Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Geert Wilders's short film "Fitna"

Here is an embed of Geert Wilder’s 17-minute short film “Fitna”. The word means “temptation”, or "division or disagreement among the people".  The film is actually directed by Scarlet Pimpernel.

Wilder is a controversial right-wing politician in the Netherlands.  The film is controversial in the Netherlands.

Wikipedia has a detailed article naming all the Sura and describing the legal action in Europe that resulted, including copyright infringement over the Jyllands Posten cartoon images.

The film opens with shots of the 9/11 attacks and has gruesome footage of many other attacks in Europe.  Toward the end, it emphasizes attacks on gays, as well as intolerance of democracy or unbelief.

The film mentions Salman Rushdie, and Theo van Gogh (who as "assassinated" in 2004 over his film "Submission").

But of course the film can be said to depict only the most radical forms of Islam.

The film uses music from Edvard Grieg's "Peer Gynt".

I looked up the film after watching Bill Weir's interview with Wilders on his "Wonder List" show for CNN (see TV blog).

Thursday, December 01, 2016

"Designated Survivor" explores how a terror poison attack could disrupt an election

ABC’s “Designated Survivor” on Wednesday night Nov. 30, aired, in an episode titled “The Results”, an idea that does sound like a legitimate risk that our system of elections runs.
A special election is held to replace the members of Congress killed in the attack on the Capitol in the opening Pilot.  But then, in Kansas City, there is an attack on a polling place with(castor bean) ricin (I think the Russians have used this method to eliminate Putin’s opponents, just like using polonium), and at least one poll worker or “election judge” is killed.  I used to volunteer as an election judge for $140 for an 18 hour day.

The new president has to decide whether to hold the election anyway.

Before the 2016 presidential election there were warnings of disruptions, but nothing quite like this. 

The terror group is thought to be a right-wing “sovereign immunity” fringe wing that does not want a United States as such to exist again.  No, this doesn’t make America great again.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

YouTube videos explain how ISIS leverages the open Internet to draw recruits into the maw of the Dark Web

MSNBC has a video “ISIS and the Internet: How ISIS Mastered Internet Recruiting” that is recent (April 2016).

Teens and young adults looking to “belong” are baited with Twitter and YouTube and several other platforms, before being directed to the encrypted Dark Web to talk to a “recruiter”.    True, many of them seem to be non-achievers.

The US State Department has the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications has tried to produce counter videos that only appeal to “rational” people.

“Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know” has a more general video  from early 2016 here.

There is mention of a WWI poem by Owen, that it is sweet to die for one’s country or faith.

The ISIS recruiting issue will become a big national security issue in the new Trump administration, which can argue that the permissive climate regarding user generated content facilitates danger and terror by not holding more general lawful use accountable for its “nuisance” nature.

This issue  bears careful watching.

Update: Nov. 28

The incident today at Ohio State University seems to bear out the theory of Internet recruiting of loan wolves by ISIS, as shown in the Facebook rant reported by ABC News by deceased perpetrator Abdul Razak Ali Artan.  I put more about this on my Wordpress blog here.

Update: February 4, 2017

The New York Times has a long supporting story by Rukmini Callimachi, "Not 'Lone Wolves' After All: How ISIS Guides Plots by Remote Control." Much of the story focuses on ISIS operations in India, but it also details a busted plot in NYC  It traces how people go from Twitter to Telegram.  This could support an argument that social media have become a security threat.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Found footage of Viet Cong from 1967

Robert Le Blanc (subject of and co-author of the book “Silent Drums”, has shared (on Facebook) about an hour of rediscovered Viet Cong footage from 1967, silent, black and white.

This reminds me of the Wikileaks “Collateral Murder” from Iraq (April 7, 2010).  But this is actual enemy footage, the kind of stuff that might have been shown in Basic Training at Fort Jackson in 1968 if the Army had had it then,

As embedded, the footage will not play when using "https" (just use http).  Or you can use this direct link

Friday, October 21, 2016

Short film simulated Emergency Broadcast during nuclear attack (from North Korea?)

This 16-minute short by Jakob Hill won't win any prizes for cinematography.

But here is a simulation on what most people around the country would see if long range missiles (as from North Korea) were detected approaching the US and not intercepted by NORAD.

The film assumes the viewer is in Los Angeles.

This film sound interest "Survival Mom" on Facebook.  She would go to her bug-in location. 

