I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go to space

I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go to space
In this extract from How To Make A Spaceship, the physicist explains why he said yes when offered a seat on Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo and why we need a new generation of explorers
By Stephen Hawking
Sep 26 2016

I have no fear of adventure. I have taken daredevil opportunities when they presented themselves. Years ago I barrelled down the steepest hills of San Francisco in my motorised wheelchair. I travel widely and have been to Antarctica and Easter Island and down in a submarine.

On April 26, 2007, three months after my sixty-fifth birthday, I did something special: I experienced zero gravity. It temporarily stripped me of my disability and gave me a feeling of true freedom. After forty years in a wheelchair, I was floating. I had four wonderful minutes of weightlessness, thanks to Peter Diamandis and the team at the Zero Gravity Corporation. I rode in a modified Boeing 727 jet, which traveled over the ocean off Florida and did a series of manoeuvres that took me into this state of welcome weightlessness.

It has always been my dream to travel into space, and Peter Diamandis told me, “For now, I can take you into weightlessness.” The experience was amazing. I could have gone on and on.

Now I have a chance to travel to the start of space aboard Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo vehicle, VSS Unity. SpaceShipTwo would not exist without the X prize or without Burt Rutan, who shared a vision that space should be open to all, not just astronauts and the lucky few. Richard Branson is close to opening spaceflight for ordinary citizens, and if I am lucky, I will be among the early passengers.

I immediately said yes to Richard when he offered me a seat on SpaceShipTwo. I have lived with ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, for fifty years. When I was diagnosed at age twenty-one, I was given two years to live. I was starting my PhD at Cambridge and embarking on the scientific challenge of determining whether the universe had always existed and would always exist or had begun with a big explosion. As my body grew weaker, my mind grew stronger. I lost the use of my hands and could no longer write equations, but I developed ways of travelling through the universe in my mind and visualising how it all worked.

Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival. Living two thirds of my life with the threat of death hanging over me has taught me to make the most of every minute. As a child, I spent a lot of time looking at the sky and stars and wondering where eternity came to an end. As an adult, I have asked questions, including Why are we here? Where did we come from? Did God create the universe? What is the meaning of life? Why does the universe exist? Some questions I have answered; others I am still asking.

Like Peter Diamandis, I believe that we need a new generation of explorers to venture out into our solar system and beyond. These first private astronauts will be pioneers, and I hope to be among them. We are entering a new space age, one in which we will help to change the world for good.


America Treats Most Academic Faculty Like Peons, and the Results Are Not Pretty

America Treats Most Academic Faculty Like Peons, and the Results Are Not Pretty
By Roslyn Fuller
Sep 20 2016

“What is education?” Ruth Wangerin asks me, when I Skype the sociology professor at her home in New York. “Is education a good for its own sake? Is it a process of weeding people out? Or is the student a customer paying for certification and the adjunct is there to train them?”

It’s a good question.

Wangerin is an adjunct at the City University of New York or CUNY. Although she completed a PhD in the 1970s, the energetic 70-year-old spent her career outside of education, returning to teaching after filling in for a friend on sabbatical.

“I’m not sure how exciting academia is,” she tells me, “It used to be exciting when I was a grad student. We were always talking about the latest theories.” She looks uncharacteristically forlorn for a moment, before adding, “That being said, there were probably always hacks.”

As an adjunct, Wangerin is employed on a casual basis and earns somewhere between half and one-third of what a tenure-track professor would make for teaching the same courses. That is significant, because non-tenure track teaching staff – commonly referred to as adjuncts and contingent faculty – now make up approximately 70% of all teaching staff in American higher education. This means that roughly three out of every four courses a student takes are taught by someone without job security who is working on minimal pay.

When Wangerin conducted a survey at the College of Staten Island, a CUNY-affiliated institution, she discovered that one-fifth of adjuncts had no health insurance and that half of all respondents were seeking full-time employment but were unable to attain it.

“The work is there,” Wangerin tells me, “they just don’t want to pay.”

A one-time adjunct and contract lecturer myself, I decide to look into the matter more deeply. Are Wangerin’s contentions particular to her own experience or are they more widely shared across the United States? And if they are, what does this mean for higher education?

Information, as it turns out, isn’t hard to come by. I write one message to a long-time Twitter contact who also happens to be a contingent faculty member and my inbox explodes. As I sort through my e-mails a picture of higher education begins to emerge and, far removed from the conventional image of pipe-smoking professors in book-lined studies, it is largely one of exploitation and control.

