Friday, December 14, 2012

Conscience in the News; a Radar Map of Titan; Exploring Mars

I'll probably have two 'in the news' posts this week: this one, with good news from Illinois; and two items that I found fascinating. Your experience may vary:
  1. Illinois Against Pharmacists: Sometimes Conscience Wins
  2. Titan's Longest Known River, So Far
  3. Another Picture from Mars
I plan to have a second post ready later today: with good news from New York State; not-so-good news; and something about next week's Mayan calendar rollover.

As usual, I've got something to say before getting to the news.

America is Okay - - -

I like some aspects of today's America: the comparative prosperity many of us enjoy; immigrants continuing to bring new ideas and enthusiasm; and a degree of freedom.

I particularly like being free to express opinions, even if the folks in charge don't approve.

- - - And We Can Do Better

This is far from Western civilization's, and America's, most tranquil era. If I was satisfied with the status quo, I'd probably be upset.

Some of the reforms 'those crazy kids' like me worked for didn't turn out as advertised. I think we can do better.

I also remember the 'good old days' when the establishment was a great deal paler, and nearly all male. I really don't want to go back to the 'good old days.' My memory's too good.

Change Can be Good - - -

I'm too young to remember older 'good old days' when "Irish Need Not Apply" signs affected some of my ancestors. We 'look Anglo,' which other Americans don't.

I remember when America finally sorted out the mess left by Dred Scott v. Sandford. More recently, Americans who had been robbed and imprisoned by the national government during World War II experienced some measure of justice. (April 9, 2012; Another War-on-Terror Blog (January 22, 2009))

Change happens. Change can be good.

- - - Or Not

Hostility toward the Catholic Church is an old American tradition. What's changed recently is that suspicion and hostility has been extended to most religions.

I don't see that as an improvement. At all.

(from H.E. Fowler, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)
"Crowley, Jeremiah J. (1913) 'The Pope: Chief of White Slavers High Priest of Intrigue,' p. 430"

But change happens, and individuals can still make a difference.

Some folks don't like change, or freedom: particularly if they they're part of 'the establishment,' and that's almost another topic.

Now, finally, my take on this week's news.

1. Illinois Against Pharmacists: Sometimes Conscience Wins

"Illinois pharmacist ruling praised as conscience victory"
CNA (Catholic News Agency) (December 13, 2012)

"Religious liberty advocates are hailing the end of a seven-year legal battle over the required provision of abortion drugs in Illinois pharmacies as a major triumph for conscience rights.

" 'This decision is a great victory for religious freedom,' said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has represented the pharmacists in the case for several years.

" 'The government shouldn’t kick business owners out of the market just because it dislikes their religious beliefs,' he said in a statement.

" 'Over seven years of litigation, there was never a shred of proof that a religious objection at a pharmacy harmed anyone,' Rienzi explained. 'These pharmacists do a wonderful job serving their communities, and the state’s decision not to appeal lets them get back to that important work.'..."
This is good news for me: and for anyone who lives in America and doesn't want the government telling us what we're allowed to believe, and what beliefs aren't permitted.

The connection between religious freedom and forcing pharmacists to give women 'kill my baby' pills may not be obvious. I don't think killing innocent people is right, by the way: and that's another topic.

Legal, Yes: Right, No

Some religions, including mine, teach that killing an innocent person is wrong. We're not even allowed to help someone else commit murder. For Catholics, this rule applies even if we're in a country where murder is legal.

As a practicing Catholic, I wouldn't be allowed to change your mind, even if I had that power. But I would prefer living in a country where I'm allowed to act as if God matters.

Facts and Freedom

Sure, I could move to another country, but on the whole I like being an American. Besides, the "my way or the highway" attitude didn't sit well with me in the '60s, and it still doesn't. (February 29, 2012)

Folks like Jeremiah J. Crowley are wrong. The Catholic Church doesn't want to enslave people. I've posted this outline of what the Catholic Church really says before:
  • Religious freedom is vital
    (Catechism, 2104-2109)
    • For everybody
      (Catechism, 2106)
  • Some actions are always wrong
    (Catechism, 1789)
    • Even if the President says it's okay
      (Catechism, 2242)
  • Human life
    • Is sacred
      (Catechism, 2258)
    • Begins at conception
    • (Catechism, 2270, 2274)
  • Murder is wrong
    (Catechism, 2259-2262, 2268-2269)
Maybe you've tangled with a Catholic who tried to drag you, kicking and screaming, into a church. At least one Catholic was a mass murderer, but he wasn't typical. Neither is Alessandro Serenelli, and that's another topic:

Supporting Freedom

I've mentioned the Becket Fund, and another advocacy group, before. It's nice to know that someone's willing to fight city hall, and win:

2. Titan's Longest Known River, So Far

"Cassini Spots Mini Nile River on Saturn Moon"
Mission News, NASA (December 21, 2012)

"Scientists with NASA's Cassini mission have spotted what appears to be a miniature, extraterrestrial likeness of Earth's Nile River: a river valley on Saturn's moon Titan that stretches more than 200 miles (400 kilometers) from its 'headwaters' to a large sea. It is the first time images have revealed a river system this vast and in such high resolution anywhere other than Earth.

