28 February 2008

Link roundup for 28 February 2008

There's hope for that poor widower in Sudan (found via Mendip), and perhaps for Senator Wide Stance (the best part of this is comment #3).

McCain really is different from other Republicans.

Here's how Hillary Clinton tends to do a bit better than the polls predict, another example of the repulsive sexism which has characterized the campaign season, and a collection of quotes.

Here's a German view of Obama, and a serious look at "change" and his program. In fairness, I was impressed by this.

And here's what the delegate situation looks like.

Is the Christian Right re-inventing the dynastic principle?

The US may be more religious than other advanced nations, but Americans' religious loyalties are volatile.

A look at Christianity and the Nazis -- a subject apparently not well understood by France's President Sarkozy.

More gangster tombs, this time from Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine.

Don't forget about Iran.

Okinawa, Sardinia, and Loma Linda CA offer some interesting data on lifestyle and life expectancy.

Bees have some surprising capabilities (sent by Blurber).

Cryonics is moving forward (found via Mendip).

Ray Kurzweil speaks on near-future technological progress.

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25 February 2008

Best of the Infidel, 2006

As I previously noted, the number of postings on this site has now passed 1,000, and I thought it might be worthwhile to point out a few which I consider the most worth reading. Here are the ones from my first calendar year.

Pat Buchanan gets illegal immigration wrong

Unnatural sexual behavior

Right-wingers being nutzoid about Hollywood again

Christianity distorts Roman and medieval history

Eastern and western Europe

No, language is not declining

Swearing is just tiresome

What if the Cold War had gone the other way?

Pessimism

My days as an abortion-clinic-defense volunteer

"Anti-life" conservatism

Basic principles

Why I'm against manned space flight

Why the "Europe is doomed" meme is rubbish

How modern schooling fails our children

The 2006 election was a win for freedom and common sense

Sometimes the little guys win

Religion doesn't make societies better

Christmas rant

Debunking the "atheism equals Communism" meme

The message of the ape

Addressing some objections to life extension

The nuisance of being without electricity

Another discussion on life extension

Islam is dying out in Russia

24 February 2008

Not THAT old thing again.....

Ralph Nader makes another pathetic bid for attention. Savor the self-delusion:

.....pledging to repeat a bid that will "shift the power from the few to the many."

No, you blithering idiot, if people actually vote for you, the most you can hope to accomplish is to shift the Electoral College from the Democratic candidate to the Republican again, thus extending for another four years the disaster which you helped to create in 2000.

Luckily, this time, it's unlikely that many voters will be dumb enough to do that.

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Random thoughts for the day

A few weeks ago a friend, noting how much Republican politicians on TV talk about "values", described the said politicians as "full of values". It was such an apt phrase that, by now, my reaction to almost all Republican rhetoric is to think "what a load of values" or even just "bullvalues!" And of course Huckabee is so godly he thinks his values don't stink.....

= = = = =

Men, women, Jews, Muslims, white people -- I wish I had a dollar for every group which I've seen described as "the last group it's still acceptable to be prejudiced against".

= = = = =

People think that western Europe has no equivalent of America's Christian Right -- a grim religious totalitarian movement seeking to impose its rigid, misogynistic, sex-phobic, homosexual-hating taboos on the entire society. They're wrong. Western Europe does indeed have an equivalent movement -- it's just that it's Islamic, not Christian.

= = = = =

After Archbishop Williams's blather of accepting some aspects of Shariah law in Britain, it was odd to see him being defended by people who would rightly be raising pluperfect hell if a similar suggestion were made about implementing aspects of Biblical law here.

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22 February 2008

Still here, just under the radar

I know, I've been AWOL this week. The main reason has been sleep disruption due to noisy neighbors. I have finally made a detailed complaint to the management, who came down on the miscreants like the proverbial ton of bricks (apparently people in two other apartments had complained as well). Things have quietened down, but it will take a while to get back onto my normal schedule.

