Sunday, May 31, 2015

CNN visits International Space Station


Saturday, CNN Newsroom rebroadcast Sanjay Gupta’s report on ISS, the International Space Station, with a visit to a replica of the station in Houston, link here.  The broadcast included a Thanksgiving dinner with “real food”.
 
The space station construction had started in 1998.  There are many cylindrical tubes, linked together in several branches, in which astronauts work and live, in zero gravity.  There special sleeping pouches.  A lot of attention is given to exercise, to counter bone loss from zero or low gravity. 
  
  
Wikipedia has a geography map of the structure showing all areas accessible without space suits here.

Wikipedia attribution link for Space Station diagram by Lee Brandon Kremer, under Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0  

Thursday, May 28, 2015

"Aquarius" on NBC: a prequel to the Manson murders


NBC’s new series “Aquarius” started Thursday night with a 2-hour pilot, “Everybody’s Been Burned”, directed by Jonas Pate.
  
The premise is that back in the late 1960s, an LA cop Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny) works with another undercover cop Brian Shafe (Gray Damon) to locate a missing teen.  Shafe is supposed to look like a hippy but looks pretty attractive by today’s ideas. So does Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony), who seems rather commanding, and it is shocking to contemplate what he’ll do later.
   
The script does refer to some of the issues of the time, like draft dodging and even desertion when in the Army.
  
  
The official site is here. NBC says the entire series will be placed online May 29.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

CNN remembers its first 35 years as a cable news network


This evening (Tuesday May 26, 2015), CNN aired a 35-th anniversary special, of its history of special continuous news coverages over the years. At the very beginning, it was called "Chicken Noodle News" when Ted Turner invented it. 
  
  
The rescue of Jessica McClure from an oil shaft in Midland, Texas in October 1987 (when I was on vacation in Utah and watched it on TV in a motel) may have been the first long incident that showed the value of cable news.  However, “This is CNN” had covered the attempted assassination of president Reagan in 1981.
  
The Persian Gulf War in 1990-1991 was the next major event.  Wolf Blitzer had joined the network in May of 1990.  The public got riveted to daily coverage of the war, from the bombing raids on Jan. 17, 1990 (I was entering a Bally’s spa as I first heard that the raids had started), through the end on Feb. 28, 1991.
  
The 2000 elections may have created the next non-stop event, with the “hanging chads” in Florida, but then the next big thing was 9/11/2001.  The special tonight recreated some of the events of that day, including the collapse of the South Tower.  “There are no words.”
  
The last segment of the special summarized the week of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Monday, May 25, 2015

PBS airs "The Homefront" episode about the strain of military deployments (mostly to the Mideast and Afghanistan) on families


PBS has a special Memorial Day documentary  episode of “The Homefront” at 9 PM most stations.  Tonight’s broadcast concerns the current war (and recent past) in Afghanistan, and (until recently) Iraq, during the Bush and Obama administrations.
  
  
The 2-hour special looks at the hardships of military families, such as economics and employment for spouses, and childcare, during repeated deployments, and then moves on to the grevious wounds and the effects of these on spouses. 
  
With an all volunteer force, repeated deployments (as demonstrated in the movie “Stop-Loss”) require even more sacrifice from military families. 
  
We don’t think about marriage that way very often, that an intimate relationship needs to continue, even after one partner is disfigured, which could be a female partner as well as male.
  
It then moved to the subject of illegal killings by soldiers.
  
Then it moves to the National Guard and reservists, who get deployed also, but who also mix civilian work with weekend maneuvers.
  
PBS has a series by this name, also “The Perilous Fight”, with other episodes covering World War II (link ).

In eighth grade (in 1957) I recall writing a term paper “The Home Front During World War II” in “General Education”.  I recall the material about rationing particularly. 
  
That’s history we shouldn’t forget.
  

Saturday, May 23, 2015

TLC's "19 Kids and Counting" falls to hypocrisy scandal



I took a look at the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting”, watching an episode “Schoolhouse Duggars”, link here.  MSN  (along with many others) has reported its (possible) cancellation (or pulling remaining episodes) over a scandal, but as of today episodes are still available online. 

