London Fires, Mostly

Many folks who lived in Grenfell Tower got out. Many others died.

We don’t know how many. A current estimate is 79. Determining the exact number will be difficult, since high temperatures may have effectively obliterated some human remains.

Some survived because they didn’t listen to official instructions to stay in their homes. That advice makes sense in a building with sprinklers and adequate interior firewalls.

In Grenfell Tower, not so much.

Emergency responders realized that sheltering in place was a bad idea at some point, and told those still in Grenfell Tower to get out.

Some could, others were trapped.

I’m covering a bit more ground than usual today. The manufacturer of a refrigerator-freezer involved in the fire has product information you may want to check on. That’s under Grenfell Tower Fire’s Point of Origin, below.

Bad as the Grenfell fire was, it could have been much worse: in terms of death, property damage, and how folks are reacting. I think the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the Grenfell Tower disaster are similar in some ways. And very dissimilar in others.

I’ll be talking about how folks are reacting to the Grenfell Tower fire, and a ‘van attack’ in Finsbury Park, another part of London.

This year’s responses to stress are far from ideal, but we are learning.

Links to news and background are at the end of this post.1


Grenfell Tower Fire’s Point of Origin


(From Metropolitan Police, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)

It’s small comfort that the Grenfell Tower fire was an accident. Apparently a refrigerator-freezer malfunctioned.

Glitches happen, which is why my household repairs or at least unplugs gadgets that might cause trouble. We also have smoke alarms and a fire extinguisher.

Folks living in apartments don’t necessarily have a choice over how the property and appliances are maintained.

The link in this excerpt works here in central Minnesota, so it’s probably not ‘regional.’ I don’t know if the telephone number is valid outside the UK:

“…What do I do if I have a Hotpoint fridge freezer?
Kevin Peachey, BBC News (June 23, 2017)

“Anyone who has a white Hotpoint fridge freezer model number FF175BP or graphite fridge freezer model number FF175BG should register their appliance with the manufacturer to receive any updates.

“Generally, the model number is found on a bar code on a sticker behind the salad container in the fridge.

“These models were discontinued in 2009, but 64,000 were sold between March 2006 and July 2009. It is not known how many are still in use.

“Owners should ring 0800 316 3826 or visit the Hotpoint website….”

Why Care?


(City lights in Asia and Australia.)

With all the misery in the world, why am I paying attention to what’s been happening in London? It’s not like I live there.

I’m aware that folks in Syria, the ones who couldn’t escape but are still alive, aren’t having a good time.

Coptic Christians living in Egypt — again, the survivors — have been getting many opportunities for martyrdom this year. Sadly, that’s hardly a new development.

Assorted suicide bombings and other attacks have been killing folks this month. Again, that’s not anything new.

Quite a few of the victims, and perpetrators, were Muslims. Some weren’t.

I could say it’s the Muslims’ fault for not being Christians living in the upper Midwest. That makes about as much sense to me as blaming Christians in Egypt for their troubles.

I could imitate folks who blame Christianity for atrocities like the Verden massacre, Islam for the 9/11 attack, or religion in general for making folks hate each other. That doesn’t make sense either. Not to me. (June 4, 2017; November 15, 2016; November 6, 2016)

I’ll get back to that.


1. Inspections, Evacuation


(From PA, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Council staff have been advising residents”
(BBC News))

Camden flats: Hundreds of homes evacuated over fire risk fears
BBC News (June 23, 2017)

More than 800 homes in tower blocks on a council estate in Camden, north London, have been evacuated because of fire safety concerns.

“Camden Council says people in five towers on the Chalcots estate were moved for ‘urgent fire safety works’.

“The council said it was booking hotels but 100 residents are spending the night on air beds in a leisure centre….”

It’s an inconvenience, at least, for folks who were evacuated. Some apparently didn’t know about the order until they heard about it on the news, and aren’t happy about that.

The timing of this evacuation could probably have been handled better, however.

One of the folks said that the dubious cladding had been in place for about 10 years. The council had met with residents the previous night and reassured them that things were okay. The next day they were evacuated because the building is a fire hazard.

Another resident said that he, his parents, and two sisters were told they had five minutes to get out. It was 8:15 p.m. A neighbor had given them the information.

In their position, I’d be far less than pleased with the situation. On the ‘up’ side, they’re not getting burned alive in their homes.

I don’t know why at least some of the folks got such short notice.

Maybe someone in charge got information that made immediate evacuation necessary: even if it meant rousting folks out in the evening.

Maybe the folks had ignored, not noticed, or forgotten, earlier notices. Maybe the Camden Council isn’t well-organized, or someone didn’t finish the job of spreading the world.

It sounds like getting those folks out and fixing the structure is a good idea.

Besides easy-light kindling on the building’s exterior, officials noticed that insulation around gas pipes going into the apartments was worrisome: and so were the fire doors.

Again, there’s good news. At least architects had specified fire doors for the place.

Maybe this time around the powers that be will take a hard look at materials that actually get installed: and make sure they’re the same sort that was paid for.

It’s starting to look like the Grenfell Tower fire might not have spread as fast, if a contractor had used materials specified in the plans.

If true, there could be criminal charges down the road.

Grenfell Tower and towers on the Chalcots estate weren’t the only ones with questionable materials. As of Saturday this week, 34 tower blocks in 17 council areas have failed fire safety tests. That number has been going up daily.


2. Dead, Missing, and Missed


(From Various, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Some of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire”
(BBC News))

London fire: Who are the victims?
BBC News (June 23, 2017)

At least 79 people are believed to have died, police say, five days on from the huge fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London….”

Nine victims were formally identified on Monday. Families of four asked that their names be withheld.

Quite a few other folks are missing. Maybe they got out, but were injured and haven’t been able to tell others who they are yet. Maybe they didn’t make it.

What the dead and missing have in common is that they lived in Grenfell Tower. They were retirees, schoolkids, mothers, fathers, friends.

Some had “English” names, like Anthony Disson. I’m guessing it’s an alternative spelling of Dison, a form of the ‘Yorkshire’ name Dyson.

In America it can be what happened to “Theisen” when Danish, German, or Norwegian immigrants wanted to ‘fit in.’ Theissen is the same name, with an extra “s,” in German.

Anthony Disson was a retired truck drive, and had lived at Grenfell Tower for eight years. He called his son at 3:30 that morning.

He’d been told to stay in his 22nd floor apartment. Like I said earlier, that advice makes sense in buildings with the right sort of walls and doors.

His wife, sons and grandchildren, miss him now. That’s what the family said in a statement, and I believe them. He hadn’t met one of the grandkids yet.

Isaac Paulos, 5, had been leaving the burning building with his brother, Luca, 3, and his parents, Genet Shawo and Paulos Petakle.

He and his family got separated on their way out. They survived. He won’t be going back to Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Primary School. I don’t know where his ancestors lived.

In my country, most folks with the Paulos surname either arrived from Portugal themselves, or are descended from Portuguese immigrants.

Khadija Saye, 24, was an artist and photographer. I don’t know if Ya-Haddy Sisi Saye was her professional name, nickname, or something else. She and her mother, Mary Mendy, were living on the 20th floor. She’s dead, her mother is missing.

Mohammed Alhajali, 23, was a Syrian refugee. He’d arrived in the UK in 2014, and was studying civil engineering. He and his brother Omar had been sharing an apartment. He won’t be studying for any more exams.

Omar Belkadi and Farah Hamdan, and their six-month-old baby, are dead. Their kids, 8 and 10, are alive, but hospitalized.

Abufars Ibrahim, 39, was apparently visiting his mother, Fathia Alsanousi, 72, and sister Esra Ibrahim, 32. He’s dead. They’re missing.

