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Scientists estimate tens of billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy


Nobody has seen them yet, but scientists now speculate that there are tens of billions of planets the general size and mass of Earth in the Milky Way galaxy alone - a startling conclusion based on four years of viewing a small section of the nighttime sky.

The estimate, made by astronomers Andrew Howard and Geoffrey Marcy of the University of California at Berkeley, flows from the simple premise that the number of small but detectable exoplanets - planets outside Earth's solar system - is substantially larger than the number of big exoplanets in distant solar systems.

In a paper released Oct. 28 by the journal Science, the two report that based on this galactic preferential option for smaller planets, they can predict that almost one quarter of the stars similar to our sun will have Earth-size planets orbiting them.

"This is the first estimate based on actual measurements of the fraction of stars that have Earth-size planets," said Marcy, who did his observing with Howard at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

Deconstructing the Tea Party


John Gehring over at Bold Faith Type, makes a "contribution to the burgeoning field of Tea Partyology."

This confirms my sense that the Tea Party movement is less a defined political movement wedded to specific policy goals than a loose nexus for the inchoate anger and sense of cultural loss that a certain segment of America (largely white, older and male) is now experiencing. "Take Our Country Back" and "Restoring Honor" are Tea Party mantras that reflect a particular response to a changing nation that is less white, less traditionally religious and losing global preeminence.

Thinking globally about sex abuse crisis



Here’s an object lesson in what it means to think globally about issues facing the Catholic church, in this case the sexual abuse crisis.

Since the beginning of the most recent round of the crisis, which erupted in Ireland and then spread across Europe, critics have wondered why Pope Benedict XVI has not imposed a uniform global policy of cooperation with the police. In the United States and Europe, where one can generally assume a level playing field and the integrity of police and prosecutors, such a policy seems a no-brainer, and the pope’s failure to impose it across the board has often been touted as evidence of foot-dragging and denial.

Yet there are parts of the world where the wisdom of such a policy is by no means so clear. The state of Karnataka, in South West India, offers the most recent example.

There, in the Bangalore suburb of Whitefield, a Holy Cross brother was beaten on Oct. 23 by a mob of some 300 people, with local TV stations filming the assault and police standing by and allowing it to happen. Many in the mob were reportedly wearing the saffron scarf indicative of Hindu nationalist sentiment.

Burke tells us how to vote, from the Vatican


I remember distinctly, when I was about 10-11 years old, hearing my father say after church, “That priest can have his opinions, but he is not going to tell me how to vote!” (The person at issue, as I recall, was a local candidate who was divorced).

It sounds like Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke never ran into Catholics like my father. According to, Burke is once again telling American Catholics how to vote -- this time from the banks of the Tiber.

In an interview with Thomas McKenna, president of the arch-conservative Catholic Action for Faith and Family, Burke reportedly said that Catholics are bound in conscience to vote for political candidates who oppose aborting babies, embryonic stem cell experiments, euthanasia and so-called homosexual “marriage.”

There was no mention of the central issues of the 2010 mid-term election: unemployment, the economy, the widening income gap between the wealthy and the working/middle class, home foreclosures, or even immigration. For Burke, everything apparently hinges on the “bedroom” issues, not the “boardroom” or the “border” issues.

When will it get better?


The "It Gets Better" project, in which everyday and famous gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people and others, record video messages of hope to GLBT youth, was a pastoral response to the recently publicized suicides of a number of gay youth.

Started by columnist (and former Catholic) Dan Savage, it has truly gone viral on YouTube, with more than 5,000 videos posted. While there are a number of videos from everyday Catholics--and former Catholics--not one member of the clergy, woman religious or other Catholic leader has joined the project.

The Haves, the Have-Nots, and The Angry Electorate


As the gap between rich and poor widens, studies show our politics get more hostile. And that pretty much explains what's going on this election season.

Research published just last week makes the link clear. Writing in the Journal of Politics, Louisiana State University political scientist James Garand reports that polarized politics seem to follow in lock-step with economic inequality.


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In This Issue

October 9-22, 2015


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