Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Joe says the burden is on Atheists to prove God doesn't exist!

A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless unless he wants credit) sent me a link to an apologist (who was a lawyer, naturally) on some "errors" he claims atheists make. I tore it apart for him but since I'd spent some time writing it I figured I'd share it with everyone.
I often hear these arguments originate from lawyers and almost nobody else. Perhaps it’s because lawyers are used to dealing with evidence about things that definitely happen, as opposed to things that may or may not even be possible like scientists and engineers do. Anyway, here we go.
Joe starts by saying that the burden of proof lays upon the person making the positive claim. That is correct. He goes on to say that atheists are making a positive claim that god does not exist. This is either a straw man or a bald faced lie. I have yet to encounter a single atheist who actually makes the claim to know definitively that God does not exist, whereas a great many theists make the opposite claim. This is an atheist that appears to exist only in the minds of apologists. What atheists actually say is there is not enough evidence to support a god existing. Of course, he kind of halfway acknowledges this in the following paragraph but then says the “logical leap” to Christianity is false is not supported by evidence. To demonstrate this, he uses the illustration of the assertion that there is an even number of stars. There is not enough evidence to support that there is an even number of stars, but likewise there is not enough to support an odd number of stars. Therefore, agnosticism is the only tenable answer.
This is correct if *and only if* the prior probabilities of a thing happening are precisely even. If it’s a complete toss up, 100% random between two options then, lacking any knowledge, it’s impossible to make any sort of judgment. So it’s correct that the only proper position to take regarding even/odd stars is agnosticism.
This clearly is not always the case. Suppose that someone is holding a ball just above a curtain, such that you can see that they have the ball but cannot see anything after they release it. Once they release it, you have no information whatsoever about what happens to the ball (maybe the lights go out or whatever, you get the idea). Let us say it, for simplicity, that the options are that it fell up or down. Which is it? By his logic, you have no information. You have no way to verify what happened to the ball. Therefore, you have two options, 50/50 split. You have to be agnostic regarding the fate of the ball.
That is ridiculous. You go into this situation with the background knowledge that balls fall due to gravity. The chances of it falling up, while not zero, are vanishingly small. Therefore, with no further information you conclude with a reasonable degree of confidence that the ball very probably fell down. Strictly speaking, you cannot be certain that happened. However, if the ball’s falling had any bearing on your life, you have to make some kind of decision about it. The rational course of action would be to live your life as if the ball fell towards the ground unless new evidence comes around.
In essence, what’s really happening is that you aren’t making these decisions between possibilities in a vacuum. You are previously armed with evidence about other similar situations in the past. New phenomenon that contradicts all of the evidence that has already gathered must be have evidence enough to overcome this background knowledge. Using the ball example, if someone claimed the ball actually went up when it was released, the correct thing to do would be to dismiss that claim unless evidence can be produced to support it. Why? Because that contradicts all previous experiments! Now, it would technically not be correct to make the claim “The ball did not fall up.” That’s a positive claim that one would need evidence for (Though probably not a ton, because come on). The technically correct thing to say is “The odds that the ball did not fall down are not zero, but they are very small. Given that the evidence I have is not enough to make it likely that the ball did indeed fall up, I will live my life as if it did not.” Of course, that’s a mouthful, so you may shorten it to say “The ball fell down because that’s what balls do.” Or “Extraordinary claims about balls falling up require extraordinary evidence.”
Of course, given enough evidence any prior knowledge can be overcome. It was ridiculous to suppose that atoms existed, or that time dilated if you went too fast, or that matter didn’t naturally want to slow down…until experiments showed that was the case. Confirmation bias is a danger, so it is very important to be forthright about one’s assumptions and background knowledge and to critically examine new claims on their merits. But new claims have to be examined in light of past knowledge.  That’s why, when evaluating new probabilities (here I’m talking about Bayesian math which sounds impressive but is really simple in straightforward applications, but the principles apply to whatever), it’s important to set the probabilities as far against your preferences as you can reasonably imagine. That way, if the new evidence still fails, despite having the deck stacked in its favor, you can be confident in your result. So if you were to show me evidence about being healed by God, my actual estimates of the odds would be damn near zero, but I’d have to make sure to give it a much higher weight if I were actually comparing numbers just to be safe. I don’t want to downplay the fact that confirmation bias is a very real danger, but it does not invalidate the whole system of thought.
Joe whines about religious claims being held to a higher standard, but this is simply not true. We do not hold religious claims to a higher standard of evidence. The problem is that religions often claim supernatural things. Things that contradict all of our knowledge about physics, biology, causality, etc. by definition. We have tons of experience with those sorts of claims. It gets worse, because Joe wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants his god to be transcendent and utterly metaphysical, yet he also (presumably) wants him to be active in the world. If Joe wants him to just sit in his metaphysical cloud and never touch anything, I’m happy to concede that there is no way whatsoever I can ever touch that claim (though I’d go on to say he’s a fool to think that means he should believe it). BUT Joe wants his god to raise people from the dead, and heal the blind, and intercede in daily lives. Joe wants his god to touch the physical. That means his god has to leave the metaphysical high ground and descend into the physical realm with the rest of us. Perhaps he’s utterly immune to scrutiny while he sits quietly in heaven, but the *instant* god causes a flood, or a lightning strike, or cures a cancer, he has changed the way physical laws work. That is something we should be able to see and test. If you are going to claim that THAT happens, that is the very definition of an extraordinary physical claim. It is not our experience that cancers are cured by deities, or that deities cause floods, or that deities hurl lightning bolts. Therefore, if you want to assert that that happens, there needs to be evidence to back it up.
It’s true that one cannot investigate historical claims in precisely the same way one investigates claims about quarks, but that doesn’t mean it’s a free for all. It is still an evidence based pursuit where conclusions are drawn based on evidence presented. They follow the same general rules of logic and evidence, regardless of the context.
The really sad thing is I guarantee Joe doesn’t actually use the logic he’s presenting. I guarantee he does not look at claims that Zeus throws lightning, or that Vishnu reincarnates people, or that Allah does Allah stuff, and then say there’s no evidence either way, and then assume that he has to be utterly agnostic regarding Allah. I am willing to wager Joe does not regard those claims as credible. Yet, by his logic, he must. He MUST accept that those claims are at least as valid as his own. Either he accepts them all without evidence, or he accepts none of them.
Joe says that atheists make a positive claim. This is a huge mistake, because much of his argument rests on the atheist making a positive claim that has to be supported by evidence. I also don't think Joe seems to not understand what “burden of proof” means here, at least not the way I think it's used in this discussion. I don’t think atheists are saying “we don’t need to work. You guys gather the evidence, we’ll be over here”. What it means is that, when we evaluate the evidence, the burden is on the positive hypothesis to show it is valid. If that hypothesis fail to muster enough evidence, it ought to be rejected.
“But wait! How is it fair that atheism gets to be the “not positive” claim? How come they are the default?” The reason is simple, and it is NOT that religion needs more evidence than everyone else. It is that religion claims supernatural events that by definition defy the laws of nature, which is a thing that countless observations have shown does not happen. Those observations can absolutely be wrong. If you want us to believe those observations are wrong, though, you must give us evidence to overcome them. If you can’t, we assume those observations are valid, supernatural events don’t happen, and therefore (since we’ve got to make some kind of decision to get by) we’ll live our life as if god doesn’t exist.
In summary: Atheists don’t make positive claims, Joe. We lack evidence to believe your positive claim. Since background knowledge tells us that supernatural claims violate the laws of nature and are therefore unlikely to be true, if we have no evidence to show that they are true then we assume that they are false. Since you don’t have the evidence to back up your supernatural claims, and we have to live our lives anyhow, we are forced to assume that your god doesn’t exist unless and until evidence shows otherwise. After all, this is what you do regarding all the other thousands of gods that you don’t believe in. I just do it for the last one too.
If a Nigerian prince sends you an email saying he has a fortune and you just need to send him $100 to get yourself a nice slice of it, how do you approach that problem? Do you approach is Joe’s way, saying that there is a 50-50 shot, that you have to be utterly agnostic regarding this Nigerian prince, and that if you absolutely must make a decision the best you can do is flip a coin?
Or do you approach is like a sane person and tell the “prince” to pound sand unless he can provide evidence?
I’m guessing the latter.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

