Monday, April 18, 2005

The Smoke was Black

I was outside this afternoon having a cigarette (yeah, I smoke--get over it), when my friend Damien told me "the smoke was black". He was telling me that the first round was finished in the conclave. I knew it was going to be black, but it was still heartening to hear that they had not come to a decision.

I have a great fear for Holy Mother Church, and that is that Cardinal Ratzinger or someone quite similar to him will come out on top before the week is out, and that would be the final rejection of the hopes that John XXIII had for the Church when he called Vatican II in the 1960s. The forces of centralization would finally win.

For those not familiar with Vatican II, it was John XXIII's attempt to bring the Church into the modern world, and set right some of the wrongs that had been perpetrated. One of the big things to come out of the conference was the notion of "collegiality"...or in other words, decentralization. That particular Holy Father looked at the world that had come out of World War II, and decided that he needed to loosen the reigns on the rank and file and get some new blood flowing through the Church's veins.

However, in the decades since, the opposite has happened. The Church hierarchy had decided that the lay community didn't need to be involved with how the Church was run. Just tithe, confess, and shut up. That formula doesn't work any more.

John Paul II was the most authoritarian Pope in his perspective of the 20th century. While he did much good in his 26 years, he also ossified the Church. He was more interested in asserting his Slavic outlook (and being half Russian myself, I can tell you that we Slavs are really big on control), that he never really made the attempt to get out and listen to the rank and file Catholic in the pew and see what he or she saw for the Church.

One of the leading contenders for the Papacy right now is JPII's theological watchdog--Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. His centralization tendencies are just as strong as--if not stronger than--JPII's. The Church would be making a grevious mistake by electing someone like this. The pedophilia scandals have severely weakened the moral authority of the Church to dangerous levels, and the Church's intial response to the scandal made it worse...they essentially did nothing. There were no measures to clean out the "filth" (in that regard, the Cardinal and I agree about there being more than a few degenerates in a clerical collar). Instead, a seige mentality developed. I blame this squarely on the sin of centralization.

I am not in any way calling for an overturning of the basic tenets of Church doctrine....I'm not calling for female ordination, or the sanctioning of gay marriages. I am calling for a new spirit of open-ness. I'm calling for an acceptance of while the Pope is infallible, he need not have his hands on the wheel at all times--sometimes, he can let the car be driven by the faithful in the Church. He doesn't need to do all the thinking--it's okay to delegate authority and allow for a certain degree of latitude on the diocese level. We aren't children. We have much to contribute to how the Church runs...and some of us may have ideas on how to improve how the Church functions. I fear, though, that if a Ratzinger-style control freak comes out on top, then that will be lost, and the jury is out as to whether that spirit can survive. Wea are already in a struggle to hold on what we have. Sometimes, we have to take risks to protect what we have. We need a visionary, not a bureaucrat. We need an optimist, not a purveyor of gloom and doom. We need to get back to our bread and butter---social justice and the poor. We need to give Catholics a reason to feel good about Catholics again, which is something that has been lacking for many years amongst many of the laity. We need to find our heart again.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Sarongs

Spring has hit, and the big rite of the season has hit.....Atlantis cruise time. For those of you who do not know what this is, Atlantis cruises are cruises organized for gay men (Lesbians have their own version called Olivia cruises). I've noticed a few things about Atlantis cruises....

First, Atlantis cruises are evidently only for pretty people. The advertising literature the company uses feature only ridiculously pretty men--if you are a regular looking man, then count on the camera NOT being pointed at you. This is a manifestation of gay men's basic shallowness. They only want to see men who look ****able--they don't want to see the guy next door. They want the hairy chested Colt Man or the Bel Ami twink.

Secondly, you are only allowed to wear a sarong on these cruises. I know this because many of these "pretty men" will take prodigious amounts of photographs on these cruises and post them on their personal websites (you see the same thing occur when these guys go to Provincetown or to the Black and White Parties--they are seperate events---or to the Black & Blue Ball in Montreal...in an aside, before "M" decided I didn't exist, he made the pilgrimage to the B&B Ball). The question comes to mind--"Do you people not realize just how truly silly and self-absorbed you look here?" What is it about getting large groups of gay men together that encourages behavior that begs to Daddy for ridicule? Furthermore, unless you are from the South Pacific, a sarong is not terribly manly...so why work in the gym to build yourself into a personification of "masculinity" and "hotness" when you are just going to go climb onto a large boat and slap on a wrap-around skirt?

