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.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Perspectives Differ: The Goa'uld Reconsider Jaffa

Stargate Jaffa

The following is a Tok'ra transcript of a speech made by the minor Goa’uld Wepwawet to an assembly of concerned Goa’uld.

Transcript begins.

People, it’s time to face facts: our entire mode of reproduction just isn't working. Sure, we're well-served by it once we mature and take control of a host and learn the glowing eye trick, but before that is just awful. I don’t know about the rest of you, but the years I spent in the abdominal pouch of a Jaffa were the worst of my life. Those belly pouches are disgusting.

I don’t know if any of your Jaffa ever cleaned the Goa’uld poo out of their belly pouches, but my Jaffa didn’t. Hell, he barely ever cleaned the outside of himself, let alone the inside. Do you know what it’s like, living in a belly pouch along with three years of your own collected excrement? Of course you do, because you all had to go through it too. But what a lot of you don’t know is the hell-in-a pouch experienced when your Jaffa doesn’t even clean out the mess from the previous symbiote.

Tok'ra File Photo: Goa'uld larva emerges from Jaffa belly pouch.
Tok'ra File Photo: Goa'uld larva emerges from disgusting Jaffa belly pouch.

Oh yeah. I was like the fourteenth symbiote to mature in my Jaffa’s pouch and I don’t think that motherfucker so much as scooped the place out in between. I had to live in there with fossilized poo that was older than me. And let me tell you, that stuff doesn’t get any less gross with age. The day I left my Jaffa’s belly pouch and melded with a human host was the best damn day of my life.

But it’s not just living in a Jaffa that’s annoying, it’s living with a Jaffa. They never do anything fun. They never go to movies or bars. I can't think of a more boring organism to mature inside of. Even a cow might stroll through some scenic hills from time to time. And the music the Jaffa listen to is awful. It’s all war chants and marching beats and morons shouting “kree!” at the top of their lungs. Nothing with a rhythm. Nothing you could dance to. Not that you’re ever in the mood to dance, living in the poop-filled belly of a Jaffa.

 Tok'ra File Photo: Mature Goa'uld preparing to take over a human host.  Presumably wishes it could forget the past several years inside a Jaffa.
 Tok'ra File Photo: Mature Goa'uld preparing to take over a human host.
Presumably wishes it could forget the past several years spent inside a Jaffa.

These, however, are pale complaints in comparison to the fact that my Jaffa was repeatedly sent into battles while I was inside him. What the hell is the reason for that? What insane bioengineer decided to make the Jaffa into a combination of baby incubator and berserker warrior? Because that sounds like a pretty weird combination to me. I would seriously like to meet the dumb motherfucker who was asked to design a fearless frontline warrior to be used primarily as cannon fodder, and when his system lord asked him what the weird little pouch in the belly was for, he answered, “Oh, you put your own children in there for safe keeping.”

Furthermore, I’d like to meet the system lord that approved that insane idea and ask him what the hell he was thinking. If I was a system lord and one of my bioengineers came to me with that shit, I would have him chained to the underside of a Death Glider and flown into space. You do not want to keep someone around when they have so much bioengineering talent and so little common sense. Seriously, what would he do if you asked him to make an actual baby incubator? Fill it with flaming naquadah?

Yet somehow, the Jaffa idea spread through the entire galaxy. Now every system lord has huge armies of the Jaffa and every Goa’uld destined for a host is incubated inside one. I ask you, is this such a good idea, putting the next generation of Goa’uld inside members of a slave race? Sure, the Jaffa think we're Gods, but what if they ever wise up and rebel? I imagine the parley going something like this:

“Give up this rebellion and return to your posts, or we will destroy you!”

“Okay, do it.”


“Go ahead and do it. We have all your fucking children inside us. So go ahead and blow us up.”

“Well, uhhh...”

“Also, we’re your army, so how were you planning on blowing us up?”

“I am your God made flesh! You will be consumed by flames!”

“Go tell it to the Replicators.”

And can someone help me with the math here? There are something like ten thousand Goa’uld in the galaxy, right? And something like a million Jaffa. And every Jaffa has a baby Goa’uld inside his belly that takes a few years to mature. So answer me this: how many adult Goa’uld will there be a few years from now?

