Wednesday, December 28, 2011

More videos on coronal mass ejections

There are a number of YouTube videos warning about solar flares and coronal mass ejections in 2012 (they're not quite the same things). This one "Something Disturbing: Solar Storms Flares 2012", from BlackCatSaloon is interesting, even if it shows mostly scientific and NAS/NASA articles.

The video points out that the reach of an ejection expands as it moves further from the Sun, and the speaker notes, "it's surprising that we don't get hit more often".  There is also work that suggests that sometimes the Earth's magnetic field has weak spots.

The speaker recommends building Faraday Cages at home to protect electronics (as in the film "The Darkest Hour" Monday).

The Sun's activity is expected to increase in 2012.

Another video says that the Carrington Solar Storm in September 1859 actually set grass and paper on fire, and could cause wild fires now.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of naval ship testing EMP warfare (I think in FL).

Monday, December 26, 2011

"The Darkest Hour": a lesson in possible microwave weapons and EMP, as well as a horror movie about plasma "aliens" (like "Skyline")

Well, Newt Gingrich, and perhaps other doomsday conservatives, ought to receive the total experience of the new 3-D horror film “The Darkest Hour”, directed by Chris Gorak, based on a story by Leslie Bohem, from Summit Entertainment, from Russian, French and German production sources, but in English. 

The science is pretty scary. Let’s talk this backwards.  One resourceful Russian engineer has placed a Faraday Cage around his high rise apartment, as if he expected the attack by the plasma aliens. (“I will accept nothing less,” a friend once said, “than an alien attack. That was a joke about global warming – that aliens were gradually reducing the distance of the Earth from the Sun and “they aren’t telling us.”)

Well, here, the aliens first seem like cauliflower light balls  (Summit Entertainment calls it “ball lightning”) descending from the sky one night, just the way “Skyline” (Nov. 14, 2010 here) starts.  Except here, there is a prologue in Moscow. Two nice “kids” – Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) – arrive in Moscow to sell their social networking site – only to get cut out by Russian business practices, through a twenty-something competitor (Joel Kinnaman). Then, they find themselves in a sexy Russian disco, marginally heterosexual, as social as well as business adversaries.  Here the movie is in prologue move (aka “Cloverfield”), and the  incidental scenery of Moscow is quite spectacular.  Suddenly, the power goes out – more or less for good.  They enjoy the descending plasma balls until the said beings start to attack them, going after anything that has energy. 

Now, we can wonder if plasma could host consciousness with a free will, something to reverse entropy and create more beings.  That might make sense, but toward the end we find out more about these critters, and they might well be castoffs in a Biblical sense.  It’s going on all over the world.  But survivors are figuring out that they can shoot them with microwave guns.

These items exist, as well documented before on my “International Issues”  blog (March 4, 2010). Just before 9/11, Popular Science produced an article warning that terrorists could manufacture them to selectively knock out the power grid and all electronics – permanently – in local areas.  So a lot of the science (and maybe religion, or at least cosmology) in the film deserves to be listened to.  The ending leads us to expect sequels.

Now that the Cold War is long over, Hollywood seems to enjoy destroying Moscow, just as with the Kremlin in "Mission Impossible IV".
Maybe a film like this is an expensive substitute for some dangerous professional tourism.
Maybe Hollywood should try making a prescient film about a solar flare knocking out our power grid, and draw comparison with the Carrington Solar Storm of 1859.  In the end, Nature may be a bigger enemy than terrorists or extraterrestrials.  But Stephen Hawking has warned us – we may have attracted their attention, and they may be mean when they show up. The darkest hour may not be just before dawn.

The film opens with interesting foreshadow: Emile's character refuses to turn off his cell phone on a plane when asked to (feeding on the debate about whether consumer electronics can interfere with planes on take-off and landing), and the power in the plane suddenly goes out for a few seconds, just before landing in Moscow. 

Official site is here

I saw this film at the Arlington VA AMC Courthouse (another old complex showing more indie films these days). The 3D looked great, but it was in a smaller auditorium that shows widescreen at about 2:1 (with slight chopping of the widest edges), and it did not have speakers around the auditorium (just two channels of stereo up front). 

Wikipedia attribution link – making ball lightning with a home microwave oven – I don’ t recommend it around computers.
Second picture – stay out of jail, in Russia or anywhere.Third picture:  a submarine can protect humans from the plasma aliens. This picture is from my trip in July 2011, to the Groton CT Nautilus Museum.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"The Blazing Forest" (1952) was oddly prescient of today's brush fire problem

I thought I would make note of one of the first movies (and a prescient one) that I saw with my parents growing up, “The Blazing Forest” (1952), from Paramount, directed by Edward Ludwig. In the film, two brothers (John Payne and Richard Arlen) have a feud, and as a result (indirectly), one of them has a truck accident starting a catastrophic forest fire in tinder dry California Sierras. Agnes Moorehead is the landowner. The film is oddly prescient for one of today’s most serious dangers to property.

