Archive for the ‘television’ category

For Good Times in Brookline And Cambridge

November 11, 2015

A few events tomorrow and Friday for your infotainment pleasure.

First, I’ll be doing a reading/book talk on The Hunt for Vulcan at Brookline Booksmith, a fine indy bookstore in scenic Coolidge Corner.  (279 Harvard St., to be precise). That would be tomorrow, Thursday November 12 at 7 p.m.  Books to be signed, of course.

I have to add that Tikka’s grown tired of waiting for his:

Tikka and HUnt

For some background on the book and the events that drove me to it, here’s a Boston Globe piece I published a few weeks ago on Einstein’s general relativity at 100; here’s a piece that went up yesterday at The Atlantic‘s joint that gives a taste of the story the book tells; and here’s a similar piece at Gizmodo that adds a little background into how and why I actually got off my ass and wrote the damn thing. (Spoiler alert:  I blame someone often discussed on this site.

Next, in semi-direct competition with my gig at the bookstore…(See! I can rise above shameless self-promotion on rare occasions) my department at MIT is putting on what looks to be a really interesting event:  an MIT Communication Forum presentation on “Women in Politics: Representation and Reality”

Glindoni_John_Dee_performing_an_experiment_before_Queen_Elizabeth_I

Think Veep comes to Washington.  That’ll take place at 5 p.m., tomorrow, November 12, so I guess if you were a glutton for punishment you could take that one in, dash across the river, and still get in on some planet Vulcan action.  Shameless I am.  The forum is free and open to the public, and will take place in MIT Building 3, room 270. (That link takes you to the MIT interactive map. Basically Building 3 is the second hallway on your right off the long (Infinite!) corridor that starts at the main entrance to campus at 77 Massachusetts Ave. Go upstairs and wander down — towards the river —  till you find room number 270.

Finally, on Friday, November 13, the MIT Program in Science Technology and Society and the Physics Department are hosting a sneak preview of the NOVA film “Inside Einstein’s Mind.”

Bartholin_head_transect

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion on the film and on the centennial of the discovery of the General Theory of Relativity.

That part of the evening’s festivities will be moderated by your humble blogger and will feature my colleague, physicist and historian of science David Kaiser, joined by two of David’s physics colleagues, Tracy Slayter and Scott Hughes, science writer Amanda Gefter, and NOVA’s Chris Schmidt.  It all happens between 7 and 9 p.m., in room 32-123 — which is the big auditorium on the ground floor of the Stata Center, the great big honker of a Gehry building at the intersection of Vasser and Main Streets.  Interactive map advice here.

Come to some, come to all, and if you can’t (or won’t) you can still get your hands on the book, online* and/or at the local bookstore I thoroughly encourage you to support — and then watch the film on Wednesday, November 25th at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).

Images: Tikka, of course, photographed by yours truly.

Henry Gillard Glindoni, John Dee performing an experiment before Queen Elizabeth I, by 1913.

Thomas Bartholin, Head transect from Anatome ex omnium veterum recentiorumque observationibus, 1673.

Barnes and Noble/Nook here; iBooks here.

The Perfect Game (Ooops!) (Still Catching Up on the Backlog)

June 4, 2010

I was over at Balloon Juice the other day, vacationing from outrage on a baseball thread, when someone commenting on why we seem to care so much about Perfectogate offered props to Ken Burns for his baseball series.  That show, the writer said, explains why we love baseball so much, or rather, why it appears to be such a good metaphor for America.

Well, as readers of this blog know, I’m not much into sloppy metaphors. Certainly, you can look at the history of the game and at least pull out strands of the great threads of US history — Robinson, Jackie for an obvious example, and more subtly, Curt Flood.

But Burns is an easy sentimentalist, too ready, IMHO, to do that “essence of America” stuff, even as he oh-so-painfully-slowly pans or zooms on another picture of Robinson, or the Babe or whoever.  Most of all, just as a story teller, Burns lost something after The Civil War.  I’m not a huge fan of that series, though I found it riveting on first viewing.  I think it fell too deeply into the Southern sentimentalist trap, though I understand that with the extraordinary performance of Shelby Foote and the narrative power of the marvelously chosen diaries and letters, some of that, at least, was inevitable.  I’ve made enough films to know that when you have good stuff, you use it.

But that adulation that followed that series — and more pertinently, the virtual blank check Burns received from his GM contract and the leverage it gave him over PBS mean that he could now do without any kind of critical oversight.  No executive producer for him, not really.

