The purpose of our space policy is to waste as much money as possible

October 6, 2008

Both Barack Obama and John McCain have spoken on space policy, and both are wrong. McCain is clearly more interested (he was a pilot and Republicans tend to like big objects and big programs). Since his views are more extensive there are more problems with them.  These illustrate how wildly absurd our priorities are.

Space science has contributed much to our nation, affecting and improving our daily lives (weather forecasting, GPS, and on and on). It has vastly improved our knowledge of our world, the planet we live on (knowledge so vital to protecting it and ourselves), our Solar System, our (almost impossible) universe. Yet both candidates barely mention this. It seems, certainly for space, if it is useful it is of no interest.

Both candidates, but especially McCain, strongly emphasize human space flight. This has the advantage of being useless and wasting huge amounts of money, which is NASA’s primary mission.

The interest of both candidates, but especially John McCain, is human space flight. They are both in favor of the useless Moon-Mars publicity stunt (and John McCain comes to admitting that is what it is) which will almost certainly fail wasting probably several hundred billion dollars which is why it is so attractive. (Actually that doesn’t seem like a lot of money; consider the Iraq war or the financial bailout).

Humans have flown in space for about half a century.  What have we accomplished? What have we learned, besides getting information needed to waste even more money? Clearly just about nothing. And what little that humans have done could have been accomplished by robots, if we had put enough effort into that, at far less cost, thus helping to develop technology that could be used in so many other ways, including creating new industries and jobs. All that effort, all that money, put into human space flight was just wasted.

Can anyone show anything that was accomplished that could not have been done more cheaply by robots? And they want to spend hundreds of billions of dollars more!

Will we actually succeed (in going to Mars, not in wasting hundreds of billions of dollars)? Consider the Space Shuttle, an extremely well-tested system, with which NASA has great experience. Just about every launch runs into problems, delays (even for months), overruns. A human trip to Mars would be vastly, immensely, more complicated. Nor could it be delayed much since the planets have to be properly aligned. And this is only going there. Imagine the trip back, especially with no support staff to fix the almost inevitable problems. A human trip to Mars is essentially pure fantasy, accomplishing nothing but the waste of hundreds of billions of dollars and the holding back of our technology and economy.

One purported purpose is to look for life.  The search for extraterrestrial life is based on wishful thinking, not analysis. That, which is almost never done, shows life elsewhere, especially intelligent life, is at best extremely rare if it exists at all [R. Mirman, Our Almost Impossible Universe: Why the laws of nature make the existence of humans extraordinarily unlikely (2006)].

If we send humans to Mars will they find life? Of course. As pointed out by Robert Park they are certain to contaminate the planet (humans, unlike instruments, cannot be sterilized). Although the chance of indigenous life is extremely unlikely it is not zero. But if we send humans it will never be possible to tell. The US will then go down in history as having committed the greatest scientific crime of all time.  It will be a fitting finale to the George Bush administration.

We cannot have a reasonable space program until we accept that human space flight is useless and harmful.

John McCain shows signs of recognizing this. His web site says “Although the general view in the research community is that human exploration is not an efficient way to increase scientific discoveries given the expense and logistical limitations, the role of manned space flight goes well beyond the issue of scientific discovery and is reflection of national power and pride.” In other words we should waste hundreds of billion of dollars and hold back our economy and technology so we can brag. That summarizes John McCain. Think about that carefully.

Obama goes along with the general view, largely it seems because it is politically necessary, but does not emphasize it. He is more likely to eventually adopt a more rational policy.

Are we really trying to go to Mars or are we just spending money (that the space industry finds very attractive). Consider the article “Rising costs could delay NASA’s next mission to Mars and future launches”, Andrew Lawler, SCIENCE, 26 September, 2008, p. 1754). Because of cost overruns (several hundred million dollars, not several hundred billion), Mars missions have to be postponed or canceled. These could provide useful understanding rather than wasting money (a reason NASA is not too concerned about them) and are necessary for a human trip to Mars. Perhaps we are just spending money for a human trip for no other purpose than spending money.

Our priorities are badly warped. We are willing to spend tens or hundreds of billions of dollars (certainly John McCain is) to be able to brag.

