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Things That Go Boom


Stories about the ins, outs, and whathaveyous of what keeps us safe. So, grab a beer and buckle up. It gets bumpy! Hosted by Laicie Heeley.


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Stories about the ins, outs, and whathaveyous of what keeps us safe. So, grab a beer and buckle up. It gets bumpy! Hosted by Laicie Heeley.




Will the Internet Suck Us Dry?

When we say that we’re going to store something “in the cloud” it sounds like an ethereal place somewhere in the atmosphere. But the online cloud is generated by computer servers in data centers all over the world. Thousands of them. And AI is likely to ramp up demand. These data centers don’t employ a lot of people, and each one can hoover up the resources of a small town. So what happens when our need for more, better, faster cyber capability collides with our need for land, water, and power? GUESTS: Dr. Anne Pasek, Canada Research Chair in Media, Culture and the Environment, Trent University, Canada; Todd Murren, General Manager, Bluebird Network Data Centers; Kelly Gallaher, activist, A Better Mount Pleasant, WI; Mike Gitter, Water Utility Director, Racine, WI ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: The Cloud’s Heavy Toll on Natural Resources, Marketplace Tech A New Front in the Water Wars: Your Internet Use, The Washington Post It’s Not Easy Going Green, Reveal Data Center Site Selection: Why Midwestern US Is So Attractive to Hyperscalers, Data Center Knowledge Presentation on Microsoft’s Data Center Plan for Mount Pleasant, WI, Microsoft. The Risk of AI Power Grids, Radiolab The Pros and Cons of Underground Data Centers, Data Center Knowledge


Who Gets To Shut It All Down?

Internet blackouts — when internet service is shut down in a country or region — have become much more common over the last decade. But who gets to decide when these disruptions are necessary? From thwarting political protests to preventing cheating on school exams, we’re diving into the who, what, and why of internet blackouts around the world. And we’re asking… what exactly are the rules here in the US? GUESTS: Mazin Riyadh, student at the University of Mosul; Dr. Patricia Vargas, Fellow for the Information Society Project and Fellow for the Internet Society; Zuha Siddiqui, Journalist ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: Internet Shutdowns During Exams, Access Now Political Factors that Enable an Internet Kill Switch in Democratic and Non-Democratic Regimes, Yale Information Society Project Pakistan’s 4-day internet shutdown was the final straw for its tech workers, Rest of World


How to Break a Fish

It’s one of our biggest problems in 2023, and it can feel distinctly human. But it's not. All sorts of animals deal with all sorts of misinformation every day, including some of our oldest ancestors — like the humble fish. This week on Things That Go Boom, we exit the human world entirely to see what we can learn. Special thanks this week to Christina Stella for pinch-hitting for our engineer, Robin Wise! GUESTS: Ashkaan Fahimipour, Florida Atlantic University; Jimmy Liao, The University of Florida ADDITIONAL READING: Wild Animals Suppress the Spread of Socially Transmitted Misinformation, Ashkaan K. Fahimipour, Michael A. Gil, Maria Rosa Celis, and Andrew M. Hein, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Navigating Turbulent Waters, Jimmy Liao, This I Believe


Lost in Translation

Greg is an artist whose clients include Magic the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons. And much like a lot of the folks striking in Hollywood right now, he’s ticked off about AI. It’s a story we hear a lot these days: AI is having an impact on everything in our lives, and it’s killing creators’ livelihoods. What we don’t hear, though, is what that story has to do with the people seeking asylum in the United States every day. In this episode, we’ll show you how their lives can be forever changed by similar large language models to the ones used to copy Greg’s art. GUESTS: Greg Rutkowski, visual artist; Ariel Koren, founder and CEO, Respond Crisis Translation; Uma Mirkhail, Afghan languages team lead, Respond Crisis Translation; Andrew Deck, reporter, Rest of World THANKS ALSO TO: Leila Lorenzo, policy director, Respond Crisis Translation ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: AI Translation Is Jeopardizing Afghan Asylum Claims, Andrew Deck, Rest of World Seeking Asylum at the u.s.-Mexico Border? You’d Better Speak English or Spanish, Andrew Deck, Rest of World Learn about Respond Crisis Translation here. See more of Greg Rutkowski’s art here.


Can You Hack a Nuke?

