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Environment

Fantasy Land on the Border

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMay 22, 2009 2:41 AM

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The allure of technology is so great as the Ultimate Answer that politicians, policymakers and engineers continually chase after it the way a drug addict chases after that first high. And so, speaking of drugs, we learn today that a squad in the Homeland Security Department is trying out all manner of hi-tech gimmickry to fix that pesky little border problem once and for all. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, the government geeks are

not ashamed to admit that they draw inspiration from comic-book superheroes and science-fiction novels as they dream up the gizmos and gadgets they hope will keep bad guys at bay.

One of them is called the Squid, which a guy in Tempe, Arizona dreamed up in 2005 while watching a car chase on TV. He sketched out his idea on a napkin while smoking cigars and downing pints of Guinness. Pay attention you science fair whiz kids: Homeland Security liked the additional sketches so much they threw $850,000 at the squid inventor. (As the WSJ piece describes, the squid is "a lightweight disc about he size of a manhole cover, lies on the road and ejects rubbery tentacles on command to ensnare fleeing vehicles and drag them to a stop.") Another brilliant but low-tech idea is destined for the environmental engineering annals. It involves a plan

to flood the border with a particular breed of wasp with a taste for Carrizo cane, a massive weed that grows in dense stands along the Rio Grande, providing cover to smugglers...scientists, working with the Department of Agriculture, tracked down the wasps in Spain and have spent two years watching the critters in a secure greenhouse -- gauging their appetites, assessing their role in a swampy ecosystem and finally breeding them into a swarm suitable for deployment on the Texas border. The first invasion is set for this summer, near Laredo.

I guess nobody bothered to tell these mad scientists about the law of unintended consequences--more specifically, what happens when exotic species are set loose in the environment to fix a problem. But that would assume that the people who oversee our policies on illegal drugs and immigration are already familiar with the law of untendend consequences. We have ample proof that's not the case.

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