It has been suggested that the proteins in the different cells of the body be tabulated [“Proteomics ponders prime time”, Robert F. Service, SCIENCE, 26 September 2008, pp. 1758-1761]. This is extremely difficult, but even starting it will provide information that could help advance human health. Yet there are problems because it is so expensive. How much? Perhaps around a billion dollars. Yet we are willing to waste tens to hundreds of billions on useless human space flight. Maybe we should put this to a vote. How many people would prefer to spend money to improve health, and how many would prefer to just waste it so that we can brag? John McCain clearly belongs to the wasting class. Obama is in it, but weakly, and likely can be pushed to use the money for, say, improving health.

One argument for wasting many billions of dollars is that other nations will get ahead of us.  As the most powerful nation on earth (at least we were before Bush became president) it is essential that we waste more money than other nations.  How would it look if we allowed other countries to waste more money than we do?

It is also stated that this publicity stunt will result in more students going into science. Does anyone really take seriously the argument that a few weeks of publicity will cause many students to change their careers? But suppose that instead of wasting hundreds of billions of dollars we put the money into education?

A more important argument is that many jobs depend on human space flight. Those who hold the jobs might consider how dangerous this is. There has already been two space shuttle disasters. One more would not only end the shuttle and human space flight but hurt the entire space program. How likely is that? It has been estimated the chances are greater than one in a hundred, but if the shuttle program is extended for several years then it becomes greater than one in ten.

If that happens then not only are these thousands out of work, but since they live in areas with a lot of unemployed like them, their homes will go down greatly in value. Is that what they want, losing not only their jobs and careers but much of their wealth? That if what they are pushing for.

What else can they do? Certainly develop further robotic spacecraft. A loss will not be a disaster, and the knowledge gained can be used elsewhere, creating new industries and jobs. It will be possible to keep the very useful Hubble going much longer. A robotic service mission was ruled out because there was not enough time. But with more time it may be possible and should certainly be considered.

And they can be put to work, with secure jobs, developing alternate sources of energy, which would lead to many jobs. How about decreasing pollution, global warming, developing better forms of transportation, powering our homes, medical devices for health and saving lives, and so on? But these are useful so we can’t brag about them or get lots of publicity. Thus there isn’t much interest.

Looking at human space flight we can see how wildly warped our, and especially John McCain’s, priorities are.


Iran, proliferation and centrifuges

September 26, 2008

Iran, proliferation and centrifuges

Nuclear weapons are possessed by at least nine countries, posing a grave danger to humanity. The more countries that have them the greater the danger. At present there is real danger of uncontrollable proliferation with one country threatening to start a political chain reaction: Iran. Although it claims to be interested only in peaceful uses, power generation, there is good reason to distrust it. What is likely of greater danger is that its example could inspire other countries leading to a large number having nuclear weapons and then to disaster.

Before considering what should be done it is useful to understand some technical details. This is based on the article The gas centrifuge and nuclear weapons proliferation, by Houston G. Wood, Alexander Glaser and R. Scott Kemp, Physics Today, Sept. 2008, pp. 40—45 with physics background in the book by R. Mirman, Our Almost Impossible Universe: Why the laws of nature make the existence of humans extraordinarily unlikely (2006).

The nucleus of an atom consists of two types of objects (called nucleons), protons (which have electric charge, thus repel each other) and neutrons (which as the name implies are neutral). Objects are subjected to four types of interactions, gravitational (which are too weak to be relevant here), electromagnetic (electricity and magnetism are different manifestations), the weak interactions causing decay and the strong interactions by which nucleons attract each other (fortunately else nuclei would fall apart thus would atoms). The binding energy of a nucleus is a result of the attraction due to the strong interactions and the electric repulsions so that for nuclei with small numbers of nucleons fusing them gives more strongly bound nuclei plus extra energy (which can be used for very powerful bombs or if it can be controlled power), but ones with large numbers are weakly bound or unstable (too many protons, among other problems, so they repel). Thus fissioning them, breaking them apart, gives smaller, more strongly bound nuclei, plus extra energy, and this can be a large amount of energy. Iron is the most strongly bound, fusing lighter ones (realistically only much lighter) gives off energy, while fissioning heavier ones (realistically much heavier) gives off energy.

The heaviest naturally occurring element is uranium, thus it is the best one to use to get energy, particularly a bomb (plutonium with 239 nucleons, and also used for bombs, has to be manufactured). Because it is uranium it has (by definition) 92 protons but can have different numbers of neutrons, ones with different numbers are called isotopes of uranium. It is U(235), with 235 nucleons that fissions easily but natural uranium is mostly U(238), with three more neutrons these providing attractions making it more stable.

