I’ve got NOVA set to record on my DVR which means I often don’t get around to watching an episode until well after it has aired. Last night I got around to watching the Power Surge episode that talks about the race to develop large-scale alternative energy sources. Virgin airline’s Sir Richard Branson is figured prominently and presented as a man with a moral dilemma. Turns out he’s an environmentalist which has got to be stressful when you’re also the founder of a major airline that contributes so much carbon to the air.
The question that’s asked throughout the show is “Can technology save us from the looming environmental disaster?” Not surprisingly, most of the participants believe it can. The show takes a look at a number of technologies and, unlike other such shows, doesn’t make the argument that any single one of them is going to save us. Instead it’s going to take a wide range of technologies — wind, solar, bio, nuclear, etc. — to solve the problem. One of the other points the show makes is that if the U.S. wants to be a leader in the alternative energy field, a field expected to be quite profitable in the coming years, we’d better hurry the fuck up and get serious about it. China, of all places, already has several very wealthy alternative energy entrepreneurs and is positioning itself to be a world leader in alternative energy technologies.
Fortunately for those of us who like NOVA and forget to watch it and who don’t have a DVR, PBS makes the episodes available to view online for free. I highly recommend you go watch the whole thing as it’s very interesting and informative. It’s especially eye opening when it looks back to how the U.S. was once very keen on alternative energies during the Oil Crisis of the 1970’s when President Carter was in the White House. He had some solar panels installed on the White House roof which are referenced again at the end of the show in a very ironic way. It’s worth watching the whole thing just to learn the fate of those most famous of solar panels. (Hint: They’re not on the White House roof anymore.)
I’m a science geek so it probably goes without saying that I love the NOVA series on PBS. I’m also a big fan of Neil Degrasse Tyson who is hosting this season of NOVA scienceNOW. So far I’ve recorded two episodes on our DVR and I’ve enjoyed both of them immensely.
I like to consider myself to be a wired individual, but even though I grew up alongside the technology that is now commonplace these days I am nowhere near as wired as some of the kids who have never known anything other than the highly digital world we have today.
I’m not even that good at multitasking. If I’m doing something I’m usually doing that one thing to the exclusion of anything else. Be it writing a blog post, chatting in IM, playing a game, or talking on the phone. I think I’ve sent a total of a dozen texts on my phone in my entire life. I don’t own a smartphone. Occasionally I’ll talk on the phone while driving or do a little IM chat while working on a blog post, but I usually end those conversations quickly so I can get back to concentrating on the primary task at hand. I’ve never had a lengthy, pointless conversation on my cell while driving. It’s too distracting. About the best I can do is listen to the radio while driving or talking to a passenger.
Compared to some of the kids I know today that makes me a total Luddite. Every time a break come around at work the kiosk computers are filled instantly with people checking their Facebook pages while chatting on IM and eating a snack. They’d have their cellphones out if it were for the fact that they’re banned from the building and some of them go out to their cars to get around that restriction.
This is why I found the following episode of Frontline so interesting. In it they take a look at how all these highly wired and constantly multitasking people are affected by the technology they’ve so immersed themselves in. How is it affecting them socially and physically? What’s it doing to their brains? How’s it affect their relationships? How will it all change the way the world works?
As per usual with Frontline, this is a very balanced bit of journalism that points out the pros and cons. In the end they don’t draw any conclusions one way or the other, but simply look at where things are headed and what it might mean. We’re going to lose some things along the way, but we will gain others.
The episode airs tonight on your local PBS station, or you can watch it here as I’ve embedded all nine chapters in this entry. The first is below and the rest are after the jump. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on it if you take the time to watch it.
It will piss you off to no end, but it is worth watching. It details the story of Brooksley Born who was the one person who foresaw the coming trouble in the financial markets due to the lack of regulation for Over the Counter Derivatives. When she tried to do something about it they shut her down. Here’s Frontline’s summary of the show:
In The Warning, veteran FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk unearths the hidden history of the nation’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. At the center of it all he finds Brooksley Born, who speaks for the first time on television about her failed campaign to regulate the secretive, multitrillion-dollar derivatives market whose crash helped trigger the financial collapse in the fall of 2008.
“I didn’t know Brooksley Born,” says former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, a member of President Clinton’s powerful Working Group on Financial Markets. “I was told that she was irascible, difficult, stubborn, unreasonable.” Levitt explains how the other principals of the Working Group—former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin—convinced him that Born’s attempt to regulate the risky derivatives market could lead to financial turmoil, a conclusion he now believes was “clearly a mistake.”
Born’s battle behind closed doors was epic, Kirk finds. The members of the President’s Working Group vehemently opposed regulation—especially when proposed by a Washington outsider like Born.
“I walk into Brooksley’s office one day; the blood has drained from her face,” says Michael Greenberger, a former top official at the CFTC who worked closely with Born. “She’s hanging up the telephone; she says to me: ‘That was [former Assistant Treasury Secretary] Larry Summers. He says, “You’re going to cause the worst financial crisis since the end of World War II.”… [He says he has] 13 bankers in his office who informed him of this. Stop, right away. No more.’”
Greenspan, Rubin and Summers ultimately prevailed on Congress to stop Born and limit future regulation of derivatives. “Born faced a formidable struggle pushing for regulation at a time when the stock market was booming,” Kirk says. “Alan Greenspan was the maestro, and both parties in Washington were united in a belief that the markets would take care of themselves.”
Now, with many of the same men who shut down Born in key positions in the Obama administration, The Warning reveals the complicated politics that led to this crisis and what it may say about current attempts to prevent the next one.
“It’ll happen again if we don’t take the appropriate steps,” Born warns. “There will be significant financial downturns and disasters attributed to this regulatory gap over and over until we learn from experience.”
And here’s a sneak peeks: Turns out you can watch the whole episode right here:
Watch the whole episode above, but be prepared for some chin bruising from it hitting the floor repeatedly. One of the most amazing aspects of the story is the fact that most of it takes place during the Clinton administration. One of the more frightening aspects of the story is the fact that at least two of the people involved are currently employed as President Obama’s financial advisers.
President Bush described his anti-terrorist measures as narrow and targeted, but a FRONTLINE investigation has found that the National Security Agency (NSA) has engaged in wiretapping and sifting Internet communications of millions of Americans; the FBI conducted a data sweep on 250,000 Las Vegas vacationers, and along with more than 50 other agencies, they are mining commercial-sector data banks to an unprecedented degree.
And it gets much worse than this little clipping from the Frontline website. I won’t give away too much, but the part about AT&T should really piss you off. Frontline talks to actual [ex-]employees (didn’t catch if they were current or ex) that explain how AT&T allowed the NSA to set up a room that was wiretapping voice and data traffic from AT&T’s network.
And then there is the gem I caught before I had to switch back to “Dancing With the Stars”, a Justice Dept Attorney, “During a time of war while soldiers are fighting Al Qaeda and we are trying to do what we can to keep Al Qaeda’s attacks from getting closer and closer to the US, wouldn’t you want to protect from those attacks. It just makes sense to me.” This quote is not exact but the basic point the jackass was getting across was, “Hey it’s a time of war, so fuck your basic rights and the constitution this country was founded on.”
I highly recommend watching this episode. It’s essential for citizens of the US to understand what our government is doing.
Looks like there’s going to be a pretty good show on PBS tonight at 8pm EST called Intelligent Design on Trial. If you can’t catch it, their going to post the entire episode online for viewing on Friday (11/16).