Sunday, August 31, 2008

Children Underground

Easily one of the most astonishing and engaging cinematic works of the past decade, CHILDREN UNDERGROUND is a profoundly intimate and heart-wrenching drama -- an Academy Award Nominee for Best Documentary Feature in 2001, and winner at nearly every major documentary film festival across the country.

In a style that is altogether shocking, brutal, and deeply humanistic, filmmaker Edet Belzberg transports us to the streets of Bucharest, Romania, where we are introduced to a "family" of five homeless children begging on the streets and living in subway tunnels, drug addicted, and painfully unaware of the cruel horrors of their soul-crushing existence.

As the children's story unfolds, the windows to their individual lives open up, revealing a harrowing day-to-day struggle for survival--from ten-year-old Ana, unfailingly maternal towards her younger brother Marian despite daily beatings from shopkeepers and other street-children, to Mihai, and unusually intelligent and motivated twelve-year-old who slashes at his arms and dreams of a better life.


  1. Click on the play icon on screen...a pop-up will open for poker...close this and get rid of it.
  2. Click on the play button at the bottom of the player and film will start to play.
  3. ...enjoy!!!

In CHILDREN UNDERGROUND, the images captured by Belzberg's unflinching lens are so powerful and captivating that the camera quickly vanishes from the viewer's mind. What is left behind is a devastating portrait of human anguish and suvffering more riveting and absorbing than anything ever before captured on screen.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bigger Stronger Faster

Bigger, Stronger, Faster is a 2008 documentary film directed by Christopher Bell about the use of anabolic steroids as performance-enhancing drugs in the United States.

In America, we define ourselves in the superlative: we are the biggest, strongest, fastest country in the world. Is it any wonder that so many of our heroes are on performance enhancing drugs? Director Christopher Bell explores America's win-at-all-cost culture by examining how his two brothers became members of the steroid-subculture in an effort to realize their American dream.

The documentary examines the steroid use of the director Christopher Bell and his two brothers who all grew up idolizing Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hulk Hogan, and Sylvester Stallone, and also features professional athletes, medical experts, fitness center members, and US Congressman talking about the issue of anabolic steroids.


  1. Click on the play icon on screen...a pop-up will open for poker or dating...close this and get rid of it.
  2. Click on the play button at the bottom of the player and film will start to play.
  3. ...enjoy!!!

More documentaries like this...

How Does Your Memory Work?

Ghost in Your Genes

The Truth About Vitamins

Sweet Misery - A Poisoned World

Human 2.0

Own this documentary on DVD...

The Lost Gospels

I want to get one thing clear hear...I am an atheist. This does not mean that I feel the need to denigrate the belief systems of others, but I do think that it's necessary to accumulate the mass of evidence against the posibility of the story of Christ being a historical fact.

If you are religious and feel the need to comment on this post or others like it, feel free to do so. I am sure that many of my readers that are not religious would also like a chance to air their views on what they believe.

I only ask that if you comment on this site that you keep it civil. Crass and rude comments will NOT be approved.

In this documentary, Anglican priest Peter Owen Jones explores the huge number of ancient Christian texts that didn't make it into the New Testament.

Shocking and challenging, these were works in which Jesus didn't die, took revenge on his enemies and kissed Mary Magdalene on the mouth. Pete travels through Egypt and the former Roman Empire looking at the evidence of a Christian world very different to the one we know, and finds over seventy gospels, acts, letters and apocalypses all circulating in the early Church.

What does this kind of new evidence mean for Christianity? Does it matter seeing as religion is not necessarily rooted in empirical evidence, but rather faith?

Check it out and make up your own mind!

Buy the DVD today...

Julian Barbour - Documentaire Inzameling

This is a direct response to a request for a documentary based on a book by Julian Barbour.

I do not speak Dutch unfortunately, so I cannot vouch for the comments. This is what I have been able to uncover and I hope it is useful for my reader that requested it.

These documentaries are in English (mostly) with Dutch subtitles.

Documentary One - Bekijk de Noorderlicht-aflevering 'Wat is wetenschap?'
Bekijk de Noorderlicht-aflevering 'Wat is wetenschap?', met Bruno Latour, de Andy Warhol van de wetenschap. Regie: Rob van Hattum

Documentary Two - Bekijk de Noorderlicht-aflevering 'Killing Time'
Bekijk de Noorderlicht-aflevering 'Killing Time' met Julian Barbour.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Suggest a Documentary

If there is a documentary you would like to see posted here, leave the title in the comments section and we'll more than likely be able to find it for you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An Experiment to Save the World - Nuclear Fusion

Has this man created nuclear fusion? This documentary investigates..

In March 2002, the scientific world was rocked by some astonishing news: a distinguished US government scientist claimed he had made nuclear fusion out of sound waves in his laboratory.

Rusi Taleyarkhan's breakthrough was such important news because nuclear fusion is one of the most difficult scientific processes, and also one of the most coveted. It could solve all of our energy problems for ever. In principle, sufficient fuel exists on earth to provide clean, pollution-free energy for billions of people for millions of years.