Sunday, October 02, 2016

ABC's "Designated Survivor" proposes how the US could be broken up by the extreme right wing

The ABC drama “Designated Survivor” (created by David Guggenheim), which premiered on Wednesday, Sept. 21, supposes that a less critical cabinet member (HUD Secretary Tom Kirkman played by Kiefer Sutherland) has been sequestered during a State of the Union address, and becomes president when all of Congress and the rest of the Cabinet and President and VP, and all of the Supreme Court are lost in a bombing of the Capitol.

The second episode names another Al Qaeda affiliate (a fictitious group) as the suspects.
While it would sound impossible for a group to plant a conventional explosive capable of this (unless it was somehow an inside job, which the show is likely to presume), the 9/11 plot attempted to decapitate the US government with further strikes on the Capitol and/or White House.  Of course, even had the plane Flight 93 not downed in Pennsylvania, both facilities had been evacuated long before the plane could have arrived.  But the idea that terrorists could have chosen the White House and Capitol as the first targets sounds like a chilling possibility (although President Bush was in Florida reading “My Pet Goat” to children at the time).

As a result of most of the government being destroyed, states (like Michigan) try to declare the Constitution invalid and want to secede.  That idea suggests the idea that in internal right wing conspiracy of this sort (trying to falsely blame Islam) is at least conceivable.

Yet, such an idea drives readers to doomsday prepper Facebook pages and blogs like “Survivor Mom” with her talk of bug-out locations

Thursday, September 08, 2016

"9/11: Inside the Pentagon" on PBS

On Sept. 6, WETA aired “9/11: Inside the Pentagon”(directed by Sharon Petzold, Lone Wolf Films) and it was re-aired on may PBS stations tonight.  Be best link is here (through Oct. 4) or here .
The documentary showed unprecedented footage of the inside of the Pentagon on 9/11 as well as interviewing many survivors, including the building manager, and a female Army officer.

The Pentagon fire trucks were unable to respond because of damage in the attacks, and the first effective response came from Arlington County in Crystal City.  The enemy conducted the attack so as to compromise conventional first response.

People doing the rescuing feared a second plane, and had to evacuate from their rescue work for about 5 minutes while hearing a jet fighter approach.

The fires were pretty much out of control for at least the first 2 hours and some smoldered for a few days.

People working in the Pentagon did not really suspect a plane was coming, even after the WTC attack, until the last two or three minutes.
The blast proof windows kept some people from escaping and added to the fatalities.  The Pentagon had been fortified against a more “conventional” attack but not an airplane with its jet fuel.

184 people died in the attack on the Pentagon, including some civilians. The Pentagon never "closed" during the event, and has never closed since being fully open during WWII (in 1943).  There is irony in that I spent some time (in the summer of 1968) in the Pentagon during the Vietnam era while in the Army, when it was viewed as much "safer" than combat,  Could I have responded as necessary to such a happening?

CNN will air a new film about 9/11 on the evening of 2016/9/11.

Friday, August 26, 2016

ABC 20-20: "The Girl Left Behind": The story of the murder of ISIS hostage (from Doctors without Borders) when US government would not allow parents to pay ransom to foreign terrorists

ABC 20-20 aired a sickening story of Kayla Mueller, titled “The Girl Left Behind” tonight, Aug. 26, 2016.  Kayla had been kidnapped by ISIS in Aleppo, Syria in August 2013 while on a mission for Doctor’s Without Borders.   ABC’s best link seems to be this.

Her captivity became a battle over whether the US government (or any party) must sacrifice individuals to avoid negotiating with terrorists (Israel’s policy).  The US refused to let the Mueller family raise money for ransom, although it has since change its position.  And the government has negotiated, for example, with the Taliban for its own soldiers.

The documentary told a complicated story involving even attempts to get Qatar to act as a broker.  The report aired the sickening extortion emails from ISIS, as well as the reported “marriage” to Au Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The administration now says that negotiation is allowed if part of a scheme to set up future stings.
The report also describes a failed raid by Special Forces.

One objection to allowing a family to pay ransom to foreign terrorists is that a family could use social media campaigns to ask for private donations from citizens (possibly “pressuring” other individuals socially) that would go to terrorists, further setting up a precedent for future kidnappings.  My own “policy” is never to be singled out and taken hostage by anyone, whether an ordinary criminal or a domestic or foreign terrorist.  In my own mind, sacrifice happens, and life goes on.  We sacrificed young men with military draft, and life went on for the rest of us.  There is no way to make this right. My own life must never become a bargaining chip in somebody else's negotiation or for a ransom-raising campaign.  The only honorable end is death in that case.  Further details are here.

