Call me Weird…..

But I really like to learn about stuff like this. Behold, the Pope’s (Pius XI) first telephone:


A gift from Catholics in America, apparently, with real gold and mother of pearl inlay. And if you’re as weird as me, check out this really cool article about the history of the Vatican’s telephone communications systems.

As for the papal telefono, it blings, or rather: “Bling-bling! Bling-bling! Bling-bling!” Click. Holy Father: “Pronto?”

Apparently Pius XII would say “Que Pacelli” when he answered the phone, and the person on the receiving end would kneel.

Items of this sort are anachronisms now. Funny to think about early electronics — phonographs, console televisions, stereos — and the fact that many were custom-made or also nice pieces of household furniture. They were assembled by hand and apart from the circuitry inside, had options (like cars) for different finishes, accessories, etc. They were made to last longer than crap today. If your tv broke, you had it repaired. Now you just toss it in the garbage and head to Costco for a new one.

I doubt Pope Francis will receive a gold and lapis lazuli-encrusted iPhone. That gift would be stupid because everyone knows that he’s waiting on the large-screen iPhone 6, and replacing an iPhone customized with precious metal and jewels isn’t really a practical thing to do every 12-15 months.

However, if the Pope walked over to the bridge in front of Castel Sant’Angelo, he could probably get a pretty nice plastic case with a yellow and white Vatican flag on it from one of the vendors there.

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I hate when bad things aren’t “Isolated Incidents”

I can hear the cries to Heaven.

A few weeks ago I posted this in which I linked an article about UK hospitals tossing dead aborted babies into the incinerator for use as heating fuel. It was so horrifically impossible to think that anyone could even think about doing something like this. I linked the article with the belief that it was an outlier — an isolated incident — but not something that could possibly be capable of repeating itself, at least right now.

I was wrong.

Turns out it’s not an isolated incident, because an energy plant in the state of Oregon is doing the same thing — using the remains of aborted and miscarried children from Canada, “likely being mixed with everyday trash” — to generate electricity.


twopopesUnless prevented by some infirmity, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will attend the upcoming canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII, taking place this Sunday — Divine Mercy Sunday (April 27). This is what we all hoped/expected, but it’s good to have confirmation. It’ll be all the more historic that two living popes are present to canonize two popes from recent memory, a first in Christendom.


An Update on that Pope Francis Call…..

I wrote about all the murmuring yesterday. Today, the Vatican Press Office (Fr. Federico Lombardi) issued a statement:

Several telephone calls have taken place in the context of Pope Francis’ personal pastoral relationships.

Since they do not in any way form part of the Pope’s public activities, no information or comments are to be expected from the Holy See Press Office.

That which has been communicated in relation to this matter, outside the scope of personal relationships, and the consequent media amplification, cannot be confirmed as reliable, and is a source of misunderstanding and confusion.

Therefore, consequences relating to the teaching of the Church are not to be inferred from these occurrences.

Exactly. This call was an example of a “personal pastoral relationship” established between the Holy Father and someone seeking his guidance. It also appears that Ms. Lisbona (who wrote to Francis) is not divorced herself; only her husband was previously divorced. This fact calls into question the original news reports which fail to take into account nuances in Church law concerning these issues (I do not understand all the nuances myself). Given what we know — and admitting that we don’t know very much (nor should we) — it would be a mistake to conclude that all of this is demonstrative of some change by Pope Francis concerning Church teaching on marriage.

The Catholic Blogosphere: Once Again Murmuring

The big juicy story of the day concerns a purported phone call between the Holy Father and a divorced Argentinian woman.

U.K. daily The Telegraph reports that Pope Francis called Jacqui Lisbona in response to a letter she wrote him months earlier, concerning the fact that her local parish priest refused to give her communion because she is divorced and civilly remarried.

According to the article, Francis purportedly told Ms. Lisbona that “A divorcee who takes communion is not doing anything wrong.”

There are a host of problems with the veracity of this story, but once again the self-appointed protectors of orthodoxy are keen to assail Pope Francis and what he purportedly told Ms. Lisbona. Nevermind that the story, on its face, is entirely incomplete and missing critical elements that would permit a reasonable conclusion.

xpope-francis-on-the-advocate.jpg.pagespeed.ic_.3XwCW-nvSlIn addition to the jumpers-to-conclusion, other folks — the benefit-of-the-doubters — don’t necessarily believe the truth of the story, but still attempt to impute a degree of blame to Francis; that this is “just desserts” and “what happens” when a pope makes unscripted and unofficial telephone calls to ordinary laypeople.

