The 2020 Commission Report – Review

If you want to know what the next nuclear war will be like, read Jeffrey Lewis’s The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States.

Nuclear weapons have been used only once in war, by the United States against Japan at the end of World War II. Nuclear war was imagined many times, however, through the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. As the two countries’ nuclear arsenals grew, the common understanding became that in a nuclear war, hundreds of multi-megaton nuclear weapons would be exploded, and the direct damage would destroy the countries involved. Most of us would die immediately, more in the aftermath. It looked like the end of civilization.

We don’t know exactly how many nuclear weapons North Korea has, but it’s in the tens, rather than the thousands of the Cold War. That changes the leaders’ calculations. If they face a war in which using those weapons is a serious possibility, they must use them before they are destroyed. So they must be alert to signals from their enemies that an attack might be coming.

Unless the United States responded with nuclear weapons and somehow Russia and China also sent their missiles flying, the result would look more like what Lewis describes than the Cold War imaginings.

The 2020 Commission Report reads not quite convincingly as a government report. It too many emotional words. But the format allows a view into how decisions are likely to be made in such a war.

When people write serious articles in serious journals about deterrence or nuclear war, they assume rational, fully-informed decision-making. After a war starts, emotions come into play. Communications are broken. Erroneous impressions or understandings of what the other side may do have been there all along. Read more

Open Thread: Hope Never Dies

Oh, thank heavens for jackal Dorothy Winsor for bringing this book to my attention. It’s on my kindle now. If only for the laughs.

The New York Times Best Seller

“[Hope Never Dies is] an escapist fantasy that will likely appeal to liberals pining for the previous administration, longing for the Obama-Biden team to emerge from political retirement as action heroes.”—Alexandra Alter, New York Times

Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama team up in this high-stakes thriller that combines a mystery worthy of Watson and Holmes with the laugh-out-loud bromantic chemistry of Lethal Weapon’s Murtaugh and Riggs.

Vice President Joe Biden is fresh out of the Obama White House and feeling adrift when his favorite railroad conductor dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues. To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” re-teams with the only man he’s ever fully trusted: the 44th president of the United States. Together they’ll plumb the darkest corners of Delaware, traveling from cheap motels to biker bars and beyond, as they uncover the sinister forces advancing America’s opioid epidemic.

Part noir thriller and part bromance, Hope Never Dies is essentially the first published work of Obama/Biden fiction—and a cathartic read for anyone distressed by the current state of affairs.

And shame on you if you knew about this and didn’t email me immediately.

Open thread.

Late Night Open Thread: FEAR of A Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward is the Establishment’s Guy. Most of his big fat doorstops-with-indexes are launched to certify that All Is Well In This Best of All Possible Worlds. Occasionally, as with the book that launched his & Bernstein’s journalistic careers, the message is This Individual’s Become A Problem That Will Be Dealt With As Harshly As Required.

His new book seems to fall squarely in the second category. The question: Does Trump understand the verdict that has just been passed upon his “presidency”? Or perhaps it should be phrased: Will any of Trump’s staff bother trying to explain the situation to the Oval Office Occupant?

Read more

Not John McCain (Or Guns) Open Thread

I for one am sitting in the sun next to my cat, reading Vernor Vinge.

Feel free to talk about whatever you want, other than John McCain (or guns).

Quick but Interesting (Open Thread)

I saw this earlier on the tweet-machines and wanted to amplify it. Click through for the whole tweet thread/slideshow:

It reminded me of the excellent documentary Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, about the cool rock & roll scene Cambodia had before the Khmer Rouge, ah, murdered everyone involved.

Anywho, looks like we could probably do with an open thread, so, open thread! Hope everybody’s Saturday is going well. So far I’ve done my one big weekend errand and eaten tacos. I’m calling it a success.

Recommended Reading #2: Her Majesty’s Extremely Secret Service(s)

It’s not a huge surprise when multiple works deal with the same basic idea. Some ideas are quite obvious: a robot renegade cop; a murder in a small town struggling with encroaching modernity; World War II time travel. What’s much more interesting is when the works share a very narrow scope.

Sometimes a newer work’s creator is (apparently) unaware of their predecessor. For instance, Suzanne Collins said she didn’t hear about Battle Royale until after she turned in the MS for The Hunger Games. Yet each work is about teenagers, selected by lottery, being forced into an undisclosed location, where they are armed, surveilled, and encouraged to kill each other; all in order to help prop up a deranged society.

Then again… Christopher Nolan claims he was mostly unaware of Paprika while making Inception… so maybe we shouldn’t be so credulous when Westerners say they aren’t ripping off the Japanese.


But we’re getting away from what I wanted to talk about: books addressing bureaucratic dysfunction in the secret branch of the British government that protects the homeland from supernatural threats. The two primary series here, that I’m aware of, are Charles Stross’s The Laundry Files and Daniel O’Malley’s Checquy series. Both are very fun combinations of workplace humor and sci-fi/horror action. Stross, who began first, leans more into horror. O’Malley leans more into humor, but they’re definitely walking the same territory. Remarkably, O’Malley says he hadn’t heard of the Laundry series before his first book came out and people started calling it a rip-off. (Source: my friend asked him at a book signing).

Honorary members of this category are:

What’d I leave out? What are some extremely specific genres you like? Or you can say anything at all about reading recommendations, really.

(Remember to buy any books via the Balloon-Juice Amazon affiliate link!)

Local Boy Makes Good (Open Thread)

It’s always exciting to see a hometown hero in the news. I refer of course to Owen, seen here in a file photo from December:

Owen works at local favorite Aardvark Books*. He’s great, and so is his store. So imagine my squees of joy when I saw that he’d been written up as part of a feature on local bookstore cats!

Aardvark Books is a spacious emporium selling new and secondhand books, cards, and newspapers in San Francisco’s Castro District. The store’s mascot Owen has been a fixture there for 12 years.

“Owen’s the real boss around here,” says Aardvark employee David. You can usually find him on his favorite chair in the Myth & Folklore section.

If Owen was an author, he’d be Christopher Isherwood, says Aardvark employee Frieda, because he’s “loving, kind, pragmatic and takes life as it comes. Nothing really seems to upset him.”

There are eight more Bay Area bookstore managers pictured in the article. I was happy to see it included Hudson the sphinx over at Borderlands, the local sci-fi/fantasy/etc. emporium. But Owen is my main squeeze in this category (possibly because he has fur and is therefore more pleasing to squeeze).

Why so many bookstore cats?

Recycle employee Eric says that owners used to dread rats chewing the pages of their books so would bring in cats “as a practical way to keep the rats away, a tradition that never really left.”

Samwise serves a similar role, eating the silverfish that might otherwise gnaw at my book bindings. But I won’t be sharing a picture–Owen’s the real star today. Open thread!

*Aardvark may be forced to close soon, after almost forty years in operation, since the building is on the market and will be delivered to the buyer empty. This will add another vacant commercial space to a neighborhood already littered with them. (The restaurant space next door allegedly has a new business coming in soon… after more than three years.)