False assumptions about women in combat roles

Hello internet! Recently one of my Facebook friends and fellow soldiers shared an article by the Operator As Fuck Nation which sought to deconstruct efforts to integrate women into combat arms using common sense and logic. That is a noble goal, and one that I would in many ways support, but unfortunately a careful reading finds that most of his assertions are based on faulty assumptions. The article is pretty short and definitely bears reading. I'll only be reproducing excerpts below, but you can find the full article by clicking here.

In the interests of full disclosure I will remind you that I myself currently serve as an infantryman, completely steeped in the hard charging swinging dick philosophy that goes with the title.

OAF was apparently prompted to write the editorial by a study conducted by the Marine Corps which takes an experimental unit that is comprised of 25% women and analyzes their combat effectiveness, with the stated goal of finding the "magic number" of women to men that maximizes readiness.
 I want to first address the issue of this “magic number”.  We know men are fit for combat right?  There’s no “magic number” for the amount of men needed for a combat effective unit.  I know that I can form a unit comprised of 100% men and it has the potential to be combat effective.  So if women really are fit for combat, shouldn’t I be able to make a unit composed of 100% women and have the potential for combat effectiveness?  If I’m trying to find a golden ratio of women in a unit before it’s no longer combat effective, aren’t I admitting from the start that having women in a unit will degrade its combat effectiveness?
The assumption here is that since they are looking for a "magic number" that is less than 100% it means that any combination whatsoever necessarily degrades readiness and therefore should not be considered. By this logic, only pure iron should be used for all weapons from here on out. Steel will no longer be considered because if you add too much carbon to the iron it becomes brittle and ineffective. This must mean that carbon degrades the alloys' readiness and should be purged.

We don't need any of your bullshit around here, carbon!
There are many reasons why it could be true that the ideal percentage of women may be greater than 0 but less than 100%. It may be logistics, cohesion, potential mating opportunities, or any number of other factors. Perhaps they could do the research and find that wouldn't ya know it, a 100% male unit actually the way to go! Still, it is not logical to categorically state that because 100% isn't ideal then no other combination should be considered.

Next up we have the standard argument, that being physical capability.
It’s hard to explain to the uninitiated the physical rigors of combat, so I’ll use sports as a parallel.  We separate genders in sports because we know that men are naturally bigger, stronger, and faster than women.  Sure, there are rare occasions when women find their way onto men’s sports teams at the high school, and even more rarely, at the collegiate level.
The implied assumption is that because men on average are more physically fit women should not be considered. Once again, this assumption is false. We have physical standards in the military because we acknowledge that not all men are up to the task of performing in combat.

Pictured: The height of combat readiness
While it may be true that men are, on average, fitter than women this does not preclude the possibility that certain driven and gifted women can not also make the cut. This is why the various branches have been mulling a gender neutral standard of performance for combat arms positions that would eliminate any man OR woman who cannot physically perform, eliminating this as a concern. It would be valid to say that because men are on average more likely to pass such a test then we would expect the pool of qualified applicants to be biased towards males, but that statement does not preclude the possibility of certain females in the mix.
Men in combat live like animals.  They spend months on end with no showers, no toilets, no electricity. Every day they wake up to the reality of kill or be killed.
In other words, their menstruation attracts bears.

This may possibly be the most valid of his assertions because it centers on something that is pretty much beyond dispute: Women have more sanitation needs than men do and sanitation can be on short supply in the field. If you doubt that I can only say that the stench of an infantryman who has recently emerged from the field is something akin to a ten day old hobo who has recognized the insulating properties of rotting animal carcasses.

Unfortunately, once again he takes a true statement and draws an invalid conclusion. While it may be true that having women in combat units puts logistical strain on a unit it is not necessarily true that this implies it should be avoided. The cost/benefit analysis is yet to be determined. I suspect they will find that the benefit of having more guns shooting freedom towards the enemy will outweigh the ursine attracting potential of periods.

Finally, he concludes with the Band of Brothers argument.
This intense hardship forges bonds of brotherhood that can’t be explained and can’t be replicated.  At times, the relationships these men have with their brothers in arms are quite literally the only thing they have to drive them forward. So what happens to these men who are living at the basest levels of human existence and instinct, when you insert a woman into the fold?  What happens to those bonds of brotherhood?   Is it realistic to expect them to live and die by their animal instincts, but completely turn off the most powerful instinct that human beings possess?  When all the men in a unit are sex deprived they can turn that aggression and frustration towards more productive things like killing. 
For the sex part, the military simply needs to realize that their soldiers do in fact like to mash their genitalia from time to time. As long as soldiers use protection and can keep such genital mashing outside of their immediate area things will probably turn out okay. We already have rules again rubbing sexy parts against people too close to you in terms of operational capacity.

For the other part, I think it unlikely that the "bonds of brotherhood" cannot possibly be formed with women who go through the same trials. Stories abound of women who have been thrust into combat roles who performed admirably and were respected by their peers. Men and women are more alike than we are different and any group is bound more tightly together when going through shared adversity.

