections (even national elections), so there are about 3033 “elections” on Election Day. Marion County has 914 precincts. Imagine the volume of separate polling places. The polls are run by a small amount of supervisory election staff, and up to two million “volunteers” around the country. In some counties the volunteers are paid a small stipend for the day (in Arlington VA it is $130), that runs up to 18 hours, without the worker being allowed to leave the premises. In Virginia the volunteers are called “election judges” and are sworn in. There is a shortage of about 500,000 poll workers nationwide, and the average age is about 72. One can debate paying the workers more, and trying shorter shifts if better pay attracted them. But one idea is that poll work is a kind of “national service” or volunteerism. The point is that ordinary citizens are supposed to police the elections and make sure that, in a culture that otherwise stresses partisanship, that they are run fairly.

In the film, the volunteers have to expend extra effort to get handicapped people to the polls, and track down the validation information on some voters. They even have polls in prison. During the film, one candidate passes away, and the sheriff has to come and make certain areas off limits. There is a quote from a politician who apparently says that 9/11 happened because Bush stole the 2000 election.

In 2004 in Marion County there was a 50% turnout, and that was disappointing. About 71 million people in the country did not vote. The turnout for the midterm election in 2006 was surprisingly strong, because of voter discontent with Bush's performance.

I don’t know if this film is related to the “By the People” program (from Williamsburg) recently on PBS and discussed on this blog Jan. 5.

The South Carolina primaries Jan. 19 this year illustrated some problems. In one location, the precincts tried to get a judge to extend the poll hours (which poll workers would not like). One one location, poll workers could not get the machines working, so paper ballots had to be brought in, and there were not enough. In the movie, the machines accepted punched card ballots and counted them automatically (as in Minnesota). In Virginia, WinVote machines are used, and they do not leave a detailed paper trail of each vote, but they can recover form freezes and hangs without losing votes, and they save all the details on USB inserts.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

When art imitiates life, just partially, on NBC's Law & Order

Law & Order: "Bottomless" (new episode, 10 PM EST, Wednesday January 16, 2008).

This episode does not appear to carry either the SVU or "criminal intent" sub-series franchise designation.

First, the “real” case that seems to have in inspired this show happened in Washington DC. The show, however, quickly deviates from the fact pattern of the real case. In real life, an administrative law judge sued neighborhood dry cleaners for $54 million over a pair of lost pants, for “consumer fraud” based on a literal reading of DC consumer law. The outrageous case is seen as an argument for tort reform and ending frivolous lawsuits against small business people. (Despite fundraisers to help with the legal expenses, the cleaners had to close part of their operation.) A typical newstory is by Henri E. Cauvin from June 26, 2007 in The Washington Post, p A01, “Court Rules for Cleaners in $54 Million Pants Suit,” link here.

The program takes place in New York City and the missing pants seems to be a relatively small part of the hour-long story. (True, the "plaintiff" gives the mandatory missive about "consumer fraud" and it rings appropriately hollow.) A businessman for a discount retail chain is covering up for another businessman who was importing tainted toothpaste from China, to be sold to hospitals and especially nursing homes. This seems to have to do with corporate practices of covering up their misdeeds from routine audits. We don’t need to mention names of companies here. A female attorney has been murdered, and the missing pants apparently had obscure physical evidence that would implicate the killer. The “plot” seems farfetched, and it seems hard to believe that such a ruse, taking advantage of a small business this way to cover a crime, could even work.

The show has its usual fast moving style of moving from one confrontation to another, with the typical bong-bong, and winding up with quick court maneuvers.

There is one point where the point is made that evidence introduced by a private citizen can be used as long as not planted by police.

The series often takes famous cases in different cities and embellishes the stories into fictitious complications. The screenwriting usually tries to educate the viewer on points in the law. Because of the fame and reputation of the NBC show, most viewers know that most of an episode like this is fiction, but there has been legal controversy recently about amateur“ blog fiction” being used to make “accusations” about real life (or to make political points that sometimes visitors confuse with reality), as I discussed last week on my main blog.

