Friday, January 31, 2014

ABC 20-20: "Young Guns" with Diane Sawyer; should kids be taught about guns?

ABC 20-20 Friday night presented a report on diverging views on whether children should learn to handle guns, or about them, link here. Diane Sawyer sponsored the report called "Young Guns".
The basic link is here.

The report explained that kids do not understand the difference between sleep and death.

And their curiosity about guns as toys will be unsatiabl, regardless of what parents believe.

The report showed "pink pistols", literally, as toys (the term usually refers to gays and lesbians who support gun rights).

Some parents insist that their kids should learn this from them only.

There is also controversy over whether homeowners can get guns out of child-proof safes quickly enough to defend themselves.  The basic answer is yes, if the lock is designed well enough.

Many parents insisted that families must learn to defend themselves.  The report covered a casei in Oklahoma where a teenage girl did just that.

One in three kids lives in a home with a gun, and in many cases they are not locked up.

The police and teachers conducted a controlled "child memory test".
There was also discussion as to whether gun ownership should be discussed with neighbors.  Some people say that they feel safer if they know that neighbors are indeed armed. This is turning into a culture war.  

CNN: The Sixties, "The British Invasion", more than just the Beatles

Thursday night, CNN aired another two-hour film in its series “The Sixties”, this one called “The British Invasion”, with primary link here
The primary focus was on the Beatles, but many other groups were mentioned.
The film showed the cutting and packaging of vinyl records, which had become a high art before the sudden onset of digital CD’s in the 1980s.  Remember the world of surface noise, inner grove distortion, light tracking tone arms, and elliptical styli?

In popular music these concerns may not have been as paramount. 

I recall some of the songs that peppered the air when I was at graduate school at KU, like “Monday Monday” and “Walkin’ in the Sunshine”.  Later, when I was in the Army (1968) we would buff the barracks floors with “Simple Simon” playing. 

In the black and white footage, the Beatles look like well-dressed, conservative young men.

I seem to remember the popularity of "The Kingston Trio" in the early 60's when I was at NIH.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Katie Couric covers the Taiji Dolphin Controversy; more on cetacean intelligence

Today, Wednesday, January 29, 2014, Katei Couric interviewed three documentary filmmakers and journalists about the Taiji Dolphin Controversy, about the practice of capturing dolphins in a secluded cove near the coast of Japan (interview video here)  This problem had already been covered in 2009 by the film “The Cove”, reviewed on the Movies blog Aug. 7, 2009.

The journalists explained that the Japanese claim that this is tradition, but in fact it did not start until 1969.
Dolphins (including orcas) may be the most intelligent animals on Earth besides man. Only man, elephants, and dolphins can recognize their own faces in mirrors.  The development of dolphin intelligence in an environment so different from man’s gives support to the idea that intelligent life naturally evolves in a hospitable planet, given enough time and stability. But there are some scientists who play devil’s advocate with the claims of dolphin near-human but alien intelligence, as in this blog post on Discover.  BBC has a report on the question, partially available on YouTube with Atten borough:

PBS aired a NOVA special with de Graase Tyson about dolphin intelligence, complete video here
I also recall a novel “The Day of the Dolphin” by Robert Merle, about using dolphins in spying during the Cols War, in the 1970s.  There was also a dolphn character in the 1990s series "Sea Quest DSV" as well as the popular earlier series "Flipper".  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

President's State of the Union, GOP response, highlight personal stories, family responsibility, not just income inequality

President Obama gave a rather predictable address in his State if the Union message Tuesday night on all major networks.  I watched CNN’s coverage.

The president spoke about income inequality, and seemed to stress “European” solutions.  He mentioned the $10.10 minimum wage (where do the 10 cents come from?) and suggested that more must be done to prop the incomes (through tax credits) of families with children.  But then he flipped and said that more could be done for childless singles, which is logically incompatible with the former.  The discussion of help for families came in conjunction with the discussion of equal pay for women, who supposedly earn 77% of what men earn (in the same jobs?)

The president did mention the need to extend unemployment benefits. 
The president also told a story about a woman who got health insurance on Jan 1 and needed emergency surgery Jan. 4.  The Affordable Care Act, he said, protected her from bankruptcy.


Check Glenn Kessler's column in the Washington Post fact checking the speech, here.

