Friday, June 29, 2007

Elections: 2008 and 1960

There are a lot of candidates in the field hoping to be elected President of the United States of America in 2008, or at least to feed on campaign contibution and media attention in the mean time. No one stands out and there are many wild cards both within the "major" parties and outside. Michael Bloomberg, billionaire mayor of New York may run. I hear the Green Party may have a very attractive, non-Nader candidate. If former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani is the Republican nominee there will almost certainly be an independent, ultra-right candidate. And never underestimate the Libertarian Party.

Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it, just like those of us who do study history. I have been rethinking basic interpretations provided by the corporate media and academic thinkers (who are seldom as far apart as they like to pretend) and want to share some thoughts on the 1960 elections. Usually 1960 is cast as the victory of a liberal Democrat, John F. Kennedy, over a conservative Republican, Richard Nixon. But a lot of actual facts don't fit that neat picture. Just for instance Nixon was a Quaker, a group often associated with radical left politics, and Kennedy was a Catholic, usually a group associated with conservative to fascist politics (with many exceptions, notably Catholic Worker and Liberation Theology). Here is a map of who won the 1960 electoral college votes, state by state:

What is that strange Byrd thing? Why, it is the 15 electoral college votes that went to Harry Byrd, who was not even a candidate. Certain unpledged electors could stomach neither the Republican Nixon nor the Catholic Kennedy, so they gave their votes to Byrd. Kennedy ended up with 303 electoral votes to 219 for Niixon, so even if Nixon really won Illinois, as is widely alleged, Kennedy would still have won the election.

The key thing to see in this map, that most people have been taught not to see, is that Kennedy was the candidate that white racists voted for. It was not just a marriage of convenience. President Eisenhower, pushed by Vice-President Nixon, had been implementing the Supreme Court decision to desegregate schools in the South. Kennedy, as a Democrat, was part of a long standing agreement to support segregation to get votes in the South.

John F. Kennedy was an astute student of rhetoric, but a bad President (unless you are a racist, nationalist, and militarist). He did less than Eisenhower and Nixon about civil rights: he had to if he wanted the Southern electoral college votes again in 1964. He was a war criminal who okayed the invasion of Cuba; the fact that the invasion was repulsed by the people of Cuba hardly lessens his guilt. He was the son of a rapacious capitalist; he had been a supporter of the Red Scare when it was politic; he said Eisenhower was not tough enough on Communism. His only lasting legacy was the space program, which was mainly about regaining military supremacy over the Soviet Union while putting the expenses outside the military budget.

The truly sad thing is that Nixon turned to the dark side between his defeat in 1960 and his election in 1968. He inherited a war with Vietnam from Johnson. (Before Lyndon Johnson, American troops in Vietnam were primarilly for advising and training the South Vietnamese army that was going to defeat the commie terrorists. Every American President since James Buchanan in 1856 has inherited the War Against Asia, however.) He became a war criminal by invading Cambodia and Laos as well as by continuing attacks on civilians.

I think the ultimate solution to fixing American politics would include returning the President to the position intended by the Constitution: an administrator who carries out policies made by Congress. But that won't be one of the choices in 2008. Ladies and gentlement, if you have money place your bets; if you don't, you are still allowed to vote in the primaries and general election.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Latin Mass Comes Back!

Pope Benedict XVI is preparing to publish a document allowing for conducting Mass in Latin. Which is a relief here at the Vatican Rag; we were worried he was going to make German the international language of the Mass.

It is unclear when the early Latin Mass evolved out of earlier rights of communion and prayer. There is no doubt that the Mass was said in Latin when I was a child, and was changed to the local language (in my case, English) when I was in Catholic School in the mid 1960's. But the reformers of that era did more than that: they changed what was said in the mass. Apparently the Mass of my childhood is known as the Tridentine Mass and was formulated in the 1500's. Apparently it had some anti-Semitic elements, which is probably why it is a happy memory for Benedict XVI.

The Latin Mass has not actually been banned all this time. You could get special permission to say it, but a lot of bishops were against it. Since the Church hierarchy has been largely purged of the reformers in the last 30 years, this new Latin Mass is probably part of a larger game plan (secret code name: Pontiff Uber Alles).

