Saturday, January 31, 2009

AC360 and CNN air "Money Summit"

Anderson Cooper’s 360 show on CNN sponsors tonight a CNN Money Summit, hosted by Ali Velshi. The main web link is here.

The panelists include Andy Serwer, David Gergen, Telis Demos, Walter Updegrave, Katie Benner, and Amanda Gengler, and Stephanie Mehta.

There are contradictions in how consumers should behave. Self-interest and soundness means saving more, but that only slows down consumption and immediate job generation and short-term earnings even more, outside of certain niche industries.

The most interesting part was the unemployment. The highest unemployment concentrates in the southeast (normally strong economically), the Rust Belt (Michigan, Indiana), the far west (California, Oregon, Nevada), and spots like the District of Columbia and Rhode Island.

The panelists said that this time there is no magic fix (like semiconductors in the 70s, PC’s in the 80s, and especially the Internet in the 90s). There is a mixture of infrastructure and reinventing technology, including green technology and the energy Internet (of Thomas Friedman).

Retraining of the workforce is an enormous issue. But there will still be spikes of demand in some jobs, like refinance specialists. Gergen (himself a Republican who nevertheless was appointed by Bill Clinton) said that we have denigrated government jobs so much that the most qualified people do not go in there, especially for areas like regulation and law enforcement.

Velshi showed the growth of home prices in 2008 dollars. In 1979 the median home price (in today’s dollars) as $153000; it was $167000 in 1989, and about $270000 in 2006, when it spiked. False securitization of mortgages led to an unrealistic spike in home prices enticing unqualified borrowers. Much of this activity was, unfortunately, legal and was not understood by regulators. [On the otherhand Bernard Madoff (the “CSI of financial crimes”) was not caught.] The resulting housing bubble implosion was much worse in “hot” cities like Las Vegas. In Las Vegas the foreclosure rate is now 9%.

Benner said that regulation (including “conflict of interest” rules) should be functional, based on what someone does, not his formal job title or the legal structure of the employing company. Another interesting idea was that consumers could no longer depend on lenders to care whether they were credit-worthy -- that's because the loans had been "securitized", and then insured improperly, without honoring concepts like insurable interest or moral hazard.

Velshi discussed our vulnerability for owing so much our debt to other countries, especially China. This wasn't the case in the past. We depend on them for resources and cheap labor. That's bad karma.

They talked about restoring the American Dream, but it involves some generativity and sacrifice by people today for children tomorrow.

Friday, January 30, 2009

ABC 20-20, Primetime: The science of personality, polarity, and brain physiology; does it explain how we fall in love?

Tonight ABC 20/20 and Primetime Live presented a show “Why Him, Why Her: The Science of Seduction,” presenting the work of Dr. Helen Fisher. Her book, from Henry Hold, published Jan 2009, is called “Why Him, Why Her: Finding Real Love By Understanding Your Personality Type”. The host is Martin Bashir, and the news story is co-authored with Rob Wallace and Connie Clark, link here.

She talked about regions deep in the brain that emit various hormones and neurotransmitters, especially dopamine, serotonin, testosterone and various estrogen derivatives. He described the four types (sort of like Paul Hindemith’s “Four Temperaments” – or Carl Nielsen’s, for that matter) as “Explorer” (John Kennedy), “Director” (Bill Gates), “Builder” (Colin Powell) and “Negotiator” (Bill Clinton). It’s hard for me to tell where I fit, probably explorer, because that would be like a scientist.

But these "combinations" kind of dead end. Directors and Negotiators are supposed to link up, but Builders and attracted to each other, and so are Explorers (I wonder if that includes composer Ralph Vaughn Williams). The show tracks some New York City heterosexual couples of each type through dating.

The show also covered arranged marriages. 90% of marriages in India are arranged, and 60% worldwide are. Curiously, arranged marriages don’t end in divorce as often. The show depicted newspaper and Internet ads for marriages called "matrimonials" that look silly to many western eyes.

I remember taking personality tests online in 2002 with Right Management; I think they were from Myer-Biggs, but we wound up with “four preferences” and 16 personality types. The preferences are polarized opposites that combine to make the 16 types. They are “introversion v extroversion; sensing v perceiving, thinking v feeling, judging v perceiving”.

I think I am closest to INTP of the 16 types (“thinker”).

Paul Rosenfels, a therapist, human scientist and psychologist, and philosopher, active in New York City in the last century, described people according to “polarities” as masculine or feminine, and modes, according to objective or subjective. He developed other dualities and wrote many works and monographs in a precise writing style common with mathematical proofs. His ideas tend to work out in a manner analogous to the "Personality Page" above. Polarity exists independently of biological gender, and in the 1970s Paul’s ideas became influential in the male gay community, especially in New York City’s East Village (a few "talk groups" were actually aired on local cable or public access television then). The best place to find out about his work is here (“The Paul Rosenfels Community: Social Progress through Personal Growth”). Follow the links to “Our Issues”, “The Ninth Street Center” and especially “We Celebrate Ourselves.” The site works better in Google Chrome (which seems to handle some javascript defaults differently) than IE or Mozilla (at least on my XP computer). Paul's work is also published on the English Server.

Later tonight, after a disturbing crime story in Florida, 20-20 presented a touching story of a family that adopted a second dwarf to provide a similar growing up companion to a child, and got the other siblings to bond to both.

Later, ABC "Nightline" presented a "Bonfire of the Vanities" segment showing the egocentric personalities of Wall Street titans who drove our economy off a cliff. The show presented them as almost sociopathic, at least narcissistic (check these terms in Wikipedia). "They don't get it." There is talk again of knowing right from wrong, almost in the sense of the Old Testament.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

PBS: The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer

PBS American Experience aired (Monday Jan. 26, 2009) a new film “The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” written and directed by David Grubin (who has directed several American Experience films), produced or sponsored by station WGBH, with link here. Note the use of the plural in the title.

The film is a docudrama, with a middle aged Oppenheimer, played by David Strathairn (“Good Night and Good Luck”), answering interrogation questions in what first looks like a mock court trial. The actual “trail” was a public hearing that took place after the House hearings when President Eisenhower asked him to resign as a security risk and he demanded his own “trial”, where Edward Teller would finally do him in. But in the movie the testimony, however based on a real proceeding, seems like a presentation device, that makes for effective film. The actual history of the hearing is not explained until relatively late. It is easy to imagine this film as an independent theatrical release.

Oppenheimer grew up as a brilliant but aloof boy, almost without a childhood in the usual sense. He had a tendency toward arrogance and air of “superiority” yet despair. He might have exhibited a mild degree of what we call Asperger’s syndrome, and he was probably a psychological feminine; he had no interest in social advancement or male competitiveness in the usual sense. He had some inclination toward writing and poetry as well as science. He would graduate from Harvard, go to England where he would fumble at lab work (just like I did in college in Qual and Quant) and then go to Germany to study theoretical physics. Eventually, discoveries of the implications of splitting the atom would change his own career.

