25 July 2016

The Siberian candidate?

This election just keeps getting weirder.  Trump's admiration for brutal foreign dictators in general and for Vladimir Putin in particular has long been a matter of concern.  But today's events suggest there may be more to it than just admiration.

Everyone who's looked into it seems to agree that the big public dump of hacked DNC e-mails was an act of the Russian regime -- and Trump himself appeared to endorse this view late today.  The Russian intent seems to have been to make it harder for Bernie Sanders's supporters to reconcile themselves to Hillary's candidacy, something that would weaken her against Trump.  That is, the Putin regime dared to interfere in the US election process in an effort to help Trump win.

Such blatant foreign intervention in a US election would be, as far as I know, unprecedented.  But the motive isn't hard to see.  Trump not only admires Putin but has advocated weakening the US commitment to its NATO allies in Europe and support for Ukraine's self-defense -- a course which would leave Europe far more vulnerable to the expansion of Russian influence.  And now some observers are reporting that Trump may even be financially beholden to Russia and thus himself under Russian influence.  This posting by anti-Trump conservative writer Max Twain sets forth the case succinctly (with some obligatory Hillary-bashing thrown in); for more detail, see this post at TPM (found via Progressive Eruptions).  Sarah Jones argues that Putin may fear Hillary as President, with good reason, creating an additional motive for interference.

As always, we need to be cautious about early reports which may turn out to be wrong or exaggerated.  But if all this is substantiated, it looks like a game-changer.  Aren't Trump's most vocal supporters the exact kind of people who would be most repelled by the thought of a foreign government having too much influence over a US President?  Some of them, of course, will just refuse to believe anything negative about Trump regardless of the evidence.  But not all of them.

24 July 2016

Link round-up for 24 July 2016

Mark Evanier knows how to handle wrong-number phone calls.

How big is Texas?  This big (for Europeans).  And you can get anything shaped like Texas.

The art of Aurum Light makes a splash.

Here's everything you need to know about keeping snails.

The Romans had a "terror weapon" -- whistling sling bullets (found via Mendip).

Job application questions are just getting stupider.

These are some of the world's most bizarre landscapes.

Internet centralization threatens our culture.

Trump is known to love beauty pageants -- here's one that may inspire him (yes, it's real).

Different countries, same problem.

The Republican convention has been good for business in Cleveland.

Mormonism is still haunted by the ghost of polygamy, and is digging in against gay marriage (both found via Republic of Gilead).

Gun control in the US has an interesting history (found via Sleestak) which still resonates today

Here's some useful advice for women, from a surprising source.

There are different standards for different people.

TSA security theater sometimes gets too real.  Sometimes it's, well, this.

Don't pray for the Orlando victims.

With the Charles Kinsey case, only a lunatic could deny that we have a deadly-serious problem.

Britain has some interesting place names (found via Mendip).

Wartime taught the Western world that women can do anything men can.

Germany's strict gun laws didn't stop the Munich mass shooting.  Comrade Misfit has a point to make.

Christianists in Romania attack gay rights, with help from their American counterparts.

Trump is already kowtowing to Putin on Ukraine.

South Korea has the world's weirdest park (found via Clarissa) -- the article is in Russian, but the photos speak for themselves.

Why don't the Syrian refugees just go back home?

Yes, people are still being sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Meghalaya is the rainiest place on Earth.

Republicans' deranged hatred of Obama is being transferred to Hillary.  After a long absence, Ahab is back and has been posting up a storm about the Republican convention (keep scrolling).

The Kaine pick is assessed by Stonekettle Station, Booman Tribune, PM Carpenter, You Might Notice a Trend, and The Immoral Minority (watch this too).  Trump pitifully tries to get a rise out of Warren.

Wingnutty wingnuts are wingnutting wingnuttishly.

Trump's nomination leaves anti-Trump Republicans facing a stark choice.  I found this conservative essay (and the comments) interesting.

Fair and Unbalanced has an overview of the wingnuts' fake Hillary scandals.

Two new ads show who Trump is.

Don't waste your vote.

Bernie's been hammering Trump on Twitter.  Hackwhackers has a round-up of media reactions to Trump's acceptance speech.

Jordan Sargent elaborates on the hypothesis that Melania's speech was deliberately sabotaged (found via Republic of Gilead).

"Women Vote Trump", but apparently not many.

If you don't want to vote for Hillary, vote for this.

22 July 2016

This is what the Republicans just nominated

The next time somebody challenges you for saying that Donald Trump is a fascist, refer them to this huge collection of links put together by "Marisam7" on Reddit.  He or she has done an extraordinary service by assembling so much documentation on what this man really is.  We cannot let this monster become the leader of the most powerful country in the world.

20 July 2016

Brief update (2)

It now turns out that the surgery won't be until mid-September.  Yeesh.

Not much for me to do on the internet this week.  Tumblr is all full of Poke Mongo or whatever it's called, Turkey's lunge toward fascism is too depressing to write about, and everything that needs to be said about the Republican convention is already being said, in spades.

