Friday, July 31, 2009

"Classic Dr. Phil" covers "teen" forced to raise her siblings; when are moral issues just about consequences of "choices"?


On Classic “Dr. Phil” this week, on Thursday July 30, Dr. Phil interviewed a young woman Tyerra, now 24, who had raised four siblings from age 13 herself when her mother developed schizophrenia. She even took on the responsibility for a child that her mother had, with Down’s Syndrome. She said that this was her family and that this was all they had was each other. Dr. Phil said she didn’t have a selfish bone in her body, but both worked on how Tyerra could get her own life. Dr. Phil suggested that he develop the assertiveness to insist that her older siblings get jobs and start taking care of themselves. He also helped her get a training course and a good job as an emergency medical technician. She could decide to go to nursing school.

Dr. Phil typically covers “personal responsibility” in the narrower sense as strictly dependent on one’s personal choices, such as getting married, or having sexual intercourse and creating pregnancies. He rarely covers the issue of older children having to raise their siblings (because of their parents’ sexual activity, not because of their own) or give up college and support the family when parents get sick (as in the movie “October Sky”); and I haven’t seen him cover eldercare yet (we don’t choose to having aging parents). This seems like a difficult topic for him, where he doesn’t have ready “moral” answers. He once did cover the problem of a kidney transplant to a sibling who had been irresponsible. Was Dr. Phil himself raised with a silver spoon, or is that just an adult development?

This sounds like the old "Rick Warren" ("The Purpose-Driven Life") problem: "it isn't (always) about you!"

The link for this (repeat) show segment is here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

PBS Nova: "The Ascent of Money" with Niall Ferguson


PBS Nova has been airing a four hour series with British financier Niall Ferguson, “The Ascent of Money”. Some versions of the show have it packaged as two two-hour segments. On July 29, the last episode “Planet Finance” traced the history of “globalization” of a property economy back to the end of the Great Depression.

Money and property provides a granularity to human interactions. There was an objection to the idea that property owners “watch” and benefit from the labor of others – leading to Marxism and Communism. But the idea of mortgaging and financing property ownership right after WWII provided a “moral compromise.”
But real estate markets have busts. The high interest rate cycles of the 1980s eventually led to the real estate bust and savings and loan scandal (particularly in Texas with Empire Savings and Loan, whose unfilled foundations near Dallas still show the scars of a previous crisis). The 2008 crisis is fundamentally different in mechanics with the attempt to export highly leveraged financing to the rest of the world. In fact we have ten times our global domestic product invested in derivatives.

The link is here.

The first episode traced how fiat money came about, as a replacement for “karma”. Teenagers typically live in a “moneyless” society controlled by others yet rich in possibilities, but real freedom is possible only with a standard medium of exchange. Ferguson says that financial history is the “back story” behind all history.

Tonight, on PBS WETA, Charlie Rose interviewed Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano. The idea that enough nuclear material could slip through for terrorists (like the NC group) to make a small weapon was discusses. Preparations for H1N1 were discussed, but it seems that the administration tends to be soft on employers over “presenteeism” and not too enthusiastic about social distancing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

PBS Nova "Astro Spies": Cold War paranoia in space in the 60s


On Tuesday July 28 PBS NOVA presented “Astro Spies”, a one hour documentary about the use of orbiting space modules for espionage in the 1960s. The link is here. There were eight secret astronauts in the MOL, or Manned Orbital Laboratory, including one named Richard Lawyer whose name turns up in an artifact.

The capture of Francis Gary Powers is a signature event – America found out that jet spies even at 60000 feet were not safe, and hence both powers raced to use space. The Air Force even had a training film, "Space and National Security".

The film showed the inside of a Soviet spy orbiter, so extremely cramped and Spartan as to make American submarines seem spacious by comparison.

The film showed ultra-classified small spy agencies like the National Reconnaissance Office in the 1960s.

The Moon landing in 1969 probably overshadowed the spy activity, that had been so important secretly in the early and mid 1960s, partly because of the scare of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Later, PBS showed “Science Now” and started out by showing how landers could look for hidden ice on the Moon by forcing blasts. That goes along with what was presented in a recent NatGeo film. It also showed a senior citizen mountain explorer who digs ice cores even in tropical mountains to look for evidence of global warming, showed the inside of Yucca Mountain contaminated waste canisters, and the similarity between bird song and human speech capacity.

Attribution link for Wikimedia Earthrise from the Moon

Monday, July 27, 2009

NBC premiers "The Wanted"


NBC aired the second episode of "The Wanted" at 9 PM EDT, although many guides printed it as 10 PM. In the premier (July 20), produced by Charlie Ebersol, A large number of “edgy” international journalists, military counterterrorism experts and WMD warfare come together “to catch a terrorist,” Mullah Keckar. There’s a scene in his apartment, and an interview, where he blames westerners for bringing all this on themselves (we heard that a lot after 9/11). There is the interesting sidebar of the interest of the Norwegian government in protecting him from rendition. Roger Carstens, David Crane, Scott Tyler. Not exactly “Law and Order” or even "Dateline".

Studio Briefing has an article July 22 about Norway's denial of the film's claims of its shelter, here.

The replay link for the first episode, sponsored by Dove Hair Care, is a bit tricky to find and is here.


The second episode tracks the hunt for Mamoun Darkazanli, Osama bin Laden's financier.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fareed Zakaria GPS panelists predict fiscal doom and gloom today on CNN


Fareed Zakaria on Global Public Square had a sobering assessment of America’s fiscal future today, July 26.


Mortimer Zuckerman (US News) said that a credit card default crisis in the trillions is coming. He predicted doom and gloom in underemployment.

