Friday, January 11, 2013

News, Good and Otherwise: and Billions of Worlds

It's been quite a while since I've seen one of those "friends don't let friends drive drunk" public service announcements. Maybe Americans, as a group, are learning that it's not a good idea to get sozzled, and then try to drive home.

Interestingly, I can't remember reading about organizations arguing the other side. Maybe slogans and names like "wino pride," and "Souse and Addict Driver Rights," sounded too silly.

Or maybe enough folks realized that driving drunk was a really bad idea: even if their friend insisted otherwise.

None of the items I picked from this week's news is about drunk driving. The connection is respect for others, and the idea that something can be real: no matter how much someone believes otherwise.
  1. "Disappointing," But Hardly Surprising
  2. Asteroid 99942 Apophis Missed Us
  3. Planets Like Earth: Billions of Them
  4. Public Opinion and Life
  5. Hobby Lobby and 64,000-Plus Supporters

Respect and Natural Law

The idea that people deserve respect seems obvious enough, at least in my native culture. A problem that's plagued Western civilization during my lifetime is that not all human beings are seen as "people." Who gets left out depends on who you listen to.

I'm a Catholic, so I think all human beings are people. I'm also required to think that ethics matter:
  • Human life
    • Is sacred
      (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2258)
    • Begins at conception
    • (Catechism, 2270, 2274)
  • Individual people are
    • Free
      • Responsible for our actions
      (Catechism, 1738)
    • Deserve respect
      (Catechism, 2479)
  • Some actions are always wrong
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1789)
    • Even if some leader says it's okay
      (Catechism, 2242)

Simple Rules and 85 Kilometers of Shelving

Despite our reputation for having 'too many rules,' what the Church says we should do is quite simple:
I think a big reason for those 85 kilometers of shelving in the Vatican's office library is that folks have been trying to weasel out of those simple rules for two millennia. After a while, explanations of why "love your neighbor" and "hate your neighbor" don't mean the same thing pile up. And that's another topic.

Respect: For Everyone

Like I've said before: These folks aren't Catholics.

(ABC News, via, used w/o permission)

(Reuters photo, via, used w/o permission)

"Love your neighbor" is fairly easy when the neighbor in question looks and acts like me. But we're told that everybody is our neighbor.

That means that the colorful lot in those photos are my neighbors. I have to love them, even if I can't agree with what they say.

The flip side of 'love your neighbor' is that we're not allowed to hate anyone. It's a really bad idea. (Catechism, 1033)

One more thing: "Love" doesn't mean "approval," and I've been over that before. (April 26, 2011)

1. "Disappointing," But Hardly Surprising

"Same-sex couples can marry at National Cathedral"
Brett Zongker, Associated Press, Washington Times (January 9, 2013)

"Critics call policy 'disappointing'"

"The Washington National Cathedral, where the nation gathers to mourn tragedies and celebrate new presidents, will soon begin hosting same-sex marriages.

"Cathedral officials say the church will be among the first Episcopal congregations to implement a new rite of marriage for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members. The church announced its new policy Wednesday.

"As the nation's most prominent church, the decision carries huge symbolism. The 106-year-old cathedral has long been a spiritual center for the nation, hosting presidential inaugural services and funerals for Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his last sermon there in 1968. The cathedral draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year...."
I'm not happy that a high-profile church in America decided that two men or two women having sex with each other is "marriage."

But I'm not surprised at all. My native land has been sliding in this direction for decades. What does surprise me a little is that we haven't seen a serious effort to bridge the species barrier.

It Could be Weirder

Ever since the late '60s, I've been half-expecting a synergy between the weirder end of animal rights activism and the 'sexual revolution.'

This is hardly a new issue. Some folks have wanted to have sex with animals for thousands of years: Leviticus 18:34 and all that.

Using now-familiar arguments, it's 'obvious' that people having sex with animals is 'natural:' because some folks have done it throughout history.

Since the Bible includes prohibitions on this 'natural' act, any customs or laws against bestiality are 'obviously' the result of an authoritarian, male-dominated, oppressive, and generally icky past.

I don't believe that, at all: but I don't think same-sex 'marriage' is a good idea, either.

Kudos to Brett Zongker and the editors, for pointing out that the "National Cathedral" is an Episcopal church: not part of the Catholic Church.

I don't doubt that what the folks in Washington did will carry "huge symbolism." But I don't expect the Catholic Church to change the rules about marriage: that it's a sacrament for two people of the same species, but opposite sex.

That doesn't mean that the Church hates animals, or people:

2. Asteroid 99942 Apophis Missed Us

"Asteroid Apophis Takes a Pass in 2036"
Kelly Beatty, Sky and Telescope (January 9, 2013)

"After tracking asteroid 99942 Apophis with NASA's giant Goldstone radar dish, astronomers are now certain that the threatening asteroid has no chance of striking Earth in 2036.

