Friday, February 23, 2018

Snow In Seattle, Cold And Clear In LA (And Simon Winchester's Pacific On The Way)

It snowed yesterday on Bainbridge and my granddaughter couldn't get enough playtime.  Throwing snow at me, eating snow, making little snow people, rolling in the snow, and just reveling in the bright, bright sunshine.  Slides go really fast when you're wearing a slippery snow suit.  Lots of laughing and running and reveling in nature's white gift.

By today there was a thin layer of cloud, threatening to snow again.  But we were able to walk to the ferry and then to the train to the airport without rain or snow.

The security line was snaked all around, we saw police officers, a dog sniffing people lined up.  Fortunately we were in pre-check so the wait was short.  I booked the flight via Alaska Airlines, but our flight was on Virgin.  The plane coming in was late and we left 25 minutes late, but we eventually got to LA a little early.  I'd been wondering why nearly all our flights in last couple of years have been on time or early.  I finally surmised that Alaska simply projects the flight to take longer than they need to.  That way, they score high for 'on-time' flights.  Even if they leave late, they get where they're going on time or even early.  But I hadn't had the time to try to check the details - like see how long other airlines say a flight from city A to city B should take.  And then I heard a piece on NPR the other day that confirmed my suspicions.  It's probably not a bad thing.  As they said on the show, people are happier when they get somewhere early than if they get there late.  I just found a 2015 article on this phenomenon.

Anyway, the Alaska-Virgin merger is moving along.  I watched Alaska Airlines baggage vehicles loading our Virgin flight.

I got to do some reading on the flight.  I'm reading Pacific for our next book club meeting (well, the next one I can attend.)  The first section has been a page turner, except it was so depressing that I didn't want to read it.  Simon Winchester picks 12 events from 1952 that took place somewhere in or around the Pacific.  The first one is about nuclear bomb testing in the South Pacific, and he highlights the US cavalier approach to the people living where they wanted to do their testing - Bikini Islands.  Arrogance, racism, relocation of people to much less suitable islands, and using people as human Guinea pigs.  There are plenty of bad guys to go around in these 45 pages or so, but I'll just mention Alvin Cushman Graves.  Winchester gives him little slack for his handling of Pacific nuclear tests, particularly the last one that was significant more powerful than he expected and devastated, once the people of Bikini and sent radioactive material over a large area of the Pacific.  Neither the Atomic Heritage Society (not unexpectedly), nor Wikipedia give any details of the Castle Bravo test.  From Winchester:
"The solid compound in the new bomb was lithium deuterium, an amalgam of lithium and isotopic hydrogen.  And no one knew exactly how much hydrogen it would release, or how big the detonation would be.
The testers would soon find out.  And because of the other uncertainty - over the weather, and more specifically, the direction of the winds on detonation ay - a great many others would find out as well."  
The normal winds had been blowing toward the west, the normal condition, and the US had put out a vague warning for ships to stay out of a 57,000 square mile 'danger area.'  Though they didn't explain the danger.  However, the night before the test, the winds switched to the east.  And at sunrise there was a powerful gale in upper altitudes.

"Graves was told of the wind direction and knew that radiation would spread downwind and contaminate, at the very least, Rongelap Atoll.  But he had his orders, which were to proceed with the test without delay.  Moroever, whatever the wind direction might be, no one had any idea how much radiation would be produced.  Not that this was strictly relevant, of course, since Graves still cleaved robustly to his views about the malingerers who had concocted all this fuss about radiation being so terribly dangerous." [pp 70-71]
He gave the order to detonate the bomb.  I'd note that Graves was a physicist who had been in charge of nuclear testing and himself had almost been killed in an accident that killed the man next to him.  Doctors thought he would die, but he did recover.  Though many suspect his fatal heart attack 20 years later was related.
"At 6:45 am on that clear, windy, blue-sky Pacific morning, it was as if the world had suddenly stopped, blinded by a vast white light of an intensity never before experienced.  The iron gates guarding some terrible inferno seemed to clang wide open and unleash a ball of fire and shock waves and roarings of unimaginable speed, violence, and loudness.  A white fireball four miles across was created in less than one second  A minute later a cloud of debris ten miles tall and seven across rocketed into the sky.  Ten minutes on, it was twenty-five miles tall and sixty miles across."
It uncashed huge amounts of radiation and quickly arrive at Rongerap Atoll, 120 miles to the east where the islanders had no idea what was happening.  As they became ill with radiation poisoning.  They were evacuated after being hosed down several times.
"We were like animals,"  said an islander named Rokko Langinbelik, who was twelve at the time.  "It was no different from herding pigs into a gate."
While Japanese fisherman who also were in the path of the radiation got treated quickly by Japanese doctors, the islanders were not.

I really hadn't intended to get into all this but it's eating away at me.  The treatment of the Marshall Islanders and the callous denials that the US had done anything wrong, even blaming the Islanders for their own tragedy.

You can read more on their fate, which continues to this day, at this site on Bikini Islanders. 

While the book transported me far out into the Pacific, the map on the screen in the seat back in front of me, had airplane located off the coast of Africa.

Only 8000 miles from Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, soon we were in the LA basin which was clear, cool (for here - in the high fifties (F)), and windy.

Downtown and the mountains beyond were crystal clear.  We were at my mom's house in just about an hour from landing, via public buses.  The house is in good shape now after the work we had done last time and while we were gone.  But we have a busy week ahead of us before seeing the other grandkids in SF, then a little more time in Seattle.  And finally home.

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