Columnist Timothy B, Lee notes that Obama called for patent reform in his speech, here,  Note the accompanying story about licesning bitcoin opeations!

Cathryn McMorris Rodgers, R-WA, gave the GOP response.  She talked about “equal opportunity” instead of more equal incomes.  She also talked about her marriage and three children, the second of which has Down Syndrome. She said we need to learn to look at each person as an opportunity rather than as a potential failure because of the luck of the draw.  She could have mentioned the young man in New Mexico running a restaurant (Jan. 24) or acting in film (Movies blog, July 16, 2012). 
It was 17F on Capitol Hill when the address started, and light snow began during the address.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Grammy Awards, at Staples, looked like a Las Vegas show; Jared Leto's "Metallica" provides the climax

The Grammy’s were broadcast Sunday night on CBS and held in a cavernous Staples Center in Los Angeles.  (Why not do the Oscars there?) 

It looked like a Las Vegas show (in fact, why not do them in Vegas?) with performers on trapeze wires above the audience and flame acts.
The Grammy’s had 82 categories, with the entire list of nominees and winners here
The Record of the Year was “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk, but I would have picked “Locked out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars, or perhaps “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons.
The Album of the Year, “Random Access Memories” by Daft Punk, is a different category.
Best song was ‘Royals”, but I would have chosen “Just Give Me a Reason” (a real favorite on Sirius XM The Blend) from “The Truth about Love”.
I wanted to note well that best classical record producer was David Frost, and the leadoff of his CD’s is “Home Stretch” with composer and pianist Timo Andres, including his own piano concerto called that, a solo piece, and a recomposition of the Piano Concerto #26 by Mozart, performed with the Metropolis Ensemble under Andrew Cyr (see my drama blog, Aug. 1, 2013).
The best classical composition was Winter Morning Walks by Maria Schneider. It appear to be a song cycle.  I will take a look at the CD and perhaps order from Amazon and review it later.  It’s getting to the point that Cloud storage of MPG files (purchased legally) is more practical than CD’s.
But the highlight of the evening was Jared Leto, appearing as a young man (he looks more like 24 than 42), reversed from “Dallas Buyers Club”, to announce the sensational performance of “Metallica: One” by his group “30 Seconds to Mars” from “This Is War”,  I reviewed his recent film “Artifact” about his battle with EMI yesterday on my movies blog. Here’s a link

The music was played on a stage on fire in a spectacular show, right near the end of the evening.  The music in spots resembled Stravinsky, almost like “The Rite of Spring”.  

There were 34 marriages performed at the Grammy's.  Were these all same-sex marriages? 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Shaun White: Russia Calling": Olympic winter tumbler makes film about his own qualification for Sochi in 2014, and it tells a real story

Winter sports and surfing celebrity Shaun White has played executive producer for a one hour film, "Shaun White: Russia Calling", showing his preparation for the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics. It aired on Saturday night, January 25, at 8 PM EST on NBC.
Shaun makes real suspense out of it.  Now at age 27, will he make the Olympic team despite a sudden funk in learning new tricks that competitors do, and then an ankle sprain from and missed landing on a flip. His relationship with his trainers is endearing.
The training venues are spectacular, apparently ranging from Lake Tahoe to even Australia (the Great Diving Range, which goes to about 7000 feet, but I didn’t realize it offered major skiing).  The main snowboarding events are on a slope obstacle course (including a rail jam), as well as in a trench (or half-pipe).    

Shaun’s appearance has ripened.  He cut the long red lair and now it’s a more conventional cut.  He has a couple of popular tattoos, on one shoulder and on the inner smooth side of the opposite forearm.

He appears with some kids from St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, and mentions that he had open heart surgery as a toddler and had not been expected to become an athlete.  In fact, a very small legacy scar from the surgery is visible on some photos, such as on the cover of Rolling Stone about eight years ago.

In one scene, he plays banjo with a rock band at a charity event.  His view of deploying music is a lot more grown-up than that of, say, Justin Bieber.  
The film gets a bit close-up in showing the workouts and scenes like his lying in an ice bath for his ankle. I can’t imagine doing that.

NBC’s main link for the documentary is here

There is a report on his injury here.
Will Shaun White become a filmmaker as the years progress?  Would he still be game for the Winter Olympics in four years at 31?  This documentary necessarily avoids all the social and political controversies surrounding the venue (Russia's internal problems with security, Putin's obsession with his own power, the new anti-gay propaganda law, and so on).  If he moves into documentary film big time (something I think that he will do) he might have a lot to say later about all these. 

