Sunday, November 30, 2008

New Chat Box

Thanks for the advice box has been moved to top of page.

The purpose of this is to promote communication and debate amongst the regular visitors to this site.

As I will have no way of controlling what people say on this chat box, I would simply like to ask everyone to be respectful of each other and of different opinions.

If I find that too much flaming has been going on, I will have to remove the chat please play nice!


P.S. - This chat box is not what I'd call state-of-the-art. You will have to click on 'refresh' to see other people's posts.

If anyone can suggest a better one, I'd be very interested in checking it out.

An Unreasonable Man

TJ requested this documentary earlier in the month...thanks for the suggestion as it is a great documentary.

In 1966, General Motors, the most powerful corporation in the world, sent private investigators to dig up dirt on an obscure thirty-two year old public interest lawyer named Ralph Nader, who had written a book critical of one of their cars, the Corvair.

The scandal that ensued after the smear campaign was revealed launched Ralph Nader into national prominence and established him as one of the most admired Americans and the leader of the modern Consumer Movement. Over the next thirty years and without ever holding public office, Nader built a legislative record that is the rival of any contemporary president.


Many things we take for granted including seat belts, airbags, product labeling, no nukes, even the free ticket you get after being bumped from an overbooked flight are largely due to the efforts of Ralph Nader and his citizen groups.


Yet today, when most people hear the name "Ralph Nader," they think of the man who gave the country George W. Bush. As a result, after sustaining his popularity and effectiveness over an unprecedented amount of time, he has become a pariah even among former friends and allies. How did this happen? Is he really to blame for George W. Bush? Who has stuck by him and who has abandoned him? Has our democracy become a consumer fraud?

After being so right for so many years, how did he seem to go so wrong? With the help of exciting graphics, rare archival footage and over forty on-camera interviews conducted over the past two years, "An Unreasonable Man" traces the life and career of Ralph Nader, one of the most unique, important, and controversial political figures of the past half century.

Get this film on DVD...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Small Request

You know, I still can't quite get over the success of this site. Online Documentaries 4 U embodies the principles of free access that is so much a part of the internet these days. There has been so much talk about the role played by social networking in the so-called web 2.0, but this is not the whole story. The way in which the web brings us free information is now only starting to come into its own. I firmly believe that this will be a more enduring trend than social networking.

More and more people are finding that they use the internet amlost exclusively for their vewing leisure. To be honest, I personally don't really watch TV anymore...unless there is a good documentary on!

I am glad that so many people enjoy this site, but I have a small favour to ask...well, actually two.

I am not allowed to solicit my users to click on the advertisements on my site. I would like to ask my regular vistors, that if they see an ad that is truly of interest to them, however, that they take a minute to occasionally click through on them. I HATE sites that force advertising on their users with pop-ups and some of the more annoying forms of advertising we see these days. I DO NOT want to go down this path and therefore prefer ask that people freely support this site in the manner mentioned above.

I would also like to ask for your support in the area of bookmarking. You will notice the button at the bottom of each post that allows users to Digg, Stumble Upon or otherwise bookmark the post or site for sharing. I ask that you take some time to occasionally click on the bookmark button to help share this site with the world. If you have enjoyed this can bet that others also will!

Finally, I would once again like to thank you all for your enduring the free internet.

The Iceman - Confessions of a Mafia Hitman

I had a request this month from Crystal for a documentary called Ten Commandments of the Mafia. I have been unable to find this yet, but have posted another great documentary that gives us amazing insight into the world of the Mafia.

The Iceman is an appropriate title for this documentary, because the words of former Mafia enforcer Richard Kuklinski will chill you to the bone. Speaking in the monotonous drone of a man who has numbed himself with remorseless brutality, Kuklinski was first interviewed in 1991, five years after receiving consecutive life sentences for multiple murders. Specializing in the tidy use of cyanide, Kuklinski lived a double life, like the fictional hitmen in The Sopranos and Road to Perdition, passing as a "businessman" and devoted husband and father.

He describes numerous killings in graphic detail, expressing nearly tearful regret only when lamenting the deception of his family. A vicious product of child abuse, Kuklinski was visited again by HBO in 2001, but this shameless redundancy was an obvious attempt to capitalize on the Sopranos phenomenon. Fascinating as a firsthand record of Mafia killing, these otherwise unsavory interviews serve little purpose beyond morbid exploitation.



While leading the life of a happy family man in the New Jersey suburbs Richard Kuklinski was also living a bizarre double-life as a Mafia hit man. Kuklinski tells first hand how he brutally murdered men at close range dismembered and disposed of them before returning home to his family. This film offers extraordinary insight into the cold-heart of a killer.

Buy this documentary on DVD today...

The Human Mind

In this three-part documentary, Robert Winston explores all aspects of the human mind - from how we learn, to how we're able to recognise faces and what makes one person 'click' with another.

Episode One

The first programme in the series uncovers what happens in our minds when we learn, remember and have original ideas. It explores what we can do to improve our ability to learn and manipulate knowledge, and shows how eating fish oils may help boost our brain power.

Professor Robert Winston looks at how memory can be improved and how we can learn physical tasks more easily. He discovers what happens when we have those "eureka" moments of original thought - and how to have more of them.

