30 June 2009

Ahmadinejad raps!

The Iranian resistance knows how to have some fun too -- a bit of creative editing transforms the theocracy's front man Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into a catchy musical self-parody. Check him out!

And don't forget that classic American right-wing favorite, Rappin' Bill O'Reilly.

What sites do you read?

The title says it all. I'm curious -- what other sites on the internet, of whatever kind, do you like to look at?

"I'll have the ant"

It was a big get-together to celebrate an important occasion, and about ten of us were at a restaurant fancier than I'd ever been in before. Perusing the menu, I decided to be adventurous, so I told the waiter, "I'll have the ant." It was one of the more expensive items on the menu, but what the hell, someone else was buying.

In due course it arrived -- a whole, cooked ant about a foot long, shiny and black and quite bristly, sitting on a plate barely large enough for it. It was as unappetizing a thing as you could imagine, and I was already thinking, "Why did I order this? I should've known I wasn't going to like it." I decided to try and eat it, though, since I was hungry and didn't want to waste such expensive food. I tried the head first, but due to its awkward shape and the thickness of the chitin I simply couldn't cut a piece off, even with a steak knife. I had better luck with the abdomen, which carved just like soft meat, though it was watery yellow and brown inside, totally unappetizing. It tasted even worse -- earwax would have been like chocolate by comparison.

I woke up at that point, but it took a minute or two for the (purely imagined) aftertaste to go away.

This was an actual dream I had a couple of weeks ago. Most of my dreams are equally unpleasant, but this is the first one in years that didn't fade from memory almost immediately. I rather wish it had.

Quote for the day (with bonus joke)

"Michael Jackson did not have a tragic childhood, nor did he have a tragic life. He had the life he chose. To excuse his behavior as though it was simply a pre-programmed result of his years as a child performer is not just intellectually lazy, it's an insult to every individual who has overcome true childhood hardship, depriva-tion and/or abuse to emerge as a functioning member of society. Michael Jackson was no bobbing cork on the sea of circumstance - he was a multi-millionaire with the means to choose any lifestyle he wanted. 'Functional adult' was one of the options. He chose otherwise. Celebrate the music if you like, but for decency's sake, don't celebrate the man."
"Kate" (found via CCiZ)

Michael Jackson joke for the day:

Farrah Fawcett dies and goes to Heaven. God greets her and says, "Since you were such a good person, I will grant you one wish." Farrah says, "I wish for the children of the world to become safer from molestation and abuse." God thinks for a moment and then says, "Done!"

28 June 2009

Iran: the road ahead

With the regime's vicious crackdown over the last few days, the focus of the uprising has shifted from street protests to other strategies, the most significant of which (if it can be sustained) is the national strike. At the same time, the stakes have become higher, with the slogans shifting from "Where's my vote?" to "Death to the dictator!" This no longer is, if it ever really was, about who occupies the front-man "Presidency", nor about some reshuffling among the bearded holy men who hold the real power. It's about completely overthrowing a theocratic gangster-regime which has lost all claim to rule by anything other than naked force and fear.

This will take time. The revolution that brought down the Shah spanned months. But the regime cannot bring back the quiescent Iran that existed before June 11. As the thunderous nighttime shouts of Allâho akbar from the rooftops grow still louder, I'm reminded of Boris Yeltsin's quip: "You can build a throne out of bayonets, but you can't sit on it for long."

The internet, and specifically its decentralization of control over information, has transformed politics. Twitter and other internet tools have played a crucial role in organizing the resistance, and will continue to do so.

Then there were the blogs, from heavyweights like Sullivan and Totten and the Huffington Post to individual bloggers (many of them Iranians like Saeed Valadbaygi and Azarmehr), who have kept us up-to-date on the most earthshaking geopolitical event since 9-11, while the useless MSM blithered on with "full coverage" of Letterman-Palin and Michael Jackson and tomato-throwing contests, or at best focused on the internal maneuvering within the regime and barely discussed what was going on in the streets.

I've seen a couple of reports that some Basîj (government militia) members captured by the resistance turned out to be unable to speak Persian; they spoke only Arabic. There have been persistent rumors that the regime has brought in foreign enforcers to fight the uprising because its own army and police cannot be relied on to do so. If this is true, its days are numbered indeed.

Even so, it's important to remember the costs. Dozens (probably hundreds) have been killed, and many more arrested. While you are reading this, brave people are being tortured to force them to betray friends and allies. Be thankful that you live in a land where political activism does not carry such risks.

27 June 2009

Link roundup for 27 June 2009

Have it your way -- at Burger King!

Artist of the week: Daniela Uhlig.

You may have trouble finding the ingredients for these dishes (via Mendip).

At last -- an honest obituary.

Vamp has a slideshow of religion quotes.

Here is where you'll find the shittiest people in the United States (sent by Ranch Chimp). Fortunately, they're staying there.

Another right-winger sounds off against gay marriage. His secret weapon: Latin.

Trade unionists in Britain and other countries rally in solidarity with Iran.

Yes, there are still witch-burnings in the twenty-first century. And there's this, which is almost as dangerously ignorant.

Whales off the Argentine coast are being viciously harassed.

After reading this, I have yet another incentive to lose weight.

Not all crop circles are made by hoaxers. Some are made by druggies.

These carvings may be the oldest examples of the Cherokee script.

See photos of the killer floods in the Czech Republic.

Scientists can now actually watch a memory being formed.

26 June 2009

In Tehran's sky

The uprising lives! News of the day here.

Another one bites the dust

The honor roll of right-wing moral paragons is long: David Vitter, Larry Craig, Ted Haggard, Bob Allen, Mark Foley, Newt Gingrich, John Ensign.....and now, to that august company, a new name can be added: Mark Sanford.

Like many Republicans, Sanford holds strong views on the moral standards the rest of us should adhere to; he is, for example, on record as taking a hard line on adultery by public figures, and favors the full Christian Right agenda of anti-gay discrimination measures. Those fags are a threat to the integrity of the sacred institution of marriage, after all.

Unlike some, I don't hesitate or equivocate in rejoicing every time one of these Bible-thumping right-wing Stepford husbands goes down. When somebody preaches a particular moral value system, and condemns others for deviating from it (as Sanford condemned Clinton back in the day), and, in fact, builds a political career and identity on being holier-than-thou on the subject -- and then is caught egregiously betraying that value system -- then it's quite appropriate to call him on his hypocrisy. In fact, it's quite appro-priate to point fingers and guffaw.

And yes, it is worse when one of these preachy family-values types does it than when somebody like Bill Clinton does it. Bill Clinton didn't build his career and political identity on preaching sexual morality at the rest of us.

(Oh, and Rush Limbaugh is being even stupider than usual.)

Make no mistake -- the agenda of these people is evil. It goes far beyond the reasonable position of not cheating on one's wife. They want to roll back abortion rights, the recent advances of gays, the separation of church and state, and the Devil knows what else. We don't need to exercise much imagination to know what lies at the end of that road, because we've seen it in practice in Iran over the last thirty years. So, since it seems to be the case that this kind of aggressive piety is often wedded to bottomless hypocrisy (and don't you dare doubt for a millisecond that more than a few of those Iranian mullahs have women or boys on the side too), I'm more than happy to see the hypocrisy discredit the piety.


