“Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World”, a meditation on the Internet by Werner Herzog with some definite warnings to the less human

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Name: Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World
Director, writer:  Werner Herzog
Released:  2016
Format:  1.78:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark E Street, 2016/8/19
Length 98
Rating NA
Companies: Magnolia Pictures
Link: official

 

The last of the ten sections (“The Future”, which was itself the name of a 2011 film about a goofy couple seen through the eyes of a stray cat) of Werner Herzog’s new meditation, “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World” is the most prescient for me.  After examining artificial intelligence, it shows a man undergoing a brain MRI and predicts that soon we will be able to read each other’s thoughts and fantasies (maybe even sexual fetishes) through smart phones.  The film didn’t mention the new invention, DuoSkin, supported by Microsoft, which could destroy some fantasy life.

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That section also maintains modern Internet communication seems to be broadcast for all to hear, and doesn’t care a lot about the needs of a specific recipient. That sounds like a characterization of my own web development supporting my “Do Ask, Do Tell” books over the years.   The film speculates that future human beings may curiously not be as socially connected as in the past, the “Alone Together” (Sherry Turkle) syndrome.

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Earlier sections also get attention.  There is a section on “Internet Free Zones”, such as around the radio telescope at Green Bank, W Va, where there is no cell service for several miles in all directions because that would interfere with faint radio astronomic observations of distant worlds (maybe like finding extrasolar planets).  Several women with unusual wireless wave sensitivities talk about the pleasures of living there as real people, completely off the grid.  (I visited Green Bank in May 2013 and got several pictures but I don’t recall much discussion about the absence of cellular service.) The film then also mentions an Internet addiction clinic in Washington state  (see “Web Junkie”, July 2, about such a boot camp in China).

It also gets alarming predicting “The End of the Internet” by a solar storm, specifically recounting the history of the Carrington Event in 1859 (see book review Aug. 12).  The film didn’t mention our near miss with another one in July 2012 by the position of the Earth in orbit around the Sun.  Furthermore, other threats, like high altitude EMP blast, are possible.  The film does cover the fact that we have become dependent on technology and probably could not survive if a terrorist or enemy (or nature) pulled the plug suddenly.

There is a brief interview with Elon Musk about the progress in his plans to eventually colonize Mars — and provide the Internet to the scattered communities (a 15 minute delay from Earth for Facebook and Twitter for the speed of light).

The film opens by visiting a sacred altar room at UCLA, where the first Aparnet computer worked on Oct. 29, 1969.

There is also an early section about trolls and personal meanness on the web, particularly concerning the gratuitous circulation photos of a car crash victim.  Early designers of the Web didn’t anticipate users attacking one another. The architects had more faith in human nature than can be justified in a world where people are so “unequal” and disconnected that they see little point in following the rules or in civility.

(Published: Friday, Aug. 19, 2016 at 10:45 PM EDT)

“Guilty Knowledge”: The media and political establishments remain asleep on power grid security (Oh, do they really know?)

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Author(s) or Editor(s): Frank Gaffney, editor; David Reboi and Adam Savit
Title, Subtitle: Guilty Knowledge: What the US Government Knows about the Vulnerability of the Electric Grid, but Refuses to Fix
publication date 2013
ISBN 978-149535018-4
Publication: Center for Security Press (Amazon), 62 pages, paper, 11 short chapters after Foreword
Link: Secure the Grid

There are some issues which potentially imply individuals and families need to prepare themselves to take on challenges they don’t think they have chosen for themselves.  And the media seems loath to talk about these very openly. So are the politicians, except at the fringes.  That may be one reason why you get a presidential candidate like Donald Trump.

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Such is the nature of the security of our electric power grids – all three of them.  A group called “Center for Security Policy” publishes a 62-page booklet (inexpensive, $6 from Amazon), edited by and with Introduction by Frank Gaffney. Jr., “Guilty Knowledge: What the US Government Knows about the Vulnerability of the Electric Grid, But Refuses to Fix”, apparently dated 2013.

The book comprises a Foreword and 11 abstracts, each with a strike page, on the issue, dated from 2004 to 2012.   The first two abstracts are Electromagnetic Pulse Commission Reports;  other pieces deal with solar storms, cybersecurity, and unconventional weapons.  But there is little attention to physical attacks, like the rifle attack on a station in the Silicon Valley in April 2013 (and there have been other small attacks).

