Category Archives: Cold War

1000 Words: Dumb Luck

We’re living in real fear of the mushroom cloud again for the first time since the Soviet Union collapsed more than three decades ago.

That event signaled the end of the Cold War, the half-century-long standoff between the United States and the USSR with each side brandishing thousands of nuclear weapons and promising to incinerate the planet should the other side push its luck too far.

Following the Soviet collapse, people’s fears about a coming nuclear holocaust eased off. By the time the Millennial generation started becoming aware, few of them gave the merest thought to the dreaded mushroom cloud. Those of us alive in 1962 or 1985 lived in constant panic over the possibility that, at any moment, we’d witness, in the last fleeting second of their lives, the pikadon, Japanese for flash boom, the otherworldly brilliant white light and hellish concussion signaling the detonation of a nuclear bomb over a city.

But, for a tantalizing few years, we forgot about nuclear weapons.

Then, when Donald Trump was technically elected president in 2016 and immediately engaged in a verbal pissing match with the equally lunkheaded leader of North Korea, Kim Jung-un, nuclear dread became a thing again. It wasn’t as acute as it had been a few decades before, but people actually began thinking about the bomb. Now that Vladimir Putin, perhaps even loonier than either Trump or Kim (although it’s a real contest) has launched his invasion of the Ukraine, nuclear anxiety is again becoming foremost in our minds, especially after he reminded the globe that Russia might nuke the hell out of anyone who tried to stop his Ukrainian adventure. Nearly three-quarters of Americans now fear nuclear war may break out sooner rather than later, according to a late March Associated Press/National Opinion Research Centers poll.

But, again, during the thirty-year period after the USSR’s collpase, if anyone thought about nukes, it was the fear that, say, India and Pakistan might find themselves in a shootin’ war or that some terrorist gang might stumble upon an old Soviet bomb and use it to blackmail an entire nation. Even so, not too many people fretted over either possibility.

The problem is, a terrorist group may well have mined, refined and weaponized uranium, and built its own nuke as far back as the mid-1990s.

Oddly, there was a only brief but terrifying report in the New York Times back in 1997 about an unexplained seismic event in Australia a few years earlier. In the middle of the night on May 28th, 1993, seismographs around the world jumped and the very few people within hundreds of miles of a point in the Great Victoria Desert reported seeing a sky-filling flash followed by an earth-shaking rumble.

The blast — or whatever — was so big that scientists at first thought it had to have been a meteor or asteroid striking the Earth. But no evidence of such an event has ever been found. The Times report revealed that the Japanese doomsday cult, Aum Shinrikyo, had purchased a huge tract of land in the desert, had mined uranium, constructed a state of the art refining laboratory, and — here’s the kicker — had been joined by several nuclear scientists from the old Soviet Union.

Aum Shinrikyo, you may recall, was the gang that released the toxic nerve gas, sarin, into the Tokyo subway system in 1995, killing 14 people. It was merely the group’s latest attack at the time. Aum already had carried out assassinations and other less ambitious poison gas attacks in Japanese cities. Investigators determined that Aim Shinrikyo members hoped to trigger World War III, at the very least, or, believing in a predestined apocalypse, wanted to get the ball rolling on it.

Investigators also learned Aum already had tried to purchase a few Soviet nuclear weapons on the black market but had been unsuccessful.

The Great Victoria Desert blast force was estimated to be the equivalent of 2000 tons of TNT — two kilotons in nuke parlance. The nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, for comparison, delivered the equivalent of 15 kilotons. So, if the desert blast really was a nuke, it would have been a baby. Some land-based thermonuclear weapons possessed by the United States and Russia today yield explosive forces in the megaton range — that’s a million tons of TNT.

So the putative Aum bomb — it’s never been proven it was a nuke — would have been a firecracker, albeit one that, had it been exploded over a city, would have killed tens of thousands of people in a…, well, a flash.

Suffice it to say that although the Great Victoria Desert incident remains a mystery, where there’s smoke there’s fire, and there was plenty of metaphorical smoke in the western Australia bush that May night in 1993.

Even if Aum Shinrikyo was only trying to develop new and creative uses for nerve gas to hasten the expected apocalypse, the fact that a cult of loons was mining uranium and recruiting nuclear engineers should terrify the bejesus out of us to this day. Aum Shinrikyo has been de-fanged in the years after the Tokyo sarin attack, but there surely exist in the world plenty of doomsday-ists and similar hoodlums hoping to put millions of us out of our misery.

Why hasn’t it happened yet? Why, when they had the chance, did the United States and the Soviet Union refrain from frying the planet? Why, for that matter, haven’t any of the purported nuclear states — the US, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea — pressed the button as yet?

A pollyanna might suggest that the threat of existential annihilation has prevented world leaders, presumably sane, from ending it all. But what if one of those nine nuclear states comes to be headed by a psychopath? And what if one or more of them happens to be in power as we speak?

Equally as terrifying, how lucky are we that no doomsday cult or wild-eyed terrorist organization has, as yet, accumulated enough money, materials, and maniacs to wipe a city off the face of the Earth?

