While in the desert outside Tucson, AZ, I worked on the Billy the Kid script and took infrared pictures of the vicinity…

IMGP8541 copy

The camera is a Pentax K-01, converted to read infra-red light as well as the light we perceive, by means of a filter. The lens, for the most part, is the 40mm pancake which came with the camera.

IMGP8486 copy

In addition to turning green things white, the IR filter gets the best out of the sky. Even a mediocre cloudy day acquires mystery…

IMGP8395 copy

The above is the frontispiece for the Billy the Kid screenplay. It has a certain antique weirdness, I think.

IMGP8429 copy

Saguaros are irresistible subjects.

Barracks_Pearl_IR copy

As is Pearl, seen here returning from la chasse.



Since TOMBSTONE RASHOMON was finished, I’ve been working on a couple of new projects — a book about THE PRISONER, which I think was the best TV show ever made, and a script about Billy the Kid.

The PRISONER book is titled I AM (NOT) A NUMBER, and is published by Kamera Books in the UK. They’ve published three other books by me – my Spaghetti Western history, my Kennedy/Oswald chronology, and, most recently, my Intro to Film. Kamera are a great company, in my estimation, and I recommend checking out their entire catalogue – much of it film-related, and Noir fiction under the Oldcastle imprint. I won’t go into my PRISONER analysis here, since the tome is now available both in hard copy (a limited edition with some very cool and expensive-to-print black pages between the chapters!) and as an e-book. Suffice it to say that in the book I analyse the episodes in the order in which they were filmed – something which has not been done before. At the outset, I don’t think anyone involved knew who ran The Village, who or what Number 1 was, or even how many episodes there would be. THE PRISONER was an organic masterpiece, which developed over eighteen months of shooting. At the outset, it seemed to be a project shared between Patrick McGoohan and George Markstein, the script editor, who had quite different ideas about who Number 6 was, and where the series was going. By the start of the curtailed second season, THE PRISONER was McGoohan’s, and McGoohan’s alone.

I’ve posted a short video about the series and its meaning here.

Since the book was done I’ve been working on a script about Billy the Kid, entitled THE THUNDERER, to be shot in the vicinity of Tucson, AZ. There seems to be less published material about the Kid than there was in the case of the OK Corral incident, but there are still a couple of good books. Walter Noble Burns (of Tombstone Iliad fame) wrote a particularly florid one, Ashton Upson ghost-wrote a biography of Billy for Pat Garrett; and Robert M. Utley wrote a nice, complete history of the Kid, A Short and Violent Life.

Rudy Wurlitzer (who wrote the difinitive script, PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, and WALKER, and much more besides) sent me a link to an article which recently appeared in that notorious purveyor of Fake News, the New York Times. The headline is “A Photo of Billy the Kid Bought for $10 At A Flea Market May Be Worth Millions.”

BTK_NYT_Photo_PicMaybe so, but perhaps not this particular photograph, which can be compared in the original article with the “historic” picture of the Kid with his rifle. Apart from a prominent adam’s apple, I don’t think the two faces have anything in common. Even less likely is the author’s claim that the picture includes both Billy the Kid and his executioner, Pat Garrett. Garrett and the Kid may have known each other, during Garrett’s days as a Lincoln County bartender. But Garrett was famously tall – six foot four, or more – and the Kid was diminutive: around five foot, nine inches. The individuals in the New York Times photograph are all seated, so one can only judge their body height, but the one identified, by an “expert”, as Garrett appears to be average in height, while the one claimed to be the Kid looks about three inches taller.

Right now I’m Tucson for an acting assignment. Once that is done I’ll have more to report, I hope, on THE THUNDERER.


The United Nations did a fine thing last week, as the majority of its members – the nations of the planet – voted to approve a Treaty which outlaws nuclear weapons. The final draft treaty, distributed on 6 July, had benefited from considerable input and is quite different from the draft convention of 22 May, which was less definite and clear. It seems an excellent document.

What is the use of it? The cynic or world-weary may enquire. The nuclear weapons states — the US, Russia, China, perfidious Albion, France, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea — refused to participate in the discussions. One country, Holland, which illegally houses American nuclear weapons on its soil, voted against the treaty. Singapore abstained. 122 countries voted to outlaw nukes. But so what? None of them have any!

It may all seem pointless, and symbolic. But only a few years back, the US and Russia and England all proudly developed biological weapons, and stockpiled poison gas, and manufactured landmines, and cluster bombs. Determined campaigns against them, and international outrage at the horrible things, led to the United Nations treaties outlawing them. Biological weapons were banned in 1972; chemical weapons in 1993; landmines in 1997; and cluster bombs in 2008. Today, while many landmines and cluster bombs still scatter the homelands of our allies and enemies, their manufacture is now internationally banned. The major nations have destroyed their stockpiles of poison and nerve gases.

The US, Russia and England already have obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (which they signed in 1968) not to export nukes to other countries, nor to assist or encourage other nations to acquire them. The US has been a persistant violator of the NPT, aiding India, Pakistan and Israel in the acquisition of nuclear weapons, and continually deploying its nuclear weapons abroad. In 2017, American nuclear bombs are stored at Aviano and Ghedi in Italy, Buchel in Germany, Incirlik in Turkey, Kleine Brogel in Belgium and Volkel in Holland. All three countries possess nuclear weapons submarine fleets, whose travels routinely violate the NPT.