I mean, I know we eat our own young from time to time, at special ceremonies, but we’d have enjoy a baby Goa'uld at every meal to keep the population from exploding out of control. I know I don’t eat a baby Goa’uld at every meal, and I don’t think any of you are eating a baby Goa’uld at every meal, and I don’t know anyone in my family who’s eating a baby Goa’uld at every meal, so just what the hell is keeping our population in check?

I sure don’t know where all those extra Goa’uld are going, but they better keep going there, because if they all mature and take hosts, the rest of us are screwed. And don’t think your Jaffa are going to protect you, because you’ll be dealing with exactly as many new Goa’uld as you have Jaffa. Can you imagine that? A million power-hungry, devious young Goa’uld gunning for your lands and riches. Small consolation that they’ll turn on each other once they’ve killed all of us.

So what’s the solution? It’s easy. We just use the same bioengineering technology we used to make Jaffa, and use it to put incubation pouches into the belly of something like, I don’t know, maybe an orangutan. Or, here’s a crazy thought, what about engineering incubation pouches into the bellies of our own human hosts? I mean, that seems to work pretty well for the humans themselves. And it would free up the orangutans to replace Jaffa as our frontline soldiers.

Transcript ends.

Tok’ra agent’s comments: This minor Goa’uld appears to have discovered our long term “Plan Jaffa” to destroy the Goa’uld from within. Recommend he be eliminated by assassination as soon as possible.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ill-Advised Nuclear Testing, Part 2

Last time in this series, we talked about Operation Clusterfuck Crossroads. You may remember that the testing was halted after only two nuclear detonations, due to no one having a goddamn clue what they were doing. So, with the testing cut short, one vital question remained unanswered: wouldn’t it be cool to detonate a nuke half a mile underwater?

The answer to that question would have to wait nearly a decade, until memory of Operation Crossroads had faded. And then, finally, the dream of a deep-water nuclear test would be revived in Operation Wigwam. Why Wigwam? Because the atomic bomb was invented too late to contribute to the genocide of Native Americans, but we can still nuke them in spirit.

So in May of 1955, a Mark 90 nuclear device was taken five hundred miles off the coast of San Diego and suspended by cable from a barge. Video from the test can be found here.

5/6th scale model submarines—codenamed “Squaws,” because let’s really rub it in, guys—were deployed to gauge the effect of an underwater detonation on enemy subs. The detonation went largely unnoticed, though it was picked up on seismological instruments across the Pacific and a cargo ship leaving San Francisco radioed in to ask if there’d been an earthquake.

The test was better planned than Crossroads and the personnel better prepared, but they still didn’t exactly have their shit together. One of the observation ships lost power due to damage from the blast, remaining within the danger zone for longer than the test plan called for, and the crew apparently had to shelter in the center of the ship during the four hours it took to make repairs.

The Navy cheerfully reported no dead marine animals observed after the test. This claim was made in the same report in which they claimed 100% of radioactive materials were contained to the ocean, which makes me think they just weren’t looking very hard. In the months following the test, a radioactive fish was detected during spot checks at a cannery on the West Coast, but the Navy blamed it on contamination from a test the previous year—as if that made it better. There was no word, naturally, on how many radioactive fish entered the food supply because they hadn't been spot-checked.

Flush with the afterglow of blowing up the ocean with a nuclear device, the Department of Defense started to wonder what it would be like to blow up the upper atmosphere. And in the spring and summer of 1958, they did exactly that as part of Operation Hardtack.

The high altitude portion of Hardtack, codenamed Newsreel for obvious reasons, was a disaster even on its own terms. In its first high altitude test, codenamed Yucca, a bomb was suspended from a balloon fifteen miles above the surface. The bomb detonated as planned, but the desired data was not acquired because the scientific instruments suspended below it were not turned on at the time of detonation. Well shit man, what do you expect, perfection?

The next test, codenamed Teak, was sent up by rocket and intended to detonate over the Pacific, off the coast of Johnston Island at an altitude of 250,000 feet. Unfortunately, someone must have misplaced a decimal point or confused imperial for metric, because this is what actually happened:


Yeah, you guys might want to put some aloe on that. But hey, third time’s the charm, right? So testing continued according to schedule and the Orange test was conducted at an altitude intermediate to the first two tests. It went better than the first two, but it could only have gone worse if someone accidentally left the warhead under their desk.