How long will our luck hold out?

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later.” — Mark Twain

THE END

When I was a kid, magazines often carried cartoons featuring a robed, bearded guy walking the big city streets and carrying a sign that read, “The End Is Near.”

Usually the punch line would be delivered by a couple of passing businessmen, one of whom would muse to the other on how that end would affect his promotion or raise or his wife’s meatloaf.

Looking back, I suppose those cartoons reflected our need to deal with the specter of nuclear annihilation. On a less literal level, the general uneasiness over the burgeoning civil rights and women’s movements caused people to realize the world they were familiar with really was coming to an end.

May As Well Laugh

By and by, the Soviet Union collapsed and blacks and women began taking their rightful places in society. Lo and behold, the world didn’t end.

Now, we’re back to wondering if the end is near again. Climate change, our own vulnerability in the wake of 9/11, a crashed economy, internet panics, genetically modified foodstuffs, a black man as president, gay marriage, and even the Mayan calendar silliness have caused many to wonder if these are the last days.

They’re not. As George Carlin observed, we give ourselves too much credit. We can’t destroy the Earth, he said. It’s been here for billions of years and our societies have only been around for a few tens of thousands of years.

Carlin

The world has been struck by comets and asteroids, it’s been convulsed by earthquakes, it has experienced droughts and floods and been scoured by Ice Ages. Still it spins and life on it continues to grow and diversify.

Carlin even mentioned the crazy glut of discarded plastic bags accumulating in our oceans and across the land. He said the Earth, as it’s done since it came together eons ago, will just come up with a way of incorporating them into itself.

Part Of The Earth Now

We can’t end the Earth, Carlin concluded, we can only end ourselves.

And, I’d add, even that’d be awfully tough to accomplish. We tried our damnedest to wipe ourselves out back in the 1930s and 40s. World War II was the most violent spasm humanity has ever gone through. Anywhere from 60 to 100 million people were slaughtered during the hostilities. Yet here we are.

We’ve figured out a lot of things since the first hominids swung down from the trees and began branching off into proto-humanity. One thing we haven’t figured out, though, is perspective. Sometimes it seems we’re even regressing on that front.

In the 1960s, people who warned that the end was near were considered cartoon characters. Today they’re called in by the cable news channels to offer expert opinions.

GOIN’ TO THE CANDIDATES’ DEBATE

Remember that line from Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson”? Make sure to catch the vid at the bottom of this post.

Just a reminder: get yourself over to Bloomington High School South tonight for the debate between the five Democratic candidates for US Congress in Indiana’s 9th District.

BHSS is located at 1965 S. Walnut Street. The debate begins at 7:00 and runs for an hour and a half.

If you can’t make it, at least visit the candidates’ websites:

The primary is Tuesday, May 8th. The winner takes on Republican Todd Young in the November general election.

SINGING THE NEWS

Got two pieces of news at Bloomington Information Central — AKA the Book Corner — yesterday.

First, Maarten Bout, one of the big chiefs over at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, was brimming with the news that the first show of the 2012-2013 season has been set. Rufus Wainwright will play the venue on Tuesday, August 7th.

Wainwright

A few minutes later, Tom Roznowski ambled in, wearing his trademark fedora and a smart gray-on-gray retro ensemble. Bloomington’s storyteller, singer, author, and general custodian said he’s got a show lined up Saturday in Greenfield and his next hometown gig will be Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 13th, 6:00 pm at The Player’s Pub.

Roznowski

Electron Pencil event listings: Music, art, movies, lectures, parties, receptions, benefits, plays, meetings, fairs, conspiracies, rituals, etc.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

◗ Bloomington, Citywide — IU’s Arts Week Everywhere 2012; Ongoing, various times

The Kinsey Institute Gallery “Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze,” exhibit, art by women examining men; Ongoing, 1:30-5pm

Mathers Museum of World CulturesExhibition, “Esse Quam Videri (To Be Rather Than To Seem),” featuring Muslim self-portraits; 9am-4:30pm

Grunwald (SOFA) GalleryIU MFA & BFA Thesis 3 Exhibitions; Noon-XXX, through May 5th

Sembower FieldIU Baseball vs. Miami of Ohio; 4pm

Myers Hall, Indiana Molecular Biology Institute — Seminar, keynote speaker Dr. Don Ennis, University of Louisiana, “Mechanisms of Mycobacterium Marinum Transmission between Fish”; 4pm

Puccini’s La Dolce VitaYoung Professionals of Bloomington monthly meeting; 5:30-8pm

The Venue Fine Arts & GiftsGreg Jacobs presents “The Art of Wellness — Finding Wellness in a Health-Challenged Society”; 5:30pm

Bloomington City Hall, McCloskey Room — Erin Asher Meager presents “Creative Healing,” South Central Arts WORK Indiana meeting; 5:30-7pm

First Christian ChurchMoney Smart Week & the Indiana Attorney General’s office present “Schemes, Scams, and Flim-Flams”; 5:30pm

