Thursday, July 31, 2008

Oprah covers "Inspiring Households" including male couple with foster and adopted children

Today, Oprah aired a program about “Inspiring Households” and a couple of them certainly attracted attention.

Mark and Andy are a Texas gay male couple that wanted children. The first adoption agency told them that no agency would place a child in a same-sex home, but a second agency accepted them. They took on a series of foster children from a children’s shelter, some of them disabled or autistic. Eventually, they adopted four of the children. They explained on the show that many foster children are not available for adoption, but often are returned to blood relatives. In the video segments, there was snow on the ground, and it was not apparent if they might have gone out of state, or found the children in the higher Panhandle region (Amarillo) where winter snow is frequent.

Earlier Oprah presented a mega-adoption story from North Carolina. Fourteen families adopted a total of 31 children from the same orphanage in Liberia, a country in West Africa. Six of the children were adopted by one “empty nester” couple.

Liberia was settled by freed slaves from the United States starting in 1822, with a republic formed in 1847. Liberia has been torn by civil war in recent years, obscure to Americans but somewhat like the conflict in Sierra Leone reported by Sebastian Junger. The orphanage mentioned in the show was destroyed as a result of this conflict, and over 400 children were left homeless.

The whole experience leading to the adoption started in 2003 when a North Carolina family already with two girls attended a vocal concert given by children from the orphanage. The music activity reminds one of a similar effort with children in Uganda (the documentary movie “War Dance”) and even Venezuela, as recently documented on CBS “60 Minutes” (drama blog July 20).

The families talked about wanting the adopted boys to grow up to be husbands and fathers, which seemed a bit ironic when Oprah’s next segment presented the male couple household from Texas.

The link for the show is here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Larry King Live: Do Cell Phones Present a Long-Term Cancer Risk?

Tonight, July 29, Larry King Live aired a controversial program, with several speakers, on whether cell phones present an increased cancer risk, especially for children who start using them early in life.

The springboard for the discussion on the program is a paper released recently by Ronald Herberman, Director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, “The Case for Precaution in the Use of Cell Phones: Advice from University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Based on Advice from International Expert Panel,” PDF link here.

The panel started with Devra Davis, Director of the Center of Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh (professional profile, the same school. Davis is the author of several books, the latest being “The Secret History of the War on Cancer” (Basic Books) for which Powell’s Books offers in its “Review a Day” link a stinging criticism from Ezekiel J. Emmanuel from The New Republic, March 27, 2008, link here. Also appearing were Keith Black, from oncology at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Paul Song (LA), Ted Schwartz (who appears in am AOL video here: , and CNN’s own medical consultant Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon from Atlanta.

There is considerable concern that sufficient studies to not exist for a prospective risk that would take several decades to express. There is speculative concern that if children start using cell phones and use them lifelong, the risk would show up in their 50s and 60s as increased cancers, in the brain. However, a comment was made that the two areas of the body most sensitive to long term microwave exposure are the eye and the testes, because these tissues cannot cool. There was some advice to use an earpiece, use speaker phones, and not wear the cell phone. It wasn’t clear if it is harmful when it is on but not buzzing. There was some debate on whether cordless phones are less "risky" and whether older studies based on analog cell phones (which came into use largely in the early 90s) should apply to smaller, newer digital phones. There was minor debate as to whether there could be increased risk in living near a cell phone tower.

One underlying issue is a comparison of this situation to that of other past hazards like cigarette smoking, where it took decades to prove that it is harmful statistically. Cigarette smoking became less socially acceptable as adults started living longer and as society became more “me” conscious.

We've come a long way since the days of party lines.

Update: Aug 4, 2008

The July/Aug 2008 issue of Mother Jones has an article by Kiera Butler, "This Is Your Brain on Cell Phones: Is it just the crazies who think cell phone radiation causes cancer?," here. The article mentions an alarming study from Sweden.

Anderson Cooper dives with the Great White Shark

Last night (July 28) CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” provided a quick preview of footage that Anderson is accumulating for his second “Planet in Peril” documentary film, with a video of his going down in a diving cage to encounter a great white shark. The link is here. It’s true, he is in a steel cage, so this is not a scene from Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” (or Peter Benchley's novel, with its all too vulnerable characters). Sharks, from a biological point of view, are very curious (and ecologically important) animals, having only cartilage (not true bone), but bearing their young live. Sharks liver oil is supposed to boost the production of blood platelets in humans. There's something else that's sinister: with some shark species, the stronger unborn sharks eat the weaker ones before delivery; it's not known if that happens with the Great White, but the "Darwinian" idea, from the animal world, would disgust human culture.

Cooper started his journalistic career by “paying his dues” living and reporting from southeast Asia as a young man. Sebastian Junger has done pretty much the same, even working by trimming trees and then writing a book about dangerous occupations ("Fire").

I happened to locate an April 20, 2006 blog entry by Cooper that starts by discussing the effect of global warming in Alaska and concludes with a discussion of the docudrama based on Sebastian’s book “A Death in Belmont,” about an incident in Junger’s own life, that was broadcast as an hour long show on 360 then.

I’ve always thought that Anderson Cooper 360 is one of the most comprehensive news review programs on the air, although at 11 PM it often repeats what it covered in the hour starting at 10 PM (EDT).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Decalogue: Famous Polish television series based on The Ten Commandments

The Decalogue (or “Dekalog”) is a famous series for Polish television (Telewizja Polska (TVP)) that aired first in 1989, and is now available on DVD (4 dvd’s) from Miramax and Facet. Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski and co-written with Krzysztof Piesiewicz, it comprises ten 55-minute long dramas set in and around a Communist era apartment building in Soviet-looking Warsaw, Poland, in a cityscape covered with fresh snow. Each drama is based on one of the Ten Commandments, but does not give in to any overt discussions of philosophy. Instead, the characters, who often appear in multiple episodes, set up moral dilemmas, sometimes of surprising complexity and depending on a lot of unfortunate coincidence. Roger Ebert provides a commentary introduction on the DVD. He recommends watching only one of the dramas a day and having a soliloquy about it. The music is simple, quiet and serious, and is composed by Zbigniew Preisner. A nameless character makes a cameo appearance in each episode.

Each episode is simply named “Dekalog X” where X is the number. The series was supposedly filmed for a total budget of $100000.

One: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Here a 1980s style PC is the “god” as a boy makes calculations on it (in Polish, but the screen reminds one of the old TRS-80) about the thickness of ice on the pond outside the apartment building, while his father gives lectures on the physics of ice and the computational formulas. They depend on their calculations and go out on to the ice, with a tragedy. Is the computer a false god? (Maybe social networking is!)

Two: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. A young woman, with a husband dying of cancer, asks his doctor to predict with certainty whether he will die, so that she can make a decision about terminating a pregnancy with another man.

Three: Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep it Holy. This is a complicated story with a cuckolded man and an adulterous husband, who leaves his family duties on Christmas leave to help his girl look for a mysterious man who may have been murdered and mutilated.

Four: "Honor thy Father and Mother". A young woman discovers that her father may not be so, and has to face the idea that the man could have "other" interest in her.

