SS Badger persists ... well, for 19 days

Sometimes you wish a rumor could be true: One arrived this week, saying the SS Badger had been extended for a year. Alas, it's not true; for now, the extension is less than three weeks. Here's the story I sent to papers:



The lifetime of the SS Badger has been
extended by 19 days, thanks to wind towers. Beyond that, it remains
in question.

The massive ship – moving people and
vehicles across Lake Michigan – had planned to end its season Oct.
14, with the future in limbo: In 2008, the federal government set a
deadline (Dec.19, 2012) to stop dumping coal ash; the company has
been trying for a five-year extension, with no word yet.

Now the season has been extended a tad,
because the Badger has been busy hauling wind towers, many of them
coming from Iowa and from the Tower Tech company in Manitowoc, Wis.

A tower load can be 150-feet long and
weigh 75 tons, clogging highways. Terri Brown, the Badger
spokeswoman, said 300 towers have been hauled this year, with 60 more
to be done.

That caused the extension. It's
primarily for freight, but the Badger is trying to add passengers by
trimming prices for those last 19 days. Through Oct. 14, a round trip
is $128 for adults, $117 for seniors, $39 for ages 5 to 15 and $148
for vehicles; from Oct.15 to Nov. 2, that will be 40-percent less.
Details are at

After that, nothing is certain. Critics
say the ship dumps 500 tons of coal into the lake annually, more than
five time the total for all other ships combined. Supporters say
that's minor compared to the days when hundreds of coal-fired ships
crossed the lake.


Debates:What's it like to be in the middle?

Amid all it silliness, TV sometimes has a hand in shaping democracy. That will be especially clear when the debates begin Wednesday (Oct. 3). Here's the story I sent to papers:



On the debate nights, three people have
America's attention.

Two want to be (or remain) president or
vice-president. The third has other concerns.

“They're as difficult as anything
I've ever done,” Gwen Ifill said of moderating.

She's done it twice, for the 2004 and
2008 vice-presidential debates. Now it's her “PBS Newshour”
colleague, Jim Lehrer, doing the first of three presidential debates.

This will be his 12th
debate, many as sole moderator. Judy Woodruff, another “Newshour”
anchor, sees that as an endorsement of PBS fairness: “It's Jim
Lehrer who was chosen for over half-a-dozen debates to be the sole
moderator, certainly to represent the center.”

It's the sort of honor that comes with
big problems. “When you're on that stage, you're thinking about
timing,” Ifill said. “You're thinking about equivalency. (I'm)
looking at both (candidates), trying to make sure I get all my
questions in the right order and the right timing and listen to their
answers – which, by the way, is an underrated skill.”

The vice-presidential debates are
sometimes considered minor – except in 2008, when millions watched
to root for or against the Republican upstart.

“I never heard Sarah Palin say (to
Joe Biden), 'Can I call you Joe?',” Ifill said. “I didn't hear
it; I was sitting in the exact wrong place. I never saw a wink.”

That debate brought extra fame via a
“Saturday Night Live” sketch. “The coolest thing that happened
to me was every college campus I visit now thinks I'm Queen

For the presidential debates, the
moderators are rarely female – Candy Crowley will be the first in
20 years – or youthful. Crowley is 63, Bob Schieffer is 75, Lehrer
is 78.

These are people who have seen huge
changes in elections.“The human contact that once marked our
politics has all but disappeared,” Schieffer wrote in “This Just
In” (Berkley, 2003), “and with it the zest and spontaneity that
make it interesting and fun.”

Instead, candidates go for the masses
on TV, via conventions and ads and those three presidential debates,
the third of which has Schieffer as moderator.

– First presidential debate
(Wednesday) focuses on domestic issues; Jim Lehrer of PBS moderates.

– Third (Oct. 22) focuses on foreign
issues; BobSchieffer moderates.

– Those two have identical formats:
Six questions; for each, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney make a
two-minute statement and the moderator then has about 10 minutes for

– The middle debate (Oct. 16, with
Candy Crowley of CNN moderating) uses an open-ended, town hall
format. Questions come from the audience,made up of people who say
they're undecided .

– Vice-presidential debate is Oct.
11.It's similar to the first and third presidential debates, but with
less time per question, with nine questions, domestic and foreign.
Martha Raddatz of ABC moderagtes.

– Each is 9-10:30 p.m. ET, carried by
ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS and news channels. Most networks then have
follow-up, at least to 11 p.m.



Hollywood's silent minority: People with disabilities

Television can get silly at times -- as you'll notice via recent blogs on Golden Globes and Nina Turtles. Still, it can also be dead-serious. Please catch my recent blog on "Half the Sky," which runs Monday and Tuesday (Oct. 1-2) on PBS. Also, here's the story I sent to papers, about a cable series with movies about the disabled:



Fate stepped in early, choosing
Larwence Carter-Long's career.

The United Way in Indianapolis was
looking for a poster child, he recalled. “There I was, a
blond-haired 5-year-old who talked a lot.”

