No New Post This Week, Sorry

If you are reading this (pre-scheduled) message, then I didn’t get a post written this week, due to dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. I’ll return to my regular weekly schedule as soon as possible. Meanwhile, why not find an older post or two to hold you over? 🙂 Take care!

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Snippets of True Reason, part 3

Previous installments of the “Snippets” series covered four chapters each. This one covers the six chapters that make up the (sort of) middle of the True Reason book. Simply put, they “offer arguments for the rational strength of the Christian worldview.” See any familiar names among the authors?

Nine: “Reason in a Christian Context” (Peter Grice)

“The biblical pattern of coming to faith always begins with evidence. The first stage of evidence is the pervasive work of God discernible in creation (Rom. 1:20). Sometimes the evidence is the experience of personally encountering God. (To automatically dismiss this evidence as psychic malfunction is to beg the question.) Sometimes the evidence is in the fulfillment of prophecy or in a miracle one observes. Following these experiences of God and his work, the believer rightly and reasonably continues to trust in God’s existence and good plan through other, more ambiguous, circumstances. There is always a moral, rational step to be taken in responding to God by trusting him, but no absurd leap is ever implied.” (p.126)

Ten: “The Marriage of Faith and Reason” (David Marshall)

“[G]iven these pervasive patterns [in the Bible] of historical evidence, honest representation of difficult facts, and critical questioning, why did Jesus tell Doubting Thomas that those who have not seen, yet believe, are blessed?

First, notice that Jesus gave Thomas the evidence he asked for. Three senses (sight, sound, and touch) provided independent witness to an event that he naturally found hard to believe, but that would change his life…. Second, by not trusting his close friends, Thomas became less reasonable, not more so. He was retreating from the third level of faith (the testimony of others) to faith in only his senses and mind…. Third, John gave this and many other testimonies ‘that you may know.’ What else could he do? He didn’t have a video recorder to record the stone rolling away. He couldn’t carbon-14 test the shroud. Human testimony was the only way to establish the truth of historical claims…. Scientists incessantly appeal to human testimony: read Dawkins or Darwin and underline their citations of scientific work other people have done…. Fourth, miracles continued. Acts of the Apostles might well be called The Acts of God — including miracles Luke seems to have witnessed firsthand. Augustine recounts ongoing miracles in the late fourth century. One reason I am a Christian is that, serving as a missionary in Asia, I found good reason to believe God continues to support the spread of the gospel by giving people direct reasons to believe.” (pp.145-7)

Eleven: “Faith and Reason in Historical Perspective” (David Marshall and Timothy McGrew)

“Skeptics often claim that when push comes to shove, when crowded into a corner by the evidence, Christians whip out the ‘get out of jail free’ faith card. Of all the ninety-nine reasons she claims to be mad at religion, for instance (like the ninety-nine names of Allah), Greta Christina singles out this item as the poison pill that makes religion intolerable:

I get angry when believers glorify religious faith — i.e., believing in a supernatural world with no good evidence supporting that belief — as a positive virtue, a character trait that makes people good and noble….

To get the discussion started, we need to put a definition on the table; then we will argue that it has broad historical support. By faith, then, as a first approximation, we mean trusting, holding to, and acting on what one has good reason to believe is true, in the face of difficulties.” (p.149)

Twelve: “A Sun to See By — Christianity, Meaning, and Morality” (Samuel J. Youngs)

“Time and again in my experience both as a student and a teacher I’ve seen that thinking people eventually tire of abstractions. Big ideas, fundamental conceptual canopies, the sort of thing that Dawkins is getting at when he talks about the rock-bottom indifference of the universe, only hold our gaze for so long. Sooner or later, we rest our head on our hands or sigh heavily or lean across the table and ask, ‘What does all this mean for me? What do these big ideas have to do with my life?’…

An indifferent universe, an ‘accidental collocation of atoms,’ is by definition a world without any significance, a world where the ships of reasoning and consideration have no stars by which to plot their course; and where hearts moved by concern for their fellow man have no higher sun to warm their virtue.

As we’ve been asking, what do our conceptions of our universe mean for the lives we lead, for the people we love, for the questions we ask? The confession of the naturalist, when faced with honesty, is forthrightly barren in what it offers. It asks us to accept a universe with indifference at its heart, where no ultimate meaning can be ascribed to anything.” (pp.167,170)

Thirteen: “Are Science and Christianity at Odds?” (Sean McDowell)

“What can we conclude about the Galileo incident? The popular claim that the church persecuted Galileo for advancing science is a caricature. As Dinesh D’Souza points out in What’s So Great About Christianity?, the Galileo episode is a blip on the radar of an otherwise harmonious relationship between scientists and the church. ‘Indeed,’ says D’Souza, ‘there is no other example in history of the Catholic Church condemning a scientific theory.’ This myth persists because it’s consistently presented as fact in textbooks, history programs, and, most recently, in the writings of the New Atheists. It’s time to put it to rest.” (p.194)

Fourteen: “God and Science Do Mix” (Tom Gilson)

“Echoing Haldane, Krauss’s point in this piece is that Christianity is all about miracles and other such interfering-God nonsense. Science could never make sense under conditions like that.

