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December 27, 2012

Time, Evolution & God

I am a glutton for punishment and I enjoy a good verbal debate on the Huffington Post website. It is an overtly left leaning site but I like to know what people are thinking and how they think even if it is different than my own mold. I have found that the comments section of any news story will bring out the best and the worst society has to offer- again, another post for another time. I was recently bashed on HuffPo for my thoughts on God, a topic that these people both loathe and enjoy talking about, when I made a comment about the CT shooting. The internet is a marvelous thing- it gives us an unending library of knowledge, entertainment and anonymity. Internet Courage is a great boost to one’s self esteem.

The conversation quickly fell into the classic, “Athiests are smart but Christians are stupid because they believe the Earth is only 6000 years old” routine.  I usually let these go since people are not going to be swayed by an internet Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em debate, but I went ahead and addressed this comment.

Knowing I was going into the lion’s den, I tried to appeal to intellect and reason by dusting off my statistics textbook and delving into probabilities. The probability of any event which has a known number of possible outcomes can be easily calculated – ask any card counter or craps player. The probability of rolling a 7 using two dice would be 6/36 since there are 6 ways to get a 7. This just happens to be the number that would also come up most often simply because there are 6 different combinations.  By contrast, there is only one combination to get snake eyes, a significantly harder or more infrequent number to roll. Nobody said the House was stupid.

The probability of flipping either a head or a tail, which is an event that must happen, is 1. The probability of rolling a 19 with two dice is 0- in other words, it is an impossibility. It isn't even an improbability!

How does this fit into evolution? The “average” sized protein consists of about 500 amino acids of among thousands of proteins in a living organism. Using this protein and some statistics, we can calculate how long it would take, by chance, a single building block to be created. There are 20 essential amino acids in all life on earth and they arranged in a very precise order, much like the order of letters in this sentence. If any single or group of letters is disarranged then the whole sentence structure fails. Our amino acids follow a much stricter order and while we can understand a typo, there is no room for error (called mutations) with proteins.
Here is where the fun starts: taking the 20 amino acids calculating the probability of the proper sequence among the 500 would yield simple a formula 1/20 x 1/20 x 1/20 . . . five hundred times. This number is ridiculous- it is a 1 with over 600 zeros after it. If a legion of Bill Gates supercomputers could begin the task of crunching the numbers and calculating a billion combinations of our 500 amino acids every second, it would take 300 billion years. The known universe is only ~13 billion years old.

However, a lightning bolt zapped a pool of sludge in such a way that an amino acid formed, and then happened 499 more times to get the perfect combination of proteins for our very simple organism. And life flourished from there! 

Improbable or impossible?

December 15, 2012

Enough with the shootings, already.

Seriously. The frequency and grotesqueness of these events has stepped up over the last 10 years. No longer are they isolated incidents and they continue reveal a darkness of the human soul reminiscent of the Salem witch trial torture sessions.

There is no palpable reason for these tragedies, and this one will haunt us for a very long time. In human history, never has an act been more despicable and more taboo even among the dissidents of society than that of harming a child – of course pedophiles, Baal worshipers of the Old Testament and radical Islamists would argue this point but for the most part you don’t harm kids. A deeper level of disgust and the taste of bile entered my mouth when I learned that most of the 20 children in this tragedy were between the ages of 5 and 8 years old. I have two children in that age range and it wasn't until I had time to think about this during my commute home yesterday that this latest shooting sunk in.

It didn't take long for the religious and non religious to say the exact same thing, “How can a loving and benevolent God allow this to happen?”

I got a knot in my stomach yesterday when a woman on the radio actually said that the shooting was in God’s plan. I know there are people out there who will echo this response but I don’t like it. It is a cliché, an easy way out so that we don’t have to confront or think about the evil in this world. Please explain to me how the death of dozens of small children fits into the Almighty’s plan. Is it to teach a lesson to Fred in Wisconsin that he needs to be thankful for what he has? Is it a lesson to all of us? I think there is a more subtle way to get that point across. What possible good will come to the parents of those slaughtered children and to the first responders who are already getting counseling?

If this shooting was in his plan, then it is a lousy one. I believe in God, I am not judging him or his wisdom, but as his creation can’t I ask him, “What’s up with that?” Even Jesus, while hanging on the cross, asked the Father, “Why have you forsaken me?” I would bet a paycheck a few of the parents of those children are asking the same thing.

There will be no reason sufficient enough for the parents of those children and the spouses of those teachers that will satisfy. If there is a note from this cowardly shooter, it will undoubtedly point to a conveniently formulated reason we have heard a hundred times- his mother didn’t play with him enough, he didn't have enough toys to play with as a kid, voices told him to do it, et. al. Ad Nauseum. Do doubt these wack jobs have psychological issues, but we will never know the reason why- so stop asking. They are crazy assholes- that is the reason.

I do not want to know the name of this person. I don’t want to hear anything about him. I have made this claim before, the movie theater shooting not too long ago being the most recent, but the media do not care. This person, even in death, will get what he wanted- his 15 minutes. We didn't hear much about the victims in the Colorado shooting but we hear everything about that shooter.