He had taught at Berkeley, and students found him incomprehensible. He did not have a phone for a radio for a long time (he didn’t even read newspapers), and an interest in politics developed at first reluctantly but then suddenly in the 1930s during the derpession

He would wind up being recruited for the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos (near property that he had inherited from his father). His lack of management experience (or even desire) seemed to make him questionable as a choice, and he had trouble with getting a security clearance, then from the Army, because of his fleeting associations with Communists. Even though the Soviet Union was an ally in WWII, the American government was paranoid even then about Communist spies. Part of the suspicion came out of his attempt at social and romantic connections, as with his heterosexual dating of Jean Tatlock, whom some suspected of lesbianism. There was also the whole matter of his contact with Haakon Chevalier. In 1940, he would marry and eventually had two children.

The film documents the Trinity Test (like in the opera “Doctor Atomic”) and subsequent use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with Oppenheimer’s explicit directions to the Enola Gay.

After World War II, Truman decided to develop the hydrogen bomb out of fear that the Soviets would do the same. There was a real paranoia that the Soviet Union could wipe out our civilization with only a few blasts, and that subversion of our society would come from within, which led to the mood of McCarthyism (which actually bit me when I went to college in 1961). During the reign of terror, social association with “Communists” (and probably other people like “homosexuals”) made someone a security risk, a concept presented in the film as generated by the horrible power of the new weapons of mass destruction. (A single 1952 hydrogen bomb could obliterate New York, according to the film; smaller bombs that could be developed by terrorists could destroy an area less than a mile in radius).

Oppenheimer spent his last years out of government, and died of throat cancer at 62. He had been a heavy smoker.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dr. Phil covers cell, text message and YouTube excesses among teens

Dr. Phil today continued his coverage of harmful or na├»ve teen behavior on cell phones and the Internet. The show on Jan. 27, 2009 was called “Crazy Teen Trends.” The link is here.

He started with a couple of teens, a girl, 14, who had sent 14000 text messages in one month, and a boy, 17, who had sent 120000 in three months. I don’t know how this is possible or how much it would cost (the parents). Dr. Phil did question whether the teens would get “social skills” and “eye contact”. Dr. Phil said that some trees were sacrificed just to point the details of the bill. (Ever look at a printout of a report with 125000 lines?)

He then covered the dangerous practice of “sexting” where teenagers take inappropriate pictures of themselves and send them to others (usually girls to boys). In Ohio and Pennsylvania, teens (both senders and receivers) have been prosecuted on child pornography charges. Dr. Phil interviewed one 12 year old girl without showing her face or revealing her identity.

I covered the problem of these abusive prosecutions on my COPA blog on Oct. 10, 2009, link here.

The New York Times has an article in the Business Section Jan. 27 by Stephanie Clifford, “Teaching Teenagers About Harassment”, that mentions the prosecutions, as well as getting into a site called “That’s Not Cool” (“Where do you draw the digital line?”). The story is here.

Dr. Phil went on to cover the “hit-or-miss” fad or “punch-out” game where teens sock each other for slapstick comedy for YouTube. One kid was socked by his grandmother. Teens get progressive head injuries from this practice, similar to those possible from boxing. One teen had an obvious deformity to his skull from surgery after such an incident.

Monday, January 26, 2009

SAG has awards ceremony on TNT, TBS; now there is pressure to settle, perhaps?

The Screen Actors Guild held its award ceremony last night.

Curiously, SAG’s press announcement does not yet have the winners. There is a very interesting link covering the TV/Theatrical negotiations here. Actors have been working without a contract for over a month but now there may be more pressure to settle since the awards are over, and the Oscars are coming up Feb. 22/

Hollywood has a photo slide show of the "Slumdog Millionaire" cast awards here.

The ceremony was carried last night on the TNT and TBS cable networks.

“Rope of Silicon” has a convenient list of the winners here.

The cast of “Slumdog Millionaire” won outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture (a “collective” award) but 18-year-old Dev Patel has yet to win or be nominated for a major award himself for carrying the whole movie. Sean Penn (“Milk”) and Meryl Streep (“Dount”) won best actor and actress awards for movies.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Social conservatives still look at television as disruptive to family "socialization" of kids

Today (Jan. 25) the “Sunday Read” section of The Washington Times featured two “moralistic” pieces, on p 12 and 13, by Michael Pearl and Scott Stuckley, “How to get kids to turn off the television … and do something constructive.” I’ll give one of the links.

Back in the 1950s, middle school – pardon me, junior high school – teachers had to say, “read, don’t watch television.” Pearl says that in the old days a Saturday B-movie double feature of Tarzan in black and white was a real treat, but today kids are satiated with fantasy and symbolic technological gizmos so much, and visual notions of personal perfection (“Smallville” “Gossip Girl” and “Supernatural” all offer this; “One Tree Hill”, not so much) that real people seem less important. Parents have to work hard at getting their kids (and themselves) socialized. Pearl mentions “wrestling, fishing and tree climbing” as wholesome activities. I do remember some of ours in the 50s: making model cities or “kingdoms” outdoors (on the long sidewalk to an outdoor rural privy), playing “green, yellow and red” (a kind of hide-and-seek) where the country church courtyard next door provided seclusion which farm pets – cats included – could spoil -- and most of all, backyard baseball (that is, softball and whiffleball). Kids learned physics lessons by figuring out how to fit the national pastime into an ordinary fenced yard. But of course, some of these diversions had been stimulated by TV (“Doodyville” and then Disneyland) and movies.

Stuckley talks about children’s programming and the fact that media companies need to promote “brands” with them, and that these programs become babysitters since families typically don’t watch television together. He maintains that kids are rapidly outgrowing the entertainment that media companies, obsessed with short-term profits, “feed” them.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

ABC Nightline reports on the decline of Public Access on cable television

On Friday night, Jan. 23, ABC Nightline did a quick segment “Public Access in Peril”. The video is there today in the “nightline” subdirectory at abcnews.

When cable television started in the late 1960s, Congress allowed local governments to require some public access in consideration of the disruption to communities (as viewed then) of doing the cable construction. Over time, “quirky and kooky” voices got on public access channels. In New York City, Ninth Street Center talk groups were sometimes televised on Channel C around 1973.

Some people, like Leslie Dutton, became public access “personalities”. But in twenty states, communities have been cutting back on public access channels during the economic retraction, and in Los Angeles the City Council now requires only one, and it seems that the City has some political control on what gets on it.

Some say, why do we need Public Access in an era of YouTube and blogs (even “Blog Radio”)? One reason is that Public Access focuses on local issues and local personalities, as well as encouraging call ins and conversation.

Friday, January 23, 2009

ABC 20-20: Living to Tell: surviving emergencies

Tonight ABC 20/20 held a special “Live to Tell: Who Lives, Who Dies,” with Elizabeth Vargas.

The show covered five major disasters to examine how people survive sudden disasters and accidents.

