30 May 2008

Atheism at last!

I like this little music video about religion (in French with English subtitles, though the latter are rather hard to read in places). Fans of the Pope, and of appeasing Islamic imperialism, probably won't much care for it. It's gentle in tone but very true.

Oh, and watch this too.

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29 May 2008

Achievement

This photo of the Phoenix lander parachuting toward the surface of Mars was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). The Heimdall Crater in the background is actually twelve miles behind the lander.

Sent by Blurber. Some reactions here:

Think on this, and think on it carefully: you are seeing a man-made object falling gracefully and with intent to the surface of an alien world, as seen by another manmade object already circling that world, both of them acting robotically, and both of them hundreds of millions of kilometers away.

Never, ever forget: we did this. This is what we can do.

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26 May 2008

Classism and the "new coalition"

This article is a must-read -- too important to leave until the next link roundup. While Democrats have been focusing on sexism and racism, the most dangerous prejudice threatening the party is actually classism. Many of Obama's followers are too young to realize that his "new coalition" politics is nothing but a rehash of the old classist blundering that has led the party to defeat in every Presidential race in decades except the two Clinton runs and the freak post-Watergate election of 1976.

Without a majority of those voters, the Democrats have, since the party's inception in the 1820s, been incapable of winning the presidency. The Obama advocates declare, though, that we have entered an entirely new political era. It is not only possible but also desirable, they say, for Democrats to win by turning away from those whom "progressive" pundits and bloggers disdain variously as "Nascar man," "uneducated," "low information" whites, "rubes, fools, and hate-mongers" who live in the nation's "shitholes."

The objects of this arrogance and contempt will not forget. And if the Democratic party spurns their votes, McCain will be delighted to have them.

Read the whole article.

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25 May 2008

Hillary's "gaffe"

"I don’t because, again, I’ve been around long enough. You know my husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in Califor-nia. You know, I just don’t understand it and there’s lot of specula-tion about why it is."

Hillary Clinton

This comment was made in response to an interviewer's question about whether Clinton accepted the argument that she should drop out of the race soon for the sake of party unity; she was pointing out that earlier nomination contests have gone on until even later in the year. The fact that some Obama supporters have interpreted this statement as a wistful speculation that Obama might be assassinated tells us much more about how toxic the rhetorical atmosphere of this campaign has become -- and how deranged the demonization of Clinton has become -- than about what Clinton herself was thinking.

I have already seen a number of postings by pro-Obama bloggers, several of them laced with profanity -- some of these people are becoming seriously unhinged -- frothing that this-is-the-absolute-last-straw-and-she-should-drop-out. Most of them were already calling for her to drop out anyway, of course.

By contrast, here are the rational and sensible reactions of the two individuals most entitled to express an opinion:

"It is clear from the context that Hillary was invoking a familiar political circumstance in order to support her decision to stay in the race through June. I have heard her make this reference before, also citing her husband’s 1992 race, both of which were hard fought through June. I understand how highly charged the atmosphere is, but I think it is a mistake for people to take offense."


"I have learned that when you are campaigning for as many months as Senator Clinton and I have been campaigning, some-times you get careless in terms of the statements that you make. And I think that is what happened here. Senator Clinton says that she did not intend any offense by it and I will take her at her word on that."


Any casual reference to assassination is potentially tasteless and offensive, but the Clinton-haters who are foaming at the mouth over this have lost touch with the real world.

Update: Worthwhile discussion here.

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23 May 2008

Link roundup for 23 May 2008

Jabberwock has a new Chick dissection up, on evolution.

At last -- a high-tech device which accurately forecasts the weather.

Is this where the Christian Right would ultimately take us? Here's an earlier example of religion vs. sex.

Be kind.

William Shatner recalls his meeting with Koko the gorilla.

What is the right punishment for a lie that kills? (Sent by Ranch Chimp.)

Examples of the disgusting misogyny of the anti-Hillary campaign, here and here -- just imagine the justified outrage if Obama had been subjected to a similar outpouring of racism. Some Obama supporters also think this is funny. And I've seen no sign that this has produced any improvement.