ABC Nightline repeated part of the report and added tributes to Kayla from others who were released.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of destruction in Aleppo

Monday, August 08, 2016

"U.S. Grid Safety" townhall held on "Your Voice, Your Future" series from Sinclair Broadcasting

On Monday, August 8, 2016, Sinclair Broadcasting Company aired a closed roundtable (with a user question facility by Twitter for the Town Hall), “Your Voice, Your Future: U.S. Grid Safety”.  The best link is here  I will supply a link for a video when it becomes available.

The roundtable was physically held in a Fox 11 studio in Green Bay, WI, although the Sinclair Broadcast Group from Baltimore, MD owns the event.  ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington announced the event on its website but did not say where it would be viewed or aired.  It also said 7 PM EST – it turned out it was 7 OM EDT.  The WJLA website gave a link which got caught in an advertising loop but which, when retried, connected properly to the session in Wisconsin at 8:11 PM, so I did watch about 45 minutes.  The session on this critical subject matter was available only by online streaming in the DC area.

A second hour was to occur at 7 PM CDT (8 PM EDT) but I could not get the Wisconsin Fox stream to connect.

The moderator was Frank Gaffney, president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy.
Also participating were Thomas Popik, president of the Foundation for Resilient Societies, Paul Nehlen, a Wisconsin businessman, and Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin (Republican).
An important website resource is “Secure the Grid”.  The group offers a book “Guilty Knowledge: What the U.S. Government Knows about the Vulnerability of the Electric Grid, but Refuses to Fix”, $6, which I ordered in paperback from Amazon, and will review soon on my Wordpress media blog.

Gaffney laid out a scenario where a major terror attack or possibly a Carrington-style solar storm could leave people in a major swath of the country without power for weeks or months.  Diesel generators would start to fail as fuel ran out.  People would only gradually realize what had happened.

Depending on how an event unfolded, the poor and vulnerable might die the most quickly, but money could become worthless, and people would be stuck with what they have.

Generally, the US gets about one grid attack every four days.  Most of them are small, and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation tends to deny them.

The physical attack on a substation in the Silicon Valley in April 2013 could have taken down much of the Bay Area for weeks.  The perpetrators haven’t been caught.

Popik made three suggestions for citizens.  One was investing in local infrastructure, and making local utilities generate more of their own.  Another was to eliminate barriers from citizens’ attaching their own solar cells or wind turbines to the grid.  A third was to learn personal resilience – to try living like the Amish for a day.

One study says that technical improvements in capacitance could protect transformers from Carrington Style events could be made for about $1/day per consumer.  In the USnNorthern areas (including Wisconsin) are more vulnerable to solar storms than the south, because magnetic disturbances (causing transformer overloads) are greatest in polar regions (where the strongest auroras occur).

There are some companies that make transformers in the US, in Goldsboro NC,  Wausau WI, and Lynchburg VA and Roanoke VA, and some in Louisiana.  But the US could have extreme difficulty in replacing transformers quickly and moving them where they are needed.

Portions of the power grid “Interconnects” are connected to the public Internet, in a layered fashion.  This can make them vulnerable to very determined  foreign hackers, but the critical pieces do have extensive security even compared to banks and most US agencies.

There was some comparison between a major high altitude EMP blast and all-out nuclear war.  There was a general feeling that NORAD should be as able to stop a continent-sized event as it would be to stop an ICBM -- but what about North Korea in a few years?

There was a curious discussion from Twitter as to whether a program like this “gives enemies ideas”.  They’ve already thought of this.

One panelist mentioned the critical nature of the training and screening of power company security people.  Had the security guard who attacked the Pulse in Orlando been employed at a power company, there might have been an even bigger catastrophe for the public.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

CNN posts short video on how to behave if taken hostage

Martin Savidge has a short film for CNN that is well worth documenting, “5 Things to Do If You’re Taken Hostage”, link here. The video seems to have been posted specifically because of a recent incident in a church in France.

Point 1 is to escape if you can, but Point 3 may be the most critical – not to stand out.  Point 5 says to expect to be detained by authorities to be identified after rescue.

“Not standing out” would mean you don’t want to be singled out from a crowd.  Indeed, in a public place like a bank, it’s a little safer to be in the crowd rather than isolated, near an entrance. Businesses sometimes have security rules to prevent their employees from being isolated.

