Category Archives: documentary

DC Environmental Film Festival 2017: “Nuclear Power Play” QA

Wednesday, March 22, 2017, the DC Environmental Film Festival held a program “Nuclear Power Play” at the Carnegie Science Center.  There were two short films, “Nuclear Winter” and “Triad” and “City 40”.  The panel included Kit Roane (Retro Report), Dan Sagayin, and Samira Goetsche.

Generally, there was concern expressed that the US and Russia, following the Soviet Union, tend to make it more plausible that they could use nuclear weapons if they maintain the hardware.  There was concern over making rogue states and non-state actors believe “everybody wants some”.

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(Posted: Thursday, March 23, 2017 at 2:30 PM EST)

Proposed video series (for web or for cable): “What in Life Is (or Should Be) Free”?

I have thought that there ought to be a documentary film about the Open Access issue, and that I could add something to it.

But I would be able to add more to it if the concept were expanded to cover the entire topic of “Free Content”, which has become a practical expectation for consumers and speakers since the mid 1990s with the Internet, especially with the development of modern social media.

I think this concept would work better as a cable series for a channel like Discovery on A&E or even HBO.

So I have to narrow down the concept and unify it.

Part 1

Back around 2012, Reid Ewing had produced a web series of three videos with Igigi Studios called “Reiding”, with the three films called “It’s Free”, “Free Fish”, and “I’m Free”. I don’t know why they are not available now. But the first of the films was set in a public library and set up the exploration of the question “What in life is free?”   It would be possible (after negotiating copyright licenses) to introduce the series with these films, of at least the first one.

The very existence of public libraries suggests that we think some basic knowledge should be “free”. That extends to the idea that public education should be offered to all minors (even immigrants), which is controversial with some conservatives. But even the idea of school choice could be seen as ratifying the idea of education as a basic human right (so that’s one episode).

I think a good title for this series, then. Should be “What in Life Is Free?”

Part 2

We also have to contend with the way people are used to getting knowledge. It has typically been passed down through familial (often patriarchal), religious, and political hierarchies. The use of propaganda by authoritarian leaders (which Vladimir Putin openly admits in defending Russia’s 2013 anti-gay “propaganda” law) presumes that the public and the masses aren’t capable of discerning “truth” for themselves. The use of religious scriptures, and the objection of religious leaders to challenges to interpretation of scripture, dates from a time when science could not explain a lot of things and when people depended on a “priesthood” to get knowledge for them from “God”.

I experienced some of this pressure as a young boy, when I would challenge my father’s authority based on things I had read, even in reference books lying around the house (like on medicine). I started to question why boys had to do dangerous and risky things. My father would complain “you read”.

Yet, a lot of this reference information was sold in a conventional way, through middlemen. We bought our set of World Book Encyclopedias, in 1950, from a door-to-door salesman (remember those colorful state relief maps, no longer published). Later, when I was taking piano, we bought a Sherwood Music School course from a similar salesman.

Part 3

My own narrative fits in best here, because the availability of “free knowledge” increased with the evolution of self-publishing.

Here would fit the entire narrative of the self-publication of my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book (in 1997), originally motivated by the lowering cost of desk-top publishing (book self-publishing through “subsidy publishers” had been known since the early 1970s but had been a very expensive and usually not successful process). I would start placing my content online, and by mid 1998 I was “competing with myself” by offering the book free in simple HTML online.

I did sell out my first printing, and went to POD (print on demand) publishing (with iUniverse) in 2000. But it was the online availability, for free, that allowed me to become known and for my own unique arguments on how to deal with the ban on gays in the military (“don’t ask don’t tell”) to become effective in the growing debate. It was the way search engines (not just Google) worked, at the time giving advantage to very simple sites like mine, that became relevant.

Eventually, years later, I would be pestered by my self-publishing companies about actually getting serious about selling books in physical stores (helping people keep their jobs, Trump-like) or directly from me, rather than just through Amazon and BN online (including just from Kindle and Nook).

Part 4

Several legal developments had the potential to affect self-publishing in this mode. The first was the Communications Decency Act, or Telecommunications Act of 1996. The controversial censorship sections were struck down in 1997, but one portion, Section 230, actually helped the Internet along by shielding Internet service providers (and later publishing platforms) from potential secondary liability.

