My First Blog Post

The Biden crime bill and Crack

— Oscar Wilde.

In the late 1980’s, cities in this country were confronted with a new drug fad involving cocaine; namely, “freebasing”. Traditionally, cocaine is abused by “snorting”; the user inhales the powder up the nose. This can be somewhat uncomfortable, In that the individual crystals are rather sharp, and repeated use can damage the septum, the membrane between the nostrils.

I hate to do this, but we need to consider some chemistry here. Cocaine, along with most other drugs, fall into a category called “nitrogeneous bases”, substances that contain nitrogen in the molecule. These are frequently messy, smelly liquids (think of ammonia). As such their physical properties render them unfit for ingestion. What is generally done about this is to convert them chemically to acid salts, usually the hydrochloride (HCl). This dramatically alters them to a more suitable form for use in the body. For instance, the conversion makes them dissolve better I n water, which makes up most of us. Another property which changes is the melting point; it is much lower in the freebase form. One can smoke the stuff, which gives a quicker high, and avoids damage to the nose. Win-Win!

In a pervious life, I worked in DEA forensic labs. I was once called upon to do a dog-and-pony show for agency higher-ups. I took a gram of cocaine HCl , added an ounce or so of water and a teaspoonful of baking soda, stirred briefly, and a white solid dropped to the bottom of the beaker. I poured out the water, and voila! Crack cocaine!!

In so doing, however, I increased the penalty for dealing the mere gram of coke (as the HCl salt) to what it would have been for a kilo. Talk about value added!

Evidentally, Joe Biden, then a senator, had some responsibility for drastically increasing penalties for trafficking on crack, vis a vis cocaine as the HCl salt. This had the unintended consequence of filing jails with low level druggies, mostlyminorities, with no effect to speak of on cocaine trafficking by the organized crime cartels, who rarely fooled with crack.

The crack epidemic was a crisis in many large cities at the time. Whether this did any good to deal with the problem is well above my pay grade. The law was modified in 2010 to reduce the sentencing disparity from 1,000 to 18. It is probably still too great, but a baby step in the right direction, maybe.

How Bad Does it Get?

Since the founding of our republic, we’ve had 46 chief executives (presidents). Ranking them has been something of a parlor game among historians since our founding. Although “rankings” can fluctuate over the decades as new information is unearthed, most rank the top 4 or so fairly consistently: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson. All of these gentlemen being human, there were flaws aplenty among them: some were slaveholders, for example. On the other hand, we have the failures: James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson. In my humble opinion, however the worst, absolute worst, hands down: #45, Donald J. Trump.

The Donald, as he became known among New York cognescienti in the last two decades of the 20th century, brought several extremely undesirable traits to his new gig: ignorance (and a determination to remain so), carelessness, stupidity, and a near total disregard for the truth. He is a failed businessman. His technique for problem solving can be summed up in a manner I learned in the Navy: When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout. Overlaying all of these: Treason. Let’s call it by its name.

Early in his presidency, Trump took a trip to Helsinki, Finland. There, he basically sided with Vladimir Putin, dissing his entire senior intelligence staff. It lead me to wonder: What does Putin have on him, anyway?

He was impeached twice: Once for intefering with a foreign government (Ukraine), and the second, for inciting an insurrection. Is this treason, or what? In neither instance could the Republican cult (or party?) bring itself to remove him from office, despite the clear and present danger many of them faced at the hands of the mob he sicced on them that day. Not to mention his lap dog vice president!

As I write this, the Justice Department appears to be (finally) nearing indictments on two issues unrelated to each other: the insurrection, and the taking of classified documents to his (bordello) in Florida. As readers of this set of screeds know, the classified documents fiasco is close to my experience back in the day. What in the world is this turkey doing with this stuff? Writing his memoirs? Selling some of them? (just saying…). Although the seriousness of the documents pales in comparison with his antics inciting the January 6, 2021 insurrection, people have been known to die when secrets are revealed.

