Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dr. Phil covers Putative Father Registry laws


Dr. Phil today hosted a program about a case involving a relatively little known issue, the Putative Father Registry laws in 25 states. The specific case on the show had occurred in Oregon. The man was fifteen years older than the woman, who had been 19 as of the time of pregnancy, so the actual event was lawful. However, the woman decided to give up the baby for adoption without the man’s consent. In Oregon, as in many other states, a man who suspects he may have caused a pregnancy must create an entry on the Putative Father Registry and contribute contingent financial support for some period of time, often twelve months, to claim parental rights. Even if he did not claim parental rights, he could be pursued for child support later in life in a “deadbeat dad” situation. But these laws, as they stand, simply make it easier for the mother to control the placement of the child regardless of the father’s wishes. One problem is that few men know about these laws.

The link is here and the link gives sublinks to panels that discuss the problem in detail. Mel Feit, from the National Center for Men, suggested that states change public policy to require notification of men, and proper determination of parental rights and responsibilities in family court by a judge. In the particular case, the man’s mother screamed that she had been denied the right to have contact with her “own flesh and blood,” her granddaughter.

Visitors will want to look at the website of the National Center for Men, here. Some important quotes: “Men die about eight years earlier than women …. When it comes to unwanted, unborn children, men have responsibilities without rights …. Social custom still requires men to do most of the work of initiating new sexual relationships. The woman is the sexual celebrity, the man the sexual supplicant. …In many ways women receive special privilege and protection while male pain and suffering are trivialized or ignored by our society. Men and women who dare to speak out for fairness and equality are often ridiculed or censored into silence.”

All of this rings true. Gay men are resented for refusing to participate in this “game.” Even conservative writer George Gilder wrote, in his 1986 book “Sexual Suicide,” about the innate sexual superiority of women to men. In 1993, psychologist Warren Farrell authored “The Myth of Male Power.” On Nightline Monday, there was a report that men would become extinct in 125000 years and that women could reproduce without them. No wonder, then, that some religious cultures (such as much of Islam) are so protective of “male power.”

On the show, Dr. Phil sounded sympathetic to the need to repeal Putative Father Registry laws.

This show reminds me of another potential legal time bomb in many states, filial responsibility laws, which can affect people who have never procreated children (perhaps disproportionately). I wrote about these on my retirement blog here.
I wonder what Dr. Phil would think of filial responsibility laws, but he has never done a show on the issue to my knowledge. I wonder what the National Center for Men would think, too.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Larry King Live interviews Jimmy Carter; LKL, Cooper 360 cover Jeremiah Wright controversy


Tonight (April 28 2008) Larry King Live on CNN interviewed former president Jimmy Carter, 83, who recently engaged in “freelance diplomacy” and arranged a meeting with Hamas. He claimed that Hamas is willing to accept Israel’s right to exist, if Israel withdraws from all occupied or “expropriated” Palestinian land. He claims that they would let the Carter Center in Atlanta (I visited the grounds briefly in 1994) supervise elections. He said that two of the top Hamas leaders in Damascus, Syria include a physician and a physicist.

Carter would not endorse Clinton or Obama, but indicated that many of his friends support Obama, who has criticized Carter’s Hamas meeting, as in this April 16 Reuters story by Ellen Wolfhurst. Carter seemed to agree that the super-delegates should go with the leader after the primaries are over.

Carter mentioned pancreatic cancer in the family, and said, if you get it, you die. Michael Landon ("Little House on the Prairie") died of it in 1991, and it was the subject of a PBS show a couple weeks ago on this blog (April 9).

In the second half hour, Larry King asked for reactions from up to six candidates. Ari Fleischer, formally in the Bush administration as spokesman (he looks like me) criticized Carter’s headstrong individual diplomacy and claimed that the giving away of Gaza resulted in attacks. Other panelists included Michael Dyson, Kay Holmes, Lonnie Davis, Flavia Colgan, and Carol Simpson.

There was a lot of discussion with the panelists about the recent media appearances by Barack Obama ‘s former pastor Jeremiah Wright. Anderson Cooper’s CNN 360 continued the discussion of Pastor Wright, and some of a recent dinner speaking engagement for the NAACP in Detroit was shown. There was some general agreement that some of Wright’s former “sound bites” were patched together by the media out of context and had a tabloid affect, and have provided a serious distraction for Barack Obama in the last couple of weeks. Obama is criticized for not having dissociated himself from Wright sooner. Wright’s comments about the victims of 9/11 (the “chickens … roost” comment) started with a sermon shortly after 9/11 and had mentioned the “conquest” by Europeans of native peoples and then American “aggression” as with Hiroshima (I don’t know if he got into specific Muslim complaints about the behavior of the West in Muslim lands). I do recall (from the early 1970s) how the “Far Left” sometimes goes into the “moralistic” area of blaming individuals as morally culpable for the policies of their “classes” according to the “forbidden fruits” theories. The panelists did discuss the “prophetic black church.” In other television interviews, Wright says that he is a pastor where as Obama is a politician, and he can say things that a politician cannot say.

There was also a reference to Wright's admiration of Louis Farrakhan (and his 1995 October "Million Man March" on Washington). Other coverage has mentioned that Wright claims that AIDS was the result of a government plot against minorities.

Hillary Clinton is definitely “coming from behind” and could pull this out. She is in the position of having the football on her own 40 and being a touchdown down at the two-minute warning. And she sounds like "the home team."



Also: Are Men Expendable?

ABC Nightline had a "Children not of Men" spot "Envisioning a World Without Men Scientist Says Female-Only Reproduction Is Only a Few Years Away," by Nick Watt, link here. Men will disappear in about 125,000 years, according to Oxford professor Bryan Sykes, author of "Adam's Curse: A Future Without Men." The Y chromosome is deteriorated and cannot be repaired, and women will be able to have biological children in another decade. Imagine this in the gay marriage argument! Conservative writer George Gilder ("Men and Marriage", 1986) used to argue that females were sexually superior to males and that women tame men. We could face an Aldous Huxley "Brave New World" yet.

Until modern times, it was men who were fungible enough to go to war and be sacrificed. (But women died in childbirth.) Are men expendable?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

PBS: Carrier, first two episodes (life on the USS Nimitz, one of the Navy's biggest "boats")


Tonight (April 27 2008) PBS aired the first two episodes of a ten-piece series “Carrier” about the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, which pulls out of California and crosses the Pacific, possibly eventually to wind up in the Persian Gulf. The website is here.

The first episode was called “All Hands” (a chorus in Britten’s “Billy Budd” is called that). It covers life in the intimate and finite universe of the ship that, while large, still has men and women living in situations of forced intimacy. In the Navy particularly, this means keeping everything immaculately clean. Every day there are cleaning details. The men turn on radio music, but then work on shining or scrubbing the same areas over and over, making the perfection of the most fastidious homemaker pale by comparison. Almost every vocation is represented on ship. One E-1 female joined the Navy to become a chef, and cooks 5000 meals a day. There is also a disciplinary Captain’s mast. Military bearing and discipline is still quite apparent in everyday life. The lack of liberty normally expected in civilian life becomes apparent, and it is apparent to older people (like me) who were drafted during the Vietnam era.