Forest, brush, and even prairie fires have caused catastrophic damage in many states, mostly in the west, since the late 1980s (as with Yellowstone in 1988; there was a catastrophic LA fire that I recall being reported in 1978); a few such fires have happened in the southeast, also. The media covered huge fires around Austin TX this summer, and warmer than normal winters can also lead to fires in the southern plains. Some are caused by dry lightning, some by accidents (even cigarettes) and some may be on purpose.

I remember the Cub Scout days of "Smokey the Bear" but we're a long way beyond that view of things. 

NASA has a short film on the relationship between ocean temperatures and fires in the Amazon:

Saturday, December 03, 2011

"Five" (1951) is said to be the first post-nuclear-war drama in film

The 1951 curio end-times drama “Five” (or "5ive" or even just "5") is said to be the first post-nuclear apocalypse film ever made. Directed and written by Arch Oboler for Columbia Pictures, it followed the first Soviet nuclear test in 1949 by only about two years, and appeared before the hydrogen bomb had been tested.  It’s certainly less well known than Nevil Shute’s “On the Beach”; the latest film of this kind is “The Road” (reviewed here Nov. 2009). 

The title is based on the five adult characters in the “play”, and they don’t all necessarily make it. And the forlorn hope that there are other such enclaves around the planet to rebuild a civilization (as in Stephen King’s “The Stand”) is not to be, either. 

As the film opens, a pregnant woman Roseanne Rogers (Susan Douglas Rubes) is wandering through a California coastal town desperately looking for help. Finally she wanders up a hill and finds a neat hut occupied by a former poet Michael (William Phipps) who had worked as an announcer atop the Empire State Building (now, in retrospect after 9/11, ironic).  He rather likes a life with “no problems” (and no money system – no bills  -- but no media audience for his poetry, either).  

Others who stumble in are a former banker Oliver Barnstaple (Earl Lee), an African American who cares for him (Charles Lampkin), and a rather assertive adventurer Eric (James Anderson), who creates conflict.
Roseanne delivers her baby.   The film would have a chance here to go pro-natalist, but doesn’t (thankfully).  The group wanders down to the California beach (in an odd premonition of Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel, maybe even an inspiration), and also scours downtown LA as Roseanne looks for her husband in a medical office.  Everywhere there are skeletons of people  stopped in their tracks.  (The 1982 TV film “The Day After” [this film mentions “the day after tomorrow’] had shown such an effect at the time of impact – I remember watching the 1982 film in a Dallas apartment with a medical resident neighbor, still.) 

Fights ensue, and in one scene Roseanne, resisting, tears open Eric’s shirt.  But this is a pre-parody of what happens today on disco floors: his hairy chest is becoming covered with the white plaques of radiation poisoning.  On her way back to the hilltop Drohega, the baby dies.  She is left to start over farming with Michael. 

The film is in black-and-white, full screen, and the California coast never looked cleaner.  This little film probably is well for groups like the Nuclear Threat Initiative to bear in mind. 

As the film neared an end, I remember a conversation with my father, as a boy, as we drove into Washington DC in Route 50, near the old Rosslyn one time, when I was about 10, that the country might not last much more than 25 years because of the nuclear threat.  (Then why have children?) We did a lot better than that (by about 30 years, at least).

The film doesn't show physical destruction of buildings, and has some inaccuracies.  For example, people are driving cars, and they wouldn't be operable after an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) associated with a nuclear blast.  

The music score by Henry Russell is rather post-romantic.  

The DVD has a two-part short “Martini Minutes”: that is, “The Secrets of Deception” and “How to Become a Villain”.

The full film can be rented from YouTube for $2.99 or from Netflix subscription. 

(Note: posting url has misspelling "iis" in title because of a typo, fixed afterward.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

PBS Frontline presents story of American David Headley's role in Mumbai attacks

The 50-minute  film “A Perfect Terrorist”, from PBS Frontline and Pro Publica, written and directed by Thomas Jennings, reported by correspondent Sebastian Rotella, is one of the most disturbing documentaries about the post 9/11 world.  It tells the story of David Coleman Headley, an American raised in Pakistan
The basic link is this. 

Headley had been a “brick” (heroine) dealer in Chicago, but moved into undercover,DEA  double-agent work. (Headley was born with a Pakistani name (Daood Sayed Gilani in Washington DC in 1960). Eventually, he would be recruited by illegal offshoots of Pakistani intelligence associated with Al Qaeda to case out the Mumbai (Bombay)  bombings in November 2008, the deadliest incident since 9/11.  His mother would operate a bar in Philadelphia called the Khyber Pass (named after a famous border area between India and Pakistan).  There is a further story by Ginger Thompson from the New York Times in the Deccan Herald here

Later Headley would “operate” in Copenhagen and try to plan further attacks regarding the Jyllands Posten Muhammad Cartoons Controversy, but these additional incidents were called off. 