Was it P.T. Barnum who coined the phraise, “A sucker is born every minute”? If so, judging by Trump’s campaign funds, the fertility rate of these folks has increased astronomically. Here they are putting their money where his mouth is – seems like every time he gets into trouble, campaign contributions from folks who really can’t afford them flow like a torrent into his coffers.

Speaking of financial prowess, has anybody noticed that the national debt soared significantly during his term? Might this have anything to do with his single legislative accomplishment, namely, the grossly ill-advised tax cut for billionaires? I really wonder what some of those people have on him.

Although known mainly as a neer do well man-about-town playboy who put his name on buildings to earn his keep, Trump did do some damage prior to his emergence as a politician. He was instrumental in the prosecution of a group of teenagers, dubbed the Central Park Five, wrongly, as it turned out, convicted of a sexual assault of a jogger in the park in 1989. Putting his money where his mouth was (to the tune of $85K), he turned public opinion against the accused, calling for the death penalty. He never apologized (probably never has, about anything).

Oh, by the way, a girlfriend of Rudy Giuliani (I guess she’s an ex, but who’s counting) filed a lawsuit recently (hard to keep up with this stuff) alleging that the President was offering pardons for $2 million a pop. The arrangement had America’s Mayor splitting the tab 50:50 with POTUS. Makes past grifts like Trump U. and Trump Steaks seem kinda chintzy, when you think of it.

As the wheels of justice grind on and on toward what I hope will eventually be convictions for several criminal acts (such as obstruction of justice and insurrection, to name a couple) I have been surprised to learn that convictions on none of them would preclude his running for office. I just hope the MAGA crowd finally wakes up and smells the coffee. I am not hopeful.

Life is Not Fair

This is a partial quote from John F. Kennedy (did he actually say this? who knows). There is, however, much evidence to support this thesis.

Since this is going to concern driving, I really should start at the beginning. As readers of this blog know, only too well, I was brought up in Queens NY back in the ’50’s. While I was in college, I experienced the rite-of-passage known as getting a learner’s permit to drive. After taking driving lessons, I took my New York State drivers

test…and failed miserably. I failed three more times (mostly due to “poor clutch and gear control”). The family car back then was a standard shift. I finally passed on the fifth try.

Some years later, I met the guy who failed me (on the third try) and passed me (on the fifth). He lived next door to the girl I married. Maybe to make me feel better, he claimed to have flunked Stirling Moss, a famous racecar driver back in the day.

Sometime back, I wrote a blog describing an incident involving a member of my crew on my first ship. The young enlisted sailor was busted for a minor traffic no-no, speeding a few MPH above the speed limit. Unable to pay the instant fine (it was near the end of the month), the sailor spent the night in the hoosgow. I was sent to bail him out, and when we were back aboard ship, the CO had a captain’s mast convened and had the man reduced in rank- for speeding!

At about the same year, I was driving down the main drag from Portsmouth, NH to Boston. I don’t recall some 60 years later how fast I was going, but it was certainly more than my unfortunate shipmate was pulled over for. I gave the trooper my licence, registration and my military ID. Once he had ascertained that I was an officer, he gave me a “warning”, and all but apologized for inconveniencing me!

The only difference between us was I was privileged to go to college to earn a degree, which enabled me to get a commission. He was not. Life isn’t fair.

On the other hand, I once received a physics lecture from a Connecticut state trooper. I was headed down the Turnpike toward New York and (as usual) exceeding the speed limit. I patiently explained that my ship was sailing at midnight on a vital national security mission. The officer patiently explained to me, “Mr. Canaff, you are about 75 miles from your destination. It is 7PM. If you drive at the posted limit, you will be in New York at about 8:15, in plenty of time. Follow me, please”. Didn’t say it always worked.

Once I had completed my military service I resumed my civilian government career. I became a DEA forensic chemist (not even an agent). It was, for the next quarter century, my get-out-of jail-free card. Even though I never carried a gun, I was granted “law enforcement courtesy” during any traffic stops. I could do no wrong!(I never could confirm this, but I heard that FBI types didn’t enjoy this courtesy…just saying).