The first incident was a fire in a nightclub, The Station, in West Warwick, RI in February 2003, where 100 people died. Sprinklers and pyrotechnics from a group called Great White, while visible for a while, eventually set fire to the club, but many customers did not grasp what had happened immediately. Many lives were lost near one exit.

Ben Sherwood, author of “The Survivor’s Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life” (Grand Central Publishing, early 2009), said that about 10% of people do the right thing, 10% do destructive things, and 80% of people freeze in a disaster. He says that your brain goes into a loop when faced with a stimulus that does not match anything it has seen (unlike the ability to brake to avoid an auto accident).

The second accident was United Flight 232 that crash landed in Sioux City Iowa in 1989. The passengers had 44 minutes to prepare, and the pilot warned them “this is going to be rough” as the plane split into pieces that rolled over, and burst into flames. 185 of 296 people survived. One survivor said that he wears natural fabric on flights.

The third tragedy was the Indian Ocean tsunami on December 26, 2004. A ten year old British girl warned her parents that foam in the water meant that an offshore earthquake had occurred, as she had just learned that in science. That helped get her parents to evacuate more quickly. Nate Berkus, the interior designer who often appears on the Oprah Winfrey show, survived the tsunami.

The fourth tragedy concerned a Texas man who was cut in half by a railroad car but survived.

The fifth incident involved a woman who, while hiking with another woman, was attacked by a mountain lion in the California desert. Nearby hikers threw rocks at the mountain lion to get it to leave. There was a mountain lion warning sign near the site, but panther attacks on humans are still rare.

The program mentioned that people who survive emergencies may have higher amounts of neuropeptide-Y in their brains.

The ABC News story by Jessica Hornig is “Surviving and Emergency: If you need to think, it’s too late,” link here. I remember this point being made in Army Basic Training back in 1968.

Picture: Punta Gorda FL, after a hurricane in 2004 (personal trip).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

National Geographic: Arlington: Field of Honor, about Arlington National Cemetery

National Geographic has a moving documentary “Arlington: Field of Honor” (2005), with website here. The one hour film, narrated by Frank Faison, presents Arlington National Cemetery, on a 250-foot-high hill at the head of Memorial Bridge leading into Washington DC (at the Lincoln Memorial). At the summit of the hill sits Arlington House, at one time the home of Robert E. Lee. I grew up about four miles from the heart of the 640 acre Cemetery.

The film interweaves the Arlington House history (using many interior shots and black and white historical footage) with the duties of the Honor Guard, and particularly the “test” or inspections given to soldiers to get in to the Tomb Guard Detachment (Society of the Honor Guard) for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, website. Much attention is given to the absolute perfection of the uniform, requiring soldiers to spend hours spit-shining low quarters. Demerits are given for “rail creases” on sleeves of uniforms. The men usually have buzz cuts. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier represents about 150000 men over several wars.

The film covers the first African Americans to be buried at Arlington.

The film also shows the hard work of maintaining the grounds and steamcleaning the headstones, as well as placing stones. Workers must be able to empathize with "next of kin."

There is a group of civilian women called the Arlington Ladies who assist families with kin buried at Arlington Cemetery.

I was stationed at Fort Myer in 1968 for Pentagon Duty, but I was on South Post; the Honor Guard is on the North Post, behind the Cemetery, with large brick dormitory-like barracks. I was a draftee, in a cohort where the vocabulary word “Lifer” was common. South Post was eventually torn down.

The soldiers of the Honor Guard, however, are dedicated to a continuous exercise in collective perfection in drill. It is true that the first topic that new soldiers are introduced to in Basic Training (at least it was in 1968) is “drill and ceremonies” which when I was in, was based on the M-14. I wonder if I could take it apart and clean it today.

The Honor Guard is where reverence and perfection merge.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dr. Phil: "The Wild, Wild Web"

Today, Wednesday January 21, Dr. Phil did another show on “Internet mistakes” (as he called a similar program a year ago). Today, it was called “The Wild, Wild Web”, link here.

The first part of the show was something like “When Myspace is Mom’s space” dealt with teenage girls who resent their mothers’ intrusions into their online activity. The show was quick to mention the fact that colleges and employers are now checking up on people’s profiles, sometimes behind their backs (and getting the wrong people) and sometimes by asking for profiles. The segment covered the way teenagers (especially girls) often cyberbully one another and sometimes libel teachers, which could get them into legal trouble (as well as expelled from school).

The next part of the show dealt with the recent controversy over Facebook’s removal of pictures of women breastfeeding. The company did not appear but sent a letter to Dr. Phil, saying it has explicit policies on what images may appear (not female areola) to make the site safe for users as young as 13. (I thought, at least this is voluntary protection of children, in the spirit of the Supreme Court’s “bypass” decision today to let the opinion that COPA is unconstitutional stand). A woman said that she wants to express the concept that the nipple serves a biological function and is not just a sexual organ.
A man who put up a profile picture constructed from nipples had it removed, ironically when the site accepted a picture of man shaving his own chest around the nipple area.

The last part of the show dealt with impersonation. A married woman was lured on Facebook by someone impersonating actor Matthew Perry from the show “Friends.” It came to the attention of her husband.

The show did mention the privacy settings on social networking sites and even blogging publishing services. It encouraged people to use them. Of course, people often want to be published globally, and often believe that their content is legitimate by modern social and at least legal norms. That raises another question: the new freedom tends to offend an older sensibility that thought that “right” (the dissemination of power and privilege through a social structure and family) was more important that “truth” that, now even in public, comes from the individual.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

PBS Nova: California: The Big Energy Gamble; also, Inaugural Balls on C-SPAN

Tonight, Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2009 PBS Nova aired “The Big Energy Gamble” (link here) about California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to make California go green and reduce carbon emissions. “I’ll be back” and “Trust me” he once said as Terminator. Now, as the Republican who replaced recalled Gray Davis, he pretty much has to lock in with Barack Obama (and Oprah Winfrey) on a green revolution.

California gets 12% of its power from renewable sources (2008) and that’s suppose to be 20% in 2010. His energy plan, AB 32 (California legislation site here) calls for 15% decrease in energy use by homes and businesses through efficiency and technology; 15% in savings in power generation, and 33% in car technology.

The program showed the innovations of homeowner-actors Ed Begley, Jr. and Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) in Studio City CA, but then traveled to Richmond, CA (a distant Bay Area suburb where I stayed myself in Feb. 2002) and showed how low income homeowners, businessowners and renters don’t have the money for energy saving improvements.

It then showed how large companies save energy (most of all, Google, with the huge investment in solar), and then moved on to electricity generation with wind and solar, and showed how new solar technology materials could lower costs and improve efficiency, and could be exported. It covered the political debate of power transmission lines from solar and wind farms in the Mojave Desert to LA (there is a similar debate in northern Virginia).

Toward the end, the film covered the development of plug-in hybrid and electric-only cars. The obvious problem is to build the infrastructure necessary to give the cars the mileage range they need, as well as for the car companies they have to raise enough capital in an economy where they’re crawling to Washington for short term bailouts.