Here's a warning for the general election. Bashed-and-insulted Clinton supporters show little interest in supporting Obama as the nominee. This blogger expresses a view that seems widely held.

Clinton keeps making her case. Read this too.

Latest electoral-vote projections: Clinton 315, McCain 206 -- but Obama 242, McCain 272.

More on the likely Republican implosion in the House and Senate.

A letter reveals Einstein's real views on religion (sent by Blurber).

Horror erupts in Kenya and South Africa.

Will we "just get sick of it all and walk away"?

The pro-illegal-immigration crowd is trying to stop construction of the border fence.

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21 May 2008

After Kentucky and Oregon

This one, at least, turned out pretty much as expected; a huge win in Kentucky, a rather smaller margin of defeat in Oregon, and a net gain (taking both states into account) of about 150,000 popular votes.

The race looks much like it did before, including the surreal pro-nouncements echoing through the MSM and the blogosphere that the candidate clearly best-placed to win in November should give up the race, despite being essentially tied in the popular vote and behind by only a small margin in the party's Byzantine delegate-selection process. Sheer indignation still greets any suggestion that Florida and Michigan, which will be critical in November, should not be ignored. Meanwhile, back in the real world, Clinton continues to be the clear favorite of the kind of blue-collar and rural voters who dominate in the swing states of the rust belt and Appalachia, and thus far better positioned to hold those states against McCain (in Kentucky exit polls, more of Clinton's voters said they would vote for McCain than for Obama if the latter were the Democratic nominee). Obama advocates mumble about "redrawing the map", presumably meaning that the likely loss of those states' (and Florida's) scores of electoral votes would be offset by winning.....what? Colorado? Alabama? Idaho? Come on.

The calls for Clinton to quit are bizarre; Huckabee faced no such pressure earlier this year when he was the last Republican still standing against McCain, nor did Kennedy in 1980, though both of those candidates were much further behind their parties' front-runners than Clinton is now. The fixation on delegates over the popular vote is also curious coming from the party still indignant that Gore's clear popular-vote win in 2000 was neutralized by the Electoral College.

Nevertheless, there's probably nothing that can be done now. The MSM, the blogosphere, and a good part of the party establishment have fixed the course of their chosen narrative, which would now be more difficult to change than the course of the Titanic. The iceberg of November lies dead ahead. For lifeboats, at least, we should have a robust number of new Democrats in the House and Senate. Let's hope there are enough.

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18 May 2008

Unfortunate headline of the week

17 May 2008

Alien season

The weather here in Portland changed abruptly this Thursday, with the unseasonably persistent coolness and drizzle suddenly replaced by the cloudless skies and 90-plus-degree heat typical of the local midsummer. These conditions normally persist well into September, so they will probably be with us for another four months or so.

Summer is the season which always reminds me that, in a certain sense, I do not quite belong here.

My land is not the land of my ancestors. People who look like me, look that way because of millennia of adaptation to the cool and misty forests of northern Europe. I am used to my land, the land I was born in, but every summer reminds me that I was not quite made for it.

The sunlight of summer never looks right. This searing dazzling melanoma glare sleets down over everything like an ash-dry and uncleansing shower, washing out subtleties of color, turning shadows into blank volumes of impenetrable darkness by sheer contrast. Even through dark sunglasses it is harsh and bleary, an alien light. It is not the light my eyes were made to see with.

The heat of summer is -- endurable. I tolerate the sweating, the need to minimize exertion, the daily ritual of opening windows during the coolness of night and closing them when the outside heats up. A hundred strategies to minimize discomfort do not add up to comfort.

I exist by artifice. Full-body clothing protects my light northern-European skin from the burning, scarring, chromosome-twisting ultraviolet fire which invisibly drenches me. At the office, air conditioning fills the sealed structure with an imitation of the old continent's cooler and gentler air so that I and others like me can concentrate on our work. (I was delighted to discover that the new apartment I will be taking next month, unlike my present one, has an air conditioner.) Even the bus is similarly equipped. It is my privilege as a tool-using ape to enclose myself in small capsules of the environment I prefer, keeping at bay the environment that prevails.

