Friday, December 20, 2002
1. MISSILE DEFENSE: BUSH ORDERS A LIMITED
SYSTEM BY 2004.
Just ten interceptors in Alaska and California, to stop an attack from
North Korea. Puff Panegyric in the Missile Defense Agency seemed annoyed
last week (WN 13 Dec 02), but this time he
was up. "You can't imagine how proud we are to be a part of this," he
gushed. I heard glasses clinking in the background. "But Puff," I said,
trying to talk over the sounds of celebration, "your interceptors only
hit the target 40% of the time, and that's when you know the exact launch
time and trajectory--and there's a homing beacon on the target." "Nothing's
perfect," he snorted, "that's the beauty of the plan. North Korea only
has a handful of missiles. Can you imagine a commander launching a missile
if he thinks there's any chance it might get shot down?" Puff went back
to the party.
2. PRIVACY: POINDEXTER HEADS "TOTAL
The 1974 Privacy Act prohibits federal agencies from sharing personal
information, but 9/11 may have changed all that. We are entered in a database
every time we enter a federal building or use a credit card, and the government
wants to integrate such databases to keep track of terrorists--or anyone
else. But who has the experience to head such a program? Who but John
Poindexter, the man who invented "sensitive but unclassified." A PhD physicist
from Cal Tech, where he was a student of Mossbauer, Poindexter was National
Security Advisor to President Reagan. The same John Poindexter masterminded
the supply of arms to Iran, and sought to extend government control over
unclassified private data bases. His conviction for lying to Congress
was overturned on an appeal.
3. EAU DE MONEY: A ROSE IS A ROSE, EXCEPT
WHEN IT GROWS ...
Except when it grows in microgravity. Maybe. After years of telling us
the Space Station would lead to a cure for cancer, or produce more perfect
crystals, NASA now proudly reveals a program with perfume industry giant
International Flavors & Fragrances to look for new fragrances from roses
grown in space. Environmental parameters on Earth, such as water, sunlight,
temperature and soil, influence the essential oils that give flowers their
smell. Why shouldn't gravity do the same? This is exciting stuff. It puts
the space station program in perspective. Oh yes, and how much of the
cost will International Flavors and Fragrances bear?
4. HERBAL ABUSE: ECHINACEA FAILS IN
A DOUBLE-BLIND TEST.
There is no reason why some herbal medications shouldn't be beneficial.
The field of pharmacology had its origins in the empiricism of the herbalist.
The world's best selling herbal supplement, derived from the purple coneflower
(Echinacea angustifolia), is taken by millions to ward off colds and flu.
Alas, in a double-blind test carried out at the University of Wisconsin,
cold sufferers taking a placebo, fared just as well as those taking the
herb. What do you suppose the authors recommend? More research.