Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that really lights your fire.
I’m your host this week, Shea, and with me are:
I’m Aaron, and as I lose my hearing and am forced to start learning sign language, which I am in fact terrible at, I’ve realized that a hand job from a deaf person technically counts as oral…
I’m Steve, and I was exposed to covid again last weekend, but this time I did not get it, so yea for vaccines MFr’s.
Go here: https://www.covidtests.gov
I dunno about you lot but I’m drinking a Guinness-Bodington’s black and tan in honor of one of my headlines… kind of. – 10
Steve: Tommyknocker’s Blood Orange IPA Idaho Springs, CO at 6% 55 IBU -7
Shea: Alaskan Midnight Hazy IPA Juneau, Alaska, 6% -8
I’m willing to bet that everyone who listens to this show has not only seen Star Wars but at some point in your life had an epic lightsaber battle when the wrapping paper roll ran out.
Because the real gift of the season is an empty cardboard tube and someone to whack with it.
One YouTuber, Alex Lab, has taken things to the next level, winning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the world’s first, properly “retractable” lightsaber.
Now, before we get all mired in the physics of it, no, it’s not a “light” saber in the literal sense, it uses hydrogen. But it does do a lot of lightsaber-y things, including really looking the part! It’s based on Starkiller’s saber from The Force Unleashed — and he did a hell of a job, it looks screen-ready.
Using an electrolyzer, a device that generates and compresses hydrogen and oxygen without a mechanical compressor, he was able to pack 30 seconds of hydrogen into the handle. The saber generates a three-ish-foot plasma stream of roughly 2,800°C (5,072°F) which is hot enough to cut steel – albeit not as quickly as in the films. And, per Alex, “plasma is a stream of high ironized particles so this lightsaber can also attract lightning and other high voltage charges,” which he demos in the video with a small arc of electricity.
It’s not perfect yet though, only running for 30 seconds, not cutting as cleanly as a real lightsaber — or even the much hotter Hacksmith version — and there’s that little drawback of, as Alex explains “sometimes the lightsaber just blows up in your hand because of hydrogen flashback.”
So, other than that, lightsaber. Done. Check out the video in the show notes, it’s pretty impressive.
Flash is fast, so fast that he, “can perceive events that last for less than an attosecond,” or roughly the time it takes light to traverse a water molecule. The shortest time we can measure. Though his top speed is measured in The Human Race as something like 23.8 tredecillion times the speed of light. Dr. Manhattan has “witnessed events so tiny and so fast they can hardly be said to have occurred at all.”
This headline might not match their achievements, but it’s not far off — at least on the math. Scientists at the XERNON Collaboration in Italy built a dark matter detector known as XENON1T. It uses the noble gas to attempt dark matter detection, the jury’s still out on that. What it did record was the radioactive decay of a xenon-124 atom, which has a half-life of 18 billion trillion years. More than a trillion times longer than the current age of the universe.
The observation was published in Nature 536, in a 2019 paper called Observation of two-neutrino double electron capture in 124Xe with XENO1T.
“We actually saw this decay happen. It’s the longest, slowest process that has ever been directly observed, and our dark matter detector was sensitive enough to measure it,“ co-author Ethan Brown, an assistant professor of physics at Rensselaer, said in a statement. ”It’s amazing to have witnessed this process, and it says that our detector can measure the rarest thing ever recorded.”
But if it takes so long… how?
Well, the half-life is a probabilistic measure, not a stopwatch. It measures the calculated time for half of the atoms in a radioactive substance, like xenon, to decay. So it’s an ongoing thing rather than something that happens once in a billion trillion years.
The detector housed 3,500 kilos (7,716 lbs) of xenon, which is roughly 17 billion billion billion atoms (1.701×1028), so the odds weren’t not in our favor.
While the machine wasn’t designed to track atomic decay, it’s incredibly sensitive, and did. In case you’re wondering what that record looks like… here’s a quote from sciencer Brown who is way, way smarter than I am.
“Electrons in double-capture are removed from the innermost shell around the nucleus, and that creates room in that shell. The remaining electrons collapse to the ground state, and we saw this collapse process in our detector.”
I’m sure you have picked up in the last few months that I moonlight as a bartender. I love the job but sometimes things get so monotonous that you don’t want to do it anymore. That was me this week, so instead of paying any attention to customers I instead looked up stories about alcohol to entertain my coworkers, and in the vain of being green, I am recycling it for you!
