Friday, December 21, 2012

Freedom, Joy, and Tau Ceti's Planets

"Freedom" shouldn't mean "free to agree with me." As a Catholic, I wouldn't be allowed to force others to believe as I do - even if I could. We're told to take freedom very seriously. Citizenship, too:
This week I found good news for folks who value freedom, and life; and exciting news from a team of astronomers:
  1. Good News: Two Religious Colleges
    Exempt from Lethal Health Care
  2. More Worlds: Planets Orbiting Tau Ceti
  3. Suffering and Joy During Advent
  4. Satawa's Nativity Scene is Back!


I'm an American. I was born during the Truman administration, spent my youth in the '60s, remember the trailing edge of McCarthyism, and the heyday of political correctness. I like freedom, and am convinced that freedom is not being forced to go along with what a government wants.

If you follow this blog (thank you!) you've probably seen this 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)
Enough background. Here's my take on the week's news:

1. Good News: Two Religious Colleges
Exempt from Lethal Health Care

"Religious schools claim 'major victory' after ruling on contraception mandate" (December 19, 2012)

"Two religious-affiliated colleges claimed a 'major victory' Tuesday after a federal appeals court ordered the Obama administration to verify that it is revising the so-called contraception mandate in ObamaCare.

"The decision out of the D.C. Court of Appeals effectively reinstated a challenge that had been dismissed by lower courts. Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College were arguing against the federal health care overhaul rule that requires employers to provide access to contraceptive care.

"The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has represented several plaintiffs challenging the rule, hailed the court decision....
The Becket Fund "protects the free expression of all faiths." ("Our Mission," The outfit is named after Thomas a Becket, an appointee of Henry II.

You've probably heard what happened. There was a conflict of interest, during which the English king apparently said "will no-one rid me of this troublesome priest?" (History Learning Site) Maybe it was "turbulent priest." (Spartacus Educational) Either way, Thomas a Becket was a troublemaker.

He's known as Saint Thomas a Becket now. Cleaning the blood off Canterbury's cathedral floor was probably rather easy. Cleaning Henry II's reputation wasn't, and that's another topic. I've mentioned St. Thomas a Becket before. (September 6, 2011)

Wheaton and Belmont Abbey colleges probably won't be the last organizations to need help, so here's where to find the Becket Fund:

America's Rulers and Religious Freedom

"...'The D.C. Circuit has now made it clear that government promises and press conferences are not enough to protect religious freedom,' Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund, said in a statement. 'The court is not going to let the government slide by on non-binding promises to fix the problem down the road.'

"The court ruling did not overturn the contraception mandate. Rather, it effectively put the court case on hold while requiring the Obama administration to follow through on its pledge to revise the mandate as it pertains to religious-affiliated groups.

" 'We take that as a binding commitment,' the court said in its ruling Tuesday. The court ordered the administration to file status reports every 60 days on its progress toward issuing a new policy in the first quarter of 2013.

"The contraception rule does include an exemption for religious organizations -- but that exemption does not cover many religious-affiliated organizations like schools and charities...."
The "exemption for religious organizations" is a joke.
"...The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain 'religious employers.' That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to 'Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,' or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served...."
("USCCB Responds To Inaccurate Statement Of Fact On HHS Mandate Made During Vice Presidential Debate," USCCB Media News Release (October 12, 2012))
It seems to me that hospitals run by folks with ethical standards are in a Catch-22 situation. If they refuse to serve people outside their faith, they'd probably be guilty of discrimination on the basis of religion. If they are willing to help anybody, they have to offer lethal "womens' health services," or be fined out of existence.

It looks like a well-crafted scheme to edge 'religious people' out of health care. I can, in a way, admire the craftiness: but I don't approve. At all.

The Little Sisters of the Poor and Washington

"...Meanwhile, other groups have expressed concern about what the mandate will mean for their own survival. One group, The Little Sisters of the Poor, told The Daily Caller that the mandate could be a 'serious threat' to the group's U.S. mission of 300 nuns.

"The organization, as a Catholic group, opposes contraception, and the concern is that the fine that could be imposed for violating the rule would impose financial hardship. 'We have no extra funding that would cover these fines,' Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, spokeswoman for the organization, told the Caller...."
Reality check here. American news media, included, tends to focus on the word "contraceptive" in these health care issues.

What the Department of Health and Human Services wants really is "contraception," as the word is used in my dialect of English. Messing with human reproduction on the physical, psychological, and philosophical levels, is a problem for practicing Catholics.

I hope a great many more folks would also be concerned about "contraception" that involves killing someone who has already been conceived.

Sure, humans aren't very pretty for the first few months. But we're still human, even if we can't speak for ourselves: or run away.
"...The Department of Health and Human Services mandate requires employers to provide coverage for 'preventive health.' It defines this coverage to include sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs. The Obama administration's proposed compromise would mandate that insurance companies, not employers, provide this coverage.

