Speaking of which, I heard late last night that North Korea carried through on its threat to conduct a nuclear test.
Since I was down in the basement vacuum testing some hardware, I had a bunch of 3 - 5 minute breaks to browse the web. My first order of business was to scour the international press to find reporting on seismic data as they came out. South Korean officials immediately pinpointed the time of the test based on a tremor in the mid-3s on the Richter scale; the USGS waited to gather more data points before announcing the detection of a magnitude 4.2 tremor. Somewhat later the Russians confirmed that they had similar results, although I haven't seen anything quantitative from that direction. These all seem a bit on the low side for the kind of plutonium bomb the DPRK was reputed to be working on, so I'm inclined to suggest that this may have been an (unintentionally) subcritical test -- i.e. a dud.
Okay, now I see that Jane's Defense is raising the same possibility. Somehow I doubt anyone here is a subscriber, but I'd be mighty interested to see the full text of this article.
The BBC has an article up now on why this is a problem. It's tempting to say that, since everybody already knew the DPRK has nuclear bombs, the test today is showy but doesn't really change anything. And on a certain level, that's true, but misses the bigger picture. A nuclear test doesn't threaten us any more than, say, North Korea's wildly overrated long-range missiles. What it does is put enormous pressure on its neighbors to take tit-for-tat steps that all too easily lead to a nuclear arms race in southeast Asia. And just in case the image of nuclear-armed India and Pakistan glaring across Kashmir hasn't been giving enough of the phantods this decade, the BBC quotes an analysist who obligingly raises the spectre of where this all leads: China and Taiwan build themselves nice, modern nuclear arsenals to up the ante in the Straits.
Handily, Bush and company have fouled up the USA's diplomatic and military posture so well, there's basically nothing whatsoever that we can do about any of this. Knowing Republican chuzpah, they'll probably try to use 9/11 to claim that it isn't their fault if we find ourselves in a five-way nuclear war a decade from now. Funny how stuff keeps breaking but nothing's ever their fault.