Steven Hawking is Wrong

Steven Hawking is quoted as saying we now only have 100 years to leave Earth and find another habitable planet because those in charge of Earth are going to make it unlivable

I think he is absolutely wrong. The amount of fuel and other resources to get to ANY other known exoplanet for even 1,000 humans is a very large fraction of our present total annual energy and materials output of the entire planet — and would impoverish all the remaining 99.9999% of the population of the planet, even the 1% who currently have way too much.

For a very tiny fraction of those financial and material resources, we could devote some time, thought, planning and resources to make it so that wilderness areas are preserved, we stop filling the atmosphere with CO2 and methane, and we stop causing extinctions and fouling our own nest. In other words, we need to stop screwing up the air, the oceans, the lakes, the rivers, and the land itself. We certainly have all the money to give every living human soul a decent life, and we can preserve wild places so that there still will be wild animals running free on every single continent.

To my knowledge as a fairly avid amateur astronomer, we have yet to find even a single exoplanet that humans could actually exist on. While a number of of exoplanets are calculated to be in the ‘warm-enough’ zones, we don’t yet have any way of telling whether life has arisen on any of them. While at some point, spectroscopes will be able to discern what elements make up their atmosphere, it would be a stretch to say we could tell whether there is in fact life of any sort. If some do have living cells, we would not know what sort of overall chemistry they would have. There is no magic law that we know of that says that every ‘habitable-zone’ planet has lots of liquid water, an atmosphere that we would find breathable, and living cells based on RNA, DNA, and chlorophyll.

If we were so lucky as to find such a ‘pink unicorn’ planet around Proxima Centauri, the closest known star –‘only’ about 4 light years away — It would still take about 40 years to get there, at best (if we can get the speed up to  10% of c, the speed of light). Once they arive, the colonists would have to build, pretty much from scratch, all of the resources of NASA, European Space Agency, and those of Russia, China and India — combined. Which might take 50 – 100 years if they work really fast, so it could easily take one or two centuries for the first voyagers to return from Proxima Centauri – the very closest possible known exoplanet system.

No thanks.

No thank you to the idea of leaving this beautiful blue Planet Earth en masse. It’s the only place in the entire universe that we KNOW you can find a place that is reminiscent of Heaven. Yes, life is Hell for many of its residents, but with the proper amount of good will, we could fix that. Sure, let’s keep exploring with robotic drones and orbiting and Earth-based telescopes. It’s fine to send some expeditions to Mars and other places in our Solar System that have human crews, after we’ve made it a bit safer and affordable. But don’t believe for a minute that there is any other place in our Solar System where people can safely and affordably settle and raise families!

Let’s clean up our own nest instead of fouling it up some more for some crack-pot idea of massively escaping the ONE. AND. ONLY. KNOWN. HABITABLE. PLANET. IN. THE. ENTIRE. UNIVERSE.

Yes, it’s true that the owners of the large corporations and those who run governments and even small farmers, fishermen and the rest of us all over the planet are in fact screwing up Planet Earth almost as fast as we can. Our continued use of fossil fuels and generation of smog and water pollution goes on apace. However, we know how to fix all of that. It’s not hard, and many places have instituted protections (regulations) that will slow it down and eventually turn it all around.

Let’s fix Earth, not dream of leaving it.

Sorry, Dr Hawking, you are wrong.

24 Excellent Questions That Mostly Are NOT Being Asked By the Media 

But are posed by Andrew Bacevich…

Thanks to Steven Ruis for pointing this out.

BTW, here are a few of those questions:

2. American military supremacy: The United States military is undoubtedly the world’s finest.  It’s also far and away the most generously funded, with policymakers offering U.S. troops no shortage of opportunities to practice their craft.  So why doesn’t this great military ever win anything?  Or put another way, why in recent decades have those forces been unable to accomplish Washington’s stated wartime objectives?  Why has the now 15-year-old war on terror failed to result in even a single real success anywhere in the Greater Middle East?  Could it be that we’ve taken the wrong approach?  What should we be doing differently?

3. America’s empire of bases: The U.S. military today garrisons the planet in a fashion without historical precedent.  Successive administrations, regardless of party, justify and perpetuate this policy by insisting that positioning U.S. forces in distant lands fosters peace, stability, and security.  In the present century, however, perpetuating this practice has visibly had the opposite effect.  In the eyes of many of those called upon to “host” American bases, the permanent presence of such forces smacks of occupation.  They resist.  Why should U.S. policymakers expect otherwise?

4. Supporting the troops: In present-day America, expressing reverence for those who serve in uniform is something akin to a religious obligation.  Everyone professes to cherish America’s “warriors.”  Yet such bountiful, if superficial, expressions of regard camouflage a growing gap between those who serve and those who applaud from the sidelines. Our present-day military system, based on the misnamed All-Volunteer Force, is neither democratic nor effective.  Why has discussion and debate about its deficiencies not found a place among the nation’s political priorities? 

