Some time ago I was checking out San Diego on Google Earth. On Coronado Island, at what I am told is the Special Forces training facility, there exists a large building that has a footprint of a giant swastika. The design seems to me to be a bit unusual, to say the least. What gives, Matt?
— Jeff D., via email
Well, it was a sort of “Oops, sir.” A lack of military foresight. No evil intent. Back in the mid-’60s, the amphib base planned some new offices, barracks, and utility buildings. For some reason now lost in the wilds of government paperwork, the only structures the architect committed to paper in aerial view were two central utility buildings and one L-shaped three-story arm extending from the center. The final plan actually called for four of these radiating arms. A couple of years later, by groundbreaking time, somebody finally snapped awake and maybe said something like “Psssst, sir. Swastika. It’s a swastika.” “Okay, sailor. Stow it under your lid.” Plans were too far along to change them, and besides, in 1967 only a few random Navy pilots would see the building from the clouds. The ugly truth only became public when we civilians had access to Internet aerials. “Yikes!” said everybody from patriot-couch-potato net surfers to Midwest pastors to the local Anti-Defamation League. The solution to the problem is a strategic arrangement of rooftop solar panels and some tree-filled landscaping to disguise the offending outline. At ease, Jeff.
With all the talk lately about kidnappings south of the border, it’s occurred to me that “kidnapping” is a strange word. Where did it come from? Does it have something to do with stealing young goats or small children or maybe putting small goats or children down for a brief sleep?
— Kid at Heart, via email
We woke up the elves from their brief sleep to look into this one. I won’t deal with the disagreeable word nerds anymore, so I’ve fobbed the job onto the second stringers. They slid the question under the nerds’ office door and listened for the flipping of dictionary pages and heated arguing and the sound of pens being thrown, a sure indication that they have started to work on our inquiry. Eventually the nerds slid their answer back under the door, and for once they all agreed on the story behind the word. A rare event that makes my life a lot easier.
The story’s not pretty, but it’s true. Seventeenth Century England may have needed lots of things such as toilets and sewers, but what they thought they needed most was a gang of laborers for the American “plantations,” as we were called then. Not many volunteers for the job, so the gentry took matters into their own hands. To fill their ships, criminals-for-hire hauled drunks out of alehouses, snatched children off the streets. It’s the latter that birthed “kidnap.” (“Nap” was just a variation on “nab,” to steal.) And as usual, the word nerds have also slid under the door a demand for a raise. I guess I’ll have to deal with this one myself.
From Lou Jones of San Diego: “In regards to your answer in the January 8 issue [to Don]…about rubber worn off tires [and where it disappears to], I believe I have a more accurate, if less entertaining, answer. I read an article, as best as I can recall, about 35 years ago in the L.A. Times, addressing this question. Like Don, another person had wondered what happens to all that pulverized rubber (or whatever the tire makers use instead of rubber). Being a scientist, he did more than wonder. First, he calculated that Los Angeles freeways (and their shoulders) should be several feet deep in the black stuff. Since that wasn’t the case, our scientist looked into the mystery of what was happening to it. He discovered that a hitherto unknown species of bacteria lived alongside the freeways and chowed down on the powdery black stuff as fast as it was produced.”
Bacteria eat Styrofoam and oil slicks, so why not tire grunge? But there’s no question that much of the black powder that wears off tires does end up airborne in a globe-circling cloud. So I guess it’s a tie. Thanks, Lou. Definitely weird enough to make it worth getting out of bed for.