It's now almost nine months since I quit eating pig meat, almost six months since I quit eating most other kinds of meat (chicken, turkey, and occasional fish being the only exceptions, and I'm thinking of phasing out those), and over two months since I quit alcohol. I try to walk at least a mile for exercise each weekday, and I'm finally starting to lose some of the weight I gained during the period of immobility before and after last year's surgery.

A couple of weeks ago I got a stomach-ache, and I realized it was ages since the last time I'd had one. I used to get them all the time. I feel like I'm getting fewer headaches too, though it's hard to be sure. Certainly the experience of waking up queasy and exhausted after drinking too much the night before is one I don't miss.

While in general people today are far healthier (with the glaring exception of the epidemic of excess weight) and longer-lived than ever before, there are still improvements almost all of us could make. It takes effort -- very definitely it takes effort -- but the rewards are well worth it.

24 June 2009

The religious state

Today saw a savage escalation of brutality by the Iranian regime -- as you know, if you've looked at Andrew Sullivan or the other sites I've regularly linked which are following events. But what perhaps best shows the true character of these holy men is their vicious treatment of the family of Nedâ Aghâ-Soltân, the woman whose unprovoked shooting and death, captured on video, has become the iconic image of the struggle. It's as if they blame her family for how her martyrdom has exposed what they are:

The Iranian authorities have ordered the family of Neda Agha Soltan out of their Tehran home after shocking images of her death were circulated around the world. Neighbours said that her family no longer lives in the four-floor apartment building on Meshkini Street, in eastern Tehran, having been forced to move since she was killed. The police did not hand the body back to her family, her funeral was cancelled, she was buried without letting her family know and the government banned mourning ceremo-nies at mosques, the neighbours said....In accordance with Per-sian tradition, the family had put up a mourning announcement and attached a black banner to the building. But the police took them down, refusing to allow the family to show any signs of mourning. The next day they were ordered to move out. Since then, neighbours have received suspicious calls warning them not to discuss her death with anyone and not to make any protest.

Found via Azarmehr.

Always remember

Idealism, optimism, and determined action may achieve change. Cynicism, pessimism, and passivity never will.

Iran links for 24 June 2009

Tuesday was the first day of the national strike. Al Giordano has this:

There are unconfirmed reports today that a national strike is underway already, including by Iran state television which has reported that today, Tuesday, thirty percent of workers in the country have not shown up on the job. If state media is admitting 30 percent, it is a safe bet that adherence to the strike is larger than that. It would also be very impressive because the govern-ment has warned that any citizen that participates in a strike will be fired from his and her job, or lose his or her space in the public markets. Thirty percent compliance on what is only the first day a strike would also be heartening for the resistance because some sectors – specifically a call by the Grand Ayatollah and spiritual elder Montazeri for three days of mourning beginning tomorrow, Wednesday, have not kicked in yet.

This Friday, June 26, will be a worldwide day of commemoration of Nedâ Aghâ-Soltân and in solidarity with the Iranian people.

After Nedâ's death, the mosque where the family memorial was to be held was ordered to cancel it by the regime. The sheer ham-fistedness and counterproductive cruelty of these "holy men" is simply astonishing.

Ali Fazli, veteran of the Iran-Iraq war and a Commander in the Revolutionary Guards, refused orders from the regime to fire on demonstrators. He has been removed from his post and arrested, but apparently others are prepared to follow his example.

Andrew Sullivan's Iran live-tweeting thread for the day is here. Revolutionary Road is live-blogging as well.

Exit Zero has three reasons for optimism.

One should always be wary of these "women under Islam aren't as badly off as we think" claims -- the reality is generally worse than most Westerners realize -- but the second paragraph here about Mousavi and his wife is of interest. Mousavi did serve the regime as Prime Minister years ago, but it's possible that his views have evolved over time.

Someone's forgetting history, but it's not the Iranians.

23 June 2009


How a murdered woman became a revolutionary icon.

On being fortunate

Watching events unfold in Iran, I feel very fortunate to live in a country where this fight was already fought and won generations ago. Those very basic freedoms which Iranians are still denied, and are now fighting and dying for, were won for us here in the US in 1776 and in 1861-1865.

Yes, there have been further battles for freedom to be fought, and there still are. There was the struggle to give women the vote, the struggle to win black Americans the same rights and freedoms as other Americans, the struggle to abolish military conscription, the struggle to win and keep the fundamental right to abortion, the struggle to keep our right to own guns, the struggle to end the persecution of homosexuals, and the seemingly-endless fight to stop our herds of religious crackpots from rolling back progress and imposing their medieval taboos by force of law. Over time these contests have been moving in the right direction, and I feel more confident about the future given the way the internet has decentralized control over the flow of information.

But the important point is, I live in a country where I can take a stand on any of those things without worrying about getting shot or tortured. The basic framework of an open society exists here. That basic framework is what the Iranians are fighting to get for themselves.

Iran holds another lesson as well. What would our society look like if the Christian Right ever did succeed in rolling back all our gains in personal and political freedom, and America's essential character as a secular and pluralistic society, and imposed its own totalitarian vision? It's hard to imagine -- but the regime which has ruled Iran for the last thirty years gives us a pretty good idea.

"Culturally protectionist"

Mark Steyn (yeah, I know, but he actually has some good points here) looks at the reasons behind the startling success of far-right and outright fascist parties in the EU elections a few weeks ago. The critical point:

But, in the western half of Continental Europe, politics evolved to the point where almost any issue worth talking about was ruled beyond the bounds of polite society.....if the political culture forbids respectable politicians from raising certain issues, then the electorate will turn to unrespectable ones.

It astonishes me that western European anti-fascists apparently still think that the best way to stop people from voting for fascist parties is by exhortation and denunciation. Surely the first step is, rather, to understand why they're doing it. In countries where a sane alternative party was available which did openly address the "forbidden subjects" (basically, Islam and loss of sovereignty to the EU), such as Britain's UKIP or the Wilders's Freedom Party in the Netherlands, that party far outperformed the fascists. There is not some sudden huge groundswell of neo-Nazi sentiment among European populations. But there is frustration at an insular and unresponsive political establishment. Let it start responding, and give the voters something to vote for, and they'll come back from the lunatic fringe.

22 June 2009

A national strike?

That seems likely to be the next step in Iran. Mousavi is said to be discussing it with labor leaders and important merchants. It looks like anger -- cold anger -- has indeed won out over fear; talk now is of revolution, not reform of the system. Sampling here. I feel more hopeful than ever that the Islamic Republic will be brought down, even if the process takes months.

21 June 2009


Sullivan's roundup of today's Twitter reports indicates that street demonstrations and violent clashes continued around Tehran today, but their scale and significance is difficult to assess since the regime has now had greater success at restricting the flow of information. One of his readers takes a plausible, and optimistic, view of Mousavi's intentions. Update: video of one Sunday clash here.

There's every reason to think that this is not over. The revolution thirty years ago which brought down the Shah extended over a period of several months, from the beginning of major strikes and demonstrations in August 1978 to the final collapse of the regime in January 1979. Protest marches in honor of those killed by the Shah's troops in previous demonstrations played a role in keeping up the pressure on the regime, and there are already signs that the present uprising may follow the same pattern.

