31 August 2009

Forced to divorce

Gays don't threaten marriage. This does.

30 August 2009

Faith metastasizes

Johann Hari has written an excellent article on the vexing topic of right-wing reality-denial. A sample:

Indeed, if you spend any time with American right-wingers -- as I have.....you soon find that your arguments don't center on philo-sophy. You have to concentrate on correcting basic factual errors about the real world. They insist Europe has fallen to Islam, since Muslims immigrants are becoming a majority and are imposing sharia law. In reality, Muslims make up 3 percent of the population of Europe, and most of them oppose sharia law. They insist Franklin Roosevelt caused the Great Depression, and should have cut government spending. In reality, whenever he did cut spending -- as he tried periodically throughout the 1930s
-- the economy began to tank. But explain this patiently -- with a thousand sources -- and they simply shriek that you are lying, and they know "in their heart" what is true. They insist gay marriage would cause the institution of the family to collapse. In reality, where it has already been introduced in Europe, hetero-sexual families continue just as before. On the list goes: evolution is a lie, a blastocyst is akin to a baby, torture produces actionable intelligence...

The most interesting part, however, is when Hari asks why the right has become so susceptible to reality-denial, and puts his finger on something I've long believed. This eruption of delusional thinking is not something that could equally easily have occurred in any ideological movement, and just happens to be afflicting the American right wing at the moment. On the contrary, it's solidly linked to how the American right, over the last decade or so, has increasingly based its very identity on a form of belief which proudly and stridently rejects logic and evidence as standards for evaluating truth -- that is, religion. Here's the key passage:

It begins, I suspect, with religion. They are taught from a young age that it is good to have "faith" -- which is, by definition, a belief without any evidence to back it up. You don't have "faith" Australia exists, or fire burns: you have evidence. You only need "faith" to believe the untrue or unprovable. Indeed, they are taught that faith is the highest aspiration and most noble cause. Is it any surprise this then percolates into their political views? Faith-based thinking spreads and contaminates the rational.

Once a person finds it positively virtuous to hold a certain set of beliefs regardless of how much evidence and logic contradict them, it becomes all too easy to accept and cling to a widening range of other beliefs which also defy evidence and logic.

Not every religious person ends up becoming delusional across the board, and not every delusional person got that way because he started out religious. But it obviously makes it a lot easier.

Thought for the day (disquieting)

By now most of us have heard of the case of Phillip Garrido, who was recently found to have abducted an 11-year-old girl and kept her as a sex slave for 18 years. And we all remember the similar case of Josef Fritzl, who similarly enslaved and abused his own daughter for 24 years starting when she was 18.

What startles me most about these nightmare stories is the sheer length of time that both Garrido and Fritzl were able to keep both their captives and the secret of their captivity. And these things happened in populated areas, not in some remote shack out in the tundra somewhere. In both cases the end came not because of an ongoing investigation (not after so long!) but rather because some unexpected circumstance forced the secret horror into the open where it could be detected.

What if those circumstances hadn't arisen? How would anyone ever have found out what Garrido or Fritzl were doing?

How many other situations like this are there, going on right now, in basements or backyards or other places where no one suspects? Cases we don't know about and will never know about?

They aren't all crazy

I'm sure that he [Obama] does. No, no, I'm serious. I'm sure that he does and I'm sure that he respects the Constitution of the United States, I really do. I am absolutely convinced of it. I just believe, my friends, that there is a fundamental difference in philosophy and about the role of government. That's why we have competition for public office, and competition amongst parties, and competition about different ideas and visions for the future of America. I am convinced the President is absolutely sincere in his beliefs. But he is -- wait a minute, wait a minute -- he is sincere in his beliefs -- we just happen to disagree. And he is the President of the United States, and let's be respectful.

John McCain

McCain made the above comments in response to a question as to whether Obama knows "that we still live under a Constitution". Not surprisingly (these days), he was roundly booed by his conserva-tive audience.

In an era when the right has sunk to the level of Limbaugh, Beck, and dining-room tables, McCain exemplifies that marginalized species, the sane conservative. He's not the only one. David Frum, whose name repeatedly comes up in this context, has recently questioned the Republican mainstream's kamikaze strategy on health-care reform. Lisa Murkowski has done the same. Bruce Bartlett wants conservatives to hold Republicans accountable instead of blaming everything on the Democrats. Venturing back to an earlier time, how I'd love to hear any major present-day politician, conservative or liberal, talk like this!

Such words from an arch-conservative sound unthinkable today, when the right-vs.-left divide has de facto become pretty much a manifestation of the Christian-Right-vs.-secularist polarization, accompanied on the right by the religious-fanatic traits of reality-denial and outraged demonization of all opposition. But this is a relatively recent development. The Christian Right didn't become dominant within the right until the 1990s.

I've speculated that what we're seeing now might actually be the end of conservatism -- that the all-embracing failure of the Bush Presidency and the ascendancy of religious bigotry and delusion have left conservatism a permanently-discredited ideology like Soviet-style Communism. That could happen. More likely, though, the right will eventually regain its senses and thus its broader support. The same April poll that showed only 21% of Americans self-identifying as Republicans also showed 35% self-identifying as conservative "on most political matters" (see questions 901 and 908a). A lot of the 14% difference probably consists of moderate conservatives who can't stomach the current party's extremism or the Bush administration's failures and hypocrisy.

