Friday, February 15, 2013

Hope, Sorrow, and a Rock on Mars

As a Catholic, I have to believe that:
It's not enough to just think those are good ideas. I have to act as if they're true: and matter in everyday life. Sometimes that's easy, sometimes not.

Being obliged to love my neighbor gets a little complicated when the neighbor is someone who has decided to kill people, like the chap in this week's first news item:
  1. Death, Life, Christopher Dorner, and Me
  2. Martian - Hood Ornament??
  3. Prospecting on Mars

Life, Death, and Lethal Force

I have a great deal of respect for honest pacifists, and think that they will prosper: as long as there are non-pacifists to protect them.

Eventually, I hope that we'll have an "international authority with the necessary competence and power" to deal with rogue national leaders and terrorists. (Catechism, 2308) And that's another topic.

The Catholic Church tells us that human life is sacred. (Catechism, 2258) That includes our own lives, so we're also allowed to defend ourselves, when necessary, as:
  • Nations
    (Catechism, 2309)
  • Communities
    (Catechism, 2265)
  • Individuals
    (Catechism, 2264)
Lethal force is acceptable: but only if there is no other way to deal with the threat. (Catechism, 2267)

There may be societies which cannot restrain dangerous individuals, and must kill to protect the innocent. I don't think the United States is in that position. More of my take on life, death, and options:
Now, finally, here's my take on the week's news:

1. Death, Life, Christopher Dorner, and Me

"San Bernardino County sheriff: 'This investigation is over' "
Miguel Marquez, Matt Smith, CNN (February 14, 2013)

"Authorities said Wednesday they are reasonably sure that the body found inside the burned cabin near Big Bear Lake, California, is that of Christopher Dorner, the rogue ex-cop who had been pursuing a vendetta against his fellow officers....

"...Although the description and behavior of the man who was killed are consistent with Dorner, officials 'cannot absolutely, positively confirm it was him,' [San Bernardino Sheriff John] McMahon said.

" 'We're not currently involved in a manhunt,' he said. 'Our coroner's division is trying to confirm the identity through forensics.'

"Authorities say Dorner launched a guerrilla war against the Los Angeles Police Department over what he considered his unfair dismissal in 2009...."
I hope that the burned body is what's left of Christopher Dorner: but if that's the case, I'm sorry that he's dead.

If Christopher Dorner is still alive, there's a very good chance that he'll kill more people. That, in my opinion, would be a bad thing.

If Christopher Dorner is dead, he's run out of time for making decisions. If he committed any of the murders he's accused of, right now probably wasn't the best time for him to die. Not that I'll rant about 'that sinner over there,' and how God should smite him. That kind of trouble I don't need:
"...although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God."
(Catechism, 1861)

Deeds, Death, and Rewards

When we die, each of us gets an immediate reward. What that reward is depends on our faith: and our works, what we've done about what we believe. (Catechism, 1021)

I can't say that I'm looking forward to this personal encounter with my Lord. I've got quite a few rough spots in my soul; and no more than a few more decades left, tops.

This face time with Jesus the Christ is called particular judgment. (Catechism, 1021-1022) The Last Judgment comes later: and that's yet another topic. (Catechism, 1038-1041)

'Victim?' Been There, Done That

"Fringe fans hail cop killer Christopher Dorner as 'hero' online: report"
Philip Caufield, New York Daily News (February 14, 2013)

"The vendetta-driven cop killer developed a devoted following of crackpots online, who saw Dorner as a victim, not a bloodthirsty killer.

"Before his death, Christopher Dorner inspired an online following of devoted fans who hailed him as a hero, not a killer, CNN reports....

"...Supporters claimed the 33-year-old ex-LAPD cop and Navy vet was a 'victim' and the target of a 'smear campaign.' The alleged lunatic gunman was wanted for a series of shooting attacks that left four dead -- including two cops, the innocent daughter of a former LAPD captain and her fiancé -- and four wounded...."
I'm not happy that some folks saw Mr. Dorner as a hero. I can understand being upset about losing a job - but killing the families of people with similar jobs doesn't seem like a reasonable course of action.

I don't see Mr. Dorner having supporters as a major problem, though. The article says that two Facebook pages devoted to Christopher Dorner got over 20,000 followers.

That's a fair number of people: very roughly five times as many as live here in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. On the other hand, it's less than one ten thousandth of the American population: 310,000,000, more or less, as of July 2012. Compared to all seven billion or so folk alive today? That's a very small fraction.

