Tuesday, September 30, 2008

PBS POV: Critical Condition: People with inadequate or no health insurance in America


Tonight, PBS presented a POV (“Point of View”) film “Critical Condition”, dir. by Roger Weisberg. It follows four patients with inadequate health insurance. It maintains that in the 90 minutes it takes to watch the film, 377 people lose health insurance, and there are 47 million people without health insurance. The website reference is here.

One man has diabetes and a severe foot infection. The film is graphic as to the deterioration of the leg. If doctors amputate part of the leg, he may be able to go back to work and save his job. But he winds up with a $9000 prosthesis that only lasts a few months. He gets a referral for the service, but the claim is eventually denied and he winds up with the bill.

Another man has liver failure, that causes a variety of complications including diabetes. He becomes critically ill and passes away, but the scenes with his wife are very tender as he goes through the death process.

Still another man has severe back problems that have caused him to lose seven inches of height. He has taken so much patent medicine that he nearly dies of internal bleeding before showing up in the emergency room. Eventually, he is able to get a risky $200000 surgery pro bono.

A 50 year old woman has lost her job (and health insurance) as an apartment manager because of deteriorating health, unable to climb stairs, and winds up wit ovarian cancer. The film shows the negotiations with the billing department on a payment plan. She eventually dies.

The film does show marital couples emotionally attached as expected, “in sickness and in health”; there is a great deal of emotion in a few of the scenes. The film says these are "working families" with mostly blue collar or relatively low wage jobs.

Many patients lose health insurance with job loss brought on by health problems, and many say that their health plans do not provide enough preventive care.

There is one potentially offensive line that refers to the fact that it is cheaper for society if some people die. It is an oblique reference to the "moral hazard" concept on a very personal level.

After the film there is a panel discussion presenting the Obama and McCain plans. McCain would allow the purchase of a plan with pre-tax dollars and require that it be portable, which would make it easier for patients to find carriers, who know they will keep the patient through job changes. There is a need not to exclude people for pre-existing conditions

Monday, September 29, 2008

CNN: Larry King, Anderson Cooper pound Congress on Bailout failure: What if China calls in our debt?


"Larry King Live" (CNN) tonight provided more post-mortem on the bailout vote failure.

The most alarming speaker was probably Oprah’s Suze Orman, who has said on other shows that she does not expect the economy to recover until 2015. She gave straightforward advice, but one of her most interesting points is that credit card companies are lowering credit limits, which will lower FICO scores for people who have significant balances relative to their limits. Most credit counselors say that consumers should not use over 30% of their limits for best scores. She did point out that there is no connection between your 401K or savings balance and your FICO score. If your FICO score goes down, interest rates will go up, and your auto insurance premiums can rise.

Suze also said that $1.2 trillion today evaporated, over a $700 billion.

Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) appeared. Musgrave voted against the bill, and babbled about Freddie and Fannie, which had little to do with the immediate problem of the bailout. Yes, they need to be reformed, and yes, they were corrupt, but that has nothing to do with putting out a main street fire.

Then, Ben Stein (“Expelled”) and Paul Krugman spoke. Both suggested that the bailout was a bad plan, but that credit market problems are so serious that there was no practical choice but to pass them. Stein suggested a bottom-up approach of helping homeowners, but that wouldn’t come close to dealing with the credit default swap problems, which are actually much larger.

Anderson Cooper’s 360 continued with more discussion of the outrageous behavior of Congress, with partisan bickering. Suze Orman appeared and repeated her 2015-to-recovery prediction. She said, "Remember 9/11? You have to be prepared for the worst.” (I don't think you can prepare personally for nuclear terror.) She also reminded us that student loan debt cannot be removed by bankruptcy. She also said that some people with relatively little debt should soon consider buying homes rather than going into the stock market, because homes are becoming fairly priced now.

David Gergen, a Republican whom President Clinton appointed to his staff, also called Congress's behavior patently irresponsible.

I’ve noted that single people facing eldercare possibility could look at home ownership as a way to protect their “sovereignty.” Perhaps Suze will talk about this some day. Maybe I will, if I can get on TV myself. There is a whole host of other problems that very few people understand that are going to crawl out of the woodwork, like blobs.

A University of Maryland economics professor said on WJLA “doing nothing is doing something. As we speak, wealth is being destroyed all over the world.” This is very urgent.

I think it’s disgraceful that Congress goes home for two days to campaign while the financial markets burn.

I can’t say this too often. Today’s partisan breakdown in Congress was disgraceful. How can the rest of the world take us seriously. If I were Wen Jiabao in China, I would think about playing the financial “nuclear bomb” and calling in the US T-bills. Didn’t anybody notice his hidden warning on Fareed Zakaria’s show on CNN Sunday? Congress, did you notice? Nobody has mentioned it. Doesn’t anybody in Congress connect the dots?

Watch Steve Forbes ("flat tax") on Fox support the need to get credit markets moving again here.

President Bush will address the nation at 8:45 AM EDT Tuesday morning, Sept 30, on all networks.

Earlier today, Lance Bass (formerly of ‘Nsync) appeared with “Lacey” on "Ellen" for some break dancing. That show was interrupted with NBC reporting that the Bailout vote in Congress had failed.

I think Lance Bass and Clay Aiken make much more refreshing guests on television than anyone from Congress now (even including Barney Frank).

Friday, September 26, 2008

First presidential debate held at Ole Miss -- McCain makes it to the event; Obama may have an edge


The first major debate of the 2008 presidential campaign did indeed take place tonight at Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) in Oxford, Mississippi, the home of legal thriller author John Grisham (with his personal “field of dreams”). John McCain did indeed make it down, having made “adequate daily progress” today in “no bailout left behind.”

Jim Lehrer moderated and chose the questions himself. From the audience’s viewpoint, Obama actually stood to the “right” of McCain. The debate was supposed to be about national security and foreign policy (McCain’s forte) but the first half hour dealt with the fiscal crisis.

On that subject, Obama referred somewhat to Ross Perot’s 1992 mantra, that “trickle down didn’t trickle.” McCain sounded a bit like Donald Trump, in saying that what mattered now was just to “negotiate.” Obama soon charged that McCain wanted to tax employer contributions to health insurance premiums, forcing them to drop it and forcing employees into the individual market, although that would use pre-tax dollars. Obama accused McCain of wanting to tackle federal spending with a “hathchet”, when he would use a “scalpel.” McCain talked about tax cuts but apparently never mentioned the term “middle class.”