Recall, too, that in the 1980s the situation was almost a mirror-image of today's. Back then it was the left that had wandered off into the wilderness of radicalism and craziness, with attitudes on major issues (crime, political correctness, the Soviet threat) that made it hard to take seriously, while the country had just solidly elected a popular Republican President in the wake of a failed Democratic administration. Pundits seriously speculated about the marginalization of the left as a permanent minority element in American politics. What turned that situation around? Above all, the firm centrism of Bill Clinton, who was not afraid to confront the nutcases on his own side.

Will the right produce such a figure? Will a major Republican leader finally offer a "Sister Souljah moment", telling his own side with Goldwater-like bluntness that all the birth-certificate blather and Obama-is-Hitler ranting and gay-bashing and global-warming denialism and treating every policy disagreement as the second coming of Stalin and all the rest of the nutty stuff has got to go, so that the right can be taken seriously again?

McCain notwithstanding, I see little hope for such a development in the near future. Recall that 1980 and the marginalization of the left led to twelve years of Republican rule. If today's situation follows the same trajectory, the right will not emerge from the wilderness until it rallies behind a moderate centrist to challenge President Biden's re-election in 2020.

29 August 2009

Quote for the day

"Disbelief in Obama’s tax pledge is just another sign of why his approval numbers are falling among frustrated Democratic health-reform supporters due to Republican lobbyists organizing right-wingers to pretend they are ordinary Americans spontaneously protesting an imaginary tax hike."

The links list, again

I deleted the Mt. Hood webcam, which is no longer being updated in real time, and added the prolific Oliver Willis.

Link roundup for 29 August 2009

Don't wear attractive clothes to church. It bothers the pedophiles.

Here's a business opportunity for atheists: post-Rapture pet care.

Jon Stewart welcomes the new liberals: Fox News!

Listen here as Dimitri the self-deluded would-be Casanova demon-strates how not to ask a woman for a date (found via Nancy). Then read Middle of Nowhere's juicy investigative report, via which I found this background info on the great lover (or great wanker, as it turns out).

I guess Alexander Lukashenko is the Dimitri of politicians.

Further less-than-thrilling dating experiences here and here. Well, you could always give these a try.

The birthers want Obama to show them something else besides his birth certificate (found via Phuck Politics).

I ride a bicycle. The next logical step is to live in one.

If you plan to dress up as Jesus for Halloween, these will go well with the costume and annoy the local fundies (sent by Mendip).

This creationism story has a happy ending.

Want to debate religion? The Atheist Camel may be able to help.

I really hope the cops get the jackass(es) who did this.

Anselm's ontological argument is the epitome of stupid.

Michael Steele, taking on "government-run health care", flounders.

The right-wing craziness we've been seeing has a lot of precedent.

Have the Republicans found their man on a white horse?

Gosh, how burdensome -- Dallas City Council members will now actually have to stay for a whole one-half of the length of meetings in order to get paid for attending them (sent by Ranch Chimp, who comments here). Gee, boss, can I get a full day's pay for showing up for four hours?

Hanna Rosin offers some sober perspective on the sickening Kennedy adulation.

If you doubt that getting rid of DADT is a priority, read this.

Want to shorten your hospital stay? Here's one key.

Fight Aging reviews twelve life-extension techniques shown to work in mice.

OHSU's Dr. Shoukrat Mitalipov, who two years ago because the first scientist to achieve somatic cell nuclear tranfer in a primate species, builds on that success by developing a therapy to prevent genetic diseases transmitted through mitochondrial DNA.

Update: Snicker.

27 August 2009

The Achilles heel of the Democrats

Ranch Chimp posts a couple of personal stories which exemplify why many Democratic politicians' counterproductive and illogical stance on illegal immigration could someday weaken the party's hold on its traditional base voters -- and give the Republicans a chance to win over new constituents.

Quote for the day

"Well, people only pretend to read the Bible. Their eyes glaze over and they remember a couple of passages that they ignore when they feel like ignoring it, like 'turn the other cheek', and then when they don't like somebody, they go flipping through this massive book full of ancient desert prejudices looking for something to justify it. Just like they justified slavery using the Bible, because there are passages of the Bible that justify slavery, including passages that justify selling your daughters into sex slavery -- right there, that's Biblical, those are Biblical family values -- and so we have this selective sort of reading problem with the Bible. If we're going to enforce it all, stone the gay people, but, you know, stone the adulterers first, starting with Newt Gingrich, and Rudy Giuliani, and John McCain -- and then by the time it's my turn, they'll be out of rocks."

Dan Savage

26 August 2009

Privileged, but not secure

Where health insurance is concerned, I am among the more fortunate people in the United States. My employer pays the full premiums for my insurance. When I needed surgery last year, the insurance picked up the entire forty-thousand-dollar cost (since then I've been billed a total of maybe one thousand dollars for various odds and ends like doctors' fees and physical therapy, but spread out over almost a year it was easy to absorb that, and it wasn't much for the out-of-pocket cost of major surgery). So personally I have very good coverage. Yet I've still come to the conclusion that the system needs reform, even for the sake of people in my position.

