Sunday, November 29, 2015

CNN 70s: "Crimes and Cults"

Last night, I caught up on CNN’s “The 70’s” (or “The Seventies”) with “Crimes and Cults” which overlapped the  “Face of Evil” special report about the Charles Manson Murders.  This report started out with that but moved on to cases like the Hillside, Son of Sam, and Ted Bundy, Sarah Moore’s attempted assassination of Gerald Ford.  The basic link is here.

 The multiple escapes by the psychopathic Bundy, and the threats and plans of “Son of Sam” (subject of a Spike Lee movie. “Summer of Sam”) were shocking.

One interesting fact was that people in many large cities (especially New York, where I was living 1974-1978) violent crime and burglary (even from fire escapes into apartment buildings) was a preoccupation.  It has come to seem that way since then since about 2007 in some cities, like Washington, as crime today seems brazen and connected to nihilism and terrorism. In the South Bronx, buildings were torched, often intentionally by landlords. The episode covered the power blackout if July 13, 1977, which was caused by lightning strikes on plants along the Hudson River farther north.  I was walking near the West Fourth Street station when it happened.  It was a hot night and we didn’t work the next day (in lower Manhattan).  There was a lot of looting in poorer neighborhoods, especially Crown Heights.

The episode also covered the Jim Jones cult in Jonestown, Guyana (the birthplace of Daron Wint in the Washington DC Mansion murders).  Several documentary films cover it better.  The Congressman Leo Ryan who went had people passing him notes that there was trouble.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

ABC 20-20: Donald Trump and family are deposed by Barbara Walters

Friday night. ABC News 20-20 presented “Donald Trump: The Presidential Candidate: Part I” with Barbara Walters, major link here.

The episode tended to focus on Trump’s family, especially his adult sons and daughter, and their loyalty to his work ethic.

The show de-emphasized the bellicosity of some of his speeches during the candidacy.  However, recently Trump has said that the idea of a database for Muslims came from a reporter’s mouth, not his.  He talked about “good management”.

He was asked about the refugee issue.  Trump seems to feel that it is impossible to screen new refugees adequately now, ironically and tragically because their homelands were destroyed. Trump did not accept the idea of accepting only “Christian” refugees.

The show also gave some family history, of how Trump’s father gave him a real head start in the real estate business.

It is true that the hype over his “You’re fired” trademark got a bit overdone during his reign on “The Apprentice” and the “Boardroom” (which was set up).  He did have a number of outstanding candidates over the years (including Omarosa).   Candidates actually lived in a hotel that he provided during seasons. The show has tended to migrate toward Celebrity Apprentice for charity, and Shark Tank on ABC.  I wonder how Trump would react to the life histories and careers of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel, and maybe now Taylor Wilson.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"The Brain" looks into non-biological platforms for consciousness

The Brain with David Eagleman” continued (maybe concluded) tonight on PBS with  “Who Will We Be?

The opening was less challenging sci-fi stuff, like teaching the brain to develop new senses.  In one experiment, a man wears a device that transfers vibrations to his chest to be associated with messages.  There is also a lot of coverage of robotics, as a woman learns to control a robotic arm just with thoughts, after transcranial magnetic stimulation.

But then the episode moves into the nature of human consciousness and identity.  It covers cryrogenics, and the practice of freezing the bodies or brains of rich dead people who are banking on the idea of coming back to life.  I could imagine a sci-fi scenario where this could even happen in a hospice.

Eagleman notes that when someone “dies”, all the information in his or her brain is lost (one brain contains about as many bytes as all the computers in the world now).  Maybe it goes onto the surface of a black hole, to be covered, but then maybe it can leak out in Hawking Radiation.  (That’s my theory, which gets interesting if you add other dimensions from string theory which allow for micro black holes.)  But what seems to produce consciousness is not just the brain, but the ability of the brain to integrate the information “correctly”

The findings are supported with a brain-mapping of a younger male.  This seems to be part of the Blue Brain Project with Dr. Telefont in Switzerland, where a complete simulation of a brain by 2023 is the goal. Eagleman suggests that if all the information in a brain is mapped and the “methods” (to use OOP language) are properly simulated, then maybe one person’s consciousness can be restarted without a biological body, which could be a way for future generations to do space travel.  It’s possible that alien civilizations could reproduce consciousness without biological bodies as we understand them, and that could be a natural process in the Universe.

