Sixty years ago yesterday, on 30 October 1961, the Soviet Union detonated the most destructive bomb ever designed:
The bhangmeter results and other data suggested the bomb yielded around 58 Mt (243 PJ), which was the accepted yield in technical literature until 1991, when Soviet scientists revealed that their instruments indicated a yield of 50 Mt (209 PJ). As they had the instrumental data and access to the test site, their yield figure has been accepted as more accurate. In theory, the bomb would have had a yield in excess of 100 Mt (418 PJ) if it had included the uranium-238 fusion tamper which figured in the design but which was omitted in the test to reduce radioactive fallout. Because only one bomb was built to completion, that capability has never been demonstrated. The remaining bomb casings are located at the Russian Atomic Weapon Museum in Sarov and the Museum of Nuclear Weapons, All-Russian Scientific Research Institute Of Technical Physics, in Snezhinsk.
In the summer of 2020, Russia declassified a 40-minute documentary film about the explosion, which you can watch here:
It's fascinating, not only for its direct content, but also for the historical fun of trying to figure out which parts are total lies and which parts are merely whitewashing. (When they start talking about the lack of significant explosion effects on nearby settlements, that game gets more interesting.)
I was pretty busy today, with most of my brain trying to figure out how to re-architect something that I didn't realize needed it until recently. So a few things piled up in my inbox:
And finally, Whisky Advocate has four recipes that balance whisky and Luxardo Maraschino cherries. I plan to try them all, but not in one sitting.
Some of these will actually have to wait until tomorrow morning:
And now, I will feed the dog.
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, which burned for two days and left 100,000 people homeless. But only for a short time; by 1874, when the city had a second big fire, our population had already grown by about that number.
Flash forward to now:
Finally, last night I attended an actual live theater performance for the first time in 19 months, and it was amazeballs. If you live in Chicago, right now you need to go to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater website and buy tickets to As You Like It, which plays through November 21st.
Just as I did a year ago, I'm planning to walk up to Lake Bluff today, and once again the weather has cooperated. I'll take cloudy skies and 25°C for a 43-kilometer hike. (I would prefer 20°C and cloudy, but I'll take 25°C anyway.)
As I enjoy my breakfast in my sunny, airy office right now, mentally preparing for a (literal) marathon hike, life feels good. Well, until I read these things:
And hey, all you other Chicago athletes, good news! The City now has a website where you can find out the likelihood of the Chicago River giving you explosive diarrhea!
Only about 7 more hours of meteorological summer remain in Chicago. I opened my windows this afternoon for the first time in more than two weeks, which made debugging a pile of questionable code* more enjoyable.
Said debugging required me to put these aside for future reading:
Finally, one tiny bit of good news: more Americans believe in evolution than ever before, perhaps due to the success of the SARS-COV-2 virus at evolving.
Goodbye, Summer 2021. It's been a hoot.
* Three guesses who wrote the questionable code. Ahem.
The last US airplane left Afghanistan today, ending our presence in the country:
A White House official said Monday that since the Taliban took control of Kabul in mid-August, the U.S. had evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 116,700 people. Since the end of July, the U.S. has relocated approximately 122,300 people, the official said.
A State Department memo obtained by NBC News Sunday said that the agency had begun evacuating remaining diplomatic workers on two planes carrying U.S. government employees, and secured all locally employed U.S. Embassy staff members, processing the last three buses and evacuating 2,800 employees and family members, according to the cable.
On Sunday, about 250 Americans remained in Afghanistan and were seeking to leave the country, according to a State Department spokesperson, who said that assistance was being coordinated “around the clock for this group.” The official said that those Americans might already be at the airport in Kabul or “in the process of being guided there, and all have information on how to reach us.”
The State Department was also in touch Sunday with about 280 additional people who identified themselves as Americans but were either undecided about leaving Afghanistan or said that they did not intend to leave.
Almost 20 years of war, and we did no better than the Russians and the British before us. And that's just in the last century. No one has ever held that territory by force for very long.
Stories from the usual suspects:
- Sweden's Prime Minister abruptly resigned Sunday, saying it's for the benefit of his center-left party.
- Following Andrew Cuomo's resignation, Kathy Hochul became the first female governor of New York State this morning just after midnight.
- The Capitol Police have cleared the unnamed officer who shot domestic terrorist Ashli Babbit as she tried to force her way into the Speaker's Lobby on January 6th, adding that the shooting likely saved many other lives.
- Economist Paul Krugman credits the pandemic for showing low-wage workers, particularly in the leisure and hospitality industry, they're worth more than they were paid in the past. (In other words, we should call the "labor shortage" by the more correct term "market forces" instead.)
- Josh Marshall once again points out that the evacuation from Kabul, while appearing chaotic, has actually been very successful.
- Jordan Michael Smith asks, "Twenty years after 9/11, are we any smarter?"
- Sarah Zhang frets about the new school year and hopes it won't go as badly as last year.
Finally, Whisky Advocate calls out a few lesser-known distilleries in Scotland worth visiting—or at least sampling.
New York Times reporter Alissa Rubin, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work covering Kabul, looks back on the Bush Administration's refusal to entertain a deal with the Taliban in 2001:
“The Taliban were completely defeated, they had no demands, except amnesty,” recalled Barnett Rubin, who worked with the United Nations’ political team in Afghanistan at the time.
Messengers shuttled back and forth between [Hamid] Karzai and the headquarters of the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, in Kandahar. Mr. Karzai envisioned a Taliban surrender that would keep the militants from playing any significant role in the country’s future.
But Washington, confident that the Taliban would be wiped out forever, was in no mood for a deal.
Almost 20 years later, the United States did negotiate a deal to end the Afghan war, but the balance of power was entirely different by then — it favored the Taliban.
“When I heard the U.S. were going to meet in Doha with the Taliban and without the Afghan government, I said, ‘That’s not a peace negotiation, those are surrender talks,’” said Ryan Crocker, a former ambassador to Afghanistan.
“So, now the talks were all about us retreating without the Taliban shooting at us as we went,” Mr. Crocker added, “and we got nothing in return.”
As Winston Churchill once said, "Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war." If only we'd listened.
"Over-extended, hollowed-out, debt-burdened empires are not exactly intimidating to many enemies. Leaving Afghanistan is therefore not the blow to American power and prestige these pundits are claiming. Staying in Afghanistan is."—Andrew Sullivan.