ON DATE BELOW TO READ
Copyright © 2006 by Al Fritsch
Photos on this page by: Janet Powell
July launches the second half of 2006, and we are ready for a fresh
start, a review of resolutions achieved or overlooked. The heat of
summer is before us, a time to pace ourselves so we do not
overexert. The busyness of spring in May and June is behind us and
we can develop a better pace and routine. Do our work, yes, but
let's take it easy when the opportunity avails itself. We are in a
period of global warming and that can have an effect on our physical
This is the month when garden crops are
maturing. Often our Julys are dry, and thus the tender plants need
watering and special care. It is the season when growers and vendors
open their roadside markets and sell the peaches, plums, first corn
from deeper south, tomatoes, and a host of other homegrown produce.
We are aware that the plenty of God's creation is showing itself
doing this glorious month, and we rejoice. Vacationers, especially
those who like water sports find this a prime month for boating,
fishing, waterskiing and swimming. July is when the youth dream of
an unending summer -- which the adults know only to well is passing
by rather rapidly. So goes July.
1, 2006 Literacy Problems
We will observe Literacy Day tomorrow; much has been said on
International Literacy Day with reference to the need to furnish
literacy programs for the functionally illiterate (see
2005). This applies both in America and elsewhere and is a major
problem that is being solved person by person hopefully before the
aging illiterate dies. But the tragedy is always that some who
wanted to read may grow too old to learn and thus lose that
opportunity to read. However, the actual illiterate are not the
only ones with a problem; so are those who are literate but choose
not to read much due to the effort it takes and the current
practices of watching television.
This form of cultural illiteracy includes more Americans than
we choose to acknowledge. They are the people who no longer take
newspapers (the popularity is dropping rapidly, by one or two
percent each year) or read books or periodicals. Some of these
obtain their news over the Internet, but a larger number receive an
abbreviated version, amid advertisements and other distractions
through television or radio. It results in a superficially
informed public who avoid the effort it takes to read. "What's the
use?" Entertainment becomes a non-reading exercise; time is spent
watching television, and books are for the shelf and a mere cursory
glance at title, jacket notation and a few pages at best. The ones
with better memories remember the titles and thus can converse to
some degree as though still well read.
The fact is that a majority of Americans are briefed by word
of mouth, see or hear the news, and cease any reflective reading.
They become "practically" illiterate even though quite capable of
making out what sentences mean. For them, reading is for the ones
in schools. That condition is seldom acknowledged for fear of the
words "functionally illiterate." However, the results for the
alert citizenry may be more devastating than for the person who
never learned to read, but who is striving to gain more knowledge.
The latter is often quite earnest about going beyond his or her
handicaps in the mastery of language; the one who ceases to read
hides the matter and pretends to be read with only scraps of
knowledge and incomplete information.
Facing this situation is the first step. Getting the person
to spend time with books and in-depth periodicals at some part of
the day or night is another hurdle that television's dumbing down
discourages. The best way for the lapsed reader to become literate
again is to take the easy step of turning off the television. It
seems so simple but for the electronic addict it can be difficult.
If need be, get rid of it. At least an addiction to enter the
Internet requires reading and becomes an advantage in the long run.
But nothing beats the book or periodical for learning about the
problems in our world with sufficient time to digest what is read.
Subscribe again or at least trade already read periodicals. Take
an hour and include spiritual reading on a regular basis. But this
is written and read by those without the problem. Right?
2, 2006 Being Pro-Life
Little girl, I tell you to get up. (Mark 5:41)
God gives life. Being pro-life is a current politicized
expression (in contrast to being pro-choice), but should it be? To
be for life means that we come to understand a little more what the
Book of Wisdom means when it says that God does not make death nor
rejoices in the destruction of the living (Wisdom 1:13-15). The
sacred writer has in mind the spiritual death due to sin, but we
need to see life and death in their entirety -- physical and
spiritual. God formed us to be imperishable and that means having
an eternal fullness of life; Jesus now invites us through Baptism
into the divine family.
Jesus restores life. The story of raising the little girl to
life (Mark 5) starts with a desperate father (Jairus) who believes
in Jesus' healing powers; he begs him to come because his little
daughter is critically ill. On their way another healing occurs,
which delays Jesus. Then a messenger arrives to tell Jairus that
the little girl is dead. Jesus tells Jairus that fear is useless,
a message he gives often in the Gospels. "What is needed is trust"
and that is what is needed for gaining a higher quality of life.
Upon entering the house, the arriving party find professional
wailers are at work, and they ridicule Jesus when he says the
little girl is only sleeping. He enters and tells her to get up
and she does so immediately. Fullness of life returns.
We give life. We profess a fullness of life through sharing.
This comes by doing what St. Paul begs the Corinthians to do and
give attention to the needy. We must always share our livelihood
through charity with those who are lacking in physical necessities.
Likewise some linger and suffer from spiritual hunger because we
fail to see them in need. Spiritual hunger is often harder to
detect, and we can easily overlook them through our distractions.
We encourage fuller life. We do not have the power to raise
people from the dead, but we can help offer them a fuller life even
while they suffer. All of us are to endure physical death, and
this certainty must be reckoned with in due time. The critical ill
present for us a challenge, but we have the opportunity to help
make their final moments of life all the more life-giving, as they
prepare their departure from this mortal world. "Life is the
childhood of our immortality," Goethe says. We affirm life to the
dying, to those on death row, to the mother who considers
terminating a pregnancy, to the desperately poor, to those who
suffer from substance abuse, and to all who despair of life.
At the conclusion of the miracle (Mark 5:43), Jesus tells the
parents to give the little girl something to eat -- for Jesus is
sensitive to her being hungry, and to all of us being hungry for
the Bread of life, for this alone gives us fuller life. Through
our presence with God we are able to assist others to live more
fully and thus be pro-life in all its manifestations.
3, 2006 Fair Taxes
As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day tomorrow we could
consider that one of the causes of the American revolution was
taxation without representation. We all pay taxes in some fashion,
even those far below the income tax level. Anytime we buy a non-
food item and especially with the purchase of fuel we shell out for
sales taxes both federal and state. In fact, in our own state
(Kentucky) the poorer portion of the population pay taxes in so
many ways that a higher percentage of their total income than of
the income of wealthier people may be taxed.
Burdens on many. Americans knew more about taxes in 1774 than
we do now. How could this scattered people be so informed and
interested except that it involved their welfare and pocketbook?
At that time people read and conversed on serious subjects to a far
greater degree than our own dumbed down people who only get blurbs
and briefs on the news today. Thus our current "patriots" with all
the information sources do not realize the unfairness of taxes as
they affect everyone in this country. With a country sinking
deeper into long-term debt that will come to haunt the
grandchildren, our people believe in putting off the inevitable
payments and thus favor reducing the total tax burden; this
happens even though those at the lower income portion of the
spectrum continue to pay much in hidden taxes; at the same time,
the wealthier persons and so-called corporate "persons" get off
with none of their essential needs ever touched and their surpluses
handled by lawyers who can qualify them for innumerable loopholes.
Estate taxes. Now the wealthy one percent want to see the
federal estate tax repealed, although only paid on inheritances of
more than two million dollars. And the targeted one percent,
through access to the media and by disinformation, label the
federal estate tax as the "death" tax; many of the moderate-income
folks scramble to support the repeal even though they will never be
charged or know any of their own kinfolks who will. When people
learn what the tax is all about, they immediately see its fairness
and realize that this country, which lives on credit, will in one
decade lose one trillion dollars through its repeal.
Citizen demands. Our essential needs can only be met by
taking from the wealthy what belongs to the commons and all the
people; this is to be done either through charity or through
imposition of more taxes. There should not be the extreme wealth
of a few and the extreme poverty of the many. The great equalizer
is an authentic and just tax system -- and that is what the dream
of the colonists was, a dream that is receding from our collective
memory. We citizens are to be held accountable if we do not arouse
that dream again. Must we take on this an added burden? Yes, but
the burden is easy when seen as part of our civic responsibility.
We need to be fair and not allow the wealthy to get away with
concealed murder. And the loss of life somewhere in the world
through lack of proper food and health services is murder that we
so often overlook. Let's change this through fair taxes.
4, 2006 Count America's Blessings
Each year we prepare to celebrate the Fourth with a variety of
visits, trips, picnics, fireworks displays, and other forms of
festivities. All well and good, but maybe there is something more.
On Thanksgiving civic piety calls for prayers before the main meal
and perhaps even a thanksgiving service at church. Independence
Day is national but has a more secular tone, one that passes over
a moment of gratitude; but today we ought to be thankful for those
brave enough to stand up for our new-found liberties some two
hundred and thirty years ago.
Time flies. I was able to celebrate with one million or was
it two million folks on the mall at the 200th anniversary of the
Declaration of Independence while residing in Washington, DC in
1976. I remember observing the federal capitol building and
watching the attendants frantically hoisting up and down flags that
some souvenir hunters would boast flew over the building on July 4,
1976. So much for distinctions. We parked in a convenient spot
near the State Department building and when the fireworks had ended
after dark, a sea of returnees was completely filling the street
where the car was parked. We walked a mile to another vehicle and
had to come back the next day to retrieve my vehicle. So much for
July Fourth thirty years ago.
