Tunguska Redux


Somebody up there hates Siberia.

On June 30, 1908, something huge exploded over the Tunguska River near modern Evenkia. The blast felled 60 million trees over 2,150 square kilometers; it’s been estimated at between 10 and 15 megatons. Witnesses described a huge fireball moving across the sky, a flash, and a shockwave that knocked people off their feet and broke windows up to 400 miles away. Afterward, the night sky glowed for weeks.

But, strangely, there was no crater. In fact, a few trees near ground zero were still standing, their branches and bark stripped off. Stranger still, some reports said the skyglow had begun the night before the explosion, and that there had been strange weather and increased seismic activity for days beforehand. And carbon-14 dating of the soil gave a date in the future — meaning the soil had somehow become enriched with radioactive carbon-14.

What caused the explosion? A meteor? A comet? An asteroid? There’s been no conclusive explanation. But, disturbingly, a similar thing happened just three years ago. An explosion in Siberia in September 2002 that measured up to 5 kilotons was accompanied by northern lights, increased radioactivity, and an outbreak of unknown diseases nearby. An expedition the following year concluded that it was a comet, but no one knows for sure.

No Kickstand

The world record for high-speed bicycling keeps going up, of course, but the record for low-speed bicycling has remained unchallenged for 40 years. In 1965, Tsugunobu Mitsuishi of Tokyo, Japan, remained perfectly stationary for 5 hours and 25 minutes.

“Gruesomely Bad Taste”

Critics pan great art:

  • Moby Dick: “Raving and rhapsodizing in chapter after chapter … sheer moonstruck lunacy.” (London Morning Chronicle)
  • Rigoletto: “The weakest work of Verdi. It lacks melody. This opera has hardly any chance of being kept in the repertoire.” (La Gazette Musicale de Paris)
  • Cezanne’s paintings: “He chooses to daub paint on a canvas and spread it around with a comb or a toothbrush. This process produces landscapes, marines, still lifes, portraits … if he is lucky. The procedure somewhat recalls the designs that schoolchildren make by squeezing the heads of flies between the folds of a sheet of paper.” (Le Petit Parisien)
  • Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1: “The concerto will never be played by anyone on earth. … Prokofiev wouldn’t grant an encore. The Russian heart may be a dark place, but its capacity for mercy is infinite.” (The New York Times)
  • Buster Keaton’s The General: “A mixture of cast iron and jelly.” (The New York Times)
  • Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo: “Pursues its theme of false identity with such plodding persistence that by the time the climactic cat is let out of the bag, the audience has long since had kittens.” (Saturday Review)

Henry Fielding wrote, “Now, in reality, the world have paid too great a compliment to critics, and have imagined them to be men of much greater profundity then they really are.”

Mass Transit

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Moscow has the most heavily used metro system in the world, carrying 8-9 million passengers on a normal weekday. It has 170 stations and 12 lines, including an unusual “ring line” that circles the city.

According to legend, this came about when Stalin’s coffee cup left a ring on one of the blueprints. Historians dispute this account — but on maps, the ring line is always printed in brown.

Amazon Dot Com

Famous tall women:

  • Janet Reno – 6’3″
  • Venus Williams – 6’1″
  • Ann Coulter – 6′
  • Geena Davis – 6′
  • Allison Janney – 6′
  • Elle MacPherson – 6′
  • Brooke Shields – 6′
  • Uma Thurman – 6′
  • Tyra Banks – 5’11”
  • Famke Janssen – 5’11”
  • Anna Nicole Smith – 5’11”
  • Sigourney Weaver – 5’11”
  • Naomi Campbell – 5’10”
  • Diana, Princess of Wales – 5’10”
  • Jenna Elfman – 5’10”
  • Daryl Hannah – 5’10”
  • Queen Latifah – 5’10”
  • Charlize Theron – 5’10”
  • Liv Tyler – 5’10”
  • Serena Williams – 5’10”

Two-Faced Politicians

Until 1999, Abe Lincoln was the only person to appear on both the front and back of the same United States coin (he’s just barely visible on the back of the penny, sitting in his memorial):


Now George Washington can claim the same honor with the release of New Jersey state quarter, whose reverse shows him crossing the Delaware River: