Darth Vader is evil. And now he’s stolen Christmas.
Oppenheimer built the bomb
But now he’s dead (dead)
Einstein was very very smart
But not enough not to be dead (dead)
So don’t go into science
You’ll end up dead.
- “Don’t Go Into Politics,” by the Arrogant Worms
People in every field are standing on the shoulders of giants, from music to politics to science, and for the most part, those giants are, in fact, dead.
Many of the scientific giants are also forgotten, and I don’t just mean those who lived hundreds of years ago, but some of those who lived fairly recently. In many cases these dead scientists died naturally. In some cases, however, they became martyrs of a sort, some through inadequate scientific knowledge, some through inadequate safety precautions and some through mistakes.
I’m not exactly sure where Louis Slotin and Henry Daghlian fit on this continuum. Both men were scientists at the Los Alamos in the mid-1940s, and both were killed by the same sphere of plutonium, which afterwards was nicknamed the “demon core.”
Criticality accidents were to blame in both cases. Now I’m not a physicist, but essentially, criticality is what happens when there’s too much of a fissile material (here, plutonium) in one place. When it happens, there’s an increase in the nuclear chain reactions that results in a surge of neutron radiation, which is deadly. (More information here.)
Daghlian died, essentially, because he dropped a brick at the wrong time. Slotin, on the other hand, died because his screwdriver slipped.
In a more meaningful sense, both men died because they were performing scientific experiments with painfully inadequate safety measures. They should have known better, too–Slotin was even warned by Enrico Fermi that he’d be dead in a year if he kept doing the experiments in question.
But their deaths were still tragic.
Slotin did manage to save some of his fellow scientists from a similar fate, and has been hailed as hero for his quick thinking and quick action in the face of his own death. Many people don’t realize that he had spent time in the hospital with Daghlian during the 25 days it took Slotin’s colleague to die of radiation poisoning. Slotin himself died after nine days.
After that, criticality experiments at Los Alamos were done remotely.
The demon core was detonated on July 1, 1946, less than two months after the criticality accident that cost Slotin his life.
The criticality experiments had increased its efficiency, along with killing two scientists and shortening the lifespans of the others who had been in the room.
Don’t forget them.
They do say to remember history, lest you be doomed to repeat it. I’m not sure how much truth there is in that, but one thing’s for sure: America’s been a pretty bizarre place at times. Here’s a few links that I think consist of photographic proof of that.
- Classroom posters of the 1970s, when you pull out the words, just seem… odd. I don’t have any idea what most of these posters are getting at. (Warning: There’s some profanity with these, so if that bothers you, please don’t click on the link.)
- It turns out that even with the text, some of them don’t make a whole lot of sense. The “Can you get into the group?” poster seems to have an unspoken answer of “Heck no, you big nerd.” (Again, some profanity. You are warned. Do not click on it if it bothers you, please!)
- The Atlantic has this lovely gallery of images from the 1970s. Many of the pictures are related to energy and environment, with smog from industrialized areas, heaps of damaged oil drums and cars dumped into a pond. It’s a little disturbing to think that this is the norm, historically: people dumping things any old where. I’m glad it’s not like that anymore.
- But we’ve been even more insane than that, frankly. I’ve written before about how people used to think radiation was a cure-all and that there was no such thing as too much of a good thing. Here’s more advertisements and pictures to boggle at: hey, I know, let’s have radioactive facials and condoms and chocolate and toothpaste and knit our children baby jumpers out of radioactive wool! And to be clear, there were enough people who weren’t sure it was safe during Marie Curie’s lifetime that when she was gifted with a bit of radium in 1921, they gave it to her in a lead-lined mahogany box. Despite her insistence that it was safe. (She died of aplastic anemia, by the way, so she was not correct about its safety. To be fair, the science was in its infancy at that time and Curie did more for it than anybody.)
Christmas seems to be the only holiday that gets a soundtrack. Unfortunately, many people get quite tired of that soundtrack. I’ve had at least a few people tell me how much they hate Christmas carols, and I always have to explain to them that they really don’t.
They just hate the 25 or so Christmas carols that get played into the ground every year by the radio stations and malls. For these people, I picked out 12 great Christmas songs that aren’t played so much; do check them out.