Eventually, I retired. A few weeks later, I was driving friends to Dulles Airport, and was pulled over. No creds, no courtesy. Got a ticket. Oh well.

Recently, I was snared in a speed trap. Being 84, I shouldn’t do stuff like that, especially as my kids ponder whether to pull my driving priviliges. My son, however, got me off easy. I just had to complete an AARP mature drivers course. He shmoozed with the arresting officer and prosecutor, and got the charges dismissed.

As I said at the beginning, life is not fair.


Those of you who read my stuff have probably heard me describe myself as a “lapsed” Catholic. My wife and I were practicing Roman Catholics for most of our long lives. Our two adult children are observant Catholics. Flo and I believe in God as the only rational answer to the wonders of nature which surround us. The Church is a tremendous force for good in the world. We believe that Almighty God, through his only begotten son Jesus Christ, created the Church about 2,000 years ago. So why are we “lapsed”?

About a half century ago, the world became aware of sexual abuses of children and young adults by priests. At first, it appeared to be a few “bad apples” spoiling the barrel, to use a homespun metaphor. After too long an elapsed time, the situation appears to be endemic to the life of the institution.

We are all too familiar with the tendency of institutions to “circle the wagons”, to use another old saw. The protection of the organization becomes paramount. Our son, who has devoted his life to fighting abuse of women and children, tells us that coverup is the great essential. The organization, hierarchy, institution, must be protected! The malefactors are transferred, lawyers are deployed, denials are issued. Little attention, it seems, is paid to the victims, most of whom are scarred for life.

Over the decades since the earliest revelations, a steady drip, drip, drip has come to light. It never seems to end. Numerous dioceses have had to declare bankruptcy. Just as you think it has all been revealed, additional stuff comes out, often in a foreign nation. If you think this is confined to the Roman Catholic Church, I have a classic bridge to sell you named for a borough of New York……Although Catholics are a minority in this country, at approximately 40% of religious adherents it is our largest single denomination. It is a big target.

I don’t pretend to propose solutions in the length of a blog post (this would be an insult to the many professionals, including my son), but allow me to raise a few points.

Members of the hierarchy (and the Church’s structure is about as hierarchical as it gets) have tried several approaches to stem the tide, as it were. Miscreants were transferred elsewhere in the diocese. Their crimes were, in many instances, not made known to the receiving outfits. Attempts were made, in some cases, to provide treatment to the offenders. Unfortunately, “once a predator, always a predator”, as cruel as this sounds, is usually the case.

While much noise is raised as to gay priests, most experts agree that this is not the problem, rather the Church, like many similar institutions, provides a refuge for men bent in that direction – along with a plentiful supply of targets. Many have advanced a married priesthood as a panacea. While I, personally, would like at least some serious consideration being given to implemention of this, I am not aware of any data supporting this as a solution. The Church would need to , for one thing, carefully address the financial aspects of such an approach to ministry. Let’s face it, other faiths have their problems, too.

One of the Catholic Church’s more serious problems is the advanced age of recent prelates. Pope Francis is in his late 80’s, as was his predecessor when he retired. I can tell you from personal experience (I’m 84) this is way too late in life to be starting a revolution, which would be necessary to bring about meaningful change The demands on an older man’s psyche (including, but not limited to, death threats) would be overwhelming. When we were much younger, Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council. Shouldn’t they consider Vatican Council #3?

As a kid, I was taught that the Catholic Church was the “one true church”. By admittedly back-of-the-envelope calculations the number of Christians equates to about 1.4 billion souls, out of an estimated 7 billion people worldwide. Does this mean that 5.6 billion are headed for the netherworld? There are, obviously, numerous folk whose religious are labelled Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and many other faiths, most of whom worship God. Surely, there are good people in this mix (and bad ones, too). To quote Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?”.

The Catholic clergy do not have it easy. The ones I’ve worked with were, with a handful of exceptions, caring, loving people dedicated to worship of God and the salvation of souls. My kids would say the same.


