Why Watergate Couldn’t Have Happened in England
Floyd Abrams is one of the leading legal authorities on the First Amendment and U.S. Constitutional Law, having appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court. Abrams is the William J. Brennan Jr. Visiting Professor at the at Columbia University's journalism school. He is a partner with the firm Cahill, Gordon & Reindel.
In perhaps his most famous case, Abrams defended the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case in 1971 in which the paper published secret reports on U.S. involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.
Question: How has our understanding of the First Amendment changed?
Floyd Abrams: I would say that when I was in law school I was sort of enamored with English law and English law wasn’t... basically even now... is much less protective of free speech and more protective of order, order and society than our law is. For example, I thought it made sense then that if somebody was on trial the press shouldn’t be allowed to publish information about the trial until it was pretty well over. Certainly information which could influence a juror, a confession which might not be admitted into evidence. Prior criminal record, for example. I was in some public speaking contests, that I won, in which I was taking the position, in college, that we should move more towards the English system.
My views have changed. They changed pretty rapidly after law school about that as well as the breadth, as I view it, of the First Amendment, for a number of reasons. One is that I got a much better sense of what journalists do. Certainly what they do at their best and the role that they can play. Lots that was published during the Watergate scandal in the mid-1970s couldn’t have been published in England because there were all these trials going on to do with the scandal and a lot of what was published about the Nixon administration could not have been published and would not have been published in England under the English law that I had previously liked so much.
Something else which affected my views and that is that government is not always candid with the public. That we need government and we need it to work, but we need the ability to be critical and the information from which we can be critical of government too. And only under American law is that as possible as it is here. Possible because you really can’t get in trouble here by criticizing government by having documents to back you up, by gathering information. We have a Freedom of Information act here which is not required by the First Amendment but which supplements the First Amendment in a very important way, really based on the notion that the government is supposed to serve the public, it’s supposed to be representative of the public. So that unless there’s a really good reason to keep materials secret the presumption should be that it’s public.
As I’ve practiced law in the area and read books about American history and talked to people, I’ve more and more come to the view that while there are risks and genuine ones of living in a society in which people are so free to say so much with so little risk, that for us a least it’s a much safer system as well as a much freer system because of the openness of our society and our willingness to let people and institutions to have their say.
Question: What is most threatening to the First Amendment?
Floyd Abrams: I think the state of First Amendment law is good in the country. I think the state of free speech is generally good. There are exceptions. But I think that the difficulty, the existential threat to newspapers in the country, is itself threatening of free speech in a different way. I do think newspapers have played a very special role with respect to educating the public, exposing misconduct and the like in a way which no other institution really has matched. And I think that the economic difficulties that the press is having pose very real risks for the public itself. I mean, the public is doing it. It’s not a matter where the government has done something wrong here. The public is obviously free to choose what to buy and what to not to buy and that they’d rather see things for free on the Internet than to buy a newspaper.
But the effect of that I think is deeply threatening to the country as we know it and in the best way. Things change. That’s both inevitable and generally a good thing. But if one of the ways things ultimately change is that we don’t have a vibrant press with respect to the written word I think the public will truly be the loser.
Recorded on July 29, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
Abrams' initial interest was in English law, which is less protective of free speech. As he learned more about the role that journalists can play at their best—and about the need to be critical of government—he became more enamored with the First Amendment.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.