Living With Consequences

I’ve missed one morning set, and several of the evening prayer sequences, in the routine I started February 13. (February 19, 2017)

I’m doing a little better with so far with the Lenten Chaplet. I started that Ash Wednesday.

Emphasis on “so far.” I nearly forgot twice, which doesn’t surprise me. There’s a very good reason for my wife handling the household’s schedules, and that’s another topic.

This is where I could quote Romans 7:19 and launch into a ‘wretcheder than thou’ lament. It’d be accurate, on one level, since I’ve felt this way often enough:

“For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.”
(Romans 7:19)

But I won’t, since I think hypocrisy, inverted or otherwise, is a bad idea. I’ve talked about Luke 18:914; Colossians 2:18; and Uriah Heep; before. (October 23, 2016; July 31, 2016)

Feeling that I generally do what is wrong, not what I know is right, is understandable.

Spending decades with undiagnosed depression and an autism spectrum disorder left me with quite a few regrettable perceptions and habits. (February 12, 2017; October 14, 2016; October 5, 2016)

Feelings aside, I know that I have trouble doing what I know is right and avoiding what is wrong.

Jonathan Edwards, Mark Twain, and Me

There’s a reason for that, and it’s not that I’m “some loathsome insect:”

“…every unconverted Man properly belongs to Hell….”
“…The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire, abhors you….”
“…you will be wholly lost and thrown away of God….”
(“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” pp. 6, 9, 15, 18; Jonathan Edwards (July 8, 1741) (via Digital Commons@University of Nebraska-Lincoln))

Edwards had, and has, a remarkable influence on America’s religious assumptions. I think that helps explain Mark Twain’s attitude, and my sympathy for it:

“I don’t like to commit myself about heaven and hell – you see, I have friends in both places.

“When I think of the number of disagreeable people that I know who have gone to a better world, I am sure hell won’t be so bad at all.”
(Mark Twain, p.377 of Evan Esar, “20,000 quips & quotes” (1968))

“[H]eaven for climate, Hell for society.”
(Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Speech to the Acorn Society (1901); via Wikiquote.org)

“I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right, then I’ll go to Hell.”
(Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), via Bartlett’s Quotations, 16th ed.)

I also think, and hope, Jonathan Edwards meant well.

I was going somewhere with this. Let’s see: prayer, Uriah Heep, Jonathan Edwards, Mark Twain. Right. Got it.

Having sympathy for Twain’s “[H]eaven for climate…” quip doesn’t mean I think Heaven is filled with folks who wouldn’t associate with hellbound sinners and other riffraff.

One more thing, about Genesis and all that. As I keep saying, Adam and Eve aren’t German. (October 21, 2016; September 23, 2016; August 28, 2016)

“The Man Replied….” Sound Familiar?

Today’s Bible readings start with Genesis 2:79, 3:17.

That’s where Eve listens to the serpent, Adam listens to Eve, and they both make a really bad decision.

Then Adam firmly plants both feet in his mouth with this gem:

“The man replied, ‘The woman whom you put here with me – she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.'”
(Genesis 3:12)

Right. They’re both in trouble, so what does Adam do? Tries blaming his wife and God. That did not end well.

Making sense of Adam, Eve, Genesis, and my erratic success with prayer, means backing up a little. A lot, actually.

Still Basically Good

The universe is basically good. So are we — basically. (Genesis 1:2627, 31; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 299, 364, 369, 374)

Humanity was made “in the divine image.” We still are. (Genesis 1:27; Catechism, 31, 355361)

Each of us is a rational creature with free will. We can decide what we do or do not do. We are also responsible for the consequences of our decisions. (Catechism, 17301742)

The first of us listened to Satan, ignoring what God had said. (Genesis 3:513)

We’ve been living with consequences of their decision ever since. (Catechism, 396412)

That was a very, very long time ago.

I’m not personally responsible for those consequences. But I either deal with them, or pretend they’re not there, which doesn’t seem prudent.

“Original sin” is what we call the mess we’re in. Here’s how the Catechism defines it:

ORIGINAL SIN: The sin by which the first human beings disobeyed the commandment of God, choosing to follow their own will rather than God’s will. As a consequence they lost the grace of original holiness, and became subject to the law of death; sin became universally present in the world. Besides the personal sin of Adam and Eve, original sin describes the fallen state of human nature which affects every person born into the world, and from which Christ, the ‘new Adam,’ came to redeem us (396412).”
(Catechism, Glossary)

Loving ourselves, others, and God, is a struggle. That’s because the harmony we had with ourselves and with the universe, and our friendship with God, is broken. (Catechism, 374379, 398, 400)

That’s the bad news. The good news is that human nature is wounded: but not corrupted. (Catechism, 405, 17011707, 1949)

Seeking Understanding

I don’t understand God. Not fully. I can’t. (November 13, 2016)

God’s God, I’m not. I’m a created being, like everyone else. (Genesis 1:1; Catechism, 279, 285)

God is beyond time and space, and “here” in all places and all times. The Almighty is infinitely good, “a mystery beyond words.” (Catechism, 206, 230, 268, 284, 300, 385, 639, 647648, 2779)

On the other hand, ‘faith seeks understanding.’ St. Anselm wrote that, more or less. His first title for “Proslogion” was “Fides Quaerens Intellectum.”