Although cruelty seems to be the hallmark of this century (or maybe we’ve just become more aware of it) it is increasingly avoided in communications, both oral and written. We have become abusers of euphemisms (hope I’m spelling it right). Euphemisms are, shall we say, nicer ways to describe things. For example, “senior citizens” is a nicer way of saying old fogeys, oldsters, geezers -you get my drift.

Doesn’t “pre-owned” sound better than “used car”?

“Facial Tissues” , instead of “toilet paper”, (do people really use it on their faces?)

“Native Americans” sure beats “redskins”, Indians (or Commanders??). “Indians” perpetuates, of course, a 400 year old screwup where Columbus thought he had landed in India (or was he trying to make sure he got payed by the Spanish royal family. Didn’t they send him there, after all?).

On the other hand, do physicians prefer being called “providers”? All those years in med school to become a provider? You’ve got to be kidding! How about medications, wouldn’t we prefer taking drugs? (guess not….).

Back in the day, my XO called me a “mackeral snapper”, in reference to my (lapsed) Catholic faith. Now that we Catholics are the Masters of the Universe in this country, does it make any of this PC-incorrect? This was, of course, based on the Church’s prohibition against eating meat on Fridays. Has anybody priced fish lately?

Speaking of medical terms, do any of us undergo operations anymore? Does it hurt any less if they are termed “procedures”? When God calls us home, would we prefer a “Funeral Director” to an “Undertaker” to do the honors?

I wonder how many Russian citizens are comforted by Putin’s use of “Special Military Operation” instead of “invasion” or “war” to describe what is going down in Ukraine. How about Special Military Procedure?

I remember being a child buying clothes. Overweight kids were fitted with stuff called “husky”. Sounded better than fat. The Internet has, of course, launched a phenomenon known as “fat shaming”, targeted mostly at girls. Sort of reverse euphemism.

Also from childhood, if you couldn’t cut it academically, you were “left back”. No more. If you’re not granted a ‘social promotion”, you are “retained”. Growing up is painful enough; some governors don’t want kids ever to feel inadequate. Maybe we need to burn more library books.

While we’re asking, what does “premium” mean, anyway? We have premium gas, premium cable channels, premium cellphone plans (don’t you love the Ted Danson piece on Consumer Cellular). I strongly suspect it just means “more pricey” (by the way I don’t believe the ad, either).

Last, but not least, so to speak, the word “upscale”. Conjurs up images of more luxurious, enhanced, better than average – also usually means more expensive.

Just a few examples. Don’t you feel better already?


Plus ca change…….

We continue to hear and talk about school shootings (it is, after all, part of our Right to Keep and Bear Arms). I feel so sorry for parents, not to mention kids, who go to school wondering whether something like this is going to happen today. Just this month, a teacher, a young woman here in Virginia, was shot by a six year old pupil, It is believed to have been deliberate.

This is not unprecedented in our history. I vividly remember, to this day, about 75 years later, when school children were terrorized by the threat of anniliation by thermonuclear bombs aimed at our cities by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during what became known as the Cold War (thank you, God, that it stayed cold). I grew up in the “outerborough” of Queens, about 6 miles as the crow flies from Times Square, which was considered “ground zero” for such an attack. We practiced “Take Cover” drills in case the unthinkable happened. Our schoolbuilding, typical of those built a century ago, featured at least one wall of single pane glass windows. I seriously doubt that our desks, beneath which we sheltered, would have afforded much protection from flying shards of glass, not to mention blast effects and radiation, both prominent features of H-bombs.

As many of you are aware, the City of New York consists of five “boroughs”: Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. However, the City is widely considered to be Manhattan, with the others relegated to outer status. Manhattan is where it’s at, the center of culture, money, showbiz, money, political power, money – you get my drift. Queens, the largest in area, was a land of farms (yes, really) until it was developed after WWII. One of the major developers was Fred Trump (name sound familiar?). Fred made a lot of money (much of it inherited by son Donald), but the family never became accepted as A-list celebs – they were from an outerborough, after all. We are all familiar with the consequences (how much better off this country would be if the Donald had been content to remain a useless man-about-town playboy).