Michael Totten is offline for a while, but has handed over his blog to a trusted ghostblogger "who knows more about Iran than I do" and has some worthwhile observations, notably here. Other blogs likely to be covering events include Revolutionary Road (which has some videos of today's clashes) and Azarmehr.

20 June 2009

A day of violence and confusion

Today was the day when the façade dropped in Iran. The regime escalated its violence into a serious effort to suppress the uprising, leading to fighting in cities all across the country, magnificently reported by Andrew Sullivan and the Huffington Post. There have been at least forty deaths (probably far more), and hundreds of arrests. A few observations:

-- As is usually the case early on in such conflicts, no one has a complete picture of what's happening. Even the regime probably doesn't. We don't know how many protesters were out overall, or how the violence has affected the mass public mood, or even who's winning. In some cases protesters were dispersed by force, while in others the Basîj were driven back or overwhelmed. It's said that the chanting of the massed people on the rooftops was louder than ever before, but will that translate into sustained action in the face of gunfire? We don't know yet.

-- The regime failed to cut off communications. Twitter reports and YouTube videos (including the shocking video of the young woman shot to death on Karekar Avenue, which may become the iconic image of the uprising) poured forth from Iran all day.

-- The MSM reportage, as best I could see, was far inferior to that of bloggers with much more limited resources. The MSM had very sketchy coverage of the actual fighting, focusing on the acts and statements of officials; Sullivan covered all of that, as well as the street reaction to it and much else besides.

-- Many Western embassies in Tehran took in wounded people and helped them, the hospitals being under the regime's control and thus too dangerous. A wise and humane move, and one Iranians will remember in contrast to the cynical congratulations offered to Ahmadinejad on his "victory" by fellow thugs such as Russia's Putin, Venezuela's Chavez, and North Korea's Kim.

-- As I type this (about 8:45 PM Oregon time), it's already Sunday morning in Iran. Protesters and policemen alike have had time to digest and consider the implications of yesterday's events. We may not have to wait long to see the results.

Link roundup for 20 June 2009

The late Senator Alan Cranston had an unusual distinction.

Cuteness break: a passel of piglets.

Atheists ruminate on moral relativism.

DemWit assesses the right-wing trolls plaguing several blogs.

In Mount Vernon, Ohio, Christian education is a burning issue.

Obama's dismal performance (link sent by Ranch Chimp) on gay issues disappoints liberal bloggers such as Professor Hutchinson and Michael Boh. Bill Maher, meanwhile, has some tough advice for the President.

Western law pushes back against the Islamic dress code in France and Michigan. Me, I prefer the Russian dress code.

Much of the terrorist threat we face is linked to one city -- and it's not in the Middle East.

Women interested in traveling to an exotic country probably shouldn't choose this one. At the opposite extreme, meet Japan's new breed.

Here's an example of solid, traditional housing built to last.

Sentient Developments presents a fascinating video on a species astonishingly similar to ourselves, yet little-known to most of us -- the bonobo.

Genetics, anatomy, and geography all strongly suggest that our closest relative is the chimpanzee, but a new study makes a case for the orangutan.

Swallow or spit? Explore the amazing world of giant sperm.

We can beat global warming without sacrificing our standard of living. Here's how.

Showdown today?

The Guardian's frequently-updated post indicates that protests in Tehran are going ahead despite Khamenei's threats, and that the Basîj and riot police are out in force. Unconfirmed reports of some violent clashes. Keep checking Sullivan and Totten and NIAC.

Update (6:36 Oregon time): Reports of gunfire, widespread street fighting, at least one explosion, and chants of "Death to Khamenei". Looks like this is it.....

(The usual link roundup will be later today.)

Quote for the day

"I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children."

an unidentified Iranian blogger, yesterday

19 June 2009

Young hunters

I couldn't resist this item from the Huffington Post's liveblogging thread about certain young Iranians who are hitting back at the Basîj (the regime's religious militia, responsible for most of the violence and killings so far):

Mousavi supporters were out on the streets 'Basiji hunting.' Their resolve is no less than these thugs -- theyre after hunting them down. They use their phones, their childhood friends, their inti-mate knowledge of their districts and neighbours to plan their attacks -- they're organised and they're supported by their com-munity so they have little fear. They create the havoc they're after, ambush the thugs, use their Cocktail Molotovs, disperse and re-assemble elsewhere and then start again -- and the door of every house is open to them as safe harbour -- they're commu-nity-connected. The Basiji's are not. These are not the students in the dorms, they're the street young -- they know the ways better than most thugs -- and these young, a surprising number of them girls, are becoming more agile in their ways as each night passes on.

Notice that -- a surprising number of them girls. Given the special viciousness of the Islamists toward females, one imagines that revenge must indeed be sweet.

"Old man die already"

Iranian protesters live-tweet Supreme Leader Khamenei's speech. He's not giving an inch. Neither, apparently, are they.

Update: See Huffington Post. Mousavi's fellow reform candidate Mehdi Karoubi defies Khamenei, while Obama sounds a warning tone.

18 June 2009

Showdown coming?

Ramin Ahmadi of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center thinks that the regime's crackdown on foreign media means it's preparing to resort to large-scale violence to crush the uprising. Michael Totten says the same -- but reminds us that some of the members of the security forces might not obey orders to kill their own people. A great many lives may depend on whether or not this turns out to be true. Perhaps that explains the widespread reports of non-Iranian fighters (Palestinian, Venezuelan, and Hezbollah-Lebanese) being brought in to defend the regime.

Totten also debunks a meme popular in Western commentary on the uprising, by showing that Ahmadinejad probably has less support in rural Iran than in the big cities.

There is also evidence of photo manipulation to make a pro-Ahmadinejad crowd look more impressive.

Greg Sargent has more on Twitter's delaying its maintenance shutdown so as not to deprive the uprising of a critical tool:

Twitter’s self-congratulatory claim that this new technology is bypassing governments to influence global events — so much so that the U.S. asked for its help — is not an exaggeration. Which is kind of amazing.

I don't know much about Twitter -- my impression is that it's a kind of short-form blogging for hand-held devices?

In any case, it's clear that modern communications technology is shaping both events and our perception of them. I'm not sure that we're prepared for what this will mean if the regime does escalate the violence. Remember that in 1979 tens of thousands of people died in the Shah's attempt to crush that uprising, before his regime finally collapsed. If the same thing happens now, we'll see it, while it's happening -- and so will millions throughout Iran. What follows will depend on whether anger is strong enough to overcome fear.

17 June 2009

The manifesto

A seven-point manifesto has been widely circulated by the protest movement. Translation:

1. Dismissal of Khamenei for not being a fair leader
2. Dismissal of Ahmadinejad for his illegal acts
3. Temporary appointment of Ayatollah Montazeri as Supreme Leader
4. Recognition of Mousavi as the President
5. Forming the Cabinet by Mousavi to prepare for revising the Constitution
6. Unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners
7. Dissolution of all organs of repression, public or secret

The uprising has clearly moved beyond just contesting election fraud and is challenging the regime and the Islamic Republic system itself.