Nouriel Roubini predicted a weak recovery and unemployment peak of 11% in 2010 and perhaps a double dip. Roubini admitted that China is recovering better than some other emerging markets because it was less leveraged, but its export-led growth could become an Achilles heel. The Chinese won’t be able to get Chinese to spend more.

Niall Ferguson predicted that the budgetary and fiscal crisis was the biggest long term threat to the US, which we don’t have the political will to fix. He talked about the loss of wealth while the debt remains, which foreign investors (China) could call in. Ferguson said that the crisis could waste this administration and make Obama a one-term president.
All three agreed that the US dollar was in trouble and that the Chinese feared that we would pass the buck to them in terms of a weak dollar. The same could be said for oil prices and OPEC (Friday’s column).

He also interviewed Christine Lagarde from France about financial regulation and capitalism.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

NBC Dateline airs brief biography of Patty Hearst


On July 24, 2009 NBC Dateline aired a one hour segment “Kidnapped Heiress: The Patty Hearst Story”. The transcript (Josh Mankiewicz) link is this. There are some videos, for example this:

I was “coming of age” as a young adult, having started working “in corporate America” for “the establishment”, when I heard about the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. In the documentary, she describes it as a knock on the door at her Berkeley apartment, followed by home invasion. The indignation of her captors is described, and the documentary properly characterizes the Symbionese Liberation Army as terrorists, but it seems crude compare to what happens today. But the captors told her father that he (or the Hearst family) would be personally and morally responsible for what happened to Patty.
The Wikipedia article on “Patricia Campbell Hearst” or “Patricia Hearst Shaw” has an interesting well-known image that I guess bloggers aren’t supposed to reproduce except to talk about the image itself rather than the story; look here.

The documentary traces her “conversion” to Tania and her participation in the Hibernia Bank robbery, and her cross country life with her captors, winding up in Scranton PA before returning to California to be arrested.

The family wanted to use duress as the defense (not drugs) and, given the politics of the times, the jury didn’t accept it. She served 22 months in prison before President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence. Patty (who appears several times in the documentary at her current age, being interviewed) says that today we don’t charge people for crimes they are forced to commit while kidnapped. But at the time she was a convenient target for social disapproval.

She wrote an autobiography, "Every Secret Thing", which became a movie “Patty Hearst” in 1988, by Paul Schrader.

The second hour presented “The People vs. Vincent Brothers”, a notorious crime in Bakersfield CA, blog story here. Another link about the entomology investigation at UC Davis is here.

Attribution link for photo of Berkeley. CA on Wikipedia. I last visited the area in Oct. 2000 and Feb. 2002.

Friday, July 24, 2009

ABC 20-20: "Over a Barrel: The Truth about Oil"


On Friday July 24 ABC 20-20 presented a documentary “Over a Barrel: The Truth About Oil” with Charles Gibson. The narrator traveled the country, showing the various steps in the production (exploration, refining and distribution) chain, to show Americans how vulnerable their basic mobility might be to external disruption, including terrorist attack. The documentary calls to mind an earlier CNN special report “We Were Warned” which had imagined another Katrina-like hurricane in September 2009, followed by an attack on Saudi oil facilities.

The news story is by Peter Klein and has the title “Over a Barrel: The Truth About Oil: ABC News' Charles Gibson Crosses the Country for the Inside Story on the U.S. Oil Addiction.”

The url link is here. He starts his report in Cushing OK, near a pipeline, and where the price of oil is set. He goes then on a gasoline delivery run.

He starts his report in Cushing OK, near a pipeline, and where the price of oil is set, where the ownership of the oil changes hands legally. He goes then on a gasoline delivery run.

The oil distribution business is very fungible, with brands often interchangeable. Convenience stores make less money on gas than other items, but nevertheless oil companies have found it more profitable to sell through them. Most gasoline stations are not company owned but are franchises, but loading docks are company owned.

The program then showed a refinery, with one third of them on the Gulf Coast, hurricane exposed. Regulation may account for the lack of new refineries An oil man said that the biggest determinant of the price of oil was still the crude oil price.

He shows the commodity market at NYMEX, and talks about the speculation that drove up prices in 2008, using a system set up for other kinds of businesses.
They talked about “economic jihad” and the vulnerability of pipelines, especially overseas. In 1982, there was a TV movie “WWIII” about a Soviet attack on the Alaska pipeline.

The show presented a plot to buy low, damage the Alaska pipeline, and then sell high – the perpetrator now serving 13 years in prison.

Two-thirds of the world’s crude oil is in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, and the UAE.

OPEC may have an incentive to keep prices moderate to keep us from weaning ourselves from oil. But Jimmy Carter had said that in the 1970s.

Not only Al Qaeda but Iran has motives to attack the Saudi Arabian oil fields and pipelines.

We pay for the political complications of oil through our Pentagon budget and the loss of soldier’s lives, and the political controversy over military policy (I would even say over “don’t ask don’t tell”).

The last part of the film showed very deep drilling by Chevron 160 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, down to a dept of 25000 feet. This segment was shown as a preview on ABC “World News Tonight”. The film then moved to T Boone Pickens, peak oil, and his Pickens Plan to go to natural gas. Our proven reserves are decreasing. Yet the GOP is used to saying “Drill baby drill.”

Obama has promised to end our dependence on foreign oil in ten years, but ironically that would start by increasing imports from Canada and Mexico. But we need to reduce our consumption.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

CNN: "Black in America 2" continues a "news documentary"


After Obama’s press conference, CNN tonight pre-empted LKL and AC360 and aired Soledad O’Brien’s “Black in America 2” (link). CNN likes to make it's news shows (like "Planet in Peril") into quasi-movie franchises. Why not try for theatrical release? CNN has the connections. Of course, each "movie" is itself in several parts.

