23 April 2014

Catacombs of the blogosphere

I've been blogging for almost eight years now, and have been on the internet even longer.  During that time there are many blogs I've read regularly and grown attached to.  The great thing about a blog is that it's totally an expression of its author; unlike with print publications in the old days, there's no editor or anyone else standing between author and reader.  If a blogger is dedicated to liberal politics but also has a passionate interest in, say, gardening and jazz music, then there will be some posts about liberal politics and others about gardening or jazz music.  Each blog is different; each one is personal.

So it's noticeable when a blog ends.  Oh, they don't usually disappear, but new posts dwindle to nothing and eventually stop, leaving only a frozen monument which may endure as long as the internet itself does.  Or sometimes the blog truly does disappear.  At any rate, a voice has fallen silent in the blogosphere.

Acme's Buddhist Catalogue
Around Town with Rita
Bay of Fundie
Blonde Nonbeliever
Finding the Pony
Four Dinners
Godlizard
Gothic Atheist
The Last Lemurisian
Masterblurber
Momma Politico
Prash
Preliator pro Causa
Random Thoughts
Reason Being
Robert the Skeptic
Vamp's Worldview

And there are more.  In a couple of these cases, I know for a fact that the blogger simply moved on to other things or no longer had time.  For the rest, who can know?

There are a few others who have been silent for some while now:

Hello Mr. President
Kay's Thinking Cap
Maria Konovalenko
Mario Piperni
Parsley's Pics
Plutocrap
Uzza's Notes

Hopefully they're just taking a break.  Their absence is felt.

20 April 2014

Frozen warmth

Last year's musical Disney film Frozen was a monster hit.  Globally it made well over a billion dollars, becoming the sixth-highest-grossing movie ever, and the highest-grossing animation.  Its fans, however, decidedly did not include many among the Christian Right in the US, who accused it of clandestinely promoting the dreaded gay agenda.

I haven't seen the movie, only read about the controversy; but I recently ran across the video of the film's most popular song, "Let It Go", which stimulated some observations.

First, here's what the controversy is about, in brief.  The character of Princess Elsa was born with an awesome power to control ice and snow with her mind, and is able to feel comfortable in extreme cold.   Her power is presented as something dangerous and "weird", a deep dark secret which has to be hidden lest people outside the family find out.  Eventually she is no longer able to hold her secret in; being found out for what she is, she flees the town where she grew up for the snowy mountains where she can be herself.  A summary is here; the Christian viewpoint is given in detail in this blog post.

OK.  This storyline does somewhat parallel the experience of a young gay person growing up in a repressive environment and eventually rebelling or escaping.  I think Christians of an earlier era would have complained that it was promoting sympathy for witchcraft, not homosexuality -- but as you'll see, that relates to what I think is the real point here.

On to the song.  I chose this version because it shows the words in writing, and the words are important.



First off, this is one hell of a song.  The meditative beginning relies heavily on the piano (the most emotionally-resonant instrument, as I observed here); then it builds up into a rousing celebration of personal freedom.  As for what she's saying:

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn't keep it in, heaven knows I tried
Don't let them in, don't let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know
Well, now they know!

I don't think it can be denied that this is a deliberate expression of what it feels like "growing up different" and having to hide what you are.  If you haven't had the experience of going through life having to hide something important about yourself, you simply can't know what it's like.  I suspect the liberal writers who dismissed that interpretation are mostly people whose core personalities don't include any seriously unconventional elements, and thus did not have that experience.

It's time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I'm free!

And now we're right past lamentation of having to hide and straight into antinomianism.  Elsa proceeds to build a magnificent ice palace for herself using sheer force of will.  She's no longer a victim or even a liberated ex-victim.  She's powerful.

I suppose one could argue that that reflects the current reality for gays.  At least in liberal parts of the United States, gays don't need to hide; on the contrary, the balance of power has shifted enough that the CEO of Mozilla could be forced out of his job for siding with the bigots years ago, and some Christian conservatives are talking about terms of surrender in the culture war.  But that can't be the movie's point, or it wouldn't have made such a big issue of Elsa having to hide the truth about herself.

I don't think the message here is about gays specifically at all; it's something much broader.  There are a lot of ways in which an individual can be different from the norm, and spend a lifetime struggling to balance being true to oneself with the need to hide that truth from the world for fear of ostracism or worse.  Gays are an exceptional case in having won so much acceptance and freedom to openly be who they are.  Atheists have begun to make the same kind of progress, and there are those who argue that we should consciously model our own fight for acceptance on the gays' successful strategies.  Some other taboos' death grip is still hardly challenged; the world is full of people who disapprove of things.  Elsa isn't the gay kid who has to hide, or at least not only that.  She's everyone who has to hide.  If you're an atheist who arrived at that viewpoint still young, in a religious environment, couldn't the song lyrics above apply just as well to you?

