Think or Thwim

A Collection of Things Worth Considering

Category: Documentaries (page 2 of 5)

Dangerous Knowledge

From the BBC:

In this one-off documentary, David Malone looks at four brilliant mathematicians – Georg Cantor, Ludwig Boltzmann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing – whose genius has profoundly affected us, but which tragically drove them insane and eventually led to them all committing suicide.

It’s a little sensational, but how else are they going to get people to watch a documentary about mathematicians? I could have done without that, but it is still good.

45 minutes. Link to Part 1

44 minutes. Link to Part 2

:: Cosmology Curiosity

Walking With Lions

Phil and Lynne Richardson spent four years camping at a watering hole in northern Zimbabwe with the lions that live there. From National Geographic:

Walking With Lions is more than just another wildlife documentary… What’s unique about these films, particularly with lions, is that the filming is done out of the vehicles. It’s done by foot, and lions are very dangerous animals. The Richardsons decided to film the wildlife on foot because this particular spring was surrounded by a gorge and impossible to reach by vehicle. This spring was the only source of water for miles around, and one pride of lions had made this their home, an ambush site for wildlife that come to the spring to drink.

The result is an amazing documentary that follows the lives of a generation of lions and shows their their encounters with the water buffalo, elephants, and other animals that rely on the spring in intimate detail.

54 minutes. Link to Video

:: Ursi

Excavating a Huge Ant Nest

This is the best segment of a documentary called Ants! Nature’s Secret Power. From the movie:

The structure covers 538 square feet and travels 26 feet into the earth. In it’s construction, the colony moved 40 tons of soil. Billions of ant loads of soil were brought to the surface. Each load weighed four times as much as the worker ant, and in human terms, was carried over 1/2 mile to the surface. It is the equivalent of building the great wall of china. It is truly a wonder of the world…

So we filled it up with concrete. Sorry ants.

6 minutes. Link to Video

Guns, Germs, and Steel – A Short History of Everyone

A 2005 National Geographic documentary. I can’t improve on PBS’ summary:

Based on Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name, Guns, Germs and Steel traces humanity’s journey over the last 13,000 years – from the dawn of farming at the end of the last Ice Age to the realities of life in the twenty-first century.

Inspired by a question put to him on the island of Papua New Guinea more than thirty years ago, Diamond embarks on a world-wide quest to understand the roots of global inequality.

  • Why were Europeans the ones to conquer so much of our planet?
  • Why didn’t the Chinese, or the Inca, become masters of the globe instead?
  • Why did cities first evolve in the Middle East?
  • Why did farming never emerge in Australia?
  • And why are the tropics now the capital of global poverty?

54 minutes. Link to Part 1


54 minutes. Link to Part 2

55 minutes. Link to Part 3

Time and Immortality

Have you noticed that time seems to move faster as you get older? Well, that’s because it’s true. Our perception of time varies with age. Have people count out one minute and time them with a stop watch. Young people underestimate how long a minute is. Old people overestimate.

This video is part 2 of a four part BBC series on time. It starts out talking about our perception of time and morphs into a discussion about the possibility of immortality.

From the immortality segment: Aubrey de Grey thinks that after we have mastered the ability to stop the destructive processes of aging we will still only live about 1000 years. We’ll still be stepping in front of trains and falling in bathtubs, so accidental death statistics will become the determining factor for our expected lifespans.


59 minutes. Link to Video

:: Educated Earth

Who Killed the Electric Car?

92 minutes. Link to Video

In the early 1990s California passed a law requiring car makers to sell zero emission vehicles if they wanted to sell any gas powered cars there. They required 2% of sales to be ZEVs by 1998 and 10% by 2003. The car manufacturers complied. For instance, between 1997 and 1999 GM produced 1100 electric cars called the EV1. They leased them all and had a waiting list.

However, the manufacturers also fought back. They sued the State of California, and in 2003 California lifted the ZEV requirement. GM promptly canceled the EV1 program, rounded up all the EV1s, and crushed them.

Crushed EV1s

This 2006 documentary examines the forces that led to the demise of the EV1 and other electric vehicles after California backed down.

From Wikipedia:

The price for the EV1 used to compute lease payments was US$33,995 to US$43,995, which made for lease payments of US$299 to over US$574 per month. One industry official said that each EV1 cost the company about US$80,000, including research, development and other associated costs. The vehicle’s lease prices also depended on available state rebates. At the time of purchase, the cost for the electricity used to power the car was computed to be one-third to half the cost of the equivalent amount of gasoline, and since that time, increases in gas prices may have made electricity relatively even less expensive.

