Friday, October 30, 2009

CNN Larry King Live and "ghostbusters"

"Larry King Live" tonight covered “ghostbusters”, bringing on a number of guests.

The show started out with interviews of “plumbers” Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson. There was a discussion of an event where a “paranormal” entity pulled a cord out of a socket.

Then Larry interviewed medium Chip Coffey, and psychic Mary T. Browne, and then Joan Rivers.

But the meat of the program was the investigatory group “Everyday Paranormal” with the Klinge Brothers (Brad and Barry Klinge) from the Discovery Channel’s “Ghost Lab”, link here. There was an investigation of ghosts in a hotel near the Alamo in San Antonio, TX, and of an incident where ghosts from Union soldiers in Gettysburg PA appeared while one of them was filming.

The basic LKL Halloween blog is here.

The interest in the paranormal is heightened this week by the film “Paranormal Events” (movies blog).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

UFO Hunters: "The Silencers" aka "Men in Black" -- "they" made a blogger take down a posting about Dugway

Tonight the History Channel presented some new episodes in its “UFO Hunters” series, including “The Silencers” or the Men in Black. (There were four new episodes and these may be the “final” new episodes.) There is no Tommy Lee Jones in this episode. Instead, the investigating team consolidates the reports of the MIB’s who appear to journalists and writers who get too close to the “truth”. It sounds like an add-on special for the “X Files” (although there is no cigarette-smoking man). The MIB’s are reported to have consistent features, rather like robots in black undertaker suits, although not exactly like Transformers (again, no Shia La Beouf).

The conclusion of the program is that the MIB’s come from some quasi-private government company (in the sense that Fannie Mae is private), set up to give the government “plausible deniability”. There are 24 levels of crypto clearances above top secret, and the president has access only to level 17. MIB’s, I guess, reside in the heavens above.

Authors of books on UFO’s have died mysteriously. Frank Edwards, author of “Flying Saucers: Serious Business” (1966) died of an “apparent heart attack.” Another author died of a blot clot following an ankle sprain.

A blogger named Dave Rosenfeld took some photos and did some gumshoeing around Dugway Proving Ground (link) in Utah and posted his findings on the web. Four days later, the MIB’s showed up and made him delete the postings from the Web while they watched! Will they make bloggers delete reviews of the History Channel program? Plausible deniability, really?

The MIB’s used to be a topic of sniggering discussions at Understanding, Daniel Fry’s organization in Arizona (“To Men of Earth”), back in the 1970s.

The History Channel has a discussion board on the program here.

Attribution link for Wikimedia drawing of Travis Walton abduction in Arizona in 1975 (the 1993 Paramount film, “Fire in the Sky”).

UFO sighting at Yosemite by "Gaspritz".

The second hour of the "UFO Hunters" series was "Area 52" which is Dugway proving ground. By using private contractors, the government gets around FOIA requests.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yankee Stadium and "God Bless America" controversy

It seems that the most controversial part of the first game of the World Series tonight at the New Yankee Stadium, as broadcast on Fox with no blackouts, is Kay Messenger’s singing “God Bless America” during the Seventh Inning Stretch, story here.

But apparently the Yankees had fired singer Ronan Tynan for an anti-Semetic email, story here.

In 2009, the Yankees had to settle a suit from a patron who was ejected for going to the bathroom during the singing of GBA, link for story here and apparently the Yankees have dropped that silly rule now.

And some people want to ban “God Bless America”, as in this curious (URL) story.

Chase Utley, a left handed batter facing left handed Sabathia, hit two homers on two-strike pitches.

The Phillies won the game, 6-1. Cliff Lee pitched a complete game.

Attribution link for Yankee Stadium II picture in Wikipedia.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

CNN AC360 discusses another "Bystander Effect" case in Richmond CA

Tonight, Tuesday Oct. 27, John King hosted AC360, and presented the horrific case of a criminal assault in a high school in Richmond California during homecoming. As in the Kitty Genovese case in New York in 1964 (discussed on ABC 20/20 recently, on this blog Oct. 24), there were many potential onlookers who did nothing, expecting others to act. Apparently teachers, police and school administrators remained blind, despite that this happened on school ground – reporters say that there was no security outside on school grounds. The victim left early and was not missed. Subsequent reports on CNN claim that at least ten bystanders witnessed the attacks and did nothing. Some comments to CNN consider the bystanders "just as guilty" as the perpetrators; I remember a less like this in grade school.

