When did having a prisoner's last meal be anything they want start? - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?

If you happen to ever find yourself slated to have society as a whole decide it would be best if they killed you, the silver lining is that in many parts of the world where this is still a thing, the last meal you ever eat is likely to be significantly better than the ones you’ve been consuming up to that point in prison. So how did this rather odd meal tradition come about and is it actually true death row inmates can get anything they want to eat?


To begin with, while it’s commonly stated that the whole idea of the last meal request came about due to Christ’s famed last supper, there doesn’t seem to be any direct evidence of this.

So how did the tradition actually start?

While history is absolutely littered with various cultures having feasts associated with death, such as the public feast for Roman gladiators the night before their potential date with death, called the coena libera, it wouldn’t be until slightly more modern times where we start seeing those being executed widely granted such a courtesy en masse. Once this did start to become a thing, in the early going, while wealthy individuals slated for execution, as ever, could generally request whatever they wanted any time, and were even often allowed servants to attend them as they awaited their execution, common things granted to the poor before their execution seem to have been at best a swig of some alcohol or the like.

Things began to pick up steam considerably on this front around the 16th century, however. Or, at least, things appear to have. It is entirely possible that such courtesies were widely granted before this to even the poor, with documented evidence of it simply not surviving. On that note, things like the printing press’ invention in the 15th century began making documented history of rather mundane events like the executions of random Joe Citizens more, well, documented. Thus, it may or may not be coincidence that accounts of such courtesies started to pop up more and more around the 16th century and progressing from there.

Whatever the case, by the 18th century, particularly in places like England, such practices were definitely around and relatively common. For example, in London it was common to allow the condemned to enjoy a meal with various guests, generally including the executioner, on the eve of the execution. Further, there is record of Newgate Prison death row inmates being allowed to stop at a pub on their march to their death at the Tyburn Fair gallows. At the pub, they would typically share drinks with their guards and executioner.

Over in Germany, perhaps the best documented case of the food practice around this time was that of Susanna Margarethe Brandt of Frankfurt. On January 14, 1772, Brandt, a poor servant girl, was executed for allegedly killing her newborn child. Eight months before this murder, she’d become pregnant by a journeyman goldsmith who she never saw again after they had sex. She subsequently successfully hid her pregnancy all the way to the eighth month when she gave birth secretly and alone in a laundry room on August 1, 1771. Unfortunately, when the baby came out, whether because newborn babies are insanely slippery or she just failed to realize it was about to drop, it fell from her and smacked its head against the stone floor. The child then, according to her, wheezed momentarily and then ceased to breathe. Brandt subsequently panicked, hid the baby in a stable and fled the scene. However, having no money or means to support herself, the next day she returned to Frankfurt where she was eventually arrested for murdering the child. Whether she did or not, and even if it would have survived anyway given it was premature, is a matter of debate even today, but she was nonetheless convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.

Shortly before her execution, however, she was the guest of honor at what has been dubbed the “Hangman’s Meal”- a rather large feast prepared for the condemned and various officials who had condemned her. If you’re curious, the meal in this case supposedly was “three pounds of fried sausages, ten pounds of beef, six pounds of baked carp, twelve pounds of larded roast veal, soup, cabbage, bread, a sweet, and eight and a half measures of 1748 wine.” Of course, the young Susanna reportedly ate none of it, merely drinking a little water as the officials feasted around her. Not long after, her head was lopped off.

Moving over to the United States where the idea of the “last meal” is perhaps best known today, it would appear this tradition did not initially jump across the pond when Europeans began setting in the Americas. Or, at least, surviving accounts of executions don’t seem to mention such courtesies, with some exceptions usually having to do with drink or something to smoke. For example, in 1835, the New York Sun reported shortly before his execution, murderer Manuel Fernandez requested and was granted a bit of brandy and some cigars, courtesy of the warden at Bellevue prison.

As the 19th century progressed, this sort of thing became more and more reported, as did eventually the practice of granting last meal requests, which by the early 20th century became quite common.

This all leads us to why. Well, as far as more historic cases, such as the early known instances in Europe, it’s generally hypothesized that people did it as a way for officials and executioners to more or less say to the prisoners “We’re going to kill you, but it’s nothing personal.” In essence, offering a bit of kindness to the condemned before their death with the prisoners themselves seemingly appreciating the courtesy, at least when it came to the alcohol.

On that note, it’s widely reported from this that the practice was instituted as a way to ensure the ghosts of the executed would feel friendly towards their condemners and executioners and thus not come back and haunt them, but we couldn’t find any primary documentation backing such a notion.

Whether that’s true or not, moving on to more modern times, the underlying reason why prison officials started doing this is not any better documented and there doesn’t ever seem to have been any laws requiring it, for instance. It’s just something people did on their own and the idea spread, presumably thanks to the media’s then love of reporting everything about the last hours of those being executed, and the general public eating it up across the nation.

Whatever the case, law professor Sarah Gerwig-Moore, co-author of Cold (Comfort?) Food: The Significance of Last Meal Rituals in the United States, posits of all this,

Last meals may be an offering by the guards and prison administrators as a way of seeking forgiveness for the impending execution, signaling that ‘it’s nothing personal.’… There are standard operating procedures that put up a wall between guards and prisoners, but nevertheless, there is a fondness between them… The last meal as a tradition is really a way of showing humanity between the caregivers of people on death row who are completely powerless and who come to care about these people — they feel complicit, and conflicted. The last meal is a way to offer, in a very, very small way, a show of kindness and generosity.

On this point, she also notes from her research, “The most generous meals correlate to the states that execute the most people — except for Texas…”

Texas, of course, having executed about 1,300 people in the last two centuries and trending the opposite of everyone else- actually increasing the number of executions in recent decades. For reference here, they’ve conducted 562 executions (almost half their couple century total) since 1982- apparently doing their best to adhere to the supposed 13th century Papal decree at the Massacre at Béziers, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” This translates to, “Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own.” Or to put it in the form that is apparently Texas’ state motto- “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.” (Joking asside, Texas’ state motto is actually the single word- “friendship”, owing to the fact that the name of the state derives from the Caddo word for “friends” or “allies”.)

On the note of Texas, last meals, and being friendly, in 2011 Senator John Whitmire very publicly pushed for an ultimately got the special meal requests for those about to be executed abolished, at least officially. He noted of this, “It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege… enough is enough… If you’re fixing to execute someone under the laws of the state because of the hideous crime that someone has committed, I’m not looking to comfort him… He didn’t give his victim any comfort or a choice of last meal.”