In the end, however, I’m sure that plenty of valuable data was gathered from these experiments, as shown by whatever the fuck is going on in this documentary picture of an actual Operation Newsreel researcher:

No, seriously. What the fuck is going on here?

But you know what the upside of fucking up your high altitude nuclear tests is? You get to do them over and blow up even more nukes in the upper atmosphere! For that matter, why stop at the upper atmosphere when it’s finally within our ability to nuke outer space?

This was the genesis of 1962’s Operation Fishbowl.
It is the policy of the United States that activities in space should be devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind.
-U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958
Nah, screw that noise, let’s slip the surly bonds of Earth and fuck some shit up. This time there would be none of the screw-ups from Newsreel. This time, we’d dot our i's and cross our t’s, making sure every single facet of the testing was well understood and every contingency planned for.

Shit, nevermind. We just dropped a nuke into the ocean. My bad. Turns out we really weren’t rocket scientists, after all.

The first planned test, codenamed Bluegill, aborted when they just kinda lost track of the test rocket after launch. With no ability to tell which way the thing was going, the rocket was destroyed remotely, preventing a nuclear detonation but raining bits of its nuclear core over a wide area of the Pacific Ocean.

The second planned test, codenamed Starfish, was not quite as successful as Bluegill, which is saying a lot. Starfish’s rocket motor stopped working at about 30,000 feet and also had to be destroyed remotely. Again, raw uranium and plutonium debris from a thermonuclear device rained down into the Pacific Ocean. Some of this contamination fell on Johnston Island. And yes, that's the same Johnston Island above which a nuke was accidentally detonated during Operation Newsreel.

After that, Operation Fishbowl was given some time to dry out and get its shit together. Three weeks later, it was back with a third test called Starfish Prime. Defying all the odds, Starfish Prime actually worked, detonating a 1.4 megaton warhead at an altitude of 250 miles.

 Starfish explosion as seen from Honolulu

Starfish Prime exceeded all expectation, in the sense that it caused more property damage than any of the operational planners had dared to hope for. The ionizing radiation generated by the blast stripped electrons from atoms in the upper atmosphere and sent them screaming down through the Earth’s magnetic field at a significant fraction of the speed of light. This interaction in turn created an electromagnetic pulse over the central Pacific. The pulse damaged the electrical grid in Hawaii and cut the telephone link to and from Kauai.

Worse still, many of those electrons were deflected along Earth's magnetic field lines and created an artificial radiation belt that wrapped around the globe for five years before finally dissipating. The belt destroyed seven satellites, at a time when there weren’t a whole lot satellites in orbit. Among its victims was the just-launched Telstar 1, the world’s first commercial telecommunications satellite.

And if all this talk of electrons reminds you of an aurora, then you’re probably smart enough to conduct a high altitude nuclear trial, at least by the standards of the 1960’s. Possibly too smart, as some sources claim the artificial aurora resulting from Starfish Prime took the researchers by surprise.

 Starfish aurora seen from Maui.

The aurora stretched two thousand miles, spanning the equator and illuminating a third of the Pacific. The most intense aurora effects lasted only a few minutes, but some of them persisted for days, and were bright enough for the New Zealand Air Force to conduct anti-submarine exercises by.

With seven satellite kills in the pipeline and a man-made light show unlike any seen before, Operation Fishbowl was finally back on track. So naturally, they blew up their next rocket on the launch pad after an engine malfunction and sprayed yet more radioactive plutonium across Johnston Island.

That test was going to be Bluegill Prime, and the next one in line was Bluegill Double Prime. Why Bluegill Double Prime? Because you try coming up with enough new names to stay ahead of all our catastrophic launch failures.

Bluegill Double Prime blew up too. It started tumbling shortly after launch and had to be destroyed, showering debris from its nuclear core onto—everybody say it together now—Johnston Island.

Pro tip: do not ever vacation on Johnston Island.

Fourth time’s the charm, though, right? And finally, on Bluegill Triple Prime, the rocket launched and the bomb detonated without a hitch.