Then we have the Cuomo’s, who lived fairly close by the Trumps, also in Queens. Mario, the patriarch, worked his way through law school and rose eventually to become a three term governor of New York, and potentially a presidential contender. His elder son, Andrew, also rose to the governorship of New York (but was forced to resign amid allegations of sexual harassment). He unfortunately took his younger brother, Chris, with him to obscurity.

During my days as an undergraduate at City College of New York, I was a brother in the Zeta chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa, a national Greek letter fraternity. CCNY was, in those days, a first rate engineering school (The Harvard of the Proletariate). Although as a student I was anything but distinguished, I palled around with quite a few who earned degrees, both Manhattan and outerborough kids. Have any of you watched the new TV series. “East New York”? A few of my buds (Tony T., Christo C., and Richie A.) lived there – I got to like the place when I wasn’t getting lost trying to get back to Queens. Ron G,.Ron O. and Alex L. were from Staten Island (talk about an outer outer borough; it should really have been part of Jersey). None of them were rich or famous. Just successful, productive citizens,

Not all my friends were outerborough. Lubomir M. was a Manhattanite, but never would have pretended to be part of inner anything. Maybe it’s all a New York State of mind (with apologies to Billy Joel).

Catholic School

On my 55th birthday, my wife congratulated me, and the next thing she said.to me was, “When are you retiring”? I did so about five months later. I got, immediately, a job teaching science in a catholic high school.

My wife, Flo, had by this time become a grizzled veteran catholic educator. This was the only family venture into catholic education – both of us, along with our two kids, were educated in public schools. My gig was at Bishop Denis O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia.

I was inspired to write on this when I found an obituary in the Washington Post (I check the obits every day to make sure I’m not in them…) of my erstwhile boss, one Ann Marie Hicks. Ann Marie, I learned in the piece, died of Alzeimers Disease in her 80th year. I have worked for numerous supervisors in my career at DEA, my stint in the Navy and in other places. Ann Marie was the best of the lot, hands down. Although I had a couple of degrees in chemistry and a few decades of experience, I had never taught, least of all teenagers. She told me what to cover in the textbook, and told me she wasn’t about to tell me how to go about doing it. Ann Marie was, to the say the least, not a micromanager. She was always available to answer queations I may have had, but trusted me to do it my way. In the current idiom, I always knew she had my back.

All told, my seven years at O’Connell were the hardest working, but the most rewarding, in my working career. The school tended to hire retired military officers and civil servants. We could all be trained to teach, but there is no substitute, at the end of the day, for knowledge of our respective fields.

I well remember as a kid growing up that the scariest thing misbehaving, under achieving children could be threatened with was transfer to catholic school. Things have, to say the least, changed. For starters, there are few, if any in most of them, nuns, brothers and priests. There is no longer corporal punishment. Class sizes are greatly reduced. Tuition costs are not easily affordable for many families. In the case of O’Connell, located in the extremely affluent Washington, DC suburbs, the school had to pay reasonably competitive salaries to draw qualified teachers, given that the faculty was predominately lay.

There were, however, advantages for teachers. Although not required, the school encouraged the practice of opening each class with a prayer. This contrasts vividly with the prohibition of even the mention of God in the public schools. Unruly kids could be expelled (imagine that!). The bureaucratic load was nearly nonexistent by comparison. Although a couple of decades have passed since I taught there, I don’t think that much has changed. I also don’t think the nonsense we hear about these days (book burnings, woke culture, gender restroom issues, etc. etc.) have had much of an effect on these schools.

Fare thee well, Ann Marie. It was my privilege and honor to have known and worked with you. Although I do not deserve it, I hope God sees fit to reunite us in the afterlife. My deepest condolences to Norman and your kids.

