Tuesday, December 07, 2010

"Carriers" shows a world destroyed by an H5N1-like pandemic

I’m not that much on post-apocalypse movies (actually, the church-sponsored films are actually more interesting, like “Left Behind”, of which I’ve seen the first). I’d rather see the “Event” happen in the movie’s middle and see how people adjust, gradually (sort of like the 1982 film “The Day After”). The cable film “Smallpox 2002: Silent Weapon” did that particularly well (ABC’s “Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America”, not so well.)  I've seen just one "Resident Evil" and was not too impressed.

Unfortunately, “Carriers” (from Paramount Vantage and the Pastor brothers, David and Alex) puts a few people in an almost zero-population world (it wouldn’t please Phillip Longman); it’s as grim as “The Road”.

The premise of the pandemic is important. Maybe a “super flu” (as in Stephen King’s “The Stand”, a 1995 TV miniseries) could be fatal for almost everyone, and maybe the “carrier state” would be morally important: people without symptoms could infect others, maybe selectively (only the genetically susceptible). In fact, the “sacrifice” involved in “social distancing” to control a pandemic (it was talked about with H1N1 and really could be necessary for H5N1 if it erupts) would make good material for film. The “ethics” of handling carriers (or “typhoid mary’s”) is different for contagious infections compared to STD’s.

In this low-budget Spanish thriller filmed in New Mexico and Texas, four friends (a pun for another film of that name), including two brothers (played by Chris Pine [“Unstoppable”} and Lou Taylor Pucci, head in their car through a wasteland depopulated by the virus. It’s everyone for himself in this world (even for “Christians”); in the opening scene, to avoid giving away any gasoline, Chris’s character speeds the car around a block and breaks his oil pan. That’s not what I needed to see the same day that my own car gave a low tire pressure warning after I hit a pothole.

You see the G-men in bunny suits, and you see what the disease does to the skin, and you rightfully wonder who will be left to restart the world, “On the Beach”.

The website for the film is here.
Here’s an interview with Chris Pine on the movie.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bing/Discovery present short video debunking ideas about doomsday viruses

James Williams narrates a 2-1/2 minute Discovery Channel video in which he asks “Could a Single Virus Destroy Humankind?”, link (website url) here (no embed offered).

Bing says this is the stuff of sci-fi horror movies. Williams says that such a virus would have to be asymptomatic while it was transmissible, which is usual except for STD’s. But people may shed some viruses (even smallpox, and certainly flus) before they are noticeably sick.

During the 1980s, there was right wing speculation (“There’s always a first time” – the idea of “eventually” in mathematical analysis or topology) that HIV would mutate into something casually contagious (an idea the right wing could make political use of then); I even heard this at an AIDS convention in Houston in late 1984. But such a virus, in changing transmissibility, would probably adapt to the host and become much less lethal.

The Ebola virus is generally transmitted only in blood contact, but it was thought that the Ebola Reston virus in 1989 (among chimps) was airborne.

In my novel manuscript, I speculate that a virus, containing a radioactive isotope and generating buckeyball-like micro black holes, could cause people to consolidate “identities”. There was an idea vaguely like that in the 1999 horror film (Universal, John Bruno) “Virus” (where an alien life form on a boat views people as “viruses”).

Here’s a table on how things would work in my novel. Not sure it will mean a lot, but I want is somewhere online.

Kind of person



Memory trace






Orig angel








Toby, Matt, Frankie (corrupt)

New angel


Continuous, benign infection

Real memories; can share dreams of very few people, not
always permanently

No kids unless eternal marriage

Kids if eternal marriage; must get old soul to have kids


Immune w exposure


Old soul

F (C(new angel))

On permission

Image memories

Yes, must have



No im, sudden non-perm changes


Ordinary person





Grace or rebirth

No imn


Ordinary angel


Image, shared; other person in dreams

Yes. Must have



Immune, must recover


Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Skyline" presents an apocalypse "Cloverfield" style

Well, the movie “Skyline”, from Colin and Greg Strause, opens with the skyline of Los Angeles, with all the glitter even at 4:27 AM, when a single light appears, with a misty object coming down, and then others appear. Inside an apartment building, young swinger wake up and are very confused when they get burned if they look outside.

Then the movie switches into “Cloverfield” mode (Jan 18, 2008 on this blog) as it goes back 15 hours and sets the party up, with Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson). In fact, the movie would be even more effective if shot in dogme with hand-helds, and examined how real people deal with an unknown threat from out of the blue.

The actual extraterrestrial attack is rather overdone. It’s rather like Independence Day. Huge organic octupoid spaceships bud off with little feelers that can probe building, such out people and eat them up.

And I have to say that the sight of people drawn up into the spaceships like moths to a flame, as seen by Jarrod from rear-window-like telescopes. The desertion of the city within an hour or so, with little physical damage, is creepy. But soon the aerial octopuses come looking rather like the SS.

The ending is pretty interesting. Imagine waking up inside the slime of some huge organic vessel, with bodies thrown around you. But if you’re immune, they may give your brain a new body. This sounds like the “warning” originally intended for “Alien”.

Eric Balfour looks “thmooth” – his body waxed absolutely hairless for the movie, and it actually turns out that this is significant – some Freudian games.

