Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Helping my pal Kate

The lovely and gracious Kate O'Hare, my co-conspirator in tilting at the windmills of lousy translations by the Vatican of Pope Francis and others, has an excellent blog, Pax Culturati. You should go there.

Anyway, earlier in Lent she asked for help in putting together a piece on grilled cheese sandwiches as she's -- the heart has its reasons, I s'pose -- somehow not fond of dining upon the piscine aspects of Creation. So I threw in this particular gem of mine.

I somehow missed her call for input on her piece on mac-and-cheese, so I was unable to render much assistance. (Mea maxima culpa.)

Now, for a number of reasons (geography, ethnicity, etc.) we-e-e-e-e-ell afield of this post, I didn't grow up eating mac-and-cheese. I didn't get to try it until well into my collegiate years. I prefer it as a side dish, myself, and the best I have ever had comes from Smoque in Chicago.

What a lot of people don't realize is that mac-and-cheese has its roots in penne ai quattro formaggi, which is something in my background from my Italian (maternal grandmother) side. Similarly, the tuna noodle casserole -- and even more alien craft to my palate -- comes from the classic tonnato sauce. This sauce most classically goes over cold poached veal but given the batch sizes of the sauce, leftovers are inevitable, and these find themselves dressing pasta. This becomes, therefore, the ur-Tuna Noodle Casserole.

Here ya go:

¼ c capers (rinsed of brine or salt in which they are packed)
1 T grated lemon zest, plus 3 T lemon juice
1 t anchovy paste (I prefer Amore) or 2 anchovy fillets, drained
2 egg yolks
1 can tuna packed in olive oil (try to find Italian or Spanish brands), drained
1 c extra virgin olive oil
salt and white pepper to taste

Purée the capers with the vinegar, zest, anchovies, yolks, tuna, salt, and pepper in a blender (best!) or food processor (OK) until smooth. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until sauce is emulsified. Garnish with additional capers.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Which got me thinking

I was watching a cooking show from Italy, featuring Spaghetti Puttanesca...which got me thinking. Would the basic components of a puttanesca work in a "salsa" configuration? After all, I'm live in the factory outlet of hyerfresh seafood and I'm sitting on 87 cubic yards of fresh, ripe tomatoes which need using ASAP as the unseasonable winter chill has wreaked havoc with our "seasonlessness."

So I came up with this:

Puttanesca Salsa
2-4 cloves garlic, sliced as thin as your patience will permit (I bought a truffle shaver on clearance just for this; garlic is a staple and truffles not so much)
12 large leaves basil, torn (not cut, tearing makes them mushy)
1 lb tomatoes, roughly chopped, retaining the liquid but jettisoning the seeds (use good canned tomatoes otherwise, the aseptic Pomi brand is especially good.)
½ c extra-virgin olive oil
1½ T capers (I like the salt-packed kind -- rinsed of salt. Either way, make sure they are drained)
¼ c tiny black olives (I like Picholines or Gaetas, anything short of cheap canned ones will work)
½ lemon, juiced (about 1½ oz juice, no need to be fanatical)
2 t sea salt
1-3 t crushed red pepper flakes (I go full-whack)
3 anchovy fillets, mashed into paste (or already in a paste, if you can find the kind made with only anchovies, salt and EVOO...Amore is my favorite brand)

OPTIONAL 1-1½ T tomato paste (I like the Italian stuff in tubes, again Amore is a good brand)

Warm half the EVOO and add the pepper and anchovy. You don't want the oil hot, just sort of at a poaching temperature. Stir until the anchovy dissolves. Let cool. In a large bowl, combine the oil mixture with the garlic, basil, tomatoes, EVOO, capers, olives, lemon juice, salt. Allow to stand in cool place for ½ hour.

Given the amount of liquid AND the salt (which'll draw out even more liquid) this might be a bit too watery for your tastes...I like to add a glob of tomato paste to balance things out. In such quantities it play along well with the other ingredients, "absorbs" any excess fluid, and doesn't overwhelm the salsa with a cooked (as opposed to raw) tomato flavor.

