Looking Backward Into the Present

Using the Popular Culture of the Past to Help Answer Perplexing Questions in the Present

Archive for November, 2008

What would happen if an aircraft accidentally dropped a nuclear weapon?

According to rough estimates, there are at least 30,000 nuclear weapons in existence.  It is probably safe to say that a large percentage of those devices have been transported by air at one point or another.  So what would the government do if a nuclear device was accidentally dropped from an aircraft and didn’t explode?

 

The answer is: probably nothing.  They would leave it there and do nothing.  Think I’m joking? Think again.

 

One of my favorite nuclear accidents (there are many) is the accidental dropping of a Mark 15 hydrogen bomb off the coast of Tybee Island in Savannah, Georgia on February 5, 1958.  According to reports, the bomb was jettisoned in a mid-air collision and lost somewhere in the Wassaw Sound.  Fifty years and many searches later, they still have not found the bomb.  Seriously. 

 

Image of a Mark 15 hydrogen bomb similar to the one lost in the waters off Tybee Island

Image of a Mark 15 hydrogen bomb similar to the one lost in the waters off Tybee Island

 

 

According to various reports, the Air Force maintains that the bomb, presumed to be entombed in mud and dirt, doesn’t pose a threat because it is missing a key capsule needed to produce a nuclear reaction.  However, according to Wikipedia, the Air Force maintains that it is probably better to leave the bomb entombed in the mud, because it might explode.  There is logic that Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, can be proud of. 

 

Wikipedia has a detailed list of military accidents involving nuclear weapons, known as “broken arrows”.  However, just to prove that my Tybee bomb story is not just an anomaly I’ll share another one of my favorite broken arrow stories.

 

On January 24, 1961, an Air Force bomber over Goldsboro, North Carolina caught fire and exploded in mid-air ejecting two hydrogen bombs in the chaos.  Here is the Pentagon’s official account of the incident:

 

During a B-52 airborne alert mission structural failure of the right wing resulted in two weapons separating from the aircraft during aircraft breakup at 2,000 – 10,000 feet altitude. One bomb parachute deployed and the weapon received little impact damage. The other bomb fell free and broke apart upon impact. No explosion occurred. Five of the eight crew members survived. A portion of one weapon, containing uranium, could not be recovered despite excavation in the waterlogged farmland to a depth of 50 feet. The Air Force subsequently purchased an easement requiring permission for anyone to dig there. There is no detectable radiation and no hazard in the area.

 

Nearly 48 years later, the bomb is still there.  Talk about littering. 

Advertisements

Is the Coconut really a nut?

We were standing in the middle of an Indian restaurant, post-gastronomy, when a member of our dining party asked casually, “Is coconut a fruit?”  Naturally, we answered that it was nut.  But there was still doubt in the air.  Could it be a fruit? Is it really a nut?  Could it “technically” be a vegetable?

 

Obviously, the fate of the free world depended on knowing the correct answer.  It turns out that a coconut (Cocos nucifera) is botanically classified in the fruit family of drupes.  Drupes are defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “a one-seeded indehiscent fruit having a hard bony endocarp, a fleshy mesocarp, and a thin exocarp that is flexible (as in the cherry) or dry and almost leather (as in the almond).”

 

 

 

"There is sweet water inside a tender coconut. Who poured the water inside the coconut? Was it the work of any man? No. Only the Divine can do such a thing.” -- Sri Sathya Sai Baba (Indian Spiritual leader, b.1926)

"There is sweet water inside a tender coconut. Who poured the water inside the coconut? Was it the work of any man? No. Only the Divine can do such a thing.” -- Sri Sathya Sai Baba (Indian Spiritual leader, b.1926)

 

The book Plant Form: An Illustrated Guide to Flowering Plant Morphology by Adrian D. Bell and Alan Bryan explains further.  According to the author, “[The] outer surface of a coconut (Cocos nucifera) or peach (Prunus persica) is the epicarp, the coconut fibre or peach flesh is the mesocarp, and the hard shell or stone is the endocarp.  Both are technically termed drupes.” 

 

So there you have it, the coconut is actually a fruit.  According to the online coconut museum, the Hindi word for coconut is Khopra.  However, I call coconut in my shrimp curry, “delicious.”

 
When Was Killing a Journalist Not Considered Murder? Click on Image for More Information About My Book About the Connection Between Dueling and the Origin of American Journalism

When Was Killing a Journalist Not Considered Murder? Click on Image for More Information About My Book About the Connection Between Dueling and the Origin of American Journalism

What is a “Faithless Elector” in the U.S. Presidential Election?

Many people know that Americans in 2008 do not directly elect the president with their vote cast on Election Day. According to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), when a vote is cast in the general election, it is to direct their State electors to cast a vote in the Electoral College for a certain candidate. On Election Day, state electors “pledge” their vote for a specific candidate. Then on December 15, the electors will meet in each state to select the president and vice president. The president of the Senate, the archivist of the United States and other officials must receive their electoral votes by December 24 and on January 6, Congress meets in joint session to count them.

 

But what if the elector in your state pledges to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote in that area, but changes his or her mind when it comes to actually casting their vote within the Electoral College? After all, there is no Constitutional provision or Federal law that requires electors to vote according to the popular vote of the state. Many states have their own laws binding electors who pledge their votes to vote for the parties’ nominees or be subject to fines and/or be disqualified from electoral voting. However, there are 21 states that have no such laws.

 

Those electors who vote differently in the Electoral College from their Election Day pledge are called “faithless electors.” According to the Wikipedia entry on faithless electors, on about 158 occasions electors have cast their votes for president or vice president in a manner different from that prescribed by the legislature of the state they represented.

 

Some of those occasions are just simple mistakes, but other instances throughout history have been a coordinated effort by one or many to advance a personal agenda. Here are some faithless electors’ greatest hits according to www.FairVote.org:

 

 

It is important to note that faithless electors have never changed the outcome of the election…so far. But that doesn’t mean the system isn’t vulnerable to manipulation. On the eve of this historic Election Day, do you know who will be representing your voice in the Electoral College?

 

When Was Killing a Journalist Not Considered Murder? Click on Image for More Information About My Book About the Connection Between Dueling and the Origin of American Journalism

When Was Killing a Journalist Not Considered Murder? Click on Image for More Information About My Book About the Connection Between Dueling and the Origin of American Journalism