Saturday, May 31, 2014

NBC Dateline airs mystery about two young women who kill to cover a relationship


NBC Dateline Saturday Night Mystery aired an episode called “Something Wicked”, about the tragic murder of high school student Skylar Neese, near Morgantown WVa, by two high school friends.  The girl had disappeared in July 2012, and high school friends had noticed her mood changing in the early part of 2012.   Two other girls, Rachel and Shelia, had turned on her and plotted her end, possibly to cover up their relationship, according to the report.  So sometimes women are capable of these kinds of crimes, most definitely, just as in soap operas.
  
  
Police did not arrest Rachel immediately when she “confessed”, until they had DNA evidence to incriminate both.

 Pictures: Morgantown, WVa University and People Mover, mine, from visit in May 2013.  


Friday, May 30, 2014

CNN shows how TV shaped "The Sixties" (but haven't we seen this before?)


CNN, on Thursday night, aired (at least three times) it’s one hour special “The Sixties: The Decade that Changed the World: Television Comes of Age”, produced in association with PlayTone.  The link is here


The documentary presented the effect of television on American culture, as if to suggest that TV helped fire up the Civil Rights movement.  That’s partly because in 1960 the presidential debates were televised (I even remember the conventions that year, while in Ohio for the summer), and the 1963 Kennedy Assassination showed the importance of continuous news coverage.  Perhaps not as many people had followed the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis on television, but I had, watching it on the GW campus. 
  
By the late fifties, people had gotten used to seeing comedies about “real people” (“I Love Lucy”, “My Little Margie”, “The Honeymooners”, and even “Amos ‘N’ Andy”, which would seem inappropriate today).  Disney had expanded the potential for television with shows based on the “four lands” of his Magic Kingdom, then just in California. 
  
Programs that presented life in the view of kids (“Leave it to Beaver”) appeared. Then color was introduced, first as a luxury.  It tended to be very garish at first.  By around 1970, most programs were available in color.
    
 We did have a color TV in the barracks at Fort Eustis in 1969.  I still remember that.  But in the middle 1960s at the University of Kansas, it was all black and white (one on the lounge on each floor;  I remember the World Series – St. Louis and Boston – in BW). 
  
The decade would end with the “Moonwalk”, preceded a few weeks before by Stonewall.  After that, everything would change.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"Traitor or Patriot? Inside the Mind of Edward Snowden": Brian Williams interviews the Smooth Man in a Moscow hotel


NBC News tonight aired a one hour interview from a hotel room in Moscow, “Inside the Mind of Edward Snowden”, conducted by Brian Williams.  The interview was set up to ask the question, “traitor or patriot?”   Observers believe that Snowden is trying to set up a climate where the government can negotiate a deal for him to come home and face a light sentence.  The main link for the interview is here.

Snowden said that he has worked for the CIA, NSA, and DIA, at least as a contractor.  Calling him a “systems administrator” gives an underweighted characterization of the importance of what he does. He made great money for someone with no high school diploma.  He tried to join Special Forces in 2004 but both broke legs in training and washed out, before entering intelligence.


Snowden said that most intelligence today is accomplished with electronics, and little of it involves spy work like in the movies.

Snowden doesn’t accuse the NSA of evil intentions, but says that senior officials have expanded their activities beyond legal authority.  He says he did try to go through some channels on this matter, and NBC News has confirmed some of what he says, and has filed a FOIA request

Snowden denies that the material leaked to Greenwald and published has harmed any Americans, or is material to military operations.  However the government insists that Snowden has tipped off enemies to counter-terrorism measures, endangering sources overseas and possibly making a major homeland terror attack in the US more likely.

Williams discussed the special cell phone he had taken to Russia.  Snowden said that the NSA can turn on the cell phone of anyone even when it is off and eavesdrop.  If someone is online, it can eavesdrop on what he is typing – the NSA can keylog anyone.  It would be possible for the NSA and government to misconstrue all the contexts around the activities of a person, which might include activities that seem innocuous, like checking sports scores. 

Similar capabilities exist with activities on personal computers, which in extreme cases might be vulnerable to snooping even when offline.  The government could obviously look at cloud backups.

Williams asked Snowden about what it was like to live in Russia.  Putin’s behavior has become more disturbing since Snowden arrived there.  The anti-gay law and activity in Ukraine were not specifically mentioned.  But Snowden mentioned a new Russian law requiring “registration” of bloggers, at least those with more than a certain number of visits a day.