Rotella found that people who had known Headley did not want to talk about him, as if they could be made to appear responsible for the attacks. 

The PBS link is here.

Watch A Perfect Terrorist on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Fox "Terra Nova" episode maintains that a meteor could cause EMP damage to electronics; in 2005, a young couple films a meteor hit near Seattle and then disappears

Last night, an episode of “Terra Nova” on Fox (TV blog, Sept. 26, 2011) featured a meteor hit with an EMP effect on the “colony”, knocking out most chips and electronics in the compound.

The episode was titled “Nightfall”.

I wasn’t aware that a meteor could affect electronics with its blast.  Of course, a meteor might contain a lot of magnetizable iron. According to a wiki networkdictionary article, this effect is actually possible, (website url) link

In the episode, a middle-aged “techie” was able to repair one chip, and regenerate all the other chips used by the compound.  This sounds very unlikely.  

The concern might seem timely since an asteroid will pass by earth today at about 6:30 PM EDT, at a distance of about 200,000 miles.  No one has suggested that there is any danger to electronics.

An alien or extraterrestrial attack really could start with a high-altitude EMP blast, however. 

Fox’s link for the episode (requires subscription) is here.

Here’s a YouTube video (4 min) made by Scott Pendleton and fiancĂ© Jen Fox on Feb. 14, 2005, when I videotaped a meteor crash, were “attacked” and disappeared (or “went up”).    A pretty good horror short.  Apparently this occurred near Tacoma, WA.  The title of the film is “Case Tape 347”, posted by Paxton10, who says that the couple is still "missing".  Is the couple pulling our leg? It's pretty effective low-budget horror filmmaking; ought to enter it into a short film contest. 

Picture: Autumn light; note the UFO in the picture. 

Sunday, November 06, 2011

NatGeo's riveting "The Last Days of Osama bin Laden", a film by Peter Bergen

On Sunday, Nov. 6, the National Geographic Channel aired Peter Bergen’s riveting documentary “The Last Days of Osama bin Laden,” one hour, at 9 PM EDT.

Mr. Bergen, well known as the media’s leading terrorism analyst in the days after 9/11 (and author of “Holy War, Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden”, Free Press, 2002), starts the film by visiting bin Laden’s neighbors in Abbottobad. Then, the film reconstructs the raid in more detail than ever before, including all the meetings in the Obama administration leading up to it (starting in December 2010, about the time of the final debates on repealing “don’t ask don’t tell”), and showing members of the administration watching the raid inside the White House the afternoon of May 1, in a small room in the White House, which had been closed suddenly to visitors for the day (a tip-off that something was happening).

Osama bin Laden died in relative poverty. His compound had been set up to be relatively “self-sufficient”, and even had a miniature farm to raise its own food.  However, captured notes after bin Laden’s death still showed very dangerous plans against the US homeland.

The Administration was no more than 65% sure, on circumstantial evidence, that bin Laden had been living in the compound.  Nevertheless, on Friday April 29, Obama made the same decision Eisenhower had once made about D-Day.

The CIA had set up a training base in coastal North Carolina, not far from Fort Bragg, where the Navy Seals team rehearsed the raid.  

The film documents more clearly than most, how the CIA, NSA, and military branches (and their personnel) must work together.  Gen. Petraeus was in charge of the raid, and coordinated it from NATO headquarters in Kabul.

The CIA had, however, set up operatives (local people, or individuals who blend in with the locals) to gain intelligence as to how people had lived in the compound.  Generally, this is how the CIA “hire” ground “agents” for anything; they are “ordinary people” (the issue was also covered in another natGeo film aired tonight,  below).  The NSA had satellite intelligence on the compound and had even measured the length of bin Laden’s shadow, rather like estimating a distant person’s height by trigonometric triangulation.

The link is here.

See TV blog today for related films “Bomb Hunters: Afghanistan” and “CIA Confidential: Pakistan Undercover”.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of White House Situation Room.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Recalling "The Last Wave" by Peter Weir (1977): a warning about Cumbre Vieja now?

On Oct. 15, on the Movies blog, in reviewing “Take Shelter”, I made a comparison to Peter Weir’s 1977 Australian film (United Artists), “The Last Wave”.

The film is prescient as to today’s debate on climate change (although when it was made, scientists actually feared global cooling).