See also posting Feb. 17, 2010. 

Picture: Near Mammoth Lakes, CA, my own trip, May 2012.  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Days: Not just Chandler, but Alison Sweeney will quit; no more Sami! But Blake Berris is back.

Well, nowhere but in Salem could a corpse show up at a baby’s christening. 

On Friday, January 14, 2014, on “Days of our Lives”, Blake Berris showed up as Nick Fallon, all cleaned up, and asked, “Am I interrupting something?”

Remember, in that scene where the three female musketeers showed him into the river, he seemed to swim away after the cold water woke him up.  Slowly, almost everyone in Salem (even Sonny and then Will) got on board into keeping the secret. 

Before the shocker, the eagerness of others to be godparents to Arianna (Will, Sonny and Gabi are the "modern family") is quite touching.  I haven't experienced that/

But there’s other news.  In supermarkets right now, you can find a Soap Opera Digest that reports that Alison Sweeney (who hosts NBC’s “The Biggest Loser”, which I will not watch) is quitting Days by the end of 2014.  And furthermore, her character Sami (or Samantha) won’t be recast. So either she gets knocked off, or gets sent away for life.

Remember how Days just suddenly wrote Shawn and Belle right out of the script about four years ago?
But Berris is back.  I really wonder where they will take this.  There may be time, as a hiatus for the Winter Olympics is coming up. We’ll soon see a plot thread that leads to Sami’s final demise.

I noted that Shawn Christian, who plays Dr. Jonas, had appeared in “Summerland”.  Days has also offered a lesson on computer security, as Stefano’s minions wiped out all record of the tests of Eric’s being drugged.  But it looks like there are plenty of witnesses now. 

It would be nice to see JJ (Casey Moss) turn out all right. Brady’s (Eric Martsolf) are going down the drain, but he is a key witness in busting the plot against Eric.  

Chandler Massey was let out of his contract early, so that Sonny’s marriage proposal could be made to the new actor, Guy Wilson.  Remember, the new Will’s first reaction was “Wow”.

Guy Wilson looks a little older (even though smooth) than Chandler, and doesn’t exactly carry the charisma of a young man who could get another man to raise his child and carry on his genes.  That’s right, Chandler Massey came across as a young alpha male, the next head of a lion pride. 
This whole mess of hiding the murder and then making his submissive marriage proposal seems to have suddenly cost Sonny his chest hair (although the shows were taped back in August).  Maybe the two needs to look like a real couple in bed.

Note: while Days often refers to places and highways in Ohio, Statesville (prison) is in North Carolina.  And there really is no Ohio Mafia.  There is no Stefano.  

Friday, January 24, 2014

ABC 20-20 covers inappropriate relationships from females with students; The View covers a man with Down Syndrome running a restaurant

ABC 20-20 tonight (segment called “Hot for Teacher”) chronicled a case in Houston where a female teacher set up an inappropriate relationship with a male middle school student, which she persisted in trying to continue even after apprehension.  Kathryn Murray was sentenced to one year in prison for carrying on the relationship at various places with an immigrant from Costa Rica, Jimmy Pallais, 15.
ABC 20-20 has a discussion of this case and seven other such scandals with female teachers here
Other cases include Colleps, where the defendant says that all students were over age of consent (17), a case involving football players, a case with a female (Lafave) and a 14 year old in Florida, Ragusa, also in Florida, Sullivan (also FL) and finally Letournau, who got pregnant with a 13 year old in Seattle.
It seems as though reports of teacher scandals (involving all gender combinations, but most often a male teacher and female student under legal age) have become more common since about 2006.  This is likely the result of increased media attention, especially from Chris Hansen’s NBC series “To Catch a Predator”, which has led the public and politicians to demand that school systems and police become more aggressive in apprehension and subsequent prosecution.
Earlier today, ABC’s “The View” presented a report where a  young man with Down Syndrome owns and runs a restaurant in Albuquerque NM called “Tim’s Place” and there is a game of counting hugs.  On a few occasions when I substitute-taught, I wound up in special education, and I was not aware that such level of accomplishment as possible.  However one person with Down Syndrome acted in a movie called “Girlfriend” (by Justin Lerner, reviewed on Movies blog, July 16, 2012). 
I’ve noticed that to play an episode of The View, one must sign on with a cable or telecomm provider logon.  This sounds like the beginning of “deals” that erode “network neutrality”.     