Inauguration coverage

C-Span will cover all ten major inaugural balls in Washington DC tonight, with intermittent interviews. There was an early interview at the (Illinois) Homestate Ball at the Convention Center; people were delayed over an hour getting in because of technical problems with the security magnetometers. Obama was shown at the National Building Museum with the Commander-in-Chief Ball for the five branches of the uniformed armed services (I hope SLDN is there). Obama (in white bow tie and formal wear) said "Service and sacrifice aren't limited to those who wear the uniform" and discussed the sacrifices of military families at home. The ball provided a closed-circuit television feed-in for eight soldiers in Iraq. The Michelle Obama appeared in a white evening gown, and the President and Mrs. Obama danced. Military formal wear uniforms, infrequently seen, were evident.

The third stop for Obama was to be the "Be the Change" Youth Ball at the Washington Hilton, live, on MTV here. The Ball practices age segregation, and Obama normally would 12 years old to get in (I'm 30 years too old.) They had to hand out wrist bands (18-20 can't drink) and there were too many to get in. Obama said he is "Old School" (the name of a movie about college hazing). (Note: "Be the Change" is also the name of a book by teen Zach Hunter, about ending modern slavery; see my Books blog May 2007).

He was also due at the Biden Homestate Ball (Deleware, "The Blue Hen State", complete with it's I-95 toll ripoff, so that there are no sales taxes).

In keeping with the spirit of the PBS broadcast tonight, Al Gore hosted a Green Ball, with all props made from recycled materials and 2000 people attending.

I understand that a few hundred people with $500 tickets did not get in to the Midwestern Ball because Obama was already there and the Secret Service wouldn't let them in.

The Jonas Brothers apparently made a White House visit yesterday.

The New York Times has a blog by Katherine Q. Seeyle covering the balls, here.

Two balls were canceled, with ticket holders promised refunds.

I don't know if the LGBT ball at the Mayflower Hotel is included yet; maybe someone does. (I do know people with the big-$$ tickets; I'll try to find out what happened. PS: I'm told now that Obama did not appear, that this ball did not "count".) The C-Span Inauguration Hub is here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

In the fictitious "One Tree Hill" Lucas gets to interview directors to film his really fictitious novel

So, tonight young novelist Lucas Scott (Chad Michael Murray) on CWTV's “One Tree Hill” is in the enviable position to interview six directors for his make-believe novel “The Unkindness of Ravens”. (There really is a move, made on 2000, called “An Unkindness of Ravens” that may be close, but it’s not available on Netflix.) I guess the novel is autobiographical, relative to the show.

Lucas says he wants a director who understands the characters can make the little things big. What it’s like to step out onto the court, to go through all the medical and personal tribulations… What it’s like to be the rejected half-brother. The series comes from the same people who brought us Smallville, I suppose some of the agonizing identity problems are similar.

If I could get the chance to pick directors for my material… What a privilege. I love the way Joe Wright handled the mood in “Atonement.” I love the deliberation that Clint Eastwood brings to his movies (so should Lucas). I like the probing intensity that Paul Thomas Anderson brought to “There Will Be Blood.” I like the sizzle and ferocity of Darren Aronofsky, even if “The Wrestler” could not be that uplifting (I loved “Pi”). I like the way Danny Boyle got so much charisma out of Dev Patel in "Slumdog Millionaire." For GLBT material, I like the studied eroticism of David Moreton in “Edge of 17” (Todd Stephens, who wrote that movie, was a bit to off the cuff for me in the “Another” movies.) I like the dark imagination of Carter Smith’s work (“Bugcrush”). And I like the characters and their revelations in Q. Allan Brocka’s “Eating Out”.

As for Gus Van Sant, I'm actually more impressed with his work in "Elephant" and "Gerry" (or even "Paranoid Park") than "Milk." Bryan Singer's ("Valkyrie" and "Superman Returns")) masterpiece is a much earlier work, "The Usual Suspects."

I just don’t know if authors like Lucas in the real world of film get to interview six directors.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"HBO Latino" broadcasts Lincoln Memorial concert; "Obama on the Left, McCain on the Right" rocks!

HBO has the exclusive right to broadcast the musical portions of the free inaugural concert (“We Are One” or "Somos uno") from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, that started at 2:30 PM today, Jan. 18, under cloudy skies and milder temperatures in the mid 30s.

The link is here. The name was an important Rosicrucian phrase back in the 1970s.

Many celebrities performed, including Josh Groban. Another performer sang “You’ll never walk alone” from the Rogers & Hammerstein musical and 1955 CinemaScope film “Carousel”. The Oregon State University Choir "Obama Express" performed in blue robes.

In some northern VA suburbs, the concert was broadcast only on 311, which is HBO Latino, and all speeches were overlaid with translations into Spanish.

CNN (under Buffalo-raised Wolf Blitzer) covered the event from the distance, but was not allowed to broadcast the music. Barack Obama spoke at about 4 PM. Joe Biden spoke early in the event. CNN was allowed to rebroadcast some music after the concert.

Here is DC Pop Culture Examiner's list of the performers.

John King’s eight-minute interview with Obama today is here. Obama was seated in a factory making wind turbines. He was asked about his lack of emotion in his speeches (an odd impression). Obama mentioned that both the Capitol and White House were completed with slave labor.

Earlier today, on both CNN and NBC, commentators mentioned that Obama is going to talk about shared sacrifice rather specifically (as Ross Perot had promised during the 1992 campaign). Bush, as recall, seemed to say “live as usual” after 9/11. Actually, there was some call for volunteerism then even with Americorps.

For the video “Obama on the Left, McCain on the Right” go here. The kids rock. Oprah should have them perform this! Also, so did the group "Dear Obama!" rock!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

ABC 20-20: "What Is One Life Worth?"

ABC 20-20 last night started with some brief interviews from the US Air incident, where everything went “right” with the landing of the plane and the rescue of every single passenger and crew member, including the pilot. The video showed an apartment complex on the cliffs in New Jersey across the river, and I think I once visited the complex for a possible rental.

One of the survivors, the last passenger to leave, mentioned the “women and children first” issue, which we rarely hear about now. A few passengers were waist-deep in cold water and in severe danger of hypothermia. The passenger said he was not a good swimmer but was the last to depart, and that Captain Chesley Sullenberger directed him out of harms way.

The majority of the broadcast dealt with the idea “what are you worth?” One major question, addressed by Suze Orman, is the idea that salaries are kept secret. Suze says that this expected practice in the human resources world works to the advantage of the employer, who can fend off potential questions about unequal pay for equal work (especially for women).

The show also looked at the value of a college degree in generating income, and whether it really is the $1 million lifetime that colleges claim. The show made a case for vocational school, like automotive repair. Electricians average $48000 a year, plumbers about that, the show said.

The show also covered the job loss of a local television broadcaster. After a corporate merger, the newscasters were called in and asked to re-interview the new owners for their own jobs. The man’s wife said that this behavior (“walking in the door”) showed incredible “lack of respect.” The man went into a dog-grooming business.

