“Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President”

Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President” is a rather entertaining British documentary about the Trump family, narrated by Matt Frei, directed by Paul Berczeller and Mark Radice.

The most interesting part of the film may be the beginning, the narrative of grandfather Friedrich Trump, who came to the US from Bavaria after a crisis as a teen and started building businesses in lower Manhattan in the 1890s. They were generally restaurants, bars, and brothels. He moved out west, to Seattle, and followed the gold rush to the Yukon in Canada.  At one point, he shipped a hotel down the river like a toy and put it back together when it broke apart in the river current in Whitehorse.

After some failures he tried to go back to Bavaria and was refused citizenship because of draft evasion. Sound familiar?  He wound up back in New York.

His son Fred Trump would take after him and build a real estate empire, mostly houses, in Queens. There’s a reference to Coney Island and maybe one of my favorite spots from twenty years ago, the Seaside Courts for paddleball. Donald would be the fourth child and second son, and was always getting in trouble, and would thrive in military school. But the older brother would “fail”, becoming a pilot and then succumbing to the bottle, and Donald would wind up with the real estate empire.

The grandfather showed a real pioneering work ethic (I’m reminded of the entrepreneurialism in Lagos, Nigeria recently depicted on an Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown”) but with the father Fred and then Donald it turned more into manipulative and aggressive dealing to see what they could get away with. Is that raw capitalism?

The film races through Donald’s career, briefly covering his bankruptcy in the late 90s.  It covers his marriages, to Ivanka and later to immigrant Melania.

The end of the film talks about Donald’s attitude about “winners” and “losers” and his somewhat disturbing belief in what sounds like eugenics. Trump seems to believe that better genes equates to existential personal moral superiority (which the Nazis also claimed).  He did get in trouble early in his own career for redlining black applicants for apartments, marking their paperwork with “C” for colored.  But in my own experience, one time renting an apartment in Arlington VA in 1971, I encountered the same kind of talk from a rental agent, and again when moving to Dallas at the beginning of 1979.

The Netflix version runs 48 minutes, but imdb lists the length as 65.  Maybe the longer version covers more about the 2016 election.

Wiki picture of Whitehorse in autumn.

Name:  “Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President
Director, writer:  Paul Berczeller and Mark Radice
Released:  2017
Format:  1.78:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play
Length:  65 / 48
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Netflix
Link:  Guardian, independent  (both reviews here rather concerned about the tone of the film on race and genetics)

(Posted: Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017 at 8:30 PM EDT)

“17 Misconceptions about the Effects of Electromagnetic Pulse”: half-hour film seems the best explanation of the real threat to ordinary Americans so far

 

I usually review “YouTube” films on my legacy blogs on Blogger, and the following 25mnute video by “Reality Survival” would normally go on my “Films on Major Threats to Freedom” blog. But I thought that this particular technical explanation of the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat so cogent as to need to be brought over here as a significant longer short film that ought to be offered in festivals.

It is titled “17 Misconceptions about the Effects of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)” by Reality Survival

He (the presenter) does not list his point, so I trust that his strike count is 17.

He starts out by pointing out that a high altitude nuclear blast from a thermonuclear weapon (hydrogen bomb) who have a “source area” below where the effects are severe, and a “tangent” area surrounding it where they are much less severe.

The most widely touted damage is the “E3” phase, or third phase, lasting perhaps a minute, where Earth’s magnetic field around the event is severely disturbed.  This is the phase that overloads transformers and knocks out the power grids (there are three in the U,S.)  He says there are about 370 major transformers in the United States that are too large for conventional transportation and have to be built in situ.  It could take two to three years to rebuild them all.  That presumes that the components could still be manufactured in other parts of the world and shipped.  But he says that a solar storm that was severe enough (larger than Carrington in 1857) could envelop the Earth even on the night side and prevent any remanufacturing anywhere, so that rebuilding would take maybe 10 years.  We may have had a close call with a huge coronal mass ejection in late July 2012.  So from the power grid perspective, the solar storm risk may be greater than what is posed by North Korea (although Russia and China are capable of wiping out civilization for good, as are we).