The NPT also contains a commitment by all signatories “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” General disarmament! Not just nuclear! So England, Russia and the US are already committed by treaty obligation to “pursue negotiations in good faith” with and end to the arms race and disarmament as a goal.

Are they doing this? No. Does this mean that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is just more worthless symbolism? Not necessarily.

The nuclear powers stand on extremely shakey ground. Their mechanical war-making infrastructure  was conceived, and in some cases built, half a century ago. It depends on incredibly expensive, very dangerous technology with a limited life expectancy, and a legacy of highly toxic radioactive and chemical garbage which must be guarded and somehow safely disposed of. Obama commited a trillion dollars to the US Nuclear Weapons upgrade, partially as a traditional taxpayer give-away to weapons corps like Boeing and Raytheon, partially because of Americans’ ongoing fascination for the shiny and the new, and partially because — at least in the case of the land-based Minutemen missiles — the nuclear weapons infrastructure is falling apart.

Now Presidents Trump and Putin have met, and as a Russian writer observed, it is quite funny and shocking to see the liberal media excoriating both of them, with the New York Times, the Bezos Post, The Guardian and Rachel Maddow all united in their condemnation of the boorish, orange-tinted bozo and the James Bond super-cyber-villain. Liberals worry about climate change, which they think of as global warming. Conservatives don’t believe in climate change. Yet one way to guarantee climate change – in the form of a nuclear winter provoking worldwide famine – is to start a nuclear war. Presidents Trump and Putin, as commanders-in-chief of the greatest arsenals of mass destruction the world has ever known, are our number one protections against nuclear war between the US and Russia.

Think about that. We rely on those two gentlemen to get along, and not to be provoked into detesting each other, or into provocative “shows of credibility.” In such circumstances, the UN Treaty keeps up an admirable pressure on the two of them, and on all nuclear-weapons states. Obviously, a lot more money is being made from nuclear weapons than was made from nerve gas, or cluster bombs. But each diabolical weapon had a powerful constituency; and in each case it was defeated. No country can “afford” a nuclear war. Not even the one percent can escape its consequences.

The fact that the US, UK and France issued a joint press release condemning the treaty, blaming North Korea for the world’s perilous nuclear imbalance, and reaffirming their commitment to the NPT, which requires them to disarm, and which they continue to ignore, is a good sign. They came over like silly billies, babbling nonsense in the face of an increasingly impatient world. The fact that Russia and China didn’t condem the treaty outright, may be a good sign too.

Don’t count on the mainstream media to get the word out about the Treaty, though. Silence prevails, as usual, or else outright misinformation, as when NPR’s “Democracy Now” host reported that the UN had banned the “use” of nuclear weapons. The Treaty bans the possession and distribution of nuclear weapons. (I have a friend who works as a bud-trimmer during pot season here in Oregon. She and her colleagues operate in Victorian working conditions, grooming buds of pot for hours on end for minimum wage. I had assumed they would be listening to Bob Marley. But no! The cruel dope grower boss has the radio permanently switched to NPR. I consider that an oppressive work environment.)

I just had to add one more link — to the story about the apparent “long time Clinton family ally” Paul Begala. No idea who this bazooka is but yesterday, on CNN, he called for a debate in the United States as to “whether we should blow up the KGB, GSU, or GRU.” As the DNC/Clinton faction grows increasingly McCarthyite, its push for a confrontation with Russia – not just in Syria or Ukraine – appears to have elscalated. The United States routinely meddles in other countries’ elections — via CIA, NED, straightforward military coups, and “visits” from US Senators bringing oppostion leaders scads of bribe money in diplomatic bags. Now Russia is accused, by anonymous CIA sources, of doing the same thing. The Clinton camp’s response? Bomb Russia. As the Daily Beast remarked, “What could go wrong?”



Last week the media sabers were rattling for a war between the US and North Korea. The president of one of those countries announced a massive “armada” was “steaming” towards the adversary (though it turned out that rather like a British Trident missile it had gone in the opposite direction). The president of the other country threatened nuclear armageddon. Things like this send the mainstream media, and their timorous readers, into a tizzy of fear lest hydrogen bombs come raining down on California. So just for the reality-based community, it’s worth remembering that North Korea has no reliable delivery system to get its handful of nuclear weapons anywhere near the United States.

This kind of fear-mongering is typical of the New York Times, Bezos Post, and BBC — ignore the facts and concentrate of whipping up a frenzy of outrage against some dark-skinned foreigner and his deadly WMDs. None of the mainstream reporting of last week’s events addressed the key matter of delivery systems – i.e the Minutemen ICBMs and B2 Bombers and Trident submarines which get nukes from the mad scientists’ launchpad to the civilian population they are designed to kill. North Korea’s latest attempt at launching an ICBM ended in failure, as its previous efforts have. Whereas the United States has some 2,000 nukes attached to presumably-reliable delivery systems which can reach anywhere in the world.

