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More Dogs on Main Street

Have you been following the news on "Operation Divine Strake?" I have to admit that I’ve paid only slight attention to it. There’s so much going on that it’s been easy to overlook something that sounds like science fiction to begin with. But Divine Strake is for real. The big news this week is that it got postponed for three weeks. But it’s still in the works.

Operation Divine Strake is a proposed munitions test brought to us by the folks at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, whoever that is. They want to test — or as they put it, calibrate — the amount of explosive needed to see if their new "bunker buster" bombs will work. So the proposal is to detonate 700 pounds of explosives at the old Nevada Nuclear test site. It’s a massive explosion and is expected to send a debris cloud 10,000 feet into the air, even though the actual blasts will occur underground. People living next door have been asking rude and impertinent questions like "exactly what will be in the dust falling out of that cloud?" and "Will all the radioactive stuff left over from the testing in the 1950s and 60s stay buried?" and "Will another generation of Utah kids die of leukemia like they did in the 1950s?"

The Pentagon has been its usual forthcoming self, and responds by saying we should trust them. "When have we misled the public?" they say, with no apparent sense of irony. To add to the confusion, at first the test was described as involving nuclear weapons. The idea was to see how small a nuclear device they could build to blast a certain Middle Eastern country’s underground nuclear technology to smithereens without making the oil glow in the dark. Then they backed off, and now insist that it isn’t nuclear at all, and it especially isn’t the first step toward developing a new generation of nuclear weapons. No, not that at all. It’s just designed to mimic the effects of the mini-nukes that Congress refused to fund.

But questions remain about whether the explosion will send the accumulated radioactive residue from the Cold War back into the atmosphere. And frankly, questions remain about whether this is or isn’t nuclear or a precursor to resumed nuclear weapons testing. It brings back images of Rocky and Bullwinkle trying to recover the stolen upsy-daisium from Boris and Natasha. Even the name of the project, "Operation Divine Strake" sounds like something right out of the cartoons. I had to look up "strake" in the dictionary. It’s some kind of shield board along the side of a ship. And the Divine part of it? Well, your guess is as good as mine. But there’s nothing that goes together like religion and explosives. Who would Jesus bomb? Somehow, when we are in a very tense posture with a bunch of religious fanatics in Iran, claiming some connection between our new munitions system and God is maybe not productive. Could we leave divinity out of it, and just call it a test of a big $&^*@#g bomb?

The test has been delayed because a court ruled that the environmental assessment of the testing process was inadequate. The Defense Department said they will be able to invent data to support their decision by Monday and re-schedule the test for mid-June. The Winnemucca Indians who live more or less on top of the site will be satisfied. It’s their patriotic duty to take one for the team.

Though a little slow on the uptake, Utah’s Congressional delegation has finally begun asking questions about Divine Strake. Orrin Hatch says he wants a "pledge" from the Pentagon that everything is safe. Well, I feel better already. If Donald Rumsfeld himself crosses his heart and hopes to die if any strontium 90 gets into the milk the week after the test, well, that’s good enough for me. It worked so well when I was a kid and an epidemic of strange cancers hit Southern Utah in the years following the last testing program. And they promised us that all of that was perfectly safe.

If you haven’t watched "Dr. Strangelove" recently, I recommend it. It just keeps getting more relevant all the time.

The other night while I was eating dinner, I got a phone call from Congressman Bishop. No kidding. When I file my tax return, I follow it up with the essay portion of the return — a letter to the congressional delegation letting them know how I think they are doing, and what issues I think they ought to be addressing. They are, after all, the hired help and, as the employer, I need to give them an occasional performance review. It was not a real positive letter this year. I don’t think Congress is doing its job. They are ignoring all the important stuff, and making a mess of the stuff they are dealing with. They aren’t supervising the executive branch adequately, they aren’t paying attention to the big issues that really threaten our future (energy, health care, living on a billion a day borrowed from China, etc.). My missive was polite, and pointed out where I thought Congress ought to be putting their efforts, and where they were falling short of the mark. But it was also very clear that I’m among the 80 percent of Americans who disapprove of the job that Congress is doing.

Congressman Bishop personally called — after normal hours — to say he appreciated the correspondence, and while he didn’t agree with everything, he conceded that I had raised some valid points. Mostly he said it was important to hear from people, and he appreciated the time it had taken to put the letter together. Then he tried to convince me that more tax cuts were a sure bet to fix everything. We agreed to disagree on that one.

Anyway, while I don’t see real health care reform any time soon, the fact that the letter got read, and the Congressman responded, gives me a little hope for the future.

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