The near misses that spawned 207 nuclear war songs

nuclear-war-bomb
Hydrogen bomb explosion – image by www.pixabay.com

Ok, it’s a rough tally and not all of the songs about nuclear war on the Wikipedia list below were written in the 1980s. But many of them surfaced after the nuclear missile conflict near-miss of 1983. Millennials and even Gen Yrs may have been agog at the two nuclear missile false alarms broadcast in Hawaii and Japan recently, but there are precedents.

In October 1962, Russian naval officer Vasil Arkhipov intervened in the imminent launch of a nuclear torpedo, thus preventing the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 from escalating. At the time, US and Russian naval fleets were posturing in waters off Cuba, where Russia was building missile silos.

Arkhipov, a naval officer aboard a B-50 Soviet submarine, somehow knew something his captain did not; that the depth charges being dropped by the US destroyer Beale were practice rounds, designed to deter. As other US destroyers joined in the “mock” attack Captain Valentin Savitsky, assuming World War III had broken out, ordered that the sub’s 10-kiloton nuclear torpedo be prepared for firing. This required the permission of three on-board senior officers, but Arkhipov refused. Had the torpedo been fired (at the aircraft carrier USS Randolph), this would inevitably have triggered US retaliation.

Last year the BBC interviewed retired Soviet Colonel Stanislav Petrov, another brave Russian who averted nuclear war in 1983.

“In the early hours of September 26, 1983, the Soviet Union’s early-warning systems detected an incoming missile strike from the US. Computer readouts suggested several missiles had been launched,” the BBC report began. “The protocol for the Soviet military would have been to retaliate with a nuclear attack of its own.

“But duty officer Stanislav Petrov – whose job it was to register apparent enemy missile launches – decided not to report them to his superiors, and instead dismissed them as a false alarm.”

In doing so, Petrov defied his instructions (to pass the information up the chain of command). But he was right.

Lieutenant Colonel Petrov, now living the quiet life in a small Russian village, used his common sense and decided (risking a posting to Siberia), to bypass his superiors. Bravo, Stan.

“I had all the data [to suggest there was an ongoing missile attack]. If I had sent my report up the chain of command, nobody would have said a word against it,” he told the BBC’s Russian Service, 30 years after that overnight shift.

At least half of the (anti) nuclear war songs in this Wikipedia list were released in 1983 or over the following six years, with another big flurry in 1989. Call it the Chernobyl Factor if you must.

This is by no means a comprehensive list (my 1981 song ‘The Almost Armageddon Waltz’, for example, is not included). The earliest nuclear war protest songs surfaced in the 1950s – Tom Lehrer’s ‘We’ll all go together when we go” and the Kingston Trio’s ‘Merry Minuet.’

Of the earlier material, no-one IMHO will ever top Randy Newman’s ‘Political Science’ (1972) with its wry reference to Down Under (“…we’ll save Australia, don’t want to hurt no kangaroo, we’ll build an all-American amusement park there, they’ve got surfing too…”

(Randy at the piano)

Given the average time nominated between the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and the strike (about 40 minutes), you could look up a dozen of these songs on YouTube and spend your last hour on earth with your favourite tipple/best girl or boy listening to these ‘told you so’ warnings from the likes of Peter Tosh, Barry McGuire, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Bruce Cockburn, Pink Floyd/Roger Waters, Tears for Fears and Sepultura, to name but a few.

You’d think Australian bands would not rate much of a mention on this list – we are after all 5,500 kms away from the nearest nuclear missile threat. Nevertheless, Redgum, Midnight Oil (3), INXS, Men at Work, Icehouse and the Urban Guerillas get a mention. There is also this obscure dance tune, ‘Dream home in New Zealand’, by the British ska band, The English Beat.

You won’t understand a word but you can just put it on repeat and groove the minutes away (ee-yo-yo, ee-yo-yo).

Then there’s Weird Al Yankovic’s merry Yuletide ditty, ‘Christmas at ground Zero’, with its weirdly prophetic line “The radio just let us know that this is not a test.”