Don't give me that whole gay brotherhood crap (which is a part of the Atlantis marketing strategy)--I'm gay myself, and I do not see any Kumbaya-ness in the gay community. The "pretty" rarely interact with the "non-pretty". (I WAS going to imbed a photograph in here to illustrate my point, but the Hello application by Picasa decided it did not want initialize....little tip here---DON'T USE "HELLO"....it's a piece of shit....now, back to the essay....)

If this sounds a bit harsh and "anti-pretty", then good. It is supposed to be. The gay community is STILL worshipping at the Cult of Beauty, and if the amount of body dysmorphia, eating disorders and drug use are any indicators, then the Cult is not rewarding its followers. There are a lot of people at fault here....the silly queens who post shots from these insipid events, marketing vampires like Tom Bianchi who commercialized beauty (is it just me, or did the move to Palm Springs herald a decline in the quality of his work from genuine art to grey area porn?), and Madison Avenue for shoving unattainable bodies into our faces to market all sorts of useless crap. And these are just a few.

In the sense of full disclosure, I do have a posting on the Bigmuscle website. While I do think some of the postings there are vapid and witless, I see some as truly inspiring...plus I did it to see if I could rustle up a date....the jury is still out on the success of that strategy.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Time for Vatican III

I was listening to the coverage this weekend of Pope John Paul II. Let me start this off by saying I'm NOT the world's best Catholic. I don't consider myself a bad Catholic, just not a good one. I have been known to ignore the dictates of Rome from time to time (oh yeah---there's a dude in my bed), but despite that, I still believe in the overall thrust (I love that word) of the Church....I see the Church as it is, I can live with it, and I go from there.

In light of what has happened over the last decade, I think it's time for the Vatican to call for an Ecumenical Council---Vatican III for you non-rosary carrying types. Much has happened in the world since our last big ho-down in Rome 40 years ago (that long already? Time sure flies when you are fighting pedophilia cases), and it's time to have a big fat discussion of where the Church sees this century going.

Now, it may seem that with the pedophilia comment I am taking a cheap shot at the Church. I'm not. The pedophilia cases are symbolic of a huge failing within the Church, and that is in asking men to give up and shut down a natural aspect of themselves--their ability to have physical love. That may have played back in the 1870s when we decided Papa was infallible, but this is 2005, children, and men have needs. Asking a man to forgo the lifelong love and devotion of a helpmate is cruel and somewhat hateful.

The average age for a priest these days is late 40s. Many parishes do not even have priests since the Church cannot get young men in the pipeline. A big obstacle is the "no married clergy" clause. Most of you do not know how that came about, I'm guessing. Well, here it is in a nutshell.....

For the first 1300 years or so of the Church's existence, priests were not REQUIRED to be celibate and unmarried. By the time of the Middle Ages, nepotism had become rampant in the Church due to cardinals dropping money and estates on their kids (yes children--I said kids). It was also QUITE common for cardinals to exert influence politically for their offspring, and for those same offspring to use dear old dad to exert influence on their behalf within the Church. Well, one Pope got it in his head to say "Yo...keep it in your pants, boys", and from that point until now, priests have had to be celibate and non-married.

What has this gotten us? Well, for starters, CARDINALS with long term mistresses (and children). I am not criticizing their actions--they are human--but I am going to say that the Church needs to step back and say "Hmm...since we are no longer a fountain of money and titles, and we are no longer quite the political power we used to be, maybe we ought to go back and give this celibacy thing another look." According to the Church right now, I *could* (depending on the diocese) get kicked out for saying that.

I have been of the view for quite a while now that the Church NEEDS to adopt a system similar to the one in place in the Greek Orthodox Church. In the GEC, a priest can be married. He can have legitimate children (how do ya think George Stephanopolos got here? Yes I know I misspelled his name). He can partake in the joys and sorrows of family life. All that the GEC says about celibacy is that if you want to move up the corporate ladder, then you have to be a single guy (makes sense--I can't really picture a newscaster saying "The Pope and his wife arrived in Mexico this morning"). Most priests in the Catholic Church do not aspire to the corporate office (as it were), so adopting the GEC model for the local parish priest is a great idea. It isn't like Rome would have to pay them--parishes support their own priests.

I fail to see how a person can counsel and provide comfort to families when he himself can never have one. How can he understand what a parent is going through when he is not one? The idea of a priest having a wife and a family will add to his understanding of the mysteries of our faith. He can look out over the flock and say "I hear ya, man....my kids make me crazy too, but here's what I do......". It can help a badly scarred clergy regain a certain sense of dignity and self-respect.

Our Church is slowly starving. We are only as strong as the clergy who represent us, and right now, they are pretty weak on the farm team level. The time has come for us to revisit some of the outdated aspects of the Church that have no background in Biblical fact...and asking men to give up what makes them men is not a commandment from God. If we open up the applicant pool and get some new blood and new perspectives, then we can find the strength to pull ourselves out of the gutter in which we have found ourselves. Otherwise, it will be a slow, ugly death for the Church.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Hmmm...Move Them Goalposts

Sometimes in Life, I feel like I stepped through the looking glass. Over the past couple of days, I have had that feeling as I have observed how the federal system is being maligned by people who for 30 years or so have hopped up and down defending the issue of states rights.

I'm talking about Radical Moralists. As I was driving south on the BW Parkway (after spending the day at my desk doing my part to defend you from people who lack proper English skills and mean you a whole lot of harm), I was doing my usual NPR thing. One of the stories I heard involved a protest by a small group of Schiavo supporters calling on the President and Congress to intervene directly (again) in the case. What the group was calling for was for the federal government to steamroll over the decision(s...since there has been more than one) of a federal court, send in the Marshalls, take Terri Schiavo into custody, and shove that tube back into her. Did I mention that this particular judge was appointed by GWB? Did I mention that the federal courts have said repeatedly that Mrs. Schiavo's family has no case, based on the trained legal opinion of the court?

One of the things America has always prided itself on is the fact that it has a judiciary that is pretty much independent. Every now and then, you get a crooked judge willing to take an envelope or briefcase...but on the whole, the judges of this country are a decent lot who do their jobs without any regard to outside influence. Some of the loudest breast-beaters over the years have been folks on the Moralist Right (who use it to show the superiority of American democracy to all other systems---not knocking it...just telling what they HAVE done). Notice I wrote the word "have" in all caps. There is a reason for that---the MR (a sizeable portion) has shown through their actions that they have NO respect for the notion of due process, and contempt for both the American legal system and the individuals appointed to decide law.

When vocal groups get in front of the press and say that the rulings of the court do not matter and must be ignored or else God will make chickens rain down from the sky sqawking Dixie Chicks tunes (oh c'mon--you knew they were sleeper agents for al-Qa'ida), then that shows a FUNDAMENTAL contempt not just for the legal system, but for the law itself. Just because you don't like a legal decision does not give you the right to say "Oh, we'll just put the screws to Congress and make them step over it". Once you do that, then you render the legal system irrelevant. The courts function to protect the rights of the many, and not just the few.

Her parents took the case to SEVERAL courts. Each court said they had no case. The Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear it--they decided it had no legal footing. Her parents have accepted this. It is truly sad that the case was tossed out, but when you have no case, you have no case. Why can't those around them do the same instead of turning this into something you'd see on the Jerry Springer Show?

Remember this next time someone screams "Activist Judiciary".

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Leave The Poor Woman Alone

I was out yesterday morning picking up a few things over at Potomac Yards shopping center, and as is normally the case, I had NPR on the radio. I was listening to Weekend Edition, and they were discussing the Terry Schaivo situation in Florida.

For those 3 people out there who do not know who Mrs. Schaivo is, she is a Florida woman who in 1989 (I think) suffered a massive heart attack and descended into a vegetative state (aka, a coma). For the last decade, there has been a long running legal battle between her husband and her parents about disconnecting her feeding tube and letting her pass away in peace. Her husband wants the tube removed, and her parents want it kept where it is.

Yesterday, it was announced that the courts had granted Terry's husband's petition and said "Remove the tube". According to her doctors, once you remove the tube, she will die in about a week. As soon as this was announced, guess who hopped in and piped up about what a travesty this was? Randall Terry---Operation Rescue Randall Terry. Yes children--the right-to-life horde has jumped in full steam on this.

Being from the South, I grew up around these folks, and one thing a lot of you NOT from the South do not realize is that these people are NOT conservatives. Many of you want to paint them as such, and these people themselves call them that, but both of you are wrong.

