Monday, February 28, 2011

Charlie Sheen demos Khadafy-like denial on Today show.

Here’s AOL-TvSquad’s copy of Charlie Sheen’s interview on Today, where he behaved about like Khadafy, in total denial. CBS should crawl back to him (under pressure of lawyers)? And he even smoked on the air.  How depressing.

We like to think of most of our stars as role models, and many, but not all of them, live up to it. Think of the good guys – Ashton Kutcher, James Franco, Larry King, Pierce Morgan, Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer (I haven’t gotten to the women – start with Christian Amanpour).

I seem to remember how he looked in the 1996 sci-fi movie “The Arrival”. I was not pleased.

It looks like “Two and a Half Men” has been around about eight years. It’s amazing how long one could carry on the career of a jingle writer. But nevermore.   Too bad for him, that February is a short month.

But maybe it's "CBS vs. NBC". 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

ABC's "What would you do" plays the race card, tests Nigerian scam, bar liability

ABC’s “WWYD” – that is – “What Would You Do?” with John Quinones, saw a woman on a wireless computer in a New Jersey restaurant give in to a Nigerian scammer, who tried to manipulate her by, as they say in sales culture, “overcoming objections”, by saying “I am your friend.”  That’s not how I want to have to behave in the workplace to make a quota. 

 But earlier a couple of very nice law students and “geek boy” types kept her out of trouble.

More troubling were skits set up where a woman in a restaurant discusses several interracial adoption scenarios. 

There was a woman who said something about blackbirds and doves staying with their own kind.
But the most dangerous situation was a man getting drunk with his young son at his side in a bar. People did want to act, get his license plate before he drove home, and call police.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

PBS Frontline: "Revolution in Cairo" and "The Brothers"

PBS Frontline on Tuesday night (Feb. 22) aired a two-part program, “Revolution in Cairo”, tracing the recent “revolution” back to 2008, and then “The Brothers”, about the Muslim Brotherhood (“Ikhwan, here). The link for the show (total one hour) is here

The first half did indeed emphasize the role of social media (Facebook and Twitter) and YouTube, starting about in 2008. Hosni Mubarak’s regime at first did not understand the implications of social media and user-generated content and made many foolish moves, finally trying to cut off Internet and cellular access altogether.

The history of the “April 6” movement is explained in many sources, such as here

There was a lot of photography at Tahrir Square, and a lot of distant shots showing the whole city of Cairo.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Tahrir Square 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

MSNBC: "President of the World: The Bill Clinton Phenomenon: A Chris Matthews Hardball Documentary"

On Monday, Feb. 21, President’s Day, MSNBC aired a one hour film  by Chris Matthews, “President of the World: The Bill Clinton Phenomenon: A Hardball Documentary by Chris Matthews”. MSNBC’s own press release for the show is here.

Clinton worked frantically during his last weeks in office, and wanted to hang around, on Jan. 20, 2001. He left a strong economy and budget surplus and enjoyed 66% popularity. We all know what would happen then.

Clinton would then have to make money as a private citizen to pay for his legal fees for the “frivolous” impeachment case and his two homes. He would prove how much established celebrity means in the book memoir market.

His international philanthropy would be renowned, run form an office building in Harlem on 125 St.  (I can’t honestly say that I visited the neighborhood in my four years of living in the Village in the 1970s.) You could not join his philanthropy team without being an established corporate executive.

Toward the end, Matthews gets into Clinton’s health issues, his need for coronary bypass surgery (he had talked about the scars on 20-20) and losing weight before Chelsea’s wedding.  Yet, Matthews says he left the White House as “a young guy”.

Hillary now says that her position as Secretary of State will be her last public service position. She won’t run for president in 2016?

“I think you’re supposed to keep learning until you don’t have any more time left.”

I had an instructor at NVCC in a computer class in the mid 1990s who loved to make fun of Bill Clinton. 

In view of current events in the Middle East and how they were instigated by social media, I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg is “President of the World” as well as “Person of the Year”.  

Monday, February 21, 2011

BBC/PBS Masterpiece: "Bleak House": One of Charles Dickens's most "important" novels on screen

Warner Brothers offers the complete series of the BBC miniseries “Bleak House”, from late 2005, based on the massive novel by Charles Dickens, adapted by screenwriter Andrew Davies.

The series consists of 15 episodes, the first almost an hour, the remaining each around 30 minutes.  The director is Justin Chadwick.