Amid all the convention mess, one genuinely important thing has happened.  What has been de facto inevitable for months is now de jure irrevocable; the Republicans have formally nominated a cross between Benito Mussolini and the Three Stooges as their candidate for President.  What was once the party of Lincoln is now the party of Trump.  And it will be branded as such for all the miserable and hopefully-short remainder of its existence.

Oh, and as for the fracas over Melania Trump's speech:  I don't believe she herself plagiarized Michelle Obama's words.  No plagiarist would choose such an easily-detected source.  What must have happened is something more intriguing -- sabotage from within the campaign.  Whoever wrote the speech did that.  The "Rick Roll" flourish was the saboteur's victory whoop, showing off his assurance that what he had done wouldn't be caught until the speech was delivered, because the Trumps are too out-of-touch to recognize even a universally-known fragment of pop culture.

There have been a lot of stories about conflict and turmoil within the Trump campaign.  At least one insider was hostile enough to the cause to torpedo Trump's wife on her big night, despite the likelihood of severe consequences once the Trumps figure out who was responsible.  Over the next three and a half months we may see more sabotage from within.

17 July 2016

Link round-up for 17 July 2016

For this week's cuteness overload, it's cats and kittens and baby foxes.

Scottish epithets aimed at Trump are far wittier than his own pedestrian insults.

Don't annoy the frog.

Most terrifying luxury suites ever.

What if dogs had their own 911 emergency number?

Squirrel!

Many American hit movies have been copied by foreign filmmakers, especially Turkish (found via Mendip).  Some of these actually look interesting and the reviews are intelligently done.

Squatlo has some striking lightning-storm photos.

Baby, we made it, we're twenty-one percent.

This is why cats are the way they are.

Here's a staggeringly detailed visual analysis of the greatest SF movie ever (found via Mendip).

One picture sums up religion vs. atheism.

Malgorzata Chodakowska creates unique water sculptures.

If you use a hider app, read this.

Check out this unearthly ice cave (click pictures to enlarge) and these Antarctic ice formations.

Spelling is important.

Here's the real story of the Tombstone flying monster of 1890 (found via Mendip).

What was God thinking when he created animals?

Pray for Orlando.

It would be pretty cool to have one of these.  Just imagine visitors freaking out.

There's something more dangerous than texting while driving.

This gay man is actually happy to be in Idaho.

Check out these photos of women in history.

An Orlando survivor has an open letter to the murderer.

A Republican explains how Obamacare affected him.  But here's a Republican who is just disgusting.

Troglodytes get pwned by the Constitution, again.

Here's what the wingnuts have been up to.

Ironically, the Dallas police department is one of the better ones in the country.

Is it 1968 again?

Scott Lively wants to be the acceptable face of bigotry -- nobody's buying.  Then there's this church (found via Republic of Gilead).

Squatlo wishes for an end to the world's worst and longest-lasting plague.

Don't shop at Macy's -- or go anywhere near it.

Since when are hate and mass murder considered Christian values?  (Actually, you might want to ask the victims of the Crusades about that one.)

Americans don't get the reality of socialized medicine.

This is modern Britain.

Dogs barking, caravan moving on:  Now that Britain will soon be free to make its own trade deals outside the EU, countries like South Korea, Australia, and India are rushing to get in on the opportunity.  Here's some advice for the US -- and keep calm and carry on.  Al-Jazeera looks at Brexit and the Arab world.

No, it isn't true that great numbers of Brits were Googling "what is the EU" and suchlike right after the vote.  (Will the people who were claiming this have the grace to retract?)  Brexit-bashers gloated at the fall in the UK stock market, but it more than recovered in less than a week, and is now even higher.  Here's a profile of the new Prime Minister.

The British vote for independence has invigorated calls for similar referenda throughout the EU.  France's most popular candidate for President is calling for a Frexit vote, while more than a quarter-million Austrians have signed a petition for their own referendum.  Will the EU understand that the real issue is lack of democracy?

"My Stealthy Freedom" is a (relatively) safe way for Iranian women to defy the mullahs' dress code.

Facebook is no friend to Arab atheists.

Happy birthday to the Armenian alphabet.

Geneva may soon have a coffee shop with a difference.

If you want to be a citizen, you have to adapt.

Arrogant Christians destroy an ancient pagan temple in Mexico.

How about a bus that drives above traffic jams?

When Tim the elephant was injured by a spear, he knew exactly where to go for help.

We've lost our first mammal species to climate change.

Republicans squirm away from the meaning of Orlando.

Hillary's election will start to undo the corrupting of the Supreme Court.

Jared Yates Sexton, whose twitter report on a Trump rally startled the blogosphere, has been deluged with threats.  But there's a reason why Trump is trying to tone it down.

Here's Bernie's post-endorsement message.

How nutty is the Republican platform?  This nutty.

Most media have ignored the child-rape lawsuit filed against Trump in June.  Here's why they're wrong.

