30 December 2009

How tyranny falls

As I observed on Sunday, the Iranian uprising is changing in character. After months in which the theocracy has responded with beatings, torture, rape, and murder to every expression of popular discontent, mass anger is boiling over; the people are returning violence for violence. In this video, filmed during the Ashura demonstrations on Sunday, a vast crowd turns on a unit of police and overwhelms them. It is not pretty. But remember what the Iranian people have suffered at the hands of this regime and its enforcers, not just since this year's stolen election, but since the mullahs seized power in 1979.

The theocracy has a special jet plane on standby to fly Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his family out of Iran if the situation "spirals out of control". On Sunday the regime ordered that this plane be given a full check-up to ensure its performance if needed.

The bearded thugs who have been grinding the Iranian people into the mud for thirty years can watch YouTube as well as anyone else can. I think it's dawning on them that the end of their rule is near.

The dandruff of Satan

From the forecasts I'd hoped our area would escape getting any snow this winter, but yesterday afternoon the vile flakes began to descend, and now there's an inch or two of the stuff all over the ground. Ah, well, the dogs and kids seem to like it. And it hasn't turned to slippery ice, at least so far.

Obama speaks out

This strikes the right note -- telling the Iranian people we're on their side against the theocracy's brutal repression, and yet not offering any hint of a threat of intervention in the situation which would help the mullahs paint the uprising as foreign-inspired.

The mullahs will, of course, nevertheless tell any lie they think might help save them -- the point is that we not do anything to lend their lies credibility.

27 December 2009

The long struggle -- Ashura

I may not be posting very much today, but Azarmehr and Andrew Sullivan are putting up reports, pictures, and videos from Iran. So far it's clear that protests are indeed escalating across the country, that the theocracy's agents have responded with the expected harshness and have shot several people, and that the mood is one of rising anger, as expressed in the widely-cited slogan "I will kill, I will kill, those who killed my brother". To a degree not seen before, protesters are meeting violence with violence, burning police cars and beating agents of the regime who fall into their hands.

One striking video from earlier this week shows a furious crowd apparently chasing away security forces and rescuing two men whom they had just hanged in public. The context is unclear.

I feel more confident than ever that the days of this ghastly, evil regime are numbered.

Updates: One source now reports that some police units have refused orders to open fire on demonstrators. If the theocracy cannot depend on its own enforcers, especially with the protests turning so angry, it may be in greater danger than ever before.

Protesters humiliate the regime's Brownshirts.

The MSM are dropping the ball again. Sullivan: "If you want actual news, don't switch cable on. Go to the blogs."

The United States is now taking a stronger stand in support of the Iranian people than it did earlier. Most likely the administration now realizes that, with the protests continuing and getting more violent so long after the stolen election, the uprising is not going to just die down and let the theocracy rule as if it were a normal legitimate government. Things will never "get back to normal" as long as this regime is in power. It is doomed.

26 December 2009

Watch Iran tomorrow

Tomorrow, December 27, will mark seven days since the death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri last weekend. Montazeri was one of Iran's most prominent clerics, once tapped as a likely successor to Khomeini himself; later he grew fiercely critical of the theocracy's harshness and extremism, and spent the years 1997-2003 under house arrest.

In the week since his death, marches in Montazeri's honor in several Iranian cities have developed into anti-regime protests, some of them becoming violent. By tradition, the seventh day after a person's death is a day of commemoration, but the regime has banned any memorial gathering for Montazeri tomorrow except in his birthplace and in the holy city of Qom.

Upping the ante still further, tomorrow is also Ashura, one of the most important Shiite holy days, commemorating the killing of the prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein at Sunni hands in the seventh century. In Shiite countries such as Iran, Ashura typically involves large public processions and intense emotionalism.

This week has made it clear that the Iranian people's uprising is still very much alive, while demonstrations earlier this month showed that its goals have become more openly revolutionary. The old bearded tyrants must be trembling in anticipation of what tomorrow may bring.

Link roundup for 26 December 2009

Yes, Virginia, there is a..... (found via Mendip).

Merry Chimpmas!

Mendip recalls the searing radiation of Christmas past.

Thou shalt steal.

Here's another video of the Fishmen song, with visuals true to the original tale.

Simon's Cat deals with a pesky bird and a pesky fly.