Five: "Thou Shalt Not Kill". A sociopathic drifter garrots a cab-driver, and then is hung himself despite the fervor of a young lawyer. This generated "A Short Film About Killing.":

Six: "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery." A woman responds to a peeping Tom, who finds himself nearly fatally challenged by the experience. This generated the feature, "A Short Film About Love."

Seven: "Thou Shalt Not Steal". A woman "steals" her real child who had been raised as a "sister."

Eight: "The Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor" A Holocaust survivor meets an ethics professor who did not help her.

Nine: "Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Wife". An impotent man finds that his wife has another lover, but was the fear that a wife would not be loyal the cause of his impotence to begin with?

Ten: "Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Goods." Two brothers inherit a stamp collection that they want to complete, and meet a man who demands a kidney (rather than money) for a relative to complete the set. The conversation on the park bench about the "blood test" is quite startling.

The last DVD interviews the director, where he discusses his intentions. He mentions "Medium Cool" (the notorious film about the riots in Chicago in 1968) which he says may have made some demonstrators targets for police prosecution later. He says he does not have a political agenda which he is trying to impose, but he says others have accused him of that. This was particularly true of the fifth film about capital punishment. He says he wants to inspire people to think for themselves. But he gets irritated about being repeatedly asked why he makes films, and what he values, and how he views God.

In August 2007 I had reviewed a satirical film, called “The Ten”, based on the Ten Commandments, here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Smallville reprise: Pete Ross returns looking for his hero, through whom he lives "vicariously"

In Smallville Season 3, one episode, called “Velocity”, had depicted young Clark Kent’s best friend, Pete Ross (Sam Jones III) playing hero worship with Clark. Pete says he feels that unless he gets powers himself, he will find himself living through Clark “vicariously.” That’s one of my own favorite words. Psychologists call this “upward affiliation” and it leads to some moral paradoxes, and is not equivalent to "vicarious immortality."

Pete even challenged Clark to hoops, where Clark would play “without powers.”

Then Pete tried to simulate Clark by driving a race car powered by green kryptonite, and then some bookies tried to get him to fix the race. Pete got into real trouble, and then wanted things to be all right with his super hero, Clark. It wasn’t.

There is further irony before, when Clark had to “tell” Pete who he was, and for a while Pete couldn’t take it. It doesn’t take too much imagination to draw a parallel between Clark’s keeping his “secret” (alien origin) from others, and especially the government, and “don’t ask don’t tell” today in the military. Furthermore Clark “looks” the same as anyone else (only better), so his secret can be hidden if he doesn’t show it off in public.

Then, in Season 7, this year (when Clark would have the legal age of 20), Pete shows up again, in an episode called “Hero”, repeated last night (July 24), after a hiatus from Jones’s part in the cast. This time, he has powers himself for a while, after ingesting green kryptonite, and has to be saved again.

Season 2, remember (one of the best) had a couple of episodes of “Bad Clark” when, on red kryptonite, he would lose his moral inhibitions. In one episode, Pete had to hold him at bay while his father removed a red kryptonite class ring.

Smallville has run seven seasons, starting on TheWB which became CWTV when TheWB and UPN were joined.

Picture: former Granada Theater on Massachusetts Street in Lawrence, KS aka Smallville.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

CNN Presents: Black in America (2 episodes)

"CNN Presents" tonight aired the second part of its “Black in America” series. The link is here. The two-hour episode is called “The Black Woman & Family.”

The program starts out with the performance of African Americans in schools, which is lower in America than in any other developed country. 50% of African Americans graduate from high school in four years, compared to 70% of whites. The show presented some incentives in the schools for learning under “No Child Left Behind” and showed one kid actually liking the idea of taking standardized tests to prove he has learned something. One child said when he was grown he would give half of his income to his father.

Later a Harvard professor articulated the theory that when the slaves were loaded onto ships from Africa, slave owners would lick the cheeks of women to see if they were salty. Apparently people with higher salt levels could stand the transit and horrible conditions, and this might account for the higher incidence of hypertension in African Americans

There was a discussion of the high rate of single parenthood among African American women, and of the incentives that discourage marriage (welfare). There is a movement called “Marry Your Baby Daddy,” where women marry the fathers of their children, all expenses paid.

There was presentation of the hardships faced by African American families in housing, as when landlords want to convert their lower income apartments to condos or houses for people with more money.

An interracial couple with their grown son was also shown.

The second part of the series aired July 24 and is called “Black Men.”

The early part of the show focused a lot on Little Rock Central High School (Arkansas), the very slow improvement in opportunity for black men with the slow (“with all deliberate speed”) process of racial integration. Even after integration, for a long time guidance counselors would discourage black men from going to college and encourage them to become custodians or carpenters.

The show went on to examine crime, and the basic explanation was that it “pays” relative to the work often available.

The show featured an African American man who made a career switch and became a superintendent of schools in Arkansas.

The show discussed racial profiling by police, and by employers.

It mentioned how society had made it possible for single women to raise children, rather than getting the fathers to be married to the mothers. 60% of all African American children grow up without fathers.

The show presented film director Spike Lee, who discussed the difficulty of finding financing in Hollywood for his African American oriented films, the biggest of which (“Malcolm X” “Ray” and even “Requiem in Four Acts” about Hurricane Katrina). His next film (“Miracle at St. Anna”) is about African Americans fighting in World War II.

The report concluded with an account of two brothers, one of whom became a college professor and the other of whom is in prison.

It would have been nice if the show had mentioned the film in progress, “American Lynching,” by Gode Davis.

Anderson Cooper hosted discussions on his 360 show after both segments. One man said that he had explained to his son how to talk to the police, because as African American he would look "out of place" in many neighborhoods.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Michael Savage tries to defend his comments on autism on Larry King Live

Tonight, Glenn Beck was the stand-in for Larry King on CNN, and the last half of the show interviewed (by audio hookup) talk show host Michael Savage, who created a firestorm and calls for his resignation for an apparent rant about autism in kids (as well as asthma), a lengthy quote (read on the show) that he says was taken out of context. “Savage Nation” is claiming that false diagnoses of disabilities are made to get benefits fraudulently. However, the language of his “rant” was quite graphic in “moralistically” characterizing certain kinds of non-conforming behavior from children, and some of his comments would have applied to me, particularly in junior high school in the 1950s.

CNN offers a two-minute video quoting his rant, here. The "Media Matters for America" link for this matter is here.

Here is Savage’s statement of explanation (He calls it "The Autism Controversy", as if he could give it a formal historical name for encyclopedias, analogous to "The Investiture Controversy".) The home page also has an audio link with his explanation. All of this would seem to be necessary to protect his job (and sponsorship) and show from angry parents. CNN also interviewed two autism specialists, a Dr. Wiznitzer (from Case Western Reserve in Cleveland) and another specialist from UCLA. The Cleveland specialist indicated that some diagnoses of autism are changed to other diagnoses in time. But the UCLA specialist insists that many children needing intervention for autism are missed. Both indicated that medication should be approached very carefully. The subject of vaccines and autism was barely mentioned.

There have been other “offenses” on the air, such as from Don Imus in 2007, or even Al Campanis, general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who made his unfortunate remarks (using the word "necessities") to Ted Koppel in 1987 and was promptly fired. (ABC archive retrospect is here.) ) You could almost see Phil Gram’s recent “whiners” remark in this light.

