Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Archive for December 28, 2013

In 1960s Greenland during Project Iceworm the American government tried to create a nuclear ice base, aka Hoth Base

When I first saw this, for a second I thought it was some sort of joke about an ice worm and that was a tunnel it dug.

When I first saw this, for a second I thought it was some sort of joke about an ice worm and that was a tunnel it dug.

Discharging radioactive waste into ice used to be considered a viable method of waste storage.

With the half life it would basically be non-radioactive long before it ever exposed to anything other than ice.

With the current rate of ice melting it’s no longer viewed as a very reliable method. That being said it all depends on location. If the liquid was dumped in an area that isn’t going to melt for hundreds/thousands of years then it’s perfectly safe.

You can even put the waste into large concrete disposal tanks and set them on the surface of ice. The heat generated by the radioactive materials will melt the ice below the tank and it will slowly sink into the ice and soon be completely covered where it can finish it’s lifetime safely stored in a vault of concrete and ice. But like I said it depends on the rate of ice melting.

Longer article with more pictures and information.

FUN FACT: The US also offered to buy Greenland for 100 million dollars.

A hypnotizing old documentary about the construction of the nuclear powered research center built by the US Army Corps of Engineers under the icy surface of Greenland

Shell Shock

Early in the war, physicians began to handle cases of psychological breakdown, paralysis, and disturbing, uncontrolled physical behavior among men who had been in combat. C.S. Myers was one of the first to coin the term “shell shock,” as doctors assumed that artillery fire and the like had had caused concussion-like damage and possibly physical legions somewhere in the brain. Other doctors saw the same thing, but Myers discovered that many men experiencing these symptoms hadn’t been near artillery bombardments and so he tried to withdraw the term, but it stuck. The condition was called “soldier’s heart” in the American Civil War and “combat fatigue” in the Second World War, and now we call it PTSD. It’s not until 1980 that PTSD gets into the medical handbook as a legitimate syndrome, which means that doctors can treat it and that those who suffer from it can receive a pension. 8182904290_1fb23938fc_z

  • Why was it so difficult to pin down a definition for “shell shock?”

sheel shockedThe medical profession of the time was conservative and relatively endogenous. Many of them thought that shell shock was a license for cowardice or a renunciation of “manliness,” which made it partly a problem of gender. It’s important to understand that although we usually think of PTSD as a psychological disability, it often manifests itself in physical ways. At the time, the conversion of mental symptoms to physical ones was called hysteria – a term reserved for women. This meant that men suffering from “hysteria” were transgressing Victorian gender norms, and we can see the stigma of this diagnosis clash with social conventions – only enlisted men were diagnosed with hysteria, while officers were diagnosed with “nervous breakdown.” The difference in diagnosis was paralleled by differences in treatment – treatment for enlisted men was largely punitive and coercive, while treatment for officers was based more on persuasion, sometimes through psychotherapy. Lest you think officers were in a better position, remember that the casualty rate for them was almost double that of enlisted men. WWI Diagnosis and treatment were further complicated by the difficulty in identifying who legitimately had a problem and who was just trying to get away from the front. For some physicians, the solution was to make treatments more painful than returning to the front. For example, electric shock therapy could be used on mutes to try and stimulate the tongue so that they would make noise. In Austria, future Nobel Prize winner Julius Wagner Jauregg was accused of torturing his patients because he used electroconvulsive shock treatment to discourage malingering. In general, the war tore up the Hippocratic Oath because doctors became servants of armies that needed men to return to the front as soon as possible. Thus, the principal aim of doctors was to heal the injured enough to send them back to the front. This meant that if a soldier had a physical wound in addition to psychological symptoms, doctors would often treat the wound and then send the soldier back. Treatments were thus largely coercive in nature – there’s a famous French story in which an army doctor told a soldier “Yes, you are going to get this.” The enlisted man responded, “No, I’m not.” “Yes you are, I’m your officer, I gave you an order.” The exchange continued back and forth until the doctor moved to put the electrodes on his forehead and the enlisted man knocked him out. The soldier was then court-martialed, found guilty, fined one franc, and dismissed from the army without a war pension. This is the sort of thing that contributed to desertion, especially from men who felt they had no way out. tumblr_mb4h1bDnjK1rubozqo1_500As you can see, there were numerous problems with the medical profession’s approach to the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of shell shock. Consequently, we really don’t know how many suffered from it. The British Army recorded 80,000 cases, but this likely underestimates the actual number. Regardless, we can be sure that a significant number of those that went through artillery barrages and trench warfare experienced something like it at some point. While the number is significant, it’s important to remember that a minority of soldiers suffered shell shock, and consequently it does fit into the spectrum of individual refusal.

