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Trinity and National Personal Chef Day

OK, mid-July at last. Now if you haven’t fired up that grill yet, you’d better, because the siege of the mosquitos is about to begin, and you have to have a way to roast the little buggers. And, as we all know, People for the Ethical Treatment of (some) Animals is requiring that all of us homo saps provide food for all living creatures…except the annoying ones.

On 16 July 1790, the District of Columbia was established, carving out parts of Maryland and Virginia on the Potomac River; while Congress was aware that most of the land was still a swampy wilderness, they apparently felt at home there–and still do. And in 1863, the New York “draft” riots ended with the Union Army’s VI Corps patrolling the streets; while the draft offices were the easiest targets, the riot is also attributed to unrest over jobs, the payment of substitutes for the draft, and a general feeling that “outsiders” who included Negroes, Irish, and Germans were taking advantage of war-driven shortages. On 16 July 1940, Philippe Petain, French hero of WWI, became the Premier of the new French government at Vichy; while Petain felt he was only doing duty to his country, postwar Frenchmen would condemn him to life in prison and exile. And on 16 July 1969, Apollo XI launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida; in three days they would orbit the moon, and in four, land on the Sea of Tranquility.  Today is also National Corn Fritters Day because, somewhere in the long-ago past, someone said it was. But today, we talk about mushroom clouds in the desert and personal chefs.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_(nuclear_test)#/media/File:Trinity_Site_Obelisk_National_Historic_Landmark.jpg
Trinity National Historic Landmark, NPS

In 1933, the legend goes, Leo Szilard conceived the idea of the nuclear chain reaction, and everything after that was just a matter of engineering. Szilard was also credited with drafting the letter that Albert Einstein signed to President Roosevelt that has been ascribed to have been the trigger for the Manhattan Engineer District and the development of the atom bomb.

Nonetheless, the Americans began official, government-funded research on a nuclear weapon when the Manhattan Engineer District was formed on 6 December 1941. 

The letter wasn’t a suggestion to build a bomb, but a warning that the Germans might be on the way to building one. What no one outside of Germany knew at the time was that, yes there were eminent scientists in Germany working on a nuclear weapon, but their leader, Walther Heisenberg, had the theory wrong and couldn’t have built one based on his work. Nonetheless, the Americans began official, government-funded research on a nuclear weapon when the Manhattan Engineer District was formed on 6 December 1941.

They  made weird-looking explosive bricks and wedges, they turned metals into shapes with tolerances of zero, they watched columns of water change color, they built a tower in a sandy desert miles away from everything.

In the course of the next four years, an entire industry was formed in six states, employing nearly 120,000 people in total. Only a handful of these people knew exactly what they were working on. They extracted enriched uranium and plutonium, they made weird-looking explosive bricks and wedges, they turned metals into shapes with tolerances of zero, they watched columns of water change color, they built a tower in a sandy desert scores of miles away from everything.

The observers were told that when the light beams came together and stopped, they would have ten seconds to turn away–or it would be the last thing they ever saw.

In the summer of 1945, all the pieces were together in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Over the course of a week, the eggheads assembled the big round ball with its exotic triggers, thick wires and that ball of shiny material in the middle. Near midnight on 15 July 1945, the thousands of watchers started to fill the bleachers. At about 2 in the morning of 16 August, two searchlights started to sweep the air over the tower in the desert. The observers were given goggles, and were told that when the light beams came together and stopped, they would have ten seconds to turn away–or it would be the last thing they ever saw.

One member of the Special Engineering Division said that, among his coterie, the only subject of conversation afterwards was “so that’s what we’ve been doing.”

At 5:29 on 16 July 1945, the Trinity site–what the entire effort to assemble and detonate the “gadget” in that lonely patch of desert was called–became like a sun as the implosion-type plutonium-core nuclear device was detonated under those light beams. The explosive power of the weapon was rated at about 20 kilotons–20,000 tons of TNT. Blind persons fifty miles away were said to have seen the flash of light brighter than a star for a millionth of a second. One witness miles away from the official viewing stand–a member of the Special Engineering Division of technicians hired to do scut work–said that, among his coterie, the only subject of conversation afterward was “so that’s what we’ve been doing.”

On the same day, USS Indianapolis left the Mare Island naval station for San Francisco, where they would load parts of the bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima three weeks later.

By the standards of 2018 it would be a large tactical nuclear device, but by the standards of 1945, it was an enormous device. On the same day, USS Indianapolis left the Mare Island naval station for San Francisco, where they would load parts of the bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima three weeks later.

For those of you who might plan to actually go there, you have to want to find it–the Park Service didn’t make it easy to find in 1976 when I was there (in fact, our bus driver got lost). Take your own water, because there’s nothing out there other than the obelisk shown above–not even a gift shop. Fittingly, it’s a lonely, desolate place in the middle of what is now the White Sands Missile Range.


