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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Despite the hype, it was just your average lunar eclipse

"Blood moon," my hemorrhoids .

At least in downtown Des Moines, this morning's lunar eclipse was a burnt orange a little darker than the piping on the Bears' uniforms. Maybe Texas Longhorn orange. Which is about average for a lunar eclipse. I've seen a couple of brick red ones in my time, but dark orange is the norm

I don't know where this "blood red moon" business came from. An even bigger mystery is why, though I knew better, I bought into it. Now that I look back on it, I should have wondered when the hype was first being dished out. The color of an eclipse is largely a function of the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and I haven't read about any recent Krakatoa or Mt. Pinatubo or Mt. St. Helen's or Yellowstone Super Volcano eruptions, or the onset of nuclear winter (though I'm beginning to wonder about that last one; Spring lasted all of two days here). So I can't imagine why anybody thought we even might have a "blood red" eclipse. And contrary to one rather, er.... extraordinary suggestion I encountered on line, lunar eclipses are always various shades of orange and red. They are never, EVER pink!

This morning's event was nothing special- just an average, ordinary, typical lunar eclipse, which itself is a frequent and common event. So why all the hype? Probably, I guess, because we hadn't had one since 2011. That's unusual; we often have two or three in the same year- the next one will be on October 8- and unlike solar eclipses, totality occurs over the entire night side of the planet!

It would probably be going to far to say that if you've seen one lunar eclipse, you've seen them all. In fact, if you've seen one lunar eclipse- this morning's for example- you've merely seen most of them. Unusual eclipses do occur- but only if there's a fairly drastic reason for them to be unusual.

Nevertheless, come October 8 I'll be out there again watching the moon slip into Earth's shadow. As an astronomy addict, it's in my blood.

The real show, of course, will be the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. For a change it won't be the islanders in the middle of the Pacific Ocean or the inhabitants of the frozen Canadian tundra who will see the show; the path of totality (below) runs right across the middle of the United States!

Somehow, I'm going to have to figure out how to get to Kentucky, where the duration of totality is longest, on that day.

Or at least Omaha.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Why did CBS choose Colbert?

"Progressive" fundamentalism

No, Paul Krugman. Facts most certainly do not have a liberal bias.

And yes, people who disagree with the Left have the same rights as the Left does. Sorry, but's that's kinda the basis for our system of government.

Interesting, though, how much the "progressives" have in common with the mindless persecutors of religion's darkest moments- the very folks the Left would have us believe Christians and Jews and Muslims are as a group.

Mindless faith can be an addictive drug. Especially when you believe that only your opponents are capable of it.

I hate the use of the word "fundamentalist" as a put-down. It's  name of a historic religious movement(can you imagine, say, "methodist" used as a put-down?) whose very purpose was an to broaden the boundaries of the Christian community by identifying those beliefs which supposedly were basic to the faith, thereby making disagreement about lesser issues less divisive. But it's now used, as Martin Marty once observed, as "a religious cuss-word," a term denoting mindless intolerance and rigid faith in an irrational belief system. And I don't suppose there's much that can be done about that, Leftists being in pretty much complete control of the media, and there's not much more tolerant folk can do about their bigoted misuse of the word.

So I'll yield the point.

Sorry, "progressives." But by your own  definition, you're the biggest "fundamentalists" of all.

Friday, April 11, 2014

CBS blew it in not picking Ferguson to replace Letterman

Craig Ferguson is a class act.

He's also the wittiest, funniest-on-his-feet, and best at putting a guest at ease of anyone I've ever seen do a talk show. I've been looking forward to snarky (and increasingly unfunny) left-winger David Letterman's retirement for some time, assuming that Craig would take his place (the earlier time slot would even serve to curb Ferguson's one drawback: his obsession with discussing his own genitals and those of others).

Sadly, CBS has decided to replace one left-wing snark artist with another. Stephen Colbert, not Craig Ferguson, will replace Letterman when the latter retires next year.

A pity. I'll still watch as much of The Late Show as  I used to: the last five minutes, to be sure that I don't miss any of Craig's monologue.

But no more than that.

This is a mistake, and CBS is going to regret it, because I don't think I'm anywhere close to being alone in that regard.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

McCarthyism: the Left's default position

Herein Dennis Prager explains why the Mozilla purge needs to be the occasion of that rarest of occurrences- a boycott by those on the Right.

He also explains an essential difference between the Right and the Left: that for the Right, McCarthyism was an isolated incident in history.

For the Left, on the other hand, it's a way of life, deeply engrained in its view of reality.

Conservatives believe in converting people who disagree with them. "Progressives" believe in destroying them.

Brave New World.


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

SCOTUS refuses to uphold the First Amendment

The Supreme Court has copped out its duty to uphold the Bill of Rights by refusing to hear the case of a photographer who declined on First Amendment grounds to take pictures at a gay "wedding."

It lets stand a New Mexico decision which says that merchants can be compelled to violate their religious beliefs in order to comply with "discrimination" laws.

When basic human rights specifically listed by the Constitution take a back seat to manufactured ones, all cause for confidence in our courts has disappeared. We are no longer a government of laws. We are then  a kritarchy- a nation governed by judges- and not a nation governed by the three-lobed system of checks and balances the Constitution establishes.

Meanwhile, LCMS President Matthew Harrison has posted an article by Robert Knight on his blog which does an excellent job of summing up the issue of same-sex "marriage," and how no court or legislature has the right or finally the authority to redefine a pre-political institution which existed before government did.

Monday, April 07, 2014

What's it all about, "progressives?"

The firing of Brendan Eich and the Left's ongoing battle to silence and if necessary destroy anyone who disagrees with them isn't about homosexuality.

