21 October 2018

Link round-up for 21 October 2018

Various interesting stuff I ran across on the net over the last week.

o o o o o

Dance on the rabbit.

Is it good for squirrels?

Dumb person is dumb (found via Plowing through Life).

Here's how to rescue a cat stuck in a tree, Russian style.

Some people just keep the old car going as long as they can instead of getting a new one.

Where did they all go?

How would wingnuts react to buckets of snakes being dumped on people?

Calvin is getting an early start on Halloween.  Some people are decorating their horses.

If ghosts exist, you might as well shag them.

"We'll see."

Check out these animal X-rays (found via Miss Cellania).

People do change.

What movies scared you when you were young?  (I'm a bit surprised no one has mentioned Alien.)

She's ruining an innocent man's life (found via Scottie).

The alt-right is still throwing amusing tantrums about Taylor Swift.

Might it be possible to suppress Republican voter turnout?

Believe them (found via Juanita Jean).

A dating app for Trump supporters leaked its entire user database the day it went live (I wonder if it will reveal a severe shortage of women members).

Here are some things you don't need to be afraid of for Halloween.

This family has issues.

Who got a tax cut?

Priorities, priorities.

Trumpanzees became Trumpanzees due to a kind of future shock and a deep sense of hierarchy.

An Evangelical upbringing ruined this woman's sex life (found via Mike the Mad Biologist).

Most websites don't honor the "do not track" button.

The enemy wants an authoritarian state modeled on their authoritarian churches.

Flight attendants reveal some secrets (it's gross).

The Cherokee Nation responds to Warren's DNA test.

Republicans don't want you to know the truth about the deficit.

Some women are still harassed by bigots for having interracial relationships (found via Miss Cellania).

Lies are an integral part of fascism and, today, of Republicanism.

Trump's immigration agenda could drive this industry out of the US.

The man of God says murder is no biggie when there's money at stake.

The Republicans are alone in the world in their denial of global warming.

Friends and relatives react with fury to an utterly pointless killing.

This person exists, and there are others like him.

Here are some reactions to the wingnut campaign of slime against Khashoggi.

"Dr." Don Boys explains the Biblical view of rape (be aware, this is ugly).

What is it about Republicans and killing things?

Maybe we can get Kavanaugh interested in global warming.

The European Space Agency is sending a probe to Mercury.

Croatia is home to a wealth of Neanderthal relics.

Gene editing has arrived.  What will we do with it?

Red dwarf stars are prone to "superflares", a bad sign for life or habitability on any planets they have.

Calvin celebrates a win for freedom in Canada.

#%$@!$%!  What century is this???

A bystander thwarts a racist attack in Germany.

Jerry Coyne posts photos of Zagreb.

Kaveh Mousavi has questions and answers on Iran.

The Saudis just do screw things up occasionally (found via Progressive Eruptions).

In the event of a real US-Saudi conflict, here's what each side could do.

Khashoggi was killed because journalists matter.

A bone saw?  My God! (found via Scottie)

Nobody's buying the Saudi cover story.

Trump does words, the Saudis do actions (found via Juanita Jean).

Trump's trade war isn't hurting China very much (found via Mike the Mad Biologist).

Arusha girls' school imposes mandatory pregnancy tests and expels girls who test positive (found via Scottie).

Activists in Cameroon fight against traditional mutilation of girls.

All the gay candidates for Congress this year are Democrats.

I'm glad this guy is my Senator.

The wingnuts are so scared they're pulling this kind of bullshit in Kansas (found via Tengrain on Twitter).

"It doesn't matter.  We won."  Let's make sure they can't say that this November 7th.

Some Republicans are almost running as Democrats.  But even non-Trumpanzee Republicans can't be trusted.

The fundies are out to thwart the blue wave.

There's good news and bad news.

These cartoons are right on target.

Shower Cap reviews the week.

For millions of voters, health care is the top issue.

How much does the Democrats' huge fundraising advantage really mean?

The internet has made political activism easier than ever (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

When Democrats regain power, they must undo the Republicans' illegitimate seizure of the Supreme Court.

[640 days down, 822 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

18 October 2018

The martyrdom of Jamal Khashoggi

The political internet has been shocked by the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi (if you want to know just how gruesome, Booman has some of the currently-known details).  Bloggers who rarely posted about the Saudi regime before are calling for it to be sanctioned and ostracized, while disgust at Trump's excuse-making and coddling of yet another tyranny is arousing widespread condemnation.

I too have been feeling shocked since this story broke, but in my case it proceeds from a different cause.  I'm shocked that everyone else is so shocked.  Have they really not been aware, all along, of what the Saudi regime is like?  Do they really imagine that its hideous treatment of Khashoggi is unusual?

This is a government that beheads people, that cuts off hands for petty crimes in accordance with Sharî'ah law, that inflicts public floggings, that restricts women's freedom so severely that it makes the Iranian regime look practically feminist by comparison, that brutalizes gays even more harshly than most Islamic states do.  At every turn, the comparisons with Dâ'ish (ISIL) force themselves on one's attention.  The Khashoggi murder is entirely within the norms generally displayed by the Saudi despotism.