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"The Tomorrow People" on CWTV: teenagers with power now seem like old hat; more from Greg Berlanti

The idea of the attractive, clean-cut teen or young adult with powers (more often than not, white) is perhaps becoming “old hat”.  Based on my own observation, there may be a little of this in “real life”.  When do genetic gifts transcend when is possible in our normal world.  When would a genetic gift turn someone into a different “species”.
The Tomorrow People”, created by Greg Berlanti (“Everwood”), Phil Klemmer and Julie Plec, premiered on CWTV on Oct. 9, 2013 with a Pilot, but it is actually reworked from an older British series in the 1970s.  Apparently you don’t have to come from another planet or get an infusion of nanobytes to have powers.  They can occur with a genetic mutation, at least according to this show.

Slowly, the tomorrow people have been finding one another and setting up a secret community below the NYC subways, with the help of a supercomputer named “TIM”.  And the government sees them as a threat, and has set up a special clandestine unit called Ultra to hunt them down and prevent them from threatening humanity.

The Pilot focuses on 16-year-old Stephen Jameson (Robbie Arnell), growing up with an athletic younger brother and single mom in a brownstone on the East Side. He’s been on meds for hearing voices, and the doctors claim he is schizophrenic, like his disappeared father.  But soon his “3 T’s” (telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation) start to appear sporadically.  He starts winding up sleeping in other people’s homes, and cannot explain how he got in.

He gets picked off the NYC streets by Ultra but his friends get him out.  He suddenly finds that one of his telekinetic powers is to stop bullets (Clark Kent could do that in “Smallville”.)   Then he is introduced to his uncle Jed (Mark Pellegrino), who recruits him to join Ultra to save his own skin, but he will become a double agent.

The official site is here
The script raises questions about loyalty and identity.  He is told he is endangering the “humans” in his family (brother and mother).  But why would we think he is not human?  By definition, if he could be born biologically by humans with such a mutation (recessive or dominant) he’s human.  I think “Smallville” provoked a question that, for all we know, could come up some day.  If we all do have a common ancestor from another planet (if we’re all Martians, to start with), and someone like Clark really arrives, would he be legally human and entitled to the same rights?  But we can even ask a question like that about another creature on our planet (evolved in parallel with intelligence the result of “convergent evolution”) of about our congnition but inhabiting a different space, the dolphin (including orca), having some “powers” (like sonar) that we don’t have.  Does that creature have the rights of a human?  What re the ethical implications? 
One could also make a psychological parallel with homosexuality (where gay people were seen as “different”), but the analogy breaks down because the “tomorrow people” really could reproduce and displace those persons who don’t have “powers”.  Likewise, an analogy to race would breakdown quickly, because race is indeed biologically superficial, relating only to how skin reacts to sunlight at a particular latitude.  It’s noteworthy that the “tomorrow people” use their powers only to defend themselves and for morally good purposes – that is, the people that appear in the cast never get “Wicked”.  But the script says that some other teen TP’s have become computer hackers (like they’re responsible now for the Target hack).  Imagine how dangerous it could be if someone could change the contents of a computer memory or harddrive with thought alone. I wouldn’t want to be able to do that.
I’ll check some more episodes soon and see where Berlanti et al take this.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

ABC 20-20 tells a story of repeated carbon monoxide poisoning in two NC hotel rooms

ABC 2020 Friday reported a “real life” horror story, “Poison Hotel Room”.  At a Best Western (not company owned) hotel in Boone, NC, in the mountains (near Grandfather Mountain), where at least three families experienced deaths or comas in one particular room and the room above.


The cause was eventually determined to be carbon monoxide poisoning from a leaking gas plumbing vent below that had not been properly repaired.  The state had been slow in investigating the two “heart attacks” in the first death. 

The severity of the illness reported by a mother who survived is striking,  Suddenly, within seconds to a minute, she was struck with overwhelming nausea and then unable to move.  I was not aware that carbon monoxide poisoning is so sudden.
In the 1950s, a college student (the minister’s son) at my parents’ church died of carbon monoxide poisoning in his dorm room, in North Carolina.  