5. Prerogatives of the commander-in-chief: Are there any military actions that the president of the United States may not order on his own authority?  If so, what are they?  Bit by bit, decade by decade, Congress has abdicated its assigned role in authorizing war. Today, it merely rubberstamps what presidents decide to do (or simply stays mum).  Who does this deference to an imperial presidency benefit?  Have U.S. policies thereby become more prudent, enlightened, and successful?

Short Video Version of the Rise of Putin (famously friends with Cheeto Hitler)

Interesting video.


David Satter, a writer fluent in Russian, has definite evidence that in fact a number of the terrorist incidents in Russia were in fact carried out by Russian security forces to gin up support for war and repression.

Learning Arabic!

Yesterday, for the very first time, I succeeded in typing a word in Arabic on my smartphone and then got the phone to translate it into English. Instead of the other way around. The word is


  • which is written from right to left, and pronounced “mabsout” or “map-soot” in English.
  • The meaning is appropriate: “happy”, because I’m finally making a little progress, and the translation confirms what I learned 40+ years so living and working and studying Hebrew on a left-wing kibbutz in Israel. At one point I could actually read technical manuals in Hebrew and carry on many conversations, but I didn’t learn much Russian, Arabic, or Yiddish, which I heard a lot of at the time.
  • Not even the Arabic alphabet…
  • As a result I always felt a little stupid because even tho Hebrew and Arabic are pretty closely related, I never had ANY IDEA what words written in Arabic meant– not even obvious place names on trilingual road signs.
  • Yiddish is basically a dialect of German written in Hebrew characters with a good bit of Slavic and Hebrew vocabulary, so I could at least sound that out and if you know any older American or Israeli Jews you know a lot of Yiddish phrases
  • I had already taught myself the Russian (Cyrillic) alphabet
  • But I had no clue whatsoever as to how Arabic was written.
  • Now I can sort of sound them out… progress!)👶🏼👅🌞🌟

So this says the same thing in all three languages though Arabic doesn’t have a “v” sound so it’s more like “Tel Abeeb”.

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I think that Arabic is one of the hardest languages I’ve tried to learn (up there with Japanese or Chinese) especially since those dots that you see make enormous differences.  For examples, these four letters mean different things:

ذ د ز ر

(R, Z, D, Zh) and similar shapes could also be “B”, “T”, “Th”, “N”, or “Y” depending on dots. Plus colloquial spoken Arabic is different in every Arab country, really different – much more different than British and American or South African English, say. Almost like the differences between Catalan and Castilian.
What’s more, “correct” “modern standard Arabic” is essentially the same language as the Q’ran (Koran) with some modern additions – and which nobody speaks except for announcers and writers of newspapers and books. Can you even imagine reading and writing and having to speak the forms of English, Latin, German, or French that were spoken in the year 800 (when Charlemagne was crowned)? The Koran was recorded over 100 years earlier!


Published in: on April 17, 2017 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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US Cruise Missiles Hit Syrian Air Base

Conclusion of a NYT information article on last night’s strikes: “The decision to launch an attack was a major reversal for Mr. Trump, who criticized former President Barack Obama in 2013 for considering strikes against Syria after a previous chemical attack.” 
There is no side with clean hands there that I know of – not even the far-left Kurdish groups. (I understand that the latter groups are quite happy with the American support that they receive. Who knows how long that will last?)
An engineer I know from Lebanon said that she didn’t really understand why groups were fighting to overthrow Assad in the first place — after all, education and medical care in Syria (up to the start of the civil war) were free and quite good.
No American newspaper or media agency of any sort that I know of has reporters on all sides of the various front lines; most don’t have a single reporter anywhere inside Iraq. We know from the first and second Gulf wars against Iraq that embedding reporters with any one side necessarily means that the information that comes out from those reporters will be slanted towards that side — or else the reporter is declared persona non grata or worse (arrested, tortured, deported, or even murdered). Let us remember that being an honest reporter can be very, very dangerous. If correspondent tells the truth and it hurts somebody, repercussions can be quite severe. To be called an ‘enemy of the people’ and ‘the most dishonest people ever’ by the politician who has told more bald-faced lies than any other figure I can think of in American history, is threatening.
One thing I like about this map – from IS Janes  via the NYT – is that the colors are much better than usual, so you can see who controls what territory.

Vouchers in Ohio Help Students Who REMAIN in Public School, and Harm Those Who Use the Vouchers to Attend Public Schools!

The Fordham Institute is one of the major backers of ‘choice’, vouchers, and charter schools — and of defunding public schools. So it’s quite a surprise when they publish a major study showing that students who use vouchers actually do WORSE than their peers who remain in the public schools.

