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Monday, May 31, 2010

SOME GOOD NEWS, BUT MORE BAD

On this Memorial Day, I have some good news and a lot of bad ones.  I last year featured this day, so just click on 25May09 to gain a broader sense of history.

Yesterday was the best day ever for University of Hawaii (UH) Wahine softball coach, Bob Coolen (next to the birth of his two children), and Hawaii university sports.  Three teams had incredible wins:

1.  The UH softball team, behind 4-3 to the top rated team, Alabama, featuring Kelsie Dunne, SEC Pitcher of the Year, who had 16 strikeouts of the 20 outs thus far, waited until two were out in the bottom of the  last inning, facing the frenzied din of the record-breaking Tide faithful expecting a final strikeout, to hit yet another (Hawaii had long ago broken the all-time home run NCAA softball record for the year) homer with a lady (Kelly Majam, who leads the nation in home runs) on base, to make, for the first time, the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.  Read the details from ESPN.  The only wahine not seen, Jenna Rodriguez (on the right), is running home, having also hit a three-run homer in the first inning.  The team was featured in my posting on "Remarkable Women" on May 14.

2.  A few hours after the above victory, the Rainbow men's baseball team beat perpetual Western Athletic Conference champion, Fresno State (they won the Men's College World Series two years ago), 9-6, attaining a tournament champion status for the first time in eighteen years, sending them to the NCAA Regionals in Tempe, Arizona, hosted by, yikes, the #1 seeded team in tournament, Arizona State.  Can history repeat?  Hawaii has been led by Kolten Wong of the Big Island, now a sophomore, who turned down a $50,000 Minnesota offer after graduating from Kamehameha-Hawaii.

3.  The Hawaii Pacific University softball team beat Metro State 7-2, sending them to the finals of  the NCAA Division II Women's World series in in St. Joseph, Missouri, against Valdosta State in a winner take all championship.   They are spearheaded by Sherise Musquiz.  HPU JUST WON  THE CHAMPIONSHIP, 4-3, WITH VS HAVING THE BASES LOADED IN THE FINAL INNING.  Bryan Nakasone is the coach.  He replaced Howard Okita, who was at the helm of the 1991 NAIA championship team, Hawaii Loa College.

4.  Good news for the Democratic Party of Hawaii, for Ed Case yesterday did the unexpected, announcing at the State Democratic Convention his withdrawal from the Fall elections, sacrificing ambition for the best interest of his party.  He just might have rescued his reputation in the State.  Now, Colleen Hanabusa, with Case's assistance, should prevail over Congressman Charles Djou in November.

Now for the bad:

1.  There are two world hotspots:  North Korea and Israel-Iran.  Either one can spark nuclear warfare.  Yesterday, nine, mostly civilians, were killed by Israeli commandos in an attempt to turn back a rag-tag flotilla on an aid mission to the blockaded Gaza Strip.  The political fallout is mounting.  Caught in this crisis, President Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled a scheduled While House meeting tomorrow with President Barack Obama.

2.  BP's attempt at stuffing the well failed.  Next, they hope to cut off the stuck valve at the bottom (almost a mile) and connect a pipe to bring the oil to a ship at the surface.  The odds of this working are less than Top Kill, so the current best guess is, maybe August, if the relief well(s) work.  If this continues through October, the Republicans could well look good in November.  The latest estimate is a leak of 800,000 gallons/day, which, if true, would mean a total flow of 33 million gallons, three times greater than the Alaskan ExxonValdez spill.  A bunch of Atlantic hurricanes is expected this year.  If even one high category storm makes an appearance...

3.  ...The hurricane season begins tomorrow, and NOAA predicts 8-14 hurricanes in the Atlantic.  In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Agatha, not even a hurricane, dumped a lot of rain in Central America, killing at least 131, with a higher count expected.  After landfall, the storm should have dissipated, but all signs from AccuWeather show Agatha made it into the Gulf of Mexico, could strengthen, and affect that oil spill clean-up operation is she turns left.

4.  Flying in Europe is turning out to be an adventure.  First, that Icelandic volcano, which apparently is winding down, now, British Air is on strike, again.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

*THE GOLDEN EVOLUTION (Part 41): There is that Delicate Other Immorality Matter

The following continues the serialization of Chapter 5 on Religion from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:



There is that Delicate Other Immorality Matter

        

Other sections have or will consider many of the personnel, economic and non-sexual morality issues facing all churches. In particular, the sexual abuse cases distressing the Roman Catholic Church, must to be resolved. It is said that 95% of the 194 American Catholic dioceses have been accused. Not only is this act with children a mortal sin, but also a serious breach of secular law. Equally deplorable has been the shameful manner in which the church hierarchy has dealt with this long-standing tragedy. The vital matter of trust is at stake, maybe more important than the financial liabilities, which are becoming severe. Reportedly, American churches have paid off well more than $1 billion for these cases, as in July of 2007, the Los Angeles archdiocese alone agreed on a $660 million settlement for 500-plus sexually abused plaintiffs. However, no amount of money can make up for the shattered trust. Churches in Oregon, Washington, Arizona, California and Iowa have filed for Chapter 11 protection or bankruptcy to avoid payments.

Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, a lawyer, twenty years ago warned the Vatican about the scandal to come involving children and sexual abuse by priests. After working with 2,000 victims, he co-authored a book called Sex, Priests and Secret Codes. Doyle’s efforts sufficiently irritated the Church that they were influential in his being fired as chaplain only months before his retirement from the Air Force. 

First, the problem is not limited to the Catholic Church. Second, it is not an American phenomenon. Third, this has been happening not only since 1984, when the matter came to light, but for millennia. The subheading for the above book is: The “Catholic Church’s 2,000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse.”

There was a period early in my life when I, somehow, got talked into participating in a few catechism sessions by a friend. I noticed a somewhat uncomfortable relationship between this person and the priest teaching the course. Nearly a decade later, when we bumped into each other, he was suffering from AIDS, and I, while this is quite a stretch, could only blame the Church for initiating him in his youthful liaison. It is possible, of course, that the interest was mutual, but the trust-authority position of the priest made this indiscretion totally wrong, if it happened.

People tend to gravitate into lifetime positions influenced by personal priorities.  For some it is money; others, security; and a few, illegitimate sexual proclivities. It has long been known that the Catholic Church, in particular, virtually condoned this practice.  Thus, those with these tendencies would tend to gravitate into this profession. In a not too dissimilar situation, particular fields of entertainment, fashion and even the airline industry, draw certain elements, although much of these activities are generally legal, for children are not involved.

Part of the problem with religion is the attitude towards women. Catholic priests, for example, can only be male, and they are supposed to be unmarried. In the early days, celibacy was not a requirement. By 300A.D. a priest could be married, but had to abstain from sex with his wife. In 1139, mandatory celibacy was imposed.

In 2005, the Center for the Study of Religious Issues published The Bingo Report, linking sexual abuse to celibacy in the priesthood. The scary conclusion is that the longer he remains in service to the Lord, the more likely he will act on his struggles and become deviant or criminal in his actions. Wow, that is kind of condemning!

The problem, too, is the Church. In 1962, through a CONFIDENTIAL Instruction, the Vatican told bishops to cover up sexual abuse. This 69-page document was sent by Pope John XXIII to every bishop in the world in “strictest secrecy.”25  May 2001, Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, sent a reminder letter to all bishops stating that the 1962 instruction was still in force.

The solution is simple. For the Catholic Church, the Pope needs to accept responsibility, and through his intermediaries, work with laity to once and for all cure this horrific problem. The financial burden will be onerous, but the flock will respond. Short of coming clean and taking action, this practice will continue to haunt the Church.

In the Muslim world, there have been several hundred complaints of sexual assaults against young boys studying in Quaranic schools known as madrassas. There are 10,000 of them with a million students in Pakistan, so the numbers are not staggering, but possibly because very little is discussed. In Bangladesh, where girl students are permitted, there have been reports of teachers raping female students. In 2002, the Irish Church in Dublin provided $128 million in compensation to the victims of childhood abuse. These are just examples of a world-wide and historical problem. The traditional church conspiracy of silence and veil of secrecy appear to finally be coming to an end. Will other similarly obsolete and indefensible practices also soon be sacrificed?

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

THE GOLDEN EVOLUTION (Part 40): On the Matter of a Fatwa

The following continues the serialization of Chapter 5 on Religion from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:











On the Matter of a Fatwa

 

I’m at least mildly concerned about how followers of the Islamic religion might react to this book. The fatwa placed on Salman Rushdie and the harsh reaction to the Danish Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons, which were supposedly an attempt to contribute to the debate regarding criticism of Islam and self-censorship, can be cited. In this day of the internet, any dedicated fanatic could well file a fatwa, and my life would change.

I have, thus, come up with ten reasons why, in the reasoned judgment of a potential fatwaer, I should be ignored or excused:

o      There are no serious Islamic insults portrayed in any of my statements, but if in your interpretation I have, I am willing to make acceptable adjustments. Please contact me.

o      Nowhere do I say anything particularly sacrilegious about Muhammad.

o      With respect, I have treated Islam with, perhaps, more scholarly perseverance than some of the other religions.

o      As an example, re-read the section comparing Santa Claus with the Christian God.

o      What might be taken as sarcasm is actually general innocence or ignorance, not an excuse, but, nevertheless, a sincere attempt to portray seeming reality.

o      However, while I have mostly been non-religious throughout my adult life, I have been searching, and my recent conversion to neo atheism could well be just another temporary phase.

o      In fact, I remain willing to honestly listen to any compelling arguments that insure for a glorious next life.

o      Before passing judgment on me, any prospective terminator should first read The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris, a fellow alumnus from Stanford University, and someone I look forward to meeting someday.


o     
Having done so, and not yet side-tracked, certainly go to The God Delusion of Richard Dawkins.

  If that failed, try Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great [GING]. The subtitle is “How Religion Poisons Everything.”

o      Still committed? Have you considered (former) President of the USA George W. Bush?

Yes, just including the above is a kind of sacrilege in itself, but that is in keeping with the tenor of the entire book, which is to maximize happiness. Laughs help.