I have become ill in a motel room only once, in 1969, just before getting out of the Army, in Los Angeles for a job interview.  It was probably norovirus.  The interview was postponed for one day. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

"Sole Survivor": CNN Film looks at the lone survivors of four plane crashes from 1985-2009

CNN aired its own film “Sole Survivor” on January 10 (2 hours, including commercials), not to be confused with the popular movie “Lone Survivor” (Movies, Jan. 13). 
The film comprises four stories of plane crashes, where only one person survived. They are listed here
Bahia Bakari, 13, survived for nine hours in a vest in the Indian Ocean after a 2009 crash on a flight from Yemen.
Cecilia Cichan, as a toddler, survived a crash at takeoff in Detroit of Northwest Airlines 255 on a flight header to Phoenix, in 1987.  The crash seems to have been caused by pilot error and a warning system failure.
Copilot Jim Polehinke lost a leg in a 2006 crash of Comair Flight 5191 from Lexinington, KY.  I used Comair once, in 1999, when making a three-way trip between Minneapolis, Charleston W Va and Washington (with changes in Cincinnati).  The crew had failed to check that the plane was on the proper runway.
George Lamson, Jr. is the only survivor of a crash in Reno NV in 1985 of a flight to Minneapolis on Galaxy Flight 203.  There seems to have been human error involved. Lamson and his father had changed seats. The film showed a lot of interviews with people in the Twin Cities.
I do recall hearing about a crash of a Delta flight at DFW in Dallas in 1985 as I drove to a health spa in Dallas, on the car radio.  The crash would turn out to have a subtle indirect effect on my life later.  

Note: :"TWA Flight 800" (the Epix Channel) is on my "cf" blog on Jan 4, 2014.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

ABC Nightline airs disturbing report on "White supremacy" advocacy re-emerging

ABC News “20-20” aired a disturbing report this evening, “The New Face of the White Supremacist Movement”, much of it about Towson State University (Md) graduate Matthew Heimbach and the advocacy of re-segregation. 
The link is here. The report, though labeled an ABC Special Report, was brief, about twenty minutes. 
At the moment, this report would be difficult to comment on extensively.  The video pretty much speaks for itself.  It is completely out of the mainstream of what seems acceptable social strategy in modern society, and seems to have no justification in reputable science.  I’ve taken up some of the underlying social issues, about inequality and the past, on may other blogs. It would be hard to rationalize some of the comments made on the report. The part about the "strange bedfellows" or allies was indeed weird.  
The Huffington Post has many stories, such as one like “’White Student Union’ defends shocking statements on slavery” but the story is more about segregation, link here.  The WSU was not recognized by the university.  Curiously, it’s blog talks about community activities.  It’s URL is here  and the reader has to judge for the self.
The worldview of all of this is definitely collectivist and anti-individualistic.  It seems pro-family in a patriarchal sense. It seems that in this worldview people believe that they have to "play ball" on one side or the other, and that the parameters of group welfare are simply matters of historical struggle (including "class warfare"), not personal choice and individual responsibility.     

Picture (unrelated): near Ellicott City, MD (mine) 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"The Secret State of North Korea" on PBS Frontline

On Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2014, PBS Frontline aired “The Secret State of North Korea”.  This documentary focused on efforts to get information out of the DPRK (into China, which is made to look modern in the film), and into it from the outside world.

In North Korea, when someone is arrested and “convicted” of a political crime, like watching foreign television, not only that person but three generations of family may be sent to labor camps.  About 1% of the population is in detention camps, mostly for political “crimes”.

Private business used to be totally forbidden, but recently street vendors have opened business, and taxi and transportation companies have started. Very assertive people, often women, fight off the surprisingly meek younger policemen.

The link for the show is here
The county still has enormous and colorful public demonstrations of worship for the cult leader, Kim Jong-un, who doesn’t look very masculine to me.
There is still some talk about whether Un really understands that the real world of nuclear weapons is not a video game. DPRK is the first country to make a verbal threat of launching a nuclear missile toward the United States since the end of the Cold War, although Al Qaeda makes these kinds of threats. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"David Blaine: Real or Magic?" on ABC

On January 9, 2014 ABC aired a one-hour special “David Blaine: Real or Magic?” 
Blaine started out with rather innocent card tricks involving tricky cell phone photography (he entertains George W. Bush in Shanghai, and then physicist Stephen Hawking), but soon demonstrated what he is willing to put his own body through.  He traveled to Africa to learn a trick where a man drinks enough water to get water poisoning, then deliberately vomits, whereupon he adds kerosene and can light his effusion.  It’s very dangerous.  He actually drew portraits on a New York City sidewalk with water vomit. He actually entertained germophobic Woody Allen with this trick.   He even brings up a “free fish” whole.
The African man had learned this trick with his own stomach to deal with the lack of potable drinking water. 
The hour concluded with a trick where Blaine inserts a long needle through his ample bicep.