The commentators indicated that this was a scene of unparalleled depravity. Some of today’s youth are simply not connecting to any sense of morality. “Our children have lost their way.” They talked about the Bystander Effect. There was also a question as to whether media violence, as on TV, movies or the Internet, provokes this kind of violence and rationalizations for it.

CNN’s American Morning tape transcript with Miles O’Brien is here.

I stayed in a motel in Richmond CA at the start of a trip in February 2002.

Sanjay Gupta talked about H1N1, and the warning signs that a child is developing secondary pneumonia and life threatening complications, which can become an instantaneous emergency. He talked about the range of parental reactions, from hysteria on the one hand to sponsoring “swine flu parties” like chickenpox parties on the other.

Gupta also discussed the sweat lodge deaths in Arizona, and said that the high humidity, preventing sweating, could have contributed, as well as the 36-hour fast before the sauna.

CBS has this story about "self-help guru James Ray" here. On ABC Good Morning America, a couple of people told about paying $6000 to him to be dumped in San Diego to experienc being a homeless person. One person thought it was ridiculous, the other thought that the experience taught him he could make something of nothing.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Jupiter: The Giant Planet" from "The Universe" on the History Channel: show available online

Jupiter: The Giant Planet” from “The Universe” series on The History Channel is available for viewing here.

The program envisions a warm hydrogen balloon descending into the permanent “hurricane” on Jupiter called The Red Spot. A balloon filled with helium would sink. The film simulates what the orange-brown storm clouds inside the Red Spot would actually look like.

The other really interesting part of the program simulates an unmanned submarine (probably nuclear powered) inside the under-ice ocean on Europa, and suggests that microbial life in this ocean is very likely.

The show also examines the magnetosphere of Jupiter.

What would have been interesting would have been a simulation of what the liquid hydrogen "ocean" on Jupiter would look like, followed by a depiction of the "metallic hydrogen" layer. We need a Jules Verne style "Journal to the Center of Jupiter".

Attribution link for NASA picture of the Great Red Spot, here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

ABC 20-20 covers 20 infrequently asked questions: are humans necessarily selfish? Can we stop global warming and hospital infections with simple means

ABC 20/20, the past two weeks, has aired a “20 Questions You Never Thought to Ask” segment.

One of the stories concerned whether we are all inherently selfish (“Do Humans Care Only About Themselves?”. David Muir starts reporting on the Kitty Genovese stabbing in Queens, New York in 1964 when over thirty people witnessed it from apartment buildings above and no one called police. The report went on to note that wealthy people who have more than one child (competing for bequest) are more likely to receive visits from adult children in nursing homes and assisted living centers than are poor people. Likewise, people donate to charity by going to lavish fundraisers where they can be seen. Our selfishness and our social compassion are both essential to our survival as a species, according to the report .

Some of the segments are based on the book “Super Freakanomics” by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, excerpt)
and covers how innovation (from the polio vaccine to the replacement of whale oil with fossil fuels) solves sustainability problems. The authors discuss Bill Gates’s plan to cool oceans during hurricane seasons with special pumps, and says that “a garden hose can counteract global warming.”

Another segment concerns hospital sanitation and handwashing by staff. In some UK hospitals, doctors are forbidden to wear ties, as cravats spread germs. One previously healthy woman got a flesh-eating super bug in a hospital, and all hospitals now have MRSA precautions. Will male surgeons or nurses someday face epilation to prevent the spread of more germs? I suggest that idea in my novel draft.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Oprah presents story of robbery attempt overcome by prayer

On Friday Oct. 23, 2009 Oprah Winfrey presented the story of a payday loan clerk in Indianapolis, who calmed down a man attempting an armed robbery and got him to put down his gun and pray. Later, the young man’s mother convinced him to turn himself in to police. Oprah interviewed the woman, Angela Montez on the show, and the young man Greg Smith by Skype from the Marion County jail.