On foreign affairs, Obama took a hard like and said that the United States should intervene in Pakistan if necessary. This was a reference to major media reports of the inability of the Pakistani government to control its own military in the border tribal areas. McCain said that this could be necessary, but “you don’t say it.” McCain said that a nuclear-armed Iran would represent an “existential” threat to Israel. It’s interesting to hear conservative politicians use that word (Giuliani also uses it). Obama made an interesting reference to the problem of suitcase nukes (partly because of a recent independent film sponsored by Sam Nunn and the Nuclear Threat Initiative) but agrees that Iran and North Korea can represent threats with scuds and missiles.

On the last question, McCain said that the country is safer now than it was the day after 9/11, but it had a long way to go. Obama said that no country can remain a secure world power sustainably if it does not have a sound internal economy.

There is a general feeling that the debate was pretty even, but because foreign affairs is supposed to be McCain's strongest area, the event helped Obama. Women favor Obama heavily now, men may favor McCain slightly.

Obama has said that he would provide tax cuts for 80% of Americans. Later he revised it to 95% of "working families" -- that is, families with children (presumably).

MSNBC has a video of the full debate here.

The CNN Transcript for the debate is here.

Note: It seems that cnn URL's require the "us" prefix now (Sept 27). If you get a DNS error on www.cnn.com, try us.cnn.com. I'll track and see if CNN fixes this.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

National Geographic: "Titanic: The Final Secret": a Cold War legacy


On Sunday, Sept. 21, the National Geographic Channel presented an impressive one-hour documentary “Titanic: The Final Secret”. The film traced the exploration work of diver and oceanographer Robert Ballard in the 1980s. Two other projects, highly classified and sponsored by the Navy, helped facilitate his discovery of the Titanic in 1985. The National Geographic link is here.

The first project involved the sinking of the submarine USS Thresher in April 1963, somewhere east of the Canadian Maritimes. This occurred just a few months after the Cuban Missile Crisis and the government was very concerned about the loss of the nuclear reactor. The submarine apparently failed because of a plumbing leak, that became explosive inside the sub, leading to its sinking and implosion.

Then he visited the site of the sinking of the USS Scorpion in 1968, somewhat off the coast of North Africa. By then, the Navy had frequently launched submarines, nuclear powered and sometimes armed with nuclear warheads, to spy on the Soviets undersea with a process called triangulation. The Navy feared that the Scorpion had been sunk by a Soviet torpedo, but Ballard found no evidence of Soviet “body parts.” One theory is that a leak started in the propeller system.

The project was highly classified at the time of Ballard’s reconnaissance, because the Reagan administration was cranking up its final push to destabilize the Soviet Union, which would eventually lead to its collapse in 1991. The Navy was finding that it was even more difficult to maintain submarines safely when deployed often than it had thought.

Upon completing the second reconnaissance, Ballard headed for the Titanic site. Again, he would use new techniques (the Argo) to detect a trail of debris rather than sonar.

The film has a lot of black-and-white footage from crowded, intimate submarine life in the 1960s.

In 1993, I boarded the USS Sunfish (commissioned in 1963, now decommissioned), docked in Norfolk VA and open to the public, while I did my own research on the arguments used to derail Bill Clinton’s attempt to lift the military ban on gays. I did meet the crew, ate some of their chocolate cake a la mode (submariners tend to gain weight), and indeed found the conditions very crowded. I saw the door to the nuclear engine room, but the public was not allowed near the reactor itself. There was an odd prohibition on wearing political buttons on board. Remember that a couple weeks before, Senators Warner and Nunn had done the televised low crawl on the USS Hammerhead.

Update: July 20, 2012

The National Geographic Society shows a 10 minute film at its Titanic show with Mr. Ballard, called "Titanic, The Moment".  Ballard explains how he did reconnaissance on Soviet submarines which had to be kept classified, and also how his craft was covered with titanium to make it go deeper.  When they found the site, they made light of it and then felt sorry for doing so.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Oprah offers Suze on living within your means; Dr. Phil: sacrifice within a family;


Today both Oprah and Dr. Phil hit hard on a couple of controversies.

Oprah featured Suze Orman, giving her moral lecture on our need to live among our means. I have no argument with this in principle. And I understand her contention that Wall Street had a party and skipped town on the bills. She predicted that most people’s credit cards will have their limits sharply reduced, and that layaway purchases would come back. So will saving for a house down payment. People with cash and little debt may come out of this pretty well, making money by buying assets at bottom-feeding prices. She gave some stern advice on checking out money market funds and checking about FDIC and related coverages; "you must do this today" she said.

The link for today’s episode (“Recession Proof Your Family”) is here.

Monday Oprah featured her “Big Give” co-host and frequent guest, designer Nate Berkus, who helps a big Utah family with a quick redesign, and then helps a New Orleans family (living in a FEMA trailer after Katrina) with a complete home reconstruction. Perhaps Nate would have been Oprah’s choice for Barack Obama’s running mate.

Dr. Phil featured Bishop T. D. Jakes, author of “Before You Do: Making Great Decisions That You Won't Regret”, about major life decisions, counseling a nineteen year old man about a particularly painful situation involving his brother, who is 21. The brother needs a kidney transplant, but has a history of tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse. The potential donor does not want to be tested unless he can make up his mind about whether to offer his kidney. He plays baseball and believes that he could play major league baseball, and that the donation of a kidney would cost him a future career.

The discussion seemed to focus on the idea that he would want to attach “performance” stipulations on his needy brother if he is to make a donation from his own body. It seemed like a call for “unconditional love.” The audience was sympathetic to the idea that he would have some “ownership” of his brother.

There is a medical question as to whether it would affect his ability to play baseball. Many big league players have had various issues, including diabetes. Maybe someone can comment on whether he would be able to play with one kidney from a sports medicine perspective.

But the most disturbing idea in the show is that one brother is asked (at least indirectly) to sacrifice his planned career and way of life for another at all with a part of his own body. Your own body is about as personal as it gets. One political point is that this potentially speaks to the importance of marriage. Parents, when supported by marriage, create families which have, in practice, a lot of “power” to compel behavior of its members even when they have become adults. That sounds like a “perk” of marital sex – the “power” to compel (down the road) the subordination of or sacrifice of others in some cases. That seems like what a lot of the culture war is about.

Of course, there are cases where people give organs to non-relative, and, of course, the biggest “body part” donation is that of blood, which is renewable. And a lot of people are excluded from participating in this “social responsibility” donation because of past “behavior.” There is a lot of room for moralizing here.

The link for the show is here.

Dr. Phil hasn’t covered the issue of filial responsibility and intra-family sacrifice (from the “innocent”) before very much. I wonder if he would do some programs on the challenges of elder care.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"Heroes" Redux: The dreams and time warps continue: when special abilities become fiat currency


Tonight NBC kicked off its most visible series, the sci-fi “Heroes” by Tom Kring, in its third season. This year’s season will be called “Villains” and the first episode is called “The Second Coming.” It recalls to me the title of the third chapter in my first “do ask do tell” book called “My Second Coming.”

