Tuesday, June 29, 2010

ITVS and Howard University Television air "City of Borders": religion and sexual orientation in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Israel

On Tuesday June 29 Howard University Television (WHUT on PBS) aired “City of Borders”, directed by Yun Suh, a 66-minute documentary compressed into about 58 minutes for airing. The printed television listings had incorrectly listed the film as 30 minutes.

The film centers around a gay bar in Jerusalem, the Shushan, and traces the lives of several patrons from both Jewish and Palestinian or Islamic communities. One young Palestinian man talks about being gay on the West Bank (Ramallah, a town destroyed by Israeli forces a few years ago). A few of them describe acts of violence against them; one shows considerable disfiguring scars; one boy talks about being responsible for younger siblings (even while gay), as part of mideastern family culture. There is a lot of material about the 2006 gay pride parade in Jersualem. One man goes to Tel Aviv, and shows it as a city of relative freedom. At the end, one man goes to Cleveland, where he has a partner, and he discusses the fact that even if he could legally marry, his lover could not get him a green card to come into the United States, as would be the case with a straight couple. He does mention DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996.

The website for the film is here.

The film comes from “Television’s Independent Voice” (ITVS) and the Center for Asian American Media.



I’m reminded of a 2001 film called “Bethlehen Diary” (Proxima Films) about the West Bank; I saw it at the University of Minnesota.

Monday, June 28, 2010

NCIS on CBS/USA: Makes light of real intelligence mysteries

"NCIS" (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) airs on CBS and re-airs on USA, and it sometimes brings up some interesting issues.


The NCIS has civilian employees investigating military personnel, here in Navy whites. It’s rather obvious, as Randy Shilts pointed out in “Conduct Unbecoming”, that this state of affairs can put civilians who are supposed to be protected from anti-gay discrimination investigating violations of “don’t ask don’t tell”. That’s not the topic of the episode tonight on USA, “Untouchable”, but it’s curious.

In the episode, a female officer cryptographer is found shot, creating a mystery similar to a couple of killings of highly cleared personnel around Washington DC in late 2008. The show takes a tongue-in-cheek, almost “Chuck-like” attitude toward a serious and dangerous subject. The script deals with the very real problem that intelligence services like (or practically have) to hire loners (schizoid personalities who shun real real relationships) that they don’t trust (hence the double agent problem); and it presents a female (Naval officer) roommate who is too introverted to even be suspected of lesbianism under DADT. Here the plot includes an inside job, a mole, the Venezuelan commie Hugo Chavez, probably Russian nationalism (maybe commie-capitalism more like that of China), and the idea that a suspected assassin could have diplomatic immunity. Who knows if such elements may have really existed in the real-life 2008 incidents in suburban Maryland. There is also a great ploy on the 1987 film “No Way Out” (Roger Donaldson, Orion Pictures). There’s a great gratuitous scene with (character Jetrho Ginns) the hairy-chested Mark Harmon shirtless, changing in the office and being chased.

The real NCIS has this website.
The CBS site for the show is here.
CBS Youtube trailer for Season 7:

Sunday, June 27, 2010

"Meet the Press" covers Afghanistan; Sebastian Junger speaks

Today, NBC's Meet the Press with David Gregory covered Afghanistan thoroughtly, starting with a half-hour interview with Senator John McCain, and then a panel discussion with Rep. Barbara Lee, Ret. Gen Barry McCaffrey, and author Sebastian Junger (“The Perfect Storm”, “War”, and the movie “Restrepo” due soon).

McCain noted that the Taliban “can’t parse comments” made about it from around the world, and depends on cultural cohesion. He also mentioned the issue of allowing military recruiters on campuses opposed to their presence because of “don’t ask don’t tell”.

Sebastian Junger was probably the show’s most notable guest. I met him in Minneapolis in 1998 at a booksigning party for “Perfect Storm”. Junger presented statistics on the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan before the Taliban was deposed in 2001, and now. He also discussed how integrated stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan are linked.

