Caganer, exploding head syndrome, American MiGs, the Boston Molasses Disaster, and rock-paper-scissors lizards

Today we will look at American airmen who pilots Soviet aircraft, the Great Molasses Flood, a Catalan tradition of shitting on the nativity, and exploding head syndrome.

The Boston Molasses Disaster occurred on January 15, 1919, when a storage tank of the sticky stuff burst and flooded the streets to kill 21 and injure about 150. Back in those days, molasses was the primary sweetener used (instead of high-fructose corn syrup), and a storage tank of the Purity Distilling Company stood at its facility along the port at the north end of what is now downtown Boston. Apparently, the tank was very poorly constructed and not subjected to safety tests; it was reportedly painted brown to hide the leaks. Unusually high temperatures helped to ferment some of the syrup, which raised the pressure in the sealed tank enough to rupture a manhole access damaged by fatigue. The 50-foot tank released its 2,300,000 gallons in a wave between 8 and 15 ft, moving at 35mph, against the neighboring buildings. It broke girders for an elevated railway, crushed walls, swept buildings off the foundation, and flooded a decent portion of the city up to 3 feet. Many people and animals were crushed or drowned, some not recovered until after the molasses glazed over, and took over 87,000 man hours to clean up.
Photo archived by the Globe Newspaper Co.

The 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron was a unit of the United States Air Force specifically to fly Soviet fight planes as an adversary squadron. Most national air forces have one or more aggressor squadrons who conduct dissimilar air combat training, but this one was unique in that they operated the actual enemy aircraft, not just modified versions of domestic fighters. Captured enemy aircraft are usually only test flown to assist in intelligence and reverse-engineering, not as training aides. The squadron was formed in July 1979 around a pair of MiG-17s and a MiG-21 loaned from Israel (who had captured them from Syria and Iraq). The brainchild of LtCol Gail Peck, who was unhappy that Vietnam-era pilots had weakened dogfighting skills, the squadron took cues from the Navy's TOPGUN and called the schooling program CONSTANT PEG. Based at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada (northwest of Area 51), the unit slowly gathered more MiG-17s, -21s, and -23s over the years (mostly from dissolving Soviet-supported militaries). The reason why foreign military equipment is rarely operated regularly was one that plagued the squadron from the start: the lack of manuals and parts. Several fatal crashes occurred before operations were shut down in 1988 and the unit disbanded two years later (and I'm sure maintenance was a nightmare). The aircraft were transferred to the 57th Fighter Wing, which also conducts aggressor training, but it's unclear if they are still flown.
a MiG-17 and -21 escorted by two F-5Es circa 1980s.

OK, so constant readers know that I dislike gnomes, but the concept of a caganer actually bothers me a little. It's a tradition of the Catalan-Valencian culture (which was prevalent in northeastern Spain and southern France during the Middle Ages), and seems to stem back to the 18th century. A small, usually hand-painted statue depicting a boy squatting to defecate, it doesn't seem outwardly to be anything but a silly obscene joke. However, the Catalans like to add these figures inconspicuously to nativity scenes. In most of western Europe, nativity scenes don't just depict the manger, but neighboring areas and daily life (such as women washing clothes, the shepherds and their flock, sometimes even the whole city of Bethlehem). There is even a bit of tradition in children trying to find the caganer in the scene, which takes a kind of tongue-in-cheek approach to tradition. True, there are arguments that it represents fertility, or Jesus's humanity, or represents a religious test of faith or the equality of mankind (everyone poops), but it seems to have most association with a kind of gentle mischief-making. But if the church tolerates it, I guess it's not that bad.
Kinda reminds you of those little Mexican pee-pee dolls, huh?

The common side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana) is a type of lizard native to the American west coast, stretching from Washington to northwest Mexico and inland to western Texas. Not very unusual at first glance, it has one quality that really makes it unique: the mating system is akin to a game of rock-paper-scissors. Three types of males (orange, blue, and yellow throats) each have a distinct mating strategy. The oranges are physically the strongest, and will typically fight a blue for his mate. The blue throats are the middle class, and while beaten by an orange, will usually win over a yellow. A yellow, being the weakest, will mimic a females coloration and mate with an orange's female while he's distracted. Thus, orange beats blue, blue beats yellow, and yellow beats orange. Now that's fun.
The caption said he was a male, but he's got all three colors represented...

Exploding head syndrome sounds a lot cooler than it is. No, yer head don't go asplode, you just hear loud noises in your head, usually while asleep. A type of parasomnia, it seems to relate to some kind of nervous system activity in the middle ear, not dissimilar from a seizure. There is a correlation with high stress and fatigue, and unsurprisingly, usually causes anxiety (I know that loud noises in my head would share the living daylights out of me), sometimes accompanied by flashes of light or mild sleep paralysis, but rarely pain. It was first described in 1920, and typically known as "auditory sleep starts", and can be associated with SSRI "brain zaps".

That's all for this week. Happy reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment