Wednesday, August 26, 2015

I Am a Terrible Blogger

I know, I know.

I promised I'd feed your cravings for snark and Robyn-drama, and I have not been doing that. Just hang in there a little longer, though. I'll have some really big news for you soon. Like, really big. No, bigger than what you're thinking. Bigger. Bigger than that. Yes, even bigger. No, not quite so big as that. There you go. The news I have for you will be THAT BIG.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Themes

Just went to see Birdman with my relatives. It's based on Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, a short story about trying to make your relatives understand the themes of the movie Birdman on the drive home from the theater.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Box Seats at the Security Theater

I'm at the airport and I accidentally walked through the pre-screened security line. The guy checking boarding passes just sent me through without even mentioning my mistake, much less stopping me. Either he truly doesn't give a shit or pre-screening is now on the honor system. I didn't even realize I was in the wrong line until I noticed there was no body scanner in my line.

This is scary. I mean, what if I'd been carrying four ounces of water with malicious intent?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ill-Advised Nuclear Testing, Part 3


So now we’ve nuked the surface, we’ve nuked the ocean depths, and we’ve even nuked outer space. And Alexander wept, for there were no more worlds to nuke. What’s a superpower to do?

Well, just make bigger nukes, obviously.

Enter, the H-bomb. The hydrogen or thermonuclear bomb is a much fancier lad than the a-bomb that preceded it. The A-bomb is purely a fission device, in which heavy elements are split, releasing colossal amounts of energy. But you can also fuse lighter elements to release energy. The problem is, it’s hard to compress and heat lighter elements enough to ignite fusion. Re-enter the A-bomb, which can provide more than enough heat and compression to ignite a fusion reaction. And then re-enter the A-bomb again, because we’re going to surround the fusion stage of the weapon with a massive amount of unenriched uranium, called the tamper. Unenriched uranium is stable under normal conditions, which is why we can cram so much of it into our thermonuclear device in the first place. But when exposed to the fusion reaction, unenriched uranium completely loses its shit. It kicks off a second round of fission, which in most thermonuclear devices provides the majority of the megaton-range yield.


It’s also much dirtier. While only increasing the yield by three- or four-fold, it multiplies the radioactive byproducts of the bomb by a thousand times. Behind closed doors, the military fucking loved that part, because a single bomb could effectively bring strategic targets to ruin even if strategic assets within those targets survived the initial blast and fireball. Oh and, by strategic targets, I mean cities, factories, and ports. And by strategic assets, I mean the people who live and work in them.

In public, the tone was very different. The official line in the U.S. was that radiation release did not scale with the increasing yield of nuclear weapons. Which, I guess, is technically true. It didn’t scale, because in the H-bomb, radiation growth exceeded yield by several orders of magnitude.

Which brings us back to Bikini Atoll, where we started this wild and wonderful journey. It was early 1954, about a year and a half after the first ever detonation of a thermonuclear device in the Ivy Mike test. The problem with the Ivy Mike H-bomb, however, was that it was literally the size of a building and thus completely impractical for military use. The Castle Bravo test sought to rectify that by detonating a thermonuclear bomb weighing about ten tons. That’s still pretty heavy, but it’s getting into the deliverable range.

The Castle Bravo bomb was expected to yield a blast in the 4 to 8 megaton range, but the designers made a critical error. They assumed that most of the mixture of fusion fuel in the second stage would prove functionally inert, unable to contribute to the nuclear reaction within the millisecond timeframe of the detonation sequence. This was due to the fact that they had never actually tested the fuel's response to high-energy particles, like those released by the first stage. If someone had stopped and said, “You know, maybe instead of assuming the mix will work a particular way, we should put it in a nuclear accelerator and actually test that shit,” then things might have gone differently.

But who has time for that? We’ve got stuff to nuke. Snap to it!

