Monday, December 22, 2014

"Out of the Clear Blue Sky": The story of Cantor Fitzgerald, which had occupied the top floors of the WTC North Tower on 9/11


Out of the Clear Blue Sky” (2012, directed by Danielle Gardner) is a documentary that traces the story of the bond trading firm Cantor Fitzgerald, which had occupied the top floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 when it was destroyed by Al Qaeda.
The company reportedly lost 658 out of 950 employees.
  
Much of the film comprises interviews with CEO Howard Lutnick, played in a few scenes by Michael Santosusso.

Lutnick actually first learned of the event by a news report as he was heading for work, but he knew instantly what it meant.
  
There was controversy later when Lutnick could not pay his employees because he didn’t have a company any more. The film covers contentions that he did not properly take care of the employee’s families.  The film covers the hate letters that Lutnick then received, to the point that his family did not feel safe at home for a while (according to the movie).
  
Lutnick has authored the book “An Unbroken Bond: The Untold Story of How the 658 Cantor FitzGerald Families Faced the Tragedy of 9/11 and Beyond”. Wikipedia has an article here .


On 9/11, I was working for ING-ReliaStar in Minneapolis.  ReliaStar had reinsured some of the top floors of one of the WTC buildings, although I don't know if it had a specific connection to Cantor FitzGerald. I would be laid off effective Dec. 31, 2001, learning of it on Dec. 13.  In a meeting I signed all the severance papers on Dec. 31, the HR consultant said that the layoffs probably had occurred much sooner than they would have because of 9/11, Ironically, on 9/11 we had gone on a "team building" cruise on the St. Croix river (along the WI border) for the day, and we did not cancel it, learning the full news only as we returned at the end of the day.  
       
The official site is here (Virgil Films, Asphalt Films and Area23a).  The film can be rented on YouTube for $3.99, or on Netflix.  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Omnimax planetarium short "To Space and Back" shows how satellites predict superstorms like Sandy


I need a place to mention the 20-minute short “To Space and Back”, shown in the Planetarium at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC and at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. In fact, it was produced by the latter, and a lot of the “Omnimax” photography touts downtown center city Philadelphia around Independence Hall.
  
The theme of the film is the layers of space satellites that have been launched over the past six decades, and how space technology has been adopted to life on earth.  There is a detailed explanation of how satellite analysis gave a thorough dire prediction on the course of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.  Remember how on CNN Chad Myers was explaining how a big Noreaster would pick up a tropical Hurricane as its core, producing a bizarre hybrid superstorm?

  
There is also a detailed demonstration on how space technology figures into making stents to relieve coronary artery blockages as well as pacemakers, along with a detailed animation showing how a typical angioplasty and stent placement is done, with use of a laser to dissolve the plaque, rather than an older use of a balloon, when a patient has a lower end “heart attack”.  The use of this technology can greatly expand life spans of the elderly, but it means that their adult children will spend much more time and money caring for them than in the past. 
  
Franklin link is here. Smithsonian link is here has non-embeddable video.

Here's another one-hour BBC documentary about Hurricane Sandy. 

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

BBC Horizon: "SARS: The True Story" (2003) seems timely again


BBC Horizon (and BBC World) presents “SARS: The True Story” (2003).  The documentary aired in late May 2003, shortly after the epidemic was contained.  SARS stands for “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome”.


The documentary begins in Hanoi, Vietnam (a bit ironic historically).  A doctor who has treated a patient dies in Hong Kong and becomes the “index case”. 

WHO sent out an alarm, of a type if had never broadcast before, but them it was learned that SARS killed about 4% of its victims.  Slowly, some cases trickled by air travel to western countries.  In the worst case scenario, there could be a pandemic and economic collapse.

The cause was found to be a coronavirus, a relatively large virus that is related to viruses that cause colds.  It may sometimes cause flu-like illness in people who think they are immune from vaccination, because it is not the same kind of virus as flu.  This particular strain came from SW China, where people live close to their own livestock.  (Such practices can also incubate bird flu).  When people live in close contact with livestock animals, there is a greater chance of a mutation that allows the surface proteins on an animal virus to match those of human cells.  Diseases that suddenly cause disease in humans are often more severe than diseases that humans have had for ages. 
China apparently lied in the beginning, underreporting the epidemic, and the death rate was found to be about 1 in 10.  In Canada, a hospital and school had to be quarantined. 

Strict contact tracing and social distancing seemed to control the disease.  But it could happen again. 
Countries started using thermal imaging at airports (as has been done more recently with Ebola).  School children took temperatures at school (37.6 C was normal).

Vietnam would be the first country to be declared free – an irony. In Hong Kong, several apartment blocks were quarantined.  Edward Snowden didn’t pick the wrong time to go. 

In Toronto, over 10,000 people had their movements restricted at one point.  How did this affect businesses? 
  
Canadian researchers cracked the SARS genetic code in record time.  Later, a similar virus MERS would appear in the Middle East. SARS does not mutate rapidly, as does influenza.  
  

It takes weeks to recover from SARS.   People have recovered after being on ventilators.  

Monday, December 08, 2014

NBC's "State of Affairs" touches on the possible threat of smallpox (maybe self-inflicted); History Channel has a documentary


I’ve discussed the CIA soap opera “State of Affairs” on the TV blog Nov. 17, but tonight’s episode, titled “Bang Bang”, after a text message early in the episode.
  
