Friday, April 30, 2010

FlashForward: A "alternate lifestyle" FBI agent says "The Ring Is Mine"

FlashForward” goes on, with a particularly interesting episode April 28 called “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” directed by Nick Gomez.

FBI agent Janis (Christine Woods) tells her backstory (two years before, in 2007), of her tough physical training at Quantico with Demetri (John Cho) doing ropes and low crawls, to her recruiting two years before as a double agent. Why? Well, her apparent lesbianism is given as one reason. She’s supposed to delve into the issue of “the Ring”, a quantum computer (looks like a wedding ring) that protects the wearer from the space-time singularity that leads to the FlashFoward.  (Just two people, one of them at a baseball game in Detroit, were wearing it on Oct. 6 and stayed awake.) Inside is a Tron-like device that looks like a miniature astrolabe. It can compute all kinds of dates, one of which is Oct. 6, 2009, the date of the first FF. There is this woman running a fish shop who provides her contact. She supposed to destroy all copies of the design, so she fries the circuitry in an office building to cause all connected computers to burn up. I’m not sure that makes sense if you have a UPS devices.

The week before “The Garden of Forking Paths” Mark (Joseph Fiennes) tracks down the missing Demetri and saves him from a Saw-like trap on the Ides of March, changing the future.

The series seems much more compelling to me than "Heroes" on NBC, which has a somehwat comparable premise.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

ABC starts the funky "Happy Town": a "Fargo" with abductions?

I recall some trips to the far north country of Minnesota in my six years there, including a night at the Burnside Lodge near Ely, MN, and another weekend near the Northwest Angle, as well as a trip up to Thunder Bay, ON the Labor Day before 9/11.  The Burnside lake cabin had no connections to the outside world, no Internet; and I remember a dream about aliens coming into the cabin that night!

So it strikes me as funny that ABC would come up with a series about a small funky town in northern MN, called Haplin, making the series called “Happy Town” (don't let the name foll ya'). Some years ago there was a series of kidnappings in the town that remain unsolved, and all the sudden the mystery comes back. There’s a question of the supernatural: did someone have the ability to make people just dematerialize? Maybe these were abductions.

M.C. Gainey plays the funny sheriff, in a show that seems to aim at some of the effects of the Coen Brothers film “Fargo” back in the 1990s.  But the show goes even more rural, with images of fishing huts on frozen lakes; people really live in them during the winter.

ABC’s site for the show is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA photo of Lake of the Woods (Northwest Angle). The hut picture is really from Maryland.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

PBS American Experience: "My Lai" (1968); Vietnam's Abu Ghraib

On Tuesday April 27 PBS “American Experience” aired “My Lai”, a 90-minute documentary about the “My Lai” massacre of Vietnamese civilians on March 16, 1968, with link here.

At that time, I was in Army Basic, in the infirmary that particular day, on the way to Special Training Company. By the time Seymour Hersh’s story hit the news in November 1969, my discharge (I was at Ft. Eustis) was approaching. But Hersh had spoken to the military and to Congress about the matter, which was being investigated after the fact, long after most people in that unit had ended their tours in Vietnam and many were already out of the Army. One person would see the story in a bar and recognize his unit from over a year before.

The incident was sometimes cited as evidence of the shortcomings and inequities of the military draft; but the effect of the draft on the quality of officers out of OCS was debatable either way. Lt. William Calley had at one time been an unemployed college dropout, very exposed to the draft in a world of privilege created by deferments.

EUXTV interview with Seymour Hersh on YouTube:

Monday, April 26, 2010

NBC Dateline: "What Were You Thinking" tests the herd mentality

On Sunday, April 25, NBC Dateline carried a report “What Were You Thinking?” (a favorite Dr. Phil phrase) in which social experiments were set up to test “herd mentality” thinking. (Remember, the staff in "Buy More" in the show "Chuck" is called the "Nerd Herd".) Chris Hansen hosted.