He does allude to the protective instinct many men feel towards women, which is a valid point. Once again, however, that does not necessarily mean that the barrier is insurmountable. The entire training regimen has been designed to train out certain selective instincts in men under specific circumstances. For example, humans tend to have a pretty big aversion to face murdering their fellow humans. In fact, we have a word for those who don't share that particular value.

That word is fucking sexy.
Yet our soldiers are able to engage the enemy effectively when ordered to do so by a superior. They are also able to return to the civilian populace and do not engage in murdering any more than their civilian counterparts. Our training reduces the block against killing under specific circumstances without affecting it in general. For more on this topic I recommend "On Killing" by LTC Grossman. Very good book.

It stands to reason that we can likely design training that can remove the protectiveness instinct without damaging the psyche as a whole. Of course, that may not be true, which would then make this a valid argument against incorporating women. Until we try, however, we will not know.

All this is not to say that we should jump in with both feet. I love a good sandwich as much as the next guy, but there are definitely issues that have to be addressed before we can integrate combat arms. These issues run from logistics and physical standards to cohesion and instinct. I have every confidence that these obstacles can be dealt with if we acknowledge them and come up with sound strategies to adapt and overcome. I also have complete confidence that the Army will fuck it up in the most spectacular sense possible.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Addressing Creationists' response to Bill Nye

Bill Nye is a busy guy. He is, after all, the science guy. He recently took a break from sciencing and engaged in a debate on Creationism vs. Evolution.

Afterwards, the scholars at the journal known as "Buzzfeed" posted a stinging retort. Picture after picture showed the chinks in science's armor; the cracks that showed the truth behind their lies! Finally, after so long, we could finally put this issue to rest, thanks to Buzzfeed!

Sarcasm not included.
I actually used to be a hard-lined Creationist. As in six-days-rested-on-the-seventh-cause-the-Book-said-so Creationist. Eventually I made the transition to Theistic Evolutionist, and finally to a full fledged born again believer in Science and, by extension, Science's one true prophet, the Science Guy. I feel it is my sacred duty to refute these arguments (or, if that fails, to violently convert others to my point of view). It will be difficult to combat such wordsmiths. It may even be impossible. But, I have to try.

So here goes (all of these images are from Buzzfeed. I've reproduced them here so you don't have to go back and forth. Please click on the link above. Since I generate approximately two dozen readers a year, I'm hoping it won't be a problem):


Oh, you clever beast you. Straight to the politics, I see? Fortunately, I have seen through your trap, genius though it is. I have the answer:


Great. Now, lets get to the evidence supported claims!


Or not. That's okay, we're just getting warmed up here.

No, I am not afraid of a Divine Creator, anymore than I am afraid of Sauron. I do not believe either exist, and therefore feel no fear about them. Their actual existence is immaterial to my level of anxiety about them.

Awesome, now, on to the evidence!


This one is technically impossible to disprove (which is why I subscribed to it for so long). The expanded argument goes that the universe was created with the appearance of age, not age itself. So the young universe would appear, to any observer, to be old.

Of course, that begs the question: If the universe looks old, feels old, acts old, and in every meaningful way that can be measured appears to be old...Doesn't that probably mean it just is old, instead of the result of a clever ruse on behalf of a particularly shy deity?

Even if it didn't, one of the core scientific pursuits is to develop useful models to predict the behavior of the universe and to uncover the laws that run it. The model of apparent age has no advantages over absolute age, and adds another level of complexity that is unnecessary, and therefore should be discarded.

To put another way, it could also be true that the entire universe consisted entirely of tapioca pudding five minutes ago, and we were only just now created with all the appearances of age (memory, children, crippling student debt, etc). I choose not to believe this.



Oh, that was actually the whole question? Okay then. I mean, I used to say this too, before I took Physics. Maybe you just missed that one. The second law of thermodynamics is popularly known as the "Law of Entropy".

The full implications are much more deep than I can claim to understand, but the basic gist is that entropy is a thing that can be measured which tells us how "ordered" a system is (this relates to law #1, which says that heat is a form of energy). The level of entropy in an isolated system will not spontaneously decrease, meaning that increases in order must be at least matched by decreases in order elsewhere.

Creationists often love to point this one out because it seems to turn the very weapons of science against them. "AHA!" they shout, a smug smile on their stupid bearded face, "The Second Law of your own sciencey stuff says that order can't increase! Going from a single cell organism to a fat, sweaty human is definitely an increase in order, so nana nana boo boo you lose." Unfortunately, they always neglect on extremely important detail: This law applies to isolated systems. If a system is not isolated, entropy can indeed go down, provided that some other system compensates. For example, if everyone on Earth suddenly decided to clean their rooms for once in their damned lives, entropy may decrease. This entropy can be offset from all kinds of places. Like, for instance, that huge fusion reactor that burns in the sky for half of each day. It supplies energy to our planet, which allows for plants to grow and decrease their entropy. At the same time, it generates a metric fuckton of entropy to compensate.

The overall entropy of the universe will indeed continue to increase until everything is extremely messy and disorganized. That will be a very bad day, but fortunately we don't have to worry about that for trillions of years. Until then, there are plenty of nooks & crannies for the universe to hide some entropy.


First: How do you explain the soulless look in your eyes? Second, I'm going to be generous and assume that your usage of the word "their" was actually a cleverly disguised cry for help, meant to signal that the man with the gun won't let your family go until we answer your question.

So, Soulless Suzy, the answer is that the Earth is a sphere. As it rotates on its axis you can see different parts of the universe from its surface. The sunset (and, incidentally, the sunrise) occurs when the curvature of the earth hides the sun from view. This is no more mysterious than seeing the top part of a ship first.

If you mean the color show you get during these celestial events, then the explanation is we happen to live in an awesome universe. Our atmosphere is made up of millions of gas particles, as well as all kinds of other stuff that gets in the air, such as dust and water. When the sun is more or less straight above you the light from it doesn't have to go through much of the atmosphere. When it is coming at you from the horizon, though, it has to go through more and more atmosphere to get to you. If you imagine the atmosphere as a clipboard, coming from the top down it only has a little bit of thickness. From the side, it's got the whole length of the clipboard.

As the light struggles valiantly through all the shit we throw up in the air it is knocked aside, around, and all over the place. As it scatters, the wavelengths that get through change depending on many different factors. Since the wavelengths of light are what we perceive as colors we get an awesome light show, because of physics.

Isn't science neat? Let's continue.


This is pretty summed up in #4, though I must admit I'm somewhat surprised to see a smartphone ask this question. You have the internet, smartphone, you should know better.