I'm glad that message found such a wide audience.  Someday we'll all be powerful, and build that magnificent palace.

Link round-up for 20 April 2014

Happy zombie bunny day!

Here are some cool pictures of giant statues (found via Mendip) -- I've seen the second one.

The pitiful character of the racist mind is exemplified by these feeble efforts to mock Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Here's a suitable reward for Pascal's wager.

Women weigh in on male circumcision.

Nebraskans have a message on Keystone XL.

No, I imagine this guy doesn't get many dates.

A Duck Dynasty event in Missouri is canceled due to lack of interest.

The US Postal Service finally gives Harvey Milk his stamp (and check out these Finnish ones).

OK, here's a person who was helped by religion.

An enigmatic stone pyramid, built for the end of the world, stands in North Dakota (found via Mendip).

Pay gaps are important, but don't forget the real issue.

Oops, people are actually reading the Bible.  The story of Judas illustrates how muddled up the thing is.

Houses get bigger and bigger and shittier and shittier.

Keeping control of the Senate does matter.

Apologists for Islam use guilt by association to try to muzzle New Atheists on the subject (my comment on this post is heartfelt!).

The US is suffering a scientific brain drain due to endless budget-cutting.

Matthew Yglesias makes the case for confiscatory taxation (found via Frank Moraes).

Here's a look at singing satirist Tom Lehrer, who helped launch the counterculture.

Republicans grapple with how to address Obamacare's beneficiaries.

Kaveh Mousavi reviews Greta Christina's Coming Out Atheist.

Losing the culture wars, the right wing is also losing its belief in democracy.

Oregon sees an ugly response to the anti-bullying Day of Silence (found via Republic of Gilead).

Jon Stewart has a few words on taxation.  Bill Maher has some on the private sector.

Racist websites seem to be fostering murderers.

Faye Kane (NSFW blog) explains the free market (I love this graphic) and -- this week's must-read -- growing up.

Advertisers continue to desert Limbaugh.

It's absurd to claim that religion caused the rise of science.  (This is how I feel sometimes.)

Yet another sex scandal rocks the Christian Right (found via Republic of Gilead).

Following in Ted Cruz's footsteps, Mitch McConnell self-pwns on Facebook.

Muslim cab drivers in Ohio walk off the job rather than drive cabs with ads for the Gay Games.

Being right doesn't mean jack unless we can win elections.

Here's a study of moral views in 40 countries (the differences between countries are interesting).

Witch hunter Helen Okpabio heads for Britain, where her message faces resistance (found via Republic of Gilead).

Birmingham, UK is investigating an alleged Islamist plot to take over city schools.

Russia's economy suffers from the Ukraine crisis and Putin's incompetence, but persecution of gays is still vigorous.  Putin's aggression is uniting Ukraine, while his puppets in Donetsk turn ugly indeed.

Why are Islamists in Iran in such a snit over an American scholar's desire to be buried in Isfahan?

A Muslim school in Pakistan honors Osama bin Laden.

The Muslim state of Brunei introduces stoning to death for homosexuality, blasphemy, and other "offenses".

Kentucky researchers restore feeling and control to victims of spinal-injury paralysis.

No, saving the world won't cost too much.

UpdateMy 2011 post on Easter has been getting a lot of views today for some reason -- so there's a link for anyone else who's interested.

17 April 2014

Video of the day -- enough of this shit!


India has a problem -- people crapping in public. "Daily 620 million Indians are defecating in the open.  That's half the population dumping over 65 million kilos [70,000 tons] of poo out there every day."  Clearly a significant public health hazard, and so an official campaign against this behavior has been launched, complete with the catchy theme song and video above.

16 April 2014

An ally in need

Ed Brayton is one of the most prolific bloggers out there, often putting up several posts a day, taking on the right wing with special emphasis on the Christian Right.  Now he's under attack and needs our help to defend himself.  I know none of us are exactly rolling in money these days, but give what you can.  I have.

13 April 2014

Tribute to a fallen warrior

Today is the birthday of Christopher Hitchens, one of our era's greatest intellectual fighters against religion.  He is gone now.....



.....but we still have his words, which are immortal.







Link round-up for 13 April 2014

Murr Brewster is doing her taxes.

