Life Is an Accident of Space and Time Even if life existed on every planet that could support it, living matter in the universe would amount to only a few grains of sand in the Gobi Desert. ........ even if all potentially habitable planets do in fact harbor life, the fraction of matter in the universe in living form is exceedingly small: about one-billionth of one-billionth. That’s like a few grains of sand on the Gobi Desert. Evidently, we living things are a very special arrangement of atoms and molecules. ........ In the mid-1970s, the Australian physicist Brandon Carter pointed out that our universe seems particularly fine-tuned for the emergence of life. For example, if the nuclear force holding the centers of atoms together were a little weaker, then the complex atoms needed for life could never form. If it were a little stronger, all of the hydrogen in the infant universe would have fused to become helium. Without hydrogen, water (H2O) would not exist, and most biologists believe that water is necessary for life. ........... Carter’s observation that our universe is finely tuned for the emergence of life has been called the anthropic principle. A profound question raised by the principle is: Why? Why should the universe care whether it contains animate matter? The theological answer to this question is a cosmic form of intelligent design: Our universe was created by an all-powerful and purposeful being, who wanted it to have life. ........... animate matter is not only rare in our particular universe, but seems to be nonexistent in most possible universes. ............ In a limited but real sense, we living things help give the universe meaning. Without us, the cosmos would merely be.
........ very few democracies have begun to slide and then reversed course. ....... A neutral social media really could be a democratizing force, in theory. But the major platforms are far from neutral. They are deliberately designed to manipulate you, and to manipulate your experience on the platform in ways that will change how you think and how you behave. These platforms do this not just by what they show you, but also by eliciting certain emotions and behaviors from you. ........ All this digital manipulation, at the scale of maybe hundreds of hours per year, changes you. And not just online, but in your offline life, too. It changes your emotional makeup, the way that you approach politics, your sense of your own identity — even the way that you process right and wrong. .......... the effect can be to make you angrier, more extreme and intolerant, more distrustful, more prone to divide the world between us and them, and more disposed toward hostility and even violence against people outside your social in-group. ........... The Yellow Vests, the French protest movement that began in 2018, exemplifies this. It was this stunning, spontaneous, nationwide uprising for political change. And it had been organized almost entirely through Facebook and other platforms. But it was also internally incoherent. For all its force, it quickly fizzled out, having caused a lot of traffic problems but having changed very little. ........
An Epic Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism John T. McGreevy’s exhaustive “Catholicism: A Global History From the French Revolution to Pope Francis” explains how debates within the church got so fierce. ....... the only thing I feared more than an authoritarian nun with a stiff ruler was the prospect of that class known as church history. All those monarchs and ministers, the papal edicts and parsing of purgatory, the vast inexplicability of the doctrine of infallibility. In Latin, no less. ......... an attempt at making narrative sense of one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of the oldest institution in the Western world. .......... how the epic struggle between reformists and traditionalists has led us to the present moment in the Roman Catholic Church. ........ A church that has survived Christian-on-Christian wars, corruption on a scale that would make Satan blush and state campaigns to crush everyday Catholicism is still mired in what may be its worst crisis ever — clerical sexual abuse and the institutional cover-up. .......... The crimes against innocents have been a big contributor to the cratering of membership in much of the world. But this same church is vibrant and growing steadily outside of Europe and North America. “No institution is as multicultural or multilingual, few touch as many people,” writes McGreevy. A majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, he says, “are people of color living in the global South.” ............ the clergy owned about 10 percent of all French property. ......... A faith that had long relied on kings and despots as staunch allies took a more cautious view of the many democracies that sprouted between the American Revolution and the various revolts of the 19th century. It’s no surprise that a top-down, insular institution did not know what to make of government by the people. ........ In an 1832 encyclical, Pope Gregory XVI said freedom of conscience was likely to “spread ruin,” and freedom of the press seemed “monstrous.” In 1864, Pope Pius IX formally rejected the idea that the Vatican should come to terms “with progress, liberalism and modern civilization” ......... In 1910, two-thirds of the world’s Catholics lived in Europe. By the end of the century, the global South was home to two-thirds of church members. ........... Father Charles Coughlin, the most famous Catholic priest in the United States, promoted conspiracy theories of Jewish global cabals and defended the 1938 Nazi violence of Kristallnacht. .......... A pair of notorious Vatican agreements — one with Mussolini in 1929, the other with Hitler in 1933 — were designed to protect Catholics. They were quickly broken and gave the Nazis and Fascists cover for some of their crimes. .......... The author concludes with another revolution, the Second Vatican Council and its aftermath, from 1962 to the present day. Rather than build a fortress against modernity, the church would engage the world. Out went the Latin Mass — and many other ritualistic formalities — and in came rock ’n’ roll, or at least folk music and the “absence of condemnation” ........... the simple spiritual philosophy at the center of the world’s largest faith. Why were so many generations in so many corners of the globe drawn to a man whose time on earth was so short and seemingly inconsequential?
The Strange Afterlife of George Carlin Carlin’s rueful 1996 routine about conservatives’ opposition to abortion (“they will do anything for the unborn, but once you’re born, you’re on your own”) .......... A video clip of a Carlin bit about how Americans are ravenous for war (“so we’re good at it, and it’s a good thing we are — we’re not very good at anything else anymore!”) .......... Carlin has been cited as an expert on bipartisanship (“the word bipartisan usually means some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out”) ........ “It’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” ........ over the decades, as Carlin watched America’s retreat from Vietnam and its entrance into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as corporate power grew more intractable and environmental catastrophe felt unavoidable, his feelings of bitter disappointment flooded into his routines. ............ “He taught me from Day 1 that the Black and brown people have always been oppressed, horribly and systematically, by the owners of wealth,” she said. “He had a pure disdain and loathing for white men in America.” .......... Using language that would later be echoed by Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, Carlin observed in a 2005 routine that the interwoven systems of American economy and government were not designed to ensure the prosperity of the average citizen: “It’s a big club and you ain’t in it,” he said. ........ “The table is tilted, folks,” Carlin added. “The game is rigged.” ......... suggests that a childhood spent swimming in the polluted Hudson River was the reason he didn’t catch polio. ........ (“In my neighborhood, no one ever got polio,” he fulminates. “No one, ever. You know why? ’Cause we swam in raw sewage. It strengthened our immune systems. The polio never had a prayer.”) .......... his barbs would have been aimed at “the corporate occupation” of discourse, with digital monoliths like Google, Facebook and Twitter “dictating how culture thrives and is consumed.” ....... “There’s this fearlessness in comedy now that is so fake,” Glaser said. “There’s so much sleight of hand and so many illusions happening onstage to trick an audience that you’re being brave.” ......... we have “the unlimited right to challenge everything, to never stop thinking critically about any source of power or any institution”