Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness

This six part series on philosophy is presented by popular British philosopher Alain de Botton, featuring six thinkers who have influenced history, and their ideas about the pursuit of the happy life.

Episode 1: Socrates on Self-Confidence - Why do so many people go along with the crowd and fail to stand up for what they truly believe? Partly because they are too easily swayed by other people's opinions and partly because they don't know when to have confidence in their own.

Episode 2: Epicurus on Happiness - British philosopher Alain De Botton discusses the personal implications of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270BCE) who was no epicurean glutton or wanton consumerist,but an advocate of "friends, freedom and thought" as the path to happiness.

Episode 3: Seneca on Anger Roman philosopher Lucious Annaeus Seneca (4BCE-65CE), the most famous and popular philosopher of his day, took the subject of anger seriously enough to dedicate a whole book to the subject. Seneca refused to see anger as an irrational outburst over which we have no control. Instead he saw it as a philosophical problem and amenable to treatment by philosophical argument. He thought anger arose from certain rationally held ideas about the world, and the problem with these ideas is that they are far too optimistic. Certain things are a predictable feature of life, and to get angry about them is to have unrealistic expectations.

Episode 4: Montaigne on Self-Esteem looks at the problem of self-esteem from the perspective of Michel de Montaigne (16th Century), the French philosopher who singled out three main reasons for feeling bad about oneself - sexual inadequecy, failure to live up to social norms, and intellectual inferiority - and then offered practical solutions for overcoming them.

Episode 5: Schopenhauer on Love - Alain De Botton surveys the 19th Century German thinker Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) who believed that love was the most important thing in life because of its powerful impulse towards 'the will-to-life'.

Episode 6: Nietzsche on Hardship - British philosopher Alain De Botton explores Friedrich Nietzsche's (1844-1900) dictum that any worthwhile achievements in life come from the experience of overcoming hardship. For him, any existence that is too comfortable is worthless, as are the twin refugees of drink or religion.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

China from the Inside

With the Beijing Olympic Games looming, the rest of the world is going to be shown a heavily sanitised version of modern China. This 4 part documentary gives amazing insight into the real modern China through unprecedented access to everyday events.

PART ONE - Power & the People

It isn't easy, running China, with its 1.3 billion people and 56 officially recognized ethnic nationalities. It's a vast mix of languages, living standards, beliefs and customs. Run it successfully, and you have a prosperous, innovative, powerful empire to rival any the world has seen. Make mistakes, and the chaos will be vast and terrible.

China is run by the Communist Party, which bases its legitimacy on delivering both stability and the conditions for prosperity. But stability is under threat as economic boom strands millions at the margin. Meanwhile rampant corruption is sapping people's trust in the Party. Officials are increasingly seen not as public servants but as profiteers.

This episode films patrols along China's border with Kazakhstan, Party meetings, officials in Tibet trying to impose authority at the grass-roots, a village election, and a corrupt embezzler in prison, reprieved from a death sentence. Chinese people throughout, from farmer to Minister, speak frankly about the problems the country faces and the ways forward.

The Party attracts eager young recruits and is trying to re-invigorate its older members. They visit sites of communist achievement, like the Red Flag Canal, hoping to be inspired by the revolutionary zeal of the past. "If all Communist officials today were like those who built this," one Party member exclaims, "the Communist Party would rule forever."

PART TWO - Women of the Country

China's women have always been under pressure: from men, from family, from work. Now more and more are under new pressure -- from themselves -- to take control of their lives; to get an education; to have a career; to marry for love. It's a slow, difficult process, and it is changing China.

Mass migration from the countryside to the cities is increasing prosperity, but fracturing families. It also gives women new roles -- whether running the farm back home, or as wage-earners in the city. Xiao Zhang has lived in Beijing for 14 years, cooking and cleaning. This episode follows her home to her village 600 miles away for Chinese New Year, where she is reunited with the children she hasn't seen for a year. The cameras capture the visit of the local Birth Planning Officer to check on young wives, the plight of unwanted girl babies and abortion issues, and a village wedding which turns nasty.

The film also explores the discrimination suffered by Xinjiang's Muslim women, the hardships of life in Tibet, and China's tragic suicide figures: China has one of the highest suicide rates for women in the world: 150,000 a year. One every four minutes.