The young man said that he had lost his job (after losing his driver’s license) and could not support his family. From the story it sounded as if he had not married his girl friend. But the armed robbery attempt apparently was motivated in large part by economic desperation.

The link for the episode(“An Act of Faith”)is here.

Wanda Sykes also appeared, and discussed equality for LGBT people and other topics.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

PBS: Transformation Age: Surviving a Technology Revolution with Robert X. Cringely"

Tonight, some PBS stations aired “Transformation Age: Surviving a Technology Revolution with Robert X. Cringely”, link here.

Information Technology is now a $1.3 trillion dollar industry in the United States, and it facilitates everything else we do.

Mainframe, batch computer processing became a staple in the 1960s (the program shows a PDP 11); online developed in the 1970s. But “just in time” systems (including radio frequency ID, RFID revolutionized inventory and retail, to the point that the position and quantity of every item is always known.

The show presented the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, and the 1993 project to automate all of its paper medical records, when it had invented the paper system decades before.

The program covered Second Life, almost like another parallel universe, and discussed the demise of the old newspaper business model and the effect of grassroots companies like Craigslist (the San Francisco house of the company is shown).

The program envisions a world in which everyone is monitored by digital devices, even worn on the body (who wants to shave for a Holter Monitor, anyway?; maybe wear conductive digital clothing instead.)

Wikipedia attribution link for Mayo Gonda building.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Oprah: Nate Berkus plays stay-at-home dad, then ("straight"?) reunion date

Today, Monday October 19, Oprah Winfrey closed in on the “culture wars” by having interior designer Nate Berkus play stay-at-home dad while a stay-at-home mom gets a day off. You can read about Nate on Wikipedia here and see that this is a “social experiment” of sorts (in the language of some). The link for the Oprah episode is here. There are three kids: two in school, one two-year-old who is not “terrible”. There is the same “intimacy” that one expects to see between a “real” father and son.

If there is a "political" message, it's obviously that everyone should share in the more personal aspects of intergenerational family responsibility. That idea actually got mentioned in Joshua Cooper Ramo's "Age of the Unthinkable", and plays along with the idea of a "new social contract."

Then (at the half way point) Nate goes on a “date” to a reunion with a divorced single mother (a fifth grade teacher) with triplets. The segment starts when the teacher is called to the principal’s office! So Nate gets to play “straight”.

Of course, there is plenty of Nate’s design work shown, including the kids’ closets (no pun) and a shopping spree for the date.

When I was substitute teaching, I was placed in a couple of situations “by surprise” that were more intimate than was appropriate for the circumstances. Once, at a career center, I found that the class that I was to assist was “child care” – with real live children of pre-school age. (Most were not precocious enough to be composing music at three.)

I wonder if Nathaniel (who survived the 2004 tsunami) would consider working on a house in the Solar Decathlon.

Oprah ended the show with, "if anybody wants Nate, just call!"

Sunday, October 18, 2009

CNN airs Larimer County Sheriff's Press Conference calling Balloon Boy stunt a "hoax"; charges may follow

At 1 PM EDT (11 AM MDT) Lamimer County CO Sheriff Jim Alderden held a long press conference, carried on CNN and delaying Fareed Zakaria’s GPS. Alderden said that “Balloon Boy Incident” was a hoax and a publicity stunt, and the result of a “conspiracy” between Richard and Mayumi Heene.

There could follow felony and misdemeanor criminal charges (including contributing to the delinquency of a minor, their son) as well as a civil suit.

The press conference was quite detailed and speculative as to how the law could be applied. The parents have not been arrested yet. The sheriff said that both parents were actors and had met while working as actors, and that they pulled the stunt hoping to attract a TV or Reality Show deal. I don’t know whether a screenplay exists for this!

The CNN story has another link discussing body language analysis in questioning the family.

Apparently the kid spilled the beans to Wolf Blitzer of CNN (Dadddy did it for TV), and then got sick on morning television.