I think that the MSNBC web page (here) for “Meet the Press” is a bit rude. It is mostly empty, and directs you to a download page for iTunes apps. That’s OK, but why not have a page of regular articles and embeddable video, like other shows? Junger’s comments would make a good embed, but they were not to be found.

Here’s a YouTube interview with Junger from the Hoover Institute.



There are a couple of older hour-long interviews by him that I’ll look at later. He talked about the absence of fear in combat, when he carries a camera but no weapon.

Friday, June 25, 2010

ABC 20-20 honors "Michael Jackson After Life"; NBC Dateline competes

Elizabeth Vargas and Chris Cuomo presented a two hour “Michael Jackson After Life” on a two-hour 20-20 on ABC on Friday June 25, in memory of the one year anniversary of his death at age 50.

The first hour reviewed some of the circumstances of his passing, and the abuse of Propofol by his physician, with a number of bizarre explanations for the doctor’s behavior. The physician, Conrad Murray, has been charged with manslaughter. The basic link for the show is here.

The second hour covered the many controversial aspects of his life, including the way his financial assets evaporated over legal troubles and his maintenance of Neverland, eventually facing foreclosure when he could not make a balloon payment (which was avoided with sneaky deails). He actually had many financial problems and left many bills unpaid. He went back to work shortly before his death partly because of financial issues.

People who tended to Jackson were interviewed, including one who said his drug problems did not start for over a decade after his hair was burned in 1982.

Finally, the program interviewed Justin Bieber for Jackson’s influence on him.

The show was respectful, even memorable, even if a lot of Jackson’s behavior was, at least, off the wall.

NBC Dateline ran a 2-hour special on Jackson in the same time slot, competing for ratings.

On Saturday morning, June 26, CNN presented short reports on patients who stand by Dr. Conrad Murray, who has practices in Nevada and Texas (as well as California) and can apparently still practice in those other states. Here's a LKL interview.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

CNN: "Gary and Tony Have a Baby": documentary about gay male parents and surrogate fatherhood

On Thursday June 24 at 8 PM, CNN aired the one-hour documentary “Gary and Tony Have a Baby” with Soledad O’Brien narrating.

The gay couple (Tony Brown and Gary Spino) uses one of three companies in the US that helps match gay couples up with surrogate mothers to have one man’s baby (here it’s Gary) by artificial insemination.  Eventually the mother has the baby boy by Cesearean and then learns she can't have more children. Gary becomes a legal parent, and Tom must file for adoption.  But before that, the couple has to file a "friendly suit" with the mother present to gain formal custody.

The surrogate mother did not want to be known in her rural community (even though it seems that the mother was somewhat handpicked for ancestral issues). The film covered the ultra-sensitive topic of intimidation. Both men were from small towns but were comfortable living as gay parents in New York. The film showed New York State’s recent vote on gay marriage, which was still defeated.

A different woman (from Florida) actually provides the ova (for $8000),which is implanted into the surrogate mother. That woman's employer didn't want her last name revealed to the press (or on the Internet) if she was going to donate eggs to a gay couple. Would you believe that?

The first preview CNN link for the show seems to be here, titled “Gay Couples as Parents?”

CNN has a YouTube video from Larry King Live with no embedding here.

CNN has a subsequent detailed story on O’Brien’s "In America" report “Gay dads unfraid to chart new ground” here .

The show will re-air on CNN June 26 and June 27 in the evening.



There is a book about a Maryland gay couple adopting a boy back from 1995 called “Getting Simon” by Kenneth D. Morgen.

Picture: from DC Pride.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

PBS covers sensitive topic: people travel to Switzerland (legally) to end their own lives

PBS Frontline, on June 22, re-aired a program, a 50-minute documentary, from March 2020 directed by John Zaritsky, “The Suicide Tourist”, which presents the story of Craig Ewert, diagnosed with ALS, who travels to Switzerland to work with a group named Dignitas (link ). The PBS Frontline link is here and offers a link to watch the full program online.

