Monday, December 30, 2013

CNN expands its documentary bio of Paul Walker, "A Life in the Fast Lane"

CNN has been airing its one-hour documentary “Paul Walker: A Life in the Fast Lane”, apparently produced by Anderson Cooper, giving a biography of the actor who died in a tragic auto crash from impact on Dec. 8.  The link is here.  The most recent airing was on December 28.
The report depicted Walker’s growing up in the Mormon church and his rather clean-cut image, despite many diversified roles, including soap opera (“The Young and the Restless”), as a younger man.
Walker was active with “Reach Out WorldWide” (ROWW), which assembles people with high skill sets to respond to natural disasters.  The LDS Church is quite vigorous in taking care of its own people and was quite helpful in responding to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Walker was on his way to a ROWW event for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines when he crashed just riding in a friend’s Porsche Carrera, driven at close to 100 mph. 
Walker appeared in some films I have seen, like “Eight Below”, but many like “Varsity Blues” and “The Fast and the Furious” franchise I haven’t tracked.  “The Lazarus Project” (and its story concept) sounds familiar and significant, from 2008.  I’ll get that into my queue. 

Walker’s name was Paul William Walker IV.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Orange Is the New Black", a Netflix original series, is certainly a metaphor, and shows how your past can catch up with you

I’ve heard about the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black”, created by Jenji Kohan. So today, I watched the Pilot episode, titled “Wasn’t Ready”, directed by Michael Trim.
The series is definitely “R” material. It opens with a lesbian scene involving the heroine, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), and then we see her processing into women’s prison.  Then we go back in time and see her in bed with her devoted fiancĂ©e, writer Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs). She enjoys her last days of freedom before starting her fifteen months in prison – with the fibbies in Litchfield, NY, for carrying drug money for her lesbian lover just once ten years ago.  And she did that for love, not for money. And then she “changed”.
Well, the title is certainly a metaphor.  We eagerly wonder how long, as she led a nice life in New York City, it would be before she knew she would be prosecuted.  It seems like she learned by getting served with a “notice to appear”.  She plead out to get a light sentence.  In prison, the point is well made, that she’s a white woman, convicted of a crime set aside to stigmatize minorities.
Why does Larry love her enough to wait fifteen months?  Good question.

The detailed look at starting life in prison, after a privileged upbringing and existence previously, is certainly idiomatic and illuminating. The first episode has Larry take her to the prison to "surrender herself", after a wonderful last night in the real world. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

CNN's "Extraordinary People": teen musician Zach Sobiech

CNN, on Saturday December 28, 2013, aired various segments of “Extraordinary People”, and one of these was Zach Sobiech.  He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at age 14.  The cancer became aggressive, and he and the family decided on less treatment and more quality of life. 

Zach wrote many songs for guitar, piano and xylophone and other instruments.  One of them was called “Clouds.”

The family made a 22 minute short film “My Last Days: Meet Zach Sobiech”.

CNN’s link for the story is here
The family apparently lives in Minnesota, and the treatments were at the University of Minnesota hospital (East Bank, probably), where I had my own hip fracture repaired in early 1998.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Bourdain's hour on South Africa is timely now

If you go to see TWC’s film “Mandela: Long March to Freedom” you’ll want to watch Anthony Bourdain’s hour “South Africa” in his “Parts Unknown” series.  The link is here
Bourdain is quite blunt in explaining how apartheid laws were set up in 1948 to protect minority white economic privilege.
Bourdain credits Mandela with almost all the impetus for the end of apartheid in the country.  That does come through in the film.  And according to Bourdain, some of the white population’s fears came true.  Even in Johannesburg, white property owners abandoned many buildings, which were taken over by “revolutionaries”. 
On the other hand, Soweto was shown as having become a suburb of tract homes, almost as they could be built in Dallas. 
Many people do not realize that Johannesburg is high, at over 5700 feet, which is higher than Denver, and can have freezing temperatures in winter. 
The food on the show was not as radical as the politics.  There was lot of plain pizza and pasta. 
The entire episode can be purchased legally from YouTube for $1.99. 
Ted Koppel covered South Africa heavily on ABC Nightline in the 1970s and 1980s.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

SNL: Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon both look ripened for Christmas

Saturday Night Live’s Christmas party (well, there are several of them) at the regular time Saturday night hosted Jimmy Fallon, about to “move back East” with the Tonight Show on NBC, with Justin Timberlake as like a co-host this time.

Timberlake is not as perfect as he was at 19 or 20, and he has made his sacrifices (like ‘Alpha Dog” and “Southland Tales”).  This time, he and Fallon started out fully wrapped as Christmas presents.
Timberlake impersonated Fallon as a panelist in Celebrity Feud, while another SNL actor made a caricature of Ashron Kutcher aka Steve Jobs.
Then Fallon played talk show host Barry Gibb, and contrasted himself with Timblerlake, as “hairy” vs. “smooth”.  Timberlake has stepped down a bit from his part as Sean Parker in “Social Network”.
Fallon also paid tribute to McCartney, David Bowie (“The Man Who Fell to Earth”) and Bob Dylan, the last of who inspired Reid Ewing’s character (in a 20-year-old incarnation) in “Modern Family”.  Why not sing “Do Me” here.  Instead, it happened later.  Fallon plays an 18th Century gentleman, viewing himself as a ghost, being asked about having a chance to find someone by another ghost, when a big man with an open short invites him home because he has money.  All of this followed some comic adds, including one for boxer shorts (I forget the brand) showing a lot of male leg.
Timberlake got to sing solo twice, once with a laser light show.  I don’t think his music is as interesting as it was with ‘Nsync and “Popodyssey”.  He needs some competition.
Seth Meyers and Cecilia Strong did the usual ("Weekend Update"), inviting Michael Bloomberg to play himself.  "Duck Dynasty" became "Dork Dynasty".  This sort of comedy is hard to write.
There is a “Do It on My Own Twinbed” parody on Youtube of Justin and Jimmy:

I had imagined going to NYC this weekend to try to get into this, but last minute standby tickets are probably pretty hopeless for this one.