"Scientists deduce that the river, which is in Titan's north polar region, is filled with liquid hydrocarbons because it appears dark along its entire length in the high-resolution radar image, indicating a smooth surface.

" 'Though there are some short, local meanders, the relative straightness of the river valley suggests it follows the trace of at least one fault, similar to other large rivers running into the southern margin of this same Titan sea,' said Jani Radebaugh, a Cassini radar team associate at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. 'Such faults - fractures in Titan's bedrock -- may not imply plate tectonics, like on Earth, but still lead to the opening of basins and perhaps to the formation of the giant seas themselves.'..."
Radar maps of Titan show lakes and rivers: but they're apparently filled with liquid hydrocarbons like methane. There's water on Titan, but it won't be flowing.

Temperatures during warm day near Titan's equator are around 290 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit (-179 Celsius).

Part of what fascinates me about Titan is that it's the first world, other than our own, with rivers and lakes.
"...'Titan is the only place we've found besides Earth that has a liquid in continuous movement on its surface,' said Steve Wall, the radar deputy team lead, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory...."
(CasMission News, NASA)
The Cassini spacecraft is still orbiting Saturn, and in good operating condition. I think we'll be learning a great deal more about Titan, the other moons of Saturn: and, of course, Saturn.


3. Another Picture from Mars

(from NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, used w/o permission)

"Layered Martian Outcrop 'Shaler' in 'Glenelg' Area

"The NASA Mars rover Curiosity used its Mast Camera (Mastcam) during the mission's 120th Martian day, or sol (Dec. 7, 2012), to record this view of a rock outcrop informally named 'Shaler.'

"The outcrop's striking layers, some at angles to each other in a pattern called crossbedding, made it a target of interest for the mission's science team. The site is near where three types of terrain meet at a place called 'Glenelg,' inside Gale Crater.

"The area covered by the image spans about 3 feet (90 centimeters) in the foreground. Figure 1 includes a 10-centimeter (4-inch) scale bar.

"The image has been white-balanced to show what the rock would look like if it were on Earth. Figure 2 is a raw-color version, showing what the rock looks like on Mars to the camera...."
(Mission News, NASA (December 11, 2012))

[Figure 1]

(from NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, used w/o permission)

[Figure 2]
Here's what "Shaler" looks like, to Curiosity's camera:

(from NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, used w/o permission)

Four Days, 260 Feet, and Dusty Sand on Mars

"Curiosity Rover Nearing Yellowknife Bay"
Mission News, NASA (December 11, 2012)

"The NASA Mars rover Curiosity drove 63 feet (19 meters) northeastward early Monday, Dec. 10, approaching a step down into a slightly lower area called 'Yellowknife Bay,' where researchers intend to choose a rock to drill.

"The drive was Curiosity's fourth consecutive driving day since leaving a site near an outcrop called 'Point Lake,' where it arrived last month. These drives totaled 260 feet (79 meters) and brought the mission's total odometry to 0.37 mile (598 meters).

"The route took the rover close to an outcrop called 'Shaler,' where scientists used Curiosity's Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument and Mast Camera (Mastcam) to assess the rock's composition and observe its layering. Before departure from Point Lake, a fourth sample of dusty sand that the rover had been carrying from the 'Rocknest' drift was ingested and analyzed by Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument...."
As I've said before, this isn't the Mars we expected: not quite.

The reddish rocks in desert landscapes aren't all that much different from what scientists expected. There's even a reddish hue to the sky, particularly during dust storms.

But there aren't any Martians. Not of the "Man from Mars" variety, at least. We still aren't sure about microbes.

Instead of alien cities and intelligent Martians we're finding rocks, sand, and lots of dust. But we've also found that rivers once flowed on Mars: and at least some of the water is there, close to the surface.

I'm not disappointed.


Science: And Religion?

If you've read my posts before, you've probably already seen this:
"...the things of the world
and the things of faith
derive from the same God...
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 159)

"...The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man's intellect and will."
(Catechism, 341)
I posted those quotes last week. (December 7, 2012)

My faith doesn't depend on keeping up with what we're learning about this astounding universe. But I don't see a point in deliberately avoiding that knowledge, either. Ignoring creation seems an odd way of showing respect for the Creator.

If you haven't gotten enough of my take on science, religion, faith, and reason, I've put links below. It's faith and reason, by the way, although I don't worship the Goddess of Reason. That would be idolatry, a very bad idea, and another topic.

Related posts:

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.