That very same “fuck it, let’s just light it off and see what happens” attitude was also operative on the day of the test, when it was decided they would go ahead with the detonation despite prevailing winds that were veering from north to east, where they could carry fallout over populated islands. The deciding factor, apparently, was that they’d done a lot of work setting up observation instruments around the blast site, and would have to do it all over again if the test was delayed.

Who needs that kind of hassle? Just blow the damn nuke already.

Which they did. And it was a fucking disaster.


Or a stunning success, depending on your perspective. Like, if you were an insane person, as seemed to be the case for many of our military and civilian leaders at the time, you’d call it a big win, because the yield was a full fifteen megatons. At the time, that made it the largest nuclear detonation in history, leaving a crater over a mile wide and 250 feet deep. The fireball was four miles wide and the resultant mushroom cloud seven miles wide. America, fuck yeah.

Even better, it spread a cloud of radiation over five thousand square miles of ocean. I mean, you can neutralize a lot hell of a lot of strategic assets that way.


The test was so successful that indigenous strategic assets had to be evacuated from islands which were rendered uninhabitable by fallout. Five strategic assets on the Japanese fishing boat Daigo Fukuryu Maru were exposed, resulting in the death of one of those strategic assets. Radioactive contamination from the test was carried by wind and ocean currents all around the Pacific Rim, from the west coast of America to Japan and Australia.

So, it was a rousing success, unless you happen to be afflicted by sanity.

Speaking of sanity and the lack thereof, you know what nuclear weapons would be great for? The construction business.


From that nugget of an idea came 1961’s Operation Plowshare, a proof-of-concept plan to demonstrate the myriad peaceful applications of multi-kiloton nuclear devices. The goal of Plowshare was to develop a toolbox of nuclear earth moving techniques—whose concepts ranged from merely frightening to utter, batshit insanity—and then hand them over to the private sector. Because, really, what damage can the private sector possibly do with nukes that the government hasn’t already?

Techniques developed by Plowshare were to be used to excavate rock and to fracture fossil fuel deposits for collection of their now-radioactive natural gas. If that sounds familiar, it’s basically just frakking, except instead of fracturing the rock with water, you use a nuclear warhead. What could be less controversial?


Similar methods were proposed for leached copper recovery and steam generation. And hey, wouldn’t nuclear devices make strip mining that much more wonderful?

If you’re already floored by this nuclear hubris, you may want to take a moment, because it gets worse from there. A Plowshare subproject codenamed Carryall planned to use twenty-two nuclear bombs to cut through the Bristol Mountains in California. Then a highway and rail line could be constructed across them. Complete, I imagine, with signs instructing motorists to please keep their windows rolled up.


And if you did happen to ride the crazy train through Carryall mountain pass, the next stop would be a nuclear-blasted sea-level link connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, to be called the “Pan-Atomic Canal.”


Once those ships transit Central America, though, they’ll need a harbor to dock at. And won’t it be easier to find that harbor if it glows in the dark? Enter project Chariot, which would chain several nuclear bombs to blow open an artificial harbor.


Now that you’ve docked your cargo ship, though, you have to get your goods out to the people. You’d like to use a river barge, but the only river nearby doesn’t connect to the river you need to send your product up. Well shit, man, with nuclear bombs we can make rivers into whatever shape we want. Project Tombigee/Tennessee River would have done just that, combining the aforementioned little rivers into one big river.


But, you ask, what if blowing up all those rivers creates a water shortage? Well, my friend, nuclear bombs have you covered there, too. Plowshare proposed to use nuclear bombs to connect two aquifers for easier water access. In another proposal, Plowshare would create a rubble chimney above porous rock, which would allow rainwater to seep through the rubble and collect in an artificial aquifer. Think of it as a value-add proposition, because your drinking water would be suffused with expensive radioisotopes.


Thankfully, someone finally came to their sense and cancelled the program in 1977, before it could do any major harm. But for the decade and a half in between, someone thought all of this was a good idea.