I’m sure they got lots of fantastic pictures of angry men staring at rabbits, so it was all worth it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Trial of Admiral James T. Kirk

Trial of Admiral James T. Kirk - Klingon Prosecutor

While the trial of Admiral James T. Kirk following his theft of a starship and the “Whale Probe” incident that followed it are well known in the public consciousness, portions of the trial were sealed and classified Top Secret, in order to protect the security of the planet Earth, Starfleet Command, and The United Federation of Planets. What follows is a transcript of those previously secret portions, here made public for the first time.

President Hiram Roth: Admiral Kirk, can you please explain how you picked the late 20th century to travel back to? A time when nuclear tensions were at their height and the appearance of a phantom object on a reentry path toward North America—such as, say, a Klingon Warbird—could potentially result in the atomic holocaust of the entire planet.

Admiral James T. Kirk: Well, as it turned out, Sir, going back any farther would have left us stranded. As Mr. Scott has already noted in his testimony, the high-energy particles used to restart the Bird of Prey’s warp core were only available in those decades when nuclear fission was used as a power source.

President Hiram Roth: I see. And those particles were available at no other time in Earth's history?

Admiral James T. Kirk: Not to my knowledge, Sir.

President Hiram Roth: Where do those particles originate, Admiral Kirk?

Admiral James T. Kirk: Ahhh... help me out here, Spock.

Spock: Mr. President, the particles in question are emitted by the collision of a slow moving neutron with a uranium-235 nucleus. In this case, inside the fission reactor of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise.

President Hiram Roth: Uh-huh. And where did the uranium in that ship’s reactor come from?

Admiral James T. Kirk: Couldn't say, Sir. The ground, I suppose.

President Hiram Roth: According to our databanks, it came from the Black Hills region of Wyoming, though any number of natural uranium deposits on Earth should have been visible to the Warbird’s sensors. What would have stopped you from using uranium from one of them, had you traveled to a time several centuries earlier?

Admiral James T. Kirk: Certainly the time pressures involved meant that...

President Hiram Roth: Admiral, need I remind you that yours was a time machine? You had all the time you needed. If it took you ten years to get your hands on that uranium, you could have still collected the whales and made it back to the present day exactly when you left. So in truth, you could have gone back a hundred thousand years, to a time when the oceans were filled with whales and there was no risk of catastrophically altering the timeline.

Admiral James T. Kirk: That’s certainly true, Sir. But why would I want to go into the ancient past to find whales in the wild, when I could go to 1986 and find whales in an aquarium?

President Hiram Roth: Because those whales hate us! Do you know what we did to them? People in the 1980’s hunted and killed their entire families. Their mothers, their fathers, their children were all killed by whalers! Even these two were nearly killed. And, in between, they were captured by scientists and kept in an aquarium barely large enough to turn around in. Admiral Kirk, those two whales hate our guts! You couldn’t possibly find a worse pair of whales to gossip with a giant alien probe that has the power to destroy us.

Admiral James T. Kirk: I, ah, I’m sure the aliens will understand that humanity’s past is in the past, Sir.

President Hiram Roth: No, Admiral Kirk, the aliens don’t understand that. Do you think they’d send a probe on a 400-year journey to commune with an extinct species if they had an appreciation for that kind of thing? Admiral Kirk, they do not understand that humanity’s past is in the past. In fact, top scientists have been working day and night to decipher the communications between the whales and the aliens, and... In fact, Dr. Bryce, could you take the stand and tell us what the whales think of us?

Dr. Randi Bryce: They think we’re major assholes, Mr. President.

President Hiram Roth: Do you understand now, Admiral Kirk? The whales think we’re assholes, and now their alien friends, who have the power to destroy us all, think we’re assholes too.

Dr. Randi Bryce: Major assholes, Mr. President.

President Hiram Roth: Major assholes, Admiral Kirk. What do you say to that?

Admiral James T. Kirk: Well, Mr. President... any number of women have started out thinking I was a major asshole, but their... opinions frequently changed with time.

President Hiram Roth: What the hell are you talking about, Admiral Kirk?

Dr. Leonard McCoy: He means he bagged them in the sheets, Mr. President.