It does not appear that the WGA strike has hindered new episodes of this show, for at least a while.

Update: Jan. 30, 2008

A episode tonight, "Political Animal," has three roommates found murdered in a NYC loft. One of them is an openly gay man and blogger, who apparently was going to expose a corrupt businessman with political connections. At one point (before his death) he said, "exposing people is what the Internet is for." He was a kind of Gossip Boy. One clue comes from another politician caught in a Larry Craig - like bathroom bust -- complete with wing-tipped shoes touching, and the guy says "I am not gay." But then he is. There is also mention of the Vince Foster suicide in 1993, and the idea that it could have involved Whitewater. (I suppose you could name a different episode, yet to air,
"Party Animal."

Update: Dec 28, 2008

On Dec 14, ABC reran an episode where two lesbians had enrolled their daughter in a Catholic school. Other parents protested and the school tried to expel her because of her two moms, but the two women threatened to sue. The girl was teased by a boy and in retaliation she accidentally paralyzed him. The episode runs through all the arguments about gay parenting, as well as the way people naively apply scripture.

Picture: (unrelated): a set-up for a CPR class at the Washington Convention Center.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dr. Phil hits the problem of "online reputation" and social networking site posts hard today

The Dr. Phil show today, (link) Tuesday, Jan. 15, “Internet Mistakes,” took heat on the issue of employers and the personal profiles, particularly on Myspace and Facebook, of associates and job applicants. It’s only fair to mention at the outset that the legal community is starting to sat that employers ought to be expected to follow notification practices if they look at online profiles similar to what are expected when they pull credit reports. I wonder if landlords are next.

This is frankly, from the view of the ethical world, a complicated problem and Dr. Phil himself struggled with it. He did take the position that if your job is to represent a company in public (or act as a role model for kids in school, for example) then you have a responsibility to consider how people will feel about you if you post salacious material about yourself online, or poke fun of yourself online, even to make a legitimate political point. In general, his position was supported by a recruiter from Job Bound, whose existential argument was that, in reality, the information is there now and you can’t blame employers for using it. Dr. Phil at one point appealed to “common sense” but admitted that this was a hidden, slippery slope. A complicating factor in all this is that some material about people is posted by others, and controlling that has become an issue (hence the company “Reputation Defender”). At one point, the view was expressed that almost all employers check social networking sites now, even "Taco Bell," but I doubt that. Dr. Phil noted a particularly disturbing trend among teens (and a lot of young adults) to poke fun of themselves in their photos and videos on the net, raising public questions about their credibility (there is more about this on my main blog, Jan. 16, 2008.)

The first story presented more or less grown young women posting Facebook pictures of themselves covered with smudges, passed out, vomiting, etc. The woman on the show said that this was a political statement. If men can do it (as part of “Skull and Bones” fraternity hazing or “tribunals” – often forbidden by school policy) why can’t women? Yet, employers or clients won’t “understand.” My own perspective is that, if I were an employer, I would not to find something like this from someone who was going to represent the company to the public outside of work, have direct reports or make big time decisions about other people (clients or subordinates). If it weren’t that kind of job, and it was really a gray area, I might ask her the point of the postings, and if she convinced me it was legitimate political speech, fine.

The next case involved the mayor of Arlington, OR, who had posted a PG-13 photograph of herself in lingerie online. Residents who had elected her were offended. The argument came out that this was her personal life, but she had voluntarily made it public. (Of course, someone else could make it public, too.)

Then the issue continued with the group “Thirty Reasons” about another message board exchange where some apparently damaging material became permanent.

Then there was a teenage girl who was caught underage drinking, but this may have happened because of postings by others. This incident is less controversial (in terms of her being exposed to future employers or schools) because, after all, the girl was breaking the law by drinking when she was only 17.

