Friday, November 19, 2004
1. PUTIN'S BOMB: A NEW GENERATION OF RUSSIAN NUCLEAR WEAPONS?
Maybe the Russian President announced a revolutionary nuclear missile at this time because of sagging moral in the military, or perhaps it was a belated entry for the Excalibur Prize. Putin said it would consist of "systems that other nuclear states do not have and will not have in the immediate years to come." With nothing more than that to go on, some analysts suggest Putin was talking about a ballistic missile capable of evasive action. Russia is thought to have been working on such a missile, but there have been few details, and little money to work with.
2. ANTI-MISSILE LASER: THE CHEMICAL-LASER LOBBY IS BACK AGAIN.
Nature.com this week reported uncritically on the test of an infrared chemical laser meant to shoot down launch-phase enemy missiles from a modified 747. Well, the test wasn't exactly airborne; it was in a hangar at Edwards AFB. And they didn't exactly shoot down anything, but one of the contractors said it was "an exceptional achievement." It certainly was for the contractors - they've been milking this one for 20 years. In a 1988 book, While Others Build, a former Senate Intelligence Committee staff member, Angelo Codevilla, declared the chemical laser was ready to deploy. This week, an Air Farce contracting officer, Darleen Druyan, pled guilty to channeling billions in contracts to Boeing in exchange for a job offer, and the vaunted anti-missile chemical laser is still a preposterous boondoggle.
3. "THE GOD GENE": NEW BOOK SAYS FAITH IS HARDWIRED IN OUR GENES.
Psychology, like just about everything else, has been transformed by the genetics revolution. Dean Hamer, a behavioral geneticist at NCI, has now examined the genetic basis of spirituality in an important book that explains why we're predisposed to believe in God. Evangelicals hate the idea that they are motivated by a trick of brain chemistry. As near as WN can tell "the God gene" is just "the belief gene," in Park's 2000 book, Voodoo Science. The power of the God gene was demonstrated this week when Diana Duyser put a 10-year old grilled cheese sandwich bearing an image of the Virgin Mary up for sale on eBay. It sold for $5,100.
4. MELBA PHILLIPS: SHE WAS, "A MODEL OF A PRINCIPLED SCIENTIST."
When I saw in the Washington Post that Melba Phillips had died at 97, I pulled down my copy of Classical Electricity and Magnetism by Panofsky and Phillips. I imagined I could see on its pages stains of my sweat and tears. Said to be a great teacher, I knew her only from that textbook, written while she was unemployed. She had been fired from Brooklyn College for refusing to answer questions from the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee during the McCarthy era. Brooklyn College publicly apologized in 1987, and later held a day-long symposium in her honor and established a scholarship in her name. Awarded the APS Joseph Burton Award last year, she was cited as "a model of a principled scientist."