Thanksgiving, on the other hand, doesn’t have nearly as much music. I can only think of four Thanksgiving songs.
One, Sleigh Ride, is generally associated with Christmas, but the “pumpkin pie” line really suggests more of a Thanksgiving jaunt.
Two, I’ve Got Plenty to Be Thankful For, is from the 1942 movie “Holiday Inn.” This movie spawned a much better-known Christmas tune for Bing Crosby, “White Christmas,” and let’s face it, “Plenty” isn’t that great. Even in the movie, Bing doesn’t sing it, just listens to it on a record player and makes sarcastic comments the whole time.
Three, David Stoddard’s “The First Thanksgiving,” told from the perspective of the Native Americans. (I’ve linked it before, you might remember it.)
Four, uh, well. I found another song about Thanksgiving just recently, but this one should come with a disclaimer. No cursing or anything graphic in it, but, well. I think you can figure out the problem with it by the name of the song.
It’s Rasputina’s “The Donner Party.” If you don’t know what the Donner Party is or what they’re most known for you may want to find that out first. Before you listen to the song. Then think twice before you listen to it. You might not want to eat Thanksgiving dinner ever again.
It’s alarming. It’s very alarming. I’m pretty sure it’s also totally fictional. … I certainly hope.
I’m getting old. I can remember the Smurfs and I liked My Little Pony long before it was cool. If it was ever cool. Okay, it probably still isn’t.
My point is, I’m about ten cats away from shaking my cane and demanding that those kids get off my lawn.
- How do I know? Well, I remember some of these 11 Sounds Your Kids Have Probably Never Heard.
- I actually still like the Jurassic Park font, despite it making this list of the Eight Worst Fonts.
- I wish they would start a dream recycling program here in Jamestown. I’m sure many of my old dreams, such as that of becoming a ballerina crop duster, could benefit a dream-impoverished child somewhere.
Hey, kid. Get off my lawn!
Comic books are supposed to be full of color and action and people going “POW!” and “BANG!”, or at least hitting each other while wearing outfits that would make Lady Gaga giggle hysterically.
At least, that’s what I thought.
Apparently they can also express the existential angst of living in an ultimately empty world, or at least, that’s what I imagine this episode of Jack Strand is supposed to be saying.
The person who originally found this lovely gem wasting away somewhere commented on the lack of action in the 1938 comic, and while it does feature a striking lack of action, I was more impressed by the incredible isolation and hopelessness the pastel panels show. I don’t know if someone just forgot to draw in the backgrounds, or whether the artist got rushed and decided “Heck with it, I’ll just fill it with color and throw in the towel, no one will notice.”
Even the characters themselves seem to be contemplating the deeper meaning of life, or meditating, or maybe they’re just wondering when everything around them was replaced by a startlingly vacant blue/orange/yellow/whatever void.
The guy in the above panel seems interested, yet detached.
The same can’t be said for the woman in the panel at right. I’m guessing she’s supposed to be frightened, perhaps because the crowd behind her has been tragically drowned in a catastrophic flood of pistachio ice cream.
Her dialogue has exclamation marks; I can’t think why. Removed from the context of the rest of the comic, and its story, she could easily be calmly calling Jack over for a chat.
Jack! Oh, Jack! Would you like a bowl of pistachio ice cream?
We have lots.
Just a round-up of links today; my list of things I want to show people is getting a little unmanageable.
- Thailand is flooding, and residents are using some fairly unconventional means of transportation, including water bottle rafts. They’ve also tied their motorcycles to trees.
- Life has a gallery of its worst covers. I can’t help but notice how many of them are Christmas covers; Christmas is a slow news day, generally.
- But here are the best covers. There are a lot more of those.
- Nerds rejoice! There are three new elements on the periodic table!
- Don’t freeze your jeans. It won’t help, and it’s really weird.
- And finally, proof that no matter how bad your day is going, it could be worse.
(Most of these links originally came from BoingBoing.net.)
While I don’t like tapioca pudding, prior to this week I never would have considered it to be a dangerous substance. Then again, people generally don’t think of molasses as a killer, either.
I was looking at the updates to Snopes.com (a website I thoroughly recommend for those of you wishing to cultivate a skeptical outlook on life), and found the curious tale of a tapioca time bomb — a tale which was verified as true.
