Thursday, May 31, 2012

Guest Report: Climate Change: Carbon Dioxide Levels In World's Air Reach 'Troubling Milestone'

Climate Change

Huffington Post -- May 31, 2012 

WASHINGTON -- The world's air has reached what scientists call a troubling new milestone for carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollutant.

Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere. The number isn't quite a surprise, because it's been rising at an accelerating pace. Years ago, it passed the 350 ppm mark that many scientists say is the highest safe level for carbon dioxide. It now stands globally at 395.

So far, only the Arctic has reached that 400 level, but the rest of the world will follow soon.

"The fact that it's 400 is significant," said Jim Butler, global monitoring director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, Colo. "It's just a reminder to everybody that we haven't fixed this and we're still in trouble."

Carbon dioxide is the chief greenhouse gas and stays in the atmosphere for 100 years. Some carbon dioxide is natural, mainly from decomposing dead plants and animals. Before the Industrial Age, levels were around 275 parts per million.

For more than 60 years, readings have been in the 300s, except in urban areas, where levels are skewed. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal for electricity and oil for gasoline, has caused the overwhelming bulk of the man-made increase in carbon in the air, scientists say.

It's been at least 800,000 years – probably more – since Earth saw carbon dioxide levels in the 400s, Butler and other climate scientists said.

Until now.

Readings are coming in at 400 and higher all over the Arctic. They've been recorded in Alaska, Greenland, Norway, Iceland and even Mongolia. But levels change with the seasons and will drop a bit in the summer, when plants suck up carbon dioxide, NOAA scientists said.
So the yearly average for those northern stations likely will be lower and so will the global number.
Globally, the average carbon dioxide level is about 395 parts per million but will pass the 400 mark within a few years, scientists said.

The Arctic is the leading indicator in global warming, both in carbon dioxide in the air and effects, said Pieter Tans, a senior NOAA scientist.

"This is the first time the entire Arctic is that high," he said.

Tans called reaching the 400 number "depressing," and Butler said it was "a troubling milestone."

"It's an important threshold," said Carnegie Institution ecologist Chris Field, a scientist who helps lead the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "It is an indication that we're in a different world."

Ronald Prinn, an atmospheric sciences professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said 400 is more a psychological milestone than a scientific one. We think in hundreds, and "we're poking our heads above 400," he said.

Tans said the readings show how much the Earth's atmosphere and its climate are being affected by humans. Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels hit a record high of 34.8 billion tons in 2011, up 3.2 percent, the International Energy Agency announced last week.

The agency said it's becoming unlikely that the world can achieve the European goal of limiting global warming to just 2 degrees based on increasing pollution and greenhouse gas levels.

"The news today, that some stations have measured concentrations above 400 ppm in the atmosphere, is further evidence that the world's political leaders – with a few honorable exceptions – are failing catastrophically to address the climate crisis," former Vice President Al Gore, the highest-profile campaigner against global warming, said in an email. "History will not understand or forgive them."

But political dynamics in the United States mean there's no possibility of significant restrictions on man-made greenhouse gases no matter what the levels are in the air, said Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow of the libertarian Cato Institute.

"These milestones are always worth noting," said economist Myron Ebell at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute. "As carbon dioxide levels have continued to increase, global temperatures flattened out, contrary to the models" used by climate scientists and the United Nations.

He contends temperatures have not risen since 1998, which was unusually hot.

Temperature records contradict that claim. Both 2005 and 2010 were warmer than 1998, and the entire decade of 2000 to 2009 was the warmest on record, according to NOAA.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memorial Day: Tomb of the Unknowns

source unknown -- Internet fly-by

1.  How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the tomb of the Unknowns and why? 

21 stepsIt alludes to the twenty-one gun salute which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary. 

2. How long does he hesitate after his about face to begin his return walk and why? 

21 seconds for the same reason as answer number 1 

3.  Why are his gloves wet? 

His gloves are moistened to prevent his losing his grip on the rifle. 

4.  Does he carry his rifle on the same shoulder all the time and,if not, why not? 

He carries the rifle on the shoulder away from the tomb. After his march across the path,he executes an about face and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder. 

