Monday, December 23, 2013

"Titan Shelters" commercial inspires looking at videos on doomsday bunkers condos

A company called “Titan Shelters” has been running an aggressive one-minute commercial suggesting that “protecting your family” in case of total breakdown is a moral responsibility.  The link is here.  I don’t know how well it would do if we lost electricity permanently, like in the show “Revolution”.  The name of the company is amusing, since Titan is also the name of the largest moon of Saturn and could contain life. Maybe it could be a place for earthlings to resettle. 

The Young Turks offer a 5-minute video “Doomsday Preppers Buy Luxury Shelters for Apocalypse”, with host Ana Kasparian.  With another male host, Ana shows footage of underground shelter condos in Utah or other western states made from former military bunkers.  Some cost as much as $7 million to purchase.  Some have video simulating scenery from windows.  
There is a “shelter condo” in about 12 stories underground somewhere in Kansas. 
The hosts believed that the preppers really fear economic or societal breakdown more than they fear “solar storms”.  If there was am EMP attack, perhaps underground electronics would survive, but the shelter would need its own generating capacity for the very long term.

Media reports indicate that Adam Lanza’s mother had been a doomsday prepper, and had taught her disturbed son to use weapons out of a personal belief that society would collapse.  Her choice of action for her son was most inappropriate.  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

HBO and CNN: "Terror in Mumbai" about the Nov. 2008 attacks

CNN and HBO are hosting the 90-minute documentary “Terror in Mumbai” about the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai against civilians, largely in luxury hotels.
The HBO link for the film is here.  Fareed Zakaria narrates the film directed b Daniel Reed, for which filming apparently started in 2009.
The film has a lot of footage of cell phone calls among the terrorists tracked through a facility in New Jersey after terrorists activated three SIM cards.

The attacks against civilians were of great brutality, matched in recent times only by the attacks in Kenya (Nov. 23).

Police in India were shipshod at first and did not try to take quick hold of the situation.

The attack was later traced to elements within Pakistan supported by the Pakastani ISI, who used the terror attack targeting apparently affluent civilians for what they saw as political gains in Kashmir. But the attack also had radical Islamic elements speaking of the “Army of the righteous”.

170 people died in the attack, including many Muslins.  Attackers told the media, “This is just the trailer, wait for the rest of the film.”  Zakaria warns that the attacks were fed by poverty and despair of young men leading to a culture of hate, which fantasizes imposing radical Islam on all of India.
Aimal Kassab was the only attacker arrested alive by Indian police.
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Taj Hotel. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

NBC Dateline "Nowhere to Hide" gives survivor accounts of Westgate Mall attack in Kenya

Dateline Lester Hold and Kate Snow in “Nowhere to Hide”, at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, September 21, 2013. 
The report gave the details of families where parents were separated from some of their children.  In some cases, some relatives were still outside the mall, in others they were sheltered by strangers.
There were cases where people were targeted when their cell phone ring tones went off.
But cell phone video captured the ordeal of the Walton family. The older brother  Phillip Walton protected the younger brother, willing to sacrifice himself for family even though he hadn’t personally “created” it.  “He knew he was responsible for his younger brother” at 14, according to Kate Snow.  They hid behind a barricare of flower beds. 

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
Terrorists seemed determine to target civilians as “accomplices” of western civilization.
One mother gave an account of getting her kids to play possum and lie still, and even the two year old did, for 3-1/2 hours.  They are approached by a man who turned out to be a Kenyan policeman. But the Walton boys did not fall for a ruse of terrorists pretending to be police. 
Eventually, a Kenyan civilian helped rescue many of the people, who knew he was OK because he was not carrying a weapon.  It’s unclear how he could float among the terrorists and be left alone, other than by the color of his skin.  The civilian, a Muslim, said that in his mind religious creed should have no bearing on the value of human life, and he disagreed with radical islam.  The NBC report seemed to suggest this was religious persecution of Christians and Jews. The report did not get into the history of Al-Shabaab. 

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Westgate mall. There is a Westgate Mall near Cleveland, Ohio, near Westlake and Elyria and the Turnpike, to which I have been many times.    

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Blacklist" proposes how the Occupy movement could be enlisted to provoke a financial crisis

Monday night’s episode (from Nov. 11) of “The Blacklist” added a new wrinkle into the idea of total financial collapse, Stansberry style.

This time, radicals associated with “Anonymous” and the Occupy movements of a couple of years go shut down the air space with airport attacks so that cash cannot be moved by air.  Then they hijack armored trucks so that cash goes into the hands of the poor in the demonstrations.  I’m not sure where the counterfeiting opportunity comes in.  But once “Monopoly money” was in regular circulation and could not be distinguished readily from real bills, the whole artifice of a financial establishment would collapse, and a barter world would ensue.  That seemed to be the theory.
Spader’s character also smothered a terminal patient, a relative, in bed, in a surprisingly touching scene.

It does seem that NBC’s “The Blacklist” is becoming a catalogue of existential threats to our way of life. 

Monday, November 04, 2013

NBC's "Blacklist" shows a subway chemical attack in tonight's episode

A startling episode this evening (Monday, November 4, 2013) of NBC’s “The Blacklist” shows how a major terror attack on a subway could happen.  The episode is called “Frederick Barnes”, named after the mad-scientist character who, in grief over an ill son, engineers the attacks.  The weapon starts with a steel briefcase, which is left on a subway car and then activated by remote control when the train leaves.  It is also used in a courtroom. 
The episode mentions strontium-90 and radioactivity contamination, and the patients seem to have swollen blood vessels.  It’s not clear what the gas is, and whether it is a poison or infectious agent. There seems to be an antidote, but Barnes actually invades a hospital to keep a patient from recovering.  As this episode shows, many hospitals do not have airtight security in their patient wings or intensive care rooms, which are almost like regular hospital rooms in many cases.
The attack is said to happen on the Washington DC Metro Red Line. But the trains used in the episode look like the trains from the Toronto Metro (which I have ridden once).  Also, there is a Farragut North but no Farragut East on the real Metro.  