The last case rings home with me. A young, attractive male substitute teacher (“Ian”) trying to build a permanent career as a musician got fired after he gave a “mature” student the URL for his website (printed on a band sticker), which contained a f___ word on it. He was fired, but then rehired. The second time, kids found his videos again (since they would have known about them by word of mouth) and this time the problem was some incidental “R” nudity on his site. His site would not have been viewed as pornographic or objectionable by most adults in today’s cultural mainstream, by the community standards of the normal world. However, theoretically, it could have raised questions under COPA (the Child Online Protection Act of 1998), which has been struck down but is now in appeal. (My blog for this is this; look especially at Jan. 9, 2008). He was fired again. Dr. Phil did not identify the location of the school system other than to say that it was a "small town". The teacher claims that the school system should have a clear, written policy about off-duty online activity. I certainly agree with that. As public employees, teachers have First Amendment rights which must be balanced with special concerns about security and learning environment in schools. (No one mentioned this in the program.) Furthermore, a substitute teacher is normally paid much less, has much less steady work (no benefits) than permanent teachers, and in many states subs do not have to be licensed. Dr. Phil didn’t think there was anything really wrong with his website, but he felt that there could be a “conflict of interest” between the media world (which is open and accepts many forms of expressions as socially or politically relevant) and the public school system world, that must “protect” children. The audience generally applauded in favor of protecting children.

A little gumshoeing identifies the musician as Ian DeFeo, and the school district was in Cape May County, New Jersey. The NBC10 video on the firing is here. Ian's own site (besides Myspsace) is this. In fact, his Myspace page is this, and it has a place to vote on the firing. Apparently a parent complained that Ian somehow (or even accidentally) wound up on student's friend's lists, which would be inappropriate; this can happen with social networking sites but not with "ordinary" blogs or "simple" personally owned websites. Some parents in southern New Jersey may petition for his reinstatement. (By the way, I remember that soap opera director Bruce Minnix, who directed "Somerset" on NBC in the 1970s, was a mayor of Cape May then.)

To illustrate the difficulty of the controversy, Dr. Phil also had a young woman, Jasmine, from Facebook talk about how she monitors content for violating Facebook’s terms of service. These are much more “liberal” than would be the case for many employers, especially school systems.

One problem is that social networking sites, as part of "Web 2.0", are changing the psychological impression that people have of online activity; rather than as a publication activity (as having my own websites started for me), it is seen as "conversation" or "gossip". This was not the case, say four years ago.

I know of a graduate student who baldly displaces his substantial leg tattoos on his personal web page. Is this (potentially destructive) body art a form "self-deprecation"? Some people (including some employers) might feel that way. That does not suit my own taste, but of course it isn't my decision. If I were an employer, I might be concerned if the person's job involved representing the interests of my organization adversarially to the open public, but I wouldn't make it my business (I wouldn't even look at all) if he were an "individual contributor." Of course, one wonders, what if he wanted to be (or "had to be") promoted into a more sensitive position later? If the job were sensitive to public image, I would let any job applicant know in advance and have a clear policy.

For a review of a recent book on online reputation ("The Future of Reputation") by GWU associate law professor Dr. Daniel Solove, please go here, Jan. 12, 2008.

I have a review of the major network coverage of Michael Fertik 's company "Reputation December" (link above) on December 26, 2007 on this blog (please see archive links).

On Dec. 6, 2006 I reviewed another Dr. Phil show about a teacher losing a job because of off-duty reputation, and about the problem of fake profiles put up by other people. (Please see archives links.)

Of course, I do wonder what kind of impression my stuff makes (you can Google my name if you want). The picture I put on this blog entry might offend some. It is the inside of the model of a colon at a health fair. I suppose some employers could read something unintended out of it.

Update: Jan. 16, 2008

As if all this were not provocative enough, I found this morning a search argument against my domain's server logs about an incident where a female teacher was fired when her partner posted "inappropriate" photos of her on I tracked this down to this discussion at This appears to have happened in Austin, TX in 2006. There is a real argument about what is legitimate "art". One reader on the board put it this way, and I think it sums up the problem somewhat:

"A web page is not a photo album on the side table, it's a billboard. If you're in a position with certain expectations, even perhaps archaic expectations, then take a little extra care what you put up on that billboard."