Today I have a couple of stories all involving booze and the trouble it can get you into, this is Drink, Drank, Drunks.
In an earlier episode, we talked about the slowest flood in history, Boston, 1919, with 2.3 million gallons of molasses. You guys remember, right? Well, this story is along the same lines but just a few, 44, years before. 1875 was a simpler time, US Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, Electric dental drill was patented by George F Green, and most importantly the 1st recorded hockey game (Montreal). Also, there was a horrible fire flood through Dublin. What’s a fire flood, you ask? Well, buckle up cause this is a good one.
According to The Irish Times, the disaster occurred on June 18th, 1875 at Malone’s Bonded Storehouse in Dublin, where more than 5,000 barrels of whiskey and spirits were stored in various stages of aging. Bottled whiskey meant for retail is less flammable because it gets diluted down to lower alcohol content. Where in these casks the whiskey was undiluted, high proof, and highly combustible. According to NFPA, volatile alcohol vapors and high temperatures from distillation equipment additionally create conditions where explosions and fire can occur.
I’m sure you can see where this is going…
The first reports of a fire at the warehouse came at 8 p.m. that night. Shortly after, barrels began to burn and explode, while torrents of burning whiskey flowed out of the building down the streets and alleys of Dublin. Creating a wave of flaming whiskey flowing down the streets setting buildings and livestock on fire. In this time period, it wasn’t uncommon to have farm animals living either inside or outside these tenements. As a result, panicked animals ran through the streets and only added to the mayhem of lava-like whiskey running alongside them. Locals tried to douse the flames with water but the whiskey just rose to the top and continued to burn its way through the city.
The Dublin Fire Brigade arrived, under the leadership of Captain James Robert Ingram, who had been a fire officer in the New York Fire Department, and was renowned for his “unconventional” strategies to control fires. He knew that to pour water on the fire would be disastrous as the whiskey would float on top of it like petrol and spread the fire throughout the city. Instead, he sent for soldiers and ordered them to pull up paving stones and pour a mixture of sand and gravel on the whiskey. But he soon realized that wouldn’t be enough as the whiskey started to seep through the sand. Oh shit… Speaking of shit!
Meadow Muffins, road apples, horse manure, Heaps of it lay in depots around the city. Ingram ordered that it be brought to the fire by the cartload and shoveled it back onto the streets, from where it had once come. As the burning whiskey met the damp manure it formed dams and was soaked up, the fire slowly began to subside.
Amid the “frightening” bustle, crowds gathered along the stream of alcohol; for many, the inferno presented a rare opportunity.“It is stated that caps, porringers, and other vessels were in great requisition to scoop up the liquor as it flowed from the burning premises, and disgusting as it may seem, some fellows were observed to take off their boots and use them as drinking cups,” reported The Irish Times on June 21st.
The entire city came out to watch the inferno and take part in the flaming shots. It’s a small miracle no one died from smoke inhalation or burns, I’d like to say that there were no deaths at all but that would be a lie. Unfortunately, 13 souls lost their lives, but it was completely self-inflicted. The fatalities directly stemmed from the whiskey that ran through the streets. Even as people were trying to escape the blaze, hundreds more flocked to the area to witness the unbelievable event and to help themselves to free whiskey. People used hats, pots, cups, and any vessel they could find, including their shoes, to scoop burning whiskey up from the streets. Onlookers didn’t realize the toxic strength of the undiluted alcohol and the 13 people who died in the Great Whiskey Fire all perished from alcohol poisoning from drinking contaminated whiskey from the dirty Dublin streets. Hundreds more were treated for poisoning in local hospitals, with several going blind and suffering brain damage. The whiskey that burned in Dublin city during the blaze was worth £54,000; an approximate equivalent today, 145 years later, of €6.5 million.
From The Illustrated London Times; “Crowds of people assembled and took off their hats and boots to collect the whisky, which ran in streams along the streets. Four persons have died in the hospital from the effects of drinking the whisky, which was burning hot as it flowed. Two corn-porters, named Healy and M’Nulty, were found in a lane off Cork street, lying insensible, with their boots off, which they had evidently used to collect the liquor. There are many other persons in the hospital who are suffering from the same cause. Two boys are reported to be dying, and it is feared that other deaths will follow.”