What they are are "Moralists"...not conservatives. Moralism and conservatism are NOT the same thing. Moralism is a philosophy that full justifies outsider intrusion in to personal affairs...whether it be the right to die, helping the poor, abortion issues, the censorship of mass media, or civil rights issues pertaining to gays. Moralism is a philosophy that enables abrasive people to intrude themselves onto people they do not know and tell them how to live their lives, how to raise their children, or how they are going to go to Hell.

One thing about moralism--it is not partisan. It's prejudicial, but by no means partisan. People as far apart ideologically as Ralph Nader and Pat Robertson are moralists---both men love telling other people how to live and how bad they are if they do not follow their particular points of view.

Now, a genuine conservative is someone who can best be described as someone really has no interest in how you conduct yourself provided you are not breaking existing laws. Granted, that is hard to find these days since Americans just LOVE sticking their noses where they don't belong. I suppose I take a libertarian view, but that's my right.

I pride myself on NOT telling others how to live. I am not the Supreme Being--which in my world is the only individual who has the right to tell you how to conduct yourself. If someone ASKS for my opinion, I'll give it....but you have to ask me--I will not volunteer it. That would just be rude. Moralists do not wait to be asked....which is why they are NOT conservatives.

Getting back to the Schaivo case....most of these self-appointed defenders of Terry have no clue about the dark sad world her family has lived in for the last decade and a half. They will never know the pain they have felt...YET, they feel fully justified in prolonging the life of a person who by most medical reasoning will never recover...and therefore, they wish to prolong the pain of her family. I do sympathize with her parents and their refusal to let her go, but you have to accept that at a certain point, things will not get better, and that the humane thing is to let her pass on to the next level. That will not happen as long as they are surrounded by these moralistic vultures like Mr Terry and his crowd--using their pain as a podium on which to gain media exposure.

You can say many things about Moralists....basic human decency did not make the list.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

You have to set up an appointment...

It has been a while since I updated (bad Gracie--I need to be spanked), although in my defense, I did try to last week, but the spirit wasn't moving me to do anything interesting.

That said, I have to set up an appointment with my battalion sergeant major because I have no burning desire to go to the promotion board. If you are in the military and you have no desire to get promoted (which at this point in my life I don't), then you have to go have a "chat" with your top enlisted person.

I already know what I am going to say. As of the 29th of this month, I will have 16 months (once I factor out terminal leave) in the military. If you ask me, it is a waste of time to promote a person who is totally focused now on "post-Army". However, they want me to go have a "chat", so I will go have a "chat".

Someone said "Go to the board...once you are picked up, you get more money." Now that is a dumb thing to say--no one goes into government service to make money. If you could make money working in the government, then everyone would be doing it.

From my point of view, the money is taking that nice security clearance and marching off to the private sector with it. At the age of 31, I have grown to dislike being treated like a child, and whether they care to admit it or not, the Army treats you like a child--and a not very smart child at that. There are better things to do with my days that walk around in woodland green camouflage and have my right arm pop up periodically.

I am not slamming the military. I have reason to do so, but I'm not going to do that. I believe that for some people, it is a good thing for a while. For me, it helped me figure out just what the hell I wanted with my life. It also gave me a thick skin and no patience for stupidity (which I am seeing more and more of these days with my colleagues).

When I came in, I was a pretty passive individual. Seven and a half (OMG!!) years later, that is far from the case...someone described it once that I have the personality of a chainsaw---oh how nice of them to say that. I'll need to remember to spike their chili with Metamucil one of these days.

I normally dislike having to go see anyone named "Sergeant Major", but in this case, I will make an exception. It will be my way of saying "Look...this marriage is pretty much dead. I have nothing to offer you, and you know damn well that I am not interested in what's in your cookie jar anymore. We need to end this, do our year of seperation, and then sign the divorce papers." Much has changed since 2001--I'm not operating out of fear of the unknown, so that is something they can't use on me. The Army is BAD to use scare tactics when it comes up on reenlistment time....and with retention numbers starting to tank, it will get worse for anyone getting ready to get out of the service. I'm done with that...check please.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Geekin' Out

Hello boys and b*tches....the title above doesn't mean I'm going to do the drug thing tonight. They aren't me, but God bless you if they are for you (allllllthough, you really have to stop and think--if you have to get so messed up you cannot remember how to take a leak before you have sex, then MAYBE you should not be having sex...just a thought). Back to the matter on my melon......

