Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “Old white guys from the ’80s” (yesterday). I’m afraid as a long-time subscriber and someone old enough to remember the 1980s, I cannot accept your apology. It is not good enough to say: “Even though two people look the same and sound kind of the same, they are not actually the same.”

Phil Collins is a drummer who sang bland songs about love.  Sting is a eclectic musician and activist. He has written a song which deals with Carl Jung, domestic angst, and the Loch Ness Monster (Synchronicity 2) and an album that features Northumbrian bagpipes (The Soul Cages).

I do, however, appreciate you setting the record straight about the shooting down of the Iranian airbus in 1988, which I have also not forgotten.

Too much space devoted to haughtiness

Tim Vines writes: Re: “Balanced precariously on the face of a comet, Philae’s work is just beginning” (yesterday). While Ben Sandilands makes some good points about both the mission and the media’s reporting of it, I wish he’d drop the snark. The tone in yesterday and today’s article is that of a first year Pol Sci student who, having happened to have read a bit ahead in the textbook, believes it justifies sneering haughtily at his poor, ill-informed and “embarrassingly gauche” classmates.

Meanwhile he adds precious little scientific substance himself over this editorialising. I’ve subscribed to Crikey for a number of years now and haven’t seen Sandilands comment on problems in Australia’s STEM curriculum or the public’s science [il]literacy. So it seems a bit unfair for him to take issue with it now.

Whether or not they are directly involved in an individual mission, scientists and their many avid lay-followers use occasions like this to engage with the public (the ones who ultimately pay for these missions!) and to build support for new research and projects. After all, 18km/s is a speed no one on Earth experiences (outside their own frame of motion), but it uplifts the spirit to know we as a species can achieve such wondrous technical feats. References to the “origin of life” might not be absolutely relevant to this mission, but they go to the heart of the modern justification for exploration (hint: it’s no longer about finding lands of gold, slaves and new empires).

Please, we need more scientists, engineers and dreamers who are also dab-hands at orbital mechanics. But we will not get them by belittling the scientists and communicators who seek to inspire the next generation. Instead, point people at the wealth of available information* out there so next time they can be the kid who has read just a little bit further than you.

* For example, off the top of my head: Veritaserum (YouTube); MinutePhysics (YouTube); What-if (XKCD); Vsauce (YouTube); Bad Astronomy Blog

Cuts to the ABC as expected

Richard Middleton writes: Re. “Up to 500 jobs to go as ABC, SBS funding cuts are finalised” (Wednesday). The draconian cuts to the ABC and SBS are what we would expect from the government we have at the moment. It is all about silencing any possible alternative (whoops!) information and stifling any resulting dissent (and the ABC’s recent pivot towards the government line was obviously too little too late) so that way can be made over the now tilted play ground, for the interests of Murdoch and his peons. We really should understand that the Murdoch Department of Truth is only here for our good, even if it does look or feel that way.

Australia really is in trouble. Certifiable idiots are at the levers of the machinery of state. Nothing could be more certain to confirm that than Abbott’s gung ho approach to President Vladimir Putin and the very likely shooting down of MH17 by Ukrainian jets. If Abbott has information to the contrary (other than discredited “social media” postings) he should make it public. Failing to do so makes him (and those who voted for him) look like and incomparable fool.

Pendulums do have a way of coming back, though, that is the only consolation.

Peter Fray

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