Finally, we see a glimpse of urban life where the younger generation of women has left the countryside for factory work in the cities. The hours and conditions are tough but the women are slowly gaining confidence and independence.

PART THREE - Shifting Nature

China is trying to feed 20 percent of the world's population on 7 percent of the world's arable land. A third of the world uses water from China's rivers. But rapid industrialization and climate change have led to bad air, polluted rivers and drought. Environmental activists, Party officials, academics and scientists are in a daily struggle over the damage to nature in China.

Environmental campaigner Huo Daishan has been trying to save the heavily polluted Huai River, which provides water for 150 million people. Research took him to its main tributary, the Shaying, into which over a million tons of raw human sewage and untreated waste water are dumped daily. Rather than clamping down on polluters, local government protects local industries.

Along the Huai's main tributary, 50,000 people suffer from cancer. In one village alone, 118 people have died. The Deputy Minister of the Environment accepts that many cancer cases are related to environmental pollution, but says he is powerless to shut down polluting companies.

Other stories explore northern China's dire water shortage, which is being remedied by channelling water from the south in what will be the biggest hydraulic project in world history. A project in the arid Ningxia region has benefited nearly half a million people, but elsewhere relocation from dam areas, like the Three Gorges, is causing huge social upheaval.

PART FOUR - Freedom an Justice

How free are the Chinese people? How free to worship as they please? To learn the truth from the media? To hear the truth from the Communist Party and the government? How can people with a grievance negotiate with the state?

Tibetan Buddhism has long been feared as a rallying point and cover for Tibetan independence. Worship is permitted on the Party's strict terms -- neither government employees nor students are allowed to practice. A study in contrasts, official Catholicism -- administered not by the Vatican but by the Communist Party -- is far from China's unofficial churches with 40 million adherents who want nothing between them and their God. The film also explores Falun Gong and the threat it posed to the Chinese government as well as examining the limits on the right to assembly and press freedom.

The second half looks at popular grievances: forced evictions, government cover-up of the AIDS problem, corruption and land grabbing. There were 87,000 officially-recognized cases of public disorder in 2005. The courts frequently refuse to take on sensitive cases, forcing ordinary people to petition government -- a frustratingly ineffectual process. The cameras go inside a "Re-education through Labor" camp to which women are committed without trial for up to four years for drugs, sex or property offences -- or for petitioning.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has acknowledged the problems facing China's rural population. The Party's answer is to build what it calls a "New Socialist Countryside" with free education, improved healthcare, no agricultural tax and an extra $6 billion. But with corruption rife in local government, will the money and the measures reach the people?

The final sequence in the series is the story of what happened to Taishi Village, which sought to use the law to impeach and remove its corrupt leaders. Praised by the leading Party newspaper in China one minute, the village was overrun with police and militia the next. The corrupt old leaders were reinstated by local government amid violence, intimidation and arrests.

Buy this amazing documentary series on DVD...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Stupid in America

"Stupid in America" is a nasty title for a program about public education, but some nasty things are going on in America's public schools and it's about time we face up to it.

Kids at New York's Abraham Lincoln High School told me their teachers are so dull students fall asleep in class. One student said, "You see kids all the time walking in the school smoking weed, you know. It's a normal thing here."

We tried to bring "20/20" cameras into New York City schools to see for ourselves and show you what's going on in the schools, but officials wouldn't allow it.

Washington, D.C., officials steered us to the best classrooms in their district.

We wanted to tape typical classrooms but were turned down in state after state.

Finally, school officials in Washington, D.C., allowed "20/20" to give cameras to a few students who were handpicked at two schools they'd handpicked. One was Woodrow Wilson High. Newsweek says it's one of the best schools in America. Yet what the students taped didn't inspire confidence.

One teacher didn't have control over the kids. Another "20/20" student cameraman videotaped a boy dancing wildly with his shirt off, in front of his teacher.

Watch this free online documentary and make up your own mind...is the American school system producing stupid citizens?

Watch other similar documentaries...

How to Live to 101

Ghost in Your Genes

Genius Sperm Bank

Own this documentary on DVD...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Atom - A Documentary

In this three-part documentary series, Professor Jim Al-Khalili tells the story of one of the greatest scientific discoveries ever: that the material world is made up of atoms.