The second episode is called “Controlled Chaos.” The nuclear power plant is mentioned. One man had gone to the Naval Academy after enlisting and then going to a Naval Academy prep school. The unit cohesion and teamwork is covered: “work hard, play hard.” You may have to save the life of someone you don’t necessarily personally like.

The third episode is called “Super Secrets,” and this refers not only to obvious military secrets but also personal relationships. Male-female relationships are a concern (pregnancies) and certainly must be kept out of sight. The preview showed a sailor saying, well “you hear “that’s so gay, but a lot of men on the ship are.” There was a male "couple" with a very discrete relationship on ship. “Don’t ask don’t tell” regarding gays becomes total fiction in real life (although some of the sailors think it actually works), and it is hard to enforce a similar policy against heterosexual relationships on board. At the end, there is a case where a female sailor has to admit that she gave consent to a relationship to prevent a male from being court-martialed. There is an interesting sequence showing Liberty in Hong Kong.

During my research for my first book, I visited a nuclear-powered submarine (the USS Sunfish, now decommissioned, built in 1963) in Norfolk in 1993. It was really crowded. I was glad to go back to my motel afterward (and so were they).

Friday, April 25, 2008

ABC: PDA's, good samaritan, Facebook, Scientology all in lively stories


Tonight (April 25) ABC 20/20 did a test of public values in “good Samaritan” situations, where a child actor (boy or girl, sometimes asking for help) was positioned to appear alone and lost in New York City. Until he or she asked, no one responded; when asked, a few people responded (one had her child notice first).

Then the show examined PDA’s (public displays of affection) of same-sex couples in Birmingham, AL and Verona, New Jersey. In Birmingham, a few people called 911, to find out that nothing was illegal.

Then, on WJLA (local ABC station) there was a short report by Kris Van Cleave on the increase in controversy within families over social networking sites, especially Facebook. Among Facebook’s 70 million users, the largest growing group now are adults. One kid said that adults in their 50s didn’t belong on Facebook! The show continued the concerns about reputation, and the fact that parents should know what is on their kids’ profiles. George Washington University mentioned calls from parents for roommate assignments based on what was found on facebook, and this included sexual orientation (this posting on roommate sexual orientation in court may be interesting:

On Thursday (April 24), Nightline ran a story about the flap caused when the niece of Scientology chief David Miscavige decided the leave. The story by Lisa Fletcher, Ethan Nelson, Maggie Burbank “Ex-Scientology Kids Share Their Stories,” link here, related a certain paradox: the kids were raised on a “ranch” and ties with parents were weakened, yet the Church threatens those who leave with total isolation from their families. Many churches act as if parents have an intrinsic right to the religious loyalty of their kids, but here the picture is mixed.

Also, on Dr. Phil today -- I won't go into the sorry family abuse tragedy -- but an evangelical pastor from the audience insisted that the Bible insists that a pastor have a good "reputation" and be free even from false impressions or false accusations. This fits into earlier coverage of "reputation" issues.

And Oprah was all Nate Berkus: designing a "mud room", a huge almost commercial kitchen for a Cleveland family, and then the latest gadgets for 21st Century houses. Does this comport with going green?

Also, for a posting on the "going green" chest wax of Harrison Ford on Access Hollywood April 24, see this posting on my International issues blog. It's in some pretty disturbing company.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

NGC: CIA, Cult, Ted K; three disturbing hour films


On Wednesday April 23, 2008 the National Geographic Channel aired three disturbing one-hour films.

"CIA Secret Experiments" would make a good adjunct to a showing of either “Manchurian Candidate” film. The documentary examines the death of 43 year old agent Frank Olson with an apparent fall from the Statler Hilton Hotel in New York the day after Thanksgiving 1953. The movies traces his career as an agent. For one thing, CIA agents (as in “The Good Shepherd”) sometimes live “vagabond” lives, with long stays overseas, or sometimes lots of short trips while presenting the face of a normal life. Olson had apparently witnessed some medical experiments, such as one in which sarin was placed on the taped-up forearms of “volunteer” military personnel. At least one man would die horribly. Then, in Germany, near the Iron Curtain, he witnessed more experiments purporting to develop the perfect assassin. He became troubled and agitated. He was taken to a secret safe house in the Catoctin Mountains called Deep Creek, and given LSD. (There is other lore that claims there is a similar house south of Charlottesville, VA). A bit more than a week later he died in New York. When his body was exhumed in 1994 by the family (the government settled a lawsuit in 1975 for $750000), evidence was found that he was struck and murdered.

The movie examines the CIA “Manchurian Candidate” experiments, where people were given electroshock treatment and “programmed” with tape recordings. The assassin was supposed to act on a secret signal, and then forget the act as if it had not happened, or as if history could simply be undone and an event relived (as in a recent episode of CWTV’s “Supernatural”). Sometimes this gets to be connected to a psychiatric disorder where someone is unsure of what he is done, and one could call this the “Manchurian Syndrome.” The film examines Sirhan, who assassinated Robert Kennedy in 1968 (the film “Bobby”), and supposes that he could have been a “Manchurian assassin” trained by the CIA, who allegedly feared that RFK would end the Vietnam war and would delve into the JFK assassination. Sirhan may have dabbled in Rosicrucianism. However, so did I in the 1970s, and I never encountered any hint of “programmed” behavior.

Inside a Cult” examines the Strong City cult, offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists, in Union County NM, the NE-most county. It is run by Michael Travesser, aka Wayne Bent, who claims to have had a “revelation” in 2000 that he was the Messiah, and that the world would end in October 2007. He controlled other members in a manner common to cults. This show as aired on the same day that Dr. Phil covered the FLDS situation in El Dorado, TX, and suggested that the state should try to work out a way to return the children. The show also mentioned Waco, Heaven's Gate, and Jonestown.

Followup: On May 11, Larry King Live carried a report on CNN of the arrest of Michael Travesser May 7, AP story by Deborah Baker here.

Unabomber: The Secret History” traces the forensic investigation of Theodore Kaczynski. The investigation went for many years and confounded authorities, and seemed unprecedented until the Oklahoma City tragedy. He would finally be arrested in 1996 when his brother (first the brother’s college professor wife) recognized his writings and turned him in. The film gives a lot of details of the story of “The Manifesto” ("Industrial Society and its Future") which the New York Times and Washington Post published in 1995 with great controversy. TK had lived in a tiny cabin in Montana, and written the Manifesto on a Smith-Corona typewriter. Ted had endured a childhood medical trauma, and then a bizarre form a hazing at Harvard conducted by a psychological professor carrying out CIA-like experiments from the WWII and the Cold War (in that sense, this film makes a companion to the first one tonight). Ted had written a 23 page paper in the 70s that resembles the Manifesto. Psychologists say that there is a lot of narcissism and arrogance in The Manifesto, in which the writer seems to claim that technology has driven people into some new kind of conformism that makes life meaningless. (I think most of us would disagree: The Internet has offered new opportunities for self-expression. His claim seems like a “delusion.” But some of the writing about the Left and about "oversocialization" is telling, although he neglects the emotional aspects of socialization. The Wikipedia link is here.) The physical evidence in the cabin was overwhelming, and the defense tried to plead insanity. TK refused, and agreed to life in prison in SuperMax in Colorado. Had he lived thirty years later, he could have vented his anger on the Internet. Of course, that opportunity did not stop some comparable tragedies in recent history by others. Apparently some of Kacyznski's life might have been patterned after a character "The Professor" in Joseph Conrad's 1907 novel "The Secret Agent."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

PBS: Car of the Future; Hot Politics -- more fuel for the global warming "debate"


Tonight, PBS aired two programs relevant to the fossil fuel and global warming debate.