"The mandate's religious exemption applies only to employers who primarily serve and employ their coreligionists and have the inculcation of religious values as their primary purpose...."
(CNA (March 8, 2012))
In the end, I'm confident that outfits like Little Sisters of the Poor will once again be free to help the poor and the helpless.

What concerns me is the process which will sort out today's lethal government policies. I hope that Americans will correct this problem though peaceful means: preferably by swapping out the lot we've got running our country in the next few elections.

2. More Worlds: Planets Orbiting Tau Ceti

"Potentially Habitable Planet Detected Around Nearby Star"
Mike Wall, (December 19, 2012)

J. Pinfield for the RoPACS network at the University of Hertfordshire, 2012, via, used w/o permission"A sun-like star in our solar system's backyard may host five planets, including one perhaps capable of supporting life as we know it, a new study reports.

"Astronomers have detected five possible alien planets circling the star Tau Ceti, which is less than 12 light-years from Earth - a mere stone's throw in the cosmic scheme of things. One of the newfound worlds appears to orbit in Tau Ceti's habitable zone, a range of distances from a star where liquid water can exist on a planet's surface.

"With a minimum mass just 4.3 times that of Earth, this potential planet would be the smallest yet found in the habitable zone of a sun-like star if it's confirmed, researchers said...."
A key word there is "perhaps." We don't know much about Tau Ceti's planetary system. These astronomers found the planets by sifting through information about the star's motion. My guess is that someone's going to challenge their conclusions soon.

However, Steve Vogt, of the University of California, Santa Cruz; and University of Hertfordshire's Mikko Tuomi; aren't crackpots. I think it's quite likely that they're right.

"They are everywhere..."

"...'This discovery is in keeping with our emerging view that virtually every star has planets, and that the galaxy must have many such potentially habitable Earth-sized planets,' study co-author Steve Vogt, of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a statement. 'They are everywhere, even right next door.' [Gallery: 7 Potentially Habitable Exoplanets]

"The five planet candidates are all relatively small, with minimum masses ranging from 2 to 6.6 times that of Earth. The possibly habitable world, which completes one lap around Tau Ceti every 168 days, is unlikely to be a rocky planet like Earth, researchers said.

" 'It is impossible to tell the composition, but I do not consider this particular planet to be very likely to have a rocky surface,' lead author Mikko Tuomi, of the University of Hertfordshire in England, told via email. 'It might be a "water world," but at the moment it's anybody's guess.'..."
(Mike Wall
The article doesn't explain Mikko Tuomi's "water world" comment. He's almost certainly talking about a planet that's mostly water: not just partly covered by water, like Earth. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (February 23, 2011)

What's exciting about Tau Ceti's planetary system, assuming that the study's conclusions hold up, is that they're very, very, close to being as massive as Earth. It's getting hard to keep up with the growing list of known and 'possible' planets circling other stars: including a few that might, maybe, be the right temperature and right size to support life.


I don't 'believe in flying saucers.' But I don't believe that we're alone in the universe, either. I simply don't know whether we share this vast creation with other living creatures, or not.

However, as a practicing Catholic, I'm not allowed to say that there can't be other worlds like ours. That's been a rule since 1277.

3. Suffering and Joy During Advent

I think it's important to not that Archbishop Chaput wasn't speaking, or writing, directly to folks in Newtown, Connecticut. The post cited by CNA was on The Catholic Standard and Times' website. The ink-on-paper publication is gone, and that's another topic. ("About Us,"

I recommend reading Archbishop Chaput's column:

"Nothing Remotely Naïve"

"Archbishop Chaput: Advent's message relevant in wake of tragedy"
CNA/EWTN News (December 18, 2012)

"The message of Advent is applicable in today's world, especially in light of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia said in his Dec. 17 column.

" 'In these final days of Advent, the Church urges us to lift up our hearts and prepare to rejoice,' he said. 'There's nothing remotely naïve in this call to joy; the Church knows the harshness of the world far too well for empty pieties.'

"Even in the face of tragedy, such as the recent elementary school shooting in which a lone gunman killed his mother and 26 students and faculty at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Archbishop Chaput said that God is present...."
CNA/EWTN News apparently got a pre-publication release of Archbishop Chaput's column, which is dated December 19, 2012: which has nothing to do with what the archbishop said.

I think it's important to remember that there's more to Christmas than cheerful sentiments and 'presents under the tree.' As Archbishop Chaput said, "...'There's nothing remotely naïve in this call to joy....' "

I've posted about Christmas before:

"...Something to do With Free Will..."

"...When trying to comprehend the violence and evil that took place that day, people will ask how God could allow such suffering to exist in the world, the archbishop noted.