  
The episode showed the family going to camp in near Big Sandy in East Texas, with the kids learning Spanish and Chinese.  (The family lives in Arkansas.) At one point, a father says that their family is six times as large as the average family in China (because of the old one child per family policy in China for population control a few decades ago. Later they go to a Mexican restaurant and order a meal in “Spanglish”. They talk about connections to El Salvador. They also talk about learning camping skills, and finally college prep skills, but the say they don’t pressure their kids to get degrees, but they have to learn as many “real” skills at home as possible. They have a belief that knowledge comes after wisdom and religious faith.
  
There are many trailers, like Jill and Derrick, with Jill having baby Dilly by Caesarian after 70 hours of labor and needing a very attentive husband.
  
I get the feeling that people like me, who compete with them economically without the same kind of sexual commitment (or capacity for it) are a problem for them.

One of the issues that comes up with large families, is that older siblings learn to take care of the younger, even though "they're not my children."  Dr. Phil has covered that issue a few times, especially with the Octomom, when he asked for "volunteers". 
    
However The Learning Channel seems to have threatened to cancel the series over reports that Josh, now 27, had “molested” girls years before, after the statute of limitations had passed.  Josh has drawn fire for past anti-gay remarks, which would add to hypocrisy. It happens repeatedly, that right-wing leaders have to admit their own sins.  Josh also reportedly resigned from the Family Research Council, which has actually used the idea that fathers surrender male hormones when becoming dads (and attending to pregnant wives) as an argument against gay marriage. 
   
Picture is from Texas Hill Country, mine, in 2011.

Update: May 26

CNN reports that the remaining episodes were pulled from cable airing.  But TLC has not yet decided to cancel the series entirely. As of tonight, the basic page of video links is still available online at TLC's site. It's possible that existing episodes might remain available. 


Thursday, May 21, 2015

"Rise of the Hackers" on PBS Nova looks at RSA Algorithm for encryption, and the double-edge of quantum computing: musicians will be the new coders


PBS Nova rebroadcast “The Rise of the Hackers” last night.  Apparently I had missed it.  At least, there is now a “global geek squad” of ethical hackers. 
   
The documentary started with an account of an ordinary user who had all of his social media accounts wiped out by teenage vandals starting with Apple, an incident described on the Internet Safety blog, Aug. 17, 2012.
  
But is soon moves to the area of what happens when states do the hacking, and examines the Stuxnet worm, which seems to have been introduced (by external USB device) to foreign (Iranian) process-control equipment, possibly by the US to injure its nuclear program.  But the worm is reported to be “in the wild”.
  
It then went into how number theory (of prime numbers) contributes to the encryption used today in common Internet transactions.  The RSA Algorithm is supposed to make it take longer than the age of the Universe to break a well-encrypted message by brute-force.  But dependence on RSA could be undermined in the future by quantum computing, now being developed at Cal Tech, MIT, and particularly the NSA. Quantum computing is based on the laws of quantum mechanics, and allows calculations in parallel rather than series.
  
  
But quantum computing could also provide new security tools.  One such tool sounds almost like telepathy or lucid dreaming (the “Inception” movie and the world of Christopher Nolan).  A musician learns to play a certain piece with certain digital prompts on an electronic instrument.  The style of play is recorded into the musician’s subconscious as “muscle memory”, which is mathematically a bit like RSA.  To gain access, the musician plays the piece with his own style.  I can imagine composer Timo Andres being inspired to piece just on this idea.
   
This is all part of a new field called “paranoid computing”, which is based on the idea that no one security technique alone can be totally dependable.  I’ve talked about that, saying home users or small businesses should keep their own backups in various formats and locations, and keep some of their computers un-networked.  A device that is off-line simply can’t be hacked (although the CIA and NSA have admitted that possibly it can).

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

CNN "honors" David Letterman as his late-night "career" ends on CBS


Tuesday night, CNN honored David Letterman, host of the “Late Show with David Letterman” on CBS, which has its final show tonight (Wednesday).  The CBS link is here .   CNN’s best link for its own biography is here. Letterman has his own production company with the unusual name “Worldwide Pants”.
  