  • What about executions?

In the late 90s there was a movement in England to apologize to those that refused to continue fighting in the war. There were 306 men that had been shot for cowardice or desertion and although the British government refused to make a formal apology, one of Tony Blair’s last acts as prime minister was to posthumously pardon them. The problem here should be obvious – it’s unclear how many were shell shocked and convicted of cowardice or desertion when they really were insane. There’s serious doubt as to how many men actually thought it through and decided that they couldn’t fight anymore and were going to leave. 800px-1917_-_Execution_à_Verdun_lors_des_mutineriesIn the French case there was a terrible period at the beginning of the war when there were many summary executions. It’s a perfect example of what happened when officials and the professional army feared the effects that desertion might have on the rest of the men that had been mobilized at the start of the war. The French CiC, Joffre, felt that if offensives didn’t proceed because people were “allowed to act as cowards,” the rest of the mobilized army, made up of millions of reservists, would be contaminated. The upshot was the summary executions of numerous soldiers. The French parliament set up a special tribunal in 1932 to reexamine many of the cases, and a number of those who had been executed were subsequently pardoned, some on grounds that they had originally been denied the right of appeal despite being citizens. There is an important distinction to make here – French soldiers had the vote and could appeal to their representatives for better legal treatment, while millions of British soldiers could not since they were subjects of the crown. By the end of the war, every capital sentence required the approval of the French president.

  • Why do we think PTSD began with “shell shock?”

Storm TroopsWorld War I was the first to really introduce mental illness to mass society. The notion of traumatic memory that was brought back home and reappeared in literature helped normalize mental illness in the absence of consensus by the medical profession as to what it was. Although PTSD existed long before the First World War, the circumstances of the war pushed hundreds of thousands of men beyond the limits of human endurance. They faced weapons that denied any chance for heroism or courage or even military skill because the artillery weapons that caused 60 percent of all casualties were miles away from the battlefield. The enthusiastic men that signed up in 1914 were loyal, patriotic, and genuinely believed that they were fighting to defend their homeland. While they consented to national defense, it’s not clear that they consented to fight an industrialized assembly-line murderous war that emerged after 1914. Unlike previous wars, there was no beginning, middle, and end. Trench warfare was seen as a prelude to a breakout, but those breakouts never really occurred. Many men withdrew from the reality of the war into their own minds, and in this sense shell shock can be seen as a mutiny against the war. PTSD has numerous symptoms, but among them is the sense that the war the soldier lived had escaped from human control. This is why many PTSD sufferers are constantly reliving the trauma – the horror of combat never goes away and time has no hold over it. wwi-planes There’s a wonderful autobiography by Robert Graves called Good-Bye to All That; it’s one of the most famous World War I memoirs. Of course, the great irony is that he can’t say good-bye to all that – his life is constantly affected by his war experience, even 10 years after the war ended. There are so many great World War I memoirs, but I’d highly recommend the following: The Secret Battle by A.P. Herbert and The Case of Sergeant Grischa by Arnold Zweig Both deal with executions and the perversion of military justice during the war. I would also recommend The Legacy of the Great War and Remembering War. Both are by Jay Winter, who specializes in historical memory and World War I. (When he was teaching at Cambridge in the late 70s and early 80s, he traveled to Warwick hospital to study some of the records of patients that had been institutionalized there during the war for shell shock. When he went there, he discovered that there were still several men that had been kept in the asylum without treatment since the Great War. Once enthusiastic young men, psychologically crippled by the war, had spent the next 70 years constantly reliving their trauma, locked away from a society that didn’t understand what was wrong with them. I can’t think of a more horrible fate.)

HMS Queen Mary’s magazine explodes after receiving accurate fire from SMS Derfflinger during the Battle of Jutland, 31 May 1916.

Translation of the German at the bottom of the photo: "Destruction of the English battle cruiser "Queen Mary" at the battle of Skagerrak [German name for the Battle of Jutland] on May 31st, 1916, 4:26 in the afternoon."