There is nothing wrong with using artifacts to ward off the effects of uncomfortable surroundings. Europe itself could not have been settled by human beings in the first place if they had not invented clothes and mastered fire. The difference is one of degree.

This becomes more obvious in the hotter parts of our land. I am reliably informed that in Texas it is impossible to find any type of office or residential space, however cheap, which does not have air conditioning. Underneath downtown Dallas there is a complex of large air-conditioned tunnels -- light and attractive and with abundant shopping -- which connects, I believe, about fifty of the central city's most important buildings. During the summer it is possible to walk all over downtown Dallas without ever emerging into the actual heat of the surface, even momentarily. It is almost like an enclosed settlement on another world.

Because Portland's summer is less harsh, we have not gone to such lengths to insulate ourselves from it. And so once again I prepare to live through the months of the alien season, awaiting the day when the cool and clouds return and my land once again feels like the distant land which stamped its character on my genes, even though I -- American born -- could never call it home.

O'Reilly rocks!

OK, this is all over the 'tubes, but deservedly so.

First watch Bill O'Reilly's original meltdown, a glimpse behind the polished façade of TV (note: foul language).

Then watch the dance remix version, an immortal work of computer art.

It's actually better than most real rap music.

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16 May 2008

Huckabee goes there

I'm no fan of Obama's, but this is just disgusting. How ignorant and insensitive does Huckabee have to be, to joke about such a thing?

At least the audience didn't laugh.

Let's hope this will quash any chance Huckabee has of becoming McCain's running mate.

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Oregon getting close?

Clinton 45% to Obama 50% in our state? After all we've heard about Oregon being a textbook case of Obama turf.....

It ain't over till it's over!

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14 May 2008

West Virginia

67% to 26% -- yes, a 41% spread. A margin of almost 150,000 in a relatively small state. Hillary retakes the lead in the popular vote, counting Florida and Michigan, which will both certainly count in November.

Of course, in the Bizarro World hall of funhouse mirrors which the Democratic race has become, none of it matters, none of it counts (typical MSM spin here).

As for the blogosphere, I can already predict its spin, rancid with the class contempt of the arrogant new juvenile aristocracy of the Democratic party.

But today, at least, working people have stood up and talked back.

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13 May 2008

It ain't over till it's over

Got my ballot filled out and ready to go (technically our primary isn't until the 20th, but all voting here in Oregon is by mail and it's better to vote early). And yes, pundits be damned, I voted for Hillary. The privilege of living in a democracy, of casting a vote and having it count, seems all the more precious when one thinks of how many people have no such privilege because they live in less-favored lands like, uh, Florida and Michigan.

Now I'm just hoping that West Virginia will deliver a big enough margin to at least chip away at the media's herd mentality ("It's over, it's over," I can hear them moo), though that's not going to be easy at this point.

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Link roundup for 13 May 2008

Charles Babbage's "difference engine", a complex mechanical computer designed in the mid-19th century, has finally been built.

The creationist/ID propaganda film Expelled despicably misrepresents Darwin.

A Florida teacher has been accused of wizardry.

Here's an interesting photo and quote from the annals of church-state relations.

The Burmese regime's thugs are stealing cyclone aid and selling it.

John Evo sends this Huffington Post article about why we should be optimistic about Obama's chances against McCain. I think it ignores some of the major issues I've already discussed on this site, but check it out for yourself. I think the biggest danger to MCain is a third-candidate spoiler from the right.

Here's another argument that Clinton would be the stronger Democratic nominee. 64% of Democrats want her to stay in the race. Plugging the latest polls into the all-important Electoral College, the gap looks bigger than a week ago -- Clinton still easily beats McCain, but McCain now easily beats Obama.

Signs point to a Republican collapse in Congress this November, regardless of who wins the Presidency. Bush's approval rating is lower than ever.