That said, proponents on the other side of that argument generally state that part of the point of offering such courtesies is to demonstrate that while the state is killing someone on behalf and with the express consent of the public as a whole, if it’s not done in a humane way, the public and the state are no better than the person being killed. As Professor Kathy Zambrana of the University of Florida sums up, “It comes down to how do you treat one human being when you’re about to take someone’s life.”

History professor Daniel LaChance of Emory University further chimes in, “These last meals — and last words — show the state is democratic and respects individuality even as it’s holding people accountable. As horrible as the deed they’ve been convicted of [is], the person still has some kind of dignity that we’re acknowledging.”

As to what drew the ire of Senator Whitmire to come against the then almost century old Texas tradition of the last meal, it was the meal request of death row inmate Lawrence Russel Brewer, who was sentenced to death for taking part in the rather horrific and senseless racially motivated murder of James Byrd Jr in 1998. So what did Brewer ask for? A couple chicken fried steaks, a triple decker bacon cheeseburger, a beef and cheese omelet, fried okra, a full pound of BBQ, a half loaf of bread, three fajitas, and a meat lover’s pizza. For dessert, he requested a container of Blue Bell ice cream and peanut-butter fudge. To wash it all down, he asked for three root beers.

When the time came, however, he ultimately ate nothing.

This all brings us to whether inmates can actually request and receive basically anything they want. While the media widely reports this is the case, including with this specific example of Brewer, this isn’t correct at all. In fact, in the vast majority of cases where inmates request something elaborate like this, what they actually get is just a simple, one-person version of it.

As famed “death row chef” Brian Price, who prepared well over 100 such meals, states, “The local newspaper would always say they got 24 tacos and 12 enchiladas, but they would actually get four tacos and two enchiladas… They only get items in the commissary kitchen. If they order lobster, they get a piece of frozen pollack. They quit serving steaks in 1994. If they order 100 tacos, they get two or three.”

That said other states and prisons sometimes do it differently. For example, in nearby Oklahoma, they allow the meal to be purchased from a local restaurant if desired, though capping it at … Other states that allow similar, such as Florida, are more generous, allowing for a budget of .

Of course, as you might have guessed from all we’ve said so far, those actually involved in making or acquiring the last meal may or may not pitch in if they so choose to go beyond. For example, in Cottonport, Louisiana, when one unnamed death row inmate requested lobster, the warden at the Angola prison, Burl Cain, went ahead and paid for a full lobster dinner, with Cain then dining with the inmate. You see, much like many historical instances of this sort of thing, before Cain’s recent retirement, he would always extend an invitation to the condemned to have their last meal with him and sometimes other select guests.

Of course, as with Susanna Brandt and Lawrence Brewer, it’s quite common for death row inmates to forgo eating their “last meal”, as the whole impending death thing generally leaves many without an appetite. To try to get around the problem, the so-called last meal is sometimes not actually the last meal at all, with it generally designated the “special meal” by prison officials. Even when it is literally the person’s last meal, it is usually scheduled far enough ahead that they might still be able to eat, but not so far away that they’ll have to go an extended time without eating before their execution. For example, in Virginia the rule is the meal must be served at least four hours before the execution. In Indiana, they go even further with the special meal often coming a few days before the big show, in a time when the person can actually enjoy it on some level.

For those who don’t have an appetite, they often share. For example, in places like Florida, in certain cases family or friends may be allowed to enjoy the meal with the condemned. Some inmates instead donate it to others. For example, in 1951, Raymond Fernandez, one of the “Lonely Hearts Killers” along with his lady love Martha Jule Beck, made a request that his meal be given to another inmate to enjoy.

On a similar note, in the early decades of this tradition in Texas, it was relatively common for the condemned to order and be given large portions of food for their special meal precisely so they could have enough to share with every other inmate on death row in the prison. This extra food request was usually honored by prison officials because it was seen not just as a mercy, but something that helped keep all those on death row in line directly before executions.

That said, not all inmates have trouble eating. Perhaps the most famous case of this was murderer Rickey Ray Rector. After committing two rather senseless murders, he attempted to kill himself by shooting himself in the head. However, he ended up living through the ordeal owing to shooting himself in the temple- a common way to kill one’s self in the movies, but in reality very survivable if medical aid is nearby, with the person effectively having just given themselves a lobotomy.

Despite his rather deficient mental faculties as a result of the whole bullet through the brain thing, Rector was controversially sentenced to death. The issue became even more of a media sensation after the fact when it was learned that while he happily ate his last meal, he chose not to eat the pecan pie that he got with it. Why? He told the guards he was “saving it for later.”

Once again showing the humanity of the guards involved, they went ahead and saved the piece of pie just in case there was a last minute stay of execution.

This all brings us to what prisoners actually usually request for their last meal. While exact fare is rather diverse (for example in one case a person simply requested a “jar of pickles” according to the aforementioned Brian Price), if categorizing this into groups, it often comes down to either things you’d find at McDonald’s or KFC (or literally McDonald’s or KFC meals in many cases), something fancy, or a favorite home cooked meal from the person’s childhood or the like.

As for the first two categories there, it’s noted that the vast majority of death row inmates come from rather impoverished backgrounds, and thus often go with favorite food items they are accustomed to and haven’t gotten while in prison- things like fried chicken, cheeseburgers, french fries, and soda, or the like. That said, some go the other way, picking foods they couldn’t really afford when in the land of the free, or may have never even tried at all, like lobster or filet mignon. As for favorite home cooked meals, the aforementioned Brian Price states when he prepared these meals, he always did his best to make it just as the inmate described, or even potentially getting a specific recipe from the condemned’s loved ones.

Regardless of what camp one goes with, some choose their last meal not on what they necessarily intend to eat, but rather to make a statement.

As for such statements, going back in time a bit in 1963, murderer Victor Feguer requested nothing more than a single solitary unpitted olive for his last meal. He then requested the seed be buried with him in the hopes that it would grow an olive tree as a symbol of peace and rebirth.

On a similar note, one Jonathan Wayne Nobles, who apparently had been on drugs since he was 8 years old living in foster homes, as an adult murdered two women while high on a cocktail of substances. In prison, however, he got off the drugs and became a devout Catholic and, not just model inmate, but model person. As one example, at one point he attempted to save the life of a random woman he heard about who was dying from kidney failure. However, while he did successfully find a doctor willing to perform the procedure to take one of his kidneys out and give it to the woman, it ultimately turned out the pair were did not have matching blood types and the woman died. Doubling down, Nobles later attempted to have all his organs donated after his execution, but this request was denied as Texas did not allow death row inmates to donate their organs. Going back to his last meal request, he simply asked for the Eucharist (communion).