Here is the link. Good to see some gay comedy on this episode. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

"Duck Dynasty" controversy throws up all over "A and E"

I’ve never watched A&E’s reality show “Duck Dynasty” (about hunting in a Louisiana bayou) but I was rather shocked at the brazen anti-gay and apparently racist remarks reported to have been made by Phil Robertson, in a GQ article.  He has been suspended by the network, so there can be no continuation of the show (USA Today report here ).  There has been an aggressive boycott petition against A&E on Facebook.  I have often watched A&E, History, and Biography channels on cable.
I still wonder where these sorts of comments come from.  Why does he attack people who have not harmed him? Is it out of a need to see the world follow his own idea of religious virtue?  Is it out of a need for power, and an excuse to keep it? 
Here’s the article.  I couldn’t find GQ in the Harris Teeter grocery this busy “start of a holiday” morning in northern Virginia, but the piece by Drew Magary, “The Gospel According to Phil” is here. Online, GQ seems to offer only a summary with comments.

It's worthy of note that something someone gets published in a mainstream periodical (not just self-published on Facebook or a blog) still gets someone suspended.   
It’s always perplexing when people make moral edicts for no logical reason, and just say “it’s God’s law, we can’t question it.”  Well, it’s some religious “authority’s” interpretation of scripture.  Because there are moral paradoxes in life – individualism and collectivism collide, and “personal responsibility” can collide with “responsibility for others” – it’s tempting to punt and let “scripture” decide.
I have to say (as I have on the LGBT blog) that I’ve always suspected that bias against me (going back to the 50s) had to do with the idea that, because I was physically non-competitive, I would “get out” of risk and responsibility that others take, when I depend on them. Yet I could also wind up in a cultural position to kibitz and decide on the “desirability” of others (to have families), closing a circle but maybe advancing a dangerous cultural precedent.
You have to be careful searching for “Phil” online, because Phil Robertson should not be confused with Dr. Phil, although the latter once foolishly allowed Joseph Nicolosi as a guest on his program.
Access Hollywood” with Billy Bush discussed the Duck controversy today, with the “freedom of speech” arguments.  “Duck” was described as a “fundamentalist Christian” and A&E knows it, Access said. 

Cracker Barrel Restaurants, which had been notorious in the early 1990's for anti-gay employment policies, has even taken some Duck products off its shelves. Note: Late Sunday, Cracker Barrel reversed itself on this matter, according to media reports. 

Picture: National Archives, Rubenstein "Records of Rights", online copy.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Michael Buble's Christmas show on NBC seems a bit insipid compared to his car radio presence

The Candian singer Michael Buble sounds inviting when his songs play on Sirius XM “The Bland”, like “It’s a Beautiful Day”:

Yet NBC’s special “Michael Buble Christmas: Home for the Holidays” Wednesday night at 10 PM was so conventional and tame that it seemed insipid to me.  The network’s descriptive link is here.  Somehow, his characteristic voice does not leave the same impression on television as it does on car radio. The sets were pretty, but the ensemble playing sounded like the light entertainment from the 1950s that my mother used to like.  The pop music, with Christmas songs, was very low in intensity.  Buble (there’s a French accent over the last “e”) talked about being a dad.
It se ms that for songs to get onto the Blend, the words have to be very safe.  For example, I haven’t heard anything from “Modern Family” – and if you think about it, the lyrics are daring, to say the least. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"Days": Sonny seems to melt (in more ways than one) around Will, after learning of Nick's demise from the "three witches"

Well, “Days of our Lives” is putting Will and Sonny center stage right now. 
First, I’ve read that Chandler Masssey will leave “Days” and be replaced by another actor, maybe in January, 2014. Not sure when.  Back around 2006, Jason Cook  was replaced by leather-like hunk Brandon Beemer as Shawn. But then Shawn and Belle were written out of the script suddenly, and awkwardly.

On Thursday and Friday, Sonny (Freddie Smith) was trapped “in the closet” of his apartment, with the three “girls” (Sami, Gabi, and Hurricane Katrina) there, texting Will.  He overheard the girls mention that they had killed Nick (Blake Berris) – that is, Gabi had knocked him out and then the girls dumped him in the river (somewhere in central Ohio).  It looked like Nick actually away, and Blake Berris’s tweets suggests he’ll be back in another shocker.

Sonny climbed out of the window of his apartment, and went to his pub, to tell Will, but then Sonny’s mother eavesdropped in time to stop him from telling.  So Will thinks it’s just about a surprise party.  Today, at the end of the episode, he said that to Sami – that Sonny was “in the closet”.  So Sami thinks Will knows about the second degree  “murder”. 
There was another oddity today (Tuesday).  Sonny can’t seem to keep his chest hair on, when in a critical intimate encounter with Will.  I see this sort of thing happened before, around Sept. 3.  But, in those closet scenes Friday and then in a nice hug-a-thon with Will Monday, Sonny looked so suave and masculine with that fur underneath his shirt.  But today, it had melted away.  Maybe that’s part of Will’s hold on Sonny  -- Will really does dominate Sonny, and it seems that means some occasional mandatory depilation.  There was a hint Monday if closely watched.  But for this to happen the next day, in the middle of a critical plot sequence!  Were these episodes taped along time ago, and maybe several days apart, or were we supposed to notice, and make something of it? 
I played Monday’s episode from NBC’s site.  It takes an hour to play 38 minutes of show, and NBC has the irritating habit of playing the same commercial (Botox) over and over.  But given today’s episode, maybe “No! No!”  would be the appropriate product (the company is aggressive enough on CNN and now some ABC stations).  Let Will demonstrate how to use it on Sonny, on camera. The effect might be more or less permanent.