The first hour focused on students at Bushwick middle school in Brooklyn, who experience an eye-opening two-week field trip to South Africa. The teacher who leads it says that “personal service is the rent you pay for life.” She also says she will show her underpriviledged kids not a better life but first a more impoverished life overseas. Some people would turn that around. The students do become motivated, and when they come back engage in constant extracurricular service activities, such as a fund raiser for a burned child in South Africa. Some boys find more motivation for school since they have seen more of the world, and one tries to get a basketball scholarship to a private prep school. The initiative is called “Journey for Change”, created by Malaak Compton-Rock, with CNN blog here.

The second hour focuses on Capital Prep, a school in Connecticut, with principal Steven Perry (who says he was kicked out of pre-school!) and its record of sending all of its students to college.



Toward the end of the second hour, an engineer, Mia Jackson, enrolls in a “boot camp” (rather like Donald Trump’s “Apprentice”) program to train minorities to become corporate executives.

The program continued with 2 more hours July 23. If focused for a while on a woman with "triple negative" breast cancer; then it told the story of a man in Oakland desperately trying to go straight after prison, but giving in to the pressures and returning to drugs and crime.

Obama gives whimsical news conference, mostly on health care reform


President Barack Obama held a one hour news conference on all major networks at 8 PM tonight July 22. The emphasis of the conference was on health insurance reform.
He suggested openness to paying for health care reform in various ways, including a limit on itemized deductions for wealthiest Americans as well as the idea of a surtax.

He denounced the idea that some individuals consider themselves “indestructible” and want to cherry pick their way out of helping pay for the health care of others (the anti-selection problem).

He was asked about “sacrifice” and this time suggested that Americans would sacrifice paying for care that doesn’t work and talked about redundant tests that could be eliminated with better information systems.

He gave an interesting analogy on generic prescriptions by talking about “red” and “blue” pills and suggested that the blue pill could be cheaper.

He was also critical of Cambridge MA police in the recent “racial profiling” arrest of a professor “breaking in” to his own home. The president showed some loose lips in saying "police acted stupidly." They tell writers to watch their overuse of adverbs.

He also acknowledge that financial markets had calmed down a bit and that people were no longer talking about the financial system falling off a cliff.



The MSNBC AP story on the conference is here.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32088107/ns/politics-white_house/

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

ABC Primetime "Family Secrets" covers transgendered partner within marriage


Tonight, on ABC Primetime Live “Family Secrets,” a Cleveland area family became a same-sex couple and not by choice. Ted Prince did go to Thailand to become Chloe Prince, but only after a very interesting history. A few years before, Ted was stung in the chest by a bee while riding a motorcycle (and he did a macho job, working as a telephone lineman), and the resulting blood tests showed that he had Klinefelter’s Syndrome, with the XXY chromosome. After treatment for the sting, estrogens started getting expressed, his breasts grew, and his identity as a female developed.

The couple has two boys, who say “he had a girl inside her”. The couple (Rene is the other) is still in love, but not sexually. The show did not mention whether they remain legally married in Ohio, but most states would still probably recognize the marriage if it had started as a biological man and woman.

Naria Halliwall has the full story here. It has the title “Family Navigates Unchartered World of Gender Transition: 'She Had a Girl Inside Her ... So She Went on a Surgery to Get It Out,' Son Explains

Here is a plastic surgery reference on Klinefelter’s

Here is the NIH reference written by Robert Boch.

Earlier in the evening, PBS Nature presented the cuttlefish, a mollusk with bizarre courtship behaviors: the “drag queen” male, who is less aggressive physically but more agile changing skin colors is more likely to be accepted by the female, and the female is more likely to choose “his” sperm. In nature, gender diversified behavior may actually improve the “quality” of reproduced genes.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"20th Century Props" gives out to runaway productions and to reality TV


Tonight NBC Nighy News reported that 20th Century Props in Hollywood is closing its doors and auctioning off its wares. A typical media story is by Jason DeBord and appears on the Original Prop blog url here.

One big problem was the WGLA writers’ strike, followed by the threat of a SAG actor’s strike. A bigger problem is that fewer movies are actually made in LA, as more going “on the road” or runaway productions, where states and Canadian provinces give huge incentives (and some countries like Spain). But the biggest problem is probably reality TV, which doesn’t use props (OK, Trump’s Apprentice office for his “you’re fired” conclusions was a set). According to Access Hollywood on July 20, there is a new NBC reality show “The Wanted” that will show tracking down real life terrorists, a kind of sting operation like “To Catch a Terrorist” rather like Chris Hansen’s recent sting for sexual predators and for scammers.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

NatGeo: "Living on the Moon", by 2040 (just as in Sony's recent flick)


Tonight, July 19, the National Geographic Channel aired its “Living on the Moon”, one hour, with a video available right now at the main channel link here

The program assumes it is 2020, and NASA has learned to build in escape hatches and more redundancies from the lessons of the 1986 Challenger explosion and the 2003 explosion. The astronauts are deployed in orbit in an escape module called the Orion and eventually taken to the moon after “Triplets of Belleville” rendezvous with other missions.

The modern space suit must be much more flexible than earlier ones, and astronauts will live, military style, in insulated pods, that must be radiation shielded for solar flares and other cosmic rays (the equipment must also be shielded as well as the people). By 2024, much of the city is constructed. Moondwellers will have to take a “frontier” approach and mine resources there, even to make oxygen and water. There is an experiment on Mauna Kea with soil similar to lunar soil to simulate these processes. They may find water ice in hidden valleys at the lunar south pole. Eventually, systems are set up to grow food and produce all the necessities locally in pods.

