Wednesday, July 31, 2013

87th Miracle of Saint Franco confirmed

The following article is reposted from the Vatican Rag:

From deep in the catacombs under the Vatican comes a leak: Saint Franco has his 87th miracle on record. Despite that his official sainthood remains delayed.

There are several odd things about the situation. The most obvious is how difficult it is for the Roman Catholic Church to come by miracles in our times. The Church normally requires only 2 miracles for sainthood. None of the miracles needs to be of the type that we read about in the New Testament. The typical modern Catholic miracle consists of a "miraculous" healing of someone who is ill.

Stop your scoffing right this instant. Recovering from a head cold after a couple of weeks of prayer to a dead Pope is not a miracle. The event has to be an unusual, medically unlikely healing. Like the spontaneous remission of a cancer, only instead of being spontaneous, caused by prayer.

Given cancer spontaneous remission rates, and the tendency of Catholics to try to pray their way out of trouble, you would think the Vatican could certify more miracles. But since 1983 only 2 miracles have been necessary to qualify someone as a saint. Pope John Paul II has managed 2 miracles since he died in 2005, so he is to be sainted later this year.

Meanwhile, Francisco Franco knocked his 87th miracle out of the park, but his sainthood is being held up. Why? Politics.

Saint Franco was born in Ferrol, Spain on December 4, 1892 and baptized a Roman Catholic on December 17. His family had produced officers for the Spanish navy for over two centuries, but President McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and the U.S. Navy sank most of that Navy in the Spanish-American War while grabbing Puerto Rico and the Philippines. So Francisco entered the Infantry Academy and became an Army lieutenant in 1910. He rose quickly through the ranks killing Moroccans fighting for independence from Spain in the Rif War. He became the youngest general in the Spanish Army in 1926.

Saint General Franco became was a monarchist, but the people of Spain set up a Republic in 1931 (not for the first time). Francisco supported the elected government while it was dominated by right-wing Catholic and centrist parties, but in the 1936 election the center-left won. A group of generals and right-wing supporters, including most of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, decided to stage a coup to install a Catholic, fascist government. General Franco assumed command of the Army of Africa. When the coup did not bring an immediate victory, Franco brought this army to Spain where it became the shock troops for the right-wing in the Spanish Civil War. Franco soon became the supreme right-wing leader.

The real miracle of Saint Franco was that he saved the Roman Catholic Church in Spain by killing everyone lacking in faith. Counts vary, but probably 300,000 to 500,000 non-Catholics were killed by Franco's troops. They even killed Catholics, including priests and nuns, who supported the republican government. Over and over they performed the Miracle of the Return of Faith. Franco's troops would enter an area after defeating the Republican army or its allied militias. The local priest would give hand the victorious soldiers a list of people who had not been attending mass. The unfaithful would be rounded up. The men would be shot, the women doled out, and the children also sent out to be adopted by Good Catholics. Pope Pius XI praised Generalissimo Franco repeatedly, and his pals Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini sent troops and weapons to help the Roman Catholic cause in Spain. Saint Franco won the civil war.

Saint Franco and Spain stayed out of World War II, mainly because the Franco's army, while excellent at killing poorly armed and trained militia, was no match for either the army of the British Empire or that of Adolf Hitler. You might have thought the Allies would have gotten rid of Prime Minister Franco, who had become the fascist dictator of Spain in early 1939. However, American Catholics used their leverage in the Democratic Party to keep Franco safely in power. The "democratic" allies did not even require Saint Franco to hold an election. They did not even require him to stop imprisoning and killing non-Catholics. They just wanted to start a new war against Communism, and to have Spain and the Pope on their side.

Francisco Franco ruled Spain until he died on November 20, 1975. The miracles he performed while alive are, of course, legendary. But since he was closely associated in world opinion with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, and since the international conspiracy of non-Catholics prevented the miracle from being publicized outside of Spain, he has been denied official Sainthood.

