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Nepal Rattled by Powerful New Earthquake East of Capital

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by Ellen Barry via NYTimes.com

NEW DELHI — A powerful earthquake shook Nepal on Tuesday, less than three weeks after a devastating temblor there killed more than 8,000 people. Dozens of deaths and more than a thousand injuries were reported.

Residents of Kathmandu, the capital, reported that buildings swayed in the earthquake, which was felt as far away as New Delhi. The United States Geological Survey assigned the quake a preliminary magnitude of 7.3, with an epicenter about 50 miles east of Kathmandu, near the border with China. The April 25 earthquake registered magnitude 7.8 and was centered west of Kathmandu.

“We’re obviously hearing of buildings destroyed, buildings collapsed, buildings falling, we’re hearing about casualties, but the numbers are not known yet,” said Jamie McGoldrick, Nepal resident coordinator for the United Nations. He said several international rescue teams, including American and Indian teams, were still in Kathmandu but had not yet been asked to deploy.

By late afternoon, Nepal’s National Emergency Operation Center had reported 42 deaths and 1,117 injuries.

Four people died in Chautara, a town in the Sindhupalchowk district east of Kathmandu where several buildings collapsed, said Paul Dillon, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration. “A search and rescue crew of some locals and international groups are digging through rubble as best they can,” Mr. Dillon said.

“I can still see massive clouds of mud and dust around, as massive landslides continue to happen,” Bharat Shrestha, who was participating in rescue operations in a town about seven miles west of Chautara, said by telephone. “Concrete houses in Chautara have crumbled, and the main road leading to Chautara is completely blocked with debris.”

Krishna Prasad Gaiwali, the chief district officer in Sindhupalchowk, reported “huge damage in our district.”

Since the April 25 quake, people across Nepal have feared another powerful one, in part because the first one left many buildings cracked and unstable. An American structural engineer who examined buildings in Bhaktapur, a city near Kathmandu, said that he believed one-third of the buildings he had seen would have to be demolished.

Nevertheless, many families have moved back into their apartments, after living under tents for the week after the first quake.

Jasmine Avgerakis, an emergency response manager for Mercy Corps who arrived in Chautara just hours before the quake struck Tuesday, said rescue workers were bringing injured people on stretchers to a tent hospital that the Red Cross had set up in an open field after the April quake.

Ranveig Tveitnes, the deputy team leader of the Norwegian Red Cross team in Chautara, said that 40 injured people had been brought to the hospital by midafternoon, and more were coming in the evening.

Ms. Avgerakis described locals, loaded up with blankets, streaming into the open field. “I don’t think anybody’s going to be sleeping in their homes tonight,” she said.

Ian Norton, foreign medical team coordinator for the World Health Organization, said people in many parts of Nepal had begun salvaging things from “very precarious houses” and could have been injured in Tuesday’s quake. There were reports of deaths in Bhaktapur, where a number of unstable houses had fallen.

“We are still very worried by the magnitude, and the precarious buildings,” Mr. Norton said. “We are in the injury management phase right now. We are now expecting that people in smaller houses in the districts will start to come forward with their injuries.”

Many teams of volunteers had been working in remote villages to deliver aid when the quake struck. Some said they remained cut off and frightened on Tuesday afternoon, unable to return to the main road.

Prakash Banjara, 22, said he and a group of 15 students had been delivering rice and other food to villages in Sindhupalchowk when “the earth started shaking so violently.”

“The mountains before my eyes started tumbling down in massive landslides,” Mr. Banjara said. “There are continuous landslides in this area.” He said the road was “completely blocked by landslides, and there is no way we can get out if authorities do not come to our rescue soon.”

He said a storm was approaching, and he was unable to contact security officials.

“We are clinging together on the road, hoping the clouds will go away,” Mr. Banjara said. “I saw buildings crumble as we made our way here. Maybe there are people trapped in them. We have no way of knowing yet.”

Bal Krishna Sedai, who was stationed in the hill town of Dhunche with the Nepali Red Cross, described seeing “kind of havoc around us” as landslides continued for about half an hour on the surrounding slopes of the Himalayan foothills. He said some buildings in Dhunche were cracked and that many residents were pitching camps in open areas.

Mr. Norton of the World Health Organization said a landslide had covered the car of a medical team working near the epicenter of Tuesday’s quake; the team members were now searching for their driver, he said. Another team operating in the town of Tatopani, near the Chinese border, had been cut off by a landslide, he said.

CCTV, China’s state-run broadcaster, reported that one person had been killed and two injured in a landslide in Gyirong County, Tibet, that was triggered by the earthquake.

In Kathmandu, Kunda Dixit, the editor of The Nepali Times, described “some degree of panic” as the tremor “just became bigger and bigger and bigger, started rocking more and more and more.” He said that office workers ran into the street and that electric power was out and telephones were jammed.

“It started slow, it kept on swaying, and the birds were up in the air,” he said. “I looked outside and the electricity poles were just swaying from side to side, the wires were swaying.”

Video footage taken at the airport in Kathmandu showed hundreds of people rushing for the exits.

Madhu Prasad Regmi, secretary of the Nepal Election Commission in Kathmandu, said that when the quake started, “all the people inside the building started crying and ran outside in the open space.” About four hours later, the workers had not gone back inside, he said.

“The fear on people’s faces is very visible,” he said. “There are regular aftershocks. So the fear is very visible.”

Dhruba Prasad Ghimire, an aid worker who had been distributing food in a village west of Kathmandu, said buildings there shook and residents ran into the open in fear as the quake triggered landslides on nearby hills. But he said he had not seen anyone injured, and the buildings still standing in the village had not fallen down.

“It was very frightening again, but we will keep giving out food,” he said in a brief telephone interview. “We are O.K., but there were landslides and more of the aftershocks — you could see the ground falling down on the hills.”

He said, “People will be frightened. We don’t know if there will be more of these earthquakes.”

Supreme Court and SSM: What Consequences for FBOS?

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by Stanley Carlson-Thies via IRFAlliance.org

At the US Supreme Court’s oral arguments on April 28, 2015, on whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, the federal government’s top lawyer intimated that faith-based organizations might lose the freedom to maintain a religious conviction that marriage is a man-woman bond. That would upend many deep convictions and key practices. His statement should be a wake-up call for faith-based organizations.

If the Supreme Court decides marriage must be extended to same-sex couples under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, then faith-based organizations will face new pressures and will need to dramatically expand their advocacy for the freedom to remain distinctive. But even before the Supreme Court rules, the oral arguments should give faith-based organizations much reason to think carefully about their identity and practices and how these are grounded in their religious convictions, and much reason to engage with federal, state, and local policymakers to say and show how their good works are rooted in their faith commitments. Our nation has historically valued living by conviction, even when a conviction is unpopular, and our society and government depend on the good works accomplished daily by a vast number and variety of faith-based organizations. Even more than before, now is the time for faith-based organizations to be transparent about how their practices reflect their deep religious convictions, and to witness publically about how their works of service grown from those convictions.

At the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage oral arguments, the federal government’s top lawyer—Solicitor General Donald Verrili–hinted that faith-based organizations might lose their freedom to live out their beliefs on traditional marriage in both staffing and services. Asked by Justice Alito if faith-based nonprofits that believe marriage to be the partnership of a man and a woman might lose their tax-exempt status, the Solicitor General said, “It’s certainly going to be an issue. I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is it is going to be an issue.”

