Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"End of the World" rather overstates the solar flare risk, which actually needs to be taken very seriously

I cover films that present the possible danger to western civilization from gigantic solar storms (and resulting coronal mass ejections), so I rented the silly SyFy channel film “End of the World”, directed by Steven R. Monroe, set in British Columbia (of course).
The film rather overdoes things, to say the least.  The solar storm results in ball lightning dropping like “rain” on the ground, frying anyone or anything it hits.   This would not happen.
Cars sporadically fail, and that probably would happen only with an electromagnetic pulse bomb, which (to affect a large area) would be a high altitude nuclear blast. 
The plot gimmick is that the heroes (played by Greg Grunberg and Neil Grayston) use their knowledge of apocalyptic films (also on the SyFy Channel) to figure out how to save the world.  
They work at “Movie Shack, Home of the Disaster”.  Dr. Walter Brown (Brad Dourif) insists on being put through to the Pentagon, because he knows how to fix it, like he was special!  The fix is to launch a nuclear warhead to land inside an open pit mine in Siberia.  I’m not sure what sense this makes, other than to break up the current cold wave, that originates from Siberia.
What really ought to be done, is to make a docudrama of what would happen if a Carrington-sized solar storm and CME hit the Earth today, with its advanced technological infrastructure, and vulnerable power grid.  We apparently had a narrow miss in July 2012, which we didn’t learn about until the Spring of 2014. 
The Anchor Bay press release for the film is here
I watched the film from a Netflix DVD. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Blacklist" episode "The Kenyon Family" shows domestic terror by brainwashing and mind control

The Blacklist”, with James Spader (who talks like Nolan Ross in “Revenge”) presented, in “The Kenyon Family”, a somewhat believable “extreme right” cultist terror threat is proposed.  In eastern Tennessee, the Kenyons maintain a large estate that resembles David Koresh at Waco, except that they allow other criminals to store WMD’s (especially Syntex) on their property.  They also have a polygamy system (lke Colorado City, AZ), but resulting in exiling of many boys, who have formed their own terror group.  In the meantime, the cult also practices brainwashing or mind control that sends people to various locations in cars to act as suicide bombers, with massive explosions capable of obliterating whole city blocks.  The brainwashing somewhat resembles the idea of “Manchurian Candidate” programming, as well as the “brain triggering” with free sim cards in the recent movie “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (Movies Feb. 15).  The episode, like "Kingsman", also had a scene of a mass "suicide" at a church service. 
The Kenyon group also has an “end of days” theology claiming that the family will inherit the world and that Kenyon will rise to become an angel.  A real angel, if you met him, would be something else (more like a Clark Kent). 
The group is also shown as wanting to have a sovereign country within the southern Appalachians, threatening other property nearby, in a manner comparable to ISIL, as if this sort of "cult plus conquest" movement is possible with any religion or belief, not just Islam.  CNN has been discussing the "sovereign citizen" problem as involving up to 300000 people in the US, and they also litigate with "paper terrorism." 
The episode seems relevant given recent talk that ISIS us a “doomsday cult” within Islam, trying to set up a caliphate for Armageddon.  It also could be compared to Jim Jones and The People’s Temple, which was a far Leftist cult that committed mass suicide in 1978. 
I guess the other obvious mental association for me might be Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. But their activity is just demonstrations and (anti-gay hate) speech. 
Picture: Mid Tennessee, my trip, May 2014.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"State of Affairs" episode "Deadcheck" (season finale) presents disturbing paradigm for suicide attacks

There was a concept in the season finale to NBC’s “State of Affairs”, called “Deadcheck”, that deserves honorable mention on this weblog.  (Maybe “Deadwire” or “Millstone” could have been an episode title, -- perhaps even "Bedcheck".)
The central character, CIA operative “Charlie” (Katherine Heigl) quits the CIA to go after a terrorist in the Middle East, Omar Fatah (Farshad Farahat), and at the end, she executes him, letting him suffer a moment.  The “seventh floor” (rather like the phantom floor for John Malkovich) helps her, but the whole concept is rather like replacing an entire Navy Seal team (that took out Osama bin Laden) with one woman (like in Ridley Scott’s 1997 film “G.I. Jane” with Demi Moore, from Hollywood (Disney) Pictures.
But it is the terror concept that is rather scary.  The terrorists have picked out cities in the United States to endure suicide bombers according to how their geographic positions map to the stars in the constellation Pegasus.  Cities that wind up on the list include Minneapolis, Houston and San Antonio. Charlie figures it out by looking at a clear sky in the mountains (in Afghanistan).
All pretty contrived stuff.  Constellations don’t really mean anything now.  (Space weather –  solar storms – sounds like a much more real threat to me.) But it sounds like an idea somebody might even try.   
Don;t confuse this show with "State of Play", a 2003 TV series or 2009 film (April 17, 2009 on Movies blog.) 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"Fight for Freedom" Town Hall aired by (Washington DC) WJLA "News Channel 8" as part of its "Your Voice, Your Future" series; I am in the audience

ABC affiliate WJLA aired the “Town Hall: Fight for Freedom: Your Voice, Your Future” from its headquarters in the Rosslyn “downtown” area of Arlington VA, almost on the Potomac River.
This broadcast is the latest in a series of Roundtables (half hour, no audience) and Townhalls (one hour, with studio audience)  aired at 7 PM EST on some weeknights on News Channel 8 in Washington.  I was in the audience, on the second row, and this time the event was in the Second Floor Studio of the building, rather than in the Arisphere (which is larger and which is easier to move around in). 

