Catching up with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK)

29 October 08 | Posted in Events, Legislation, Sin Bin

30 years ago this month I left Alaska. I left to get an emotional break from a sad divorce, and an even more draining fight over an Alaska lands bill in Congress.

Ultimately, millions of acres were “protected” or “locked-up” –depending on your point of view–because what constituted “good management” of federal lands could never be agreed upon by residents, elected representatives, government bureaucrats, environmentalists and developers.

The congressional delegation could have played a role here, in getting all parties to the table to hammer out a solution that would bring energy resources,  jobs, safeguard the most sensitive areas, and protect the traditional rights of the native people.  They did not, largely because they hated environmentalists so much, and wanted no restraints on economic development.

Alaska’s congressional delegation was rabidly pro-development, especially Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young. Stevens and Young never met an oil corporation, mining outfit, construction company, or logging group they didn’t like. 

I can think of very few U.S. senators disliked more by the Sierra Club than Ted Stevens.

Now he’s headed out the door.

Sen. Stevens, 84, was found guilty of violating federal ethics laws by failing to report over $250,000 in gifts and services he had received from friends, most notably Bill Allen, the former president of VECO Corporation, an Alaskan oil pipeline services and construction company.

A lot of these “gifts” were used to renovate and furnish Stevens’ home in Girdwood, Alaska.

Mr. Allen wore a wire for the Feds in his conversations with Stevens. Allen was convicted for his role in a scheme to bribe Alaska lawmakers to help with his oil exploration projects. stevens-courtpreview.jpg

Stevens was finally shown to be a bully and cheap hustler. He promoted legislation benefiting his oil company friends, and traded his influence for furniture and home remodeling at the expense of  Alaskan working people he always proported to support.

It would have been “business suicide” to cross Bill Allen, testified the Augie Paone, the carpenter who renovated Sen. Ted Stevens’ home in Alaska and who said he was bullied into not sending the senator a final bill of $13,393. Allen told him he should “eat” the final bill from the home renovations.

Paone testified that he objected to “eating” the bill for work at Stevens’ home and said so in a meeting with Allen, who told the carpenter he should “look at it as a political contribution,” Paone said.

“At first I was shocked,” Paone said. “I also tried to hold on to my composure. I knew I was in a bind, because I knew he had me in a spot where I really couldn’t do anything.”

The great irony of Sen. Stevens’ tragedy is that with his political demise, it may tip the balance to the Democrats, helping them to win enough seats to give them a filibuster-proof majority of at least 60 votes.

Just imagine what kind of environmental legislation could be passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress and White House.

It’s gonna be tough sledding for some folks in Alaska….

The Lourdes Grotto

22 October 08 | Posted in Global Catholic, Saints, Spirituality

“According to Bernadette, the apparition asked for a church to be built, and today a vast basilica rises above the shrine, visible testimony to the wealth and power of the institutional Church.”

“Yet the spiritual life of Lourdes is focused on the grotto and its surroundings beneath the basilica, and this topography acts as a metaphor for the relationship between the religious institution and the powerful undercurrent of faith that it can never fully control.” grotte-lourdes-b.jpg

“The rocks around the grotto have been worn smooth by the touch of millions of hands, and there is a sense of something visceral, pagan even, about the way in which Catholic devotions and prayers melt and mingle with the…mystery of a God both veiled and revealed in earth, wind and fire, in rocky wildernesses and the untameable persistence of nature in the face of all our civilizing and controlling impulses.”

“Surely, an incarnational faith is one which situates itself in such a space of encounter between the sublime and the ridiculous – between the inscrutable majesty of God, and the often foolish muddle of our human emotions.” lourdes-boy.jpg

From “An Immense Maternal Presence,” an article by Tina Beattie in the September 13, 2008 edition of The Tablet.

Virgin Birth in Nature

12 October 08 | Posted in Animals

Could the birth of Jesus been the result of a (divine) case of parthenogenesis? Was it a miracle with a basis in nature?

