Saturday, January 21, 2006

Pushing Trinity's Envelope

Pushing Trinity's Envelope

Pushing Trinity's Envelope (2001)

Prudes fall into two categories: those who should bob for jellyfish, and those who should be detonated. A prude isn’t much good at Harvard University. He’s like a jackass with a scientific bent, but at least the hippies of the atomic bomb never repress their feelings. Disgusting! My pile of plutonium. Hold on to zero for a second. Is this one long winter? Take a wild U-235 guess. I’m the “gadget” – just another isotopic show on television. MUST REACT. MUST make an implosion assembly or bikini of bees. The bean counters bark at the evaporating tower, and robot dogs swallow incinerated goldfish. Oppenheimer’s got a point. “I am become MTV, the destroyer of child safety and good taste.” Someone didn’t do his reading. Not me. The first explosion gave me Javascript errors and the Japanese a city of crushed glass. Fermi took side-bets the blast would blow New Mexico. Such a hot stunt. Better than eating earthworms or pulling fission products out of people. MUST REACT. MUST be a perfectly normal doomsday for Shiva. Her awesome roar car-jacked technicians and calibrated some madman in a jockstrap flailing to escape Jumbo and keep from getting gored. I’ve seen my share of bores. I want Jackson Pollock to measure ground zero. He’ll cram the world in a can and place people on a bulletin board. Physics is a certain kind of gag -- there’s always the chance of a fizzle. My stupidity indicator came through unscathed -- pure as critical mass. I told my brother: “It worked.” The most dangerous weapon you can design: your head.

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Using the "cut-up" composition method popularized by William S. Burroughs, two blocks of text were run through a virtual cut-up machine. The result: a randomly scrambled "found" text mirroring chaos theory and yielding new meanings.

The two texts used here and merged were:
1) two articles, pro and con, on MTV's show Jackass--
2) an article on the history of the Trinity A-bomb test--

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Notes (from Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb):
*J. Robert Oppenheimer, the so-called “father of the atomic bomb,” had two reactions to the first explosion at Trinity. He is said to have remarked at the test site, “I am become Shiva -- the destroyer of worlds.” Later that same evening, Oppenheimer called his brother and merely remarked, “It worked.”
*Enrico Fermi was taking bets with other physicists at the Manhattan Project as to whether the explosion of the first atomic bomb would set the Earth’s atmosphere on fire.
*Oppenheimer and the other physicists referred to the bomb as “the gadget.”
Other Notes:
*Jackson Pollock was a seminal 20th-Century artist known for his drip “action paintings.”
*One of the more idiotic stunts on Jackass was Johnny Knoxville wearing a bikini made out of swarming bees. Of course, the bikini was named after Bikini Atoll -- destroyed when it became a nuclear test site.

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This one blew outward fast and cut up real good. I've always seen Oppenheimer as a tragic figure -- but his historical legacy and personal responsibility for helping to usher in the nuclear age has been hotly debated. The end of his entry on who knows if it's true Wikipedia reveals the amorphous ethical polarity surrounding Oppenheimer:

Despite Oppenheimer's apparently remorseful attitudes -- claiming that physicists "had known sin" -- Oppenheimer was a vocal supporter of using the first atomic weapons on "built-up areas" in the days before the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Rather than consistently opposing the "Red-baiting" of the late 1940s and early 1950s, he had testified against many of his former colleagues and students, both before and during his hearing. In one incident, Oppenheimer's damning testimony against former student Bernard Peters was selectively leaked to the press. Historians have interpreted this as an attempt by Oppenheimer to please his colleagues in the government (and perhaps to avert attention from his own previous left-wing ties and especially from those of his brother, who had earlier been a target of the anti-Red lobby). In the end it became a liability: Under cross-examination, it became clear that if Oppenheimer had really doubted Peters' loyalty, then his recommending him for the Manhattan Project was reckless, or at least contradictory.

The removal of his security clearance was probably as much related to his inconsistent testimony, and his open admission of telling lies to intelligence agents, as to the left-wing views he shared with many intellectuals and scientists in the wake of the Great Depression and the rise of Fascism. Nevertheless, the trope of Oppenheimer as a martyr has proven indelible, and to speak of Oppenheimer has often been to speak of the limits of science and politics, however more complicated the actual history. The portrayal of Oppenheimer as a modern Faustus in the opera Doctor Atomic is an exaggerated expression of this point of view.

The question of the scientists' responsibility towards humanity, so manifest in the dropping of the atomic bombs and Oppenheimer's public questioning, inspired Bertolt Brecht's drama Galileo (from 1955) and left its imprint also on Friedrich D├╝rrenmatt's Die Physiker.

The blast wave continues to spread.

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