Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fargo, Moorhead and Red River Valley fight flood crest today: many videos are available

Ryan R Rudd has a video “Fargo Flood 2009: Day 4 Montage” which he says was shot at a distance and kept silent because emergency workers asked them to keep a distance. There is a shot of a sign “more sandbaggers needed”. Practically every able bodied person Moorhead and Fargo has been volunteering. (“Sandbagging” is a derogatory word in chess tournaments, throwing games to weaker opponents – a curious word indeed.) If I were still living in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis St Paul) I wonder if I would still be hearing calls for volunteers to go the 200 miles to work on the dikes.

Here is an interesting one minute video, “Troops Fill HESCO Baskets in Fargo Flood Fight” by HESCO Bastion.

Fargo Flood Rising above Predecessors is a USA Today produced video (2 min) on YouTube that compares the flood today in Fargo ND with the 1997 Grand Forks flood.

The Red River flows North (it is above the “Laurentian divide” or “Triple Divide” see “National Atlas” here for discussion). This year, there was an early hard freeze in October and early snow, and then some early melting. The melting starts farther south, which makes the flooding from Fargo to Grand Forks and into Canada worse. Grand Forks (farther north) had a severe flood in 1997 (shown in this film) and fire, shortly before I moved to Minneapolis myself. I visited the Grand Forks area in September 1997, and Fargo a few times in the next six years. I spoke at Moorhead State University about my book in November 2000. Because of the 1997 incident, Grand Forks got more money to build bigger dikes, but Fargo was insufficiently protected.

CNN reported today that a particular neighborhood in Fargo ND has been walled off by dirt dikes and might be “sacrificed” to save the rest of the city. Even homeowners in the area, about 42 feet above the Red River, accept the necessity of this sacrifice.

One problem is that the entire Red River valley is very flat. The Red River separating North Dakota from Minnesota should not be confused with another Red River separating Texas from Oklahoma.

The latest news from CNN (noon Saturday March 28, 2009) is that the worst crest may stay below 42 feet, but this bears watching on the media constantly today through the weekend.

Tad Agoglia was interviewed in Fargo (by CNN); he mentioned is "First Response Team" website here.

Many people remember that “Fargo” was the title of a famous Coen Brothers black comedy film from Miramax, which takes place in Minnesota and North Dakota.

(Original picture: Downtown Minneapolis, MN, winter 2003, from the Churchill Apartments).

Friday, March 27, 2009

History Channel: Universe: Cosmic Phenomena: can solar flares, cosmic rays, ozone depletion shut us down?

The History Channel “Universe” series on Tuesday, March 24, 2009 aired “Cosmic Phenomena” and this episode did bring up a few major hazards. The website for the show is this.

The show covered the solar wind, solar flares, cosmic rays, and ultraviolet. The show started by showing aurora borealis and aurora australis, caused by collisions of particles in the Earth’s magnetosphere.

As for solar flares, no, the show did not replicate the “mega-disaster” ending of the movie “Knowing” (Summit Entertainment, directed by Alex Proyas, but there have been major problems. In October 2003 there were some minor disruptions to communications from them, but there were major power failures in 1989 because of solar events.

More interesting are the upper atmosphere luminescent phenomena, such as “sprites” (sort of like brief lightning flashes), and ELVES, which sound more dangerous becayse they related to naturally occurring electromagnetic pulses, which so far don’t seem to have harmed anything on earth, but in theory could.

Cosmic rays are responsible for biological mutations. They are actually particles (electrons, protons, alpha particles). The ozone layer protects above-water organisms from over bombardment, but the ozone layer, as we know, has undergone depletion near polar regions (that would make another show for this series). They could cause electronic failure on occasion, such as in car engine processors, or maybe even personal computers. A problem that occurs once and never recurs (such as a keyboard failure one time on my PC), might conceivably relate to this.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Mayan Doomsday Prophecy" on History Channel: Beware 12/21/2012!

A “Decoding the Past" episode called "Mayan Doomsday Prophecy” aired on Tuesday March 17, 2009 on the History Channel, with Maya researcher Bruce Scofield. The show link is here.

The early part of the show traces the history of a tall, charismatic Caucasian rule Kulkukan (or Quetzalcoatl), who left around 1000 AD, and for whom Mayan survivors (after their civilization had largely collapsed around 900 AD as predicted in their own katun) mistook the conquering Spaniards in the 16th century. The Spaniards were “offended” by Mayan customs like human sacrifice and destroyed much of the evidence of their past culture. Mayans had elongated the heads of some babies to emulate the features of Kulkukan.