The Pilot of the series, in which a captured spy gives information about future attacks to a young woman and FBI agent who may be his daughter, was reviewed on the TV Blog Sept. 24, 2013. 

See also a report of a simulation of a similar incident by ABC Sept. 10, 2013.  

Picture: how we have wildfires. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

"American Blackout" on NatGeo: this scenario is more likely from a massive solar storm or EMP than cyber attack

The National Geographic Channel aired the docudrama film “American Blackout” Sunday, October 27, 2013.  The basic link is here  The film simulates a 10-day blackout. Much of the narrative comes from handheld videocams of the ficitious characters affected, in the style of “Paranormal Activity” or even “Cloverfield”.

Within an hour or so, a blackout starts on the East Coast and spread to most major cities.  Media stations use generators to stay on the air, and soon the government claims this was the result of a cyberattack. 

One obvious question is why the entire power grid could be vulnerable to hackers.  My point is that it should not be possible, in terms of topology, to reach Dominion Power’s grid controls from this laptop with my Internet connection.  It is true that I can look at their outage map, so that capability implies the existence of a mathematical path to the control systems.  

A much more likely cause of a major blackout could be a major solar storm (with coronal mass ejections) or a terrorist electromagnetic pulse attack (EMP).  A high altitude nuclear blast could blanket the entire country with EMP pulses (which would actually come in several waves).  But smaller, non-nuclear weapons effective in small areas are possible and are in use overseas by the Army today.

Various situations are presented, some of them obvious, as people stuck in elevators. Later, the documentary consists to the countryside, where a property owner chases off another man seeking help with a rifle.  This is not the time for radical hospitality.
By day 4, the federal government takes over supplies, and rations gasoline.  Riots and looting have broken out in some cities.  The fact that so many people own weapons becomes significant, in varied ways.
Water systems in cities quickly fail, as baclup systems fail.
People on upper floors of high rise skyscraper buildings, often rich, are in a heap of trouble. In the second half of the film, there is a building fire and no help available.  In other buildings there are home invasions. 
Ham radio operators begin to spread right wing messages.
This new film should not be confused with a 2006 film by the same name about voting rights.
President Obama appears as himself in the film and has to ask for international aid.
By day 10, some service is restored, but for others service is months away.  And they don’t know how to stop a repeat.  Then, in the last moments, the power comes back on, at least in some areas.    
The NatGeo website does warn that there other ways this scenario could happen, as with EMP, Carrington-style solar storm, or even general grid vulnerability and carelessness in industry oversight.  Again, the vulnerability is possible only because we have become “dependent” on  electricity and technology.
Is this film going to be followed up as a television series (like “Revolution”)?

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

PBS Nova: "Inside the Megastorm" on Hurricane Sandy

PBS Nova aired a one-hour documentary about Superstorm Sandy, called “Inside the Megastorm”.  The link is here
The documentary tracked the sudden formation of the Caribbean low Oct. 22 that would become Sandy, and by Oct 24 or so, the alarms were raised.
Sandy became a monster because of high pressure around Greenland blocking a normal path, and another low associated with a dipping Jetstream bringing down a strong cold front.  The setup was a little bit like “The Perfect Storm” in late October 1991, as in Sebastian Junger’s book and 2000 movie, and leading to the Halloween Blizzard in Minnesota.
The film explains how a warmer world means a wavy jetstream, which can mean fewer hurricanes but stronger ones when they come, and more likely to occur out of season.  It also explains that warmer oceans mean higher seas.
The documentary traced the advance of the storm toward New York, and the destruction of Breezy Point in Queens.  It also explained how the power in lower Manhattan went out for at least four days because salt water shorted out cables on the West side near a ConEd plant (I thought that happened on the East Side).
As a whole, much of New York City, especially Brooklyn, Queens, Richmond, and the lower part of Manhattan, is a very low elevation, and lower than comparable areas in many other mid-Atlantic cities like Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Richmond, which straddle the Fall Line.   When you are in NYC and walking the streets you really don’t notice this.  I live at about 330 feet elevation.   I snows more here in winter than it does at river level three miles away.  Can I be complacent?  Not against a mega-tsunami from the Canary Islands Cumbre-Vieja volcano if it goes and slides into the ocean in an earthquake.  

The documentary presented one drowning on Staten Island. 
I visited the New Jersey coast, Staten Island, and southern Long Island areas in March 2013.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

ABC Nightline reports on "microwave" delusions of Navy Yard shooter, and then on Al-Shabab

The man (Aaron Alexis) who perpetrated the Washington Navy Yard Building 197 shootings, resulting in twelve deaths, is reported on ABC Nightline to have believed the government had inundated him with “low frequency radio waves” or microwaves. The shotgun had inscriptions about “ELF” waves and the like.  There were diary postings (not online) on his own computer about ELF.
The idea is noteworthy because the military does have radio frequency wave generating weapons that it uses to disable enemy electronics in the battlefield in Afghanistan and had used in Iraq.  The Marine Corps (as part of the Navy) probably uses similar weapons.  I had discussed this on my International Issues blog March 4, 2010 after a visit to Aberbeen Proving Grounds, and the Ordnance Museum.
Some writers on the political right have warned that terrorists could acquire these weapons or even manufacture them (as in a book my Michael Maloof, reviewed April 13, 2013 on the Books blog.  This predictions have been known since 2001, when a report about the possibility appeared in Popular Science shortly before 9/11, and were reported by the Washington Times in 2009. Nightline's link (4 minutes) is here

ABC Nightline also discussed Al-Shabab (or Al-Shabaab) as a particular militant offshoot of Al-Qaeda from Somalia.
What is so disturbing about the Kenya attack is that individuals in the Mall, as a soft target, were targeted, interrogated and executed for not being Muslim.  This may sound like Christian claims of persecution (as in Egypt).  But it seems the group likes to target individuals as if they should be held personally responsible for western self-indulgence or for supposed religious flaws, making these individuals pay personally as well as their loved ones for "benefiting" from what radicals see as ill-gotten material lifestyle gains. .  This sounds a bit like the tactic of the Boston Marathon attack. The Nightline 7-minute film is here. It was a mentality common on the Far Left that I noticed with radical groups (like the Peoples Party of New Jersey) early in my working adult life in the early 1970's. 
Al-Shabab has been able to attract westerners, including some young men from the Midwest, especially the Minneapolis-St. Paul area which has a large Somali presence. I believe that the Arabic word means "The Youth". 
Democracy Now has a short documentary (17 min) on Al-Shabaab. 