Update: Jan. 16, evening: Message Board update

I have a posting on Dr. Phil's message board for this show here. Look for 'jboushka.'

Update: Jan 18

ABC 20/20 presented the story of Arlington OR mayor Carmen Kontur-Gronquist tonight. The story is called "Public Inferno Over Mayor's Not-So-Private Photos; Carmen Kontur-Gronquist on the 'Cruel' Efforts to Remove Her From Office," by Chris Connelly, link here.

See also this blog on Jan. 10, 2008 (look at archive link) for Dr. Phil's coverage of the "gossip girl" problem.

Update: Aug. 6, 2008

Dr. Phil's website now solicits visitors to submits stories if they have been "suspended because of Facebook" (as from schools or athletic teams) or "Is the Internet ruining my life" because of comments or photos placed by others on the Internet. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 14, 2008

PBS: History Channel, ABC: It's likely that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in 1963

PBS: American Experience: Oswald’s Ghost (1:26, dir. Robert Stone) is a straightforward documentary about the Kennedy Assassination. The main website reference is this.

The report emphasizes Oswald as a “small man” who imagined that by some kind of asymmetric activity he could change history. That he did. The program gives the impression that he was more interested in the attention he could attract (to his pain and disillusionment) than in actual sympathy with Communism as a “moral” ideology, even given his stay in the Soviet Union. Once he got cornered that Friday afternoon in the movie theater in Oak Cliff in South Dallas after shooting a cop, he knew he was “doomed.” “Copkillers” are punks, the show says, not martyrs or “revolutionaries.” So he tried to feign innocence until Jack Ruby finished him.

I recall the moment of Ruby’s shooting. I was in the family car with my parents on 17th Street in Washington, returning from a church service, with the car radio on, reporting it live almost as if it were a sporting event. When JFK himself was shot, I was at work in a rheology lab at the old National Bureau of Standards on Van Ness Street, when my boss came in and told me. For about twenty seconds or so, I did not grasp what had just happened. They let us off work, and I remember waiting for a bus on K Street (there was no Metro yet) wondering if the H-bombs were coming. The Cuban Missile Crisis, which had happened while I was a “patient” at NIH but attending classes at GWU and getting the stories on the student union television, was still fresh on my mind by then.

The show discussed Garrison’s “investigation” and indicated that Garrison focused on “homosexuals” (like Clay Shaw and maybe David Ferrie) as if they somehow were inclined to conspire. Even Oliver Stone’s 1991 film “JFK” goes into that. The notion is offensive today, but it may have contributed to a tendency for the Dallas Police Department to raid gay bars for no reason until around 1980 (when I was living there). There was also discussion of the idea of trying to invent a conspiracy by pseudo “code breaking.”

In November 2007 the History Channel had aired a two hour documentary “Beyond Conspiracy” (dir. Mike Obenhaus) that presented proof that Oswald was the lone assassin. Peter Jennings had presented a similar documentary on ABC in 2003. We don't like the idea that the stability of our lives can turn on such random events and be orchestrated by one sociopathic person (hence Oswald's history is a "ghost story") or one disaffected and decentralized "cell"; we feel more comfortable with believing in big conspiracies.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

ABC 20-20: Happiest cities

On Friday, Jan. 11, ABC 20-20 reported on the relative happiness of a number of places. Copenhagen, Denmark was shown as a happy place where people trusted each other, in a modern social democracy, with relatively fewer tensions between "rich and poor" than in other places. People can leave their babies in strollers unattended outside shops briefly. People don't lock their bicycles. I visited Copenhagen in July, 1972 and remember the amusement park (and the strong beer, which I wasn't used to.) The Fox Searchlight film "Smilla's Sense of Snow" (1997) directed by Bille August, presented a less benign view (incorporating a road trip to Greenland, a "province" of Denmark, part of the global warming controversy.)

