Arcadian Functor

occasional meanderings in physics' brave new world

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Marni D. Sheppeard

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

It's happening

I hardly need to mention the latest United Nations climate change report. It has had quite a bit of press. But some people still believe it is all just sensationalism and there is no reason they cannot happily continue to drive their car around and buy heavily marketed goods with wasteful packaging and eat food, which magically appears on the supermarket shelves, until sated, for ever more. No wonder the rest of us worry.

In the local newspaper today there was a poll about climate change. It had three options: (1) it's happening and we're doomed (2) it's happening but we'll get by and (3) it's not happening. Option (1) gets the most votes at 39%, just ahead of option (2) at 38%, with option (3) not too far behind. Wow. Was public opinion this divided on, say, the Cold War?

9 Comments:

Anonymous Carl Brannen said...

On the cold war, yes, opinion was similarly divided. When I as in high school, most people thought that the cold war would eventually end with a Communist victory as the Communists were still picking up little countries regularly. Opinion as to whether the end would be a global thermonuclear war, or if the US would just slowly be excluded from the rest of the world was the division.

It was quite a shock when the Soviets didn't win in Afghanistan.

February 06, 2007 8:19 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

"Cold War" is a good analogy! It seems that with any issue, 30% of people will swing one way, 30% another, with a swing vote in between.

Carlb, is it true that people in US academia were sympathetic to communism? I have heard that allegation but don't know if there is any truth to it.

February 07, 2007 7:06 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Hi guys! Unfortunately, the analogy might not extend to the more pleasant end result.

February 07, 2007 9:10 AM  
Blogger CarlBrannen said...

Louise, the most famous communist I knew in academia was the physicist Ross Lomanitz, who I took classes from at the small school I attended, NMT. I have little doubt that he passed atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Oppenheimer lost his security clearance partly because he failed to tell the authorities about Lomanitz.

At around 1982, Lomanitz gave a public lecture at the NMT campus where he told us what a wonderful place the Soviet Union was. It was a worker's paradise where everyone's needs were taken care of. At the time the Reagan administration was saying bad things about the Soviet Union and he felt that the other side of the story should be told. He had never been there.

One of the amusing features of the Soviet Union was the use of the air brush to adjust photographs of people who no longer fit in with the image they wished to exhibit. The modern equivalent is a rather strong denial of the Communist influence in academia in the US. The air brushing now appears in things like the mild wikipedia entry given above.

Academia is not filled with people who have a heck of a lot of common sense. The problem with Communism was that the concept was very simple and easy to understand, and the morality was obviously superior to the dog-eat-dog morality of Capitalism. There was also the "grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" thing going on, and it seems to be that academics just don't have much of the patriot gene that infuses the working classes.

It is the blue collar working class Joes that love the US and end up dying for it in its stupid wars, not the academics. Communism was extremely attractive to academics, and it still would be, if it hadn't have been used to kill so many people, destroy the environment, etc., so recently.

The same thing can be said about the Soviet scientists. There were large numbers of closet Capitalists hidden in their midst, while the working classes died by the millions stopping Hitler at Stalingrad.

It is academic arrogance that prevents the academics from understanding how little they know about the real world. The attitude is that if something is not known in academia, then it is not possible that anyone could possibly know it.

February 07, 2007 12:11 PM  
Anonymous Carl Brannen said...

I looked back at the information on Lomanitz, and to the best of my recollection, his speech on the Soviet Union was in the fall of 1980.

Lomanitz was an organizer for the Communist party in Berkeley while a grad student in physics. He got on to the Manhattan project, but got kicked off for being a Communist. The authorities yanked his deferment and sent him into basic training. My recollection is that he served in the Pacific, but I could easily be wrong.

After the war, Lomanitz couldn't get employment due to McCarthyism and had to work, as I have, in blue collar jobs. He got a job in 1962 at New Mexico Tech, which I later attended for six years.

In judging what other people have done, one must take into account their experience and beliefs. In 1942, the Soviet Union was considered an ideal government by a lot of people. It was in the fight of its life against the (capitalist) Germans and desperately needed any assistance it could get. To be a Communist and to not give assistance to the Soviet Union in its hour of need would be true treason. I doubt that Lomanitz had it in him to not help.

The cold war ended with relatively small casualties on all sides (except for a few very unlucky places like Vietnam). As a race, homo sapiens were very lucky to evade that particular madness as well as we did.

Later generations are unaware of the madness and what it meant for those of us alive at that time. I can recall, in 1979, considering employment with the nuclear Navy. As a 21-year-old mathematics student, I had to consider whether I would be able to turn keys that could kill millions.

By 1980, Lomanitz had been crapped on pretty hard by the US. He had quite a chip on his shoulder. He saw much of America from its worst point of view.

As an aside, I was amazed that he lived to age 82. He smoked like a stack.

February 07, 2007 7:45 PM  
Anonymous Carl Brannen said...

The reason I remember Lomanitz's smoking so much is because he chain smoked in class. The younger generation is unaware of what "chain smoking" means.

Way back when, the taxes on cigarettes were much smaller and it was possible to afford to keep one lit at all times without matches. One lights the (n+1)th cigarette using the nth.

If a smoker actually inhaled that much cigarette smoke it would be a fatal overdose -- nicotine poisoning -- and cigarettes had higher levels back then, I believe. So what they did instead was wave the cigarette around, polluting the air with it, but not actually smoking it. An alternative was to leave a cigarette burning unused in an ash tray.

Before the 1960s, people were quite accustomed to living in buildings that were blue with cigarette smoke. It was not considered rude to smoke in others presence; just to blow smoke directly in their faces.

In the 1970s, NMT instituted a policy that there was to be no smoking in classrooms. In his graduate classes, Lomanitz was in fragrant violation of this, with a constantly lit cigarette waving around in one hand. I would sit next to an open window, even on cold winter days.

February 08, 2007 12:12 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Interesting story, Carl. My own naive experience shows that academics often lack any sense and are drawn to silly ideas, like "dark energy."

February 09, 2007 3:40 AM  
Anonymous Carl Brannen said...

Louise, I just reread what I wrote and I think I need to add some comments about war, treason, bravery, and right and wrong.

Lomanitz was never convicted of spying. My conclusion that he was involved comes from my respect for him. He was a brave and dedicated man. Before he went to Los Alamos he helped organize unions for the black dockyard workers. These are things that it took guts to do back then.

When nations are in conflict, they expect their citizens to obey the laws. But the primary duty of a human is to obey their principles and these are sometimes in conflict with the law.

History is written by the winners. This means that a spin is carefully applied to each fact so that it can be interpreted in favor of the victors. For example, George Washington was a traitor to the British.

Communism is now, temporarily, on the ash-heap of history. It is easy to denigrate the people who followed it as useful idiots, but that should not get in the way of our recognizing their sacrifices, their bravery, etc.

I was born in Texas, one of the rebelling states in the US Civil War. The victors of that war wrote the history books. A typical ridiculous claim is that without a Civil War the US would still have slavery, as if time were somehow to be frozen in 1865.

History shows that regimes slowly improve. Many of the things that Lomanitz fought for in the 1940s have now come to pass in the US. The Soviet Union evolved for the better. Probably Hitler's Germany would also have so evolved.

Knowing this, would I have sacrificed a substantial part of my life fighting for what I believe to be right like Lomanitz did? I would not. And that is part of my respect for him.

February 09, 2007 12:55 PM  
Anonymous a quantum diaries survivor said...

Hi Kea,
why was the option "it's not happening, yet we are still doomed" not in the list ? It would have made for a more democratic poll ;-)

Cheers,
T.

February 15, 2007 3:57 AM  

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