A Nuclear Near Miss In ’67

We’ve all heard about the Cuban Missile Crisis — the tense standoff in October 1962, when the United States and the Soviet Union seemed on the brink of nuclear war over Soviet missiles based in Cuba.

It turns out that there was another very close call during those terrible Cold War days, when kids were trained to duck and cover, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. kept nuclear aircraft in the air at all times, ready to respond to any attack, and nuclear annihilation seemed an ever-present threat.  This particular near-miss happened in 1967 and hasn’t gotten any attention because everything occurred behind the scenes.  It hasn’t been given a catchy, alliterative name like “Cuban Missile Crisis,” either.

sun-big-solar-flare-100910-02Let’s call it the Solar Flare-up of ’67.

It happened on May 23, 1967.  The sun emitted a solar flare so powerful that it knocked out the three U.S. Air Force’ ballistic missile Early Warning System radar sites in the northern hemisphere.  The sites appeared to be jammed — which in those days was considered an act of war because it would be the first step in launching a preemptive nuclear strike.  Reasoning that the Soviets were behind the jamming, Air Force personnel began readying the American nuclear arsenal for a countdown to a strike, too.

At that point, fortunately, scientists and solar forecasters working at the North American Aerospace Defense Command figured out that the huge solar flare, and not the Russians, were responsible for the jamming.  The news went up the command chain, and the American forces stood down.  And, since the Soviet defense systems were presumably similarly affected by the solar flare, a similar scenario played out somewhere on the Russian side of the Iron Curtain.

The Solar Flare-up of ’67 just reaffirms how improbable it was that the world made it through the hair-trigger period of the Cold War.  If relations were on a hair-trigger basis such that even solar flares could plausibly spark a nuclear exchange, it’s amazing that some miscommunication or misguided leader didn’t send the world on the path to a radioactive holocaust.

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Posterizing

I saw this picture of Lena Dunham in front of a Hillary Clinton poster, and I spent a few minutes looking at the poster and thinking about it.

Interesting, isn’t it, how political posters get designed?  Obviously, the poster artists are searching for a perspective and message that will appeal to the voting masses.  And, these days, everyone would like to develop one as fabulously successful as the Obama “Hope” poster.  With its basic primary colors and design, the placid, thoughtful expression on the candidate’s face, and the simple message that clearly connected with a broad swath of the electorate, you saw the “Hope” poster everywhere in 2008.

The Hillary poster behind Lena Dunham obviously has a different focus and purpose.  Rather than matching the candidate with a message, it’s about the candidate and only the candidate — with Mrs. Clinton’s head framed against the rays of the sun, and her first name, and only her first name, below.  And the picture of Mrs. Clinton certainly seems designed to portray an image of youthfulness and vigor, doesn’t it?  With the thrust-out chin, the lacquered, swept-back hair, the unlined face and distinctive makeup, and the black turtleneck, the poster depicts Hillary Clinton as a stylish thirty-something hipster who just walked out of a Soho coffee house after a poetry reading — rather than a woman approaching 70 who seems to prefer pants suits.

Many political posters remind me of old Soviet Union propaganda pieces, and this one does as well.  The old USSR posters always seemed to depict the Soviet people as lantern-jawed, dramatically backlit, muscular titans striding into the future and sternly doing battle with the evil forces of tubby, cigar-smoking capitalist fat cats.  The sunburst design and pose in the Hillary poster are echoes of those relics of a failed regime.

Ultimately, political posters want to present the candidate in idealized form, in an effort to steer voter perception.  The Obama campaign wanted Barack Obama to be seen as an agent of Hope and Change during hard times.  What, exactly, does the Hillary Clinton poster want to tell us about Hillary Clinton, the candidate?