May 16, 2010

AlterNet: Why Is Anyone Still Catholic?

By Greta Christina, AlterNet
Posted on May 15, 2010, Printed on May 16, 2010
For any Catholics who might be reading this, I have a question for you:
Why are you still Catholic?
Presumably, I don't have to tell you about the rash of child-rape scandals in the Catholic Church. I don't have to tell you about the cover-ups, the shielding of child rapists in the priesthood from law enforcement, the deliberate shuttling of child-raping priests from town to town to protect them from exposure -- thus enabling them to continue raping children. I don't have to tell you about the Church using remote, impoverished villages as a dumping ground for priests who raped children. I don't have to tell you that this wasn't a few isolated incidents: it was a widespread, institutional practice, authorized by high-level Church officials. Including Cardinal Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict XVI -- who, among other actions taken to protect child-raping priests, delayed the dismissal of a child rapist in the priesthood... for the "good of the universal Church."
And presumably, I don't have to tell you about the Church's response as this scandal has been exposed. I don't have to tell you that, overwhelmingly, they have stonewalled, rationalized, deflected blame. I don't have to tell you about the Church's, "Come on, the kids weren't that young, most of them were over 11" defense, or their, "Hey, everyone else is doing it" defense. I don't have to tell you how they've equated the accusations against the Church with anti-Semitism. I don't have to tell you how they've blamed the child-rape scandal on gays, the media, the Devil , even the rape survivors themselves. (No, really. From the Bishop of Tenerife: "There are 13-year-old adolescents who are underage and who are perfectly in agreement with, and what's more wanting it, and if you are careless they will even provoke you.") I don't have to tell you that the Church is opposing a measure extending the statute of limitations on child rape. I don't have to tell you about the Pope's dismissal of the child-rapist-protection accusations as, quote, "petty gossip."
And I'm just focusing on the child rape scandal. I'm not even talking today about the other recent scandals in the Church: the gay prostitution ring, the Church banning the use of condoms in Africa to prevent the spread of AIDS, the rape of nuns by priests and the ignoring/ concealment thereof.
If these scandals had taken place in any organization other than a religious one -- would you still be part of it?
Maybe you stay because of your sincere religious faith. Maybe you sincerely believe that the Catholic Church is the only way to spiritual salvation, and that if you abandon it, you'll abandon your hope of paradise in the Afterlife.
If that's true, then my first question to you would be: Do you really believe that? If you disagree with the Church (as many Catholics do) on a huge number of substantial issues -- birth control, gay rights, women's rights, condom use for people with AIDS, etc., not to mention the institutional protection and cover-up of priests who rape children -- then what does it mean to say that you believe in the Church?
But let's say you're a more traditional Catholic. Let's say you do agree with the Church on most of these positions. All of them, even, except the one about protecting child rapists and thus perpetuating child rape. Or let's say you are a more moderate Catholic... but that your disagreement with the Church on major theological issues still doesn't interfere with your basic belief that the rites of the Church are necessary for your spiritual redemption.
I'd like to ask you to take a step back from your beliefs for a moment, and view them the way an outsider would. If someone else belonged to a religion that, say, protected men who torture and murder their wives; or a religion that practiced widespread fraud and theft from the desperately poor; or a religion that encouraged people to blow up buildings... would you nod sagely and say, "The sincerity of your faith is a good enough reason to stay in that religion"?
Or would you recoil in horror at how profoundly their fear of eternal punishment, and their desire for eternal reward, had bent their moral compass?
And if the latter -- then why should you treat your own religion any differently? Your Church protects child rapists, thus perpetuating more child rape. Why are you still a part of it?
Or maybe the religious part isn't so important to you. Maybe you don't have strong beliefs about Catholic theology being the only true theology. But you find the ritual of the Church comforting: it's been part of your life since you were a child, your family and friends all belong, you find the music and the stained glass and the reliability of the weekly ceremony to be profoundly soothing.
If so, then I have to take a deep breath and ask you: Are you really prioritizing your own comfort over the rape of children?
Are those really and truly your priorities? Is it more important to you that you be soothed and comforted than it is to not participate in an institution that protects and conceals child rapists and actively enables them to keep doing it indefinitely? When you put the horror and the suffering and the ruined lives caused by child rape on one side of the balance -- and the fact that you're comforted by soothing rituals and pretty music on the other -- do you honestly weigh those two considerations, and decide that your comfort comes out as the greater need?
And if not -- if you think, as I hope you would, as I hope anyone with a shred of morality would, that your personal comfort is worth sacrificing if it means not participating in an institution that perpetuates the widespread rape of children -- then why are you still part of this Church?
I don't care whether you believe in God or not. Well, okay, that's not true. I do care: I think religion is a mistaken idea about the world, I think that on the whole it doessignificantly more harm than good, and I'd love to see humanity let go of it. But if people's religious beliefs and practices don't hurt anyone else, then it's their business, and I don't really care all that much about them.
But see -- that's exactly the thing.
Belonging to the Catholic Church does hurt people.
Belonging to the Catholic Church gives your support to an organization that conceals and protects child rapists. Again, not as a few isolated incidents, but as a massive, institution-wide culture, a matter of policy even, that extends throughout the organization and reaches all the way to the top. Belonging to the Catholic Church -- giving them money, letting them count you in their rolls, sending your children to their schools -- gives this behavior your personal thumbs-up, and actively enables it to continue.
As long as Catholics stay Catholics, no matter how repulsively evil the Church's behavior becomes, no matter how many children get raped as a result of its institutional practices, then the Church is not going to change. It will have no reason to change. As long as Catholics continue to attend church, to donate money, to be counted in Church rolls, to send their children -- their children! -- to church and Catholic school for religious education and the perpetuation of Catholicism, then the Church will assume that it can do anything at all, with impunity. It will assume that it can... you know, I'm trying to think of an example of evil more grotesque and over-the-top than "protecting and concealing child rapists so they can go on raping children, just to protect the organization's public image," but I'm coming up short. It will assume that it can squander hospice donations on cocaine and hookers? Dump the Vatican's sewage into the Rome subway system? Torture kittens in St. Peter's Square? No. None of that is more grotesquely, over-the-top evil than protecting and concealing child rapists so they can go on raping children, just to protect the organization's public image.
If you stay in the Catholic Church, even after this scandal, you are essentially telling them, "Go ahead and protect child rapists. I don't care. As long as I personally get to keep taking Communion and go to Heaven when I die, whatever you do is hunky-dory with me. Your spiritual extortion -- your indoctrination of the idea that I will be tortured with burning and fire for all eternity if I don't drink your wine and eat your cracker -- has worked. You can do anything at all that you like. You won't hear a peep out of me."
Is that really what you want to be saying?
The only way -- and I mean the only way -- that the Catholic Church is going to change its stance on this issue, or indeed on any issue, is if Catholics vote with their feet, and get the hell out of there.
When are you going to do that?
To leave the Catholic Church, visit the Count Me Out Web site, which walks you through the process.
Read more of Greta Christina at her blog.