To end on a lighter note- well… relatively speaking…- in the 1940s Wilson De la Roi, who murdered a man while in prison, was slated to be killed via a somewhat newly minted poison gas chamber in San Quentin. When asked what he wanted for his last meal, he merely requested a bunch of indigestion tablets. When asked why, he stated that he felt sure he was soon to have rather severe case of gas…

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This lone soldier saved his company by fighting 100 enemy soldiers

Army Private John R. McKinney was resting after a shift on guard duty in the Luzon area of the Philippines in May 1945 when his position was attacked by some 100 Japanese soldiers at a full run. McKinney, who was part of his unit’s perimeter defense, was cut in the ear with an enemy saber as he rested in his tent that night.


That Japanese NCO would not live to regret disturbing McKinney’s rest.

As the other men in McKinney’s machine gun squad worked to get the weapon ready, McKinney grabbed his service rifle and beat his attacker with it. He then shot another enemy soldier who tried to interrupt that beating.

Unfortunately, one of the machine gunners was injured in the attack and the other tried to carry him to safety. Private McKinney was now alone – and ten Japanese infantrymen were turning the machine gun around. McKinney jumped into the gun’s position and shot seven of those ten enemy troops at point blank range. He then clubbed the three others with the butt of his rifle.

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?
Because a Japanese banzai charge waits for no one.

Unfortunately for him, when McKinney took control of the machine gun, he found the weapon was inoperative. And there were more Japanese troops coming – a lot more. They were lobbing grenades and mortar shells onto his position. So, he did what any combat-hardened Army private would do: he switched positions.

His new position had ammo in it. Lots of ammo.

For 36 minutes, McKinney reloaded his service rifle and repeatedly picked up others as waves of oncoming Japanese troops attempted to swarm and overrun him. He fired almost nonstop into the charge. When he couldn’t fire anymore, he flipped his rifle around and began to club them to death or engage in brutal hand-to-hand combat.

When all was said and done, 40 Japanese soldiers of the 100 who attacked McKinney lay dead, including the two mortarmen… who were 45 yards away. He protected the fellow members of his company as they slept, killing one enemy soldier every 56 seconds for the duration of the attack.

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?
McKinney (left) received the Medal of Honor from President Truman for his actions that day.

Not only did he repel the Japanese assault, but he was still alive and in complete control of the area. John R. McKinney died in 1997, at the ripe old age of 76.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Women & standards in special operations and special mission units

SOFREP recently published an exclusive piece covering the journey of the first female candidate set to graduate the Special Forces Qualification Course and earn her coveted green beret — an amazing achievement. Similarly, recent years have seen the services open their previously male-exclusive roles, including the opportunity to attend Ranger School and others, to women as well.

Women absolutely belong in Special Operations, and it would be narrow-minded to limit their opportunities to serve in special operations roles due to gender stereotypes: In SOF, this primarily refers to the different physical capacities between men and women, and the rigorous physical standards that must be met to serve in a special operations role.


It is the author’s opinion that there is a significant net benefit gained by reasonably adjusting female physical standards in a manner that accounts for the natural biological differences between men and women. What women physically lack in relative strength, vis à vis their male counterparts, they far compensate for in other unique qualities that SOF desperately requires.

For historical reference of the unique value proposition women offer, one only need to study the various exploits conducted by women such as Virginia Hall, a World War II-era Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operative, who conducted clandestine special operations for the Allies in Nazi-occupied France. Often disguised as a peasant woman, Ms. Hall skillfully employed her feminine prowess against the Nazis, resulting in unfettered freedom of movement throughout the French countryside.

Other special operations units have long relied on the value of women to conduct operations, noting that the coupling of male and female operatives during missions greatly reduced scrutiny from security services during the conduct of sensitive activities abroad.

SOF assessment and selection processes must evolve to reflect this. While traditional physical standards certainly have their place in special operations, the opportunity cost of not adjusting physical standards is too significant for the SOF community to bear. Does this mean standards are removed, curtailed, or made “easy?” Certainly not. It simply implies a measured and scientifically relevant culture shift that better enables women to succeed in special operations, beginning with physical standards.

It is important in this discussion to also frame the understanding of the largest limiting factor in SOF “production” — time. The oft-quoted SOF truths identify that SOF cannot be mass-produced and that humans are more important than hardware. The reason SOF cannot be mass-produced is due to the specific, rigorous, and just plainly lengthy screening and RAST (recruitment, assessment, selection, and training) processes required to produce a special operations professional.

That said, the notion of gender should have little to no discriminatory role in special operations manning. There simply is not the manpower to exclude a large population that offers unique value to special operations missions. Countless units experience significant manpower shortages and are being asked to “do more with less” because their RAST process cannot keep up with demand and attrition. This leads to burnout, which perpetuates the increased demands and greater stress on an already taxed force. This ultimately leads to greater attrition.

In the author’s experience, it took a grand total of about three years to transition from conventional operations to special operations, not counting the years of personal preparation beforehand. That process included an extensive remote screening; chain of command vetting and recommendations; an invitation to attend a lengthy assessment and selection course; an extensive security screening; completion of inter-service manning adjudication at the service component level; assignment to the unit; completion of an almost year-long training course; and additional follow-on qualification training to reach “fully mission capable” (aka mission-ready/deployable) status.

If that sounds like a lot, that is because it certainly was. And it is critical that women have equal opportunity to attempt such journeys alongside their male counterparts. The crossroads at which equal opportunity and SOF production meet are the reasonable adjustments of physical standards for women.

Much of traditional SOF processes focused on largely physical and mental capacities. Long rucks, hours wearing kit, and the ability to manipulate one’s body over, through, and around tricky terrain were paramount. The Army appears to have a penchant for long, solo rucks through tough terrain; the Air Force limits your ability to breathe through liberal use of “water confidence training” (aka supervised drowning); and the Marines like to ingest large quantities of drawing implements (particularly crayons).

Joking aside, however, it is the author’s opinion that these physical standards do not need to be exactly the same for men and women. Indeed, while recognizing the intrinsic differences between men and women, standards should rather reflect the reasonable demands of the special operations role future SOF professionals are expected to fill. Furthermore, a greater emphasis on personality traits and attributes is required. We are reminded of the wisdom, “the final weapon is the brain, all else is supplemental.”

As was recently identified (comically so) in the differences between Rangers and Green Berets, there are different folks needed for different strokes in special operations. If there ever was a “traditional” GWOT-era SOF image, it would probably include a tattoo-sleeved, Taliban-style beard-wearing Freedom Fighter wearing Oakleys, early-gen multi-cams, and riding a horse. Yet, that image is outdated and demonstrates but a snapshot in time. The error we now risk making is to project this archetype onto current and future conflicts.

