30 January 2015

Sizing up the Republican demolition derby

Incredibly, it's looking as if the 2016 Republican Presidential field may be even more crowded than the 2012 version.  Republican sites have been circulating this handy inventory of possible contenders, grouped into four categories (I've taken the liberty of providing translations of the categories, adding Lindsey Graham, and listing the candidates in each group in order of how much chance I think they have):

Establishment (relatively sane)
Mitt Romney
Jeb Bush
Marco Rubio
Chris Christie
Lindsey Graham
Carly Fiorina

Tea Party (deranged baggots)
Rand Paul
Ted Cruz
Michele Bachmann
Donald Trump
Sarah Palin

Social Conservatives (religious loons)
Mike Huckabee
Bobby Jindal
Rick Santorum
Ben Carson

Governors (fascists and bores)
Scott Walker
Rick Perry
Rick Snyder
John Kasich
Mike Pence

That's 20 names.  I don't think Trump or Palin will run, and I have my doubts about Fiorina and Bachmann (though party leaders won't be happy with the optics of an all-male field against Hillary), but we'll almost certainly have well over a dozen entrants, some of them as colorfully crazy as any of 2012's crowd.  The odds are Romney gets the nomination again -- he's already well ahead in polls of Republicans, and he's got more gravitas than the rest of this motley crew combined -- but with Bush splitting the non-insane vote, and the "base" of foaming-at-the-mouth baggots and fundamentalist nutjobs more determined than ever not to let a "moderate" claim the prize again, the end result is far from assured, and getting there will be one hell of a trip.  I mean, look at this list.  Is there enough popcorn in the whole country?

27 January 2015

Europe -- the roots of rebellion

Oh what a surprise for Frau Merkel, she's fearful,
She can't put it over the Greeks.....

To understand why Sunday's election in Greece was so significant, it's necessary to understand what has been happening in Europe for the past few years -- how horrifically the south has been savaged by the twin scourges of the euro common currency and the austerity policies imposed by the German-dominated European Union.  Unfortunately even many American liberals tend to simply parrot the northern (German, creditor-centric) talking points which dominate the MSM, at least in the Anglosphere -- "Greece just doesn't want to pay its bills" and suchlike.

The reality is that as a condition for the loans that kept the southern countries afloat, the EU has imposed a regime of austerity -- deep spending cuts and a fixation on deficit reduction despite economic contraction (similar to what conservatives advocate for the US) -- which made it impossible for the southern economies to recover.  Paul Krugman explains the problem in clear language:

But European austerity also reflected willful misdiagnosis of the situation. In Europe as in America, the excesses that led to crisis overwhelmingly involved private rather than public debt, with Greece very much an outlier. But officials in Berlin and Brussels chose to ignore the evidence in favor of a narrative that placed all the blame on budget deficits, and simultaneously rejected the evidence suggesting — correctly — that trying to slash deficits in a depressed economy would deepen the depression.

The US, by contrast, pursued Keynesian stimulus policies and is now clearly in recovery, though the recovery would have been much faster and more vigorous if the stimulus had been larger and if Democrats had conceded less to Republicans' deficit obsession.  As I've said before, worrying about the deficit when you have double-digit unemployment is like obsessing over water conservation when your house is burning down.  But that's what happened in Europe.

The euro currency has shut off another route to recovery.  If the southern countries still had separate currencies, they would be dropping in value against other currencies, making those countries' exports and tourism sites cheaper and more competitive without cutting wages or other expenses.  Locked into a common currency with the north, this cannot happen.

Krugman assesses the Greek election (seriously, it's worth the read), ending with some good advice the Germans won't take:

So now that Mr. Tsipras has won, and won big, European officials would be well advised to skip the lectures calling on him to act responsibly and to go along with their program. The fact is they have no credibility; the program they imposed on Greece never made sense. It had no chance of working.

If anything, the problem with Syriza’s plans may be that they’re not radical enough. Debt relief and an easing of austerity would reduce the economic pain, but it’s doubtful whether they are sufficient to produce a strong recovery. On the other hand, it’s not clear what more any Greek government can do unless it’s prepared to abandon the euro, and the Greek public isn’t ready for that.