The sheriff also noted that the balloon was not air-worthy. Later reports suggest that the family had accomplices.

This incident shows the absurd lengths some people will go to achieve more than "15 Minutes of Fame".

The silvery balloon looked a lot like a flying saucer from a History Channel UHO Hunters program.

Attribution link for 1875 picture of Fort Collins, pd, from Wikimedia

Saturday, October 17, 2009

CNN: Sanjay Gupta's "Cheating Death"

On Saturday, Oct. 17, CNN aired D. Sanjay Gupta’s one hour report “Cheating Death”, with blog URL here.

The show started with a 22 year old man with an unexplained cardiac arrest. His life was saved first by rapidly repeated chest thumps, not by conventional CPR as used to be taught in first aid courses by the Red Cross, even in the past by the US Army in Basic Training. A good example of conventional CPR is shown by actor Tom Welling playing Clark on Lex in the opening 2001 pilot of Smallville. Then, the young man was transferred to a university hospital in Philadelphia, where he was cooled. Then he was gradually warmed, without any brain damage.

In another case, a young female physician in Tromso Norway had a cardiac arrest from hypothermia. Another case involved a female bus driver with a sudden heart attack.

Hypothermia is effective if a heart has already stopped because it reduces the brain’s need for oxygen. On the other hand, hypothermia at the wrong time could cause cardiac arrest.

Another technique for extending the “golden hour” of time is inducing artificial hibernation, with drugs based on hydrogen sulfide. Related to this would be the practice of medically induced comas.

Gupta has also described his own case of H1N1 while he was reporting in Afghanistan. Apparently he was quite ill for about three days.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Contact sports could lead to late-life brain injury or dementia in men; ABC has more reports on Alzheimer's

Tonight, Friday, Oct. 16, ABC World News Tonight presented a story about the injury to the brains of pro football players (giving one example of a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers who died at 50), leading to accumulation of proteins in the brain that resemble Alzheimer’s. These injuries might occur even without the player ever having a formal concussion. Of course, similar concerns are known from boxing. The story was expected to continue on Nightline.

The interesting moral point is that society enjoys sports, and pressures young men into contact sports, as a way to build competitiveness, social loyalty, and character.

Dementia-like changes, of course, occur as a result of heart disease and strokes, and probably increase not only in smokers but in those exposed to second-hand smoke as well as various pollutants and toxins.

I couldn’t find the link for this story yet, but there is an earlier story on the cost of Alzheimer’s on ABC News, here. The story is titled “Rising Cost of Caring for Alzheimer's: Families Face Personal and Financial Strain Providing Care for Loved Ones”, by John McKenzie. The story also covers the incredible personal strain on caregivers. The link is here. At least 5.3 million Americans now have the disease, which is becoming viewed as one of society’s gravest public health problems. Here is the National Institute on Aging link Here is a Jannis Productions video on the biochemistry of Alzheimer’s.

Bill Moyers Journal reviews recovery from financial crisis, and Obama's foregn policy

I encourage everyone to watch the video of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS from Friday, October 9, 2009, where Simon Johnson and Rep. Marcy Kaptur from Toledo, Ohio talk about what has happened with the banking and financial crisis since 2008. The link for the video is here (no embed code offered).

Kaptur minces no words. Homeowners should squat on their properties, and not be treated like chattel. She talked about the foreclosed property next to her house, where the bank sold the note to a speculator in South Carolina who wanted to dump it for an absurd price. “Possession is nine points of the law.” She also said that Geithner wants to keep power in the New York Fed and away from the other Feds. They talked about the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999. Johnson said that investment bankers fully expected about 25% if these subprime mortgages to go under, but they didn’t see that housing prices themselves would go down.

Tonight, Oct. 16, Moyers interviewed Mark Danner on Obama’s handling of foreign affairs. Danner said that President Bush had essentially declared “soft martial law” after 9/11, with the unsupervised wiretappings and the extreme renditions. (It didn’t affect Internet speech as it could have, given the early concerns about possible steganography.) He said that Obama, with his race and middle name, actually represents an existential undermining of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden’s ideology.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

PBS: "Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound"

On Wednesday, Oct. 14 2009 some PBS stations premiered an “American Masters” special, “Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound”, directed by Mary Wharton (about 85 minutes). The link for the film is here.

