American Spectator makes an Amazing Claim regarding Christians in China

olchina490784bnm4To wit, that the number of Christians in China exceeds the number of Chinese Communist Party members. According to the article, a 2011 Pew Research study indicates that there are (were) 67 million Chinese Christians but one observer of the situation in China argues that the number is more like 100 million, yet there are only 85 million party members. And Christians are more “enthusiastic” than those people who join the CCP.

And, also according to the article, more Chinese perform web searches for terms like “Christian” and “Jesus” than “Communist Party” or “Xi Jinping”.

Conclusion: Christianity is already an unstoppable force in China. Watch closely as the transformation unfolds.


What If?!? (Beard Edition)

Over at, I noticed an article entitled “The Beard that Lost this Cardinal the Papacy” regarding 15th-Century cardinal Basilios Bessarion, who purportedly would have been elected Pope in the 1455 conclave, if only he had agreed to the Conclave’s insistence that he remove his beard. The reason was that clerics with beards were (and are) associated with Eastern Orthodoxy, and Rome (to distinguish itself from the Orthodox) wrote into canon law that clerics are to be clean-shaven. Cardinal Bessarion demurred, and thus, never became Pope.

But this got me thinking: What if? What if it weren’t uncommon for clerics in the Roman Church to have beards? What if even our last few Popes had beards?

Note: this is just a “What if?”, OKAY? I love these guys. They are great. I’m not trying to offend, insult, demean, disrespect, or anything. First person who complains will ruin it for the rest of us because I’ll take the post down.




And, here’s a real one, a picture of the bishop of my diocese, Bishop Jaime Soto:


Submarine (or Torpedo) from Shanghai to San Francisco in 100 minutes

Technology is so cool; just imagine an underwater voyage across the Pacific in under two hours! Such possibilities. But it reminds me of the Genesis Project from Star Trek II and III (Dr. David Marcus): “We are dealing with something that could be perverted into a dreadful weapon.”

The Quartermaster’s First “No-Chill” Brew Day

The legend at our house (the house where my wife grew up) is that the water source — a private well — is quite deep compared to our neighbors’ wells, and connected to an underground lake. Still, Northern California is in the midst of a terrible drought, and many of our neighbors’ wells have already run dry. It does not seem prudent to fail to conserve water, or to use water needlessly.

After sharply reducing the watering schedule for sprinklers in the yard this summer, we recently decided to turn them off almost altogether. We’ll try to keep things alive until the autumn cools things off (and hopefully brings rain!). I didn’t water the vineyard very much at all this season, after reading an article that grapevines can be “trained for drought conditions” by sending roots deeper and deeper to find their own water. And we’re filling bottles with water and placing them in storage “just in case”. I’m harassing everyone to pay attention to faucets, shower times, flushing needlessly, etc. 

2014-08-23 13.49.58The amount of water that gets wasted during the process of brewing is a troubling issue, especially in times of drought. The most significant use of water occurs during “wort chilling”, after boiling. Apparently other brewers are concerned about the same thing, because this week I received the September 2014 issue of Brew Your Own, and read and article on “No-Chill Brewing” with interest.

Typically, after the “wort” that eventually becomes beer is boiled in the kettle, conventional wisdom (mirroring commercial craft brewing techniques) says that it is vital to bring the temperature of the liquid from boiling to below room temperature as quickly as possible, so that the yeast can be “pitched” and begin consuming the sugar that converts to alcohol and makes beer. Doing this is the best way to ensure that nothing that can contaminate the beer has a chance to ruin it. 

If you added yeast to hot wort, you’d likely kill it. So there are several ways that homebrewers go about “chilling” their wort. The simplest method is to submerge the hot kettle into an ice water bath, or have cold water circulating outside the kettle. This method can be slow, is dependent on the temperature of the water of your tap, and really does not work at all for batches over 5 gallons. I don’t have a place that would even hold my 15 gallon kettle, and I wouldn’t be keen to pick up a kettle of nearly-boiling liquid that size. 

2014-08-23 13.52.52The second, more intermediate method, is to use an “immersion chiller.” These come in various sizes and types, but is normally composed of a coil of copper (or steel) tubing with cold water passing through it. You “immerse” the coils into the hot wort, turn on the water, carrying water through the coils. The copper coils “conduct” heat from the hot wort to the cold water, and that energy is carried out the other end by means of an attached tube. 