There are sudden and protracted torrential downpours in various parts of arid Australia (in areas that have been ravaged by wildfires in the past few years).  The film gets into the issue of wrongs done to the aborigines, and a possible curse. A brawl in a bar and the death of one aborigine accelerates the plot, as does the background of a lawyer (Richard Chamberlain) who defends them. The idea of “DreamTime”, maybe like “Inception” in the recent WB 2010 film from Christopher Nolan, comes into play. But eventually there will be an apocalypse: a gigantic tsunami, maybe hundreds of feet high, a Last Wave.

This could be caused by a comet or asteroid hitting the ocean. Perhaps it could be caused by an underwater earthquake, although the tsunami in the movie (at the very end) is much larger than that in 2004 off Indonesia or this year off Japan. It could happen on the US East Coast because of the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands; as far as I know, there has been no effort to prepare for it. See this link

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

ABC Nightline reports on research into future pandemic viruses in Africa: they key concept is cross into humans from animals

Last night, Bill Weir and Richard Besser introduced Dr. Nathan Wolfe on Nightline, in Cameroon, where he looks at the behavior and animal exposure of indigenous peoples whose close contact with jungle animals could lead to the next animal-human virus jump, leading to the next flu or possibly hemorrhagic fever pandemic.

The people in this areas hunt and eat monkeys and porcupines. A woman was shown skinning (shaving or dequilling) a porcupine before cooking it.

Wolfe has a new book, “The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age”, from Times Books.

There is a question as to whether money should be spent on diseases that “haven’t spread”.  Yet, out of nowhere, a new virus could threaten civilization as we know it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

PBS Frontline questions the FBI's conclusions in the Anthrax Letters

On Tuesday Oct. 11, PBS Frontline aired the one-hour report “The Anthrax Files”  in conjunction with McClathcy Pro Publica, link (website url) here

The report plays devil’s advocate with the FBI’s evidence against Bruce Ivins and the DNA evidence in a particular flask, and says that a report from the National Academy of Sciences weakens the FBI’s claim. This aspect of the reporting did not occur in the CNN version (Oct. 2).  Here is the link for the Committee on Science, Technology and Law.  Also, the PBS version presents non-alarming reasons why Ivins could have been working alone so many hours at night, although it's interesting to me that some of the heaviest hours were logged just before 9/11. 

The PBS report also spent more space on an earlier “person of interest”, including the draining of a pond only to find a turtle trap.

US Assistant Attorney Rachel Lieber still insists that the confluence of all the evidence would have justified prosecution and conviction of Ivins.

But if the case against Ivins is not all that air-tight in retrospect, the real killer could still be out there. 

Update: Oct. 21

Check out the NY Times editorial "Who mailed the anthrax letters", here. This does not seem to be quite ready to be called a "case closed".

Sunday, October 02, 2011

CNN airs documentary film about 2001 anthrax incidents

On Sunday night, October 2, 2011, CNN examined the 2001 anthrax incident ("Amerithrax" according to Wikipedia), with particular attention to the investigation of Dr. Bruce Ivins at Ft. Detrick, MD, with Joe Johns reporting. The name of the documentary film is “Death by Mail: The Anthrax Letters”.

By now the story may be familiar.  I remember the fright of the first reports from Florida (the tabloid company) a couple weeks after 9/11. 

One of the oddest facts about the Ivins case is that he often worked alone at night without a reasonable explanation. One claim by plaintiffs suing the government is that the Army should have required two people be in the lab at all time and should have done more psychological profiling.

Ivins showed signs of serious instability and compulsive behavior, particularly over the loss of attention from a female friend in graduate school.  Eventually, he would admit to stealing her lab notebook in grad school, vandalizing her property, and forging her name on a bizarre newspaper letter to the editor supporting hazing as necessary to “weed people out”.   A young female federal prosecutor says the FBI was very close to charging him, before he took his own life. But Ivins’s attorney says there is no DNA evidence linking him to the attacks.

I recall that there were two other arrests in the Trenton NJ area at the end of 2001, and the media never followed up on these.

Wikipedia attribution link for FBI reward poster.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

PBS Nova airs two-part film on Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami, with graphic footage

PBS Nova on Wednesday night Sept. 28 aired two hours of film on the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

The first hour was a rebroadcast, “Japan’s Killer Quake”. It showed actual footage in Tokyo of the duration of the quake, which was much longer than usual for any quake.   The film depicts liquefaction of soil in Tokyo, with the emergence of water from the cracks.  he resulting tsunami is explained, and depicted as a “glacier of debris”.  A three-foot wave hit Hawaii with plenty of warning but did enormous damage to low-lying areas.  It even reached the California coast.  The tsunami also pushed rivers uphill and produced a salt-water lake in lower sections of the mountains. In one town, a thirty-foot retaining seawall fails because the ground sank three feet in the earthquake.

The inability of the electric utility to cool the nuclear power plant because of power failure is briefly explained.

Here is the link for the first hour.

