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