Thursday, April 21, 2005

Defending the Faith

Yesterday, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected to the position of Pope much to the disappointment of liberal Catholics. While I myself am not a practicing member of the Catholic faith, I was educated in a Catholic university. I embrace the new pope although I had my doubts at first. Many people speculated on what kind of pope he would be. If the fact that he was John Paul II's closest advisor, that should have been a clue.
Yes, there is a need for change within the Church, but there are some policies that should be left well enough alone. The Church will not and should not change its stance on birth control. While I would advocate contraception, I understand the Church's position on birth control. I also understand where the church is coming from on the issue of abortion.
Contraception is not a natural means of preventing pregnancy. Abstinence for if you're not married, and if you are, there is something known as natural family planning that couples can look into. Abortion is not a natural means of terminating a pregnancy, plain and simple.
The Church does not outright ostracize homosexuals. Church policy clearly states that the act of homosexuality is sinful. The act, not the person. The Church obviously has an understanding that people are human and they are not perfect. It is too bad some Protestant faiths can't take a cue from the Catholics.
Pope Benedict XVI was not necessarily elected by a panel of cardinals. The Holy Spirit had a hand in the selection process. Through prayer, meditation, and reflection, these cardinals let in the Holy Spirit and bent to God's will. If you look at the facts, Ratzinger was the right choice.
He had served as an advisor to John Paul II for the better part of 25 years, so he was famliar with the Pope's philsophical and theological stances. Ratzinger has vowed to carry on John Paul II's work by continuing to fight for peace and to try and reunify Christians around the world.
As for the Church's position on women in the priesthood and married priests, they are passing on the tradition of the Apostles. The Church interprets the Gospels for context of the time in which it was written. They do not interpret them literally, as some other religions do. So, if the Church feels that priests should not be married, and women should not be in the priesthood, that is God's will as they see it. It is not the will of the people.
The priest sex abuse scandal may or may not be addressed, something that has yet to be seen. However, rather than waiting for the Church to take a stance on the sex scandal, lay people should start the healing process.
I went to hear Bishop Wilton Gregory speak when he was president of the US Catholic Conference of Bishops. He addressed the issue saying that the healing should start with the lay people. I interpret this as meaning that we should start by forgiving what happened and then opening a dialogue about the issue to see how it should be handled.
The problem is many lay Catholics don't even know their own religion. I was baptized a Catholic as a baby, but I never received any sacraments beyond that. It wasn't until I went to college that I really understood more about the Church. Believe me, when I watch TV and watch lay people speculate about the new pope, I take it with a grain of salt. They know about as much as I do.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


Recently, there was a mental health forum here in town for those who were in the refinery at the time of the blast. UTMB hosted it and it targeted mostly those who were injured by the blast, or people who knew victims. It was nice that UTMB would extend this service to refinery employees even though only one person showed up.
I would have liked it better if they had done something like that for the entire community. There's no telling how many people in Texas City are still affected by the blast almost a month later. I know I'm among those who find it difficult to move on, mostly because it was literally so close to home. Of course, even more than 20 years after the first one in 1981, it's still hard to get over that. After all, I was five, and I really coudln't make sense of what was happening.
To be five years old and jolted out of bed by some unknown force was traumatic. I can see that now that I'm almost 30. What I remember of that night back in 1981 is that it was late, the sky was orange, and it was foggy. We ended up at a neighbor's house for some unknown reason. Dad explained later it was because he wanted to hear what the police were saying on the scanner. Of course, this was in the days before cellular phones and the internet and the rapid dissemination of information.
That's one of those things that has stuck with me all my life. Even going back and researching it, I realized that it was maybe a good thing I was young and couldn't quite understand what was happening. Ironically enough, the unit that exploded in 1981 was the same unit that blew up last month. They were both octane boosting units, and the blast pattern was the same. The only difference is in '81, it happened late at night, and this year's happened in the middle of the afternoon.
As I get older, I find it hard to take on too much at once emotionally. I used to be a stronger person, but something's just changed inside me. The first time I noticed it was when I was 25. That summer, we had Tropical Storm Allison, and our house was once again devastated by flooding, but not as bad as others in the Houston area. My aunt was sick, and she died. Then, I had to be moved out of my dorm into a hotel because our dorm had been condemned.
Things like that I was able to handle, but I had finally reached my breaking point. I went to a counselor, and it helped a little. It was enough to get me through the rest of the school year. This time, it startd whenI got laid off my temporary job.
I thought, well, I'd been out of work a year already, I can get back on my feet again. Of course, that's always easier said than done. My local state employment office has been useless in helping me fnid a job. The worst part about being out of a job was the frustration from not having enough experience in one filed to get hired somewhere.
I was doing okay, and then the blast happened. It was a week before the one-year anniversary of the fire last year, and I didn't think that there'd be another one so soon.
What was most unsettling for me was the loss of life, and the fact that it was the same old story. There was a lag in safety violations because once again, the government was too leniant on another big corporation. So now, I'm here telling mysself, I can get over thiis. I always did in the past, but something was different about this one. Instead of being a 5 year old sleepily wondering what was going on, I'm a wide awake 28 year old watching the tragedy unfold. The one thing that remains the same throughout is I'm still trying to make sense of it.
There's other things in my past that I've had to reconcile on my own. Things most people would have just given up hope on. This will just be one of those deep emotional scars that will never quite heal correctly. Every time something like this happens, it just reminds me how precious life is.
So, on April 23, at 1:20pm central time, observe a moment of silence. Say a prayer for the dead and the injured. People died in the process of refining the gasoline that runs our vehicles. And remember that until standards improve not just here, but across the board, incidents like this will continue to happen.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Piled higher and deeper