Consider just one US Ohio-class submarine. It has the capacity to carry 24 Trident D5 missiles. Each D5 missile can carry 8 nuclear warheads. So one American nuclear sub can launch almost 200 nuclear weapons — enough to destroy multiple nations and cause incalculable climate change. And the US has fourteen of these boats, ten of them on patrol at all times.

Meanwhile the British Prime Minister is prepared to launch a nuclear ‘first strike’ according to its “Defence” Secretary, Michael Fallon. Fallon told reporters that Teresa May is prepared to launch Trident missiles in “the most extreme circumstances”, even if Britain itself is not under nuclear attack.

What circumstances could those be? Circumstances in which the Americans tell her to, perhaps? Such as a surprise first strike on Russia? George Orwell, that old Russia-hater, was more prescient than he wished to be, perhaps, when he renamed Britain “Airstrip One.”

But England isn’t the only insane nuclear toady on the block. Step forward the reliable Netherlands — whose representative at United Nations talks to declare nuclear weapons illegal has insisted that the UN vote must be consistent with Holland’s obligations to NATO. Which is absurd: since NATO is a nuclear-armed alliance whose stated purpose is to deter/fight a war with Russia, it will be an illegal operation once the UN votes. All of the nuclear-armed powers except North Korea have boycotted the UN talks, which will resume later in the year. And the US satraps will again be throwing spanners in the works — Holland is one of the lucky countries to house American nuclear weapons, and thus a primary target, or rather a secondary target, if the Americans and the English strike the Russians first.

Americans are remarkable beings. Not only are they exceptional (as we are constantly told) but they are more than twice as resistant to the effects of radiation as any other people in the world! This amazing news comes via the Federal Register of 27 December 2016, which announced that American nuclear workers may continue to safely receive up to 50 milliSieverts of radiation every year. There is, as you probably know, no “safe” dose of radiation: the EPA states that “any exposure to radiation can be harmful or can increase the risk of cancer.” However, in the rest of the world, the maximum “safe” radiation dose is considered to be 20 milliSieverts per year. The US was to have adopted the international maximum last year, but pressure from the nuclear power and weapons industries had the predictable results. This was done during the Obama presidency, not the current one.

And finally some good news. President Trump’s scrapping of Obama’s Clean Power Plan means that special favours to the nuclear industry (on the deranged grounds that it is “carbon neutral”) will no longer occur. As a result the US industry is scrambling to gain other tax breaks and to make friends with “environmentalists.”

The very idea that nuclear power generation is “carbon neutral” is absurd, as previously discussed here. The claim doesn’t take into account the highly-carbon-based building and decommissioning of nuclear plants, nor all the gasoline and diesel consumption involved in maintaining them when they function or panicking when they fail, nor the long-term  environmental and climate costs of all the radioactive garbage they create, and its safe disposal. Renewables – wind, solar and water, at least for now – have been embraced by the big energy corporations. Coal isn’t coming back: it can’t compete with renewables or with “natural” gas. Nor is nuclear, if its tax breaks and public underwriters get taken away…



In the films and tv shows I’ve seen, when the detective arrives at the scene of an unsolved crime, he or she usually asks the question, “Cui Bono?” He/she may not have asked it in Latin, but the meaning was, “Who benefits?”

When a great war crime is committed, it’s even more worth asking, “Who benefits from this?”

In the case of the greatest crime of all, the stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons, there are surprisingly few beneficiaries. In the US the development and maintenance of nukes has been a great boon to a tiny handful of big companies: Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. Between them, these five scooped up one third of all Pentagon nuclear weapons contracts.

There’s a good discussion of the enormous money made by a handful of big nuclear war companies, their army of lobbyists in Washington DC, and the political inertia which leads to endless spending on nukes, here.

Of course, many other corporations profit from nuclear weapons tech: high on the second-tier list are the Carlyle Group (which took over UC’s nuclear programs and has had former President George W. Bush and Prime Minister John Major on its board), Honeywell, General Electric (until recently the owner of NBC and Universal Pictures), and Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s company.

Most of these beneficiary companies have shareholders, and so their shareholders, whether individuals or pension funds, might be said to benefit, if the share price rises. In this way many people participate in taxpayer-funded preparation for nuclear war. But in the wider world beyond the stock exchanges, most humans don’t have shares in anything, and gain nothing from the trade.

Do individuals benefit? Some do. Werner Von Braun was a Nazi scientist who fired rockets at London and the Netherlands. He ran his own concentration camp, Dora, where prisoners were worked to death, and hung. It would have made sense for him to be tried with the other Nazi war criminals. But Von Braun was no fool. He fled the advancing Russian troops and surrendered to the Americans. The US military swiftly brought him to the States, acquired him citizenship, and put him to work designing and building ICBMs — long range missiles which could carry nuclear warheads to Russia. Von Braun become something of a celebrity in the US, promoting rocket ships and nuclear platforms in space and being declared Time’s “Man of the Year”.

Another beneficiary, apparently, is Michelle Obama, the former First Lady. In August 2016 she “christened” a General Dynamics Virginia-class nuclear submarine. The boat was named Illinois, in honour of her home state. What did Ms. Obama think she was doing? Has this presumably intelligent person no imagination? No moral compass? One US nuclear submarine carries enough warheads to kill pretty much everybody in the world: just a couple of nukes could render her home state uninhabitable. Yet there was no outcry. In the “floating world” which professional politicians and opinion-formers inhabit, there seems no downside to promoting genocide: no horror or repulsion at the thought of what the boat she “christened” has been designed and equipped to do.

