Rumors that don’t die: Take 2

Caroline Kennedy has publicly denied to CNN the persistent — though oft-rebutted — rumor that she had been tapped as U.S. ambassador the Vatican and that the Holy See had rejected her for being pro-choice.

For good measure, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has told USA Today (scroll down to “in other comments”) that he never put Kennedy’s name forward for the post, a popular variation of the blogosphere’s bad reporting on the topic.

Catholic News Service (here and here),  The Associated Press and other mainstream news organizations weeks ago shot down the Kennedy rumor, as well as the equally ubiquitous fable that the Vatican had rejected three Obama nominees.

To date, Obama has only announced nominees for ambassadors to Iraq, Afghanistan and Ireland. It would be logical that nominations for slots such as Paris, the Court of St. James in London and Moscow will be higher priorities than an ambassador to Vatican City.

A billboard and an unlikely combination

CNS reporter Mark Pattison and photographer Bob Roller arrived in the Midwest this past weekend and are traveling through Iowa and Minnesota for a week for a series of stories on rural America.

ALONG INTERSTATE 35  — After having reported on a Le Moyne College-Zogby survey that examined Americans’ and Catholics’ attitudes on a host of issues — including gambling (they don’t seem to mind it that much) — I was confronted April 19 by a slew of billboards advertising casinos in Iowa.

The champion in the attention-getting department was a billboard on I-35 near the Iowa-Minnesota border, which advertises the Diamond Jo Casino and the fact that it has a Burger King on the premises.

Neither is a draw for me personally, but some find the pairing to their liking no doubt.

Vatican promotes science festival

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s Council for Culture is promoting its first science festival, which will be held in Owerri, Nigeria, this Friday to May 2.

(CNS file/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

(CNS file/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

The aim of the festival is to open up young people, families, and adults to the joys and wonders of science and technology, organizers said at a Vatican press conference today.

Exhibits will be hands-on, interactive and won’t rely on electricity to get them working — so power outages won’t present any problems. Sections will include experiments with and instruction on energy, the environment, health and nutrition, and music.

The initiative has been organized by the City of Science in Naples, a Rome-based association of Nigerian and Italian university students, the Rome Diocese’s pastoral office for universities, and the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Organizers say this is just the first step of a long-term plan to create a permanent science center in Owerri.

The Vatican council’s press release said:

Science and technology are also indispensable  for sustainable development in Africa.

In Africa, scientific instruction and education in schools is not enough to foster curiosity about science and get the wider public involved.

Science and technology are indispensable tools for empowering people and should be supported with efforts that promote curiosity toward science and the intelligent use of technology.

These ‘fuelish’ things: observations for Earth Day

CNS reporter Mark Pattison and photographer Bob Roller arrived in the Midwest this past weekend and are traveling through Iowa and Minnesota for a week for a series of stories on rural America.

ALONG INTERSTATE 35 — Less than six miles into northern Iowa stand dozens upon dozens of wind turbines. Trying to count as I drive to stay with traffic along I-35, I see what must be at least 60 on the east side of the freeway. There are dozens more on one or possibly two “wind farms” on the west side of the freeway.

Another slew of turbines greets motorists on I-35 in the vicinity of Charles City, Iowa. In fact, one of the great optical illusions of all time is the sensation that there’s a wind turbine in the freeway median. It’s not, but only when southbound motorists curve to the left, is it revealed that the turbine is on the right side of the interstate.

These are quite tall wind machines, each with three long blades, to capture the energy in the wind and transfer it to electrical power. They are far from the quaint Dutch windmills that inspired them.

Later, on Interstate 380, I pull off at a Phillips 66 gas station. Here, the big surprise for the non-Iowa native is that mid-grade gasoline is cheaper than regular. Why? Because it includes ethanol derived from corn. Lower price, higher octane says a sticker on the gas pump touting “cleaner air for Iowa” for those who fill up with the mid-grade stuff. I’m sold.

In truth, there has been criticism in some quarters that corn, one of Iowa’s major crops, is being used for fuel instead of for food. The jump in gas prices last year to more than $4 a gallon in many parts of the country made ethanol from corn seem like a viable alternative, even with government subsidies to make ethanol’s price competitive. Now, with gas prices half of what they were last summer, I wonder where corn growers will direct their crop this year.

While corn itself has been viewed as the mover and shaker in ethanol for decades, it’s only the kernels that provide the fuel. If science could find a way to use the cob and render it suitable for fuel, then energy production could achieve a significant breakthrough.

I am reminded of the one passage in the Gospel parable of the prodigal son where the wanton heir, now reduced to feeding pigs on an estate, “longed to fill his belly with the husks” of the corn he was feeding the pigs. An energy-insatiable America continues to strive to find new sources for energy resources. Are we akin to — or kin of — that prodigal son, who squandered his wealth (in our case, energy that could be better stewarded) without looking to the future?