- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


Oct. 6

The Daily Times of Maryville on the Doomsday Clock:

Talk about your bad news, good news scenarios, this takes it to the extreme. We’ll have to bounce around a bit with sequencing, but let’s start near the beginning of the year when the latest adjustment was made to the Doomsday Clock.

The “clock” has been maintained by the Science and Security Board and since it published the “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” in 1947.

The idea was to measure the likelihood of a manmade global catastrophe. “Midnight” represented the time of the catastrophe, with prospects of nuclear war being the point of the exercise from the get-go. (In recent years the board has taken into account what’s been happening in new technologies and also with life sciences.)

The original hypothetical setting was seven minutes to midnight. Two years later, in 1949, when the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb, the setting was shortened to three minutes. In 1953, with the U.S. and the Soviets each testing their first thermonuclear devices, the minutes fell to two - lowest it’s ever been. The largest separation was 17 minutes to midnight when the two major nuclear powers signed the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991.

In 2015, with U.S. and the Russians modernizing their nuclear triads, the Doomsday Clock dropped to three minutes. It remained there in 2016, but in January this year the minute hand was reset to two-and-a-half-minutes till midnight. Considering the war of words between the U.S. and North Korea, which continues to develop its nuclear and missile programs, few would be surprised to find those minutes dropping again in 2018.

That brings us back to Friday when the Washington Post published a story with the provocative headline, “We have a pretty good idea of when humans will go extinct.”

The story is based on calculations Princeton University astrophysicist J. Richard Gott derived from what scientists call the Copernican Principle (Something about there being no “special” observers. You’ll have to look it up.).

It’s too involved to get into here - timelines and midpoints and such - but it’s remarkably like what the fire direction computer of an Army mortar squad does with information from a spotter in the field in order to put an 81 mm round on target.

Gott’s method is based entirely on statistics. He has used it to calculate events in history, such as when the Berlin Wall will fall and when Broadway plays will close. Turns out, his predictions are pretty darned accurate when it comes to falling within a projected timeframe.

You knew it was coming: the bad news.

Gott figures “there is a 50 percent chance that we are in the last half now and that its future duration is less than 48 years.”

That “last half now” reference is to the history of human space travel. Given that it has been 45 years since we’ve put anyone on the moon, it would seem we have a limited time to establish colonies in space: “If we let that opportunity pass without taking advantage of it we will be doomed to remain on Earth where we eventually go extinct.”

All righty, then! Told you it was bad. But Gott made his warning in 1993. The ole Blue Marble has made a few revolutions around the sun since then.

Which brings us to Monday. A story by CNET reported SpaceX had launched a Falcon 9 rocket that morning from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, sending 10 satellites to low-earth orbit and then landing on the drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” in the Pacific Ocean. On Wednesday SpaceX plans to launch a communications satellite, marking the second time the company has launched two rockets within three days.

Elon Musk says that by 2019 his company plans a rocket launch every week. His vision is to colonize the moon, then Mars where a Martian metropolis will be built.

Maybe there’s hope for us yet, but with the Doomsday Clock down to two-and-a-half minutes, doesn’t look like we have time to waste.

Online: https://www.thedailytimes.com/


Oct. 11

The Cleveland Daily Banner on fundraiser scams in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting:

It is a sad commentary on society to know that warnings of potential fundraiser scams in the wake of tragedies like that in Las Vegas must be delivered.

Yet, this is the world in which we live, and for that reason respected organizations like the Better Business Bureau must deliver such necessary messages. As America continues to seek meaning in the recent Nevada shootings that left a total of 59 people dead and hundreds injured, scammers are already on the prowl for unsuspecting victims.

For those who saw our news story in Monday’s edition, the Cleveland office of the BBB - in conjunction with the nonprofit’s Wise Giving Alliance - is reminding well-intended donors who seek to help victims and their families that they should give responsibly by checking the facts before clicking the “Send” button.

As published earlier this week on our front page, the following are 11 helpful BBB reminders:

1. Thoughtful giving: Take the time to check out the charity to avoid wasting your generosity by donating to a questionable or poorly managed effort. The first request for a donation may not be the best choice. Be proactive and find trusted charities that are providing assistance. Visit Give.org to verify if a charity meets the BBB Standards for Charitable Accountability.