1) I could lose it. If I lost my job, I would need to either give up my insurance or continue it at ruinous cost out of my own pocket until I found another job. Under a system of genuine socialized medicine (such as Medicare or the systems found in every other developed nation on Earth), coverage may be more limited, but it can't be taken away from you.

2) It ties me to a particular job. Even when the economy is good, the prospect of changing or temporarily losing insurance would discourage me from changing jobs, even if it was a good move from other viewpoints. In a system where health insurance is not linked to employment, employees have more flexibility -- and thus more power relative to the employer.

3) It can't last. As premium costs continue to climb, at some point my employer will probably start to cover only part of them rather than all of them. They actually tried to do that during this year's contract negotiations, probably figuring that the recession would deter people from resisting. The union squelched it. But if costs keep rising and rising, eventually the issue will likely be revisited.

Under our present system, no one except those on Medicare and those who are rich enough to pay by themselves for any medical care they might need has real security.

First commute

Yesterday was my first actual commute to and from work entirely by bicycle. A bit tiring, especially the trip home -- I hadn't done a ride of that length in the relatively warm afternoon before. But not particularly daunting.

Remember, a month ago I was exhausted after just riding the thing up and down the block a few time. If I can do it, anyone can.

Something that should be remembered

The theologian Tertullian said that one of the pleasures afforded to the saved in Heaven is being able to watch the torments of the damned in Hell.

I don't believe in such things, but if I did, I'd be imagining that, right about now, Mary Jo Kopechne is getting her popcorn ready.

25 August 2009

Aliens and their curious priorities

How come I never hear about events like this until after the fact?

What actually struck me about this item was this part, about the Raelian UFO cult:

The group's spiritual leader, Raël.....claims that life on earth was created by aliens called Elohim. The major religious figures such as Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, Jesus, and so on, were actually messangers of the Elohim sent to Earthlings sent to guide our progress.

What's odd is that aliens advanced enough to have created life on Earth would "guide our progress" by sending "messengers" who mostly just spouted incoherent spiritual gibberish and platitudes and contributed nothing significant to that progress. If I thought superior aliens were sending messengers in human form to help us move forward, the people I'd suspect of being such messengers would be Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Hawking.....

Of course, this is a religion we're talking about, despite the SF trappings, so they're probably wise not to have their followers study anything that might encourage critical thinking instead of blind faith.

More insurance madness

Say what you will about Britain and its NHS, but I don't think this could have happened there. It probably couldn't have happened in the Soviet Union.

Changing the subject

"Shorter" paraphrases of comments left by readers on blog posts:

On a post about the latest right-wing outrage or stupidity: "Yes, but a liberal once did something bad or stupid, so let's talk about that instead."

On a post about the evils of Islam: "I think it's more important to attack Christianity, so you should write about that instead of what you actually wrote about."

On a post about death threats against a guy who desecrated a communion wafer: "As a Catholic I'm offended by the desecration, so lets discuss that instead of the issue of the death threats."

Each of these represents one or more actual comments I've gotten on actual posts on this blog; other readers didn't see them because of the comment moderation (well, I let the communion wafer one through because it wasn't quite so blatant a change of subject; that thread is here).

Look -- blog posts are about what they're about. If there's some other issue you think is more worthy of discussion, you're free to discuss it on your own blog. Don't go out and try to sort of police what everyone else is saying.

23 August 2009

The fall and rise of news

This DemWit post on the decline of the MSM led to a few thoughts.

Seriously, there's been a revolution going on in news gathering for some time. I haven't watched TV in over 15 years and I've never felt I was missing anything. My city's main daily paper seems to have some sports thing on the front page every other day, even when there's real news going on.

When the Iranian uprising broke, Andrew Sullivan and Iranian bloggers had minute-by-minute reports based on Twitter feeds from the scene as it was happening, while the MSM blithered on about tomato-throwing contests and Michael Jackson.

Bloggers like Michael Totten and Michael Yon have been reporting from the Middle East for years with a depth that the MSM seldom matched and never surpassed.

The MSM are becoming shallow and unserious, but that doesn't mean we can't find news if we really want it.

I think the question is, do our present resources do any worse of a job than what we had before with "professional" news?

It turns out that the MSM themselves have often had an agenda which subtly slanted their reporting, even though they claimed to strictly separate editorial content from reporting and supposedly kept their biases out of the latter. With the rise of blogs, it became possible to detect this and expose it with a speed and verifiability which had not been possible before -- see Rathergate, for example.

In the case of the Iranian uprising, everyone recognized that the Twitter reports from people on the ground were tentative and that any individual report might be inaccurate (the theocracy itself even created fake Twitter sources and fake reports). Nevertheless, thousands of people were giving eyewitness reports of the same events, and there were many different blogs reporting the same incidents; any attempt at distortion by the bloggers would have been immediately obvious. A person reading Andrew Sullivan and Saeed Valadbaygi would have had a much better sense of what was really going on than a person relying on MSM coverage of the same uprising.

We no longer have a few gatekeepers who decide what's news. We have millions of people reporting and passing along what interests them. Distortions are caught quickly. Within hours of Palin talking about "death panels", for example, bloggers had confirmed that there was no such thing in the actual bill, and provided links so readers could see for themselves.