Sonny is the most responsible character in the show (pun), it seems.  “Days” likes to make women into villains (even though most of the writers are women, I’m told).  Theresa (Jen Lilley) is just plain wicked.  “JJ” (Casey Moss)  is going down again, headed for prison, it looks.  He’s already given in to her blackmail, and nobody has a clue that she isn’t serious about AA.  Gabi has that big skeleton in her closet, too – and so does Will, but Will seems to have overcome it.  
One other idea: Let's have a cross with ABC's "Revenge".  Let Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann) appear and interact with Will and Sonny - or Nick, when Nick comes back from the dead.
As for commercials, I wonder if NBC would consider "Titan Shelters" -- no pun on the largest moon of Saturn.  Would a "doomsday prepper" spot work on Days?

Monday, December 16, 2013

ABC Revenge: This time, Daniel did it!

My goodness.  "Revenge" on ABC returns us to the premonition art the beginning of the season, on Emily's getting shot and falling off the boat.  Sunday night, it returned to the same idea, but this time flasbacked just twelve hours.  It's Daniel who does it, saying he was doublecrossed by the wedding minutes earlier.  This time, he won't get off.

Nolan is his usual moralistic self, even as he comes on to Patrick, who rebuffs him.

The show returns Jan. 5, and we are told Emily survives.  All that paramilitary training did her some good. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

CNN: "Newtown: One Year Later"

Saturday night, December 14, 2013, Anderson Cooper hosted a special report “Honor the Children: Newtown: One Year Later”, with main link here
While the discussions with the parents of the children speak for themselves, the most significant part for other families around the country concerned the medical and ethical debate as to what should be done when medicine can find genetic or other biochemical markers that could predict future violent behavior.
The conservatives want “justice”, and the “liberals” fear invasion of medical privacy and tagging of people based on genetic markers that could certainly go in a very dangerous social and political direction.

There have been many criticisms of Congress for inaction on gun control, as has been debated heavily during the past year, especially on Piers Morgan on CNN.  But some voices call for big protests, such as willingness of baseball to cancel World Series games to make such a point.  I never “join in” on such extreme boycotts like this.  It’s important to remember that many incidents happen with weapons purchased legally, but not properly kept by parents in families.  It still seems incredible that Mrs. Lanza was showering her obviously troubled (an indulgent) son with weapons.  

Friday, December 13, 2013

ABC 20-20 "All in the Family": adult kids, out of "loyalty to blood", join Dad's mini-mafia

The ABC 20-20 episode tonight, “All in the Family” surely was cynical enough. In Oregon, Scott Catt, a structural engineer, and Beth seemed to have the ideal family with son and daughter, Hayden and Abby. After Beth died of aggressive breast cancer, Scott lost his sense of morality and became reckless.  He abandoned his work, and desperate for easy money, started robbing banks, He never got caught in Oregon, but moved to Houston and involved his barely grown upper teen kids in multiple bank robberies. In time, they got caught.
Scott, his mother, and each kid tell the story to Matt Guttmann, mostly from prison. The kids say they were “led on” and did what they knew was wrong out of loyalty to “family”.  Guttman probed whether Scott would be willing to do more hard time in Texas prison so his kids could get lighter sentences, which would not be easy to pull off given Texas law that regards accomplices as equally guilty.  Scott had the gall to write his kids and ask the kids to do more time so he could do less.  Scott was very cool and unconcerned about his psychopathy.  The kids were remorseful.
The ABC link is here
What a perversion of “loyalty to blood”, even as expressed in an episode of “Jake 2.0”.   

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hollywood Reporter reports on Oprah Winfrey's not wanting children, but downplays it

Media outlets all over the globe today talked about Oprah’s explanation of not wanting to become a mother, although when you go to the source, page 2 of a Hollywood Reporter story by Lacey Rose, the original interview is a bit underwhelming, link here
She says that, if she had children, she would have to give up something else, so the kids would resent it, and say so on their own “equivalent” of Oprah.  Do marriage and family ultimately undermine individual creative accomplishment?

But of course, that’s why “family values” gets to be such an issue:  there’s a perception that you do have to give something up to have a family.  Closed knit religious communities have been used to being able to demand this of everyone.

Oprah indicated that he work with her girls’ school in South Africa – probably attracting more attention now because of the coverage of Mandela’s passing and funeral – gives her interpersonal contact with succeeding generations. By way of comparison, I personally don’t have such an outlet right now.
It’s harder for a journalist, because journalism by definition requires objectivity.  You can’t play favorites with special causes publicly, well, unless you’re invited to, sometimes. 

Oprah, of course, was not exactly neutral in past presidential elections.  She probably put Barack Obama into the White House.

Apart from the Lance Armstrong debrief, Oprah's own network doesn't seem to have as high a profile as her syndicated network (usually on ABC) show usually did. 

It’s important to remember that at 14 Oprah became pregnant with a baby who didn’t survive.  It’s also good to  remember the background in Mississippi that she came from.  

Monday, December 09, 2013

Zakaria: "Global Lessons on Guns" on CNN

Sunday, December 8, 2013, CNN aired “Global Lessons on Guns: A Fareed Zakaria Special”, near the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy, main link here
Zakaria present several countries.  Japan is incredibly strict and rarely allows private citizens to own guns at all.  An American ex-military person presented the paperwork he had to submit, including an inspection of his home showing where guns were stored and locked.
Switzerland has universal military service, and young men learn to use weapons.  Still, after completing service, citizens have to apply for a permit to keep their military weapons at home.  Ammunition may not be kept at home.  But Switzerland has an organization named “Tell” (after William Tell) corresponding to the American NRA.  
Australia put on strict gun control after a rampage in 1996, under the auspices of a conservative prime minister.  A private citizen must show a reason to purchase a weapon.

Zakaria (as Piers Morgan has done earlier) carted out statistics to show that countries without our notion of “Second Amendment Rights” have much lower rates of gun violence.  In the US, ideas about moral behavior are still tied more closely to the nuclear family than in western Europe.  The idea that a man should be able to defend his family in times of breakdown holds more sway in the US, given the frontier history. 