Good point.

Read the manifesto of Historians Against Trump.

Don't be this guy. It didn't work last time.

16 July 2016

A little background on Turkey and coups

Turkey is one of the Middle East's two long-standing democracies (the other is Israel), but this week's failed coup there is a reminder of how differently things can work in different societies.

After World War I led to the collapse of the decrepit Ottoman Empire, the modern Turkish state was established by Kemal Atatürk, perhaps history's best example of a charismatic leader who changed the course of a whole country's development.  Atatürk, an atheist, was determined to make the new Turkish state as modern and Western as possible in every respect, including both democracy and secularism.  By and large the republic he founded has remained true to his vision; by the 1950s it had evolved a genuinely democratic system, and the state has remained secular.

Yet there remains a tension between the two goals.  In a nation whose population is mostly Muslim and many people still believe that Islam should influence government, there is always the risk of secularism being eroded by Islamic-leaning elected governments.  The Turkish military, one of the country's most solidly secular institutions (this is a common pattern in the Middle East -- an effective military has to understand technology and other realities not very compatible with a superstitious world-view), has long viewed itself as the guardian of Atatürk's legacy.  Several times from the 1960s to the 1990s, the military either threatened the government with a coup or actually carried one out, at least in part because elected leaders were introducing religion into government (in most cases there was also significant economic turmoil or street violence which the state seemed unable to cope with).  In each case, however, the military left power and restored democracy as soon as the crisis had passed.  Bizarre as it may seem, the Turkish military could be viewed as having a role similar to that of the US Supreme Court -- exercising a final veto in cases where elected leaders transgress against the essential principles of the state.

The current Erdoğan government is aggressively Islamist and has also openly attacked essential elements of freedom, such as freedom of the press.  In light of precedent, it is almost surprising that the military did not act earlier.  Part of the explanation is the fact that Turkey has for years supposedly been under consideration to be admitted to the European Union as a member.  While it's unlikely that Turkey will ever actually be accepted by the EU, the EU has made it clear to Turkey that, to qualify, the military must stay out of politics.  Not only is this ironic in view of the flagrant lack of democracy in the EU's own institutions, but it has weakened the chief bulwark of Turkey's secularism, allowing Erdoğan to push an Islamist agenda and erode free institutions, threatening the survival of Turkish democracy itself.

The collapse of this week's coup reflects the fact that only a portion of the military was involved, with other units opposing it.  Evidently the generals failed to reach consensus.  But from every viewpoint, the implications of this event are discouraging.  It shows that almost eighty years after Atatürk's death, Turkey still seems to need the military as the chief safeguard of its secular republic -- and that now even that safeguard is failing.

14 July 2016

Brief update

I got some more information today about my upcoming surgery.  I don't have an exact date yet, but it will probably be sometime around the middle of August.  It's a great relief that I'll be able to have it so soon and get it over with.  The recuperation period is several weeks, but will mostly be at home -- so it shouldn't take me offline very long, unless I'm completely zoned out on painkillers.

There will be a link round-up this Sunday -- I haven't been off the internet, just staying away from most of the political stuff (see post below).

25 June 2016

The Infidel is [OUT]

Over the last couple of weeks I've felt more alienated from the American liberal internet than I can ever remember feeling before.

It started with Orlando.  In the wake of the deadliest religious mass murder of gay people in US history, the liberal blogosphere's solidarity with the victims was soon eclipsed by -- a bizarre obsession with the particular method of killing used.  For every posting about religious bigotry and homophobia, there were ten postings about guns.  Guns, guns, guns.  Within a week I actually caught myself wishing that, if this slaughter had to happen at all, the murderer had at least used some other weapon such as a pipe bomb or a suicide-bomber vest.  Maybe then we could have stayed focused on the real issue, and the deaths of those 49 people would have meant something.  I still have some hope that eventually they will, but the diversion of blogosphere energy from bigotry into the tired old gun-bashing rut is not encouraging.

The honorable exceptions were, as usual on these issues, Comrade Misfit, who showed more patience than I would have in trying to make people see sense -- and of course Republic of Gilead, whose mission has always been the exposure of religious bigotry.  But theirs were lonesome voices.

Then tragedy was followed by triumph.  My years-long dream became reality as the land of my family's origin voted to break away from the undemocratic and parasitic European Union.  It felt like the day the Berlin Wall fell, heralding the eventual break-up of the Soviet Empire.  But my personal connection with Britain made the exhilaration all the greater.

And immediately almost all the liberal internet erupted in a paroxysm of poisonous idiocy.  With Orlando, at least, most bloggers did offer some solidarity to the targeted population, even if they quickly changed the subject to guns.  With the Brexit vote last Thursday, there was almost no such concession to sanity or respect whatsoever.