Some people refuse to acknowledge when something which they accepted is disproven, and just continue to believe whatever fits their own prejudices -- but that has always been true.

Reporting has always had biases that distorted the news we got. I prefer to have those biases acknowledged upfront, as bloggers do, and to have the constant crosschecking that goes on now to expose misinformation.

22 August 2009

Blogger power!

That video of Barney Frank rebuking a LaRouchie heckler has had over a million views in less than a week -- and most of the traffic was sent there via links by minor bloggers (such as yours truly).

For a lark.....

I had a go at this political spectrum quiz (found via Counting Cats), which I would expect to give better results than most, because it contains more questions (about 60) and because you can choose how much weight to give each question:

Political Views
Left social libertarian
Left: 3.17, Libertarian: 4.71

Political Spectrum Quiz

Culture War Stance
Score: -3.81

Political Spectrum Quiz

Foreign Policy Views
Score: 2.85

Political Spectrum Quiz

The only surprise is that I'd consider myself a lot further to the left on the "culture war" scale.

The Ukrainian sand artist

I've never seen anything quite like what Kseniya Simonova does here. Be sure to click the full-screen icon (small rectangle-within-a-rectangle at the lower right) on each video.

The links list

Added Zirgar and The Middle of Nowhere, since I'm reading them and linking to them fairly regularly anyway. They're in the blogs section at the bottom part of the list. (Yes, I know, the order is a mess. One of these days I'm going to either alphabetize it or sort it into categories properly.)

Link roundup for 22 August 2009

Inspired by Barney Frank, Middle of Nowhere presents the Fall 2009 collection of dining-room tables -- perfect for tea parties!

Single avatar seeks same for hot times (found via Mendip).

Raquel Welch looks a bit cross.

Maybe the lady with the first sign actually means it, and that's why she's got her mouth open so wide instead.

Atheism ads offend stupid people.

The media manufacture a fake controversy over nothing.

Beware these five species (found via Mendip).

The Creation Museum is hosting a fake "science fair".

Yes, there is still unabashed racism out there.

Paul Krugman takes Obama to task about the public option.

Nervous about British-style health care coming to the US? It's already here!

Teapot Atheist has some questions about Texas's new high school Bible curriculum. Also: why Christianity appeals to criminals.

Yale University Press kowtows to Islam (found via Exit Zero).

Steven Chapman recently challenged opponents of gay marriage to articulate exactly what harm they expect it to do. Brad at The Crossed Pond dissects Maggie Gallagher's bizarre response.

A campaign is under way in Britain to obtain a "pardon" for Alan Turing. Well, the Catholic Church "forgave" Galileo.....

Steele panel or brick wall? The RNC chief refuses to call a lie a lie.

Lunacy on the right has a long history (found via Liberal Values).

Tom Ridge's new book says that Bush pressured him to manipulate the terror-alert system for political purposes. Demwit has more.

The solar tower, an intersting idea for clean power generation, may soon go into practical use in Australia.

Our brains are hard-wired to process images of living and non-living things differently.

Drugs designed to mimic the lifespan-extending effects of calorie restriction are being tested on humans; the article also discusses promising research on monkeys and lifespan extension in general.

21 August 2009

Quote for the day

"All Randroids and Reaganatics start any discussion of health care reform.....with a hushed and reverential invocation of the free market followed by a deep genuflection and a solemn kiss of the ring on the 'invisible hand' of the market. Neither group appears to have any awareness that it was the failure of the free market with respect to elder health care that was both the policy and politics behind the adoption of Medicare. The elderly are a high risk population that require substantially more health care than younger populations. Free-market insurers are unwilling to insure these populations at all or to insure them only at premiums that equal or exceed the anticipated cost of care. As a result, prior to the adoption of Medicare, fewer than half of retirees had any health insurance. So the government had little choice but to take over or, eek!, 'socialize' the task of providing a program that would reimburse the elderly for health care costs. If we really want to talk about who wants to kill Grandma, it’s not the people advoca-ting government reimbursement of Grandma’s medical expenses. It’s the tiresome and tireless free market idealogues who, if given their way, would offer nothing but an “invisible hand,” this time carrying a knife, to handle Grandma’s needs for medical care."

"Tintin" at Sadly No

19 August 2009

So where's the "change"?

The Obama administration's fixation on bipartisanship and on reaching out to the right has allowed business-as-usual to prevail in Washington to a depressing degree. I've already linked to Oliver Willis on this topic; Michael Boh, Reconstitution 2.0, Dissenting Justice, and Middle of Nowhere have more, while Nancy takes a more optimistic view (great picture too!) and Barney Frank shows how it's done.

Blogiversary

Today marks three years since I started this blog.

18 August 2009

Profile in courage

Dr. LeRoy Carhart works tirelessly to preserve freedom of choice despite the threat of religious terrorism.

A specter is haunting Europe

As I've discussed earlier, western Europe's closest equivalent to the US Christian Right is its Muslim minority, which poses similar challenges to secularism and modernity. Terrorism, demands for official recognition of religious law (Sharî'ah), rabble-rousing leaders who incite hate and violence, murders of individuals who courageously oppose the movement's influence (Pim Fortuyn, Theo van Gogh) -- the litany of outrages is depressingly similar. Western European Islam, like the American Christian Right, has even learned to deploy the rhetoric of the oppressed minority, wailing that any effort to resist or even criticize its agenda consti- tutes persecution or at least insensitivity to cherished beliefs, and going one better by absurdly declaring opposition to a religious ideology to be a form of racism.