I have no idea how this little ripper was overlooked for our Christmas playlist, but there’s always next year, isn’t there?

It’s good to have satirists like Randy Newman and Weird Al to keep us focused on the importance of being dryly fatalistic about the portent of a nuclear winter.

The questions should be: if humble songwriters can be so wise, why are world leaders so dumb? Why are the systems they put in place to avoid accidental nuclear war so downright flawed?

Lately a few stories have come to light that suggest North Korea has the missile capacity to strike Darwin, some 5,500kms away from Pyongyang. I don’t recall North Korea’s leader making direct threats about Australia or our relationship with the US military. But given the presence of a US Marine Corps in Darwin, I’d say we are on the list.

There is understandable global angst about the world’s lack of control over nuclear weapons and the rogue states which have them. The phrase “accidental nuclear war” is now very much in the lexicon.

The Future of Life Institute maintains a timeline of close calls on its website. This is scary stuff.

As commentators have pointed out, since last week’s Hawaiian misstep and this week’s gaffe by Japanese early warning systems, either incident could have sent the respective antagonists in this psycho-drama scurrying to press their big buttons.

People who research nuclear near-misses are careful to point out that they only know about the (de-classified) incidents involving the US. Data on near-misses and accidents in nuclear states like India, Pakistan and North Korea are not so readily available.

These two incidents of operator-error will no doubt result in a slew of reviews and overhauls of early warning systems. They may also give rise to another crop of anti-nuclear war songs.

If you care to delve into the list of (anti) nuclear war songs, be warned, the quality is uneven and heavy metal bands (Anthrax, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Black Sabbath) are over- represented. But there are also some thoughtful ballads (Kate Bush, Fred Small and this one, by The Postal Service (‘We will become silhouettes’).

People of the Left claim that wars of any type are started (and sustained) to keep the military-industrial complex ticking over.

I was so intrigued by the title of this 1982 Dead Kennedys song I checked it out – could have been written yesterday!

‘Kinky Sex Makes the World Go ‘Round’ has little to do with sex, or music for that matter. Instead we have a 508-word monologue accompanied by punk rhythms presented as a telephone conversation between the US Secretary of War (‘the companies want a war’), and a breathless (female) UK Prime Minister (‘oh, that sounds marvellous.’)

“We knew you’d agree – the companies will be pleased.”

Dead Kennedys

Next week, maybe.

Flashback (September 2017), June 2015

 

 

 

 

In praise of the small caravan

small caravan at Barkly Homestead Roadhouse, NT

It’s hard to estimate just how many kilometres we’ve clocked up touring around in this little Jayco pop-top caravan, but it’s a lot. Probably close to 100,000. We bought the van back in late 2011, after an exhaustive search for a small, older caravan. We decided that as we did not know if we’d enjoy caravanning or not, it seemed wisest to spend as little money as possible.

Eventually we bought ‘The Tardis’ from a retired aeronautical engineer, a Mr Fussy who’d looked after the 1984 caravan meticulously, kept it under cover and added luxury extras like electric brakes and LED lights, as well as small truck tyres to give extra clearance. There was an awning too, stored away under the beds (more on that later).

Done all the dumb things

Caravanners would probably agree, but you never stop learning. You never, ever stop doing dumb things (like not putting the chocks back in the van; instead driving them into the turf as you leave). One of our neighbours at Castle Rock campground at Girraween confessed he had once driven out of a camp site with stabilisers still down. This is not recommended. The same could be said for not properly clipping down the front window, not locking the van door and forgetting to undo the safety chains before you drive the car away! (Guilty as charged, on all counts. Ed)

Most of the National Park campers we encountered recently were in relatively modest rigs – a few A-vans, a couple of camper trailers and one caravan even older than ours. There were also a lot of tents, a lot of kids and not an IPad to be seen anywhere.

Not a small caravan

You don’t often see rigs like the one above in national parks. The access defeats them and there’s usually not enough room to park a beast like this (the sides push out, making for a large living room). I believe this one also had a washing machine and dryer. For $100,000 or more (including vehicle), you could have one too.