Just what kind of “issue” will faith-based organizations face? The interchange referenced the Bob Jones University decision from 1983. The IRS had stripped BJU of its tax exemption because the university’s ban on interracial dating violated the vital national policy against racism, and the Court said that religious freedom was no shield for BJU. Will the Court consider a commitment to traditional marriage to be the equivalent of opposition to racial equality? But the Bob Jones policy was an outlier—the Civil Rights Movement was upheld by religious motivations, notwithstanding reluctance and opposition by some; racism is not characteristic of the millennia-old traditions of major religions; marriage as a unique union between a man and a woman is a deep commitment over thousands of years by many different faith traditions. In short, the Court will have to wrestle afresh with the intersection of religious freedom and a claim for equality.

Protection for religious convictions supporting traditional marriage came up two other times in the back-and-forth between the Justices and the various lawyers.  Mary Bonauto, arguing for a right to same-sex marriage, assured Justice Scalia that dissenting clergy would not be forced to perform same-sex marriages. However, when Chief Justice Roberts asked Solicitor General Verrili whether a religious school with married-student housing would be required to open the housing to same-sex couples, he said it would depend on the laws of the various states and on whether an eventual federal law on sexual orientation protects religious freedom.

The assurances about respect for clergy do not go far to reassure faith-based organizations with policies and practices based on traditional marriage. They do not specialize in worship but they are religious organizations nonetheless and need legal protection if they dissent from changing views on marriage. There is no reason to accept easy assurances that the coming of marriage equality means that every view of marriage will be respected.

Various Justices expressed some skepticism about the validation they were being asked to give to a view of marriage deeply different than what societies and religions have believed for millennia. Of course, such skepticism is no guarantee that the definition of marriage will be left in the hands of the states and their voters and elected representatives.

Assuming, as seems very likely, a ruling that states cannot reserve marriage to heterosexual couples, will the Court decide in a way that protects the religiously grounded belief in the traditional concept of marriage? The several exchanges noted above show that the Court is aware of the vital religious freedom issues at stake. That is a hopeful sign. Various amicus briefs clearly described the issues; an essay by Carl Esbeck points out that two of the briefs stressing problem areas were filed on behalf of religious organizations representing some 40% of the US population! A key brief, authored by premier church-state experts Douglas Laycock, Thomas Berg, and others, specifically proposed to the Court how it can strongly support religious freedom at the same time that it rules in favor of same-sex marriage.

As the Laycock brief recommends, the Supreme Court, if it declares a right to same-sex marriage, can and should stress the religious freedom consequences of that decision, and invite the Congress and state legislatures to act to protect religious freedom–one of their fundamental duties. There is good precedent. States that have passed marriage-equality laws have included protections for religious exercise and religious organizations, to a greater or lesser extent. And when Canada’s Parliament enacted same-sex marriage, it specifically includedprotections for religious freedom, including prohibiting the stripping of tax-exempt status from a religious charity because the charity remains committed to opposite-sex marriage. The Supreme Court can both accept same-sex marriage and protect the freedom of religious people and organizations to continue to live in accordance with their deeply religious commitment to man-woman marriage. Such a ruling is the only way to ensure genuine marriage equality.

Why Pope Francis Isn’t a Liberal Reformer

A note from Al:

As said on Monday’s program, this piece indicates what we’ve been saying since Pope Francis was elected and the left is finally being forced to agree. The Pope, shockingly, is Catholic. Really really Catholic. – Al Kresta

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by Dennis Earl via HuffingtonPost.com

It’s been quite the honeymoon. Not too long after Pope Francis succeeded Benedict XVI in March 2013 to become the new head of the Vatican, reporters, pundits and even comedians began to sing his praises. Why, exactly?

Because he said things like, “I’m a sinner” and “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” and “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!… Even the atheists. Everyone!”

But, as the old saying goes, talk is cheap. Pope Francis can present himself as a more compassionate pontiff all he wants. With over 40 years experience working within the stubbornly Conservative Catholic Church, the 78-year-old is no liberal. The reality is he is quite content maintaining the status quo.

Let’s start with LGBT rights.

Back when he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in his native Argentina, the former Jorge Bergoglio often butted heads with the government. In 2010, as legislators were debating the idea of legalizing same-sex marriage, Mr. Enlightened had this to say about it:

In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family… At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.

Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies [aka the devil] who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.

I invoke the Lord to send his Spirit on senators who will be voting, that they do not act in error or out of expediency, but according to what the natural law and the law of God shows them… We remember what God said to his people in a moment of great anguish: ‘This war is not yours, but God’s': defend us, then, in this war of God.

Bergoglio’s ignorant, paranoid comments (not to mention his desperate prayer) fell on deaf ears. Argentina became the first Latin American country to officially recognize same-sex marriages that same year.

Since he became Pope Francis his views have remain unchanged. As recently as this past January, he told an audience in Manila, “The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage. These realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation… Every threat to the family is a threat to society itself.”

That same month according to Reuters, during an impromptu speech on a plane in front of journalists, “He told of an education minister he once knew who was offered loans to build schools for the poor, but on condition their libraries stocked a book on gender theory, the questioning of traditional male and female roles.”

According to Reuters, without a hint of irony, he said, “This is ideological colonization. They colonize people with ideas that try to change mentalities or structures… But this is not new. This was done by the dictatorships of the last century.” Reporter Philip Pullella notes that Francis was “citing the Hitler Youth and Balilla, its Italian equivalent under Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.” How progressive.

The very next month, he threw his support behind an unnecessary referendum in Slovakia that proposed “strengthening” the already existing bans on gay marriage and gay couples adopting children. The needless measure failed thanks to very low voter turnout.

Like his discredited views on homosexuality and gender roles, The Pope’s views on women and reproductive rights are also out of step with modern times.

Besides being firmly anti-contraception, he is adamantly anti-abortion to the point of cruelty. Despite publicly asserting that the Vatican “obsesses” too much about this legal medical procedure, he continues to speak out against it. Consider this comment he made in 2013:

“Each child who is unborn, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who, even before he was born, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world.”

Actually, each child has the face of their biological parents but I digress.

Francis has also referred to abortion as an evil product of “throw-away culture” andbelieves that “Not to allow the further development of a being which already has all the genetic code of a human being is not ethical. The right to life is the first among human rights. To abort a child is to kill someone who cannot defend himself.”

Tell that to the estimated 32,000 rape victims who get pregnant every year. I mean is it so terrible to not want to bring into the world a living reminder of your trauma?According to Mr. Open-Minded, it is.

Also unacceptable to the Holy See is artificial birth control. According to Reuters, “The Church approves only natural methods of birth control, principally abstinence from sex during a woman’s fertile period.” That being said, don’t have too many kids. That’s not “responsible parenthood”. But don’t be childless, either. That’s “a selfish choice”. “Infallible” Popes excluded, of course.