Monkeys put on a show.

I had a Thingmaker as a kid. It was great and I never got burned.

Retired cops reveal how police harassment works.

Not enough, but well deserved.

Child-raper Roman Polanski loses an appeal.

US crime rates are now at their lowest levels since the 1960s.

Jim Lippard reviews the groups promoting global-warming denialism (found via Pharyngula).

FactCheck.org lists the top lies of 2009 (found via Parsley's Pics).

Jonathan Chait discusses what the Senate health bill will and won't do and why. An NYT view is here. Harold Pollack reviews its likely impact on abortion. Tom Harkin says the public option isn't dead.

Winning ugly is still winning.

David Frum assesses the right's defeat.

Amanda Marcotte looks at cynicism on the left.

Frank Schaeffer assesses Obama's Presidency so far (found via Annette).

Americans still prefer Democrats over Republicans, but health-care arch-villain Lieberman's popularity has taken a serious hit.

Here's a sample of what Republicans might do if they regain power.

Ron Paul's son Rand is running for Senate from Kentucky. Meet his campaign spokesman (found via The Crossed Pond).

Merry Christmas, President Obama, from WND.

This history/autopsy of American conservatism was written in February, but is still worth a read today.

Tim Pawlenty is not the man to bring sanity back to the right.

The different strains of conservatism have a common theme: control over pleasure.

A Christian student group sues for the right to exclude gays.

It's not nice to criticize people's myths.

Early reports are still sketchy, but apparently there has been a serious attempted terrorist attack on an airliner near Detroit.

France's ruling party proposes a ban on the veil.

I agree with The Times's choice for person of the year.

This dinosaur had feathers. And venom.

"You lie to children for money."

Wild chimpanzees understand fire.

Global warming affects different ecosystems at different rates. For much of the US it means fiercer storms.

23 December 2009

Focus on the real problem

There seems little reason left for doubt that the health-care reform soon to be passed is a victory. Most sober commenators on the left support it (see posting below) and every right-wing source I have seen, even the moderates, is denouncing it as a loss for their side. The bitter pills, of course, are the loss of the public option and the Medicare expansion, the bad abortion language, and other deformities which had to be imposed on the bill in order to get to the de facto 60-vote threshold imposed by Senate filibuster rules.

Many people are very angry about those changes, which is under-standable, but every posting I have seen so far expressing that anger has been an exercise in missing the point, because the anger is directed at the wrong target, usually Senate Democrats or "the Democrats" in general. It should be directed at the Senate rules.

How, people ask, can we have a 58-40 majority and still not be able to get something better than this? The answer is quite simple: it's those rules that require 60 votes to pass anything.

The problem isn't that the Democrats in Congress didn't want a good bill. Most of them did, and do. The House passed a good bill, with a public option. It was able to do that because it operates by simple majority. If the Senate did as well, Lieberman and the Blue Dogs would have been irrelevant, and a bill similar to the House version would probably have been passed there too.

The 60-vote rule to stop a filibuster is not in the Constitution. It's just a Senate procedural rule. It could be changed, and has been in the past. For most of the Senate's history the threshold was 67 votes; it was lowered to 60 in a rule change in 1975.

Now that the concessions to Lieberman and other obstructionists to reach 60 votes have dramatized the undemocratic nature of the filibuster rule, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa has been talking about pushing for another rule change which would lower the threshold little by little on successive votes (details here). He should move forward with this proposal, and the public should be prepared to exert pressure on their own Senators in support of it.

All the legitimate anger over the loss of the public option should be channeled into supporting this goal. If the rule is not changed, forty Republicans plus one troublemaker will be able to impose this kind of obstructionism on every major piece of legislation that the Democrats try to get through the Senate. Getting angry at Senate Democrats as a group is stupid. Most of them wanted the same things we did. We need to focus on the real problem, the problem that stopped them from getting us what we wanted.

I have argued that, bad as the Senate compromise is, we should still support passage. If it doesn't pass, we won't get something better; we'll be stuck with the cruel and unsustainable status quo. If it passes, it can be improved later. Most of the major reforms in American history were carried out by this kind of incremental process.

And the way to ensure that those improvements can be enacted during future Senate sessions in the near-term future is to get the Senate filibuster rule changed.