The two-hour premier “film” was proceeded by a one hour party at the Edison Theater in LA, with a lot of Hollywood camaraderie. They showed the heavy makeup of one female character with mud and charcoal, taking six hours to do. They demonstrated how the action shots were done with green screens, especially the scene where Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) and Nathan fly off superman style in a kind of paired annihilation.

One of the most remarkable lines occurs when a female hero is to be hit by a train, and says “If you can’t feel anything, are you still human? I need to prove that I’m alive.”

Sylar (Zachary Quinto), however handsome, continues his habit of killing to steal other people’s abilities.

Some how the concept of the series has never gripped me as much as has Smallville or The 4400. The story lines seem to wander and become dreamlike. That may be appropriate inasmuch as one of the Heroes can manipulate time. When you dream, time expands and seems to take much longer than the dream does. And often in a dream you are in “second life” copies of a familiar place where the surroundings are contained in some way in a “thirteenth floor” fashion.

I've wondered if the "end of life" comes as a dream that doesn't stop. Since time almost stops in a dream, maybe it can stop forever and the person remains conscious forever in the dream, relative to his own sense of time (even referring to relativity as Einstein developed its theory).

The dialogue often refers to being “special.” On Smallville, Clark Kent once said “I’m different, not special.” But in Heroes, abilities seem to become almost like currency.

The calamities that may happen to New York (the asteroid wave, the Shanti virus pandemic) really don’t, and you never really get a sense of “mega disaster.”

Back in the early 70s, I had a coworker say "God is my only hero." Other heros (or "super-ocelots" as we called them when I was in the Army) were said to have "clay feet".

NBC's website for the show is here. Its pictures, in rotation, include a picture of Sylar in nose intubation (not for long)

The musical dissonance played during the show's "Eclipse" trademark has always fascinated me.

Update: Sept. 24

Time Magazine offers an article "Q&A: What Happens When We Die?" by M. J. Stephey, on tracking consciousness during near-death experiences, research by Dr. Sam Parmia at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, link here. It was reproduced this morning on Yahoo!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

National Geographic: Neanderthals Revealed; ABC: Emmy Awards



Tonight the National Geographic channel presented a two hour documentary “The Other Humans: Neanderthals Revealed,” supplementing its October 2008 magazine issue (recently discussed on my books blog). The film is narrated by Nick Sharatzi. The web reference is this.

The film tackles the question as to whether modern humans and Neanderthals could have interbred. There is increasing evidence that we might have inherited a gene related to modern language from them. They hunted in “prides” (like lions) to bring down big animals and used spears for impaling from close contact. They would have needed to communicate to hunt successfully. (How do lions do it?) Modern humans from Africa used spears that they could throw and would have had a more solitary “feline” life. The TV movie made the Neanderthal culture look more advanced (because of cooperation) than did the magazine article (which suggested job differentiation, diet variation, and job complementarity).

Neanderthals also had red hair, related to the need to import vitamin D in low sunlight environments. But their red hair, related to gene MC1R on chromosome 16, is not the same as the Neanderthal gene.

The film showed the work at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, website.

There is some comparison to baboon interbreeding, among species who stayed apart for about 1 million years. Neanderthals and modern humans lived separately for only about 200000 years. The wide range in change in superficial characteristics in humans in only the last 40000 years could be explained by some mixing with Neanderthal genes.

The film makes a comparison to European "conquest" of North America. Native Americans were not replaced; their genes were assimilated to some extent. Neanderthals are thought to have disappeared, but not completely. We may have some of their genes, although relatively few. There seem to be no people with mostly Neanderthal genes. Neanderthals would seem to "look" Caucasoid. Is it conceivable that there could be a connection with the Basque peoples, whose origin in mysterious? (I visited Bilbao in 2001.)

Emmys on ABC:

Tonight ABC broadcast the Emmys from the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles. There was a quote, “Truth is what you can get other people to believe.” Isn’t acting related to manipulation? The final results are given here. ABC has lots of excerpted widgets and videos at its Emmy site here.

There was a lot of controversy about Josh Groban's "brutal" disco-style parody of the music from popular shows, with bizarre double images in the background. The YouTube link for the 4 minute performance is here. The AOL survey results are mixed.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"Days of our Lives" episode raises a good question about "family leave" policy


This week, on the Corday NBC Soap “Days of our Lives” Lexie (Renee Jones) has a hearing at the Salem Hospital as to whether she can keep her job as chief of staff.

The reason that the episode is important is that her performance has slipped because of extensive time she has to spend a home to care for her son, Theo, whom she and Abe have found to be autistic.

The head of the review board first sounds very harsh. The chairman says something like this: Family problems can never be allowed to interfere with the performance of a professional job. The episode ought to stimulate debate about family leave (which right now allows only for unpaid leave), because when it is taken, often other employees have to take up the slack.

There is another “moral” problem. Any family “takes a chance” when it has a child, with the possibility that special needs may occur. Should that family be solely responsible, or should other share the sacrifice (as in the workplace). This point can have a profound impact on the debate about family policy, particularly as birth rates in some populations fall partly because of the extreme cost and “risk” of raising children.

In one “Dr. Phil” episode a few months ago, a man had married a women with three disabled children and was overwhelmed by the experience. He had thought he could become a “white knight.”

As Days unfolds, the board votes to let Lexie stay, but she resigns anyway to stay at home with Theo, unaware that Abe has lost his job with the Salem police deparment.

Earlier, Lexie had been fired for altering patient records when she was being blackmailed. “Days” repeatedly takes blood loyalty and patriarchal behavior to its extremes.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Smallville, Supernatural both have fall premiers tonight; some "spiritual" questions posed


"Smallville" Season 8 premiered tonight on CWTV. Now Season 1 depicted Clark as a high school freshman, theoretically 14 in earth years, a bit mature for his age, able to drive a car or truck legally – but Kansas farm boys do that. That means he would be 21 now, old enough for legal imbibing. (Not to mention that there is a movement now to end minimum drinking ages.)

Clark is sensible enough not to have a 21 party, and indeed he is in no position to, having been kidnapped and stripped of his powers by Jor-El. He has to get by on his fists and wits against the Russian mafia. The Green Arrow (Justin Hartley from “Passions”, now much smoother) starts to rescue him; Lois Lane catches up. Chloe (Allison Mack) is being held in an encampment and given a polygraph. By coincidence, that’s were a mortal Clark shows up for his near death experience, to be rescued by an angel. He likes having his powers back.

The real Tom Welling is 31, but except for occasional crows under his eyes, no one could tell.