Today, we Americans are caught in a war on terrorism, high
gasoline prices, migration reform, and a host of other problem
areas. We allow these to crowd out our own blessings that need to
be recalled in a prayerful manner. Curses are plentiful in this
imperfect world. Why aren't blessings? What better day than the
anniversary of our freedoms -- speech, press, worship, from
unlawful search, etc. In fact, numbering these freedoms is
somewhat problematic, for how many should be included? The truth
is that the number is far more than we first realize. I am a
compulsive counter of many things (passing railroad cars, number of
people in an audience, steps taken while running, etc.) and find
that this could border on a neurosis. But it is amazing what we
are not tempted to count -- and that includes our blessings.
Perhaps the reason is that they are countless, but that refers to
a final count, not to the fact that we can at least assemble an
unfinished preliminary listing.
Our blessings as an American people include many things we
simply overlook: inoculation programs, a network of highways,
fairly reliable weather reporting, good telephone and
communications networks, the affordable personal computer, a
garbage collection service, the 911 system, the police, reliable
and labeled food, and on and on. In virtually every example we can
look more deeply and find something wrong that needs adjusting.
That is worthy of a vigilant citizenry and it ought to be so. But
today we ought to remember our blessings, imperfect as they are.
And we need not wait to Thanksgiving. Bless God as author of all
blessings. A little gratitude on July Fourth is worth our while,
and that is because we have so many things to count and bless.
5, 2006 Traditional Energy Sources
One of the current deceptive aspects in constructing a
practical national energy policy is the Administration's touting
the major current energy sources (coal, oil, natural gas, and
nuclear) as "traditional" (or conventional) and lumping all others
as more or less futuristic. Certainly they are conventional in
that together with hydropower they are the furnishers of most of
our electricity. However, regarding them as the mainstays of our
energy picture for years to come gives the wrong impression to the
public that solar and wind energy is in the wave of the future.
According to biased reporting, these sources need far more research
and development (R&D) just as do crops that could be used for fuel
(e.g., switchgrass) as well as hydrogen. We must bite the bullet;
we must realize that both fossil fuel sources that cause the
emerging global greenhouse effect and nuclear power (see
Hour on this website) should be reduced and phased down and out.
The scientific and even some of the so-called environmental
community are in favor of people feeding at the trough of federal
R&D funds for alternative fuel sources that are inherently wasteful
through using cultivated land for fuel instead of food. This is so
difficult to justify because the world's good farmland is limited
and the fuel used is so inefficiently consumed by internal
combustion engines; these could be replaced by electric motors
powered by solar energy sources. Ultimately our selfishness in
energy policy will do us in unless radical changes are made.
What is amazing in this misconception of "traditional" energy
sources is that the historically traditional source of wood is
somewhat overlooked even though it and waste combined furnish three
percent of current energy demand. However, through that fuel
source air pollutants occur; this is especially true when not
using an energy efficient stove for wood-burning contributes to the
total carbon dioxide load in the atmosphere.
But the real unfairness of this current federal energy policy
is heaped on solar and wind energy because they receive very little
of the research dollar and very little of the traditional perks
that go to conventional coal, oil and nuclear sources. The real
atrocity is that actual increased perks go to oil when these are
making astounding windfall profits (fifteen billion dollars to one
company alone for one three-month period). This is happening while
petroleum is in ever shorter supply throughout the world, and China
and India are reaching out everywhere to find energy sources for
their own increasing energy demands. Solar and wind energy sources
do not need that much fundamental R&D because they have been
functioning and could be virtually competitive -- if the playing
field were really level. Wind it certainly competitive with the
megawatts being generated costing less than other conventional
electric sources; wind farms are cropping up everywhere with hefty
increases in generation each year. And solar energy is ready to
break into the competitive market in a matter of years, if it only
gets a fair chance.
6, 2006 Know What to Stash and What to Trash
"Independence from Stuff Week"
With rare exceptions most of us retain far more of the
material things than are necessary for human life. And we are
reluctant to let them go, for fear we may suddenly need the
accumulated junk that clutters our world. Those who move less are
more prone to have such accumulations. Our storage space is a
resource that requires maintenance and a certain amount of extra
July 22, 2004 for "Use Storage Space Well.")
In our consumer product-laden society with much that is cheap,
disposable, of limited shelf-life, quickly out of fashion, and
designed for planned obsolescence, one can hardly fault people for
accumulating junk in some fashion. Some in Appalachia have large
collections of unusable vehicles clustered near their residences
and outbuildings. They can't part with these relics and yet the
presence of the junk is horrible for a concerned citizen or tourist
to behold. An old lady in my home county (Mason) had her shiny new
model A Ford hoisted on blocks in her barn though she neglected to
learn to drive. She went each morning to "race the engine" (start
up the motor) while not moving the car; she would continue to add
gasoline for this venture month after month and in due time the
motor burnt out. She called the mechanic, who came to her barn and
was puzzled because the odometer showed less than 100 miles. She
had accumulated something she really did not use.
Stash with care. Stashing is a proper exercise, if there is
some future benefit whether from a collection of items or old
writings (my fault area). But our judgments of "benefit" can
sometimes be misconceived and made at a moment's notice with future
time and use given little consideration. If space is available, we
tend to stash more frequently. A disciplined stasher will move
through portions of storage areas on a periodic basis. In recent
years I have striven to dispose of useless incoming mail
(preferably in recycling bins) with consistent frequency. I note
that people who simply set materials aside will never get rid of
them, only move them from pile to pile to pile as things
accumulate. Stashing what is beneficial is never an easy operation
unless we are rather rigid about what we intend to keep and are
willing to record where we keep it. At times I regret having
thrown things away and that gives a rationale for keeping things.
Trash with care. The word "trash" may mean throwaways of all
sorts, so the decision to make an alienation of materials involves
some environmental consideration. Return unused or worn out
materials to the place of purchase -- if possible; give the
unneeded items to those who can use them; donate to church or yard
sales; present things to museums and demonstration centers; give
away as gifts to keep the material in circulation; recycle the
parts for other uses; and put the rest in the recycling bin. Just
regard the garbage bag as a last resort. Creativity comes in
disposing of things properly, but conservation involves not
accepting the material in the first place.
7, 2006 Alternative College Routes
The climbing cost of college education causes a dilemma for
many with modest incomes, whether high school graduates wanting to
enroll in colleges, middle-aged people desiring career changes, or
older retirees who want to complete some degree route or further
studies. Much depends on what people are actually looking for at
a given time -- their academic expectations.
Wait and see. A high school graduate who is bright but not
overly so and is lacking the talents to achieve some sort of
scholarship, may choose to put off college and seek employment or
volunteer with some group that allows a broadening of personal
experience. During this time one's expectations may become more
clearly focused and the particular academic route may be better
defined. Often counselors and advisors steer clients towards more
formal volunteer programs for these are expected to make them more
Review and refocus. The person seeking a second career may
look at a growing variety of options. Extension courses through
community colleges and other institutions exist. Recognized
institutions do not necessarily require constant attendance and
give credit for work experience through the years. A growing
number of on-line courses and degree programs exist and allow the
person to obtain the degree through the Internet. "College without
walls" programs have been highly successful in the past two decades
and exist in many forms.
Broaden outlook. What about retirees who always wanted that
college basic or higher degree? State programs offer low or no
tuition for seniors and retirees (Kentucky's
Program). Older people prefer such legitimate but not prestigious
routes to formal degrees after which they can be designated
"doctor" or have a master's degree for self-esteem. A person who
has a good discipline and motivation can learn much on his or her
13, 2004). We also talk about ongoing education in
both informal and formal settings (February
Except for the very brightest or the very wealthy, taking the
prestigious route to high success is closing rapidly. Today with
higher and higher tuition fees in public schools, even the
traditional routes are shutting for the lower income cohort of our
population. The intermediate route of legitimate courses from the
business, technical, extension-type institutions or the
institutions that consider past experience is good for many,
especially older and second career people. The do-it-yourselfer is
the third option and can be as rewarding in the education attained,
especially if guided informally by someone who has taken the formal
route at an earlier time. Creative people, who do not like college
but can pick up the necessary pieces through reading or personal
advice, should pursue their own journey in life. Many without
formal education have made it, but doing so requires discipline,
alertness and experience.
with insect friends...
Jim Beam Nature Preserve
Jessamine Co., Kentucky
July 8, 2006
We speak much about renewable energy and yet we often overlook
a small but significant contributor to our total American energy
picture and that is "geothermal" energy. This is not always
renewable since heat at operating locations can eventually be
exhausted if not recharged. However, geothermal is an
environmentally benign, non-polluting form of energy that, once
tapped, can be quite dependable and low-cost. Many of our western
states are particularly well suited to utilizing this form of
energy and are already doing so by using hydrothermal fluids.
The process of utilizing Earth's heat can be subdivided into
two major areas of application: electrical generation from
hydrothermal fluids (steam or water) and direct application in
residential, industrial and commercial uses such as greenhouses and
fish farms; geothermal (ground source) heat pumps, which are highly
efficient, are regarded as an excellent way to concentrate
naturally existing heat rather than using fossil fuels.