No one seemed to have any knowledge or awareness of the actual issues -- restoration of national sovereignty and independence (however sacred if it were a Third World country involved), the desire to return power from an unelected oligarchy to an elected government, the economic devastation wrought by the euro currency and the EU's enforcement of (very Republican-like) austerity policies on already-weak south European economies -- or the implications of the fact that polls show support for the EU plummeting in all its member states, not just in the UK.  That's hundreds of millions of people who have been living under the damn thing for decades.  Which is more likely -- that they are totally misreading their situation, or that you are totally misreading their situation?

(I should mention a couple of further honorable exceptions -- Green Eagle and Ranch Chimp, at least, saw the absurd apocalyptic hysteria over inevitable market fluctuations for what it is.  But they're oases in a very large and toxic desert.  If you want to know what's really going on, take a few minutes to watch this.  It's five years old but it directly explains what happened on Thursday.)

Bloggers who should know better rushed to ridicule the democratic decision of the British people (soon likely to be replicated in any EU member state where the public gets a chance to vote on its own future), based apparently on some combination of received opinion from the popular media, the fact that Donald Trump approved of the decision (remember the old adage about a stopped clock being right twice a day), and, bizarrely, a perceived similarity between Trump and Boris Johnson, based on a slight physical resemblance and a tendency toward iconoclasm.  I always knew Americans tend to be ignorant about the outside world, but this is astonishing.  Is it really impossible to look at other countries' politics except by ridiculous, shallow analogies to something American?

Even stupider have been the efforts to legitimize this reaction by zeroing in on one individual who was quoted as saying he didn't think his vote would count (every population includes a few idiots), Google searches about what exactly leaving the EU will involve, and suchlike, in an effort to depict the British people as naïve fools who didn't know what they were doing.  Trust me, they knew.  This contemptuous disdain for the will of the people when they vote against the rule of a self-appointed oligarchy is exactly the kind of thing I'd expect from the authoritarians who support, well, Trump -- or worse.

I'm sorry, but I simply don't have the mental resources to cope with this tidal wave of idiocy right now.  I have ongoing challenges and claims on my energy which I've never mentioned here, I've been struggling for months with a physical problem which creates intermittent severe pain and difficulty walking, and I'm facing major surgery in the near future.  I'm already under considerable strain.  I can't, on top of all that, deal with seeing so much of what's important to me under attack from people I consider allies.  At the very least, I need to disengage until all this crap blows over.

Then, too, there's the US election coming up in a little over four months, with probably more at stake than in any previous election in my lifetime, and I need to be in the right mental state to contribute what I can in the run-up to that.

Something has to give, and this is what it's going to be.  I will be getting completely away from the political internet for some period of time.  That includes this blog (which I never meant to be mainly about politics, but tends to run that way these days).  I'll be back at some point, but I don't know when.  It depends how I feel.

24 June 2016

I N D E P E N D E N C E ! !

The land of my ancestors has voted itself out of the European Union.  The result was 52%-to-48%, a margin of over a million votes -- not as big as I would have liked, but certainly enough to put the decision beyond dispute.

Next comes a period of complex negotiation over the exact terms of departure, something that is supposed to take two years according to the Lisbon Treaty (the EU's "constitution"), but will likely take longer in practice.  Prime Minister David Cameron, a fervent supporter of the EU as most mainstream politicians in Europe are, has declared his resignation effective this autumn; it's likely that Boris Johnson, a leader of the Leave campaign, will replace him and thus handle the actual negotiations.

Expect a few days or even weeks of agitation in various financial markets, fluctuations in the value of the pound, and predictions of doom and gloom of every kind from politicians, pundits, and the MSM.  The financial parasite class and the would-be opinion-shapers on its payroll absolutely hate it when we ordinary people get ideas of our own and start thinking outside the boxes they've carefully drawn around us.  You can expect similar reactions here in the US if and when, for example, Hillary puts Elizabeth Warren on the ticket and she becomes VP and then, God forbid, runs for President in a future cycle.  It's also likely that EU leaders will be as harsh and vindictive as possible in the terms of departure and future trade relations they seek to impose on the UK.  But as I discussed here, the UK is too large and has too much economic clout to be bullied easily.  And Johnson will be a tougher opponent than the Brussels oligarchy is used to being up against.

The vote is a victory for democracy; independence will restore full authority to the elected British government, reversing the steady drain of power away to the unelected institutions of the EU.  It's a victory for nationalism too, of course, and some will not like that -- but nationalism is a very powerful feeling among great masses of people all over the world, and tends to be inflamed by attempts to suppress it.  The left needs to learn how to accommodate it. The vote also means that the British are "walking away from Omelas".  They will no longer be complicit in the economic devastation that the EU's austerity policies and its misbegotten common currency (which the UK never adopted) have for years been inflicting on the southern member states from Greece to Portugal.

And the EU oligarchy's bluster and posturing toward the departing UK masks an existential weakness in its own position -- this referendum is likely to be just the first of many.  Pressure has been building for similar in-or-out votes in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden.  France's National Front has long advocated such a vote there, where the EU is even less popular than in the UK.  There are similar stirrings elsewhere.  The British victory will embolden and intensify such sentiments -- and public support for the EU is already in sharp decline across all the member states.  Even before the two-year period of negotiation is up, the EU oligarchy could be facing the wholesale disintegration of its empire.

