Sunday, November 30, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec. 22, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 29, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alicia Keyes sung “I Am a Super Woman”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larry King Live presented a followup at midnight EST.

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

Friday, November 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Barbara Walters: Barack and Michelle Obama Interview

Tonight, Wed. Nov. 26, at 10 PM EST, Barbara Walters conducted the Barack and Michelle Obama Interview. The video link appears to be this.

President-elect Barack Obama wore a gray suit and silver-blue tie. They started by talking about allowing taxes to increase on the highest income Americans; Obama was not certain as to how that would be done. He was asked about expecting sacrifice among ordinary Americans, and he talked mainly about turning off devices and vampire chargers. Earlier, he has talked about the need for parents to reduce kids’ TV and spend more time with them in real world activities (including reading with them).

He said (on no uncertain terms) that the war in Iraq had been unnecessary, and had hindered our ability to track down Al Qaeda and find Osama bin Laden.

They discussed whether he would give up his Blackberry. He said he was still negotiating this with the Secret Service. He says he wants direct communication with the outside world (maybe even these blogs or related sites) and does not want to depend on his staff for 100% of the information that he receives. They gently discussed heightened security concerns, as related on a number of extremist websites (front pages shown on the show).

Michelle appeared, and Barack, interrupting the interview, said she had some lipstick on one of her teeth (as if from the NBC show “Lipstick Jungle” which will soon be canceled!) The discussed the placement of their kids at Sidwell Friends school in Washington. Sidwell students have generally won all the “It’s Academic” competitions in which they appear.

Michelle said that the girls would have chores in the White House, including making their own beds and cleaning their own rooms.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

National Geographic: 5 Years on Mars

On Nov. 18, the National Geographic Channel broadcast “Five Years on Mars”. The film traces the two landers Spirit and Opportunity after their “balloon” landings on Mars in early 2004. The website for the show is here. The show was an episode of “Expedition Week”. NASA’s website for Spirit and Opportunity is here.

There was a concern that the landers would only last a few months, less than one Mars season cycle of almost two Earth years. Temperatures on Mars range almost 250 degrees F from day to night, perhaps 80 F on the surface near the equator to 200 below at night. The climate is similar to a desert at very high altitude on Earth, but even more extreme.

The film is realistically animated (much in the style of Pixar) and shows vistas very close to what a visitor would actually see. Steve Squyres appears and often speaks. There are recreations of what Mars could have looked like with running water, which would have had considerable sulfur content, possibly even sulfuric acid. This could have supported extremophile-type life.

Opportunity landed in a diverse area with little sphere-like iron bodies and evidence of sulfur, and chemical evidence of water. Spirit landed in a crater and had mostly dead lava flows to explore.

Opportunity explores a crater named “Endurance.”

The scientists on Earth watch the rover through 3-D imagery from the rovers, where the signals take 20 minutes to reach Earth. The “Enterprise rent-a-car” rovers cannot be driven in real time. They can move only a few yards per hour. (No speeding!) Six kilometers to the south is a deeper crater called Victoria. The windy season (with its dust devils and mini-tornadoes) starts and actually cleans the rover. The crater is reached in 2006 and is a half-mile across. Opportunity has to survive a summer dust storm before entering the crater.

Spirit climbs a mountain range called the “Columbia Hills”. Then it comes to a silica deposit, which would have come from volcanic vents. Ironically, the silica is discovered because of a broken wheel. Spirit operates from a place called "home plate."

Would finding DNA-based life on Mars “prove” that life is ubiquitous? Maybe not. Meteorites, kicked up by asteroid hits, could have transferred DNA from Mars to Earth or Earth to Mars. Remember the Antarctic finding in 1996. We may all be Martians!

National Geographic also reports that Martian polar ice caps are shrinking, and observation that supports “conservative” claims that global warming could be more related to natural solar processes, relative to human activity, than most mainstream scientists now think in calls for stopping global warming. The story title is "Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming, Scientist Says", and the author is Kate Ravilious. The web link is here.

Watch for “Journey to the Edge of the Universe” Sunday Dec. 7 2008 on National Geographic.

Update: Dec. 29, 2008

PBS Nova has a similar film "Is There Life on Mars?" The film supposes that an asteroid circles Mars, stirring up its magnetic core, and then crashed, destroying most of the atmosphere and the magnetic field. The film documents the Phoenix landing and the determination of alkaline pH and relatively low salts in the North polar ice, and encouraging sign for possible life. It also shows the sulfate "buckeyball" marbles.

As recently as a few million years ago the axis tilt for Mars might have been larger, with warmer polar regions.

If any life is found on Mars

Sunday, November 23, 2008

History Channel: UFO Revelations: "The Gray's Agenda"

The History Channel, on Thursday Nov. 19, presented “New UFO Revelations: The Gray’s Agenda” in its “UFO Files” series. (I think the punctuation should be this: "Grays'"). The show link is here.

I can remember jokes with coworkers about being taken over by “The Grays”. There are elements of this in this show, that goes toward the edge.

It starts by reviewing Roswell, the 1947 event in New Mexico. The military tried to claim “spy balloon”. Researcher Richard Dolan talks about famous witness Jesse Marcel, and that over 400 other witness picked up crash pieces. In the 1990s the Pentagon would try other explanations for the “bodies”, such as crash dummies. In the 1990s, a famous short film called “Alien Autopsy” would also circulate. There were also stories that the bodies were taken to Wright Patterson in Dayton, Ohio, and in 1984 I would see the biology building exterior where they were supposedly taken. I’ve always imagined that some day there would be a big budget movie called “Oliver Stone’s Roswell”. A good idea?

