JWST: Names, Claims and Attitudes

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Pat Izzo's photo: The Webb Telescope team posing with the full-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope on the lawn at Goddard Space Flight Center, where it was displayed September 19-25, 2005. (September 2005) via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.
The Webb Telescope team and full scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope. (September 2005)

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI and Webb ERO Production Team's image from the James Webb Space Telescope. The Cartwheel galaxy group: Cartwheel Galaxy (ESO 350-40 / PGC 2248 / 2MASX J00374110-3342587 / ...) and smaller associated galaxies. Data from Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) (released August 2, 2022 by NASA)NASA launched the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) December 25, 2021.

By July of 2022, the JWST had settled into position at the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point: about 1,500,000 kilometers, 930,000 miles from Earth.

Then, after deploying its heat shields and mirrors, the JWST started sending back remarkable images.1

And, even more remarkable, it was still called the James Webb Space Telescope. I’ve no idea why NASA didn’t admit their mistake and submit an acceptable name. Particularly when ‘everybody knows’ that James Webb was one of THOSE people:

Then, last month, NASA admitted that James Webb had been a federal employee during the late 1940s to early 1950s lavender scare. And that he’d tried to limit Congressional access to the Department of State’s personnel records.2

McCarthyism — and Why I Don’t Miss the ‘Good Old Days’

Keep America Committee's 'At the Sign of the UNHOLY THREE' flier, warning against fluoridated water, polio serum, mental hygiene: and 'communistic world government.' (May 16, 1955) via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.Considering what had been happening to insufficiently anti-communist Americans during McCarthyism’s heyday, I’m mildly surprised that James Webb hadn’t been blacklisted as a communist agent. Or a fifth columnist, fellow traveler or maybe even a card-carrying communist!

Lack of zealous cooperation with outfits like the House Un-American Activities Committee wasn’t prudent back then.

But NASA couldn’t find evidence that James Webb had plotted against LGBTQI+ in general or GS-14 budget analyst Clifford J. Norton in particular.

On the other hand, he had been NASA’s administrator from February 14, 1961, to October 7, 1968.

And Clifford J. Norton had been fired from NASA in 1963, after he’d been arrested by Washington, D.C., police for making a “homosexual advance.” That arrest, and the investigation which followed, was enough to get Norton fired.3

Yesteryear’s Attitudes

EPA's photo: 'Two of the spas were across the road from each other in Atlanta.' From BBC News article, 'Atlanta shootings: Suspect charged with murder as victims identified' (March 18, 2021) used w/o permission.Cultural mores, U.S. Civil Service rules and Cold War jitters of 1963 made due process irrelevant: my opinion.

This excerpt from a 1969-70 analysis of the Clifford J. Norton situation isn’t easy reading, but arguably shows a bit of what life was like in early 1960s America.

“…In a recent policy statement, the [United States Civil Service] Commission stated: ‘Persons about whom there is evidence that they have engaged in or solicited others to engage in homosexual or sexually perverted acts with them, without evidence of rehabilitation, are not suitable for Federal employment.’…
“…The Commission’s position appears to reflect the sentiments of Congress for, as the Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments has stated, ‘homosexuals and other sex perverts are not proper persons to be employed in Government for two reasons; first, they are generally unsuitable, and second, they constitute security risks.‘…”
(“Federal Employment of Homosexuals: Narrowing the Efficiency Standard;” Catholic University Law Review, 19 Cath. U. L. Rev. 267 (1970)) [emphasis mine]

Oi. A brief digression about “security,” real and imagined.

There were, I think, real threats to national security in the 1960s. That said, by the 1970s, I’d become weary of hearing “national security” invoked: seemingly whenever some bigwig was either having having a snit, or pushing some pet project.

I see the same thing happening today, with different slogans.

Now back to that Norton thing.

