Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent: Anticipation of Christmas

Today is the first Sunday of Advent a time of preparation for the coming celebration of our Savior's coming at Christmas. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us to "be watchful" for Christ.
Turning to today’s Gospel reading, he said, "Jesus' appeal therefore comes very much at the right time and in this first Sunday it is again proposed with force: 'Be watchful!' Jesus directed these words to his disciples, but also to 'everybody else' because each one will be called to answer for his existence at a time known only to God. This entails the right detachment from earthly things, sincere repentance for one's own errors, active charity towards one's fellow man and especially a humble and trusting faith in the hands of God, our tender and merciful Father."

Welcome to California

The Space Shuttle Endeavour landed safely today in California, diverted from Florida because of weather, after a mission that included an International Space Station (ISS) crew member swap and repairs and upgrades to the ISS.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

A special day to give thanks to God for all His gifts to us. On October 3, 1863, in the middle of the dire circumstances of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation which set the precedent for the annual holiday.
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

Have a good time with family and friends and don't eat any more than I would. ;-)

Terrorists Strike Again

Terrorist have struck at several locations in the Indian city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), killing nearly eighty people in a confrontation that is still ongoing with hostages being held.

UPDATE: The death toll is now reported at 101 and may be growing. Pray for all those involved in this horrific situation.

Meanwhile there is a heightened alert for potential attacks in New York City or elsewhere in the US over the holiday season.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Are you an Informed Citizen?

A couple of recent surveys have revealed that many Americans don't know as much as they think they do about civics, history and politics.

A survey by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute concludes that "Americans Earn a Failing Grade When Tested on American History and Economics." There's a link on the site to take the quiz yourself and see if you fare better than a majority of your fellow Americans.
Even more startling is the fact that over twice as many people know Paula Abdul was a judge on American Idol than know that the phrase "government of the people, by the people, for the people" comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.

Meanwhile, documentary filmmaker John Ziegler and Zogby Polling collaborated on a project to survey Barack Obama voters on major campaign topics. I want to emphasize that this does not reflect on all those who voted for Obama nor exclusively on Obama voters (McCain voters and others were not included in the survey). However, it does emphasis how badly much of the major media have misinformed voters about this year's candidates and campaign.

While I believe the Media are responsible for much of the misinformation revealed in this survey, particularly the greater knowledge of more trivial issues like Sarah Palin's wardrobe, I don't believe the Media hid the fact that Democrats took control of Congress two years ago. Even with all the Media distortion and omission, someone who was unaware of the Democrats controlling Congress after two years just wasn't paying very much attention to any source of information.

There is an individual responsibility for a citizen to be informed about how they are governed. If you are like me or most Americans, you already don't get enough sleep time, so it may be necessary to take some time away from something else you consider urgent or desirable to become more informed from various information sources about how you are governed.

Busy at ISS on Tenth Anniversary

The ISS and STS-126 crews were busy making improvements on the International Space Station yesterday, the tenth anniversary of its first component making orbit. Except for a tool bag becoming an unintended free-flying satellite and a delicate internal plumbing problem, the STS-126 mission is going well.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Historic First Direct Images of Exoplanets

Two separate announcements yesterday heralded the historic development of direct images being taken of planets orbiting other star systems.

NASA announced the discovery of a large planet orbiting the star Fomalhaut with imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope.

W.M. Keck Observatory, National Research Council Canada, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Meanwhile, another astronomical team announced the discovery and released the image of three planets in the star system HR 8799 using the ground based Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

These are historic developments that we've been awaiting for a long time and are just the opening act in a new spectacular era of discovery.

Endeavour on the Way to ISS

Shuttle Endeavour lift-off at 7:55 PM EST this evening. Full Moon is at upper right.
Image Credit: NASA/Troy Cryder

The Space Shuttle Endeavour left Earth this evening in a spectacular night-time launch on a mission to make improvements to the International Space Station (ISS).

Sunday, November 09, 2008

St. Hildegard of Bingen

I attended a special concert at my Church this evening featuring the work of Hildegard of Bingen, 11th Century mystic, abbess, artist and composer. Hearing her soaring sacred music was a refreshing break from mundane activities and a reminder of things greater than the serious concerns of recent days.

