31 December 2008

Warren wars: Obama tai okama

I've already linked to a number of reactions to the Rick Warren issue from Obama supporters (the ones who are starting to wake up, anyway) here. Now let's sample what's being said around the PUMAsphere and elsewhere.

Reclusive Leftist notes that homophobia isn't the only reason why Warren was a bad choice.

Ms Placed Democrat is relishing the spectacle of Obama donors demanding their money back.

Oh...My Valve is merciless: "Now it's the gays who were stupid enough to vote for Pampers expecting support when the douche-bag dunces who coronated the braying ass said that the struggle for gay rights is not a civil rights issue.....You idiots were not paying attention and now you're fucked. If you think Rick Warren braying at the inauguration is the end, just you wait." Go read it all.

Dissenting Justice (a site I highly recommend, by the way) has been blogging up a storm about Warren -- analyzing the issue, reviewing blogger reactions, explaining why it feels dangerous to some, debunking the "diverse views" defense, and comparing Obama's actions with his expressed views on Don Imus. For good measure, here's a posting on the "slippery slope" argument against gay marriage.

Christopher Hitchens, of course, can't be described as a PUMA, but he's always worth a read. And Barney Frank has taken a stand against Warren.

Perhaps most startling of all, Time magazine actually published an essay describing Obama as a "bigot".

Die-hard Obama apologists can dodge and weave and change the subject all they want, but this issue is not going away.

30 December 2008

Quote for the day

"I became very tired of kitchen psychologists and self-appointed preachers - on the Left, and more tired of those on the Right. Putting aside irritated and smug tone of the ignorant rant by adequately named Twisted Spinster, let me just note that socialism was - and is, in every place it is welcomed, - a grassroots movement. Especially - in Russia; it is in so called “communal spirit” that foundation of socialism lies. Anybody who was born and lived in socialist country will recall numerous busybodies, from one’s neighbors in communal flat, to passengers on a bus, to teachers in school and day care, to one’s co-workers who were constantly getting in other’s business -a person’s life was surrounded with people practicing collectivism, whose biggest pleasure was to point and “correct” behavior of others that, in their opinion, was insufficiently selfless. Statism is not a directive from above, it is the product of “community organizing”. Miss Harris will make an excellent low-level Soviet bureaucrat, she got the rhetoric and demagoguery perfectly, up to a suggestion for me to leave this country. Actually, I’m right at home here; it’s her who should go live someplace socialistic…mmm…North Korea? I hear they are very big on communal spirit and collective action."

Tatyana at Skripuchaya Besedka

28 December 2008

Technology, freedom, and space colonies

The following discussion is adapted from a debate in the comment thread here. Blogger George Dvorsky raised the issue of existential risks to mankind due to the possibility that in the future, rogue states or even small nihilist groups might be able to use advanced technology to develop superweapons capable of threatening the whole world.

My comments are in regular black print, those of my interlocutor Chris (no website given, or I'd link to it here) in blue.

=========================================

The only solution to the problem of superweapons getting into the hands of terrorists is for nation-states to keep their own capabili- ties far enough ahead to either prevent this from happening or neutralize the effects of the weapons.

A dozen malcontents with machine guns and a stockpile of ammunition could probably have taken over the Roman Empire. But by the time technology was advanced enough and distributed enough for a dozen malcontents with machine guns to be a realis- tic scenario, states had far more effective weapons of their own.

By the time a few nuts with a basement lab can do what a govern- ment bioweapons lab can do today, the government bioweapons lab should be able to do things which we can't imagine today -- including things like stamping out a new man-made plague in a matter of hours, whatever that might involve. (This is, of course, just one example. The same argument applies with other super-weapons.)

The best way to protect ourselves is to push ahead with techno- logical progress as fast as possible.

Empirical evidence shows that democracies are better at develo- ping and exploiting new technology, and doing so faster, than authoritarian states are. Authoritarian states are too concerned with limiting the flow of information, too suspicious of minds that don't conform ideologically, too unpleasant for independent thinkers to live in (so that they tend to emigrate to democratic states when they can).

This means that (a) the democracies will probably continue to get further and further ahead of the non-democracies technologically, and (b) a democratic system is best able to keep ahead of danger- ous nut groups.

A global authoritarian regime, or a global coalition of such regimes, might well try to suppress the development of dangerous technologies, thus guaranteeing that those government labs would not develop the necessary knowledge base to defend society against high-tech terrorists -- while the terrorists, who don't obey laws anyway, would probably still manage to keep creeping ahead with those technologies.

The most dangerous thing we can possibly do at this point is to panic and yield to a futile impulse to try to slow everything down.

====================================

By definition, an existential risk is a danger to more than just democracy. The first order of business is to list out exactly what those risks are along with all potential solutions. THEN, we can rate those solutions based on basic effectiveness and on the level to which they impact our preferred way of life.

Several people far more knowledgeable than I have suggested that the only way to avoid existential risks of planetary scope (Those that we are now or about to face) is to colonize space. Here are some examples:

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13293390/

On the criteria of effectiveness and preference, space colonization seems ideal. Scattering to multiple, distant colonies would effec- tively prevent human extinction resulting from any planetary- wide nuclear, biological, nano or meteor event. It would also allow us to maintain western societal paradigms that value individual freedom despite any potential increased risk that an unmonitored/controlled individual may take drastic, destructive action.

