Friday, March 16, 2012

The Legend of Tsar Bomba

Once upon a time there was a volcano.
There are many legends surrounding volcanoes and they are all very sad. This elevated valley is lined by fourteen volcanoes, each of which comes with a pre-Columbian legend, fanciful stories about forlorn lovers, lonely hearts, unrequited love, lost children, the agony of being deeply in love and forever apart, separated by earth-shaking tragedy. These are not Harlequin Romances; archaeologists confirm that the earliest romance-genre novel was excavated in a vacant lot in the Bronx and was carbon-dated to the late 20th century (I saw some myself in quaternary deposits behind a beauty salon in Nebraska. Alleys and gutters are full of quaternary deposits.). In any event, the stories always end up with one or the other protagonist throwing a ton of rocks and dust then exploding in rage. Somebody always dies, usually by decapitation. The doom! This is very sad. One gets very sad looking at volcanoes. I do not want to be a volcano.
Then there is the volcano legend about the lonely, wandering seafloor that meets a dark, defiant, and stubborn continental plate and subducts it, yes, subducts it, plunging itself into the hot asthenosphere - suicide! - its hydrous materials releasing water which, in turn, lowers the melting point of the overlying asthenospheric mantle which, when melted, upwells, pushing its way toward the earth's surface. Ultimately, so much pressure builds that the jilted volcanic lover buys a high powered rifle and enters a brokerage firm and holds an officefull of commodities traders hostage for days until his demands are met. Bring in his girlfriend or everyone dies. But she, of course, is miles and miles away and as cold as ice. She won't budge. He might as well be asking to move a mountain. So, we know the rest of the story: he blows his top, tips over the office furniture, throws chairs and desks out the windows, sets fire to wastebaskets and file cabinets and fires his gun into the air. This goes on for days, maybe weeks.
Well, I will have you know that those chairs and desks fell on the quaint villages in the valley below the volcano, burying them beneath a pyroclastic cloud of fine Corinthian leather and walnut veneer. The villagers never saw it coming. They ran into the center of the village, shouting that the gods were angry. Too late to offer up maidens from the tribe next door. But the good news was that the debris did improve the soil for the next generation. Too bad they weren't around to see it. Never did live happily ever after.
Another legend is that there is a bathtub on the side of one of those volcanoes to the southeast of where I sit. It's about 25 miles away, named Cayambe. Actually, the story is that there are are two bathtubs, one on either side of the equator and they have water swirling down the drain in opposite directions. That's what they say. I suppose that those tiny schoolchildren running down the streets in their green, parochial, catechismic uniforms know this one by heart as well. What are they running from?
Another legend is that the only place on earth that you can balance a chicken egg is on the equator. I suppose it's like walking east or west from the North Pole. Do not try it. Attempting that first step to the east, or be it west, has paralyzed many a polar expedition, as they spiraled into bitter disputes. How many of the explorers returned to tell the story? Can you name one? This too, is sad. What should have been a North Pole celebration descended into self-loathing. Hey, there go more schoolchildren.
The problem is this: If these legends were true, the nature of matter would not be as it is thought to be. For example, it would be possible that the distinctly North American phenomenon where a man standing a hundred yards away is so tiny that he can fit in your hand - this has been photographed thousands of times - is real, he is actually that small in comparison to the outstretched hand. This suggests that objects inflate in size as they approach the observer. I need to research this, perhaps get a badly needed doctorate in the process.
Objects Increase in Mass as They Approach Observer - Observer Loses Point of Reference.
Now all bets are off. Another commonly held belief exposed as a myth, a ruse, an ecclesiastical cudgel used to subjugate indigenous populations. Foreshortening is a lie! Millions held in bondage to fables are now free. You can be bigger than your neighbor, just drive him away. Objects do cease to exist when they disappear from sight.
Man, those kids are noisy.
Another one: Where I sit at this exact moment, sometime in March, at approximately 0.031415926535 degrees north, is the purported result of the exercise of free will that deflects random events, controlling destiny. But I am sitting on top of a thousand feet of volcanic ash and a thousand graves of people who were willing to travel to where it was I came from. Trading one set of random numbers for another. Like winning at cards. Eventually, everyone will have won 50% of the games they play. There is no advantage under the sun or beneath the shadow of this volcano, for that matter. There, that's another PhD dissertation:
Man That Abdicates Free Will is Subject to Absolutely Random Events and Dies Just the Same as Man That Exercises Free Will at All Times.
By the way, they sell these doctorates at the Pirated Music Store in this little village for a few dollars. I might pick up a couple. I want one in Shortsightedness. I think could get some credits for life experience. I think someone prints them in a boat offshore, in international waters, and sells them everywhere. Maybe that's why the call them Universities. Anyway, I think this dissertation will find that abdicants experience the illusion of immortality as the result. Something like: I wish to live, therefore I will live. In which case all those romance novels are objective reality; the power of free will is as powerful as the power of love to change another person's free will. I don't have the heart to break the bad news.
Now I see rain and hear thunder.
But it's only the Legend of the Doctoral Thesis. That's the Nobel Prize ceremony playing in my head; thunderous roar of the crowd and sustained applause, thousands on their feet, and one fat, solid gold medal hanging around my neck - for my visionary doctoral work in Unintended and Unanticipated Consequences. The following is a summary of the accomplishments:

"It was assumed that only the lithium-6 isotope would be reactive, absorbing a neutron from fissioning plutonium, emitting an alpha particle and tritium. Deuterium would fuse with tritium. It was assumed that The lithium-7 isotope would be inert. The lithium-6 performed as expected. The lithium-7 did not perform as expected. Unexpectedly, it captured a neutron, then released tritium and the neutron. Hence more tritium and neutrons were released than expected. The resulting atomic blast was 15 megatons, two-and-one-half-times greater than anticipated or intended."

And not only that, I can only assume what I know. I don't know what it is that I don't know but I assume I know all that I need to know. That's should be on the label. That should be on the medal. That's not such a big deal if you are just baking a loaf of bread. But 15 megatons?
I look down at the medal. It's gold. Maybe it was silver before it was bombarded by all this unanticipated yet refreshing radiation that is helping me to develop so many advantageous genetic traits - one of which had better be foresight. Look, I am developing gills! The medal has Mr. Nobel's relief on the front. I recall that Mr. Nobel once did some research and development of his own. He said regarding his dynamite factories:

“Perhaps my factories will put an end to war even sooner than your congresses. On the day when two army camps may mutually annihilate each other in a second, all civilized nations will probably recoil with horror and disband their troops.”

Wait a minute. That's not thunder. That's not rain. This is really sad. I guess none of us saw it coming.

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