Electricity generated from geothermal energy is potentially
available in various parts of the world. Iceland gets 17% of its
electricity from its geothermal sources, and about two dozen other
nations are taking a serious look as global petroleum prices rise.
Total U.S. electricity production from geothermal sources is about
2,700 Megawatts (MW). About half of this comes from the Geysers (a
dry steam field) in northern California with 1,360 MW installed
capacity and netting about 1,000 MW from 21 plants. Treated sewage
effluent is injected into the geothermal field and replenishes the
steam that is tapped for power generation. South central
California areas have geothermal plants producing 570 MW, and
plants in Nevada now produce 235 MW with new plants being built at
this time. Western states centering on Nevada have large amounts
of 200 degree plus temperatures at six kilometer depth and thus are
more suitable for geothermal utilization.
Heat exchange systems in residences and commercial
establishments have gained in popularity throughout the United
States. These structures use ground or water temperatures of a
minimum of 40 degrees Fahrenheit to concentrate heat through a heat
pump. Actually the application is not new, for the Greeks used
geothermal heat to furnish hot baths over two thousand years ago.
The current exchange systems are becoming more efficient, but they
do not stand alone; the systems require other sources of
electricity to operate though at far lower electric use than
heating by a resistance heater or cooling by a standard air
conditioner. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy identifies
water-based geothermal heat exchange systems as the most efficient
and cost effective way to heat and/or cool the building. Having
said this, appropriate technologists still advocate heating through
the use of solar energy and cooling derived from nearby shade trees
as being even more cost efficient; we note that the government's
comparison is made with respect to other conventional and
commercial heating and cooling systems.
9, 2006 Difficulty in Being Prophetic
A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own
relations and in his own house. (Mark 6:4)
The biblical reference makes those of us who preach
simplification of lifestyle wince. We are aware that Americans do
not take simpler living to heart for they find it too preachy, too
intrusive, and too discomforting. It makes people somewhat upset,
because a preacher must make one feel at ease and comfortable -- or
should he or she? This is where the need to be liked comes and
clashes up against the need to awaken hearts to what must be done.
What comes first, a contented community or a disturbed one? Yes,
we are at war, a war against terrorism, and yet leaders dare to
impose hardships on the people, not only on those in harms way.
Consume more, they say, for that makes a robust economy. But is
this prophetic witness or honesty?
Information or prophetic witness. Later this month we will
present a series of essays addressed to the Chinese asking them not
to follow our American ways in areas of the automotive culture,
expensive foods in our diet, excessive heating and cooling,
doubling of space needs, and the throwaway culture. In some of
these areas they are taking on certain practices already. The
essays are informational for the Chinese. However, if we turn
around and face Americans, the same message can be prophetic. Why
does information come easily and prophetic witnessing with
difficulty? Is it because we are convinced that the wrath of God
may come down upon our wasteful land? Is it because we are simply
stating a condition that must be addressed as part of the Gospel?
Is it because we make life uncomfortable for some or even many?
A collaborative problem-solving venture. As Christians, we
are all called to witness to our kin, our neighbors and our
country. We risk being disliked and disregarded if we speak out on
what needs to be done. Seeking to reduce our wasteful practices is
a necessity for we cannot remain Christian and live the full
American lifestyle for it will eventually destroy us -- and we all
know others whom it is destroying. The problem the prophetic
preacher has is shared by the entire community, namely, bearing
witness in a highly comfortable world and doing so amid the cry
that creating discomfort is wrong under any form. Some say we may
be tolerated for living simply only to the degree that we must not
touch what the others are doing. If we intrude into their lives,
even when the lifestyles of the rich intrude into our lives, then
we have exceeded cultural limits of privacy.
Can we soften the burden of prophetic witnessing? We can
speak gently, wear a smile, tell a few jokes (but that can be taken
as too light hearted), and say that the message is for all out of
earshot. But when it comes down to it, there will be resistance to
what we say by people who feel we are not good enough experts to
convince -- even if they are not convinced by experts. The fact is
that Jesus said what had to be said -- and he was crucified.
10, 2006 Retreat in the Woods
Everyone who is concerned about the environment ought to get
away for a time, way away, and that means a solitary outdoors
experience (See June 5,
2006). Some will make this an annual
3, 2005). They may not want to make a retreat
totally apart from others due to safety concerns so consider a good
state park in the middle of summer or early fall. Here are some
added suggestions in our quest to speak to God unhindered.
Remain unhindered. Don't plan extra things to do such as
having an opportunity to sightsee while in the wooded area. Keep
auto or other travel to a minimum. Don't schedule other activities
unless they are related to your own immediate retreat.
Move a little. Some want to sit throughout a retreat. That
is not necessary for a moderate exercise regime keeps us refreshed
and able to give more attention to prayer. However, I find that
backpacking retreats can be a hindrance for moving from location to
location takes total attention. Any strolls or short trips should
not be hindered by a heavy pack, just the bare hiking elements of
lunch, water, notebook, and possibly rain gear.
Spiritual direction? For the Jesuit trained in the Spiritual
Exercises it may come as a surprise that I do not necessarily
recommend talking with others during an annual retreat. When one
has important change-of-life situations approaching, then a
directed retreat is recommended. But that is often a once-in-a-
decade situation. Annual events come somewhat quickly and do not
demand important new decisions. This annual auditing time can be
best done in the wilderness or away from people, and this hermit's
experience may prove beneficial for orienting your upcoming year.
Retreat site. Choose a place that is simple but good for
reflection. The site selection means much for the retreat. If you
wish to tent, there are many parks, camps, farms, and other such
places. Tenting gives us a closeness that built-up places simply
do not give -- though tents are often less comfortable. Take along
enough cushioning mats to allow a restful sleep. Due to physical
condition, you may need access to a home that is unoccupied or
prefer a hermitage or retreat cabin (see
March 10, 2005).
Simple fare. The best is to eat simple foods that are prepared
prior to the retreat and can be brought along. You may want to
graze from the countryside as part of your menu -- best wishes. I
find eating wild foods allows us to become one with the place and
it turns our mind to God more readily. Keep meals to a minimum,
but make them adequate because retreats can be energy intensive.
Keep records. Some will find later that notes taken at annual
retreats allow us to trace the progress in our journey of faith.
These should be as lengthy or cryptic as the Spirit moves you. The
act of recording makes the experience more definitive and may be
something worth rereading at a future time.
Wildflower bouquet at New River Gorge National
Glen Jean, WV
(Photo: Mark Spencer)
11, 2006 Abolition 2000 Statement
A secure and livable world for our children and grandchildren
and all future generations requires that we achieve a world free of
nuclear weapons and redress the environmental degradation and human
suffering that is the legacy of fifty years of nuclear weapons
testing and production.... We urge the states parties to the Non-
Proliferation Treaty to demand binding commitments by the declared
nuclear weapons states to implement these measures:
1. Initiate immediately and conclude negotiations on a nuclear
weapons abolition convention that requires the phased elimination
of all nuclear weapons within a time-bound framework, with
provisions for effective verification and enforcement.
2. Immediately make an unconditional pledge not to use or
threaten to use nuclear weapons.
3. Rapidly complete a truly comprehensive test ban treaty with
a zero threshold and with the stated purpose of precluding nuclear
weapons development by all states.
4. Cease to produce and deploy new and additional nuclear
weapons systems, and commence to withdraw and disable deployed
nuclear weapons systems.
5. Prohibit the military and commercial production and
reprocessing of all weapons-usable radioactive materials.
6. Subject all weapons-usable radioactive materials and
nuclear facilities in all states to international accounting,
monitoring, and safeguards, and establish a public international
registry of all weapons-usable radioactive materials.
7. Prohibit nuclear weapons research, design, development, and
testing through laboratory experiments including but not limited to
no-nuclear hydrodynamic explosions and computer simulations,
subject all nuclear weapons laboratories to international
monitoring, and close all nuclear test sites.
8. Create additional nuclear weapons free zones such as those
established by the treaties of Tlatelolco and Raratonga.
9. Recognize and declare the illegality of threat or use of
nuclear weapons, publicly and before the world court.
10. Establish an international energy agency to promote and
support the development of sustainable and environmentally safe
11. Create mechanisms to ensure the participation of citizens
and NGOs in planning and monitoring the process of nuclear weapons
12, 2006 Cellulosic Fuels
In an earlier essay (Alcohol Fuels,
August 2, 2004)
that ethanol generated from corn for use in vehicles is a wasteful
use of our precious agricultural lands. This is because the end
product is used for an inherently wasteful internal combustion
engine, and the growing, transporting and processing of the corn
requires non-renewable energy components. Since that discussion
and in the light of very current discussion of energy alternatives
we should add some footnotes.
Octane additives. The first is that ethanol used to enhance
octane ratings especially in phasing out additives that could get
into drinking water and threaten human health is a valid use of
ethanol. Currently, the ethanol source is corn as a crop surplus.
It would be far better if the source were be either from
agricultural waste by-products such as straw or corn stalks, or
from non-agricultural biomass. However, under current conditions
it appears that corn is the best source for ethanol as an additive.