My question is, why is this solution not being actively pursued? These make sense for the most part:

http://www.singinst.org/upload/cognitive-biases.pdf

I don't think we can expect the majority of humanity to accept space colonization as a top priority. But what can we (Those of us that don't run the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or control congressional funding) do to advance the cause of space colonization, and to do so quickly?

====================================

For space colonization to work as an effective hedge against extinction due to a planet-wide catastrophe, we would need at least one colony capable of surviving indefinitely with no support from Earth whatsoever.

To develop a colony of the necessary size and capabilities would take at least decades (a longer time frame than some of these existential threats can be expected to materialize in), and a diversion of resources in the trillions of dollars.

And if Earth were destroyed, even if the colony survived, it would be a hollow victory indeed -- the bare survival of perhaps a few thousand people in a constrained environment, with almost all the human race dead and essentially all of its cultural achievements and capacity for future progress obliterated.

And, in fact, space colonies would not buy us a guarantee of even this degree of barren, meaningless racial survival. Even when the colonies were capable of living independently, they would presumably maintain some degree of contact with Earth. If some apocalypse-minded nut group were to engineer some sort of epidemic or other disaster capable of wiping out all humans on Earth, they might very well be able to design it to reach the space colonies as well. Similarly, any nation or group with a nuclear arsenal capable of wiping out Earthly humanity could certainly figure out how to deploy nuclear bombs against space colonies as well, if such were their goal.

It would be far better to invest those trillions of dollars and all that brainpower in developing measures to protect Earth itself against whatever dangers we anticipate, whether natural or created by malevolent humans armed with high technology.

For example, you mentioned meteors. Technology to detect and divert such bodies (even a large asteroid could be nudged far enough to prevent a collision if it were detected far enough in advance) could be developed faster and at much less cost than a space colony, and would protect all seven billion of us and all our works, not just a tiny handful.

Creating defenses for the world against the dangers of man-made epidemics or rogue nanotechnology would be a tremendous technological challenge. We will be in a better position to meet that challenge if we do not divert trillions of dollars and many of our best minds to the illusory panacea of space colonization.

====================================

For space colonization to work as an effective hedge against extinction due to a planet-wide catastrophe, we would need at least one colony capable of surviving indefinitely with no support from Earth whatsoever.

Agreed.

To develop a colony of the necessary size and capabilities would take at least decades (a longer time frame than some of these existential threats can be expected to materialize in), and a diversion of resources in the trillions of dollars.

Agreed.

Then, if Earth were destroyed, even if the colony survived, it would be a hollow victory indeed -- the bare survival of perhaps a few thousand people in a constrained environment, with almost all the human race dead and essentially all of its cultural achievements and capacity for future progress obliterated.

Disagree. The survival of the human species is a victory when compared to extinction so long as the remaining society:

A) Has sufficient numbers to ensure genetic diversity and continued re-population through standard sexual breeding or some future reproductive technology

B) Can sustain itself indefinitely

C) Can expand economically, technologically, etc., so as to re-capture human achievements lost to a particularly catastrophic event

And, in fact, space colonies would not buy us a guarantee of even this degree of barren, meaningless racial survival. Even when the colonies were capable of living independently, they would presumably maintain some degree of contact with Earth. If some apocalypse-minded nut group were to engineer some sort of epidemic or other disaster capable of wiping out all humans on Earth, they might very well be able to design it to reach the space colonies as well. Similarly, any nation or group with a nuclear arsenal capable of wiping out Earthly humanity could certainly figure out how to deploy nuclear bombs against space colonies as well, if such were their goal.

Partial agreement. Certainly, a known colony at a fixed location presents a potential target for a sufficiently funded, equipped and motivated group.

But, do they require contact with Earth? What if we deploy colonies that do not contact Earth and proceed to locations, some of which are known, some of which are unknown? These could be self-sustaining space stations and planetary/lunar colonies. Yes this is even more difficult and expensive, but that is a separate argument. I'm just talking about effectiveness here.

Creating defenses for the world against the dangers of man-made epidemics or rogue nanotechnology would be a tremendous technological challenge. We will be in a better position to meet that challenge if we do not divert trillions of dollars and many of our best minds to the illusory panacea of space colonization.

More questions This is the trillion dollar question isn't it? Is space colonization worth the money? Is it worth the effort? If you believe that we can successfully prevent planetary-scale extinction events through sufficient effort then space colonization certainly isn't worth the time/money - at least if done for the sole purpose of survival. If there is a sufficient chance that we cannot prevent such events, economics aside space colonization is our best hope for species survival.

That being said, I will agree that space colonization IS expensive, and that it undoubtedly WILL draw resources from other defensive measures. My questions for you are:

- Why do you believe that we will be able to prevent a planetary- scale disaster?

- What level of planetary organization, cooperation and effort would be required to ensure this? Has anyone studied this?

And my original question could be generalized, instead of being specific to space colonization. Is there any organization dedicated to assuring human survival, regardless of the specific mechanism? I would really like to know the answer to this question. As a non-expert in this area, I am less concerned with evangelizing one specific solution (space colonization) then I am with advocating the idea that human species survival must be taken seriously as a problem. It must be directly recognized and addressed by an organized effort.

====================================

Chris: The survival of the human species is a victory when compared to extinction [etc.]