Letterman started his career on campus, and was actually fired from one early job for trashing classical music.  His network career started on NBC and was good competition for Carson in the 70s.
  
   
The two most interesting episodes occurred more recently.  On a Friday morning in January 2000, Letterman (then 53) had a “routine” angiogram, because of family history.  He was rushed into emergency coronary bypass surgery that afternoon.  The New York Times has an account here.   Later, Esquire would publish a satirical article of Letterman’s joining the “zipper club”, with a cartoon picture of a hairless chess, disfigured by staples and a scar (Tampa newspaper story).   Regis Philbin used to say, “They crack you open like a lobster”.  In the office, I would say then, “Never go to the doctor:  You might not make it home.

In the CNN broadcast, Letterman was shown with a T-shirt depicting his chest after surgery in a similar drawing. 
  
The other controversy came with Letterman’s admitting to having sex with women involved with the show  (story)  But he’s remarried and became a dad after the surgery. So aesthetics didn’t bother him.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

PBS Frontline" "Secrets, Politics and Torture": The CIA gets away with "Extreme Rendition" and needs to


Tonight’s PBS Frontline report, “Secrets, Politics and Torture”, finally tells us “Why you never saw the CIA’s interrogation tapes”, with the main link here
  
Indeed, with a Republican controlled Congress and with Diane Feinstein’s loss of the head of the intelligence committee chair to a GOP-er, the report has been hidden.
  
  
But right after 9/11, the CIA was tasked with a level of field work that it had apparently not done since the fall of the Soviet Union.  It needed to “capture, detain, interrogate, and learn.”  It tried to reverse engineer the SERE program that the US had used with POW’s in the Korean and Vietnam wars.  The CIA began to use methods rather like that of the movie “Extreme Rendition” (let alone "Zero Dark Thirty", also exaggerated).  Abu Zubadayah was subject to interrogation but the CIA did not learn of any big second 9/11 plot.  The CIA set up black sites in Romania, Poland, Lithuania.  (In my own novel, I got Poland right, but added Finland and the Basque area of Spain.)  Curiously, the CIA apparently set up something like my “Academy” in Montana (in my novel, it’s set up with private interests – like Cheney’s Halliburton – in West Texas, but there is another property on the Montana plains, so I rather got some of that right.)
  
In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that the Geneva Convention (which they teach us about in Army Basic) applies to interrogation, and those who violated it could go to jail for life for committing war crimes.  CIA attorney John Rizzo, who had tried to justify waterboarding and “boxing Helena”, worried that he could wind up in jail.  In the Bush administration, after the Abu Graib scandal, Rice wanted to tone down the program, as did Obama, but under a GOP Congress, the CIA’s deeds are safe.
  
The film shows a lot of the CIA’s computers and graphics, the seventh floor, and the basement stairs of the building, as well as a glimpse of a report on dirty bombs and Jose Padilla (and that was a domestic arrest).
  
Jane Mayer, whose book is “The Dark Side”, appears.
  
The film shows some fibbies bringing the materials on the interrogation tapes across Memorial Bridge in the middle of the night to take them to Senate intelligence, where they would be locked in another vault.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Bourdain visits Madagascar with Darren Aronofsky; also, Scotland


1Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” visited to the island of Madagascar, off the coast of Africa, in the Indian Ocean.
  
Bourdain was accompanied by filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (“Noah”, “Pi”, “Black Swan”), who mixed with the local people well.  They visited with a Dr. Wright, who was in charge of a national park trying to preserve lemurs (who are amazingly immune to the cyanide in bamboo). The pair also went on long, slow train rides through primitive country. They had dinner in a small town, and the locals had a system to make sure everyone eats. Link is here

Bourdain covered the loss of 90% of the forests of the island (climate change?) from the result of “slash and burn”.


Earlier Sunday night Bourdain broadcast his episode in Scotland, partly from Glasgow, which used to have a big problem with gang violence.  There was a surprising tolerance, even encouragement, of bullying in their culture.

There was also come coverage of the vote for independence from the UK in 2014, which did not pass. 
  
Wikipedia attribution link for photo of erosion in Madagascar by Vassen, under creative commons 2.0 license. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

NBC Dateline: "The Secret": A college professor gets extradited from overseas for allegedly planning a revenge killing for her rape 20 years before



NBC’s Dateline Friday Night May 15. 2015 is called just “The Secret”, and it shows that prosecution for a crime can happen decades after it happened. 
  
In this case, respected psychology professor Norma Patricia Esparza, having started a new life, earned a PhD and teaching in Switzerland, was forced to return to Orange County, CA for the death in 1995 of a putative former rapist Gonzalo Ramirez, actually committed by  Gianni Anthony Van, which she was accused of masterminding.  The main NBC video link is here
  
  
She eventually took a plea deal for voluntary manslaughter and a six-year sentence (she had turned down a three-year deal), for testimony against Van, a hotel concierge.  But she says she is innocent and did at first want to go to prison for what at worst was a revenge killing for rape.
  
She had risen out of poverty in her Latino community to become a professor.
  
The Inquisitr has a story here as does the Los Angeles Times here.

Friday, May 15, 2015

"Days of our Lives" now plays the gay marriage jealousy card in a silly fashion


“Days of our Lives” is getting pretty silly with the way it is playing the gay marriage card.  Will is determined that baseball player Paul must leave Salem, or Paul’s presence will be a threat to their marriage.  That’s pretty silly, to carry jealousy to such an extreme.  I’ve never experienced anything remotely like that.
  
Really, is jealousy a necessary part of marriage, including gay marriage now?  I do remember how in the “separate world” days of the 70s, there were various little intrigues between Manhattan and Fire Island in my own life. 
  
As for Will’s career, the show is going into some interesting ethical areas about the way journalists choose their subject matter.  Apparently, his writing a story about Clyde will be controversial.  There was a line “You shouldn’t write about local people.” Will  (Guy Wilson) is always saying that, unlike an really independent blogger like me, he gets paid for all his stories and still have to make a living from his writing.  That is, he is truly a “writer” (not just a “blogger”).
  
In fact, most local newspapers want their contributors to stay “local”.  And that gets to be a problem.  Local stories can sometimes have national or global impact.  The other day, I blogged about the coming closing of a major gay disco in Baltimore.  That sounds like local impact only.  But it has widespread implications, as the gay bar business gets more difficult everywhere for a variety of reasons (including security).  That’s especially true in Salem.  Oh, that’s right, Sonny’s in Days club is “mixed”. 
   
The contrast between Sonny, and both Will and Paul, gets played up in some episodes.  Sonny has been allowed to keep his chest hair.  So has JJ, who only recently grew it in the first place.  JJ is becoming the most interesting male character in the show.  I guess Chad is a "good person", too.  

Update: May 19

Today Paul wound up babysitting and then struck Will (knocking him out for a moment) after Will surprised him and "insulted" him.  This jealousy business in a gay love triangle is getting silly, and not typical. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Cable news is getting weaker in the ratings business


A we watch the non-stop coverage of the Philadelphia train wreck, ponder a story in Vox by Ezra Klein, that viewership of cable news is going down, and it’s because of the news, May 10, link here
   
Actually, I think that CNN and Fox, and even ABCNews, were rather bombastic in their reporting of recent speculative FBI, NSA and Homeland Security statements about ISIS recruiting in the US.  Other news outlets (including Vox) were more temperate.
   
Klein also notes that younger viewers don’t seem to be as interested in international or political news as older people (especially conservatives).  Young adults may not realize how these issues can affect and ambush them. But this all has an effect on Nielsen rating and revenues to cable networks.
   
Mother Jones has also published his post here and it seems to use findings from the Pew Research Center. I worked for NBC myself in the mid 1970s and became somewhat familiar with Nielsen then. 

  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Wolf Blitzer, on CNN's "Situation Room", explains the Deep Web and Dark Web, in interview with GOP Senator discussing terror threats


Today, Wolf Blitzer, on CNN’s “The Situation Room”, interviewed Senator James Risch (R-ID), from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, about the new alarm over ISIS on the Internet, along with discussions over Kerry’s meeting with Russia in Sochi and Saudi Arabia’s behavior. 
  
