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Flying Off The HandleTM


By Carlton W. Austin

The 70th Anniversary of the Atomic Bomb

As he watched in awe, he muttered to himself, “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” His little “Gadget” had performed as hoped. And, yes, it was largely a hope, because so many things could have gone horribly wrong.

But it had worked.

The world’s first atomic explosion had just blindingly illuminated the dark early morning sky. One thing was certain: He knew the world would never be the same.

The date was July 16, 1945. The location, the Jornada del Muerto desert, home of the White Sands Proving Ground and the Manhattan Project. The witness was J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Los Alamos Laboratory.

Now, 70 years later, the world seems to have achieved a comfortable complacency; nuclear war isn’t really an option. Or is it?

While Russia still has about 7,500 nuclear weapons and the U.S. has about 7,100, a profound dystopian outcome is not off the table. To those concerned with global warming, a global nuclear winter is a more probable watershed event.

But the real high-probability event—indeed, it is almost a certainty—is the detonation of a crudely constructed nuclear terror device in a large American city, such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, or, even more likely, Washington, D.C.

Only a piece as small as a grapefruit. That is about as much uranium—or plutonium—as is required for a nuclear detonation that would annihilate Washington, D.C., with total destruction within a half-mile radius. No more worries about the Republicans and Democrats seeking a kumbaya moment.

With huge holes in our defensive systems—at ports where incoming freight is scanned for radiation, it is very troubling to find that kitty litter has more of a signature than uranium--it is no longer a question of if a nuclear detonation will occur in a major city, but only a question of when. With Iran virtually certain to achieve nuclear capability in the very near future, the risks are accelerated and magnified. (For a great tutorial on this problem we recommend the 2010 documentary Countdown to Zero.)

But don’t despair. Nuclear terror attacks are a minor problem.

Extinction events for Homo sapiens are far more likely to involve biologicals—a new and virulent pandemic, or unintended consequences of our relentless toying with the human genome.

Or rare, if naturally occurring, terrestrial events. Think super volcanoes like the one 70,000 B.C., called Toba, on Sumatra, in Indonesia. Some believe that the ensuing global winter nearly led to the extirpation of the fledgling human population.

Or it could be an extraterrestrial event. A gamma ray burst would do it. Or a massive asteroid collision, like the one that many still think was instrumental in the demise of the dinosaurs.

But worrying about the unpredictable, at least as far as the timing, is as useless as worrying whether your diet is “organic” enough. (You did know that poop is organic, no? And that if you insist on refusing to ingest man-made chemicals, you will have to forego virtually all medical treatments?)*

After all, is it really about how long you live? Or is how you live more consequential? How well you live vs. how long? Perhaps we should ask ourselves, Is my life creative? Which is to say constructive for yourself and/or others? As opposed to destructive, harmful? Do you enjoy every day? For that which it is, nothing more nor less?

I hope you do. And...

Happy 70th anniversary, Mr. Gadget!

Have a nice day. And enjoy that Big Mac!

________________     .      ________________

* Speaking of an obsession with “organic’ food sources, nothing is more organic than naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, right?

Well, perhaps you might consider this new piece of scientific research:

“Dr. Tim Byers, director for cancer prevention and control at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, conducted a meta-analysis of two decades worth of research -- 12 trials that involved more than 300,000 people -- and found a number of supplements actually made a person much more likely to develop certain types of cancer....” --CBS News

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