The GWOT, while still ongoing in the form of counter-VEO missions across the globe, must also make room for Great Power competition. In this space, SOF are not calling for fire against insurgent positions in the mountains of Afghanistan. Rather, they are conducting sensitive, “low-visibility” operations across multiple domains and in low-intensity conflict regions that manifest themselves through multiple mechanisms of state power projection.

What does this mean?

Operating environments are evolving, and SOF must evolve along with these changes. This should include the evolution of certain norms and standards of what traditionally comprises a SOF professional. The target dictates the weapon, and the weapon dictates the tactics. Start with your desired end state and work from there.

In the realm of Great Power competition, it is less critical that an individual can carry a 65-pound rucksack through the West Virginia mountains at night using a map and compass: Rather, it is more critical that they be able to rapidly process vast quantities of complex datasets while performing real-time analysis of the ground truth before them.

Do those traditional methods have their place? Most certainly. The author would not significantly change them given the value of such experience. But do those methods need to be reasonably adjusted in order to increase opportunities for women to fill SOF positions and thereby add unique value to the SOF enterprise? Yes: We cannot afford inaction.

Thanks for listening.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 reasons the married service member is just as much a “dependa” as the spouse

The word “Dependa” has often been a derogatory label put on military spouses. The word itself insinuates that they sit on the couch all day collecting the benefits while their service member works hard and risks their lives for this country’s freedoms. There’s an even uglier way of saying that word but that term doesn’t deserve a discussion.

Guess what? The married military member themselves are just as much a “Dependa” as their spouse is. You read that right – turns out in a marriage, it’s supposed to be that way.


The role of a soldier, guardsman, Marine, sailor, airman, or coastie is simple: mission first. The needs of the military will always come before their spouse, children, and really – anything important in their life. This is something that the military family is well aware of and accepts as a part of the military life.

Often the spouse will hear things like, “well, you knew what you signed up for.” Yes, the military spouse is well aware of the sacrifice that comes along with marrying their uniformed service member. But are you?

While the military member is off following orders and doing Uncle Sam’s bidding – the spouse is left with the full weight of managing the home, finances, and carrying the roles of being both parents to the children left behind, waiting. Both depend on each other to make it work – and that’s how it should be. Here are 5 reasons why servicemembers depend on their spouses:

Deployment

When a married service member deploys, they typically leave behind not only a spouse but children as well. While the service member is off focusing on their mission, for many months on end, life at home doesn’t stop just because they are gone. It’s just taken care of by the spouse. Without the home front being handled by the spouse, the service member cannot remain mission-ready or deploy.

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?

Even when they are home, they aren’t really home

Just because a service member isn’t currently deployed doesn’t mean they are completely present for the family. Between training exercises, TDY’s, and the needs of the service, they are never really guaranteed to be home and of help to the military spouse. Military spouses face a 24% unemployment rate due to a number of factors like frequent moves but also lack of childcare. Did you know 72% of military spouses cannot find reliable childcare for their children?

The PCS struggle is real

The military family will move every 2-3 years, that’s a given. While the military member is busy doing check-outs and ins – the spouse is typically handling all of the things that come along with moving.

  • Organizing for the PCS
  • Researching the new duty station area for best places to live, work (if they can even find employment), and good schools for the children
  • Gathering copies of all the medical records
  • Finding new providers for the family
  • School enrollment
  • Unpacking and starting a whole new life, again
When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?

Blanchella Casey, supervisory librarian, reads the book, “Big Smelly Bear” to preschool children at the library as part of Robins Air Force Base’ summer programming.

U.S. Air Force

Unit support

Many of the support programs for the military are run off the backs of volunteers – the military spouses, to be exact. The Family Readiness Group (Army and Navy), Key Spouse (Air Force) program, or the Ombudsman (Coast Guard) programs are all dependent on the unpaid time of the military spouse. These programs all serve the same purpose – to serve the unit and support families.

Caregiving

More than 2.5 million United States service members have been deployed overseas since 9/11. Service to this country comes with a lot of personal sacrifice for the military member. Half of them are married, many with children. They leave a lot behind all in the name of freedom. It comes at a heavy price. That service to the country affects every aspect of their lives – including their mental health. Their spouse becomes their secret keeper, counselor, and advocate. 33% of military members and veterans depend on their spouse to be their caregiver.

The military spouse serves their family, community, and are the backbone of support for their military member to have the ability to focus on being mission ready. They are both a “Dependa” to each other and cannot be truly successful without the other’s support – and that’s okay.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

NASA is gonna try to ‘land’ on the Sun

Hours before the rise of the very star it will study, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe launched from Florida on Aug. 12, 2018, to begin its journey to the Sun, where it will undertake a landmark mission. The spacecraft will transmit its first science observations in December, beginning a revolution in our understanding of the star that makes life on Earth possible.

Roughly the size of a small car, the spacecraft lifted off at 3:31 a.m. EDT on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. At 5:33 a.m., the mission operations manager reported that the spacecraft was healthy and operating normally.


The mission’s findings will help researchers improve their forecasts of space weather events, which have the potential to damage satellites and harm astronauts on orbit, disrupt radio communications and, at their most severe, overwhelm power grids.

“This mission truly marks humanity’s first visit to a star that will have implications not just here on Earth, but how we better understand our universe,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “We’ve accomplished something that decades ago, lived solely in the realm of science fiction.”

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA’s Parker Solar Probe to touch the Sun.

(NASA / Bill Ingalls)

During the first week of its journey, the spacecraft will deploy its high-gain antenna and magnetometer boom. It also will perform the first of a two-part deployment of its electric field antennas. Instrument testing will begin in early September 2018 and last approximately four weeks, after which Parker Solar Probe can begin science operations.

“Today’s launch was the culmination of six decades of scientific study and millions of hours of effort,” said project manager Andy Driesman, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. “Now, Parker Solar Probe is operating normally and on its way to begin a seven-year mission of extreme science.”

Over the next two months, Parker Solar Probe will fly towards Venus, performing its first Venus gravity assist in early October 2018 – a maneuver a bit like a handbrake turn – that whips the spacecraft around the planet, using Venus’s gravity to trim the spacecraft’s orbit tighter around the Sun. This first flyby will place Parker Solar Probe in position in early November 2018 to fly as close as 15 million miles from the Sun – within the blazing solar atmosphere, known as the corona – closer than anything made by humanity has ever gone before.

Throughout its seven-year mission, Parker Solar Probe will make six more Venus flybys and 24 total passes by the Sun, journeying steadily closer to the Sun until it makes its closest approach at 3.8 million miles. At this point, the probe will be moving at roughly 430,000 miles per hour, setting the record for the fastest-moving object made by humanity.