This goes GREAT with a hunk of grilled tuna or swordfish or even those big fat honkin' scallops you sometimes are lucky enough to get. If you live where fresh sseafood is a) not really likely, b) crazy expensive, or c) both, frozen scallops are a good choice, provided the only ingredients are scallops and salt. Scallops and shrimp, if not adulterated with "firming" or "color retention" ingredients are your very best bet in shellfish when your options are limited.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Asian-ish Shrimp, for Lent

You may have been fortunate to have enjoyed an appetizer of grilled shrimp in an Asian (Japanese, Indonesian, Thai, etc.) restaurant at some point in your life. In discussing this with my beloved, she mentioned that, while yummy, it really isn't volumetric enough to achieve mealworthiness.

So, my mind drifting backwards to those days when I was scrupulously observing an involuntary vow of poverty, I suggested that volumetric mealworthiness could be easily achieved by serving the whole thing on a bed of Asian-ish noodles. Or, as I used to do way-back-when, whole wheat spaghetti because it was far more available and far cheaper and (to the vast majority of the Anglosphere) indistinguishable from, say, soba noodles.
For dinnah, I'm making Asiatic-ish Shrimp with simply dressed fake-Asian noodles (Misura whole wheat spaghetti, which is what I happen to have on hand from a failed experiment with bigoli).

The shrimp bit:
2 large shallots, peeled
1 (2") chunk of fresh ginger, peeled (use the side of a spoon or fork) and grated
4 cloves garlic
¾ c soy sauce (I prefer San-J low sodium tamari, you do whatever)
½ c fresh lime juice
2 T light brown sugar (if you can score palm sugar, so much the better!)
¼ c chopped scallions
¼ c peanut oil
¼ t coarsely ground black pepper
2 lb large ("21-30") shrimp; save the shells and tails to make shrimp stock

Put the shallots, ginger, garlic, soy, lime juice, and sugar in a blender and blend until smooth. Then add the scallions and peanut oil and blend until combined. Season with the black pepper, to taste. Place shrimp in a large zippered bag, put the marinade in, squish all the air out and zip it shut. Allow the shrimp to marinate at room temperature for half an hour or so.

Preheat your grill (a grill pan will work) to high. Remove shrimp from the bag, shake off most of the marinade and grill for 60ish seconds (until they JUST turn opaque!) per side.

The noodle bit:

(Incidentally, this can go hot or cold, your call.)

Take one pound of whole wheat or buckwheat noodles, boil in salted water (figure a small palmful per quart/liter of water).

Drain and dress with a vinaigrette made from
Kosher salt
1 c peanut (vegetable if you have peanut allergies) oil
¼ c rice wine vinegar
5 T soy sauce (see above)
3 T toasted sesame oil
1 T light brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced as finely as you patience will allow
1 t grated fresh ginger
3 T sesame seeds (the white ones), toasted
½ c smooth peanut butter (go for the all natural stuff)
4 scallions (white and green parts, stopping where it looks dried or "dusty"), sliced diagonally

Add the vinaigrette in stages, because different noodles absorb vinaigrette at different rates. You want it to have a bit more dressing than you think is right, because as it cools it will absorb more. The remaining vinaigrette refrigerates nicely. Sprinkle with sesame seeds or cashews and/or snipped chives, mound shrimp atop.

There ya go.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lent 2015

Dunno about you, but most of my spiritual progress has come during Lent. Some years it's a few steps forwards, others it's "leaps-and-bounds."

So, having statistically proven that Lent is the time to really get into spiritual shape, I wanted to muse aloud (or, "aprint") on what that spiritual shape should, IMCO, look like.

There are people for whom Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, are not so much reasons for joy* as they are opportunities to "be angry about the right things."

And Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, are not so much about anger as they are about joy. That said, yes there are occasions in which righteous anger is warranted, and even when giving voice or motion to that anger is proper, good, and correct.

But joy, not anger, should be the default.

I grew up with people -- let's just leave that at that -- who were of the "angry persuasion" and for whom the attraction of Catholicism was being, as noted above, angry at the right things.