As for politics, it's frankly becoming too depressing to write about much, especially since Wisconsin. Looking back at my earlier posting on how the Democrats might lose the general election, it seems that the party is now at very high risk of making error #4. There are still factors which could turn things around: yesterday's debate, Texas and Ohio, the superdelegates, Florida and Michigan (which I don't believe the party will dare snub, in the end), and so on. But there aren't many positive signs out there at the moment.

It's not that I'm feeling gloomy -- not at all. Lately I've had great cause for happiness, and for looking forward to the days ahead. But I generally don't write about personal things here.

In the meantime, here are a few more links:

An otherworldly ice landscape from Estonia.

A 21st-century man who thinks the Earth is flat -- and the Sun is too, for good measure (found via Blurber).

The world's scariest fish -- coming soon to a river near you!

A bizarre religious attack on marriage in Pennsylvania (found via FranIAm).

Why the Democratic race isn't over yet.

John Derbyshire's prediction on the nominee.

20 February 2008

On the bus home from work today.....

.....I watched the Moon disappear into the shadow of our world.

16 February 2008

The Infidel is [OUT]

I'll be heading out of town today, returning sometime Sunday or Monday. I won't have internet access, so there won't be any new postings here or comments posted.

In the meantime, here's some other stuff that's worth a look:

A woman sentenced to death for witchcraft, not centuries ago, but now (link sent by Blurber).

Yet another example of Paulist harassment.

A blunt rebuke to Islamism.

Two very disturbing cases of police abuse.

A great open letter to the President of Mexico.

And encouraging election news here, here, here, and here.

15 February 2008

Quote for the day

"The archbishop has been word-bombed with criticism, deserved-ly, though he characterized the response as an overreaction.

No, an overreaction is a man who kills his wife -- or a brother kills his sister -- for dishonoring the family under sharia law. Overre-action is murdering a filmmaker for exploring the abuse of human rights that can be justified under strict interpretations of sharia law. Overreaction is plotting to assassinate a cartoonist for Allah's sake because you don't get it.

Underreaction to radical Islam and jihad gets Paris burned, artists killed, thousands incinerated by detonator airplanes, and arch-bishops advancing religious exemptions to enlightened law."

Kathleen Parker

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14 February 2008

Link roundup for 14 February 2008

Tengrain presents.....Rapture-Ready Republicans!

Will Jesus return? (Link sent by Mendip.)

Move over, Obama Girl.....Here's Huckabee Girl!

Iowahawk imagines how Chaucer might have portrayed Archbishop Williams. Here's a more serious view, and a look at actual practice in Malaysia.

The Danish media stand up for free expression again.

Sleestak has a curious posting about digital censorship.

John Evo looks at fundamentalists' un-American attitudes.

US drug laws are stupid. Dubai's are worse.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is heading for France.

Darwin, whose 199th birthday was this week, is commemorated by Skepchick, Blurber, and John Evo.

The practice of having sex face-to-face was once thought to be unique to humans, but was later found to be common among orangutans and bonobos -- and has now been observed among gorillas as well. So it is now known to occur among four of the five great-ape species (chimpanzees being the sole abstainers).

Glenn Reynolds looks at anti-aging research. Meanwhile, even now it's easier to live to be 100 than you might think.

Conservative pundit Victor Davis Hanson argues that Clinton would be a tougher opponent for McCain than Obama would be. Jay Cost and Tom Bevan debunk the spin that Obama has the race sewn up. Here's an assessment of the Florida-Michigan problem.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are still plagued by divisions of their own. And conservative essayist George Will takes a gloomy look at Republican corruption.

The Arizona employer-sanctions law has survived another legal challenge.

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13 February 2008

Advantage to Obama?

That's the spin, pretty much everywhere. Let me offer a contrary view.

What has basically happened is that Obama has caught up and the race is now neck and neck. The RCP estimated delegate count is now Obama 1,260, Clinton 1,221. That's a difference of about 3%. The popular vote is similarly close.

Demographics favored Obama in the "Potomac primary". In Texas and Ohio, less than three weeks from now, they will favor Clinton. (For a detailed demographic-based analysis of the race, see here.)

The status of the Michigan and Florida delegations remains unre-solved, but in the end, I think it's inevitable that the Democratic party will seat them rather than risk offending voters in two major states -- especially the critical swing state of Florida.