But the EMP from a nuclear blast has two other components, E1 and E2, where it is much easier to provide some protection. Furthermore, (at least according to Resilient Societies) fission nuclear weapons produce only these first two effects (a fact touted by “EMP deniers”).  That is one reason why North Korea’s claim to have a hydrogen bomb is strategically significant.

The HEMP E1 is a fast pulse that destroys magnetic data and personal electronics.  These devices might be protected by “nested Faraday cages”.  He notes that solid state electronics (like thumb drives) can be destroyed by E1 even though they are not ordinary harmed by household magnets or ordinary magnetic fluctuations in the environment (like by nearby transmission towers).  He recommends people back up their data on optical data, like single-sided CD’s.  Automobile ignition systems are often touted as vulnerable (as in the book “One Second After”).  He says that most cars made before 2003 would probably run, and some newer cars still have the proper shielding.  He says that sometimes a car will start if the battery is disconnected and then reconnected.  But of course you would run out of gas eventually, and electrical charging stations presumably would not work.

The speaker hints that old-fashioned electronics of early stereo and HiFi enthusiasts in the 1960s might work (when I was collecting classical phonograph records) but some vacuum tube components could be undermined by “selenium rectifiers”.

The E2 pulse is more like what a lightning strike to an existing power line does.  Your surge protectors may actually shield from these.  The E2 pulse is the easiest to deflect.

It’s noteworthy that the E3 pulse (like from solar storms) does not normally threaten personal electronics.

James Woolsey, as noted before, has warned that North Korea could launch an EMP attack (possibly in retaliation if Trump strikes the DPRK mainland) from one of its “Shining Star” satellites.  But it does not appear that it would have a thermonuclear weapon on one of these satellites, but it might be capable of an E1 strike.  So consumers need to back up their data on optical data now, even this week?  Remember, an E1-only strike would wipe out devices without wiping out the power grid, apparently.  As a purely geopolitical matter, I note that some other videos on YouTube suggest that China could actually goad North Korea into a high-altitude thermonuclear E3 EMP strike over the US so that China could then conquer the US.  The Domino Theory is back.

There is no information that I am aware of as to whether big cloud companies (Google, Apple, etc) have physical protection of their data with faraday-like covers.

It’s also possible for non-nuclear magnetic flux devices deployed by terrorists in local areas.  It is not clear which effects they have, but they might mainly be E1 and E2.  This was covered by a now largely forgotten Popular Mechanics issue around Labor Day of 2001, one week before 9/11.   The Washington Times wrote about this in 2009.  The US Army uses these devices in Afghanistan now, and one is on display in the Ordnance Museum in Aberdeen, MD.

All of this suggests an enhanced kind of cultural hygiene that we have already gotten used to in meeting cyber threats and hackers (particularly, recently, ransomware as well as doxing and release of PII).  Protection of personal data with optical devices or with Faraday cages could become part of the culture that people need to learn to deal with.  I plan a visit to Best Buy soon to discuss this with Geek Squad.  But that seems applicable only against one kind of threat: older fission nuclear weapons.

The larger point is that society has become much more technology dependent than it was, again, say in the 1960s, the time of the last Cuban Missile Crisis.  While the Pentagon seems to have protected its own systems, protection of consumer and commercial use of technology seems to have lagged behind the serious threats.

It’s noteworthy that “Resilient Societies” has claimed on Twitter that the power grids could be protected with an investment by the utility industry of about $5 per consumer (about $2 billion nationwide), but I can’t yet find any statement as to what the technology at the transformer protection level would be.  However, many utilities (Dominion Power in Virginia for example) have recently announced unspecified security enhancements to their grids against both cyberterror and direct physical threats.

That’s one reason why the “doomsday prepper” and survivalist crowd has developed its somewhat extreme vision of personal morality (that we sometimes associated with the alt-right):  that everyone needs to learn to deal with the immediate physical world and participate in a familial social hierarchy to protect others before seeking global fame through modern civilized living.

The Wikipedia article on nuclear EMP is here.  Note the 2013 bill proposed in the House.

