Friday, July 09, 2010

Tickling the Dragon's Tail

Not long after my fourth birthday, in order to refine the ability to make weapons of mass death ever more effective, experiments were done to determine more exactly parameters for the critical mass of the metal of death, plutonium. There was this fellow in the laboratory who’s job was to slowly bring together two halves of a hemisphere of death metal - as they came closer, the increase in radiation was recorded as the setup approached critical mass.

There was a safety mechanism to separate the silvery-white pieces should they come too close. The fellow doing the experiment found this an impediment which prevented him from getting really close as he “tickled the dragon’s tail” - so he disabled the fail-safe device. One afternoon, as he was doing the experiment he had done so many times before, sweat dripped from his nose as the two pieces came closer - observers watched in tense silence. Suddenly, his hand slipped - the two halves came together and touched, a blue light filled the room.

Without a second thought he accepted the death sentence and separated the two pieces of death metal, saving the others in the room. After six weeks of increasingly hopeless agony, Lois Slotin died - his tragedy burned an image in my young pre-teen mind when I first read about it.

It seems to me the image is a symbol of how our common cultural insanity can be seen as a form of “Tickling the Dragon’s Tail” - listen to the night winds wail!

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