They stand by the water cooler, the one near the floor to ceiling
window with the view across manicured tropical gardens and the Bangkok skyline. They are waiting for Chuck to arrive.
"Those Iraqis are getting their asses kicked now alright." says
someone. (Authors note: we are back in the days of "they will greet the
coalition forces with flowers".)
"Aren't we supposed to be liberating them?" Beth asks to groans and
Tom says, "You watch CNN at all Beth? 7th. Cavalry sure liberated a
bunch last night."
"Nothing like a Hellfire missle (sic) up your camel's ass to make you
feel liberated." says his sidekick Jerry.
"Morning people. A little war talk to start the day?" asks Chuck as he
walks towards his office and the group falls dutifully into line.
"Getting in the mood for some cyber-combat are we?"
"OK linguists," says Deepak, trying tactfully to change the subject,
"I've got one for you. What was voted 2002's word of the year?" The
team is now assembled in Chuck's office for their morning briefing.
Chuck, Beth, Deepak, James, Tom &; Jerry. Nobody offers any answers
to Deep's question.
"Give up? WMD is the answer. Weapons of mass destruction."
"Figures," said Chuck, "I hear the North Koreans can turn out one a
"It's a growth industry all right, " says Deepak.
"Explosive." quip Tom and Jerry in unison.
"You guys!" says Beth.
A groan goes up. Somebody says sheesh. She walks away. Furious but controlled. Well maybe she'd at least made them think a little. How could they be so flippant about it? She herself just feels helpless.
And let's face it, useless. Sure the work they are doing is important.
They are keeping weapons out of the hands of the crazies but the way
Beth sees it does it really make a darn bit of difference?
It's not as if anybody is ever going to uninvent nuclear weapons. In
fact from what she knows of the scientific mind, and she knows quite a
lot after 5 years of marriage to a scientist, the damn things will
probably just get smaller, 'cleaner', and more efficient. Perhaps she
should have listened to Dad joined the
marines maybe now she'd be in Iraq, flying an Apache or an
A.10 Warthog that would get a girl some
Back at her desk Beth clicks onto the Yahoo homepage and sure enough
there it is...
"ATLANTA, Jan. 6th. 2003. Word of the Year."
A long-winded phrase whose meaning reflects a nation's worry about war with Iraq has been voted 2002's word of the year.
The American Dialect Society selected "weapons of mass destruction" as
its annual choice at a meeting in Atlanta.
"The term goes back 50 years, but you can't turn on the radio or
television without hearing about 'weapons of mass destruction,'" said
Wayne Glowka, an English professor at Georgia College State
University who is also chairman of the society's new words committee.
Most of the words nominated by members of the society reflected the
looming threat of war with Iraq or the suffering economy, Glowka said.
"All these words - Iraqnaphobia, regime change, weapons of mass
destruction - they all have to do with worry about war with Iraq. So it
hasn't been a very good year," he said. "Not as bad as last year, but
certainly not an 'up' year."
Last year's word was "9-11" - pronounced "nine-eleven," not
"nine-one-one" - for the terrorist attacks on New York and
The phrase "regime change" was voted most euphemistic, not so much for its connotations to Iraq, but because people started using it to
describe other changes of leadership.
"Like when a team fires a coach, they call it 'regime change,'" Glowka
Yes they would wouldn't they, thinks Beth as she scrolls
"There was only one nomination for 2002's most inspirational word:
"embetterment," coined by President Bush. But even though it was the only candidate in that category, it was voted down because "people didn't want to encourage it," Glowka said.
Other words that won superlatives from the American Dialect Society:
Wombanization, a synonym for feminization, won most unnecessary
because it's hard to pronounce.
And who should we thank for that one? Beth wonders. Looking over her plump white shoulder we learn that Neuticles, a brand name for fake testicles for neutered pets, was
named the most outrageous word.
Blog, a log of personal events posted on the Web, was voted most likely to succeed.
But now Beth is wound up and she can't settle down to work. Too bad she doesn't have her own blog. What she really needs is a drink but she
can't have one. Not till lunchtime. Some kind of distraction would be nice. She decides to do a little work-related web surfing. From Yahoo
she goes to google, her favorite search engine, and types in 'atom bomb'. Up come 238,000 references and websites. More than she needs really.
Beth has lived in Bangkok for almost two years now and most of the time she feels as though she'd been handed a bit part in a B movie. She likes the work at the Embassy, the office is fine and she has no complaints about her apartment. It's the time after work that she has trouble with. It isn't easy being a Western woman in Bangkok.
Most of the guys she hangs out with, whether they admit it or not, seem to have issues. She isn't sure if they started out that way, or whether
Bangkok did it to them, but something about Western women rubs them the wrong way. There are awkward areas of conversation where it isn't wise
to go, subjects best not discussed because they always lead to awkward silences. She has experienced it many, many times and is
acutely attuned to the signals. Simply put, certain subjects are best avoided, which doesn't leave a lot to talk about.
It isn't that she doesn't want to be one of the boys, it's more as if the boys don't want her to be one of the boys. They just seem to have more fun when she isn't around.
Oh they can be sweet enough; kind and considerate if she goes along for some barhopping but she can always sense the relief when she
decides to leave. "Hey don't go now Beth, the fun's just starting." Yeah right.