By 2040, a real city or outpost has been established, and is ready for “colonists”. Nevertheless, as in the movie “Moon”, everyone will live “inside” or go through airlocks to go outside in space suits. By 2050, there are regular ferries between the Shackelton Space Port in a deep crater and the lunar modules. Companies start to invest in a self-sustaining economy, just as the American colonists became. On the Moon, solar cells could be manufactured in the natural vacuum, laid down as solar farms by robots; they could even sell power back to Earth. The Moon could be mined for Helium-3, to power fusion plants back on Earth (again, as in the Sony flick).

There could develop lunar tourism; at 1/6 gravity, in a pressurized dome, man could fly, just as on Smallville.

Attribution link for lunar eclipse picture from Wikimedia


Attribution link for solar eclipse picture (1999) taken by Luc Viatour, offered under Creative Commons share alike 3.0 license.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

"Thomas Jefferson: A Film by Ken Burns" (PBS, 1997)


Today, on a visit to Monticello in Charlottesville, VA, I helped out PBS by purchasing a DVD copy of PBS’s 1997 “Thomas Jefferson: A Film by Ken Burns”. It runs in two 85 minute parts.

When I put it in the iMac, the computer recognized it, and I see I rented it from Netflix about three years ago and wrote a brief review on doaskdotell. Well, now I take ownership of “an instance”.

Columnist George Will starts each segment, and he espouses Jefferson’s idea that every man should be free to choose his own goals, free from coercion from others, and also his idea that protect that right he had to hold himself to the highest standards of self-discipline. Jefferson realized that individualism creates a paradox: a society that does not value its less competitive citizens as people will become vulnerable to totalitarianism.

Yet, Jefferson owned slaves, and would even put out an “APB” when one went hooky. Jefferson wrote some rants on the differences between the races, saying that the “Negro” (my own history teacher used that word in 1960) was incapable of poetry or higher language arts, and had significant physical differences, like less body hair in men. That Jefferson paid attention to or "noticed" such things (especially about males) shocks many (also the 1950 World Book, in its article on “races of man” mentions the latter, using the adjectives “sparse” and “profuse” as the necessary antonyms.

Toward the end of the film the subject of the possibility of his having father children by a slave is discussed, by interviewing one of the descendants. The idea of “moral impossibility” is floated.

The second half of the film discusses Jefferson’s political career, and the paradox of his wanting to be a “humble man”. His opposition to the federalists is covered, as is his candidacy and inauguration in 1801, after spending the night in a boarding house and walking down the street like a common man.

Jefferson knew when to walk away from government and politics, and not do all he could do – George Will says that shows political genius. He loved science for its own sake (he invented the “polygraph” to copy letters mechanically as they were written, a kind of mechanical carbon paper) and treasured gardening, anticipating the green revolution of today.

Jefferson was tormented by his hypocrisy on slavery -- at the end, he chose to keep his life style and inquiry into science even as he descended into debt, and gave up his ideal of giving up on using slaves, not able to accept the final personal sacrifice. Even his public statements on the issue had contradictions.

Friday, July 17, 2009

News industry honors the passing of Walter Cronkite


Major media stations, especially CNN on AC360, are covering the passage of CBS anchor Walter Cronkite at age 92.

I probably remember more history from Mr. Cronkite’s broadcasts that that of any other news man. Here is an excerpt of some of his famous newscasts, including the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. I was at work at the National Bureau of Standards, then on Van Ness Street in Washington, but I did hear the death announcement live over the radio.

Cronkite is also remembered for his coverage of man’s first walk on the Moon in July 1969, almost forty years ago to today. I was in the Army then.



Cronkite did not like the loosening of journalism that came with cable and eventually the Internet. He felt that the more focused and disciplined network coverage of the old days kept a grip on history.

The general comment is that Walter Cronkite had dinner with many Americans every night, and held their hand through traumatic events.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

ABC: "J.K. Rowling: A Day in the Life": a supplement to the new Harry Potter movie


Tonight Elizabeth Vargas hosted an early evening ABC Primetime special, “J.K.Rowling: A Day in the Life”, with the main news story (“Inside the Magical World of J.K. Rowling: Elizabeth Vargas Takes Viewers Through a Year in the Life of Famed Harry Potter Author” here. The main video link for the ABC show, broken into six segments, is here.

The show starts by showing her writing the conclusion of her last book in a hotel room in Edinburgh, Scotland in January 2007. She has a personal celebration when she official finishes the book on her computer (I couldn’t tell if it was a Mac), and the manuscript is hand-delivered in clandestine fashion to a runner at Heathrow Airport in London for delivery to Schoolastic. Editors actually check to see if every loose end is tied. In my own case in writing a book, editing went on to the end; the difference in processing for “established authors” was interesting to me.

She does discuss her desire to explore good and evil, and although no one knew the ending of the last “Harry Potter” book (now to be two films), she had to satisfy her own principles. Responding to external adversity is a major issue for her.

The show did mention how she started writing, by hand at first, in 1990, and how she dealt with a mother with multiple sclerosis, and with being a single mother after a failed marriage.

She also talked about how nice it is now to be a writer and not have to publish immediately.

Attribution link for Edinburgh picture (Wikimedia commons). I visited Edinburgh in November 1982. It does look a bit like the world of the HP movies.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nightline on saving the cheetah; Primetime on Michael Jackson's gams; AL wins 13th All Star in a row on Fox


ABC Nightline tonight (July 14) presented a brief but heartwarming story of Laurie Marker, who fights to save the cheetah in Namibia. The cheetah is the most tamable of the big cats (subject of the South African film “Duma”) and it may become extinct in 20 years. Farmers shoot them to protect their hers, but Laurie is trying to raise dogs to help farmers protect their herds – and save cats. The cats were shown as affectionate with humans, chirping like birds, and behaving like dogs themselves.