Khadija Khalloufi, 52, is alive. He’s been relocated to an old folks’ home: not his idea, he was forced there. He’s the only person from Grenfell Tower living at the place. But at least he’s alive. His wife, Sabah Abdullah, is dead.

A lot more folks are missing: like Marco Gottardi, architect, and his girlfriend Gloria Trevisan. They were staying with friends at Grenfell.

Sawsan Choucair doesn’t know what happened to the rest of her family: her mother Sirria, sister Nadia, brother-in-law Bassam are missing; so are Zainab, Fatima, and Mierna, 3, 10, and 13.

Marketing manager Mariem Elgwahry, 27, talked to someone at 2:30 Wednesday morning. She hasn’t been seen since.

Five folks in the Miah family are missing: Husna Begum, 22, her mother Rabiya Begum, father Komru Miah, nearly 90; two brothers, Abdul Hamid and Abdul Hanif, 28 and 25.

The Ancestry.com website says Miah means “Muslim;” and can be a variant of Mian, a Hindi/Punjabi/Urdu name.

The Kidir family is missing, too, all of them: Hashim Kidir, his wife Nura Jamal, and their three children.

So are five folks in the El-Wahabi family: Abdul Aziz, 52, his wife Fouzia, 42, son Yasin, 21, daughter Nur Huda, 15, and youngest son Mehdi, 8.

I think the family of Jessica Urbano Ramirez, 12, described how many are feeling. Her family is “desperate for news about her whereabouts.”

Simple, Not Easy

Most folks where I grew up had Scandinavian, German, or British surnames, the same one their fathers had.

That’s the pattern my name follows.

Some names on the list of dead and missing are British, or at least European.

Many aren’t. Folks in some of the families don’t even have the same surname. They all lived in an another country. Why should I care?

I’m a Catholic, which could explain my sympathy for the Paulos family.

Maybe giving a rip about what happened to folks whose names suggest that they’re Muslims takes the most explanation.

Being Catholic doesn’t guarantee having sensible attitudes. I’ve run into a Catholic who said Protestants aren’t Christian. He may be sincere. I’m sure he’s wrong.

I get the impression that some Catholics are diffident about praying for folks who don’t share our faith. I could be wrong about that, and hope I am. Praying for others is a good idea. All others.

I take what Jesus said seriously, including this:

“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,
“that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
(Matthew 5:4445)

We live in a wounded world, so many folks don’t get along. At all. But praying for others is a must-do, even if we’re not on the same page. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 396401, 2259, 2303)

So is recognizing the “goodness and truth” in all religions that seek God. That’s particularly true for those whose people worship the God of Abraham. (June 18, 2017)

I talked about family names last month. Some parts of the world follow my culture’s custom of giving children the same surname as their father. Some don’t. (April 2, 2017)

My culture’s habit works, but isn’t among the unchanging principles we call natural law. (February 5, 2017)

The way I see it, I should love God, love my neighbor, and see everyone as my neighbor. Those rules are “the whole law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Matthew 5:4344; Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2530; Catechism, 1825)

It’s simple, and anything but easy.

‘Everyone’ means just that. Humanity is one huge family. A sadly-dysfunctional one. (Genesis 10:132; Catechism, 360, 396409)

I’ve been paying particular attention to London because folks there speak a version of my native language, English. That gives me easy access to news from that part of the world.

British culture isn’t quite like American culture. But we’re not all that different, either.

It’s not that I think folks in England are more — or less — important than those living elsewhere. It’s a bit easier for me to understand what’s going on in London than events in, say, Singapore or Guangzhou.

Besides, I think news from London shows how much can change in three and a half centuries — and how little humans have changed.

Great Fire of London, 1666

The mid-1660s weren’t a good time to live in London. About one out of four Londoners died in the 1665 plague.

Survivors either couldn’t afford to live anywhere else, or were wealthy enough to afford residences west of Charing Cross. The city was picturesque, an organically-grown jumble of flammable buildings.

A bit after midnight on Sunday, September 2, 1666, a fire started in a bakery on London’s Pudding Lane.

It’s not an exact parallel to the Grenfill Tower disaster, but it’s close: one fire, in one building, starting around midnight.

Fire suppression tech being what it was at the time, surrounding structures should have been torn down; creating a firebreak.

Folks who owned and lived in those buildings objected to having their homes torn down. That’s understandable.

London’s Lord Mayor was the only person with authority to order the demolition. He didn’t give the order until Sunday night.

Maybe he kept hoping the fire would burn itself out. Maybe he didn’t want the negative publicity demolition might cause. Or maybe nobody called him. Whatever the reason or reasons, by the time he did give the order — it was too late.

Winds drove the fire westward. The firestorm eventually spread north. Several days later, the Tower of London garrison blasted firebreaks ahead of the flames.

Death Toll: Unknown

Buildings around the bakery in Pudding Lane were long since gone by then.

So were about 13,200 more houses, 87 parish churches, St Paul’s Cathedral, and most of the city government buildings.

But many of the newly-cleared firebreaks held. Fires eventually ran out of fuel, and went out. The wind had finally calmed, which helped.

Only six folks died, officially. The actual death toll is unknown. Quite a few folks who would have been caught by the fire weren’t among the gentry, and so may not have been missed. Officially.

There’s evidence that temperatures reached well upwards of 1250 °C. Bodies would have been cremated, making an accurate death toll a matter of speculation. A recent estimate ran from several hundred to several thousand.

In fairness, survivors who were wealthy didn’t keep much more than their lower-class counterparts.

Efforts that Monday to keep the upscale parts of London from being incinerated were as ineffective as those elsewhere.

I gather that the firestorm had Londoners rather badly rattled. The Second Anglo-Dutch War was in progress, with all-too-predictable rumors of imminent invasion and/or foreign saboteurs.

This was before live video news, cell phones, and online media. Folks in England relied on newspapers to keep them up to date.

The London Gazette got their Monday edition out just before their printers went up. For many folks, all they knew was that London was burning.

These days, it’d be a bit like Americans tuning in to the news, hearing that New York City was in flames — followed by a burst of static and then nothing.

That doesn’t excuse the occasional lynching.

A local militia, the Trained Bands, and the Coldstream Guards, might have helped more with firefighting. But they were mostly rounding up Catholics, foreigners, and other odd-looking folks; or rescuing them from mobs. Sometimes both.

Popish Plot and a Trading Card

The Second Anglo-Dutch War was one of many post-Renaissance wars in Europe. It ran from March 1665 to July 1667, one of four in that series.

It’s nowhere near as famous as the Thirty Years’ War. That one ran out of cannon fodder in 1648.

The Anglo-Dutch wars happened because England’s leaders wanted a piece of the action in world trade.

Dutch leaders objected. They won the second A-D War, after only a bit more than 12,000 folks got killed.

It wasn’t a particularly “holy” war, but that didn’t stop propaganda from playing up the religious angle.

English folks who didn’t approve of pro-Catholic Charles II’s court said Catholics started the Great Fire.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, other folks said the Great Fire was divine retribution for a Dutch town getting torched by the English.

Aside from the vocabulary, it’s pretty much the same thing I see in my Twitter feed. From both/all sides of American politics. Like I said, humans haven’t changed all that much.

London’s Court of Aldermen had an inscription added to the Monument to the Great Fire of London in 1681.

A loose translation reads: “Here by permission of heaven, hell broke loose upon this Protestant city…..the most dreadful Burning of this City; begun and carried on by the treachery and malice of the Popish faction…Popish frenzy which wrought such horrors, is not yet quenched….”