Obama states the current official US position here:

.....although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, that the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised. Either way, we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighborhood and is pursuing nuclear weapons. And so we've got long-term interests in having them not weaponize nuclear power and stop funding organiza-tions like Hezbollah and Hamas. And that would be true whoever came out on top in this election. The second thing that I think's important to recognize is that the easiest way for reactionary forces inside Iran to crush reformers is to say it's the US that is encouraging those reformers. So what I've said is, `Look, it's up to the Iranian people to make a decision. We are not meddling.'

There is a crucial point here. The main problem posed by Iran, from the West's viewpoint, is the threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of a regime which supports terrorism, openly calls for the destruction of Israel, and may well be so irrational that threats of retaliation after it took some action cannot be relied on to deter it. Simply replacing Ahmadinejad with Mousavi would not have changed this problem at all (remember, the "President" is not even the real supreme authority in the regime). A genuine revolution sweeping away the Islamic Republic itself might very well change it, either because a new government might abandon the quest for nuclear weapons, or because a pro-Western or at least rational government in possession of nuclear weapons would be something we could live with. Update: Read Michael Totten's posting on this.

The Obama administration has, in fact, helped the Iranians in one crucial way: it asked Twitter to postpone scheduled maintenance so that it would not go dead during this critical time when the Iranians are using it to organize.

Here's a "cyberwar guide" to how outsiders can help the Iranians (found via Exit Zero).

This photo from Isfahan (a much smaller city than Tehran) suggests the magnitude of the nationwide movement.

Here's a BBC report; one witness told the BBC that Tuesday's rally in Tehran was even bigger than Monday's.

There are further claims that the regime is bringing in foreign fighters to help suppress the Iranian people.

It's the mouse that roared!

The Huffington Post's liveblogging thread is full of interesting material. And keep checking Andrew Sullivan and Michael Totten.

16 June 2009

Undermining Islam

One of the ironies about Iran is that historically it has never been an especially fanatical society by Islamic standards -- certainly never an especially puritanical one. Indeed, had it not been for the accident of geographical location which placed it squarely in the path of the 7th-century Arab military conquests that followed the death of Muhammad, there's no reason to think the place would ever have become Muslim at all.

Part of what enabled Kemâl Atatürk to build the secular Turkish state was the way that political Islam had become discredited by association with the corrupt and decrepit Ottoman regime. One might expect that something similar has happened in Iran to an even greater degree; in the Ottoman Empire religion was a mere tool of the state, whereas in the Islamic Republic of Iran it is the state which has served as the mere tool of religion! If current events in Iran do bring down the regime, there are grounds for hope that the Iranian people will be prepared to give a secular state a try.

Michael Totten has put up a couple of interesting quotes. One is from Iranian writer Reza Zarabi, who laments:

The name Iran, which used to be equated with such things as luxury, fine wine, and the arts, has become synonymous with terrorism. When the Islamic Republic government of Iran finally meets its demise, they will have many symbols and slogans as testaments of their rule, yet the most profound will be their genocide of Islam, the black stain that they have put on this faith for many generations to come.

The other quote is from Ayatollah Montazeri, a moderate cleric who is the protest movement's choice to replace Khamenei as the country's supreme leader until a new constitution can be written. Of the current regime, he says, in part:

Since this government is known as a religious government, I fear that the conduct and actions of the officials may ultimately harm the religion and undermine the people’s beliefs.

Here's hoping.

Iran roundup (2)

The BBC estimated attendance at Monday's rallies in Tehran at one to two million -- a huge turnout, even for a city the size of Tehran. And don't forget that the uprising is nationwide, with clashes in Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad, Tabriz, Ahvaz, and other cities. More protests are planned for today.

Andrew Sullivan continues to cover the uprising via Twitter. His first posting this morning includes a report that the Basîj (regime's paramilitary thug force) headquarters in the northwestern city of Tabriz has been set on fire with "many dead".

Popular Science has a guide to online coverage of Iran.

Michael Totten is now blogging about Iran at Commentary.

Ths video gives a sense of the size of Monday's rallies -- people marching to Azâdî Square fill a broad street as far as the eye can see in both directions.

Boston.com has dramatic photos from the weekend and Monday.

This Canadian reporter, briefly mistaken for a protester, got a look inside the detention center at the Interior Ministry (found via ManticoreWeb).

Is it time for the US to start taking a firmer position? At least some Iranians seem to be hoping for that.

Ahmadinejad has gone ahead with his trip to Russia. Well, barely a week ago Russia itself was having issues. I hope the Russian people are watching what's going on in Iran and getting ideas of their own.

The mullahs' regime: enemy of the world.

15 June 2009

Quotes for the day (special MSM edition)

"Today, as global geopolitics is shaken to its core by events in Iran, I turned on cable news this morning, and saw endless ads for a Larry King Jonas Brothers “interview”, Morning Joe yukking it up discussing Kuwaiti massage therapists, a video of a tomato throwing contest on CNN, talk radio blowhard Bill Bennett…and occasionally a phone call from Christiane Amanpour in Tehran. I can’t even bring myself to turn on the network morning programs, I might vomit.

"All the while, I have been hitting refresh like a crazy person on this thread at Huffington Post, which reports on news organiza-tions banned, reporters arrested, crowds building for a Mousavi rally as I post this, etc. etc. Huffington Post has no reporter on the ground, no international bureau, no satellite phones in Tehran, and yet, that is the most thorough news source on this story you can find.

"I suppose, in fact, pray to GOD, this will turn around at some point, but as of this moment, I cannot think of a bigger failure of our media culture in my lifetime. Not only is there limited cove-rage, it appears editors don’t even recognize what they are seeing before their eyes."

"The Cable News Networks have been a joke -- CNN has been awful as you've heard but at least they're talking about it. MSNBC has been showing their stupid documentaries all weekend and FOX has barely mentioned the story lest it get in the way of hours and hours of Obama-bashing (the only time I've seen it discussed was in terms of how badly Obama is handling it). But it's just not the news channels. The NY Times has been great but the Washington Post has been mainly AWOL."

Update: Michael Totten will be on internet radio here at 5:00 US west coast time today.

The regime acts

Andrew Sullivan has a string of posts on the Iranian regime's brutal efforts to suppress the protests; based on these reports the death toll must already be high. NIAC paints a similar picture.

The role of modern communications technology, in which every-one transmits to everyone rather than a few easily-controlled central points (newspapers, TV/radio stations) broadcasting to an audience, is still unfolding, but clearly the ability of the Iranian regime (or any government) to control the flow of information has been drastically eroded.

Sadly No has a gripping BBC video report from Tehran, and some sensible observations:

At the end of the day, this is about the Iranians and not about us. But I would like my country to do whatever will best help the opposition succeed. Mostly, that means keeping our mouths shut and letting the Iranians fight for their own country. But just be-cause the United States should not be involved in actively helping the resistance, that doesn’t mean it should stamp a seal of appro-val on the really awful bullshit that’s going down right now.

I think that when this is over, the Iranians will long remember who sided with them and who sided with their oppressors.

14 June 2009

Iran roundup

As noted before, the indispensable Michael Totten's continually-updated report from Iran is here. Update: His new posting is a must-read. Dissension is developing within the regime, with one Grand Ayatollah declaring Ahmadinejad's victory "illegitimate". There are also rumors that the regime has deployed Arab and Venezuelan mercenaries in the streets, fearing that Iranian police and soldiers will not obey orders to shoot their own people.

