Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Een dubbeltje op zijn kant

Forty nine years ago today, on the night of January 31st 1953, a tremendous windstorm synergistically worked with the high spring tide to create a storm surge that topped 4.55 meters above Normal Amsterdam Water Level in places. The surge topped and then overcame the sea defenses along much of the coastline of the Netherlands; 89 dykes failed. Much of the Netherlands is below sea level. The flooding inundated 1,365 km² of land, 30,000 animals drowned, 47,300 buildings were damaged, 70,000 people were evacuated, and 1,835 people died.

Not all of the low lying areas of the Netherlands were flooded. There were extremely low lying areas in North and South Holland that were protected by dykes along the river Hollandse Ijssel. Three million people lived in North and South Holland in 1953. By 5:30 am on the morning of February 1st the frantic efforts of volunteers along one section of the Dykes became a losing battle. A part called ‘the Groenendijk’ began crumbling, and soon developed a large gap; it was one of the few sections not reinforced with stone.

As seawater rushed through the widening gap towards the homes of three million people, the mayor of Nieuwerkerk hatched a plan to plug the hole with a large river ship. He commandeered a ship called “de Twee Gebroeders” (The Two Brothers), and commanded Captain Aire Evegroen to steam his ship into the widening gap. Strangely enough the plan worked, and is commemorated today by a statue entitled “Een dubbeltje op zijn kant” (“A dime on its side”).

Monday, January 30, 2012

73

Thirty three years ago today, on 30 January 1979, after an exhibition in Tokyo, a Varig, cargo Boeing 707-323C registration PP-VLU en route from Tokyo – Narita to Rio de Janeiro-Galeão via Los Angeles went missing over the Pacific Ocean some 30 minutes (200 km ENE) from Tokyo. The wreck was never found.

Gilberto Araujo da Silva was captain of the 707.

153 paintings by Manabu Mabe were on board the 707. Manabu Mabe was a Japanese painter from Sao Paulo Brazil; he died eight days after his seventy third birthday in 1997. Manabu moved to Brazil when he was seven; his father was retreating from failed business ventures in Japan. By Manabu’s thirty fifth birthday his unique modern-Japanese-Brazilian style had been discovered by international art communities, and he was famous. The large Tokyo exhibit occurred when he was fifty four, and at the height of his talent and popularity.

Almost five-and-a-half years earlier, on 11 July 1973, Gilber was captaining another Boeing 707 which made an emergency landing in a 5km short of the runway of Orly airport outside Paris. A fire had started in the rear bathroom, and the cabin had filled with smoke. By the time Gilbert landed the plane 123 people on board were dead; most by smoke inhalation. Ten of the eleven people who survived were crewmembers.

Among the dead was Filinto Müller, age seventy three. Filinto was a well-known Nazi collaborator, and one of the architects of the vast repressive system of Estado Novo, who had risen through the political ranks of Brazil to become head of Brazil’s Senate. It is rumored that Filinto sometimes personally participated in torture sessions and summary executions against political opponents. In 1937 he visited Nazi Germany at the personal invitation of Heinrich Himmler.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Boom Goes the Dynamite

Fourteen years ago today, at 7:33 AM on the morning of January 29th 1998, Robert D. “Sandy” Sanderson (a 35-year-old off-duty Birmingham Police officer) was helping the morning nurse open the New Woman, All Women Health Care Clinic when a bomb went off killing him and critically mutilating the 41-year-old Emily Lyons. The bomb consisted of a few sticks of dynamite with nails taped to them. The nails were added in the hopes that they would become red-hot projectiles that would rip to shreds any human tissue they collided with. Unfortunately for Sandy and Emily the design worked as planned.

Lisa Hermes, who was also arriving for work at the clinic, was a minute late for the blast. She arrived to find her co-workers lying in pools of blood and glass. Emily’s face and legs had been mangled by the blast; her belly was riddled with bits of nail. Emily would spend most of the next day in surgery in a valiant, and successful, attempt to save her life.

Sandy’s body was so severely mangled that it was obvious he was dead despite any autonomic twitching that may have been occurring. His home was across the street from the Women’s clinic where he moonlighted, and now lay dead. The explosion brought Sandy’s wife out of their apartment to see what was happening. Lisa, wanting to spare her the image of her dead husband’s mangled and twitching corpse yelled at her: “Don’t come across!”.

At least one person was running away from the carnage. A man running away from the scene was observed to pull a wig off his head, and stuff it into a blue bag. He then jumped into a grey 1989 Nisan pickup truck, and speed away. The observer even jotted down the license plate number on the truck. That man was later identified as Eric Robert Rudolf.

For the next several hours the surrounding area (including some dorms for University of Alabama at Birmingham) was evacuated. The fear was that there would be another bomb. No second bomb was found.

The fear of a second bomb was well founded. A little over a year earlier, at 9AM on January 16th 1997, another of Eric’s bombs went off near a Women’s clinic in Sandy Springs Georgia (an Atlanta suburb). Shortly after the first bomb a second bomb placed near where ambulance and fire-fighters might park went off; it injured six more people.

A few weeks after the Sandy Springs bomb, at 10PM on February 21st 1997, a bomb went off near a crowd of almost 150 people outside The Otherside Lounge off Piedmont Rd in Atlanta. The area around the club was cordoned off, and a second bomb was found and safely removed.

On the morning of February 24th 1997 the FBI received a handwritten letter from “The Army of God” which warned that there would be more bombings of women’s clinics and lesbian bars. The note also vowed to bring the violence to “supporters”.


“A Pro-Lifer who is not an active, although maybe troublesome, member of a Christian Faith Community has cut him or herself off from the Church, and therefore, from Christ.” – Army of God Manual


The existence of The Army of God had been known since 1982. Various members had kidnapped, blown up, and harassed abortion providers and those that they thought supported them. The AOG still exists, it has a website, it distributes an AOG manual, and it continues to bomb Women’s clinics. On January 1st 2012 a Women’s clinic in Florida was gutted by AOG members in a Molotov cocktail attack.

Rudolf was identified as a suspect in some of his bombings on Valentine’s day 1998; he would be identified as a suspect in more before 1998 drew to a close. He was put on the FBI’s most wanted list, and went into hiding. AOG members managed to keep him hidden till May 31st 2003.

While Eric was in hiding two country music songs were written about him, and thousands of “Run Rudolph Run” T-Shirts were printed. Many Christians openly described Eric as a Hero.

The people who helped “Rudolph Run” were seen as godly martyrs by their friends and family. No-one who harbored or assisted Eric has been convicted. In one famous incident Eric’s brother videotaped himself (on March 7th 1998) purposely cutting off his own arm with an electric saw. He sent the videotape to local news outlets saying the self mutilation would “send a message to the FBI and the media.”.

Eric avoided the death penalty, and now sits in prison penning long tirades against the evils of society, and the need to cure them for Jesus. Eric’s supporters publish his rants on the internet. Many of his tirades include misogynist attacks against women.

“The family’s greatest enemy in the West for the last hundred years has gone under the name, ‘feminism.’ Feminism slowly introduced the seeds of revolt within the family and turned hearth and home into a battle field.” – Eric Robert Rudolf


There is a great amount of parallelism between Eric’s violent ramblings and the “Protect the Family” verbiage of social conservatives.

Eric became a rabid Christian when his mother moved the family (with teenage Eric) to the Church of Israel compound in 1984; a little over a decade before Eric began bombing. Eric self-identifies as a Roman Catholic, but the Church of Israel is an offshoot of the Temple Lot fringe of the Later-Day-Saints (Mormon) church. The “Temple Lot” referenced in the name is the spot in Independence Missouri that Joseph Smith dedicated to building the first LDS temple (and laid a cornerstone in 1831), and where all Mormons will gather at the last of the latter days. The Temple Lot group owns the exact 2.5 acres of real-estate which is the future temple’s lot.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Big Snow

One hundred and twenty five years ago today, on January 28th 1887, the largest snowflake ever was seen in Ft Keough, Montana. The snowflake measured 15 inches (38 cm) by 8 inches (20cm).

The second biggest snowflake was seen eighty-four years later in Bratsk, Siberia sometime in the winter of 1971, and measured 12 inches (30 cm) by eight inches (20 cm).

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hot Snow

Sixty one years ago today, at 3:30 am PST on January 27th 1951, at 7,000 feet over Railroad Valley, members of a special weapons crew began inserting a nuclear capsule into the open nosecone of a MKV nuclear device.  At 5:44:30 am PST Able shot took place 1,060 feet over Frenchman’s flats dry lakebed in the Nevada Test Site (NTS).  Two days earlier the Las Vegas Review–Journal had run a banner headline whose huge two–inch letters declared, “VEGAS A–BOMB POPS!”. 

Almost five years earlier, on July 1st 1946, the Able device was detonated 520 feet over the Bikini Atoll; its target was the red and white painted battleship “Nevada”.  The Able device was a 23 kiloton fission device, and it failed to sink the Nevada.  Due to a faulty tailfin the bomb missed its intended aimpoint by 710 yards. 

Seconds after the Able shot Ronald Gardner, circulation manager for the Las Vegas Review–Journal, was wakened from a deep sleep.  For an instant the barely-breaking dawn sky was a bright as mid-day.   Windows were broken a hundred miles away.

The Las Vegas Review–Journal ran a banner headline whose huge two–inch letters declared, “VEGAS ‘ATOM-IZED’”. 

