Hawaii’s False Alarm

From time to time here in Columbus we’ll get an “amber alert” to our smartphones asking us to be on the lookout for a particular car, or a “serious weather alert” notifying us that tornadoes have been spotted in the surrounding area.

cellphone-hawaiii-missile-warning-ht-jt-180113_4x3_992Imagine feeling a vibration, looking at your phone, and seeing an alert like this:  “Emergency Alert.  BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII.  SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER.  THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Hawaii residents received that very message on their phones yesterday morning, producing about 30 minutes of terror, panic, and mass confusion until emergency officials notified everyone that the alert was a mistake.  Hawaii officials went to social media to notify people of the error after about 15 minutes, and eventually put up messages on highway road signs to let people know about the mistake, but it took 38 minutes for the officials to send a follow-up text to the people who received the first alert to advise them that missiles weren’t going to be raining down on the islands.

How did such a colossal blunder happen?  Hawaii officials say that, during a drill, one person pushed the wrong button.  Several months ago the state emergency management agency instituted a program to periodically test a program to alert Hawaii residents to a possible attack from North Korea, and the false alarm message apparently went out to the public during a “shift change.”  Hawaii now says that, when it is doing future drills, it will have two employees involved rather than just one.  (Hey, Hawaii — why not make it three employees, just to be on the safe side?)


2018-01-13t223544z_1838897641_rc15ed68fa00_rtrmadp_3_usa-missiles-falsealarmIt’s one of those bizarre, hard-to-believe stories about our governmental institutions that leave you shaking your head and wondering if we’re being told the whole story.  So, before yesterday, Hawaii left it up to one person to decide whether to send a message to everyone in the state about an impending nuclear missile attack, and there was no “fail safe” element built into the program to make absolutely certain that the right message went out?  And how would a “shift change” contribute to the mistake?  Could it really be that one employee of the Hawaiian emergency management agency would leave in the midst of a drill because his/her shift ended, and leave it up to the incoming employee to figure out which message to send?  Could employees of an emergency management agency, of all places, really have that kind of clock-in, clock-out mentality?

It’s no wonder that X-Files-like conspiracy theories immediately surfaced, with some people contending that there actually was a missile attack that was successfully thwarted, and the government just didn’t wanted people to know about it, and others claiming that the state’s emergency management system must have been hacked.

I feel sorry for the people of Hawaii who enduring long minutes of panic and worry that they were facing imminent obliteration.  Obviously, we deserve better from our governmental officials — but the Hawaii issue makes you wonder how many other states have similarly ill-considered, poorly staffed programs that might send false alarms out to unsuspecting citizens.

The Trilateral Commission, Once More

Diplomats are expected to be careful and judicious in their speech — which is why the word “diplomatic” found its way into everyday speech — but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is the exception to the rule.  He seemingly has a knack for ill-advised comments.

In recent remarks, Kerry said that Israel risks becoming an “apartheid state” if it doesn’t reach a peace agreement with Palestinians.  Of course, “apartheid” is a highly loaded word, evoking images of the repressive and racist South African regime that imprisoned Nelson Mandela.  Kerry’s statement was promptly and roundly criticized by supporters of Israel from both sides of the aisle, and Kerry then apologized, saying he wished he could rewind the tape and use a different word — although he blamed the chorus of criticism in part on “partisan, political purposes.”

What’s interesting about the story is not Kerry’s blunder — we should all be used to that by now — but that it happened at a super-secret, closed-door meeting of the Trilateral Commission.  For decades, the Trilateral Commission has been a favorite target of conspiracy theorists, who have depicted is as a kind of shadow world government that puts people into positions of power and then pulls the strings.

So, how did someone get a recording of a powerful figure speaking to the Commission?  It turns out that a journalist just walked into the meeting — he “slipped past both Commission staff and Diplomatic Security,” according to a letter of apology the North American chair of the Commission wrote to Kerry — and recorded Kerry’s remarks.  The incident therefore doesn’t reflect the kind of approach to security you’d expect from the  hyper-competent, brooding omnipresence depicted by the conspiracy-minded.

So, perhaps John Kerry’s latest bit of thoughtless floundering may have a positive impact after all:  it may finally strike the Trilateral Commission from the list of organizations that are the focus of international intrigue and the latest conspiracy theories.

The Merry Pranksters Of Mars

The rover Opportunity has been on Mars for years. It’s been sitting patiently on the rim of Emdeavour Crater, and every few days it takes a picture of its campsite. Then, a few weeks ago, something startling happened — a weird-looking rock suddenly appeared in the field of view, where it hadn’t been before.

The rock doesn’t look like anything from the nearby area, or any other rock Opportunity has seen. Instead, it looks like a French pastry, with jam in the center and thick frosting around the edge. Scientists are analyzing it, but . . . how the hell did it get there?

The scientists have two theories — a nearby impact flung the rock into the picture, or it was “flicked” out of the ground by Opportunity‘s wheels. Neither theory is very satisfying, and neither makes much sense. The only bit of debris thrown into the frame by a nearby impact is a large, unusual rock? And how did a rock of that size and shape get “flicked” by Opportunity‘s wheels, without any other sign of the landscape being disturbed?

The fact that the scientists have come up with only two boring theories just shows a lack of imagination. There are lots of potential explanations for the mysterious appearance of a weird rock on an alien planet. If you’re a conspiracy theorist, this confirms that Opportunity isn’t on Mars at all, but is parked in some dusty studio in Burbank where a studio technician inadvertently dropped a doughnut. If you’re a sci-fi fan, this shows there really is intelligent life on Mars that decided to have some fun with us, so they placed a weird rock in the picture frame and now are sitting back, laughing hysterically at the puzzlement on Earth. Perhaps they’ve watched TV broadcasts showing cops eating doughnuts and are trying to tell us to send some up to the Red Planet. Maybe a secretive scientist has developed a teleportation device and is using the Martian doughnut delivery as part of a marketing plan. Maybe there really is such a thing as magic. Or perhaps future humans have conquered the laws of time and space, and it is one of them who is pulling the prank.

Keep your eye on this story: I’m betting that, in a few weeks, scientists will announce that a steaming Starbuck’s grande latte cup has appeared next to the doughnut.