China was a wonderful place to visit and has changed rapidly, in many ways for the better, over the past two decades; however, my brief time outside of the United States this year reinforced my appreciation for my citizenship. Thanks to our founders in 1776 and all those who have sacrificed in the 236 years since then to preserve our country, we live under the rule of law striving for liberty and justice for all. Not every challenge was met in 1776, the Constitution was still eleven years away, slavery was not ended until another seventy-five years after the ratification of the Constitution, women only received the right to vote 102 years ago, and we still have problems to solve. Nonetheless, recognizing the truths stated in the Declaration of Independence has resulted in a republic that has been able to consistently strike an appropriate balance between individual liberty and the collective good. This is certainly worthy of celebrating every July 4th!
On Pentecost Sunday a small group of us from Saint Vincent attended mass at the Cathedral of Shanghai, pictured to the right. The church was packed for a high Latin mass. Each of the pillars inside had a flat screen monitor so that everyone had a close-up view of the altar. As delightful as it was to see so many people at mass, I could not help but reflect on the division between the Church in China and Rome. The root cause of this division is the Chinese government’s interference in the ordination of Bishops. While we can be thankful that we have much more religious liberty in the United States, we also have to be mindful of unnecessary encroachments on that liberty such as the recent move by the current administration to mandate that religious organizations provide “health care services” that violate their moral principles. Let us pray for a speedy reconsideration of that policy.
In his excellent recent book “Turning’s Cathedral”, George Dyson describes how a group of visionary mathematicians and dedicated engineers, many of whom fled the tragedy and tumult of anti-Semitism, fascism, and communism in Europe, were able to begin the digital revolution by building one of the first computers at the Institute for Advanced Study in 1952. The picture to the left shows John von Neumann and Robert Oppenheimer (he’s the one with the cigarette) in front of the Electronic Computer Project in 1952. This computer was the first to store both the code and its output in 5 kilobytes worth of random access memory. Earlier computers had to print out their output for each step of a differential equation to punch cards or paper tapes only to be read back in as the input to the next step. This digital revolution and its many offspring – the Hydrogen bomb, the Internet, space exploration, and the human genome project, just to name a few – have their roots in our country because of our freedom and the opportunity that freedom provides. Freedom and opportunity have a tremendous power to both produce talented and motivated individuals within our country and attract those with a similar spirit from elsewhere. This is another reason to pause and reflect on our blessings this July 4th.
As we celebrate our July 4th holiday, the evening fireworks provide a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the summer time night sky. This July 4th, the Full Moon will be rising as the sky darkens at about 9:30pm. This should provide a wonderful celestial addition to the pyrotechnic displays. In addition to the Moon rising in the eastern sky, two planets, Mars and Saturn, will grace the western sky. Saturn will be a bright yellow point above the blue star Spica. They will be a close pair of approximately equal brightness about 30 degrees about the horizon. Mars will be more westward, slightly lower toward the horizon and orange in color. In the northern sky, the Big Dipper will be the highlight while in the south, the ominous looking constellation of Scorpio the scorpion will be center stage. The star chart below can be used to find the planets and constellations that will be visible at 10pm on the night of July 4th. Happy Fourth of July - I hope you catch a great view fireworks and the night sky.
For more about our Planetarium schedule visit www.stvincent.edu/planetarium.
Dr. John Smetanka,
Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January, 2008.