If I may come back to the present day for a moment before I wrap this up, I’m reminded of a bit of common wisdom that’s become popular over the last decade: "we have to keep nuclear weapons out of the wrong hands." On its face, the statement is indisputable, more a truism than a proposition, but something about it has always bothered me. It wasn’t until I was doing research for this series of articles that I finally realized what it was.

The problem is that it rests upon an unfounded, unspoken premise: that there’s such a thing as the right hands.

I leave you now with a song.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Reminder...

The final (for now) installment of Ill-Advised Nuclear Testing will be going up on Wednesday as normal, but after that it'll be light blogging for the foreseeable future.

So make sure you hold that article close and read the shit out of it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane in The Bombshell of the Boulevards

If you’ve been reading these comic book reviews from the beginning, you’ve probably noticed a pattern: Superman’s comics are typically power fantasies and wish fulfillment, while Lois Lane’s comics are usually cautionary tales for young ladies.

Today’s message, from Lois Lane #1, is to never steal another person’s life to further your own career. And let me tell you, it arrived just in time to stop me from wearing my boss’s skin to work.

Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane Bombshell of the Boulevards

Our story begins with Lois getting a perm. At the salon, she happens to run into the famous French actress Lois LaFlamme, the “Bombshell of the Boulevards.” LeFlamme reveals that she’s going to skip a party at the embassy, where the Rutavian ambassador is scheduled to appear. Every reporter in town wants an interview with the Rutavian ambassador, presumably so they can ask him where the fuck Rutavia is, and LaFlamme accidentally gives Lois an idea.

Lois Lane vs Lois LaFlamme and Fifi the Wonder Poodle

Lois buys a few things from the theatrical supply company and, et voila, transforms herself into an uncanny match for LaFlamme. That’s right, kids. With a wig and some costume jewelry, you too can impersonate famous celebrities! But don’t wear their skin—it’s probably botoxed all to hell anyway.

Lois Lane Kidnapped a Dog

Wait, where the hell did Lois get that dog? Did it also come from the theatrical supply company, complete with gold collar and snooty attitude? Either that supply company has everything or Lois jumped LaFlamme in the alley behind the salon and took all her shit, right down to nabbing her poodle and yanking her hair out by the roots. The theatrical supply boxes are just a cover in case the police come snooping around.

Lois heads to the embassy party, where a reporter asks her to get the skinny on a government farm program. And after this, he’s going to ask Megan Fox about the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate Formula.

She brushes the reporters off and heads into the party, where she tries to interview the ambassador, but is delayed when he won’t stop asking questions about her. He’s finally exhausted and ready to answer her questions when Superman arrives to entertain the guests. Yeah, Superman does parties.

Superman Shits Metal

To the delight of the crowd, Supes melts a sword with his heat vision and drinks it. That also prepares him for his next trick at tomorrow’s party, where he’ll shit out a perfectly formed steel cast of his stomach. It’s a number twofer.

But soon the party ends, the ambassador promises he’ll answer LaFlamme’s questions later, and the guests go their separate ways. Superman included, though he leaves with the sneaking suspicion that LaFlamme isn’t who she says she is. So he assumes his secret identity and proposes to her with a quote from LaFlamme’s latest movie. Lois takes it seriously. So seriously, in fact, that she loses her shit and yells at him in her regular accent.

Clarke Kent Plot to Teach Lois Lane a Lesson

After apparently crushing the poor man in a fit of anger, Lois fears she’s hurt his feelings and is worried he may do something terrible. Meanwhile, he slinks away, plotting to teach her a lesson. It’s hard to even identify who’s the bad guy is in this situation, because they’re both displaying classic domestic abuse behaviors.

Which I guess makes them a perfect match?

Soon, Lois spots Clarke with a gun and thinks he’s going to kill himself.

Clarke Kent Steals a Squirt Gun from a Squirt

I think Lois is being a bit hasty with her assessment of the situation. I mean, Clarke could just as easily be planning to shoot those kids.

As it turns out, though, it’s just a squirt gun Clarke stole from a little boy. So, perfectly innocent? Now, you may be saying, “Robyn, you’re twisting it around to make Clarke look bad. He was obviously planning to give it back. Why would he keep a squirt gun for himself, anyway?”