What do these people think scientists would do if they found out that the second law actually debunked evolution? Cover their ears and go "LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU STUPID ENTROPY!"? Hell no, they'd publish that shit and proceed to swim in pools of grant money, only coming up for air to be lotioned by grad students vying for a piece of the research.


I have to admit, I had not heard of this one before. Doing some quick research on the font of all knowledge, Wikipedia, reveals it is the study of how intellect influences the world around us and the "divine intelligence". I couldn't find any evidence they had published, but  I would humbly submit that for this to be applicable to the conversation it would have to not only prove that it is a real effect, but that said effect was caused directly by a Creator and not simply a heretofore unknown law of the physical universe.

So, call me later when you can do that, I guess?


Here we touch on the philosophical aspect of religion, which is truly where it shines. It does indeed give a clear direction and sense of purpose to many, which is no doubt to their benefit. I assume, by the underlining of the word "objective", that said meaning would have to come from an outside source (i.e. "God") in order to qualify. I suppose in that sense, I have no objective meaning in life.

I used to. I don't miss it. Nowadays the meaning in my life is derived from my own wants and desires. The desire for my children to be better off than I was. For the pursuit of a somewhat more comfortable life. For the fight to leave the world a bit more equitable and enlightened than when I arrived. That's meaning enough for me.



See, the universe has been around for a really, REALLY long time. On a long enough time scale, ANY event, no matter how improbable, will happen. This is simply a result of how chance works. If you flip a coin long enough, you'll end up getting heads 50 times in a row. It's extremely unlikely, so unlikely in fact that you'd have to flip a coin once a second for 2.8 billion years for it to happen (number of seconds in a year divided by .5^50). A long time, sure, but eventually it'll happen. Fortunately, those little proteins trying to make that first life form weren't working alone. If we had the entire human race flipping those coins, getting a 50 time streak would only take half a year! We'd all probably have some killer thumb muscles by that point.

Bottom line: Anything is possible if you do it enough times.


Awesome! Good for you. I suppose you've got some reasoned arguments or evidence to back up that belief?


Moving on.


What? Who the hell have you been talking to? That doesn't even make sense. Did you leave your TV on the History Channel 2 all day? You did, didn't you?

If aliens did intelligently design us, they did a super shitty job. How about that appendix there, aliens? What the hell is up with putting an organ in me that is literally a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode shit all over my insides? Real bang up job.


Actually, we've found all kinds of different hominids. Neanderthals, Homo whatever (tons of those), various great apes, etc., etc. Example after example of in between steps. Researchers actually have done a lot of work to figure out how much of your DNA comes from Neanderthals, and the answer is surprisingly a lot more than zero. Apparently out ancestors were all into some sweet, sweet Neanderthal love. I guess murdering them got old and we just decided to sex them into oblivion.


We don't know yet. We do have some interesting theories. For example, having different stages of maturity allows the young and old members of a species to not compete as much for resources, allowing the species to diversify its food sources and conferring an advantage to survival. This is certainly an enigma, but one of the awesome things about science is there's always something we don't know yet. That doesn't mean we abandon all hope, though. We just have to keep looking.


The fault here lies with the premise. Evolution is a theory. Creationism is not, not in the scientific sense.

In the academic vernacular, theory means something different than it does to laypeople. For them, an idea starts as a hypothesis. It is tested, and tested, and tested again. It has to make predictions which can be verified and shown to be true. If it does this really well then it gets to be called a theory. Only when it has been vetted to an extraordinary degree can it be called a law. Even when that happens, there's always the chance that some new understanding of it will come along and upset what we thought we knew. Creationism, on the other hand, makes no independently verifiable predictions and produces no replicable results.

We teach evolution as fact because it's the theory that has the greatest amount of evidence at the moment. Of course, we also teach some things as "fact" we know aren't true. Newtonian physics, for instance, are not always true. If we get really big and fast (relativity) or really small (quantum physics), it breaks down. They serve well enough for those of us who aren't venturing into the frontiers of human experience, however, and so we teach it as true because it approximates the truth to a highly reliable degree in almost all situations one is likely to encounter.


I think you misspoke there. A scientific theory IS, by definition, testable, observable, and repeatable. That's why we're going with evolution on this one. That theory will make predictions that we can verify. For example, when it comes to DNA, one would expect there to be a lot of garbage sitting around, left over from previous species. If there is a common ancestor, one would expect there to be common DNA between ourselves and less complex organisms. One does find both those things. It doesn't make sense that an intelligent designer capable of creating the entire universe would leave a bunch of useless junk laying about. So, this prediction by intelligent design falls flat.

We aren't taking this evolution thing on faith, dear. If this worries you, remember that relativity started on a blackboard. When it was first conceived we didn't have any way to directly observe its effects. The fact that someone is probably looking at your picture using a smartphone is proof that it works. We eventually found ways to test it and it held true.


Our molecular structure is made out of certain proteins, arranged in a certain way, that convey "information". Arrange those proteins in a different way and you get different information. Sometimes this change is good. Sometimes its bad. Kind of like language: You've got a certain collection of letters that you can combine different ways. You don't need new letters for new information, just to put the old letters in new configurations. Sometimes it's good, like "facetious". Sometimes it's bad, like "YOLO".


In the strictly biological sense, I'm here to pass on my genetic material to my offspring in order to further the species, and to help said offspring reach their mating time so that my material can keep going. For a less bleak answer, see #8.

Basically, sex. Lots of sex is the reason.


What is this, amateur hour? See #12.


Yes, though I've heard rumors that the big bang theory is losing some popularity among people way, WAY smarter than me. I trust those people to make predictions based on the theory, test those predictions, and alter the theories accordingly. I guess you could say I do have faith, in a way; I have faith that scientists will continue to push the boundaries of knowledge.

The difference is my faith has made satellites that beam the entire collection of human knowledge to a handheld device that I use to look at kittens and naked humans.


It totally is, isn't it! Man, the universe is SO AWESOME! The way that momentum conserves so that turning a spinning wheel in your hand makes your chair spin? Mind blowing! The way that gravitational pull makes things eventually slow down and become tidally locked, so that we always look at the same part of the moon? The laws of physics are really, really neat. No debate there. I just think that the wonder of the universe should be chalked up to that.

Of course, the obvious rebuttal is that "God wrote those laws". In which case, why fight the study of them so much? If God truly did write those laws, shouldn't we study them as ardently as possible and get close to Him through the study of his handiwork? If you want to know Mozart, do you not listen to his music?


Probably the same place God came from.

(Also, it wasn't a star. Those came later.)


Probably the same reason you came from your parents but you didn't summarily execute them the moment you left the womb.

Although that would make child birthing a lot more exciting.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Universal suffrage = Universal incompetence?