In the age of Oppenheimer, nuclear weapons didn’t have much to do with computers. And, for a long time, most nukes were running on 1970s-era floppy disk systems. But as technology has advanced the US — and all the other nuclear weapons states — have started putting military communications, early warning systems, and even control of nuclear missiles themselves online. So, in this episode, we ask, “Could our nuclear weapons systems… be hacked?” We talk to researchers, policy experts, a top UN official, and a hacker about how a nuclear cyber attack might go down. And what we can do to stop it. GUESTS: Matt Korda, Senior Research Fellow, Nuclear Information Project; Allison Pytlak, Program Lead of the Cyber Program at the Stimson Center; Page Stoutland, Consultant at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Maddie Stone, Security Researcher at Google Project Zero; Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs at the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: Flying Under The Radar: A Missile Accident In South Asia, Federation of American Scientists Addressing Cyber-Nuclear Security Threats, Nuclear Threat Initiative Glitch disrupts Air Force nuke communications, NBC News A 'Worst Nightmare' Cyberattack: The Untold Story Of The SolarWinds Hack, NPR Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons - Preparatory Committee for the Eleventh Review Conference, UNODA The Failsafe Review, Nuclear Threat Initiative


The Internet Is at the Bottom of the Sea

We need the internet. No, seriously. In 2023, the digital realm isn’t so much a portal as it is the undercurrent of our lives: The web carries our culture, our communication, our bank accounts — and, yes, our global security. But all of that traffic flows through a series of cables at the bottom of the ocean. And lately, we’ve been worrying a lot about it up on dry land: Asking what happens when something — or someone — cuts those cables. Should we really be so worried? This is a story about volcanoes and sharks, entrepreneurs and politicians. It’s also about none of those things. Welcome back to Things That Go Boom. GUESTS: Nicole Starosielski, New York University; Marian Kupu, Broadcom Broadcasting; Ryan Wopschall, ICPC; Darren Griffiths, Optic Marine; Camino Kavanagh, King’s College London ADDITIONAL READING: Inside the Subsea Cable Firm Secretly Helping America Take on China, Joe Brock, Reuters The Undersea Network, Nicole Starosielski, Duke University Press Wading Murky Waters: Subsea Communications and Responsible State Behavior, Camino Kavanaugh, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research Decoupling is Already Happening Under The Sea, Elisabeth Braw, Foreign Policy


Coming Soon: Troubleshooting

You know the internet — that big, vast, expanse that powers our lives and every single thing we do. It’s all we seem to talk about these days: spyware, malware, phishing attacks, TikTok bans, Russian disinformation, and beyond. But how much do you really know about the internet? Or the threats that wait to greet you there? And how much of that story is wrong? This season on Things That Go Boom, we dig into nuclear hacking, bug hunting, cable cutting… and for some reason, a whole lot of stories about fish, in “Troubleshooting.” 9 new cyber-stories about this vast digital world, what it means for how we fight wars, and how we make sense of it all here at home.


How a US Reporter Was Imprisoned in Putin’s Russia

We’re hard at work on Season 8 of Things That Go Boom, coming your way July 10. But in the meantime, we wanted to drop in and share a special episode with you from our friends at Project Brazen. How did Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich end up in prison in Russia, and what happens now? On March 29, Russian authorities arrested Evan and accused him of spying on Russia on behalf of the US government. He remains in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison today. Evan is the first American reporter to be charged with espionage in Russia since the Cold War. The charge, which The Journal vehemently denies, can carry a sentence of up to 20 years. In this report by Project Brazen producer Neha Wadekar, you’ll hear from people close to Evan — his friends, newsroom colleagues, even his former soccer coach — about his shocking arrest, the efforts to bring him home, and how he became the journalist he is today. Enjoy, and we’ll see you back here soon!