But seriously, saying that God prefers Latin is kind of weird. Is the Catholic Church really trying to say that the Roman Emperors, who claimed to be Gods and Sons of Gods, were right? It seems to me that Jesus spoke Aramaic and maybe a little Hebrew if he went to Rabbi school, which he probably did. The New Testament itself was written in Greek, bad Greek according to those who could actually write good Greek.

Why not the Greek Mass? That is what they celebrate in the Orthodox Church, which predates the Latin Church. Peter is claimed to have established the Church in Rome (See my Was Peter the First Pope?). Maybe Peter went to Rome late in life; maybe he picked up a few words of Latin.

What Latin amounts to is tradition for tradition's sake.

There are so many things wrong with the Catholic faith, I see no reason to oppose Latin Masses. People were leaving the Church as fast as they could back in the 1960's. That was the real reason we got to hear the Mass in English after Vatican II. Hearing it in English made it relatively easy to understand. Which made it easy for me to leave, and for people with a different mentality to stay.

There is a lot of value in some of the old Latin writers, but there was even more in Greek. Just a century ago knowledge of Latin was considered to be essential to a scholar. It was, indeed, the language of the educated European. However, the Mass is not one of the great works in Latin. Given that you can get good translations of Cicero and Virgil in English and just about every other language, only a language or history specialist has much business learning Latin these days.

The Vatican Rag

Monday, June 25, 2007

One Carbon Credit Per Person

It is way past time to ration carbon. The only fair way to do it is to allow for one carbon credit per person. The credits should be worked out on a global basis. A villager in Uganda should get the same carbon credit as a business person in China or a soccer mom in Peoria.

I see no reason why United States citizens should get to burn more carbon than people of other nationalities. True, we are used to burning a lot of carbon. We burn it so we can live in suburbs and commute to work. We burn it for heat, then we burn it for air-conditioning. We are the main contributors to global warming so far. But why should that entitle us to more than our share in the future?

Some people, poor people by global standards, might not be able to use their full carbon credit right away. Should they be allowed to trade their unused credit for money? I am of a mixed mind about that. In the past benefits from such trading schemes have largely gone to aggregators. These are people (or corporations) who buy from the poor at a very low price, bundle credits together, and then resell them at a much higher price to those wealthy enough to bid for them. But limited, person to person trading would probably add to efficiency and community solidarity.

Most carbon credit schemes suggested so far have been based on industrial output. That may benefit corporations and privileged people, but it is unfair and it does not benefit ordinary people.

Interests that oppose a fair carbon credit system will attack the one person - one credit system as being impossible to administer. But the U.S. had a very successful rationing system during World War II, and rationing has also been done on a large scale in other countries. Doing it globally is simply a matter of will power.

I might add that since a growing human population is the underlying cause of all trends towards ecological catastrophe, once a carbon credit number is set world wide, the number should remain constant. If more people enter the world than die, the credits should not expand. There are two systems that could be used to distribute credits when the population fluctuates. One is to just take the whole number of people each year and divide that into the total carbon credit allocated. I don't like that system because it awards more carbon to people who breed quickly. I think the carbon credits should be inheritable. Children don't get them. Adults get one each. Couples get two, and their children have to make do on their parents. When the parents die the next generation gets to divvy up the credits. This will provide incentives against large families.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sun Worship Revisited

Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, the shortest day in the southern hemisphere. Where I live, roughly 39 degrees north latitude, the sun will rise at 5:49 AM and set at 8:42 PM. Further north much or all of the day will be sunlit, but at the equator only careful attention reveals the solstice.

Some pagans are celebrating the solstice today; the typical news article I have seen, released by the Associated Press, mocks the celebrants as freaks. I have never noted mainstream press mockery of Christianity at Christmas or Easter. The consensus is that it makes sense to worship Jesus Christ and it is just plain silly to worship the Sun.

Christianity, after all, is seen as a modern religion. Sun worship is seen as a primitive, pre-Christian form of worship. People worshipped the Sun because it was big and bright and divided the day and night. According to Christians, God revealed himself the to Jews and then sent a son (just one, mind you, and would that Christians limited themselves to one child, following their God's example) to set everyone straight with a promise of immortality.

Physicists tell us that our sun is not immortal. True, it is billions of years old, but it was not formed during the earlier epochs of the universe. True, it will go on a few billion years, but it is expected to eventually consume its nuclear fuel and collapse into a cold cinder. If it isn't immortal then it can't be God, can it? But then the human race is newer than the sun and is unlikely to continue much longer (on cosmic time scales), so why believe a human form, Jesus, can represent immortality?