She has to admit also that the Thai bargirls she meets on her sorties
into the underworld are nice enough. Friendly too. It's the whole 'transaction' thing she has trouble coming to terms with. The money
exchange pisses her off. That any jerk with a few bucks in his pocket
can be Rudolph Valentino for a night is pretty sickening she reckons.
And don't tell her those girls enjoy being slobbered over by some
clumsy drunk whose definition of making love is watching some poor village girl suck his dick while he drinks beer with one hand and paws
her with the other all the time trying to remember where he put the damn remote! Small wonder the girls turn to drugs.
Beth finds she can relate to the dancers, girl-on-girl so to speak, but several things about them puzzle her. For one thing, they seem to
like men. Well OK. Fine. There was probably a deep genetic or cultural
reason for that. Something engrained in them from childhood perhaps.
But, another amazing thing, they also liked being told they were sexy!
They actually liked it!! Took it as a compliment for God's sake and
some of them even worried about not being considered sexy enough! What was going on there? Didn't they care about being considered sexual
objects? And how was it that they were somehow able to disassociate their bodies from their minds? Was it a trick that had to be acquired
by practice or did it come naturally to them? Darn, it was strange, and there were almost times when she agreed with Chuck's thesis, the one that proposed that more could be learned from
sitting in go-go bars than surfing the Internet. Which is what she is doing now.
'How to produce your own atom bomb'. Lots of information there.
Enriched plutonium seemed to be a basic ingredient coupled with some
kind of trigger mechanism. TNT worked well. There were numerous first
hand accounts of the Manhattan Project. Grainy photographs of 'Little
Boy', 'Fat Man', the Mk.4 (never used) and the improved Mk.6.
She comes across the sad story of Harry K. Daghlian who was irradiated
while performing a critical experiment (tickling the dragon's tail) in
a remote corner of the Los Alamos test site. Apparently he accidentally
dropped a heavy tungsten carbide brick onto a plutonium core then
bravely tried to move it out of the way. His right hand absorbed
between 20,000 and 40,000 rem. This happened on August 21st. 1945. He
died 26 days later becoming the first peacetime fatality of nuclear
Hair loss occurs at 200+ rems.
So here, googling right along, is some declassified information from
U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Office of the
Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, TS Manhattan Project
File '42-'46, about where and how to drop the 'gadgets' for maximum
psychological impact, and a comic strip circa 1947 of Donald Duck
making an atom bomb in his kitchen (copyright the Walt Disney
U-235 was extracted from natural uranium at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. 1000
rural families were relocated from their farms to make room for the
facility. 'Manhattan Project' 748,000
results, four devices were produced for a total cost of $30
billion, more recent models include the ubiquitous B61, the
reliable old B61 Mod11 and of course the popular B83 which comes with
delivery and fuzing options that include free-fall air or ground burst,
retarded air burst and/or delayed ground burst (laydown) with or
without Slim Pickens for ballast.
Most damage comes from the explosive blast. The shock wave of air
radiates outward, producing sudden changes in air pressure that can
crush objects, and high winds that can knock objects down. In general,
large buildings are destroyed by the change in air pressure, while
people and objects such as trees and utility poles are destroyed by the
The magnitude of the blast effect is related to the height of the burst
above ground level. Needless to say.
Thence to 'atom bomb women' where she discovers that Lise
Meitner worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin until 1939
when she left for Sweden. Lise it was who first described the
Hahn-Strassman experiment as fission.
For Beth it is small consolation to discover that the mothers and
children of Hiroshima had been totally unaware of the onrushing 'Little
Boy'. Or that it had been decorated with a picture of Rita Hayworth
whose real name was Margarita Carmen Canino.
Why are the smaller details so intriguing Beth wonders? Is it a way of
reducing the magnitude of the thing to a more human scale? Does that
make it easier to deal with? Why should it matter that Col. Paul
Tibbets named the B.29 Enola Gay after his mother? Or that Co-pilot
Richard Lewis felt a distinct taste of lead on his tongue when looking
at the blinding flash? Something that he attributed to radiation
reacting chemically with the fillings in his teeth. Lewis is also said
have exclaimed, "My God, what have we done?" What indeed.
More recently some top nuclear scientists had been caught helping
themselves to equipment. One guy was discovered building a
go-cart out of high-grade titanium, for his kid he
At this point she looks up and sees Chuck standing by her desk. He has
come to apologize. Well sort of.
"Sorry Beth. You're right. It's not funny."
"So why do it?"
"It's a guy thing."
"Hmm. Maybe I'm too sensitive."
"Nothing wrong with that. I guess we just laugh about it because we
don't know what else to do. I suppose we tend to overlook the
collateral damage. "
"Gee Chuck. You don't have to get sentimental. Now I feel
"Attagirl." said a smiling Chuck, "You're OK Beth, you know
"Let me guess...it's a short story right? You're
looking for a snappy ending?"
Chuck just smiles his mischievous little smile, gives her a thumbs-up
and walks back to his office. Charming bastard. But he does have a way
of making her feel kind of cool.
Later, in the elevator, she receives fraternal grins from Tom and
Jerry and around mid-afternoon it is the turn of the cute new guy,
James, to stop by her cubicle. Wondering if she'd like to join him for
a drink somewhere after work? She says sure, she'd love to, great idea.
Just like one of the guys.