Witness to the Cold War


Emmet Gowin

Gowin’s photographs of the Nevada Test Site (now known as the Nevada National Security Site) show us the extremity of our darkest dreams laid bare in the Mojave Desert — the scars of technology gone mad, revealing a moonscape of craters right here on Earth. The stillness of the desert exploded into a million pieces of radioactive shrapnel carried by the wind that lodged in our bodies.

Read it and weep…

We’re long past time to act!

In the wake of yet another preventable American gun violence tragedy—one that involved the slaughter of 21 people, including 19 children in a Texas elementary school—doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, health experts, and scientists are once again demanding a long-overdue, evidence-based public health response to the uniquely American public health crisis of gun violence.

This is “very much our lane,” Dr. Bindi Naik-Mathuria, a pediatric surgeon at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told NBC.

She spoke vividly about the immediate impacts that AR-15-style weapons have on a human body—particularly the smallest ones. In the Uvalde, Texas school shooting this week, the gunman used an AR-15-style rifle (the Daniel Defense DDM4 V7 rifle), which he bought online. AR-15-style rifles are often used in mass shootings. They use a common military-caliber ammunition. The bullets don’t always pass cleanly through flesh, but can instead become “unstable” and tumble, causing devastating damage that can leave victims unrecognizable and with an exceptionally low chance of survival.

“It’s not just the hole you see on the outside. It’s a huge blast effect,” Naik-Mathuria told NBC. “You see completely shredded organs. Vessels are completely disrupted. There’s no way to salvage them…”

“We have our hands inside these people, these children, trying to save them,” Naik-Mathuria added. “How can anyone tell us that it’s not our problem?”

Time to speak out is long overdue. Don’t just count we who have been speaking out for years, look at those whose lives have now been touched – in person or even witnessing the terror we’ve seen in the press, on TV, online.

Time to act is long overdue.

“The Doomsday Glacier is coming for us all”


Jeff Goodell

One thing that’s hard to grasp about the climate crisis is that big changes can happen fast. In 2019, I was aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer, a 308-foot-long scientific research vessel, cruising in front of the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. One day, we were sailing in clear seas in front of the glacier. The next day, we were surrounded by icebergs the size of aircraft carriers.

As we later learned from satellite images, in a matter of 48 hours or so, a mélange of ice about 21 miles wide and 15 miles deep had cracked up and scattered into the sea.

It was a spooky moment. Thwaites Glacier is the size of Florida. It is the cork in the bottle of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet, which contains enough ice to raise sea levels by 10 feet…

Given the ongoing war for American democracy and the deadly toll of the Covid pandemic, the loss of an ice shelf on a far-away continent populated by penguins might not seem to be big news. But in fact, the West Antarctic ice sheet is one of the most important tipping points in the Earth’s climate system. If Thwaites Glacier collapses, it opens the door for the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet to slide into the sea. Globally, 250 million people live within three feet of high tide lines. Ten feet of sea level rise would be a world-bending catastrophe. It’s not only goodbye Miami, but goodbye to virtually every low-lying coastal city in the world…

Or to put it more urgently: “If there is going to be a climate catastrophe,” Ohio State glaciologist Ian Howat once told me, “it’s probably going to start at Thwaites.”

RTFA.There are many variables. There may even be a small chance they don’t stack up to be a disaster. But, I wouldn’t count on it.

1972 study forecast the collapse of civilization — We’re still on track!

Gaya Herrington, a Dutch sustainability researcher and adviser to the Club of Rome, a Swiss thinktank, has made headlines in recent days after she authored a report that appeared to show a controversial 1970s study predicting the collapse of civilization was – apparently – right on time.

Coming amid a cascade of alarming environmental events, from western US and Siberian wildfires to German floods and a report that suggests the Amazon rainforest may no longer be able to perform as a carbon sink, Herrington’s work predicted the collapse could come around 2040 if current trends held…

Since its publication, The Limits to Growth has sold upwards of 30m copies. It was published just four years after Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb that forewarned of an imminent population collapse. With MIT offering analysis and the other full of doom-laden predictions, both helped to fuel the era’s environmental movements, from Greenpeace to Earth First!…

“The key finding of my study is that we still have a choice to align with a scenario that does not end in collapse. With innovation in business, along with new developments by governments and civil society, continuing to update the model provides another perspective on the challenges and opportunities we have to create a more sustainable world.”

Of course, Western conservatives deny there’s anything of concern. As long as they enjoy a modicum of political support – much less periods in complete charge resulting from electoral dementia – we won’t stand a chance of moderate, sustainable wellbeing.