For example, “job applicants” were asked to do paperwork in a room where harmless “smoke” started drifting in. All but the test subject were Dateline employees told to ignore the smoke. In many cases, the test subject would not leave the room even though he or she would if alone.

The “herd mentality” helps explain, with hindsight, poor choices made by individuals, such as in getting conned by people like Bernie Madoff, or in accepting subprime mortgages.

Some individuals, who tend to be socially more isolated, are often “right” in their own opinions but incur the ridicule of others. This was the case during the recent financial collapse, where author Michael Lewis showed that a "nerd" man with very mild Asperger’s syndrome left medicine and started a hedge fund based on the idea that the system would collapse. He was right, everyone else was wrong.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

History Channel: "America: The Story of Us" -- through the American Revolution

On Sunday April 25 the History Channel presented the documentary film “America: the Story of Us”, with the basic site here.  The program was introduced by President Obama. The byline for the film is "How America Was Invented".

The first part of the documentary traces the history of the early colonies with some surprises. John Rolfe made Jamestown boom by smuggling in tobacco, which would become the colonies’ biggest business. In earliest colonial Jamestown, African Americans were actually free.

Up north, pilgrims would make alliances with local native Americans.

The film fast forwards quickly into the causes of the Revolutionary War, which it puts in terms of personal self-determination, within certain social contexts.

During the war Americans innovated new rifles and new techniques of guerilla war, as demonstrated when they stopped a British march from Canada to New York. However, a British attack on New York from the sea would be the largest in history until 9/11/2001.

The Revolutionary War would foreshadow many of today’s military issues. It dealt with smallpox (bioterror), and steganography (using laundry).

George Washington would hire a Prussian soldier, Von Steuben, thought to be homosexual. The Prussian would reorganize how the Army trains and develop organizational corps structures still in use today. (Check Yahoo! answers here) Randy Shilts discussed Von Steuben in his book “Conduct Unbecoming” and the history certainly puts some perspective on today’s debate over “don’t ask don’t tell”.

The History Channel offers embeddable video on YouTube (on its own site the videos do not embed but there are more of them, somewhat in the style of Colonial Williamsburg Revolutionary City videos).

Here's a surprising account on how America got its name.

Further episodes will follow.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

ABC 20-20: How a young person's life can change in an instant of bad judgment (two "Dateline-like" stories)

ABC 20/20 last night carried two stories that sounded more like NBC Datelines episodes, if shorter: two incidents where lives were shattered by bad judgment in an instant.

In New York, a young woman named Biurny Peguero went out on a night partying, got into an altercation, and falsely accused a man of rape. Although kit tests were negative, the man was convicted and spent four years in prison, until Peguero came forward and admitted she had lied. Now she is in jail and could face deportation.

Chris Cuomo, himself an attorney, narrated the report and conducted the interviews.

Then Ashleigh Banfield and Alison Lynn tell the story of Chrussy Steltz, from Portland OR, who was shot accidentally across the face by a teenager playing with a shotgun. She lost her eyes and nose and underwent numerous surgeries, but graduated from high school with honors and married and had a baby. The story (“Robbed of Sight, Teen Took Hold of Her Future: Years After Shotgun Accident, Chrissy Steltz Fell in Love and Began to Raise a Son”  is here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

ABC Nightline: Why so many African American women remain unmarried

On Wednesday April 21, ABC Nightline (Terry Moran) reported that 42% of African American women in the US are unmarried, and 70% of professional African American women are unmarried! The men are outnumbered by two million!

Nightline conducted a face-off (not on Facebook) between men and women in Atlanta.

Jimi Izrael, author of "The Denzel Principle" (St. Martins, 2010), says that the women are unrealistic. 95% of the women chase 5% of the “best” (pun intended) men.

The fact that some of the “catches” are gay was mentioned.

On April 22, ABC World News Tonight discussed the crowded, military-like living conditions on oil rigs, in giving the story about an oil rig fire in the Gulf off the coast of Louisiana.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

History Channel's "Renewable Energy" (2006)

Netflix offers the September 2006 History Channel “Modern Marvels” 45-minute documentary “Renewable Energy”, with link here.