The second hour is called “Surviving the Tsunami”.  It provides harrowing, by-minute accounts of people caught by the tsunami when they went back to check on their property.  The film would use a red circle to show the location of the person in danger and actually stop for a moment.

The mechanics of the tsunami are explained in more detail. The tsunami was “gradual” and exacerbated by a hard layer of undersea sediment, which hides many small faults.  This “stratum of sediments” structure can make a tsunami larger  -- in this case, sometimes over 30 meters. Is this a lesson to be learned in looking at the Cumbre Viejo volcano in the eastern Atlantic, since it could send a huge tsunami to the US East Coast?  
In one town on an inlet, residents could not see the tsunami until it was already upon them. Parents were caught at an elementary school rescuing kids, and police were surprised by the approach of a “debris glacier” when they went to respond to earthquake-caused accidents.

The film has truly graphic footage, shocking in high definition.

The link is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for animated illustration

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Discovery video with Samuel L. Jackson enumerates the ways the world could end; Supervolcano in Yellowstone singled out

MSN today is promoting a Discovery Channel “Curiosity” video narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, “World’s End”, with a focus on the Mayan date of Dec. 21, 2012, and then a recognition that scientists believe there are five particular disasters that are most likely to eventually recur.

They are (1) a hypercane or super storm (2) a mega quake (3) a supervolcano (4) a mega tsunami, like Cumbre Vieja in the eastern Atlantic, or (5) an asteroid or comet.

The only direct URL seems to be this

A second video, “Looming Disaster”, documents how Yellowstone could blow up with a supervolcano, starting with earthquakes, followed by multiple volcanic eruptions, leading to one big super eruption, that kills 90% of the population in western US.

Then with the one-minute “Do Parallel Universes Exist?” Morgan Freeman examines the possibility that each of us has multiple copies in other universes with different outcomes.

Wikipedia attribution link for map of history of Yellowstone super-eruptions  

Saturday, September 10, 2011

CNN, Time, HBO: "Beyond 9/11: Portraits of Resilience"

Saturday Sept. 10 CNN is airing twice the HBO 55-minute documentary “Beyond 9/11: Portraits of Resilience”, produced with Time Magazine.

The film comprises a series of interviews by Kate Pickert, Paul Moakley, Kira Pollack and Mark Thompson.

Interviewees include former president George W. Bush, whose remarks are similar to those on his Dateline interview, and Cantor-Fitzgerald president Howard Lutnick, who was also interviewed by Piers Morgan Friday (TV blog).  

It does start with the account of someone in a nearby building who heard the first crash, and it also describes some escapes by employees from upper floors.

Later, Donald Rumsfeld describes the "Dark Winter" war game where smallpox is carried into three different locations in the U.S., considering the fact that we have stopped smallpox vaccinations as public health policy. Tom Brokaw talks about the anthrax incident in 2001, including an employee who exhibited symptoms but who had been treated with Cipro in time. 

The HBO link is here

The director and film editor is Phillip Schopper.

Afterward Sanjay Gupta aired “Terror in the Dust”, on the cancer risk from responders who inhaled WTC dust.

Friday, September 09, 2011

"Contagion": all too believable docudrama of a bird flu pandemic; bloggers v. government v. virus

I recall that director Steven Soderbergh, a few years ago, after accepting an Oscar for “Traffic”, thanked writers for making movies possible.  That’s prescient for a subplot of the docudrama “Contagion”, the new Warner Brothers and Participant Media “thriller” which, released 9/11 weekend, credibly convinces  us that H5N1-style bird flu viruses could deep-six western civ.   

Actually, I’m ahead of myself. In the movie it’s called MEV-1, as if to warn us that new animal-related flus could crop up too suddenly for us to catch them.  Indeed, in the film’s epilogue, there’s a clever preamble for “another” pandemic, just after “this” one is somewhat controlled.

The “powers that be” do quick-step to a vaccine and get it to the public in stadiums, after a number of major cities are in shambles from corpses and rioting. It’s hard to believe that a society so sacked could recover at all.

The movie does start out as a “conventional” thriller with plot. Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) calls her hubbie (Matt Damon)  stay-at-home papa-ing in Minenapolis from Chicago O’Hare. She is tired from her trip from Hong Kong.  At home, about to cook Thanksgiving dinner (there’s already snow in Minneapolis, which doesn’t always happen then – I lived there for six years), she collapses with a seizure.  Pretty soon she’s gone.  So is one of her kids. Mitch (Matt  Damon is just starting to look ripe as he enters his 40s) is kept in isolation, but doesn’t get sick.  Is he naturally immune by genetics?

Trouble is, the movie changes to Frontline-style documentary mode for much of the rest of its 102 minutes.  Lots of people come down with fever, cough, and seizures and die in hours.  This flu invades the brain as well as lungs (the “real” bird fly may affect the spine but tends to the GI track besides the lungs).