Another happy place was Singapore, despite the somewhat authoritarian, pro-natalist government of the City State. It has become an economic powerhouse, governed by a curious but successful blend of capitalism and Confucian conformity. There is extreme emphasis on order, and violators of misdemeanors can experience corporal punishment by caning, especially of AmericanMichael Peter Fay. The government pays civil servants high salaries, and there is almost no corruption. But there is no trial by jury and weak due process by American standards. The show interviewed a young American from Apple Valley, MN and he was quite happy with the culture there.

An unhappy place was Italy, because of the corruption.

One of the happiest cities in the United States is Asheville, NC, in the Smokies.

The ABC story is "'20/20' Friday: What Makes People Happy? '20/20' Explores the Myths and Misconceptions About This Essential Emotion," link here. The story mentions Eric Weiner's novel "The Geography of Bliss."

Note: (Jan. 13)

I covered the Golden Globes today on my movies blog, here; look to the end of that posting for an update today. True, a lot of the TV shows that won awards aren't among the ones that I follow a lot. I'll check out some of them. I cover shows that deal with the issues (artistic, social, or political) that concern me, and many are news-related or guest-generated shows, and these aren't usually part of the Globes. Most of the movies that won awards I have covered on my blogs and sites.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gossip Girl illustrates reputation problems, but in a "silly" way

A Primetime series on CWTV this year does get at some of the problems with the Internet and “reputation defense.” The series is called “Gossip Girl”. The CW link is here. The storyline considers a number of upper middle class privileged teens at a private prep school (high school) in Manhattan. They always wear nice blazers, suits, or whatever; they’re always immaculate and “dressed for success.”

Some of the story line concerns the “gossip girl” who spreads rumors about the preppies on her mobile blogs. Other preppies feed her with material, such as a scene (right out of “Juno”) where one of the co-eds is in a pharmacy buying a pregnancy test kit. Text messages get into the blogs, which help drive a number of the situations from week to week.

Some of the actors are new, but they’re all appealing, including Baltimore native Penn Badgley, who sounds like a graduate student but whose father says he is a 17-year-old. He was in TheWB’s short lived “Bedford Files” and here has to un-age about four years, which gets interesting.

Gradually, the ethical situations get more serious, as when some students break in to a swimming area for a party with some underage drinking, and one is almost killed in a water accident. That leads to a headmistress investigation where the ethical problems of a cover-up are explored. One boy who takes the fall, Nate (Chace Crawford), has a pop with serious legal problems (embezzlement) of his own.

But it is the “reputation defense” problem in this show that is interesting. The consequences for “gossip” tend to deal with social and dating relationships, and sometimes business consequences (maybe for parents) to the extent that these depend on social position. That’s a fundamental problem with trying to deal with “reputation” and the Internet – so much of it is in the eye of the beholder and does not deal with issues that normally fall within the legal rubric of libel or invasion of privacy.

I had discussed “reputation defender” in network television videos on Dec. 26 on this blog.

CWTV is a new “network” formed by merging of CBS ‘s UPN subsidiary with Warner Brothers (TheWB). It was supposed to provide more creative input into the shows. It’s not clear that this has happened, and the WGA strike could start affecting it soon (although “One Tree Hill” had a rousing return Tuesday Jan 8 with Lucas now a writer, Nate recovering from a bar injury, and Nate’s wife struggling as a teacher; the series is discussed in the March 2006 entry in this blog).

Even given WGA, CW will start new episodes of both Smallville and Supernatural Thursday July 31 (that is, February 0). Lana has a blog now, and she has to worry about her reputation, now that she has returned, and apparently reputations travel to other planets faster than the speed of light. Sam sill has to keep his "reputation" as the almost-law-student golden boy (he does most of the Internet searches on demons on each trip with Dean). A Supernatural rerun tonight had a great ad from -- a handsome teen, abusing substances, gets into a cocoon and comes out as a fat, bald middle-aged man.

Update: Jan. 17, 2008

CWTV was advertising today that Monday Jan. 28 it will broadcast "Gossip Girl Revealed." I wonder what (and who) will be "revealed." I can guess. But prep schools don't have Skull and Bones, do they.