We meet the fire chief who tapped into his intuitive powers and saved the lives of his fire crew and follow a trainee midwife in the run-up to her exams. Will she be able to remember the huge amount of information she’ll need to know to pass? More importantly, can she apply it to a real childbirth?

Episode Two

Personality explores what it is that makes us who we are and uncovers the universal battle we face to master our emotions and control our behaviour.

Professor Robert Winston explores how our minds shape our personalities throughout our lives, and reveals how personality traits like extroversion and introversion develop. Find out how parents can affect the personalities of their children, why teenagers are so emotionally sensitive and what lies at the heart of characteristics like anger and mood–swings in adults.

Discover what we can change about our personalities - and what we can’t. And see a man successfully transform his personality to be more as he’d like it to be.

Episode Three

Why is a party one of the most demanding and complex situations the human mind ever has to deal with? This programme investigates the extraordinary way that our minds work to allow us to communicate with other people.

Professor Winston discovers how we recognise people, read their faces and bodies to understand what they’re thinking, and then charm them. Find out how to tell whether a smile is genuine, what happens when people 'click' with one another, and how to spot when someone's lying.

We follow a young woman as she travels halfway across the world to confront her very own social obstacle course. Can she win over her New Zealand fiancé’s friends and family in the week before she gets married?

Click here for the official website

More documentaries like this...

My Brilliant Brain - Born Genius


God on the Brain

Friday, November 28, 2008

Digging for the Truth: Machu Picchu

Having studied archaeology at college, I am not a big fan of this History Channel series. I am aware, however, that many people enjoy here goes!

In 1911, Hiram Bingham, famed American explorer, stumbled across a remote Inca city atop a high peak in the Andes. The site was called Machu Picchu – perhaps the most famous ruin in the world. What was its purpose? Was it, like Bingham believed, a military fortress? Or did this glorious ruin have a secret purpose?

From the mountains of Peru, Josh will follow in the footsteps of Hiram Bingham. He builds a log bridge across a raging river, examines the stonework at the site, and reviews ancient manuscripts to discover the ‘true’ purpose of Machu Picchu.

More documentaries like this...

Lost Cities of the Inca

Tibet's Hidden Kingdom

Mysteries of Asia

Get the DVD...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

If We Had No Moon

What would life on earth be like without the moon? Well, chances are, there wouldn't be any life on earth without the moon. Life – if it had started at all – would still be in the earliest stages of evolution.

Scientists use the latest computer simulations to show how an ancient rogue planet – Orpheus – collided with the earth millions of years ago, producing a sizable chunk of debris that eventually became our moon. If that collision had never occurred, we would live in a very different place. Imagine a moon-less weather report – blizzards over the Sahara, floodwaters swallowing the Pyramids, 90-degree temperatures in Antarctica. As the earth wobbles on its axis – unsecured by the moon's gravitational pull – the polar caps would grow and recede at frightening rates. And without the moon, our planet would spin much faster – meaning four-hour days and searing temperatures.

Worse yet, evidence reveals that we are in fact losing our grip on our lunar friend thanks to the ebb and flow of the oceans' tides. Experts reveal theories for salvaging the moon – including hijacking Europa from Jupiter – and demonstrate how we can prepare ourselves for our eventual life without it.

Buy this documentary on DVD...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Last Aztec

This documentary series takes an anything but common look at a well known story...the Spanish invasion and colonisation of Mexico. DBC Pierre takes us on a journey through modern-day Mexico as he tries to get to the bottom of how a small group of Spanish invaders were able to conquor a mighty empire. So who is DBC Pierre?

DBC Pierre (born 1961 in South Australia, Australia) is a writer. Born Peter Warren Finlay, the "DBC" part of his nom-de-plume (normally so written, without punctuation) stands for "Dirty But Clean". "Pierre" was a nickname bestowed on him by childhood friends after a cartoon character of that name. Pierre was awarded the Booker Prize for fiction on 14 October 2003 for his novel Vernon God Little. He is the third Australian to be so honoured, although he has told the British press that he prefers to consider himself a Mexican.

"Mexico, with its contrasts, its crushing poverty and sparkling wealth, its institutionalised corruption and cultural wisdom, its love of life and its embracing of death, undoubtedly set me on a path toward the deep end, philosophically and emotionally speaking." – DBC Pierre


Early in the 14th century, a city rose from snake-infested waters, built by the Tenocha tribe who came to be known as the Aztecs. Their city was the capital of Mexico - Tenochtitlan.

When Hernan Cortes led the Spanish Conquistadors to Mexico in 1519, the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma believed the invaders to be gods, fulfilling the prophecy of the return of the feathered serpent deity, Quetzalcoatl. The long held belief that this prophecy signified the end of the Aztec empire coincided with the arrival of the Spanish. Moctezuma in his confusion, offered gifts from the vast treasure troves of gold, sourced from mines that have now disappeared, but failed to deter the Conquistadors as they made their way to Tenochtitlan.