There was an interesting moment when Beck himself (he says he is conservative) said that at one time he felt dispassionate about the issues of families with children, until he had four kids himself.

The show discussed the controversy over John McCain’s having his op-ed still unpublished by The New York Times because it was too “vague” (compared to Obama’s) and there was a general discussion of Obama’s Iraq trip, and comparison of Obama’s and McCain’s energy proposals, by Peter Beinart, Ben Stein, Jamal Simmons, David Gergen, and David Frum.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Gore appears on Meet the Press to advance his renewable energy plan

This morning (Sunday July 20, 2008) former Vice President Al Gore appeared on NBC’s "Meet the Press", and was interviewed by Tom Brokaw.

Gore (who narrated the film "An Inconvenient Truth" about global warming) reiterated his call to get American on renewable energy sources for its electric power grid by 2018. He claims that this will take a commitment similar in scale to winning World War II, and he referred to Brokaw’s own book “The Greatest Generation.”

Brokaw asked him about the Pickens Plan (referring to a project of T. Boone Pickens that now is building windmills in west Texas). Gore disagreed with an intermediate step of encouraging the manufacture of motor vehicles that run on natural gas. He said we should go through the infrastructure transition only once and convert cars to electric. Pickens is right in that we have transferred $700 million to potentially hostile foreign countries.

The transition to renewable power will cost 1.5 to 3 trillion dollars. That’s about $10000 per American, spread out over ten years. But he says without the transition the costs will be even greater, in continued economic and perhaps military disruptions, as well as the bill for imported oil itself.

Gore pointed out that silicon semi-conductor chips came down in price about 50% every 18 months during the personal computer and Internet revolution of the 80s and 90s. (No, Al Gore doesn’t claim that he invented the Internet!) He claims that the materials for solar conductors will come down in price as technology improves. However, some other groups (such as the producers of “End of Suburbia”) have challenged these claims.

Gore was quizzed about his own lifestyle and his own 10000 sq ft. house in Tennessee. Will you “walk the walk” and “practice what you preach”, Brokaw asked. He says it is entirely green and uses solar conductors and that he has very small natural gas bills. He admitted that he sometimes uses a private jet, but his next airplane trip would be on Southwest Airlines (which had negotiated a “separate peace” on fuel prices).

Gore denied that he wanted a job in a new administration, or even a place on the ticket as a Vice-President. There was even a hint from Brokaw that John McCain could ask him to switch parties. Gore did consider Hillary Clinton’s call for gas tax holiday as window dressing. He says “I was elected in 2000 but did not serve.”

Silicone Valley companies have recently warned that America must get serious about maintaining its power grid infrastructure and using renewable sources, since the Internet is so dependent on power for its huge server farms.

Picture: Did this "Wilson" come from the movie "Cast Away"? A warning of a survivalist future?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

ABC 20/20: Stossel on the possible resurgence of "moral puritanism"

Last night, Friday, ABC July 18, 20/20 aired a special hosted by libertarian-oriented John Stossel on government intrusion into Americans’ intimate lives. This time there are five reports at this link associated with the report, and the individual stories will rotate out with each week's show. Probably the most interesting is Stossel’s own essay “corrupting young minds?” but visitors may want to check them all.

I’ve mainly been concerned about the law and private behaviors especially of gay people, where the two best known Supreme Court cases are Lawrence v. Texas (2003) and Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) which I discuss on my GLBT blog in May 2008 here. The Texas case substantially limits the ability of law enforcement to intrude in the private affairs of consenting adults.

Instead, the situations in Stossel’s 20/20 report were a mixture of various situations that still raise some legitimate objection: behavior in public parks, polygamy, perhaps explicitness in movies on the Internet, and “toys”. All of these raise some legitimate questions about privacy, however.

The “toys” case was in Alabama, where customers had to fill out “medical” forms to justify purchase, seemed silly; there has been a similar fight in Georgia. Stossel showed some polygamous families of evangelical and Jewish, rather than “fundamentalist Mormon” persuasion. The argument was made that in African American culture, it was possible that some women could benefit from polygamy because there are not enough men. But we know that in the “fundamentalist Mormon” cults in Texas and Arizona, a large number of young men are expelled if they don’t “make the cut” for having wives. In some Arabic cultures, polygamy is accepted, and that may contribute to the disenchantment of some Arab young men.

Stossel gave some good examples of how far entertainment and the movies have come, citing “Pillow Talk” in the 1950s and “Hairspray” last year. Stossel gave an account of the (straight) "Chippendale" male dancers who perform for women, but who were arrested in Lubbock, TX after warnings and spent a night in jail, with the charges dropped the next day. Stossel points out that teenage pregnancy is down, as is a lot of other negative behavior. Therefore, the case that movies and now the free expressions on the Internet and social networking sites has harmed teenagers seems unconvincing and perhaps totally wrong.

There is also a short section on “cheating.” Generally, males are hardwired to want to propagate their genes with as many mates as possible, to maximize the probability that their progeny carries on. Women have an incentive to encourage one male to stay with them to raise the children and provide the stable family unit. This is the old "women tame men" argument from George Gilder ("Men and Marriage", 1986) and George Will. Marriage and family are somewhat a social invention.

That’s where “public morality” comes in, a concept that undergird the old sniggering treatment of gays. A couple of “conservative”, probably evangelical legislators and prosecutors from Texas seemed to weigh in on the idea that the law can make a moral statement for its own sake. (That idea is challenged by the Lawrence opinion, which at least one Texas legislator sounded like he would challenge if given the chance. It’s worthy of note that Texas tried to strengthen its sodomy laws in the 1980s (the Ceverha 2138 bill) after the AIDS epidemic broke out, a fact the show did not mention.) What this old-fashioned kind of thinking means is that “average Joe” people need legal carrots and sticks to form monogamous heterosexual marriages to have and raise children in stable environments, and (now) to take care of the elderly and disabled in extended families. That latter part may now become as important as the former. A culture of Me-ism and of extreme individual “Darwinian” (or perhaps “Spencerian”) competition (“extreme capitalism”) runs the risk of creating a world in which “average men” simply can’t form and keep families from those who are “stronger”. Sometimes the values and “ultimate purpose” behind things people want are as important as the actual behaviors that they engage in. The older moral codes did express the idea that every individual owed a moral and emotional debt to take part of the risk and responsibility of raising the next generation and taking care of the past ones, even if that individual does not “choose” to have children by his or her personal behavior. I can look at my own life and map the story of it out to some of these ideas – given that these precepts, beyond just “being here now” really matter. But, if these ideas really matter, we need to sort them out, and figure out new 21st Century moral codes for how people share common responsibility. We don’t need to have the police watching the Internet, wiretapping phones, “accidentally” appearing in bedrooms (as in Hardwick) or even in peep holes in restrooms everywhere. Stossel is on target there.

Picture: Libertarian Party of Maryland Booth at gay and lesbian pride north of Annapolis, MD

Friday, July 18, 2008

Larry King Live: UFOs and Missile Launches

Tonight, Larry King Live continued its Friday Evening series on UFO’s. (Somehow, the idea of Friday morning music clubs from the 1950s comes to mind.) This week, the topic was UFOs and military missile launches. He had several guests, many of them with the surname “Robert”.