The show then covered the famous Betty and Barney Hill abduction in New Hampshire on September 19, 1961. (That was my second day of college, and first day out Quant in chemistry. I still remember it.) The first encounter was followed by a “road block”. The late Betty Hill described her medical examinations, which included body shaving for samples and then reproductive examinations, which were painful.

It then covered a famous incident in New Mexico in 1964.

The show discussed “Project Blue Book”, where the Air Force tried to discredit abductee claims as mass hysteria and a desire for fame and attention. The Project was suspended in 1969. I visited the Archives in the late 1980s. A typical web reference is here.

The show then covered the “Majestic 12 Documents” in the UFO Casebook, here.

The show presented the term “extraterrestrial biological entities” or EBI’s, and characterized them as being of four morphologies.

The film concluded with some studies of abductees. One woman claimed meeting her “hybrid” daughter. Women claimed to have miscarriages at about eight weeks without blood, apparently in second abductions. Harvard University researchers McNally and Orr did a thorough psychological (an neurological) study of some abductees and described a phenomenon of “absorption”. Other researchers describe the abductee accounts as similar to dreams at the end of REM sleep.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dr. Phil has panel on same-sex marriage and California Proposition 8

Today, the Dr. Phil show presented “Same-Sex Marriage: The Prop 8 Debate”. The link is here. He presented six panelists. In support of gay marriage he invited Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred, president of the Human Rights Campaign and equal rights advocate Joe Solmonese, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. To oppose same-sex marriage he offers Skyline Church in San Diego County pastor Jim Garlow, National Organization of Marriage Margaret Gallagher president, and co-campaign manager for the “Yes on 8 Campaign”, Jeff Flint. Audience reactions were strong throughout the show, but may have been a bit stronger and noisier from those who oppose same-sex marriage.

The show presented many scenes from the angry campaign demonstrations. Dr. Phil and all panelists condemned the behavior of some activists, including vandalism. But on the conservative side, Dr. Phil questioned whether it was ethical for proponents of Proposition 8 to write coercive correspondence to companies that had not supported them.

There was some discussion over the claims of the “Yes” campaign. Ms Allred said that the California Supreme Court ruling would not affect the tax exempt status of churches or their rights to conduct their own affairs, including the marriage that they would perform, as their congregations wished. There had been supplementary court opinions to that effect. It was less clear if public schools had to teach about gay marriage or should. One parent complained about an inappropriate question from his seven year old on the topic.

Gavin Newsome discussed how wrong it was for a simple majority to vote away the rights of a minority, especially at the “constitutional” level. This has almost never been done in California, he said.

The show presented a video clip of a gay male couple, legally married, with children. The marriage status is in limbo since the “Yes” vote on Proposition 8. Dr. Phil asked a heterosexually married couple in the audience how the male couple’s legal marriage affected them. He woman in the couple said that it was more about a concept, about “the sanctity of marriage.” She was a bit vague (President Bush had used the term). But the phrase generally refers to the social approbation for marriage that confers some rights that sometimes require subsidy or even deferential sacrifice from those who are not married. Ms. Allred discussed the concept that the Supreme Court had indicated that the previous marriage law had conferred second class status to “same sex couples” which is why civil union is insufficient. The California Supreme court, in fact, had written that because of the same-sex marriage ban, “that gay individuals and same-sex couples are in some respects "second class citizens" who may, under the law, be treated differently from and less favorably than heterosexual individuals and opposite-sex couples" (see my May 15 2008 posting). Ms Allred noted that the California Supreme Court ruling had applied only to how government gives out marriage licenses, not to what churches or individuals may do.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

History Channel: Parallel Universes

On Nov. 19 The History Channel ran a “The Universe” program on “Parallel Universes.” The program was interesting in both the paradigms proposed an the moral problems suggested. Instead of a universe, we have a “multiverse.”

One idea is that on Level 1, parallel universes exist in infinite (I presume countably infinite) number, budding through wormholes created by black holes in a fractal manner. There are countably many versions of earth, where at any critical point in one’s life, the life that results from a different outcome is lived. It sounds like a Krzysztof Kieslowski film (“Blind Chance”) or the derivative British film “Sliding Doors.” The moral problem is that one may believe one can undo a crime by jumping to another universe.

Level 2 is like a blown soap bubble, with a space of universes along that topology (called the Bulk).

But there is another paradigm proposed by string theory, where up to 11 dimensions (8 of them unseen) exist. The extra dimensions are so tiny that the other universes exist alongside us. That seems hard to grasp, and was displayed visually on film with blurred images, like a 3-D image without the necessary goggles.

A super advanced civilization could develop the technology to download itself onto a high-powered laser beam shot inside a black hole to move to a parallel world, which might be addressable to it in a manner similar to IP addresses on the Internet today. But once it arrived it might find consequences of actions fractured, with horrible moral consequences. This sounds like a good sci-fi scenario.

It might be possible for a high-powered laser to create a wormhole if it reaches "Planck energy", and a civilization could pass through it. The show imagines that it may be possible for individuals to pass through worm holes without harm; maybe that is how people enter the Afterlife! Other shows have shown that objects are not immediately torn apart by tidal forces once inside very large black holes.

I can imagine a few traumatic points in life where my life could have been quite different had I acted even slightly differently.

