Saturday, October 31, 2015


More about Santa Susana

In a previous post on this subject, written about a year ago, I commented about the different pollutants that need to be removed or cleaned up.  There are two types: radioactive and chemical.  Radioactive pollutants can be removed by waiting.  Radioactivity dies.  Radioactive elements have finite half-lives.  Of course some of them have very long half-lives, such as potassium and uranium.  They are present almost everywhere.  Radio-potassium is the main source of the earth's heat.  It will be around for a long time.

Chemical pollutants have no natural half-lives.  They can last forever and should be removed, if possible.  I recently attended an information meeting presented by the California State DTSC (Department of Toxic Substances Control) and the Boeing Corporation.  Regarding the chemical pollutants, one of the speakers stated that it probably isn't possible to remove it.  The primary pollutant is Tri Chlor Ethylene or TCE.  It's a cleaning liquid.  It has sunk into the soil to great depths and has gotten into the ground water.  Any water from a well near the Santa Susana Field Laboratory contains TCE.  As a means of protecting the public, the Boeing Corporation has built a plant that pumps contaminated ground water, filters out the TCE and pumps the cleansed water back into the ground.  Experiments are under way to see if other techniques are more effective than filtering.  For example, one could use chemistry to convert TCE into some other compound, perhaps something harmless or something easier to remove from the water.  There is also a proposal to use specially designed bacteria to metabolize the TCE into something else.

I am cheered and optimistic at the progress that has occurred already toward producing a "clean" area that can be used as a park or a wilderness area.

More involvement in Syria

A headline in this morning's newspaper (October 31, 2015) reads that the United States (i.e., the President) has decided to get more involved in Syria than we have been.  This means more military support for the "good guys," otherwise known as the faction that we think we can influence if they take over the governing of Syria.  We are about to repeat the mistake that Lyndon Johnson made in Viet Nam - of becoming entangled in a civil war that we should have stayed out of.

I am reminded of the story about a particular fly or beetle that loves the nectar of a particular large and spectacular flower.  Another kind of plant grows a flower that looks like the nectar flower.  At least it looks enough like the real thing to fool the hungry insect.  Insects are cursed with poor vision and are inherently near-sighted just because of the nature of their eyes.  This particular bug sees the fake flower and dives into it to obtain the sweet nectar.  Of course there is no nectar.  The flower is an insect trap.  The bug is large enough and strong enough that it can eventually climb out of the flower.

What does it do next?  If it has any sense, it would fly away and look for a different flower, one that  has some nectar.  No, the bug not only has rather poor eyesight but also a very dim memory.  It looks at the flower, forgets that it has just struggled to escape from it, and dives back in, hoping to satisfy its thirst.  I don't know how many times the poor bug repeats this adventure.  I do know that the United States, i.e., President Obama, is acting just like this bug.  We've invaded or gotten involved in civil wars in Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  In Viet Nam we eventually got out and now, after fifty years or so, we have good relations with a stable government in that country.  It is a government that would have come into being despite anything that we might have done to prevent it.  Our adventure in Viet Nam was a waste of time, money, and lives.  The value of our involvement was the lesson that we should have learned.  We didn't.  Later we repeated the adventure in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We are now struggling to disengage ourselves from those quagmires, and we propose to repeat the adventure in Syria.

Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  G. Santayana

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