At 8 PM EDT, many stations aired a Nova Segment “Car of the Future” (website: with hosts “Car Talk” guys Clik and Clak, that is, comedy brothers Tom and Ray Magliozi. They explored Iceland, where city busses are fueled by hydrogen fuel cells, and where there is the greatest supply of renewable energy on earth in proportion to population. They then switched to examining biofuels. The use of corn in the United States for ethanol fuel is not terribly carbon efficient; Brazil’s use of sugar cane is more promising, as would be switchgrass or sawgrass. To make biofuels more efficient, scientists need to engineer new bacteria to metabolize corn starch differently. The hybrid car charges batteries while running on fossil or biofuels, but the most promising car would be the plug-in hybrid. New kinds of lightweight fiber carbon materials will make cars stronger and lighter. The Tesla car looks like an interesting prototype, but would sell now for $92000. The nation has 170000 gasoline stations, and would need to replace the infrastructure with recharging stations.

This show out to be compared to the Sony Pictures Classics film "Who Killed the Electric Car," dir. Chris Paine, from 2006.

At 9 PM, some stations aired a Frontline segment, “Hot Politics,” website here. (In Washington, MPT aired it, but WETA changed at the last minute to report on the PA primary.) The Timelime on the website pretty well summarizes the documentary. Back in 1988, we had one of the hottest summers on record then, with huge fires in Yellowstone and on the West. The United Nations created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which reported in 1990. The first President Bush went reluctantly to a summit in Rio de Janeiro and agreed to a weak voluntary agreement. Candidate Clinton proposed a BTU tax during his campaign, that would have cost the average American around $17 a month.

Late in the second Clinton administration the United States signed a Kyoto agreement but never submitted it to the Senate for ratification. When campaigning in 2000, Gov. Bush promised to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and place caps on industry. He sent former Governor Christine Todd Whitman to Trieste, Italy (a hot spot in the 50s) to a meeting on climate change in 2001. But the Bush administration quickly recanted, with the “help” of a former lobbyist who manipulated government reports. The administration also gagged other officials from speaking out publicly and expressing their own opinions about global warming. Kyoto was derailed. The whole episode reminds me of the ethical issues involved in speaking publicly (as on the web) when you are paid to speak for someone else, as I’ve discussed on my blogs even in conjunction with “reputation defense.”

Monday, April 21, 2008

PBS: Roberto Clemente (American Experience)


Tonight, Monday, April 21, 2008, PBS stations (WETA in Washington) aired “American Experience: Roberto Clemente” about the famous Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder from Puerto Rico. He did not experience discrimination or segregation in Puerto Rico.

Once in spring training in Florida, he experienced segregation on the various bus trips. Even in Pittsburgh he stayed in an African American section of the City. People in those days did not know how to “classify” him. Clementi gradually became an all around player despite an early back injury from a car accident.

In 1960, the Pirates got into the World Series with the Yankees and won game 7 in Forbes Field, 10-9, on Bill Mazerowski’s home run, despite being outscored 55-27. Forbes was a typical old asymmetric park, with a long left field. By now, Clementi had become famous as a baseball player. He would watch the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s closely. The Pirates would get into the 1971 World Series with the Baltimore Orioles. At the time, the Pirates were in symmetrical Three Rivers Stadium, and the Orioles were in the old Memorial Stadium with the short foul lines. The Pirates won that series in 7 games. Clementi helped spur the team by drawing on error from the pitcher running out a roller. He had a tremendous throwing arm, throwing out runners trying for triples.

In the 1972 season, at 37, Clementi achieved his 3000th hit. There was a devastating earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua around Christmas, 1972. Clemente tried to go by private plane to deliver relief supplies in an early “Big Give” spirit. He would be killed in a plane crash shortly after takeoff. People from the Puerto Rican neighborhood in the Bronx gave to the relief in his name.

George Will often comments in the film. “Great athletes compress life’s trajectory… Most live most of their life after…” Clemente was the exception because of a “horribly abrupt end.”

There is mention of Gary Cooper's role of Lou Gehrig ("Pride of the Yankees", 1942) as a stoic role model whom Clemente did not want to emulate.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Discovery: Expedition Alaska, and other events tonight highlight global warming


Expedition Alaska (about 100 minutes) aired April 20 on the Discovery Channel. Several teams of scientists and filmmakers traveled to the glacier country in Southeast Alaska, mountains in South Central (Wrengal), and the North Slope.

Scientists compared glaciers today with photos from as early as 1909, with alarming results. On two occasions, they went down into moulons, which are rivers under glaciers that allow them to become loose and slide more rapidly into the sea.

In south central Alaska, around Denali, the spruce bark beetle, with less cold winters to kill them off, are killing off spruce forests, turning them into grasslands, in an area the size of Maryland.

The most alarming findings may be on the North Slope, where a warmer permafrost is allowing methane to escape. Methane is twenty times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. A recent “Mega Disasters” on the History Channel described hypothetical methane explosions undersea from methane hydrate. (discussion) )

The scientists also observed grizzly bears in their salmon hunting grounds, and polar bears suffering from loss of ice shelf. Grizzly bears and polar bears are starting to interbreed, which could mean the loss of the polar bear as a species by 2050.

PBS (MPT) tonight aired “Global Warming: The Signs and the Science”. Among the topics were the suddenness of big city heat waves (such as Paris in 2003), and the possibility that global climate can flip very suddenly for various reasons, including an ice age caused by the undermining of the jet stream. Global warming was characterized not just as an economic problem but as a moral problem, in which today’s adults are giving away their childrens’ world and where climate change will affect the disadvantaged the most first.

NBC Dateline also covered global warming, with the melting of glaciers in the Andes about Bolivian cities, threatening their water supplies.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

CNN Report: "Debt Free Forever"


Today Ali Velshi hosted “Debt Free Forever,” a one hour interview and documentary on CNN. (Link.) The opening portion interviewed Robert McBride of the Rochester Institute of Technology. Other guests included Ed Mierzwinski and Washington Post business columnist Michelle Singletary.

McBride talked about how “good debt” (that which is supported by tax policy) becomes bad when overdone. Home values went up because real estate is perceived as finite, while wages did not, partly because of overseas competition for wages and outsourcing or offshoring pressures. He also talked about the way the Tax Reform Act of 1986, considered a public policy blunder by the conservatives in the heart of the Reagan Administration, helped sow the seeds for today’s crisis.

There was discussion on how FICO scores are calculated. The wisdom now is not to use more than one third of one’s credit limit, and it is all right to have more credit cards to increase the limit as long as the credit remains unused. The other is, pay your bills on time, at least the minimum. And pay down the high interest balances (credit card balances) first.

There was mention that many students can get ahead of the game on student loans by taking AP courses in public high school, working hard, and doing well on the AP tests. This gives them college credit at public expense and may help them graduate sooner from college. Certain kinds of teachers (typically of a different temperament from those of inner city schools for which the need is always advertised) are particularly effective in helping students do this, especially in math and all the sciences, components of a pre-med curriculum.