The Able shot was only the tenth nuclear detonation ever.  At 1 kiloton it was small compared with most of the others.  An experienced observer remarked that it provided a “lesser show”.

B-29’s tasked with monitoring the after-blast effects flew through Able shot’s cloud; they could hear the plane sandblasted with ejecta from the dry lakebed as they did.  Visually the Able shot cloud appeared to rise as high as 35,000 feet and then break apart.  Other B29’s tracked it more precisely; it passed over the Sangre-de-Cristo mountains south of Denver CO at 7pm MST.  At 9 am EST on the 29th of January 1951 the cloud passed over the southern New England coast, and was estimated to be 300 miles wide.  It started to snow.

Before the crippling blow of digital photography thousands of rolls of film were processed in the Eastman-Kodak plant in Rochester New York.  They constantly measure background radiation, as it can expose film.  On the 29th of January 1951 the snow that fell on Rochester New York was significantly radioactive.

The Able shot was the first of hundreds of nuclear tests conducted at the NTS.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Say I did not

Fourteen years ago today, on January 26th 1998, President Bill Clinton, with his wife Hillary standing beside him, told the world this:

"I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I'm going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never. These allegations are false."

 Cigars enjoyed a surge of popularity.

Since that time the phrase “Blue Dress” has taken on new meaning. Locations on the white-house tours have garnered extra attention including:

Various locations in the Oval Office,
The private study of the oval office,
and the hallway by the private study next to the Oval Office.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Scotland

Uganda celebrates the anniversary of two military coup-d’états separated by a span of exactly fifteen years today. The first coup, led by Idi Amin on January 25th 1971, deposed President Apolo Milton Obote. The second, on January 25th 1986, deposed Tito Lutwa Okello who had deposed the same Apolo Milton Obote barely six months earlier.

Obote, who had created the office of an executive president, was "dictatorial and barbaric”. The corruption he fostered led to widespread shortages and deprivation. When he was finally deposed in a relatively bloodless Coup by Idi Amin there was nationwide celebration.

Obote had been deposed while out of the country. There is some small evidence that other nations supported this efficient transition. Amin told Uganda and the world he was just a “caretaker” and that elections would take place as soon as possible.

Then, a week later, Amin changed his mind, and installed himself as president. Then things got bad.

Idi Amin attempted to solidify the Coup by exterminating “Obote supporters”. This started with high ranking officials, and descended into genocidal purging of Obote’s Lango tribe. The purging was extended to include the Acholi people who speak a mutually intelligible Luo language. Army barraks were stormed and Luo speaking soldiers were killed. In 1972 a failed invasion by exiles loyal to Obote failed, and kicked Amin’s brutality into a higher gear. By early 1972 over 15,000 Acholi and Lango soldiers and civilians had disappeared, and Amin was just getting started.

As the number of bodies grew so did the length of Amin’s official title. It eventually grew to:
"His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular".

He also officially claimed to be the uncrowned King of Scotland. Amnesty International claims 500,000 people lost their lives to Amin’s barbaric reign.

Amin was popular outside of Uganda. Some dignitaries thought his wild tittles were the sign of mental simplicity, and discounted his barbarism. Pakistani and Libyan leaders saw his rule as a potential toehold in central Africa, and supplied him with military hardware.

Buoyed by thousands of foreign troops armed with tanks and jets Amin invaded neighboring Tanzania in 1979. Amin’s troops were trained for brutalizing a population, not fighting a war, so when the Libyans on the front line were outflanked the Tanzanians marched right into Kampala. Amin fled to exile in Libya. Tito Lutwa Okello and his fellow exiled Ugandans took up the reins of government when the Tanzanians left. Unfortunately the people put in charge of setting up the election they called for rigged it so Obote won. So began Obote’s second term as president.

Obote’s second term was even more brutal than the first. The party he had “defeated” (the National Resistance Movement) in the rigged elections sought recompense and responded to their harsh treatment by forming the National Resistance Army (NRA). Obote attempted to cut off support for the NRA by moving three-quarters of a million people into concentration camps. Decisions on who to put in the camps or promote in the Ugandan army began to be decided on tribal affiliation. Tito Lutwa Okello’s group found themselves on the wrong side of the racial divide, so they staged another coup, not five years after ousting Amin, and ousted Obote for a second time.

By now civilization in Uganda had almost been completely dismantled. The army could barely fight, and the NRA quickly took over.

The chaos that was Uganda would continue to destabilize the region; sometimes spilling over into neighboring nations.

In 1990 the Rwandan Patriotic Front would launch the invasion of Rwanda from Uganda which would eventually seed the Rwandan genocide.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

London Mills

Forty three years ago today, on January 24th 1969, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) shut down following student riots. LSE consistently ranks as a top 20 school in one thing or another most years. Four Fabians (Beatrice and Sidney Webb, Graham Wallas and George Bernard Shaw) came up with the idea to start LSE at a breakfast party at Borough Farm, near Milford, Surrey, on 4 August 1894.

LSE students wanted to highlight their belief that it was their democratic right to influence the appointment of Dr. Adams (in 1967), who had served in Rhodesia. They “occupied some buildings”. The schools administrators decided there were some buildings they would prefer to not have occupied, and so put up some metal grating to dissuade the students from entering those buildings. The students thought that the grating disrupted their freedom of expression, and so they removed them, with sledgehammers. This angered the administrators who had a couple dozen students arrested. This in-turn angered the students who staged a sit-in in front of the police station, in the middle of the road. Since everything was pretty much at a standstill the administrators shut down the campus.

In 1969 USA campuses were being disrupted by anti-Vietnam war protests. Protests conducted by the very people who risked being drafted to fight in that war. These English protests by contrast were sparked by a dislike of African involvement by a Director who had already been in his position for over a year. Nobody was shot, no teargas was lobed, no-one was hospitalized due to brutal police beatings, but it was rather inconvenient.

In 2009 John Ata Mills was elected President of Ghana; one of the most stable and peaceful African countries.

In 1969 John Ata Mills was a student at LSE.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Moscow Too

Seventy five years ago today, on January 23rd 1937, seventeen Bolsheviks went on trial in Moscow for belonging to the “Anti-Soviet Trotskyite-centre”, whose purpose was apparently overthrowing the Soviet Government. This was the second of the three “Moscow trials” that bookmarked Stalin’s Great Purge.

The first two “Moscow Trials” ended with high ranking Bolsheviks publicly confessing to crimes such as conspiring with the Nazis; some defendants begged for death sentences.

Investigations into the particulars of the crimes the defendants were confessing to yielded confusing information. One conspirator (Georgy Pyatakov) supposedly flew to Oslo to personally receive terrorist instructions from Trotsky on a commercial flight that did not exist. Another conspirator (Ivan Smirnov) was a key operative in the assassination of Sergei Kirov that took place while he was imprisoned by the very Soviets who accepted his confession; he had, in fact, been imprisoned for over a year at the time of Kirov’s assassination.

Despite the problems with reality the trials proved convincing to influential people. The US Ambassador to Moscow, Joseph E. Davies, witnessed the first two trials and judged them fair:

“In view of the character of the accused, their long terms of service, their recognized distinction in their profession, their long-continued loyalty to the Communist cause, it is scarcely credible that their brother officers…should have acquiesced in their execution, unless they were convinced that these men had been guilty of some offense.* It is generally accepted by members of the Diplomatic Corps that the accused must have been guilty of an offense which in the Soviet Union would merit the death penalty.”

British MP D. N. Pritt observed:

“We can feel confident that when the smoke has rolled away from the battlefield of controversy it will be realized that the charge was true, the confessions correct and the prosecution fairly conducted”.

The sentences handed down during the second trial were more lenient than those handed down during the first. All sixteen defendants of the first trial were sentenced to death and executed. Only thirteen of the seventeen defendants of the second were sentenced to death; the others were sentenced to labor camps. The reason for the leniency was, in part, that confessions at the second trial named names used in the third. The defendants who went to labor camps died shortly after arriving at the camps. Documents released after the fall of the USSR confirm that they were executed by undercover Soviet agents sent to the camps to kill them.

The spectacularly confessing defendants in the trials had been tortured for months. Nikita Khrushchev said of the trials:

“They were only so stigmatized and often, no longer able to bear barbaric tortures, they charged themselves (at the order of the investigative judges – falsifiers) with all kinds of grave and unlikely crimes”
Some of the defendants, notably first trial defendant Grigory Zinoviev, were apparently given assurances that their lives would be spared and their families left undisturbed. Zinoviev was executed within days of sentencing. His family was then rounded up and executed.

For each defendant in the “Moscow Trials” tens of thousands of unnamed individuals were also executed. Since the fall of the USSR mass gravesites have been uncovered yielding almost a quarter million corpses.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Incense, Wine and Candles

One hundred and thirty five years ago today, on January 22nd 1877, the authorities finally had enough of Arthur Tooth, and put him in prison. Arthur, a priest of the Church of England, had been burning incense and candles in his church. This was illegal as a result of the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 which read in part (section 8):
  1. That in such church any alteration in or addition to the fabric, ornaments, or furniture thereof has been made without lawful authority, or that any decoration forbidden by law has been introduced into such church; or,
  2. That the incumbent has within the preceding twelve months used or permitted to be used in such church or burial ground any unlawful ornament of the minister of the church, or neglected to use any prescribed ornmament or vesture; or,
  3. That the incumbent has within the preceding twelve months failed to observe, or cause to be observed, the directions contained in the Book of Common Prayer relating to the performance, in such church or burial ground, of the services, rites and ceremonies ordered by the said book, or has made or has permitted to be made any unlawful addition to, alteration of, omission from such services, rites and ceremonies.
Arthur was just the first priest imprisoned for ritualism. Sidney Faithorn Green, T. Pelham Dale, Richard William Enraght, and James Bell Cox were all imprisoned for varying stints after Arthur was released. Sidney was imprisoned for twenty months; he must have burned a boatload of incense!

The Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 was repealed on 1 March 1965 through the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measures of 1963 (No. 1)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Miss Sam

Fifty two years ago today, on January 21st 1960, A test of the mercury Launch Escape System (LES) took a little Rhesus monkey named Miss SAM 11.7 miles out to sea from the Virginia barrier island she was launched from. The LES is a rocket put on the tip of a bigger rocket; both the US Mercury and Apollo rockets were equipped with them. The LES fires and carries the capsule up and away from the main rocket. The LES, being mounted on top of the capsule, shoots its fiery exhaust gasses down onto the capsule. This must be a very scary ride indeed.

SAM was an acronym for the School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.

The test rocket Miss SAM rode in, the Little Joe 1B, consisted of just the LES and a capsule. The fact that the LES was able to carry Miss SAM to an apogee of 9.3 miles indicates how powerful the little LES rocket was.

If Miss SAM could have processed the information she would have been almost as scared by the safety record of the US monkeys in space program as that wild January ride. The US had been flinging monkeys into space for a dozen years. The first monkey, a Rhesus named Albert, suffocated during a V2 trip on June 11th 1948. Albert II died on impact, Albert III died in an explosion, and Albert IV died on impact, Albert V died when his parachute malfunctioned, Albert VI died as a result of heat stress while waiting in the capsule for the recovery team to find him. Changing the name did not help as Gordo was then killed due to a mechanical failure. The first monkeys to travel to space and survive were Able (a rhesus like Miss SAM) and Miss Baker (a squirrel monkey). Able died four days after his flight after being over-anesthetized for a surgery to remove one of his flight electrodes that had become infected.

The safety record was getting better. Miss Baker lived to 27 years of age (November 29th 1984). She was buried on the grounds of the United States Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The year before Miss SAM’s flight the rhesus named SAM was launched to a 53 mile apogee, and survived. Miss SAM would also survive.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Lonely Lenin

Fifty four years ago today, on January 20th 1958, Sir Vivian Fuchs arrived at the south pole after having left Shackleton base on the 24th of November 1957. Fuchs was leading the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition which would be the first land crossing of the Antarctic. When he got there Sir Edmund Hillary had already been waiting for 17 days. Hillary’s team’s tractor train had left from Scott base, and had set up supply drops for the final leg of Fuchs’s team’s trans-Antarctic expedition.

When Hillary arrived he found a group of 20 Americans led by Rear Admiral George Dufek. In 1956 Dufek with Captain Cordiner, Captain Hawks, and the pilot Lieutenant Commander Shinn became the first Americans to set foot on the south pole after flying there on a R4D (C-47) Skytrain. After wandering around in the snow for a few pictures they attempted to fly back to McMurdo Station, but the plane’s skis were stuck fast. They fired off 11 JATO bottles at once to break the plane free.

In October of 1956 work on the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station had begun. Hundreds of tons of materials were airdropped onto the South Pole. The base was finished in March of 1957. Eighteen Americans overwintered there that first year. Temperatures reached -74 F. The station has been inhabited ever since; though rebuilt and expanded several times.

Not to be outdone the Soviets established a base at the South Pole of Inaccessibility (SPI) in 1958. The SPI is the location on the continent farthest inland from any point. The Soviets put up a building and topped it with a gold bust of Lenin. The base was abandoned because it was too far away from anything to be practical.

On the 19th of January 2007 (or the 20th depending on how you interpret the international dateline at the south pole) team N2i (Rory Sweet, Rupert Longsdon, Henry Cookson and Paul Landry) arrived at the abandoned SPI station after traveling the 1032 miles it took to get there on foot and kite-ski. The Soviet SPI station was covered in snow; only Lenin’s bust remained visible. They flew out on a Russian-piloted DC-3.

Hillary flew from the South Pole to McMurdo station shortly after Fuchs arrived. Just before Fuchs completed the first-ever trans-Antarctic expedition on March 2nd Hillary was flown out to him so they could gloriously enter Scott Base together.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Silver Boom

Ninety five years ago today, just after 6pm on January 19th 1917, a small fire broke out in the melt-pot room of a Silvertown (an industrialized district in the London Borough of Newham) mill that had been built 24 years earlier for the production of Caustic Soda.

The Silvertown plant had actually stopped making Caustic soda about five years before the fire. As demand for Caustic Soda had waned the demand for munitions had waxed, so the plant was repurposed to make TNT. By January 1917 the plant was producing TNT for Brittan’s effort in World War I at full bore. This amounted to about 9 tons of TNT per day. On the 19th the plant had a little over five-days of production waiting in railroad cars to be shipped out.

Due to the time of day few people were at work. Unfortunately, due to the urban location of the plant, when the 6:52 explosion took out many nearby buildings (like the fire station) it resulted in 73 deaths. Molten metal from the railway cars that had contained much of the TNT rained down on many flammable surfaces. One chunk hit a tank holding 200,000 cubic meters of natural gas which exploded in a spectacular fireball. The explosions at Silvertown were reportedly seen as far as 100 miles away.

The year before, on April 2nd 1916, 200 tons of TNT vaporized a plant in Uplees (near Faversham). 105 people were killed. What fragments they could find of them were buried in a mass grave in the Faversham cemetery.

The vacuum process used at the Silvertown plant was invented by Brunner Mond chief chemist F. A. Freeth who described it as:

“Manifestly very dangerous.”
It was early in WWI when Freeth, who had been fighting in the trenches in France for six weeks, received an urgent plea to return to England. It had been discovered that the Germans had scaled-up a process for making explosives from air and coal. The TNT process that the allies used would soon lag behind this new German process enough to give Germany an overwhelming advantage on the battlefield. The allies wanted to cut their TNT with inorganic nitrates (which was almost as explosive as pure TNT) to avoid losing the war. Freeth was the best chemical engineer to scale the process up with an eye towards product rather than safety.

It took Freeth three days to effectively solve the scale-up problem.

Establishing the process required political as well as engineering skills. Glitches and hiccups in converting soda-ash factories to the nitrate-cutting process caused long down-times early-on. In the middle of one of the stoppages a gaggle of French generals announced they were going to tour the factories whose process was to stave-off their imminent defeat. Freeth devised a complicated shell-game to prove to the French generals that the process was working.

Freeth unpacked as much product as he had on hand, and charged the factory with it. He placed a lookout on a bridge the generals would traverse on the way to the plant, and when the lookout signaled their approach Freeth turned the factory’s machines on. For the next 10 minutes, under the gaze of the French generals, he “produced” the nitrate-cut TNT. Minutes after they walked out the door the machines, having run dry of material to work, stopped.

"At the end of every month we used to write to Silvertown to say that their plant would go up sooner or later, and we were told that it was worth the risk to get the TNT." -- Francis Arthur Freeth

The year after the Silvertown explosion, on 1 July 1918, eight tons of TNT took out a substantial part of the National Shell Filling Factory in Chilwell. Of the 137 people killed in Chilwell only 32 could be positively identified. The rest were buried in a mass grave in the Attenborough churchyard.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mano-a-Mano

Four hundred and twenty-one years ago today, on January 18th 1591, King Somdet Phra Naresuan Maharat of Ayutthaya defeated Crown-Prince Minchit Sra of Burma in a one-on-one elephant battle. Legend has it that Naresuan narrowly avoided death at the hands of his childhood rival before fatally slashing Minchit.

Naresuan’s hat bearing the mark of Minchit’s near fatal strike is still on display as a national treasure of Thailand. The anniversary of the battle is celebrated as Royal Thai Armed Forces Day.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Raoul

Sixty seven years ago today, on January 17th 1945, Raoul Wallenberg was detained by Soviet soldiers as they took control of Budapest. Raul was never heard from again.

In June of 1944 Raoul had been recruited by the U.S. War Refugee Board to travel to Hungary, and establish a covert operation within the Swedish embassy for the protection of Hungarian Jews. At the time of his arival in Budapest on July 9th 1944 he had absolutely no experience in diplomacy or clandestine operations. Raoul was assigned as First Secretary in the Swedish legation to Budapest from August 10th 1944 (four days after his 32nd birthday) until his detention by the soviets a little less than six months later.

During that time Raoul is credited with saving well over 10,000 people.

