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Leo Koziol: Naked in Nuhaka


Leo Koziol: Naked in Nuhaka

Static Interference

MULLING OVER THE WEIRDNESS of the September 11 Anniversary last week, I found my mind and my click-finger drifting across the keyboard to find ghoulish images of the explosions and carnage of that fateful day two years ago. I went to "Google," clicked on "Find Photos," then typed in "September 11." Pictures of colourful explosions filled the screen, mixed in with images of American flags and a sullen mournful public. I stared at the images of the explosions and the more I looked at them, the less real they seemed. Like the all too real Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) filling up space in every latest filmic blockbuster, the images looked too crisp, too real. Manufactured. Too perfect.

So it is again with an image I spotted on "Scoop.co.nz" of a perfect storm brewing off the coast of North America: Hurricane Isabel (1). The white, moody image of the eye of the storm looks far too much like a computer-generated fractal image produced for some wicked eco-apocalyptic drama. Billions of bytes wired together to model a storm of awesome force not unlike the NOAA (2) mainframe providing seven-day hurricane forecast to the 50 million Americans directly threatened by the force of Isabel.

This eco-apocalyptic drama looks set to bear itself out with demonic force. An already sodden U.S. mainland looks set for flood and devastation. The coastal real estate machine – yes, that very same one accelerating over Aotearoa NZ that I discussed last week (3) – has boosted endangered assets and populations at an exponential rate in the 1990s and through to this century, particularly on numerous fragile, low-lying sand barrier islands.

I recall a report I read by New York-based nonprofit group Environmental Defense on the potential devastating impact upon their high-rise metropolis of a global warming fuelled high-level hurricane event. This serious tome (4), entitled " Hot Nights in the City: Global Warming, Sea-Level Rise and the New York Metropolitan Region," forecast potential effects upon the Big Apple as including inundation of coastal residential areas, skyscraper-glass shattering winds on Manhattan, and a storm surge pushing into the open Wall Street subway stations drowning one of the most extensive underground railway systems in the world. Inundation and impact that promises a modern-day age of Noah.

Writing in 1999, the report stated:

"A large part of lower Manhattan, south of the Brooklyn Bridge , would become vulnerable to increasingly frequent flooding by the end of the next century... The foundations of Battery Park City including the World Financial Center and of the World Trade Center complex would be pounded by storm surges (Figure 14)... Some subway lines are located directly adjacent to water bodies that can be affected by sea-level rise... In addition, both the subways and portions of the PATH and MTA train lines are vulnerable to flooding through numerous points of entry for flood waters such as the tunnel entrances, air and vent shafts, and station entrances."

Downloading the report to review it again, I flicked down the screen to view Figure 14, to find the proudly placed, now ghostly, image of the World Trade Center.

* * * *

Looking at the potential for ecological disaster in the United States, the Bush Administration has its head in the sand as much as the North Carolinians who hope to sit out Isabel on their coastal sand barriers. Ten months ago in this column, I pointed towards the world potentially reaching a "Tipping Point" where "whatever happens from here on out, no matter how ridiculously unimaginable, [is] now actually possible." (5)

I then proceeded with a long list of "very bad things" going on in the world.

Here's the 2003 update, a gentle reminder of the current state of our world:

* In February, nine Americans die in a Space Shuttle explosion over Texas. The world goes into mourning.

* In March, the U.S. and U.K. in coalition invaded Iraq and took over the country.

* The basis for invasion included unproven allegations of linkage of Saddam Hussein to the events of 911 and now-debunked allegations of uranium export from Africa to Iraq.

* In May, US Environmental Protection Agency director and former New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman resigned after bearing the brunt of President Bush's anti-environment policies. She is eventually replaced with Mormon Utah Governor Michael Leavitt.

* In July, the usually conservative World Meteorological Society made an "astonishing" (6) announcement on global warming and extreme weather, stating that "the world's weather is going haywire."

* In August, the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was bombed in a terrorist attack; amongst the mortal victims was top envoy Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian.

* The same month, a power crunch occured over the Continental Northeast U.S. and Canada, linked to poor federal management of power companies in a free-market open slather environment. New York and Toronto calmly faced a summer night without power.

* The same month, record summer temperatures in Western Europe resulted in record heat in the UK and record heatstroke related deaths in France.

* The same month, 21 Brazilians died as a rocket exploded on the launchpad of the nascent Brazilian space programme. The world does not go into mourning.

* Two weeks ago, President Bush requested $87 billion for continued operation of the occupation of Iraq. The U.S. debt climbs to over $6.8 trillion dollars.

