Friday, November 30, 2012

Freedom, Fear, Mayan 'Doomsday,' and a Solar Super-Flare (Maybe)

Central Minnesota is a wonderful place to live, but it's not perfect.

During summer I pay attention to tornado watches. When the sirens go off, we spend part of an hour in the basement.

During winter I dress warmly and make sure the vehicle is in working order before we drive to another town.

These are just common-sense routines. If I broke out in a cold sweat each time I listened to weather reports, or refused to go outside from December to March: that would be something else.

There's a difference between taking reasonable precautions, and letting fear take over. I ranted about that a bit before getting to some of  this week's news:
Then I got around to my take on freedom, fear, and doing what's right:
  1. Reviewing 'Freedom of the Press'
  2. Mayan Apocalypse, December 21, 2012 (or not)
  3. Something Zapped Earth
  4. Conscience and American Courts: A Little Good News

Science, Religion, and Getting a Grip

I'm a Catholic. I take my faith seriously.

I'm also fascinated by science, and what we're learning about how this universe works.

That's not as contradictory as it may seem.
"...the things of the world
and the things of faith
derive from the same God...
"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 159)

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder's craft."
(Psalms 19:2)


As I've said before, I can almost understand secularists claiming that science opposes (and disproves) religion. From their point of view, it's at least an effective rhetorical tool.

Folks who appear to be Christian, and seem determined to remain ignorant of what we're learning about God's creation? That makes a great deal less sense to me.

Cherishing Fear

By cherry-picking facts and stories, I could claim that religion, or science, or both, are used mainly to scare people.

I've given my take on end-time prophecies, 'scientific' and 'religious,' before:

Faith, Freedom, and Fear

I don't see the point of believing something, and not acting as though it matters:
For some, perhaps many, Americans, this is what 'religious people' look like:


(ArizonaLincoln (talk), via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)

Denver News (1921), from The Library of Congress (American Memory Collection), http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/, via wikipedia.org, used w/o permissionIf that "God hates Jews" lot, and the more virulent iterations of the Klan, were all that I knew about Christianity, I might be very concerned about Christians wanting "rights."

On the other hand, horror stories I heard about the Catholic Church helped me become a Catholic, and that's another topic.

Before getting back to freedom and other disturbing ideas, here's another example of a religious person: putting Matthew 25:31-46 and Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2447, into practice.


(From "The Pope and Children" (January 6, 2003), used w/o permission)

Freedom and Citizenship, Catholic Style

"Freedom" doesn't mean being told what to believe, any more than "citizenship" means unthinking obedience. My opinion.

More to the point, that's what the Catholic Church says. As a Catholic, I have to:
  • Support religious freedom
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2104-2109)
    • For everybody
      (Catechism, 2106)
  • Submit to legitimate authorities
    • Refuse obedience to civil authorities
      • When their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience
      (Catechism, 2242)
    (Catechism, 2239-2243)

The Establishment, Ecclesiastes, and All That

Believing that "freedom" means "free to agree with me" isn't new. I remember the trailing edge of McCarthyism and the heyday of political correctness.

The establishment, folks with power and influence, look different today; and have different quirks. But in other ways, not much has changed:
Even thinking that there's 'nothing new under the sun' isn't new:
"What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun. "
Ecclesiastes 1:9
I've felt that way sometimes, and that's yet another topic.

1. Reviewing 'Freedom of the Press'

"Watchdog needed to curb press 'havoc' "
(November 29, 2012)

"A tougher form of self-regulation backed by legislation should be introduced to uphold press standards, the Leveson report has recommended.

"Lord Justice Leveson said the press had 'wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people' for many decades....

"...Prime Minister David Cameron set up the Leveson Inquiry in July 2011 after it emerged journalists working for the Sunday tabloid the News of the World had hacked the mobile phone of murdered Surrey schoolgirl Milly Dowler. The paper was subsequently shut down by its owners News International...."

"...'The evidence clearly demonstrates that over the last 30-35 years and probably much longer, the political parties of UK national government and of UK opposition have had or developed too close a relationship with the press in a way which has not been in the public interest,' he [Appeal Court judge Lord Justice Leveson] said...."
Although some newspaper hacking into a murdered girl's mobile phone was probably what triggered Prime Minister Cameron's action, I'm quite sure that this issue has been growing for decades.