Parker Solar Probe will set its sights on the corona to solve long-standing, foundational mysteries of our Sun. What is the secret of the scorching corona, which is more than 300 times hotter than the Sun’s surface, thousands of miles below? What drives the supersonic solar wind – the constant stream of solar material that blows through the entire solar system? And finally, what accelerates solar energetic particles, which can reach speeds up to more than half the speed of light as they rocket away from the Sun?

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?

Renowned physicist Eugene Parker watches the launch of the spacecraft that bears his name – NASA’s Parker Solar Probe – early in the morning on Aug. 12, 2018, from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

(NASA / Glenn Benson)

Scientists have sought these answers for more than 60 years, but the investigation requires sending a probe right through the unrelenting heat of the corona. Today, this is finally possible with cutting-edge thermal engineering advances that can protect the mission on its daring journey.

“Exploring the Sun’s corona with a spacecraft has been one of the hardest challenges for space exploration,” said Nicola Fox, project scientist at APL. “We’re finally going to be able to answer questions about the corona and solar wind raised by Gene Parker in 1958 – using a spacecraft that bears his name – and I can’t wait to find out what discoveries we make. The science will be remarkable.”

Parker Solar Probe carries four instrument suites designed to study magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and capture images of the solar wind. The University of California, Berkeley, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Princeton University in New Jersey lead these investigations.

Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA’s Living with a Star program to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. The Living with a Star program is managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. APL designed and built, and operates the spacecraft.

The mission is named for Eugene Parker, the physicist who first theorized the existence of the solar wind in 1958. It’s the first NASA mission to be named for a living researcher.

A plaque dedicating the mission to Parker was attached to the spacecraft in May 2018. It includes a quote from the renowned physicist – “Let’s see what lies ahead.” It also holds a memory card containing more than 1.1 million names submitted by the public to travel with the spacecraft to the Sun.

www.youtube.com

For more information on Parker Solar Probe, go to:

https://www.nasa.gov/solarprobe

This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How you can buy M1911 pistols made from meteorites

Few weapons ever wielded by the U.S. Military are more beloved than the M1911. The weapon was designed by a competitive pistol shooter and equipped with the stopping power necessary to take down a berserk Moro rebel fighter. There’s a reason it was in the American arsenal for more than a century.

These days, the legendary .45 pistol isn’t used as much around the military, but it remains a collector’s item for veterans and aficionados alike. It retains its title of the greatest issued sidearm of all time – and now you can get one that came from interstellar space.


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The Big Bang Pistol Set, crafted from a 4-billion-year-old meteorite from Namibia.

It may sound like the first in (probably) a long line of Space Force weapons programs from a less-than-honest defense contractor, but it’s actually just a nifty idea from American firearms manufacturer Cabot Guns. Their weapons are like the concept cars of firearms, with pistols that feature mammoth ivory grips (yes, Wooly Mammoth ivory) harvested from Alaska, a pistol crafted from a 50-layer block of Damascus steel, and a Donald Trump-level .45 with a gold finish, engraved with “Trump 45” along the barrel.

Gimmicky, maybe, but all are truly so well-crafted, they earned the right to be called “elite.” The biggest standout among the manufacturer’s arsenal has to be the Big Bang Pistol Set, crafted from the Gibeon Meteorite that fell in prehistoric Namibia.

The meteorite, believed to be at least four billion years old, is comprised of iron, nickel, cobalt, and phosphorous, along with numerous other rare minerals. The object fell from the sky and broke up in the days before history was recorded, dropping interstellar rocks in a meteor field some 70 miles wide. Prehistoric tribesmen would make tools and weapons of the hard material from the sky.

The Widmanstätten pattern formed by the alloy makes it a particularly interesting design for use in jewelry and other specialty items… like firearms.

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A slice of Gibeon Meteorite, featuring the Widmanstätten pattern.

For just ,500,000, you can own a piece of geological history with the power to end someone else’s history. Crafted from a 77-pound piece of the extraterrestrial rock, from the barrel to its smaller moving parts, the set contains two of the one-of-a-kind firearms. They are both fully functional pieces, made completely from the meteorite and feature the space rock’s natural pattern on the finish.

Firearms fan or not, the pistols are a pure work of art, along with all the other weapons the specialty manufacturer has to offer.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier came to be

At the heart of Arlington National Cemetery lies one of our nation’s most magnificent displays of honor and respect to our fallen troops. Three unnamed graves are tended to by some of the most disciplined soldiers the military has to offer. The soldiers tirelessly guard the monument. Every hour (or half hour, during the spring and summer months), the guard is changed with an impressive, precise ceremony.

Each year, these three fallen soldiers receive up to four million visitors — but it’s not about honoring the specific individuals contained within the tomb. In death, these three fallen soldiers have became a symbol, representing each and every troop who gave their last breath in service of this great nation. Every step taken by the sentinels, every bouquet of flowers offered, every wreath laid, and every flag placed is for every American troop who has fallen.

This is exactly what was intended when the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated almost one hundred years ago, on November 11, 1921.


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The King of England is also the head of the Church of England, so he chose to place the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, where all future kings and queens would be crowned, married, and buried.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The tradition of honoring a fallen but unknown troop actually originated as a joint effort between France and the UK.

In 1916, David Railton was a chaplain in the English Army serving on the Western Front of World War I. Near Armentières, France, he discovered a rough, wooden cross planted in the middle of a battlefield. It read, simply, “an unknown British soldier, of the Black Watch.”

David Railton would go on to join the clergy after the war, but the image of that cross never left his mind. It took years, but after many attempts, he finally got the ear of Bishop Herbert Ryle, the Dean of Westminster. Railton wanted to repatriate the remains of this fallen soldier and give him proper honors, despite not knowing his identity. Bishop Ryle was moved by Rev. Railton’s passionate words and went directly to King George V with his proposal.

Reverend Railton would later say,

“How that grave caused me to think!… But, who was he, and who were they [his folk]?… Was he just a laddie… . There was no answer to those questions, nor has there ever been yet. So I thought and thought and wrestled in thought. What can I do to ease the pain of father, mother, brother, sister, sweetheart, wife and friend? Quietly and gradually there came out of the mist of thought this answer clear and strong, “Let this body – this symbol of him – be carried reverently over the sea to his native land.” And I was happy for about five or ten minutes.”

The soldier was buried at Westminster Abbey, London on November 11, 1920, thus creating what’s now known as The Tomb of The Unknown Warrior.

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It’s fitting that the Arch built in honor of the French victory in WWI would also be the final resting site for her unknown soldier.

(Photo by Jorge Lascar)

Meanwhile, across the English Channel, in France, a young officer in the Le Souvenir Français, an association responsible for maintaining war memorials, had better luck. He argued for bringing an unidentified fallen soldier into the Pantheon in Paris to honor of all fallen French soldiers from the Great War — and his proposal garnered support.