PART ONE - Clash of the Titans

Professor Al-Khalili takes us from the discovery of the atom to the development of quantum mechanics.

PART TWO - The Key to the Cosmos

This episode tackles world-changing discoveries such as radioactivity, the Atom Bomb and the Big Bang, and tries to answer the biggest questions of all - why are we here and how were we made?

PART THREE - The Illusion of Reality

Al-Khalili discovers that there might be parallel universes in which different versions of us exist, and finds out that empty space isn’t empty at all, but seething with activity.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Living Forever - The Longevity Revolution

Immortality. Life Extension. The Fountain of Youth. Real science or simply wishful thinking? Is it hope or is it hype?

Find out in Living Forever: The Longevity Revolution. Scientists from around the world are racing to answer one of humanity's chief questions: can we turn back the human clock? Hitch a ride on this controversial roller-coaster with charismatic gerontologist Michael Rose as he leads us to where the cutting-edge science in life extension is happening: biotechnology, genetic research, therapeutic cloning and stem-cell research – fields which have moved to the outer reaches of our wildest imagination.

In Living Forever we also meet the “believers” among us: the colourful characters who refuse to succumb to the grim reaper. And let's not forget the specialists who predict whether their clients have what it takes to live past 100.

Just to be clear, Living Forever is not a documentary about 60-year-olds who want to look like young and sexy 25-year-olds. This is a film about stopping, slowing down – even reversing – human aging. It is about the modern quest to create a longer, healthier old age, or – the Holy Grail – eliminating old age altogether.

So, what happens if humans are able to live for another 100 or 500 years? Should we create a race of immortals, just because we have the know-how? At what evolutionary cost? What about the ethical issues? Given humanity's trajectory thus far, it's likely that most people will say ethics be damned: let The Longevity Revolution begin.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

How to Live to 101

This documentary looks at the quest to live longer. It has been one of humanities oldest dreams, but while scientists have been searching, a few isolated communities have stumbled across the answer. On the remote Japanese island of Okinawa, In the Californian town of Loma Linda and in the mountains of Sardinia people live longer than anywhere else on earth.

In these unique communities a group of scientists have dedicated their lives to trying to uncover their secrets. Horizon takes a trip around the globe to meet the people who can show us all how to live longer, healthier lives.

Watch other similar documentaries...

Ghost in Your Genes

Genius Sperm Bank

Sicko - Michael Moore

Monday, July 21, 2008

Visions of the Future

In this new three-part documentary, leading theoretical physicist and futurist Dr Michio Kaku explores the cutting edge science of today, tomorrow, and beyond. He argues that humankind is at a turning point in history. In this century, we are going to make the historic transition from the 'Age of Discovery' to the 'Age of Mastery', a period in which we will move from being passive observers of nature to its active choreographers. This will give us not only unparalleled possibilities but also great responsibilities.


In the opening installment, Kaku explains how artificial intelligence will revolutionise homes, workplaces and lifestyles, and how virtual worlds will become so realistic that they will rival the physical world. Robots with human-level intelligence may finally become a reality, and in the ultimate stage of mastery, we'll even be able to merge our minds with machine intelligence.

For the first time on television, see how a severely depressed patient can be turned into a happy person at the push of a button - all thanks to the cross-pollination of neuroscience and artificial intelligence.


Genetics and biotechnology promise a future of unprecedented health and longevity: DNA screening could prevent many diseases, gene therapy could cure them and, thanks to lab-grown organs, the human body could be repaired as easily as a car, with spare parts readily available. Ultimately, the ageing process itself could be slowed down or even halted.

But what impact will this have on who we are and how we will live? And, with our mastery of the genome, will the human race end up in a world divided by genetic apartheid?


The quantum revolution could turn many ideas of science fiction into science fact - from metamaterials with mind-boggling properties like invisibility through limitless quantum energy and room temperature superconductors to Arthur C Clarke's space elevator. Some scientists even forecast that in the latter half of the century everybody will have a personal fabricator that re-arranges molecules to produce everything from almost anything.

