Friday, December 13, 2002
1. MISSILE DEFENSE: TEST FAILS, BUT
"SUCCESS RATE" IS UNCHANGED.
The "exoatmospheric kill vehicle" failed to separate from the booster
in Wednesday's test over the Pacific. "It must be pretty gloomy around
the office this morning," I said to my friend Puff Panegyric in the Missile
Defense Agency. "Not really," Puff replied, "this one didn't count; it
failed to reach the endgame. Our success rate remains at the 88 percent
quoted by General Kadish." I did a quick calculation: "But the interceptor
only hit the target in 40 percent of the tests." Puff's voice was rising,
"You can't include tests that don't reach the endgame; they haven't gotten
to the technically challenging part." Then why, I wanted to ask, do they
fail? But Puff had hung up.
2. MISSILE DEFENSE II: WE STILL CAN'T
SEEM TO STOP SCUDS.
The ship had been tracked by the US since leaving North Korea bound for
the Middle East. It was stopped and searched before reaching Yeman, and
buried under bags of concrete, inspectors found Scud missiles. What would
a nation that threatens preemptive nuclear strikes be expected to do next?
Citing International Law, the United States allowed the ship to proceed
with its cargo. You will recall that during the Gulf War the U.S. claimed
to be able to stop 96% of the Scud missiles with the Patriot, but in a
careful analysis of actual tapes, MIT physicist Ted Postol showed the
actual figure was zero percent (WN 20
Mar 92). A decade later the United States still can't seem to stop
3. GENESIS PROJECT: A REALLY GOOD SCAM
CAN BE USED OVER AND OVER.
Back in the early '70s, an inventor named Sam Leach claimed to have built
a car that used ordinary water as a fuel. The idea was simple: You use
electrolysis to decompose the water into oxygen and hydrogen and then
use the hydrogen as a fuel to run the engine and generate electricity
for the separation. So there you have it: You start with water and end
up with water plus work. Scientists scoffed: it would take more energy
to decompose the water than you could get from the combustion of hydrogen.
Ordinarily yes, Leach agreed, but he had a secret catalyst that reduced
the energy of decomposition. The great thing about the First Law of Thermodynamics,
however, is that it doesn't care what's in your secret box, it gives you
the limit of any process. Leach raised millions from investors and then
retired to a seaside villa in California. Who needs a car that runs on
water when you have a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce? The rumor spread that
he had been bought off by the oil companies. Now something called Genesis
World Energy is running the same scam over again.
4. RICHARD MESERVE: BECOMES PRESIDENT
OF CARNEGIE INSTITUTION.
Meserve, a Democrat, resigned as Chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
A physicist-lawyer, Meserve earned a Physics PhD from Stanford. He was
the APS/AIP lawyer during the protracted legal dispute with Gordon and
Breach and won in every country in which APS was sued (WN
19 Aug 94). He replaces Maxine Singer, a leading geneticist, who retires
after an illustrious career.