Natural uranium contains only 0.72% of U(235); for every thousand atoms of natural uranium only 72 are U(235). Thus to get fuel for a bomb this small amount must be separated from the uranium occurring in nature. The modern way is to use centrifuges.

To understand these we consider a keychain. If you whirl it around it flies off in a straight line. To make it go in a circle a force has to be applied, the centripetal force, supplied by your fingers supplied through the keychain. Add more keys and you can feel that the required centripetal force is greater, as it is if you whirl it faster. If you do not supply enough force it flies off. Thus the required centripetal force increases with mass and with speed. In a centrifuge the required force for the U(238) gas is greater than for the lighter U(235). There is also fluid flow of the gas within the centrifuge so the lighter isotope is carried to the top, where it is drawn off, leaving the heavier part at the bottom. The problem is that the masses of the isotopes are almost the same so that very high speeds are needed to separate them, but too high would mean that the walls of the centrifuge would fly off, destroying it. Thus a cascade is used. The first centrifuge produces a stream of slightly enriched U(235) which is fed into the second one, enriching it further, the result fed into the third centrifuge and so on until the U(235) is sufficiently enriched to be used in a reactor, or with greater enrichment a bomb.

What can be done? There are technical solutions to prevent sufficient enrichment for a bomb, like control of the uranium a country purchases, or inspection of the facility. But these basically require the acquiescence of the country. It isn’t difficult to get the uranium or enrich it if a country, like Iran, is determined to do so. The problem is not technical but political and psychological.

What are the dangers of Iran developing nuclear weapons? One unlikely one is an attack on Israel. The US has made it clear, and should emphasize strongly and explicitly again, that it would react to such an attack. An Iranian attack would lead to massive destruction in Iran. The Iranian leaders are evil but not insane. However possession of a nuclear weapon would give Iran great prestige and a psychological and domestic boost for its leaders (which is why it is desirable) and the prestige can be can be used to cause much trouble (as it has been doing but on a greater scale). Might it help Syria gain nuclear weapons? That is unclear but possible, and quite dangerous. Would the potentially unstable states want them if Iran, which is not trusted, had them? How about Sudan whose leader has been charged with war crimes? Might the dangerously unstable Pakistan be more willing to use such weapons, or sell them again? Would Hugo Chavez want them? And if Venezuela had them what about Columbia? And if middle-level Latin powers had them could the larger powers, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico be held back? But if they had them, what about …? Of course terrorists would love to get nuclear weapons, and seem to be trying. That would be much easier if they were widely distributed.

Might we try to destroy Iran’s nuclear complex militarily? If we were sure that we knew where all of it is we might be able to that, easily. Many people thought it would be easy to remove Saddam Hussein, and it was. Are we happy with the consequences? Of course an attack on Iran would lead to far more, and far more serious, terrorism. And it would vastly damage US prestige, thus power, with very serious consequences. It is not a realistic option.

What can be done? And in this election year what do the candidates say? The details of their proposal are unimportant, but the thrust of their thinking is clear, and different. John McCain certainly recognizes the dangers and believes in increasing pressure on Iran. While that could be useful it is highly doubtful that such alone would be effective and might be counterproductive. It is essential to realize, not only with this, that one of the most powerful motivators is pride and prestige, People will accept severe punishment rather than give these up. Pressure, while useful if carefully done as part of a larger package, can make people unreasonably difficult, impossible to deal with, if it undermines their pride. This is true of everyone, starting with children.

Obama also recognizes the threat Iran poses. He does not emphasize the non-proliferation problem here but does emphasize it in broader terms, and it is much broader than Iran. He also stresses diplomacy and willingness to talk to people. The attitudes of Obama and McCain, not the less important specific details, are clear. McCain believes in pressure, essentially exclusively. Obama includes pressure as part of a strategy, but emphasizes talking, in general, and diplomacy, and the involvement of other countries, who have much at stake.

Psychologically being willing to talk to people, showing respect for them, is more likely to lead to positive outcomes than showing contempt (and the Bush-McCain world view tends, often strongly, to be contemptuous of others) and pressuring them. Often a combination of pressure and respectful discussion (which most accords with Obama’s outlook) is best. It requires understanding, knowledge and skill, these so lacking under Bush and clearly also for McCain, one of the reasons he emphasizes pressure exclusively.