Joan, born 1941, appears often in the film as she is today, with short hair, recalling her life. She says that her priorities were to be “a human being, a pacifist” and (only then) a “folk singer” (and songwriter, if not exactly “composer”). Political activism was her life’s work as much as music. Her relationships, including a marriage to David Harris that produced a son who appears in the film, came out of this “work”. The film contains footage of her visit to Hanoi and later the border of Cambodia, during which she learned what it was like to be in peril. It also accounts for her arrest at a draft induction center, where she met Harris. The film does cover a little of the controversy of the Vietnam era conscription.

When the government promoted the “duck and cover” campaign as part of the Cold War (the film shows a mushroom cloud), Baez refused to go home, proving that parents would not be able to get their kids to fallout shelters in time.

The film also covers her early music career, including the Newport recital.

This may sound like a bizarre recollection, but when I was a (mental health) "patient" at NIH in 1962 (the only patient on the ward who knew about the Cuban Missile Crisis) the unit's small vinyl record collection included records by Joan Baez (as well as the Kingston Trio).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Oprah Magazine runs important essay by Susan Kliebold

On this posting about the Oprah Winfrey show, I’ll shift to the Oprah Magazine. I see that it has regular columns from Suze Orman and Dr. Phil, and the November 2009 Dr. Phil article has a welcome piece about dealing with bullies at school.

But the main matter of interest is the essay by Susan Kliebold, mother of Dylan Kliebold, ten years after Columbine. The essay is titled “I will never know why” and appears online at this link.

Dylan seems to have been a gifted child in grade school, and excelled in chess. He gradually went off track later as he got into the high school years. Other reports, as I recall, dealt with being bullied or perceived as “different”. I can recall a dark period in my own thoughts, 45+ years ago, at around age 20 or so (I never say much about it online, for good reason), a couple years after my own college expulsion and NIH psychiatric treatment, and in a broad sense the material in Susan’s essay rings true, although the details are different. One factor in my history is a period of social ostracism, a recovery of social standing (in my case, as a senior in high school) and then loss of social opportunity because of the mishandled expulsion. It is the loss and resulting social deprivation that precipitates such thoughts, I think.

The essay also discusses Dylan’s journals and writings, which at a certain level sound like they somewhat resembled Cho’s in the Virginia Tech tragedy. Like Cho’s, it sounds as though they were never posted online in the public Internet, which in 1999 would have been easy and at that time search engines would have found them easily. Instead, as with Cho, teachers were very concerned about them. It’s common in high school English classes for teachers to assign students the task of writing a journal, although these are always private. I know one English teacher in the Fairfax County VA system who actually assigned a blogging project in 2006, to the consternation of administrators (the blogs had to be “rated G”).

The piece has been discussed in a number of news broadcasts.

Monday, October 12, 2009

PBS: Virginia Gubernatorial Debate Between Deeds and McDonnell

PBS, the AARP (represented by Bill Kallio) and the League of Women Voters (represented by Oldga Hernandez) sponsored a debate between gubernatorial candidates Creigh Deeds (D) and Bob McDonnell (R) in Richmond, VA tonight (Oct. 12, 8 PM). Here is the LWV press release for the debate.

The candidates were asked about gender equality on their staffs if elected.

Creigh Deeds indicated that 50% of his staff would be female, and Bob McDonnell said that he was raising three daughters to become professional women and would always support equal pay for all. McDonnell has to react to reports about his comments in a paper twenty years ago

Virginia’s Medicaid is one of the leanest in terms of eligibility levels. Virginia is sixth in income and 48th in Medicaid per capita expenditures. The candidates were asked about Medicaid funding levels. Deed is concerned about the funding level.

McDonnell argued for campaign finance reform and for right to work laws.

Bill Kallio said that 14% of Virginia’s population is over 65, and that will be 20% in 2020. McDonnell proposed doubling the tax credit for long term care insurance and strengthening the penalties for financial fraud or commingling or over abuse of seniors. There was no mention of filial responsibility laws.