Agricultural wastes. But what about the use of agricultural
wastes such as straw in grain producing areas, especially if the
current practice is to burn the agricultural waste with no attempt
to capture the heat energy emitted in the practice? New methods
are available to use fungus that can decompose the straw into basic
sugars and separate this from the lignin for fermenting into
alcohol. This straw and other massive agricultural waste materials
converted to alcohol could be the source of liquid fuel in an
energy short world. However, the processes are not yet ready for
commercial production on any but a very small level. Proponents
say it will take at least six years before the fuel will be
competitive with three dollar a gallon gasoline. Undoubtedly the
larger the scale of such production, the lower the price. Only a
very small fraction of our automotive fleet can run on both
gasoline and cellulosic alcohol and expanding that fleet could also
take years. An entire transportation and distribution system would
have to be instituted to handle cellulosic alcohol.
Non agricultural cellulosic sources. Native fast-growing
plants like switchgrass (a weed in common terminology) and short-
rotation woody crops like poplar trees could be produced on
marginal lands in much of the American Heartland and South. The
production would not divert fertile agricultural lands to fuel
alternatives but rather use land that would not otherwise be
productive. However, growing and retaining plantations on these
marginal lands would reduce carbon dioxide levels. The plants
grown to produce liquid fuel would not require fertilization or
pesticide control or tillage, and would not increase the carbon
dioxide emissions since they would first take in what is emitted
through combustion. While some things sounds good, still
combustion is not a solution to global warming, for the lands as
woodlands would improve total biomass. Besides, this interim
alternative requires R&D dollars that could be better spent on
solar, wind and geothermal renewable energy sources.
Purple morning glory in garden
13, 2006 Threshing
It has occurred to me only recently that the farming practices
we performed in youth are remembered by only a small minority of
the American population -- and growing fewer all the time. The
tools and instruments we used are now in museums. One of these
great agricultural events of the summer was threshing the wheat.
It actually became a gala celebration, for the farmers and hired
hands worked hard and enjoyed each other's company.
These pre-grain-combine days (during the Second World War)
were county events that occurred generally in July. We always
prayed for good weather, both at the threshing and in the days
preceding it, for the grain had to be dry. The harder part of the
total operation involved the cutting of the wheat by a horse- or
tractor-drawn binder that made bundles of wheat that would have to
be stacked in "shocks" in the field. The threshing itself was less
exerting than the cutting, at least from a youthful standpoint, as
we enjoyed free time between the loading of each wagon.
The center instrument was the cumbersome threshing machine
with its large pipe for blowing the straw onto a straw stack that
was created for the occasion. The machine was originally driven by
a steam engine but in our time the large tractors were run with
diesel or gasoline. Our state law says such a machine could cross
other people's property to get to the site, for often in the
backwoods farms moving the machine would be more of a challenge
than anticipated due to poor country roads. The big event was the
arrival of the slow moving threshing machine early in the morning.
I will never forget Skinny, a hired man next door who was a
perfect showoff. He liked to drive his tractor and loaded wagon of
wheat sheaves up to the thresher with his arms folded while he
controlled it using his feet touching one or other of the two
tractor brake pedals. Mr. Lurdy, who operated his own thresher,
would become alarmed as Skinny approached, thinking the wagon would
smash into his precious machine.
The most memorable part of threshing was the large dinner in
the middle of the day. Pans, soap and towels were set out and
everyone could wash their hands, arms and face before the feast.
The women folks (a number enlisted on occasion to help) would
prepare chicken and a lot of the seasonal vegetable dishes
including new potatoes, cucumbers, beets, green beans, and fresh
tomatoes. There would be berry, apple and peach cobblers for
desert and plenty of lemonade and coffee. The lunch talk was
always animated with plenty of laughter and good cheer, for the
rest of the day involved the work of hauling to the thresher and
sacking the threshed wheat. Since our threshed wheat was a good
quality, some went to the local feed store; the rest was stacked in
the barn in ricks of sacks and later crushed for livestock feed.
Few remember threshing and the joys of the rural social
gatherings of yesteryear. Few things replace these events.
14, 2006 Taste the Berries of Summer
Among the joys of summer are the multicolored, multi-flavored
berries that are found wild or in cultivated varieties during July.
So many varieties grow in our area that we feel privileged by the
bounty. I find the gathering of a few berries to be just right,
but the gathering of quarts and buckets to be tedious. By just
right I mean a good taste for the gathering day and little else,
though taking a taste back to someone else can be gratifying as
well. Many of these varieties do not keep well and so they may
spoil quite quickly if not refrigerated. It is berry season or
more specifically blackberry season for the most prominent variety.
Really some berries have already been in season by July in our
country. We have already passed the wild and cultivated strawberry
season (starting in late May) and gone beyond the wild raspberry
(black cap) in late June, though many raspberries come in two
seasons and some of both species (strawberries) are ever-bearing
during the warmer weather. July is the season of the wineberry,
the cultivated raspberry, wild and cultivated blackberry, bush blue
berry at lower altitudes, the dewberry, and the cultivated
boysenberry and gooseberry. The white and colored mulberry trees
are also bearing at this season in our part of the country. It is
truly high berry season. In later summer will come the elderberry,
the cranberry, and several others.
My favorite July berry is the luscious wineberry (Rubus
phoenicolasius). These ripe juicy red berries remains on the canes
for a short time and their ripening season is less than that of the
blackberry (a two-week interval). Their brambles do not have the
thorns of the blackberry bramble though the stalks are rough. The
berries are hollow and delicate, being meant to be eaten on the
spot for they do not last long after picking. They are of medium
tartness and have a distinctive flavor. One finds them in
thickets, the edges of fields and woods, or near trails and roads
on rather moist land.
Part of the secret to berry-gathering is to know where the
sweeter and higher quality ones grow. This takes an observant eye
and a good memory. The truth is that the majority of wild berries
go unharvested even in rather congested areas, because people
ignore these gifts of nature. The quality of the berry depends on
the soil and moisture content of the growing place, so casing out
the vicinity is essential if you want the best flavor for the taste
of the season.
Berries can be made into cobblers and pies; they can grace
puddings, cream pies, and sherbets. A favorite treat is to eat
them over cereal; they can be sugared and used as a topping for
ice cream or turned into a jam, jelly, canned whole or placed in a
deep freeze for later use. No matter how hard one tries, however,
they cannot retain the flavor of the sun-ripened, hand picked
berry. So stay with just getting a taste and call it the season.
15, 2006 Biodiesel Fuel
The nation is frantically looking for ways to fill the gap in
automotive fuel needs with the foreseeable limits on use of
petroleum due to lack of new reserves and competition for existing
ones by America's insatiable SUV appetite and the consumers in
newly affluent lands. One fuel alternative route is to replace the
significant diesel fuel niche with non-petroleum derived
substitutes. Some of these are "corny" to say the least and some
are converted waste materials. I place in the corny category the
use of canola oil for fuel for our inherently wasteful internal
combustion engines. To think that today people in both eastern and
western Africa are suffering from malnutrition and cooking oil is
a prime need -- and we are wanting to burn our vehicles with it.
Using waste cooking oil for fueling vehicles has at least some
beneficial effects, since there has been a movement to restrict the
use of this waste in pet foods by the European Union (though not in
this country). Gathering the waste cooking oil from a variety of
restaurants, especially fast foods ones, and food processing
industries is time consuming; the inconvenience is gladly
undertaken by advocates or "green biodiesel missionaries." These
true believers strain the waste oil and use it in diesel-burning
cars or trucks; these run quite well with no engine damage and
they emit the somewhat pleasant fragrance of a McDonalds' kitchen.
Biodiesel fuel has hidden problems, and optimists and
pessimists see it differently. On the optimistic side, people know
that the fuel burns more efficiently than petrodiesel and they
regard it as renewable since the crops of fuel oil are grown year
after year. It's a smoke and mirrors trick for the carbon dioxide
captured in the growing crops is released again through combustion.
The EU wishes to make this biodiesel about 6% of the total energy
mix in the next decade just as Brazil wants to power four out of
five of its transport fleet fueled with ethanol derived from sugar
cane in five years.
Many of us are pessimistic about biodiesel. George Monbiot
<monbiot.com> cites Jeffrey Dukes who says carbon
combusted at 400 times the net primary productivity of the planet's
current biota <monbiot.com/archives/2005>.
A firestorm of critics
attacked him for questioning the use of biodiesel as a fuel of
choice. Monbiot admits his first column was wrong only because he
underestimated the environmental impact; he does not advocate
throwing waste vegetable oil away but condemns biodiesel processing
plants that are sprouting up in Europe and Asia and using oil from
palm plantations. This practice is rapidly denuding the rain
forests and wetland areas in Malaysia and other parts of southeast
Asia. What about the EU's mandate to ensure that 5.75% of
transport fuel comes from plants by 2010? Will this not also add
to the environmental degradation caused by excessive burning of
fuels to power our modern transport system? Let's talk sense.
