Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Miracles from Heaven": a little girl's visit to the Afterlife, and miraculous recovery

Author: Christy Wilson Beam

Title: “Miracles from Heaven: A Little Girl, her Journey to Heaven, and her Amazing Story of Healing

Publication: 2015, Hachette, ISBN 978-0-316-38181-9, 209 pages, hardcover, Prologue and 10 Chapters

Amazon link. Kindle and paper available.

A mother tells the story of her daughter’s miraculous recovery from both a serious chronic illness, tehn a serious accident, the girls’ brief account of a visit to Heaven and a meeting with Jesus, and the girl’s complete recovery from both.   Somehow the title of the book recalls a musical movie, "Pennies from Heaven".  

The chronic illness is “pseudo-obstruction motility disorder and antral-hypomotility disorder”.  This condition seems to be related to scar tissue and spasms that cause the colon to stop functioning.  The book suggests that it might have resulted from undetected appendicitis.  My own mother missed a year of school, in 1920 in Ohio, from appendicitis, which could not be well treated at the time.
The attempts to treat the condition became quite desperate. The family or at least parents had to travel to Boston regularly for monitoring of the use of a normally discontinued drug, cisapride.  The girl was often fed by tube or IV and the possibility of colostomy was even considered.

The accident was a fall within a hollow tree near the family’s home near Fort Worth, TX. She had few injuries from what could have been a fatal fall, and everything healed miraculously and quickly.
The key paragraph in the book may be on p 147, where she talks about Job, the idea of people wanting to “separate themselves from other people’s troubles” and the idea of testing “the power of your own faith.”

Nevertheless, this is not the way I experience the world, or faith or spirituality.  Modern physics and cosmology (and quantum mechanics) makes me confident that consciousness rules everything and is permanent, so there is an afterlife and karma us real.  And you are in a real place, but not reachable in the normal dimensions of space-time that we live in, after you go.  And many of us may come back again, or go to other worlds. 

So I don’t experience faith in this naïve, emotional way.  I don’t live in the same world as this family.  I get it intellectually, but I don’t connect to it more personally.  I don’t think that God normally manipulates us with his Plan as if we were characters in an aspiring writer’s fictive screenplay.  Yes, I have absolute power over the characters in my unpublished novel (and they even seem “real”), but I don’t think that God relates to us that way.  So I get irritated if I am prodded or drawn into sessions where people “turn it over to Him”.  And the whole idea of “following Me” – and the Doubting Thomas narrative – brings up the loaded topic of upward affiliation.

All that said, I see why Grace is so essential.  Without it, we always keep paying for other people’s “crimes” as well as our own.
Second picture:  Texas Hill Country, west of Austin, mine, Nov. 2011.  

Friday, April 17, 2015

Time publishes "The Search for Life in the Universe"

Time Magazine sells a 96-page coffee table paperback, “The Search for Life in the Universe”, with the subtitle “Is Anybody Out There?  Science Is Finding New Clues.” , apparently edited by Nancy Gibbs and Neil Fine. There are fifteen heavily illustrated short chapters.
Among the most important chapters are “Triumph of the Planet Hunters” by Michael D. Lemonick, and “Finding a Second Earth,” by Jeffrey Kluger, and another chapter at the end by Kluger, “Maybe We Are the Only Ones.”
That chapter deals with the Drake Equation.  The upshot of all of this is that there seem to be millions of rocky planets in our galaxy in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone”.  But most starts are M-star red dwarfs.  That means the planets are close to the stars and “tidally locked”.  Still, they would have mild climates in the perpetual twilight zones, and strong winds would spread the mild temperatures around the planet, when the atmosphere is thick enough.  M-stars tend to have unstable outputs and a lot of radiations storms. 
Water worlds may be common, as may be moons like Europa, with oceans underneath ice.  Water would insulated ocean life from the radiation. 
Starts the size and stability of the Sun are less numerous than M-stars.  And Earth is lucky to have formed a large Moon that stabilizes things even more. 
One possibility is that advanced civilizations would master worm holes, and be able to teleport and reconstruct themselves in other places.  M-star planets with twilight zones might be colonized by other civilizations (a premise of Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus”).  A solar system with more than one habitable world and an advanced civilization would face political problems just now imagined by us as we imagine going to Mars.  Do all advanced civilizations have monetary systems and business economic cycles?
One argument against intelligent life is that some species like sharks have been stable for hundreds of millions or years without becoming “smart”. 
But land mammal (carnivores  and prmates) become intelligent is such a way as to relate to man socially (as well as some herbivores like elephants).  You need brains to hunt for food on land.  And ocean-returned mammals – cetaceans – may sometime be equal to humans in intellect – having evolved separately.  They have a biological Internet (sonar) and haven’t threatened to blow the world up with nukes.  But they can’t make tools because they don’t have hands, and don’t need them to feast on “free fish” underwater.  Should orcas get the legal protection of people?

