Monday, September 24, 2007

Martian caves?

On a similar note, there's this discovery of caves on Mars. Or at least deep holes in the ground. They're on a volcano, so they're likely to be lava-related, rather than water-carved. They determined their nature by watching their temperatures, compared with their surroundings. Caves on Earth maintain a nearly-constant air temperature inside, day and night, summer and winter. These aren't perfectly constant, but their temperature swings are only one-third that of their surroundings. So if they're not complete caves, they're at least very deep holes.

Martian geology--no water?

(Via the Boar's Head Tavern) One group is claiming the evidence for water on Mars has evaporated.

OK, bad joke. They're saying that surface features that look like they're water-caused are either from lava flows (big canyons in the flatlands) or landslides (smaller gullies on hillsides).

I've long been hoping we'd find active water sites on Mars, so I'm not an objective reporter on this, but I'm skeptical. The evidence for water (both in the distant past and the immediate present) has been building up steadily for the past decade. Soil chemistry in the plains (I'll need to find a specific reference--going from memory, here) shows evidence of having been in standing water in the past.

And the gullies that open out from cliff faces don't show the scree-slope shapes that you'd expect from landslides--the have carved channels, with meandering. You need a liquid to do that. Rock and sand piles up higher in the middle of the slide and makes a convex feature. Water-carved features are concave, like what we see on Mars. These are the sites we've been seeing before-and-after photos of, demonstrating active geology, probably flash-flooding from water gushing out of the cliff.

The new data might undermine a few specific arguments, but I doubt they're going to sweep away all of the evidence that's been piling up since 1997.

More on Syria's nuclear project

(Via Instapundit) The Israelis have captured North Korean nuclear material in Syria. That, plus the overflights the other week, and some exchange of gunfire (I believe I heard that on the news last night)... Wonder if Dennis Kucinich regrets that enthusiastic trip he made to Syria recently.

Probably not.

But can our politicians please stop treating Syria like some kind of partner-for-peace now?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

More things I didn't want to wake up to:

Syria's working on nukes. And they might be coming in from North Korea. Well, that explains the Israeli overflights the other day.

And then we've got Dennis Kucinich visiting Syria and criticising Bush and Israel there. Yeah, that's the way to go. Buck up the nuclear-researching, terrorist-supporting, Iraq-destabilizing, America-hating dictatorship there. Nice move, Congressman.

Sheesh, if they'd just called it their "cabinet," I wouldn't have panicked!

So I get greeted this morning by the news that Putin has dissolved the "Russian government." Glenn Beck mentions it on the radio; I check Drudge and find a bright red headline saying the same thing. YIKES! That substitutes nicely for coffee in the morning.

Then I read the AP article, which explains this means his administration. Which he's cleaning out in preparation for elections. Not every official, elected or otherwise, in the Russian government.

OK, calming back down. Panic subsiding...

Man, if they'd just refer to the executive branches of parliamentary systems as an "administration" instead of a "government," it'd be a lot less confusing for those of us here in the US, where "government" means the whole shebang. Sheesh; I'd thought Putin just fired the legislature and was ready to rule as an outright dictator.

...still, that AP article does say, "Fradkov [the now-outgoing Prime Minister] said he asked for the dissolution of the government because with elections approaching, Putin needed to have a free hand to make decisions, including those concerning appointments." Huh. Not sure about this...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Aw, geez, Brookhiser.

One more reason I've never been a big fan of Rick Brookhiser: In his Corner post on why Thompson is the weakest of the GOP front runners, he writes,

Fred Thompson came to the offices of National Review some years when he was still in the Senate. I liked him fine. He has done nothing, anywhere, ever. The Hubble Telescope could not find what he has done, because he has not done it.

Yes, he's knowingly exaggerating, but it's not done in a funny way. It's annoyingly earnest, like he's trying too hard to be funny and serious at the same time. And it's a false statement: Thompson's been a very popular sentator for eight years, he's been a lawyer who helped bring down the corrupt Governor of Tennessee (Ray Blanton, 1977-80) for selling pardons, he was GOP counsel on Watergate (he came up with the "What did the President know, and when did he know it?" question for Sen. Baker, and I think he also prompted the question about the Oval Office tapes). Yes, he was an actor when some of these other guys were running businesses or whatnot, but he's got a good background in the law and fighting corruption.

Now, my annoyance is partly because I'm a fan of FDT (Fred Dalton Thompson), of course, but I'm often annoyed at Rick Brookhiser in general. He espouses a city slicker Yankee version of conservatism that I'm uncomfortable with, politically and socially, and he does it with a lot of condescension towards those of us who would otherwise be on his side in politics. Socially, culturally, and so on, I see him sneering at us rural Southerners. I'm probably exaggerating how much, just because I'm sensitive to it, but it's certainly there.

He's a Hamilton & Adams over Jefferson guy. Which is something I thought was unconservative altogether, until I discovered a few others who hold the same views.

Sigh. Well, Rick Brookhiser doesn't run the country, so I can probably rest in peace.