Scientists have confirmed the second case of a “virgin birth” in a shark. In a study reported in the Journal of Fish Biology scientists said DNA testing proved that a pup carried by a female Atlantic blacktip shark in the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center contained no genetic material from a male. virginshark1wenn.jpg

“The female’s eggs had developed into a fully formed, live (shark) without actually being fertilized by a male,” said Mahmood Shivji, one of the scientists and director of the Guy Harvey Research Institute at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

The first documented case of parthenogenesis among sharks involved a pup born to a hammerhead at the Omaha, Nebraska zoo in 2001. The finding marked the first confirmed case of a female shark fertilizing her own eggs and giving birth without sperm from a male. 23shark.jpg

Parthenogenesis has been observed in about 70 species, mainly insects, but also in bony fish, reptiles, birds and now sharks.

The scientists who studied the Virginia and Nebraska sharks said the newly formed pups acquired one set of chromosomes when the mother’s chromosomes split during egg development, then united anew.

The Pope’s Cats

6 October 08 | Posted in Animals, Arts and Letters, Vatican

Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told by a Cat (Ignatius Press, 2008) is a children’s book written by Chico with the “aid” of Italian journalist, Jeanne Perego. popecat.JPG

The book, which has been translated into 10 languages and has sold 12,000 copies in the U.S., tells of young Joseph Ratzinger’s childhood love for all furry animals and the adult cardinal’s deep bond with the narrator, who lives in the Bavarian village of Pentling.

Chico’s owner, Rupert Hofbauer, confirmed the substance of the book and said that Chico, now 10, misses his old friend, who has not been back to visit since becoming pope.

“Sometimes Chico goes over there on his own,” Hofbauer said in a telephone interview, “and sits on the door sill or walks through the garden.” chico.JPG

When Cardinal Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he tended to the cats that frequented the garden of the congregation’s building in the Vatican and bandaged their wounds.

But he could not bring his two beloved cats when he moved into the papal palace. Rome’s animal rights commissioner protested the ban on pets, and urged the Vatican to “give the two papal cats access to the Apostolic Palace.”

Though Benedict is the first pope to be written about by a cat, he falls squarely within a long Vatican tradition.

According to The Papacy: An Encyclopedia by Philippe Levillain, Pope Paul II, in the 15th c. had his cats treated by his personal physician. Leo XII, in the 1820s, raised his grayish-red cat, Micetto, in the pleat of his cassock. And according to The Times of London, Paul VI, from 1963 to 1978, is said to have once dressed his cat in cardinal’s robes.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, has two silver tabbies named Raphael and Gabriel. Mahony believes that cats are perfect pets for clergymen “because they are wonderful companions. There is a spirituality about them. Their presence is very soothing.”

Pope Benedict’s publicly announced fondness for cats has resulted in one of Rome’s hottest selling tourist momentos–a little cardinal hat for cats.  The hat goes for $15 in stores such as Barbiconi, which specializes in clergy robes and accessories. 

Cardinal Mahony’s cats both have cardinal hats, given to him during a recent trip to Rome.

But currently, Pope Benedict XVI must abide by the rule against pets in the Vatican apartments, “although one cardinal has a dog and everyone in Rome knows it,” said Cardinal Mahoney.

Blessing of Pets and Animals

4 October 08 | Posted in Animals, Events, Saints, Spirituality

Today is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. It is a day when old and young bring their pets to church to be blessed. pg-bless.jpg

My old parish in Brooklyn got the usual (dogs, cats, hamsters, parakeets) and also the unusual. Someone once brought a wounded toad they found on their street.  Someone else brought their boa constrictor. A boy came with his pet tarantula. A toddler brought his teddy bear. The best was a praying mantis–very appropriate for a Catholic event.

“St. Francis was a lover of nature and animals,” said Fr. Moses Campo, a priest at the Immaculate Conception Church in Queens, New York. “The blessing of the animals has been a practice of the Catholic Church for hundreds of years.”

This rite can sometimes provided unintended comedy. “When I went to bless the horse with holy water, he jumped up and got scared,” said NYPD chaplain Msgr. David Cassato. “He thought I was going to hit him. Some of the police dogs start barking at the other dogs. It’s always funny.”

The Blessing of Pets usually goes like this: “Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth the fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.”