This is still considered the most destructive fire that has ever ravaged Dublin. The mayor set up a fund and several hundred pounds was raised to help those who had lost their homes and furniture. In the end, 8 men were carried in a comatose state to Meath Hospital, twelve to Jervis Street Hospital, three to Stevens’ Hospital, and one young man to Mercer’s Hospital. Thirteen people died. None of the deceased perished in the flames, nor did they die of smoke inhalation – each succumbed to alcohol poisoning from drinking “freely of the derelict whiskey”. Tales of the infamous Great Whiskey Fire are still alive today.
Let’s go back in time now to 1694, which by the way time works would be an even simpler time. This year Voltaire was born, the author of Candide, British/American colonial forces failed to seize Quebec from the French, and people probably lived to the ripe old age of milk leg. This was also the year that one of the largest amounts of jungle juice was ever made.
Admiral Edward Russell was an impressively ill-tempered English Navy commander in charge of the Mediterranean fleet. He was actually tasked with taking care of the Barbary pirates who operated in the western Mediterranean and terrorized coastal European towns.
In 1694, upon return from duty in the Mediterranean, Russell was requested by Admiralty not to return to England for rest and but instead, pull a double and land in the Spanish port of Cadiz to winter the rest of the year. Russell was evidently not fond of the decision as expressed it in a rather dramatic letter to the Admiralty stating, “I am at present under a doubt with myself whether it is not better to die”. In a defiant expression of his orders, on Christmas day of that same year, the Admiral threw a party of legendary proportions in the grounds of the local governor’s estate.
Despite a feast which is recorded to have included a waiting staff of 800 men and 150 different dishes, the main article of legend was the enormous tiled fountain with a small boy in a boat floating in the middle serving it to his guests. What was he serving them? Well, I’m glad you asked!
The Admiral converted the enormous fountain into an enormous punch bowl. What kind of punch? a mixture that included 250 gallons of brandy, 125 gallons of Malaga wine, 1,400 pounds of sugar, 2,500 lemons, 20 gallons of lime juice, and 5 pounds of nutmeg.
A number of boys actually paddled around in a small wooden canoe, filling up guests’ cups. Not only that, but they had to work in 15-minute shifts to avoid being overcome by the fumes and falling overboard.
From a report from the time; “…they drew off and in went the mob, with their shoes and stocking and all on, and like to have turned the boat, with the boy over, and so he might have been drowned in punch, but to prevent further danger they sucked it up, and left the punch-bowl behind.”
The party continued nonstop for a full week, pausing only briefly during rainstorms to erect a silk canopy over the punch to keep it from getting watered down. In fact, the festivities didn’t end until the fountain had been completely drunk dry. Although there are two detailed accounts of the exact recipe and volume of the punch, the scale was not to be beaten until 2009 when Courvoisier Cognac and the creative duo Bompas and Parr would pay homage to Russell’s attempt and better it with a London Victorian townhouse flooded with 4 tons of Cognac punch, radio-controlled garnish, and rafts of orange in a project named, “The Architectural Punch Bowl“.
If you have a hankering to try this punch I did manage to find a recipe off of londonist.com.
Admiral Edward Russell’s Punch (for one)
- Brew some earl grey tea, remove the tea bag after a minute or two so it’s nice and light.
- Mix 4 parts of this with 4 parts any brandy, 2 parts lemon juice, 1 part sugar syrup and 2 parts of Oloroso sherry.
- Grate in nutmeg to taste.
- Stir with ice and strain over ice into a short cup, garnish with berries and you’re ready to party like an admiral.
I have a few other great boozy stories for another time but for now, I need a shot.
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A Murder of Patrons
I don’t actually know what a group of patrons is called… I guess I’ll go with “a gratitude of patrons” that feels appropriate.
Speaking of gratitude, if you need to get away with murder, this story might just be for you. Also, don’t take legal or homicidal advice from a podcast.
Most listeners will know, I think, that we’re based out of Wyoming. A sparse state with lots of wide-open land and the national parks that come with it. Most notable is probably Yellowstone.
Not to be confused with Jellystone, we don’t have talking bears.
We also don’t have 100% of Yellowstone. For those unaware, most of it is indeed in Wyoming, but there’s a 50 or so square-mile chunk that crosses the border into Idaho. This is, in and of itself, not such a big deal — there are plenty of state-border spanning parks, places of interest, etc. Even some that span national borders.
Which then begs the question, whose problem is the body?