I was quite struck by the way Snowden talks analytically, the same way I do.  His sentence structures and logical processing were the same as mine.  Snowden says that sometimes, to do the right thing, you have to go outside the law a little.  No, I;ve never thought I could take the law into my own hands.  But "the right thing" does go beyond the expectations of others.

Snowden says that US vulnerability results from a failure to connect the dots and recognize significance of publicly available information, not from not having the "dots".  

There is a lot of discussion about the Snowdel email to the NSA on his concerns (Vox has an explanatory link) and if he has a lot of these emails as he says, why didn't he save them the way he saved material that leaked? 

Glenn Greenwald appeared on the program briefly, and said that in Hong Kong, he had expected to see a much older person.  In the television 

CNN: "Love and Death in Paradise": Double jeopardy in Costa Rica (just as in Italy with Knox); also the weakness of a "trust"


On Tuesday night, CNN aired a special “Love and Death in Paradise”, narrated by Randi Kaye, about the death of John Bender in a mounaintop home in the rain forest of Costa Rica. The link for the special is here.

His wife, Ann Bender, interviewed in the program, was acquitted of his shooting, but tried again and convicted the second time.  As with Amanda Knox in Italy, it is possible to try someone more than once for the same offense in Costa Rica.  She was sentenced to 22 years in prison,
  
The wife was bipolar, but John has been depressed and had reportedly talked about suicide, even in this paradise.  Ann maintains that John killed himself in a confrontation.
  
  
The interesting aspect of the story was that John had a trust, and the trustee tried to cut off Ann from income from it. 
  
Police eventually removed all the luxury items from the home.
  
Ann says that if she is ever freed, she wants to operate the resort as a center for the mentally ill.

Somehow the title reminds me of the film “Love and Death in Long Island”. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Mexico", is depicted by Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" as run by drug cartels, even if the food is good


Anthony Bourdain’s “Mexico” episode in his “Parts Unknown” series (the episode is also called “Under the Volcano”), link here, focused on the heavy domination of the entire country by drug cartels.  Bourdain showed a map of the country, with the relative zones controlled by various cartels.  He interviewed a female journalist who lives under guard after exposing them.  She insists she will not live the country or live under a pseudonym with a new identity, denying her previous work, to save her life.  (My main blog took up this issue, May 22.) 

I’ve been in Mexico twice that I can recall.  On Labor Day weekend of 1974, I went to Mexico City (with a plane change in Houston, which introduced me to Texas), and visited Teotihuacan, the pyramid site 40 miles away.  When I returned, I started my new life in New York City.  On Sunday of that weekend, I witnessed an inauguration.

  

On the first weekend of January 1979, when I was moving from New York to Dallas, I spent a weekend near El Paso and drove my rental car into Cuidad Juarez for about an hour. You could do that in those days.  A coworker went by himself into rural Mexico about 100 miles and returned OK, but that was seen as a risky thing to do. Back in 1962, a college chum had climbed Mout Popo (17000 feet) and barely ,issed a fatal accident.  

Sunday, May 25, 2014

"Stolen Innocence: Your Daughters Are our Daughters" on BET News


The "BET*" (Black Entertainment Television) network has aired a one hour news  special “Stolen Innocence: Your Daughters Are our Daughters” about the kidnapping of girls by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.  There was a reporter from “Sahara Reporters”.  The broadcast says that the BH group has killed 1500 people in Nigeria, as well as kidnap over 300 girls.  The link is here.


But soon the broadcast turned to focus on domestic  US  trafficking, especially in Atlanta, where most girls involved are African American.  The profit margin for the “industry” is 70%, and the “real men don’t buy girls” mantra was mentioned.  The panel condemned hyper-individualism, and implied that the responsibility goes way beyond that of parents.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

ABC 20-20 explores genetic basis of OCD in teens


ABC 20-20 tonight reported “The Children Who Break Away”, on the numerous genetic variations, especially in glutamate metabolism, associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD.  The link is here.  The cover story shows an attractive teen boy “breaking away” (in a suit, not on a bike) to attend a prom.


I have a certain amount of OCD, which may be a good thing up to a point for people who do systems development when they test things before putting them into production, but then it can slow people down and keeping them from exploring curiosity about new things.


