Thursday, January 10, 2013

PBS "Life on Fire": Volcano Doctors

On Wednesday, January 9, PBS aired what appeared to be the first of a series about volcanoes, called “Life on Fire”, with the first film (one hour) called “Volcano Doctors”.

The link for the entire series is here.

The film presented the work of scientists who, at some physical risk to themselves, study volcanoes.

The episode presented several major eruptions resulting in dislocation.  In Colombia, an ice dam over a volcano collapses, leading to flooding of a stream below and villages.  Later, a pyroclastic eruption (like Mt. St. Helens in 1980 in Washington state) melts even more ice, causing even more catastrophic flooding.

The volcanologists work in the Philippines, and then in New Guinea, filming Rabual, which shows truly spectacular lava flows which are visible in the plains below.

The researchers go to Italy and map a volcano similar to Vesuvius or Etna.  Remember, in January 2004 the History Channel had aired “Pompeii”  with a lengthy advertising campaign (including Metro boards) for the cable disaster film, simulating life in  Pompeii up to the time of the eruption.

One of the most destructive volcanoes in this episodes is in Chile, a volcano that had not been active for 8000 years.  It wiped out villages with floods and then ash.  Residents wanted to return despite the ash, because life as refugees was demeaning.  (Wouldn’t it be?) The volcano caused an underwarter landslide and a tsunami which, luckily, remained small.

The episode also covered the disruption of air travel over Europe in 2011 after the eruption of a volcano in Iceland and the persistence of a huge ash cloud. 

There are fears that a landslide after an eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands could create a tsunami large enough to wipe out US East Coast cities.  Then all of us who survived would become refugees. 

Wikipedia attribution link for St. Helens eruption picture. 

Update: Jan. 24

PBS aired the episode "Phoenix Temple" about the Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua, and the ecosystem in the countryside surrounding the deep crater, including bats.   This was a spectacular episode. 

Sunday, January 06, 2013

CNN: "The Coming Storms" is mostly a review of Sandy

On Sunday, January 06, 2013, “CNN Presents” aired a one hour documentary “The Coming Storms”, which focuses largely on the likelihood of future huge Atlantic hurricanes, particularly those that hit the northeast. 

Chad Meyers narrates. 

The documentary opened with a Staten Island homeowner, Nick Camerada, describing riding out the superstorm  “Sandy” (in late October, 2012) and facing total rebuilding, apparently without insurance. (The flood insurance issue wasn’t covered.)   The storm surge in the New York area ranged 12-14 feet, which, it was said, was unheard of.

But most of the severe damage occurred in residential areas close to water and less than 15 feet above mean sea level. 

Sea level has risen about two inches since the 1960s, and could raise several feet by 2050, according to the worst climate change estimates. 

Meyers presented Kathryn Sullivan, of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), who explained the importance of both equatorial and polar circle satellites.  The polar satellites are in danger of failing and not being replaced, which could mean that another big hurricane could not be forecast well like Sandy was.  Meyers says that the path of Sandy was predicted several days in advance as well as any hurricane ever has been. 

Sandy was an unusual combination of tropical storm (or hurricane) and a cold-core winter storm that enveloped it, making its wind field and storm surge much large, especially to the northeast of the eye, where speeds were “only” 80 mph.
An engineer from the Electric Power Research Institute (link) discussed the relatively poor preparedness of some utilities in the Northeast, including one that used a paper system to process repair order.

There was discussion as to whether the New York area should spend about 20 billion to build a seawall system like that used in Britain and the Netherlands, which it said would have prevented all the devastation of Sandy.

An MTA engineer showed the destruction of the new South Ferry subway station from flooding at the lower end of Manhattan. 

The CNN link is here.

The film really did not get into speculation about future super hurricanes or long-tracking tornadoes in areas that never used to have them, but that could be in the cards with global warming. 

Saturday, January 05, 2013

"Aftermath: Unanswered Questions from 9/11": short film and then many interviews

The“short film titled “Aftermath: Unanswered Questions from 9/11”,  (2004, 35 min) directed by Stephen Marshall, from GNN (the Guerilla News Network) and the Disinformation Company, starts with George Soros talking about democracy, and then moves on to hip hop star Paris. Asking “eleven unanswered questions”.

The first point made regarded an attack in the Middle East on Sept. 12, 1975.

Some of the questions are like, “What did the Bush Administration know and when?”.  Like Thompson’s film, this film points out that Bush had special security for the G-8 summit and must have had specific warnings. 

Another question is why couldn’t the US military intercept the planes?  This movie mentions a timeline book by Nafeez.