Blaine, who at 40 looks youthful and is very articulate, begs the question about when people should be open to physical risk taking. 
ABC does not seem to have a web page to replay the show, if it wasn't recorded from cable.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

71st Golden Globes on NBC starts out like SNL; can water pipes freeze in LA?

The 71st Annual Golden Globes, of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, aired Sunday night on NBC, with the preview party at 4 PM PST.  It was 68F in Los Angeles, so, other than Santa Anna winds, weather was no excuse for the water leak on the red carpet at the preview. The event was held in the grand ballroom at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, about two miles from the bars in West Hollywood, maybe 3 miles from the 405. The blue d├ęcor of the ballroom was quite striking, and looks gaudier that that the Oscars have.

Tina Fey and Amy Pohler opened the ceremony was if it were a Saturday Night Live episode.  Tina welcome the show particularly for “women and gay men.”  Sorry, gay men and not equivalent to women.

Like the Oscars, clips from the major contenders were played, but only clips from the songs.  I really was impressed by the song from “Hunger Games”. 

“American Hustle” won best comedy, and “12 Years a Slave” won best drama.  There was a lot of sentiment that American moviegoers should learn history as it really was. 

Spike Jonze, writer and director of “Her” said, “I’m bad at speaking English.  It’s the only language I know.”
Matthew McConaughey won best actor for “Dallas Buyers Club” and joked that the film kept getting passed until it came to him. He also said that he had to play outside as a boy rather than watch television so he really learned to do things rather than watch them.
Any Samberg won best actor for a role in “Brooklyn 99”. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

ABC 20-20 "Underage and Under the Influence": accidental home invasion in VA leads to teen death

ABC 20-20 tonight aired “Underage and Under the Influence” to explore the unintended consequences of underage drinking.
In Loudoun County, VA, in March 2013, a 16 year old, grounded by his father, sneaked out to a party and drank. A friend , still sober, drove him home to the wrong house, off by two doors.  When the kid entered, the homeowner thought his home was being invaded and shot the intruder.  The boys’ parents claim that the teen, Caleb Gordley, was shot in the back when he was trying to leave and never threatened the family. The story is here.
Local station WJLA interviewed the Gordley family after the 20-20 broadcast.  The family’s view has changed after getting the details of the police report. 
No charges have been placed against the homeowner, but the Sheriff’s office did turn all details over to the Commonwealth Attorney.  In Virginia, prosecutions cannot be brought without very thorough police investigation first. 
Another segment claimed the stigma of a family in Maryville MO after a teenage girl was assaulted and left on the lawn.
The last segment showed the problem of teens inviting hundreds of people on social media to house parties which wind up with property damage and violence.  This has happened in LA, in Houston TX, and in upstate New York.  In the latter, the victim was former football player Brian Holloway, as covered on my main blog Sept. 22, 2013.  Ironically, the parents want to sue him for humiliating the kids online for what they did to his home when he wasn't home!