Finally, there are the "superdelegates". If they end up deciding a deadlocked race, they are likely to realize that Clinton's chances in the general election are better than Obama's, and vote accordingly for the good of the party.

Regardless of which candidate is nominated, the party's biggest problem will be retaining the loyalty of the other candidate's supporters, who will be disappointed and perhaps angry. The only effective way I can think of to reunite the party is for the winning candidate to offer the loser the VP position. Right now that looks unlikely, but it is interesting that both Clinton and Obama have drawn back from the brink and toned down their mutual hostility at times when it threatened to get out of hand. And whichever candidate loses will know that the Vice Presidency will make him or her the presumptive nominee in 2016.

Both of these candidates have generated tremendous enthusiasm. If we can keep both groups of supporters united, the Republicans will have cause to tremble.

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10 February 2008

Personhood

I offer here two candidates for the status of person, with all the moral and legal implications which that status carries, including the affirmation that the physical destruction of this entity would constitute murder from a moral and legal standpoint. See if you can guess which of these two the mainstream Christian religion accepts as a person.

Candidate #1 is an irregular microscopic spheroid consisting of between 70 and 100 undifferentiated cells. This entity has no consciousness; it has no awareness or volition of any kind, not even in the sense that an insect does. It has no brain, no nervous system, no senses, no organs whatsoever; it has none of the capacity for purposeful activity that, say, bacteria and other single-celled organisms have. Barring extraordinary and unlikely intervention with advanced technology, it will never develop into anything other than what it now is.

Candidate #2 is a middle-aged female whose IQ is somewhat below yours and mine. She cannot read or write, but she understands a great deal of spoken English and can use a vocabulary of at least a thousand words of another language which is widely-known in the United States. She is active and self-aware and has a very distinct personality. She experiences the full range of feelings typical of human beings: affection, curiosity, anger, frustration, pride, joy, sympathy, sexual lust, and so on. She has friends. She makes jokes. She paints pictures. She wants to have children.

Ready for the answer?

Candidate #1 is a blastocyst generated as a surplus by-product of an in-vitro fertilization procedure, being kept in storage at the clinic where the procedure was done. There is no prospect of it ever being implanted into a human uterus and developing into an actual fetus, but the embryonic stem cells it contains could be of immense value to medical research.

Candidate #2 is Koko the gorilla.

To fundamentalist Christianity, the blastocyst is a person and the act of destroying it to harvest the stem cells it contains constitutes murder and should be forbidden by law -- because it has human DNA, just as do the cells you shed (far more than 100) every time you blow your nose or scratch your skin. Koko, an individual who thinks and feels and understands and "talks" (in American Sign Language) is essentially a thing, because she is a member of a species other than human -- though more than 97% of the gorilla genome is identical to the human genome, with less than 3% of it showing any differences.

I beg to differ.

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Why I favor Clinton over Obama

Earlier I discussed how I came to abandon my earlier objections to the idea of Hillary Clinton becoming President. But why is she a better choice than the Democrats' other major contender, Barack Obama?

The most important question, of course, is who would do a better job as President. On one of my major domestic issues, embryonic stem-cell research, both candidates appear equally good; both oppose the Bush administration's restrictions and would remove them if elected. On abortion rights, Obama has offered unstinting support for Roe vs. Wade, but there is still some dispute over his voting record on the issue; Clinton, of course, is unequivocally pro-choice. Given that Roe vs. Wade may stand or fall by the next President's Supreme Court appointment(s), I'm not comfortable with any ambiguity on this matter.

One domestic issue on which there is a real difference between the two is illegal immigration. Both candidates -- in fact, all eight of the original major candidates, Democrat and Republican -- started off as "soft" on this question, but Clinton's position has hardened as the campaign progressed. On the hot-button symbolic issue of driver's licenses for illegal aliens, for example, Obama is in favor, while Clinton is opposed. It's interesting, by the way, that in spite of this contrast, Hispanic voters have overwhelmingly favored Clinton in every contest so far -- a fact which casts doubt on the popular view that most Hispanic US citizens support illegal aliens.

