Tuesday, February 12, 2008

CBS series "Jericho" on "the nation after" -- in a second season

Back in 1969, while in the Army, I handwrote the first rough draft of a novel to be called “The Proles” in which, in the middle, the United States suffers a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. I believed in the domino theory then (as with the movie “The War Game”). The second half of the book was to examine a post-apocalyptic, purification world. The boys in the barracks reacted to pieces of the manuscript with, “the whole world goes back to the bay.”

There were movies like “The Day After” in 1982, where Kansas City gets it, as bombs are released from silos in Lawrence, and Jason Robards struggles in the rubble. That was a two-day event to be watched with friends. Or “Testament” in 1983, where suburban families struggle after San Francisco gets it. Or, of course, Nevil Shute’s “On the Beach” and movie, with the waltzing matilda. Or the 1984 Weslet Strieber novel “Warday.”

But in the post 9/11 age, a more grisly asymmetric threat comes up: the idea of small nuclear weapons, possibly set off in multiple locations in a compressed time sequence. That is the premise of the mini-series “Jericho” which premiered in the fall of 2006 on CBS (from Paramount). The episodes were split up throughout the year, and many viewers lost track of the series, resulting in a drop in ratings. It seemed that it was canceled, but then CBS brought back a season 2 with seven episodes, the first tonight, Feb. 12.

The show is set in a fictitious town in western Kansas, Jericho. Skeet Ulrich plays Jake Green, a returning Navy man who wants his grandfather’s inheritance, which is tied up with a “dead hand”. Fifteen minutes into the Pilot, the bar TV’s go out and a mushroom cloud is visible in the west. In time, word gets out about multiple explosions around the country. A thunderstorm brings radioactive fallout down on the town.

In time, we learn that the federal government has floundered, and a new rival government (with right wing leanings) has formed in Cheyenne, WY. Since Washington gets destroyed, the remnant of the original fibbies form the Eastern government locates in Columbus, Ohio (note – that’s the part of the world that the soap “Days of our Lives” is supposed to be set – actually “Salem”; maybe a reference to Stefano!).

There are lies and videotape. One of the lies is that North Korea and Iran terrorists planted the attacks. There are bands of non-brothers, and multiple battles (and a great train wreck, recalling “The Peacemaker”, at the beginning of Season 2 – why a steam engine?) It sounds like it was the locals after all. Maybe some of our own nuclear material is not too secure, it seems. (What about the Tooele Army Depot in Utah?) This series certainly is a lesson in man-made mega-disasters, without the History Channel.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Six Degrees Could Change the World (National Geographic Film)

Six Degrees Could Change the World, about 90 min, aired tonight (Sunday Feb. 10, 2008) on the National Geographic Channel, link here. It is narrated by Alec Baldwin and directed by Ron Bowman. The documentary explores the effect on the planet for each one degree Celsius (1.8 F) of global warning, up to 6 degrees C (10.6 F). So far, the world has warmed about .8 C (1.44 F) since 1900. However the rate of increase (second derivative) is increasing, and a tipping point could be reached.

Even with 1 degree, extensive damage to coral reefs near Australia, with their bleaching, occurs. Drought has come to eastern Australia producing wildfires comparable to those in Southern California. Serious melting has occurred on icecaps and glaciers in mountains and the poles, with arctic ice melting away in the summer. Many forms of wildlife are endangered, such as the polar bears.

The program runs through simulations, often with graphic animation, of the planetary changes at various levels of warming. A “runaway train” effect is possible if the global warming trend is not reversed by 2015. Among the scenarios include the Amazon turning into a desert-like savannah, leading to more fires and more warming; the disappearance of most glaciers and water supplies for many cities; most of the Great Plains in the United States become desert, where as northern Canada, even into the Northwest Territories, becomes farmland, as does Scandinavia. Heat waves like what hit France in 2003 become annual events. Category six hurricanes occur, and even parts of New York City could be under 25 feet of water after a hurricane, and the subways and underground infrastructure could be completely lost. Surge control systems, like those already installed on the Thames in London, could be installed at three critical locations in New York Harbor.

At six degrees increase, possible in a few decades, much life in the ocean would expire. The film points out that most excess carbon spewed by volcanism is absorbed by biosystems and stored in the earth as coal or oil, which is now being released back into the atmosphere, as we no longer live off of current energy.

An energy efficient home in Aspen, CO was shown, and household practices that consumer “vampire energy” were shown. Novel ideas like fusion energy or solar reflectors in space were discussed. It would take several million wind turbines to replace all of the world’s fossil fuel-fired power plants.

In July, 1971, I was almost arrested for trespassing while photographing strip mines near Mt. Storm, W Va. I wound up being given a reclamation tour in a smoke-filled cabin.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

"Countdown to Armageddon" on History Channel: A summary of "mega disasters"

In late January 2008, the History Channel aired its “Countdown to Armageddon” (2004, produced by Craig Haffner and Glenn Kirschbaum, narrated by Edward Herrmann). Actually, there is a separate site.

The film does cover the various religious contexts for Armageddon, including the place in the Holy Lands, the Book of Revelations, the Mark of the Beast (“666”), as well as lore of other cultures, such as the year 2012 in the Mayan Calendar, and the predictions of Nostradamus. But the main thrust of the film is to cover many of the scenarios that the History Channel covers in separate one hour “Mega-Disaster” films, such as asteroid and comet hits, supervolcanoes, tsunamis, and pandemics. There is history of the Tunguska strike on Siberia in 1908, but this film does not have time for critical evaluation of all of the theories; but if it happened today near a major city it would produce a mega-disaster.

One particularly grisly possibility would be a huge East Coast tsunami were the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands (east of Africa) to erupt and provoke a huge landslide that has already started. The tidal wave could be hundreds of feet high and reach the Atlantic Coast in about eight hours and obliterate everything to the Blue Ridge or at least through much of the Piedmont. (Actually, there are some gaps in the Blue Ridge and the Appalachians end in northern Georgia and Alabama.) The CNN link is here.

The film is unrelated to the Michael Bay film “Armageddon” (1998) about an asteroid approach to the Earth.

Give me that Old Time Religion. But it’s not good enough for me. Particularly if a mega-disaster like Cumbre Vieja forces The Purification.