Kickoff for the Nine Years’ War was a few years away at that point. The inscription’s patriotic sentiment may have meant to keep Aldermen from getting accused of involvement in the Popish Plot.

If that was their motive, I think it was understandable. Before the Popish Plot ran its course, 22 men had executed for their alleged complicity.

Then someone started looking at the data.

The “Popish Plot” turned out to be fictional. Academics still aren’t sure whether or not folks accused by Titus Oates were chosen randomly.

When the dust settled, Oates was fined £100,000 and imprisoned: a life sentence. By the time he died he’d been an Anglican and a Catholic, spent a few years behind bars, been whipped, pardoned, released: and eventually forgotten by all but a few history buffs.

He did, however, have his very own trading card during his heyday.

The Monument’s ‘Popish Plot’ text was removed in 1830.2

Yellow Peril

I’d like to say that folks, Europeans at least, had finally achieved full enlightenment by the mid-19th century: putting aside all hatred and prejudice.

Instead, we got the yellow peril, World Wars I and II, and — in America — McCarthyism. As I keep saying, I don’t miss the ‘good old days.’3

“Yellow peril” as a distinct cultural issue didn’t get traction until the 19th century. I suspect the roots are much deeper.

I’m a bit more familiar with American “yellow peril” blunders, like Executive Order 9066. We didn’t start token efforts at correcting that injustice for far too long, and that’s another topic.

Folks from China who moved to Australia, Canada, the U.S., and New Zealand, worked harder for less pay than their more-settled neighbors. Human nature being what it is, some Australians, Canadians, and so forth, saw them as a threat.

Again, I see the same song playing in today’s social media: with a new ‘foreign threat’ and the same unreasoned fears.

No legislation will eradicate fears, prejudices, and selfishness. That doesn’t make them good ideas. (Catechism, 1931)


3. Meanwhile, in Finsbury Park —


(From Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“A vigil was held outside Finsbury Park Mosque”
(BBC News))

Finsbury Park suspect Darren Osborne’s family ‘in shock’
BBC News (June 19, 2017)

The family of a man arrested after a terror attack near a north London mosque say they are ‘shocked’ and ‘devastated’.

“Father-of-four Darren Osborne was held after a van hit Muslims after evening prayers in Finsbury Park.

“They had been helping a man who had collapsed. He later died but it is not clear if it was because of the attack.

“Mr Osborne, 47, was held on suspicion of attempted murder and later further arrested over alleged terror offences….”

I don’t know what was going on in Darren Osborne’s head. He apparently was upset about an incident on London Bridge earlier this month. That’s understandable.

His sister said he’d tried to kill himself a few weeks earlier, and tried to get himself committed in a psychiatric hospital. They hadn’t accepted him. She also said he was taking antidepressants.

That may help explain why he decided to rent a van and run down those folks. But it’s not an excuse.

I’m pretty sure that there’s more to his actions than depression. I’ll admit a bias, since I’ve been taking antidepressants and other prescriptions to keep my glitchy neurochemistry working. (March 19, 2017; October 14, 2016)

Mr. Osborne is in serious legal trouble now, as he should be.

Deliberately killing innocent people is a bad idea. So holding on to anger and hatred. (Matthew 5:22; Catechism, 2262, 22692269)


4. Freedom and Racial Hatred


(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)

Finsbury Park attack: Theresa May condemns ‘sickening’ terror attack
BBC News (June 19, 2017)

A terror attack near a London mosque is ‘every bit as sickening’ as others in recent weeks, Theresa May says.

“A man drove a van into worshippers close to Muslim Welfare House in Finsbury Park as they were gathered to help an elderly man who had collapsed.

“He later died, but it is not clear if this was a result of the attack. Nine other people were taken to hospital….”

I’ve seen complaints that British authorities were a bit slower to identify this incident as a ‘terror attack.’ I don’t know enough to have an informed opinion about that.

We’ve got more than enough uniformed opinions flying around, so I’ll leave it at that.

As I said before, deliberately holding on to anger and hatred is a bad idea.

That’s probably what got Richard Evans in trouble over a social media post. His father’s an owner of the company that owned the van Mr. Osborne used.

South Wales police say the younger Mr. Evans posted “It’s my dad’s company I don’t get involved it’s a shame they don’t hire out steam rollers or tanks could have done a tidy job then.”

BBC News says that his father has condemned what his son allegedly wrote, and that he doesn’t agree with the sentiment.

Now Richard Evans is “being held on suspicion of displaying threatening, abusive, insulting written material with intent that is likely to stir up racial hatred:”

I share my country’s traditional high regard for freedom of expression. On the other hand, I think that was a profoundly daft thing to write.


5. Solidarity in Finsbury


(From Reuters, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Faith leaders from the area met near the scene of the attack”
(BBC News))

Finsbury Park attack: Horror and sympathy among locals
Cherry Wilson, BBC News (June 19, 2017)

Two large police vans are parked just metres away from a large poster emblazoned with some of Arsenal’s most famous stars which stands by the club’s shop.

“Locals say this is a proudly multicultural area where the biggest rivalry is whether you support Arsenal or their north London rivals Tottenham.

“…Mum of four Nicola Senior, 43, is walking back from taking her children to school when she stops to take in the scene.

“She said: ‘I’m frightened. Is there going to be retaliation?

“‘I am fearful for my kids. Can we go to the park? Can we go to the church?

“‘It feels like this is happening all the time.

“‘For me, people want to live here quietly whatever their religion.

“‘This is such a mixed area. There are so many nationalities. People get on. They accept and respect each other.

“‘People are in shock. It affects everybody. I’m worried for the safety of all of us.’…

“…Nasser Alyarimi, 18, knows people who worship at the mosque close to where the tragedy took place.

“He said: “There’s been lots of incidents taking place. Someone I know was thrown down the stairs and had beer poured over her headscarf just because she is Muslim….'”

“…They talk about reaction to the incident and question why it was not widely reported as a terror attack much earlier.

“One friend, who asked not to be named, said: ‘I’m really upset. I feel let down by the government that we are being portrayed as savages that we are not.

“‘They’ve portrayed us as if we walk around killing infidels. Just because one or two people believe that it doesn’t mean the whole Muslim community does.’

“Many locals point to the streets and the various ethnicities of people walking around as an indication of the diverse make-up of this area….

“…Mendy Korer, Rabbi of Islington, says: ‘This is a great community to live in. There’s so many different types of nationalities and faith groups. We all understand each other….'”

I don’t know why Mr. Osborne drove all the way to Finsbury for his attack on a mosque. The Bristol Jamia Mosque was closer, and the largest in England’s southwest.

I don’t think it’s because the Arsenal Football Club’s home field is called Emirates Stadium. It used to be the Ashburton Grove, but got renamed when Emirates airline sponsored renovation work. And that’s yet another topic.

Three and a half centuries after the Great London Fire and Popish Plot, some folks still fear new neighbors. Some politicos still make outrageous accusations against their counterparts in the other party.

But I think for every Mr. Osborne and Richard Evans, there are many Nicola Seniors, Nasser Alyarimis, and Mendy Korers.

We seem to be learning that humans act like humans, no matter where our ancestors lived or how we worship. Or don’t worship, for that matter. I think that’s a step toward wisdom.


Scary Questions at the Family Get-Together


(From Reuters, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Faith leaders from the area met near the scene of the attack”
(BBC News))

Eid: How to handle the tough questions at family gatherings
BBC News (June 23, 2017)

The holy Islamic fasting month of Ramadan is coming to an end this weekend. For many Muslims around the world, it’s the one time of the year that they return to their hometowns and gather with their extended family for a catch-up and feast.