Francis is simply making it worse all the time by opening his mouth and saying things, and letting journalists misreport his words and what they truly mean. He should be more clear. He should know better. He’s foolish in the way he presents himself to the media, and therefore he’s also culpable.

I call that invincible ignorance. It pretends that there’s no motive on the part of nominals, seculars, and the MSM to “make” Pope Francis into what they want him to be. In the case of this most recent story, there are several indicators that tell me I am correct about this.

The story in The Telegraph is pure gossip (and what has Pope Francis said before regarding gossip?). Ms. Lisbona’s “husband” posted about the purported phone call on his Facebook page, ostensibly written in Spanish, which was then translated and embellished in English, and contains only hearsay recollection regarding what the Holy Father said.

I can only imagine that were I to receive a phone call from Pope Francis, I would struggle to accurately recount everything that was said. I would be highly emotional about such an interaction. Absent a recording that I could review after the fact, my recollection would undoubtedly contain inaccuracies, even if I lacked any intent to misstate what he told me.

But setting aside the gossip issue, what’s more troubling is all the murmuring about Pope Francis. Saying “I don’t think he said that, but I sure think he shouldn’t have made the call in the first place because of the all the confusion it’s caused” constitutes murmuring against our Holy Father. It’s a type of speculation that implicates our own particular prejudices.

What a pastor tells an individual, in confidence, applies to no one else outside the private exchange. To imply that this purported phone conversation means something else is to permit an unmerited belief of ownership over it, some right to have it explained when it was never intended for anyone else.

So, Stop murmuring (!):

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35). The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.” (41-44). The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (52-53). Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?” (61-62). As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. (66).

The point: they also murmured about Jesus, and many left because they preferred the murmuring to hearing Truth.

To murmur is to withhold trust and charity from someone who deserves it. Pope Francis knows about the sanctity of marriage; he’s not interested in abrogating the Church’s teachings. He’s not the “get with the times” pope; he’s mentioned the Devil and Hell far too many times for that moniker. He knows that the way to mercy is not by whitewashing sin. Just let him do his thing.

Baby Gastronomy in Italy is Positively Genius

The bambinos there really know how to eat! Proof:

I love how the living animal (happy to be food!) is prominently displayed. Packaging here in the US rarely shows that — even for adult food. I wish it did. Farms make me hungry.

And, for the even more adventuresome palate:

Horse: the meat you can also ride.

Do they ship internationally?

Adventures in Pork: Prosciutto Update

Yesterday, after seven long months, one of the two “Salumi” prosciuttos hanging in the curebrewzer emerged! The other one will continue to “ripen” for a few more months, until I can properly plan an event that revolves around all the fantastic dishes that contain prosciutto.

Prosciutto #1 (from Salumi); wrapped in cheesecloth, lard and black pepper

Prosciutto #1 (from Salumi); wrapped in cheesecloth, lard and black pepper

If you recall, at the beginning of the process, after curing in salt, the hams were coated in a layer of lard and covered in cracked black peppercorns. Then, they were wrapped in cheesecloth and set to hang in the curebrewzer where the temperature and humidity is controlled and kept at approximately 60 degrees and 60 percent humidity.

During this time, I periodically checked the hams by visual inspection only. I did not, as some people recommend, attempt to insert a metal skewer inside the ham to check it.  Despite hanging at temperatures well above refrigeration for a period of many months, these hams have very low risk of spoiling, versus something like an air-cured salami. Plus, I figured that some vague description (“the removed skewer will smell ‘cured’”? Thanks!) of how to do it and what I would be looking for wouldn’t help me very much anyway.

A ham is a whole muscle — very tightly packed protein. At curing the flesh takes on a significant amount of salt while losing a lot of its water weight. It becomes even more dense. Nasty aerobic bugs have no way to penetrate inside the ham and survive. Poking holes into a ham basically equates to opening a door for these icky bugs, and even if the risk if fairly low, it didn’t seem worth doing.

All of the cheesecloth wrapping, lard and pepper from the ham is removed to expose the "rind'

All of the cheesecloth wrapping, lard and pepper from the ham is removed to expose the “rind’

I completely unwrapped the cheesecloth. The cheesecloth, lard and pepper covering is supposed to provide a protective layer while permitting some exchange of moisture so the ham can continue to mature and lose a little extra water weight. The more moisture that is lost will concentrate the ham flavors, make it a bit chewier and saltier. The aging will impart a nutty flavor and aroma to the meat.