Translation of the German at the bottom of the photo: “Destruction of the English battle cruiser “Queen Mary” at the battle of Skagerrak [German name for the Battle of Jutland] on May 31st, 1916, 4:26 in the afternoon.”

The Derfflinger herself was hit a total of 17 times by main caliber guns and 9 times by secondary caliber guns, but the superb damage control done by the sailors aboard kept her afloat and in the fight all night until the High Seas Fleet could escape into the Jade Bight. Firing hundreds of her own shells of various calibers; Derfflinger sustained about 160 KIA and about 25 wounded (which is rather high for a ship that didn’t sink). The British nicknamed her the “Iron Dog” after her tenacity and stubbornness at Jutland. Of a complement of 1,275 men, only 9 of Queen Mary’screw survived.

Franz Joseph’s reflections on WWI

Several members of the Franz Joseph’s entourage recorded that the aged emperor was upset with the course of the war and its future implications for the future of the Habsburg empire. According to a note passed to the Germans by the Austro-Hungarian representative to the German Supreme Headquarters, Alois Klepsch-Kloth von Roden, in 1915, the Habsburg emperor did not desire war in 1914:

I am a constitutional monarch, not an absolute ruler, and for this reason could not act otherwise! From the beginning, I had all the influential advisers to the crown against me; for a full three weeks, I vehemently defended myself against any aggravation that might lead to war – in vain! They would not be persuaded, and after three weeks of fruitless effort, I was forced to give in.

In July 1916, he reportedly told his military adjutant Albert von Margutti that:

Things are going badly with us, perhaps worse than we suspect. The starving people can’t stand much more. It remains to be seen whether and how we shall get through the winter. I mean to end the war next spring whatever happens. I can’t let my empire go to hopeless ruin!

Of course these claims have to be taken with a significant grain of salt. Von Roden’s narrative of the Emperor’s actions does not quite match the actual timing of the Austro-Hungarian decision making process in 1914. Like the famous “Nicky-Willy” telegrams between the Kaiser Wilhelm II and Emperor Nicholas II of 1914, this type of correspondence was not an apolitical personal communique but a document laden with political overtones. Von Margutti’s postwar reminiscences about his former master also necessitates some skepticism as he was a loyal servitor of the Habsburgs and was interested in presenting his master in the best possible light.

One thing that is clear about the wartime years of Franz Joseph is that he was quite aged and increasingly fatalistic. Although he kept to his near-robotic regimen of structured work habits even in his last years, the Emperor was hermetically sealed off by an entourage who was almost as elderly as Franz Joseph. Much of this entourage busied themselves with ensuring that Franz Joseph kept to his routine rather than exercising personal authority over the war effort. Many of them did note that Franz Joseph’s health was deteriorating and the Emperor was less capable of performing his duties. The escalating crisis with Italy pushed Franz Joseph to his breaking point, Ferdinand Freiherr von Marterer’s diary recorded the Emperor exclaiming after Italy had delivered its ultimatum that “In this way shall we go under,” and weeping in the ante-chamber of the palace. Von Marterer would also note that after the Italian entry, that “The Emperor frequently nods off during reports, we are lacking the strong central force, uniform action everywhere.”

Although Franz Joseph had some signs of increased activity, such as supporting the appointment of the reformist Ernest Koerber as Prime Minister after the assassination of Count Stürgkh and renewed energy in confronting the Italians, despite his obvious age. The Emperor also remained a popular figure for a number within the Empire as evidenced by a considerable upswing in personal appeals sent to him by his subjects suffering under wartime pressures. But there was little Franz Joseph could do to rectify the dire situation the Dual Monarchy had found itself in. Franz Joseph increasingly devoted himself to the execution of his last will. He sought to ensure that his personal finances would be able to provide for his heirs’ financial well-being.

That the Emperor devoted such attention to this matter in his last remaining months was typical of Franz Joseph’s somewhat curious amalgamation of a diligent bourgeois mentality within an imperial context. Yet the fact that he was clearly concerned whether or not the members of the Habsburg family would be financially secure after his death also speaks volumes about what he possibly felt about the prospects for the Dual Monarchy in the immediate future.


Beller, Steven. Francis Joseph. London: Longman, 1996.

