Wednesday, December 29, 2010

PBS Frontline" Flying Cheap": the perils of regional airlines

The PBS Frontline documentary “Flying Cheap” first aired on Feb. 2, 2010, and covers the unsteady safety reputation of “regional carriers”.

While some low-cost carriers like Southwest became successful quickly and became national (I used Southwest all the time when I lived in Dallas in the 1980s, and I liked its flying out of Love Field), others developed a reputation for paying pilots poorly (non-union), who sometimes stayed in substandard “dorms” in other cities, many to a room, in military-style bunks.  They were paid "piece work" and had incentives to fly in bad weather. They were paid only for air time, not elapsed duty time. 

The film focuses particularly on the ValuJet crash in 1996 and the Continental Colgan crash near Buffalo in 2009.

I remember in 1986 flying from Newark airport to Dulles on “People’s Express”, an airline covered by John Stossel where pilots had to take turns as flight attendants. They were so “cheap” that they didn’t interline and use automated tickets. Travel agents called them “Your Peoples”.

The main link is here. There is a direct link for watching the entire 56 minute film. It starts with “The Harrowing Crash of Continental 3407.”



The program re-aired on Nov. 29, 2011, the same day AMR, parent of America Airlines, announced Chapter 11.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

PBS Nova: "Secrets Beneath the Ice" of Antarctica

On Tuesday Dec. 28, PBS Nova premiered the one hour film “Secrets Beneath the Ice”, a documentary about modern research in Antarctica, drilling deep beneath the ice in many places, trying to predict Antarctica’s future climate and threat of melting with rising sea levels.

The scientists explore various areas including the dry valleys, almost devoid of life. It’s very hard on men to live there a long time physically, most of all to camp out.

Some parts of Antarctica are layered into levels of ice and ash or rock, somewhat like some other moons in our solar system (Titan comes to mind).

The ice sheets in Antarctica are divided into East and West by a central range, with the East ten times as large. But even the East has melted in the past. 15 million years ago the continent was mild and free of ice, covered with forests, and there was little ice on the planet anywhere.

The film ends with dire warnings of what the world faces in the ice caps melt a lot again.

Alan Alda narrates.

The basic link for the program is here.

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.


Wikipedia attribution link for map of Antarctic bedrock, here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

CNN: "The Two Mary's"

On Christmas Day CNN presented a 2004 film “The Two Marys” about the Virgin Mary and then about Mary Magdalene, narrated by Sigourney Weaver, with this transcript.  She had guest narrators including Leslie Hazleton (“Mary: A Flesh and Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother”) and Karen King, from Harvard Divinity School. The transcript for the film is here. It's a good film to review on Boxing Day.
There have been sermons about what it must have been like for Joseph, who was the perfect husband to raise what amounts to “someone else’s son” as a father.


The film shifted toward Mary Magdalene, considered a “demon” at one time for her adultery, ultimately another heroine.


Of course we all know the theory that Jesus got married and had children (Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, etc., book reviews, April 16, 2006). Of course, He had no need for “vicarious immortality”. In fact, the rumors around Magdalene bring up moral debates on whether reproduction ought to be viewed as an “obligation”.


Dr. Mark Miravalle of the Fransciscan Friars discusses Immaculate Conception in this YouTube video,.  He also talks about "two Mary's".



There is a related film, “The Mystery of Jesus” on CNN, reviewed here Dec. 23, 2007.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

History Channel continues "Ancient Aliens" with "Alien Devastation": a meandering documentary; what about the Rosicrucians?

The History Channel “Ancient Aliens” series continued Dec. 23 with “Alien Devastation” from Prometheus Films.

The one hour documentary rambled somewhat as it suggested that many of the critical points in human evolution were modulated by extraterrestrials, who could have used global cataclysms to weed out the species (with “genetic bottlenecks”) and lead it to where it is today.