Laurence Fishburn  (looking like Neil deGrasse Tyson) plays the CDC head, who is sending researchers all over the world to get specimens and get kidnapped, or others, like Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet) just to get sick themselves.  He may have an ethics-violating collusion with the pharmaceuticals, to be uncovered by guerrilla blogger Alan Krumwiede (a grizzled and slightly aging Jude Law) in San Francisco.  If Alan were as high-minded as Julian Assange, that would make for better story. But he winds up trying to see a homeopathic remedy, Forsythia, to prove you can really get rich by just blogging. 

There is an early scene where he is told that “blogs are graffiti with punctuation” and that he isn’t even a real “writer”. Krumweide claims he is a “journalist”, but a true journalist isn’t supposed to be on the take either.  Soderbergh must want us to think about the “amateurism” issue and the role of underground speech and publishing in “keeping them honest”.   Krumweide will be set up and arrested; in fact, a few bloggers have been prosecuted for insider trading (going as far back as 1999), and the FTC is supposed to be making them disclose when they’re paid or given samples to review. 

There's a scene where Emhoff's family resents the authorities' insistence on cremation of disease fatalities, no burial.  But later cities are shown with mass graves and lime resembling the Holocaust.

There's an interesting concept of "R-0 number", the expected number of people to be infected by one person with a contagious disease through ordinary "casual contact". 

Here is WB’s official site. WB used its Casablanca musical trademark this time, most welcome.

The film is shot in “only” 1.85:1 (Soderbergh seems to prefer that) but is still shown in Imax in a few theaters. 
The story takes place in many cities.  Many actual streets (like Lake and Lyndale, a famous intersection) in Minneapolis are mentioned, but  I didn’t recognized any of the actual city (as I did with “Tree of Life”); I think Chicago was used for the snow locations.  Atlanta, New Orleans and San Francisco are used, and some of the scenery in Hong Kong and in mainland China is most effective.

John Basedow's review on YouTube:

The film can be compared to ABC's "Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America" (2006) or Daniel Percival's "Smallpox 2002: Silent Weapon" for Fox.  We can compare the substance of the film to the experience with SARS in 2003, and later H1N1 in 2009-2010, which has turned out to be pretty controllable.  I could say it's inexcusable that we haven't done more work on an H5N1 vaccine, since H5N1 could probably erupt at any time ("the birds are doing that").  But H5N1 could be too variable to make a reliable vaccine. The film mentions "social distancing" as a containment strategy, along with economically destructive curfews and quarantines. The new virus, researches say, is spread by "foamites" (surfaces). There's an interesting explanation of how the "handshake" evolved: as a way of proving you didn't carry a gun.  A "High 5" is a lot safer, and less affectionate. 

We could also compare this movie to Wolfgang Petersen's "Outbreak" (1995) (Warner Bros.), which was actually shown to an AP chemistry class in Fairfax County VA when I substitute-taught. Less convincing would be a comparison to "Robin Cook's Virus" directed by Armand Mastroiana, a TV film, or the overlong Hallmark film "Pandemic" from the same director. 

See also story on "artificial" H5N1-like virus created in lab and controversy over publication on my Issues blog, Dec. 20, 2011.

Update: April 5, 2020

CNN offers a video proposing that COVID19 virus has been around for years but suddenly became more transmissible in late 2019 in China.  Actors and crew from "Contagion" film talk about it. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

NatGeo airs updated "Inside 9/11" (based on 2005 film, includes May 1 action on OBL)

This evening (Sunday, Aug. 28), National Geographic aired most (3 hours)of its 2005 four-hour “Inside 9/11” series (directed by Mike Heasley), but revised in a number of places to account for the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 1 (or 2, depending on time zone), 2011. (This was in preparation to the new interview with former President Bush at 10 PM, discussed Aug. 26 on mu TV blog.)

The first two hours (“Zero Hour”)  recreate in detail the morning of 9/11.  One detail that is particularly interesting is that a student in a middle school told his teacher a week before that the World Trade Center towers would not be standing a week later.  (The third hour is “The War Continues”.)

There are many details of heroism in how people were helped to escape from the towers on the morning of 9/11.   The film also gives a lot of details of the Madrid (2004) and London (2005) attacks.
The basic Natgeo link is here.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Discovery to run "Alien Invasion: Are We Ready?"

Discovery Channel is hosting on “Curiosity” Sunday at 8, “Alien Invasion: Are We Ready?”  MSN offers a large number of preview videos, such as this one, link.

There are fifteen videos, and Windows 7 or Vista may ask for permission before you can play them.

The general idea is that an alien invasion would be sudden, global, and massive, and shut down the entire planet with an EMP effect with a high altitude nuclear blast.