The Huffington Post has a liveblogging thread here.

A wealth of photos and videos, without commentary, is here.

The violence is not confined to Tehran; here's video of a street battle in Isfahan.

The Guardian reviews some of the evidence of vote fraud.

More pictures and reporting here, along with what is claimed to be the actual vote count, leaked by insiders: total votes 42,026,078 (85% of eligibile Iranian voters), Mousavi 19,075,623, Karoubi 13,387,104, Ahmadinejad 5,698,417 (!), Rezaei (to the right even of Ahmadinejad) 3,754,218.

Some observations:

-- Besides the Orange Revolution and the fall of Ferdinand Marcos, there's another precedent which could apply here: Tiananmen Square. The regime is brutal, ruthless, and probably frightened. This could still all end in hideous massacres and re-stabilization of the Islamic Republic. That's probably why official responses from the US and Europe have been muted and cautious; we may find ourselves dealing with this regime for some time yet. Also, given the history of Western interference in Iran and Iranians' under-standable prickliness on the subject, too-enthusiastic support from the West might actually de-legitimize the anti-regime mass movement in the eyes of fence-sitters.

-- Mousavi cannot be considered a democrat; he represents, at best, a mildly-reformist wing of the existing system, and there never was much prospect that this highly-controlled election for an office with limited powers would be much more than a sham. The mass movement has adopted him, and then his fraudulent "defeat", as rallying points, but it's unlikely that putting him in Ahmadinejad's place would satisfy the protesters, especially now that blood has been shed.

-- It's striking that much of the best coverage of the story that I've found has been on left-leaning sites. My admittedly-scattershot sample of right-leaning sites found many of them seemingly just looking for an angle on the situation that they could use to take rhetorical potshots at the left.

-- Considering how hard the regime has worked to shut down internet communications, it's remarkable how much video is getting out. The revolution will be televised!

-- Realistically, there is very little that the rest of the world can do. The Iranian people must face the theocratic gangster-state alone. The rest of us can only wonder whether we, if we were in their position, would show as much courage as they already have.

13 June 2009


After an election marked by widespread ballot irregularities and mysterious disruptions of internet communications, the Iranian regime has declared Ahmadinejad the winner by an almost two-to-one margin. Scattered violence has broken out in Tehran.

This is a situation that bears watching.

Update 1 (4:56 Oregon time): It's hard to get a picture of what's going on across a city as vast as Tehran, never mind the whole of Iran, but the Telegraph is reporting that the street violence is the worst in a decade. In a sign that the regime anticipated an angry response, communications within Tehran have been disrupted since Friday:

At the same time, the nationwide text messaging system stopped functioning, the mobile telephone network seemed blocked, and several pro-Mousavi websites were blocked or difficult to access. Text messaging is frequently used by Iranians – especially young opposition supporters – to spread political news.

"Losing" candidate Mousavi appears to be encouraging the people to resist:

"I'm warning that I won't surrender to this manipulation," read a statement on his website. "The outcome of what we've seen from the performance of officials... is nothing but shaking the pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran's sacred system and governance of lies and dictatorship." He added that "people won't respect those who take power through fraud."

Again, this is a situation that bears watching.

Update 2 (14 June): Rioting continues; protesters are denouncing the real ruler of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who endorsed the claimed Ahmadinejad victory (note: "35C" is about 95 Fahrenheit). Michael Totten is providing a continuously updated report on Iran, including videos.

The regime may be playing with fire. Aside from the parallels with the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, this is how Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos fell -- when an election flagrantly rigged to keep him in power triggered popular outrage.

Link roundup for 13 June 2009

Well, I guess it had to happen eventually -- someone tried making an actual argument against gay marriage. Forever in Hell blog surveys the ghastly wreckage of the result.

Nick M recalls a cetaceophilia witch-hunt in Britain in the 1980s.

Sigh.....another remake (found via Mendip).

Heidi Taillefer creates intriguing surrealist paintings (found via Sentient Developments).

The Obama personality cult is attracting attention even overseas; Cannonfire reminds us of the outrages of the primary campaign.

A judge in Texas thought he was above the law; he wasn't (sent by Ranch Chimp).

On DADT, it's just the same old crap.

Exit Zero has a roundup of recent domestic-terror events. Make no mistake, this problem is growing.

Britain's economy may already be turning the corner to recovery.

In the face of Euroskeptic victories in the recent EU elections, the EU elite displays its limitless arrogance.

The Jerusalem Post schools Obama on the Holocaust, while Amir Taheri has essential observations on the Islamic world.

The town of Astrakhan, Russia, won't need to put up with this noise pollution any more.

The Iranian regime claims Ahmadinejad won yesterday's election by a landslide; challenger Mousavi believes otherwise. Sounds like pretty much what I expected.

Is it possible to murder a man after his death? Orville Martin Richardson may have suffered that fate.

Overflying the desert: the Japanese space probe Kaguya sends dramatic video of the Moon.

A sweater illuminates irrational belief (sent by Mendip).

If you think irrational beliefs are harmless, consider this African myth about HIV.

It turns out that typhoons can cause earthquakes, but that's not necessarily bad; they're "slow earthquakes" on faults which were poised to produce deadlier sudden ones anyway.

12 June 2009

Loving Day

Today, 12 June, is Loving Day, commemorating a past victory over bigoted marriage laws. May the future hold more such days, for more such victories. Found via Mendip.

Any color but green

Today marks the date of the Iranian "Presidential" "election", and "reformist" "candidate" Hossein Mousavi and others are warning that if the results are rigged to favor the incumbent Ahmadinejad, riots could result. Indeed, there have been riots in Iran before, and the anger and frustration of large numbers (likely a majority) of Iranians at the repressive Islamic Republic is well known.

What's interesting to me is the parallels with another historical event -- Ukraine's Orange Revolution of 2004-2005. There, too, an authoritarian regime rigged an election to defeat a popular reformist challenger, only to find that it had underestimated the yearning for change among at least part of the population; massive peaceful protests eventually forced the regime to accept its own dissolution by holding a second, honest election supervised by international observers. Since then, Ukraine has had a genuine democracy, albeit an unstable and faction-riddled one.

Could something like the Orange Revolution happen in Iran? There are some obvious differences. For one, the Presidency which was at stake in Ukraine's 2004 election was an office actually holding supreme power, whereas in Iran supreme power will remain in the hands of the ayatollahs, led by Ali Khamenei, regardless of who is "elected" to the "Presidency" today. For another, the Ukrainian regime eventually declined to order its soldiers to open fire on the vast masses of protesters in Kiev, while there is no reason to think the ayatollahs would be any more hesitant to use force to suppress rebellion than they have been in the past (whether the Iranian military would obey an order to shoot Iranian civilians this time is another, more interesting question). On the other hand, in Ukraine the authoritarian regime had substantial public support, with its candidate getting 44% of the vote even in the real, supervised election; it seems unlikely that that many Iranians support the current regime, though certainly some do.

(Paradoxically, the worst outcome would probably be if Mousavi is allowed to "win" today. Such an outcome would probably defuse public unrest and stabilize the Islamist regime, ending the chance for real change.)

