July 15th, 2010

[BRIEF NOTE] We all need more consistency in our lives

hings like this LifeSite article, describing a Spanish bishop's denuncation of a new abortion law, confuse me.

In a statement published on the bishops' Catholic Information Service, Gil Hellín laments the recent promulgation of the law, an "evil law which is directly opposed to right reason and the most elemental justice. Such is the law that establishes that the Spanish have the right to kill the unborn, as long as they do it before 14 weeks."

"Let us diagnose it with total clarity: this law is no law, although it is presented as such by some political and legislative bodies. And it isn't because no one has the right to eliminate an innocent. For that reason, it doesn't obligate. Even more, it demands a head-on opposition without reservation. Right reason cannot admit as a right the killing of an innocent person."

The new abortion law, which is being contested before Spain's Constitutional Tribunal, abolishes penalties for all abortions during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. It also allows minors to obtain abortions without parental permission, although they must first inform their parents of their intention to do so.

The archbishop rejects arguments that claim the law is somehow valid because it was passed by the legislature and approved according to the required legal processes.

"It is a fallacy to affirm that this law has been approved by the majority of the Parliament and that this represents the majority of the citizens, or to say that if the Constitutional Tribunal decrees its conformity [with the Constitution] it would be disobedience to oppose it, and would deserve a punishment. The fallacy consists in attributing to politicians, judges, or citizens a right that they don't have, and no one has the right to legislate that an innocent can be killed."

This is fiery language, but yet. If Bishop Hellín really did believe that this law was authorizing the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocents a year, mightn't this horror inspire him and his followers to not merely denounce the Spanish parliament's laws but to form an active resistance to this genocidal tyranny, shooting down the mass murderers who took the lives of innocents for money and the degenerate politicians and public figures who condoned this and--obviously--the slatterns who chose to deal with the miracle of life by commissioning hits on the ultimate helpless?

"If," I think, is the operative word.

[BRIEF NOTE] On liberal conservatism

In his analysis piece on Argentina's legalization of same-sex marriage, Glenn Greenwald makes an important point about the motivation for this legalization. Argentine citizens and politicians didn't do this because they were radicals; Argentine citizens and politicians did this, rather, because they saw it as the natural extension of commonplace rights.

Argentinian politicians acted in the face of "polls showing that nearly 70 percent of Argentines support giving gay people the same marital rights as heterosexuals." That's what is most striking here: this is not happening in some small Northern European country renown for its ahead-of-the-curve social progressivism (though gay marriage or civil unions are now the norm in Western Europe). Just as is true for Brazil, which I've written about before with regard to my personal situation, Argentina is a country with a fairly recent history of dictatorships, an overwhelmingly Catholic population (at least in name), and pervasive social conservatism, with extreme restrictions on abortion rights similar to those found on much of the continent. The Catholic Church in Argentina vehemently opposed the enactment of this law. But no matter. Ending discrimination against same-sex couples is understood as a matter of basic equality, not social progressivism, and it thus commands widespread support.

Many others have observed how the push for same-sex marriage probably would have ranked among the most conservative hopes from the perspectives of the 1970s, when so much and more radically innovative things seemed possible. Same-sex marriage is, I think, among the best wedge issues for people trying to make a dent into homophobia: "Here are some people, just like you, who have hopes, just like you, and want to secure their hopes, just like you, only they're not being allowed because of an arbitrary principle that's playing havoc with their lives." Not to sound Burkean, but traditions are useful, especially since--no matter what anyone says--they have to evolve if they're to last any length of time at all.

[LINK] Two notes from the transatlantic Romance-Germanic language frontier

  • Suzanne Daley's "The Language Divide, Writ Small, in Belgian Town",</a> in the New York Times, visits the bedroom community of Wemmel to see how language conflict is complicating life there horribly. A Brussels suburb, Wemmel exists in the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde district that combines the autonomous and legally French/Dutch bilingual but functionally Francophone Brussels and legally Flemish but increasingly Francophone suburbs, such that many Flemish fear that Flanders will be colonized by Francophones. Absurd language conflict follows.

  • Most of the families living in this well-to-do community on the outskirts of Brussels are French-speaking. But the law for this region of Belgium says that all official town business must be conducted in Flemish.

    That means that police reports must be written in Flemish. Voting materials must be issued in Flemish. Seventy-five percent of the books and DVDs purchased for the library must be, yes, in Flemish.

    When the mayor of Wemmel, Christian Andries, presides over a town council meeting he is not allowed to utter a single French word, even to translate, or the business at hand may be annulled.

    [. . .]

    [A] dispute over voting rights for French speakers in Wemmel and a cluster of similar villages [. . .] brought down Belgium’s last government. Unable to resolve the issue after more than three years of trying, Prime Minister Yves Leterme threw in the towel (for the third time) and the king finally accepted his resignation in April. .

    In the wake of last month’s elections, talks have begun in hopes of forging a coalition that can lead Belgium. But even the optimists do not expect a new government for months to come.

    After the country’s 2007 election it took the Belgians about nine months to form a government. Some analysts say that the main parties are even more split this time, and some wonder whether they may even be witnessing the beginning of the end of Belgium.

    “It is hard to know where this will go,” said Lieven De Winter, a professor of politics at the Université Catholique de Louvain, though like many others he believes breaking up the country would be so complicated as to be impossible, largely because neither side would give up Brussels, the capital.

    [. . .]

    Mr. Andries’s problems pale compared to three other mayors in this Flemish region, called the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde, or BHV. They were elected more than four years ago but have never been officially installed. The issue? They sent voting information, written in French, to the French voters in their communities. In one of the towns, Linkebeek, some 80 percent of the 4,700 inhabitants are French-speaking.