Can there be any connection genetically between OCD and Asperger’s, or even “schizoid personality”, which is a scary and misleading term but probably good to be covered on 20-20.  

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Do we finally understand the point of "Revolution"?


Well, the finale  (“Declaration of  Independence”) of Season 2 of NBC’s Revolution gave away a clue to the plot.  It seems that a critical character, apparently manufactured by Pittman’s nanites, had set up a rendex-vous point at a Mormon town in Idaho, but with a funky bar.  And zombies, people who had be reconstructed from the world before the blackout, assembled as the power came back on.

  
So it seems that somewhere early in the project, before the blackout, the “nano” had already taken over; artificial intelligence would become the new Allah or new Jehovah, and take over the world. One creates intelligence at one’s own peril (unless with natural procreation).



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"The United States of Secrets Part II: PRISM: Privacy Lost"" on PBS Frontline


PBS Frontline concluded the documentary “The United States of Secrets” on Tuesday, Mary 20, called "Privacy Lost", with an exposition of the “Prism” program. The PBS link for the episode is here
   
Barton Gellman appeared and mentioned that there were nine companies involved in tracking content for the NSA, and indicated that he had been asked not to name them.  He said, however, this was definitely about content, not just metadata.


Many companies got “national security letters” (over 56000 of them) sent without the supervision of the FISA court.

Chad Merrill, CEO of a company called Calyx, decided to challenge the constitutionality of the letters.  The letter had told him he could not discuss their existence with anyone, but he consulted an attorney. 
Google eventually challenged 19 of the letters, following Merrill’s example, and the government eventually backed down.

But Google, according to the show, had led the way by opening up the contents of Gmail to advertisers, as well as various other use of Google apps.  The price of “it’s free” is that advertisers track you.  Of course, this leads back to the “do not track” debate.
   
I tend to blow people off when they call me, and don’t pay attention to many email ads.  Yet email lists (and telemarketing) have been big business.  I generally know what I want to do and don’t like to be diverted away from it.  But, yes, there are a few people I would welcome calls from.  But that doesn’t come from conventional advertising.  I can also recall how, for insurance agents, for instance, the entire way of “getting business” has to do with leads, a lot from social media, and assumes people are open to being contacted.  But so often now they aren’t.  It gets harder for many sellers to make a living. 



Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"Revenge" Season 3 Finale was a typical soap opera shocker -- Clarke is alive


The finale of Season 3 of “Revenge” ("Execution") on May 11 was shocking enough, as we learn that David Clarke is alive after all, when he stabs Conrad Grayson.   It’s all on a variety of sites, like here.   What’s strange is that Victoria (who came back from the dead once) took three seasons to realize that Emily is really Amanda, and she winds up as an “m.p.”. 
 
  
I’ve never seen so many plot convolutions thrown into even three seasons of a weekly “soap”.  The problem with soap, of course, is that plot events become reversible.
  
The Revenge Wiki for Nolan Ross is interesting, particularly the way, in his quirky manner, he seeks to find morality in his world, link here




Monday, May 19, 2014

"Mississippi Delta" is the latest of the "parts unknown" for CNN's Anthony Bourdain


Anthony Bourdain, for his Parts Unknown series, traveled to the Mississippi Delta Sunday night, going to jute boxes and presenting us with a lot of crude sea food and soul food (not exactly comfort food), like a variety of clams, fried okra and chicken neck bones, pig ears, pulled pork and briskets.  The basic link is here.  It was interesting to see this segment the same weekend that the film “Chef” by Jon Favreau opened. (There's also a film "Eating Alabama" on the Movies blog, Jan. 17). 
    
He posed the question as to whether the people are less racist than they used to be.  At one point in the broadcast, there seemed to be a silent depiction of the site near Philadelphia MS where three young civil rights workers were murdered in 1964 after doing voter registration.
  
I visited the area around Bay St. Louis in February 2006, after Hurricane Katrina.  I remember stopping in a bar Sunday afternoon with a restaurant the resembled those in the broadcast.
  
  
Anderson Cooper talks about what happens when the “world’s most adventurous eater” goes out with “the world’s least adventurous eater”.    