Getting L-A-O-D

America’s war on communism in southeast Asia dragged the entire region into the fray, and the impacts are still an ever-present danger. (You might remember our episode this season on landmines and clusters.) But here’s what we didn’t get into before: The legacy of that violence here — in our own communities. Today, much of the nationwide push to preserve and highlight southeast Asian heritage is being led by a younger generation, raised in America by refugees. They’re opening restaurants, taking over family businesses… and embracing their own definition of true southeast Asian food. In Philadelphia, we ask: How much can a weekend market — and its long road to protection — tell us about America’s relationship with its refugees? GUESTS: Aleena Inthaly, Legacies of War; Catzie Vilayphonh, Laos In The House; Saijai Sabayjit, Saijai Thai ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: The Originals, Legacies of War Thip Khao Talk, Legacies of War Our Story, The Southeast Asian Market at FDR Park


Mr. Fonio

There are tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of edible plants in the world. But humans only cultivate a couple hundred of those at any significant scale. And when we eat, we tend to stick to just a few: More than half of the calories that humans consume around the world today come from just corn, soy, wheat, and rice. But that narrow focus on food is putting us in danger. As climate change, the COVID pandemic, and conflict in “breadbasket” regions like Ukraine continue to disrupt agriculture, it may be time for forgotten crops to make a comeback. On this episode, Chef Pierre Thiam explains how one of these ancient grains might just save the world. GUEST: Pierre Thiam, Chef, author, & entrepreneur ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: Where to find some fonio: Yolélé How to cook fonio: The Fonio Cookbook by Pierre Thiam Will the world’s breadbaskets become less reliable?, McKinsey (charts and maps!) Looking at other grains (millet and fonio) to help feed the world, Foreign Policy Explore stats on crop and livestock production around the world, The UN Food and Agriculture Organization


What’s Next for Brazil After Bolsonaro?

Just two years ago, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was in prison. It’s a fairytale-like comeback story. But his life is also a food story. From a hungry childhood raised by sharecropper parents, Lula made ending hunger a major part of his first two highly popular terms as president. Now, as he settles into the Presidential Palace once again – he has big plans for strengthening Brazil’s democracy and positioning the country as a diplomatic powerhouse. Those plans will depend on reaching people through their stomachs. GUESTS: Cassia Bechara, International Relations Committee Spokesperson, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra/Landless Workers’ Movement; Michael Fox, Independent Journalist; Fabio de Sa e Silva, Assistant Professor of International Studies and Wick Cary Professor of Brazilian Studies, University of Oklahoma; Fabiane Ziolla Menezes, Business and Technology Journalist, Brazilian Report Thank you to Larissa Packer, Rafael Soares Gonzales, and James MacDonald. ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: “Lurching From Food Crisis to Food Crisis,” GRAIN “The Rise of Congress Will Have Consequences for Brazil’s Victor,” Lucas de Aragão, Americas Quarterly Check out the Brazilian Report’s newsletters here.


Can Cluster Bombs Show Us How To Stop a Nuclear War?

Despite being banned, anti-personnel landmines and unexploded submunitions still litter fields from Bosnia to Bangladesh. And they’re even being used in Ukraine. Does that mean the treaties that ban their use aren’t working? Experts say the story isn’t so simple, and that, actually, the treaties to ban these weapons have shown a new way forward: one where norms stigmatize the return to these weapons and constrain even the biggest superpowers. But what will it take to clean up the mess left behind? And can anti-nuclear activists repeat the party trick? GUESTS: Treasa Dunworth Associate Professor of Law, University of Auckland; Matthew Breay Bolton, Professor of Political Science, Pace University; Sera Koulabdara, Executive Director, Legacies of War; Alex van Roy, Chief Operations Officer, FSD ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: How War Changes Land: Soil Fertility, Unexploded Bombs, and the Underdevelopment of Cambodia, Erin Lin, American Journal of Political Science Political Minefields: The Struggle Against Automatic Killing, Matthew Breay Bolton, Bloomsbury Academic Humanitarian Disarmament: An Historical Inquiry, Treasa Dunworth, Cambridge University Press Legacies Library: Resources on the Secret War in Laos


How Xi Jinping Plans to Fill China’s ‘Rice Bowl’

One morning in the 2010s, a rural midwestern farmer called the cops. There was a guy in a suit sniffing around a field near town. A big SUV dropped him off. And the story of how the man got there? That can tell us a lot about Xi Jinping’s past, present, and future. China’s seen incredible growth over the last 50 years — and with that, major changes in the country’s diet and agriculture. With 1.4 billion people to feed and a party narrative to upkeep, President Xi Jinping is pushing the country to invest in its own food security. During a time when tension between the US and China are rising, we look at how Great Power Competition is unfolding in America’s cornfields. GUESTS: Sue-Lin Wong, The Economist; Wendong Zhang, Cornell University; Arthur Kroeber, Gavekal Dragonomics ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: The Prince, The Economist How Has China Maintained Domestic Food Stability Amid Global Food Crises?, World Economic Forum China’s Interests in US Agriculture: Augmenting Food Security through Investment Abroad, US-China Economic and Security Review Commission