Congress would try to pass a more “acceptable” censorship bill with the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 (COPA). Working through Electronic Frontier Foundation, I became a plaintiff challenging it; eventually prevailing (after two Supreme Court cycles) in 2007 in a trial for merit in Philadelphia.

In the meantime, a parallel concern over copyright infringement followed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, with the safe harbor provision that protected intermediaries (in 230-like fashion) from downstream liability for copyright-related accusations.

I developed an online presence in concentric fashion, covering most policy topics from a libertarian perspective, with simple HTML and free search engine exposure (indeed, to quote Reid Ewing, “It’s free!, it’s free!”)

Important concepts along the way were how web hosting companies work, and how domain name assignment works.

Legal risks for speakers include possible frivolous litigation: SLAPP suits (strategic lawsuits against pubic participation), which can cause the speaker to spend money defending the self against vindictive claims; copyright trolls (like Righthaven), and possibly trademark litigation over domain names (which is not the same problem as patent trolls).

Part 5

A major development in the “free content” model was modern social media. Originally email list servers had served a social media function in the 90s, but then came Myspace, and then Facebook (with Instagram) and then Twitter. Originally social media (with the idea of “friends” and then “followers”) was intended to build somewhat closed social circles online, but gradually some of them migrated to alternative blogging platforms with news aggregation, morphing eventually into the “fake news” area where some people tend to receive only news that fits their own bubbles.

Blogging platforms (like Blogger and WordPress) were somewhat intermediate, first emphasizing the idea of “followers” but gradually (especially WordPress) migrating into content management systems.

On the other hand, some social media services tended to facilitate harmful and dangerous exploits. These included not only conventional viruses and scams (like phishing) through older email platforms, but also cyberbullying and child pornography distribution, and even terrorist recruiting. But most of the terror recruiting followup occurs on “the dark web” in encrypted fashion on offshore servers, away from the reach of common user-friendly social media. In the days right after 9/11, there was also fear that amateur sites could be hacked by terrorists to spread messages through steganography.

Small businesses, especially “bricks and mortar”, giving personal services (especially contractors), and even some medical providers, would rebel against consumer review sites for unfavorable reviews, as driving them out of business.   Individual consumers would be hit with frivolous suits, although the review sites were protected by Section 230.

Part 6

A related development all these years (from about 1996 to now) was the gradual evolution of network neutrality. The concept was arguably necessary to prevent telecommunications companies from charging some content publishers more than others to be hooked up to their networks. In practice, the hookup has always been “it’s free”, even for amateurs. Trump’s new FCC chairman could undo network neutrality practices put in by the Obama administration in 2014, but it’s unclear how much difference this would make. Are “fast lanes” like “toll lanes” on Interstate highways?

Part 7

The logical outcome of what I had developed was free web references, most of all Wikipedia, which was created in January 2001. The documentary could examine how “volunteer” and “amateur” writers and editors can provide a reliable “free” online encyclopedia (which does not allow advertising but which does ask for contributions An important concept in Wikipedia is “notability”: how does one properly get a page created to make oneself known.

Other competing “compendiums” were proposed, which would require more peer review before publishing. Encyclopedia companies had to fight back.

In parallel came the development of “open source” software, even including the browser Mozilla.

Part 8

The most “publicized” controversy in the “free content” area would occur with what we call “open access”   This development focused mainly on peer-reviewed science and medical (and sometimes social science) journals, compared to the amateur, non peer-reviewed content covered so far.

The most famous case, of course, is the tragic history of Aaron Swartz (the film “The Internet’s Own Boy”). Aaron’s “career” had started with an attempt to make PACER court documents, which arguably should be free and public domain anyway,, but then exploded when he downloaded illegally some JSTOR server documents.

Science journals were built around a business model of high subscription prices. It has gotten to the point that university libraries can’t afford all of them. Recently, some government agencies, like NIH, have enforced agreements requiring release of peer-reviewed papers to public domain after about one year. It’s unclear if this would continue under Trump.   Likewise, some foundations (as with Bill Gates) require open access.