Raoul and fellow Swedish diplomat Per Anger devised the creation of official looking “protective passports” (Schutz-Pass). Although not legal the Swedes worked to have the bearers of these documents treated as Swedish citizens. Raoul did all he could to distribute the Schultz-Pass as quickly as he could get them printed. On one occasion he intercepted a train headed for Auschwitz. His driver recounted what happened:

“.. he climbed up on the roof of the train and began handing in protective passes through the doors which were not yet sealed. He ignored orders from the Germans for him to get down, then the Arrow Cross men began shooting and shouting at him to go away. He ignored them and calmly continued handing out passports to the hands that were reaching out for them. I believe the Arrow Cross men deliberately aimed over his head, as not one shot hit him, which would have been impossible otherwise. I think this is what they did because they were so impressed by his courage. After Wallenberg had handed over the last of the passports he ordered all those who had one to leave the train and walk to the caravan of cars parked nearby, all marked in Swedish colours. I don’t remember exactly how many, but he saved dozens off that train, and the Germans and Arrow Cross were so dumbfounded they let him get away with it”


The Schultz-Pass program quickly became more than Raoul and Per could run by themselves. At the height of the effort over 350 people were diligently working on the program; including diplomats from countries other than Sweden. Raoul rented 32 buildings in Budapest and declared them extraterritorial, and therefore protected by diplomatic immunity. He put up oversized Swedish flags on them, and posted signs on their doors like: The Swedish Library” and “The Swedish Research Institute”. The buildings were said to house over 10,000 people before the war ended.

On February 6, 1957, the Soviets released a document dated July 17, 1947, which stated:

”I report that the prisoner Wallenberg who is well-known to you, died suddenly in his cell this night, probably as a result of a heart attack or heart failure.”

Today Budapest is counted as having the largest Jewish population per capita of any European city. .

Monday, January 16, 2012

18 to 21

Ninety three years ago today, on January 16th 1919, Nebraska ratified the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. Though ten more of the forty eight states would ratify the amendment Nebraska was the last state needed to make the amendment law. Only two states rejected the amendment: Connecticut and Rhode Island.

At midnight almost a year later (January 17th 1920) the Volstead act (National Prohibition Act) went into effect, and prohibition was the law of the land. The Volstead act detailed the particulars for enforcement and interpretation of the 18th amendment. The Volstead act would eventually allow up to 200 gallons of wine to be made in a home each year for personal consumption (that is about 1,000 bottles), and establish a medical prescription mechanism for distributing whiskey.

Fifty-nine minutes after the Volstead went into effect six armed men hijacked two freight-trains loaded with “medical whiskey”.

Just fourteen years later the entire eighteenth amendment would be repealed by ratification of the twenty-first amendment. Only one state, South Carolina, rejected the twenty first amendment. Utah was the last state whose ratification was needed to make the twenty first amendment law. Utah ratified the twenty first amendment on December 5th 1933. Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, both Dakotas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia have never ratified the twenty first amendment.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sticky-Sweet

Ninety-three years ago today, on January 15th 1919, it was a surprisingly warm day (40F) in Boston Massachusetts. People near Kearney Square reported hearing a sound not unlike a machine gun. What they heard was the sound of rivets popping out of the seams of a 50 foot tall tank of molasses located at 529 Commercial Street. The tank contained over 8.5 million liters of molasses.

There is a common idiom in the northeast: “As slow as molasses in January”. On that warm January day the wave of molasses is calculated to have traveled at 35MPH. It destroyed architectural supports and moved buildings off their foundations.

People who were not crushed by the impact were suffocated by the sticky fluid. Survivors spoke of passing out because they were unable to breath. Twenty-one people died and over fifty were injured.

On warm days the neighborhood supposedly still sweetly smells of molasses.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Be

Forty-five years ago today, on January 14th 1967, as many as thirty thousand people joined together in San Francisco’s Golden-Gate Park to ”Be”. Timothy Leary, in his first public appearance in San Francisco, told the crowd to "Turn on, tune in, drop out". Augustus Owsley Stanley III cooked up a batch of “White Lightning” LSD which was freely distributed.

Some say the “Summer of Love” started that winter afternoon, and lasted three years.

The organizer, Michael Bowen, had been enthralled by the city of San Francisco since during childhood trips when he vacationed there from LA with his mother’s lover Bugsy Siegel. Bowen and Siegel also traveled several times to Siegel’s Las Vegas Flamingo hotel. Perhaps Bowen’s choice of San Francisco over Las Vegas is one of the reasons why love is often treated differently in those two locations today.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Nika!

One thousand four hundred and eighty years ago today, on January 13th 532, Emperor Justinian I went to the Hippodrome in Constantinople (now Istanbul) for an exciting day of chariot races. This would prove such an exciting day of racing that the riots that followed it would claim as many as thirty thousand lives, and leave much of Constantinople in rubble.

There were two big “teams” competing; the “Blue” team and the “Green” team. Justinian was a “Blue” team supporter.

By the end of race 22 for the day the normally passionately divided fans had stopped yelling “Win Blue” or “Win Green”, and had started shouting one word: “NIKA” (victory).

Nika stems from the same root as Nike the name the Greeks gave to their goddess of victory (Roman Victoria). She was often portrayed as a divine charioteer in Greek art.

They Hippodrome race fans also decided it would be nice to crown a new Emperor and so began burning looting, killing, and generally acting badly.

The riots took most of a week, and Justinian held up in his palace and made plans to flee. This gave his wife, Empress Theodora, the opportunity to utter two of the great lines recorded by history:

On her husband’s desire to flee for his life:

Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss.”

On her own risk of untimely death should she stay:

Royalty is a fine burial shroud.”

Justinian hatched a plan. He ordered a eunuch to deliver, and distribute, a bag of gold and a message to the “Blue” team captains. The message pointed out that he was a “Blue” supporter, and the man they would crown emperor was a green supporter. The "Blue" supporters laid down their arms, and went home. The disserted “Green” supporters were no match for the emperor’s guards who slaughtered them with impunity.

I suspect that the “Greens” did not do as well at the next chariot races.

Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as a whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe unto us! for we are ruined.” – Jeremiah 4:13

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Happy Bedford Day

Happy “Bedford Day”. Forty five years ago today, at 1:15 pm on January 12th 1967, seventy three-year-old James Hiram Bedford died of Kidney cancer that had metastasized to his lungs. The modern concept of hospice care would not be truly introduced into the US by Cicely Saunders for another two years. James was being cared for by a Seventh Day Adventist couple in a “Nursing Home” they operated out of a space Bedford rented to them.

After James was pronounced dead by his physician, Dr. B. Renault Able, they (Able and the Seventh Day Adventist caregiver Mr Raymond Vest) poured crushed ice over him and began CPR. They performed CPR on his corpse for over an hour until Robert F. Nelson (a.k.a. Robert Buccelli) arrived and began injecting pure DMSO into Mr. Bedford’s carotid arteries. CPR continued for another hour until the injections were complete. James was then wrapped in his ice soaked bed sheet, transferred to a large foam box, and covered in one-inch-thick slabs of dry ice.

By 5 O’clock James had become the first cryopreserved human being. Within six days he would be transferred to Phoenix Arizona where he would be immersed in liquid nitrogen. The next six folks Bob Nelson would “preserve” were not transferred to liquid nitrogen before their dry ice evaporated and they experienced significant decomposition.

James Bedford was a doctor of psychology at the University of California Berkley where he published on the subject of occupational counseling. He had answered a 1965 announcement that read:

“the Life Extension Society now has primitive facilities for emergency short term freezing and storing our friend the large homeotherm (man). LES offers to freeze free of charge the first person desirous and in need of cryogenic suspension”

The Life Extension Society was the brainchild of Evan Cooper, who left cryogenic research entirely three years after James became the first cryogenically preserved man. His wife Mildred explained that:

"He turned away from cryonics because of overload, burn-out, and a general sense that it was not going to be a viable option in his lifetime."

Cooper was lost at sea while sailing sometime in 1983. Bedford’s corpse remains frozen in Dewar of liquid nitrogen somewhere in Scottsdale Arizona.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Algerian Superbowl

Fourteen years ago today, on January 11th 1998, the Green Bay Packers defeated the San Francisco 49’rs 23-10 to win the NFC championship.  Half a world away, in the Algerian town of Sidi-Hamed, about fifty gunmen killed as many as 400 people and kidnapped thirty young girls.

It was the holy month of Ramadan.

Sources differ on which fundamentalist Islamic group bombed the packed mosque and shot those who fled the burning structure.  Some said it was the AIS (Islamic Salvation Army).  Most thought it was the GIA (Armed Islamic Group).  Apparently the message that needed to be sent was important enough to slaughter hundreds of people, but not important enough to actually write down and send to a newspaper.

The December 30th 1997-January 29th 1998 Ramadan was especially bloody.  When the Muslims gathered to break their fast on the first night of Ramadan, 6:15 pm on December 30th 1997, a coordinated attack occurred in the small northern Algerian province of Relizane.  Fundamentalists armed with knives and axes stormed several farming villages.  Everything that moved was killed.  When the number of potential victims dwindled the corpses were mutilated.  The attackers left at Dawn.  Probably to fast before that evenings Iftar.

There was another large massacre on the night of January 4th 1998, and another large one following the Sidi-Hamed massacre on March 26th in Oued Bouaicha.  There were over 25 large massacres conducted by Algerian radical Islamics in 1997 and 1998, and no good count of the smaller ones.

Two weeks after the Sidi-Hamed massacre, on January 25th 1998, Jewel would sing the national anthem to start the San Diego hosted Superbowl which would see the 11 point favorite Green Bay Packers loose to the Denver Broncos 24-31

Several days after Superbowl XXXII Cardinal Francis Arinze delivered to the entire Islamic world the official Vatican message in which he said:

“There are numerous Signs Of Hope: the growing solidarity among people in our time, especially with the poor and destitute, the desire for justice and peace, voluntary service, the return of religion, an awareness of human dignity and of the rights which flow from it, attention to the environment, etc.”. 