Reissue: Navigating the Strait

We turn our attention to the narrow strait that divides China and Taiwan, which some analysts believe is the most likely flashpoint for another far-away conflict involving the US military. If President Biden reconfigures foreign policy to focus more on threats at home, will that leave us unprepared to defend US interests abroad? Or should we rethink which battles we’re willing to fight? GUESTS: Oriana Skylar Mastro, Fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Michael Mazarr, Senior Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation. ADDITIONAL READING: The Taiwan Temptation, Foreign Affairs. Time for a New Approach to Defense Strategy, War on the Rocks. Biden Backs Taiwan, but Some Call for a Clearer Warning to China, New York Times. ** This episode was originally published on September 13, 2021.


Reissue: Take This Job and Shove It

Conversations about downsizing America’s defense budget almost immediately stall out in a Catch-22: Reallocating those tax dollars to invest in domestic priorities would be devastating to the many small cities where a manufacturing plant, ICBM silo, or military base is the lifeblood of the local economy. If Biden begins to shift some money away from defense, or even just, away from some of the big weapons systems a lot of defense towns are tasked to build, does that mean a whole lot of middle-class jobs might get cut? What if there’s a better option? One that fits more closely with Biden’s plans for the middle class? GUESTS: Natalie Click, PhD student at Arizona State University; Taylor Barnes, Journalist; Miriam Pemberton, Institute for Policy Studies ADDITIONAL READING: From Arms to Renewables: How Workers in This Southern Military Industrial Hub Are Converting the Economy, Taylor Barnes, Southerly Magazine. ‘Honk for Humane Jobs’: NC Activists Challenge Subsidies for Weapons Maker, Taylor Barnes, Facing South. Let’s Turn Our Military Resources To Building a Post-COVID Industrial Base for All Americans, Miriam Pemberton, Newsweek. Study Says Domestic, Not Military Spending, Fuels Job Growth, Brown University. How Much More Expensive Can the F-35 Actually Get? Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics. ** This episode was originally published on August 30, 2021.


Are Military Families Really Going Hungry?

Many Americans once viewed the US military as a reliable road to a middle-class life. But, despite record-breaking military spending in recent years, new research shows that one-in-six military families don’t have consistent access to healthy food. So, how is it that service members and their families are finding basic necessities out of reach? In this episode, we talk about childcare, spouse employment, frequent moves, and food stamps with folks who have wrestled with all of these issues firsthand. And we ask the experts, are the new policies to address these problems going to be enough? Statement, Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, Department of Defense spokesperson: “We understand the extraordinary pressures military families face and we have made progress, but we know that there is more work to be done. We will continue to listen, learn, and lead on issues we know are critical to stability and the unique challenges of military life.” GUESTS*: Rae Ellen Holberg, military spouse and mother of four; Shannon Razsadin, president and executive director of MFAN; Sarah Streyder, executive director of Secure Families Initiative; Nils Olsen, company commander in the US Army; Brandon Archuleta, senior fellow at the Center of New American Security *The views of all guests are their own, and do not reflect the policies or positions of the US Army, United States Department of Defense or the United States Government. ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: Food Insecurity Among US Veterans and Military Families, Center for Strategic & International Studies Food Insecurity, Military Family Advisory Network Allowance for the Most At-risk Military Families Begins To Take Shape, Military Times Taking Care of Our Service Members and Families, Department of Defense Who Signs Up to Fight? Makeup of U.S. Recruits Shows Glaring Disparity, New York Times


Samin Nosrat on War, Appropriation, and the Power of Food

Samin Nosrat joins us to talk about cooking, conflict, and the global forces shaping the food on our plates. Have you ever tried Saigon cinnamon? How about Iranian saffron? Learn about the flavors and traditions we lose when war and international politics get in the way. We get real about "kimchi diplomacy.” And we talk about the alternating slog and beauty of cooking as a way to connect to our own bodies — and support others — when times are hard. GUESTS: Samin Nosrat, writer, cook, and teacher ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: Before Croissants, There Was Kubaneh, a Jewish Yemeni Delight, Tejal Rao, The New York Times Magazine What's an Aleppo Pepper?, Layla Eplett, Scientific American The Experiment Presents SPAM, Julia Longoria and team, WNYC & The Atlantic