21 December 2009

Worthwhile perspectives on the Senate bill

Professor Jacob Hacker, the "godfather of the public option", and Senator Al Franken explain why they support the passage of the Senate bill, even weakened as it is. Both found via Oliver Willis, who has consistently been a good source of blogger coverage and analysis on this issue -- Liberal Values has been another. And don't forget Paul Krugman. Update: The AMA comes out in support too.

Hey, all forty Republicans still voted against the thing -- there must be some good in it!

20 December 2009

What we're up against

This post cites a poll of Republican voters in North Carolina which says it all about what conservatism in this country has come to.

Only 24% of North Carolina Republicans believe that Obama was born in the United States.

7% of them don't believe that Hawaii is part of the United States.

I think we can guess what these people believe about evolution and global warming. I'm afraid to imagine the results if they had been asked about whether the Earth is flat.

We are dealing with utter morons here.

And these people vote.

19 December 2009

Help science to help everybody

A registry website called Research Match has been established for persons who are interested in volunteering for medical research projects. You create a confidential profile and the site contacts you about projects which might be able to use you as a volunteer. Then, whether you actually volunteer or not after you learn more is entirely up to you. It's worth checking out if you want to make a concrete contribution to the progress of medical technology.

Incommunicado in Ohio

Rifqa Bary is an American girl of 17 whose parents immigrated from Sri Lanka and now live in Ohio. Her parents are Muslim and raised her as a Muslim. Several years ago she secretly converted to Christianity; in July of this year she ran away from home, ultimately surfacing in Florida where she took refuge with a pastor, claiming that her life would be in danger if she were sent back to her parents.

It's a baffling situation -- to those who are unfamiliar with the reality of Islam.

Islamic law mandates death as the penalty for any Muslim who leaves Islam. This injunction is found in both the Koran and the Hadìth, the two most authoritative source documents of Islamic law. It is not a meaningless anachronism like the various death penalties sprinkled through the Old Testament which few modern Christians advocate enforcing; Islam takes its laws very seriously in the twenty-first century. "Honor killings" -- murders mostly of women and girls, usually by their own families, for transgressions (often sexual) against Islamic law -- are shockingly widespread in the Islamic world and have become such a major problem among Muslims in Europe that in 2004 police forces from across Europe launched an international cooperative effort to crack down on them. In Italy, a judge recently ruled that referring to a Muslim woman as a Christian was equivalent to a death threat due to the Islamic injunction that "apostates" must be killed. Protection from the threat of murder for apostasy is a priority for ex-Muslims even in the United States.

Rifqa Bary has consistently claimed that her parents threatened her life after discovering her conversion. Her parents deny this and the allegation is impossible to verify. The real risk is that some Muslim fanatic unconnected with her family might feel entitled to execute the Islamic death penalty; this is why, for example, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has had to live under almost constant security since she went public with her renunciation of Islam.

Rifqa's parents, supported by the Islamist group CAIR, have taken legal action to have her returned to their custody, resulting in a legal battle which is still continuing. Her main supporters are Christian activists and, apparently, Pamela Geller -- a fact which I consider an indictment not of her case but of those on the secular left who, while they would not hesitate to support a 17-year-old who had similarly fled from a fundamentalist Christian family, are reluctant to cross swords with Islam, whether due to nervousness or political correctness.

In October, Rifqa was forced to return to Ohio and was placed under the custody of child protective services, where she is reportedly being denied almost all contact with supporters, a CAIR attorney having even filed a motion to prevent her from receiving Christmas cards.

Ohio law has no provision for emancipation of minors, and Rifqa will not turn 18 until August 2010. If she were returned to her parents before that, it is conceivable that she could be removed from the United States against her will.

Given Islam's track record, she deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Rifqa Bary supporters' website

Link roundup for 19 December 2009

Austrian cartoonist Manfred Deix has upset the Catholic Church.

The quality of insults is declining these days. Here are some good ones.

German food can be dangerous.

Here's the worst Christmas present ever.

Jon Stewart looks at Glenn Beck and gold.

This business will probably get a different kind of customers than it expects (sent by Ranch Chimp).

It's been a good week for topical humor.

Was God really such a hard act to follow?

These church signs contain much truth, inadvertently.

It's beginning to look a lot like fishmen (found via Mendip).

