Thursday, January 29, 2015

"Inside the Hunt for the Boston Bombers": NatGeo account of the Boston Marathon incident

The National Geographic Channel documentary “Inside the Hunt for the Boston Bombers”, directed by Sam Hohkinson and “Sam L.”, at 87 minutes, presents the most comprehensive account of the April 15, 2013 account of the Boston Marathon bombings, perpetrated by brothers Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.   
The film starts with the footage of the actual incident, and of the two blasts in the crowd near the finish line.
The film focuses on the police work, and the use of public tips after releasing photographs of the suspects in the crowd (available on Wikipedia but legally copyrighted), where the police had to balance the idea that the suspects could become evne more dangerous when on the run.  The film also stresses that authorities had no way to judge whether future attacks were likely anyway.  The entire city of Boston and surrounding suburbs was on lockdown for about 24 hours as police searched house-to-house at one point.
The film gives a riveting attack of the carjacking, the victim’s daring escape, and of the shootout that led to Tameran’s being run over and then Dzhokhar’s subsequent capture when lying in a private boat outdoors.
The film also focuses on the medical recovery of some of the victims, but not to the point of being excessive or playing up the emotional aspect too much.
The film doesn’t cover the behavior of Dzhokhar ("Jahar"), now on trial, for the three full days until the final sequence.  He reportedly showed up in a gym as if nothing had happened.  He tweeted after the event, and the content of the tweets is disturbing in retrospect, as in this NY Times story here
I found out about the incident about 15 minutes after it happened from CNN, before heading into town in DC on the Metro.
The official site (UK Channel 4) is here

Vox offers an article by Rebekah Gregory DiMartino "What I learned ...." here
Wikipedia attribution link for Prudential Building in Boston, lit up with a “1” after the incident author is “Pi.1415926535”  (CC SA 3.0 uported).  The film can be watched on Netflix instant play. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

NBC Meet the Press airs a short film "Inside ISIS"

NBC’s Richard Engel produced (for NBC Meet the Press with Chuck Todd, Sunday mornings) of a chilling account of an Afghan-born medical student, Ahmed, living in England, was asked by a family to go to Syria and locate two twin girls who had gone apparently to marry ISIS fighters.  The short film is titled “Inside ISIS: One Man’s Story of Being Captured by the Islamic State”.

It was rather shocking that someone would ask a young man to take this kind of risk for “family”.  He had lost a leg (apparently as a civilian bystander) in previous fighting in Afghanistan but walks normally on a prosthetic.  But he hopped a fence from Turkey and went into Syria and found the girls in a city called Manbij just across the border barely in Syria. 
The western husband of one of the fighters reacted angrily and he wound up being arrested and, for a time, tortured (he says he doesn’t want to talk about it).  He was suspected of working as a western spy (which he was), or "worse", a journalist.  But then they started to “trust” him as he helped treat wounds, and allowed him some freedom.  He said that their hatred for the west is apparent in their eyes and beyond the comprehension of most westerners.
This almost sounds like a plot for a larger independent documentary movie.  But it is real life for people growing up with this background. 
Apparently the young man will go to medical school in Britain, perhaps become a trauma surgeon.  
Wikipedia attribution link for Pamukkale hot springs site nearby, across Turkish border. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

DC News Channel 8 continues with "Free Speech" portion of "New Terror Threat", focusing on Hebdo Cartoon Controversy

Horace Jones hosted a second session of “The New Terror Threat” Thursday night on News Channel 8 in Washington DC (part of WJLA-7), called “Free Speech”. The page for this show is here. It did not appear to be open to the public, as at least one session last fall was.  I had asked WJLA if it wants to have another public forum, which would be a good idea. 
Kristine Frazio reported on the publication of Charlie Hebdo’s magazine, and the decision of some news outlets not to show images of the prophets.   She also reported on a major “bust” in Belgium today, seemingly related to ISIS rather than AQAP, (extensive developing video included) link here

The panel included two men (one from the Newseum) and one Muslim woman.  The woman differentiated between Islam as a religion and Muslims as individual people, who she said are not perfect. There had been street demonstrations in sympathy with Hebdo Wednesday night of last week.
News Channel 8 did present a few of the images for demonstration, but made a proper analogy to “fighting words” like the “n” word or “f” word.  The image is shown in a news context, just as use of those words in quotes is.
The right to coarse and offensive speech was defended, short of “incitement” (or coercion).
Some people in Dubai were interviewed, and their views were pretty centrist and moderate despite Muslim background. 
Anti-Catholicism was mentioned.
Freedom of the press is experienced by only 14% of the world’s population.
Obama and Cameron penned an op-ed, link here
Nick Kosar appeared, and explained how he was imprisoned for 6 days in Iran for one of his editorial cartoons involving a crocodile.  He says he cannot go to either Iraq or Iran. 