It may be, of course, that Clinton's harder stance represents a concession to the views of the electorate rather than her personal conviction; but I am more concerned with what a President will do than with why he or she will do it. After the massive grassroots rebellion which derailed the Bush-supported McCain-Kennedy amnesty bill in June, Clinton surely realizes that any effort to push another such travesty would doom her chances of re-election. It's most probable that she would take no action on the issue one way or the other, at least in her first term; and given four years of federal inaction, the individual states would probably pass tough and effective laws of their own, as Arizona and Oklahoma have already done.

The experience issue weighs heavily in Clinton's favor. Both candidates have rather short histories as legislators, but Clinton's eight years as First Lady must certainly have given her an in-depth view of the Presidency and all it involves which very few individuals who have not actually been President can match.

A subtler but very important question is realism. Part of Obama's appeal is a promise to transcend the conflicts which roil American politics, but this actually suggests a disturbing naiveté. Those conflicts have real substance to them. The conservatives are not at all ready to stop their assault on abortion rights, science, homosexual equality, the separation of church and state, and so on. In these struggles, we must either win or lose; we cannot "transcend" them, and the rightists would quite justifiably view such rhetoric from a Democratic President as a sign of weakness and lack of stomach for the fight, and redouble their attacks. The time to extend a hand of reconciliation to one's enemies is after one has beaten them. I think Clinton understands that these are ongoing battles which need to be won; I'm not sure Obama does.

The same applies in the even more critical field of foreign policy, where the difference between Obama's idealism and Clinton's realism is starkly clear. There are conflicts that can't be solved by discussion and compromise. We've had enough of Bushite idiocies such as gazing into the eyes of Vladimir Putin (a former KGB officer) and "seeing his soul", or not only saying but apparently actually believing that Islam is a "religion of peace" which has merely been hijacked by extremists. Obama seems more likely than Clinton to repeat such errors.

For more on Clinton's foreign-policy realism, see here.

This contrast is related, by the way, to the common objection that Clinton is simply less personally likable than Obama. Never having met either of them, I have no sense of whether this is true, but it also strikes me as irrelevant. We are not voting for the person we would most like to have as a dinner guest. George Bush seems to be an affable guy, but that has not made him a good President. In dealing both with the Republican opposition and with hostile foreign powers, a certain ruthlessness is actually necessary; the fact that Clinton possesses this trait is a point in her favor.

Before a President can lead, of course, he or she must win the general election. In choosing between Obama and Clinton, one must assess which of them would be more likely to prevail against McCain.

I don't think the current polls showing Obama doing slightly better than Clinton against McCain tell us anything useful. The election is nine months away. Much can change in that time; nine months ago, for example, Giuliani was the clear Republican front-runner.

Clinton has shown a pattern of doing better in actual voting, relative to Obama, than the polls anticipate, New Hampshire and California being the best-known examples. My suspicion is that many people, when responding to polls, are moved by Obama's inspiring rhetoric; but in the voting booth, where the actual decision has to be made, they give more weight to Clinton's experience and gravitas. The same factor must be considered when trying to predict voters' likelihood of actually voting for either Democrat in November.

Obama has won most of the states which held caucuses, while Clinton has done better in primaries. A caucus is a bizarre and undemocratic process which lacks a secret ballot and disenfran-chises those who cannot afford to take hours out of the day to participate; a primary is a much better model of a real election.

A consistent pattern in the state contests so far is that Clinton has appealed more to older voters and Obama to younger ones. Older people have a much higher voting turnout rate than younger people do; that is, Clinton's supporters can be relied on to vote in great numbers in November, but we can't be so sure of Obama's.

Perhaps most important, having been in the public eye since 1992 and hysterically demonized by the right for almost as long, Clinton comes to the contest "pre-swiftboated", so to speak. Every speck of mud the right-wing attack machine could possibly find to throw is already out in the open and is thus already taken into account in her poll standings. Obama is more of a blank slate -- part of his appeal to idealists, I think -- but is thereby also more vulnerable to smears which will come as new to the general public.