Maybe some of the net's naïveté stems from the fact that the current de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Bone Sawman, has (rather like Pope Francis) managed to bamboozle some Westerners into considering him a "reformer" of a traditionally highly-conservative regime.  I'm a little skeptical that this is a major point, though.  Most Westerners don't pay anything like as much attention to Saudi Arabia as they do to the Catholic Church.  Far more likely they simply don't know, and don't care to know, about the utter barbarism of a tyranny (arguably the worst in the Middle East, with the possible exception of Asad's in Syria) which has been propped up by US support for decades.  Perhaps flying into hysterical rage every time Israel dares to defend itself exhausts all the energy they have available to devote to that region of the world.

In any case, the murder of Khashoggi seems to have lifted up the rock a little, and drawn attention to some of the slimy things underneath.  If his death finally wakes up Americans to the true monstrousness of the theocracy which has so arrogantly subjugated the ancient land of Arabia for almost a century, then perhaps it will not have been in vain.

[Image at top found via Scottie]

17 October 2018

Dirty tricks

With less than three weeks left before the election, we're seeing the usual Republican dirty tricks in all their slimy glory -- mass rejection of minority voter registrations in Georgia, a law blocking residents of Indian reservations from voting in North Dakota, and bullying like this.  I've also seen a ramping-up of troll comments on left-wing news sites -- deriding this or that Democratic candidate as not progressive enough to be worth voting for, trying to re-ignite the Hillary-vs-Bernie infighting from 2016, etc.  Some of these commenters may be Russian or Republican trolls, some may be actual far-left ideological purists -- but either way the practical effect is to help Republicans, and that's all that matters.  Expect to see more and more of all this between now and election day.

After polls began to foreshadow a blue wave, though, I started to wonder if we'd see something bigger and nastier -- a staged terrorist attack, for example, carried out in hopes of creating a "rally 'round the flag" effect.  Realistically, that seems unlikely.  Even Putin probably isn't reckless enough to do something that would qualify as an act of war if traced back to Russia, and all evidence is that Trump and his gang are too incompetent to pull off such a thing without being unmasked almost immediately.

But be prepared for something else -- say, some sudden "revelation" of dirt so close to election day that there's no time to investigate and refute it, like Comey's announcement about Hillary's e-mail system just before the 2016 election.  Facing massive losses in the House, the Republicans aren't just going to sit back and take it.  These are not people who shy away from dirty tricks.  They're going to try something.

(There's also a slight chance of a real terrorist attack calculated to influence the election.  Groups like Dâ'ish and al-Qâ'idah do better with someone like Trump in power -- it's easier to recruit Muslims to an anti-Western fight when the US is hostile to Muslims generally rather than just to terrorists.  But I think it's unlikely.  Dâ'ish and al-Qâ'idah are badly weakened and unlikely to be focusing much on a US election, especially one where Trump isn't even on the ballot and the best they could hope for is to stop us from undermining him via Congress.)

It's another reason to resist complacency and be ready to fight like hell.  No matter how promising the polls look, don't assume a fair fight.  The enemy will never allow a fair fight.  The striking thing about the Georgia and North Dakota vote-suppression schemes is how flagrant they are.  The Republicans are hardly even bothering to disguise the nature and intent of what they're doing.  Expect worse, much worse, between now and November.

[Image at top found via Mock Paper Scissors, a while ago]

14 October 2018

Link round-up for 14 October 2018

Various interesting stuff I ran across on the net over the last week.

o o o o o

A non-conformist gets some exercise.

Hey, chacun à son goût.

Cats, cats, cats!

It is coming.

Fascists tend to be mystical loonies, thank goodness.

Irony happens.

People's views evolve with time.

Do you drive this car or eat it?

Calvin has a round-up of Trump-related images.

What part of 成龍頭 don't you understand?

Apparently some writers fixate on their characters' clothes, and are still bad at it.  (Who does this?  I've read mountains of novels and never one that obsessed in such detail over how a character was dressed.)

There's a reason why Bambi looks different from other Disney movies.

It's not a witch hunt (found via She Who Seeks).

This is Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland.

We did it all -- we should get the credit (found via Scottie).

The Kanye West episode was just sad.

If they don't respect the privacy of others, let it be open season on them.

Dramatizing history is fine, but keep it realistic.

Without one myth, the whole concept collapses (found via Scottie).

A pharmacy worker gives some practical tips.

Windows 10 is even shittier than you thought.

Paganism is on the rise in the US.

Even non-Abrahamic religions promote a slave mentality -- only one deity truly stands for freedom.

It is not the capitalist who takes the risk.

Here's where the tax-cut money went (found via Progressive Eruptions).

This book doesn't live up to all the hype about the author.

Trump hires only the best.

They can sell it, we can call them out for it (found via Jerry Coyne).

Sometimes people do change, if you give them a chance.

Evangelicals sacrifice sexual assault victims for politics.  It's no wonder victims don't want to talk.

Stan Brock's work deserves to be remembered.

Professor Taboo has been posting a series on Saul of Tarsus and Hellenistic influences on early Christianity.  Here's the latest installment.

Here's an amusing round-up on the Pieter Hanson Twitter episode.