One remarkable feature of the film is its tracing the use of renewable energy in the past. Solar panels were used in California around 1900, and wind mills helped provide the ability to process grain in the plains long before electrification. Ocean tides electricity plants have been used in coastal France and Britain since the 1960s. At one time, fossil fuel supplemented renewable energy, and the green revolution will require us to go back to that situation.

The film shows the Fed Ex plant in California with the enormous solar collection unit, able to sell power in the middle of the day.

It shows a modern windmill turbine farm in upstate New York, with fewer but larger units.

It shows how Iceland lives on geothermal and hydroelectric power. About a fourth of the film is devoted to Iceland as setting an example, ironic in a week in which Iceland’s volcanoes shut down air travel in Europe with the ash cloud.

The film goes into biofuels, and covers Brazil’s successful use of sugarcane plantations to fuel its autos (also covered on CNN’s “We Were Warned”). The film demonstrates a hybrid car that averages 100 miles per gallon of biofuel, with electric battery power up to 35 mph.

Tuscson Electric Power his this video on its history of renewable energy:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ryan Phillippe hosts SNL: remember his grand entrance to "54" in 1998?

Ryan Phillippe hosted SNL on April 17. Now, remember the scene in the 1998 Miramax film “54” where he gets into Studio 54. Well, now he’s 35, with his face cracking a bit, but he looks buff enough to be on the cover of Men’s Health, so he says. You had to take off your shirt and be inspected to get into Studio 54 in that movie. Sometimes, if you get singled out, you have to lose your shirt to a drag queen at Town DC.

Then, one of the best commercial’s ever for Broadview Security (formerly Brinks). The skit pulled your leg so well it really was an effective commercial.

Then the skits began, as usual. Phillippe played a teen later concerned about his lack of development. It got pretty explicit, and SNL may be the only place on major network television where you can get away with it.

I suppose that pretty soon we’ll have skits about jailhouse life for Wall Streeters who invented phony CDO’s to deliberately short and destroy them.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Kitty Kelley inverviewed on NBC Today about her biography of Oprah, but turned down by many other hosts

Kitty Kelley discussed her ("unauthorized biography") book “Oprah: A Biography” (2010, Crown) on the Today show with Matt Lauer and others, and admitted she had been turned down for interviews by Larry King Live, Barbara Walters and Rachael Ray. Is that an indication of Oprah’s “power”?  NBC has the headline "unauthorized Oprah biographer blacklisted?"

Kelley talked about her motives for writing the book, as a professional author who needs to come up with best sellers about subjects that the public wants and hasn't read about yet.  (Writer's Digest used to say to aspiring authors, "write what other people want. No one cares about your own opinions.") Kelley explained that there was a demand for a biography of Oprah, and pointed out some interesting facts, such as how Oprah supported her mother (however Oprah’s father still supports himself).

Kelley had given TV viewers a lesson on British libel law back in 1997 when her book “The Royals” came out after the Princess Diana tragedy.

Update: Monday 19, 2010

Today Oprah presented Gerald Imes, brother of Mo'Nique, to confess abuse they were growing up, and said she was silent because "they family expects you to go along with it."

I heard Oprah mention her own experience with abuse ("reading was her only escape" -- reference ahed). I don't know if Kitty Kelley covered it in her book, above. But here is another source, "Oprah Winfrey, biography", link.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ken Burns: "The Shakers"

Netflix offers the 61 minute 1984 documentary “The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God” for instant play, as another documentary about a minority religious group. The film is directed by Ken Burns and Amy Stechler, and is in Burns’s typical quiet and wistful style, although with fewer drawings.

The film was produced by Burns’s Florentine Films, and was shown in 2002 by WETA and WNET of PBS as part of the "Ken Burns's American Stories" series.

The Shakers were officially known as The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing and were founded by Anne Lee in England and settled north of New York in colonial times.