Of if a “Clark Kent” from a Krypton (having been teleported through a worm hole) grew up among us, would he have the same legal rights as any human?  The possibility isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds.  Civilization-bearing aliens might indeed look very much like us. 

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

David Boaz rewrites his Libertarian Primer from the 1990s

Author: David Boaz
Title: “The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom
Publication: New York: Simon and Schuster, 2015 (1997), 418 pages, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-4767-5284-6, Preface, twelve chapters, appendix with personal political quiz, heavily indexed.
Amazon link
The author is an executive vice-president of the Cato Institute in Washington DC.  The title page calls the book a “Revised and Updated Edition of ‘Libertarianism: A Primer’”, first published by The Free Press in 1997, accompanied by a collection of essays dating back to ancient history, called “The Libertarian Reader”, edited by Boaz.  (In fact, see the mini-review of those here March 28, 2006)/ 
The book argues its points in simple and straightforward language.  In a practical world, we start running into some questions, but at a certain point these questions are no longer simply about polity or political theory about government, but more like “how to live free in an unfree world”, as Harry Browne used to say. 

For example, Boaz argues that health care costs have gotten out of control because “someone else pays” for health care in most cases.  True.  In fact, in the past, a lot of people used the health care system very little and lived long life spans, actively, on sheer momentum, before passing away suddenly when time was up.  Today, we expect every possible treatment attempt for every disease.  But, of course, this brings up the question of personal luck.  If we don’t want “Obamacare” logic says we have to take some kind of position on pre-existing conditions.   Either the public takes care of this, or “family or friends” do, or unlucky people go without.  You have to take some kind of position.  Ted Cruz, for example, doesn’t seem to answer that point.  On the other hand, Obamacare has disrupted plans that already works, and saddled people with requirements for unnecessary coverage in some cases. 
On Social Security, it is true that the Social Security Trust Fund is getting into trouble sooner that we had expected.  Well-off people do not have as many children, and people are living longer.  But it is not correct to call Social Security just a “welfare” plan that would otherwise be covered by adult children being obligated to provide for their parents – an idea that gets into the issue of filial piety and filial responsibility law (although libertarians wouldn’t want these to be laws).  In my own case, my FICA contributions more or less comport with the Social Security benefits I get, but that won’t be as true for people working today.  I do like the idea of migrating to privately owned accounts that could not be raided by future opportunistic politicians (with the next debt ceiling crisis).  But there is cost – and some sacrifice – involved in transitioning to a private system.