Lawrence Krauss

He is right, of course, that science depends on nature generally behaving itself. But he is wrong to think the regular order and design of Creation is incompatible with Christianity. In fact, there are at least three major reasons why science fits squarely and comfortably within a Christian view of reality. These three reasons are related to God’s nature (what is ultimate), human nature (who we are), and the nature of the universe (what science studies)….

Significantly, the Judeo-Christian view of creation is unique among the world’s religions and philosophies…. Only in the first chapters of Genesis do we have an account of a creation that is fully ruled by its Creator’s mind, yet remains separate from it: rationally ordered, but not animized. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that this all-important basis on which science was planted comes from the same biblical passage that scientists today love so much to scorn?” (pp.201-202,204)

A lot of good stuff, there, as the contributors address various aspects of the faith/reason dialogue, clarifying the Christian position and hopefully putting to rest (as McDowell said) some misconceptions and misrepresentations. Any of you buy the book, yet?

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Cyberattack Risk Assessment

“[I]n 1945 we were the protagonists with the new weapon. Now, we are the ones who are likely to be on the receiving end. If the Trump administration doesn’t act quickly and decisively, it may be a very cold winter.”  — Steve King, COO of Netswitch Technology Management

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about hackable vehicles. Serious as that is, the potential dangers are minuscule compared to this week’s topic.

With all of the hullaballoo of late regarding who at the White House is quitting, getting fired or reassigned, an important report from the National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) has been overlooked by many. This task force, commissioned by the National Security Council (NSC), has “review[ed] and evaluate[d] a long list of ways the federal government determines how to secure critical infrastructure — such as dams, bridges, power grids, and airports — against targeted cyberattacks.” As per Steve King at Lifezette,

“They have assessed our national risk and have declared it real, present and high….

The task force recognizes that most critical national infrastructure (CNI) in the U.S. is privately owned and poorly defended, and it is particularly vulnerable to cyberattack because it relies on outdated software, third-party utilities, and interconnected networks.

The ability to run their systems remotely, as well as update software via the web, gives hackers all the access they need. These interconnected networks are even more tempting because they usually control operations as well, magnifying the impact of an attack.

Attacks against operations technology (OT)… can easily produce kinetic effects — such as opening flood gates, shutting down grids, and destroying control circuitry.

The report confirms the contention that while the government and the private sector may have lots of appropriate technologies to defend critical systems, they have not been applied in a way that can be effective against an adversary in cyberspace. This conclusion has been demonstrated in study after study and shared by most cybersecurity professionals in the private sector.”

Outrageous! It is absolutely inexcusable that the various government offices that deal with these systems (sometimes via contractors) and owners/administrators in the private sector have allowed the situation to get this bad.

“The task force recommends establishing separate, secure networks for critical infrastructure; information-sharing through automated threat intelligence distribution; and the use of modern scanning tools and processes for periodic threat assessments. This is all solid Cyberthreat 101 stuff that should have been in place years ago.

The task force has gone so far as to recommend outcome-based market incentives (aka bribes) to encourage CNI owners to invest in state-of-the-art technologies, as though the threat of a cyberattack that will shut down a large section of the electrical grid is not sufficient incentive in itself.”

This is some scary stuff, folks! Whether by cyber-anarchist hacks or state-sponsored attacks, the threat is all too real. (This isn’t the first time I’ve touched on the subject, either. See my “Chinese Sabotage U.S. Military” and “Security Concerns for U.S. Power Grid” posts from years past.)

King also reminds his readers of the Stuxnet malware, which in 2009 “silently accelerated a few hundred Iranian nuclear centrifuges into self-destruction.” More recently, last month’s “Petya virus took down Eastern Europe’s national banks, state power companies, and airports in a demonstration of the effects of a relatively unsophisticated cyberattack on key elements of government infrastructure.” Those are just tastes of what is not only possible but, according to the NIAC and others, looming on the horizon for the U.S.

We have a “narrow and fleeting window of opportunity before a watershed, 9/11-level cyberattack to organize effectively and take bold action”. President Trump has been talking about a national program to improve our infrastructure for a while now, and I hope he takes this report to heart. (Btw, I’m guessing this would fall under the purview of the proposed DoD Chief Information Warfare Officer.) Same goes for Congress, of course, ‘cuz they need to fund it. This should be a bipartisan issue and a “no-brainer” — in other words, perfect for Congress!

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Amos 8 and a Total Eclipse of the Sun

“Usually there’s a big ball of light in the sky
But now on this Day of the Mon
Nothing I can see
A total eclipse of the Sun”
(with apologies to Bonnie Tyler and James Richard Steinman)

I admit, I’m just not that into it.

Chasing Monday’s eclipse, that is. I’m a science apologetics geek, but for some reason, I just can’t get excited about this astronomical event. I mean, it’s cool and all. It’s the first total solar eclipse to be visible across the contiguous United States since June 8, 1918. The “path of totality” (i.e., those areas where one can see the Moon totally eclipsing the Sun) will cross 14 states, though all 50 will see at least a partial eclipse at some point. Et cetera. Still, I’ll be content to check it out later on TV or YouTube.