Latin isn’t my strong suit, but I think “Fides Quaerens Intellectum” is “Faith Seeking Understanding” in my language.

That was about a thousand years back now, and the slogan stuck.

What I’m trying to say is that wanting to better understand God is a good idea. (Catechism, 156159)

Understanding God would be easier if we weren’t dealing with original sin. Our current default settings give us a distorted picture of God. (Catechism, 399)

I strongly suspect that’s why it seems so easy to imagine ourselves as targets in a shooting gallery, and God as someone blowing off steam.

“… There is no Want of Power in God to cast wicked Men into Hell at any Moment….
“…They are now the Objects of that very same Anger & Wrath of God that is expressed in the Torments of Hell….
“…In short, they have no Refuge, nothing to take hold of, all that preserves them every Moment is the meer arbitrary Will, and uncovenanted unobliged Forbearance of an incensed God….”
(“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” pp. 5, 6, 12; Jonathan Edwards (July 8, 1741) (via Digital Commons@University of Nebraska-Lincoln))

Jonathan Edwards was not a Catholic, by the way.

God the Father: Really

God wants to adopt us. All of us. (John 1:1214, 3:17; Romans 8:1417; Peter 1:34; Catechism, 2730, 52, 1825, 1996)

I decided to accept the Almighty’s offer. (February 26, 2017)

Seeing God as a father can be scary.

Some fathers aren’t good at our jobs. Some are quite simply bad at being fathers: taking out anger and frustration on other members of the family, and that’s yet again another topic — a sad one.

Happily, God isn’t that sort of father. I can expect love, compassion, and help when I needed it. (Psalms 103:4; Catechism, 268)

I can also expect learning opportunities.

My experience strongly suggests that God will keep letting me experience first-hand why some daft decision was a bad idea: like drinking too much. (July 10, 2016)

I don’t see that as a lack of love. I do see it as a good, if occasionally painful and embarrassing, way to help me learn why doing the right thing actually does make sense.

In the long run.

Making use of these opportunities in a timely fashion is — still another topic.

More of how I see God, love, and being human:

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TRAPPIST-1: Water? Life??

TRAPPIST-1’s planets may support life: or not. We don’t know. Not yet.

We’re pretty sure that all seven are rocky worlds, like the Solar System’s inner planets.

Three are in the star’s habitable zone. The inner two definitely do not have one sort of atmosphere that would make life as we know it impossible.

Even if we don’t find life there, we’ll learn a great deal while looking.

  1. Size, Comparisons, and a Little Math
  2. Alien Life, Tourists, and Robots
  3. Voyage to a Distant Star
  4. Beyond Setting Records

Bigger than Jupiter: But Not by Much


(From ESO/O. Furtak, used w/o permission.)

TRAPPIST-1 is a small, very dim, very cool, star. Its diameter is about 158,600 kilometers, bigger than Jupiter’s 142,900, but not by much. TRAPPIST-1 b through h orbit very close to their sun.1


(From NASA/JPL-Caltech, used w/o permission.)

We know how big the TRAPPIST-1 planets are, but not what they look like.

Like I said, we don’t know if there’s life on any of them; or even if it’s possible.

But I won’t claim that God can’t have life anywhere but Earth. I’ve talked about Aristotle, 1277, and getting a grip, before. (December 16, 2016; December 2, 2016)

Truth cannot contradict truth, being curious is a good idea, and scientific discoveries are opportunities for greater admiration of God’s creation. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 159, 214217, 283, 294, 341)

I’ve been over that before, too. Quite often, actually:

A Belgian Telescope, Monks, and Beer


(From TRAPPIST/ESO, used w/o permission.)
(“TRAPPIST–South First Light Image of the Tarantula Nebula”
(ESO))

“…TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) is a project led by the Department of Astrophysics, Geophysics and Oceanography (AGO) of the University of Liège (Belgium), in close collaboration with the Observatory of Geneva (Switzerland). TRAPPIST is mostly funded by the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research (FNRS) with the participation of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF).

