Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Which Scares You More? 

A: Heavenly Body Gives Bush Close Call
Guardian (UK), 26 February 2004

EXCERPT: January 14 could have been a bad day for George Bush. As the president was preparing to announce America's return to the moon in a speech at the headquarters of Nasa, he was almost asked to deliver a very different message: that the Earth could suffer a devastating asteroid strike within 24 hours. Astronomers have revealed that during a "nine-hour crisis" the night before Mr Bush's speech they believed there was a one in four chance an asteroid would hit the planet in 36 hours. Had it not been for a break in the clouds that allowed an amateur astronomer to give the all-clear, the scientists say they were on the verge of calling the White House. "A preliminary analysis of the discovery data for this object yielded a possible impact with the Earth in less than two days' time," said David Morrison, an asteroid and comet impact hazard expert at Nasa's Ames Research Centre. "And if a possibility of an impact in two days existed, what should we do about notifying governments or the public?" The scientists could only say they thought the 30-metre asteroid would strike somewhere in the northern hemisphere; at that size it would have exploded well before reaching the ground, though it could have killed thousands if it broke up over a big city....

Astronomers confirmed that the asteroid could be on a collision course, but the telescopes that could see the relevant part of the sky were obscured by cloud. Several hours after the scare began, an amateur astronomer, Brian Warner in Colorado, saw through a gap in the clouds and confirmed the area of sky was empty.

or B: And Now for Something Really Dangerous
(I recommend visiting this link, since it's annotated with other links.)

EXCERPT: Engaged in a post-Cold-War global arms-race-of-one, the Pentagon is the sole part of our government determinedly focused on planning for the distant future rather than making hay while the sun shines now. We're talking, of course, about people (or their predecessors) who, from the 1950s on, spent remarkable amounts of time, in Herman Kahn's phrase, "thinking the unthinkable." They are all-stars at war-gaming the nuclear destruction of the Earth or, more modestly, the deaths of hundreds of millions of us humans in various first, second, and third-strike scenarios. By the way, for those of you who think all this has ended, wake up and smell the fumes. In a post-Cold-War world where paths to nuclear abolition were never considered, nuclear-armed nations abound. Putin's Russia only recently conducted large-scale nuclear games with its aging nuclear arsenal. Based on possible first-strike scenarios, they actually test-fired ICBMs from submarines in two tests that went disastrously amiss (which may almost be more frightening than tests that go well).


What a world, what a world...



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