Mission to Mars

Clyde Harley Fair
Clyde Harley Fair

If God wanted a man on the moon He would have put one there. – Clyde Harley Fair (Jim’s grandpa)

You probably get the impression that my grandpa wasn’t a big fan of space exploration.  He thought it was a waste of time and money, apparently not appreciating that the space program brought us Velcro, Tang and free-dried peas.  I know there were other achievements, but those are the ones that immediately come to my non-technical mind.

NASA has fallen on hard times, but a private company, Mars One, claims it will go to Mars in 2027 and set up a colony.  Grandpa would not be in favor, and I’m so sure I like the idea – despite being a fan of “Star Trek the Next Generation.”

Frosty white water ice clouds and swirling orange dust storms above a vivid rusty landscape reveal Mars as a dynamic planet in this sharpest view ever obtained by an Earth-based telescope. The Earth-orbiting Hubble telescope snapped this picture on June 26, when Mars was approximately 43 million miles (68 million km) from Earth - its closest approach to our planet since 1988. Hubble can see details as small as 10 miles (16 km) across. Especially striking is the large amount of seasonal dust storm activity seen in this image. One large storm system is churning high above the northern polar cap [top of image], and a smaller dust storm cloud can be seen nearby. Another large duststorm is spilling out of the giant Hellas impact basin in the Southern Hemisphere [lower right]. Acknowledgements: J. Bell (Cornell U.), P. James (U. Toledo), M. Wolff (Space Science Institute), A. Lubenow (STScI), J. Neubert (MIT/Cornell)

Here are my top 10 reasons not to go to Mars, at least for me:

  1. It takes six to 12 months to get there and I get antsy on a plane flight longer than two hours. Imagine how many movies I would have to load on my player to stay occupied for that lone?
  2. There won’t be any fresh fruit or vegetables on the flight or when we get there.
  3. My hobby is fishing and there isn’t a place to fish on Mars.
  4. Despite rumors of little green people, I don’t think there will be anyone there to meet.
  5. Assuming I could bring a cappuccino machine, I would have to make drinks with powdered mike because there aren’t any cows on Mars.
  6. I hate Tang.
  7. If I get there and don’t like the neighborhood it will take at least six months to get back.
  8. The nearest Catholic parish is 140,000,000 miles away, which will make it hard to maintain my sacramental commitments or be part of the faith community.
  9. Going for a walk requires more preparation and equipment than deep-sea diving.
  10. There really isn’t anything to do on Mars.

About point 10:  I’m sure there are scientists who could occupy themselves with all sorts of fascinating experiments.  But fascinating experiments get tiresome and there really isn’t anything else to do.

In Antarctica, if you get bored you can bundle up and go play with the penguins.  In Alaska, you can take your sled dogs for a run.  In the Sahara, you can visit an oasis and munch on dates and wild honey.

But on Mars, you just have to sit there and look at the sand and rocks.  I could do that in Hawaii – but it would be near the ocean, the mountains and lots of pineapples.

I’m liking the idea of Hawaii.

The promise of immigration

Antônio_Rocco_-_Os_emigrantesI’m blessed to live in a country that people want to get into rather than out of:  The United States of America.

My ancestors came here many generations ago, mostly from Germany.  My wife’s ancestors came from Italy – just a couple generations ago.  Now, we’re all Americans.

In the past few weeks, three of my friends became American citizens.  One from Mexico, one from Australia, one from South Africa.

Despite their different national backgrounds, they have much in common.  All are beautiful people of deep faith, hard-working, dedicated and honest as the day is long.  I’m grateful that they now are Americans because their addition enriches our nation’s character.

These three friends went through the long, complicated, legal process to become citizens.  The process isn’t easy to understand or navigate.  In talking with people in various stages of attaining their citizenship, it reminds me of booking a ticket on an airline.  The price is different on Mondays than on Tuesdays, tickets are cheaper if bought before 9 a.m. or after 3 p.m., you can use your frequent-flyer miles every fourth Thursday and you get a bag of peanuts if you sit in an aisle seat in an even-numbered row.

I’m a reasonably bright guy with a couple college degrees and I can’t make sense of our immigration system.  In this inspiring political season I have read many proposals for “fixing” the system.  They range from putting up a titanium wall on our borders with armed guards every six feet to just letting people wander in and make themselves at home collecting government benefits.

Somewhere in between those extremes is a place that practical people of Christian faith can stake out as right and reasonable.  That place recognizes our moral obligation to help people in need, combined with the practical reality that we can’t do that if we aren’t economically viable.  If we don’t find that place, we have failed in our duty as Christians.  And the immigration problem will go away; we’ll lose our ability to offer the American Dream and people will stop trying to get in.

I want to live in a country that other people admire and have a clear, fair path to join.

Welcome the sinner

Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty
Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty

Everybody knows the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.  She is about to be stoned and he suggests to the crowd that whoever is without sin throw the first stone.

The collected sinners lose their misplaced gumption and walk away.  Then Jesus says he doesn’t condemn her – but sends her on her way with the admonition to stop sinning.

In other words, Jesus distinguishes between the sin and the sinner.  And he gave an example for those of us trying to follow him.

There are other examples.  Many know the story of Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty.  He worked in the Vatican during World War II and let a team of devoted volunteers who saved the lives of thousands of Jews being pursued by the Nazis.  He played a daring and potentially deadly cat-and-mouse game with the Gestapo head in Rome, Lt. Col. Herbert Kappler.  After the liberation of Rome, Kappler was convicted as a war criminal and spent the rest of his life in prison.  One of his frequent visitors was Msgr. O’Flaherty, who eventually became God’s instrument to bring Kappler to the Catholic faith.