"Astronomers surely enjoy dramatic stories as much as the rest of us. But today they played spoilers with the welcome announcement that the sizable Earth-crossing asteroid 99942 Apophis will pose no threat when it comes near our planet in 2036.

"Right now Apophis is in the midst of a rather distant yet much-awaited pass in Earth's vicinity, coming within 9 million miles (14½ million km) earlier today. It's been tracked for about a week by NASA's 230-foot (70-m) Goldstone radio/radar dish in California, and those observations have given astronomers the confidence to issue an "all clear" for the foreseeable future.

" 'Goldstone single-pixel observations of Apophis have ruled out the potential 2036 Earth impact,' says Jon Giorgini, a dynamicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Based on revised orbit calculations, he says Apophis will then come no closer than about 14 million miles - and more likely miss us by something closer to 35 million miles. Moreover, the radar data have improved the asteroid's positional uncertainty so much that dynamicists can now accurately predict its trajectory decades into the future...."
Somehow, this asteroid's near-miss of Earth didn't get the same sort of attention that the Mayan calendar did. I'm not disappointed, at all. Being scared silly isn't, in my considered opinion, prudent.

More Facts, Less Worry

(ESA/Herschel/PACS/MACH-11/MPE/ESAC, used w/o permission)

"The Photodetecting Array Camera and Spectrometer instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory captured asteroid Apophis in its field of view during the approach to Earth on Jan. 5 and 6, 2013. The image shows asteroid Apophis in three wavelengths: 70, 100 and 160 microns, respectively...."
"Herschel Spacecraft Eyes Asteroid Apophis"
Herschel, a European Space Agency Mission with NASA Participation (January 9, 2013)

"Scientists using the Herschel Space Observatory made new observations of asteroid Apophis as it approached Earth this past weekend. The data show the asteroid to be bigger than first estimated, and less reflective.

"Discovered in 2004, Apophis was initially thought to have a 2.7 percent chance of impacting Earth in 2029. Additional observations of the asteroid ruled out any possibility of an impact in 2029. However, Apophis is expected to make a record-setting -- but harmless -- close approach to Earth on April 13, 2029, when it comes no closer than 18,300 miles (29,450 kilometers) above Earth's surface. The asteroid will make another approach to Earth in 2036. Data collected by telescopes during today's close approach are expected to refine the asteroid's orbit to the point where an impact in 2036 can be ruled out...."
Odds of two and seven tenths out of a hundred that a quarter-mile-wide rock will hit Earth may not seem important. Particularly since 99942 Apophis isn't quite that big: the article says it's about 1,066 feet, or 325 meters, across.

That's a whole lot smaller than the six-mile-wide asteroid that hit us about 65,000,000 years back. Even then, it looks like two other asteroids around the same size hit around the same time: which, combined with a massive volcanic event, may have had something to do with the dinosaurs dying. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (August 29, 2010)

Still, being close to the impact point would be unpleasant: for a short time, at least. And there would probably be a huge mess to clean up, at best.

Storm Cellars and Common Sense

Folks in my part of the world used to have "storm cellars," a particularly sturdy structure below ground level. Most of the time it would be used for storage, but during heavy storms the family would go down to the storm cellar until the storm was passed.

The 1939 "Wizard of Ox" shows Dorothy Gale's aunt and uncle taking shelter in their storm cellar as the tornado approaches.

Most times when a family went down to their storm cellar, they'd come back up and go back to their daily routines. On rare occasions, they'd open the storm cellar's hatch - and find that their house was gone.

That's why we had storm cellars: to deal with unlikely, but potentially fatal, events. Obsessing over every dark cloud on the horizon would have been foolish. Having a shelter for the family wasn't.

Tornadoes, Asteroids, and Being Ready

People still get killed by tornadoes: but a whole lot more would die in America, if we didn't spend time and money on storm tracking systems.

Getting back to 99942 Apophis, that particular asteroid isn't a threat, and won't be for a very long time, if ever. The problem is that there are many other asteroids and comets circling our sun.

The question isn't if one that's large enough to do more than regional damage will hit: it's when. Happily, we're developing better technology for tracking the things every year; and the really big ones don't seem to hit more than every few million years.

I hope that when astronomers spot something several miles across, on a collision course with Earth, someone will have worked out technical details of dealing with the situation. Then there are the legal and political angles - and that's another topic. Topics.

3. Planets Like Earth: Billions of Them

"17 Billion Earth-Size Alien Planets Inhabit Milky Way" (January 7, 2013)

"The Milky Way hosts at least 17 billion Earth-size alien planets, and probably many more, a new study reveals.