Well, I don’t know why he’d keep it, but I assure you that he wanted to. For, when Lois runs over and throws the gun into a conveniently appearing river, these are Clarke’s thoughts:

Lois Lane Throws Away a Kid's Squirtgun

“This will cost you a water pistol--but it’s sure worth it.” He’s not saying that to the kid, he’s thinking it to himself. So maybe he’s blithely weighing other people’s losses against his gains, but it seems much more likely that he has a bizarre fetish for stealing kids’ water pistols and adding them to his treasured collection.

Soon, Lois is on the ambassador’s balcony, waiting for her interview. And if it seems like this comic is whiplashing from subplot to subplot, you’re right. It’s like it has ADD and can’t hold its attention on one location for more than four panels. While Lois is waiting, a French guy comes in and declares that LaFlamme must marry him or he’ll act. How do I know he’s French? Well, just look at him.

Lois Lane and FrenchyMcFrenchalot Have Words

That guy is the Frenchest motherfucker you ever saw. No one has ever been so French, before or since.

The story just kicked into high gear, so naturally we’re going to cut away from it to go back to whatever the hell Clarke’s doing. Turns out he’s investigating a robbery and, in an incident unrelated to the robbery, sees a truck go out of control. He leaps down to street level, diving right past—you guessed it—the A-plot.

Clarke Kent Fakes His Death

Now, you cannot convince me that this was a coincidence, so don’t even try. The odds of Clarke picking that exactly time and location to jump to street level, while not being in his Superman costume, are astronomically low. If you have any doubt left, just look at that smug look plastered on his face as he plummets past her. I’ll only admit the small possibility that Clarke even has himself fooled, and the timing of his fall was purely subconscious. Either way, he’s a sick puppy.

Lois and Frenchtoast run downstairs to find Superman holding a truck over his head and Lois convinces herself that Superman must have saved Clarke on his way to the truck. Which, if true, would mean that Clarke was still suicidal and in desperate need of timely help before he tried to kill himself again.

So naturally, everyone involved promptly loses interest in where Clarke is or what sort of self-harm he’s plotting.

Frenchie McFrenchalot challenges Superman to a duel and… is this even Lois Lane’s comic book anymore? Fucker keeps taking over. Anyway, Supes is challenged and given a choice of weapons, while some random construction worker wanders by and watches.

Superman Duels Frenchy Sans Construction Guy
“Whatza matter? I been into this stuff ever since I read
Chekhov’s The Duel for my master’s in Russian lit.”

They find a nice secluded spot in the middle of Metropolis and go about their duel. Unlike the lying splash page, Superman refuses to take a shot and only stands by while Frenchie Frenchfry fires. But tragedy strikes when the bullet ricochets back!


Superman Kills a French Guy
French Guy Down! I need a baguette
and a twenty cc Pinot Noir push, stat!

But wait! It turns out, French Guy was actually Jimmy Olsen in a cunning disguise! And he’s not dead, he was just pretending so he could emotionally scar Lois Lane! So everything turned out good in the end.

Jimmy Olsen Fakes His Death

I take back what I said before. Superman is definitely the bad guy here. Which is not to say Lois isn’t an abuser, just that her abusive behavior can be traced directly to the mental distress caused by shit like this.

So, what have we learned from all this, kids? One, convincingly disguising yourself as a celebrity and/or French Guy is like, crazy easy to pull off. Two, nobody gives two shits about Clarke Kent, because they all think he’s suicidal but they’re content to let him wander the streets while they take care of this BS. Three, always know where your dog is. That dog Lois rented or possibly kidnapped is dead or running loose now, because she completely forgot about it after the embassy party. Four, if you agree to attend a party, honor that commitment. Otherwise, a psychotic reporter lady might honor it for you and/or steal your dog.

Five, and most important of all, never propose marriage in jest—it might lead to you losing out on a squirt gun.