To make it happen, individual atoms must be slammed into each other with enough energy to make them fuse together, something that requires temperatures found only in the core of stars like our Sun – over 10 million Kelvin. The idea that these temperatures had been reached in a small scale laboratory using only soundwaves took many scientists by surprise. To them, fusion projects were huge multibillion-pound, intergovernmental schemes with the far off goal of producing energy in several decades time.

Taleyarkhan's fusion breakthrough was based on a little-understood process called sonoluminescence. It's a process that magically transforms sound waves into flashes of light, focusing the sound energy into a tiny flickering hot spot inside a bubble. It's been called the star in a jar.

The star in a jar effortlessly reaches temperatures of tens of thousands of degrees, hotter than the surface of the sun. Many scientists had wondered if the core of the bubble was even hotter – maybe even as hot as the core of the sun. If so, fusion would happen there. But until Taleyarkhan, no one had been able to either prove it or disprove it.

The breakthrough and the paper in Science attracted great scepticism. When fusion takes place, particles called neutrons are given off. These are considered by scientists to be the key signature of nuclear fusion – but measuring neutrons on a small, laboratory scale had proven notoriously difficult in the past – and had even killed off an infamous fusion claim in 1989.

Many scientists didn't believe that Rusi Taleyarkhan' neutron detection was absolutely right. So to get to the bottom of the issue, the experiment was re-run by Mike Saltmarsh and Dan Shapiro, colleagues at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. They couldn't find any evidence of fusion. But the controversy escalated as Taleyarkhan's team stood their ground and then, two years later, brought out a new paper showing even more fusion and more neutrons. This paper was thoroughly reviewed and published in another respected journal.

But the the controversy wouldn't die down. Nuclear fusion from soundwaves would be a huge scientific breakthrough – and to be convinced of it, many scientists wanted to see better evidence, evidence that was absolutely incontrovertible. They wanted to look very precisely at the timing of the neutrons to see just how closely they were related to the flashes of light.

If they occurred at the exact same time, they would finally be convinced that fusion was taking place. But they wanted timing with incredible accuracy, that of a nanosecond, or a billionth of a second. This was one measurement that, though possible, still hadn't been carried out by Taleyarkhan and his team.

So Horizon decided to try to sort out the issue once and for all. And we commissioned an independent team of leading scientists to conduct the experiment. Working from the instructions set out in Taleyarkhan's paper, we assembled the same key scientific conditions to create nuclear fusion from sonoluminescence. To see if we could find fusion, we measured the neutrons and the flashes of light simultaneously with nanosecond accuracy, something that had never been done before.

More documentaries like this...

Atom - A Documentary

Most of the Universe is Missing

Titan: A Place Like Home?

The Elegant Universe

What We Still Don't Know

The Hidden Story of Jesus

As Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, theologian Robert Beckford investigates remarkable parallels to the Christ story in other faiths, some of them predating Christianity by thousands of years.

The Hindu god, Krishna, was conceived by a virgin and his birth was attended by angels, wise men and shepherds. Buddha was also the result of a miraculous birth, and was visited by wise men bearing gifts. He too began his ministry at about 30 years old and performed such miracles as walking on water and feeding 500.

Some people in India believe that Jesus did not die on the cross but escaped from Roman Palestine and ended up in Kashmir. There, they say, he continued to preach, had a wife and child, and later died and was buried.

Jesus was, of course, born a Jew, and Christians believe he is the Messiah prophesied in the Torah – the Old Testament, which is the holy scripture of the Jews. Meanwhile Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet but do not believe he died on the cross; instead, according to Islam, God saved him and took him up to heaven, and he will return and be buried next to Muhammed.

In this Channel 4 Christmas Day programme, Robert Beckford attempts to unravel the mystery of why there are so many versions of the Christ story across the world and asks which is the real one, and where this leaves the Christian story and his own belief in Jesus.

More documentaries like this...

Judgement Day - Intelligent Design on Trial

The God Who Wasn't There

The Life of Buddha


Who Wrote the Bible

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Titan: A Place Like Home?

Over a billion kilometres away, Saturn's largest moon, Titan, holds tantalising clues to how life began here on Earth.

In the most ambitious and expensive interplanetary space mission of all time, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft made a seven-year trek across the Solar System to attempt first contact with the Earth-like moon of Titan by landing a probe on its unseen surface.

The first close up images of Saturn and its many moons were taken in the early 1980s by the Voyager One Deep Space Probe. One moon stood out from all the rest, the mysterious moon of Titan. Unlike any moon that had ever been seen, it had a thick almost Earth-like atmosphere. It was also shrouded in a thick orange haze which prevented Voyager from seeing down to the moon's surface. Scientists knew they had to go back.

Launched in 1997, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft was the result of a unique transatlantic $3.2 billion collaboration between NASA and the European space agencies. Steered from NASA's JPL mission control in Pasadena California, the craft took seven years to reach Saturn. It took a long slingshot route via Venus twice, the Earth and Jupiter to pick up enough speed to reach its final destination.