Update: Sat. Jan. 19 and then Mon. Jan. 21 and Mon. Jan 28, 2008

Indeed, CWTV did have a 90 minute show on "Gossip Girl Revealed" centered around the Pilot, with deleted scenes. The show discussed the supposed anonymity of the "gossiper" (although it seems she is shown in Grand Central Station). Penn says "she or he could be any one of us." Anonymity of speech, while defended as a First Amendment right, may present problems in tracking down those who post libelous content in "reputation defense" actions.

This advisory came in with an automated email from the Dr. Phil show. On Monday Jan. 21 Dr. Phil plans to have a show "Real Life Gossip Girls" involving threats made on Myspace followed by the possible loss of homes of teenage girls who spread the gossip because of the legal ramifications.

Indeed, the show took place on Martin Luther King Day (it was probably taped a few days earlier). The link is this. In the show, Dr. Phil issued a statement about his visit to Britney Spears (that itself had been the subject of "gossip"). On Tues Jan 22 ABC News and Good Morning America presented Dr. Phil's intervention in a critical light, bringing up the question of the lack of licensure in California, in the story "Dr. Phil Says He Regrets Statement on Britney: But the TV Shrink Doesn't Regret Talking to the Pop Star," story by Bill Keveny of USA Today (with Chris Cuomo), here.

Then Dr. Phil (on the Jan 21 show) presented two disturbing stories of teenage gossip among girls in middle and high school leading to serious consequences. One story had to do with an "unauthorized" photo sent among cell phones (it did not involve social networking sites). The second had to do with a threat posted on Myspace (related to a dating triangle) that resulted in a misdemeanor conviction on the girl followed by a lawsuit against her parents that has caused them to take out three morgages. They (as well of the siblings) could lose everything because of her "gossip" on Myspace, although it was a bit more than that.

Dr. Phil also discussed a website,, that lets people gossip and post rebuttals, all anonymously. Dr. Phil decried the anonymity, yet that is a First Amendment guarantee. "Technology!" he said. I tried to get to the site to test it, and found "could not connect to database". It was probably overloaded because of the show.

Jan. 23, 2008

Another example of how a small incident can become "gossip" on social networking sites occurred last week in Fairfax County VA when a student was brazen enough to call a school system official at home about the lack of a snow day after a 3-inch wet snowfall typical for the area. The wife called back, left an angry message, which got posted all over the place. The story in The Washington Post is "Va. Student's Snow-Day Plea Triggers an Online Storm", by Michael Alison Chandler, p A01 The Washington Post, Jan. 23, link here.
There is discussion of the fact that teenagers today do not have the same idea of privacy as did previous generations. The YouTube link for the audio of the return phone call was present Wednesday morning (Jan. 23) but was removed by the student, after being played on national media.

For more on Myspace and blog issues presented on Dr. Phil, see this blog entry for Jan. 15, 2008.

Update: Feb. 18, 2008

The Examiner has a story about JuicyCampus, "Students Fight Back Against Gossip Site," by Justin Pope, link here. Despite the "reputation" issues, colleges say there is little they can do about activity not performed on college computers.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Discovery's "Weapons that Changed the World"

Discovery Channel's “Weapons that Changed the World” (link ), aired Jan 9, 2007, was a one-hour semi-reality documentary in which the ten most influential weapons systems, as voted on by about 120000 people in the defense business, were briefly presented, with a snazzy yellow screen introducing each one. The universe of weapons comprised those introduced or developed largely after World War II (otherwise one could have imagined the sword, the musket, even the smallpox epidemic during the French and Indian Wars). They were presented in reverse order. The presenter was Richard "Mack" Machowicz.

Number 1 was the Nimitz Aircraft carrier, and its strategic role in heading off a potential crisis with China over Taiwan in 1996 was mentioned.