You see it all over the Catholic blogosphere. And there's a very simple litmus test to see if the blogger in question is "an angry one" or merely expressing her/himself with anger about a particular matter: How many references (outside of the polemical post in question) are there in that blog to: Confession? Grace? The saints? Devotions, novenæ, pilgrimages or prayers? How many posts about Scripture or its lessons for everyday living?

I suspect you know the answer.

So, for Lent, you should seek to "serve" your Lent with joy that is obvious and not, as Jackie Mason would note: "by looking nauseous and disturbed." How?

1- Well, start with your Google alerts. I know that many of you have Google alerts that you have specifically created to inform you of things about which you should be angry. The doings, goings and sayings of Person X are fed to you in a ceaselessly bitter stream of news. Stop that.

2- Go to Confession! Go to Confession! Go to Confession! Go to Confession! Go to Confession! Go to Confession! Go to Confession! Go to Confession! Go to Confession! Go to Confession! If you are not going to Confession, you're doing Lent wrong. Period. If Lent is a season where we strive to make better our conversion -- and it is -- and if that requires self-examination and self-accusation in light of God's will -- and it does -- then you have to, out of the self-recognition as a sinner in dire need of God's sanctifying grace and His forgiveness, get thee to the Confessional. There is no getting around this.

3- Having done the above, get a Plenary Indulgence. You really don't want to spend any time in Purgatory. You almost certainly have loved ones who are in Purgatory, and who will not be able to get out on their own. A Plenary Indulgence (or even a partial one) helps these holy souls attain Heaven sooner than if they had "timed out."

Let's get to work.


*Joy, not happiness. "Happiness is not a condition, happiness is a sensation."

Friday, February 13, 2015

Fifty Shades?

Some assorted thoughts on 50 Shades.

Earlier this week, I was going through one of those forced-march reorganizations of the den, as decreed by my beloved. One of my bookshelves, having been made of particle-board from a now-extinct particle-tree, had decided to return -- without the merest warning or hint -- to its original state of unaffiliated wood-like particles, and the situation had to be rectified.

Anyway, in the process of putting stuff in the new, made from a real tree, bookshelf, I noticed the printouts of stuff I had written. So I decided to separate the "completes" from the "fragments."

One of the fragments was from a very dark comedy I abandoned. It involves a character much like "The Gimp" from Pulp Fiction, and how he, after years and years of wearing chains and leather, admits to all and sundry at dinner one night that he, in fact, is a masochist. (You may readily imagine why this was abandoned, and rest assured it is as dead as a Monty Python parrot. Most of my abandoned stuff is comedy in a very, very dark vein.)

But while I was working on that now-justifiably-abandoned script, I did some research and this ties into my cursory thoughts on 50 Shades.

(Now. I've not read the whole trilogy. I did a 10-10-10 read of one of the books at a bookstore, and was mostly appalled at how poorly written it was and how clearly doomed to failure is anyone whose dialogue is a picometer above The DaVinci Code and 50 Shades.)

What surprised me is that there are people (men and women) who are online, RIGHT NOW, actively seeking (!) what everyone is calling an abusive relationship. It's one thing, I guess, to get into a relationship with "normal" expectations and then having it turn (or realizing it is) abusive. But quite another to make a great effort to find such a relationship.

What to make of this, I know not. But I remember seeing how many of the people seeking this sort of relationship were adamant THEY had the power because THEY were the ones who freely choose to "grant their submission." They call that type of relationship "Total Power Ex¢hange" (I'm messing with the spelling so as not to have this blog overrun by people Googling the wrong thing.)

And then two things struck me at the time (and partly why I abandoned the above comedy) is that those seeking to be abused treated and spoke of the object of their search the way someone else may consider God. They expressed a desire to "give themselves totally and unreservedly" to that special man or woman, they often capitalized "Him" or "Her" or "You" and so forth.

That, for a number of reasons, these people have a God-shaped void in their lives is apparent to me now.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Catholicism and vaccines.

If you're reading this it's because you have a privileged view to a work-in-progress. I'll likely edit it many times over before I publish.