The novel is Dickens’s ninth, and was published in installments (a practice sometimes tried by Stephen King). It was intended to explore the inadequacies of the 19th Century English justice system.  The novel centers around a huge bulk of litigation, Jarndyce and Jarndyce, in the English Chancery, the legal costs of which consume the estate. The heroine, Esther Summerson, is played by Anna Maxwell Martin; Gillian Anderson (“The X-Files”) appears as Lady Dedlock. The plot is sprawling and complicated and requires detailed knowledge of pre-Victorian England to follow in detail. But much of it obviously concerns subterfuge in battles over the estate. There is a mysterious copyist named Nemo (John Lynch), which is Latin for “no one”.  In retrospect, it’s interesting to note the naming of the character “Captain Nemo” in Jules Verne’s famous “20000 Leagues Under the Sea” (a big Disney movie in 1960); the concept of such a character, who loves to manipulate others from afar but not interact with them directly, and therefore is “nothing”, has probably appealed to many.

It’s interesting that I don’t recall the novel’s being mentioned in my twelfth grade English, or in the mandatory English literature course at college.  It’s easy to imagine this series being shown in high school  English, particularly on a day when a substitute teacher is there.  Imagine the video work sheet that the teacher would make up.

All kinds of social issues keep coming up. On two occasions in the first few episodes, young men join the British Navy and then Army to make money to make ends meet for their families. That's a theme that affects the US all volunteer military today (and "don't ask don't tell"). 

The miniseries is shot in hyperdramatic as well as period fashion, with a sizzling music score by John Lunn; the overall impression is that of being placed in another world, maybe another  planet, with issues that parallel our own. There is a constant sense of menace,  common in modern suspense and sci-fi or UFO-oriented series, almost as if “There is going to be another blackout”.  Indeed, there occurs an incident  of spontaneous human combustion in the series, believed to be a possibly natural occurrence at the time.

The series was shown as part of PBS “Masterpiece Theater.”  

The PBS link is here

Picture: A "bleak house", actually the school in New Virginia, Iowa, where my father went to high school, taken around 1920. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Harry's Law": Kathy Bates plays a lawyer to challenges the adversarial nature of the trial process

I accidentally flipped on NBC’s new “Harry’s Law” Saturday (created by David E. Kelley), and immediately recognized lawyeress Kathy Bates, you know the foot-chopping nurse from Stephen King’s “Misery”.

In Jonathan Pontell’s episode 5, (this is the first season), “A Day in the Life”, Harriet (Bates) “tanks” a trial when she learns her client is guilty after passionately telling a jury in an opening statement that she will show him innocent. She immediately drops the client after the prosecutor confronts her with evidence that the husband had saved a finger from his deceased wife’s corpse in a safe deposit box.  The judge refuses to allow her to tank, puts her in jail for contempt, and tries to disbar her for life.

At the disbarment hearing, Harriet argues for the legal profession, that it needs to be concerned with truth and not just adversarialism and winning cases.

I wouldn’t want to be a trial lawyer and have to argue what I don’t believe, because it’s my job.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Smallville" cruises along in Season 10, without many new ideas

"Smallville" continues into season 10, with Episode 14 last night, “Masquerade”.

And Clark, who would logically be 23 going on24 (Tom Welling looks very youthful at almost 34), honors all the ethics of professional  journalism without a college degree (it’s like he doesn’t one) is still being told, this time by Lois, that he still needs to disguise himself.  Isn’t that “don’t ask don’t tell”?  Well, that's repealed and the theme of the show is losing its punch. 

There’s an early scene where Clark pulls someone out of certain death with one strong arm, and his only explanation is, “I’m bigger than you.”'

In the meantime, Chloe and Oliver get mistaken for FBI agents and get kidnapped.   It’s turning out that Oliver Queen ("The Green Arrow", not "The Green Lantern" or "The Green Hornet")  is the second best male character in the series. Justin Hartley used to appear in NBC’s “Passions” and he has made quite a “sacrifice” for Smallville. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Local CBS reporter in LA has brief breakdown at Grammy's; CBS pulls YouTube videos

There was an unusual event at the Grammys Sunday night when Los Angeles reporter Serene Branson lapsed into garbled speech.  Branson reports for CBS2 and KCAL-9 in LA.   Medical checkups have been inconclusive as to the cause, which could conceivably relate to transient ischemic attacks, seizure, or aneurysm; the events can happen in younger people.  I know of two cases of brain aneurysm in adults under 50 (one male and one female) in my own life.  They are totally unpredictable, can happen to anyone, and seem to relate to a congenital weakness in a blood vessel. 

The Huffington Post story on the incident is here.