The link for the related ABC story, by Joy Ciacari-Levy, “What Is One Life Worth?” is here. This story specifically deals with the 9/11 victims.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Lifetime airs "Profoundly Normal": a successful marriage

Tonight (January 16, 2008) Lifetime television re-aired the 2003 CBS/Paramount television film “Profoundly Normal,” directed by Graeme Clifford, written by Paris Qualles, apparently filmed in Toronto but set in Washington DC.

The film is a touching docudrama about two “developmentally disabled” adults (a white woman and African American man) who marry and have a developmentally “normal” child, Ricky. The film makes the point that the genetically the child had a 90% of being “normal”, but that presumes that many developmental issues are not genetic but come from congenital or other environmental causes.

The woman, Donna Lee Shelby, is played by Kristie Alley, and she has met her future husband Ricardo Thornton (Delroy Lindo) at a foster home / institution called Forest Haven. She has been proving that she can live on her own by taking a bus and getting a job at MacDonalds fixing fries. Her more troubled roommate Margaret (Catherine Fitch) works there mopping floors – and the film seems to be making a point about “menial” employment or grunt work that seems tough to watch during these economic times (the economy was recovering when this film was made).

The roommate has trouble adjusting (the film script has a passage comparing “crazy” to “retarded”) and has to go to a group home. But Ricardo courts Donna and they decide to marry (she won’t let him sleep in her home unless they marry). The Washington DC government bureaucracy says that persons with their disability are not allowed to marry, but they do so anyway. Then when she becomes pregnant, the counselors try to urge her to terminate the pregnancy because of the “risk”.

Much of the film’s narrative is carried out when Donna, Ricardo, and Ricky speak; sometimes these lead to back stories, which show how they got placed into the foster home. Ricardo is given a “test” to name three cities, and when he can’t (and wets the floor) he is sent to Forest Haven, by a cigarette smoking woman. Donna was given up by her own biological mother.

I believe this is a true story. Had Ricky been born disabled, it would make for a different movie, but even that would raise its own set of issues.

The word “normal” is definitely “overloaded”. In the pilot episode of Smallville in 2001, the young teen Clark Kent (not yet having been told who he is) sticks his arm in a farm harvester chuck grinder and it remains unharmed, and he asks his father, “Is this normal?”

The film, had it been theatrical instead of television, would have been intense to watch.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

History Channel: Britain's Roswell and Dayton TX Cash-Landurm Incident

The History Channel did host an interesting UFO doubleheader last night.

On “UFO Hunters” the episode was “Alien Fallout” and it concerned symptoms of several people affected by a UFO sighting (the “Cash-Landrum Incident”) near Dayton Texas (NE of Houston) in 1980. A truck was levitated off a road a short bit, and then later at least two witnesses reported symptoms of what sound like radiation exposure. One was a woman who had hair loss and vomiting for years; the man’s symptoms resolved quickly.

The show depicted a balloon-like UFO (rather like a Lolligar on “The Universe”, a fictitious creature on another planet) and up to 23 Chinook Army helicopters gave chase.

“UFO Files” featured “Britain’s Roswell”, a bizarre UFO sighting on Christmas night 1980, at a U,S. Air Force base in the Rendlesham Forest near the North Sea. On Dec. 25 and 26, various airmen on patrol at night encountered a smooth, glowing craft, with a glassy surface. There were large shapes a bit like hieroglyphics on it. Their walkie-talkies and flood lights went out, but came back on when the craft darted away.

According to the show, the Air Force covered up the incident, brainwashing the men in “Manchurian candidate” fashion, laying one man out a gurney and tampering with him almost the way aliens would. An airman named Larry Warren came through, and eventually documents were released under the FIOA. The British government released a report on the incident in 1983, but had wrong dates (saying the incident started on Dec 27). The Air Force claims that a lighthouse on the North Sea could have accounted for the lights, as well as a satellite that reentered on Dec. 25.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Blake Berris exits "Days of our Lives" as "Nick Fallon" gets a light sentence in today's episode

Today, the sad tale of Nick Fallon came to an end on “Days of our Lives.” Remember, that this “Great Gatsby” (or Nick Carraway) typed character, played with such earnestness by Blake Berris, killed the evil Dean Trent Robbins after that millstone ridiculed him in a fight. Remember, everyone wanted to get rid of Trent, and Nick evaded the law for a long time and let others take the rap while he tried to carry out a fantasy relationship, holed up in an airport motel with Melanie, Trent’s daughter.

It’s hard to believe that a guy like Nick really would fall for girls like Chelsea or Melanie. (I still remember how the character was introduced, with a bar trick and physics.) Nick seems to have acted out the social pressure to prove that he can support a female who must act helpless and depend on him. Many viewers would see the whole episode as sexist. All the characters in DOOL act like they need their heterosexual mates to prove that they exist as people at all.

In fact, in an earlier sequence, Nick got duped into a phony “marriage” in Las Vegas and wound up raising two boys for a while (the old “other people’s children” trick). The whole motive (for DOOL writers) to have a sequence like that was interesting to me.

In the episode, Melanie made an impassioned plea to the judge, who gave Nick 2-5 years with eligibility for parole after 18 months. The clumsily written scene started with her saying she wanted to give him life, but then decided to temper justice with mercy. In most jurisdictions, he would have plead out for voluntary manslaughter, since the crime was committed at the last moment in heat of anger. I wanted to see the sentencing scene: I hoped it didn't get pre-empted by network "Breaking News" (so often happens), since soap episodes are never re-aired.

I guess that Blake Berris leaves the show. He appeared in over 200 episodes. Here is his interview on “Soaps” where he says he is working on “The Starter Wife”. He says that actors don’t get to decide how their characters turn out. How about a “real movie”, Blake?

Picture: from a bar (Town DC), of a "ghostbuster".

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dr. Phil has second program on transgendered children

Today, January 13, 2009, the Dr. Phil show continued the subject of transgendered children (first covered Oct. 29, 2008). The link (for "Little Boy Lost") is here.

He started with a mother, Toni, who had viewed her middle-child son, as having said at a young age that he believed he was a girl, as having “died” at 11, but then had a change of heart and became fully supportive.

Dr. Phil also presented four panelists, two with each point of view. Psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel and psychotherapist Dr. Michele Angello supported the mother and child. Dr. Siegel maintained that the brain is female until it is influenced by hormones in utero, which in rare cases may not be present with male biological gender, or may be ineffective because of the lack of effective chemical receptors in certain brain cells.

On the “other side” were Glenn Stanton, from Focus on the Family, and psychologist Dr. Joseph Nicolosi. Both advanced traditional Freudian theories about absent fathers and overly attentive, perhaps oedipal mothers. Toni became angry at them. First, only her middle son had become trans-gender, the other two boys in the family had developed “normally”. She challenged Stanton, “Do you have a transgendered child,” and she said that she had nothing to learn from him.