This "Event" wouldn’t be (just) a gentle young man like Mark Zuckerberg taking over the planet by writing a program like Facebook, particularly in a college dorm when drunk after an argument with a girl friend (the opening of “The Social Network”).  (The central site promoting this urban legend is this.)  On how many other planets in our Milky Way (how many "solar systems") is Facebook in use? 

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

"Liberty Is Not Given" offers "common sense" video on solar storms and space weather

“Liberty Is Not Given” has a 6 minute YouTube video “2012 Doomsday #1: Solar Flares”. The video says that solar flares and coronal mass ejections are not the same things (without clear definitions). It says that CME’s and flares can happen at any time, not just necessarily during maximum solar activity.  It discounted the idea that a 1859-style Carrington-like event could cause enormous long-term power failures.

However, it’s clear that utilities should be hardening their substations and grids from natural disasters, including huge lightning strikes, fires, and solar events, as well as (in coastal areas) tsunamis.

And in the mean time, our political system debates debt as a purely financial matter, without regard to the possibility of sudden shocks to our infrastructure. 

The video recommends a site called “Daily Common Sense”, link

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of coronal mass ejection. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Conservative video warns of the "real" financial risk in August, bringing down a Ponzi economy (it's not just the debt ceiling)

I may be stretching things to call this a “movie”, but I think Tyler Durden’s  YouTube video ("2011 Economic Storm to Prepare For")  on the real danger to what he calls the Ponzi Scheme of our entire economy, deserves viewing.  He says, like many conservatives, that the real danger in August 2011 doesn’t come from failing to lift the debt ceiling, but from the difficulty the government will have in rolling over its principal -- $500 billion in August, $90 billion in August 4. This can happen eventually when debts and deficits get large enough even with an extension. The Washington Times warned about this July 29 in an editorial.

Ali Velshi's CNN show warned of this Saturday afternoon July 30. Generally, the media has paid little attention to this. If this is part of the Tea Party's point, they haven't been very clear about it yet. 

Here is the link to his website (ZeroHedge) explaining this.

AlterNet has a provocative story this morning about how “the rich” (which it defines as anyone with assets over $1 million, and that is not true anymore), are preparing for social and legal breakdown, link here.  

There seems to be an underlying moral point: You can’t have sustainable freedom and prosperity unless every person can account for the actual earning of wealth personally and the ability to take care of others personally and locally even in the face of uncertainty.

We could go into financial Armageddon, and then have a real one suddenly. I like the “coronal mass ejection” scenario that we aren’t ready for.  Get ready for the Purification, the Tea Party sayeth. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Recalling "Thirteen Days" of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962

In these days of talk of various kinds of armageddons, it’s well to recall the 2000 film “Thirteen Days” (aka “13 Days”), directed by Roger Donaldson, from New Line (when that studio was healthier).

The film is a dramatization (not quite a docudrama) of the two weeks of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when John F. Kennedy had been president for less than two years. 

I was a “mental patient” at the National Institutes of Health at the time (in an episode I have chronicled at various places on other blogs).  But I was allowed to go to college at George Washington University in the evenings (the only patient who did), and I was sitting the old Student Union building on G Street eating a cheeseburger while watching Kennedy’s first speech about the matter on black and white TV.  When I got back to the “ward”, none of the other patients had any idea what was going on, but I let them know. This was quite some period of my life.  I really thought we would be the last to survive.

This is the closest we have ever come to the end of civilization during my lifetime.

The film (based on a book by Ernest R. May) is long, 145 minutes,  and was filmed in regular aspect, despite some special effects like mushroom clouds.

Bruce Greenwood played president Kennedy, Kevin Costner played insider Kenny O’Donnell, and Dylan Baker played Robert McNamara.

Check the Movies Blog June 13 for “X-Men: First Class”, also about the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

ABC, NBC both offer major videos on sudden concerns about domestic nuclear safety: floods, wildfires, tritium releases

ABC News on Monday June 27 reported on the possible effects of river floods on two Nebraska nuclear plants, especially Fort Calhoun, which is surrounded by water now. However now water has affected the backup power systems that would cool the core.

Jim Sciutto of ABC Nws then provided a report on the fact that 40% of Americans live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant. FEMA insists that only those within 10 miles need evacuation plans, but in Japan’s Fukushima, 50 miles was necessary. The report also covered apparently unsafe or illegal levels of tritium (an isotope of hydrogen) on private property of homeowners near nuclear plants, such as one near Chicago.

On Tuesday NBC Nightly News reported on possible dangers to nuclear materials at Los Alamos, NM due to the huge 93-square-mile wildfire.  (It's funny, Michael Crichton used "Wildfire" as the name of a top secret government project in "The Andromeda Strain", a movie twice.)   The clip talks about a particular concern over plutonium storage on the grounds and the effect of a possible release. The "Manhattan Project" during WWII, resulting in the atomic bomb, was conducted here. Just imagine the effect of the evacuations on the local population. 