It seems that all the YouTube videos of her incident have been pulled for copyright reasons after legal complaints from CBS (even from the Huffington Post).  In fact, the pulling of the videos seems to become part of the news story.  ABC News has a video discussion and brief excerpt that seems to be legally available, here.

MSNBC carries the brief AP story here.

Sudden illness in front of the public is the ultimate horror for journalists, performers or those who make a living appearing to the public.  You know the old adage, "Public speaking is easy."  

In 1989, Lee Atwater (Republican strategist) collapsed while speaking at a fundraiser and died shortly thereafter of a brain tumor.

Feb. 18:

The definitive diagnosis was "migraine aura". 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Jeopardy puts IBM's Watson supercomputer to the test, and it runs away

ABC’s and Sony’s “Jeopardy” show tonight started a three-day sequence where Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter were matched against a super-computer from IBM named “Watson”.  The link for the event is (website url) here

The program showed the computer room, which looked old fashioned, with huge air conditioning units, as if from a Univac 1110 in the 1970s. 

In the days of social networking and miniaturization, the appearance of a super-computer, disconnected from the Internet, almost brings back memories of the computer HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and seems to represent a change in direction.  I can remember driving past CDC headquarters along I-494 in Bloomington MN in the 1970s when Control Data was thought to be leading the pack in super computing.   

Watson, with octopoid lights suitable for a disco, played a runway game, but then Rutter tied it at 5000.

Maybe Jeopardy is easier to program than Chess.  I don't know how well supercomputers do in obscure gambit lines in chess openings where compensation for a pawn sacrifice is nebulous and defies calculation.

On Feb. 15, AOL ran another story, on TV Squad by Jason Hughes,  here

IBM’s YouTube video follows:'

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Winklevoss twins (from "Social Network") appear on Piers Morgan

Piers Morgan interviewed the Winklevoss brothers Saturday night on his CNN show.  The two very tall identical twins, who say “There are two of us,” had approached Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard in the days before Facebook was founded, and claim that Zuckerberg took their idea or design behind their backs and ran off with it.  They discussed the inadequacy of the 2008 settlement (the lawsuit took up much of the movie “The Social Network”) and insisted (Tyler particularly) that they were concerned about doing the “right thing” and holding Zuckerberg accountable. Tyler also said that he wanted to set a right example should he become a father.

Piers had fun with their name. They are "Winklevosses", not "Winklevi".  But you need the German special double-S character. 

Piers played devil’s advocate, and said, well, life is good to them both now, why keep fighting.  (The brothers helped found "i2hub".) Piers also said he could not tell who was right, and suggested that Zuckberberg was probably watching the show, and said that he had invited Facebook to appear on the show and tell its side, and that Facebook had declined, but that CNN would keep the option open always.

The Wikipedia entry on Tyler Winklevoss gives an incident in 2005, the Regatta Riverview Lawsuit, that is not all that favorable as a reflection on the brothers. 

They mentioned actor Arnie Hammer, who played both twins in the film with the help of CGI programming.

There were some outdoor shots of their coxed pair rowing. They looked smooth. 

Here’s part of the interview (link) from CNN (embedding disabled) here from YouTube and Macedonian World. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

On Piers Morgan, Donald Trump says he is considering running for President, blasts China, which is not our Facebook Friend

On Wednesday, Feb. 9, Donald Trump appeared on CNN’s Piers Morgan (aka “Larry King Live”) and announced he would make a decision about running for President – as a Republican – by June 2011.
Trump said that the United States is becoming a second-rate country because it is allowing more authoritarian countries to beat us in trade. Specifically, he spent most of his concerns on China.  He said we should have tariffs on Chinese imports.  That would make electronics more expensive in the US (so buy your laptop computers and plasma TV’s now), but it would change their behavior in the financial markets. “The Chinese are not our friends”, he said. He presented them as if they were like a pseudo-benevolent extraterrestrial civilization as in the show “V” (or maybe “The Event”).

They didn’t talk about Facebook or social networking, but I suspect Trump would have hired Mark Zuckerberg as his Apprentice if he had tried in time. No one has ever taken an idea, partially developed initially by others, and showed that you could make so much money with it.  Trump likes that.  I remember Trump said that about “Sam” in an early episode of “Apprentice”; he will make someone a lot of money  some  day.

Here’s Morgan’s own blog entry on the episode.

I suspect that Log Cabin Republicans would be fine with a Trump candidacy. 

Oh, by the way, I think Facebook is still blocked in China, isn't it?  Zuckerberg is learning Chinese quickly, the Time issue in December said.  