5.  How often are the guards changed? 

Guards are changed every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.

6.  What are the physical traits of the guard limited to?  

For a person to apply for guard duty at the tomb, he must be between 5' 10' and 6' 2' tall and his waist size cannot exceed 30. 

Guards must commit 2 years of life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of their lives. They cannot swear in public for the rest of their lives and cannot disgrace the uniform or the tomb in any way.

After two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they served as guard of the tomb. There are only 400 presently worn.  The guard must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up the wreath pin.

The shoes are specially made with very thick soles to keep the heat and cold from their feet.  There are metal heel plates that extend to the top of the shoe in order to make the loud click as they come to a halt.

There are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform. Guards dress for duty in front of a full-length mirror.
The first six months of duty a guard cannot talk to anyone nor watch TV.  All off duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.
A guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred. Among the notables are:
  • President Taft,
  • Joe Lewis (the boxer)
  • Medal of Honor winner Audie L. Murphy, the most decorated soldier of WWII and of Hollywood fame

Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty. 

In 2003 as Hurricane Isabelle was approaching Washington, DC, our US Senate/House took 2 days off with anticipation of the storm. On the ABC evening news, it was reported that because of the dangers from the hurricane, the military members assigned the duty of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend the assignment. 

They respectfully declined the offer, "No way, Sir!" Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said that guarding the Tomb was not just an assignment,it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a service person. 

The tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24/7, since 1930.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Farm Journal: Getting the Garden Started

This year I'm building an organic garden at Windshadow Farm and Dairy in Bangor, owned by Ron and Suzanne Klein.

I started with the cold crops:  cabbage, collards, kale and onions (rows indicated by small white markers) and enclosed them with a light weight black plastic mesh fence (larger white posts) we will also use for our vine crops.  To reinforce the fence and protect the seedlings from rabbits, I buried the bottom of the netting to hold it down around the perimeter of the fence.  (There were a lot of rabbits this year because of the mild winter.)  The watering hose is hooked up to a spigot attached to Ron and Suzanne's house.

Here's the entire garden space, with two terraces on the hill.  The terraces were built up with hay bales and then a mix of composted goat and water buffalo bedding from the dairy barn.  Ron made a couple dozen trips from the compost pile behind the hay barn to the garden to to build up the lower garden and to fill both terraces that measure 12 bales of hay--lengthwise.  We plan to take advantage of gravity to help water the terrace crops.  Only one-third of the lower garden has been planted and there is much more work to do, including building a kitchen garden and potato plot next to the house and between the road and the barns (background).

The soil is heavy clay, so we are transforming it with loads upon loads of compost.  Ron rototilled the lower garden before we put in the terraces, then Mike Sullins came over with the heavy duty tiller he uses on his blueberry fields, which really mixed in the tons of compost we had spread.

Ron roto-tilled the kitchen garden yesterday and it is like powder.  We'll roto-till the lower garden soon.  That beats having to do it with a shovel!

In between gardening I helped Soo with the milking by escorting the goats to the staging area of the milking parlor.  She usually has four goats in the chute where these two white goats are standing.  They will enter the milk parlor by the door on the left side at the end of the chute.  Another four goats wait in the first "on-deck" pen (to the lower right of the photo at a perpendicular angle).  When each set of four is finished, the goats exit the parlor and go into the dry lot area through another sliding door (behind the wooden wall at the end of the chute). It's a slick and intelligent operation, but Ron has some redesign plans to make it more efficient.  One thing non-farmers may not understand is that animal handling can take a huge amount of time and be stressful on the animals.  The goal is to be more efficient and have the handling system be as animal friendly as possible.

The water buffalo calf was born on April 2, 2012 to M-131 and is the sister of Kate, who was born on March 15,  2011.  The dairy water buffalo are all handled daily starting as calves.  They are very intelligent, docile and well-mannered if handled correctly. Ron is training the new calf to halter using a rope halter.  He said that one of the most important things you can do with any bovine or water buffalo is train them to a halter so they are willingly controlled.  It was quite a sight for Suzanne to see Ron leading a 1,500-pound  water buffalo into the milk parlor using only a thin rope halter!  But then again, in cultures where these animals are commonly used, they are led about by small children.