“But as Christine Franciska of the BBC’s Indonesian Service explains, for many young people, Eid al-Fitr’s family gatherings are not as pleasant as they seem.

“It’s the time when aunties, uncles, and older relatives who you rarely see ask you ‘scary questions’.

“‘Who’s your boyfriend (or girlfriend) now?’ ‘When are you getting married?’ ‘Why are you looking a bit…fat?’

“‘It is not comfortable at all,’ said Indonesian Mochamad Fadly Anwar on Facebook. ‘And I think it crosses the line. I am like, hey mind your own business.’

“‘Those questions are legendary…’ said another user….”

“Legendary,” indeed. And, I strongly suspect, part of the common human experience: apart from differences in language.

In American culture, Thanksgiving is often a ‘family’ holiday. One branch of my wife’s extended family has big get-together in the summer. There’s a lot of them, so they rent a park in a nearby town.

I generally don’t ask the “legendary” questions. It’s not that I’m above that sort of thing. I’ll get the information in good time, from another family member.

I have, however, occasionally asked my kids “so, when are you going to make me an ancestor?” And that’s yet again another topic.

Had enough of my opinions? If not, here are more:


1 London, 2017:

2 London, 1666-1830:

3 Yellow Peril and getting a grip:

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Old Truths, New Aspects

The biggest critters with backbones are living today: baleen whales.

Finding the largest of them started getting harder about a century back.

We didn’t quite drive the blue and fin whales to extinction, happily.

We’re learning when they got so big, and maybe why.

We’re also learning more about origins of dinosaurs and the domestic cat. One happened 200,000,000 years ago, give or take a bit; long before we showed up. Cats date back to around the time we started storing grain.


Same Universe, Different Attitudes

We all live in the same universe.

Some folks, noticing the natural beauty and wonders surrounding us, think about it and then write this sort of thing:

“Behold the rainbow! Then bless its Maker, for majestic indeed is its splendor;
“It spans the heavens with its glory, this bow bent by the mighty hand of God.”
(Sirach42:1112)

Others apparently have an attitude like the fictional Mr. Squibbs, steadfastly declaring the folly of “tampering with things man was not supposed to know.”

Seeing science as a threat strikes me as making about as much sense as the old ‘inevitability of progress’ notion. But without the cheerful optimism I remember from old ‘world of tomorrow’ predictions.

I don’t think it’s an improvement.

Natural Philosophy and Nuclear Transmutation

Some folks thought Albert of Lauingen, a Dominican friar and bishop, spent too much time studying natural philosophy. I can see why.

By the time he died in 1280, he’d written about theology. He’d also been actively interested in logic, botany, astronomy, mineralogy, zoology, law, friendship, and other fields. Including astrology and alchemy. I’ll get back to that.

A collection of his writings, made in 1899, ran to 38 volumes.

If he’d lived in my day, I have no idea what he’d have majored in.

Serious researchers realized that astrology’s rational predictive usefulness was pretty much nil somewhere around the 1700s.

I’m a Catholic, so I see it as a form of divination. Also a bad idea. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 21152117)

Serious researchers saw astronomy, astrology, alchemy, meteorology, and medicine as related fields in Albert’s day.

We’d probably still be calling chemists “alchemists,” if con artists hadn’t hijacked that discipline a few centuries back. (October 16, 2016)

Anyway, Albert kept up his research and monastic work, taught a young Italian named Tommaso d’Aquino, and died in 1280. These days they’re known as St. Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas in my language.

Stories about Albertus Magnus grew after his death.

One about the philosopher’s stone is definitely bogus. In “De Mineral,” Albertus wrote that turning lead into gold was impossible. As he put it: “Art alone cannot produce a substantial form.” That’s a translation, of course.

Interestingly, it’s easier to turn gold into lead. In 1901 Frederick Soddy and Ernest Rutherford noticed that radioactive thorium turns into radium.

Rutherford’s colleagues, John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton, caused the first fully artificial nuclear transmutation in 1932. Since then we’ve learned how to turn lead into gold. It’s not practical, though. The process would cost a great deal more than the gold is worth.1

Living in ‘The Future’

The future isn’t what it used to be.

On the whole, I think it’s better than quite a few folks expected in my youth: including the optimistic ones.

Life in ‘the future’ isn’t perfect. I didn’t expect that.

But we finally eradicated smallpox. That, I think, is a good thing.

The Internet gives me access to more information, faster, than I could have gotten with an unlimited research budget during my college days.

Finding nuggets of data takes digging through mountains of gibberish. So did research in the days of index cards and pencils. I still use skills I developed then. What’s changed is how fast I can sift through information, and how effectively I can search for particular words and phrases.

Domestic robots, like Roomba and Furby, don’t look like the servants in that 1911 illustration. And artificial intelligence is still far more artificial than intelligent.

We’ve got full-spectrum lamps, motorized chairs, and multimedia entertainment, sort of like that illustration.

But today’s tech is generally a lot more compact than that Metropolitan Sunlight Co. fixture. Except for visual displays for media. They’re bigger, for the most part.

Details were different in each prediction. But up until maybe a half-century back, many folks apparently assumed that the future would be nifty.

Some prognosticators even said that science and technology would solve all our problems, education would eradicate unhappiness: and, of course, psychiatric disorders like religion.

I didn’t agree with them about that last bit, but could sympathize.

Then as now, Bible-thumpers were enthusiastically — and unintentionally — supporting the notion that religious people don’t get along well with reality. (March 31, 2017)

What’s changed, from my viewpoint, is that predictions of a technological utopia are out of fashion. What’s ‘in’ these days are secular analogs to the Bible-thumpers’ perennial End Times Bible Prophecies.

Folks don’t seem to remember that doomsayers keep getting it wrong. I suspect the lasting popularity of horror movies is a related phenomenon, and that’s another topic.

“Science Has Become a God”

I don’t rant against the sinful snares of Satanic science.

That’s partly because I don’t think smallpox was “a judgment of God on the sins of people,” as a doctor put it in 1720. (August 21, 2016)

My guess is that some folks sincerely believe science really is Satanic, an idolatrous snare for the unwary.

I think their antics unintentionally reinforce the notion other folks have, that religion is some sort of superstition. Or a psychiatric disorder.

I don’t see science as a threat, which doesn’t mean that I “believe in” science. Making anything or anyone other than God my top priority would be idolatry: and a bad idea. (Catechism, 21122114)

I don’t “believe in” Progress, either; for the same reason.

My guess is that some of today’s doom and gloom comes from folks who took the “myth of progress” seriously.

That belief was unraveling in the 1930s:

“…The myth of progress states that … Progress is inevitable. The myth in its origin coincides with the gradual decline in the christian belief in heaven and hell. … The great strides recently made in scientific discovery and invention have encouraged man in the belief that the millennium is not far distant. Science has become god. Philosophers, men of science and politicians have accepted the idea of the inevitability of progress. But the hopes built on science are proving as illusory as those built on religion and other myths. Indeed, recent events would seem to indicate that science is making man more unhappy and even threatening his destruction….”
(“The Myth of Progress,” David Eder, The British Journal of Medical Psychology, Vol. XII, p. 1 (1932) [Emphasis mine])

I’ll cut David Eder some slack on the topic of “religion and other myths” and illusory hopes. He lived in an era when much of what passed for Christianity in the English-speaking world had little resemblance to my beliefs.

Big Critters

Whales are the biggest vertebrates we know of, but they’re not the largest critters on Earth.

Pando, a clonal colony of quaking aspen, apparently has a single root system.

Pando is on about 43 hectares, 106 acres, of land in Utah. It weighs around 6,000,000 kilograms, 6,600 short tons, making it the heaviest known organism.