Stephen Hawking says we ought to be careful about announcing our presence, because within a few decades aliens from a few dozen light years away could reach us with hostile intentions. It sounds like the equivalent of Chicken Little’s drawing attention to his existence through the Internet.

Seriously, would the power stay on this long?  Real aliens would probably knock us out with EMP first.

Movies about how we respond to sudden and unexpected existential perils are inherently interesting. “What would you do?” But the greatest perils are probably more gradual (even like “The Event”). Perhaps the only thing that interacts with Dark Energy is the karma of our own soul or consciousness, and just once in a while breaks in karma release perturbations.

The film comes from Rogue/Relativiy Media, but Universal stuck its own brand on it.

Rogue’s website is this.

For a comparison to Tri-Star's "District 9" see the Movies Blog Aug. 24, 2009.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fox's "Unstoppable" vs. History Channel's "Glow Train"

Unstoppable”, from Ridley Scott (2oth Century Fox) does recall some earlier out-of-control movies like “Cassandra Crossing” and “Runaway Train”, discussed on this blog March 3, 2010. (Somehow the title also reminds me of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable”).

The “didactic” value of the movie, of course, is to highlight the risk to the public of freight trains carrying hazmat materials through populated areas. The History Channel gave us a scenario like this with “Glow Train”, reviewed here June 24, 2008, where a train with radioactive waste derails near Las Vegas. In real life, Homeland Security has considered rerouting some trains away from the route through Washington DC and Union Station, taking it too near the Capitol. Here, the runaway freight train rambles down the mountains running from northern PA to southern (fictitious towns, as “Scranton” becomes “Stanton”, etc), with eight cars of phenol, highly flammable. A railway engineer makes a “human error” (very improbable), and a comedy of errors and cover-ups (which manager Connie (Rosario Dawson) desperately tries to make right behind her computer terminals and phones).

The film’s tag team (Frank and Will, played by Denzel Washington and Chris Pine) form a subplot, which Frank’s (“retirement home”) resenting the younger Will’s (“day care center”) taking his union job. Will has been thrown out of his home by a family court after a domestic custody dispute (itself a scary issue). They commandeer a lone locomotive and try to slow the train down from behind. The heroics mount up toward the end, where the film sometimes takes on the look of a great model railroad set.

The geography of central Pennsylvania, with its Horseshoe Bend curve down the Allegheny Front mountain, could make it prone to accidents.

In the early 1980s, I worked for a man who had previously worked in railroad information technology.

Coming from Fox, the action film with a background warning about railroad safety and hazardous cargo (particularly a potential terrorist target), provides good entertainment for and from conservatives.

Here is Fox’s link for the movie. 

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

"Attack of the Sun" from Cosmic Journeys; Fox news in 2009 reports NASA warnings about 1859-style coronal mass ejection in 2012; a months-long power blackout for the US?

Cosmic Journeys, “Attack of the Sun” (Thomas Lucas and Dave Brody), starts with an account of the Halloween 2003 solar storm (not the Halloween Blizzard of 1991!) which occurred in the middle of the sunspot cycle, when activity is supposedly the lowest. The Sun emitted coronal mess ejections, making the Sun a “plasma weapon”.

A solar eruption in 1859 set fires in telegraph offices and gave shocks when people touched metal.

The film shows how the Earth, because it rotates quickly (once every 24 hours) has a magnetic field that tends to shield it from the storms somewhat. Venus, because it keeps one face to the Sun, has no such field, and solar storms in the past shred away much of its water, leaving it to build up a greenhouse effect. Earth-like planets around other stars, particularly M stars, may keep the same side toward their sun (if they are close in), which may argue against having magnetic fields and argue against having intelligent life, even if the planets are old and stable enough for civilizations to have developed. Nevertheless, the speculation (as in a National Geographic film on other suns a few years ago) is interesting.

Coronal mass ejections are more dangerous now than before because we are building a “smart energy grid” with many solar components sensitive to the static electricity in the ejections, meaning possible huge power blackouts.

CME’s would also affect the climate, exaggerating El Nino and La Nina in the Ocean.

Michio Kaku talks to Bill Hemmer at Fox News about the 1859 solar storm in this YouTube clip from Fox News (link), 4 minutes, made in April 2009. Kaku warns that an 1859-style event, according to a NASA study, would knock out the US power grid for months. It’s like a “Katrina from Space”. NASA published such a study in 2009, and warned there are some concerns about a solar super storm in 2012 (the Mayan end of time), which could fry the Earth’s technology if the planet happened to hit the CME while revolving around the Sun.  The most dire warnings compare the effect of a direct massive coronal mass ejection hit to that of a terrorist (or even extraterrestrial alien) electromagnetic pulse attack from high altitude.  Can critical instrastructure transformers be reinforced? I'm vaguely familia with the talk of military faraday cages for protection, going back to a 2001 Popular Science article just before 9/11; these would seem to apply to CME's as much as EMP's.

I’ll look for the newer NASA report soon. Here’s an older one from 2000, link.

Monday, November 01, 2010

"The Asteroid that Flattened Mars": a warning for Terra Firma?