Number 2 was the F117 Stealth Fighter, which looks like a UFO (or perhaps the WWII “flying wing”) and has planar surfaces covered with special rayon to reflect radar signals. This was credited with helping break the will of the Soviet Union to keep its Communist empire together, and to its collapse, starting with the Berlin Wall in 1989, leading to the Soviet Union itself at the end of 1991.

Number 4 was the B52 bomber, which was originally designed to deliver nuclear weapons to the Soviet Union, was re-engineered for conventional weapons and was used for the politically volatile carpet bombing of North Vietnam in the Johnson and Nixon administrations.

Number 7 was the AK47 rifle, of which there are over 100 million, and which has become the poor man’s symbol of insurgency. Even the M16, which replaced the M14 as a combat weapon early in the Vietnam war, was not as effective, apparently. In Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, DC in early 1968, we still trained entirely with the M14, including rifle range itself.

Number 9 was the Tomahawk Cruise Missile, so critical in all operations in the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan, controlled by the Navy and often launched from submarines.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

ABC hosts NH Primary Twi-night debate doubleheader

Tonight, Saturday Jan. 5, 2008 ABC News sponsored a presidential candidate debate double-header, with the Republicans (six candidates) for two hours, followed by the Democrats (four candidates) for two hours. To qualify, a candidate had to score 5% in a certain number of polls leading up to the New Hampshire primary Jan. 8. The main web link is this. The debate was held at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH.

The format was informal, with much of the debate an unstructured discussion among candidates of questions posed by journalists.

The Republicans featured John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Fred Thompson. The main question seemed to be the source of rage against the West from much of the Islamic world. Ron Paul kept saying that this came from American occupation of Arab lands (something often said by Osama bin Laden). But generally the other candidates pointed to a vitriolic ideology that needs to impose not only a caliphate but its moral values on the whole world. But to some extend, our own religious right wants to do that. Several of the candidates mentioned the Egyptian philosopher Sayyid Qutb, often written about in the Weekly Standard. Giuliani called the threat of radical Islam "existential."

On health care, the candidates generally took the position that the free market could reform it. Romney made the point that when many people don’t buy health insurance, others pay more to cover the “cherry pickers,” a suggestion that health insurance ought to be mandatory. The candidates supported health savings accounts and the purchase of health insurance with pre-tax dollars, with certain protections regarding pre-existing conditions.

There was an angry exchange over immigration, with McCain accusing Romney of running attack ads claiming McCain supported “amnesty.”

The link for the Republican debate (story by Jennifer Parker) is here.

The ABC News team was more challenging with the Democrats, where tonight comprised Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Bill Richardson, and that’s all folks! Charles Gibson started right out with a question on nuclear weapons: how would candidates handle a nuclear terror attack “the day after” (to quote the name of the Cold War 1982 film). He pointed out that some authorities (Graham Allison) have predicted a 30%-50% chance of such an attack on US soil in the next decade. The answers were nebulous, but Hillary pointed out that any non-state terror actor has to have a state haven, and she would attack any state determined to be the haven. This is different from the current Bush policy of pre-emption.

On health care, much was made of the fact that Barack Obama’s plan is mandatory for children but not adults, because adults can make choices. Obama said that, could he start over, even he would go for single payer.

Obama even noted that the Washington Redskins had lost (35-14) to Seattle earlier that day.

The ABC story by Marcus Baram on the Democratic side is here.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Oprah Winfrey "Going Green 101"

Oprah Winfrey today (Friday Jan 4) did a show "Going Green 101". Matt Damon and Sheryl Crow make cameos in the Internet ad. The main link is this.

Oprah came on stage wearing a dark green sweater that looks especially sharp on color TV. He opening question was about supermarket checkout: paper bags, or plastic? We all know plastic is getting outlawed in some places (San Francisco). She says both are wrong. Buy a cloth bag and use it for shopping, with a separate produce bag. She went on to present some guests, such as Elizabeth Rogers with "The Green Book" who suggested using one less napkin a day. The Barnett family came on with a presentation of a number of toxin-free cleaning products that don't leave any odor. The companies or brands involved were Schackley, Seventh Generation, and Method. It's easy to imagine that companies with these products would generate home-based business distributorships. The show didn't go into that, but it's pretty obvious that these products lend themselves to that (in comparison to the Amway business model).

