Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Karatoa's Revenge: Mega-Disaster, History Channel

Tonight Dec. 18 2007 the History Channel film in the Mega-Disasters series is "Kratatoa's Revenge". It describes and simulates the series of eruptions at Karatoa, where Java and Sumatra meet in Indonesia, in 1883. The eruption was the loudest in decibels in modern history, and 36000 people died. There was a super-eruption in 535 AD and possibly 416 AD. The 535 eruption caused massive climate change and a brief in temperature and crop failures for several years.

The mountain was destroyed, but an island over the caldera location called Anak Karkatau ("Child of Krakatoa") exists and the program offers speculation as to what would happen if there were a super eruption there now. The sky could turn black for months even over the U.S. and Europe, with widespread famine. The risks seems comparable to what could happen if the Yellowstone caldera in the United States were to erupt. The fact that Krakatoa is close to the equator makes the dust cloud issue worse.

There was a film in the 1960s, "Kratatoa: East of Java," directed by Bernard Kowalski (Cinerama Releasing Corporation).

The January 2008 issue of National Geographic has the cover story "Indonesia's Ring of Fire: Volcano Gods," story by Andrew Marshall with photographs by John Stanmeyer. "Geography has dealt Indonesia a wild card: Nowhere else do so many live so close to so many active volcanoes." There is a related story about a catastrophic mud flow in East Java in May 2006.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I Am Legend: 28 Days Later Becomes 3 Years Later

Well, we think of vaccine development as something good. Necessary. In fact, we are critical of our government for allowing liability concerns to slow down the development and mass manufacture of a avian influenza virus vaccine. We know that rapid deployment of a vaccine presents risks, as in 1976 when some people inoculated with swine flu vaccine, developed rapidly under Gerald Ford’s leadership, got Guillain Barre Syndrome. Even now, we allow some people to take a live virus flu vaccine through nose drops – not neo-synephrine.

Well, imagine if a deliberate virus infection could cure all kinds of cancer, by turning off the immortality genes. That’s a supposition of the movie "I Am Legend", starting this weekend. Directed by Francis Lawrence, based on a novel by Richard Matheson, from Warner Brothers and Australian film producer Village Roadshow, it gives us Manhattan three years after a live measles virus cancer vaccine went wild, with weeds growing in the streets, bridges down, and Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith) apparently the only survivor. He even has a medical lab in his fortress Washington Square apartment. He also has, not just Medeco, but double level lock levers and metal boards for his windows, since the one percent of the world that has survived the man-made virus has turned into raging hairless zombies, reminding us of “Night of the Living Dead” (where the infection is comes from some sort of dust from a space probe) or “Dawn of the Dead.” At least in Michael Crichton’s “The Andromeda Strain” the infected don’t become belligerent (although the doctors have to undergo sterilization and depilation with the photoflash). In this movie, there is no narrator V. Martin tracing the steps of the breakdown of civilization as in a History Channel mega-disaster.

For that matter, Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” (Fox Searchlight, 2003) presented a similar experimental misfire in London, with Cilian Murphy the hero. Same rage virus.That movie would be followed with an unfortunate sequel “28 Weeks Later” where they are still trying to keep the infected from coming back.. This concept of warning the public happens in some other horror films, like “Cabin Fever” (Lions Gate, 2003, Eli Roth), and even “30 Days of Night” (Columbia, 2007, dir. David Slade). A variation of this idea would, of course, be a virus that prevents women from getting pregnant, “Children of Men” (Universal, 2006, dir. Alfonso Cuaron) and even Clive Barker’s “The Plague” (Screen Gems, 2006, dir. Hal Mosenberg).

Films like this, even as silly and bloated as they are, at least do the service of keeping the public ask questions about vaccine development.

The ultimate yarn about a man-made virus may be Stephen King's "The Stand" (1978, full version in 1990), made into a TV series movie in the mid 1990s and sometimes shown today on the Sci-Fi channel.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Mega Freeze (History Channel Mega Disasters)

Mega-Disasters: Mega Freeze: Climate Change. I see that in 2006 the History Channel broadcast the film "Climate Change" and this one (broadcast at noon EST Dec 5) seemed to be substantially the same one hour film. I don't know if it was updated. There was the technical discussion of the Dryus climate change that backslid from the Ice Age and lasted about a millennium, forcing nomadic Stone Age crowds south. It discussed the Little Ice Age (possibly caused by sunspots) that stared around 1300 with jumpy climate changes, and didn't lift until about 1800, and may have contributed to the Black Plague and the political foment that led to the American and French Revolutions.

It discussed the thermohaline feedback circulation that accounts for the Gulf Stream that warms Europe and to some extend coastal New England. It could fail suddenly if glacial melting from global warming dumped enough fresh water descending into the ocean, resulting in turning Europe and northern US into having a climate like Siberia, even as far down as New York City. The west coast would be bashed by storms bringing devastating floods and mudslides even into downtown LA. But the Midwest would become a desert. A sudden climate change could reduce the "carrying capacity" of Planet Earth from about 8 billion people (the population is now about 6 billion) all the way down to 2 billion, causing wars over tribal survival. That certainly complicates new moral arguments about population replacement and falling birthrates in western countries (and China's one child policy).

Popular lore talks about a winter "superstorm" that descends from the poles and freezes most of North America, as in the movie "The Day After Tomorrow" (as well as another TV film called simply "Ice"). Just this past weekend (Dec 1, 2007) the Oregon and Washington coasts were bashed by Category 2 hurricane force winds from a Pacific storm in an area where the water is too cold for hurricanes to form as in the tropics. Felicity Barringer, of the New York Times, has a headline story on AOL today "Study Finds Rise in Stormy Weather" here.