Assuming that folks who break the law are 'victims of society' doesn't seem to be as fashionable as it was in my youth. I remember the sort of malignant virtue that helped make the attitude seem reasonable, and that's still another topic. (December 9, 2010)

2. Martian - Hood Ornament??

(from NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems, used w/o permission)
"Mars Rock Takes Unusual Form"
Guy Webster, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, via Mission News, Mars Science Laboratory, NASA (February 11, 2013)

"On Mars, as on Earth, sometimes things can take on an unusual appearance. A case in point is a shiny-looking rock seen in a recent image from NASA's Curiosity Mars rover.

"Some casual observers might see a resemblance to a car door handle, hood ornament or some other type of metallic object. To Ronald Sletten of the University of Washington, Seattle, a collaborator on Curiosity's science team, the object is an interesting study in how wind and the natural elements cause erosion and other effects on various types of rocks...."
The shiny thing looks like an old-fashioned water faucet handle to me. It would be very cool if the rock it's on was a trap door, and the thing actually was a handle: but what Guy Webster said about it is much more likely.

Someone put together a five-page document, with lots of photos and a little text, showing what wind can do to rocks:

3. Prospecting on Mars

(from NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, used w/o permission)
"At the center of this image from NASA's Curiosity rover is the hole in a rock called 'John Klein' where the rover conducted its first sample drilling on Mars..."
"NASA Curiosity Rover Collects First Martian Bedrock Sample"
Mission News, Mars Science Laboratory, NASA (February 9, 2013)

"NASA's Curiosity rover has, for the first time, used a drill carried at the end of its robotic arm to bore into a flat, veiny rock on Mars and collect a sample from its interior. This is the first time any robot has drilled into a rock to collect a sample on Mars.

"The fresh hole, about 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) wide and 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) deep in a patch of fine-grained sedimentary bedrock, can be seen in images and other data Curiosity beamed to Earth Saturday. The rock is believed to hold evidence about long-gone wet environments. In pursuit of that evidence, the rover will use its laboratory instruments to analyze rock powder collected by the drill...."
I'm looking forward to learning what Curiosity finds in the rock samples: whatever the results. Finding unequivocal evidence of water in that rock would be great: but so would learning that this particular spot wasn't wet. We've got a lot to learn about Mars, and this series of experiments is adding to our store of knowledge.

Cleaning the Hardware - Again

"...For the next several days, ground controllers will command the rover's arm to carry out a series of steps to process the sample, ultimately delivering portions to the instruments inside....

"...Rock powder generated during drilling travels up flutes on the bit. The bit assembly has chambers to hold the powder until it can be transferred to the sample-handling mechanisms of the rover's Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device.

"Before the rock powder is analyzed, some will be used to scour traces of material that may have been deposited onto the hardware while the rover was still on Earth, despite thorough cleaning before launch....
(Mission News)
Maybe that seems like a lot of extra work, since the analysis hardware was cleaned here on Earth. But researchers have to be careful.

If CHIMRA sent back data that showed something like 3-IN-ONE® oil in the powdered rock: that might mean that someone had left a bit of 3-IN-ONE® oil in the machinery here, that the WD-40 Coproration had a distributor on Mars, or that CHIMRA was on the fritz. The point is that folks would have to spend a great deal more effort sorting out the data.

Getting it Right the 21st Time

"...'Building a tool to interact forcefully with unpredictable rocks on Mars required an ambitious development and testing program,' said JPL's Louise Jandura, chief engineer for Curiosity's sample system. 'To get to the point of making this hole in a rock on Mars, we made eight drills and bored more than 1,200 holes in 20 types of rock on Earth.'

"Inside the sample-handling device, the powder will be vibrated once or twice over a sieve that screens out any particles larger than six-thousandths of an inch (150 microns) across. Small portions of the sieved sample will fall through ports on the rover deck into the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. These instruments then will begin the much-anticipated detailed analysis.

"The rock Curiosity drilled is called 'John Klein' in memory of a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011. Drilling for a sample is the last new activity for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project, which is using the car-size Curiosity rover to investigate whether an area within Mars' Gale Crater has ever offered an environment favorable for life...."
(Mission News)
trying out the hardware on 20 different sorts of rock wouldn't be necessary, if NASA had sent astronauts and a well-stocked machine shop to Mars. I think folks will travel to Mars eventually, but right now it seems much easier to do thorough testing here, and then send a robot to work on-site.

The idea that we shouldn't be sending anything to Mars pops up in online communities.

In my youth, I'd expect the reasons to be along the lines of 'it's not in the Bible, so we shouldn't know about it;' or 'we can either help the poor or study the universe, not both.' Oversimplified? Certainly. A bit daft? I think so.

Today's hand-wringing over exploring the universe seems to focus more on concerns about polluting the environment. They've got a point, and eventually we'll probably want to set aside the equivalent of national parks on other planets:
And that's another topic.

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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.