Sunday, May 31, 2009

Larry King Live interviews Kris Allen, Adam Lambert from American Idol

Saturday night (May 30), Larry King Live presented Kris Allen and Adam Lambert, and then some other American Idol contestants.

As of early 5/31, the LKL web page has all the material for this show, but LKL does not save specific links for individual shows; it does save videos, and the video from this show will probably appear there today. The basic link is this.

It starts with the announcement event of Kris Allen’s victory.

Ryan Seacrest, who has often told shows like Nightline that his career is to “make pop starts”, hosted. Seacrest asked if Allen got the Christian vote, and later discussed what it was like to be from Arkansas (ask Bill Clinton). “Not a lot happens” there, except Whitewater. Except that Kris said “Arkansas revolves around what happens in that state.”

Adam Lambert said “I’m good.” (Zac Efron says that.) “I’m trying to stay awake.”

The Fox American Idol performances are here.

Lambert's performance (of "No Boundaries") is here.

I actually liked Lambert’s the most of the two. The American Idol judges gave him the most "love".

Paula Abdul also appeared on the show, and then some of the other contestants.

Note: Embedding American Idol into Blogger seems to be a two-step process, and it seems that any one post can accept only one at a time, for me at least.

Picture: "Private party" -- not American Idol.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

CNN: Detroit: "How the Wheels Came Off"

CNN tonight presented a one-hour special about the American auto industry, “How the Wheels Came Off”. It is auspicious since a formal bankruptcy of GM is expected Monday June 1. The latest Reuters story on the expected filing is here since the GM bondholders refused the deal offered by the Obama administration.

Early in the show, Ali Velshi and others discussed the idea that the American auto companies should have anticipated that oil prices would be unstable, and should have realized that foreign auto makers could win over customers by producing smaller, fuel efficient and dependable cars and keep the same customers for decades. In order words, the American auto industry was arrogant.

Then the program interviewed some auto workers and retirees. One union had lost two thirds of its membership. One of the female workers said that she had to do multiple jobs now. A male retiree said that he had lung cancer and could lose his health benefits at the end of 2009.

Then the show presented some classic cars at Columbus Circle (The Classic Car Club of Manhattan [link]) in New York City, including a Mustang. I remember that my first car was a Maverick in 1970.

Velshi also visited the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, MI, and showed the Model T from the 1934 movie "It Happened One Night".

The show compared GM and Chrysler to Ford, which seems to have done “better” partly because it focused on just one “brand” (Ford itself), which seems to helped it sell. That’s interesting to me since I have a trademark law blog and have noted that most companies defend all of their brands ferociously.

The show took the position that it is not productive to require American auto makers to make all their cars in the U.S. Globalization could still help the companies.

The program then showed the red Dodge Charger from the 1969 “Dukes of Hazard” show (and later movie with Sean William Scott). Another famous car is the 1967 Chevy Impala that Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padalecki) drive in “Supernatural.”

All three auto makers will have electric cars before 2011.

CNN does not yet have a special website for this program, but it has a link for the ten largest corporate bankruptcies ever, here.

Breaking News: Sunday May 31

General Motors will file for bankruptcy at 8 AM Monday June 1. AP/ABC News story by Kimberly Johnson, Tom Krisher is here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

AC360, without Anderson, covers sudden crisis in Pakistan, taser death in Detroit, and "father Oprah"

John King, filling in for Anderson Cooper on AC360 on CNN tonight, gave a disturbing report about the sudden increase of insurgent Taliban violence in Pakistan today, providing an immediate threat to the stability of Pakistan. The attacks, reported by Reza Sayah, were focused in Swat and many urban areas, and seem to be asymmetric with guerillas, against the military; and it seems that the Pakistani military is using unfocused methods getting civilians. Over two million people have been made into refugees in the Swat Valley, and refugee camps create more militants.

Fareed Zakaria says that the Taliban has “moved out of the mountains into the valleys” making it a much bigger threat to Pakistani state. Zakaria says that Pakistan “needs help but won’t take it.” We don’t have a UN mandate in Pakistan. The administration is still comfortable that the suitcase nukes are safe, but Zakaria says “who knows?” Pakistan must become a stable country not infected with a malignancy of jihad.

Later in the broadcast, King covered the death of a small sixteen year old teenager in Detroit from a taser gun. There is a story by Paul Egan of the Detroit News on a lawsuit by the teen’s family against Warren Police here.

The show also discussed "Father Oprah" who converted to Episcopalean when he got married. In many areas of the world, there is a dire Catholic priest shortage. When will the Church end its ban against heterosexuals in the priesthood? The San Jose Mercury News AP story (by Tamara Lush) about Alberto Cutie is here.

The broadcast also covered a middle school spelling bee (remember the movie "Akeelah and the Bee" from Lionsgate).

Where (in the world) is Anderson Cooper? Don't ask Morgan Spurlock! Maybe Anderson grabbed a hammer in New Orleans to pay his dues (again) -- at least that was the suggestion on a comment on the Aug. 29, 2007 post here. It doesn't look like I've paid my dues down there -- yet. (The commentor wants me to go, too.) Journalist Sebastian Junger paid his dues by cutting down trees, remember.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Larry King Live: Bush v Gore lawyers work together on federal CA Prop 8 Challenge

Larry King Live tonight presented “Bush v. Gore” attorneys Ted Olson (former US Solicitor General) and David Boies, who have teamed up to appeal the California Proposition 8 decision (and the proposition itself) to federal court and eventually the United States Supreme Court. The Los Angeles Times story by Carol Williams had characterized them as past “rival lawyers” (link here) Both (now) legal bedfellow lawyers emphasized that it is wrong to subject fundamental rights and claims of equality to a popular vote.

The show went on to present a general discussion of the debate over gay marriage. One on side, there was the “village” argument about the need for a man and a woman for every child; on the other there was the basic equality argument. One could say, for purposes of didactics, that anyone has the equal right to marry a member of the opposite gender. In practice, the inequality means that gay people often subsidize the sexual relationships (however legal) of heterosexuals. But that’s a manipulative way to put it.

The show presented a middle aged married gay male couple. One of the partners had care for his mother with Alzheimer’s disease in his own home with his lover, and now they had moved to Arizona and would care for the other partner’s mother.

The debate on gay marriage ought to go beyond the benefits to married partners to consider the indirect ways inequality affects the childless.

The rest of the show interviewed several men who had been released from Texas prisons as a result of DNA evidence, with the blog story here.

Attribution link for Wikimedia picture of San Francisco, here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

PBS Frontline/World "Pakistan Under Siege"

PBS stations aired a new Frontline/World “Pakistan Under Siege” May 26, 2009, narrated by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. Much of the first forty minutes dealt with the struggle with the Taliban in Peshawar and the Swat Valley, which used to be called the “Switzerland of the East”. Girls are interviewed and they say they don’t like wearing burqas, and boys are forced to memorize the Koran in madrassas and don’t learn academic subjects. Boys are persuaded to join the Taliban by claims that the government has hurt their families. Sometimes boys are given surnames that mean “martyr.” The entire society seems based on social and religious control.

The WETA link is this. The WGBH link is here.

David Montero reports on the death of a journalist, in a second short segment called “A Death in Swat”. One could compare this to the film “Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty”, review here.