Admiral James T. Kirk: Thanks Bones. You’re a big help.

President Hiram Roth: Admiral Kirk, are you suggesting that you will one day have sexual intercourse with the aliens who sent the Whale Probe?

Admiral James T. Kirk: I don’t like to brag, Sir, but if history is any judge...

 Dr. Leonard McCoy: If that doesn't work out, you could try sleeping with the whales.

Spock: That would be consistent with his past behavior.

President Hiram Roth: I tell you what’s going to happen to you, Admiral Kirk. You’re not going to be sleeping with those aliens, for one thing. For another thing, I’m going to order the engineers over at Spacedock to cut out the most broken and dysfunctional parts of every Constellation class ship in the system and slap them all together into the single most broken, busted, dysfunctional starship in the history of the Federation. And then I’m going to name it Enterprise. And then I’m going to bust you down to Captain and put you in charge of it! And I’m going to keep my eyes open for missions that send you to the ass end of the sector, or to some barren garbage heap of a planet, or anything else truly wretched. And whenever I see a truly shit mission come up, you’re the one who’s getting it. Because when it comes to shit missions, from now on you’re the only ship in the quadrant!

Dr. Leonard McCoy: This isn't going to turn out well for us.

Spock: The outlook indeed appears grim.

Admiral James T. Kirk: Oh, don’t be so glum. Maybe this little project just needs the right director.

Spock: I believe it may be time for another colorful metaphor.

Dr. Leonard McCoy: Ah, fuck me.

Spock: Indeed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Letters Home

 I still haven't gotten a response from any of my previous letters, but that won't stop me from sending more. Nothing will stop me.

Someone please stop me.

Text version after the cut.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ill-Advised Nuclear Testing, Part 1

Nuclear bombs: they’re pretty safe, right? Just make sure you’re standing behind the yellow line when they go off and you should be fine. Who drew the yellow line? Umm... some guy, I think. He had a clipboard and everything, so he must know what he’s doing.

It’s hard to do an article on the most ill-advised nuclear tests of all time, because it’s such a competitive area. You’d like to think that any nuclear testing would occur only after the most careful study and extensive cost-benefit analysis. In reality, however, most nuclear test programs seem to have their genesis with someone saying, “Hey, you know what look cool?”

The tradition of poorly thought out nuclear testing goes back almost to the beginning, in fact, when competing superiority and inferiority complexes in top military brass collided to make Operation Crossroads, also known as the Able-Baker tests. It all began in August 1945, the same month that atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when the Navy and a United States Senator independently proposed that we drop a few nukes on warships.

The Navy wanted to do it so they could prove they still had relevance in the nuclear age. The Army Air Force, by way of their pet Senator, wanted to do it to prove the Navy’s irrelevance in the nuclear age. Both proposals were more or less rigged to produce the desired results.  The Air Force wanted to pack as many ships in as tight as possible with full loads of fuel and ammunition to assure maximum destruction, while the Navy wanted unarmed, unfueled ships spread over a wide area to show how survivable they were.

To understand these political machinations, you have to understand that the Air Force brass, drunk with power after killing something like a million civilians with nuclear and conventional weapons during WWII, were of the opinion that, eh, America didn’t really need a navy anymore. The Air Force’s shiny new nuclear weapons could do anything the Navy could, and better! Shit, I bet if you put floaties on a nuclear bomb, it could have landed troops at Normandy at least as well as the stupid Navy did.

The competing plans eventually compromised, crowding the ships into a small area but loading them with only small amounts of fuel and ammunition.  Scientists who’d worked on the Manhattan project, apparently oblivious to the critical need for the Air Force and the Navy to get into a dick-measuring contest, warned that the entire project was as dangerous as it was pointless. They were, of course, ignored. What the hell did they know about nuclear weapons, anyway?


The preparations for the test were abysmal. Simulations were conducted using a stick of dynamite and model ships. Many of the test ships being moored at Bikini Atoll had unrepaired damage from the war, which would complicate any later damage analysis. And no pretesting of the effectiveness of planned decontamination techniques was made, so they really had no idea whether they’d be able to decontaminate surviving ships. The man in charge of the tests, Vice Admiral William Blandy, apparently didn’t even realize that ships might survive an atomic blast but still receive a fatal dose of radiation. When someone brought this up, he hastily added test animals to the target vessels. He also didn’t know that the Geiger counters used on site could not detect alpha radiation, and were therefore blind to plutonium contamination.