Soap operas may simulate the idea of multiverse, as they often have sudden (and sometimes disappointing) plot turns in order to write a particular actor out of a show. Look at my posting for Nov. 7, where I discuss Nick Fallon’s arrest today (Nov. 20) on “Days of our Lives.” The saga of that particular character (played by Blake Berris) certainly sounds like it invokes parallel universes. What if he could have controlled himself and not picked up the knife and stabbed Trent?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

History Channel: UFO Hunters: 1897 Aurora Texas Incident

On Nov. 19, the History Channel presented “UFO Hunters: 1897 Texas UFO Incident.” The End Times Prophecy Blog has an account of the History Channel’s filming, here.

Apparently, several years before the first airplane flew, a cylindrical craft crashed and landed in a well, leaving silvery debris with aluminum and other metal, and possibly an “alien” body, according to reports. The site was Aurora Texas, in Wise County. Some accounts say that it struck a windmill first. MUFON and other groups have investigated the story since the 1970s. Scientists have put on contamination protection suits and gone into the well, and pulled out water moccasins. An old man who lives there had severe arthritis and rashes on his hands, but that may not have come from the site. Ground penetration devices found the shape of a grave in an unusual location, where the “alien” might have been buried.

The fastest manmade airborne devices at the time were balloons, which could not have covered territory as quickly as newspaper reports (photographed on the show) indicated. has an informative article on the incident here.

Aurora Texas is on Highway 114, NW on Fort Worth.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

History Channel's "Extreme Trains" shows famous Horseshoe Curve in PA: political implications

The History Channel, on Nov. 11, aired a particularly interesting program about trains, in its “Extreme Trains” series (link). This hour-long segment presented the intricate technical problems encountered by the Norfolk Southern railroad (at one time, Pennsylvania Railroad) in crossing the Eastern Continental Divide through the state in moving a 105 car coal train from the Pittsburgh area to a coal-burning electric utility in Washingtonville PA. The train moves up a grade over 2% and then descends the famous “Horseshoe Curve” into Altoona, PA. I have visited the Curve myself twice, in 1994 and then in 2007. The curve was completed in 1854 with immigrant labor paid 25 cents an hour.

The same mountain ridge, “Allegheny Mountain” has a 1 mile long tunnel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike about 80 miles to the southwest. In West Virginia, to the South, it gets higher and rises to Spruce Knob (at a little under 5000 feet) but in Pennsylvania the ridge mostly is at about 2500 feet, and yet climbing it a challenge for massive trains. It left one wondering how trains fare in Colorado.

The program covered the job of the locomotive engineer, and use of helper locomotives to help push the train up the ridge. Then it discussed the centripetal force that has to be countered carefully as the train descends the Curve.

Before climbing the ridge, the train goes through Johnstown PA, site of the infamous 1889 flood which resulted when an earthen dam owned by the “rich people” of the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club broke in heavy rains. The History channel film says that the railroad tracks were relaid in three days. This disaster is covered in an independent film “Johnstown Flood” (2003, from Inecom), narrated by Richard Dreyfuss.

The film also mentions that during World War II there was a plot by German saboteurs (as in the Hitchcock film “Saboteur”) to blow up the rail link through the curve. Two men turned themselves in.

The film shows the automatic dumper at the power plant, that can unload 100 coal cars in four hours.

The film also covers the maintenance Juanita Locomotive Shop at Altoona, picture here. It also showed Steamtown, at Scranton PA.

Visitors will enjoy looking at the many pictures at the website for the model railroad at Roadside America in Shartlesville, PA, here.

Another major Pennsylvania model railroad is at Strasburg, the “Choo-Choo Barn”, here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

CBS "60 Minutes" interviews Barack and Michelle Obama

On Sunday November 16, Steve Kroft of CBS “60 Minutes” interviewed Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, in a 40-minute interview. This is the president-elect’s first formal interview with the press.

The basic link is this. Obama started with a general discussion about the economic crisis and TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program). He said that things could have been much worse. We do not have 25% unemployment like in 1932. He favors assistance to stressed upsidedown homeowners and some assistance to the auto industry, although it can’t be a blank check. But much domestic auto manufacturing in the US is owned by foreign companies besides the GM, Ford and Chrysler.

Obama said that there were some measures he could take up with executive order. Most notably, he promised to close Guantanamo (by executive order), and to stop all torture or extreme rendition (as in the famous New Line film). This was startling, and sounded like a concrete promise or commitment.

Barack Obama also said that he reads a lot material about and by Abraham Lincoln, and that he may heed the advice about appointing "rivals" to his government, including at least one Republican to his cabinet. (Sorry, probably not Sarah Palin!)

Michelle Obama joined the interview half way through. They talked about their days in an apartment in Washington, a unit that looked like it was in a dorm, when it had a fire. Obama said that he had “signed up” for life as a public person. He can’t go to the local barber shop; the barber has to be brought to him, under secret service.

Later today, ABC's The View discussed the fact that a president is not allowed to do his own emailing or texting. Barack Obama will have to give up his Blackberry.

AOL has a video of the link here along with a survey that suggests that Americans believe that the government should help homeowners facing foreclosure, but do not favor a bailout for the auto industry.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

CNN Presents: Escape from Jonestown

CNN Presents, on Nov. 13, aired “Escape from Jonestown”, about the Peoples Temple cult in Guyana (near Kaituma) started by Jim Jones (1931-1978), narrated by Soledad O’Brien. CNN shows have generic links, but there are many sublinks, the first being this. The film was interrupted by commercials and seems episodic.

The documentary starts with O’Brien standing on a vacant field where at one time many people died. A few people who survived (Leslie Wilson and Tim Carter) speak, and then the film goes on to the biography of Jim Jones. The film summarizes the shooting of Congressman Leo Ryan (D-CA) and others while trying to leave.