For example, Robert Hastings (“UFOs and Nukes”) spoke about a continual government concern about the appearance of unidentifiable objects near missile launches for decades. Bob Salas and Bob Jamison reported an incident at Malstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls, Montana. There was a shutdown of about 10 silos for a whole day in 1967, and red objects were observed close to the silos. Here is the statement by Salas, online and here is a YouTube “The Disclosure Project: UFOs Shut Down 10 Nuke Silos at Malstrom AFBUFOs Shut Down 10 Nuke Silos at Malstrom AFB” here

Then Bob Jenkins talked about the 1964 incident at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Big Sur, CA. There are online accounts, for example this. Apparently objects fired beams at the missiles after they launched.

The program continued with debates. Bill Nye and Seth Shostek (July 11 posting) as skeptics, against filmmaker James Fox, and Stanton Friedman (“Flying Saucers and Science”).

The idea has been promoted that all world governments are protecting a secret about aliens. One reason would be to have to avoid an “earthling orientation” and face a world in which the most populous nations (like China) would have undue power in “negotiating” with aliens. There is something disingenuous about hiding a sensational truth (however "inconvenient") in order to preserve a tenuous power establishment that could become meaningless. However, the French government is reportedly close to admitting that alien visits are real.

Picture: Near Kecksburg, PA (north of Turnpike, NE of Pittsburgh), site of a supposed UFO crash in 1965.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Emmy nominations for 2008 are announced

This morning, the nominations for the 2008 Emmy Awards were announced. A complete list of the nominations is available at Variety, here.

Critics noted that “made for cable” series were getting recognition for the first time. An example was “Mad Men” on AMC; another is "Damages" on FX (with Glenn Close).

They also noted recognition for “made for TV” movies, which became popular on broadcast television back in the early 1970s. On example is “A Raisin in the Sun” (ABC), directed by Kenny Leon, based on the play by Lorraine Hansberry, which is often studied in high school English classes. (I have reviewed the 1961 film directed by Donald Petire on my doaskdotell site). But this year, only one of these films was made for a legacy broadcast network.

Made for TV movies could become more popular again as more high definition TVs (including wide-screen, capable of supporting 2.35:1 aspect ratios) are sold, after all broadcast goes digital in 2009. The economics of theater chains, outside of the suburban family and action summer blockbusters, could fall into hard times given our economy.

It’s no surprise that “American Idol” is on the list for Reality Competition, or that its host, Ryan Seacrest (who promotes his career as making pop stars) is named.

I noticed the miniseries. “The Andromeda Strain” was somewhat toned down visually from the 1971 Robert Wise film. But HBO’s “John Adams,” which accumulated the largest quantity of nominations, was striking and moving, and is said to be the first major commercial dramatic film (television, series or film) allowed to shoot scenes on Colonial Williamsburg property.

Update: July 18

Meryl Streep appeared today on ABC's "The View" and commented that celebrity parents in Hollywood get to decide if their children will remain private persons. Once you are a celebrity, the paparazzi can follow you (just like they follow race car driver "Max" on a train in France in NBC's "Days of our Lives").

Apparently, if you are a celebrity, you have to allow yourself to be photographed anywhere. I thought there was some control of this through "right of publicity", some "invasion of privacy" and anti-stalking laws.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

National Geographic: Earth: The Biography

Earth: The Biography (Of a Rare Planet)" is a multi-part series from the National Geographic Channel airing starting this week. The schedule is here.

Dr. Iain Stewart (a Scottish geologist) narrates and appears repeatedly, globe-trotting in what seems like a self-date or solitary trip. It seems so far that every episode has some surprises, although some material is repeated among the episodes.

Oceans”, for example, tells us that a several times in history, the Strait of Gibraltar has closed off, locking up the Mediterranean Sea to evaporate into a desert. It fills up when the strait opens (the same may have happened with the Black Sea). Around the Mediterranean there are salt caves, and even a cave of gypsum crystals in Sicily, which is usually not open to visitors because their breath would erode the crystals. I have visited a similar salt cave in Poland, near Cracow and Auschwitz.

The oceans have an underwater current system of feedback loops. These mechanisms explain the Gulf Stream, which warms Britain and western Europe, and various water pooling mechanisms like El Nino. A breakdown in the feedback loops can cause stagnation and death of sea life. In some areas, that could lead to toxic gasses overtaking land

Strube says that much of the water in the oceans could have come from comets earlier in Earth’s history. Sometimes the Moon and Sun line up to produce enormous tidal boars, that cause a destructive reverse upstream flow up the Amazon.

Atmosphere” examines the air from the troposphere through the stratosphere up to the mesosphere. The film shows a free-fall jump from a balloon at 19 miles altitude in 1960, where the balloonist (Kittinger) took 15 minutes to reach earth, his parachute opening just in time over New Mexico. Stube travels to Western Australia to show us stromatolites, covered with a slime produced by bacteria that were perhaps the earliest life form several billion years ago, until they started producing oxygen with a primitive photosynthesis. He also travels to Patagonia to see some of the most violent cloud-to-ground lightning on the planet, caused with Antarctic and Amazonian air masses collide while trapped by the Andes. The lightning extends into the mesosphere with great color shows like disco lasers.

Volcanoes” starts with an examination of the volcano lava lake in a rift volcano in Ethiopia. (There is another such lava lake in Mount Erebus in Antarctica, shown in the recent film “Encounters at the End of the World” – July 12 on my movies blog). The hour examines how volcanoes helped populate the earth’s atmosphere with carbon dioxide, getting us out of “snowball earth” 700 million years ago. The movie shows how subduction volcanoes like the Cascade volcanoes in Washington state act as a natural thermostat maintaining the carbon dioxide balance in the Earth’s atmosphere. At the end of the movie, a time lapse sequence is shown of the growth of the lava dome in the caldera of Mount St. Helens after its 1980 eruption.

Rare Planet” develops the idea that Earth really may be “special” and rare or alone in the Universe. Stewart starts with the idea that when the Sun was about 1 billion years old, Earth was much smaller and had a twin, Thea, that lagged behind and eventually collided with it, forming a larger Earth with an iron core and unusually strong magnetic field. It also form an unusually large Moon, which produced unusually strong tides. This help set up an environment unusually lucky for advanced life, at least able to get beyond bacteria. Earth had to be stable most of the time, but occasionally needed a real shock (like an asteroid hit) to remove most species and allow new ones to develop. The last time this happened was about 65 million years ago with the asteroid hit near Yucatan that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Here is a blogger entry on this theory about the formation of the Moon.