Sunday, December 08, 2013

CNN finally airs "An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story"

CNN amplified its film “An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story” today with a news story including four other exonerations from the Innocence Project. Morton would be freed on 2011.  The link is here.
The two hour film focused mostly on interviews of Morton himself, his son (who had heart surgery as a toddler), and the attorneys.  Morton was said to be unemotional and prosecutors originally said that his wife was murdered at 1 AM Aug. 13, 1986, when he was still at home.  He described prison as an existential experience, where it became your life and your own protestations of innocence or rectitude did not matter.  He described work on the road gang at age 44, and having to learn to protect himself socially.
A juror said that the conviction happened partly because there didn’t seem to be any other suspect or plausible theory other that a sexual motivation. Morton says he was put in a position of having to “prove a negative”, which the legal standard is supposed to be proof beyond reasonable doubt.  But at the time the jury had trouble seeing reasonable doubt.
The case broke with the examination of DNA on a bandana found near the crime scene, and apparently withheld deliberately by prosecutors.  Out of self-protection, the state of Texas resisted the challenges for years.

Morton says. "you do have to be afraid of the police.  I was completely at their mercy." The same sounds true of prosecutors.
Will DNA testing stop wrongful convictions?  Prosecutors are under tremendous pressure (or sense tremendous gain) from making someone pay for a crime, even if it is the wrong person but someone who seems out of touch with others.  Circumstantial evidence and eyewitness testimony can be notoriously unreliable, when there is public outrage to make punish someone-- "mob justice".  In 2012, there were a couple of films about the Central Park 5 and the West Memphis 3 (Movies, Dec 15, 2012 and Jan. 25, 2013).
Morton says he is willing to forgive. Personally, I would find it hard to play Job, but I realize that if no one were willing to, we really would slouch back toward totalitarianism. I you can't forgive, you really do own the sins of others. 

I was living in Dallas at the time but I don’t recall the publicity of this central Texas case. 

Saturday, December 07, 2013

AC360 covers troubling Thompson case in New Orleans as another wrongful conviction and prosecutorial misconduct

Because of coverage of Mandela’s death. CNN postponed its film “An Unreal Dream” about the wrongful conviction in Texas of Michael Morton in Texas for a 1986 death of his wife, leading to 25 years in prison before release in 2011.   But Anderson Cooper covered another case in the first hour of his AC360 program Friday night, that of John Thompson, convicted on very questionable eyewitness testimony of a hotel manager in New Orleans in 1986, with testimony that also incorrectly linked him to a carjacking.
Eventually, blood type evidence showed he could not have committed the crime and on a retrial a jury acquitted him in 35 minutes. 
AC360’s link for the report (indeed a good companion to CNN’s new film) is here
Randi Kaye presented the story, and defense attorney Mark Geragos and former federal prosecutor Sunny Hostin debated whether prosecutors should have civil and criminal liability for withholding evidence or malfeasance, apart from disbarment.  Police officers have such liability but apparently prosecutors do not.
Thompson, often on death row and scheduled for execution eight times, claimed that the prosecutor “tried to kill me”.  Thompson ultimately won a $25 million award based on withholding of evidnce, which the Supreme Court reversed.
CBN has a detailed story here (Sept 2012).  The Mother Jones story gives the details about the Supreme Court case, and the majority’s unwillingness to find a pattern of deliberate negligence. 

Friday, December 06, 2013

ABC 20-20: "Nelson Mandela: A Man Who Changed the World"

ABC 20-20 aired a special report on the life of Nelson Mandela on December 6, hosted by David Muir and Robin Roberts. I was titled “Nelson Mandela: A Man Who Changed the World”.

The announcement of his passing came at a world premiere of the movie “Mandela: Long March to Freedom” (Justin Chadwick, The Weinstein Company) in London last night.

Now South Africa is called “The Rainbow Nation”.
Muir reported an interview with one of Mandela’s jailers, Christo Brand, as they looked out over Robbene Island near Capetown.  Brand did arrange for Mandela to see his baby daughter. 
For a long time, Mandela was allowed just one letter every six months.
Mandela was born to native royalty, but chose to become a lawyer for the poor.  Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.  If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
Mandela brought the 1995 World Cup in Rugby to South Africa to unify the country, a controversial idea since it was seen as a “white” game.  The match was dramatized in the movie “Invictus” (movies, Dec. 14, 2009).
The later part of the documentary focused on Mandela’s relationship with his extended family while in prison.  His career had put it at risk.  Eventually he would divorce. His family says that Mandela would deflect attention to others.  The report also discuss Mandela’s work with HIV because it affected his own son.
The Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial Friday mentioning Mandela’s supposedly Marxist beginnings, a fact that most media outlets have not wanted to mention.
Wikipedia attribution link to topographical map 

Thursday, December 05, 2013

CNN postpones Innocence Project film to honor Mandela; NBC airs "The Sound of Music Live"

CNN shifted almost all of its coverage to the passing of Nelson Mandela in South Africa today. Networks extended their evening news to a full hour for time but resumed scheduled programming. However, CNN postponed its important film “An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story” until Sunday night.  I personally think that was unnecessary.  Since both Morton and Mandela served very long unjust prison sentences, I think it would have been fitting to air the film as scheduled.  

The film “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is playing in New York and LA and is supposed to be in general release very soon.
I switched over to NBC, which aired its three-hour “stage musical” event “The Sound of Music Live” directed by Rob Ashford. 
The presentation seemed a little bit tame compared to the 1965 mega-musical from 20th Century Fox.  I think you need this on a big screen, so Regal Entertainment’s “Go big or go home” really applies.  A few of the musical numbers seemed new. 
In the movie, the buildup of tension as the final confrontation with the Nazis approaches after the Trapp children perform matches the music, so the final “Climb Every Mountain” (to cross into neutral Switzerland, over real mountains) has an overwhelming triumphant impact. The cramped “stage” version of this sequence seems contrived by comparison.
Still, the dialogue where Trapp says he has no interest in taking sides in politics is telling. 
The Nazi swatiskas are not used much in the Live version until the very end.
My “music friend” in that lost semester at William and Mary (1961), so dedicated to Mozart, liked little Broadway, but he did like “The Sound of Music”. 
I remember “Carousel”, with the song about a hypothetical son or daughter, and most of all “My Fair Lady”, which I saw in 1965 at the Warner Theater the night before traveling to New Jersey for a friend’s wedding.