These oils need to be produced but for hungry people not hungry
July 16, 2006 Civil Religion and Discipline
Go prophesy to my people Israel. (Amos 7:15)
We have an American civic religion that is able to interweave
patriotism and piety into one garment. Our motto is "In God we
trust." We pledge allegiance with "One nation, under God, with
liberty and justice for all." We sing that God will bless America;
we have a civil holiday in November giving thanks to God for the
bounty bestowed upon us. Presidents swear on a Bible as do many
who take public offices. People seek to post the ten commandments
and erect nativity scenes in public places.
Civic piety includes respect, which must be present in all
religious practice. But if we focus too much on piety we overlook
the urgency of an authentic religious message, namely, a
confrontation with evil and a call to prepare people to reform
their ways. If this principal drive towards repentance is lacking,
people can become comfortable with what they have and regard
themselves as worthy and deserving of the bounty; for them, worship
involves idolizing the status quo. On the other hand, an
authentic patriotism does not seek to justify existing practice but
to compare current practice with the foundational principles that
set this American democracy in motion. Thus the true civic
component of religion is to recall us to our constitutional
structure, not to give us a comfortable feeling that what is
happening is a faithful continuation of that foundation.
The confrontation called for is part of the disciple's primary
mission (Mark 6:7-13): this begins in their mission ministry under
Jesus' instruction and continues in a more public manner after
Pentecost as described in the Acts of the Apostles. Our democratic
foundations allow us as citizens to take responsibility for serious
current moral issues that must not be overlooked but if unaddressed
could threaten our raison d'etre: just minimal wage, right of
working people to enjoy the fruits of labor and to have time off to
worship, right to life for the fetus, health benefits for all,
limits on corporate practices, protection of private property from
alienation by private land developers, conscientious objection from
military service, jury service without agreeing with the death
penalty, protection from unlawful governmental surveillance,
freedom from drug advertisements targeted to individuals, fair
taxes that includes the wealthy paying what is due, and freedom of
future generations from overwhelming debt.
Moral questions abound in much of our civic legislation and
general practice. These questions must not be relegated to
academic circles for discussion and the courts and judges for
decision. A civic duty rests on the democratic people who have
both responsibilities and privileges. Confrontation may be
necessary at different times, and to be patriotic is not saying
"yes, yes" to sustaining the comfort levels of our society. Jesus'
disciples, who take their mission seriously, realized the need for
discipline. So should we as part of authentic civic religion.
July 17, 2006 China: Don't Follow Us: Private Automobiles
Dear China: You will dominate the 21st century just as the
United States dominated the 20th century. Let us who have been
critical of our excessive lifestyle practices in this country offer
a frank word of caution as you advance in affluence: the world
cannot afford another United States. China, with your population
almost four times our own, you could easily exhaust the world's
resources if you ever dare to imitate some of our past (and
unfortunately present) wasteful practices. This week we will
address the people of China who read this website and others
desirous of imitating our U.S. lifestyle. For everyone's sake
please don't enter a private automotive economy for these reasons:
* In doing so you will spend enormous amounts of resources on
building, operating and maintaining these vehicles, and this is a
major use of petroleum, steel, rubber and other materials. Mass
transit and using bicycles, with which you are more familiar, are
far better approaches and ought not to be abandoned in the rush to
imitate western lifestyles. We abandoned our mass transit system
to the utter frustration of conservation-minded individuals.
* The private car needs wide thoroughfares to move about,
enormous amounts of space for parking (the current area for us of
one of our middle-sized states like Ohio), and upgraded secondary
roads for feeder systems to the main arteries. Building these
systems will play havoc with your productive farms, dividing
communities and creating difficult conditions for some farmers.
* The car makes people believe that they can remove themselves
from congested areas for parts of their lives. Some Americans
moved to suburbs to get away from the densely populated urban
areas. The countryside is reduced from productive farmland to rows
of housing in a rather sprawled fashion. This could decimate the
farming communities in any country if great care is not taken.
* These suburbanites have to commute each day to work
sometimes spending four to five hours each day traveling. Roads
are jammed with vehicles and tempers flare as accidents and traffic
jams occur. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that
costs of traffic jams amounts to $65 billion each year and include
2.3 billion gallons of fuel and 3.7 billion hours of time.
* Automobiles cause a heavy portion of the current air
pollution burden, with which all industrialized nations are
becoming familiar. Environment must always be a major
consideration, especially in heavily populated areas, and the
internal combustion engine even when highly efficient can delay air
* The movement to the private automobile competes unfairly
with public transportation, which was far better in America almost
a century ago than it is now. The elderly and those who cannot
drive are left with the disadvantage by being isolated.
July 18, 2006 China Don't Follow Us: Hamburgers and Steaks
Dear China: Preserve your excellent cuisine (my favorite) and
past dietary habits. The world knows that your rising income means
that the wealthier portion of your population is changing food
demands and styles. China, you already consume more meat than the
United States or any other nation, but that can be expected with
almost four times more people than has the United States. However,
the per capita consumption of beef has not yet reached American
levels and those of a few other Western beef-consuming nations such
Erode traditional cuisine. China, your wonderful cuisine
spans a wide variety of dishes and your habits are not to use large
amounts of meat. Many of the affluent in different countries seek
to imitate American lifestyle practices; this often occurs at the
expense of native dishes with their rich variety of styles and
flavors. A movement in China to the McDonalds and other fast food
and steak buffet chains would mean an increase in the consumption
of hamburgers and steaks, both resource intensive items.
Take more resources. Beef from grain-fed cattle to satisfy
the millions of Chinese adopting American lifestyles could mean
further diversion of the limited grain supplies of the world that
could go to feeding people in other lands. More resources are
required to produce high resource intensive foods such as beef than
to produce equal amounts of pork, chicken or fish. Much beef is
not either grass-fed or grain-fed but a mixture and so beef
production will continue to compete for limited grain supplies.
China does not have the abundant grasslands of Australia or Canada
and so cannot feed large numbers of cattle. Therefore it is
expected that beef imports will continue to increase.
Threaten grain surpluses. As China becomes richer it can
simply afford to buy the rising priced meats and thus discourage
the shipment of grain to the lower income or developing nations.
If all Chinese eat one egg a day, some estimate that it would
deplete the world's grain reserves because conversion to eggs
requires large amounts of grain.
Erode health. Diets of more whole grains, vegetables and
fruits are far more healthy and allow consumers to be free of some
of the obesity, diabetes, and heart disease plaguing our country.
Fast food habits have done untold harm to a younger and more
sedentary population that is now suffering from illnesses.
Skew world market. China can afford to import because there
is far more disposable income. This one prosperous nation can
change the entire global food market, because it can afford to buy
what other developing nations cannot. When the diet moves more
heavily to meat and eggs, then the producers will move in the
direction of the purchase power; and the poorer nations, which have
been more or less self-sufficient, must divert food products to
accommodate more lucrative world (Chinese and other) food markets.
July 19, 2006 China, Don't Follow Us: Excessive Heating & Cooling
Dear China: Since the mid-19th century when petroleum was
discovered in Pennsylvania, Americans have been awash with low-cost
fuels. During recent decades Americans have acquired a low
threshold to discomfort now reflected in their heating and cooling
habits. The slightest chill in winter causes the heat to be turned
up, and the slightest discomfort in summer creates complaints. The
result is that heat is turned up higher in winter than is
considered comfortable in summer and the inverse is true for
cooling in summer. We have been so sated with energy that our
comfort levels have become skewed on the side of excess energy use
in both winter and summer for heating and cooling. Those who feel
overly warm in winter are pressured not to object as are those who
know that keeping buildings excessively cool in summer is beyond
complaints. Both excesses result in bad health effects.
Create comfort zones. Quite often people turn on space
(resistance) heaters in central-space-controlled cooled buildings
in summer because it is too cool for them, and they cannot control
the specific space in which they live or work. Even modular
controls of specific space will not work perfectly if someone wants
heat in summer or cooler conditions in winter, should the windows
be sealed. To talk about wearing more clothes in winter or less in
summer seems out of the question for some. The better response is
for all workers or residents to take up the matter on a broader
level. They need to identify some sort of comfort zone that is
agreeable to most and determine a set temperature (say 68 degree
Fahrenheit). Now heat to within five degrees (63 degrees) in
winter and cool starting at five degrees above in summer (73
degrees). This plan would save one-third or more of the space
heating and cooling -- and be far healthier.
The practice of superheating in winter and supercooling in
summer is blatantly wasteful for Americans, but it needs to be
addressed, for it could surface elsewhere. It will undoubtedly
occur if space is expected to be heated substantially in winter (to
where some will open the windows to emit the heat) or overly cooled
in summer. One answer is to regard this as a matter of sacrifice
required to participate in the global war on terrorism. People can
come to understand that slight discomfort will result for a few who
can be accommodated through warmer or cooler parts of the building
or through clothing adjustments in the seasons.
Placing this on the level of international sacrifice for a
greater cause is one way we may be able to address this rather
resource costly practice in our own country -- and hopefully in
other nations of the world that are discovering this problem when
imitating our wasteful ways. This will not be a major concern in
areas where people tolerate small discomforts, but wealthier ways
of living makes such discomforts become an obstacle to cooperative
living and working at a global scale. Again we hope that the
Chinese will not follow such examples but become leaders in proper
use of limited resources.
