HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » LongTomH » Journal
Page: 1


Profile Information

Member since: Wed Oct 13, 2004, 05:42 PM
Number of posts: 8,636

Journal Archives

Stephen Hawking questions our attitudes toward wealth and the role they played in Brexit

Guardian UK: Our attitude toward wealth played a crucial role in Brexit. We need a rethink. There are some interesting parallels in Prof. Hawking's article and the issues that Bernie Sanders raised during the US campaign.

Does money matter? Does wealth make us rich any more? These might seem like odd questions for a physicist to try to answer, but Britain’s referendum decision is a reminder that everything is connected and that if we wish to understand the fundamental nature of the universe, we’d be very foolish to ignore the role that wealth does and doesn’t play in our society.


Here's the 'meat' of the article:

So I would be the last person to decry the significance of money. However, although wealth has played an important practical role in my life, I have of course had a different relationship with it to most people. Paying for my care as a severely disabled man, and my work, is crucial; the acquisition of possessions is not. I don’t know what I would do with a racehorse, or indeed a Ferrari, even if I could afford one. So I have come to see money as a facilitator, as a means to an end – whether it is for ideas, or health, or security – but never as an end in itself.

Interestingly this attitude, for a long time seen as the predictable eccentricity of a Cambridge academic, is now more widely shared. People are starting to question the value of pure wealth. Is knowledge or experience more important than money? Can possessions stand in the way of fulfilment? Can we truly own anything, or are we just transient custodians?

These questions are leading to a shift in behaviour which, in turn, is inspiring some groundbreaking new enterprises and ideas. These are termed “cathedral projects”, the modern equivalent of the grand church buildings, constructed as part of humanity’s attempt to bridge heaven and Earth. These ideas are started by one generation with the hope a future generation will take up these challenges.

I hope and believe that people will embrace more of this cathedral thinking for the future, as they have done in the past, because we are in perilous times. Our planet and the human race face multiple challenges. These challenges are global and serious – climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans. Such pressing issues will require us to collaborate, all of us, with a shared vision and cooperative endeavour to ensure that humanity can survive. We will need to adapt, rethink, refocus and change some of our fundamental assumptions about what we mean by wealth, by possessions, by mine and yours. Just like children, we will have to learn to share.

If we fail then the forces that contributed to Brexit, the envy and isolationism not just in the UK but around the world that spring from not sharing, of cultures driven by a narrow definition of wealth and a failure to divide it more fairly, both within nations and across national borders, will strengthen. If that were to happen, I would not be optimistic about the long-term outlook for our species.

In many ways, this is a continuation of Hawking's concern about the dangers than human stupidity and greed pose to our survival.

Why did Jimmy Carter save the space shuttle

There are a lot of backstories to the development of America's only spaceplane (to date); one of the most interesting is: Why did Jimmy Carter, who was no great fan of man in space save the space shuttle program? The excellent Ars Technica blog has an article on this: A Cold War mystery: Why did Jimmy Carter save the space shuttle?.

We’d been chatting for the better part of two hours when Chris Kraft’s eyes suddenly brightened. “Hey,” he said, “Here’s a story I’ll bet you never heard.” Kraft, the man who had written flight rules for NASA at the dawn of US spaceflight and supervised the Apollo program, had invited me to his home south of Houston for one of our periodic talks about space policy and space history. As we sat in recliners upstairs, in a den overlooking the Bay Oaks Country Club, Kraft told me about a time the space shuttle almost got canceled.

It was the late 1970s, when Kraft directed the Johnson Space Center, the home of the space shuttle program. At the time, the winged vehicle had progressed deep into a development phase that started in 1971. Because the program had not received enough money to cover development costs, some aspects of the vehicle (such as its thermal protective tiles) were delayed into future budget cycles. In another budget trick, NASA committed $158 million in fiscal year 1979 funds for work done during the previous fiscal year.

The article goes into the various funding problems faced by the space shuttle program by the late 70s, during the Carter administration; the upshot is that Carter finally supported the program.

Armed with these bleak options, Frosch returned to Washington. Some time later he would meet with Carter, not expecting a positive response, as the president had never been a great friend to the space program. But Carter, according to Kraft, had just returned from Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) in Vienna, and he had spoken with the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, about how the United States was going to be able to fly the shuttle over Moscow continuously to ensure they were compliant with the agreements.

So when Frosch went to the White House to meet with the president and said NASA didn’t have the money to finish the space shuttle, the administrator got a response he did not expect: “How much do you need?”

In doing so, Jimmy Carter saved the space shuttle, Kraft believes. Without supplementals for fiscal year 1979 and 1980, the shuttle would never have flown, at least not as the iconic vehicle that would eventually fly 135 missions and 355 individual fliers into space. It took some flights as high as 400 miles above the planet before retiring five years ago this week. “That was the first supplemental NASA had ever asked for,” Kraft said. “And we got that money from Jimmy Carter.”

These few paragraphs vastly oversimplify the story; but, it does seem that without the need for the shuttle's use in verifying the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, it might very well have been canceled.

Then there was Carter’s vice president, Walter Mondale, who in 1972 had called the space shuttle a “senseless extravaganza.” A senator from Minnesota at the time, Mondale had vigorously opposed early funding measures to begin development of the shuttle. His views exemplified those who believed the United States had more pressing needs for its money than chasing the stars.

If Walter Mondale had won the presidency in 1984, the shuttle program would likely have been canceled after the Challenger disaster and NASA's budget gutted.

There's much more to the story, I recommend the article: http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/07/a-cold-war-mystery-why-did-jimmy-carter-save-the-space-shuttle/

Did GOP denial of science set the state for Donald Trump?

There are a lot of reasons for the rise of Donald Trump: a dysfunctional, "if-it-bleeds-it-leads" media,and a generally pissed off electorate that feels it has been ignored and betrayed by the establishments of both parties. Astronomer Phil Plait, of Bad Astronomy fame, feels that GOP opposition to science and critical thinking played a major role: The GOP's Denial of Science Primed Them For the Illogic of Donald Trump:

We are awash in that miasma, where people can say almost anything, no matter how ridiculous, and not be confronted, not be challenged. Many of these purveyors of poppycock wind up surrounding themselves with throngs of people willing and eager to suspend their disbelief and support the foolishness. Cults certainly can form in such an atmosphere … and when the person spouting the nonsense is a politician, that’s when things get very sticky indeed.

And now here we are, with Donald Trump the nearly inevitable champion of the Republican Party.

This is no coincidence. An interesting if infuriating article in New Republic very clearly lays out how the GOP has spent decades paving the road for Trump by attacking the science that goes against their prejudicial ideology. I strongly urge you to read it, but one section jumped out at me in particular:

There’s another factor at work here: The anti-intellectualism that has been a mainstay of the conservative movement for decades also makes its members easy marks. After all, if you are taught to believe that the reigning scientific consensuses on evolution and climate change are lies, then you will lack the elementary logical skills that will set your alarm bells ringing when you hear a flim-flam artist like Trump. The Republican “war on science” is also a war on the intellectual habits needed to detect lies.

At the end of the article, Phil gives a list of his posts on critical thinking.
Go to Page: 1