Miscellany (stuff that keeps me awake at night)

Did the Founders ever contemplate the wide disparities in population between the states of our union? They were probably not that great among the 13 originals. While there had to be compromises to protect the smaller ones (the Senate and the Electoral College) it seems unlikely that anyone could have forseen the California/Wyoming population disparity that exists today. If we have to have a Senate where each state gets two regardless of population, maybe the British House of Lords would be a more suitable role model, kind of an elite debating club without any power to influence events. Likewise, the Electoral “College”. MSNBC’s 10PM host, Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out recently that while many democracies copied parts of our founding documents, none of them included this anachronism,. Oh well, too late now……..

There seems to be a movement to declare the United States a “Christian nation”. I can’t help thinking what they really mean is a White Christian nation.What about Jews, Muslims, atheists, Black and brown folks, Asians, and indigenous people, to name a few. I am old enough to remember when Catholics were less than desired. Maybe we need to include Protestants in the definition (White Protestant Christian nation. Has a nice ring to it?). The Founders clearly never intended us to be quasi religious (separation of church and state?). WWJD – remember that saying? What would Jesus of Nazareth think of some of this nonsense?

Lest you think I’m a chronic malcontent, I fully realize that this nation is the last, best hope for humankind. Why do we have an immigration problem? Very, very few people want to leave compared with the “huddled masses yearning to be free”, and risking their lives to get here. And when they do get here, the vast majority are willing to work very hard to earn their keep. Full disclosure: both my wife and I are children of immigrants, from Italy and France, respectively. This country needs immigrants, since we appear to have a shortage of workers. There is a lot to do! We need all the help we can get.

Let the People Vote!! We’ve come a long way from the original republic where relatively few were educated. Much is made of the fact that our participation rate is lower than other democracies. On the other hand, the USSR had rates in the 90’s (you could be arrested or shot if you didn’t vote, but that’s another story). Even well predating GOP efforts to curtail voting, we make it too hard. The pandemic brought about a major increase in voting by mail, but the (GOP) powers that be are trying to roll back these reforms. We are a large nation consisting of 50+ voting units, Why should it be significantly harder to cast ballots in some states than others? We need federal standards for ballot access (sorry if this makes me seem like a Socialist). LET THE PEOPLE VOTE!

On a brighter note, wouldn’t it be nice if the people of this nation was as well off as the ones in the drug commercials? Talk about the good life! Just latch onto that (expensive) pharmaceutical. Now if we could just eliminate the voiceovers telling what really might happen. Talk to your doctor – good luck with that! Ours won’t even return phone calls trying to set up appointments.

I know that this is a rich nation, but how many bucks are wasted on political attack ads? How many hungry kids would this feed or clothe? Many are the texts and Emails I get from Democratic candidates (funny, but I never get any from Republicans) claiming they get no funding from corporate donors (dark money). I know that they need to spend $$ to get elected to clean up the mess in (fill in the blank), but, with what little money I have, I prefer to feed kids.

Finally, let me end this diatribe with an observation that we as a nation (and others) tend to reward the wrong professions. We compensate hedge fund managers (whatever that is), drug dealers (legal and otherwise), college and pro football and basketball coaches, entertainers (rock stars) and many others, at the expense of teachers, first responders, cops (please don’t defund the police), nurses, not to mention people who care for our increasingly numerous elderly population. Can’t we find more creative ways to at least partially level the playing field?

Infrastructure (Planes, Trains and…..)

One of several items the Biden Administration has been able to pass is a big infrastructure package, decades overdue. (His predecessor held Infrastructure Weeks, but got nothing done). Perhaps Mitch McConnell supported it because of a crumbling bridge over the Ohio River into Kentucky which is slated to be rebuilt. Doesn’t matter.

Recently, we needed to journey to Washington, DC to resolve a medical issue. Our adult kids forbad us from driving from our home in Virginia Beach “up there”; at 83, I arguably shouldn’t be driving, let alone several hours over interstates. So, they sent us up there on trains.

