Thursday, January 22, 2004

It's white on one side

Although Siegfried Hecker is not officially speaking for the U.S. government it is hard to believe that a former head of the Los Alamos National Lab doesn't have some connection to the Bush Administration. In any case, it is quite a spectable watching Dr. Hecker bend over backward to avoid saying the North Korea is actively developing nuclear weapons at the same time that the Dubya is still tying himself into semantic knots insisting that Iraq did have WOMD. ("Weapons of mass destruction-related program activities" is a phrase destined for the history books, right along with, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is.")

When Hecker expressed skepticism about North Korean claims, technicians produced a heavy glass jar containing a funnel-shaped piece of metal that was "blackish with a rough surface," he said. A metallurgist who has spent decades working with plutonium, Hecker said the North Koreans allowed him to hold the jar in gloved hands. In contrast to everything else in the laboratory, the jar was warm, and it "seemed about right in terms of weight," Hecker said. When he took off the gloves, the North Koreans ran a Geiger counter over them to check for radioactivity. The counter went off.

"The bottom line is: It was consistent with the way plutonium looks," Hecker said, "but I still cannot say with 100% certainty that it was plutonium.

It reminds me of an old joke:

Four learned fellows are on a train traveling through Scotland, each trying to outdo the other in being factual and precise.

At one stage, the first looks out the window, and spying an animal on the field nearby, claims, "All the sheep in Scotland are white!"

The second replies, "No, SOME of the sheep in Scotland are white."

The third retorts, "No, AT LEAST ONE of the sheep in Scotland is white."

They all look at the fourth, daring him to improve on the last statement.

He thinks for a second, and replies, "At least one of the sheep in Scotland is white ON ONE SIDE."

While this exchange is going on, a fifth man is walking through the train car. He overhears the exchange and stops. He looks out the window, sees the sheep disappear in the distance, and says quietly, "At least one of the sheep in Scotland is white on one side part of the time."

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