Religious liabilities for Presidential candidates

They're not what I would have figured. For all of those who assume that, say, being Jewish or Catholic would be a big liability in a Presidential candidate, it turns out these are among the smallest religious liabilities in the Pew poll:

[...] more people express reservations about voting for a Mormon (25%) than about supporting a candidate who is an evangelical Christian (16%), a Jew (11%) or a Catholic (7%).

Now, the focus was on Romney and what being Mormon will do for or to his candidacy. But the other three numbers are what struck me. "Evangelical Christian" (by which they probably mean active Protestants...I'm in such a church, but I never heard the term growing up, so I've always been a little confused about its meaning) is a bigger political liability than being Jewish or Catholic. One thing to take from this is: great news for Jews! More mainstream than the biggest religious block in the country. (Wow, actually.) The second is: for some Catholic bloggers (there's one particular one I've got in mind) who like to call anti-Catholicism as the "last acceptable prejudice" (especially in political fights), well, it's apparently not. Boy, the anti's on that one are less than half what they are for evangelicals. Wow, again.

Now, of course, just about everybody's faction likes to call opposition to them "the last acceptable prejudice." I've heard it for conservatives, Protestants, whites, Southerners, right-handers, etc. Just about any group that's not a racial or ethnic minority. (I made up the last one.) Fact is, there are lots of relatively mild and fairly accepted prejudices left in the country. Not to the point of being enshrined in law, of course. So claiming you're a member of the only group people can hate anymore isn't going to be true.

The Clinton Tapes

Have you ever asked yourself, "What's in Bill Clinton's sock drawer"? Well, ask no more.

Bin Laden video: weird freezes

Huh. I would have thought that the fact the new bin Laden video freezes in a couple of places (including every time current events are mentioned, although the audio continues) would get some wider coverage. This liberal site points it out (link from Lileks). Of course, for some of them, a possibly faked (or spliced) video seems to mean Bush faked it. (For this guy, Karl Rove is the culprit, as I figured the other day.) Whereas my thought would be that al Qaeda's crack multimedia engineer did it. I'm glad to see that the website's editor (or whomever posted the video) seems to go in my direction on this.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

There are no "coincidences" with Karl Rove

So, let me get this straight: Karl Rove resigns, and a week or so later, we have a new video from "Osama bin Laden"?! I don't think so! If there's one thing we have learned from our experiences with Mr. Rove, it's that there are no coincidences. There are, instead, grand schemes being played out on the political stage that lesser minds see as unconnected, unrelated.

Notice that Rove didn't get fired or asked to resign. He parted on good terms with Bush. Why is that? It's because he's still working for him! After his evil masterpiece in planting the false Texas Air National Guard memos on Dan Rather and getting Rather to broadcast it, after running it past his fact-checkers and totally ignoring their warnings about them looking fake, Rove is ready for anything. Now he's made a "bin Laden" video in which the guy totally sounds like a mainstream Democrat, just in time for the primary debates. Qui bono? You know who.

Eric, over at Classical Values, sees a political opportunity in all this (for a Noam Chomsky/bin Laden no-tax ticket). I see conspiracy.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

On popes and the supreme court

Since the earliest days of the papacy, popes have exercised power outside of Rome primarily through judicial means. Even though the popes have always claimed legislative and executive power also, the realities of communication in the ancient world normally prevented the exercise of any such power. The popes effectively had power only on those who presented themselves before their courts, usually to appeal a decision made by a synod of bishops or by a patriarch.

Modern communication and society have greatly increased the potential for the executive or legislative authority by the pope, as has been demonstrated by the great John Paul II to the delight of his admirers and the consternation of his critics. But generally the governance of the Roman Catholic Church has been guided by tradition, and tradition definitely favors the judicial model of papal power. The pope reigns primarily by either approving or not approving the findings of his various courts, commissions, congregations, and other dicasteries, known collectively as the Roman Curia. Many of these dicasteries are likewise themselves courts of appeal. When a pope does otherwise, and issues a judgment by his own initiative, the document associated with a papal decree is called a motu proprio, and its issuance is something of a Big Deal.

And so Benedict's issuance of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum is only the second of his pontificate. This document makes it easier to celebrate the liturgy as published in the 1962 editions of the missal, the breviary, and the ritual. In particular it frees up the celebration of the older form of the mass, which has been blocked in many dioceses because of the hostility of the bishops to the old edition of the Roman rite.

This motu proprio has been rightly criticized as a blow to "collegiality", the notion that the pope rules the Church with the bishops, as opposed to lording over the bishops. So it is interesting to note that this motu proprio, although it is in fact an executive papal decree issued over the objections of the bishops, phrases itself as a judicial document. In particular, it opens by stating that the old edition of the liturgy has never been abrogated, which comes as news to most Catholics. Today, blogs are filled with hostile commentators questioning the theoretical legal basis for such a statement, but such questioning is in fact purely theoretical. Any legal realist has to recognize the fact that the highest court in Catholicism says the old edition was never abrogated, so we all must act as if wasn't. (In fact, the proponents of abrogation are having a hard time pointing to an explicit and unambiguous decree to that effect.) The motu proprio then goes on to place some executive restrictions on the use of the old edition. These restrictions are not nearly tight enough to satisfy Benedict's critics; to them he has effectively de-restricted the old mass and the rest of the old liturgy as well.