There are differences, of course. Islam is far more ideologically intractable; the content of its core beliefs renders it inherently more prone to violence and far less capable of compromise with secular society. Also, the Muslims in western Europe are almost entirely recent immigrants or descendants thereof; western Europe, far more culturally secular than the US, imported this completely unnecessary problem starting in the 1960s. Opposi- tion to further immigration from Muslim countries has become a major issue pitting western European populations against their pro-immigration ruling political elites.

The most alarming and widely-repeated claim about the Islamic threat in western Europe, however, is that Muslims are likely to overwhelm the native Europeans demographically and Islamize their countries. Is this plausible?

To begin with, the Muslim population in western Europe is quite small, less than 5% of the total in most countries. France has by far the largest Muslim minority, both absolutely and relative to its total population; it is generally estimated at five million, which would make up only 8% of the total. Higher percentages are often cited, but these refer to a few major cities in which Muslims are concentrated. Similarly, figures like fifty million are sometimes given for the total Muslim population of "Europe", but the only way such numbers can possibly be arrived at is by including places like Albania and northwestern Turkey which are technically part of the European land-mass but have been majority-Muslim for centuries, as well as the "Muslim" population of Russia (most of which isn't actually Muslim). This is rather like estimating the number of French-speakers in the US by citing figures which include Quebec.

What about those birth-rate differences? Native birth rates in western Europe, as in most developed regions, are quite low (the US is an exception), while the Muslim immgrants brought with them the demographic patterns of their Third World countries of origin. However, birth rates in most Third World countries have fallen to or below replacement level, or are in the process of doing so, just as those of the developed world did a few decades ago (continued population growth is due to the fact that such a high percentage of the current population is in the young-adult age bracket, which is the most fertile). One would expect this trend to be even stronger among European Muslims, surrounded by a prosperous and secular society, and indeed this turns out to be exactly the case -- Muslim and native birth rates in Europe are converging:

In Austria, for example, Muslim women had a total fertility rate (an estimate of lifetime births per woman) of 3.1 children per woman in 1981.....By 2001, the rate for Catholics had fallen to 1.3, but the Muslim rate had fallen to 2.3—leaving a difference of just one child per woman between Muslims and non-Muslims. The gap narrowed even further in the former West Germany.....In 1970, Turkish women living in West Germany had more than two more children than German women. By 1996, the difference between these two groups had fallen to one child. Recent trends in the Netherlands tell a similar story.....

I've noted the same trend in Denmark. A problem with collecting such data is a tendency to classify anyone born into a historically-Muslim ethnic group as being a Muslim; this ignores the growing phenomenon of de-Islamization. Many people counted as Muslims (because they are of Turkish or Pakistani or whatever descent) probably aren't.

Claims that western Europe is doomed to be demographically overwhelmed usually cite alarming numbers which in fact are obviously implausible (an example is analyzed here). One could argue that the United States is actually in greater danger of such a demographic take-over, since Christian fundamentalists here also have a significantly higher birth rate than the general population, and make up much more than 5% of all Americans (in reality, of course, all available data show religious belief declining in the US over the last few decades).

There is, of course, the issue of continuing immigration. But the EU has 450 million people and several individual countries have populations in the tens of millions; starting with such a large base population, no proposed or plausible level of immigration could produce the kind of radical demographic shifts that the alarmists predict. Mass public hostility to further immigration is high and rising, not only due to the cultural and political problems posed by Islam, but also due to sheer overcrowding (western Europe is far more densely populated than the US). Eventually the political system will have to respond; if leaders prove truly determined to ignore their voters' concerns -- well, I took a (rather pessimistic) look at the worst-case scenario here.

More generally, demographic projections over time-spans like fifty years are meaningless. Population trends are subject to all kinds of influences which cannot be anticipated. There is probably no major country whose present-day demographic profile could have been accurately predicted fifty years ago by extrapolating from trends which were visible then.

Western Europe is not going to become Islamized. Period.

17 August 2009

Quote for the day

"There are 60 votes for cloture in the Senate – at least there should be unless any Democrat is stupid enough to filibuster health care reform for Christ’s sake, and there has got to be at least 51 Dems with the guts to do this thing, or why bother? In the House the margins are even better, with 40 votes of wiggle room for Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer. GET IT DONE.....This is not 1992, where a President with less than 50% of the vote won on a moderate platform with very little wiggle room to work with in the congress. Obama won by almost 7%, with more than double the electoral votes of his opponent. His party enjoys considerable majorities in both houses of congress. That is not a mandate to go play pattycake with John Boehner. It's a mandate to get serious stuff done."

What would Hillary be doing?

If Hillary Clinton were President now, would she be handling the health-care reform fight differently? The question has been raised in several quarters, but I think Dissenting Justice has the best take on it -- see his 12:32 AM comment to "Camels" as well as the post.