If one connects the dots, last night’s Nightline was particularly disturbing. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In 1999, ABC Nightline had broadcast a fictitious simulation of an anthrax subway attack; new questions on the 2001 attacks and Ivins surface

In a dinner conversation Sunday night, there was mention of a 1999 ABC Nightline report on a fictitious anthrax attack on the BART system in San Francisco.  The report had aired more than two years before 9/11.  It supposed that terrorists threw glass vials in a subway tunnel.  In two days, cases started showing up in hospitals, and in five days thousands were dead, in the simulation.  But for such an attack to work, the anthrax would have to be skillfully weaponized, something that can be done in only a few labs around the world, including Fort Dietrick in Frederick MD. 
Subway systems in London and Paris often (in many major stations on many lines) have “suicide” panel barriers, transparent plastic guards that open at specific spots for subway doors.  I remember noticing these in the spring of 2001 when I was there. It would be costly, but prudent to install these in the US in NYC, Washington, San Francisco, Atlanta, etc.  
The report had been largely forgotten, but apparently it was inspired by report written by William Patrick III and obtained by ABC News in February 1999, as in this report from ABC News dated in June 2002, (website url)    link
Some people believe that not only was Steve Hatfill wrongfully accused by the FBI, but so also was Bruce Ivins, whose suicide is said to have occurred out of hopelessness.   ProPublica has a series on Ivins and the incident here. There are dangling stories, such as 2002 arrests at a garden apartment complex near Trenton NJ that were never followed up on by the media, and a troubling question as to why American Media was attacked in Florida, when it housed supermarket tabloids.  Was it because the trademarked name of the company was iconic?  All this could generate another documentary film, I think.  

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

CNN's "The Flag": more valuable as a retrospect of the entire 9/11 event than just about the flag itself

The Flag” came from a yacht owned by a lower Manhattan couple.  This refers to the flag raised by three firemen in the runs of the twin towers of the World Trade Center on 9/11.  Months later, when the couple wanted it back temporarily for a commemoration, they found that the flag had been replaced and the original one misplaced.
It is a mystery how the picture was taken, but it was first published in New Jersey Sept. 12, 2001. 
As a flag picture, it is iconic as the Iwo Jima picture from WWII.
Most of the CNN film, first broadcast on Sept. 4, 2013, rehearses a lot of the action on the street that horrible day, where lower Manhattan had turned into the scene of a black-and-white horror movie.  It is all familiar now.
The film is directed by Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein, and is branded by "CNN Films" for distribution.  The most important link seems to be here.  There may be some limited theatrical showings. 

The original flag still has never been found. 

Sunday, September 01, 2013

"The End of America": Financial publisher predicts world will refuse to accept dollar as reserve currency because of our printing money to pay debts, leading to collapse

I haven’t covered purely “financial” disaster videos on this blog much.  I saw Porter Stansberry’s video “The End of America” being pushed in a news feed by Toshiba on my new Windows 8 laptop on the Internet Explorer default screen. 

The video visually is nothing more than a series of Power Point slides matching his speech that runs 83 minutes. 

Stansberry’s thesis is that the world is already turning away from the dollar as a reserve currency, and that this can cause a sudden, financial Armageddon.   That could occur, he says, one day when the rest of the world simply refuses to by bonds un US dollars at all. The reason for the process is that the US can print money to pay for its growing debts and deficit spending.  This obviously feeds into the debate on the debt ceiling, as well as population demographics (an aging population, fewer children in some populations).   The rest of the world will naturally balk at the US’s living beyond its means at their expense.  International monetary authorities are already developing bonds defined with “special drawing rights” or SDR’s.

Stansberry predicts sudden banking collapse within the US, wiping out normal assets.  Even ATM’s won’t work, he says.  Why would financial operations fail within the US?  Well, he claims, civil disorder and marital law could ensue.  The video was posted on March 13, 2013 and predicted a collapse within a few weeks of that time.

Toward the end of the video he offers his newsletter subscription, and refers to four steps which he will not name specifically.  The advice appears to include putting some assets overseas, owing more gold and especially silver, apparently doing puts and calls (but that requires skill in day trading), and, most of all, owning more commodities, and looking for barter opportunities.  Although the video denies that “guns” are involved, it sounds from the tone that rural real estate with real physical self-sufficiency in terms of food would be a good idea.  There is a tone of “doomsday prepper” mentality.

I actually heard some of these advice from co-workers in the early 1980s, one of whom was investing in junk silver.  I wonder what Stansberry would think of bitcoin today.

I does seem as though Stansberry thinks that the currencies of countries whose people are more "disciplined" (like China) will turn out to become dominating.  That view takes on moral aspects.
Stansberry does introduce a useful concept, called the "normalcy bias", which explains why people don't prepare for disasters that haven't happened before. 
An article on the Daily Crux gives some more info here.

Some other references on the web do indeed call into question Stansberry’s reputation.

I think it pays to bear in mind that some of the most serious threats are to infrastructure, particularly the power grid, and maybe even from cyberwarfare.

Stansfield’s theories would obviously cause other commodity prices to rise.  But the United States has the newfound ability to meet its fossil fuel energy needs (whatever the effect on climate change) from new technologies (fracking) to develop enormous local reserves of natural gas.  Demonstration of that ability could offset the reduction in the value of the US dollar.  