The media is not helping me in getting over the hump much. Every day new details come out that just make it that much harder to accept. Today, I read where JE Merritt, the contractor, had placed its trailers too close to a danger zone in a fatal plant explosion in Pennsylvania. Then, come to find out, the standard industry wide is that trailers shouldn't even be near dangerous work zones. Are we not learning something people?
Anyhow, I've begun my crusade for tougher OSHA regulations. I wrote a letter to the House and Senate Energy commitees, and a letter to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. My advice to anyone reading this blog is to write to your represenatives, your senators, anyone who will listen, and ask them to give OSHA some teeth because if not, you will be at risk too no matter where you live. Think about it. Every time there's an accident at a refinery, it means a loss in production, which costs the company and it is then passed on to the consumer. Think about it the next time you pay almost $3 a gallon for gasoline. All right, off my soap box.
There's my thought for the day.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Living under the volcano

While the world made a public spectacle of the Schiavo family's private struggle, and as the Pope teetered on the brink of death, my world stopped at 1:20pm on March 23. A loud boom followed by a rush of wind slamming into my house shook me to my core. I thought, not again, as I walked outside to see what the noise was. Just as I feared, there had been an explosion at the BP refinery.
A plume of bluish gray, black, and white smoke rose more than 500 feet above the refinery as flames shot into the air. I stood in my grandmother's front yard two doors down on the corner and watched the fire burn. While I stood there, I heard alarms at the Dow refinery, and then the all clear as it was determined that it was a the BP refinery.
Probably the one thing that has stuck with me are those images, and then the sounds of the police cars rushing to the scene two at a time. That was soon followed by news helicopters hovering overhead.
Two weeks later, I keep telling myself I'm over it. I'm fine, but I realize I'm not. My grandmother, who was with me when the blast hit the house, is the same way. Just the slightest noise startles her. Of course, this was her first major explosion since 1947, when the SS Grandcamp exploded in Texas City. She was at home in Galveston, but she told me that how it felt at our house is how it felt then at her home.
For many hours after the blast, the sounds of ambulance sirens and medical helicopters filled the air. It looked and sounded like a war zone. Watching the news that afternoon, a worst case scenario unfolded. Hundreds were injured and people were dead. I had not heard of anyone dying in a refinery explosion in Texas City since May 30, 1978, when seven people died in a Texas City Refining explosion.
The hardest thing to accept was 15 people were dead, and no one knew why. All the investigations pointed to the fact that they were in trailers close to the blast site. The medical examiner confirmed that all injuries were blast injuries. Of course, reading message boards on the internet, a different story tends to unfold. People were trapped in the blast zone until rescuers could get the fire out, and then dig through the debris to find them. I mourned the loss of those 15 people, regardless of whether or not they were from here. They were human just like me. They left behind children, grandchildren, wives, husbands, fiances, mothers, fathers, and grieving families.
Worst of all, it was close to the Easter holiday, a time when families come together. I read a story on the AP wire about a woman headed to Texas City from Louisiana to see her parents for the holiday when she heard the news. Naturally, she feared the worst, and sadly, those fears were confirmed when she was told to go to the civic center instead of the hospital. She lost both her parents.
As my grief subsides, it's replaced by anger. Anger that this was a preventable tragedy in so many ways. The people that died should not have been placed in trailers so close to such a dangerous work site. When my mom told me the turnaround period had started at the refinery, I braced myself for noisy nights as units were shut down.
This was a period of maintenance in order to prepare the refinery for the busy summer season. As an isomerization unit was being brought online, there was a release of hydrocarbon out of a vent stack which appered to be water to most people.
The investigation reveals that maybe an idling diesel truck had been parked nearby, and that was what sparked it. However, since a diesel engine does not use spark plugs, it is possible that it pulled the vapor into its intake, or the heat from its exhaust could have set off the explosion.
What's most upsetting is that this was preventable. Those trailers could have been placed somewhere else. That unit could have had a flare attached to it instead of venting into the atmosphere as it was designed. According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, OSHA, the government's safety enforcement officer, had warned the company when it was Amoco in '92 to add a flare to the isom unit, but OSHA eventually dropped the issue.
BP has now moved the trailers, but to me it's too little too late. OSHA has been aware of violations in the past, but they have shown weakness in settling too quickly in order to bring the unit back online to continue production.
Living near these refineries for nearly 30 years has been a lot like living near a volcano. It's dangerous, it's going to erupt, but no one knows when.