Now, I’ve worked with EPs who no doubt made my work worse.  Bad ones are out there, no doubt. But it’s still true that no one is their own best editor.  You saw the effects in baseball, from the numerology of nine programs (innings) and eighteen hours that felt much longer, to the kind of lazy “seriousness” captured in this, from Burns:

The historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., has remarked that we suffer today from “too much pluribus and not enough unum.” Few things survive in these cynical days to remind us of the Union from which so many of our personal and collective blessings flow, and it is hard not to wonder, in an age when the present moment consumes and overshadows all else — our bright past and our dim unknown future — what finally does endure? What encodes and stores the genetic material of our civilization — passing down to the next generation the best of us, what we hope will mutate into betterness for our children and our posterity? Baseball provides one answer. Nothing in our daily life offers more of the comfort of continuity, the generational connection of belonging to a vast and complicated American family, the powerful sense of home, the freedom from time’s constraints, and the great gift of accumulated memory than does our National Pastime.

Oh FSM.   You see what I mean.  Who knew baseball was the DNA of American civilization.  Does that make steroids an oncogene?  Crappy metaphors, easy equivalences (baseball endures; we endure; therefore baseball explains our endurance to ourselves…or not), and always that weighty, wordy portenteousness, the wrapping of a tired old cliche of a thought in 157 words in the hope that the verbiage would mask the banality of the argument being advanced.

So no:  baseball is a metaphor for baseball.  Individual aspects of baseball are deeply instructive, often more than metaphors. See Stephen Jay Gould’s classic piece on the lessons to be learned from Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hit streak for the transformation of the mythic appreciation of baseball into something much more useful:  baseball can provide models, in the scientific sense of the term, tools to help us better understand what’s going on around us.

Ken Burns?  He managed to turn baseball into a dirge.

There, I feel better.

Last, as I added to the comment thread in which the mention of Burns goaded me into screed-dom, I do have an answer as to what to read if you want to engage in the generational significance of baseball, and its role during a certain time in the making of the country in which we now live, I can’t recommend highly enough George Higgins’ wonderful memoir, The Progress of the Seasons.

Yes, I know it’s a Red Sox centered tale, which will make it anathema for many — but at least it was the bad old Sox, which might make it go down better.

But Higgins (of Friends of Eddie Coyle fame and much else besides) is not only one of the great regional writers of the last few decades, but also a wonderfully sentimental-without-being-sloppy observer of how links transfer from fathers to sons to grandsons.

I’m in my early 50s now, roughly the age Higgins was when he published Progress….  I’ve just had to confront athe loss of a beloved uncle, the last of that generation in my immediate family, so his theme holds me strongly.  (His is a boy book, I guess, in that it centers on male relationships, but I’d argue it’s a human book more than a gendered one; we all go through these transformations, these sudden shifts in scale, dependence and responsibility.)

Back to the thorn that provoked this post.  Given that baseball, like all big time sports, has become a matter of rooting for laundry, Higgins’ account of the way baseball could construct a family story does what great story telling should do, and what Burns, for all the hours and millions he devoted to his telling, did not:  Higgins tells a singular story, a glimpse of one family of Boston Irish, a telling centered in space to the evoked memory of old Fenway Park, and in that wholly particular story enables his readers to glimpse something of why the sport used to carry such mythic weight.

Plus, he is (to repeat myself) a really fine writer and this is a great read.

All this apropos of I’m not sure quite what.  Friday, I guess.

Image:  Thomas Eakins, “Baseball Players Practicing,” 1875-

Is Fox News, News? No…A proof.

October 26, 2009

…well, not formally so, but I think what follows could well fall into the bounds of an argument constructed to the requirements of informal discourse — and what could be more devoid of formality than this here blog?

The proposition, that Fox News is not a real news organization has been put forth, forcefully, by members of the Obama administration.  It has been disputed, vehemently, by Fox employees and network supporters — including some who should definitely know better.

Some might say that the nature of those defenses confirms the original proposition:  to compare a public statement that a given media organization is biased is obviously not the same thing as constructed and concealing an enemies list of people and organizations targeted for disruption and retribution.*

The former is a “we report, you decide” moment; the second is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes.  Further support for this kind of dispositive dismissal of Fox’s defense comes from a couple of very recent media tempests, most notably the false claim that Fox was singled out for exclusion from an administration media event, credulously picked up by other media outlets.

But all of this is inferential.  After all, it’s just possible, I suppose, that Fox’s pattern of talking points – driven coverage slanted in favor of one party and against the current administration is simply the result of meticulous news gathering producing the patterns presented as news on Fox.