Obaid-Chinoy, in “Letter from Karachi”, reports on the struggle in the coastal city of Karachi, with 14 million people. There is a Mafia-like struggle between the Taliban and Pakistani intelligence.

Both of the concluding short segment vides can be viewed at the main Frontline/World site here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

ABC Nightline Twittercast on Veterans

ABC Nightline has a four part Twittercast (started May 20) on veterans, with Part 1 having this URL.
The Twitter “t” is used in the Nightline logo for the twittercast.

Terry Moran hosts. Bob Woodruff appears and appears to be almost fully recovered from his wound as a journalist in Iraq, but he still has some aphasia. The broadcast emphasized the large numbers of wounded and those with mental health and post traumatic stress problems. Employment assistance has been reported as a big issue. The unemployment rate for veterans is typically 2 points higher than for non-military. Tom Tarantino, of Irag and Afghanistan Veterans of America, also appears.

There was a question as to whether veterans are affected by the unpopularity of the Iraq war.

Rene Bardoff discussed the “Tweet to Remind”. She said that one in four homeless persons in the United States are veterans. There was a fundraising “Tweet for a Dollar” campaign. The visitor microblogs about who is your hero and makes a microdonation.

The show did emphasize the sacrifice of military servicemembers to preserve the freedoms of those whom they don’t know.
Marian Salzman has a story about this campaign on CNBC here.

The Twitter URL for nightline is here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

John King interviews Tom Ridge on "State of the Union" about Obama-Cheney duel

On CNN’s “State of the Union” with John King on CNN Sunday May 24, John interviewed Tom Ridge, former Homeland Security secretary, on the "dueling banjos" of Obama and Cheney. Ridge maintains that President Obama may have withheld some portions of memos or transcripts from interrogations or renditions of prisoners that would show that “extreme rendition” techniques actually did prevent another major terrorist attack on the United States. However Ridge also said that Cheney is wrong to assert that Obama may have already made America less safe.

King also discussed Pennsylvania politics with Ridge, and discussed the Republican Party’s decline in his state. Later he mentioned his draft notice in the 1960s as a call to service.

King also interviewed Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), about his book "Reckless!: How Debt, Deregulation and Dark Money Nearly Bankrupted America." Dorgan said that the big problems started with 1999 deregulation signed by President Clinton, during his "Republican" period.

The Ridge interview prompted me to go back and review some notes I have of an interview on ABC nightline of Tommy Thompson (Health and Human Services Secretary) Oct. 17, 2001 on bioterror (back when I was living in Minnesota). I saw that I had asked ABC (after an Oct 16 interview with Spertzel) about its 1999 broadcast on a simulated anthrax attack on a subway system, and on the idea that terrorists could try to trick the United States into a premature attack on Iraq, which we know happened in March 2003. It seemed even back then the media did not always connect the dots in its own material unless someone from the public prodded it. But Thompson gave a sobering interview that evening, according to my notes, mentioning many grim possibilities that Ridge would later have to address in press conferences. Then remember those says of all the color-coded terror alerts.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

CNN: AC360 covers "Extreme Challenges": Second 100 Days

Anderson Cooper hosted “Extreme Challenges” on CNN tonight.

Michael Ware, David Gergen, Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria formed the panel.

The first issue was the air strikes in Afghanistan, which may be greatly increasing civilian casualties. It is more difficult to replicate the strategy from Iraq (which could face extension in the Mosul area) in Afghanistan, but the critical problem is to stabilize Pakistan, and to build better bridges with Pakistani intelligence. Zakari talked about an ethnic rivalry in Pakistan as complicating the picture.

Obama wants to attack the Israel-Palestine problem directly (like Jimmy Carter does in his book) rather than focus on Iran, which is Israel’s focus.

Here is ac360 blog entry for the show.

Obama’s “two words” are “The Economy.” The biggest problem for the president will be holding on to his popularity, and consumer spending has improved as a “leap of faith.” Zakaria says that he best that we can hope for after recovery starts is 1.5% annual growth. There will be, at best, a “new normal lifestyle” and it will be less ambitious, with some sacrifice. The new economy might be “work for two years to buy the TV. We will get what we need, but we will shave the excess out of the system.”

On health care, Sanjay Gupta said that Obama is emphasizing lowering costs first and then improving access, with letting Congress work out the “systems analysis” details. The cost might be $1.2 trillion over 10 years.

Jeffrey Toobin (“The Nine”) talked about the upcoming Supreme Court appointee replacing David Souter. For the first time right now every justice is a former appeals court judge. There might be a litmus test on preserving Roe v. Wade. A replacement will probably preserve some place for race consciousness in affirmative action related cases.

David Gergen said that this government “is going to grow,” and that strikes fear in the hearts of Republicans.

At the end they mentioned the delay in considering “don’t ask don’t tell” (regarding gays in the military) because it would be too big a “distraction” in the early days of the “strategic” presidency.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

UFO Hunters: "Surveillance", at Brookhaven, Livermore

UFO Hunters: “Surveillance” (Case 92202) aired on the History Channel Wednesday May 21.

The show starts with a supposed 1992 crash of a UFO near the legendary Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, one of 21 national energy labs.

The video footage of a photographer named Mark is mapped to show flightlines all over Long Island. The program claims that there is a surveillance routine.

There was a major sighting at Southaven Park on Nov. 24, 1992, which actually caused power outages, as if by some sort of EMP effect. Then police took over and a crew from Brookhaven, some distance away, came out to carry away debris. There is some video of federal authorities carrying away debris and possibly bodies, and the movie claims that the video is the first live evidence of a UFO crash in American history.

Brookhaven has a particle collider for basic physics research.

An investigator named Garth inspected the Suffolk County park today and found the crash area to have a lot of new growth less than 17 years old.

Then the team goes to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near Oakland CA to look for evidence of alien surveillance. The discussion (“would aliens consider lasers a threat?”) turns a bit silly.

The show talks about a crash near a tire dump, supposedly followed toxic tire fire that the show claims could have seen set as a coverup. Then there is some video footage of lights near San Jose.

The commentators feel that it is not the crashes and sightings that matter so much as what happens afterwards, particularly at the Long Island crash sites, which they claim is evidence of coverup.

This episode was one of the least convincing in the UFO Hunters series.

Attribution link for picture of Brookhaven Labs, a federal government picture in public domain. Note the collider, which appears in the History Channel film.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chinese drywall has ruined many new homes, according to ABC Nightline and many local station reports

About ten thousand new “dream” homes around the country are affected by serious problems with “Chinese drywall”, according to an alarming report on ABC Nightline tonight, Wednesday, May 20.

A home in Boynton Beach, FL was shown in the report (the video link is not yet available but should be by early May 21). Electrical wiring and plumbing fixtures were turning black because of “Martian” sulfites, and would darken within a few months when replaced. The homes would emit an odor. Some families moved out, and faced both mortgage and rent payments, and some say that they should be covered by TARP.

The government has not yet said how safe the homes are to live in, and engineers don’t have consistent efforts on the cost of replacing drywall, plumbing fixtures, wiring, and hurricane struts.

The states most affected are Florida and Louisiana, but homes in up to twelve states have these problems. Many homeowners are faced with homeowners dues as well as mortgages.

However, Bizjournal (The Tampa Bay Business Journal) has an article (by Paul Brinkmann) (May 18) “Nelson: Chinese drywall tests confirm differences” about EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) tests showing that Chinese drywall contained both sulfur and strontium, not found in US drywalls.