Yesterday, on the FB page of a dear friend of mine this subject came up. Because I feel SO VERY strongly about it, I expressed my views on this matter in, frankly, an intemperate and uncharitable way. That others expressed their views (which I consider to be -- demonstrably -- wildly incorrect and lacking in logic) in rather acid terms is no excuse.

I'm posting this now because I think I have calmed down enough to do so in a dispassionate way. You see, this issue touches my family in a direct way. My beloved was born in Cuba and moved here in 1970 at the age of almost-four. Between birth and flight to the land of liberty she contracted, and nearly died from, measles. Cuba, in spite of its oh-so-wonderful standard of medical care had a drastic collapse in the Soviet-funded immunization program starting in mid-1967. Unofficial estimates (officially, "this never happened") are that between 1967 and 1970 +/-3,000 children died of measles.

My wife was nearly one of that number.

Secondly, I have a son with autism. And I mean autism-autism. Much of the anti-vaccination movement stems from fears that vaccines are somehow responsible for autism. I'll deal with that claim anon, but for now I'll just say that the logical conclusion of such a mindset is "I'd rather chance it that my kid dies of an otherwise preventable disease than risk having him be autistic."

This, you may unsurprised to realize, upsets me beyond even my capacity for expression.

Now, I realize that there are people for whom there is, simply, NO satisfactory standard of proof. God could descend from Heaven and He Himself could tell them straight out and they'll still believe what they wish to believe while refusing to consider any evidence that refutes their opinion. As I have discovered in trying to set the record straight about the manifold errors told about Pope Francis, such people do exist and their mindsets are armored and correction-proof.

But I am hoping against hope that others (the percentage of which I know not) may be amenable to reason and logical entreaties and may have the temperament to consider evidence that challenges their ideas. We shall see.

My concern, bluntly, is that the anti-vaccination movement is going to wind up killing children.

The short version of how vaccines -- the measles vaccine, say --  work in an epidemiological sense is:
The measles is a virus and because of that, it mutates from one person to the next. (The extent and rate of mutations is what makes an AIDS vaccine so devilishly difficult to accomplish.) In the epidemiological sense, vaccinations work when the whole of the population is vaccinated and that particular virus (measles in our example) is functionally extinct in an "at large" sense. When a select group of parents wilfully chooses to not vaccinate their children, the measles virus establishes a beachhead in the population and with much greater opportunity (and "room") to multiply, it does, creating a far larger and extensive mutation-set, making immunizations less effective and increasing the opportunity to infect other people's children.

Vaccines for viruses are continually changing and evolving, being adapted all the time to the virus "version" being combated. The purpose of the immunizations so constituted are to build an immunity within a population to a virus' base genetic material. While some of the virus' genetic code may mutate, the core molecule remains -- at least for now -- exactly the same.

Now, however we are seeing an outbreak of measles racing eastward from Disneyland in California, in the worst such episode in over two decades. This unfortunate outbreak is being fostered by the upsurge in clusters of unvaccinated subsets of the population.

According to the latest CDC reports, in just the last month, 84 people (from 14 states) have contracted measles. By my lights, such a number certainly underestimates the thing, as the CDC doesn’t always record every individual case. Just in the State of California (California being California) there are almost 60 confirmed cases, the majority related to the Disneyland episode. The majority of people who contracted these cases measles were -- quelle surprise -- not vaccinated.

(If you're concerned that the virus may have mutated further than the immunization "range" of the unfortunate people who had been vaccinated, you're a very astute person.)

For a very long time, scientists have issued warning upon warning anti-vaccination movement could easily bring about epidemics of disease. I had the good/bad fortune of spending from ages 3-11 living in The Third World. I vividly remember outbreaks and epidemics killing little kids all the time. Watching funeral processions -- 7, 8, 10 a day -- going past your dad's office window in Colombia or Ecuador, all on foot, and almost invariably carrying a cheap wooden coffin barely three feet long, well...that gives you a slightly different perspective.