Ice” has Stewart doing some icefall climbing with crampons, and a British friend climbs Half Dome in Yosemite, which was carved by ice. He discusses the ices ages, and a huge “ice age flood” that scoured out what would become some of the Great Basin with a 60 mph wall of water several hundred feet high. He also explains how the Gulf Stream may have contributed to ice ages, by bringing warm water to polar regions. He explores the Greenland ice cap, with the concerns over its melting, and shows some of the same maps (as did Al Gore in “An Inconvenient Truth”) of coastal inundation around the world that result from global warming. He makes a relative obscure point: glacier ice consists of snow from which all the air has been removed or squeezed out.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

HBO Series shows Rolling Stone reporter journaling 2003 invasion of Iraq

Tonight (July 13) HBO premiered the first episode of its seven-part miniseries “Generation Kill” (film website: The series is written by Ed Burns, David Simon and Evan Wright. Episode 1, length 75 minutes, is called “Get Some” and is directed by Susanna White.

The series is adapted from the book by the same name by Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright, (Amazon link: ) and that in turn had been based on a three-part Rolling Stone series. The current magazine reference to the series is here.

Wright arrived with the First Reconnaissance Battalion Marines on March 20, 2003, the day after President Bush had started his “shock and awe” attack on Iraq.

The film repeated shows the unit cohesion and the behavior of the men in the group, who talk in metaphors and refer to themselves as “warriors.” They sometimes make mock degrading remarks about homosexuals (this is the era of “don’t ask don’t tell”), and they tease the reporter about this issue. They also tease him as to whether he can stand wearing military gear and dealing with the hardships of combat.

The film shows overwhelming expanse of desert and military “tent cities”. (In Army Basic at Fort Jackson in 1968, I underwent “Special Training Company” at a “tent city.”)

The commander warns the men about accidentally firing on civilians. Later the men talk about the idea that most wars because of the lack of “something” (with a bad word) available to “normal” men.

Since this episode occurred before the April fall of Saddam Hussein, there is talk over whether Saddam would “negotiate.” They refer to Saddam as a “retard.” At the time of these events, many Americans believed that Iraq could have been involved with 9/11 or could possess WMD’s.

After an encounter with the enemy, one Marine says, "You know what happens when you get our of the Marine Corps? You get your brains back." Then a soldier frets that the war will end without a shot being fired. That, as we know, did not happen.

I recall a march on bivouac in Basic when I got actual laughter from the cadre when I said, "The Marines are tougher than the Army." That was 1968, again.

Episode 2 was called "The Cradle of Civilization" and first aired July 20.

The Marines march on. When they see a renegade tank in the desert, they stop and actually pick off snipers with their own expert sharpshooters. Later there is an urban battle.

Episode 3 (“Screwby”) continues the development of the characters. There is a false sniper attack, resulting in civilian casualties. The Marine enlisted men claim that officers call in attacks even when there are no targets in order to make themselves look good.

Visually, the episode is striking. There is a sequence of jeeps going down a field with tracks that look like railroad tracks until looked at more closely. You see how much gear the men wear all the time, driving with complex eyegear and covered in layers, even in 100 degree heat.

There is a lot of graphic “homophobic” conversation, more than in the first two episodes, and feints at pretending to be homosexual. One man pretends that he will open a gay bar when he gets home and then offers metaphorical epithets (not printable in a blog acceptable in this commercial environment for the name of the establishment. They make fun of “Big Gay Al” from Southpark (an comical and satirical animated show that I think as a lot of libertarian ideas commensurate with personal responsibility). They don’t “blame Canada.” They also mention NAMBLA. This is the Marine Corps, to be true, but as dramatized the episode does not bode well for removing “don’t ask don’t tell.”

One of the most harrowing scenes occurs when an Iraqi civilian must be treated, and the officers say they are not required to treat him beyond the care he would get from Iraqi authorities, which is zero.

Episode 4 is called "Combat Jack" and continues the problems with civilians.

Episode 5 is called "Burning Dog." The usual problems with civilians occur, and at one point the soldiers refer to a "f__t who writes novels on a laptop" back home. Is that me? The "expression" refer to a situation you can't handle by yourself. They talk about the enormous retaliation against surrounding population even for minor attacks and injuries.

Episode 6 is "Stay Frosty".

Episode 7 is "Bomb in the Garden".

Saturday, July 12, 2008

"Larry King Live" discusses Stephenville TX UFO sightings

"Larry King Live" on Friday July 11 (on CNN) aired a reported on the Stephenville, TX UFO sightings in January 2008, in Erath County.

The previous Friday (July 4) the program had aired a report on Rosell (covered on this blog).

Constable Lee Roy Gaitain talked about seeing a red orb and then lights, which were silent. Later military jets flew. Local reporter Angelia Joiner supported his story.

Documentary film executive producer James Fox (“Out of the Blue” and now “Beyond the Blue”) spoke, as did SETI astronomer Seth Shostek.

Ricky Sorrells, from Dublin TX, discussed a daytime “close encounter of the first kind” with a detailed description of a large craft that made abrupt movements. He claimed that the military paid him several visits and harassed him, in a manner that recalls Roswell. There was discussion about the ownership of air rights over Sorrells’s property.

Glen Schulze examined the FAA logs for Stephenville, of 100,000 skin-paint target returns to an antenna over 150 minutes. Some returns suggest movement toward Crawford where President Bush’s ranch is. Robert Powell from MUFON said that the witness testimony is confirmed by the data.

Then Larry interviewed “UFO Hunters” such as Bill Birnes A web reference from the Sci-Fi channel is here or here on the History Channel (with a video). UFO Hunters indicated that sightings had started in November 2007 and continued into February 2008.

Larry King then took calls. One person called in to the show from a company called “” asked about the existence of alien artifacts. Another caller asked about a theory (supposedly speculated by the military) that aliens come from our future, to keep us from making deadly mistakes, a premise of the popular TV series on USA Network “The 4400” discussed here June 29 (the “promicin wars”).

I’ve seen possible objects a few times. In April 1967, I saw a bright object over the athletic field in Lawrence KS, which could have been a NASA or military satellite. In December 1975, I saw a relatively large light in the western sky as the sun set in northern Arizona. I did not believe it was Venus or Mercury.

In April 1978, while at an “Understanding” convention, at night, I (and several other people) saw a bright object, stationary, in the sky east of Tonopah, AZ at night. It consisted of red and green lights and remained stationary for over an hour. Several of us viewed it with high powered binoculars.

I visited both the Waco area and the Crawford area, although not on the ranch, in both 1993 and 2005. I lived in Dallas from 1979 to 1988.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Planet Earth: large scenic and scientific series from BBC

"Planet Earth", from BBC Television, is a television series (with Emmy and Peabody awards) in eleven episodes and four DVD’s, from 2006. The series is directed by Alastair Fothergill; it is written and narrated by David Attenborough. The website is this and some broadband streaming is available only in the UK.

The three episodes on the first DVD are (1) “From Pole to Pole” (2) “Mountains” and (3) “Fresh Water”. In the US each episode is slightly less than an hour, including a ten minute “Planet Diary” conclusion about the filming of the episode.

The general reaction to the visual experience of this series is to wish it were all in IMAX. But this was the first documentary series to be aired in high definition. This is certainly a welcome experience in a time when air travel is difficult and prohibitively expensive: a film like this can bring the wonders of the world to you.