Measles is making a comeback in the US -- almost entirely in children who did not receive routine vaccinations against it. In California, a school opposed to vaccination has suffered a whooping-cough outbreak. Britain has similar problems and is contemplating a crackdown.

The Methuselah Foundation has raised $7 million for anti-aging research.

Chell has a posting up on transhumanism.

Here's an unusual MSM nod to the potential of technology to enhance human memory.

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11 May 2008

Claiming our rightful destiny

The following is adapted from a comment I wrote at this posting at the excellent Black Sun Journal (which I recommend to everyone interested in the subject). I though it fit in well here too, with the debate on transhumanism below.

The Luddites and pro-deathers have almost as limited a concept of “nature” as they do of what defines our identity as humans.

Our intelligence is our species’s natural armament for survival, just as much as the shell of a tortoise or the speed of a gazelle.

It’s in the nature of intelligence that it creates tools and improves them. It’s natural that human intelligence creates technological progress over time, and that this progress accelerates.

The achievement of the Singularity will be just as much a part of the natural development of humanity as the transformation into a butterfly is of the natural development of a caterpillar.

Chell, who is one of my favorite bloggers but who approaches this particular issue from a philosophical stance almost 180 degrees removed from mine, said that it makes no sense to fix things that are not broken, and that the natural cycle of life and death (and the current level of our intelligence) are not “broken”.

A caterpillar is not “broken”, but to halt its transformation into a butterfly and keep it a caterpillar forever would be a hideous and grotesque violation of its nature, if anything would be.

I don't want mankind to remain a caterpillar forever. And it will not.

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07 May 2008

Debating transhumanism

Last week I had an e-mail discussion with blogger Chell about transhumanism, which I thought was interesting enough to adapt into a posting. Her comments are in italics, mine are in regular print.

Isn't human intelligence just what it is? It's like kids going to school. They gain an education, but it does not increase their intelligence. Neither does each passing year. A person's intelligence, regardless of eduction or life experiences is at a pretty set level, is it not?

Human intelligence has been creeping upward for a long time -- I think the average IQ in the US has risen 18 points since 1950 or something like that. It's the result of things like improved health and nutrition, healthier mothers having healthier babies with healthier brains, which is cumulative from generation to genera-tion, the way each generation of children is growing up a little taller than their parents. What I was referring to for the future is more fundamental. Based on the current rates of improvement of our scanning technology and computer processing power, the functioning of the brain should be thoroughly understood by about 30 years from now at the latest, and we'll be able to start integrating nanocircuitry into it to enhance its abilities (we're already enhancing the brain with artificial processors in very crude ways, as with the implants for Parkinson's disease). By around 2045, machine intelligence (that which we now think of as "computers", though it will be far more sophisticated by then) will be fully integrated into the human mind. Imagine being able to access all the information on the internet in exactly the same way that you can recall facts or images in your own memory, being able to "think" with the same speed and precision with which computers can process information, etc., while still having your normal human abilities and personality. Organic brains are very good at certain things, but they do have their limitations. We need to overcome those in order to reach our full potential. As Vernor Vinge (one of the first proponents of the concept) said, we today can no more imagine the cultural and technological flowering that will follow the Singularity than a flatworm can imagine an opera.

Have been thinking about how you said each generation is more intelligent than the last, like each is taller. I can only wonder how many new generations there would be, if people were able to live forever. We couldn't go on endlessly multiplying, packing our-selves on this planet (or even others we might make habitable) like sardines. So there would eventually be no new, more intelligent generations.

On this I'll fall back on Aubrey de Grey's formulation: certainly a cure for aging would create problems, but it would not create any problems as bad as forty million people a year dying of a ghastly, wasting disease, which is the current situation. Birth rates are declining all over the world anyway; they're below replacement level in most advanced countries. Once molecular manufacturing becomes widespread in another two decades or so, we'll see an explosion of material wealth which will dwarf that produced by the industrial revolution. We'll be able to accommodate any population growth resulting from the end of aging very easily, while eliminating most of the damage our industries now do to the environment.