It's about power. It's always been about power.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Time for all good Americans to fire Firefox

Three cheers for gay columnist and activist Andrew Sullivan, whose disgust at the firing of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich because he contributed to the campaign for Proposition 8 in California shows that there are some people who still can manage to keep their perspective when it comes to an emotional issue like marriage deconstruction.

And he isn't alone. To their credit, a great many gay Americans are coming out against "progressive" tactics which have more in common with Beria and Himmler than with Jefferson or Lincoln.

The firing- or perhaps I should say "purge-" of Eich has inspired this meditation from Kevin Williamson at NRO on the nature of liberal fascism- and the illiberal nature of the movement which falsely calls itself  "progressivism."

I hope you all have uninstalled Firefox and Seamonkey and Thunderbird by now, regardless of your politics. Firing somebody because you disagree with his politics crosses a line that ought not to be crossed in America, no matter what that person's politics- or yours- might be. And the issue isn't simply same-sex "marriage."

It's freedom of speech- and the radical unacceptability of an intolerance so arrogant that it thinks it can force people to agree with it and still call itself "progressive.

Mozilla needs to be called to account. And so does the totalitarian Left.

When science becomes dogma

Being an amateur astronomer, I've always been a fan of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, director of New York's Hayden Planetarium and host of FOX's new, re-booted "Cosmos" TV program.  I really admire his breadth of knowledge, his wit, and  his talent for explaining things in terms mathematically-challenged folk like yours truly can understand. More than that, he's always struck me as basically a nice guy, as well as an interesting one. Having a couple of beers with Dr. Tyson would be an experience I'd relish.

He summed up the reasons for Pluto's demotion as a planet about as well as possible when he pointed out that "if Pluto were in Earth's orbit, it would grow a tail- and that's just no way for a planet to behave." His comment on the demise of Comet ISON similarly hit the mark: "Comets are like cats. They have tails, and do whatever they want."

I also admired Dr. Tyson's predecessor as "Cosmos" host, Dr. Carl Sagan- a frank and outspoken atheist, but a civil one who respected those who disagreed with him and took them seriously. I don't think anyone who has read Sagan's book Contact can easily miss the point that Sagan's atheism was underlain by a becoming humility that reflected very well what I understand to be the essence of the scientific approach to reality: a willingness to follow the evidence where it leads, to say, "This seems to be the case," on the basis of currently-available evidence, but always stopping short of "this is," since new evidence may always come available.

Dr. Tyson quite correctly points out in an early episode of the new show  that what most people believe is meant by the word "theory" is actually the meaning of "hypothesis," and that the two are very different. An hypothesis is simply an idea, a proposed solution to a problem or explanation for a phenomenon. A theory (as in "the theory of evolution," for example, or "the theory of gravity") is an hypothesis that has been well enough tested to function as at least provisional truth.

Seems to me, though, that Dr. Tyson drops the ball here, when he fails to leave even theoretical room for the possibility that a deeper explanation for the observed phenomena they describe than simply blind evolution or simple gravity itself might arise- or even, as unlikely as it is, that a new discovery might revolutionize our understanding of the roles they play. The emphasis here is on the word "theoretical;" I'm not suggesting that it's likely that such evidence will be found. But science- at least in my understanding- is always provisional. It intends not so much to hand down dogma as to give what seem, at the moment the best possible explanations of this or that. And at times the new "Cosmos" seems to me, thus far, to blur that distinction.

To suggest, as Dr. Tyson did one night, that Newton's description of the mathematics of gravity do away with the "necessity" of a God as the source of the phenomena he describes strikes me not only as bad logic- akin to saying that the discovery Newton's laws does away with the necessity of a shoemaker wielding a hammer in explaining the existence of footwear- but to cross the line not only between science and metaphysics, but between reasoned explanation and dogma. Crossing that line is an accusation Dr. Tyson often levels against religion, and rightly so. But then, religion doesn't pretend to do otherwise.

Science- or what calls itself by that name these days- often also crosses that line- and the illogical conclusion that the existence of gravity does away with the need for God seems to me to take an uncomfortably clear step in that direction.The difference between science and religion is that science claims not to cross that line. And when it does so, it stops being science- at least in the sense in which I think that Dr. Tyson, like Dr. Sagan before him, means to use the word: the fearless search for the truth, no matter where the truth leads.

In science, as in law and journalism and so many other endeavors, we increasingly have people of essentially the same world-view and presuppositions setting the standards for what is "kosher," and what is not. That is the issue here, it seems to me, on the Left as well as on the Right. As we've seen in the debate over the effects on children of being raised by gay couples, flaws in studies which happen to match the current "groupthink" will be peer-reviewed favorably, whereas unorthodox studies with the same ones or even less serious ones will be dismissed for them. It's human nature- and scientists, too, are human.

Dr. Tyson seems not to take into account something which anybody remotely acquainted with the history of science will have to admit: that scientific orthodoxy has historically been at least as formidable a barrier to the advance of our knowledge of the universe as has religious orthodoxy. It's a point secularists often miss: the critical distinction between religion and other ideologies isn't the existence of God or an afterlife (many world religions lack both), but the providing of a dogmatic basis for giving existence explanation and meaning. Marxism is as much a religion as Presbyterianism. It, too, is an ideologically rigid and intellectually closed explanation for reality, And so can science be- if it ceases to be about the description of the provisional, and lapses into dogma.

Here's a very good account at some of the new Cosmos's historical, factual, and logical failings. By all means watch the series. But bear in mind that it's very, very fallible when it comes to discussing metaphysics rather than science- and that at the moment it stops being provisional, it also stops being science.

ADDENDUM: Dr. Tyson himself says pretty much the same thing here- except that he continues to miss the point that sometimes science itself ossifies into mind-killing dogma, and thereby ceases to be science.

I'd really like to buy him that beer and talk with him about it.