This is not going to stop with Greece.  Syriza's victory has electrified anti-establishment parties across the south and even in northern countries which have been in similar straits, such as Ireland.

To understand the exuberance, you have to understand the anger in the south, not just at prolonged suffering but at the years of arrogance and condescension and sheer bloody-mindedness displayed by Berlin and Brussels as they flogged the captive nations with economic dogmas which they knew could not produce the results they claimed to want.  Krugman has some further observations:

If the troika had been truly realistic, it would have acknowledged that it was demanding the impossible. Two years after the Greek program began, the I.M.F. looked for historical examples where Greek-type programs, attempts to pay down debt through austerity without major debt relief or inflation, had been successful. It didn’t find any.....

Nor was this an innocent mistake. The thing that strikes me about Europe’s archons of austerity, its doyens of deflation, is their self-indulgence. They felt comfortable, emotionally and politically, demanding sacrifice (from other people) at a time when the world needed more spending. They were all too eager to ignore the evidence that they were wrong.

It's very reminiscent of the mentality of our own Republicans who exult in subjecting the least fortunate to endless benefit cuts, mandatory drug tests, forced ultrasounds, and suchlike indignities more intended to degrade and humiliate than to serve any expressed policy goal.

George Orwell's novel 1984 contains the following exchange:

"How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?"

Winston thought. "By making him suffer," he said.

"Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation....."

This, I think, tells you more about the real roots of the German/EU policy prescriptions imposed on southern Europe than a thousand pages of conservative economic crackpottery could do.

25 January 2015

Συγχαρητήρια!

The far-left, anti-austerity party Syriza has won today's election in Greece handily.  Party leader Alexis Tsipras's victory speech throws down a defiant gauntlet to the EU-imposed (in reality, German-imposed) austerity policies which have spread economic devastation and misery across southern Europe for years.  If, as is likely, Germany refuses to compromise, Greece may well leave the eurozone -- bringing short-term upheaval but long-term recovery as the rigidity of the common currency and the madness of austerity are left behind at last.

May the Greeks stand firm in their defiance, and may their example be followed by their fellow victims of these deranged policies in Italy, Spain, and Portugal.  The South shall rise again!

Link round-up for 25 January 2015

Here's everything you could ever want to know about dropping a bowling ball into the ocean.

Bruce Gerencser is looking for blasphemous songs.

Most disturbing dress ever (found via Snowstorm 13).

Here's a rare sight -- a flipped-over iceberg.

This guy really hits it off with kids.  And so does this guy.

Some Western popular music shows Middle Eastern influences (right-wing blog, but it's an interesting post) -- I didn't know a Western singer had so blatantly copied Tarkan Tevetoğlu.

It may come to this.

Curious to know what readers think -- will the Jeffrey Epstein scandal be a problem for Hillary's presidential run?

Joni Ernst joins a long tradition of godawful SOTU responses.

What havoc is being wrought by Doritos?

Creationists knowingly, deliberately lie.

No, technology doesn't dehumanize us -- just the opposite.

It's not just Scalise -- several prominent Republicans associate with scary extremists. (found via Republic of Gilead).

The Irish Atheist has had it with self-pitying abusive Christians who put a veneer of "love" on their bigotry.

Bryan Fischer suggests the Charlie Hebdo attack might have been God's will.

Newly-empowered Republicans are trying to get the torture report back under wraps.

Makayla Sault died of cancer, but was really killed by religion.

Catholics and Protestants fought bloody wars for centuries, but now the fight to preserve anti-gay discrimination unites them (found via Republic of Gilead).

Sometimes a whole town can't face the truth.

Republicans have harnessed the awesome power of stupidity.

Don't treat veterans as cardboard heroes.

The Mormon Church is cracking down on dissent (found via Republic of Gilead).

Forced-birth fetishists are in a snit about the collapse of the latest House anti-abortion bill, but ultimately all that's protecting abortion rights now is Obama.

An atheist billboard in California brings out religious insecurity and idiocy.

The right wing "won" the economic debate?  What debate was that exactly?

