Saturday, December 27, 2014

Finding this entry in yesterday's Journal profound, I couldn't help but share it.  Thanks for indulging me, as I simply put it here:

Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God

The odds of life existing on another planet grow ever longer. Intelligent design, anyone?

In 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking: Is God Dead? Many have accepted the cultural narrative that he’s obsolete—that as science progresses, there is less need for a “God” to explain the universe. Yet it turns out that the rumors of God’s death were premature. More amazing is that the relatively recent case for his existence comes from a surprising place—science itself.
Here’s the story: The same year Time featured the now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 21 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.
With such spectacular odds, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a large, expensive collection of private and publicly funded projects launched in the 1960s, was sure to turn up something soon. Scientists listened with a vast radio telescopic network for signals that resembled coded intelligence and were not merely random. But as years passed, the silence from the rest of the universe was deafening. Congress defunded SETI in 1993, but the search continues with private funds. As of 2014, researches have discovered precisely bubkis—0 followed by nothing.
What happened? As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.
Even SETI proponents acknowledged the problem. Peter Schenkel wrote in a 2006 piece for Skeptical Inquirer magazine: “In light of new findings and insights, it seems appropriate to put excessive euphoria to rest . . . . We should quietly admit that the early estimates . . . may no longer be tenable.”
As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here.
Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.
Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?
There’s more. The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.
Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. Really?
Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term “big bang,” said that his atheism was “greatly shaken” at these developments. He later wrote that “a common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology . . . . The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”
Theoretical physicist Paul Davies has said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming” and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator . . . gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.”
The greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something—or Someone—beyond itself.
Mr. Metaxas is the author, most recently, of “Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life” ( Dutton Adult, 2014).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bret Stephens nailed it in today's Journal:

I Am Not Sorry the CIA Waterboarded

Dick Cheney says he would “do it again in a minute.” He’s right.

I am not sorry Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the operational mastermind of 9/11, was waterboarded 183 times. KSM also murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl in 2002. He boasted about it: “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew,” he said after his capture.
I am sorry KSM remains alive nearly 12 years after his capture. He has been let off far too lightly. As for his waterboarding, it never would have happened if he had been truthful with his captors. It stopped as soon as he became cooperative. As far as I’m concerned, he waterboarded himself.
I am not sorry the CIA went to the edge of the law in the aftermath of 9/11 to prevent further mass-casualty attacks on the U.S. I am not sorry that going to the edge meant, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein put it in 2002, doing “some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.” I don’t suppose she was talking about removing our shoes at airport security.
I am sorry we weren’t willing to do those “things” before 3,000 people had their lives unnaturally ended on Sept. 11, 2001.
I am not sorry Osama bin Laden died by an American bullet. John Brennan , the CIA director, delivered a master class in rhetorical obfuscation masquerading as epistemology when he waffled last week about the quality of intelligence yielded by the interrogations of KSM and other high-value detainees. But several former directors and deputy directors of the CIA have all attested to the link between KSM’s interrogation and the identification of bin Laden’s courier.
I am sorry that the Feinstein Report, which failed to interview those directors and thus has the credibility of a Rolling Stone article, seeks to deny this. Maybe Sabrina Rubin Erdely, author of the discredited University of Virginia gang-rape story and a pro at failing to interview key witnesses, will find a new career in Sen. Feinstein’s office.
I am not sorry that President Obama has ordered drone strikes on hundreds of terrorist suspects hiding in Pakistan, Yemen and other places. I am not sorry he has done so despite the fact that the strikes inevitably have killed hundreds and perhaps thousands of their associates, many of whom were either innocent of wrongdoing or had committed no crime deserving of death from 30,000 feet. This is the nature of war.
 
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, in an undated photo. Associated Press
I am sorry that we are now having a national convulsion over the fact that the CIA captured, detained, interrogated and in at least two cases accidentally killed two detainees. This is undoubtedly wrong and merits apology and compensation. But how this is any worse than what Mr. Obama routinely brags about doing with drones is beyond me.
I am not sorry that Dick Cheney told NBC’s Chuck Todd this Sunday that, in the matter of enhanced interrogation techniques, he would “do it again in a minute.” The former vice president seems to feel none of the need for the easy moral preening that is the characteristic political reflex of our age.
I am sorry that Mr. Cheney, and every other supporter of enhanced interrogation techniques, has to defend the practices as if they were torture. They are not. Waterboarding is part of the military’s standard course in Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, or SERE. Tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen have gone through it. To describe this as “torture” is to strip the word of its meaning.
I am not sorry that Google makes it easy to recall what the political class had to say about KSM in the immediate aftermath of his capture. Here is a noteworthy exchange between Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on March 2, 2003:
Blitzer: “There has been speculation, Sen. Rockefeller, in the press that U.S. authorities, given the restrictions on torture, might hand over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his colleagues to a third country, a friendly Arab state, Jordan, Egypt, some country like that, where the restrictions against torture are not in existence.”
Rockefeller: “I don’t know that. I can’t comment on that. And if I did know it, I wouldn’t comment on it. [Laughter.] But I wouldn’t rule it out. I wouldn’t take anything off the table where he is concerned, because this is the man who has killed hundreds and hundreds of Americans over the last 10 years.”
I am sorry that Sen. Rockefeller saw nothing amiss with the idea of handing over KSM to the Cairo Cattle-Prod Crew. This is rightly known as torture-by-proxy. It is wrong.
I am not sorry that Sen. Feinstein went ahead and released her report. In its partisanship, its certitudes, its omissions of reportage and recommendation, and its attempt to seem authoritative merely by being verbose, it has reopened a necessary debate that was nearly closed—and nearly lost. Eventually we will have another mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil. We’ll need better than Ms. Feinstein’s insipid shibboleths to answer it.
And for that, I am sorry—for all of us.
Write to bstephens@wsj.com