Boaz offers an interesting interpretation of the idea of "the tragedy of the commons", to deflect away from the idea of its being part of a zero-sum game. 
Boaz dedicates ample space to the dignity of the individual, and maintains that there are only individuals, not groups, that actually have moral agency.  But it’s when he talks about “Civil Society” that he risks running into moral or philosophical contradictions. In a real world, extended families, religious bodies and nations do take on purposes of their own. 
At this point, I want to mention that I wrote my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book about the same time that Boaz wrote his 1997 Primer, and I wrote DADT III about the same time he wrote this update.  (My DADT-I book was sometimes called "The Manifesto".)  I knew David in the 1990s through GLIL, and it seems that my work and his are like opposite faces of a coin.  What’s different is that my books are developed from personal narratives, which have lots of ironic and morally problematic situations.  That’s because I’m writing from a “personal space” rather than from a position of employment in a think tank or any policy-debating group.  You could say, how does a person “like me” find “freedom in an unfree world” – the Browne Question.  You could ask, how should I behave, or be expected to behave? This question has contexts in both coercive environments (like the military draft, in my own case) and in situations where you need to have others want to work with you or do business with you. 
That’s mainly the concern in my writing. I may be a mixture of “Divergent” and “Factionless” (the boundary can be narrower than we want to admit), but there are a number of intertwined themes in my narrative, some of it concerning the model for my “second career” in journalism, and, in earlier times, my sexual orientation.  Generally, I have the impression that others sometimes see me as like a kibitzer of a chess game, an alien observer whose stares can actually affect the subjects of his attention (an idea of relativity, after all).  I have the capability to influence policy beyond what numbers show, and probably influence how people more heavily socialized than I am feel about themselves, and whether they feel following the deeper mores of society is “worth it” if I have the freedom to live in my own alternate space so visibly. Yet, I steadfastly refuse to become someone else’s tool (like teenager Bob in the movie "The Zero Theorem").  Having taken the course that I did, in writing the books, there is no going back, no joining someone else’s cause and being their spokesperson.  There can be no pimping, no hucksterism, no glorification of victimization.  Boaz would be correct in maintaining that some of my dilemmas were created by government:  the demands for gender conformity had a lot to do with militarization and war (as I dealt with all the ironies of the Vietnam era draft).

Still, libertarians are learning that social capital matters.  This was most clearly articulated in Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” (March 14, 2012).  There is something to be said to social solidarity, for people working together for goals “beyond themselves.”  What happens when these goals are wrong?  That could leave us with appealing to religious faith.  Social competence is a virtue in its own right, a fact with an ironic reflection in the attitudes I expressed toward others about the time I confronted others that I am homosexual.  There was a curious puritanism in my own world, an insistence that some sort of relationship with another was valueless to me (emotionally) unless the person was “worthy” (and even “perfect”).  Psychologists call that “upward affiliation”. 
Boaz talks about the value of fraternal organizations in getting people to help each other with volunteer efforts rather than depend on government.  (And, note above, “filial piety” would have major implication for the mean of “marriage” vis-à-vis “personal responsibility” – although that probably helps the cause of “marriage equality”.)  Good social networking in the real world (not just Facebook) and competence at it probably helps stable marriage in a reciprocal fashion.  But fraternal organizations (unless just spiritual, like Rosicrucianism) need to reach out to others besides “one’s own”.  (And his idea about fraternal groupings led to a strange moral crisis for me in the 90s when I worked for a company that specialized in life insurance for the military.)  Boaz points out that the LDS church was very good at this, being one of the most helpful religious groups for victims of Hurricane Katrina. 

As for the moral obligation to “give back”, as in volunteerism (as to “living free”, above) Boaz writes that most economic hardship results from people having children before they are capable of supporting them in two-parent (which could now be same-sex) families.  But (beside the population demographics issue) luck and fortune do have a lot with poverty, starting with the kids “unlucky” enough to be born to irresponsible parents, as well as everything else in life that can go wrong (crime, disaster, disease, genetics, etc).  When people “give back” and others (the less lucky) know that societal structure encourages charity, society does tend to become more stable than it would if it took such a narrow view of “personal responsibility” as I took myself in the past.  But that social structure can infringe on personal goals, especially of the “divergent”.  Freedom, after all, is a pre-requisite for innovation, for raising the living standards of everyone in the first place.  Boaz points this out repeatedly. 

See also comments about Matthew Rognile's Brookings paper at MIT, on Piketty's review July 22, related to what Boaz argues.