What’s important tonight is that the plot involved a sample of smallpox – variola virus – in a smaller village in Panama near the Colombian border (also a heavy drug-lord-controlled area), at one time placed there by the CIA.  A private "mercenary" company, supposedly associated with “lobbying” had taken it, with the help of a thief given “extreme rendition” in his own home in front of a young son by another CIA agent.  It’s all rather preposterous.
  
But it is true, it wouldn’t take too much for a state to design a variola to which we have no immunity.  And there’s a good question as to whether smallpox vaccinations should be resumed. 
The CDC has a page on smallpox.  It says there is a stockpile of vaccine if it is needed, but it is not made available.  The fact sheet seems a bit self-contradictory.  Here is the link
  
The History Channel has a documentary narrated by Arthur Kent, “Smallpox: Deadly Again?” , starting at the CDC in Atlanta, and describing the Soviet Union’s bioweapons’ programs, going all the way back to 1928.  Most people who survived to adulthood before 1800 had survived the virus and had pockmark scars as a result, which people "saw through", as if "beauty was in the eye of the beholder". 
  
  

Smallpox was used as a biological weapon back in the French and Indian Wars against native Americans.  It decimated the Aztecs in Mexico and some native populations for the Puritans, who thought God was making room for them!   Vaccinations stopped in 1972 (as the last case was thought to be closed), but even older people with vaccinations would not be fully protected, as the vaccination does not last a lifetime, were another epidemic to arise.  The havoc that a terrorist could cause if he got a hold of a sample say, from Russia's stockpiles (still widespread through the country, especially possibly in the NW) is unimaginable. 

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

ABC affiliate reporter Scott Thuman makes "short film" on security loopholes beyond the checkpoints, with items purchased in shops; more on electronics


Scott Thuman of WJLA-7 in Washington DC (and Arlington VA, Rosslyn) with his "I-Team" provides a brief report on the danger to airport security from items that can be bought in shops beyond security checkpoints.
    
It’s a stretch to call it a “short film”, but I thought the writeup would fit this blog.  It’s called “Bombs Beyond Security”.  WJLA has sponsored some forums recently called “Your Voice, Your Future” on its News Channel 8 subsidiary. It aired at 11 PM Monday night, Nov. 3, 2013 in the DC area.  
  

An engineering consultant and survivalist-outdoorsman in Greensboro, NC Evan Booth showed (without enough video detail to encourage copycats, fortunately) that small explosives could be made from common materials in gift shops, including dental floss and souvenirs built in the shape of skyscrapers like the Washington Monument.  Thuman also interviewed Rafi Sela, of Israeli airport security.

There was a lot of controversy over the TSA’s decision to require travelers to prove that they could power up cell phones when flying from certain airports.  There was controversy as to whether this would extend to laptop computers.  There is a NYTimes story by Ron Nixon and Michael S. Schmidt from July 2014 here. The TSA Blog entry here  has many unanswered comments which leave travelers unsure about many issues, such as stand alone hard drives.  Many of these measures are driven by threats from the Khorasan Group (wiki). 

A traveler could be left with the choice of abandoning a device or canceling a flight and paying penalties if the device fails, particularly if this requirement becomes common even domestically.  It’s a good idea to put in operating system updates and changes at least several days before air travel, because devices are more likely to fail suddenly right after an update, or when brand new (or if worn out). 

I must say that I enjoy the time before boarding.  I usually have a travel laptop and iPad for hotspot (although most airports now have WiFi), get a coffee and snack, and sit and write a blog post or two before boarding.  


Monday, October 27, 2014

"Ebola in America" is a second Town Hall from News Channel 8


Tonight, Monday Oct. 27, 2014, WJLA7 News Channel 8 (Washington DC)  hosted  a second Town Hall, “Your Voice, Your Future: Ebola in America.”  This time, there was no live audience, and all questions came from twitter or Skype video.  The broadcast started with a recap of the news today, with an emphasis on the partial relaxing of the “quarantine” of health care workers returning from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and the release by New Jersey authorities of nurse Kaci Hickox.
  
The panel comprised the following:  Scott Betzelos, MD at InNOVA Fairfax, Rajani Ward (nurse, Medstar Washington Hospital Center), Gerry Connolly (D, VA 11th District rep), Ben Carson (neurosurgeon in Seattle). Scott Thuman moderated. There was an additional appearance by Joxel Garcia of the DC Health Department.  The best link so far seems to be this. WJLA will probably provide a complete video soon. 

Ward said that 85% of nurses in the country say they are not prepared.
   
A University of Oklahoma student asked what happens if there is an outbreak on a campus. But the panel responded that an “outbreak” in a small geographical area of secondary transmission within the United States was extremely unlikely.



Sunday, October 19, 2014

CNN: "Shaken: 25 Years Since the Quake" covers rescues after Loma Prieta earthquake in Bay Area in October 1989


CNN’s “Shaken: 25 Years Since the Quake” (link) gives a one-hour riveting account of the rescues of people trapped by the 6.9 Loma Prieta Earthquake, and how they are doing today. 
  
One woman was trapped in a car that pancaked under a double-decker Oakland freeway.  A surgeon was going to amputate her foot when at the last moment a mechanic got a winch to work.