Michelle Singletary (“Your Money and Your Man: How You and Your Prince Charming Can Spend Well and Live Rich”, Ballantine, 2007) talked about financial planning for couples, and insisted than if a couple is serious about marriage, it should accept joint finances. Marriage is not about being “roommates.” Singletary wrote about filial responsibility in the Washington Post Sunday April 13, 2008, link here to discussion. This program did not discuss eldercare or long term care.

Finally, the show previewed a documentary film coming this summer in August, “I.O.U.S.A.” from Patrick Creadon, about how future generations will pay our debts. The current level of national debt is barely acceptable, he says. The concept of the law seems to refer to how much each American would owe if his own wealth were garnished to pay for it.

Also

Today John McCain called for expanding the dependent exemption from $3500 to $7000. He said "the tax code must treat both married and single fairly. But parents raising children bear special responsibility..."

He also proposed an alternate tax table, that any American could chose, with only two rates and a generous standard deduction, without itemizing. This is more like the Steve Forbes "flat tax."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

All DC network channels cover Pope's Mass at National's Park; Oprah in tune with Pope's anti-materialism


Today, April 17, all major network stations in the Washington DC area broadcast the Mass by the Pope from Nationals Park on the Anacostia. The Pope “is listened to,” they say. Hopefully the Nats 's fortunes will reverse for the good after having their stadium host this event.

The Mass went off with clockwork perfection in perfect spring “post cherry blossom” weather, with no hitches at all. WJLA (ABC) had some technical difficulties, with a constant buzz in the broadcast. Pope Benedict gave his sermon early in the Mass, and kept it along the same lines as last night’s at the Basilica, discussed here yesterday. The "timid" Pope was critical of a society with overly secularized and narcissistic values. He did mention the priest abuse scandal, and said that the Vatican now takes the issue very seriously. News reports indicate that the Pope met with victims from Boston this afternoon, and this is the first time that a Pope has acknowledged the scandal publicly and talked to victims with this kind of candor. The Pope has said that he would rather have "good"priests rather than more priests, but it is clear that the requirement of celibacy now contributes to the priest shortage.

The Mass presented a lot of stirring music. The opening hymn was “All Creatures of our God and King” which was the official hymn of Washington area music clubs when I took piano back in the 1950s. Much of the music was “modern” such as a short cantata, “Let all the world in every corner sing,” by Domink Argento. The music had more polytonality and dissonance (comparable to that of Britten) than is common in most church services and would be hard for many church choirs to perform; the Pope seems to be a real music aficionado. I believe that I heard one Verdi opera chorus in the service. And there was one selection by Vaughn Williams.

I met some college students on the Metro who had attended. They said that Communion was given in the stands, and went very quickly, with a priest in each section. They had arrived at 7 AM. Breakfast was available from vendors. They also said that priests are no longer allowed to be with people under 18 (men or women) without other adults present.

The Pope also conducted a meeting at the Pope John Papal Center in NE Washington near the Basilica, with heads of four other religions. (Not among these, but interesting to me: I met the Dalai Lama myself at Amsterdam Schiphol in 2001).

On Friday, in New York City, the Pope gave another sermon, broadcast on CNN, where he said (something like this), "There must be a correlation between rights and responsibilities. A person should shoulder his or her responsibilities in choices he or she makes in relation with others' purposes [and circumstances and abilities], respecting the created order that supports individual and family identity."

The Pope gave Mass and homily in Yankee Stadium in New York Sunday April 20 at 2 PM EDT. At the close, the service played the entire finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (some of the first movement was played before the service), perhaps to honor the Pope's German origin, or perhaps because the Vatican is often credited with helping push the Berlin wall behind the scenes; Leonard Bernstein performed the work in Berlin on Christmas Day, 1989 (a DG recording).



Today, Oprah had a show in keeping with the Pope’s concern about excessive materialism: “What would you dare to live without?” link here. It does see that a couple families got “checked back in” by the weeklong exercise, one couple saying their marriage was stronger, as was their bonding with their kids. (Another family said that the daughter took too long in the shower to shave her legs.) Does this apply to everyone? Is doing with less about Lenten “giving up” (and accepting the need for more social connectedness, even if you have no kids) or is it just efficiency Oprah didn’t say what happens at her home, but she did say that in her movie company Harpo there had been changes, and gave an example about wasting coffee cups. Here are Oprah’s rules for this "social experiment."

Pictures: Inside Franciscan monastery chapel in NE DC; Papal Center

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Clinton, Obama hold last debate before Dem. PA primary on ABC


Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama held the last debate tonight (April 16) before the Pennsylvania primary, in the National Constitution Center, near Independence Hall and near the federal court building where the COPA trial was held in October 2006, in Philadelphia (about one mile east of the Liberty Bill at center city, and about two miles from the 30th Street station). I visited the Center during my visit to the COPA trial.

Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous hosted, and posed many of the questions, but some came from viewers with videos, echoing CNN’s “YouTube” debates last year. Bloggers could ask questions through Live Blog at abcnews.com

Obama admitted that his comments about middle class people going toward their wedge issues was “mangled up” and he continued to insist that he did not know about his pastor’s offensive if "existential" comments (about 9/11 victims) in time (it was a year for him to find out). Obama did say that people tend to turn to religion and their beliefs in traditional values and concerns over “wedge issues” during tough times. Obama said that special interests rule the country and that ordinary people are not “listened to,” although the Internet seems to be changing this. Some people have said ABC newscasters used the pastor issue to entrap Obama and divert the debate from the real issues, as if they favored Hillary. (After all, George Stephanopolous had worked for president Bill Clinton, especially during the time when Bill was trying to lift the military gay ban and Hillary was trying to restructure health care; and he is generally viewed as supportive of the Clintons and their policy initiatives.)

Obama was thrown on the defensive in a question about an associate of his with some historical connection to the Weather Underground (actually a 2003 film), which (around 1970) had actually done minor damage at the Pentagon and to an FBI building, events largely forgotten now.

Hillary promised that she would not raise taxes on those making less than $200000 a year, but that she would roll back the Bush tax cuts on high earners to what taxes were during the Clinton years.

Hillary did say that the middle class needs more help with long term care insurance “to make it possible for them to take care of parents and grandparents that they are trying to support.” She indicated that specific information on eldercare as on her website, but I don’t see it there yet. Perhaps it will be added very soon. At a different point in the debate (responding to Obama’s situation) she said “you can’t choose your family but you can choose your pastor.”

Hillary promised never to lower social security benefits for existing retirees, but hinted that she thought that Obama just might.

Hillary indicated that she wanted to restore the complete Clinton assault weapons ban. She was asked about DC’s gun law (before the Supreme Court) and reminded that she had a home in DC. She indicated that localities should be able to make reasonable laws regarding weapons. Obama indicated that he viewed the 2nd Amendment as conferring an individual right to bear arms in self-defense (to the surprise of some on MSNBC later).

At one point, Obama said “pain trickles up,” perhaps a reference to Ross Perot’s 1992 saying “trickle down didn’t trickle.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

ABC Nighline covers El Dorado TX; students and self-defense; Pope's visit


Tonight, April 15, ABC Nightline presented a look inside the polygamous sect (FLDS, Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) a fringe offshoot from Mormonism, not part of the LDS church. A similar group in Colorado City, Arizona from which Warren Jeffs was taken, convicted and imprisoned, is part of FLDS.