You are probably thinking that I am joking or exaggerating.


I will quote from the executive summary:

• EdChoice improved the achievement of the public school students who were eligible for the voucher but did not use it. …

• The students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools. The study finds negative effects that are greater in math than in English language arts. Such impacts also appear to persist over time, suggesting that the results are not driven simply by the setbacks that typically accompany any change of school.

Let us acknowledge that we did not expect—or, frankly, wish—to see these negative effects for voucher participants; but it’s important to report honestly on what the analysis showed and at least speculate on what may be causing these results.

Low College Completion Rates even for students graduating from Charter Schools

I’d like to thank Jerry Becker for bringing this to my attention.

And not just MesoAmerica!

This is important stuff! The roots of democracy run deep, and wide — ancient history was not all ruled by pharoahs, emperors, and gilded billionaires.

An article describes research I never heard of that shows that there was in fact quite a continuum from pure democracy to pure autarchy in past history — and if we look carefully at clues left behind in the archaelogical record, we can get an idea of how democratic (0r not) various ancient societies actually were.

I quote:

They come up with a scale of popular participation in government that runs from autocratic regimes to more collective or democratic regimes. In their causal model the internal or external origin of state revenues causes or determines the scores on the governance scale (see the diagram). In short, reliance on internal revenue sources leads to greater bureaucratization, greater popular control over rulers, and more provisioning of public goods. Rulers rely on their subjects for taxation, so they must treat them better. External revenue leads to the opposite pattern. Rulers get their revenue from elsewhere, so they have no incentive to treat their subjects well by providing public goods or giving them any say in governance.

Blanton & Fargher 2008: 254

Blanton and Fargher’s scale of rulership, which runs from autocratic to democratic or collective, is a major advance in understanding ancient states. Not all states were the same. Some rulers were despotic and seriously exploited their subjects, but other states had more collective forms of rule, which means that commoner subjects had some say in governance. They analyze the thirty polities in their sample on a host of variables, which are scored in various ways to produce three numerical scales: public goods provision; bureaucratization; and control of the ruler. The scores for these scales are summed to produce their governance scale, which runs from a low of 23.5 (Bakitara; Aceh, Nupe, and 12th century England are near the bottom) to a high of 52 (Classical Athens; also near the top: Republican Rome, Ming China and Lozi in Africa).

How Poorly Distributed Wealth is, is simply Mind-Blowing

I just looked it up: The total amount of wealth (after debts) of all US households, individuals, and non-profits is right now in the neighborhood of $100 TRILLION. (The WSJ said $85 trillion, two years ago). Yes, you read that right, not 100 million, not 100 billion, but a hundred trillion dollars.

Are you impressed? It gets better! — or, at least, it could.

If we could somehow wave a magic wand and divide all that wealth equally among all 125 million US million households (source here for that #) well, after you cross out all those zeroes (or subtract exponents), then each and every single household would NET just about eight hundred thousand dollars.

$800,000 bucks for every single household.

Think about that!

A very large fraction of the population is in fact basically penniless – or they owe way more than they can earn in a year. Or are one or two paychecks away from eviction, foreclosure, bankruptcy, the whole nine yards. And I’m pretty sure this includes the black and brown immigrants who are cleaning and constructing our buildings, fixing our roads, driving our cabs, taking care of gardens and babies, and let’s not forget, picking our vegetables and fruits and slaughtering our meat. Yes, them, too.

I know there are going to be plenty of complaints that the poor and the underserving don’t deserve this, and when you give money to the poor, it’s all spent on booze and drugs. Well, if you let money sit in the hands of the super-rich, they simply cannot spend it all – one of the first things I learned from a very conservative Dartmouth College economics professor nearly 50 years ago. How many houses or yachts or cars can a single hyper-wealthy household actually USE?

Poor folks, on the other hand, spend it all immediately, so it gets transferred to other businesses (car dealers, furniture stores, clothing stores, and grocery stores) almost as soon as it gets into their hands.

Obviously my mental magic trick is never going to happen – but it’s sure fun to think about!

How ‘Zero-Tolerance’ Policies Harm All Students


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The author, Derek Black told Jennifer Berkshire that “…some of the charter schools you’re referencing actually take it to one more level. They say ‘you don’t think we can? Just watch us. We’re going to have suspension and expulsion rates higher than anything you’ve ever seen before.’

“I think the difference between the charter system and the public system, which is really what my book is about, is that the public system doesn’t really get rid of its students; they come back. The charter school doesn’t have the responsibility of serving the community and all of its children, so that what it’s trying to do is sort of slash and burn.

“I suppose that one can slash and burn all of the low achievers and the troublemakers until there is no one left. It’s not that they’ve made the students who are left perform better, but that they’ve lopped off their low performers.”

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