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.