The method is an orally consumed drink, with a fatal dose of a barbiturate than induces sleep in about five minutes. The person never wakes up.

Switzerland is the only country that allows emigration for the purpose of ending one’s own life.

The film does cover his relationship with his wife.

There is a review of “You Don’t Know Jack” on the Movies blog April 28, 2010.

PBS supplies this trailer on YouTube.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

PBS: "Unforgettable: The Korean War": short historical documentary apparently from Arizona State


A documentary originating at a project at Arizona State University, “Unforgettable: The Korean War”, 52 minutes, directed by Kleespie, aired June 21 on some PBS stations. KPBS has a link here.

One little known fact depicted in the film is that in 1951, President Truman had drawn up some targets in the Soviet Union and China for the use of nuclear weapons if ground efforts failed. We could have had nuclear war then, and it is thought that the Soviets weren’t quite ready to retaliate yet. That would change quickly (look at the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962).

Another interesting aspect is how badly the war went in the beginning, with most of the Korean peninsula under Communist control for a while. Yet the Korean War would fade into memory, with no great novels about it.

The Oxford Journal (Mississippi) has a story about a local veteran, Ennis Miller, who appears in the film, story by Meagan Eagle, link here.

Another interesting matter in the film is the claims about the extreme cold of the Korean winter. The 38th parallel is south even of the latitude of Washington DC; why are the winters, even at sea level, so cold? But I doubt it was much below 0 Fahrenheit.

One anecdote has a young man asking that his draft notice be remailed so that he has time to join the Air Force and avoid Army infantry. That foreshadows the controversy over the Vietnam era draft and student deferments later in the 1960s.

I recall that in July 1950, when I had just turned 7 (and had recovered from measles that had struck a month before while we were at the beach in Ocean City, MD), I was sitting on grandmother’s porch in Kipton, Ohio (near Oberlin) when my mother opened up a Cleveland Plain Dealer (complete with its great coverage of baseball those days) and said, “There’s war in Korea.” (Wikipedia gives the date of the start of the war as June 25, 1950; but I distinctly remember this moment as in mid July; the Battle of Osan occurred on July 5.)

By the time of my own Vietnam era draft (in February 1968 for me), Korea was viewed as a safe and stable duty station. But in the 1990s, North Korea was regarded by the Clinton Administration as probably the nation’s biggest existential threat for a war that could even necessitate a draft (when “don’t ask don’t tell” had been promulgated – and I was writing my “Do Ask Do Tell” book), to the point that the more subtle threat of Al Qaeda and radical Islam just wasn’t followed closely enough.




Wikipedia attribution link regarding a memo about shooting Korean civilians here.

Monday, June 21, 2010

PBS: History Detectives: Space Exploration

On Monday June 21 PBS Weta presented “History Detectives: Space Exploration”, with descriptive link here.

The program summarized the early history of communications satellites after Sputnik, including Echo and Echo 2, of which a mylar piece might have been a component. (But there may have been mylar-like material recovered at Roswell in 1947, maybe from a weather balloon.)

The most interesting segment was about Ray Radis, a Westinghouse engineer, who described Westinghouse’s policy of allowing engineers to work on projects of their choice as long as Westinghouse kept an interest. Radis invented a magnetic boot which may have been used by NASA later.

There was also a little chip with work of several artists, including Andy Warhol, whose contribution was based on alphabetic letters manipulated to look like a particular body part. Investigation shows that there is a good chance this chip is still on the moon.

Here’s a PBS YouTube video segment of the “Moon Museum” episode of “History Detectives”

Sunday, June 20, 2010

PBS "God on Trial" on Masterpiece Theater

In 2008, PBS and WGBH aired a Masterpiece Theater film by Andy De Emmony, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, “God on Trial”. A number of Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz, while in their “barracks”, follow their tradition of arguing with God and put Jehovah on trial for the murders of the Holocaust.