  
The documentary also covered the rescues in the Mission district, where some row-homes had been built on landfill.  It also covered a rescue on the Bay Bridge where a portion collapsed.
  
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of USCG picture of collapsed Viaduct.  
   
What would be important would be the engineering changes to make new bridge or viaduct spans earthquake resistant, and what could be done about rebuilding homes safely in less stable soil.  The documentary also covered the location of faults around the area, some almost underneath homes.

I remember the night of the earthquake, which struck while I was waiting for the DC Metro.  The World Series game had started but was cancelled and delayed about two weeks.  Fay Vincent was commissioner of baseball at the time.  

This may be an opportune point to mention the 1996 film "Volcano" (Fox), by Mick Jackson, where a volcano forms in downtown Los Angeles.  Don't know if this is even possible. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"News Channel 8" in Washington DC hosts forum "The New Terror Threat: Your Voice, Your Future" about ISIS and related terror threats; I am "in the movie"


Tonight, WJLA (the Washington DC ABC Affiliate) News Channel 8 sponsored a one hour Town Hall, “The New Terror Threat: Your Voice, Your Future”, in the Artisphere Auditorium in the Rosslyn area of Arlington VA.  WJLA has its own account of the event here

The session was hosted by Leon Harris and Allison Starling. Scott Thuman took the questions from Twitter.

There were seven panel members, including Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, a CIA trained operations officer, Zainab Chaudry, Michael Steele, Col. Douglas Macgregor,  Eleanor Holmes Norton, Faheem Younnus, and Omri Cerren.
  
The session was precede by a 4-minute video introduction of the ISIS/ISIL threat. 
  
Shaffer opened by suggesting that the greatest threat within the US could be lone wolf suicide bombers.  Later, to a Twitter question, Shaffer said that ISIS had hacked one particular military family in the US to prove that it could threaten it, in answer to a question about ISIS threats against families of military members or even reporters at home (as well as threats in Britain and Australia leading to arrests).


There were six questions from the audience.  One person asked about a Senate bill to declassify a report that suggested that 9/11 had been actually supported by the Saudi royal family.

There was a suggestion that Iraq should be divided into three countries, according to religion, and that a single nation was not possible.

There was also a hint that Turkey’s Sunni government actually wanted to see ISIS succeed.  Muslim governments in the region have a hard time opposing the creation of a caliphate if it is believed to be specified in the Koran.

I asked the last question, about unusual WMD’s such as EMP flux devices and radiological devices.  Panel members did not believe ISIS was capable of deploying such devices in western countries, but they were concerned that other radical groups, especially in border areas of Pakistan, still could have such intentions. 
  
In this event, the QA was the “film” so I am “in the film” as a character and actor playing myself.  
   
Afterward, I got to talk to both Shaffer (to whom I mentioned the comment from an HRC forum about gays in Russia that ISIS recruits from Britain were often redheads because they tended to be bullied), and Leon Harris, who had also heard about the draconian quarantine against Ebola by a local health department in Ohio (my Issue blog today), where he was from, and he indicated that many local health departments might panic.  
 
Note: the name of the Town Hall has sometimes been spelled in reverse: "The New Terror Threat: Your Future, Your Voice" ("Future" and "Voice" have interchangeable order.)

The remaining videos (1-9) may be viewed on my Wordpress blog here  (or on Google+).  

Monday, October 06, 2014

CBS 60 Minutes interview with FBI Director Comey has some sobering warnings


Pat Milton and Robert G. Anderson produced a CBS  60 minute interview with FBI Director James Comey by Scott Pelley Sunday night, the contents of which were quite sobering. The link is here.
    
Comey said that about a dozen or so fighters have returned from Syria, and have to be watched.  It is very difficult to stop Americans with valid passports from returning. 
  
He indicated that he was still concerned that Khorasan could be plotting an attack (probably on an inbound airliner) aimed at the US or western ally country, and that an incident could be imminent.
  
There was footage of Comey as a teenager. He is now 53, but looks breathtaking younger at 6 feet 8. 
   
 He recounts a home invasion when he was home with his brother in the late 1970s in northern New Jersey, where he and his brother were captured twice and escaped twice after a home invasion, and the assailant was never caught. (I lived in New Jersey throughout 1970, and then from late 1972 to late 1974.)  
  
Comey described a lone wolf terrorist as a “lone rat” (the broadcast mentioned a recent workplace beheading in Oklahoma).
  
He also talked about state-enhanced hacking of American business.  China was the only country he would mention, although it’s obvious that he could have talked about Russia and Putin, which he chose not to comment on. 
   
The basic link has some extra “overtime” video clips, that have a problem in that the voice part from the interview plays before the video from the sponsoring ad finishes.  CBS should fix this, 


Friday, September 26, 2014

"Terror at the Mall": CNN-HBO documentary on the Kenya Westgate Mall attack in 2013


On Friday, September 26, 2014, CNN aired the 90-minute HBO documentary film “Terror at the Mall”, by Dan Reed, about the attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi Kenya, Sept. 21. 2013, link here.  The HBO link is here. CNN calls this “the most videod attack in history.”  The film has a great deal of real footage, particularly of the rescues toward the end. 


The responsibility for the attack was claimed by al-Shabaab, and 71 lives were lost, including 12 children and 3 pregnant women.