And another beneficiary of the nuclear-industrial economy was Sam Cohen, a physicist who worked with Edward Teller at Los Alamos. Sam was most famous as the designer of the Neutron Bomb – a radiation weapon designed to kill everyone in the vicinity, with minimal physical destruction. As the character in REPO MAN observed, “It kills people but leaves buildings standing.” The notion of a bomb which destroys life but respects property is entirely hideous, but to Sam it was not so. He was proud to be thought of as the “father” of the Neutron Bomb, which he insisted was a humanitarian weapon for which he had received a Peace Medal from the Pope. This last was absolutely true: Sam showed me his award, and left to his daughter in his will.

Are nukes really worth this nonsensical eccentricity? Profits for a small number of rich companies? Sam with his medal, Michelle “christening” a holocaust boat, Werner avoiding the gallows and going to work for Walt Disney?

Fortunately, there is an alternative.

If you live in the US, or England, or France, or Russia or China, or one of the other nuke nations, you might despair and think there’s no way out: your politicians are too stupid, too hooked on power and “credibility”, too fearful of their own military and intelligence agencies…  But for most of the planet, this is not so. Most humans live in countries which don’t have nuclear weapons. Somehow, lacking even the most modest nuclear deterrent, they all manage to survive. Most nations don’t have nukes, and don’t want them. Entire continents – South America and Africa – are nuclear-free zones.

Narcissistic politicians backed/dominated by generals armed to the teeth with hydrogen bombs are neither desired nor respected by the people of the wider world, and so, this year, the United Nations will debate and vote on a proposal to outlaw nuclear weapons.
The negotiations will take place at UN headquarters in New York from 27 to 31 March and from 15 June to 7 July 2017. In the UN General Assembly, 113 nations have already voted in favour of the resolution that established the mandate for the negotiating committee. The treaty, which will almost certainly be passed by a massive majority, will likely prohibit a range of activities relating to nukes, including their use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer, as well as assistance, encouragement or inducement of anyone to engage in any of these prohibited activities.

Now, I’m as cynical as the next poor fool, and I know this sounds like pie-in-the-sky. The US, Russia, Britain, France, and most of the other nuclear powers oppose the treaty and can be expected, initially, to ignore it (promisingly, China has welcomed the treaty negotiations and has abstained rather than vote against them). These countries also opposed treaties banning land mines, poison gas, cluster bombs… at the outset. But the world-wide rejection of these devilish devices, codified in international treaty form, has had an actual effect. Russia and America have destroyed their substantial inventories of nerve and poison gas. Land mines have been outlawed, world-wide. And the US is increasingly isolated in its production and export (to that haven of democracy and women’s rights Saudi Arabia) of cluster bombs.

Even if the “great powers” don’t sign up for the treaty, they will be influenced by it, and by the world opinion it clearly conveys. We who live in the nuclear weapons states must not let our “leaders” forget that they are under an obligation – Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty – to act “in good faith” to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

A year before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King said, “a nation that continues, year after year, to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

The US government currently gives 54% of federal discretionary spending to the Pentagon. This is almost half the entire world’s military outlay. President Trump intends to give the Pentagon and military contractors even more, and to continue with President Obama’s trillion-dollar nuclear “upgrade.” In America, genocide has always been a bi-partisan affair. In 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, Dr. King described the US government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” With the US currently bombing several other countries, occupying Afghanistan and Guantanamo, and maintaining a web of 800 military bases around the world, things are even worse today.

I live in rural Oregon near three towns which the local paramedics call the “Crankster Triangle.” Unemployment is high, wages are low, and nutrition is terrible. Meth and heroin (from far-off Afghanistan!) are readily available. And there are for-profit jails in neighboring poor rural towns, ready and waiting.

This beautiful country is falling apart, abandoned by elites who don’t give a damn about any place without a private airport and a ski resort.

Can it be turned around? Yes. I think it can. It will be a tall order and will take a lot more than the abolition of nukes – only a fraction of the huge American military budget, but still an enormous saving of taxpayers’ money which could be applied instead to…

Environmental clean-up and remediation.


Writing off student debt.

A guaranteed minimum wage.

Single-payer health care.

If you’re a hardcore libertarian or conservative you may oppose all of the above. In which case, why not abolish nukes and simply lower taxes?

One of the smartest people I know is an English lawyer who lives outside Cambridge. In all his life he has only voted Conservative, or Green. He believes in conservative principles, which for him include actual conservation. Conservation. Beyond that, the differences he and I might have don’t matter very much. We both think that conserving and protecting the environment is humanity’s obligation, and most important goal.

Yes, global warming is real and disastrous. But – as Marianne Faithfull observed – nuclear war could come at any time, and there’s no point worrying about global warming if the climate change we’re looking at is a nuclear war-based ice age. And that’s what’s on the agenda this year, at the UN.

If the nine nuclear nations can come to their senses, and be shamed, or flattered, into reducing their hideous stockpiles, then there may be a foreseeable future. Only then will it make sense to prepare for the consequences of a warming climate change.

