Films about gays in the military: Hollywood could do much more with this theme

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It’s logical to have expected activity in the film world over the issue of gays in the military.  Most of the films have been small, and there may have been missed opportunities.

One of the oldest was a television film, “Matlovich vs. The U,S. Air Force” on NBC in 1977, about Tech Sgt. Leonard Matlovich.

One of the first important Clinton era films was “Serving in Silence” on NBC, about the case of Washington National Guard colonel Grete Cammermeyer, as played by Glenn Close.  I remember a scene near the end where the Army  JAG lawyer for the government describes her as a fine person.

There was talk in the 1990’s that there would be films about both Joseph Steffan and Keith Meinhold, but they did not come about.

An important film about tension within the ranks. would be “Any Mother’s Son” on Lifetime, in 1996, about the murder of gay sailor Allen Schindler, from the Belleau Wood, by off-duty sailor Terry Helvey in Sasebo, Japan, in 1992, a killing that was in the same league as that of Matthew Shepherd.

In 2003, Showtime aired “Soldier’s Girl”, the tragic story of a solider (Barry Winchell) who fell in love with a trangendered person (Calpernia Adams) and was bludgeoned to death by unit mates, at Fort Campbell, KY.

In 2008, Johnny Simmons produced an important documentary “Ask Not” giving the history of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy,

There is a similar film in 2009 by Tom Murray, titled “Tell”, having mostly interviews of soldiers, and attorneys including Dixon Osburn.

Ned Farr’s “A Marine’s Story” presents a lesbian kicked out of the Corps telling her backstory as she trains a delinquent girl with tough love.

“Out of Annapolis”, by Steve Clark Hall, presents gay alumni of the Naval Academy.

In 2012, Marc Wolf produced the film “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Snag Films, his monologue based on his play “Another American: Asking and Telling”, which I had seen at the Studio Theater in Washington DC in April 2000.

The best history film on the policy is probably “The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”  (Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato) on HBO, airing in October 2012.  The film did a particularly good job of distinguishing between the “privacy” issue and “unit cohesion”, which is a bit more subtle.

And there is the one hour history “Do Ask, Do Tell: The Documentary” on YouTube by Ali Sue.

There are many films in the past that have tangentially brushed the issue of gays in the military, including the 1929 silent classic “Wings” set in WWI, and even “A Few Good Men” in 1992.

Books about gays in the military, and the history of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

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In view of the content of my own books, it’s useful to survey the major books on gays in the military, including the history of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which was effectively passed into law at the end of 1993 and officially repealed in 2011.

The basic reference was by journalist Randy Shilts, “Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military”, originally published by St. Martins in 1993, and reissued, slightly updated, in paper by Fawcett Columbine in 1994.  Really, this is a history of gays in the US military, all the way back to the Revolutionary War, up to the beginning of DADT.  A critical time came in 1981, just before President Reagan took office, when the Pentagon came up with the notorious “123 words” (“Homosexuality is incompatible with military service” and the following litany or word salad), and a uniform absolute ban on gays in all the services, technically including the Coast Guard and Surgeon General corps.  Shilts also gave a history of the Vietnam era, when the Army had to try to stop men from claiming homosexuality to get out of the draft.  Shilts included a case of a man thrown out of a civilian college in Illinois in 1995 (officially “flunking out”), getting drafted and discharged again.

There was also a “book” by the Rand Corporation, the official study commissioned by Les Aspen in the Clinton Administration, “Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy”.  The book surveyed many other countries, including Canada, Britain and particularly Israel, before concluding that “sexual orientation was not germane to assessing fitness for military service” and recommending a “code of military professional conduct.”

But the really interesting books were the autobiographies by the individual gay and lesbian soldiers who had to deal with the ban

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The best of all of these books was “Honor Bound: A Gay Naval Midshipman Fights to Serve his Country”, by Joseph Steffan, from Villard (Random House) in 1992.  I actually bought this book at a signing party at Lambda Rising in Washington in September of that year and met the author, I read it in one night and couldn’t put it down.  It woke me up.  Steffan was about to graduate third in his class in 1987 when, in a bizarre set of circumstances, he was outed, and did tell the honor board and cadre that he was gay, and was denied graduation.  He had many accomplishments, such as signing the National Anthem at the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.  He did a summer cruise on a submarine without incident, and was apparently quite skilled at chess.  There was a great line in the book: “Personal honor is an absolute. You either have or do not have honor”.  For all its importance, I’m surprised that this book is no longer in print and seems to be available only from resellers.