When it finally arrived in July 2004, the spacecraft had to carry out a very dangerous manoeuvre and pass between Saturn's rings in order to get into orbit around the giant planet. Even the tiniest grain of dust could have ripped through the spacecraft and destroyed the mission.

On Christmas Day 2004, the European-built Huygens probe was finally released from the Cassini mothership, ready to descend to Titan. The probe's trajectory had to be absolutely spot on, as without any engines even a slight misjudgement could not be corrected later and would mean Huygens missing its target altogether.

January 14 2005. The Huygens probe finally reached Titan's upper atmosphere. Mission control had now transferred to ESA in Darmstardt, Germany, but all the scientists could do was sit and wait, as the probe was running on automatic. For any chance of success, the probe's heat shield had to protect the craft from the fierce temperatures of re-entry, and its three parachutes had to deploy correctly in sequence to slow its descent.

Amazingly, long before they expected to hear from Huygens, the probe's faint carrier signal was picked up on Earth by the massive Robert C Byrd radio telescope at Greenbank in West Virginia. Not much stronger than a mobile phone, and travelling over a billion kilometres through space, the signal was too weak to carry any real data, but at least they knew the probe had survived entry and was now under parachute.

Some hours later, the scientific data finally started coming through, relayed via the orbiting Cassini. To their horror, one of the vital data-streams had not been switched on. Fortunately most of the data was coming through on the single channel, but crucially half the images were lost.

After years of waiting, Titan was finally revealed. With Huygens built to sniff and taste the atmosphere on its way down, it discovered it was similar in many ways to that of the Earth in its infancy, four billion years ago. Titan's chemistry is still a long way from what we see as 'living', yet it was found to contain a rich cocktail of organic carbon-based chemicals, thought to be important as the precursors to life.

Now visible beneath the impenetrable orange haze, Titan appears to look a lot like Earth. The images beamed back from over a billion kilometres away show lake beds, river channels, gulleys and canyons. But these river channels are gouged not by water, but by a rain of liquid methane.

The surface itself is not made of rock, but of solid ice, and Huygens' landing site was strewn with small round ice pebbles, lying in a bed of icy sand grains. Although home to a somewhat cold alien chemistry, in many respects Titan is driven by exactly the same geological and meteorological processes that shape and contour our own planet. Titan is certainly a place like home.

More documentaries like this...

BBC Space - with Sam Neil

Most of the Universe is Missing

The Elegant Universe

What We Still Don't Know

Monday, August 25, 2008

Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?

If Morgan Spurlock has learned anything from over 30 years of movie-watching, its that if the world needs saving, its best done by one lone man willing to face danger head on to take it down, action hero style. So, with no military experience, knowledge or expertise, he sets off to do what the CIA, FBI and countless bounty hunters have failed to do: find the worlds most wanted man. Why take on such a seemingly impossible mission? Simple-he wants to make the world safe for his soon to be born child. But before he finds Osama bin Laden, he first needs to learn where he came from, what makes him tick, and most importantly, what exactly created bin Laden to begin with.

Spurlock searches for Osama bin Laden by visiting countries associated with the Al-Qaeda leader (Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Afganistan, and Pakistan), as well as others affected by Al-Qaeda (Greece, Egypt, and Israel). In each, he interviews individuals about their views of the United States and Islamic fundamentalism. He also constantly asks people he meets, "Where is Osama bin Laden?" Intercut with Spurlock's search are the late stages of his wife's pregnancy and the birth of their son after he returns. Much of Spurlock's commentary is based on the concerns of a new father. (The film is dedicated to the newborn.)


  1. Click on the play icon on screen...a pop-up will open for poker...close this and get rid of it.
  2. Click on the play button at the bottom of the player and film will start to play.
  3. ...enjoy!!!

Buy the high-definition DVD today...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Curse of Oil

This is a three-part documentary series that goes on a revealing journey through the world's oil-producing regions, beyond the familiar territory of the Middle East.

PART ONE - Rich & Poor
The discovery of oil is usually celebrated as a one-way ticket to wealth and economic growth. Yet evidence indicates that the presence of oil in a developing country makes life worse, not better, for most of the people who live there - particularly the poorest people.

This programme travels to Ecuador and Angola where, historically, oil has proved to be more of a curse than a blessing and asks the question how much of this is the responsibility of the oil industry and looks at how oil companies are responding to the challenges presented by this 'paradox of plenty'.

PART TWO - The Pipeline
The Caspian Sea contains some of the largest untapped energy reserves on the planet and everybody wants a share. A 1,100-mile pipeline is being built to transport the Caspian's oil to the markets of Europe and North America.

This programme follows the route of the new pipeline through some of the most geographically challenging and politically dangerous places on earth, as it makes its way from the Caspian to the Mediterranean Sea.

En route, the filmmakers encounter disgruntled Turkish villagers, British engineers enduring arctic temperatures and an American-trained force of new military recruits in Georgia.