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

History Channel airs its own "Reagan"

On Wednesday Feb. 9, The History Channel aired its own film “Reagan”, which it provides little information about online.

Much of the film looks forward and back from the assassination attempt on Reagan on March 30, 1981. Life PBS, the film maintains that the incident and injury affected the presidency more than we thought.  Media reporters first thought he had not been wounded, as he had been able to walk some distance, and Secret Service may have inadvertently pulled him into the path of a ricocheted bullet.

It also accounts for how Reagan was the “ideal kid” and supposedly saved many lives as a lifeguard.

It gives some history of his time in the Screen Actors Guild, and how that led to his marriage with Nancy.

There were signs he was losing his edge as early as the 1984 presidential debates with Walter Mondale. But nevertheless Reagan was able to lead the country through to the end of Communism, as the Berlin Wall and then the Soviet Union itself fell after he left office.

The end of the film covered his 1994 letter admitting that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Here is a clip from ABC’s The View where son “little Ron” discusses claims that the signs of Alzehimer’s might have been visible for a long time.


I lived in Dallas almost the entire time of Reagan’s two terms, and in many ways they were among the best years of my life. And I can speak from personal experience, it does snow in Dallas. 

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

PBS airs old American Experience film "Reagan"; HBO airs new one

Since we’re around the 100th Anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, documentaries have popped up.

Last night, I was miffed. I watched Part 1 of the PBS “American Experience” film “Reagan”; the 120 minute segment is called “Lifeguard”, written and produced (and directed?) by Adriana Bosch, narrated by David Ogden Stiers.  Part II “An American Crusade” airs Feb. 14.  The transcript link is here

The first past traced Reagan’s life, from a vigorous boyhood through his career as an actor, and his political turn from liberalism to anti-Communism, and his leadership of SAG (Screen Actors Guild) at a time of McCarthyism and the witchhunts for communists, and blacklists.  Then the film traces his governorship of California (1967) and his dark horse candidacies for president in 1976 (which I remember well from my dealings with an Arizona group called “Understanding”) and then 1980, when the Iran hostage situation helped him win the White House from Jimmy Carter. The economic doldrums and previous gasoline shortages were covered.

The film takes the position that Reagan’s physical decline started after his being shot by Hinckley in 1981, despite his miraculous and apparently complete physical recovery.

The film also covers the 1981-1982 severe recession.

Apparently this film was made in 2000 (or earlier).  I overlooked the fact that HBO was starting a new film called “Reagan” last night, directed by Eugene Jarecki, which I will have to pick up later.  HBO’s link for the film is here

Monday, February 07, 2011

Flubbing of national anthem at Super Bowl creates a stir on Fox; a relatively tame half-time

The media are popping this year over the flubbing of words by Christina Aguilera for the “Star Spangled Banner” Sunday night at the Super Bowl XLV at Cowboy’s new stadium (aka ice bowl) in Arlington TX.  (Sorry, not the Ballpark yet), broadcast by Fox. I've always thought that the music for our national anthem needs more variety; the first stanza gets repeated, and the conclusion can use some more modulated harmonies than are usually used.  AOL greeted its users this morning with the Popeater story

As for the TRON theme half-time show, it was actually tame (with all the mad hatters, in unison, rather like a Chinese drill exercise for the Beijing Olympics). They let people under 40 perform (The Black Eyed Peas, Fergie, Usher, and Slash), and no wardrobe malfunctions, but a taste of Sirius XM. I remember in 2004 that AOL had Justin Timberlake's "mistake" out on the media immediately. 

But the best halftime ever was in 1993 at Pasadena Rose Bowl (Super Bowl XXVII) when Michael Jackson did his “Heal the World” with “We Are the World” (1993)

There was also fake Marine Corps demo that year, as the debate on lifting the ban on gays in the military (with Clinton’s inauguration) was starting to take shape.

I remember Jackson's "We Are the World" Rally in downtown Dallas in 1985, when I was volunteering for the Oak Lawn Counseling Center buddy program. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Cowboys stadium picture. 

By the way, the space at 11th and E Sts in downtown Washington, formerly occupied by ESPN, can use a new sports bar. The area is packed on weekends; Hard Rock Cafe and Harrington can't handle all the demand. Disney made a bad decision. 

(And, yes, it usually snows in Dallas at least once every February, the worst month. I lived there from 1979-1988.)  

Friday, February 04, 2011

ABC 20-20: Barbara Walters examines advances in open-heart surgery, "A Matter of Life and Death"

On Friday Feb. 4, Barbara Walters, dressed in red for Hearth Month, presented her special “A Matter of Life and Death” on ABC 20-20, presenting and arguing for open heart surgery.
Walters herself underwent valve replacement in the summer of 2010.