Two years ago the anti-vaccine movement gave us the worst whooping cough outbreak since World War Two. Of course, now it’s measles' turn. Funny thing is that the US had (basically) eliminated measles by 2000, due to the measles vaccine. As in "fewer than 100 cases." While the incidences of measles had been declining, a simple graphical regression analysis shows the disease would not have declined nearly as quickly or impressively as upon the advent of the measles vaccine. (Note the cases are not weighted for the growth in population.)

Yet we saw 644 cases (someone check my math but that strikes me as a 644% increase) in 27 states last year, the most number of cases in a couple of decades.

This year looks to be even worse. Measles could very well become endemic in the U.S, with outbreaks of cases spiking semi-regularly across the population, all courtesy of the ever-growing numbers of unvaccinated individuals. Until these last few years, outbreaks in the U.S. were the result of someone traveling overseas and returning carrying the measles.

The anti-vaccine movement has relentlessly traded on incorrect information. And yet, with a preponderance of scientific evidence that vaccines are of vast epidemiological benefit, we still must address things such as:

"Vaccines are the cause of autism."
They are not.
"Well, then, the thimerosal in those vaccines...THAT causes autism."
Um. No, it does not.
"Well, healthy living will give you Natural Immunity® and THAT's all you need."
No it doesn't and not it's not. Measles infects 90% of people exposed to it unless they are vaccinated.

I'm very serious when I say the anti-vaccination movement will get someone killed. Just in the last few days on CNN they reported on the case of Rhett Krawitt. He's 6 years old who, after four years of chemotherapy due to leukemia has a gravely compromised immunity, but his system is not yet ready for vaccination. If he contracts measles, a contingency growing in likelihood as noted above, he might not live through it. And like him are many, many other children. The odds are that, if this lamentable trend goes unabated, some of them will not survive the disease.

On whose conscience should such an event weigh?

This trend has been growing for some time. It started in 1998 with a publication in The Lancet (UK) by Andrew Wakefield of a paper which claimed the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine had a link to autism. His work turned to be fraudulent um, "problematic" and what he claimed about the MMR vaccine “dishonest and irresponsible.” Following very detailed, protracted investigations, Wakefield's paper was retracted and his license to practice medicine was revoked.

That Wakefield remains a martyr/hero to anti-vaccine groups, is disconcerting, truth be told.

The anti-vaccine message torch has been carried with enthusiasm by former Playboy Playmate of the Year Jenny McCarthy, and by groups such as Age of Autism who are doing so as I write this. Last summer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. started to revive the notion thimerosal is a cause of autism.

A cynical person would note that most of the vocal anti-vaccine proponents have no scientific or medical expertise or education. In the last couple of decades, tens-upon-tens of studies involving hundreds of thousands of subjects have amply demonstrated that vaccines (or any of the components thereof) are not, in any way, linked to autism.

While vaccines are demonstrably safe, measles is very dangerous. In this latest outbreak, fully one quarter of victims have needed hospitalization. Moreover, measles is extremely infectious. According to a statement of the CDC “You can catch it just by being in the same room as a person with measles even if that person left the room, because the virus can hang around for a couple of hours.”

Frankly, I'm pretty pessimistic that even the Disneyland outbreak (which, as mentioned above, has now spread to 14 states) will finally convince most of those parents who are the most ardently resistant to vaccines.

Let us switch gears for a moment and address the "freedom" issue.

Those among the assembled who have been with me the longest will attest to the fact that I'm as hostile to the overreach of the police power of the state as is possible to be. But the "freedom" argument, to be totally honest, doesn't convince me.

Parents have the right to bring up their children as best they see fit. But is that right absolute? Because if it is, then Mom and Dad should be able to feed Junior nothing but cabbage juice and blueberries from birth to age 18 and, golly, everyone should just back the HECK up. Or refuse to use child safety seats, or choose to neither send their children to school NOR homeschool, or perform female "circumcision" or refuse to take them to the dentist, or...

But let's just say there is such an absolute right. Do other parents not have the right to not have their children associate with unvaccinated peers? Do the owners of private property have the right to withhold entry into their premises to the unvaccinated?

"What about religious exemptions, Mr. Pro Life? Didn't you know about the link to abortions and vaccines?"