Younger scientists need access to peer reviewed science documents. Jack Andraka, who developed an inexpensive pancreatic cancer blood marker test for a science fair, has written about the problem. Although he could arguably have gotten a subscription through a university (like Maryland), he argues there is a catch 22: he could not have gotten far enough in his early research to convince a university to give him one, without open access.

Overseas, Alexandra Elbakyan (from Kazakhstan) would start “Sci-Hub”, as a compendium of papers, and attract litigation.

I’ve covered the Open Acesss issue on a legacy blog here.  See especially April 2, 2015 (Jack’s toga Ted talk),   Here’s another account of Jack’s arguments.

Does the “Tragedy of the Commons” apply to Open Access? Not really.

Part 9

Another controversy in the “free content” area is the hard times that newspapers have find competing online, especially keeping print profitable   Paywalls are conceptually the same devices that science journals use, but for ordinary news content are normally much cheaper.

Many newspapers have gone to paywalls for their online subscriptions, and this idea is catching on with more local papers, which would make local news harder to get. However broadcast networks and news sites have generally remained free and depending on advertising.

Over time, consumers have often become irritated at online advertising, and have installed “do not track” tools, which often come free by default with modern browsers. Many consumers click less often on ads than they used to, which would make one wonder about the ad-based business model (derived from broadcast network television) which made so much free content – most of all user-generated content — possible.

Part 10

Still another controversy has played out more in Europe than in the U.S. – “the right to be forgotten”. Since news stories about obscure people remain indexed online, people have claimed the right to demand that search engines remove these references after a certain amount of time, to avoid trivial small incidents from affecting their lives.

The “right to be forgotten” goes in hand with another concept called “online reputation”, which started to become trendy around 2006, with companies (like Reputation.com) offering to help people maintain their online impressions.

(Posted: Tuesday, February 14, 2017 at 5:30 PM EST)

Major illustrated lecture on Titan by author of major sci-fi novel

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The SETI Institute offers a 49 minute lecture (March 25, 2016) by Michael Carroll, heavily illustrated with artist drawinsg,, of Titan, by Michael Carroll, author of the 2015 science fiction novel “On the Shore of Titan’s Farthest Sea”.

Carroll provides a simulation of exactly what the cameras on Huygens saw over two minutes as it landed in 2005, along with stunning renditions of dunes, lakes, and an explanation of how submarines would work in extremely cold hyrdrocarbon lakes (methane evaporates, creating rain, but leaving ethane). Ice cliffs are as hard as concrete, and enormous sand dunes are forced from hydrocarbon soot that falls from the sky.

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(Continuing discussion from Nov. 12, 2015.)

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA photo map of a lake on Titan similar to the lecture (p.d.)

Wikipedia attribution link for diagram of Titan’s internal structure by Kelvinlsong, CCSA 3.0

Here’s another lecture, “It’s Life, Jim, but Not as We Know it”, by Jason Barnes

Smithsonian “Air & Space” has a 2016 section “Life in the Universe” with two chapters: “Life among the Gas Giants” (including Titan), and “Would We Know Alien Life If We Saw It”? about Mars, going back to 1976 (why Dan Fry thought there was evidence of life).

(Published: Wednesday, April 27, 2016, 11:45 PM EDT)

“Poverty, Inc.” Film QA at Cato Institute

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The following is some excerpts from the QA of producer Mark Weber of the film “Poverty, Inc.” (2014), shown Monday, April 4, 2016 at the Cato Institute in Washington DC.

The film takes the position that conventional foreign aid programs typically destroy incentives of local businesses and farms overases to produce for themselves, and that what people in other countries need is stable government, “rule of law”, and infrastructure.  A complete review is here.

Here are three excerpts

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(Published: Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 11:15 PM EDT)

Ellie Hassenfeld discusses “Give Well” for Harvard Effective Altruism

(Added here May 3, 2016).

 

“Containment” film QA at American University

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Here are some videos of the QA for the film “Containment” by Peter Galison and Robb Moss, shown as part of the DC Environmental Film Festival in the Communications school auditorium, 2nd floor, at American University in Washington DC, March 25, 2016.

The film deals with the storage of nuclear waster (main review).

