Thursday, November 13, 2014

No Gain without Pain?

Someone in the bar was 'encouraging'. It happens when someone needs a shove. But by the Lord Harry some people do say the daftest things. They can lose all sense of proportion.

We have seen a legion of 'Gurus" arise in the past 50 odd years, all mouthing questionable platitudes. Some are quite stupid; some dangerous; some simply charlatans.

Many here know that even Knights can admire airplanes and pilots. The pilots of military planes are generally quite courageous chaps, especially those who do the 'testing'. They push the envelope and generally without mindless encouragement. They don't usually say much that gets reported.

That is not always the case with their 'bosses', especially when said 'Boss' is a dilettante and a dill, And even when he is a 'successful' dill.

Sir Richard of the Hair and Teeth.
So some words tumbled from the mouth of Sir Richard Branson the other day, on the occasion of the death of a pilot. He was taken to task by Peter Jones.

Someone had to say it.
No, Richard Branson, our greatest achievements don’t come from our greatest pain
The ancients would have found the idea absurd. And they proved it wrong
Explaining the death of a pilot testing a Virgin Galactic rocket-ship, Sir Richard Branson intoned: ‘I truly believe that humanity’s greatest achievements come out of the greatest pain.’ 
The ancients would have been appalled, both at the crass ignorance of the sentiment and its implication.
It is hard to see how papyrus, made out of marsh plants in Egypt since about 3,000 BC, resulted from ‘the greatest pain’. Yet, in combination with the presumably pain-free invention of the Greek alphabet, from which the Roman and our alphabet derive, this material was to drive literacy and a knowledge revolution across the Mediterranean. 
The technology took another dramatic leap forward when the codex, or book, was invented by the Romans in the 1st century BC, replacing the clumsy and inefficient scroll. 
One wonders how many lost their lives doing that.
To turn to the work of the mind, not many died when Euclid’s axiomatic method laid the secure foundation for later mathematics or Archimedes did work ranked with that of Newton, Gauss and Euler. 
Few fatalities were incurred when Aristotle invented biology and the rules of logic, Homer invented epic and Herodotus history. 
When, without a single casualty, the Roman poet Lucretius made Epicurus’ atomist theory of life the subject of his great poem On the Nature of the Universe, it would revolutionise our understanding of the world 1,700 years later. 
And all that from just the ancient world.
Further, Branson’s assertion that sending millionaires on holidays into suborbital space will be one of ‘humanity’s greatest achievements’ is grotesque enough; but the implication that ‘the greatest pain’ — i.e. the death of members of his workforce — is a price well worth paying in the cause of his saint-like devotion to the betterment of mankind suggests he is close to losing all sense of proportion. 
A Greek sentiment, surviving in Latin, might sum up his situation: quem Jupiter vult perdere, dementat prius — ‘whom Jupiter wishes to destroy, he first drives mad’.

Yes, some advances are painful. My sympathies go to the brave pilots and the grieving family. But let us be free of mindless cant. 

A far better assessment, and words, were from Bill Whittle. He recognises the brilliance and the risks and praises as due.


I have a boat to catch.


  1. It is not as though sending millionaires (or paupers, for that matter) into space for a holiday is, by itself, a great achievement, any more than sending people on holiday around the planet in aeroplanes is (that cost a few lives, too).

    What is great is that space travel is becoming something that can be funded privately, which will lead to greater technological improvements at no taxpayer cost. This, in turn, will help the next step of space exploration and expansion, where off-earth mining and fabrication can take place which might eventually enable off-earth human expansion.

    1. There are many achievements that have been won at great personal cost, and no doubt space travel will provide many more opportunities. But Branson was inaccurate and crass.

  2. The ancients would have been appalled, both at the crass ignorance of the sentiment and its implication.


  3. I can't say that Branson is my favorite advocate for space flight. That being said, aviation and space exploration are dangerous areas of scientific advancement. It cant really be compared with the creation of papyrus.

    All in all whether or not Branson is the best orator for deaths these men, the fact remains these are civilian aviators, who are pushing humanity into the frontier that will insure the survival of the species.

    So for me when it comes to who I honor more as a man. These Guys who are peacefully advancing science, or the current brand of military aviators. It is a pretty clear choice for me.

    For me the real issue here is when do we start honoring men for building society and putting food on our plate as opposed to honoring them for organized violence. We as a species need to get these problems solved, before we get too far into the space age.


Ne meias in stragulo aut pueros circummittam.

Our Bouncer is a gentleman of muscle and guile. His patience has limits. He will check you at the door.

The Tavern gets rowdy visitors from time to time. Some are brain dead and some soul dead. They attack customers and the bar staff and piss on the carpets. Those people will not be allowed in anymore. So... Be Nice..