It’s around 80,000 years old: and, sadly, not in good health. We don’t know why, exactly, but figure it’s probably a combination of drought, insects, and disease. The Western Aspen Alliance and U.S. Forest Service are trying to find ways to save it.

A honey fungus in Oregon covers about 8.9 square kilometers, 2,200 acres. It’s most likely the biggest organism on Earth, in terms of acreage.

Some dinosaurs were the size of chickens, some were bigger than today’s elephant, and we’re still learning how they got started.


1. How Dinosaurs Began: New Research


(From various, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Dinosaur skeletons. Microraptor gui, upper left, was a winged theropod: or a bird, depending on who’s talking. I figure they’re all dinosaurs, and birds are theropods.)

Volcanoes ‘triggered dawn of dinosaurs’
Rebecca Morelle, BBC News (June 19, 2017)

A million-year-long period of extreme volcanic activity most likely paved the way for the dawn of the dinosaurs, a study suggests.

“Scientists have analysed ancient rocks and have found traces of emissions from huge volcanic eruptions that happened about 200 million years ago.

“This would have led to one of the largest mass extinctions on record, enabling dinosaurs to become dominant….”

This research is new, and should help us understand one of Earth’s major extinction events. It may even settle some debates about what killed off critters like Rhynchosaurs.

It’s not the first time scientists said volcanic eruptions were involved.

We’d known about huge basalt deposits in Morocco and Eastern North America for some time. Starting in 1988, scientists realized that basalt under Brazil’s Amazon River basin of Brazil was part of the same formation.

It’s called the Central Atlantic magmatic province, or CAMP, these days. It didn’t form all at once, not quite.

Scientists are pretty sure we’re looking at the result of many volcanic eruptions happening in four pulses over a span of about 600,000 years. The Triassic-Jurassic extinction event was even more abrupt: taking something like 10,000 years.

We knew that the CAMP eruptions happened about 201,000,000 years back: right around the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event.

If it isn’t cause and effect, that’s a whacking great coincidence.2

CAMP and Cthulhu


(From Ron Blakey, NAU Geology, used w/o permission)
(Earth, about 200,000,000 years ago.)

The “Central Atlantic” part of CAMP’s name is a little misleading.

The Atlantic Ocean didn’t exist yet. It’s what we call the rift that broke Pangea apart.

It’s a bit hard to imagine how several hundred thousand years of massive volcanic eruptions, happening along a rift system several thousand miles long, wouldn’t play hob with Earth’s climate.

My guess is that it may have been the final straw, but critters were in peril earlier.

Something had been making Earth’s ocean more acidic. That can happen when the air’s carbon dioxide content goes up.

Oceanic acidity was high before the Great Dying, too. That’s the worst mass extinction we know of. We’re not sure quite what caused it, either.

I’m quite sure that the cause wasn’t Dinogorgons getting smarter, building factories, driving cars, and perishing in the acid rain of their folly. It might make a good story, though: something along the lines of Cthulhu in the Silent Spring.

About environmental awareness, climate change, and all that: I’m as concerned about my planet as I was in the ’60s. That’s not even close to taking Captain Planet and the crisis du jour seriously. (May 26, 2017 ; February 10, 2017; August 12, 2016)


2. Cats: Briefly


(From Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“The tabby is prized for its beauty”
(BBC News))

How cats conquered the ancient world
Helen Briggs, BBC News (June 19, 2017)

The domestic cat is descended from wild cats that were tamed twice – in the Near East and then Egypt, according to the largest study of its kind.

“Farmers in the Near East were probably the first people to successfully tame wild cats about 9,000 years ago.

“Then, a few thousand years later, cats spread out of ancient Egypt along maritime trade routes….”

Tabby cats, the article says, probably started in or near Turkey, about a millennium back. Give or take a few centuries.

We didn’t do much deliberate modification of the critters until around the 19th century. That’s when folks in the Western world thought it’d be fun to have strange-looking cats. Some, like the Sphynx and Munchkin, are stranger than others.

I don’t see a problem with that, as long as we don’t make a breed that’s not comfortable in its skin. We should also take reasonable steps to care for the breeds that can’t survive without human help.

Using animals for work, food, or fun, is part of being human. So is remembering that we’re made in God’s image: with the responsibilities that go with our nature. (Genesis 1:27; Catechism, 17011707, 24152418)


3. Whales: Evolution in the Vast Lane


(From Silverback Films/BBC, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Being big means they can maximise the opportunities where they exist”
(BBC News)

Whales reached huge size only recently
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (May 24, 2017)

Blue whales are the biggest animals that have ever existed on Earth but they only recently* got that way.

“his is the extraordinary finding from a new study that examined the fossil record of baleens – the group of filter feeders to which the blues belong.

“These animals were relatively small for most of their evolutionary existence and only became the behemoths we know today in the past three million years….

“…*Whales have been around for about 50 million years – a blink of the eye in the 4.6-billion-year history of the Earth.…”

Cetacians — whales, dolphins, and porpoises — began as critters with hooves.

They were about the size of today’s raccoons or domestic cats, living in or near India. They looked a bit like today’s chevrotains: mouse-deer.

They got bigger, more suited to life in water, and less to moving on land.

Ambulocetidae, “walking whales,” were an early version that looked a little like crocodiles. They still had large hind legs, but almost certainly were entirely aquatic. If so, they were the first of may fully-aquatic whales.

A Wikipedia page said Remingtonocetidae, another early cetacean, “looked like mammalian crocodiles.”

I can see that, but to me they seem more like otters with overly-long heads. They weren’t tiny, about 3.4 meters, somewhat over 10 feet, long. But they weren’t huge, either.

Or maybe the Basilosaurids were the first fully-aquatic cetaceans. Some scientists figure they were, others apparently disagree. Settling that debate will most likely take evidence we haven’t found yet, and more research.

Depending on what species you’re looking at, basilosaurids were 4 to 16 meters, 13 to 52 feet, long. They remind me of Mosasaurus, a 56-foot-long critter that went extinct when the dinosaurs did.

Basilosaurids and other Big Critters

That picture shows what Dorudon, a Basilosaurid, probably looked like.

We’re pretty sure about the shape. The color and speckles, not so much.

They lived from around 40,400,000 to 33,900,000 years ago. At about 5 meters, 16 feet, they were a sort of midsize Basilosaurid. There’s nothing ‘saurian,’ or lizard-like, about the Basilosaurids, by the way.

The basilosaurid name goes back to the 19th century, when fossils of what looked like an big lizard-like critter were named Basilosaurus. Another scientist noticed that the teeth were from a mammal, and suggested that the critter be renamed Zeuglodon.

Taxonomic rules say that the first name sticks, so we’re stuck with Basilosaurus.

At 52 feet, the biggest Basilosaurid was big: but not quite half the length of a large blue whale, largest of the baleen whales. They’re the largest critters with backbones that ever lived: the biggest we’ve found, at least.

Keratin and Modular Life

Baleen is made of keratin, stuff that helps make our fingernails, hair, and tongue durable. It’s what baleen whales use instead of teeth.

Ancestors of today’s baleen whales had baleen and teeth. What we’re learning about genetics is helping scientists studying whale evolution.

Whatever the evolutionary process was, baleen whales have the gene for growing teeth, like we do. Somewhere along the line, probably 28,000,000 years back, their ‘enamel’ genes got deactivated. As I’ve said before, life is very modular at the subcellular level. (September 23, 2016; August 5, 2016)

The oldest fossilized baleen is about 15,000,000 years old, but scientists are pretty sure it showed up 30,000,000 years ago. Baleen doesn’t fossilize well: but whale skulls that old have a loose lower jaw and reinforced upper jaw, like today’s models.