Both England and France decided to share the honors. They buried France’s Unknown Soldier underneath the Arc de Triomphe on the same day as The Unknown Warrior was laid to rest at Westminster.

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(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Cody Torkelson)

The next year, as the United States began the process of repatriating remains from the European battlefield, plans for an American Tomb of the Unknown Soldier began to take shape. The originator of the idea remains unknown to history, but the selection process was public. On October 24, 1921, six American soldiers were asked to come to Châlons-sur-Marne, France. Each soldier was a highly decorated and highly respected member of their respective units. They were selected to be pallbearers for the remains as they made their way back to the States.

While there, the officer in charge of grave registrations, Major Harbold, randomly selected one of the men. He gave Sgt. Edward F. Younger a bouquet of pink and white roses and asked him to step inside the chapel alone. There, four identical, unmarked coffins awaited him. He was told that whichever coffin he laid the roses on would be laid to rest in the National Shrine.

Younger said of the event,

“I walked around the coffins three times, then suddenly I stopped. What caused me to stop, I don’t know, it was as though something had pulled me. I placed the roses on the coffin in front of me. I can still remember the awed feeling that I had, standing there alone.”

The remains were brought to the Capital Rotunda and remained there until November 11th, 1921. President Warren G. Harding officiated a ceremony in which he bestowed upon the Unknown Soldier the Medal of Honor and a Victoria Cross, given on behalf of King George V.

Since that day, the entombed soldier has been guarded every moment of every day, rain, shine, hurricane, or blizzard.

MIGHTY TRENDING

5 things to know about Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic

The three Russian journalists who were killed in the Central African Republic (CAR) had arrived in the war-torn country to investigate the reported presence there of a shadowy Russian paramilitary force whose units are said to have fought in Ukraine and Syria.

Colleagues of Orkhan Dzhemal, Aleksandr Rastorguyev, and Kirill Radchenko say the trio were making a documentary about the private Russian military company Vagner, which French and Russian media reports had previously reported to be operating in the CAR.

CAR officials say the journalists were ambushed and killed by unidentified assailants.


The Russian government has never officially confirmed the presence of Vagner employees in the African country and denies that the firm’s contractors act on Moscow’s orders. The private military firm is reportedly controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a longtime associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, though Prigozhin has previously denied that he is linked to the company.

Here are five things you need to know about Russian military contractors working in the CAR.

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Anti-Balaka militia in Gbaguili.

1. Why are Russian contractors there?

The Central African Republic, one of the world’s poorest countries, has been subjected to a UN Security Council arms embargo since 2013, when an armed, mainly Muslim coalition known as Seleka seized power. Christian armed formations fought back, and the violence saw thousands killed and hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes.

In 2016, Faustin-Archange Touadera was elected president of the CAR, but much of the country remains controlled by various armed formations, primarily ex-Seleka fighters and the Christian alliance known as Anti-balaka. The UN established a peacekeeping mission in the CAR in 2014.

In December 2017, Russia secured an exemption to the Security Council arms embargo, allowing Moscow to deliver arms and training for what a UN panel of experts describes as part of a multinational effort — including the European Union Military Training Mission — to boost the capabilities of the CAR’s military and security forces.

“Our only request was that the Russian delegation submit additional information on the serial numbers of the weapons…so that we can track weapons going into CAR,” AFP cited an unidentified U.S. official as saying at the time.

2. How many are there, and what are they doing?

In December 2017, Russia notified the Security Council committee overseeing the CAR arms embargo of the involvement of 175 Russian “instructors” in a training mission, according to a report by a UN panel of experts issued in July 2018. Of those personnel, 170 were identified as civilian instructors, while the remaining five were from the Russian military, the report says.

According to the panel, Russian instructors have been involved in a range of tasks, including: escorting convoys of building materials for hospitals; providing security for hospitals donated by Russia; and training police officers as a requirement for equipping them with Russian weapons.

The panel also said that a Russian national had been appointed as a national security adviser to Touadera and that the Russian is “engaging with armed groups” to discuss issues including “disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, national reconciliation,” and the sharing of revenue derived from the exploitation of natural resources.

In June 2018, two government soldiers and one Russian instructor were wounded in an attack by militia fighters while traveling to the south of the country, the panel said.

3. Why is Vagner said to be operating in the CAR?

Several media reports over the past year have indicated that Vagner contractors may be working in the CAR. In March 2018, a reporter for the Russian news site Znak.com visited a facility reportedly operated by Vagner outside the southern Russian city of Krasnodar. The reporter cited a military veteran who lives in the town where the facility is located as saying that Vagner mercenaries were set to be sent “to Africa” for a “training” mission.

Two weeks later, the Russian Foreign Ministry publicly discussed the 175 Russian “instructors,” saying they had been sent to the CAR in “late January-early February,” but without indicating whether the civilian personnel were employees of Vagner or another military contractor.

The Russian investigative journalism news site The Bell in June 2018 cited an unidentified source as saying that Vagner employees were training CAR forces. And in July 2018, Yevgeny Shabayev, a leader of a Cossack organization who says he visited Vagner fighters injured in a deadly February 2018 clash with U.S. forces in Syria, published a letter stating that private Russian military contractors have operated in the CAR and “an array of other African and Arab countries.”*

An editor at the Investigation Control Center, the outlet funded by billionaire Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky that financed the investigation conducted by the three journalists killed in the CAR, said on August 1, 2018 that the team had reached the facility where they believed Vagner operatives were stationed but were told they needed accreditation from the country’s Defense Ministry.

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The president of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadera.

4. What is Russia’s interest?

Russia says it is seeking to restore peace in the CAR with the provision of arms and training to government forces.

“Russia’s assistance is carried out as part of the common efforts of the international community to strengthen the national security units of CAR,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Artyom Kozhin said in a March 22, 2018 statement.

But Moscow has also made no secret of its economic interests in the country’s natural resources.

“Russia is exploring the possibilities of the mutually beneficial development of Central African natural resources,” Kozhin said. “The prospecting-mining exploration concessions began in 2018. We believe these projects will help stabilize the economic situation in CAR, promote the construction of the infrastructure, and serve as a basis for drawing additional investment to the country’s economy.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Touadera in the Russian city of Sochi in October 2017, with the ministry saying that the officials “reaffirmed their countries’ resolve” to bolster bilateral ties “and pointed to the considerable potential for partnership in mineral resources exploration” and energy.

Putin met Touadera in St. Petersburg in May 2018, with the Russian leader saying that Moscow “will be happy to consider various plans to boost our relations, first of all in the economic and humanitarian fields.”