I've long thought the most likely eventual outcome in Iran would be a military coup. In Middle Eastern countries, the military is often the most secular and modern-thinking element of society (it needs to cope with modern technology), and Iranian generals must be aware that the regime's nuclear program runs the risk of a possibly-catastrophic pre-emptive attack by Israel or the US. It's unlikely that street protests over a rigged election could bring down the regime on their own, but they might cause enough chaos to give the generals a pretext to step in and sweep the ayatollahs away. What would happen after that is anyone's guess.

It's most likely, of course, that none of this will happen. Iran has had massive unrest before and the Islamic Republic has survived. But one can't help hoping. Iranians have suffered thirty years of stagnation under this brutal, medieval theocracy. It's about time they had a chance at something better.

11 June 2009

Domestic terrorism

There's no longer any room for doubt. The United States is in the midst of an outbreak of radical-right terrorism, and there's no way of knowing yet how much worse it will get before it gets better.

Michael Boh, I think, sums up the problem rather well here: there is, on the right, a substantial population whose disappointment and disorientation at the Republican electoral collapse of 2006 and 2008 has slipped across the line into outright paranoia. Many of these people are armed; many of them are already accustomed (because of religious fundamentalism) to apocalyptic delusional thinking. This religious element lives largely in a subculture of its own, psychologically isolated from the rest of the country. The paranoia is constantly being whipped up by grossly-irresponsible extreme-right media loudmouths stoking fantasies about Obama's birth certificate, gun-confiscation plots, a North American Union, nebulous drivel about the currency, and what have you.

The results, so far, have included the Tiller murder, the Holocaust Museum shooting, and perhaps one arson. How many more of these crazies are out there? How many of them are organizing in groups as opposed to plotting in isolation? What evidence we have isn't reassuring. As Boh's posting linked above notes, even at least one anchor at Fox News is getting very disturbed about what he's seeing. Tiller's murderer Scott Roeder himself claims that there are more terrorists out there ready to strike. That DHS report on right-wing terrorist threats which the loudmouths hysterically trashed and distorted is starting to look prescient.

Where does it go from here? More murders of doctors? Attacks on Jews or blacks? Assassination attempts on prominent Democrats or secularists? Another Oklahoma-City-scale attack? The question hits a bit close to home for me; I used to be an abortion-clinic defense volunteer and am now employed by an institution which engages in stem-cell research (though my job is not physically located near the research labs). And as if all this wasn't enough, Islamic terrorism is still a threat on US soil as well.

I hope the FBI is staying well-staffed and well-funded despite the recession. We're going to need it.

The EU elections (2)

Results are now in for the European Union elections (background here). Across Europe, minor nationalist and anti-Islamist parties (widely described in the European media as "far-right", though most of them are anything but), made gains, reflecting voters' exasperation with the unresponsiveness of their leaders.

Some of these parties aren't looking so "minor" any more. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders's anti-Islam party won 17% of the vote, coming in (barely) second behind the ruling Christian Democratic Alliance with 19.9% (note that most European countries have several medium-sized parties besides the "big two", so they do not typically have a near-50-50 split of almost all votes as is normal in the US). Wilders also favors limiting the power of the EU and is a strong supporter of Israel.

In Britain, the Labour party (currently in power) got 2,381,760 votes, its mainstream rival the Conservative party got 4,198,394 votes -- and the UKIP, a "fringe" party dedicated to removing Britain from the EU (and which opposes "unlimited immigration") got 2,498,226 votes (source). If the same results were replicated in an actual national election, which must occur in Britain by next June and could be much sooner, this would presumably create a Parliament in which the Conservatives were in power and the UKIP, not Labour, was the main opposition party.

To look at it another way, all the explicitly anti-EU parties (all of them considered "fringe" parties) combined got 4,121,983 votes (source), almost as many as the Conservatives.

The rejection of Labour cannot be explained by a Europe-wide anti-incumbent surge, since moderate-conservative ruling parties (still "left-wing" by American standards) saw gains in Germany, France, and Italy, despite the sex scandal embroiling Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi.

Parties with roots in the genuinely fascist, racist, and anti-Semitic part of the political spectrum also made gains; Britain's BNP, for example, won 943,598 votes (discussion of the BNP and how to deal with it here, here, and here). Rather than indicating that the British population includes almost a million neo-Nazis, this result should be taken as showing the lengths to which people will go to send a message to the political establishment: less Islam, less EU.

The political establishment now needs to heed that message. If it doesn't, don't be surprised if a year from now several European countries actually end up with governments headed by what a few years ago were considered "fringe" parties; it's conceivable that the UKIP and Geert Wilders could actually win elections in Britain and the Netherlands respectively, for example, if mainstream parties insist on ignoring their voters' concerns.

09 June 2009

Report from the front lines

Broader Perspective has a review of this year's conference of the American Aging Association:

That aging is understandable and solvable, not necessarily immediately but ultimately, was one topic not seeing a lot of opposition.....Aging is a key contemporary concern, on the order of climate change, as all countries worldwide have populations increasingly stratified towards aging. Aging is not just a medical condition but a key challenge to be resolved for advanced socie-ties to be successful in the long-term. Productivity, healthcare costs and happiness and comfort could all be improved with advances in the remedy of aging. Aging has advanced from a nebulous concept to concrete mechanisms that can be under-stood and managed.

She also provides an impressive roundup of research from the conference, with links. The American Aging Association, founded in 1970, lists its first objective as "To promote biomedical aging studies directed towards increasing the functional life span of humans with one goal being to slow the aging process." No area of human endeavor is more important than the struggle to defeat the most terrible disease of all.

07 June 2009

Pikaia gracilens

The Cambrian period around seven hundred million years ago was one of the most dramatic eras in the history of life on Earth. Before then, as far as we know, all organisms on Earth were microscopic. It was during the Cambrian that evolution finally overcame the hurdle of assembling large, complex, multi-cellular life forms. The result was a tremendous explosion in the number and variety of species, including the first true plants and animals. Some of the new organisms thrived and diversified into whole family trees of successor species, while others failed and died out. This period is actually referred to in biology as the Cambrian explosion.

One of these early life forms was pikaia gracilens, a little water-dwelling creature about an inch and a half in length, resembling a worm with a tail fin -- in fact, its fossils were initially misclassified as being those of some kind of worm. If you had been there at the time, it certainly would not have impressed you as being notably interesting compared with all the other odd new animals and plants you would have seen.

It was not a worm. It was the earliest common ancestor of all of the chordate animals -- that is, all fish, amphibians, birds, reptiles, and mammals.

Many species went extinct during the Cambrian explosion. It is probably pretty much a matter of chance that pikaia gracilens did not. It may have come very close to disappearing, perhaps many times. We'll never know.

If at some point pikaia gracilens had indeed died out, then all the species that later evolved from it -- all the fish, amphibians, birds, reptiles, and mammals in Earth's history -- would simply never have existed. There would have been no sharks, no mice, no elephants, no dinosaurs, no frogs, no eagles, no saber-toothed tigers, no whales, no dogs, no apes, no humans. Perhaps some other Cambrian life form would have diversified into such a vast plethora of species instead, but none of those species would have been like the ones we know. Perhaps eventually a species with enough intelligence to build a technological civilization would have evolved, but it would not have been us, or anything much like us.