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Nashville Beep

Sixty Six Year ago today, at 11:58 am on January 10th 1946, John DeWitt launched the US space program from Fort Monmouth New Jersey. Just before noon John finally heard the quarter-second pulses he had been trying to bounce off the moon with his jury-rigged world-war-two-surplus 3,000 watt bedspring dipole array transmitter. The 111.5 megahertz signal took 2.5 seconds to go to the moon, bounce off it, and travel back to the receiving antennae. The endeavor was called “Project Diana” after the Roman goddess of wild things and the moon.

The bouncing things off a distant object approach had philosophical similarities to the first big program John facilitated. About 22 years earlier, on March 18th 1924, John broadcast a message from the First Baptist Church of Nashville asking for anyone who heard it to write in. John had just successfully directed the design and installation of the station in a small room in the northwest corner of the First Baptist Church’s Sunday school annex. W.A. Marks (a member of First Baptist Church of Nashville) had been trying to get local Ward-Belmont College to allow his church to broadcast their outreach ministry message on their much smaller transmitter with no success. When the path to go it alone was completed station WCBQ (“We Can’t Be Quiet”) became the first licensed radio station in Nashville, and the second official church broadcasting station in the entire south.

Today there are MANY religious broadcasting stations in the USA, and the message has changed little from 1924.

The simple beeping sound bouncing off the moon, however, was an important milestone in the progress of human culture.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Texas Jonesing

One Hundred and Fifty Four years ago today, on January 9th 1854, Anson Jones went up to his room at the Capitol Hotel in Houston after dinner and shot himself.  Jones had been the last president of the Republic of Texas.  About twelve years earlier, on February 19th 1846, Jones lowered the Republic of Texas flag in Austin, declared "The final act in this great drama is now performed. The Republic of Texas is no more.", and gave the flag to a teary-eyed Sam Houston.

Anson was not a native Texan; he was a New Englander.  He was born in Massachusetts and licensed as a medical doctor in Oneida New York.

The dissolution of the Republic of Texas came as a result of tremendous support from the people of Texas who had repeatedly burned Jones in effigy for not proceeding with annexation fast enough.  It should have come as no surprise to Jones that his repeated applications to become a Texas senator were rebuffed.  Jones was convinced that his last bid in 1857 would finally send him to Washington, but it received zero votes from the Texas legislature. 

Less than four years before his death, in 1854, most of the branches of the free-love Oneida cult in his hometown of Oneida had shuttered their doors. 

Perhaps it was the combination of his rejection by Texas and the lack of free love in his hometown that proved too much for the 59-year-old Jones.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Divine Mona Lisa

Forty nine years ago today, on January 8th 1963, visitors to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC stared in amazement at the original Mona Lisa. Close inspection of the original work of art (on loan for the first time to the USA) revealed that she lacked any facial hair. Not only did she not have the mom-stache popular with some electrolysis-avoiding dark-haired Europeans; she lacked eyebrows and eyelashes. They were told that genteel women in the 16th century plucked them out because they were unsightly. In 2007 Pascal Cotte discovered through the use of ultra-high-resolution scans of the painting that Leonardo had painted Mona with eyelashes and eyebrows, but centuries of age and cleaning had removed them.

Some people believe that the Mona Lisa is a self portrait of Leanardo da Vinci in drag.

Cotte’s discovery may have come too late for a Harris Milstead. The famous painting went on display mere weeks before young Harris graduated from Towson High School. It is an easy drive from THS to the National Gallery of Art. Harris would first become famous in 1964 as the killer of his friend Sally before the serial killer who actually killed her was caught.

While the memory of his short-lived stint as prime suspect in a murder still fresh on everyone’s lips Harris plucked his facial hair, proclaimed his bisexuality, and began his long career as a drag queen. Harris would take the stage name of “Divine” from his friend and director John Waters. In the 1974 film “Female Trouble” Divine played both Dawn Davenport and Earl Peterson who, in a possible nod to Divine’s bisexuality, act out a sex scene with each other.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

113 of Piet's Questions

Piet from Rotterdam sent me a link to a quiver of questions he wrote for the Christian believer. They are good questions, and therefore make a good addition to the “How can you believe in Christianity?” literature. It has been pointed out to me many times that my voice is too quiet on this topic; some have suggested that anti-religiousness is the hallmark of a true atheist, and therefore my writing is not truly atheistic. Piet provides an easy way to protect myself from the atheist thought police who would prosecute me for all-too-simply not believing in god(s).


Writing the reasons for not believing is an important –almost necessary- exercise for any Adult Onset Atheist. Once an awkward theistic god is abandoned one’s thoughts turn to amazing and fulfilling ideals. The body follows, and one’s life becomes transformed into a gritty purpose-driven sting of incredibly unlikely phenomena. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that one left religiosity in the dust because it couldn’t keep up with the pace of maturity.


When we begin to remember childhood with the blinding shine of a fondness only decades can buff out of an otherwise difficult time the religion of our childhood basks in some of that shine. Perhaps we remember family members who cut us off because of our de-conversion, and long for their more interested position in our lives once more. Perhaps the ritual and church friends begin to feel like other childhood friends and games. Somehow living as an atheist makes childhood religion look better simply because we are better.


That’s where writing like Piet’s questions come in handy. It is too easy to be an atheist simply by not abandoning theistic delusions. It may even be the best way to be an atheist, but the world, and for type 2 atheists our lives, is full of theistic content. Some anti-theistic content appears necessary from time-to-time.

-AOA

Piet from Rotterdam's 113 questions (he has more at the original site here):

This is an English translation of part of the questions. The original version can be viewed here. Suggestions for improvement or bashing in general please send to Piet

1. Where does your god come from?

2. What is your god made of?

3. What gender is your god? The Bible speaks of a male.

4. Why did your god need to make the earth?

5. What is the purpose of millions of galaxies?

6. Why didn't this omnipotent god create the universe in a single stroke with a clear vision in mind?

7. How can an all-knowing god be disappointed in his creation?

8. Why does your god need people to spread his word, why does he not do this himself?

9. How can a loving god allow that there is a hell for those who do not believe in him?

10. If a person is fully capable of saving another but doesn’t do so, we disapprove of it. We call such a person wicked and unethical, and this person can even be punishable in some cases. Why don’t we condemn a god who, according to many believers, is able to save people out of misery every single day but doesn’t do so?

11. What evil did plants and animals do that died in the Great Flood? Why is there no separation between primary and secondary suffering?

12. Why is your god mercilessly indifferent as to how nature works? It’s eat or be eaten.

13. What happened to those people who weren’t familiar with the Bible before it was written?

14. With 10% to 20% of women having miscarriages, is your god the greatest abortionist?

15. Leprosy was not an unknown condition in the time of the Bible. There were even rituals performed by priests to cure the disease. In Leviticus 13-14 it is clearly proscribed what the priests need to do. The ritual requires two clean birds of which one is to be killed, and the other dipped in its blood together with some cedar wood, scarlet and hyssop. The living bird is then set free and the sick person sprinkled with the bloody mixture once daily for seven days. After a further seven days of isolation, washing and bathing, and shaving and cutting hair, the patient must take a lamb to the priest who will slaughter it for a trespass offering. The priest will daub some of the blood on the patient’s right earlobe, right thumb and right big toe.

“And the priest shall dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand, and shall sprinkle of the oil with his finger seven times before the LORD: And of the rest of the oil that is in his hand shall the priest put upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot, upon the blood of the trespass offering: And the remnant of the oil that is in the priest's hand he shall pour upon the head of him that is to be cleansed: and the priest shall make an atonement for him before the LORD.”

What does Yahweh achieve with bird blood and blood on right thumbs and toes? Wouldn’t it have been easier to give a description of an effective cure instead of these primitive voodoo rituals?

16. Why does your god let Lot and his daughters live so that they can commit incest later? And what father would give his daughters to a sex-mad mob?

17. Why was Jesus not recognised by the Jews as their promised Messiah?

18. In 2 Kings 2:23-24, forty two children are dismembered by two she-bears because they mocked Elisha for being bald. Were they some kind of super bears?

19. Why did your god interfere many times in human affairs in the Bible but did nothing during the Holocaust?

20. When you speak of an all-good god, how does this square with the god in Isaiah 45:7 who says that he creates evil?

21. The Bible is often pointed to as a source of morality. Why are war and slavery not forbidden?

22. Can the bloodthirsty and vengeful god of the Old Testament be reconciled with the loving god that is preached about? A god who lets the children of wicked people be exterminated. Or who commits genocide (Midianites).

Child sacrifices were in fact quite popular. Isaac, the only son of Abraham had to be offered. What trauma does a child suffer? And many know the upsetting story of Jephthah. He promised Yahweh that he would offer the first person he met if the battle ended in his favour. The first one he met after the war was his only child, his young daughter. More child sacrifices can be found in Genesis 42:37; Joshua 6:26; 1 Kings 16:34; 2 Chronicles 17:31, 28:3, 23:10 and 20; Jeremiah 8:30-31; Psalms 106:37-38; Ezekiel 16:20-21; Leviticus 20:2.

23. If the Bible is the word of god, why does it contain so many internal contradictions?

24. If there are so many religions the followers of which are completely convinced of their accuracy, how do you know so surely that your religion is the true one?