Of the arguments made by right-of-center anti-vaccination advocates (there are an equal-or-greater number of LEFT-of-center advocates, but that's not trendy for the MSM to focus upon), this is one of the most powerful, as it strikes at a hot-button moral issue.

Nonetheless, Biology 101 teaches us it's impossible for vaccines (or other injectables medicines) to have human tissues. Why? Well, should you be injected with anything with tissue from another person, your immune system will classify it as an invasive action and promptly dispatch antibodies to deal with said invasion. This "rejection response" by your immune system is frequently very aggressive and could very readily lead to your death.

That's why the match between an organ donor and a recipient must be VERY precisely matched before a transplant can happen. Therefore, it's safe to say there isn't ANY human tissue of any kind in vaccines. Unfortunately, the anti-vaccination movement has convinced many people that vaccines have tissues from abortions and that these must be performed ceaselessly in order to supply pharmaceutical companies. This views is incorrect, but it is powerful precisely because someone holds the morally correct viewpoint that abortion is, unquestionably, the unjustifiable killing of an innocent person.

In the interests of strict accuracy, it must be said that rumors are most powerful when they have a grain of truth to them, as is the case with this one. There is some connection between some vaccines and aborted babies. Hepatitis A, MMR, and the chicken pox vaccines all feature weakened or "inert" viruses cultivated in human cells. For a virus to propagate, it has to do so in a suitable medium. Lots of vaccines feature weak/inert viruses that propagate in the cells of assorted animals. However, there are viruses so specific they can only be propagated in human cells. Like the ones above; they must be propagated in human cells.

Where do pharmaceuticals get the cells for vaccines? From "cell lines" which are cultures of self-perpetuating cells. Each of these cultures is continually reproducing, churning out more cells. The cell lines we're focusing on for this discussion are MRC-5 and WI-38.

Both of these cell lines were cultured from cells taken from two abortions from the mid-1960s. That's your kernel of truth right there. (Incidentally, I harbor ZERO illusions that pharmaceutical companies are clean and pure and noble entities.)

In a June 9, 2005 statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life says that when an alternative vaccine exists (i.e. one with no connection at all to abortion) and is available, parents should use that one. Moreover, when there is no such alternative, parents should make their objections heard in order to "encourage" pharmaceuticals to develop such an alternative.

Nonetheless, regarding the administration of vaccines with no alternatives, the Vatican explicitly declares parents may do so in order to protect the lives and health of their children and the community. My translation of the document (from the Italian) states, "Regarding the vaccines without any alternative, the need to contest [i.e. "protest" or "demonstrate"] so that other vaccines may be developed must be reaffirmed, as should be the lawfulness of using the former in the meantime insofar as is necessary in order to avoid a serious health risk not only for one's own children but also, and perhaps more specifically, for the health condition of the population as a whole - especially for pregnant women."

Pay close attention to what this Vatican document is stating. It says we should contest/dispute/complain/protest these vaccines so as to make pharmaceutical companies seek and develop new, acceptable, vaccines. But until such a happy outcome comes to pass, " order to avoid a serious health risk not only for one's own children but also, and perhaps more specifically, for the health condition of the population as a whole - especially for pregnant women" parents may still use the vaccines without an alternative for now.

Furthermore, the document specifically focuses on rubella as a disease to be vaccinated against, even though there isn't (yet) an alternative vaccine: "Moreover, we find, in a case such as this [i.e., rubella], a proportional reason to accept the use of these vaccines in the face of the danger of encouraging the spread of the pathological agent, due to the lack of vaccination of children. This is particularly true in the case of vaccination against German measles."

To clarify even further, in a Catholic News Service piece quoting Msgr. Jacques Suaudeau (himself a medical doctor) an official at the Pontifical Academy for Life, as saying, "If the health of the child or the whole population [is at stake], parents should accept having their child be vaccinated if there is no alternative."

The way I look at this in addition to (not substitution of) official Church pronouncements is along the lines -- this is an imperfect analogy, so don't go there -- of receiving an organ donation from a murder victim.