The story is by Dan Harris and Almin Karamehmedovic, link here. She says they are the most amazing animal on the face of the Earth.

Not so amazing was the visual presentation of Michael Jackson’s gams on ABC Primetime, with pictures of his disfigured, hairless legs leading off on ABC News website tonight, with a detailed news story by Lauren Sher and Teru Whitcraft, here. The purpose of the unpleasant photos (hardly reminding one of the ladylike appendages of Betty Grable, so well insured) is to explore his vitiligo, but there was also evidence of needle punctures that could have been associated with drug use. An IV fluid could have leaked and destroyed the skin, according to the article. On Wednesday night (July 15), however, AC360 on CNN covered the 1984 accident where Michael Jackson's scalp was burned when pyrotechnics misfired (prescient of the 2003 tragedy in Rhode Island), and a couple of commentators, including Jeffrey Toobin, indicated that this accident, which Jackson could not recover from completely (he had to wear wigs) had a big effect on him and could have led to prescription drug dependency (as would also happen to Rush Limbaugh).

On a lighter note, the American League, as the visiting team, won by the aesthetically pleasing score of 4-3 and its bullpen held a one run lead in the bottom of the Ninth. This is the AL's 13th win in a row in the summer classic. The game was carried on Fox, and in Washington that meant WTTG 5, which used to televise the Senators (“Cheery Beery Bo!”) back in the 1950s. Busch Stadium in St. Louis looks like a big, symmetrical, pitcher’s park. The runs tonight were manufactured, with good basic baseball. How many homers would Pujols hit it he played in Boston’s Fenway?

Barack Obama’s fast ball did not impress. He cannot help the Nationals in the bullpen.

Attribution Wikimedia link for St. Louis at night.

Monday, July 13, 2009

AC360: Anderson interviews Obama about "don't ask don't tell", economy; covers slavery


Anderson Cooper interviewed President Barack Obama in Ghana, and the session covered important points.

They talked about the possibility of a second stimulus, and Obama said that the banks had stabilized more quickly than had been expected, even though unemployment has ratcheted up more than had been predicted (like snow).

Anderson, after briefly talking about Afghanistan and Iraq, quickly moved to “don’t ask don’t tell”, as if it were now a big national security issue.

Obama said the executive branch does not have the prerogative to simply ignore or not enforce the 1993 law passed by Congress, but that it can reinterpret the law (particularly with respect to forced outings – a risk that Keith Meinhold had pointed out in a broadcast email back in 1996 that I remember getting). Obama said that he had talked to Defense Secretary Gates about this issue, and was starting to work with Congress on how to repeal the law in a manner consistent with the specific environments that are encountered in the military (ranging from the sensitivity over Internet exposures to the “extreme cohesion” situations as shown in movies like “The Hurt Locker”).

Cooper then walked in the Cape Coast Castle, from which slaves were shipped (as on the Amistad as in the 1997 Dreamworks film of the Alex Pate book). Obama compared slavery to the Holocaust. The closest link on the AC360 blog is here.

Cooper asked if Obama noticed he was turning gray, and Obama said that he had Anderson Cooper as a role model.

The last part of the show covered slavery today in Haiti, where families sell their kids to survive. Dr. Sanjay Gupta did the report. Anderson said that there are 27 million people in slavery in the world. Children are given no affection as they are raised. Sex trade slavery has been covered in some independent films, such as “Trade” from Roadside Attractions.

The conversation continues Tuesday, with the possibility of war crimes in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, Anderson discussed Michelle Obama's own slave ancestors from coastal South Carolina.

Other news came in during the broadcast, including the announcement of a fourth arrest in the disturbing case of the murder of the Billings family, which had adopted many special needs children, in the Florida Panhandle. Anderson Cooper quizzed CNN reporter Mattingly on secondary motives (Anderson re-emphasized the reported precision of the attack) and they remain a matter of troubling speculation, some of it in comments on the web. In fact, the Escambia County sheriff has been saying that this sounds like a movie script, or like future fodder for a Dateline documentary. In late 2008 and early 2009, the media reported, with little explanation, a few hit-like slayings of current and past defense or intelligence workers in the Washington DC area, and these have led to a lot of speculation on message boards and even the social networking profile of at least one victim.

There was also a brief report from Michael Ware about a soccer match in Baghdad.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

MSNBC: "Why Planes Crash: Brace for Impact", documentary with Lester Holt


On Sunday July 12, 2009, MSNBC aired a documentary episode, “Why Planes Crash: Brace for Impact”, which much of the narration by Lester Holt. The basic link is this.

The beginning of the program covered the miraculous ditching, without loss of life, in the Hudson River in January 2009, of US Air flight 1549 after a bird strike in two engines. The incident got tremendous media coverage right afterward, just before President Obama’s inauguration.

The next episode concerned an OAS flight in 1970 that ran out of fuel in bad weather after trying to land in St. Martin and then St. Croix. The plane functioned in water, and the pilot survived but was fired. 23 out of 63 die.

A Pan American plane leaving Hawaii in 1956, a prop plane, had to ditch after engine failure. Everyone survived despite breakup of the plane.

Ethiopian Airlines flight 961 is hijacked in 1996, and the documentary simulated the event with animation. The plane hugged the African coast (instead of giving in to demands to fly toward Australia) and ditched with the wing not level, causing the plane to break apart. The actual video is shown. Because the ditching was in shallow water near the coast, 50 out of 175 managed to survive.