This article by Motoko Rich and David E Sanger about the geopolitical strategy is quite chilling. The Domino Theory of the Vietnam ear draft (my DADT I book) is indeed back.

I have to ask, also, where is the mainstream media on this?  It’s hardly ver mentioned.  But Newt Gingrich and others have testified about this threat before Congress as recently as March of this year. It’s not just North Korea, it’s also space climate (which doesn’t change.)

(Posted: Monday, September 4, 2017, at 10:30 AM EDT)

Update: Sept. 5

The filmmaker has sent me the link of his followup:
How to Build a Nested Faraday Cage: Protect Your Electronics from an EMP

(28 Minutes)

ABC airs remake of “Dirty Dancing” as a musical

Wednesday, May 24, 2017 ABC aired a 3-hour (including commercials) remake by Lionsgate of the 1987 low-budget hit “Dirty Dancing”, originally directed by Emile Ardolino and released by Vestron and Artisan (which Lionsgate bought), the new version by Wayne Blair.  The remake was probably facilitated legally by Lionsgate’s ownership of some of the original materials.

The original low-budget film had been a surprise hit. The new version is set up as a musical, of sorts, with all the popular songs  (like “The Time of My Life”) played, providing some of the lilt of 80s disco music.

The plot is actually rather intricate.  The film is set in 1963 at a resort, the Sheldrake, in the Catskills (the new film was shot largely in North Carolina and Virginia, especially near Blacksburg). “Baby” (Abigail Breslin), son of a doctor (Bruce Greenwood) visits the resort and gradually falls in love with the working class dance instructor Johnny Castle (Cold Prattes).  There are tensions between Johnny and some of the other Ivy League young men at the resort (this is pre-assassination, pre-Vietnam Kennedy era). There are some racial tensions with an African American dancer. And there are a couple of long subplots involving Baby’s borrowing money from her dad for a friend Penny (Nicole Scherzinger) to have an abortion when Colt’s rival Robbie (Shane Harper) knocks Penny up; the abortion is botched (as often happened in those days, when “the abortionist” would be portrayed as a common criminal on the TV show “The D.A.’s Man”).  Later Colt gets falsely accused of petty theft.

The “dirty dancing” style is perhaps more curious in gay discos, where gradual unmasking happens. In the movie, Colt is usually attired with a completely open shirt, with only a little chest hair, rather derivative of  John Travolta in “Staying Alive” (1985).

Author Ryan Field has a gay novel from Riverdale Publishing based on the title.

Patrock Swayze had played Colt in the 1987 film.  Swayze would die after a 20-month battle with pancreatic cancer, a much more resilient survival than for most.   Jack Andraka’s book “Breakthrough” describes had a teen discovered a possible early detection test for pancreatic cancer.

I recall visiting a similar resort in the Adirondacks, at Lake Placid, as a child on a summer trip with my parents, where dinner was announced with a gong.

Name: “Dirty Dancing”
Director, writer:  Wayne Blair
Released:  2017, remake of 1987
Format:  1.85:1  TV
When and how viewed:  ABC Network 2017/5/24
Length:  150 approx
Rating:  PG-13 probably
Companies:  Lionsgate, ABC Studios
Link:  ABC

(Posted: Friday, May 25, 2017 at 3:15 PM EDT)

“Whose Streets” presents the Ferguson, MO protests from the view of the people

A month after the death of Michael Brown when shot by Darren Wilson in Ferguson MO around noon on  Saturday, August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, MO,  filmmaker Sabaah Folayan left her medical studies in New York to work with the people and document their unrest, along with Damon Davis and photography director Lucas Alvarado-Farrar.  The result is the docudrama “Whose Streets?”  In fact, Farrar hosted the QA at a showing at the Maryland Film Festival today in Baltimore, which is ironic given Baltimore’s own police-related unrest in April 2015.

The film focuses particularly on seven individuals: Brittany Ferrell, a nurse; David Whitt, who recruits for Cop Watch, Tory Russell, founded of Hands Up United, which would synch with the founding of Black Lives Matter (which had actually started with the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida).