“The team is composed of Emmanuël Jehin, Michaël Gillon, Pierre Magain, Virginie Chantry, Jean Manfroid, and Damien Hutsemékers (University of Liège, Belgium) and Didier Queloz and Stéphane Udry (Observatory of Geneva, Switzerland).

“The name TRAPPIST was given to the telescope to underline the Belgian origin of the project. Trappist beers are famous all around the world and most of them are Belgian. Moreover, the team members really appreciate them!”
(eso1023 — Organisation Release (June 8, 2010))

“Trappists” is what folks call monks in the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. If you’re into Latin acronyms, that’s O.C.S.O.: Ordo Cisterciensis Strictioris Observantiae. They’re contemplative monks and nuns, part of the Benedictine family. (August 14, 2016)

The monastic order got its name from La Trappe Abbey. It doesn’t have much to do with Maria von Trapp and “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.” Not directly.


1. Size, Comparisons, and a Little Math


(From ESO/O. Furtak, via Space.com, used w/o permission.)

What Would Life Be Like on the TRAPPIST-1 Planets?
Calla Cofield, Space.com (February 24, 2017)

“The TRAPPIST-1 system is home to seven planets that are about the size of Earth and potentially just the right temperature to support life. So how would life on these alien worlds be different than life on Earth? Here are some of the major differences.

Amazing night-sky views

“Perhaps one of the most dramatic things that visitors to the TRAPPIST-1 system would notice is the view of the other six planets in the sky. In some cases, a neighboring planet might appear twice as large as the full moon seen from Earth. [Images: The 7 Earth-Size Worlds of TRAPPIST-1]

“‘If you were on the surface of one of these planets you would have a wonderful view of the other planets,’ Michaël Gillon, an astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium and an author on the new paper, said in describing the discovery. ‘You wouldn’t see them like we see Venus or Mars, like dots of light. You would see them really as we see the moon. … You would see the structures on these worlds.’…”

I’m pretty sure that Michaël Gillon had “structures” like Lunar mare in mind, not artificial structures.

Even so, a half-dozen ‘moons’ in the sky would make landscapes on TRAPPIST-1’s planets resemble (very slightly) Golden Age of Science Fiction magazine covers.

How big each of the other planets would look would depend on where they were in their orbits. Those closer to TRAPPIST-1 than the observer would go through phases, like we see on our moon.

I like to check assertions I read, so I looked up the TRAPPIST-1 system’s orbits.

The semimajor axis for TRAPPIST-1b, the first planet out from its star, is 1,660,000 kilometers. In other words, the planet’s center is 1,660,000 kilometers from the star’s center, on average.

TRAPPIST-1c’s semimajor axis is 2,280,000 kilometers. The distance between the two orbits is around 620,000 kilometers.

Comparison time. The semimajor axis for our moon’s orbit is about 384,400 kilometers. The distance between the orbits of TRAPPIST-1b and c is only about 1.6 time the distance to our moon.

Each planet is about the size of Earth, so when they’re close, the other world would look a lot larger than our moon does from Earth.

If any have water and support life, that’s a big “if,” I suspect poets will eventually wax eloquent about crescent worlds over the sparkling waters of distant lands.

Their “sun” would look much larger than ours, too, but TRAPPIST-1 is much smaller than our star.

That may be why its planets orbit so closely: or not. We’ve learned quite a bit about how stars and planets form, and there’s a great deal left to learn.


2. Alien Life, Tourists, and Robots


(From NASA-JPL/Caltech, via NPR, used w/o permission.)

Trappist-1 Planet Discovery Ignites Enthusiasm In Search For Alien Life
Marcelo Gleiser, Op-ed, NPR (February 23, 2017)

“A group of astronomers announced Wednesday that seven Earth-size planets orbit a small, red, dwarf star 40 light-years away.

“The findings were published in the journal Nature. Observations indicate that at least three of the planets may be at temperate zones where liquid water may exist.

“The extraordinary finding — discovered by astronomers from an international collaboration led by Michaël Gillon from the University of Liège in Belgium, places the search for Earth-like planets and, more spectacularly, the search for alien life, under a brand-new lens. NASA released a fun poster about the findings….”

That poster is from NASA’s strictly-for-fun “Exoplanet Travel Bureau.”

Space tourism is real enough. Folks have been on Soyuz flights to the ISS since 2001. Not many folks can afford it, though, and that’s another topic.

Elon Musk says his SpaceX company will fly tourists around Earth’s moon in late 2018. (BBC News (February 28, 2017))

Sending human explorers to Mars may happen in the 2030s. Reaching the stars — I’ll get back to that.

Finding alien life depends, basically, on two things: extraterrestrial life existing; and knowing what to look for.