The documentary closes with some discussion of pilot training, particularly for young pilots. Holt visited a pilot academy in Daytona Beach, FL., where pilots practice and learn by “muscle memory.”

MSNBC offers a two minute video with Lester Holt getting a hands-on lesson in plane ditching in water.



I've probably flown 200 times in my life commercially, but I've probably never paid that much attention to the safety instructions before takeoff. I've had one private flying lesson, at Red Bird Airport in Dallas in 1982 (because of an American Airlines gift certificate), where I learned about cotner pins and the like, and I've flown in a private plane a few times, in 1970 (with a workplace friend who did a field trip from Princeton or Trenton New Jersey to about Harrisburg PA) and again in 1990, around the Blue Ridge, with an apartment neighbor.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Charlie Rose remembers Robert S. McNamara, Vietnam era defense secretary , along with filmmaker Errol Morris


On Thursday, July 9, on PBS, Charlie Rose presented “An Appreciation of Robert McNamara,” in recognition of the former defense secretary’s recent passing at age 93. The link for the interview is here.

McNamara, at one time an intellectual wunderkind, was the “architect” of Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam policy, which resulted in, among other things, my own drafting into the Army in 1968, although I already had an M.A. in Mathematics and would be quite sheltered away, tucked away like a castled king on “h1”, perhaps.

McNamara had “explained” himself with his 1995 book “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam” (1995, Times Books ISBN 0812925238). Then in 2003 Errol Morris made the documentary “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara”, which gained a widespread audience through distribution from Sony Pictures Classics.

Most of us older folks remember the sudden escalation of the war in Vietnam by LBJ in 1965, and McNamara explains in several interview clips with Rose (at different times in the 1990s) that he soon realized he and the whole country were between a rock and a hard place. By 1968, he figured we had one chance in three of “winning” the war. But he still feared the Domino Theory (now a favorite identification item on history tests in high school, I suspect). In his interviews, McNamara rehearses how close we came to nuclear war not only in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis (when he says we found out that Khruschev had blinked only from conventional media reports) but also in September 1961 over Berlin, when I was starting at William and Mary. That is interesting to me, but I was aware of the moderately “close call” at the end of October 1961. In the late 1960s, McNamara (as did Dean Rusk) reared that the loss of Vietnam would eventually undermine the stability of the entire West and could lead to the fall of western Europe to Communism. Only later did McNamara come to understand Vietnam as a civil war and a matter of nationalism, and that southeast Asian communism was not the same as Soviet communism.

Of course, one can also relate this to the Chinese Communist “Cultural Revolution” under chairman Mao in the 1960s, as then part of an ideological struggle for world domination, and a desire to force a certain world view on everyone.

The show also presented interviews with Errol Morris, who asks the question of whether evil exists outside of “evil people” – whether good people can do evil. He questioned whether we all are a “host of Iago’s” capable of evil under sufficiently utilitarian and survival concerns.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

PBS Wide Angle: "Heart of Jenin": organ transplation crosses over the Israel-Palestinian conflict


PBS “Wide Angle” aired a 45 minute film July 9 “Heart of Jenin”. The organs of a Palestinian boy “Ahmed” killed by Israeli soldiers (who mistook a toy gun) are donated to save the lives of several Israeli children. Even the heart is transplanted, and the boy had said he would use his mind rather than emotions on this issue. The link for the episode is here.



There are checkpoint issues, and eventually the Palestinian father visits the Israeli family benefiting from the donation.

After the film, there is a discussion of why the two sides are so far apart. Palestinians believe their property and lives are expropriated, and Israel believes it needs the buffer to guarantee its security and that its claim on the land goes back to ancient times. Religious claims enter the “debate.” Israel’s government is said to be so unstable that it cannot approach peace “rationally.”

It’s interesting to me how openness to participate (posthumously or sometimes while alive) in organ transplantation is coming to be seen as part of “living in a community”. It may transcend conflict.

Picture: Shrine Mont (Episcopal) at Orkney Springs, VA

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

PBS Time Team America: Fort Raleigh and the New World's lost settlement on Roanoke Island, NC


PBS Weta tonight aired an episode of “Time Team America”, an examination of the Roanoke Island “Fort Raleigh” colony off the North Carolina Coast, actually the site of the first attempted English settlement in the New World in the late 1500s. The basic show website link is here The complete video link is here. A young artist named Colin Campbell is the host, and he draws many of the hypothetical structures described in the show. There is a team of archeologists from various universities, and there is some digging with heavy equipment, especially around an original trench.

The first settlement comprised young men and boys, and they were more concerned about the Spanish than Indians. The next wave did include women.

Families had no privacy living in original settlements. There may have been at most 20 buildings, each with a large room and storage area, built around a frame of stilts.

The Indians were killed by diseases brought by the English, whom the Indians perceived as coming from the “alternate level of life” and as shooting “invisible bullets”.

Stephen King’s “Storm of the Century”, aired as a TV movie in 1999, referred to the “disappearance” from Roanoke Island. But the evidence is that the colonists probably moved inland.

Attribution link for Fort Raleigh Theater from Wikimedia commons.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

"We are the world, we are the children!"


Michael Jackson’s Memorial Service at the Staples Center today, playing on all the networks from 1 PM-4 PM EDT, came across to me as a musical review of most of my own adult life. The music would remind me of being in a car, perhaps in rural Texas, maybe on the way to a Sierra Club weekend near the Glen Rose power plant, or perhaps of a Florida weekend at Epcot when it was relatively new, or maybe a few years later when I explored Belle Glade from a rental car during the height of AIDS panic. Or, fast forward a few years, when I was back in the DC area, and I began to get involved in the debate over gays in the military – when Jackson made fun of the military at a superbowl half time. What does it mean, to have been “the greatest entertainer that ever lived.” It’s the music, so many songs, spread out over a few decades, making one reconstruct one’s own adult life, and long for times and relationships that have been lost. Yet the music tells the story not so much of Jackson’s spangled if trouble life, as it is about our own lives. Jackson’s music and acts seems to take our own lives and turn them into epics.