If you are a British citizen or resident, you can add your name to a petition instructing Parliament not to boycott the United Nations vote here.

(Ms. Faithfull’s Broken English video was directed by Derek Jarman, a wonderful man and a moral film director. He is greatly missed)


Who threatens us – the nuclear-armed states? I return to this question because an external threat is the politician’s fallback position, justifying possession and possible use of atomic bombs.

There is a clear and present danger that a nuclear weapon could be launched by accident, by any state which possesses such weapons and has the means to hurl them into the air. But which of the nuclear powers is threatened by a potential foreign invader – England? France? The United States? The US is the largest military power in the world. Its two neighbors, Canada and Mexico, cannot threaten the USA. No “rival” power masses troops or military equipment on America’s borders. Britain and France, for all their disastrous colonial adventures, remain at peace. Perfidious Albion has made enemies in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, in Ireland, and many other places. But none of these countries is in a position to invade or militarily threaten London.

Okay, the politician might reply, but if we had no nuclear weapons, nuclear powers could dominate us. Yet other powers already dominate us. Multinational corporations are richer and more influential than most nations. Germany determines the economic policy of the EU and the Eurozone. The Americans tell the rest of us what to do. Big nations dominate smaller ones.

Step forward, then, the squirrely politician’s last respite: Russia. Russia is a threat! For many years Americans were encouraged to fear the Soviet Union, which followed the malicious creed of Communism. The Cold War dragged on for decades. Many people in the US and Western Europe made careers out of it – in “intelligence”, in academia, in journalism. It was a War with comparatively few casualties as each side formed a “defensive” alliance against the other, conducted witch-hunts, and stockpiled tens of thousands of nuclear bombs.

In 1990, the Cold War ended with victory for the Americans and their allies in NATO: the Soviet Union fragmented into various countries, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, and the Russians renounced communism. Americans assisted in securing the Russian nuclear weapons stock. Progress was made at reducing the enormous inventory. In the early twentieth century disarmament by the nuclear superpowers slowed, halted, and then reversed.

What does the United States have to fear from Russia? That Russia is its “rival” as a major power? CIA claims that Russian agents “hacked” the election? That its leader is a cold-looking character like out of a James Bond film? That people will prefer Russian cars and cilvil aircraft rather than American ones? That the Russians don’t automatically do what we say?

None of these fears is worth anything. Certainly not worth going to war over. The only fear that has any validity is that Russia has giant arsenal of nuclear bombs, many on high alert, waiting to be unleashed on us at any moment. That is something worth worrying about.

No doubt the Russians are equally fearful of the Americans’ and Europeans’ giant inventory of nuclear bombs. That would make sense. But do they, I wonder, have any other reason to be fearful, or to distrust the Americans?

Historically, they do — from the continuation of the First World War, which the Western powers dragged on for two more years in an effort to beat the Bolsheviks; through the creation of NATO – an American-led, anti-Soviet alliance which has now grown to Russia’s borders; via the nuclear arms race; the disastrous Yeltsin years; radar inferiority which leaves the Russian Pacific open to an American First Strike; to the US trillion-dollar nuclear upgrade, and the Pentagon’s development of insanely unnecessary and destabilizing weapons like the CPGS – “Conventional Prompt Global Strike” missile — the Russians have a number of reasons to fear the United States, and to distrust its intentions.

Right now, after the latest round of NATO expansion, in Estonia there are 800 English, Danish and French NATO troops and four German Typhoon military jets. In Latvia is a NATO battalion of 1,200 troops from Canada, Albania, Italy, Poland, Spain and Slovenia. In Lithuania is a German-led NATO battalion of 1,200 troops from Belgium, Croatia, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Norway, supported by four Dutch F-16 fighter jets. In Poland, there is a NATO battalion of 4,000 US troops, with heavy armor including 25 tanks, and Bradley fighting vehicles. 300 US marines are on rotation in Norway. As of this summer, four RAF Typhoon jets will be based in Romania to support NATO.

NewSTART is a diplomatic measure to somewhat reduce the US and Russian operational nuclear inventory. Instead of about 2,000 weapons, each side would have only 1,550 ready-to-go nukes. This is what the two Presidents discussed last week on the telephone. It is something, and almost nothing at the same time. Even if NewSTART is implemented, the numbers of nukes remain obscenely excessive, a genuine existential threat to both “sides”.

After his conversation about NewSTART with Mr. Putin, President Trump held a press conference and remarked,

By the way, it would be great if we could get along with Russia.
Just so you understand that. Tomorrow, you will say, “Donald Trump
wants to get along with Russia; this is terrible.” It is not terrible.

Nuclear holocaust would be like no other. They’re a very powerful
nuclear country, and so are we.

If Russia and the United States actually got together and got along —
and don’t forget, we’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they.
There’s no upside. We’re a very powerful nuclear country and so
are they. I have been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a
briefing that we’re allowed to say because anybody that ever read
the most basic book can say it, nuclear holocaust would be like no other.

They’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are we. If we have a
good relationship with Russia, believe me, that’s a good thing,
not a bad thing.