How close did it come? Was there ever a time when there were only a hundred pikaia gracilens wriggling through the Cambrian sea? Was there ever a day when there were merely a dozen? Was there ever a moment when just one predator that zigged instead of zagged could have gobbled up the last few specimens in existence?

All that we are, and almost all that we know, might so easily never have been.

True Christian marriage

We all know that Christianity doesn't accept gay marriage as real marriage, but what is true Christian marriage? Betty Bowers goes right to the source -- the Bible itself -- for the answer.

The bolder vision

In the heyday of fascism, there were some who believed that fascism was a permanent reality we should learn to live with. They struggled to convince everyone -- including themselves -- that fascism wasn't really as evil as its critics said, that the problem was just certain hotheads and extremists and not the ideology itself, that Mein Kampf's Jew-hatred and ambitions for world domina-tion were merely rhetoric and not a serious plan of action, that appeasement would lead to mutually-acceptable accommodation, that fascism as the belief-system of millions should at least be approached with respect, with certain unpleasant facts left politely unmentioned.

Others had a bolder vision -- that with clear understanding and resolute determination to resist and oppose it on every front, fascism could be defeated, and the Germans and Italians and Japanese and other peoples whose minds were locked in its grip would someday cast it off to live in peace and freedom as part of the civilized world to which their ancestors, in the age before fascism, had contributed so much.

In the heyday of Communism, there were some who believed that Communism was a permanent reality we should learn to live with. They struggled to convince everyone -- including themselves -- that Communism wasn't really as evil as its critics said, that the problem was just certain radicals and extremists and not the ideology itself, that the Soviet state's Jew-hatred and ambitions for world domination were merely rhetoric and not a serious plan of action, that appeasement would lead to mutually-acceptable accommodation, that Communism as the belief-system of millions should at least be approached with respect, with certain unplea-sant facts left politely unmentioned.

Others had a bolder vision -- that with clear understanding and resolute determination to resist and oppose it on every front, Communism could be defeated, and the Russians and Ukrainians and Poles and other peoples whose minds were locked in its grip would someday cast it off to live in peace and freedom as part of the civilized world to which their ancestors, in the age before Communism, had contributed so much.

Today, there are some who believe that Islam is a permanent reality we should learn to live with. They struggle to convince everyone -- including themselves -- that Islam is not really as evil as its critics say, that the problem is just certain fanatics and extremists and not the religion itself, that the Jew-hatred and ambitions for world domination which suffuse the Koran and hadîth are merely rhetoric and not a serious plan of action, that appeasement will lead to mutually-acceptable accommodation, that Islam as the belief-system of millions must at least be approached with respect, with certain unpleasant facts left politely unmentioned.

Others have a bolder vision -- that with clear understanding and resolute determination to resist and oppose it on every front, Islam can be defeated, and the Arabs and Iranians and Pakistanis and other peoples whose minds are now locked in its grip will someday cast it off to live in peace and freedom as part of the civilized world to which their ancestors, in the age before Islam, contributed so much.

I prefer the bolder vision.

Go to the source!

Learn from those who escaped Islam!

Islam can be defeated!

Say no to appeasement, say no to the lies and distortions. We can achieve a world without Islam.

The citizenship of Newt Gingrich

Drat. And I thought he was one of the less crazy ones.

Gingrich was on hand recently in Virginia for some anti-abortion anti-gay anti-secularism nutjobfest called "Rediscovering God in America", a title suggesting that its sponsors think the country hasn't been pestered about religion enough over the last thirty years, where he said, "I am not a citizen of the world.....I am a citizen of the United States because only in the United States does citizenship start with our creator."

The fact that an American -- a former Congressman, no less -- could say this, even casually in passing, does not speak well of the state of civics education when he was attending school. The reason why Gingrich is a US citizen is the same as the reason why I (an atheist) am one -- he was born here. The US is actually unusual in that the First Amendment to its Constitution would prohibit any linkage between citizenship and a partictular religious belief. In fact, the only country I can think of where citizenship is explicitly tied to religious belief is Saudi Arabia, where citizens are required to be Muslims. If Gingrich really believes, as his statement implies, that he chose his citizenship because he prefers a country where "citizenship starts with our creator", perhaps he should consider moving there.

Gingrich also complained that "we are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism." "Paganism" in common usage refers to polytheistic religions, as opposed to the stripped-down one-god models such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The only major polytheistic religion today is Hinduism, the traditional religion of India, which is the world's largest democracy, a secular state like the US, and an ally in the war against jihadism. Some American citizens are Hindus, or adherents of smaller pagan religions such as Wicca or Asatru. None of these people have been shooting doctors or flying airplanes into skyscrapers. Personally I would feel safer being "surrounded by paganism" than by overly-fervent Christians or Muslims.

Found via Nancy.

06 June 2009

Протесты в России!

The EU is not the only place where unresponsive, unaccountable rulers have provoked anger. As the worldwide recession sweeps Russia, eroding the prosperity which had made authoritarian rule tolerable, street protests have erupted across the nation. The situation right now is not revolutionary -- not even close -- but it's the most serious internal challenge the Putin regime has yet faced.

Un-whitewashing history

The President's attendance at this year's D-Day commemoration may have a special meaning for certain American veterans of the landing, who at the time were brutally betrayed by the country they fought for.

Link roundup for 6 June 2009

If your last vacation was too dull, consider this adventure cruise (found via Mendip). Also found via Mendip: This is apparently a real bank, but funner.

No offense, but you deserve to be killed.

These people are gonna be counting for a long, long time.

Sadly No presents the top ten bad right-wing analogies.

There are hundreds of proofs of the existence of God (found via Forever in Hell).

Spain has the running of the bulls -- Britain has a far more exciting and dangerous event.

This method of locating penguin colonies is total crap.

The Guiness Book of Records has named Jonathan Lee Riches of Kentucky as the person who has filed more lawsuits than anyone else in the world. And he's suing them for it.

Black Sun Journal looks at the Technological Singularity and its enemies.

62% of bankruptices in the United States are due to medical costs, and most of these are not among uninsured people. More on the impact of medical costs even with insurance here.

As a child, Osel Hita Torres was chosen by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of a dead "spiritual leader", and whisked away to be raised in a monastery. Now he has escaped and, despite his lost childhood, is trying to lead a normal life.

Britain braces for another shitstorm of rage from religious nuts who can't handle the truth.

In Canada, barbarism gets some justice (found via ManticoreWeb).

The murder of Dr. Tiller was not this week's only act of religious terrorism. Oh, and Bill O'Reilly is being an idiot again.

Peter Daou at The Huffington Post has the best assessment I've seen yet of Obama's Cairo speech.

A promising early result in the EU elections: in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders's anti-Islam party wins 15% of the vote, up from 6% just three years ago.

Optimists see better -- literally.

Is gay adoption against nature? Apparently not.

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers gets through to him on the truth about abortion. While Sullivan denies cherry-picking the e-mails he publishes, I suspect that it's mostly people who share his hand-wringing attitude on the subject that write to him in the first place.

Human emergence from the stone age may have been triggered by rising population density.

Wild chimpanzees' tool use is more sophisticated than we thought (found via Mendip).

Ren rou sou suo is a new Chinese bloggers' strategy against animal abusers and arrogant officials. Who knows where it will end?