There were suggestions that great innovators, going back to Leonardo Da Vinci with his circular car, might have been inspired by alien contact. (Another possibility was Telsa with the “death ray”.) William Bramley, author of “Gods of Eden”, spoke frequently.

The show depicted the Mayan ruins in Tacopalta, Mexico, talking about the beginning of the Mayan Calendar on Aug. 11, 3114 BC, to end Dec. 21, 2012.

There is one theory that the aliens come from an undiscovered 12th planet in the Solar System, but anything beyond Pluto would be too cold for anything like a civilization as we understand it to have evolved. Since many other dwarf planets have been found beyond Pluto, this sounds totally off the wall. Maybe it’s conceivable they could have come from Titan.

The film mentioned the Rosicrucian Order (AMORC), to which I belonged in New York City in the 1970s. I even attended the ritual “feast” in a hotel on March 21, 1977. I visited the museum in San Jose in 1976. See my books blog April 7, 2007 for a review of a book by H. Spencer Lewis. Back in the 1970s there was another new age book that spoke of "The Invisible Empire of the Rosicrucians".  There was a lot circulated then anout the Great White Brotherhood and Lemuria (I visited Mt. Shasta in 1978).
KMVT has a half-hour You Tube video about the Rosicrucian Order.



Second picture: Christmas Eve; the all blue lights look more impressive in person.



Thursday, December 23, 2010

PBS POV: "Presumed Guilty": looks at the Mexican justice system

On December 23, WHUT (Howard University Television) on PBS aired “Presumed Guilty” (“Presunto Culpable”), directed by Roberto Hernandez and Layda Negrete and “Lawyers with Cameras”, as part of PBS’s POV (“Point of View”) and “Behind the Lens” series of documentary films. It’s easy to imagine the work of these filmmakers (in idiomatic Spanish, with subtitles) in AFI’s Silverdocs.

The film covers a typical case of “justice” in Mexico. Street vendoe Antonio Zuniga is pulled off the streets and charges with a murder of Juan Reyes with no physical evidence. 95% of these cases result in convictions and 92% have no direct evidence.

Much of the film is about a retrial which occurred after the filmmakers were contacted based on the results of an earlier film (“El Tunel”) and found a technicality (the defense lawyer had a forged license). But the system is so stacked with corrupt incentives fed by a social and political hierarchy that the end result is another conviction.

The victim’s family visits him and accuses the defendant of lying and say they will blame the filmmakers if anything else “happens.” There is also a scene where a translator works to go between Spanish and not English, but apparently a native American Mayan language.

The film shows interesting flashbacks of Tono’s break dancing and rap music making.

The detailed PBS film description here is worth reading closely.
The film had first aired on July 27, 2010.

PBS has a YouTube trailer:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

AC360 airs Diane Sawyer interview where US Intelligence Director Clapper is caught unbriefed

James R. Clapper, U.S. Director of National Intelligence, was caught flatfooted when, accompanies by , Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, and John Brennan, he was asked by ABC’s Diane Sawyer about the arrests that had happened in Britain about twelve hours earlier. He pulled a “Jan Brewer” senior moment.

Sanjay Gupta covered the incident on AC360 tonight, with link here.  He, like Anderson Cooper, calls this "keeping them honest", a trademarkable phrase.

Toby Harnden has a similar story in the London Daily Telegraph (website url) here.

Here’s Diane Sawyer’s own account on ABC.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

CNN's "A Soldier's Story" airs the same day that "don't ask don't tell" is repealed (a coincidence?)

On Dec, 18 and 19, CNN airs another of its special documentaries, “A Soldier’s Story”, narrated by Jason Carroll. The link is here.

The airing is ironic, occurring on the same day that the US Senate repealed the 1993 “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law. But the film actually focused on the impact of military service on families.

Latricia Rose, a married mother of a two year old, leaves her Columbus GA home at 4:30 AM one morning for basic. Her husband winds up having grandmother care for the baby. The Army gives her an “unclassified discharge” with right to return during Basic, because of the home situation. For a few days, she drills without a rifle.