One of their most remarkable practices was total celibacy, which helps explain their small numbers (and their gradual decline in the 20th Century), and raises questions of karma. They lived communally and worked hard, rotating jobs, and invented many common household tools, such as the whisk broom. Work became its own virtue. They actually produced and sold most of the opium in the US at one time.

In time, their style of work was overpowered by the mass production methods of the industrial revolution.

The film features much of their song and music.

The official website for the film is here.

Short trailer from Folkstreamer on YouTube.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

PBS Frontline: "Obama's Deal": history of the 2010 health care reform act

Some PBS stations on April 13 presented the one hour Frontline “Obama’s Deal”, a history of the 2009-2010 health care debate. The main link for the show is here.

The central fulcrum for the story was the advocacy of Karen Iganani, spokesperson or lobbyist for the health insurance industry. The industry wanted an individual mandate so that everyone had to buy from the privatized health insurance industry. Of course, the industry went along with the idea that the healthy should help pay the premiums of the sick with mandatory insurance. But Obama had not wanted a mandate, but rather a public option, which the health insurance industry opposed.

The flap over the “you lie” remark at the state of the union speech is covered. It also covered the special election in Massachusetts where Scott Brown (R) won Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.

The show then covered the February Blizzards of 2010, slowing down the debate.

The film has some curious black-and-white, 40s style photos of the president behind the scenes.

On Feb. 25, the president sponsored a forum at Blair House (covered here on this blog), televised live on MSNBC, and took over selling the bill.

On Sunday March 21, the president got his “deem and pass” (sort of) victory in the House.

Monday, April 12, 2010

ABC "The View" presents a "savior siblings" true story

Monday April 12, ABC’s “The View” presented the Trebling family, and told the story how a daughter was saved from Diamond Blackfan Anemia (wiki ) by a marrow transplant based on her brother’s donation.

There is a book by Beth Whitehouse, “The Match: ‘Savior Siblings’ and One Family’s Battle to Heal their Daughter” (from Beacon Press, available April 1), that tells the story. Brother Christopher was conceived by in vitro fertilization (as a genetic match), and at the age of 1, marrow was taken from a needle from the boy to save the sister. The author’s website for the book is here.

A major web reference telling the true story appears at the Diamond Blackfan Anemia Foundation, link here.

The ethical issues surrounding this situation are explored in much more melodramatic and exaggerated fashion in the New Line film “My Sister’s Keeper,” directed by Nick Cassavetes, based on the novel by Jodi Picoult, reviewed on my Movies blog June 26, 2009. That’s fiction, but the “View” story and interview were real.

Parents are sometimes given (or take on) awesome powers over their kids, particularly within a conventional family with traditional marriage. They expect siblings to be prepared to protect each other, and teach them that not all relationships of affection are matters of choice. I’ve covered this elsewhere on my blogs (especially the “rules of engagement” label on my BillBoushka blog). I’ve lived my adult life on another planet, for decades away from a world in which people accept these responsibilities as given to them as members of a family and community. However, it seems wrong to me to subordinate the life of one person against his consent to save another person. Individualistic concerns about "equality" disappear within the family. One can see how I think.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

CBS "Amazing Race" gives a good reality tour of Singapore

Just a note about another reality show, CBS “Amazing Race”. Tonight (April 11), the teams took a modern train (with sleeping bunks) from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Singapore, and then raced around the city-state of Singapore, which looked like something scrubbed and sterilized for a sci-fi movie. One of the treasure hunt tasks involved climbing from one gondola to the next on top of a 500-foot Ferris wheel. Another task involved a clean-cut “On the Waterfront” job (with orange jumpers) of counting chain links in a dock. Still another involved selling ice cream sandwiches (real sandwiches in Singapore), a task a bit like the first episode ever on Donald Trump’s Apprentice, selling lemonade.

Nobody got caned.  You would not glean Singapore's socially conservative climate from the show, but you can tell that it is immaculate, and a bit artificial. The website for the episode is here.