Again, when this happens, don't be fooled by the lurid apocalyptic wailings of the punditocracy.  Countries all over the world trade with each other and maintain good relations without benefit of some gargantuan supra-national crypto-state bossing them around.  The end of the EU will simply mean the restoration of normality in Europe.  And the rest of Europe will owe the British for taking the first step and showing the way, making the unthinkable into the inevitable.

The dogs will bark.  The caravan will move on.

22 June 2016

Enough is enough

The aftermath of the Orlando massacre, probably the deadliest religious/homophobic hate crime in US history, has played out in predictable fashion.  The enemy has been doubling down in various ways, while much of the liberal blogosphere has been screaming GUNS GUNS GUNS so loudly and single-mindedly that people of the actual targeted community who want to talk about the actual problem are having difficulty making themselves heard.  They will be heard, nevertheless.

The enemy's reactions fall into two main categories.  The first, which one must recognize as the more honest, is to reassert and hold high the clear position of the Bible on homosexuality.  You can see a sampling of such viewpoints here and here, though there have been plenty more.

The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is -- I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job!

Faggots getting shot is perfectly right and good. God be praised for #OrlandoShooting.

Those Orlando fags are in hell. Soon you will be too. Praise God for his righteous judgements in this Earth.

Et cetera.  Such statements reflect the spirit of Leviticus 20:13 and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The fact that they shock many people today shows how far the secularized West has moved away from Biblical Christianity.

The second reaction is one I've mostly seen in passing in comments on right-wing forums, but is expressed in detail in Scott Lively's essay discussed here.  The gist of it is that the less-murderous form of homophobia promoted by most fundamentalist Christians -- denouncing homosexuality as a sin, wanting to "cure" it by prayer or "therapy", and the many forms of ostracism and denigration and discrimination promoted via "religious freedom" bills and other laws targeting gays -- should be accepted and embraced since they are, after all, not as bad as actually killing gays as the Islamists do.

By this kind of argument, the Holocaust should have legitimized and justified lesser forms of anti-Semitism, since those who wanted to subject Jews to lesser abuses than the gas chambers could similarly have pointed out that their bigotry was different in character from Hitler's; blacks, too, should have accepted and embraced the oppression of the Jim Crow era since it was not as bad as slavery.  The idea that a group should simply accept certain forms of abuse against itself, because other forms of abuse which others want to inflict would be even worse, is one that can be made only from a position of utterly oblivious privilege.  It seems to be the default Christianist response to Orlando, though.

The massacre seems, however, to have galvanized thoughtful LGBT people in just the opposite direction -- toward realizing that bigotry must no longer get a free pass and be treated as legitimate just because it is based on holy books.  For example:

-- I think we really need to reaffirm now that no amount of homophobia can be acceptable in our culture. There is no such thi[ng] as harmless or victimless homophobia. All homophobia contributes to violence against us. You can not “disagree” with lgbt people’s “lifestyles” without supporting the rhetoric and legislation that puts us in very real danger.

-- this is religious discrimination. Christians are not inherently “homophobic” but our faith requires us (if we take it seriously) to disagree with the belief that homosexual behaviors are in any way beneficial to a person or to a society.....

-- If you think that being LGBT+ is “harmful” to a person o[r] to society, then YOU are harmful to us. If your interpretation of your faith requires you to believe that, then your interpretation of your faith is harmful to us.

There is a longer response here, and the point is set forth in plain language here, and even more bluntly here.  This, I think, is what will ultimately prove the most lasting and meaningful consequence of Orlando.  If the massacre finally inspires American society to view polite, Bible-based homophobia with the same revulsion and ostracism that racism and anti-Semitism already inspire, and to stop seeing it as a respectable or socially-acceptable attitude, then that will be the best possible monument to the victims.

19 June 2016

Link round-up for 19 June 2016

OK, this means war.

Explore the amusingly blasphemous world of Biblical misprints (found via Mendip).

Canada commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek.

"I told you this intersection was dangerous."

Here's a duet your cat may appreciate.

This exercise system is French -- very French (found via Mendip).

Here's how foreigners can identify Americans.

Two thumbs up!

Obama sends a thank-you note.

Does this look submissive to you?

You Might Notice a Trend has bumper stickers for the Presidential campaign.

It's an abomination -- the Bible says so!

See more of the world's most beautiful libraries.

Beware of scammers trying to exploit Orlando (found via Zandar).

Wow, a bookstore owner who can't read.

Here's a historical object you can see only in this one photo (found via Lady, That's My Skull).

A religious-nutball news site freaks out over a "Satanic" opening ceremony for a new tunnel in Europe (the video looks pretty cool).  Don't miss the goofy pearl-clutching comments!

Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric is counterproductive, but it's not quite unique.

Political vultures of all stripes are circling Orlando.

History would have been different if Gore had won in 2000.

You weren't the gunman, but.....

Evangelicals need to face up to how their rhetoric encourages killings of gays (found via Republic of Gilead).  Progressive Eruptions has a round-up of extremist Christian pronouncements on the subject.  Ranch Chimp has some Christian and Muslim views.  Finally, enough is enough.

If you think the NRA is "terrorist", consider this point.

Look at all the Christian love.

Green Eagle has a report from the wingnut fantasy world, with a startling D-Day graphic.

Yes, there are out gay Muslims (but what a difficult life that must be).

Prayer does serve a purpose.

Who hates?  All these.

Here's a thoughtful assessment of Omar Mateen by an atheist who knows Islam well.

Wingnuts use Orlando to whip up anti-immigrant feeling, but Trump's efforts fall flat even with other Republicans.  Gays are refusing to be intimidated, with defiant actions such as the Keep Kissing Project, while some call for the community to arm itself.

Matt Damon talks back about teachers.

No one should be able to kill 50 people at once -- it's time to crack down.

Faye Kane has an interesting post about failure, using the Titanic as an example.

Here are some observations from the LA pride parade.

The British referendum on the European Union turns wacky with a naval clash on the Thames.  One driving force on the Leave side is working-class anger and frustration.  The claim that Leave would drive down housing prices is a point in its favor.  The decision will be serious but not difficult.

Ancient stone structures on the small island of Menorca drive home an important point about religion.

What does "white" really mean?

Religion strikes again, in a French town.

Read why Médicins Sans Frontières is rejecting funding from the European Union.

Anonymous has been having some fun with Dâ'ish (ISIL) on Twitter (found via Mendip).

Cities around the world commemorate Orlando.

Iraqi forces have liberated Fallujah.  On to Mosul.

Check out this treehouse town in Costa Rica.

These doctors don't deserve the name.

The loan business in China is.....different.

Even some evangelicals are coming to accept evolution (found via Republic of Gilead).

Why did the neanderthals lose out to our ancestors?  Inbreeding may have played a role.

Nicotinamide riboside shows promise for revitalizing the elderly, but we need more data.

Dinosaurs may be back in five to ten years (found via Mendip).

Don't let history repeat itself.

Some conservatives understand the Trump disaster, but others refuse to take responsibility.  His stain on history will last long.

Even Ramesh Ponnuru thinks Democrats have a chance at winning the House.

Trump's comments on 9/11 over the years reveal a lot about him.

Yes, people are excited about Hillary.

Here's a Twitter report on a Trump rally which will scare the hell out of you (found via Green Eagle, who has some observations).

There's more at stake than just the Presidency.

Some corporate sponsors are pulling out of the Republican convention, but not all of them.

Trump has a problem in the inland west -- Mormons.

The enthusiasm gap now favors Hillary.

Alicia Machado's personal experiences with Trump have motivated her to get politically involved.

17 June 2016

He gets it. Do you?

Yesterday's speech by Bernie Sanders marks a turning point in the Presidential race.  Republicans in despair over their own sociopathic narcissist of a nominee have been clinging to the hope that Bernie might run as a third candidate or at least keep on fighting Hillary into the general election, thus splitting the liberal vote.  Bernie has, of course, never given any encouragement to such hopes, and yesterday he made it clear that nothing of the kind will happen.

He dedicated most of the speech to the issues he's been fighting for during the campaign.  The full speech is here, and if you haven't heard him before, you'll see why he was able to captivate such a large and dedicated following.  This is the healthy and progressive version of the warped and diseased insurgency Trump has whipped up.  Bernie says things that most politicians don't have the guts to say straight out -- the US is becoming an oligarchy, it is slipping more and more behind other developed countries in quality of life, and its economy, health-care system, and other areas need reforms more radical than mainstream politics has contemplated so far.  These things resonate with millions of people because they are true.

And Bernie makes it clear he knows that a Trump victory in this election would be the worst possible setback for the agenda he's been fighting for:

This campaign is about defeating Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for president. After centuries of racism, sexism and discrimination of all forms in our country we do not need a major party candidate who makes bigotry the cornerstone of his campaign. We cannot have a president who insults Mexicans and Latinos, Muslims, women and African-Americans. We cannot have a president who, in the midst of so much income and wealth inequality, wants to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the very rich. We cannot have a president who, despite all of the scientific evidence, believes that climate change is a hoax. The major political task that we face in the next five months is to make certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly. And I personally intend to begin my role in that process in a very short period of time.

He will be working with Hillary to achieve this.  Republican fantasies that he would act as a sort of unwitting mole for their side, sabotaging Hillary and letting Trump win, are now dashed.

(It must be said that some of Bernie's supporters, as opposed to the man himself, have indeed shown the kind of nihilistic appetite for such sabotage that the Republicans hope for.  But this is only a minority of them, and hopefully even fewer will cling to such madness all the way to November, especially with Bernie himself calling for unity.)