"Astronomers have determined that about 17 percent of stars in our galaxy harbor a roughly Earth-size exoplanet in a close orbit. Since there are 100 billion or so stars in the Milky Way, that works out to a minimum of 17 billion small, rocky alien worlds, or an Earth-size planet around one of every six stars.

"And there are probably many more such planets orbiting at greater distances from their stars, some of which may even be 'alien Earths' capable of supporting life as we know it.

" 'These kind of rocky objects are everywhere,' team member Francois Fressin, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), told reporters today (Jan. 7) during a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, Calif....."
We still don't know how many of those 17,000,000,000-plus planets support life. In our planetary system, only one of the four small, rocky, planets has life: Earth. Mars might, maybe: or may have supported life at one time. Mercury and Venus are simply too hot for anything remotely resembling 'life as we know it.'

If our Solar system is 'normal,' then more than 1,062,500,000 worlds in this galaxy are covered with living creatures. That's a big "if," but it does raise the question - if life is fairly common: where is everybody? I've discussed that in other blogs:
I don't 'believe in' space aliens, or flying saucers, by the way. That would be silly. But what we're learning about this universe shows that there could be life on planets other than the one we're standing on.

That doesn't surprise me at all. Besides, as a Catholic I'm not allowed to say that there can't be other worlds. That's been one of our rules since 1277. (January 29, 2012)

4. Public Opinion and Life

"Time magazine says pro-life advocates are winning"
CNA/EWTN News (January 5, 2013)

"A new Time magazine cover story contends that pro-life advocates have been 'winning the abortion war' through legislative successes, changes in public opinion and new ultrasound technology that shows the unborn baby.

" 'Pro-choice activists have been outflanked by their prolife counterparts, who have successfully lobbied for state-based regulations that limit access,' writer Katie Pickert said on the Time website Jan. 3. 'The pro-life cause has been winning the abortion war, in part, because it has pursued an organized and well-executed strategy. But public opinion is also increasingly on their side.'

"Pickert made her case in the Jan. 14 Time cover story 'What Choice?' The magazine cover says: '40 years ago, abortion rights activists won an epic victory with Roe v. Wade. They've been losing ever since...."
Whatever Ms. Pickert's opinion, I think we'll be hearing and reading quite a bit about how 'women's rights' are disappearing in America. I don't see it that way: but I'm one of those folks who don't think 'women's rights' should include being forced to have an abortion by her boyfriend, husband, boss, professor, or whoever.

I also don't think women should be valued only to the degree that they're available for responsibility-free sex: and that's not quite another topic.

I do think that ultrasound and other medical imaging technologies played a huge role in shaping opinions. It's been a very long time since the 'formless lump of protoplasm' claim was even remotely plausible.

I also think that natural law is involved. Folks can believe some remarkably daft things: but expecting most folks in a country as large as America to ignore basic ethical standards for decades is expecting a lot.

5. Hobby Lobby and 64,000-Plus Supporters

"Tens of thousands pledge support for Hobby Lobby"
Michelle Bauman, CNA (Catholic News Agency) (January 5, 2013)

"More than 64,000 people throughout the U.S. have signed up to support Hobby Lobby on Jan. 5 for risking millions of dollars in profit to follow its Christian principles.

"A Facebook page dedicated to supporting the arts and crafts retailer called on 'all Americans who value freedom of religion and oppose the HHS Mandate's unfair impositions' to support the company on Jan. 5 by shopping at either their local Hobby Lobby store or online.

"The national arts and crafts retailer could face fines of $1.3 million per day for following its owners' religious beliefs, which conflict with a federal mandate requiring employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception - including some drugs that can cause early abortions - and sterilization...."
Granted, 64,000 people is a tiny fraction of America's 313,000,000 population. I'm not one of the folks who signed up, by the way. I think Hobby Lobby's owners have the right idea, and I've encouraged others to look a what the company's doing: but I don't wouldn't be buying what they sell in the immediate future; and don't generally buy stuff I won't use.

When "Legal" isn't "Right"

"...The Christian family that owns Hobby Lobby holds moral objections to facilitating any type of abortion, including those caused by 'morning after' and 'week after' pills.

"Although the mandate includes a narrow exemption for a small percentage of religious organizations, no conscience protection has been extended to non-religious companies such as Hobby Lobby that are owned by Christian individuals wishing to put their faith into practice...."
(Michelle Bauman, CNA)
On the whole, I'd rather live in an era where nobody would have to decide whether to obey an unjust law, or defy the national government. But that's the situation Americans must deal with.

I hope that we turn our country around - soon.

Related posts
From another blog, Apathetic Lemming of the North:

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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.