A Grim Anniversary

Rand Simberg recalls that today is the seventieth anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night when a wave of terror against the Jews swept through Nazi Germany, foreshadowing the coming Holocaust. This is another ominous reminder to be wary of blindly following any temporal leader or movement.

Potential Game Changing Developments

Three technological developments that could affect our lives and generate new industries that would spur long term economic growth.

- U.S. Army researchers have developed "nanoscaffolding" that can facilitate the regrowth of external limbs and internal organs. (Hat tip to Transterrestrial Musings.)
The technology works by placing a very fine apparatus called a scaffold, which is made of polymer fibres hundreds of times finer than a human hair, in place of a missing limb or damaged organ. The scaffold acts as a guide for cells to grab onto so they can begin to rebuild missing bones and tissue.

This is the kind of breakthrough medical research that can improve peoples' lives, and all without even one embryonic stem cell.

- Mini nuclear power plants that can power industrial plants and residential areas. (Hat tip to Drudge.)
The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.

- Use of artificially generated "magnetic bubbles" to protect space travellers on deep space journeys. This technology would protect those traveling to and from the Moon and staying on its surface and would remove the greatest known hazard for journeys to Near Earth Objects, Mars and more distant places, enabling eventual settlement of the Solar System.
Computer simulations done by a team in Lisbon with scientists at Rutherford Appleton last year showed that theoretically a very much smaller "magnetic bubble" of only several hundred meters across would be enough to protect a spacecraft.

Now this has been confirmed in the laboratory in the UK using apparatus originally built to work on fusion. By recreating in miniature a tiny piece of the Solar Wind, scientists working in the laboratory were able to confirm that a small "hole" in the Solar Wind is all that would be needed to keep the astronauts safe on their journey to our nearest neighbours.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Post-Election Thoughts

A number of thoughts on the aftermath of Tuesday's elections:

So we've elected our new president. The election obviously didn't turn out the way I wanted. So what is the appropriate response? I think it is one of support where that term means support by praying for our leaders for guidance and strength. In terms of actions, the most I can say is I'll support President Barack Obama where I can and oppose him where I must. If he follows through on policies based on his record and his statements, there will be plenty to oppose. However, I'll always try to separate intense opposition to policies and actions from attacks on the man's personal dignity. Unfortunately, that line was not respected by those who became unhinged in their opposition to the Presidency of George W. Bush.

All the other serious implications aside, the historic first of Barack Obama's election in breaking a racial barrier is significant. Once such a barrier is crossed, it will not be so much of an issue in future campaigns.

There is a lot of discussion right now on how Republicans and conservatives come back from this election. Probably the biggest challenge is to meet is communicating in the current media environment. The thriving alternative media is a growing refreshing source of information and commentary. However, it was obviously still not enough to overcome the increasingly blatant distortion and omission that was part of the conventional media coverage this year. The reaction has to go beyond complaining about the situation to comprehensively planning to go through, over and around conventional media sources to reach people who so far are not aware of or don't take the time to investigate alternative sources of information. This includes keeping on top of rapidly evolving communications technology.

Communicating with younger citizens, who voted in a strong majority for Obama this time, requires conveying a message in their terms. Simply describing Obama's tax plans as 'socialist' does not have much of an impact on those who are too young to remember the Soviet Union or Ronald Reagan. Many younger Americans may have even been told by college professors that socialism is a good thing. It is important to communicate concisely and directly how a redistributive tax proposal would diminish their dreams of future opportunities.

Educational, cultural, scientific and religious institutions often are staffed with persons who consciously or not, tend to address public policy questions (e.g. climate change) in a way that promotes a particular point of view as established fact, even though the actual facts often lead to alternative conclusions. Changing the political landscape of a society goes beyond campaign strategies and must include a long term strategy to take these other influences into account.

There are of course, the specific policy areas at stake now: life issues, national security, economy, etc. that will need to be addressed proactively in this new political environment (with some definite priorities of intensity: e.g. a policy destructive of human life being a more grave situation than a bad tax policy).