Jake’s NightclubKaraoke Tuesdays; 6pm

Patricia’s Wellness Arts Cafe & Quilter’s Comfort TeasUnfinished Object Night & Up-cycle Evening; 6:30-8:30pm

Bloomington High School SouthDebate, Democratic candidates for US Congress, Indiana’s 9th District; 7-8:30pm

Cafe DjangoJazz Jam; 7-10pm

First United Methodist ChurchSymphonic Bells of Bloomington Spring Concert; 7:30-8:30pm

Show-Me’sPoker; 7:30pm

The Player’s PubBlues Jam; 8pm

Farm Bloomington, Root Cellar — Tuesday Trivia; 8-10pm

The Palace Theatre of Brown County, Nashville– Cowboy Sweethearts; 8pm

Madame Walker Theatre CenterAuditions for “Queen Esther: A Fearless Shero”; 6-8pm

Max’s PlaceScott Bender’s Showcase; 8pm

AS PROMISED

The Pencil Today:

TODAY’S QUOTE

“People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” — Rogers Hornsby

STOCK UP ON BOTTLED WATER, MILK, AND BREAD!

As a native Chicagoan, I love the fact that a number of school systems around the area are operating on a two-hour delay due to yesterday’s snowfall. The WFIU newscaster this morning breathlessly advised listeners to stay tuned for any further announcements of delays or even school closings.

Anywhere from half to three quarters of an inch of snow buried locales around Bloomington on Thursday. The National Weather Service warns that snow may drift through this morning and into the early afternoon.

Half an inch of snow drifting! Hehe! How big will those mighty snow drifts be? Will I be buried up to my ankles?

Hell, when I walked Steve the Dog this AM, I could still see the grass poking through the white blanket.

These photos illustrate why I laugh. The first is from the infamous Blizzard of 1967; the second from last year’s equally infamous snowfall. Each dumped two feet of powder on Chicago.

Honestly, folks, I prefer what we in Bloomington have to what I once had to endure in Chicago. Still, I have to chuckle.

HOOSIER HYSTERIA

Tough Guy Pat moped into Soma Coffee this morning. He’d spent last night at Assembly Hall watching the men’s basketball team tank a home game against the godawful Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Just like that, Bloomington has tumbled from giddy to glum.

Whupped

I had to ask him, Is this the beginning of the end?

“No, not at all,” Tough Guy Pat said. “It’s just the beginning of reality.” He went on to explain: Road tilts against Ohio State (“They’re gonna cream us”) and Nebraska (“I’m tellin’ you, they’re no slouches”) are up next for the Hoosiers.

RICKY-GIRL SPEAKS

While typing these brilliant thoughts, I heard out of the corner of my ear a taped quote from Republican presidential wannabe Rick Santorum on NPR. “We always need a Jesus candidate,” the uber-heterosexual candidate said.

The most closeted of the GOP contenders, Santorum also told the radio interviewer (the interview was not originally on NPR) why he was so dead set against gay marriage. Kids, he pontificated, “have a right to be known and loved by their dad and their mom. That’s what marriage is about. It’s not about two people loving each other.”

Miss Ricky fascinates me more and more each day.

The Touchdown Jesus Candidate

DERBY GIRL IS REALLY A READER

Last month I wrote about my long-standing distrust of people in whose homes books are absent. I said most of my pals display their books the way much of the populace of this holy land shows off their wall-sized flat TV screens.

The upshot was, I shouldn’t be so snobbish — not when I also have friends like Tyler Ferguson, who’s smart as a whip but claims to have neither the time nor the patience to read books.

Well, Tyler can’t say that anymore. She was laid low for three weeks recently by bronchitis. All she had the energy to do was read. She knocked off a number of tomes.

Now that’s she has recovered, she can’t seem to shake the reading bug. Today she’s carrying around “Tomatoland” by Barry Estabrook. “It just opens your eyes to the perils of big ag,” she explains.

BTW, the Bleeding Heartland Roller Girls (Tyler skates as “Kaka Caliente”) begin 2012 competition Saturday, February 4, with the B-Cup Challenge here in Bloomington at the Twin Lakes Recreation Center.

If you’re not there, you’re nowhere.

Bleeding Heartland Roller Girls In Action

SOVIET SNOW

Hard to believe, isn’t it, that not too long ago we all were frightened to death that the leaders of the US and the Soviet Union might push their respective red buttons and blow all our respective cities to smithereens?

Jonathan Schell‘s book, “The Fate of the Earth” in 1982 jump-started the anti-nuke movement with his dramatic descriptions of a massive nuclear exchange by the two superpowers. He cited scientific estimates that such an event might well destroy civilization and even end all life on the planet.

Five years later, New Zealand singer Shona Laing scored a college radio hit with her Cold War deliberation, “Soviet Snow.” She sang, “Are we wide awake? Is the world aware?” She concludes, “We’ve all got one eye on the winter.”

The nuclear winter, of course.

Just a little reminder that even though the Americans and Russians no longer threaten to destroy each other, the newly enlarged nuclear club presents nightmarish scenarios almost as terrifying.

Sweet dreams, kiddies.

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