In short, the whole operation was fucked from the start.

Rare color photo of Admiral Blandy observing the Able-Baker tests.

Nevertheless, in June of 1946 the first bomb was readied for air drop aboard an Air Force B-29. It was armed with the infamous “demon core,” which had already taken the lives of two scientists in separate accidents during the Manhattan Project. In one last act of defiance, no doubt, the bomb missed its target by half a mile and landed well to the edge of the cluster of test ships, sinking only five of them.

Score one for the Navy.

You can find color footage of the Able test here.

Within a day of dropping the bomb, most of the surviving target ships had been boarded for inspection and decontamination. So, yeah, let’s take that point right back. However, in what I’m just going to assume was sheer lucky, given the competence level of the people in charge, the Able bomb was air-burst high enough to avoid significant fallout. Most of its fission products dispersed into the atmosphere, where you’re still breathing them today.

News reporters brought in to witness the blast expressed disappointment that the bomb didn’t sink more ships, which just goes to show how quickly human beings get bored with even the most incredible events. This was only a year after the first detonation of an atomic weapon, and the A-bomb was already blasé.


So fuck it, we’re putting the next one underwater. Won’t that look awesome?

For the Baker test, a nuclear bomb was suspended by cable from the ocean surface, so that it could detonate underneath the surviving target ships. This was a monumentally poor idea, because no one had a clue how this would affect the blast dynamics. Here’s a little preview, though: it wasn’t for the better.

When Baker went off, it lifted millions of tons of irradiated water and seabed material up to a mile in the air. When it inevitably came back down, this radioactive material expanded into a turbulent cloud of mist which spread outward, engulfing all of the test ships and bathing them in radioactivity. Since Baker was detonated below the surface, nearly all of the fission products and unfissioned plutonium settled into the local environment.

Baker Test. The shadow at the base of the water column is thought to be the battleship Arkansas 
being upended by the blast.

5000 people were sent into that radioactive environment to perform evaluation and decontamination. Fireboats tried to scour contamination off target ships with their hoses, but the process was largely ineffective—partly because they were trying to decontaminate with water pumped from the lagoon, which was now also radioactive. In many cases, this process only created more problems, when radioactive spray from the hoses blew back onto the fireboats and contaminated them too.

Video of the detonation and some of the fireboat cleanup efforts can be found here.

And if you think that’s dumb, you haven’t heard nothing yet, because sailors were actually sent aboard test ships to decontaminate them by hand. With soap and water. These sailors were given no protective equipment. They went to work in their uniforms, scrubbed plutonium-contaminated decks on their hands and knees, and then returned to their ships—dragging the contamination with them to spread it there.

Cleanliness is next to glowiness.

Even worse, the Navy was under the impression that target ships moored at the very edge of the test site could be recrewed and sailed home before being scrapped. Why in the holy hell would anyone want to occupy a ship that’s had an a-bomb dropped on it, and that’s just going to be scrapped anyway? Well, remember that dick-swinging contest between the Air Force and the Navy? The Navy wanted to take its surviving ships back to the mainland and get pictures of them steaming into port, to prove they were still operational after being hit by an atomic blast.

Two ships were thus reoccupied and their crews promptly received a dangerous doses of radiation and had to be evacuated. The commander of the condemned battleship USS New York even got into a pissing match with the officer in charge of safety, Colonel Stafford Warren, and accused him of taking his Geiger counter readings too close to the deck of the ship. The deck where, you know, people have to walk, so wouldn’t it be a nice little bonus if it wasn't a cancer factory?

Speaking of things that aren't supposed to glow in the dark, guess what the fish in the lagoon started to do. Yup. They started to glow. Not in a visible wavelength, mind you, but let's just say that you could take an x-ray picture of them without actually using x-rays. Because, see, the fish were so radioactive that they now provided their own x-rays. Here's one of the blue tangs (a.k.a. surgeon fish) caught after the test, photographed in both x-ray and visible wavelengths:

At least it has a positive attitude.