Will McClain, from Rosamond, CA starts Basic at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, loses weight, has to go through the gas chamber training, and winds up deployed in Afghanistan as a combat engineer.

Randy Shorter leaves behind a family as he prepares for a third tour of combat duty, this time in Afghanistan. He is shown in a pacification meeting with tribal leaders at the end.

Here is one of many YouTube videos about Army Basic Training at Fort, Jackson, S.C., where I had my Basic in 1968. It still looks familiar, with Tank Hill.

Friday, December 17, 2010

ABC 20-20 "Be the Change: Save a Life"

On Friday Dec. 17, ABC 20/20 presented a special “Be the Change: Save a Life” with several volunteer efforts overseas.


Some graduate students at Stanford we assigned the task of designing a low-cost incubator, as very small premature babies cannot maintain body temperature.



Note: overincubation can cause eye damage.

A 32-year old New Yorker gave up the night life and finance to go to Africa to work on water projects; the show presented digging wells in the Central African Republic. The recent CNN Heroes program also presented water projects.

Another project involved bringing anti-HIV medications to remote African areas on horseback and camels, and still another project addressed AIDS in Leshotho.

Teenager Zach Hunter wrote a book “Be the Change” which I reviewed on my books blog May 22, 2007.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Larry King Live closes out a quarter-century reign

For his last show on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010, Larry King wore red suspenders and a red tie.

Cohosting were Bill Mayer and Ryan Seacrest. Arnold Schwarzengeer announced Lrry King Day.

“As you can tell, this is completely rehearsed”, Larry said.

Then Regis Philbin, Donald Trump and Suze Orman appeared.

Then Diane Sawyer, Brian Williams, and Barbara Walters (who has been on the air for 21 years compared to LK’s 25). Kate Couric read a poem that was a take-off on “Twas the night before Christmas”. They spoke of” Tammy Faye’s eyes” and “Ted Haggard’s regret.”

Then came Bubba Bill Clinton, from Little Rock, AK. Larry said that both he and Bill belonged to the Zipper Club (like David Letterman). That’s not compatible with keeping chest hair.

At the end, Dr. Phil appeared.

King says he will do specials on CNN. “You won’t see me go away, but you won’t see me on this set anymore. Thank you, instead of good bye, and so long.”

History Channel presents 4-hour documentary "The Third Reich": why did the German people fall for it?

On Dec. 14 and 15, the History Channel presented the four hour documentary film, “The Third Reich: The Rise, The Fall”, in two parts.

The most interesting part of the film was the first section, which showed how the German people were gradually seduced by Nazi ideology in the early 1930s. The film tended to present the problem as bigger than that what could be caused by one previously obscure and misfit man, Adolf Hitler.

National Socialism (which morphed into fascism) presented the people with a belief that they were somehow “chosen” and that collectively they could be better off, having jobs and prosperity, if they obeyed all the “rules”. And for some number years they indeed did, as the home movies taken both by Germans and American tourists (never shown before) demonstrated. The corporate state provided jobs, infrastructure, and even leisure. Ordinary Gentile Germans did not at first understand that their “prosperity” would be achieved at the expense of other peoples, most of all the Jews. But in time, a “herd mentality” developed. Not only was it forbidden to protest or speak out; ordinary Gentiles were manipulated into believing that they must support the persecutions.

The British and Americans started leafleting from the air in some areas, warning German civilians that the Germans would eventually lose the War. World War II showed how effective group propaganda could be, which today is much less the case because we have an Internet and other personal media. After the Allies (both the Soviets and the West) started moving in on Germany, ordinary people began to realize they would be personally blamed for what had happened, a notion (“group karma”) often seen in left wing ideology since the 1950s. Indeed, the hardships would be severe for many of them for several years after the war.

The "shared vision ideology", which, in a family setting, would expect families to protect their most vulnerable members locally, did not do so in 1930s Germany, which was more like ancient Sparta in that respect.