The Spaniards received a warm welcome when they eventually arrived but were wary because of the sacrificial bloodshed they saw as they travelled to meet Moctezuma. However they were overcome by the beauty and splendour of the city. The Aztecs were amazed at the sight of the Spaniards who were paler with long white beards, rode on horseback, and had guns and a cross - none of which they had ever experienced.


When the Spaniard Cortes and his men marched on the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, they hoped they would find Moctezuma's gold and untold riches. But they had no idea what was in store for them. Following the meeting of Emperor Moctezuma and Cortes, they were housed in a splendid palace and lavished with gifts.

Cortes came to realise that the Aztecs lived in a strangely innocent world, a magical realm that was to be their undoing. He put his knowledge to good use and in a bold move, imprisoned the emperor in his own palace. The monarch fell, surrendering his power and wealth to become a puppet of the Spaniards.

On May 13, 1521, it is thought that Moctezuma died from a blow to the head from a rock thrown by one of his subjects. Overnight, his body, magical entourage and most spectacularly of all, his vast well-documented gold-laden treasure-disappeared. No trace of Moctezuma was ever found. Presenter and best-selling author DBC Pierre visited a location believed to hold the key to this mystery, but came away none the wiser.

More documentaries like this...

The Kogi - From the Heart of the World

Clash of the Worlds

The Crusades - the Cresent & the Cross

An Islamic History of Europe

Shamans of the Amazon

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Adam Curtis - The Living Dead

I had a request this month to post more of the films by Adam Curtis. I have already posted The Trap, The Century of the Self and The Power of Nightmares...some of the more recent work by this important film maker. Because each of his documentaries have at least three episodes, I will only post one at a time of his remaining film collection. But, I hear you ask, who is Adam Curtis and why is he so important?

Adam Curtis (born 1955) is a British television documentary maker who has during the course of his television career worked as a writer, producer, director and narrator. He currently works for BBC Current Affairs. He is noted for making programmes which express a clear (and sometimes controversial) opinion about their subject, and for narrating the programmes himself.

After attending Sevenoaks School (a member of the 'art room' that produced influential musicians, Tom Greenhalgh, Kevin Lycett and Mark White of The Mekons along with Andy Gill and Jon King of the Gang of Four) Curtis studied for a BA in Human Sciences (which included courses in genetics, psychology, politics, geography and elementary statistics) at Oxford University. Curtis subsequently taught politics there but left for a career in television. He got a job on the show That's Life! where he learned to find humour in serious subjects. He went on to make documentaries on more serious subjects but retained his playful tone.

Curtis's intensive use of archive footage is a distinctive touch of his. An Observer profile said:

Curtis has a remarkable feel for the serendipity of such moments, and an obsessive skill in locating them. 'That kind of footage shows just how dull I can be,' he admits, a little glumly. 'The BBC has an archive of all these tapes where they have just dumped all the news items they have ever shown. One tape for every three months. So what you get is this odd collage, an accidental treasure trove. You sit in a darkened room, watch all these little news moments, and look for connections.'

The Observer adds "if there has been a theme in Curtis's work since, it has been to look at how different elites have tried to impose an ideology on their times, and the tragi-comic consequences of those attempts." Curtis received the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 2005.

In 2006 he was given the Alan Clarke Award for Outstanding Contribution to Television at the British Academy Television Awards. Curtis was reputed to be on the editorial 'steering committee' of the weekly email gossip newsletter Popbitch but the editor of the newsletter clarified that in fact he was simply a friend of the magazine.

The Living Dead

The first of the remaining three Adam Curtis documentaries that I will be posting on this site is titled The Living Dead (subtitled Three Films About the Power of the Past) and it was the second major Curtis documentary series.

Part One - On the Desperate Edge of Now
This episode examined how the various national memories of the Second World War were effectively rewritten and manipulated in the Cold War period. For Germany, this began at the Nuremberg Trials, where attempts were made to prevent the Nazis in the dock—principally Hermann Göring—from offering any rational argument for what they had done. Subsequently, however, bringing lower-ranking Nazis to justice was effectively forgotten about in the interests of maintaining West Germany as an ally in the Cold War.

For the Allied countries, faced with a new enemy in the Soviet Union, there was a need to portray WW2 as a crusade of pure good against pure evil, even if this meant denying the memories of the Allied soldiers who had actually done the fighting, and knew it to have been far more complex. A number of American veterans, told how years later they found themselves plagued with the previously-suppressed memories of the brutal things they had seen and done. The title comes from a veteran's description of what the uncertainty of survival in combat is like.

Part Two - You Have Used Me as a Fish Long Enough
In this episode, the history of brainwashing and mind control was examined. The angle pursued by Curtis was the way in which psychiatry pursued tabula rasa theories of the mind, initially in order to set people free from traumatic memories and then later as a potential instrument of social control. The work of Ewen Cameron was surveyed, with particular reference to Cold War theories of communist brainwashing and the search for hypnoprogammed assassins.

The programme's thesis was that the search for control over the past via medical intervention had had to be abandoned and that in modern times control over the past is more effectively exercised by the manipulation of history. Some film from this episode, an interview with one of Cameron's victims, was later re-used by Curtis in his The Century of the Self. The title of this episode comes from a paranoid schizophrenic seen in archive film in the programme, who believed her neighbours were using her as a source of amusement by denying her any privacy, like a pet goldfish.