Michel Chossudovsky in Canada reports that the CIA had a long standing relationship with the Taliban and bin Laden earlier in the 90s;  Al Qaeda was “used” as an intermediary, as was the Pakistani ISI (general Ahmed, who authorized a wire transfer to Mohammed Atta). He later says “war criminals call the shots to define who are criminals”.

The film then goes on to suggest that Bush wanted a war in Central Asia (to secure oil supplies).

They make a comparison to Hitler’s blowing up his own Recihtag as a pretext for martial law.
It then mentions the Northwoods Document (part of James Bamford’s “Body of Secrets”).

The film then explains how the USA Patriot Act of October 2001 created a new crime of domestic terrorism.   This, the film says, would have made Martin Luther King a domestic terrorist.  The Patriot Act allowed the designation of civilians as enemy combatants, to be held without due process rights. 

A website for the form is “”.  The film ends with a warning, “Run your own lives or someone else is going to run it for you.”

There is additional interview footage on the DVD (such as John Judge and Paul Revere) to support the idea that inviting an attack could produce social hegemony, and a breakdown of the posse comitatus doctrine (with “frontier justice”) with military “tribunals”.  There is the viewpoint that the 9/11 incident was contrived to quash dissent and promote a fascist view.

AfterMath does a panel at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco on April 21, 2003. There is a lot of discussion of peak oil and overpopulation; both ideas have shifted since this film was made.  Now, natural gas is changing the concept of peak oil.  One speaker notes that Bush choked over pronouncing the word “fascism” but not communism and militarism.  I never knew that Ralph Reid had been on the payroll of Enron before the 2000 election (the Bush “steal”). 

This is a DVD where the extras run much longer than the base film. 
I think I saw a feature-length version of this film in 2004 at the Avalon Theater in Washington DC, but the rental DVD is quite differently organized.  

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

"9/11: Press for Truth": Paul Thompson explains his "Terror Timeline"; six families press for the truth

The independent film “9/11: Press for Truth” (2006), directed by Ray Nowosielski, from Banded Artists and Standard Issue Film, starts out as an ad hoc “amateur” investigation of 9/11 by six affected families, four in New Jersey (by “the Jersey Wives”).  But soon the film shifts to presenting the work of Stanford researcher Paul Thompson, author of the 2004 book “The Terror Timeline” (Wikipedia link).  Thompson plotted the details of news stories back to 1980, finding evidence of many more plot elements leading to the 9/11 attacks than the Bush administration has reported through the 9/11 Commission.  Thompson also had a website for this work, which appears to be now on History Commons (here) or possibly on “911timeline” (here).
One interesting thread has to do with a plot back in 1995 to crash planes into US buildings.  Only NBC reported it in full.

But the most controversial part of the film seems to deal with the apparent involvement of the Pakastani ISI.  The film also mentions an NBC Dateline report “Tale of Terror” with Chris Hansen (who did the sting “To Catch a Predator” series) about undercover operative Randy Glass. Closely related is the way that American forces let Osama bin Laden escape (around Tora Bora) in the fall of 2001, as the Northern Alliance closed in.  
The film focuses on the odd lack of communication within the federal government on the morning of 9/11.  President Bush remained in an elementary school classroom in Florida (reading “My Pet Goat”) longer than would have seemed reasonable after Andrew Card’s whisper.

The film also discusses the multitude of warnings the Bush administration received all summer long, not just the famous Aug. 6 memo.  In fact, the administration had taken some unusual security steps (like having the president sleep on a boat at a conference in Genoa, Italy) and the Clinton administration had apparently been told that the Twin Towers could be targeted back in 1999.

Paul Thompson often speaks in the film, and appears as a tall, thin, attractive and articulate “professor” of about age 40. 

The film says that corporate journalism is sometimes muddled by political or "patriotism" issues, despite its professional commitment to objectivity; independent researchers like Thompson tend to "keep 'em honest".

The official site is here  but shows up in Thai, and when translated to English, presents a discussion on casinos.  This is curious. The site has good marks from all the website rating indicators in Firefox.

The DVD includes 2005 testimony in Congress by Thompson and Lorie Van Auken. 

One of the six women mentions the fact that the people in the South Tower did not get proper information.  One of my 2002 screenplays ("American Epic") has an central  (fiction) episode where, on 9/11, a closeted lesbian officer in the Pentagon tries to call her partner who is working in the South Tower.  The film says that the Bush administration had a "don't ask don't tell" policy regarding talking about the details of what it knew and when it knew it.  Journalism, however, must follow "do ask do tell".