The President’s words were reported by Vox, under the headline “9 things it’s hard to believe the president of the United States just said.” (Jeff Stein, Feb 16, 2017)

The reporter is not a fan of President Trump, and presumably disapproves of these sentiments. It is, indeed, unusual for an American politician to discard the pious bombast and tell the press that Russia deserves respect and that a nuclear war between the US and Russia would be an inconceivable “holocaust”.

This portion of the President’s press conference was not widely reported.


Nuclear Power

As the United States expanded its nuclear weapons infrastructure, nuclear power was proposed as a concomitant benefit. Nuclear engines, we were told, would be installed in cities, homes, aircraft and cars. Nuclear power stations would provide energy “too cheap to meter”…

The reader already knows that this did not occur. Nuclear power plants proved subject to enormous cost overruns. Some failed catastrophically and had to be entombed in concrete. Some were abandoned before they were complete. The power stations which were constructed provided very expensive electricity. No matter, as far as the mandarins were concerned: nuclear power was the icing on the weapons cake — essential icing, nevertheless, since without nuclear plants and fuel cycle facilities there would be no Highly Enriched Uranium, and no Plutonium.

The history of nuclear power is one of optimistic lies, accidents, near-disasters, and cost overruns. Its legacy, literally, is toxic garbage.

There are many good sources if you’re interested in nuclear power, its failures, and its enthusiastic promotion by the nuclear weapons states. Let me turn to just one — an interview in the Bulletin with Brice Smith, a professor of physics at the State University of New York and the author of Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change. The interview ran in the Nov/Dec 2007 Bulletin.

Smith points out three “classic risks” of nuclear power: 1) the link between the fuel cycle and nuclear weapons proliferation; 2) the issue of reactor accidents; 3) the disposal of nuclear waste.

1) nuclear power generation is expensive and inefficient, but it puts the possessor of the facility well on the road to building an atomic bomb. This is why Israel bombed the Iraqi nuclear power facility at Osirak in June 1981, and why the US and Israel are obsessed with Iran’s attempts at atomic energy generation. Cuba began construction of a nuclear power plant in 1983 but never completed it. Fidel Castro’s son, Fidel Jr., trained as a nuclear engineer – I had the pleasure of meeting him a few years back and he is still an enthusiastic proponent of nuclear power. But the Juragua nuclear project was abandoned in 1992.

On the other hand, America’s allies are still encouraged to develop nuclear power complexes, and successive presidents winked as Israel, India and Pakistan all turned their nuclear power projects into weapons programs. Currently, with US approval, the United Arab Emirates is building nuclear power plants, while Saudi Arabia has also “embarked on a commercial nuclear power program that makes little economic sense, but could, if it becomes reality, aid a Saudi nuclear weapons program” (online Bulletin, 12/17/2013).

US policy of encouraging its client states to develop nuclear power is singularly stupid, since they don’t remain clients indefinitely, and before long will need to be bombed. In the early 1970s the Americans encouraged their proxies, the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, to develop nuclear power – using American technology, of course. In both cases a US ally soon became a US enemy. At which point the response was violence or apocalyptic threats — a good way to guarantee a blowback of violence and apocalyptic thinking in return.

Thirty-two countries that do not currently possess nuclear weapons own sufficient fissionable nuclear materials to construct them, some in a relatively short period of time. If one wishes to reduce the danger of nuclear weapons proliferation, one should remove the “fig leaf” of nuclear power.

2) if nukes as a means of electricity generation were left to the “invisible hand of the market”, they would not exist. Smith observes that reactor accidents are unique in the energy system as they are of statistically low probability, but potentially extremely catastrophic. There is literally no way to say how much damage – immediate and long-term – a power plant melt-down can cause. Chernobyl is still with us, its temporary concrete tomb cracking and in need of replacement; Fukushima is an ongoing disaster which continues to flood the atmosphere and ocean with radiation. Neither disaster has been contained, and there is no consensus as to the number of people killed or injured, nor as to the extent of the damage, nor what the final cost of “clean-up” – if it ever takes place – will be.

In circumstances where liability is unforeseeable and unlimited, no private insurance company will issue a policy. Thus it is with nuclear power: it is the state, not State Farm, who is the “insurer of last resort” – in other words, to have a nuclear power program, the government must guarantee that the taxpayer will pick up the entire tab when something goes wrong.

Ironically, nuclear power is anti-capitalist, a technology so risky and dangerous that the insurance marketplace won’t take a chance on it. So it relies on limitless taxpayer subsidies in order to survive.

3) waste disposal is probably the worst problem of all three, as it is so long-term. Since the time of the Manhattan Project, nuclear power has been generating volumes of extremely high-level radioactive waste. No one knows what to do with it. It is all still with us.

Smith says that the waste issue is even more problematic as “we don’t have a good way of understanding what it means to have a waste product whose peak risks occur thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of years in the future.” Consider that for a moment. When general readers such as you or I read about atomic “half life”, we tend to assume that the decay of nuclear material happens uniformly, and in a downward direction, and that as time passes the material becomes less dangerous, not more. This is not the case. Some forms of nuclear waste increase in radioactive toxicity as the years pass: Smith points out that much of the nuclear garbage military and civilian reactors have already accumulated is growing in toxicity, and will continue to do so for millennia.