Recently, it was reported that Francis is offering to “pardon” women who have abortions as well as the professional caregivers who practice the procedure through intermediary priests known as “missionaries of mercy”. As HuffPo’s Carol Kuruvilla noted in reference to a statistic from a Guttmacher Institute report, “Catholic women have abortions at the same rate as all American women.” And Catholics remain deeplydivided on the issue: 46 percent in favor, 47 percent opposed. How many women who have undergone the procedure are looking forward to being paternalistically forgiven by these celibate male “missionaries of mercy”?

Which brings us to the subject of female ordination. In 2013, during a long interview with America Magazine, the pontiff was asked about the role of women in the church. This is how he started:

I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo.

Two months before he gave this interview, the media darling revealed just howinclusive he truly is:

As far as the ordination of women, the Church has already spoken out and the answer is no. John Paul II made the Church’s stance definitive. The door is closed.

Despite recently speaking out against the low wages women receive compared to men, as you can plainly see he is far from a feminist. In his concretely conservative mind, women are “special”, not “equal”. As for members of the LGBT community, they’re in the same boat. Until their sexuality is no longer considered “disordered” and “a sin against God” by a man who “stands firm” on “the discipline of celibacy” for male-only priests, the Pope’s friendly overtures will remain empty pandering.

And considering what happened to former Australian priest Greg Reynolds, the idea of this Pope embracing any kind of significant reform is truly laughable.

So stop calling him “progressive” already.

The left has Islam all wrong: Bill Maher, Pamela Geller and the reality progressives must face

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Confusion over Islam and how to relate to it imperils free speech, without which no secular republic can survive

by Jeffrey Tayler via Salon.com

Whatever her views on other matters are, Pamela Geller is right about one thing: last week’s Islamist assault on the “Draw Muhammad” cartoon contest she hosted in Texas proves the jihad against freedom of expression has opened a front in the United States.  “There is,” she said, “a war on free speech and this violent attack is a harbinger of things to come.”  Apparently undaunted, Geller promises to continue with such “freedom of speech” events.  ISIS is now threatening to assassinate her.  She and her cohorts came close to becoming victims, yet some in the media on the right and the center-right have essentially blamed her for the gunmen’s attack, just as far too many, last January, surreptitiously pardoned the Kouachi brothers and, with consummate perfidy to human decency, inculpated the satirical cartoonists they slaughtered, saying “Charlie Hebdo asked for it.”

No.

But first, allow me a brief yet illustrative digression.

No one can deny the nobility of the sentiment that prompted Ben Affleck, on Bill Maher’s “Real Time” last autumn, to rush to the defense of what he sees as an unjustly maligned Muslim population with his outburst, as heartfelt as it was misguided, that it was “gross” and “racist” of Maher and Sam Harris to denounce Islam as “the mother lode of bad ideas.”  It seemed par for the course that Affleck followed the lead of so many progressives and conflated race and religion regarding Muslims.  The semantically unsound rubbish concept of “Islamophobia” disorients well-meaning people and incites them to spout illogicalities with a preacher’s righteousness.

One must, though, call out New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof for backing up Affleck on the same show, and, later, in an editorial.  Kristof, after all, should know better.  He trades in words and ideas, and his acceptance of the fraudulent term “Islamophobia” contributes to the generalized befuddlement on the left about the faith in question and whether negative talk about it constitutes some sort of racism, or proxy for it.  It patently does not.  Unlike skin color, faith is not inherited and is susceptible to change.  As with any other ideology, it should be subject to unfettered discussion, which may include satire, ridicule and even derision.  The First Amendment protects both our right to practice the religion of our choosing (or no religion at all) as well as our right to speak freely, even offensively, about it.

One must, however, recoil in stupefaction and disgust at the consortium of prominent writers who just signaled de facto capitulation to the Enforcers of Shariah.  I’m referring, of course, to the recent decision of 204 authors to sign a letter dissociating themselves from PEN’s granting the Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to the brave, talented surviving artists of Charlie Hebdo.  (Disclosure: I have friends among Charlie Hebdo’s staff.)  The authors objecting did so out of concern, according to their statement, for “the section of the French population” – its Muslims – “that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized, a population that is shaped by the legacy of France’s various colonial enterprises.”  A “large percentage” of these Muslims are “devout,” contend the writers, and should thus be spared the “humiliation and suffering” Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons allegedly caused them.

Europe’s colonial past and the United States’ current (endless) military campaigns in the Islamic world, as well as prejudice against nonwhites in Europe, have predisposed many to see, with some justification, Muslims as victims.  But apart from the blundering wrongheadedness of the PEN writers’ dissent (Charlie Hebdo’s undeniable courage won them the award, not their artwork) and putting aside the question of whether France’s Muslims are necessarily “devout” (French law prohibits religion-based polling, so who could know?), or uniformly “humiliated” by Charlie Hebdo, or necessarily “embattled,” one thing transpires with arresting clarity from the authors’ declaration: Among the left, the confusion surrounding Islam and how we should relate to it imperils the free speech rights without which no secular republic can survive.  We have to clear this up, and fast.

There is no legitimate controversy over why the Kouachi brothers targeted Charlie Hebdo.  They murdered not to redress the social grievances or right the historical wrongs the PEN authors named.  They explicitly told us why they murdered — for Islam, to avenge the Prophet Muhammad.  Progressives who think otherwise need to face that reality.  Put another way, the Kouachi brothers may have suffered racial discrimination and even “marginalization,” yet had they not been Muslims, they would not have attacked Charlie Hebdo.  They would have had no motive.

What is it about Islam that simultaneously both motivates jihadis to kill and so many progressives to exculpate the religion, even when the killers leave no doubt about why they act?  The second part of the question is easier to dispense with than the first.  Progressives by nature seek common ground and believe people to be mostly rational actors – hence the desire to blame crime on social ills.  Unfamiliarity with Islam’s tenets also plays a role, plus, I believe, the frightening future we would seem to be facing as more and more Muslims immigrate to the West, and the world becomes increasingly integrated.  Best just to talk of poverty and the like, or a few “bad apples.”  But to respond to the question’s first part, we need to put aside our p.c. reading glasses and examine Islam’s basic elements from a rationalist’s perspective.  Islam as a faith would not concern progressives, except that some of its adherents choose to act as parts of its dogma ordain, which, to put it mildly, violates the social contract underpinning the lives of the rest of us.

Islam is a hallowed monotheistic ideology, as are Judaism and Christianity, the other two Abrahamic “anti-human religions” (to quote Gore Vidal), that preceded it.  From a rationalist’s perspective, any ideology that mandates belief without evidence is a priori dangerous and liable to abuse.  This especially applies to monotheism.  Objectively, polytheism was better.  Look back in time.  The many gods of Greek and Roman antiquity, by their very multiplicity, presupposed a spirit of pluralism in their societies and even a certain ludic variety.  I worship Zeus, you Aphrodite; he follows Ceres, she Diana.  The classical gods quarreled and copulated, stirred the heavens to storm and sent down rain on the crops, tossed earthward thunderbolts, and now and then accepted propitiations from us humans, but otherwise, didn’t do much to bother us.