The film, using a lot of raw cell phone video in early sections and later more professionally shot, chronicles the unrest for the rest of the year, giving the spectator-viewer a front row seat to the anger. “Rioting is the language of the unheard.”

Indeed, this is a film about activism, and it does not go out of its way to analyze the fact pattern.  One police officer is quoted as saying that Wilson stopped Brown just because he was walking in the center of the street.  That contradicts accounts as below which maintain Wilson had been radioed about theft at a convenience store.  The film shows a little of the interview of Wilson by George Stephanopoulos, a part that would sound prejudicial.  The film shows the prosecutor’s reporting that the grand jury did not return an indictment against Wilson, who would wind up living in hiding against vigilantism, according to many reports.

There is also some investigation as to whether Brown had been doing barter in the convenience store, not covered in the film. This refers to Jason Pollock, whose film “Stranger Fruit” I have not seen yet (CNN).

The audience, during the QA,seemed quite tuned in to the activism, with one woman questioning whether the government would treat Black Lives Matters the way it had the Black Panthers.  The audience liked the presentation of the children, including one child who makes an activist statement at the end.

The film also shows the blockage of I-70 near St. Louis by protestors, and the arrest of a woman for trying to run over some.   The film also maintains that police in the St. Louis area use police profiling as an excuse to collect fines to enrich themselves.  Activists note that the tear gas or riot gas (which I got to know in Army Basic with the gas chamber in 1968 at Fort Jackson) causes skin burning after the fact, even when water is poured on it.

The world of activism tends to move toward resistance, coercion, and sometimes combativeness, insisting that others who are privileged by the system, even if they didn’t directly cause oppression, are going to have their lives knocked to make things right – call it expropriation.  This is not about questioning every little fact to rationalize someone’s actions.  Call it revolution if you will.  The extra intrusions made by the special demands of “Black Lives Matter”  (relative to “all lives matter”) are supposed to make you uncomfortable.

Journalists seemed welcome to make this film, but sometimes journalists are resented as “spectators” without their own skin in the game, above demonstrating and carrying pickets like “the people”.  But then try combat journalism.

In the fall of 2014, actor-musician Reid Ewing (“Modern Family” and numerous films), going to college in Salt Lake City, wrote some tweets about police treatment of Darrien Hunt (story).

Wikipedia fact page for Michael Brown and Darren Wilson.

Picture: Mine, Washington DC demonstrations, Nov. 2014.

Full George Stephanopoulos interview with Darren Wilson

QA 1

QA 2 – answer to my question about fact finding

QA 3 – comment that police control where media can film

Extra photo from Baltimore (Trey Yingst, 2015).

On Sunday, May 7 W. Kamau Bell covered Chicago’s segregation, police bias, gang violence, and “reparations”, and “Black Lives Matter” on an episode of “United Shades of America: We (are all) The People” on CNN. They talked about “cyberbanging” and Spike Lee’s “Chiraq” (2015).

He also aired a basic episode about immigration in the second hour.

PBS Independent Lens has aired “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes” (abdridged) by Brett Story on 2017/5/8; one of the landscapes is St. Louis County, surrounding Ferguson. The film covered the “garbage jail” problem where low-income residents are ticketed by small police departments and then threatened.  The film also covered a judge’s wall against the media.  See index for location on my legacy blogs.

Name: “Whose Streets?”
Director, writer:  Sabaah Foyolan, Damon Davis
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Baltimore Film Festival, MICA Brown auditorium, full, 2017/5/7
Length:  104
Rating:  NA
Companies: Magnolia Pictures, Chicken and Egg  (Theatrical release in 2017/8)
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, May 7, 2017, 11 PM EDT)

“Seed: The Untold Story”: a civilization restart could depend on botanical diversity

Seed: The Untold Story”, by Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel, documents the activities of seed archivists, who aim to preserve samples of natural seed stock that is being lost by mega-agriculture.