A British government letter to the country's imams triggers a much-needed debate.

Top Nazis were fascinated with Islam and tried to build an alliance with it, but their racism kept getting in the way (found via GoodShit).

The mayor of Paris threatens to sue Fox News over its "no-go zone" nonsense, and Britain's Prime Minister is similarly unimpressed.  Bobby Jindal, though, goes full Gohmert even though Fox has retracted the claim four times.

These assholes are not helping.

Is Pope Francis simply a blithering idiot?  It would explain a lot.

This is Italy (found via GoodShit).

Today's election in Greece could begin the unraveling of the eurozone.

If you visit Mexico, beware of drug smugglers with magnets.

Is this what a Republican-ruled US would be like?  A woman in El Salvador is imprisoned for 30 years for having a miscarriage.

So far, the anti-ISIS coalition has killed about 6,000 ISIS fighters and about half the top leadership.

Hindus are burning Muslims to death in northern India.

A Christian "prophet" in Zimbabwe endorses Mugabe's murderous hatred of gays (found via Republic of Gilead).

Witch doctors in Tanzania are killing albinos to make magic potions from their body parts.

Here's a video of the magnificent new high-resolution image of the Andromeda galaxy (be sure to fullsrceen it).

Forget flying cars -- the reality is much better.

23 January 2015

Barbarism in the birthplace of civilization

In the previous post I put up some architectural photos to illustrate one (though only one) aspect of the achievements of Middle Eastern culture.  Now, here is what religious fanaticism is doing to that culture.

The photo above shows an execution which was recently carried out in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq, which is still under ISIS control.  The man in the center is falling to his death after being thrown off a tall tower by ISIS men as a punishment for the crime of homosexuality, which is forbidden in Islam (the Koran includes the story of Lot and Sodom, as it includes many of the same stories as the Bible).  You can read more about the execution here; more photos are here.  ISIS has carried out numerous executions for homosexuality in the areas of Iraq and Syria under its rule, both by precipitation from tall buildings and by stoning.

As with the Christian Dominionists and Reconstructionists in the US who want to bring back stoning to death for homosexuality and adultery (among many other "crimes"), this is not some sort of distortion or "misuse" of religion.  It is simply carrying out what the sacred texts command.

ISIS has also been targeting educated women for death.  Islam's prescriptions on the subject of education are murky and conflicting, but female education and the independence it facilitates are, in practice, incompatible with the strict Islamic vision of the proper role of women in society.  Recently ISIS also executed 13 teenage boys by firing squad for the crime of watching a soccer game on TV.  I'm not sure of the basis for an Islamic objection to soccer, but the game was introduced to Iraq by the "infidel" British, and literalist religion is generally hostile to anything fun.

As we routinely do in the case of Europe, for the Middle East we must always distinguish between the great civilization of the region and the barbaric religion which has ruled over it for more than a millennium.  The only reason that any sort of civilization has been possible in Europe or the Middle East since the end of the Classical world is that the Christian and Islamic taboo systems have usually not been enforced to the letter.  The more society fell under strict domination by the Word of God, as in the European Dark Ages or under ISIS today, the more human culture was reduced to sterile savagery.  The more the sacred texts were "re-interpreted" or simply ignored in favor of a more humane and pluralistic vision, the more culture was able to thrive.

As was the case in the European Renaissance, many of the key creative figures of Middle Eastern literature and culture were homosexual in orientation and/or held "heretical" views on religion.  The so-called "Islamic golden age" of the 7th-11th centuries (actually a revival of Hellenism under not-very-strict Islamic rule) could not have happened under an ISIS-like literalist regime which would have executed most of its major thinkers on one grounds or another, any more than a Europe which strictly enforced the taboos of the Old Testament could have produced the Renaissance.

But such regimes can destroy.  The shrines at Najaf and Karbalâ are Shiite holy places; given ISIS's fanatical hatred of Shiism, if it were ever to capture those cities, the shrines might well share the fate of the Bâmiyân Buddha statues or the countless Classical books destroyed by fervent early Christians.  As Hitchens once remarked, "No secularist would blow up a mosque, but a Sunni fanatic would blow up a Shia mosque and vice versa without compunction" -- as they have indeed been doing in Iraq for several years.