Enter the God of the Israelites.  Jealous and vengeful, capricious and megalomaniacal, He issued His Decalogue.  What is Commandment Number One?  “You shall have no other gods before Me” — an absolutist order implicitly justifying violence against those who haven’t gotten the memo.  Even after “gentle Jesus meek and mild” entered the picture,Tyrannus Deus continued His brutal reign, with legions of His Medieval votaries waging crusades against rival monotheists in the Holy Land, hurling themselves into battle as they cried Deus vult! (God wills it!).  And, of course, with Jesus came (the highly non-gentle, non-meek, non-mild) idea of eternal torment in hell as divine retribution for sin – surely no inducement to peace and tranquility, either.

Recognizing no Holy Spirit or mediating, moderating heavenly offspring, the Prophet Muhammad transformed the Judeo-Christian Despot on High into an even more menacing, wrathful ogre, whose gory punishments meted out to hapless souls after death fill many a Koranic verse.  Shirk, or associating another being with God, is, of course, a paramount sin in Islam.  Iconoclasm, or smashing asunder God’s rival deities as represented in idols, was and remains a favorite pastime of Islamist totalitarians, as was tragically demonstrated by the Taliban’s 2001 demolition of the awe-inspiring Buddhas of Bamiyan, or ISIS’s devastation of ancient statues in Iraq.  Such crimes are not perversions of Islam, but actions based on its canon and a fanatical desire to emulate its luminaries.  To wit, after conquering Mecca, none other than the Prophet Muhammad (whose life Muslims hold to be exemplary) devastated the 360 idols of the Kaaba; and the Quran (Surat al-Anbiya’, 21:57-58) recounts how the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham to Jews and Christians) broke apart idols.  Monotheistic Islam and destruction, thus, go hand in hand, along with the (intolerant, divisive) proclamation that the Quran is the Final Testament, God’s last word to humanity, superseding the previous (equally preposterous) “revelations” of Judaism and Christianity.

The meme “Islam – the religion of peace” might evoke snickering now, but it was wildly inaccurate long before 9/11 and the plague of Islamist terrorism.  For starters, the Prophet Muhammad was a triumphant warlord leading military campaigns that spread Islam throughout Arabia and initiated the creation of one of the largest empires the world has known.  His was a messianic undertaking.  He preceded his invasions by demands that populations either convert or face the sword.  Verses sanctifying violence against “infidels” abound in the Quran.  Even the favorite verse of Islam’s apologists, Surat al-Baqarah 2:256 (“There is no compulsion in religion”), prefaces a warning that Hellfire awaits those worshipping anything besides God.  The real meaning of the word “Islam” is, in fact, surrender — to God and the inerrant, unchallengeable path He lays out for us.  Surrendering denotes war, groveling, and humiliation – not exactly the kind of behavior liberals tend to value.

Many know that “jihad” means both spiritual and non-spiritual striving in the name of Islam, with the latter connoting holy war.  As we speak, the violent are bearing it away, rendering the peaceful definition irrelevant.  The Charlie Hebdo massacre and the shooting at Geller’s “Draw Muhammad” contest attest to how extremists are determining our discourse about Islam, and compelling us to deal with the religion at its worst.  Even though the majority of Muslims in the West are hardly on the warpath, the overarching aim of jihad, of the messianic mission launched by the Prophet Muhammad, remains Islam’s conquest of the planet — the most illiberal goal imaginable, threatening to every aspect of Western civilization.

The canonical glorification of death for the sake Islam, or martyrdom, similarly belies those who would argue that the religion’s nature is pacific.  If you, as a progressive, do not believe in the veracity of the Quran, then you have to accept Arthur C. Clarke’s diagnosis of those who “would rather fight to the death than abandon their illusions” as complying with the criteria of “the operational definition of insanity.”  Insanity hardly engenders peace.

All those who, à la Reza Aslan, maintain that Muslims today do not necessarily read the Quran literally have lost the argument before it begins.  What counts is that there are those (ISIS, say, and al-Qaida) who do, and they are taking action based on their beliefs.  To the contention, “ISIS and al-Qaida don’t represent Islam!” the proper response is, “that’s what you say.  They disagree.”  No single recognized Muslim clerical body exists to refute them.

When “holy” books and their dogmas dominate, societies suffer.  Whatever Islam did for scholarship in the Middle Ages, the dearth of top-quality institutions of higher education in Muslim countries today stems at least partly from the reverence accorded to, and time spent studying, Islam and its canon.  Says a respected report, the highest-ranking university in the world within the Dar al-Islam occupies the 225th spot.

Islam’s doctrinaire positions on women are infamous enough to merit no repetition here. Their sum effect is to render women chattel to men, as sex objects and progenitors of offspring, and foster the most misogynistic conditions on the planet: nineteen of twenty of the worst countries for women, according to the World Economic Forum, are Muslim-majority.  Some Muslim countries are deemed more progressive than others, but their progressivity varies inversely with the extent to which Islam permeates their legal codes and customary laws – the less, the better.  Not liberal at all, that.

The above are the stark doctrinal and practical realities of which no honest progressive could approve, and which form the bases of the religion.  Regardless of what the peaceful majority of Muslims are doing, as ISIS’s beguiling ideology spreads, we are likely to face an ever more relentless, determined Islamist assault.  We can delude ourselves no longer: violence is an emergent property deriving from Islam’s inherently intolerant precepts and dogma.  The rising number of ethnic Europeans mesmerized by Islam who set off toenroll in the ranks of ISIS attests to this; and may prefigure serious disruptions, especially in France, the homeland of a good number of them, once they start returning.  There is nothing “phobic” about recognizing this.  Recognize it we must, and steel ourselves for what’s to come.

This is no call to disrespect Muslims as people, but we should not hesitate to speak frankly about the aspects of their faith we find problematic.  But it’s not up to progressives to suggest how an ideology based on belief without evidence might be reformed.  Rather, we should cease relativizing and proudly espouse, as alternatives to blind obedience to ancient texts, reason, progress, consensus-based solutions, and the wonderful panoply of other Enlightenment ideals underpinning our Constitution and the liberties characterizing Western countries.

The only path to victory in this war in defense of free speech lies through courage.  We cannot wimp out and blame the victims for drawing cartoons, writing novels, or making movies.  We need to heed Gérard Biard, Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief, who declared, as he received the PEN award, that “They don’t want us to write and draw.  We must write and draw.  They don’t want us to think and laugh.  We must think and laugh.  They don’t want us to debate. We must debate.”

In doing as he urges, we will give the terrorists too many targets to attack and convince them that we will not surrender, not cede an inch.  That means the media needs to begin showing Charlie Hedbo’s Muhammad cartoons.  We must stop traducing reason by branding people “Islamophobes,” and start celebrating our secularism, remembering that only it offers true freedom for the religious and non-religious alike.  And we should reaffirm our humanistic values, in our conviction that we have, as Carlyle wrote, “One life – a little gleam of time between two eternities,” and need to make the most of it for ourselves and others while we can.  There is nothing else.

This is not a battle we have chosen; the battle has chosen us.

It’s time to fight back, and hard.

Bruce Jenner and the Transgender Debate

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Should we be true to ourselves?

Within the last several years, the sexual foundation of our thinking has undergone a major change. Basic assumptions that have been held for thousands of years are no longer accepted. “It’s a girl!” may not mean the same thing it used to mean. Maybe this “girl” will discover that she/he actually has a “male soul.”