An ex-pastor says Christians need to stop pestering people and get their own act together.

It's not ancient history.

Planned Parenthood prepares for a post-Roe America.

Amazon engages in astroturfing.

We must be free to challenge this ideology of hate (found via Scottie).

Electoral-Vote has analysis and links on Trump's Medicare-for-all op-ed.

In the face of a wingnutized Supreme Court, state courts may provide some protection.

We're demons, apparently.

Trump wants to start breaking up migrant families again.

Was Hitler bisexual?  The "evidence" seems awfully thin.

Having incompetents in charge is a real problem.

Texas pastors sue for the right to discriminate (it seems awfully important to these people).

There's a psychological basis for the weird wingnut belief that liberals slavishly follow "leaders" many of whom we've actually hardly even heard of.

The new IPCC report shows that there's still time to prevent the worst effects of global warming, but it won't be easy.  It would help to stop eating meat.

Giant ugly unicorns once roamed Siberia.

If Trump doesn't want skilled immigrants to come to the US, Canada will gladly take them.

No leftist party should align itself with bigotry.

Yes, these people worked hard, so show respect.

Despite church support, the Romanian referendum against gay marriage has failed.

Trump is harsher on a woman than on enslavers of women.

This is Republican nostalgia.

The race for Governor of Georgia continues a long-running battle over voting rights.

Bredesen may have just thrown away the Tennessee Senate race -- but beware of manipulation.

Heitkamp's opponent is a truly clueless clod.

O'Rourke has raised a massive amount of money, but it may not matter.

Manchin is still worth voting for.

Yes, most Republican women still support Trump -- but fewer and fewer women are Republicans.  The party's efforts to solve this problem are cringeworthy.  November is coming.

This ballot measure could turn Florida a lot bluer.

Shower Cap looks at Kavanaugh, Khashoggi, and a bunch of other stuff.

Max's Dad attends a Trump rally.

North Dakota reservation residents can regain their right to vote despite the recent court ruling.

Trump is losing the Midwest, and the reasons for it are worth reading.

[Image at top found via Chris Kratzer]

11 October 2018

Random observations for October 2018

There is beauty in truth, yes, but there is also truth in beauty.

o o o o o

The strong person is, at a minimum, one who can control his own impulses.  Whoever cannot is a weakling.

o o o o o

Spirituality is the only thing uglier than nature.

o o o o o

Global-warming denialists:  Even if you win the argument, in twenty years your children will curse your memory for the world you condemned them to live in.

o o o o o

Sam Houston was a key figure in the early history of Texas, and he probably wouldn't have been surprised if he'd known that someday the biggest city in Texas would be named after him.  But he could never have imagined that his name would be the first word spoken on the Moon.

o o o o o

The ridiculous efforts to "re-interpret" the Bible to claim that it doesn't condemn homosexuality, exasperating as they are, nevertheless show how thoroughly the taboo on homosexuality has been repudiated by much of society -- that Christianity itself can only be salvaged by denying its connection with the taboo.

o o o o o

World-wide, Muslims outnumber Jews about a hundred to one.  But if you went only by their respective contributions to modern civilization, you'd think it was the other way round.

o o o o o

It was the Republicans' decision, after the election of Obama, to turn American politics into a state of all-out war.  But it makes no sense to pretend that we aren't in a state of all-out war.  At this point, the only option is to fight that war and win it.

o o o o o

If the Christians are right and the universe is ruled by an omnipotent psychopath who would send me to burn forever because I couldn't believe obvious absurdities, then I guess I'm just out of luck.  Threats don't make it any easier to believe the unbelievable, and pretending to believe would presumably be useless since God would know the difference.  Hell of a crappy vision of the universe, though.

[For previous random observations, see here.]

09 October 2018

Like it or not, this woman matters

Taylor Swift, the phenomenally popular singer who has previously avoided talking about politics, finally took a public stand this week, endorsing Democratic candidates in her home state of Tennessee, denouncing reactionary Republican stances on several issues, and urging people to register to vote.  This event drew added entertainment value from the fact that the US alt-right and neo-Nazis have long viewed Swift as a kind of "Aryan goddess" icon and fantasized, on no discernible basis, that she secretly leans toward their views.  Now that she's so brusquely burst their bubble, they have one more thing to fly into a rage about.

But what else happened immediately following Swift's Instagram post?  A dramatic spike in voter registrations, especially in Tennessee, where almost as many new voters registered in the 36 hours after she spoke out as during the whole month of September.

I've tried to make this point before -- mass culture is important.  It has a huge impact on popular attitudes, preferences, and prejudices.  It reaches tens of millions of fans who are determinedly disinterested in conventional politics and politicians.  The enemy is not foolish to lament that liberal ideas dominate mass culture.  Politics is, as the saying goes, "downstream" from culture, and mass-market movies, TV, and music have a deeper and more powerful, if more subtle, influence on culture than yammering from the pulpit about Leviticus (or earnestly reciting safe, focus-group-tested, boring clichés).

Trump has 55 million Twitter followers.  Swift has 112 million Instagram followers.