An artist awesomely alliterates the alphabet.

Try not to ever get stuck in an elevator with this person.

Movie titles can describe, well, pretty much anything.

Necrophile otters terrorize the Pacific coast of Canada and the US.

Our next President meets Russia's gutsiest rockers.

By their fruits ye shall know them.

Let Jesus help with your make-up.

Here's a whole lot of weird-looking animals (found via Ramona's Voices).

Max's Dad reviews Noah.

Fundamentalism welcomes, uh, not quite everyone.

Republicans debate the merits of saying stupid things.

Kate Mulgrew has denounced that geocentrist film that used her voice.

Why aren't wingnuts teachers?

Here are the real death panels.

Some people take house-hunting way too seriously.

Another day, another idiot statement from a Republican (sent by Mendip).

Bees have a haven in Eugene, Oregon.

Gene Roddenberry got it right (found via Atheist Nerd Girl).

Hrafnkell Haraldsson looks at Iowa's Governor trashing the First Amendment.

That Pew study showing that whites become more conservative as minority numbers grow got a lot of attention, but its premises are questionable.

LA police sabotage equipment installed to monitor their activities (found via Earth-Bound Misfit, who cites some choice words on Southern irredentism).

No, science and religion aren't compatible, and there's no common ground on abortion.

Shittiest Republican vote-suppression trick yet:  close the bathrooms.

The bizarre persecution complex of US Christians is thoroughly delusional (found via Republic of Gilead).

This week's clashes in Nevada were fueled by lurid lies in the right-wing media.

Old-fashioned attitudes keep the South especially vulnerable to HIV.

Here's exactly what's wrong with Jim DeMint's bizarre blitherings about slavery.

A fundie evangelist fumes that the internet is destroying Christianity simply by making other views available.

Aaron Miller is running for Congress to get evolution out of the schools -- need I even say that he's a Republican?

The Day of Silence against anti-gay bullying draws a pro-bullying response.

David Koch once ran for President.  Here's his platform.

Against stupidity, the best weapon is often laughter.

Jeb Bush's positions on issues make him an unlikely Republican Presidential nominee.

Public outrage works!  UPS has re-hired 250 workers whom it fired for striking.

Republicans' dreadful austerity budget hands Democrats an election issue.

Jane Austen's style wasn't quite what you think.

Scientifically-illiterate Congressmen threaten global disaster.

Christian fundies, with Muslim support, are attacking freedom in Europe.

Britain's Conservative government abandons its insane austerity policies and the economy begins to recover -- and they claim this proves austerity worked!

Are they out of cartoonists?  A poet critical of Islam gets violently attacked in Denmark (found via The Religious Nonsense Report).

Teabaggish craziness is on the rise -- in France (found via Republic of Gilead).

Eastern Ukraine is not like Crimea, and if Putin invades, he'll have his hands full.

Here are a few photos of ordinary Iranians. And here are some pictures of Isfahan, showplace of Islamic-era architecture (found indirectly via Margin of Error).

Kaveh Mousavi interviews a fellow Iranian atheist, who has an interesting story.

A priceless Classical-era statue becomes hostage to politics in Gaza.

Let girls take PE, and the next thing you know, they'll become hookers.

A new investigation strengthens the link between fracking and earthquakes.

This is how deep MH370 lies.

Scientists in London are making body parts in the lab for transplant, mostly noses.  In North Carolina they're working in a different area.

Basic organic nanobots are being tested in cockroaches.

12 April 2014

Courage and cowardice

We've long known that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of the most courageous atheists active today.  We've just found out that the people who run Brandeis University are cowards.

By now most readers have probably heard the story.  Brandeis had publicly announced plans to give Hirsi Ali an honorary degree in May.  Then, after some Muslim students launched a petition against the honor, Brandeis canceled it, citing certain critical statements she had made about Islam which the University had previously been unaware of -- a preposterous claim, since Hirsi Ali's forceful critique of Islam is what she is primarily known for.

I've seen no suggestion that Brandeis was threatened with violence.  They apparently backed down in the face of the willingness of Muslims (and the usual tiresome hypocrites who side with them in such cases) to enforce a particularly ugly form of political correctness, one which taints and shames much of the left and the atheist movement in the West.

I'm referring, of course, to the double standard according to which Islam cannot be criticized and called to account for its atrocities the way Christianity is.  To be sure, the scope of the problem is shrinking.  New Atheist leaders such Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris have always attacked Islam just as forthrightly as Christianity, recognizing that the two religions are fundamentally similar -- and over time more Western atheist bloggers have been willing to take on Islam.  But in some quarters the smearing of critics of Islam as "racist" (an absurd claim, since Muslims can be of any race, just as Christians can) persists, and there are still plenty of cowards who will back down in the face of name-calling, however groundless.