A lot of other people, however, are certainly talking about it a lot — some just thrilled with the science of it all, some talk about astrological implications, while others go on and on about end-times prophecy, messages from God, and general doom-n-gloom. That last group just needs to give it a rest, if ya ask me. (Well, so does the second group, but that’s a different discussion.) The amount of unwarranted speculation and scriptural misapplication is appalling.

A Facebook friend of mine by the name of Robert Hawes is similarly concerned, and he graciously gave me permission to share a FB post he wrote about those concerns.

I’m hearing a teaching now that Amos chapter 8, where God speaks of the sun going dark at noon and judgment falling on the land, is more than likely a reference to the upcoming solar eclipse in the United States, and is a harbinger of imminent judgment. [Ed. Note: My daily Bible-reading schedule has me reading Amos this weekend. I’m also reading a sci-fi novel titled Dark Is the Sun. Signs from above?!]

In response, let me first point out that the prophecy itself in Amos chapter 8 specifically references Israel:

“The end has come for my people Israel. I will spare them no longer.” – Amos 8:2

Those I heard expounding on this supposed prophecy of Doom for America tried to get around this obvious reference to Israel by arguing that the United States of America is really the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. They make some elaborate biblical connections in an attempt to prove this assertion. And while I’m not going to try to get into this exhaustively, I will say that the Lost Ten Tribes is an extra-biblical concept. The ten Northern tribes of Israel did not vanish entirely after they were taken into captivity by Assyria; they ended up being scattered throughout the Middle East, Asia Minor, and Eastern Europe. The Jews of Jesus’s time knew exactly where they were:

“Where does this man intend to go where we will not find him? He is not intending to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks, is he?” – John 7:35

Also see Acts 2:5-11.

Also of alleged significance in the teaching I heard was that Amos chapter 8 refers to the new moon at the time the sun goes dark, and it will also be new moon when our solar eclipse happens in a few more days. But there is nothing surprising or significant about this, given that total solar eclipses ONLY happen when the moon is new. The two events go together by necessity.

Yes, it’s true that God uses celestial bodies as signs and for seasons, but not every such event carries special significance. Lunar and solar eclipses occur in predictable cycles. Even some ancient civilizations worked out the math for predicting them. Furthermore, there is no particular significance in eclipses that happen near Jewish holidays, given that the Jewish calendar is lunar based.

It’s true that there are several Bible passages that state that the sun and the moon will both go dark before the Lord returns, but it is also clear from those passages that those events are particular events that will happen in conjunction with other events that are spelled out for us in some detail. The purpose of those details is because the God who created these objects and set these cycles into motion didn’t want us to go out of our minds with dread every time they happen, as many people did for thousands of years in the past, especially in civilizations where they hadn’t worked out the ability to predict these events.

1999 solar eclipse

Some are also pointing to various numerical relationships that seem to occur and repeat with relationship to the eclipse and various upcoming days this fall. But I would remind you again here that eclipses can be predicted because they happen in accordance with laws that are very precise and mathematically based. Math is basically the language of the creation, so it should be no great surprise to us that we find events like this happening with a certain regularity. Our calendars are solar and lunar based, after all.

I agree that trouble seems to be looming on the horizon for this country and could break upon it at any time, given a number of factors; however, where Bible prophecy is concerned, we have to be vigilant that we not go beyond what the text lays out for us in relation to signs that will accompany future events. Bible teachers in certain circles have fallen into the unfortunate habit of spiritualizing everything in what seems like an almost desperate attempt to be continuously relevant to the headlines. The result has been an endless stream of predictions that have gone nowhere and have done nothing but embarrass the Church of Jesus Christ. Let’s avoid that tendency and save ourselves a lot of grief by sticking close to what the word says.

Well said!

Now, for those planning to view the eclipse (using the appropriate method/equipment, of course), have fun and enjoy God’s amazing design in nature!

Also, for a little more info and good advice, here is an article about the eclipse from my go-to source on this sort of thing, Reasons to Believe: “The Great 2017 Eclipse”. (Astrophysicist Dr. Jeff Zweerink is the author.)

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Three Questions on Creation, Angels, and Satan’s Fall

The other day, someone shared an interesting post in a Facebook group that I belong to. It posed some questions from someone named “Dr. Sherlin”, who I am unfamiliar with, but no one in our group commented on it. Sort of surprising, since the subject matter was pretty much on topic for the group. Well, I copied down the original post and decided to attempt a response in a blogpost, so… ta-daa! It has been very slightly edited and reformatted with my answers following each question.

Sherlin begins with an unfortunate observation:

“I see in many places very rough conversations among very devout and godly people over the issues of creation and the age of the earth. For both sides of those in this conversation I want to ask you three questions that both sides must wrestle with and seek to answer with reasonable answers rooted in the various texts of Scripture. Would love your thoughts.

SPECIFIC REVELATION ON AGE OF THE EARTH
1. If the age of the earth is essential or a fundamental doctrine (defined as on the same level as affirming the deity and humanity of Christ or the truth of salvation in Christ alone) then why does Scripture itself not give us the specific age of the earth? All of the doctrines fundamental to the core faith are specifically stated in a direct way. Why would God not have specifically stated how old the earth is if he meant for us to know that?”

