Saturday, November 28, 2009

"The Road" -- much less traveled -- until the nuclear winter after a supervolcano


The “November month of death” season movie has a second apocalypse, “The Road”, directed by John Hillcoat, from the novel by Cormac McCarthy, adapted by Joe Penhall. The film is a joint effort of the Weinstein Company (through its Dimension Films) and of Mark Cuban’s Magnolia Pictures/2929. It’s filmed on location in Pennsylvania (there’s a critical early scene that appears to be at the old Sideling Hill Tunnel, no longer used by the Pennsylvania Turnpike [it also looks like a tunnel on the Sparta bicycle trail in hilly Southwestern Wisconsin), Louisiana, and Oregon, with some shots near Mt. St. Helens (showing the blown down, denuded trees), giving a clue as to the cause of the calamity. The movie is shot in sepia tones of mostly brown and gray; many scenes seem to be almost pure black-and-white (which is very effective, giving the “Dimension” film a zombie, “Night of the Living Dead” effect).



The opening scene of the film shows an outdoor hammock outside a family home among spring greenery. Suddenly the Man (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife (Charlize Theron) notice booms outside, and the Wife asks the first lines of the script, “What’s happening?” (a reference to M. Night Shyamalan). Then we are transported to sometime, perhaps years later, when the Man is with his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who was apparently born after the apocalypse in another harrowing flashback.

The disaster is unnamed, but it seems to fit the pattern of a really big supervolcano eruption, leading to a years-long “nuclear winter” with the die-off of almost everything (a few insects and birds start coming back toward the end). But apparently really cacophonous super-earthquakes roll around the world for years – I don’t know if they really would (the magma chamber area around Yellowstone would give off quakes). Maybe the calamity was caused by a 2012-like astronomical alignment, or maybe by a passing small black hole or transiting brown dwarf. It could not be prevented. In any case, the outcome is much more realistic and less promising than that of “2012.”

The “road” journey of the Man and Boy gets desperate, with the Boy asking what makes for the “good people,” especially not engaging in cannibalism.
The official website is here. The Weinstein Company is one of the few studios that offers embed code right on its site.

The 4:20 PM show Saturday at a large auditorium in the modern National Amusements Cinema De Luxe in Fairfax Square, VA was about 2/3 full.



First picture above: Mississippi coast, Bay St. Louis, Feb. 2006 (my picture), after Katrina

Wikipedia attribution link of David Johnston p.d. photo before his death in Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980.

Update: April 17, 2015

I visited the Sideling Hill areas.

Here is the Wikipedia picture of abandoned Sideling Hill tunnel by Jgera5. public domain, link.
Here us a picture of the ridge, "down the road",  For logistical reasons, I didn't actually reach the tunnel yesterday. But the tunnel is in the ridge at the end of the road.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

PBS Frontline reports on Ebola, Marburg viruses tranmitted between animals and humans in Uganda; also, death of a Tehran protestor


On Tuesday Nov. 17 PBS Frontline World presented a 13-minute report “Uganda: Out of the Wild” about the spread of novel viruses from animals to human, and back.

Someone got Marburg virus (a hemorrhagic fever ) from visiting a cave (with bats), and others got Ebola virus from eating infected meat. Robert Preston had covered this diseases in his book “The Hot Zone” in the early 1990s, and Laurie Garret has written about them.

Ebola and Marburg are related, and were a major epidemic to occur in a western environment, it would provoke a crisis. The symptoms are gruesome, with skin and organs breaking down ("liquefying") and the disease is usually fatal or crippling, with transmission by all “body fluids”. It is more transmissible than HIV (but not transmitted through air, probably).

Gorillas also developed total alopecia from minor human skin infections. Humans and other primates share about 98% of their genes, so it would be expected that many viruses would cross over. HIV probably came from other primates.

The link for the story is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for CDC photo of Ebola, and RNA virus, Filoviridae. Note the “Shepherd’s hook”.

The first 40 minutes covered “A Death in Tehran” , about Neda Agha Soltan who was shot in June during the protests in Iran. The Tehran government actually wanted to make her parents a fake offer of “martyr” status.
Here is the synopsis.

Friday, November 13, 2009

2012: a bookish author escapes into the Age of Aquarius (but the Blogger doesn't!)


First, I recall in eleventh grade physics that a neutrino has no rest mass. So I don’t know if one of the premises of how the “2012” apocalypse starts – that neutrinos start interacting with the Earth’s crust when the Sun and planets get aligned with the black hole in the center of the Milky Way – makes sense in science that we could get some real solar flares. But, yup, if some strangelet particle came into contact with Earth, maybe it could bore into the Earth and hollow it out, much as like a scene in “Star Trek.”

Roland Emmerich does throw almost every imaginable disaster at us in the 158 minutes of this film. Some of the scenes, like Los Angeles sliding into the Pacific Ocean, and the explosion of the Yellowstone supervolcano, are quite well done and really could happen.

Hollywood does destroy whole cities once in a while (Paramount's dogme-filmed "Cloverfield"), but not the whole world very often; Summit's "Knowing" (with John Cage) was, like this, based on solar flares, but involved aliens and starting over on another planet(s) with Adam and Eve(s) (see the movies blog March 20, 2009).