An elementary school teacher discussed how to recycle and buy designer label clothes from environmentally friendly businesses. Another visitor discussed reusable water bottles, which can be made out of aluminum and presented in attractive colors for the gym. Another suggestion concerned the use of smart power strips, to make it easier to completely turn off appliances, electronics and computers when not in use (if plugged in they still draw some current). Of course, electronics should be protected by power surge strips anyway (the show did not go into uninterruptible power supplies, but that would be worthy to discuss).

There was a comment to the effect that a typical family uses the equivalent of four trees a month if it does not recycle. This number may have included the "carbon footprint" -- how many trees it would take to convert, by photosynthesis, the carbon dioxide that the family generates.

Another suggestion was to not print the receipts at ATM's (although some ATM's don't work unless you print them). The same would hold for receipts when purchasing gasoline by credit cards.

A new Discovery Channel "Planet Earth" (link) series was discussed, and it is now available on DVD.

Visitors should check out Carbonfund 's own blog, link here.

Special Note: PBS "By the People" Series

Tonight, Jan. 4, Jim Lehrer hosted the latest "By the People" installment. This time, there was a meeting of fifty influential Americans to draft a "Declaration of Citizenship for the 21st Century" during a four day conference in colonial Williamsburg, VA. The broadcast ran on PBS WETA Channel 26 in Washington from 10:30 PM for one hour. The meeting appeared to take place in the Capitol Building itself in Williamsburg (for which public tours are available; I had taken one back in 1995). There was mention of the idea that reducing the polarization of the big issues of the day requires more responsibility from ordinary citizens, especially to be informed as to the details as to how democracy actually works. I had paid for a commitment this evening before learning of the broadcast, so I saw only the last twenty minutes of it. The link for the show is here. The main "By the People" link on PBS is here.

I will try to find out where I can see the the remaining broadcasts and report on them later with a separate, more detailed blog entry. I had proposed ideas like this myself, especially in my first 1997 book, and later with the idea of a "Bill of Rights 2" along with a "Bill of Responsibilities" and this seems to be in the same spirit, so I will look into BTP in detail. Certainly, Oprah's program on "Going Green 101" earlier today on ABC fits the spirit of this series.

Netflix offers a film called "By the People: Democracy in the Wild" which I have placed in my rental queue. I don't know if it's related to this series.

(The second picture here deals with challenging the "don't ask don't tell" policy for gays in the military. Capacity for military service when needed still sounds to me like a basic citizenship responsibility.)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Ellen -- a short but sobering interview with Tom Brokaw

Ellen (website) moved over to 2 PM Eastern Time last fall when the soap "Passions" went off NBC daytime, and it always has a lively prelude, with Ellen De Generes being lifted in the air by admirers.

Today, Jan. 2, 2007 she did a plug for the writers, saying she needs them back and wants them to settle the WGA strike essentially immediately, and that she thinks they should get what they want. Then Joey Fatone made a post ‘Nsync appearance of his own, with a reprisal of “Bye Bye Bye.”

But the important interview was with Tom Brokaw, former NBC News anchor who pitched his book “Boom! Voices of the Sixties; Personal Reflections of the 60s and Today” (Random House). In talking to Ellen, he made a lot of the Vietnam era draft, and pointed out that we do not have one today. Families with men in the service have made enormous sacrifices, but he pointed out that the American public as a whole has not been expected to “sacrifice.” Of course, the Bush administration policy of calling in Guard and Reserve personnel for multiple extended tours amounts to a “backdoor draft.”

WGA more:

Reportedly, Jay Leno will host Mike Huckabee tonight, who will cross a WGA line. Only Dave Letterman, who is supposed to bring big star Robin Williams on, is in the clear because of his Separate Peace. It is said now that the Golden Globes are negotiating a separate peace.