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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Our Bizarro World

This isn’t much about math, but just idle commentary… Hardly a week passes anymore without a bizarre story from some corner of the world appearing in the news. This week it seemed to be the hands-on assassination of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother in a public airport. I’ve only read snippets of the story, so perhaps everything I’m about to say has already been well-covered and I’ve just missed it.

Two women apparently simply walked up to the half-brother with cloths in their hands that they applied briefly to his face, before running off. Within a short span of time he was dead of what was found to be VX nerve agent exposure.
VX is one of the deadliest chemical weapons known to exist — potent in very small quantities. As I understand it though, VX can be produced in a “binary” form where two separate components, that are not particularly dangerous apart, only become effective when combined. I suppose it's possible there were TWO attackers in this bizarre crime so that, in the event one chickened out, the other might still succeed… BUT far more likely it seems the reason for TWO attackers would be having each bearing a different component, relatively safe for themselves, but fatal when combined on the face of the target. The women could carry their separate cloths, and run off to wash hands afterwards in a rest room, probably with safety to themselves and those around the victim, while still accomplishing the task. 
With several arrests in the crime I suppose we’ll get answers to some of this soon. But my point is simply to say how scary it is to think that such an agent can perhaps thusly be employed in a highly-trafficked public environment to pinpoint a single victim, without harm to others. (One of the problems with anthrax, as I recall from older events, is that it is very difficult for someone to both produce it and deliver it to a single victim and maintain safety to themselves and others.)

Having said all that, it sounds fine in theory, but surely the North Korean regime (pretty clearly behind this) would not send these women on a one-time, never-before-tried mission, without having thoroughly tested it first. They must (one would think) have practiced this technique on victims, perhaps political prisoners, in their own closed society, to test for any pitfalls in the procedure, before making such a brazen effort in a public international airport. So one wonders how many others have died unreported and unknown in N. Korea over the years from VX poisoning in tests (and what other similar experiments are ongoing now)?

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