Fair question; great one, in fact. I suppose one might appeal to Proverbs 25:2 (“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” (ESV)) Of course, it isn’t just kings that enjoy (or get accolades for) investigating things. But, as an Old Earth Creationist, I don’t believe that the age of the earth is an essential/fundamental doctrine, so I don’t have a problem with this particular detail being unaddressed in Scripture. I’d rank the whole topic of the specifics of Creation (as distinct from the historic Doctrine of Creation) as of tertiary importance at best.

“LITERAL HERMENEUTIC ON WHAT WAS CREATED
2. In Genesis 1 & 2 we have very detailed and specific statements as to what God created. He created “light,” “the expanse of the heavens,” “dry land,” “vegetation, plants, & seed,” “lights in the heavens” which included “two great lights” along with “the stars,” “creatures” of the water, “birds,” “livestock & creeping things and beasts of the earth,” and then in the capstone the creation of male and female, “man in our image.” In all of that God never listed anything about angels. Why did he not if these were part of this creation period? If we use a literal hermeneutic and take this text as is with nothing else added to it where would it teach that God created angels or the sons of God, a common OT term for angels, in these six days?”

I would preface my answer by pointing out that a) different Hebrew words are used in these chapters that are sometimes translated “create”, but they don’t always refer to de novo creation; and, b) there is at least one place (Day 4) in which the verb form refers not to action being taken right then but to something already completed in the past (i.e., prior to Day 4). Now, re the angels…

Taking Gen. 1 & 2 in isolation as stipulated, there is indeed nothing that teaches when the angels/sons of God were created. They aren’t mentioned. The Genesis account may have been intentionally limited to the physical creation, thus the creatures in the “heavenly realms” would be off-topic, so to speak. Depending on how one reads the first few verses, many recognize that if Day 1 begins in 1:3, there may have been some time between the initial creation and the start of Day 1. So, creation of the angels may have occurred during this earlier period.

Another thing to consider is that many scholars believe the phrase “the heavens and the earth” from 1:1 to be a Hebrew merism used to refer to all matter, energy, space, and time. Thus, if the angels were not created during the 6-day period OR time preceding it, it is possible that they were created outside this larger creation period but within a separate time dimension. (Though, of course, we know that they are able to act within our time dimension.)

St. Michael Expelling Lucifer and the Rebel Angels, by Peter Paul Rubens

“THE TIME OF SATAN’S FALL
3. We discover that Adam and Eve in the Garden meet Satan, who is already seeking to turn them away from God. He displays his evil character in the Genesis 1-3. Where would you place the fall of Satan if he is already evil in the first scene of history? Certainly we know he was created by God (see Ezek 28 & Isa. 14) and as such he could not have been evil from the beginning. So for him to fall into sin and then appear in the Genesis account leads us to ask when did this happen?”

Technically, Satan (aka “the serpent”) only appears in chapter 3. Despite inferences made by some Gap Theorists, he does not appear before that.

In Eph. 2:2, Paul refers to Satan by one of his titles, “prince of the power of the air” (ESV). This “air” may refer to the Earth’s atmosphere either literally or metaphorically. Of course, his God-given authority allows him to affect much more than the air, nor is he limited to hovering over the Earth. Regardless, Satan’s rebellion may have occurred after Earth’s atmosphere formed (Day 2?); on the other hand, he may have rebelled long before that (see answer to #2 above) and only received the “title” much later. There is really not enough information to do anything more than speculate. Since there is nothing in Scripture to narrow down the time of Satan’s rebellion, we can only say it was sometime in the ages preceding the events in Gen. 3, which I would date to roughly 100,000 years ago, give or take a few thousand years.

There ya go! If you’d like, feel free to chime in below. I’m particularly curious how a Young Earth Creationist might respond to Sherlin. Just keep it respectful and on-topic….

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How Hackable Is Your Vehicle?

“Our cars have become more and more computerized. Keyless entry, ignition control, tire pressure monitoring, diagnostic controls, navigation and the entertainment systems are now computerized and subject to Internet or cellular access. A new car today can have as many as forty wireless access points.”  — Steve Weisman, USA Today

If you watch much TV, you’ve probably seen at least one show/movie in recent years where someone was killed or seriously hurt when someone/thing remotely took over their vehicle — i.e., by overriding the steering, disabling the brakes, messing with the wipers or radio, etc. — and caused them to crash. (An episode of “Elementary” comes to mind.) Or, you may have read an article in Wired or some other periodical or maybe watched a news segment in which such a situation was described. Is this a legitimate fear to have? Or, is it just fear-mongering by way of technophobia, paranoia, overactive imaginations, or merely overzealous journalism? Well, it depends who you ask, of course.

The FBI, Department of Transportation, and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration are concerned enough to have issued a joint-PSA. As per Wired,

“The FBI and DOT’s advice includes keeping automotive software up to date and staying aware of any possible recalls that require manual security patches to your car’s code, as well as avoiding any unauthorized changes to a vehicle’s software and being careful about plugging insecure gadgets into the car’s network…. The announcement also notes that drivers should be careful about offering physical access to their vehicles to strangers…. [A]nyone who suspects their car has been hacked [should] get in contact with the FBI, along with the car manufacturer and the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration.”