There's also the matter of Hirsi Ali's association with the right wing in the West, notably accepting employment at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank.  While I admit I'm uncomfortable about this (especially since the US right wing itself is so dominated by religious crazies), it's understandable in view of her shabby treatment by some on the left, going back to her speaking out against clitorectomy among Muslims in the Netherlands, when she was told she was exaggerating the problem, should tone down her criticisms, etc.  When Nelson Mandela was challenged over the anti-apartheid movement's willingness to align with Communists, he replied that an embattled liberation movement was in no position to be choosy about its allies -- and since rightists in the West were mostly hostile, he could hardly be blamed for seeking help elsewhere.  The same point applies here.

She also supports political forces in Europe which oppose Muslim immigration, but again, this is hardly surprising and indeed a common-sense position.  She knows better than anyone the menace posed by Islamism to secular Western civilization, culminating in the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim because he had worked with her on a film critical of Islam.

Brandeis's cowardice seems to have stirred up quite the online hornet's nest; one can only hope it will draw even more attention to Hirsi Ali's writings and work than the honorary degree itself would have done.

Hirsi Ali currently runs the AHA Foundation, which supports women's rights against "oppression justified by religion and culture".  Her response to Brandeis can be read here.  In the atheosphere, so far I've seen forthright commentary on the story from blogger Ophelia Benson, Iranian atheist Kaveh Mousavi, and American Atheists president Dave Silverman -- and I'm sure there are other responses out there.  From some of the non-atheist-identified left, I'm seeing evasion, hypocrisy, and smears -- let's hope they'll someday find the decency to look back in shame at what they're now writing.

09 April 2014

Defining the struggle

The point of this post is one that should ideally need no clarification, but a recent conversation and a couple of discussions on other blogs have reminded me that it sometimes does.

The central conflict in the world today is the massive struggle -- often and accurately called a "culture war" -- between secular modernity and what I call "malignant traditionalism", which consists mostly of militant religion, especially Christianity and Islam.  These religions' historical impact and continuing influence are, I believe, so destructive and dangerous that in the long run our goal must be to eradicate them from our societies.

How feasible that is, and in what time-frame, is a whole complex issue in itself.  My concern here is the risk of the goal being misunderstood by people unfamiliar with atheist thinking.  Religionists like to respond to our every success at getting their boot off our necks by screaming that we are "persecuting" them.  The claim has no credibility, not just because we aren't persecuting them, but because doing so would not serve our real purposes.

A religion is not a group of people.  It's a set of beliefs of the type Richard Dawkins calls "memes", which has in a very real sense "evolved" to take root and spread in its available environment, which is human minds.  I consider a religion a sort of mental parasite which uses humans as host organisms and modifies their behavior with the goal of spreading the religion to others, as parasites in the natural world do.

It's a distinction, however, that not everyone grasps, as can be seen from the comment thread here.  The linked post focuses on the recent decree by the Saudi Arabian regime declaring advocacy of atheism, or any kind of opposition to the regime, to be "terrorism".  An act characteristic of a tyrannical theocracy, but the comment thread itself is dominated by a hysterical and incoherent individual declaring all Muslims to be irredeemably slaves to their religion and calling on them to be "nuked" -- read it for yourself, I'm using sanitized language here.  I actually doubt that this person is an atheist, since one almost never sees atheists using such violent rhetoric, but the point remains.

You can see my responses at the link.  The point I want to emphasize here is that in the war against religion, most religious people are not the enemy -- they are the battlefield.  Yes, some (mostly leaders, such as Khomeini or Ratzinger) are genuinely evil and have to be treated as such -- but in most cases we're dealing with, not an army, but a population afflicted with an epidemic.  This is a "war" more like the war on, say, AIDS or malaria than like a literal war.

We've been fighting it this way for centuries, and achieved a great deal thereby.  Compared with the situation 400 years ago when religion was all-powerful, the Western world has already traveled 90% of the way to a religion-free society.  That was not accomplished by force or violence (even though the enemy has often used violence against us).  It was achieved by using a wide variety of persuasive techniques (including, as I've stressed elsewhere, ridicule) to undermine the parasite's grip on the minds under its dominion, eventually uprooting it or, more commonly, weakening its effects to a nearly negligible level, reducing religion to a mere label devoid of fervor.  With the recent rise of "New Atheism" and its far more aggressive lines of attack, unbelief has proliferated in the United States with astonishing speed, while the Christian Right shrinks and loses ground even while growing more extremist and militant.  A large minority of Americans are now non-religious, while far more adhere to a Christianity so shallow and vapid that it no longer presents a substantial threat.  These persuasive techniques are the only weapons we need.  They are working.