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(Published Monday April 4, 2016 at 11:30 PM EDT)

Bonus: Tour of Yucca Mountain (2002) near Nye, Nevada (YouTube)

Taylor Wilson talks about the future of Energy at the University of Nevada

 

 

Informative videos showing what Europa and Titan would look like if we were there

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The Open University has a series on Moons in the Solar System, and two of them are particularly interesting

Video 1 is about Europa, the moon of Jupiter that is covered with an ice sheet and is likely to have a 60-kilometer deep ocean heated by tidal friction.

Europa has been considered by some astronomers as the most likely other place (besides Mars) in the solar system to have (underwater) life. But Ganymede may have a similar structure, and possibly even Callisto.

In the movie “2010: A Space Odyssey” (based on Arthur C. Clarke’s novel), aliens convert a “leprous” Jupiter to a sun, so that Europa, which is to be left alone, to another earth.

In the 2014 movie “Europa Report” and undersea creature releases the Earth’s spacecraft so it can go home.

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Above is a NASA artist’s idea of what a cryobot might see in the Europa ocean (P.d., wikipedia attribution link).

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The Video number 3 in the series is about Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, and the only one in the atmosphere with an atmosphere.

The Cassini space proble landed the component Huygens on Titan’s surface in early 2005.

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The moon, larger than Mercury about with about 1/6 the gravity of Earth, features methane seas and rain, and low ridges and plains of sandy material.  The atmosphere contains thiols, which contain organic materials that could constitute precursors to bacteria-like organisms.  Most artists conceptions show an orange sky that is surprisingly bright with reflected light from Saturn.

Titan also appears to have an under-surface water layer, which could conceivably harbor life in a manner similar to Europa.

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Above is the public domain photo of the Titan surface from Huygens (NASA), wikipedia attribution here.

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Above is a NASA artist’s drawing of what a balloon landing on Titan could look like, Wikipedia attribution here.

There is an 84-minute NASA lecture on YouTube.

My own unfinished script “69 Minutes to Titan” (about the length of time light would take to reach it)  views Titan as a place that could be settled by “angels” (earlier descriptive link, March 4, 2014; old treatment); and my “Do Ask, Do Tell: Epiphany” also imagines a space station on Titan.  Here’s a script for a little short film “Suprisie Planet” or “Welcome to Titan”, link.

(Published Thursday Nov. 12 2015 at 1:45 PM EST)

Videos on Brown Mountain, Road to Nowhere, and Cumberland Gap Tunnel

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I had meant to get to Brown Mountain in North Carolina last month but couldn’t fit in the time for days away, so I did a few one-day trips nearer.  I’ll try to visit it in the early Spring 2016 after daylight savings returns and snow is melted.

I visited the general area in July 2013, driving through the Smokies from Charlotte and Hickory to (eventually) Oak Ridge, TN.  I drove up NC 226, the next highway to the West.  The pictures here are a close as I got to Brown Mountain.  Had I known more about the subject then, I would have chosen the 181 route.

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Brown Mountain is a ridge that extends somewhat perpendicular to the Blue Ridge, on the county line between Burke and Caldwell counties.  Linville Gorge is to the north, and the nearest town is Morganton, with a viewing overlook on Highway 181.  It’s a fairly easy drive for people in the Charlotte area, and the server farms of Apple and Google, around Hickory, are not far away.

The ridge typically runs around 2800 feet, with many sharp rocks and crags.  It somewhat resembles Old Rag in Virginia (80 miles from Washington DC), which has a similar relationship to the Blue Ridge by jutting out to the southeast.  The lights, which may have a reddish hue (like a “red shift”) often appear below the ridge top and may rise above somewhat, but they are usually not “high in the sky” like most UFO sightings.

There is a local cable TV episode in “Carl White’s Life in the Carolinas” called “The Mystery of the Brown Mountain Lights” (21 minutes without commercials), by LITCTV, from March 2015.

This episode cuts through the UFO myths and gets to the science.  The most likely explanation is that magnetite and certain forms of quartz (which has pizo-electric properties) occur together in the same area.  Heavy rain can dissolve tannic acid in fallen leaves.  The resulting reactions seem to release phosphorescent gas (with some sulfur compounds) which some say can resembled ball lightning (which normally would occur only in thunderstorms, not in the late fall when these lights are most likely to be seen).