Back in New York City in 1978, an “Understanding” unit member named Barbara Charles wanted to mount a campaign to stop all nuclear power, and I opposed the idea of focusing so much on just one issue as a cause.  Many parts of Europe, especially France, have run nuclear power safely and efficiently for years. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Short films on "demographic winter" abound

I reviewed “Demographic Winter” on my Movies blog June 7, but there are a number of short films about the issue on YouTube.

For example, watch “The Sad Truth About Europe”, posted by Casa LuBanana (7 min).

The film says that a culture cannot sustain itself for more than 25 years with a fertility rate of less than 1.9 per couple.  I think “you know” where this is headed, as it discusses Muslim immigration into Europe, and Canada and, to a lesser extent, the United States.  I don’t think the film is correct on US fertility rates.

Ladyattis has a contrasting video, “Demographic Winter Is a Myth” (9 min). She argues that a young population is not necessarily essential to a technological culture. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Weather Channel punts on tornado documentary, coverage not as intense as CNN's

The Weather Channel aired a one hour “Tornado!” last night, which I thought would be a structured documentary on the recent outbreaks, but in fact it was mostly a current news program.

It started reporting from El Reno, OK on the tornado swath through the state. Later it showed the funnel clouds above Love Field (home of Southwest Airlines), near the Oak Lawn section of Dallas, when the entire terminal was evacuated after planes were emptied.

Much of the rest of the broadcast dealt with Texas, as the storms moved east of the DFW Metroplex, rather than with the possibility of recurrence over Joplin, MO, which Anderson Cooper had covered earlier in the evening (see the TV blog).

The 1996 film "Twister" by Jan de Bont (WB; Spielberg was executve producer, written by Michael Crichton) seems all to true now.

CNN's coverage (much more than Weather Channel) has emphasized that winds of this magnitude (in an F5 tornado) are not survivable, much as a tsunami is not survivable. One victim literally "went up" through a car sun roof window, sucked out of the car as in a horror film, possibly carried in the winds for miles.  This is possible with winds over 150 mph.  It has become impossible for rescuers to identify victims found miles away, even those alive (CNN report Wed. night, AC360).  CNN has also covered the damage to St. John's Hospital in Joplin in detail. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Tornado Alley frequency map (pd). 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

CNBC covers Fukushima in one-hour "Nuclear Meltdown"

CNBC’s one hour documentary on catastrophe at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants severely damaged by the tsunami that followed the 9.0 offshore March 11, 2011 earthquake, is called naturally enough, “Nuclear Meltdown”, having aired first on May 18, and again May 22, pre-empting some more “popular” shows.

The plant simply wasn’t built to withstand a tsunami of this size, which destroyed the backup power needed to cool the reactors.  It still isn’t clear how many other seaside reactors around the world could have such an exposure, when one considers that a 100 foot tsunami from a Cumbre Vieja  volcano in the Atlantic might be theoretically possible, from an avalanche.

It’s also interesting to note how the radiation exposure to workers on the cleanup was managed, and that older workers, past reproductive age and with fewer life expectancy years to be lost to possible radiation exposure. It’s unpleasant to think about how democratic societies have to ration sacrifice.

Still, the one power source most consistent with not adding more carbon to the atmosphere is nuclear.
The link is here

Here’s a video from Russia Today of the tsunami hitting the plant.

Picture: from Lake Anna plant, Dominion Power, NW of Richmond, VA

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

PBS documentary on Soviet, US nuclear tests in the 50s and 60s puts a perspective on today's asymmetry

On May 17, PBS aired a frightening episode from its “Secrets of the Dead” series: “The World’s Biggest Bomb”, focusing on the Czar device detonated by the Soviet Union over an arctic island on Oct. 30, 1961.

The 50 megaton device produced a mushroom cloud that went 40 miles up. Compared to most devices even discussed in today’s warning (as by Graham Allison) about nuclear terror (which presumes much smaller devices), the device (if exploded at 2000 feet altitude) would have produced total destruction for at least a 3 mile radius and destroyed most buildings for 12 mile radius. The designer, Sakharov, had reduced the yield down from 100 megatons.

The documentary also covers the 1954 hydrogen bomb test at the Bikini Atoll (destroying a small tribal kingdom after evacuation and making the place permanently uninhabitable) of Castle Bravo, 15 megatons.

From the Soviet blast, there is controversy about the fallout, which stayed in the troposphere for a very long time. Buildings were damaged 300 miles away.

Could weapons like this have been fired as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962? If so, there would be no civilization today.

The documentary didn't cover the EMP issue. 

The PBS link is here.  The WETA link is this.

The fall of 1961 was a very trying time for me, resulting in a college expulsion, as detailed elsewhere in my blogs.