PART THREE - The Wilderness
As the demand for oil increases, fragile wilderness areas across the world are being opened up to oil exploration and furious debate.

This programme travels from the political lobbies of Washington DC to Alaska, where the pristine landscape of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could soon be the site of extensive oil development, and on to Alberta where production of 'The World's Worst Oil' is already underway.

Opposition from environmental groups is growing but so is the world's hunger for oil. We need the oil but how far will we go to get it?

Click here to visit the official website for this series.

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The Kogi

Sweet Misery

Life After People

A World Without Water

Global Dimming

Saturday, August 23, 2008

BBC Space - with Sam Neil

This six part documentary series covers some of the most interesting aspects of the universe around us. Presented by Sam Neil of The Matrix fame...





...we are taken on a thought provoking journey from the beginning of time to the future of mankind...a great documentary series!

PART ONE - Star Stuff

How the Universe was made, from the Big Bang to the human body.

PART TWO - Staying Alive

The Universe is a dangerous place. This programme investigates our survival in space.

PART THREE - Black Holes

Black holes are the Universe's ultimate monsters, sucking everything into their super-dense centres.

PART FOUR - Are We Alone?

Exploring the possibility of extraterrestrial life in the Universe.

PART FIVE - New Worlds

How could humans migrate from planet Earth?

PART SIX - Boldly Go

If humans are ever to reach deep space, there will need to be some revolutionary changes in transport.

Great link at BBC on Space and the Universe here...

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What We Still Don't Know

The Elegant Universe

Time - A Documentary

Time Trip

Most of the Universe is Missing

The Hemp Revolution

This documentary covers a whole lot of ground. It deals with every historical and contemporary aspect of hemp usage and cultivation (mainly in the U.S.), which turns out to be a lot. From describing the production of a fibre much more durable and economic than wood, the documentary discusses hemps multilateral uses as e.g. food products, as a non-polluting fuel and as a pharmaceutical product with much less griveous sideeffects than chemical pharmaceutical products.

The film also investigates why America went from a country which produced vast quantities of the non-narcotic industrial hemp, to the complete ban on hemp production in 1938. This story in particular is interesting, and it points out that the large oilbased industries actually had a key role in the aforementioned ban. Food for thought! The conclusion of the documentary could be that hemp may prove to be a valid alternative to both oil and wood in the future.

The documentary explores the hemp plant’s (Cannabis Sativa’s) fascinating history, its thousands of uses, the economic and cultural forces behind its prohibition, and its modern potential to solve major environmental problems.


Indeed Hemp, together with the biotechnologies presented in this film, could revolutionise the planet with a shift from the present unsustainable petro-chemical based economy to a sustainable plant-based economy. This highly profitable crop provides paper, textiles, composit materials, fuel, nutritious protein, valuable oil, and a useful medicine... if only it were legal...


Well received in theatres around the world, this Australian film also examines the history and controversy around the drug marijuana, the current “war on drugs” and alternative policy options.

Buy the DVD today...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Judgement Day - Intelligent Design on Trial

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial is an award winning NOVA documentary on the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, which concentrated on the question of whether or not intelligent design could be viewed as science and taught in school science class. It aired in on PBS in November 2007 and features interviews with the judge, witnesses, and lawyers as well as re-enacted scenes (no cameras were allowed in court).

The documentary was praised by Nature, and described as accurate by the National Center for Science Education. Variety magazine also gave the documentary a positive review, and said it was one of the year's most important television projects, that "should be shown not just in every U.S. high school but in houses of worship as well."

In contrast to the positive reception the film has been given, creationist and intelligent design supporters have criticized the documentary. The Discovery Institute produced a website critical of the broadcast. Answers in Genesis claimed the evidence for evolution presented by scientists in Judgment Day was fallacious. The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) also claimed the film was not balanced. WKNO-TV, the local PBS affiliate in Memphis decided not to air the documentary because of the "controversial nature" of the subject, but has since promised to broadcast it in 2008.

Make up your own mind on this controversial issue...

Official Nova Evolution Website

More documentaries like this...

The Genius of Charles Darwin

The Root of All Evil

Who Wrote the Bible?

Building Gods

Buy the ultimate evolution pack...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The God Who Wasn't There

I have found another copy of this great link below is now working.

Bowling for Columbine
did it to the gun culture.

Super Size Me
did it to fast food.

Now The God Who Wasn't There does it to religion.

From exposing the hidden history of Christianity to lampooning the bloody excesses of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (which caused Gibson to attempt legal action against the documentary), The God Who Wasn't There pulls no punches.


  1. Click on the play icon on screen...a pop-up will open for poker or dating...close this and get rid of it.
  2. Click on the play button at the bottom of the player and film will start to play.
  3. ...enjoy!!!

More documentaries like this...

The Root of All Evil


The Genius of Charles Darwin

The Story of God

What Do Atheists Believe?

Buy the DVD, support the producers...