The new calf loves to run around the barns.  And, despite their size and bulk, water buffalo run just like horses.

I also fed the newest water buffalo calf, which is a pure joy, and then walked her around the grounds for exercise.  She is learning how to follow through the use of a small rope halter.

It was a long day (10 to 8) and I was exhausted and sore, but happy and satisfied with my work and the progress made on the garden.  I'm already anticipating the delicious vegetables the garden will produce.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Champions of Healthy Kids -- Second Summit

Steve Springsdorf, YMCA executive director
Last week’s report on the nation’s skyrocketing obesity rates made the purpose of the Kalamazoo County Champions of Healthy Kids all the more urgent.

“Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention” revealed that two-thirds of American adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese, according to the Institute of Medicine report released on Tuesday. Obesity is associated with the high cost of chronic diseases (e.g., Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, stroke, cancer and dementia), disability and even death.

Champions promotes healthy eating and daily exercise for children throughout Kalamazoo County. It was begun last year by a coalition of community leaders with the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo.

Over 100 leaders from schools, local businesses, nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations, and government met on Wednesday at Western Michigan University’s Fetzer Center for the Champions of Healthy Kids' second annual summit.

While the obesity report was shocking, participants at the summit learned that the major determinant of a family's health is its social and economic status because it dictates the opportunities and resources available to them.

Linda Vail, director of Kalamazoo County
Health & Community Services
The neighborhoods people live in, their income, educational levels and race determine their health status more than other factors, said Linda Vail, director of Health and Community Services with Kalamazoo County.

For example, of the 5,000 babies are born in Kalamazoo County each year, half of them are on Medicaid with access to only three physicians compared to the other half whose families have private insurance and access to 27-30 (full time equivalent) physicians, said Denise Crawford, CEO of the Family Health Center.

And, this doesn’t include treatment for the newborns' older brothers and sisters, she said. Moreover, every private practice is closed to Medicaid pediatric patients.

“Until we address our socio-economic issues, we'll only put band-aids on our health,” said Vail.

Denise Crawford, CEO of Family Health Center
Social and cultural attitudes and food consumption habits also determine people’s ideas about what’s good and what’s desirable, said Crawford. She illustrated that with a story about her aunt’s cookbook that prescribed cooking with “good lard.”

“No lard is good lard,” she said.

Obesity rates among young people from ages 2 to 29 is monumental with Hispanics at 38.2 percent, African Americans at 35.9 percent and White Americans at 29.3 percent, she said.

By 2050, over half of the U.S. population will be people of color. If health trends continue, that means that 38 percent of the population will be obese.

None of us is doing it right, said Crawford and focusing only on communities of color will yield only marginal results.

Michigan has 2.5 million adults and .4 million children who are obese and the impact on the state economy is particularly devastating costing billions in health care that can reach $12.5 billion by 2018. Currently, the United States spend $2.2 trillion for health care with 75 percent of that treating chronic conditions.

That’s one of the reasons why Governor Rick Snyder has advocated the 4x4 Plan, whose goal is to “make every Michigander healthy and productive living in communities that support health and wellness with ready access to an affordable, patient-centered and community-based system of care.“

The plan advocates four key healthy behaviors: diet, exercise, annual physical examinations and the avoidance of tobacco.

Unfortunately, while the governor called for $2.3 million to fund the 4x4 Program, the legislature pulled it.

Efforts to change this “public health crisis” are long term and convincing people to change their ways is difficult.

“We don't have 50 years to transform ourselves into healthy, productive individuals to help create a vibrant Michigan economy,” said Vail. “We must find ways to accelerate adopting healthy norms and values.”

Ron Fuller, Superintendent of K-RESA
Ron Fuller, superintendent of K-RESA discussed the progress various schools in the county are making to get children engaged in healthy exercise and to eat nutritious foods. The result is that attendance is improving, academic performance is increasing, and obesity rates are declining.