There’s a lively debate going on about how, exactly, to define “life” in the physical sense. Searching for alien life depends on knowing what we should look for.

Defining “life” seems simple enough. A Wikipedia page says “Life is a characteristic distinguishing physical entities having biological processes, such as signaling and self-sustaining processes….”

Another Wikipedia page says biological process are “processes vital for a living organism,” which brings us back to defining “life.” Not particularly helpful, so far.

If “signalling and self-sustaining processes” are what makes something “alive,” then rovers like Curiosity are close to being “alive.” That definition isn’t particularly useful, assuming that most folks don’t think robots are “alive.”

Living critters on Earth are “organic” in the sense that we’re made of organic compounds.

“Organic” in that sense means that the compound contains carbon. The term goes back to when vitalism still made sense, and that’s yet another topic.

Stretching Definitions

We’ve downgraded hopes for Mars from finding Martian people to finding Martian microbes. (December 16, 2016)

We’re also learning a great deal about how to look for extraterrestrial life.

Oxygen in a planet’s atmosphere seemed like an obvious biomarker. Then the National Institutes of Natural Sciences’ Norio Narita and Shigeyuki Masaoka showed how non-biological processes could oxygenate a planet’s atmosphere.2

Making the search more interesting, some critters don’t need oxygen. Or sunlight, for that matter.

Definitions of life-as-we-know-it got stretched in 1997. That’s when researchers found critters living around hydrothermal vents in the Galápagos Rift.

Up to that point, assuming that all life needed sunlight seemed reasonable. After all, plants photosynthesize using sunlight, which provides food for other critters.

Since then, we’ve found extremophiles, critters living in “extreme” places, in quite a few ‘uninhabitable’ spots.

No matter where they live, though, all living critters need water.

Probably.

Life as We Know It: and Otherwise, Maybe


(From NASA/JPL-Caltech, used w/o permission.)
(TRAPPIST-1 and Solar planetary systems. The green areas are the two stars’ habitable zones, where liquid water could exist on an Earth-like planet.)

I’ve talked about habitable zones before. (September 2, 2016; July 29, 2016)

It’s where a planet like Earth is far enough from its star for water to be liquid, but not so far that it freezes. But they’re not the only places where we can look for life.

We’ve learned that liquid water can, and almost certainly does, exist in the outer Solar System. Subsurface oceans of Europa and Enceladus, moons of Jupiter and Saturn, may support life. (September 30, 2016)

That’s “life as we know it:” organic chemistry with water serving as a solvent.

That may be the only way “life” can work. Properties of the elements and compounds in our bodies seem ideally suited for life’s complex chemistry.

Carbon can bond with a great many other elements, and will form extremely complex molecules.

Water is a really good solvent, and stays liquid over a wide temperature range. It doesn’t get hotter or colder easily, and has other properties that make it an obvious choice for life’s working fluid.

Maybe it’s the only possible choice. Then again, maybe not.

In the ’60s, a former professor at Boston University suggested more-or-less-plausible life chemistries for temperatures ranging from near red-hot to near absolute zero.

We’re third down, nucleic acid/protein (O) in water:

  • Fluorosilicone in fluorosilicone
  • Fluorocarbon in sulfur
  • Nucleic acid/protein (O) in water
  • Nucleic acid/protein (N) in ammonia
  • Lipid in methane
  • Lipid in hydrogen
    (“View from a Height” Isaac Asimov (1963), Lancer Books (p. 63))

Isaac Asimov’s grasp of ecology and physics was a trifle shaky in his fiction: but this time he was speculating in his professional field, chemistry.

Since then, quite a few scientists have started taking non-organic life chemistries seriously.3


3. Voyage to a Distant Star


(From ESO/M. Kornmesser/spaceengine.org, via Space.com, used w/o permission.)

TRAPPIST-1: How Long Would It Take to Fly to 7-Planet System?
Hanneke Weitering, Space.com (February 23, 2017)

“The discovery of seven Earth-size planets around a nearby star, TRAPPIST-1, is certainly exciting news. But what would it take to visit one of these potentially Earth-like alien worlds?

“TRAPPIST-1 is 39 light-years away from Earth, or about 229 trillion miles (369 trillion kilometers). It would take 39 years to get to its current location traveling at the speed of light. But no spacecraft ever built can travel anywhere near that fast.

“That said, people have sent some pretty fast vehicles into outer space. With today’s technology, how long would it take to get to TRAPPIST-1?…”

Eventually, we’ll probably send a ship to orbit and study each of its planets; like the Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres.

I doubt it will be our first interstellar destination. That could be Proxima Centauri b, about 4.2 light-years away. (September 2, 2016)

We’ll have to be patient. Light from TRAPPIST-1 takes about 39 years to get here, and today’s spacecraft are a whole lot slower.