Thursday, January 09, 2014

"Alien Planets Revealed" on PBS Nova

PBS Nova’s “Alien Planets Revealed” offered illustrations of possible alien life as any documentary since NatGeo’s  “Extraterrestrials” (2005) or Discovery’s “Alien Planet” (reviewed here May 4. 2012).  The link is here
Space instruments that detect slight perturbations in starlight can now estimate the size and mass of extrasolar planets. 
There’s a sunlike star 600 light years away with a planet with about 2.5 earth diameters, thought to be a waterworld, with oceans a thousand kilometers deep.  But 1200 light years away there is a sun-like star with a planet only slight larger than Earth.  The slightly greater gravity could encourage large land animals to have more legs, and reduce the effect of bipedalism.
There are many more small red dwarfs than there are stars like the Sun, including a few within 20 light years of Earth.  A planet in the ‘Goldilocks Zone” around a red dwarf would have to be close enough to be tidally locked, one side facing the sun and revolving quickly. Nevertheless, cold air would sink on the dark side and rise on the warm side, producing strong winds that could keep the planet more consistent in temperature than one would expect.  The documentary speculated that plants would be black, because they would need to absorb enough light for photosynthesis.  Land animals might be more static, like “land whales”.  Life might accumulate in the “termination zone” or twilight area, where weather is the mildest.  There would seem to be an eternal red sunset.
Even though there may be millions of “Earths” in the Galaxy, it isn’t necessarily true that intelligent life with culture like man’s is common.  Sharks have ruled the oceans for 400 million years without having to be smart; they’re content with “free fish”.  On the other hand, primates (humans) and cetaceans evolved separately, and the social structures of some carnivores (wolves, dogs, lions) show the beginnings of human-like intelligence.  The ability of some animals to “self-domesticate” (dogs and cats) shows that once intelligence gets started, it can progress quickly. 
There would be the possibility that super civilizations around sun-like stars could colonize the planets around M-stars, a premise followed in Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” and “Alien” movies.
Experts included Knoll, Dartnell, and Charbonneau.
Wikipedia attribution link for Beta-Pictoris.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

"To Catch a Trader": PBS Frontline documentary about insider trading on Wall Street

PBS Frontline aired an interesting one-hour documentary “To Catch a Trader” about the DOJ’s “Operation Perfect Hedge” which nabbed 78 convictions for illegal insider trading, mostly associated with hedge funds, in the past few years.  The link is here.

“They make big money by paying big money for information.”
The documentary also covered the testimony from Steve Cohen of SAC Capital, particularly about Winifred Jiau from Primary Global Research, convicted in 2011; so this documentary is about recent cases.
The film explained the change in the nature of hedge funds since the 1990s, to emphasize sercuritization and products like credit default swaps, implicated in the 2008 financial crisis.
It also covered how insidious insider trading is, particularly when connected to short selling.  Does selling short after publication of a “rumor” constitute an ethical violation?  The Internet, even “trash talk” financial forums popular as early as around 1997, could be manipulated to drive a particular security down for short-sell profit taking. This problem may have been more noticeable even before social media changed the strategies people used for communicating online.
Insider trading became a topic du jour in the late 1980s, during the Reagan years, as hostile takeovers became rampant.  

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

"The Poisoner's Handbook" on PBS American Experience

PBS "American Experience" aired "The Poisoner's Handbook", 2 hours, on Tuesday, January 7. 2014, a film by Oliver Platt.  The link is here.

The documentary traces the contributions to criminal forensic science by New York City's first well-trained medical examiner, Charles Norris, and his over-ego, Alexander Gettler, who developed a reputation for honest testimony in court in the 1930's.

Until then, coroners held political positions and reports could be "paid for".

Gettler's chemistry delved into many areas, especially properly detecting arsenic poisoning, documenting the results of methanol, tracking lead poisoning on the brain, and discovering the way radioactive thallium could destroy bones.

One woman, Fanny Creighton, was first acquitted by Gettler's testimonry, and later convicted after another crime.

During Prohibition, low-income people distilled wood alcohol and often died from poisoning, which took about five days.  Speakeasies often served drinks laced with small amounts of wood alcohol, which could gradually cause blindness.

Women did not know that radium and thallium could be so harmful.  One young woman's jaw disintegrated to the point that a dentist could remove it by hand.

Workers in the oil and gasoline industry often developed chronic poisoning from the practice of adding lead to gasoline.  

"AC360 Later" analyzes individual rights in the Colorado pot issue, implications in speech areas?