The testimony of those caught in the attack is graphic, and need not be dwelled on.  I don’t know how I would react if part of a group pinned down in any such situation.   I do not think I could survive being singled out.

Police and the military used tear gas, but had to recue people in a limited time while the attackers recovered from the tear gas.  They had do bow to the cultural imperative of women and children first, maybe.
  
A woman with a baby heard the words “Lady with baby stand up.”  Then the tear gas came, and she escaped into the main mall where now there were security forces. 
  
The FBI’s page defining terrorism is well worth giving here.

A local church sent some volunteers to Kenya around 2004-2005.  This actually included a covert gay male couple.  That seems every more dangerous now.  And Prince William and Kate Middleton explored the early days of their relationship on a safari in Kenya.  
   
Wikipedia attribution link for battle picture here.   

Friday, September 05, 2014

Smithsonian planetarium films tread likely on solar storm risk


It may seem to put two 23-minute planetarium “films”, shown at the National Air and Space Museum, on this blog, but there is a point. 
  
Whoppi Goldberg narrates “Journey to the Stars” with lots of discussion of how starts and galaxies formed.  She does explain supernovas.  One would be significant if within a few hundred light years of Earth, because the resultant gamma rays could fry all life, but there is no evidence that such a specific threat really exists.  But where the film gets critical (after all the stellar art work showing the geometry of galaxies) is the discussion of how the Sun works, how sunspots form, and what solar storms can do.  She softpedals the risk, saying that the Earth’s magnetic field deflects almost all of the radiation except near the poles.  But during the strongest storms (resulting in the biggest coronal mass ejections) damaging magnetic pulses can penetrate at lower latitudes, likely damaging power grid equipment during the very largest (Carrington-sized) storms. She also describes how in a few billion years, when the Milky Way is merging with Andromeda, the Sun will become a red giant, the surface almost reaching Earth, or at least frying it.  In time, mankind will have to learn how to move to outer planets or to other solar systems, as in the film “Evacuate Earth” (Aug. 30, 2013 here), or even as series like “The 100” (TV blog, March 29, 2014).  Triage would have to be done, and enormous social problems would be inevitable.
  

I also saw “Dark Universe”, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.  It seems that the “Dark force” is responsible for the fact that the Universe keeps expanding at a faster rate.  The Universe has no center.  It’s not clear if it was infinite after the big bang.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

BBC documentary "Horizon: The Dirty Bomb" seems relevant again


The BBC made a film “Horizon: The Dirty Bomb”, written and produced by Kim Shillinghar, edited by Matthew Barrett, narrated by Bernard Hill. The film seems to have been made in 2004, but has been uploaded a couple of times to YouTube recently, as here.  The film runs 49 minutes. I have to admit that I felt provoked to watch the film because of recent media attention to ISIS. 

The documentary starts with an incident where Russian police found components of a possible dirty bomb in a Moscow city park in 1995.   It also covers the accident in Goiania, Brazil, in 1987, when scrap collectors released some cesium.  It gives an account of missing cesium chloride (in therapeutic needles) as discovered at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro, NC in March 1998 (at a time when I was recovering from my own hip fracture and surgery in Minneapolis!)  It also covers the strontium 90 found in Georgia (former Soviet Republic) which poisoned some soldiers.

The film covers the arrest of Jose Padilla in 2002, apparently for plotting a dirty bomb attack, and his designation as an "enemy combatant". 
  
The major part of the film simulates a dirty bomb attack on Trafalgar Square, London.   No one would be seriously injured at first.  But downwind, people would face an increase in cancer risk ranging from maybe 1 in 1000 to 1 in 7, depending on distance and amount of material.  Again, the most likely material as a powder would be cesium chloride.

The film also does a briefer fictitious simulation on the Washington DC Metro, showing the Red Line.  It predicts that it would be 24 hours before authorities know anything is wrong.  Passengers would face only very slightly increased risk of cancer sometime in their lives, but police and Metro employees could face significantly larger risk. Recall, in 1999 ABC Nightline had broadcast a simulated anthrax attack on the San Francisco BART.  Many of the scenarios had been imagined before 9/11.   
  
This film seems to resemble a 2004 film “Dirty War” directed by Daniel Percival, produced jointly by HBO and the BBC.  But that film (reviewed on my “doaskdotell” site) runs 90 minutes and is an acted docudrama.  The contaminant in that film is Strontium 90.  Paul Anthony-Barber and Louise Delamere star.  Authorities don’t have much intelligence to stop an attack outside Liverpool Station.  Many lives are ruined financially, as pensions and savings are wiped out.   

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

"Lights Out: Danger to the U.S. Power Grid" with Judge Jeanine on Fox; Need for the Shield Act


Judge Jeanine: “Lights Out: Danger to the US Power Grid”, talks about the danger of an EMP attack in a 38 minute video put up by “SecureFreedom”, with link here.  The video was produced by the Fox News Channel.

Jeanine gives her lecture coming out of a meeting in New York City.

The major risks she discusses are (1) EMP from a small nuclear weapon at high altitude, which she says North Korea could launch (two missiles were supposedly found in Panama at “Sugar Bay”, she says; I hadn’t heard of this) (2) assaults on local stations (such as one near San Jose CA in April 2013, and another in Tennessee); (3) coronal mass ejections from a solar flare (although this video was made before the revelation of the near miss in 2012 with a Carrington-sized solar storm).