Jones started a church in Indiana in the 1950s, and tried to appeal to African Americans, at that time heavily weighed down by segregation. He claimed that he had a calling to go to Ukiah CA, in the redwood area, where he set up a communal church in the mid 1960s. People signed over their social security checks (essentially taking what amounts to a legal vow to poverty) and then claimed enormous tithes. He ruled the church very much like a Communist dictator. The film briefly covers his period in San Francisco. The church leadership was largely white, even though most of the membership was black. Jones would boast about couplings with both men and women, which is odd since most cults are sexually very moralistic. Jones was once busted in a Los Angeles restroom in 1973, a fact I had not known.

Tim Carter, in the “inner sanctum”, talks about the fake rehearsal for the mass suicide by poisoning that would eventually claim 909 lives. (This would be the largest mass loss of life involving Americans in peacetime until 9/11.) There would be 33 survivors. Trouble would follow some of them, including one baby who would grow up to be arrested as a young man. Many survivors would not tell others they had been members of the commune at Jonestown. Another man, gay, would turn his life around and become a Maui policeman. One went into politics and eventually won Leo Ryan's congressional seat. He was told that they had an hour to live and that they had been poisoned. Jones also sometimes parents that they would have to “sacrifice” their children.

Jones started moving his people to Jonestown in Guyana in the 70s as he feared authorities closing in. One mother said she feared she would never see her children again unless she went. Jones at one point considered moving to the Soviet Union (sort of sounds like Lee Harvey Oswald). Some people report not realizing how catastrophic their situation was until they arrived there are saw armed guards.

Some people escaped by steam-engine train, and one person made a harrowing bridge crossing on foot. The film shows many striking aerial shots of the surrounding countryside near the north coast of South America.

The film then goes give the gruesome details of the suicide (and shows the vats of poison and many other graphic photos of the aftermath) and goes into other details as about the suitcases of money. “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Toward the end, several of the survivors talk about how they perceive religion, as experiencing spiritual values without going to church.

I was living in New York City at the time, and remember the television coverage well. The media covered the visit of Congressman Ryan and his tragic end in detail. A few weeks later, I would travel and have a job interview that would lead to my relocation to Dallas in early 1979.

Two other important films about Jonestown are Jonestown: Paradise Lost (2006, History Channel) and Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple (2006, PBS).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Paul Rudd hosts SNL, with Justin Timberlake; Andy Samberg makes it a rout

Tonight, Paul Rudd (“The Object of My Affection”, 1998) hosted Saturday Night Live, and the show lived up to expectations – as one of the gayest ever.

The funniest sequence occurred early. Paul and Andy Samberg took turns drawing nudes of one another, with a blurring in one necessary place. Funny, Samberg kept his shirt on, but Paul would have pleased any connoisseurs of masculinity. Then, Paul and Andy took their pictures to Christie’s for an auction. The drawings were never shown, but the catastrophic effects on the audience were. Essentially everyone in the audience, as well as Paul and Andy, needed an exorcism.

Then, after head writer Seth Meyers started his usual routine (with the lavender Snaglepuss), Justin Timberlake intervened and became a second “host”. Now, Timberlake looks a bit restored to his former glory in the ‘Nsync days. (He hasn’t been that convincing on the golf tournament on “Ellen”. I winced at how he looked in “Alpha Dog” and “Southland Tales”.). Then he and Andy Samberg put on leotards and pantyhose (at least I think the smooth skin was artificial) and did some drag-show dancing, fit for a talent contest at the Town-DC. Rudd watched.

There was a “gay” dramatic short “Clearing the Air,” like what you see at Reel Affirmations.

Here is a short list for future hosts for SNL – that I would want to see. Everyone must go through “pledge week” Tribunals:

. Anderson Cooper
. Zac Efron
. Lance Bass
. Mark Zuckerberg
. Nate Berkus
. Blake Berris
. Matt Dallas
. Patrick Flueger
. Gregory Smith
. Chris Pratt
. Dillon Brooks
. Tom Welling
. Jared Padalecki
. Aaron Ashmore
. Chace Crawford
. Jonathan Chase
. Jim Sturgess
. Zachary Levi Pugh
. Blake Lively

I know a lot of people want Sarah Palin. How about libertarian Ron Paul?

They say, if you're an "entertainer" you can't get an ordinary umbrella rider on your auto insurance policy. SNL has plenty of "entertainers." I'm not sure that Michael Phelps was a real entertainer, however, when he hosted.

Friday, November 14, 2008

CNN: Larry King Line on California Prop 8; ABC 20/20 on "what is a man?"

Tonight, CNN's "Larry King Live" began with a short breaking news section on the possibility that Hillary Clinton would be considered for Secretary of State in Barack Obama’s cabinet. Then it moved to about 50 minutes of coverage by “The View” host Joy Behar on the same-sex marriage controversy, especially Proposition 8 in California. One guest, Pete West, did not get to speak because of the breaking news.

Behar first interviewed Cynthia Nixon alone (Here is a story about Nixon. Cynthia Nixon discussed Barack Obama’s support of gay rights in the long run even if Obama says he opposes using the word “marriage.” Behar mistakenly said that Obama supports “don’t ask don’t tell” but she meant to say that Obama supports repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” although that will obviously take time and have to be approached carefully to avoid a backlash.

Then Behar interviewed a virtual panel of African American pastor Harry Jackson Jr. and pastor Jim Garlow of the Skyline Church, both for Proposition 8 (against same-sex marriage), and San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsome and columnist Dan Savage.

