Ecce Crock

I read Josh Fruhlinger’s mockery of the day’s newspaper comics at his mighty website every morning.  This morning, he included today’s Crock:

Mr. Fruhlinger’s remark on this piece was:

So … I’m assuming there’s, like, a handyman who endorses things on TV by saying he’s a handyman? Like Schmeese does in the throwaway panels here? Damn it, I hate being made to feel like I’m missing some pop cultural reference, and being made to feel like I’m missing some pop cultural reference by Crock is particularly humiliating.

I commented on his post: “This morning’s Crock is certainly an unconventional retelling of the Easter story.”

Today is Easter.  The strip shows a man of humble social station tied to a wooden stake, in the process of execution by the representatives of an imperial power.  The man proclaims that his execution will be merely a prelude to the realization of his great project.   In the words, “You always thought I was the dumb one,” he tells his executioners that they know not what they do.  Schmeese’s contemplated postmortem advertising campaign for the bullets that will have killed him evokes the Church’s traditional veneration of the cross and the other instruments of Christ’s Passion.






I added a comment to my post below that I decided I should put into a post in chief.  Remarking on the elevation of Argentina’s Cardinal Bergoglio to be Pope Francis, I wrote that I hope he will:

say the phrase “Malvinas/ Falklands” in a high-profile forum very soon. Another war between Britain and Argentina over the islands may not be particularly likely just now, but it is by no means impossible. And that a churchman who has so emphatically identified himself with Argentina’s claim to the islands should have been elevated to the papacy the day after the Falklanders voted almost unanimously to remain a UK territory does threaten to create the impression that the Vatican is something other than neutral regarding the dispute. Such an impression can do no good and could raise the potential for conflict from its current, rather low order of probability to a significant danger.

I made a similar remarks as a comment on Mark Shea’s blog.  I suspect that if Pope Francis waits more than a few hours to make it clear that he will not be bringing his nationalism with him onto the international stage he now occupies, any statement he makes later will inflame Argentine public opinion.

I’ll also link here to Michael Brendan Dougherty’s piece in Slate magazine expressing his reservations about Francis.  I’m not familiar with the issues Mr Dougherty raises, but it shares the crispness and force of all his writing.

Three things I hope the next pope will do

I’m not a Roman Catholic, so it’s really none of my business who will be chosen as the new Pope in the next week or two.  But I can’t resist mentioning that there are three things I hope the new papacy will bring:

1. An effort to promote the Latin language.  I’m a Latin teacher, among other things, and among the major institutions of the world the Roman church is the likeliest to do something to drum up interest in the language.  So I’m hoping that the cardinals will choose a leader who will support such an initiative.

2. Make Insight more widely available.  Between 1960 and 1983, a Paulist priest named Ellwood Kieser led a group that produced an anthology of 30-minute morality plays that were distributed to television stations and shown in Catholic schools around the USA.  This series, titled Insight, reminds many viewers of The Twilight Zone; indeed, Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling himself wrote a couple of episodes of Insight.  Like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek, Insight deals with serious moral issues from a distinctly 1960s perspective.  To the extent that the show offers answers, therefore, they are dated; but that’s part of the charm.  The questions are still there, and by the time we figure out how the show might look different if it were done now we’re wrestling with them.

The Roman church owns the copyright to Insight, but has never made any of them available on DVD, Blu-Ray, or any streaming video format.  They did issue some VHS tapes with a handful of the 250 episodes back in the 1980s, but even those are hard to find.  Most of the episodes are available on kinescope in UCLA’s Film and Television Archive, so if you’re in Los Angeles you can go have a look.  And a few episodes have, no doubt illegally, been uploaded to YouTube.  Paulist Productions is currently raising money to make Insight available again, but that effort doesn’t seem to be making much headway.  It needs a push from someone in a prominent position.  So that’s the second thing I hope for from the new pontificate: Put Insight online!

3. There is one important thing we might realistically hope the next pope will do: have a funny name.  Sure, calling Pope Joseph Ratzinger “Papa Ratzi” might be good for a chuckle, but the cardinals can do better.  I was bitterly disappointed in 2005 when they passed up the opportunity to promote Giacomo Cardinal Biffi, archbishop of Bologna, to the papacy.  Not only is he named Biffi of Bologna, but he had spoken out against vegetarianism.   I suppose he could have taken the name Pope Carnivorus I.  Now Cardinal Biffi is  too old.  But don’t despair; the bookmakers’ favorite is the Archbishop of Milan, Angelo Cardinal Scola (also spelled Sicola,) who would become Pope Sicola.  Pope Sicola hits the spot!