The quaintly dressed wives said they wanted their children back (416 were taken). They were interviewed in wooded cabins. The property, south of San Angelo, Texas, has a white "palace" and guard towers. The women would not answer questions as to when they were married or as to whether they shared wives with their husbands. They claimed to be in "Zion" or "Heaven on Earth."

On the one hand, it would be possible to compare the Texas Ranger raid with Waco; on the other hand, it would be possible to view the encampment as a place where there are enormous numbers of young women who cannot give legal consent (as in the Dateline series with Chris Hansen).

Some people who are deeply into religion do view the collective "emotional" experience of the "family" in the community as much more important than individual rights or consent.

Very early marriage, right after entering biological childbearing age, is accepted and even encouraged in some religious cultures.

The State of Texas maintains that it can treat the "camp" as if it were one household and keep custody of all of the children.

The ABC story is "Sect Members Describe Raid on Polygamist Ranch; Police Wearing Body Armor, Carrying Automatic Weapons for Raid in Which They Took More Than 400 Children" by Scott Michels, Neal Karlinsky, Mark Lima and Sigfrid Lydquist, link here.

I visited Colorado City, AZ in 1983, and the Waco TX site in March 1993 during the FBI standoff (from a 1/2 mile viewing distance).

"Good Morning America" will continue this story early on April 16.

Nightline followed with a story about "Students for Concealed Carry on Campus," website. About nine campuses in the United States allow students to carry concealed weapons, including Blue Ridge College, an hour from Va. Tech, which must commemorate the tragedy of last year on the anniversary tomorrow.

The show continued with a presentation of Steve Zelin, the Singing CPA or troubadour in NYC on Tax Day (near a last minute mail drop-off), story.

The report concluded with a brief note about the visit of the Pope, and his "apologies" for the priest scandal problem, and determination to eliminate "troublesome" priests even if this means a shortage. However, the Pope has not penalized other cardinals who were accused of misconduct.

Extra:

On Wed April 17 Diane Sawyer interviewed Morgan Spurlock about his new film "Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden," website here, starts April 18. My review is here now.

Update: April 19

Larry King Live on CNN interviewed some of the women from the (El Dorado) compound. Some of the rooms and quarters from the compound were shown. The lowest age of marriage stated by any mother was 20. On Friday, the judge ordered that the children be held. Again, it is hard to tell for sure from what has been shown exactly what is going on. I don't think this is like Waco, but the mothers certainly did sound sincere.



Update: April 27

NBC Dateline did a detailed report of the Texas FLDS investigation. There is a serious question about whether the original caller could have been an impostor, but that will not matter legally if real abuse of minors is shown.

The Deseret News has a video where the mothers give their side of the story, here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

PBS: The Nuremberg Trials


On April 14 some PBS stations (such as MPT in Annapolis, MD) showed “The Nuremberg Trials” as part of the American Experience series. The one hour documentary (link focused particularly on the trial of Hermann Goering, with the participation of US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson.

There was a need for a legal justification for the prosecutions and eventual death penalties. The theory developed was that the Nazis had “conspired” to overthrow the government of Germany and that the German people (Gentiles as well as Jews) were victims of a conspiracy. In fact, the asymmetry of the Nazi takeover in the early 1930s has always been puzzling, how such an obscure man as Hitler could seize power and overwhelm a whole people with propaganda and oratory, in an era of radio and mass gatherings but long before broadcast television and Internet. The world today, because of the Internet, can give obscure people “power” to do good or evil, but this could happen in earlier times, too. In fact, the spread of information through a democratic mechanism like the Internet should provide a brake against something – but then, look at what has happened with Iraq.

There is plenty or archived material in relatively crisp black and white, and some color. Conviction was surprisingly difficult. But in the end Goering committed suicide before his execution.

"Judgment at Nuremberg", Stanley Kramer’s United Artists 1961 film, would be a good comparison, and it has been shown on PBS before.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Clinton, Obama hold "Compassion Forum" in PA on CNN


CNN hosted a 90 minute live “Compassion Forum" at Messiah College near Harrisburg, PA tonight (April 13, 2008), in which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were “interviewed” separately about matters of faith and values.

Hillary Clinton, dressed in yellow, opened with a comment that she understands that the world of religious faith is what gives life meaning to some people, and defines who they are. Both candidates indicated that “church and state” has led to “false debate” as to whether religious values belong in politics.

When Hillary Clinton was asked about “life beginning at conception” she mentioned her study of China’s “one child per family” policy, and Romania’s “baby mill” policy under Communism, both of which led to underground abortions. Hillary said that “the potential for human life begins at conception.”

Hillary didn’t try to answer “why bad things happen to good people.”

Barack Obama recognized the need for each of us to be “our brother’s keeper.” Earlier he has said that many working people simply want to be “listened to.”

Obama said that he could accept the idea that God created the world in six days, but a day was not necessarily measured as “24 hours,” because of relativity of for no other reason. Obama insisted that science and religion both had legitimate places in his thinking.

The New York Times has a story on the Forum Monday April 14 by John M. Broder, "Democrats Wrangle over Words, Beliefs", here.

Pictures: 1889 Flood impacted area of Johnstown, PA.

Friday, April 11, 2008

MSNBC: Meeting David Wilson (film and discussion at Howard University)


MSNBC tonight aired the documentary “Meeting David Wilson” (Official Pictures) (website), directed by David A. Wilson. The film ran for 90 minutes including commercials carefully chosen to support the theme of the film. Were it to be released theatrically, it would probably be distributed by Focus (which belongs to NBC Universal).

A 28 year old African American man, who has grown up in the ghetto in Newark, NJ, tracks down his ancestry to slaves (back three generations) who worked on a North Carolina plantation, and finds that the family that owned the slaves was named Wilson, and that a man named David B. Wilson owns the land now. He arranges a journey from Newark down to the plantation and meets relatives of his own ancestors, including a 97-year-old woman in amazing shape, and then actually works a day on a tobacco plantation. The journey is interesting also in that a white man (Dan Woosey) drives him down (since David does not drive) and he says to his white friend, “You are my reparation.” David finally meets the (white) Mr. Wilson, and they have a conversation, where they confront the idea of reparations. There is a point where David A says, "your family owned my family." Then David A. goes to Ghana and sees the countryside from which his ancestors came, and sees the two slave ports on the coast.

There are lots of conversations about the morality of the circumstances. Slavery is said to be America’s “original sin.” One white woman says, “I don’t owe anybody anything.” Another person says “I wasn’t around then.” There are stills of lynching scenes, and various scenes of police abuse against civil rights protestors.

The white Mr. Wilson is asked what it was like to grow up in the 50s, and he does mention that everything was segregated, and most people didn’t “think about it.” They talk about the hypocrisy of their behavior when compare to the Bible, but the social structure isolated people from any feeling of personal responsibility outside of the context of the family. The white Wilson says that every society has plenty of hypocrisy and people who do things that are wrong and refuse any intellectual awareness of what they do. He also points out that, had the African Americans not been brought over, they might be living in poverty in Africa. It can be argued that the sacrifices of several generations of slaves (even the brutality of the Amistad) enabled eventually a better life for their dependents in America.