Oh, Clark gets an official desk at the Daily Planet as a journalist now, and he didn’t have to go to the University of Missouri (next state) and major in journalism. If he did, that could provide the screenwriters the chance to bring in the “Show Me Institute” and some libertarian politics.

I would like to become a journalist myself, a real one, not “just” a blogger journalist. That reminds me of another line from the show, when Clark, “Sometimes I feel like I should separate into two persons.” I feel that way. I live in two reconciled domains. I’d be better off in one of Clive Barker’s other “Dominions” where I would be much more on my own again. (Sorry, Krypton blew itself up before it could be brought into the “Reconciliation” of Imajica.) What simulated a Reconciliation is, of course, the Internet and all its problems of online reputation.

The episode was titled “Odyssey,” directed by Kevin Fair, and it does not follow Homer’s poem. Tom Welling has directed some of the episodes in previous citizens.

CWTV’s “Supernatural” followed with it’s premier, in an episode called “Lazarus Rising”. Dean (Jensen Ackles) rises from his pine coffin, his body reassembled, and he struggles into the Texas heat into a landscape that gradually turns into this world. He is reunited with Sam (Jared Padalecki) and a girl friend mistakes them for being “together” rather than just brothers. Dean has to deal with why he was “saved”, to due the bidding of someone else, against his own wishes. “It isn’t about you,” Rick Warren always says.

Both Ackles and Padalecki come from Texas. Padalecki was a presidential scholar when graduating from high school in 2000.

The grave scene curiously reminded me of an episode from “Days of our Lives” in 2004 when Marlena wakes up in a Coffin in transit underneath Salem, on the way to a “New Salem” on an island in the tropics. This all sounds like “A Most Dangerous Game.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

ABC Primetime "UFO: Seeing is Believing" -- with some indelicate CE III's


Tonight, Sept. 16, ABC Primetime broadcast a 90 minute report “UFOs: Seeing Is Believing” with David Muir as the host; directed by Rudy Bednar. Muir stood in the Very Large Array in New Mexico, which I drove past in 1984. The Array also appeared in the 1997 film “Contact” based on the Carl Sagan novel.

The show started with the light show over Stephenville, TX in January 2008. The lights were shown as silently appearing and rearranging themselves in various patterns, and then going out. Sometimes, they coalesced into light tubes.

The show moved on to discuss the Pheonix sightings, that could have been flares.

It then showed the results of the latest Mars probe, with the finding of water ice near the north pole (as well as dry ice).

The show then discussed the USAF Project Blue Book, which I examined one time at the National Archives. It traced the origin of SETI back in 1960. Theoretically, a civilization up to 25 light years away could have responded by now if it intercepted the signal. A new Large Array is being built in northern California, probably in the basin country north of Mt. Shasta, an area that I visited in 1975 (for example, the Tulelake petroglyphs) and the “glass mountains”.

The show gave an account of a sighting at a military base NE of London. Military officers reported a red object with a black center that would exploded into white lights like a firework does, and even left traces in the ground.

The later part of the show went back to the original sighting of UFOs by pilot Kenneth Arnold near Mount Rainier, Washington on June 24, 1947.

Then the show presented Jesse Marcel, who found metallic foil like remains of the crash in Roswell, NM in 1947. There was clip of the mid 1990s alien autopsy hoax film.

The last part of the show presented “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, as in the title of the 1978 Steven Spielberg film. One man told of being abducted and being given delicate medical examinations by several beings, and a pregnant women claimed that a baby was taken.

The ABC website link for the show is called “Lights in the Sky: Looking for New Evidence of Life Outside Earth,” by Lynn Levy and Joanna Weiner, link here.

One other thing: in May 2000, while driving between Phoenix and Yuma, I lost over an hour at a rest stop in the desert. Don’t know what happened, but I was alone. When I came to, it was about 3:10 PM (just as in the film).

The picture includes a pickled alien fetus purchased in Roswell in 1998. Next to it is one of Stephen King's Langoliers.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dr. Phil on Finances; Oprah on a grave Internet problem


Today Dr. Phil started a series on how to handle the current financial downturn. He featured two couples with severe money problems, and consultant Loral Langemeier, who functioned as a kind of Suze Orman, familiar to viewers of Oprah. One couple had been a two-income family with both husband and wife working in the mortgage business, which tanked. Loral helped counsel them on how both should go to work again, in grunt work areas if necessary. She suggested work in child care or in house cleaning areas. Then another couple was shown, having benefited from an ABC “Extreme Home Makeover” from Ty Pennington. But they took out second mortgages and that put their house in play for foreclosure.

Here is the link for “The Five Big Money Mistakes”. An interesting tip is “believing that a fixed income” (like a salary) is the only answer.”

Today Oprah Winfrey presented a very graphic show about the explosion of child pornography on the Internet. The show started with a visit to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria Virginia, and then showed a Wyoming detective Flint Waters. This detective discussed how law enforcement can now track materials on the Internet by geographical location, using software that apparently Waters helped develop. The show included explicit descriptions of the videos and pictures and how they are made. On this “PG-13” blog, it’s not appropriate to go into detail, but the visitor can look at the link for Oprah’s show today (actually taped Sept. 11 in Chicago), link
or watch the show when it is broadcast again, which I am sure it will be. In an earlier episode a couple years ago, Oprah had interviewed Justin Berry, and New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald, who recommended that no kid should have a webcam.

An interesting comment was that violators often are so psychopathic that they can pass polygraph or risk assessment tests.

Oprah is supporting the proposed bipartisan “Protect Our Children” Act, S. 1738, or “Combating Child Exploitation Act of 2008,” introduced by Joseph Biden (D-DE),” govtrack link here.

The visitor will want to read the summary there, which would make some material illegal if it can be converted to material that was illegal before. The bill also appropriates many more resources to law enforcement. The bill will be voted on soon (before Sept. 26, when the Senate will recess). Oprah’s website includes a link to assist visitors in contacting their Senators to support the Act.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Michael Phelps hosts SNL: can he act?


Tonight, NBC’s Saturday Night Live opened its season with Olympic medal winner Michael Phelps as host.

So the obvious question is, can Phelps act? Can he be funny?

He did get all of his lines in the skits. (“Let’s stay here. I have a coupon….” And some line about his Speedo. ) But the little episodes all seemed a bit less than the most original. (I do like Ruby Tuesdays myself.) Somehow, he didn’t come across with the liveliness of a Shia LaBeouf or Jake Gyllenhaal (even in drag – remember Jake likes pie charts). We don’t want the Coen Brothers to call him The Man Who Wasn’t There. The show left the impression that the professionals (like Andy Samberg) were there to help him. From the visual evidence, it seems like it’s been a few weeks since he has peaked. I did like the Michael Phelps Diet (12000 calories a day, including coffee ice cream, and a pig in a blanket, just as in “The Cook, The Thief…”, etc. – and how about a Cornish game hen, a favorite at SLDN “end the witch-hunts” fundraisers?).