There was a technical issue in that we could not hear some of the outside feeds during the show.
The panelists were Frank Gaffney from the Center for Security Policy (link), Clifford May from Foundation for Defense of Democracies (link)  Jane Hall, journalism professor at American University (link), and Faheem Younus (“Muslimerican”, link) as well as, remote, Representative Scott Perry (R-PA), direct line from Harrisburg.  Jeff Barnum moderated.

Scott Thuman reported on several stories, including a decision by Japan not to allow its journalists to travel to Syria and Iraq, after the recent execution of another Japanese journalist by ISIS.  He also reported on a blizzard of “copythreat” threats against commercial airline flights on Twitter, which can be traced and can result in 5 years in prison.  Another clip concerns the use of flashy social media to recruit young men and women from western countries, a campaign that works mostly in Europe but that has resulted in the arrests of a few young people from the US. 

One of the audience, a Muslim woman, challenged Gaffney for his alleges support of Islamaphobia.  Later questions concerned whether the US should put “boots on the ground” in Syria.  But the most important question may have been those concerned about how journalists can continue honest reporting, when ISIS attacks them and executes them.  The honest answer was, maybe, we can’t.  Totalitarian societies go to great lengths to prevent information about what is going on to get out.
But the most sobering moment came when Gaffney mentioned Salman Rushdie, the target of a fatwa from Iran in the early 1980s for the book “Satanic Verses”.  True, the threat came from Shiite rather than Sunni Islam.  But it shows that the concern isn’t limited to just drawings and cartoons.  Gaffney said that European nations should have withdrawn diplomats from Iran immediately.  Instead, they told Rushdie, a British subject and definitely not a resident or subject of Iran or any other Muslim country, to hire bodyguards and that “he had a problem.”  That is when free speech in the west became jeopardized.

As for the cartoons, Younus said that not publishing images of Muhammad should be a matter of conscience, not law, but he compared the practice to using the “n” or “f” words in the US (to refer to “blacks” or “gays”). 
Later Younus got into a debate with the other panelists on whether there is something in Islam that condones violence against non-Muslim civilians as justified by religious scripture.  There was some discussion of the scope of Sharia law, particularly when it deals with secular interactions with non-Muslims.  Some of it got heated. There was a suggestion, from Gaffney at least, that the point of the ISIS behavior extends beyond scripture to simply a need to control others ("apostates") as part of the ideology, a religious analogue to Hitler or Stalin (or Kim Jong-Un).   
The audience included several Muslims, and several journalism students from American University.  I was in the queue to ask a question but time ran out.  So I asked the question of the panelists in person after the broadcast.  I was going to ask them to comment on the (Cato Institute) book “The Tyranny of Silence” by Flemming Rose from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, at the time of the Cartoon Controversy in 2005.  The book was written before the assassination of Charlie Hebdo and other journalists in Paris in January 2015.  I would have mentioned Moly Norris.  Gaffney immediately reacted to my mentioning her name, and regretted likewise not having time (in just one hour) to get to the implications of how her situation was handled by the FBI (similar to Rushdie, who did not go into hiding or change names).   I don’t think we have a word in our vocabulary for this problem, it’s a kind of “socialization-induced chilling effects” familiar in ganga and organized crime.  Alfred Hitchcock has explored this problem (as close as ever in cinema) with his two versions of “The Man Who Knew Too Much”. 
This forum could have used a full 90 minutes.  
Update (later 2/10):  NBC News just released a news story about hacking social media of a military spouse, here.  This is along the lines of the Town Hall, but in a critical area we didn't have enough time to cover. 

Thursday, February 05, 2015

"8:46" traces several NYC families in the hours leading up to 9/11

Jennifer Azano (also known as Jennifer Garango) has a 2011 55-minute film on Netflix, “8:46”, which depicts, in Robert Altman style, the lives of a variety of New York City families and individuals starting on Sept. 10 and leading to the crash on the North Tower at 8:46.  It first happens 16 minutes before the end of the film, from the view of a Manhattan highrise penthouse, where a young man has read his wife’s positive pregnancy test.

In one of the families, a father has gotten has gay son an internship in the World Trade Center and is pestering him about showing up on time dressed properly.  There is a lot of tension at the family dinner.

In another sequence, a boss counsels an employee on the 102nd floor about her being “distracted” on the job and tries to help her with personal issues.

There is also a sequence in a NYC firehouse, where a firefighter says he will become a father.

The film takes the morning through the first 90 minutes after 8:46, past the crash in Pennsylvania in the media.  

The official site is here (Forget Me Not and Virgil Films). 

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

"Murder in Mexico": CNN reports on border incident (Falcon Lake, TX) as to whether drug wars affect ordinary Americans

Should civilian Americans, most of all those in Texas, particularly South Texas (and maybe other border states) be concerned that drug cartel violence in Mexico could endanger them? Associated with the cartels would be a form of “piracy”.
CNN re-aired its report “Murder in Mexico” about the murder of David Hartley, dumped in Falcon Lake on the Texas-Mexico border at Zapata County, after the couple (with wife Tiffany Hartley) had gone boating looking for a half-submerged old church.  The story is here.
The report seemed to suggest that the cartels that use the lake have an unwritten code not to disturb uninvolved civilians.  But mistakes happen.
The right wing has been saying that a porous border would allow Al Qaeda terrorists to come through Mexico.
Landowners, especially in southern Arizona, have run into legal issues defending their property against random illegals.  That’s a whole business for law firms in Phoenix. 
Picture: Mine, south of San Antonio, 1985.