When Christianity was born Apollo was Helios, the Sun God of the Mediterranean world and had numerous followers. People, except perhaps the most ignorant, realized that the human attributes of Apollo were to be distinguished from the very real Sun in the sky. Other cultures are believed to have worshipped the sun as a god, but in some cases they may have simply been tracking the sun to keep their agricultural calendars straight, rather than truly believing the sun created the universe.

Yet this primitive sun worship was much closer to reality than Jesus worship. The Sun does predate the earth and mankind; in a very real sense, the sun created the earth and its energy imbued the earth with life. If the sun went out tomorrow we would all be dead in quick order, but Jesus died on the cross and nothing much happened. Let's face up to reality: Jesus is not a very good candidate for being God, even if you are egotistical enough to think that God must be human. Crazy as he was, the Emperor Caligula (who also claimed to be a god) at least was Roman emperor. Jesus was the founder of a small cult that apparently murdered Ananias and Sapphira for money (Bible, Acts of the Apostles, Ch. 5).

Let us skip some of this primitive thinking and go to a more sophisticated version of God (God 2.0?): the creator of all things, visible and invisible. Atheists would say that if you need a first creator, the Universe itself can serve that role as well as God. But lets split the difference and call our hypothetical deity the Creator, which should satisfy Catholics and open-minded atheists.
What would better represent the Creator in our sector of the Universe, a dead Jesus or a living Sun? The Sun is bigger and lives longer. The sun is singular, at least around here, whereas any number of men and women (not to mention elephants, snakes, and natural phenomena) could be claimed by their followers to be God. (My sentimental favorite is Gunputty.) Is the Sun more likely to be an incarnation of the Creator, or a raggedly little Palestinian?

Why then, is Christianity one of the dominant religions today, but Sun worship is just an occasional reason for pagan partying? Two big reasons. The Christian religion is a remarkable example of social engineering. The Apostle Paul took a tiny Jewish cult and made it into a money maker by combining it with non-Jewish resurrection myths, the promise of immortality, and a sort of primitive socialism in which standing Christians were fed from the seized property of new recruits. Then, as time passed, the Roman Emperors saw Christianity as the perfect way to keep their subjects in line. Once that happened, conversion at swordpoint became the rule, and a very successful one.

The other reason we fail to worship the Sun is that it is both too remote and too easily tested by reason. It does not appear to care about humans when it wilts crops under its heat. Humanized gods have always been popular because it is easy to imagine they understand human problems. Pregnant and unmarried? Talk to the Virgin Mary.

Those who see through the vanity of anthropomorphizing the Creator usually also see that Nature is complex. No one subset of Nature should be worshipped as God.

There are good reasons to celebrate the Solstice without trying to make our good sun into a God. The Solstice marks the annual rhythm of life. It reminds us that humans are just a part of nature. And it is cheery to have such long days when you don't live near the equator.

More data:

Solstice quick facts (at Encarta)
Sun facts (at NASA)
My Religion page at
Sun Worship (Wikipedia)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

If It Is Not a Crusade, What Is It?

We are told that the United States government is engaged in a War on Terror. We are told specifically that it is not a Christian Crusade against Islam. Does what the government tells us match up to reality?

Take a look at U.S. policy in Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Ethiopia has a Christian government but the country has substantial number of Moslems. Sudan has a Moslem government but the nation includes regions that are mostly Christian or at least not-Islamic. The U.S. government criticizes the Sudan government for its war against Christians in southern Sudan and in Darfur. But there is no criticism of the Ethiopian government for its attacks on its Moslem tribes. In fact the U.S. considers Ethiopia a key ally and gives economic and military aid.

You could argue that the governments of Sudan and Ethiopia have no choice but to fight rebel groups. Doubtless fighting spills over to attacks on tribes that support or sympathize with the rebels. Or you could argue that both governments should be condemned until they treat all of their citizens better. But to praise Ethiopia while attacking Sudan is practicing a double standard, one that is pro-Christian and anti-Islamic.

