Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Fun Fact: It turns out that 73 world leaders did in fact share the victory of the Moon landing- at least in spirit. Today I came across an article on Space.com called “The Untold Story: How One Small Disc Carried One Giant Message for Mankind.” The article said that prior to the Moon landing the U.S. State Department authorized NASA to collect messages of peace and good will from 73 leaders of the world's nations. These microscopic messages were etched into a tiny silicone disc about the size of a half-dollar. Buzz Aldrin then carried the disk in his spacesuit's sleeve pocket before leaving it on the Moon. Here are a few of the messages:
“On this unique occasion when man traverses outer space to set foot on Earth’s nearest neighbor, Moon, I send my greetings and good wishes to the brave astronauts who have launched on this great venture. I fervently hope that this event will usher in an era of peaceful endeavor for all mankind." Indira Gandhi, prime minister of India
"This is a message from black militants. It is a message of human solidarity, a message of peace. In this first visit to the Moon, rather than a victory of technology we salute a victory of human will: research and progress, but also brotherhood." Léopold Sédar Senghor, president of Senegal
"On behalf of the British people I salute the skill and courage which have brought man to the moon. May this endeavor increase the knowledge and well-being of mankind." The Queen
Monday, July 18, 2011
NAPF’s Peace Leadership Director Paul Chappell recently sent me a radio interview called, “Star Trek and Peace” and I have to say: I get it. While the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry originally sold the idea for Star Trek as a ‘Western in outer space,’ the only showdowns we see on the frontier are those concerning peace, war, and morality. When describing the theme of the show Roddenberry says, "It speaks to some basic human needs, that there is a tomorrow - it's not all going to be over in a big flash and a bomb, that the human race is improving, that we have things to be proud of as humans. No, ancient astronauts did not build the pyramids - human beings built them because they're clever and they work hard. And 'Star Trek' is about those things."
And he’s right. Not only does Starfleet Academy represent a hard-working peacekeeping navy, but it unites both aliens and humans alike to benefit the greater good. When faced with moral dilemmas like ‘just war’ and self-defense, Star Trek forces us to self-reflect and ask “in combating evil, how much evil can we do ourselves?” This reoccurring theme is often paired with the idea that what we leave behind is just as important as how we lived.
The show also tackles the issue of nuclear weapons. In an episode called “The Doomsday Machine” the USS Enterprise crew encounters a powerful device built to destroy both sides in a war. Although it was intended only as a deterrent (sound familiar?) the device ended up being activated and destroying its creators. The episode originally aired in 1967; does anyone else find it odd that the theme is just as prevalent over forty years later?
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
The first time I really sat down and thought about the relationship between science and religion was after watching Ron Howard’s commentary on the book-based movie “Angels and Demons.” He said “We are all just trying to understand the universe,” and he’s right. This longing to understand the universe is what made the 14th Dalai Lama vow that his spirituality and respect for science would never be at odds with each other. It is also the reason that Albert Einstein extensively studied the life of Gandhi, one of the greatest spiritual leaders of all time.
Our shared interest in understanding the universe can serve as a vital tool for promoting peace and acceptance. I recently watched a satellite interview of Pope Benedict XVI and the International Space Station crew. The Pope’s first question was “how can science affect peace?” The crew responded that when you understand how fragile and beautiful the planet is you have a new-found appreciation for all inhabitants of the earth. The Pope then acknowledged that scientific exploration is an adventure of the human spirit; one that instills hope and appreciation for all mankind.
Well my friends, you heard it from the Pope himself. Not only are science and religion compatible, but when used together they can create a powerful force that promotes peace and acceptance.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Last week, I heard a report on NPR that was surprising, but all too familiar in today’s age where greed fuels politics. Recently Japan raised the danger level rating of the Fukushima disaster to a level 7, the highest level on the International Nuclear Event Scale, putting it on the same level as Chernobyl. The severity of this recent crisis has called into question the safety of U.S. nuclear power plants. An extensive investigation recently conducted by the AP revealed that U.S. reactors are much less safe than they appear to be. Over 30% of U.S. reactors are first generation reactors just like those at the Fukushima plant. This means that many of our reactors are almost 50 years old, and during the past years many have avoided significant repairs.
It is a fact of life that over time things wear down, and nuclear reactors are no different. Metals rust, concrete crumbles and pipes leak, which allow for accidents to more easily occur. Not only are many of the reactors in the U.S. old, but many of them have slid through the cracks due to corrupt or lax safety inspections. Here’s how: the government and nuclear power industry have been working together to re-adjust regulations or tweak risk assessments in order to make the plants appear safe in the eyes of the public. Nuclear power plants cost billions of dollars to build, but call for additional funding in order to keep them running efficiently and safely. In order to avoid high repair costs and still pass safety inspections and regulations, energy companies have built close ties with the Nuclear Regulation Committee (NRC). The NRC has repeatedly argued that safety measures are too strict and could be easily loosened without causing any harm. As safety measures are relaxed, reactors begin to wear down, which is able to occur unnoticed. For example, the picture above shows a 5-by-5-inch hole in a section cut from the top of the reactor vessel at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ohio. The hole was a result of boric acid, which leaked from inside the reactor due to cracks in the vessel head. Only three-eighths of an inch of steel cladding remained, which according to the NRC could have resulted in a reactor breach in as little as two months. Fortunately, this hole was discovered before an accident occurred, but three-eighths of an inch is cutting it too close.
It is time that our government places the safety of our citizens above costs. It is depressing to see that time and time again, the government values cutting costs over saving lives and implementing safety measures. The U.S. government not only needs to tighten safety standards and conduct more outside audits, we need to follow other countries who are investing in other safer forms of renewable energy such as wind and solar power. The Japanese government says it will make up the loss of its nuclear future with solar power and other renewable energies. Countries such as Germany, Italy, and Switzerland have also halted many of their nuclear power programs. It is time for the U.S. to re-think its energy programs and focus on safety and sustainability.
Monday, July 11, 2011
For those of you who don’t know, Sunday is 'Netflix documentary day.' Since coming to Santa Barbara I have made a habit of waking up early on Sundays and getting all the day’s work done in the morning so by the time 3:00 rolls around, I can lose myself in countless hours of instant cinematic gratification. Yesterday’s pick was a 2008 film directed by two Harvard University professors called, “Secrecy.” In addition to detailing the history of government confidentiality from its origins in the 1940s, the film features countless gripping interviews with former CIA and national security experts on the topic. Popcorn anyone?
The most compelling concept I took from "Secrecy" was that despite what we are told, classification does not always promote national security. In fact, in many cases over-classification can actually make us less secure and even violate the rule of law. There is no greater example of this than the Manhattan Project. In addition to being the pinnacle of modern government confidentiality, the Manhattan Project demonstrated how secrecy can be used as a tool to keep a large amount of power in a small amount of hands.