Gongol.com Archives: August 2008
Brian Gongol


August 18, 2008

Health Today is self-exam day
Take a minute or two and conduct some basic self-screenings for cancer. Early detection saves lives.

Threats and Hazards Where's the security clearance requirement for Congress?
Despite access to lots of information, members of Congress are not required to have a security clearance. There's certainly a way to prevent the executive branch from overstepping its bounds and abusing the power to determine what is secret and what is not, and one would think we ought to have some way to ensure that access to America's top secrets can be won just by raising enough money to get elected to Congress.

Threats and Hazards The worst kind of bomb may not be a nuclear one anymore
While virtually everyone is easily sent into a panic over the possibility of a nuclear or chemical-weapons attack on his or her home turf, the reality is that in 2008, just as much damage -- or perhaps much more -- could be done by electronic warfare. We're already quite well-aware of the use of cyberwarfare by the Chinese government, and of the active use of Internet-based attacks on Estonia, likely by the Russian government. But it's not likely that a lot of people are aware that an attack using an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) weapon could pretty much destabilize the entire US infrastructure. Practically everything relies on some sort of digital technology -- water plants, the power grid, and pretty much anything that moves. The technology exists, and several countries and non-state actors alike have both the capacity and inclination to use weapons like EMPs. Much like the disaster in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, it's a threat we should be well-aware of and sufficiently motivated to do something about. But little about it has reached the public's attention. (Sadly, the closest we've come was probably an episode of "24".) $5-a-gallon gasoline is nothing compared to the kind of calamity that a disabled electrical grid could bring about. Interestingly, it seems that the member of Congress most attentive to the issue is an 82-year-old former research scientist from Maryland.

Agriculture USDA figures out how to get useful DNA from really old seeds
100-year-old seeds don't usually have the capacity to germinate, but research has found a way to retrieve the genetic information they carry

Agriculture Plant announces it will produce cellulosic ethanol by next year
That's the stuff that comes from plant fiber, like corncobs and switchgrass. The latest energy bill mandates that the US get a huge amount of ethanol from cellulosic sources over the coming decades. Whether we'll have the capacity as a country to meet the requirements of the bill will remain to be seen.

Water News Flood damage still being repaired in Iowa City

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