Loose Nukes and End Times in the Nuclear Heartland

Posted in America, Clips, Travel on August 29, 2013 by frankbures

beautiful_example_of_imagination_mushroom_cloudOn March 4th, 1983, Queen Elizabeth did not give this speech:

Now this madness of war is once more spreading through the world and our brave country must again prepare itself to survive against great odds.”

It was, however, prepared and ready to be given, following close on the heels of Ronald Reagans “Evil Empire” speech, which raised the stakes in the Great Nuclear Game.  The Queen’s speech went on:

We all know that the dangers facing us today are greater by far than at any time in our long history. The enemy is not the soldier with his rifle nor even the airman prowling the skies above our cities and towns but the deadly power of abused technology.”

November33.1It’s a time and a feeling those of us who lived through it remember well, and one that I tried to channel in a story I did earlier this year for the Washington Post Magazine. It was the feeling that we were always 30 minutes from the end of everything. For many of us, that will always remain in the back of our minds.  Whenever I’m at REI buying camping gear, I have two uses in mind:  1) Fun family camping!  2) Post-thermonuclear survival.

Today, we don’t think too much about that. A massive, two-sided nuclear strike seems to have receded from the realm of probability.  If there is a nuclear strike, it will likely be a small dirty bomb in a big city like Mumbai or Bangkok, or a swift and devastating backlash by the U.S. against a rogue state.

Where will these missiles come from?  Right here in the Midwest, where  450 ICBMs are scattered across the great plains. They sit quietly along  dirt roads and in cornfields. You can park next to them and peer through the chain link fences at the 90-ton blast doors and the odd arrays of antennas protruding from the ground.  I know this because I’ve done it.

November33.2Late in the summer of 2012, I drove through North Dakota researching the story I mentioned above.  And like you, I assumed those weapons were in good hands.  But since then, some alarming revelations have come out about the competence of the people with their fingers on the keys.

Earlier this year, a commander of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base based in Minot complained about “rot” in the force after the unit got a “D” rating on a launch simulator test, and 17 officers were relieved for “dereliction of duty.”  Then in August, the 341st Missile Wing in Montana failed a safety and security test and the officer in charge off all 450 nuclear missiles was removed from command.

All of this follows on a 2008 report which found a “a dramatic and unacceptable decline” in the nuclear force, according to James Carroll, a columnist for the Boston Globe. “The land-based ICBMs,” he wrote in a column titled: US nuclear weapons poised for catastrophe, “more than nuclear armed submarines or aircraft, have become the thread from which hangs the sword of accidental holocaust. Fail-safe “right procedures” are the only protection — yet current crews are proving incapable of following those procedures.”

For many people, these revelations were a reminder that these weapons exist at all, let alone that they sit right next to us.  But there they are, and they won’t be going anywhere soon.  So with that in mind, I’ll leave you with a list of books on both nuclear tourism, the legacy of the cold war, and on the nuclear arsenal that is still out there, waiting:


The Missile Next Door: The Minuteman in the American Heartland How we forgot the cold war

Nuclear Family

A Nuclear Family Vacation: Travels in the World of Atomic Weaponry


How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America


Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America

On Wildlife Art and the Nature of Beauty

Posted in Uncategorized on August 12, 2013 by frankbures


From Thirty Two Magazine

In the southeast corner of Minnesota is a small farm where my wife’s family lives. It’s beautiful country, with rolling hills and deep valleys. Behind their house, a bluff rises straight up, and when I was younger I used to climb it and sit on a rock with my journal and write.

It’s embarrassing to think about now, but at the time I had notions of becoming a latter-day Thoreau, giving voice to the land. I loved nature and I loved writing, and it seemed like a perfectly good idea to combine the two.

Really, though, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know what it was I loved about nature, or even what exactly I meant by “nature.” Basically, what I now realize I meant was simply “being outside.” But back then it seemed like so much more, and I was sure that by writing about what went on in the woods, I could impart valuable lessons about life.

By and by, that period came to an end, helped along by some time spent in Africa where I saw that living close to nature actually meant chopping wood and hauling water, which (despite a passing interest in Zen) I wasn’t really up for. Nature, I came to see, didn’t much care whether we lived or died, and it was only our distance, our protection from it, that let it become something revered. If nature was beautiful and instructive, it was also heartless, terrifying, and cruel. It was so many things at once, and I came to feel that that’s where its true beauty lay.

Read the rest here.

The Cost of Fame: Is empathy a casualty of our self-centered age?

Posted in America, Art, Books, Clips, Science on June 7, 2013 by frankbures

Narcissus-Caravaggio_(1594-96)_editedFrom The Rotarian:

Over the years, people have looked at the “vast wasteland” of television and seen the approaching end of western civilization. I try to take criticism of the medium with a grain of salt, but I recently came across some studies suggesting that it wasn’t only me who had changed.

Two researchers at the University of California, Yalda Uhls and Patricia Greenfield, devised a way to measure the values expressed in U.S. television shows. Their idea was not that TV is a corrupting influence or a source of moral instruction, but a mirror that reflects our society back to us.

