Born To Do Math 207: Cuckolds, Congress, and Atom Bombs

In-Sight Publishing

December 9, 2020

[Beginning of recorded material]

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Any commentary from the individuals who would be husbands or the boyfriends or the partners of the women who would go out and sleep with Feynman or Feynman like people at that time?

Rick Rosner: I’ve read a couple of Feynman autobiographies. Of course, he’s not going to mention that he banged everybody in sight and those weren’t those autobiographies. It didn’t go into great detail and didn’t track down people.

So, no, there is no commentary. I’m sure it caused certain amount of pain and rancor that he was one of the top five physicists of his era. Not that you can necessarily rank physicists like that, but he was huge and people probably felt super lucky to work with him.

This is also an added time when he was banging his female grad students in advanced physics. I’m not sure that he ever had a female grad student, he might have, but just the demographics weighed against that.

But anyway, the guys who were cuckolded, maybe, just kind of – I don’t know – sucked it up as part of the price they pay. I don’t know.

Jacobsen: What’s the more objective analysis of that? Does it make Feynman partly a bad guy?

Rosner: Yes. He wasn’t considered a bad guy when he was alive, but he worked on the Manhattan Project.

Jacobsen: Famously, Einstein did not.

Rosner: Einstein didn’t work on the Manhattan Project. But Einstein set in motion the foundations for the Manhattan Project.

Jacobsen: He was, actually, outside that Szilard letter with them.

Rosner: Yes. So, Szilard goes to… some physicists are concerned that if Hitler gets the atomic bomb, that would lead to the Nazis owning the world, nobody could stop them. So, Szilard went to Einstein and said, “You’re the only…” – I’m probably getting parts of this wrong here. Correct me if I’m wrong because you know better than I – “…physicist that FDR will listen to. So, you should go to him and say this is a threat.”

So, Einstein wrote this letter to FDR saying that there is a weapon. I don’t know if he put it in exactly these terms, but just ‘one of these bombs could blow up a city. If Hitler gets it first, we’re fucked.’ Then I think Einstein went to meet with FDR and then based on their meeting, maybe, Szilard came along with FDR who authorized spending at least a billion bucks, which was a huge amount of money back then, probably many billions of dollars to do the Manhattan Project.

The Manhattan Project was not just a bunch of physicists fucking around with Plutonium spheres in Los Alamos, New Mexico. This was the thing that, it’s very hard to refine. For one thing, Plutonium doesn’t exist in the wild. It decays too fast.

You have to start with Uranium. You’ve got to pull out well less than one percent of the Uranium that’s easily fissionable. So, I don’t like Uranium has an atomic weight of like 238. But the stuff that’s unstable has an atomic weight of 235, I think.

You have to take a bunch of Uranium ore and spin it in centrifuges, which is what Iran keeps trying to do. Hundreds of centrifuges have to spin the stuff out to separate stuff that differs in density by only one percent. So, it takes just a lot of effort, a lot of refining. So, you had Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who was doing that. You have the Hanford nuclear plant, which I think was in Washington, not D.C., but Washington State.

A bunch of places you had the early experiments where they build a nuclear reactor at the University of Chicago. It was all secret. If you wrote a science fiction story or you talked about the possibility of an atomic bomb, the FBI might come and tell you to shut up about it, “Don’t write any more of those stories.”

It was a huge project that stretches from one side of the country to the other, all just based on Einstein writing a letter to the president. And, of course, people will argue about exactly what happened to the atomic bomb project under Hitler.

But I think the people pretty much agree they did not get close at all. They were working on doing stuff with heavy water, which is H2O atoms, where the Hydrogen atoms are Deuterium or Tritium.

They have normally a Hydrogen atom just as a proton or an electron, but you can hang one or two neutrons on the proton. So, they were working on this. They had a refining enterprise going on, I think, in Denmark maybe, maybe Sweden.