To some extent. But my point is that the survival of a tiny remnant of humans would be a far less significant victory than the survival of the entire planet, something with which you presumably agree.

But, do they require contact with Earth? What if we deploy colonies that do not contact Earth and proceed to locations, some of which are known, some of which are unknown? These could be self-sustaining space stations and planetary/lunar colonies. Yes this is even more difficult and expensive, but that is a separate argument. I'm just talking about effectiveness here.

But difficulty and expense are an integral part of evaluating effec- tiveness. Every dollar spent on one project is a dollar we can't spend on something else that might have an equal or greater probability of achieving the same goal.

A space colony totally isolated from Earth (which, remember, will probably continue to exist indefinitely) would be even less appea- ling to most normal humans than one which at least maintained some contact, and is thus even less likely to be built in practice.

Anyway, it's a tangential point. My argument is that it would be a mistake to put significant resources into space colonies, even if they could be guaranteed to survive a planetary catastrophe.

Is space colonization worth the money? Is it worth the effort? If you believe that we can successfully prevent planetary-scale extinction events through sufficient effort then space colonization certainly isn't worth the time/money - at least if done for the sole purpose of survival. If there is a sufficient chance that we cannot prevent such events, economics aside space colonization is our best hope for species survival.

There is no absolute security -- never has been and never will be. Neither space colonies nor a planetary defense system can reduce the probability of extinction to absolutely 0%. My argument can be boiled down to two points:

(1) Protecting the whole Earth from catastrophe is a far more desirable goal than building space colonies which would survive after such a catastrophe, because it preserves far more -- all seven billion humans presently alive, all our cultural achievements, and our capacity for future progress, as opposed to a tiny remnant.

(2) In a world of finite resources, every dollar spent on space colonies is not available for planetary defense (and vice versa). Thus we need to allocate resources based on which of the two offers hope of achieving a more desirable goal (see point 1) and on the relative probability of each strategy actually being able to achieve the goal toward which it is directed.

The probability that planetary defenses could keep Earth safe from the various potential threats (natural and artificial) is hard to assess at this point since as yet we know little of the exact nature of some of those threats, but I believe that if we act prudently, the probability of success is very high (see my first comment above). Whether it is higher than the probability that a space colony could survive such a catastrophe is difficult to say, but as I said, the goal of preserving the whole Earth is far more desirable than the goal of preserving a tiny handful, and I think this should be the decisive factor in allocating the resources.

There's also the question of which solution is more likely to be put into action. Taxpayers and government officials would be much more likely to allocate resources to planetary defenses knowing that they personally would be among those protected, than they would to spend those resources on space colonies which would not make them personally any safer.

Why do you believe that we will be able to prevent a planetary- scale disaster?

Historically the capabilities of large, organized societies have stayed ahead of the capabilities of tiny nihilistic groups which have sought to disrupt or destroy them. We can ensure that this continues to be the case. As for natural disasters, for centuries technological power has been tipping the balance in our favor against the forces (such as famine and epidemics) which used to kill humans in great numbers. I expect that within 20 years our defenses against microorganisms will become so effective that infectious disease will no longer be a problem, for example.

Addressing every possible disaster would take too much space for a blog comment, but you see the general principle.

In any case, I think the probability of most of these disasters is really low. The statistical likelihood of an extinction-level meteor hitting Earth in the next few centuries, or of some terrorist group setting out to design and release an artificial epidemic capable of killing millions and actually succeeding without any government finding out about it and stopping them, or whatever, seems pretty low. We do need to be taking intelligent precautions, but most likely none of these things will happen.

What level of planetary organization, cooperation and effort would be required to ensure this? has anyone studied this?

Global cooperation is probably only an issue where intelligence- gathering is concerned (keeping tabs on those terrorist groups). Things like asteroid monitoring and developing anti-bioweapons technology are probably best handled by individual nation-states, only the most advanced of which would have much to contribute anyway.

Is there any organization dedicated to assuring human survival, regardless of the specific mechanism?

I know of no such organization, but establishing one wouldn't be the most effective strategy anyway. The best way to get something done about any of these issues is to act to influence the decisions of those who control the necessary resources: the governments of the major nation-states.

Along those lines, I think there is already a NASA project to detect asteroids in potentially dangerous orbits, and Ray Kurzweil has testified before Congress about possible dangers of rogue nano- technology and how we might best protect the world against it.

The increase in human capabilities after the Technological Singularity will change all these considerations in ways we can't anticipate now. So our present planning need only (and can only) cover a time frame of a few decades.

====================================

You said: Historically the capabilities of large, organized societies have stayed ahead of the capabilities of tiny nihilistic groups which have sought to disrupt or destroy them.

But:

- Historically the rate of change in technology was much slower. It was easier for larger, organized groups to stay in general control. Now new technologies are evolving before there is legislation or technical control mechanisms in place. You can see this in the IT security arena.

- Historically WMD were not available to small groups. Even now, it is not feasible for nuclear raw materials to become available in sufficient amounts to small groups for them to inflict planetary-scale damage. I am unfamiliar with nanotech, but the ability to construct biological organisms promises to be available to smaller labs, and viruses replicate where nuclear weapons do not.

- Danger does not exist solely from small groups, but also from nation-states that either make a mistake, or come under the control of dangerous individuals or groups.

Also, I agree that the risk for a global catastrophe is much smaller than for non-existential risks. But the weight of the potential impact of an existential risk lends greater weight to the small chance that the risk will be realized.

====================================

Historically the rate of change in technology was much slower. It was easier for larger, organized groups to stay in general control. Now new technologies are evolving before there is legislation or technical control mechanisms in place.

I've never thought legislation or mechanisms of control would be of much use in dealing with this problem. Societies need to keep their defensive technology ahead of the nihilists' destructive technology. I still contend that the societies, due to their greater numbers and resources, have the advantage over the nihilists.

I'm not talking only about government labs. A lot of good soft- ware, including defensive software, has come from independent private individuals. This is able to happen because computer technology has been free to move ahead full speed, not subject to the kind of efforts at totalitarian control that George worried about in his posting. If the government had ever tried to put all software development under centralized control, most likely we would be far less well protected against threats like viruses than we are.

You can see this in the IT security arena.

But the defensive technologies have stayed ahead. We've had the internet for a while now and viruses and hackers are still nuisances and localized dangers, not existential threats.

Historically WMD were not available to small groups.

I am unfamiliar with nanotech, but the ability to construct biological organisms promises to be available to smaller labs, and viruses replicate where nuclear weapons do not.

See my earlier comments. There are still steps we can take to minimize the danger. Not to completely eliminate it, but to keep the probability of a successful attack low.

As noted above, by the time a few nuts with a basement lab can do what a government bioweapons lab can do today, the government lab should be able to do things which we can't imagine today, including things like stamping out a new man-made plague in a matter of hours, whatever that might involve. We just have to resist the impulse to try to slow down progress.

Danger does not exist solely from small groups, but also from nation-states that either make a mistake, or come under the control of dangerous individuals or groups.

Examples of this already exist (Iran, Pakistan, North Korea). But we have the means to contain or eradicate such threats. Only the political will is missing, and that will change after the first nuclear terror attack. Also, there is one non-Western society with similar pre-emptive capabilities and much less psychological inhibition about using them if it feels seriously threatened (Russia).

In any case, terrorist or rogue-state nuclear attacks might destroy some cities or a small country, but they are not a planetary-scale existential threat.

Existential threats are not new. There have been cases in the past of large, organized societies being destroyed by barbarian attack (Harappa, Roman Empire), or by epidemics introduced by human enemies (Aztec & Inca Empires), or by natural disaster (Minoan Greece). Current and near-future threats are more sophisticated, but so are the large societies, to an even greater degree. Overall, the probability of a civilization-killing disaster strikes me as being much lower than it was in pre-modern times.

27 December 2008

This is how it's done

After suffering 200 rocket attacks in a week (and 3,000 since the start of the year), Israel strikes back hard against the barbarians.

Update: Minute-by-minute coverage here. Meanwhile, the usual Eurotrash have begun to snivel that Israel should stop defending itself. These cockroaches, of course, voiced no such criticism when Hamas was bombarding Israeli civilians with 3,000 rockets. May Israel dismiss them with the contempt they deserve.

26 December 2008

Link roundup for 26 December 2008

JibJab has a year-in-review video up.

Yet another obsolete enterprise is asking Congress for a bailout.

Here's a collection of creepy beach sculptures (found via Mendip).

I'm not alone in recognizing Newton Day.

Does "manliness" mean being a medieval troglodyte?

Sentient Developments has tips on going vegetarian.

There's more to the symbiosis of bees and plants than pollination.

France wants to fight Google? Bring it on!

Republic of T. speculates on the right's hidden economic goals.

Credit where it's due: President Bush makes an honorable gesture.

Biden was right: Obama will be tested.

Don't be misled by the media's chosen gloom-and-doom narrative on the economy. Here (scroll down a bit) are some signs that the recovery is already beginning. In the same vein, the WSJ reports that retail sales fell 5.5% in November and 8% in December (year-on-year). But more than half the drop was accounted for by the fall in gasoline prices, which is a good thing, not a bad thing. Exclude that factor, and the declines are 2.5% and 4% respectively, with some of the drop being due to increased savings. Not very good, but hardly signs of looming disaster. Read this too.

The brand of shoe flung at President Bush by Muntadar al-Zeidi has suddenly become a hot seller in Iraq.

The Confluence looks at the Bush administration's horrific new "conscience rules" on reproductive technology.

Tough Chinese sailors fight off Muslim pirates with improvised weapons.

Blogger "Sultan Knish" (gotta love that name) takes a close took at the rising threat posed by the United Arab Emirates (found via Logistics Monster). More here.

The Russian regime is back to churning out crude anti-American propaganda, but it's a flop with Russian audiences.

Survivors of cruel medical experiments face ongoing physical and psychological problems. But in China, abused street performers fight back.

A Japanese satellite films "Earthrise" over the Lunar horizon.

The earliest common ancestor of Earthly life might have been a hyperthermophilic microorganism.

The Vatican's views on bioethics can be ignored.

A shift to LEDs could save vast amounts of money and energy.

New Japanese technology can show what people are seeing by reading their brain activity (found via Exit Zero).

Oxford University scholars present a comprehensive discussion (long PDF) of where we now stand on the road to uploading human minds into computers.

The mark of Islam (2)

The Mumbai terrorists sexually degraded many of their victims before killing them. Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka "were sexually assaulted and their genitalia mutilated".

Sickening but, given Islam's track record, far from surprising.