Given how much the world has changed over the decades, you might not think that TV shows from the years 1967, 1977, 1987, and 1997 would have much in common. But they did. Taking the two most popular programs for tweens from each of those years, as well as from 2007, Uhls and Greenfield looked for 16 values demonstrated by the characters, such as benevolence, popularity, community feeling, financial success, tradition, and fame.

narcissism-epidemic-living-in-age-entitlement-jean-m-twenge-hardcover-cover-art-1For the first four decades, the shows were fairly consistent: Community feeling was the top value for all of them except 1987, when it ranked second. Benevolence and tradition were consistently at the top. Meanwhile, fame ranked 15th in 1967, 1987, and 1997. (In 1977, it was 13th.)

Achievement and financial success hovered around the bottom half of the list; they were never dominant forces in the characters’ lives.
By 2007, however, community feeling had dropped to the 11th spot. Benevolence had fallen to 12th, and tradition to 15th. Financial success had jumped from 12th to 5th since 1997, achievement to 2nd, and fame to 1st.

Read the rest here.

Thirty Two #4: Artists’ Spaces, Painted Birds, Soccer Hooligans and Free Music

Posted in Art, Clips, Thirty Two on June 5, 2013 by frankbures

SummerIt’s been nearly a year since the launch of Thirty Two Magazine, and the fourth issue is now out–the biggest yet by far.  Not only are there fantastic pieces on the Dark Cloud soccer fans, the sharing economy, fiction about life in Antarctica, and more. There’s also beautiful photo essay of  artists’ work spaces. For my part, I interviewed Andrew Lange of  the experimental record label Taiga, which puts out albums on limited-edition vinyl. I also wrote about wildlife art.

Better yet: Two free albums also come with this issue, called Two Seasons: Thirty Two & Friends, which features 19 songs by local bands (including the lovely “Clouds” by the late Zach Sobiech) and which you can download from the site, plus a CD sleeve to cut out from the magazine.

So please find it any of these shops, enjoy it, and if you like what we’re doing, subscribe here.  (Subscribers keep us alive!)

Skin in the Game: Feminine mystique or feminine mistake?

Posted in America, Clips on June 4, 2013 by frankbures

phpThumbFrom Minnesota Monthly:

Last fall at the Armatage Recreation Center, a crowd of hopeful young women gathered in response to an advertisement that called for the following: “Ages 18–35, Athletic, Sexy, Look Good in Bikini, and Love Basketball.” It was the inaugural tryout for a nascent team called the Minnesota Mist, which, for about as long as it takes to put on—or take off—a two-piece, was part of the Bikini Basketball League. The team’s promotional tagline: Prepare to Be Mistified.

Many were. After all, it’s hard to know what to make of the sudden boom in so-called fantasy sports. Not the leagues where guys pick a dream team of all-star players and pretend they’re Bud Grant. We’re talking about fantasy sports like the Minnesota Valkyrie, the state’s two-year-old franchise in the Lingerie Football League. And the recently formed Bikini Hockey League, of which there appears to be two, albeit with no Minnesota franchise—yet. And the Bikini Softball League, which may indeed arrive here (it was accepting team applications from hard-hitting hard-bodies at press time).

Read the rest here.

On Graduation, Folding Chairs, Life, etc.

Posted in Clips on May 14, 2013 by frankbures

From The Rotarian:

It’s possible that future anthropologists will look back on our civilization and conclude that all our wisdom was collected in our commencement speeches. Every year around this time, at podiums across America, people attempt to send our young adults off into the world with a bit of hard-won knowledge so they won’t have to win it themselves.

Presumably, that’s what happened at both of my graduations. I don’t recall. In high school, I’m pretty sure the speaker was a young woman who got good grades and who said something about achieving our dreams. My wife gave the commencement speech at her high school, but even she can’t remember a thing she said.

At my college graduation, the speaker may have been a semi-famous writer who had penned a book about faith and the prairie. I assume she gave some sort of meditation on flatness, but all I can remember is that her speech itself felt like driving across North Dakota.

Read the rest here.

On the Groad: More on Gravel Racing

Posted in America, Clips on April 17, 2013 by frankbures

"Gravel" plus "cycling" equals "gravel riding."From Outside:

Not far out of the gates of the “Central Iowa Rock Road Endurance Metric” (or CIRREM as it’s known in gravel circles), riders started going down on the dirt road in the middle of Iowa. A big guy on my left spilled hard and almost took me out. Another one up front went over and slammed his helmet into the ground. I slipped on the ice a few times, but managed to stay upright. In the lead pack, a rider broke away and the others started to chase him. Nearly all of them went over, too.

We were just a few miles into the late-February, 63.5-mile bike race that brings out the hardest of the hardcore groadies (gravel roadies). Gravel riding, or “gravel grinding” as it’s known, is a different sort of race than the ones that came before. These are epic rides on forgotten, unpaved roads covered in crushed rock. They’re more relaxed, more low-brow, and more hardcore than you average road crit.

Not only that, but they open up a vast new territory for cycling. At last count, there were 1.3 million miles of unpaved roads throughout the United States. Cyclists are just beginning to discover these as a new frontier where there are no rules, no governing bodies, and where you can just announce a race and people will show up to ride 60, 100, 200 miles or more.

Read the rest here.


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