“…The primary questions presented for review by the appellant were whether he was afforded procedural fairness, and whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain the agency’s charges. The appellant also questioned the inference that his removal would promote the efficiency of the service. The court ignored the appellant’s primary questions and concerned itself with the issue of whether the appellant’s presumed homosexual advance and personality traits constituted such cause for removal as would promote the efficiency of the service….”
(“Federal Employment of Homosexuals: Narrowing the Efficiency Standard;” Catholic University Law Review, 19 Cath. U. L. Rev. 267 (1970)) [emphasis mine]

Ideally, I suppose the administrator of NASA would have known each employee and been fully aware of why a particular employee was hired or fired. And been able to successfully defy both civil service policy as it was in 1963, and Congressional attitudes.

I don’t know how many folks worked for NASA at the time. This year’s headcount was 17,960; in 1963 the Space Race was in progress, so I’d be surprised if NASA staff was much smaller back then.

Maybe James Webb knew all about C. J. Norton’s firing, and either couldn’t or wouldn’t defy the United States Civil Service Commission and Congress to keep the GS-14 budget analyst at NASA.

Or maybe details regarding the discharge of a GS-14 budget analyst didn’t make it all the way to the top administrator’s desk.

NASA’s recent statement may end the ‘erase James Webb’ efforts.

But if enough proper people embrace the “no smoke without fire” attitude,4 this could go on for years.

Free to Agree With Me — Then and Now

Walt Kelly's Deacon Mushrat and Simple J. Malarkey. (1953)Who’s proper and who’s not has changed since my youth.

In some ways, but not in others.

During my youth, America’s self-described defenders of freedom and liberty, some of them, were coming to grips with the idea that commies might not be lurking behind every door.

But I still suspect that many couldn’t quite wrap their minds around the notion that freedom of expression should extend to folks they didn’t agree with.

'I'd force peace right down their bloodthirsty throats.' Deacon Mushrat in Walt Kelly's Pogo. (1952)That was “the establishment” of my youth.

They stalwartly eroded whatever confidence they’d earned, and lost their positions of influence and authority.

Today’s self-described defenders of freedom and liberty, those who have risen to positions of influence and authority since my youth, warn against different fearsome foes.

But I don’t see much difference where it comes to feeling that freedom of expression should extend to folks who disagree with them. Or recognizing that “moral panic” isn’t just something that happens to those with unsanctioned views.5

The ‘good old days’ aren’t something I miss. During my youth, I wasn’t any more on the same page as the powers that be than I am today.

And that reminds me of a few points I haven’t talked about lately. And some that I have.

Authority, Love, and Neighbors

Jraytram's photo: crepuscular rays in Saint Peter's basilica. (July 2008)Growing up in the 1960s left me with an attitude: several attitudes, actually.

Among them was the notion that I had little regard for authority.

That attitude hasn’t changed, but how I understand it has. Some time ago, my wife told me that I had no problem with authority: legitimate authority.

She was right. I willingly respect authority. It’s pompous nitwits with delusions of legitimate authority that bother me.

Since I’m now a Catholic, respecting authority is important. So is using my brain. Here’s where it gets tricky.

Catholics can work with any political system; as long as the local regime supports the common good, and citizens are okay with how their country’s authorities act. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1897-1917, 1901, 1905-1912; “Gaudium et spes,” 28, 42, Pope Saint Paul VI (December 7, 1965))

Part of my job is working with secular authorities. Usually. Some things aren’t an option for me: like doing something bad, but with good intentions. And, like it or not, some actions are always bad ideas. (Catechism, 1750-1756, 1789, 2238-2246)

I’m being vague. I’ll explain why later.

Respect for competent authority is a good idea. Blind obedience isn’t. (Catechism, 1900, 1951, 2155, 2242-2243, 2267)

And I should love God, love my neighbor, and see everybody as my neighbor. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31, 10:2537; Catechism, 1789)

I say that a lot.

So, if loving my neighbor is important, how come I don’t agree with everything my neighbor says?

