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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

America At The Atomic Crossroads, by Alex Wellerstein, New Yorker

On July 25, 1946, the United States Navy carried out the fifth detonation of an atomic bomb in history, in a lagoon at Bikini Atoll, in the South Pacific. The device was anchored about ninety feet beneath a barge, and when it exploded it sent up an immense column of radioactive seawater, topped by a flattened white mushroom cloud. The column rose some six thousand feet, then collapsed back into the lagoon, generating a wave that was nearly the height of the Chrysler Building. From the air, the explosion’s shock front could be seen racing across the lagoon toward an armada of ninety mothballed warships—American, German, and Japanese—which were moored nearby. By the time the chaos subsided, eight had sunk and many more had been damaged.

The BBC's Detailed Plans For Nuclear War, by Paul Reynolds, BBC

The War Book reveals a world of meticulous BBC planning. The Wartime Broadcasting System (WTBS) - referred to in the book as "Deferred Facilities" - would have operated from 11 protected bunkers spread across the UK.

Known as "Regional Seats of Government", these would also have sheltered government ministers and staff from government departments during what is termed a "nuclear exchange". The BBC had a studio in each, usually with five staff drawn mostly from nearby local radio stations.

The Perils Of Writing Wilderness: On Dave Eggers’s ‘Heroes Of The Frontier’, by Mary Catherine Martin, The Millions

In the first ten pages, Josie and the kids drive through an animal park that advertises its Alaskan mammals. They see “a pair of moose, and their new calf, none of them stirring.” I realize this is a zoo, but male moose do not hang around with their calves. They saw “an antelope, spindly and stupid; it walked a few feet before stopping to look forlornly into the grey mountains beyond. Its eyes said, Take me, Lord. I am now broken.” Again, a zoo, but there are no antelope in Alaska. If it wanted to flee into the Alaskan mountains it would find itself just as lonely and would die of cold, wolves, or starvation come winter. When they’re finished with the zoo, a ranger points “to a mountain range nearby, where, he said, there was a rare thing: a small group of bighorn sheep, cutting a horizontal line across the ridge, east to west.” Bighorn sheep do not live in Alaska. Alaska has Dall sheep, which are a different species.

To most Alaskans, these are big mistakes. But when reading Heroes of the Frontier, I was also thinking about something more intangible — the nature of a place versus the nature of a story set in that place.

To A Writer, A Body Of Work Is A Taunt, by Roger Rosenblatt, New York Times

Readers and writers do not think of a body of work in the same way. To a reader, a body of work is a static totality by which a writer may be assessed. To a writer, it is something of a taunt. Writers think of a body of work as a movie tough guy whom we have popped in the jaw. We rear back and deliver our best haymaker, and the body of work shakes it off and says, That all you got?

Book Review: ‘On Grief, Hope And Motorcycles: A Diary’, by Ben Getz, Rider Magazine

On Grief, Hope and Motorcycles is more than just one woman’s accounting of her sorrow, it is much more. It provokes one to think seriously about some unpleasant “what-ifs,” and to look forward in our life journey so as to live without, or limit, the regrets we may face.

Breast-Feeding The Microbiome, by Ed Yong, New Yorker

Every mammal mother produces complex sugars called oligosaccharides, but human moth­ers, for some reason, churn out an exceptional variety: so far, scientists have identified more than two hundred human milk oligosaccharides, or H.M.O.s. They are the third-most plentiful ingredient in human milk, after lactose and fats, and their structure ought to make them a rich source of energy for growing babies—but babies cannot digest them. When German first learned this, he was gobsmacked. Why would a mother expend so much energy manufacturing these complicated chemicals if they were apparently useless to her child? Why hasn’t natural selection put its foot down on such a wasteful practice? Here’s a clue: H.M.O.s pass through the stom­ach and the small intestine unharmed, landing in the large intestine, where most of our bacteria live. What if they aren’t food for babies at all? What if they are food for microbes?