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Marc Wolinsky and Kevin Sherrill authored “Gays in the Military: Joseph Steffan vs. The United States”, Princeton University Press, supplements Steffan’s book with all the legal papers.

Mary Anne Humphrey authored an anthology of cases “My Country: My Right to Serve” (Harper Collins), again, pre-DADT.

James Hollobaugh, in “Torn Allegiances” (1993, Alsyon) told the story of his life as an ROTC cadet.  Discharged after outing himself, he was pursued for recoupment of scholarship monies. One of the most harrowing passages, though, occurs in civilian life when he gets lost in a blizzard in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina (yes, it gets cold there).

Soldier of the Year: The Story of a Gay American Patriot”, by Jose Zuniga, 1995, Pocket Books, is the story of the Sixth Army Soldier of the Year who enlisted at Fort Bliss in 1989.

Serving in Silence” is the story of Grethe Cammermeyer, to be covered in another posting.

Rob Graham’s “Military Secret”, published in Dallas, was a first-person account of Desert Storm.

One of my favorite later books is Reichen Lehmkuhl’s “Here’s What We;ll Say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force“., from Carroll Graf.  By clever manipulation, Reichen survived his four years at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and graduated.

Of special interest as Scott Peck’s “All American Boy” (Scribner, 1995).  Peck was the gay son of a Marine Corps general who opposed lifting the ban and who hosted a radio talk show about gay rights on Sunday nights in 1993.  He one time had a discussion with Frank Kameny on his program about security clearances for gays.

There were books by men in civilian fields similar to the military. There was Frank Buttino’s “A Special Agent: Gay and Inside the FBI”.  Mr. Buttino describes his meeting with the closety J. Edgar Hoover, and his own relationship with a gay sailor, who never was discharged and served without incident.

There are a couple of books by gay atheletes:  “The Dave Kopay Story”, and then Esear Tualo’s “Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL”.  There is also Mark Tewksbury “Inside Out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock”, by a Canadian Olympic swimmer (sorry, that means “all that body shaving”).  And there is Greg Louganis, “Breaking the Surface.”

My own “Do Ask, Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back” (1997) inverts the usual story, where I was thrown out of a civilian college (William and Mary) for admitting homosexuality in 1961, then took the draft physical three times and eventually was drafted in 1968 and “served” two years without incident.  But Shilts relates a somewhat similar incident at one point.

We should mention John Barrett’s “Hero of Flight 93; Mark Bingham: A Man Who Fought Back on September 11

Regarding the history of the Repeal, I recommend Aaron Belkin and the Palm Center (at UC Santa Barbrara), “How We Won: Progressive Lessons from the Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’” on Kindle.  Previously Belkin had authored “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Debating the Gay Ban in the Military” (2003).  I met with Dr. Belkin at his office in Santa Barbara in February 2002.   Another book of important is Nathaniel Frank’s “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America”  (2009). Vincent Cianni will publish a photographic book “Gays in the Military” April 30, 2014.

Some prescient sci-fi series in the 90s: “Earth 2” and “Seaquest DSV”

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I thought I would go through a couple older sci-fi television series and a few of the associated newer films.

One of these was “Earth 2”, 22 episodes in 1994-1995.  The series supposes an expedition to an Earth-like planet 22 light years away, because Earth has become uninhabitable and most people have to live on space stations.  Also, many children have a bizarre illness and cannot survive, raising the possibility that man could become extinct (as in the 2006 film “Children of Men”).   Apparently this was a private expedition that government wants to control/

On the Earth 2, the colonists find a primitive race of people who live mostly underground called the “Terrarians”.  The government would want to remove them, but they are essential to retaining life on the planet.  This is sort of the reverse of the NBC series “The Event”.

Antonio Sobato, Jr., later popular in the gay community, was a very visible star.

Actually, the stars thought to have earth-like planets within 25 light years of Earth are all red dwarfs, or M-stars, which means that the planets would have to be close to the stars and to be tidally locked, with the sun shining on one side only, and an annular twilight zone where temperatures are mildest.  However, if the planet has an ample atmosphere, wind currents might make the climate for the much of the entire planet relatively uniform. If a planet like this had been colonized by another civilization (the hypothesis of “Prometheseus”) the politics could be interesting indeed.  Will another planet with a civilization comparable to ours have money and a financial system?