SpaceRip has a “Cosmic Journeys” video “The Asteroid that Flattened Mars”, by Thomas Lucas and Dave Brody. The 21-minute film, interrupted by two commercials, gives a history of our knowledge of Mars, starting with Lowell, going into the 1960s when we knew that Mars was a desert, and the 1976 Viking lander with attempts to find life, that had even attracted comment by Dan Fry and Understanding at a 1978 “Man in Space” convention in Arizona.

More recent probe have provided elevation maps of Mars, show in the film in “World Book” fashion with the lowest elevations in blues and greens and the highest in red. The southern hemisphere is much higher than the northern, a fact which the film says leads to the theory that Mars was smacked by a large asteroid early in its history. The asteroid impact seems to have destroyed most of Mars’s magnetic field, causing it to lose most of its atmosphere and become a dry and cold place. In a sense, this seems like a tragedy, possibly depriving us of a planetary neighbor that could have evolved a civilization comparable to our own. (Maybe that protects us from potential competitors or enemies, depending on how you look at things.)

The implication, of course, is that a large enough asteroid strike on Earth might cause not only a “nuclear winter” but also the loss of its magnetic field, or at least a major shift.

National Geographic has a story by Ker Than, May 11, 2009, that corroborates this theory, "'Supergiant' Asteroid Shut Down Mars's Magnetic Field", link here.

Picture: I doubt you can find such accommodations on Mars now.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Challenger Center: "Asteroid Impact Hazards"

CCSSE has a 10 minute YouTube video from the Challenger Center (with Rita Carl) (site ) by Dr. Alan Stern, “Asteroid Impact Hazards

I was motivated to look for this by a Bing video, less than one minute, of an asteroid hitting the Earth and with the impact surrounding Earth with a huge dust cloud. I can’t find that now.

Stern’s discussion is less ominous, but he says there is a big effort to track all asteroids in remotely near Earth orbits of 1 km in diameter or more. It would be possible to deflect one by changing reflectivity so that the pressure of sunlight changes the orbit slightly, or even the mass of a spacecraft could do so. It would not be a good idea to blow one apart. The video contained animated reconstructions of Tunguska in 1908, and of the dinosaur-killing impact on the Yucatan 65 million years ago leading to the rise of mammals (and us).

Various other sources says that a 1 km asteroid hitting the ocean could completely destroy the Earth’s ozone layer.

By the way, take a look at Sam Hughes "recipes" on Live Science, "Top 10 Ways to Destroy Earth", link. I like #8, make your own mini black hole  (as if neutronium were mentioned in every cookbook)-- except that the singularity point replacing Earth would eventually evaporate in Hawking radiation, leaving nothing.  I like #10, too: Existence fails, and the one about the contagious strangelet. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

AP, MSNBC post video of the innards of a Texas tornado

NBC Nightly News tonight broadcast an AP amateur video, 46 seconds, of the inside of a tornado from Navarro County, Texas. No cows fly through the air (as in “Twister”) but it’s pretty scary. The county is between Dallas-Ft. Worth and Waco, and includes Corsicana. I passed through the area many times in the 1980s. The closest a tornado came to a residence of mine was a small F0 or F1 in December 1987 (missed me by less than one mile on Lake June Road in Dallas).

Thursday, October 07, 2010

"Digital Age" YouTube interviews look at Cybersecurity and WMD's

James D. Zirin interviews Adam Segal (Senior Fellow, China Studies in Foreign Relations) in “Digital Age: How Ready Are We For a Cyber War?”, as posted by Goodaletv, Feb. 2010. Most of the discussion concerns China and the suspicions that it was behind numerous security breaches at American companies and government agencies, particularly in the summer of 2009. The question comes up as to whether Chinese hackers would sell out to Al Qaeda under the table to attack American infrastructure like the power grid, but that is easier said than done.

On the related items on the YouTube page, there is another video of about the same length in the Digital Age series. James C. Goodale, former Vice Chairman of the New York Times, interviews Michael Sheehan of Lexington Security Group and former Deputy Commissioner of Security for New York City, in a 26 minute clip: “Are We Winng the War on Terrorism?” Goodale reviews all the major government policy initiatives to prevent Al Qaeda from launching major attacks, particularly with WMD’s, and suggests that Al Qaeda is probably too decentralized to carry something like that out now. But it is very difficult to stop the lone actor attack attempts like those on Christmas Day (or last May).

On the same page there is a 10 minute “World at Risk Conference on WMD’s” (10 min) from Feb. 2009

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lawrence Wright's "My Trip to Al-Qaeda": part lecture, part play, part documentary

On Thursday, Sept. 30, HBO presented the documentary “My Trip to Al-Qaeda”, directed by Alex Gibney, written by professor Lawrence Wright.

Dr. Wright starts with his own time in 1969 at the American University in Cairo but quickly moves into an illustrated lecture or monologue (set up as a one-person play) giving a history of radical Islam, and his exploration of it.

He describes the hajj as a dress rehearsal for the process from life to death, with complete subjugation to God.

He describes Saudi Arabia as a place with no sense of democratic participation in public life as we know it; one always knows one’s “place” relative to royalty.

He describes 9/11 as having a “Hollywood” aspect.

The HBO mirror website is here. The film apparently was shown at Tribeca.