The incredibly disturbing fish picture, along with data coming in from off-site tests for plutonium contamination—which were showing positive even when samples were taken deep inside the target ships—finally convinced Vice Admiral Blandy that he’d created a massive clusterfuck and ought to stop before things got even worse. The third detonation in the Crossroads operation was cancelled, all operations at Bikini Atoll were suspended, and most of the surviving test ships were sunk.

No one immediately died from the radioactive contamination of the Crossroads tests, though not for lack of effort on the Navy’s part. The mortality rate among veterans present at Bikini, however, has been higher than that for veterans generally, and 200 premature deaths may be attributable to the Able-Baker tests.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that people were living there? Yeah, Bikini was inhabited prior to the tests. It isn’t now, of course, what with the glow-in-the-dark fish and whatnot. The natives were evacuated to Rongerik Atoll, which then had to be evacuated after it too was contaminated by fallout from the botched Castle Bravo nuclear test in 1954.

So congratulations, Bikinians. You’re honorary nijū hibakusha! Hopefully that thought will help get you through your chemotherapy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Buffy's The Order of Dagon Discovers Common Sense

Order of Dagon Contingency Planning Meeting Regarding The Key
Transcript of Order of Dagon Contingency Planning Meeting Regarding The Key 

Brother Kazamir: Order, order. This meeting will now come to order. Thank you for attending, Brothers. I’ve called you here today because the Hell Goddess known as The Beast, a.k.a. Glorificus, a.k.a. Glory, a.k.a. The Abomination, a.k.a. That Which Cannot Be Named, has discovered that we hold The Key and seeks us even now. If she defeats us and takes The Key, she will unleash Hell on Earth in her attempt to return to her own dimension.

Brother Michal: Question, Brother. I’ve never understood the “That Which Cannot Be Named” part. Can anyone explain that?

Brother Vladimir: It’s very simple, Michal. She is far too evil to even put a name to.

Brother Michal: But Kazamir just put a name to her. Several, in fact. For someone who cannot be named, she has quite a few of them.

Brother Kazamir: Will both of you please shut up? We refer to Glory as “That Which Cannot Be Named” because she was born in the far depths of time, when the universe was fluid and mystical—before sound, before speech, and thus before names.

Brother Vladimir: Fair enough, fair enough. But, technically speaking, can't anything that existed in that time be accurately called “That Which Cannot Be Named”? It seems to me that we need a more specific system. Perhaps Glory could be “That Which Cannot Be Named One”, and then the next thing which cannot be named would be two, and then three, and everything would follow from there, until eventually you reach things that can be named.

Brother Otmar: Oh, and can we change it to “That Which Could Not Be Named”? “That Which Cannot Be Named” implies that it cannot be named now, which is plainly untrue, since we're obviously naming it.

Brother Kazamir: I fear that we’re wandering from the point.

Brother Michal: I have an idea. Why don’t we call her “That Which Could Not Then But Currently Can Be Named.”

Brother Vladimir: One.

Brother Michal: What?

Brother Vladimir: “That Which Could Not Then But Currently Can Be Named One.”

Brother Michal: Can be named one what?

Brother Vladimir: No, no. I mean she’s the first thing that could not then but currently can be named.

Brother Otmar: Do we know that for certain, though? She could be the second thing that could not then but currently can be named.

Brother Vladimir: Yes, yes, but she’s the first thing that could not then be named, but which we’ve taken to naming now, though it could not once but now can certainly, currently... be... ummm... be named. Thus, one.

Brother Otmar: I don’t follow you.

Brother Kazamir: Shut up! Shut up! We’re here to talk about my plans for The Key! If Glory obtains The Key, the world is doomed! We must do everything in our power to hide it from her. We'll figure out the name shit later.

Brother Vladimir: Quite so! Please continue, Brother Kazamir.

Brother Kazamir: Very well. I have been working on this problem all night, and I have a brilliant solution. I propose that we use an ancient ritual to transform the key into a teenaged girl living in Southern California, younger sister to Buffy Summers, the Slayer, and that we alter the fabric of reality throughout the entire world so that all humanity—with the contractually stipulated exception of the mentally ill—believe The Key is and has always been Buffy’s younger sister.

