Just when you thought all the news had been narrowed to a few key topics, it turns out that a lot has been going on under the radar. It's difficult to imagine right now, but time does march on. 


For instance, while you were occupied elsewhere the United States government got a little bit richer. This is because it no longer has to pay Civil War pensions. The Wall Street Journal ran an obituary last week for Irene Triplett. “The 90-year-old died bringing an end to the final pension that had been paid out in connection with the Civil War. Triplett collected $73.13 a month from the Department of Veterans Affairs.”


Her father, Pvt. Mose Triplett, initially fought for the Confederacy until he was wounded. He then left the hospital as a deserter, traveled south to Tennessee, and switched to the Union side. In 1924, at the age of 83, he married a woman in her twenties and Irene was born six years later. Irene was the last child of a Civil War vet collecting VA benefits. (https://www.newser.com/story/291759/woman-with-mind-bending-link-to-civil-war-has-died.html)


On a semi-related note, another government entity also collected some cash last week. “Emily Canellos-Simms has received a Guinness World Record for the largest book fine ever paid at more than $345.” Her mother had checked out the book from the Kewanee Public Library in Illinois in 1955. The fine was two cents a day and had accumulated since then.


By the way, while this may have been the largest library fine ever collected, it was not a record for taking the longest time to return a book to a library. That record goes to our first president, George Washington. “He borrowed a book, The Law of Nations, from the New York Library after becoming president and didn't return it. The Mount Vernon estate returned it 221 years later.” (https://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2020/06/02/Guinness-World-Record-awarded-for-highest-library-book-fine-paid/8371591110101/)


Closer to home, catching some crooks also has added to government coffers after authorities seized illegal items. “A Canadian man who allegedly admitted using a submarine to smuggle drugs and money into the U.S. was charged after federal agents found him floating unconscious in the Detroit River. He told investigators his organization had successfully smuggled marijuana, cocaine or money approximately seven times.” Plus, in the spirit of international good will, this has been a hands-across-the-river operation. “He provides GPS coordinates to an individual in Canada, who traverses the river using a submersible watercraft and then the American scofflaw would then send the contraband or currency and his associate back across the river."  (https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2020/06/05/feds-torpedo-alleged-submarine-smuggler-detroit-river-bust/3158181001/


Since crooks are now going deep to ply their trade, perhaps a concept being researched by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) would be of use to law enforcement in the future. It's called the “sea train” and here is how it's envisioned to work. 


Vessels depart from a port. There’s no crew aboard any of them. At some point, the four vessels rendezvous, autonomously arranging themselves in a line. “Using custom mechanisms, they attach to each other to form a train, except they’re in the water and there’s no railroad to guide them. In this configuration the vessels can travel 6,500 nautical miles across the open ocean. When they approach their destination, they disconnect, splitting up as each unmanned ship goes its own way to conduct independent operations. Once those operations are complete, the four reunite, form a train and make the return journey home.

While DARPA’s effort is focused on medium-sized unmanned vessels — anywhere from 12 to 50 meters in length — the lessons learned could be applied to larger or smaller vessels.” (https://www.c4isrnet.com/unmanned/2020/06/01/all-aboard-the-sea-train/)


DARPA is also researching earthworm technology. It's funding “one of the oddest robotic concepts yet: a robot that mimics an earthworm to dig underground tunnels.” The program is called “Underminer” and teams from General Electric Research Center, Colorado School of Mines and Sandia National Laboratories are participating. “Underminer seeks to merge breakthroughs in horizontal drilling, trenchless boring technologies, and robotics to create a set of systems allowing consistent underground access. Resulting new technologies could improve future underground infrastructure systems, including, but not limited to, high speed drilling, precise positioning without external aids, obstacle avoidance and sensing, and drilling analytics.” (https://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2020-04-01)


All this under water and under ground technology might be useful in the future if all of us have to hide from something – like aliens from another planet. Laugh if you must, but consider this. “Fast radio bursts (FRB) are one of the most mysterious events in the cosmos. These powerful bursts of energy have stumped astronomers since they first discovered them in 2007. Since then, researchers have spotted evidence of more than 100 FRBs.” (https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/deep-space/a32801737/fast-radio-bursts-repeat-cycle/)


There's more. Some FRBs repeat on an organized schedule “flaring up after 90 days and then vanishing for 67 days.” Strange? “While some astronomers have suspected a type of spinning neutron star called a magnetar could cause FRBs, others have suggested they may be the work of extraterrestrial civilizations trying to reach out. The cyclical nature of these events suggests maybe they're linked to a binary system.”


I am not suggesting “they are out there.” But as Popular Science magazine observes: “Sounds like aliens are still on the table.” 


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at CadillacNews.com and Neffzone.com/cadillacnews