If you use Facebook, read this.

(O)ct(o)pus passes along a call for help.

Was Christine Cayton wrong to do what she did?

James Bain spent 35 years in prison for a crime it has now been proven he did not commit.

Cannonfire debunks the myth that Bill Clinton was responsible for de-regulating the banks.

Teabaggerdom has growing ties with reconstructionism.

A libertarian finds what may be the best health care in the world. Analysis here (I already did the fire thing), and read this too.

The hard-line right is still trashing the Republican party's hopes of winning elections.

Paul Krugman explains why the disappointing Senate health bill is still worth passing (if you get a registration screen instead of the article, Liberal Values re-posts some of Krugman's points here). Victoria Kennedy reminds us that lives are at stake (found via Oliver Willis, whose own views are worth reading). Those who seek to kill the bill are betraying the uninsured. Its flaws are basically the fault of one person and it's not Lieberman.

"Pro-life" is a misnomer.

The Copenhagen climate agreement reflects Obama's style of deal-making -- disappointing compared with what was hoped for, but still better than the status quo. I liked the cartoons here and here.

Deployment of clean-energy technology in the Third World will probably prove more important than official agreements.

An Irish bishop resigns.

Iranian opposition figure Mehdi Karroubi says that Ahmadinejad's administration will not last out its four-year term.

A member of the Iranian regime's brutal Basìj militia has defected to Britain, and gives an interview about the stolen election and the violence against protesters he saw.

An iceberg twice the size of Manhattan is heading toward Australia (sent by Ranch Chimp).

Bay of Fundie continues reporting from a creationist conference, with a cat video.

PZ Myers held a contest to write responses to two common creationist talking points. Here are the winning replies.

16 December 2009

Good advice on the health-bill quagmire

From blogger Annette, commenting here:

.....calm down and get off the roller coaster.. There is no reason to sit and watch everything that is happening and fly off the handle like this. That's why they call it sausage making.. it is messy and nasty and it takes a while to get it done.

This is just the Senate version.. Remember we have the House version and then we have to reconcile the 2.. then they have to vote on the 2 bills that are put together.. Then you can get angry over what is or isn't in the bill.. We have nothing to be angry about right now. NOTHING.. Quit watching Ed Schultz.. Quit watching all the rest of them.. I did and feel much better for it.....

Just relax a little.. and quit believing everything you hear.. Please.

I and a lot of other people have gotten too wrapped up in following every detail of this arcane process as if whatever was happening at the moment represented the final version. It doesn't. There's still a long way to go.

Yes, it is frustrating and sometimes infuriating, but it is not good to be infuriated for a prolonged period of time. It wastes energy and can lead to cynicism, the ultimate killer of effective action.

And, yes, Lieberman is a slime-bucket and a textbook example of the harmful influence of big money on the political system. But telling him that is not going to accomplish anything. Whatever pressure we can exert needs to be directed at those whose actions can actually be influenced in a positive way.

I for one am simply going to stop worrying about it for a while. I never intended this blog to be dominated by politics to the extent that it has been since the 2008 primary season, and I'm going to make a determined effort to get it back in balance. Politics is not the only interesting or important subject.

Update (17 Dec., 6:15 PM): For those who do desire to keep following the health-reform story blow-by-blow, I recommend Liberal Values for the best blogger coverage of it from a liberal perspective. Ron Chusid neither goes wildly up and down like an emotional yo-yo from one day to the next, nor blathers cynically about dark forces having doomed the whole effort from the start; he focuses on the facts and on reporting and analyzing the views of those with actual power in the struggle (my only caveat would be that he's a bit too allergic to criticism of Obama). He is, moreover, a doctor, and thus has much more relevant knowledge of many of the issues than most of us do.

15 December 2009


The insurance industry has certainly gotten its money's worth for the cash it has lavished on Joe Lieberman. It now looks like Senate Democrats are willing to retreat to a version of health-care reform without a public option or a Medicare expansion.

The Senate rules which allow for filibusters, under which sixty votes are required to get major legislation through, undermine the workings of representative democracy; a 58-vote majority is a mandate and should not be stymied like this. Senator Tom Harkin has proposed changing the rules to eliminate the problem. This would doubtless involve another big, long, nasty fight; it might, however, be best to have that fight and then revisit health-care reform with Lieberman (meaning the insurance companies which are paying him) no longer having a veto. That, however, is exactly the kind of bold strategy that the Democrats have so far shown little sign of embracing. (For those who say the Democrats should just ram the reform through using the reconciliation process, it's not that simple.)

