Remembering the worst ever U.S. industrial accident, 1947: 576 dead at Texas City

April 16, 2014

April 16 marks the 67th anniversary of the Texas City Disaster.

It’s a day Texans, and all Americans should note.  It’s an event we need to remember, because every point of the disaster is something we forget at our very great peril.  Thinking such a disaster could not happen again, and failing to train for these same conditions, contributed to the disaster last year in West, Texas.

67 years ago, in the harbor at Texas City, a large cargo ship being loaded with tons of ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded, setting fire to other nearby ships, one of which exploded, devastating much of the town. In all, 576 people died in Texas City on April 16 and 17, 1947.

View of Texas City from across the bay, in Galveston, April 16, 1947

View of Texas City from Galveston, across the bay, after the explosion of the French ship SS Grandchamp, April 16, 1947. Photo from International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1259

The incident also produced one of the most famous tort cases in U.S. history, Dalehite vs. United States, 346 U.S. 15 (1953). (Here is the Findlaw version, subscription may be required.)

The entire Texas City fire department was wiped out, 28 firefighters in all. The International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1259 has a website dedicated to the history of the disaster, with a collection of some powerful photographs.

More below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »


Typewriter of the moment: Thomas Merton

April 16, 2014

Thomas Merton's typewriter, at Bellarmine University

Thomas Merton’s typewriter, at Bellarmine University; image from Spiritual Travels blog. Photo by Lori Erickson

One of Thomas Merton’s typewriters sits on display at the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University, in Louisville, Kentucky.

Who? You remember, the guy who wrote The Seven Storey Mountain.

Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O. (January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968) was an American Catholic writer and mystic. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, he was a poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion. In 1949, he was ordained to the priesthood and given the name Father Louis.[1][2][3]

Merton wrote more than 70 books, mostly on spirituality, social justice and a quiet pacifism, as well as scores of essays and reviews, including his best-selling autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948), which sent scores of World War II veterans, students, and even teenagers flocking to monasteries across the US,[4][5] and was also featured in National Reviews list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the century.[6] Merton was a keen proponent of interfaith understanding. He pioneered dialogue with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, the Japanese writer D.T. Suzuki, and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Merton has also been the subject of several biographies.

It’s a French typewriter, by Royal, with French characters available for use.

Closeup of Thomas Merton's Royal Typewriter; The Thomas Merton Center

Closeup of Thomas Merton’s Royal typewriter, showing some of the special characters available for French; The Thomas Merton Center

 

More:  

Another typewriter displayed by the Thomas Merton Center. One of Merton's?

Another typewriter displayed by the Thomas Merton Center. One of Merton’s?


Cross seas: Nature, or design?

April 16, 2014

Here’s just exactly the sort of thing that happens in nature that drives creationists nuts.  How could this happen without God personally working to confuse and/or delight the photographer?  Not to mention the physicist and mathematician.

Photo from the Twitter feed of Science Porn:

Photo from the Twitter feed of Science Porn: “Go home waves you’re drunk. This is called cross sea btw pic.twitter.com/5Cv1UUo8QX”

Where? Somewhere in France, one might gather from the flag on the structure (lighthouse?).

Turns out to be a Wikipedia photo, with this intriguing caption:

Crossing swells, consisting of near-cnoidal wave trains. Photo taken from Phares des Baleines (Whale Lighthouse) at the western point of Île de Ré (Isle of Rhé), France, in the Atlantic Ocean. The interaction of such near-solitons in shallow water may be modeled through the Kadomtsev–Petviashvili equation.

Oh, you remember that one, don’t you?  The Kadomtsev–Petviashvili equation?

At least we confirmed it was taken in France.

They do everything differently in France, don’t they?

Update:Got an e-mail suggestion that I include the equation itself.  You may certainly click to Wikipedia to find it; here’s what it says over there:

In mathematics and physics, the Kadomtsev–Petviashvili equation – or KP equation, named after Boris Borisovich Kadomtsev and Vladimir Iosifovich Petviashvili – is a partial differential equation to describe nonlinearwave motion. The KP equation is usually written as:

\displaystyle \partial_x(\partial_t u+u \partial_x u+\epsilon^2\partial_{xxx}u)+\lambda\partial_{yy}u=0

where \lambda=\pm 1. The above form shows that the KP equation is a generalization to two spatial dimensions, x and y, of the one-dimensional Korteweg–de Vries (KdV) equation. To be physically meaningful, the wave propagation direction has to be not-too-far from the x direction, i.e. with only slow variations of solutions in the y direction.

Like the KdV equation, the KP equation is completely integrable. It can also be solved using the inverse scattering transform much like the nonlinear Schrödinger equation.

Certainly the longest equation ever published at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub.

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Anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride, in the middle of National Poetry Month 2014

April 16, 2014

This is mostly an encore post.  Is there a good reason Paul Revere made his ride in the middle of National Poetry Month

Teachers, I’m posting this a couple of days early.  You may want to get copies of the poems for your U.S. history and literature classes. 

You may want to note that the Boston Marathon is traditionally run on Freedom Day in Massachusetts — the day that commemorates the ride of the patriots’ warning that Gen. Gage’s army was on the move, and of the battles at Lexington and Concord, the next day. 

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April 18 and 19. Do the dates have significance? Paul Revere's ride, from Paul Revere House

Among other things, April 19 is the date of the firing of the “shot heard ’round the world,” the first shots in the American Revolution. On April 19, 1775, American Minutemen stood to protect arsenals they had created at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, against seizure by the British Army then occupying Boston.

April is National Poetry Month. What have we done to celebrate poetry?

What have we done to properly acknowledge the key events of April 18 and 19, 1775? Happily, poetry helps us out in history studies. Or it can do.

In contrast to my childhood, when we as students had poems to memorize weekly throughout our curriculum, modern students too often come to my classes seeming wholly unaware that rhyming and rhythm are used for anything other than celebrating materialist, establishment values obtained sub rosa. Poetry, to them, is mostly rhythm, certainly not for polite company, and never for learning.

Poetry has  slipped from our national curriculum, dropped away from our national consciousness.  No national test adequately covers poetry, not in English, not in social studies — certainly not in math or science.

That is one small part of the reason that Aprils in the past two decades turned instead to memorials to violence, and fear that violence will break out again. We have allowed darker ideas to dominate April, and especially the days around April 19.

You and I have failed to properly commemorate the good, I fear. We have a duty to pass along these cultural icons, as touchstones to understanding America.

So, reclaim the high ground. Reclaim the high cultural ground.

Read a poem today. Plan to be sure to have the commemorative reading of “Paul Revere’s Ride” in your classes on April 18 or 19, and “The Concord Hymn” on April 19.

We must work to be sure our heritage of freedom is remembered, lest we condemn our students, our children and grandchildren to having to relearn these lessons of history, as Santayana warned.

Texts of the poems are below the fold, though you may be much better off to use the links and see those sites, the Paul Revere House, and the Minuteman National Historical Park.

Read the rest of this entry »


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