Before we have the technology to do real machine-mind integra-tion, we'll have widespread full-immersion virtual reality (that is, computer-generated environments indistinguishable from reality to all the senses), and I think that after the Singularity, most human activity will migrate into virtual reality quite rapidly. Billions of people will be able to live like Louis XIV if they feel like it, without occupying any physical space in the "real world" or using any resources except computer processing power. So I'm not worried about overpopulation. As for continuing to produce new generations, that will be a matter of individual choice, as it is now.

Sure, we could add computers to our brains (those of us who would be willing, anyway). We make artificial hearts and limbs for people who need them now. In my opinion, there's a difference between heart failure or loss of limb and having a normally functioning human brain. Who or what would make these computers/chips/wires that would "enhance" our brains? If humans made them, there would be human error and glitches. Would you like to be happily zipping around in a Jetson's style saucer, and all of a sudden have your brain freeze except for a box that has "continue" and "cancel" buttons, both of which do nothing? And we still wouldn't be more intelligent. We'd just have an artificial something placed in our heads.

Adding the capabilities of computers (much more advanced than present-day computers, remember) to our existing human intelli-gence would greatly increase our intelligence by any reasonable definition, it seems to me. There's very little anatomical difference between a human brain and a chimpanzee brain except that the human brain is about three times bigger -- it has more neurons, more synapses, more processing power. That's what accounts for the fact that humans are more intelligent than chimpanzees. Mind-machine integration would increase the processing power of the mind far more -- not just three times, but ultimately by however much any given individual wanted for any given purpose.

We're already using machines to enhance our thinking -- consider how much faster and more accurately we can get information on the internet or do complex calculations on a computer than we could if we relied purely on our own brains. The problem is that we're still stuck with accessing that computer intelligence through slow, clumsy interfaces of keyboards and monitors, instead of directly. That's what will change.

By the way, I'm not primarily talking about surgically implanting electronics (more likely nanocircuitry, by then) in people's heads, though I suppose that might happen as an intermediate stage. Machine-mind integration will ultimately take the form of mind uploading. If you haven't read it already, this (rather long) posting explains that.

As for reliability, the question to me is not whether using nanocir-cuitry as the physical substrate for a human mind would be abso-lutely reliable, but whether it would be more reliable than the organic substrate (the brain) that the mind is dependent on right now. The organic brain has many reliability problems -- it's made of fragile material, it's ill-designed for backing up information so it can be restored if lost, its efficiency depends on a constant supply of various nutrients, something as trivial as five minutes' oxygen deprivation can cause an irreversible total system crash, etc. Computer systems with extremely important functions can be made very reliable. Systems which had our own selves "running" on them would be made the most reliable of all -- certainly far more reliable than the brains we have now.

Maybe most of the world will be like that someday. To me, it's sounds like the most frightening situation imaginable. It sounds like people would attempt to cast aside their humanity to become robots. I would rather not be here for that.

I've never understood this reaction, unless it's the cumulative product of endless unimaginative treatment of such themes in science fiction. There's no reason why increasing human intelli-gence would make us less human -- less emotionally sensitive, humane, or whatever other attribute one might consider to be part of that "humanity" to be "cast aside". Just the opposite. I think our emotional and aesthetic lives are much richer and subtler than those of chimpanzees, because of our increased intelligence. I don't think we've lost anything by becoming three times as intelligent as chimpanzees. That's how we gained our humanity. Becoming even more intelligent will enhance our humanity, not cause us to lose it.

The only thing we stand to "lose" by achieving the Singularity is our limitations -- being limited to a certain maximum life span or a certain maximum range of mental capabilities allocated by the blind processes of evolution. The idea of defining the essence of "humanity" by its limitations seems awfully -- well -- limiting.