A few reasons. First, everybody’s my neighbor. Second, some of my neighbors profoundly don’t agree with other neighbors. Finally, for now,”love” isn’t “approval.” And that last is a topic that deserves more time than I’ve got this week.

Changing Fashions in Denunciation

Scott Adam's 'Dilbert' strip: Dogbert's Good News Show. ('We'll all die!')I’d prefer living in a country where I hadn’t grown up hearing radio preachers denouncing communism and Catholicism. When they weren’t shilling the latest End Times Bible Prophecy.

Time passed. Mores and manners changed. Human nature, not so much.

I’m not fond of today’s denunciations of alleged bigots and ‘raging homophobes,’ either. An up side in the James Webb case is that he’s dead, and so his career isn’t threatened.

By the same token, I can’t yearn for the days when ranting against homosexuals and/or communists was fashionable.

Not reasonably. That’s partly because I’m not normal. I’ve talked about this before.

Eccentric, Nerd, Geek, Oddball: Take Your Pick

Brian H. Gill. (March 17, 2021)One of my daughters, having been asked to describe me in three words, said that I’m eccentric, scholarly and eclectic. The second term might have been “academic,” or something of the sort.

My eccentricity may or may not be occasionally entertaining: depending on who’s opinion is in play.

But it didn’t help me get jobs, not the sort that were available back in the 1970s.

Being one of the 99-plus of a hundred or so applicants who didn’t get the job each time didn’t help, either.

At any rate, a job counselor I’d been working with asked me if I was homosexual. In context, the question made sense. During the 1970s in the Upper Midwest, at any rate. Bias against homosexuals was real enough to make — I think it was still called affirmative action — an option.

And I fit the profile. I’m male, creative, articulate and not obsessed with sports.

Some four decades later, I’m not sure about “articulate” being the word used. But talking as if I had some smarts was part of the reason I fit the homosexual profile.

Maybe attitudes have shifted, and men needn’t dial their brains back in order to fit the ‘regular guy’ mold.

About my opportunity to jump-start a career, I didn’t qualify. I’m not homosexual, which is no great virtue. I’ve got issues, lots of issues: but not that particular one.

The job counselor’s question did, however, help explain a few otherwise-puzzling interactions I’d had with nice, normal folks.

Living in a Changing America

EPA's photo: 'Two of the spas were across the road from each other in Atlanta.' From BBC News article, 'Atlanta shootings: Suspect charged with murder as victims identified' (March 18, 2021) used w/o permission.Some Americans have been imprisoned for having the ‘wrong’ ancestors, and faith-based mass murders happen.

But I don’t think the Presidency should be abolished, and I don’t see a point in labeling religious people as enemies of the state.

And, knowing a bit about Executive Order 9066, the execution of Father James Coyle, and recent mass murders: I realize that distinguishing between deadly threats to America and folks who simply aren’t quite the right sort can be difficult.

So, not surprisingly, is spotting and stopping mass murderers before they kill.

Father James Coyle’s death, by the way, was classified as murder even at the time. Although an understanding court didn’t convict the regular American who performed the private-sector execution.

Father Coyle’s crime had been performing a marriage between the son of a decent American family and a Puerto Rican woman. This was in 1921.6

I really don’t miss the ‘good old days.’

Respect, Compassion and Making Sense

Leonard G.'s photo: 'California Academy of Sciences beyond the Concourse plaza, in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California.' Taken from the de Young Museum's tower. (August 28, 2008) via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.America has changed in the century since Father Coyle’s death.

Much of that change happened during the half-century since my youth.

Some, I think, has been change for the better. Some hasn’t.

But human nature hasn’t changed. Certainly not in the few millennia since we started keeping records. Not as far as I can tell.

How much of that’s good news, and how much is not-so-good news, is a topic I’ll leave for another time.

Today, I’ll explain why I’m not on the ‘defame James Webb’ bandwagon. And why I’m not shrieking epithets at the anti-anti-LGBTQ+ folks.