CNN has a May 6 story from CNN, “Get out of house with Chinese drywall, doctor tells family,” (by Rich Phillips) link here, from Parkland, FL.

Fox News has reproduced an AP story from April 9, 2008, about Chinese drywalls in both homes and apartments, here.

An NBC station, Channel 2, in Fort Myers FL has a report (April 5, 2009, by Marissa Brahney) telling homeowners what to look for, here.

ABC Nightline: The Internet, dating, private investigators, and marriage cheats

On Tuesday night, May 19, ABC "Nightline" covered the Internet along with dating, sex and marriage, way beyond the implications of the Craigslist problem, to cover the use of the web for matchmaking and also to detect cheats.

The early part of the broadcast covered the “values” problem: physical attractiveness (more a concern for women, but not always) and wealth (more a problem for men, but not exclusively). It got existential: would you date this person if he/she didn’t have ….? Probably not.

It reminds me of the whole idea of speeddating.

Then the broadcast showed how private investigators gleefully enforce “the sanctity of marriage”, even with cameras embedded inside pens, as they go into restaurants. It's also possible to hire "Magnum PI" types to sleuth the deeper Internet for attempted "cheats" - a kind of variation of the "online reputation defense" problem.

Pro-marriage forces say, however, that traditional marriage is threatened by outside competition, not just pornography but unrealistic images in the media, as well as more public attention to other lifestyles (that might include gay marriage). Couples are sometimes challenged to remain interested in one another when unavoidable hardships and challenges come. Think about how the media has recently covered the wife of Sen. John Edwards. There's another aspect that Nightline could have covered: marriage confers the partners some "power" over people within a family who have not married and had their own kids, in many cultures (and filial responsibility is becoming an increasingly troublesome issue given demographics). All of this is on the rocks when a marriage is "threatened" by infidelity.

Martin Bashir hosted the broadcast. Martin Bashir and Steven Baker have a related text report “Sex Addict Leads Secret Life Online” here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

PBS: American Experience: "The Kennedys"

On Monday, May 18, PBS “American Experience” broadcast a three hour film “The Kennedys”. The film (developed by WGBH Boston) has this website. It is directed by Phillip Whitehead, Marilyn H. Mellowes and David Espar. The film is divided into two parts, “The Father”, about Joseph P. Kennedy, and “The Sons”, about JFK, RFK, and even Edward Kennedy and his accident at Chappaquiddick. This appears to be a new production.

The film seems synoptic and rushed despite its length, because it can be compared to much more detailed documentaries about the Kennedy presidency and the Dallas assassination.

But the second hour, dealing largely with JFK, made many interesting points. During the 1960 presidential campaign, he took naturally to television (albeit black and white then) than did Richard Nixon. I recall listening to that convention on the radio over summer in Ohio (I would be a senior the next year). Kennedy played up on the idea that the Eisenhower administration had not established credibility that the United States could overcome communism, and Kennedy believed that the US was not aggressive enough with technology. Kennedy's anti-pinko positions also helped set up US involvement in Vietnam to come, as well as the Bay of Pigs fiasco (soon after the inauguration). The film covers the inauguration snowstorm in Washington (which I remember vividly, as the first semester of my senior year ended). Later, that summer, according to the film, Kennedy started warning members of his family that the United States really could face nuclear war over Berlin – all of this as the Soviets sponsored the Berlin Wall in August. About that time I was personally getting ready to go to William and Mary, preparing an incident that would become one of the most important in my own life, as discussed elsewhere on these blogs. It’s interesting and relevant to me that the nuclear threat was already more important than most people knew.

The crisis would escalate and then calm down in October 1961, but in October 1962, as we know, the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded. A few days before going on television, Kennedy told an aide on a plane, “grab your b___” as he was about to disclose the missiles, that had been discovered Oct. 15. I was a patient at NIH then but attending classes at GWU in Washington at night then, and I saw Kennedy’s speech in the GWU student union Oct. 22. I was the only “patient” who understood what was going on and the existential issue it raised. I’ve covered that on my main blog (link here); it was also dramatized in the 2001 New Line film "13 Days" directed by Roger Donaldson.

The stories about JFK’s womanizing are covered, and they indeed could have posed an existential threat to national security, as in William Olson’s 2008 film “An American Affair” reviewed here on my movies blog.

The film plays short service to the assassination itself. I was at work at the National Bureau of Standards when my supervisor walked into the lab room and told me. I remember hearing the Ruby shooting live on the radio as “we” (with may parents) drove home from Church – we were on 17th Street in DC near the White House when it happened. My father kept paying attention to his driving and did not react to the horror that unfolded live.

The last part of the film covers Robert Kennedy, and I was in the Army, at South Post Fort Myer when he was assassinated in Los Angeles. I remember that the barracks sergeant told us all.

Picture: Washington-Lee High School, Arlington VA, on Inauguration Day, 1961 (I graduated in June that year).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Jesse Ventura ("The Bod") appears on ABC's "The View"; talks about waterboarding, the "War on Drugs"

Former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura (James George Janos or “The Body”) appeared on ABC’s “The View” today (Monday May 18).

He repeated some comments he has made earlier on CNN “Larry King Live”. He said that he underwent waterboarding as part of his training as a Navy Seal, and that he could waterboard Dick Cheney into confessing anything (the “Sharon Tate murders”).

He also indicated that the “war on drugs” empowers the drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia and the illegality of “recreational” drugs creates a grave security threat. He talked about the way prohibition created the border towns in Mexico (Tijuana) where people went to drink. They go to Mexico for marijuana and other drugs now, he said, and over time this state of affairs has led to the development of the drug cartels and their influence on gangs in many cities in the United States.

Ventura said that he now lives in Mexico half the year (in Baja California) and lives without electricity, with his wife. At 57, he is enjoying surfing.

Ventura beat out Norm Coleman for governor of Minnesota in 1998, and I remember the bar election night parties in St. Paul. Ventura was supportive on gay issues, coming to HRC dinners in Minneapolis. I have spoken to him about “don’t ask don’t tell”. I remember that he came to a dinner shortly after 9/11 and did tell people “it is safe to fly.”

On gay marriage, Ventura says “Love is bigger than government”. He says that government should honor only civil unions. Churches should be left to do as they please with their own members and employees. That’s pretty much the libertarian position. An older YouTube (from MSNBC) link is here.

Ventura has also said that “you can’t take a civil rights issue and put it up to a vote; if you did, we still might have slavery.”

The ABC View (website) episode is not available yet, but if you go to “The View” and try to play earlier episodes it now prompts you to load the “Move Viewer” into Firefox. You have to stop firefox and start a new session, and the video comes up after an install. The companies keep making you install more new software all the time. The Friday May 15 episode about “Angels & Demons”, with Tom Hanks in a speedo, is available in high definition.

The Huffington Post has some of Ventura’s CNN LKL videos, with the headline “I would waterboard Cheney” and “Coleman is a hypocrite”; link.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

CBS 60 Minutes: Will AIG pay US back, ever?

Tonight, on CBS “60 Minutes” Steve Kroft interviewed Ed Liddy, the new CEO of AIG (American International Group), and he says he took the $1 a year job from former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson when asked to. He talks about it as patriotic duty, serving his country.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Ed Leefeldt provides a column from “60 Minutes”: will AIG ever pay us back?,” here.