A few recent cable films follow up on some of these ideas.  NatGeo produced a 90 minute documentary called “Evacuate Earth” where society has 75 years to build an ark to move 250,000 people to another solar system because a black hole is approaching the solar system.

Alien Planet” from the Discovery Channel imagines an Earth-like planet only 6.5 light years from Earth, with a living ocean, and creatures who more or less resemble humans.

PBS Nova has a documentary “Alien Planets Revealed”, and the BBC has a documentary “Titan: A Place Like Home” about the largest moon of Saturn, with a thick atmosphere and methane lakes.  In 2013 there was a film from Magnolia, “Europa Report” (referring to the moon of Jupiter with a large subterranean ocean), where a crew’s sudden evacuation is enabled by a subterranean creature’s helping them escape.  Actually, several satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, including Titan, may have subterranean water seas.

In 2005, NatGeo aried a one hour “Extraterrestrials”, where it pondered what life would be like on a tidally locked M-star planet.

Most Sunday nights, “Earth 2” was followed on NBC by “seaQuest DSV” (“Deep Submergence Vehicle”), a drama centered on a science submarine in a world, after 2018, where Earth’s resources have been depleted.   The series was notable for having a dolphin character, almost human, living in a tank on board, and for a civilian teenage computer genius Lucas Wolenczak (Jonathan Brandis) living on board.  In the middle 1990s, this might have sounded like an important point because the “intimacy” of people in closed environments like ships and submarines had become a political issue in the debate on gays in the military,

Posted: Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 7 PM EST.

“Jerome’s Razor”, “Slices of Life”, “Five Lines”: some enigmatic examples of local independent filmmaking

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have to build up an account of my own online presence in around 2005, when a major incident happened as I was substitute teaching. I’ll be getting to accounting for my own screenplay scripts that I put online.

When I lived in Minneapolis (1997-2003), I started to network with the Independent Film Project in Minneapolis-St. Paul  (link ), going to festivals, screenings and events. 

Shortly after my end-of-2001 layoff, (in January 2002) as I started to live on “severance”, I went to a particular function near the University of Minnesota, and saw the film “Jerome’s Razor”.  That evening, I met one of the leading players, Mark Parrish, in the reception in the bar afterward.

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The film, by Jon Swon, is bifurcated, starting with an office romance by the protagonist Jerome (Marcus Edwards) in Minneapolis.  Marcus journeys to New Mexico and goes on an adventure with some people in a commune, where Parrish plays the ring leader, Thomas.  The film was shot in digital video and at the time seemed very “on location”, everywhere.  The New Mexico scenes look like the country around the Lama Foundation, which I had visited twice while living in Dallas, in 1980 and 1984 (the second time was for a “spring work camp”).  The film does not have a happy ending.

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There were a few other films then with this structure, which some people compared to Roman Polanski’s “Knife in the Water” (1962).  One of these was “Kaaterskill Falls” by Josh Apter and Peter Olson, a suspense film set in the Catskills.

During my substitute teaching experience at the Career Center in Arlington, there was a film class.  I had a chance to show the teacher the website for “Jerome’s Razor” in late 2004, and he and some of the students were impressed.  At the time, it was not on imdb yet, but much of the film could be watched at its own site.  I don’t recall what the “razor” in the title refers to.  In the Army, we used to say that a razor is a great equalizer.

The Arlington Career Center produced a couple of student films, called “Slices of Life: The House Party” and “Slices of Life II: The 50-50 Club”.  The films merge separate story lines about teens facing various levels of responsibility.  In the second film, the issue of homophobic slurs comes up, as does the idea that one character has to take a part-time job to help support his siblings and parents instead of pursue his music.

The school systems and local churches did some other noteworthy short film work.  In 20605, at West Potomac High School near Alexandria, VA, a well-equipped school with a separate building for media technology (and an “Academy”) the AP chemistry students produced a short to teach chemistry to middle school students, called “Reltonium.”  The students dressed up as clowns and atoms, to demonstrate how radioactive elements can decay.  A local church produced two spoof “horror” shorts, “Friday’s Aliens” and then a sequel. “Sunday’s Aliens”.