While there are no Buddhist fatwas or Christian ones, in any hypothetical grouping throughout society there is that unpredictable 1% who might strike for what might be a purely personal and rational reason. For those who happen to fall in this broad category, before taking unnecessary action, send me an e-mail first. Perhaps we can work it out to your satisfaction.

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The first tropical storm of the season has been named.  Agatha has formed in the Pacific, as seen below, is now at 40 MPH.  However, except for some rain and wind to Central America, she is projected to weaken.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

THE STATE OF PLANET EARTH AND HUMANITY ON 28MAY10

1.  POLITICS:  The Democratic Party of Hawaii is not unlike a herd of cats.  Once Senator Dan Inouye could pretty much dictate state politics with Governor John Burns and the local unions.  Apparently, there is today no cloutful leader.  Their most sensible strategy was, as Neil Abercrombie had already prematurely abandoned Congress to run for the state governorship, for Ed Case and Colleen Hanabusa to gallantly step aside to allow Mufi Hannemann to challenge Charles Djou for Congress.  Mufi's long term ambition is to get there, anyway.  But, to no one's surprise, Mufi announces his challenge to Abercrombie yesterday.  While fortunately for them the primary and general election system will mean that either Abercrombie or Hannemann should still beat Duke Aiona to become the next governor of Hawaii, all is not clear for the House race if Case and Hanabusa so significantly piss off their their opposing supporters that Djou again sneaks in.  Otherwise, if unemployment remains under 10% in October, the Gulf oil leak is capped by then and nothing else much happens, Democrats should maintain leadership in the House of Representatives and Senate in DC.

2.  ENERGY AND GLOBAL WARMING:  The status of the refurbished Kerry-Lieberman (Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on the right dropped out of co-sponsorship) Energy Reform Bill, as is used in the mortuary business, is DOA--Dead On re-Arrival.  [As an interesting aside, at one time there were more morticians in Congress than scientists/engineers.  Apparently, the current 110th has seven scientists/engineers to one mortician.  Thirteen others are from the medical profession.]  While it probably was not going to pass anyway, the change now allows States to have veto rights on any offshore drilling, picking off a number of Republicans in the Senate who might have actually supported this legislation.  Should even a minor nuclear powerplant accident occur, also forget those nuclear power clauses, losing more votes, and, as pinpointed in my Huffington Post article on the subject (and there were more than 100 comments) written just about two years ago, we will never have a national energy policy.   The real problem?  THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE...OR LACK OF, ACTUALLY.  A kind of cap and trade carbon dioxide control provision was included in this latest package.  On this note, if you need some humor in climate change, click on "The Top 100 Effects of Global Warming."  This one was published almost three years ago. 

3.  WAR:  a.  American deaths in Afghanistan just reached 1000, where there are now more of our troops than in Iraq, where the death toll is approaching 4,300, or 4,400, depending who you ask.  Not sure exactly what is being represented, but 777 journalists and academics have also died in Iraq.  The civilian body count in Iraq through violence is in the range of 100,000.  

....................b.  The Korean situation is on edge.  The fear is that irrationality will prevail.  I cancelled a trip to Seoul.

....................c.  About a year ago, Iran re-deployed missiles towards nuclear targets in Israel.  More recently, the Israeli Air Force has practiced simulated strikes at potential Iranian nuclear sites.  Hmm, I wonder if it will be safe for me to go to Abu Dhabi and Dubai as currently planned?

4.  GULF OIL SPILL:  The largest previous oil spill in the U.S. was the ExxonValdez 11 million gallon disaster off Alaska.  Current indications, contrary to what BP has been saying, is that the current Gulf escape is at least 18 million, and as much as 39 million, gallons.  This is still relatively picayune compared to the 450 million gallon spill departing Saddam's troops inflicted on Kuwait.  We remember those oil fires, but, somehow, this relative cataclysm hardly made the news.  There is some consensus, incidentally, that the current outflow could in effect be doubled by including equivalent methane also leaking.  Keep in mind that one molecule of methane is 20 times more dangerous than a molecule of carbon dioxide for global warming, so you've got to wonder about some triggering of The Venus Syndrome.  Not because of this one well, but as a catalyst to initiate the cascade.

5.  ECONOMY:  First Greece, now the Euro.  Today, you will get 0.81 Euros for your American dollar.  Two years ago you would only have gotten 63 cents.  In 2002 they were equal, that is, one Euro for $1.  So what's so bad about the Euro today being about midway compared to 2002?  As European products are now cheaper than two years ago, this should strengthen the European economy.  But as they caused the current stock market dip, shouldn't this be good?  You can go in circles, but today the Dow Jones Industrials further dropped 122 to 10,136, 2.8% lower than at the start of the year.  World markets were mixed, with Europe down and Orient up.  Gold went up $3/toz to $1214 and crude oil is at $74/barrel.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

THE GOLDEN EVOLUTION (Part 38): On the Matter of Faith

The following continues the serialization of Chapter 5 on Religion from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:



Biblical Miracles

 

What is a great big miracle? What about Moses (born as Moshe) parting the Red Sea? First of all, recent publications have trashed the notion that there ever was an Exodus or a Moses. The whole thing seems illogical and historically empty. But, for the sake of analysis, let’s say there was the Exodus of 1628 B.C. or 1446 B.C. or 13th century B.C…scholars are still not sure when this occurred. One story is that Moses was born around 1392 B.C., lived to the age of 120 and died just before his people crossed the Jordan River. 