25 December 2008

Born on this date

December 25th was the birthday of a great man whose work and teachings changed the world forever.

22 December 2008

What a bunch of perverts!

Think your sex life is a tad on the kinky side? Well, I've just been reading about a bunch of total weirdos whose sexual habits you won't believe!

All of them are promiscuous, but that's just the beginning. Some of them can only get turned on if their partners wear special glowing green-and-white lights. Some of them wantonly choose to lose their virginity to one big stud before settling down with another, or like to tear their partners' genitals off, or cut off and eat certain body parts, or even kill their partners! Some males like to suck up their own semen and spit it into their partners! And a few of them have even been known to eat their own children!

Surely these shocking kinks must qualify as being "against nature" to the ultimate degree? Well, read on.....

21 December 2008

Winter solstice

Vamp has some good links in honor of the day.

The tiny master of eternity

Think that you could never envy a pinpoint-sized, jellyfish-like sea creature? Think again. Turritopsis nutricula possesses a trait we humans have dreamt of for millennia and still have a hard struggle ahead of us to achieve. Found via Mendip.

Missed opportunity

Joseph Cannon writes:

"Lefties now accuse Bill Clinton of being a master triangulator. You betcha. He had to be. He was president during a very conservative period. Newt and Rush and all of their confreres had convinced most of the nation that Clinton was actually a bolshie, and their fulminations led many fanatical rightists to train for an armed takeover. That's what the militia movement was all about. Things are different now that the neocon experiment has run its course -- a course which led over a cliff and into a pool of septic waste. [Obama] has a rare chance to change the game. But he won't."

This is exactly why this year's election was such a tragic missed opportunity.

I believe that Hillary Clinton is a liberal by conviction, and that as President she would have spent the next eight years putting our own ideas and values into force, ramming them through over the conservatives' resistance when necessary, just as they have spent the last eight years doing to us. That's what I wanted. That's why I supported her. Instead we've got a chameleon who voted for FISA, hedged on late-term abortion, talked of keeping Bush's faith-based initiatives, pals around with bigots like Donnie McClurkin and Rick Warren, and shows signs of being dangerously weaker on national security than Hillary -- a man whose true core convictions and political identity are still unknowable, if they exist at all.

19 December 2008

We told you so

Obama's choice of an anti-abortion, anti-gay Christianist wackjob to deliver the "invocation" at his inaugural seems to have finally begun the slow process of awakening the less deeply hypnotized to the fact that the Messiah is not quite what they made themselves believe him to be.

Daily Kos: Was there some reason the transition team couldn't find someone who wasn't a homophobe?.....What a spit in the eye to the GBLT community in particular, and to anyone who supports equality, dignity and justice under the law.

Americablog: Barack Obama just said to LGBT Americans that we're not part of that event. Thanks.....Maybe we're expendable now. Obama's brain trust has decided he needs new friends. So have fun with Rick Warren. If he's there on January 20th, I won't be. And, unlike Rick Warren, I actually worked hard to get Obama elected. It's weird and disturbing. I'd expect George Bush to have a homophobe on the stage. But Obama? That's not the kind of change I expected, and it's not change I can believe in.

The Impolitic: I've been willing to swallow a lot of distaste for some of Obama's choices in the transition phase, but this is really going too far.....I get that Obama wants to reach out to the opposition and all that, but this really is a slap in the face to all the sane Christians who supported him. Not to mention, the progressives and those in the gay and lesbian community.

Liardogfake: President-elect Obama chose eliminationist hate preacher Rick Warren to give the invocation at Obama's Inaguration. With this choice, Obama sends three destructive messages. Number one: In Obama's America, equal rights and reproductive freedom aren't for everyone. Number two: President-elect Obama likes sharing the national stage with hate. Number three: While Obama enjoys his equality before the law, LGBT Americans can go to Hell. Literally. Gee. Is this change we can believe in? Does Obama's America include GLBT's, along with the fundamentalists who want to take away their rights?

And even the arch-cultist Andrew Sullivan: Rick Warren will give the invocation at Obama's inauguration. Warren is a man who believes my marriage removes his freedom of speech and cannot say that authorizing torture is a moral failing. Shrewd politics, but if anyone is under any illusion that Obama is interested in advancing gay equality, they should probably sober up now.

More here, here, here, here, and at many other places, doubtless with much more to come -- quite a number of the most hard-core cultists haven't posted anything about this yet. Inevitably, there are those who try to justify this or explain it away, usually as an example of Obama's "inclusiveness" and "reaching out" (if a white liberal President-elect had chosen a KKK preacher for such a role, in an effort to be "inclusive" of anti-black bigots and opponents of interracial marriage, the very same people who are offering these pathetic rationalizations would quite rightly be going apeshit over it). But Rick Warren isn't going to be the last wake-up call.

We told you so. Yes, we have every right to say it. We spent most of this year warning you about Obama. You stuck your fingers in your ears and refused to listen. Well, at this point that's no longer an option. You are going to keep on and on getting your noses rubbed in exactly what you did when you abandoned the tried-and-true known quantity (and prospective first woman President at that) for a charismatic enigma. And I'm going to be there every step of the way, telling you each time: We told you so. Vote in haste, repent at leisure.