One way of dealing with the Iranian problem is putting it in a broader context. We do not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Do we want Saudi Arabia to? Egypt? Jordan, Brazil, Mexico, …? Yet as these weapons become more widespread they will become even more widespread. Stopping proliferation is essential. If not catastrophe becomes even more likely. If all nations were to forsake these would Iran? If more get them would Iran more likely do so? Iran is part of a larger problem, which makes it more difficult to deal with, but easier if the whole problem was.

While hopefully we can move to a world free of nuclear weapons we cannot have a nuclear-free world. The need for nuclear power is too great and it is already too widespread for that. The problem then is to have nuclear power while making it illicit to have nuclear weapons, increasing pressure to prevent that, including moral pressure which would increase if more nations were to forsake any attempts to gain weapons. Unfortunately this “more nations” includes the US.

Neither candidate has discussed this. Perhaps the present discussion will result in the question being raised. It is extremely important.

There is a fundamental question of attitude. While they have not considered this explicitly their attitudes seem quite clear. John McCain has the same outlook as George Bush, although perhaps not as extreme. That of Barack Obama and Joe Biden are very different. Bush’s attitude is that we are the most powerful nation in the world (or were when he took office) thus can do things, not only with this issue, that others are not allowed to. “We can …, but you must not.” Of course this does not work, nor could anyone expect it to (except for those guided by their fantasies). And there is no way we could have the power to enforce it. Thus we are left with no alternative but to lead, and we can only lead by example.

There must be international control of nuclear power, in particular nuclear weapons (which we must work to eliminate), nuclear power and nuclear material. The tools for manufacture, such as the centrifuges, must either be controlled by an international agency, or if there are national organizations these must be not only under international inspection but supervision to control the amount produced and where it is used. This must be true for all nations which unfortunately includes us. Psychologically this is very difficult. However irrational the opposition is, however much that opposition threatens our own survival, it will be psychologically almost impossible to accept. Consider that and we can see why it is so difficult to get Iran to give up its nuclear programs.

Yet that is what we must do to avoid disaster. It will require a long difficult process of education. This discussion is an attempt to add to that, but very much more needs to be done. Survival might be at stake.

Right-wing “values”

September 23, 2007

The only interest the right-wing “values” people have is sex. This should be emphasized loudly. Then when everyone talks about the “religious people’s” obsession with sex they will be so uncomfortable that they will go away. Embarrass them. That will push them out. To see that they only care about sex, not even children, see comment
It is essential to give them lots of publicity.

Iraq myths

September 17, 2007

To decide what to do about Iraq we must first get rid of myths. And we must realize that all options are bad. All the terrible things that people are concerned about may well happen. George Bush got us into a situation in which can neither stay in or get out. We can only choose the least bad course. This follows the discussion given below.

Victory is essential!
Who are we trying to defeat, the Sunnis or the Shiites? How about the terrorists? But what does it mean to defeat them? We can kill many, but then more come along. This can just go on forever. Being in Iraq makes us targets so stimulates many people there to commit terror. Of course many will carry out horrible acts no matter what we do, but out presence does not prevent that, it stimulates it. In that situation victory has no meaning. Not only is victory unattainable, it is undefinable.  We must not surrender! To whom?

The region is unstable.  We must stay until the Iraqi army is strong enough to protect the country. But that will never happen. If say Iran decides to invade (which is not likely) the Iraqi army will never be strong enough to defend the country. At best it will be strong enough not to fall apart. And that is highly questionable. Besides it is impossible to have an army to defend the country if there is no country to defend, and there isn’t any. An army must be part of a government. But there is none, and there won’t be.

It is essential, before we get out, to arm and train the army. Then when we get out the civil war would be bloodier than if we had done nothing.

If we leave Saudi Arabia might take over the Sunni areas and Iran the Shiite ones. That does not mean that they will fight each other. Perhaps Saudi Arabia should mover into the Sunni areas. They may be able to keep the peace among their co-religionists. Will Iran really go to war to stop them from aiding the Sunnis, with no threat to the Shiites?  Let us look at this realistically. Of course Iran’s influence will increase. That is the price we will have to pay because of George Bush’s blundering. But this will happen no matter how long we remain there.

We should start to withdraw to emphasize to the Iraqis that we will not be there forever so they must compromise and set up a workable government. Of course they will not.  Their mutual hatred, distrust, contempt are too great to allow compromise. It has been clear for a long time that we would leave and there has been no movement at all. That has nothing to do with what we do. Withdrawing some troops will not change their behavior, except make it worse.