Paganism is such a blanket term. All sorts of Pagans have all sorts of views on life and an afterlife, and on immortality. I believe we are all immortal already. Even looking at it in the most basic way, when we die, our bodies decompose. But we don't just disappear. Our bodies merge back with the elements of Earth. We continue in this way, at least. If I believed that's all there was, that would be fine. But I believe something must also become of our spirits. That energy must go somewhere. I do believe in reincarnation, but I also think we don't all come back to the world we can most easily see right now. As far as a man-made immortality, I think that's up to each individual, if he wants to attempt that or to live that way. The progress of science shouldn't be held back, since facts are not "bad" things.

Well, of course, I don't believe I have a "spirit", so that's a moot point. The physical material my body is composed of is not the essence of me either; every molecule that was in my body 20 years ago has been replaced by now, but I'm still the same person. So if I die, I don't much care what happens to the organic material -- I'm still dead, regardless. As for reincarnation, if I die and another entity is born somewhere which is supposed to be a continuation of me, but that entity doesn't remember being me, then it isn't me. I'm still dead.

I do find it curious that many people who say they would not want to live forever find the idea of an afterlife attractive. They think they would be bored in an ever-changing, ever-advancing civiliza-tion whose culture we today (as I said) can no more imagine than a flatworm could imagine an opera, but they would be just fine "living" forever in a static Heaven.

I think deep down almost everyone actually wants to survive. Look how eagerly the mass public mind laps up stories like Bridey Murphy which supposedly provide evidence for reincarnation, even though reincarnation is a heresy from a Christian viewpoint. They want to believe existence can go on. It's just that the idea of achieving this through technological means in the real world is so new and unfamiliar.

There may well be people who want nothing to do with life exten-sion or virtual reality or intelligence enhancement or whatever -- though I don't think there will be many, once it becomes clearer what it all actually means. We have people like the Amish right now. Nobody bothers them, but there aren't many of them, and they win few recruits from the mainstream society.

Evolution has produced many remarkable things, but it is a very cruel process. In a sense, what humans are starting to do is to take charge of that process, to start directing it consciously rather than merely being the victims of its blind operations. I hope you can see it that way.

Through evolution the mindless universe has finally produced something greater than itself: the mind. Now the mind will take charge, and ultimately spread itself throughout the universe, remaking the universe as it sees fit.

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06 May 2008

The end of the line?

There's no way to spin it differently -- today's primary results add up to a disaster.

Clinton won Indiana only very narrowly, while Obama won North Carolina by a large margin.

An Obama nomination, and therefore a McCain Presidency, now seems inevitable. That means the Supreme Court packed with reactionaries for decades, Roe vs. Wade swept away, further erosion of the separation of church and state, more years of rule by scientific illiterates.

Perhaps Clinton could try again in 2012, but a huge amount of irreversible damage will have already been done by then.

Make no mistake -- I'll still vote for Obama in November. But I'll do so without enthusiasm, and without hope of victory.

I'm feeling lousier right now than I have for a long time. After staying home sick from work, I at least managed to get to sleep early, only to be (just now) blasted awake again by the noisy neighbors. Only to get on the internet for the news and be faced with what seems like the final collapse of hope for a better political situation for the next four years.

My forebodings in October were justified. In a year when all the stars were right, we found a way to lose.

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Race or gender?

For the first time in American history, there's a real possibility that the next President might be either a woman or a black man. Either case would be a historic event of huge psychological impact. But is there any reason to think that one of these "firsts" would be of even greater significance than the other?

I think that electing a woman President would have the more important impact, because of the international implications. Our civilization's main global adversary right now is (I'm going to be blunt here and omit the usual cowardly and dishonest hedges) Islam -- the most misogynistic and most crudely male-dominated culture on the face of the planet. Electing a woman as our national leader would send a clear and even subversive message to Muslim women (and men!) about what kind of society we are, sharpening one of the profoundest contrasts between our culture and theirs.

If our main enemy were a sort of USSR-sized version of apartheid-era South Africa, then electing a black President of the US would have similar significance, but that isn't the case.