So the critics howl about a violation of collegiality, and about how the pope has made a grab at the power of the bishops, and yet this motu proprio will in all likelihood only add to the great popularity and prestige of Benedict, just like his predecessor John Paul gained popularity and respect in part by ignoring the demands of collegiality. It's not hard to understand why; in fact to some degree it is the same reason that the supreme court of the United States gained so much prestige in the sixties when it was grabbing power from the states. The popes, like the sixties supremes, stuck up for the little guys against the establishment.

John Paul stuck up for the guy in the pew when poncy academics wanted to use his church's pulpits to attack his faith; too often bishops and pastors were too weak to stand up to the academics. While Benedict's style is less confrontational than John Paul's was, he now shows that he too has the guts to stand up when persuasion fails.

Fans of the older edition of the liturgy have too often faced condescension, being told that their requests were being honored (if in fact they were) because their brittle old brains were not strong enough to accept or understand the new changes. Never mind that many of these fans were and are quite young. They were told that they were not educated enough to understand the theology of the new mass, never mind that the theology of the new mass is the same as that of the old, as any educated catholic could tell you. They were told that nostalgia had overcome their good sense, never mind that many were born after the new edition of the liturgy was published. They were vilified as sexists and anti-semites, and told that the old edition they wanted was rife with sexism and anti-semitism. Never mind that the fathers of Vatican II would have been surprised to hear these assertions and would have rejected them.

It seems rarely to have occurred to those thwarting the fans of the old edition that they might indeed be mature, intelligent adults who just happen to disagree with the critics of the old edition. That sort of oblivious attitude is common in cliques and in circles with a heavy atmosphere of clubbiness. And clubbiness is nothing more than the dark seamy underbelly of collegiality.

Such collegiality was on display when Bishop Anthony Bosco of the diocese of Greensburg in Pennsylvania was asked years ago, during the previous pontificate, whether he planned to allow the old edition of the missal to be used in his diocese. His response was that because the priests of his diocese were "pleading with" him not to allow the old edition, he would not. Who could blame the bishop for siding with his priests as they closed rank to do battle with their own flocks? But now His Excellency, like a state legislator, has been exempted from the need to take sides. The pope has thankfully taken the matter out of his hands.

The misgovernance of the bishops has done more to enhance the power of the papacy than any "power grabs" by the popes, much as the misgovernance of the states has led to our present imperial judiciary. This was most eloquently pointed out by his eminence Darius cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, who said in an interview, "formally, the mass of St Pius V was never abolished. Surprisingly, those who set themselves up as authentic interpreters of Vatican II gave it an interpretation, in the field of the liturgy, so restrictive and so little respectful of the liberty of the faithful, as to make the Council seem even more coercive than the Council of Trent."

With this motu proprio Benedict has given justice to a despised minority. The fact that he has done so at the expense of some of the bishops' legitimate power will not bother the man in the pew, who doesn't worry much about the privileges or authority of those who condescend to, belittle, and sneer at him. Even the majority of pew sitters who, like me, do not much care which edition is used can recognize the difference between an oppressor and a liberator.

Are we back to the '90s?!

Should I really believe that the Clintons had a henchman break into Kathleen Willey's house to steal her book manuscript about the Clintons? I mean, would they really do something dirty like that?

Well, considering that I've heard similar stories coming from around them for a decade and a half, now, any surprise or resistance I'd naturally have to that kind of theory is pretty much broken down, now. Hmmm...actually, I don't remember if I ever had any resistance to that. But I sure don't now.

I'm trying, though, not to believe any crazy idea that puts the Clintons in a bad light, but to use some critical thinking about them. But this still seems plausible. And considering the threats made against Mrs. Willey back in the 90s, when she was providing testimony unflattering to the Clintons, I'd almost expect something like this.

Let's see if this story gets picked up, or if it's ignored.

Fred Dalton Thompson announces

Thompson announced his candidacy for the Presidency on Leno last night. I was going to say "it's about time," but really, the race has started soooo blamed early this time around that I'm glad he waited. I wish the others would have. I'm going to be sick of the whole thing well before the election.

I agree with Jonah Goldberg that the pundits are wrong when they claim that his delayed entry, or signs of a lack of "fire in the belly" for the race, will hurt him with voters. That's really more of an inside-the-beltway criticism that most of us don't care about.

Russian aircraft probe British airspace

What, are we back to the Cold War?

I just heard on the radio that Russian military aircraft were turned away from British (and Norwegian, I think) airspace in the wee hours of the morning. I remember this happening a few times when I was a kid, over Alaska. Routine enough stuff between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, really, but I was hoping they didn't see themselves in the same antagonistic role anymore.