Saturday, August 6, 2011

Better News

Does anybody besides me find the news more and more depressing these days? Great nations (including the United States) mired in debt, economic turmoil, joblessness, climate change, crazies like the tea party calling the shots, no tax hikes for the richest of the rich and no aid or respite for the poorest of the poor... it's enough to make one want to find oneself a nice, quiet cave somewhere and retreat from society. That's why I was so refreshed to find three news articles in my local paper this past week which, although I wouldn't call them "good" or "happy" news per se, at least brought a smile to my lips.

The first item had to do with a new theory that has been gaining acceptance among astronomers that our Earth may once have had two moons, which collided and the victor of that cosmic fender bender was the moon which we see in our night sky today. This theory, which astronomers playfully dubbed the "Big Splat", supposedly explains why the far side of the moon, the side that we never see from Earth, is more mountainous than the side that we do see, making our satellite just slightly lopsided.

"Why would that make me smile," you ask? It's the analogy that's used to describe the collision. The theory says that a smaller moon trailed along behind our surviving, larger moon, the larger satellite's gravity pulling it gradually closer and closer, until the smaller moon finally rear-ended its larger sister. Because both moons were travelling in the same direction, the speed of impact would have been relatively slow (a mere five to six thousand miles per hour which, of course, has been proven to be emminently survivable by countless crash test dummies used by all the major auto makers) so, instead of the cataclysmic explosion that one would normally expect as a result of two planetary (or moonitary, if you will) objects colliding, the effect was more akin to the larger moon getting a "pie in the face". In fact, an artist's rendering (that's the picture at the above left, not the one to the right) really does look something like a freeze-frame of someone getting hit in the face with a pie. Now that's funny! Perhaps legendary silent film director Georges Méliès wasn't so very far off the mark after all!

The second headline that attracted my attention read "Swedish Man Arrested for Splitting Atoms In His Kitchen". Now there's a headline you don't see every day! I, for one, didn't realize that there was a law against that. Apparently Richard Handl, the amateur nuclear scientist in question, also known for composing the famous opera, "Messiah", if I'm not mistaken, didn't either, but he decided to inquire about it with his local police, and was immediately arrested for his trouble. Seems that Sweden, at least, does have laws against possessing nuclear materials, which are sort of necessary if you want to split atoms.

It turns out that Handl is nothing more than a well-meaning hobbyist who even blogged about his activities. I can understand the Swedish authorities becoming somewhat alarmed upon learning that some do-it-yourself-er had been working on a miniature nuclear reactor in his kitchen, and I certainly can't fault them for wondering where he came by the uranium and radium that he used for his experiments, but I would suggest that terrorists don't generally blog about their activities and aren't in the habit of inquiring about legalities with the police. From the pictures in the news story, I would suggest that Handl's greatest crimes were slovenliness and chain smoking.

On the other hand, Handl (on the other Handl?), whom one article aptly describes as "Quite reckless and kind of awesome", admits in his own blog that he has had the odd mishap, like the time that a mixture of Americium, Radium and Beryllium in sulphuric acid exploded on his stove top. If he lived in America, he could have immediately sued the stove manufacturer for failing to affix a bright red warning label on the control panel that reads "WARNING! THIS APPLIANCE IS NOT INTENDED FOR COOKING NUCLEAR MATERIALS! DO NOT ATTEMPT TO HEAT ANY INGREDIENTS THAT END IN THE LETTERS 'IUM'"

The final item to warm the cockles of my heart wasn't really a news article at all, but rather an interesting photo depicting a military vehicle rolling over a parked Mercedes with the heading "Parking Wars". The caption beneath the photo read "Vilnius, Lithuania, Mayor Arturas Zuokas drives a tank over a car parked illegally on the city's main street. Zuokas became infuriated with motorists parking their luxury cars illegally around the city".

I'm sure that many of us can sympathize with the sentiment. Some arrogant yuppie doesn't think the rules apply to him or his Mercedes. Let's give him a little something to make him think twice next time. Reminds me of that delicious scene from the movie, "Backdraft", where the Beemer is illegally parked next to a fire plug that's right next to a burning building, so Kurt Russell happily smashes in both the driver and passenger windows with his axe and runs the hose right on through the car.

Just to ensure that the hapless driver really gets the message, Mayor Zuokas should have left a note under the Mercedes' windshield wiper (or what was left of it) that read something like "Terribly sorry. I was on my way to quash an uprising and your illegally parked car got in the way of my tank. Nothing personal". Or, better yet, leave a parking ticket and a bill for repairs to the tank treads. Or maybe just a note that says "Next time, you'll be towed!" There's no end to the fun you can have with this type of situation! And why aren't there more politicians like Mayor Zuokas? If I lived in Vilnius, he'd sure have my vote next time around!

1 comment:

The Ideas Junkie said...

Not sure if this qualifies as "good news" either, as it's apparently a few years old... but I was re-watching one of the classic "Cosmos" episodes not too long ago, and as I was watching Carl Sagan describing what the Saturnian moon, Titan might be like (as it has an atmosphere)I decided to some more research on it via the Intertubes. I vaguely recall reading that someone or other was planning a probe... and by gum, they did it! The Huygens probe landed in 2005 (so it's not news, only news to me) and they've mapped the features. Indeed, they've even found bodies of "water" (hydrocarbons, actually) and one of them is named "Ontario Lacus"... guess what insipired that name!