There is a belief that we cannot withdraw all our forces, we must keep some to maintain stability, to fight the terrorists.  But we cannot do this now. Having fewer troops will make it more difficult. It only makes sense to withdraw all (except for small contingents to defend the embassy, the Green Zone, and perhaps a few other places like the airport).  There is nothing else they can possibly do.

It is essential that we must not let the terrorists win. They have won, Bush gave them a victory. Remaining there will not help, but just gives them a means of drawing others into terrorism. We can hope that they will defeat themselves as they have been doing to some extent.  But we can’t no matter how long we stay because they are a symptom of a deeply sick country, which we do not have the power to heal.

We should keep enough troops to train the Iraqis. This is dangerous because it may make a civil war bloodier. But if we think we should do that let us train them in Jordan or Saudi Arabia where our troops would be safer and our presence less provocative.

All reasons for staying are based only on myths. All our actions have been based on myths and the only reasonable action is to get rid of the myths.

Children’s health insurance

August 29, 2007

George Bush is strongly opposed to extension of children’s health insurance.  It is clear why. That would hurt the profits of the insurance industry. After all what kind of warped set of values would regard children’s lives as more important than industry profits?

It is interesting that the Republicans are strongly opposed to extension of children’s health insurance. They are also opposed to gun control and abortion. Republicans insist that children must be born so that they can die of curable diseases or be shot to death. That is what they mean by pro-life. Abortion has sexual connotations so Republicans and religious people are obsessed with it. But after children are born they no longer have sexual connotations so their health and lives have no value. Why should religious people be concerned by children with no sexual connotation? Children who are already born can die. Religious people, Republicans, don’t care. Why should they? There is no sex involved. Thus it is expected that George Bush doesn’t care about children either. Let them die. Insurance industry profits are clearly far more important.

The Israel-Palestine problem

August 15, 2007

The fight between Israelis and the Palestinians is settled — except that too many are unwilling to accept the settlement. To them their own interests are more important than the welfare and lives of their compatriots. And this is all too true of too many outsiders whose self-images are their dominant concern; the lives of others who they make a public show of supporting are irrelevant.

What is the solution that everyone knows? There will be two states (preferably not three). The border will be about the Green line. There will have to be some adjustments with exchanges of territories. The refugees will not return but will have to be resettled. They will be compensated, or to restate this there has to be infusion of a great amount aid to build Palestine into a functioning, prosperous society. That is crucial else it will be unstable and dangerous.

Why can’t the refugees return? It is often stated that their return will destroy the Jewish character of Israel. That is true but incomplete. The number of refugees is uncertain but compared with the Israeli population it is roughly equivalent to 50 million people compared to the US population. Would anyone suggest that the US take in 50 million people? Moreover these would be very poor and would require support for years, if not decades. Also they would hate the US and be potential recruits as terrorists. Yet asking Israel to take back the refugees is equivalent to that for the US. (Actually if we were willing to do that we can take in all the Iraqis, settling the Sunni and Shiites in different parts of the country, allowing us to immediately withdraw.)

There are details to be worked out but with the basic points settled that should not be very difficult. But the outside world has to understand it must provide help, and a lot. Otherwise the problem will never go away.

If this is all so clear why are there problems? This of course would be good for the Palestinian people who would finally gain, after a time, a free and prosperous life. But it would not be good for their leaders who are interested in power, not in their people — who have lived in misery for almost 60 years. It is their “friends” and leaders who have consigned them to such awful existence. It is these, not their enemy, which cares not in the least for them.  Israel, which has done many awful things, would be willing to live in peace with them, to help them. If the partition plan had been accepted, as it was by Israel, and they worked with Israel, Palestine would be free and prosperous, as prosperous as Europe is now.  Their leaders refused and now after so many years of suffering all they can hope for is a weaker, smaller state critically dependent on others.

For a human, hatred of others is more important than life itself, as we see again and again every day. For the Palestinians hatred of Israel is worth decades of misery, loss of territory, hopelessness. It is worth trading the freedom and prosperity they could have had for the all-too-human joy of hating. They hated for decades, as they and especially their leaders wanted. They should consider whether it was worth it and whether they wish to continue.