The show prequel had a debate between Sarah Palin and a copy of Hillary Clinton. That really looked like Sarah Palin. That was Sarah Palin? No, now NBC says she way played by Tina Fey (Amy Poehler played Hillary.) And, yup, Barack Obama should have chosen Hillary as a running mate.

I understand that Barack Obama couldn’t make it because of Hurricane Ike.

I wonder how easily one gets tickets to these. It’s pretty impressive how quickly they do the makeup for these “live” events.

I wonder if “Chuck” (Zachary Levi) will host a show. Or maybe “fall girl” Sami (Allison Sweeny) or even Great Gatsby’s Nick Fallon (Blake Berris). How about Gregory Smith (Everwood's prodigy Ephram). Or, for that matter, hurricane hunter Anderson Cooper (wading in flood water, not standing in the comfy French Quarter). Here’s a couple other candidates: Ben Kingsley, and John Malkovich. (Either one could play ME!)

I need to get on that Amtrak train soon.

Fanhouse has a somewhat negative but humorous review of the Phelps show here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

ABC World News Tonight: Charles Gibson gives Sarah Palin exclusive interview; she talks tough on Russia


Charles Gibson on ABC debriefed Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin in an exclusive interview on ABC World News Tonight on Thursday Sept. 11, 2008. The interview will continue this evening on Nightline. She spoke for about twenty minutes of the broadcast.

Palin named energy independence as the single global issue in which she can exercise the most leadership ability. She mentioned being able to see Russia from Alaska across the Beiing Strait. (That reminds me of the 1982 TV movie "World War III".) She supports the idea that former USSR republics become NATO allies, and created a sensation in news media by indicating that the United States might have to go to war if Russia invaded another republic or did not get out of Georgia.

Most of the rest of her comments were more “conventional.” She did discuss extremist mentality and nihilism, associated with radical Islam, as something that comes out of shame and despair, and idea that neo-conservatives have expressed ever since 9/11, of which today marks the seventh anniversary. She expressed pride in her son being in the military and likely to deploy to Iraq. She says he is serving a cause higher than himself, echoing the “Country First” theme of John McCain. She says that her experience of faith is that of "being on God's side" and not the other way around.

She does not think we should second-guess Israel or other allies in steps they take to defend themselves. Gibson used the interesting term "existential threat" in characterizing Israel's perceptions of its neighbors and of Iran. Gibson also questioned her about pre-emptive threats and "anticipatory self-defense".

Gibson also asked her about the cross-border raids in the tribal areas of Pakistan, without the approval of the Pakistani government. Palin seems to be well aware of recent articles about the unstable behavior of the Pakistani military.

She made general comments about her belief in God, but did not get into social controversies.

Russell Goldman has a story on the ABC News website about the interview, “Sarah Palin defends experience, takes hard line on national security”, link here.

The ABC Nightline segment was called "War, God and Oil." The interview was conducted in Fairbanks, and a little bit of downtown, already with fall colors, was shown. Fairbanks was the subject of a History Channel episode of "Tougher in Alaska" discussed here Aug. 30.

The last part of the interview took place along the oil pipeline, 8 miles from Fairbanks (still plenty of early fall colors). A gas pipleine may be built. Gibson challenged her as to whether she is changing a position held earlier that man's activity was not significant in global warming. She says Alaska sees more of global warming since it is the only Arctic state, and she is more open to the idea that man's activity matters than she was before. McCain has been more willing to admit this than her, apparently. She wants to drill more in the north slope than does McCain.

On Friday, Sept. 12, Gibson will quiz Palin on domestic policy.


Update: Sept. 12


John McCain appeared on ABC's "The View" at 11 AM this morning EDT, along with this wife, Cindy Hensley.

ABC 20/20 continued the interview of Sarah Palin at here lakeside Wasilla, AK home, with a lake and seaplane in view. She did take the position that abortion should be permitted only to save the life of the mother. Her discussions on domestic policy tended to come back down to controlling government spending, but were not real specific.

I actually flew in a seaplane in August 1980, over Denali National Park along the slopes of Mt. McKinley, and we landed at a lake near Denali for a party afterwards/

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

ABC 20-20: Privileged in America: They're Not Like Us


Well, Donald Trump would always tell his proto-Apprentices, “Life’s not fair, is it.” Tonight, ABC 20/20 aired “They’re Not Like Us: Privilege in America” with John Stossel and Elizabeth Vargas. In Washington, it had to be watched on Cable News Channel 8, as station WJLA was airing the 3-hour “Cinderella Man.”

The program started with a discussion of race in America. After showing a spot from a motivational speech bu Chris Rock (who came to a high school where I subbed in 2005 in order to give an anti-drug speech) Stossel spoke to Tim Wise (“White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son”) and, with an opposing view, Shelby Steele (“White Guilt: How Whites and Blacks Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era”). They went over the practical problems that African Americans are used to encountering: people with “black-sounding names” or voices are less likely to get calls for jobs or even be offered apartments. One mixed-race young man had passed as white his whole life.

They also went over diplomatic immunity, which is often abused. In one case, a diplomat from a middle Eastern country essentially held domestic workers (without papers) as household slaves in Manhattan.

But the main part of the show dealt with “lookism”, which gets mixed up with “celebrity,” which, in Hollywood, seems to come with an expiration date. The most disturbing example seem to be the screening of people to get into discos. Older or less “desirable”-looking people don’t get in.

I haven’t seen this done in any of the gay clubs in cities that I am most familiar with (Washington, Baltimore, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Dallas). I would think it would get a strong reaction from the community and the gay press if done. Legally, I would wonder if a disco is a "public accommodation" and whether normal civil rights laws would trump over their own property rights; I can understand their freedom to admit who they want, but if carried too far, it can encourage some very destructive social trends (compare to the issue of race and country clubs). I would appreciate a comment from anyone who has experienced seeing discos turn people away!

This issue had been covered in a 2-hour special in Nov. 2006 (see Nov 3 on this blog) when it was called "Privileged in America: Who's Shutting You Out." There are details from the earlier show there.

ABC 20/20 today has a report by John Stossel and Frank Mastropolo, "Bigger Bling for the Beautiful: Just How Far Can Beauty Take You?," link here, dated Sept 9, 2008. There is a related story by John Stossel and Gina Binkley, "Is Your Skin Color an Advantage? Scholars Debate Whether Society Overlooks Minorities" date Sept. 10, 2008.