Even without a public option or a Medicare expansion, the reform would not be completely meaningless. It would save some money. It would curb some of the worst of the insurance-company abuses (though those controls reportedly contain alarming loopholes). But it would just be tinkering with a broken system, not setting us on the path toward a better one. Americans would continue to experience more unnecessary death and suffering than people in other developed countries. Personal bankruptcies due to medical costs, which do not even exist in most of those countries, would continue to plague us. The Democrats have achieved a lot since taking over, but failures do happen, and this would be one.

Blogger Leslie Parsley has been spreading Lieberman's contact information around. I think it's unlikely that he can be swayed, especially by people who don't live in Connecticut; it might be more effective to get in touch with your own Senators. Perhaps they can find a way to use the reconciliation process after all, or perhaps the public option or Medicare expansion can be restored when the House and Senate versions are combined. Failing that, the focus should be on Harkin's plan to abolish the filibuster, so that this one defeat doesn't herald total paralysis for the future.

12 December 2009

Link roundup for 12 December 2009

Joe Lieberman is out to protect a precious ecosystem.

Termites of Sin denounces one hazard of air travel, but turns another to advantage.

Check out Mario Piperni's political photoshop art.

Private enterprise in Copenhagen goes green.

This is Norway (found via Now Listen Here).

San Francisco's nuttiest man highlights a point about religion.

The Republican stand on health-care reform has softened.

Looks like Glenn Beck has pissed off the wrong people.

There's a rep for that.

Internet sleuths track down the mysterious spider pool (found via Mendip).

Being a pagan in Australia involves certain complications.

MySpace was booming -- until the tie-wearing types got hold of it (found via Oliver Willis).

The "word fingerprint" can settle the authorship of documents.

Dana Perino, fresh from her claim that there were no terrorist attacks during Bush's Presidency, now gives him credit for the Copenhagen conference.

America looks different from the outside.

Think the Democrats haven't accomplished much since taking over? Read this.

Today Houston may elect the first openly-lesbian mayor of a major American city. Update: She wins!

Politics Plus collects some worthwhile assessments of the Senate health-reform compromise.

24ahead takes a sober look at the tea party movement. More here.

Harlan Ellison gives his views on God.

Here's a man who had faith.

The Economist investigates a global-warming denialist claim. The comment thread here gets down to business.

Russia is establishing diplomatic relations with a freedom-hating fascist theocracy.

Monday's protests in Iran were a nationwide phenomenon.

Obama's Afghanistan policy is gaining support.

Some jihadists in Pakistan aren't Pakistani.

How bad are conditions on the West Bank?

Lizards! Lizards! Lizards!

The calls of the Campbell's monkey show traits characteristic of true language, though in fact the examples given seem to be more like word-compounding than "syntax". (Contrary to the article, chimpanzees who are taught language can combine words into short sentences; the point, however, is that these monkeys are doing these things naturally, without being taught by humans.)

Cymothoa exigua is a uniquely disgusting life form.

2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record (found via Oliver Willis).

Another tool to fight global warming: genetically-engineered, solar-powered bacteria convert carbon dioxide into fuel.

09 December 2009

Sexual common sense

That no-nonsense gal from the "Origin of Stupidity" video is back with another one on sex education and Christian "side hugs" (found via Oliver Willis). Previous video here, her blog here.

The real "pro-life" battle

The Manhattan Beach Project is a collaboration of scientists and entrepreneurs whose goal is to defeat the world's biggest killer -- the aging process -- by 2029. Its summit last month aimed to speed up progress by bringing together researchers from different disciplines. Article here (found via Mendip). The importance of any one project to the global struggle against aging shouldn't be exaggerated -- aging will be defeated gradually by the cumulative development of many different lines of technology, some of which are already coming into use -- but the more researchers treat the eradication of aging as an explicit goal, the better.

Earlier postings on this topic here and here. FAQ on common objections here.

Going, going, gone?