What of their “friends”?  The outside world should have pushed them to accept and work with Israel. Perhaps with enough pressure they would have been forced to rebuild their lives and live in a free, independent, prosperous state. Yet the world was determined to show how sympathetic they were, for example treating Arafat as the head of a country. If he could travel the world in such style why should he care about his own people? He consigned his people to misery. That is why they supported him so strongly. And now again the strongest Palestinian group, Hamas, is determined to punish its own people. Their misery, subjugation, poverty is well worth it for the pleasure of providing slight annoyances to Israel.

The leaders and “friends” of the Palestinians have done little harm to Israel. It has survived and prospered. But look what they have done to the Palestinians!

And this is true also for the Palestinians “friends” abroad. Having done great harm for decades to the people whose interests they so loudly proclaim they are now trying to make peace even more difficult. There is for example a movement in the UK to cut off academic contacts with Israel unless it leaves the West Bank.  (Why, they want another civil war?) Of course it is a fundamental principle (which is actually usually observed) that scholarship is independent of politics and the search for truth (which obviously is not important in academic life) must include everyone (who is deemed to be important enough, whether they have knowledge of truth or not), with their political views, nationality, race, religion, sex and so on irrelevant. It is a fundamental principle, not only of morality, that the search for truth must not be compromised by such considerations, and that people not be discriminated against because of them. But flaunting their hatred (in this case for Israel) is more important than scholarship, morality or truth. It is an all-too-human action.

Such movements, as those to make-believe they are hurting Israel, cannot accomplish their proclaimed goals but rather encourage those who reject settlement and peace. They encourage those who inflict such pain on the Palestinians, greatly prolonging it. These people care not in the least for the Palestinian people but simply regard them as objects, whose welfare is totally irrelevant, whose only value is to satisfy the emotional needs of their “friends”. It shows deep cynicism, and in so many ways. These “friends” want to feel that they are superior people fighting for justice and righteousness. What they are really fighting for are their own self-images. It is nice to feel that you are good and decent, in favor of all that is ethical, when it is other people who have to suffer and die for your self-image.

These “friends” of the Palestinians in reality have deep contempt for them, and for the basic principles of honor and justice.  They do not care about others but are deeply selfish caring only for their own emotions.

What should be done? What should not be done is to negotiate a final settlement. That will not promise a better life but emphasize the painful compromises that have to be made. It will provide targets for those who are not interested in peace.

What should be done is simply to provide a better life. Israel, with much help from the international community, particularly the US, should emphasize that it, as the neighbor, find it painful to see the Palestinians suffer, and especially being forced to add to that suffering. It should offer, working with the Palestinian government, to develop huge economic development programs. Of course it cannot do so if it is attacked. It will work with those parts of the country that are peaceful, leaving the rest. This will demonstrate to them that Israel is really their friend and that they will gain much from working with it. Fighting it will just lead to further suffering. But this requires actual large-scale projects. And Israel, while attending to its security, must be very conscious of the Palestinians. The need to make friends with them must have an extremely high priority.

And what of Hamas? The present policy is not to talk to them and hope they will go away. They will not. Not talking is a stupid policy throwing away fundamental tools. Unfortunately this stupidity governs much of US policy. We say Hamas as if it is a monolithic entity. Yet there are many people with different interests and different pressures. Instead of pushing our enemies together, making them monolithic, we, and Israel, should be trying to pry them apart. Let us talk to them, learn their different thoughts and pressures, and exploit even the slightest differences among the various parts.  Are there any? We don’t know without talking to them, even over a period of years. Skilled US diplomacy (an oxymoron in the present administration) applied carefully over time can have important, useful effects. That should always be a fundamental procedure.

Hamas has offered a ten-year truce. Of course they are insincere and plan to use that to build up.  But they really can’t. Large scale fighting with Israel will mean destruction, not matter how much they build up. Such a truce will give Israel a chance to convince the Palestinians that Israel is their friend, and partner, not enemy. It should be accepted subject to a couple of conditions. Hamas is the governing authority in Gaza and a truce means that it keeps the peace. It cannot say that we are not shelling Israel, Islamic Jihad is. A truce means that Hamas sees that there is no violence — by anyone. And it cannot use the time to import arms. What it must do during the truce is build up its territory, and the only way it can do that is with is neighbor, Israel. If it really means that for ten years there will be no violence but that it will work with Israel to develop a prosperous, functioning state, then Israel should happily accept and immediately start to work on a real final peace.

Now that is something the world, especially the “friends” of the Palestinians, should press for. They won’t of course. That will do nothing for their self-images. These depend on hating others. Bringing peace and prosperity is not much fun. But hating others, in order to feel superior to them, no matter how much it hurts people, is so intensely seductive it becomes an addiction.  This we see daily.