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Morgan Spurlock becomes Inside Man on a UFO investigation, interviews a repeat abductee


Morgan Spurlock was “Inside Man” for “UFO’s” tonight, May 18.  He first visited a MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) training class in the Arizona high desert, and learned to debrief people claiming to have seen UFOs or to have been abducted.  The video link is here

He then visited Sedona, AZ, for a night sky viewing, and later the Very Large Array in western New Mexico, operated by SETI. 

But the most interesting part of the hour was his interview with a woman from Santa Monica CA who claims she was abducted several times, after first seeing a UFO on the horizon over the Pacific Ocean.  She claims her ova have mothered seven children on another planet in the Zeta Reticulum system (sounds like Betty and Barney Hill).


Curiously, Morgan did not visit Roswell.

How many sightings do I have?  I saw an object over Lawrence KS in 1967 while in graduate school.  I saw one in northern Arizona while in a rental car at dusk in December 1975.  And at an “Understanding” convention in Tonapah, AZ in 1978, some of us saw an object with red and green alternating lights blinking over the desert.  Could these have been satellites or military aircraft?  Probably.

My own feeling is that someday, we’ll conquer the “speed of light” problem, but probably by learning to communicate with the Afterlife, which has a different sense of time. 


I think it is possible people like us do live on planets in solar systems only a few dozen light years away.  If you saw a person dematerialize, and reappear a second later a few hundred feet away, he or she would have to be from another world, in some sense, even if an “angel”. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Sedona picture. Most recent visit was in 2000.  

Friday, May 16, 2014

"Days of our Lives": Now, another mystery around Nick Fallon, who isn't coming back again


"Days of our Lives" has undergone another transition.  This time, Nick Fallon (Blake Berris) really has been shot, and seems gone for good this time.  The sequence, where he gets two chest wounds from a gun with a silencer, and then stumbles into the Town Square, to collapse, was actually well done.
 
Again, why did the writers decide to destroy a one-time likeable geeky character from a few years ago?

In recent episodes, in his desire to blackmail the three women, and to blackmail Will into giving up custody of the daughter, he chided others to "know their place".  That almost sounds like Donald Sterling.

Recent episodes showed Sonny packing up a gun and silencer and putting it into his backpack.  But he got it put back, and escaped detection.  But this is probably not the murder weapon.  It's just a diversion.

My guess is, it's going to turn out that Sami did it.  Everyone is a suspect.  EJ and Sami have been talking like they did it.  And Sami is due to leave the show at the end of the year.

Freddie Smith can be inconsistent in his appearance even within the same episode.  Just don't let Steve Harvey call the shots for the show.



Update: May 30

The assassination scene, on May 9, is masterfully acted and filmed (link).  Nick is in the park, on a cell phone, talking about therapy and changing, and how he is hurting himself.  As he utters the word "hope", there is the sound of a click (from a silencer) and he turns around, at time mark 2:11 on the video.  Once he has rotated, he is hit two more times, as his body jumps.  He examines himself, and finds copious blood from wounds.  He collapses.  The next scene is back at the pub.  A little girl screams as Nick stumbles into the club, collapses and dies.  He had several minutes to know that he was going to die.

Will Horton has suddenly confessed to the crime, to fix his karma (his dad had taken the rap when he shot EJ as a teen).  The police won't accept his confession.

We all know that Sami and EJ hired a hit man to shoot Nick.  Were Will and the hit man in the park at the same time, hitting Nick with separate bullets?

Actor Guy Wilson has upper arms bigger than most men's thighs.  But, repeatedly, Freddie Smith keeps losing his chest and arm hair, and then temporarily and partially getting it back.  If Will is in jail, he won't be around to shave Sonny.



Update: June 5

Allison Sweeney is reported to have spent her last day on the set as Sami recently.  So something really bad is going to happen to Sami soon.  The show is pre-empted for two days for the French tennis open.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Steve Harvey: some women prefer their hubbies to be "thmooth"; more in Internet review sites and non-consensual photography


Steve Harvey covered a few “Extreme Topics” today, starting with “Manscape”. Maybe that was “manscrape” or “manwax” or “man-o-lantern”, like in “The 40 Year Old Virgin”.  A married, slightly overweight professional rock musician from Ohio appeared with his wife, who said they have a great marital relationship, except for too much body hair.  She shaves his back, and his nose and ears.  The link is here

So a cosmetologist waxed his stomach.  They stopped short of his chest above the nipples, on camera that is, but gave him a year at a Cincinnati salon called “Exclusively Male”. 