McDonnell did support off-shore drilling in the Atlantic off Virginia Beach, but also tax credits for green energies.

McDonnell said that he does not discriminate against gays and lesbians in hiring, but he said that an executive order regarding discrimination was not constitutionally appropriate and violated separation of powers.
One of the last questions concerned bringing high-tech jobs to parts of Virginia other than the DC suburbs.

The McDonnell campaign has aired a political ad in which Creigh Deeds was caught "red-handed" threatening to raise taxes in a careless interview answer.

Friday, October 09, 2009

ABC 20-20 reports on Brooke Astor elder embezzlement case in New York

Tonight, Oct. 9, ABC 20/20 covered the trial of Anthony Marshall, 85, who was convicted this week in New York of embezzling millions from his mother Brooke Astor, who died of Alzheimer’s Disease at age 105 in 2007. But Astor had apparently been healthy to over age 100, and had spent an active life supporting charities. Her parents were presented in the movie “Titanic”.

Anthony may have been put up to this by his wife Charlene, who got greedy. There are a number of issues, as to whether he improperly influenced her will after she was impaired, whether he forged signatures, where he sold some of her assets and kept the money, and overpaid himself to manage her assets. Anthony’s son, who appears in the report, actually filed secretly and got guardianship of his grandmother.

The ABC report is “Brooke Astor Trial Verdict Latest in Long Family Drama: Before Trial and Fight Over Fortune, Brooke Astor Reigned Over New York City”, by Deborah Roberts and Joan Martelli, link URL here.

In caregiving situations of more “average” families, a potential issue is commingling of caregiver’s and the elder’s funds, in connection with powers of attorney, convervatorship, etc., as discussed by Cindy J. Ackerman, “Role Reversal: Caring for Aging Parents”, link here. A number of issues can occur: for example, does a diagnosis of mild dementia mean lack of capacity to make informed decisions? If the family caregiver is unpaid, could state filial responsibility laws in some cases require that the caregiver pay for care intended to give him relief?(I don't think New York State has such laws, but 28 states do.) The “social contract” issues rarely come up in public policy discussion, but may be more likely in the future because of changing demographics and the marked increase in Alzheimer’s. There is more about this on the “Bill retires” blog.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

PBS/Nova/NatGeo: "Darwin's Darkest Hour"

PBS NOVA and National Geographic Films presented “Darwin’s Darkest Hour”, link here, directed by John Bradshaw, written by John Goldsmith. This seems to be a special event for PBS, and the film may appear in theaters under limited release from NatGeo.

The central controversy in the film was Darwin’s quandary after receiving a paper (after a couple letters) from colleague Alfred Russell Wallace that seemed to jump the “scoop” on his theory of natural selection. Was Darwin being upstaged, or did that really matter? Does that matter today if a professor is upstaged in the academic world? Eventually there would be a joint presentation.

The film dramatizes Darwin’s family life, and the tragedy of the loss of an infant son to scarlet fever, in a day when infectious disease was much more real to families as a threat than it is now (even given H1N1).

In fact, Darwin’s role as a father also weighed in on his pondering of publication. He had to face the potential public ridicule from discrediting religious notions upon which so many people had depended. The idea that man has a lot in common with other mammals (with whom man can usually bond) is well expressed. Darwin says that reproduction in man is limited by the “moral constraint” of marriage, not binding on any other species. Eventually, his family held together despite the controversy over publication.

But the idea of “survival of the fittest” as a “moral” principle (sometimes connected to libertarianism) really came from Herbert Spencer rather than Charles Darwin.

The film was shot in Nova Scotia.

