Tag Archives: nuclear weapons


One thing my limited experience living abroad taught me is humility about my ability to interpret geopolitical events. The facts themselves are not always accessible through media reports, and even if the facts are clear there are points of view to take into account. I have read media accounts of events I personally experienced, like elections and demonstrations, in both the foreign media and the U.S. media, and often felt that they were not an accurate depiction of what I saw with my own eyes. So taking all that into account, I am somewhat agnostic when trying to interpret events in countries I have never set foot in, where local media is tightly controlled, and where U.S. media and government probably have limited access to accurate local information. All that said, I am interested and trying to make sense of the events surrounding Qatar and Saudi Arabia. For one thing, I have a ticket on Qatar Airways later in the year so it does affect me personally. And for another, any risk of war and especially nuclear war in the Middle East affects everyone on Earth personally. So here goes:

I have always assumed that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar represented a monolithic geopolitical force. And I generally thought the United States, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey were part of this block for most purposes most of the time. Clearly I was wrong about that. Saudi Arabia’s alliances are contradictory. For one thing, they are publicly an enemy of Israel. But they and Israel have a common ally in the United States and a common enemy in Iran, the Syrian government, elements in Iraq, Hezbollah, and to some extent Russia. Saudi Arabia is closely allied with Pakistan’s military and according to many independent media accounts has bankrolled Pakistan’s nuclear program. During the Cold War the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan worked together to fund and equip the Afghan resistance, elements of which later mutated into the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS, and became public enemy #1 for the United States. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the rest of the Arab world seem to have a complex relationship with these groups, where governments see them as a threat but portions of the population support them. Then you have the complex relationships between the United States and various groups in Iraq and Syria, wars that seemingly have three or more sides. Then of course there is the complicated Israel-Palestine situation, which fuels a lot of anger in populations throughout the region, and which governments talk a lot about but seem to take very little action.

So the Middle East is a mess and very hard for those of us outside the region to interpret. And none of what I just said comes close to explaining the situation in Qatar. Those of us outside the region should all have a certain humility in understanding that there is a lot we don’t understand. My two cents is that the United States should err on the side of not interfering militarily but also work very hard through the UN to work on arms reductions and especially prevent nuclear proliferation.

May 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

  • The public today is more complacent about nuclear weapons than they were in the 1980s, even though the risk is arguably greater and leaders seem to be more ignorant and reckless.
  • The NSA is trying “to identify laboratories and/or individuals who may be involved in nefarious use of genetic research”.
  • We hit 410 ppm at Mauna Loa.

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • Some experts think the idea of national sovereignty itself is now in doubt.
  • Taser wants to record everything the police do, everywhere, all the time, and use artificial intelligence to make sense of the data.
  • The sex robots are here.


Should the U.S. apologize for dropping the bomb on Hiroshima? Certainly the Japanese government of the time committed horrible atrocities, but I still think dropping the bomb was a mistake, and not coming to terms with what we did leads to a callous attitude toward the dangers of our (much larger, much more powerful, in many more hands) nuclear weapons almost 70 years later.

Even if you have never been to the place, you know the place. The mountains that form the background in all the old photos are still backstopping the city. A lot of newer, tall buildings now, but the Ota River delta, where thousands drowned trying to cool their bodies and extinguish their burning flesh, is right there. You’ve seen the pictures. Most of the bridges and streets were rebuild [sic] right where they’d been before the Bomb. Same for most public buildings. You could see where you were in 2017 and where you would have been in 1945 because they are the same place…

Outside of Japan, most people feel the Japanese government has yet to fully acknowledge its aggressiveness in plunging East Asia into war. Indeed, the museum inside the Peace Park has been chastised as focusing almost exclusively on a single day, out of a war that began over a decade earlier and claimed millions of innocent lives before the bomb fell on August 6, 1945. The criticism is particularly sharp, given the rise in militarism occurring under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Now, as in decades past, China watches to see what Japan will do with its armed forces…

There are others with things to atone for, and much to reconcile. The U.S. remains unrepentant. It was only on the 60th anniversary of the bomb that the first American ambassador came to Hiroshima on an August 6th morning to pay respects. There has never been an apology for the first use of a nuclear weapon, and against a civilian target at that. Ask most Americans about the bombing, and it would be surprising not to hear the phrase “they deserved it.” A few elderly survivors with disfiguring burns still suffer today. Yet there is not enough vengeance for some, even seven decades later.

– See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/165741#sthash.Ii0iS7fh.dpuf

April 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • I first heard of David Fleming, who wrote a “dictionary” that provides “deft and original analysis of how our present market-based economy is destroying the very foundations―ecological, economic, and cultural― on which it depends, and his core focus: a compelling, grounded vision for a cohesive society that might weather the consequences.”
  • Judges are relying on algorithms to inform probation, parole, and sentencing decisions.
  • I finished reading Rainbow’s End, a fantastic Vernor Vinge novel about augmented reality in the near future, among other things.

nuclear complacency

This article on History News Network asks why there is so little public outcry over nuclear weapons today compared to the 1980s, when the risk is arguably higher and leaders are arguably more reckless. It gives five possible reasons:

One factor is certainly the public’s preoccupation with other important issues, among them climate change, immigration, terrorism, criminal justice, civil liberties, and economic inequality.

Another appears to be a sense of fatalism. Many people believe that Kim and Trump are too irrational to respond to reason and too autocratic to give way to public pressure.