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The booklet does layout the background setting, that western society (and the individuals pimping themselves out in it) has become “addicted” to technology, especially electricity, whose modern grid developed somewhat by fortuitous decisions by a few early entrepreneurs (as in the History Channel’s Modern Marvels documentary on the topic). That context means that the old “mutually assured destruction” of “Dr. Strangelove” during the Cold War, as applied to nuclear war and thermonuclear weapons (which do emit EMP) doesn’t deter terrorists interested in destroying our way of life but leaving us alive to be conquered and converted.

The Foreword gives us a taste of the problem. In 2014, Fox got a rude memo from the Pentagon, “The Department is unaware of any increase in the threat of a deliberate destructive use of an EMP device. Further, any reporting to the contrary by those without access to current threat assessments is both reckless and irresponsible.”

Oh, we get it. Knowledge of critical national security issues is to be passed down through the cabal of political authority (disguised as security clearances), and the rest of the public goes shopping as usual.  No wonder, then, the doomsday prepper crowd guards its “right” to build up caches of assault weapons for a world like NBC’s “Revolution”.  The Pentagon is unwittingly feeding the lunatic, right-wing fringe.  For power grid security is not a partisan or “right wing” issue, even though Fox News (with Bill Hemmer) and the Washington Times (and probably the Examiner) pay disproportionate attention to it compared to more mainstream media channels.

On Monday, August 8, 2016, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Fox sponsored a “Your Voice Your Future” roundtable on “U.S. Grid Safety” from a Fox studio in Green Bay, WI.  I review the broadcast here.  On Saturday, August 6, ABC Affiliate WJLA (owned by Sinclair) had promised the forum on Monday.  True, the link to the stream was there, but the broadcast was not carried on any DC station (not even on News Channel 8)   I had to pseudo-hack for ten minutes to get the stream to work.  I could not have watched it if I didn’t know something about how the stations and broadcasts are set up. (Does that make me an “ethical” hacker?)  I could not get the system to stream a second hour strictly from the local Fox station in Green Bay.  I wonder if it was shown on stations in Milwaukee or (where I used to live) Minneapolis.  I’ve contacted several parties at (locally more politically liberal) WJLA and News Channel 8 and nobody wants to talk about this!   Sinclair Broadcasting did create a two-minute clip on the issue which WJLA aired just once this summer (my account).

The booklet does cover some critical bases, like the questionable capability of US utilities to replace large transformers should they be damaged by an event.  It covers the Carrington Even in 1859, the Quebec 1989 outage caused by a solar storm (with subsequent large coronal mass ejection) along with another incident in the 1920s, and the solar threat in general (although it doesn’t mention Earth’s reported near miss with another Carrington in July 2012).  It also covers IEMI, intentional electromagnetic interference, and distinguishes between the acronyms HEMP (high altitude electromagnetic pulse) and HPEM, high power electromagnetics.  There are haphazard Youtube videos on how to make HPEM, which hopefully would not work in the hands of amateurs.  An HPEM device could disable and fry electronics (like PC’s and smart phones) in a small area (maybe a few city blocks at most) but could be devastating for small businesses affected (a good reason for making not only Cloud backups but also optical CD’s, which would not be affected).  It’s possible to imagine an attack like this from enemies as a kind of ransomware, although that right now sounds more like a Hollywood B Movie plot.   It’s effect could be compared to a dirty bomb, although it would not leave real estate contaminated or uninhabitable.  It could pose enormous public safety problems for people in high rise buildings (like elevators).  The military uses HPEM weapons in Afghanistan and has used them in Iraq, but they have not been used in civilian settings (the Washington Times had an article about this in 2009, and there was a controversial Popular Mechanics article back in 2001 just before 9/11).

The booklet anticipates Ted Koppel’s concerns about cyberwar.  It does seem that portions of the electric grid are more closely connected to the public Internet than they should be.  The power grid needs the same level of cyber security as the Pentagon (which is better than civilian federal agencies and even banks and retail, which do get hacked).

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have finally started talking about “infrastructure banks” which could be used to shore up gird security.  One idea could be some decentralization, and Taylor Wilson, who get investments from Peter Thiel (who spoke at the RNC) proposes small underground fission reactors as a way for utilities to become less vulnerable to external events. It mystifies me that Donald Trump, in particular, doesn’t take the opportunity to talk about this issue frankly in his speeches.  He could gain credibility as a candidate if he talked about real security threats and solutions and stopped the name-calling and race or religion or ethnicity baiting.  Isn’t that true conservatism, what the GOP ought to stand for?