The film starts in Maine, with an elderly man who sees himself as a kind of Noah, maintaining his own seed bank as a personal (and individually controlled) legacy for the world.  It then, with some animation, gives some history of activities by civilizations to preserve their seed genetic bases, including a “civilization restart” bank in northern Norway.  Destroying seed banks has been an aim of military campaigns, as the Soviet Union maintained one around St. Petersburg during WWII.  The film also shows major conservation activities in New Mexico and Kauai, Hawaii.

It was eye-opening for me that the loss of genetic diversity among our plant food supply could threaten civilization itself.

With Vandana Shiva, Andrew Kimbrell, Jane Goodall, Winona LaDuke, and Raj Patel.

I remember those essay botany tests in undergraduate college (around 1965) all too well.

The film (from Collective Eye) was shown on PBS Independent Cuts on April 17, 2017; the original length of 94 minutes was cut to about 53;  I would rather see PBS offer a 90-minute slot and show the entire original film.

Name: “Seed: The Untold Story”
Director, writer:  Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel
Released:  2016
Format:  HD video
When and how viewed:  PBS Independent Lens, 2017/4/17 at 10 PM
Length:  94/56
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Collective Eye, PBS Independent Cuts
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, April 17, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)

“The Great War” airs on PBS American Experience in 6 hour film


PBS American Experience is airing a three-night six hour film “The Great War”, giving a chronicle of the history of World War I. It is directed by Stephen Ives, Amanda Pollak and Rob Rapley. It is produced by Mark Samuels. Oliver Platt narrates.  It should not be confused with Ken Burns’s “The War” about World War II.   Writer Alan Axelrod often speaks. The series airs April 10-12, 2017 on PBS stations.

The documentary opens with a portrayal of Woodrow Wilson, as a somewhat frail and pious man who would be devastated by the loss of his wife. But sometimes his judgment, even early, seemed dated by today’s standards, as he reimplemented segregation among federal employees.  He was the only Democrat born in a Confederate state (in Staunton, VA) and knew what it was like to “lose a war”.

In the early days of WWI, American companies made money selling ammunition and supplies to Britain.  It would gradually become more difficult for America to remain neutral.

The war quickly became horrible, with the destruction in Belgium and France, leading to civilian refugees.

Some young men in upper classes felt obligated to volunteer to fight for France, to prove they could become ballsy and prove themselves by taking risks for the causes of others.  Eventually, there were summer military camps.

The documentary covers the sinking of the Lusitania. In early 1917, more American ships were sunk, and intelligence showed possible German plots to get Mexico and Japan to go to war with the US, and a German “terrorist” tried a home invasion at the estate of J.P. Morgan.

Wilson entered the War on the basis of an ideology, to “make the world safe for democracy”.

People got their news from songs composed in a Chelsea mill of composers, whose songs giving ews from Europe got published the same day.  “I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.” There was irony that classical music was based on German composers, and it gradually became shunned.

The draft would be sold as a kind of volunteerism, “Selective Service”, from which the government would cull who would actually serve.  (Technically I “volunteered” for the draft in 1968.)   The Army remained segregated by race.  Native Americans were regarded as “white”.  But the authorities feared that blacks with weapons could turn on them.

There were conscientious objectors and “slackers”.  But 680,000 men were finally drafted on the first day of official conscription in July 1917.

To sell the war, “Chief of Public Information” (propaganda) George Creel recruited the “four minute men” and “gave them the words” to sell patriotic messages at projectionist breaks in movie theaters, at circuses and other public venues.

Basic training in those days comprised 14 hour days of training.

Wilson wanted the men to fight in separate forces from the French, who were waiting for the Americans to rescue them.  The Germans transferred more men to the West after Russia pulled out, as Bolshevism and Lenin gained attention for a new socialist world order.

Alice Paul led the American “Suffragettes” and eventually Wilson agreed surreptitiously to support female suffrage.

J. Edgar Hoover led the effort to mobilize the food effort, and Americans started watching each other on the home front, over loyalty, even the informal rationing of food, and the quasi-compulsory purchase of war bonds.  Conformity was enforced by groups like “The American Protective League”.  The vigilantism sounds shocking. But it helps explain the authoritarian attitudes of the generation I grew up in.