What Our Nuclear History Means for Indigenous Food

On the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, endangered plants bloom on the shrubsteppe. The Yakama Nation signed a treaty in 1855 to cede some of its lands to the US government. The treaty promised that the Yakama people could continue to use their traditional territory to hunt and fish. But in 1943, those promises were broken, as Hanford became a secretive site for nuclear plutonium production. Today, Hanford is one of the world’s most contaminated sites, and the cleanup will take generations. As more ceded lands have been encroached on by agriculture and development, the Hanford land is home to an ugly irony: Untouchable by outsiders — but unsafe for members of the Yakama Nation to fully practice their traditions. Now, while they fight for the most rigorous cleanup possible, they’re also finding other ways to keep those traditions alive. Flash back to 1989, on the other side of the world lies another steppe near Semey (once Semipalatinsk), Kazakhstan. A land that’s survived famine, collectivization, and hundreds of nuclear tests. When an underground test goes wrong, Kazakhs band together with the world and say it’s time to stop nuclear testing for good. — In addition to responding to questions we had about the Hanford site, the Department of Energy provided the following statement: “The Department is committed to continuing to work with the Yakama Nation on progressing toward our common goal of site cleanup,” it says in part. “DOE progress at Hanford is leading to a cleaner environment and additional protections for the Columbia River. This year alone Hanford … completed a protective enclosure around another former plutonium production reactor along the Columbia River and treated over 2 billion gallons of contaminated groundwater.” GUESTS: Robert Franklin, Associate Director of the Hanford History Project; Marlene Jones, Marylee Jones, and Patsy Whitefoot, Yakama Nation members; Kali Robson, Trina Sherwood, and McClure Tosch, Yakama Nation's Environmental Restoration/Waste Management Program; Togzhan Kassenova, Senior Fellow at the Center for Policy Research, SUNY-Albany; Sarah Cameron, University of Maryland ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: Atomic Steppe: How Kazakhstan Gave Up The Bomb, Togzhan Kassenova Nuclear waste ravaged their land. The Yakama Nation is on a quest to rescue it, Hallie Golden, The Guardian How Native Land Became a Target for Nuclear Waste, Sanjana Manjeshwar, Inkstick Media Hanford Site Cleanup Costs Continue to Rise, but Opportunities Exist to Save Tens of Billions of Dollars, GAO


Food, War, and the Conspiracy Supply Chain

When we’re not in a crisis, food doesn’t tend to make it into stump speeches or budget pressers. It’s easy to end up in front of the computer, scrolling social media, snacking on something produced a thousand miles away and not think twice about it. But what we eat touches every aspect our society — from security to culture, labor, economy, climate and more. It’s also a potent lightning rod for online conspiracies and disinformation. GUESTS: Katie (pseudonym); Nina Jankowicz, Centre for Information Resilience; Domini Mellott, Secret Harvest; Vidya Mani, University of Virginia ADDITIONAL RESOURCES: Russia Smuggling Ukraninan Grain To Help Pay For Putin’s War, Michael Biesecker, Sarah El Deeb, and Beatrice Dupuy, The Associated Press Food Supply and Covid-19: Breaking the Chain, Vidya Mani Russian Disinformation in Africa: What’s sticking and what’s not, Mary Blankenship and Aloysius Uche Ordu, Brookings Food Should Be Treated As National Security, Ehud Eiran, Michaela Elias and Aron M. Troen, Foreign Policy


Season 7: Food Fight

Think back to when you were a kid, and school was out. What did you eat when you got home? Maybe it was a beef patty from your favorite bodega or chocolate chip cookies baked by your mom. For better or worse, food is one of the first things in our lives that makes us feel… safe. But lately, between supply chain issues, empty shelves, wild conspiracy theories, and a potential nuclear attack on the breadbasket of the world… things haven’t felt so safe. So this season, Things That Go Boom is going deep on food and conflict. State dinners, MREs. Supply chains, turf wars. Food as diplomacy, hunger as a weapon. Things That Go Boom Season 7 is coming up on October 31 — so get ready for a food fight.