The American taxpayer now owns 79% of AIG. The company was brought down, according to Liddy, by about 30 employees or fewer, in London and Greenwich, CT.

Liddy also said that the 30 or so "culprits" depended too much on models and didn't pay enough attention to human behavior or human nature. Fareed Zakaria made a similar comment today on his "Global Public Square" when talking about the modeling or possible pandemics.

President Obama has explained to the public that AIG was destroyed by a hedge fund that it plopped on top of its insurance operations.

The video showed some of AIG’s properties around the world before the collapse. I thought I caught a glimpse of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia. I know of a businessman who helped the Towers management deploy a website in the 1990s.

“60 Minutes” is also offering a podcast of its latest interview with the president.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

ABC Nightline: "Surviving 'Economic Armageddon'" in the countryside; a note about my media-related blogs

On Friday, May 16, 2009, ABC Nightline interviewed a 51 year old grandmother in upstate New York in a segment that it called “Surviving ‘Economic Armageddon’”. She had moved to the countryside, learned to grow her own food for her family, and given up most luxuries, including driving. Today the video is available here.

She said that a few years ago she could do whatever she wanted. But she became concerned when she started reading about “Peak Oil” (a film from Netflix) and wondering if the modern lifestyle that we have all become accustomed to would be sustainable. So she decided to give it up.

She lost weight because of the exercise and got healthier. But recently she lost a job and had to give up even a few treats like bottled drinks.

We’ve heard a lot about survivalism since the 1970s, after the first oil shock. There have been predictions in the past that Americans would undergo a “cultural revolution” because of market pressures, and that small town real estate would become more valuable (it never did). But the “End of Suburbia” films (reviewed on the movies blog) documented a similar sentiment.

In a life without modern technology and media, values shift away from personal expression to collective experiences in family and religion. Some people (me!) would not fit in that kind of a world.

A note about my blogs about the media:

I have blogs on TV reviews and news (this one), movies, books, drama/music, and a special category on media about major threats to our way of life. The visitor can find all the links to these blogs on my Blogger Profile.

On each blog, I review media releases that, for the most part, address some problem that I am concerned about. For example, on the film blog, I review a lot of documentary. I also review a lot of films that demonstrate some approach to screenwriting, since I am interested in making a film. Sometimes I cover specific business issues in media industries (such as guild negotiations or strikes in television and movies, or self-publishing or book search projects on the books blog).

On this (TV-related) blog, I generally review pilot or major episodes of new shows, and then specific documentary or journalistic episodes of many series (such as PBS Frontline or NOVA, CBS 60 Minutes, NBC Dateline, ABC 20/20, or Nightline, as with this post), or syndicated “reality” interview shows like Dr. Phil and Oprah. I pick shows that demonstrate some particular issue (a particular favorite, as on Dr. Phil, has been online reputation and troubling Internet behavior) related (ultimately) to preserving personal and individual freedom. The issues today are nettlesome, and they have become existential. I cover both the issue itself, and how well the issue was presented, in comparison to other media that have covered the same issue.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Local DC station reports on gossip website and schools; Dr. Phil on more dangerous teen Internet behaviors

Television station WJLA (7, an ABC affiliate) reported Thursday May 14, that parents and teachers in Germantown, MD (Montgomery County) and probably the surrounding communities were up in arms about a website that students were using to post vicious rumors about each other and teachers.

This is the link for the story.

WJLA offers an embedded three-minute video here

The site (not named in the WJLA story but offered in the video) is “Peoples Dirt” and McAfee site advisor gives it a green rating. McAfee does downgrade sites known to have illegal content.

The Maryland Gazette reports that the site had been shut down for illegal content in December, and then it reappeared.

According to WJLA, the site was the repository for a threat that was made last week against another school in Montgomery County. The details are available at WJLA. The site has been blocked on all Montgomery County school computers and may well be blocked on other area school systems.

The story is interesting because a few months ago there was a lot of controversy about “Juicy Campus” which eventually ceased operation. I had covered that on my main blog here in February 2009.

The WJLA video has a parent saying that free speech is fine for adults, but for kids, the digital records of mistakes last forever – the “online reputation” problem. I’ve discussed these issues at length in my main blog and COPA (Child Online Protection Act) blog (see my Profile) since I was a COPA Plaintiff.

Today (Friday May 15) Dr. Phil had a session on “dangerous teen trends” and presented the story of a 12-year-old girl who set herself up with an alternate identity as an Internet “star” and gave out personal information for everyone in her family. (No, we won’t name names here.) The link for the show segment is this.

The point was made that siblings could have been endangered as well as her. The story reminds one of Justin Berry, who had set himself up as a “star” at age 13 and is now working with federal prosecutors. A New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald worked on the case and says that teens should never have webcams in their own rooms.

Update: Sunday May 17

The Metro Section of the Washington Post has a story by Donna St. George and Daniel DeVise, "Slur-Filled Web Site Hurtful but Not Illegal: Some Call Teen Forum 'Toxic' Free Speech" link here.

I'd love to get some comments on the ethical questions behind running sites like this or "Juicy Campus."

Update: June 12, 2009

Terrence O'Brien has a story on Switched about the shut-down of "People's Dirt" after action by the Maryland Attorney General, link here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

PBS: "The 1900 House": What a difference the last century made (especially in London)

In June 2000, PBS broadcast its series “The 1900 House”, which offered a “time travel” look back to a typical London family in 1900 to show how much the standard of living had changed in the 20th Century. Netflix offers the DVD, which runs 220 minutes (four episodes). The explanatory link for the series is here.

The Bowler Family lived in a flat at 50 Elliscombe Road, without central heat or electricity, in “The 1900 House”.

The most remarkable observation in the series was the labor intensive nature of housekeeping, all the way from hauling coal and water, to manual washing of clothes. The coal burning range was the only heat source in the house in the damp, chilly London climate. Merchants came to the door to sell individual food commodities, especially milk and meat (this was the age of the “meat pies” in “Sweeney Todd”). Families counted their pennies; the average manufacturing wage then was $435.

The bathroom did not yet have toilets, and shampoo had yet to be invented, and neither had safety razors. Women did not shave often, and complained that they got “hairier and hairier.”

Families were larger and few children had their own rooms. Children often shared beds, and there was little or no sense of privacy as the modern middle class expects it, an observation made by law professor Daniel Solove in his book “Understanding Privacy” (see Nov. 5, 2008 on my Books Blog).

Watching the show certainly helps impart a sense of social values. One understands how personal autonomy or individual sovereignty is tied to standard of living. As the Amish know, preoccupation with adaptive needs tends to keep biological families more cohesive; too much efficiency is not viewed as a good thing everywhere.

When I was a boy, the family spent the month of July in the northern Ohio town of Kipton (near Oberlin), and it did not have city water then; we pumped water from a well for drinking, and the faucets ran with cistern water.

Attribution link for Wikimedia Commons picture of Piccadilly Circus in London; I visited London in 1982 and 2001.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

PBS: "Behind Closed Doors": series about Stalin during WWII

. Maryland Public Television (Channel 22) has been showing the three-part, six-hour documentary “Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West”, in May 2009. The link giving the schedule is here.