The idea of converging characters inspired a suspenseful film set in the DC Metro, “Five Lines” (or “5 Lines”), by Nocholas Pangopalus, Brainbox Pictures (a studio in Silver Spring MD which seems to have disappeared) with characters riding different color-coded lines in the Metro.  One of the characters is an Army soldier who beats up a gay man near the Arlington Cemetery station as part of an initiation, and his commander tries to cover it up. The film was shown at the AFI Silver in Filmfest DC and got local media coverage.  A similar Hungarian film was “Kontroll”, set in the Budapest Metro.

Let me get back to Mark for a moment.  I came back to DC from Minneapolis for a ten day visit and arranged to drive my rent car up to Boston to meet Mark for lunch (in Legal Seafoods in the Prudential Center), in a cool spell in early May.  I remember staying at a Comfort Inn in northern Connecticut and watching “Smallville”.  I got to Boston around 11, and reached Mark on my Qwest cell phone as he was getting close to the “Big Dig”.  I don’t know Boston’s tunnels.  Anyway, we did talk about movie ideas for my first book, and in subsequent postings I’ll be showing what ideas I’ve come up with.  Yes, it’s been a lot of years, but movies take a long time.  I remember the drive home, thinking of the possibilities as I approached the Maryland Bay Bridge.

Mark Parrish shows some other films on imdb.  One of the larger ones is “Mustang Sally” (Iren Koster), where again he plays ring-leader to some college boys as the visit a “house of ill repute” outside LA in the mountains.  The film opens with Mark’s character telling the story from a hospital bed, as had escaped with a broken leg.  His companions did not fare so well in what was a takeoff from “House of Wax”, so to speak.  I’ve seen the baseball film “The Pitcher and the Pin-Up” (aka “The Road Home”) where he makes a brief appearance as a teammate.

There’s a couple other films to mention here, preparing for a later posting on a critical incident when I was substitute teaching.

One of these is “The Most Dangerous Game” (1932), based on a short story by Richard Connell, often read in high school with the movie often shown.  A madman owning an island arranges a shipwreck so he can hunt down the travelers for sport after lodging them.  Real youth fare?  It’s about “brains v. brawn”, when that’s a good message.

The other is the curious British satire “A Canterbury Tale” (1944) by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.  where a “land girl” and two soldiers delve into a mystery related to Chaucer’s destination after the girl suffers a “glue attack”.  The film, after various philosophical musings, ends with an enormous musical triumph invoking “Onward Christian Soldiers”, as war descends on Britain.  The entire play, based on six of Chaucer’s tales, was presented at the Kennedy Center around 2006.  It’s common reading in high school senior English.

My speech at Hamline University in 1998 (with cable rebroadcast, and videos)

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I’m going to start introducing my own work in this “Media Reviews” blog, in order to build up to my future plans, and to supplement the “footnotes blog” for my new “Do Ask Do Tell III” book.

On February 25, 1998, I gave a lecture on my first book to undergraduate students at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN.  Students took notes, like they were going to turn in themes to professors.  The lecture was arranged by a graduating senior from Hamline whom I had met through the Libertarian Party of Minnesota after moving to Minneapolis on September 1, 1997 – actually at a reception (and informal booksigning party) somewhere around one of the lakes in town in late October (it was still mild that Sunday night, which I remember well).

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The 56-minute talk was carried on Channel 6 on Minneapolis Cable in March, 1998.  I have made a DVD of it.  Using older technology of over a decade ago. I extracted some videos from it.  I’m not sure yet how easy it would be to get this onto YouTube or copied onto this site, so I will give the link to the first file on the “doaskdotell” site.  There are 34 such files, each well less than a minute.  I do think I talk constructively about the “Relationship Paradox” (file 30) and that there is tension between independence as a virtue for the individual and interdependence as necessary for society,

The MPG link to the first file is this:

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I would be accompanied at some libertarian book fairs by Edmund Contoski, who published under the imprint “American Liberty Publishers”, link here.

One of these is “Makers and Takers”, the title of which is self-explanatory.  Yes, it does remind us of Ayn Rand.  The other is a novel “The Trojan Project”, where the author imagines a telephone virus.  I thought it was fanciful at the time, but then Stephen King came up with “Cell” in 2006.  And now, smart phone malware is a big security issue, and certainly fits well into the NSA spying scandal revealed by Edward Snowden.

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I would later give a similar speech at the University of Minnesota March 31, 1999, and a related talk to the Dakota Unitarian Fellowship in Rosemount, MN in February 2002.

(Published at 11 PM EST Sunday, Februrary 16, 2014).