Vicksburg schools stand out and it all started with one teacher who decided to do something about the children's rising obesity and overweight rates, he said.

“This is a lesson for everyone,” said Fuller. “It starts with the commitment of a few dedicated people and the [district] superintendent's buy-in.”

Successful schools are using a physical-education-for-life approach, he said, where they do small things like take five minutes of dancing in the hallways once school begins in the morning.

Kristi Carambula, K-RESA Early Childhood, Rebecca
Achenbach, YMCA, Hether Frayer, Fresh Food Fairy

Proper nutrition through school lunches can play a role, too, by getting kids to eat more fresh fruits, vegetables and a variety of menu choices to substitute the foods they typically eat that are heavy with sugars and fats.

Summit participants attended two discussion sessions designed to get them talking about practical ways of approaching a particular area of concern as well as to recruit volunteers to work on the issue over the next year. These areas included:

  • providing fresh food in school menus
  • enlisting faith-based organizations to advance health and wellness
  • distributing fresh food to neighborhoods lacking access to it
  • promoting movement and exercise in the classroom
  • providing nutritious food in day care center and preschools
  • connecting government and organizations to improve year-round access to the outdoors
Discussion session
Participants found several major barriers to progress such as “connecting the dots” between the resources available and the people who need them. Some people don't have transportation to farmers markets or grocery stores where they can buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Others may not know how to cook, clean or use these food because they are used to eating fast food, processed and prepared foods. State legislative budget cuts to many successful health programs is also an impediment.

Overcoming these barriers, however, can happen through collaboration with others who are focused on making sure that all people in Kalamazoo County have access to fresh food. That includes encouraging more teachers to take on projects that promote fitness and nutritious eating, educating parents and making better use of existing resources.

“You're not alone in this,” said Chris Crowell, co-owner of Gazelle Sports, to participants.  “There are plenty of wise, talented, passionate, caring people in the room now. Connect with them. This is something we can take on when we open our hearts, our hands, our minds and make the next generation healthier than ours.”

Champions was begun last year by a coalition of community leaders who formed an advisory committee in cooperation with the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo. The summit was made possible by a generous grant from Fifth Third Bank and the U.S. Center for Disease Control.

Mason Coleman, Fifth Third Bank

Trish Harrison, YMCA

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Farm Journal: Barn Cleaning

 A "Blast from the Past"
May 15, 2009

A sneak peek into an upcoming book about my experiences on the farm

Today, we spent the morning cleaning the barn.  Actually, I had no idea what this meant before we started and came quite unprepared for the work.  My old athletic shoes, which work fine in the garden, would not do for the little pellets of goat excrement and the heavy, wet straw and hay that lay on the cement floors of the barn.

Fortunately, Ron, the farmer we are working with, saw my predicament and offered me a pair of boots that he keeps on hand for city slickers like me who venture here to help him out.  I was grateful for them although after today I will definitely buy a pair of my own because I intend to continue doing this farm work.

Farm work.  Yes.  I like the sound of that.  Actually, I came to the farm looking ahead to a future where declining natural resources will make life different, especially since we depend on oil to run nearly everything in our lives.  I think Sharon Astyk’s call for 100 million farmers and 200 million cooks (I already cook) is sound advice and essential preparation for survival in this new and uncertain world.  Today, I would start this venture with a lesson on barn cleaning.

My new farm buddies and I shoveled manure all morning, which was not as bad smelling or as difficult to handle as I’m sure cow, chicken or pig manure would have been.  In fact, the smells were almost pleasant as the goat waste mixed with the hay and straw. 

I learned to use a pitchfork and was surprised at how easily it picked up the manure.  However, there are two tricks to using a pitchfork:  (1) avoid overburdening yourself by taking too much; and (2) lift the fork close to the tines using the muscles of your legs as a fulcrum for better leverage. After all, a pitchfork is just a lever.  Also, there are two kinds of pick-up:  the top layer is light in weight because of the drainage and added loose straw and hay, but the layers underneath it are heavier with matted globs of bedding, urine and caked “caca,” as Ron calls it.  The caked “caca” usually has to be scraped down to the cement floor for a more thorough cleaning.  