I have written a a fair amount about U.S. and Ethiopian war crimes against Somalia (See my Somalia page). The U.S. has set up a puppet government of former Somali war-lords. Since the Ethiopian army helped defeat the Islamic Justice Courts, this puppet government has terrorized the population of Ethiopia, encouraged a return to local gangsterism, and made no progress towards holding elections. If it holds elections and honors them it likely will be immediately cast out of power. But if the Justice Court supporters win the U.S. will stage another coup or invasion.

You don't actually have to be a Christian to be a U.S. puppet. The "provisional government" of Somalia is not Christian. Neither is the PLO. Neither is the government of Afghanistan. But you do have to support U.S. policy aims. What are those aims? That the U.S. get its way everywhere in the world, all the time, no matter what other people may want.

George W. Bush's Crusade Against Islam has hardened many Moslems against a more enlightened view of the world. This is a reflection of the reaction against enlightenment we have seen in the United States, with Christians in denial of basic realities like the Evolution of Species through Natural Selection while crusading against perceived evils like homosexuality and abortion. The problems of the modern world cannot be solved by religious zealots toting around cultural baggage from small desert tribes fighting over scraps of land near the Dead Sea.

Islam and Christianity both have components that can serve as a bridge to more reality-based systems of knowledge and ethics. Moderate, tolerant, inquisitive strains of Christianity and Islam, however, are losing out to fanaticism in many nations.

The American people have to stop the Crusade if we want to live in peace. We need justice applied equally to all people on a global scale. A century ago what bond traders did in New York City or London could kill people in Afghanistan or Sudan. The world has shrunk; we have seen that an angry person Kandahar can kill bond traders in New York City. What goes around comes around. George W. Bush has simply thrown a bunch of fuel into the fire.

More data:


Monday, June 18, 2007

Democracy, Ethiopia and Palestine

Before I rag on President George Bush, not as an individual but as the head of the ruling class in the United States of America, I want to demonstrate how universal his problem is.

Today's blog is about democracy and U.S. policy in the world, using Algeria, Palestine, Somalia and Ethiopia as examples.

I know quite a few people who define themselves as democracy advocates and specialists in the U.S. They devote substantial parts of their lives to issues like Instant Runoff Voting and the dangers of voting machines that do not produce paper trails. They rail at Bush for what happened in Florida in 2000 and in Ohio in 2004.

Yet even many of them have trouble distinguishing between democracy and their getting their way. They tend to believe that if they are in the triumphant majority, democracy is working. But when they are in a minority when the votes have been counted, they suspect foul play. I've seen this scenario played out within the Green Party and in non-profit organizations too many times to count. I admit I have had this reaction myself.

So why be surprised that George Bush and cronies equate democracy with getting their own way? I believe George Bush believes democracy is a good thing. It is the best form of government. It made him president. He'd like to see a democracy in Iraq, in Somalia and Ethiopia and even in Saudi Arabia. The problem is he wants the people of these nations to democratically decide that they agree with him and with U.S. policy objectives, which are usually set by corporate interests. He's been willing to sacrifice democracy to other goals. You might say it is human nature; but it is still wrong.

Today the New York Times had a good, long article: In Ethiopia, Fears and Cries of Army Brutality by Jeffrey Gentleman. Bush has made the Ethiopian government a major ally. It has, by African standards, a strong army and its rulers are Christian. The nation is roughly half Christian, half Islamic, much like Sudan. Its own political opposition, and rebels, tend to be Islamic. It has the form of a democracy, but in fact the government panicked during the buildup to the 2005 elections and suppressed the opposition by, well, killing as many of them as they could.

This same Ethiopian government was asked by the U.S. to invade Somalia (a war crime) to overthrow the Islamic Justice Courts, a popular democratic (if religious) movement that had brought both peace and justice to most of Somalia. Ethiopian troops are still in Somalia.

This week we also saw the final triumph of corruption in the Palestinian Liberation Organization: the PLO has agreed, in return for money to feed their bellies, to be the puppet government of Israel and the United States over the Palestinian people. Again, there was an agreement to try democracy, backed by the U.S. When Hamas proved to be more popular with the Palestinians than U.S.-approved choices, an economic blockade was established. This was a crime against humanity. Now the PLO, which won only a minority of seats in the Palestinian parliament in the last elections, is claiming to be the legitimate government of Palestine.