Healy, Maureen. Vienna and the Fall of the Habsburg Empire: Total War and Everyday Life in World War I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Rauchensteiner, Manfried. The First World War and the End of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1914 – 1918. Vienna: Böhlau, 2014.

W.H. Auden, I love you.


This is a sad and brave poem about accepting the suffering of unrequited love—an experience that Auden was apparently familiar with. In this poem, he makes his peace with his experience of “stars” whose beauty inspires such passion and longing, but which care nothing for him in return.

Being treated with indifference is not so bad, Auden says, in the first stanza; there are worse things in life. To love, even if one is not loved back, is more than enough, he suggests in the second stanza. And, in the final two stanzas, Auden tells himself that even if that which one loves were to disappear from one’s life, one would survive the grief and the emptiness—even if, as he poignantly understates it in the last line, being reconciled with that loss may “take a little time.”



Franz Reichelt “The Flying Tailor” created a jacket that doubled as a parachute and tested it by jumping off of the Eiffel Tower. (It ended in tragedy.)


"Hi, I'm Franz Reichelt, and this is parachute trenchcoat"

“Hi, I’m Franz Reichelt, and this is parachute trenchcoat”

Franz Reichelt, an Austrian tailor who later moved to France, was obsessed with the idea of human flight. He was an early designer of a basically frameless parachute made out of nothing more than silk, some rubber and a couple of rods. Late 18th century parachute experiments by Louis-Sebastien Lenormand or Jean-Pierre Blanchard – experiments that are seen as successes – had relied on fixed-canopy solutions, which means that the parachute was already open at the time of the exit. These designs were well suited for high altitudes.

When Franz Reichelt began to work on his design in the summer of 1910, he was aiming at a “parachute-suit” to be worn by the jumper, a suit that had to be folded out before the leap by spreading the arms. With his “bat-suit”, as the public called it, Reichelt was hoping to have come up with a parachute suited for low altitude jumps and jumps out of airplanes. (Here, tests had regularly ended in the death of the aviators.)

Reichelt’s suit had successfully landed dummies thrown out of his apartment window on the fifth floor; as he kept pushing his design forward to reduce the weight to about 9 kilograms, dummy tests failed. Reichelt, the Flying Tailor, kept asking police officials for the permission to conduct a test from the Eiffel tower. After some back and forth, he was granted a permission for dummy tests in February 1912.

At 7 a.m. on February 4th in 1912, Reichelt arrived at the Eiffel tower in a car, already clad in his bat-suit. He declared he would jump himself rather than using a dummy. Friends and bystanders tried to persuade him not to do it, but at 8.22 a.m., Franz Reichelt unfolded his suit standing on a chair on a bar table and jumped from 57 meters off  into the icy Parisian air.

The suit did not catch air as Reichelt had hoped it would. After five seconds of free fall, he was dead in an instant. His crushed body left a 14cm deep crater in the frozen ground underneath the tower.

An uncropped version of the famous Tiananmen Square tank and protester photo, June 1989.


It’s hard to fathom the courage that it would take for one person, alone and carrying only plastic shopping bags, to face down that line of tanks.


Film footage of the Tank Man.

Terrain outside Anchorage, Alaska after the March 27, 1964 Earthquake (Magnitude 9.2)


It was the second most violent earthquake ever recorded—and these pictures are from 75 miles away from the epicenter. All told, nearly 100,000 square miles of land experienced “vertical displacement of up to 38 feet“. It was so powerful that it produced a tsunami that caused damage in Hawaii. And Japan.

This part of Alaska lies on what’s called a “subduction zone.” Tectonic faults like the San Andreas Fault have two plates sliding sideways, with one going north and the other going south. In a subduction zone, you have one tectonic plate sliding into—or under—another. Eventually so much pressure builds up that one of the plates buckles, and suddenly you have bits of land that are fifteen feet higher or lower than they used to be.

If you go out into Resurrection Bay there are small islands that dropped several feet deeper into the water. All the trees on those islands sucked sea water up into their roots and all the way up into the larger branches, killing the trees and preserving them as they were 50 years ago.


Full Album of selected Photographs

Youtube account from Woman (7 years old at the time) which I thought was fascinating.

Amateur Home Video Footage- Post Quake

Great Alaska Quake Image Archive