We Catholics believe in working with sinners to bring about forgiveness and conversion.

And then there is the case of the nearly successful attempt on the life of St. John Paul II by Mehmet Ali Agca.  The misguided Agca was convicted of attempted murder and life in prison.  But the then-Pope visited his cell and prayed with him, forgave him and eventually gained his pardon by the president of Italy.

Lt. Col. Herbert Kappler
Lt. Col. Herbert Kappler

I’m sensing a Catholic trend here…soul sins, soul repents, soul forgiven, soul saved.

Yet, I’ve read many words of outrage, as well as unexpected claims that everything has changed; in response to the Holy Father saying we want divorced and remarried Catholics to be part of the Church.  To those who are in a huff, I recommend getting back to a discerning reading of scripture.  For those who think the teaching of the Church are about to change to allow us to ignore or even celebrate sin, I suggest the same.

Virtually everyone has at least one family member who has done something sinful – or may be living a life in violation of the teachings of the Church.

Once upon a time there was a woman named Monica.  Her son, Augustine, was, well, a terrible sinner.  She continued to love him and pray for him.  They both became saints.

I’m a conservative, by-the-book Catholic.  I have friends who are not.  They remain my friends and, in some cases, much-loved members of my family.  I try to remember that my baptismal commitment is not to judge, but to evangelize.

Heat and Hubris

Earth_On_StoveGlobal warming is a hot topic.  Everyone is worried about it, or so you would think by watching the evening news.

If the earth gets a lot warmer, cities might flood, farmlands will lose their ability to grow food and we’ll probably have big bugs in Chicago like folks have in the Amazon.

If the earth gets a lot cooler, equally problematic things will happen.  Either way we’re in big trouble.

So…people are calling for action:  reduce carbon emissions, shut down coal mines, get power from windmills, live more simply, cultivate gardens and don earth shoes.

The war on manmade global warming is declared.  Generals in the battle are the President, the Pope, scores of world leaders, many scientists and most of the world’s news media.

The accepted gospel is that the earth is warming and man caused it…so if we stop what we’re doing the warming will stop.  End of debate.  Case closed.  Only a fool would disagree.

OK…I don’t want to be a fool.  I’m not a scientist.  I am, however, a natural skeptic when I see oceans of political correctness flowing in the same direction.

Thus, I have my doubts that we are waging the right war.

Stop_global_warming_sign_in_blizzard_-_February_10,_2010_blizzardIt doesn’t take a degree in advanced googling to learn that ever since God plopped the earth into the universe its climate has been changing.  The world gets hotter.  The world gets colder.  Sometimes it is a welcoming place for giant lizards – other times for wooly elephants.  Most of the changes came about ages before man was doing anything that could reasonably be claimed to impact climate.

And I think we ought to ask ourselves if that still isn’t the case.  Has our love for the internal-combustion engine caused the earth to warm?  Perhaps – but as much as changes in the sun’s radiant output, orbital changes of the planets, changes in ocean currents or natural cycles of heating and cooling of our planet’s core?

We humans are an arrogant lot.  Thus, if the earth is changing, we believe we caused it and we can change it.  But what if we’re wrong?  What if shutting down every power plant in the world and trading automobiles for bicycles doesn’t change a thing – except lots of people freeze in the winter and have sore knees from pedaling?

In other words, what if we really don’t have much influence over nature and the future climate?  Just in case…we might need a Plan B that says:  “We puny people can’t stand in the way of what Mother Nature will do, so we need to think about how we can adapt to a different world.”

Instead of shutting down power plants, we might think about where everyone living on a flood plain might move.

Instead of banning cars, we might find a place for retired New Yorkers to move when it starts snowing in Miami.

Instead of destroying our economy, we might do everything we can to make it stronger so we can help people who will be in need when the climate changes.

In the Hippocratic Oath, doctors pledge first and foremost to do no harm.  When confronted with a sick patient, they first much determine what is wrong and the proper course of treatment.  They can’t just start cutting and drugging.

If we believe we humans are the doctors who can deal with the changes in the earth’s climate, we better make sure we first administer the correct medicine.  I don’t want to be standing in a flooded neighborhood with no food and a bicycle as my only means of escape.

Cecil Sanity

Cecil the lion before his sad encounter with the dentist
Cecil the lion before his sad encounter with the dentist

I’m bothered that an American dentist went to Zimbabwe, shot a beloved lion with a bow and arrow, wounded him, tracked him for hours and finished him off with a gun.

Having said that, I’m outraged at several others things going on in the world, none of which can be blamed on dentists.  (By the way, my dentist is a very nice lady who would never shoot a lion or intentionally cause pain to an animal or human.)

I am outraged at Planned Parenthood clinics chopping up babies and selling off the parts.

I am outraged at abortion clinics killing millions of American babies.

I am outraged at ISIS beheading Christians.

I am outraged at nuns being forced by our government to pay for birth control pills.

I am outraged by our courts gradually – but dramatically – stealing our religious freedom.

I could go on, but the point is that there are more traumatic things happening than the unfortunate death of Cecil and lion.

Some animal activists (by that I mean people who like animals, not animals that are active) have suggested that the dentist who shot Cecil should be put on trial and executed.  That certainly has an ISIS ring to it – kill a lion and we’ll kill a dentist.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t equate human lives to lion lives – and I can’t reason my way to Cecil’s death being as serious as any of the issues I raise above.

However, when we stop killing babies and persecuting Christians, I’ll start worrying about lions.