Science Headline: Oh, Come ON!

This may take some sort of prize:

Astronomers find super-Earth with climate like ours, say it’s due to planet’s night-day cycle

Let’s list the problems with this headline, here:

1. ‘Find’ and ‘Find evidence suggesting maybe…’ are categorically different claims. It may be crass and unsophisticated of me to point this out, but it’s different enough to constitute a *lie*.  Put another way: a wife noticing a red smudge on her hubby’s collar has found evidence suggesting maybe; this is categorically different than catching him in bed with the nanny.

2. Climate like ours? Setting aside the insurmountable difficulties in saying much of ANYTHING about a planet whose very existence is only inferred (well-inferred, but still) from wiggles and anomalies in a series of very tricky observations, we don’t know if it’s a mini-gas giant or a ball of rock 7 times* the size of earth, or something else entirely. A guess at its mass is about all we can reasonably make at this point. Does it even *have* an atmosphere? We don’t know! So, speculation on the climate this cipher might have, if in fact it is a big heavy rock with an atmosphere like ours (‘like’ being a bit vague as well) – it does strain credulity. It’s kissing cousins with lying.

3. Night-day cycles. Riiiight. So, we’re now guessing that, because this planet is both large enough and far enough away from its sun or any other large masses that could slow and lock its rotation a la Mercury or the moon (these are two things – mass and distance from the star – that scientists can reasonable at least guess at) it has a day and a night, ignoring the question of it those days and night, if they exist at all, have a reasonable period. If it’s spinning like a top, with 2 hour days, or spinning so slow as to have week-long days, that would make it hard for life as we know it: thousand-mile-an-hour winds in case 1, total freeze followed by total melt down in case 2.

Why they would assume a reasonable rotational period, I’m not sure – planets larger than earth that we know of – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – all have ‘unreasonable ‘ rotational periods – something to do with the conservation of angular momentum as they congealed.  We’re not even sure how the earth, after its presumed collision with a Mars-sized body 3 – 4 billion years ago, ended up spinning as fast as it does, with the axis tilt it has (axis tilt being another major factor in climate). and earth’s rotation is slowing down due to drag from the moon.  So, the reasonable expectation is that this planet spins too fast, making for violent weather and making it very hard for your average 1 ton person (at 7 Gs) to stand up.

Bad Science headline! Bad!

* Planet was 4-5 times the mass of earth yesterday. Seems to be putting on the weight. Oh, well, it’s *only* Science!

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Current Weather Events Cause Reexamination of Position on Climate Change

OK, so, despite the constant assertion that weather does not equal climate, it seems the climate change enthusiast pool is now packed cheek to jowl with people who have jumped in due to recent weather. I feel compelled to add my 2 cents, and perhaps a little chlorine.

Out here in Northern California, we have had a couple decades of unusual weather – unusually mild. Oh, yea, it rained a bit more than we’re used to back in ’05 – I believe a couple single-day rainfall records were set – but, overall, winters have been mild, summers have had, if anything, fewer of those annoying 100F+ days where you almost have to turn on the air conditioning until night comes and it cools off.  Other than that – hey, it’s California! Read those weather forecasts, and weep, you rest-of-the-country people. (Then read about our home prices, Hollywood bozos and politicians, and have one of those little chuckles at our expense.)

Therefore, in the totally scientific manner exemplified by the Sandy Proves Global Warming crowd, based on my direct experience with unusual weather events, I’m going to go with: nah. Things are cool. No worries.

It’s Science! Right? Right?

Understanding Today’s Feast Seems Harder than it Needs to Be

Today is the Feast of  the Dedication of the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist at the Lateran – St. John Lateran for short. This feast is celebrated by Roman Catholics the world over.  I think this is a feast that we American Catholics really need today, which is why it seems common for us to go out of our way to not get it.  For example, at today’s services, the mandatory comments were made about us being the church, not some building. Living stones, and all that. Which is of course correct, and totally shallow in this context. Looking to the Liturgy and the readings for today we find the answer to the question: Given that we are the living stones in Christ’s Church, why is the dedication of a physical building an important feast in the Church?

The Incarnation changed everything. Or, perhaps more accurately, the Incarnation revealed to us dense humans what the created Universe is really like – The Incarnation is the apex and fullness of Creation, the ultimate expression of the ensoulment  of all things, that God is bodied forth in His Creation for us and in us. This mystery of the workings of body and soul, of God and Man, is Sacramental.