Finally, there is no avoiding the significance of the gender issue. The most emotive moment of Clinton's Super Tuesday speech (video here) comes when she mentions her mother, who was born before women were able to vote but may soon see her daughter become President. Such a choice by the American people would be a truly historic event.

And consider those vast benighted regions of the Earth where women have a status somewhere between second-class citizens and domestic animals. Think of the message it would send to the women -- and to the men! -- of those cultures, if the world's most powerful and advanced nation elected a woman as its leader.

If Obama is the nominee I will vote for him over any Republican, but this is my case for favoring Clinton.

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08 February 2008

What McCain's victory means

Barring some very unlikely event, the Republicans now have their nominee -- and unfortunately, McCain will be a stronger candidate in the general election than most of the other contenders they had. His relative moderation on some issues will make him more appealing to centrist voters than, say, Huckabee or Romney would have been.

It must be said that a McCain Presidency would be somewhat less disastrous than an administration headed by any of the other top Republican candidates. He is better on stem-cell research and global warming than most of them are. But he is just as bad on abortion rights -- worse than Giuliani or Romney, in fact, if one compares their long-expressed views -- and he's the worst of any of the major candidates on illegal immigration (with the possible exception of Obama). As a Republican, any political debts he owes would pull rightward, not leftward. There's no reason to think he would be better than any other Republican on the crucial issue of Supreme Court nominations, or on separation of church and state. His notorious explosive temper raises questions about whether he is mentally stable enough for the Presidency.

And there is still the deeper point which I've alluded to before: the Republican party needs a crushing defeat to trigger the internal struggle which will either break it apart once and for all or else force it to repudiate the fundamentalist crazies and return to a sane form of conservatism. It is unhealthy for our country to have a two-party system in which one party is largely in the grip of dangerously-delusional fanatics and bigots.

So the need to fight for a Democratic victory is as urgent as ever.

Some might argue the Republicans are doomed because of their own internal factionalism. I certainly hope this is true, and there is evidence pointing that way; many fundamentalists and other hard-line conservatives, denouncing McCain as a "liberal" (!), are threatening to sit out the election or vote for a third candidate. Much as I'd love to see them make the same stupid mistake that some on the left made in 2000 with Nader, we can't count on it.

What, after all, would the hard-line rightists have to gain from such behavior? There are only two possible scenarios. If they refuse to vote for McCain and he loses, the moderate right will blame them for the catastrophe (as they see it) of a Democratic Presidency. If they refuse to vote for McCain and he wins anyway, they will have proven that the Republican party can win elections without kowtowing to them. Neither outcome is good for them. It may be, of course, that they will be too blinded by emotion and ideology to think so rationally. But we can't depend on that. It's quite possible that their loathing of Clinton and Obama will draw them together in spite of themselves.

We do have many advantages. The most disastrous Presidency in living memory has made the Republicans widely unpopular. The huge difference in turnout for the primaries shows which side has the edge in enthusiasm. A Nader-like Bloomberg run is looking less likely. Ultimately, the only way the other side can win this thing is if our side blows it. Let's make sure that doesn't happen.

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Link roundup for 8 February 2008

Bubble gum and beans don't go together.

It's an atheist miracle!

The Exterminator notices an interesting pattern in the recent storm disasters in the South.

As Ron Paul continues to go nowhere in the primaries, his followers are going into orbit.

A liberal goes undercover at CPAC: parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen.

I reposted my essay on why the election matters at Enter the Jabberwock, where it's garnered some interesting comments.

Robin Morgan points out the vicious sexism and double standards in evidence in the Democratic nomination race (found via Yikes). Update: Here's another example -- what the heck is wrong with these people?

Was Romney's collapse due to anti-Mormon prejudice among fundamentalists?

The Chaplain looks at James Dobson's anti-McCain ranting.

Here's an astonishing case of religious bigotry in Florida.

Ex-Muslim Ibn Warraq defends the superiority of Western values.

Those who think the answer to Islamic violence and intimidation in western Europe is to turn back to Christianity should read this craven wallow in appeasement by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Britain's highest-ranking Christian clergyman. The government's policy is just as spineless. Reaction here (see comments). The most frightening thing about this situation is that apparently the only political force willing to address the public's legitimate concerns is the neo-fascists. Update: The Archbishop's remarks have stirred extensive anger in Britain. More reactions here.