These scientists say mysticeti, baleen whales got really big, starting about 3,000,000 years ago. And they think they know why that happened.

Life on Earth has gotten big quite a few times over the last 250,000,000 years. Some big critters lived in water, like mosasaurs and elasmosaurs.

Others, like barosaurs and ankylosaurs, were analogs to elephants and rhinos. Predators like spinosaurs and giganotosaurs don’t get quite as big as the largest sauropods for some reason, and that’s yet another topic.

Ice Age Connection?


(From Graham J. Slater, Jeremy A. Goldbogen, Nicholas D. Pyenson; used w/o permission.)
(Mysticeti, baleen whales, and Earth’s climate: the most recent 40,000,000 years.)

The scientists who published their work last month say the rate at which baleen whales were getting bigger changed when the current ice age started.

I don’t think this is the complete and final answer to what’s behind whale evolution. But I’m pretty sure it’s a step in the right direction.

Earth’s ocean, and climate, had been changing back then. As usual.

When the Drake Passage opened, about 41,000,000 million years back, an ice cap started forming on Antarctica.

Cold seawater from near the poles eventually sank, forcing nutrient-rich deep waters to the surface.

Earth’s weather was getting more interesting, too, so these upwellings were helped along by wind-driven currents.

Microcritters flourished where upwellings reached the surface, krill fed on the microcritters, and filter feeders fed on the krill.

For baleen whales, and fish like the whale and basking sharks, good ‘mile per krill’ is vital. So is being able to ‘refuel’ on a massive scale once they reach a good patch. The ocean is vast, their feeding grounds are seasonal and patchy.

The bigger critters like that get, the more efficient they are at covering long distances.

That, according to these scientists, is why the biggest baleen whales got so huge.

Earth’s current ice age gave them a food source that wasn’t much good unless the could cover vast distances efficiently, and feed on a massive scale once they arrived.3

Other researchers, looking at the data in other ways, have said that changes in coastal and shallow-water habitats were involved.

Or maybe whales reached their present size because big critters don’t have predator problems the way small critters do.

My guess is that it’s ‘all of the above,’ plus factors we haven’t found yet.

Meanwhile, I think using what we’ve learned makes sense.

Learning: Slowly

Basking sharks are big, slow-moving, and not particularly aggressive.

They’re also on the extensive list of critters humans consider edible.

Their hide makes good leather. We get oil from the large liver. Traditional Asian medicine uses other parts.

There aren’t nearly as many of the critters now as there were a few centuries back.

Basking sharks aren’t endangered, globally, partly because enough folks realized there was a problem in time.

They were so ubiquitous along the Canadian Pacific coast that folks considered them a nuisance. We’re currently finding out whether a 1945 to 1970 government-sponsored eradication program was successful: and whether we can undo the damage.

We’re learning. Slowly, sometimes, but we are learning.

Dominion: Doing Our Job

From NASA, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.

Blue and fin whales are not extinct. But they are endangered.

Humpback whales aren’t endangered, partly because we founded the International Whaling Commission in 1946.

By then we’d killed about 90% of the world’s humpbacks. The 19th and early 20th centuries were not, I think, among humanity’s shining hours.

Humpbacks are recovering nicely these days. They’re even flourishing around Hawaii: partly because that’s where North Pacific right whales used to live. Right whales aren’t extinct, quite, but we very nearly didn’t stop hunting them in time.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong, ethically, with hunting whales.

But we’ve long since gone past the point where we can pretend that Earth’s resources are infinite. (February 17, 2017; February 10, 2017; January 20, 2017)

We have dominion over this world. That does not mean that it’s ours to pillage. We have the same job we started with: taking care of the place, for our reasoned use, and for future generations. (Genesis 1:2631, 2:15; Catechism, 22932295, 24152418, 2456)

It’s God’s world. We don’t own it. We’re more like stewards or site managers.


Changes and the Copernican Principle

We started realizing that extinction happens during the 1700s. (April 14, 2017)

Georges Cuvier’s research showed that mammoths were a distinct species, and were extinct.

He also thought that extinctions happened in bursts, with a lot of species dying off around the same time.

Apparently he figured evolution wasn’t involved. His idea was that Earth had gone through a bunch of cyclical creations and destructions. That didn’t sit well with folks who backed uniformitarianism or gradualism.

The name sounds like a Protestant denomination’s name, but it’s scientific. It also makes sense, to an extent.

We’re pretty sure that the universe acts the same way, no matter where or when we are. The Copernican principle is one name for this assumption.

It’s a valid assumption, for the most part. On the other hand, we’re finding exceptions.

Over the last century, for example, we’ve been learning that this universe is statistically homogeneous at scales larger than about 250 light years.

Except for a few things that aren’t.

Like I keep saying, there’s a great deal left to learn.

Extinction Events

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck Charles Lyell thought that species became extinct at a more-or-less constant rate. We’ve been discovering that he’s right, sort of.

Extinctions are, on a geologic time scale, happening pretty much constantly.

He’s also wrong. Sometimes the rate of extinctions spikes. We’ve started calling those spikes “extinction events.”

There’s debate about how many extinction events have happened, and how many were big enough to be “major.” But I don’t think there’s much doubt that they happen.

Not among scientists.

The extinction event that wiped out non-avian dinosaurs is probably the most famous. It wasn’t the biggest, by far, or the most recent. The Middle Miocene disruption, roughly 14,000,000 years ago, probably happened when Earth cooled off.

Another happened, maybe, when radiation from one or more supernovae changed Earth’s ozone layer about 2,000,000 years back.

What’s more certain is that the Solar System is currently traveling through a dense spot where shock fronts from the Loop I Bubble and Local Bubble met.4

Truth

If you’ve been here before, you know why I don’t think Earth is flat, and do think that the universe is vast and ancient on a literally cosmic scale.

I see scientific discoveries as opportunities for greater admiration of God’s work. (Catechism, 283, 341)

We knew this creation was big and old.

We’re learning that it’s bigger and older than we thought.

3 Terrible and awesome are you, stronger than the ancient mountains.”
(Psalms 76:5)

3 Raise your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth below; Though the heavens grow thin like smoke, the earth wears out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies, My salvation shall remain forever and my justice shall never be dismayed.”
(Isaiah 51:6)

4 Indeed, before you the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.”
(Wisdom 11:2225)

I’m okay with that. Even if I wasn’t, complaining about the Almighty’s work seems silly.

God gave us brains and curiosity. Using them is part of being human. (Catechism, 16, 341, 373, 1704, 17301731)

As Pope Leo XIII said, truth cannot contradict truth. (Catechism, 159)

I’m obliged to see faith as a willing and conscious “assent to the whole truth that God has revealed.” (Catechism, 142150)

Like I said, I’m okay with that.

Particularly since I enjoy trying to keep up with what we’re learning:

A scientist’s view of faith and science:


1 More:

2 CAMP and dinosaurs:

3 Big filter feeders, background:

4 Extinctions, assumptions, and exploding stars:

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“Renewed and Expansive Hope”

Wanting respect is reasonable. I think folks who support Gay/LGBT Pride Month for that reason have a point.

I don’t agree with much of what’s said on the gay/LGBT pride issue — and explained why I won’t spit venom in today’s earlier post.

Basically, I should love God, love my neighbor, and see everybody as my neighbor.

No exceptions.

Loving and hating my neighbor isn’t possible. Not at the same time.

If I was a perfect person, living in a perfect world, loving each of my neighbors would be easy. I’m not, and this isn’t, so it’s not. Easy, that is. But I have to try, anyway.

Like I said, love matters. That includes caring about other folks.