Update: Sept. 12


Dr. Phil today had a related show, on "The N-Word Debate", with Sheryl Underwood, Hill Harper and Michael Graham. Rev. Al Sharpton appeared by remote and said that the First Amendment has been over-extended, allowing people to call each other any names they like. The link is here.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Dr. Phil starts Season 7 with another show about "online reputation"


Dr. Phil started his 7th season today, in High Definition for the first time. Right at the “get go”, he handled the rumor that he and his wife would split up. Not true, he said. Robin came out onto the stage (although she wasn’t in “The Puffy Chair”) and Dr. Phil showed a picture of the cruise ship they had been on together recently.

Last year, Dr. Phil had broadcast a program called “Internet Mistakes” (on this blog Jan. 15) and today he opened the season with a show called “Busted Online.” The link is here. By the way, Dr. Phil says he will revamp his website soon, so I hope these links still work then.

He says that 94% of kids 12 to 17 use the Internet at home, and 58% have an online profile, usually on Myspace or Facebook. I think we know where this program is heading. Yes, kids are putting things out there that employers or colleges could find years later, and what is “worse” is that sometimes others put things up without their knowledge or consent. In fact, NBC4 (in Washington) recently reported that some employers even check “friends” lists to see what kind of company applicants keep.

He told the story of a former Miss Washington (state) (Elyse Umemoto), who was defamed by embarrassing photos taken privately and put up from a stolen camera. That does sound like a tort. At the end of the show, he recounted a case where a drunk driver, before sentencing, went to a party in orange jumpers as a costume, and the photos were placed online. This came to the attention of the sentencing judge, who was appalled by his lack of remorse and gave him the maximum sentence.

Now, I come to my own take on it. Dr. Phil said that it’s a new thing: many people, especially teenagers, love the fame that comes from “publishing their lives online.” True, a lot is written about this, although much of it is not always so much about publication as a continuing sense of connectivity. I’ll come back to that in a moment, but I want to say that some of this material today comes across to me as a red herring. Yes, it’s bad if an employer sees pictures of your underage drinking or drug use. But Facebook isn’t the problem: it’s your behavior in the first place. You shouldn’t be drinking when underage. Period. And you shouldn’t be driving while intoxicated. That’s a crime anyway. Facebook has nothing to do with it. Don’t blame Mark Zuckerberg – he had know idea this would happen with the novelty that he launched to the world from his dorm room at the age of 20. (You can say the same about Myspace and all the other social networking and blogging services.)

But there is another area, too, and that is that reputation is a subjective concept. Yes, in some jobs, where clients are likely to look you up on the Internet, it’s a big deal. Dr. Phil presented two sham interviews with candidates, and then showed their Facebook profiles. Yes, for a criminal investigator or for a professional reported, you might not want an online presence that has only questionable party photos, even if there is nothing “wrong” with them “objectively.” One problem is that the employer might expect you to have some kind of an online presence, a professional one. That means that you need to be sure of what you want to do with your life and feel good about it, enough to want to see it in public. This is kind of a new paradigm that we didn’t have before.

However, employers should behave ethically, too. There is a serious risk that they can identify the wrong person (a possibility that Dr. Phil didn’t mention). They shouldn’t do “search engine background checks” (which are inaccurate) behind the applicant’s back; they should have an announced personnel policy appropriate for the job. This is a Human Resources issue, not just a “Dr. Phil” case. Dr. Phil briefly introduced Reputation Defender CEO and founder Michael Fertik, who mentioned "the sniff test" and said that most people (including employers) judge on first impressions even when they check people online and don't bother to think through what is really happening (because they are afraid that their clients won't); furthermore, established celebrities have a chance to explain themselves; "ordinary people" don't. Fertik mentioned that sometimes search engines happen to collect the more negative references at top; he said that teens often publish personal information about their parents and siblings, that could hurt their parents at work.

Now, all this comes back to me. Yes, I published my story, in a book and then online. It’s been there for ten years. Many visitors are familiar with my story, and I think it makes some important social and political points. I even think it could make a good movie. One can ask: well, if it is worth publishing, shouldn’t you be able to find a publisher to pay you to publish it? Shouldn’t it have to justify itself by proving that people will pay to see it? Indeed, these could be good questions. Self-publishing has become an acceptable form of entrepreneurship – but should it have an accountability component (at least in terms of financial returns)? After all, the “reputation” effect can involve others beside myself, even if it is primarily my story which I “own”.

A particular issue in my case with “reputation” is its relationship to sexual orientation – for me, especially, because it goes way back to the 50s, when “you could really ruin someone’s reputation” with verbal innuendo (or by raiding bars and publishing names in newspapers). These issues could affect the standing of whole families. The effects linger, when an increasing number of jobs today (for reasons that are partly economic and partly demographic) involve functioning as a “role model” in some way. So telling a story like mine, however well intended, can run counter effort to pressure put on me by others sometimes to function as a “male role model.” Reputation is a troubling concept when so much of it is in the eye of the beholder.

Update: May 28

Dr. Phil rebreoadcast the show today. As an exercise, look at Ashton Kutcher's Myspace and Facebook profiles and search results. Yes, they're funny (with the "punked" stuff) but the Twitter-master actually manages his presence carefully and knows what he is doing. Many people don't.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

NBC "Meet the Press" interviews Biden, author Thomas Friedman; Oprah to Palin: "Not on my show"!


Today NBC Meet the Press with Tom Brokaw interviewed Joe Biden, and then author Thomas L. Friedman.

The second interview (Friedman) was the more important, as he talked about his book: “Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How It Can Renew America” (Farrar, Straus and Girroux). Our days as a “subprime planet are over” he says. Every individual will eventually to pay for the true cost of the energy he or she uses and warming that he or she causes. He says that “green energy” will be the next revolution in capital markets, just like the information technology in the 1990s. It’s all right to “drill” more, but, he said, when delegates at the Republican Convention were changing “drill” it was like chanting “IBM selectric” when the PC was invented (or perhaps changing “mainframes”).

The first interview, with Biden, started with an observation that Oprah Winfrey would not invite Sarah Palin to her show. “Not on my show.” They went on to the idea of an integrated policy in the Middle East, and then to the idea that shareholders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should not be protected from the federal conservatorship announced today. He said that he would not impose his own Catholic religious beliefs (“prolife”) on others. But the most controversial idea may be to complain that John McCain wants to tax workers on the value of their employer contributions to health insurance. Not exactly so. He wants to offer individuals the same ability to purchase health insurance with pre-tax dollars.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

CNN: McCain and Obama Revealed


Saturday, Sept. 6, CNN broadcast two 90 minute biographical segments, “McCain Revealed” and then “Obama Revealed”. The actual run time was considerably less because of numerous commercial interruptions.