In other words, stuff which is deadly now, and which we don’t know how to deal with, will be many times more deadly ten thousand or a hundred thousand years from now.

Consider what this means for us, as a species. What we call civilization is a few thousand years old. Christianity and capitalism have coexisted for two thousand years, at most. Most of the technology we use and think we cannot do without only appeared within the last two or three hundred years. Unless you believe a Divine Being is guiding humankind towards that City on the Hill, there is no reason to imagine our civilization will survive any particular length of time. Nuclear war, conventional war, disease, resource depletion, climate change, overpopulation — any one of these, or more likely a combination of several, could exhaust or even extinguish our current civilization within a few hundred years.

But the nuclear garbage will still be there, growing in poisonous toxicity, long after its creators have forgotten what it is.

And where will it be growing? The US plan has been, for several decades, to store its most toxic nuclear garbage under Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Poor Nevada! This lovely desert state has been the most ravaged of all by the military-industrial complex. A drive from Reno to Las Vegas will take you through a landscape of bunkers surrounding Hawthorne (which proudly proclaims itself “The World’s Largest Ammo Depot”), past the town of Mercury, which you are not allowed to enter and which is the dead centre of the US nuclear testing range, and skirting Creech Air Force Base (“Home of the Hunters”) where USAF Reaper and Predator drones are flight-tested.

How did Nevada get to be so lucky? Big state, small population, and an entirely predictable nexus between the mob, who run the brothels and casinos, and the military, who are among their customers.

Somehow, though, the plan to turn yet more of Nevada into a radioactive military playground has become bogged down. Patriotic to the core, Nevadans still aren’t keen on seeing their state turned into the permanent home of America’s most toxic nuclear waste.

The New York Times reassures its trusting readers that the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site is “now deemed safe.” US representative John Shimkus (a Republican from far-off Illinois) has declared: “Nuclear waste stored under that mountain, in that desert, surrounded by federal land, will be safe and secure for at least a million years.”

Only an American politician could come up with such positive, decisive, and exceptional thinking. A million years? Really?

In fact, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not yet approved Yucca Mountain as an underground repository for nuclear waste. When the site was chosen it was believed to be dry, but Yucca Mountain has turned out to be full of underground channels of flowing water. The canisters holding US nuclear waste are metal and subject to corrosion. Their life expectancy, according to the Energy Department, is one thousand years – after which the radioactive garbage will leak out and enter the water channels and the environment.

But worry not! The Energy Department has proposed a plan to the NRC to make Yucca mountain a viable dump after all: corrosion-resistant, titanium-alloy “drip shields” which will sit above the canisters of nuclear waste, preventing them from getting dripped on.

Given the enormous cost of these titanium shields, and the difficulty and precision of their installation, the Energy Department doesn’t plan to install them for a hundred years – presumably to spread the enormous cost of the repository over several generations. The idea is to stick the nuclear waste in there now, and forget about it. Then, in a hundred years time, robots will go in, carrying the five-ton drip shields, and meticulously install them.

That is the official plan. Stick the nuclear garbage under Yucca Mountain now, forget about it for 100 years, and then robots will fix it. Robots which don’t currently exist. Because the canisters will already be leaking radioactivity, and it won’t be safe for humans to venture into those tunnels for hundreds of thousands of years…

“Realistically, a century into the project, the underground tunnels would have deteriorated considerably and collapsed in part. Dust would sharply limit visibility. The tunnels would have to be cleared of rubble for a remotely operated underground rail system to transport robotic equipment and the five-ton drip shields to the waste canisters. The shields would then have to be installed end-to-end, so as to form a continuous metal cover inside the tunnels, obviously a delicate, complex, and extremely expensive operation. Is it reasonable to believe that after 100 years, with the nuclear waste in the repository long out of the public mind, that Congress would appropriate enormous sums of money for the Energy Department to go back into the tunnels to install the shields? Can we really rely on an agency that hasn’t yet cleaned up a nationwide radioactive mess that dates from World War II to keep a promise that it will do something a century into the future? Will there even be an Energy Department in 100 years?”

Those were the words of physicist Victor Glinksy, who worked for the State of Nevada, which opposes the insane robots-will-save-us scheme. You can read his excellent piece about the current state of Yucca Mountain here.

Climate Change

Over the last decade or two there’s been a trend among some Greens to say that nuclear power should be forgiven its terminal vices, and embraced as a “carbon-neutral” or even “carbon-friendly” energy source, given the threat of global warming. The nuclear industry and its media supporters have promoted such claims with vigor, but they have not brought about a nuclear power renaissance.

There are two clear objections to this argument, I think: 1) George Monbiot’s new-found enthusiasm notwithstanding, nuclear power is far from “carbon free” or “carbon neutral” and 2) the nuclear power and weapons industries are interlinked, and if a nuclear war occurs, all bets are off regarding climate change.

1) The claim that nuclear power is eco-friendly is easily addressed. It’s the same fallacy as the notion that having your groceries delivered by solar powered drone helps the environment.