Shoveling manure clued me in as to why so much of our colloquial language focuses on this substance and other bodily functions, which I’m sure is a leftover from thousands of years of farming.

a clean barn ready for new straw

As I tossed the manure into a pile in the middle of the barn, I began to relate to it in an unexpected way:  cleaning the barn gives the animals a better quality of life.  In other words, we clean the barn to ensure the health and comfort of the goats.  Granted, barn cleaning is a necessary farm chore, but it is also our gift to goats along with the clean, new straw for their bedding.  Ron says the goats treat their new digs like a Christmas present when they re-enter the barn.  They look around with excitement and sometimes even dance on straw with delight.  Unfortunately, I would not see this today, but I would later on, and I came to love it and look forward to it.

One other important thing I learned today is that the caked “caca” is at a stage where it is becoming compost that helps re-generate the soil.  Because the “caca” is “caked,” air cannot reach the interior.  Air has oxygen, which the microbial world needs to break down the organic matter into friable compost otherwise know as the “brown gold” all gardeners and farmers treasure.  Though some of the manure already looks like soil, it still needs that boost of air to drive the furnace of microbial metabolism to create real soil.  This process is utterly amazing to me, and just a preview of many other wonders of Nature I would discover on the farm.

Actually, Ron has been composting the garden for the past 25 years.  When he bought the property in 1984, it was sandy moraine left over from the glaciers with the thinnest layer of organic matter supporting ragged and noxious weeds.  Now the soil in the garden area is over 18 inches deep, and it is dark and rich. 

Ron has said it is very difficult to garden without using manure from healthy livestock.  His animals are fed free choice, a well-balanced loose mineral that the animals do not incorporate.  These minerals wind up in the soil through manure and urine and enrich the compost, which enriches the soil and is finally taken up by garden plants and the animals—all to be recycled again.  

Once we loaded the manure into the tractor bucket, Ron hauled it off to the compost pile located in the field next to the hoop house.  He’s been collecting this most recent batch since last fall.  It doesn’t have an offensive smell, but rather it smells like the earth.  When the compost is turned, steam rises from it, which indicates the heat generated by organisms working it.  In fact, on cool mornings we can see trails of vapor rising from the compost pile.  To a gardener, it is a beautiful sight and a sign of the cycle of life where nothing is wasted

Another thing I discovered working on the farm today is the generous spirit that emerges among the gardeners.  Because a garden yields such great abundance, one family can’t possibly eat all its produce.  That makes sharing an essential and natural thing to do.  For example, Matt brought us all some sage from his home garden.  He divided it into bunches, tied it together with orange plastic twist-ties and put the bunches into a paper bag stem up to hang for drying.  Donna made a polenta cake with hazelnut flavoring and gave each of us a moist and tasty slice of it.  Mmm—good! 

While we worked, we talked.  Today, we all found out about the farm and each other.  Ron, the farmer, is a retired research scientist from a pharmaceutical firm, a lawyer and a martial arts black belt.  Matt is a professor who says his family thinks shoveling manure is what his job is all about anyway.  Donna was a nurse before she got into medical sales and marketing.  Now she is a leader in my town’s local food movement and a founder of a new farmers market.  She has a 12-year-old daughter who thinks that farmers are heroes because they grow food for others to eat.  I am a writer, ex-nun and soon-to-be former professor looking for the next thing to pursue in my life.

After three hours of shoveling manure, my aching body was in shock.  The car ride home took 15 minutes, but when I arrived, I stripped off my work clothes at the front door and crawled upstairs for a hot bath followed by a hot shower.  The water felt soooo good and it helped rejuvenate my back and especially my knee that gave out a couple times today. 

Yet, despite my pain and the dirty job I did today, I felt complete satisfaction.  I had engaged my whole body and soul into something that involved a cooperative effort with others who all worked toward a common goal. (We traded off the jobs of scraping, shoveling and dumping the manure into the tractor bucket.)  Farming is certainly NOT an abstract endeavor as my teaching career has been.  It is the real world, the physical world, the sensual world—and I like it.