Monday, May 23, 2016

"Why They Hate Us": CNN finally airs Zakaria's report, four weeks late; and Saudi Arabia gets a black eye

CNN finally aired Fareed Zakaria’s report “Why They Hate Us” tonight (Monday, May 23, 2016), for weeks after CNN had waffled on showing the episode on April 25.  CNN’s promos video is here. There is an update to CNN's pressroom announcement here.
They heart of the narrative starts in 1949 when Egyptian student Sayyid Qutb  visited a church party in Colorado, where men and women danced to “Baby It’s Cold Outside”.  That’s a phrase I particularly remember from the late 80s for a specific episode.  Qutb was particularly taken back by the way the sexed mixed in the West, and with American postwar modernism in general.

Qutb was sickly and never married, which is curious itself.  His books took off in the Islamic world, which started growing more discontent with western influence motivated by oil (as well as Israel). (Back in 2002, the Weekly Standard had run an article connecting Qutb to the abstract idea of “virtue” for its own sake.) The Middle East would explode in 1979, with the fall of the Shah and the Iran hostage crisis, as well as a siege in Saudi Arabia, which actually turned out to be the most significant. To stay in power, the Saudi royal family allowed Wahhabism to be disseminated throughout the kingdom and get exported to Pakistan. That explains in part why so many 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia.  The terrorists at Fort Hood, Boston and San Bernadino all had ties to this line of fundamentalism.

Zakaria presents a walled-of interview with London cleric Anjem Choudary, and gives the history of  born Anwar al-Awlaki, the first US citizen to be targeted by a drone strike and originally trusted as a moderate Muslim.

Zakaria also interviews Irshad Manji, on the meaning of Koran texts.  The "72 virgins" supposedly promised in Paradise are really "72 raisins" in a desert country.

Zakari provided numbers of radical jihadists – less than 200,000 worldwide, about .01% of the entire worldwide Muslim population.  But Zakari admitted that historical politics had allowed the extremist texts in the Koran to become magnified and create a “cancer” of people who saw the world outside their own narrow upbringing as meaningless (and perhaps parasitic or exploitive, much as Communism sometimes viewed much of the world).  Comparable texts exist in Christianity.  But “The Book of Mormon” (or “Sister Act”) doesn’t provoke violent reaction (from Mormons or Catholics) the way cartoons of the Prophet will.  (Maybe the IRA would have made a good comparison).

It seems that the obsession of Qutb and his followers with western sexual mores having something to do with the idea that, to keep passion in marriage in their own culture, they must keep women out of sight so that their internal personal sexual tension is maintained.  That means keeping women covered except in front of husbands after marriage.  (It also means that husbands, in their culture, have a right to have children by their women, and women don't have a right to refuse this duty.) Sexual morality in Christian fundamentalism may not seem as extreme but is motivated by the same psychology.  It's only interesting of everyone else has to follow the same rules as "I do."

Another aspect of the spread of radical Islam is, of course, online recruitment, not so much covered in this documentary but covered in other specials.  It seems that young men (and women), not finding they can "compete" as individuals in western society, look for a sense of belonging and adventure are are willing to go to war to expropriate from others.  But that doesn't need religion -- look again at communism and fascism.

Donald Trump is mentioned as saying “Be Very Afraid” (of Sharia law in the US at gunpoint maybe), but the first subchapter of the last chapter of my first book had that phrase.

There is criticism of Zakaria's views, such as this blog post on Wordpress.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture in Riyadh, p.d. by Ammar Shaker.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

"The Secret History of ISIS" on PBS Frontline

Tuesday night, PBS Frontline aired “The Secret History of ISIS”, which it bills as a “Tale of Two Presidents” (W. Bush and Obama) and prevent a new terror movement.

The documentary focuses first on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who, like so many militants, was hardened in prison.  At one point, he did the ultimate body shave, to remove tattoos that were un-Islamic.  The documentary traces his desire to outdo Osama bin Laden, coming up with the idea of a caliphate.  The strategy was at first to foment extreme violence against Shiites in Iraq, starting a major secondary war, leading to increased militancy among Sunnis and ability to recruit youth.