16 August 2009

Obama on health-care reform

The President states his case -- rather effectively, I think (found via Demwit). The riskiest thing we could do would be to leave the system the way it is now.

Update (8:04 PM): A while ago the op-ed disappeared behind a registration screen -- now it's visible again. Dunno what's up with that. If you click the link and get the registration screen, try again later.

15 August 2009

Thought for the day

A few decades ago our country actually did have "death panels". They were called "draft boards".

Biking

Sorry to disappoint, but this posting is not about a monarch who "swings both ways":-) It's a followup to this.

As exercise to improve condition, biking has much to recommend it. My first practice ride three weeks ago, up and down the block a few times, left me exhausted; yesterday's was nine miles and only mildly fatiguing. I still have two more weeks before my parking cancellation at work takes effect, but I'm pretty much ready to start relying on the bicycle for commuting right now. If you live within a moderate distance of your job, I highly recommend this option; the exercise will be beneficial, and even if you don't pay to park, you'll still save on gas.

A bicycle will not replace a car in all situations. Heavy rain, for example, would make a bike ride of several miles too unpleasant to contemplate. Any shopping trip which will require you to bring back more than a few pounds of goods will still require a car. Some routes just have too much traffic for a bicycle to be safe. But it can substitute much of the time.

Most telling of all, take a look at the people you see on bicycles on your town and notice how fit most of them appear compared with the average person these days.

I'm doing this after decades of largely sedentary existence. If I can do it, anyone can.

Link roundup for 15 August 2009

Lovecraft's From Beyond goes claymation (found via Mendip).

Dogs and cats record their lives among us. And check out printer repair cat too.

Check out history as the Pope apparently sees it.

Zirgar fisks Limbaugh.

Pharyngula surpasses the Vatican!

Oliver Willis brings us a day in the life of a conservative oppressed by socialism.

"My husband is not the Secretary of State. I am."

Be careful in interpreting polls about political identification.

For some, pregnancy means a nightmarish loss of freedom.

Middle of Nowhere has challenges for the health-reform scare-mongers, here and here.

When all you have is a conspiracy theory, everything looks like a conspiracy (sent by Mendip).

"They have always been with us."

It's OK to shout down speakers you disagree with, except when it isn't.

Read some straight talk about health care in Britain, from some-one who actually lives there.

With most economic indicators now looking better than expected, economists project how the recovery will progress.

Armed radical groups are on the rise.

Scientists discover an unexpected carnivore in the Philippines.

Amazing -- people find real sex more satisfying than fake sex.

Orangutans use leaves to make themselves seem bigger to potential enemies.

There's a natural form of protection against breast cancer.

Researchers are developing another cancer-fighting technology, using nanoparticles.

The future of global warming looks different from what scientists anticipated.

13 August 2009

Ready to run

This is just an anecdote, but it's of interest if true: Iranian officials are preparing to flee the country if the theocracy collapses.

11 August 2009

Invoking Stephen Hawking

Every time I think the arguments against health-care reform can't get any crazier, they do. But it'll be hard to top this one, from an Investor's Business Daily editorial, which cites Britain's system, the National Health Service, as a frightening example of what could happen here (found via Liberal Values):

The controlling of medical costs in countries such as Britain through rationing, and the health consequences thereof are legendary.....People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

But Stephen Hawking is British and has lived in Britain his entire life (he is now 67), and continues to received the medical treat-ment necessary to stay alive and working.

Undoubtedly the British system does ration health care to an extent, as every system must and does -- including ours, with its claim denials, its "recission", and its millions of uninsured. But the effort to paint western Europe, Japan, and Canada as hell-holes where "death panels" (wearing black robes and pentagrams, no doubt) cast the elderly and disabled out onto ice floes to die, is unhinged. Too many Americans have been to those places and know better.

Update (12 August): The IBD editorial has been changed to remove the embarrassing error. Hawking speaks out here.

09 August 2009

Lumley's vampires

My earlier posting on lesser-known SF novels got a good response -- so now it's fantasy/horror time!

I'm rather a fan of vampire stories, but recently pop culture has not been kind to the classic bloodsuckers. Vampires have become wimpy and watered-down. They're not evil, just misunderstood, the poor things. They don't need slaying, they need therapy. They're bland.

Well, not in the world of Brian Lumley.

Lumley, a Briton, is the author of a series of vampire novels which he has been writing since 1984 and which now stands at over a dozen books. The first five, Necroscope, Vamphyri!, The Source, Deadspeak, and Deadspawn, revolve around British vampire fighter Harry Keogh, who has the power to communicate with the dead and, under certain conditions, to call upon them to rise from their graves. Working with "E-Branch" (a secret British agency made up of people with various psychic abilities) Keogh battles not only vampires but also Soviet agents (the Russians have a malevolent counterpart to E-Branch). In The Source, we learn that vampirism actually originated in a parallel world, a nightmarish anti-Earth ruled by vampires. A Russian experiment accidentally creates a sort of gateway to this vampire world, with terrifying results; it turns out that a similar gateway has existed for millennia, with its Earthly terminus underground in Romania, and it was by this route that vampirism originally infected our world. The next three novels, Blood Brothers, The Last Aerie, and Bloodwars, form a trilogy set mostly in the vampire world, and are Lumley's best work.