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Supremely Naïve


Lost in all the supreme court whoopla about today’s universal health law ruling was the overturning of the stolen valor act.  Unlike anything else coming from Washington, this has nothing to do with partisan animus.  The highest (pun intended - sorry, couldn’t help it) court in the land stuck down a law that made it an offence to steal valor by falsely claiming that you earned some military award.  The court said, you can lie about military service, and your free speech is safely protected.  Coupled with another recent ruling, Snyder v. Phelps, in which the court let it be known that it’s ok to brutalize a mourning family of fallen military member, today the court said it’s ok to steal what doesn’t belong someone.  Like much every issue surrounding the great seats of power in the U.S., everything seems to be framed as a partisan Republican/Democrat political fight.   Yet both of these rulings were nearly unanimous, irrespective of political ideology. 

Both rulings, the rescission of the stolen valor act and Snyder v Phelps baffled me, since they run counter to even the most basic logical sense.  As Mr. Snyder so lucidly stated, "…eight justices don't have the common sense God gave a goat."  I have to agree.  Both rulings hurt those who carry battle scars and burdens of decade-old wars – in order to preserve 1st amendment rights of the public.  But just as perplexing, why does “the public” have to insert it self into the personal business of the military members at all – particularly when 99% elude actual military service?  How often does the public find the need to intrude into the personal lives of military members and families?  A lot, apparently.  Over 600 military funerals have been protested in the past 10 years.  And does the public need to frequently exercise its “free speech” by stealing military awards?  It appears so.  From today’s ruling:

Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act in response to a proliferation of false claims concerning the receipt of military awards. For example, in a single year, more than 600 Virginia residents falsely claimed to have won the Medal of Honor. An investigation of the 333 people listed in the online edition of Who’s Who as having received a top military award revealed that fully a third of the claims could not be substantiated. When the Library of Congress compiled oral histories for its Veterans History Project, 24 of the 49 individuals who identified themselves as Medal of Honor recipients had not actually received that award. The same was true of 32 individuals who claimed to have been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and 14 who claimed to have won the Navy Cross.

Most puzzling is the common argument used by the prevailing justices, nearly unanimously, which naively assumes that the common decency among our greater society will somehow correct the pain these rulings cause – and that some overwhelming “counter speech” will drown out the haters and the fakers.  How naïve and disconnected from our current society must a supreme court justice be to even offer that as a remedy to their flawed opinions? Note to the supreme court: common decency required for “counter speech” is NOT a prevailing trend in our society.  Maybe you judges are from another era or you are pretending that we live in 1950’s family hour TV show.   Either way you are either naïve, out-of-touch with the real world or simply insane masters of our asylum.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New Chapter

Who’s that cool dad you once admired? Not me. Our next-door neighbor might be a candidate. With a life-style that includes a boat, a Subaru Outback and always on-the-go activities (usually out the door – child in tow – by 8am on weekends), it's the spontaneous attitude that I need to assume. Not the parent that regretfully calculated the eventual scratch required to send our girl to college. Just a few bucks shy at the moment, by the way.

Growing up, there was a really cool dad in our neighborhood. Motocross dirt-bikes in their yard, CB radios in their house and under the dash of their custom van parked in their driveway, and assorted fire arms. Building and shooting off model rockets was supported, even encouraged. He was the little league coach and host of parents' drinking parties. What more could a 13 year old want?

For us, is it yet another new chapter in our lives? Or a whole 'nother something. Our daughter was born five weeks ago. 2010 is a good year to arrive. Besides making the birthday-to-age math easy, the economy likely will have recovered when she's entering the labor market in 2030. We can hope. But, she doesn’t seem so concerned about that now. Meanwhile, there are several feedings and changings to handle tonight. And, this insomniac is developing a knack of finding late-night cable oddities or random catnaps – all while staying poised to handle the next cry for help from this little person.