Part Three - The Attic
In this episode, the Imperial aspirations of Margaret Thatcher were examined. The way in which Mrs Thatcher used public relations in an attempt to emulate Winston Churchill in harking back to Britain's "glorious past" to fulfil a political or national end.

The title is a reference to the attic flat at the top of 10 Downing Street, which was created during Thatcher's period refurbishment of the house, which did away with the Prime Minister's previous living quarters on lower floors. Scenes from The Innocents (film) the adaptation of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James are intercut with Thatcher's reign.

More documentaries like this...

Super Rich: The Greed Game

Mark Thomas on Coca Cola

The Trial of Henry Kissinger

Want more of Adam Curtis?

Mysteries of Asia

Mysteries of Asia is a documentary television series, originally produced for The Learning Channel, which explores historical fact and theory surrounding some of the oldest structures in Asia. Newly-shot footage of the areas under examination is complemented by film clips (newsreel and fictional) and animated maps, narrated by Michael Bell.

This amazing Discovery Channel documentary series gives insight into some of the most revered ancient strucures every built.

Jewels in the Jungle

Jewels in the Jungle concerns the ancient Khmer temples of Cambodia, much of whose history is undocumented. This program examines the unusual mix of Hindu and Buddhist religious figures among the temples and gates built by the Khmer, and examines the walled city of Angkor in some detail. Cambodia's bloody recent history under Pol Pot is also discussed, and the program celebrates the survival of the ancient dances of Angkor, the only remaining cultural link to the distant past.

Secrets of the Great Wall

Secrets of the Great Wall traces the history of the Great Wall of China and the numerous walls that preceded the one that stands today. It also discusses Emperor China's famous terra-cotta army and visits some remnants of earlier walls, urging preservation of today's Great Wall. This program incorporates a number of fictional film clips to illustrate points about the Emperor, the Forbidden City and the Mongol hordes; the clips liven up the proceedings a bit, but are a bit jarring on first appearance.

The Lost Temples of India

Lost temples of India historians and others examine temples built in India more than 1,000 years ago. They remain quite intriguing, though today's tourists rarely visit them. Records reveal that trained elephants had to drag millions of stone blocks to help erect these structures. The program notes that due to the temples' size, the U.S. Senate, Versailles, the Houses of Parliament, and St. Paul's Basilica in Rome could all fit within a single one of them. Michael Bell narrates as footage and animated maps are used to help viewers learn more about what these ancient structures look like and why they were built.

More documentaries like this...

Tibet - Cry of the Snow Lion

China from the Inside

The Lost Pyramids of Caral

The Dark Lords of Hattusha

The Vanished City of the Pharaoh

Buy the box-set DVD now...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story or Dirty Tricks: The Man Who Got the Bushes Elected

Stefan Forbes's gripping documentary tells the story of Lee Atwater, the blues-playing rogue whose rambunctious rise to become chairman of the GOP positioned him as kingmaker and political rock star. Atwater mentored George W Bush and Karl Rove while leading the Republicans to victory, helped make liberal a dirty word and transformed the way America elects its presidents. Featuring interviews with colleagues, friends and adversaries, the film sheds new light on his crucial role in America's shift to the right in the past ten years.

It is the story of the campaign tactics used by Lee Atwater while working on the George H.W. Bush 1988 presidential campaign, and how those tactics have transformed presidential campaigns in the United States. In an interview with the film's director and producer Stefan Forbes it was revealed that the team behind the film specifically targeted 2008 US Presidential election swing states when the film was released in late September 2008.

According to the film's director and producer Stefan Forbes, "if you're upset with the major corporate media, this is a film to see." The term boogie man in the documentary's title is a double entendre that refers to Atwater's love of blues music and to his reputation for being a sinister force in politics. Republican strategist Mary Matalin uses the term in the film to describe Atwater's reputation among his opponents.

The documentary was retitled as Dirty Tricks: The Man Who Got the Bushes Elected when it was broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Four. When broadcast in Sweden on SVT (the national public service broadcaster), the film was retitled Amerikas ondaste man ("The most evil man in America").

More documentaries like this...

Bush Family Fortunes

Iraq's Missing Billions

The Power of Nightmares

The Trial of Henry Kissinger

Friday, November 21, 2008

Uncertain Principles

This documentary takes an in depth look at the emergence of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle in particle physics and the way it shook up the establishment of the day. A classic film that explains some of the most fundmental principles in modern particle physics.

In 1927 Heisenberg made a startling discovery. Quantum theory implies a limitation on how accurately certain pairs of physical variables could be measured simultaneously. Using some of the matrix mechanics that had been proposed by Max Born, Heisenberg realised that position and momentum (the relationship between mass and velocity) were non-commutable; you could not precisely know them both at the same time.

Hence, there is no way of accurately locating the exact position of a sub-atomic particle unless you are willing to be uncertain about its momentum. But there is no way you can be certain about momentum without being uncertain about position. It is impossible to precisely measure them both at the same time.