Update: Dec. 6.  Media reports NBC had 18 million viewers and that the musical was a financial success for the network, even if it played like "dinner theater".  Yes, people will compare Carrie Underwood to Julie Andrews (Time article). 

Monday, December 02, 2013

CNN Heroes with Anderson Cooper: the mobile computer lab was the best story for me

Sunday, December 1, 2013 Anderson Cooper hosted the 2013 CNN Heroes presentation.  The basic link is here
There’s a tremendous amount of story here, and it isn’t possible for me to react specifically to all of the nominees.
But I found the story of Estella Pyfrom, who addressed the lack of computers and Internet connectivity in low income homes in West Palm Beach, FL.  Broadband access for low income and rural customers has been a stated objective in the Obama administration, but it seemed to take a personal crusade to make it happen. Estalla, a “retired” guidance counselor and now 76, raised funds and arranged a bus to act as a mobile computer lab for low income students. 
Dale Beatty helps build homes for disabled veterans.
Richard Nares developed a service to transport children needing cancer (usually chemotherapy) treatments to medical centers.  There is an informal service in my area, mentioned in a local church, to transport elderly citizens to medical appointments but that would carry some risk.  I did respond to a situation with a substitute teacher who had developed a detached retina a few years ago out of contacts that had come from my own subbing experience.
Kakenya Ntaiya helps girls in Kenya finish educations.
Dr. Geroges Bwelle took hint from an accident in his own life to provide free medical care in Cameroons. But in the US, medical care can’t be free, so we have the Obamacare debate.
Chad Pregracke helped organize a movement to pull waste (especially tires and machinery) and plastic from waterways, especially the Mississippi River.

Robin Emmons (in Charlotte, NC) took custody of a schizophrenic older brother, and then organized a garden green space to feed people who eat only processed food.

Danielle Gletow helps grant the wishes of children in foster care.

Tawanda Jones helped organize a drill team to get kids off the streets in impoverished Camden, NJ.
Dr. Laura Stachel provided midwifery in Nigeria with her “solar suitcase”.
Each story on the CNN web link has several components, one of which is “get involved”.
My personal reaction is that I feel like a live on a different planet form the clients of these volunteers.  I would have no idea how to communicate with them.  I did grow up in a culture that was more segregated or stratified and more sheltered, perhaps.  There is the facile idea, don’t have babies until you’re ready with a job and marriage.  But today, there is more that can be done for people than there was in earlier generations, or at least the Internet makes that apparent.
To become good at serving other people’s causes, do you need to finish the work on your own first?  (One could certainly quiz me in this way about a couple of the items, such as the mobile computer lab.) That’s how it goes socially for me.  There is a level of “judgment” in how a lot of us process and evaluate other people as individuals (the old “personal responsibility” paradigm).  But many people don’t have that “luxury”. 

 Anderson Cooper can certainly host something like this from the psychological comfort of his own status as a journalist, which a lot of us don’t have.  I don’t believe he is a parent.  But he did definitely pay his dues earlier in life, reporting from war zones and impoverished overseas areas as a young man, behaving very discreetly.   That would have proved daunting enough. 

Sunday, December 01, 2013

CNN: :"To Heaven and Back", AC360 special

Randi Kaye hosted Anderson Cooper’s AC360 special report “To Heaven and Back” Sunday December 1, 2013 at 7 PM.
The first story was Patrician Neal, a surgeon who had a near-death experience in 1999 after drowning after a kayaking accident in South America.  I have covered her story on my books blog April 8, 2013.  I didn’t feel that her account as Eben Alexander’s, covered in a review of his book March 30, 2013.  Alexander had discovered lying in “The Core” simply aware of himself for an indeterminate time before being in a place that was like more usual descriptions of Heaven. 
The second story concerns Anita Moorjani, who was raised in Hong Kong and says she was bullied for being Indian.  As a young woman, she noticed a lump on her neck in early 2002.  In about two weeks it was diagnosed as Hodgkin’s Disease lymphoma.  The disease, which typically responds to chemotherapy, was very aggressive in her case.  She developed huge tumor masses and difficulty breathing.  In 2006, while well supported by her husband emotionally, she almost did pass away and had a near-death experience.  She suddenly realized she would have to go back, after which her cancer went into unbelievable remission on its own.
Hodgkins was associated with strange “clusters” in the late 1970s.  There has never been a clearcut cause, but it may have connections to the virus that causes mononucleosis.  Most of the lymphomas associated with HIV are of non-Hodgkins types.  
The third story was that of Ben Breedlove, in Austin Texas, who died of cardiomyopathy on Christmas Day 2011 at 18, but had several arrests and a NDE that he had described online.  His story increased pressured on schools to have defibrillators, as explained here  (although in northern VA they were installed in 2006). 
Cavern Films offers the 12-minute documentary “Surviving Death”.
There are many videos on YouTube about this subject, some which describe “Hell” as a kind of eternal prison of cubes of cells.  
I think it is possible for someone who did not have good familial or social relations but had not done wrong but who came to an end because of someone else’s wrongdoing might not want to be with others in a “condo” on Heaven and would have to go into some other group space and return, maybe with reincarnation, maybe on another planet.  Maybe there are other annular (tidally locked) worlds populated with “recycled souls”.  It’s an intriguing idea.
The link for the CNN episode is here.
CNN re-aired the episode on Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014.  

Friday, November 29, 2013

Bourdain in Spain (he needs to go to the Basque area)

CNN has been rerunning its “Parts Unknown” Season 2 from Anthony Bourdain all weekend, but I wanted to mention especially the “Spain” program.

Most of it takes places in the southern part of the country, in Granada, where he can cover bullfighting, Easter parades, and the opportunity to get “free” tapas with beer. (I’m not much for eating sea snails right out of their shells.)   He talks about the “lifestyle” of living in a beautiful place, filled with historical contradictions, not the least of which is the fall of Islam from cultural supremacy on the days of Cordoba.  He doesn’t get into the politics of separatism, and the different autonomous regions (including Basque, and Catalan).  But he does say that he is so busy in the southern area of the country he left out Madrid, Barcelona, and San Sebastian.