I don’t know. They just didn’t get very far. People will argue on behalf of who is in charge of it. Was it Schrodinger No that was the German effort. Oppenheimer was Manhattan. But German effort was a big theoretical guy who didn’t get the fuck out of Germany when it went Nazi, as a lot of scientists did.

They ended up being in charge of the nuclear bomb project. People will argue that he didn’t want to give this weapon to Hitler, so he fucked it up on purpose. Other people will argue, “No, they just didn’t have the resources to do it.” Either the huge number of scientists that you need or the raw materials or whatever.

But anyway, the Germans did not get close at all. But then, we went ahead and dropped two atomic bombs on cities full of people of a different ethnicity than us, which from the perspective of 75 years later, looks suspect because we blew up one city to shreds.

We started with Hiroshima and killed at least 120,000 people there. Although not right off the bat, maybe, instantly, half that number. Then the number doubled as people died of radiation sickness.

But it blew up the city to the radius of several kilometers. It was obviously a devastating weapon on August 6th, 1945. But then they didn’t surrender immediately. So, on August 9th, we dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki, the somewhat smaller town.

So, the death toll there was only about 80,000 when everybody got done dying. People argue, at the time, that Japan was not going to surrender easily and that we might have lost a million troops in trying to invade Japan because it would have had to be; we would have had to fight island by island.

But that argument, people don’t necessarily agree about that either. I don’t know what exactly the arguments are, but in all of World War Two, in two theaters of war, the European theater and the Asian theater, we only lost – it’s still a huge number – 4,600 Americans, American soldiers and related personnel.

So, the idea that we would have lost two and a half times that number of soldiers die to take Japan. I don’t know that seems like a number that was inflated to make us feel better about killing 200,000 Japanese.

Then the question is, could we have just let them know and said, “Be here at nine o’clock on this date and you’re going to see something you don’t want to see,” and just detonate a bomb, blow up a town of 10,000 or blow up just an industrial plant.

Why do you have to blow up an entire good sized city?

So the thinking has shifted to the extent that people think about it at all. A lot of people still argue that it saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of US soldiers because after the second atomic bomb, they immediately surrendered at a cost of zero American lives.

Still 75 years later, we are less battle hardened. o the extent that we think about World War Two at all, I think people are more naturally skeptical and, if not skeptical; they, at least, think about how guilty the atomic scientists must have felt after their atomic bombs were used in this way.

There is some evidence of that. Some of the scientists remain belligerently oblivious to criticism. But others of them felt like shit, one would have to think that somebody as human as Einstein would have felt pretty bad about how things played out.

Because not only did we blow up two cities, but this led a huge arms race where at the peak of the arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, I think each side had about 6,500 nuclear weapons. Then we did arms control work.

I think we’ve dropped it down to where each side now only has about 1,600 nuclear weapons still enough to sterilize the Earth many times over.

The point of that was when this strategy was being developed, it was called mutually assured destruction to come up with weapons so devastating that each side was terrified to deploy them, to use them.

Because they knew that if they used them that both nations and the whole rest of the northern hemisphere and probably eventually the southern hemisphere, everybody would die. There was a famous novel and movie of the fifties called On the Beach.

Where it takes place among the last living people in Tasmania, in southern Australia, because they’re the last people who haven’t been poisoned by the spreading cloud of nuclear fallout after a big war, the crew of a sub, of a US sub, just hauls ass to the southern hemisphere, and it’s their last few months of life among the Tasmanians as the cloud draws near and they all die.

And there were plenty of books and movies. We have the Russian missile crisis, which was, maybe, the closest that, at least, we knew that we came to nuclear war in the early 60s. You had Dr. Strangelove, the movie which ends with a series of nuclear explosions.

You had freaking what’s the Fail Safe, it’s a movie with Henry Fonda, made from a novel in the 50s the crew of a nuclear bomber, my dad, my real dad, my stepdad, all my dad’s, my dad was a navigator bombardier in Strategic Air Command.

