Thank goodness for our schools

death rayJust a short piece this week – the holiday has kept things pretty busy and I’m jotting this down before leaving for a professional meeting.

One of the less-covered of recent terrorism-related stories is almost too bizarre to be true – the arrest of some guys in New York (near Albany) who were apparently trying to build a death-ray gun. It seems they were hoping to market it to either a white supremacist group or to a Jewish group to use against Muslims and the device’s “designers” were hoping that it would mow people down by the hundreds. They were arrested even though their “weapon” would never have worked – the road to hell may be paved with good intentions, and I guess the road to prison is paved with bad ones.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty details, it’s important to note that this weapon would never have worked the way they envisioned. First – yes it’s possible to make an x-ray machine that will emit a fatal dose of radiation, but such devices are fairly large and they suck down huge amounts of power. Not the sort of thing that can be taken out and used surreptitiously, and certainly nothing that can be moved without a large vehicle. And even with these, distance works against the would-be terrorist since dose drops off rapidly as distance increases. Smaller devices might be able to cause minor harm, but only if held at a close distance for many minutes or hours – these requirements would certainly preclude massive number of casualties. The whole plot is simply impossible from many standpoints – neither the science nor the engineering nor the logistics would have worked.

It could be that plots such as this are a little-appreciated positive outcome of our slipping standards in science education. A good science education would have given these hapless boneheads the ability to come up with something genuinely lethal. The over-achieving students in Japan joined Aum Shinrikyo and developed chemical weapons, drones, and were working on biological and nuclear weapons. Ours were seemingly influenced more by Star Trek re-runs than by science. Thank goodness for scientific illiteracy.

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2 Responses to “Thank goodness for our schools”

  1. Mark July 7, 2013 at 5:51 PM #

    I love the fact these chuckleheads apparently tried to drum up business by just calling up synagogues and offering to help kill Israel’s enemies. But I guess people don’t join the Klan because of their excessive intelligence.

  2. Julie R Butler August 9, 2013 at 3:28 PM #

    This reminds me of the plot by then-Wisconsin State Rep James R Lewis, another Christian evangelical enamored with laser guns.

    From Wikipedia:

    Lewis became part of a group who attempted to persuade laser scientist Myron Muckerheide (formerly with NASA) to create a laser gun “designed to blind people”, and to sell it to Guatemalan colonel Federico Fuentes in order to raise funds to build a laetrile factory in South America (Lewis had been a prominent Wisconsin advocate for the legalization and manufacture of laetrile). Muckerheide contacted the FBI, the laser was never built, and in 1979 Lewis pled guilty to perjury for lying to a federal grand jury investigating the scheme. Lewis, whose office was decorated with plaques with slogans such as “Virtue” and “Lord, what wilt thou have me do?”, tearfully apologized, saying he “…made a very, very serious mistake and I regret that very much.” Fellow Republican Governor Lee Dreyfus declined to request a presidential pardon for Lewis, although he was quoted as saying the six-month sentence was too harsh.

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