Category Archives: educational

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)

In fifth grade, I was a “filmmaker”, so-to-speak

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During a good part of the year 1954, when I was in fifth and then sixth grade, I developed an interesting hobby, “making movies.”  Actually, my cousin, one year older, and I drew “filmstrips” which at the time were an important media in the school systems.  We would have movies to write up, mostly black and white, and filmstrips, mostly history and social studies.  In fifth grade, I recall a BW movie about the Texas Republic, odd to be taught in Virginia. Gov. Perry would be pleased today.

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Actually, the way we had handled “social studies” in fifth grade probably provided the inspiration.  We studied the geography of the continental United Stats in sections.  Each one of us would get assigned a state, and develop reports and drawings based on the state.  There were also project murals, little layouts (rather like model railroads without the trains) in the classroom.  I think I got Montana, not California,

In ninth grade (“General Education”), in 1958, we would do something similar with world geography.  I remember doing “Afghanistan” which turns out, now, to be oddly prescient.  I even picked it out, and the teacher said she knew that’s what I would pick.  Did we both read the future?  Maybe Iraq or Syria would seem more prescient now.

We each set up “home theaters” to show the filmstrips, and these consisted largely of manual scrolls as feeder and take-up reels for the drawings.   Sometimes we experimented with enlarging or altering the images with mirrors and magnifying lenses, a forerunner to Imax, maybe?

We even had an “Academy Awards”, I think around September, that ended in disaster.  We were kids.  Maybe we had two ceremonies.

Most of my filmstrips were based on specific places.  Over time, we built up drawing larger images, from “regular” to “Cinemascope” to “VistaVision”, to “Cinerama”, and finally “Cineramascope.”  Many of mine were drawings based on images in the 1950 World Book Encyclopedia.

I remember winning “Best Educational” with “The Land of the Bible”. These must have comprised pictures of the Holy Land.  At the time, I could not have cared about politics, about what was in Israel and what was on the West Bank, or possibly farther into Syria or even Iraq. Kids don’t care about other people’s religions or political affiliations until adults make them do so. But at age 11, I probably could not have grasped what the Holocausr had meant.  In fact, right now there is an outstanding IMAX film “Jerusalem” in museum auditoriums now (including Franklin Institute in Philadelphia).  We need something like a “Land of the Bible, Torah and Koran”, in Imax, without the politics.

I don’t remember the names of many of the other filmstrips.  I found a strip of “Alaska”:

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Image 3

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I made a few “horror” and “comedy” strips.  “One out of every six” was to be a horror film.  My contributions were “Squish” and “Sea Monsters”.  The first of these might have been inspired by “The Blob”.   For comedy, there was “Pie Face”, and I think a man “got it” from his wife in more ways than one, even including the razor.  In those days, movies weren’t supposed to present “real” romance or marriage.  (There was “Bloody Mary” in “South Pacific”, remember.)

There was one “movie” my mother detested.  I think it was something like “Old Maid” (maybe inspired by the card game), based on the idea that some women weren’t pretty enough to find husbands — remember a scene about that in “Gone with the Wind”?

Maybe it was something like “Other Men’s Women”, pre-code Hollywood.  Both this and “Maid” are in my Netflix queue to refresh “boyhood” memories.

Other images

WY:

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CA:

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UT:

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SD:

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CA:

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AZ:

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MT:

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(First image is Mt. Rainier, WA);

After sixth grade, the summer of 1955, I and another friend would do fungo fantasy baseball in our backyards.  The Baltimore Orioles and St, Louis Cardinals won the pennants, and St. Louis would have won the “World Series”.  The Senators finished last.   Unfortunately, the paper records were tossed.  The Orioles had just moved to Baltimore from St. Louis in 1954, and the first season, much of the outfield at Memorial Stadium had no fence.

(Published: Jan. 29, 2015, 8:30 PM EST)

WJLA7 News Channel 8 in DC hosts Town Hall: “Your Voice, Your Future: The New Terror Threat”: video clip excerpts

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On Thursday, October 16, 2014, News Channel 8 (of television station WJLA-7 in Washington DC) held a Town Hall “Your Voice, Your Future: The New Terror Threat“.   (This title has also been spelled in different word orders: “The New Terror Threat: Your Future, Your Voice” and “The New Terror Threat: Your Voice, Your Future”.)

I’ve described the points made in my “cf” blog Oct. 16, but I want to present all the video I made here from YouTube

Part 1  (Suicide bombers mentioned)

Part 2

Part 3 (threats on military members within the US)

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9 (relative seriousness of ISIS/ISIL threat and Ebola)

(Published: Friday Oct. 17, 2014 at 2:30 PM EDT)

“The Signature of God”: this is a series of sermons (not a film) reconciling the Bible with cosmology, sort of