The cheesecloth did develop some patches of multicolored mold on the surface, but as I anticipated, the mold never got close to penetrating past the layer of lard. I treated these areas with a spritz of white vinegar and a dusting of sea salt, which killed the mold and kept it contained.

During unwrapping, I avoided contamination with any viable mold spores by removing the cheesecloth and throwing away the parchment sheet that I was using as a surface for the ham. Then, when I scraped off the lard, I replaced the second sheet of parchment that the ham rested upon, so that once the rind of the ham was exposed, any residual contamination was gone and the ham was on a clean sheet of parchment. Finally, after scraping, I took a few paper towels to remove the last smears of lard, fully exposing the rind of the ham.

Since this prosciutto was being given to a friend, but I wanted to do a “quality check”, I cut off just one small portion of the rind, which had oxidized a bit and taken on a light tan/ochre coloration, to expose a deep pink rose colored flesh, with a tint of peach that was more prominent after shaving into thin slices.


How did it taste? Fantastic. No off flavors at all, just a warm and earthy “pig” aroma, the slightest hint of iron and butter, and a clean balanced saltiness that really typifies a good salt-cured ham. It is not more salty than other good prosciutto or Serrano ham that I have tried, and the texture is also very nice, a bit more tender than your commercial domestic “prosciutto” examples which are sometimes quite chewy and hard to bite through. A thin slice could be easily pulled apart with the fingers and had a nice “melty” quality on the tongue.

In other words, I’m really proud of it, and it will be not be easy if I ever stop making this stuff and have to go back to relying on Costco or Trader Joe’s for prosciutto. Most of the domestic salt-cured ham just isn’t anywhere close to the real deal, and even imported prosciutto is not the truly high-end ham that you can only get in Italy.

We have two more whole fresh hams from a second pig, waiting to be cured in the same manner. These hams are quite a bit larger than the first set, and so I will have to modify the process a bit to accommodate the extra size. I think that I have also learned that I can be a little bit more judicious with the amount of lard and number of layers of cheesecloth to use in wrapping the hams. I think just a little less would permit slightly better moisture exchange, which may be important since the next two hams will be almost twice the size of the first two.

A very successful first trial!

Homebrew Equipment Review: Kegco 5-gallon Ball Lock Strap Keg


About eight weeks ago, I started another upgrade to the home brewery: the kegs.

When I started out with home brewing, I did the thing that most people do, which is also cheapest (and lower in quality): bottling beer. It’s a huge pain. You either must buy empty bottles or you have to save bottles from beer that you buy at the store, and then remove the labels, sanitize the bottles, fill them with beer, use a priming solution to get the beer to carbonate in the bottle, and cap each bottle. A 5-gallon batch of beer requires at least 55 clean 12-ounce bottles. Plus, getting the carbonation right is difficult, so that you often wind up with flat — or vastly over carbonated — beer.

It didn’t take long to make the jump to kegging, and I started that by (again) doing what most people do: buying refurbished Cornelius kegs from the local homebrew shop.

Refurbished kegs are a good deal, but they have some issues: first, they originally are used by soda manufacturers. So when you get a “new” one, it smells like root beer or Coke, and you must carefully sanitize the keg just to make it usable. Then, cosmetically, it looks pretty beaten up. The rubber bumpers on the top and bottom are a little like working with old tires. You get black (or red, or green) marks all over your hands. Also, used kegs must sometimes be “tinkered with” to get them to keep a seal. Gaskets and rings are made of rubber, and break down over time. You have to keep them in good shape in order to use them properly.

Getting brand new kegs is the next step. They cost at least twice as much as the reconditioned ones, but they’re new; they will last forever if you treat them well, and keep them clean, and they arrive shiny and fresh for beer!

kegcoIn my kegerator, I can fit three of the reconditioned soda kegs, but I jumped on four of Kegco’s Ball Lock Strap Kegs for three primary reasons: first, they had no rubber bumpers that would eventually degrade; the entire keg is metal. Second, I could increase capacity by fitting four kegs in the kegerator instead of three at a time. And third, they had good reviews on Amazon.

I took delivery of the kegs and filled them with beer. I placed them into the kegerator to chill and carbonate. We drank the beer.