Our Vatican source says that, unofficially, Franco recently was certified for his 87th miracle. In 2007 a Mrs. Donna Carlos of Madrid became aware of an atheist living in her apartment building. When the apartment supervisor refused to evict him, Mrs. Carlos started praying to a shrine of Generalissimo Franco, and invited other Catholics in the building to pray there as well. Only six weeks after their prays began, God granted their wish. The atheist died in his bed while sleeping. The coroner was not able to find any cause of death; the man's heart and lungs were fine, other than having stopped. The Vatican has declared this (secretly) as yet another triumph over atheism, of which Saint Franco is now the (unofficial) patron saint.

While Franco can't be recognized in the current anti-Catholic social climate, a number of Catholic priests who died during the Civil War have been declared martyrs and are slowly accumulating their own miracles in preparation for sainthood. They are known as the 498 Spanish Martyrs.

See also:

Francisco Franco page
Fascism page
Pius XI page
Pius XII page

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Terraforming Earth

One of the favorite topics of classic science fiction was terraforming. Mars, it was thought, might some day have an atmosphere and climate enough like earth's to allow humans to wander around happily without spacesuits. More grandiose space-operas envisioned this process being taken to planets scattered across our galaxy.

Meanwhile, more or less by accident, we have been reverse-terraforming earth. Generalizing the term to mean any major global changes in a planet, we have been terraforming earth.

And we don't need spacesuits. Not yet. Global temperatures have risen, but mostly that just means more t-shirt weather and the annoying expansion of insect populations.

We were once well down the path to destroying the ozone layer, but scientists convinced politicians to put a halt to that process. Unfortunately part of the terraforming process seems to be the gradual but obvious decrease in intelligence and ethical capacities of politicians. Two decades ago a politician who denied Darwin and other basic science was quaint. Now denying Darwin is a requirement to head science appropriation committees.

The great thing about terraforming is that it is a lot like home decorating: you can go a lot of ways with it. Back before ozone destruction and global warming were well-recognized designer motifs there was nuclear winter. Scientists calculated that if enough atomic bombs went off more or less at once we would not have to worry too much about death by background radiation (presuming we were among those not vaporized by the initial blasts). Instead so much dust and water vapor would be sent up into the stratosphere that the sun's radiation would be reflected back into space. The whole planet would freeze. A few people might survive for a while huddled around nuclear reactors or petroleum depots, but with no sunlight there would also be no agriculture, no food, and eventually not even a satirist left to comment on the stupidity of it all.

By way of terraforming, many plans have been suggested for keeping global warming from becoming too much of a reality. After all, if it ever hits 135 degrees in New York City and the air conditioners on Wall Street break down, the politicians are really going to get an earful. To prevent this we could put up artificial shade, like big umbrellas in orbit, or just purposefully put just the right amount of dust up into the stratosphere. Some global climate change denialists even believe that temperatures will be self correcting because more heat causes more water to vaporize, which forms more cloud cover, which in turn reflects sunlight. Mugginess is the worst case scenario if they are right.

In addition to designing a new room temperature, there are a lot of knickknacks beginning to clutter up old Terra. Canals that cut across continents and shipping both allow species mixing between formerly separate bodies of water. All kinds of cute insects and plants and such are finding new homes that are free of their traditional enemies. This can result in whole forests dying, which is the opposite of trying to get trees to grow on Mars, but which is impressive for a species that likes to think it does great things on purpose.

Asphalt too has a nice way of absorbing sunlight and baking up organic life forms in summer. Factory farming can turn whole states into monocultures just waiting for the right disease or weed to arrive to flip productive farmland into desert.

The earth's ecosystem is large and resiliant. It has survived about a million years of human pranks. Despite the carnage in species, there are still millions of species fighting it out over living space.

For most of those millennia, however, there just were not that many people around. No one was actually counting back then, but likely the human population of earth remained under a billion until around 1900. Now its seven billion or so, and everyone wants a cell phone, centralized heating and air-conditioning, and medical services guaranteed to keep them alive forever.