So the whole story of what happened to the German people shows how two-faced the idea of “shared vision” (often presented today by the religious right in the “natural family” movement) can become.

The History Channel offers a related DVD “Saddam and the Third Reich” which I have not seen yet but will check on, here.
Docmate offers a similar 15-part film on YouTube:



Wikipedia attribution link for Second World War Europe here

Also, Wikipeida picture of Berlin Reichstag with inscription "Dem Deutschen Volke" ("to the German People") here. I saw it in May 1999.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

PBS Frontline: "Close to Home": The recession and unemployment among New Yorkers, Floridians, especially those over 50

The PBS Frontline one hour documentary “Close to Home”, written and directed by Okra Bikel, examined the hardship caused by the Great Recession on some New Yorkers on the Upper East Side (visiting a hair salon near E 83rd St and Park), and in Florida.

One man in Florida (who had once been a ballet star) described losing his wife to cancer, and his home to foreclosure a week later, as his belongings were put in the street. Banks were not that interesting in forbearance programs, as many people ran into catch-22’s.

A former owner of the Grind coffee shop in Sunnyside, Queens described the gradual shrinking of his neighborhood business.

The film also described a jobs club in Connecticut. Participants described the pressure of having to tow the line in “playing the game” of contacting hundreds of companies on the web in looking for a job. They had to act loyal. The show did not get into “online reputation” and job searching but it probably should have. The saga of a Human Resources executive who was “laid off” and asked to clean out in 10 minutes after 25 years with the company was shown. Most of the people in the jobs club were over 50.

I recall back in 1987 that PBS aired a show about a marketing executive who gets fired right after Labor Day in 1984, and then over a year grooms himself to be another executive’s replacement. When he was fired, he was told he didn’t have enough “marketing expertise.” That particular show had been produced with the drama department at the College of William and Mary.

The website for the documentary is here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

PBS Nova: "Hunting the Hidden Dimension", about fractals

On December 14, 2010, PBS Nova reaired a program “Hunting the Hidden Dimension” about fractals (from 10/28/2008).

The focus of the program was the work of mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, whom IBM hired to solve intractable problems in communications. Mandelbrot modeled the idea of “self-similarity”, which is a common technique in nature, leading to patterns repeated recursively in smaller scales. The mathematics enabled a new technique for movie animation, as in “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan”.

One of the most interesting applications was the length of a coastline. It’s possible to design a closed curve called the Koch Curve whose limit circumference is infinite (or unbounded). Mandelbrot considered fractals as like partial "dimensions", more or less in line with the way string theory suggests other dimensions, which might prove to give portals to other universes.

In complex variables, the set of numbers collecting all “Julia sets” was the famous Mandelbrot set.

The program went on to discuss how fractals are used to design cell phone antennae.

The film examined the relationship between the size of an organism and its energy use. Large organisms are more efficient, following the relationship of “energy” correlates to “mass” to the (3/4) power. This is useful in studying carbon absorption of rain forests, and would be useful in controlling carbon emissions. Loosely, it could suggest that taller people have a biological advantage over shorter people over time.


Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.


Wikipedia attribution link for Mandelbrot set picture.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Larry King Live, near the end of his reign, takes up Middle East Peace Talks

Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, and Ehud Barak, deputy Prime Minister of Israel, appeared on Larry King Live on Sunday Dec. 12, to present their idea of peace talks, which I recall led to a climax point in 1978 and Begin and Sadat met with Jimmy Carter at Camp David. How much has changed since then?

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair also appeared on the program.

The broadcast is “penultimate”, as the end of Larry King as a talk show how on CNN approaches, at his own desire.