Chrisopher Mar Heben, a former Navy Seal, joins her. He says a local conventional EMP attack can take down an entire power station.

James Woosley, former CIA, talks about the possibility of an EMP from a weapon launched from the southern hemisphere.  At 30 miles elevation, it would take out the grid for 25% of the US; at 200 miles, the entire country.  Wossley called the federal government “ostriches” on this issue (a favorite slang when I was in the Army myself). Woosley says a small nuclear weapon could be detonated from a weather balloon; a terrorist doesn’t need a missile.

Spencer Abraham talked about the 2003 blackout. Jeanine said “we’re not talking out of school.”. 
   
Journalist Rebecca Smith in San Francisco talked about the failure to report the San Jose attack.  We may have been afraid of a copycat attack, but the cat is out of the bag. The attack was well planned, and started by cutting fiber-optic cables underground.  Transformers were damaged but not destroyed, and we can’t replace large transformers quickly because we have to import them.

Andrea Boland (D-ME) said it would cost relatively little to harden the grid in Maine.

Andy Harris (R-MD) discussed the Shield Act HR 2417 (to protect against EMP) (govtrack link here).  The Grid Act or Shield Act died in the Senate because they couldn’t agree on the cybersecurity part.  (Boland and Harris have an hour-long video on the act, here.).
  
Frank Gaffney, Center for Power Security, described a study called “Guild Knowledge”, led by William Graham. After one year of no power in the US, 90% of the population would be dead. Gaffney showed the North Korean missiles on a boat found in Panama.  Gaffney said that there is a way to harden large transformers considerably.
  
Aton Edwards, an “Urban Prepper” discussed urban survival.



Friday, July 25, 2014

"Carrington-Class CME Narrowly Misses Earth", video of shocking report presented at the University of Colorado in April 2014 (marrow escape in July 2012)


Science Casts offers a four-minute video “Carrington-Class CME Narrowly Misses Earth”. 

The event happened around July 23, 2012 and blasted two successive coronal mass ejections through the same area a few hours apart.  Earth had passed through the area a week before.  At that time, I was on a trip in West Virginia looking a mountaintop removal, a bit ironic. 


The event is covered in “The Blaze” and was mentioned on CNN News late tonight (July 25) but not on local stations.  The story is here. The East Coast had just endured the derecho three weeks earlier, on June 29, 2012.  But this could have been much more catastrophic. Note the tone of the comments from users.

Large solar storms can fry transformers, and because they are largely manufactured overseas, cannot be put in place here quickly. 

A paper on this incident was presented at the University of Colorado in April 2014.  It was only the data on a satellite that was hit that told us the severity of the event.

Reuters in the UK published a short article (by John Kemp) on the need to prepare for solar storms today, link here.  It is possible for power utilities to take some protective measures if there are several hours notice. These would probably include deliberate blackouts.

The solar storm did appear during a period near the peak of the sunspot cycle when some observers had warned of the possibility of severe solar storms.  See my book reviews blog:  April 13, 2013 (Michael Maloof), Oct. 20, 2012 (Oak Ridge National Laboratory), Aug 9, 2012 (National Academy of Sciences), June 8, 2012 (NatGeo), Nov. 9, 2010 (Lawrence Joseph).
  

Predictive Science has said there is a 12% chance of a major solar storm hitting Earth in the next decade, although it isn’t sure what that’s based on.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"How North Korea Got to Be This Way", short film from Vox



Vox Media has a short film “How North Korea Got This Way”, by Joe Posner and Joss Fong.


I wasn’t aware that North Korea is a relic of the Japanese empire.  What’s even more surprising is that North Koreans will return to the country and accept the idea of militarism which keeps the country impoverished.

Outside of the leadership, North Korea represents Maoism in the extreme: equality by making everyone impoverished. 
  

And it is dangerous.  Besides the silly talk (going to war over a US movie, or bellicose threats) it may well one day be able to lob a nuclear missile toward Alaska or the US Pacific Northwest.  It makes too easy a “friend” for US enemies.  The film “Red Dawn 2” in 2012 was based on a North Korean occupation of the Pacific Northwest with a preceding EMP device.  

Monday, July 07, 2014

US Customs produces "Dangers Awareness Campaign" video to discourage "Unaccompanied Minors"


The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reportedly produced a video in Spanish called “Dangers Awareness Campaign”, intended for families in Central America to see to discourage unaccompanied minors from trying to travel north to the US, which some families believe will take them.
   
I could not find this video online on YouTube yet.  The best page with their information seems to be at this link.   I found a close approximation, a ten-minute report by PBS News Hour, “Why So Many Immigrant Kids Are Coming to the US Alone”
  
  
I felt that this was the most objective news report (free of political or social moralizing) that I could find.  The film reports that kids often ride on the tops of boxcars or flat cars on Mexican freight trains and sometimes fall off to their deaths.   The film explains the steps that happens once they are picked up by Border Patrol, mostly in the Rio Grande area between Laredo and Brownsville, TX.  There is a period where the kids are under a “sponsor”.  I don’t know if a “sponsor” can be an individual, a family, or particularly a faith-based group (which sounds likely, especially Catholic).  Curiously, if so, that provides a small plot-hook to an early episode in one of my own novel manuscripts.
   