This pattern of pretending that democratic governments should be appointed by the President of the United States rather than elected by the actual voters of the actual countries involved is not George W. Bush's invention. It has been around for a long time. It included a CIA-sponsored coup against secular socialists in Iran that led, eventually, to the current Islamic regime coming to power. In Algeria when Islamic parties did well in an election in 1992 the military staged a coup to keep them from running the government. Note 1992 is long before the current War of Terror began.

If people subscribe to the Islamic faith always are kicked out of government when they win an election, what will they think of democracy? Why bother with peaceful methods?

Democracy means allowing for change, even when you disagree with the current majority. While the U.S. was founded as a Republic by a small band of mostly slave-owning rich white men, for the most part as the franchise (right to vote) expanded to other groups we have not had a problem with individuals trying to set themselves up as lifelong dictators. The only exception was President-for-Life Franklin D. Roosevelt, and following his grasp at permanent power the Twenty-Second Amendment to the Constitution was passed limiting Presidents to two terms.
I don't expect George W. Bush to try to mess with the 22nd Amendment. He may be replaced by a like-minded person, or he may not.

Democracy, for all its problems, is the least bad form of government. We should support democracy in other nations, but not by interfering in their internal affairs. This means allowing political parties like Hamas to govern when they win elections. And it means withdrawing all aid from countries like Ethiopia that do not respect the election process.

Background on Ethiopia
Background on Somalia
My blogs on Somalia
Background on Palestine

Friday, June 15, 2007

Sad End to a Marxist Experiment in Palestine: The PLO

Today by all reports Hamas has, at least temporarily, eliminated the Palestinian Liberation Organization from power in the Gaza Strip. The PLO still dominates in the West Bank of Palestine and PLO member Mahmoud Abas is still President of the territorial (not national) government, but its dominance is shaky.

The PLO might serve as textbook example of how not to run a national liberation organization. The PLO's record, or course, is mixed by whatever reasonable standards you judge by. Formed in 1964 out of a convention of the Palestinian National Council, the PLO faced a strong Israel with conflicting support from Arab nations. While its ideology was clearly nationalistic, most of its factions were also Marxist, in the socialist-to-communist spectrum. In the mid-1960's and into the 1980's the strength of the Soviet Union and China and the success of Marxist and nationalist wars of national liberation against the U.S. and European empires made the PLO's embracement of Marxism seem rational.

Rather than my repeating more PLO history, please see the Wikipedia article Palestinian Liberation Organization or one of the PLO's own web sites.

The key point is: the PLO engaged in a multi-faceted political and military war to regain Palestine from the Israeli occupation. The did it with very little help from non-Palestinian Arabs. They made enormous sacrifices; many of those who were not killed spent long periods in prisons. They put the plight of the Palestinian people back on the world's agenda. So how did they lose the support of the people in Gaza and the West Bank?

It is only fair to state that failure is always a political problem. With the U.S. supplying and shielding Israel, with the strength the Israeli economy and military, and with little meaningful support from Saudi Arabia, the PLO program of driving off the Israelis had no chance of success. Any organization would have failed given those odds. You can always count on people for blaming the PLO for not doing the impossible; Palestinians, to some extent, blamed the PLO for its failures.

But in other areas the PLO failed when it might have succeeded. They failed to find a way to build an economy. They allowed their leadership structure to become a house of economic corruption. And they failed to provide a workable philosophy for the Palestinians in refuge camps.

Marxism competed quite successfully with the organized, traditional religions between about 1850 and about 1990. It promised pie on a plate rather than pie in the sky. It promised equality for working people and equality for all ethnic groups; it led the world in establishing the equality of women on a large scale. The social-democratic (as opposed to Leninist-dictatorial) style of Marxism is still going strong in some nations. But in the Palestinian towns and refuge camps it began to sound as hollow as Catholicism sounded to many Europeans during the Protestant Reformation in the 1500's.

I did not believe this when I first heard it. I met at political meetings (in Berkeley, of course) two Palestinian students who were Marxists of the Leninist variety. But one day they told me that they were considering switching to supporting an Islamic organization. This was back around 1983. Why would educated, rational people embrace an irrational religion? Because they already knew, way back then, that the PLO was a failure. That its Marxism was a shell; that it had become an organization devoted to fleecing the people rather than leading them to a utopia.
Over the years I have thought back to that conversation many times. I don't care much for organized religion (see my Religion pages). I believe that religious people are just as apt to be hypocritical and corrupt as atheists. But I have observed, in history and in current times, that some times an organization comes together that is not corrupt, and the people in the organization maintain that character for a considerable period of time.