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The Signature of God” is offered on Netflix as a rental DVD (from Questar), running 81 minutes, dating from 2003, where Grant Jeffrey explains the physical and historical evidence that “the Bible is the Word of God”.
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In fact, it seems to be a series of sermons (there is an audience) about various categories of evidence for creationism and that the Bible is an authoritative scripture of the Word of God. The series accompanies a book which Jeffrey promotes here.
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There are some interesting ideas in the sermons. Jeffrey mentions entropy, as actually being noted in Genesis, as the idea that in nature things run down. One could say that a Creator can reverse entropy, but one can make the argument that it is life and reproduction (especially sexual reproduction) and the possibility of free will that counters entropy.
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He talks about physical evidence of the Tower of Babel in Iraq, underneath an artificial “mountain”, looking rather like a landfill, that covers the ruins of Babylon. All human languages, he says, comes from one root.
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He also talks about the billions of other galaxies, and about the idea that elements (including ice and water) are found in the far reaches of the Solar System, as evidenced by comets. Why would God create billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars and solar systems, without other civilizations?
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Our own civilization has made amazing progress in the past two decades in communications, allowing anyone to become a publisher and broadcaster and make his own reputation without having to navigate the previous modes of competition (or even form and preserve a family). It hasn’t made comparable progress with “man in space”, despite the initial promise of putting Man on the Moon in 1969. Perhaps that progress will come suddenly, with the ability to communicate with the Afterlife, and deal with wormholes or new experience of space-time. I don’t think it can happen in my lifetime, but maybe it will in the lifetimes of younger adults whom I pay attention to.


(Published Saturday June 7, 2014 at 12:45 PM EDT)

“Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek”, question and answer session at DC Environmental Film Festival

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I made six video clips from the Question and Answer session for the film “Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek” at the Carnegie Institute for Science on 16th Street in Washington DC (happens to be right across the street from the First Baptist Church if the City of Washington DC, in which I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s).

The subject of the film is African American activist Derrick Evans, who had worked as a history teacher in Boston before starting to visit his homeland in Mississippi more often. The Turkey Creek bayou is a natural wetland and was settled by freed slaves during the Reconstruction, who were able to own land here in a segregated society.  The land is threatened by over-development, which makes it even more susceptible to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and then Rita in 2005. The film is directed by Leah Mahan and has been carried on Mississippi PBS.

Evans gave up his career (even as a teacher) to become an activist.  During the QA I asked him if he was economically OK now, and the answer seemed to be, not really.  Was this an OK question?

Another speaker said that more people needed to be willing to live in the Gulf area.  Saying that people shouldn’t “choose” to live in higher risk areas just doesn’t cut it morally.

Here are the clips

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Clip 2

Clip 3

Clip 4

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Clip 6

“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.

“U.S. Bill of Rights and Constitutional Amendments” from “Just the Facts” Learning Series: for me, deja vu

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When I watched the educational DVD from Goldhil and Full Circle Films, dating back to 2004, “United States Bill of Rights and Constitutional Amendments”, from its “Just the Facts Learning Series”, I felt like I was back in the public school system, substitute teaching as I did (in two periods) from 2004-2007.  This DVD could very well have been the “busywork” for the day in a Va, and US Government or even US History class.  I don’t recall it, however.  I rented it from Netflix. I could not find a current website for the company but here is a typical retail link for the DVD.

A narrator, and law professors Robert Hennig and Priscilola Zotti explain all the amendments to the US Constitution in straightforward fashion.

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Many people, for example, don’t know that many of the framers did not believe we needed a Bill of Rights, which were ratified in 1791.  Also, a lot of people don’t know that the 27th Amendment (giving District of Columbia residents the right to vote in presidential elections with as many electors as the least populous state) was written by James Madison, but could actually be ratified in 1992 because there is no time limit.

The film (running about forty minutes) takes no-nonsense positions on controversy, pointing out that the Second Amendment did originate in a climate where states had organized militia locally, and that it does not give people the right to arm themselves gratuitously with military-style weapons (or nuclear weapons, as mentioned specifically in the DVD).

The DVD attempts a beginner’s explanation of the “incorporation doctrine”, with the 14th Amendment, where the guarantee that the federal government cannot take away certain fundamental rights is extended to the states, but not consistently.

The DVD includes a 20-second multiple choice quiz, which one has to click through.  The detractors in the questions are tricky, so students would have to be careful.   It could be easy to get a bad grade in a public school with a typical 90-80-70-60 (or stiffer) grading scale.

On the cover of my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book, self-published in 1997, I had mistakenly said the Bill of Rights was 160 years old, when 200 years would have been much closer.  It’s not a good idea to put a number like this on the cover of a book. That problem was fixed with the 2000 iUniverse printing.

In my second DADT book (“When Liberty Is Stressed”, 2002), I discussed the idea of a “Bill of Rights 2” and talked about the constitutional amending process (not covered on the DVD), online link here.amendments could anchor the “right to privacy”.  In Chapter 6 of my first DADT book, I had proposed “28th” and “29th” amendments.  The “28th was structured to prevent any government from interfering with adult sexual privacy and had many provisions.  It was not as protective as free speech on the Internet as it might have been, as I explain in the book.  The 29th amendment was actually conceived as a 90s-era attempt to encourage states to experiment with gay marriage by putting DOMA-like limits on federal recognition, but we all know what happened to that idea with the Supreme Court in 2013.

As I have covered on other blogs, I think we have real potential issues with the question of whether unsupervised self-broadcast of one’s speech ought to be regarded as a fundamental right, as in the recent debate over Section 230.  But many court opinions, even in the Supreme Court, have tended to support this view, as with the litigation a few years ago over COPA, the Child Online Protection Act, against which I was an indirect plaintiff through Electronic Frontier Foundation