Update: Oct. 20, 2014

Thumbnails for DVD of the Hamline lecture. I’ll start working on YouTube transcription soon.  See Nov. 30, 2015 post.

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Big threats to electric power grid covered in several books and academic papers, not much in movies yet

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A number of books and professional papers in the past few years have discussed the dangerous and possibly existential threat to the electric power grid for North America and most of the developed world, from both natural and hostile sources. I would expect major films (not just typical overdone “disaster movies”) to explore this possibility in the future.

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Civilization, and the whole concept of the rule of law, has evolved with technology and now could not function if electricity to a large percentage of the country or to a major area were lost for many weeks, months or years.  But this is indeed possible.

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Concern about this idea has risen in recent weeks, since the Wall Street Journal drew attention to a physical rifle attack on the Metcalf substation in the Silicon Valley in California in April, 2013, which actually caused very little disruption to companies and homes in the area.

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There are two major fiction works that present the grid vulnerability.  One of these is “Gridlock”, by Byron L. Dorgan (former senator from North Dakota) and David Hagberg, from Forge.  Dorgan envisions a major conspiracy theory, involving Russian and Middle Eastern enemies, who (with the help of a psychopathic young hacker in the Netherlands) can take out the grid with cyber attacks in stages, demanding ransom.  But the incident starts with shooting a power station, and then the electrocution of a repair person by manipulating the way the line is energized by a computer virus. The link is here  and the visitor can follow the labels to other books that take up related issues.

The older fiction is “One Second After”, by William Forstchen (2009, from Doberty) with a foreword by Newt Gingrich and an afterword by Bill Sanders.  The novel follows one family in the North Carolina Blue Ridge when, one April afternoon, the lights go out suddenly for the whole country, as a result of three simultaneous electromagnetic pulse (EMP) explosions from nuclear weapons launched from a commercial ship in the Gulf of Mexico to high altitude.  I wondered, would Norad find and would the Air Force intercept these missiles?    Civilization in rural areas returns to the 19h Century, but almost everyone in large cities perishes within a year.

The major non-fiction book is “A Nation Forsaken: The Escalating Threat of an American Catastrophe” by F. Michael Maloof. From WND Books.

Maloof covers all the major possibilities, including EMP from missiles, but also explains how a coordinated EMP attack could occur on the ground from smaller, non-nuclear “magnetic flux compression generators”, a possibility pointed out in a Popular Science article in 2001, originating with New Scientist, link here.

Maloof also covers the possibility of a solar flare, followed by coronal mass ejections that could arrive at Earth two or three days later.

The National Academy of Sciences has published two important works, “Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System”, in 2012, as well as “Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts”.

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Oak Ridge National Laboratory has published “Geogmagnetic Storms and their Impact on the U.S. Power Grid”.

On October 27, 2013, National Geographic Channel aired the docudrama “American Blackout” about how the US would recover in ten days from a total cyber attack on the power grid.

On Feb. 21, 2010, CNN aired a similar film, “Cyber Shockwave,” enacting a cyber crisis with officials discussing what they would do in a manner similar to war games that the media used to stage for nuclear crises in the past (even the Cuban Missile Crisis).

There have been a few B-moves on the solar flare issue, like “Air Collision“,  “Solar Strike”, “Solar Crisis” and “Solar Attack” that aren’t very effective or credible.

But “Perfect Disaster: Solar Storm” from the Discovery Channel is pretty scary.

I have heard rumors that Warner Brothers has looked at “One Second After”, and Dorgan probably has the connections to get “Gridlock” considered by studio agents.

(Initial publication: Saturday, February 15, 2014 at about 11:45 AM EST).

NBC Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” ought to have a followup report now; Chris Hansen no longer at NBC though

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There was one particular reality television series on NBC Dateline which also help set up a climate change in Internet law and awareness issues of Internet safety.

That was NBC’s “To Catch a Predator”.  The concept was to work with a volunteer phone group called “Perverted Justice” (link ) Members of the group would pose as legal minors, and enter chat rooms.  Men would contact them and then go to a particular home for a liaison.  In all but the first two of the episodes, police or the sheriff’s department would arrest the men as they left.  Chris Hansen, the lead journalist, would appear in place of the intended minor, and quiz and scold the visitor.  (“Why are you here?  I want to go over the chat logs. This isn’t a gay-straight thing.”)

NBC does not appear to have an active link for the show now, but there are various links for specific episodes, such as here.