We saw many rigs like this (and larger) on our three month, round-Australia trip in 2014. There was a rig we saw in Alice that also had a trailer on the back towing a small Suzuki 4WD. On the back of the 4WD was a bike rack and two bikes!

Meanwhile we have learned how to eat, sleep, make love and play scrabble in a 12ft caravan. There have been occasions when we coveted more space, a toilet and shower even, but they are few in number.

Our caravan is simplicity itself. We arrive, pick a spot, reverse in (easy), put the jockey wheel on, detach the car, get the van level and push the roof up. Job done.

We should have kept a log book. The top photo was snapped at the Barkly Roadhouse in the Northern Territory. I was taken by the contrast between our humble rig and the ‘B-Triple’ cattle train.

Our most recent van trip between Christmas and New Year and beyond was to Girraween National Park via Brisbane, Warwick and Yangan. Our sister-in-law had a houseful prior to and including Christmas, so we parked the van next to her house on the bayside and did some ‘home camping’.

Onwards to Girraween where we found a quiet spot near some other campers, who appeared to be camping as an extended family.

This was the trip where, apart from the super moon and the blessed silence after 9pm, we made two amazing discoveries about our caravan. One, I found out how to light the grill! The van has a full-sized oven and cook top that runs off gas. To light the grill and make toast, I finally discovered, you open the oven door, turn on the grill and stick a match underneath. Not what you’d call rocket science, but we had tried various ways of lighting the grill in the past, but nothing worked.

The second thing, given we were going to be staying a few nights, was to put up the awning (left) − an old-style canvas sheet which has to be threaded into a channel along the roof of the caravan, then pegged out with poles and ropes. Believe it or not, this was a first. Now, with a bit of wax for the sail track and a few extra tent pegs, we can achieve this every time we stay more than one night. #feelingsmug

It’s been around, this little van. And, I’d need to add that we have seen smaller ones – 10 footers with a door at the rear. A six-footer with a home-made tilt-top and a few slide-on vans that sit on the backs of utes. There are also bubble vans so small you could probably tow one with a motorcycle.

Ours has been hither and yon – the first big trip in 2012 to the Man from Snowy River festival at Cooma, the National Folk Festival in Canberra and home again. We did a big northern trip in 2013, to Cairns and Karumba, across country to the Territory and back in a loop that took in Budjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park and home, via western Queensland. Then the big trip in 2014, road-testing our near-new Ford Territory (which had only 9,000 kms on the clock). On reflection, we should have gone for six months, as Western Australia is far too large to whiz through in a month.

We’ve also taken this rig to the Blue Mountains for the music festival and that was when we discovered the leaks we’d fixed were, er, not fixed.

So I went to K Mart and bought a really big tarpaulin for $30 and we threw it over the entire van. Try doing that in a fifth wheeler.

Caravans – a money drain or a hobby for DIY types

We have spent some money on the van, it’s true. The first time was when heavy local rain seeped in and destroyed the kitchen bench top, which we then had replaced with marine ply (after fixing the leaks). Then when our local mechanic checked the tyres, he concluded they were so old they didn’t even have identifier numbers on them. So $400 later we were back in business and feeling safe. We’ve had lots of spot jobs done on the road (the insides of our three-way fridge fell to pieces after being taken on the Lawn Hill road) but a smart young guy in Mt Isa fixed it for $130. Another chap in Mt Isa stayed back on a Friday night to fashion new aluminium hinges to repair the van door which had come adrift. An artful fellow with a van repair business near Sunshine Coast Airport recently fixed everything on the van that didn’t work properly and replaced worn wheel bearings.

Not a small caravan No 2 (is that a quad bike on the back?)

Some people, we found, are permanently on the road, hence the need for impressive rigs like this (left). Others make do nicely with vans as small as the one below.

Very small caravan

I fondly remember on one of our first forays north stumbling upon a former work colleague, retired from newspaper life, travelling with his wife in an old 10ft van with single beds. “It’s all we need,” said Roy, getting his fiddle out for a few campfire tunes.

As an old fella we met in the NT, towing a 30-year-old van with an aged Kingswood* said, when a fifth-wheeler rig roared past: “Aw, he’s just showin’ orf.”

