The Harmful Rays of the Moral Vacuum

The Harmful Rays of the Moral Vacuum
Please be advised that for your safety you must exit this blog on foot, calmly and quickly.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

UFC Welcomes 2010 with a Whimper, Not a Bang

As I mentioned in my maiden post, I am a huge fan of Mixed Martial Arts, and its leading promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship. I even dragged my wife to their inaugural Fan Expo in Las Vegas this past July. I spent an hour in line to enter a packed convention hall where I waited for additional hours in line to meet some of my favorite fighters.

I also regularly shell out the $45 to purchase the UFC's once monthly Pay-per-view events. But I will not be purchasing this Saturday's event, UFC 108.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ahoy there! Musings on the telephone.

I finally got a chance to watch the 1944 classic Meet Me in St. Louis, the Judy Garland vehicle which debuted the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." One thing in particular that struck me about the film, set in 1904, is a supporting role played by an early telephone. There is only one phone in the household, contrasted with another classic, It's a Wonderful Life, in which Mary Hatch's nosy mother gets on "the extension" to listen in to a call with her daughter's would be suitor.

In Meet Me in St. Louis, the phone is located in the dining room, much to the detriment of one of the daughters who wishes to have a private call with her beau. The father answers the phone with a stilted "hullo." The call was operator assisted, as all calls were back then. He refuses the long distance call from New York. When the misunderstanding is eventually cleared up, the daughter and her Lothario can barely hear each other and resort to yelling to each other over the phone. This was, of course, a precursor to the iPhone of today, which can barely make audible calls over 100 years later.

Interesting tidbit: Alexander Graham Bell preferred "Ahoy" as the standard telephone greeting. It was Thomas Edison who introduced "hello," likely from the British expression "Hullo!" which indicated surprise. Early telephone operators became known as "hello girls." (via Wikipedia)

My grandmother still remembers a day when her phone was on a "party line," which is not as fun as it sounds like it should be. She had to share with those who lived in the neighboring houses. She remembers clearly being able to listen in on the calls of others. She says that it was nearly impossible to use the phone, as a nearby teenage girl would constantly occupy the line. How far we've come.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Survival Town: The Real Nevada Boomtown of the Mid-Century

The 2008 movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull features a scene in which the intrepid Dr. Jones finds himself in a "typical" mid century suburban town. He realizes in the nick of time that the "town," inhabited by department store mannequins, has been staged by the U.S. military for an atomic detonation test.

The gory 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes is premised upon a group of people living in the Nevada desert who were subjected to atomic atmospheric testing over a period of decades. They have thus been transformed into an isolated band of cannibalistic mutants. One of the film’s many victims stumbles upon an abandoned house within the mutant territory. Abandoned except for mannequins resplendent in mid-century garb.

So is it true that the government constructed a fake town expressly for the purpose of blowing it up? Yes! On May 5, 1955, a nuclear test detonation dubbed "Apple-2" was conducted at the Nevada test site. Apple-2 was one of 14 detonations conducted in the first half of 1955 under the codename Operation Teapot. The bomb detonated that day had a yield of 29 kilotons, just under two and a half times the destructive power of the one dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

In preparation for the Apple-2 detonation, the Department of Defense built "Survival Town," a suburban enclave in the middle of the desert replete with homes and offices wired for power, and department store mannequins positioned to replicate typical human activities. The experiment was designed to test the impact of an atomic explosion on various kinds of structures and at varying distances within the blast radius. The docile indifference of the mannequins towards their grim fate, coupled with the synthetically cheerful 1950s suburban vibe makes for an unmistakably eerie result.

The military personnel and civilian volunteers who participated in the experiment lived in a barracks a few miles from the blast site dubbed "Survival City." Their objective was to simulate the rebuilding that would occur immediately after an atomic attack. They performed such tasks as providing “first aid” for the "victims" of the attack, restoring communications antennas and other infrastructure within the blast radius, and airlifting food into the affected area. They did so while being unknowingly exposed to enough radiation to give anyone a healthy green glow.

Of course, most of the structures were incinerated or otherwise destroyed. But somewhat surprisingly, a few remain to this day, and can be viewed on the official tour of the Nevada Test Site.

Readers interested in learning more about our nuclear heritage should visit the Atomic Testing Museum. The museum, located not far from the Las Vegas Strip, is offbeat and quirky but not in the same way that most Vegas attractions are. Highlights include a simulated atomic blast viewing, pop cultural artifacts from the nuclear age, and even a few of the original mannequins from Survival Town.

The 1982 film The Atomic Cafe makes for fun, yet sobering watching. Aptly described by the Village Voice as a "comic horror film," it is a collection of classic Atomic Age clips, from the famous cartoon turtle exhorting school kids to "duck and cover" in the event of a blast, to U.S. military officials explaining to trusting native Polynesians the positive aspects of a nuclear test blast on their home island.

Additional links of interest:
Blown to Smithereens: The Secret Story of Survival Town (via WebUrbanist)
More information on Operation Teapot (via Wikipedia)
Contemporary newsreel footage of the Survival Town test, boasting the installation of "a million dollars worth of equipment" (via RonnieshowFriends)
A much longer Civil Defense video which covers some of the nuclear science behind the test before coughing up some great footage of the town. At 7:24, the narrator cheerfully notes that the mannequins have been supplied by industry to stand in for "Mr. and Mrs. America." (via AutomobileHistoryUSA)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Food Review: MexiCoke

I am a bit tardy to the party on this one, as it has already been written about at length in the pages of such august publications as the San Diego Union Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and most recently, The New York Times.

I am speaking of Mexican Coca Cola, a delightful beverage which I lovingly refer to as MexiCoke. To give you the crib notes on the subject, Coke bottled in Mexico is made with real cane sugar, as opposed to the high fructose corn syrup used in our inferior domestic version. It has become popular with hipsters, food snobs, and other annoying people who care about things like "mouthfeel" and claim that it has a cleaner taste than the version bottled in the good ol' U S of A. Supposedly, it is closer to the classic formulation of Coca Cola that old timers remember from their childhood. They import this nectar of the Gods back into the United States in small quantities to tap into a Hispanic population longing for a slice of home. Or a drink of home, if you will.

I am no food snob, but I can attest that it is good stuff. It is available at the small Ecuadorian market on the corner by my apartment, and I first tried a bottle last New Year's Eve. I was married a few months ago, and in keeping with our Mid Century theme, we thought it would be fun to leave our guests a gift basket including glass bottles of Coke. We discovered that Costco sells bottles of MexiCoke at about 20 dollars for a 24 pack. Truly a steal. You can also find it on at a significant premium.

If you have the chance, you should sample this great Mexican import which will improve your mood, but won't get you stopped by law enforcement. As for me, well, I noticed that the Ecuadorian market sells Mexican Pepsi (MexiPepsi?). Could be my next big find. Just don't tell the hipsters and food snobs.

Gentlemen! Welcome... to the moral vacuum.

A few friends recently suggested that I start a blog as an outlet for ramblings on my various interests. Behold! I present to you THE MORAL VACUUM! :::lighting strikes off in the distance.:::

I am fascinated by a wide range of subjects, and will touch upon many of them here. The things that catch my fancy include pop culture, the bizarre, abandoned buildings, Mixed Martial Arts, vintage cinema, bad movies, action films, retro-future, mid century modern, post apocalyptia, technology, video games, and just plain life in general.

The result will likely be an inchoate mish mash of postings that will interest no one in particular and last for about two weeks before I give up on this blog. But for now... bask in the power of THE MORAL VACUUM! :::wolves faintly howl in the distance:::