When religion dominated Europe, it was even more of a hideous bloody mess than the Middle East today -- think of the Thirty Years War, the witch-burnings, the Inquisition.  Thanks to countless people of great courage and intellectual integrity, religion was neutered and civilization was reborn.  Whether in Europe then or the Middle East now, the struggle is the same.

20 January 2015

Another side of the Middle East

Depending on political orientation, Americans tend to view the Middle East either as a nest of religious fanatics obsessed with murdering each other and everyone else, or as a passive victim/object of Western intervention.  Well, the fanatics exist (and loom large), and the Western meddling has gone on for generations (mostly with bad results), but such views shortchange the region's achievements in culture and civilization.  You see the violence of the few, but miss the magnificence built over centuries.

The literature and history of an unfamiliar society can seem opaque without considerable study, but one side of civilization that anyone can appreciate is architecture.  It's one of the things that attracted my interest to the Middle East in the first place.  The majority of the structures shown here were built for religious purposes -- but so were the great cathedrals of Europe.  It reflects a time when religion so dominated society that the greatest artistic talents were channeled into its domain.

Click on any picture for a larger version (small versions don't do them justice).

Maydan-e-Shâh (Royal Square), Isfahan, Iran


Shrine of Imam Hussein, Karbalâ, Iraq


Shâh Cherâgh mosque, Shîrâz, Iran


Nasir al-Mulk mosque, Shîrâz, Iran

The bazaar, Tabrîz, Iran -- a "mall" centuries old

Khaju Bridge, Isfahan, Iran

Imam Mosque, Isfahan, Iran

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel


Shrine of Imam Ali, Najaf, Iraq


Eventually the fanaticism and violence will pass, as they did in Europe.  This will remain.

18 January 2015

Link round-up for 18 January 2015

On the bus, nobody cares that you're a dog.

This goofball is freaking out over Satanic brake lights on school buses (found via Mendip).

That's racist!

Watch out, somebody's come up with a new way for assholes to harass people (found via Mendip).

ZOMG Now Boehner is using Taylor Swift to try to look hip.

Why is there so much fluff on the internet?  Sometimes we need it.

Here's the real reason for Obama's education plan.

Let's be very careful which videos we let them watch (found via Mendip).

Running from a bear is wasted effort.

Faye Kane looks at 2014 in porn statistics, some of them pretty startling.

Bitcoin still exists, but it's really going down the tubes now (sent by Mendip).

Check out these photos of libraries (I'm not kidding -- they're spectacular).

A pastor cancels a funeral at the last minute because the family refused to deny the reality of the deceased's lesbian relationship (found via Progressive Eruptions).

These people exist. And so does this person, I guess (found via Squatlo Rant).

Cardinal Burke knows what's wrong with the Catholic Church -- it's too female-friendly (found via Republic of Gilead).

This story of sad and bizarre prejudice may help you see why I'm increasingly turned off by categorizing and labeling people.

Republicans push to sabotage nuclear negotiations with Iran (which is the same thing the religious conservative wingnuts in the Iranian parliament want to do).

Most New Yorkers side with Mayor de Blasio against back-turning cops (found via Progressive Eruptions, which has more).

Alex Malarkey, who recently repudiated his book claiming he had gone to Heaven, had been trying to get the truth out for some time.

Which states are most and least infested with racists?  (OK, Shaw, Massachusetts is way ahead of Oregon on this one.)

The right wing lies -- blatantly, knowingly, premeditatedly.

Fall out of a plane?  Here's what will happen, and how to improve your odds just a bit (note: gruesome photos).

House Republicans are pushing an anti-abortion bill so extreme that Republican women are in revolt.

See a new video of the horror that surrounds us, but which we rarely think about.

This is what happens when assholes think the fact that they're protesting something gives them the right to harass random people who have nothing to do with the problem.

Think you know tanks?  These are tanks (found via Mendip).

The US Christian Right ignored the lessons learned from Britain's persecution of gays in the 1950s.