An EV1 is still on display at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Interestingly, this vehicle is the one previously leased by film director Chris Paine, director of the aforementioned Who Killed the Electric Car?.

Big oil and car makers may have colluded to kill the electric car, but I think fender skirts over the rear tires killed the EV1. They are cool on a 67 Cadillac, but nothing says “I’m a dork, please don’t breed with me” like fender skirts on a compact car.

GM EV1 Fender Skirts

Sex, Drugs, and Democracy – The Netherlands

A 1994 documentary about The Netherlands, common sense capital of the world.

  • Universal low cost health care.
  • Free education for all.
  • Mostly legal cannibus.
  • Legal prostitution.
  • Bikes everywhere.
  • Equal treatment for gays.
  • Tolerance of abortion.
  • No death penalty.
  • Guns are illegal.
  • Lowest prison population in the western world.

Peaceful coexistence and tolerance. It’s like the ideals of the 60s really stuck there.

The current income taxes range from 34.4% to 52% (including social security tax). There’s another 6% tax on food and essentials, and 19% on luxury items. Corporations pay 20-25% taxes.

In the US the income tax ranges from 17% to 42% (including social security). Sales tax is generally around 8%. Corporations pay 15-35%. The difference looks a little bigger when you look at taxes collected compared to GDP.

By the way, Holland is a region within The Netherlands. The people that live in The Netherlands should be called the Netherlanders, but they’re not. They’re called the Dutch. It’s confusing as hell to Americans, but they don’t seem to mind their whole country being called Holland once in a while. They’re pretty laid back about things like that.

87 minutes. Link to Video

This site has a lot of Dutch readers (ranked 4th this month after US, UK, and Australia). I’d like to know what you Netherlanders think about this documentary. Is it accurate? Is there a downside to living in the most liberal country?

Outfoxed – Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism

2004 film about Fox News by Robert Greenwald. From Wikipedia:

Greenwald’s films have garnered 25 Emmy nominations, four cable ACE Award nominations, two Golden Globe nominations, the Peabody Award, the Robert Wood Johnson Award, and eight Awards of Excellence from the Film Advisory Board.

Greenwald also has a blog at the Huffington Post.

1 hour 17 minutes. Link to Video

:: Smashing Telly

The Corporation

This movie was released in 2003. I pointed to it when the producer released it for free through bittorrent in 2006, and now it’s available without downloading it.

When the corporation was invented in 1712 it was simply intended to be a group of people working together on a common goal for a short period of time. The lifespan of corporations was limited by law. After the Civil War the 14th amendment was passed to grant equal rights to former slaves. Corporate lawyers co opted the law and claimed that corporations deserved equal rights. In the first 20 years of the amendment’s existence, it resulted in 307 lawsuits being tried before the Supreme Court. 288 were brought by corporations. 19 were brought by black people.

Part 1. 85 minutes. Link to Video

Part 2. 60 minutes. Link to Video

It is also at Google Video.

Now corporations have essentially the same rights and protections that people have, but they don’t have the same responsibilities. Since they are not physical beings, they aren’t concerned about trashing the environment. They don’t get sick, and they don’t have to die. The lives of individual people are of no consequence. In the movie an FBI psychological consultant demonstrates that corporations meet the DSM-IV diagnosis for a psychopath. We’ve created a race of virtual monsters motivated by profits. Even the people running them are helpless when it comes to making moral decisions. If a CEO chooses what’s right over what’s profitable too often, he will be replaced by someone that will better protect the corporation’s/shareholders interests.

Economist Magazine reviewed the film when it came out. They point out that the psychopath idea is not new:

Although the movie makers claim ownership of the company-as-psychopath idea, it predates them by a century, and rightfully belongs, in its full form, to Max Weber, the German sociologist. For Weber, the key form of social organization defining the modern age was bureaucracy. Bureaucracies have flourished because their efficient and rational division and application of labor is powerful. But a cost attends this power. As cogs in a larger, purposeful machine, people become alienated from the traditional morals that guide human relationships as they pursue the goal of the collective organization.

Weber was talking specifically about the shortcomings of socialist governments, but I think you can say the same thing about our capitalist government in the US. Just like corporate CEOs, politicians who don’t play their role as a cog in the industrial-political complex have a short career.

:: Smashing Telly

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