He describes what expectations must have been like for Osama bin Laden’s first wife; everyone was struck with this concept “I chose humility, but humiliation is forced on me”. It goes back to Sept. 11, 1683. He says “the humiliated have a license to regain their dignity”, and explains how humiliation, and the addictive hatred associated with it, “sells”. He goes on to explain the nihilism of Al Qaeda ideology.

He describes a visit from the FBI, wanting to know about calls made to London from his phone. His daughter gets linked to their lists, and finds out the FBI has been listening in.

Bin Laden said “all I have to do is make a statement, and the Americans will terrorize themselves.” Then “Al Qaeda can’t destroy America. Only we can do that to ourselves.” And the film ends.

As filmmaking goes, how effective is "the annotated lecture" without even an interviewer?  All Gore made it work in "An Inconvenient Truth".

Thursday, September 23, 2010

PBS Nova explores the Toba supervolcano eruption 75000 years ago

“Mystery of the Megavolcano”, part of the PBS Nova series, was aired on Sept. 21, 2010. The best link seems to be this.

A megavolcano is more commonly called a supervolcano. The huge dimples in the Earth, up to a 100 miles across, have only been discovered in the past few decades.

The film shows the efforts of four independent geologists around the world to trace a suspected massive eruption in the distant past. Examination of Greenland ice samples showed the emission of sulfuric acid about 75000 years ago, consistent with a supervolcano eruption about the time that homo sapiens was almost wiped out.

Examination of oxygen isotopes in the ocean shows enormous ocean cooling about this time. The first thought was the supervolcano could have been in Iceland.

But investigation led to Lake Toba, over 100 km long, in Indonesia. This may have been the largest supervolcano in the world and its explosion may have precipitated an ice age. Apparently this is a different volcano from Krakatoa, about which several films have been made, concerning its 1883 eruption; this was a borderline “supervolcano”.

The documentary covered briefly the US supervolcanoes, Yellowstone and Mono Lake. Since Yellowstone (which moves east gradually) erupts every 600000 years, we are about due. And a supervolcano eruption would be a civilization challenging “Event”, spreading ash over an entire continent, maybe leading to a prolonged “winter”.

Wikipedia attribution link for Labe Toba aerial view, p.d.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Episode of "The Closer" demonstrates domestic "lone wolf" and "Manifesto" problem

A new episode on TNT of “The Closer”, staring Kyra Sedgwick as the Georgia detective Leigh Johnson who now leads the LAPD’s Priority Murder Squad, demonstrated some of the problems that both federal (FBI and Homeland Security) and local law enforcement have with domestic “lone wolf” types. Tonight , in Season 6, Episode 10, “Executive Order”, the “villain” (Phillip Keene) bears a resentment over “reserve discrimination” and “affirmative action” from having not been chosen for the Fire Department. In fact, he “failed” personality tests that showed he had a “narcissistic personality”, because is responses to standard questions showed an unrealistic sense of his own importance apart from dealing with other people in real ways. For example, the character says that violence is sometimes necessary to show other people how wrong they are. While taking care of an old man, he steals a wheelchair and pretends to be a disabled policeman. He has engineered unusual poisons leading to deaths of EMT personnel, and in the final scene in a garage seems to have a sarin dispersal device on his body.

His personality is depicted as like that of "Ted" Kaczynski, and he even has a “Manifesto”. The idea of a “Manifesto” is getting a bad rap.

The link for the show is here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

CNN: "Bin Laden's New Jihadists" has provocative commentary, not on web yet

Saturday Sept. 11 CNN aired a one hour report “Bin Laden’s New Jihadists” with Drew Griffin, Fran Towsend and Nick Robertson, link here.  The site links to CNN’s SIU (Special Investigations Unit) page that as of now does not yet have any material on the program. The closest news story I can find, about Omar Hammami , is dated Aug 12 , here.

Much of the program focused on Anwar al-Awlaki, hiding out in Yemen, and who is now on the government’s kill-or-capture list, such as is discussed in this Christian Science Monitor article by Gordon Lubold, here

The most extreme voices in the world of radical Islam, as depicted in the program, demand that all people become literal believers (as they see it) and that religious law take over the entire west, including the United States.

The show went into discussing the lone wolf “bad actors” also.

The program noted that many of these persons were well off at one time but it did not get deeply into the psychology (or forensic psychiatry) of turning to extremism.

Here is a related CNN video from Aug 2 on Anwar al-Awlaki,

I suspect that the broadcast will be replayed several times in the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

CNN video: San Bruno residents had detected odor of gas weeks ago

CNN has a video documenting that residents of San Bruno CA had smelled gas in the area for as long as three weeks, before the gigantic explosion Sept. 9. If complaints had been ignored, this would become a huge legal issue.

There are many other videos documenting the destruction to over 50 homes in one of the largest residential gas explosions ever. Flames shot several hundred feet into the air, and many residents thought that a jumbo jet plane had crashed.

There was a much smaller incident in the Bay Area in 2008, and apparent Pacific Gas and Electric employees did not follow through properly on a suspected error in engineering. The media has reported the area as a "crime scene" although the "crime" is likely to be corporate negligence.

The idea of an incident like this is in a natural gas line is scary. In many older cities and some suburbs, water main breaks are common. One in suburban Montgomery County, MD in December 2008 swept away many cars. Deterioration of a gas main with time would be an even bigger public safety problem.