You can’t show soccer players in shorts in some countries? Did I hear right?  I remember standing in a bar in Bilbao. Spain and watching a soccer game in spring, 2001. 

On AC360 tonight on CNN, Anderson Cooper interviewed the parents of a young man in legal trouble for supporting ISIS who said her son would never have gotten in trouble if social media did not exist.  She said "leave my kids alone.  They don't understand what they are getting into... They are gullible .. they are vulnerable .. their minds are not developed".  Dr. Phil has often warned us that young adults aren't fully mature until about age 25, although the late-teens I have met in my own circles seem very mature (exposure to mission work in poverty overseas helps people grow up and learn perspective).  This does sound like a free speech issue to me, in parallel with COPA, with which I was involved years ago.  It should have been covered on the WJLA Channel 8 show.  Maybe it will be covered later. Social media deserves a forum on its own.
Picture: View from inside the Newseum, looking toward the Capitol, under renovation, my visit last Saturday. I am a renewing member.   

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

News Channel 8 in Washington airs symposium "New Terror Threat" this evening

On Tuesday January 13, 2015 News Channel 8 in Washington DC (associated with WJLA-TV) aired a 30-minute discussion “New Terror Threat” based primarily on the major incidents in France last week involving the cartoons by Charlie Hebdo and associates.  The broadcast was in the spirit of earlier "Your Voice Your Future" symposia, but did not use the name this time.  
The broadcast showed the new amateur video of the Paris attack that surfaced today.  CNN seems to have the most authoritative link, here. The broadcast discusses the arrest of a possible accomplice in Bulgaria and the hunt for the female in Turkey, and may well be in Syria.  A rather obvious strategy would be for western countries not to allow people who leave to fight for terror groups to return ever (editorial). 
They also reported a meeting by President Obama with technology companies, held in Ballston in Arlington VA today.  I happened to pass by the Secret Service detail (and had to detour) today at the time the president arrived.  The president talked about the social media (Twitter and YouTube) attack on Centcom, and said that cybersecurity was necessary to protect family “bank accounts”.  Was the Army using two-step verification for its passwords? 
Horace Jones debriefed Mac Thornberry, of the House Armed Services Committee, and columnists JJ Green and Richard Fowler. 
With regard to cybersecurity, both columnists noted that in both France and the US, members of the military and law enforcement have been urged to scrub their social media accounts (or delete them).  I recall, in 2002, after my “layoff”, starting the process to apply for a job as a TSA Screener (which I then stopped), and wondering if online presence would create a conflict even then.  It might have.
The panelist also discussed the concern over magazines in the Inspire magazine (online) over how to make plastic explosives that could get through security at smaller airports that don’t have newer body scanners.  This seems to show up in search engines;  Reuters has a responsible discussion here
WJLA reports verbal cell phone calls or other threats (by a party claiming to be ISIS but possibly a copycat) made to a Jewish-owned business in Washington DC.  The business has not been identified.  The link for the story by Stephen Tschida is here.  The calls included homophobic and racist comments as well as anti-Semitic. If a call like this came from a combat region overseas (like in Syria) it could logically give away positions of enemy fighters for allied intelligence and airstrikes.  So it sounds rather improbable. 
News Channel 8 is likely to have a video of the show by some time Wednesday Jan. 14 online. News Channel 8 will air a similar broadcast on Free Speech and terrorism at 7 PM on Thursday Jan 15.  I’m trying to find out if the public can participate.  Personally, I’d love to host something like this someday.  