Maybe we really should think about terraforming Mars. I'd be willing to pay a few extra tax dollars to ship Paul Ryan there to be its first President, along with maybe 80 million Tea Party Republicans to help him get started.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Jefferson's Nails, Morsi's Mishap, and Democracy Dilemmas

Thomas Jefferson famously penned the Declaration of Independence and went on to become Governor of Virginia, U.S. Ambassador to France, and eventually the third President of the United States. The Declaration had some very fine words borrowed from republican, Enlightenment thinking and writings of Britain. The guys who supervised Jefferson and approved it were politicians interested in increasing their own economic and political power, which was being cramped by the elite of the British Empire.

Thomas Jefferson may have been brilliant compared to his peers, but he had many faults and weaknesses. A lot of trouble came from his spendthrift ways. He was born to a fairly prosperous slave plantation owner and can be fairly said to be the founder of the shop-till-you-drop American tradition. He constantly bought expensive horses and wines, scientific gadgets and uber expensive clothing. Later there would be the never-ending construction and reconstruction of MacMansion Monticello.

To pay for all this Jefferson owned roughly 200 slaves (they multiplied over time, but he occasionally sold some off to make ends meet). The British tried to free all American slaves during the Revolution, not just as a war measure but because that was the law of Britain (no slavery can exist on British soil, as had been recently confirmed in the Somerset case). The success of the Revolution confirmed Jefferson and other slaveholders in their human property. While Vice-president (under John Adams), Jefferson attempted to wring more profit from his slaves by setting up a nail factory. Adult slaves were needed to grow tobacco, so the children were employed cutting iron rod and shaping it into nails.

We tend to idealize Democracy, but sometimes a more cynical view gets us closer to the truth. Democracy could just be the best way for certain people to get what they want. Democracies may not be quite so different from dictatorships (or monarchies) as we Americans like to think.

Consider the very recent military/judicial coup against the elected leader of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi. President Morsi does not represent my views. I would like to see a secular, modern Egypt, relatively free of religious nonsense. Morsi is a leader of the Islamic Brotherhood, a puritanical reform group. It is fair to say that Morsi only did what many American Presidents have done: he interpreted winning an election as meaning he could implement his party's agenda and ignore other parties. He was wrong. He should have imitated George Washington. He should have been more moderate and inclusive. His job (from a Democracy theory viewpoint) was to make democracy work, to insure it would work in the future.

But Morsi had a lot of pressure from below, from his own followers. They had never held power, and their views had been dissed by others for decades. He chose to satisfy his base.

The real problem was not with Morsi, but with my fellow secular democrats. They lacked patience. They should have let Morsi rule until the next election, and griped the whole time. They would likely have won the next election. Then they could have tried to fix an overpopulated, undercapitalized nation themselves.

People often want democracy until it does not get them what they want. American foreign policy history is littered with examples. American Presidents have almost always favored only pro-American democracies. Anti-American democracies got the cold shoulder, or financing for opposition (but pro-American) parties, or a CIA-managed coup.

Now it is likely that if the Islamic Brotherhood makes a comeback, they will abandon democracy. Why shouldn't they? At this point bloody revolution looks like a better option, if they can pull it off. Even if they re-establish a democracy in the sense of allowing for elections, at the very least they would be idiots if they did not try to execute the coup leaders.

Back in Jefferson's United States, democracy is under control. All men and women may be created with equal rights, but they start life with such vastly different amounts of wealth that we might as well be governed by an aristocracy. Social mobility has sunk to the lowest level since the founding of this Republic. There are plenty of bright ideas around for improving the situation, but the Aristocracy makes sure such ideas never get off the ground.

Imperialism made most Americans comfortable for several decades after World War II. The Great Recession and our astonishing current national debt (which will balloon further as interest rates rise) should have inspired reforms, but almost the only thing that got patched up was the banking system. We aren't broke yet. We'll think about fixing things if we ever reach that point.

At which point worrying about who would make America's best puppet in Egypt won't seem very important.

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