The first film starts with a little bit of reiteration of “March of the Penguins.” Yes, a male penguin will sit on top of his “wife’s” egg for four months of darkness. This is in the Antarctic. Then we jump 12500 miles to the north pole to watch the polar bears (as in “An Arctic Tale”), and gradually move down to the tundra and taiga. The latter has relatively few animals because pine needles and cones generally don’t make good food. Finally we get down to the northern expense of the prairies, well into Canada, where it still gets plenty hot at midsummer, and the heat moves north every year now. I can say, from having lived six years in Minneapolis, that from mid May to early October generally the weather (and summer heat) was the same as it had been in the DC area. In the tropics, there is an interesting sequence where a male Bird of Paradise displays his plumage as a fan and subjects himself to a female’s evaluation of his “manliness.” Males can fail physically. There is also some interesting photography of a Siberian leopard.

The film “Mountains” starts out with a lot of discussion of volcanoes. Actually, one of the lowest places on earth, a depression in Ethiopia, actually results from a volcanic crack, inviting a sort of Jules Verne “Journey to the Center of the Earth”. The highest mountains around the world were built up by volcanism and plate tectonics, and wear down gradually. The movie shows many unusual sculpted plateaus and badlands around the world. It also shows some of the mountain creatures, including especially leopards. The “Diary” mentions that in 2004, filming around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was halted by Al Qaeda battles, but then goes on to show a spectacular hunt by a snow leopard, jumping down vertical cliffs into a canyon stream. The leopards look like big house cats, and demonstrate unbelievable strength and athletic ability.

The “Fresh Water” film examines several “rift valley” freshwater lakes around the world, including three in Africa and Lake Baikal in Russia, the world’s largest lake. There is a fascinating sequence showing how a crocodile drowns much larger animals on land. The Diary shows the filming of Amazon piranhas.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Ted Koppel launches "Peoples Republic of Capitalism" series on China, on Discovery Channel

Ted Koppel (former anchor for ABC's "Nightline" who covered South Africa in so much detail in the 70s and 80s) premiered his first installment in his Discovery Channel “People’s Republic of Capitalism” series, with the episode called “Joined at the Hip” tonight. The website and schedule is here.

The show starts with workers at a Briggs and Stratton plant in Rolla, MO, lamenting their job losses when the manufacturing plant (that makes small engines and generators) takes the job to the super city of Chongqing in Central China. That city is to that country more or less what Denver or Phoenix is to the US, but it is much larger, having 13 million people, and has a warm climate, and spectacular skylines and colorful lights. The show also showed factory workers assembling boom boxes for export to the U.S. Actually, some American goods are imported by rich Chinese, such as factory from North Carolina.

The film showed how the managerial class lives, in McMansions with oversized kitchens and baths similar to what we might find in Beverly Hills.

Koppel discusses China’s “one child per family” policy, which it has relaxed for earthquake victims. He says that China still loves children.

The business relationships of Wal-Mart in China were shown, and actually Wal-Mart has high end stores in China.

The contrast between rich, in the cities, and poor in the countryside was shown.

Businessemen who buy Chinese companies for Wall Street were interviewed. An old silk factory was shown, and benefiting from American investors who will modernize it.

It’s disturbing that companies have found it profitable to use Chinese labor when the shipping costs, over long distances, must be large and increasing due to fuel prices. The “sustainability” movement claims that the world may have to de-globalize, with more emphasis on local manufacturing and food production again, even with some local labor intensiveness.

Update: July 10, 2008

From MAOism to MEism” started with a retrospect on what the cultural revolution was like from the 60s to 70s. Intellectuals were yanked to the countryside to be “re-educated”. The worst sin was to exhibit any personal “ambition.” The report showed a “dinner theater” type of play mocking the Maoist time. Yet, there was some nostalgia for “old times” when life was hard but simple, and was thought to be sustainable.

The report showed straight karaoke clubs where attractive young girls can probably earn much more than they could in factory work. Then it showed the gay clubs and drag shows. These have become acceptable in Chongqing. But there are a couple of major differences between this and gay life as it is perceived in the West/

For one thing, every person in China is expected to care for their parents and become involved in raising children (including marrying and trying to have exactly one), even given the “one child per family” policy. That is a tradition long established from Confucian days. Therefore gay men sometimes say that they will have to “go back into the closet” at age 30. Homosexuality is coming to be seen as a development phase for some young men (paradoxically, almost comparable to or in parallel with fraternity life or even military service).

The AARP has an interesting article about this issue, called "filial piety", and a video called "Aging in China," discussed at this link on by retirement blog.

The other interesting point is that “gay pride” events in public would “cross the line.” As we know, open political speech is still not permitted even in capitalist China, and American Internet companies doing business in China must comply with censorship policies. The question is, why still? Is it a holdover from Communism?

Koppel interviews a young engineer, who “loves in country” but “trusts his government.” The government is supposed to be a representative democracy but remains authoritarian in many ways. The report leaves one with the impression that China regards everyday political speech as “amateurish” and a distraction from productivity. In the United States, particularly in the Internet age with blogs and social networking sites, speech has taken on a value of its own, even if self-promotion associated with such speech is controversial. One suspects, however, that the government fears that dissent will lead to protests against low wages for average workers, and disrupt the new upper class. This doesn’t explain why the Chinese government still fears religious dissent, as from Tibet – some activism of Christianity is coming to be accepted. It seems largely a matter of maintaining control, and a fear that the control is not totally legitimate if exposed.

There are reports that, as the Olympics approach, China has blocked access to Blogger (such as on "Digital Inspiration" here ) although more confirmation may be needed.

The report also showed that China likes to import expensive foreign goods and designs, and does not have a lot of “artistic creativity” as westerner perceive it.

Yet, Chongqing is truly a spectacular city at night, with colorful lasers emitted from the skyscrapers.

Update: July 12, 2008

The third installment is called “The Fast Lane”. Much of the episode describes the Chinese auto industry, and the likelihood that America will buy more cars from China. But some of it also deals with car culture in China. Liberty Mutual was presented as writing auto insurance in China, without deductibles (as in the United States) for routine fender benders, because it wants to build its business.

The episode showed the heavy use of manual labor (that would have pleased my own father!) to supply jobs to economically disadvantaged peasants, such as one married couple that works building a tunnel for a new road into the exurbs 50 miles away from Chongqing. In the United States, such jobs would be more automated.

The Chinese expect increased trade with the rest of the world, and seem oblivious to the concerns over energy costs and global warming.

Late July 12:

The last installment is called “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” China is presented as now very pro-business, which is not necessarily pro-democracy. China has no organized government health insurance and no social security. The adult children are supposed to take care of their parents, so they would need jobs to do so.

The fact that common or manual labor is still cheap is demonstrated in scenes showing the building of one of Chongqing’s 16 new bridges. Ted Koppel makes a visit to a coal mine, which is supposed to be one of China’s safest. Nevertheless, China had 4700 mine fatalities last year, compared to 47 in the US. The griminess of coal in China is shown, where environmental standards for electric utilities are still low.

The “face changing” of the Sechuan opera is shown, as a metaphor for China’s change.

Political corruption was discussed. It is widespread, as American companies have started teaching the Chinese to do business “legally.” Corruption, however, can bring the death penalty in China.

Ted Koppel did not mention the infamous eminent domain fight over a small house on Chongqing that was reported by the media in March 2007, as with this story in "No Land Grab", link here. China apparently passed a major law recognizing private property rights on March 16, 2007.