July 20, 2006 China Don't Follow Us: Expansive Indoor Space
Dear China: We Americans have doubled the interior space
requirements in residences, commercial establishments and
educational institutions (per capita space) in the past quarter of
a century. This has led to enormous increased demands for
construction materials and well as higher annual heating and
cooling energy demands. Part of this is a privacy matter in the
home, peer pressure in business and comfort demands by teachers and
Spacious new residences are promoted through efforts by the
architectural design, materials and construction industry. Most
new residences are built at a distance from other people with
lawns, swimming pools and garages and parking areas (practices that
more congested and populous nations could ill afford). The new
homes are fitted with high pointed roofs that have no major use
except to protrude above the surroundings as an added floor of
unused space. In the interior are new ways to pretend that space
is needed: music room, library, "mud" room for storing older and
soiled clothing, play or game room, sewing room, and large kitchen
with every conceivable device. Everyone has his or her bedroom and
bathroom and there is a guest suite as well. Little wonder the
house size is twice that of 1980. And the new houses are a burden
to clean, maintain, and secure as well.
American commercial spatial trends are no better. Stores are
now built in malls, which cover immense amounts of ground with vast
parking lots, interior atriums as gathering spaces, as well as
stores containing every conceivable item for sale -- many
manufactured in China. Supermarkets are spacious compared to the
small narrow-aisled stores of my youth. All of these require
additional upkeep, heating and cooling as well. When we were young
in the 1950s there was no air conditioning except in some movie
houses. All the stores had exterior awnings, wooden floors, and
interior ceiling fans and many were pleasantly warm in summertime.
The trend towards more and more space carries over into other
areas such as education, worship, entertainment, and work. In
recent years, the student centers at universities and colleges are
far larger than they were in previous decades with open areas,
decorative fountains, and a shopping mall look. Student residence
rooms are twice the size of former times, as are dining areas,
administration offices, and sports arenas. This same trend also
applies to public buildings, and especially libraries where book
stacks are on rollers to compress otherwise permanent aisles in
order to pack more into a smaller space; but open arenas, meeting
rooms, and large study areas are now a standard feature.
Entertainment centers are often built in combination with the
shopping malls to use the spacious parking facilities in the
evening after the normal shopping time. However, even here
gathering areas are generally larger than in the past; and there
is no evidence the pattern will be reversed even with higher fuel
costs. And interior space is also quite costly in many ways.
July 21, 2006 China, Don't Follow Us: The Throwaway Culture
Dear China: You may be already imitating us in regard to
throwaways but the whole world has to come to its collective
senses; we can't throw items away quickly and then try to get
substitutes that take immense amounts of metal, plastics and other
resources. We Americans are willing to dispose of our computers,
cell phones, and other electronic devices as newer substitutes
appear on the market. The same holds for clothes, furniture, off-
road vehicles, and just about any affordable item in one's
possession. Often more worrisome are the disposable plates, cups,
wrappers and two dozen items from each fast-food lunch, many of
which are scattered in the countryside with plastic decomposing at
a slow rate.
Soft drink bottles and cans without a deposit tax (to help pay
for recycling and reuse) are cast at roadsides and throughout the
landscape -- even when hefty fines are posted if caught doing so.
The beverage industry prefers disposable items, since this allows
them to send product one way without the responsibility and
infrastructure required to return these items to a bottling plant
for reuse. What happens when the companies send items one way with
the returns borne by the user alone is that spent tires,
appliances, and motor oil enter the environment often in landfills
or in illegal dumps at the roadside.
Most of the more affluent countries now have recycling
programs to return discarded materials for reentry into the
manufacturing process. However, no matter how diligent the culture
is, a portion of the resource outlay is never recycled as such but
enters landfills and gets scattered about. Our landfills are
becoming mountains in the plains and are tapped for methane gas,
but otherwise they are monuments to the throwaway culture to be
explored by future generations to show just how wasteful we are.
From reports, China is also experiencing some of the same
throwaway culture problems. We hear on this side of the ocean that
if the Chinese dispose of their chop sticks and get new ones each
time, the forests of that land will be denuded in a short time. We
all suffer from the slight inconvenience of using items over and
over, but the resources of the world demand it and the order of our
landscape is threatened by such throwaway practices.
In the past five essays we have looked at areas of our
American culture about which we are ashamed and quite embarrassed.
Other parts of our culture such as our freedom of speech and
worship and our charity to the poor are worth imitating, but not
our consumer practices. However, our material wastefulness is too
often accepted, and here we Americans perform a great disservice to
the rest of the world. We trust the Chinese people with a very
noble and ancient culture will distinguish our good from our bad
and reject our ways of using resources.
July 22, 2006 Nuclear Moral Questions
The morality of nuclear weapons production, retention and use
has been discussed for decades, but seldom in conjunction with
nuclear power generation. Here are some introductory questions:
1. Justification -- Was the peacetime use of the atom
conceived in the guilt of the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima?
Was nuclear power ill-conceived due to failure to address the waste
issues associated with power generation? Is nuclear medicine a
proper peacetime use? Are there others?
2. Security -- Were the bomb programs continued for internal
security purposes and yet never fully secure? How have weaponry
secrets been kept out of the hands of thieves, terrorists and rogue
states? Are the retention of nuclear weapons and the failure to
disarm a manifestation of basic insecurity? Does this lead to the
suspicion of Iraq, Iran and other nations?
3. Duplicity -- In tolerating nuclear weapons for some and
encouraging nuclear power facilities apparently for all, is there
a double-dealing in our national policy? Isn't the way we treat
the total nuclear enterprise duplicitous? Is Israel's nuclear
program overlooked while attention is given to Iraq and Iran? What
about the manner in which North Korea is treated? Does failing to
address a nuclear-free Middle East result from this attitude?
4. Power -- Does the sense of power in producing and
possessing nuclear weaponry extend to nuclear energy facilities?
Are these forms of idolatry? Does this sense of power lead to
extraordinary control by a chosen few? Does this concentration of
power erode our democratic values as a people?
5. Complexity -- Is nuclear technology so sophisticated that
it defies control by a democratic people and needs handling by a
highly experienced elite? Are controls of the weaponry program a
progressive "militarization" of the peacetime uses of the atom?
6. Transparency -- Are there hidden forces at work in the
intertwining of military and peacetime use of the atom that erode
world peace efforts ? Are commercial corporations inter-connected
with military ventures? What are the military/peacetime secrets
and who has the right to know?
7. Alternatives -- Are the mining, processing and enrichment
of uranium for military "necessities" extended to the nuclear power
areas? Does this governmental support distort the level playing
field of alternative renewable energy sources?
8. Proliferation -- Is nuclear proliferation inevitable
unless we bite the bullet and become totally nuclear-free both
militarily and with respect to nuclear power generation? Do we
deny the temptation to obtain nuclear weapons that is inherently
contained in the possession of nuclear power plants?
July 23, 2006 Good Leadership
See, the days are coming -- it is Yahweh who speaks -- when I
will raise a virtuous Branch for David, who will reign as true king
and be wise, practicing honesty and integrity in the land.
All of us are called to shepherd in some way, whether through
current responsibilities or future ones (parenting, teaching,
participating, etc.). These responsibilities can be easily
overlooked through lack of interest or taken lightly in a mistaken
idea that they come naturally and without effort. To shepherd
takes effort and prayerful preparation. Though I never literally
shepherded, I did herd cattle and that takes experience,
coordination, and exertion. Jesus shows a sensitivity for those
who are being taught to be good shepherds. He tells his exhausted
disciples to "come by yourselves to an out-of-the-way place and
rest a little" (Mark 6:30-34). While he is solicitous of the
disciples, he is also aware of the needs of the crowds who keep
coming and finding him. So in the same passage he goes out and
teaches them at great length, thus showing the pressing needs. In
other words, while the disciples rest, Jesus takes on the arduous
task of teaching the multitude -- like sheep without a shepherd.
Good leadership means that the one doing work in an
experienced manner exerts less effort than beginners who have not
yet become experienced. Making room for good leadership takes
planning and effort, but in due time the emerging leader can do the
task with finesse and ease. So affording opportunities is
necessary and most welcome by all. Gaining this experience as the
passage shows the disciples doing, requires some preparation and
pacing of the individuals for over-exertion will lead to
discouragement. Resting is part of the training.
Secondly, feedback is also important. We find in the passage
that the disciples report back to Jesus all that they have done and
what they have taught. There is an element of enthusiasm involved
in this first mission experience and that is a precious moment
worth listening, encouraging, blessing and setting down to memory
(as recorded here in this gospel passage). Leadership must grow
through evaluation and interaction -- and this applies at all of
its levels. Human beings are the ones who give this, for the
Spirit teaches but often through the interaction of the People of
God. We need to furnish positive feedback so past mistakes and
over-exertion can be avoided and experience can be better gained.