There is a large focus on the October 1927 Fifth Solvay International Conference on Electrons and Photons, where the world's most notable physicists met to discuss the newly formulated quantum theory. The leading figures were Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. Einstein, disenchanted with Heisenberg's "Uncertainty Principle," remarked "God does not play dice." Bohr replied, "Einstein, stop telling God what to do." Seventeen of the twenty-nine attendees were or became Nobel Prize winners, including Marie Curie, who alone among them, had won Nobel Prizes in two separate scientific disciplines.

A. Piccard, E. Henriot, P. Ehrenfest, Ed. Herzen, Th. De Donder, E. Schrödinger, J.E. Verschaffelt, W. Pauli, W. Heisenberg, R.H. Fowler, L. Brillouin; P. Debye, M. Knudsen, W.L. Bragg, H.A. Kramers, P.A.M. Dirac, A.H. Compton, L. de Broglie, M. Born, N. Bohr; I. Langmuir, M. Planck, M. Curie, H.A. Lorentz, A. Einstein, P. Langevin, Ch. E. Guye, C.T.R. Wilson, O.W. Richardson

Fifth conference participants, 1927. Institut International de Physique Solvay in Leopold Park.

More documentaries like this...

The Six Billion Dollar Experiment

The Hawking Paradox

What on Earth is Wrong With Gravity?

Most of the Universe is Missing

Who Killed the Electric Car?

This documentary deals with the history of the electric car, its development and commercialization, mostly focusing on the General Motors EV1, which was made available for lease in Southern California, after the California Air Resources Board passed the ZEV mandate in 1990, as well as the implications of the events depicted for air pollution, environmentalism, Middle East politics, and global warming.

The film details the California Air Resources Board's reversal of the mandate after suits from automobile manufacturers, the oil industry, and the George W. Bush administration. It points out that Bush's chief influences, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Andrew Card, are all former executives and board members of oil and auto companies.

A large part of the film accounts for GM's efforts to demonstrate to California that there was no demand for their product, and then to take back every EV1 and dispose of them. A few were disabled and given to museums and universities, but almost all were found to have been crushed; GM never responded to the EV drivers' offer to pay the residual lease value ($1.9 million was offered for the remaining 78 cars in Burbank before they were crushed). Several activists are shown being arrested in the protest that attempted to block the GM car carriers taking the remaining EV1s off to be crushed.

The film explores some of the reasons that the auto and oil industries worked to kill off the electric car. Wally Rippel is shown explaining that the oil companies were afraid of losing out on trillions in potential profit from their transportation fuel monopoly over the coming decades, while the auto companies were afraid of losses over the next six months of EV production. Others explained the killing differently. GM spokesman Dave Barthmuss argued it was lack of consumer interest due to the maximum range of 80–100 miles per charge, and the relatively high price.

The film also explores the future of automobile technologies including a deeply critical look at hydrogen vehicles and an upbeat discussion of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technologies.

Click here for the official website.

Buy this documentary on DVD now...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A War on Science

The theory of evolution is under attack from a controversial new idea called intelligent design. But is it science?

When Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution nearly 150 years ago, he shattered the dominant belief of his day – that humans were the product of divine creation. Through his observations of nature, Darwin proposed the theory of evolution by natural selection. This caused uproar. After all, if the story of creation could be doubted, so too could the existence of the creator. Ever since its proposal, this cornerstone of biology has sustained wave after wave of attack. Now some scientists fear it is facing the most formidable challenge yet: a controversial new theory called intelligent design.

In the late 1980s Phillip Johnson, a renowned lawyer and born-again Christian, began to develop a strategy to challenge Darwin. To Johnson, the evidence for natural selection was poor. He also believed that by explaining the world only through material processes was inherently atheistic. If there was a god, science would never be able to discover it.

Johnson recruited other Darwin doubters, including biochemist Professor Michael Behe, mathematician Dr William Dembski, and philosopher of science Dr Stephen Meyer. These scientists developed the theory of intelligent design (ID) which claims that certain features of the natural world are best explained as the result of an intelligent being. To him, the presence of miniature machines and digital information found in living cells are evidence of a supernatural creator. Throughout the 90s, the ID movement took to disseminating articles, books and DVDs and organising conferences all over the world.

To its supporters, intelligent design heralds a revolution in science and the movement is fast gaining political clout. Not only does it have the support of the President of the United States, it is on the verge of being introduced to science classes across the nation. However, its many critics, including Professor Richard Dawkins and Sir David Attenborough, fear that it cloaks a religious motive – to replace science with god.

Throughout the 20th century Christian groups resisted the theory of evolution. Many US states did not teach it until 1968 when the Supreme Court ruled that banning the teaching of evolution contravened the first amendment of the constitution of America, the separation of church and state. It was however still legal to teach religion as part of science class until the Edwards vs. Aguillard case in 1987, where mentioning a theory called 'creation science' in biology lessons was also deemed unconstitutional. This left evolution as the only theory of biological origin that science teachers were allowed to teach.

In 2005, the school board of Dover, a small farming community in western Pennsylvania, became the first in America to adopt the theory of intelligent design. The move divided the community and the small town became the centre of national attention. The school board voted to teach the ninth grade biology class that there are gaps and problems with the theory of evolution and to present intelligent design as an alternative.