Lumley's vampires are not sensitive, misunderstood creatures. They are EVIL -- exuberantly, flamboyantly evil. Beyond drinking blood, they torture, rape, and murder with sadistic glee, reveling in the most diabolical cruelties, even against rival vampires. Part of what makes a good story is a good colorful villain, and Lumley's vampires are villains who leave no scenery unchewed.

The vampire world is a masterpiece of nightmarish imagination. It is a planet which does not rotate but keeps one face toward its sun, as the Moon does to the Earth. Half the world is roasting hot and the other half frozen; only a narrow ribbon of land in between is habitable. This ribbon is itself divided lengthwise by a mountain range. To the sunward side of the mountains, "Sunside", human beings live a primitive, nomadic, fearful existence. The other side, "Starside", shielded from the sun by the mountains, is the home of the vampires, who consider humans little more than cattle -- their food and slaves. So long as the sun is (barely) above the horizon, humans on Sunside have some degree of safety; but the planet has a slight wobble, enough that the sun regularly drops completely below the horizon -- and "night" falls on Sunside. And then the vampires come over the mountains to hunt.

In the permanent dimness of Starside stand naturally-occurring stone pillars thousands of feet tall, honeycombed with chambers and tunnels in which the great vampires (the "Lords" and "Ladies") rule in barbaric splendour, attended by their cowering vampirized human slaves, and guarded by huge flying "warrior" monsters built from human flesh warped beyond recognition by the vampire art of "metamorphism". Vampire architecture, furniture, "flyers", and almost everything else are built of living flesh or fossilized bone, from humans culled from Sunside for the purpose and twisted into the desired forms.

The vampire world has no birds, but it possesses an abundance of (naturally) bats and of large, very nasty spiders. The vampires, treacherous backstabbers all, are constantly quarreling over power, territory, and access to human prey, and the lifeless soil of Starside is littered with the bones of warrior monsters left over from millennia of wars between rival Lords.

The first humans from our Earth who are sent through the Russian gateway to explore this strange new world quite understandably feel that they have arrived in something rather like Hell.

Lumley's storylines, despite their blood-drenched grand guignol exuberance, are intricate and embrace a broad mix of elements. Besides the themes of talking to the dead and Cold War spy drama already mentioned, other established fantasy and SF themes such as ghosts, raising the dead, ESP, mind control, teleportation, and werewolves also occur (one of the best vampire-world characters, Lord Canker Canison, is apparently part wolf as well as being a vampire). The complexity of the stories, as well as their sheer length (each novel is over 500 pages) probably preclude film ver- sions ever being made. This is unfortunate, since some scenes are visually evocative. The climax of Bloodwars, with rival airborne warrior armadas soaring and clashing around the summit of a mile- high stone tower, could be great spectacle in the right hands.

Lumley's website is here. See in particular artwork depicting the landscape of Starside and a giant airborne warrior; a sculpture of the deformed vampire Lord Vasagi (warning -- gruesome); and Lumley's biography.

08 August 2009

Link roundup for 8 August 2009

Have you checked your roof recently?

Here's a whaling video with a twist (scroll down a bit).

Murdoch follows AP into self-immolation (found via Counting Cats in Zanzibar).

"Fight tyranny" by shouting down people who disagree with you. And by making threats. Oh, and by silly analogies too.

This must be the most flagrantly dishonest argument yet against health-care reform.

Medical insurance denies a claim on the grounds of a pre-existing condition -- in a newborn baby.

Obama's getting it -- bipartisanship on health-care reform is not likely to work.

We already have a form of socialized medicine -- it's just a very inefficient one.

If this is true, it's one of the scariest Bush stories yet.

Here's an interesting discussion of Romney's chances in the 2012 Presidential race. Me, I'm betting the Christian Right Republican "base" just won't support a Mormon.

It's dangerous to make morality arbitrary.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Residents of a plague-stricken Chinese town flee quarantine.

The Group News Blog is unimpressed with the new food-safety legislation.

Here's more evidence that Americans aren't as religious as we think.

New images reveal the roiling face of a short-lived giant.

Computer technology is helping to analyze the still-undeciphered writing of one of the world's first civilizations (found via Mendip).

Australian scientists are working to resurrect an extinct species.

Growing a new heart from your own stem cells is years away yet, but growing new teeth is much closer.

Global-warming denialism

Here are some useful collections of links and information debunking the standard denialist myths and talking points:

Black Sun Journal

RealClimate blog

RealClimate Wiki

How to talk to a global-warming skeptic (1)

How to talk to a global-warming skeptic (2)

07 August 2009

Tales from the insurance crypt

I've already linked to this site which offers personal experiences of Americans abroad to counter the propaganda about "socialized medicine" in other developed countries. Now here are a few cases of how our own current system, for many people, fails to deliver:

An eight-month-old baby who almost died because his parents couldn't afford insurance (but there's a happy ending).

A woman who has insurance but still can't afford treatment.

A man who can't get insurance because he previously sought help for suicidal depression.

An injured woman afraid to take an available ambulance for fear of bankruptcy.

And if you do have insurance, do you think it will at least protect you in the event of an expensive medical disaster? Think again.