Another film about the “ethics” of publication, with a very different spin, is “Copenhagen”, based on a play by Michael Frayn, about the meeting between Bohr and Planck during WWII. More about that on another blog entry some time.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

CBS 60 Minutes covers Dreier Ponzi Scheme; coal slurry waste accident in TN

On Sunday night, October 4, CBS 60 Minutes presented a self-portrait by Marc Dreier, who would have been taken the biggest fall in Wall Street’s criminal row had it not been for Bernie Madoff. Dreier set up a legitimate law firm to hide phony transactions with hedge funds, because he thought that “more was expected of him” in life. He was kept so busy with the mechanics of his life that he could put the fraud out of his mind, a dangerous phenomenon. This is a cautionary tale that shows how easy it is for a previously “good person” to give into temptation, “take the Ring”, and detonate his own world. (Again, “The Ring is mine!)

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Then CBS covered the collapse of an earthen dam leading to the ebtombing of homes in a Cumberland Valley community hear Harriman, TN, as in this Wordpress entry. This collapse led to the release of 40 times the release of toxic waste as did the Exxon Valdez.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

"Clash of the Gods": "Tolkien's Monsters" on History Channel

On Monday, Oct. 5 The History Channel aired a most interesting one-hour episode of its “Clash of the Gods” series, “Tolkien’s Monsters”. The link is here.

The film has a lot of live World War I footage showing the unprecedented human carnage to which the young Lt. J.R.R. Tolkien was exposed, before he created his world of mythology and its own languages, leading to “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy” (as well as an earlier animated film in 1978 (United Artists, Ralph Bakshi), which would become the Oscar-awarding trilogy of huge films from New Line Cinema and director Peter Jackson. Adopted and raised a Catholic, Tolkien developed a fantasy world where the geography and tribal populations more or less mapped to the moral dilemmas of Christianity.

The “hero”, of course, is the hobbit Frodo (Elijah Wood in the New Line version) , who is given a mysterious ring by Bilbo, and who migrates across “Middle Earth” (between two other kingdoms) to the pit of fire to destroy the Ring, which is the source of evil (it’s possession renders one to be like Clark Kent on red kryptonite, or perhaps on steroids). Along the way, he befriends Sam (Sean Astin) as a companion, in a tender friendship that almost sounds like a cross between gay platonic and military unit bonding, and eventually encounters the Gollum, a hideous creature rendered hairless by the toxic (almost radioactive) effects of possessing the ring. (He “lost it”, one could say.) When Frodo reaches the volcano at the end of the movie, he suddenly is tempted by the Ring, screaming “The Ring is Mine.” But Gollum bites Frodo’s finger off to get the Ring and falls into the pit, and Middle Earth is saved. But Frodo returns a flawed hero (unlike Christ, who fought off Temptation three times). In the movie, he “goes West”, but in the books the Shire has been turned into a wasteland contaminated by industrial pollution.

In Tolkien’s world, there were definitely different classes of not completely compatible beings. The Elves really were morally superior, rather like angels. The Orcs had fallen because of the ring. Gandalf becomes like a Christ figure.

The film relates how the idea of a hobbit came to Tolkien from a student.

The film reenacts some scenes from the trilogy, but uses its own actors, rather than excerpts from the New Line films.

Monday, October 05, 2009

NBC: facing ratings challenges; remembering when I worked there in the 1970s

Brian Lowry has an article in Variety, “NBC: The incredible shrinking network: Will the Leno shift benefit the broadcaster?” link here.

I note this because I worked for NBC as a computer programmer in New York City from 1974-1977 (even through a NABET strike), and probably some of the management would still remember me. At age 66, I don’t mind the idea of letting blogging and search engines work for me to generate some buzz. I like to see companies that I worked for in the past do well, and NBC would be no exception. I’m sorry to read about the ratings nosedive. When I worked there in the 70s (on the general ledger system), my officemate worked on the system that tracked Nielsen ratings. There was another system that tracked “show cost”.

I agree, that the network should focus on original ideas for strong drama or comedy, and back off on the reality TV unless it is really good. “Biggest Loser” doesn’t do anything for me (and neither does hearing about gastric bypass surgery). The original Apprentice was a winner – great “kids” in their 20s (I even remember Troy McClain, and thought it was great that a 22-year-old Lee almost won), but Martha Stewart’s ripoff didn’t work, and neither does the Celebrity version.

“Heroes” is spectacular in look, but the story is harder to follow unless you watch it all the time. The show seems overloaded compared to other shows about hero-like characters on other networks (like “Smallville” or even “Kyle XY”).