The election in 2008 was anticipated to have record turnout due to the historic nature of a certain candidate having a shot at he Presidency (SPOILER: It's cause he's Hawaiian). Like any responsible citizen I took some time to research both the candidates and determine which one would be a better leader for our nation.  Naturally, being a politics junkie, this consisted of many long hours and elastic bands.

Just one more hit, man, just to take the edge off.
If I had just cut to the chase, the research necessary to be informed would have taken me less time than to watch a sitcom. 

On a chilly Tuesday I went out to my polling place and was greeted with a line longer than a Star Wars premier. As I waited in line I overheard some conversations, and engaged in a few. The insanity that spewed from my fellow citizens was horrifying. There were precious few who spoke of voting for their man because of his tax policy, or his stance on the scope of the federal government, or economics, or any number of valid reasons. “He’s a democrat/republican” was a common reason and is disappointing, but by far the most terrifying reason was “Because he’s black! Black President, WOOOOO!!!!” I could hardly believe my ears: Were my fellow citizens really ready to cast their vote for the candidate whose skin color happened to be darker? Since when did such a blatantly racist position become a substitute for being informed? I was indignant; why should the inane and irrational opinions of these people be counted equally with my own? Why do we continue to tolerate an incompetent electorate?

            Since the 15th Amendment in 1870 and the 19th Amendment in 1920 granted all races and sexes, respectively, the right to vote America has followed a policy of more or less “universal” suffrage. It sounds like a very fair and reasonable idea. After all, if government truly flows from the consent of the governed it makes sense that all the governed should have the right to influence those who rule them. Yet, the ability to vote is simply granted to anyone who happens to successfully make it to eighteen years of age without dying or committing a felony. As Thomas Paine once said, “That which we obtain too easily, we esteem to lightly”. Is it fair or just that citizens, who are not themselves competent or informed, should wield such power over those that are? Who needs this universal suffrage junk anyhow?

            Jason Brennan argues that such a practice is intrinsically unjust. He writes that “many of [his] fellow citizens are incompetent, ignorant, irrational, and morally unreasonable about politics. Despite that, they hold political power over [him]”. Just as it would be wrong to force someone to be operated on by an untrained surgeon, or be driven in a bus with someone who wasn’t qualified to do so, it is wrong to force someone to submit to the will of a voting populace which is grossly incompetent to make decisions. Brennan proposes that a form of restricted suffrage, or epistocracy, may be unjust but it is less unjust than universal suffrage. One of the principle arguments he makes is that of the jury. We expect our juries to be filled with competent citizens. In fact, if a lawyer can show that a potential juror is not competent he is dismissed. If, in a court case, the jury is obviously ignorant (having paid no attention during the trial and admitting to having done so), irrational (finding the defendant guilty/innocent based on bizarre conspiracy theories), or morally unreasonable (a Christian jury convicting a Muslim of drunk driving simply due to his chosen faith) they would not be considered legitimate and there would be good grounds for appeal (Brennan, 2011). The fact that most juries are legitimate would not change the fact that this particular jury was not (Brennan, 2011). Further, even if this same jury acted in a rational manner in 99 previous cases, if they acted in an ignorant or irrational manner in case 100 it would be no less unjust simply because they usually act in a competent manner. 

Just as citizens have a right to expect a rational and reasonable jury, whose decisions they are forced to abide by threat of violence, to arrive at decisions in a rational and reasonable manner, so too do they have a right to expect the same of their government. The government may not make good on this obligation, but that does not change the fact that it exists.

            There can be no doubt that past attempts at restricted suffrage would unquestionably unjust. Restrictions based on race or religion completely disregard the individual abilities of those excluded. To this, Brennan says "A law that made it illegal for atheists to drive would be unjust; however, that does not mean that any law that restricts driving is unjust." Even if we allow that there are some people who may be wrongly excluded, the same could be said for many other restrictions we currently accept at reasonable. For instance, there is nothing magical about the age of 18. Many people below that age are mature, informed, and responsible, while many older than that age are not. While some people being unable to vote may be an injustice, is it any less of an injustice that I should have to live with the decisions of those who arrive at the polls and do not even know the candidate’s names? Is it reasonable for me to be compelled to follow the decisions of those put in power by citizens whose decision went no further than the (R) or (D) next to the name they did not recognize?

            This is not to say that restricted suffrage is without its own flaws. Chief among them is the burning question “Who gets to decide who’s competent?” After all, if there is a test that can control who can vote based on what they know it is not a stretch to imagine such a test being perverted to restrict the vote based on what one believes. For this and other reasons it may be impractical to implement such a system. It is unreasonable to expect that each citizen would be an expert in every subject that could be influenced by the government. Still, if a system could hypothetically be designed that ensured those who went to the polls had at least a rudimentary knowledge of the issues and where they stand, would it not be better than being subjected to the capricious will of the politically blind?

          As it stands we truly live in the land of the blind. Perhaps it is time that we allow the one eyed citizens to be king.
Brennan, J. (2011, October). The right to a competent electorate. Philosophical Quarterly. Volume 61, issue 245, pages 700-724. Retrieved October 30, 2013 from the Academic Search Complete database.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gay Marriage: Right or wrong, it should be legal

            The discussion over the possibility of gay marriage is one fraught with miscommunication. On the one side, opponents see themselves as championing one of the pillars of society, defending it from the endless erosion that eats away at the moral fiber of our nation. Proponents see themselves as the oppressed minority, with heterosexual opponents as uncaring and willing to pull out any sort of argument to avoid recognizing same-sex love. The truth, as it often is, is concealed in the nuance of the two arguments. I myself grew up opposed to same-sex marriage. I personally believed that homosexuality was wrong, due only to my religious convictions (I had no personal quarrel with the practice), but that was not why I opposed gay marriage. I opposed it because marriage being between one man and one woman was an evolved social mechanism that had been around for a very long time. It worked for the majority of cultures quite well, and I was concerned for the possible unintended consequences that could arise from tinkering with the fabric of our society. I longed to have a rational discussion, but unfortunately one side of the argument would point to a religiously fueled morals which have no place in legislation, while the other side would dismiss my concerns as hateful. It was not until I stumbled upon the incredibly thoughtful Jonathan Rauch that I finally got the discussion I had wished for. It was that honest exchange of ideas that changed my mind for good.