So, given that a theme of this blog is that the point of understanding a bit about science is to help one think about what’s going on around us, I decided to see if I could find some empirical measures to test the claim that Fox is not truly a news gathering institution.

So, in my ongoing tribute to Warner Wolf, let’s go to the videotape (or teh Google, as we now all bow to the sovereign of  the intertubes).

How can we determine whether or not Fox is a news organization?  Let’s try a version of the what in arithmetic would be called the transitive property.  If we can agree on the notion that some other entity nominally comparable to Fox or two are real news services, then we can see how well Fox matches up with them.  If Fox and its competitors are recognizably similar as institutions, then we can say that just as if a = b and b= c, then a= c, Fox is a real news enterprise.  If not, not.**

So let’s see, shall we?

According to Journalism.org’s latest review of the state of cable news, (from which most of the figures below have been drawn, unless othewise linked) Fox lags behind CNN and ahead of MSNBC in the raw calculation of budget for news — though with the major caveat that MSNBC uses the news-gathering apparatus of its sister organization, NBC News as its major source of journalism.  In what follows I’ll focus on the CNN vs. Fox comparison almost exclusively.

CNN had in 2008 the highest budget of the cable nets, coming in at 686 million and change.

Fox’s total was 521 million and change:  notably less, but still substantial.

CNN’s staff totaled about 4,000 last year.

Fox’s US staff was 1200, and while I could not readily find Fox’s overseas’ totals, these matter less than one might imagine, for reasons to be explained below.

For  a broad comparison, NBC News’ staffing total, as of the most recent round of cuts, is somewhere in the neighborhood, probably slightly below 6,000.

So:  in budget terms Fox is a competitor, though not the leader, but it’s staffing totals hint at a different story. Remember that news gathering is a labor intensive business — you need producers and associate producer/reporters to actually find out stuff that can make it on air — and the fact that Fox has one third the numbers of its rival CNN is suggestive.

Dig a little deeper, though, and the suggestion becomes a little more solid.

Back at Journalist.org, the budget totals get broken down into two broad categories: programming and general/administration.  These aren’t terribly informative categories, but let’s just look at the breakdown.

Fox spends 2/3rds of its budget on programming, about 316 million, leaving only 156 million for everything else.

CNN flips that ratio, almost, spending 273 million on programming and 380 million on G/A.***

Why does this matter?  Because, while it is difficult — impossible really — to get into the weeds of either CNN or Fox’s detailed spending priorities with this kind of top level numbers, broadly speaking, programming is not news gathering.

What it certainly covers is the cost of the on-air talent and the production of the stuff you see on screen.  And the disparity in spending totals and staffing priorities reflected in the CNN vs. Fox comparison reveals both a lingering effect of the history of each network, and the blunt fact that Fox is in at least one crucial way different from CNN.

The  history:  CNN as it was first conceived and executed by Ted Turner and his team followed the strategy of emphasizing the brand and the product and not personalities.  No one anchor or on-air personality was supposed to be seen as the face of the network; no one was to have the power of a Chronkite or a Jennings.

That’s changed, somewhat, obviously, with a prime time lineup including the likes of Wolf Blitzer, Lou Dobbs, and Larry King.  These, however loathesome (and yes, I’m looking at you, Lou), are stars and are paid accordingly, costs attributed to the programming in CNN’s cost structure.

But the daytime lineup and the bulk of the news programming (as opposed to the talk/opining side of CNN), is not so personality driven, and the cost of on-air talent follows that relative (and deliberate) lack of star power. From 9-4 on weekdays, the net offers programming under a single title — “CNN Newsroom” — with multiple hosts, and a corresponding and house-culturally appropriate emphasis on the brand and the activity.  Follow that up with three more hours of “The Situation Room” and precede it by three hours of “American Morning” and you get the idea.

Fox, by contrast, emphasizes its on air talent throughout its schedule.  Fox shows with the names of the hosts attached start at 1 p.m. and continue with reruns through till the 6 a.m. debut of “Fox and Friends.”  It’s signature hosts command formidable salaries.  Bill O’Reilly, for example, is estimated to take in an approximate 10 million dollars a year under his latest Fox contract.

Whatever you think of O’Reilly, that is not an outlandish number by the outlandish standards of media star salaries.  Contrast that with Jay Leno’s reported numbers at the end of his Tonight Show run: a cool 27 million; or perhaps a more direct comparison would be to Katie Couric’s salary of approximately 15 million.