The scope of the tobacco farming that still goes one was disturbing. I wondered how much biofuels could be grown if the land were converted to that use, or even ordinary food, since food prices have risen sharply recently.

The film was followed by a ninety-minute panel discussion at Howard University in Washington DC, led by Brian Williams. There was mention of “concentrated poverty” in black neighborhoods that poor white people usually don’t experience. There is the moral question, underneath the affirmative action debate, about starting behind in line. Starting positions on tracks are adjusted according to the geometry of the track. There was also mention of the point that over 40% of African American women will never marry.

The film does stir up the urge to reduce these moral debates down to everyday simplicity. To wit, “what do I owe?”

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Eli Stone: visions lead a lawyer to actually do good; the two gay chimpanzees


Greg Berlanti is well known for his touching WB series "Everwood", and now he joins up with Marc Guggenheim and others for Eli Stone, a lawyer (played by Jonny Lee Miller) who has visions of the future because of a hidden aneurysm. “Eli Stone” is in its first season on ABC.

Tonight (April 10) he takes on a case of a man denied parole because he had led a revolt against prison conditions, a situation that the warden covered up. (The "body art" on the arms of one prisoner was rather extreme.) But it was the other story in parallel of the two gay chimpanzees (perhaps Bonobos) that stole the show. Separated because of their “conduct,” one of the chimps (Pete) stops eating and develops ulcers. The script starts playing games with the words of the law, “manual of torts for chimps.” At one point “Pete” has to ‘testify” by reacting to a picture of his companion, which is then brought into court. They certainly engage in PDA's in court. If animals have human civil rights, then they have to take human responsibility, like being able to testify.

A more interesting question would be a real animal rights case: the rights of whales whose speech by echo-location (their biological kind of telephony that covers hundreds of miles) is disrupted by human shipping. That would make a good episode.

Maybe this show wants to say that trial lawyers can actually do good. "Law & Order" was never enough. What would novelist John Grisham think of this?

April 11: News tidbit:

CBS axed "The Secret Talents of the Stars" after just one episode because of poor ratings, link to Reuters story by Steve Gorman (on AOL) here. In the fall of 2005, TheWB canceled "Just Legal" after only three episodes, but eventually aired the entire series one Sunday in the following August. UPN canceled "Jake 2.0" at mid-season 2003-2004, and that was a show many sci-fi viewers liked.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

ABC Primetime Live: "The Last Lecture" and a Carnegie-Mellon professor


Tonight ABC Primetime Live and Diane Sawyer presented the one hour special "The Last Lecture: A Love Story for Your Life." This was about professor Randy Pausch, 47, who says he will have "fun" during the closing months of his life as he battles aggressive pancreatic cancer.

"The Last Lecture" is apparently a tradition at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

The full story is by Geoff Martz and Samanda Wender, subtitle "Diane Sawyer Talks to Randy Pausch and His Family Seven Months After Inspiring Lecture," link here. The book "The Last Lecture" (Hyperion, April 2008) is available at Amazon here.

Pausch had surgery when diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which started with fatigue and led to jaundice. He gave a clinical description. After that, and some chemotherapy, he still had metastatic tumors on the liver and was told that he had three-six months of relatively symptom free health, and he gave one of his lectures a month later. Diane Sawyer's most recent interview occurred after seven months, when he was having considerable difficulty. Michael Landon, star of "Little House on the Prairie" developed pancreatic cancer at age 54 in 1991 and survived only four months.

The ACS reference for pancreatic cancer is here. The lifetime risk is 1 in 79 (1.3%) and the average age of diagnosis is 72.

Pausch, in discussion with Sawyer, said there is a difference with a circumstance being "unlucky" and "unfair" and believes that some cancers occur as totally random events. He also said that his most important virtue is to "tell the truth" but that most people don't want to be told "the truth."

Randy Pausch's own home page is here. He passed away July 25, 2008.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

PBS: Fight Alzheimer's Early, with Majid Fotuhi


On Tuesday April 8, MPT and other PBS stations aired “Fight Alzheimer’s Early: 6 Steps to Keep Your Brain Young,” with Majid Fotuhi, MD. Fotuhi (I believe from India) also has a book “Memory Cure: How to Protect Your Brain Against Memory Loss and Alzheimer’s Disease" (McGraw-Hill, 2004). His website is here.

The program was interrupted twice with appeal for donations, and the recommendations were in three groups, adding to six. They are
(1) Don’t worry about Alzheimer’s
(2) Keep your heart and circulation strong
(3) Unleash hidden potential in your brain, as with hobbies
(4) Avoid stress, use laughter, practice meditation
(5) Eat a proper diet low in salt and processed sugar
(6) Exercise

Dr. Fotuhi showed a model of the brain, with the cortex, and hippocampus. The later is a dark ovoid in the middle of the brain and is essential to precise memorization, as with names. Fotuhi says you can regrow your brain, although science generally says you can’t replace neurons, but you can grow new synapses among them, and retrain other parts of the brain to take over function. (In fact, teenage grow consists of pruning unwanted connections, and strengthening the connections that the personality wants, such as for music, chess, sports, etc, which is one reason why talents and abilities are so concentrated.)

Fotuhi says that one can have some amyloid plaques in the brain without significant memory problems. The presence of mini-strokes or transient ischemic attacks is likely to start the symptoms. Consuming the spice curcumin may retard the formation and accumulation of amyloid; the spice is used with poultry in India and the incidence of Alzheimer’s is lower by age in India than in other countries.

If Alzheimer's Disease really is preventable with lifestyle habit changes, then this observation can have a major impact on our health care and eldercare policy, relieving adult children of load of having to care for (or else place in nursing homes) parents with the disease, which can go on for years until death.

Monday, April 07, 2008

PBS: "The Man Behind Hitler" (Joseph Goebbels)


Tonight (April 7) some PBS stations (such as MPT in Annapolis, MD) broadcast “The Man Behind Hitler,” a curious documentary about Joseph Goebbels, directed by Lutz Hachmesiter. (link here). The film is presented as part of the "American Experience" series but seems more like a European (German) film. British director Kenneth Branagh reads the letters and writings of Goebbels, which becomes the entire script of the 86 minute film, which shows startling footage of life in Germany from 1931 until the defeat in Berlin in 1945, both in black and white and color of surprising quality.

Goebbels was one of the primary movers behind Hitler’s ascent to power, and the film makes it sound as if he were one of the architects of the ideology, as a kind of pseudo-religion, even a false “Christianity.” Goebbels had a foot injury as a child and, like Hitler, was apparently a social outcast and seems to have wanted to gain some personal “justice” for that by retreating into ideology. He notes that he is suspected of homosexuality, but courts women aggressively, perhaps for public image. At one point he makes a statement equating propaganda to government, and marvels at radio technology (with television expected to develop even in the 1930s) as a tool for the state to use to control propaganda. The concept was that all speech was controlled by the state, and the people seemed to go along, with their cheers in massive rallies, with shocking ease and emotionality.

The political changes, with the moves against the Jews, came about with surprising speed and suddenness in 1933. The film creates the impression that Nazi Germany was involved in “total war” before the average German grasped what was going on. The film ends with Goebbels death in the assault on Berlin, and actually shows his charred corpse as the last image.