Dover science teacher Bryan Rehm and his wife Christy believed that this new policy was not only anti-science, but religious and therefore unconstitutional. By promoting religion it was a violation of the law passed in 1987. The Rehms and nine other parents and teachers filed a law suit against the school board. Neighbour was pitted against neighbour in the first legal challenge to intelligent design.

After 40 days of trial, Judge John E Jones III ruled against the school board, stating: "We have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."

Evolution supporters heralded this victory as the damning blow to the intelligent design movement. However, as history shows, law suits have little effect on the support for creationism in a country where over 50% of citizens believe that God created humans in their present form, the way the bible describes it.

More documentaries like this...

Flock of Dodos

The Root of All Evil

The Genius of Charles Darwin

The God Who Wasn't There

Evolution - Darwin's Dangerous Idea

Judgement Day - Intelligent Design on Trial

Richard Dawkins - The Enemies of Reason

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Brilliant Brain - Born Genius

According to National Geographic Channel's new documentary: My Brilliant Brain - Born Genius, there are born geniuses, and then there are whiz-kids who can be trained to become geniuses.

How? By providing a nurturing environment to bring out the best in a child's capability. If there are parents out there who are looking for tips to make Einsteins our of their children, this is a documentary not to be missed.

In Born Genius, two stories are told of a boy genius and a young girl who was cut off from the world when she was a baby, the episode gave insight into how intelligence is developed.

It tracks a musical child prodigy, Marc Yu, through his remarkable progress in the world of classical music. At age two, little Marc could bang out "Mary had a little lamb" on the piano after listening to the tune once. At three, he gave his first public performance on the piano, performing a Beethoven piece. And at seven, he is able to play 40 pieces of classical music from memory. It is truly extroardinary to listen to him play an exquisite Chopin nocturne that would have stumped a teenager who is twice his age and of normal intelligence, with a bit more practice under his belt. As the boy genius puts it gleefully: "I like the difficult pieces, especially when my teacher says no."

It also turns out that he has perfect pitch (industry insiders will know this is a very rare talent), which he was born with, not taught. Only one in 10,000 people have it.

There is also a sad, but cautionary real-life tale of a young girl, "Jeannie", in the US who was deprived of communication with people from the age of two. Cut off from human contact, the girl was left with the mental age of an 18-month-old toddler. She could barely control her psycho-motor functions when social workers found her at age 13. She eventually learnt words, but could never string them together in a grammatical sentence because she had passed the age for learning language.

The experts interviewed in the programme say the same thing: Intelligence can be inborn, but it must be nurtured at a young age to help the mind achieve its full potential. And the earlier you catch a child to nurture his mind, the better the brain becomes learning and developing. But deprive a growing brain of the opportunity to learn, and the young mind will be crippled when it has passed the development stage.

Now, back to producing a genius. Of course, your job as a parent would be much easier if your little tyke shows an inclination for the subject you want him to excel in. Little Marc professes an almost fanatical passion for music, and his mum, Chloe reveals that the little tyke would sneak down to the piano in the middle of the night in order to get in more practice.

But aside from having brains to boot, what makes a child excel is a willingness to slog at his chosen field. Because, as the documentary reveals, Marc puts in at least eight hours of practice on his music a day, without showing the faintest waning of interest. In fact, he relishes the opportunity to practise. But any other normal seven-year-old would have cried and protested at the sheer torture of it.

Watch the documentary to gain a little more insight into producing the next Mozart or Einstein, and you may just be able to produce a scholar out of your child. Of course, it makes life much easier if he was born a genius to begin with.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Fog Of War

This documentary was requested by Talia. I have gone for the multi-language closed caption version as I know I have a lot of visitors that do not speak English as a first language.

“I know what many of you are thinking. You’re thinking, ‘This man is duplicitous. You’re thinking that he has held things close to his chest. You’re thinking that he did not respond fully to the desires and wishes of the American people. And I want to tell you 'you're wrong’.”
Robert S. McNamara in The Fog of War

The Fog of War is a 20th century fable, a story of an American dreamer who rose from humble origins to the heights of political power. Robert S. McNamara was both witness to and participant in many of the crucial events of the 20th century: the crippling Depression of the 1930s; the industrialization of the war years; the development of a different kind of warfare based on air power and the creation of a new American meritocracy. He was also an idealist who saw his dreams and ideals challenged by the role he played in history.

Although strictly speaking, neither a work of biography nor a work of history, The Fog of War has produced important, new biographical and historical material.

First, although there have been several book-length biographies of Robert S. McNamara and many books in which he is a principal figure, none have discussed the pivotal relationship between McNamara and General Curtis LeMay, the infamous U.S. General, and their involvement in the firebombing of 67 Japanese cities in 1945.

World War II is thought of as a just war. It is believed that the Allies fought on the side of good, and that what they did in their wartime effort was justified by that fact. What few people know is that before the United States dropped the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, LeMay’s B-29 bombers had already killed nearly 1 million Japanese civilians, including 100,000 in Tokyo on the night of March 10th, 1945.

McNamara raises deep moral questions about his role and, by implication, the entire Allied role in winning the war against Japan by any means necessary. He asks, “In order to win a war, is a nation justified in killing 100,000 civilians in one night?” “Would it be moral to not burn to death 100,000 Japanese civilians, but instead to lose hundreds of thousands of American lives in an invasion of Japan?”

Second, for many people who are familiar with the Cuban missile crisis from the movie Thirteen Days, The Fog of War tells a very different story. Here is a story not about how John or Bobby Kennedy saved the world, but a story of blind luck and the limits of rational judgment. A story of a world out of control, where a nuclear holocaust was averted by an obscure state department official who had the temerity to speak up to the President and to urge him to empathize with his adversary.

Third, The Fog of War is the first historical investigation to make extensive use of taped telephone conversations from the Oval Office of the White House between Johnson and McNamara. Much of what has been written about Robert S. McNamara rehashes a familiar story—that of a computer-like man, a technocrat, a hawk who, through his arrogance, blundered into Vietnam. However, the presidential recordings - the weight of the historical evidence itself - do not bear this out. Instead, a far more complex portrait of the man emerges—one who tried to serve two very different presidents: John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

We hear McNamara explaining to Kennedy the need to set a timetable for removing advisors from Vietnam; we hear Johnson (after Kennedy’s death) admonishing McNamara for his unwarranted optimism in giving such advice; we hear McNamara urging Johnson to put the breaks on the bombing of North Vietnam; but, in the end we hear McNamara endorsing the President’s wish to continue the war.

More documentaries like this...

Why We Fight

The Century of the Self

The Power of Nightmares

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Bunch of Requested Documentaries!

Firstly, I'd just like to thank all of my regular vistors for their support. This site has grown dramatically since its inception back in the middle of March this year. We are now getting more than 1,500 hits a day and have well over a hundred susbscibers.

Back in August I did a post where I called for my regular visitors to suggest a documentary. I was able to post some the requested material straight away, but other requests have since come in that I have not had time to search for. Well, that changes today!

I would like this site to be more interactive and to build more of a community here...after all, many of us share similar interests and views.

To this end, I am calling for more activity on this site from you the visitors in two areas...

  • Request more documentaries that YOU want to see.
  • Post more comments on the ones that interest you.
Each month, my first post will be 'Suggest a Documentary'. You can request specific documentaries here, or just documentaries on subjects that interest you.

OK, I am posting a whole bunch of requested documentaries here...enjoy!!!

September 22 - koele said...
I'd like to see "Maxed Out" added here. It's an excellent documentary on the credit crisis that is especially relevant right now.

My Response
This documentary is not available online for some reason. I will try to find it and will post it when found.

September 25 - Rafael said...
There is a documentary called "The Triumph of the Nerds", it's really excellent and it's available in google video.

My Response
Just for you Rafael...your 3-part documentary series is below.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

October 17 - Anonymous said...
First of all, thanks for such a wonderful site. Nice to know there are other documentary geeks out there!

Several years ago, I saw part of a documentary on TV and, after a lot of searching, I found out it was entitled "The Ritchie Boys". I only saw the tail end, but I was engrossed. Do you think you can find it?? Thanks a lot.

My Response
Sorry, but I have been unable to find any trace of this one. If you can give me more information like what it was about I may be able to do better.

November 11 - Mario said...
Thanks for posting all those awesome documentaries, I'm trying to find time to watch them all.

I would like to see more documentaries about people who have make history, like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, etc. And if available, documentaries about the future of corporations, and how they might have to evolve to stop harming the environment. Sustainable Corporations.

My Response
I will have a look at the material you requested about corporations on another day, but for now...enjoy these documentaries about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr

Death In Memphis - The Mysterious Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr

The Murder of Malcolm X - What Really Happened?

November 14 - Anonymous said...
To Continue your discussion on religion, i think you must post a doc called "Jesus Camp" it's about a evenglical church summer camp. This one is good cause the maker decided to let the action of these people speak for themselves rather then impose a view on the audience. I found it on Youtube in parts.

By the way great site. keep this up as long as you can and call for donation if needed.

My Response
One of the things I try to do on this site is to highlight some of the madness that organised religion inflicts on mankind...yes, I am an atheist. This documentary is a good example of what I am talking about...

Jesus Camp

That's it for now. If you have any documentaries to suggest for this month...put the requests in the comments of this post. Hope you are all enjoying your weekend. Remember to not spend the whole day in front of your PC...go out and play too!!!

The Hawking Paradox

His popular science book A Brief History of Time was a publishing sensation, staying at the top of the best-seller lists longer than any other book in recent history. But behind the public face lies an argument that has been raging for almost 30 years. Hawking shot to fame in the world of physics when he provided a mathematical proof for the "Big Bang" theory.

This theory showed that the entire Universe exploded from a singularity - an infinitely small point with infinite density and infinite gravity. Hawking was able to come to his proof using mathematical techniques that had been developed by Roger Penrose. However, Penrose's techniques were developed to deal not with the beginning of the Universe but with black holes. Science had long predicted that if a sufficiently large star collapsed at the end of its life, all the matter left in the star would be crushed into an infinitely small point with infinite gravity and infinite density - a singularity.