The first episode occurred on Long Island in November 2004.  The next episode did not air until early November 2005, but had been taped in mid August 2005 at a home in Herndon, VA.  One of the most awful cases involved a rabbi named David Kaye, who had worked in his faith in education in suburban Maryland.  He had actually used his work computer in the chats, some of which (reproduced by peej) became quite graphic.   He tried to get NBC not to air his segment, which of course he could not prevent. He resigned from his job right before the airing.  At the apparent prodding from Peej, the FBI began to investigate him.  He was contacted and told to surrender in late May, 2006.  He never saw home for 12 years.  Despite the lengthy time before bringing charges, he was denied bail, and convicted in a most interestingly written opinion in federal court in Alexandria, VA.  He served about six years and would follow with ten years supervised probation. The Washington Post story by Jerry Markson of the Dec. 2, 2006 sentencing hearing, where Kaye sobbed, is here.

Stings were set up in a number of states: Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas,  California.  In California, a cancer researcher fell for the trap.  In Texas, an assistant DA was caught and committed suicide. That led to litigation, as reported in the Los Angeles Times here.

One of the most important moral points was that the “entrapment” defense could not work, because most states will punish attempting to contact a person that the perpetrator believes to be a minor.  There may have to be a specific person, but the person can be a decoy.  Stings run by police departments are common now, particularly in the Washington DC area in all local jurisdictions.  In one case, an Army general was arrested in Union Station by Metro Transit Police in trying to set up an encounter after traveling across the country on government expense.

It’s very important to note that about 90-95% of the men who came to the sting houses were looking for females.  This was mostly a heterosexual thing (Vladimir Putin’s recent comments, as well as the Kaye case,  notwithstanding).

A disturbing comparison could be made to the case of Justin Berry, who started answering requests from chat rooms to make his own videos, as reported in the New York Times video here.  Berry has since cooperated with police and the DOJ.

NBC would follow up with a sequel later called “Predator Raw” with excerpt from the series, on MSNBC.

Chris Hansen would author a book, “To Catch a Predator”, published in 2007 by Dutton, link for my Blogger review here.

Hansen would eventually be “dumped” by NBC, according to a New York Post story, here.

Arrests of teachers for improper conduct with students seemed to be reported in the media much more often starting in 2006.

NBC Dateline (which sponsored the series) should report on what happened to many of the convicts, many of whom would be released by now, especially Kaye.  This would be a disturbing but important project for an independent film documentary.

ABC 20-20, on Feb. 14. 2014,  reported on a troubling case in Florida about a n 18 year old girl in a relationship with a 14 year old, and not realizing that it could be illegal, link here.

(First published Thursday, February 13, 2014 at 11 PM EST.)

 

“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.

NBC’s “The Event”: in my view, one of the best recent sci-fi series, but you had to watch it all, in sequence

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One of my favorite television series has been NBC’s “The Event”, which ran for 22 episodes from September 2010 to May 2011.

The premise of the show is rather Roswell-like.  It supposes that during WWII, an  extraterrestrial spacecraft crashed in Alaska, and the government held most of the aliens.  But the aliens look almost exactly like humans, even with the same approximate race variations, and those who escaped assimilated into the population, one winding up heading the CIA. The one difference is the Methuselah syndrome, meaning that the aliens age very slowly.

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Another element of the plot is that a president Martinez (Blair Underwood, aka Obama) wants to release them on human rights grounds, and that leads to an assassination plot in the first episode, which the aliens foil with radical technology, taking the people on an aircraft through a portal.

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For me, the lead character was Sean Walker, played by Jason Ritter, a computer games designer who becomes involved when his fiancée disappears in the first episode.  Sean is extremely charismatic and has a “Clark Kent personality”, and has abilities that verge on being powers.  Toward the end of the series the audience begins to believe that Sean is himself an alien, or perhaps was conceived by an alien and normal person.  As Sean realizes he is partially “one of them”, he is faced with a real existential test of his loyalties.  The aliens seem to lack our full moral compass, but Seam does understand it and (like Clark Kent) tries to live by it.  A clue is that about six or seven years in flashbacks have passed, and even Sean notices that he still has the body of an 18 year old. That would be a blessing.

The series varies from other series of this type (like “Smallville”) in that the episodes are much more interconnected;  one must watch every episode to follow the story, which may have cut down on ratings eventually.  And some of the story is told in detailed flashbacks.