Here were more than 7,000 Israelites…or was that 603,550…or, maybe, 3 million, escaping the Egyptian army and roaming for more than 40 years. An ABC four hour TV special in April of 2006 on The Ten Commandments showed what appeared to be only a cast of hundreds, so the 3 million figure must have been considered to be an exaggeration by the program writers because computer simulations can place any number, anywhere on the screen these days. The other disappointments in this latest version were the depiction of standard miracles: walking sticks turning into snakes and, yes, that burning bush that talked. The logistics involved with moving, feeding, housing and maintaining the spirit of this group, through mostly deserts and mountains, were at least an equal miracle, if it happened at all. However, the parting of the Red Sea seems to capture the imagination of biblical experts and painters, so, I’ve compiled some of the best explanations:

                  o      
God.

o      The crossing was metaphorical, that is, it did not really physically happen.

o      Ah, it was not the Red Sea, but the nearby Sea of Reeds, or Reed Sea, a shallow swamp.

o      The great volcanic eruption of Santorini, which is radiocarbon dated to have occurred in 1628/7 B.C., resulted in a 660-foot mega-tsunami, opening up a temporary gap and fortuitously providing a channel for passage, while also explaining all those plagues.

o      Doron Nof and Nathan Paldor in 1992 published a theory suggesting that the crossing was in the relatively shallow Gulf of Suez, where gale force winds pushed the waters, lowering the water level by eight feet, creating a passable alley.

o      Naum Voltsinger in 2004 reinforced the Nof/Paldor water level setdown concept.

And the winner is…you decide. I’m leaning towards the Sea of Reeds because, as coincidental as that mega-tsunami (see Chapter 6 in Book 1) was, I can’t imagine 600,000 or so quickly traversing 15 miles of muck before the big waves came crashing back. Also, the big wind theory provides huge disbelief, for the scientific analogy was a sloshing of a giant bathtub, again not leaving sufficient time for such a mob to cross even the narrowest part of the Gulf of Suez.

Let’s next look at one of the more fateful days for Jesus, when he walked on water and fed 5,000 with five loaves of barley bread and two fish. These events took place on the same night on the banks of the Sea of Galilee in probably what is now Syria. John the Baptist had just been executed by King Herod. Facing his followers, Jesus asked out aloud for God to bless the bread and fish and whatever else anyone might have with them. No, this third part is never reported, but, at worst, it must have been implied. At the end of the meal, there were supposedly twelve baskets of leftovers. What’s the miracle? People shared. Some would call that a miracle.

Later into the early morning, the Sea was misty, as it supposedly normally is, and the only three people who saw him walk on water were his disciples: Matthew, Mark and John (the Apostle). Mind you, those 5,000 followers did not witness this miracle. Written decades after the event, these three had totally conflicting stories of what in actuality happened, which leads to the more sensible reality that Jesus was probably walking along the banks of the sea and appeared to be walking on water. No miracle here.  

Yet, Doron Nof of Florida State University, a respected oceanography professor who in 2005 was awarded the Nansen Medal for his fundamental contributions towards ocean research, and his colleagues, including Nathan Palador, returned in 2006 to announce in the Journal of Paleolimnology that Jesus could very well have been walking on ice. Surely enough, there was a cold period around the time of Christ, where sufficiently freezing temperatures did occur. The team speculated that Lake Kinnerat (the name today for the Sea of Galilee) could have formed ice every 30 to 60 years.

Finally, you all have seen magic acts. Some of them are amazing. However, once you are taught how they are pulled off, the exploits become trivial. Analogously, we just don’t happen to know sufficient details about miracles. Given all the facts, miracles generally vanish. But what else can the Church offer if not the supernatural...or equivalent magic acts?

If I seem skeptical of these hypothetical episodes as real miracles, I am not alone.  Benedict Spinoza (left--1632 to 1677) said miracles were impossible, David Hume (right--1711-1776) wrote miracles cannot be imagined, and Immanuel Kant (below--1724 to 1804) contended that miracles never occurred, all with carefully philosophized logic. Me, I just read the listed references.


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The Dow Jones Industrials skyrocketed 285 to 10,259, while world markets were all up, especially Europe.  Why?  Mostly because China reported confidence in Europe.  BP of Gulf spill infamy jumped 7%.  The company did indicate that the stuff it was stuffing down the blown hole seems to be working.  BP stock remains 27% below its year high.  Gold remained at $1110 and oil appears to be approaching $75/barrel.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

THE GOLDEN EVOLUTION (Part 37): What About Miracles?

The following continues the serialization of Chapter 5 on Religion from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:



What About Miracles?