On the other hand, the writer of a Scientific American article from last Fall finds the danger much overstated.

“In February 60 Minutes ran a story about a similar experiment. “Oh, my God,” the correspondent exclaims as her brakes stop working. “That is frightening!”

But would it have been as frightening if she had mentioned that this kind of hack requires a car with cellular Internet service, that it had taken a team of researchers years to make it work — and that by then the automaker had fixed the software to make such a hack impossible for vehicles on the road? …

Here’s the simple truth. No hacker has ever taken remote control of a stranger’s car. Not once. It’s extraordinarily difficult to do. It takes teams working full-time to find a way to do it….

Now let me hasten to say this: car security is serious. Not very many cars have built-in Internet connections today…but their number is growing…. [T]he industry’s concern over hackable cars isn’t misplaced. Researchers who try to break in are performing a valuable service in drawing attention to a potential danger….

Yes, new technology is always a little scary. But let’s not exploit that fear. Let’s assess the hackable-car threat with clarity, with nuance — and with all the facts. Today remotely hackable cars are still only a hypothetical threat.”

What do others in the software industry think? Steve Jones of SQLServerCentral.com, writing in “The Voice of the DBA” from 7/31/2017, isn’t so confident.

“I think this [Scientific American] piece understates the potential problems. I think that because once a hack is discovered, how sure are we that a) it will be reported to vendors (hackers might just exploit it), or b) that a fix will certainly be developed that works well and doesn’t cause any issues (remember 10s of millions of lines of code [in] current year cars), and c) consumers will apply the patch. That last item worries me, especially if cars become more connected and share data about operation or as we move to autonomous (semi- or total) vehicles.

Personally I’m not against code in vehicles. I’m not even against some connected systems. What I am against is a monolithic, tightly coupled system. I don’t want engine control or drive by wire sharing a network or code with a CD player or navigation system. I don’t want one computer controlling vehicular functions, entertainment, and climate control. I also want to be sure that there is some protection for all this data, to be sure it doesn’t overwhelm any system. I’ll also admit I like [the] idea of upgrading or replacing parts from different vendors, some of whom might do a much better job of building systems.”

Jones is just one voice, of course, but I think he brings up some fair concerns.

The staff at komando.com expand on the dangers of interconnected and/or autonomous vehicles:

“[F]or years automotive engineers have been talking about having cars in the same area communicate with each other. The idea is that if the cars know what’s around them it improves safety and make traffic more efficient. If you think a virus on a computer network is bad, imagine a virus on a network of multi-ton cars traveling at high speeds. The term ‘computer crash’ could become sadly literal.

Then there’s the almost certain arrival of self-driving cars….

This is a good time for the car industry to take a hard look at how critical car computers are protected. It should also take a page from the computer industry and how computer users deal, or don’t deal, with threats.”

Komando then goes on to echo Jones’ concern about people not applying available software patches — a common security problem for “regular” computers.

In addition to concerns about remote access to the vehicles themselves, Weisman, who is a lawyer and an expert on scams, makes this important observation:

“[W]hen automobile computer systems are tied to the car owners smartphone, the risk of the car being hacked as a way to get access to the car owner’s smartphone and all of the credit card information, passwords and financial data including banking app passwords stored on the smartphone is increased.”

Yikes!

All I can recommend, folks, is to follow the PSA’s advice re recalls and software updates (only trust the automobile manufacturer or your car dealer!), think twice about adopting new technology that hasn’t yet had its cyber-kinks worked out, and let’s be careful out there!

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No Good Reason for D.C.’s Concealed Carry Restriction

“The point of the Amendment isn’t to ensure that some guns would find their way into D.C., but that guns would be available to each responsible citizen as a rule.”  — Judge Thomas B. Griffith, D.C. Appellate Court

Time to mark one in the ‘WIN’ column for defenders of the Second Amendment!

American Joe FJG pistol set

Once upon a time, the District of Columbia had a total ban on handguns, even in the home. This clearly unconstitutional law was struck down with the District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) ruling, when the Supreme Court finally officially recognized that “the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to keep and bear arms.” So, the District passed the Firearms Registration Amendment Act, providing for “a new scheme for regulating firearms.” Applicants who were not retired police could only register pistols “for use in self-defense within the registrant’s home,” thus no carrying firearms outside one’s home.

Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., temporarily assigned to D.C. from the New York District Court, ruled in Palmer v. District of Columbia (2014) that “the carrying of an operable handgun outside the home for the lawful purpose of self-defense” was covered by the Second Amendment, which meant that D.C.’s “complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public [was] unconstitutional.” The District responded by enacting a concealed carry licensing scheme (eff. June 16, 2015), which included a multitude of hurdles through which applicants had to jump.

Well-meaning people might differ on which requirements are reasonable and constitutional, if any. The specific one we are interested in, however, is the so-called “good reason” provision. This provision states that the Police Chief “may issue” a concealed carry permit to otherwise qualified applicants only if they can demonstrate (in writing) “good reason to fear injury to his or her person or property or has any other proper reason for carrying a pistol….” The criteria issued by Chief Cathy Lanier for “fear of injury” were

“at a minimum [to] require a showing of a special need for self-protection distinguishable from the general community as supported by evidence of specific threats or previous attacks that demonstrate a special danger to the applicant’s life.”