After I put on some clean clothes and found a comfortable chair, I felt content and satisfied.  Farming may be the next thing I do with my life. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Vatican Decree Calls Attention to the Place of Women Religious

Pope John Paul II
While Pope John Paul II’s relationship with American nuns appeared to be a reining in of what he considered the more exuberant experiments and freedoms they embraced after the Vatican II reforms (1962-65), Pope Benedict XVI’s recent decree, the "Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious" is drop-dead shocking.

After a three-year study, the Vatican recently charged that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has been too tolerant in its views about homosexuality, too silent in opposing abortion and contraception and too amenable to “radical feminist themes” that are regarded as incompatible with Church teaching, including women’s ordination.  The LCWR represents 80 percent of the 57,000 nuns in the United States.

Pope Benedict XVI
Actually, such reprimands are nothing new in Church history, said Dr. Margaret Thompson, professor of history, political science and women’s studies at Syracuse University.  Every time women religious attempt to break new ground or re-dedicate themselves to new needs among the People of God, the Church questions them.

Since Vatican II, no one knew the cost of change more intimately than Anita Caspary of the Immaculate Heart Community of Los Angeles, California.  As Mother General (1963-70) and president (1970-73) she led her sisters through the Vatican II reforms with careful deliberation.  Nevertheless, in that process she experienced the wrath and power of hierarchical politics and the forced relinquishment of her community’s canonical status. 

According to Caspary’s account in her book Witness to Integrity: The Crisis of the Immaculate Heart Community of California (2003), James Francis McIntyre, the Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles, did not accept the renewal of Vatican II and came into conflict with the IH Community over its decisions to change the habit, form new structures of convent governance, and re-design daily devotional practices. 

Sister Anita & Archbishop McIntyre
“Slowly we came to realize that what we claimed for ourselves—the right to make decisions affecting our personal lives—we could not surrender,” Caspary stated in her book.

Caspary died in October 2011 at the age of 95, however, in my 2004 telephone interview with her, she stressed that the conflict with Cardinal McIntryre occurred within the cultural context of the history of women at the time. 

“Women were always secondary among priests, governors, and men in general,” she said.  “The dependency of women religious on the hierarchy wasn’t a choice, it was prescribed.  And we didn’t believe in it.” 

“The vows (poverty, chastity and obedience) of women religious should be analyzed from a U.S. cultural perspective that promotes money, sex and power as important values,” added Sister Susan Marie Maloney, SNJM, currently Regional Director of American Academy of Religion/Western Region.  She was a friend and colleague of Caspary.

Anita Caspary
She said that the IH Community faced the power issue and found that even reason and documentation could not persuade the archbishop or Vatican officials of the sisters’ faithfulness to the Vatican II reforms. 

However, what happened to the IH Community was an “historic moment” that showed a way to the future of religious life, said Sister Susan Marie.  “It wasn’t just about renewal in the Church, it was about reformation.  The IH Community changed their community life structures according to the renewal mandated by Vatican II.  They were loyal to the Church’s new directives and grounded their changes in solid theology and their experience of religious life as women.” 

One of the “perverse ironies” in the relationship between women religious and the hierarchy, Thompson explained, is that the nuns actually renewed their communities as they were told to do in the Vatican II document, Perfectae Caritatis.  The sisters responded more quickly and more extensively than any other group because they were well-educated and knew how to analyze history and ideas.

The IH Community was in the forefront of the Vatican II renewals and essentially got into trouble because the sisters attempted to be faithful to the charism of their founder, she said.  The charism is the attraction of women to do the works of the community and the Church, as guided by the Holy Spirit

“I’ve come to realize the power of the charism of the founder,” said Thompson who pointed out that charism emerges not from one person but from the entire group of sisters. 

“We need to understand the nature of women’s intuitive and holistic views of power, which is at odds with the institutional, hierarchical understanding of power,” she said.  