*Holden Kingswood, the classic car for everyman, produced from 1968-1984.

More reading : an outback travelogue from 2014

 

The changing language of disability

The changing language of disability: I briefly met the deputy editor of The Conversation, Charis Palmer, in December, at the launch of the Yearbook. I handed her my card and told her my weekly blog had been running for three and a half years. I said I often quoted articles from The Conversation as I considered it an accurate and balanced source.

“Well don’t forget you can re-publish any of our articles, anytime,” she said before being descended upon by fans of The Conversation.

In just six years, The Conversation, with its evidence-based stories written by academics and curated by journalists, has gathered an audience of 5.2 million, extrapolated to 35 million via republication in other outlets. The following article by Professor Roly Sussex digs into the background of the language of disability. As he observes at one point, perhaps the pendulum of political correctness has swung too far the other way.

One example of this is the new Mental Health Act in Queensland, where psychiatric wards become ‘mental health units’, patients become ‘consumers’ and family members ‘carers’ or ‘loved ones.’ It has to be said that however stodgy the language sounds, it is an improvement on words like ‘inmates’.

Sad to say people today still use words like ‘moron,’ ‘retard,’ or the less insulting but now redundant deaf, dumb, blind or lame.

I hope you enjoy this erudite piece from Prof Roly Sussex, Queensland’s popular man of letters.

From ‘demented’ to ‘person with dementia’: how and why the language of disability changed

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The initial aim of political correctness, to establish non-hateful language was, and still is, admirable.
Nathan Anderson/Unsplash

Roland Sussex, The University of Queensland

In the second half of the 20th century, we came to accept that in certain cases we should avoid deliberately hurtful language. While many deride political correctness for going too far, its initial aim to establish non-hateful language was, and still is, admirable.

In the early 20th century, “moron” was a medical term for someone with a mental age of between eight and 12. “Mongol” was a person with Down syndrome, and also was indirectly a slur on people from Mongolia, some of whose features were supposed to resemble those with Down syndrome. “Retarded” described someone mentally, socially or physically less advanced than their chronological age.

We know these terms now primarily as pejoratives. “Mongol”, following the Australian tendency to form diminutives, has even given us “mong”, meaning someone who is stupid or behaves as such. Yet there is also a consensus such language is unacceptable. How did we get here?

The path to dignified language

In December 1948, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Affirming the dignity of all humans, Article 1 of this landmark document states:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2 goes on to specify this should apply

without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

The declaration, prompted by the dehumanising events of the second world war, soon led to concerted initiatives to avoid hurtful and denigrating language.

Race and ethnicity was the first area to be addressed in Australia, where the philosophy of respect was enshrined in the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975. This included the currently controversial section 18C, which made it an offence to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone else on the basis of race or nationality.


Read more – What is Section 18C and why do some politicians want it changed?


In the 1980s the scope was expanded in Australia to include gender and sexuality, with the legitimisation of terms like “queer”, and an increasing range of different kinds of sexuality now evident in the LGBTQI designations.

Words like ‘deaf’ and ‘blind’ are commonly used in negative ways.
from shutterstock.com

The third big change involved the language for people with disabilities, whether cognitive or physical. Here the English vocabulary was full of terms that mixed description with pejorative overtones.

People first

Words like “deaf”, “blind”, “dumb” and “lame” are not only descriptions of physical ability and disability, but are commonly used in negative ways. For instance, “deaf as a post”, “blind Freddie”.

We have now moved away from such language. Especially unacceptable are nouns like “retard” or adjectives like “demented”. In their place we have the principle of people first. The person and the disability are separated.

Instead of a phrase like “demented person” we have “person with dementia” or “person living with dementia”. The New South Wales Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care has a list of such terms.

We should avoid terms that suggest deficit in a negative way, such as “disabled”, “invalid”, “retarded”, “handicap”, “spastic” and “cripple”. We should also avoid terms that explicitly specify limitation like “confined” (say, to a wheelchair). “Suffering from” is to be eschewed for the same reason, since it suggests the person is passive and incapable.