You may find it exasperating that so many people care what Taylor Swift thinks about politics or whether Queen Elsa is a metaphor for closeted gays, and you may be right.  But the fact remains, people do care -- millions of people, millions of the potential voters we're trying to reach.  Mass culture matters.

07 October 2018

Link round-up for 7 October 2018

Various interesting stuff I ran across on the net over the last week.

o o o o o

I doubt anybody wanted to lick this one.

Every Egyptian who travels outside his country must have a passport.

Most embarrassing sign ever (found via 両刀使い).

Here's a pregnancy announcement with a difference.

You don't owe anything to random weirdos on the internet.

Wolves:  better than American companies.

Check out Ian Hislop's unusual objects from the past (found via MBRU at Crooks and Liars).

Ranch Chimp is getting an early start on Halloween.  More here.  These could be considered Halloween trees.  Debra She Who Seeks celebrates spiders.

Let natural selection take its course.

A lot of us have been "at 59" for a long time.

Demonic possession?  If you seek it, you'll find it.

Christians suffer persecution in the US.

QAnon-addled wingnuts dream of mass arrests of liberals.

The gender gap in pay is especially bad in online freelance work.

Who made these rules? (found via Scottie)

We should not be slaves to the will of those who died long ago.

Kavanaugh is a good Catholic and the Church is sticking up for him.  The Bible is being used to defend him.

Fox News seems baffled by routine technology.

Trumpanzees are driven by cruelty, not ideology (found via Miss Cellania).

Remember the guy who ultimately made this mess possible.

I bet these people still support businesses that turn away gays.

There's evidence that Americans are kinkier than they admit.

If you're not a Christian, even the good things you do are bad.

An Amazon employee speaks about the new $15 pay minimum.

David Schraub looks at anti-Semitism on the left.

This concoction turned out thoroughly nasty.

The Christian fetish of forgiveness is harmful to sexual-abuse victims.

Even in 2018, we need to keep pushing back against censorship.

What would it be like if judges made rulings in accordance with the Bible?

This guy deserved to be fired, and should be prosecuted as well.  Violent assault is not a legitimate response to political differences.

Michigan authorities stage raids on a huge child-molestation network.

Green Eagle has a Wingnut Wrapup focusing on the Kavanaugh circus.  Elizabeth Warren, who knows, says the FBI investigation did not exonerate him.  Deborah Ramirez is not going silent just because he's been confirmed.  Lindsey Graham personifies Republican hypocrisy.  Here's another example of McConnell's hypocrisy.  Ford has become a target of wingnut conspiratardia (found via Shower Cap).

Centuries after Trump and his bullshit are forgotten, this man will be remembered.

Baboons in Ethiopia have formed a symbiosis with wolves which hints at how early humans might have domesticated the ancestors of dogs.

See the landscape of an asteroid, courtesy of Hayabusa-2's landers.

Americans, don't be provincial about Canadian Thanksgiving.

Apparently the Vatican contains this horrible sculpture depicting the Resurrection.

Try to imagine an American President being like this.

Romanians are voting on a referendum to amend their constitution to prevent gay marriage from ever becoming legal there.

Why do people give credence to crude anti-Semitic propaganda?

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Denis Mukwege of the Congo and Nadia Murad of Kurdistan, for their work against the use of rape as a weapon of war.  According to the report, Murad has met the Pope.  Maybe she can have a word with him about the use of rape as a weapon of religion.

If Democrats regain full control in 2020, they must reverse the Republicans' illegitimate seizure of the Supreme Court.

How does Avenatti stack up as a Presidential candidate?

Take nothing for granted -- the enemy is spending big to boost their turnout.

The "both parties are the same" horseshit has been around for a while.

Shower Cap offers some good news and motivation.

[Image at top found via Scottie]

06 October 2018

Kavanaugh cave-in

It's looking now as if Boofy-Boy will be confirmed to the Supreme Court after all.  Some observations:

1)  Heitkamp has the guts to do the right thing even though her re-election effort is in trouble and voting against Trump's nominee may make her struggle even more difficult.  Manchin doesn't, even though he's ahead of his opponent by a comfortable margin.  (Don't mistake my meaning -- we're still better off with that seat held by Manchin, who sometimes votes the wrong way, than by a Republican, who would always vote the wrong way.  But he's the weakest link.)

2)  The Senate Republicans, with the apparent exception of Murkowski, have again shown cowardice.  They've seen ample reasons to reject the Renate Alumnius (sic) even beyond the sexual-assault allegations, but they're frightened of Trump and frightened of the bloodthirsty "own the libs" Morlocks who make up the bulk of their voting base.

3)  Don't think that Ford, Ramirez, and Swetnick made their sacrifices in vain.  They may not have been able to stop the confirmation, but that would have depended on at least two (or three, with Manchin's defection) Republicans finding a sense of honor and the courage to act on it, a very tall order these days.  But they made the enemy's skulking cowardice and hypocrisy far more blatant and obvious.  By relying on a fatuously restricted FBI "investigation" whose results were sneaked out in a ridiculous cloak-and-dagger fashion, they provided Flake and Collins with the most threadbare and forlorn fig leaf imaginable.  No one except the Morlocks will be impressed.  Republicans flagrantly dissed sexual-abuse victims to get what they wanted, in full view of the voters.  Ford, Ramirez, and Swetnick may well have made the blue wave a little -- or a lot -- higher.