I remember that the idea of a “treasure hunt” race goes all the way back to the Howdy Doody show of the 1950s.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

"House M.D." and ABC 20/20 both present stories that point to possible hidden infidelities

An episode of “House MD”, recently re-aired on UPN, dealt with the moral uncertainties caused by unusual STD’s. A young wife has seizures and severe neurological symptoms. For a while, there is a theory about metastasized breast cancer or auto-immunity in the brain related to cosmetic breast surgery which was supposed to please her more than her husband. But gradually the medical detectives track the problem down to African sleeping sickness, and say that it can be transmitted sexually. Her husband is put in a precarious position of authorizing risky anti-parasite treatment but has to wonder if his wife could have been unfaithful. House (Hugh Laurie) eventually has to ask who she had the affair with to treat the contact trace. “We all make mistakes, we all pay a price.”

On ABC 20-20 Friday April 9, there was a situation where a woman gave birth to a fourth child in a bathtub, with a 911 operator talking her husband through it during the first night on the job. Other siblings have to help. But then the question occurs whether she could have been unfaithful because the husband had a vasectomy, which is, however, not 100% reliable.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

PBS airs "The Adventists": Saturday-Sabbath denomination responsible for launching modern medicine

On Thursday, April 8, some PBS stations (such as MPT in Annapolis, MD) aired a one-hour documentary “The Adventists”, by Martin Doblemeier. The film traces the history of the Seventh Day Adventist church and particularly its contribution to medicine. The site for the film is here.

The film traces the origin of the American denomination that observes Sabbath on Saturday, back to the 19th Century, when people went to hospitals to die. Adventist would take a major lead in modernizing medicine, a fact that few people realize.

The show depicted a “blue zone”, Loma Linda, CA, where people live a decade longer than normal, and where one man was still practicing as a heart surgeon at age 95.

Vegetarian, low-fat diets and exercise, and total abstinence from caffeine, alcohol and tobacco are credited for extending life spans. But so is a very community-oriented lifestyle.

There is a curious comment that nicotine itself does not cause the damage of cigarette smoking; rather it’s all the other pollutants in cigarette smoke. But I thought that nicotine damages circulation, especially in the legs. The Navy will start prohibiting smoking on submarines but will allow nicotine patches.

The film shows heart transplant surgery at an Adventist hospital, and also prostate surgery at an Adventist hospital in Florida.

As I recall, Walter Martin’s “Kingdom of the Cults” from the 1970s does not consider Adventism as a cult.

Dana Journey Films offers a YouTube trailer.

Here is a link “Adventist Truth about Ellen White”, url.

Wikipedia attribution link for Loma Linda University Medical Center.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

PBS stations run "Stop the Presses": what happens to journalism?

On Wednesday April 7 some PBS stations reran the AMS film “Stop the Presses: The American Newspaper in Peril”, directed by Mark Birnbaum and Manny Mendoza, about the radical changes in “dead tree” journalism today largely due to “competition” from the Internet. The website is here.

The show mentions that the first newspaper in the US appeared in 1680 in Massachusetts and the government put it out of business after one issue. A publisher had to have a license from a colonal government then.

The printing press was so “threatening” that some colonies banned it for a while.

The show covered the century or so where most cities had evening newspapers, which largely disappeared in the 1970s, leaving the remaining newspapers stronger.

Many medium sized newspapers have given up their own coverage of world news, leading it to a smaller number of large papers, meaning fewer people mind the store.

More people are reading newspaper articles than ever before, but the problem is that too many people read it online for free.

Citizen journalists are often offering a new voice, and sometimes are able to make profitable cottage private businesses. Citizen journalists raise the issue of what the long term sustainable business model for journalism should be.

AMS provided this trailer on YouTube.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

PBS Nova: Hunting the Edge of Space

On Tuesday April 6 PBS Nova aired the first part (of two) of “Hunting the Edge of Space”, link here.  Much of the program discussed the difference between refraction telescopes (with the rainbow prism) and reflective. William Herschel, German-British astronomer, is covered, with his discovery of Uranus and work on the reflective telescope, where he made the tin-gold mirror by hand. Herschel was also a composer of symphonies, a contemporary of Mozart.