Super High Me

Super High Me is a 2008 documentary about the effects of smoking marijuana non-stop for 30 days. The documentary stars comedian Doug Benson. The documentary's name is a play on the documentary Super Size Me.

Super High Me documents Benson not consuming marijuana for 30 days and then smoking and otherwise consuming cannabis every day for 30 days in a row. Benson claims that Super High Me is "Super Size Me with weed instead of McDonalds". To make sure alcohol wouldn't affect the results, he didn't drink for the two months he filmed the documentary.

The film also includes interviews with marijuana activists, dispensary owners, politicians and patients who comprise the medical marijuana movement. Benson claims that he tells kids "you should not smoke pot until you become a professional comedian".

The DVD was released on April 20, 2008. Benson took various tests to gauge his physical and mental health both after 30 days of not using pot and after doing so for 30 days straight. Benson's physician concluded that Benson's health was unaffected by his use of cannabis. Benson did gain 8 pounds during his high month, and his sperm count actually increased and he scored seven times better on an ESP test (Seven versus one correct guesses out of 25). His overall score on an SAT test increased, though his math score was slightly lower.

Other documentaries like this...

Definition of Stupid

Steal This Film

Bumfights - A Video Too Far


Buy this documentary on DVD...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Story of One

The story of the number one is the story of Western civilization. Terry Jones ("Monty Python's Flying Circus") goes on a humor-filled journey to recount the amazing tale behind the world's simplest number. Using computer graphics, "One" is brought to life, in all his various guises, in STORY OF 1, airing on PBS Wednesday, March 29, 2006, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET. One's story reveals how celebrated civilizations in history were achieved, where our modern numbers came from and how the invention of zero changed the world forever - and saved us from having to use Roman numerals today.

How old is One? A precise answer is impossible, but a notched bone (called the Ishango bone) found in the Congo proves that he's been around for at least 20,000 years. His life really took off 6,000 years ago, when the Sumerians turned him into a cone-shaped token and then into the first-ever numeric character, invention that made arithmetic - and therefore city life - possible, providing the means to assess wealth, calculate profits and loss, and, perhaps most important, collect taxes.

A thousand years later in Egypt, time-traveler Jones witnesses the first use of "million," as well as the invention of formal measurement: Egyptians create their own version of one, the cubit. Without the cubit, some of the wonders of the world might have been ... a little less wonderful. STORY OF 1 gives the viewer a glimpse of how a cubit-challenged pyramid would look.

Then it's on to ancient Greece, where One was held in high regard. However, his biggest fan, Pythagoras, lost his mind studying him, and the renowned Archimedes was so absorbed in diagrams that he lost his life to an invading Roman. The Romans slew One, too; they had no time for theoretical mathematics. In his new incarnation, "I" became a tool for imposing order.

Unwieldy though they were, Roman numerals would dominate Europe for the next 2,000 years. Jones discovers how the numbers we use today eventually managed to supplant them, making it much easier for us to subtract MDCCLVIII from MDCCCXLIV. It all begins in India, where the symbols for one through nine were invented and where Jones tracks down the first use of "zero." Here, STORY OF 1 takes a romantic turn. In Zero, One found his perfect mate. It was a union that would change the world.

Then it's on to Baghdad, where Jones discovers that Muslem scholars were smitten with One and Zero - and two through nine as well. The most famous Muslim scholar, Al-Khwarizmi, and his colleagues taught these performing numerals a whole set of new tricks, feats that enabled science, mathematics and astronomy to reach new heights in the Middle East.

The Indian numbers were a smash hit across the Islamic world before they were finally brought to Europe, where they met fierce resistance. It took 500 years for the battle between Roman and Indian numbers to play out, but by the 16th century, the Indian figures, now commonly called Arabic numerals, finally triumphed - perhaps because Florentine mathematician Fibonacci showed Christian merchants how useful Indian numerals could be, for instance, for calculating profits.

But the story doesn't end there. Within a hundred years, German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz invented a binary system, using the Adam and Eve of mathematics, One and Zero. Since then, as the language of computers, this two-digit binary system has come to dominate every part of modern life.

Other documentaries like this...

What We Still Don't Know

Ghost in Your Genes

How Does Your Memory Work

Most of the Universe is Missing

We know what 4% of the Universe is made of. But what about the rest?

There was a time, not so long ago, when science seemed to understand how the universe worked. Everything – us, the Earth, the stars and even exotic-sounding supernovae – was made of atoms which were all created at time-zero: the Big Bang. In between the atoms was nothing, a void: quite literally, 'space'.

But recently things have started to unravel. There is, it seems, a lot more to the universe than meets the eye. According to the best estimates, we only really know what about 4% of it is made of. But if only 4% is made of atoms, what about the rest? The rest is made of mysterious entities about which very little is understood, with equally mysterious names: dark matter and dark energy.

The accidental discovery
In 1974 the astronomer Vera Rubin, was working on a project investigating stars at the outer edges of galaxies. What she discovered was quite a surprise.