New Horizons would make the trip in 817,000 years. Voyager 1 is faster, and would cover the distance in 685,000 years.

Stephen Hawking’s Breakthrough Starshot initiative microprobes would be much faster, once folks develop the technology. They’d go 39 light-years in roughly 200 years.

Meanwhile, scientists are studying the TRAPPIST-1 system the way Galileo studied Mars and other Solar planets: using telescopes. (December 16, 2016)

Starchips and Laser Cannons

Something like Hawking’s Breakthrough Starshot is probably our best option for interstellar probes using technology that’s not too far from off-the-shelf hardware.

Instead of building a single probe, Hawking’s Starshot would be a fleet of 1,000 StarChip mini-probes.

Each StarChip would be a light sail, like NASA’s NanoSail-D: only smaller. A lot smaller. Each mini-probe would be a centimeter across, equipped with a tiny camera, electronics, and a transmitter.

Once in space, several gigawatt lasers — this is tech we don’t quite have yet — would push them up to about 20% speed of light.

They could reach Proxima Centauri in about two decades. A quarter-century after launch, pictures taken by the probes and transmitted back to Earth would give us the first close(ish) pictures of Proxima Centauri b.

We’ve made lasers, like the Argus, handling gigawatt-level emissions.

Getting the things to last more than a few moments, and focusing the beam, is another matter. Besides, I’m not sure how national leaders would take the idea of someone building what amounts to a laser cannon.


4. Beyond Setting Records


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

Star’s seven Earth-sized worlds set record
Paul Rincon, BBC News (February 22, 2017)

Astronomers have detected a record seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a single star.

“The researchers say that all seven could potentially support liquid water on the surface, depending on the other properties of those planets.

“But only three are within the conventional ‘habitable’ zone where life is considered a possibility.

“The compact system of exoplanets orbits Trappist-1, a low-mass, cool star located 40 light-years away from Earth.

“The planets, detected using Nasa’s Spitzer Space Telescope and several ground-based observatories, are described in the journal Nature….”

Folks at SETI checked the TRAPPIST-1 system for radio signals last year, using the Allen Telescope Array. They ‘heard’ no obviously-artificial signal, but will try again.4

That could mean there’s nobody there.

Or maybe radio isn’t the only long-range communication technology. We started using wavelengths between 1 millimeter and 100 kilometers about a century back. I’ve talked about tech, time, and SETI, before. (December 16, 2016; September 16, 2016)

Finding life, intelligent or otherwise, would be enormously exciting. But that’s not the only reason scientists study TRAPPIST-1 and its planets.

Because the star is so dim, and fairly close, studying its planets will be comparatively easy. As BBC Science Editor David Shukman said, “telescopes studying the planets are not dazzled as they would be when aiming at far brighter stars.” (BBC News)

Besides being much closer than most of our galaxy’s stars, TRAPPIST-1’s planets pass between their star and ours once each of their years. That lets scientists study light that passes through their atmosphere. Assuming they have atmospheres.

TRAPPIST-1 b and c: Learning What’s Not There


(From NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, used w/o permission.)
(“To determine what’s in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, astronomers watch the planet pass in front of its host star and look at which wavelengths of light are transmitted and which are partially absorbed.”
(NASA))

J. de Wit’s artwork shows TRAPPIST-1 and two of its planets. It’s a good illustration, but includes details that are educated guesses: not facts.

The first low-resolution images of a star other than ours, Betelgeuse, go back to the 1970s. But that star is very bright, giving instruments lots of light to work with.

Scientists got a picture of TRAPPIST-1 last year, but they were looking for a companion star or brown dwarf. Those images were very low-resolution, too; and confirmed that TRAPPIST-1 is a single star.5 The pictures didn’t show planets, and weren’t intended to.

We use something like transmission and absorption spectroscopy each time we look at something and notice what color it is. Different materials reflect, transmit, and absorb, light in distinct ways.

I could explain that by saying “energy associated with the quantum mechanical change primarily determines the frequency of the absorption line.” If you’re interested, I put a few links to geek-speak resources near the end of this post.6

You can blame Isaac Newton for spectroscopy. He called colors we get when light passes through a prism a spectrum. William Hyde Wollaston noticed dark absorption lines in our star’s spectrum in 1802.

Joseph von Fraunhofer noticed them in 1814. I don’t know why we call them Fraunhofer lines, not Wollaston lines.

Anyway, each element emits a particular set of wavelengths if it’s heated enough; and absorbs those wavelengths if it’s not. I’m over-simplifying it: a lot.

Wondering why elements act that way helped scientists develop quantum mechanics, and that’s yet again another topic.