He also emphasized that the energy brought out by his campaign is still needed.  Voters focus on Presidential politics, and tend to neglect lower-level offices.  This has allowed Republicans to dominate too many state governments, with disastrous effect on abortion rights, minority voting rights, and state-level services.  Gerrymandering gives Republicans the House, while low off-year turnout gives them the Senate.  We've seen, since 2010, how these problems have frustrated progress and even the normal workings of government.  That has to change.

Bernie is doing his part to re-unify the party, and will continue to do so.  As Mike Lux explains here, this is essential -- and the effort can't all come from one side.  The establishment, too, has to recognize the enthusiasm Bernie aroused and incorporate his agenda into what the party fights for.  It's encouraging that Hillary is now actively vetting Elizabeth Warren as a potential running mate.

Now it's time to get together and make Donald Trump, to use his own favorite epithet, the biggest loser in American Presidential history -- so we can build on what Obama has accomplished, and work toward the future America needs.

14 June 2016

Declaration of independence?

On June 23 -- that's Thursday of next week -- British voters will face a historic referendum:  should the UK stay in the German Empire European Union or leave it?  Whichever way they decide, the consequences will be weighty.

The issues driving the debate are basically national independence vs. economic integration.  "Leave" supporters argue that as the EU becomes more centralized, its interference in Britain's internal affairs is becoming excessive, notably the fact that Britain no longer has much control over immigration from other EU countries because the EU is committed to free internal movement of people (although this cuts both ways -- there are more British people living in other EU countries than vice-versa).  They also note that the real power in the EU resides in institutions which are not democratically elected, so that democracy is being traded for oligarchy.  Finally, the EU is becoming a German-dominated superstate -- the very thing Britain fought both world wars to prevent.  Against all this, the "Remain" camp argues that the economic benefits of European integration are worth it, and that separating from the EU would leave Britain isolated and marginalized.

If the Remain side wins, the option of "Brexit" (short for "British exit") will be off the table permanently, or at least for as long as the EU exists.  A Remain vote would be viewed as settling this long-contentious question for a generation or more.  And since younger people generally favor Remain, while Leave supporters tend to be older, the Remain tendency will probably grow over time.

If the Leave side wins, the country will be committed to a complex process of negotiation to disentangle itself from the snarl of political, economic, and legal connections which have developed between itself and the rest of the EU.  Most of this will involve not severing those connections but restoring them to a conventional international-relations footing as opposed to the current relationship of metropolis (Brussels) and province.  Nor will the process be one the EU can take lightly.  The UK is the EU's second-largest economy and its third-largest member state by population; it also includes London, which is by far the most important financial-services center.  It is a major market for other European countries' exports.  Contrary to the Remain camp's predictions of disastrous ostracism, the UK would have a great deal of leverage to win favorable terms of departure.  (One might also note that three western European countries -- Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland -- are not and never have been in the EU, and they are doing at least as well as comparable EU states.)

A British Leave vote would resound across the whole problem-wracked conglomeration.  It would likely lead to intensified calls for similar referenda in (at least) Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands.  French nationalist leader Marine Le Pen has called the British referendum "a key moment in European history", and her National Front party favors a similar referendum in France.  Brexit followed by Frexit would be the end of the EU in anything like its current form, and the EU is even less popular in France than in the UK (only 38% of the French view it favorably, compared with 44% of the British).  Indeed, over the last year, support for the EU has fallen sharply in most of the member states, even in Germany itself.

The unraveling could eventually go further.  The Irish Republic is culturally and economically more strongly connected to the UK than to any other EU state.  And just as Britain's linguistic, cultural, and historical ties with the US and other English-speaking nations offer the permanent temptation of a "family" alternative to the EU, so the similar ties linking Spain and Portugal with dynamic and growing Latin America may eventually seem more attractive to those countries than the endless stagnation they suffer under the EU's austerity regime.

Within Britain itself, a Leave victory could re-open the question of Scottish independence, supposedly settled by the vote there less than two years ago.  Scotland is more pro-EU than the rest of the UK, and the Scottish Nationalist party has made it clear that leaving the EU would provoke a second referendum on Scotland's status.  (In Wales, by contrast, opinion on the EU is evenly split.)

Whatever the consequences, Brexit is looking more likely.  During most of the campaign, polls showed the contest almost too close to call, but in recent days the Leave side has opened up a 10-point lead.  This seems startling given that the whole political establishment -- most leaders of the two biggest parties, along with most of the media -- have strongly supported the Remain side.  However, this unanimity has enabled the Leave campaign to frame the debate as the people vs. the elites, which resonates with a population long frustrated with the establishment's unresponsiveness on issues such as immigration.

Whichever side wins the referendum, it will be for the best if it wins by a large majority.  Such a momentous decision should not depend on a narrow margin, and the people's verdict should be clear enough that its legitimacy and decisive character are beyond question.