DOE and USDA Announce Funding for Biomass Research | Alison Pruitt

USdepartmentofenergy — May 04, 2010 — Cellulosic biofuels made from agricultural waste have caught the attention of many farmers and could be the next revolution in renewable biofuels production. This video shows how an innovative technology that converts waste products from the corn harvest into renewable biofuels will help the U.S. produce billions of gallons of cellulosic biofuels over the coming decade. It will also stimulate local economies and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.


The U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE) and Agriculture (USDA) have jointly announced up to US$33 million in funding for research and development of technologies and processes to produce biofuels, bioenergy and high-value biobased products, subject to annual appropriations.

The funding will go to several types of projects aimed at increasing the availability of alternative renewable fuels and biobased products.

The projects will aim to create a diverse group of economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass. Advanced biofuels produced from these projects are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 50 percent.

“As the demand for energy rises, Americans need alternative, renewable energy sources,” said Roger Beachy, USDA chief scientist and director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

“The innovation and technology that these projects develop will foster a sustainable domestic biofuels industry by broadening the nation's energy sources as well as improving the efficiency of renewable fuels.”

The DOE has also released a video highlighting how cellulosic biofuel technologies can spur growth in the domestic biofuels industry and provide new revenue opportunities to farmers in rural areas.

The video, shot at a harvesting equipment demonstration in Emmetsburg, Iowa, highlights a new way of producing ethanol from the cellulose fibers in corn cobs, rather than corn kernels.

The technology generates a new opportunity for farmers to harvest and sell the cobs that they’d normally leave in the field. To date, DOE has committed over $1 billion to 27 cost-shared biorefinery projects.

Baja Rob's Biochar Log: Rocket Retort Rocks!