Most of the “arguments” were familiar. Those against same-sex marriage argue that marriage is a common social good, that if it is “defined out of existence” then men and women will not find it worthwhile to form stable families and raise children. But Gavin Newsome added a strong argument that the civil rights of a minority should not be subject to the whims of a simple majority, particularly with a supposed state constitutional amendment.

A few days ago, ABC’s “The View” had pointed out that much of the hype supporting Proposition 8 consisted of falsehoods and scare tactics, claiming that churches could be forced to perform same-sex marriages when the state supreme court opinion had said thet can’t.

The show also covered the demonstrations, mentioned some minor vandalism and the mailing of letters with powder, and particular opposition to the Mormon Church, which it claimed donated 80% of the money to lobby for Proposition 8. There was discussion as to whether boycotts would be effective

The program asked for viewers to comment (here). I wrote this comment:

What concerns me is that unmarried people, even those who want to remain single, are often "second class citizens," expected to sacrifice and defer to those who are married, when something has to give. Isn't this the problem?

Four comments (not mine) were read, one of which said that the civil rights movement and the women’s vote were unpopular at first but that the nation is better off for eventually passing these.

ABC 20/20 tonight covered the story of a transgendered person (Thomas Beatie) who had moved from female to male, and was legally a man in Oregon, and was legally married to a woman. He had given birth to a baby using his remaining female uterus. He stops taking male hormones before artificial insemination, and he is now pregnant again, at five weeks. The name of the show segment is, in fact, “Journey of a Pregnant Man.” Barbara Walters had promoted this program as asking the question as to “what is a man, what is a woman.” Apparently they live in the Great Basin town of Bend, which I drove through on vacation in 1978.

There are several links on ABC’s 20/20 site today, such as this one by Joneil Adriano, link here.

Thomas was impregnated artificially at home, as doctors were unwilling to perform the necessary procedures. The couple appeared on Oprah Winfrey last spring, with the famous pictures of a pregnant man.

People were concerned that publicity over the couple would derail other gay rights initiatives like same-sex marriage. There was discussion after birth as to who was the “mother” and “father”. Lawyers had argued that wife Nancy legally “adopt” the baby, but they do not think it is necessary.

The show went on to discuss other examples of women who had become men and still given birth, as long as eight years ago. More commonly, they had given birth to children before gender change to male. There was a gay male couple with a child born in this environment, and a lesbian couple with children, where one partner had been a man. However Scott Peck’s radio show in 1993 (the Scott Peck whose father was involved in the debate on the military ban) presented such a woman who had actually been in the Navy as a man for fifteen years and who worked as a civilian intelligence analyst after the surgery doing almost the same job.

In biology, sometimes the male does nurture the newborn, as with the seahorse. Thomas mentions the seahorse in the program and tells his daughter about this example.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

PBS Nature: "The Cheetah Orphans"

PBS Nature, on Nov. 2, aired the one hour film “The Cheetah Orphans” by British biologist and wildlife photographer Simon King. He plays “surrogate mother” to two cheetah kittens when their mother is killed by a Lion. He names them Toki and Sambu. The main web reference is this.

In the wild, mother cats teach kittens (or cubs) how to hunt, and Simon had to more or less do the same thing. They make quick progress, but one night Sambu is killed by a lion. Toki is wounded but recovers.

Over time, Simon works on returning him to the wild safely. He still needs to be protected from lions and human poachers. It is desirable for him to meet a female. But one day a female appears, behaving strangely, and she turns out to be rabid. Finally he is moved to a larger reserve, but there is a nervous moment at the end of the film when Simon fears that he could have been killed. But he finds Toki with the GPS device. Toki always recognizes Simon immediately and behaves around man very much like a dog would, but rather looks like an oversized house cat.

Today Toki lives on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in the Laikipia area of Kenya.

A good comparison is Carol Ballard’s 2005 film “Duma” about a cheetah raised in a South African home. In one scene, the cheetah learns how to use a TV remote.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

PBS: Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work: Queen Elizabeth visits the US in 2007

Tonight, Nov. 12, 2008, PBS aired the first two one-hour episodes of “Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work.” These episodes covered the trip by Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family from Britain to the United States in May 2007 in commemoration of the settling of Jamestown in 1607. The link for the series is here.

I recall another film on PBS about this visit last year but this film seems new.

The first hour covered the first part of her trip, to Richmond and Williamsburg. Some of the footage was made inside Buckingham Palace (I walked outside the walls on my first trip to Britain in November 1982). But most of it was in Virginia. The area around the state capitol is undergoing renovation. There was a lot of attention to the etiquette when meeting the Queen. The staff has to endure a dangerous thunderstorm in downtown Richmond just before the visit.

The Queen then traveled by motorcade 45 minutes down Interstate 64 with police escort to Williamsburg. (I recall the drive that I made many times in 1969 when I was stationed in Fort Eustis, even the little towns like “Bottoms Bridge”). She stayed in the Williamsburg Inn, and the film showed the domestic staff making her bed precisely, having watched each garment four times.

I have stayed in the Williamsburg three times as a boy: once in 7th grade in 1955 on a field trip, once in 1961 when taking a chemistry placement exam at William and Mary while still in high school, and in September 1961, for one night, before moving into Brown Hall the next day (a Sunday) to start a semester at William and Mary. Later, the Queen attends a ceremony on the back steps of Wren Hall. Ironically, I got word in November 1961 that I was asked to leave the College, in an incident that I have documented elsewhere on the blogs, in Wren Hall, on the second floor, maybe a couple hundred feet from where the Queen was. The film also show the Sunken Garden, which I often walked across that fall. The film explained the origin of the College in the 17th Century.