And it's all worth it when she's purring on your chest.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Music

The song, “My Favorite Things,” will always remind me my parent’s Tony Bennett Christmas album, even though the song originates from the musical, The Sound of Music. And, while I’ll admit that some of the “things” listed in the Rodgers and Hammerstein lyrics are nice, they are not among my favorite. Cream-colored ponies and schnitzel with noodles are not ranked high on my list. But, upon returning to the States, I’ve gained a better appreciation of the little nuances of life. These are a few of my favorite things…

1. Indoor plumbing with fresh water. Sounds simple and ordinary, but waking up in the middle of the night and getting dressed to walk 20-50 yards is a drag. As a bonus, you can drink from an American tap without needing hospitalization afterward.

2. Women freely and openly appearing in public. Not covered up in a burqa or lurking in the shadows. Actually seeing women everywhere, busy living ordinary lives in full view of society, is comforting.

3. Crisp cool ocean breezes, second only to the fragrant scent of eucalyptus trees. I hadn’t caught deep breaths this pleasant in a long while.

4. 18 inches of snow in Boston while you're in San Francisco. A toast to all the times I’ve been stranded at Logan, Dallas and Philly due to weather.

5. The sight of old friends that you haven't seen in ages. Freely sharing stories of antics that occurred over the past 2 decades.

6. But, nothing tastes as a good as a beer at the Grant and Green while recalling North Beach nights of long ago.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Farewell

Everyone is in the day-room. Guys are leaving for the first time in a year. 32 guys, one female. And those now leaving by POV are saying farewells to us who are awaiting flights from Philly to Boston and beyond. For the 1st time our year-long adventure together – guys are departing and going their separate ways. We've shared our immediate plans for return to civilian life with each other. Most involve ample amounts of beer. For the first time in a long while, we’ll have no accountability of each other. No more feeding off each other’s personalities and quirks. Or tolerating each others grating annoyances. No more living with our limited circle of 33 familiar faces as we always have, over chow, early in the morning, late into the evening, daily duties, missions – everywhere. It’s a concluding moment for a unit that a year ago was coming together and as a unit, training in the crazy, often frustrating environment at Ft. Bragg’s “FOB Patriot.” Who knows who will stay in contact with each other? I know that I’ll be keeping ties with Cheeks, Jim, Ron and Joe D, Joe M, possibly others too.

For all the oddness that leaving brings today, it’s the goal that we’ve all worked for this year. We all came back relatively healthy. Some are struggling with cases of PTSD, as evidenced by tempers that are so close to the surface that the most minor slight will cause an eruption. Hopefully, time and comforts of home, or even some profession help, will help these guys pacify these demons.

But, despite all the challenges and frustrations, it was truly awesome to serve with most of the guys in my unit. I keep on reminding myself that had I not chosen to serve in the army, my walk of life wouldn’t have afforded me the chance to even meet these guys, let alone share formative experiences with them.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Weight has been lifted

Now back, after nearly a year’s hiatus in Kikuk, Iraq. My trepidation for posting anything on this blog is nearly assuaged, as our tour is wrapping up. Please accept my apologies for my extended absence. Though, recapping what I couldn’t post is nearly impossible due to space and time limitations and my inclination to focus only on the positive aspects of my experiences in support of the civil affairs effort in Kirkuk.

One of the fundamental supply related concepts you learn quickly in the army is that you’re held financially liable for equipment for a variety of reasons. You might not even have been the soldier that has actually lost the equipment. But, because of some paperwork snafu, you could be charged with a financial loss. Also, a commander is often subject to personally liability for equipment that he “signed for” but that he didn’t personally lose. Interestingly, corporate America adopted this idea of piercing the executive corporate veil and extending personal liability to CEOs/CFOs after Enron/Worldcom through the 302 certifications under the Sarbanes/Oxley act of 2002. Well, the army has been doing this for years and I soon learned that this financial exposure also extends to supply sergeants. I’ll just say there were various equipment transactions and issues that kept me up at night during the course of this tour. Luckily I had supporting teams sergeants that kept close tabs on their equipment and quickly reported their status to me. Increasing my challenges was the logistical hurdles of sustaining and tracking supplies at 4 remote FOBs throughout the tour. With our change of command inventories nearly complete and the replacement unit slowly assuming more responsibility over supply activities, I’m only now drawing a sense of relief.

Tonight with my work nearly finished, I spent an evening of recreation by playing extended games of ping-pong with “G”, Ron and Mike at the nearby gym. I’m so happy to have caught up with these guys and been able to release some steam. Throughout the tour, it’s been Ron that’s kept the camaraderie of the unit together and essentially kept us all sane amongst all the surrounding craziness of our daily lives. And I’m only now finding the time to reflect on all that’s happened over the past year and put it into some meaningful context.