You Get What You Don’t Pay For 

Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

The TSA has frequently been criticized, including on this very blog, as “security theater”. Still, they’re really not supposed to have a soundtrack, explicit or otherwise.

Boston’s Great Molasses Flood

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

Most people think of molasses, if they think of it at all, as a slow-moving, syrupy substance. The expression “as slow as molasses in January” dates back to the 1800s, even appearing in the classic film “Gone With the Wind”. But while many may know the phrase, few know just how inaccurate it once proved to be. Under the wrong conditions, molasses in January can in fact move at deadly speeds.

1919

In the early part of the 20th century, molasses was used in great quantities for the manufacture of both rum and munitions. In 1915, the Purity Distilling company built a massive five story tank to hold up to 2.5 million gallons of the stuff in Boston’s North End. Less than four years later, that tank was the cause of one of the deadliest disasters in the history of the city.


Molasses [Photo credit: Badagnani]

Death by molasses sounds like a completely ridiculous way to go, but on January 15th, 1919, it was no laughing matter. Exactly one hundred years ago today, the aforementioned holding tank failed calamitously, releasing a torrent of over 2 million gallons of molasses. A towering tidal wave raced across multiple city blocks at up to 35 miles per hour, instantly sweeping up people, animals, and even buildings. Men, women, and children were killed, multiple buildings were destroyed, elevated train tracks were damaged, and horses and dogs died by the dozens.

Buildings destroyed by the flood
Damage wrought by the wave
[Photo credit: Leslie Jones (Probably not that Leslie Jones)]

In the hours after the tank burst, hundreds of people worked in the chaos to try and find survivors. In the end, the molasses flood led to 21 people dying a bizarre, sticky death in Boston. Approximately 150 more were injured, many of them grievously. The devastation caused by the tsunami was extreme, and the nature of the substance made matters far worse than if it had simply been water.

Buildings destroyed by the flood
Rescue workers standing in deep molasses
[Photo credit: Leslie Jones (In fact, it’s this Leslie Jones)]

An article in Scientific American provided a thorough look at the fluid dynamics of a moving wall of molasses:

[A] wave of molasses is even more devastating than a typical tsunami. In 1919 the dense wall of syrup surging from its collapsed tank initially moved fast enough to sweep people up and demolish buildings, only to settle into a more gelatinous state that kept people trapped.

After the accident, the tank’s then-owners U.S. Industrial Alcohol (USIA) ludicrously attempted to avoid the blame. They tried to pin the disaster on “anarchists”, the bogeymen who predate “terrorists” and even “communists” in the American consciousness. USIA claimed Italian radicals had blown up the tank to prevent the molasses from being used to create munitions. Never mind that the tank was improperly engineered in the first place. Never mind too that it had been shoddily constructed in the second place. And certainly, please ignore the fact that when leaks were spotted in the structure the previous year, the company simply painted the tank brown to hide the evidence. No, it was anarchists to blame, they said.

Fortunately, neither the people nor the courts were having any of this. Over 100 lawsuits were filed, and USIA was eventually forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements. Better still, this litigation prompted the strengthening of development laws, which surely saved uncountable lives in the century that followed.

2019

I now live just a couple hundred feet from where the ill-fated tank was once located. My building was about two decades old in 1919, but it’s situated up the hill from where the tank stood, and this high ground allowed it to be spared. The land in question is now a public park, with a baseball diamond sitting directly on top of the tank’s old footprint, and bocce courts nearby. The story is poorly-known even in the neighborhood, and many children and adults play in the area, blissfully unaware of the history.

The centennial of the disaster has led to a slight increase in awareness of this story, as has Stephen Puleo’s book “Dark Tide”. The tale has also long been a staple for guides who lead visitors on walking tours of the area. However, despite the ridiculous claims I so often hear them make, it’s not actually possible to “still smell molasses on a hot summer day”. In reality, there are almost no indications that Boston’s Great Molasses Flood ever occurred. The tragedy is memorialized in very meager fashion, with this lone plaque put up near the tank’s former location:

A small plaque commerating the 1919 molasses flood
[Photo credit: P. Kafasis]

This marker sits barely two feet off the ground, well below eye level, on the short wall of a park. Seeing it in context really shows how feeble the attempt is:

The plaque, in place
[Photo credit: P. Kafasis]

One local group recently earned approval from the city to install a larger and more descriptive sign about the flood. There are also plans afoot to more properly memorialize this catastrophe. On the centennial of the event, however, a paltry marker is all that exists to commemorate one of the strangest accidents in Boston history.

