Give peace a chance

24 11 2013

A preliminary deal to pause, and eventually reverse, Iran’s nuclear weapons program: good.

Good for the US, good for Iran, good for the world—and yes, when I write “good for the world”, I include Israel in that calculation.

Benjamin Netanyahu, and his various supporters in the US, would disagree. They consider this a “disaster” and, generally, bad for Israel. Former UN Ambassador Wilford Brimley John Bolton goes so far as to urge Israel to bomb away anyway, but as he’d likely suggest bombing someone who cut in front of him at Starbucks, I don’t how seriously anyone should take his analysis.

If the Israelis do bomb Iran (for presumably their own reasons), I don’t know how much cover they could expect from the US. There are many members of Congress who are, as the phrase goes, “staunch allies of Irael”, but I don’t know how staunch the rest of the American populace is. Yes, polls regularly show high levels of support for Israel, but it’s not at all clear that that support would hold if Israel were seen to be drawing the US into yet another Mideast war.

Would such a backlash be driven by anti-semitism? Some of it, yeah—there’s a fair amount of anti-Jewish sentiment in the US—but mostly by a sense of ENOUGH, the same sense of ENOUGH that lead to a backlash against a possible US strike on Syria.

Not going to war is a good thing. Kerry isn’t Chamberlain, Rouhani isn’t Hitler, and the P5+1 group and the UN aren’t the League of Nations. It’s possible this could all go sideways, but it’s also possible that this might, just might, lead us away from war and toward peace.

A good thing, yes?





Stop right there!

17 03 2013

Never happens.

As a fan of adventure/thriller/nuke films (which provenance ought to make clear are always of the B variety), I am willing to leap over any number of realities in order to join the fun, but I do have to retain some belief that there is ground at the takeoff point.

War Games: kid hacks into government computer (believable) and inadvertently starts countdown to nuclear war (leap). Red October: Soviet sub captain seeks to defect (believable) along with innovative tech (ehhh. . .) and American analyst figures this out in time to help him (leap). Peacemaker: corrupt Russian soldiers hijack a ten-pack of nukes to sell (believable) and only the Americans figure this out (ehhh. . .) in time (leap). The Sum of All Fears: Israel loads a nuke onto a plane during the ’73 war, which, after having been shot down, is left to be found 29 years later (skid to a stop at the edge).

The Israelis don’t recover a lost nuke? No. No no no no no no no.

The opening scene already doesn’t make sense—Israel is invaded and overrun, so sends aloft a solo-piloted fighter jet with a nuke, which is shot down when the pilot is distracted by a photo of his family and thus sees a missile too late—not least because no mention is made of the purpose or destination of such a flight. More to the point, that the Israelis would lose track of a nuclear missile and apparently just shrug their shoulders at the loss requires not a leap of faith but a stumble into stupidity.

Of course, once the viewer folds her arms and raises her eyebrows, the rest of the events can only be viewed with snorts.

It’s too bad, really, because loose nukes are a fine premise on which to build a movie; then again, The Sum of All Fears relies yet again on Nazis (Alan Bates, underused; et. al.) as the bad guys, aided by an amoral and cosmopolitan arms dealer (Colm Feore, also underused). This movie was released in 2002: do we still need Nazis as the Big Bads? And are all arms dealers sophisticated foreigners with a chilling accent?

They also stole a line from The Peacemaker (I’m not afraid of the man who wants ten nuclear missiles, colonel. I’m terrified of the man who only wants one):

President: Let’s see, who else has 270,00 nukes for us to worry about?

CIA Director Cabot:  It’s the guy with one I’m worried about.

I did enjoy James Cromwell as the president and Liev Schreiber as an apparently worn-out assassin-spy, and Ciarán Hinds has such a magnificent face how could I not want to watch him? Ben Affleck once again demonstrated his limited skills as an actor, although the role hardly demands anything of interest from him. And Morgan Freeman as Cabot, hell, it’s Morgan Freeman; I originally mistook him as the president.

A waste all around.

The filmmaker would have been better to take the lead from the ridiculous premise and jettisoning any relationship to realipolitik whatsoever. Ditch the Tom Clancy-solemnity and substitute a gleeful malice instead—now that might have been fun to watch.





Mad world

19 08 2010

I cannot believe (as in: I despair) that this is being considered:

Are there enough curse words in all the world’s languages  to be dropped in response to this?

On a (very small) upside: check out the serious debate on the Atlantic‘s website about Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in particular and the Iran-with-nukes scenario in general. Goldblog irritates me to no end, and in looking at the participants in the debate my first reaction was Elliot Abrams? Seriously?!

Still, there’s a real—as in, serious and reasoned—argument happening there. Wish there were a wider spectrum of views—well, more skeptical and radical views—but then again, I wish I could run 5 1/2 minute miles and that eating Doritos helped me to lose weight.

So just as I puff out oh-so-much-more-than-5 1/2-minute-miles and limit my Doritos consumption, so too do I limit my ambitions as regards mainstream debates about world affairs. That is, I accept that sometimes the less-than-ideal can still be worthwhile.

