7 October 2007
It was not necessary to fight the American Revolution in order for the United States to gain independence from Great Britain. Canada amply demonstrates this. Without the Civil War, slavery might have been eradicated more slowly perhaps but more thoroughly, without the enduring legacy of racial bitterness. Nelson Mandela has shown us how. And Hitler might have been defeated in time through economic pressure, diplomatic isolation, and covert support for internal dissent, just as the Cold War was won forty years later. This diplomatic and economic path was never even tried before World War II, and, in fact, some of the largest corporations and wealthiest banks in America were profitably supporting the Nazis right through The War.
Nations that eschew warfare prosper, as they focus their resources on development, research and infrastructure instead of weapons. Over time, this creates a decisive competitive advantage for countries like Switzerland, Sweden and post-war Japan.
War is built on lies. The propaganda invoked to justify a war effort subverts public discourse and undermines the credibility of the State. In the long run, it may be that the cost to society from the subversion of truth exceeds even the loss of life and limb.
War demands unthinking obedience. A population that is educated to follow its leaders blindly into war becomes, paradoxically, an easier prey for domination by a foreign conqueror. A population accustomed to vigorous independence will prove ungovernable by foreign demagogues. It is difficult to conquer a democracy by force; and on the other side, the closer a government hews to the will of its people, the less likely it is to engage in a war of aggression.
With the rise of democracies worldwide in the last century, war is even less worthwhile, more difficult to justify pragmatically than ever before in history. Despots and demagogues may profit from war, but never their subjects. Political leaders invoke the myth of the ‘good war’ in the past, then lead their people down a slippery slope to a tragically unnecessary war in the present.
Every war is an abomination.
– Josh Mitteldorf
6 October 2007
TThe environmental movement has been working on driving up the price of polluting as a way to steer whole economies away from oil and especially coal. What if we set our sights instead on driving down the cost of photovoltaics? Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus write about a new strategy for environmentalism, fully integrated with a progressive political movement for national security, jobs and health care.
The price of solar cells was dropping exponentially until 2001. Solar energy was on its way to becoming cost competitive with dirty technologies. For several years after that, demand outstripped supply, because factories had not been built with this vast new customer base in mind. Shellenberger and Nordhaus propose a $300 billion dollar government investment to create predictable new demand for solar cells, which will drive the price low enough to make tradeoffs between ‘jobs and the environment’ obsolete.
5 October 2007/P>
“Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”
Vaclav Havel born this day in 1936
4 October 2007
The experience of terror can be exhilarating and cathartic. Admittedly, this works better when the experience is suffered voluntarily, but we are all free to decide in each moment to embrace our experience. Jeffrey Hoffman recalls his first ride in the Space Shuttle:
I always figured that launch day was not the time to be thinking about whether I really wanted to do this. That decision was made when I joined the astronaut corps years before...Suddenly we feel a huge kick in the pants, or more precisely, a sudden thump on our backs as the boosters ignite. Looking out the window, we see the ground falling away. The noise and vibration are overpowering. One astronaut described the feeling as ‘driving over railroad tracks in a car with no shock absorbers’. There is not much we can do to control our flight at this point. I find myself thinking, ‘I hope it all holds together!’ We can feel the shuttle rotate in a roll manoeuvre as soon as we clear the launch tower, to point towards our desired orbit.
About 45 seconds after lift-off, still climbing almost vertically, we break the sound barrier and the aerodynamic pressure on the vehicle reaches a maximum - ‘max Q’. In order to minimise the stress on the vehicle, our engines throttle down to 65 per cent, and the acceleration decreases slightly, but the vibration gets much stronger as sonic shock waves play all over the outside of the vehicle. It is hard to believe that we can shake harder than at lift-off, but we do, so much so that during my first flight I wondered if the wings were going to fall off. I reassured myself that 15 shuttle flights had already survived lift-off with their wings intact.
Max Q is over about a minute after lift-off, the engines return to full power and we feel a surge of acceleration. At this point, the shuttle is travelling more horizontally than vertically and is flying inverted, but the sensation of forward acceleration dominates that of gravity, so I never had the feeling of being suspended upside down.
As our fuel gets used up, our mass decreases and the acceleration increases to around 2.5 g (2.5 times normal gravity). We are all waiting for the boosters to finish their job, and it is a good feeling just before 2 minutes into the flight to feel the acceleration taper off as the solid fuel is exhausted and then hear a boom as explosive bolts fire to release the boosters. The boosters fire small rockets to ensure they move clear of the shuttle, and for several seconds the cockpit is engulfed in flame, which is particularly spectacular if the launch is at night...
As our liquid fuel load dwindles, our acceleration once again increases
until we reach 3 g, a tolerable if somewhat uncomfortable rate, right at the
shuttle’s design limit. My triply heavy helmet makes it hard to move my
head, but I strain to look out the window and see that we have left the blue
sky of Earth far behind, and are now surrounded by the blackness of space,
the blackest black I have ever experienced.
We watch the velocity gauge creep up to the cut-off line and then, suddenly,
the acceleration ceases. I feel myself falling forward into my seat straps,
which I quickly undo. A slight push with one finger sends me floating over
to the window, where I see the Earth below, far away and moving past very
article in New Scientist last month
Fifty years today, the
first Sputnik was launched.
3 October 2007
“...social movements can create change with surprising speed. History shows us that, while efforts to change can seem ponderous (and maddeningly slow), once a critical mass is reached, large positive, even revolutionary changes can be made with startling rapidity. What is scoffed at as fringe and radical one moment, can be embraced by the mainstream as within the bounds of “rational debate” the next...
“Perhaps the best censored
news is a theme that runs through every issues of
YES! Magazine The big secret is that,
throughout the world, there are millions of people actively engaged in
moving toward the formation of just and peaceful societies. Yes, there are
extremists in every country who will take advantage of desperate and bitter
situations (and that includes every country)...
2 October 2007
1 October 2007
Sonnets to Orpheus, by Rainer Maria Rilke