Yet how will we ultimately use our mastery of matter? Like Samson, will we use our strength to bring down the temple? Or, like Solomon, will we have the wisdom to match our technology?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Root of All Evil

In this documentary, Richard Dawkins is astounded that religious faith is gaining ground in the face of rational, scientific truth based on hard evidence. In this two-part Channel 4 series, Professor Richard Dawkins challenges what he describes as 'a process of non-thinking called faith'. Dawkins is well known for bringing to a wide audience the complex scientific concepts that underpin evolution. His first book, The Selfish Gene was an international bestseller.

He describes his astonishment that, at the start of the 21st century, religious faith is gaining ground in the face of rational, scientific truth. Science, based on scepticism, investigation and evidence, must continuously test its own concepts and claims. Faith, by definition, defies evidence: it is untested and unshakeable, and is therefore in direct contradiction with science.

In addition, though religions preach morality, peace and hope, in fact, says Dawkins, they bring intolerance, violence and destruction. The growth of extreme fundamentalism in so many religions across the world not only endangers humanity but, he argues, is in conflict with the trend over thousands of years of history for humanity to progress – to become more enlightened and more tolerant.

He explores the state of the three Abrahamic religions in the world today, from the political influence of rich and powerful Christian fundamentalist institutions in America to the deadly clash of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the Middle East. He describes the Holy Land as the least enlightened place in the world, a microcosm of the threat to rational values and civilisation posed by religion, whose irrational roots, he says, are nourishing intolerance and murder. There are plenty of characters to illustrate his thesis.

There are fanatics, like the former West Bank settler who has taken the small step of converting from Jewish fundamentalist to Muslim fundamentalist, transferring his hatred from one side of the looking glass to the other. And the frighteningly charismatic leader of America's National Association of Evangelicals, who believes he has been chosen by God to convert Americans through religious gatherings that resemble rock concerts – though to Dawkins they feel more reminiscent of Nuremberg rallies.

Then there are the desperate, like those carrying burdens of disability or disease, who are among the 80,000 people a year who make the pilgrimage to Lourdes. Dawkins does the maths: out of the millions who, over a century, have placed their faith in a miracle restoring them to good health, there have been only 66 authenticated cures. This is hardly a strong record, he says, arguing that it is better for us to embrace truth than false hope.

Drawing on such examples, it is not difficult to demolish the claims of religion as fairytales, and dangerous ones at that. But there is more to religion than ancient stories and articles of faith. Dawkins touches on the sense of belonging promised by religious groups but dismisses this as 'seductive group solidarity', which he describes as a 'shared delusion'. In doing so, he glances off the more subtle dilemmas of how religions and religious traditions are woven through people's notions of 'community', 'history' and 'identity'.

Having a sense of one's place in the world is important to everyone but has particular significance for minorities and peoples under political, economic or military pressure. Individuals may even accept Dawkins' atheistic and scientific deconstruction of the myths they have grown up with but still defend and nurture the matrix of institutions, practices and relationships which make them who they are.

Buy this classic documentary on DVD now...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Iraq's Missing Billions

This documentary is a BBC investigation that estimates that around $23bn (£11.75bn) may have been lost, stolen or just not properly accounted for in Iraq. The BBC's Panorama programme has used US and Iraqi government sources to research how much some private contractors have profited from the conflict and rebuilding.

A US gagging order is preventing discussion of the allegations. The order applies to 70 court cases against some of the top US companies. War profiteering While Presdient George W Bush remains in the White House, it is unlikely the gagging orders will be lifted. To date, no major US contractor faces trial for fraud or mismanagement in Iraq. The president's Democratic opponents are keeping up the pressure over war profiteering in Iraq.

Henry Waxman, who chairs the House committee on oversight and government reform, said: "The money that's gone into waste, fraud and abuse under these contracts is just so outrageous, it's egregious. "It may well turn out to be the largest war profiteering in history."

In the run-up to the invasion, one of the most senior officials in charge of procurement in the Pentagon objected to a contract potentially worth $7bn that was given to Halliburton, a Texan company which used to be run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president. Unusually only Halliburton got to bid - and won.

Money as Debt Documentary

This documentary shows that it would seem natural that money is created by the State, and in fact most Central Banks seem to be owned by the State and run by it. I say "seem" because, to all intents and purposes, it is an apparency. They are almost constituting a "fourth power" in addition to the three legally constituted and well known "traditional" powers, legislative, executive and judicial.