I mentioned these three points to Mrs Acilius the other day.  When I summed them up by saying “So, when the cardinals call and ask for my advice, that’s what I’ll say,” she laughed.  Maybe she doesn’t think they’ll call?  I don’t know.

The world’s fastest manhole cover?

Tuesday, xkcd’s What-If mentioned the story of a manhole cover that may have gone into space before Sputnik:

A brief story:

The official record for fastest manmade object is the Helios 2 probe, which reached about 70 km/s in a close swing around the Sun. But it’s possible the actual holder of that title is a two-ton metal manhole cover.

The cover sat atop a shaft at an underground nuclear test site operated by Los Alamos as part of Operation Plumbbob. When the one-kiloton nuke went off below, the facility effectively became a nuclear potato cannon, giving the cap a gigantic kick. A high-speed camera trained on the lid caught only one frame of it moving upward before it vanished—which means it was moving at a minimum of 66 km/s. The cap was never found.

66 km/s is about six times escape velocity, but contrary to the linked blog’s speculation, it’s unlikely the cap ever reached space. Newton’s impact depth approximation suggests that it was either destroyed completely by impact with the air or slowed and fell back to Earth.

This remark includes a link to a post about the test on “Notes from the Technology Underground.”  A comment on that post takes some of the fun out of it:

It probably never left the atmosphere. As Newton found, a projectile penetration into a medium is proportional to their relative densities, times projectile bodylength, quite irrespective of projectile velocity.

Here we have steel projectile (8 g/cm3), thrust into air (0.001 g/cm3), meaning that the projectile will only travel 8000 times its bodylength into the atmosphere.

If it was 4 foot across, weighted 2 tons (I think I saw that figure somewhere else), and was roughly circular, this works out to thickness of 22 cm. So face up, it coul travel 1 760 meters high. If it somehow turned to its side and stayed in that position, it could travel 4 feet (120 cm) * 8 000 = 9 600 m high. Even this best case scenario is short from leaving the atmosphere. Thinning of air as you get higher is obviously not considered, but I don’t expect it would change the results much.

It gets even less exciting when we look at these old remarks on “Above Top Secret,” based on discussions with Dr Robert Brownlee, the principal investigator behind the test in question (known officially as Pascal-B):

For an authentic account of this incident by Dr. Robert Brownlee himself, this web site is pleased to host:Learning to Contain Underground Nuclear Explosions.

As Dr. Brownlee explains, the figure of “a velocity six times that needed to escape Earth’s gravity” refers to the results of a simulation, that may not of been a good model of the actual test conditions (the actual yield for example, was unknown even if all other parameters were correct). No measurement of the actual plate velocity was made.

If the description of the plate is accurate – 4 feet wide, 4 inches thick and made of steel – then it would weigh about 900 kg (a lower weight is possible if the dimensions are inaccurate or if it was not of uniform thickness). A velocity of 6 times Earth’s escape velocity (67 km/sec, since escape velocity is 11.2 km/sec) would give the plate a kinetic energy 60% larger than the total energy released by the explosion. This is clearly impossible.

Brownlee explained to this author, by email, that the concrete plug placed in close proximity to the bomb was vaporized by the explosion. Thus the propulsion of the plate could be considered to be due to the energy imparted by this expanding vaporized material, rather like the propellant of a gun. From the descriptions available of the plug a mass of at least 3000 kg can be estimated, and if half the bomb’s energy were deposited in it then it would have an energy density of 50 times that of normal gun propellant. From the physics of high velocity guns, it can be estimated that velocities produced by the gas expanding up the long shaft could propel and object to velocities exceeding Earth’s escape velocity, perhaps as much as twice escape velocity.

If by some chance the metal that had made up the manhole cover did escape from the atmosphere (and after all, the atmosphere is thin enough that after less than two seconds going straight up at the hypothetical speed of 66 km/second the blob of molten iron that once made up the manhole cover would be in a near vacuum,) interesting things might have happened.  If it had fallen straight down, for instance, it would have bounced off the atmosphere back into space.  Perhaps it might have repeated that process several times, growing ever hotter.  With each bounce some iron vapor would have been flung down into the atmosphere, some flung outward into space.  Perhaps the bit of the blob that finally crashed into the ocean would have been quite small.

Probably nothing of the sort happened; probably the whole blob dissipated before leaving the atmosphere.  But one does wonder where the metal ended up…