Now; 40 years later, he still talks a
lot, usually about social issues. On Tuesdays this month, he's
featured on Turner Classic Movies' “A History of Disability in

TCM has had series in previous years,
dealing with other minorities. This one, Carter-Long said, features
“the only minority anyone could join in an instant.”

He was born with cerebral palsy and
didn't walk until he was 5. (Today, his unsteady walking in virtually
the only indication of a disability.) Other people – real and
fictional – had to adjust quickly.

An example, he said, is in Hollywood's
classic disability film: “You couldn't do a series like this
without 'Best Years of Our Lives.'”

That's the 1946 movie about returning
soldiers. Classic Movie Companion (1999, Hyperion) calls it “a
landmark achievement,” adding that “the movie never glosses over
the reality of altered lives.'”

It won seven Academy Awards, including
best picture; Harold Russell, ;who lost both hands when an explosive
device detonated during military training, won for best supporting

Other films in the TCM line-up won
Oscars. There were five, including best picture, for “One Flew Over
the Cuckoo's Nest” (1975); there were two acting awards for “The
Miracle Worker” (1962), one each for”Johnny Belinda (1948),
“Butterflies Are Free” (1972) and “A Patch of Blue” (1965).

Still, other movies in the series lack
such prestige. “Freaks” (1932) is a micro-budget film, featuring
people from circus sideshows. “It was uncomfortable for
(moviegoers),” Carter-Long said. “It turns out that the bad-guys
are the beautiful blond con men.”

For years, Carter-Long ran a disability
film series that had the slogan “no handkerchief needed, no heroism
required.” He seems equally opposed to films that paint disability
as an all-consuming tragedy and ones that show the disabled person
being relentlessly heroic. The latter, he said, “is a lot to live
up to. It's exhausting to be inspirational all the time.”

Some films resist the heroism impulse.
Susan Peters – who became paraplegic after a hunting accident –
played a wheelchair-bound villain in “The Sign of the Ram” (1948)

Such casting was rare back then. In
modern times, Carter-Long likes seeing cable's “Switched at Birth”
blend deaf and hearing characters; he cheers the fact that Robert
David Hall, who has prosthetic legs, has been integral to “CSI”
for all 13seasons.

In past years, such casting was rare.
Peters had only one more role – playing a lawyer in a 15-minute
daytime series on NBC, before her death (attributed to anorexia) at
31. After winning his Oscars, Russell waited 36 years for his next
movie role.

The films, Tuesdays, Turner Classic
Movies; all times ET

– Oct. 2: “An Affair to
Remember”(1957), 8 p.m.; “A Patch of Blue” (1965), 10:15;
“Butterflies are Free” (1972), 12:15 a.m.; “Gaby – A True
Story” (1987), 2:15; “Sign of the Ram” (1948), 4:15.

– Oct. 9: “Lucky Star” (1929), 8
p.m.; “The Best Years of Our Lives”(1946), 9:45; “Reach For the
Sky” ( 1956), 12:45 a..; “Bright Victory” (1951), 3:15 a.m.

– Oct. 16: “Eyes in the Night”
(1942), 8 p.m.; “23 Paces to Baker Street” (1956), 9:30; “Johnny
Belinda” (1948), 11:30; “The Miracle Worker” (1962), 1:30 a.m.

– Oct.23: “A Child is Waiting”
(1963), 8 p.m.; “Mandy” (1953), 10 p.m.; “Of Mice and Men”
(1939), midnight; “Charly” (1968), 2 a.m.

– Oct. 30: “The Unknown” (1929),
8 p.m.; “Freaks” (1932), 9:15; “Bedlam” (1946), 10:30; “One
Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” (1975),. midnight.


This Hollywood princess now has her own show

It's good to be second-generation Hollywood, better to be third-generation ... and best to have actual talent, while being in a well-made show.

Dakota Johnson qualifies on all counts. On Tuesday, she shares a comedy hour with her mother and grandmother; here's the story I sent to papers: 


The rewards to royalty can vary.
England's princesses might become queen; Hollywood's become Miss
Golden Globes.

That happened to Dakota Johnson, six
years ago. “It was terrifying,” she said, “absolutely

It was also a sign of her fortunate
birth. Another comes Tuesday, with three generations on Fox:

– On “Raising Hope” (8 p.m.),
Melanie Griffith plays the self-obsessed mother of Sabrina. Tippi
Hedren plays Griffith's mother, which she is in real life.

– Then comes “Ben and Kate” at
8:30. It stars Johnson, Griffith's daughter and Hedren's

The tradition started with Hedren, a
Nordic beauty who starred in “The Birds” and “Marnie” for
Alfred Hitchcock.“The Hitchcock blondes are kind of revered in the
motion picture business,” she said.

Her life has included movies, TV, lions
(she runs the Shambala Preserve in California), four marriages and
three children, one of them famous. That's Griffith, who was 14 when
she began her affair with actor Don Johnson; they were married twice
and had one child, Dakota.