McCain’s (John Sidney McCain III) biography (born 1936) started with his boyhood and teen days (including the Mississippi family, which was very oriented to military service), and quickly moved to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he graduated sixth from the bottom of his class in 1958. (I recall that Joseph Steffan, one of the parties who has challenged the military gay ban, would have graduated 3rd or 4th in his class in 1987.) He was rather sure of himself, and went to aviator’s school, where he was somewhat reckless with his studies. In a training accident, he almost drowned as a result. He wised up. He had a close call in the 1967 USS Forrestal fire, and then would be shot down over Vietnam and become a prisoner of war until 1973.

The film shows many photos of his life, and interviews one of his captors today at the location in Vietnam where he was held. The film shows many stills of the solitary confinement cells. His father was promoted to admiral, and the North Vietnamese offered to release him ahead of his position in order of capture. He declined, suffering more torture, but he feared that the North Vietnamese were trying to humiliate his father. The film “reveals” still photos of his physical therapy for his broken legs after his release.

The film covers his political career, and the controversy over how he met his eventual second wife before he was fully separated from his first. Then it covers his participation in the Senate and the presidential elections. The film gradually shows his aging as with a time lapse.

The biography of Barack Hussein Obama II covers his complicated family background, with his father Barack Sr. from Kogelo, Kenya and his white mother Ann Dunham in Kansas, when his parents met in Hawaii (where he was born). The interracial marriage was controversial for Barack's family and was resented. The younger Barack was given the nickname "Barry." Barack Jr. actually was raised for a while in Indonesia, before being sent to private school in Hawaii, and eventually going to college in Los Angeles and then to Columbia. He gradually became interested in community activism and civil rights. He was hired in Chicago to organize voters (for $10000 a year) but later went to Harvard Law School and edited the Harvard Review. For a second time, he worked as a “community organizer,” turning down jobs on Wall Street. His political career moved rapidly in Illinois, with his US Senate election in 2002. He is shown speaking at the Democratic Convention in 2004. The mini-scandal over the purchase of his Chicago home

Both biographies contained a lot of interview time with each candidate.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Three networks have "Stand Up for Cancer" hour


Today, all three “major” networks (NBC, ABC, CBS) held a one hour benefit “Stand Up to Cancer” with NBC’s page for it here.
The website for the organization is this link, with phone numbers 888-90S-TAND or 888-907-8263 for donations. The AOL television link is here.

The event was held in Soldier Field in Chicago (with Lance Armstrong hosting) and at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles(usually the site for the Oscars). Performers included violinist Joshua Bell and singer Josh Groban. Meryl Streep appeared and made an analogy with the March of Dimes to cure polio, and said no one which dime led to the breakthrough and the first vaccine.

Cancer is really about 250 different diseases, comprising carcinomas, sarcomas, lyphomas, and leukemias. Many chemotherapy drugs work against many tumors, and combinations work better with fewer side effects than do individual drugs. Most malignancies have to do with the inability of a cell to stop reproducing. An overall “cure for cancer” would have to prevent this in every kind of cancer. Yet, in the 1990s, there was talk (as on the Gabe Mirkin radio show in the DC area) on a unified approach to stop cell “immortality.” The program discussed using nanotechnology (as in “Jake 2.0”) to find individual tumor cells.

The show did a comical “Simpsons” take on colonoscopy, and a fake prostate exam with a real actor. The show described a number of heroic case histories with experimental bone marrow and stem cell transplants.

The show gave alarming statistics of the probability of anyone getting cancer in a lifetime (1 in 2 for men, 1 in 3 for women). The ability of medicine to greatly extend life and attempt novel cures is amazing. But, as with the general issue of extending life spans for the aged, the ability to do so may depend on the available support of other family members (caregiving and even transplantation marrow), which is getting testy in an era of smaller families, fewer children, separate lives, and hyperindividualism.

Lance Armstrong, the host, had a long battle with metastatic testicular cancer when he was in his 20s. (Here is his own site regarding his own struggle.) He was coughing up blood before he sought medical attention. On the other hand, many elderly men have slow-growing prostate cancer, and they may be as well off with no treatment as with intervention. It is not clear that aggressive and disabling treatment always benefits everyone, especially seniors.

At 9 PM, NBC had an NFL season launch at Columbus Circle in New York (waiting for a tropical storm), hosted by Zachary Levi (of “Chuck” – he buttoned up during the show), with a lively performance by Keith Urban. Trouble is, the season actually opened last night, with the Superbowl champs New York Giants (actually New Jersey Giants) beating the punchless Redskins 16-7 in the Meadowlands. Was this a ("trademarked") NFL party or a New York sports teams party?

Update: Sept. 8, 2008

NBC Nightly News announced that the telethon has raised over $100 million so far.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Beverly Hills returns with "90210: The Next Generation" on CWTV


CWTV has reincarnated “90210: The Next Generation” (following “Beverly Hills, 90210, which ran from 1990-2000) with a two hour premiere, Sept. 2, repeated Sept. 4, comprising two episodes “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore” and “The Jet Set.”

Harry Wilson (Rob Estes), and his wife (Lori Loughlin), arrive in California as Harry takes a job as a high school principal, and cares for his ailing mother Tabitha (Jessica Walter), who is going down because of her own behavior, alcoholism. This is not the trying eldercare situation of other films or dramas. Harry has to watch over his two kids Annie (Shenae Grimes) and (adopted) Dixon (Tristan Wilds), creating conflicts in his job. Ryan Matthews (Ryan Eggold) is the snazzy young English teacher and coach who has a good connection with the kids.

The situations involve plagiarism of an assigned paper, and then a high school prank (tp-ing a locker room) that requires lacrosse players to come forward or have their team canceled. Annie takes a private plane with a boy friend for a jaunt to San Francisco as if it were a freeway jaunt (“no big deal”). Ethan Ward (Dustin Milligan, who hails from the Canadian Northwest Territories) and Michael Steger (Navid Shirazi) provide some charisma as the kids, but they seem more impetuous and ready to get into silly fights than makes sense for their class.

The first night did well in the ratings, but the show seems a bit less daring in concept to me than “Gossip Girl.” Lori Loughlin’s role here seems less challenging than her situation as an instant mom (taking over a sister’s three children, again “Kansas at California”) in TheWB’s 2004 series “Summerland” (which would also launch Zac Efron as well as Jesse McCartney).

Update: Oct. 7, 2008:

The Oct. 7 episode started out with Ethan’s carrying around a “baby doll” mannequin as part of a class (“home economics?”) requirement in child care. If he turns it upside down accidentally, he gets an F. Is every student required to learn child care? If so, that’s very interesting.