Mads Mikkelsen Likes It Cold 

Monday, January 14th, 2019

Someone should have renamed one of these movies.

Also Worth Noting, He’s Currently Hurting Nearly Everyone

Friday, January 11th, 2019

Earlier this week, I read a New York Times piece on the small Florida town of Marianna, and how it was being affected by the on-going federal government shutdown. The story ended with this quote.

“I voted for him, and he’s the one who’s doing this,” she said of Mr. Trump. “I thought he was going to do good things. He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.”

The utter awfulness of that line has been stuck in my head ever since. The initial reaction to this should be obvious: The president of the United States doesn’t need to be hurting anyone. That’s not the job, and if you think it is, something is deeply, sickeningly wrong with you.

There’s a lot to unpack in that line. Perhaps the most striking aspect of it is the solidification that for some people, cruelty is the point of a Trump presidency. For some percentage of his supporters, making America great again expressly means inflicting pain on others, not as a byproduct but as a goal. That’s extremely disheartening.

I hope we can be better than this. I wish I knew how to get there.

But hey, I ought to at least try to provide a dark laugh about this whole thing, right? So, here’s a tweet from over three years ago that applies perfectly to this story:


Via Adrian Bott

Haha! Haha…ha…*sob*.

They Didn’t Make It

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

As the end of 2018 approached last month, I started a different kind of new year’s countdown for two nearby businesses. Throughout last year, I passed the following soon-to-be-restaurants frequently, and each featured signs announcing their imminent arrival. However, rather than a simple “Coming Soon!” sign, both establishments opted for more specificity.

Tenoch sign stating they'll be open 2018

As you can probably guess from the headline of this post, Tenoch didn’t make their opening in 2018. As of yesterday, these signs remained up, and the restaurant did not look particularly close to opening. I’m not sure when those signs first went up, but it was several months ago. The restaurant had through December 31st to hit their self-imposed goal, but alas, they fell short.

The next one was foolishly even more precise:

A+B Burgers Sign stating they'll be open Late Fall 2018

I think it’s fair to say that “late fall” means approximately Thanksgiving and onward. At that point, why would they not just give themselves a little more breathing room? Despite what our local weather often seems to indicate, fall in the Northern Hemisphere technically lasts until almost the end of the year. They could have simply said “Late 2018” or even just “2018”. Alas, the folks at A+B Burgers flew too close to the sun on wings of ground beef before coming crashing back to earth on December 21st. Of course, they didn’t make it by the 31st either, so they’d have been screwed either way.

Goofy though they are, it’s likely that these businesses will open in the coming weeks, or at least sometime this year. Assuming they do, neither of these businesses will come anywhere close to the all-time reigning champion for inaccurate estimates.

That would be Canal Walk at Hamden, a “new lifestyle center” slated to open in Summer of 2009.

A sign advertising Canal Walk at Hamden, Opening Summer 2009
This picture was taken with an iPhone X.

For nearly a decade, I passed this sign while driving between Boston and New Jersey to see my family. I would look for it about halfway through my trip, and it just got funnier every time I saw it. Now I know, the financial crisis of 2008 almost certainly stalled this development, and perhaps even bankrupted some poor developers. And unlike a restaurant, it makes sense to advertise this before it opens, to get businesses signed on.

But wouldn’t you think someone would take this sign down once the date had passed? Perhaps in the fall of 2009, or early 2010, or at least sometime during the Obama presidency? It was visible to tens of thousands of cars passing on the highway every day, but it was also accessible from a walking path. Hell, with can of spray paint, anyone could’ve done them a favor and at least removed the date. And yet, this sign survived, year after ridiculous year.

This particular photo was taken in late December of 2017, but my own delays meant I never managed to write about this while the sign was still standing. At some point in 2018, the board was finally, mercifully, removed. The project itself is still nowhere to be seen, of course, but at least that sign is no longer lying to every passerby.