            Jonathan has written a book which summarizes many of his positions on gay marriage. Himself being gay, his positions are fairly predictable, but how he expresses them are not. What causes him stand out are his acknowledgements of the dangers.  He admits that those who oppose same-sex marriage, by and large, do so out of nobility rather than spite. He says that “Honest advocacy requires acknowledging that same-sex marriage is a significant social change and, as such, is not risk-free.” His acknowledgement of the validity of his opposition sets the tone for the ensuing argument where he addresses these concerns one by one, saying that these risks are “modest, manageable, and likely to be outweighed by the benefits”. He asks those who disagree with him to remember what marriage is: a social contract between a couple and their community. It is a situation which has a calming and stabilizing influence on young men and women, tying them down and encouraging them to set roots (Rauch, 2004).

            Imagine that there was no marriage for anyone. Imagine a society that does not acknowledge that there is a situation where two people could become more than close friends or lovers. Such a society sets to expectation that relationships should endure. It has no safety nets or security for the families that try. Likewise, the community itself has no social contract with couples. There is an anchoring effect to marriage, caused in no small part by society's expectations of the couple which are taught as they grow up.

            This anchoring effect of marriage holds true regardless of whether the couples involved are of the same or differing sexes.  By opposing gay marriage we are making the statement to a segment of the population that their love is no good here and that the relationships they have will never be sanctioned or acceptable in the eyes of the community. We give them few external incentives to settle down, to raise a family, to be the same productive contributing members of society that straight couples are. Should we not be encouraging strong, stable relationships no matter who is involved?

            Further, by saying that marriage is for some, but not others, we run the risk of enforcing in our youth the idea that marriage is not necessarily the desirable end state for their relationships. In order to avoid changing the definition of marriage, we erode the very idea of marriage as the ultimate & community sanctioned goal of any long term relationship.

            I personally do not see why it is a big deal who Billy chooses to give his heart to. If you do think that it is wrong for Billy to kiss another boy, consider this: Is it better to at least expect that they do it in a stable, loving home which can be an asset to the community and therefore acknowledge that marriage is a good thing that should be preserved? Or is it better to force them to do it on the social outskirts, which tacitly encourages others (who may themselves be straight) to abandon marriage as well?

            What message do we send?

Rauch, Jonathan (2004, April). Gay marriage: Why it is good for gays, good for straights, and good for America. Booklist. Volume 100, issue 13, page 1099. Retrieved October 30, 2013 from MasterFILE Premier database.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Abortion in the US: When choice doesn’t matter.

“I’m pregnant.” The words of his fiancé hit him in the stomach with more force than a sucker punch. He did not speak, but his mind raced. How can he possibly handle this? “I’m barely 18 and I’m a freshman in college. I don’t have a job, I don’t have a house, I don’t have…” The litany continued. What options does someone faced with this choice have? For many people, when faced with this decision, the answer is one word: Abortion. The pregnancy is terminated and their life can continue until they are ready for the responsibility. For me, that was not an option. I was left with two words: Step up. Many people would say that my actions, while admirable, were only right for me. After all, how can I dictate to a woman what she does with her own body? What if the mother’s life is in danger, or she is raped? These and other arguments have a few things in common. They are passionate. They play on the deep seated desire for liberty and equality that lives in most Americans. They challenge the one who would dare interfere in the private life of another. Unfortunately, they also have another thing in common: They are completely irrelevant.

             Before we delve into the logical argument it can help to know what the frame of mind is for women who actually choose to have an abortion. As would be expected for such a complicated issue, most women have multiple reasons for seeking to end their pregnancy (Biggs,et. al., 2013). The most common theme was financial in nature, coming in at 40% of respondents. This only narrowly beat out “bad timing”. One respondent stated that she was “so busy with school and work I felt [that having an abortion] would be the right thing to do until I really have time to have [a child]” (Biggs, et. al., 2013). About 31% of women cited reasons relating to their partner. The list goes on, but there are two things that are interesting to note. First, many of the reasons given had to do with wanting what was best for this child (or future children) (Biggs, et. al., 2013). These aren’t the responses of selfish, evil people, but of normal people who are not sure they are up to a great task.

Second, and most shockingly, only 6% of women were concerned for their own health (Biggs, et. al., 2013). While it was not covered in this study, it seems reasonable to believe that cases of rape or incest would also be small numbers. Having a discussion that focuses exclusively on these items ignores 96% of abortions! Yet every debate about abortion invariably focuses a great amount of attention on these cases. This is like having a discussion about airline safety but only considering single engine Cessna!

In an issue as emotionally charged as this one our best friend is dispassionate logic. For those not familiar with framing a logical argument, it goes like this: You start first with the assumptions or underlying principles. Then statement(s) are made. Finally, you have a conclusion which must be the only possible conclusion from the assumptions and statement(s). If any of these pieces are incorrect (the underlying assumption is wrong, for example, or the conclusion does not follow from the assumptions) the argument may or may not be true, but it is certainly logically flawed.

Let us assume for the moment that the extreme extenuating circumstances of rape, incest, & mother’s health make abortion permissible in those instances. Neglecting those, then, we have consider this:

  1.  It is wrong to intentionally end the life of an innocent, non-consenting human. (Assumption)
  2. The unborn fetus is an innocent, non-consenting human, and is alive. (Statement)
  3. Therefore, it is wrong to the end the life of the unborn fetus. (Conclusion)

Very few people would argue with #1. Though the existence of a person may be a burden or make us uncomfortable it is not considered acceptable to kill that person unless they somehow threaten your own existence. Society calls such an act murder. If #2 is correct then the conclusion, #3, is inescapable. The only item that is questionable, therefore, is #2. Breaking the argument down even further, I think most people can agree that an unborn fetus is innocent and non-consenting (one struggles to imagine a just law that made criminals out of the unborn, or allowed them to enter into contracts).  The fact that it is human is an incontrovertible fact of genetic material; when was the last time a human mother gave birth to piglets?

 We are left, then, with the very last part of the statement: Is the fetus alive? When does life begin? That is the discussion we should be having. In fact, I would argue, it is the only discussion worth having, because conclusions about everything else follows neatly once the answer is found for this one question. After all, if #2 is not correct and the fetus is not alive, then conceivably is it permissible to do whatever is wished to it. If #2 is correct and the fetus is alive, then presumably it has all the rights of any other living human, including the right to life. All the other questions are laid to rest if we can answer just this one.

Unfortunately, the uncomfortable and honest answer to the question “When does life begin?” is “We don’t know”. We have several definitions at our disposal, but most fall short. Birth itself could be used, but that begs the question of what is so different in a fetus the moment prior to birth versus the moment after that imbues it with the spark of life. Many laws use the “viability” metric, saying that a fetus is considered alive when it is viable outside the womb. This may work well in deciding law but is quite silly in practice. Viability depends on many factors, chief among them the state of medical technology available to the mother. Imagine a woman in her second trimester in the back woods of Tennessee. Without access to a hospital her fetus is not viable and therefore not alive. If she takes a trip to New York and suddenly has access to the best medicine, her infant is viable. Does it then become alive? If so, what if she returns to Tennessee? Does the infant cease to be alive again? Going from death to life and back to death must be awfully confusing for the child!