Afterword: John Alexander remembered:

The program ended with a tribute to John Alexander, a journalist who was working with Ted Koppel on this film, and who collapsed and died in China at age 26. The cause was not disclosed. See "Remembering John Alexander: 1981 - 2007: Paying Tribute to a Former 'Nightline' Colleague," link here. At that link, there is a tribute from ABC "Nightline".

Another "Grizzly Man" on ABC Primetime's "Outsiders"

ABC’s “Outsiders” presented another man and beast story July 8. This time, a 70 year old retired teacher named “Charlie” offers his hospitality to bears just outside his cabin home ("Bear Haven") in southern Alaska. Jay Schaeler was the correspondent, and had to promise ABC producers that he would not personally interact with the bears. It was not possible to keep that promise.

The program showed hug-ins with black bears and even grizzlies. Charlie thinks this is safer because the bears are entering his space, instead of his going into theirs, as was the case with Timothy Treadwell, who roamed the Katmai region and befriended grizzlies until finally being mauled and eaten. Treadwell was shown in Werner Herzog’s film “Grizzly Man”.

The state of Alaska might try to remove him, as it violates state law to feed bears and may be bad for their health. Wild animals can develop degenerative diseases (like diabetes) when on processed food rather than natural game and vegetation that they have evolved with. Charlie’s life may, however much like Thoreau, not be “sustainable.”

Charlie was injured slightly by a female grizzly named “Cookie” who then became more distant. But he was able to come between a mother and cub black bear and interact with the cub.

The ABC story is called “Living with Bears and Playing By His Own Rules: ‘There’s just something about a grizzly bear that’s hypnotic’”, by Kimberly Launier and Jay Schadler, link here.

A couple of years ago, PBS presented a movie about a hermit living alone in a cabin in Alaska.

I had reviewed National Geographic's "A Man Among Bears" on this blog March 8, 2008.

Monday, July 07, 2008

National Geographic: Eye of the Leopard

Documentary filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert spent three years in the African “Garden of Eden” in Botswana filming “Eye of the Leopard” for National Geographic (2006). The film traces the life of a female leopard that they name Legadema.

The early part of the film (narrated by Jeremy Irons) shows Legadema being raised by her single mother, who must leave her alone for short periods in a den for hunting trips. Legadema learns to hunt by trail and error. She hunts for squirrels and sometimes small monekeys. She learns that baboons (who are primates like monkeys) can become fierce enemies, partly because their intelligence and sophisticated social organization (capable of political struggles, just as is the case with chimpanzees) makes them able to work together, overcoming the larger size and strength of big cats.

Other animals in the environment include lions and hyenas. The filmmakers point out that intelligent animals (carnivores and primates) often are able to identify individual members of other species and have very definite sense of who they are. Higher mammals are sensitive living and sentient creatures, very self-aware and capable of solving problems, but they have “be here now” sense of living in the present, and communicate through non-verbal means. Remember a 1993 issue of Time with the cover question, “Do animals think?”

At one point, Legadema kills a small separated female baboon with a baby. Legadema suddenly feels a maternal instinct and treats the primate baby as if she were supposed to raise it, until she is chased away.

Gradually, Legadema’s relationship with her mother becomes more distant. The mother finally has more cubs, and Legadema must be cut loose to become an adult big cat.

The “values” of carnivores in the wild bear an interesting comparison to humans. With wildlife, the carnivores have the effect of removing the “weakest” members and keeping the population of grazing prey animals in balance with food supply. This does sound like natural selection and is not an acceptable value system in human civilization among humans themselves (even though wars get fought over this). The greatest enemy of the great cats in the wild is, of course, man. At the end of the film, there is a message about poaching for leopard fur. In the film, Legadema and her mother seem to accept the presence of individual humans in their environment as just members of another “species”.

Update: March 6, 2011: See Movies blog for this date for review of sequel, "The Last Lions", same director, from NatGeo.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

CNN: The Survival Project: One Child at a Time

Tonight CNN ran a special “The Survival Project: One Child at a Time” hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the Atlanta neurosurgeon who doubles as CNN’s medical journalist. The one hour program covered UNICEF-related children’s programs around the world. The website ("Impact Your World") has this link. British reporter Dan Rivers appeared on some segments.

The two biggest causes of mortality in children in developing countries is malaria, and water-borne disease.

The program started by showing a clean water project in Laos. It then showed a detailed discussion of HIV prevention in Peru, which in general is not as heavily affected as Africa. All pregnant women coming to the clinic are tested. If they test positive, they are not allowed to breast-feed, and they sometimes receive Ceseareans, which reduces the likelihood of transmission of the virus to the child during birth. The program has been quite successful in reducing the number of children with HIV infection.

The program showed health and feeding stations in rural Ethiopia. A nurse or assistant measures the circumference of the child’s upper arm; below a certain value the child is considered to be in salvation and taken to an emergency feeding station. Visually, that is a striking test. Thousands of women are trained as health care workers.

The film then showed a 12 year old boy in Baghdad who sold gasoline to support his younger siblings. His mother was widowed, as are 70000 women in Iraq, which has 14 million children.

The show featured brief appearances of some celebrities, including Clay Aiken and Nicole Ritchie.

The show presented some statistics on how much can be achieved with 50 cents a day from everyone who can afford it.

Some of the water and de-parasite programs covered here are similar to earlier ones discussed in this book review from June 2007:

Access Hollywood also discussed celebrity children’s charity programs last week, written up on my International blog here from July 2:

Friday, July 04, 2008

"Larry King Live" airs show on Roswell 1947 "UFO" incident: massive military cover-up may still be in place

"Larry King Live" tonight (July 4) aired (on CNN) a stunning report on the Roswell Incident in early July 1947, when allegedly an alien craft may have landed in the desert 30 miles north of the town and bodies may have been recovered. The show was called “Top Secret Incident Unmasked.”

Let’s run down who was on the show, which started a some structure called Building 84. First up was Jan Rooney, who reported that her father knew military secrets that he had been sworn never to reveal. There followed authors and investigators Dan Schmitt and Thomas J. Carey, who have interviewed descendants of those present. Also speaking was Sgt. Earl Fulford.

Then Carlene Green said that her father saw alien bodies. Schmitt then recounted how, shortly after the incident, the government visited witnesses and threatened them. They were sworn to secrecy under penalty of treason. Some were threatened with loss of pension.

Opposing these was Bill Nye, “The Science Guy” who makes educational films for school systems. He claimed that these were SkyHook weather balloon, a followup of the military Operation Mogul. The idea had been to fly the balloons across the Pacific and sky on Soviet nuclear weapons testing. Subsequently, Carey would note the problems with the Mogul story: for one thing, a supposed launch of SkyHook on June 4 had been cancelled, and the balloons launched June 5 were subsequently recovered. Carey would say that the government has advanced at least four “explanations” for the Roswell incident over the years. One of them claimed that the bodies were just crash dummies or mannequins. During this time, the Defense Department was being reorganized, as the Air Force would be created as a separate branch of service the following September.