“I am currently teaching one class, and in all honesty, unemployment benefits pay double that,” a community college lecturer who wished to remain anonymous told me, “I would be better off not teaching at all.”

An art professor from Ohio writes in to tell me that she’s just thrown in the towel after more than a decade of work: “My class was canceled two weeks before classes start and I decided to get my Alternative Educator License and teach at the high school level.”

I hear of a lecturer whose courses were allocated to someone else after he spoke out about a contract clause that demanded access to his DNA; about an adjunct who could not afford to pay property taxes on the family home after 20 years of teaching; and of someone who was fired after a student complaint that he was a “black racist.” “Whatever that means,” the adjunct reporting the incident grumbles.

I also hear, repeatedly, of lecturers working at low-paid jobs in restaurants and department stores to supplement their meagre wages. Some literally work alongside their students. It brings to mind the beginning of the Netflix series “Breaking Bad” where future drug lord Walter White is mocked by his students for working part-time at a carwash.

As I speak to contingent faculty from New York to Texas, Seattle to San Francisco, it becomes increasingly clear that academic penury has become the order of the day. And, concerningly, this is occurring at a time when higher education – and some salaries associated with it – is booming.


There was a bomb on my block.

There was a bomb on my block.
By danah boyd
Sep 20 2016

I live in Manhattan, in Chelsea, on 27th Street between 6th and 7th, the same block in which the second IED was found. It was a surreal weekend, but it is increasingly becoming depressing as the media moves from providing information to stoking fear, the exact response that makes these events so effective. I’m not afraid of bombs. I’m afraid of cars. And I’m increasingly becoming afraid of American media.

After hearing the bomb go off on 23rd and getting flooded with texts on Saturday night, I decided to send a few notes that I was OK and turn off my phone. My partner is Israeli. We’ve been there for two wars and he’s been there through countless bombs. We both knew that getting riled up was of no help to anyone. So we went to sleep. I woke up on Sunday, opened my blinds, and was surprised to see an obscene number of men in black with identical body types, identical haircuts, and identical cars. It looked like the weirdest casting call I’ve ever seen. And no one else. No cars, no people. As always, Twitter had an explanation so we settled into our PJs and realized it was going to be a strange day.

As other people woke up, one thing became quickly apparent — because folks knew we were in the middle of it, they wanted to reach out to us because they were worried, and scared. We kept shrugging everything off, focusing on getting back to normal and reading the news for updates about how we could maneuver our neighborhood. But ever since a suspect was identified, the coverage has gone into hyperventilation mode. And I just want to scream in frustration.

The worst part about having statistical training is that it’s hard to hear people get anxious about fears without putting them into perspective. ~100 people die every day in car crashes in the United States. That’s 33,804 deaths in a year. Thousands of people are injured every day by cars. Cars terrify me. And anyone who says that you have control over a car accident is full of shit; most car deaths and injuries are not the harmed person’s fault.

The worst part about being a parent is having to cope with the uncontrollable, irrational, everyday fears that creep up, unwarranted, just to plague a moment of happiness. Will he choke on that food? What if he runs away and gets hit by a car? What if he topples over that chair? The best that I can do is breathe in, breathe out, and remind myself to find my center, washing away those fears with each breath.

And the worst part about being a social scientist is understanding where others’ fears come from, understanding the power of those fears, and understanding the cost of those fears on the well-being of a society. And this is where I get angry because this is where control and power lies.

Traditional news media has a lot of say in what it publishes. This is one of the major things that distinguishes it from social media, which propagates the fears and anxieties of the public. And yet, time and time again, news media shows itself to be irresponsible, motivated more by the attention and money that it can obtain by stoking people’s fears than by a moral responsibility to help ground an anxious public.


Nietzsche’s Revenge

Nietzsche’s Revenge
The Unlikely Origin of American Decline
By umair haque
Sep 27 2016

What any thinking person should want to know today is: how did America get here?

Inside every myth is a tragedy. And beneath every worldly tragedy lies not just politics but philosophy. There is a Western philosopher who has unwittingly shaped the history and trajectory. But he wasn’t American, and he never cared much about America at all.


There are three things that characterize America. Here we are speaking about facts — not my or your opinion.

First, brutalism. An unmitigated disregard for human life. No other rich nation, etc. Builds large-scale institutions for the express purpose of entire social classes and ethnicities to be broken, used, and abused. The question is: why?