There is a 2006 comedy film called “Unaccompanied Minors.”  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

"The Rise of Al Qaeda" plays at the new 9/11 Museum, creates controversy


The September 11 Memorial and Museum shows a brief film “The Rise of Al Qeada”, narrated by Brian Williams of NBC, in the “inner sanctum” area of the exhibits.

  
The film has been criticized for the use of the words “terror” and “jihad” in referring to (some) Muslims. 
   
The film is a rather straightforward history of the growth of Osama bin Laden’s following, with events from the days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan leading eventually to the 1993 WTC bombing, then the attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, and then the attack on the USS Cole.

Until 9/11, “Al Qaeda” had not become a group of concern among most Americans.  During the Clinton years, North Korea had been seen as perhaps a more dangerous threat than All Qaeda, and perhaps that could become so again.  And now there is discussion of ISIS (or ISIL).  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

PBS Nova "Earth from Space" presents coronal mass ejection risk to power grid


Many PBS stations tonight aired the “Earth from Space” series  (link) including “At the Edge of Space”.
    
The “main event” explained the oxygen and nitrogen cycles in the atmosphere, particularly showing how plankton are the “lungs of the Earth” and tampering with the health (temperature and acidity) of the oceans does not bode well.  The documentary explained how lightning forms nitrogen compounds that are essential to proteins and life.  Toward the end, it explained coronal mass ejections from solar storms, and explained how bigger CME’s pierce the outer layer of the Earth’s magnetic field and lead to the aurora or northern lights.
The second documentary “At the Edge of Space” examined how thunderstorms cause “sprites” to fire up into the ionosphere, with the whole phenomenon known only since 1973.  There was a lot of detail to an experiment in Colorado filming the behavior of sprites during big Great Plains thunderstorms near the Rockies. But toward the end, the documentary returned to give even more detail about the dangers to the power grid from really big coronal mass ejections.  It explained how Montreal lost power for nine hours due to a big CME in 1989, and part of Sweden was down for hours in 2003.  CME’s may be more dangerous closer to the poles.  It simulated the Carrington Event of 1859, which produced aurora’s as far south as Panama and Hawaii, and which might take out most of the Earth’s power grid if it happened again today,  It actually set some telegraph equipment on fire.

Question: Can we harden the grid to prepare for a Carrington event?  For one thing, we need to be able to make more transformers right here in the US. (See my Issues blog, May 13, 2014, and Book Review blog Oct. 20, 2012 for Oak Ridge study.) 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Author discusses major near misses with nuclear accidents, one of the biggest in NC in 1961, after Kennedy inauguration; British Film4 releases film on nuclear terror


There are some videos of interviews with Eric Schlosser, author of “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety” from Penguin (Sept. 2013).

CBS News has an interview from March 2013 where Schlosser describes the accident on Jan. 24, 1961 when a USAF jet disintegrated over Goldsboro NC and a hydrogen bomb might have deonated.  That was on the fifth day of the new Kennedy Administration, when I was a senior in high school on the way to college and my own life history.  Nuclear fallout could have wandered as far north as Washington DC, and I grew up in Arlington.   Schlosser calls the accidents “Broken Arrows” and there over 30 such incidents.  I have visited Goldsboro once, in May 1993.


There was another weapons accident in Damascus, AR in 1980.  This happened during a repair of a silo,  resulting a leak of nuclear fuel.
   
There’s a longer interview on Uprising Radio here
     
Yesterday, on my movies blog, I reviewed Kevin MacDonald’s 2013 Film4 movie,  “How I Live Now”, which depicts the life of an American girl staying in rural England with relatives when nuclear bombs go off in London and then other British cities, apparently from local extremists bent on revolution.  A British TV station made a featurette “ASX TV: A Look at ‘How I Live Now’”.  The girl has to learn to adjust to conditions “now” and to rules made by others.  There is no talk of justice or unfairness, it is just reality.  


Monday, June 02, 2014

Weather Channel "Tornado Alley" simulates destruction in Washington DC and Miami FL


The Weather Channel has treated us, in its “Tornado Alley” series, simulations of what could happen if monster tornadoes hit Washington DC and then Miami, FL
  
The DC tornado supposes a strong cold front in April, leading to the form of an EF4 tornado near the Pentagon, hitting the Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, White House, and Capitol.  Because most tornadoes move SW to NE, that track sounds even more unlikely than an EF4.  The storm divides into three funnels, and then combines again to an EF5, and eventually hits the Capitol with 320 mph winds, the strongest theoretically possible.  The major monuments all survive, but the Capitol dome is toppled.
  
Thousands of people become casualties to flying debris, including cranes.  A gas explosion and fireball is also possible.
  
Doug Kammerer, of NBC Channel 4 in Washington, appears. 
  
The documentary says that mountains do not prevent tornadoes, and cites one that climbed up a mountain in Yellowstone, and even one on Pikes Peak.
  
However, severe thunderstorms in the DC area do tend to be more common about 30 miles NW of the city (coming through Harpers Ferry Gap), or about 40 miles to the SE, near where the Potomac and Cheaspeake Bay meet.  The main reason why tornadoes are less common in the mid Atlantic is that the area is farther way from the greatest clash of warm and cold air in spring and fall, in the Great Plains and some of the southeast. 
  