They are working even in places that seem utterly unpromising.  Iranian atheist blogger Kaveh Mousavi explains here how he has had great success at bringing fellow Iranians around to discard Islam and embrace atheism, by showing them how the mushy "moderate" position is untenable.  That's the way to get this done -- the Middle East will be de-Islamized the same way the West is being de-Christianized, and Middle Eastern atheists are in the best position to lead the process.  Crazed rhetoric about throwing nuclear bombs around, or violence more generally, is not just useless -- it's offensively stupid.

Eradicating religion does not mean killing or persecuting religious people any more than eradicating AIDS means killing or persecuting AIDS patients, and for the same reason.

08 April 2014

New on my reading list

This is just to highlight a few interesting blogs I've recently found.

Margin of Error is written by Kaveh Mousavi, an Iranian atheist actually living in Iran (so this is of course a pen name, for safety).  For me, it's already been a very valuable source of inside information on that country, and Mousavi has a unique and rather radical perspective of his own on atheism, not afraid to go outside the channels that often seem to limit atheist thinking in the West.

Atheist Nerd Girl just started blogging this month and already has some solid posts up on prayer, Biblical contradictions, Christian propaganda, and why it's necessary to confront religion.  I hope she'll be sticking around.

The Religious Nonsense Report is pretty much explained by its title.  The nonsense is sorted into Christian, Islamic, and Jewish categories for easy reference (there's also an "Other Cults" section for the other religions out there).

06 April 2014

Christianity in a nutshell

Link round-up for 6 April 2014

How would a libertarian police department work?

From Green Eagle's latest Wingnut Wrapup we learn that a Catholic priest has denounced Lego as a tool of Satan.  He doesn't like My Little Pony either.

Commemorate Fred Phelps!

Here are 20 creepy two-sentence horror stories (found via Mendip).

Tommykey reviews Prometheus.

Artist of the week:  Steve Cutts, whimsical works with a dark edge (found via Lady Freethinker).

This must be a hot item.

Support our veterans.

Conservatives attacked Social Security and Medicare when they were first introduced, just as they attack Obamacare now.

Honey Maid puts out a wonderful response to some nasty vitriol aimed at one of their commercials.

Hey, we found the death panels.

Let truth prevail (found via Squatlo Rant).

In February Illinois began issuing concealed-carry permits after its law against them was struck down.  Chicago's murder rate has already fallen to its lowest level since 1958.

Jeremy Bentham was an early pioneer of sexual liberation.

Some people still think "you can't do that because my imaginary friend doesn't like it" is a trump argument.

West Virginia still suffers in the aftermath of the Freedom Industries toxic spill.

Meet Thaddeus Stevens, 19th-century radical (I discussed his Thirteenth Amendment dilemma here).

There's a reason why conservatives want to spend less on education.

Too much money in too few hands is very dangerous, but there's a solution.

Booman Tribune responds to Andrew Sullivan on the Mozilla/Eich controversy.  Josh Marshall has more (link from Shaw Kenawe).

A popularity poll of politicians gives a surprise winner, and Republican commenters fulminate.

Illinois girls protest dress-code idiocy.

Ted Cruz polls Obamacare on Facebook, gets pwned.  As the law's popularity rises, even Ross Douthat admits that it's working.

Bruce Gerencser looks at World Vision and Christian callousness.

A Georgia high school has just now (!) hosted its first non-segregated prom.

Annie Oakley was quite an educator.

Christie's bridgegate troubles are only beginning.

Some Catholics are still trying to defend the murder of Giordano Bruno.

Right-wingers are fuming that the new Noah movie promotes paganism.

Coinbase is the latest fiasco in the bitcoin world.  More here.

A soldier writes to Bush and Cheney.

Anti-gay violence rears its head in Michigan.

Teabaggers flounder, establishment Republicans gloat.

The latest anti-suicide meme is the semicolon.

Rand Paul wants to court Hispanics, gets trashed by PJM commenters.

Texas now gets up to 29% of its electricity from wind power.

Los Angeles police torture a man in front of his family over a dropped cigarette butt.

Right-wingers are nasty -- check out the comments on this NRO piece about a lesbian cemetery in Germany, and this item from Mexico.