Yet another factor is the belief of Americans and Europeans that their countries are safe from a North Korean attack. Yes, many people will die in a new Korean War, especially one fought with nuclear weapons, but they will be “only” Koreans.

In addition, many people credit the absence of nuclear war since 1945 to nuclear deterrence. Thus, they assume that nuclear-armed nations will not fight a nuclear war among themselves.

Finally―and perhaps most significantly―people are reluctant to think about nuclear war. After all, it means death and destruction at an unbearable level of horror. Therefore, it’s much easier to simply forget about it.

We shouldn’t be so complacent of course. A brief study of military leaders’ willingness to use nuclear weapons in Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam is enough to dispel the idea that mutually assured destruction is enough to keep us safe. We just happened to have strong civilian leaders who stood up to the military in each case, and there is no guarantee we will have that in the future. It is simply a risk we can’t take. As proliferation continues to get worse, the chances of some kind of nuclear detonation at some point get higher and higher. And finally, I feel like I am hearing more lately about tactical nuclear weapons being back on the table as a serious consideration. (No, that thing the U.S. dropped on Afghanistan recently was actually not the “mother of all bombs”.

I suspect the idea that people are distracted by other things and just not thinking enough about nuclear weapons to be worried, is closest to the mark. I don’t find in comforting at all.

February 2016 in Review

3 most frightening stories

3 most hopeful stories

3 most interesting stories

  • The idea of growing human organs inside a pig, or even a viable human-pig hybrid, is getting very closeTiny brains can also be grown on a microchip. Bringing back extinct animals is also getting very close.
  • Russian hackers are cheating slot machines by figuring out the pattern on pseudo-random numbers they generate.
  • From a new book called Homo Deus: “For the first time ever, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals put together. The average American is a thousand times more likely to die from binging at McDonalds than from being blown up by Al Qaeda.”

Silicon Valley Preppers

I don’t love this New Yorker article all that much, because it is mostly a bunch of anecdotes strung together with the opinions of “high net worth individuals”, as though we should care more about their opinions than the opinions of other people. I don’t. But the article had a few interesting parts, including this description of a “the Survival Condo Project, a fifteen-story luxury apartment complex built in an underground Atlas missile silo” in Kansas.

The original silo of Hall’s complex was built by the Army Corps of Engineers to withstand a nuclear strike. The interior can support a total of seventy-five people. It has enough food and fuel for five years off the grid; by raising tilapia in fish tanks, and hydroponic vegetables under grow lamps, with renewable power, it could function indefinitely, Hall said. In a crisis, his swat-team-style trucks (“the Pit-Bull VX, armored up to fifty-calibre”) will pick up any owner within four hundred miles. Residents with private planes can land in Salina, about thirty miles away…

The complex is a tall cylinder that resembles a corncob. Some levels are dedicated to private apartments and others offer shared amenities: a seventy-five-foot-long pool, a rock-climbing wall, an Astro-Turf “pet park,” a classroom with a line of Mac desktops, a gym, a movie theatre, and a library. It felt compact but not claustrophobic. We visited an armory packed with guns and ammo in case of an attack by non-members, and then a bare-walled room with a toilet. “We can lock people up and give them an adult time-out,” he said. In general, the rules are set by a condo association, which can vote to amend them. During a crisis, a “life-or-death situation,” Hall said, each adult would be required to work for four hours a day, and would not be allowed to leave without permission. “There’s controlled access in and out, and it’s governed by the board,” he said.

The “medical wing” contains a hospital bed, a procedure table, and a dentist’s chair.

It’s easy for me to say “no thanks” since, not being a “high net worth individual”, this is not an option for me. But even if I were sitting on a billion dollars I don’t think I would be interested in this.

the Doomsday Clock

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have moved their doomsday clock from “3 minutes to midnight” to “2.5 minutes to midnight”. It appears to me to be the first time they have used a fraction. A couple quotes:

Last year, and the year before, we warned that world leaders were failing to act with the speed and on the scale required to protect citizens from the extreme danger posed by climate change and nuclear war. During the past year, the need for leadership only intensified—yet inaction and brinksmanship have continued, endangering every person, everywhere on Earth…

Technological innovation is occurring at a speed that challenges society’s ability to keep pace. While limited at the current time, potentially existential threats posed by a host of emerging technologies need to be monitored, and to the extent possible anticipated, as the 21st century unfolds…

For the last two years, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock stayed set at three minutes before the hour, the closest it had been to midnight since the early 1980s. In its two most recent annual announcements on the Clock, the Science and Security Board warned: “The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.” In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater, the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.

They offer some recommendations, including the U.S. and Russia returning to the arms reduction negotiating table, reducing nuclear weapons alert status and maintaining communication and crisis de-escalation channels, meeting obligations under the Paris climate accord, multilateral engagement with North Korea, nuclear power safety and risk management, and new institutions to manage “potentially malign or catastrophic misuses of new technologies”.

your very own doomsday bunker

Do you want a doomsday bunker but you are not sure how or where to build one? Now you can buy one (er, lease for 99 years…) already fitted out in South Dakota. The only question I have is, how will I get to South Dakota quickly when the missiles are incoming? I guess I could just move out there and live nearby. But if I am going to do that, I might as well just go ahead and move into the bunker. Once I am in the bunker, what will I do all day? I suppose I can count my guns and gold bars. But that might get old. Do they have cable? Come to think of it, I have a few more questions. Is there a water well? Is there a wastewater treatment plant? Is there a power plant? Is there a Walmart? After thinking this through, I think I’ll just take my chances here in civilization and hope the end is quick.