I take this kind of personally.  This sounds like an issue of journalists’ “connecting the dots”, which the political establishment is afraid of.  I’m told to be quiet, and that my most important concern should be who among my cultural sisters can use the bathroom of her choice in North Carolina, and that if something catastrophic happens, I’ll have to learn to live with less in more intimate settings around others, that all this “external world” (or even outer space) stuff is above our heads and beyond our control.  Bull!  We can be smart, and prevent most catastrophes.  The Neanderthals did not survive because they didn’t innovate, and didn’t understand ego well enough.

I’ve covered other books on my legacy blogs, missives like “One Second After” (William Forstchen), “Gridlock” (Dorgan), “A Nation Forsaken” (Maloof), and “Lights Out” (Koppel).  I will review Bakke’s “The Grid” soon.  Clynes’s book about Taylor Wilson, “The Boy Who Played with Fusion”, is also relevant. This topic needs a documentary movie from a filmmaker like Morgan Spurlock or Andrew Jenks (not sure Michael Moore would be interested).

(Published: Friday, August 12, 2016 at 1 PM EDT)

“Captain Fantastic”: prepper comedy that pays homage to Noam Chomsky

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Name: Captain Fantastic
Director, writer:  Matt Ross
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2016/7/23, at The Charles Theater, Baltimore, large audience, evening
Length 118
Rating R (some very explicit nudity and biological language, which is quite funny in context)
Companies: Bleecker St
Link: Official site 

Captain Fantastic”, directed and written by Matt Ross, somewhat resembles the “Wilderpeople” comedy (July 10) but is even more focused on fatherhood, in a domestic American (western) setting.

As the film opens, father Ben (Viggo Mortensen) Is leading his six kids in a camouflage deer hunt in Washington state’s Cascade mountains (which are often shown with stunning views). The kids paste their bodies, even more than we did in Army basic.  The movie shows us their campground with its little huts, barracks like sleeping quarters, gardens, and animal husbandry.  Soon the kids are all rappelling, and one of the young kids slips and apparent breaks his wrist.  Daddy and the other kids fix him up.

They go around in a “vancredible” bus.  They’re also home schooled.  Soon we learn that the kids know the great books of literature (George Elliot’s “Middlemarch” and I believe Thomas Hardy’s “Return of the Native” get mentioned or show up in the “library”), can do the science and math, and the oldest boy, Bo(a charismatic and fit George Mackay) has gotten into every Ivy league college. Bo likes to quote political manifestos, and at one point says he is a “Troskyite” but may become a “Maoist”.  That makes sense, because Maoism (in the Chinese cultural revolution of the 1960s) had involved everyone taking his turn as a peasant or “prole”.

Ben is no right wing doomsday prepper (and the film doesn’t get into the area of guns).  His hero is Noam Chomsky, and on Chomsky’s birthday, he fakes a heart attack in a supermarket so the kids can shoplift groceries. That’s after an emergency room scene where one of the kids notices that most patients are fat (and probably diabetic). You don’t say those things in public.  It’s like saying Amish kids are usually much fitter than modern teens.

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We learn that Ben’s wife – the kids’ mom – has committed suicide in a mental hospital, and the conflict over her father’s (the kids’ maternal grandparents) funeral plans generate the rest of the plot. The patriarch is Jack (Frank Langella), who lives in New Mexico in a huge estate.  Although Jack first threatens Ben with arrest if he comes, Ben takes the family down and they attempt a reconciliation (and now the scenery switches to New Mexico deserts and mountains). The main conflict now comes from mom’s will and her funeral wishes, which had expected modest ceremony, cremation, and disposal of the ashes, in comparison to the lavish funeral desired by Jack.  Ben proves disruptive, which provokes the climax of the film.  Maybe in the end, the kids (most of all Bo) all win out.

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The idea of wanting to downplay a funeral, especially if death occurs in certain shameful or violent circumstances, is an idea that has occurred to me.  The idea was even explored on NBC’s “Days of our Lives” with EJ’s murder.

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Wikipedia attribution link for I90 thru Snoqualimie Pass in Washington, p.d., from Byways.org    I had an “ephiphany” there at lunch in 1978 on vacation, which would turn out to be prophetic in a few years.

Wikipedia attribution link for view from Lama Foundation (north of Taos, NM), which I visited in 1980 and again in 1984 (“Spring Work Camp”).     The facility sustained a

(Published: Sunday, July 24, 2016 at 11:15 AM)

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