Quartz (including blue quartz) and Magnetite occur in many locations in the Piedmont and Blue Ridge and valleys in both Virginia and North Carolina, but not usually in exactly the same place, as is the case on Brown Mountain.  Another area with similar deposits may be the Blue Ridge east of Wytheville VA, another area with supposed UFO sightings (especially in the late 1980s).  The Appomattox area NE of Lynchburg may be another such location.  Roberts Mountain SW if Charlotteville may have attracted the Monroe Institute as a location for similar reasons.  This sort of “pseudo-ball-lightning”, which seems harmless, may sometimes be seen at other locations in both states.

The Brown Mountain lights became the subject of a film “Alien Abduction” by Matty Beckerman, reviewed by me on Blogger in Aug. 2014, here.

Another attraction in the “Tarheel State” is “The Road to Nowhere: Abandoned Mountain Tunnel“, itself the subject of a mystery film by Monte Hellman, reviewed by me in July 2012 here.  This was an unfinished highway project near Bryson City NC and Lake Fontana, itself a location in “A Walk in the Woods” (by Kewn Kwapis, review link).   A filmmaker (who sponsors “Adam the Woo” on Tumblr) has a walk through the tunnel at the end of an obscure road.  It looks like it is about 3000 feet long (a little shorter than the Paw-Paw tunnel on the C&O Canal in Maryland, and much shorter than the Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnels).

Finally, let me share the fact that I visited the Cumberland Gap in February 1990, 500 miles from DC, in a rental car from Johnson City TN, on a gratuitous weekend trip.  That was before the tunnel on 25E was finished.  The construction of a tunnel, at 1600 feet elevation, to go under a 500 foot ridge seems gratuitous, when you consider that the Pennsylvania Turnpike took out the Sideling Hill, Rays Hill, and Laurel Hill tunnels in the 60s, and may take out Allegheny Mountain by 2020 (story).  In Maryland, officials made a 350 foot cut in Sideling Hill rather than build a tunnel on I-68 near Hancock MD. I prefer tunnels to “mountaintop removal”.

 

 

Here’s the “Cumberland Gap Tunnel”, simultaneous north and south approaches, filmed by Michael Kincaid.

(Published Wednesday Nov. 4, 2015 at 1 PM EST)

“Russian Ark” gives one a vicarious historical tour of Russia

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The Russian anti-gay propaganda law has made the country seem like a “no go zone” for me right now;  I presume that a western blogger with publicly available material on LGBT matters could be detained.  And an early chapter in my “Angel’s Brother” novel (Chapter 4) has a scene in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.  So the next best thing is film.  And perhaps the most important film ever shot about the museum is “Russian Ark“, by Alexander Sokurov.  I originally saw the film in 2002 (the year it came out) at the Landmark Uptown Theater in Minneapolis, on a big screen.  Recently, I bought the BluRay DVD from Anazon (distributor is Kino Lorber).

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The concept of the film (for example, as explained here)  is another interesting example of layering.  A ghost, the Marquis de Custine (Sergey Dreyden) comes awake and time-travels through the Hermitage, starting in the Winter Palace, reviewing all of Russian history (and meeting all the great public figures) up to the time of a great ball in 1913, before revolution would expropriate a lot of Czarist wealth.   The royal residence would be transformed into a museum in 1917, after a new government was in power. The ghost is accompanied by a “spy” dressed in black (Leonid Mozgovny).  The film digresses in the middle section, presenting a great hall reduced to rubble by WWII battles.

The presentation of Russian history would seem to rival that of the opening ceremonies at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

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The orchestra plays some music by Glinka toward the end.  At the very end of the film these is a ghostly, impressionistic image of the outdoor canal in ice, surrounded by fog.

The DVD includes a 43-minute short, “In One Breath“, explaining how the film was was shot in just one continuous take (ironically, a technique known from Alfred Hitchcock).

Wikipedia attribution link for 2008 image of Winter Palace by Dezidor (author Dezidor. CC 3.0 unported).

(Published Saturday Jan. 31, 2015 at 10 PM EST.)