I wonder how much of an effect a commercial like this one would have:

All the CEO’s of every major television outlet are gathered together in a room and one by one, a few of them recite a script that explains they will not give one second of media coverage to the cowardly and mentally sick people who go on rampages like this. If there is some twisted thought that comes to these people in the dark recesses in their minds that television coverage of their event will satisfy- they will not get it. The victims will be the focus of the stories.

But this will never happen. Tragedies like this are good for ratings.

You can be sure that every special interest that has a hand in this Connecticut shooting will be throwing in their lot. Gun control, anti-gun control, religious groups, anti religious groups- they all have an agenda and will try to use this event to push it. The next few months will not be pretty as fingers are pointed in every direction for someone to blame. Perhaps we have only ourselves to blame? We have become a soft, entitled and spoiled nation and maybe this is the fruit of the Great American Experiment. We are destroying ourselves from the inside out- our government has done more harm to this country than all the terrorist groups combined. The religious will certainly say that as a nation we have eliminated God as much as possible from our politics and public places so this is the price we pay. Maybe that is true, maybe it isn't.
The Connecticut shooting will be an emotionally seismic event for most of the country. It will have a ripple effect and hit the shores of our oceanic neighbors and strike at the very core of human emotion. 

December 1, 2012

Syrian Government shuts down Internet, no doubt some US lawmakers would do the same here

On Friday afternoon Syria suffered a widespread loss of Internet sans a few off shore networks. It looks like someone flipped off a switch, if there really is such a thing.
No Internet for you!

The Syrian government, well known in the world for its civil rights leaders and progressive women's rights programs, explained they had nothing to do with the black out and that it was the targeted work of terrorist organizations. Despite well documented proof of Syria's involvment with Internet surveillance and malware campaign (starting in 2011), Syria's Minister of Information explains:

"It is not true that the state cut the Internet. The terrorists targeted the Internet lines, resulting in some regions being cut off,"

Forgive me if I am not convinced, especially after the comical reports from Saddam's Mininter of Information as the Iraqi army was getting bitch slapped by our troops:
"I repeat, there is no US presence in Baghdad."
Half of Syria's population is below the age of 19 so I can see why the despotic government would want to keep the Internet away from this age group. If the teenagers were to discover the vast amount of porn that is freely available, I think the frustration levels of the Syrian people would drop and perhaps they would stop joining/aiding and abetting terrorist organizations. The unemployment level among the youth of that country is above 20%. No jobs, no access to Spongebob episodes, no porn, no Hulu- what else is there to do except perpetrate terrorism? Hulu might be stretching it considering they have no broadband and Internet access is by dial up. For crying out loud, we need to get these people out of the Stone Age.

The United States enjoys a relatively open Internet thanks to our First Amendment right to free speech. However, government intervention is certain when social deviants are allowed an autonomous and anonymous reach on such a global medium. The first restrictions to free speech were deservedly aimed at protecting children though child pornography laws. It wasn't long before copyright infrignement laws followed.

There have also been proposals for the widespread limitation of Internet access as well. From Wiki:

The Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010 (S. 3480) is a bill introduced in the United States Senate by Joe Lieberman (Independent Democrat, Connecticut), Susan Collins (Republican Party, Maine), and Tom Carper (Democratic Party, Delaware) on June 10, 2010. The stated purpose of the bill is to increase security in cyberspace and prevent attacks which could disable infrastructure such as telecommunications or disrupt the nation's economy. The legislation would create an Office of Cyberspace Policy and a National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications. ".

Sounds pretty harmless until the bill was given a deep dive. The Lieberman bill was widely criticized by the media as the "Kill Switch" bill because of the clause that would allow the President to enact "emergency measures" in the case of a large scale cyber attack. For once, the ACLU actually was on the side of good when it protested this bill saying that the definition of a cyber attack was too broad and what was a Critical Communications Infrastructure (CCI) and what is not. They also took issue with Preserving Free Speech in Cybersecurity Emergencies. Bravo, ACLU, bravo. You still suck overall, but thank you for coming to our aid on this one.

Amusingly enough, Lieberman cited a similar program in China as justification for our adoption. It should come to no surprise that the Democratic leadership would use a communist controlled country with a brag sheet of civil rights/liberties violations as thick as Oprah's ass to justify their position. What other countries censor the Internet? There's China, Syria, Iran, North Korea, a few states of the former Soviet Untion and Cuba. Do we really want to add the United States to this list?

There are many cases of successful censorship on the internet that mostly dealt with file sharing sites, however even personal sites can become targets if the content is disturbing enough. Facebook has come under fire numerous times for their slow response times in dealing with pedophilic members. Again, this type of behavior is neither protected, nor should it be, by the First Amendment. However, the key policy issue with an Internet Kill Switch is whether it violates our consitutional rights to restrict access to or completely block the Internet. Another consideration is if we even need this type of government control and what effect it would have on the United States if the Internet was shut down for even a day- the costs are staggering.

A new bill, the Executive Cyberspace Coordination Act of 2011, is under consideration by the U.S. Congress and was sent to the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies on March 25, 2011. It hasn't received much attention but now that the election is over and Obama has nothing to lose, I would expect this to resurface at some point in the next 4 years.

Here is what internet censorship looks like. This is a screenshot of someonie in the United Arab Emirates trying to access Flickr (yes, Flickr):

I don't like this form of government control and I don't want it.