Men, too, can be victims of forced marriage.

Finnish scientists use stem cells to grow a new jawbone for a patient.

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06 February 2008

Super-duper-mega-gigantic Tuesday

Believe me, I've tried, but I can't think of anything to say about it. After all the hype, everything is left pretty much the way it was on Monday. The Republicans have a clear front-runner (somewhat more so now than before, which is the main thing that yesterday decided) and are still bitterly divided. The two Democrats are still running pretty much even, with Clinton having a slight edge.

And I still believe that (A) we're going to win in November, and (B) we don't dare get complacent about it.

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03 February 2008

Quote for the day

"I don’t believe in God. My god is patriotism. Teach a man to be a good citizen and you have solved the problem of life."

Andrew Carnegie
(found via Atheistic View)

Best of the Infidel, 2007

Recently passing the 1,000-posting mark has brought home the realization that 1,000 is a heck of a lot of postings. So at the risk of appearing to blow my own horn, I thought I'd put together a list of the ones I think are most worth reading. This is just for 2007. I'll do the same for 2006 later.

Pessimism and paralysis

How to argue on the internet

Cultural appeasement

Fermi's Paradox

The deadliest battle in history

Uploading the mind

The supercomputer and the musket

The longing for defeat

Taking a stand for life

Debunking the stagnation argument

Debunking the boredom argument

Religion vs. science

The wacky world of creationism

The conspiracy-theory mentality

What's going on in Russia

An important point about illegal immigration

Establishment of religion vs. national unity

The obesity epidemic

The day the Christians tried to "get" me

My trip to Kiev (see also here and here)

Why the rightist and leftist lunatic fringes aren't the same

How I decided to support Hillary (see also this)

My Aubrey de Grey review

Is Islamic imperialism "fascist"?

Speculation on life after death

The persecution of Christians in America

My visit to CHCI

The decline of America

Ideology vs. stem-cell science

Insularity, elitism, and the internet

Humans are apes, first and foremost

Religious fanaticism is rooted in fear of death

The fight conservatism needs to have

02 February 2008

Link roundup for 2 February 2008

Check out this amazing secret underground temple complex in northern Italy (found via Mendip).

Think you're psychic? Take the Skepchick challenge and win a date!

A uniter, not a divider: Hillary Clinton gets a surprising quasi-endorsement.

Some of the Paulloons want to hijack some hapless piece of land and turn it into an independent country of their own. Uh, guys, I really suggest you forget about using Texas. They don't cotton much to this kind of stuff down there.

Wonkette showcases a lusty new voice of reason on the Paulist phenomenon here and here, while the Ron Paul Survival Report examines the "Ron Paul Democrats". For anyone who still finds the Kool-Aid tempting, here's ten reasons not to vote for Ron Paul.

Sadly No dissects a flagrant right-wing distortion of Bill Clinton's comments on global warming. Keep this in mind the next time one of these nutjobs claims a Democrat said something outrageous.

Sara Robinson has a great posting on the Republican three-ring circus.

This kind of analysis always annoys me -- why do pundits assume that all Hispanic US citizens support illegal aliens? Notice also the inevitable invocation of the name of Cesar Chavez. Chavez was a third-generation US citizen, a Navy veteran, a fighter for the rights of the poorest working Americans, and an opponent of illegal immigration. We could use more like him today.

Think there are no real differences between Obama and Clinton on the issues? Here's one.

Savor the irony -- the Mexican state of Sonora now fears being overwhelmed by illegal aliens returning from Arizona due to that state's tough new employer-sanctions law.

This capsule history of the British Conservative party suggests that the secret of its 200-year success has been -- progressive legislation.

Putin's bullying foreign policy is starting to have consequences at home.

A sedentary lifestyle may speed up aging.

Jacob Bronowski's illustration of the difference between science and dogma is as electrifying as when I first saw it on TV long ago (found via Masterblurber).

This is the enemy.

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