Moxnews has a longer version of this video from CNN (link) Moxnews describes itself as a news documentation and “keeping them honest” site.

I remember there was a major gas explosion in northern Virginia in 1972.

Personally, I like “all electric” and think that the ideal home would have solar or wind on the premises to use when possible. Such a home would have utilities even when all power is out. If all homes did this, the US would be much more secure from an enemy attack on the grid.

All of this speaks to the importance of infrastructure safety.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

History Channel: "9/11: State of Emergency" and "The Man Who Predicted 9/11"

The History Channel aired a two-hour documentary “9/11: State of Emergency”, which replayed the events of the first two hours of the 9/11 tragedy, with particular emphasis on the communications between the president (starting with Andrew Card’s notification at a school) and the rest of the defense staff. Flight 93 is relived, and the order to shoot it down issued by Cheney is recounted. A young flight attendant on American Flight 11 was the first to notify ATC of the hijacking of the fist plane.

The President did not realize it was an attack until the second plane hit. The CBS footage from “What We Saw” was used.

Some firemen and one civilian were trapped on the 4th floor of the North Tower when it collapsed but were rescued.

The film was preceded by a one hour documentary, “The Man Who Predicted 9/11”, about Rick Rescoria, head of security for Morgan Stanley. This goes back to the 1993 WTC incident. This does not seem to be the same film as one by the same named aired a few years ago on PBS Frontline.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

AP releases color street level video of London during Battle of Britain

On Tuesday Sept. 7, AOL put up a 1+ minute AP “rare colour” video of the results of the Luftwaffe attacks on London during the “Battle of Britain” in 1940. These may have been the September attacks. It’s quite impressive, and disturbing, to look at, and gives a feel for what it is like for a civilian population to deal with destruction caused by an outside enemy at war.

The link is here. I didn’t see any embed code.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture.  Sorry, it's in black and white.  Only a nitwit would make a movie called "color" in black and white!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Discovery: "9/11: After the Towers Fell"

On Sunday Sept. 5, 2010, the Discovery Channel aired “9/11: After the Towers Fell”, a new one hour documentary of the rescue work to save victims trapped in “The Pile”, the seven-story mountain of debris at ground zero. The best link for the show is here.

A high school principal faces the loss of her younger sister at Cantor –Fitzgerald (while leading the students to safety in other boroughs), and a firefighter doesn’t know if his brother survived. Firemen carry equipment that makes high pitched beeps from debris to help locate them. One man is rescued when found. People keep getting delayed voicemails from people in the towers for two days.

The documentary echoes Oliver Stone’s 2006 film for Paramount, “World Trade Center”, which I saw and found rather painful to watch.

The Discovery Channel followed this show with a one hour “Secrets of the Secret Service”. The show described the expensive armor that a Utah company can provide for limos of the president or of corporate executives, and a company in Colombia makes not only bulletproof suits but even polo shirts. I doubt anyone wears them in discos. Read Thomas Carlyle's "Sartor Resartus".

The documentary discussed how the Secret Service changed after the 1963 JFK assassination and also the 1981 attempt on Reagan. The Secret Service has always been pretty active on USA Jobs, and the show would have done well to go into the requirements for employment.

The film also covered the attempts on Gerald Ford. The Secret Service had interviewed Sara Moore before and thought she was not dangerous. A gay man, Oliver Sipple and former Marine, stopped the attempt (not covered in the film), sometimes mentioned in the "don't ask don't tell" debate.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

"Asteroid Attack" on "The Universe" on "History Channel"

The Universe episode “Asteroid Attack” aired on Sept 2, 2010 on the History Channel’s “The Universe” series, directed by Ron Beemer.  Again, "The Universe" is starting to replace "Mega-Disasters".

It starts with a discussion of the asteroid Apophis, which at one time (in 2004) was thought to have 1 in 37 chances to hit Earth in 2036. Now that’s reduced to 1/250000. But if it passes through a sliver of space in a 2029 approach called “The Keyhole” the odds go way up.

I wasn’t aware that the Chesapeake Bay, along the East Coast, was created by an asteroid 30 million years ago, striking above what is Norfolk today; the crater was found in the 1990s with underwater oil exploration. The tsunami wave may have crossed the Appalachians. Rocks from the explosion are located along the coast.

With most asteroids large enough to do huge damage, there would be years or decades of warning. Comets, on the other hand, because they come from the outer reaches of the Solar System, are not seen until perhaps six months before they could strike.

The largest impact crater in the world is in South Africa, about 180 miles across, with a rebound peak in the middle.

The Obama administration has made exploring asteroids a priority. Larger one have some tectonics and may have internal ices, and enough gravity to hold a spaceship. One unmanned probe has landed in Australia with a sample of an asteroid.

In 1972, amateur filmmaker caught an asteroid skimming the top of the atmosphere over the Tetons.

Wikipedia attribution link for Apophis orbital diagram

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Magnetic Storm" on The Universe, History Channel: Coronal Mass Ejection could wipe out most of electrical grid, permanently

On Thursday, August 12, the History Channel’s “The Universe” series produced a one hour report “Magnetic Storm” (link  ).