4)  The confirmation of Beery Brett will not stop further information from coming out.  Investigations will continue, new accusers may well come forward, and the numerous people the FBI wasn't allowed to talk to may speak out on their own.  All this will raise the likely price Republicans pay in November and beyond.

5)  Much has been made of a poll showing that the fight has boosted Republican voter enthusiasm.  I'm not sure how much difference this will make in the actual outcome in November -- Republican turnout tends to be consistently high regardless of enthusiasm, while that of Democrats fluctuates.  Our side will be driven by anger.  And some of the less-fanatical Trumpanzees' fervor may wane if, as noted above, more evidence against Mr. FFFFF continues to emerge.

6)  We now see that "moderate" Lindsey Graham was dependent all along on John McCain to help him stay in his Dr. Jekyll form.  With McCain gone, he's stuck as Mr. Hyde permanently.

7)  Just as Trump's repulsive antics have degraded and diminished the Presidency, so the presence of Hundred-Kegs Kavanaugh will weaken the Supreme Court.  Much more than the executive or legislative branches, the judicial depends on gravitas and popular deference for its power.  Rulings made possible by a blatantly-partisan judge confirmed despite a cloud of un-investigated allegations will command no such respect.  The Republicans may get their wish and turn the Supreme Court into a mere utensil of political warfare, but it will be a broken utensil.  We knew when Trump took office that he would get the chance to shift the Court to the right.  Be glad at least that his victory here comes with such a constellation of asterisks.

[Image at top found via Hackwhackers.]

03 October 2018

Science vs. religion

The crucial difference between religion and science lies not in what things they hold to be true, but in the basis on which they decide which things to hold true.  Science relies on evidence; religion relies on faith, meaning a willingness to believe things when there is no evidence that they are true.  Science starts with the evidence and accepts whatever conclusion that evidence reveals; religion starts with the desired conclusion (God exists, Heaven exists), and then casts around for some basis for believing it.  Science demands that evidence be objective and accessible to anyone -- its ideal tool is the controlled experiment, designed to test for only one variable, and described carefully enough that any other researcher can do the same experiment and see whether he gets the same result.  Science knows that all humans, including scientists, have biases, and has developed procedures for filtering out such biases from its processes for assessing evidence.  Religion embraces the unverifiable and the subjective -- its central claims (such as the existence of God) are generally formulated so as to be immune to objective testing. The religious believer debating an atheist, when his "arguments" for the existence of God are shot full of holes, will often fall back on what boils down to gut feeling and intuition.  The same untestability which makes such "arguments" unanswerable also makes them useless as tools for discovering truth.

Due to its unique evidence-based approach, science has enabled us to create technology, a vast array of tools that actually work, such as vaccines, computers, anesthetics, space probes, H-bombs, lasers, etc.  No other supposed "way of knowing" has such a track record of creating things that verifiably work in the real world.  Because of this, those groups of humans who have embraced science have acquired great power, not only over the natural world, but also (for good or for ill) over those groups of humans who have been less enthusiastic or less capable in adopting the scientific approach.

Because science and religion approach reality in such different ways, they inevitably come to different conclusions about almost any question which both of them take up. The differences about the age of the Earth, the origin of the human race, and so forth, are too well-known to need citing.  So long as science is free to operate without interference from religion, these differences are not a practical problem for it.  But when religion gains influence in politics, the results can be disastrous.

One of the best examples comes from Middle Eastern history.  In the eighth century CE, Middle Eastern intellectuals discovered the philosophical heritage of Classical Greece and began translating it into Arabic.  In the relatively tolerant climate of the time, the new ideas spread and a class of "philosophers" arose, promoting a skeptical and rationalistic approach to truth (as among the Greeks, the term "philosophy" was used in a broader sense than today, including scientific inquiry).  Many Muslim rulers, themselves interested in the new thinking, downplayed its conflicts with theology in order to justify a policy of tolerance and even encouragement.  Over the next three centuries a kind of scientific age arose, limited by modern standards but impressive for the time -- considerable advances were made in such fields as medicine, mathematics, and astronomy.  As Ibn Warraq has argued, this early so-called "Islamic civilization" was really a revival under Islamic rule of the advanced Hellenistic civilization which had dominated the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean from the time of Alexander the Great's successors to the early Roman period.

There was continuous tension between philosophers and Islamic theologians, however, and around 1100 CE the conflict came to a head with the rise of the new school of Ash'arite theology.  This school's leading proponent, the theologian al-Ghazâlî, attacked the views of the philosophers with devastating effect -- his writings (brilliantly argued, in their own way) wiped away the grey areas which had long enabled philosophers and rulers alike to maintain that there was no inherent conflict between Islam and Greek-inspired philosophy, and that one could thus embrace the latter while remaining a good Muslim.  Since medieval Islam knew no separation of political authority from religion, the triumph of Ash'arite theology meant the end of the medieval Middle Eastern scientific age.  Philosophers were persecuted and exiled, books were burned, inquiry was shut down, and in effect, an entire civilization lobotomized itself.