Larry King has often discussed the fact that he had left artery coronary bypass back in 1987. He has generally been viewed as a liberal talk show host.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

CNN: Norwegian journalist lives with the Taliban, survives being a hostage

On Saturday and Sunday night Dec. 11 and 12, CNN presents Norwegian filmmaker Paul Refsdal 45 minute documentary “Taliban”. Refsdal lived with the Taliban for 30 days, and (rather like a zoologist befriending the alpha male lion of a pride to film it), received “protection” from the leader Omar as a “guest.” Anderson Cooper narrates.

The area was a rugged area NE of Kabul near the Pakistan border.

Refsdal believes that the Taliban will have to be part of any political solution for Afghanistan.

The filmmaker, now bald and in his 50s, had visited the mujhadeen in the 1980s.

Much of the Taliban’s ammunition is old.

Their entertainment is singing chant-like religious songs that they compose, as if real musicians (or “good composers” – see my plays blog Dec 11). They have no electronics with them.

After the Taliban unit endures a US Special Forces attack, Omar starts to see Refsdal as a spy, and threatens him with beheading, but then changes to ransom and forced conversion to Islam. There are complicated contacts with other Al Qaeda units, but eventually Refsdal is freed because killing journalists could look bad.

The film, while shorter, has some of the flavor of Sebastian Junger’s “Restrepo”, reviewed on the Movies blog July 10, 2010.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Bon Jovi talks about volunteering at restaurant; AC360 keeps 'em honest on DADT

CNN News programming tonight included a couple of items of special interest.

Jon Bon Jovi appeared on Larry King Live and discussed a restaurant in which there is no price menu, but where those who cannot pay come back and volunteer to work. (Link )

But Anderson Cooper on AC360 “kept them honest” by reporting the failure cloture vote on “don’t ask don’t tell”. The vote was 57-40, and two Republican Senators who said they supported repeal voted against it for “political reasons.” AC360 reported that a separate repeal bill (apart from defense authorization) may be introduced immediately in the House to pass this lame duck session. One speaker said that President Obama still has the effective authority to implement stop-loss

Here’s AC360’s live chat. Anderson says he's not allowed to take sides on "policy issues."

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

"You Can Afford College" on Maryland Public Television

On December 9, Maryland Public Television aired a special “You Can Afford College” with hosts Yolanda Vasquez and Mario Armstrong, and Michelle Brown from US Department of Education. The basic link is (website url) here.  The Twitter ID is “AffordcollegeMPT”. The show was sponsored in part by USAFunds.

The show has a phone bank (1-800-222-1292) of people answering questions on college financial aid, rather than requesting donations to PBS.

The show discussed FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid, (website url) link . Paper forms have been replaced entirely by online submission.

An application will result in a calculation of the student’s “need”, after subtracting an amount based on family income and size.

Like health care costs, college education costs are running away from ordinary Americans, resulting often in enormous debts for young adults.  When I started at George Washington University in 1962, one semester's tuition for a full time student was about $480.  By 1966, when I graduated, it was about $870.  That sounds like a Southwest Airlines Peanuts Fare now.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

CNN airs documentaries on John Lennon

CNN aired the effective one hour documentary “Losing Lennon: Countdown to Murder” about the shooting of the Beatles Fan outside his apartment building (the Dakota) in New York City in December 1980, by schizophrenic Mark David Chapman, now serving up to a life sentence at Attica in solitary confinement, but allowed “conjugal visits”. Chapman had worked in Hawaii as a guard that fall but had, all his life, seen “little people” fighting for attention in his head.

Part of the documentary presented Lennon’s difficulties in fathering a child and his job in being a parent when he finally did.

A friend that I had made in New York my last year in 1978 did visit the site very shortly after the incident happened in 1980. I would see that friend in November of 1982 again before flying to London. All of this comes back to me now.



Picture: A woodcut by NYC artist Robert Adsit, 1980.


Update: Dec, 8, 2015


Today, CNN aired an updated version of this film on the 35th anniversary of Lennon's death, retitled "Killing John Lennon". Chapman reported feeling he would inherit the fame of the celebrity that he shot, very much following (or anticipating) the delusion of James Holmes in Colorado in 2012. Mental illness?

