Friday, March 15, 2013

Good Catholics, I Need Your Help

The newspaper for which I write  has apparently decided that my response to the two Monsignors who wrote about my column on the Pope's retirement can't be printed because it would "rile people up." So they spiked it.

 A sad and sorry day for a paper that once proudly printed on the masthead of its editorial page that the purpose of a newspaper was 'print the news and raise hell'.

Read and decide for yourself. 

      It seems that my recent column about the retirement of Pope Benedict has caused a bit of a stir. While some people wrote letters and posts on the website saying that they liked it (one called it “hilarious,” others acted as if I’d spat in the baptismal font.
     One reader said it was a “disgrace.” Not just one, but two local Monsignors wrote that I was “causing pain to Catholics” and that the paper was “ridiculing and misrepresenting the Catholic Church and in particular the Holy Father.”

    Oddly enough, no one seems to want to get specific as to what it was that offended them. The bit about the Pope Emeritus not wanting to give up the red shoes because they were the only ones that didn't hurt his corns? The part about him looking forward to spending a Christmas Eve watching "Peanuts" instead of having to work?

    See, I could have taken aim at some of the very real problems the Church is having. Scandals not only about sex abuse, but about coverups and sheltering of pedophile priests by the Church hierarchy. Or an alleged 300-page report about a secret cabal of gay priests within the Vatican. Or the Chairman of the Vatican Bank being ousted after a money laundering scandal that led to Italian prosecutors seizing 23 million euros from one of their accounts last year. And so on.

    But I figured there were plenty of people who would be more than happy to bring that up, and I was right. What seemed funnier to me was the prospect of the Pope, one of the most powerful men in the world, being the first one who had to go back to being a regular Joe who had to go through the same silly bureaucracy, like exit interviews, that you and I do. I thought it amusing to think of him as a normal, but tired old fellow with sore feet who was looking forward to getting his holidays off for a change. That just seemed more goofy and absurdist to me than anything. I certainly wasn’t trying to be mean to the man, and I don’t think I was.

    But, c’est la vie. I’m aspiring to be one of those folks who, when life gives them lemons, tries to make lemonade. (Previously, I’d followed the philosophy of Calvin. No, not John Calvin. Calvin of “Calvin and Hobbes,” who said that when life gives you a lemon, you should “wing it right back and throw some lemons of your own.”) I figure, if Church leaders found the column offensive, there’s nothing I can do about it, so I might as well try and pull off a Dan Brown.

    You remember Dan Brown, author of “The DaVinci Code,” who outraged the Church with his potboiler novel about a secret society protecting the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Unlike many of my colleagues in the writing game who found the prose wretched, I found the book rather entertaining, largely due to its sheer absurdity. I mean, really, how can you not love a book that has a killer albino monk as one of its chief villains? That’s some grade–A level pulp fiction right there.

    The Church, however, was as unamused as the good Monsignors. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called it “morally offensive.” The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith slammed the book as being “full of calumnies, offenses, and historical and theological errors." And, as I wrote about back in 2006, an entire sub-genre sprung up of "books and videos refuting the Da Vinci Code."

    None of this, however, stopped Mr. Brown from becoming one of the bestselling authors of all time, making millions, and having his book turned into a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks. In fact, some folks credit the controversy with actually helping the book become such a raging success, with people lining up to buy the thing to find out what all the fuss was about. So, if I’m going to offend despite my benign intentions, I want to at least make a few shekels off it.

    With all due respect to the Very Reverend Monsignors, however, I’m going to need a little more firepower directed against me if I’m going to reap the Dan Brown level of filthy lucre. I’m going to need a Bishop mad at me at least. A Cardinal would be ideal, now that the whole Conclave thing is done with.

    And so, good readers, I need your help. If you know anybody up the clerical food chain, send them a copy of the column. Let them know how upset you are.

Let’s get this controversy rolling. I’m not getting any younger. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Maybe Tom Hanks Will Star In the Movie

Monsignor Frank J. Hendrick of Pinehurst writes: 

The March 3 column by Dusty Rhoades concerning Pope Benedict Emeritus causes pain to me and your Catholic subscribers.
Mr. Rhoades has a right to write such and present it for publication. However, I feel that your position as guardians of the press would protect your readership from the harm that ensues.
I am not suggesting that you engage in censorship when facts are presented for publication, yet I suggest that you engage in civility and gentility when such is demanded.