Many debt collectors can't be bothered to get it right.

Glenn Beck is being sued by a Boston Marathon bombing victim, who seems to have a strong case.

"The mosquito" makes loitering teens buzz off.

Jeb Bush won't be the Republican savior.

Andrew O'Shaughnessy looks at British leadership during the US War of Independence.

Behold the ten horrors that gay marriage will bring to England (found via Republic of Gilead).

The Muslim Brotherhood, banned in Egypt, now falls under suspicion in Britain.

Terrorist forgets about daylight savings time, blows himself up.

Hitler was one of the greatest farters in history (found via Mendip) -- and his girlfriend had a family secret.

The Shroud of Turin forgery is very much a product of its time.

Here's a waterfall in Romania.

Ukraine's leading Presidential candidate is a rare honest billionaire, eastern Europe's candyman.

Even militarily, the US has the edge over Russia.

In several countries, religious revival has accompanied a rise in violence and repression.

Vatican tells Mexico to stand fast against gays and abortion, Mexico tells Vatican to fuck off.

The story of Muqdad Salah tells us much about Palestinian aspirations.

Saudi Arabia declares atheism, or questioning Islam, to be terrorism.

The Ebola outbreak in west Africa is serious.  And South Africa's HIV problem is just getting worse.

Don't be fooled by denialist "global cooling" lies.

Ancient interbreeding with Neanderthals has important modern implications.

Here's a chart of which countries discovered various elements.

The organic world is full of oddities inconsistent with an "intelligent designer".

05 April 2014

Thought for the day

If the religio-nutters think it was wrong for OKCupid and others to denounce Mozilla for choosing Brendan Eich as CEO, was it also wrong when they themselves denounced and boycotted JC Penney for using Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson?

03 April 2014

Quotes for the day -- funnyman and freedom fighter


Since ten years ago Rowan Atkinson has been at the forefront of resistance to the revival of blasphemy laws (largely pushed by Islamists) in his native Britain.  Here's some more of what he does:

31 March 2014

France's nationalist wave

Local elections were just held all over France, and the big story is the strong showing of the National Front led by Marine Le Pen -- and once again casual US news consumers are being misled about what is going on.  I'll let the Huffington Post report on the election represent American liberal coverage of European nationalist movements in general -- it's typical enough.

To start with, there's the designation "far right" applied to the National Front, including in the headline.  "Far right" is often used, more out of laziness than malice in most cases, to conflate several European political movements which have a few things in common but are fundamentally different.  Sane, legitimate, and broadly-popular groups like Britain's UK Independence Party and the Dutch Freedom Party are lumped in with genuinely dangerous extremists like Greece's Golden Dawn or the British National Party.  These groups are not the same, and if you don't grasp the differences, you won't understand what's happening in Europe and will continue to happen in the future.

France's National Front is a special case, having actually moved from one category to the other.  Originally, under the leadership of Jean-Marie Le Pen, it did indeed merit its image as a far-right, crypto-fascist party.  The founders included nostalgics for the Nazi-collaborationist Vichy regime and other neo-Nazi elements, and the group emphasized a rigid version of the local religion (Catholicism) and repeatedly indulged in anti-Semitic, anti-gay, and anti-feminist rhetoric.  None of these stances is popular in France, and what electoral success the Front had was due to its opposition to Muslim immigration, an issue the mainstream parties have failed to address (this pattern recurs in many western European countries).  This was ironic in that the Front's anti-Semitic, anti-gay, and anti-feminist views put it on the same side as the militant Islamists, who are the main advocates of such attitudes in western Europe today.

In early 2011 Jean-Marie Le Pen retired and his daughter Marine took over the party leadership, and took the Front in a different direction.  The opposition to immigration remained, but the Front made peace with secularism and modernity, purged anti-Semites, and shifted its focus to opposing the European Union and its overbearing incursions into the sovereignty of its member states, including France.

(A trick that can help you tell the popular nationalists from the fringe extremists:  look at pictures of their public marches and rallies.  If the crowd is all-male and no one is smiling, it's an extremist group, usually either fascist or Islamist.)

The Huffington Post mentions a few specific stances of this "far-right" party -- protectionist, anti-EU, anti-immigrant.  Let's look at these.

Protectionist:  It's traditionally been rightists who tore down trade barriers and exposed workers in developed countries to competition from low-wage Third World countries.  It's been the left that denounced the disastrous real-world consequences of this -- falling wages and loss of industrial jobs -- even if mainstream leftist parties such as our Democrats have been maddeningly unwilling to act accordingly.  Protectionism is not "far right".