1.5 to 2 trillion tons

Don't be misled by the cold weather this winter -- the overall trend of rising temperatures and melting ice caps is still accelerating:

Between 1.5 trillion and 2 trillion tons of ice in Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska have melted at an accelerating rate since 2003, according to NASA scientists.....In the past five years, Greenland has lost between 150 gigatons and 160 gigatons each year, (one gigaton equals one billion tons) or enough to raise global sea levels about .5 mm per year.....

The ice loss in recent years has become more serious than in the 1990s:

In the 1990s, Greenland took in as much snow and water as it let out, Zwally said. But now, about 15 years later, sea levels are rising about 50 percent faster, making the global climate situa-tion even more unpredictable.

These data are from NASA -- other scientific groups concur:

The past year, according to the NASA group (the “meteorological year” from December through November), is between the 7th and 12th warmest (because of the range of uncertainty in readings) since systematic meteorological record-keeping began in 1880.... the decades-long global warming trend and patterns of warming remain consistent with a growing influence on climate from the planet’s building blanket of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.....if all the world’s countries fail by 2030 to move away from burning coal for power (at least without capturing the emitted CO2), it will be impossible to avoid a long slide toward Earth becoming “a different planet” from the one human societies have experi-enced for thousands of years.

This is one of the most important things that will change on the 20th of January: With the end of the denialist administration of Bush (who also rejects evolution), the government of the world's leading industrial and technological nation will no longer be at war with the consensus of the world scientific community and most other major governments, but will start actively working to deal with the problem. Note that this would have been true regardless of the outcome of the election, since McCain also acknowledges the reality of anthropogenic global warming and the need for action against it.

Update: See here for interesting information and links. I should also note that the NASA link above was sent by Ranch Chimp.

(Note: as always, denialists need not bother trying to post their nonsense in the comments. A collection of the standard denialist talking points and scientists' responses can be found here.)

17 December 2008

Link roundup for 17 December 2008

Prash has pictures of China's first-ever gay pride march, held on Saturday in Hong Kong.

It's time for a new round of this year's popular political game, WORM ("What Obama Really Meant").

The MSM seem to be pushing the meme that Blagojevich is crazy. Maybe they're trying to discredit in advance what he might say about, er, some subject or other?

If the term "real woman" now means an overweight woman, what does "real man" mean?

Obama dodges questioning on Blagogate.

With a tougher post-WWII policy, might the map of Europe have looked like this today? (Personally I've always thought we should have cleared the German population out of Schleswig-Holstein and Niedersachsen and established the state of Israel there instead of in the Middle East.)

James Moore debunks five myths about the US economy.

Blagogate is more than just ordinary Chicago-style corruption. (Update: read this too.)

Muslim preacher Anjem Choudary condemns Christmas as evil, but praises the Mumbai terrorist attack. I guess this is an example of that religion-based morality we're always told atheists lack.

Does Obama contemplate backstabbing Israel?

A new book looks at society without God.

1,500,000,000 pencils are produced each year, but not one single person on Earth knows how to make one. (Update: watch this video too.)

Japanese athlete Takashi Shimokawara adheres to a more grueling regimen of training and exercise than most people could endure, and competes successfully at track-and-field. Oh, and he's 102.

The technology of surgical implants continues to improve.

Check out Project Aiko, a sort of human version of the pleo, but more sophisticated (and potentially more fun to play with).

Here are a couple more music videos I like: Nastya Kamenskih with Ukraina Yulya and Alexander Buinov with the Russian army.

16 December 2008

Have we been looking at the wrong election?

John Batchelor asks a very intriguing question about Senate-seat salesman Rod Blagojevich:

Connect dots. If Obama's seat is worth millions to Blago today, what was it worth in 2003-2004 when it was emptying with the retirement of Republican Peter Fitzgerald? And how did Blago parley that empty seat back then into a victory for his special fixer guy Tony Rezko's protege and student of the Chicago Way, Barack Obama?

I'd say that question merits a close and detailed look.

Found via RBO blog, which is looking forward to opening several Fitzmas presents.

Public views of Blagogate and Obama

According to this Rasmussen poll, 45% of voters consider it to be "likely" that Obama is involved in Blagogate. 23% consider it "very likely" -- evidence that the MSM's spin denying and ridiculing any possibility of a connection is not working very effectively. 86% say they are following news of the scandal.

What startled me, though, was something mentioned in passing far down in the report: 2% of voters believe that Blagojevich is "more ethical than most politicians". Assuming that "voters" refers to the 130 million people who voted in last month's election, that means 2,600,000 American adults believe this. Who are these people? Where do they get their news from? Did they wander over from the Mirror Universe? I guess it's true that there is no proposition so absurd that it won't be believed by a certain number of people, but two and a half million?

Quote for the day

"Rivers of medieval ink, not to mention blood, have been squandered over the 'mystery' of the Trinity, and in suppressing deviations such as the Arian heresy. Arius of Alexandria, in the fourth century AD, denied that Jesus was consubstantial (i.e. of the same substance or essence) with God. What on earth could that possibly mean, you are probably asking? Substance? What 'substance'? What exactly do you mean by 'essence'? 'Very little' seems the only reasonable reply. Yet the controversy split Christendom down the middle for a century, and the Emperor Constantine ordered that all copies of Arius's book should be burned. Splitting Christendom by splitting hairs -- such has ever been the way of theology."

