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September 5, 2013

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Soldiers and cops have historically had two things in common: Shitty pay and the risk of perforation. Throughout history (civilized history, that is) they have existed, and not by coincidence, for there would be no civilization without them.

From the Sumerians to the Indus…the Aegeans to the Chinese (to their present Dirty-Ass Commie credit, the longest consistent civilization in the human story), the Romans to Lookout Mountain…they’ve all had armies for national (external) defense, and cops for civil (internal) order. And the entire lot of them have spent the last 5,100 freakin’ years with rotten bastards trying to poke holes in them with items ranging from pointy rocks to the good ol’ seven-six-two millimeter 148-grain full-metal jacket. 

Just imagine: Just as I now sip coffee leaning against the edge of a counter in a Kangaroo gas station wondering if some crackhead son-of-a-bitch is going to come in and spray the place with a MAC-10, some poor Sumerian bastard once had to lean against a rock or slave while sipping on fermented berries and honey, wondering if some nimrod northern Iranian Elamite was going to come in and pelt him with stones or feces or whatever they used on the “street” (dusty trail?) back then. I find the parallel comforting, yet disturbing at the same time…but I digress.

To avoid this, soldiers used thick animal skins for leather armor, and in countries where animals were scarce and armies large, they used thick woven reeds. (Yup: grass armor.)

Wooden shields would supplement this, then metal armor became the choice where available, made famous by the Greeks and Romans, and the knights of the Middle Ages.

Firearms changed this, of course, and the body-armor industry effectively started over when a very clever chick named Stephanie Kwolek was let out of the kitchen in 1965 just long enough, apparently, to develop “Kevlar” for the DuPont Corporation, by spinning fiber from liquid crystalline solutions. (This was specifically mentioned for later reference.) Until this point in life, I thought the only dangerous chick from the ’60s was the one that ran over the guy’s foot in the office with a John Deere lawnmower in an episode of “Mad Men,” but I totally stand corrected. 

It was originally intended to replace steel belting in vehicle tires, but 10 years later, it was field tested with cops as armor, and that’s where the pulse of modern ballistic protection started beating.

And now in 2013, it’s skipped a beat. Literally. 

Scientists, probably men due to the nature of the investigation, have known for years that spider silk is generally about five times stronger than steel and seven times stronger than Kevlar. It’s also more flexible, despite its size and weight, particularly for something that goes from a soft goo in the gut of a spider to the solid thread it becomes when it leaves its body.

Its key is its elasticity; just as Kevlar stretches to allow dispersal of the energy of a bullet, so does a spider’s thread distribute the stress if an impact to the same effect, yet with greater capacity than that lucky chick’s work for DuPont.

But the difference? DuPont is a multi-national conglomerate, while spiders are the very bastions of Evil on this Earth, scientifically established to climb up our bodies and with sharp fangs plant egg sacks in our necks, which will inevitably erupt in a burst of baby spiders, which will swarm our bodies and begin the cycle anew. Scientists know this shit, folks. Why aren’t you onboard?

Smart people since the beginning of time (time pre-dating “civilized” societies) have had the freakin’ common sense to stomp on the dirty sons-of-bitches or throw heavy things at them on first sight, but now that we’ve discovered an advantage, those same smart people are now trying to crack the genome profile of spider silk to synthesize the silk-making protein, and devising mass-manufacture methods to produce it in volume.

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