When I was growing up, in a community that was almost all Caucasian (and that figures in), there was an unwritten presumption that men were supposed to be hairier than women.  To be shaved was a source of shame, and the practice sometimes happened in college or fraternity hazing rituals (called tribunals).  Yet it was common in Hollywood, though never mentioned.  In the 1950s, in those Fox Cinemascope spectacles, nobody had chest hair.  Now partial grooming or reduction, without complete removal, seems to be catching on with some male actors (Justin Timberlake, for one).  I don’t know how they do it, with certain kinds of clippers or chemical depilatories or even lasers.   In the Army, “th-mooth” became a buzzword when I was in. Tattoos become a new male symbol for the "naturally" smooth: notice how Justin Bieber uses them.  
Harvey (himself African-American) has covered make depilation (or epilation) before.  He loves to see men humiliated in front of women, especially their wives.

Harvey's comedy about the matter tracks with aggressive television commercials by a couple of companies for quasi-permanent epilation from heat, microwave or laser-like devices, especially from No-No, whose lengthy gratuitous ads play particularly on CNN, and some other channels especially on weekends, and which show women prodding men to shed their external trappings of manhood and focus on night performance instead.

Harvey also talked about pot bellies (that doesn't mean stoves) but was in keeping with that "Fed Up" film when he had another guest recommend giving up sugars, and even recommending the Atkins Diet.

Harvey moved on to Internet online reputation issues.  A woman asked what she could do about having nude pictures taken of her without permission, and posted in the Internet.  She was afraid her kids would see them.  A lawyer said that it is indeed illegal to take pictures of people in public in circumstances where there is a normal expectation of privacy (but it is legal in most public circumstances).

Another business owner asked what she could do about bad reviews being put on up Yelp and Angies List, when she believed the reviews were fake and from a competitor.  The lawyer suggested a practical approach, to get customers to post favorable reviews.  I don’t normally review on these sites since I have my own blogs (although I sometimes write brief reviews on Amazon).    
 
I do miss Nate Berkus in this spot.  But Harvey has his great brand of heterosexual humor.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"The Program" is the first part of the PBS Frontline "United States of Secrets"; how the FBI raided homes of many leakers


On Tuesday, May 13, 2014 PBS Frontline aired “The United States of Secrets: Part 1: The Program”, the first of a series about the NSA and Edward Snowden.  It ran two hours. The PBS link is here, and an LA Times review is here.   The film is available on YouTube now for $1.99 rental.

The film maintains that the NSA had been prohibited from doing warrantless domestic surveillance after Watergate, and that the rules were very strict and were followed.  The documentary recreates some of 9/11, and then shows how the Bush administration pressed to increase the NSA’s ability to intercept terrorist activity already in the US.  Remember, the administration had soft-pedaled some memos about Al Qaeda in August 2001, but it believed that the NSA could have intercepted the plot if it had a freer hand again.  

“We couldn’t connect the dots because we couldn’t collect the dots.”

The NSA started doing domestic surveillance, at least collecting metadata, of ordinary Americans.  I was not supposed to do this without the supervision of the secretive FISA court, but seemed to be collecting data on purely domestic activity while bypassing the FISA gatekeeping.

Gradually, a number of senior officials, mostly civilian, at the NSA became concerned.  One of them leaked a story to the press from a pay phone in a DC Metro station.  Stories appeared in the Baltimore Sun (the NSA is in Anne Arundel County, MD, which includes Annapolis, but Baltimore is closer to it than DC) and the New York Times. 

In May 2007, the FBI raided homes of several former and current NSA officials to look for leaks, confiscating computers and personal papers. On Nov. 28, 2007 it raided the home of an official named Thomas Drake, who recounts being threatened with decades in prison and going broke defending himself, before all my one misdemeanor charge was dropped during the Obama administration. 

Obama has not been “lenient” about leaks, however, despite his embracing of free speech for whistleblowers. 

  
The film starts with a brief account of meetings in Hong Kong by Gleen Greenwald with Edward Snowden, and then resumes the Snowden narrative at the very end.  It mentions that Snowden, who looks very boyish at 30, had intended a military career but broke both legs in training.   


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Pray for Rosemary's Baby


I remember the witty “Rosemary’s Baby”, as directed by Roman Polanski, from Paramount, back in 1968, shortly after the “God is dead” material in Time and other media in the mid 60s.  I read the novel by Ira Levin while in the Army.