The film looks like a stage play, and it runs through a long series of philosophical ruminations about the Jews being God’s chosen people, and about the whole moral concept of individuals’ having to dedicate themselves to a shared common purpose rather than a goal that they can chose for themselves, as in modern individualism.

Even from the viewpoint of common purpose, the Jews have trouble understanding all the calamities they have faced over history, but it seems that each time their heritage survives where as the culture bullying them dies. They go into detail over the sacrifice at Massada, and later discuss the nature of personal sacrifice and its moral significance. For someone who does not share the common purpose, the sacrifice is only that, and becomes a blunt lesson.

The script presents the Genesis Flood and the Exile to Babylon as two "Purifications" of the Chosen People. In religious terms, a "purification" is an episode of massive punitive sacrifice where "wickedness" in a population is atoned, without the opportunity for a process like Christian grace.  Purification is accompanies by expropriation.

There is also discussion as to whether God, while all powerful and purposeful, is really "good" in allowing individual injustice and in allowing good people to have to sacrifice to advance unseen plans for an entire people. The whole history of the Jewish people seems to contradict the idea of "free will".

The PBS website for the film is here.

“Cause and Effect Post” has this YouTube of the a critical passage. “Nothing is too sacred to question”.



Wikipedia attribution link for Auschwitz-Birkenau main track, which I visited in May 1999.

Friday, June 18, 2010

ABC 20-20 covers messages from beyond to 9/11 families; also Bieber

On Friday June 18, ABC 20/20 covered the topic of family members of 9/11 victims believing they have been visited by their loved ones. There is a book by Bonnie McEaney, “Messages: Signs, Visits and Premonitions from Loved Ones Lost on 9/11”, published by William Morrow. One family reported that her husband, a bond trader, said that shortly before 9/11 he had premonitions that something would happen in the WTC towers soon and that the family should be ready for it.


I still remember that around 1:30 AM on 9/11/2001 I awoke from a dream (I was living and sleeping in Minneapolis) that Washington DC had been apparently attacked, maybe by a nuclear weapon, and that the clouds were over Arlington. I remember saying to myself, glad that was only a dream. Also on Labor Day weekend I remember getting a bizarre email with a title warning about 9/11, which I deleted as spam; several other friends reported getting something similar. Also, the Thursday and Friday before 9/11 there was a major computer virus outbreak at work. And the night before 9/11, there was a water volleyball game in the apartment indoor swimming pool, the only time I saw it played there.

20/20 tonight also interviewed an ex girl friend of Joran Van der Sloot, about his change into someone who lied and apparently a monster.



They also showed his 6x10 cell in a Peruvian jail.

20/20 also covered Canadian Justin Bieber, who actually got started with online reputation on YouTube. Just key in his name there.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Obama addresses nation on BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on all networks

Here is the transcript for Obama’s national speech on television networks tonight. (I had to play to spell the CNN link correctly, which got inserted incorrectly; here it is. )

One of the most interesting announcements was that the escrow fund to compensate those with huge economic losses in the Gulf area will be managed by a third party, not by BP. That sounds like simple abuse control.

Further, he announced much more distant regulation of the oil industry, breaking up the conflicts of interest and “good old boy” politics among regulators. This sounds like a replay of the discussion of financial regulation; as George Soros says, so goes market fundamentalism.

He also talked about the challenge America faces to go to more renewable industries, which he compared to putting a man on the Moon.

But the president did not talk much about actually plugging the leak and ending it, and admitted it would leak more oil for quite some time.

He also talked about the six-month suspension of deep water drilling of all US coastlines.

This was reported to be the president's first ever Oval Office (broadcast television) address.


Friday, June 11, 2010

"Flashpoint" on CBS is no "FlashForward": conventional police SRU

CBS’s police drama series “Flashpoint” is no “Flashforward.” There’s no existential mystery or really original characters as in “Numb3rs”. It’s a series about a “strategic response police unit” (SRU) in a city that looks like Seattle that concentrates on lone-wolf threats, hostage situations, and other unconventional but essentially local challenges.