The decline of any civilization has multiple causes, but in the Islamic case, this self-imposed intellectual stagnation must have played a key role.  Had science not been suppressed in the Middle East, for example, it might conceivably have gone on to develop more sophisticated weapons with which the Muslims could have fought off the devastating Mongol invasions a century later.  Certainly several further centuries of development would have left the Middle East of the nineteenth century far better equipped to resist European colonialism.  But that's not what happened.  Even today, in most of the Middle East, religion dominates government, law, and education to varying degrees.  As a result no Muslim country is a leader in any field of science or technology, though several other non-Western countries are, notably Japan and South Korea (note that those countries are strongly secular).

The story of the rise of science in the West is the story of struggle against reactionary religion.  From Galileo to Darwin, discovery after discovery was bitterly resisted in the name of religious dogma.  Even the twentieth century saw instances of "moral" objections to the development of medicines to treat venereal disease, and religionists today are still fighting against stem-cell research and cloning.  Even the embrace of Lysenkoism by the Soviet state in the 1950s, which crippled the progress of Soviet genetics, should also be counted as an example of this problem -- Communism has most of the essential characteristics of a religion, and Stalin's insistence that truth be determined by consistency with established dogma rather than by evidence perfectly mirrored the danger which religion armed with state power has always presented to science.

It's astonishing that in the United States the threat still persists to some extent.  The Republican party has become the party of religion in politics, leaving the Democrats by default as the party of secularism -- and this is the most fundamental divide between the two.  We are fortunate in that our Constitution would make it difficult to create a real theocracy here.  But the relentless Republican efforts to undermine science education (especially evolution), attack research that violates taboos, and give religious nonsense equal standing in official policy -- all this risks deepening the public's already abysmal ignorance of science and incomprehension of its value.  The repressive social policy which is the chief focus of the Christian Right's political activism would, if implemented, likely do even more to stunt the country intellectually.  Most creative people are not the sort that can be happy living under a bunch of bronze-age taboos written into law by scowling would-be ayatollahs.  Many would leave, taking the benefits of their creativity and innovation elsewhere.

The Ash'arites of modern America know this is the end-game for them.  They know religion is in decline demographically and that this is their last chance to reassert their dominance and that of their medieval mentality in our society.  I believe they will lose.  But they will lose because we fight like hell against their influence.

02 October 2018

Video of the day -- gods and monsters

I made a similar point about totalitarian ideologies here.  It's likely that the "real" religions we've had for centuries started partly as personality cults around a charismatic leader.  They're not so different.  Luckily, free societies are immunized against the rise of new religions by one of the same defenses that is destroying the old ones -- humor and irreverence.  Trump may wish he could become a semi-divine cult figure like the Kims, but it can't happen in the face of the relentless ridicule of which he makes himself such a juicy target.

30 September 2018

Link round-up for 30 September 2018

Happy Blasphemy Day!  Celebrate by blaspheming the deity of your choice.

o o o o o



I'm baffled by this photo -- it looks like either some horrifying alien incubator, or an orange that's somehow being used as a battery (found via Professor Taboo).

Modern girls use old-style phones.

♫♫Walk the dinosaur!♫♫

They can't really be this stupid.  They just can't.

OK, this is even stupider (here's the real explanation).

Different drinks for different folks.

Hysterical Raisins canonizes Saint Brett the Virgin.

This looks cool as hell, but watch out for low bridges.

Try a new baked potato recipe.

Apparently Mormon bubble porn is a thing (but the concept actually comes from -- where else? -- Japan).

Turtle time!

This kind of nuance must drive foreigners nuts when they study English.

Scottie has some more religion imagery.

Professor Chaos has some fun with stupid headlines.

Big things are big.

Don't be a slave to the phone.

Vanilla is good.


See color photos of Paris -- from 1909.

"The things found on the earth are kept by the collector."

Which would you prefer -- being able to see the future or change the past?

Ghosts can indicate a more serious underlying problem.

Christine Ford touched the bell.

Yes, we can afford Medicare for all.

Atheist writer ObstacleChick addresses Evangelical women.

Some Catholic priests in Pennsylvania molested girls, not boys, in some cases impregnating them.

Avenatti is not intimidated at all by Trump.

Pope Francis is a totally irredeemable piece of shit (found via Scottie).

This list reads like it was written by somebody who was guilty of something.

The Kavanaugh fight has become part of the culture war.  The one-week investigation has begun, but we don't know how comprehensive it will be.

Green Eagle looks at some characters at the Kavanaugh hearing (do click on the photo under #3 to see it full-size -- it's revealing).  Here's a round-up of coverage of the hearing.  Shower Cap reviews it, his way.  Even if he's innocent, Kavanaugh may be too dishonest and too volatile for the Supreme Court.

Bryan Fischer says Kavanaugh's accusers are doing the work of Satan (maybe he's following Pope Francis's example).  48% of white Evangelicals say they would support Kavanaugh even if the accusations are true.  Here's some more of the enemy's attitudes, and here's how the QAnon qrackpots are reacting.