For over a year Norway has followed a tough policy of deporting criminal immigrants, and crime is falling (though a 31% drop figure reported on many right-wing sites seems to be in error).

The mayor of Rotterdam in the Netherlands has some choice words for Muslims who don't like Western freedoms.

You'll be able to read the new Charlie Hebdo issue online (found via GoodShit).

Lassana Bathily, a Muslim employee at the Jewish grocery attacked in Paris this month who saved six people, gets his citizenship application fast-tracked.

Kaveh Mousavi has a round-up of links on the Charlie Hebdo attack.

An Italian ad for tolerance provokes an interesting discussion.

How much longer will American liberals be mesmerized by this vile man? Here's a request for clarification.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews use moronic censorship to delete women from reality (found via Rosa Rubicondior).

This is Afghanistan (found via GoodShit).

Turkey will ban websites that display the post-massacre Charlie Hebdo cover.

Do you want to build a snowman?  Or at least make fun of a grumpy Islamotard cleric?

British researchers claim cancer can be practically eliminated by 2050.

16 January 2015

Video of the day -- haters gonna hate


A reminder that, for some people, just being who you are takes a lot of guts.

13 January 2015

Enemies and allies

The Charlie Hebdo massacre seems to have provoked a boomlet of "kill them all, God will know his own" rhetoric from the sort of people that still think Samuel Huntingdon knew what he was talking about.  Shaw Kenawe has some examples.  In their eyes, the violence was so shocking that collective punishment or at least collective responsibility are a legitimate response.

While it's heartening in a way to see so many right-wingers so outraged by an attack on free expression (does this mean they're finally going to stop trying to censor internet porn?), it's illogical to say that a crime is so heinous that it justifies punishing people who had nothing to do with it, or "holding them responsible", as Rupert Murdoch has notoriously demanded:

(JK Rowling made a good reply to this.)  Even if they're peaceful they must be held responsible?  What kind of sense does that make?

As long-time readers know, I yield to no one in my revulsion toward the Islamic religion, but this rhetoric is horrifying. An individual, in most cases, is much more than merely their religion. This habit of treating millions of people as a faceless mass and calling for collective punishment is a disgrace to the values of the secular West, and has to stop. By that logic, we should have punished all teabaggers after those gangs of lawless armed thugs threatened BLM officials during the Cliven Bundy incident.

Not only have Muslim leaders and institutions around the world condemned the Charlie Hebdo attack, but the Middle East itself has actually been turning against jihadism for several years, as the jihadists have become steadily more extreme and violent (don't forget that most people killed by jihadists have been other Middle Easterners). Sunni and Shiite extremists in Iraq have been blowing up each other's mosques for years, killing thousands, and then ISIS came along with its beheadings and slavery and massacres, and provoked such revulsion that the Kurds, Shiite Arabs, Iran, and recently even Sunni Arabs are collaborating to defeat it, even though that means also collaborating with the "infidel" West.

The Taliban had some sympathizers in Pakistan -- until the Peshawar school massacre, which seems to have united the country in a determination to eradicate the extremists.

Over the last decade, major terrorist attacks in Europe have grown rarer largely because of cooperation between police and Muslim communities, who often tip off the authorities when they get wind of something nasty being planned.  (Those communities, never forget, are increasingly assimilating into mainstream European culture; one of the Charlie Hebdo staffers and one of the policemen who was killed responding to the attack were of Maghribi origin.)

Iranians have had the grinding dreariness of living under a theocracy for a third of a century and they're sick of it, having launched the largest mass street protests in history in 2009 and then elected a President who promised reform and reconciliation with the West.

(Something like that is happening here in the West too, of course. As gay people become more and more accepted by mainstream society, the fundamentalist hatred toward them seems ever more alien and repulsive to the average person. We are winning. We haven't won yet, but from Tehran to Texas, we are winning. Never forget that.)