Anti-EU:  The EU has wrecked the economies of southern Europe, partly by introducing the euro currency, but mainly by imposing austerity policies which prioritize deficit reduction over growth in spite of sky-high unemployment -- the same policies that Republicans in the US advocate.  Socialist parties, such as the one currently in power in France, have been punished by the voters because the EU does not allow them to govern as socialists.  Opposing the EU is not "far right".

Anti-immigrant:  The immigration issue in Europe does not resemble the issue in the US.  The main differences are that (a) European countries do not have a long history of high immigration as the US does, and are much more densely populated than the US, and (b) their immigration has come largely from Muslim countries, introducing a militant and sometimes violent religious element into societies far more secular than the US.  As I've discussed earlier, militant Islamists are western Europe's closest equivalent to our Christian Right.  Opponents of Islam are routinely denounced as racist, and there are some racists who use anti-Islam rhetoric as code, but opposing militant Islam itself is no more racist than opposing the Christian Right is.

France has by far the largest Muslim population in western Europe, so the issue is especially hot there.  Most immigrants and their descendants are assimilating, but a militant hard core remains, noisily agitating against secularism, gays, Jews, free expression, and modernity in general, and sometimes even plotting terrorist attacks, though nowadays these are usually caught by the police before being carried out.

Mainstream parties and media have responded to popular anger about austerity, the EU, Islamism, etc. mostly with stonewalling and name-calling.  Pim Fortuyn, the founder of the first Dutch anti-Islamist party, was a gay, Marxist professor and quickly became extremely popular, but that did not stop the media from branding him "far right".

This being the case, it's hardly surprising that exasperated voters increasingly support explicit nationalists like the National Front or Britain's UKIP, who are willing to address the real issues (and when no such party is available, there are sometimes significant protest votes for dangerous extremists like the pre-2011 National Front).  The trend will continue to escalate until the mainstream parties change their attitude.  As long as Americans lump together disparate groups using buzzwords like "far right", and try to understand Europe in terms of American political concepts which don't apply to a very different set of issues, they will not understand what is happening there.

30 March 2014

Link round-up for 30 March 2014

Ray "Bananas" Comfort has his own dreadful Noah movie.

Here are some upcoming genre movies that aren't sequels, remakes, or reboots (found via Mendip).

Check out these reviews of the Ted Cruz coloring book.

Tengrain, Big Bad Bald Bastard, and the FARK.com crowd assess those godawful Republican hipster video ads (also go to YouTube here and here to see the comments).  There are even parodies already.  And again, no, Rand Paul won't win millennials.

She's lucky pigs can't vote.

Protect kids from bad influences. And get married!

The Onion's Fred Phelps obituary fools a Republican.

Looking for a jock boyfriend?  Read this.

Here's a rich idiot about to get pwned by students.

The new Cosmos is the latest challenge to a long tradition of religious anti-intellectualism (found via Atheist Oasis).

Pro-life, up to a point.

Jezebel fisks Christie's disgraceful blame-it-all-on-Kelly bridgegate whitewash.

Religion poisons everything, including family relationships.

Gays are now more popular than Evangelicals.

Cut Social Security?  It's already stingy.

The FBI thwarts a planned terrorist attack in Texas.

Here are some real Obamacare horror stories.

Take the religious knowledge quiz (I got 14 out of 15 right).

What does a Tea-Partier do?

The IRS rules that bitcoins are property, but not money.

The oil industry continues to enrich itself at the country's expense.

Tennessee passes a law to protect anti-gay harassment in schools (found via Republic of Gilead).

Some on the left show a disturbing disrespect for freedom of expression.

Hobby Lobby is doing more than just attacking birth control.

Crooks and Liars looks at the Christian Right's weird persecution complex.

Innocent or guilty?  Depends what you can pay.

Here's what Obama should say about defense spending.

We need to know about politicians' religious beliefs.

Can fundamentalism keep young believers in the fold while isolating itself from mainstream culture (both found via Republic of Gilead)?  Not this one, apparently.

A Republican challenges Wall Street and gets smacked down.

Atheist support groups against sexual harassment don't seem to be doing a very good job.

Matt Barber warns the Republican party not to abandon the social-issues nutbars (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

What should replace the "LGBT" abbreviation?

History shows a certain pattern.

Purity balls just get creepier.

John Aziz shreds Erick Erickson's attack on the Yglesias debt video.

A very old British tradition is being revived (found via Mendip).

What's the difference between the US and Australia?