Hawking realised that the Universe was, in effect, a black hole in reverse; instead of matter being crushed into a singularity, the Universe began when a singularity expanded to form everything we see around us today - from stars to planets to people. Hawking realised that to come to a complete understanding of the Universe, he would have unravel the mysteries of the black hole.

Leaking Holes
Hawking and his fellow physicist embarked on an extraordinary intellectual expedition - to tame the black hole. The period from the early 70s to the early 80s became known as the "Golden Age" of black hole research. Slowly physicists were coming to understand its nature. But Hawking realised that there was something missing from the picture that was emerging. All work on black holes to that point used the physics of the large-scale Universe. The physics of gravity - first developed by Newton and then refined by Einstein's general theory of relativity.

Hawking realised that to come to a full understanding of black holes, physicists would also have to use the physics of the small-scale Universe; the physics that had been developed to explain the movements of atoms and sub-atomic particles known as quantum mechanics. The only problem was that no one had ever combined these two areas of physics before. This didn't deter Hawking. He set about developing a new way to force the physics of quantum mechanics to co-exist with Einstein's relativity within the intense gravity of a black hole.

After months of work, Hawking came up with a remarkable result. His equations were showing him that something was coming out of the black hole. This was supposed to be impossible - the one thing that everyone thought they knew about black holes was that things went in but nothing, not even light itself, could escape. The more Hawking checked, the more he was convinced he was right. He could see radiation coming out of the black hole. And it led him to the realisation that this radiation (later called Hawking radiation) would cause the black hole to evaporate and eventually disappear.

Shocking Revelation
Although Hawking's theories about black hole evaporation were revolutionary, they soon came to be widely accepted. But Hawking felt that this work had far more fundamental consequences. In 1976 he published a paper in Physical Review D called, "The breakdown of predictability in gravitational collapse". In this paper, Hawking argued that it wasn't just the black hole that disappeared. He said that all the information about everything that had ever been inside the black hole disappeared, too.

In everyday life, we're used to losing information - but according to physics this isn't supposed to happen; according to physics, information is never really lost, it just gets harder to find. The reason physicists cling on to the idea that information can't be lost is that it's their link with either the past or the future. If information is lost then science can never know the past or predict the future. There are limits to what science can know.

For many years, no one took much notice of Hawking's ideas until a fateful meeting in San Francisco. Hawking presented his ideas to some of the world's leading physicists, and in the audience were two particle physicists, Gerard t'Hooft and Leonard Susskind. They were shocked. They both grasped that Hawking's "breakdown of predictability" applied not only to black holes but to all processes in physics.

The Long Search
According to Susskind, if Hawking's ideas were correct then it would infect all physics; there would no longer be any direct link between cause and effect. Physics would become impotent. Since that meeting the "information paradox" has come to be seen as one of the most fundamental and most difficult problems in physics.

Arguments effectively boiled down into two camps. On the one side, Susskind and those who believed that Hawking was wrong and that information could not be lost - and on the other, Hawking and those who believed that physics would have to be re-written to take into account the uncertainty about information that Hawking had uncovered.

For 20 years, arguments raged. No side was willing to admit defeat... until a paper emerged written by a brilliant young Argentinean mathematician known as Juan Maldacena. This paper claimed to be a rigorous mathematical explanation of what happened to information in black holes - and it showed that information was not lost. Hawking, it seemed, was on the losing side. But Hawking was not convinced. Hawking set to work with a young research student, Christophe Galfard, to try to pick apart the Maldacena paper. They thought they could use the same mathematical techniques employed by Maldacena to prove that information was in fact lost. But after two years' work, they still could not prove their thesis.

Then disaster struck, Stephen Hawking was taken ill with pneumonia and rushed to hospital; doctors feared for his life. Hawking was kept in hospital for over three months. But whilst others fussed over his health, Hawking was thinking. Finally, on what many feared might be his death bed, he thought he'd come across what had eluded him for the past 30 years - a solution to the information paradox.

Bold Claims
Once again, Hawking defied doctors' dire predictions and was soon at work, working on a new proof for the information paradox. Then in July last year, at one of the most prestigious conferences in physics, Hawking made a dramatic announcement. He claimed to have solved the information paradox. But to the surprise of many in the audience, he was not at the conference to defend his long-held belief that information was lost in black holes. Instead, he was there to say he could now prove the opposite.

Hawking presented the outline of a proof that he hoped would at last solve the problem that he had posed almost 30 years earlier. However, despite the bold claims, some physicists remain unconvinced. Over a year has passed since the conference and Hawking has still not presented a fully worked mathematical proof to back up his ideas. But Hawking is a stubborn man. If he is going to change his mind on a belief he held for almost 30 years then it will be with his own proof, in his own time.

In spite of failing health and increasing problems communicating with his colleagues, Hawking is still working on the proof. If he succeeds in completing a proof that convinces his colleagues, he will not only have solved one of the most difficult problems in physics but he will have produced ground-breaking work at the very end of his career. That would be a feat that even his hero Einstein could not accomplish.

More documentaries like this...

What We Still Don't Know

The Elegant Universe

BBC Space - with Sam Neil

What on Earth is Wrong With Gravity?

Stephen Hawking's Universe