The show explains the complex Mayan calendar, which is built in pieces that can be represented as cogs: the regular year (365 days), the ceremonial year (260 days, the length of human gestation), and the long count calendar, which divides into katuns that build epochs of about 5125 years. The Maya saw history in terms of complex cycles that repeat themselves. We are approaching the end of the fifth and last epoch, that ends on December 21, 2012. Then our sun will align with the exact center of the Milky Way, while the earth completes a precession cycle.

The Dresden Codex depicts a doomsday scenario where the earth is destroyed by a Biblical flood. Could there be the sudden beginning of an ice age? A sudden melting of most of the Greenland ice cap? What could happen?

It would seem that the only way the Maya could have known “these things” with otherwise primitive technology was – well, contact with extraterrestrials.

There is a blog “Corpus Mmothra” about the Katun prohecies, here.

A similar film (from the Netherlands) is "The Year Zero" (2001) directed by Wiek Lenssen, from Kleine Beer Films. I saw this at an international festival at the University of Minnesota.

The upcoming film “Knowing” with Nicholas Cage seems to be based on Mayan concepts.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Eleventh Hour" poses scenarios for big risks and little ones

Eleventh Hour” is a sci-fi series produced by Jerry Bruckheimer for CBS, with Rufus Sewell playing researcher Dr. Jacob Hood (about link here).

The episode on March 12 involved people behaving aggressively after exposure to a psychosis-inducing agent in a perfume. The idea that a consumer product, if contaminated, could lead to mass hysteria and violence if unleashed does sound like a possible scenario. Possibly that could happen with an infectious agent.

But what was interesting here was the practical issue that in bars and discos, businesses actually do have to be very careful about customer behavior, around dancers, for example. In an episode in this show, a security guard attacks a dancer. Later a bar bouncer says that over his career he became calloused.

The “Eleventh Hour” series seems to provoke some scary hypothetical “what if’s” that really deserve thought for emergency preparedess.

As for night club “safety”, I even recall in Minneapolis an occasion at the Gay 90s when a security guard said I was impaired after stumbling down the steps and asked me to leave (I wasn’t; I did have a slight limp from a hip fracture). Another time at another bar a bouncer wouldn’t admit me because of the limp. Still, another time, earlier, when I was still recovering and used a crutch, I got the royal treatment, including a ride to the upstairs lounge in a private elevator.

Although this next item is a bit tangential to what happens in the Eleventh Hour episode, I found 8 minutes of YouTube video of the tragic fire at The Station in West Warwick, RI in February 2003. The link is here.

The fire was caused by improper use of pyrotechnics by a performing band in a club not designed properly for their safe use.

I had just visited West Warwick myself New Years that year visiting filmmaker Gode Davis, who is making the documentary “American Lynching.”

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

"Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty": a sobering look at what it takes to have an effective press

Freedom of the press has long been singled out as a parallel fundamental right to First Amendment freedom of speech, and the established press has always been considered an essential safety valve for American and western democracy. Professional journalists must take risks and go to great lengths in primitive areas to get original stories. Indeed, the tendency for the public to expect reported content to be “free” (because of the “equality” and democratization of the Web, along with “free entry” publication), can sometimes undermine the investment necessary to get the hard stories.

Reporters are not soldiers but sometimes they need to be as fit and courageous as soldiers. The 54 minute film “Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty” (2005, from Starz / Overture / CameraPlanet / Trio, directed by Steven Rosenbaum) demonstrates who the intentional compromise of journalists can be a threat to us all. An important resource for the material in this film is the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Anderson Cooper hosts the film, where the stories of six journalists who lose their lives between 2002 and 204 are told. The first is perhaps the best known, Daniel Pearl, subject of the movie “A Mighty Heart”. Pearl (review on movies blog June 2007) tries to arrange a clandestine interview with an operative (phony name Bashir) in the coastal city Karachi and instead was setup and kidnapped and eventually murdered. His wife knew something was wrong when he didn’t pick up his cell phone. This part of the film shows on-location sites in Karachi well, including the Village Restaurant.

Two other journalists in the film, Edgar Dalmaderio and Tim Lopes, where targeted and assassinated for reporting corruption in the Philippines and Brazil respectively (the later, with kneecapping and torture by drug lords first was particularly gruesome). It’s this practice by terrorists, gangs, or any lawless elements of a society that present the greatest threat to freedom: the ability of others on a “street news” level to find out what is going on.

Rafaele Ciriello lost his life in Ramalla, on the West Bank, but he may have been shot by Israeli forces.

David Bloom died of a leg embolism after days on a “Generation Kill” style mission (following the HBO series inspired by a Rolling Stone reporter) where he had to sleep upside down, in the days after the US invaded Iraq in 2003. Taras Proystruk died in the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad from friendly fire.

Update: May 22, 2009

There was another incident involving a female journalist who criticized Israel, documented here on YouTube.