Check out this unbelievably huge rat that plagued a Swedish family (found via Mendip).

Why does the pop-music industry thrive in Sweden?  Because the blue-noses there once tried to stamp it out.

A tattoo-covered neo-Nazi porn star just can't get a break these days.

The Putin regime threatened several countries before a UN vote on Ukraine (found via Progressive Eruptions). Now, as sanctions bite, Putin calls Obama to ask for negotiations.  Alexander Motyl looks at the instability of the regime.

The BBC profiles Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi, the popular general who ended the Muslim Brotherhood's disastrous rule over Egypt.

Turkey's ruling Islamotards continue to fume impotently at Twitter.

Global warming is melting Alaska's permafrost, while New Mexico is overwhelmed by tumbleweeds.  The UN, at least, is confronting the problem.

Rosa Rubicondior looks at what a species is, how they arise, and how creationists exploit popular misunderstandings.

Many animals probably have a sense of humor.

28 March 2014

World Vision and the self-destruction of Christianity

It's been a wild week in the wacky world of Christianity.  World Vision, one of the largest Christian charities in the US (they aid children in impoverished countries), has long had a policy that unmarried employees have to refrain from sex as a condition of employment.  On Monday, it that it would accept legal gay marriages as valid for the purpose of the policy, allowing non-celibate gay people to be employees so long as they were married.

Conservative Christians predictably went absolutely bonkers (read the comments there too), and some regular donors to World Vision announced that they were halting their contributions.  So fierce was the firestorm that after two days, the chastised charity issued a whimpering and apologetic statement reversing its decision.  Some of the Christian Right welcomed the reversal, but others demanded further displays of contrition, such as the resignation of all board members who had voted for the original change, before World Vision could be declared cleansed of its sin and welcomed back into the fold.

Consider what actually happened here.  The most fervent and fiery segment of American Christendom, Evangelical and Catholic both, decided it could not support an organization dedicated to aiding Third World children if it allowed those loathsome fags (non-celibate ones, anyway) to help with the work.  Rejecting gays and denying any recognition to their relationships, even by a private charitable enterprise and not the law, is that important to them.

The main issue here isn't that the hard-liners won the fight and got World Vision to cave.  The main issue is that, in a high-visibility case, once again Christianity is defining itself by its fervent need to reject and exclude.  Most of the struggles that conservative Christians are waging in the name of "religious freedom" boil down to this -- they're always fighting for the right to not bake a cake for somebody, to not photograph somebody's event, to turn someone away, to refuse service to those people.  The details of each case, and whether they win or lose, are less important than the fact that this is how Christianity is defining itself in the public mind -- as a religion that first and foremost demands the right to reject and exclude certain people.

And what about that celibacy business?  World Vision required unmarried employees -- including heterosexual ones -- to abstain from sex?  I'm a bit surprised that such an intrusion by an employer into what individuals do on their own time is even legal, but that's not the point.  The point is that this is massively weird.  You have a girlfriend, so you're not good enough to help us feed hungry kids in Africa?  Really?  Once again, rejecting and excluding the "sinner" is the highest concern.

And they wonder why mainstream Americans are turning away from Christianity in ever-growing numbers?

Yes, I know the rule against sex outside marriage is in the Bible.  That's the point.  The Bible is full of stuff that makes you look like a complete nutcase if you actually take it seriously in the twenty-first century.  Do they also make their employees sign a promise not to covet their neighbor's ox or wear clothes made of different fabrics?

Christianity, or at least the Christian Right, is trapped in a vicious cycle of increasingly-concentrated crackpottery.  When an institution's extremists grow in influence and visibility within it, moderates tend to downplay their association with it, or depart entirely.  This leaves the extremists as a relatively bigger fish, because the pond is getting smaller.  So they become even more influential and visible, driving away more moderates, and so on.  The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the current cycle, beginning with the rise of the Moral Majority in the late 1970s, has been running during a period when the mainstream culture is evolving in the opposite direction -- indeed, the rise and militancy of the Christian Right has been mostly a reaction to those cultural changes.

The World Vision case suggests that they're already well past the point of no return.  This single step in the direction of the mainstream culture triggered so much fire and brimstone from the true believers that the heretics scuttled trembling back into line in just two days.  (The broader right wing has a similar problem.  The Republican establishment starts making an effort to get the crazies under control, and immediately RedState and Hot Air start calling everybody RINOs and the base nominates Susanne Atanus.)  Fred Phelps may have gone to his grave, but he beckons still, and all -- all save those who abandon the ship entirely -- shall follow.