Much of the early part of the film deals with the work of the CIA; analyst Nada Bakos often speaks. When Colin Powell made his big speech arguing for intervention in Iraq in early 2003, the Bush administration ignored a lot of the recommendations of the CIA, which had vetted the speech and recommended many changes to reflect its factual analysis.  This would particularly apply to how Zarqawi as perceived, as well as the collapse of the Iraqi military after Sadam Hussein fell.  A major incident was the assassination by beheading of volunteer Nick Berg .

The documentary shifts all too quickly to later history in the Obama years, with the rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the history from early 2014 now well known.  What seems shocking is the ability of ISIS to recruit fighters on social media, especially from Europe, and the nihilistic psychology that tempts to many young men and some young men into this “cult” of fighting. The result has been coordinated attacks in Paris and Brussels and some lone wolf attempts in the US.  This fits into the narrative of an early CNN documentary, “Blindsided” (May 11, 2015, and anticipates the delayed “Why They Hate Us” bu Fareed Zakaria).

Wikipedia attribution link for Baghdad picture  p.d., by “zzztriple”.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

NBC reports on Americans who join ISIS, with video on three recruits

On Sunday night, May 15, NBC News and Dateline presented “An American ISIS Cell: the Story of 3 U.S. Recruits” (by Richard Engel, Ben Plesser and Tracy Connor) focusing on a couple of families in the Silicon Valley and one returning to Columbus, Ohio. There was a teenager, a nerd who wanted to be a doctor, suddenly converting to Islam and withdrawing from competitive American life, with its challenges and acceptance of the arbitrary role of luck and of permissiveness.

The same three reporters have a longer story about 15 Americans who joined ISIS, based on material from a thumb drive from a man claiming to be an ISIS defector.  The people vary, from children of immigrants in poor families to the well-to-do, including, in a few cases, good and ambitious students – which raises troubling questions about how well young “stars” will do in life later on.

Monday, May 02, 2016

"We Got Him": CNN special on 5th anniversary of the takedown of Osama bin Laden

We Got Him: President Obama, Bin Laden, and the Future of the War on Terror” aired on CNN this evening at 8:30 PM EDT. Nicole Gaouette wrote the main story for CNN .

The first 61 minutes reviewed the operation by Navy Seals to execute Osama bin Laden in his compound in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011. Admiral McRaven often spoke, and noted that there had been a plan to take bin Laden alive.  One Seal as asked to lie beside bin Laden’s corpse to verity that the target had indeed been 6 feet 4.

President Obama did talk about Paris and Brussels with Peter Bergen in the post-movie half hour. He said that many second generation Muslims in Belgium don’t consider themselves “Belgian” (but that is a split concept for other reasons regarding that artificial country’s history).

Obama talked about the importance of predator drone strikes, and about the ambiguous results of the Arab Spring, which was facilitated in large part by social media developed by young adults. He also talked about the problem of asymmetry where social media facilitates terror or gang ideologies to recruit “volunteers”.  He also talked about “resilience” as partly not making a problem worse with temperamental denials.

Wikipedia attribution link for CIA photo of bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Another "video" on the EMP threat, and a sales pitch for some rather pricey doomsday prepper guides

An entity calling itself “Adonis Golden Radio” and a “Mr. Mudwart” has a 42-minute video “How to Prepare for and Survive an EMP Attack (Electromagnetic Pulse)”.
Now, the entire film consists of reading text rolling on a page, and that isn’t exactly creative filmmaking.

He offers an “EMP Survival Guide” with supplementary materials (like food tips) for a total of $161, or $27 digital.  I could not find an exact match online (including Amazon) but I found a similar book by Poole.

He talks about self-publishing the books, and says he will pull them if the public does not show interest.  He’ll then be content to live in Doomsday Prepper mode, taking care of his own family and maybe immediate neighbors. His presentation style is manipulative, like a traditional sales-pitch, something I have avoided with my own books, and drawn criticism for not trying harder to “sell”, as if it were unethical to just let people find it.  (In fact, I don’t like to be a pest;  I went too far with one friend on Twitter and got “blocked”l others would say, you need a thick skin, move on;  I would say, no, treat everyone well, don’t over-pitch, and have quality contacts online, and learn from your occasional mishaps.)

He says that the biggest threat might not be enemies but a solar geomagnetic storm, like a Carrington Event.  But my understanding has been that a solar storm would not actually fry home electronics;  it would “just” overload power grid transformers.

He does explain how EMP works, as a microwave or radio tsunami.