He flew a B-36, a huge plane with like 14 engines. I think it had like 6 prop engines and 8 jet engines. I think I’m exaggerating the number of engines, but just a monster of an airplane. they started off. He flew around with nukes for at least 3 years.

When he started, I think they started with A bombs. By the time he was done, I think they were flying H bombs around. An H bomb is like 100 times more powerful than an A bomb. H bomb uses an A bomb explosion to create fusion.

It started with fission in the A bomb and use that explosion to collapse a bunch of heavy Hydrogen to create fusion. You get a bomb that’s 100 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Anyway, my dad was flying those around and my step dad was guarding them on a base, I think in Louisiana, maybe.

Then my father in law was doing nuclear bomb accounting. He was keeping an account of nuclear bombs. So, everybody was in the nuclear bomb business. Everybody was fucking terrified of being obliterated in a nuclear war.

There is a little bit of fear now that fucking Trump has six weeks to go. But we’re much less afraid than people in the 50s and 60s. And so, the Manhattan Project scientists probably felt like shit about bringing that world into existence.

They probably console themselves with the idea that the cat was going to get out of the bag eventually, anyway. That it was good that America democracy had a head start versus this fascist dictatorship, this repressive… these motherfuckers in Russia and the other motherfuckers in China.

But it would have been nice to, maybe, hold off the nuclear arms race for a few, maybe. we went from A bombs to H bombs faster than we needed to, if at all. Edward Teller, for some reason, Hungary turned out a bunch of genius physicists in the first half of the 20th century. like Norbert Wiener, I think probably came out of Hungary and Teller came out of Hungary and Teller was this huge, like proponent of the H bomb.

Without him pushing forward, we, maybe, wouldn’t have made it. Because what the fuck do you do if someone drops one of these on Chicago and kills 10 million people all at once? What’s the point of that weapon?

Anyway, if you want to learn about this stuff, there are good books by Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb. I think he did a sequel, maybe he didn’t. It explains in great detail the science and the politics. We started talking about whether Feynman was a bad guy.

Feynman just gleefully liked to figure shit out. He would crack safes. He liked to figure out just by fiddling around with the dial, what was going inside the lock of one of these Manhattan Project safes.

So, he kept cracking them. Then he’d leave a note saying, “Hey, I was here, ha ha.” He played the bongo drums. He was a hipster, a beatnik. He was a good looking guy, which helped his project of getting laid a lot.

He was a very cheerful guy and a great teacher, a great popularizer of science and just a friendly, lively guy. So, I don’t know if he had moments of crisis, of conscience. I don’t know. I doubt it. He just seemed to barrel forward figuring shit out.

He’s the one who figured out why the space shuttle Challenger blew up, or at least he came up with the most effective presentation as to its demise. I don’t know. He’s like 72. He’s dying of stomach cancer. A lot of the atomic scientists died of cancer because they were fucking around with radiation like maniacs for years.

They had a ball of Plutonium and some guys have a sphere. You go to the office and say, “Hey, pick that up,” and you pick it up and it would be warm in your hand because nuclear fission was going on, nuclear decay was going on in the ball of metal. So, they just had that ball, the guy who had that in his office; I don’t know how long he lived.

There was another guy who got killed immediately. There was a thing called tickling the dragon, I think, where it would take two half spheres of Plutonium and bring them as close together as you safely could because you needed it.

While people were standing by with Geiger counters to measure the rate of nuclear decay, they needed these numbers to figure out how the bomb was going to perform. They’re bringing these half spheres together, using probably some like thumb screw arrangement from a safe distance.

But the fucking thumb screw slips and the two half spheres “tunck” together. This is bad because it’s a critical mass. In two seconds, they’re going to have, if not an explosion then, a huge meltdown that will render the whole fucking, probably the whole, base uninhabitable.

So, this guy runs in and knocks the spheres apart basically with his bare hands. Maybe he had a hammer or something. But you have a nuclear weapon that – I don’t know – if they were so critical, they would have exploded.