But the most important part of the interview concerned distinguishing the “Deep Web” (often associated with the Silk Road and Bitcoin, as in a new indie film I discussed on the Movies blog yesterday) and the “Dark Web”, which is the unseen part of an iceberg, mostly “dangerous” sites not indexed by Google, Yahoo! and Bing, with deep encryption and identities hidden by products like Tor (“The Onion Router”), and a premium on P2P interaction.  Many of the “how to” websites related to terrorism are hosted overseas and found “here”.  Foreign elements tweet or contact possible “followers” in the West and provide them with locations of these sites and video, which go viral.
  
The interview follows the broadcast of Fareed Zakaria’s film on CNN last night, “Blindsided: How ISIS Shook the World”, reviewed on my “cf” blog (“Films on Major Threats to Freedom” in my Profile) Monday night.
  
Google has its own index of the “Deep Web” here, NPR has a good summary here

  
The new link fo Wolf Blitzer’s daily show is here. Note the video today about another Cyberwarfare “threat”.
  

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mike Rowe volunteers to help remove rocks from canyons before they fall onto cars -- climbing, rope knots


Mike Rowe, who now reassures his own parents that he has all the bases in his own life covered because “Somebody’s gotta do it”, went rock rappelling near Ojai, CA in a highway maintenance activity that removes rocks from canyons that are likely to fall onto highways and cars. The link is here.
  
He had to take extensive training not only in rappelling but in tying knots.  All volunteers take the training. It’s really hard to see why people to volunteer for this.  But then, how do you get people into volunteer fire departments?
  
Ojai was also the site of a major music festival last summer (drama blog, June 17, 2014).
  

He then went to Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, MD, to cover an American history lesson about the War of 1812, which had started with the impressment of civilian sailors into the British navy, a precursor to the draft.  He folded a copy of the original flag and noted that Francis Scott Key had opposed the war originally.  We almost lost the country to this war, and the White House was burned.  The country may have been saved by a freak tornado.  Rowe then took some diving lessons at the aquarium that does dolphin shows.  Rowe's broadcast, of course, was filmed well before the recent police controversy and riots.  

Friday, May 08, 2015

Tom Brokaw chronicles his living with multiple myeloma on NBC Dateline


Last night, NBC Dateline varied from crime cases and went back to medicine, with one of its own, former anchor Tom Brokaw, author of “The Greatest Generation”, and now a new book, “A Lucky Life, Interrupted”.  Brokaw described his struggle with multiple myeloma, a cancer of certain plasma cells in the bone marrow.
  
  
Brokaw, while living at his ranch in Montana, had been experiencing back pain.  After a particular incident involving falling into water, he experienced severe pain and visited the Mayo Clinic  and was diagnosed.  Then he received treatment at Sloan-Kettering near his home in New York City.
  
The symptoms sometimes include bone fractures, as bones are weakened by tumor cells.  The symptoms can be in any bone, but are more common in spine, ribs and sternum. Brokaw had several small verbetra fractures, which had to be fused by surgery.  Another symptom is kidney damage.  But the cancer is often slow growing, and might be asymptomatic for years.  It is more common in elderly men.  The disease seems to be related to random mutations that become more probable as one ages.  Chemotherapy can put the tumor in remission but not cure it.
  
Brokaw looked weak during the treatment but looks much better now.

 

Thursday, May 07, 2015

PBS "Super Skyscrapers" shows construction of Leadenhall Tower in London



Last night, I discovered a rebroadcast of a PBS Super Skyscrapers documentary, this one about the construction of the 700+-food triangular Leadenhall Tower in the City of London, video link here.  with building site here
  
What is so remarkable is that all the components of the building had to be assembled off-site (in the north of England), based on modular steel pieces with a minimum of concrete, and brought to the site, and assembled almost like Lego blocks.  The documentary showed the detailed 3-D imaging of the building and computer simulation of the process, probably with software from Intergraph or a similar company. (That company was very visible in Dallas in the 1980s.)
  
  
The series episodes on the World Trade Center, and on China (like Vertical City in Shanghai) will surely be interesting (story in the Guardian). 
  