Yesterday was the christening of my new kiln, the Rocket Retort, a culmination of many months of research, design, contemplation; and a recent spate of hard work. Like so many others bit by the biochar bug, I wanted to create a kiln for my own use. I also recognized the potential that a practical, high-performance, "personal" biochar kiln could have in leveraging distributed production among home gardeners and other small stakeholders, and perhaps ultimately, subsistence farmers worldwide. My prior experience of small biochar kilns, gleaned from YouTube profiles and my own backyard pyrotechnics, had been of barely-contained conflagrations that produced an uncertain sort of biochar. My Rocket Retort design was informed by my work as hardware development manager for a philanthropic-funded biochar project in Costa Rica, involving a much larger kiln designed by Nikolaus Foidl and guided by Stephen Joseph, two of biochar's leading lights. Design criteria for my personal kiln include:

Low cost materials
Basic shop tools only
Low emissions
Efficient biomass conversion
Controlled firing profile
Recycle pyrolysis gases
Collect wood vinegar

The 55 gallon drum--durable, affordable, widely available, easily handled--is at the heart of the design. A removable-lid drum stuffed with wood mill scrap serves as the retort. To prime the kiln, I had been considering scaling up one of the newer innovative biomass stove designs, but felt stymied by the challenge of refueling and controlling output. On a suggestion from stover-friend Charlie Sellers, I looked into the Rocket Stove (, a versatile design that addressed my emissions, fuel feed, and control concerns. The rest of the hardware fell into place after a bit of "outside the drum" thinking: Create fire chamber and insulating jackets (two total) by cutting ends off drums, slitting open, and welding inserts cut from a third drum. The tricky bit was opening the slit drums evenly to maintain the roundness of the now-larger cylinders. The nesting Russian doll cylinders rest on staircase ledges in the modified rocket stove base. Each cylinder is topped by a shallow cone-shaped lid with a central exhaust vent made by cutting a sliver wedge out of a sheet metal disc and welding the cut edges together. The lids are secured by bolts welded to the inside rim of the cylinders.

The other design consideration was collecting wood vinegar (natural pesticide and plant growth stimulant) and recycling pyrolysis gases. A two-inch steel pipe was threaded onto the bung hole on the lid of the retort drum, exiting holes cut into the shallow cone lids, and elbowing down toward the stove's fuel feed opening. A "T" fitting and valves enable directing evolved gases toward either a condenser pipe leading away from the kiln to collect wood vinegar, or directly into the fuel chamber to fire the kiln. The fuel feed opening is divided horizontally by a stainless plate, with the lower portion intended for intake air. Being able to block the throat of the upper portion of the feed chamber enables greater range of control and can improve combustion efficiency by limiting excess air.

We were thrilled with our first firing! The rocket stove enables ramping up temperatures gradually, which could be a big advantage when working with high moisture content feedstocks. The cross-over from distillation to pyrolysis was fairly tender. Directing all of the gasses into the stove's fuel chamber resulted at first in an over-temperature condition, which was alleviated by diverting pyrolysis gasses out the vinegar condenser pipe--at one point flames were shooting out two meters (very dramatic!)--stimulating conversation on the various uses to which these surplus combustible gasses could be put.

For future firings the kiln will be fitted with thermocouples and a multi-station digital thermometer so we can approach pyrolysis temperatures a bit more gingerly, with the goal of achieving a longer soak at the lower end of the pyrolysis range to retain more organic compounds in the carbon matrix for a more plant-effective biochar. Separately, I'm working on a design for a rotisserie-style reactor for making biochar mineral complex (BMC)--a step up from garden variety biochar. Wood biochar, clay, chicken litter, and mineral nutrients (rock phosphate, calcium, etc.) will be blended and loaded into a 55 gallon drum mounted laterally over the rocket stove for tumble-heating at sub-pyrolysis temperatures, to create a substance resembling aged terra preta (based on the pioneering work of Stephen Joseph).

It is worth noting that labor was not among my design considerations. Although labor cost is crucial in commercial economic analysis, home gardeners are known to lavish lots of time on their gardens, heedless of return on their labors. Likewise, backyard biocharers generally do it for the benefit of their garden and for sport (the thrill of the burn). As for the ultimate target audience, subsistence farmers, the low-value of their labor is one of the snares of the poverty trap. Producing biochar, and improving the productivity of their agriculture, might just help them pick the lock.

For a captioned slideshow, go to: Rockin' Rocket Retort. We'll get a YouTube together soon.

Rockin' Rocket Retort - bajarob - Picasa Web Albums

Rockin' Rocket Retort - bajarob - Picasa Web Albums