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

"The Woman Who Wasn't There": she concocts a fake story of surviving 9/11 in NYC

Meredith Vieira has produced a curious documentary “The Woman Who Wasn’t There” (2012), directed by Angelo Guglielmo and Robin J. Fisher, about a woman who claimed to have survived the 9/11 attack on the South Tower and who helped organize a major support group in NYC for survivors.  The problem is, this was all a hoax. 
The woman was Tania Head.  She was actually in Barcelona, Spain at the time, but arrived in NYC shortly.  She had even recovered from an auto crash in Spain which had resulted in surgery to reattach her arm.  She claimed she was rescued by a firefighter on 9/11 with her arm dangling.
The film opens with the 5-year anniversary commemoration in 2006, as members of her group start to question the lack of verification of her facts, particularly when checked by search engines on the Internet. 

After the ruse was exposed, Tania disappeared for three years, to reappear in 2011.  She did this just to feel important, not for money.  So her time for “Do Ask, Do Tell” definitely arrived.
The film uses a lot of rotoscopic animation to recreate her supposed narrative of 9/11, with ingenious special effects to highlight the effects of the tower collapses on lower Manhattan.

The title of the film of course echoes the Coen Brothers black comedy 2001 film “The Man Who Wasn’t There”, also the title of a Dateline mystery episode (reviewed on TV blog Jan. 2).

The official site is here  (Cinedigm). The film can be watched on Netflix instant play. 

Wikipedia attribution link for NASA aerial view of Barcelona. 

Friday, January 02, 2015

"Avian Flu": straightforward documentary from Spain lays it on the line

On this blog, I’ve tried to pick out films or television episodes that demonstrate serious threats to our “western” way of life.  Some items here probably really should have been placed on the regular movie or TV blog.

Of all the major challenges that we may face, outside of war or terrorism, from the natural world, another “superflu” epidemic may be the most likely.  Avian influenza (or “bird flu”) is more likely to cause widespread death or mandatory changes to our way of life than SARS or Ebola (or HIV).  It might be more likely that a major solar storm.

There is a 25-minute Spanish documentary (in English) on YouTue by Graziella Alemdrall from “New Atlantis Full Documentaries” titled simply “Avian Flu”. 

Appearing in the film are Marshall Bloom, of Rocky Mountain Laboratories, as well as Dick Thompson and Juan Ortin Montin (in Spain).  The film explains that all influenza may have originated from birds, and often makes the migration to mammals and then humans when wild migratory birds mix with local birds (especially geese).  The main avian strains are H5N1 and H7N9 but others will appear.  H1N1 is a strain that had migrated to swine and for which we now seem to have an adequate vaccine.

Influenza tends to spread to other animals and then people in crowded agricultural environments, such as are common in SE Asia.  The virus might become more transmissible person to person through mutation.  So far, there haven’t been any long chains of human transmission from the deadliest strains, like that of the 1918 epidemic.

Toward the end of the documentary, Thompson warns that societies need to plan strategies for social distancing should a pandemic occur. It's obvious that the public health measures could destroy many businesses (like bars and restaurants) forever.  He says it would take about four months to start a vaccine, but why don’t we work on this now, and give people some immunity to specific H5 and H7 proteins, to make the cases milder?  We need some kind of “Andraka miracle” in the vaccine development world. (Sorry, it will still take eight "clock" years before Jack has finished medical school. I guess the good Dr.Daniel Jonas on "Days of our Lives" would love to get credit for solving a problem like this.)

The film says that Avian influenza will normally cause a deep, lower lung pneumonia. In the very worst pandemics, those who had recovered might be asked to work as "volunteers" taking care of those still sick.  The same idea has been mentioned for smallpox.
A 90 minute lecture video by Dr. Michael Osterholm and Helen Branswell, at the Woodrow Wilson Center, “Emerging Pandemic: Costs and Consequences of an Emerging Influenza Pandemic” explains how mutation happens, and how HA anitgens let the virus into cells, and NA antigens enable them to leave and spread to other cells.  The link is here

Stephen King based his 1978 (revised 1990) novel "The Stand" on a superflu that sounds like bird flu -- and it became a TV miniseries in 1995 (four parts, eight hours, with the "good people" winding up in Boulde, CO and the bad people --  Randall Flagg or "The Walkin' Dude" -- in Cibola, Las Vegas).  And don't forget the 2005 ABC-TV film by David Pearce, "Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America".  I remember watching that with Mother!