But he is correct in saying that there are both non-nuclear and nuclear EMP devices. The nuclear devices might be more likely to come from the leftovers of the Soviet Union, and he mentions the work of Andrei Sakharov.  He is not as specific as to how “home-made” EMP devices would work (more about this on the Jan. 3 post).   There are some short videos on YouTube (obvious and easy to search for) that purport to tell you how to make them (effective only in small radii); I wonder if these would violate YouTube TOS.  I don’t think posting them is illegal.

He correctly talks about our growing dependence on electronics and on the ubiquity of electricity, and how that might stimulate a phony moral outrage from enemies whose lives are less dependent on electricity than hours (he mentions Ql Qaeda).

He also encourages a “September 10” view, where no one understood that “there’s always a first time.” And people would know they face months or years, maybe forever, without electricity and that many would die horribly (like in “One Second After”).

He also discusses several government tests in the 1960s, the Starlight Prime event and a test in 1962 that knocked out a lot of electronics in Hawaii.

He gives one tip for free.  A metal cake box (is aluminum OK?) will shield smaller electronics (like a laptop or tablet), as long as the device is not in contact with the metal, and the metal box is not grounded.  This effectively makes a small “Faraday Cage”.
It seems noteworthy that GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz mentioned EMP to Wolf Blitzer on CNN late during the night of March 21, 2016, just a couple hours before the Brussels conventional attack would be launched. And ISIS has been reported casing a nuclear power plant in Belgium.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Videos on Zika virus already propagate conspiracy theories

The Zika virus would not appear to be an existential public health threat on the level of avian influenza, Ebola, SARS, and the like.

Strong Medicine has an 11-minute video  simply titled “Zika Virus” that gives a balanced perspective, although some information from the CDC about sexual transmission very recently could raise more alarm. The video emphasizes that most infected people have few or no symptoms, but there have been some instances of paralytic Guillain Barre syndrome that lasts a long time.  The video tends to allow the connection to birth defects and microcephaly to be possibly associated with coincidence.  But later information from the CDC seems to strengthen the connection.  Breitbart has a discussion here.

So for a main course, I watched a 24 minute interview on the Alex Jones Channel (where else?) connected to sites like Prison Planet and Infowars. The title is "Zika Virus Is Bio-Warfare".  The speaker was Francis Anthony Boyle. He claims that genetically engineered mosquitoes were intentionally introduced into northern Brazil and Colombia.

OK, this gets heavily into conspiracy theories, claiming (at least in the voice of the radical right fringe) that Bill Gates and others are genetically modifying mosquitoes to create an epidemic in order to market a vaccine.  It also claims that the virus us being deliberately vectored as part of a eugenics plan for lower income countries, for population control.
The idea that an arbovirus is also sexually transmitted (in the case of Zika, readily in heterosexual cases) and related to birth defects and maybe sterility is certainly socially and politically provocative.

 During the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, before HIV (or HTLV-III) was completely accepted as the cause, the New York Native (Charles Ortleb) tried to claim that AIDS might be related to ASV, African Swine Fever Virus, and was being incubated secretly at a USDA lab on Plum Island on Long Island, NY.  But, especially in Texas, the religious right was spinning theories that the mysterious AIDS virus, after amplification by gay men in a chain letter, would get transformed and become transmissible by insects, especially mosquitoes.  But most insect-born viruses are transmitted only by a very narrow range of viruses, so such a random change is very unlikely.  With Zika, on the other hand, you have a virus, sexually transmitted,  that may not make most people (adults, teens and older children) sick but instead affecting mostly the unborn, a politically explosive idea. It’s not hard to imagine a virus not causing symptoms other than massive sterility, and how that could be politically misused.  Yes, the stuff of horror and sci-fi.  Consider the 2006 film from Universal, “Children of Men” by Alfonso Cuaron, with Clive Owen and Julianne Moore.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

60 Minutes gives interview to CIA director on ISIL's capabilities

Tonight, on CBS 60 Minutes, CIA director John Brennan gave Scott Pelley an interview on ISIL’s capabilities, and on the possibilities of its using WMD’s, at least chemical weapons, both in the Middle East and possibly in the West, link with video here.

The director gave a feel for his job, what phone calls at home are like – often bad news, or often life-and-death decisions.  He indicated he did indeed commandeer is own para-military force.

I watched it captioned at a Valentine’s Day Sunday night party in a bar, with my facing the television plasma screen, but others not noticing it overhead.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Numerous videos maintain that Amtrak 188 derailment points to a conspiracy

After the NTSB released its inconclusive report on the crash of Amtrak Train 188 on May 12, 2015, I found a few videos claiming the possibility of conspiracy theories.

