Doom! Shake the Room

 

Image result for telephone

1. Apart From That, Mr. Brzezinski


At 3a.m. on 9 November 1979, [National Security Advisor Zbigniew] Brzezinski was telephoned at home by his military assistant, William Odom, who told him that he had just heard on his communications net that 200 Soviet missiles had been launched against the United States … He told Odom to put Strategic Air Command on stand-by. A few seconds later, Odom called again. He now said that NORAD had reported that 2200 missiles had been launched. Brzezinski rang off, got out of bed, took a deep breath, and was just about to place his call to the sleeping President and suggest a full-scale retaliation against the Soviet Union when Odom called for a third time. This time he reported that other warning systems had not picked up the launch of any missiles.

 

That, from 1983: Reagan, Andropov, and a World on the Brink, is an amuse-bouche for the tale of Stanislav Petrov, without whose insubordination I’d be writing on a cave wall, if at all.

 

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Sandblasted

 

Glances, bases, hearts … That’s what I thought people stole. Who knew this too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sand_theft

 

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This artist's illustration shows the comet 'Oumuamua racing toward the outskirts of our solar system.
“‘Oumuamua Races Toward Outskirts of Solar System” (Artist’s Concept), NASA/ESA/STScI

 

So, I don’t know how I missed this, but apparently we had an interstellar visitor a while back, ‘Oumuamua. I learned about it from this interview with the chairman of Harvard’s astronomy department. I’ve found myself thinking about what he said a lot, sitting at red lights and stuff. These excerpts should give the idea:

We have no way of knowing whether it’s active technology, or a spaceship that is no longer operative and is continuing to float in space. But if Oumuamua was created together with a whole population of similar objects that were launched randomly, the fact that we discovered it means that its creators launched a quadrillion probes like it to every star in the Milky Way.

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If to judge by our own behavior, it seems to me that the likeliest explanation is that civilizations develop the technologies that destroy them …The technological window of opportunity might be very small. Sails like these are launched, but they no longer have anyone to broadcast back to.

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My premise is cosmic modesty … there are more planets like Earth than there are grains of sand on all the shores of all the seas. Imagine a king who manages to seize control of a piece of another country in a horrific battle, and who then thinks of himself as a great, omnipotent ruler. And then imagine that he succeeds in seizing control of all the land, or of the entire world: It would be like an ant that has wrapped its feelers around one grain of sand on a vast seashore. It’s meaningless.

 

As quoth Nigel Tufnel: “It really puts perspective on things, though, doesn’t it?”

 

Reasons To Be Fearful

 

1. Ooh, My Head

“This is my nuclear nightmare.”

One day a couple of decades ago the science teacher told our class that if a hydrogen bomb were dropped on Boston, it would melt the school. I found this disturbing.

At night I’d lie awake and listen to planes on the flight path into Logan and wonder if they were Soviet missiles. Evidently none was.

As with so much in life, turns out I was worrying about the wrong thing. And if you have five minutes to spare, you’ll hope this former defense secretary is too:

 

2. Damascene Moment

“The problem with luck is that it eventually runs out.”

If you believe wrenches can be dropped without consequence on Titan II missiles, the PBS documentary Command and Control will convert you. It certainly rapped my head in with a ratchet.

 

3. Cold Brew

“I think we can anticipate we’re going to have some very complicated and very difficult problems.”

Fret not, Gentle Reader, it’s not all Boom! Shake the Room.

Errol Morris’ short documentary – not, alas, about Rocky Road – reminds us we should be frightened of quiet stuff too.

I discussed the film with my mother, a biochemistry professor who retired from the National Institutes of Health. She had not seen it.

Now, granted, me explaining the film was probably like an ape dancing to describe city hall. But it’s worth recording that when I asked if the US should destroy its remaining smallpox virus, she said yes.

And it was the way she said it: her objection didn’t seem to be based so much on morality – though I wish to state for the record that my mother dislikes smallpox – but rather on technical obviousness. Her response had a hesitant, perplexed assurance, like she’d been asked if shouting could make rain stop.

On a happier note, Demon in the Freezer added to my vocabulary “synamologous” and to my list of band names The Fully Informed Persons.

 


PS a few months back the post was Reasons To Be Cheerful. Yin and yang, baby.