Another interesting character was Sofia, played by Laura Innes, and she can become quite chilling.  An interesting fact is that she was originally conceived as a male character.  So making her female required some flexibility among the writers, something I am never willing to do in my own fiction (and this may become a critical discussion point in later posts).

The last few episodes telescope, leading to a denouement where the aliens bring their dying planet close to earth – a kind of “Krypton” or “Earth II” that has been scorched to desert by it’s expanding sun, which is threatening to become a supernova.  If so, it would need to be a at least a few hundred light years away or else the radiation from it (the gamma rays) could eventually destroy life on Earth, too.  Only  “Type I” civilization could master black holes or portals and traverse an entire galaxy.

The NBC link is here.  NBC considered spinning off a sequel series and I’m not sure what became of that, link.

It would have been interesting to wonder what a second season could have brought.

 

 

The unfinished documentary “American Lynching” by Gode Davis; also, controversial films on abortion

lynch4On New Year’s Day, January 1, 2003, a Wednesday, while I was staying with my mother in Arlington over the holidays (I was still living in the Churchill in Minneapolis) I drove my rented car to West Warwick, RI (very near Providence) to visit filmmaker Gode Davis, who is since deceased.  It was a mild day, with rain and fog but no snow on the way up (but wind-driven flurries all the next day as I came back).

We met first for dinner in a Friday’s restaurant, and he said immediately, he could tell from my artificial body language that I, like him, have at least mild Asperger’s syndrome.  We had spoken on the phone numerous times.  He had said he had been an Army officer, had been married and was also bisexual and was very concerned about “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

Then we retreated to his modest Cape Cod home on St. George St., and watched all the footage of his documentary “American Lynching”.  I think about 40 minutes of interviews and various narratives had been assembled.  I actually spent the night before driving back.

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In June 2005, he came to Washington to tape some interviews at the Capitol about a Senate resolution to apologize for the government’s not doing more about the past wrongs associated with lynchings since the Civil War.  Senator George Allen (VA), Mary Landrieu (LA) and victim James Cameron were interviewed.  Gode took a lot of footage, and I took my own footage of some of the same material.

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My own footage:

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To play these in Windows, click once, and then click when the box appears on your screen,  These were taken with an older Sony Camcorder.

Gode had called to ask if he could stay at my home, but at the time my mother was in charge (as I was looking after her) and I could not return the favor.  That is an idea that I ought to be able to address now.

In fact, there are several sites in Alexandria, VA where lynchings occurred in the late 19th Century, such as this

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this

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and this.

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The estate has a website “americanlyncing.com” which right now Google warns as possibly being hacked. It comes up cleanly in Firefox with Webroot Secure Anywhere in a Windows 8 environment, so I am having Webroot check on the reason for Google’s warning (link)  Note: Webroot’s initial reply is that it did not find anything wrong with the site.

Gode’s one YouTube video, from 2006, about ten minutes, also appears on my Blogger Movie Reviews blog, Dec. 24, 2013, but I’ll re-present it here for convenience.

The logical next step is to contact the estate and see what is being done with the materials and if some sort of effort can be assembled to fund and finish the rest of the project.

In February 2003 there was a fire at the Station Disco in West Warwick, RI.  David did become involved in a city’s investigation of the disaster.

There’s another controversial film around, “South Dakota” (no relation to “Nebraska”) by Bruce Isaacson, a long drama about two young women dealing with abortion. The production company is Lionheart, and it is very difficult to find out any information in when it will show up. I would wonder if the controversy of the film’s subject matter is provoking concerns.   I have reviewed both “Lake of Fire” and “After Tiller” on my Movies blog (look for the “Right to Life” label).

Update: March 9, 2015

A disturbing incident with a University of Oklahoma fraternity, now closed down with students likely to be expelled, shows the problem is still with us, CNN story here.   The expulsion letter published by ABC on Facebook is quite graphic, here.

 Update: March 15, 2015

I have had some occasional discussions with the estate about my past contact with Gode.  I can’t report details now, but I believe that there will be more news in the reasonably near future.

Update: April 2, 2015

There are reports of a noose incident on the Duke University campus in North Carolina, story on Jezebel here.

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Update: August 15, 2015

I recently visited the executor of Gode’s estate in Rhode Island.  More details will be available in the reasonably near future, I hope.  It is apparent that the focus of Gode’s work was “extra legal violence” that has neighborhood or peer social approval, and isn’t limited just to race.

 

Comparative media reviews on hot topics