There has been a flurry of reports that the Senate is reaching a deal to remove the public option from its final health-care reform bill (links here), which would pretty much turn the reform into a mere meaningless sham. If the tighter abortion restrictions proposed by conservatives survive into the final deal, the reform will actually be a step backward and we'll be better off if it doesn't pass.

But -- not so fast. The details of the final deal have not been made public yet, and even if the public option is gone from the Senate version, it is still in the House version (although those abortion restrictions are there as well), and the two versions will need to be reconciled. We'll have to wait and see -- and be prepared to put pressure on legislators.

Update: According to some reports, the Senate version includes an expansion of Medicare eligibility to uninsured people between 55 and 65. If true, this could play the same role as a limited public option would have done: by competing with private insurance for at least some customers, it will put downward pressure on prices, and if it helps people, it will create political pressure to make it more widely available, eventually to everyone.

Also, the Medicare expansion would be available in 2010 rather than being delayed until 2014. Anything that won't take effect for four years is highly dubious -- that just means four years for the insurance companies to scheme and bribe legislators to get it canceled. If we can really get this, it might be better than a public option years in the future that might never materialize.

Update 2 (10 Dec. 2009): Other liberals are voicing the view that the Medicare expansion might actually be better than the weak public option that was being proposed.

08 December 2009

Green revolution

Monday's wave of protests across Iran showed that the goals of the "green" uprising are becoming more explicitly radical. This is no longer just about the stolen election and Mousavi and "reform" of the Islamic Republic, if it ever was.

Some protesters burned pictures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader and real ruler of Iran (the "Presidency" occupied by Ahmadinejad is a subordinate position), and even of Ayatollah Khomeini himself, the founder of the Islamic Republic.

Others waved Iranian flags with the Islamic "coat of arms" (a stylized version of the word "Allah") removed (1410 GMT update).

Chants replaced the common phrase jomhuri-ye Eslâmi (Islamic Republic) with jomhuri-ye Irâni (Iranian Republic). Another chant was Nezhâd-e mâ Aryâ-st, din va siyâsat jodâ-st (Our people is Aryan*, let religion and politics be separate).

The uprising is now clearly headed in the direction which anyone familiar with Iran would have predicted -- nationalist and secular, not necessarily against Islam itself but against the theocracy. This is probably necessary to its ultimate success. The "reformist" goal of installing one tired old set of greybeards in place of another while making incremental reforms in the same old repressive system will not motivate a sustained mass movement, however much the Western MSM seems to prefer talking in those terms.

[*In Iran the term "Aryan" has no association with the Nazis and has long been used to differentiate the Indo-European-speaking Persians from the Semitic-speaking Arabs to the southwest -- the intent of the slogan is to emphasize Iran's Persian ethnic identity in contrast to the Islamic identity promoted by the theocracy (Islam being imported from Arabia and not native to Iran). The name "Iran" itself is derived from "Aryan". Nezhâd-e mâ could be translated as "our people" or "our race" or even "our ancestry".]

06 December 2009

Political divisions and political reality (2)

This posting by Bradley Smith at the Frum Forum is written from a conservative viewpoint, but merits reading by anyone interested in politics. It looks behind the commonly-cited statistic that more Americans self-identify as conservative than as liberal, to focus on what people actually believe about specific issues, rather than on what label they apply to themselves. Many people who claim such a label actually disagree with some, or even many, of the political stances associated with that label.

When this is taken into account, it turns out that there are more across-the-board liberals (that is, people who take the liberal position on pretty much every issue) than there are across-the-board conservatives. However -- and this is the real point -- both groups are much smaller than the surveys on self-identification would suggest: 12% to 15% of Americans are "pure" liberals, while 8% to 10% are "pure" conservatives. The great majority, even if they call themselves one thing or the other, lean different ways on different issues.

The message could hardly be clearer. A ruthless commitment to ideological purity -- such as is being pursued now by the teabagger right and hinted at by some on the left as well -- is the royal road to alienation of the vast center and crushing electoral defeat. And that goes for either party.

Hopeful signs from Copenhagen

Delegates and officials are growing optimistic that the 192-nation Copenhagen conference will produce an agreement representing real progress in getting global warming under control, despite the bogus controversy over the CRU e-mails (latest on that here, here, here, and here). Commitments made so far, if fully carried out, would reduce worldwide annual carbon-dioxide emissions from 47 billion tons today to 46 billion tons in 2020, not just cut the rate of growth; the goal is to get enough further commitments to bring the latter figure to 44 billion tons.