Friday, August 30, 2013

"Evacuate Earth", NatGeo documentary, imagines building an evacuation "Ark" to a nearby solar system if a neutron star threatens Earth

"Evacuate Earth", a docudrama by Bruce David Klein for the National Geographic Channel, envisions a project to evacuate about 250,000 people from Earth to an “Earth 2” (the name of a television series in the 1990’s) in the Goldilox zone around Barnard’s Star, about 6 light years from Earth.  It’s more likely that a suitable planet exists about 20 light years away around one of the “Gliese” M-stars, and it’s likely that a planet with a habitable area would be tidally locked.  (2020: The best available link to purchase a video to watch this legally seems to be this.)

The scenario imagines that NASA determines that a neutron star will come close the Earth in 75 years.  It’s not likely that a neutron star or black hole is within 75 light years of Earth, let alone able to reach us that soon.  As the object approached, many asteroids would become unstable in obit and could hit Earth first.  But given such a deadline, could Earth solve not only the technological problems but the social and political issues to build a “Horizon” space ship (a kind of secular "Noah's ark"), propelled by “Orion” nuclear explosions, a cylinder built like the one in Arthur C. Clarke’s “Rendezvous with Rama” (1979)?

The government sets up a research facility called Star City in the Disney area of Florida.  The selection of the people, who have to be fit and genetically diverse, raises obvious ethical problems, because by definition everyone else is “left behind”.  It could obviously raise questions about eugenics and memories of Nazism, except that genetic diversity (instead of a monolithic master race) is a must.
There are other side issues, such as when “rich people” with a John Galt streak build their own anti-matter “Savior” ship – at $500 million a ticket – based on an antimatter engine, but it blows up like the Challenger (actually on the pad).

A whole generation or two must live on the Horizon for about 80 years and even have a couple of generations of children.  How the population of such a spaceship would be organized politically is obviously a troubling question.  The physiological ability to have children (in artificial gravity) is an issue, as is the emotional inclination of people to do so, given that they don't have the freedom that we're accustomed to expecting. 
The film implies another level of ethical thinking, whether every individual should prove he or she can provide for others in a survival, moneyless mode, before he strikes out on his own – because we never know when there could arise a circumstance where the survival of those who follow “you” is more important than “you” are.  My own father believed in this idea.
Some day, man will have to leave Earth.  Eventually the Sun will become a red giant.  But maybe we could live on Mars, Europa or Titan and not have to go to another solar system.  
The best link seems to be this (posted Feb. 2013 by Documentary King HD. NatGeo has its own link here
There are several other documentaries in this series, such as about traveling faster than light, to look at later.  Maybe this would have made a good museum IMAX film from NatGeo, or maybe it is too politically divisive. 

Wikipedia attribution link for artist’s drawing Gliese 518c, which might be Earth-like. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

CNN: "Remembering the Oklahoma City Bombing"

Sunday night, the CNN “Crimes of the Century” series aired the one hour “Remembering the Oklahoma City Bombing”.
The documentary was a pretty straightforward factual re-enactment of the incident on April 19, 1995, carried out by Timothy McVeigh, but set up with the help of two others who then dropped out. 
The basic link is here.

McVeighcc’s public defender attorney Stephen Jones often speaks.  Jones says that McVeigh was totally sane, and very difficult to defend  Jones, generally factual and mild-mannered and a successful lawyer from Enid, OK, often describes himself as a proper “Republican” but moderate in policy views.
Timothy McVeigh was executed on a Monday morning in June, 2011, about three months before 9/11.  He reportedly never showed remorse, but thought he would start an anti-government “revolution”.  Exactly the opposite happened.
The film does trace McVeigh’s resentment of the government’s handling of Waco, which had burned on April 19, 1993.  The film says that McVeigh traveled to Waco and watched it.  Actually, in late March 1993, on vacation, I traveled down there with an ex-boyfriend from Dallas and watched the siege from a bridge about a half mile away.  Today it is difficult to find the site.

The film also looks at the possibility of other acomplices.

Stephen Jones, the defense attorney, believes that McVeigh had traveled to Elihom City, a private extremely fundamentalist community near the Arkansas border. 
The film notes that the Boston Marathon attack occurred almost 18 years to the day later.
The Oklahoma City bombing is the deadliest purely domestic terrorist attack in modern US history, and the largest on US soil except for 9/11. 
After 9/11, McVeigh was always referred to as a “different kind of terrorist”. President Clinton called it “evil”.   

 Pictures: Mine, April 1998. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

NBC Washington: "Storm Team 4: Tracking Summer": a smaller discussion of severe weather

NBC4 (NBC Washington) ran a meteorology special Saturday morning,  August 10, 2013, “Storm Team 4: Tracking Summer”, a thirty minute show somewhat in the spirit of a longer show on competitor station WJLA 7 reported here on June 21 on “Surviving Severe Weather”.

Much of the show was broadcast from a NASA laboratory facility in Greenbelt, MD, NE of Washington DC. 

There was a demonstration of a wind tunnel, and a statement that most people cannot walk in a wind gust of greater than 80 mph.

There was a segment on lightning safety, and an anecdote of a man caught in a lightning storm when on the Chesapeake Bay.  

There was some explanation of hurricanes develop, but no explanation as to why they move in the wrong direction, East to West.

There was no real discussion of the monster tornadoes in Oklahoma earlier this year, or of similar ones in Joplin MO or Tuscaloosa, AL. 
The only real web  reference seemed to be here

NBC4 local broadcasts tend to be a little more alarming when severe storms approach than similar broadcasts on WJLA.  But I have found that usually WJLA has more detailed information in terms of radar, blog posts, and NOAA analysis, particularly when unusually unstable air does build up east of the Appalachians.  