  
The documentary mentions an unusual F4 tornado in Frostburg, MD, in the Alleghenies, in June 1998, and one in La Plata MD in April 2002.  The unusual 1998 outbreak is described here in Wikipedia (link) and has not recurred despite climate change.  There was a tornado outbreak in the DC area September 24, 2001 (less than two weeks after 9/11) that became most intense (reaching F3 and multiple vortices) NE of the city in suburban Maryland, including College Park (link) .  A tornado may have helped defeat the British when they tried to invade Washington DC in 1814, during the War of 1812  (Post coverage ).
  
A second documentary depicts an EF5 tornado in Miami.  It points out that the greatest wind speeds may be about 40 feet off the ground.  New building codes in Miami require carbonate layers in glass in lower floors.  The frames of the skyscrapers survive because they have “plasticity”.  A cruise ship in harbor is destroyed.
  
Rebuilding after an event like either of these would be much more challenging than in a small town. 
  
Should houses be built with steel frames?
  
After such an event, I don't even know if rebuilding would be practical for me and if I would be able to return.   In my case, it's complicated.   

Picture: Damage on Gloster street in a commercial area of Tupelo, MS, four weeks after the April 28, 2014 F3 torndao; personal visit 

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Lynchburg CSX rail derailment, crude oil spillage, detailed video published by local TV station, warns it can happen "anywhere"


Lynchburg VA television station WDBJ7 (not sure of network affiliation) has some detailed video of the CSX freight train derailment near the James River in downtown Lynchburg yesterday, near Ninth and Jefferson St.


The oil boom in North Dakota means that over twice as much crude oil is being shipped by rail than was the case in 2007. 

There apparently was little property damage to residences and businesses, although there was evacuation.
A look at Google Maps shows that the disaster occurred about a mile north of the critical Delta Star transformer plant (Issues blog, Mar 5, 2014).

The History Channel has documented the dangers of rail disasters (“railroad” label on this blog).

Wikipedia attribution link: Percival’s Island along the James River, near the site of the crash. 


Update: May 6, 2014

Picture above and below of repair of spill (personal visit May 5);  tracks are open, all cars have been removed. 


Sunday, April 20, 2014

"Game of Pawns": FBI makes short film to warn students studying abroad to resist recruitment by foreign governments, or else


The FBI has produced a public service “short film” of 28 minutes called “Game of Pawns” (directed by Glenn Feliu) although maybe it could have been titled “A Pawn Sacrifice”.  I guess the young man Glen Shriver (Joshua Murray), certainly tall and charismatic enough, thinks that the Chinese got a “lead in development” for their sacrifice of him.  He goes to college in Shanghai, loves it, and meets a young woman (oh, how heterosexual) who puts him in touch with Chinese business men (he thinks) who give him the stipend he needs to live there and extend his visa – if only he’ll write some academic papers on American-Chinese relations. 
  
Things keep getting more complicated, as he fails a State Department employment exam, but the Chinese amazingly talk him into applying for a job with the CIA, with the purpose of making him a double agent.  He flies back to Virginia, sees his family, and then reports to Langley, and fails the polygraph miserably.  He quits the application process, but is told he isn’t out of trouble. He tries to fly back to China and is arrested on the plane, and gets a four year sentence for conspiring to commit espionage against the United States.

  

My own novel in development (“Angel’s Brothers”), the CIA agent character went over from Army service in military intelligence, with a cover as a history teacher.  There’s not very much overlap to my own scenarios.  

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Weather channel offers short film on Ebola virus


The Weather Channel offers an interesting short film on Ebola virus, “If You Get It, You’re Probably Going to Die


The virus lives in the jungle, silently, and every few years breaks out when people hunt animals, especially primates (who may get it from bats), and bring them into villages.
  

The disease is spread by direct contact with blood and body fluids and cause the body to lose the ability to clot blood, leading to “bleed outs” and liquefication of tissues. 

Wikipedia attribution link showing distribution of Ebola, here.

Update: April 27

Vox reports that victims of Ebola in Africa are often shunned even after they recover, link. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Megaquake: Hour that Shook Japan": Discovery Channel film provides front seat to 2011 quake, warns about US and Canada west coast

Megaquake: Hour that Shook Japan”, from the Discovery Channel, narrated by Eric Meyers and directed by Marc Tiler, recreates the first hour after the 9.0 earthquake off the coast of Japan in March 2011. Most of the program shows the effect of the quake itself, even in Tokyo and Sendai to the north, as reported by American and western visitors (especially teachers) such as Wesley Julian and Paula Lutzie.  The first tremor lasted over five minutes, and numerous aftershocks followed quickly.  By way of comparison, the 5.8 quake in central Virginia in August 2011 lasted about 20 seconds.  I recall that.  It started with a roar (like the generator coming on) followed by some moderate shaking for a few seconds, which stopped, but it was startling.  Discovery Channel’s link is here. The film (38 minutes) does remind one of the History Channel "megadisaster" series aired in 2008.  
  
Then the film does cover the tsunami and the ruin of the Fukushima power plant, and interviews a firefighter who went in for the cleanup.  Older men, with less life expectancy, were asked to volunteer for duty afterward.  The film says that the tsunami was 120 feet high in some locations along the Japanese east coast.
The film also shows the tsunami, which had become small by the time it reached the pleasant communities along the southern California coast. 
  