At a minimum, this project’s monument to failure stood for eight and a half years past its purported deadline. That’s a record I doubt I’ll ever see broken.

How Did This Can’t-Miss Concept Fail? 

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

Exactly how good, or how cheap, would the food at a restaurant have to be before you agreed to eat it in the nude? Whatever your answer, it seems Paris’s first nudist restaurant “O’Naturel” cuisine wasn’t good or cheap enough to overcome its abysmal concept.

Nonagenarian Doping 

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

After being disqualified due to testing positive for banned substances which were almost certainly inadvertently consumed, here’s hoping Carl Grove gets another crack at setting a cycling world record.

Sorry, Chicago

Monday, January 7th, 2019

As a young child, when it came to football, I rooted for my father’s hometown Buffalo Bills. The “no-huddle” offense run by head coach Marv Levy and quarterback Jim Kelly1 led the team to an astonishing four consecutive Super Bowls, where they won exactly zero championships. My dad and I even attended Super Bowl 28, the last in the team’s impressive string, in person. In Atlanta, I had my heart broken by a football team for the last time. After that, I drifted away from the game for many years.

Years later, when I came to Boston for college, the New England Patriots got very, very good. While my interest in football never returned to its previous levels, I watched as the Patriots made it to eight Super Bowls in the 21st century, winning five championships along the way. It’s nice when your local team does well, and it’s also nice to not particularly care if they don’t. I was strictly a fair-weather fan, and I was never a loud one.

By last year, however, I really couldn’t stand football at all any more. The NFL’s impressively awful handling of the national anthem protests was perhaps the final straw, but for some time I’d been disturbed by the violence of the game. Nearly every play seemed to feature some sort of injury, and it had become clear that playing football did lasting damage to both the bodies and the minds of its players. As the 2018-2019 season began, I bowed out of the dumb fantasy football league some college friends and I had enjoyed for a few years.2 I have tuned in to no football games whatsoever this season.

Still, it’s impossible to escape the NFL entirely in modern America, and for all its awfulness, it’s also a good source of absurdity. So it is that I know that the Cleveland Browns scored free beer for their fans by finally winning a game, for the first time in 635 days. I’ve noted just how epically bad Nathan Peterman was as quarterback for the aforementioned Bills as well.

And whether through osmosis or the ether, I also know that Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parker has had quite an eventful season. Back in November, he managed to hit the goal posts on four separate missed field goal attempts, all in one game. That’s equal parts amazing and terrible.

The Bears managed to win that regular season contest against the even more hapless Detroit Lions. Yesterday, however, they were not so lucky. Improbably, as the clock ticked down and he attempted a game-winning 43 yard field goal, Parker managed to hit both the upright and the crossbar. The ball fell no good and just like that, with a *bwoing* and a *booong*, the 2019 championship hopes of Chicago evaporated. I know how you feel, Chicago fans. I’m also able to tell you that you can get out of this thing. There’s a huge world out there to enjoy, free from the agonies of kicker-induced defeats.


This doesn’t have to matter.


Footnotes:

  1. Featuring, off the top of my head, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, James Lofton, Don Beebe, and more. It’s useful and good that my brain has decided to hold on to those names. ↩︎

  2. I went out on top, having won the league the year before. Worth noting, we paid $0 to participate in our pathetic little league, and most people paid little to no attention to anything beyond mockery of others. We don’t need football for that. ↩︎

At Least One Party Definitely Screwed Up 

Friday, January 4th, 2019
For years, New Yorkers have been preparing for the L train to be completely shut down for a period of 15 months to perform essential repairs necessitated by damage from 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. Now, an abrupt about-face has been made.
The governor has overturned years of public work for a solution so simple it was concocted in three weeks by an unpaid team of university professors. If it works, it’s a scandal that the MTA—whose mismanagement of megaprojects is legendary—never proposed it in the first place. If it doesn’t, it will go down as the ultimate symbol of the governor’s rash micromanagement of public works projects and his desire to seek “innovation” above tried-and-true methods.
If you live in New York City, this will either be very good, or horrifyingly bad. If you don’t live in New York City, it will likely at least be entertaining.

Rest in Peace, Lawrence Roberts 

Thursday, January 3rd, 2019

Lawrence Roberts was responsible for quite a bit of what makes up the modern internet.