SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN OR JIVE-ASS SLIPPERS? If consistency is truly the hobgoblin of little minds, then Pope Francis and his visit to the United States have my brain exploding well beyond the carrying capacity of my confined cranium. A week ago, I was in high dander over how Catholic bishops were flinging their spiritual throw weight about on the subject of abortion. Likewise, a few weeks before that, how they were mau-mauing Catholic legislators in Sacramento on a right-to-die bill now waiting for the governor’s signature. Yet when the Pope heaves the Chair of Saint Peter across the room on the subject of climate change, I’m a big fan. If they had football jerseys bearing his name, I’d be the first to wear one.
Let’s be clear: When it comes to theological dance moves, the Pope implies all kinds of dramatic motion without moving his feet an inch. Neat trick. It’s all in the hips, I guess. Gay people are still “intrinsically disordered.” Under Francis, women are doomed to remain second-rate citizens and excluded forever from the priesthood on the pseudo-theological justification that they don’t have the same junk Jesus did.
While in Washington, D.C., Pope Francis declared Father Junípero Serra — California’s infamous founding father — a saint as a much-needed nod to all the colonized and conquered Third Worlders. The same Serra pioneered the very colonial system that laid such waste to California’s native populations. Serra, as we have all been told, killed them with love. And to the extent Pope Francis espouses doctrines of hate and exclusion, he remains a most loving hater. As such, Francis — radiant life force that he undeniably is — qualifies as one of the loudest mixed messages on the planet. The moral of the story? Take what you can get. When love’s on the menu, mixed messages are better than no messages at all.
On the subject of climate change, however, the Pope is speaking with extraordinary clarity: If you want to get to heaven, don’t befoul the skies. Pretty simple. Conservative Catholics are, as expected, sputtering up a storm. The brilliantly sniffy columnist George F. Will dissed the Pope’s recent encyclical on climate change as “fact-free flamboyance” in trendy service to “the secular religion of ‘sustainability.’” Others have suggested the Pope is, in reality, a nature-worshipping neo-pagan, analogous, I suppose, to President Obama being in reality a Kenyan and a Muslim. I’m hoping the Pope will slip on his famous “Shoes of the Fisherman” to kick some serious ass. Should that not occur, we will be forced to comfort ourselves with the exertions of A. Barry Cappello, Santa Barbara’s premier boutique litigator, who — along with Leila Noël — set new land-speed records this weekend in filing a class-action lawsuit against Volkswagen for its diabolically engineered deception against federal clean-air standards. By now, everyone’s read how VW engineers magically inserted a computer program into about five years’ worth of offending diesels — maybe 500 in Santa Barbara County — to disable the cars’ clean-air functions except, of course, when the car was being tested for emissions. It doesn’t get much more premeditated than that. With the clean-air functions deactivated, it turns out the offending diesels spew out 40 times more air pollutants than if they were on. The EPA announced VW’s duplicity last Friday. By Monday morning, Cappello and Noël had rustled up no fewer than six diesel-driving clients, written up their sworn affidavits, and filed their class-action lawsuit. As speed-of-light as that certainly was, they were still not the first to file. They were, however, the first to file in state court — rather than federal — naming the two California companies that helped test the cars’ emissions control system as well as VW itself. VW, we are told, could be liable for $18 billion in fines. And that’s totally separate from the $51 million in clean-air subsidies paid by the State of California to encourage the sale of green cars. A petty point perhaps, but by contrast, GM just settled with the Department of Justice for $900 million over a faulty ignition system that led to the deaths of at least 124 Volt and Ion drivers and 275 serious injuries. Company documents — eight internal reviews — suggest GM knew or should have known about the defects for 10 years before initiating one of the biggest recalls in automotive history. It’s an exhausted lament, but no actual criminals were criminally prosecuted for what was clearly criminal conduct. This settlement puts GM on the equivalent of probation for three years. If the company doesn’t kill again in that time — at least in the same way — GM’s in the clear. It’s worth noting some of the drivers who survived the crashes — one had trace amounts of Xanax in her system — were, in fact, criminally prosecuted for having caused their passengers’ deaths.
Air quality may be amorphous, but it matters. A lot. A study just published in Environmental Science & Technology journal indicates that all the unreasonably stringent air-quality rules enacted by various California pollution-control districts over the past 23 years have reduced the quantity of cancer-causing particulate matter in the air by 68 percent. The cancer risk from seven toxic air contaminates dropped by 76 percent in the same time period. Concerns over the leadership of Santa Barbara’s very own Air Pollution Control District have flared up yet again, and APCD director Dave Van Mullem will soon find himself without a chair when the current game of musical chairs concludes. The APCD board sought to get rid of Van Mullem at least once before, but according to prevailing political folklore, representatives from Santa Maria Energy rallied ferociously — and successfully — to his defense. I don’t know whether Van Mullem is, in fact, a stooge for the oil industry. But I do know with friends like Santa Maria Energy, he doesn’t need enemies.
In the meantime, let’s hear it for love and inconsistencies