The PWB’s offices overlooking Main Street and just up the road from Buzzy’s 8 Ball Room were shuttered last week as a flu epidemic savaged the staff and interns.

The local Hazmat team quarantined the building while folks from the CDC spent the better part of three days taking swabs and testing experimental medicines on the interns.

While everyone survived, it did mean the PWB failed to make it to print last week.

We appreciate all the concerned e-mail from loyal readers, and thanks to Mary from Plymouth who sent along a get well fruitcake.

Soaked in Makers Mark, might I add.

I’d like to say I spent my time in the sick bay productively, and that would be true, if watching an Andy Griffith marathon on TV Land and four showings of The Great Escape all in a row could be considered productive.

I also read a complete history of The Three Stooges cover to cover.

I should point out that other reading options on my nightstand included a biography of Benjamin Franklin, a history of Venice and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

However, when the flu strikes and you feel like hacking up a major organ or two, I find more comfort in the Stooges than a post-apocalyptic novel.

Contemplating a long cold nuclear winter, as alluded to in the landscape of McCarthy’s vision, during the middle of an actual long cold winter, is all a bit bleak and dreary.

In between bites of fruitcake and shots of Nyquil I did manage to ponder the old quaint questions of nuclear deterrent, weapons stockpiles and Armageddon.

I mean really, when was the last time we thought about nuclear war?

It used to be top of mind for everyone from schoolchildren crouched under desks to physicists with massive brains who designed the little gizmos.

Now?

We’ve got an aging arsenal of nukes, too few remaining scientists with actual design experience who would recognize a nuke if it went off in their pants and school kids too big to fit under their desks.

The world’s changed, of course, since nuclear weapons were developed and the Cold War defined the global power structure.

But the world is still a nasty place and deterrence is still a legitimate part of our national security policy.

According to Schonberg’s seminal treatise on deterrence, “It’s the Size of Your Missile,” the key to an effective policy is ensuring that other players view you as having a legitimate deterrent.

This, according to Schonberg’s research, requires you to maintain the deterrent’s capabilities, effectiveness and infrastructure.

And herein lies the problem.

To explain, we shall now have a pop quiz. Sharpen your number two pencils, feet flat on the floor and eyes straight ahead.

You’ll have five minutes to answer the following questions, at which time Ms. Beasley will collect your papers and you’ll sit quietly till the column is finished.

Question 1:

The last nuclear engineer to participate in the development and testing of a new nuclear weapon is:

a) A guy named Stan

b) Secretly in love with his research partner but too shy say anything

c) Due to retire before the year 2014

d) Not wearing any pants

Question 2:

Every U.S. warhead in the country’s stockpile is:

a) Stored in a U-Store-It warehouse outside Bayonne, New Jersey

b) Hand washed and waxed every six months

c) Dripping an odd greenish sludge from the front end sprocket

d) More than 20 years old

Question 3:

Among the five declared nuclear nations, the U.S. is the only one among the five that is not:

a) A finalist in the EuroVision Song Contest

b) Modernizing its nuclear arsenal

c) Trying to find those damn launch codes

d) Sending an entry to the Miss Missiles 2009 Pageant

Question 4:

Congress refuses to allocate funds to the Department of Energy’s Reliable Replacement Warhead program because:

a) They’ve spent all the cash

b) Nukes are scary and if we just ignore them they’ll go away

c) No political toad ever won an election by voting to make the nuclear arsenal more efficient, safe and modern

d) Many on the left, including those good eggheads at the Union for Concerned Scientists, honestly believe that if we get rid of ours the rest of the world will follow

Question 5:

1992 was the year of this memorable event:

a) Boris Yeltsin declared that Russia would no longer target U.S. cities with nuclear weapons

b) Barney debuted on daytime public television, prompting Yeltsin to change his mind

c) The U.S. carried out its final nuclear test before adopting a unilateral test moratorium, meaning no one else signed up to it

d) A 29-pound meteorite lands on the Knapp residence in Peekskill, N.Y., prompting neighbor Cal Tubbs to remark “… damndest thing I ever saw.”

Bonus Question:

Secretary of State Robert Gates, asked by President-elect Obama to continue in that office, has described the current situation involving the U.S. nuclear arsenal and infrastructure as:

a) “A real hoot”

b) “Bleak and in need of immediate modernization”

c) “An unnecessary relic of the past… let’s get rid of the whole lot and reap the peace dividend”

d) “Nothing some duct tape and a flat head screwdriver can’t fix”

Send in your answers along with a one-paragraph essay entitled “If We Unilaterally Disarm Then Everything Will be Super” to the PWB’s contest staff at peoplesweeklybrief @hotmail.com.

Be sure to label your e-mail The PWB’s Nuclear Test. Let’s face it… nobody likes nuclear weapons except Lex Luthor, rogue nations and a small number of complete tools who traffic in nuclear technology.

But wishing they weren’t around, or making lovely statements about ridding the world of nukes and nuclear material, doesn’t alter the reality here on planet Earth.

The facts are that we alone among declared nuclear states are failing to keep pace with nuclear technologies, we don’t know what the aging effect is on our stockpile, we’re keeping more weapons on hand than necessary because we aren’t designing and replacing with safer and more efficient systems and our knowledge base and infrastructure are lagging further and further behind.

The issue is such an emotive topic, and loaded with political sensitivities, that we’re dealing with it by ignoring the whole thing and hoping it’ll all work out someday.

Congress can print money to prop up wheezing car companies, AIG and God knows what, but can’t find the political will to spend some money properly managing and preparing our nuclear inventory for the future?

What a load of crap.

Now I know I’ll hear from lots of good folks who will accuse me of being Dr. Strangelove and wanting to build up our capabilities.

Rest assured, Slim, that’s not the case.

It’s just that I like to spend my time in the real world. Here’s the thing… despite his pledges to develop no new nuclear weapons, ban the production of fissile material and secure all nuclear materials in the world within four years, President-elect Obama will be on the world stage shortly, as opposed to the campaign stage.

Hands up, everyone who believes Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and India will get on board the love train just because the new administration toots the horn.

Hell, even Britain and France are busy modernizing their arsenals.

If you honestly think we’ll be able to secure all nuclear materials in the world, convince others to quit with the nuclear design and improvement thing and put them all in a box marked Trash, then I’ve got a car company to sell you.

As always, we look forward to your comments, thoughts and insight.

Send your emails to peoplesweeklybrief@hotmail.com

Til’ next week, stay safe.

Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector and has recently agreed to return to Diligence LLC, a company he cofounded in 2000, as president. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on counterterrorism, intelligence and homeland security. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant, writer and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks," as well as major motion pictures.