Now, if only we could get various delusional/sullen world leaders to agree. . . .





Dirty War

22 02 2010

I love war movies.

Spy movies, dirty tricks, government and intrigue—love ’em!

Can’t say exactly why. Oh, sure, I have this ongoing affair with politics (don’t know why that is, either), but while I enjoyed West Wing and Dave, I don’t swoon for the up-front political movies the way I do for the backstage stuff. Even Bob Roberts, which was more backstage than on-, didn’t turn me on. A good—a very good—movie, but nothing I want to watch over and over again.

Unlike Dirty War. I saw this movie for the first time while living outside of Boston. I didn’t have cable then, either, but I did have a t.v., and PBS broadcast this HBO production over the freewaves.  I think I saw it twice.

Well, now three times, since I just watched the DVD from Netflix. Christ, if this movie streamed, I’d probably watch it once a month.

The set-up is simple: We’re shown nuclear smugglers in central Europe, and cops, fire fighters, government ministers, and terrorists, in London. We see radioactive material smuggled into London, cops trying to track down terrorists cells, a government minister who knows better nonetheless lying so as to reassure the public, and the terrorists themselves, as they meet, assemble the bombs, and prepare to carry out their allegedly divine task.

No, no spoilers here. Watch it for yourself.

Again, I”m not quite sure what the attraction is. The movie is well done, and, to this civilian, utterly plausible. The moviemakers note the research behind the movie, and while I can’t vouch for a smidgen of it, I’m still left thinking Yep, that’s how this could work.

I don’t worry about terrorism on a regular basis. I moved to NYC in 2006, aware that it remains a target, but not terribly concerned about it. I don’t know if it will be hit again, but were I afraid that it would be, I’d have moved somewhere else.

I don’t think of this as denial so much as the same kind of practical calculation that eight million of my neighbors have made. I want to be here, so I am.

Still, there is one possibility which, mmm, tweaks me a bit: the detonation of a dirty bomb.

I was the kid who had nuclear nightmares, who was sure that the world would end before I, well, before I’m the age I am now. This could have been the adolescent impossibility of imagining oneself at middle-age, the morbid outlook of a self-destructive depressive, and/or my rational political concerns mutating into nighttime irrationality.

I don’t have dirty bomb nightmares. But I do think, rationally, that if some group really wanted to fuck over a city, their best bet would be through a detonation of a conventional bomb packed around radioactive material.

A nuke itself would be too hard. Even if a group could manage to get its hands on one, there’s the matter of access to a detonator, as well as that of transport and concealment. Yeah, I remember the material on backpack nukes and worries over uneven security of the nuclear stockpile of various nations, but nuclear weapons, even thousands of nuclear weapons, are still relatively rare things.

What about biologicals? The issue here is one of predictability. Anthrax was used to kill a number of people and frighten a hell of a lot more in 2001 and 2002, but the total number directly affected was relatively few. That’s no comfort to the victims, of course, but as a weapon of mass death, biological agents leave much to be desired.

First, there’s the matter of accessing the biological agent. If it’s controlled, as with smallpox, one has to find a way to get hold of it; if it’s not controlled, one has to find a way to get it and control it before it kills you. Ebola is a nasty disease with a high mortality rate, but it is precisely its nastiness which makes it difficult to handle. Flu is capable of killing tens and even millions of people, but to create a flu like the one which hit the world near the end of WWI requires decent lab facilities and highly trained people—and even that is no guarantee that one could derive a virus both highly transmissible and highly virulent, which could then be released in a maximally controlled manner.

Radioactive material isn’t just scattered like pennies on the streets, but it can be culled from college campuses, hospitals, research facilities, and, of course, nuclear power plants. Further, to make uranium or plutonium suitable for a true nuclear explosion requires extensive processing; the cast-offs from low-grade processing can be used as is.

And it’s use can be controlled. Conventional home-made bombs are apparently not that hard to make (I wouldn’t know, not being the bomb-making or -throwing kind); once the radioactive material has been obtained, you steer your van or boat or truck to the location you want to hit and BOOM. Blast damage, fire, death, and mayhem. And long-term radioactive contamination.

My understanding is that New York City has a very good intelligence network (although in the wake of  the apparently mishandled investigation of Najibullah Zazi, the FBI might disagree), and that agents almost certainly are on alert for any and all kinds of bombs, be they dirty or clean.

So I mostly don’t worry. It’s not that I think the cops and intelligence agencies are infallible—hah!—but given that certainty isn’t possible, the best that can be expected is vigilance. Hell, even with the errors of the Zazi case, they did manage to  stop the guy.

But certainty isn’t possible, and bombs do go off.

It’s this sliver of knowledge that has worked its way deep under my skin. It doesn’t bother me on a daily basis, but sometimes, when a train is stopped too long on its tracks, or I notice all  the trucks in the Financial District or the boats in the harbor, I remember it’s there, and I wonder.