Quote for the day

"I am a TYPICAL WHITE PERSON. As such, I live to pillage, loot, objectify, disenfranchise, dominate, swindle, suppress and oppress people of color, women and the proletariat solely on the basis of race, color, creed, class, gender, orientation and/or affiliation. I rule all aspects of American economic and cultural life. At the same time, strangely enough, I am also BITTER - clinging to God, guns and antipathy for others - because of my frustration over the economic and social beat-down I have received over the past 25 years. Therefore, I am both oppressor and oppressed... simultaneously! You try pulling that one off, Spanky!"

Another primary nail-biter

I have a good feeling about today. Until recently the conventional wisdom was that Indiana would be close and North Carolina would be an overwhelming Obama win. Now most polls show Clinton ahead by a comfortable margin in Indiana, and within striking distance in North Carolina.

What if the unthinkable happens and she wins North Carolina? Surely at that point the superdelegates would no longer be able to avoid confronting the issue of Obama's serious weaknesses in the general election. This race may look very different tomorrow morning.

In national trends: Clinton has pulled ahead in Democratic voter preference. The latest electoral-vote map shows her defeating McCain easily, while an Obama-McCain match is too close to call.

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04 May 2008

Link roundup for 4 May 2008

Sadly No dissects Jonah Goldberg's whitewash of the Tuskegee syphilis atrocity.

Mall-Wart is still stonewalling on the Debbie Shank case (for background, see here and here).

PhillyChief looks at Florida's plan for Christian license plates, and suggests a few of his own.

Republican politician Tony Zirkle might have been wiser to skip this birthday event. British far-right politician Nick Eriksen might have been equally wise to keep his mouth shut.

Democratic superdelegates drift toward Obama even as polls show that voters are moving toward Clinton. Will the pro-Obama party establishment thwart the people's choice? Meanwhile, the North Carolina race is tightening. Keith Olbermann makes a disturbing comment. And I love this cartoon.

Taylor Marsh explains how the Democrats developed their bizarre nomination process.

Do demographic and social changes spell doom for the Republican party?

Heather Mac Donald looks at the cultural forces that undermine the educational prospects of black American children.

Our ongoing crackdown is reducing illegal immigration -- and putting the squeeze on those already here.

Visitors from Britain, with its strict gun laws and pervasive violent crime, are "shocked to the core" by the peacefulness and safety of gun-saturated America.

Daring bloggers defy one of the world's most repressive regimes.

Here's a discussion on religion, atheism, and intolerance.

Some evangelical Christians have produced a manifesto criticizing the entanglement of religion and politics.

In Britain, the "dominant opinion" is that religion is evil.

Sam Harris discusses why non-religious Westerners have trouble understanding the true threat posed by Islam.

Bruce Bawer looks at the West's cultural cowardice.

Muslims in India have adopted the practice of dropping babies from great heights for "health" reasons (found via Ordinary Girl).

It's not only Abrahamic religions that promote and justify evil.

Some once-vanquished epidemic diseases are making a comeback in the United States because of ignorant hostility to vaccination. Here's a reminder of what the pre-vaccination world was like.

A Christian biology student offers some proofs of the truth of evolution.

A new film reveals the surprising intelligence of our cousin species. Read this too (found via Mendip).

Here's evidence of real progress toward limb regeneration. And gene therapy is showing promise against blindness.

This self-reassembling robot seems to me to blur the boundaries between the living and the non-living -- its "behavior" appears comparable in sophistication to that of simple, purely instinct-driven animals such as insects (found via Mendip).

George Dvorsky looks at male contraception and gender power relations.

The Electric Pulse scores a short interview with Aubrey de Grey (found via Fight Aging).

Here's another small step toward a working nano-assembler.

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Holy shit!

This posting and its comments thread raise an interesting theological question which has never occurred to me before.

According to Catholic doctrine, during Mass, the consecrated wafer and wine are "transubstantiated" into the actual flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, which are consumed by the worshipers. The question is, what happens then?

In the first place, since you are what you eat, doesn't that mean that all practicing Catholics are partially composed of divine substance, in the same proportion as the ratio of consecrated wafers to everything else they eat?