The criteria for “proper reason[s]” were

“at a minimum [to] include types of employment that require the handling of cash or other valuable objects that may be transported upon the applicant’s person.”

Also of note is the following:

“The fact that a person resides in or is employed in a high crime area shall not by itself establish a good reason to fear injury to person or property for the issuance of a concealed carry license.”

In May 2016, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon weighed in on the issue. In his Memorandum Opinion accompanying a grant for preliminary injunction for the plaintiffs in Grace v. District of Columbia, Leon concluded,

“Because the right to bear arms includes the right to carry firearms for self-defense both in and outside the home, I find that the District’s ‘good reason’ requirement likely places an unconstitutional burden on this right.”

He also issued an order forbidding the District authorities from “denying concealed carry licenses to applicants who meet all eligibility requirements other than the ‘good reason’ requirement.”

The above doesn’t cover every single move in the back-n-forth history of gun laws in D.C., but it should provide enough background. Now, the latest development has the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit voting 2-to-1 against D.C.’s system of gun laws and its “good reason” requirement. As per Ann E. Marimow of the Washington Post:

“‘The good-reason law is necessarily a total ban on most D.C. residents’ right to carry a gun in the face of ordinary self-defense needs,’ wrote Judge Thomas B. Griffith, who was joined by Judge Stephen F. Williams. ‘Bans on the ability of most citizens to exercise an enumerated right would have to flunk any judicial test.’…

The ruling follows proposals from Republican members of Congress that would require the District to honor concealed-carry permits from other states in the wake of a June shooting at a GOP congressional baseball practice….

The ruling from the three-judge panel gives city officials 30 days to decide whether to appeal for review by a full complement of D.C. Circuit judges. If the court does not agree to revisit the case, the order to permanently block enforcement of the ‘good reason’ requirement would take effect seven days later.

Adam Winkler, a University of California at Los Angeles law professor who has written extensively on the Second Amendment, said he expects the full D.C. Circuit will put Tuesday’s decision on hold.

‘Given the importance of this issue and the prospect that so many of the judges on the D.C. court might not want guns on their streets, they are likely to take this case,’ Winkler said….

The Supreme Court has turned down attempts to challenge decisions by other circuit courts that upheld similar concealed-carry restrictions in Maryland and New Jersey. In June, the high court also declined to review a California concealed-carry law. In that case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said the Second Amendment does not protect the right to carry a concealed weapon in public….

Clark Neily of the Cato Institute, and one of the lawyers in the earlier challenge to D.C.’s handgun ban, praised the D.C. Circuit ruling Tuesday as ‘thoroughly researched and carefully reasoned’ and said it would ‘make an ideal vehicle for the Supreme Court to finally decide whether the Second Amendment applies outside the home.'”

Assuming the odds are in favor of a pro-2nd Amendment win as Neily seems to think, I sincerely hope that the case does go to the Supreme Court, so that another absurd and unconstitutional class of laws can be eliminated from the lawbooks (except for historical reference, of course). One day, hopefully Americans in every state can once again defend themselves with firearms whenever and wherever they may be.

UPDATE 9/29/2017: Frankly, I’m a bit confused about the various rulings and appeals. But, as per Keely Sharp at Godfather Politics: “Another win for gun rights activists on Thursday when a federal appeals court upheld another court’s ruling…. Washington Leaders have pursued a full appeal for the D.C. Circuit to rehear the case attacking the city’s gun laws, but a vote of 2-1 has shut down the chance of revisiting the ruling which was issued earlier this year. This vote would uphold the previous decision made by the D.C. Circuit court about the “good reason” requirement. This means that requirement will remain in effect until a higher court overturns that decision.”

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United States Space Corps?

“It has been painfully apparent from the briefings that we’ve gotten from our general officers that both Russia and China have nearly caught us in space capabilities and are on the path to surpass us soon.”  — Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL)

Pop Quiz: Without googling it, how many branches of the U.S. Armed Services are there?

Answer: 5 — Army (est. 1784), Navy (est. 1794), Marine Corps (est. 1798), Coast Guard (est. 1915), and the Air Force (est. 1947).

At least, for now. If some people have their way, there will soon be a sixth: the United States Space Corps. I have to admit, this sounds kinda cool — not the name, especially, but the idea of it. It’s the science & sci-fi geek in me, I suppose. On the other hand, is it really necessary (and affordable) to create a new and independent branch to handle space-oriented issues at this stage? Many high-ranking military leaders don’t think so.

The idea has been brewing since at least early 2001, when Donald Rumsfeld “warned of a ‘space Pearl Harbor’ and urged a reorganization of the military to put a greater emphasis on warfare in the space domain,” according to Sean Gallagher of Ars Technica. The current move to shake things up is being led by the bipartisan team of Reps. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Jim Cooper (D-TN), Chairman and minority Ranking Member, respectively, of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. The pair pushed it through a vote in the U.S. House Armed Services Committee (HASC), so that a provision for creating this new military branch was added to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018.