It then pointed out recent large earthquakes near Chile and Indonesia, and wonders if the US West Coast is next.  It shows the San Andreas Fault, and then turns its attention to the Cascadia Fault off the coast of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.  People in coastal areas would not even have time for a tsunami warning.
  
  
A large volcano or earthquake-driven landslide in the Canary Islands (near the Cumbre Vieja volcano) could send a tsunami perhaps 200-300 feet high at the outset toward the US East Coast.  Tsunamis can cross the ocean at 500 mph. 
  
BBC has a documentary “Megaquake Could Hit North America”, link on YouTube here

The idea of disasters on this scale raises the question of how hundreds of thousands to millions of homeless people would be housed, even beyond the scale of Katrina.  Is that a responsibility all should share?   

Friday, February 07, 2014

Youtube offers different views on the public danger suggested by the California power station attack in April 2013

Hiberniason’s video “Mysterious Attack on California Power Station”, 8 minutes, says that cell phone service and 911 response was compromised for a while after the attack. 
   
He reads an article suggesting that our enemies could be rehearsing for multiple coordinated simultaneous physical attacks on power stations.  He does discuss the possibility of EMP (electromagnetic pulse) and cyber attacks. 
  
He calls our dependence on electricity our Achilles Heel, giving us a “carotid artery” that can be cut. He often refers to “our enemies”.

GunzGear has a video “Electrical Grid Downed by Physical Attack”

And he talks about Hiberniason’s video.  He discounts the idea that a coordinated physical attack is likely to work because it would take so many people.  He also says he works on construction and repairing damage after storms.  He says that there is a lot of redundancy in the grid, partly because of government regulation.
   
The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office has four minutes of surveillance video in black and white,  but I don’t see anything happening.
  

CNN has posted its 2 minute video "Snipers attack US Electrical Grid" with more of the sheriff's video, pointing out what to look for.  Henry Waxman (D-CA) speaks in a Congressional hearing, and a former regular Wellinghof recommends much more security around installations, including opaque barriers. 
  
I discussed the attack on my “Issues blog” on February 5 after a Wall Street Journal on the attack appeared that day.  I also cover it on my review of Byron Dorgan’s novel “Gridlock”, reviewed Sept. 13, 2013 on the Books blog.  The largest power station that I have ever driven past is probably one on the Missouri River near Pierre, SD (saw it in 1998), and Dorgan’s novel starts near a similar facility in North Dakota. 

A DirectTV ad, which shows a handglider colling with a power line and knocking out the entire grid, plays up the point that crime would go up if the grid went down.  Rather offensive, but true (and I don't know what DirectTV dropped the Weather Channel.)



Update: Feb. 10.  The Wall Street Journal has an op-ed by L. Gordon Kravitz, p A11, "The Power Grid: Our Achilles Heel", link here.  This is no time for a dysfunctional Congress.  But on Feb. 12 Holman J. Jenkins, Jr. offered an op-ed (p. A13), with an opposing viewpoint, that these were vandals with a grudge, "Bulll's Eye on the Electric Grid" (or "Bull's-Eye on the Utility System: There's nothing new about perople shooting out the lights," here
  
I noticed a lot of longer YouTube videos that purport to dramatize “false flag attack” terrorism.  The concept is explained in various sites, like this account that gives many examples in history, link

Saturday, January 04, 2014

"TWA Flight 800": If the missile theory is right (and it sounds like it is), it could warn of an EMP attack in the future

TWA Flight 800”, directed by Kristina Borjesson and narrated by Jim Stalcup, examines the explosion of that flight in the air near East Morches, Long Island, NY shortly after takeoff from JFK airport on July 17, 1996.
  
I recall driving my car alone in northern Virginia the next day and listening to Joe Brown’s talk show, and hearing a caller describe the missiles that were reportedly fired at the plane.
  
The film (produced by Epix) shows interviews and congressional hearings and many shots of the reconstructed plane in a hangar, and gradually develops the thesis that the NTSB and other government components of the Clinton administration covered up the theory of an external attack and tried to make it look like the result of a fuel tank explosion from an electrical short.
  
Toward the end, the film presents evidence that up to three “proximity fuse missiles” exploded near the plane. 
  
The reason that the incident sounds significant now is that a terrorist, if he pulled off this incident undetected, could use such a device to explode a small nuclear weapon or EMP flux device over a populated coastal area from a nearby ship. The ability of the Coast Guard to prevent such an attack would seem underwhelming. This is all about connecting the dots.  Even the NSA seems not to have done it on this incident. There are some rumor and conspiracy theory sites suggesting this theory, such as here

The incident differs from Pan Am Flight 103 which exploded over Lockerbue Scotland in 1988;  that was due to an explosion on board caused by Libya. 
  
  
Lionsgate offers the DVD as part of a “conspiracy pack” with documentaries about Princess Diana and Jack Ruby.

See also coverage of TW Flight 800 on Anderson Cooper AC360 as reviewed on TV blog on June 22, 2013.
The 2013 film ought to have a theatrical run. I would suggest the West End in Washington DC as a good venue. 

Wikipedia attribution link of diagram of trajectory of the wreckage pieces.



Update:  July 20, 2014

CNN and Anderson Cooper AC360 aired a one-hour shortened version of the film on July 19, 2014.  The shortened version emphasized the concerns over possible terrorism during the Clinton administration and the idea that there could have been a tie to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.