Shortly after the apple fell on his head, Newton famously declared that gravity was 'universal'. An apple falling on Earth obeys the same mathematical rules as an apple falling on the other side of the Universe. In the same way that the Sun controls the orbiting planets by exerting gravity on them, a spiral galaxy must be controlled by the gravity-giving black hole at its centre.

It has long been known that Pluto, at the edge of our solar system, travels much slower than Mercury, close to the Sun. In fact observations like these allowed Newton to pin down his laws in the 17th century. When Vera Rubin did her work on galaxies she expected to find that as you reach the edge of a galaxy the stars would be moving much slower than those close to the centre. But it didn't work out like that at all.

She found that almost all of the stars in spiral galaxies are racing around the centre at approximately the same speed. This was very strange. Could it be that Newton's laws weren't really universal and didn't apply in galaxies?

Questioning Newton seemed unthinkable, so the majority of scientists went down a different route altogether. Rather than variable gravity, they argued, there had to be something else in galaxies, something that was providing extra gravity. With extra gravity, the stars would be pulled harder, and would travel faster – as Rubin's observations suggested. And the name they gave to this extra stuff? Dark matter.

But what is dark matter?
Two men at Princeton University – Professors Peebles and Ostriker – looked further into dark matter. They even suggested that there was at least 10 times more of it than there was ordinary matter. But despite its growing acceptance, dark matter's real identity remained completely unknown. Nothing that particle physics came up with appeared to fit the bill. Even the newly-discovered neutrino had the wrong characteristics.

What was needed was something with mass but also something which does not interact with ordinary matter. Professor Tim Sumner from the Imperial College London believed he had the answer – a new, hypothetical particle called the neutralino. It is thought to have the right mass and exist in suitably vast quantities – but has never been detected.

If dark matter is everywhere in our galaxy, then it must be present here on Earth. In fact thousands of tonnes of the stuff must be passing through the Earth every day. It doesn't interact with ordinary matter, so it can pass straight through it, whatever 'it' is: us, the Earth, everything we're familiar with.

The bottom of a mine, away from the cosmic rays and atmospheric particles on the surface, is the perfect place to try to detect a signal. So that's exactly what Professor Sumner tried to do, with a detector located at the bottom of Europe's deepest mine on the coast in Cleveland, northern England.

If his team detected a neutralino, then a Nobel Prize would surely follow. But the search has so far proved fruitless.

Doubting Newton
Not everyone was so keen though. In 1974, while most scientists decided to pursue dark matter, Israeli astrophysicist Professor Milgrom tried something even more audacious – he tried to rewrite Newton's laws of gravity. Knowing this wouldn't exactly be welcomed by the rest of the community, he worked at his theory in private until he was ready to unleash it on the world in 1981.

He called it Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) and used it to showed how gravity could be a little stronger than previously thought, across the huge distances that galaxies cover.

But surely Newton couldn't have been wrong? Milgrom continued to work on the theory and has since begun to attract admirers and recruit like-minded people. The longer the identity of dark matter remains a mystery, the more credence will be given to his ideas.

A deeper mystery
In 1997 Professor Saul Perlmutter opened another can of worms. While looking at the expansion of the universe, he accidentally discovered that not only were all stars and galaxies moving away from each other, they were doing so at greater and greater speeds.

This meant that our future selves might one day look up to a sky without stars (they'd all be too far away). It also meant that 'something' was pushing the stars apart. This anti-gravity force was completely new to science, but again what it actually was remained a mystery. It did however have a name: dark energy.

It turned out that the universe is 4% ordinary matter, 21% dark matter and 75% dark energy. That's a lot of stuff that no one really understands. Inevitably then, this Standard Model has its sceptics – not everyone believes that such a huge and important set of theories can be based on so little physical evidence.

Professor Mike Disney from Cardiff University even went as far as to suggest that this wasn't "physics at all – just fairies at the bottom of the garden".

In response the dark matter believers, led by Professor Carlos Frenk at Durham University, have produced impressive computer simulations of the Universe. These apparently show that dark matter and dark energy have been vital to the development of the Universe. Without their influence the galaxies, stars and planets, and indeed life itself, would never have come to be.

The results of the WMAP satellite survey appear to confirm the quantity of each of the 'dark' components. So despite the growing popularity of Milgrom's MOND idea in some quarters, dark matter still has the backing of the vast majority of scientists.

The standard model, with its officially approved mix of atoms, dark matter and dark energy, is the latest in a long line of brilliant ideas. Every civilisation since the year dot has had its own cosmological model. Every few decades or centuries, it has been replaced by something better.

Whether we are the privileged generation living in the time of the right idea remains to be seen. Is dark matter here to stay?

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Atom - A Documentary

The Elegant Universe

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Power of Nightmares

Adam Curtis' Power of Nightmares is a powerful BBC documentary that takes a brilliant look at the events that have taken the world in an era that is characterised by "the war on terror".