Brain mapping has been theorized in some science-fiction, like in “The Matrix Trilogy”.  How do we know, Eagleman asks as he stands near a modern Metro station (I think it’s Shanghai) that we aren’t living in someone’s holographic simulation.  There is no way to prove we don’t.  Dreams (the Christopher Nolan movie “Inception”) provide the examination of consciousness with an interesting problem.

Maybe gender won’t matter and reproduction won’t matter.  The analogy of an ant colony or bee hive is mentioned, where it seems there is consciousness at the group level.  Among higher animals, it is possible that orcas or dolphins can “distribute” consciousness.  It seems that higher mammals (carnivores and primates, and some others like elephants, and cetaceans) do share the experience of mapping individuality to the brain.

Back in the 1990s, Omni Magazine had suggested downloading the brain to a computer as an alternative to death. Also, this evening,

Earlier this evening,  HBO gave a 12-minute featurette on the upcoming film "The Danish Girl" about a transgender woman (from man) int he 1920s, played by Eddie Redmayne. Sexual and gender identity present interesting problems for brain science.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

NBC Dateline unscrambles bizarre domestic murder case in the Arizona highlands

NBC Dateline on Saturday aired “The Mystery on Bridle Path”, about the murder of Carol Kennedy, in her ranch home near Prescott Arizona on a Saturday night in July 2008.  Eventually her ex-husband, Steven DeMocker, 53 at the time, would be convicted on largely circumstantial evidence. The motive simply seemed to be money.  Even his own daughters helped pay for his defense. Keith Morrison hosted the documentary which, as presented, is as intriguing as a typical Hollywood murder mystery film. This one has some shades of Perry Mason.

Kennedy was on the phone with her mother in Nashville when an intruder bludgeoned her suddenly, in what looked like a home invasion. The defense tried to half-implicate another man who apparently had lived on the property.

DeMocker would be sentenced to life without parole, but the jury took three days to convict, in a retrial (after the first judge had a brain tumor).  One piece of contradictory evidence (DNA under fingernails) turned out to be forensic contamination. The AP story on the case is here.

The use of only circumstantial evidence is still permissible. That was the case in the recent conviction of Charles Severance for three murders (in 2003, 2013, 2014) of high-profile citizens in Alexandria Virginia recently.   Dateline will probably eventually do an episode on this case.  No one has yet done a show of on two unsolved separate murders of workers with high security clearances in Prince Georges County in late 2008 (discussed on this blog before), where there are some obscure social media clues.

NBC's embed link for this show went with the wrong link, the Democratic Party debate tonight, from CBS,

But CBS 48 Hours has a video of Carol Kennedy's work as an artist, her "sanctuary" and print studio.
Picture is actually Nevada (my visit, 2012).

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"The Brain with David Eagleman": inborn neural circuits explain social interaction, susceptibility to propaganda, and the price of giftedness

Tonight, WETA on PBS aired “The Brain with David Eagleman” (link), an episode called “Why Do I Need You?” The program was sponsored by the American Brain Foundation.

Eagleman explored how the brains of human beings do seem to be pre-wired to read each other for social cues, even on the basis of children with little accumulated opportunity to learn interactions.

The prewiring also enables people to empathize with fictional characters in books or movies, and is the basis of much entertainment.

People with less pre-wiring seem to have trouble picking up social cues and are sometimes viewed as having mild forms of development disorder, autism, called Asperger syndrome.

On the other hand, others the lack of empathy for others results in psychopathy.  But people with Asperger would seem often to develop empathy on a moral and intellectual behavior, so they still follow behavior according to an expected moral compass.  Sometimes less immediacy in receiving visual cues about others allows one more energy to develop one’s own gifts, in intellectual or artistic pursuits.

Eagleman went on to explain group behavior in terms of neurology, even genocide or ethnic cleansing.  He explained the way propaganda works at a neurological level, which is why it is so important to dictators (most recently Vladimir Putin, who sees gay rights in terms of “propaganda” rather than intellect).  Propaganda can be overcome by education, and some people are obviously less easily influenced by it than others, based on both education and genetics.

It would be interesting to see what Eagleman comes up with regarding sexual orientation and gender identity (two separate concepts).

An earlier episode “What Makes Me?” purports to explain individual consciousness and identity in terms of the wiring image accumulation of every experience a person has, which can never again be duplicated by anyone else.  Does the memory survive as a afterlife?

