Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Alongside Night to run in Austin; Author to Appear

J. Neil Schulman will be in Austin for the screening of his film, Alongside Night on June 18.  We will meet him for dinner at the Dog & Duck (17th & Guadalupe) the next evening, Thursday, June 19, from 5:00 PM to 7:00.  After dinner we will go to Brave New Books (1904 Guadalupe, just north of MLK) for autographs.

 With a cameo by Ron Paul, Alongside Night is the story of the final economic collapse of the United States. We see it through the eyes of 16-year-old Elliot Vreeland.  Elliott searches for his father, a Nobel laureate economist who was targeted for arrest because he consulted with the Europeans to create a gold-based currency that effectively destroyed all confidence in the U.S. dollar.  Inflation is rampant.  The federal government has issued emergency scrip; and vending machine tokens circulate as a convenience.  As shortages and rationing spread, thousands of activists and protestors are rounded up.  Hundreds are held in a secret prison called “Utopia” – Nowhere.

Alongside Night
Wednesday, June 18 7:30PM - 9:25PM
in Austin, TX at
AMC-14 Barton Creek Square Mall
Tickets $11.00 at

Starring Kevin Sorbo (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys), Mara Marini (Recreation), Susan Smythe (Lady Magdalene), Jake Busey (Contact and Starship Troopers), Star Trek: Voyager's Tim Russ and Garrett Wang as well as up-and-coming actors Christian Kramme, Reid Cox, Kyle Leatherberry, Rebekah Kennedy, Charlie Morgan Patton, and Eric Colton. Cameo appearances by Dr. Ron Paul, David D. Friedman, and Adam Kokesh.
Actor Kevin Sorbo plays economist Dr. Martin Vreeland in the film, "Alongside Night"
Kevin Sorbo as Dr. Martin Vreeland,
Nobel Laureate economist
Longer Official Trailer

Internet Movie Database
Author's websites:

Graphic novel from Pulpless.com still available via Amazon.
Kindle edition of graphic novel available via Amazon

Jake Busey plays the President of the United States
The Wikipedia entry:


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Liberty's Kids

I was happy to have found this in a remainder bin in a supermarket.  Originally produced in 2002, Liberty’s Kids: Established 1776 features great acting in support of strong historical writing.  Nominally intended for 6 to 12 year-olds, the stories include people (Phillis Wheatley) and events (Dunsmore’s Proclamation) that I had to look up.  After watching this, I sent them on to my sister’s kids. 

The viewpoint characters are two young teenagers: James Hiller and Sarah Phillips.  He is American and an apprentice to Benjamin Franklin.  She is English and staying with Franklin who is a friend of her family.  Also, she is seeking her father, an army officer stationed at Fort Pitt on the Ohio frontier. The third youngster is a French boy, Henri Lefevre, who was indentured to pay off his parents' passage when they died en route.  Franklin’s adult worker is Moses, a former slave who worked at skilled trades and market jobs to buy his freedom.   His brother, Cato, is still a slave. Cato joins the British Army to earn his freedom, and eventually leaves for Canada with the Tories.  This is all very complicated.

We also meet Benedict Arnold, the hero of Fort Ticonderoga (voice by Dustin Hoffman).  Arnold Schwartzenegger speaks for Baron von Steuben. Maria Shriver is Benedict Arnold’s wife, Peggy Shippen. Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Michael Douglas, Michael York, Aaron Carter, Liam Neeson, Sylvester Stallone, Norman Schwarzkopf, Russell Means, and Warren Buffett also give voice to the characters.  Heading the line-up is Walter Cronkite, as Benjamin Franklin, in his last working role. 

Liberty is for everyone and the writers take a little of it with the facts, though not egregiously.  It is true that John Adams insulted John Dickinson. It is not true that Benjamin Franklin was standing right there when Adams’s attempt at apology was rebuffed. 

The worst problems are within the guide for teachers and parents provided on the website, http://libertyskids.com/.  There it is claimed that we only have the freedoms that the government gives us.  That contradicts the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it… “
The Liberty’s Kids website does provide an interesting array of games and activities.

The series garnered several media awards.  Walter Cronkite was recognized with two Daytime Emmys for acting.  The Television Critics gave the entire series its award for 2003.  The Humanitas Prize (Wikipedia here; and homepage here) recognized the writers for two episodes: Marc Scott Zicree and Elaine Zicree for “Common Sense”; and Doug McIntyre for “Liberty or Death.”

The creators, Michael Maliani and Kevin O’Donnell brought their experience from Sailor Moon, Inspector Gadget, Strawberry Shortcake and other popular series.  Their ideas were then developed for production by Andy Heyward who grew up in the TV business and bought the production company DIC Entertainment from Radio-Television Luxembourg in 1986.  In addition to the many writers who worked on individual episodes, most of the series was the work of Jim Staahl. His credits begin with Sid Caesar and Steve Allen, continue through Mork & Mindy, Charles in Charge, and Young Hercules, and include Second City Theater and SCTV.  Jim Staahl was a writer for the Emmy Award series “Teacher’s Pet” from Disney.