He would do well to consider the Basque area next season.  Bilbao is a strange place – I spent two days there at the end of April 2001 (to see the Guggenheim), and part of one of the James Bond films was made there.  It’s off the railroad – it’s a 60-mile bus ride through mountains to get there.  When I arrived there was a marathon being run downtown.  Actually, there is a special Basque railroad to Sam Sebastian, with its famous beach and film festival.  And the Basque language and food are like no other. 
Bourdain’s link is here

Bourdain in Spain, like the rain, stays mainly in the plain. (Actually, he doesn't; he likes coastal mountains on the Mediterranean; but then try the Basque coast!)
Bourdain also managed to make Japan look like a set for a sci-fi movie (maybe the futuristic dystopia in “Cloud Atlas”). 
Wikipedia Sam Sebastian picture link

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Celebrities volunteer to serve the homeless at Los Angeles mission; "Days of our Lives" and screenwriting classes

On Thanksgiving afternoon, CNN and CBS are reporting that celebrities are cooking and serving meals for the homeless on skid row at the “Mission” in south Los Angeles.  Dick Van Dyke was reported to be present. Bella Thorne, NeaL Patrick Harris, Blair Underwood and Ryan Beatty were also present. The CBS video link is here (the embed doesn't work). 

Celebrity chec Ben Ford has this video.
The Atlantic Wire reports that’s Thanksgiving Day is flush with volunteers, especially since volunteering provides photo ops and more roles; the real need is for the rest of the year, story here

“Days of our Lives” is off Thursday (for a Dog Show) and Friday (for a hockey game on Black Friday), but the episodes this week show how screenwriters teach the design of cliffhangers.  Gabi hits Nick on the head after he suddenly attacks her in the woods after she challenges him about arranging a phony modeling job in New York that would take her away from Will and Sonny and the baby.  Sami and “Hurricane Katrina” stumble on her, and arrange to dispose of Nick’s body, but as they dump him into the river, Nick comes to life and swims away.  So now we know that Nick is out there, and Gabi, Sami and Kate will get caught.  Do we care about the characters?  The hook is still there for next week. Okay, Will and Sonny have become the heroes (Sonny – Freddie Smith – seems to be the most responsible male person in the soap – and his appearance can change, if you care to notice); but Nick used to be a likable character until they made him turn evil (almost do a psychotic Andrew Holmes personality change, which I’ve never seen happen in my own life).  There’s an interview with actor Blake Berris here

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

PBS: "A More Perfect Union" from "The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross"

On Tuesday, November 26, 2013, PBS presented Episode 6 of “The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross”, namely “A More Perfect Union, From Black Power to Black President”, 1968-2013, primary link here. Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the host and narrator. 
The episode started with the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King in 1968.  I was in Basic Combat Training at Ft. Jackson, SC at the time. We were on “Red Alert” as if a show of force in downtown Columbia SC could mean anything.  I recall hearing reports of problems in Orangeburg, but the major cities exploded, especially Newark and Detroit (helping explain the decline of the Motor City).  In Washington DC, upper 14th Street rioted, only to become gentrified and repaired decades later (around the U Street corridor today).  Similar problems occurred in Los Angeles.

Historians claim that society became more polarized under Johnson (and then Nixon) than it would have under JFK, despite Johnson’s pushing of the Civil Right’s Act.  Generally, groups like the Black Panthers formed, and local neighborhoods learned to police themselves.  Tensions may have quieted some, but economic recession in the old rust belt set in the 1970s and did not improve that much for black America in the 1980s under Reagan, although in upper income levels minority owned businesses sometimes got preferences in getting government business  (I interviewed for a job with one of them in 1988). In 1991, the notorious beating of Rodney King occurred.

The later part of the hour covers the rise of Barack Obama, with the help of Oprah Winfrey. 

 Wikipedia attribution link for second picture, near Montgomery AL, here

Third picture is Philadelphia, MS, which I visited in 1985 while living in Dallas.  This is the Wikpedia ;picture  it looked pretty much like this (but in April the leaves were out).  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

BBC: "Da Vinci: The Lost Treasure", with Fiona Bruce, airs on PBS

PBS (WETA 26) in Washington DC aired a 2011 50 minute documentary, “Da Vinci: The Lost Treasure”, in which Fiona Bruce visited the cities in which Leonardo Da Vinci worked (mostly Florence and Milan) and presented the attempts to restore some of his old paintings.
Bruce did go into the stories that Da Vinci was homosexual, and was  arrested on a handwritten tip once in Florence (the charges would be dropped).  Later he had a lifelong companion.  Some of his art work showed an aesthetic interest in the male face, hair, dress, and swagger.
The film originally was produced by the BBC, link here

In 2005, the History Channel had offered two films, “Da Vinci and the Code He Lived By” (120 min) and “Understanding the Da Vinci Code”,  which accompanied Dan Brown’s book and high-profile film from Columbia in 2007, “The Da Vinci Code”. 
Leonardo Da Vinci and Alan Turing seem to be among the most important gay male historical figures, when it comes to technological innovation.  Da Vinci did see himself as a “renaissance man”.

Wikipedia attribution link for Da Vinci’s “The Virtuous Man”. 