It did put me in mind of a far more famous food disaster, the Boston Molasses Disaster, which occurred Jan. 15, 1919. I always liked the expression “slower than molasses in January,” but after reading about the Boston Molasses Disaster, which killed 21 people and injured another 150, I can’t really use it anymore.
Because molasses in January, silly as it sounds, can be swift, deadly, and murderous.
Essentially, a molasses tank collapsed, sending the sticky goo everywhere in an 8 to 15 foot wave. Streets were flooded. People drowned in molasses. The wave was so strong it lifted a train off its tracks and slammed buildings off their foundations.
It was awful. And molasses in January is not slow. It can be quite fast.
I got to hang out with the Sons of Norway on Saturday as 15 members of the group made lefse, and it was a lot of fun. I think there were only two or three pure-blood Norwegians in the group, and the rest of them were like me, with two or more ethnic groups in the background.
I admitted I was also part-German. Mom likes to say I’m part German, part Norwegian and all stubborn.
In response to this another woman grinned and said “You can tell a German. But you can’t tell him much.”
An important thing happened at the Saturday gathering, though. I learned some people put jam on their lefse and that this is totally okay.
I may try that next time I’m at my family’s holiday celebrations, but I’m a little bit worried that might be viewed as heretical. They’re strictly butter-and-white-sugar lefse eaters, except that some of the men mash lutefisk up with potatoes and use the lefse as a tortilla.
Do you think I’ll get kicked out of the family for putting jam on lefse? They must have jam in Norway.
I’m Norwegian enough to like lefse, but I’m definitely not Norwegian enough to like lutefisk. I’m also German enough to like kuchen, but not enough to like sauerkraut (except on pizza).
I’m also, apparently, a tiny bit Croatian, but I don’t really have any strong opinion on neckties, never having worn one.
The Tyburn jig was a dance no one ever performed voluntarily, because “dancing the Tyburn jig” was a cheery little slang term for being hanged to death at Tyburn–the “deadly nevergreen” tree that bore fruit all year around.
Over the years, “Tyburn” became a legendary place of horror. The first execution there was in 1196. The Tree was erected in 1571, a three-sided gallows, and the last execution there wasn’t until 1783. (Wikipedia)
Of course, after executions at Tyburn stopped, people began to forget about it. If you randomly asked people “What was Tyburn famous for?” most people probably wouldn’t have any idea what you were talking about. It’s been a very long time since 1783, after all.
However, the tree at Tyburn — and a few of the executed criminals that were its morbid “fruit” — still crops up in unlikely places.
Tom Waits released “Real Gone” in 2004, and it includes a song called “Sins of My Father.” One of its verses?
They’ll hang me in the morning on a scaffold yea big
To dance upon nothing to the tyborn jig
Treats you like a puppet when you’re under its spell
Oh the heart is heaven but the mind is h—.
That’s an obvious reference.
What about the folk song, “Sam Hall,” covered by Johnny Cash in 2002′s “American IV: The Man Comes Around”? The original song was “Jack Hall,” and it was about a chimney sweep-turned-highwayman who was hanged Dec. 7, 1707 — at Tyburn.
But a-swingin’, I must go; I must go.
A-swingin’, I must go; I must go.
A-swingin’, I must go while you critters down below,
Yell up: “Sam, I told you so.”
Well, d— your eyes!
Then there’s the smash hit “Mack the Knife” song, popularized by Louis Armstrong in 1956 and then Bobby Darin in 1959. It’s a catchy little tune about a killer named Macheath, originally from “The Threepenny Opera,” of 1928, which was based on “The Beggar’s Opera,” written in 1728.
Stick with me here, I’m going somewhere with this.
Macheath’s story was based on that of a notorious highwayman and prison-escape artist, Jack Sheppard, who was hanged at Tyburn Nov. 16, 1724.
Now on the sidewalk, huh, huh, whoo sunny morning, un huh
Lies a body just oozin’ life, eek
And someone’s sneakin’ ’round the corner
Could that someone be Mack the Knife?
It’s been 228 years, and Tyburn’s bloody legacy lives on.
(This post was inspired by an excellent piece detailing Tyburn’s horrors, by the Chirurgeon’s Apprentice. It’s a titch morbid, but if you don’t mind that, check it out.)