Monday, November 09, 2015

So "The Donald" has nothing better to do than host SNL?

So Donald Trump gets great ratings on an SNL show nobody liked? Link   And he hosts it because he has nothing better to do?  And he holds no grudges except for Rosie O’Donnel (and Omarosa.

I had forgotten he had hosted it in 2004.

So how are we going in Syria?

It seemed as if the comments about race in the audience might seem over the top now, given what has happened today in Missouri.

Given the furor (in 2005) over the idea that “blogging” could amount to untrackable political contributions (that died down), why isn’t it a “problem” for a candidate to appear on a network comedy show?

If someone I know personally gets to host SNL, how easily could I get tickets?  Remember Taylor Lautner hosted it before his 18th birthday, and Shia did it when he was 20. 

Thursday, November 05, 2015

"The Player": well, there is a dealer and a pit boss, too, as the rich gamble on crime plots

The Player” (created by John Rogers and John Fox) is a somewhat underwhelming crime series on NBC, whose name lies in the shadow of the famous 1992 Robert Altman movie, a meta-plot involving murder among screenwriters.

The shell around the plot is that the “rich” place cynical bets on the chances that certain crime plots will succeed.  Alex Kane (Philip Winchester) is “The Player”, whereas Cassandra King (Charity Whitfield) is the “dealer” and Isaiah Johnson (Wesley Snipes) is the “pit boss” claiming to be undercover FBI.

The episode tonight was “A House Is Not a Home” and moves to Chicago.  It involves a terror plot where a woman is set up as a “suicide bomber” in an elevator, and is rescued by Kane, who throws her out of the elevator and then dives away from the explosion.  Later a home is detonated as Kane is the target.

The official site is here.

The series has not done particularly well, as the concept seems rather too clever and artificial.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

"Life on Mars: The Amazing Rovers" aired on NatGeo, and disappeared

On Sunday, Nov. 1, National Geographic aired a new episode “Life on Mars: The Amazing Rovers”.  For some reason, the video link no longer works.
Wikipedia has an interesting comparison on the “careers” of both Opportunity (still active) and Spirit (which “died” in 2011), here

 Opportunity has lasted much longer than expected.

The one hour episode presented commentary by Stephen Squyres and “driver” Scott Maxwell.

The lives of the robotic rovers were extended by carefully placing them to get maximum solar power, and to rest them in winter when sunlight was weak.  A day on Mars is called a “Sol”.

NatGeo has some slightly older footage of the rovers on YouTube.

Mars is a lonely place with a uniform general landscape, but with the highest mountains and deepest and longest canyons in the Solar System.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

CNN airs "Bush v. Gore: The Endless Election" to honor the 15th anniversary of the circus in Florida

Monday night, CNN Presents aired “Bush v. Gore: The Endless Election”, best link here.
I was in a bar in St. Paul MN at an event hosted by the Libertarian Party of Minnesota, watching it, seeing Florida called for Gore.  I didn’t hear that the call had been retracted until I left, as the I drove to another party in Eden Prairie, and heard the news on my car radio as I stopped at a railroad crossing and as it started to snow.

Then, for days, CNN focused only on the 2000 election (15 years ago) and all the goings-on in Florida (I seem to recall Bill Hemmer).  Other events, like the USS Cole bombing (a precursor to 9/11) were slighted.

A coworker pulled up the Butterfly Ballot online to show it wasn’t confusing.  But it could have been troublesome for the disabled.  And it had been designed by Democrats. (No wonder John Sayles made a movie called "Sunshine State".)

We will never know what would have happened it the counting had continued.  It’s not certain by any means that Gore would have won, but he might have.  (There is a lot of coverage in the CNN documentary of retracted concessions on both sides.)  And personally, I think a Gore administration would have been more capable of intercepting 9/11 before it actually happened.  The Clinton administration had caught a West Coast plot at Y2K.

And I do remember the evening that Bush v. Gore was decided by the Supreme Court, rather lawlessly.

The moral, to win an election legitimately, you need a landslide, a blowout, at least three touchdowns (or at least five runs).

Monday, November 02, 2015

Anthony Bourdain returns to a remote village in Borneo and loses (even sacrifices) his chest

Anthony Bourdain continues (in an episode that premiered Nov. 1 at 9 PM, competing with Natgeo’s “Breakthrough”)  his worldwide adventure (that has even included his home state of New Jersey), this time to Borneo, for a repeat visit to the Malaysian side, completing something left open from 1999.  And what that yearning was becomes pretty curious and gives this episode an unusual sense of suspense (rivaled only by his visit to Congo). His own link is here.