Keep track of Republican rape gaffes with this handy chart (found via Crooks and Liars).

Christianity must evolve to fit the time of Trump.

The Carpentariat and Progressive Eruptions observe McConnell's abject hypocrisy.

Galileo tried to play nice with the Church.  It didn't work.

Here's what Finland is like.  It wasn't always so.

A year ago other countries were trying to get along with Trump -- now they're learning to just work around him (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

A democracy should not coddle a theocratic thug (needed:  a "baby Erdoğan blimp").

Russia managed to get through three fake kings in a dozen years.

Google is being evil, and is trying to shut up employees who don't like it.

China is trying to educate Iowa voters about trade wars.

These politicians are dumb.

Trumpanzees just want to "own the libs", but what if McConnell can't deliver?

[619 days down, 843 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

27 September 2018

Lies and threats -- a personal note

In assessing the drama around Brett Kavanaugh, the key question is whether one believes his accusers are telling the truth or not.  In my two postings on the topic this week, I've said that while I recognize that it's impossible to know for certain, I tend to find the accusations credible.  More importantly, I've said why.  Others may reach a different conclusion, of course.  But having expressed that judgment, it's perhaps relevant -- maybe even obligatory -- to mention that I myself was once the target, not of an actual false accusation, but a threat of one.

This happened in 2000 or 2001 -- I can't narrow it down any further -- and involved a woman I'll call LL who lived across the street from me.  She was also a co-worker at the company where I worked at the time.  I had gotten to know her fairly well, and when she asked to borrow $150 from me because she needed to buy some stuff for her kids, I loaned it to her without much hesitation.  (Yes, there had been a number of "red flag" clues about her actual character which I had ignored.  I've had something of a history of being naïve in my judgments of people -- which is why I don't trust people easily now.)

After some weeks went by without LL paying me back or saying anything about doing so, I started asking her about it.  Her reactions were evasive and rapidly became aggressively hostile.  Eventually, she told me that if I didn't stop asking me about the money, she would call the police and tell them that I had been "peeping" at her through her windows.

To be clear here, I had never done anything that she could even remotely have honestly mistaken for such behavior.  She was flatly threatening to tell an out-and-out lie.

Needless to say, I stopped asking about the money.  For $150, it wasn't worth the risk.  I avoided any contact with LL and even stopped going out in the street unless necessary, to minimize the risk of running into her unexpectedly.  I do remember that some time later, when the company got into financial trouble (she was no longer working there, but I was), she gloated that I was going to lose my job and get evicted.  I can't remember the circumstances under which I heard her say this, since we were no longer on speaking terms, but it definitely happened.  In any case, I didn't get evicted, and it was she who moved out soon after -- whether voluntarily or by eviction, I have no idea.

After LL was gone, one day I was talking to another neighbor and mentioned this incident, and the neighbor said, "Oh, she borrowed money from everybody on this street and never paid it back."

In hindsight, I doubt that LL's threat to call the cops on me as a "peeping tom" would have done me much harm even if she had carried it out.  I had never been accused of any such thing before -- because I've never done any such thing -- and since she had ripped off other neighbors (though I didn't know that at the time), the police might have found my explanation more credible.  But at the time, the threat was quite frightening.  And what if she had conveyed the same accusation to the company where we both worked?

The point is, I'm not blind to the reality of false accusations being made by malignant people for whatever reason.  I know from experience that it's a real possibility.  I don't approach a story like the Kavanaugh saga with a fixed idea that accusations of sexual aggression by a man are always true and must be believed without question.

In such a case, all we can do is look at whatever other evidence is available, and how logically plausible it is that someone would lie.  In this case, accusations by multiple people are more credible than just one person; the accusers have a great deal to lose by coming forward, in the form of threats and disruption of their lives; Ford's testimony has been judged credible even by people ideologically inclined to side with Kavanaugh; and in the case of Swetnick, Avenatti potentially has even more to lose by putting the full weight of his reputation behind such serious charges against a powerful man with powerful allies.  So I tentatively judge it most likely that the accusers are telling the truth.  I'm certainly open to new evidence to the contrary, of course.  But I don't believe I'm biased in the accusers' favor.

26 September 2018

The Swetnick bombshell

By now everyone knows of today's announcement from Michael Avenatti of Julie Swetnick's explosive new accusations against Brett Kavanaugh.  Swetnick's entire declaration is here in easy-to-read form.

Grassley had planned to vote on confirmation this Friday, just a day after Christine Ford's testimony.  It’s hard to imagine that vote going ahead now.  Swetnick’s declaration won’t just evaporate out of everybody’s memory if Kavanaugh is confirmed.  If the Republicans bulldoze him onto the Supreme Court in the face of this, a lot of voters are going to be really mad, and the election is barely over a month away.  If they do go through with it, he might even be removed later if charges are filed.  Involvement in multiple gang rapes is a serious enough crime to be prosecuted even decades later.  If that doesn’t happen, it could serve as grounds for impeaching him off the court.

Swetnick's accusations do raise some questions which will have to be addressed:

- Why did she continue going to these parties if there were gang rapes happening at them?  Why did other women do so?

