Friday, December 04, 2009

Freeman Dyson in Portland

Freeman Dyson came across as both relaxed and sagacious tonight. He shared a lot of history, making important points about how to make the world safer and stronger. I found it refreshing to hear such non-apocalyptic thinking for a change.

Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush Sr. received quite a bit of appreciation for their accomplishments in this regard.

Nixon, persuaded by Kissinger who knew this guy from Harvard whose name I now forget, got biological weapons decommissioned and off the table.

Reagan and Gorbachev got very close to agreeing to eliminate nukes, even though their advisors misguidedly talked them out of it.

Bush Sr. cut the number of theater nukes dramatically by removing them from surface ships and from the army.

That one story people tell, about nukes having been effective in ending WWII, is really not how it went, according to Dyson's best guess based on a good look at the scholarship.

The emperor was following his venerated grandfather's response in 1895, to a Euro-Russian demand to quit China. Now the Russians were invading again and it was time to surrender. The nukings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not in themselves trigger any high level meetings.

Dyson thinks nukes are both morally indefensible and militarily nothing more than a headache, a liability, regardless of who has them or why.

The real challenge and focus should be dropping their numbers among the haves, who have tens of thousands of such beasts, not on Iran so much, or North Korea.

These latter foci are more sideshow distractions, ways of deliberately diverting attention from the real dangers, postponing any real reforms.

Having Kissinger, Nunn and others taking an anti-nuke position today (the current reality), could signal it's time to get it done.

This Portland audience seemed quite on board with that analysis. This Freeman guy makes plenty of sense to us.

The balance of his talk was about bio-tech, somewhat distinct from nano-tech. He thinks bio-tech might go the way of computing, in starting out expensive and restrictive, then becoming more accessible and ubiquitous. Disruptive maybe, but on balance an OK development?

I was glad to have my mother Carol with us tonight. At the dinner, she asked if it were true that pouring molasses on nukes was a fast way to decommission them. Freeman agreed there might be something to this way of thinking. Mom also enjoyed talking to Bruce Adams.

My thanks to Terry, Don, Glenn. Leslie, missed seeing you. Aldona, good talking. Good seeing Joe Arnold, hearing his question about quantum mechanics. Lots of chuckles about string theory, which might yet end up important someday.

Glenn and Carol
:: Glenn and Carol (click for Photostream) ::