He starts out in Kuala Lumpur (site for 1999 film “Entrapment”), exploring the food in a modern city, before he gives some hints as to what awaits him on the islands (and it reminds me of the Di Caprio movie “The Beach” back in 2000). There’s a hint when he pulls aside his shirt and shows a relatively innocuous shoulder tattoo from 1999.

He goes up the river, finding much of the island deforested by loggers, before he returns to the native villages, where there will be a three day food-and-drinking party which is bizarre enough.  They are off the grid, with no cell phone signals.  This is the kind of merriment that intentional communities sell. But he has an appointment, and the episode leads up to it (much like the “Nighthike in one of my sci-fi screenplays, called “Titanium”).  At the end, he’s going to get it.  A tribesman will pound a sizable tattoo right into his sternum, right above the chakra, where there should be hair, but it’s all gone now, forever.  Bourdain, by sacrificing his chess as if a knight in a chess game, has become a symbolic wicker man (but Nicholas Cage would make a better victim, still).

In the long line to get into Town Danceboutique Halloween night, there was a guy, shirt torn open, who had gotten it at some lover’s hands, now already for Borneo, which cannot do him any more wrong.

Wikipedia attribution link for image of illegal settlement in Sabah, easternmost part of Malaysia  author by CCFoodTravel, under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Update: Nov. 5

An a for Direct TV sacrifices an actor's chest for a huge tattoo. The actor definitely "gets it".

"Breakthrough" on NatGeo starts with "Fighting Pandemics", about Ebola in Liberia in 2014

The National Geographic Channel led off a new series called “Breakthrough” Nov. 1 with a one-hour episode “Fighting Pandemics”, directed by Peter Berg, link.

The episode traced the shocking explosion of Ebola in west Africa in 2014.  It did not get into the controversial tragedy in Texas, but it did cover in detail the history of Ian Crozier, who was in intensive care for over 40 days at Emory University in Atlanta late in 2014.  Crozier, a physician, talked about taking his own blood sample when he suspected symptoms and the agonizing wait.  He became even more ill than some other physicians (like Brantley) who survived. It was feared that he would have brain damage, but he finally recovered fully.  However, in December 2014 he experienced some temporary vision loss in one eye, where Ebola had “colonized” (in a body area that is immunosuppressed).  His eye color even changed.  He got anti-virals injected into the eye and his sight recovered.

Crozier seems to have resumed practicing in Liberia.

The documentary covered the way new antibody serums are developed and tested.

By coincidence, the title series is the same as Jack Andraka's book "Breakthrough" about the high school student's (now a freshman at Stanford) science fair project that discovered an inexpensive pancreatic cancer test (Book reviews March 18, 2015).  Maybe Jacks' project would make for a good episode in the series in the future.

Wikipedia attribution link "Ebola Pathenogensis path" by Ebola__Pathenogensis.svg: ChyranandChloederivative work: ChyranandChloe (talk) - Ebola__Pathenogensis.svg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

"Troublemaker": Leah Remini explains her severance from Scientology on 20-20

Troublemaker:  Surviving Hollywood and Scientology” is a new book by Leah Remini, and also an episode Friday Oct. 30 on ABC 20-20. Dan Harris hosted and interviewed her, along with  David Muir, Elizabeth Vargas.

ABC’s video link for the show (requires cable subscription) is here.

In the early part of the interview she explained her exposure to Scientology as a little girl.  The religion was supposed to “free mankind” (to move up “The Bridge to Total Freedom”) and requires quick maturation of children.  She was encouraged to join Sea Org.  She signed a “contract” and became a “resident” in somewhat military-like conditions.  Scientology believes in reincarnation, and that contracts cover reincarnations.

The documentary showed a sample “auditing” session.   I recall passing an outdoor auditing booth near the Ballston Metro in Arlington VA about eight years ago.

Later in life, Remini moves from Florida, where she was brought up in the church, to Hollywood and eventually leaves the church.

There is a detailed history of her career, ties to Tom Cruise (including his wedding) and separation from the church here  and it isn’t easy to leave without strings attached.  The church does not appreciate being characterized, even by opinion, as a "cult". Forbes goes into more detail than the 20-20 episode on the disappearance of Shelly Miscaiage