I readily admit I do not know the answer to this question. I doubt anyone alive can honestly say they do. I humbly submit, however, that the standards we ought to measure any definition for the beginning of life are clearly identifiable. The definition should be consistent. It should be something that does not change based on geography or personal lifestyle. If there be any gray area, as civilized members of the human race, we should err on the side of preserving, rather than destroying, life. The only definition that satisfies all of the above is conception. It always happens. It’s easy to say when it has occurred. There is definitely no living human prior to that moment, so it certainly errs on the side of saving life.

Of course, it may be that the actual moment that life begins is some time after. Maybe science will one day progress to the point where we can say life begins at 3 months, 4 days, and 11 minutes. When that day comes and the future human race looks to the present, what will they say? Will they shrug and say “Well, we guessed too early and could have aborted a ton more fetuses. Oh well.” Or will they recoil in horror as they realize that we guessed too late, and inadvertently cut millions of lives short?

The choice is ours.

Biggs, A. et. al. (2013). Understanding why women seek abortions in the US. BMC Women’s Health. Volume 13, Issue 1, pages 1-13. Retrieved October 30, 2013 from Academic Search Complete database.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"Did you kill anybody?" The real story about what Iraq was like

"Did you kill anybody?" The Real Story About What Iraq Was Like
You are a soldier of the United States deployed to Iraq. On another typical day, you are standing beside a wall (not crouching, because everyone knows that speed and reaction times usually matter more than cover). For the moment, silence reigns. The enemy is out there, somewhere, but you aren’t sure exactly where. Suddenly, the telltale “clink – clink” of a grenade resounds into your ear. Heedless of the danger, you boldly locate the explosive and throw it back the way it came. You barely get back into cover in time to shield yourself from the fragments. As if that were the signal, tracer rounds begin flying from all sides. Coldly staring down your sights, you acquire and eliminate target after target. Occasionally, should a terrorist make the mistake of coming too close, you take out your combat knife and mercilessly slay your foe with a single stab (with your left hand, of course) without missing a beat. “Just another typical day at the office”, you think, as the glow of the television screen fades and the scores for the last round list you, yet again, at the top of the standings. Your buddies complain that you cheated, but you know the truth: You just get a lot of practice. Eventually, you go to sleep. Tomorrow you have to strap on your body armor and go to work, doing the actual job of a soldier in a war zone, which will probably consist of hours upon hours of uninterrupted boredom. You know this because you have seen the time between the action scenes in the movies, the time between the load screens of Call of Duty. You have actually been to war.
I had always planned on serving in the military. When I joined the Army National Guard in 2004, though, I intended it to be just a way to pay for college while I got my degree and became an Officer.  I picked the job of a Rifleman because it was the closest unit to where I was living at the time and it sounded cool. Three years later, during another uneventful training exercise during the summer, the unstoppable rumor mill finally spit out a tale of truth: We were going to Iraq.
My first deployment was in 2007-2008, during what is known as the “Surge”. I was a gunner whose convoys ran supplies, everything from bullets to ice cream, from al Taqaddum airbase to all the places you heard about on the news. We ran to Fallujah, Ramadi, Baghdad, and occasionally the Syrian border. The war was in full swing, and the intel briefings I received prior to every mission reflected that. “Since the last time you ran this route three days ago, there were IED’s here, here, and here. That one over there was an EFP, likely from Iran, killing two. The Chechnyan sniper in Fallujah took another shot at a passing convoy. This time it hit the vehicle, but missed the gunner. Oh, and somebody managed to toss a grenade into the hatch of a vehicle waiting on the bridge to Fallujah.” IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices) come in many shapes, but by far the most dangerous were EFP’s (Explosively Formed Projectiles). At the time they were practically guaranteed to kill someone in the truck if they scored a hit.
As my buddies and I left the briefing, we joked about the basketball future that particular grenade throwing Hajji likely had, immediately began complaining about the lack of stir fry at the chow hall that night, and promptly forgot everything we had just heard. It was just another day in the life. We had been running convoys for months and had never been hit by anything we considered serious. A farmer shooting at an armored vehicle isn’t exactly threatening.  And at the end of the day, if something did happen, we were all far too pretty to die.
Returning home, one of the most awkward situations was when people asked about my war experience. I think they usually meant well, and were genuinely curious, but the things they asked about made no sense.
Them: “Was it hot?”
Me: “It was a desert, so during the day, yes. During the night, it was cold.” (What am I, the weather man?)
Them: “Did you kill anyone?”
            Me: “….” (What do you want to hear? Yeah, I killed people? No, I didn’t?)
Even worse were the few times I decided to be completely honest about the level of violence I had encountered and tried to explain how little action actually happens, even during a war. The reactions I got varied, but by far the worst was disappointed. It seemed that, because I wasn’t constantly raining bullets on my enemies, my deployment didn’t count, or wasn’t up to their standards. How could I explain to them the nuance, of the balance between boredom and terror?
Much of this difficulty stems from the weariness of civilians when it comes to the war they didn’t have to fight. This sense of pointlessness can be felt in Mehdi Hasan. Writing for the New Statesman, he says that the war in Afghanistan is lost. Drawing parallels between Afghanistan and Vietnam, Mehdi says that our “ill-preparation” and lack of focus has doomed the war to failure. Written from a British perspective, Mehdi holds the body counts of this war as compared to others, such as the Falklands, and then asks the question “Why did they die?”
Another reason for the difficulty in communication comes from the soldiers themselves. A massive change in context, both socially and in terms of relationships, has been endured by soldiers both when they leave their home and when they return to it. Soldiers have trouble relating to friends and family because they feel their family has no perspective on what they’ve experienced (Wands, 2013). Internally, soldiers struggle with having to turn off the learned aggressive behavior that has helped them survive. They struggle with the sense of pride and self-reliance that sees getting help as a weakness. They also can be embittered, believing that those they fought for do not value their sacrifices (Wands, 2013).
Contrary to popular belief, not every soldier is riddled with PTSD upon returning home. Soldiers have been receiving more treatment than ever before, during, and after the deployment for combat related stress (Mulligan, 2010). Only 3.4% of those studied during the deployment showed signs of probable PTSD, which was similar to those who had not been deployed. Soldiers on deployment had better overall physical and mental health than police officers and doctors in emergency treatment areas (Mulligan, 2010).
Yet another misconception is that the stress that a soldier experiences arises solely from actively engaging in combat. A study was conducted that attempted to measure the activity in the amygdala, which plays a large part in fear responses in the body, and find out if combat stress caused the amygdala to be overactive even post-deployment. It was determined that actual exposure to “combat” was not a good indicator for PTSD. The constant perception of danger, however, was a good indicator. It was also important to note that this was true whether or not this fear was ever realized (Wingen, 2011).
The vast majority of experience in a combat zone is that of the mundane. You wake up, you eat breakfast. You go to work and do whatever job it is you are assigned. You wait. You wait for orders. You wait in line for chow. You wait for Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) to blow up an IED. You roll down the highway for miles and miles and miles in the dead of night, with nothing more interesting to look at than the featureless desert stretching as far as the eye can see.
Yet, during all of it, you are waiting for something else. You wait for that fateful bullet. You wait for the IED you didn’t see, the one man in a crowd of civilians who has a grenade in his pocket. You wait for the ambulance you are allowing to pass to suddenly turn into your truck and detonate, killing everyone within 100 meters. You wait and wait and wait for these things. Sometimes they never happen. Sometimes they do. Either way, you wait.
This is the fundamental misunderstanding between those who have been there, who have seen and tasted and smelled warfare. The uneducated believe that all of war is one scene of carnage after the next, always dodging bullets and performing thrilling heroics. They think that it is the constant din of explosions which make every returning soldier a bundle of unstable nerves, just waiting for the right moment to explode into violence. Yet, if this is not true, what is it about the experience of war that affects soldiers so strongly?
The common thread that one should find through the various researched papers is that it is not only the actuality of danger, but the threat of danger or the possibility of killing that affects the psyche of a soldier (Wingen, 2011). Sometimes, what changes you is the constant knowing that the next day, the next hour, the next minute could be your last. Sometimes it is the reality that around the next bend there could be a target that you will have to be ready to destroy, utterly and completely. These possibilities may never realize, but whether or not they do, their reality is not lessened at all.
If we as a nation take all of this knowledge to heart, we can change how we approach our veterans. They are not any more dangerous or unstable, on the whole, than any other group of public servants (Mulligan, 2010). The war they fought was not one from the movies, and we should not expect each one who returns to regale us with tales of thrilling heroics. Even so, the experience of being torn from everything they know and tossed into a situation where death is very real and apparent can affect them deeply. If we take this lesson to heart, we can finally understand and truly believe that these facts should not be a source of shame, that they are perfectly normal, and that they are likely not broken beyond repair.
Only when we really and truly believe these things that can we start treating our veterans the way they deserve to be treated: Not as mythical heroes disconnected from reality or as fragile dolls who will break at the slightest provocation, but as normal people who have seen and done extraordinary things.

