I can’t stand that Stephen Hawking

In the latest of my occasional series (people you’re not supposed to dislike) I’ve decided I can’t stand that Stephen Hawking bloke.

It starts with his self-description in books like Brief History of Time. “I sit in the chair once occupied by Isaac Newton…” Fair enough Steve, but brushes with fame don’t make you him. Isaac Newton was on an entirely different level. It takes serious brainspace even to understand calculus and optics and gravitation; Isaac Newton developed them from first principles and wrote the seminal works on them. You are no Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking.

Hawking’s chief contribution revolves around an interesting but minor element of blackhole physics, later discovered (and admitted) to be partly wrong. If Hawking were really on par with Isaac Newton, he’d have come up with the fundamentals of string theory (where even better physicists like Ed Witten and Brian Greene are still dancing around on the surface phenomena.)

But it goes further than not being Newton’s equal; he was never even in the foremost ranks of today’s physicists. Hawking’s discoveries are dwarfed even by some graduate students. Far from being a top physicist, anyone in the know at Cambridge would whisper that he wasn’t even the best physicist in his own department.

You are NOTHING without that chair, Stephen Hawking. NOTHING!

Simple answers 2: the US representational system

I’ve just realised why Obama can’t get anything done no matter how hard he tries: it’s the Senate. So it’s time for another simple solution to a complex problem.

The solution: give each Senator a vote equal to the percentage of the US population he or she represents.

(Note these are simple solutions, not simple implementations.)

The issue is that while the US Congress is basically representative – California has over 50 votes in the electoral college given its population of over 37m – the Senate is not. Two Senators from every State, each with an equal voice in the upper house. This is the complete antithesis of the most basic principle of democracy (one man, one vote.

In practical terms, this means barely 10% of the US population have a veto over all US legislation. That 10% is almost entirely in the Red States: the god, guns ‘n gays crowd. (Apparently they have certain views on abortion, too.)

Worldly-wise, internationally aware (sort of) California and New York, with over 56 million people, have no louder voice in the Senate than … North Dakota and Kansas.

Now there’s nothing wrong with North Dakota or Kansas (or indeed with voting Republican if you’re into that sort of thing) but should the interests of a few hardscrabble villages really outweigh the greater good of cities with economies larger than most countries?

I mean, it’s hardly unique to the USA (the UK’s electoral boundaries favour the Labour Party, whose parliamentary seats require fewer votes on average to win) but nothing in Europe gets anywhere near the situation in Washington.

Odd that the world’s strongest democracy is ultimately overseen by a couple of farmers in the vast flat states inland. But the solution, at least, is simple.