25. If Adam and Eve only had three sons, where do we come from?

26. Is a religion that says faith is more important than using one’s reasoning abilities reliable?

27. Why is the number of atheists in prisons proportionally much smaller than you would expect based on demographics?

28. When you ask an atheist if he will provide proof against the existence of the Bible’s god, will you then provide proof against Zeus, Odin, Ra, etc.?

29. Do we have to turn away from our families to be good Christians (Luke 14:26)? Isn’t this a recurring theme in many sects?

30. There are countless myths about people born of a virgin who do special things. Why is the myth about Jesus true but the rest not?

31. Is Christian belief founded on fear?

32. How reliable are the four gospels?

33. How is it possible to be happy in a heaven while your non-believing friends and family members must suffer forever in hell?

34. Why doesn’t everyone have the same opportunity to receive the gospels? Millions of people are born in places where one seldom or never hears of Jesus? And what happened with people who died before Jesus came?

35. How can a benevolent god punish people just because they don’t believe in him?

36. Why did Jesus curse a fig tree for bearing fruit outside the harvesting season?

37. Why did Jesus behave violently at one occasion? Why didn’t he turn the other cheek? Does this agree with his earlier declarations?

38. Why does your god use deceitful spirits and live among them (1 Chronicles 22:19; 2 Chronicles 18:21; 2 Thessalonians 2:11)?

39. Why do venomous fangs, sharp claws, viruses, toxoplasma and all parasites and pathogenic bacteria exist?

40. Why does Jesus announce to the spectators (Matthew 16:28) that many of them will see him return? Why does he not keep his promise?

41. Why doesn’t the god of the Old Testament just create a new earth?

42. Who were the mythical giants of Genesis 6 who were also known as Nephilim? What became of them?

43. How loving is a god who commands the impaling of children and the raping of captured women?

44. Aren't a talking donkey, a flying axe and a motionless sun examples that should convince us of the Bible’s truth?

45. Matthew 4:8 “Again, the devil taketh him [Jesus] up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;” As most people know, the world is round. To be able to see the kingdoms in, for example, South America, something more than a high mountain is needed. Must we give the lord a bad mark for geography?

46. Where did all the water for the Great Flood come from? And how did Noah assemble all those millions of animals? How did Noah get all their food together and how did he prevent them eating each other until they got back on land?

47. When there are 1,500 creation myths, why should the story of one nomadic tribe from the Middle East be true?

48. Is there proof available that a god exists outside the ideas and conceptions people have in their heads?

49. Why is there nothing about Herod's infanticide to be found in history books?

50. There were dozens of scribes in Jesus’ lifetime in the area he inhabited. Why did no one write anything down?

51. Jesus could read and write but an autobiography is lacking. Did he not have the time for this?

52. Where was Jesus between the ages of 18 and 30?

53. In which year was Jesus born? There are disparate versions that indicate a difference of more than ten years.

54. What is the use of letting billions of people suffer who are all forced to participate in a game of good and evil?

55. Why do Christians not kill any women in accordance with Deuteronomy 22:21 when they enter marriage as anything but virgins, but they oppose homosexual marriage?

More passages from which the believer has strayed: “And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22)

Sex during menstruation: “And if a man shall lie with a woman having her sickness, and shall uncover her nakedness; he hath discovered her fountain, and she hath uncovered the fountain of her blood: and both of them shall be cut off from among their people.” (Leviticus 20:18)

56. Why are there two creation stories in Genesis that are contradictory?

57. Why would an infinite, almighty, etc. god demand worship from a being he himself created? This being, angel or human, is infinitely insignificant compared to god himself. Would any person wish to be worshipped by a bacterium? Would any person be offended if a bacterium doesn’t believe in him/her? And the difference between a person and a bacterium is indeed huge, but finite. The difference between god and a person is infinite.

58. How can one conduct a census under the reign of Quirinius when there is no citizenship? What is the use of returning to the place your ancestors came from, in a land that is permanently in a state of war? Is this Christmas story indeed credible?

59. In Matthew it is written that Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword; in Luke it says that all those who reach for the sword will die by it. Where do these conflicting statements by Jesus come from?

60. Were the writers of the gospels creationists or evolutionists?

61. Why isn’t it a problem for some Christians to label accounts that don’t please them, for example Jonah in the whale, as metaphors? And on what basis does one draw the distinction?

62. How is it possible that a god who sees all asks Adam where he is (Genesis 3:9)? Also in this text: “And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know” (Genesis 18:20-21) indicates that the biblical god Yahweh needs first take a look to see what is going on.

63. And how unlikely is it that in one city, 50 righteous infants or children cannot be found who couldn’t be condemned for sodomy?

64. A god that created billions of galaxies approaches Sarah to eat a pancake. Is this realistic or plain superstition?

65. The Gilgamesh epic is the oldest source describing a Great Flood. Why are the Hebrews not being accused of plagiary?

66. Why are many Christians unaware of the influences of Celtic and Germanic rituals and customs on their faith? The feasts and festivals are Celtic, and sainthood Germanic.

67. The Old Testament describes countless despicable things that the Jews did. Why are these laws no longer upheld as Jesus made it clear that he doesn’t repeal them but respects them (Matthew 5:17-19 and Luke 16:19)?

68. Tens of millions of people have fallen victim to other persons/groups who used texts from the Bible for this purpose. Is Christianity a peaceful movement?

69. Archaeologists have attempted to reconstruct biblical stories. After thorough investigation, it appears that many incidents never occurred, for example the exodus. Does this alter Christianity’s starting point?

70. The witnesses who described Jesus many decades later lived in a cultural climate where superstition featured prominently. Could this have influenced how they interpreted the traditions?

71. “God created man in his image and likeness.” Our bodies show countless non-functional vestiges that are characteristic of an animal background. Piloerectile muscles (arrectores pilorum), vomeronasal organ, apocrine glands, appendix, etc. From these it has become clear that it is a widely-branching pedigree consisting of countless hominid forms. Was the resemblance ape-like?

72. What is the meaning of a blessing given to a marriage when the divorce rate among Christians is higher than among atheists? (Source: VS)

73. What is the use of “Thou shalt not kill” if Christians depart en masse for war zones?

74. In many communities “Keep the Sabbath” is proclaimed every Sunday. Isn’t it a bit presumptuous not to say a word to indicate the intended audience?

75. Why can you get good results with a faith healer when suffering from asthma, eczema and MS (where psychological influences can affect the condition) but is it pointless to go there with an amputated limb?

76. It becomes ever more clear that religious feelings have a physiological basis and that it is easy to arouse “supernatural experiences”. Why search outside people’s heads when these phenomena can be explained this way?

77. Why does religion claim a moral high ground? This while faith has thwarted people and restricted their freedoms for centuries. Ever since the Enlightenment the position for many groups has improved significantly.

78. What would be the problem if one were to change NDEs (near-death experiences) to just-still-living experiences? And if all arguments that point to a natural cause of these occurrences become preferred?

79. How was Moses able to describe his own death?

80. At several locations during archaeological excavations, inscriptions have been found that link Yahweh with a female counterpart Asherah. Why is this not seriously looked into, and the story remains limited to one-sided monotheism?

81. In biology you see social structures built around a basic ethic of fairness. In several cases, you even find assisting of the weaker and sacrifice. Do the roots of our human morality not lie here?

82. Religious movements are always at the forefront concerning matters of life and death (immortality) even as there is no concrete proof of the latter. Can they then be considered reliable discussion partners?

83. In Psalm 82:1, “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.” Who were these gods and what was their role during the meeting?

84. Why did your god put people on earth and send wicked angels there too? He surely knew that this would be a mistake and that people would be influenced by Satan. You simply don’t put children into a pit of snakes.

85. Equality principles, for example between men and women, are put under pressure by various religions. Are religious scriptures not a source of discrimination? When a woman bears a child and it is a boy, she is unclean for seven days. If the child is a girl, the mother is unclean for fourteen days (Leviticus 12:2-5). The value of a man and a woman translated into money (silver shekels) is different. For example, between the 20th and 60th year, the ratio was 50 to 30 (Leviticus 27:3-4). Making a vow to Yahweh: If a woman is married then it is the husband’s prerogative to divorce her (Numbers 30:9-13). The link provides further examples.

86. He tells his followers that his work on earth is done and he is ascending to heaven. When he said it, he was lifted up before their eyes and taken in by a cloud so that they no longer saw him. Is heaven above us or did Jesus leave in a UFO?

87. Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term describing the uneasy tension that arises when absorbing facts or concepts that are at odds with one’s own beliefs or opinions, or at behaviour that is contrary to one’s convictions. This feeling of discomfort leads one to reconsider one or more opinions or attitudes unconsciously to bring them more in line with each other, to make them compatible. Usually, others notice such a change in opinion or attitude sooner than the person himself does. Does this apply to the steadfastness of a religious belief? Even when there are sufficient arguments to prove the opposite?

88. In several passages, Jesus says people must give away their property and live in poverty. Why don’t Christians do so? Does religion then become a question of suffering deprivations, and is this asking too much?

89. Is it desirable to raise children religiously? And to do so seven days a week for many years? What is the difference from the indoctrination the communists considered for bending people to the ideas of the Party?