But the really interesting thing about this film is the characters – and, yes, the politics. John Cusack (a kind of Tom Hanks) plays an author (Jackson Curtis) whose novel “Farewell Atlantis” (not to be confused with Clive Cussler's "Atlantis Found") has sold “only” 500 copies, probably because it’s self-published, or maybe print-on-demand. He must make a good living as something like a computer programmer or engineer, in some rather introvert-favoring job, to afford his southern California lifestyle. Up to this point, he resembles “me”: my “Do Ask Do Tell” book sold about that many in the first three years. But he is a great family man. He gets out of narrow escapes and adjusts to all kinds of physical challenges, all the way to the end, on one of China’s arks. One of the the most telling quotes from Jackson's novel is political and collective: "we're done when we stop fighting for each other." But in an individualistic culture, people don't want to have to fight for one another. That culture seems to be sinking into chasms in the hollowing-out Earth.

Woody Harrelson plays my other alter-ego (Charlie Frost), this time as a Thoreau-like hermit documenting the supervolcano, and blogging about a government plot (in cahoots with all other nations) to select the fittest to populate the arks for the next Great Flood that will even consume the Himalayas. Maybe he is gay, or maybe he is just a loner, but he is no Luddite; his blog (while superficially resembling this one) is filled with original CGI animation about how the world ends, and he is right. But his "treasure hunt" clue is low tech, a simple map showing where governments have built the arks (he keeps a library with a Dewey Decimal numbering system, the way I used to keep my classical music record collection; I guess "I" am bifurcated in this movie).

Well, actually the world doesn’t end; it passes from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. Humanity starts over. It sounds like you have to be able to procreate to get selected for the Arks, and there are some script lines to the effect that life is not fair, and the Chinese were not fair in who they picked. People who could pay a billion or so euros got ahead in line, even if money wasn’t going to be worth anything at the start of the new age.

The opening of the film has an interesting use of foreshadowing: a child's toy boat topples in monsoon rains in India.

Here's NASA's link on why the world "as we know it" won't end in 2012. The idea of big solar storms is serious, though.

The people who got selected for the arks had the money (I'm not sure what good old fiat money would be after a Second Flood). But in an earlier film about a similar premise, "Deep Impact" (Dreamworks, 1998), the "selected" are notified by simple phone calls.

In 2001, I saw the film "The Year Zero" directed by Wiek Lenssen from Kleine Beer Films in the Netherlands, at the Bell Auditorium at the University of Minnesota as part of an international film festival. The film is organized by stills showing Mayan sculptures of the 13 days of the last Mayan week

Saturday, November 07, 2009

"Underwater Universe" on History Channel: more about tsunamis and underwater volcanoes and earthquakes, as well as "The Deep"


On Monday Nov. 3 The History Channel aired its documentary “Underwater Universe”, about the “Seven Deadly Underwater Seas”. The DVD link is here.

The film covered most of the well-known catastrophes, including underwater earthquakes and volcanoes, tsunamis (including the 2004 Indonesian tsunami), hurricanes, whirlpools (as off the coast of Maine), and icebergs (including the sinking of Titanic). Tsunamis whip up a lot of sand as well as water, adding to destructive potential.

A interesting segment involved Santorini, which exploded as an underwater volcano in ancient times and wiped out much of Minoan civilization. It was the second largest volcanic explosion in history, resulting in 200 foot tsunami waves. Underwater volcanic explosions can release sulfuric acid rain and smother small areas with carbon dioxide, as can small volcanoes on land (resulting in deaths by smothering; this has happened).

The iceberg segment was interesting, in that it explained how icebergs get harder and less dense as the temperature gets colder because of the unusual bonding angles between the atoms in the water molecule.

There was also a segment explaining the exploration down below 30000 feet with the submersible, the Trieste, in the Challenger Deep Trench in the Pacific. The film discussed zones in the deep ocean called Abyssalpelagic and Bathypelagic (try this SVG on Wikipedia).

The end of the film mentioned man’s effect on the oceans as making them more unstable, especially with melting of ice caps.

The Earth is the densest planet in the Solar System, even with its liquid ocean, according to a question on Jeopardy. The only other body known to be likely to have a large water ocean (underneath ice) is Europa, although that may be possible with Titan also (Titan has methane or ethane oceansor lakes on its surface).

Wikiepedia NOSA ocean gravity map.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Discovery's "Nostradamus Decoded"


The Discovery Channel hosted a new variant of the Nostradamus series (also seen on the History Channel a lot), “Nostradamus Decoded.” The movie goes into the structure of his writings (“The Prophecies”) as 10 centimes, organized into quatrains, rather the way you would study them in a college literature course. Nostradamus (Michel de Nostredame) had to hide much of his ideas in code; in the 16th Century, direct criticism of the Church or kingdoms could get you before an Inquisition or burned at the stake. There is something about a personality that simply wants to warn people, that “it really could be that bad” if you don’t wise up and do better. Nostradamus might be an influential blogger if he were alive today.

The movie discusses his predictions of future Anti-Christ’s (like the Van Trier movie, maybe) – “Hister” would map to Adolf Hitler. One of the quatrains can reasonably be mapped to the events of 9/11 (the film shows the Twin Towers imploding). There are other apparent matches such as the atomic bomb in 1945.

Another curious prediction concerns the expansion of the Sun to incinerate the Earth and force men to move out, presumably now to Mars. But that could not happen by 3900; that will not happen for several billion years, when the Sun becomes a red giant (it will eventually become a white dwarf).

Here is a YouTube video on Nostradamus “secret code” from a group called “The Spiritual World”