The third aspect of leadership is to know what to do. In the
case of Jesus who heals and teaches, we find him teaching at
length. We need to know how to apply leadership where needs are
greatest. What must be done and for what period of time? Jesus is
the good shepherd because he is sensitive, encouraging, and willing
to undertake the role of being a leader. We need to have the grace
to follow, for we live in a world acting like sheep without a
shepherd. Are we willing to help in the shepherding process?
July 24, 2006 Amelia Earhart
When they (women) fail, their failure must be but a challenge
to others. --A.E.
Amelia Earhart, a pioneer American aviator, was born 108 years
ago today in Achison, Kansas. She had an uneventful early life but
wanted to fly from her youth. After high school she served as
nurse's aide in Canada during the First World War and then attended
college. She perished in a world circumventing flight in 1937, and
the whereabouts of her crash site somewhere in the vast Pacific
Ocean has been disputed and written about numerous times. She had
already broken some women's flying records including being the
first to fly to an altitude of 14,000 feet, the first woman to fly
with others across the Atlantic (1928), and the first to solo the
Atlantic (1932). As time proceeded, she sought still more records
and wanted to do it as a trail-blazing for women with adventurous
Nothing seemed to stop her, for Amelia was driven by flying
and by the desire to excel in the most challenging feats. For her
anticipated 29,000 mile trip around the world she was accompanied
by a navigator, Fred Noonan; the two completed all but the final
7,000 miles across the Pacific. The two left Lae, New Guinea,
heading across the vast ocean on the longest hop without landing --
a span of 2,556 miles to Howard Island with hardly anything on it
but an airstrip. The two emptied out all the non-essentials and
added as much fuel as possible (200 plus miles to spare). However,
on ascending, the plane ran into foul weather forcing Amelia to fly
low and it cost all the extra fuel supplies; they radioed
difficulties and then lost contact. The entire nation was waiting
and anxious to know the outcome and so this disappearance resulted
in the largest sea and air search ever undertaken --- and with no
results. The plane loss devastated the entire nation.
Amelia's attempted feat when global communication was in its
infancy and airplanes were little better is why we regard Amelia as
such a heroine. She was not trying the impossible, for others
would come along under better circumstances and complete her
venture successfully. What makes her a heroine is that she
attempted so much with so little at such great risk. What Amelia
Earhart taught women, and for that matter all of us human beings,
is that we too must attempt not the impossible but the challenging,
even at great risk that the completed project will not be achieved
in our own lifetime -- and maybe only through the sacrifice of our
efforts and lives. It is not the one who harvests but the one who
sows who may require the greater courage -- and Amelia was just
that, a one that sowed an age of aviation when it was really a
difficult venture to fly. She showed courage and leadership to the
many who would come after her, people endowed with instruments that
were advanced technologically, along with better communication
systems. But in many other development areas we are only in the
primitive stages and so need the pioneers to give us motivation to
bring our hopes to reality.
Wild daylilies in the garden, a familiar Kentucky scene
July 25, 2006 Pilgrims Who Journey in Faith
On this feast of St. James the Apostle we think of pilgrims
because millions of people in the Middle Ages and into modern times
have taken the route through Europe to Compostela in Spain; at that
location was an ancient Christian cemetery, which tradition said
held the remains of the apostle James. We wrote (April 29, 2004)
about reasons, places, time, means of travel, companions, and what
to take on pilgrimages. Here we touch on traditional pilgrim
attitudes and how these traits may apply to us on life's journey or
pilgrimage of faith.
* The pilgrim must be persistent and tenacious. The goal is
far up ahead and it is truly a journey of toil and possible risk.
Life is not all by air conditioned luxury fare. It involves road
grime and a certain taxing of all our energies to complete the task
intended. Really there is no looking back except to give us an
orientation as to where we came from.
* The pilgrim trusts in God. This trip is more than just an
endurance test of our will power and physical stamina; it is a
prayerful exercise, one in which God enters into the journey
decisions. We cannot complete the task before us without the help
of the Almighty.
* The pilgrim may pay attention to the road but thoughts are
on the future and what lies ahead. This person's adventures are
directed to a goal that requires a certain hope that it can be
attained with the limited resources at hand.
* The pilgrim is alert and open to all that comes.
Pilgrimages are no time to be lethargic and carefree, for there is
a mission ahead and it must be completed in the limited time
allotted. Thus this activity requires prayerful focus and
attention, a straining on like a runner in a race.
* The pilgrim looks about for companionship for the journey is
arduous enough and others are also suffering as they move along
beside us. Our constant companion is the Lord himself who walks
along with us. Opening oneself to share with others is also a way
of easing the burdens on both oneself and the other. Together, the
two or so can ease the loads and add to the quality of the trip.
* The pilgrim occupies the present time with meaningful
activities such as prayers of praise and thanks for the opportunity
to walk the road with the Lord. Dissipation will only distract us
on the mission and can even turn our minds from the journey of
faith. Pilgrims sing hymns and give time to uplifting thoughts and
so should our journey of faith include some celebrations.
* The pilgrim knows that the journey seems long but is
actually a short span that passes quickly and soon will end. In
this time of sheer joy we find the way to the eternal shrine and
see the shortness of our own journey of faith.
July 26, 2006 Snakes Tell Us Something
Naturalists have a difficult time convincing people that
snakes are good and loveable creatures. Maybe it is the connection
with Biblically-described evil in the form of a serpent that
fashions the general population's abhorrence of snakes. Everyone
knows that some of these creatures are poisonous and will strike
back if cornered or stepped upon. Maybe each of us would do the
same thing if so threatened. This general fear and ambivalence
made it all the more difficult when I was running a nature center
at the Rockcastle River with its copperhead snakes in the valley
and rattlesnakes in the rocky hills above.
Caution is always to be a watchword when venturing into any
natural area. We would tell people to watch their footsteps and be
reminded that snakes do not seek out people but would rather remove
themselves from human presence as much as possible. In fact, most
snakes are quite shy and are more alarmed by our presence than we
are by theirs. We would strive to keep paths cleared for walking
and hiking, but never denied that a variety of snakes are present -
- and we never had a snake bite all the time I was there, even
though we saw snakes time and again.
I think much of that fear of snakes is unfounded and actually
obscures our seeing snakes as friends willing to control the rodent
population; they are quite beautiful and can even be regarded as
pets under given circumstances. Snakes are graceful and agile;
they are able to enter and leave from very small apertures; they
sleep all winter or at least make themselves scarce; and they only
rarely get near where people congregate. Actually, we found that
one of the times when we would see snakes was when they would sun
themselves in autumn when the early mornings were frosty and the
afternoons warm. It would take some thought and tolerance to shove
them off or let them carry on as long as no one would inadvertently
step on them. To let them live was a real advance in my own nature
experience, for I grew up believing you killed the poisonous ones
Yes, snakes can tell us something. We are to come to
appreciate all of nature, not just those portions we regard as
harmless or cute. Snakes have a way of inviting us to understand
their niche in the great chain of being. Snakes get our attention
and are not overlooked, but they are also an introduction
to our open-mindedness about all plants and animals, those cuddly
and those less so. Snakes become our windows to broader nature;
they beckon us to encourage all who are learning to be close to
nature to overcome fears and feelings of uneasiness about wildlife.
I have observed that some people are definitely afraid of snakes
and no talking seems to be able to make them otherwise; others
have a sense of curiosity and want to learn from them. But the
fear is not through instinct, only because the fearful have learned
in the past that snakes are evil and a threat to them if striving
to coexist in a small space. Snakes tell us to overcome our fear
and thus grow in the appreciation of all of God's creation.
July 27, 2006 Peppers and Peppers
I venture into my garden and discover the first of the rather
hot yellow banana peppers beckoning me to pick and eat. In some
way I think the pepper and not the apple was Adam and Eve's
forbidden fruit -- but then the Middle East never found them before
Columbus discovered America and misnamed them "pepper" thinking
they were the same berries as the East Indian vine (Piper niger)--
that is, the black and white pepper used as a condiment. This
misnomer, like "Indian," has remained and adds to the confusion in
our profuse and yet sometimes restricted languages.
The amazing part of the pepper story, which adds to the
confusion, is that the Western Hemisphere pepper, while quite
different in biological classification from the East Indian plant,
still has spread through Spanish and Portuguese influence and
become part of the Asian cuisine. Our Western peppers are from the
nightshade family (Solanaceae) in the Western World that includes
tobacco, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and petunias. Two of the
common sub-areas are the Capsicum annuum that includes our mild
bell peppers, paprika and jalapenos (Chipotle chiles from Mexico)
and Capsicum frutescens that include Cayenne (from the river in
French Guiana) pepper and tabasco. The latter is what we know as
red pepper, which we also use as a condiment.
In our American gardens we grow a variety of peppers, but the
most popular are the mild varieties or sweet peppers and include
the favorite large bell peppers, which are green when immature and
red when ripe; these are crisp and juicy in texture and used in a
variety of meat and other dishes. However, American garden peppers
cover a wide range of heat and color going from yellow to green to
red and even to purple. Their heat is always on our minds and is
the measure of the amount of chemical capsaicin; these are rated
through Scoville units with the pure chemical at 15,000,000 and the
hot habaneros at 300,000 and what mild cuisine eaters would find
intolerable at 4,000. Beware! Hot pepper lovers risk the heat and
know that peppers are not really harmful, if one endures that
initial heat (caliente). I have found that hot ones can be
followed all the way through the digestive track by way of ingested
tracers, if a person is interested in monitoring food movement.