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

"Perfect Disaster: Solar Storm" from Discovery Channel traces how a solar superstorm gradually takes down the entire worldwide power grid

Perfect Disaster: Solar Storm:  Informative Dramatization of Grid Collapse”, posted by “ZP ZAP” Jan. 2013), is a 43-minute documentary from the Discovery Channel(edited by Ben Giles) depicting the possible consequences of a massive and prolonged solar storm.   The YouTube link is here. The Discovery official site is here
The film starts with a power outage in Brooklyn, NY when at the same time a space satellite burns up and crashes into a cemetery.  Soon scientists from NOAA converge.

The “solar maximum” in the sunspot cycle has weakened the Earth’s magnetic field somewhat, and then there is a massive CME or coronal mass ejection from a Jupiter-sized sunspot.  No one knows how long it will take the CME to reach the Earth.
The signs of impending disaster accumulate gradually.  The solar storm strikes in stages.  The solar flare moves ahead of the CME, just taking 8 minutes (at the speed of light).  Next comes a radiation storm, a few hours later.  That affects astronauts and objects in space.   Then the CME, the last phase of the “perfect storm” arrives in a few days, like a “Lucifer’s Hammer”.
Electromagnetic storms are measured in “nano-Tesla” units.  The one in the film is larger than the 1859 Carrington event.  The fictitious storm measures 240;  Carrington measured 200.
The utility tries to power down just before the CME hits. Power is shut down first in Brooklyn, in an attempt to protect large transformers, very difficult to replace.
The auroras reach all the way down to the Equator. People don’t completely understand the ominous threat – power out in many areas for months or years.
Officials suddenly announce the concern about the approaching solar storm, and the utility notices enormous power surges.

The modern world comes to a standstill around the globe 39 minutes into the film.
Backup generators can work about three days for most hospitals.
Over 200 transformers are destroyed in the U.S.  And we can’t make them quickly at home.  Money means nothing now.  A Maoist world ensues.  Everyone is brought low.

Or perhaps not.  Maybe the prophylactic blackouts save the grid. 

Pictures: from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, July 2013 trip.  Last picture: a transformer manufacturer in Roanoke, VA.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Spy museum film warns on the dangers of cyberterror, especiall to power grid; "All is not as it seems"

The International Spy Museum (link)  in Washington DC (near the Verizon Center Metro) has a few short films scattered throughout its exhibits that fit the theme of this blog.

To cut to the chase, the most relevant “film” is the last one, “Weapons of Mass Disruption”, which is projected on a plasma screen, giving interviews with energy experts, in a room dedicated to cyberterrorism, and especially the idea that cyber attacks could bring down most of the US power grid, even for months. 
The dire consequences for people (pretty much as in the NBC series “Revolution”) are depicted well, but missing is the issue of why critical controls of the power grid software would even be accessible to the “public’ Internet topology.  This issue has been debated since about 2002. 
As noted here, some former conservative politicians (like New Gingrich) are particularly concerned about possible solar storms (and coronal mass ejections), or possibly electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks from terrorists, which could even be localized and don’t necessarily require nuclear weapons  But the museum did not cover that possibility.
The museum tour introduces the whole spy culture with a 6-minute short film “All Is Not What It Seems”. Later, after the visitor has seen the historical period exhibits, the visitor can see the “rest” of this film, comprising about ten testimonials of CIA section chiefs or overseas agents (or a few times, FBI agents) about how they gathered intelligence, particularly in counterterrorism efforts (as against Hamas).  In one case, a female agent described a “brush drop” which is almost invisible even to street security cameras.
The introductory segment is followed in another room with a curious manage of short film clips from the WWII period, including the Disney Donald Duck cartoon “The New Spirit”, encouraging people to pay their income taxes early so that the government can buy munitions for the war effort! There follow some newsreels, one of which shows a 46-year-old J. Edgar Hoover addressing his FBI agents.
There follow more film segments about the counter-intelligence (feeding lies) surrounding the D-day invasion and then the Manhattan Project. 
The museum also offers a film retrospect “Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of the Bond Villains”, from Dr. No (1961) to caricatures of Al Qaeda today. 

The museum presents a pretty conventional idea of “spy work”, which (in this context) may mean fake identity (even disguises) and arranging clandestine exchanges of information (one example offered concerns a Boston Red Sox fantasy baseball game).  What happens in sci-fi scenario where some peril (perhaps a pandemic) presents itself and it isn’t clear whether it is natural or from an enemy, or both?

(Note: URL direct link name for post has a different spelling ("soy") because of an initial typo, corrected for display only/) 

Thursday, July 04, 2013

"Noam Chomsky on the World": lecture shows how close we came in 1962

Netflix has a reasonably recent Comsky interview film by Will Pascoe, “Noam Chomsky on the World: The Chomsky Sessions” , dated 2008.  The film comprises his lectures at McMaster University in Hamilton. Ontario, and some personal interviews. 

I had reviewed the interview film “Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in Our Times” from John Junkerman, in 2002, on the Movies Blog.  This new interview film seems to have pretty much the same material, and maybe the same lectures.
Chomsky takes the view that world still runs itself for the rich, and that moral calls for personal sacrifice often seem to be given out to benefit the power structure.
He makes a lot of the fact that, even in the world of a global Internet, there is an effort to make sure that more educated people have the “right beliefs”.
The DVD contains as a bonus a 70-minute lecture, “Is There Intelligent Life on Earth?”  Chomsky mentions the historical fact that “one word” from a Russian submarine commander in October 1962 may have prevented the Cuban Missile Crisis from blowing up into nuclear war.  I had covered this event with a review of the PBS film “The Man Who Save the World”  (in the “Secrets of the Dead” series) on the TV Blog, Oct. 23, 2013.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Katie Couric interviews Red Cross on surviving in place

Today, Katie Couric, on her ABC syndicated show, presented several wilderness survival stories, but followed up with a meeting with a Red Cross spokesperson. Sam Killie, to go over the contents of a home “go bag” and evacuation plans. 
The link for the presentation is here. It is called "The Ultimate Survival Guide". 

Every family or household should have one, he said.

He recommended having at least one crank radio, which could power cell phones and other devices.
He recommended a week of non-perishable food and water bottles.