On June 11, “Never Let You Down” was a typical episode. A man kidnaps a young woman, who has already fended off a dangerous suitor in a restaurant where she works, whom he believes, because of delusion, that she is his daughter. That’s a pretty strange belief is someone is put in the trunk. The police develop his history of voluntary commitment into a mental institution; his ex-wife talks of his depression and apparent schizophrenia. There is a confrontation with tactical police near a cliff in th Cascade foothills.

The episode does play on the “uncanny resemblance” problem in identifying people.

The website for the show on CBS is here



Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Safeco Field in Seattle.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

WJLA in DC: The Inauguration of Stephen Strasburg (right down The Middle)

ABC’s Washington affiliate WJLA (actually in Arlington) replaced an episode of “The Middle” tonight with a half-hour “The Inauguration of Stephen Strasburg”, about the sensational new Washington Nationals rookie pitcher, who won his first game Tuesday night against Pittsburgh. They mentioned his recent marriage and Strasburg made some kind of metaphor of the game to a wedding. (They could have called it a “coronation”, with pie faces, and Mozart’s 26th Piano Concert, rewritten.)


Then a second half-hour episode of “The Middle” came on, and showed the parents deciding to cut cable TV to save the family money (that sounds like they had experienced a Suze Orman smackdown) The parents also want more “family time” to socialize the kids, who can prove that TV and cable Internet are necessary for keeping up. This brings to mind a recent episode of Oprah where a family gave up all electronics for a week and learned to give hugs again.

Update: June 11

Stephen Strasburg appeared on David Letterman on CBS in a video spoof of ten jokes ("Top Ten Little Known Facts about Stephen Strasburg"), including one involing using laser hair removal on his back (to spend his signing bonus with the Nationals). (Warning: Unlike the case with the strips in "41 Year Old Virgin" or what was done to Ashton Kutcher ["aplusk"] for "Killers", it's permanent.)  Strasburg has a 91 mph changeup.

CBS provides this YouTube video:



Remember, David Letterman belongs to the Zipper Club.  He was dragged involuntarily into emergency coronary bypass surgery on Friday afternoon in January 2000; the hospital already had an OR for him.  The Esquire had fun with this later.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

AC360 keeps 'em honest tonight on BP's "collectors"

Anderson Cooper 360 tonight (Tuesday), in "keeping them honest", is slamming BP hard, showing the high definition video of the oil plume still coming out of the sea bottom, and presenting Congressman Ed Markey, who insists that BP's whole game has been about minimizing legal damage from the very beginning. BP remains very unwilling to talk to reporters, whether AC from CNN or David Muir from ABC.

Cooper's guests tried to estimate the "upper end" of how much oil is getting past the mechanical "debt collectors".   BP has been unwilling to talk about the underwater clouds of oil. 

USA Today has an article today by Elizabeth Weise and Doyle Rice, "How bad could BP oil spill get for the Gulf and the nation?," link .   Even a relief well is no sure thing.

I added AC to my twitter tonight, and, yes, he fills up Twitter pages fast.  But so does Ashton Kutcher.

Here is AC's interview (this evening) with five survivors of the rig blast on the day(s) right before the blast , story by By Scott Bronstein and Wayne Drash, CNN. "This is a crime scene, 5000 feet below the Surface." There was a big argument between BP and Trans Ocean  (url for website, called "Deepwater") 12 hours before over saving money v. safety.



Cooper also covered the hunt for birds covered with oil.

Wikipedia attribution link for "Gulf oiled pelicans".  They look like pickled specimens from Roswell, which would be funny if it weren't so tragic and horrible -- and weren't from real life rather than fantasy and horror.