A question answered

As I pointed out here, a key question for public acceptance of the health-care reform plan will be whether it covers illegal aliens or not. Contrary to Republican claims, it does not -- see Section 246. Found via Demwit.

05 August 2009

No shark left unjumped

The Obama-birth-certificate nuts have finally achieved "Nutvana", the perfect transcendent state of being utterly beyond parody. Having repeatedly failed to discredit the real birth certificate from Hawaii, they are now triumphantly waving an obviously-fake Kenyan one (thanks for the link, Mendip), bearing an official name which Kenya hadn't adopted at that time, from a city that wasn't part of Kenya yet, and apparently signed by a detergent. When the source document used to create the forgery was quickly found (in Australia) and confirmed, the more determined loons decided that the Australian document (actually real) must be a fake concocted to discredit the real (actually fake) Kenyan Obama document.

And the right wing wonders why nobody trusts them to run the United States? Remember, substantial numbers of Republicans take this Obama non-citizenship stuff seriously.

It's become part of the conservative alternate reality. Long after this comical episode is forgotten by most of us, there will still be these people off in their own world, grumbling that Obama's "real birth certificate" was "revealed" but was "suppressed and ignored" by the same vast "establishment conspiracy" that suppressed and ignored the "evidence" against global warming and evolution.

04 August 2009

"Center-right nation" no more

Feast your eyes on this new map of the red and blue states as they are today.

Acting like winners, finally, maybe

I'm starting to think it's possible that health-care reform might succeed after all.

If we cannot produce a bipartisan solution by then, you have to wonder if the Republicans would ever be willing to agree to anything.....We will enact health-care reform by the end of the year. If the Republicans are not able to produce an agreement, we will have contingencies in play.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY)

Can it be that they are finally wising up? This is the way to get things done. No more "bipartisan" madness, no more "reaching out" to those whose sole interest is obstruction, no more idiotic talk of "moving beyond" the left-right divide which represents a very real contrast between deeply-opposed world-views and agendas. We won, they lost. In 2006 and 2008, the American people massively endorsed our side and rejected the rightists. The left has the mandate. Let's start acting like it.

03 August 2009

In the name of the God of the desert

Our country is not the only place where religious fanatics continue to use murderous violence to enforce their barbaric taboos. Just this weekend:

In Gojra, Pakistan, a Muslim mob incited by clergy set fires in a Christian neighborhood and burned eight Christians to death over a mere rumor that a copy of the Koran had been desecrated.

In Tel Aviv, Israel, a masked gunman opened fire on a gay youth center, killing two and wounding fifteen (since the gunman has not yet been caught, it's not known whether he's Jewish or Muslim).

02 August 2009

Mass wedding in Gaza

Hamas has sponsored a mass wedding for 450 couples in Gaza, including a gift of $500 each (which is quite a lot in such a poor economy). It sounds like an almost heartwarming story -- until you reach the ending. Read the posting all the way through, to see the little detail which the MSM stories leave out.

Tales of socialized medicine

One of the foremost propaganda tactics being used against health-care reform is horror stories about "socialized medicine" in other countries. There is now a site, Americans Abroad Know About National Health Care, which allows Americans who have actually experienced medical treatment in countries with national health systems to speak for themselves. So far, Americans in France, Japan, Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands are represented. (One of the great positives about health-care reform is that every developed country other than ours already has a national health system, so we have a wealth of actual functioning examples to look at to see what works and what doesn't.) If you have had medical treatment abroad, there's an e-mail address you can use to send in your own story. This site is a great resource.

Found via Reconstitution 2.0.

01 August 2009

Link roundup for 1 August 2009

Romantic passion comes in varied forms (found via The Crossed Pond).

Play mattress dominoes!

This seems fishy.

Looks like somebody picked up Egypt and dropped it on Iraq?!

Alfred "Alferd" Packer was a man of taste.

Here's a sensible look at one of the silliest movies of recent years. More here.

Radical-feminist lesson for the day: it doesn’t matter whether you liked it or didn’t like it.

Conservative columnist George Will bashes my home city. Our Congressman Earl Blumenauer responds with some facts.

Right-wingers have been talking rubbish about another city too -- here are some more facts.

Everyone should wear this.

The British army has valuable lessons for us.

Here is that "banana-eating jungle monkey" e-mail. Dissenting Justice has some salient observations about it. Read this too.

The Obama's-not-a-natural-born-citizen nutters are concentrated in just one area of the country. No wonder so many Republican Congressmen prefer to run away from the issue.

Much attention is focused on health-care reform, but this food-safety reform bill deserves attention too. Particularly notable: it "requires those importing food to the United States to meet the same safety standards as domestic food producers." I wish more people were aware that this isn't already the case.

A reminder of the human cost of Iran's struggle against its vicious theocratic regime.

Chinese labor unrest: not for the faint-hearted.

Sam Harris speaks out on Francis Collins, Obama's disappointing new NIH chief. More here.

Stephen Hawking! Yes!!!

View a solar eclipse from above (thanks CP).

This headline could have been worded a lot better: "Parasitic worms make sex worthwhile".

What Bush didn't want us to see: the Obama administration has declassified evidence of what's happening in the Arctic.

Animal minds resemble our own: a beluga whale shows empathy and altruism by saving a human diver (found via Mendip).