The British will make their decision next Thursday.  It will resound across Europe and beyond.

12 June 2016

The Orlando massacre

At least fifty people have been killed in a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.  The murderer was Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old US-born Muslim of Afghan extraction.  As always, we must be wary of early reports on an incident like this, which often later turn out to be wrong in major details.  Nevertheless, I do have a few observations.

First, Mateen's father describes his son as "anti-gay" and says that he had recently been enraged by the sight of two men kissing -- but also insists that the slaughter "had nothing to do with religion".  Well, whence comes anti-gay hatred and the kind of pathology that reacts with rage to something as innocent as a kiss, if not from the Abrahamic taboo system which Islam exemplifies?

Second, the anti-gun obsessives are once again pouncing upon a mass shooting as a pretext for renewing their attacks on American gun rights.  Mateen had no criminal record, was employed as a security guard, and had a firearms license.  It's hard to see how any restriction which has been proposed would have kept him from obtaining guns -- unless of course that "restriction" were universal confiscation, trying to disarm a hundred million law-abiding and responsible gun owners who, don't forget, include millions of liberals, gays, and members of minority groups.  And hasn't the War on Drugs shown us that even an outright ban can't keep things out of the hands of people who are determined to obtain them?

Third, we are already seeing the usual "thoughts and prayers" for the victims being offered by Republican politicians, members of the same party which for years has been whipping up anti-gay hysteria and bigotry among its own fanatically-religious supporters, many of whom would have been quick to denounce the victims of this massacre as perverts while they were still alive.  Fuck your prayers.  Rather than talking to your imaginary friend, try renouncing and denouncing the political party which helps fuel the hatred and violence gays still have to fear day by day in some parts of the country.

Update:  Police in Los Angeles may have prevented a similar mass killing at the pride parade there.

Link round-up for 12 June 2016

Check out these shaded streets.

He Is Risen.

This may be the most colorful animal in the world.

Watch this kid, he's going places.

Hmm, maybe the Mulder/Scully shippers were right?

This may be the best Hillary endorsement yet.  Oh, and she's not the first to use the motto "Stronger Together".

Trump's losing the toilet paper poll.  And Trumpanzees stink at propaganda.

Old books can be intriguing -- I wonder about those hobbies.

Pictures don't lie, but they can be misleading.

Which airline is this?  I want to fly them!  Maybe they go to these destinations?

Bisexuality exists -- it really does.

Here are some words we could use (from commenter Blurber).  We need a word for "humane" that doesn't imply "human".

Iowa's Governor wants to promote Christianity by making it a nuisance.  Well, Christians are being persecuted.

Paintings take us through the North American Purgatory.

The Windows 10 scandal just gets worse (found via Clarissa).

The Bible is a long book, so here's the essential summary.

Capitalists create wealth.....

Some rapists are more equal than others.  And sometimes American justice is just a travesty.

It's a beautiful sight, the repudiation of evil.

Too many Americans work while they're sick.

Beware this slimy bank.

Republicans protect women, sometimes.

Here's how the fundies are bungling the culture wars (found via Republic of Gilead -- yes, he's back to posting).  On trans issues, they're repeating the same mistakes they made with gays.

The real Mexico is nothing like the wingnuts imagine it (found via Progressive Eruptions).

A candidate of the British Green party spreads anti-Semitism.

British Christians adjust to a post-Christian nation.  Europeans are finding other uses for their unneeded churches.

99 lashes for.....attending a graduation party?

Today is gay pride parade day in Kiev, and certain people object.  Let's hope it goes better than last year.  The wingnuts in that region of the world even hate vegans.

Marriage in China is.....different.

Syrian refugees should give this a try.

This is barbarism.

Blast effects cause a strange form of brain damage which could account for PTSD (found via Earth-Bound Misfit).

Was agriculture a mistake?  Actually, no (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

Here's the most important reason why Hillary has to win.  And here are five things you didn't know about her.

Green Eagle translates Trump's tepid speech.

The race is swinging our way, though many undecideds remain.  It will fluctuate, but keep your eye on the big picture.

If you're a leftist who thinks a Trump victory would "wake people up", you need to read this.

"To minority voters, Trump’s candidacy feels like an existential threat."  And though it's a lower-profile issue, he's a menace to LGBT people as well.

Listen to David Neiwert and Tengrain.

There's a reason for Trump's "crooked Hillary" epithet.

"They are waging war against whites, which represent the goodness of America."

Trump's business strategy has included not paying his bills.

Here's what the rest of the wingnuts have been up to.

Buzzfeed decides it doesn't want Republican money that comes with Trump attached.  Mexican judge, Pocahontas, what will he say next?  Here's why the party probably won't ditch him at the convention.

While speculation swirls around Warren as a possible VP, Trump's process flounders.

Don't pander to freaks.  (That's what the Republicans did, and look what happened.)

My favorite right-wing forum is starting a series on Trump's racism.  They call it Fourth Reich Watch.

[Image at top found via Yikes!)