Why do we pay taxes to increase our chances of being destroyed by a nuclear war?

August 4, 2007

The US and Russia have about 7000 nuclear warheads most ready to be launched at a moment’s notice in order to start an accidental nuclear war (Ivan Oelrich, Missions for Nuclear Weapons after the Cold War; the Federation of American Scientists; November 2004), and similarly for Russia. Why? Why are we so determined to annihilate ourselves?

One reason is that the Russians also have so many ready-to-launch weapons and we do not want to be in a position where they can strike us. And theirs have the advantage of being under much looser control so more likely to be launched accidentally. Suppose the leaders of our two countries were not mentally ill, what would they do? Obviously first make it impossible for them to be launched quickly, with mutual inspection to make sure we both do that. Then vastly reduce the number of nuclear weapons.  However it is clear that sanity is a disqualification for leadership of a major power.

A major attraction is shock and awe, as in Iraq. And that worked. We were so shocked by our weapons that we made major blunder after major blunder.  And we were so awed by them that we did realize they were irrelevant to the real problems — which are political and cannot be solved by bombs or missiles.

Why do we need so many weapons? Clearly because it satisfies our emotional needs.  The set of possible missions has been analyzed and the only one for which nuclear weapons is relevant is retaliating against Russia after an accidental nuclear strike. It is obviously much safer (and cheaper) to prevent a strike by mutual de-escalation.   Since it makes no objective sense it is clear that there must be strong emotional reasons for this suicidal impulse. There are people, unfortunately far too many, for whom weapons are extremely emotionally rewarding, even just thinking about them. It is like sex (in many cases as with this, pornographic). The rewards of just thinking can be intense. The sexual aspect can be seen quite clearly with the National Rifle Association, whose members need guns as a substitute for the organ they have no confidence in. Of course people cannot have Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles around the house, as much as they might like to. But knowing that they are there, ready to kill millions (including themselves), provides satisfaction so intense that they cannot give it up.

Is this really what most American want? Perhaps a nationwide poll should be taken:

“When you pay your income tax do you agree that part of the money should be used, as it is now, for no other purpose than to increase the probability of a nuclear war that will destroy this country, and kill millions, including you?” “Enthusiastically yes”, “It sounds like a good idea”, “Probably not”, “Infuriatingly no!”

Let us see if this is what the country, not merely its weapons obsessed leaders, really want.

Of course we wouldn’t want our tax money to be used only to increase the chance of a nuclear war, would we? There are so many ways it can be used to harm us.

We are the most powerful nation in the world. Some believe that it means that we can do what we want while telling everyone else they should not do what we do. But of course people do not act like that. This is obvious to everyone except the egomaniacs whose desire to show off that they are better than everyone else and give others orders (which they do not obey) overwhelms their common sense. Because we are the most powerful nation on earth people will do as we do — rather than, as we would like, regarding us as special and giving us special privileges. We set the example, and others  — like it or not (and we definitely do not) — follow.

Thus when we spend our tax money to build (of course not only) nuclear weapons, or even when we hint of doing that, we encourage rogue states and terrorist groups to do the same. Perhaps we should ask the American people if that is what they want. “Are you in favor of having your tax money used to encourage Iran, North Korea, Al Qaeda, and so many others, to build or grab nuclear weapons to be used against us?”  Certainly the present leadership of this country is. “Yes, I agree with our government that we should do what we can to encourage North Korea, Al Qaeda, and those many others, who have nuclear weapon desires to develop and increase their nuclear programs.  That is why I believe the US should have a strong nuclear programs whose only purpose can be to encourage others to also do so, which might lead to millions of American deaths and trillions of dollars of damage.” “No, the leaders of our country may be crazy but I am not.”

For many, especially in the leadership, the intensity of the attraction of weapons, especially the most dangerous ones, is far greater than the responsibility to protect the country.

Are there rational policies to deal with these? Yes, that is why they will never be adopted. It is necessary to do something impossible: accept that our national security is more important than our emotional needs. Also we have to accept that being the presently most powerful nation on earth does not mean that we can get away with anything, nor does it mean that we can do what others cannot or are not supposed to. Rather it means that we set the example, and others follow. We cannot avoid it. We teach by example. And if we emphasize nuclear weapons (Robert W. Nelson, Nuclear Bunker Busters, Mini-Nukes, and the US Nuclear Stockpile; Physics Today, Nov. 2003, p. 32), so will others. Their weapons, either directly or indirectly, threaten us. Our interest in nuclear, and of course other kinds of, weapons make more likely the destruction of millions of lives, many American, and trillions of dollars of property. This is what we decide — by our actions — should happen.