The second hour, after summarizing the visit to the races in Kentucky, covered the White House visit and state dinner, even the Queen’s meeting President Bush’s terrier dog, Barney. The film showed the rose bedroom, with artifacts from King George in the 18th Century.

Update: Nov. 26

Another episode showed Prince Charles as well as William and Harry. William visits a homeless hostel. Charles says that he likes to see his two sons serve in the military because it's important "to learn to take responsibility for other people."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

PBS Nova: "Alien from Earth": fossils of miniature people from Indonesia

On Nov. 11, PBS NOVA aired the 50 minute film “Alien from Earth.” This film documents the research into the “hobbit” fossils of homo floresienis found on a small island in Indonesia. These were small hominids (people) whose adult height was less than three feet. The link is here.

The program examines the enigma that the people pose from an inside-out narrative. The brain size is about 40% of that of a modern human. There is some comparison to modern humans with a genetic defect leading to microencephalopthy, and there are major differences. The hobbit fossil brains appear to be normal relative to their body size.

The film discusses the “Island effect.” When a species lives on an island without predators, it may tend to become smaller because it needs less food. Some species may get larger. Among cats, for example, there is an enormous range in size among animals with similar intelligence and behavior.

There are ethnic groups in Africa of smaller peoples loosely called pygmies, not covered in the film. Wikipedia has an informative article on the range of human height, here.

However, there is other evidence that the “hobbits” could have migrated from elsewhere and could have lived in parts of Asia and disappeared. The hobbit’s ancestors could trace back to homo erectus, or possibly even further to Australopithecus and have emigrated from areas other than Africa. The show also documents the finding of a small fossil near Dmanisi, Georgia (former Soviet republic).

Previous documentaries have explored whether man could have interacted with Neanderthal. The possibility exists that something like 100000 years ago, there could have co-existed different species of “man” that may or may not have been compatible for mating. Imagine the “political” problems if such a civilization advances. If there are other planets with civilizations comparable to ours in the Milky Way, this sort of possibility among the dominant species (or as the Tolkien Rings trilogy) is probably more likely than not. Human kind is lucky to be biologically one species. In a sense, however we think we “look” today, we are all descendants of African Americans.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

CBS 60 Minutes: E-waste pollutes developing countires: bad karma for American consumers?

CBS “60 Minutes” tonight (Sunday Nov. 9) presented a particularly disturbing account of what may happen to “e-waste” – outmoded personal computers and other consumer electronics – after being taken to recycling centers.

Consumers are told to dispose of electronics properly, and many take them to recycling centers. Recycling companies often maintain that all materials are kept and reused within the United States.

Scott Pelley and his team followed one shipment of monitors picked up by Executive Recycling, which operates in Colorado and other western states. A shipment was traced through Tacoma Washington to Hong Kong, which then sent waste eventually to Guiyu, China, in one of the most polluted towns on the planet. Electronic waste is filled with heavy metals and other brews making polyvinvl chlorides. Children in the town tested positive for heavy levels of lead. The broadcast showed a sickening sludge of waste in the town’s river. Local “gangsters” chased the reporters away.

In another small town in China, reporters were escorted to a model recycling factory by police and then chased out of town.

The link for the story is here.

The ad hoc group that monitors measures to keep wealthy countries from dropping their waste on poorer or developing countries is the Basel Action Network, or (porasically) “BAN”, link here.

The E-waste problem is exacerbated by the fact that computers and other devices become obsolete quickly. It is almost always cheaper to buy a newer, cheaper device than repair an old one. Electronic waste, from a lifestyle based on global communications and access, could seriously burden the effort to protect the planet from toxins that endanger and overwhelm children in developing countries and that are connected to global warming. They create “bad karma.”

Friday, November 07, 2008

"The View" takes on CA Prop 8, AR adoption ban; "Days" is about to make Nick a suspect

Today (Nov. 7, 2008). ABC’s female daytime gabfest “The View” took up gay marriage, and the vote on Proposition 8 which passed in California.

All the speakers noted the opposition to gay marriage in the African American community, and that Barack Obama did not touch this sensitive issue during the campaign. Generally, Obama has supported civil unions but not the use of the word “marriage” for same-sex couples, and he has expressed an interest in lifting “don’t ask don’t tell” for gays in the military.

But African American families (and Latino families) have tended to be culturally conservative and place more emphasis on the “meaning” of the family unit. Barbara Walters herself noted that the argument on gay marriage has gone beyond usual concerns for equal rights and entered existential territory. African American families have also heard many religious arguments against gay marriage.

All the panelists (but especially Whoopi Goldberg) noted the fear campaign waged by the proponents of Proposition 8, who spent enormous sums. The Mormon Church was especially instrumental, and was the target of post-election demonstrations in Los Angeles. Proponents argued that churches would lose their tax-exempt status if they did not marry gay couples, and even pointed to a case in Sweden where a minister was arrested for refusing to perform such a ceremony. Sometimes they simply ranted “restore traditional marriage” as if gays had somehow stopped straights from marrying. The panelists were not always articulate or accurate in stating the arguments that the religious right had tried to use. The panelists did note that blood relatives have sometimes claimed inheritances at probate, and sometimes wills have not been honored (they could have been clearer about this).