In part one, the programme looked at the origins of the neo-conservatives and the radical Islamists in the 1950s. The second part of the series examined how the radical Islamists and neo-conservatives came together to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The final part in this series ssesses whether the threat from a hidden and organised terrorist network is an illusion. In the concluding part of the series, the programme explains how the illusion was created and who benefits from it.

PART ONE - Baby Its Cold Outside

In the past our politicians offered us dreams of a better world. Now they promise to protect us from nightmares. The most frightening of these is the threat of an international terror network. But just as the dreams were not true, neither are these nightmares. In a new series, the Power of Nightmares explores how the idea that we are threatened by a hidden and organised terrorist network is an illusion. It is a myth that has spread unquestioned through politics, the security services and the international media.

At the heart of the story are two groups: the American neo-conservatives and the radical Islamists. Both were idealists who were born out of the failure of the liberal dream to build a better world. These two groups have changed the world but not in the way either intended.

Together they created today's nightmare vision of an organised terror network. A fantasy that politicians then found restored their power and authority in a disillusioned age. Those with the darkest fears became the most powerful. The rise of the politics of fear begins in 1949 with two men whose radical ideas would inspire the attack of 9/11 and influence the neo-conservative movement that dominates Washington.

Both these men believed that modern liberal freedoms were eroding the bonds that held society together. The two movements they inspired set out, in their different ways, to rescue their societies from this decay. But in an age of growing disillusion with politics, the neo-conservatives turned to fear in order to pursue their vision. They would create a hidden network of evil run by the Soviet Union that only they could see. The Islamists were faced by the refusal of the masses to follow their dream and began to turn to terror to force the people to "see the truth"'.

PART TWO - The Phantom Victory

On 25 December 1979, Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan. Moscow was able to install a friendly government in a neighbouring country but at a price. The invasion gave a common cause to an extraordinary alliance of radical Islamists in Afghanistan and around the world and to the neo-conservatives in the US. It was a key battleground of the Cold War. Washington provided money and arms including even Stinger missiles capable of shooting down Soviet helicopters. But it was Islamic Mujahideen fighters who would fire them. Among the many foreigners drawn to Afghanistan was a young, wealthy Saudi called Osama Bin Laden.

Long before 9/11, he would have been seen by neo-conservatives in Washington as one of their foot soldiers, helping fight America's cause. After nearly 10 years of fighting, Soviet troops pulled out of Afghanistan. Both the neo-conservatives and the Islamists believed that it is they who defeated the "evil empire" and now had the power to transform the world. But both failed in their revolutions.

In response, the neo-conservatives invented a new fantasy enemy, Bill Clinton, focusing on the scandal surrounding him and Monica Lewinsky. Meanwhile, the Islamists descend into a desperate cycle of violence and terror to try to persuade the people to follow them. Out of all this comes the seeds of the strange world of fantasy, deception, violence and fear in which we now live.

PART THREE - The Shadows in the Cave

In the wake of the shock and panic created by the devastating attack on the World Trade Center on 11 September, 2001, the neo-conservatives reconstructed the radical Islamists in the image of their last evil enemy, the Soviet Union - a sinister web of terror run from the centre by Osama Bin Laden in his lair in Afghanistan.

There are dangerous and fanatical individuals and groups around the world who have been inspired by extreme Islamist ideas, and who will use the techniques of mass terror - the attacks on America and Madrid make this only too clear. But the nightmare vision of a uniquely powerful hidden organisation waiting to strike our societies is an illusion.

Wherever one looks for this al-Qaeda organisation, from the mountains of Afghanistan to the "sleeper cells" in America, the British and Americans are chasing a phantom enemy. But the reason that no-one questions the illusion is because this nightmare enemy gives so many groups new power and influence in a cynical age - and not just politicians. Those with the darkest imaginations have now become the most powerful.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Crusades - the Cresent & the Cross

Though much of the History Channel's modern history coverage (particularly WWII-era) is very good, medieval buffs often feel slighted when it comes to subjects in our favorite era. Offerings are few and far between, and what is available is often more focused on the sensational than the factual, and not up to snuff in terms of accuracy for most of us medieval enthusiasts.

It has been pointed out that when it comes to modern history, THC has full-color films, photographs and recordings, well-preserved physical evidence, functioning vehicles like fighter planes and, best of all, living witnesses to speak on their own personal experiences. In comparison, what is there for medieval topics like the Crusades? It's very difficult to make a subject come alive when all you have are some crumbly old ruins and even more crumbly manuscripts.

But Crescent and the Cross has more to offer.

In this new production, Lion Television and the History Channel have actors in fairly accurate costumes to portray historical figures with passion and depth. They have lavish sets, stunning replicas of historical artifacts, and top-notch computer animation to recreate Antioch, Constantinople and Jerusalem as they once were. There are exciting battle scenes, filmed with the immediacy and vividness of any big-screen epic. They've got charismatic historians like Jonathan Phillips and Taef el-Azhari to visit historic sites, ramble among the ruins, and tell stories of the Crusades with authority and enthusiasm. And they have Keith David to pull it all together with his marvelous narration.