But the main link for the PBS series is this. The byline (relating to World War II) is “as the greatest war in history raged, three men would decide the fate of the world.” Those three men were, of course, FDR, Churchill and Stalin. On May 13, MPT aired the second of the two hour episodes, “Cracks in the Alliance”, covering mainly Summer 1942 to Fall 1944. The film reenacts many of the critical meetings with actors, but has a lot of live newsreel footage.

But, in fact, it is Josef’s Stalin’s opportunistic behavior that drove so much of history, starting with the non-aggression Pact with Hitler in 1939, which Hitler ignored in 1941. And Stalin had already shown his own ruthlessness before Hitler invaded. Churchill and Roosevelt had the tricky problem of working with one tyrant to defeat another. Which kind of authoritarian rule was the most dangerous? Both were.

Churchill made a difficult journey by air to Moscow in 1942 to tell Stalin that the Allies could not mount a second front to help them in Russia. But in time, British operatives came to Russia, and Stalin continued his usual behavior, bugging their offices and imprisoning women who consorted with them. There is an interesting segment of the film showing Archangelsk on the Arctic Ocean.

Stalin’s deceptive behavior with Poland is a major theme of the film. This posed a major dilemma for Britain.

Nevertheless, after Stalingrad, Stalin was perceived as a “hero” for some time in the West.

Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill would finally meet, in Tehran (which seems ironic today) in 1943. Poland was a big issue, since Stalin had seized much of it, and there was a deal to give part of Germany to Poland as consideration. Germany would destroy Poland, and then Poland would be faced with the replacement of one totalitarian regime with another.

The meetings also determined that Germany should be deprived of all industry and become a simple rural country.

The film documents an incident where an official in FDR's administration was summoned by the FBI while vacationing on the Chesapeake Bay and "exiled" for a political mistake. FDR was capable of dictatorial behavior himself.

After the film, there is some commentary that makes the odd point about how much eye contact was appropriate for meeting with Stalin, who made a lot of someone’s body language.

Picture: Warsaw city center, with Soviet style buildings. Attribution link for Wikimedia commons is this. I was in Warsaw for one night in May 1999 (after a day in Krakow and a visit to Auschwitz). The next day I flew, through Amsterdam, all the way back to Minneapolis.

The WWII category leads to a discussion of Ken Burns's "The War," for comparison.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

PBS Frontline: "The Madoff Affair"

On Tuesday May 11, PBS Frontline aired “The Madoff Affair”, about the Bernie Madoff Ponzi Scheme. The link is here.

The firm had operated on the 17-19th floor of the Lipstick Building in New York. On the 19th Floor was the “wholesale” business, rather conventional. On the 17th floor was the secret business, that took in whole families and worked with arcane paper statements each month. There were promissory notes with set rates of returns. On Dec. 11, 2008, three months into the Financial Crisis of 2008, investors were stunned by the news of his arrest.

One oddity was that Madoff discouraged some of his executives to get SEC licenses, even before the Ponzi operation started. Madoff himself did not have a license, and did not want his name listed on prospectuses.

Madoff engaged in other practices like “frontrunning” and “split strike conversion.”

Madoff did not tolerate questions from investors, who relied on informal social networks (especially in Palm Beach, FL). Madoff kept things quiet; “Madoff liked it that way.” A mathematician named Harry Markopolos from Boston tried to get the SEC to see that Madoff’s scheme could not be legitimate.

The film then goes into congressional investigations as to why the SEC could not catch Madoff (who was pretty much playing the “Catch Me If You Can” game).

Bernie Madoff was still making money in October 2008 when many other hedge funds were tanking (most of all AIG’s). Madoff said that the “investment banks were destroying the United States.”

Burt Ross, Madoff investor, says that the only reason Madoff got caught was that the recession was so bad that investors needed to withdraw money even from him. A company called Fairfield Greenwich could not keep him rolling. The Fairfield site is this and has interesting material on the Madoff affair, to say the least.

Finally, Madoff confessed to his sons (who ran the “legitimate” business on the 19th floor of the pink Lipstick Building), who arranged with an attorney to go to the FBI.

“This may be the only fraud in history where the government has extreme complicity.”

Madoff “feeders” now face lawsuits from the lack of doing due diligence.

The film says that Bernard L. Madoff will be sentenced “next month” but overlooked the opportunity to show in him jail now. Imagine how suddenly a borrowed life came crashing down, for good. He'll have karma to pay in his next incarnation. So could a lot of us, for so many different reasons.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Maria Shriver's "The Alzheimer's Project" began Mother's Day on HBO

Maria Shriver’s multi-part documentary “The Alzheimer’s Project” began Sunday, May 10, 2009 on HBO. The first episode, 90 minutes, is called “The Memory Loss Tapes”. The episodes are listed at HBO’s site, here Future episodes Monday and Tuesday reportedly will cover Alzheimer’s research. Another episode will be called “Caregivers”. Apparently all of the episodes are available for streaming from the HBO website now.

Maria Shriver is the host, and John Hoffman is the series producer. Maria is the daughter of Sargent Shriver, who developed Alzheimer’s rapidly around 2003. She has described her relationship with her dad in many television appearances.

The first episode presents seven people talking about their experience. Both men and women appear. One of the men runs a blog, "Living with Alzheimer's", with URL here.

The film shows patients being given memory tests, including recalling from lists of words. One person is given a driving test. In one case a patient is ask to recall former President Clinton’s name, and in another (in an informal setting) to identify the game of baseball.

The doctors make the point that the short term memory loss with which the disease often begins does not mean the loss of basic intelligence or even self-awareness. But eventually patients lose awareness of their symptoms and develop agnosia, which is well documented in Wikipedia,

The National Institutes of Health has a page on Alzheimer’s, with links to the HBO documentary, here. The actual agency is called "The Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center" of "The National Institute on Aging." The page lists NIH studies and sometimes it is possible to be selected for research and treatment at NIH Clinical Center hospital (in Bethesda MD).

The Centers for Disease Control has a page here with some startling statistics about the rapid increase in the disease. It may become the largest public health problem ever.

One female caregiver says she never had children but almost feels she has “gained motherhood” and is called “mom” sometimes by her own mother. In another case, however, an elderly wife (past a golden anniversary) recalls the whole life with her husband while giving care, and he only intermittently recognizes her as his spouse. Soon he is in a hospice.

The film episode is difficult to watch in many places. The music in the background often consists of Bach played on the piano by Glenn Gould, a leading Bach interpreter from the 1960s (Columbia Records).

The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association is called “Alzheimer’s and Dementia”, link here. It is important to remember that some elderly dementia occurs from other causes (like heart failure and circulation problems) and technically is not Alzheimer’s. The progression and symptoms may be milder. NIH has a page on “Multi-Infarct Dementia” here. There are many other causes, such as Huntington’s (genetic) prion-related diseases (CDC page) including Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).

"Grandpa, Do You Know Who I Am?" aired Monday night May 11, and was a 30-minute segment. Maria described how she came never to "correct" her father. The other scenes with children portrayed emotion that was difficult for me to watch.