Same as it ever was…


Click to enlarge

“On my wall a wooden mask
Face of an evil Japanese fiend, lacquered in gold.
I see with sympathy
The swollen veins on his brow, showing
How exhausting it is to be evil.”
(Bertolt Brecht, 1942)

Different wars, different time. Not much else has changed.

Newly-digitized Nuclear Test Films Reveal More Data about Death and Destruction

❝ The film is silent, but it starts with a bang. The screen blows out white, then a tropical beach comes into view, before an explosion tears across the horizon. A two-tiered mushroom cloud flows skyward, revealing a dark, intense plume of smoke that smolders in the distance…

Another film, showing the charmingly titled “Operation Teapot,” is a black-and-white nightmare: A ball of fire comes into the frame over a mound in the distance, engulfing the sky and setting off a wave of soil or smoke or both, so powerful that the camera starts to shake.

❝ These are films of the nuclear age, and there are thousands of them. They document the 210 atmospheric nuclear tests the United States conducted between 1945 and 1962.

❝ Until recently, these government-commissioned films had been scattered around different archives, though the bulk of them sat in boxes at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Fortunately, a team of physicists and film archivists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California decided to digitize the films before it was too late…

❝ Gregg Spriggs and his team started digitizing the films using special scanners that move the film without gripping it by the holes in the edges. But as they watched the old films, they noticed something: The nuclear yield data based on the images was wrong.

These aren’t just any old government movies: They are scientific documents that are key to understanding nuclear power. And even though the films are very old, scientists don’t get access to these sorts of nuclear tests anymore. Atmospheric nuclear tests have been banned since 1963…

❝ So Spriggs and his team set about reanalyzing all of the old films, using new techniques. The indicators remain the same, in some ways: The double flash of light, the fireball and the shock wave captured on film all provide significant information for researchers on the energy generated by the nuclear blast…But the newly digitized films allow researchers to more clearly see the fireball’s edge, allowing for much more accurate yield estimates. “We were finding that some of these answers were off by 20, maybe 30, percent,” says Spriggs. “One of the payoffs of this project is that we’re now getting very consistent answers. We’ve also discovered new things about these detonations that have never been seen before. New correlations are now being used by the nuclear forensics community, for example.”

❝ The lab has posted a number of the films on YouTube, and the ability to watch these films from the cold remove of one’s desk chair is an arresting experience.

These brief portals to the Cold War are oddly devoid of context. Each film on Lawrence Livermore’s Atmospheric Nuclear Test playlist is accompanied by nothing more than its code name — no date, no location, no mention of lingering radiation. The films are silent, the explosions otherworldly. But they were in our world: enormous nuclear weapons, unleashed over Nevada and the Marshall Islands.

We have politicians, pundits and other political pimps for death and destruction who miss the Good Old Days depicted in these films. If only the ideology of hegemony over the world that sparks these thugs would die out with them.

I doubt that.

Preview the rise of killer robots

The Munich Security Conference is an annual catalogue of horrors. But the most ominous discussion this past weekend wasn’t about Islamic State terrorism but a new generation of weapons — such as killer robots and malignly programmed “smart” appliances that could be deployed in future conflicts.

Behind the main events at the annual discussion of foreign and defense policy here was a topic described in one late-night session as “The Future of Warfare: Race with the Machines.” The premise was that we are at the dawn of an era of conflict in which all wars will be, to some extent, cyberwars, and new weapons will combine radical advances in hardware, software and even biology…

Guests at a “Cyber Dinner” hosted here by the Atlantic Council considered the dawning world of killer appliances. In the coming Internet of Things (IoT), speakers noted, there will soon be more than 30 billion smart chips embedded in cars, elevators, refrigerators, thermostats and medical devices. These pervasive, connected systems may well have poor security and be easily hackable.

The big worry in the future, argued several tech experts at the dinner, may not be data privacy — forget about that — but data security. “You can know my blood type, but don’t change it,” one speaker explained. Hackers may be able to alter data in financial markets, hospitals and electrical grids — paralyzing normal economic and social activity…

From Obama’s favorite Himmlerite, James Clapper:

❝ “In the future, intelligence services might use the IoT for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials,” Clapper told Congress. And he warned in his testimony that as artificial intelligence is built into weapons, they will be “susceptible to a range of disruptive and deceptive tactics that might be difficult to anticipate or quickly understand.”

The chuckle, of course, is that Clapper is either talking about what is on his implementation schedule – or already has in the wild.