The forty chapters run 24 minutes each.  The show has aired on PBS, CW, and MyNetwork TV. It still runs on independent stations that want to meet FCC requirements for educational programming.  CBS placed it under their labels “Slumber Party” (2006) and “Cookie Jar”  (2008).  Also in 2008, it ran on The History Channel.  In 2012, the series went digital on qubo.  

The entire set of DVDs can be found for sale new and used on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other sites online.  Or watch the bargain bins at the supermarket.

Also on Necessary Facts

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Republicans for Voldemort

The bumpersticker is amusing, certainly. It does beg investigation into the epistemology of the message.  I accept that on the surface it is meant to imply that Republicans are for Voldemort, i.e., that Republicans inherently and implicitly support the dark lord.  However, in point of fact, such a claim would be unnecessary, as for instance, "Republicans for Bush" or "Republicans for Palin."  Logic demands that we accept Voldemort as a Democrat and allow that some Republicans favor his reign. I first met this entendre in 1968, in Charleston, South Carolina.  Enrolled at the College of Charleston, and a member of College Democrats, I met adults who told me that they were not racists; and eschewing the Democratic party, they had previously formed "Democrats for Eisenhower."  Thus, "Republicans for Voldemort" must mean that the prince of evil is a Democrat.  I can accept that. 

Republican Rebels
Austin Tech Republicans
Ayn Rand versus Conservatives
Etruscans and Americans

Sunday, May 18, 2014

High Brew Cold Brew Coffee

Austin is a great town for food.  One of the benefits of being members of the Wheatsville Co-op is meeting the local vendors who bring new products.  High Brew Coffee opened this year.  Their website is still very plain. Their canned coffees are very exciting.  Three flavors - Mexican Vanilla, Double Espresso, and Mocha Chocolate - are sweetened with condensed milk, sugar, and stevia.

Also on Necessary Facts
Awesome Austin Foods
Central Texas Bee Rescue
Around Austin (2014)
Jaime's Salsa of Austin

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Watson’s Double Helix: Doing Science and Writing About It

The Double Helix (1968) is James D. Watson’s very personal account of how he and Francis Crick worked out the structure of DNA through 1951 and 1952.  The reading is an easy 141 pages.  But depth is here, also.  The story is about scientists, their social spheres, and their conflicts, and (ultimately) their collaborations.  This is also a chronological tour through some of the mind of James D. Watson.  Proof demands evidence explained by consistent reasoning. Getting there is intuitive, insightful, and contrary.

Watson does not explain the technical terms.  Mostly, it does not matter if you do not know the formulas for adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine.  (I do not. The book has pictures.) However, neither does he do more than drop the terms “keto” and “enol.”  (You can look them up. I have not.)  The narrative moves forward nonetheless. 

More than the frustrating work of discovery, this story reveals much about how the culture of academic science perceived itself in the middle of the 20th century.  Watson’s telling is personally unkind to Sir Lawrence Bragg.  Bragg ordered his doctoral candidate, Crick, to abandon the pursuit for DNA. Says Watson: “ … we refrained from publicly questioning Bragg’s decision. An open outcry would reveal that our professor was completely in the dark about what the initials DNA stood for. There was no reason to believe that he gave it one hundredth the importance of the structure of metals, for which he took great delight in making soap-bubble models. Nothing then gave Sir Lawrence more pleasure than showing his ingenious motion-picture film of how soap bubbles bump each other.” (page 69)  Yet, Bragg wrote the Foreword. That speaks to the culture of science.

Their conflict with Rosalind Franklin is now a legend.  In closing the history, Watson allows that her barbed shell was a necessary defense in a society that held her sex against her.  Yet, Watson also admits that she stood on good science.  She refused to accept the helix until her own x-ray crystallography validated it, even though a single snapshot from that library inspired Crick and Watson to seek the spiral structure.  When the cards were on the table, Franklin agreed, plainly, flatly, honestly.  Ironically perhaps, at that moment, the structure of DNA had nothing to do with sex.
“Much of the talk about the three-dimensional structure of proteins and nucleic acids was hot air. … It made no sense to learn complicated mathematical methods in order to follow baloney.” (page 27).
Just as Sir Lawrence Bragg denied the value in Francis Crick’s independent path, Watson was fired by the supporters of his post-doctoral work.  His position at Cambridge (where he was not supposed to be in the first place) was cancelled and he was offered nine months (not a year) in the States.  Often attributed to Buddha, the fact that a prophet is not appreciated in his homeland is correctly cited to Jesus.  To the betterment of all, the culture of science is different than that of religion.  The worst they can do to you is to withhold your stipend.  In fact, Watson’s colleagues and friends at King’s College in London, Max Perutz and John Kendrew, assured him that they could find some money if he chose to remain in England.  That help turned out not to be necessary, though Watson continued his work at Cambridge.

He fit in well, there.  The sense of fair play that defined science then was important to him.  Crick and Watson worried about invading the research spaces of others who also sought the structure of DNA.  Topmost of them was Linus Pauling, already holding a Nobel Prize, and clearly capable of more achievements at that level.  When a published paper showed that Pauling was not just wrong, but had blundered, Crick and Watson knew that they had about six weeks to finish their work because Pauling could not be bested twice. 

(Jeff Goldblum played John Watson in a television production of the story, “The Race for the Double Helix” Horizon season 23 episode 16, September 14, 1987.) 

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