The program got into somewhat misleading comparisons of transgender identiy with sexual orientation. Siegel believes that both have biological, perhaps at least partially genetic, causes that admittedly are mysterious. Stanton was courteous to Siegel but insisted on his views, which seem to have more of a “moral” basis than scientific. Nicolosi and others got into a bizarre argument about the assertion "heterosexuality is natural." (It is, but so what?) Dr. Phil himself remained a bit distant from the anger.

Daniel Siegel has authored “Parenting from the Inside Out” (2007) (co-authored by Mary Hartzell) published by Tarcher. Joseph Nicolosi has authored “A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality” (2002) from Intervarsity Press, and “Reparative Value of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach” (1997), published by Jason Aronson (expensive!) If you look under his name as an author on Amazon, you’ll see his pattern. He seems to have his agenda. I glanced at Nicolosi's "Parent's Guide" on Amazon and saw that his first chapter is called "Masculinity Is an Achievement." He quotes Camille Paglia as saying, "A woman is, but a man must become." True, that rubs some salt on a wound. But, biologically, that's how even Siegel says the world works. Everything defaults to female until something happens.

I was a bit of a pariah myself as a grade school and “junior high school” boy, being physically weaker and less competitive than other boys. I don’t know why this happened, whether it was genetic, related to a case of measles at age 7, or related to psychological developmental issues. But it was treated, back in the 1950s, as a “moral” issue. I can understand why it would have been. If I don’t “do my part”, then I will live off the “sacrifices” of others; it’s going to be my job and moral duty as a young man to protect women and children. Remember, I grew up just a decade after the “Greatest Generation” won World War II and would face the draft myself. This, with the rest of my personal history, helps explain why I jumped into the debate on gays in the military when it erupted in 1993 with Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Monday, January 12, 2009

"Kyle XY" now can fly, almost like Superman

Well, Monday nights in January you expect to see something new from the more controversial series.

ABC Family (“a new kind of family”) started its Sean 3 of “Kyle XY” tonight (the show’s blog is here) and we find Kyle strapped to a gurney, using his super senses to listen for his beloved Amanda. Then Kyle uses his telekinetic powers to free himself (a la Uri Geller) and actually jump-flies.

Remember, on Smallville Lex once asked “Do you believe man can fly?” Kyle is becoming a bit more like Clark Kent, with more or less the same powers. But Josh (young French Canadian actor Jean-Luc Bilodeau) is not content to live vicariously (unlike Clark’s friend Pete), and is fully ready for the extension of the senior prom..

Kyle is pretty much the perfect teen, any parent would settle for the pre-knowledge that this is how their kid would turn out. The problem is, Kyle was manufactured, he didn’t have to be raised or potty-trained, or put his parents through the whole years of challenge. Josh, did, and would be failing algebra and not graduating if Kyle hadn’t tutored him.

I’ll leave the cloak-and-dagger explanation for Kyle’s existence for others (or for other postings). But it is a plot of sorts.

I'd like to see Kyle become a journalist (like Clark, or like the photographer Peter Parker), and have an "Anderson Cooper 360" type of show in make believe. He could even hunt down the "culprits of the collapse", or wade in hurricane waters.

The character Kyle also reminds me of “Jake 2.0” (Christopher Gorham) who also has powers (from a lab accident with nanotechnology) and uses them for good. UPN cancelled the series in early 2004 all too quickly.

ABC Family has, in the past, rerun episodes of Smallville and Everwood. Just remember, "with great powers comes great responsibilities."

Gossip Girl” (you know, where the mobile blogger Serena makes all these rich kids jump as she moulds them for “reputation defender” [blog]) has bad boy Chuck Bass (British actor Ed Westwick) getting his dad’s company, and then running into the “dead hand” – this time, a morals clause in the will, that causes him to lose it if he’s caught with inappropriate behavior. He’s supposed to be 17, the actor is 21, and he looks older than any “edge of 17” in the scene where he gets caught by the trustee (in his own office, when he is supposedly working). Serena says, “with inheritance, sometimes you get something you didn’t bargain for.” She also mobile-blogs about sharks in the pond. Not that many people know that the series comes from a series of novels by Cecily von Ziegesar and perhaps others. The series seems a bit like fancy weekly soap opera (so do "One Tree Hill" and "90210"). It's too bad we lost "The O.C." and Seth's comic books when he went to Brown.

Jan. 26

Amanda plays the piano (some Chopin) but Kyle has to fix a "brain problem" that disconnects her brain from the music. Weird stuff. And Justin has to accept Kyle as a roommate.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

NBC broadcasts full Golden Globes event, which returns after last years WGA strike

Tonight (Sunday, January 11, 2009) NBC broadcast the 3 hour Golden Globes (running over by about 15 minutes), prefaced by a 1 hour pre-show. The event is sponsored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). The event took place at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, CA at 5 PM PST. The website is this. This year’s return to the full ceremony was welcome after last year’s abbreviated “press conferences” because of the WGA strike.

The Golden Globes resembles the Oscars, but includes films and series made for television, and breaks up the “best picture” into dramatic and musical/comedy and that breakup is used for several other major awards. Network journalism is not included (as it is in the Emmy’s), although it could well be argued that film segments like Anderson Cooper’s “Planet in Peril” or Christiane Amanpour’s documentaries, or PBS Nova and Frontline ought to be included.

The highlight of the evening was Steven Spielberg’s acceptance of the Cecil B. DeMille award. Spielberg said that he started making movies by filming wrecks with his model train set. (I can remember, in visits to a psychologist, building toys with erector sets and wrecking them, and remember we used to do that as kids in Ohio.) Spielberg commented on the idea that, during harder economic times, Hollywood should focus on large audience family movies. Actually, most of Spielberg’s films fit that category, but he said that independent film, the kind that attracts most of the Globe theatrical release awards, is vital to the business and makes most artists in the film business tick. We’re all individuals, he said.

The nominations and winners are easily linked from the home page. “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight, dir. Danny Boyle) won best dramatic picture. Mickey Rourke won best actor in a dramatic film (“The Wrestler”) 18 year old Dev Patel, whose performance as the quiz kid made Slumdog work, did not get a nomination for best actor (he should have). I was split between this film and “The Reader” and “Revolutionary Road”. The best musical or comedy was Woody Allen's "Vicky Christina Barcelona" (MGM).

On the television side, we saw a lot of "John Adams" (HBO), which won best mini-series. I concur. "Mad Men" from Lionsgate won the award for best drama series for television.

Zac Efron, conservatively dressed this time, made a presentation, but I didn't see as many younger actors as I expected.

Critics on NBC Today are saying that the stars making presentations were asked to tone down their dress and behavior out of sensitivity for the economic and world crises. They tended to wear subdued colors -- beiges, grays, and "oyster." (Some mollusks can brandish bright colors, don't forget!)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Nightline reports on Mormon Church; and on CareerBuilder job market tips

The Mormon Church (or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) was featured on ABC Nightline on Friday, January 9, 2009, with a tour of a new temple in Draper, Utah, the 129th temple in the world. The episode was called “Inside the Faith.” Martin Bashir was the host, with Dan Harris reporting. Russell Ballard and Quinton Cooke, apostles, were present for the interview. The HBO show “Big Love” was mentioned.