We need not deep strategic thinkers, but psychiatrists. What would they recommend?

Obviously get all the weapons off hair-trigger alert, immediately. One phone call can start the process, and with verification it should not take more than a week of two. Why do we not do that  — now (or better years ago)? Can anyone state a reason?  Then we should agree, and it shouldn’t take long, to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. Let us not negotiate the final number. That can be done later. Now we should decide on how rapidly to eliminate them, perhaps a couple of thousand a year, on each side. Once we get down to a few hundred we should pressure those countries with nuclear weapons to join us. If we are eliminating these weapons the pressure on others to do the same will be very great. At the point with each country having just a small number we can consider how far we want to go. But first we have to get there, not think about what to do when we are ready for the final step.

Of course there is much else that has to be included (Sidney D. Drell, The challenge of nuclear weapons: Physics Today, June 2007, p. 54).  However first the emotional problems must be dealt with.

Yet it is not only nuclear weapons that encourage the spread of nuclear weapons but any use of nuclear technology, such as radioisotopes and especially nuclear power. These we cannot avoid. Even if we wanted to the rest of the world, with good reason, will not. The question then is how to prevent such uses from encouraging the spread of weapons? That is an urgent problem can be seen from the fact that a new state has emerged as a nuclear weapons power about every 5 years! (W. K. H. Panofsky, Nuclear Proliferation: Capability versus Intent; Physics and Society, vol. 36, No. 1, January 2007, p. 9.) This perhaps has been slower than feared, but still too fast, in part because of the CTBT  (Jeremiah D. Sullivan, The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; Physics Today, March 1998. P. 24) and the Nonproliferation Treaty (which we are allowing to fray when we should be strengthening it).

We regard some nations as reliable, who can be trusted with nuclear technology, and others who we are willing to trust anyway, plus those who cannot be trusted (with anything). Obviously that is not the way they think of themselves. Any program to control such technology must apply equally to everyone (including the impossible, ourselves!).  As much as we wish to distinguish people (and of course everyone knows we can be trusted, don’t they?) that is not the way humans behave. As regrettable as it is others do not think we are better than they are. Thus for an effective system there must be equality, equality in inspection and equality in control. The question we face is whether we prefer to apply the standards to ourselves that we want to apply to others, or do we prefer acts of nuclear terrorism, even war, killing millions of our people? For many this is a very difficult question.

Clearly nuclear technology requires international control and inspection. Until we accept that, and accept that it applies to us as well as Iran and N. Korea we will have to accept that nuclear technology will spread and to more unstable states (if there are any), to subnational groups, to terrorists, increasing the chance of nuclear accidents and war and nuclear terrorist attacks against us.

Unfortunately designing such international control is not trivial. Too many governments are highly irresponsible (regrettably including ours). Here we need both deep strategic thinkers and psychiatrists.

The pathopsychology of John Dingell and the auto industry

August 4, 2007

One of the major causes of global warming is automobiles. It is obvious that mileage requirements should be increased, and fast. Foreign countries are producing more economical cars — and selling them. The US auto industry is being driven out of business. For its own survival the industry should be putting intense efforts into more efficient, economical cars. It should insist that Congress require higher mileage standards and fast. And it has someone in Congress who can do that: John Dingell. But he and the auto industry are fighting any attempts to, forcing the US companies out of business so destroying the jobs of his constituents. Are they nuts?

Romney for gun control

July 19, 2007

Mitt Romney is running ads saying that American’s children are surrounded by a cesspool of violence… . He should be congratulated for coming out so strongly for gun control.

Joseph Stalin as a role model for George Bush

July 15, 2007

The testimony of a former Surgeon General that he was required to mention George Bush several times in each page of his speeches sounds familiar. When he was in power books and papers always carried statements like this work was inspired and guided by the heroic leadership of the great Joseph Stalin.

It degrades the office of President for George Bush to use Joseph Stalin as a role model. We might have thought that it would be impossible for Bush to degrade the office any further.  But we didn’t count on his ability in such matters.  At least it is reassuring that our President is competent enough to do something successfully.