Turns out these kegs are a disaster. First, on one of the four kegs, a weld around the gasket split apart, creating a situation where it wouldn’t hold a seal unless the pressure was set above about 15 psi. This is fine when you’re carbonating beer, but most home brewers reduce the pressure for serving, down to about 5 psi. At 15 psi, beer will be extremely foamy (you’ll never get a full glass) unless your draft line tubing is rather long.

But, even more alarming, after using each keg for only one or two batches of beer, I began to detect a metallic flavor. It was a ferrous — blood-like — flavor and aroma, most prominent on the head, and positively disgusting in my mustache. It tasted and smelled like I had a bloody upper lip.

Initially the metal flavor/smell was present in just one keg, and then it began to spread to the others. When my wife noticed it too, I began to get alarmed. I took apart the entire draft system, breaking down each and every piece in the system and thoroughly sanitizing everything. It took hours. I couldn’t believe that an all-new, “stainless steel” keg could possibly be the source of the flavor, so I looked at everything but the kegs. But when nothing else (I even looked at ridiculous things like hydrolysis of lipids from improper grain storage, some change in my water source, or off flavors from using a slightly oxidized copper wort chiller) could explain the metal flavor, I began to examine the kegs.

"Brand new" dip tube, corroded down to base metal, after just one batch of beer

“Brand new” dip tube, corroded down to base metal, after just one batch of beer

If I’d looked at the kegs first, I’d have saved myself hours of work and days of anxiety. I removed the metal post from the beverage connection on the keg with the most prominent metal flavor, and I immediately smelled that terrifically bad metal odor in the air. I looked down at the dip tube to find it corroded down to the base metal. You could actually see the corrosion all the way down the tube. I removed the metal posts from the other kegs, and it was the same story with each of the four dip tubes. They were in various states of corrosion, and at least one tube had a warped and cracked flange at the top.

Another keg dip tube, broken/warp flange, corrosio

Another keg dip tube, broken/warp flange, corrosio

I swapped out one tube with a clean one from one of my old refurbished kegs to see if that would resolve the problem. The metallic flavor/smell was less prominent, but still present. I concluded that the dip tubes could not have possibly been stainless steel, and whatever finish was on the outside of the kegs, the inside was imparting very undesirable flavors and aromas into the beer.

This was just a week or so before Easter, by the way, and I was panicked about the possibility of 15-20 gallons of ruined beer!

So I quickly cleaned and sanitized four of my old reconditioned kegs (thankfully I did not already sell them) and transferred the beer to see if it could be salvaged. The beer, for the most part, was drinkable, but it did suffer some unnecessary oxidation from the transfer. All the beer actually tasted and smelled significantly better in the old reconditioned kegs, despite being jostled. It saddens me that we served several entire batches of beer that were not at their full potential, due to using these cheap kegs. I prepared a new keg of Religious Liberty (from Megabrew) for Easter, so that no one would have to drink the metal beer.

These Kegco kegs are made in China. They are advertised as stainless steel, but even without the corroded dip tube issue, I am certain that the metal lining the kegs interacted with the beer, muting flavor and aroma. Avoid them like the plague, if you care at all about the way your beer tastes and smells.

The Quartermaster has done his duty in the fight against bad beer. This has been a PSA.

Proposed Amendment to the California Code of Judicial Ethics

If officially adopted, would bar sitting judges from participating in the Boy Scouts of America, because the revised Code would classify the Boy Scouts as practicing “invidious discrimination” against gay people.

Generally, each state adopts two codes of legal ethics — one for judges, and another for lawyers. Lawyers obviously have more autonomy than judges, because judges must avoid any appearance of misusing their official public position. Usually judges are held to the “highest” standard, although legal professionals have a duty to conduct themselves ethically at all times. Besides, ethics codes merely recite what a professional should already know and follow.

Don’t be deceived: the fight for “gay rights” isn’t about tolerance. It’s about making approval of gay lifestyle compulsory for participation in public life. The ultimate aim is about crushing dissent and expelling anyone who does not surrender their conscience. People have a hard time walking away from their livelihoods. Lawyers, doctors, and other professionals are next: various codes of professional conduct are being rewritten right now to say that there are no conscience protections for anyone on the issue of gay rights.

At each politically expedient turn, the revisions will be proposed, dissenters will be shamed, ridiculed, and ultimately destroyed, and Catholics — and any other people of conscience who remain — will lose any remaining places at the table.