The U.S. military’s space activities (e.g., spacelift operations, command and control of satellites, etc.) are currently supervised by the U.S. Air Force. But some (e.g., Rogers and Cooper) believe that the “crippling organizational and management structure” has kept the Air Force from giving “adequate priority” to the U.S. military’s space mission and “fix[ing] the problems that exist in space.” The plan is to create the U.S. Space Corps “to organize national security operations in space” and assure that they get the attention necessary. It would be an independent branch with an equal seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, yet it would be administered by he Sec. of the Air Force, much like the Marines are separate yet administered by the Sec. of the Navy. Having been merged with U.S. Strategic Command in 2002, the U.S. Space Command would be separated once again into a separate-but-subordinate command (like U.S. Cyber Command).

“If you want to make space professionals the best they can be, they need to come to work every day knowing space dominance is the number one mission. That culture can only be bred if we segregate them, properly resource them, educate and develop them.”  — Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL)

When the proposal went to committee (i.e., HASC), there was pushback. For example, former Air Force officer Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) complained, “This is the first time I’ve heard about a major reorganization of our Air Force and Department of Defense…. I think it deserves at least a couple hearings and discussions on the matter at the full committee level.” Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) proposed an amendment limiting action in FY2018 to further study. But, Rogers responded,

“There’s been nothing shortsighted about this. We started working on it vigorously in September, and we’ve had countless meetings with a number of experts who have advised us as to how this should be construed. GAO has done three studies on this, all of which tell us that you cannot maintain the current organizational construct of the Air Force and solve the acquisition problems and the operational problems that we have.”

Turner eventually withdrew his challenge.

Opposition comes from the military, too, and in particular the Air Force. (No surprise there.) Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, who is already taking action to put more focus on space, cited unnecessary additional complexity, bureaucracy, and expense, should such a massive effort be undertaken. Lisa Disbrow, outgoing Undersecretary of the Air Force, voiced her concerns about timing:

“[N]ow’s not the time. I won’t say never, I think we should always keep our minds and our eyes open. Right now it would be a distraction. The more urgent goal is to work on capabilities and enhancing our capabilities and acquiring the systems that we need.”

Rogers countered, “It would be legislative malpractice for us to delay this.”

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is concerned, as well. While sympathetic to Congress’s fears, he warned about creating a “narrower and even parochial approach” to space operations. In an unusual letter to Rep. Turner, chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee, Mattis wrote,

“I look forward to working with Congress to implement necessary space organizational changes. That said, I believe it is premature to add additional organizational and administrative tail to the department at a time when I am trying to reduce overhead…. I strongly urge Congress to reconsider the proposal of a separate service Space Corps.”

The new Wikipedia entry includes this concise summary of military notables who are against creating a U.S. Space Corps at this time:

Sec. of Defense Jim Mattis

“This proposal is opposed by the U.S. Air Force, Air Force Space Command, and military leaders such as Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Paul Selva, Chief of Staff of the Air Force General David L. Goldfein, and the current commander of Air Force Space Command General John W. Raymond. Other former military and space leaders in opposition to this effort include Secretary Sean O’Keefe, former Secretary of the Navy and NASA administrator; Lisa Disbrow, former Under Secretary of the Air Force; General Victor E. Renuart Jr., former commander of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD; and Lieutenant General Edward G. Anderson III, former deputy commander of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD. The former commander of Air Force Space Command, General Lance W. Lord, is supportive of the effort, on the condition that the Army’s and Navy’s space programs are absorbed into the new Space Corps.”

If the proposal is passed into law without major change, we could have a new U.S. Space Corps by January 2019. However, given all that’s needed to make it happen and the necessity of not jeopardizing security in the meantime, that may be an overly-optimistic expectation.

Meanwhile, there’s a proposal in the Senate to create a new position — Chief Information Warfare Officer — who would be subordinate to the Sec. of Defense and would “assume responsibility for all matters relating to the information environment of the DoD, including cybersecurity and cyber warfare, space and space launch systems, electronic warfare, and the electromagnetic spectrum.” Most or all of this would have to be stripped from the current Chief Information Officer of the DoD, leaving them with just the more mundane IT responsibilities. Or, perhaps the Pentagon’s CIO would become the CIWO, and the regular IT stuff would be left to the newly-created Chief Management Officer.

Everyone agrees that military space projects are of increasing importance and need to be given the appropriate support. Either way Congress decides to go, we’re talking a major reorganization in the military and/or information/intelligence areas of the Defense Department. Frankly, I don’t know enough of the complexities involved to hazard an opinion. I just hope that they (i.e., both houses of Congress and the military) can put egos and special interests aside, make the tough decisions, cooperate, and do what needs to be done for the security of the nation and our allies.

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First Step in Rebuilding U.S. Military?