The basic premise is that a sufficiently large coronal mass ejection(CME) from the Sun, which would probably occur at maximum sunspot activity, might overwhelm the Earth’s magnetic field and wipe out all electronics in one hemisphere, first by generating currents in transmission lines and frying transformers.

The show simulated aurora lights as far south as Washington DC in 2013, followed in minutes by a coast-to-coast blackout.

Then practically all infrastructure systems, like running water, would fail and millions of people in the developed world would die. This is the ultimate “mega-disaster” although the same effect might happen from a high altitude nuclear blast launched by a rogue state (North Korea or Iran), terrorists, or even extraterrestrials.

The massive damage from a CME could be more likely after a sudden magnetic pole shift, which hasn’t happened in 700000 years (the subject of Alan W. Eckert’s 1975 novel “The HAB Theory”). That’s because the Earth would have a period with a weak magnetic field.

The show took a sidetrip into explaining how Mars lost its magnetic field. Venus also doesn’t have one.

Utilities could harden power grid components with Faraday-cage like devices and should start planning to do so now, because a massive CME is unpredictable.

A moderate CME knocked out power in much of Quebec for a day in 1989.

The 1859 Solar Superstorm is thought to have been strong enough to be capable of knocking out the entire grid if it were to happen today. See this source at Scientific American, link . This was called the "Carrington Event".


The film discusses a National Academy of Sciences study in 2009 on CMEs, which I could not find. But here is a rogue copy of a New Scientist report from “GodLike Productions” where the US winds up a “developing country,” link.

There was a minor CME in late July 2010.  There was a scare over one in October 2003, with minor disruptions to satellites, the same day that Smallville aired an episode about a "Solar Flare".

Decentralized power, with solar and windmills, would seem to reduce the risk, too.

Maybe the Amish are on to something. See my Movies blog, Dec. 28, 2008. The Amish could survive CME's but not an asteroid strike, which a techie civilization might prevent. Nobody could stop or survive a supernova gamma ray burst, which, however, is much less likely that a CME.

Wikipedia attribution link for a diagram.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

"Volcanoes" episode of "This Angry Earth" on Weather Channel covers Mt. St. Helens, and Mammoth Lakes risk

On July 25, right as a brutal thunderstorm exited the DC area, the Weather Channel aired an hour-long episode from its “This Angry Earth” series called “Volcanoes”.

Most of the episode focused on the May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State. The May 18 eruption occurred after a series earthquake caused a landslide and unplugged a volcanic cap, which exploded the way a pop bottle fizzles.

The show focused on local hermit Harry Truman, as well as a young geologist, and others who lost their lives when they were obliterated. Various sites around the mountain were covered with 300 feet of ash, and the mountain lost over 1300 feet of elevation, a kind of natural “mountaintop removal”.

The show went on to cover the apocalyptic hazard posed by other Cascade Range volcanoes, especially Mt. Rainier itself, which could become vulnerable to an explosive eruption after a landslide.

The show then covered the hazard of the Mammoth Lakes area (also Mono Lake) of the Sierras in California, along US 395, somewhat north of Bishop. An explosive eruption could obliterate everything for 75 miles, and cover the entire country with an ash cloud.  I've been in the area several times.The supervolcano caldera around Yellowstone has erupted once every 600000 years (moving East with each eruption) but that hazard was not discussed.

Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted explosively in 1991 and was discussed, as were other eruptions in the West Indies and Colombia.

YouTube video of eruption by Spikedeadman:

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA view of St. Helens.  I flew over it in a commercial flight from Seattle in August, 1980.

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Countdown to Zero" is a summary film about the nuclear weapons threat

Suppose some time in the near future I’m living in Toronto or Vancouver or maybe even LA making my movie, have any major television channel on in my condo, and suddenly get “breaking news” that a small nuclear device went off in New York City or Washington DC (or maybe both). The world would never be the same. Simulation of such a fictitious day would probably make an “interesting” event for a network like CNN. We were warned.

The film “Countdown to Zero”, directed by Lucy Walker, from Participant and Magnolia Pictures, starts its argument (after a brief prologue with Gary Oldman) exploring the ease with which highly enriched uranium (HEU) can be sequestered in lead containers so that normal shipping security doesn’t detect them. Sleeper cells could, with moderate know-how, construct a crude weapon. Less likely is the theft or illegal purchase of a suitcase device. But Al Qaeda is dead set on trying to do this, according to the film. Osama bin Laden’s sense of revenge is measured in body counts, almost like the morbid way we once looked at the Vietnam war.

About half way through the film, it shifts gear to examination of the spread of nuclear weapons to unstable countries like Pakistan and probably Iran and North Korea soon. The geopolitical ramifications are explored, as there would develop a number of Islamic states in the Middle East with nuclear weapons to oppose Israel.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991, but the US and Russia, while having negotiated some reduction of nuclear weapons, still maintain over 23000 nuclear warheads. The film covered the SAC and the weapons silos in the Great Plains, maintained by airmen who drill checklists all the time. In 1995, there was an “accident” off the coast of Norway that, according to the “launch on warning” policy, could have led Russia to attack the US; Yeltsin kept a cooler head.

The film shows photo maps of many world cities and the reach of nuclear blast zones over them. It covers the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis briefly, but cites John Kennedy’s “Sword of Damocles” speech.