The emotional high for the service came near the end, with “We are the world, we are the children.” Here is the CNN link (this one did not have embed code).

Visually, the service was stunning. The crowd seemed to be overwhelming as viewed from above the dark blue convention center (Staples) facility, as were the gold casket and roses. It was simulcast by satellite around the world, including in many movie theaters.

"Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;"
(Wordsworth)

Attribution link for picture of Staples Center in Los Angeles

Monday, July 06, 2009

Nat Geo: monster fish in Amazon, Congo, Mekong


Tonight, Monday July 6, National Geographic Channel aired three one-hour “monster fish” episodes, about, respectively, the Amazon, the Congo River, and Thailand.

In the Amazon (“Hooked”), the interest was a 400 pound catfish, and the pirarucu, one of the largest freshwater fishes in the world which, while slothful, is an efficient predator. The piranha feasted on much of their bait, although did not quite live up to their reputation. When wading in upper reaches, researches had to be wary of other bizarre creatures such as an electric eel. A typical link for this series is here.

The second hour (“Explorer”), on the Congo River, focused on tiger fish, but also presented the deepest freshwater river canyon in the world, over 700 feet deep, with blindfish living at the bottom. The electric catfish was presented.

In Thailand (“Hooked”), researchers went after (and tagged surgically) the largest “pancake-like” sting ray in the world in the Mekong River, after practicing tagging carcasses found in a Thai fish market. The biology of sting rays, which often bear the young live, was presented.
The rays eat shrimp that are almost a foot long. The film showed how the sting ray defends itself with its barb and how it inflicts serious injury.

Attribution link for NASA satellite picture of Amazon.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

ABC 20-20: Jackson's physical transformation was part of his art ("The Life Behind the Magic")


On Friday, July 3 ABC 20/20 covered the Michael Jackson story with a one hour report, “Michael Jackson: The Life Behind the Magic.” While covering the issue of drug-overdose or misuse as the almost certain cause of cardiac arrest and death, and reviewing the idea that Jackson had possession of prescription "drugs" [Diprivan – look at the "Popeater" story] normally used only in hospitals (maybe a legal issue, just as with Rush Limbaugh, perhaps this time for his attending physician(s)), the most important and striking part of the report was Jackson’s physical metamorphosis. Physical transformation was part of his art; he became something else in the process.

The main ABC News story is “Why Did Michael Jackson Go So Far to Alter His Appearance?: 'King of Pop' Biographers, Plastic Surgery Experts, Family Members Weigh In,” (authors Jon Meyersohn, Cynthia McFadden, and Tom McCarty) link here.

ABC shows some clips of the “Thriller” video, where Jackson undergoes animated change into monsters, but over time Jackson apparently started having various plastic surgeries, especially on his nose, and possibly skin bleaching, perhaps to look “white,” although to some point this was impossible. He also looked immature and child-like. The report showed a computer-aging of what Jackson would have looked like at age 50, and it is quite different from what he does look like, to the point that no facial recognition software could have considered him a match. The nose jobs were supposed to make him able to sing the high notes (his voice was very high pitched anyway). Jackson had expressed sensitivity about his body (mentioning specific parts almost in a Forest Gump fashion), particularly after police activity in 1993 and again in 2004. Regarding all of his legal troubles, it seems that, although Jackson was acquitted of charges, some of his behavior with minors was, by all common sense, inappropriate.

Jackson, however, was an entertainer in grand style (I think his high point was “We Are the World”), one whose songs and videos map to the social changes that happened over several decades. Who could not be fascinated by the opulence and “adventure” of his Neverland ranch and home, just an endless expanse of adolescent space going from one room or pasture to the next. . At Neverland, it seems, Jackson literally created another planet, a parallel world.

Other celebrities still say that Jackson was one of the nicest performers to work with.

The information for the Michael Jackson Public Memorial Service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles is here.

I have to take a moment to point out ABC and 20-20 "libertarian" (or "market fundamentalist") consumer reporter John Stossel's new blog, here. Yes, it will make some people mad, and that's OK.

Update: July 5

Don Lemon's show on CNN, "Michael Jackson: The Man in the Mirror" presented a family friend who insisted that Jackson was always heterosexual, had always denied homosexuality, and had always said that he wanted kids, which he eventually (apparently) had.

Jackson's steelworker father turned five of his boys into a "band" -- somewhat foreshadowing the concept of the modern Jonas Brothers.

Update: July 8, 2009

CNN's Larry King Live tonight interviewed Michael Jackson's dermatologist, Dr. Arnie Klein, who said that Jackson had lupus, and that the skin depigmentation occurred gradually in spots as a result of auto-immune disease. He did not want to become "white" according to the doctor.

The doctor evaded a question on who the biological father of Michael Jackson's children were.

The LKL blog reference is here.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Bill Moyers Journal on market economies, need, and social justice


On Friday, July 3, Bill Moyers Journal featured a program on “Faith, Justice and Society” in a conversation with Gary Dorrien, Serene Jones and Cornell West.

At the end of the program, Moyers said, after reviewing the meager diet at homeless shelters and pickings from food banks, “people turn to charity when they can’t count on justice.” He also talked about a coming Papal encyclical that would claim that a market economy can only work when there is some underlying aim toward the common good.