Most of the time most of the people find it easier to put up with corruption than to do something about it. Corrupt organizations usually have the power to punish honest people. But some times situations become so bad that ordinary people will reject corruption and even fight it.
That is what happened in Palestine, and the organization that embodied the purity of spirit necessary to fight corruption just happened to be Islamic. This is not to say that Islam was not founded primarily as a moral and ethical organization; its history clearly shows that it was. But Islam was also corrupted early; for many of its adherents the seizure of booty became its primary attraction even before The Prophet died.

While Hamas's aim of destroying the state of Israel (See Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement) has motivated its most militant members, I suspect that is not the main reason it has such widespread popular support in Gaza.

Nor do I think the PLO lost support because of its godless Marxism. I don't think many Palestinians have either a free-market capitalist or an anarchist critique of Marxist state-socialism. I don't think they hated Yasser Arafat on a personal level.

It is all about honesty versus corruption.

This is an important lesson for all political organizations. Party leaderships that are filled with parasites, as in the Democratic and Republican Parties in the U.S.A., can survive during periods of moral decay and economic prosperity. But new parties can be built based on honesty and justice, and when times are rough these organizations may grow at surprisingly rapid rates.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Of Aphids, Ants, and Apples

Most of the entries in this blog will be about politics, economics, history, and philosophy. But I have many interests, including gardening. Today I set up a gardening main page at my site, but the only link so far is to this essay:

Aphids are a perennial problem in the garden. I want to add a new twist to dealing with them when they are a problem on fruit trees, in my case apple trees.

I am trying to garden organically. I am not hard-core about it, I just don't want to poison the food I eat or my property (or my well). I planted three apple trees when I first cleared my garden area back in the autumn of 1998: a Fuji, a Braeburn, and a Kidd's Orange-Red, all on the same semi-dwarf rootstock. Here's an entry from my garden journal I started in 1999: "At first they did well, but they were attacked by aphids. I decided to let nature take care of them, which eventually happened, but it stunted the growth of two of them."

Aphids will attract aphid eaters, but often not fast enough to allow the plants they victimize to grow at a healthy rate. Among the aphid eaters are wasps (both predatory and parasitic), lady bugs, and lacewings. It is possible to buy lacewings and ladybugs to release, but there are two problems I have found with this approach. One is that once aphid populations drop, so do the populations of predators, which means it is possible to have another aphid growth spurt that harms your plants.

The other problem is ants. Certain kinds of ants will protect aphids from predators; I have such ants in my garden. I don't consider seeking out and destroying the ant colonies as a good option. Ants have a generally beneficial role in the garden. And they just come back unless you keep your garden permanently poisoned; the only thing that deters ants, ultimately, is other ants.
So you can crush the aphids by hand, if you are not squeamish. That worked pretty well when I just had 3 small apple trees, but now I have much more to attend to, and other problems besides aphids.

You can hose the aphids off, but this is of limited effect, they come back quickly, and the spray can spread fungal diseases.

A cheap and effective method is spraying with soapy water. This kills the aphids and even the ants, but not all of them and the ants will quickly move back in. If this method is used it must be used once per week.

The next step upward is spraying with an oil. You can by commercial oil sprays, but I make my own from soapy water and canola oil. The soap disperses the oil. This is very effective. It kills the ants and aphids. But it leaves a messy-looking tree and kills aphid predators too.
So this year I tried something new. Two new things. I released lacewing eggs and larvae I bought from Gardens Alive (there are many other suppliers). That did not do the trick because of the ants.

Instead of spraying oil on all the parts of the trees, or even on the places most infected with aphids (usually the tip-growth areas), I took a paintbrush and coated about a foot of the lower trunk of each tree with canola oil. It took only a tiny amount of oil.

Sure enough, the ants did not like it. To us the oil is a thin film, but ant-scale it is a marsh of a substance that causes them to suffocate. The trail of ants up and down the trees came to a halt. This did leave some live ants stranded in the trees. Eventually they mired themselves in oil and died, or they jumped off. Four days later no ants.

Now the predators are going wild. They will fatten on aphids and reproduce. The aphid and predator populations will fluctuate on the typical carnivore/herbivore fashion.