90. Does it benefit society when children are pressed into all kinds of separate schools? Each denomination can establish its own schools where children are isolated and only hear what their particular church considers to be important.

91. Where in the Bible is hell mentioned? In Judaism the “Gehinnom” (Hebrew: גהנום, Greek: Gehenna, γέεννα) is recognised. The name is derived from the Valley of Hinnom, which together with another valley surrounds the Old City of Jerusalem. It is a precursor to Olam Ha-Ba (the world to come, cf. heaven) where one stays only temporarily (a maximum of 12 months) and where one’s soul is cleansed of sin. This involves a spiritual purification: The devil and physical pain and suffering also don’t occur in Judaism (Wikipedia). Evangelicals also speak only of Gehenna and thus refer only to the Jewish concept, not hell.

92. Why is there so much reverence for church forefathers when they were anti-Semitic (Luther) or callous murderers (Calvin)? You regularly hear that they were filled with the “Holy Spirit”. Did the “Holy Spirit” break free of god?

93. In Matthew 27:51-53, the corpses of saints rose from their graves. These living zombies were seen by many. Decades later, not a single eyewitness took the trouble to give this due consideration. Where did the zombies go? Did they die a second time?

94. Lazarus was raised from the dead after a few days, an extraordinary event to which only one writer (John) gives any attention. Was this a conscious choice of the remaining writers or did they know nothing about it?

95. Is attempting to reconcile the trinity with the Bible into a dogma a futile excercise? Where are the relevant passages saying that there are three in one, a father, a son and a holy ghost (for Catholics, are there more still)? Can one still rightly speak of monotheism?

For the marathon runners, here are a few more. Originally, 95 questions/propositions were put forward to correspond with the 95 propositions against evolution or to correspond with those of Luther. The number has symbolic relevance and facilitates searching. It represents a starting point for the target audience.

96. Wandering a little through the bible shows it to consist of traditions handed down from the Bronze Age. In proportion to the earth’s entire history, it’s a mere lick of paint at the top of the Eiffel Tower. An atheist looks at the whole picture from a distance and assesses the questions easily with certainty: For him/her it’s no more than gross superstition. These answers smoothly point towards mythology. Why are believers so hotly intent to beat matters straight with a crooked stick?

97. Research has shown that prayer has no effect at all on patients. It may even have a negative effect as a by-product. Would it not therefore be wise to abandon prayer?

98. Hebrews 6:4-6 states: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance;” Why do believers make such an effort to convince ex-believers when this passage makes it clear that it is pointless?

99. He was the channel between heaven and earth, between god and man. Descended from heaven, at his birth shepherds revered him and brought him fruit and firstlings of their herds. Later he ascended to heaven and the sun god set him upon a throne, his omnipotence having become divided. It was believed that someday he would return to raise the dead and to lead the world. This person was already known in Egypt three centuries BCE. This culture later spread rapidly to parts of Africa and Western Europe. We have this to thank for Christmas and Sundays. The cult also branched off into the Roman Empire, and was familiar with seven sacraments, including baptism, confirmation and communion. On Sunday the priest spoke holy words about bread and water. They believed in the soul’s immortality and the resurrection of flesh. Eventually this movement was prohibited by the Catholic emperors. There are notable parallels also with Asclepius, Heracles and Dionysus, and the aforesaid is the story of Mithras, not Jesus. Christians often insist on the independence of their stories, but where does this tale come from and why would an existing cult take over elements from an emerging religion, one that was even persecuted in its early stages? Is it not more likely that Christians simply borrowed stories that they knew already, including those where they only needed to change a name?

100. The greatest sinner or criminal can plead for mercy and forgiveness at the last moment and make it into heaven, for example the murderer on the cross. Thus Adolf Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot could get inside with the right timing. Yet the atheist who works hard his whole life for the benefit of others has no chance. Is your god a bit hypocritical and more absorbed in himself than with altruistic charity that doesn’t rest on faith?

101. The claim that Genesis must be seen as a metaphor still sounds far-fetched. Many Christians agree that evolution cannot be denied. Even the Catholic Church has confirmed it. This natural process where common descent plays a key role has meanwhile been proven. Even if the weight of evidence doesn’t convince some, there still remains an insurmountable problem. If the story of Adam and Eve is only symbolic, what then is left of Original Sin?

102. In Q. 37 an example of Jesus showing contradictory ideas concerning violence is given. Here follow three more examples whose reliability you should rate on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 is unreliable and 10 is very reliable. Intermediate ratings can of course also be assigned.

Example 1: Jesus calls for swords when the time has come for his arrest, and at the moment he meets his captors he is suddenly fundamentally opposed to violence. A confrontation occurs and Peter hacks off Malchus’ ear, which Jesus heals before being taken captive. Peter runs after the abductors and soon begins a leisurely discussion about the capture. Imagine that you shoot a firearm during the arrest of a friend. How likely is it that as an assailant you’ll just be let off by pleading with the arresting officers? It is also strange that those who resisted Jesus’ arrest went free.

Example 2: Jesus makes a whip of rope and storms the temple courtyard. The guards do nothing. He beats all the merchants on the run and doesn’t allow anyone to escape the courtyard. The next day, Jesus still wanders casually around there. A comparison can be made with a similar one-man action done at Amsterdam’s Albert Cuyp market. How far will you get with a whip, probably against city police, guards and hundreds of merchants? And would you succeed in keeping it occupied until the next day? This doesn’t just concern the ideological question of a centuries-old tradition where it was necessary for people to come from far to obtain offerings.

Example 3: According to the gospels, Jesus was well known in Jerusalem, daily preaching there in public. Suddenly he is so unfamiliar that it is necessary for Judas to identify him (with a kiss) from among his followers. It would be the same as if Pim Fortuin puts up a poster in Rotterdam to ensure that an innocent person is arrested.

103. We must look at Paul’s Christological view, specifically why, as a genuine reformer, Jesus didn’t tackle any concrete practicalities. He didn’t repeat any pronouncements that Buddha had made so often to the point of monotony, and thus we have only a single declaration of “Stop the slavery.” There is nothing about women being equal to men with a few female disciples as living examples. Suppose the described person had said, “The people must choose their own leaders who must serve the people,” thereby presenting the basis of democracy. No nonsensical assertions about you having to give everything to the poor, which is impractical and just creates more poverty. Or just a little business sense such as each year you give 5% of your belongings to people who are less fortunate.

104. Do you find the above picture pleasing?

105. This question comes from a Jehovah’s Witnesses booklet in which it is proposed that the wise men who came from the east were astrologers (Matthew 2:1-2). This practice is forcefully condemned in the Bible (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). Their question is (without answer): “Would God have led people who practise things He condemns to the newborn Jesus?”

106. Is eternal damnation not fairly callous with regard to humans who spend just a short while here on earth, and whose lives consist mostly of avoiding all the pitfalls that would undermine their faith?

107. Here are a few YEC questions (Young Earth Creationists, variously Great Flood supporters).

A. Fossils are usually found in well-sorted geological strata with more primitive sorts found lower down, and thus not as jumbled-up hotchpotch. How do creationists explain this?

B. How do you explain salt deposits between different layers?

C. As an aside, what was actually found recently as a result of research at the Black Sea?

D. Much is frequently said about a great flood(Great Flood Theory). Growth rings of some trees go back as far as 10,000 years but show no evidence of such a flood. Why not?

E. Deposition layers of snowfall (varves) go back some 50,000 years but here too you do not encounter this catastrophe. Why not?

F. In ancient cultures (e.g. Egypt) there is no trace of a deluge. The pyramids have never been submerged. Why is evidence lacking here?

G. Why do some varieties of whale have a pelvis and vestiges of hind legs? Young ones are born covered in hair and sometimes you see whiskers.

H. What is the purpose of piloerectile muscles (arrectores pilorum), vomeronasal organs and the apocrine glands around the anus?

I. Why don’t we see any isotopes occurring naturally on earth with a half-life below 16 million years?
Isotope | Half-life | Found naturally on earth
Vanadium-50 | 6,000,000,000,000,000 years | Yes
Neodymium-144 | 2,400,000,000,000,000 years | Yes
Hafnium-174 | 2,000,000,000,000,000 years | Yes
Platinum-192 | 1,000,000,000,000,000 years | Yes
Indium-115 | 600,000,000,000,000 years | Yes
Gadolinium-152 | 110,000,000,000,000 years | Yes
Tellurium-123 | 12,000,000,000,000 years | Yes
Platinum-190 | 690,000,000,000 years | Yes
Lanthanum-138 | 112,000,000,000 years | Yes
Samarium-147 | 106,000,000,000 years | Yes
Rubidium-87 | 48,800,000,000 years | Yes
Rhenium-187 | 43,000,000,000 years | Yes
Lutetium-176 | 35,000,000,000 years | Yes
Thorium-232 | 14,000,000,000 years | Yes
Uranium-238 | 4,470,000,000 years | Yes
Potassium-40 | 1,250,000,000 years | Yes
Uranium-235 | 704,000,000 years | Yes
Samarium-146 | 103,000,000 years | Yes
Curium-247 | 16,000,000 years | No
Lead-205 | 15,000,000 years | No
Hafnium-182 | 9,000,000 years | No
Palladium-107 | 7,000,000 years | No
Caesium-135 | 3,000,000 years | No
Technetium-97 | 3,000,000 years | No
Gadolinium-150 | 2,000,000 years | No
Zirconium-93 | 2,000,000 years | No
Technetium-98 | 2,000,000 years | No
Dysprosium-154 | 1,000,000 years | No

108. Why do creationists remain so contrary? At Talk.Origins, the replies to the 95 propositions against evolution were readily available. They can be read here. Is it a case of unbounded naïveté or foolishness?