Today is also National Personal Chefs Day by decree of the folks at the National Day Calendar and the United States Personal Chef Association (USPCA).  Now, why it’s on 16 July is still a mystery, but there really has been an (apparently) professional organization for this kind of thing since 1991. Their description:

A Personal Chef is a culinary professional that comes directly to your home to provide you a wide variety of personalized cooking services. Each Personal Chef is an independent business owner who will work closely with you to provide personalized and customized services that fit your specific tastes and needs.

And here I always called them “cooks.”

But if you’ve got a personal chef, do something nice for them today, for it’s their day, like take them out for lunch. Or something.


And, in News of the Future-Past, on this day in 2018 King Fred of Wahoozistan (also known as Joyce the Broad-Shouldered) launched his campaign against their sworn enemies in neighboring Jeosophat in a lightning campaign that was stopped dead in its tracks by a lone goatherd just inside the border. Surviving accounts attribute the forever-nameless nomad with turning his shepherd’s crook into a dozen Krispy Kream glazed doughnuts with a mere wave of his cell phone. The aroma of these delectable fat pills so attracted the starving army that they started to fight among themselves, causing the ill-starred invasion to collapse.

And now you don’t know that, either. Take that, future researchers.

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Leyte Gulf and National Mole Day

OK, here we go with another 23 October.  Famous in song and story…well, sort of.  You see, it was on 23 October in the year 4004 BC that the universe as we know it was created, according to the 17th century Ussher Chronology.  But after that momentous event, the battle of Philippi on the Ionian Peninsula, killing off the old Roman republic, making Octavian the first Roman Emperor and driving the suicide of Brutus. 23 October 425 AD saw the Byzantine Emperor Valentinian III seated: he was six years old.  In 1642, the first battle of the (last) English Civil War was fought at Edgehill. In 1749 the War of Jenkin’s Ear began (a real thing: England declared war on Spain because some diplomat’s ear got lopped off in a sea battle).  The first plastic surgery was performed in England on this day in 1814: a nose reconstruction. On 23 October 1942 the British El Alamein offensive began in Egypt just as the Germans were capturing the Red October Tractor Works in Stalingrad, and just as the first US Navy convoy for the Torch invasion of North Africa was departing Norfolk, Virginia. Also, in 1983 a truck bomb destroyed the US Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 307 people (241 Americans) and wounding another 75. And in 2003, Madame Chiang Kai-shek died on 23 October at the age of 103.   Today is also Ipod Day (first hit the shelves on 23 October in 2001), National Boston Cream Pie Day (no idea), and National TV Talk Show Day (really?) which was designated because it’s also Johnny Carson’s birthday in 1922.  But today, we talk about the naval war in the Pacific in WWII, and Avogadro’s number, whatever that is.

This was Sho-Go-1, another over-complicated Japanese plan to win all in a single swoop.  It would result in the Battles of Leyte Gulf, the largest single naval action the world has ever seen, and likely will ever see.  

By late 1944, there had been momentous changes in the fortunes of the Navy of the Greater Japanese Empire (Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun) since the heady days of 1941 and early 1942.  Most Japanese aircraft carriers had been sunk, their precious aircrews and irreplaceable maintainers drowning with them; the surface fleet was outnumbered, outclassed and outranged, their Type 93 torpedoes unable to compensate for American radar and numbers; the land-based, long-range air fleets had been decimated and worn out.  As the Americans stormed ashore on Leyte on 20 October, the Japanese were preparing what they felt was the supreme trap: luring the American covering forces away from the beaches, enabling the surface forces to destroy the American transports and driving them away.  This was Sho-Go-1, another over-complicated Japanese plan to win all in a single swoop.  It would result in the Battles of Leyte Gulf, the largest single naval action the world has ever seen, and likely will ever see.  I say Battles because there were really six: Palawan Passage (off the left lower corner of area 1 on the map below), Sibuyan Sea (area 1), San Bernardino Strait (to the left of area 1 and below the lower left corner of area 3), Surigao Strait (area 2), Samar (area 4), and Cape Engano (area 3).

Battles of Leyte Gulf
By Map_of_Battle_of_Leyte_Gulf.jpg: United States Army derivative work: Gdr at en.wikipedia – Map_of_Battle_of_Leyte_Gulf.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62371

And it all started on the night of 23 October 1944, when two American submarines spotted five Japanese battleships (including both Yamato and Musashi), ten heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and fifteen destroyers sailing through the Palawan Passage (off the map, but to the left of area 1) from their fuel sources in the Dutch East Indies.  The two engaged the Japanese at daybreak, sinking two heavy cruisers and heavily damaging a third.  Though the fleet continued on, Musashi was sunk by carrier aircraft the next day, there was very little punch (or fuel) left in by the time they fought the Taffy escort group destroyers, escorts and jeep carriers off Samar on 25 October before turning back the way they came.

It was literally the death ride of the Japanese Navy.