Maybe “LGBTQ+” offends someone. If so, sorry about that. It’s the alphabet soup label NASA used, and is close to some similar terms. My intent is communication, not offense.

Anyway, I’m a Catholic. So I think human sexuality is a good thing. Basically. And that sexual actions, like anything else we do, involve ethical standards. (Catechism, 2331-2391)

I also think everyone deserves respect and reasoned compassion, not unjust discrimination. And that homosexual acts are a bad idea. (Catechism, 2357-2359)

“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”
(Catechism, 2358)

That’s homosexual acts: not experiencing such urges.

I deal with different temptations, and see no point in lashing out at folks because they’re not just like me.

I do, however, think that love is a good idea. So is acting like love matters.

Now, a quick explanation for why I’m not talking about exciting data from the James Webb Space Telescope.

Exoplanets and a Blood Test

NASA, ESA, CSA, L. Hustak (STScI)'s illustration of the JWST Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science Team's data: 'A series of light curves from Webb's Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) shows the change in brightness of three different wavelengths (colors) of light from the WASP-39 star system over time as the planet transited the star July 10, 2022'
Transit of WASP-39 b. (July 10, 2022)

I’d been looking up what we’re learning about WASP-39 b and another exoplanet that’s about as dense as a marshmallow, when I ran into discussions of why the James Webb Space Telescope’s name was naughty.

That distracted me, and was a reminder that it had been some time since I talked about why I think respect makes sense. And why I’m not on neither the alphabet-soup-sexuality bandwagon, nor in the anti-alphabet-soup camp.

Now, in an abundance of caution, a sensitive-content warning. I’ll be talking about health.

A routine blood test’s results, earlier this week, led to a second blood test. That both took time, and didn’t help me concentrate on looking up nerdy details.

Happily, my potassium level has gone down a bit since earlier this week. And it hadn’t gotten to ‘immediate treatment needed’ levels. I’ll be talking to a doctor about it next week.

So that’s why I’ve put off what we’re learning about WASP-39 b and TOI-3757 b until next week: assuming I don’t get distracted again.

Finally, the usual links:

  • James Webb Space Telescope Early Results
    (Rings, Spokes and Explanations
    A Galaxy of a Different Color
    Mid-Infrared: Cool
    Astrophotos: More Than Pretty Pictures
    The Cartwheel Galaxy Group as We Might See It)
    (August 6, 2022)
  • Taking People, Pride and Dignity Seriously: June 2022
    (Dignity, Good Intentions and Bad Ideas
    Acting Like Love Matters: A Good Idea
    Not Easy, But a Good Idea
    Odd Urges and Malignant Virtue
    “Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity” — Makes Sense to Me)
    (June 11, 2022)
  • I’m Not as Crazy as You Think I Moose!
    (Looking Forward to Judgment Day?
    The Last Judgment’s Go Time, Doomsayers: and Something from Sirach
    I’m Not Normal: ADHD And All That
    Depression and Something I Don’t Remember
    Taking my Medicine)
    (April 9, 2022)
  • Evolution: Science, Religion, Opinions and Me
    (Politics and Perceptions
    “…Truth will be Truth….”
    Taking the Bible Seriously
    Ideology, Evolution and Demographics
    Seeking Knowledge, Appreciating God’s Work)
    (August 28, 2021)
  • Atlanta Spa Shootings: Remembering Dignity
    (First Assumption: Hate Crime
    Second Assumption: False Flag
    Close Encounters of the Conspiracy Kind
    Next Stop: Florida?
    Love, Respect: and Really Bad Ideas)
    (March 18, 2021)

1 Science stuff:

2 A name, a label and opinions:

3 🎵 “Those were the days, my friend; we thought they’d never end” — and then they did:

4 Remembering McCarthyism and the 1960s:

5 Two phrases:

6 People behaving badly:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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