Here in America, back in the 1970s, the 'investigative reporter' was a stock hero in fiction, along the lines of the earlier 'spunky girl reporter.' At the time, journalists had demonstrated competence, and had arguably served the public interest.

That was then, this is now.

A lot can happen in four decades, and has.

I think freedom of expression is vital; that a 'free press' is in the public interest; and that journalists can mess up as thoroughly as any other group.
(Part of this section is from my Google+ post of (November 28, 2012)

2. Mayan Apocalypse, December 21, 2012 (or not)

"2012 Mayan Apocalypse Rumors Have Dark Side, NASA Warns"
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer, via Space.com (November 28, 2012)

"NASA scientists took time on Wednesday (Nov. 28) to soothe 2012 doomsday fears, warning against the dark side of Mayan apocalypse rumors - frightened children and suicidal teens who truly fear the world may come to an end Dec. 21.

"These fears are based on misinterpretations of the Mayan calendar. On the 21st, the date of the winter solstice, a calendar cycle called the 13th b'ak'tun comes to an end. Although Maya scholars agree that the ancient Maya would not have seen this day as apocalyptic, rumors have spread that a cosmic event may end life on Earth on that day...."
I've written about the Mayan 'apocalypse,' calendars, base-10 numbering systems, and goofy ideas, before:
Actually, the Y2K bug was quite real: a legacy of the early days of computer technology. We had a few problems: some folks got very strange notices from financial institutions, when an accounting computer misinterpreted "01" as "1901" instead of "2001," for example. And that's yet again another topic.

Where was I? A Mayan calendar, NASA, and cosmic consternation. Right.

December 21, 2012, NASA, and Near-Earth Objects

"...Thus NASA's involvement. The space agency maintains a 2012 information page debunking popular Mayan apocalypse rumors, such as the idea that a rogue planet will hit Earth on Dec. 21, killing everyone. (In fact, astronomers are quite good at detecting near-Earth objects, and any wandering planet scheduled to collide with Earth in three weeks would be the brightest object in the sky behind the sun and moon by now.)...
(Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience")
Maybe NASA shouldn't 'waste' resources by trying to sort out fact, fantasy, and fear. Ideally, folks would be sensible and well-informed enough to spot goofy assertions. But, like the fellow said, "common sense is not so common:"
"Le sens commun n'est pas si commun."
(Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire, via quotationreference.com)

Doomsday Declarations: What's the Harm?

"... Unfortunately, Morrison said, the fantasy has real-life consequences. As one of NASA's prominent speakers on 2012 doomsday myths, Morrison said, he receives many emails and letters from worried citizens, particularly young people. Some say they can't eat, or are too worried to sleep, Morrison said. Others say they're suicidal.

" 'While this is a joke to some people and a mystery to others, there is a core of people who are truly concerned,' he said.

"Not every 2012 apocalypse believer thinks the world will end on Dec. 21. Some, inspired by New Age philosophies, expect a day of universal peace and spiritual transformation. But it's impressionable kids who have NASA officials worried.

" 'I think it's evil for people to propagate rumors on the Internet to frighten children,' Morrison said...."
(Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience")
'Everybody knows it's a joke' can be true, when friends get together and swap stories. I've told some whoppers in situations like that: with full confidence that nobody who heard me would mistake what I said for facts.

Published, online or in ink-on-paper format? Or broadcast? That's another matter.

I like Information Age technology, and the social structures we're developing around it. But I also realize that anybody who understands English might read this.

That knowledge won't turn me into a dead-serious, humorless, nothing-but-the-facts literalist. It's not likely, anyway: given how much I enjoy playing with ideas and language. More topics.

End-of-the-World -- Tourism?

I can see why folks in places like Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, advertise 'cosmic bike tours.' It will be another 5,109 years before the Mayan calendar runs through another long cycle.
Bottom line, the Mayan calendar coming to the end of a cycle means about as much as the calendar we use coming to the end of a decade, a century, or a millennium.

I don't see a problem with using those occasions to have a party; write something philosophical or nostalgic; or simply put up next year's calendar.

Expecting the end of the world to come because I'm putting up a new wall calendar, though? That's silly.