It’s been, literally, decades since we had last been on trains. Our route ran from Norfolk to Alexandria, then continued north to Boston, with five stops along the way. The ride up was pleasant, the return trip, not so much. While we boarded in Norfolk as the start of the route at about 6AM, everything was on time. The return, however, probably originated in Boston, on an extremely hot day. By the time we boarded in Alexandria the train was already two hours late.

It may seem like nitpicking, but the stations were ancient and in need of refurbishment. The AMTRAK employees were polite and helpful, both in the station and onboard. They were undermanned. On the return trip, our tickets weren’t even checked. The delays were probably caused by tracks being overheated (it was a hot day), but one wonders how bad it would be when climate change reaches an end point (if ever). Since trains are probably the oldest method of intercity travel, they are, arguably, most in need of rehabilitation. With Amtrak Joe in the White House, hopes are high!

I haven’t flown recently, but from what I hear, our airports, control systems, and aircraft are also in need of modernization. Being a very large country, we were probably the first in the world to develop intercity air travel. After decades of neglect it shows.

In the 1930’s, Lt. CoL Dwight Eisenhower was ordered to move some equipment and vehicles from the West Coast to the East Coast. The trip, over miles of old U.S. highways, took a ridiculously long time, much longer than Ike had planned. He became President, and fathered the interstate highway system. I well remember taking a cross country trip in the summer of 1961 with a friend, from New York City to Los Angeles. We went on the same roads the future president had traveled as an Army officer, except for completed portions of Interstates. You would go a ways on an Interstate, only to be led back onto the old roads. Miles and miles of Ike’s roads are in drastic need of repairs, not to mention widening (the U.S. population has increased 2.5 times since then).

Money has (finally) been allocated to repair numerous crumbling bridges and highways. However, the nation’s information highways are also in need of repair. Broadband needs to be expanded, particularity in “flyover country”, between both coasts. If only for our kids; if you think the pandemics are over, I’ve a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. And, how about our electrical grid? Perhaps even Texas might be persuaded to join the rest of the country?

We are transitioning from fossil fuels, or so I hope. Apparently, electric cars will be common on our roadways by midcentury. I hope we’ll have enough charging stations by then. This, in turn, will require a massive increase in electric power generation, there being no such thing, to my knowledge, as a free lunch. Waiting in the wings? Power derived from fusion, from an almost inexhaustable source of cheap material, such as water.

A short physics lesson. We are all familiar with nuclear power plants (think Three Mile Island, Chernobyl). These plants generate power from fission. Heavy radioactive elements (radium, uranium, for example) are caused to split into lighter ones, releasing lots of energy. On the other hand, if two much lighter elements (such as tritium, a “heavy” form of hydrogen) can be made to merge (fusion), even greater amounts of energy result. This is the source of the sun’s energy, as well as that of the hydrogen bomb. Unfortunately, bringing about fusion in a controlled process is an engineering challenge which has eluded humankind for decades.

What’ll it be? Fission or fusion? If the engineering challenges can be worked out, fusion is the way to go. Products of fission reactions are radioactive, some of them for centuries. This presents storage and disposal problems we have never really solved. Fusion reactions, by contrast, produce light elements, for the most part, harmless. All we have to do is get it going

Treason, Bribery (and other High Crimes and Misdememors)

POTUS #45 has been in the news lately (when hasn’t he been)? If I may cherrypick a single area, namely, his recent travails concerning stewardship of documents, I kinda wonder what his motives were, and perhaps still are.

Many of us who failed to get draft exemptions for fallen arches (or whatever got him out of harms way) became custodians of “registered publications”, consisting mainly of classified documents. In my particular case, I was operations and communications officer while serving a on a WWII-era destroyer escort. We had, among other items, delineation of our part in hostilities with the Soviet navy (remember them?). These war plans were classified Top Secret. We endured annual audits/inventories of these documents. Every page had to be present. Woe betide me if anyone of those pages went missing. It could have resulted in an all-expense paid tour of Fort Leavenworth or Portsmouth Naval Prison, no excuses!