The film does mention the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat, but in conjunction as the first step of an all out nuclear attack (starting with high altitude EMP blasts to disable defenses in a region). In fact, as noted here, it's conceivable that a terrorist group or a rogue state (Iran or North Korea) could fire an EMP device from offshore with a scud-type missle from a ship.

The film makes a strong philosophical point: "there is always a first time" ("eventually" in a mathematical sense, just not "frequently") for low probability events.

The film starts to make the point about the importance of policing up all the nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union (an aim of Sam Nunn and the Nuclear Threat Initiative) but then wanders away. I think one could make a documentary film about how those inspections should be conducted!

Magnolia’s website for the film is here.

Participant Media has a petition site called “Take Parthere. The movie poster has both yellow (for “yellowcake”) and red versions.

Here is the “Trailers” YouTube entry:

Sunday, July 04, 2010

"2012: Supernova" mixes apples and oranges on SyFy

On Saturday, July 3, the SyFy Channel tried to “warn” us, or perhaps just “entertain us”, with a film from “The Asylum” (not “The Factory”) and director Anthiny Fankhauser, “2012: Supernova”. Now the title of that movie concatenates the titles of two much better films (without the help of a java string operator, thank you), and the precept is pretty silly. The scientist is hiding a government secret: that a Supernova will soon destroy the earth with climate change and electromagnetic storms.

It’s not clear where the Supernova is, but the closest possible one would be over 1000 light years away. But a supernova that far away could fry the planet with a gamma ray burst, and there would be nothing we could do about it. This may have happened once, about four billion years ago.

The government plans some high altitude nuclear bursts to deflect the radiation, a silly idea; in fact, what such bursts would probably do is fry a lot of the Earth’s electronics with an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). The cure is as bad as the disease, it’s like whole body radiation. The film has lots of earthquakes and silly car chases, too.

The Washington Post had listed an older 2005 Hallmark film named “Supernova” here. It’s directed by John Harrison and features Peter Fonda and Luke Perry (playing astrophysicist Chris Richardson). What if the Sun were going to explode or at least suddenly expand and “they” just didn’t tell us. (There is no “they”, remember.) That doesn’t happen, but as in “Deep Impact”, the government has provided for some people to survive underground, and the world is beset with EMP pulses. There’s massive damage to Sydney and other cities (presumably the film is Australian).

There was actually a TV series “Supernova” where a British astronomer goes to live in the Australian outback.

There was also an MGM-UA film in 2000 named “Supernova” with James Spader (directed by Walter Hill), where a deep space probe finds an artifact from a black hole produced by a supernova. The artifact apparent contains strangelets or instrumentalities of other dimensions that some people say could “infect” the universe (or at least a planet) and turn it into mush, much the way prions can “infect” a brain by propagating changes to the surface geometry of all of the cells. Some people have expressed that fear about the use of the CERN Hadron Collider in Europe.

The nearest supernova candidate (type 1) is IK Pegasi, about 150 light years from earth, a multiple system with a white dwarf that could get too big

1572 Supernova explosion Tycho Brahe on Youtube

YouTube video "CERN LHC Black Holes and Strangelets - May Appear Years Later and Destroy World" by "Standard99999"

Wikipedia attribution link for core-collapse scenario for a type 1 Supernova explosion diagram

Friday, July 02, 2010

"Last Best Chance": 45 minute docudrama from Nuclear Threat Initiative demos problem of loose waste

Back in 2005, I received, upon request, a complimentary DVD of the 45-minute docudrama “Last Best Chance”, directed by Ben Goddard, from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, of which former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn is a party.

The film dramatizes terrorists trying to husband nuclear materials including HEU (which can be handled because it doesn’t emit a lot of radiation) to make rogue nuclear weapons. The DVD also includes a panel discussion led by Richard Lugar. Fajer-Al Kaisi, Dennis Arndt, Fred Dalton Thompspn and Jon Gries star, and Tom Brokaw appears as himself.

Recently, there have been a few television shows or episodes discussed here dealing with sudden nuclear threats, so I thought it would be good to give the link for the film here.

Graham Allison talks about the threat on ABC in this YouTube video two months ago, about a summit called by the president. He proposes not just “mutually assured destruction” but “mutually assured detection”. The entire notion of globalization and urban civilization as we know it could be destroyed by a single nuclear blast. (The same concern has developed more recently for EMP.)

Wikipedia attribution link for Vitrification picture here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

ABC Nightline: Underground "Noah's Ark" bunkers

On Friday, June 25, ABC Nightline (with Terry Moran and David Wright) presented a seven minute short film on or underground “Noah’s Ark” or doomsday bunkers being built privately in rural areas around the country, often by the same engineers who build them for governments. They are built to be experienced as  like cruise ship luxury spaces.

Pricing varies. Some charge $50000 per family or $25000 per additional child. Some sell space at about $1 per floor or level. Typically a bunker has 10-15 levels underground. I recall a science fiction novel named “Level 7” about this concept back in the 1960s.

The shelter shown in the Nightline report apparently was being built somewhere in the Mojave Desert in California (maybe near "Zzyxx Road" perhaps? ["It's Academic"]. Other attractive areas would include Nevada, Arizona, and the western Great Plains.