Even more disturbing, the molecules making up the wafer and wine, having played their roles in the body's chemical reactions, are eventually passed back into the lower digestive tract and excreted. Remember, this is material which the Church's doctrine claims is actually, literally the physical substance of a deity. As one of the commenters at the linked post points out, consecrated communion wafers are holy objects requiring special handling. So what is the theological status of feces and urine containing the same substance? Are the sewer systems in Catholic countries suffused with a faint radiance of the Divine?

I wonder if the Church's theologians have ever considered this problem.

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03 May 2008

Upheaval across the sea

Almost unnoticed in an America absorbed in its own election drama, another nation has just had the political equivalent of a major earthquake. This week's elections in Britain were for local, not national offices, but the clear discontent they reveal has obvious implications for the next national election there.

(A brief primer on the British system: The country is divided into four ethnically-distinct and differently-administered regions -- England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. England has 85% of the total population. This week's elections took place in England and Wales only. The two major parties are the Conservatives --also called "Tories" -- and Labour, with a large third party called the Liberal Democrats and various minor parties. All three parties are left-of-center by US standards, and are less ideologically distinct from each other than our Democrats and Republicans are. No party is particularly identified with religious fundamentalism.)

Some of the issues in the election would be familiar to Americans. High levels of immigration (some of it illegal), to a country already much more densely populated than the US, have been causing friction. The economy, though healthier than those of Britain's neighbors, is slowing down. A housing-price bubble has begun to deflate. Britain's involvement in the Iraq war is unpopular. And the current Labour government, having been in power for over a decade, is widely felt to be arrogant and out of touch. Unlike in the US, rising violent crime and the erosion of national sovereignty by the European Union are also major sources of discontent.

This week's local-election results gave that government a rebuke somewhat like that given by the American people to the Bush administration in 2006. The Conservatives won 44% of the vote; Labour won only 24%, behind even the "Lib-Dems" with 25%. The Conservatives made inroads in traditionally Labour-dominated areas such as industrial northern England. And one of Labour's most flamboyant and radical figures, London's pro-Muslim mayor "Red Ken" Livingstone, was soundly beaten by Conservative Boris Johnson. (London has one-eighth of Britain's total population, giving its mayor a high national profile somewhat akin to the governor of California.) Overall it was Labour's worst result in forty years.

The next national election may not be until 2010 (in the British system, the ruling party can set the dates of national elections, though the interval between them cannot exceed five years), but the sitting Labour government now feels somewhat like the Bush administration -- a failed and exhausted regime marking time in office while everyone glances impatiently at the clock and waits for them to go away. And go away they will, in 2010 or sooner, based on the foretaste offered by this week's earthquake.

Let's hope our own election this year similarly completes the work of 2006.

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02 May 2008

Quotes for the day

"Even before Tuesday, I think you would have been hard-pressed to find too many people who honestly believed that Barack Obama, running on a platform of unity and hope and optimism, actually shared any, much less many, of the most controversial beliefs of his former pastor, spinner of conspiracy theories about the U.S. government and AIDS, admirer of Louis Farrakhan and spewer of sermons damning America instead of praising it. No, the issue was never whether Obama took his message from Wright or shared the reverend’s rants. It’s always been about judgment. Judgment and character. Why did he join that church, stay in that church, remain loyal to Wright, refuse to condemn him when his sermons became public, compare him to an uncle and even his white grandmother? Why didn’t he follow Oprah’s lead and quit a church that was known among African-Americans in Chicago not only for its charitable work for the needy of the South Side but also for the extremist rhetoric of its charismatic pastor?"



"Barack allows this madman to teach his children? Barack asks this man to pray with him before publicly announcing to run for Presi-dent? If this does not prove beyond a doubt that Barack lacks the judgment required to be our nation’s Commander in Chief then what is the standard? Barack said he could not disown Uncle Jeremiah. Well you know what, if I had a batshit, crazy racist relative and I was running for President I would disown said relative. I would repudiate said relative. I would make it crystal clear that I would not attend their church. I would not give them money. I would not let them teach my children. But Barack? He doesn’t see a problem."

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