These are people with colorful lives.
Hedren, 82, describes screening an upcoming HBO film, which centers
on Hitchcock's thwarted obsession with her. “At the end of it,
nobody moved. Nobody said anything until my daughter, Melanie
Griffith, jumped up and said, 'Now I have to go back to therapy.'”

Surrounded by interesting people
(including stepdad Antonio Banderas), Johnson was drawn to acting. “I
didn't know any different,” she said. As a girl, “I thought about
being lots of different things, but the one thing that stuck with me
(was) telling stories and acting.”

First came the notion of a Hollywood
daughter being Miss Golden Globes. That's been a tradition since
1971, but only a few of the Misses went on to be famous – Anne
Archer (1971), Laura Dern ('82) and Joely Fisher ('87) – plus
Griffith in '75 and Johnson in 2006, the only mother-daughter set.

Johnson did that at 16, was a model
after high school, then landed small roles in big movies (“The
Social Network,” “21 Jump Street”) and the lead in “Ben and

Dana Fox created the show, based on her
relationship with her free-form brother. Fox says she chose Johnson
because “she wasn't afraid to look silly or stupid.”

As Johnson tells it, she is afraid of
having her flashy parents as guest stars. “It's not their show,”
she said, perhaps jokingly. “This is for me.”

Still, her mom and grandma will come
close to invading her turf. They'll share an hour on Fox.

– “Raising Hope” and “Ben and
Kate,” 8 and 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Fox

– Season-opener for “Hope,”
second episide for “Kate”


Yes, there is joy in "Half the Sky"

Waves of despair seem to fill "Half the Sky." This is a jolting documentary (Monday and Tuesday on PBS) about the mistreatent of women and girl.

The surprise, however, is how much hope and joy the film also delivers. It profiles heroes who beat the odds; here's the story I sent to papers:


Churning through “Half the Sky” are
deep stories of human tragedy.

“Sky” – the book and the PBS
documentary – finds females being abused worldwide.

“There are women who were trafficked
at the age of 13,” said Urmi Basu, who works with prostitutes and
their daughters in her native India. “As young girls, (they were)
raped multiple times … and then grow up to look after children of
their own, with absolutely no resources.”

Some of the abuses are dismissed as
local or religious traditions. Sheryl WuDunn, co-author of the book,
disagrees.”My grandmother's feet were bound …. It was a
centuries-old (Chinese) tradition,” she said. “To disrupt that
kind of tradition was really kind of amazing to think about.”

WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof (her
husband and fellow New York Times reporter) wrote “Sky.” For the
two-night documentary, he revisited six of the locations, in each
case bringing a Hollywood actress.

The people they met were not interested
in Hollywood, Meg Ryan said. “They just wanted hugs.”

They wanted to meet someone from
another world, said America Ferrera. “They really just wanted to
know what was my mom was like and and where did I grow up and what do
I do with my friends and if I had seen 'Titanic' and did I know that
song that Celine Dion sang and could they sing it for me.”

These girls won't have to repeat the
prostitution some of their mothers face, Kristof said, because of
efforts by Basu and others. “Side-by-side with the worst of
humanity, you encounter the very best.”

Here are some examples:

– INDIA: Basu grew up in Calcutta,
the daughter of a doctor and a health-care professional. “I had a
very privileged life,” she said.

She studied sociology, worked with
organizations, then decided to be more direct. “I got into that
red-light district quite by chance,” she said, “ and this project
started with $200.”

That's New Light, which provides girls
with education and housing. That impressed Ferrera: “I was
witnessing about100 children whose lives were forever changed by the
decision of one person.”

– SOMALILAND: Like Basu, Edna Adan
Ismail grew up comfortably. “She was the daughter of an amazing
doctor and grew up basically playing in the hospital,” actress
Diane Lane said.

When Somali civil war broke out in th
1980s, she fled and became a United Nations health official. Later,
her husband was president of Somaliland from 1993 to his death in
2002; she was foreign minister from 2003-6.

Along the way, Lane said, Ismail made a
key decision. “She sold her Mercedes and her jewelry and started
her life over.” In 2002, she opened a maternity hospital on a
former garbage dump, training nurses and midwives in advance. Now it
doubles as a hospital and nursing school.

– CAMBODIA: Unlike Basu and Ismail,
Somaly Mam grew up without money or education. “She was trafficked,
I think, starting when she was 12 or14,” Ryan said, “and spent 10
years as a prostitute.”

She says she doesn't know her real
name, her age (about 41) or her parents. An aid worker helped her
escape to Paris, where she became a nurse. Mam set up a foundation
and returned to her homeland.

“What she does is rescue girls in the
same situations (she was in),” Ryan said. “She has several
centers” for them to live in.

“She is this unbelievably glamorous
individual with a sort of cult of personality …. This woman can
walk down the street and inspire these girls (who) know, just by
looking at her, there's a way out.”

“Half the Sky”

– The book: Alfred Knopf, 2009

– The documentary: 9-11 p.m. Monday
and Tuesday, PBS (check local listings); see