There is some controversy over heavy pepper eaters and stomach
cancer rates, and yet we all know that peppers within foods can
kill harmful microorganisms and that they are generally loaded with
Vitamin C, so there are differing opinions on what is healthy and
what is harmful. The truth is that we must eat everything in
moderation, especially peppers. Americans are generally aware that
some of these raw or pickled peppers can be just too hot for the
taste. Cooking has a way of moderating as well as preserving the
flavor. Most prefer their degree of heat and flavor in a wide
variety of favorite dishes, soups, pastas, and sauces. As we
prepare for the fresh pepper season, let's consider the type we are
growing and the amount we want to eat raw or cooked at a given
time. At a given time let's not try more than we can handle.
July 28, 2006 Black Locust
It was my father's favorite tree (Robinia pseudoacacia), maybe
because the locust fence posts would resist rot so well, or because
the trees grew so rapidly and fixed nitrogen in our rocky limestone
soil. For whatever reason (I never asked), he planted these in our
yard and there they grew to maturity; they were not really good
shade trees with their rather thin leaflets, but for one week in
early May the black locust would come forth with white fragrant
flower clusters that resembled other members of the legume family.
In fact, the entire countryside of the traditional locust growth
range (mainly the southern Appalachians and the Ozarks) is
brightened up by these flowers and their wonderful scent. Bees and
hummingbirds pollinate these trees and the fruit is a pod that
becomes food for some wildlife.
After May, the black locust clusters in woodland and fence
rows slip back into near oblivion. Or do they? Not so, for
virtually every mid-July they are the first to lose their leaves
through a leafminer blight, and one can tell this month of the year
by the locust's brown and dried condition in the woods. In a short
while they become defoliated. And they are susceptible to other
diseases, as well as cold weather damage when planted in norther
regions. Frankly, the locust tree is not really beautiful, for
the branches have small thorns and the bark is gray to light brown
and heavily ridged and furrowed like woven rope. The mature trees
can reach heights of eighty feet, but more often the younger shoots
Locusts can propagate from suckers into thickets in all types
of soil except swampy areas. We find the black locust among stands
of yellow-poplar, white oak and northern red oak. Really locusts
are intolerant to shade and only take hold well where openings
appear in the forest cover. The black locust is a pioneer tree,
usually human influenced and generally short-lived and seldom
maturing for saw timber quality; thus the locust is a favorite for
shelter belts and land reclamation, either volunteering naturally
or planted. Locusts are good for erosion control, for the roots
are shallow and wide spreading (soil binding) and still have the
ability to become deep rooted and thus resist drought; a few or a
cluster may become a minor part of the ultimate canopy layer.
Besides the long lasting fence posts, the taller and more
mature black locust trees have been used for mine timbers, poles,
railroad ties, ship timber, boxes, crates and novelties.
Beekeepers will set hives in clusters of black locusts, for the
honey is prized. The black locust is regarded as superior to other
hardwoods for developing wildlife habitat on mine spoils, and the
shoots are food for the deer. This usefulness makes the black
locust a favorite for certain people like my dad. More stately and
nut-producing trees have much to say for themselves, but there
seems to be humility in the black locust, and that can appeal to
many who are the workers of the world. We have a moment of glory
and then recede back to the crowd. Such is the black locust.
July 29, 2006 Abolition 2000
Each month we give special recognition to an organization that
is helping in some way to heal our wounded Earth whether at the
local, regional, national or international level. This month we
focus on an international global network working for a treaty to
eliminate nuclear weapons within a time-bound framework. The
Abolition 2000 Statement (see July 11th) is promoted by an
organization that is worth our immediate support and joining.
The concreteness of international groups is never as pronounced as
that of local ones, but the nature of going to conferences and
interacting with people of good will throughout the world is part
of the common effort to make us all "think globally."
In April 1995, the 25-year-old Non Proliferation Treat (NPT)
was reviewed at the United Nations to evaluate whether it should be
extended. Activists from around the world were dismayed that, in
renewing the treaty, nations had left the issue of nuclear
abolition off the agenda. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
from dozens of countries worldwide responded by writing the
founding document of Abolition 2000, setting out an eleven point
program for nuclear disarmament and calling for negotiations to
eliminate nuclear weapons, Over 2000 organizations in more that 90
countries have now enrolled and are actively participating in
various groups to accomplish Abolition 2000's mission.
The work to press for disarmament with the public and with
governments is not always greeted with immediate results, but it is
a necessity if we are ever to achieve a nuclear-free Earth. This
Abolition 2000 group recognizes the inextricable link between the
"peaceful" and warlike uses of nuclear technologies -- and that is
in keeping with our own Earthhealing efforts. They see the threat
to future generations inherent in creation and use of long-lived
radioactive materials. What this group is moving towards and we
must accelerate by our own efforts is the combining of the movement
for nuclear-free electricity production with that for nuclear-free
We urge you to join this effort. To become a member of
Abolition 2000, send an e-mail stating contact name, organization
name, address, fax and telephone numbers to
July 30, 2006 Feeding the Hungry
Patiently all creatures look to you to feed them throughout
the year; quick to satisfy every need, you feed them with a
generous hand. (Psalm 145:15-16)
All of us look to the Lord for help even when we think all is
going right and we have no need of gazing to heaven. Those in
Darfur look more anxiously in these times; and we, like the
disciples, are to get the people to recline and relax for God's
plenty is available for them. But how can the hungry relax and
expect to be fed unless we are close enough to the Lord that we
distribute from God's abundance with our own hands? We, as members
of God's family, are designated as distributors from the bounty.
The story of Elisa in the Second Book of Kings is one of insisting
on setting the food before all the people and they shall eat and
have some left over. Thus we must trust that we can distribute
enough for all our brothers and sisters through a generous hand
that feeds the hungry.
St. Paul speaks out strongly to the Ephesians to preserve the
unity, which has the Spirit as its origin. It is in the unity
within the divine family that we realize that all can be done with
God and nothing without the Lord's hand. Our hands work with God's
in a grand act of bringing goodness and bounty to others. We are
to receive the Lord in Communion, the gracious gift of God's
multiplying hand to us. In and through this reception we open our
hearts and hands out to others.
The multiplication narrative that is read today (John 6: 1-15)
involves themes common to the other Gospels: trust in Jesus, doubts
by the disciples as to enough food, a miracle, and the satisfaction
by the people. In this account there is also the radical sharing
by one lad with five barley loaves and two dried fish -- but what
is that among so many? Not only was it enough but the leftovers
filled twelve baskets. What we learn is that we are to share with
others with a confidence that we can achieve the project and all
can be satisfied.
The Eucharistic Feast is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
Are we sincere in saying "thank you" to God for the gifts given
without at the same time opening our hearts to the hungry? This
land has tax breaks in the billions for a few wealthy while we
forget about the millions who could be fed for mere dollars each.
The differences are astronomical and yet we fail to see the Lazarus
syndrome that fits us Americans. We cannot receive the Lord
worthily unless we address the hunger of those around us. And
those we see on our television screens are our neighbors. Each
time we hear the story of the multiplication we ought to resolve to
conserve our resources, to save and redistribute the leftovers that
include our time, our opportunities, our talent, and our energy for
the benefit of others. Leftovers show the plentitude of God and
the challenge to us to share, not by hoarding, but by giving out to
those in need.
July 31, 2006 St. Ignatius and the Environment
During this year I am writing Eco-Spirituality through the
Seasons and drawing heavily upon my own Ignatian traditions from
the writings and thoughts of Ignatius of Loyola, who died 450 years
ago today (see
July 31, 2004, for particulars about his life).
We know that St. Benedict directed attention to hospitality and
communal work and prayer, while Francis of Assisi saw all creation
as friends and part of one family. We can go beyond to Quaker or
Amish simplicity, or to the meditative Buddhist traditions or even
the earth religions for contributions to a broad-based eco-
spirituality. But what about specific Ignatian contributions?
* Ignatian prayer is grounded in the here and now. In
reflecting on the Lord and the divine mysteries, we place ourselves
in a setting of time and place, and thus the concrete situation is
before our senses as we enter prayer. This translates into a
spirituality that is time and space sensitive.
* Ignatian prayer focuses attention on a single person, Jesus
Christ, who is also the perfect ecologist. Thus we find in the
life, death and resurrection of Christ, our model for healing the
Earth and our desire to imitate him in what we do. The Spiritual
Exercises become the action plan for all our undertakings.
* Ignatian prayer is open to all God's creation. In his
administrative years Ignatius would go outside and gaze to the
heavens and find a setting for of his contemplation of the grandeur
of God's handiwork. In that gaze he saw that his companions down
through over 450 years would enter all fields of endeavor, all
areas of harvest of souls, and find God throughout the world.
Ignatian prayer is oriented to practical action through
sincere reflection on our movements of the Spirit and contain areas
of resolution as to what we can do with the gifts given.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ (1844-89)
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things:
And though the last light off the black west went;
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.