Monday, June 07, 2010

CWTV's "Gossip Girl": The "Lucky Ducks" sometimes think they are better than other people

CWTV’s “Gossip Girl” sounded rather menacing when it appeared in 2007, and the battles among Manhattan rich kids in prep school held more enticement than I first expected. For one thing, it provides a lesson in “online reputation”, as all the kids’ exploits get blogged about by a mystery girl – mobile blogging, to be sure, read on all the kids’ cell phones. Twitter and Facebook haven’t gotten into the show to my knowledge. (As far as the “identity” of the blogger and her own reputation, here’s a reference link )

The most conspicuous male stars are Penn Badgley as Dan Humphrey, who didn’t quite “survive” (ask Ashton Kutcher what I mean) in transition from "The Bedford Diaries", and Chace Crawford, whose character has to deal with the jailbirding of his dad.

Tonight’s repeat episode “Enough About Eve” (link) caught my attention as Vanessa (Jessica Szohr) competes with Blair (Leighton Meester) to give a freshman toast at NYU (as if it were more than a workplace toastmaster’s club) to please her mother. Vanessa says, “Some people are simply better than others.” Later there is a line “Molly, what makes you better than me?” Then Vanessa’s mother says she had “challenged you to be your own person, but what is this person turning into.”

Next week's is "How to Succeed in Bassness" with bad boy Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick).

I guess Vanessa is laying up her treasures on Earth.  She should watch Tracey Jackson's "Lucky Ducks" and all the interviews on that DVD (see the movies blog April 9).

The official “Gossip Girl blog” is here.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

NBC sneak-previews Universal's theme park "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" in Orlando FL


On Sunday June 6, NBC presented a half-hour update on the construction of the theme park “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

The Harry Potter films franchise belongs to Warner Brothers, which does not own a theme park. So the choices are Disney and Universal, both in Orlando, FL.

But Steven Spielberg and James Cameron have both worked as consultants designing attractions in the park. (I suspect that some day Disney or Universal will build a “Pandora” attraction. A model of Titan might be more appropriate.)

Daniel Radcliffe appears with many comments.

Others designing the park with its attractions and rides said that the most important aspect of the park was the attention to detail.

Attractions Magazine offers this YouTube video as of May, 2010.



Link for Universal's theme parks is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for the Elephant House in Edinburgh, where J.K.Rowling wrote much of her output in the beginning. I visited that city in November 1982.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Larry King Live interviews President Obama in oil spill, immigration

President Obama appeared on Larry King Live Thursday June 3, although his appearance was delayed slightly by Anderson Cooper’s continuing coverage of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

The interview attracted less Internet attention than Michelle Obama’s interview in February.

The president said “I am furious at the entire situation, because somebody didn’t think through the consequences of their actions”. The president also said that the worst case scenario, as he understood it in late April, might have been less than the worst that he feared.

The president also expressed disagreement with Arizona’s recent anti-illegal immigration law, saying it could lead to profiling.

The president also said "This is the best job on Earth."

Here is CNN’s blog entry.


On Saturday, CNN covered the opportunities for individuals to go down to the Gulf to help with cleanup, as volunteers or perhaps short term BP employees. That could add jobs and cut unemployment, although not in a way that we want.

Richard Herman, attorney, said on Saturday that even a misdemeanor conviction against BP or some of its officers could lift the cap on civil damages, which would be $75 million until there was a criminal conviction.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

"60 Minutes Presents" examines the "family values" aspects of mob life in hour-long interview with John Gotti Jr.

On Sunday, May 30, CBS “60 Minutes” presented an interview by Steve Kroft with John Gotti, Jr., in a hour long special called “60 Minutes Presents”, a bit like “CNN Presents”. Gotti was a figure in the Gambino crime family who grew up worshipping his father, now dying of cancer in prison.

Gotti Jr. made various plea deals with the government and has left organized crime for a new life.

But the interview shows how the idea of family loyalty and “you take care of your own” and “that’s how it is” plays out. He also gave a theory rationalizing crimes, including murders.

He actually went to boarding school and did not understand what his dad did for a living until other kids saw his family on television.


Watch CBS News Videos Online