Mechanical things like cars or power plants don’t just exist at the moment of fueling, or fuel consumption. They have to be made. They have to be maintained. And, when no longer useful, they have to be disposed of. Where were the metals in your Tessla mined? What powered the plastics factory? The true environmental cost of a thing must include both manufacture and disposal. So, in the case of nuclear power, the plant has to be built, with metal and concrete and plastics and glass and cement mixers. Construction of a power plant consumes an enormous quantity of gas and diesel and electricity. Once the nuclear plant’s built, it has to be protected – by fire trucks and security guards in cop cars and armored vehicles, for the duration of its life.

None of this is ‘green’. If it takes tonnes of burned carbon to make a brand-new car car, imagine the carbon contribution of a brand-new nuclear power plant to the atmosphere.

And then there is the waste. Which no one knows what to do with. So, long after the plant has ceased to operate, it sits there, under guard, or gets trucked around the country, or gets dumped illegally, in a landfill or off-shore.

2) Nuclear power produces the fire-power for nuclear weapons: HEU and Plutonium. To rely on nuclear for power generation guarantees a continued supply of material which can be used as  warheads, or as bombs. The more nuclear power plants, the more countries developing nuclear power facilities, the more likely the spread of nuclear weapons technology, and of nuclear weapons.

Since Lynn Eden’s book was published, other authors have delved further into the results of mass fires started by atom bombs and a picture has emerged of their likely impact on the climate.

It is the exact opposite of what scientists currently anticipate as “climate change.”

A majority of scientists believe that global warming is taking place, and that it is mainly caused by man. It’s the scientific consensus that temperatures are rising as a result of anthropogenic releases of carbon, methane, and other gases into the atmosphere. If the temperature continues to rise at its current rate, there will be mass extinctions, and a rise in sea-levels which will make many coastal areas uninhabitable. The rise in temperature will stress agriculture, and almost all the surviving life-forms.

Despite the efforts of the Fossil Fuel Party in the United States, most governments of the world acknowledge that the temperature is rising, that this climate change is man-made, and have begun to make some small efforts to combat it. World-wide, politicians, scientists and the media focus on the danger of global warming and the need to mitigate it, or combat it. Some activists call for a declaration of “war” on climate change. As a pacifist and a Green I’m not keen on that particular characterization of the struggle, but I have a more fundamental criticism of this heroic focus on global warming.

It may not happen. A belief that the planet’s temperature will rise by five degrees by the year 2100, say, is predicated on an expectation of continued capitalist growth and human population increase. Most academics and politicians are drawing up plans to combat global warming – with the best intentions – based on the notion that ahead of us lie eighty years of relative world peace. Perhaps their calculations include a number of regional, non-nuclear wars, fought also with the very best intentions. But they cannot include a serious nuke war in their calculations, because that would cause an entirely different catastrophe.

If a nuclear war takes place, instead of a gradual, predictable global warming, the northern hemisphere (which is where that war will occur) will undergo a sudden, unpredictable but severe cooling. The ensuing climactic changes will affect the entire planet.

Steven Starr, the Director of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at the University of Missouri, has written a paper on the state of scientific understanding – in 2008 and 2009 – of the environmental consequences of nuclear war. He also discusses a right-wing backlash to the original notion of nuclear winter which seems to have operated very effectively two decades ago. His piece is titled The Catastrophic Climactic Consequences of Nuclear Conflict.

In the case of a “small” nuclear war, in which two countries attack each other’s cities with 50 Hiroshima-size bombs, Starr writes:

“Although there would not be enough sunlight blocked to create a “nuclear winter”, the massive smoke emissions from the fires of a small “regional” nuclear war would cause a global climate change unprecedented in human history. In a matter of days, average temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere would become colder than any experienced during the last 1000 years. Growing seasons in the middle latitudes would immediately be significantly shortened, completely eliminating some crops that had insufficient time to reach maturity.”

So a war between India and China would result not only in millions of deaths in both countries and widespread radiation, but also harvest failure, disruption of agriculture, and famine. (Researchers believe that as many as a billion people might be threatened by famine following this “small” nuclear war).

Starr reports that for three years, the temperature worldwide would drop by 1.25 degrees Celsius. For ten years, the ozone layer would be seriously depleted, with unpredictable results.

Using more powerful computers, the same researchers modeled the climactic results of what they called “moderate” and “large” nuclear wars between the US and Russia. In the “moderate” scenario, one third of the global nuclear arsenal (1,667 megatons) was used. In the “large” war scenario, the whole arsenal – 5,000 megatons – was exploded. Following the “moderate” war, the world’s temperature would drop by 4 degrees Celsius. The “large war” would be followed by a temperature drop of 8 degrees. Researchers with even more powerful software found these figures conservative, and estimated that a “large” war would be followed by temperature drops of 20-30 degrees.

No matter what the scenario, then, nuclear war between the United States and Russia means the end of civilization, and possibly the end of the species itself. Agriculture would fail completely and daily minimum temperatures would be below freezing…

Starr concludes: “we cannot allow our political and military leaders to ignore the grave threats which their nuclear arsenals pose to the global environment and human existence… The environmental consequences of nuclear war must be included as primary considerations in the ongoing debate about the abolition of nuclear arsenals… The US and Russia must recognize the senselessness of continued planning for a nuclear first-strike, which if launched would make the whole world – including their own country – uninhabitable.”

Global warming or a post-nuclear ice age? Which does the reader think more likely: decade upon decade of world peace? or a nuclear war?