For much of my life, I’ve known folks who care about my health and well-being.

Sometimes their love meant telling me that something I do is a bad idea. I generally didn’t enjoy the experience. Not at the time.

Good Intentions

Loving someone by ‘being nice’ won’t turn a bad idea into a good idea. A few things are bad ideas, no matter what.

Lying is one of them. It’s a bad idea and I shouldn’t do it. (Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 24642499)

My gluttony, a disordered interest in food, doesn’t define my personal identity. But it’s an issue I deal with. It’s also a bad idea.

My wife knows that I like food ‘way too much. She’s told me that it’s a bad idea. A doctor said pretty much the same thing.

I didn’t like hearing that, but I agree.

My wife is a wise woman, so she has been working with me to change my eating and exercise habits. I haven’t consistently cooperated, but I’m learning.

But let’s say that she didn’t want to make me feel bad, and kept quiet. Or, worse yet, encouraged me to keep eating. That might feel good, for a while.

I’d still have the weight and health issues that my behavior caused. Lying to me would have been a bad idea.

So, I think, would labeling me a wretched glutton, and saying that God hates me.

I don’t think that’d a reasonable response to anyone’s undesirable behavior. Besides, I’d be concerned about anyone who’d enjoy that sort of treatment.1

Bottom line? ‘I meant well’ won’t turn a bad idea into a good idea. (Catechism, 1753)

And saying the equivalent of raqa to someone is a bad idea. (Matthew 5:22)

Gluttony and Social Stigma

I talked about respect and dignity earlier. Basically, I’m obliged to show respect for the dignity of each person.

That seems reasonable.

Gluttony isn’t generally considered a good idea in today’s America, but my appearance doesn’t make me a pariah.

That’s a bit odd, or maybe not so much.

My weight isn’t what’s odd. It’s simple cause-and-effect. I’ve eaten too much, and not exercised enough. My obesity probably isn’t just caused by gluttony, by the way. It’s complicated, and that’s another topic.

What’s odd is not being shunned, or worse, because of my weight. I’m pretty sure that fitness fiends wouldn’t use me as a role model, not a positive one. But they’re easy to avoid or ignore.

The point is that I haven’t spent a lifetime dealing with folks who seemed determined to fill me with guilt and shame. I’ll grant that some health fanatics can be a tad overbearing.

That’s what’s odd, since obesity hasn’t been a status symbol since the Renaissance. Current American culture views gluttony, an obvious cause of obesity, as a bad idea. The attitude isn’t entirely wrong.

But I don’t remember running into anyone who attacked fat folks for ‘religious’ reasons. Not with the hatred I’ve seen expressed against folks with unusual sexual desires. Why that is, I don’t know.

Seven Sins

Gluttony is one of the seven capital sins. The others are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, and sloth. (Catechism, 1866)

“Sloth,” in this sense, isn’t laziness.

It’s acedia, a lack of spiritual effort, refusing to ‘work out my salvation.’ I figure that would include not my job as someone with dual citizenship:2 in America, and Heaven. (Philippians 2:12, 3:20; Catechism, 1949, 2094, 2733)

“Pride” in this context is self-esteem above and beyond the call of reason.

Humility, acknowledging reality, is pride’s antidote.3

One reality I must acknowledge is that letting my desires and impulses control what I eat is a bad idea.4 No amount of positive self-talk will change that.

Neither would throwing myself into the fat acceptance movement’s silly side. I’ll admit that I might enjoy organizing a ‘fat pride day’ protest. For the wrong reasons. There’s a sardonic streak in me that’s not good.

I must not let other impulses lead to indulging my gluttony, or expressing rage against folks like the Westboro bunch. (June 18, 2017; February 12, 2017; July 10, 2016)

The problem isn’t the impulses. (October 5, 2016)

Condemning someone whose impulses aren’t like mine seems silly. Self-righteous indignation at the actions of other sinners seems imprudent, at best. My own track record is far from spotless.

I think homosexual acts are not a good idea.5 I emphatically also must think that everyone deserves respect and reasoned compassion; not unjust discrimination. (Catechism, 23572359)

Imprudent over-corrections of past injustices are, I think, understandable. But as I said, good intentions won’t turn bad ideas into good ones.

Nothing I say or do can solve every problem we face. I am equally powerless to undo injustices like last year’s murders at the Pulse nightclub.6

But I can suggest that love is a good idea. So is acting like love matters.

Tradition and Nostalgia

Even if I could, I wouldn’t take America back to the ‘good old days’ before 1965, 1954, 1933, 1848, or some other imagined ‘Golden Age.’

Today’s America is far from perfect, too.

That leaves one direction: forward.

Not yearning for a bygone era may seem odd, coming from a Catholic.

I’ve been asked why I think my beliefs matter in today’s world.

The question makes sense, given all-too-common attitudes.

Some Christians act as if nostalgia and faith were synonyms.

Sometimes I run into a Catholic who says Vatican II ruined everything. Some of these folks formed their very own little churches, convinced that they’re the only Catholics left.

I wasn’t a Catholic before Vatican II, so my childhood memories include pleasant experiences in a Protestant church.

Even if I was a ‘cradle Catholic,’ I hope I’d have the good sense to see a difference between Tradition and tradition. (June 2, 2017; July 24, 2016)

Tradition with a capital “T” is the living message of the Gospel, maintained and passed along through the millennia. It doesn’t change. (Catechism, 7583)

Some of our traditions, lower-case-“t,” are important, too. But they’re not set in stone. Sometimes they stop being useful. Then it’s time to change or drop them. This is okay. (Catechism, 83)

Moving Forward

America in the 1950s was a ‘Golden Age’ for some folks.

I remember the trailing edge of their ‘good old days,’ and my memory’s pretty good.

I remember when someone had to look more-or-less like me to get a decent job, and “she’s smart as a man” was supposed to be a compliment.

The ‘good old days’ weren’t.

And I thank God they aren’t coming back. (June 4, 2017; May 12, 2017; February 5, 2017; October 30, 2016)

Many long-overdue reforms which were new in my youth didn’t turn out as I had hoped. But on the whole, I like living in today’s America. It’s not perfect. But that’s true of every society, today or in the past.

I must do what I can to help make tomorrow’s America, and world, better. (Catechism, 19131916, 2239)

There isn’t much I can do to change my nation, much less the world. But I can do something about myself.

Changing the world starts inside me, with an ongoing “inner conversion.” (Catechism, 18861889)

Unless I act as if I think people matter, I can hardly expect folks to take me seriously.

Not when I talk about love, justice, charity, and respect for “the transcendent dignity of man.” (Catechism, 19281942, 24192442)

And I certainly shouldn’t imagine that I’m one of the “righteous” few. Life isn’t that simple. Neither are issues we’re dealing with.

“…Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity….

“…A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners….”
(“Visit to the Joint Session of the United States Congress,” Pope Francis7 (September24, 2015))

What I said earlier:

Acting like love matters:


1 Deliberate, consistent, self-defeating behavior may eventually be recognized as a disorder. That topic has been discussed for at least three decades. I’ve run into folks who act as if they think it’s a virtue. I think it’s a problem, and inconsistent with love:

2 Part of my take on citizenship and doing my job:

3 Humility, in the Catholic sense, is acknowledging reality, giving God due credit:

4 Experiencing desires and emotions is part of being human; so is thinking, or should be:

5 Insights from:

6 As the song said, “nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong:”

7 About freedom:

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Respecting Everyone

Gay/LGBT Pride Month will be over in about two weeks. Wanting respect is reasonable, but I don’t agree with much of what’s said on this issue.