2. Crowdfunding: Keep in mind that some crowdfunding sites do very little vetting of individuals who decide to post for assistance after a tragedy or a disaster, and it is often difficult for donors to verify the trustworthiness of crowdfunding requests for support. More information is available on Give.org.

3. Respect for victims and their families: Organizations raising funds should get permission from the families to use either the names of the victims and/or any photographs of them. Some charities raising funds for the victims of previous shootings did not do this and were the subject of criticism from victims’ families.

4. State government registration: About 40 of the 50 states require charities to register with a state government agency (usually a division of the State Attorney General’s office) before they solicit for charitable gifts. If the charity is not registered, that may be a significant red flag.

5. Use of donations: Watch out for vague appeals that don’t identify the intended use of funds. For example, how will the donations help victims’ families? Also, unless told otherwise, donors will assume that funds collected quickly in the wake of a tragedy will be spent just as quickly. See if the appeal identifies when the collected funds will be used.

6. A family’s own assistance fund: Some families may decide to set up their own assistance funds. Be mindful that such funds may not be set up as charities. Also, if collected monies are received and administered by a third party such as a bank, CPA or lawyer, this will help provide oversight and ensure the collected funds are used appropriately (such as paying for funeral costs, counseling and other tragedy-related needs).

7. Advocacy organizations: Tragedies that involve violent acts with firearms can also generate requests from a variety of advocacy organizations that address gun use. Donors can support these efforts as well, but note that some of these advocacy groups are not tax-exempt as charities. Also, watch out for newly created advocacy groups that will be difficult to check out.

8. Online caution: Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites or in text messages or email. These may take you to a look-alike website where you will be asked to provide personal financial information, or may download harmful malware onto your computer. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on social media have already been vetted.

9. Financial transparency: After funds are raised for a tragedy, it is even more important for organizations to provide an accounting of how funds were spent. Transparent organizations will post this information on their websites so that anyone can find out without having to wait until the audited financial statements are available sometime in the future.

10. Newly created v. established organizations: This is a personal giving choice, but an established charity will more likely have the experience to quickly address the circumstances and have a track record that can be evaluated. A newly formed organization may be well-meaning, but will be difficult to check out and may not be well managed.

11. Tax deductibility: Not all organizations collecting funds to assist after a tragedy are tax exempt as charities under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Donors can support these other entities, but keep this in mind if they want to take a deduction for federal income tax purposes. In addition, contributions that are donor-restricted to help a specific individual or family are not deductible as charitable donations, even if the recipient organization is a charity.

Lisa Geren, executive director of BBB’s Cleveland office who provided the above reminders, acknowledged it is unfortunate that individuals, or groups, would work actively to take advantage of willing donors in such times of crisis. Yet, it is real and it happens in our own community.

For those wishing to help others, especially in the aftermath of tragedies like the Las Vegas shootings, we applaud your humanitarianism and your heartfelt kindness. But we join the BBB in urging you to check the facts before making a commitment.

As long as there are senseless tragedies, heartless vultures will circle. And their prey will be anyone who seeks to do good.

Don’t let these reminders detract you from helping. But use them as a guide to protect your gifts before they are made.

Online: https://clevelandbanner.com/


Oct. 11

Johnson City Press on the need for wireless broadband in northeast Tennessee:

BrightRidge is the new name of the Johnson City Power Board. The brand reflects a new mission for the public utility.

One possible new venture is providing wireless broadband to an area that is desperately in need of this vital service. Last year, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development released a report that said 13 percent of state residents and businesses do not have access to broadband.

That means thousands of households and businesses in this state lack access to a reliable high-speed internet connection.

This threatens to put areas of Tennessee at a distinct economic disadvantage. Broadband connectivity is essential to lure both businesses and new residents to a community. Without it, many of the new tech generation will go somewhere else to live and work.

And make no mistake about it - broadband connectivity is more than an amenity. It is the primary way our culture now works, socializes and plays.

The early part of the 20th century saw many homes in the United States not wired for electricity. This was particularly true of rural areas. The Great Depression brought the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, which extended electricity to poor and remote areas of Appalachia.

The Johnson City Power Board and other public utilities played a major role in bringing electric power to our region. It’s new incarnation - BrightRidge - must do the same with wireless broadband.

It’s time for Northeast Tennessee to get connected.

Online: https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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