One video , by “The Jedi”, runs 53 minutes and claims “Amtrak Conspiracy” as its title.  The style is interesting: the video simply shows a lot of newspaper stories and stills of the crash (near Frankford Ave. in Philadelphia), and still manages to maintain viewer curiosity with its off-the-wall narrative.  The speaker is a young African-American man from Baltimore who says he is getting over a fever.  Immediately, he shows a variety of photos including that of the first passenger car behind the engine, which was “obliterated”. Indeed, there isn’t a clear explanation of how this could have happened.  Most train wrecks leave their locomotives and cars in more or less recognizable form (I remember as a boy, being unnerved when “the cab came off” in a movie train wreck).  Some observers claim the car hit various support objects, but that isn’t apparent.  The speaker doubts that the train really sped up entering this sharp left-hand curve (meeting tracks from Atlantic City) as much as claimed, and theorizes there could have been an explosion in the first car.

The commentary, in fact, reminds me of Dreamworks’s first film, “The Peacemaker” (1997), which I saw at the Mall of America then, in which a train carrying a nuclear weapon wrecks and the weapon goes off. The aim in this forward looking thriller (directed by Mimi Leder, with George Clooney and Nicole Kidman) is to keep the weapons from (pro-Russian) terrorists.

 “Jedi” soon talks about the Baltimore police situation after Freddie Gray, and gives a variety of accounts of police abuse.  I have to say he gives a good account of how some young black men feel about police profiling in many inner cities.  He talks about his work as a manager at Taco Bell and at an apartment complex, making some interesting observations about the workplace (similar to some in my books).  Then he gives a disturbing account of a woman near Atlanta arrested for posting a mass threat against police on Facebook, and then a black man in largely white Iowa (Jedi anticipates the politics of the Iowa caucuses) is arrested for mimicking or repeating the threat (apparently on Facebook) and has to post a much larger bond.  Jedi shows the newspaper clippings.  Finally, he returns to the subject of the train wreck.

Another video, “No Accident”, about 30 minutes, was produced by someone claiming to have work experience on the Chicago transit system, which he often shows.  He quotes similar evidence about the obliterated car.  He says that the engine was a diesel.  I really thought all Amtrak Northeast Regional trains were pulled by engines run off catenaries, but I could be wrong.  (Diesels would not be as subject to power problems with the wires.)  He also questions whether this train is capable of acceleration from 70 to 105 mph in 65 seconds.

This video mentions one of the victims, a businessman with a Minnesota company Ecolab (in St. Paul and Eagan, and I remember driving past it when I lived in Minneapolis 1997-2003) named Bob Gildersleeve , and speculates the executive could have been a target. Again, he believes there was an explosion, perhaps intentional.

A shorter video by the Alien Fossils Project, titled “Train Derailment Was No Accident” maintains that several of the principles had unusually alliterative names, as if to suggest motive for some bizarre plot.

As someone who takes Amtrak often, it strikes me that it would be totally impractical to do more than spot check passengers and luggage.  Usually dogs are present (particularly in Washington) to sniff luggage.  So the filmmakers are right in that there is a serious vulnerability in the Northeast Corridor to very determined terrorists or plotting criminals, as would be true with all subways.
There is a related post on the NTSB report on the Issues Blog Thursday February 4.

Update: May 15

The NTSB says the accident resulted from engineer distraction listening to radio reports about another trains struck by thrown rocks, ABC report.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"Guns in America" debated on "Your Voice Your Future" townhall

Tonight (Jan. 19), WJLA News Channel 8 continued its “Your Voice Your Future” Town Hall series with “Guns in America” (typical link ).

Johnathan Elias moderated, and Jeff Goldberg assisted, by interviewing the owner of a new community gun shop in Falls Church, VA, where there is real training for consumers.

Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe discussed the recent action, where Virginia drops reciprocity with at least states on conceal-and-carry.

Scott Thuman was in Paris, and indicated that the French do not want to loosen gun laws on the American theory that people need to be able to defend themselves. France has about 1/5 the US population but about 1/3 the gun-related deaths (per person).

GOP congressman Tim Murphy was interviewed, and he sounded in the middle on the issue.  Murphy noted that most domestic active shooting rampages came from weapons purchased legally, and that would have been legal even with background checks. Heritage Foundation analyst Hans Von Spakovsky echoed the importance of being able to defend oneself and family in an emergency.  One can become maimed and dependent on others as a result of not being able to defend oneself, so the conservative idea of social capital and interdependence cuts both ways.