Dateline is great, and the “To Catch A …” sting is a good idea. The “Birdrock Bandits” show generated a lot of interest when I wrote it up here. That just says to a blogger, that what interests the blogger personally isn’t always what sells publicly, and that there is some professionalism involved in seeing what readers really want.

You never know what opportunities may crop out when my current circumstances change—now that I have my own “epic story” to tell and maybe film. I don’t think this reminiscent post about NBC would hurt my “online reputation” with them.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Ken Burns: "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" (PBS series)

On Sundays, PBS stations have been presenting the six-part documentary by Ken Burns, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”. Today, Oct. 4, for example, Part 3, Episode 3, “The Empire of Grandeur (1915-1919)” was aired. The best guide for all the episodes is here.

Each episode tends to give history from several parks; Episode 3 started with Glacier National Park in Montana/Idaho. Park lands usually “expropriated” from native American tribes already present, and in many cases, if Congress was less than enthusiastic, railroads and other businesses would carve up the lands for commercial purposes. Today, that concept could lead, for example, to strip mining or mountaintop removal if it were permitted in some areas.

The show covered Hawaii Volcanoes, Denali (Mt. McKinley) Alaska (I flew up along the mountain in a sea plane in a tour in 1980), Arcadia (Mt. Desert Island, Maine; Katadhin is in a state park), and the Grand Canyon. The life and career (and consumption illness) of Stephen Mather was documented. The films are in typical Burns introspective style, with many stills, and reminiscent music.

Picture (mine, 2009): from Hawsbill, Shenandoah National Park, VA

Saturday, October 03, 2009

CNN Heroes are presented Saturday Oct. 3

I guess that DC area residents find it appropriate the CNN is premiering its Heroes candidates tonight (Oct. 3) on the same day as AIDSWalk here. And CNN Heroes are not the same as those of NBC’s series!

The basic link is here. Anderson Cooper hosts (8 PM EDT). Viewers can vote there right now. The order of presentation should not affect how you vote. The polls stay open until November 19. Winners will be announced Thanksgiving night. Anderson named the blue ribbon panelists who picked the candidates. The process somewhat reminds me of Oprah's "Big Give" in 2008.

Candidate are varied. Roy Foster says that 1/3 of all homeless people are military veterans and runs a project called “Stand Down Home”. Andrew Ivory arranges free mammograms for women without health insurance. A young man runs a deworming project for poor children in Haiti. Last year’s winner, who started with her earnings as a nanny, runs a school in Africa in an area where 25% of adults have AIDS. Another young man made a double amputee in a free waterskiing accident helps kids with limbloss to cancer get prosthetics. A Hispanic man runs a food service (rather like DC’s Food and Friends) from his home kitchen. A pilot moonlights as a father for 47 orpans in West Timor. A bartender Doc Hendley from Raleigh, NC taps is customers to help with a clean water project ("wine to water"). Several other water projects have been covered on these blogs (check my book review of "Four Souls" in June 2007 here.)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

MSNBC interviews Gen. David Petraeaus

Brian Williams gave a 1:1 interview with Gen. David Petraeus about the situation in Afghanistan. The entire interview was shown on MSNBC. The interview runs 54:36 and is broken into little segments.

Petraeus says that Osama bin Laden is still an “iconic” figure in Afghanistan and Pakistan, if not exactly operational. Petraues considers this to be one “region.”

Later Williams asked him about Iran’s behavior with nuclear testing and what would happen if Israel were to make a preemptive strike. Williams quizzed him on how well soldiers are equipped and what he says to a parent who loses a son or daughter in warfare because of outdated equipment.

Patraeus wrote his Ph. D. dissertation at Princeton on Vietnam.

He says that in Iraq to secure the population the Army had to live with the population in neighborhoods and establish gated communities for some of the neighborhoods. He talks about staying with the people and sharing their risk rather than going back to base at night, and that this builds stability and gathers intelligence.

However some areas, like Mosul, have deteriorated again.

Patraeus also talked about international “speed dating.”