I actually visited the new temple in Dallas in 1983 when it was open to visitors for about a week. The closest temple to where I live is in Wheaton, MD, near the Beltway.

No cameras are allowed in the Temple normally. There are sealing rooms where couples get married, and the religion preaches eternal marriage, with the family unit remaining intact in all stages of the afterlife. In LDS life especially, marital relations are connected to the capability to become significant in the outside world; one lives for the family rather than the self, so that in some sense the importance of individual “competition” is less, compared to modern culture as a whole. Procreation is, in a sense, a mandatory responsibility.

The elders said that their support of California Proposition 8 was simply about marriage and its meaning to them, and was not specifically "anti-gay." They don't think that the comparison to persecution of them in the 19th century corresponds to homophobia in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Men dress in white when in the temple and sometimes use special undergarments and oils.

The baptismal font was shown, where members are baptized in the name of their ancestors. People of other faiths are sometimes symbolically baptized by proxy, including Holocaust victims.

There are other rituals, which the elders would not discuss because portions of the rituals might seem bizarre when described out of context.

The LDS church has no connection to “fundamentalist” polygamous sects. The LDS church banned polygamy in 1890, but did not admit African Americans as elders until 1978.

The ABC story is “Mormons open doors to discuss religion: Church elders sit down to discuss faith, Prop. 8, Impressive new temple,” link here.

The second report was on unemployment. 500000 people lost their jobs in December, and unemployment is over 7%. 2.6 million jobs vanished in 2008, the worst year in 60 years.

Careerbuilder gave health care, sales, education (teachers), government, and information technology as the best fields. Put all this together, one of the best areas will be automation of health care records. But there is more emphasis on interpersonal skills than in the past. Careerbuilder suggests using keywords from job postings on resumes. They recommended networking with Facebook, but didn’t get into the touch field of “online reputation,” which off-hand sounds more critical than ever because of the down market. LinkedIn may now be the best entry point to be found on the Internet by employers, as one can control the links one wants the employer to find first.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Nightline: How men's fashion changes (to say the least)

What did (or do) Sean Connery and Pearce Brosnan have as James Bond that Roger Moore and Daniel Craig lack? If you watched ABC Nightline tonight, you were reminded of how things have changed – in Martin Bashir’s report on “Retrosexuality” (with Nick Watt). Now, men who looked like Jacob can spend $30000 in Beverly Hills to look like Esau. Yes, now scalp hair transplants can be accompanied by chest hair implants. Female stars are saying that’s what they wanted all along (from men).

Perhaps Nightline looked up David Skinner, “Notes on the Hairless Man,” on June 21, 1999 in The Weekly Standard, where he listed the usual suspects: Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kevin Bacon, Marky Mark Wahlberg. Vanity had gotten ahead of family values, he write then.

To make the story more ironical, the airing of the show was preceded by an airing of an ad for Reveal, a permanent laser depilatory. And the segment did show an image of Steve Carell "getting it" (becoming the "man-o-lantern") in "The 40 Year Old Virgin." Women would have preferred him the way he had been.

Nightline doesn’t have this story up yet, but it does have the first segment “Hamburger Helper” by John Berman and Sarah Rosenberg, link here.
McDonald’s is one of the two companies on the Dow that showed a gain in 2008. And it seems like fast food is one of the few places where people can get jobs (if they aren’t nurses). It’s a grim thought. But the burger, however bad for you, is so American. Bill Clinton used to love those Big Macs, remember?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

ABC Barbara Walters interviews Patrick Sawyze about his battle with pancreatic cancer; CNBC interviews Obama

Tonight, ABC News broadcast a Barbara Walters special at 10 PM EST, “Patrick Swayse, The Truth”. The program is an interview and conversation with movie and dance star Patrick Swayze, now 56, about his battle with pancreatic cancer. The ABC News story about the Walters interview, by Katie N. Thomson and Rob Wallace, is here. Sawyze has survived at least a year since initial symptoms.

On April 9, 2008, I reviewed a similar Primetime Live program about Randy Pausch, “The Last Lecture.” Michael Landon, star of “Little House on the Prairie” died of the same cancer in 1991, three months after diagnosis after a skiing trip, at 54.

Sawyze’s symptoms became apparent on New Years Eve, 2006, when champagne made him sick, and he soon found himself with weight loss and jaundice. The cancer was found to be advanced, stage 4. Pancreatic cancer is typically difficult to diagnose in time and is particularly malignant because the pancreas connects to other organs so efficiently, while being buried so deeply in the body. When advanced, the tumor shuts off the bile duct and the body cannot get rid of bile and other poisons. Pancreas transplants are now done in attempts to cure Type 1 diabetes, but they are still quite difficult to make successful.

The issue of cigarette smoking was brought up, and Swayze still smokes. He says he started in “the Marlboro Man days.”

One of Sawyze’s most famous films is “Dirty Dancing” (1987) which has become the name of popular behavior on disco floors, gay and straight. Another famous film was “Ghost” when he plays a benevolent and loved deceased young man, Sam. He acted in drag in “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything.”

A&E agreed to greenlight his doing the 13-episode series “The Beast” after finishing chemotherapy. He had to reject painkillers while working. The link is here.

The interview showed films of the medical tests and of surgeons scrubbing and preparing.

CNBC Interviews Barack Obama tonight:

John Harwood interviewed Barack Obama on CNBC tonight. The interview was broadcast at 8 PM EST, Jan. 7. Here is the link for the transcript for the interview. The most interesting part was Obama’s account of his determination to have his own computer access on the job, although he admits that he can’t bring a computer into the Oval Office. (Why not?) He talked about how Secret Service cramps his contact with the world, and Harwood made jokes about the “shirtless” incident.

Update: Jan. 9, 2009

Patrick Swayze was admitted to the hospital today right after an interview, for pneumonia, story here.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

PBS Frontline: "The Old Man and the Storm": Rebuilding the 9th Ward after Katrina

PBS stations tonight (Jan. 6) broadcast a segment about rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, “The Old Man and the Storm.” This is the story about the entire Gettridge family, most specifically 82 year old Herbert Gettridge, who had to rebuild his house in the Ninth Ward. The entire family was put into Diaspora, and extended four generations. Also Leonard Gettridge, a railroad worker, was shown rebuilding his home. The main PBS link is here.

The film starts with a picture of Lawless High School, which was destroyed and apparently still may not be rebuilt. Now the building is a “carcass.”

The program discusses the complications of the insurance programs and government assistance, such as Gov. Blanco’s Road Home program, which did not even start for eleven months. Regular insurance would not cover flood damage, and the Gettridge family recovered relatively little from regular insurance. The film shows a company ICF, in Fairfax VA, which was hired to help administer Road Home. It happens that I worked for ICF-Lewin in 1989, and actually worked in the exact building shown for a few months and remember it pretty well (even the fitness center).