Picture: (unrelated) coal train through Natural tunnel in SW Va.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

History Channel: King (review)


Tonight, April 6, 2008, The History Channel aired the two-hour “King” with Tom Brokaw, link here.

The documentary starts with the observation is that African Americans are the one minority literally defined and brought into our country’s history by slavery, and toward the end, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice makes her metaphor that the slavery issue, and subsequent segregation, amounts to America’s “birth defect.”

The film traces Dr. Martin Luther King ‘s entire career, from Baptist minister to political justice advocate. Despite popular perception, the Baptist denomination has always been concerned about social justice issues (with the split that led to the Southern Baptist Convention a real anomaly in its history). The first part focuses on the civil rights marches, especially in Alabama. It gives a detailed history of the Selma to Montgomery March, and of the problems in Birmingham, even leading to martial law. The film summarizes the disappearance and murder of three civil rights workers in 1964 during the voting rights activity (the subject of the 1988 film “Mississippi Burning.” The film shows the complacent statements of southern whites from the era as to what they “do” for “Negroes”. It shows a lot of actual black-and-white footage of the activism, the police brutality, and the arrests; it seems more effective shown this way than it could be in any modern Hollywood recreation. The action would move to northern cities after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with the emphasis on poverty. Walter Fauntroy is quoted as saying that support of Civil Rights became basic self-interest even for Whites. Andrew Young also appears.

King knew how to use television, getting as much march and police activity compressed into 90-second news spots for nationwide network television as possible, and this had the effect of forcing southern newspapers to report the news honestly. Network television amounted to the Internet of its day. His receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1964 is shown.

King had been wounded early in life, and had a cross-shaped scar on his chest, and did not expect to live past 40. The film briefly covers the assassination in Memphis in 1968 (presumably) by James Earl Ray.

Television networks want flexibility in FCC deceny rules


A major philosophical problem is developing among the Federal Communications Commissions rules that levy fines every time an indecent work or phrase is uttered on major network television.

Networks say that ultimately they cannot control the possibility that live contestants might, in isolated cases, use inappropriate words on the air. They maintain that decency standards must allow for a small amount of “human error.” Fox wants an appeals court (and the Supreme Court later if necessary) to allow for the possibility of inadvertent lapses, such as what happened in the 2004 half-time Super Bowl program with Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson.

The major case is Fox Television Networks v. FCC, where Cher and Nicole Richie apparently used inappropriate words in 2002 and 2003. The FCC has not fined ABC for an indiscretion by Diane Keaton on ABC’s “Good Morning America” or Jane Fonda on NBC’s “Today” show. Most of the controversial cases seem to involve celebrities rather than amateurs on reality shows, which usually are taped anyway. Furthermore, networks generally seem to do a good job of screening applicants.

“Pro-family” groups argue that any leniency by the FCC would move "family" network television into the area of “R rated” cable channels.

There is a story by Fran Ahrens “Networks say live TV is at stake in Fox case, The Washington Post, Saturday April 5, here.

There is another story by John Dunbar in the Washington Post from AP, “DOJ sues Fox over indecency fines,” link here about an episode of “Married in America.”

Friday, April 04, 2008

ABC 20-20 another Internet hoax tragedy; frivolous lawsuit; gay gene?


On Dec. 20, 2007 I covered on the Internet Safety blog another story where a Myspace hoax led to a complicated series of events in Long Island in August 2005, where an African American man shot a white teenager whom he mistakenly thought was a threat. He was convicted and sentenced to 2-4 years for manslaughter and weapons possession in March, with extenuating circumstances. The blog entry was this.

ABC 20/20 covered the story tonight (April 4) with a 45 minute segment "Black, White, and Blood Red". The web story is by Jessica Hornig, "20/20 Exclusive: 'I Never Meant to Shoot That Young Man'; Racially Charged Shooting Divides Peaceful New York Suburb," link here. The story said very little about the original issue of an Internet hoax and mixing "fact" with "fiction," as well as impersonating someone on the Net and making it appear that a threat or illegal comment came from someone else, a very dangerous possibility.

John Stossel did a "give me a break" on a New York woman sued by a lawyer in her building for smoking in her own apartment. The link is here, and demonstrates the power of lawyers to wield power over non-lawyers.

20/20 also has a major story (from last week) on a biological study on sexual orientation (study link for "Molecular Genetic Study of Sexual Orientation" is here to study siblings. The ABC page is "
"Is There a 'Gay Gene'?: Scientists Hope to Demonstrate Genetic Link to Sexuality," link here.

Nightline has a story that shows that celebrities also need their privacy, in a case about an abusive private investigator, link here.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

CNN special on Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968


April 3, 2008 CNN aired a two-hour report “Eyewitness to Murder: The King Assassination,”(CNN website) (part of the new “Black in America” series) with Soledad O’Brien narrating, as a detailed forensic documentary about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN on Thursday, April 4, 1968.

I was in Special Training Company at Fort Jackson, S.C., having been recycled from a Basic Training Company when that happened. I recall one of the worst days of my life, Sunday March 31, when, on KP, I was cleaning out the grease pit with a toothbrush. Later that evening, while still on duty in the kitchen, I overheard Lyndon Johnson’s announcement that he would not run in 1968. Four days later, I remember we, housed in “Tent City,” were told we are on “Red Alert,” to be bussed into downtown Columbia, SC as a show of force after the assassination. That didn’t happen. The film did show briefly the carnage from the riots on 14th St in Washington.

The film details the movements of petty thief James Earl Ray before and after the crime. Ray had escaped from prison. There was a period in Montreal and a mysterious person called “Raoul.” The shooting came from a rooming house near the motel, and King, for some reason, was standing on the second floor landing, with lax security. Ray would be arrested in London a month later, trying to go to a country in Africa with no extradition treaty to the US. He would accept a plea deal, and then try to retract it. He would die in prison at age 70 in 1998.

The film examines the theory by Dr. William Pepper, and the reinvestigation in the 1990s (with the help of now TV judge Joe Brown) of the possibility of a conspiracy. In the final analysis, a bag left by Ray at the motel now seems to establish his guilt.

The film also documents the way King was a mark for J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, which considered him the most dangerous “N___” in the country. Former deputy Andrew Young appears in the film and says “that’s a complement.” The FBI and even Army intelligence cased out the motel area before King’s stay.

Update: April 27 2008


See also "The Night James Brown Saved Boston" on the movies blog, here.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

PBS: Caring for your Parents: film and panel discussion


On April 2, 2008 PBS stations aired a two-hour special “Caring for your Parents.” The link is here.

The first ninety minutes consisted of a documentary film directed by Michael Kirk. Five families in Rhode Island (and Massachusetts) deal with the emotional, logistical and financial problems in dealing with severely ill elderly parents. In some cases, families struggle to keep their parents out of nursing homes, but are unable to do so. In one case, a two hour visit to home (with pets) is a real “treat” for the mother. Caregivers juggle work and caregiving, and seem to work at home as Internet consultants, often with odd, broken hours.

There is a point where the film says, that the best predictor of the length of time an severely disabled parent can stay at home is having a daughter. The whole issue has a gender "unfairness" to it. Men, unless well socialized by marriage, may be less emotionally nurturing to parents, but also men often don't live as long once disabled and frail as do women, and may not expect or want to. (My own father passed away in early 1986 from advanced prostate cancer at 82, but was actually ill for only about a month.)