And therein, theoretically, lies the problem … or loophole I guess depending on which side of the murder you fall on.
So, the details.
Yellowstone was established before Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, the states it overlaps with were founded, in 1872.
What does this mean for jurisdiction then, is the real question. Other areas like this, that cross borders, are typically divided into parts based on their corresponding district courts.
This is not the case in Yellowstone.
In his 2005 book, “The Perfect Crime” Michigan State law professor Brian Kalt points out that Yellowstone is fully assigned to the District of Wyoming.
This creates a small sliver of land in Idaho, wherein a crime committed is in Idaho but must be tried in Wyoming. This small strip of land is ominously called the “Zone of Death.”
So, from Kalt, “Say that you are in the Idaho portion of Yellowstone and you decide to spice up your vacation by going on a crime spree, you make some moonshine, you poach some wildlife, you strangle some people and steal their picnic baskets.”
He continues “You are arrested, arraigned in the park, and bound over for trial in Cheyenne.”
Cheyenne is Wyoming’s capital by the way. But let’s take a moment and look at the US Constitution.
Article Three, section two, says that “the trial shall be held in the state where the said crime shall have been committed.”
So you can simply point out that the crime you’re charged with didn’t happen in Wyoming. So it’s back to Idaho with you…
Back to the Constitution, Amendment VI says:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously as certained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; […]
This is called the Vicinage Clause, you have the right to demand a jury from the State where the crime took place, as well as the District in which it is to be tried, in this case, that’s the middle of a Venn diagram of Idaho and Wyoming.
And here’s the thing…
While this same thought experiment can apply to the sliver of the park in Montana it’s got some different stuff going on as nearly 2,000 people live there. Meaning you have a population from which to draw a jury pool.
Not so for the Idaho sliver. Only one person lives there, 11 shy of the minimum requirement, so the loophole remains in place.
“In other words,” says Kalt “the jury would have to be drawn from the Idaho portion of Yellowstone which, according to the 2000 Census, has a population of precisely zero. Assuming that you do not feel like consenting to trial in Cheyenne, you should go free.”
Kalt has proposed a number of solutions to Congress. The simplest of which is to make the Idaho part of Yellowstone technically Wyoming. But redrawing state lines is also a bit of a sticky wicket.
“[T]he loophole looms, waiting for a murderer to exploit it. I feel like I’ve done what I can to prevent this; the blood will be on the government’s hands.”
So far as any article I found indicates, no one has ever successfully used this loophole. The state(s) could choose to charge you with one or more crimes that don’t require a jury, sidestepping the problem. You could also be charged with crimes other than your primary infraction, like ’entering the park to do a crime’ which would be entirely in the jurisdiction of the entrance to the park you used, leaving it with that district court.
The last successful use of a law like this, that Kalt mentions anyway, is when a few criminals got away with murder because of a similar ye-olde English law. That loophole was fixed in 1548, so no murdering Brits ok!
All that said, there is a contemporary tie-in. Or at least, the shadow of one.
I’m sure by now most of you are familiar with, or at least heard about and then forgotten, the case of Gabby Petito. She’s the last case or at least the last that I’ve heard about, of Missing White Woman Syndrome. That is, the extreme over-attention given to missing or murdered pretty white girls. Now, I don’t want to dismiss the horror of her death or loss her family has felt, but she was all of the headlines not long ago which caused news outlets to scramble for hot takes — and a few noticed the Zone of Death.
Gabby’s last call to her family was from Grand Teton National Park, which neighbors Yellowstone and does so on the Zone of Death side of the state.
Internet sleuths have been hard at work since trying to chart her ill-fated journey through the Rockies such that it would line up with the Zone of Death which would, I guess somehow, validate their creepy online detective work and/or validate some kind of extrajudicial killing conspiracy theories. No one seems to want to own up to a motivation but the infographics created around the assertion are way more detailed than those made by someone with a passing interest, too much time, and PowerPoint can account for.
Of course, we would eventually learn of Gabby’s van, remains, and eventually, those of her assumed murderer and boyfriend, guy-whose-name-I-didn’t-bother-looking-up.
So why mention this?
Well, the renewed interest in Gabby’s case has also reinvigorated the interest in the Zone of Death. Perhaps we’ll soon see, if not a line redraw, at least a law or two that covers the issue.
I’m Shea, and this week I learned that a group of Millennials is called a debt. Before we go I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-hosts.
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Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.
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