The NBC mini-series remake, directed by Abniesgzka Holland with Lionsgate Television, seems bloated by comparison.  The film is shown in two 2-hour increments, May 11 and 15 on NBC.  The setting has moved to Paris.  Rosemary (Zaldana) has had a miscarriage, and then comes into contact with the “generous” Castevet family after a street incident.  The husband Guy (Patrick J. Adams) is burned in an apartment fire – and the cantankerous Siamese cat probably saves his life, and keeps the damage merely cosmetic, which never distracts Rosemary too much.  (The cat is the best character in the first half; I wonder if she belongs to one of the stars.) Guy is a “professional” author, who is suffering from writer’s block after the miscarriage and his own injury.  His “publisher” even cancels his contract.  Why not try self-publishing? Well, he has nothing to say. I wondered how credible was his dilemma in 2014. 
 
The previews do make the second half look enticing.  We may well find out what the “son of Satan” really looks like. 

The official site is here.

Second half:  the horrible accident in the kitchen is well done.

The opening music sounds a bit like Poulenc.

You barely notice that this is a "mixed" couple.  Maybe it's supposed to be.

I’ve never been a big fan of remakes.  This is old material.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

"The Book of Morgan": Inside Man Spurlock writes and delivers a sermon


The latest episode of CNN’s “Inside Man” series with Morgan Spurlock has the journalist exploring the religion landscape in Nashville, TN, to climax in his writing his own sermon, “The Book of Morgan”.  The link is here

He delivers the sermon at a group called the “Sunday Assembly”, a somewhat agnostic group that might be compared to “Ethical Culture” which I visited in New York City at times in the 1970s.

Morgan’s description of sitting down to write is odd.  He isn’t sure what he wants to say until he jots down thoughts to give him a matrix.  He sermon is finally called “Welcome Home”.  He does talk about becoming a father and having to explain to his little son why “Daddy, all you do is leave.”


Morgan also visits some megachurches in Nashville, particularly the Cornerstone.  The pastor says he was once in jail.  The pastor does rail against homosexuality, mostly from the viewpoint of its antagonism to gender complementarity and procreation (and the lifetime responsibility it entails).  “Man was not meant to be alone” he says.  And he also says we don’t get to choose God’s rules or which ones apply to us, and it’s wrong to vote for politicians who try to change God’s laws.”  Morgan says that this kind of absolutism doesn’t sit well with him
  
Remember, Morgan, public speaking is easy.  Laugh a little, cry a little. 
   
Wikipedia attribution link for Nashville skyline. My own pass-through, 1988 (driving back to DC from Texas); plane change in 1992.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Anthony Bourdain "Parts Unknown" visits Russia, spends time covering the anti-gay propaganda law


On Sunday night, May 11, Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” series visits Russia. Here’s the link with the slide show.

The visit occurred before the Sochi Olympics, which he describes as a financial boondoggle. At the end of the show, Bourdain mentioned the annexation of Crimea and the tensions with Ukraine. “The world has done nothing. The world will do nothing.”

Throughout most of the episode, Bourdain delved into the exotic food, right after talking about Russian corruption.  I don’t know how Bourdain was allowed into the country when authorities must have known he would expose them.  He described a long litany of people imprisoned for criticizing or exposing the authorities.  Few real native journalists are left in Russia.

Bourdain spent about ten minutes on the anti-gay propaganda law, which he correctly says can be interpreted any way authorities want.  He mentioned the vigitlantism and gay-baiting and attacks near bars, especially the Central Station in Moscow, now reportedly closed down.  He talked to two lesbians, who characterized Russia as a paradoxical mixture of culture and intellect for the elite, in a world of “bears”. 
  
   
He later took the night train from Moscow to St. Petersburg, had a meal of caviar, and showed the Russian peasant villages in the darkness.  Putin longs for the days of Soviet authoritarianism and nationalism, while embracing capitalism for the ruling class. There is a paradox between the atheism of the government and the hold of the conservative Orthodox Church on the common people. 

Wikipedia link for map of Russian anti-gay laws by region

Update:  Bourdain interviews Boris Nemtsov, who was shot on a bridge near the Kremlin on Feb. 28, 2015.  Bourdain asks him if he (Bourdain) could become a mark merely by interviewing him.  


Friday, May 09, 2014

ABC 20-20 exposes a dangerous counterfeiting ring in Canada; more on lifeguards, cosmetologists, valet parkers


ABC 20-20 aired a “True Confessions” episode Friday night, May 9. 
 
The most important segment concerned a master counterfeiter of US $20 bills in Canada, who escaped prosecution by surrendering all of his equipment.
The counterfeiter figured out how to make the bills from a Secret Service website and was able to get the parts from companies in China and Germany.  Again, the story will raise questions about the availability of some information on the Internet.
 
Another important episode showed how difficult it is for lifeguards to see everything in a pool, especially close to the edges where the weakest swimmers are. 
 
Another segment showed how beauty shops often work and how workers, under quota requirements, often oversell services. And still another report concerned valet parking, and how to tip them.  I recall that at the Angelino Hotel on the 405 in LA in 2012 you had to use valet;  the hotel would not let you park yourself.   


Thursday, May 08, 2014

Revisiting "Twin Peaks" and the riveting Pilot (David Lynch)


I gave in to a bit of temptation and rewatched the entire Pilot (90 min) of the 1990 mystery serial “Twin Peaks” by David Lynch.

(The full episode is no longer available. Here is a clip by David Lynch)



I have to say that it is still riveting.  The very opening scene shows a man, a logger (Jack Nance( leaving a rural house, with the words “Going fishing”, likely to be a question on Millionaire some day.  He finds the body of Laura Palmer(Sheyl Lee) washed up on a stony beach of a lake near the local sawmill.

The drama takes you from one place to the next, engaging every character, taking the time to dawdle on the details of the seedy underbelly of small town life, here set somewhere in Washington state. Lynch makes every character different (except that the sheriff and FBI agent are a bit similar, as the doppleganger idea will appear later), and loves to make minute details interesting, in a film neo-noir atmosphere that is both retrospective and brooding. 

Lynch uses some of his favorite actors, including  Kyle MacLachlin as the FBI agent Dale Cooper, who is introduced talking dictation as he drives and looks forward to the assignment, and Michael Ontkean as the young sheriff.

The actual peaks were apparently shot near Snowqualmie Pass on I-90, where I had an epiphany on a vacation on May, 1978, so the shot brings back old memories.

The music, typical of film noir, oscillates between lush romanticism (like a piano concerto slow movement) and brooding. The music was composed by Angelo Baldamenti, and a couple of songs are extracted, one of them called “Nightengale”.

The series gradually descends into weirdness and mystery, involving mystery wood spirtis, maybe UFOs, mystery visions and dopplegangers. Remember the episode that begins with “Warm milk?”

Wikipedia attribution link for the Snowqualmie.  

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

PBS Nova: "Why Sharks Attack": Jaws revisited


PBS Nova tonight premiered its documentary “Why Sharks Attack”, pretty much the science behind “Jaws”.  The link is here.   

Most of the work in the film was done in the waters near Western Australia (all of which looks like the American SW without many mountains), especially Shark Bay. 
  
Sharks have a variety of ways that they use their senses, which is reflected in their brains.  The great white shark uses vision, especially for prey above them, and can see only shades of green.  But other sharks use electrical potential to detect prey.  The great white also has internal temperature regulation like warm=blooded mammals. 
  
  
The documentary also showed more exotic sharks, like hammerheads and related sting rays.  The shark is over 400 million years old.  The great white can live about 50 years.  Some sharks are social, and certain parts of their brains are more developed as a result.
  
I remember reading Peter Benchley’s “Jaws”, and he made fun of his characters in that novel, especially the chagrin of the policeman protagonist. 
  
In his “Free Fish” video, actor Reid Ewing actually plays with a sting ray for a moment before saying “I’m done with you.”  He also says “fish are like people…”
  
But is a shark a true fish?  It has cartilage, but not full bone, and it has some of the biological aspects of mammals.  It is an example of evolution going in a totally different – and reproductively successful – direction. Dolphins and orcas (mammals) are like people, but sharks aren't. 
      

The show presented a few people who had been wounded by sharks and recovered.  But people kill a lot more sharks (when nobody notices) than sharks kill people (when we do notice).  If we venture into their homes, we can’t blame them for becoming alarmed.  