Read more – Redefining the (able) body: disabled performers make their presence felt at the Fringe


A number of paraphrases allow us to avoid sensitive terms. Instead of “blind” we have “visually impaired”. People are not “disabled” but “differently abled”.

Some of these terms can go too far and are effectively euphemisms because they sound overdone and excessively delicate, like “intellectually challenged”.

It is preferable to use language that doesn’t exclude people with these conditions from society. A good example of such inclusive language is “ambulant toilet”, often found in airports and public places, which simply indicates the toilet is suitable for anyone able to walk.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 consolidated these issues in Australian legislation, which now forms part of an expanding suite of anti-discrimination legislation both here and overseas.

Ambulant toilet is a good use of inclusive language.
shutterstock.com

Talking to someone with a disability

A general guideline for talking to someone with a certain condition is to ask that person how they wish to be described. In some cases, words like “deaf” have been reclaimed by bodies like the National Association of the Deaf in the US. The presence of the capital letter legitimises the term’s use, so long as it is done respectfully. In a similar way, various gender groups have reclaimed the word “queer”, and the fact they use it licenses others to do so too.

The requirement for respectful and considerate speech is not just a matter of good manners; it has teeth. Governments, education systems, companies, societies and other bodies often have guidelines for language use for people with disabilities.


Read more – Political correctness: its origins and the backlash against it


The US National Institutes of Health recommends “intellectually and developmentally disabled” or “IDD” for people with Down syndrome. Bodies like Dementia Australia have language recommendations.

Institutions and governments can apply a variety of sanctions to people who violate this principle in a persistent and hurtful way. These principles are now common in the English-speaking world and countries of the European Union, especially as enshrined in its Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The ConversationIn little more than a generation and half, we have become a more caring and inclusive society, and one much more aware of the importance of avoiding hurtful language. We don’t always get the expression right. But we are getting better at seeing the effect of what we say and write from the point of view of others.

Roland Sussex, Professor Emeritus, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Take me to your leader – the quest continues

leader-politics
(Leader image, old man in park taking time out from politics and spin), Bob Wilson circa 1978

Imagine a flying saucer lands in your back yard and an alien (drooling or not) alights.

“Take me to your leader,” it telepathically commands, as it is from an advanced civilisation, intent upon savings ours.

“Aw yeah, mate.” (pointing). “That’s our leader over there, the one in the striped designer shirt, mingling with the homeless folk.”

If you dig around on the Internet long enough you’ll find lists of world leaders people would rather not introduce to their granny, never mind to an alien. The lists are usually described as ‘the 10 or 20 worst world leaders’ and include despots like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir.

Alas Malcolm Turnbull, PM of Australia; the only list I found him on was the ‘hottest heads of state’ leader ladder, languishing in 12th place behind total spunks like Canada’s Justin Trudeau, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, France’s Emmanuel Macron or Haiti’s Jovenal Moise.

One ought not to touch on politics when striking up conversations at Christmas parties. At one such event, I ventured that the Australian Federal Government was having an ‘Annus Horribilis’ and seemed incapable of making firm and sensible decisions.

I had voiced what I thought was a commonly-held theory, but soon found out what I should have known; on average, at least one-third of people voted for that motley group of indecisive dual citizens who went to work on just 64 days in 2017.

“So what do you think about Turnbull’s piss-weak energy policy?” I began at another Xmas do, when I probably should have said, “Strange weather for this time of year, don’t you think?”

That person moved away, but left me a clean run at the cheese platter.

From my point of view, the LNP in Canberra blundered from one disaster to another in 2017, momentarily making itself look good by introducing marriage equality laws, which in truth should have been enshrined in 1980-something. The poll was estimated to cost the taxpayer $122 million and then we endured weeks of angst while the same-sex marriage law was debated, after 61.6% of the 79.5% of people who voted had told them that’s what they wanted in the first place.