The report showed comical excerpts from the “Duck and Cover” clips of the 1950s when nuclear war was feared.

The report also showed a father and son preparing to purchase a unit, with a “boy scout be prepared” mentality. The report mentioned the movies “The Road”, “The Book of Eli”, and the “Mad Max” Australian movies of the late 1970s.

Doomsday could occur because of terrorism, natural cataclysm (the 2012 effect), destruction of the environment, or the breakdown of a fiat money economy.  Another interesting possibility could be EMP (electromagnetic pulse, as from a high altitude nuclear blast doing little damage at ground level); don't know if that would affect an underground facility, which could be protected by Faraday-like devices.

The company was also building shelters in China and Russia.

I visited the Greenbrier Resort shelter (now no longer in contingent use) in White Sulphur Springs W Va. in August 1997. There appears to be a smaller similar facility on Mount Weather in the Va Blue Ridge between Routes 7 and 50, which can be driven by but not visited.

My novel manuscript imagines an "Academy" in west Texas to re-educate people for "apocalypse" (set up as a right wing plot with religious and possibly extraterrestrial connections), and a related underground bunker in Arizona, on the Mogollon rim, which was envisioned as able to take in refugees when the final pandemic comes. However, I have several locations related the effort, and the difficulty in a novel is maintaining the same level of tension in plotting at each location. The different characters may be in different locations.

Wikipedia attribution link for Mt. Weather photo (actually taken by Homeland Security Department)

Below, personal picture (2005) along route 601 near Mt. Weather.

Monday, June 21, 2010

CBS 60 Minutes reviews raid on Pelindaba nuclear plant in South Africa; brazen attempt to steal HEU

On June 15 or so, CBS 60 Minutes updated a story about a break-in on a nuclear facility, the Pelindaba, in South Africa on Nov. 7, 2007, originally carried on CBS Nov. 28, 2008.

The video, set in dry countryside that looks a lot like inland southern California, documented how saboteurs defeated the electric fence and disabled the current to it.

The highly enriched uranium is itself not very radioactive and be carried away to other sites to manufacture crude nuclear weapons. The thieves did not succeed this time in stealing any HEU. But the attempt was brazen, somewhat an "Oceans 11" "smash and grab job" with nefarious planning.

CBS also has a link to a May 3 story by Dan Farber, “Nuclear attack a ticking time bomb, experts say”, with link here. The average young American has a statistically significant chance of being affected by a nuclear exchange during his lifetime, even dying from it. For example, the article says “In a 2005 survey of 85 national security experts, 60 percent of the respondents assessed the odds of a nuclear attack within 10 years at between 10 and 50 percent, with an average of 29.2 percent. Nearly 80 percent of respondents expected the attack to originate with a terrorist group.”

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Attribution link for Wikipedia Hiroshima picture

Friday, June 11, 2010

NatGeo offers brief video on EMP threat (from high altitude nuclear blast)

MSN Bing gave a link this evening to a NatGeo 4 minute video “Could Electromagnetic Pulse Make U.S. Dark?” The URL is here. There was no embed code.

Dr. Richard Muller explains how EMP works: a high altitude nuclear blast causes no blast effect on the ground but emits gamma rays that set up electric currents in the atmosphere that fry all the electronics on the ground.

But the US Air Force has planes designed to withstand EMP. But civilization would go back to the dark ages.

Conservatives have been concerned that rogue states could give Al Qaeda or a similar group the ability to launch an EMP rocket from the high seas of a US coast. (Theoretically an extraterrestrial alien civilization could use one to cripple us and there would be nothing we could do.) Smaller EMP devices non-nuclear in nature based on microwaves have been built by the military and have limited use even today in Iraq and Afghanistan to disable mines and weapons (the "Hurt Locker" effect). (Example from US Army Ordnance Museum in Aberdeen MD shown below.)

Since National Geographic offers this video, there is some evidence that concern about the EMP problem is moving away fromt he realms of the extreme "Right". 

But the EMP threat is one more reason to rein in on loose nuclear material, as discussed in the previous posting about “The Unit” show.

Wikipedia attribution link for US Army map diagram here.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

"The Unit" epsiode rerun examines speculative underground sale of nuclear materials from Russia to Iran

Some channels, including UPN in Washington, re-aired an important episode of David Mamet’s “The Unit” tonight, called simply “Security”.

The team gumshoes for evidence that Russia is selling nuclear materials to Iran. That would be controversial because one of the most important strategic steps in preventing a nuclear detonation from a rogue state or a non-state group (like Al Qaeda) or perhaps special cells put at work by countries like Iran or North Korea, would be to reign in on all the nuclear raw materials in the former Soviet Union. This is the aim of the group “Nuclear Threat Initiative.”

In the episode, one of the team members is not welcome because of his trips to Israel, suggesting his religion; there is a scene where a wife tells a husband that she expects to mean more to him than his “hobby”.

This particular series does bring up significant potential homeland security issues. I also discussed it on my TV reviews blog on Nov. 27, 2009.

“The CyMan” and Warezfaw.com have a four-minute film on YouTube “The Nuclear Threat is from Israel, not Iran”.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of nuclear waste canister http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nuclear_waste_container_2010_nevada.jpg