The documentary says that over a million volunteers have helped rebuild homes in New Orleans, partly as a result of inadequate insurance.

The Bush administration was unwilling to “bailout” the local utility company, which needed $500 million to repair thousands of miles of utility lines. Yet the Bush administration had helped ConEd after the 2003 New York blackout.

The film showed the homecoming of Mrs. Gettridge, which the documentary says was supposed to be covered by Anderson Cooper of CNN.

I visited New Orleans in February 2006.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Anderson Cooper reports live from Israel, near Gaza on CNN AC360 Broadcast (AC for President some day?)

Anderson Cooper is reporting on Israel’s action against Gaza tonight on his CNN 360 program live. He is in Israel (apparently in Sderot), but near the Gaza border. Israeli forces are reported surrounding Gaza City on the ground. Anderson’s current blog entry is here. Israeli citizens are becoming increasingly concerned about not only their own civilian casualties but those in Gaza too. Anderson seems to be located in an area that could get fire from Hamas and this looks like a dangerous assignment. He may be the most visible journalist on the planet tonight, as to suggest a journalist could become president himself some day. (Remember, folks, young Clark Kent becomes a journalist. But Clark never runs for president.)

Gaza is about 10% the size of Rhode Island.

The live 360 report, in “Breaking News” mode, was punctuated by video clips of Barack Obama’s meeting with Congressional Leaders in the day that he moved into the Hay Adams hotel so that his two daughters can start school at a private school, Sidwell Friends. Obama has told Congress that it is urgent to get economic stimulus moving immediately, and proposes an economic stimulus of $500 per individual and $1000 per family. Obama described the economy as like a patient in intensive care on life support. He may have gotten that metaphor from Suze Orman. The idea of automation of health care records was also introduced today.

Ali Velshi also appeared on 360 to discuss economic stimulus options.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

CBS "60 Minutes": can the government read your mind with MRI's? (also, can a DWI death be murder?)

CBS “60 Minutes” tonight aired two particularly controversial reports. The link is this.

The first concerned a prosecution of a DWI homicide in Long Island New York as (second degree) murder rather than manslaughter. The prosecutor says that the suspect was so reckless in his behavior that he knew that death was likely and should be prosecuted for murder, with a 25 years to life sentence.

But the really provocative report was about mind reading. Lesley Stahl reported. She started with experiments (in Germany and Britain, and Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh) that plotted MRI scans of brains in conjunction with mention or images of various objects. Each object is associated with a particular 3-D array of brain activity. Then new subjects were tested with the same objects and the MRI was able to determine which objects they had seen.

The next set of experiments was a set of protocols to decipher people’s “intentions” from brain scans. It’s also possible to determine from a brain scan where a person has been or what a person has seen. It would be possible to gather evidence on a burglary suspect, or possibly determine is someone had been to an Al Qaeda training camp. A brain scan had already been used to convict a woman in India or murder.

Profound ethical questions come up. The Fifth Amendment in the US prohibits the government from compelling someone to testify against himself, but the police can get DNA or blood or urine evidence of crimes. Can a brain scan be considered as like a DNA test, or is it testimony? Perhaps the analogy to the inadmissibility of polygraphs is useful.

Government could try to test people with brains cans for sensitive jobs. Theoretically, the military could test recruits for sexual orientation, a kind of “asking and telling” – not only would “don’t ask don’t tell” have to be repealed, but any future probing or “asking” with technology would have to. (It used to be common for some police departments, like in Dallas, to ask recruits on lie detector tests if they had violated sodomy laws before they were overturned.) We used to assume that the option to keep thoughts private is a “fundamental right” but a chapter of Randy Shilts’s book “Conduct Unbecoming” is called “thoughtcrimes.” The last regime to try to prosecute people for thought alone was the Third Reich.

It’s always seemed to me that multiple choice and true-false personality tests (like the MMPI) are pretty intrusive.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Martha Stewart visits a Mayan home in Yucatan; Dan Harris reports on slavery in Haiti

Today, Friday Jan. 2, there were two different stories about the developing world on ABC.

On “Martha Stewart Living” this morning, Martha visited a native Maya home in the Yucatan. She said that about 700,000 people in southern Mexico and Guatemala speak the original Mayan language today and descend from the civilizations that fell, apparently from abuse of the environment over 1000 years ago. They are generally desperately poor, but the family she visited had a comfortable one room house with thatched construction and simple furniture, including a hand woven hammock that people sleep in, and a simple religious altar. She showed the food preparation over an open hearth. The link for this report is here.

According to her blog, Martha does love cats. All this week she featured cooking and garden blogs.

A much grimmer report came from ABC Nightline, from Dan Harris, about slave trafficking in New York City for the “rich” in Haiti. The link is here. The report indicates that educational levels are kept deliberately low in Haiti in order to facilitate slavery. The reader may want to look at my review on the Books Blog on Mary 22, 2007 of Zach Hunter’s Be the Change: Your Guide to Freeing Slaves and Changing the World.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

ABC Nightline reviews Obama's political super bowl win in 2008

On New Years Day, 2009, ABC "Nightline" (airing a half hour late), with Terry Moran as host, reviewed the entire history of Barack Obama’s successful run for the presidency in 2008. The show focused on the “Yes We Can” determination, and started with interviews back in 2006 when he was just beginning to consider the idea that he really could run. He really could become the first African American president. He sensed that the Bush administration and GOP policies really could unravel, and he may have believed that the economy would eventually unravel before the 2008 election, as it seemed to be based on “getting something for nothing.”

Obama’s capturing the Iowa caucuses shocked everyone, and he was off and running. It had been Hillary Clinton’s race to lose, but pretty soon he was ahead and stayed in front, sort of like staying ahead by a field goal throughout an NFL pro football game. Although Obama did lose some key primaries, especially in some union states, she never could quite get that “third down conversion” and eventually conceded. One has to say that this was very much a “road” victory.

Moran then reviewed the presidential election, from the conventions through the debates. Obama went to Iraq to convince voters that he could be Commander in Chief during wartime. That’s right, we have two wars going on as well as an economic crisis. Moran seemed critical of McCain’s handling of his campaign during Wall Street’s implosion, and Obama seemed to get a commanding lead, rather like 10 points in a football game.

Last night, ABC asked voters to email their votes for “Culprit of the Collapse” and it isn’t Bernard Madoff. It’s “W.”

Earlier today, on CNN, Michelle Obama depicted her husband as a bit of a nerd, almost a geek, someone who can fix his own desktop PC or design his own website but needs to be told when his suit or shoes have worn out. He has always lived simply and plain. They say, expect to work for a geek. Now, expect a geek to be Commander in Chief. That observation seems more important that Mr. Obama’s “race”. I suppose Bill Gates could have run for president (probably as a Democrat). Barack Obama will keep his Blackberry, and maybe own a reverse engineered iPod, too, while he considers proposals for network neutrality.