Richard Dawkins

13 December 2008

The land of my ancestors

A meditative video tour (found via Nourishing Obscurity) -- click on the rectangle-within-a-rectangle icon at the lower right for the full-screen version.

12 December 2008

The world's BIGGEST health problem

The WHO reports that the number of seriously-overweight people in the world has reached 1.6 billion. This is twice as many as the number of people who suffer from malnourishment.

That's right -- with a world population at least fifteen times as large as the largest it ever got before the year 1500, our biggest food- related health problem is now overeating. (So much for Malthus.) It's going to get worse, too. The same report anticipates 2.3 billion seriously-overweight people by 2015, just seven years from now. And as I've noted before, it's a problem which Americans (a nation "hugely" over-represented among the fattest of the fat) are weirdly reluctant to acknowledge.

At just under six feet and 215 pounds, I'm far from being in good shape, but this is due to many months of enforced lack of exercise due to a collapsed hip joint. Now that I can walk normally again, I don't intend to stay that way. Far too many of us eagerly, even truculently, spurn health and embrace the flab. There is even a "fat acceptance" movement (can you imagine a "smoking acceptance" movement or an "alcoholism acceptance" movement?). But those who waddle after this (gasping and wheezing) pied piper will find, to their cost, that the hard facts of biological reality and health pay no heed to what we "accept" or deem politically correct.

Bloat, bloat, wherever you may be,
For I am the Lard of the Dunce, said he,
And I feed you all, calorie by calorie,
And I feed you all to obesity.

10 December 2008

Eight weeks later

Today marks eight weeks since my hip surgery, and I think I can safely declare it a total success. Despite a little remaining muscle weakness, I can walk quite normally; and except for occasional residual soreness, there is no pain at all. It has been over a year since I could really say either of those things.

One person who remembers how I used to walk describes this as "like a miracle", and I'm inclined to agree, but with an important caveat. What gave me my life back was technology, and human knowledge and skill. No prayers, crystals, faith healing, or any such superstitions were involved, nor would they have done me the slightest good. Like all miracles that actually happen, this one was 100% human-made.

09 December 2008

Can Obama still be stopped?

I never thought the citizenship lawsuits offered much hope (see here for why). But could the Blagojevich scandal -- linked to the long-simmering Rezko affair -- stop Obama?

And why was Blago arrested now, on other (more recent) corruption charges, before a complete case could be brought against him on the Board Games matter? Why did the arrest occur before the choice of senator-elect, before the pay-off money for that appointment actually exchanged hands? Two possible (linked) reasons spring to mind:

1. Fitz wants to pressure Blago into testifying against an even bigger fish. Right now, the only bigger fish is Obama.....

This could finally be it. The sleaze we've known about for so long, which the MSM has so carefully kept below the radar of the mass public mind, may be about to hit the fan at last.

Link roundup for 9 December 2008

Dennis the Peasant dissects bad leftist poetry.

Wonder why all of those Obama-citizenship lawsuits aren't getting anywhere? This offers some clues.

An unusual sexual obsession comes to a tragic end -- and so does another. Both found via Mendip, where I also found this collection of mazes, these ancient air conditioners, this wasp sucker, and this odd quirk of Catalan nativity scenes.

Here's a look at the impending switch to digital TV.

What if the stop sign had been invented by a modern advertising company? Found via Exit Zero.

John Oliver of Comedy Central gives his analysis of the Mumbai terrorist attacks (note: profanity).

The Vatican opposes decriminalization of homosexuality. I liked comment #5, from "Lokidog".

Yet another pompous religious leader offers yet another stupid pronouncement about sex.

Claims that abortion leads to depression have no basis in reality.

Steve Chapman looks at the real effects of laws against gay couples adopting. Meanwhile, support for gay marriage is growing rapidly in the US.

This seems like a clear-cut miscarriage of justice.

Disaster! Anti-illegal-immigration raids are putting employers in the ghastly position of having to offer American workers decent wages! Whatever next?! Mickey Kaus has a warning about the latest amnesty scam, while Tom Tancredo looks at some myths about Hispanic voters.

Public outcry forces the Cincinnati Zoo to abandon a deal with the ridiculous "Creation Museum".

Obama cultists who are disappointed in his post-election course were just deluding themselves all along.

Here's one reason for India's vulnerability.

Is Zimbabwe's Mugabe running out of time? He can't even pay his army any more.

Here's more on honor killings, this time among Muslims in Israel. Further horrors here (warning: gruesome imagery).

Fareed Zakaria looks at Pakistan's role in the Mumbai attack.

Britain risks a measles epidemic after vaccination rates decline.

Are terrorists "non-state actors"? No.

The world's oldest known living animal is at least 176.

A link between the herpes virus and Alzheimer's disease offers hope for treatment. Meanwhile, this technique for revitalizing the aging brain is already available to everyone.

A woman in India has had a baby -- at age 70.

Nanoparticles target cancer cells for destruction while leaving healthy cells unscathed.

We are living in exponential times.

Is chemical pollution feminizing males? Ha, ha, what a silly idea! I'd post more about this, but I need to go get my nails done.

05 December 2008

Obama's citizenship

A specter is haunting PUMA-dom -- the specter of Barack Obama's birth certificate.