The program goes on to cover the hunt for planets around other stars, and mentions one world covered with water, mass 2.7 times that of Earth, but about 400 degrees F, like a foreshadow of Venus as it used to be imagined.

The show also pictured Jupiter and Saturn as Galileo saw them, and covered the realization that Earth was not the center of the Universe, to the consternation of the Church.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

PBS Nature: "Moment of Impact: Hunters and Herds": definitely for big cat lovers

PBS Nature showed the first of its “Moment of Impact” series Easter Sunday night, called “Hunters and Herds”. The film examined how carnivores (cats such as lions and cheetahs, and birds such as eagles) can attack animals that live in herds for safety in numbers. The film showed the “bionic” design of the various animals inside as if they were “terminators”. The pileated woodpecker was particularly interesting, where a strand of tongue protects the brain; so was the explanation of how the trunk of the elephant works. The vision of the cat was also explained and simulated.

The link for the show is here. PBS provided various previews on YouTube, such as this on the lion and wildebeest.

Friday, April 02, 2010

ABC 20-20 "Help from Beyond": examining medical miracles, faith, and statistics

ABC 20-20 covered medical miracles this evening, or perhaps they are spiritual miracles brought on by prayer. The report was called “Help from Beyond.”

The most interesting segment was the leadoff, with a 22 year old track star (Chase Kear) and pole vaulter who recovers from an accident where he lands on his head, with his skull split in two. His parishioners in a small SE Kansas town pray to a father and chaplain Emil Kapaun who had died in the Korean War but who has been considered for sainthood.

The news story is by Elizabeth Vargas and Donna Hunter, “Miracle of Faith: The Work of a Saint? Believers see intercession of late priest in Chase Kear’s recovery from pole-vaulting injury”. The link is here.

In the television interview, Kear's appearance gave not a hint of his healed injury and surgery and titantium plate in his skull.

The story covered a man in Massachusetts who started walking again, and a woman in France with Parkinson’s.

The Church regards a woman cured of cancer in Hawaii as a miracle.

The program then covered the “Devil’s Advocate” or skeptics process within the Vatican. It questioned why some people are saved by apparent miracles are other seemingly deserving people are not. Miracles are not “fair”. And miracles are not magic.

It covered a saint who had gone to the island of Molokai, Hawaii, that housed lepers in the 19th Century.

At the end of the show they discussed “the Law of Large Numbers.”

Thursday, April 01, 2010

"V" resumes on ABC, and we see Anna's real Teeth

The “drama” of “V” resumed Tuesday March 30 on ABC. The series seems now like a long shadow of “Flash Forward”. In fact, there was a line somewhere in the script about “seeing the future”, probably no accident.

The reporter played by Everwood doctor actor Scott Wolf agrees to have a “pre-crime” brain pre-aneurysm fixed on the V hospital ship, with the operation televised to earthlings. There’s talk of comparing Earth medicine to alien medicine. Of course, we know that the aliens look like reptiles underneath.

One of the characters is pregnant with you-know-what, a kind of Rosemary’s Baby.

The teenager Tyler gives his mom a hug – with her only to find she is hugging a hologram.

Toward the end, Anna zeroes in on her prey, to get her eggs for her own new master race. The hapless young man lays below, apparently humiliated already by scrubbing and perhaps shaving. The last image shows Anna opening her reptilian mouth (are those "teeth" a la Roadside Attractions, or dentures?), that looks like it came out of “Alien”. Sigourney Weaver (as Ripley) is nowhere around.

There’s an interesting discussion of how the Visitors do not have “emotion” hardwired into their neurons like humans do, so they can be more “efficient”. Some scientists call these “mirror neurons” than enable empathy and feelings for family. It seems that in the world of the aliens, the state is supreme, and it is efficient. The Washington Times will love it.

The episode can be viewed here.  No embed was offered by ABC, and users must log on to Facebook to share comments.

Here's Hollywood Streams preview for the whole series.