Scientists got a ‘look’ at the atmospheres of TRAPPIST-1 b and c last year. (July 29, 2016)

They found a “featureless spectrum,” which rules out a puffy atmosphere of mostly hydrogen.

We’re still not sure what their atmospheres are like, but we know their masses and diameters. Scientists think the odds are good that each of the seven planets found so far are rocky, like the Solar System’s inner worlds.

X-rays, Life, and Surprises


(From NASA/JPL-Caltech, used w/o permission.)
(“This illustration shows the possible surface of TRAPPIST-1f, one of the newly discovered planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system….”
(NASA/JPL-Caltech))

TRAPPIST-1 is upwards of 500,000,000 years old. How much older is hard to say, since low-mass stars change very slowly after settling on to the main sequence. A star like TRAPPIST-1 could last a hundred billion years.

That could mean that habitable planets in such systems stay habitable for a very long time.

On the other hand, last year scientists measured x-rays from TRAPPIST-1. That’s nothing unusual. our star produces about as much x-ray radiation during its quiet phase.

TRAPPIST-1’s planets are so close, though, that these x-rays could do a lot more than the ones hitting Earth. That may affect the TRAPPIST-1 planetary atmospheres, or not.7

The planets are almost certainly either tidally locked, with one side always facing their sun, or in a spin-orbit resonance like Mercury. Either way, life on such worlds wouldn’t be entirely like its terrestrial analog.8

That could mean that life on the TRAPPIST-1 planets is impossible — or that this amazing puzzle collection we call the universe has more surprises for us.

More about how I see life, science, and the Fermi paradox:


1 TRAPPIST-1, still learning:

2 Oxygen, atmospheres, and life:

3 Life, science and informed speculation:

4 SETI and TRAPPIST-1:

5 Getting images of other stars:

6 More than you may want to know about spectroscopy:

7 X-rays and TRAPPIST-1:

8

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Olathe: Death and Hope

Murder and attempted murder in the Kansas City metropolitan area last week is international news.

If the suspect’s neighbor is right, the ‘drunken mess’ who killed an engineer from India was having trouble dealing with his father’s death.1

I think he could have found a better outlet for his grief.

Bad, But It Could be Worse


(From Facebook, via the BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Srinivas Kuchibhotla, Alok Madasani, and Ian Grillot.)

Srinivas Kuchibhotla and his friend were enjoying a beer after work last Wednesday. A man started yelling racial slurs at them.

That didn’t sit well with other folks at the bar and grill. The man left, came back with a gun, apparently told Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani to “get out of my country,” and shot them. He also shot Ian Grillot, who trying to help the first two victims.

Srinivas Kuchibhotla is dead, his friend isn’t, and Ian Grillot is in a hospital.

Alok Madasani was hurt, but not hospitalized. He stopped by Ian Grillot’s room to thank him for trying to help.

The man who apparently caused the trouble has been arrested and charged with one count of premeditated first-degree murder, plus two counts of attempted premeditated first-degree murder.

The FBI is looking at his motives, so hate crime may be added to his legal troubles.

It could be worse.

I think it’s likely that the man responsible will be kept from hurting anyone else. Whether he will be treated with justice or vengeance is another topic. (January 11, 2017)

Quite a few Americans aren’t like that man. Donations to GoFundMe pages, including Srinu’s Family/Recovery Support, passed $1,000,000 yesterday. This won’t bring Srinivas Kuchibhotla back, but it should help his widow.

$1 million and counting: GoFundMe donors step up for Olathe shooting victims
Eric Adler, The Kansas City Star (February 25, 2017)

“Well, that didn’t take long.

“By Saturday afternoon — less than three days after shootings that are being investigated as a possible hate crime at an Olathe bar — donations of more than $1 million had poured into four GoFundMe sites established for one man fatally shot and two victims wounded.

“The donations — more than 26,000 in all — came from all 50 states and at least 38 countries, according to GoFundMe….”

“Which country are you from?…”

I think Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s widow has been taking this very well, under the circumstances:

“…’Just last week we drove to Iowa to see our friends and their new baby,’ she said. ‘When we came back, he was working in the car while I was driving. That’s how much he loved working… He personally wanted to do so much for this country.’

“Mr Kuchibhotla worked at the US technology company Garmin, alongside his friend Mr Madasani, who has now been released from hospital. The pair were regulars at Austin’s Bar and Grill where they enjoyed sharing a drink after work.

“But on Wednesday night another customer, Adam Purinton, was shouting racist slurs and told the two men they did not belong in America, witnesses said….