5. What impact is Russian presence having?

While Russia touts its weapons shipments and training efforts in the CAR as an effort to stabilize the country, the report by the UN panel of experts released in July 2018 said that new weapons obtained by government forces have motivated rebel militias to boost their own stockpiles.

“The recent acquisition of weaponry by the Government has created an incentive for the active rearmament of ex-Selaka factions,” the report said.

The panel added that armed militia representatives had told them that “since the government had opted for the military option (training, rearming, and attacking) instead of the political process, armed groups needed to be prepared.”

The experts’ report noted a worsening of the security situation in Bangui and Bambari, citing “serious outbreaks of violence, including in areas where the situation had previously improved.”

*Correction: This article has been amended to clarify that Yevgeny Shabayev’s letter stated that private Russian military contractors, not necessarily Vagner, have operated in the Central African Republic.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US suspends F-35 delivery to Turkey over Russian S-400 missile deal

The United States says it is halting deliveries to Turkey related to the F-35 fighter-jet program in response to Ankara’s decision to move ahead with the purchase of Russian air-defense system.

“Pending an unequivocal Turkish decision to forgo delivery of the S-400, deliveries and activities associated with the stand-up of Turkey’s F-35 operational capability have been suspended while our dialogue on this important matter continues with Turkey,” a Pentagon spokesperson said on April 1, 2019.


Washington has been warning Ankara for months that buying the S-400 system would jeopardize its planned purchase of the advanced fighter aircraft.

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Turkey has said it is committed to a deal to buy S-400 missile-defense systems from Russia.

(Photo by Dmitriy Fomin)

Ankara has refused to back down on its planned purchase.

On March 29, 2019, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that his country was committed to the deal to buy the Russian system and was discussing delivery dates.

Russia media reported that Turkey intended to buy four S-400 units for a price of .5 billion.

Washington has also said it could withdraw an offer to sell Turkey the U.S. air-defense equivalent — the Patriot missile system.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Whatever happened to the military’s ‘grease gun’

Few weapons are more closely associated with World War II than the M3 Submachine Gun – also known as the “Grease Gun” for its distinctive shape. The Grease Gun actually saw service for decades after the war, becoming the standard-issue weapon for crews manning the M-48 through M-60 battle tanks. It was the longest-serving SMG, from 1942 to 1992.

Its World War II use of the .45 round, already in use by the Thompson submachine gun and the M1911 pistol, made it a weapon that could be easily adapted for more situations and more troops. Sadly, it was also the weapon’s ultimate undoing.


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A U.S. soldier from the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division fires an M3 submachine gun during a training exercise.

By many accounts, the M3 was still in use by the 1990s. Unlike many of its contemporary weapons, the Grease Gun did not have adjustable sights and was mainly intended for tank crews to use in close quarters so they could get back in the tank and continue firing the big gun. The stopping power of a spray of .45-caliber rounds will go a long way toward making that possible.

Its main competitor was the Thompson submachine gun, but the Thompson had problems of its own. It was heavy and expensive to build. The U.S. wanted a more lightweight model for tankers and paratroopers, but didn’t want to spend all the money per item. The M3 was the answer, despite a few shortcomings.

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A U.S. troop in Vietnam carrying the M3 SMG.


The short barrel, while making it possible for crews to carry around the cramped quarters of a tank, also added to its inaccuracy. The real trouble comes after a tanker has to expend all of his pre-loaded magazines. The M3 submachine gun has a magazine that appears to be longer than its barrel. A large magazine is a great thing for a fully-automatic weapon like the Grease Gun, but as anyone who’s sprayed an automatic before knows, the bullets run out really fast.

Tankers were issued four magazine for the tank’s two grease guns. Once they were out, the magazines would have to be reloaded. Now imagine trying to fully reload an M3 submachine gun magazine, especially when it’s almost full.

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The M3 cost around .00 to produce in 1942, equal to about 0.00 today.

Eventually, the M3 was phased out by more efficient weapons for anyone who might need a personal weapon on the battlefield as the .45 round gave way to the 5.56 and 9mm standards.

After the 1991 Gulf War, the M3 began to disappear from the U.S. Military altogether after some 50 years in service.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Subpoenaed former Boeing official is pleading the Fifth Amendment

A former Boeing official who was subpoeaned to testify about his role in the development of the 737 Max has refused to provide documents sought by federal prosecutors, according to the Seattle Times, citing his Fifth Amendment right against forcible self-incrimination.

Mark Forkner who was Boeing’s chief technical pilot on the 737 Max project during the development of the plane, was responding to a grand jury subpoena. The US Justice Department is investigating two fatal crashes of the Boeing jet, and is looking into the design and certification of the plane, according to a person familiar with the matter cited by the Seattle Times.

The Fifth Amendment provides a legal right that can be invoked by a person in order to avoid testifying under oath. Because the amendment is used to avoid being put in a situation where one would have to testify about something that would be self-incriminating, it can sometimes be seen by outsiders as an implicit admission of guilt, although that is not always the case.


It is less common to invoke the Fifth to resist a subpoena for documents or evidence. According to legal experts, its use by Forkner could simply suggest a legal manuever between Boeing’s attorneys and prosecutors.

Forkner left Boeing in 2018, according to his LinkedIn page, and is currently a first officer flying for Southwest Airlines.

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The Justice Department’s investigation into the two crashes, which occurred Oct. 29, 2018, in Indonesia, and March 10, 2019, in Ethiopia, is a wide-ranging exploration into the development of the plane. The investigation has also grown to include records related to the production of a different plane — the 787 — at Boeing’s Charleston, South Carolina plant, although it is not clear whether those records have anything to do with the 737 Max.

Preliminary reports into the two crashes that led to the grounding — Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 — indicate that an automated system erroneously engaged and forced the planes’ noses to point down due to a problem with the design of the system’s software. Pilots were unable to regain control of the aircraft.

The system engaged because it could be activated by a single sensor reading — in both crashes, the sensors are suspected of having failed, sending erroneous data to the flight computer and, without a redundant check in place, triggering the automated system.

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Grounded Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in China following the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.

The automated system, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), was designed to compensate for the fact that the 737 Max has larger engines than previous 737 generations. The larger engines could cause the plane’s nose to tip upward, leading to a stall — in that situation, MCAS could automatically point the nose downward to negate the effect of the engine size.

The plane has been grounded worldwide since the days following the second crash, as Boeing prepared a software fix to prevent similar incidents. The fix is expected to be approved, and the planes back in the air, by the end of this year or early 2020.