The and farmers have been eliminated. They upset the ecology. My apple trees look like they set a bumper crop this year. Not to disparage the Braeburns or Kidd's Orange-Red, but my Fuji's are famous for their size, beauty, and flavor.

Unfortunately, out in the greater world we humans are now sucking the planet dry. We farm ourselves and have no predators. Unless we learn to limit our numbers, sooner or later those numbers will crash from disease, starvation, or war. To see more of my writing on the population issue, follow this population link.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Italy, Catholicism, and Fascism Today

I like to point out that in any large enough group of people you will find a great deal of diversity, even if the group is one that defines itself by, and tries to enforce, conformity. This is true of persons describing themselves as Catholic, which may include about 1 billion living people. When I write about Catholicism I tend to mean the version of Catholicism favored by the current majority of the Catholic Church hierarchy. If I mean some narrower group I will indicate that, for example: Italian Catholic; American Catholic; liberation theology Catholic.

The same is true of Fascism. There was a great deal of variety in Fascism even of the classic sort, usually defined by the traits that the German National Socialist Party, the Fascist Party of Italy, and General Franco's government held in common. I hear Democrats call George W. Bush a fascist, but they would never call their revered Franklin Delano Roosevelt a fascist, even though FDR had far more in common with the Big Three - Hitler, Franco, and Mussolini - than George W. Bush does. I'll write more about President-For-Life Roosevelt soon.

The Pope, who is German but, according to the Economist [June 2, 2007, p. 49], is working hard to force Catholicism back into Italian politics. This comes shortly after the Pope declared, while visiting South America, that the Spanish conquest, the killing and enslaving of natives and grabbing their lands, was a good thing. That is because, he believes, or God whispered to him at lunch, the native Americans were yearning for Christianity. Who would not trade mere land, freedom, or life itself for an eternity in heaven?

Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Alois Ratzinger, former member of the Hitler Youth and soldier in the German Army during World War II, was a formidable force in the Catholic Church long before he became Pope. He is best known for his stance against Liberation Theology and the trend towards women's rights and democracy within some Catholic Churches, notably in the United States of America. He was also the model for Cardinal Vlad in the 1990's satire The Last Days of Christ the Vampire.

So far the Pope's moves in Italy have been relatively gentle and might seem to be of little consequence. Rather than going directly after contraception, which the Church opposes, the first step was narrowing what is allowed to happen in fertility treatment centers. In February of this year the Church blocked a plan to extend legal rights to unwed couples, including both gay and heterosexual couples.

The Church is against Living Wills. They don't want old people to give instructions for their own medical treatment.

What does any of this have to do with Fascism? The Catholic Church has always wanted to crush individuality, as it did so successfully during the Dark Ages and Middle Ages. The most fundamental value of Fascism is Totalitarianism, the practice that the State is to make all decisions for all people all the time, including decisions of conscience. The Church has always sought to make the Pope not only a supreme spiritual leader, but a King of Kings (hence the need for kings to be crowned by the Pope during the Middle Ages). The Catholic Church may not have invented Totalitarianism, but has been the globe's most successful historical practitioner of it to date. If the Church fell off its game after the successful rebellion of Martin Luther and then others, it has never, ever, changed its goal of winning.

In the United States we have a lot of people who like to think of themselves as progressive Catholics. They are okay with birth control and often even on women's right to choose to have an abortion. They think women should be allowed to be priests. They think the Church can be diverse and that the faithful have as much right to determine Church policy as the Pope. This is all nice, but it is very strange. Why not just leave the Church, as Martin Luther did? Why fight over the right to the heritage of destruction that is the Catholic Church's?

In Italy there is currently no obvious resurgence in faithfulness to the Catholic Church. No major political party is faith-based. Contraception is so common that Italy's birth rate is among the lowest in the world. Getting baptized or married in a Catholic Church may still be acceptable, but few Italians seem very interested in having a German control freak take totalitarian control of their lives.

The long-term danger, as long as the Catholic Church continues to function at all, is that majority rule is not a church value. General Franco's Spain was 100% Catholic because they shot non-Catholics. No one voted for General Franco; no one voted to end religious freedom in Spain. It happened by force of violence. The Pope may deplore violence committed by Muslims, but he has never renounced violence as a tool for Catholic rule. His statement about the use of violence to convert native American Indians is not just a comment on good times past; it is a dream of things to come.

related articles:
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