The panel also noted that Arkansas passed a measure preventing gays from adopting children or acting as foster parents. All the panelists said that this makes no sense, when there are so many children needing adoption (see my issues blog Nov. 8 2008 for a piece that examines that assumption). They said that such laws paint gays as “less than human.” Actually, I think that the Arkansas measure prohibits adoption or foster care by unmarried couples. I’m not sure about single gays with no live-in partner. Other states have enthusiastically encouraged adoption by single people because of the need.

The state with the notorious absolute ban on gay adoption is Florida, and Rose O’Donnell discussed this previously on “The View” when she was an anchor.

After the discussion on gay issues, The View brought on three comedians for a change of mood. The performers were Ricky Gervais, Steve Harvey and Mario Cantone, the last of whom discussed gay marriage.

“The View” does not appear to archive its shows with specific file names as do many other shows. The best web reference I can find to today’s content is this. Right now you can get to a video of today’s show from the main page.


Also, the soap “Days of our Lives” (NBC) has recently been developing a Hitchcock-like mystery of who killed Dean Trent, because everyone had become Trent’s enemy and had a motive. Did anybody notice the scene where Nick (Blake Berris) had his hand bloodied. Now Nicole says that there was a tall man at the graveyard. Nick also had a grudge, and recently he has been behaving out of his “Nicl Carroway” (“Great Gatsby”) character. I’m sorry to see that. I was hoping that Nick would stay a paragon of virtue. Maybe not. He will be the next suspect.

On Monday, Nov. 10, the soap was interrupted by coverage of the meeting between Barack Obama and George W. Bush, to resume just in time to see a flashback of Nick's killing Trent after being called a "dork" by Trent in the cemetery. It's sad to see Nick go down.

On Thursday, Nov. 20, Nick Fallon was arrested at gunpoint by Hope. It's sad to see him become a "Mr. Hyde". Melanie almost goes off the balcony like in a Hitchcock film. I don't know if it is the drugs, or just that Nick believes he has to prove himself a "man" and protect women at any cost, including kidnapping and abusing them. The sad thing was that this might have been justifiable homicide, because Trent was about to kill Melanie. Blake Berris is terrific in the part, but he no longer gets to be good guy any more. (Maybe it's not as hard to play Clark Kent or Sam Winchester as a character that goes down after being good. Remember red kryptonite and "bad Clark"?) In jail, they take away Nick's belt.

In another scene Stefano tells E.J. that everything in life has "strings attached" (like the "dead hand" of English novels) and chides Elvis "you must pay your dues." That's one of my own favorite phrases. A lot of people search for it.


President-elect Obama was fashionably late for his first news conference (I watched it on CNN), which started 20 minutes late (Nov. 7). The highest priority is his economic stimulus package. I thought it was interesting that (in an answer) he would not comment at all on the content of intelligence briefings. He said (in answering a more personal question from a reporter) he was debating what kind of White House dog to get. I’d like to see the White House have a cat, too. Remember Socks?


Also, on Friday (Nov. 7) Oprah interviewed ABC political correspondent George Stephanopoulos from his home in Washington DC by Tivo. He sat in the corner of a room that looked like a library. I thought he had a condo in New York City also. He analyzes the failure of John McCain's campaign, and indicated that McCain was simply way behind in recognizing the seriousness of the economic crisis. McCain is still in a position of leadership in the Senate and ought to push his idea of helping homeowners directly. He ought to remain a major resource on national security.

Would Oprah encourage Stephanopoulos to run for Congress in 2010? He would have to be an official New York resident (maybe teach at Columbia or work for ABC from NYC). In the right district, he would win easily. His blog ("George's Bottom Line") is here. Mayne Oprah will encourage cohost and designer Nate Berkus to run from Chicago. As they say, in the Democratic party you do what Oprah says.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

ABC "Good Morning America" shows laser "permanent" hair removal made easy at home

Well, once in a while the morning news shows and get silly by delving into the gosh-darndest things. Today, ABC “Good Morning America” took the silly topic of old-fashioned razors and cream depilatories one step further, to products that supposedly make the job permanent. Now there are two laser hair removal tools on the market for home use, without a prescription, approved by the FDA. Technical and beauty consultant Becky Worley demonstrated, on herself, Tria and Silk’n on herself. The Tria device offers medical supervision. Both devices work only with lighter skin and dark hair (Tria has a light test for that). She said that it hurt a bit. She tried the device for a second on Chris Cuomo’s hand, and even (in the preview) on Sam Champion when he rolled up his sleeve. They were joking: it’s supposed to be permanent (although it may take a few treatments). The Silk’n seemed to work more effectively at first, but the Tria may be more permanent. She said the devices seemed to leave a rash temporarily. Both devices supposedly sell for a bit under $1000.

It’s been common for clinics to advertise in-house permanent laser treatments for ten years or so, but this sounds like a near first for the devices at home.

Was this product intended just for women? More than a few male stars seemed to have changed their appearances noticeably in the past few years. Back on June 21, 1999, The Weekly Standard (a “conservative” rag) had run the satirical article “Notes on the Hairless Man" by David Skinner. At least, the news anchors this morning were not put in the position of Steve Carell in “The Forty Year Old Virgin”. They were just kidding. A science fiction writer could imagine how hospitals could get surgeons to use these devices for infection control! Imagination can run wild with bad possibilities.

The non-fiction narrative book "Damages" by Bazhe talks about what one goes through to become an international drag queen performer late in the epic story.