"Blacklist": Anslo Garrick sets up another villain to "lose it"

I may not have followed all the intricacies of “The Blacklist”, but last night’s “torture porn” episode looked like something right out of the “Saw” or “Hostel” series. 
Red (James Spader) winds up locked up inside (deeply) some black ops facility with a nemesis Ressler (Diego Kalttenhoff), who has gotten a really awful gunshot wound in the femur, maybe more than one.  All of this has been setup with the help of another villain on the blacklist, Anslo Garrick (the episode is called “Anslo Garrick Part I”, played by Ritchie Coster.  There is all this talk about “hearing your screams”, but soon Red is performing hi sown surgery on Diego. He transfuses some of his own HIV-negative blood (it’s like a battlefield transfusion), and then treats the gross wound with various caustic chemicals and cauterizing irons to destroy the infection.  Diego looks young enough to be in summer, maybe in his 20s still (the actor is 34), but his leg will become an old man’s after this episode.  Too bad that he had to lose it.
On my “cf” blog (diisasters) I covered a couple of other episodes (the subway threat, and the financial system collapse with counterfeit Monopoly money).
Apparently the Fall Finale happens Monday December 2.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

History: "JFK Assassination: The Definitive Guide" nixes the conspiracy theories

This weekend, the History Channel, as part of its 50th Anniversary commemoration, aired the “JFK Assassination: The Definitive Guide”, a two hour documentary that summarized all the conspiracy theories.
The most popular theory with the public is that the act was engineered by the Mafia. The second most popular is that it was planned by the extreme right wing, the military industrial complex, and the CIA. The third is that was ordered by other elements of the US government, possibly by LBJ, but this would merge with the second theory. There are even some fringe theories that it was ordered to cover up UFO landings by aliens.
The documentary looked at the eyewitness accounts that insisted that there were more than three shots, but said that the echo chamber effect could have explained that observation. The idea that Kennedy would not have thrust back if a shot was fired from behind does not stand up to more careful analysis.  The “magic bullet” theory has regained more credibility than it used to have.
So we have a book by Jesse Ventura (Books blog, Nov. 7) giving many items of circumstantial evidence pointing to too many possible theories to be believed.  But most of them don’t stand up to really hard evidence
I think I have the Warren Commission summary around somewhere.  I haven’t looked at it in a long time.
The most testing moment may have been just as the event started.  It still seems incredible that security was so lax, and that Oswald could build a sniper’s nest in almost plain sight.   

Saturday, November 23, 2013

History: "Oswald: 48 Hours to Live" as part of "JFK: 50 Years Later" series

The History Channel has some episodes in its “JFK: 50 Years Later” series. 
The most detailed may be “Lee Harvey Oswald: 48 Hours to Live”.  Kennedy died at 1 PM on Nov. 22, and Oswald died officially at 1:07 PM Nov. 24.  The documentary (based on a book by Steven M. Gillon by the same name) traces the police interrogation of Oswald, and then the exact details of Jack Ruby’s shooting him Sunday shortly before noon as he was being transferred out of the Dallas city jail.
One detail that us particularly interesting is that one of Ruby’s workers had called and asked for money for rent, since Ruby had temporarily closed his clubs after the assassination.  He went over to Western Union to wire the money, and then walked into the police station.  He just happened to arrive at the right time to shoot Oswald.  Had the transfer taken longer, he would have missed the “opportunity” and Oswald would have lived to be tried for both the murders of J.D. Tippit and Kennedy. This idea contradicts the idea that Ruby was ordered to do a hit for the Mafia.
Ruby, however, did have to appease the Mafia, which controlled the “illegal” stripper’s “Union” to run his business. 
And why did Ruby put the pistol in his pocket before going to Western Union and then the police station.  Did he premeditate the idea that he might have an opportunity against Oswald? 

The documentary says that he expected to be lauded as a national hero rather than get a death sentence in a few months.  He would die of cancer. 

The film discusses the eyewitnesses to Tippit's shooting, including Helen Markham, Domingo Benavides and William Scoggins.   
The video link is here

NBC and Brokaw host "Where Were You? The Day JFK Died"

Where Were You?  The Day that JFK Died” with Tom Brokaw, was aired Friday Nov. 22 as a two-hour documentary from NBC Dateline.
Brokaw interviews many “average people” still living 50 years later, now seniors, about what they saw.  Included is the woman who saw Officer J.D. Tippit get shot.  Another man was in the Texas Theater watching “War Is Hell” (or "Cry of Battle") and saw the fight in the theater before he was subdued and arrested. Oswald tried to shoot another police officer inside the theater, according to an eyewitness.

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I was at work, at the National Bureau of Standards, in the old Federal City College campus (now the UDC) at Connecticut Ave. and Van Ness Streets in Washington DC.  I worked in an oil rheology laboratory, my first wage-paying job ever.  I was 20 years old.  I happened to be at my desk, glancing to my left at the air conditioning unit, the other side of the room from the oil calibration chambers and air ducts, when my boss came into the room and said that the president had been shot.  He turned on a radio.  The announcement that the president was dead, made very bluntly by Cronkite, would occur in about twenty minutes.  So I must have learned about it around 2:15 PM EST.  We were immediately dismissed from work, and I took the usual bus back to K Street where I would transfer to my parents’ home in Arlington – long before there was a Metro.  I remember waiting for the 2T bus on the special  service island and wondering suddenly if a nuclear attack could come.  That image would stay with me for a long time any time I took this bus along this unusually constructed street.

Lyndon Johnson would later say he didn’t know at first if World War III was coming.

But the initial information about Oswald made him look like a mentally ill misfit, but the history of travel to Russia, the wife, and Jack Ruby’s slaying of him in the police station Sunday quickly led to rumors about a Communist or Mafia plot.  The lack of an automobile to pick up Oswald and drive him away is said in the documentary to argue against this idea. 

Oliver Stone is interviewed, and suggests a right-wing plot that wanted expanded war in Vietnam.  But others suggest that Oswald would have obviously made a very unreliable recruit into a conspiracy.
Brokaw interviews Sonny Jurgensen about the refusal of the NFL to cancel games that weekend. 
Brokaw suggests that Kennedy did not have Civil Rights at the top of his agenda until the broadcast media started covering it. 

But he also shows an interview where Kennedy, when asked if he believes in the Domino Theory, says, “I do”, and that supports the idea that Kennedy might have been hawkish in Vietnam as was LBJ. But many conspiracy theorists claim that Kennedy would have pulled out and denied the right wing military industrial complex its war, leading to 50000 US combat deaths in Vietnam and divisiveness over the draft and student deferments.