“We’ve done deep damage to our military because of the budget cuts, the continuing resolutions, the erratic nature of funding over the last few years.”  — Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC)

I considered writing about the Russia collusion / Trump Jr. mess, but then I figured you all are probably as tired of it as I am. Same goes for the healthcare bill stuff. So, here’s something a bit fresher…

Soon-to-be-commissioned USS Gerald R. Ford

Every year, Congress passes a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which directs how federal funds should or should not be used by the DoD for the current fiscal year. Actual spending limits are addressed in a subsequent defense appropriations bill, but the authorization bill does “authorize” various dollar amounts to be budgeted “for military activities of the Department of Defense and for military construction, to prescribe military personnel strengths for such fiscal year, and for other purposes.”

The House passed the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2018 (which begins 10/1/2017) — aka H.R. 2810 — this past Friday with a 344-81 vote. This means that majorities in both parties supported it, though 8 Republicans voted against it. Not surprisingly, there was some controversy over the bill, with hundreds of submitted amendments, many of which were screened out or voted down — e.g., Rep. Hartzler’s bid to greatly restrict funding for “gender transitions”. (A few of the proposed amendments are mentioned in this Defense News article and details on the votes are here.) What is also notable about the bill is that the authorized $696.5 billion is over 15% more than President Trump asked for. Woohoo!

As per Travis J. Tritten at the Washington Examiner,

“The House-passed NDAA bill would add 17,000 soldiers to the Army, something requested by the service but unfunded under the president’s budget, as well as authorize purchase of four additional Navy ships, 17 more F-35 fighter jets, and eight more F/A-18 Super Hornet jets. The House bill is comprised of two sections, one that would authorize $631.6 billion in base defense spending [including $10 billion from the wartime Overseas Contingency Operations account], and $65 billion in overseas war spending.

Trump requested a $603 billion defense plan in May that was already an increase over last year’s funding, but still focuses on shoring up existing forces and pushes his promised military buildup into 2019.

The House’s NDAA defense bill must be reconciled with Senate plans, but the vote Friday was another sign the two chambers may push big increases for the military for the coming fiscal year.

Senators are now weighing an NDAA authorizing $700 billion in spending, which also blows past Trump’s defense budget and also hikes aircraft, ship and troop numbers.”

Democrats have been pushing for parity in defense and non-defense budget increases, and the current bill exceeds statutory budget caps by $72 billion. In order to ease those caps, it must pass the Senate with 60 votes, which means a certain amount of support is required from Democrats, giving them leverage. Adam Smith (D-WA), ranking member of HASC, praises the bill but thinks it can be made better when domestic spending is brought into consideration.

“[T]o simply gut the nondefense discretionary budget to plus-up defense does not make this country safer. I care enough about national security that I would raise taxes to pay for it.”

Sounds like some intense negotiations, maybe with some creative budgetary workarounds, are in the offing….

F-35s

I firmly believe in the “peace through strength” axiom, so I’m all for Trump’s buildup plans and delighted that a bipartisan majority of Congress appears to be for it, as well. We have powerful and influential enemies and potential enemies (e.g., ISIS, China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, etc.), and we need to be big-n-bad enough to make them think thrice about doing anything aggressive or to jeopardize our security and that of our allies. Of course, one still has to be smart about how to spend those defense dollars, and some complain that the money can be better spent elsewhere. For example, the F-35 has been somewhat controversial, so some people think we should axe that program and stick to the tried-n-true craft (e.g., F-15 Silent Eagles or even more F/A-18 Super Hornets).

I don’t know enough about all that to weigh in. (Here are a couple informative articles in defense of the F-35, though.) But, I am certainly encouraged by the steps being taken to rebuild the U.S. military into even more of a force to be reckoned with than it already is, despite being greatly diminished in recent years. I truly hope & pray the House and Senate can work together and make some wise decisions on our defense spending. Many lives depend on it.

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House Retains Funding for Gender Transitions

“[Obama’s] transgender decision is costly in dollars and short on common sense.”  — Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)

Prior to voting on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on several proposed amendments to the core bill. One of those was “H.Amdt. 183 (Hartzler) to H.R. 2810: To prohibit funds for medical treatment (other than mental health treatment) related to gender transition to a person entitled to medical care under chapter 55 of title 10, U.S. code.”, proposed by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO).

Rep. Hartzler argued,

Bradley/Chelsea Manning

“The Obama transgender policy, which was implemented without input from members of Congress, is ill-conceived and contrary to our goals of increasing troop readiness and investing defense dollars into addressing budget shortfalls of the past. By recruiting and allowing transgender individuals to serve in our military we are subjecting taxpayers to high medical costs including up to $130,000 per transition surgery, lifetime hormone treatments, and additional surgeries to address the high percentage of individuals who experience complications.”

Note that the arguments for Amdt. 183 are based on concerns for both budget shortfalls and military readiness — very much practically-oriented.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, protested,

“It would have a negative impact on morale, a negative impact on retention, and move us away from the merit-based system which we now have, where we have one set of rules applied to everybody.”

Hartzler countered:

“The deployability of individuals going through the sex transition process is highly problematic, requiring 210 to 238 work days where a soldier is non-deployable after surgery. This recovery time equates to 1.4 million manpower days where transgender personnel cannot deploy and fight our nation’s wars, therefore relying on an already stressed force to pick up the burden. It makes no sense to purposely recruit individuals who cannot serve.”

Unfortunately, imo, 24 Republicans broke ranks to vote with the Democrats, defeating the proposal 209-214.

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