Monday night that was followed by the first part of the clinical report, "Momentum in Science," itself in many parts, starting with "Plaques and Tangles." The role beta-amyloid was discussed, and then the film moved on to genetics. The film made the startling prediction that someone born today has a 10% chance of developing Alzheimer's Disease during lifetime, which goes up to 20% with a family history. The next physician talked about insulin resistance as contributing factor, and even described a Morgan Spurlock "Superfried" experiment where too much fat caused increased beta-amyloid to form in the spinal fluid, alone with insulin that remains high because the body's cells have become immune to insulin (leading to Type II diabetes). Amyloid was described as a "splinter" in the brain leading to destructive inflammation. Later, the film says that high blood pressure, heart failure, and related problems could contribute to Alzheimer's in that inflamed brain capillaries can't flush out beta amyloid (which is very insoluble) as it forms. Genetics is part of the problem, but not all of it. Medications and lifestyle changes could prevent development of disease.

The second part of the medical film aired Tuesday night and ran 68 minutes. The film started with the "Pittsburgh compound" invented in 2004, enabling one to see a living brain. One family had several siblings with one woman not carrying the gene for b-amyloid, concerned about how all her siblings would be respected. Later the film went into the topic of "cognitive reserve", which indicates that some people with a large amount of plaque still have no symptoms, if they have been intellectually and particularly socially active -- so already the disease seems to have a behavioral influence. Finally, the film went into a vaccine trial, where the vaccine stimulates the body into making antibodies against its own amyloid. There was a safety trial, and the efficacy trial was left incomplete when about 5% of vaccinated patients got a form of encephalitis. Still, the trial leads to hope for full prevention. Furthermore, there is a new drug in trial based on antibodies already made. It seems to have worked in some patients, judging from autopsies looking for clearing of plaques.

On Tuesday, May 12 HBO aired the 50-minute "Caregivers" portion. Several situations were presented, including a few married couples. It seems that the complete dedication (one husband does duty at the nursing home after his wife finally has to move in) develops as part of the marriage vow. But another man, without his own children but six siblings (it's not mentioned whether he has a spouse or partner), takes care of his father, and he says "I have an 82 year old son; I know what parents go through" after he moves his dad into his house. He says, "I didn't choose this, it just fell into my lap." That's a much tougher situation to handle, where one is expected to offer the intimacy and commitment that would come from a marriage without ever having made one voluntarily. I suppose that this sounds like a place for a Rick Warren sermon ("it's not about you"). In the end, "you" are the sum of yourself as an individual and yourself as a member of the community, and sometimes the community makes more demands of "you" than other, and sometimes less. When you go to your maker, you have to see if the end result is good enough. It is difficult to accept becoming only a caregiver, and not having the rest of one's life.

The film does show other sessions that you would expect, such as support groups.

Picture (mine): Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Justin Timberlake "justified" by his new (3rd) SNL hosting

Justin Timberlake hosted SNL tonight, May 9, and he says it’s for the third time. As for his appearance in pantyhose earlier this year, that was to help out Paul Rudd. NBC offered a little preview of a jam session with Andy Samberg (the "marriage" resulting in "Jandy Timsamlake") to be embedded:

He started out in song, visiting backstage like Shia LaBeouf. He made passes at a couple men. I love the “we’ll be right back.” Dr. Phil often says that. (Has Dr. Phil ever hosted SNL?)

For Mother’s Day, "they" had a “Mom Celebrity Translator”, plopped onto an iPhone. (They needed Justin Long for this skit.)

Justin Timberlake got into drag, with a neckbrace, and pretended to become a Target shopper. He threatened to get a full body wax. (That would cost $3495; at least a full leg job is $2495, per leg, according to the Blade; the SNL writers missed that). Justin (Timberlake) has undergone some reversible changes in the past few years, if anyone has noticed in the movies and mags.

The SNL digital short was “Happy Mother’s Day” and Justin and Andy Samberg could act like twins. It will certainly become a popular fern gay bar video. How long will it take to show up at JR’s? I still miss “Laser Cats”.

Lead SNL writer and “interviewer” Seth Meyers got brutal, with his depictions of double, fractal pope-mobiles and some stuff about John Edwards, but he gave a rah-rah for gay marriage in Maine. He staged a rather tasteless confrontation between Eliot Spitzer and David Patterson. Meyers could (instead) try an reenactment of Idaho Senator’s Larry Craig’s Minneapolis bathroom bust. (“I am not gay. I have never been gay.” Think what Meyers could do with that (he could get on with the Pope’s definition of “objective disorder” or Dr, Laura’s “biological error”). Start out with a bit of footage from “Outrage”). Meyers says, You can twitter without a Blackberry if you have some real warblers (try using the ovenbird). All of this makes great satire.

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto came in to talk about the “new” Star Trek franchise (it can really be trademarked with USPTO – movie studios are notorious about protecting their intellectual property rights, aren’t they). Then “computerman” Leonard Nimoy (who acts like me) appeared. He’s not just a Geek Squad double agent. He started measuring and comparing people, mathematically. He said we have to live with the logical consequences of our beliefs. I understand that the new Star Trek movie has some planets destroyed by internal black holes (more episodes for History Channel mega-disasters), rather like what could happen to earth if Yellowstone blows up as a supervolcano.

Then they aired a skit claiming that the Somali pirates sold their caches to Disneyland. (Or perhaps “Adventureland”.) Is that an exercise in “creativity”? This looks like one for MaGruber.

I'd love to see SNL try to make fun with the characters Grant and Ben in Carter Smith's gay horror masterpiece "Bugcrush." You know, the lines like "you know what you want" and "I can do whatever I want." That's just another idea for Seth Meyers.

Wolf Blitzer interviews Karzai, Zardari, and Peres in Situation Room; Obama due for "comedy" speech Saturday night

On Saturday, May 9, 2009, Wolf Blitzer on the CNN presented three critical interviews with mid-Eastern heads of state, in his weekend "Situation Room".

First he talked to Hamid Karzai, of Afghanistan, still wearing green. Karzai said that American airstrikes against civilian positions (by accident, “friendly fire”) were not acceptable behavior on the part of the U.S. He also said that the Taliban would not be able to return with any effect in Afghanistan. I say, ask Sebastian Junger (“The Half-King”) to go over there again and report.

Then he talked to Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari, cochairman of the Pakistani Peoples Party (an ironic named) and the widower of Benazir Bhutto. Zardari said that the suitcase nukes were safe, and that they were housed 60-70 miles from Islamabad. (I was surprised to hear a head of state be even that specific; remember how Eleanor Roosevelt got into trouble for publishing her columns on just weather in the US during WWII). He said that even the military could not seize them easily, let alone the Taliban, and that fighting had occurred in areas where they are housed without their being jeopardized. He also said that he has the loyalty of his military. Pakistan’s Army is actually one of the world’s largest outside of major powers.

Fareed Zakaria, host of GPS ("Global Public Square" on Sundays) appeared and told Wolf that the greatest danger would be gradual leak of fissile materials to opportunists like A.Q. Khan, who could try to hock the material on the black market. But I was under the impression that the weapons were complete units. Older weapons might not even trigger if someone tried to use them.

Israel’s president Shimon Peres talked about the concerns that Iran and the instability of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He would not rule out a strike to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and Blitzer mentioned previous strikes against Iraq (the Osirak facility) in 1981, and Syria (recently). Peres said that moderate Sunni Arab states including Jordan and even Saudi Arabia had more to fear from Iran than did Israel.

Then Blitzer interviewed author Neil MacFarquhar, author of “The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday: Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East,” published by Public Affairs. The author had learned Arabic relatively late in life. They talked about globalization and radical Islam. The author said that the US has to “push the sides toward peace” in Palestine.