But if O’Reilly’s take-home and that of his fellow Fox headliners is in line with the prices networks are willing to pay for ratings success and advertiser interest, such sums still put an enormous amount of pressure on the total budget for a news operation.  Something has to give.

Just as one last illustration of the point.  When NBC recently cut about 5 percent of its news division staff — 300 people, it tried to whack those least likely to affect its capacity to gather news.  Dateline, a magazine program, got hammered — but the rest of the news division was to be left mostly alone.  Expensive talent was let go to preserve producer jobs — and those producers are the front line journalists in TV news.

At Fox, by contrast, its budget priorities emphasize on-air vs the nuts and bolts of actually gathering news.  This is where those staffing numbers begin to take shape.  Why, with  70% of the budget does Fox only deploy on the order of 1/3 the staff CNN does?

Answer number one is what is already obvious in the disparity in the programming expenditures of the two nets: Fox has a more expansive on-air operation than CNN does.  It relies on stars, and it has a very high standard (in cable terms) of production values on set — another expensive programming choice.

And the corollary of that is that the actual work of finding the news counts for less…with the confirmation coming directly from one of the few available direct measures of new gathering capacity, the number of bureaus a network supports.

Fox has been increasing its bureau coverage — as of 2008, it maintained 17 bureaus, up from 12 in 2007.

CNN, by contrast, staffs 46 bureaus, up ten from 2007.

Crucially, Fox maintains a risible international presence:  just six overseas offices with none in Latin America or Africa, just one in Asia — and that Hong Kong, and not Beijing or Tokyo,or Delhi, or Islamabad –only one in the Middle East (Jerusalem, and not Baghdad or Tehran), to accompany the usual suspects in Europe — London, Paris, Rome and Moscow.

Pitiful.

Even little, last place MSNBC does better, and CNN completely rolls up the pretender:  five bureaus in Latin America, seven in Europe, including Istanbul, which geographically straddles the line between that continent and Asia, six in the Middle East…and you get the picture.

So, to wind this up.  Is Fox News a news organization with sizzle?  Or is it sizzle in drag as a journalistic operation.

And the answer is that with some exceptions, (I’m looking at you, Shep Smith) Fox is not a news producing organization.  I wouldn’t call it talk radio either, pace the President.

Rather, Fox News is best understood as an entertainment service.  The way it spends its money is the way that entertainment divisions of networks parcel out the bucks.

They pay for high-profile, highly rated on-air talent.  They dress up that talent in the sets that look like a news operation — but then, so does Jon Stewart, so does Stephen Colbert, (hell, so did Lou Grant).  They do hire some folks to dig up stories, and they broadcast their work in the quietest moments of the day…but that’s a relatively low cost trick to apply the costuming of news to an operation designed mostly to engage the emotions of their audience, and not to inform them — which is, of course, the classic dividing line (honored often in the breach, to be sure) between entertainment and news.

But when it gets down to where they actually put the bulk of its resources, Fox News behaves strikingly different from  CNN and broadcast network news divisions.

They don’t put in the hours, the dollars or the people to do what they claim to do.  They decide (what to cover)…but they do not report, at least with nothing like the level of effortof their competitors.

So, to the proposition that Fox News is not a news organization: it has been shown that Fox News differs substantially from CNN in its journalistic efforts.

As CNN generally regarded is a news organization, then the fact that Fox does not compare with its rival demonstrates that it is not a conventional journalistic operation.

That which to be proved has been demonstrated…or more briefly …

Q.E.D.

Update: There is, of course, a reason that Fox has opted for the entertainment model over the news organization approach.  It works.

*Just in case you were wondering about what that distinction means in practice:  Obama and his aides say they take extra precautions when dealing with Fox, viewing them as an advocacy outlet for their political opponents.  Nixon’s men wanted to unleash the IRS (and CIA-trained burglers) on those that offended them.  What part of that difference is hard to understand.

**And yes, I do understand that applying the transitive property to objects like news operations, putative or otherwise, contains pitfalls not found in arithmetic.  Just havin’ some fun, y’all; don’t get too literal on me here.

***These numbers don’t match the above totals because they reflect the original budget plans for 2008, and the totals above reflect actual expenditures; I don’t have access to the updated breakdown, but the points that follow track the decision making of the networks, and these budget intentions contain the decision makers priorities.

Image: Norman Rockwell, “Fact & Fiction,” cover illustration for  Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, vol. 124, no. 3201, 11 January 1917

And another thing: Unexamined assumptions get my goat too.