What Bush refused to fund in the US: Australian scientists have developed a simple, non-surgical stem-cell treatment to restore vision lost to corneal disease.

04 June 2009

In remembrance

Here's a meaningful way to commemorate Dr. Tiller.

03 June 2009

The EU elections

Tomorrow voters throughout the European Union will participate in elections for the European Parliament. Despite the terminology, it's important to remember that the EU is a grouping of countries, not a sovereign state in itself, though its boosters aspire for it to become one. This means many Europeans view the EU election as a chance to register a protest vote -- and there is plenty to protest about. Long-standing causes of discontent across the EU include:

- creeping loss of national sovereignty to the EU;

- the belligerence, arrogance, and violence of Muslim minorities, and the excessive leniency of the authorities toward them;

- Third World immigration, especially Muslim; most European countries are already densely populated and have not historically invited and assimilated large-scale immigration as the US has.

The last two points are less of an issue in the newer, poorer eastern member states, but in those countries there is special concern about the impact of the recession and discriminatory treatment by the richer western members. The recession and governments' handling of it, of course, is an issue everywhere. The point is that people are angry, especially since mainstream political parties refuse to talk about or even acknowledge the three long-standing problems cited above -- there is an establishment consensus that the EU should be supported and the Islamic elephant in the room should be politely ignored, whatever the voters think.

So the thing to watch is how well parties outside the mainstream do, since this is where the protest votes will be cast. Some of these fringe parties are genuinely extremist: xenophobic, thuggish, racist, with barely-concealed anti-Semitic roots and a distinct stench of fascism about them. Others are genuine populist vehicles for anger about the EU and/or Islam. It can be hard for outsiders to tell the difference, since the European mainstream media are very quick to label parties of either type as "far-right", "racist", etc. (I can't place Hungary's Jobbik party, for example). The populists tend to embrace modern European values; the assassinated Dutch anti-Islam firebrand Pim Fortuyn, for example, was gay and sup-ported his country's liberal drug laws -- an unlikely "far-rightist", though he was still called that. (It would be more accurate to call Europe's Muslim agitators "far-right" -- as I've said before, it is they who are the true European equivalent of our Christian Right.)

In Britain, the EU country whose politics I know the best, protest voters have a clear choice. The BNP (British National Party) is clearly extremist and xenophobic (and economically autarkist). The UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) is a one-issue party dedicated to getting Britain out of the EU, which surely has a key asset in its blunt-speaking leader, Nigel Farage. Protest voting seems likely to be especially widespread in Britain because of the recent scandal over politicians' grotesque abuses of their expense-reimbursement system, which has triggered massive public anger and discredited all three mainstream parties; popular support for the Labour party, which is currently in office, has actually fallen below that of the UKIP in some polls.

The goal is to force the mainstream parties to address the issues people actually care about, so that there will be something worth voting for in the real national elections (Britain, for example, must hold a national election sometime between now and June 2010). The bigger the protest vote, the greater the chance of success. Europe suffers from a democracy deficit which its mainstream politicians flatly refuse to correct; the voters, therefore, must act to bring them to heel.

02 June 2009

Where will the economy recover first?

Moody's has state-by-state projections of when jobs will start to grow again. Interestingly enough, the often-sluggish northwest looks to be the most fortunate region this time.

Frank Schaeffer on the Tiller murder

A former Evangelical discusses the Christian Right's complicity here. Found via Leftist Grandpa.

"A totally different America"

An excerpt from a comment by Brad at The Crossed Pond:

But what struck me most, I think, in my brief sojourn with evangelicals, was the sheer homogeny of the system. A guy like Roeder, I would suspect, lives, breathes, and dreams the right-to-life movement. His family is probably all cut from that cloth, his neighbors, his place of work, his church, his social circle, the whole nine. Anyone NOT onboard with that community eventually gets severed, not necessarily in a dramatic way (though that happens to), but they just sort of drift away, or are drifted away from. So what tends to happen is quite literally every extended interaction they have with any meaning is amongst themselves; a person builds up, or rather are nurtured into, a complete and total system. This, of course, is wonderful on some levels—the evangelical community is a community in the strongest sense of it, a complete and total nest that you never have to leave and has everything you need (or at least want). But it also often entails an amazing insularity, of the “us vs. them” sort of mindset that you mention. This is not a community where the order of the day is intellectual curiosity or a constant questioning of assumptions or even a routine exposure to other points of view in a non-hostile or non-overbearingly missionary way. Once you’re in, literally everything in your life is arranged almost solely for the purpose of bulwarking your point of view.

It’s sort of amazing to see when you’re a tourist to that sort of thing, at least in part because of how non-conducive it is to the stated core goal of evangelicism—to convert. The fact of the matter is that hardcore evangelicals live in a totally different America than we do, a massively sprawling and totally closed networked system, and that those outside the network might as well be space aliens. They can only be understood or interacted with in a missionary sort of way, i.e. for their capacity to be reshaped into, frankly, clones of themselves. This is not a movement that has any interest in understanding where people are coming from, only in how to get them to where they (the evangelicals) are. And that is a powerful, powerful shaper of thought and personality. It is not all bad, and it is enormously seductive—imagine creating for yourself a world where every-thing you think is absolutely right—but it certainly has a very, very…scary is not the right word, so let’s say unsettling effect. And, particularly to people with weak self-identities to begin with, it can be very conducive to going off the rails. This is not a community, at least in my experience, that values things like doubt or a checking of assumptions, at least not in practice.

What Brad is describing here is the mentality of a cult, on a large scale. I've observed before that as Christianity declines in the US, it will tend to become ever more extreme. The least fanatical are the ones most likely to become secularized to the point of being "Christian in name only", which leaves the more fanatical making up a greater percentage of what remains, which pushes both the image and the real character of the remaining hard-core Christian community in a more extreme direction, which drives away yet more moderates, etc.

Insular cults clinging to outmoded ways after the rest of the world has moved on are not always necessarily dangerous. The Amish are an even more extreme example, and they pose no danger to the rest of society. The track record of fundamentalist Christianity is more ominous. Unlike Islam, mainstream modern Christianity condemns religious violence (or at least can be interpreted that way), but the murder of Dr. Tiller was far from the first case of anti-abortion terrorism in the US, and many of these people have such a twisted sense of reality that they interpret things like the separation of church and state, equal rights for gays, recognition of the right to abortion, etc., as somehow being a persecution of Christians, as if they had a right to impose their own views on society which is being infringed. The percentage of evangelical Christians who are potentially violent is probably very small, but much of the cult is steeped in rhetoric which legitimizes terrorism (see for example here and the PDF comment collections here.

Especially since the elections of 2006 and 2008, it has begun to dawn on the Christian Right that they are a shrinking minority, that things like abortion and gay equality are not going to go away, and that the trend toward ever greater secularism, pluralism, and liberalism is strong and inexorable despite superficial reverses during the Bush interregnum. For a movement already steeped in apocalyptic thinking, such realizations can only lead to more and more bizarre rhetoric and behavior toward the rest of us. Some of that behavior will inevitably be violent.

Dr. Tiller had been threatened, demonized, and attacked by the thugs before. He had the guts to keep on doing what was right. The rest of us, too, must refuse to be intimidated -- and must fight back against the Christian Right however we can. We, not their abscess of twisted hate and delusion, are the real America.