In one case, the caregivers are a married couple, late in middle age themselves, caring for the husband’s divorced parents. The husband’s own health is faltering, and there is a doctor’s visit on camera. At the end, he says that the experience of caring for his mother will prepare him to care for his wife.

The caregivers did not express resentment of "giving up their own lives" in the film, partly because generally the families were large and cohesive. This will surely be a problem in practice, especially with childless adults and "modern" individualistic values. On daughter in the show, however, had worked as a musician in Germany, and found, after returning home and staying for five months, that the loss of income was a serious issue. Adult children, especially singles, are likely to have moved to other cities. The effectiveness of home health and "life alert" devices can become significant in some cases (especially with parents less seriously but still significantly impaired).

After the movie there was a half-hour panel discussion led by Dr. Art Ulene, who says he had to care for his mother, and that the experience drew him closer to her, and that he did not care for his father. The panelists discussed some issues, such as resentment among siblings as to who does the most. There were issues as to when to take away the car keys, and when to seriously consider assisted living or nursing homes. The adult child and parent "reverse roles" and the panel even said that the adult child needs to allow the parent to believe that she or he is "in control" when obviously this is not "true". The emotional issues mask what otherwise would be perceived as moral or duty problems. One panelist said that caregivers should be paid (apparent to mean the non-cargiving siblings should pay the caregiving one). The discussion pointed out that many people don’t know that Medicare does not care for custodial care, and that it may not pay for some medical care at home in a custodial situation. The panel did discuss Medicaid, but did not go into much detail about the legal complications (including look back periods, and, in 28 states, filial responsibility laws or “poor laws” which are still not often enforced). In the film, the families appeared to be much more intact financially (one daughter had turned her home into a one-patient assisted living facility with 24 x 7 staff hired by her).

PBS has aired two major programs on eldercare and retirement in the past two days, and ABC aired one last night (two entries down on this blog). This program came down to earth, as to the very real problems many families face, because in practice many elderly live a long time while in very poor health, including the development of Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia (now an epidemic). This has become a serious problem in the past fifteen years because medicine is able to keep people alive a very long time without keeping them vigorous. This is occurring in a society where many families have had fewer children (although some of the families in this film had several). In past generation, there tended to be more kids, usually including one or two unmarried people (often women) expected to stay home and look after the parents, who usually did not live nearly as long once they became disabled All of this makes an interesting comparison (for me) to caregiving and “buddying” for People with AIDS in the 80s, who usually did not live long in the beginning. Once medications for HIV disease improved (by the early 90s), PWA’s often tended to return to independent living and economic productivity quickly, so the caregiving issues eventually, over the years, became much less challenging in general. In practice, eldercare issues are much more difficult to manage.

On the other hand, the ABC program “Live to be 150” presented a rosy view not only of longevity but of the physical condition of many people in their 90s and even over 100. So the prospects for major eldercare problems, in practice, varies enormously from family to family, but the demographic problems are much more severe today than they were twenty years ago. Our political candidates should start talking about this.

Also, last night, PBS had aired the first half of "The Retirement Revolution" (next entry).

PBS: "The Retirement Revolution"


On April 1, PBS aired the first of a two-part series “The Retirement Revolution” with Paula Zahn, sponsored by MassMutual, link here.

The film started with a history of the variable nature of eldercare arrangements. In earlier societies, one’s children were one’s “eldercare” and “retirement” insurances. The program pointed out that some families today still make those kinds of arrangement with specific family members, who agree to stay close to home to take care of elderly relatives in return for getting the inheritance. The program also traced early attempts at providing pensions, such as with European and colonial guilds.

During the industrial revolution, governments gradually came to understand that society was transforming and that the “family” should not be expected to continue complete “filial responsibility.” Over time, the problems were quite severe, and the aged wound up in “poor houses.” The program did not cover this, must many states passed “poor laws” or “filial responsibility laws” that would force adult children to be financially responsible for their parents and sometimes other relatives.

Germany experimented with old age programs in the late 19th Century, but it was not until the Great Depression that there was enough political pressure in the United States to socialize the risk of age. In the early days of social security, there was an intention that men could retire at 60. The earliest beneficiaries did not pay in. Disability insurance was added in 1956, and Medicare in 1965. After Medicare was available, families felt less exposed to the medical risks of their elderly, although Medicare does not cover long term custodial care.

The program discussed the various components of Medicare, including the notorious “doughnut hole” in drug coverage.

Toward the end, the program discussed the modern concept of baby boomer “active” retirement.

On the East Coast, the program aired at the same time as ABC’s “Live to Age 150” so I had to record it first.



Update: April 7

The second half was aired this evening. It showed how a financial planner makes his living, and showed a retired man enjoying his model railroads. It explained how 401K's came about by accident, when one person noticed a provision in the tax code (Section 401K), and employers picked up on the idea of replacing defined contribution plans with 401K's.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

ABC: "Live to Be 150" with Barbara Walters


Tonight Tuesday April 1, 2008, ABC News presented Barbara Walters narrating “Live to Be 150: Can You Do It?” The link for the show is in the 20/20 section here, authored by Barbara Walters herself.

The early part of the show did focus on the medical evidence, that reducing calories (quite severely) with supplementation might lengthen life, as well as exercise. There was a lot of discussion of the genes related to aging, and of telomeres, at the end of DNA chains. The subject of stem cells and regenerating tissues was covered. Some scientists feel that thousand year lifespans could be possible. Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, authors of “Fantastic Voyage: The Science Behind Radical Life Extension” (2005, Plume) appeared. A company called alcor.org is saving the bodies and brains of clients ($75000) for possible rejuvenation in the future. I recall in the 1990s that Omni Magazine had an article that proposed downloading one’s brain to a computer.

In the later part of the show, there were many examples of people living vigorously into their 80s, 90s, and past 100. In fact, there are 84000 people over 100 in age now in the United States. Paul Newman (Hud) was shown as a race car driver, in real life. In the film, they also seemed physically, and especially mentally vigorous. One woman of age 102 actually took care of an 80 year old daughter who would die of cancer. Another centenarian had survived cancer three times. All did talk about “strong family.”

But it is the social values that create some paradoxes. The current eldercare and long term care crisis comes partly from the fact that a large number of elderly can live a long time while being frail and incapacitated, a relatively new situation, particularly for a "me generation" society that produces fewer children. The advocacy of longevity in this film stresses vigor and health habits that promote vigor. In such circumstances, it may not be essential to have as many children, as there will be much more time in life for one’s own pursuits. (Demographic patterns in other populations around the world could create international demographic issues, however.) Children cannot expect “inheritance” until old age themselves. While lifetime monogamous marriage has been the social “moral” ideal, especially for the sake of the next generation, much longer lifespans and personally responsible health habits could argue for the acceptability of serial monogamy. Life, rather than being a three-act play, becomes like a television series or rondo of short episodes. (Remember, though, that the Mormon Church has the ideal of eternal marriage, even in the afterlife.) The show concluded with the idea that older people could become the new "sex symbols" where longevity means accomplishment and wisdom with vigor.

Update: May 8

AARP has a story on Nicoyan indians in Costa Rica and longevity, discussion here.