 

Most religions feature miracles, especially the Christian ones. In fact, C.S. Lewis has been quoted to say that without miracles there cannot be Christianity. What is a miracle? Merriam and Webster say, “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” In many, some scientific law of nature is seemingly being violated, and, therefore, if this “something” actually happened, we should be able to explain why. The incident is a lot more difficult to resolve if it happened two millennia ago.

If an individual with cancer of the liver is given three months to live, but completely recovers, is that a miracle? No doubt yes for a very religious person who knows that his family and friends prayed a lot for his recovery. However, any body, now and then, can cure itself. In my definition, this was not a miracle. Some people are luckier than or genetically superior to others.


Some Modern Miracles

 

Just to gauge some reaction as to how many get this far in this book, I have a miracle to suggest. About a year and a half ago, I bought a Schick Quattro razor (Amazon.com apparently sells almost anything, for I just noticed the one I have is available on that site--this one comes with four cartridges, but, you might never need to use three of them) and wanted to find out how long one razor set would last.  A year went by, and my somewhat crudded up system still worked. So, to substantiate the first test, eight months ago, I went out and purchased a Schick Quattro Titanium package, where, if you tried to look behind the razor, you would have sworn that a full complement of 6 new blade-sets would have come as part of the $14 cost. It turns out that only one extra was included, with five blank spaces, but that is marketing for you. However, that was inconsequential, for, while the blue Teflon sheet has peeled off, the razor still worked.  I have yet to use the replacement blades.  Same as the first trial. 

I got intrigued and went to Google. The consensus is that Schick Quattro works for about a month before you need to change the blades. But, they most probably gave up because their eyes told them it was about time to put in a new one. Or, by force of habit.

Gillette, controlling 70% of the market, was purchased by Proctor and Gamble for $54 billion in 2005, sued Schick, which itself was bought by Energizer (the Bunny) Holdings for $930 million in 2003, for this four-bladed product. Counter suits never went anywhere, but these two companies have been squabbling for about a century now on the $1.7 billion/year shaving counter. They also compete on the $2.5 billion/year battery market (Energizer versus Duracell).

Anyway, what I’m getting to is that it appears that these razors seem to work forever. That is a miracle! I have a traveling razor with two blades. I think it came from a hotel in Japan with no brand name. After a year of meandering, and considerable usage, the system still works. What is going on? What would happen if everyone suddenly realizes that they don’t need to regularly change blades and, thus, stops buying replacements? Will a Gillette share still be worth $54 (that merger means your share would today be worth about $60)? Now that would be another miracle. I can already imagine, though, some manufactured obsolescence entering the picture. Too bad!  


Then, the week I was about to submit this manuscript to my publisher, late at night, I happen to see an infomercial ad for Infinity Razor, “the last razor you will ever buy.” For $19.95 you get two razors with double-edges and a fogless mirror, although other ads are known to only ask for $9.95.  (But now, Amazon.com has a selling price of $4.99.)  I checked with infomercialratings.com and infomercialscams.com and saw mostly angry responses on how terrible the product was. Funny, but the first time I used my Schick, I had the same reaction. The shave was so bad that I was set to ditch the razor, but, then, I changed the angle of movement, and I’ve now been using the same two for almost two years.  Much of the online comments are actually generated by plants (on both sides), but, honest, I'm approaching this from just being a standard consumer, and I have not bought any razor product for two years now.  


It sounds looney, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but  a true miracle is that urban legend: a bar of soap between the bedsheets will prevent leg cramps. There is something about getting older and lying horizontal. My wife and I, now and then, no, make it frequently, used to suffer from painful cramps. That bar was placed a few months ago, and, amazingly, no leg cramps.  Place the unwrapped soap in a cloth bag under the bottom sheet at the bottom of your bed.  For some reason, Dove and Dial, apparently, don't work. Ann Landers a long time ago mentioned this solution, and so do some doctors. What is the explanation? No one knows. There is no scientific proof. But it works. It’s a puzzlement, or miracle. Maybe there is a God. Hopefully, this crack in rationality will lead me to an afterlife.

The University of Hawaii football team experienced a miracle in 2007. For the first time in history, it went undefeated, and was the only major one to do this that year. There are even religious implications, for the front page of the December 24 issue of The Honolulu Advertiser article written by Michael Tsai was entitled “Their Spirit Carries Them,” extending through much of page two. From Coach June Jones to leaders of the team, terms like salvation, glory, savior and believe permeated the story and season. Well, they were trounced in the 2008 Sugar Bowl by Georgia, but many miracles do come to an end, for Coach Jones left for SMU and the entire state went into depression. But then, a hopeful miracle II:  new Coach Greg MacMackin, who has yet to deliver.

About the book above, I just played at one of those charity golf tournaments, where prizes were given for just about anything.  There was a bunch of Hawaii Warrior Football books provided as awards.  These were treated as booby prizes, for the participants wanted golf drivers, TV sets and trips to Las Vegas.  Anyone who won one those books became a laughing stock.