As I finished this essay I realized that it included many sources from well respected, peer reviewed journals on psychology, but through all this research there was one thing that was lacking: Anecdotal evidence collected by an untrained Engineering student in an informal setting. I vowed that his oversight could not be allowed to continue and therefore conducted research of my own to confirm others’ findings. I tracked down a former Specialist in the US Army, whose name I have redacted but whom I shall refer to as “Sexy Beast”, who was a two deployment veteran of Iraq.
During the interview, I primarily focused on his first deployment to Iraq in 2007, because he stated that deployment was more dangerous in his estimation and affected him more deeply. I began by asking him what the most common questions were upon his return, and which ones he found the most annoying or offensive. “For both the most common and the most annoying,” Sexy Beast said, “it would be a tie between ‘Was it hot?’ and “Did you kill anybody?’” (Sexy Beast, 2013)
This was in line with my own experiences, as well as that of most other veterans I had talked to previously. I was curious, though, in how he responded to the question about killing. Most movies would have us believe the brooding veteran would regale the civilian with a dark tale, but the answer was far less dramatic: Make it a joke (Sexy Beast, 2013). When asked how civilians responded to that answer, he said it varied. “It varied from laughing with me, to simply not understanding. The worst reaction was being disgusted that I could joke about something like that.” Just as expected, it seemed that civilians had a very difficult time relating to those who had been to war. What was it about the experience that made the veteran so different?
“Having to be constantly on guard, always on alert…It made me angry, it made me bitter. I felt like I could never let my guard down, even when I came home.” The environment, the reality of danger that was always just a bit of bad luck away, stayed with him. Despite this, he said the moment that stood out the most was the time he sandbagged a Sergeant Major (blocking his door with a barricade of sandbags so it cannot be opened from the inside) while the SGM was inside, asleep.
I never get tired of sharing this picture.
In my own research of this topic I found confirmation of my own experiences and responses by those who had experienced similar things. Sexy Beast, as well as many others I have talked to, had been affected by their tours but none of them were particularly unstable or dangerous. They were simply different. 

Annotated Webliography: The real story of the war in Iraq.
After both of my tours in Iraq I was struck by just how little the average citizen understood about the conflict there. Despite being at war for over ten years, there appears to be next to no true understanding beyond what is seen on the television screen. My goal in writing this paper is to provide some insight on how deployments actually work and how they actually affect soldiers, in contrast to what the reader may have seen on the 6 o’clock news.

Hasan, M. (2011, July 4). If I die in a combat zone: the war in Afghanistan was lost long ago, says Mehdi Hasan, but we carry on fighting. New Statesman. Page 28. Retrieved September 10, 2013 from the JSRCC Library database.

This article provides a critical commentary of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from a British point of view. The author ties in casualty counts and a lack of objectives as reasons why the war is lost.

Sexy Beast, B. (2013, October 3). Interview about experiences during and after Iraq deployments. Conducted via Skype on October 3, 2013.

Mulligan, K, et. al. (2010, July 22). Mental health of UK military personnel while on deployment in Iraq. British Journal of Psychiatry. Volume 197, pages 405-410. Retrieved September 11, 2013 from the JSRCC Library database.

This article takes data gathered from self-reported questionnaires of deployed and non-deployed soldiers to find patterns of mental health issues. It also identifies conditions that tend to cause greater instances of PTSD.

Wands, L. (2013, July). “No one gets through it OK”: The health challenge of coming home from war. Advances in Nursing Science. Volume 36, pages 186-199. Retrieved September 10, 2013 from the JSRCC Library database.

This article explores the difficulty veterans have in reintegrating with civilian society. It discusses common issues that have been raised by combat veterans and how their experience on deployment affects them after they return home.

Wingen, GA, et. al. (2011, January). Perceived threat predicts the neural sequelae of combat stress. Molecular Psychiatry. Volume 16, pages 664-671. Retrieved September 10, 2013 from the JSRCC Library database.

This article identifies the perception of threat as a major cause of combat stress. It determines the distinction between the perception of threats and the actuality of threats as it relates to PTSD.