Wikipedia attribution link for picture by Colin of the Cheesegrater, under Creative Commons 4.0 Share Alike 

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

AC360 hosts emergency town hall, "Police Under Fire"


Monday night, CNN extended Anderson Cooper’s AC360 program with an hour-long town hall “Police Under Fire”, link here. The planned film about ISIS, “Blindsided” was postponed for another week.
   
The emergency town hall may have been motivated in part by a near-miss incident in Baltimore Monday where a suspect's gun went off, but things remained calm. 
    
Much of the discussion focused on the enhanced challenges of the job of a police officer, since stepping over the line even once can end a career and ruin one’s own life (let alone a life that might be wrongfully taken).  That could make it more difficult to recruit people into this work in the future.
CNN excerpted some of the discussion, “Where does racial bias come from?”
  
  
Some police welcome body cameras, as it will vindicate them when they really have to act decisively.
   
Much of the rest of the discussion focused on the disconnect between much of the inner city black community and mainstream America, whether in Baltimore’s Sandtown or many other cities.  The economic recession, and especially the predatory lending and subprime loans made during the Bush years, made the problem worse.  Income inequality, along with the loss of manufacturing jobs has also contributed to the slide.  So has the disappearance of adult men from the black community to serve as role models.  All of this happens under the watch of a Harvard-educated black president.
  
Some commentators, including Don Lemon, have mentioned the idea of reparations. 

Monday, May 04, 2015

Anthony Bourdain visits Miami, and South Korea


Sunday night, Anthony Bourdain continued his “Parts Unknown” with a visit to Miami, and a side trip to Key West, following the path of Hemmingway, link here 
 .
He noted that you can’t get a job in a convenience store or fast food business in the area unless you speak fluent idiomatic Spanish (not just the Spanish in the classroom or the movies).  He also talked to vagabond men who had settled there because they liked the freedom of seeing an endless horizon.  

The beach is best in the morning, when the Sun in the East glimmers.


He also dealt with the idea that Miami was built on illegal drugs and criminality (the “Scarface” problem), which can only happen because drugs are illegal – the libertarian argument against the war on drugs (covered in CNN’s two series’s on legal marijuana). 

Remember, the Marlins baseball team (the "free fish") are now called the Miami Marlines, not the Florida Marlins, since they got a new stadium (and there is Tampa Bay in the AL).  

People who own high rise condos there tell me that the properties are built to withstand Level 4 hurricanes.
  
Earlier Sunday, Bourdain replayed the episode on South Korea, where he gets a very thorough body rubdown at the start. 

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Marlins Park by Roberto Coquis, under Creative Commons 2.0 license. Note the deep center field.  The opponent is the St. Louis Cardinals.  Does Anthony Bourdain like baseball?  Probably soccer more. 

Friday, May 01, 2015

ABC 20-20 "Taya Kyle Exclusive", Robin Roberts interviews wife of "American Sniper"


Tonight, ABC 20-20 presented an interview by Robin Roberts of Taya Kyle, wife of the late Chris Kyle, subject of the film “American Sniper”, and then murdered on a gun range by another veteran (Eddie Ray Routh) who claimed to be mentally ill.
  
In the early part, Taya described how they met, and how Chris felt called to duty, and had to leave immediately after marriage.  But at home, Chris was  committed to his family, and the broadcast shows home movies.  He was described as an “amazing father”. 
  
Much of the broadcast did cover the 2007 murder and the subsequent trial
  
  
Taya talks about his reenlistment, and the emotions surrounding conflict between family and serving his country.  She talks about the difficult times when Chris (who really did look the way Bradley Cooper was made up) tried to run a security business and faced bankruptcy.  She also talks to Robin on the “Red Carpet”.

Taya emphasized that Chris was shocked when he got to Iraq to find women and children being used as shields.  She says his training really didn't fully prepare him for this. 
    
The broadcast did offer spectacular shots of the north Texas fringe of the Hill Country.

Taya also appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" and then on "The View" Monday May 4.
  
Picture, West Texas, around Odessa, my 2011 trip.