Don’t worry, I won’t be spitting venom. Even if I felt like it, which I don’t, that kind of trouble I don’t need.

First, I’d better talk about love and respect, and why I think both are important.

Also what being a Christian, a Catholic, means. And what it doesn’t.

I do my level best to love God, love my neighbor, and see everybody as my neighbor. (Matthew 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Matthew 5:4344; Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2530; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1825)

That’s because I follow Jesus, the Man who is God.

Love Matters

Jesus died in my place.

By dying, he conquered death. A few days later, Jesus stopped being dead. He lives today and forever. (Matthew 28:110; Mark 16:111; 1 Peter 4:6; Catechism, 631635, 638655)

Our Lord endured torture and death for sinners like me.

“Like me?” I’ll get back to that.

Ever since our Lord stopped being dead, we’ve been passing along the best news humanity ever had — God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (John 1:1214, 3:17; Romans 8:1417; Peter 1:34; Catechism, 2730, 52, 1825, 1996)

I accepted God’s invitation. What you decide is up to you. We have free will. (Catechism, 10211037)

One of God’s ‘family values’ is an all-embracing love. Treating others as I want to be treated seems like a logical extension of that love. (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31)

Acting as if love matters doesn’t happen. Not in my case. Not consistently, and never perfectly.

It would be easier if we lived in a perfect world, but we don’t. What I gather from Genesis 3:121 is that the first of us lost no time in messing up our original harmony.1 (Catechism, 398400)

Being a Christian doesn’t make me one of the ‘righteous’ folks, a spiritual aristocrat.

Being a Sinner

I fail to consistently do what I know is good for me or for others.

I don’t always avoid what I know is bad, or love others as I should.

Each time I don’t act as I should, I offend reason, truth, and God. (Catechism, 1706, 1776, 18491851, 1955)

That’s a sin.2 It keeps happening, which makes me a sinner.

But like I said, I’m a Catholic. I do not think I’m a “loathsome insect,” abhorred by a hypersensitive God. (March 5, 2017; November 21, 2016)

I do think I need God’s mercy. That, and enlightened self-interest, is why I try to avoid hurling insults at ‘those sinners over there.’

“You hypocrite, 3 remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”
(Matthew 7:5)

13 ‘Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”
(Luke 6:37)

Each of us is made “in the divine image:” no matter who we are, who our ancestors are, or what we’ve done. (Genesis 1:27; Catechism, 357, 361, 369370, 1700, 1730, 22732274, 22762279)

I’m a rational creature, a person. I decide what I do, like the angels. (Catechism, 311)

Or I can decide that thinking is too much work, and act on whatever daft desire surfaces in my mind’s backwaters. Either way, it’s my decision. (Catechism, 1704, 17301731)

Unlike an angel, I am also a material creature: a spiritual being with a body made from the stuff of this world. (Genesis 2:7; Catechism, 325348)

Something went wrong, obviously. But the problem isn’t having bodies. God makes us, and this universe, and God doesn’t make junk.3 (Genesis 1:31; Catechism, 31, 299, 355)

Nothing I do can change my basic nature. I’ll always be a human: with the power, limitations, and responsibilities, that go with my nature. That’s scary. (April 7, 2017)

Loving My Neighbors – – –

I take love seriously, so I must have and show respect for the dignity of each person, and humanity’s transcendent dignity. Everyone’s dignity. No exceptions. (Catechism, 19291933, 22842301)

I think respect makes more sense than lashing out at my fellow-sinners.

Respecting dignity, and practicing forgiveness, doesn’t make a sin okay. But remembering how often I’ve made regretted decisions, and how easily I could have made others, helps me avoid self-righteous indignation. Or curb it, when I forget.

One decision I don’t regret is the one that kept me alive, about a half-century ago.

I still get the occasional suicidal impulse. Happily, I’ve gotten pretty good at rejecting them. (June 4, 2017; February 24, 2017; October 14, 2016)

Suicide is a bad idea, and I shouldn’t do it. It’s a sin. (Catechism, 22802283)

Feeling the impulse isn’t a sin. Acting on a self-destructive urge would be. But I’m told to hope for the salvation of those who killed themselves. (Catechism, 17301742, 2283)

I’m okay with that: particularly since someone very dear to me killed herself.

Forgiving others doesn’t mean ignoring trouble. Justice and mercy are both important. (Catechism, 1805, 1829, 1861, 19912011)

Developing good judgment doesn’t mean becoming judgmental.

Judging whether an act is good or bad is a basic requirement for being human. It’s part of using my conscience. I’m even expected to think about the actions of others. (Catechism, 1778, 24012449)

That’s because sin isn’t just about me and God. I’m not loving my neighbor if I see nothing wrong with someone hurting my neighbor. (Catechism, 2196)

It’s a matter of hating the sin, loving the sinner: and leaving the judging of persons to God. (Catechism, 1861)

– – – All My Neighbors

I remember the ‘good old days’ before 1968, and thank God they’re not coming back.

I don’t celebrate Gay/LGBT Pride month.

I won’t spit venom, either.

If I felt hate for folks in a gay pride parade, television repairmen, rabid protestors, or anyone else — my job would be purging that hate, not expressing it.

My attitude toward folks dealing with unusual attractions is no great virtue. I’m too aware my own temptations to feel smugly virtuous.

Folks like these Westboro Baptist Church activists? I must not hate them, either.

But like I said, having good judgment should be part of being human.

What they’re doing is a very bad idea, and they shouldn’t do it. Nobody should. They’re not typical Christians, by the way. I don’t even think they’re typical American Protestants.

The problem isn’t that ‘religious’ folks are getting involved in society. That’s a good idea, something everyone should do. (Catechism, 19131916)

It’s not that their beliefs aren’t just like mine. I’m obliged to recognize the “goodness and truth” in all religions that search for God. (Catechism, 3943, 839845)

I’ll admit that in their case, it’s very well-hidden. But I hope it’s there. Somewhere.

Remembering Human Dignity

Excerpt from Mamma's Girls, Chick Publications, ©2012 by Jack T. Chick LLC; used w/o permission.Apparently the Westboro bunch say the Catholic Church and Islam are “Satanic frauds.”

It’s not a particularly original claim, but effective in some circles. (June 4, 2017)

I don’t, obviously, think they’re right.

And I can’t agree with what they’re doing, or how they’re doing it.

I think God loves each of us. One of their slogans is “God hates you.” That doesn’t leave much room for solidarity.

Or, in my case, desire to love. I think they’re wrong about a very great deal.

I hope that at some level they want to fix what is not right in today’s America.

However, I think their zeal and dedication could be directed in better ways.

Again: I do not sympathize with their methods, or their mangled version of Christianity.

But hating them is not an option. Imitating them would be a huge mistake.

And I don’t think pretending that America is just fine the way it is, or was, makes sense.

What does make sense, I think, is remembering that human dignity is important: everyone’s dignity.

“…Above all the Church knows that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart when she champions the dignity of the human vocation, restoring hope to those who have already despaired of anything higher than their present lot….”
“…Citizens must cultivate a generous and loyal spirit of patriotism, but without being narrow-minded. This means that they will always direct their attention to the good of the whole human family, united by the different ties which bind together races, people and nations….”
(“Gaudium et spes,” Blessed Pope Paul VI (December 7, 1965))

I’ve got more to say, but that’ll wait until the next post.

Acting like love matters:


1 Reading and understanding the Bible is part of being Catholic. So is realizing that the creation accounts use figurative language. (Catechism, 101133, 390)

2 Sin, Catholic style:

SIN: An offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins (1849, 1853, 1854).”
(Catechism, Glossary)

3 More of my take on being human, and appreciating this astounding universe:

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