3. Something Zapped Earth

A little over a dozen centuries ago, something poured a whole lot of energy into Earth's atmosphere. If it had happened this year, we'd probably still be reading about the resulting blackouts and communication system failures.

Sooner or later, something like the 774 event will almost certainly happen again. That's not being scared: just realistic. The good news is that we're getting more experience with smaller disturbances each year. And that's still another topic.
"Solar Super-Flare Likely Sparked Ancient Tree Mystery"
Clara Moskowitz, SPACE.com (November 28, 2012)

"Something big happened in the year A.D. 774.

"Scientists studying tree rings found a sharp increase in the amount of radioactive carbon-14 recorded in the rings of ancient Japanese cedar trees between 774 and 775. Carbon-14 can be created by cosmic ray particles arriving from space, but what causes such cosmic ray increases?

"At first, experts were at a loss to explain the event, and the team that unearthed the tree ring data earlier this year dismissed the sun as a possible explanation. ..."
The rest of the article is a little technical. Basically, scientists had found a whole lot more carbon-14 in tree rings grown between 774 and 775. Whatever pumped the extra carbon-14 into the trees happened in less than a year.

Folks had assumed that the sun couldn't have been the cause, but their math was off. They hadn't taken into account that a coronal mass ejection, a lump of really hot gas and magnetic fields, doesn't spread out all that much on its way outward.

Radiation?

By the way, if you've heard that carbon-14 is radioactive: it is. And that's okay.

Despite what we see in timeless classics like "The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues" (1955) and "Godzilla, King of the Monsters!" (1956), things can be radioactive without trampling Tokyo or terrorizing starlets in swimsuits.

Background radiation is - what else? - in the background, all the time. It's when there's too much radiation that we get problems:
And I'm off-topic yet again.

A Coronal Mass Ejection, or Something Else

It's possible that a coronal mass ejection hit Earth about 13 centuries back. It would have had to be a really big one, though.

The extra carbon-14 could have been generated if a supernova went off nearby: but there's no record of a new and very bright star around that time. A gamma ray burst aimed in our direction might have had the same effect. Or maybe the cause is something else.

If it was a coronal mass ejection, I'm not surprised that nobody recorded the event. From what I've read, folks would probably have seen unusually pretty auroral displays: and that's about it. Carbon-14 is, as far as our senses are concerned, just plain carbon.

We didn't notice coronal mass ejections until folks started stringing telegraph wires. The Carrington Event of 1859 shocked some telegraph operators, literally, and involved the biggest recorded solar flare.

So far. But that's only about 153 years back: a tiny fraction of the time Earth has been around.

My guess is that we can still look forward to being surprised by this world: at least, I hope so.

4. Conscience and American Courts: A Little Good News

"Court ordered to hear Christian college's health care challenge"
Michelle Bauman, CNA/EWTN News (November 26, 2012)

"The Supreme Court has ordered a federal court of appeals to consider a Christian college's claim that its religious freedom is threatened by forced funding of abortion under the health care reform law.

" 'I am very pleased with the High Court's ruling,' said Mat Staver, dean of Liberty University School of Law and founder of the nonprofit litigation group Liberty Counsel, which is representing the university.

"The ruling 'breathes new life into our challenge' to the Affordable Care Act, Staver said, asserting that mandated abortion funding under the law 'collides with religious freedom and the rights of conscience.'..."
Religion isn't just going into a building for an hour each Sunday and doing 'religious stuff.' Or, rather, it shouldn't be. Like I said, I don't see a point in faith, if it doesn't matter in day-to-day life.

Liberty University School of Law's efforts to do what's right, even if that means resisting unjust government actions, aren't an isolated event.

What's even more surprising, some efforts to work inside the system have been at least slightly successful:
Does this mean that I'm blithely confident that an all-knowing, all-merciful, judiciary will make everything better? Of course not:
What I find refreshing is that the American court system seems to be getting over state-sponsored social engineering. And that's - you guessed it - another topic.

Related posts:

2 comments:

Brigid said...

I think the serious arguments against the Mayan doomsday thing are missing an important point:

Leap Year

http://instagram.com/p/HxuE2UhgUA/

Brian Gill said...

Brigid,

Yep. Also the uncertainty of just when the Mayan calendar 'year 1' was.

Although I think 'serious arguments' in this case is something of an oxymoron. ;)

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