How do we make sense of the Bruce Jenner story? How should we respond to parents who allow their five-year-old to choose a gender? Are Brad and Angelina to be applauded by letting their 8-year-old daughter be called “John” and dress like a boy? These are loving parents who probably don’t let that same child choose what to eat for dinner or what time to go to bed. Why would they trust the instincts of a child to decide something as critical as gender?

As a mom and a Christian psychologist, I wrestle with these issues and am asking God to give his great wisdom. The questions of the LGBT lifestyle are not going away. In the midst of the changing landscape, we desperately need God to show us what is “true North.” How do we walk with compassion without getting swept into the compromises of modern culture?

In 1999, John F Kennedy Jr. and his wife died in a tragic plane crash off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The primary cause of the crash was that John was not “instrument rated” as a pilot. In other words, novice pilots navigate by what they see. Instrument-rated pilots have learned to fly by the instrument panel, even if the instruments seem to contradict what they perceive by looking out the window.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the cause of John’s crash: “The pilot’s failure to maintain control of the airplane during a descent over water at night, which was a result of spatial disorientation.” The weather obscured his vision and perception, and John thought he was flying much higher than he was. The instruments are not deceived by clouds or fog like human judgment can be. They determine altitude, air speed, and direction based on the laws of physics rather than perception. If John had trusted his instrument panel instead of his instincts, he may still be alive today.

While I was watching the Bruce Jenner story on 20/20, there were moments in which I felt that I had lost my bearings. His story is compelling and arouses empathy in me for those who live with gender confusion. I can’t imagine the tension of living every day with a sense of not feeling comfortable in your own skin. However, when I am confused by what’s around me or within me, I don’t rely upon what I see or feel, but upon the God I worship. I know that God is close to the broken-hearted and compassionate in our struggles; I know that he is also righteous and holy.

Every day, we live by “looking out of the window of the cockpit.” We make decisions and form our thoughts by evaluating what we see and hear. If this is our only strategy of making sense in the world, we will become disoriented and someday experience tragedy.

I want to be an “instrument-rated” Christ follower, not swayed by the chaos of changing culture, but rooted in truths that are unchanging. Unfortunately, it seems that many Christians have walked away from biblical truth because of the pressure of modern sexual morality. The questions raised by the LGBT conversation are disorienting. Why would God want a man like Bruce Jenner to live with a “female soul”? Where is his compassion for a confused little girl or teenager who feels more like a boy? Doesn’t he want us to be true to ourselves?

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden was a man who was instrument rated. Time and again, he referred to the tried and true principles of his Christian faith. Read this profound thought from coach Wooden about living a life of integrity:

Being true to ourselves doesn’t make us people of integrity. Charles Manson was true to himself, and as a result, he rightly is spending the rest of his life in prison. Ultimately, being true to our Creator gives us the purest form of integrity.

In our humanistic culture, we have put as the highest good being “true to self.” We are human centered, valuing life and individual identity as the greatest good. As Christians in a humanistic culture, we feel compelled to alter biblical teaching to support that goal. Scripture passages that seem to limit the full expression of a person are discounted as cultural or out of touch. From this perspective, a parent’s job is to free their children to explore the depths of who they are, what they feel and most want in life.

An instrument-rated Christian recognizes that life does and always has revolved around God rather than around human beings. “You must be holy because I, the LORD, am holy” (Leviticus 20:26). My desires, thoughts, and feelings are not the truest measure of who I am. My identity is rooted in my Creator—who God is—and my choice to worship him. A. W. Tozer wrote, “The most important thing about you is what you believe about God.”

Christian parents do their children a tremendous disservice by raising them around the child’s identity, sexual or otherwise. The most important thing about your children is not who they are, but who God is. Psalm 1 is a familiar passage that asks us the question, “Am I instrument-rated in my choices as a woman, wife, and mom?”

Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the LORD,
meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do.

Every day, you look around you and observe what is going on in this world. Perhaps you even look within you to discern how you think or feel. My question to you is this: Do you look regularly at the “instrument panel” of God’s Word to be reminded of your Creator? My friend, only this practice will keep you from a disoriented crash into the ocean of our confused and lost world.

Kresta in the Afternoon – May 11, 2015

Talking about the “Things That Matter Most” on May 11, 2015

 

4:00 – Kresta Comments: “It’s a Girl!” May not Mean what it Used to Mean

4:20 – Kresta Comments: Raul Castro “May Return to the Church” 

4:40 – Kresta Comments: The Media Finally Understands Pope Francis 

5:00 – Kresta Comments: What Went Wrong After Vatican II?

5:20 – 1968: The Greatest Revolution in the American Church?

In 1968 a Theology professor at Catholic University authored a “Statement of Dissent” claiming he was not bound to follow Church teaching on contraception. The statement was signed by more than 500 theologians and sparked a debate in the post-Vatican II church over the meaning of academic freedom at a Catholic university. Fr. Peter Mitchell joins us with never-before-seen material from the personal papers of key figures in the story.

Artificial Intelligence is Coming

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In Dangers to the Faith I wrote a chapter called “Myth of Humanity 3.0: Human Enhancement Through Technology.”  This is not science fiction. Serious executives, billionaires, researchers in molecular biology and artificial intelligence, are teaming up to extend the human lifespan. Some are shooting for lifespans of 120 years like PayPal founder, Peter Theil or thousands of years as with the Cambridge geneticist Aubrey Grey and his Methusaleh Project. Inventors like Ray Kurzweil have written about the coming moment of singularity when artificial intelligence will threaten to outstrip natural intelligence. The future will be determined, he say, by how well we can integrate the two.

No matter how often I say it, people register skepticism and dismiss the threat. Those who do take the threat seriously often get paranoid about the future.  Both responses don’t fit a disciple of Christ. Our response is to affirm the human quest to live forever and to use that aspiration to draw people to the One who does live forever and Who guaranteed bodily resurrection, Christ Jesus.

Technology is being used to enhance human longevity. That is good not bad. Technology is also being used to experiment on altering human nature; to end homo sapiens and create some new species maybe called homo Googlian. That is certainly not good. I’m gratified, however, that recently Newsweek, TIME and the Economist have penned pieces showing the strength of this movement toward technocratic immortality. Please give them a read. Follow the links below!

The Dawn of Artificial Intelligence via TheEconomist.com

 

Silicon Valley Is Trying to Make Humans Immortal—and Finding Some Success by Betsy Isaacson via NewsWeek.com

 

Google vs. Death by Harry McCracken via Time.com

V-E Day, 70 Years Later

A note from Al:

On May 8, 1945 the Nazis surrendered unconditionally and the European war came to a close. That was seventy years ago. Baby boomers grew up in the shadow of the Second World War but to baby busters, gen xers, millennials or whatever silly cohort designation you want to use most post boomer babies have almost no interest in a war as ancient to them as the Rome vs. Carthage. 

Jesuit Father Donald Crosby, however, remembers some of the most heroic figures of the Second World War: the chaplains. Of the 23 army chaplains reported dead, 1/3 of them were Catholic priests. This piece from the National Catholic Register brings them to mind.

