In 1969, when the Vietnam War was in full swing, a senior analyst at the U.S. Department of Defense was quietly copying a secret report about the war. This report, which ran to 7000 pages, covered the progress of the Vietnam war in exhaustive detail. The analyst intended to share this highly classified information with influential politicians and scientists, in the hope that it would quickly bring the war to an end.
That analyst was Daniel Ellsberg, a former officer of the Marine Corps who worked for RAND, the Pentagon think tank. As a result of his experiences in Vietnam and his meetings with conscientious objectors in the US, he became convinced that the war was wrong. With his insider's knowledge, he already knew that it was militarily lost, but that the American government was misleading the people. Every day the Vietnam war took about eight hundred Vietnamese lives, more than two thirds of them civilians, and twenty American soldiers. Many more were seriously injured or maimed for life..
Last year I was asked to contribute to a book by XS4All (PDF) about the history and future of the Internet. I decided to make some broad brush points on page 102. My colleague Menso also contributed (page 36), or here on his blog.
Long ago there were some monkeys on the African savannah. It was difficult for them as they hunted other animals that were stronger and faster. Other animals could digest the dry grass and live with little water. The monkeys could do none of these things. You would think they would never survive, let alone go on to play an important role in the evolution of the Earth. That they did so is through a unique combination of two things that led to everything else: an opposable thumb and big brains.
Separately, each of these makes little difference. Dolphins have large brains and are certainly intelligent. But without hands to apply that intelligence they cannot build complex civilizations. Chimpanzees have thumbs but lack the brains to make hand axes and build terabit optical routers. So dolphins and chimpanzees are in our zoos instead of vice versa.