The great shame, or should I say sham, is that the Turnbull government, deliberately or not, distracted the people from more serious issues (climate change, the Adani coal mine, Manus Island), by turning the same-sex marriage debate into an expensive, non-binding referendum-style exercise. They could have used one of those 64 sitting days to have a free vote. We’d have achieved the same result and deployed the $122 million to more laudable outcomes (like finding emergency accommodation for the 6,000 or so Australians who sleep rough each night).

We’ve seen from recent State elections and Federal by-elections that the people are not happy with the mainstream parties. The drift towards the Greens on one side and One Nation on the other mimics the rise of populism the world over.

Political commentator Michelle Grattan, speaking at the launch of The Conversation Yearbook in Brisbane, said so many people in Australia are disgusted with politics they are ‘‘tuning out”

“People think (politicians) are behaving badly, because they are behaving badly. They (politicians) alienate the public – they are aware of it, but it’s beyond them to regain the people’s trust.”

Grattan said focus groups in north Queensland, ahead of the State elections, saw through Malcolm Turnbull’s ploy to cancel a week’s parliamentary sittings. This was ostensibly to allow the House and the Senate to resolve the citizenship issue and to work through the same sex marriage debate.

But here’s the thing: the NQ focus groups didn’t much like Malcolm Turnbull, but neither did they warm to Bill Shorten as an alternative leader.

The Queensland election continued a national, if not international trend: voters are fed up with mainstream parties and are casting their votes elsewhere.

In Queensland, 30.9% of first preference votes went to minority parties, while the informal vote was higher than average, at 4.58%. In the Bennelong Federal by-election, 10 minor parties grabbed 19.15% of the first preference primary vote, although that did not stop the LNP’s John Alexander (45.05%) taking the seat.

So what else happened in 2017?

While it wasn’t a party political issue, the rise of the social media hashtag #MeToo movement had its high point when Time Magazine chose #MeToo as its influential “Person of the Year”.

If you had been living under a rock, #MeToo is a movement where women who have been harassed, assaulted, bullied and otherwise vilified (primarily by men), came out and stood with their sisters.

The movement started with casting-couch revelations about Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein and flushed out similarly bad behaviour all over the world. The Australia media chimed in, outing former TV gardening host Don Burke for a series of alleged indiscretions. Sydney’s Telegraph made an allegation about Australian actor Geoffrey Rush, who responded with a writ for defamation.

On a more positive note, 2017 turned up an unlikely winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize went to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The organization received the award for drawing attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.

There were other examples of positive news in 2017, amid the political scandals, terrorist attacks, humanitarian crises and natural disasters.

A December 19 report by Katrina Sichlau, News Corp Australia Network, found that renewable energy employed 10 million people worldwide.

(Aside – that makes the Queensland Premier’s contested claim that the proposed Adani coal mine would employ 10,000 people look rather sad).

The same article said France and Britain had launched a Clean Air Plan which will make sense to people who have visited either country this year or last. In a year when Queensland’s land-clearing reached Brazil-like proportions, Pakistan planted one billion trees.

If I may add to this optimistic list, New Zealand elected a woman in her 30s as Prime Minister (Jacinda Ardern), largely at the whim of (Queen)-maker Winston Peters, a veteran politician who saw sense in forming an alliance with the savvy young Labour leader.

Probably the less we say about Donald Trump the better, as he seems to thrive on publicity, be it good or bad. Trump continues to use Twitter like a flame-thrower, this year setting diplomatic fires in North Korea, Israel, and Germany and within the US itself.

Trump reportedly plans to go ahead with a visit to the UK in 2018, despite the recent twitter row with UK PM Theresa May. If you’ll recall, Trump retweeted videos posted by radical right group Britain First, inaccurately blaming Muslims in the UK for terrorist attacks.

There has been much misreporting about Trump’s ‘working’ visit to the UK. The White House at one point thanked the Queen for her “gracious invitation” to meet with President Trump at Buckingham Palace. The Guardian Weekly reported on December 15 that a formal state visit was not envisaged. “The Queen is likely to be preoccupied with preparations for a Commonwealth summit.”

As myth-buster Snopes points out, there is a long standing tradition that the Queen does not intervene in political disputes.

We wish you all an ‘annus mirabilis’ in 2018.