When the State needs money, it does not order the Central Bank to credit some money to the treasury’s account. The State has only two ways to obtain money.

One is taxation of it's citizens, the other is borrowing from the banks. When the Central Bank issues money, this is done in the form of a loan. The State has to borrow this money, and must promise to repay it, with interest.

The same is true of course for a private person who needs money borrowing from a commercial bank. The bank is happy to loan, as long as you can show you have security, and promise to repay with interest.

How can the banks "create" money? That is a good question. Is it not the State's printing office that prints all the banknotes?

Banknotes, when they are printed, are considered the property of the Central Bank. They are not given to the State to spend, but are brought into circulation against a corresponding debt. Anyone wanting some of those notes to spend, has to "buy" them by giving up some of their credit. And in any case, most of the money in circulation (more than 90%) is not banknotes but "credit".

When you go to your bank asking for money, the loan you get is created right there in your bank. The "money" consists of figures on your bank account, and it can be spent writing checks, giving an order to transfer or drawing the cash. Banks only have to have a small percentage of their loaned-out money actually available. The rest can be paid out just by moving some figures from one account to another. The important thing to know: Money is created just by inserting some numbers into a computer.

In practice, it works like this: For every 10.000 a bank gives out as loans, 1000 or 2000 have to be deposited at the central bank. That means, if a bank collects 100.000 in deposits, it could keep 10.000 for liquid cash, put 90.000 into deposit with the central bank, and it is then allowed to create 900.000 of fresh money just by writing the figures on someone’s accounts!

In the case of the government needing money to spend, the procedure is slightly different, but the result is the same. The government has to issue papers that promise interest and repayment. Those papers are "bought" by the banks, who "sell" them to their wealthy clients, or who may also keep them, and the government gets credited an equivalent sum of money.

The irony here is that the government, who should by rights be the issuing authority of the money that circulates in the country, has to borrow the money from privates (through the bank) and that is has to pay interest for this.

Now we start to see why the government never has money, and why much of our taxes go "off the top" of the budget, towards debt service.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mark Thomas on Coca Cola

In this documentary, political activist and journalist Mark Thomas travels to South America, India and the US to investigate the way in which Coca-Cola and its suppliers operate and the extent to which they upholds moral and ethical obligations.

Coca-Cola is one of the most iconic brands of both the 20th and 21st centuries. Promoting itself as the drink of freedom, choice and US patriotism, the company's feel-good factor is recognised worldwide and reflected in its enormous profits.

But behind this carefully crafted image exists a company accused of environmental damage, human rights violations and questionable business practices.

Political activist and journalist Mark Thomas travels to South America, India and the US to investigate the way in which Coca-Cola and its suppliers operate and the extent to which they upholds moral and ethical obligations.

Thomas, a long-term critic of Coca-Cola's more controversial practices, finds disturbing evidence which undermines its effervescent image as a force for good and which has prompted a global consumer backlash.

Coke's response to Dispatches' documentary

For more information...

Coca-Cola: drinking the world dry

Monday, July 14, 2008


Zeitgeist is a documentary that was first released on June 26, 2007 and topped the Google video charts most viewed videos. The film was translated into several languages and is distributed officially via Google Video and BitTorrent. Zeitgeist won the top award of Best Feature Documentary/Artivist Spirit at the 4th Annual Artivists Awards in 2008 in Hollywood, CA. An upcoming sequel has been announced.

The film starts with a speech by Chögyam Trungpa about spirituality, followed by a series of musically synchronized clips of war and explosions culminating with one of the towers of World Trade Center collapsing during 9/11. Then there follows a sequence of clips showing the horrors of war.

There is a short clip that shows a hand writing "1 + 1 = 2", but is brushed away by another hand before the first finishes, and is replaced by a bible and an American flag. After a few more war clips, the film then quotes Jordan Maxwell's Inner World of the Occult, criticizing religious institutions, governments, and the banking cartels who "have misled [the people] away from the true and divine presence in the universe." This portion ends with more images accompanied by audio of a portion of a George Carlin monologue on religion.

Buy this film on DVD now...