Friday, December 03, 2010

History Channel: "UFO's and the White House": Did Cheney indirectly "tell"? Consequences?

On Thursday, December 2, the History Channel aired a one hour documentary “UFOs and the White House”.

The most challenging incident in the documentary occurs near the end. A journalist calls a talk show interviewing former Vice President Dick Cheney and asks about the “truth” behind government knowledge of UFOs and contact with extraterrestrials. Cheney says “Well, if I had such information it would be classified and I couldn’t talk about it.” That is, he doesn’t deny it.

There is a natural inclination to think that most incoming presidents and administrations would believe they could disclose anything like this to the American people if they chose. Why not? Maybe there is information that we would be destroyed, say by an alien EMP (high altitude electromagnetic pulse) attack first if we did.

Now if a president disclosed such information, it would take at least 20 years for the signal to the nearest solar system having a reasonable chance of an advanced civilization (that’s M-star Gliese), and maybe a century for it to return, so that would be dooming generations 100+ years down the road. Or maybe the aliens have an outpost in our Solar System (such as Titan, the largest moon of Saturn), a little more than one light hour away. Or maybe, as in Clive Barker’s novel “Imajica,” the aliens come from parallel universes instantaneously and can look more or less like us.

The rest of the movie covered some well known incidents, starting with a supposed sighting on the West Coast in 1942 (this could have inspired the 1944 alien crash in the NBC series “The Event”), and then Roswell in 1947, and then a blitz over DC in 1952, as well as some sort of crash in the Laurel Mountains near Kecksburg, PA in 1965 (picture above).

Bill Clinton said, at least 8 times, that young workers have a better chance of seeing a UFO than collecting their full social security benefits in the future.

There was a “scare” at the White House from a UFO in 2005, according to the film.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

History Channel: "The President's Book of Secrets"; "Secret Access: Air Force One"

On Wednesday December 1, the History Channel broadcast two films about the secret lives of presidents.


At 8 PM EST it showed “Secret Access: Air Force One” documented the enormous preparations for a presidential trip by Air Force One to Africa, including maintaining security, the office and living space on the plane, and the food preparation, and even safeguarding the fuel supply. This was a one hour film.

At 9 PM it showed “The President’s Book of Secrets” talks about classified information that any president learns about upon taking office, and speculates that some of it is in a single copy of a “book” (not a blog!). Possible contents could include previous contact with extraterrestrials at Roswell or holding them in Area 51 (as in the NBC show “The Event”). There are questions as to whether there is a cabal (like Yale’s “Skull and Bones”) that actually keeps some secrets from the president and keeps an agenda going, The show. The show also depicted the escape routes and preparedness for White House staff, and it took up the president’s “nuclear football”.

Here’s a USA Today article from May 2005 on the Nuclear Football

Here’s a YouTube video from RussiaToday on how close we came to nuclear annihilation in 1962.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

PBS Nova: "Quest for King Solomon's Mines"

On Tuesday Nov. 23, PBS Nova aired a one hour film “Quest for King Solomon’s Mines”, link here.  The film was made by National Geographic.

The focus of the program was the ruins of the copper mines in the Dead Sea area. The use of copper marked the beginning of the “bronze age”. It appears that ancient copper mines were shantytowns in which slaves lived, and they were surrounded by slag heaps, somewhat like third world mining today.

Archeological (and radiological) evidence does support the idea that the mines were established around 1000 BC. The infrastructure would have required a kingdom and political structure. Egyptian scarebs are found in the area, but many of the great empires, including the Egyptians, had broken down before this, leaving new kingdoms, including Israel’s and Elom to replace them. There has been controversy over whether King Solomon, son of David, really was as powerful as the Bible suggests, but archeology associated with the mines supports the idea.

You can watch the show online, although PBS appreciates your support in buying a DVD (after all, it’s non-profit and costs money to make these).


Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.


Wikipedia attribution link for NASA Dead Sea photo