In a major incident, an African American soldier achieved great valor sacrificing himself on the battlefield.

The earlier Espionage Act was followed by Sedition Act in 1918, which wounds today like a shocking and unbelievable encroachment of the First Amendment, as people could be jailed for the most innocuous complaints against personal hardships, let alone the draft.

The last part continued to show the enormous carnage and sacrifice of American “doughboys” who overcame the Germans in the fall of 1918.  The Germans agreed to Armistice because they feared more Americans and believed Wilson.

The film only briefly covers the catastrophic Spanish flu pandemic in 1918; but young soldiers found that their robust immune systems did them in, as their lungs filled up quickly and could die within hours.

The documentary continued to portray the aggressive attempts to find civilian “slackers” (draft dodgers). After the Armistice, conscientious objectors could be brutally treated at Leavenworth.  A labor leader, Eugene Debs, stayed in jail over sedition. The government appeared determined to punish those who had refused to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. My own view is to see sacrifice as just that, not always honorable.

Wilson (who crafted “The 14 Points”) once noted that statesmen would have to start thinking about people as people rather than as components of countries or nation-states. Yet Wilson was willing to compel a whole generation of young men to sacrifice themselves for what seemed like an ideological and abstract goal set by others, for the future.  He would not tolerate others criticizing his zeal, even after his sudden change to get into the War. Wilson’s story probably helps us understand authoritarian intolerance of free speech today.

Returning black soldiers were feared and treated badly, and Wilson would do little about it.

The best PBS link is here.

Another descriptive link is here.

(First posted on April 11 at 11 PM EDT)

“Unseen Enemy” on CNN gives dire warning about future flu pandemic, while covering them all

Unseen Enemy”, directed by Janet Tobias, is a somewhat rambling but comprehensive documentary aired Friday, April 7, 2017 by CNN Films (and Vulcan), covering the major pandemics that have shocked the world in the past few decades.   The film covers more material (mainly avian flus, Sars-like diseases and HIV) than “Spillover” (March 18) but with less detail .

The film is narrated by Jeffrey Wright, and Sanjay Gupta from CNN is a major executive producer.  Soka Moses, Peter Piot, and Laurie Garrett, among many others, appear.

Near the end there is a simulation of what things look like if an avian influenza pandemic really did break out.  The film does cover the 1918 Spanish flu at the end of World War I (anticipating Ken Burns’s next documentary) and predicts that 200 million deaths and a freeze of the world economy could occur with new avian influenza.  The growth of H7N9 in southern China, where people live near poultry, is cause for alarm, but so far when H7N9 or H5N1 is transmitted from poultry to person, it doesn’t seem to continue a person-person chain.

And even seasonal flu can cause unpredictable death, as a Minnesota family recounts the loss of a teenage daughter.

The film also pays covers up front the Ebola virus, giving some case histories in West Africa, and only briefly mentioning cases coming to the US for treatment.  There is a scene late in the film where people are given “certificates” from a department of health in Sierra Leone of their recovery.   There is also a scene showing the incredible amount of protective gear and decontamination needed for health care workers.

Likewise, it covers the sudden development of the threat to unborn children from mosquito-borne Zika, starting in Brazil, although it doesn’t add much that is new.

It also lays out a progression of infectious disease: outbreak, to epidemic, to pandemic, to endemic. HIV is a good example.

The film has striking aerial photograph of many shantytowns around the world, from West Africa to Cambodia to India.  There is a history of a quarantine for an unusual disease in astern India.

The film takes the position that man’s destruction of wildlife habitat drives animals into more contact with humans, where transmission can occur.  An example is with bats, which can spread nipah, rabies and histoplasmosis, as well as Marburg, which is similar to Ebola.

The film ends with a plea to personal responsibility, in not infecting others:  not going to work when sick (presentism) and in hand sanitation in public, as people with weaker immune systems are more easily infected by others. The hashtag is “#ItTakesAllofus.