  • Things are fortunately much less acute in Moncton, where--as the National Post's Kathryn Blaze Carlson reports--proposals to require commercial signage in the bilingual commercial centre of Moncton to be in English and in French are meeting with some vocal opposition. Fortunately, everyone involved seems to be more sane.

  • Moncton — an officially bilingual city in the country’s only officially bilingual province, where two-thirds of the citizens consider themselves anglophones — has long struggled with its linguistic identity. But now, an “all-out war” is brewing in southeastern New Brunswick, as Moncton’s city council considers a bylaw requiring all new commercial signs to be bilingual.

    “The tension is major,” said Barry Renouf, an English-speaking business owner and member of a local group called "Canadians Against Forced Bilingualism." “It’s an all-out war here — a language war. If this passes, there’s more than one person who will move out of Moncton.”

    While friction between the French and English communities has lingered in the past, most famously under anti-bilingualism mayor Leonard Jones four decades ago, the prospect of the bylaw has ignited a heated and very public debate.

    A group called ‘‘Say NO to Sign Language Law in Moncton’’ has already sprouted on Facebook. And earlier this week, protesters gathered outside Moncton’s city hall, where councillors have ramped up discussions over the emotionally charged bylaw.

    “We are doing consultations in the community and then we will determine the proper course for Moncton,” said Mayor George LeBlanc. “I’d like to see more bilingual signage. The question is whether a bylaw is the proper course to do that.”

    The neighbouring city of Dieppe — where three-quarters of the population is francophone — broke legal ground in May, when it became the first municipality in the province to legislate in the area of bilingual signage. Now, the same interest group that pressed for action in Dieppe, the Front commun pour l’affichage bilingue au Nouveau-Brunswick, is pushing Moncton to draft its own bylaw.

    [LINK] There may be extraterrestrial life everywhere

    The most common stars and star-like objects in the universe are dim, since it's easier to accumulate less mass. Our Sol actually isn't a typical star at all, more massive and bright than more than 95% of its local peers. The red dwarf is a star that's barely massive enough to huge hydrogen at all; the brown dwarf is less massive still, glowing briefly in its youth but then fading.

    Could life--that is to say, Earth-like life--exist on a world orbiting these stars? The traditional scientific response has been skeptical, but this has been changing of late. Centauri Dreams had the news, noting that things actually look reasonably good for red dwarfs.

    [I]n recent times the rap against M-dwarf planets has been that their stars are prone to violent convulsions that launch potentially lethal flares into their planetary systems. Many M-dwarfs produce high energy charged particles and short-wavelength radiation from X-rays to ultraviolet. All of this activity can also affect a planet’s atmosphere, so that a key question becomes whether a planet in an M-dwarf’s habitable zone can retain its atmosphere, or whether terrestrial worlds would lose hydrogen and helium and gas giants would erode into Neptune-mass cores.

    My friend and I kicked this around before parting company, he returning to studies unrelated to astronomy, while I returned to my office to find a message from Adam Crowl on red dwarfs and flare activity. A new study demonstrates that red dwarf planets may be shielded from these flares after all. As is standard practice in these matters, Antigona Sugura (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) and team went to work with computer models, simulating how a 1985 flare from the star AD Leonis would have affected an Earth-like planet orbiting it at 0.16 AU. AD Leonis is an M-dwarf about 16 light years from Earth, and 0.16 AU, about half Mercury’s distance from the Sun, is in the zone where liquid water could exist at the surface.

    The results are promising. It turns out that in the simulation, bursts of UV radiation hitting an Earth-like atmosphere produced a thicker ozone layer, protecting the surface.

    Red dwarfs won't irradiate their worlds: “Throughout most of the flare, the surface of our model Earth-like planet experienced no more radiation than is typical on a sunny day here on Earth.” AD Leonis, Gilster notes, was chosen because it was so active a star. Although the effect of charged particles and multiple flares in rapid secession has to be taken into account, red dwarfs seem safe.

    Brown dwarfs look acceptable, too, although the question with brown dwarf was a bit of a non-question (could they form planets at all?).

    We can find suggestive analogs to planet formation around brown dwarfs in nearby space. The star Gl 876, some fifteen light years away, is not a brown dwarf, but this M-dwarf is only 1.24 percent as luminous as the Sun, with most of its energy being released at infrared wavelengths. We now know that at least three planets, two of them gas giants similar to Jupiter, orbit the star. Among brown dwarfs themselves, we have cases like 2M1207b, MOA-2007-BLG-192Lb and 2MASS J044144. In fact, the planet orbiting the second of these brown dwarfs is one of the smallest exoplanets known at 3.3 Earth masses.

    As Andrey Andreeschchev and John Scalo (University of Texas) noted in a 2002 paper (thanks to Centauri Dreams regular ‘andy’ for the tip), we can extrapolate from what we find in our own Solar System to lower-mass stars, with simulations indicating that terrestrial-mass planets can form around low-mass objects like these as long as sufficient disk material is available. The authors study whether or not such planets can be habitable, noting this key fact about brown dwarf evolution: The brown dwarf is continually fading as it releases gravitational potential energy. As the object fades, its habitable zone moves past any worlds in it.

    Gilster quotes an interesting scenario from andy.

    It’d be interesting to come up with some scenarios for evolution on such a planet whose star decreases in luminosity as it ages (as opposed to more conventional stars that brighten as they age) – perhaps life might begin in the cloud layers of an initially Venus-like planet, moving to the surface as the atmosphere cools and the oceans rain out of the atmosphere, and finally moving to a more Europa-like state with the oceans frozen under an ice layer.