When I typed "Geekin' Out", it was to give you a hint that tonight I am going to get really geeky in my topic....not "geekslut.org" geeky or iPod Lounge geeky.....I mean SUPER geeky. I'm going to hit you all with a bit of coal.

Yes--I typed "coal". Why did I type "coal"? Well, thank you for asking.

I typed "coal" because you can get gasoline from the stuff. You can get 91 to 95 octane gasoline from coal...Diesel too (high cetane). You can get jet fuel from coal. You can get aviation fuel from coal. You can get liquefied natural gas from coal. Coal is an energy buffet....and not just some dirty rock that gives you black lung and can spark acid rain.

Why am I rambling about coal? Simple--the United States has the second largest coal reserves on earth...and despite 200 some years of existence as a nation, we still have more coal than we can ever hope to dig up out of the ground. Remember that statement when you finish reading this post.

I said you can get gasoline from coal. It's true--you can...Through a process called "coal liquefaction" (CL). CL is the process by which you take crushed coal, place it in a gasifier (essentially a big cylindrical pressure cooker), run oxygen and steam up through the coal, and presto--you have what is called "synthesis gas" (SG). Once you have SG, you have an item that can be processed either into automotive or aviation fuels. Now there is a particular type of gasifier called the Lurgi IV---this baby has something called ash locks that catch the spent coal as it releases the SG, and that ash is caught in ash traps at the bottom of the apparatus. This ash is cooled with water, and then you can go dump it in clay-lined pits--and this ash is non-toxic.

Wanna hear a secret? Come closer---what I just described to you works...and has been in practice in the Republic of South Africa since the early 1980s. Back then, they needed fuel, and most people wouldn't sell it to them. Someone suggested they look into coal gasification---the concept had been around since the very early 20th century, and had been used during WW2 (albeit by the Nazis....but then Life isn't perfect).

Here is where I say the bad part----the process is very expensive to undertake. To help pay for this, the South Africans had to slap tarriffs on imported oil, and they had to provide government subsidies. I know that those are things some of you do not want to hear because that means you have to pay more at the pump, at least initially. Getting back to the South Africans, as of 1999, about 35% of their gasoline and aviation fuel was coming from coal. It was also around this time that the government ended their subsidies and tarriffs (because they decided that the place was strong enough to compete in the market in a fair fight)....but you wanna hear something else? The company that pioneered the process--SASOL (although I believe it has a different name these days)--is making money at this. In fact, they are actively exporting the gas-to-liquids technology around the world. Within the last year or so, they signed a deal with Qatar in the Gulf to build a plant that would convert the huge gas deposit in the North Dome field into liquid--mean synthetic gasoline. So while the economic road is a bit bumpy, it DOES pay off in the end.

Why did I launch into all that gibberish? Simple---we have massive coal reserves that are being wasted, when science is showing us that there is SO much more to coal than just burning it. Also, coal is a resource we do not have to worry about crazies getting control of and saying "No---you are Western infidels and do not deserve our oil." Did you know that every time you and I get near a gas pump, WE are funding terrorist groups? We are....every time you go to BP or Chevron or Mobil, you are providing money to oil-producing countries. Some of that money finds its way to the wealthy elite in those countries...and some of them really get stiff nips at the notion of biting the hand that feeds them---which, just to remind you means US. Many of the wealthy in Saudi Arabia and Iran have no problems shipping off buckets of money to al-Qai'da or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or to Hizbollah...as long as they are killing "Western infidels". This is just some food for thought.

Will coal become a bigger and more efficient fuel source for us? Hell--I don't know. I do know that if we have the technology to make this possible, then we owe it to ourselves as a nation to say "Sure--we'll give it a shot". Politicians won't tell you about this---telling the public they will pay more for gas is bad...yet as long as they phrase it right, then they can make the idea a vote-winner with the public. If we explore this option, then that means more mine output. It means construction of plants to process the coal. It means refineries to do the voodoo on the hydrocarbon products. It means pipelines to transport the different fuels.......it all means JOBS. Jobs in economically depressed regions. Jobs that are not lost due to oil cutoffs. Jobs in the research and engineering sections of our economies. If this is going to happen, then it will be because of people like you---not politicians, not business, but YOU. Write Congress. Check out the internet. Write the companies. Ask them why we are funding the very people who want anyone who carries a passport saying "United States of America" dead. We don't have to be parties to our own destruction.

Whew...I really went on tonight, children. Just wanted to give you something to think about over your coffee (which is loaded with anti-oxidants by the way).