People like Murdoch don't seem to be keeping up on current events other than those which are rubbed in all our faces every day by the MSM.  Millions of Muslims are recognizing that jihadist cancer and fighting to destroy it.  Huntingdon was wrong.  I admit that his book intrigued me when it came out, and at the time it was a plausible scenario for how the post-Cold-War world might develop, but he was wrong.  What's going on now is not a clash of civilizations.  It's a clash in which one side consists of a relatively small assortment of violent fanatics, who have no "civilization" worthy of the name, and the other side consists of the broad mass of people and societies in both the West and the Middle East who have for years suffered increasingly insane atrocities at the hands of those violent fanatics and are now working together to defeat them.

That collaboration is an enormously valuable development. To revert to the discredited Huntingdon clash-of-civilizations world-view and indiscriminately treat all Muslims as the enemy would be the most disastrous move we could possibly make on the world stage right now.

[This post is partly adapted from comments I made here and here.]

11 January 2015

Link round-up for 11 January 2015

Mr. Bean?  Bah.  It's Blackadder that made Rowan Atkinson a comedy star (found via Mendip).

Murr Brewster looks at the decline of our local newspaper.

Here's a tree with a pub inside it, and more (found via GoodShit).

Take that, you dumb Brits.

Enough with the zombies and vampires, some people are still into fairies (found via Mendip).

When Faye Kane gets something right, she really gets it right -- and here's a swipe at religion too.

Standards change, like it or not.

Christian fanatics are ruining Christmas.

Why is the world becoming more peaceful?  Maybe because more and more people are non-religious.

28 cartoonists pay tribute to the Charlie Hebdo victims (found via Lady Atheist).  Ayaan Hirsi Ali calls on us all to keep their spirit alive.  And no, it simply doesn't matter if the magazine was vapid or even racist.

The right wing's rejection of evolution is about more than just evolution itself.

Here are the Secular Woman awards for 2014 (there's even a guy).

High on the newly-empowered Republicans' to-do list: fucking up Social Security.

That guy in Florida who threw his daughter off a bridge was in the grip of religious psychosis.

Teabagger vitriol against Republicans who voted to keep Boehner on as Speaker is so virulent that even Erick Erickson is shocked.

Here's where air travel is most and least safe.

The five best countries for women's rights are all in one small area.

Protests resume against the European Union's austerity policies.  The European central Bank has a new HQ building in Frankfurt, and it has a moatThis election in two weeks could upset the whole eurozone applecart.

Here's a collection of dramatic photos from the Charlie Hebdo attack.  And here's some brief eyewitness video of the terrorists (autoplay), including the cold-blooded murder of wounded policeman Ahmed Merabet.  Here are the twelve victims.  And here's how the police got the terrorists (found via GoodShit).

Tauriq Moosa replies to the execrable Anjem Choudary.

Russia takes firm action against traffic problems by banning transsexuals from driving.

Here are seven living things that are, or were, too big (found via GoodShit).

We're finally finding planets similar in size and (probably) temperature to Earth, though we can't tell how Earthlike they are in other ways.

Swimming on the Moon would be really cool, if there were any water there.

A new research technique could turn the tide against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Think you know who's a big star?  Meet VY Canis Majoris.

09 January 2015

Quote for the day -- not radicals

Today I want to puke when I hear the word "radical" applied so slothfully and stupidly to Islamist murderers; the most plainly reactionary people in the world.

-- Christopher Hitchens, 2010

07 January 2015

Je suis Charlie

They shouted "We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad." Some useful idiot will claim it had nothing to do with religion. -- Richard Dawkins

After today's eruption of religious barbarity in Paris, protesters and bloggers around the world are declaring "Je suis Charlie" in defiant assertion of the supreme right of free expression.  P M Carpenter has been particularly insightful:

I needn't point out the irony, but I will. Earlier on CNN I heard a correspondent note that Charlie Hebdo is a meagerly read publication. That won't be the case for long. Islamist extremists have done for the weekly paper what years of other publicity efforts could never do: They have made it an internationally known martyr to the sanctity of free expression. What was once obscure scribbling is now an honored monument to the folly of religious violence and ignorant censorship.

Read him also on the Dawkins tweet above and on the hypocrisy of calls for self-censorship.  From Iran, Kaveh Mousavi reminds us not to let Islam off the hook.  Green Eagle re-posts the cartoon that started it all.  Frank Moraes points out some inconsistencies in the jihadist attitude.  And here's a collection of cartoonists' responses.

This, on the other hand, led me to do two things I never imagined possible -- to despise Ron Paul even more than I already did, and to agree with a RedState posting.  Many actual Muslims (predictably not including extremists such as ISIS) condemned the attack.  Huge crowds demonstrated for free expression not only in Paris (image above) but many other cities:

Lyon, France

Rennes, France

London, UK

Berlin, Germany

Barcelona, Spain

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Let no one doubt that we have the resolve to assert our rights against these thugs.  And never forget that such murders are not the actions of those who are confident.  This is the lashing-out of fanatics who know they are losing the culture war -- not just in Europe, but in the Middle East itself.  They are standing athwart history yelling "Stop, or we'll kill you!"  They will fail.

Update 1:  We're already seeing some of the predictable reactions that bubble up from predictable quarters every time something like this happens.  There are the Islam apologists pointing fingers of distraction in all directions, essentially saying "this, that, and the other thing are as bad or worse, so let's talk about that instead".  They are trying to draw attention back toward problems originating within their own societies, which they feel more comfortable talking about, or to shut down discussion of the specifically Islamic nature of this particular atrocity.  They can simply be dismissed with the contempt they deserve.

Then there are those who claim the attack was some sort of jiu-jitsu maneuver whose goal was to provoke a backlash against Islam and drive Muslims generally into the arms of the extremists, rather than what the attackers plainly intended -- an act to punish blasphemy and deter any more of it.  This is related to the kind of narcissism I posted about here and that Sam Harris observed in the wake of similar reactions after 9/11 -- secular Westerners find it very hard to grasp that religious fanatics act out of motives of religious fanaticism (even when they say in plain language what they're doing), and thus search for some underlying "real" reason for the attacks which makes sense in secular Western terms rather than in the terms meaningful to the people who actually carried out the attacks.  There's also a natural tendency for a writer to claim that whatever reaction he himself would most object to is what the terrorists wanted, as a tactic for discouraging that reaction.

Sorry, but violence by Islamic fanatics is not meant to "provoke a backlash" any more than violence committed by the US (or any other country) in wartime is.  The purpose of violent attacks like this is to create "shock and awe" and intimidate the target into abandoning whatever behavior the assailants object to -- in this case, exercising our freedom of expression.  In defying this, it's the protesters above, not the people who are tying themselves in knots by over-thinking something that is actually quite simple, who are reacting appropriately.

Update 2:  The equally predictable and even more revolting blame-the-victim response has begun too, from a not-unexpected quarter.

06 January 2015

Best of the Infidel, 2014

The "comfort" offered by religion is a shabby and dangerous lie.

Separation of church and state must be upheld without compromise.

The pro-death position is a morally-bankrupt abomination.

The concept of "basic income" could help us manage the coming technological transformation of the economy.

Happy Tunisia -- not as Islamic, or even as Arabic-speaking, as you think.

The blip:  Did we just hear a brief and accidental sign that there's another civilization out there?

I respond to Ross Douthat's plea for mercy.

Movie review:  Death of a woman, and of a world.

The left needs a better understanding of nationalism in Europe.

The enemy is religion, not (most) religious people.

Brandeis University disgraced itself here.

Hinduism is like apartheid made into a religion.

Iraq is not a nation.  Kurdistan is. The US will not be able to deal with the Middle East until it understands that.

Sometimes the most potent form of nationalism is cultural, not political.

The Middle East and American narcissism: It's not about us.

I take a look at the first superpower and its founder.

Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani is a genuinely radical reformer.

The MH17 disaster exemplifies Putin's dangerous incompetence.

Book review:  The Camp of the Saints is the Atlas Shrugged of racism.

ISIS is Islamic; the Iraq war will be won by Iran; we should do the right thing and help the Kurds get a stateMore on the Kurds here.

Men's clothes are awful.  We should learn from the ancients.

The arguments against legal marijuana are dishonest and wrong.

Don't let the fight for social progress be weakened by trite, shallow arguments.