But they were pretty fucking close to critical mass. This guy runs up to it, knocks the spheres apart and saves everybody’s life except his own because he was cooked. He was dead within a week. Yes, fucking hero, probably buried in a lead coffin, literally.

So, the atomic bomb is pretty much the point where science went from a force of good to feeling like it was a little dirty. And America tried to forget about it, but we couldn’t because of the arms race. But the government tried to convince everybody that the atomic era was a good thing, atoms for peace.

I think about the project, where they tried to prospect for oil by setting off a bomb. They did nuclear fracking in the 60s or 70s. They set off like one or two nuclear weapons like two miles deep in the earth to fracture rock and free oil and natural gas, atoms for peace.

“Hey, here’s what we could do with that.”

It worked. They got a lot of oil, but it was radioactive. So, it freaked everybody out and it also caused earthquakes. Colorado, which isn’t a big earthquake country. So, anyway, did Feynman feel bad? I don’t think so.

Anyway, so, he’s 72, he’s dying. He goes and testifies in front of Congress about what cause Challenger to blow up. And the deal is that joints in the rocket where the rocket vibrates like crazy because it’s a fucking rocket.

So, sections of the rocket were gaskets, rubber gaskets between the sections to allow them to move around with the vibrations without cracking and also without breaking the seal. When Challenger launched, it was cold and the rubber was not sufficiently flexible.

So, fuel got out and was ignited outside the rocket and it blew up the challenger. Then Feynman sits in front of Congress with a glass of ice water. before he sits there and he goes, this is the O-ring material. He goes ‘It’s stretching.’

Then, he dips the O-ring in ice water and then he tries to stretch. It doesn’t stretch. like, even the idiots in Congress were like, ‘Oh, that’s fucking bad.’ That was his last heroic moment in his life. So, I think he like doing shit like that. No, I think he was a happy warrior.

The end.

[End of recorded material]


Rick Rosner

American Television Writer


(Updated July 25, 2019)

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.*

According to some semi-reputable sources gathered in a listing hereRick G. Rosner may have among America’s, North America’s, and the world’s highest measured IQs at or above 190 (S.D. 15)/196 (S.D. 16) based on several high range test performances created by Christopher HardingJason BettsPaul Cooijmans, and Ronald Hoeflin. He earned 12 years of college credit in less than a year and graduated with the equivalent of 8 majors. He has received 8 Writers Guild Awards and Emmy nominations, and was titled 2013 North American Genius of the Year by The World Genius Directory with the main “Genius” listing here.

He has written for Remote ControlCrank YankersThe Man ShowThe EmmysThe Grammys, and Jimmy Kimmel Live!. He worked as a bouncer, a nude art model, a roller-skating waiter, and a stripper. In a television commercialDomino’s Pizza named him the “World’s Smartest Man.” The commercial was taken off the air after Subway sandwiches issued a cease-and-desist. He was named “Best Bouncer” in the Denver Area, Colorado, by Westwood Magazine.

Rosner spent much of the late Disco Era as an undercover high school student. In addition, he spent 25 years as a bar bouncer and American fake ID-catcher, and 25+ years as a stripper, and nearly 30 years as a writer for more than 2,500 hours of network television. Errol Morris featured Rosner in the interview series entitled First Person, where some of this history was covered by Morris. He came in second, or lost, on Jeopardy!, sued Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? over a flawed question and lost the lawsuit. He won one game and lost one game on Are You Smarter Than a Drunk Person? (He was drunk). Finally, he spent 37+ years working on a time-invariant variation of the Big Bang Theory.

Currently, Rosner sits tweeting in a bathrobe (winter) or a towel (summer). He lives in Los AngelesCalifornia with his wife, dog, and goldfish. He and his wife have a daughter. You can send him money or questions at LanceVersusRick@Gmail.Com, or a direct message via Twitter, or find him on LinkedIn, or see him on YouTube.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Founder, In-Sight Publishing


In-Sight Publishing

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight Publishing and Editor-in-Chief of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal (ISSN 2369-6885). Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and the advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.


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