June 24, 2009

Just following up on the last post.  I almost never watch TV news — and especially not the local options.

Leaving the TV on after the Obama town hall special reminded me why.  First Dr. Tim Johnson opines that compromise on health care is needed to achieve a bipartisan solution, without anyone asking him why bipartisanship is a necessary criterion for a health care system.  Shouldn’t efficacy, efficiency, quality of care and outcomes come first.  (Stupid question…)

Seriously: Tim Johnson is billed as ABC’s medical editor.  Why he feels it necessary to parrot the glibest of political bromides instead of weighing in on either side of the public/private debate is a mystery…or not.  It really is a symptom of the terror at the thought of analytical thinking in the creation of a news story.

More of the same followed (this all on WCVB, Boston’s Channel 5 and the local ABC affiliate) with a completely cotton candy interview with soon-to-be ex-Senator Judd Gregg (Checking Out-NH).  He was allowed to assert that the inevitable consequence of public competition with private insurance was single payer/government controlled health care.  He then said that would lead to delays, and a health care system like that of Canada.  No follow up questions, like — how does the Canadian system compare with our own on the usual measures of public health — infant mortality, say, or life expectancy…and so on.

These are, of course, crude measures, with all kinds of confounding factors that may affect these catch-all numbers.  But still, there is no prima facie case to be made that Canadian health care is worse for Canadians than US health care is for us down here…quite the reverse.  Would it be so hard, just once, to put this fact to someone making the reflexive “Canada bad!” argument?  Just one time only?

Then there was the piece by Channel 5’s ever smarmy political editor, in which he said, in effect, we shouldn’t care about Gov. Sanford’s difficulties with his trousers — nor Senator Ensigns — because Roosevelt, Kennedy and Clinton (not to mention Edwards) were all philanderers.

This misses, of course, the crucial distinction between Vitter, Sanford, Ensign and those Democrats who have been lousy husbands.  The recent GOP adulterers are all those who have taken a public, political stance that says, in effect, it is permissable for the state to intervene in the private lives of adult Americans.  Sanford voted to impeach Clinton on 3 of 4 articles.  All three have been DOMA supporters, anti-gay marriage folks, all the usual stuff.

These people have argued, in effect, that state regulation of marriage and private affection is legitimate as a defense of “traditional” marriage.  Well, a) that defense doesn’t seem to work so good and b) it seems a legitimate public distinction to make between the private behavior of those who seek to regulate others’ private behavior…and those who say that not only their own, but everyone’s consenting-adult sex life is each person’s own business.

False equivalence is easy.  It’s also stupid and debasing of public discourse.  TV is a f*cking desert.

This is, of course, as striking as any Dog Bites Man story.  But its my blog, I’m pissed, and its late.

Image:  Gustave Courbet, “Woman with Parrot” 1866.

Russert RIP; and yet…

June 13, 2008

I was opening my “write new post” window to say this, when I saw that John Cole got here first.

I wish to extend my condolences to Tim Russert’s family, friends and colleagues — especially his son Luke; I lost my father much too early, and I know something of how wretched that is.

But Cole caught my thought exactly: the reaction to Mr. Russert’s death illustrates the depth to which our broadcast journalism has sunk.

It’s been coming for a while. I remember, at the very start of my TV training meeting Fred Friendly, one of the great pioneers (one of the Murrow gang at CBS) and then Tom Bettag who has held just about every position worth having in the TV news business. They both talked in different ways about the tension between the way the camera creates and rewards stars and the need to do the kind of work rarely associated with stars.

What each man was trying to say to our tiny class of would – be tv producers and reporters is that the danger faced by all journalists comes when you take the part, and even the persona of your sources. The camera, the celebrity that a presence in the ether produces, turbocharges that danger — and back in the mid ’80s, the consequences were already apparent, with the habit, then just starting, for network anchors to pick up their massive baggage trains and go to host a broadcast at whatever location became significant. It cost a bomb, defeated the purpose of having a foreign correspondent out there doing the daily work, and was, if we had the wit to see it, a clear sign of the decline of American TV foreign coverage. (The newspapers held out longer, but a similar dynamic followed soon enough).

The price paid, or one of them, is that the news reader becomes the story. That’s death to clear thinking, to reporting, just to keeping hold of the screen real estate needed to convey a story more complicated than a gotcha.

Russert, I think, was better than many, maybe most. Certainly, he did a job that is much harder than the audience realizes and did it better than most — his colleagues’ memorialzing of his talent is right on.