- Al Kresta

Remembering the Chaplains of World War II’s European Theater

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by Joseph Pronechen via NCRegister.com

Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender to Allied forces on May 8, 1945, brought World War II to a close in Europe. Seventy years later, Victory in Europe Day — V-E Day — will be commemorated, especially across North America and Europe.

Although the war was to rage on for another three months in the Pacific, tens of thousands of Allied forces were able to claim unquestionable victory in Europe.

During the Battle of Berlin, eight days before German Reichsprasident Karl Dönitz authorized the surrender, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler committed suicide.

The victory in Europe was not without great cost, however.

According to the statistical and accounting branch office of the U.S. adjutant general, there were 135,576 battle deaths of U.S. servicemen in Europe and more than 450,000 casualties. British military forces lost approximately 373,000, and Canada lost more than 45,000.

In his book Battlefield Chaplains: Catholic Priests in World War II (University Press of Kansas, 1994), Jesuit Father Donald Crosby reported that among the dead were 23 Army chaplains, a third of them Catholic priests.

The remaining chaplains were not sent to the Pacific. They remained in Europe before returning stateside.

“Few could have served there effectively, so deeply had their exhaustion overwhelmed them by the time V-E Day arrived,” explained Father Crosby. “They had suffered too much, worked too hard and seen too much war and bloodshed to be able to tolerate any more. For the men of God who had joined the men of war in Europe, combat had finally come to an end.”

One chaplain among those who died in action to make V-E Day possible was the first and only chaplain killed on D-Day that took place 11 months earlier.

Father Ignatius Maternowski of the Conventual Franciscan Friars parachuted into France as chaplain to the 82nd Airborne Division of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The 32-year-old friar landed in the village of Guettenville, and, though wearing his captain’s uniform and identified as a chaplain, a Nazi sniper shot him in the back as he negotiated with other Nazis about establishing a field hospital for the injured of both armies.

Another chaplain, Father Francis Sampson with the 101st Airborne Division, who was called “The Paratrooper Padre,” lived through that day, narrowly escaping being executed after German troops captured him.

Later, during the Battle of the Bulge, he was again captured by the Germans and imprisoned in a stalag in Neubrandenburg, near Berlin, four months before V-E Day.

According to Father Crosby, Father Sampson had the men build a simple chapel and then scheduled religious programs not only for Catholics, but for the Protestants and Jews, too. His actions were more than a morale builder because, with daily services, the chapel became, in his words, a “spiritual oasis” for the prisoners. He also tended to the sick among them.

Father Sampson and the men knew the day of victory was approaching because, by the end of April, they heard the Russian artillery in the east getting closer and closer. When an American officer arrived and took charge, he sent another officer and Father Sampson to convince the military command that the U.S. soldiers needed to be removed quickly and brought back to U.S.-held territory.

A few days later, both had to go through a Soviet checkpoint to cross to the American-held territory.

As in Father Sampson’s case, the chaplains sustained the faith of the men, whether on the battlefield or in the prisoner-of-war camps, bolstering them to that final victory.

“The biggest influence the priest has in the military is as a witness,” explained Msgr. Thaddeus Malanowski, who entered the Army as a chaplain at the end of 1949 and remained nearly 30 years in the military, serving the troops around the world.

Msgr. Malanowski, who is 92 and retired from the Army in 1979 as a brigadier general, told the Register that the chaplain “represents the Church, and he reflects the Church; and in turn, he is to share this reflection with the soldiers, especially the Catholic soldiers who seek his advice, and the Mass and the sacraments.”

Msgr. Malanowski recalled how the chaplains who followed those from World War II were reaping the benefits of their exceptional example.

“They were great heroes,” he said. “We still talk about the power and the influence of Catholic chaplains in World War II. That’s the caliber of priests we have in uniform. They were a tremendous credit to God and country.”

And another reason to give thanks on this V-E Day anniversary.

Google vs. Death

How CEO Larry Page has transformed the search giant into a factory for moonshots. Our exclusive look at his boldest bet yet — to extend human life.

 

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by Harry McCracken via Time.com

Page, 40, is the co-founder and CEO of one of the most successful, ubiquitous and increasingly strange companies on the planet. Google is, of course, in the search business, and more important for its profitability, it is in the online-advertising business. But it’s also in the mobile-operating-system business, the Web-browser business, the free-e-mail business, the driverless-car business, the wearable-computing business, the online-map business, the renewable-energy business and the business of providing Internet access to remote areas via high-altitude balloons, among countless others. Google’s corporate strategy is one part mainstream services and one part risky long shots.

Page prefers to refer to Google’s more out-there ventures as moon shots. “I’m not proposing that we spend all of our money on those kinds of speculative things,” he says during a rare interview at the Googleplex, the company’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. “But we should be spending a commensurate amount with what normal types of companies spend on research and development and spend it on things that are a little more long term and a little more ambitious than people normally would. More like moon shots.” This is why Google, in Page’s words, is not a normal type of company.

At the moment Google is working on an especially uncertain and distant shot. It is launching Calico, a new company that will focus on health and aging in particular. The independent firm will be run by Arthur Levinson, former CEO of biotech pioneer Genentech, who will also be an investor. Levinson, who began his career as a scientist and has a Ph.D. in biochemistry, plans to remain in his current roles as the chairman of the board of directors for both Genentech and Apple, a position he took over after its co-founder Steve Jobs died in 2011. In other words, the company behind YouTube and Google+ is gearing up to seriously attempt to extend the human life span.

Google isn’t exactly bursting with credibility in this arena. Its personal-medical-record service, Google Health, failed to catch on. But Calico, the company says, is different. It will be making longer-term bets than most health care companies do. “In some industries,” says Page, who spoke exclusively with TIME about the new venture, “it takes 10 or 20 years to go from an idea to something being real. Health care is certainly one of those areas. We should shoot for the things that are really, really important, so 10 or 20 years from now we have those things done.”

It’s worth pointing out that there is no other company in Silicon Valley that could plausibly make such an announcement. Smaller outfits don’t have the money; larger ones don’t have the bones. Apple may have set the standard for surprise unveilings, but excepting a major new product every few years, these mostly qualify as short term. Google’s modus operandi, in comparison, is gonzo airdrops into deep “Wait, really?” territory. Last week Apple announced a new iPhone; what did you do this week, Google? Oh, we founded a company that might one day defeat death itself.

The unavoidable question this raises is why a company built on finding information and serving ads next to it is spending untold amounts on a project that flies in the face of the basic fact of the human condition, the existential certainty of aging and death. To which the unavoidable answer is another question: Who the hell else is going to do it?

New Horizon

Google’s fondness for moon shots, and its ability to take them, can be attributed in large part to Page himself. When he was a Stanford computer-science grad student, his insight that the most relevant Web pages are those with the most links to them became the basis of a remarkably precise search engine, which he created with fellow student Sergey Brin. Google became a company in 1998 and a phenomenon shortly thereafter. Page served as its chief executive until 2001, when tech veteran Eric Schmidt was brought in from software giant Novell. Even then, the unconventional troika of Page, Brin and Schmidt raised eyebrows, but the power sharing led to Google’s monster growth years. In April 2011, Page reclaimed the CEO title, and Schmidt became executive chairman.