Why did I bother to write about shaving, soap and football? First, I just thought those were interesting stories worthy of sharing, not to be sacrilegious, but to see if I can get any reaction to this book. Again, don’t sue me if the two suggestions don’t work for you. These are not like doctors recommending the fentanyl pain patch, which has reportedly resulted in hundreds of deaths. I’m merely transferring non-lethal personal advice that approaches miracle status.

In the EPILOGUE, ABC broadcaster Al Michaels is quoted to have asked, “Do you believe in miracles?” He responded himself, “yes!” That was the 1980 Winter Olympics hockey victory of the USA over the Soviet Union. The later discussion goes on to suggest that this triumph could well have been the one most important contribution to ending the Cold War and possible thermonuclear annihilation. But was God responsible for this miracle? No, but perhaps one mortal doing the right thing at the right time.  

Next, biblical miracles.  With scientific analyses.

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After a promising start, the Dow Jones Industrials plunged during the last two hours, and ended minus 69 at 9974, a 200 point drop from the daily high.  All other world markets, however, went up today, especially Europe.  The cause of this reversal was that the $1.21 to the Euro price was at close to a four year low.  I guess this is a good time to visit Europe.  A $300 hotel room in 2008 should now cost you $240, everything else being equal.  Gold went up $7/toz to $1211 and crude oil rose above $70/barrel.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

THE GOLDEN EVOLUTION (Part 36): On the Matter of Faith

The following continues the serialization of Chapter 5 on Religion from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity:



On the Matter of Faith

 

The crux of the issue is faith, which is true belief. The Harper Collins Dictionary of Religion defines faith as the act or virtue or spiritual disposition by which people accept the reality, promises, and love of God. The Flip Dictionary provides a one word definition for “a person without faith”: agnostic.

Surprised by Faith by Don Bierle, is about a scientist who shares his personal discoveries about God, The Bible and personal fulfillment. Can I Believe the Bible and What is the Bottom Line are typical chapter headings. This publication is typical of many that sell relatively well for those who need psychological assurance about religion.

A particularly relevant publication on faith is The End of Faith, by Sam Harris, where, provided is a logical series of arguments portraying the end of religion as we know it. Harris cites that the sacred dimension could well be the purpose of human life.  Yet, he indicates that religious belief has a fatal flaw: one can only believe in one God, and only mine. Religion, furthermore, is the modern day equivalent of alchemy. He wonders why so many people can believe in obviously obsolete dogmas.  I do, too.

When I originally read this Harris publication, I thought he was just another philosophical type author. It turns out that, at this writing, he is a doctoral candidate at UCLA on his way to a PhD in neuroscience. He is tracking belief and disbelief in the brain using a functional magnetic resonance imager. Someday, he might actually develop a scientific theory of faith.  (Subsequently, he received his graduate degree.)

A few examples of how a lack of faith can compromise your life:

o      There have been other faith skeptics: Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin and Ramee Abdul Rahman Muhammad. Who? He is that Afghan who converted from Islam to Christianity in 1990, but was arrested and threatened with the death penalty in 2006. However, there was sufficient world-wide indignation that the Afghanistan government released him by court action either for his being mentally unfit or for their having a lack of information, and shipped him, his pregnant second wife and children off to Italy, for Pope Benedict XVI had asked that he be spared. The moral of this story? Be careful of a vengeful divorced wife during a child custody battle. 

o      Lina Joy, born Azlina Jailani in the mid-60’s to Muslim parents, became a Christian. She wanted her government identity card to recognize this change. The Federal Court, however, ruled that only the Islamic Shariah Court had that power. She has not taken that step because apostasy is a crime punishable by fines and jail in her country, Malaysia, and is contemplating emigration, for she has been disowned by her family, abandoned by her friends and is in hiding.

o      Also, too, there is the voice of Wafa Sultan, who once was Muslim, but not anymore, speaking in Arabic and English via Al Jazeera, criticizing Islam as violent and beyond repair. When she lived in Syria 27 years ago, she walked away from her faith when she witnessed the murder of her professor by members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Good thing she is now living in Southern California, for she would get the Abdul treatment back in the Middle East. She contributes to the website www.annaqed.com.

o      Say you’re teaching an elementary school class. The semester theme happened to be bears. So, you buy a teddy bear and ask the class to pick a name for this mascot. A student named Muhammad suggested his name, and 20 out of 23 in the class agreed. Each student took Muhammad, the toy bear, home, then wrote a diary entry reporting on the experience. The stories were compiled in a book and entitled, “My Name is Muhammad.” Several parents complained, and, incredibly, Gillian Gibbons, the teacher, was arrested and faced six months in jail and 40 lashes, plus a fine. But this was in the Sudan, where 70% are Muslims. Ms. Gibbons was convicted, but “got off” with fifteen days of jail and deportation. Some lesson, of course, had to be taught about not being blasphemous. A well-orchestrated protest followed in Khartoum, calling for her death, by sword or firing squad, with her effigy burned at Martyrs Square.

o      The shock of 2007 was Agnes Bojaxhiu, born in Macedonia, a Roman Catholic nun, who became Mother Teresa. She represented the ultimate in sacrifice for God. It came to light in Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday, 2007), that, over a 66 year period, she expressed deep spiritual pain, effectively abandoning faith. One can only speculate on what percent of religious leaders truly believe, but guess that the proportion might not be very high.