HBO: “Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia” (from UK Channel 4); also “Moscow Is Burning” and “Campaign of Hate”

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Tonight, HBO aired the 49-minute Channel 4 documentary “Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia” , previously aired on UK Channel 4 (in the “Dispatches” series)  in February 2014 and even available on YouTube for a short while.  I had reviewed the earlier airing on my TV blog here.  HBO’s  main link is here.

The documentary explains how the Russian anti-gay propaganda law has been taken as excusing or even incentivizing anti-gay violence against gay people from vigilante groups.  The film emphasizes the effect of a false “mainstream” belief in Russia that homosexuality equates to pedophilia.

But one married man in St. Petersburg, Tibor, runs an anti-gay organization and says that when you become a father and hold your father, you do everything you can to protect his future.  This sounds like more than the trite idea of pedophilia;  it sounds like he believes that gays would dissuade his own children from giving him as many grandchildren, a belief that Putin supports.

Radio Free Europe has a review of this film here. Gawker has another sensationalistic commentary here.

There is also an ABC Nightline film “Moscow Is Burning” about vigilante attacks against the now-closed Central Station in Moscow.

Reel Affirmations and HRC will show “Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda” Oct. 14, 2014 in Washington DC, link.

Update: Oct. 14.  I attended the showing and the full review is here.

Here are a few videos from the QA

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and (4) (kids who grow up in Russian immigrants become criminals)

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and (6) (how ISIS recruits in Britain — bullied youths)

 

 

(Published Monday, Oct. 6, 2014 at 10:30 PM EDT.)

Note: The source is Britain’s Channel 4, which, though associated with the UK government, is not the same thing as the BBC.

 

“Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election”: another civics lesson from Greenwald; did the US experience a coup?

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I do recall the night of the 2000 election.  I was at a party in St. Paul, when NBC called Florida for Gore.  I was driving to another gathering with the Libertarian Party of Minnesota in Edina, stopped at a railroad crossing somewhere, when I heard on the radio that the Florida result had been pulled back into “Undecided”.  What the networks giveth, the networks taketh away. It turned out that the media would pull back Florida again even after giving it to Bush.

The 56-minute 2002 documentary from Public Interest Pictures and Robert Greenwald Productions, “Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election”, directed by Richard Ray Perez and Joan Sekler, presents the sorry story of this affair.

There is a lot of attention to the Felony Purge list.  A company was hired to create the list for the polls, and with lenient matching standards, enormous numbers of African-Americans with names similar to those of felons were purged and had to prove individually they were not felons to vote.  On election day, many found they were not on the rolls.

The 2000 election in Florida played out in an environment where Jeb Bush (George W. Bush’s brother) had angered the black community by rolling back affirmative action.

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The film summarizes the recount and hanging chad fiasco, which went through several steps with the Florida Supreme Court, and finally to the US Supreme Court, with the infamous Bush v. Gore opinion in December 2000.

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There is a contention that a manual recount of the entire state, which the Democrats actually didn’t want, would have put the state back in Gore’s column.

The film also presents the vulnerabilities of electronic voting machines, and the “conflict of interest” problem where companies manufacturing these systems (like Diebold) use copyright or trademark law to keep their systems from being audited.  Electronic Frontier Foundation has written about this problem in the past.

The DVD has five short films following: “The Voter Purge”, “Media Malfeasance,” “Response to a Stolen Election”, “Critical Perspectives”, and “Rise of Corporate Dominance”.  The fourth of these refers to  a “coup d’etat”, an illegal seizure of power.  Noam Chomsky speaks on that one.  The fifth discusses the idea that “corporations are persons” and an attack on “The Commons”, which includes our voting system.

Al Gore actually won the popular vote, which is a good sign that something is wrong with the Electoral College system.  The FEC has a link for the popular vote here.

The subject of campaign finance reform, and even its relation to blogging, would become controversial by 2002, a matter that would actually have an effect on my own life, as I will discuss again later.

The DVD can be rented from Netflix, and the film can be viewed “legally” for $2.99 on YouTube, Journeyman Pictures (and Shout!) as the owner.

The third of these pictures shows me playing Supreme Court reporter at the Newseum in Washington DC in 2008.