The effect of Page’s leadership at Google was immediately clear. In 2012 the company closed a massive $12.5 billion acquisition of troubled handset maker Motorola Mobility in a bid to begin manufacturing its own hardware. Page also reshaped Google’s management structure, creating the so-called L Team (L for Larry) of top managers. There were notable departures, including employee No. 20, Marissa Mayer, who left to run Yahoo. Most important, Page has shown that Google, long criticized as a one-trick pony dependent on serving ads, can grow its other businesses. Most of its $50 billion in revenue still comes from search-related ads. Analysts estimate that YouTube is a $4 billion business, and Android, its mobile operating system, is estimated to bring in an additional $6.8 billion from use on smartphones.

Beyond all that is the simple fact that Page is uncommonly ambitious and impatient, and he wants the company he created to be as well. “For me, it was always unsatisfying if you look at companies that get very big and they’re just doing one thing,” says Page. “Ideally, if you have more people and more resources, you can get more things solved. We’ve kind of always had that philosophy.” Longtime Google observers tend to agree. “Guys like Larry don’t focus on preserving value; they just work on building new value,” says Ben Horowitz, co-founder of venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. “It’s the advantage of having made something from nothing.”

Google has never tried to solve anything quite as far afield as, well, mortality. The idea of treating aging as a disease rather than a mere fact of life is an old one–at least as a fantasy. And as a science? The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine has been around since 1992, but the discipline it represents has yet to gain much of a foothold in mainstream medicine. Research has been slow to generate results. Consider Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, a Cambridge, Mass., company built around a promising drug called SRT501, a proprietary form of resveratrol, the substance found in red wine and once believed to have anti-aging properties. In 2008, GlaxoSmithKline snapped up Sirtris for $720 million. By 2010, with no marketable drug in sight and challenges to existing resveratrol research, GlaxoSmithKline shut down trials. Other anti-aging initiatives exist purely as nonprofits with no immediate plans for commercial products.

Why would Google be able to get traction on aging when huge pharmaceutical companies haven’t? Page himself doesn’t oversell his knowledge of the industry. “I don’t have as much personal expertise in the technology,” he admits. “I have some knowledge of it, just being in Silicon Valley.” Google has invested in gene-sequencing company 23andMe, a startup co-founded by Anne Wojcicki, Brin’s wife. And in February, Levinson and Brin joined Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner in organizing the $33 million Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, to “recognize excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life.”

It’s a lot easier to take Google’s venture seriously if you live under the invisible dome over Silicon Valley, home to a worldview whereby, broadly speaking, there is no problem that can’t be addressed by the application of liberal amounts of technology and everything is solvable if you reduce it to data and then throw enough processing power at it.

The twist is that the technophiles are right, at least up to a point. Medicine is well on its way to becoming an information science: doctors and researchers are now able to harvest and mine massive quantities of data from patients. And Google is very, very good with large data sets. While the company is holding its cards about Calico close to the vest, expect it to use its core data-handling skills to shed new light on familiar age-related maladies. Sources close to the project suggest it will start small and focus entirely on researching new technologies. When will that lead to something Google might actually sell? It’s anybody’s guess.

What’s certain is that looking at medical problems through the lens of data and statistics, rather than simply attempting to bring drugs to market, can produce startlingly counterintuitive opinions. “Are people really focused on the right things?” Page muses. “One of the things I thought was amazing is that if you solve cancer, you’d add about three years to people’s average life expectancy. We think of solving cancer as this huge thing that’ll totally change the world. But when you really take a step back and look at it, yeah, there are many, many tragic cases of cancer, and it’s very, very sad, but in the aggregate, it’s not as big an advance as you might think.” Page, in other words, is a man for whom solving–not curing–cancer may not be a big enough task.

Spring Cleaning

Page’s tenure has not been free of controversy. Like some of its competitors in Silicon Valley, Google was caught up in a government-spying scandal earlier this year. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed a National Security Agency data-collection program called Prism, which internal documents claimed offered direct access to the servers of tech firms, including Google. The company denies this characterization. “There’s some misunderstanding, probably, of people assuming we were complicit,” Page says of the ongoing episode. “We’ve tried hard to correct those things. We work very hard to protect your data as a user.” In the wake of the revelations, Page and Schmidt have tried to walk a fine line, calling for greater transparency without explicitly criticizing law enforcement.

Page has also concentrated on avoiding flops like Wikipedia knockoff Knol and Google Buzz, a Twitter clone almost nobody wanted to use. He has done this, in part, by ratcheting down the number of new-product introductions and by axing existing projects in periodic “spring cleanings.” (Both of those products, for instance, were killed.) He has, in a memorable phrase, declared his intention to put “more wood behind fewer arrows.” “When Larry co-founded Google, he was not ready to run Google,” explains venture capitalist and early investor John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers. “Today, I can’t imagine anyone doing it better than Larry Page.” (Doerr sits on Google’s board.) Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do?, echoes that, noting that Page has been “ruthless” about nixing lackluster ideas.

The new role model for Google products turns out to be the oldest one in the store: search. Early incarnations of Google.comslaughtered competitors like AltaVista by being vastly more accurate. Other early hits like Gmail, with its abundant free storage, and Google Maps, with its Street View imagery, succeeded for similar reasons. Google is trying to prove that it can still do that. “Larry pushes us to have 10x innovations–innovation 10 times greater than what we have in the market today,” explains Johanna Wright, a vice president whose portfolio includes one of the company’s most important growth areas, mobile search.

Most of the firm’s wildest ideas are dreamed up at Google X, which functions something like Google’s fantastical subconscious. It’s a secretive research arm headquartered a three-minute ride from the main Googleplex on one of the company’s 1,000-plus brightly colored bikes. While Page tends to the entire business as CEO, Brin now devotes much of his attention to X, which he runs in partnership with scientist and entrepreneur Astro Teller. Teller’s title–just to underline the operation’s stratospheric aspirations–is “Captain of Moonshots.” (Teller changed his name from Eric to Astro, a reference to the AstroTurf-like buzz cut he sported in high school.) Except for his long hair, beard and mustache, he’s a dead ringer for his paternal grandfather, physicist Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb.

According to Teller, Google X’s moon shots have three things in common: a significant problem for the world that needs solving, a potential solution and the possibility of breakthrough technology making all the difference. (Making money comes later.) Even a proposed project that meets all these criteria probably won’t make the cut. “Sergey and I being pretty excited about it is a necessary but not sufficient condition,” Teller explains. “Depending on what it is, it might require consulting experts, it might require building prototypes, sometimes even forming a temporary team to see where it goes and then saying to the team, ‘It is your goal to kill this idea as fast as possible.’”

Four big Google X efforts are public knowledge. There’s Google Glass, the augmented-reality spectacles that pack a camera and a tiny Web-connected screen you can peek at out of the corner of your right eye and control with your voice and gestures. Makani Power–a startup that the company invested in and then bought outright in May–puts energy-generating wind turbines on flying wings that are tethered to the ground but circle 1,000 ft. in the air. Project Loon aims to deliver Internet access to remote areas of the planet by beaming it wirelessly from 39-ft.-tall helium balloons hovering 12 miles in the sky. Though Calico is a Google X–style long shot, it will be a separate entity from Teller’s shop.