Blitzer then interviewed the First Lady of California, Maria Shriver, whose father Sargent Shriver (now 93) has Alzheimer’s and does not recognize her. She discussed the HBO documentary “The Alzheimer Project” to air May 10 thru 12 (there are several parts). She said that the numbers on Alzheimer’s have risen sharply since 2004, when she first approached HBO about a project after writing the book “What's Happening to Grandpa?”.She said that he had been a brilliant man throughout his career, but developed Alzheimer’s rapidly in 2003. She said that the disease will bankrupt our health care system if a cure isn’t found, but actually custodial care usually must be paid by the patients, their families, or sometimes Medicaid (not Medicare).

President Obama is due to speak on CNN at 10 PM EDT, from the White House Correspondents' Association dinner (story link by Paul Steinhauser, “Barack Obama: President or Comedian?”).

A portion of the video is available from CNN now. It sounds like a "Saturday Night Live" segment. Obama refers to Thomas Jefferson's idea that it's better to have newspapers without government than government without newspapers. He also says he'll build a library on his first 100 days, and finish his second 100 days in 72 days, by taking advantage of Einstein's special relativity. ("On the 73rd Day I will rest"; I presume that the president will watch the new version of "Star Trek"). Obama referred to a friend as a "person of color" but "not a color that appears in the natural world!" He said "I will strongly consider losing my cool."

Friday, May 08, 2009

Bill Moyers interviews Sen. Durbin on bankers and lobbying

On Friday, May 8, 2009, Bill Moyers presented Richard Durbin (D-IL) in a discussion about the banking crisis, along with the lack of any intellectual honesty in bankers' lobbying. (People don't get paid to be honest when they lobby, do they.) The basic Durbin interview link is this.

Durbin said that the bankers who led us astray with the recklessness of the past few years had lobbied some years ago for extensive deregulation. Durbin has pushed for a law requiring mortgage lenders to offer renegotiation of mortgages within 60 days, down to fair market value. He says it make no sense to allow more lenient terms for vacation homes than primary residences, and he says that some objections to reform have been called “sanctity of contract” by market fundamentalists.

He also said that some hedge funds wanted the government to liquidate Chrysler rather than reorganize it with Chapter 11, because they would make more money – even though thousands would suffer, and retirees would lose their health insurance.

He said that some investors had called bank management “gamey, venial, and stupid”.

Durbin wants campaign finance reform that would lead to public financing for candidates who show they are viable with many small donations. He denies that this is “candidate welfare”.

Moyer has addresses lobbying and campaign finance before, as with an interview with Robert Kaiser, author of "So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government.", as in a Common Cause blog posting by Daryn Cambridge, link here.

The second part of the program consisted of an interview with Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, author of “Third Chapter: Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years after 50”, link for the interview here. She talked about the importance of “generativity” for people in the third section of life, rather than sticking to the previous sense of self, and possibly stagnating. They talked about whether retirement is really a “right”.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

ABC 20-20: Stossel to report on taboo topics like "generational theft" (Medicare), and pregnancy discrimination litigation

While I usually wait until after airing to review a show, I thought I would pass along on my TV blog an advance notice on "libertarianesque" John Stossel’s ultimate “Give Me a Break” session, “You Can’t Even Talk About It”, Friday May 8, at 10 PM EDT, on the ABC network.

The most important portion of the show seems to have to do with spending on seniors, which President Obama said, before the inauguration, that he would look at, because we can’t keep “kicking the can down the road.” The segment will be called “America needs to do less for its senior citizens”.

Stossel reports that the average Medicare beneficiary collects two or three times more than they paid in with Medicare taxes when they (or their spouses) worked. Middle and upper class seniors have a lot of political clout (look at the AARP) whereas the children of poor people do not.

Andrew G. Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute calls this “generational theft”. What could happen is a much greater burden will go back on adult children, some of whom have never been parents and had to support others, who will have to take care of their aged as they live longer than they used to. States (there are 28 of them now) might well start enforcing their filial responsibility laws for nursing home Medicaid coverage (I’m referring to poor laws, not just the lookback period for early inheritance disbursements, which has already been extended). A typical article by Biggs is “Retirement Math”(April 13, 2009) and appears in Forbes here. Stossel's report did highlight the problem of longer lifespans and fewer workers to pay for each retiree. Stossel called Medicare the world's biggest Ponzi Scheme, or perhaps it should be called "Madoff-Care" (after Bernie Madoff). The seniors interviewed on the show claimed they have earned their benefits and paid their dues. The seniors said, "tell the kids to change the voting. Who said life is fair?" Donald Trump, on "The Apprentice", always says, life indeed isn't fair, it shouldn't be; never give in on protecting your own life.

Stossel will report on “Rescuing Idiots” – in the preview video – the rescuing of people who take foolish risks in wilderness areas. The video talks about “personal responsibility” – that good old libertarian and even Southpark idea. The video also goes on to air a July 2008 segment on age discrimination laws. Stossel admits in the video that at his age now he can’t do all-nighters like he once could. Should the law protect him? Of course, he doesn’t “need” the protection, probably. But he says that turnover of workers is a necessary component of "creative destruction" in the economy.

Stossel will also cover “Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuits” which he says are on the increase despite strict laws. Carrie Lucas, of the Independent Women’s Forum, will appear and she has an article, May 7, 2009, “IWF in the News: Pregnancy Discrimination Laws: Do They Hurt Women More Than They Help?”, link here. He says (in the email, referring to her) that sometimes pregnant women cannot work as hard and that turns them into “lawsuit bombs”. I once took a weekend long night call in an IT shop for a pregnant employee without compensation, back in 1993. But the real point is that employers may refuse to hire pregnant women in the first place, on the fear that they may be more likely to litigate. In fact, employers may be afraid to hire women, or at least married women, at all (in the 1950s sometimes they were, before Betty Friedan). Stossel says (in a Good Morning America preview Friday) that after the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, hiring of the disabled went down out of fear of litigation. He says that a law designed to help a class of people may actually hurt them. There is a Pregnancy Discrimination Act, described here on Wikipedia. Visitors may want to check the "Broadsheet" (May 9, 2009) on Salon called "Pregnancy Discrimination Act: fail?" with discussion of Novartis Pharmaceuticals, link here.

Stossel appear on ABC's "The View" on Friday May 9. A heated debate followed on discrimination laws, and particularly on social spending on the elderly. Stossel says that people must save up for their own retirements outside of government.

Stossel also argued that laws protecting wild animals don't necessarily protect endangered species. He said animals go extinct when no one owns them (like bison, which came back when ranchers owned them). As for tigers, no, I don't like the idea of eating cats; I like cats.

Stossel was the guest speaker back in 2002 at an American Experiment luncheon in Minneapolis, which I attended. This is a conservative group, but the luncheon discussion definitely took on a libertarian tone. Stossel then said he feared that gay marriage could be abused by people who wanted only the benefits and didn’t really want commitment.

Libertarian claims that workplace laws should not be designed around specific classes of worker could defeat ENDA, the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act for gays and lesbians, proposed in 1993. I've heard silly claims made, that gay bars should be able not to hire straight men if they don't want to. Well, actually, straight people often do work at gay bars!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Oprah covers school bullying and cyberbullying; Bristol Palin stimulates debate on abstinence education

Today (Wednesday, May 6, 2009) the Oprah Winfrey show presented a hard-hitting session on school bullies, both in person and online. The basic link is this. On this report, particularly, I personally encourage visitors to watch all the videos there.

