Posts Tagged ‘documentaries’

The Interrupters

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

Looking forward to seeing this at some point:



Monday, January 12th, 2009

I’m looking forward to the documentary Objectified, a film about industrial design from the director of Helvetica.

Here’s the trailer:

Louis Theroux: Law and Disorder in Philadelphia

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

If you’re interested in urban crime (the topic, not the crime itself) or like Louis Theroux’s BBC documentaries, you’ll like his new Law and Disorder series. I’ve seen the first two episodes (Philadelphia and Johannesburg), and they were pretty enjoyable. He doesn’t really find any answers to his big questions, but it’s still interesting to watch. A lot of the Philadelphia episode reminded me of The Wire, not surprisingly.

A Telegraph article on the series has some criticism that I think is fair:

[…] You might say Theroux’s style is sometimes dangerous, because it could easily backfire. In an innocent-seeming, almost boyish way he asks the blunt questions that other journalists might want to ask but don’t have the nerve. Critics have accused him of faking naïvety, in order to lull his subjects into a false sense of security. But he says there’s nothing cynical in his approach.

I still think it’s worth a look (language and perhaps some scenes are NSFW). Here’s the Philadelphia episode:
(1 hr)

President’s Guide to Science

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

BBC had a good documentary in September with scientists’ recommendations for the next US President:

(50 min)

It’s covers a lot of topics, but I still managed to learn quite a bit (for example: I didn’t know why centrifuges were needed for nuclear weapons development, or what the JASON group was). It’s a good overview of the scientific issues of our time.
(via kotte)

Review: Expelled

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

A little while ago, in the spirit of challenging my own views, I sat down and watched the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Intelligence being a reference to Intelligent Design (irony not intentional). In this review, I won’t really delve into the core issue of evolution itself, but instead will judge how well it stands up as a documentary and discuss some of the arguments made. If you’re interested in the scientific aspects, Scientific American has a thorough analysis.

I watch a lot of documentaries, and ignoring the intellectual merits for a moment, this was a terrible documentary. Famously-boring former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein is the narrator and protagonist, which is annoying to begin with, but it only got worse. The film is stuffed full of random stock footage of old TV shows, Nazis, and lots of other irrelevant things. It has so much of this that it quickly becomes distracting and hard to watch. I watched the whole thing, but after 30 minutes I was already checking if it was almost over.

The film mixes some of its more serious arguments (a generous statement on my part) with some blatantly intellectually bankrupt ideas. I call this the Michael Moore effect, as the few parts where they go far beyond what is reasonable cheapens the whole thing.

First, Nazis! Stein says:

What other societies have used Darwinism to trump all other authorities, including religion? As a Jew, my mind left to one regime in particular.

Stein claims that acceptance of evolution leads to social darwinism which leads to genocide. There are two reasons why this is a terrible argument. First, social darwinism and the rationales for genocide provided by Nazis do not require acceptance of an evolutionary origin of species. Even creationists will admit that natural selection and some biological variation occur, in addition to many traits being hereditary. Admitting this isn’t the same as saying that all species have a common ancestor, but these are the only parts needed if someone wanted to abuse science to justify genocide. Second, even if acceptance of evolution helped create a foundation for Nazi beliefs, how does that make evolution less plausible? It seems completely orthogonal to me.

Similarly, Stein makes an argument that acceptance of evolution leads to atheism. Regardless of whether or not this is true, this has no effect on whether or not evolutionary theory can explain the origin of species. Our desires for things to be true have no effect on how true they are. Stein said in an interview:

“When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you. […] Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.”


The creationism v. evolution question is deserving of its own post.. I’ll try to get that later.

Torturing Democracy

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

Torturing Democracy is a three-part documentary about the role of torture in post-9/11 US government actions. It tells the story about the legal justifications at the top of the government along with stories from US detention sites. It has been shown on PBS in some places, but the whole thing is available online for free. The link above has the full video, I strongly recommend watching it, though it isn’t easy in parts.

Despite not being convinced by McCain’s support of the 2006 Military Commissions Act, I was relieved that he won the primary because of this issue. I think he’d be stronger against torture than any of the other viable Republican candidates. Sneaking around the Geneva Conventions is bad for this country and the world. It undermines the “war on terror” that it aims to help. As John McCain knows better than most, torture isn’t a tool for extracting information, it’s a way to get fake confessions. I’m hopeful that Obama will be strong and clear on this issue.

Let me know what you think if you get a chance to watch the video..