During the certification process, Forkner recommended that MCAS not be included in the pilots manual, according to previous reporting, since it was intended to operate in the background as part of the flight-control system, according to previous reporting.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How ‘Hail to the Chief’ became the Presidential anthem

The song that many of us identify uniquely with the President of the United States has a surprisingly controversial history. Chester Arthur hated it, Ronald Reagan thought it was a necessary tradition for the office, and President Trump enters a room to Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA more often than not. But this essential piece of Presidential entrance music is almost as old as America itself.


During the President’s Inauguration, “The President’s Own” Marine Corps band plays Hail to the Chief after 45 seconds of four Ruffles and Flourishes. The song is also most traditionally played when the President of the United States enters an official event, but there are no real rules for the song outside of the inauguration. The Department of Defense only asks that the song isn’t played for anyone other than the sitting President.

You wouldn’t know it from the orchestral renditions, but the song actually has lyrics, written in 1900 by Albert Gamse:

Hail to the Chief we have chosen for the nation,
Hail to the Chief! We salute him, one and all.
Hail to the Chief, as we pledge cooperation
In proud fulfillment of a great, noble call.
Yours is the aim to make this grand country grander,
This you will do, that’s our strong, firm belief.
Hail to the one we selected as commander,
Hail to the President! Hail to the Chief!

The song itself can be traced all the way back to our sixth president, John Quincy Adams. At the time, the song was pop music, much like Greenwood’s song is to President Trump today. The Marine Band played it at the opening of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in 1828, an event attended by President Adams. The first time it was played in honor of the Commander-In-Chief was for Andrew Jackson, at a similar canal event the next year.

Martin Van Buren was the first President to hear the tune played for his inauguration in 1837. John Tyler, who ascended to the Presidency after the sudden death of William Henry Harrison, was much derided during his term for the unelected way he came into power. To remind people who was in charge, First Lady Julia Tyler ensured the song was played whenever he arrived at events. The same was done for James K. Polk, who was a short guy. His wife Sarah wanted to make sure everyone knew when he arrived so he wasn’t overlooked.

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Hail to that mullet, President Polk.

By the time Chester Arthur came to office in 1881, he hated the song so much, he opted to replace it with another song. Luckily for him, the leader of the Marine Band just happened to be the “American March King” John Philip Sousa. He commissioned Sousa to write a replacement, which the band leader did.

How well did that replacement go over? If you’ve never heard of Presidential Polonaise, you’re in good company — because most of America hasn’t either. The Presidents quickly went back to using Hail to the Chief.

By 1954, the Department of Defense made the song the official music of the President. Of course, that doesn’t mean they have to use the music. The President is the boss, after all.

He isn’t really bound by law or tradition to have the song played for him on every occasion. President Gerald Ford asked the U.S. Marine Corps Band to play his alma mater’s — the University of Michigan — fight song, Hail to the Victors, instead. Jimmy Carter preferred the tune Jubilation by Sir Arthur Bliss. Ronald Reagan, however, felt the office required more tradition and reinvoked Hail to the Chief.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This mathematician was the ‘Rick Sanchez’ of the Cold War

Born in 1903, John Neumann was a true prodigy. He specialized in mathematics, even in school, but he also gobbled up languages, science, and every other subject. He lived through World War I as a teen, and spent the inter-war years, World War II, and the Cold War changing science and technology in fields as far apart as computing, economics, nuclear physics, and quantum theory.


And he did so even while he built a reputation for drinking, partying, and eccentricity, sort of like a certain scientist from pop culture: Rick Sanchez of Rick and Morty fame.

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First, though, we should point out some key ways von Neumann (his family received the honorific “von” in 1913) was different from Sanchez out of respect for the dead.

There’s no evidence von Neumann was nearly as troubled as Sanchez. He had a dark view of humanity, thinking nuclear war was inevitable and would likely result in near extinction, but he also loved his family and worked hard to make sure America would come out on top in a war. And he was impeccably dressed, usually rocking a three-piece suit, something Rick Sanchez did not do.

But he was a drinker, if not on the same dysfunctional scale as Rick, and he was a party-goer, even if he never had an orgy with an entire planet like Sanchez. Most importantly, he was easily as brilliant as Sanchez.

And when we say he was brilliant like Sanchez, we mean it. He could reportedly memorize dozens or hundreds of pages of text in a single read through, even mentally holding onto long numbers that went deep past the decimal. And he invented stuff or predicted inventions with offhand comments. He once “blue-skyed” to an Army officer about a machine that would quickly compute artillery tables for more accurate fire.

The officer he was speaking to was on the ENIAC project, a machine in development that did exactly that. The officer got von Neumann permission to see the machine, and Neumann was able to improve it almost immediately. He also began developing his own, smaller, less complicated, and more nimble machine. The Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer, or EDVAC, which would have been the first programmable computer ever invented.

The war ended, and EDVAC was abandoned, so von Neumann pushed for a second computer design, the Mathematical and Numerical Integrator and Computer, the MANIAC, arguably the first modern computer. Programs were stored inside of it, it was a fraction of the size of all other computers at the time, and it was much more powerful than other machines.

It was used to do much of the calculations for the first hydrogen bombs. In fact, it was so powerful and accurate that someone asked if von Neumann had created a machine so powerful even he couldn’t out calculate it.

So a contest was held between von Neumann and the MANIAC. At lower levels of complexity, von Neumann was faster than MANIAC and perfectly accurate. But as the Princeton researchers running the test upped the mathematical complexity, the time difference between machine and man narrowed and, eventually, von Neumann made a mistake.

So, yes, von Neumann had made a machine so powerful that even he couldn’t out compute it.

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(YouTube/Helidon)

And the MANIAC’s aid to thermonuclear development created a new problem for von Neumann to work on. He had done the calculations to decide what cities to drop the atom bombs on to end World War II and what altitude they should go off at (Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 1,800 ft., if anyone was curious). But hydrogen bombs quickly became thousands of times more powerful than the atom bombs. Von Neumann had to figure out how they would be used.

This involved not just figuring out what weapons would be employed where, but how likely the Soviets were to use their atomic bombs and, later, hydrogen bombs. To figure this out, he went back to a theory he had developed in the 1920s: minimax, the idea that a person works to minimize their losses and maximize their gains in zero-sum events when competing against a single opponent.

You know, events like war. Von Neumann used this theory to help inform American leaders on how likely the Soviet leaders were to use their weapons.

Not that minimax was perfect for nuclear standoffs. It led von Neumann to believe that a nuclear exchange was inevitable and America should launch a first strike to destroy the Soviet facilities while it was still small. History would prove this aggression unnecessary.

Sort of like how history would prove Rick Sanchez’s proposal to destroy the earth with a nuclear bomb in the Rick and Morty pilot episode proved unnecessary.

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