* News this week of a post-Enron financial scandal of public Mutual Fund meddling involving – among others – the nation's largest bank (Bank of America) (7).

* U.S. occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan continues. A growing "post-war" death toll of U.S. and British soldiers now outnumbers the wartime figure.

Meanwhile, the global viewing public wallows in a mire of reality television, CGI fuelled Hollywood flicks, txt-plugged talent quests, and video games.

A global audience distracts itself amidst the global media matrix.

* * * *

*Warning: this section includes major film spoilers*

Back in the 1990s, there was a brief wave of disaster movies that swept over Hollywood. Emboldened by the wonder of CGI technology, we had a tornado flick (Twister), twin meteorite disaster movies (Deep Impact and Armageddon), Alien invasion (Independence Day), and nuclear devastation (Terminator 2). The decade was capped off with a big boat sinking to the bottom with a box office that rose to the top (Titanic).

We witnessed close-up the destruction of the World Trade Center Twin Towers in Deep Impact, and in 2001, there they were as survivors in the post-global warming drowned future Gotham of A.I.

Then 911 arrived, and suddenly Hollywood was looking more towards warmer, family fare (8). The "Age of Irony" was over. Or so they thought. I read a Time magazine article earlier this year that talked about how American society has now "progressed." They had got back "irony," and, in 2002, even went and watched a (hugely successful) blockbuster with a nuclear bomb exploding in Baltimore (heaven help John Waters).

That blockbuster was "Sum of All Fears," with Ben Affleck replacing Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan in a Tom Clancy adaptation. A lost Israeli bomb from the 1970s is on the loose, the U.S. is increasingly suspicious of Russia post-atrocities in Chechnya, and its Ryan's job to sort out the truth (the real baddies: neo-Nazis in Austria!). I watched it last week, least of all to witness the "iconic" nuclear sequence.

The bomb is placed under a football stadium full of cheering fans and happy families. The President blows the whistle for the game! And then Jack Ryan calls him just in time for secret service agents to drag him out of the blast zone of the "mini-nuke." He lives! We are informed that the bomb is a "small" warhead, about half the size of Hiroshima. We don't see the explosion in the stadium, just a mushroom from the distance.

Within minutes, Jack's back in the ruins of Baltimore to find clues to solve the case and save the world! As he drives around on the dusty streets, the w andering wounded look morbidly like the lost survivors of 911 – but there's no signs of the dripping flesh and horrific nastiness of real nuclear war as recorded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (watch "Black Rain" to see what I mean).

Jack goes into a hospital to find his (unwounded, unblinded) girlfriend and hold the hand of the dying FBI director (Morgan Freeman). In the end, Jack saves the world from the brink of apocalypse, and the film closes cheerily with Jack and his girlfriend lunching on the lawn in front of the White House whilst watching the U.S. and Russian Presidents hold hands.

Apparently the fallout from Baltimore blew to the "north" and "east," and it missed D.C. Oh, and I guess Jack must've had some kind of amazing immunity to nuclear radiation.

Tonight, at Wairoa's Gaiety Theatre, I indulged myself in another apocalyptic flick: Terminator 3. My son informed me that the world ends at the end of the movie, so I thought I'd better check it out.

I remember Terminator 2 as being an awesome, dramatic and devastating picture. Sarah Connor's (Linda Hamilton) dream sequence of a nuclear explosion over the skyline of Los Angeles was fully visually realised without wallowing in a melodrama of special effects. A playground on a bright sunny day, Sarah sees herself as a cheerful, oblivious mother before the bomb explodes and the children and mothers are turned to dust. It was brave mainstream film-making which Hollywood would be hard-pressed to achieve in today's cultural climate.

This is clearly apparent in Terminator 3. This cheap flick starring Arnold but not Linda lost a lot without Sarah's motherly instincts in tow. Major spoiler here: in the end Sarah's son along with his new girlfriend (future wife and resistance fighter) arrive at an underground cavern thinking it's the hub of the computer taking over the world, only to find an old 1970s set from the original Planet of the Apes (well, actually, an old abandoned Presidential fallout shelter). They wanted to blow up the computer but couldn't; because the "bad virus" was everywhere – because it's really the Internet! So the Internet destroys the world, we see a couple of cities blow up from a distance, nuclear missiles fly across the troposphere, the world ends and the Terminator story doubles up on itself and ends where it began. The future.

I always thought all that dotcom mania would come to no good (9).