The film was followed by a brief panel discussion where Anderson Cooper quizzes Gupta, Garrett and Anthony Fauci from NIH, well known from the days of AIDS (“And the Band Played On”). Fauci said there is hope for a generic vaccine for all types of influenza with cross immunity, as this may be the only way to prevent an eventual bird flu pandemic. Significant progress was reported on vaccines for both Zika and Ebola.  The Trump administration’s plans to reduce funds to NIH could place the nation at greater pandemic risk, as would “vaccine denial”, as herd immunity is an important factor.

Vulcan link.

CNN link.

Monsters and Critics link.

The film is a World Health Day presentation.

(Posted: Saturday, April 8, 2017 at 5:45 PM EDT)

 

“Last Days of Jesus” gives a new theory on the politics of the Crucifixion

The documentary “Last Days of Jesus”, from Blink Films (114 minutes, apparently an Australian produce, no director named) aired on PBS last night and will air numerous more times until Easter.

The film advances an interesting theory about the political struggle that led to the crucifixion of Jesus.  The documentary style is one of narration with actors.  A UNC religion professor gave a lot of commentary.

It starts by tracing the boyhood of Jesus, and showing the remains a of a stone house in Nazareth that suggest that Joseph and Mary were economically better off than generally believed.  Jesus developed the skill to become a building contractor.

But as a young man he was always are of his mission, and as in the Bible, his personal epiphany came from meeting John the Baptist.

When Jesus was a teen, a political struggle in Rome developed that would have a bearing on how his own life would end.  This had to do with the rise of a young man and soldier with Shakespearian ambitions, Lucius Aelius Sejanus.  Apparently he arranged the poisoning of political rivals and became the top confidant of Tiberius, who even wanted to build a city in his name on the Dead Sea.  When he became deputy emperor, he became somewhat friendly with the Jewish establishment in the Holy Lands because he wanted stability. But a few months before Jesus’s Passion, he was summoned by the Roman Senate, expecting a “promotion” but instead was imprisoned and executed for the murders.

The Sadducees, as a conservative sect of Judaism at the time, emphasized the written law of God and were somewhat unpopular with the people in the various towns around Jerusalem.   The Pharisees, often reviled I Sunday school as wanting to be heard “for their much speaking” were actually somewhat populist in some sense.  (I mention the Pharisees at the opening of the last story in my “Do Ask. Do Tell III” book, that is, “The Ocelot the Way He Is”;  I’ll take this up soon on my DADT Notes blog.)

In the meantime, Herod had wanted to become viewed as “King of the Jews”.  He liked working with Sejanus.  After the execution of Sejanus (the political scandal somehow remind me of the 2016 elections) perturbed the political climate in such a way that Herod and Pilate were affected, as well as the relationships among the various religious groups.  Herod had even supported the idea of a separate religious “kind” (that is, “two kings”).  That also upset the political situation of Judas, among the disciples, in particular.

The film supposes that “Palm Sunday” really happened in the fall, and that Pilate took some time before deciding to jail Jesus, who would not be crucified for several months.  The political story of Judas many vary somewhat from previous accounts (like the 2006 NatGeo film “The Gospel of Judas”). It may even bear on the plot ironies surrounding a short film called “Judas Kiss” embedded in the controversial 2011 gay science fiction film by that name (the lead character Danny (Richard Harmon and then Charlie David), a filmmaker, is presented as having a Christ-like charisma but yet is troubled by a certain paradox).

The film notes that writers in the first centuries may have avoided mentioning Sejanus out of fear and self-censorship, so his narrative did not make it into the New Testament.  Sounds familiar?  Like Trump’s battle with journalists?

PBS program link.

PBS DVD sales link.

Modern view of Nazareth, wiki.

(Posted: Wednesday, April5, 2017 at 12:30 PM EDT)

“Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric”, on National Geographic, explores gender fluidity from medical and social viewpoints

Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric” aired on the National Geographic Channel Monday, February 6. 2017, at 9 PM EST, two hours with commercial breaks.  The film is credited to “Katie Couric and the World of Wonder”.   The film could accompany (“NatGeo”) National Geographic Magazine’s recent issue “Gender Revolution: The Gender Issue” (earlier review).

Couric started by recalling how things were a half century ago.  Gender was strictly binary.