A lot of people weren't fooled by Ebola fear-mongering.

Frozen carries a message of acceptance for differences broadly, not only for gays (more here).

A strong sense of identity can be a tool for liberation, but it's not the only one.

Christianity is defining itself as a religion whose highest value is the right to exclude others.

America's torture program is an ineradicable stain on our national character.  Reactions to it illustrate the moral superiority of the atheist.

04 January 2015

Link round-up for 4 January 2015

XKCD explores fairy demographics.

Intrepid sheep reporter Ramm Stein reports from the Global Gathering of Ironic Mansplaining (found via Republic of Gilead).

Murr Brewster takes a funny-but-disturbing look at the new Congress.

Some (mostly) right-wing types analyze my personality based on my Blogger profile.  But I seem to have a few supporters.

Can furniture be romantic?  You be the judge.

Where would Abraham be today?

Something else for the fundies to screech about:  lesbianism is catching on big among teenage girls in the US.

Creationist Ray Comfort isn't just stupid about evolution -- he's even stupider about gravity.

Neil Gaiman wishes you a happy new year full of mistakes (found via Snowstorm Thirteen (NSFW tumblr)).

Conservative criticism of the film industry has a long history.  And this attitude about cultural evolution still exists.

Why is Ayn Rand still a thing?

Teddy Roosevelt got "small government" right over a century ago.

Pro-police conservatives are hypocrites.

Republic of Gilead is running in-depth coverage of the Vatican's anti-gay, anti-cultural-pluralist Humanum Conference, including Pope Francis's opening speech, an affirmation of narrow and naïve dogma about marriage, some more of the same, and a message of support from the world's most homophobic culture.

Hrafnkell Haraldsson looks at right-wing claims of liberal intolerance in 2014.

This posting by a pastor on why people are abandoning Christianity (found via Republic of Gilead) is insightful enough, but what really tells the story is the comments, which quickly descend into exactly the kind of bickering over theological minutiae that the author says is driving people away -- and stays there even when a few commenters point this out.

Americans overwhelmingly favor more green energy and less fossil-fuel and nuclear.

Sorry, the penalty for almost ruining an innocent person's life needs to be far harsher than 35 days in jail.

Green Eagle's last Wingnut Wrapup of 2014 shows no let-up in teh crayzee.

Pastor wises up and dumps Christianity, Christians froth with rage -- here is a much better insight (both found via Republic of Gilead).

Whatever happened to the great right-wing moron Ebola panic?

Leaked NSA documents show how to keep your communications safe from the NSA.

Americans' choice of most admired woman and man offer little comfort to teabaggerdom.

That Florida CEO who claimed he'd have to fire people if Obama were re-elected is having a great year.

The history of Christmas is intertwined with the religious savagery of the English civil war.

Islamotard hackers attacked a bus timetable website in the small British city of Bristol because -- well, see for yourself.

Why does the British Parliament still privilege top members of this vanishing cult?

The Irish Atheist has six reasons why gay people should leave Christianity.

With government electronic snooping on private citizens a growing problem, Iceland makes a bid to become "the Switzerland of data security".

Iraqis are now confident that ISIS will be defeated this year, with ongoing American and Iranian help.  Meanwhile, ISIS has published a handy book of Islamic advice for mothers.

I knew this was going to happen -- in India, after the militant-Hindu BJP's election victory last year, Christians and Muslims face harassment and coerced conversion.

Kenya's electrical power system is threatened by vandals stealing transformer fluid to fry food with.

Ebola cases in west Africa have passed the 20,000 mark.

Here's what tears look like in close-up, showing surprising variation.

Birth control has many benefits beyond the obvious.

2014 was a year of remarkable scientific achievements (found via Progressive Eruptions).

02 January 2015

Video of the day -- a wise man


Almost a decade after his ruthlessly honest and truthful The God Delusion helped fire up what is now called New Atheism, Richard Dawkins remains the most prominent atheist thinker and one of the most forceful.

I'm struck by the fact that, when asked about the main remaining unsolved questions in biology, Dawkins immediately cited my own candidate for the last big scientific mystery left:  What is consciousness?