Gary Dorrien explained a concept that he calls “economic democracy”.

Serene Jones says that as individuals were are bound to make massive mistakes because of the complexity of our lives.

Cornell talked about unconditional service to others and made the attention-getting statement “You can’t be a Christian if you’re not willing to pick up your cross and, in the end, be crucified on it. That’s the bottom line.”

The link for the episode is here. The transcript is here.

Yet, individual justice and "community" are not always congruent. Christianity maintains that man alone cannot achieve justice by himself.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

PBS: American Masters: Garrison Keillor and his "A Prairie Home Companion"


Wednesday July 1, PBS American Masters did a portrait of Minnesota radio host Garrison Keillor, well known for his public radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” with its ruminations about Lake Wobegon (a fictional town resembling Garrison’s boyhood hometown). The name of the 90 minute film is “Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes”, link here.

The basic web reference is here.

I used to hear the show on Saturday afternoons, particularly at the home of one particular friend in the St. Paul suburbs. The show delivers a lot of quaint homilies on Midwestern rural life, particular the small town social connections, a close connection to nature, and the changes of seasons. Minnesota is not as cold as people think, and the summers can be very hot. I lived there 1997-2003.



Keillor says that “the only thing I can do as write.” He also says that writing is a process of discovery, and requires going out and meeting real people. He says he doesn’t work as hard as his mother worked, raising six kids. He said that in search of “a brilliant career” he found a lot of “B.S.” – in compared to carpentry, there was a lot of nonsense. One could use writing to escape from “real work”.

He also says "You don't want to do your story in Lake Wobegon because then you are telling your story to people who are in the stories themselves." People don't like to be the subjects of literary stories behind their backs??

There are shots of the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul, which I went to every year and worked in the Libertarian Party booth. The grounds are across the railroad bridge from Hamline University, where I gave my 1998 speech on my book (broadcast on cable later on a show called “Liberty”). I recognized everything, including the stadium, where people sing the “Star Spangled Banner” in the key of G. Keillor says that Minnesota is one of those places where if you ask people to sing together they will. He says that some kind of commons is necessary, to get some balance from the view of the news and our world that we get from radio talk show hosts when we’re alone in a car, or from “reading somebody’s blog” (like mine).

Keillor also says that he barely missed getting a writing job in New York at the start of his career, which could have been very different. He says "a person doesn't just live in his own time. We also live in our past, and we get in touch with our past by listening to old songs and singing them."

In 2006, Picturehouse released a Robert Altman film of “A Prairie Home Companion”, about Garrison’s last radio broadcast from St. Paul, with singing cowboys Dusty and Lefty. The film featured Garrison himself, homely enough, as well as Woody Harrelson, Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and Virginia Madsen.

Picture: South of Minneapolis, Feb. 2002, as I drive back from a lecture I gave to a Unitarian group in Rosemount.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

AC360 tells the story of "Bubbles": Michael Jackson's chimpanzee (and he was smart); also, Jackson's will is published on the web


AC360 on CNN tonight went into the humorous story of Michael Jackson’s chimpanzee “Bubbles”. The chimp eventually was sent away but recognized Jackson years later. Reportedly, the chimp once bit Jackson. Anderson Cooper thought that the chimp's "long memory" was remarkable, but it isn’t. Chimps have almost human intelligence, but they don’t have the ability to build on the knowledge of past generations (as shown on a PBS Nova segment).

When I worked as a caller for the Minnesota Orchestra in 2002, the boss called me “Bubbles.” I didn’t know who that was for a while.



Of course, today there was “The Reading of the Will”, as from the well known short story by John Knowles (“A Separate Peace”). Johnson had set up a private trust (common now), and named Diana Ross as a successor guardian of his kids if his mother is unable to care for them. People do name guardians of their kids in wills and trusts, and sometimes they have been siblings without their own kids. Jackson did cut out some people, as the media has reported. There is also a trust, which is more private (there is plenty of stuff on the web from law firms explaining why people make trusts). The will and the trust don’t necessarily have to say the same things; usually the trust overrides, although that can get complicated.

The CNN/Turner link for the will (raw PDF document) is here. You may have trouble loading it; very heavy traffic is running and Firefox crashed on it once for me.

They also described some of the drugs (Diprivan) that Michael Jackson took as capable of producing a medically induced coma.

Attribution link for public domain Wikimedia picture of a “bald bodybuilder chimp”. A bald chimpanzee -- that's interesting. (But he's still an animal; he's not human!)

PBS Nova "Science Now" premiers, with report on anthrax attack investigations (from 2001)


PBS Nova aired its season premier of “Science Now” on Tuesday, June 30, 2009, with Neil DeGrasse Tyson as host.

The first part of the show demonstrated “growing diamonds”. The idea is to place a diamond wafer under extremely high pressure and heat in a “reducing atmosphere” filled with hydrocarbons (maybe like the conditions on some extrasolar planets, some of which are thought to covered with diamond in a carbon monoxide atmosphere). The carbon “precipitates” as more diamond, which has more atoms per unit volume than any other crystal.

If it’s possible to make diamonds with consistent cut, it could be possible to replace silicon in semiconductors with diamonds, leading to a new generation of chips for computers in a few years. The idea of diamond chips may be tried on French high speed trains soon.

The show also covered the investigation of the anthrax attacks in the fall of 2001, shortly after 9/11. Genetic matching work in excruciating detail was necessary to identify the Ames strain, and eventually leading to Bruce Ivins (after one notorious false lead causing lawsuits against the FBI and some media).

Look at the site “Right Wing Nuthouse” with an article, 8/1/2008, for some troubling questions, here.

The PBS Nova link is here.