The news story is by Katie Cwayna and Lee Ferran, here.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Supreme Court hears broadcast TV indeceny case; also a warning about TV viewing and teen pregnancies

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, while voters went to the polls, the Supreme Court in Washington heard oral arguments in the case Fox v. FCC, as to whether the government can limit “indecent” language on major network television (from 6 AM to 10 PM), a rule that does not apply on many cable and satellite channels. The FCC rule is four years old. In 2004, Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson created a flap with Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the half-time show at the SuperBowl, a story that hit the Internet news services immediately as a top item on a Sunday night.

A typical story is by George Szalai in Hollywood Reporter, “Supreme Court Hears Fox, FCC Arguments: Not clear where justices stand as indecency case begins,” link here.

Jerry Markon has a more detailed story on p A2 of the Nov. 5 Washington Post, “Supreme Court Takes Up Case of Use of Profanity on TV”, link here.

The Los Angeles Times has a story today by David Savage, “High court conservatives favor indecency rule: U.S. Solicitor General says the strict regulation of broadcast TV preserves a 'safety zone' for families with children,” link here. Conservative justices John G. Roberts, Jr. and Antonin Scalia dominated the questions Tuesday. Scalia said “"I am not persuaded by the argument that people are more accustomed to hearing these words than they were in the past” in a comment about coarsening of public language.

The “Telecom Law Firm” in California has a link for broadcasters that have just received notice of an FCC Violation in a link called “What Now?”, here.

About the same time, there have occurred multiple media reports that teens who watch a lot of television (or use the Internet for non-school purposes such as social networking) seem to be more likely to wind up with unwanted pregnancies. The studies seem to blame the “glamorization” of sexual activity (in combination with youth, power and beauty), even though the activity is suggested and not shown explicitly on network television. The stories are sobering for those in the media business or those who, like me, are trying to enter it.

"Indecency" as a concept refers to the absolute occurrence of a bad word or image; it does not consider "redeeming social value" as does "obscenity", which is never constitutionally protected. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 (the predecessor of COPA) was (mostly) struck down over the concern of what the concept "indecent" means.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Barack Obama Elected 44th President (CNN: "Election Night in America")

At 11:02 PM EDT, CNN (“Election Night in America”), with Wolf Blitzer announcing, projected that Barack Obama was now the president-elect of the United States, with a 297-139 lead in the Electoral College vote. The “Breaking News” caption read “Barack Obama Elected President.” 232 years after the Declaration of Independence, Obama became the first African-American to become president of the United States (the 44th president). Shortly before, Obama had carried Virginia. Obama had trailed in Virginia early in the evening with a sizable portion of the vote reported (the polls had closed at 7 PM). Nevertheless, no network would report Virginia carried because of the uneven demographics. Obama pulled ahead in Virginia about 10:30 PM. Obama became the winner just as west coast polls closed.

The election has turned into a landslide or “blowout” in football terms, with the “visiting team” doing the trouncing. But the popular vote will be much closer, rather like a baseball game that is a rout in runs but not in hits.

CNN immediately switched to Grant Park in Chicago, for Obama’s celebration rally. Grant Park was the site of some of the demonstrations during the 1968 Democratic Convention as depicted in the movie "Medium Cool".

Earlier this evening, I watched returns for a while in the Rhodeside Grille in Arlington, where there were simultaneous “movie wide screen” HD screens for CNN, MSNBC, Fox, CNBC. CNN was slower to project changes in the electoral vote than was Fox, that at one point showed 103 electoral votes for Obama while CNN showed just 77.

Anderson Cooper said that Obama has already turned his attention to "governing" giving that America faces its most dangerous period in history since WWII and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

McCain was expected to make a concession speech from Phoenix at about 11:20 PM. McCain said "The American people have spoken."

Sunday, November 02, 2008

SNL: Ben Affleck Hosts; "McCain-Palin" appear as "Republicrats" without Money

On Nov. 1, Ben Affleck (Benjamin G├ęza Affleck-Boldt, 36) hosted Saturday Night Live, starting properly in an EDS suit, which looked a bit stuffy. I wanted something more like his appearance in “Forces of Nature.”

But the highlight of the evening may have been the Palin-McCain (Tina Fey -- ? – they say this was the real McCain) prequel. McCain said that he was a novelty as a “Republican without money,” limited to the QVC network (a pun on CVS?) “Sarah” said she was there to “sell you some stuff”, like an Avon or Mary Kay lady. (Where was the pink Cadillac?) McCain made a wisecrack about his McCain-Feingold election reform law, which, as we know, set off a firestorm of debate over whether it could become a threat to blogging. (Finally the FEC ruled that it wasn’t). Of course, Feingold could never be a running mate. (But maybe Joe Lieberman could have been one.) "Pali" aka Fey made a wisecrack about becoming a "white Oprah"! (Ouch!)

Here is the URL for the Palin-McCain video clip.

Bloomberg has already covered the show, particularly this introduction, here.

Ben Affleck said that everything he supports a politician, the politician loses, all the way back to Tsongas back in 1992. So, he “endorsed” McCain.

John McCain appeared briefly alongside Seth Meyers later in the program. (Note: Seth has appeared on Martha Stewart before, an not as an apprentice.) McCain called himself a “Double Maverick” or a “Reverse Maverick.” Meyers also called the change back from Daylight Savings Time tonight to be "time redistribution."

SNL showed a “digital short” from the Staten Island Zoo, about giraffes. I seem to recall a small zoo at Coney Island.

The Ben Affleck hosted a screenwriting seminar, where “writers” sit around an design a movie script around gay nightmares and Wall-e-2. I guess the next step is a “5 page read” (that’s how a lot of clubs work) and then a table reading.

David Cook performed two songs (“You’re my inspiration”)