Carry cash, and essential personal documents or copies (live driver’s license, ownership documents, especially insurance documents).

The biggest issue is that many people don’t have a survival plan at all.

A serious issue for people is loss of work or personal materials, the labor or effort associated with it not being insurable (see the “BillBoushka” blog, May 28, 2013).  Part of the strategy is to store data and some equipment in multiple locations, possibly an office, storage lockers, or safe deposit box, and in the Cloud.
In a really catastrophic emergency, insurance may not be effective at first, and people really will be in the same boat, equalized, forced to start over.  Could all the mechanisms of our civilization fail, as with an EMP attack (short of a nuclear attack), an asteroid hit, a super tsunami (as on the East Coast from the Canary Island Cunbre Vieja volcanco avalanche, etc).  This sort of possibility makes an issue out of “social capital”. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

ABC affiliate WJLA: "Surviving Severe Weather"

On Friday, June 21, 2013, ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington DC (actually Rosslyn in Arlington, VA) ran a one-hour special “Surviving Severe Weather” with Brian Van der Graaf, Adam Caskey, and Doug Hill.

The special emphasized the severe weather risks that are more likely in the Washington DC Metro area, and surrounding country from the mountains to the beaches.
The program opened with the severe weather outbreaks that had occurred just a week ago, three of them.

Early, the program covered the big derecho on June 29, 2012.  We had a small, low-end derecho in northern MD Thursday June 13.  A derecho usually starts in the mid-west and can survive the journey across the mountains when the air in the East us very hot and very humid, even without a strong cold front or organized low pressure. 

They did cover the huge tornadoes in Oklahoma in May  Large tornadoes (or anything above F-1) are rare in the DC area, but could increase with global warming.  An F4 tornado occurred in the mountains in Frostburg MD in 1998, and in La Plata MD (in southern MD, in low country near the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay) in 2002.
Adam Caskey showed a demonstration on the ability of houses to withstand 130 mph winds.  One house in Richburg SC blows away, and the next one has little damage.  They recommend hurricane straps to attach roofs, and certain kinds of nails.  Homes should be routinely built to withstand winds up to 110 mph with little damage. 

In the DC area, many thunderstorm complexes move gradually from SW to NE, and tend to split into distinct sections when hitting the highest, central section of the Blue Ridge (over 4000 feet), about 90 miles directly SW of DC.  The most severe storms seem to go through Harper’s Ferry Gap or the W Va Panhandle into Frederick and northern Montgomery counties and then over into Howard County and toward Baltimore.  The other branch, perhaps even more severe, tend to cross I-95 around Fredericksburg and track into southern Maryland, and game strength from warm water in the Potomac and Chesapeake.  Storms closer to DC may tend to be a little less severe because of the location relative to higher mountains.  But sometimes the mountains can create severe storms (without a line coming from the west), when there is a lot of moisture from the SE that can’t get over the mountains, and then cold air hits it.  In those cases, weather right in DC may be more severe.

A fit adult human being can walk pretty easily in winds over 70 mph, but not 90 mph.  (In nature, animals deal better with storms than do plants.)   Adam Caskey generated the University of Maryland test center that generates 115 mph winds. Later, Caskey demonstrated an experiment creating hailstones in a lab. 

The program moved on to lightning detection.  It covered lightning strikes happening suddenly to people.
I remember the day of Hurricane Sandy.  The highest winds came around 8 PM, and were not as bad as expected, maybe 65 mph at the treetops 75 feet up.  During the storm, pain in an arthritic hip disappeared, and did not come back.  I think low pressure is good for joint problems.  (Washington Nationals's Bryce Harper, take notice.  Prolonged exposure to a severe storm's low pressure will probably help your bursitis.)  
There was little damage, but a few strategic fallen trees on 16th St in Arlington knocked out power in Westover for two days.
Tornado potential has increased east of the Appalachians, particularly from Richmond south and in the coastal plain areas.   This could be because of global warming, or because of improved forecasting.
Tornadoes can develop very suddenly.  So far, sudden development of wide tornadoes has not happened much in the East the way it has in the Plains.  Cooler weather in April and May can delay the tornado season, but make it more severe when it comes.  The program says that the most severe weather in DC occurs in June and July, mostly from little microbursts from "cold fronts" but not from organized outbreaks.  Severe weather in the midwest and Southeast is likely to occur earlier. 

Late in the program, a storm chaser explained the El Reno OK tornado on May 31, 2013, which killed a storm chaser because it went in an unusual direction (to the SE), and exploded from a half mile wide to 2-1/2 miles in 30 seconds, with 296 mph winds at one point.  Fortunately, most of that was over unpopulated areas, but people were killed driving on I-40.

I can remember being caught in severe weather when driving a few times.  I saw a  small tornado from Rt 9  (crossing it) driving west from Rehoboth Beach in August, 2001; it missed me by a half mile.   In April 2005, on a Saturday morning, I was caught by a severe storm on I-95 driving south of Ocoquan; it had been cool and cloudy when  I left Arlington.  A tornado was reported near Richmond from that storm.  In August of 2012, I was caught in a prolonged frightening night storm in northeastern Maryland to the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel;  it disappeared south of Baltimore.  NE Maryland gets the jackpot in my experience for exposure to severe weather.  Then, just last Sunday morning (right after midnight), returning from Baltimore gay pride, and driving on 123 toward Glebe Road in Arlington to return, I missed being hit by a falling tree in good weather (weakened two days before) by about three minutes.  I sent a tweet to WJLA on that one.  
People can try to live in safer areas, but almost any area of the country can have some kind of disaster.  Insurance will take care of people and put them into hotels during repairs, but may not be adequate with very widespread disasters, which can become big social equalizers.
I think that the program should also have covered space weather – solar storms. A Carrington-sized coronal mass ejection (from "solar flares") could pose a severe test of the national power grids.   