UPDATE: 11/09/08: Paul Mirengoff expresses similar sentiments on maintaining a balanced response in this column.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Well, Here We Go

Well, with the projection for California now in, it is all but confirmed that Barack Obama has been elected as our next president. The President-Elect deserves credit and congratulations for conducting an effective campaign that outran two powerful opponents, first Hillary Clinton, then John McCain. (No doubt, the recent financial crisis likely played a pivotal role.) BTW, John McCain just gave a supremely gracious and classy concession speech.

One positive thing that should come out of this is that the nation should move beyond the current state of lingering divisions related to race.

Beyond that, there is more of a mystery of which Barack Obama will show up in the Oval Office, the moderate sounding candidate of 'Hope' and 'Change' or the man with a radical background of associations and policy positions that continued to bubble up even over the past few days.

So how to approach a situation that is what it is? There is a need to separate a feisty opposition from the kind of personal vitriol that marked the reaction to President Bush by some on the left. However, there can be no withdrawal from the fight for our essential values: the protection of human life at all stages, the advancement of liberty and imposing limits on the encroach of government power on free people. Let's pray and work like we've never done before.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Election and Beyond

In a few days I’ll have time to clean up my house, get more rest, take an autumn hike on a mountain trail, spend more time at than I do at, etc.. These have been the final days of phone-calling, sign-waving, blogging and Election Day at the polls activities.

So what is this choice about? On the presidential level, we have one candidate who deserves credit for breaking the race barrier in winning his party’s nomination, setting a precedent for others in both parties seeking national office.

But this accomplishment is not a qualification for being swept into the Oval Office. Much about Barack Obama is still unknown: his birth certificate, educational and medical records, thesis paper, etc. are unavailable. But what we do know about his background and world view is reason enough to not choose him as our next leader. His long time associations with individuals and organizations to point to a radical world view that in turn will influence his policy decisions. Obama’s pronouncements on the economy and taxes, the latest revelation on his position on coal as an energy resource, his lack of experience or clear direction on national security and especially his insensitivity, even outright hostility, to the protection of human life at all stages are all reasons not to vote for Barack Obama.

John McCain has a proven record of character, sacrifice and ideas that would point our nation in the right direction. While I do have some policy disagreements with him, John McCain will protect our country, proposes generally pro-growth tax, economic and energy policies, and is, for the most part, strongly prolife. Finally, his selection of Sarah Palin as his VP running mate introduces a dynamic leader who challenges the conventional wisdom on so many levels. Palin is an accomplished governor of Alaska who has adopted the positive aspects of feminism in her personal life while discarding its lethal pro-abortion baggage. Sarah Palin will be a part of our future no matter tomorrow’s outcome.

So, going into Election Day, polls indicate that Obama is up by varying numbers in the popular vote and by narrowing margins in most of the key electoral states, so it is only prudent to be prepared for an Obama victory. However, with the huge number of statistically fluctuating polls, the latest bombshell on "bankrupting coal plants", the spirited connection between the crowd and Sarah Palin I saw in York, PA on Friday, and anecdotal evidence of uneven support for Obama among Democrats and Independents, it is possible the outcome could upset the conventional wisdom.

With all of the "boots on the ground" Get Out The Vote effort, we must also remember to depend on prayer. The historical analogy most often brought up in this context is the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 where a seemingly outnumbered fleet saved Christian Europe. Remember, with God, all things are possible.

So pray, work and vote. You are a free person and don't let polls, pundits or acquaintances discourage you. Fight on!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

He Said What?

Add this to the "Saying in San Francisco what he won't say in Pennsylvania" department. In a radio interview with the San Francisco Chronicle back in January, Barack Obama revealed that his carbon cap-and-trade plan would be so aggressive it would bankrupt any effort to build a coal fired power plant and would also cause electricity costs to skyrocket. Here's the audio, in his own voice.

Obama talks about developing clean coal and other alternative energy sources, a worthy goal that should be pursued. But it can't be forced by deliberately hitting the American economy with staggering energy costs.

What else are we going to learn about this guy? This is spreading across the Internet and alternative media. McCain and Palin are jumping on this revelation. It may derail Obama's presidential ambitions. Otherwise, dinner by candlelight may become the norm.