Anderson Cooper’s AC360 returned in full the first Monday in January 2014, with the special AC360 Later segment, which now is different from the 8 PM segment, and usually has a panel discussion.  CNN has been broadcasting many of its documentary films, Morgan Spurlock undercover work  and Anthony Bourdain travel adventures during the holidays.  Sometimes there seem to be too many repeats.  Instant replay view through Netflix or Amazon becomes desirable for these

The panel discussion, using featuring “gay conservative” Andrew Sullivan, interviewed a guest who opposed legalization of recreational marijuana (however well regulated0 by Colorado.  The guest (former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, as a surprise) offered a disturbing, anti-libertarian and Santorum-like argument. He said something like “I have three kids”, and “as a father, I have to do something to reduce the risk of their getting hooked, or getting injured by a driver stoned on it”.  The rest of the panel went onto the obvious comparison to alcohol. Keep in mind, Morgan Spurlock had gone undercover on the medical marijuana issue (but not recreational) in Colorado in the summer (the "Inside Man" series; see this blog, June 23).   
But there’s another context.  You could make a similar “protect children” argument about Internet speech.  We saw that before with the legal battle over COPA (the Child Online Protection Act) a few years ago, as I have a whole blog dedicated to it.  Now the issue is before us again, more narrowly in trying to stop the Internet from being used to traffic underage girls – but by targeting service providers and gutting Section 230 protections having to do with liability for what their users do, which they can’t possibly screen for in advance.  (My latest posting on that was on the “BillBoushka” blog Monday, January 6.)  The connecting point is that if people want to speak out and gain attention in public, they ought to have a stake in sharing the responsibility for providing for others – that starts usually with having children in marriage.  At least one could have said that.
In the past, Anderson Cooper has talked unfavorably about self-published books (particularly after there was an outrage over a book on Amazon broadcasting pedophilia) and other Internet self-promotion (such as “extortion lists”, which Anderson covered in 2012, on my main blog (March 12, 2012). 
In sum, in some people’s minds, raising the next generation is a “common good” issue, and people who take the responsibility on need some statistical favor in the law, even if it means narrowing the freedoms of others, to activities more closely tied to actually providing for others in families. 

The link for the segment on recreational marijuana is "The Drawbacks to Legalizing Marijuana" here,  
In the earlier segment, Anderson interviewed former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer about the “Ogden memo” and the reluctance of states to move forward on their own regarding marijuana before Obama took office. The posting “Gone to Pot: The Big Business of Weed” is here
Cooper also discussed the tragic case of Jahi McMarh with Sanjay Gupta.  This takes family dedication a step beyond Terri Schiavo if a few years ago, because this time the victim is legally dead.
On ABC’s “The View” on Tuesday morning, the panelists discussed the idea of doctors Googling their patients (the opposite of the controversy over user rating sites and gag orders).
 On the issue of soaps, there is a story that Guy Wilson has been cast as gay character Will Horton on “Days of our Lives” and sill soon appear (link here), replacing Chandler Massey.  The episodes aired recently were taped as long ago as August 2013, which may explain some anomalies in Sonny’s (Freddy Smith) appearance. 

Picture: on top Dolly Sods, W Va., Aug. 2013;  who knows what illegal things grow wild and aren't even noticed\?  

(Note: I have sometimes called the segment "AC360 Late" but it is "Later"; yo have to use the "Later" to find it in Google..)

Thursday, January 02, 2014

ABC's "The Assets": catching Aldrich Ames

On January 2, 2013 ABC premiered with the first episode of its eight-part series, “The Assets”, based on the book “Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed” by (retired) CIA officers Sandra Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille. The pilot episode was called “My Name Is Aldrich Ames”.

The series begins in April 1985 and emphasizes the idea that the Cold War was soon to come to a head, as the Soviets were very concerned about Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” proposal from 1983.

It switches to Moscow in September, with fall colors (OK) and snow (no, not likely), as an asset leaves the US Embassy and gets caught in a trap, the first sign that a mole within the midst is betraying assets.

I recall the news reports of the arrest of Ames at his home on President’s Day Monday in February 1994.
It’s interesting to see how eavesdropping worked back in the 1980s – there are a lot of shots of teletype machines spewing out code.
The first episode is directed by Jeff T. Thomas and written by Andrew Chapman.
I remember reading a book about the spy world in the 1980s called “The Red Fox” by Anthony Hyde.
The teleseries so far gives the impression that CIA work at Langley is more about manipulating and trading assets and spies than about the actual content of the intelligence (so completely encrypted).  It seems as though the deterrent was to show you could find out any enemy plans, and that it did not matter so much what those plans actually were as the idea you could find them out.
But Ames is said to have been responsible for the deaths of a number of American assets and could have hindered the end of the Cold War at the end of 1991.

ABC’s site is here
Paul Rhys looks true as the mustachioed, stiff and mannered Ames (like he got off the Orient Express), and Jodie Whitaker is passionate as Sandy Grimes.