But if you had to pick a Google X moon shot with the most plausible chance of permanently reshaping the way we live, it would be the self-driving automobiles. Page first became intrigued by the concept at Stanford in the mid-1990s and seems doleful that the idea was still up for grabs when Google got around to tackling it. “I think one of the big things we did is just tell people, ‘Hey, we’re going to work on it. It’s a big deal. It should be done.’ We said we’re going to actually drive on public roads and we’ll do it safely. We’re going to test it. We’re going to prove these things are possible. That all could have been done 10 years ago.”

To date, Google’s robocars, which use lasers and cameras to see other vehicles and even read road signs, have covered half a million miles of road in California, Nevada and Florida. Spotting one cruising alongside you on a Bay Area freeway–always with a human in the driver’s seat just in case–has become a common enough occurrence that it’s no longer that big a whoop. Last fall, Brin declared that the technology would be far enough along for “ordinary people” to experience it within half a decade. How Google might sell the technology was left unanswered.

Google Glass, although more fully baked, is also still in a distinctly experimental phase. Brin wears them frequently, and a few thousand people outside of Google own a $1,500 beta version. A few companies, such as Evernote and Twitter, have written apps for the device. Glass won’t go on sale in a less expensive commercial version until next year, but already the way it enables users to see information and capture images is raising concerns about privacy. (Some users report that a common question from strangers is, “Are you recording me?”) Teller says the limited release of Glass is an attempt to jump-start a conversation about the technology before it’s part of everyday life. “I think if we’re aspiring to take moon shots, designing things for today’s cultural norms, on any front, doesn’t make any sense,” he says. “You’re not going to be able to help society in a really big way if you’re fully constrained by those things. But it is also not our mind-set that we’re going to decide what the new cultural norm is.”

Unlike present-day NASA missions, Google’s moon shots are unlikely to suffer from underfunding: the company has a $54 billion cash stockpile, not to mention dominant market share in its most important lines of business. But will any of its long-shot projects be the Google cash cows of tomorrow? Maybe. Google X, says Teller, “is not a philanthropic organization.” But neither is it picking projects based on obvious profit potential. “If you make something a little bit better, people might pay you for it; they may not. But if you make the world a radically better place, the money is going to come find you, in a fair and elegant way.”

The Core

It’s not as though Google’s mainstream services–Search, YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps and Android–are languishing for lack of attention. “It’s funny, you’d think you’d run out of things to do in those core areas,” says Page. “But our core areas are so important to people: access to information, understanding the world, communications, interactions with other people, helping you with your work … It’s incredibly exciting to come in to work every day and work on those things.” Last year Google introduced Knowledge Graph, which lets its search engine understand and answer questions like “How tall is Justin Bieber?” Technologically, it represents an advance as significant as Page and Brin’s original algorithm. Last November, YouTube opened YouTube Space Los Angeles, a sprawling 41,000-sq.-ft. video-production facility housed in a rehabbed 1950 aircraft hangar originally erected by Howard Hughes. Smaller YouTube Spaces have opened in London and Tokyo, with more on the way. “Programmers like to move to Silicon Valley,” says Robert Kyncl, who heads YouTube’s content and business operations. “With creators, it’s New York, L.A., London, Mumbai, Tokyo. Those are their tribal areas. We felt like it was important for us to have our physical tent in those areas.”

Page says his primary responsibility is to make sure that the entire organization errs on the side of thinking big. “Larry always asks hard questions,” says Brian McClendon, VP of Google Geo, who joined in 2004 when the company bought his startup and renamed its 3-D-mapping program Google Earth. “Sometimes he asks unreasonably hard questions. He forces you to think, ‘Did I actually get as much out of this plan as I could have?’ He does that even when you do great things.”

Despite its founder’s emphasis on focus, Google is not immune to distractions. In August, technology site All Things D reported that Brin and Wojcicki had separated, setting off an unprecedented flurry of coverage of their personal lives. More important, even juggernauts like Apple and Amazon have learned how willing investors are to punish overly long-term bets by driving down a company’s stock price if they are displeased. So far that hasn’t been a problem: Google’s stock hit its all-time high in July at $928 a share.

Page concedes that he’s been known to underestimate how tough it all can be: “I’m very optimistic and certain about things, so I always assume they’re going to get done quickly, but actually they take a long time.” He says he initially thought Google could whip up great software for next-generation smartphones in a year but learned that getting Android there was a half-decade effort. Though it did get there: Android is closing in on an 80% share of the smartphone market.

Again, he sounds impatient. “Big companies–and maybe even Google too–we’re not as good as we should be at starting these things up early enough so that it’s really done by the time we need it to be a real business.” Though Page doesn’t mention Google+, the company’s attempt to roll an array of services into a cohesive Facebook competitor, it’s a case in point: In 2011 he tied part of every employee’s bonus to their contributions to Google’s social effort. The results, though slick, haven’t yet gelled into anything with a fraction of Facebook’s impact or revenue.

The truth about Page’s brand of 10x thinking is that it creates a never-ending cycle. If you believe that it is always possible to be 10 times better than your current self (or the other guy), it is impossible to reach a state of self-satisfaction. Which means that even if Calico, Glass, self-driving cars, Makani Power and Project Loon all turn out to be wild, epoch-shifting hits, success for Google will still be another moon shot or two away. And Page will probably be fretting that the company isn’t moving fast enough to launch them.

Black Crime Stats

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One reason so many people are fed up with race talk in America is because it is dishonest. Fundamental facts are conveniently ignored. When those facts are ignored, ideologues, activists and pimps for government dollars propose solutions for racial justice and reconciliation that will only compound, not heal, the problem. Writers like Thomas Sowell have tried to deal with these problem of denial for a generation. He is being succeeded by thinkers like Jason Riley newly ensconced at the Manhattan Institute after a career at the Wall Street Journal. Riley’s book Please Stop Helping Us is one of the most refreshing books on the plight of the black “underclass”. He doesn’t ignore the Elephant in the Room: the collapse of the black family and the disproportionate rise of black crime.

Black youths commit murder six times the rate of white counterparts. They rape, three time more. They are ten times more likely to rob and three times more likely to assault. To acknowledge those facts doesn’t make one a racist. Maybe to rejoice in them does. But until we come to grips with the connection between fatherlessness and youthful criminal behavior, until we are willing to support organizations like churches and other mediating institutions that can apply moralistic and spiritual pressure, until that time, black youth are doomed to a criminal, marginal life.  It isn’t love to avoid these truths.

Yes, there are problems in the criminal justice system that make it difficult for black youths to repent, make restitution and find rehabilitation. Even Republicans are finally acknowledging these problems of massive imprisonments. BUT the problem is long before imprisonment, long before arrest. The problem is in knowing what it means to be a man made in God’s image and to treat your spouse and offspring as the gifts God intended. Mock that idea all you’d like but where that idea is governing a young man’s growing up years is where you will find the solution for black crime. Young men get those ideas from older men that we used to call “father” or “dad” or “pop” or “sir”. Take those fathers out of the equation and the numbers fail.

Two articles on this subject you might be interested in:

Crime Stats Alarm Black Leaders by Victor Thorn via AmericanFreePress.net

 

What the Left Won’t Tell You About Black Crime by Jason L. Riley via WashingtonTimes.com

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