Tuesday, March 28, 2023

A Celestial Orgy?

I'll give NPR this much: last week for the twentieth anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq, they actually talked to some Iraqis.  The results, no doubt carefully managed, were mild-mannered to the point of absurdity, but at least some of our victims were allowed to talk about their trauma on a major news program.  I noticed that Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep slipped in a segment on Ukraine and called it "this war in Iraq."  Someone's conscience tripping him up?

But that was then, and this is now.  Morning Edition is back to its usual antics this week.  And in keeping with tradition, they're covering another astronomical non-event, a five-planet alignment involving "Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Uranus, and Mars [that] will dazzle us earthlings this week."  Really?  Uranus is barely visible to the naked human eye at best, as the story admits toward the end.

Still, they've toned it down a little compared to the recent Venus-Jupiter conjunction, the "little nighttime kiss," the "celestial dance" that had astronomers and science journalists drooling.  This time it's a "planetary parade."  Not a planetary daisy chain?  Not an orgy?  These guys aren't trying hard enough.  The story quotes an astrophysicist, one Jackie Faherty, who gushes:

I want people to want to go outside and look up. I want people to be excited about looking up at the stars and planets. Right now what's happening is something that you might not realize does happen quite a bit, which is the planets are up a lot. This is not a particularly rare event, but it is an event that you should celebrate and you should want to go outside and look at.

Not much to excite the rabble there.  You've gotta sex it up some more, y'know?  An astronomical menage a cinq, maybe.  Surely the professionals of NPR can do better.  It's Pledge Week, so earn your money!

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Celestial Soft Porn

NPR evidently ran this story last night on "All Things Considered," which I almost never listen to; but it tracked me down anyway on my tablet.  A planetary conjunction involving Venus and Jupiter is happening, and in the great tradition of cheesy, cringey science journalism, NPR packaged it thusly:

"They've been coming in closer and closer for a little nighttime kiss," says Jackie Faherty, who's an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History.

Of course in space the planets aren't really going to smooch. "They are actually 400 million miles apart," Faherty says. That's more than four times the distance than we are from the sun.

And since the Earth's orbit is actually between those of Jupiter and Venus, we are in the position of Lucky Pierre, is that cool or what?  The writer, Michaeleen Doucleff, didn't have to come up with the "kiss" metaphor on her own: an actual astronomer provided it.  Doucleff got creative herself, noting that tonight, Thursday, "The two planets will still seem quite close, continuing their celestial dance. But soon, they'll go back to arms length."  Awww, can't this marriage be saved?  It seems tragic that they're going to break up.  Relationships just don't get the same commitment nowadays that they used to.  Think of the children!  Isn't it bad enough that the moon is going to leave the Earth in six hundred million years?

This sort of hyperbole is evidently irresistible, not only to science journalists ("celestial date") but to scientists themselves.  Another recent conjunction was described by an astronomer as "like teenagers at a high school dance: They’re getting closer and closer together.  It’s been a year of watching this, of them getting closer, and now they’re going to have a close slow dance."  I suppose it's better than the religious language that physicists keep falling into (the "God Particle," for instance), but for me it's a turnoff, and I always wonder if the disappointment other laymen feel when the stars fail to perform as promised prevents any interest -- let alone enthusiasm -- for science and nature that they might otherwise have acquired.

P.S. This story from USA Today washed up on the Internet after I thought I'd finished this post, and it's much better than the stories I linked before.  It manages to cover the Jupiter-Venus conjunction by providing factual information without tarting it up.  Ironic, isn't it, given USA Today's reputation as a lowbrow rag, while the more prestigious NPR and its astronomer sources evidently felt that the rubes wouldn't be interested if the event weren't cast as a romance?  It's even more ironic, since NPR's audience probably see themselves as devout believers in Science, Evidence, and Reason. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Sauce for the Goose

NPR, contrary to its custom, put a smile on my face this morning with this story.  The Southern Baptist Convention has expelled five Baptist churches for having female pastors, and Morning Edition's Leila Fadel spoke to Linda Barnes Popham, one of the deposed pastors.  Barnes Popham was indignant:

Why us? We've been - we consider ourselves very Southern Baptist. We would be more Southern Baptist than many of the other churches - like I said, conservative, evangelistic, mission-minded. Now, of course, there are many other emotions that the congregants share with each other. Yeah, we are not happy about their decision.

I would love to ask Barnes Popham just how "conservative," how "very Southern Baptist" she and her congregation really are.  The Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 in a break with other US Baptists in support of slavery, a little detail this story not-so-strangely neglects to mention, and continued to uphold white supremacy until the 1990s.  Does she still support slavery, the Lost Cause, and Jim Crow?  If not, how can she call herself a conservative Southern Baptist?  Or is she really just another stealth woke [sarcasm alert] liberal working against the SBC from within?

Fadel was very sympathetic, though.

BARNES POPHAM: That Southern Baptists no longer adhere to the priesthood of the believers and no longer believe in the autonomy of the local church and that those in power in SBC life do not value churches who are truly doing the work of the gospel.

FADEL: Wow. Pastor Linda Barnes Popham of the Fern Creek Baptist Church, thank you so much for your time.

I have no sympathy whatsoever for these pastors, and it's a pleasure to see them hoist on their own petard.  I'm reminded of the late antigay crusader Anita Bryant (Cthulhu, I'm old) who wanted to become vice-president of the SBC in 1978. She was rejected, of course, on Biblical grounds, and she promptly griped about "Bible-beating literalists" who wouldn't let her do what she wanted to do.  This contemporary New York Times article doesn't mention the gender issue, but says that Bryant's lack of experience in church administration was also a factor.  But details, details: Who needs experience? The Holy Spirit would surely have guided her at the helm of the world's largest Baptist denomination. Conservatism for thee but not for me!