As confused as it looks, (and it really is) many scholars have made excellent descriptions of this huge gunfight at sea that I won’t try to paraphrase.  By the end of it on 26 October the Japanese had lost over 12, 000 more men, four aircraft carriers with about 300 aircraft, pilots and maintainers, and 24 surface combat vessels.  It was literally the death ride of the Japanese Navy.  Though William Halsey, commanding the Third Fleet, has been criticized for being baited away from the support of Thomas Kincaid’s Seventh Fleet, one primary objective of the naval forces in the area was to destroy Japanese air capabilities, which he did.  Kurita Takeo, commanding the big battleship force called the Center Force, had also been roundly and soundly critiqued and criticized.  However, Kurita was not yet of the mindset that Japan was finished, and felt it necessary to preserve as much of his strength as he could.


One of the best things about doing a blog like this is I occasionally get to talk about subjects that I know absolutely nothing of, yet I get to find out as I do my research.  National Mole Day is celebrated by chemists, physicists and others of their ilk between 6:02 AM and 6:02 PM annually on 23 October, and it has nothing to do with the little insectivores that my dog wants to dig up all the time.  No, this is probably one of the most contrived “holidays” that anyone could have ever dreamed up.  You see:

  • 6.02 x 10 to the 23rd power (no, I couldn’t figure out how to create a superscript in here) is Avogadro’s number;
  • Amedeo Avogadro was an Italian scientist who came up with a law of science that says that equal volumes of gases under the same conditions will contain the same number of molecules, and the value therein derived is named after him;
  • Avogadro’s number roughly defines the number of particles in one mole (a derivative of molecule but molecules and atoms comprise moles) of substance;
  • The mole is one of the seven basic building blocks for the SI (“metric”) system of metrology.

National Mole Day was first proposed by a now-retired Wisconsin chemistry teacher in 1991.  It is a part of National Chemistry Week, which spans the Sunday through Saturday in which 23 October falls, meaning it’s happening right now this year (2017); hopefully you were prepared.  The American Chemical Society supports this effort in schools to encourage students interested in STEM subjects.  Fascinating, huh?


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As many of you know, and many don’t, the new JDBCOM.COM website is up and running, for everyone to be able, of course, read my fascinating bits of trivia and wisdom, and hopefully buy my books, which are being listed there as fast as I can make it possible.  I’m not ashamed to admit it: I’m a greedy capitalist who wants as much money as I can legally and ethically lay my hands on.  Tell all your friends; come back and buy gifts for everyone you know.  But, above all, stay tuned for more blogs to come.

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3 November: Emperors and Cars and Frozen Peas

Normal people, of which I am not one, wouldn’t deign to put these topics together in a single blog entry, but…

On this day on 1852 a son named Mutsuhito was born in Japan who, in 1867, would ascend to the Chrysanthemum throne as the Emperor Meiji.  The tremendous structural changes that his reign would oversee would bring Japan from an isolated, agricultural, semi-feudal island state to world power status, defeating China and Russia in clockwork-like conflicts that thrust Japan onto the world stage.  By the time of his death in 1912, Japan had a manufacturing base unrivaled in Asia.

On 3 November 1900, the first ever automobile show ever held in the US opened in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.  About 150 different motor cars were on display from American pioneers now gone from the scene that included Duryea, Winton, Locomobile, Stanley, Columbia and Electric, as well as the more familiar Ford and Oldsmobile.  These were mostly steam and electric powered, but with a scattering of diesels and gasoline engines.  The show was well enough attended, but sales were not spectacular.  The modern  infrastructure for automobiles of any kind was still under construction, and would be decades before it was ready to support a large population of automobiles, regardless of how cheap they got.

Swiss race car driver Louis Chevrolet founded the Chevrolet Motor Car Company, with financing by Will Durant and William Little on 3 November 1911.  Starting with the Classic Six, Chevy grew to be the best-known passenger car brand by the end of the 20th century,  Able to manufacture roughly an automobile a second worldwide by 1960, Chevrolet, part of the General Motors Corporation since 1916, has been called the consumer-fueled rock upon which the foundation of the automotive industry rests.

Clarence Birdseye seems an unlikely character to join this list, but on this day in 1952 the company he started introduced the first flash-frozen peas to the US consumer market.  Peas were harder to flash-freeze than other vegetables, their form already somewhat mushy.  Birdseye had formed the firm in the 1920s and developed his flash-freezing methods first for fish and then for vegetables.  His active mind had moved on to other interests by the time frozen peas hit the market.

Other than the date, what connects these seemingly disparate events?  The Meiji presided over the expansion of Japan’s economy, and the superficial modernization of its society.  Unfortunately, he was unable to restrain or even modify the virulently nationalistic attitudes of the members of the former samurai class, which migrated into the army and the navy.  When he introduced his constitution to Japan, it was hailed as a landmark of moderation, but in practice it was a licence for the samurai to dominate.

At the same time, the United States was growing its automotive industry and developing its infrastructure based on consumer demand for inexpensive cars, and with it a manufacturing base unsurpassed by any other on earth, ever.  The Duryeas and Locomobiles fell out, but the General Motors’ kept on providing not only cars and trucks, but a pool of manufacturing and engineering knowledge that, come 1941, would eventually decide the contest in the Pacific that the Meiji would enable.  And the American forces, as they crossed vast oceans, were the best fed military organizations in history, provided in no small part by flash-frozen foods preserved by a process developed by a college dropout named Clarence Birdseye.