Church building are sacraments – physical signs by which God gives grace. This grace-giving is true in two senses: First, the capital ‘S’ Sacraments are celebrated in the church building, so that the building becomes the occasion  and physical focus for their graces. Second, as holy ground set apart and the expression of the finest art and material we can offer, the church building itself uniquely raises our hearts and minds to God, helping us to open up to His graceful touch.

Historically, this feast brings to mind the end of the persecution of the Church under the Romans in 313, when Constantine both issued the edict of Milan and donated the palace and lands of the Laterani family (seized by the empire under Nero) to the Pope. So, the conversion of the palace’s basilica  into a now-legal church was a huge milestone for Christianity – they could publicly and legally celebrate Mass in Rome.

What this meant to those Christians is captured in the readings for this Feast: That God’s life flows from His Temple, that “the most High has sanctified his own dwelling” and that Jesus himself calls the temple “my Father’s house”.  They and we are invited to see this beautiful building, the mother church of Rome and all Roman Catholic churches everywhere, as a sign that gives grace, as a very particular and special sacrament.

Aside: somewhere, in fact multiple somewheres, people will no doubt sing ‘Sing a New Church’ and ‘What Is This Place?‘ today for this feast. The Baby Jesus will weep.

Here, Let Me Help with Your Science! Headline:

What you said:

Alien ‘Super-Earth’ Planet May Be Habitable, Astronomers Say

What you meant to say was:

Astronomers Think Maybe They’ve Found a Nearby Planet that Can’t Be Immediately Crossed Off as Uninhabitable, Although that’s the Way the Smart Money is Heavily Leaning

Here’s what’s up, according to published sources: Astronomers looking for planets outside the Solar System took another look at ‘nearby’ (in the sense of utterly unreachable unless we come up with, you know, warp drive) system HD 40307g (which is curiously the model number of my brother-in-law’s Samsung wide-screen) and discovered wiggles and anomalies that might be a planet 4 or 5 times the size of earth – AND might fall in the theoretical Habitable Zone – far enough from its sun to not boil off all water, yet close enough to not be a frozen ball.

An inquiring mind would want to know: Well, is it a rocky planet with a metallic core (and magnetic field) covered by liquid water, or just a mini gas giant? And isn’t 4 or 5 gs a lot of gs? Could any complex earth life thrive in 4 or 5 gs? My knees hurt just thinking about it. And even if it is a solid planet with liquid oceans (unlikely – check this out), what kind of atmosphere should we expect? Shouldn’t we get a much better look at this thing before we start hyperventilating and phoning ET and all that?

But I’m a hopeless fuddy-duddy that like my science with observations and rigorous theories and a gauntlet of reviews and challenges and stuff. No. Fun. At. All.

“You Just Don’t Get It” and the Death of Reason

Started to write an essay on how ‘You just don’t get it’ as used in modern discourse (to use the term loosely) is among the scariest and most dangerous phrases you’ll hear. That effort got totally out of hand, metastasizing into several thousand words on the Death of Reason, with side trips through my meager understanding of the history of philosophy, theology, the Reformation, Descartes, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Marx, Freud as well as science, modern politics and education and, well, frankly, what I think about just about everything. Came to three conclusions: The ‘You just don’t get it’ essay deserves another (shorter) shot; that the other stuff I wrote I can maybe refashion into a series of posts on the death of reason; and that Marx Freud would be an OK name for one of those ironic alternative bands.

So, here’s the short essay on ‘You Just Don’t Get It’ ™

Continue reading ““You Just Don’t Get It” and the Death of Reason”

Election Day!

Get out the Prayer:

Heavenly Father, Holy is your Name!

We pray for our nation, that we may be first of all children in Your Kingdom an thereby become good stewards  of the nation you have entrusted to us;

That we acknowledge our sins and repent: even the least of my sins is enough to open the door to all the evil that assails us and to require the sacrifice of the Lamb for redemption;

That we treat our brothers and sisters with love, patience and civility regardless of their political views;

That we hope not in the princes of this world, but in the one true Prince of Peace;

That Your will be done in the voting booth and in everything we do in our lives;

That whatever the results, we rededicate ourselves to being open to Your Grace and becoming the saints You created us to be.

Through Christ our Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.