Subscribe via RSS Feed

“Pieces of meat passed high overhead…”

[ 37 ] November 2, 2013 |

Farewell to George Thomas Thornton, an American visionary who understood that few dreams are worth pursuing that don’t involve dynamite and the rotting carcasses of charismatic megafauna.

While Thornton’s decision to obliterate a sperm whale in November 1970 would, decades later, bring him lasting internet fame, he was also very much a product of his own, dreamier historical moment. Operation Plowshare was in mid-swing, as the George Thorntons staffing the Atomic Energy Commission imagined using nuclear blasts to excavate harbors, widen canals, stimulate natural gas flows, and rupture oil shale deposits. Nuclear blasts, so far as I’m aware, were never seriously considered as instruments for carcass removal or as a means of dispersing carrion for seagulls and crabs, but Americans are well known for their failures of imagination. George Thornton offered us a brief glimpse into a better world; we are diminished for having chosen not to follow him.

RIP.

Comments (37)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. anthrofred says:

    Ah, the 70s, when “land-blubber newsmen” still pronounced “wh-” as [hw]. I forgot how wonderful that clip was.

    • Lee Rudolph says:

      Hey, don’t diss my dialect! Lots of us northern Ohioans of a certain age have that sound natively (in “where” and “when” too), and we’re not all landlubbers (though I’m fairly sure that Lake Erie is a cetacean-free zone).

      • efgoldman says:

        I’m fairly sure that Lake Erie is a cetacean-free zone

        Are you sure? After all that pollution and the river burning, there’s probably some kind of Loch Ness/Godzilla mutant just waiting… waiting….

      • anthrofred says:

        This may be true, but they used to actually teach that rule as part of American Standard English for people in journamalism school. Now you can just let your accent flag fly.

      • ajay says:

        though I’m fairly sure that Lake Erie is a cetacean-free zone

        Or, as we say nowadays, [cetacean needed].

  2. Erik Loomis says:

    The finest my home state had to offer. RIP.

  3. efgoldman says:

    Fodder for so many Dave Barry columns.

  4. Hogan says:

    If you know a better way to break up a whale carcass in ten seconds, I’d like to hear it.

  5. Barry Freed says:

    Nuclear blasts, so far as I’m aware, were never seriously considered as instruments for carcass removal or as a means of dispersing carrion for seagulls and crabs, but Americans are well known for their failures of imagination.

    Because using nukes would be overkill for your ordinary, run-of-the-mill dead whale disposal. Now if you’ve a dead kaiju carcass on your hands then that’s just what the doctor ordered.

  6. DocAmazing says:

    Back in the Viridian List days, Bruce Sterling pointed out that nuclear power adocates never included homemakers, who would have asked the basic question “Where does the garbage go?”

  7. zombie rotten mcdonald says:

    “textbook whale removal”

  8. heckblazer says:

    When I was in college we didn’t have YouTube or barely even the web. If you wanted to download a video of an exploding whale you had to find a newsgroup posting of the binary files, spend hours downloading them and then paste them together into one video file. And we liked it!

    (True story too. The exploding whale was the first video I ever downloaded and that was the process).

    • Hanspeter says:

      You forgot the uudecode step, followed by the realization that part 5/36 went part 6/36 after that failed, and you better hoped you had a big enough HD to save all 36 parts AND the single file.

    • Jon H says:

      I first saw it in 94 or 95, at my first job out of college, projected on a screen in a conference room at Swiss Bank in Chicago.

      That was a situation I hadn’t expected.

  9. arghous says:

    Americans are well known for their failures of imagination? What? Nuclear blasts were never seriously considered as instruments for carcass removal? Are you kidding me?

    Are you telling me you’ve never heard of those brought to Earth, stacked around volcanos, and blown up with hydrogen bombs? Sounds like someone needs some serious auditing.

  10. russiannavyblog says:

    If you ever need to excavate a salt dome, have I got a device for you!

  11. mtraven says:

    I knew of Operation Plowshare, but did not know that nuclear fracking had been a part of it. How we have declined from those heroic days.

    • jim, some guy in iowa says:

      well, christ, now we have something to make hydraulic fracking look sensible and sustainable

    • Alan Tomlinson says:

      It required a truly forward-thinking government to grasp the brass ring.

      Cheers,

      Alan Tomlinson

    • FMguru says:

      Reading the wiki article, I see that one of the plans was to use nuclear explosions as an ongoing energy source. Nuclear explosions produce an enormous amount of heat, and if you bury them deep enough all that heat is trapped in the earth, so you just have to drill some wells and circulate some water and voila – safe, reliable energy! When it cools down, you just dig another hole and set off another bomb. And another.

      There’s just so much crazy shit around the Cold War (see also: the Flying Crowbar nuclear-powered bomber, or the Farewell Dossier, or the Davy Crocket tactical nuclear rocket, or…).
      Someone really should gather it up, put it into context, publish it as a book. Schloesser’s recent COMMAND AND CONTROL (which I hope gets reviewed here soon, I thought it was pretty good) touched on some of it, but there’s so much more to be brought to light.

  12. PeakVT says:

    Still my favorite clip on all the intertubes.

  13. Hogan says:

    Two posts in two days? Be still, my heart.

  14. Mr. Madame Psychosis says:

    Early 70′s audio technology prevented this from being heard on the clip but it was rumored that on-site witnesses close to the whale could hear, just before the blast,–

    “I work for Mr. E.H. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad and he entrusted me . . .”

  15. [...] to George Thomas Thornton, an American visionary who understood that few dreams are worth pursuing that don’t involve dynamite and the rotting carcasses of charismatic [...]

  16. coupon says:

    I do not know whether it’s just me or if everyone else experiencing
    problems with your site. It seems like some of the written text on your content are running off the screen.
    Can someone else please provide feedback and let me know if this is happening
    to them too? This might be a issue with my browser because I’ve had this happen before.
    Many thanks

    my site; coupon

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Switch to our mobile site