They say science can’t measure faith or love. Not so. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain can detect quantifiable love responses of subjects who describe themselves as being madly in love. The source of all this activity is in distinct areas of the brain.  Love is a lateralized brain function, like speech. Arthur Aron, et al, published in the Journal of Neurophysiology that functional MRI measurements support their two major predictions: early stage, intense romantic love, is associated with sub cortical reward regions rich in dopamine, and romantic love engages brain systems associated with motivation to acquire a reward. A similar tracing could probably be accomplished for faith, perhaps by Sam Harris, someday.

But is scientific proof for faith or love significant? Yes, in that science can, indeed, measure profound human emotions. But what has that got to do with the afterlife?  Everything! There are some things science will not ever measure, particularly if there is nothing to measure. Go to the Randi test. One of them could well be the afterlife. So, with high probability, the major leap in logic can be made that there is, thus, no afterlife.  Certainly, no Creator, no God. God never died, he never even existed. 

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Yikes, the Dow Jones Industrials immediately crashed almost 300 points, dropping below 9800, but recovered to only minus 23 (-0.23%) to end at 10,044.  World markets mostly also fell, Europe between 2 and 3%, while the Japan Nikkei edged up to 9485. Gold increased $13/toz to $1204, while crude oil slipped below $70/barrel.

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A small disturbance popped up on the Pacific Ocean side of Central America, but should soon dissipate.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

COMING IN 3D IMAX: LOST: The Ultimate Conclusion

Well, I spent five and a half hours on Lost last night.  Considering I had nothing better to do, it was an entertaining evening.  I was disappointed with the finale.  I expected the impossible:  tie everything together into a sensible story with an amazing ending, sufficient to have a follow-up of some sorts.

At least one thing cleared up:  the Oceanic 815 crash six years ago did NOT kill everyone.  For a long while the most sensible conjecture was that the setting represented an ethereal purgatory, where reality could be abandoned as necessary.  Just Jack's father indicating the characters died over time was enough to believe that much of what you saw in all these episodes actually happened on that island, albeit sometimes as dreams, fantasies and wishes.

Yes, they all ended up in a Christian Heaven in church.  This was a reunion that perhaps 80% of Americans (even more so if you're Catholic or a Republican) seem prone to expect.  Why did Ben choose to skip the gathering?  Maybe he was still alive on that island.  I wanted something shocking, endlessly debatable and challenging.  Sorry, this was the Hollywood version of death.

About the follow-up movie?  I don't think the creators of the series will settle for just another blockbuster film.  What seems to be the coming trend is 3D.  Thus, something similar to a world heavyweight boxing match, to be shown only once, at a ticket price of from $25 to $100, where the first hour will be yet another retrospective, followed by the 3D IMAX film, ending with a public discussion of what happened.  Exotic drinks will be served.  If the thing sells out, then this can be repeated as necessary.

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The Dow Jones Industrials are continuing to slip, down  to 127 to 10,067.  World markets were mixed.  Gold went up $17/toz to $1195 and crude oil is at $70/barrel.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

*A HALF A CENTURY SEARCHING FOR ALIEN SIGNALS

We are now in the 50th year of the Nature tome by Philip Morrison (left) and Giuseppe Cocconi (right) on "Searching for Interstellar Communication."  There is an abundance of books on the subject, and I'm just getting around to reading Confessions of an Alien Hunter, by Seth Shostak, and The Crowded Universe, by Alan Boss, purchased last year.

During this period of Gulf Wars, crummy government, European PIIGS, global warming, ashy volcanos, oil spills, Peak Petroleum and mega earthquakes, let me again change the subject, extend the discussion of yesterday and bring you up to date on one of the ultimate questions:  Are We Alone in the Universe?

The Big Bang happened 13.7 billion years ago.  As our solar system is only 4.5 billion years old, the odds are that if there are others out there, given as much as a 9 billion years head start, many are much more developed than us Homo sapiens.  Perhaps some intelligent societies have gained a humanitarian virtue, and want to share with us some of their solutions, as, maybe, how to work together for the common good, the cure for cancer...whatever.

As indicated in Part One, sending missions to impart this knowledge takes too much time and energy.  Why not beam the answers like free TV signals?  Thus, the obvious strategy is for us to build sensors to receive and encrypt these clues.  This is just what Frank Drake of Cornell did, again, half a century ago.  So have many others for 50 years, and not a blip.

In 1974 I participated in a NASA activity called Earth 2020, and became close friends of the leaders of another project entitled Project Cyclops, a $10 billion effort to conduct the search.  One of the first questions in the early days was:  Are there other planets in the Universe?  So in 1976 I joined 19 other faculty members at the NASA Ames Research Center, and while the others focused on an interferometric technique, I was allowed to find a more direct method.

