Asteroids, fiction and reality

Just last week, Planet Earth had a close call.

The asteroid was seen coming, and predicted to fly by (at breathtaking speed) on a path that was only 17000 miles away from Earth's surface. If the path of the asteroid had been slightly different, things might have gotten very bad very rapidly. Another, smaller one, left a streak of light across the sky and caused much damage in a city in Russia. (Russia as a nation has bad luck for such things...the last such hit was a century ago.)

Weirdly, I had just begun reading a book on that subject.

I'd call it science-fiction, but it isn't the usual kind of science fiction. No futuristic technology or travel to the stars.

Instead, it's a book about a heavenly object falling to Earth; causing lots of destruction and chaos. The book is titled Lucifer's Hammer, written by a pair of authors who usually write science-fiction together.

Feels kind of weird, reading a book written in the 70s. NASA astronauts talk about the Space Shuttle as a coming attraction. There are no cell phones.  The Internet isn't discussed, either as a research project or a potential society-changing technology. The American Space Program has to cooperate with the Soviet Space Program...

The description of what one piece of God's creation—a comet—can do to Earth is frightening. It brings to mind several things; among them the world-ending catastrophes of the book of Revelation.

Or possibly the questions by geologists and historians as to whether a comet or asteroid struck Earth before the extremely cold years of 535-536.

The 1970s-era U.S.A of the novel could not mount any attempt to keep Earth safe from such an impact. In the novel, they barely got a team of American and Russian astronauts into Earth orbit to see a comet fly-by. These astronauts saw the prediction of impact go from 1-in-a-million to 1-in-ten-thousand to 1-in-a-thousand to oh-crap-it's-going-to-hit.

There are many frightening things that might happen to Earth's climate, but few of them would be as catastrophic as a really big asteroid-strike.

As several commentators have pointed out, near-misses by asteroids are also one way of asking about how various space programs are doing.



Should I care about this event? There's a big retirement that's been announced. But the direct impact on my life will likely be as small as the impact of the last Royal wedding in Britain.

Protestant that I am, I like to pay attention to the Catholic church and its teachings. The teachings of the Catholic church are the result of two millennia of apostles, philosophers, scholars, and priests dealing with the questions of sin, forgiveness, repentance, and living a faithful life in a fallen world. It is rather hard to understand Protestant thought without gaining at least a sketch of Catholic though.

I also pay attention to the kind of people who run the church. The Catholic organization attempts to select men who exhibit a combination of spiritual insightfulness, organizational ability, and scholarly minds. The leaders of the church try to keep all three traits in balance as they select the men who sit in the College of Cardinals, and in the Papal seat. 

Not all the leaders of the Catholic church are saints. Nor even perfect.  (I've seen some scathing commentary from a retired priest about the organizational and structural problems that led to the blackest moment in the past century of the Catholic church. I cannot deny that evil things were done, and that punishment was delayed far beyond its proper time. God has His judgement of the matter; He is better-placed than I to deliver both justice and mercy.)

I don't know if I am sad to see Pope Benedict leave the office. There's evidence he's been contemplating retirement for some time. Like his predecessor, he will be missed. However, he appears to think that his role is not to gain fame or exert influence, but to continue a life of prayer.

I also pray; partly that the Catholic church finds the right replacement for the office of Pope. Partly that believers in Christ worldwide will be able to join into more unity than they currently have.

Partly that the sages and scholars of the present age will be drawn to the eternal wisdom that is available from God.


Long night

Spent last afternoon and evening with most of my time and energy focused on one thing.

Taxes. I juggled W-2s, 1099s, 1098s, property tax records, mortgage records, IRAs, charity-donation reports, and a 1040. And I won, I think. (With the help of a computer program called TurboTax*. )

More than a year ago, I put a plan in place to reduce the taxes that are deducted from my paycheck. The goal was to reduce the amount overpaid to the government. That amount is basically an interest-free loan to the U.S. Dept. of Treasury, repaid after taxes are filed.

This appeared to work. However, I will be refunded approximately a week of pay. So there was still a small loan. Still, I note that the default level of taxation would result in nearly 3 weeks pay being refunded to me at tax time.

The same effect occurred with taxes for the State of Michigan. The scale is smaller; approximately 1 day's pay will be refunded to me.

Total tax rate was in the realm of 10% (Fed) and 3% (State). I think that the deduction rate on Federal tax was ~20%. As in, the income line after Itemized Deductions as ~80% of income. Three things accounted for this: regular tithing to a church, interest on a home mortgage, and payments made into a traditional IRA.

Afterwards, I went to a friend's house to watch a football game. Which wasn't really interesting until the stadium had an electrical problem which caused an unexpected delay in play. After this was repaired, the teams both played hard. Victory wasn't certain until the last few seconds were showing on the game clock...

*I paid money to use TurboTax, so this comment should not be construed as a commercial advertisement. Though Intuit seems pretty successful at both product quality and advertisement without the help of any bloggers...


Surprising story

Not sure why it is getting play now.

Here is an article about a family that moved out into the Siberian wilderness after pressure from the Soviet regime proved too much for them. They remained out of touch for nearly 40 years, until they were discovered by geologists. (The geologists were prospecting for mining locations.)

The family is an extreme case of isolated community. Their history also has several stories of near-extinction. Like the time a late frost left them with only one plant bearing a few grains of rye. And the long years in which they had no access to salt.

There was also a boy in the family who became an expert hunter. Without a bow, he hunted animals by trapping them. Or chasing them for days, until they collapsed.

Talk about returning to eons-old methods of survival...

It's also a little shocking to hear what a real survivalist may have to do, when trying to live alone in a vast wilderness.

History may be full of such strange things, which are only remembered if they are retold to people who spread the story.