Saturday, June 01, 2013

PBS Nova: "Oklahoma's Deadliest Tornadoes", about Moore, airs just before the May 31 outbreak

Thursday, May 30, 2013, PBS Nova aired an “emergency” documentary, “Oklahoma’s Deadliest Tornadoes”, after the May 20, 2013 EF5 tornado devastated Moore, OK (fifteen miles south of Oklahoma City on I-35).  The link is here. The documentary aired a day before another major outbreak May 31 (below). 

The film focuses on the science of explaining how tornadoes form so suddenly, and how warnings can be increased, and discussed the lack of basements and storm safe cellars in this part of the country.
The film also traced the history of the 2011 tornado outbreaks that destroyed sections of Tuscaloosa, AL and Joplin MO.  The Joplin tornado formed suddenly, and the Tuscaloosa outbreak resembled one in November, 2002, the “second tornado season”.
On Friday night, May 31, 2013 there was another large outbreak around Oklahoma City (especially El Reno), and another one in Missouri.  CNN gave heavy coverage of what appeared to be a possibly castastrophic storm.  There were fatalities on I-40, but there may have been much less property damage than feared.  But the maps of Oklahoma on Friday night were terrifying, as the storm seemed to form a land hurricane with very low pressure.

Preliminary reports on the May 31 storm suggest that many of the deaths came from people trapped in cars, especially by flood waters.
I went out Friday night to clubs in Washington DC, and found randomly that about one-third of people knew from their smart phones that there was a dangerous storm outbreak in a different part of the country.
On Saturday, CNN continued coverage, and interviewed a woman who had driven from Houston to volunteer in Granbury or Cleburn TX (where some homes built by Habitat for Humanity were destroyed a few weeks ago by an EF-4), and now volunteered in Oklahoma.  The CNN reporter asked her, “don’t a lot of these people want their privacy?  Aren’t they pretty self-reliant”.  She answered that the social climate was friendly to people who really wanted to help – but not everyone really does.  But “it can happen to me.”

CNN says that a tornado warning can leave as little as 13 minutes to act.  If in a car, drive perpendicular to the path, don't try to outrun it.

The National Weather Service had actually issued a "tornado emergency warning" Friday because large tornadoes were approaching heaving populated areas.   
I recall that in some New Jersey shore areas after Sandy, police did not even allow drivers into the areas at all.  It could be hard to help, unless it’s organized.  The same is true of Breezy Point in Far Rockaway in Queens, NYC, where NYPD police have checkpoints.  But that community has made tremendous progress in rebuilding, pretty much on its own.  

Picture: Oklahoma countryside at I-35 rest-stop north of Red River, personal trip, Nov. 2011.  I lived in Dallas from 1979-1988 and am familiar with the whole area in some detail.  I also have ties to Kansas (KU).  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

PBS Nova: Manhunt: How facial recognition and infrared surveillance technology set a dragnet in Boston after the Marathon tragedy

PBS Nova on Wednesday, May 29 aired a compelling 55-minute documentary “Manhunt: Boston Bombers”, where the use of technology created a dragnet for the Tsarnaev brothers that they probably did not envision.

Part of the technology comprised the enormous library of videos and photos taken by individual people, which almost led to an “Internet Witch Hunt”, at a couple of points fingering wrong people (as the “bag men” in the New York Post).  Use the “Crowd” rather than “Crowd sourcing” one observer said.

More interesting was the aerial infrared surveillance, which was able to show cigarette butts on the ground from an altitude of 5000 feet.  In fact, infrared had spotted Johar’s image in the boat shortly after police got the call from the homeowners. 

The film also explained some of the technology of facial recognition and progressive matching.  This is much more accurate than eyewitness identification, where it is often easy to confuse similar faces of people you don’t know that well.

The link for the program is here


Maybe 30% of the footage in this film came from the air – very impressive.  

Picture: actually Worcester, MA, my trip, July 2011.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

HBO and CNN: "Manhunt: The Inside Story of the Hunt for bin Laden"

CNN and HBO have collaborated to air the documentary by Greg Barker of Peter Bergen’s book on the eend of Bin Laden.  The film is called, “Manhunt: The Inside Story of the Hunt for bin Laden.”  The book is titled “Manhunt: The Ten Year Search for bin Laden, from 9/11 to Abbottabad.” Published by Broadway in 2012.
The opening of the film talks about how women make good intelligence analysts.

Then the film describes the symbolic character “Alec Station” as a combination of the analytic and field operational aspects of CIA work.
It moves to Peter Bergen’s description of his 1997 interview with Osama bin Laden in a secret place in Afghanistan, where bin Laden threatened to attack America because of its policies in Arab lands. Bergen offers a comparison:  what if Japan had threatened the US verbally in 1937?
The film covers the early months of 2001, as the warning signs started to come in.  The film describes what the offices where analysts work at the CIA (Langley and other buildings) looks like (not that remarkable), and then recounts the morning of 9/11. There was a fear that a plane might hit the Langley headquarters or other facilities.  Employees stood their ground.

Linda Stats has a TV review for the New York Post here.  

CNN has its own description of the “film” as a kind of feminist epic here, partly because of the underground work of "Jennifer Matthews", who gave her life in a meeting leading to a suicide attack in 2008.  
HBO’s own site his here.

The film, which redisplays its title at every commercial break, consists largely of individual accounts from agents of the course of the investigation, following other terrorists (some of them gratuitous) and eventually the courier in the “Zero Dark Thirty” film (Movies blog, Jan. 11, 2013). The film also accounts the recruitment of a man who worked as both a doctor and as an underground blogger,  The doctor eventually treats the number #2 man in Al Qaeda. 

The documentary makes the point that Osama bin Laden tried very hard to live as long as possible, even though he preached that martyrdom for Allah would be rewarded and was unbelievably efficient in his fanaticism until 9/11.

It also makes the point that the US intelligence system "works" because it can take the necessary risks when it really has to -- which is not all the time.  