109. Satan is often portrayed in Christian circles as a sly fox. Meanwhile, he has got enough time to read Revelation and sees billions of people entering his hell, the majority of the world’s population. What permits this crafty guy to capture such enormous numbers before the final battle? After some hard training, it would be child’s play to eliminate all those softies from heaven for good. Thus, is the outcome already determined?

110. There are many cranks here who believe in heaven and hell. From this belief they set upon their opponents with arguments that are supposed to convince these critics that they would be better off becoming believers. But let’s look more closely at just one aspect of those imaginary places, namely the temperature: Which one is hotter?

111. Joshua 23:1-14: After exterminating many races, a joyful report was received, forbidding mixed relations with the survivors. One’s own people always first. Such nationalism was in its full glory under Joshua’s leadership. What do you think of those politics? Do they agree with the apartheid regime as shown in South Africa?

112. Why do creationists try so hard to disprove evolution when the creationist theory cannot be explained scientifically on any of its points? Doesn’t this fall under the category of measuring with two different yardsticks, which is therefore intellectually dishonest?

113. Forty years to cross a piece of desert? The overland distance between Cairo and Jerusalem is 424 kilometres. In a car this takes five hours, an hour in a plane, and as a hiker doing an average distance of eight kilometres a day, it would take 53 days. It took the Israelites 40 years, i.e. over 14,600 days to walk that stretch, and thus the distance they covered each day was a few tens of metres. Did they walk in circles?



Invisible Idiot

Fifty-eight years ago today, on January 7th 1954, IBM engineers at Georgetown university turned on the Georgetown-IBM experimental translator. Sixty-some-odd Russian phrases were translated into English to the delight of on looking government observers and journalists.

Since 1956 there has been a story, retold countless times, that someone began feeding data to the machine translator after everyone had left the room.

First they fed the idiom:

“Out of sight, out of mind”

into the machine, and asked it to produce a Russian translation. The resulting Russian translation was then fed into the machine for an English translation. The resulting English phrase was:

“Invisible Idiot”

The same treatment was then given to the phrase: 

"The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 

The resulting phrase from its recursive translation was:

“The liquor is OK, but the meat is rotten!"


Friday, January 6, 2012

Off the Rails

One hundred and fifty nine years ago today, on January 6th 1853, a passenger car broke loose from a train that had left Andover Massachusetts en route to Concord New Hampshire just minutes before. The car rolled down an embankment, and when it came to a stop there was one fatality. Benjamin “Bennie” Pierce (age 11) died as his parents (who had been traveling to attend a funeral of a family friend) watched. Two months later his father would be inaugurated to be the 14th president of the United States of America.

Bennie’s mother Jane would never recover from the tragic death of her third and only surviving child. For years she hid away in an upstairs room of the white house writing maudlin letters to Bennie. She would not appear in public at all until new-years-day 1855. Jane was rarely seen after that, and became known as “the shadow of the white house”. In 1856 she is credited with starting the happy tradition of having a white-house Christmas tree.

Christmas trees should be taken down by January 6th

Pierce is known as one of the least effective presidents of the United States. Of the 44 presidents Pierce has been ranked by some as 39th in effectiveness. The same group ranked his predecessor (Millard Fillmore) as 38th, and his successor (James Buchanan) as 40th.

Pierce was a languid anti-abolitionist and repeatedly admonished northern abolitionists to stop “encouraging ugly feelings”. Harriet Beecher Stowe referred to him as "the archtraitor.”.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Baptism Lessons

Five hundred and eighty-five years ago today, at 3 in the afternoon on January 5th 1527, a 29-year-old Felix Manz was baptized to death, and not by accident. His last words were apparently "Into thy hands, O God, I commend my spirit."; which history would suggest was a popular last phrase for dying Protestants, especially Anabaptists, of which Felix was a founding member.

"Into thy hands, O God, I commend my spirit."

On march 7th of the previous year Zurich Protestants made adult baptism punishable by drowning. History suggests that they were purposefully ironic in their choice of punishment.

The Swiss executioners could, conceivably, have thrown Felix from a bridge. Zurich’s “vegetable bridge” had spanned the Limmat since the first century, but they chose to use a boat instead.

The crowd yelled encouragement to Felix as they rowed him out into the icy river:

Stand firm and suffer for Jesus' sake”.

Felix was accompanied in the boat by a clergyman who attempted to elicit a purportedly life-saving confession from him. Felix would have none of it, and continued to “preach” to the crowd assembled on the shore.

In the crowd were his mother and brother. Felix’s mother had intimate knowledge of the workings of Zurich’s churches as a canon in one of Zurich’s three main Protestant churches had impregnated her with the bastard child who grew to become the doomed man in the boat. The very church where her impregnator worshiped, and potential site of her impregnation, overlooked the river her son was soon to drown in.

The Grossmünster or "great minster" is the heir to a commission for a church issued by Charlemagne himself, and a statue of the emperor with sword in hand adorns the church’s southern tower. The Grossmünster, however, was not opened for 400 years after the emperor died so the link is a tiny bit more fragile than the statue commemorating it.

Both Felix’s mother and brother also shouted encouragement at him while he was taken out into the river to die. What does a mother shout at her doomed son in the hopes of convincing him to die for the sake of baptizing adults?

Go son, Show them how it’s done!!

Felix’s hands were bound and pulled behind his knees and a pole was placed between them.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Coney Island Baby

One hundred and nine years ago today, on January 4 1903, an elephant named “Topsy” was purposefully electrocuted on New York’s Coney Island. Topsy had been sentenced to death for wildly killing three men in as many years. At least one of the men Topsy killed was an abusive trainer who fed the elephant lit cigarettes for laughs. The sentence was initially to be carried out by hanging, but more rational heads prevailed.

Thomas Edison, who lost a bid to electrify New York City with his direct current electricity (DC) had been flamboyantly demonstrating the dangers of alternating current electricity (AC) ever since. Edison had been puttering about killing stray dogs, cats, cattle, and horses for his demonstration purposes, and he jumped at the chance to take on something larger. Edison referred to his process of AC electrocution as being “Westinghoused” (after the main proponent of AC).

In 1890 Edison’s technician Harold Brown (Edison himself was an outspoken critic of capital punishment) made the first electric chair. When the state of New York first used the chair on August 9th 1890 for the execution of William Kemmler they had set the current at 100 volts. This had been sufficient to kill a horse the day before so there was general confidence in the arrangement. After 17 seconds the current was turned off and Dr. Edward Charles Spitzka pronounced Kemmler dead. A couple of minutes later some of the spectators noticed that Kemmler was still breathing; though painfully. The apparatus was quickly reset to deliver 2,000 volts. During the second try Kemmler caught fire and filled the room with such sickening fumes that several spectators vomited upon themselves.

Westinghouse commented that: “They would have done better using an axe.” This may have been a slightly ironic reference to Kemmler as he had been convicted of killing his common law wife Tillie Ziegler with a hatchet (on March 29th 1889).

In order to prevent the Kemmler problems with Topsy Edison had the 28-year-old elephant fed carrots laced with 490 grams of potassium cyanide before the electrocution. It only took a few seconds at 6,600 volts to dispatch Topsy. 1,500 people witnessed the spectacle, and many thousands more have seen the film Edison made of it.

It is interesting to note that Edison’s nemesis George Westinghouse had actually procured the rights to the offending AC technology from Nicolai Tesla. Tesla had worked in Edison’s lab. Edison is famously quoted as dismissing his technician’s ideas: “[Tesla's] ideas are splendid, but they are utterly impractical.”

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Hot Love

Fifty one years ago today, just before 9pm on January 3rd 1961, 27-year old John A. Byrnes began lifting a control rod out of the SL-1 reactor located about 60 miles west of Idaho Falls, Idaho. The procedure Byrnes was supposedly attempting was a re-connection of the control rod to an automated servo mechanism. This would require that Byrnes pull the 88-pound rod four inches out of the reactor core. Instead Byrnes pulled the rod twenty six inches out of the core.

The SL-1 reactor had been renamed the Argonne Low Power Reactor (ALPR) the first of many designed to provide electrical power for remote posts. Pulling the control rod more than 20 inches out of the core was the central operation in a unpublished scuttle procedure for the ALPR-type reactors. One operator explained it: “If we were at a radar station and the Russians came. We’d yank it out.

Once the central control rod was removed the reactor went “prompt critical” causing much of the coolant water to explosively vaporize. The twenty-six-thousand-pound reactor vessel jumped over nine feet in the air. Parts shot off the vessel as the steam sought escape; one part impaled one of three men (26-year-old Richard C. Legg) in the containment chamber. Steam shot out scalding the remaining men. 22-year-old Richard Leroy McKinley would survive until 11pm.

Investigation into Byrnes’s motivation suggests a possible suicide-murder involving an affair with one of the other operators and perhaps his wife with one of the other operators.

The bodies of the men were measured at 500 R/hr. They were buried in Arlington National Cemetery using special lead-lined coffins, sealed in concrete, placed in metal vaults, and given another concrete cover for extra safety.