The answer is: second, because cruelty is seen as virtuous. It is virtuous because it is seen as a kind of social enforcement of the common good. To be weak is to be unethical. The weak are dead weight stopping progress, destiny, the rightful ascension of the strong.

Third, power as the end of human life. Power realizes selfhood, and therefore power alone is the overriding value — not, say, compassion, justice, or courage — towards which society is oriented. So, third, moral inversion: might essentially makes right.

In these three defining characteristics of America, there is no philosophy in human history that comes so strikingly close as Nietzsche’s. Whatever words we use to define America — individualism, utilitarianism, brutalism — we will see pale reflections of the Neitzschean positions defined long ago. That the highest values of humankind are the will to power, self-mastery, dog-eat-dog conquest, life as raw animality — all these ideas were chalked out first and best not by Lincoln or Jefferson but by Nietzsche.

I won’t discuss just how a German philosopher’s ideas came to shape and define the decline of a nation. The route is obvious, and maybe you already see it.

When you understand the Nietzschean origin of American decline, suddenly, things come into sharper focus everywhere. You see it in triumphalist brand names, like Uber. You see it in “YOLO” — Nietzsche was the first Western philosopher to tell us that this life was all that mattered, because God is dead, remember?

You see it in the relentless quest for “personal power”, “power poses”, and so on — you need to power to “realize yourself”, which, though you might think is an idea Abraham Maslow had, is in fact one that Nietzsche had long before him.

You see it in a constant need for “positivity” — we’re beyond good and evil, remember? They’re obstacles to be dispensed with. You see it in the absurdist subjectivity of the age of self, where everything has been reduced to an “identity”. You see it in “work hard play hard”, the “innovation” of socially useless things like plastic surgery for butt implants, the rise of the VIP lifestyle, all which, of course, reflect the idea of the overman or woman.

If one is an overman, then of course one deserves special privileges. One is not just more fortunate, lucky, or even talented, but inherently worthier. And it is that fools’ quest for special privilege that defines American decline. The dream that used to be about a little house on a quiet street is about a private jet and fuck-you money.

At this point, you might say: but what about religion? Nietzsche eschewed, even damned, Christianity. But Americans embrace it feverishly. Do they? In what sense is denying your fellow citizens healthcare, education, safety, and clean water Christian — let alone religious? If that is religion, then it surely can’t be in obeisance to a God that we all hold in common. Such a God wouldn’t really be worth praying to.


A disaster is looming for American men

[Note: This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis. DLH]

A disaster is looming for American men
By Lawrence H. Summers
Sep 26 2016

Over the weekend, the Financial Times published my review of Nicholas Eberstadt’s important new book Men Without Work. The core message is captured in the graph below:

Job destruction caused by technology is not a futuristic concern. It is something we have been living with for two generations. A simple linear trend suggests that by mid-century about a quarter of men between 25 and 54 will not be working at any moment.

I think this likely a substantial underestimate unless something is done for a number of reasons. First everything we hear and see regarding technology suggests the rate of job destruction will pick up. Think of the elimination of drivers, and of those who work behind cash registers. Second, the gains in average education and health of the workforce over the last 50 years are unlikely to be repeated. Third, to the extent that non-work is contagious, it is likely to grow exponentially rather than at a linear rate. Fourth, declining marriage rates are likely to raise rates of labor force withdrawal given that non-work is much more common for unmarried than married men.

On the basis of these factors, I expect that more than one-third of all men between 25 and 54 will be out work at mid-century. Very likely more than half of men will experience a year of non-work at least one year out of every five. This would be in the range of the rate of non-work for high school drop-outs and exceeds the rate of non-work for African Americans today.


Could Ancient Remedies Hold the Answer to the Looming Antibiotics Crisis?

Could Ancient Remedies Hold the Answer to the Looming Antibiotics Crisis?
One researcher thinks the drugs of the future might come from the past: botanical treatments long overlooked by Western medicine.
Sep 14 2016

On a warm, clear evening in March, with the sun still hanging above the horizon, Cassandra Quave climbed aboard a jalapeño-green 4-by-4 and started to drive across her father’s ranch in Arcadia, Fla. Surveying the landscape, most people would have seen a homogenous mat of pasture and weeds punctuated by the occasional tree. Quave saw something quite different: a vast botanical tapestry, rich as a Persian rug. On a wire fence, a Smilax vine dangled menacingly pointed leaves, like a necklace of shark’s teeth. Beneath it, tiny wild daisies and mint ornamented the grass with pink tassels and purple cornets. Up above, on the sloping branches of oak trees, whiskery bromeliads, Spanish moss and the gray fronds of resurrection fern tangled in a miniature jungle all their own.