No one ever said that life is fair, but one wonders if this turkey will ever be held accountable for mishandling much more consequential materials – the type of stuff that gets people killed if some of this information gets into the wrong hands. What has not been explored is motive for grabbing these items, and clutching them for dear life. His neice the shrink hasn’t really been heard from recently, but one wonders whether this is an extreme case of anal-retentive psychosocial development, (or lack therof). At very least, Mar A Lago is hardly a secure environment to house this stuff, it being a private club and all.

Could there be a considerably more sinister motive? This is, after all, a man who toadied up to some of our more obnoxious international rivals throughout his presidency. He is also a supremely lousy, failed businessman, who is probably in debt up to his eyebrows. Could he be trading secrets for $$ (or the currency of his choice….)? Motivation for engaging in espionage has evolved from ideological (think Julius and Ethyl Rosenberg) to greed (Aldrich Ames).

Of course he could be planning to establish his presidential library, or better yet, write his memoirs. Give me a break! The guy is marginally literate at best. Don’t tell me he has even read any of the stuff he stole He is, however, good at getting someone else to build buildings, and putting his name on them.

Didn’t we used to call some of this stuff “treason”?

QA and QC (Your FDA in Peace and War)

Earlier in my illlustrious career with Uncle Sam, I was a chemist with the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). This was in the ’60s, back when everything seemed possible. I worked for the New York office, which encompassed the New Jersey pharmaceutical industry. Some bright people far above my pay grade started a new program, where, instead of the traditional inspect-collect samples-slap on wrist approach, we would help troubled firms to clean up their act. We called it Intensified Drug Inspection Program (IDIP).

We descended on a firm which shall go nameless, since I’m not sure it is still in business 60 years or so later. One of its products was an opthalmic solution, a preparation listed in the United States Pharmacopeia (USP). The object of the game, so to speak, was to manufacture the substance so that it met the standards of the USP. Most of these firms had an in-house Quality Control lab which would test batches of the product to ensure it met these standards, one of which, for this stuff, was acidity.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the term pH. (Full disclosure: there’s some chemistry coming……). Briefly, the pH scale for water (aqueous) solutions ranges from 1.0 (strongly acidic, think battery acid) to 7.0 (neutral, think drinking water) to 14.0 (strongly alkaline, think Drano). The USP requirement specifies a pH of about 6.0 (weakly acidic) for drops you are putting in your eye. The lab tested various batches over several months. Fresh ones met the standard, however, after a couple of weeks, the pH dropped to 1.5. Placed into the eye, that would smart! Big time! This was reported to Manufacturing, who, basically, did nothing. No wonder the firm was in trouble.

Since we were functioning as consultants and problem solvers, I checked out the formulation. Most water contains a small amount of dissolved oxygen. Seemed that it included a chemical called sodium hydrogen sulfite, (NaHSO3) which functioned to keep the product from turning brown. However, in solution, NaHSO3 combined with dissolved oxygen (in Jersey water) to form NaHSO4, which is strongly acidic. To prove this, I made up some material using water from Brooklyn which I deoxygenated by bubbling nitrogen through it for five minutes or so, and then put a cap on it. The pH held at about 6.0 for several weeks. Problem solved.

The Quality Assurance Program (QAP) attempted to answer that question. On a monthly basis, one of the 8 DEA labs provided a previously analyzed exhibit to all labs. The sample was quantitavely analyzed, and the average (mean) of the results was compared to the original analysis. The folks analyzing the QAP sample were (well) aware that this was part of the Program (did they tend to try harder?). If the original analysis (or any of the QAP results) fell outside of predetermined limits, lab management initiated corrective action.

It’s a fact of life, so to speak, that anytime you have a mixture of chemicals in a sample to analyze, you will get variation in results. There are numerous other factors which hinder accuracy (the deviation from the “real” answer), or precision (how closely the values in a series of assay of the same material are). I won’t bore you with any more of this mind-bending stuff. Just so you know.