So, he's not suggesting that they engage in censorship, but they should have spiked my column for "civility and gentility's" sake. Got it.

Monsignor Jeffrey A. Ingham of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church writes:

I am not surprised that someone would write such a piece, but I am surprised that you would publish it.

You know what this means, right? If this kind of condemnation by the Church picks up speed, I'm on a one-way express elevator to Dan Brown level controversy, followed by Dan Brown level money. Yippeee!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Rise of the Robots 2: The Cinderblocking

Latest Newspaper Column:

As I may have pointed out before, I fear robots. Oh, sure, they're helpful now, or so they and their creators would have us believe, but I know better. They have plans, I tell you. Big plans. Plans for world domination.

Take, for example, the various attempts to create a robot bartender. The first one, developed at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, used sophisticated programming to navigate behind a simulated "bar" in the lab, fetching a limited menu of drinks and snacks selected from a tablet on the bar and placing them before the "customer."

The mechanized publican moved with a ponderous slowness and finally delivered its libations with a flat and emotionless affect, but it was still a heck of a lot faster and friendlier than the bartenders at the Grand Hyatt in New York.

Meanwhile, a group of geeks working under the highly appropriate name of Party Robotics have given us Bartendro, which is decidedly less mobile and completely nonverbal, but which can make "dozens of drinks, including black Russians, Kahlua mudslides, or almost any other classy beverage of your choosing," according to an article on 

Sounds cool, you say? Sure it does. That's all part of the plot. Read on. Once you're confuzzled by robotically mixed White Russians, maybe you'd like some music. Here, again, the 'bots are taking over.

Compressorhead is an all-robot band from Australia made up of a four-armed drummer named Stickboy; a guitarist with 78 fingers named, of course, Fingers; and the self-described "highest precision bass player in known existence," an automaton named Bones. They play tunes like Motorhead's "Ace of Spades" and the Ramones' "Blitkrieg Bop." Since they haven't yet developed a robot singer, the lyrics are projected on a screen behind the band, at least until someone tracks down and finds some way to upload that guy who sang "Cars" back in the '80s.

So what, you think? A few drinks, some hard rock 'n' roll, what could be better? Well, friends, that's just to lull you into a false sense of security until they bring out Big Dog II.
You may remember a few months ago I told you about Big Dog, Boston Dynamics' project for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It's an eerie-looking headless robot "mule" with four insect-like legs, designed to carry loads to and from the battlefield.

Well, those fiends have been putting in long hours in their mad-scientist laboratory, making "improvements." Now, called the Legged Squad Support System, the Son of Big Dog has the capability to follow you. Yes, you heard right. According to, "This thing doesn't need to be remote controlled. It's smart enough to go along its human masters. Apparently, it's also intelligent enough to follow paths and work in tandem with his robotic brothers."

Supposedly, this allows the hauler to follow its team, carrying ammo, food, and other supplies on its back like a horse, for miles and miles without refueling. Relentless. Remorseless. No matter how far or how fast you run, it will be right there behind you. Scared yet?

Oh, and remember how I said that the original Big Dog didn't have a head? Well, the new model does. Or maybe it's a tail. Whatever it is, it has a big claw at the end of a long "neck" where a head (or tail) would be. And what does it do with that claw? It picks up and throws large and heavy objects, such as cinderblocks, up to 17 feet.

Boston Dynamics refers to the technique as "dynamic manipulation," which uses the "strength of the legs and torso to help power motions of the arm." I call it the beginning of the end. I've seen the video of this bruiser in action, and, like a digital Paul Revere, I'm here to warn you.

Mark my words. It's just a matter of time before that fateful night when the friendly robot bartender gets us all nice and mellow to the background accompaniment of a real metal band - but their robot buddies will be waiting for us out there in the parking lot, ready to follow us home, run us down and do us in with "dynamically manipulated" cinderblocks upside our heads.

They are coming. ...