With the early assistance of Charles Townes, I used his idea that planetary systems lase, and you could thus measure discrete color peaks and track those exoplanets.  A secondary benefit is that you could then determine the atmospheric composition.  Well, my proposal to NASA went nowhere, for the First Energy Crisis had occurred, and I spent the rest of my life on renewable energy.  What I determined much later is that the field had selected  to search the microwave portion of the spectrum, for you could then track potential solar systems further out in space.  While it doesn't really matter much anymore because, as of last week, 485 extrasolar planets have now been detected, I still think that there could be significant benefits from what I called the Planetary Abstracting Trinterferometer (PAT), as Earth-sized planets with their atmospheres can be identified.

Interestingly enough, the SETI field has returned to Project Cyclops, now called the Allen Telescope Array for Space Surveillance, as the effort is funded by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, who is said to be worth $10.5 billion.  The system has 42 six meter dishes, on the way to 350 (see above), located at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, about 300 miles northeast of San Francisco.  The program is directed by the SETI Institute, headquarters of SETI research, as the Federal Government long ago abandoned the field.

I should mention that there remains a semi-active optical spectrum search, for some are convinced that advanced civilizations might determine Earth to be promising for life, and therefore could be beaming a laser signal to our planet.  So far, nothing detected.



If any signals are received and understood, this would eclipse Man on the Moon, and become the most monumental discovery ever.  Then there are those, led by Erich von Daniken, who insist aliens have already been here, left obvious evidence, and, like ET, left for home.  Some cite the Mayan culture as an indicator, and, just wait till 21December2012 when, maybe, they could return.

The ultimate killjoy is the Fermi Paradox.  Nuclear scientist Enrico Fermi more than a half a century ago posited, if they exist, where are they?

Also in the negative is Stephen Hawking, who recommends avoiding contact with aliens.  He fears they might not come in peace.



Carl Sagan, however, had the right attitude.  His Contact, made into a movie with Jody Foster, remains one of my favorites.














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Saturday, May 22, 2010

HOW LONG IS A LIGHT YEAR?


In November of last year I began to serialize Chapter 4 on Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity.  To gain an appreciation of distance, it is useful to link this dimension with time.  To begin with, the title is nonsense, for a light year is not a dimension of time.  This is the distance light travels in one year.  Rounding it off, call it 6 trillion miles (6,000 billion miles or 6,000,000 million miles).


Thus, one light year is a very long distance.  To travel 6 trillion miles, you would need to make more than 30,000 round trips from Earth to the Sun.

I was on the Big Island of Hawaii for the New Year period in 1983.  On January 3 I happened to be golfing at the Volcano Golf and Country Club.  I forgot exactly at what hole, but in the back nine, the ground shook.  We then noticed that a couple of miles away a lava fountain appeared at Puu Oo.  Kilauea Volcano has now been continuously erupting for 10,000 days.  This is close to a billion seconds.

I had returned to the University of Hawaii a few months previously after a three year assignment working for the U.S. Senate.  Much of my professional life thusly unfolded, plus a decade of retirement...and that was about a billion seconds ago.  Light traveled 186 trillion miles during this 27+ year period.


Let me repeat, light traveled 186 trillion miles from January 1983 till today.  The closest star is Proxima Centauri at 4.2 light years, so if intelligent life lived there, we could have each have sent three messages to each other during this period.  But our Milky Way Galaxy is huge.  Light would take 100,000 years from one end to the other.  Another way of contemplating all this is that during this period from when I saw that eruption of Kilauea Volcano in 1983 till today, light would have travelled just 2.7% across just our galaxy, and ours is not a particularly large one.

How vast is space?  Best estimates are that there are from 200 billion to 400 billion galaxies in our universe, and each galaxy has, oh, 100 billion stars.  Interesting, though, that our neighbor galaxy, Andromeda, is closer to Planet Earth than the center of our galaxy.  Thus, it would take light (or an electronic signal) only 25,000 years to reach the edge of the Andromeda Galaxy from Hawaii.


So, if you're wondering if flying saucers regularly visit us from other stars, consider that the fastest man-made object is Helios 2 at slightly more than 150,000 miles per hour.  A spacecraft travelling at that speed would take almost 20,000 years to reach Proxima Centauri.  If you can remember that far back, Pioneer F(also #10, the one with info about our civilization) is headed for Aldebaran, a star 65 light years away.  We long lost contact with this probe, but if it succeeds in getting there, you will need to wait another 2 million years.

But why go to Aldebaran.  Let's shoot for Proxima Centauri (which, unfortunately, is a Red Dwarf, and pretty useless for life, but we'd be in the neighborhood of Alpha Centuari, only a few miles further) and not be limited by current knowledge.  Nuclear pulse propulsion (which once was Project Orion, cancelled by the 1963 test ban treaty), can get us there in 85 years.  But, for what?  The bottom line is that it would probably take 100 times the current annual energy use of the entire planet.


Today, I recommend that we refine the astroscience, but not spend anything on actual manned space travel.  We landed on the Moon, and that was worth the ultimate fracturing of the Soviet economy. But international grandstanding was apparently necessarily to end the Cold War.  Today, we have no equivalent enemy worthy of such grandeur.  Yes, let's advance knowledge, but the $120 billion Bush the Younger budget and $500 billion Bush the Elder proposal for Man on Mars can be delayed...by about a millennium.






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