The show started with two mothers telling how their middle school kids had committed suicide suddenly after being bullied for very long times. The video on the site gives the details.

Then a father from New York discussed his son’s suicide in seventh grade after cyberbullying as well as in-person. A girl set him up in chat sessions and pretended to be his girl friend online, in a mirror of the case in Missouri with Lori Drew.

The first expert to appear was Dr. Espelage from the University of Illinois. She pointed out that sexual bullying, particularly calling boys “gay” is more common today than it was in the 1990s. She thinks that media coverage of sexuality is one issue, because many kids do not understand what it means when they encounter it in the media. The other issue is that school systems are so concerned about “no child left behind” and passing test scores that teachers and administrators do not put in the time and effort to stop bullying, particularly in elementary and middle schools.

Then Dr. Lipkin, in an emergency intervention, interviewed a thirteen year old boy, Chase, about how to defend himself and his personal space. Part of the technique is to use body language, which is difficult for many boys (it may be more difficult for boys with Asperger syndrome, for example).

Parents used to tell kids to ignore bullies, that the problem would go away. Experts now say that this no longer acceptable, and the show develops the case for intervention.

I was the target of bullies from about the third grade on and the problem was its most severe in seventh grade (1955). I remember the questions about whether to “hit back.” I rarely did, but one time I scratched a boy with my fingernails and might have scarred him. The bullying came back in ninth grade, and I verbally bullied back (in an incident having to do with an illness in class) and got in trouble toward the end of the year. In tenth grade, in “senior high school” as it was called then, the environment was much better and there were no more such problems.

In the 1950s the reasons were different. World War II was a recent memory, and there was a mentality that boys had to prove themselves “men” able to protect future women and children. There was an idea that someone who did not “do his part” would leave the fighting and “sacrificing” for others. This was a kind of thinking that the Cold War and McCarthyism perpetuated.

When I was a substitute teacher in 2005, in a middle school setting there was an incident where a student in my class was “bullied” by having an anti-Semetic “joke” pasted on her clothes with a sticky pad. I did not see it and could not reasonably have seen it happen. Nevertheless, I was considered ineffective as an authority figure and banned from the school.

At a high school assignment (usually not a problem), in one particular teacher’s classes there seemed to be a lot of gang involvement (generally not a common experience). The resulting complications led to my resignation. This problem is related to social tensions among various groups of people (“haves” and “have-nots” as kids and parents perceive them), and is a political problem, and in some communities a serious problem for law enforcement as well as school officials.

Dr. Espelage mentioned that gangs up the ante on the bullying problem, making “snitches” potential targets, and possibly endangering their families, and become an issue for police.

HRC (Human Rights Campaign) has a link for schools and perceived sexual orientation issues, here.

Earlier today, Bristol Palin supported abstinence on the Today Show when interviewed by Matt Lauer. The Chicago Sun Times blog entry by Kevin Allen is here. Bristol (Sarah Palin's daughter) says "learn from my mistakes."

The conversation continued at 11 AM today on ABC’s “The View” where there was more questioning as to whether it’s logically consistent to talk about abstinence and condoms both. On "The View", the gals emphasized the adverse consequences of unwanted pregnancy. Yet, some conservatives (not the supposed “liberals” in the media) are insisting that having children some day, in marriage, ought to become an expectation.

Update: May 15

Michael Gerson has an op-ed column in the Washington Post, "The Rhetoric of the Rant", link here. Gerson mentions the book "Civility: Manners, Morals and the Etiquette of Democracy," in which author Stephen L. Carter defines civility as "the sum of the many sacrifices we are called to make for the sake of living together." Gerson goes on to expand on bullying as a kind of rudeness that becomes self-generating, in which people lash out at those whom they (incorrectly) perceive as scapegoats because of their own sense of grievance and deprivation because of systemic injustices. But "verbal violence" can be very damaging, as Gerson explains.

Update: June 8, 2009

ABC Good Morning America presented this horrific story, written by Susan Ricci and Lee Ferran, "14-Year-Old Killed by Gang in Suburban Maryland; Mother's Constant Contact With Son Couldn't Prevent Violent Death," link here. The incident occurred near Annapolis, MD. Arrests have been made and hopefully the defendants will be tried as adults. The maximum sentence could be life without parole. This sounds (to me) like the Matthew Shepard murder in Wyoming in 1998 (the Matthew Shepard foundation page is here).

Monday, May 04, 2009

PBS Frontline: "Sick Around the World": but most countries have systems more "private" than we think

The second part of the PBS Frontline “sick around …” series goes abroad for an hour for “Sick Around the World,” directed by Jon Palfreman. The website is this.

TR Reed visits five democracies.

Leading off is Britain’s National Health System, NHS. No one pays a bill and no one goes bankrupt. The cost per person is about ½ in the US. The show goes to Whittington Hospital. Brits pay for health care with higher taxes.

Waiting lists have come down from 18 months to about 2 months for a hip replacement. Hospitals compete for government money.

Nigel Hawkes, editor of the London Times, also reports. He says that in Britain hospitals compete “to survive” not for profit.

Health care starts with the “gatekeeper”, the family doctor or GP.

The second country was Japan, the second richest country in the world. Like Britain, they spend half what we spend per person. Japan has the longest life expectancy in the world, and lowest infant mortality. There is private “social insurance” which is mandatory. Japanese consumers don’t have to see a GP first or even make appointments.

Japan’s system, while quasi private, has only one payment system with prices controlled by the government. Japanese manufacturers make machines that they can sell to government according to the “price book”. Insurance companies must follow guaranteed issue, and if someone loses a job he can buy into a community plan.

A room in a common room in a hospital in Japan is $10 a night, or $90 for a private room. But hospitals, rather than patients, may be getting into financial difficulty.

In Germany, about 90% are covered by the national system. Von Bismarck originated the original idea of universal coverage. But the hospitals and doctors are actually private. Waiting lists are shorter than in Britain but longer than in Japan. The is mandatory universal coverage, with progressive premiums, and private insurers.

German insurance plans compete for customers, although they cannot make profits. They are a bit like American Blue plans. The Germans make it affordable by taking the profit motive out. There have been issues with doctors believing they are undercompensated, and they have even “struck”. One problem is that Germany lets the “rich people opt out.”

The next country is Taiwan. Their system is a lot like US Medicare, with one insurer, or a bit like Canada’s. There’s no gatekeeper and no waits. Patient overuse is monitored by a “big brother” system. They use smart cards to track patient use.

Switzerland had a system more like the US until 1994, when it adopted mandatory insurance. It does allow insurance companies to profit. Nobody goes bankrupt in Switzerland, either. Premiums are higher, about $700 a month for a typical family. Switzerland’s is the most capitalist of the systems examined.

Insurance companies must accept everyone and can’t make a profit on basic care. Everyone must purchase health insurance or the government will buy it for the poor. And hospitals must give one standard of care with set prices. We have pieces of these plans with Medicare, the VA, and the poor.

It would have been nice to cover the Canadian system.

Can we make up our minds now for health care reform?

The attribution for the Wikimedia GNU picture of the Berlin Reichstag is here. I visited Berlin in May 1999.