Sunday, May 26, 2013

CNN Anderson Cooper: "Storm Hunters"

On Saturday night, May 25, 2013, Anderson Cooper aired “Storm Hunters: In the Path of Disaster” on CNN.
Some of the footage was from 2011 storms, but it was updated for the Moore, OK tornado (there had been similar storms in the area in 1999 and 2003; it seems to be one of the most vulnerable spots in the nation because of geography).

One of the biggest controversies has been the fact that most homes in Oklahoma and the southern plains don’t have basements, and that homeowners don’t think it’s worth the money to have them (costs about $6000 to build a storm shelter).

But an underground shelter can protect self and neighbors.  A homeowner could put copies of major documents, photos, and computer files, and spare electronics (laptops with software and hard drviers refreshed with backup materials), and take essential stuff with him (and family) to a hotel (although the car might be lost).  One important fact is that sometimes there is very little warning even for large tornadoes, which can pop suddenly when the atmosphere is explosively unstable.

Two of the elementary schools in OK did not have shelters. 

CNN does not appear to have a coherent summarily of the documentary, as it keeps changing. There is a new story about the Jonas Brothers helping the victims (as hands-on volunteers?) , here
Anderson Cooper has sometimes been in the wrong place at the wrong time. On Saturday, September 15  2008 (approximately), Cooper was waiting in a flood created by Hurricane Rita in East Texas.  The next day, the financial crisis broke in NYC.   

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Weather Channel: "May's 10 Worst Tornado Outbreaks"

Nick Wittgen has a “short film” on the “May’s 10 Worst Tornado Outbreaks” in the US, some of it quite graphic, with a lot of explanation, here.
It starts with tornadoes in California and then Italy.

The film comprises many little videos, each preceded by a commercial.
There is a video that asks “Has Tornado Alley Moved?”  There is some sense that it has tended to shift east, and that the southeast, east of the Appalachians as far north  as the Virginia Tidewater, has tended to become riskier.

The fourth and fifth deadliest tornadoes in history were spawned in Tupelo, MS in 1936, and in the 1930s two tornadoes actually collided in Gainesville, GA.

There’s a video that analyzes the 2012 tornado outbreak.  Another shows damage from the two largest in 2011, Tuscaloosa and Joplin.

May is typically the most “dangerous” month, because warm humid air from the Gulf can get hot, whereas there is still some very cold air in the Rockies that can collide with it, causing explosively unstable air. 
Tornadoes do occur near Washington DC, but the most severe storms tend to occur on the lower Potomac and move northeast over the Dalmarva, or northwest of the City in Frederick county , MD, possibly because of the Bernoulli effect of the Harpers Ferry Gap to the southwest.  The Blue Ridge has a mixed effect on the severity of storms, making them more severe in some locations (like Culpeper)  relative to the mountain gaps, and less in others.  But there was an F4 tornado in Frostburg, MD, in the Allegehenies, in 1998 (very rare for the area), and another in La Plata, in southern MD, in 2002, in an area that is flat, near water, and more exposed.   
The Weather Channel link is here.  It seems that it is getting updated.

Note that Accuweather weighs in on the cool April and May for 2013, actually reducing tornadoes so far. The link is here. When I was a boy, we typically hit 80 degrees in Arlington in early May, and 90 by late May, but often had strong cold fronts that would drop the highs for following days to 60.  Heavy spring thunderstorms were frequent in the 1950s, but less destructive, because the tree canopy was not as high and there wasn't as much development.  

Wikipedia attribution link for global distribution map, double vortices. 

Update: May 20, 2013

This has been a terrible period for the southern plains, especially around Granbury, TX (where I almost got an IT contract with Texas Energy in 1988), and today south of Oklahoma City, in Moore, which I have driven through on I35 many times.  The area where I35 runs was hit by an F5 in 1999, with 300 mph winds, the strong surface winds ever measured on Earth.  (On Neptune, they are 900 mph.)  

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Sunday, May 05, 2013

ABC's "Revenge" episode ends with total power blackout -- an EMP attack? Solar storm? A real setup for the Finale

The penultimate episode of ABC's "Revenge" for the spring of 2013, called "Engagement", ended with a massive power blackout from New York City to at least the Hamptons on Long Island.

It came upon suddenly over about five seconds.

Who did it?  Emily? Victoria? Nolan? (I doubt it.) Or that Lizbeth ("Dragon Tattoo") girl that Nolan caugh (and whom he was supposed to bail out of jail)?  That sounds more likely?

Is this a cross with "Revolution"?  Well, in the NBC series, the power blackout was caused by "nanobot" viruses in the air, an idea that makes no sense in physics.  But conventional EMP does make a lot of sense to physicists.

Or was it a massive solar storm?  Maybe.  A solar storm could cause massive power outages would be less likely to bamboozle electronics already turned off.

If it's EMP, then Nolan's computers are all wiped out, and the new world order will have no use for him.  Pardon,. Nolan proved his seamanship was pretty good a few episodes ago. But remember when sister Emily asked "Can you really do this?"

Remember, also, that 'FlashForward" on ABC featured a blackout (looking into the future) based on an idea of quantum physics.

The two-hour finale of "Revenge" will be called "Truth".  That's the "Eternal Feminine".

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

PBS Updates "Top Secret America" with "from 9/11 to the Boston Bombings"

PBS Frontline has updated its “Top Secret America” (TV blog, Setp. 7, 2011) with  new footage “From 9/11 to the Boston Bombings”, as aired April 30, 2013. 

The documentary is directed by Michael Kirk, and interviews reporter Dana Priest, and Bush security consultant J. Cofer Black, and talks about the CIA project after 9/11 called “Graystone”.
I don’t recall, from the earlier show, the emphasis on the tremendous amount of space underground, down to ten floors, that the intelligence community has built in the greater DC and Baltimore areas since 9/11. 
The documentary also stresses the passing of authority for strikes from the CIA directly to the military, where presidential approval is not necessarily required. 
The mingling of military and civilian jobs in the intelligence area becomes even more interesting, and could have presented more issues during the days of the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy.
The new PBS link for the show, which was aired 10 PM Tuesday and pre-empted “Never Forget to Lie”, is here