Each of these species intrigued Quave enough to merit a pause, a verbal greeting, a photo. An ethnobotanist based at Emory University in Atlanta, Quave, 38, has an unabashed fondness for all citizens of the kingdom plantae. But on this evening, her attention lingered on certain species more than others: those with the power to heal, with the potential to help prevent a looming medical apocalypse.

Quave parked near the edge of a pond crowded with the overlapping parasols of water lilies. Here and there a green stem rose from the water, capped with a round yellow flower bud, like the antenna of some submerged mutant. Alligators had attacked dogs and ducks around here in the past. “But don’t worry,” Quave said, tracing the pond’s perimeter. “If we see one, I’m going to shoot it.” She wore lightweight cargo pants, a black tank top, a paisley bandanna wrapped around her head and a .357 Magnum revolver strapped to her hip.

After Quave gave the all-clear, her colleague Kate Nelson and I pulled on some tall rubber boots and proceeded cautiously into the water. I repeatedly plunged a shovel into the pond’s viscous floor of gray mud, just beneath the tenacious roots of a water lily — species name: Nuphar lutea — working it like a lever to loosen the plant as Nelson tugged on its stems. We seemed to be making good progress, until the roots suddenly snapped and Nelson fell backward with a splash. Thirty minutes later we emerged with boots full of water and several intact specimens. “Beautiful!” Quave said. “Hello, lovely.” The roots, which she had not seen properly until now, were large and pale like daikon, though much gnarlier and bristling with a mess of shaggy tendrils. Before this trip to Florida, while reading an old compendium on plants used by Native Americans, Quave had learned that a decoction of N. lutea’s roots could treat chills and fever, and that a poultice of its leaves could heal inflamed sores.

Ethnobotany is a historically small and obscure offshoot of the social sciences, focused on the myriad ways that indigenous peoples use plants for food, shelter, clothing, art and medicine. Within this already-tiny field, a few groups of researchers are now trying to use this knowledge to derive new medicines, and Quave has become a leader among them. Equally adept with a pipette and a trowel, she unites the collective insights of traditional plant-based healing with the rigor of modern laboratory experiments. Over the past five years, Quave has gathered hundreds of therapeutic shrubs, weeds and herbs and taken them back to Emory for a thorough chemical analysis.

By revealing the elemental secrets of these plants, Quave has discovered promising candidates for a new generation of drugs that might help resolve one of the greatest threats to public health today: the fact that an increasing number of disease-causing bacteria are rapidly evolving immunity to every existing antibiotic. Without effective antibiotics, common bacterial diseases that are curable today will become impossible to treat; childbirth, routine surgeries and even the occasional nick could turn lethal. The widespread emergence of resistant bacteria already claims 700,000 lives a year globally. Experts conservatively predict that by 2050, they will kill 10 million annually — one person every three seconds. “We’re standing on the precipice of a post-antibiotic era,” Quave says. “We just haven’t fallen off yet.”


Re: Fighting Politicians’ War on Truth

[Note: This comment comes from friend Steve Schear. DLH]

From: Steven Schear <steven.schear@googlemail.com>
Subject: Re: [Dewayne-Net] Re: Fighting Politicians’ War on Truth
Date: September 25, 2016 at 11:06:58 AM PDT
To: dewayne@warpspeed.com

Ever wonder why the Government and Politicians lie even when they know they’ll get caught? Asymmetry. It’s a tax on resistance. Its due to their keen understanding of what is now commonly called Brandolini’s Law https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullshit#Bullshit_asymmetry_principle

The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.


From: janosG <janosg@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [Dewayne-Net] Fighting Politicians’ War on Truth
Date: September 17, 2016 at 4:17:32 PM EDT
To: dewayne@warpspeed.com

Definition from personal experience: “Journalism: A craft practiced between the 18th and 20th centuries, poorly compensated; now no longer a paid activity, but expected to perform miracles.” Yes, I am trying to get free or inexpensive NYTimes/WxPost/etc. coverage myself.

Fighting Politicians’ War on Truth
U.S. journalists have an obligation to call out presidential candidates when they lie.
By Dan Gillmor
Sep 16 2016