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4-methylcyclohexane methanol spill (Update I and II)

What the hell is 4-methylcyclohexane methanol? I have no idea. I have a BA in chemisty. I took organic chemistry a thousand years ago, but I surely don’t remember anyone mentioning 4-methylcyclohexane methanol.

We live in a society in which we can argue over bridge closures as political payback because for the most part we don’t worry about the basics. We KNOW that we have water which is reasonably clean. It is cheap and comes out of the tap every time we turn it on. We also live fairly close to a grocery store which has rows and rows of bottled water.

Just a few counties over, there is a huge problem.

From NYT:

At a news conference here on Saturday evening, officials said tests had begun to show concentrations of the chemical dropping below the one part per million threshold considered safe by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The concentration must remain that low for 24 hours before the water system can be flushed out and the do-not-use ban can be lifted. Officials said they planned to conduct at least 100 additional tests of samples overnight and on Sunday. (more…)

By |2014-01-15T21:29:00-04:00January 13th, 2014|Environment|6 Comments

Organic Chemistry Takes Place In The Void Of Space

The excellent New Scientist Magazine reports that organic chemistry takes places on asteroids that are flying around in space.

(Above–The asteroid known as 951 Gaspra. Here are some facts about asteroids.)

From New Scientist—

“For the first time, rocks from an asteroid have been shown to power the synthesis of life’s essential chemicals. The asteroid in question fell to Earth on 28 September 1969, landing on the outskirts of the village of Murchison in Victoria, Australia. Tests showed it was laced with amino acids and some of the chemicals found in our genetic material. The discovery suggested that space was not the chemically sterile place it was once thought to be, and that organic chemistry was widespread. It hinted that the molecules life needed to get started could have been produced in space, before dropping to Earth.”

I find this discovery encouraging. Positive–even “creative”— things can happen in an environment as hostile as outer space.

I don’t know about you, but I often feel I must be on the moon or in another galaxy, because surely the crazy and mean-spirited behavior I witness and read about each day cannot be of this Earth.

I’m glad that even in what might seem to be a void, hopeful things can happen.

So when you feel you are in a void of decency because of some barbaric public policy idea, or in an intellectual void because everything you are hearing makes so little sense, just think of all those asteroids flying around brewing up various chemicals and amino acids.

It is almost always possible to make some kind of progress.

By |2011-05-24T23:22:08-04:00May 24th, 2011|NASA, Science|Comments Off on Organic Chemistry Takes Place In The Void Of Space

My problem with this latest terrorist attack

From its earliest creation, the no-fly list has been problematic at best. I don’t know how you get on this list. I also have no idea how you get off the list. It remains unclear who checks the list to make sure the people who are on this list should be on it. From my standpoint, I really don’t care who is in charge of the list and who maintains it just as long as the list is accurate. Five years ago, Yusef Islam, more commonly known as Cat Stevens, the guy who sang Peace Train was found to be on the no-fly watch list.

Now, five years later, we have a Nigerian student, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, whose name was on some list, but not the no-fly list. More than a month ago, this guy’s father went to the Nigerian embassy and told officials that he was worried about his son. I don’t know how often this happens. Maybe fathers go to embassies on a daily basis and state that their sons have joined radical sects of Islam. I think it probably happens rarely and would investigate it, but what does a trauma surgeon know about terrorism? American officials did little or nothing with the information. It seems to me that a rookie could take the information given by the father, a prominent businessman in Nigeria, and combine it with the fact that Umar Farouk was living in London, a place where we know several radical clerics live. It seems that that information, in and of itself, is enough to start an investigation.

This the same kind of problem we saw in 9/11. We saw the same lack of connecting the dots.

Abdulmutallab seems to have almost the exact same background as Osama bin Laden. Both have prominent fathers. Both grew up relatively well off compared to the rest of the population. Both went off to some foreign environment and got radicalized. This seems to be a pattern. I wonder if our intelligence officials have picked up on it.

Now I’m not a chemist. I did take two years of chemistry plus a year of organic chemistry. (I won’t mention the physical chemistry, since I really don’t remember any of it.) PETN is an explosive. It’s one of the key ingredients in Semtex, a plastic explosive. It is the exact same chemical that Richard Reid (the shoe bomber) tried to detonate. I have no idea how one would get his hands on something like this. I would figure that it is a relatively controlled substance. Can dogs smell the stuff? Can it be x-rayed? (If not, then why are we taking off our shoes?)

It seems to me that mob rule, which is what happened here when the passengers overpowered Abdulmutallab, isn’t a consistently effective way to control terrorism. Are we all going to have to learn karate before getting on our next flight?

Finally, Republicans are acting as expected. They are running around and pointing the finger at Barack Obama. Some have even stated that the Obama administration hasn’t taken the risk of terrorism seriously. This is of course utter nonsense. What the Bush administration could not achieve is now left for Obama to try to do — make the FBI and Homeland Security work for the American people. About two years, ago, I asked Richard Clarke if the CIA is working with the FBI in close harmony. His answer was “not really.” This is what we need.

By |2009-12-29T04:02:29-04:00December 29th, 2009|Al Qaeda, Obama administration, Terrorism|Comments Off on My problem with this latest terrorist attack
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