- The New York Times today is charmingly naive about the workings of scientific research. Writing about a possible near-Earth asteroid approach and NASA's recent success in bombing a comet, the Times editorialists remark:
You don't need to be a science-fiction writer to see a curious convergence here - the approach of a possibly Earthbound asteroid and the emergence of the scientific and technological capacity to cope with it. That, of course, is merely coincidence.
No, it's not. All scientists like to claim that their work will benefit mankind. That's how they get media attention, research funding, tenure, etc. There have always been asteroids passing near Earth; there are probably many of them approaching at any point in time. Only recently, though, have astronomers started searching for them, on the infinitesimally likely grounds that one might pose a disaster-movie-style doomsday threat. Then they or others can propose big-science solutions to these allegedly-urgent problems, heroically saving humanity. This isn't coincidence, it's career advancement.
The real scientific threats here are to individual and institutional prestige, research budgets and media coverage. The environmental scientists have played this game skillfully for decades: imagine a global threat, "prove" it with computer models, scare the media, inspire a disaster movie, and wait for the rewards. Now astronomers have gotten into the act.
And the Times swallows it. I thought journalists were supposed to be cynical.
- In the 1990-91 Gulf War, the U.S.-led coalition made war against what was described as the fourth-largest army in the world. The poorly-trained, poorly-equipped and poorly-motivated Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein was decimated, both then and again in 2003. Now the U.S. is busy rebuilding the Iraqi army, training its troops with the best in American fighting techniques. Is this really wise? I sure hope they stay on on our side....
Possible consolation: Apparently the Iraqi troops aren't that good.
- Evie Gordon gets it right (as usual), this time on the disturbing matter of Israeli police brutality, which appears to be unfortunately endemic.
- I may yet discuss this at greater length, but for now, the abstract: I predict that the disengagement, assuming it takes place, will have no significant impact on the contours of Israeli politics and diplomacy. Contrary to what many are anticipating, there will be no crisis in religious Zionism; no "big bang" realignment in which (most of) Likud merges with (most of) Labor to form a ruling centrist national unity party; no change in the conventional arguments over land and peace; no change to Israel's international standing or image; no immediate prospect of a Palestinian state; and, certainly, no civil war, mass army desertion, etc. (Today's despicable incident notwithstanding.)