The documentary then shifted to a  rather clinical and medical examination of the brain biology of gender.  It’s rather intricate, as a schedule of hormones (especially androgens) affect the development of external genitalia and perceived gender identity and probably sexuality.  All of these can be affected by epigenetics and by mitochondrial DNA passed only from the mother.

Soon the documentary says that more pre-teens are uncertain of their gender than the public realizes.  Some physicians will prescribe puberty blockers as “pause buttons” to give the tweens more time.

The film gradually shifted focus to the social acceptance of a less binary idea of gender.  It covered an outdoor camp in California for transgender kids, and a fast food chain (Pollo Loco) with restaurants with a substantial transgender workforce.

The film moved toward the political and legal questions associated with the “bathroom bills” in several states, including North Carolina and Virginia.  (The HB 2 in North Carolina also interfered with local governments’ passing their own anti-discrimination laws, and led to a political crisis of sorts.)  The case of Virginia female-to-male teen Gavin Grimm is headed for the Supreme Court.  Gavin was shown with a pet pig and parrot.

Later in the film, Couric interviews a group of Yale students in a dorm setting.  Only one or two students are “cis gender”, that is, their gender identity matches birth sex.  The other terms like pan-gender and “gender fluid” are introduced.

The film does not mention that sexual orientation itself is usually totally separate from gender identity.  Gay men often look for other “masculine” partners, and usually identify themselves as cisgender males.  The film tends to suggest that people should get used to the idea of potential romantic partners who are less fixed as to gender, a personally discomforting notion.  The film does cover other native cultures, like in Somoa, where gender fluidity is much more readily accepted than in the west.

The film also does not cover the idea that cisgender people sometimes engage in cross-dressing for acting purposes.  Paul Rosenfels at the Ninth Street Center used to say that most transvestites are straight. I think that the Rosenfels ideas of polarity and balance can occur with a cisgender person (you can be a cisgender male and still be feminine subjective, for example).

The film does cover a transgender female surgeon who does reassignment surgery in San Francisco.  She says that the oldest person on record for reassignment surgery was 76.  In one couple, an elderly man had “become” a woman but stayed married to his wife.

The film ended with an interview of Hari Naff and tennis star Renee Richards.

The film maintains that there are about 1.4 million transgender people in the U.S., about 0.6% of the population, or about 12% of the LGBT population, even though “cis-gender” gays (especially men) are much more common. (Thinkprogress source.)

(Posted: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 at 8 PM EST)

“Rachel Carson”: Biography of the conservationist on PBS American Experience

PBS American Experience aired “Rachel Carson”, a biography of the marine biologist and famous author on conservation and environmental issues, directed by Michelle Ferrari.

Carson lived from 1907-1964, to pass away at the end from complications of breast cancer.  During the last years of her life she had a relationship with another women which some say was intimate. But the film documents several times in her life when she had to take care of other family members and raise other relatives’  children.

She started her writing career working for an agency that would become the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In time, she started writing books, often descriptive of marine life, often serialized.  She tried to buttress her own outdoor skills, at one time doing a dive off the Florida coast in 1950s gear (and she had said she was a bad swimmer).   She became concerned about pesticides as they got introduced in the early 1950s.  The chemicals were very effective in eliminating mosquitoes (preventing malaria) and later fire ants (improving crops).  But many birds and mammals died, while the insects became resistant.

Carson wrote laboriously on a typewriter in the pre-computer age.  She edited by hand.  But eventually she produced her most famous book, “Silent Spring”, which became a best seller and caused great consternation in the pesticide industry.  Even President Kennedy mentioned it in August 1962.  She would testify before Congress while ill from radiation treatments for cancer, in a time when NIH was just starting aggressive anti-cancer treatments.  I actually “worked” in the cancer lab while I was a patient in the fall of 1962, part of my own personal history.

Of course, you can become concerned about her arguments today, as we need to eliminate mosquitoes spreading Zika virus.

Wikipedia link for Rachel Carson National Refuge in Maine.

(Posted: Tuesday, January 24, 2017 at 11:30 PM)