For homebrewers, this is the most common method, because an “immersion chiller” can be made using simple parts from the hardware store. It is not terribly efficient for batches over 10 gallons, however, and you find homebrewers go into the “advanced” category by using “plate chillers” or other more specialized equipment, oftentimes needing an electric pump in the process. The more “advanced” you get, the faster the wort will chill to a pitching temperature, but you will also spend more money and have more equipment to maintain. 

For all of these techniques, the use of cool or cold water is part of the process. I would estimate that my immersion chiller requires 30-40 gallons of water for each batch of beer, or in the summertime (when the water is not very cool) even more. You can use the water on the lawn or in the flower beds, but watering the lawn feels wrong when people nearby have no water source at all at the moment. 

The “no-chill” technique uses no water, because there’s no chilling. You dispense the 200+ degree wort from the kettle directly into a clean fermenter, seal the fermenter, and wait for 24-36 hours or so, until the ambient temperature brings the wort down to a suitable room temperature for pitching the yeast. No-chill is no-good for homebrewers that use glass carboys for fermentation, because the nearly-boiling wort can shatter glass pretty easily. The only thing worse than a shattered carboy is a shattered carboy surrounded by five gallons of boiling wort. You need “high-density polyethylene” (a type of food-grade heat-resistant plastic) containers. 

I like this method for several reasons: (1) (most important) no waste of 30 plus gallons of water; (2) while you need clean fermenters, you don’t necessarily need to sanitize them; five gallons of 200+ degree wort will kill anything living on the surface of the fermenter, and any part where the liquid isn’t directly contacting the plastic will be “steamed”. You sanitize the vessel using the hot wort itself; (3) it saves time. My immersion chiller normally takes a least 30, and depending on the season, up to 60 minutes or more to cool a batch of beer. With no-chill, I can clear out my kettle right at flame-out. This permits me to brew two batches, back to back, in under five hours; and (4) you c2014-08-23 13.51.54an use the same wort from kettle to make a “Real Wort Starter” (RWS). Yeast starters are great because they allow you to save money and really get a jump-start on fermentation. The conventional approach to making yeast starters is that you make up a little batch of wort using “dry malt extract” (DME) a day or two before brewing. With no-chill, since you’re going to be waiting at least 24 hours before pitching the yeast anyway, you don’t have to make a special starter, but can just take a liter or so of the actual wort used in brewing (RWS) and use that to make the starter. 

So this weekend I brewed my first two “no-chill” batches of beer — a DIPA (malts: two-row, some 40L, Carapils and Victory; hops: Columbus, Bravo, Simcoe and Cascade; and a couple pounds of dextrose) and an English Brown (malts: two-row, 120L, melanoidin; hops: Fuggles and East Kent Goldings) — drawing 1250ml from each to make two RWSs using a single packet of US-05. 

I’ll report back on the results in a couple of weeks.

Freedom From Religion Foundation at it Again

atheistmemeThis time the great enemy is an Arkansas pizza parlor, just opened, that offers 10% discounts to people holding church bulletins. Ooh, the agony, horror, and intolerance of such a dastardly act! A discount for holding a piece of paper printed on a church-owned copier, with a bunch of other ads and notices printed on it! It’s like the Devil’s coupon book! It’s OFFENSIVE! I have a RIGHT not to be exposed to such things, because I say so, and what I say GOES! According to their Facebook page, the pizza place offers 10% discounts to veterans too. Shame! Shame! Shame! Who do these owners think they are, cramming their ideology down everyone’s throats! Time to unleash the letters and threats and make these evil persecutors PAY!

The owner is standing his ground. Huzzah! Freedom from religion is a legal fiction. 

Time to Brew some Romulan Ale!

Anybody have a recipe? Because, feast your scanners on this:


I’m about to short-circuit over this Trek-Beer convergence. Must. Have. Enterprise. Bottle. Opener. The needs of the many (beers) outweigh the needs of the few (beers). Or the one. And look! It’s on sale!

Supporting Secular Charities and the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

Right now, the Internet is atwitter over the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”. I’ve enjoyed the video clips posted by a few friends in which they “take the challenge” (get a bucket of ice water over the head) and then call out three other friends to follow suit.

Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: slgckgc

Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: slgckgc

It’s a digital-viral-multi-level-pyramid-charity-marketing-scheme, and in a way, it’s brilliant. A bucket of ice water is cheap and (apart from here in California) plentiful, it can’t harm anyone, but it’s still fun to watch people get soaked. It’s a virtual “dunking booth” experience that everyone can “feel good about” because it’s harmless, and “for a good cause”. 

And, all of this is true, except that while we are “raising awareness” for a particular concern that needs more medical funding, we are also turning a blind eye to the problems with many of our secular charitable organizations. Despite our good intentions, and no matter how laudable the cause is, we cannot fall into consequentialism by supporting organizations that ultimately fail to respect the dignity of all human life. 

The moral dilemma is that many of these organizations support research involving embryonic stem cells. This is bad because (a) embryonic stem cells come from embryosi.e., individual members of the human race whose lives are extinguished in the name of (or secondary to) scientific research, (b) embryonic stem cells have yet to deliver on any promise (that a treatment or cure will come about from them) and (c) even if (when) such a treatment or cure is discovered from research on human embryos, it would not be licit to benefit from such treatment or cure.

Strychnos nuxvomica, a poisonous tree. Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Lalithamba

Strychnos nuxvomica, a poisonous tree. Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Lalithamba

This is not mere “remote possibility”, but rather through our funding and support, the research that results (to use a legal term) is the “fruit of the poisonous tree”: something that would not exist but for the illicit means that brought it about. 

In the Instruction Dignitas Personaethe CDF introduces the concept: “The dignity of a person must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death. This fundamental principle expresses a great ‘yes’ to human life and must be at the center of ethical reflection on biomedical research, which has an ever greater importance in today’s world.” Regarding the use of embryos for creation of cell lines, the Church states:

The obtaining of stem cells from a living human embryo… invariably causes the death of the embryo and is consequently gravely illicit: “research, in such cases, irrespective of efficacious therapeutic results, is not truly at the service of humanity. In fact, this research advances through the suppression of human lives that are equal in dignity to the lives of other human individuals and to the lives of the researchers themselves. History itself has condemned such a science in the past and will condemn it in the future, not only because it lacks the light of God but also because it lacks humanity”.

The use of embryonic stem cells or differentiated cells derived from them – even when these are provided by other researchers through the destruction of embryos or when such cells are commercially available – presents serious problems from the standpoint of cooperation in evil and scandal.

It isn’t easy being the one who “breaks the chain” and declines to take part in something that, by initial appearances, seems a worthy cause. But as Catholics, we should be aware of many of the pitfalls of the secular world, including climbing on the bandwagon no matter how good the music. In the case of the ALS Association, participation (not the ice bucket part, but the donation to ALS Association) conflicts with Catholic teaching: not only does the ALS fund research on embryonic stem cells, but it also advocates for such funding and research. 

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has offered an alternate approach: participate in the ice bucket challenge, but make the monetary donation to a group other than (in this case) the ALS Association: the Archdiocese suggests donating to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute. I’m all for this, and should I be “challenged”, my video will carry the message that the JPII Institute will receive my donation, and in “challenging” three more friends, I’m asking them to do the same. 

Ignorance (the saying goes) is bliss. However, making a monetary contribution is, in a way, something akin to voting: we empower organizations and individuals that we support financially, and we ratify their messages and goals. If you are the type of voter who doesn’t choose candidates and initiatives based upon soundbites and banners, then you shouldn’t be that type of giver either. The American Life League provides a handy reference to help you navigate the waters, whether warm or iced and in a bucket. And, just to give you an idea of how serious this is, here’s just a sample of the organizations (widely viewed as worthy causes) that carry warnings:

ALS Association
Alzheimer’s Association
American Cancer Society
American Diabetes Association
American Heart Association
American Lung Association
American Red Cross
Live Strong
March of Dimes
National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Susan G. Komen for the Cure

While the aims (curing disease, ending suffering) of these organizations are laudable, the means by which they would achieve their aims are not. Caution: tread lightly, and avoid hopping on the bandwagon until you know where your money (and time) is going. 

Because eating poisonous fruit has consequences, for body and soul. 

Pope Francis and the Fiat of entering Chinese Airspace

Flag-Pins-Vatican-City-ChinaOn his voyage to South Korea, the plane carrying the Holy Father was permitted to enter and travel through Chinese airspace. He was technically within the territorial boundaries of mainland China for a number of hours, and Francis (in a stroke of diplomatic genius, aided by Fr. Lombardi) deftly managed to make something important out of the moment, despite the fact that he did not set foot on Chinese soil.