Several celebrities appeared to present their histories.  These included David Letterman, Regis Philbin (“Crack him open like a lobster”), Charlie Rose (who underwent 14 hours of emergency surgery in Paris), and Robin Williams, and finally Bill Clinton.

In every case, the celebrities said that their surgeries, however invasive and possibly disfiguring (they talked of scars and keloids; Esquire Magazine had referred to this as the “Zipper Club”), were absolutely mandatory. Walters might not have lived two years, despite few symptoms.  Letterman had joked about his heart tests the night before an angiogram, and found himself rushed into emergency coronary bypass surgery, not allowed to go home.  I always said then, “Don’t go to the doctor.”

Letterman said, however, that without the surgery he would not be a father now. His real life started when he became a father, he said.

Comic Robin Williams, generally remembered formerly for his hirsuteness (a point in the movie “The Birdcage”, and then negatively so for “Mrs. Doubtfire”), pulled up his shirt to show a scarred chest, perhaps because of keloids.  But usually most surgeries leave relatively thin and invisible scars, despite their resemblance to the “Saw” series.

The show emphasized that more women die of heart disease than do men now, and more women die of heart disease than of all cancers combined. And the film stressed that the symptoms in women are likely to be more subtle.

My own mother had coronary bypass surgery in 1999 at age 85, and lived 11-1/2 more years, until December 2010. I recall being concerned that her getting it could have depended on me (I was in Minnesota at the time), but she got it anyway. Then, in a local skilled nursing facility (before I made it back for a visit), a nurse’s aide failed to follow the instructions that she was to be helped out of bed until the sternum was healed enough. She could have been seriously injured. The incident led to a lot attention being placed on the nursing home, and was mentioned by a friend in her memorial service (“Drama blog”, Jan. 16). The incident also raised moral questions about "outsourcing" of physical caregiving to poorly paid employees of institutions. 

Our society is now dedicated to giving people “second chances” (or “second lives”) in late middle age and early old age, adding a decade or two of life.   (Bill Clinton said, “You get another chance.”) But this is very expensive, and will make many demands on younger people, from those who have “had their turns.”  A few decades ago, earlier death from heart disease was accepted as a “normal” end of life. 

My own mother outlived all siblings, but heart problems figured into the deaths of two sisters at 84 and 86, and of two brothers at 70 and even 56.  Another brother died of cancer at 60. In our family (mother’s side), heart disease strikes women later than it strikes men, who have not benefited as much from invasive medicine.  The “fairness” of all this gets interesting, but people don’t like to think about it.  But exploding health care and eldercare costs will force us to.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

"Off the Map": ABC's version of "Doctors Without Borders"

ABC’s “Off the Map” (created by Jenna Bans) is a bit of a takeoff of “Doctors Without Borders”, as some medical people tramp the inner Amazon before the Andes start.

Last week, I missed about half of it (“A Doctor Time Out”) due to the storm and outages, ironically after a live wire had electrocuted a man and started a blackout in the show, with some really gross images of the damage electricity can do.  On Feb. 1, “On the Mean Streets of San Miguel” an 85-year old with throat cancer explains how he got gold fillings during the Holocaust, and a nurse wants him to live one more day to face one of his victims.

ABC’s interactive site (with a survival quiz) is here.  The show does not recreate the mood of “Lost”.

Actually, I know from personal anecdotes that the US Army and CDC have medical research outposts in the area.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

"V": Anna asks the Vatican to temper the Teachings of the Church against "minorities"

An episode of “V” on Feb. 1 (on ABC) called “Unholy Alliance” certainly asked the “Question” about science and religion. Anna, with her reptilian interiors, went to the Vatican to demand that the Vatican not speak badly about extraterrestrials with “the teachings of the Church”. (Hint!)  She says that she believes only in real Science.
It seems to me there’s a missed opportunity here. We don’t know what makes “me” instead of “you”, but intelligent life maps consciousness to individual objects of matter (= energy).  But maybe consciousness itself is even more fundamental than matter and energy, and can go through worm holes to parallel universes.  Maybe that’s what the Afterlife (like “Biutiful”) is all about.

Maybe somebody really can go to the other side, be debriefed, and come back, however redacted.

“V” is not on the level of “The Event” and the stopped “Flash Forward”.

Picture: Homage to another miniseries, Stephen King's "Storm of the Century". Remember, "Give me what I want and I'll go away". Anna won't go away. We know what she wants.