The result is a splendid, absorbing program that serves up the Crusades on a platter. It's interesting, it's visually appealing, it's sensational -- it's even informative. But is it accurate?

For the most part, yes. The producers make good use of primary source material, and the interviewees offer substantive explanations of events and the general milieu of the Crusading world. There's even a certain amount of balance, as when covering the possible motivations for Crusaders:

Thomas Asbridge: "I'm sure they've got other agendas . . . but if there's one thing that's at the core, and that's across the largest range of people, it's spirituality, it's religion that's driving this."

Tariq Ali: "Nothing is ever motivated purely by religion or ideology . . . They wanted the money, it was as simple as that."

Of course there are some omissions and errors. For example, the People's Crusade (which can be considered the first wave of the First Crusade) is never mentioned, nor are any of its leaders such as Peter the Hermit; the entire first wave is blended with later waves, and the number of 60,000 is thrown about to include all participants in the First Crusade, without qualification, on more than one occasion.

But it's important to remember that, although this is a documentary, it's obviously geared for a mainstream audience. Too many details, explanations and qualifications tend to bore all but the most dedicated student. As a commercial venture, it's impossible for the program to be perfect, and very difficult for it to remain completely objective. Time constraints also play a role in what makes it into the final cut.

Keeping all that in mind, The Crusades: Crescent & the Cross serves as a solid and enjoyable introduction to the subject for the novice. One can hope it engages the viewer enough to make him want to learn more about this subject by opening a good book or visiting a reliable website.

Official Website

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Monday, August 11, 2008

The Century of the Self

Adam Curtis' acclaimed series examines the rise of the all-consuming self against the backdrop of the Freud dynasty.

To many in both politics and business, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people. Certainly the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really? The Century of the Self tells the untold and sometimes controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society in Britain and the United States. How was the all-consuming self created, by whom, and in whose interests?

PART ONE - Happiness Machines

The story of the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his American nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays invented the public relations profession in the 1920s and was the first person to take Freud's ideas to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn't need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires.

Bernays was one of the main architects of the modern techniques of mass-consumer persuasion, using every trick in the book, from celebrity endorsement and outrageous PR stunts, to eroticising the motorcar.

His most notorious coup was breaking the taboo on women smoking by persuading them that cigarettes were a symbol of independence and freedom. But Bernays was convinced that this was more than just a way of selling consumer goods. It was a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying the inner irrational desires that his uncle had identified, people could be made happy and thus docile.

It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate today's world.

PART TWO - The Engineering of Consent

The programme explores how those in power in post-war America used Freud's ideas about the unconscious mind to try and control the masses.

Politicians and planners came to believe Freud's underlying premise - that deep within all human beings were dangerous and irrational desires and fears. They were convinced that it was the unleashing of these instincts that had led to the barbarism of Nazi Germany. To stop it ever happening again they set out to find ways to control this hidden enemy within the human mind.

Sigmund Freud's daughter, Anna, and his nephew, Edward Bernays, provided the centrepiece philosophy. The US government, big business, and the CIA used their ideas to develop techniques to manage and control the minds of the American people. But this was not a cynical exercise in manipulation. Those in power believed that the only way to make democracy work and create a stable society was to repress the savage barbarism that lurked just under the surface of normal American life.

PART THREE - There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads: He Must Be Destroyed

In the 1960s, a radical group of psychotherapists challenged the influence of Freudian ideas in America. They were inspired by the ideas of Wilhelm Reich, a pupil of Freud's, who had turned against him and was hated by the Freud family. He believed that the inner self did not need to be repressed and controlled. It should be encouraged to express itself.

Out of this came a political movement that sought to create new beings free of the psychological conformity that had been implanted in people's minds by business and politics. This programme shows how this rapidly developed in America through self-help movements like Werber Erhard's Erhard Seminar Training - into the irresistible rise of the expressive self: the Me Generation.

But the American corporations soon realised that this new self was not a threat but their greatest opportunity. It was in their interest to encourage people to feel they were unique individuals and then sell them ways to express that individuality. To do this they turned to techniques developed by Freudian psychoanalysts to read the inner desires of the new self.

PART FOUR - Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering

This episode explains how politicians on the left, in both Britain and America, turned to the techniques developed by business to read and fulfil the inner desires of the self. Both New Labour, under Tony Blair, and the Democrats, led by Bill Clinton, used the focus group, which had been invented by psychoanalysts, in order to regain power. They set out to mould their policies to people's inner desires and feelings, just as capitalism had learnt to do with products.

Out of this grew a new culture of public relations and marketing in politics, business and journalism. One of its stars in Britain was Matthew Freud who followed in the footsteps of his relation, Edward Bernays, the inventor of public relations in the 1920s. The politicians believed they were creating a new and better form of democracy, one that truly responded to the inner feelings of individual. But what they didn't realise was that the aim of those who had originally created these techniques had not been to liberate the people but to develop a new way of controlling them.

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