Thompson illustrated women’s conception of power as comparable to the Pascal candle at the Easter Vigil.  While the whole congregation lights candles from the Pascal candle with each person contributing to the entire light, the Pascal candle continues to burn just as brightly as it did in the darkness. 

Questions about the Church’s treatment of women has had much to do with their fuller participation in the Church, like women’s ordination.  However, authorities tired of this issue and in a 1995 decree entitled Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II demanded silence about it not only from the nuns but from the entire church membership.

Sister Joan Chittister
So when Sister Joan Chittister was invited to speak at the first Women’s Ordination Worldwide Conference in June 2001 in Dublin, Ireland, Vatican authorities delivered a “precept of obedience” to Sister Joan’s community that would prohibit her from speaking. 

By this time the sisters’ relationship with the hierarchy was characterized by collaboration and reconciliation—quite different from that of the IH Community in the 60s and 70s.  The leadership of Sister Joan’s community went to Rome and successfully worked things out with Church authorities.

Sister Camille D’Arienzo, RSM, former president of the LCWR, applauded the community’s response to the Chittister incident, and said it provided a witness to the strength of religious women’s sense of community.

“The sisters engaged in communal consultation and deep prayer,” said Sister Camille in a 2004 telephone interview.  “They knew the implications of their choice, and yet were willing to accept the consequences of their decision and share the penalty.  It was a reminder of what we are called to be and do [as religious women].”

During her nearly 40 years as a broadcaster and public speaker, Sister Camille said she has had only two run-ins with bishops on positions she took over issues. 

“We didn’t walk away agreeing,” she said, “but we maintained a working relationship that kept the door open so the ministry and mission didn’t suffer.”

Sister Theresa Kane
Even Sister Theresa Kane, RSM, who confronted Pope John Paul II in 1979 and asked for “the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries of the church,” reported a softening of the Vatican’s position on women and their role in the Church and society (National Catholic Reporter – Sept. 8, 2000).  The pope, who was noticeably annoyed by her plea back then, occasionally asked about “Sister Kane” when Americans visited the Vatican.  He also looked into more expanded roles for women in the Church.

Actually, Sister Camille said that the laity castigated Sister Theresa Kane more than the ecclesial authorities had.

The 60’s were a difficult and tempestuous time, said Sister Camille, and the hierarchy may have had different expectations than the nuns did for themselves.  Now 50 years later, many women’s religious communities are more focused on mission and ministry than on their differences with the hierarchy.

And, so what does the future hold for women religious, especially when their numbers of vowed membership are down and their median age is up to 75 years old? 

Sister Helen Prejean
“The future is now,” said Sister Susan Marie.  “The work of Sister Helen Prejean [on the death penalty].  She’s the future.”  Sister Helen wrote the book, Dead Man Walking and a movie and an opera were subsequently produced under the same name in order to address this important contemporary issue. 

Sister Susan Marie believes that Sister Helen’s work has greatly influenced the moratorium on the death penalty in United States because it made an impact for justice on millions of people through the use of film.”  She added that this approach to ministry in the twenty-first century is comparable to the ministry women religious performed in the nineteenth century when they opened up schools and hospitals.

Sister Camille added that Pope John Paul’s more “forthright opposition” to the death penalty was also encouraged by Sister Helen.

The future is also seen in the growth of “associate membership” in many religious communities. 

Associates do not take vows but they “make a commitment to a life that is a public witness in an overly consumerist society and culture, which is overly sexualized and which objectifies women for profit,” said Sister Susan Marie.  “The ministry they do is one of service to love and justice.” 

Sister Camille, former president of the Brooklyn-based Convent of Mercy, reported the same phenomenon occurring in her community.  She said religious life is focused on an expanding associate program with laywomen and laymen.  Co-workers in their Catholic institutions are also “systematically prepared” to “carry on the charism” of the sisters’ mission, and retired sisters are starting new ministries.