The Pope has “Universal Jurisdiction” over the Church, apart from his temporal jurisdiction over the Vatican City-State (temporal jurisdiction is a holdover from the time of the Papal States). Wherever he goes, he has supreme authority over the Church, without regard for the particular temporal authority in a particular place. From the Catholic Encyclopedia on New Advent:

In the Constitution “Pastor Aeternus”, cap. 3, the pope is declared to possess ordinary, immediate, and episcopal jurisdiction over all the faithful: We teach, moreover, and declare that, by the disposition of God, the Roman Church possesses supreme ordinary authority over all Churches, and that the jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, which is true episcopal jurisdiction is immediate in its character (Enchir., n. 1827).

On the return flight to Rome, Pope Francis held a press conference aboard the plane. According to the Transcript, he was asked:

You were the first pope to fly over China. The telegram that you sent to the Chinese president was received without negative comments. Are we passing on to a possible dialogue and would you like to go to China?

The Transcript indicates that before Pope Francis could answer, Vatican Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi announced that “…we are now in Chinese airspace so the question is pertinent.”

Before we deal with Fr. Lombardi’s characterization of the moment, check out Pope Francis’ response:

When we were about to enter into Chinese airspace I was in the cockpit with the pilot. One of them, showed me the registry. Anyway, he said, there were 10 minutes left before entering Chinese airspace. we have ask for authorization. You always ask. ‘Is it normal to ask for permission in every nation? Yes.’ I heard how they asked authorization and how they responded. I was a witness to this. Then the pilot said, now we send the telegram. But I don’t know how they will have done it by like that. So, then i said goodbye to them and went back to my seat and i prayed a lot for that beautiful and noble Chinese people. a wise people. i think of the great Chinese sages, a history of science and knowledge. Also we Jesuits have a history there, also Father (Matteo) Ricci. And, all thees things came up to my mind. Do I have a wish to go.? Certainly, tomorrow. Yes. We respect the Chinese people. It’s just that the Church ask for freedom for its role and for its work. This is another condition. But, do not forget that fundamental letter for the Chinese problem which was the letter sent to the Chinese by Pope Benedict XVI. That letter today is current. Rereading it is good for you. The holy see is always open to being in contact, always, because it has a real esteem for the Chinese people.

The 2007 letter to which Pope Francis refers can be found here, and is worth reading. In it, Benedict states:

Catholic doctrine teaches that the Bishop is the visible source and foundation of unity in the particular Church entrusted to his pastoral ministry. But in every particular Church, in order that she may be fully Church, there must be present the supreme authority of the Church, that is to say, the episcopal College together with its Head, the Roman Pontiff, and never apart from him. Therefore the ministry of the Successor of Peter belongs to the essence of every particular Church “from within”. Moreover, the communion of all the particular Churches in the one Catholic Church, and hence the ordered hierarchical communion of all the Bishops, successors of the Apostles, with the Successor of Peter, are a guarantee of the unity of the faith and life of all Catholics. It is therefore indispensable, for the unity of the Church in individual nations, that every Bishop should be in communion with the other Bishops, and that all should be in visible and concrete communion with the Pope.

Returning to the moment itself, I respectfully disagree with Fr. Lombardi. This is not simply “pertinent“; rather, for the Holy Father to stand within the territorial boundaries of China and refer to Pope Benedict’s letter, in which it is stated that “every bishop should be in communion with the other Bishops, and that all should be in visible and concrete communion with the Pope” is significant and important for the progress of the Church’s mission in China.

Fulltext of the Telegram

Fulltext of the Telegram

This is exactly the sort of thing the Chinese were likely worried about in connection with Francis entering their airspace. He exercised his universal jurisdiction as Supreme Pastor in China and the Chinese Government permitted it (and were powerless to stop it).

This reminds me an awful lot of St. John Paul II’s first apostolic pilgrimage to Poland, when the Soviets still strictly controlled the Eastern bloc countries. St. JPII’s mere presence in the country of his birth had a profound impact on the collapse of communism there. The flame he sparked quickly spread to other satellites. The Soviets might have been “between a rock and a hard place,” (thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit) but no one can say that it was better for them that they permitted St. JPII to visit.

Here, the Big Question will be whether the Chinese permit Francis to enter airspace again, or — just imagine! — to land in China next time.