[Here, the transcriber notes that there followed “One full minute of crickets chirping”.]

Brother Otmar: Apologies, Brother, but ARE YOU HIGH ON CRACK RIGHT NOW?

Brother Vladimir: I was just going to ask that.

Brother Kazamir: What? What? Why would you say such a thing? I think it's a good plan. I thought you'd like it!

Brother Michal: If I may be permitted to speak for my esteemed Brothers Otmar and Vladimir, I believe that they mean no insult, but merely wish to point out the fact that this is the plan of someone who’s high on crack.

Brother Kazamir: Oh, come on! Think about it! The Slayer will protect The Key, for The Key will be her own sister. For what would she sacrifice more, than for her own sister?

Brother Vladimir: I, uhh, I don't know about more, but I daresay she’d sacrifice exactly as much to protect a Key that could destroy the whole world.

Brother Otmar: Exactly. If we’re going to count on The Slayer, why not just give her the damn Key and tell her exactly what it’s for? Why all this obfuscation? It just seems like we could save everyone a lot of hassle that way. Also, The Key wouldn't be wandering around and causing shenanigans.

Brother Kazamir: But if The Key were a mere object to her, she might destroy it rather than letting it fall into Glory’s hands.

[Here, the transcriber notes that there followed “TWO full minutes of crickets chirping”.]

Brother Otmar: What, exactly, would be wrong with that?

Brother Vladimir: Indeed. In fact, why don't we just destroy it ourselves?

Brother Michal: I’ve always wondered why we don’t just break the damn thing. I mean, why keep it around when it serves no useful function and can destroy the world? That’s not the kind of thing you keep in a junk drawer, for old time’s sake.

Brother Kazamir: It is a sacred object of ancient power! We cannot simply smash it.

Brother Vladimir: Why not?

 Brother Kazamir: Because... ancient power. You know. Ancient power!

Brother Vladimir: What ancient power? It only does one bloody thing. It opens up a gateway to every dimension simultaneously, thereby unleashing countless hells on Earth. What do we want one of those for?

Brother Michal: Maybe he's worried he'll get bored with the Earth someday?

Brother Otmar: You’re both wrong. Brother Kazamir keeps The Key around so he can extract favors from people. I can’t count the number of times I’ve refused to lend him money, and then he’s been all like, “That sure is a nice planet you got there. Shame if anything happened to it.”

Brother Michal: Merciful Dagon! That’s horrible!

Brother Kazamir: We’re not destroying The Key, okay? I'm putting my foot down. That’s final. And if you don’t like it, then...

Brother Vladimir: Are you threatening to unleash countless hells on Earth if we don’t go along with your stupid plan?

Brother Otmar: That’s exactly what he’s doing. He does it all the time.

Brother Michal: Now that I think of it, he did once threaten to destroy the Earth if I didn’t turn down my music.

Brother Otmar: So I suppose we have no choice.

Brother Kazamir: Then we're agreed. We use our powers to transform The Key into Buffy’s little sister. And we name her Dawn.

Brother Vladimir: Dawn?

Brother Kazamir: Give me that look one more time, Brother Vladimir, and I'll destroy the Earth. Don't think I won't.

Brother Michal: Ahem. I think, perhaps, that I’ve found a compromise...

[Here, the transcriber notes that Brother Michal held up a newspaper whose headline announced the impending launch of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity.]

Brother Michal: Perhaps instead of transforming The Key into the Slayer’s little sister, we should transform it into the Mars robot’s little sister, eh?

Brother Otmar: And no one would ever suspect a thing! There would be no one to work out the secret, what with The Key being shot off to another planet. And even if they did suspect, how are they going to get to it?

Brother Kazamir:That's a stupid plan. Who would believe that NASA would launch two identical robots to the same planet?

Brother Vladimir: It's better than your dumb plan.

Brother Otmar: Because, unlike you, we’re not on crack.

Brother Kazamir: I am not on crack! Not... today.

Brother Vladimir: I'll lend you money for crack if you agree to our less insane plan.

Brother Kazamir: Deal!

Brother Otmar: Then let us begin the ceremony...