“Where is our place as women religious?” asked Sister Camille.  “In the works of justice and mercy.  That’s what it’s about.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Guest Essay: The Gated Community Mentality

What killed Trayvon Martin?  Demos senior fellow claims it is the "Gated Community Mentality"

As a black man who has been mugged at gunpoint by a black teenager late at night, I am not na├»ve: I know firsthand the awkward conundrums surrounding race, fear and crime. Trayvon Martin’s killing at the hands of George Zimmerman baffles this nation. While the youth’s supporters declare in solidarity “We are all Trayvon,” the question is raised, to what extent is the United States also all George Zimmerman?

Under assault, I didn’t dream of harming my teenage assailant, let alone taking his life. 

Mr. Zimmerman reacted very differently, taking out his handgun and shooting the youth in cold blood.
What gives? 

Welcome to gate-minded America. 

From 2007 to 2009, I traveled 27,000 miles, living in predominantly white gated communities across this country to research a book. I threw myself into these communities with gusto — no Howard Johnson or Motel 6 for me. I borrowed or rented residents’ homes. From the red-rock canyons of southern Utah to the Waffle-House-pocked exurbs of north Georgia, I lived in gated communities as a black man, with a youthful style and face, to interview and observe residents. 

The perverse, pervasive real-estate speak I heard in these communities champions a bunker mentality. Residents often expressed a fear of crime that was exaggerated beyond the actual criminal threat, as documented by their police department’s statistics. Since you can say “gated community” only so many times, developers hatched an array of Orwellian euphemisms to appease residents’ anxieties: “master-planned community,” “landscaped resort community,” “secluded intimate neighborhood.” 

No matter the label, the product is the same: self-contained, conservative and overzealous in its demands for “safety.” Gated communities churn a vicious cycle by attracting like-minded residents who seek shelter from outsiders and whose physical seclusion then worsens paranoid groupthink against outsiders. These bunker communities remind me of those Matryoshka wooden dolls.  A similar-object-within-a-similar-object serves as shelter; from community to subdivision to house, each unit relies on staggered forms of security and comfort, including town authorities, zoning practices, private security systems and personal firearms. 

Residents’ palpable satisfaction with their communities’ virtue and their evident readiness to trumpet alarm at any given “threat” create a peculiar atmosphere — an unholy alliance of smugness and insecurity. In this us-versus-them mental landscape, them refers to new immigrants, blacks, young people, renters, non-property-owners and people perceived to be poor. 

Mr. Zimmerman’s gated community, a 260-unit housing complex, sits in a racially mixed suburb of Orlando, Fla. Mr. Martin’s “suspicious” profile amounted to more than his black skin. He was profiled as young, loitering, non-property-owning and poor. Based on their actions, police officers clearly assumed Mr. Zimmerman was the private property owner and Mr. Martin the dangerous interloper. After all, why did the police treat Mr. Martin like a criminal, instead of Mr. Zimmerman, his assailant? Why was the black corpse tested for drugs and alcohol, but the living perpetrator wasn’t? 

Across the United States, more than 10 million housing units are in gated communities, where access is “secured with walls or fences,” according to 2009 Census Bureau data. Roughly 10 percent of the occupied homes in this country are in gated communities, though that figure is misleadingly low because it doesn’t include temporarily vacant homes or second homes. Between 2001 and 2009, the United States saw a 53 percent growth in occupied housing units nestled in gated communities. 

Another related trend contributed to this shooting: our increasingly privatized criminal justice system. The United States is becoming even more enamored with private ownership and decision making around policing, prisons and probation. Private companies champion private “security” services, alongside the private building and managing of prisons. 

Stand Your Ground” or “Shoot First” laws like Florida’s expand the so-called castle doctrine, which permits the use of deadly force for self-defense in one’s home, as long as the homeowner can prove deadly force was reasonable. Thirty-two states now permit expanded rights to self-defense.
In essence, laws nationwide sanction reckless vigilantism in the form of self-defense claims. A bunker mentality is codified by law. 

Those reducing this tragedy to racism miss a more accurate and painful picture. Why is a child dead? The rise of “secure,” gated communities, private cops, private roads, private parks, private schools, private playgrounds — private, private, private —exacerbates biased treatment against the young, the colored and the presumably poor. 

Rich Benjamin is the author of Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America and a senior fellow at Demos, a nonpartisan research center.