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

SNL Weekend Update toys with the SO registry (all with "grammar and literature" in high school English class)


I caught something interesting in the SNL “Weekend Update” Saturday night (link), as Jebidiah Atkinson (no more Seth Myers) made fun of the Tony awards and what he disliked about all the popular Broadway shows, including “Wicked”.  He finally got around to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, and made the remark that it is presented as story of underage teens, especially Juliet.  In fact, I recall a ninth grade English teacher explaining this aspect of the play – that girls married young in those days but not ours.  Atkinson said the he doesn’t go to the theater “to wind up on a sex offender registry”.  He probably would have said that if he watched an enactment of my own screenplay “The Sub”, which I put online in early 2005, and which eventually caused controversy, because it shows a male teacher tempted by a precocious student after recovering from a heart attack at school. 

Atkinson said that the only play he liked was “Our American Cousin” (by Tom Taylor), which was playing at the Fords Theater when Ford was assassinated.  An American goes to Britain to get his underserved inheritance (in Dallas, I had a “trick” with a “British inheritance”; I think he mentioned this play.)  The play coined the word “dundreary”.

He also attacked the musical “Cats” (which I saw in Dallas) with a joke about feline leukemia.
  
Don't forget the "Bird Bible Stories".  At the public library, "it's free". 

Andrew Garfield appeared none the worse for wear having played Peter Parker as Spider Man resumes. 

 He looks best with his shirt open, as at the end.  

  

Above: SNL’s “Three Wise Guys”.  Don't forget the "Three Blind Mice" from "Dr. No". 
  
Picture: behind these trees is a gun shop and club in Warrenton, VA. 

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Resurrection Finale: Hundreds return, aliens in bodies of the deceased; what sense does this make?


Well, there was some satisfaction with the season finale of ABC’s “Resurrection”, called “Torn Apart”, as hundreds of deceased townspepople start showing up and are herded into a school shelter.  Soon the fibbies want to keep them locked up as “aliens”.  They aren’t the really deceased people.   You get the drift.
At the very end there is a hint that Bellamy himself is “one of them.”  Oh, we’ve seen this idea before:  The Event, The 4400. 

Somehow, from what I saw, the characters really didn’t carry this series.


So who are “The 250”?  What could the point of coming back in other people’s bodies?  Is this some preview of what the afterlife is, of the coming Rapture?  Or are the people simply space aliens?  The whole idea doesn’t seem very compelling.


Friday, May 02, 2014

CNN: "The Trials of Amanda Knox" with Chris Cuomo; Knox responds to the way the Italian courts let a known burglar frame her


CNN aired a special report, “The Trials of Amanda Knox”, (plural) 30 minutes, as Chris Cuomo interviewed Knox about the decision of the Italian court to convict her again (issued Jan. 30), and also the release (around April 29) of a 300-page explanation of the verdict.  The link is here

The Court seemed to believe the testimony of convicted burglar Rudy Guede, which (likely fabricating) claims that Knox and her boyfriend stuck the victim as well as him.

The one last step if for the Italian supreme court to review the conviction.

If that happens. Italy would request extradition from the US, but it seems unlikely that the US would return her.   Would John Kerry honor a treaty with Italy, or apply the US constitutional rules against double jeopardy?  There could be a lot of blowback over other cases. 

  

What would help would be for Congress to pass a law giving the state department explicit authority to deny extradition for convictions that would not occur in the US under our constitution or procedural rules.    

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Datelines covers bizarre fake "Ransom" in Florida


On April 19 NBC Dateline aired an episode called “Ransom” (video link)  about a woman, Quinn Gray, in Ponte Verde Florida who faked her own abduction.  Police claim that Quinn teamed up with a Bosnian immigrant Jasmin Osmanovic, to extort money from her millionaire husband, Reid (and not the “right” Reid). 

A story in Today gave her defense, that Quinn had substance abuse problems, had been to the Hazelden clinic in Minnesota, and was a natural target for someone like Jasmin (Today link).
  
The Dateline episode covered many details that did not comport with the usual ransom cases, as in the movies (as in Ron Howard’s “Ransom” (1996) with Mel Gibson). 


Eventually, Quinn “escapes” and calls authorities, who gradually manipulate her into “confession” with gentle questioning techniques.
  
Quinn was ultimately convicted of extortion and got seven years probation (link).

I’d like to see Dateline follow up on Chris Hansen’s “To Catch a Predator” cases of a few years ago.