Terminator 3 and Sum of All Fears are lusterless, pointless entertainment in an age in which the world faces fears that are all too real. This fact is made all the more ridiculous as we witness one of these films stars on his boisterous, celebrity-fuelled pathway to Governor of California.

We live in an age of disreality.

The whole point of the explosion of reality television is that we can all slip in and be part of the media matrix. And we can all be happy, and rich, and well fed, and famous, and immortal there. Are we not entertained?

Plug in, enjoy the rollercoaster ride, and just pray that no static interference takes your soul with it.

* * * *

The gathering force of Hurricane Isabel is the product of a chaos engine beyond the calculations of any possible gathering of computer technology on the planet today. Hurricane Isabel is the product of a myriad of natural forces: the regular shift in weather patterns over the Atlantic every September; the massive upward drag of humidity as the storm drifts across the sea towards the North American continent and the Carribean archipelago. And, arguably, the force of Hurricane Isabel has been intensified by the global climatic impact of a natural species fast overtaking Planet Earth: the human species at its current estimated global count of 6,318,233,950 mortal souls (10).

These 6.3 billion souls are the potential audience for this latest blockbuster. A subtotal of 0.05 to 0.1 billion Americans are potential participants.

As of today, the box office take projections for Hurricane Isabel are middling to upper. There is some potential for Titanic-scale box office takings if the force of Isabel hits the population centres at Force 3 or greater. Ratings around the world would be high, as would the devastation. A tip to the north to New England and NYC, and box office could go through the roof. Insurance companies lose, home supply companies gain, CNN flourishes. Stock markets are devastated. Red Cross closes shop.

Luckily, there is some potential that Isabel will be a flop. Losing force as it nears the coast, its impact might drop. These things happen.

And then maybe some other flick will rise to the top.

Like "Attack on America."

Or, "Iraq: The New Vietnam."

POSTSCRIPT: The forecast at my time of writing is not good. Reporters on tonight's CBS Evening News stated Isabel as a rare "land-bound" event not seen for 70 years on the U.S. East Coast. D.C. is clearly in the pathway of the Hurricane. As at 2.00 p.m. NZT today, NOAA reported as follows: "Hurricane Isabel was located as... near latitude 31.9 north, longitude 73.9 west or about 250 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C. Isabel is moving toward the north-northwest near 13 mph. A turn to the northwest with an increase in forward speed is expected prior to landfall. On the forecast track, the center of Isabel is expected to make landfall in eastern North Carolina during the day Thursday. However, conditions will deteriorate over a large area well before the center reaches the coast. Tropical storm conditions are already spreading across the coastline... Maximum sustained winds are near 105 mph with higher gusts. A slight increase in strength is possible prior to landfall."

NOTES & RESOURCES:

(1) See: "Is This The Eye of a Perfect Storm?" http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0309/S00109.htm

(2) The U.S. National Oceanic and Aeronautic Administration. http://www.noaa.gov/

(3) See "Moo Loo La La Land": http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0309/S00103.htm

(4) " Hot Nights in the City: Global Warming, Sea-Level Rise and the New York Metropolitan Region," Janine Bloomfield, Ph.D., with Molly Smith and Nicholas Thompson, 06/29/1999.

http://www.environmentaldefense.org/pdf.cfm?ContentID=493&FileName=HotNY%2Ep df

(5) See "Tippping Point": http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0211/S00188.htm

(6) http://news.independent.co.uk/world/environment/story.jsp?story=421166

(7) "CBS Evening News", Tuesday September 17, 2003 (broadcast on NZ Network

3). Bank of America was my bank in the U.S. Formerly based in San Francisco, the corporation was bought out by NationsBank of Charlotte, NC.

(8) An Arnie flick got postponed a couple of months ("Collateral Damage"). A meteorite shower over New York was deleted from The Time Machine remake (its not even on the DVD).

(9) Another cute touch was that Arnie was powered by two hydrogen fuel cells. At two points in the film, the fuel cells malfunction and explode in mini-nuclear explosions. Product placement by oil companies aiming a jibe at future competition, perhaps?

(10) http://www.census.gov/. The population count is at 8:29 p.m., Thursday September 18, 2003, NZT.

****** ENDS ******

ABOUT NAKED IN NUHAKA Leo Koziol (oshie@xtra.co.nz) writes somewhat intermittently on identity, culture, politics, and the weather in Aotearoa NZ in the 21st Century. Nuhaka is located on the East Coast of the North Island of NZ.

ALL CONTENT (C) LEO KOZIOL & RAUTAKI GROUP CONSULTANTS 2003.

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