"Although these questions 'sound reasonable,' he said, they are 'all evasions,'

" 'We might as well ask, "Why does God allow us to be free?" '

"Archbishop Chaput recalled that humanity has the blessing of being loved unconditionally by its Creator. And although God seeks our love, 'we will never be coerced by the One who loves us.'..."
Free will is an awkward gift. We've got enormous power over our lives: and personal responsibility for our decisions.

I haven't run into very many good, brief, discussions of free will. Archbishop Chaput's is one; another was in, oddly enough, a Monty Python movie. (May 23, 2012) Some of my take on free will:
Archbishop Chaput had more to say about free will.

"God is Good ...We Human Beings are Free..."

"...'God is good, but we human beings are free, and being free, we help fashion the nature of our world with the choices we make,' he said.

"That means that while 'evil is frightening,' it is unfortunately 'not incomprehensible,' he wrote. 'We know it from intimate experience.'

" 'What we never quite expect is for our private sins, multiplied and fermented by millions of lives with the same or similar "little" sins, to somehow feed the kind evil that walks into a Connecticut school and guns down 26 innocent lives, 20 of them children,' he said...."
Archbishop Chaput isn't, I'm quite sure, telling us that we should writhe in anguish or stand petrified in fear at the wretched vileness of our bad habits. I've mentioned Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" before. Fairly often. (December 14, 2012; December 16, 2011; December 5, 2011)

"...Love is Stronger than Death..."

"... In the Old Testament, God revels that 'love is as strong as death,' Archbishop Chaput said. In God's redeeming plan, 'love is stronger than death.'

" 'The surprise is the persistence of God's fidelity and mercy. The surprise is that, despite our sins, we still long to be the people God intended us to be.'

"He said that 'the only effective antidote' to evil in the world is for each person 'to live differently from this moment forward.'

"'We make the future beginning now,' he added...."
He also suggested that we should pray for the grieving families in Newtown. That sounds like a good idea.

4. Satawa's Nativity Scene is Back!

"Long-time Michigan roadside nativity resurrected"
Carl Bunderson, CNA (Catholic News Agency) (December 18, 2012 )

"A 67-year-old tradition of placing a nativity scene on a public median in Warren, Mich. has been re-established after a four-year legal battle involving the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

" 'John Satawa was persistent enough to follow through,' CNA was told Dec. 17 by Richard Thompson, president of Thomas More Law Center, which represented Satawa, the crèche's caretaker...."
I've mentioned the Thomas More Law Center before. (August 20, 2012) They're one of many outfits trying to preserve freedom in America:
I think that's a good thing, even if today's establishment doesn't. I learned that the government isn't always right during my teens, and haven't forgotten 'the good old days:'
And that's another topic or two.

Well-Wishers, Carolers, and a Priest

"...Satawa is 'an individual citizen who was not going to disappear silently into the night, but was going to fight the decision of the road commission to maintain this tradition that had been going on since 1945,' Thompson said.

"The crèche was erected again Dec. 15 by Satawa, his family and friends, and local Boy Scouts, after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided in his favor on Aug. 1.

"While the nativity scene was being erected, Warren police controlled traffic as well-wishers gathered, carolers sang Christmas songs, a priest from nearby St. Anne's Catholic Church blessed the display and passing motorists sounded their horns in approval...."
(Carl Bunderson, CNA)
It looks like at least some of Satawa's neighbors are happy about the crèche being back. Others may be appalled, disgusted, or insulted.

From The Smithsonian Collections: Plastic Flamingos, c. 1980 (Jason Pietra), used w/o permission.I wonder if anybody's looked into the possible harmful effects of pink plastic flamingos on the public's 'mental health.' And that's definitely another topic.

City Hall, Persistence, and Freedom

"...In 2008 the Macomb County Road Commission received a letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation objecting to a private citizen placing a nativity scene on a 60-foot-wide median.

"They claimed the crèche violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment, and the county immediately ordered the display removed.

"Satawa had gotten permission for the crèche several times, and in 1995 the local police department finally gave him a blanket permission to erect it in the future, so that he would not feel it necessary to ask again.

"On March 9, 2009, after receiving the Freedom from Religion Foundation's letter, a highway engineer for Macomb County, Robert Hoepfner, wrote to Satawa denying him a permit to resurrect the manger scene and only citing reasons related to the establishment clause for the denial.

"Satawa then sued the Macomb County Road Commission for violating his rights under the establishment and free speech clauses of the First Amendment, and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment...."
(Carl Bunderson, CNA)
Sometimes 'you can't fight city hall.' When Sauk Centre widened the street I live on, we lost three elms from the front yard. I was going to protest, but decided not to after seeing them used as an example of safety hazards. As it turns out, one of them had a hollow core: and would probably have fallen in the next big storm.

Sometimes a person can resist the powers that be, and win. Being right helps, I think.

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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.