A Harford County Maryland sheriff appeared.

Lisa Gold, from Georgetown University, talked about the mental illness issue, emphasizing that very few people under treatment are actually dangerous.

Sara Kerai supported the background checks, whereas David Keene from the Washington Times made the usual self-defense arguments.

Curiously, I don’t find a trademark for “Your Voice Your Future” on USPTO’s TESS system.  I expected to find one.

Another question, with my history of “psychiatric treatment” in the early 1960s after my William and Mary expulsion, would I pass the background check?

The video above is for a similar town hall a year ago.

Picture comes from a military museum near USC in Columbia, SC (personal trip)

Sunday, January 03, 2016

"Electromagnetic Pulse: A Prepper's Perspective": an informative lecture from the woods in northern Ontario

Electromagnetic Pulse: A Prepper’s Perspective” by the Ontario Preppers Survival Network, is a 65-minute “film” summarizing the EMP and solar storm threats to infrastructure.

The film consists of a nighttime outdoor lecture at an electric easel in the woods somewhere in the boonies in Ontario, away from Toronto, recorded on July 11, 2015.  (That was a Saturday, and I was in Florida visiting NASA that day).

Five months later, the film seems like important viewing because homeland security bureaucracy is preoccupied with low-tech loan-wolf attacks (particularly from the ease of obtaining connventional assault weapons or of building low-tech explosives).  We're lucky that asymmetric enemies seem less skilled than they might be -- despite the fluency ISIS shows with using social media for propaganda and then going dark with encryption.

The speaker tries to discredit a lot of “prepper” myths. He also takes the position that he doesn't want to depend on the Canadian government to "save him" if something happens.
He talks about both an EMP high-altitude nuclear blast, and severe solar storms (the largest being the Carrington Event in 1859, and a smaller one in Quebec in 1989).  He is right in saying that the solar flare occurs before the coronal mass ejection. But I thought the CME was unlikely to damage electronics that were not actually plugged into the grid.  An EMP attack, on the other hand, could destroy all electronic and magnetic devices, even magnetic (not optical) backups.

Of course, electric appliances plugged in to sockets could be fried in a severe overload that could result from a solar storm, or from overloads caused by cyberwar (as opposed to EMP), as in Ted Koppel’s recent book “Lights Out”.

However, a solar storm’s effects can be widespread, and can affect the night side of the Earth, and the winter hemisphere.

He is right in that our dependence on electricity is unprecedented.  Even if some electricity were restored, it might not support sophisticated devices today.  (He mentions “graphene”).  At the very end, he discusses the need for social structures that can sustain themselves in a much more elementary environment.

There is some discussion of Faraday cages. The speaker often mentions Michael Maloof’s book (see Books, Nov. 10, 2015 and April 13, 2013, “A Nation Forsaken”).  Maloof has warned that non-nuclear devices exist that could be made by terrorists, and are in use by the US Army today and are exhibited at the museum at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD.  “How Stuff Works” has an explanation .  Popular Mechanics published a controversial article on the topic in 2001 one week before 9/11, or at this URL.   Check this Blogger post . But Future Science called the Popular Mechanics article a “terrible cover story” with junk science, whereas some comments claimed they were making money and selling magazines by giving away what should be classified information.

There is another hour-long YouTube video where former CIA Director James Woolsey, July 31, 2013, speaks about “Existential EMP Threat to America” put up by Secure Freedom.

Woolsey notes that investors decided early in the 20th century to go along with the ideas of Nikola Tesla and build AC grids.  It would have been possible to build a less centralized grid based on DC (but much less profitable).  The History Channel has documented this before.  Woolsey says that no one is in control of the entire grid.  He also notes that the Solar Storm in 1989, had it been aimed at New York rather than northern Quebec, could have done 3 trillion dollars damage.  Woolsey says that some military assets are protected from EMP.   He notes also that most large transformers are made in South Korea of northern Europe (Germany, Scandinavia).   We had a near-miss with a Carrington possible event in 2012. The panel notes that a missile launched (like by Putin) over the South Pole could escape NORAD, and also notes that nuclear weapons could be launched from offshore by inadequately regulated ("Liberian") ships.  The panel notices that Maine is the first state to pass a law dealing with the EMP threat, while Congress debates the GRID and SHIELD acts.