Nuclear Options

Well, it would appear that time flies even when you’re not having fun. But, after a holiday filled with car-shopping, a nasty cold, and retail therapy, there’s still no choice but to face 2014. So, we will head out together into the future with clear eyes, open hearts, and higher ambitions.

Valerie Plame picOn to business. I think the latest thing to be published was my interview with Valerie Plame Wilson, the former intelligence operative who was outed by the White House because a gang of thugs were mad that Joe Wilson didn’t come back from Africa with their excuse for starting a war wrapped up with a nice little bow. Let me tell you, she was seriously cool. I was glad the timing meant we got to meet in person. Yes, she’s as attractive and articulate as she seems on television but I was really struck by how opinionated she was. During our interview, we touched on a wide variety of subjects ranging from her father, about whom she told a great story about wiring up the White House for military communications, to international terrorism and the latest security leaks a la Ed Snowden. She’s written a terrific novel called Blowback, and it’s definitely worth picking up the next time you have a long flight ahead of you.

CommandIn associated news, you can catch my interview with Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) about his six-year investigation into “Broken Arrow” incidents in America, all featured in his nonfiction account Command and Control. This is seriously terrifying stuff, and Schlosser has reported on a lot of these incidents for the first time. The primary narrative of the book is about the infamous “Damascus Incident,” in which I cheerfully discovered  that all of Arkansas was nearly vaporized in the early eighties because of a dropped wrench. If that doesn’t scare the bejesus out of you, consider the 1961 incident in which not one, but two atomic weapons were dropped over Greensboro, North Carolina, and every single detonation switch was triggered—except for the last one. Sleep on that one. He explained to me that it all comes down to a relatively simple principle.

“The “Titanic Effect” was a phrase that was coined by early software designers who were trying to create systems that could not crash, or were in critical infrastructure devices where if they fail, people might get hurt or killed,” he said. “The Titanic Effect describes the environment in which the safer you think a system is, the more reliable you assume the system to be, the more dangerous it’s actually capable of becoming. It’s sort of a constant awareness of the system’s danger that makes it safer. It’s a way to avoid getting complacent. That complacency may be the greatest danger of all when it comes to nuclear weapons. You can’t guarantee that they won’t detonate accidentally.

USA NoirFinally, you can also read what was a very funny interview with Akashic Books publisher-slash-rock star Johnny Temple about urban noir and the most famous children’s book parody in modern history (the feature is NSFW, language-wise, by sheer necessity), as well as a Q&A with Howard Willen, the last surviving supervisory staff member of the Warren Commission, who revealed a ton of nefarious acts on the part of the FBI during the investigation of the Kennedy assassination.

All right, that’s all for the moment. I have a Booker Prize winner to tangle with in the morning, and then we’ll see what else the rest of this strange year brings.