Wednesday, September 30, 2015

February 15, 1988 - Richard Feynman Announces Bid for Governor

After becoming increasingly political following the Challenger space shuttle disaster, Richard Feynman declared his bid for the governorship of California to resolve what he saw as a horrific failure for potential in applied sciences. His conclusions arose during the preparations of the Rogers Report, during which chair and former Secretary of State William Rogers said, “Feynman is becoming a real pain.”

The source of the pain was said to be Feynman’s hands-on approach during investigations of the booster rocket O-ring seals, which were dubbed by NASA managers to have a “safety factor of 3” since they only burned one-third of the way through during stress tests. Feynman told Congress that such damage was actually a safety factor of 0 since they incurred damage at all. He railed NASA officials for further bad mathematics stemming from a break in communication between engineers and administrators.

Feynman’s announcement was seen as politically absurd since it was so early, something fittingly uncouth for Feynman’s curious career. Born in 1918 to Jewish parents and maintaining his deep Bronx accent throughout his life, Feynman began tinkering with science early on, disassembling and reassembling his first radio. He soon began repairing radios professionally since he learned how the pieces worked and used the money to fund a laboratory for himself. After graduating MIT and Princeton, Dr. Feynman began his career exploring theoretical quantum physics. Fellow physicists got Feynman working with the Manhattan Project, which brought him to Los Alamos. He complained, “There wasn’t anything to do there.”

To keep himself entertained, Feynman learned how to pick locks after faking being a renowned lock-pick by fishing papers out of a desk’s locked drawer by pulling out the unlocked drawer beneath it and reaching up the back to fish pages out one at a time. Feynman and his wife pranked the censors at Los Alamos by writing letters in code and on the back of a puzzle the censors had to complete before they could review it. This lasted until they wrote him politely to stop.

Suffering depression after the death of his wife and seeing the destructive use of the atomic bomb both in 1945, Feynman dedicated himself to science at Caltech. His work in physics furthered quantum theory, and toward the end of his career Feynman began focusing on computing. At Los Alamos, Feynman had headed the computation department, creating a complicated and exceedingly efficient method of assembly line calculations for the “human computer” pool. He later contributed to punch-card programming and by the ‘80s was working on parallel computers to do multifaceted calculations. His fame (such as being one of the few foreign members of the Royal Society of science and his 1965 Nobel Prize) brought him into a position to be requested onto the Rogers Report.

As Feynman continued to rattle political cages and gain press coverage, sitting governor Republican George Deukmejian decided to bid for a third term, campaigning on stability while the Democratic race was divided with Feynman, San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, and actor James Garner. Ultimately Feynman won, said to be victorious thanks to contributions from businessmen hoping to expand academic NSFNET systems into a civilian computer communication network as well as his wild charisma in an age ready for something new.

During his term of governorship, Feynman worked to invest in science. He mandated that administrators have a solid understanding of physical principles, creating an unpopular turnover in much of the executive branch, yet he stood by his saying, “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.” After the transition, his actions proved popular as the press ate up Feynman’s education programs and his bold claims about computing networks were proven correct by the World Wide Web, which caused business to surge in Silicon Valley.

Feynman’s campaign to pick up a Superconducting Super Collider that had been given up in Texas fell on deaf ears, but his continuing feud with NASA did lead to a great deal of interest in private space travel. In the years after Feynman’s death in 2000, the desert in Southeastern California began to buzz with experimental craft. Although perhaps not as glamorous, Feynman’s policies were also credited with the whistle-blowing on Enron’s power manipulation shortly after deregulation as officials quickly recognized the flaw in their consumption arguments.


In reality, although he mentioned an interest in politics in 1966, Richard Feynman did not pursue it and died from cancer in 1988. Dianne Feinstein went on the Democratic ticket to nearly overcome Republican Pete Wilson for the 1990 California governorship. Feinstein instead went on to the Senate in 1992, where she has remained since as a voice for assault weapon regulation and chairs the Select Committee on Intelligence.

1 comment:

Site Meter