- If such things were repeatedly happening at parties, wouldn't other people -- somebody -- have spoken out at the time?

- Why didn't earlier background checks on Kavanaugh reveal any hint of such crimes?

These questions will need to be addressed -- indeed, they make up the core of the right-wing internet's reaction to Swetnick's claims.  It seems likely, though, that they can be addressed.  Avenatti is no fool.  He's just accused a powerful judge of participating in a series of violent felonies.  As a lawyer he knows well the consequences of doing that without being able to back it up -- Kavanaugh (and Mark Judge) could sue him into oblivion, and it would mean the end of his ability to practice law and would abort any political ambitions he has.  That is to say, if he's not damned sure of this, he's just committed professional and financial suicide.

But if Kavanaugh is guilty of what Swetnick asserts, then he is equally doomed.  Even being confirmed to the Supreme Court wouldn't save him, if there were enough evidence to prosecute him later.  And there would be -- if those rapes actually happened, there must be multiple victims and witnesses who are still alive.

This is deadly serious.  The outcome will probably sway the results of more than a few House races in November.

My inclination is still to believe the accusers.  There are three of them now, and the more there are, the more credibility each one has.  And as I pointed out in yesterday's post, they have a lot to lose by coming forward.  Even if their claims are vindicated, they will probably face threats and hatred from Trumpanzees for years to come.

The next move is, I suppose, Grassley's.  Please proceed, Senator.

25 September 2018


I haven't posted about the Kavanaugh drama -- not because I've failed to notice its importance, but because it's being covered so heavily on political blogs and news sites that there seemed little left to say that wasn't already being said.  I've also been riveted by the much larger story which has erupted within the Catholic Church with the new revelations and fury over the molestation cover-up scandals.  What happens with the US Supreme Court affects only one country, whereas the Catholic Church's power reaches dozens of countries.

But it is an unendurable provocation to see the right-wing internet adopting a stance of oblivious self-righteousness about the Kavanaugh battle, as they are now increasingly doing (example), and especially to see McConnell himself denounce the accusations as a "shameful smear campaign", insinuating not only that the accusers are lying but that Democrats are depraved in making an issue of them at all.

A specter is haunting this confirmation fight, one that Republicans are struggling mightily to ignore -- the specter of Merrick Garland.  When McConnell and his gang refused to even consider Garland, they crossed a very fundamental line, denying President Obama the exercise of one of the most important powers of the office with which he had twice been entrusted by the voters.  (The claimed need to "wait for the election" was entirely specious -- a President is elected to a four-year term and is expected to exercise the full powers of the office during that entire term.  Senators who are up for re-election do not refrain from voting during their last year in office on such grounds.)  They showed that the Constitution, tradition, and playing by the rules meant nothing to them -- that it was all about power at any cost.  They showed that they were dead to any sense of shame or honor.

And in doing so, they lost any right to be treated honorably.

I believe Ford, Ramirez, and the others now starting to come forward are probably telling the truth about Kavanaugh.  The costs to them of speaking out are enormous -- Ford is already getting death threats from the slavering Morlocks who make up the core of Trump's support, and the accusers will probably never feel really safe for the rest of their lives.  And Ford has behaved like someone who is telling the truth.  Granted, if Kavanaugh were on trial for the assaults he's accused of, what we've seen so far would not meet the standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt that we rightly demand for a conviction.  But he's not on trial.  He's not at risk of going to prison.  We are entitled to judge by what the evidence suggests is most likely to be true.  And so is the Senate, and so are the voters to whom the Senators are answerable.

But even beyond all that, McConnell is simply in no position to call anything or anyone "shameful", ever again.  Nor are those who conspired with him to deny Garland a hearing, or those who tried to defend that action.

If the Kavanaugh nomination collapses and Democrats win control of the Senate, they should reject any other nominees Trump (or Pence) sends them, even though it means holding Kennedy's seat vacant for over two years.  In this case, two wrongs really do make a right -- in fact, that would be the only way of making this right.  The Republicans have shown that they will do whatever they have the raw power to get away with.  There must be payback in kind.  And their move to shift the Court to the right, illegitimately made possible by that power play, must be thwarted.

(The only circumstance in which the Senate should confirm a Trump nomination to the Court is if Trump re-nominates Garland, thus himself righting the wrong done by McConnell -- something I can safely say is drastically unlikely.)

Many people hope that someday moderation and compromise will return to the government and end the politics of raw power.  But in order for that to happen, the Republicans need to be shown that there's a massive price to be paid for what they've been doing.  It is pointless to declare peace before the aggressor has surrendered or at least shown a real willingness to negotiate.

In the meantime, Trump and the Senate Republicans (and most of the wingnut internet) seem determined to cling to Kavanaugh and ride out the storm.  Let them.  The longer they lie down with this dog, the more fleas they will get.  And if they bulldoze a confirmation vote through, to make this a done deal before any more accusers and evidence can surface -- well, those accusers and evidence will surface anyway, and the Senators who voted to deny them their say will find that they can't deny the voters their say.  Some of them have enough of those slavering Morlocks among their constituents to win regardless.  Some don't.  They'll learn that raw power cuts both ways.