“…In a separate interview, Mr Madasani told the BBC: ‘This guy just randomly comes up and starts pointing fingers… We knew something was wrong… He said: “Which country are you from? Are you here illegally?”‘…”
(Rajini Vaidyanathan, BBC News (February 25, 2017))

Srinivas Kuchibhotla came from Hyderabad, India. He’s been in America since 2005. Since then, he earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering, and worked as a software and systems engineer in Iowa and Kansas.

I don’t think that makes him a threat.

That’s no great virtue on my part. I like living in a world where everybody doesn’t look and act like me.

More to the point, loving God and my neighbors — all my neighbors — is important. So is treating other folks the way I want them to treat me. (Matthew 5:4344, 7:12, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31 10:2527, 2937; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1789, 1825)

I’ve said that before. A lot. (February 26, 2017; February 1, 2017; January 22, 2017; November 29, 2016)

I’m “from America,” and look “American” in the WASP sense.

Again, that’s no great virtue — and hardly surprising. I look a bit like my ancestors, who came from Norway, Ireland, and Scotland. All folks with northwestern European ancestry look a bit like me.

So how come I’m not raving about America being overrun by “foreigners?”

That’d be daft, since I’m among the 99% of Americans whose ancestors were immigrants no more than a few centuries ago.

Besides, I take my faith seriously.

Equal Dignity

I think human beings are people: all human beings. Each of us has equal dignity: no matter where we are, who we are, or how we act. (Catechism, 360, 17001706, 1929, 19321933, 1935, 2334)

Part of my job as a citizen is contributing “to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom.” (Catechism, 2239)

America doesn’t have the world’s highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. That’s Liechtenstein or Luxembourg, depending on whose numbers you use. But we’re in the top 10, and America and the European Union are in the top two spots for GDP.

That makes America one of the world’s wealthier countries. We’re obliged to welcome folks looking for a safer and more prosperous place to live and work. (Catechism, 2241)

Treating newcomers decently is hardly a new idea.

“You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.”
(Exodus 23:9)

“‘When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him.
“You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.”
(Leviticus 19:3334)

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,”
(Matthew 25:35)

Mr. Kuchibhotla may not have been fleeing violence and poverty, but I don’t think that means he shouldn’t have been working here. “Access to employment and to professions must be open to all without unjust discrimination….” (Catechism, 2433)

Political leaders can make rules about immigration, within reason. Immigrants have responsibilities, too. (Catechism, 2241)

But I have seen no indication that Mr. Kuchibhotla was in America illegally, or that he was doing anything other than contribute to my nation’s economy — and enjoy an occasional beer with his friend.

He will be missed.

At least some folks in India are upset about this murder, and don’t want their kids coming to this country. I can’t say that I blame them.

The sad, and hopeful, side of this is that apparently quite a few folks in the Kansas City area are showing support and sympathy for their “foreign” neighbors.2

“…The Civilization of Love….”

Jubilee of Mercy, Rome, from the Vatican, used w/o permission.That’s a step toward building a “civilization of love.”

“…The answer to the fear which darkens human existence at the end of the twentieth century is the common effort to build the civilization of love, founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty….”
(“To the United Nations Organization,” Pope St. John Paul II (October 5, 1995))

And that’s yet another topic. (November 29, 2016; November 27, 2016)

More about acting as if God and love matter:


1 Response, background and news:

2 More news and views:

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Oatmeal For Lent

I’ll be eating oatmeal for breakfast during Lent, and walking around more. If I was in England, I’d probably call it porridge, and that’s another topic.

It’ll be be good for my health, and I’m sure that’s one reason my wife suggested it. But that’s not the only, or the main, reason.

Lent isn’t about me.

It’s part of the annual cycle of Advent, Lent, and Easter.

We’re remembering and, in a sense, re-living what our Lord did, two millennia back now. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1095)

Lent is when we join Jesus in the desert. Sort of. (Catechism, 540)

Lent: A New Beginning


(Badlands National Park, South Dakota: semi-arid, not quite a desert.)

I live in central Minnesota, where the nearest dunes I know of are in the Sand Dunes State Forest, a bit over an hour east of my town.

Folks going to the Dunes see savanna, forest, and wetlands: or go boating on Ann Lake. Even in drought years, Minnesota isn’t a particularly dry state.

Heading west and a little south for several hours, I’d reach the South Dakota Badlands. They look like a desert, but I’d have to keep going until I reached the Great Basin between California and Wyoming to find a desert.

Happily, I can work at joining our Lord in the desert right here in central Minnesota.

Again: Lent isn’t about self-improvement, or a road trip to arid land.

“Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God ‘with all their hearts’ (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, he shows us his readiness to forgive (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016)….”
(Pope Francis1 (October 18, 2016))

Spiritual Training

Prayer, almsgiving, and fasting — the three vital forms of interior penance — are ways we fix our relationships with others, God, and ourselves. (Catechism, 1434)

About fasting: ordering Lobster Thermidor instead of beef bourguignon misses the whole point of penitential fasting.

There’s nothing particularly ‘penitential’ about porridge. On the other hand, I don’t like it as much as the yogurt I’ve been having for breakfast. Besides, it’ll save a few cents each day. I’ll be serving my family, in a minuscule way, which is a good idea. (Catechism, 1616, 22012206)

Almsgiving is a good idea, too. It gives a measure of relief to folks who need the money, and helps the giver remember that this world is God’s gift to everyone, not just whoever has the most stuff. (Genesis 1:2731; Catechism, 24012406)

I’ve talked about the universal destination of goods, Trappists, and getting a grip, before. (February 10, 2017; September 25, 2016)

Almsgiving is an opportunity to see our Lord in others.

“…Dear brothers and sisters, Lent invites us to ‘train ourselves’ spiritually, also through the practice of almsgiving, in order to grow in charity and recognize in the poor Christ Himself. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the Apostle Peter said to the cripple who was begging alms at the Temple gate: ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk’….” (Acts 3: 6)
(Benedict XVI (October 30, 2007))

After Peter helped the crippled beggar stand up, he was “walking and jumping and praising God.” The beggar, that is. (Acts 3:78)

Miracles?

Miracles like that happen. (Acts 2:22; Catechism, 547549)

MIRACLE: A sign or wonder, such as a healing or the control of nature, which can only be attributed to divine power. The miracles of Jesus were messianic signs of the presence of God’s kingdom (547).”
(Glossary, Catechism)

Accepting miracles is one thing.

Expecting God to act as a sort of magic wand, putting God’s power “to the test,” is a bad idea. I’ll get back to that.

As I keep saying, we’ve got brains. Using them is part of our job. Science and technology are tools, not transgressions. God gave us brains, and expects us to use them. (Catechism, 17301742, 1778, 22922296, 24022405, 2456)

Ethics apply, no matter what sort of tech we use, or how curious we are, and that’s yet another topic. (October 16, 2016; August 21, 2016)

Where was I? Brains, miracles — almsgiving. Right.

Giving to some charitable outfit can be almsgiving — or a prestige-building photo op. I’m not sure where filling out the ‘charitable giving’ part of tax forms falls on that continuum.

1 “(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
“When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites 2 do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
(Matthew 6:12)

The Desert and Deuteronomy


(From Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, via the Google Cultural Institute and Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi’s “Christ in the Wilderness.” (1872))

That brings me to next week’s Gospel reading, Matthew 4:111. Pretty much the same thing is in Luke 4:113.

It’s the bit where our Lord says “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4)

“It is written” in Deuteronomy 8:23, where that forty-year desert detour gets presented as a learning experience:

“…to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.”
(Deuteronomy 8:3)

Quoting Deuteronomy was our Lord’s response to a three-part temptation: hunger, worldly power and prestige, and tempting God. The latter is “putting his goodness and almighty power to the test by word or deed,” and a very bad idea. (Catechism, 2119)

Tempting God isn’t the sort of testing mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:1921 and that’s yet again another topic. (Catechism, 801)

Getting back to that desert encounter, our Lord countered the temptations with his relationship with God the Father. I think abstract principles, moral strength, or a code of ethics, can be good things.

But they’re not what’s really important in a crisis. Love is.

Jesus repeats what God said, in Deuteronomy 6:13, 6:16, and 8:3.

Jesus loves his Father too much to let anything interfere with that relationship. That’s a contrast to the disastrous choice the first of us made, making something other than God top priority. (Catechism, 538540)

Still Shining

For two millennia, 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)

Accepting the invitation or not is up to each of us, of course. We have free will. (Catechism, 10211037)

I decided that following our Lord makes sense long before learning who holds the authority Peter received, and that’s still another topic.2

As an adopted child of God, acting like part of the family makes sense: to me, anyway. (September 11, 2016)

God’s ‘family values’ are pretty simple: I should love God, love my neighbors, see everybody as my neighbor, and treat others as I want to be treated. (Matthew 5:4344, 7:12, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31 10:2527, 2937)

“Simple” isn’t necessarily “easy,” and I’ve been over that before. (December 11, 2016; November 29, 2016)

Finally — Lent isn’t about oatmeal or deserts. It’s about the Word who brought us life, light, and hope:

1 2 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
“He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be
“through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;
4 the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
(John 1:15)

More, mostly about acting like God matters:


1 More about taking love seriously:

2 I’m an adult convert. A little more about that is in “Becoming a Catholic.”

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