But the bottom line for me, past my sympathy to those who knew him and feel the loss on a personal level, is that we need that talent without the face time than he received. It’s the stories that should lead, not the storytellers. (I know that this is an impossible goal. The whole structure of the medium is against it. But what that really says is that the medium is structurally unsuited for the job it claims to do).

All of which is to say that the wall-wall NBC and other network coverage of the death of a man who would always retained his claim on the blue-collar heritage he genuinely possessed is an instance of a deep and dangerous pathology Russert both resisted and embodied.

And with all that, 58 is way too young. Tim Russert, RIP.

Image:  licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License.  Source;  Wikimedia Commons

(Stolen Tag Line alert): The Way We Live Now

March 25, 2008

Read this. (h/t Grace).

Partly, this is just to wallow in the horror of the contemporary mediastream.

But this is, obliquely, another response to Sean Carroll’s advice to scientists confronting science journalists.  My sober reaction to that post can be found below, but the horror contained in Gene Weingarten’s ordeal gets at the much bigger problem facing public communication of science.

Who the hell is going to hear it amidst all that noise?

That’s certainly a problem for science on TV, something with which I’ve had some experience.  When I started at NOVA in 1986, there were, really, just four networks:  the commercial webs and PBS.  On PBS, at least two, and often more of the fifteen weekday primetime hours were devoted to science.  Not a lot — but actually visible in the schedule.  Throw in a couple more on average, what with specials and limited series, and you’d get something like 4 hours per 60 for all four national broadcast soures as a minimum.

Now, with my cheapest-possible-digital cable, I have about 60 channels at my disposal.  None of them, with one possible exception, are all-science channels.  Except for my local PBS outlet, very few run much science or tech at all.  The signal to noise ratio has gotten much worse in 20-odd years, and even PBS  has seen an erosion of its high profile science portfolio.

And so on.  The litany of lost print jobs for science writers is an old one.  The science blogosphere is a help, an entirely new source of science news and opinion — but I’ll offer the heresy that pull media has more impact on its users and less impact on the culture than ubiquitous push offerings.  (I.e. — those who trouble to read blog posts get a lot out of them; but a nationally broadcast series like Cosmos has the ability to change thinking in a much more culture-moving way because it reachs people who do not self select in the same way.)

All of which is a long way round to saying, somewhat glumly, that to some extent the good advice that Sean provides, and the various addenda with which his commenters enriched the stew seem to me on bad days like rearranged deck chairs on the Titanic.  On good days, it makes me think that we actually need to conceive of our stories somewhat differently.  For an example I’ll blog about as soon as I move my book revision forward some:  take this article from Friday’s NYT, about resistance to childhood vaccination, and ask yourself what’s missing from this not-bad report?

Image: Pieter Breugel the Elder, “Tower of Babel,” 1563.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Beware the Internet

January 2, 2008

This might be a little too self referential, but I Amazoned myself yesterday, and got a minor shock.

Scrolling down the list of my stuff, and other people’s work that cited mine (it ranged from a history of debates about organic agriculture to a study of James Joyce and another of the music of Emerson Lake and Palmer, which ain’t bad given what I actually write about), I found one publication that stood out — a sixty page memoir about a supernova explosion published by WGBH in January, 1987, somehow produced under the auspices of the New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources (sic!).   Sadly, for another publication is always welcome, I don’t actually remember writing this epic.

Now, as it happens, I did write an NSF grant that spring to raise some extra cash to allow a NOVA team to respond rapidly to the detection of Supernova 1987A, and I may have helped out with the teacher’s guide — I really don’t remember. But it was a very talented producer, Robin Bates, ably assisted by Kathy White, who actually made the film, which was broadcast that October under the title “Death of a Star.” While I was Science Editor for the NOVA series at the time, I basically just held their coats and cheered them on as they made a very nice program.

I certainly had no contact with the underground folks in New Mexico, and unless some evil twin came up with sixty pages on how all the gold in the ground (and much else besides) gets made in supernovae explosions, I have no idea where this comes from.

(Worse — I’ve turned up a couple of sites while putting this post together that show me as the producer of this film. I wasn’t. None of the credit goes to me).

The Moral of This Story:

Don’t believe everything you read on the innertubes.

Image: Hubble Space Telescope time series of images of Supernova 1987a; instrument: WFPC2 (those who care will know). Credit: NASA, ESA, P. Challis, and a former video victim of mine, the inimitable Robert Kirshner.