Later, a female asks Mr. Matthews (practically) if he’s gay, and he practically says so. (Was she going to tempt him otherwise?) Then a student is arrested and suspended for drug possession in a police raid – she is caught trying to flush the pills down the toilet in the lavatory.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Republicans play catch up in St. Paul with "Biography Channel"


Tonight the Republican Convention in St. Paul resumed on PBS, and played catch-up, with a lot of emphasis on “Biography,” like the cable channel. There was much more emphasis in the speeches on the lives and stories of John McCain and Sarah Palin than on issues.

President Bush spoke on a Jumbotron in the Xcel Convention Center, from the White House, rather than travel to St. Paul. His low-key speech was framed by Laura Bush.

Fred Thompson, from Tennessee, gave a long speech, with a lot of one-liners. For example, Thompson praised McCain for not considering the "right to life" as a topic "above his pay grade." But the highlight of the evening was Joe Lieberman’s address. Lieberman is now sill “counted as a Democrat” and says he is an Independent. McCain’s support of him has been controversial. Lieberman said that he supports McCain because he is an “American” first before he is partisan. Lieberman has generally sided with many of Bush policies on the war on Terror, and, like Sam Nunn, is considered very strong in national defense and in areas like removing nuclear weapons from around the world.

One spokesperson for the Party misstated the vice-presidential candidate as Pawlenty (Minnesota Governor) rather than Palin.

The television broadcasts showed protestors, some of whom were arrested, trying to break into the convention hall.

Some people compare this convention to 1968, in that the incumbent party has to run on the biography of a “reform” candidate rather than on its record in war, which has become unpopular. Yet, tonight, speakers repeated said that we have turned the corner in Iraq and did not back out of a mission we started. And we started the conflict for noble purposes (to install democracy) rather than to conquer a country (compare Russia’s invasion of Georgia). Of course, that can be disputed: “we” want control of the oil resources.

Every speaker re-iterated the idea of living in the land of the free, and tended to cast the presentation of individuals at the Democratic convention as an exercise in “whining.”

There were lots of signs reading "Service" and "Country First" among the delegates. That refers to Hurricane Gustav, but Jimmy Carter used to give sermons on the subject.

Also, commentators reviewed the story that John McCain refused to go home from the Hanoi Hilton when he was given the "opportunity" to. Also, commentators have explained that McCain, because of his experiences, opposes torture or overseas "rendition" (as in the movie with Jake Gyllenhaal) as a tool in the War on Terror, and that most more progressive "conservatives" share McCain's position.

It brings back good memories for me to see the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul. I lived in Minneapolis 1997-2003.

Update: Sept. 3



Rudy Giuliani brought the convention hall down when he said that Barack Obama wouldn't call Al Qaeda "terrorists" out of political correctness (?); on the screen behind there was a picture of the New York City skyline without the World Trade Center. His speech started out well, as he said he was like an employer with two resumes, parties crossed out, having interviewed two candidates with very different backgrounds, and having to pick one to hire. Later, though, ne more or less painted Obama as like an amateur blogger (well, OK, "community organizer", five or six times). Remember, it's only fair to add, Obama says he gave up Wall Street for "Community organizing" of middle class working families.

Sarah Palin said that the Democrats say one thing in Scranton and another in San Francisco. She mentioned specifically the dangers to the Saudi oil fields and the idea of a Venezuela shut-off, and then implied that Alaska has a lot of oil (Gull Island, maybe?)

Later there was talk in the media of the "firing" scandal in Palin's administration in Alaska.

Sept. 4

Thursday night John McCain started his speech at 10 PM EDT. He promised a doubling of the per-child tax credit. He talked about drilling and energy alternatives. He did make his message sound "family friendly."

Again, he talked about finding a cause greater than oneself, and how the Vietnam War captivity led to his "opportunity for sacrifice" and how he had to give up his "selfish independence". That sounds a bit like a paradox. Of course, the military forces men to learn interdependence as part of unit cohesion; his fellow prisoners fed him and saved his life, but that was simply part of the military bond. "No man can stand alone" he said. "I wasn't my own man any more. I was my country's". He ended his speech with a call for personal service and emotional connection on person-person levels and said "America never quits." He had started with something like "I've got a message for the 'me first, country second' crowd. Change is coming!" They say that this is the work of "professional" speech-writers, who make a lot more than amateurs.

Philosophically, is McCain repudiating the idea of "individual sovereignty" and calling for socialization and loyalty? Does the individual lose the right to choose his own goals because of circumstances around him that he cannot control? Palin's speech, in contrast, sometimes migrated toward radical individualism, even as she dealt with the implications of sensitive family matters.

First Picture: AIDSwalk in Minneapolis, 2002, while Paul Wellstone spoke.

Second Picture: NYC skyline from Amtrak train in late October, 2001 (my trip).

Monday, September 01, 2008

PBS WETA airs "history detectives" in lieu of Republican Convention; a Colonial pastor-warrior; a rogue filmmaker of Mexican war


Because the more gaudy part of the Republican convention for Sept. 1 was postponed out of deference to the problems associated with Hurricane Gustav, PBS Station WETA 26 tonight in Washington aired a couple of interesting segments of “History Detectives”, link here.

One interesting segment was the history of Continental Army general Peter Muehlenberg who eventually wound up with a church in Woodstock, VA and who reported took off a ministerial cloak during a sermon to reveal army dress, and organized a militia to fight in the American revolution in 1776. He is said to have quoted Ecclesiastes, a verse that reads “..a time of war, and a time of peace,... and this is the time of war.” Researchers both in Colonial Williamsburg and in Lutheran communities in Pennsylvania and New York State researched this incident, and found a remaining “robe” to be authentic because it has wool fibers. But the story of his taking the robe off could not be confirmed. It had been invented in relation to immigration from Germany. Yet the story causes one to ponder how religious people in colonial times viewed “freedom” compared to today. The show mentioned the first Lutheran church in the Americas, at Wilmington.

An earlier segment told the story of an early legendary “movie” made by rogue doctor and sometimes flim-flam man Charles A. Pryor before 1920. Auctioneer and appraiser Wes Cowan is asked to examine an enormous color lithograph poster for the movie “The Great Mexican War.” The Library of Congress, as well as a museum in El Paso, TX were consulted, and eventually newsreels of the Mexican “civil war” (actual live combat) in the 1910’s were located. It’s possible to view them with a machine that shows old news reels the way microfilm is viewed. At least four reels were filmed by Pryor. It was possible for voyeuristic spectators to watch the battles from the roof of a hotel in downtown El Paso. Pancho Villa was seen as a Robin Hood (sort of like Che Guevara) , trying to free and redistribute wealth to Mexican farmers and workers. Perhaps the American Film Institute will buy the film and show it in film-history festivals – it would make for a good event at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring MD.

Picture: Landmark Bethesda Row Theater in MD, a popular venue for independent films