The documentary shows that 800,000 visited the Kennedy memorial Monday Nov. 25.  My parents and I stayed home in Arlington.  I think that classes at GWU did resume Monday. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Networks honor Kennedy only briefly today; Chris Pratt appears on Jimmy Kimmel; recollections of "Everwood" and "The O.C."

Today, Friday, November 22, 2013, the 50th Anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination occurred on the same day of the week as the original event.
NBC interrupted “Days of our Lives” at 1:20, with some commentary, a moment of silence at 1:25, a brief eulogy by the president of the Dallas Morning News, and a hymn by the Naval Academy Chorus. Programming resumed at 1:30.

It would have been more appropriate to cancel regular programming Friday afternoon (pushing episodes to Monday) and spend the afternoon on commemoration.

Late Thursday night, Minnesota-born actor Chris Pratt appeared on Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, about his role on “Delivery Man” with Vince Vaughn, a comedy about a man whose sperm father over 500 children. Pratt was in “Moneyball” and “Zero Dark Thirty”. 

Pratt talked about the “fertility” issue, and also talked about babysitting as a make, an occasion where a kid climbed into the oven.  No one turned it on, but that sounds dangerous.

Pratt had played the teenage character “Bright” in the WB drama “Everwood” 2002-2006. Bright was the son of a doctor in the small town of Everwood, CO.  Bright’s sister befriends the piano prodigy Ephram (Gregory Smith), whose father Andy Brown is the new doctor in town played by Treat Williams, who has moved his family there after losing his wife to an accident in New York.  There is another character, Colin (Mike Erwin) who is seriously injured in a car accident caused by Bright, which is kept hidden for many episodes.  When Brown tries to save Colin in surgery, Colin dies, setting up a major plot thread.

"Everwood" was one of my favorite series ever.  It was too bad to see Eprham's career fall apart after the affair with Madison because Andy lied to him.  
Pratt also played a role in “The O.C.” (2006-2007); I remember one episode where he goes on a “nighthike” with the lead character played by Adam Brody.
I met Chris Pratt and Gregory Smith in person at a fan party at the King of Prussia Mall near Philadelphia in August, 2005.  They both signed a poster, and Gregory addressed me as “EFF” in signing it, referring to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  I was able to give a quick presentation on my role in overcoming the “don’t ask don’ tell” policy for gays in the military as well as COPA, the Child Online Protection Act of 1998, which had been a threat to online free speech. 

Pratt, now 34, appears to have gained weight, at least from appearances.  Some actors, as we know (like Matthew McGonaughey and Tom Hanks) gain and lose weight for roles, or allow alterations (like Jared Leto’s role in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” or the tattooing of Ryan Gosling for “The Place Beyond the Pines” – O hope that was done with temporary ink.  Gregory Smith, 30, appears to be doing well acting in and directing “Rookie Blue”.  My favorite film of his is “Kids in America” (2005).  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

NBC "Revolution": the point is more mired in fantasy than we had thought

NBC’s “Revolution” was supposed to have its Fall Finale tonight and explain everything, in an episode called “Everyone Says I Love You.” 
What we learn is how Aaron (Zak Orth) controls nanites with his mind, by creating an imaginary playmate (Aidan Sussman) who becomes an “AI” being and does Aaron’s bidding at thought.  The boy has become a conscious being, but can be ordered to do Aaron’s bidding.  So at least the outlines of the “Revolution” take shape.  Radical interests apparently stole some of Aaron’s code, to create a world that they could control completely through the nanites, even through “telepathy”.  The concept is somewhat that of fantasy, as if one thought he could manipulate a world of desirable people merely through thought and fantasy.  On the other hand, “real people” have been forced back into a subsistence 19th Century existence, ruled by warlords, militia and doomsday preppers.  At least the steam engine trains reasonably well.   
Miles (Billy Burke) seems to have a flesh-eating bacteria destroying his arm, and Horn insists that Aaron use his powers to cure his brain tumor. 

The concept of “Revolution” seems to be more subtle than a lot of us had just thought.  It isn’t just a Luddite purification. Apparently there will be two more episodes in December.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

NBC Dateline: "The Wrong Man": the story of Ryan Ferguson and his wrongful conviction in Missouri based on flimsy "dreams" and "eyewitness" testimony without physical evidence

On Friday Nov. 15, 2013, NBC Dateline aired an episode   “The Wrong Man” , is a story about the unjust conviction of Ryan Ferguson in Missouri, with Keith Morrison reporting.  I have already discussed the case, and his release from prison after the overturning of his conviction for the murder of sports editor Kent Heitholt  and the CBS “48 Hours” episodes on his case on the Issues blog, Nov. 14, 2013.

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The case had started when Ferguson and Erickson got into a college bar underage.  Erickson had trouble remembering the night, and when the story about a robbery and killing of the editor in town surfaced two years later, Erickson started to dream that he had done it and told police.  Prosecutors got momentum, and became overzealous to get a conviction.  There is a discussion on “Criminal Justice School” as to how people sometimes make false confessions and believe they have committed crimes they actually didn’t commit, here
Ryan describes his surprise at Erickson’s bringing up the crime two years afterward, when a reporter did a story on it, and then his own sudden arrest after being followed home.  
The heart of the episode concerned the pro bono legal work of Kathleen Zellner, finally getting an appeals court to overturn the conviction and to get the DA agree not to retry the case.

The broadcast shows the original trial, including the testimony of the janitor, as well as Ferguson’s straightforward denials.

What’s obviously striking about the case now is the need for Ferguson’s forgiveness of Erickson, and of the system for taking away 9 years of Ryan’s life “for no reason”.  Also noteworthy is the Ferguson’s father’s determination in the case. Finally, Zelllner realized that probably Erickson had also not been present at the scene, and the Datelines report made it look probable that his guilty plea would eventually be overturned.  Hollywood Reporter has a detailed story here.  

Would this story make a good documentary independent movie?  I think so.

The Innocence Project has an account here
See also “The Exonerated” on July 23, 2012 on this blog.

The actual picture for this story is in Herrington, KS (mine, 2006).