The Constitution mandates that only a "natural-born citizen" can become President. This is why a naturalized citizen such as, for example, Arnold Schwarzenegger, could not run for President. Recently many PUMAs have made claims that Obama may have actually been born in Kenya, not Hawaii as is generally accepted, which would mean he is not a "natural-born citizen"; or that, even if he was born in Hawaii, there's some problem with his citizenship due to his father not having been an American citizen, or due to his possibly having acquired Indonesian nationality later. Here's a rundown on some of the claims, and why they would be important if true. The "controversy" over Obama's citizenship has become so widely discussed on PUMA blogs that it is threatening to engulf the movement; see for example the blog-roundup site Daily PUMA, which now has a special section for "citizenship issues".

Is there any fire under all the smoke? Believers focus on Obama's birth certificate, which has never been made publicly available; they believe that this may mean he has something to hide. The document released by Obama's campaign is a "certificate of live birth" (COLB), which is not the same as an actual birth certificate; claims have been advanced that it is a forgery. Several lawsuits have been filed to try to force Obama to reveal his actual birth certificate; it's remotely possible that the Supreme Court itself will decide today to address the issue.

The problem is that there's no evidence, or at least none that I've seen, to support the claim that Obama was not born in Hawaii. What "evidence" has been offered generally consists of hearsay or statements that need a lot of clarification before they can be given any weight. A good example is here (note that the question I asked in the comments thread -- a very obvious question -- has gone unanswered). The claim that Obama's COLB is a forgery has been debunked by Cannonfire (which, please note, is an anti-Obama site). A birth announcement appeared in a Hawaiian newspaper in 1961. With all the blogger interest in the subject, if there were any solid evidence out there to support the idea that Obama was born outside US territory, someone would have dug it up by now, and it would be all over the PUMAsphere in a matter of hours.

And as for the claims that Obama's non-American father somehow makes him not a "natural-born citizen", the fact that his father was Kenyan has been well known since long before he started running for President. If this were a solid disqualification, the issue would have come up a long time ago. The claims that are being made now are dependent on fine points of interpretation; the Supreme Court is very unlikely to set aside the results of a national election on such a basis.

I fear that this "controversy" is becoming the PUMA version of kool-aid. Who, after all, benefits from having all our legitimate objections to Obama discredited by association with something spurious? If that association takes root in the mass public mind, and Obama then produces his original birth certificate showing that he was, in fact, born in Hawaii, then his problem with this will be over -- but ours won't be. By 2010 and 2012, whenever PUMAs are mentioned, the common reaction will be, "Oh, yeah, those nuts who made all that fuss over the [snicker] birth certificate thing." Again, who benefits from this?

I really hope that I'm proven wrong on this one. No one would be happier than I if Obama were disqualified from the Presidency. But it just looks vanishingly unlikely that there's any substance to this thing. The people who pin their hopes on it are setting themselves up for a huge disappointment. Specters may look impressive, but they are not real.

Update (6 Dec.): The Supreme Court has postponed its decision on whether or not to grant a hearing to the lawsuit.

04 December 2008

Gumballs

Can the United States help poor countries by maintaining high levels of immigration? Watch this video for a simple and clear presentation of why it doesn't, and can't, work that way.

The most significant point is one made in passing: that the only way to improve the lives of most of the world's poor people is to raise the standard of living in the countries where they live now. Encouraging the most skilled and educated people to leave those countries would actually hinder this process.

I might add that the most powerful force for raising standards of living has always been, and will always be, technological progress -- more and more useful things are invented and can be produced more efficiently and therefore more cheaply, while the amount of wealth that can be created per person steadily increases. This is how the countries which are now rich got that way. If you want people in the Third World to be better off, you should want to see technology move forward as fast as possible. This is most likely to happen if the developed countries that generate most innovation are not distracted by, and forced to divert resources to deal with, the social problems which excessive levels of immigration can cause.

03 December 2008

A force of the mind?

Based on comments I've seen around the net during the election campaign, unaffected people whose friends have become Obama cultists often report that the converts seem to change in strange, disturbing ways. The new acolyte not only brims with unshakable faith and adulation for the Messiah -- strikingly different from the normal attitude of most Americans toward a politician -- but also sometimes becomes different in ways that seem unrelated (for example, tending to use profanity more than before), and vents disdain and vituperation for the unconverted to a degree that seems wholly out of character. It's no wonder that the bewildered friends of the possessed so frequently invoke the analogy of the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

To me, however, another analogy from the world of fiction keeps coming to mind.

A man with hardly any political experience -- hardly any record at all, in fact -- comes out of nowhere and somehow manages to win supporters and accumulate power with astonishing speed. He easily surmounts every successive obstacle to his rise. Every time the conventional wisdom says he should lose a political battle, he wins. The key to his power is the unshakable, fanatical, cultlike support he is able to inspire in an ever-growing number of people, support based on -- well, actually, based on nothing than anybody can really pin down. They simply embrace his cause with fervent faith, for no actual reason that the unconverted can discern. In a stunningly short time, the Messianic figure from nowhere rises to the position of leader of the most powerful state in existence.

Of course, this could only be the career of a fictional character: "The Mule" in Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy.

Yes, I know, I'm really being paranoid now. But the analogy is so obvious that I can't get it out of my head.

02 December 2008

Better than a bailout

Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert has a simple, straightforward idea for revitalizing the US economy.

01 December 2008

The mark of Islam

Mumbai doctors are shocked at evidence of torture on the corpses of the terrorists' hostages.

Update (2 Dec.): More details emerge.