The Frankie Rowe appeared, and claimed that her father told her (just before his death) that he had seen the aliens before they died and that the aliens had communicated by telepathy -- rather more instantaneous that chat or email.

Former astronaut Edgar Mitchell (the sixth man to walk on the Moon) appeared, and, after some discussion of “black budget financing” and general remarks about the secrecy that the military enforced, admitted that he had been told about aliens by credible people.

Bill Nye remained skeptical, but at the end of the show said that there was a good chance that another Mars experiment soon would find chemicals (besides water) in Martian soil that provided strong evidence that life had once existed there. That, if true, he said, would change history, and get taught in schools without controversy.

I visited the Roswell site in April 1998, on a weekend excursion through Dallas with a long rent car drive (how difficult to pull off now). I was living in Minneapolis at the time which was personally important. (I had recovered from a hip fracture and given an important cable speech on my book.) I had called that winter and found that the family that owned the land had postponed tours because of medical problems in the family, but by April the tours had resumed. The tour was operated from Roswell by bus and cost around $30 then, and took about four hours. I walked over all the grounds where the aluminum like material and bodies had been recovered.

Paramount-Viacom made a feature cable film “Roswell” in 1994.

Minnesota filmmaker Timothy B. Johnson (whom I have met) made a film called “Six Days in Roswell” in 1999, about the UFO culture of the town, with the UFO museum, where UFO history makes a major tourist attraction.

Some people know that I participated in an organization called "Understanding" in the 1970s. It was located in Tonopah, AZ, 40 miles west of Phoenix on I-10. The property had been founded by Dan Fry (and his wife Florence) and comprised a number of saucer-shaped buildings for meeting and dormitory space for conventions. The buildings are no longer there (I visited the site in May 2000 and could find only a cotton plantation). The website of Fry's activities and writings is here.

I had gotten interested in this after the supposed abduction of Travis Walton in northern Arizona in 1975 (indeed, a "National Enquirer" newspaper in the NYC subway one morning had read, "Arizona Man Captured by Flying Saucer"). I had done some sleuthing of local journalists in the area in 1976 and found some believed the story. This became a Paramount film in 1993, "Fire in the Sky."

Thursday, July 03, 2008

ABC "Outsiders": "Monkey borrowers" as "baby borrowers"; a disturbing Internet subculture

ABC Primetime offered its second program in the “Outsiders” series July 1, this time hosted by David Muir.

The most important and leading segment dealt with people who adopt baby monkeys as “children.” The practice seemed bizarre if understandable, and reminded me of NBC’s new series “The Baby Borrowers.” A typical monkey costs $5000- $8000 and baby monkeys have become big business. An older woman, whose children were grown, adopted one and raised her as “Jessie,” dressing her with baby clothes, and raised her to age 18. The monkey would become imprinted on and attached to the mother and not tolerate her absence or any threat to her food. A female race car driver was too “busy” to have her own children but adopted a monkey instead. After seven years, the monkey (“Andy”) became wild and had to be placed in a shelter after the monkey scratched and bit the owner. The shelter in Gainesville, FL reports that many formerly “adopted” monkeys become diabetic on human food, and have had teeth and sometimes fingers removed.

The show reminded me of other scientific stories, as on PBS, about how close primates (chimpanzees and gorillas) are to humans in intelligence. Primates, cetaceans, and carnivores (cats and canines, both domestic and in the wild) have good memories, ability to bond with people, and considerable problem solving skills and sometimes social structures. In biological terms, what distinguishes humans, enabling language and “culture” – passing on a desire to improve things in the next generation?

I once imprinted a wild mockingbird, who for several months would fly down and watch me whenever I arrived at and left work, sometimes landing within inches of me, once almost coming into my car. And I remember in an apartment building that people would offer cat babysitting services, referring to the cats as “your children.”

The ABC story by David Muir, Jim Dubreuil and Tracie Hunt is called “Call of the Wild: Adopting Monkeys: Families adopt monkeys as surrogate children,” link here.

The second segment of the show depicted a morbidly obese man in Monterrey, Mexico, who had never been able to leave his room or get out of bed in seven years. He weighed 1200 pounds, but had lost 500 pounds on a strict diet and for the first time was going to a party, when the carapace sheltering him in his car became ensnared in a tunnel. Some of this was difficult to watch. Curiously, he does not have high blood pressure or diabetes, but he has severe fluid retention.

The last segment was the most disturbing. The report started with an account of a horrific teen (Nikki Catsouras) automobile accident in California. Soon images of the accident and of her body began showing up on the Internet and spread in viral fashion to over 1500 sites in over 50 countries. One man thought he was performing a social service by spreading the gruesome images. It might be easy for someone with no personal emotional accountability (perhaps to anyone) to rationalize such postings. But they (especially in California) could run into legal questions about ownership, privacy, publicity, and emotional distress. The family hired Michael Fertik and his company “reputation defender” to get people to remove the images, and Fertik spoke during the report. There was discussion of an Internet subculture that revels in morbid subject matter.

Tbe ABC ("Law & Justice") story by Jim Avila, Teri Whitcraft, and Kristin Pisarcik is “Family’s Nightmare: Daughter’s Accident Photos Go Viral” link here.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

"The Secret Life of the American Teenager" premiers on "ABC Family"

ABC Family, “A New Kind of Family” (like Kyle XY’s family, which we all love now), has a new offering, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” with executive producer Brenda Hampton (“Brendavision”, a production company not to be confused with BrendaVision wide screen TV) who also brought us “Seventh Heaven” on TheWB.
The website for the show is this. or here on Facebook.

Most viewers probably know by now that the show’s premise, at least on the surface, takes off on the movie “Juno.” In this case, the expectant girl is Amy Juergens (Shailene Woodley). She “takes the Juno test” and, when reading the stick, is asked why she doesn’t go to a doctor to learn her options, and she says he only has a pediatrician, the wrong kind of doctor. Of course, it’s a “secret” from her parents, as fitting the title of the show. And her parents (Molly Ringwald and Mark Derwin), unbeknownst to her, could split up. It’s a sort of “Can this marriage be saved?” Ladies’ Home Journal situation, perhaps.

And then the rest of the kids have their covetings and triangles. There is a great scene where Ben (Kenny Baumann) asks his guidance counselor (Jorge Pallo) to enroll him in band. He wants to get to meet Amy, and he wants to get out of PE. (He doesn’t look unfit.) There is perhaps a bit of contradiction in his personality, but the show plays his part “straight.” He even wasn’t that interested in learning to read music. (When I was substitute teaching in 2004 and had elective chorus and music one day, there was one student sightreading on the piano who actually wanted to learn to read music; I still remember the conversation.)

Then there is the relationship between Grace (wanted by Ricky, apparently the “father”) and Jack (Greg Finley), who wants to be a good Christian and hold back on temptation, but he will have to wait enough years for Grace to finish medical school.

The show does have some explicit language, gently and humorously handled. It extends rather than changes the direction Brenda Hampton establishes with her television series. The plot even works Grace's disabled teenage brother into the story, and even into the dance scene near the end.

The title of the show reminds me of the 2003 indie film “The Secret Lives of Dentists” (Manhattan Pictures, dir. Alan Rudolf) which had a rather similar premise.