A key factor is the change of administration in the United States, whose participation is essential to any truly effective global effort. President Obama is attending the conference, a clear signal that the denialism and obstructionism of the previous administration are no longer US policy, and is offering a 17% emissions reduction by 2020, something which a concerted push for more efficient and non-fossil-fuel-based energy technology should certainly make possible without compromising our standard of living.

Another is the fact that the two rising industrial colossi, India and China, are on board. Both have announced plans to cut the rate of growth of emissions, though this is contingent on economic help from the rich countries -- hardly unreasonable since India and China are in the process of bringing their populations (one-third of the human race) out of abject poverty. It's an indicator that they recognize the seriousness of the threat. Both countries, after all, are densely populated and living "closer to the wire" ecologically than the post-industrial nations of the temperate zone; they would suffer far more from a real disruption of climate than we would.

As is probably inevitable with an international project of such a scale, there remains some finger-pointing and suspicion; there will always be some who are convinced, perhaps rightly, that others could be doing more. But Copenhagen, unlike the ill-fated Kyoto agreement, looks likely to mark a real turning of the corner.

Political divisions and political reality

Obama's plan for a surge in Afghanistan has caused a great deal of discontent around the left-wing blogosphere. I disagree, but I understand how people feel. As long-term readers know, Obama has done a lot of things I objected to, and protested against.

However, there is a political reality that must be kept in mind when feelings run high.

Look at what the right-wingers are doing now. They are devising ideological purity tests and purging candidates who aren't quite ideologically perfect and talking about third-candidate challenges. This is a good way to lose elections. NY-23 was a microcosm. In a historically-Republican district, the hard-line right backed a third candidate because the Republican wasn't conservative enough -- and the Democrat won.

When we on the left start proposing purity tests, or denouncing people as "not real liberals" because they have the wrong position on one or two issues, or talking about backing third candidates or forming a third party -- that's when you'll know it's our turn to start losing.

Obama wasn't my choice for President. I wanted Hillary. But he is the President and he will be the Democratic candidate in 2012. The right may well back a third Presidential candidate in 2012. If they do, Obama will win in a landslide. But if they don't, and many on the left back a third candidate due to anger over Afghanistan or whatever, then the Republican will win in a landslide.

And in the end, the only thing of any practical importance is who wins, not how. We learned that in 2000-2008.

For the foreseeable future, the President will be either a Democrat or a Republican, and the House and Senate will be dominated by either Democrats or Republicans. There is no third possibility. Maybe there should be, but there isn't, and there isn't going to be. That's the reality of the situation.

If you don't like what Obama is doing, then protest and pressure him to change. Don't put the country at risk of seeing a Republican replace him in 2012. We can't afford that.

[Adapted from my comment here.]

05 December 2009

Around and about

Thick fog and the car windows iced up.....yep, it's winter again. After 49 years the regular cycle of the seasons has gone beyond monotonous to become frankly annoying. If I could design an ideal world for myself, it would have no seasons. Probably no day and night either.

For weeks now there's been some kind of construction project in the grassy vacant lot across the street. I have no idea what they're building. The question is, once that big area of grass isn't there any more, where is all the dog crap that used to go there going to go?

One of Portland's best features is its trees. Except downtown, all through the city there are countless trees which are so huge they must have been here long before Portland itself existed. We built around them. Right now they loom spookily through the fog, as if floating beyond the low roofs of the neighboring buildings.

Every so often I get a kind of mental jolt when I remember the nightmarish situation I escaped from a year and a half ago. I've gotten so used to being able to sleep normally that I've almost forgotten the months when it seemed like an unattainable dream. Don't stay in a bad situation. There is always something better.

Link roundup for 5 December 2009

In Florida, sorry, wrong number (sent by Ranch Chimp).

As usual December brings hideously tacky Christmas decorations and music. Middle of Nowhere is on the case.

France's governing party's heartwarming video about the joys of life in France was filmed in, uh, oops (found via Mendip).

"He was a marvel, they logged."

I'd like to vote for this party, but I can't because it's in Australia.

Has Obama finally brought the left and right together?

The Copenhagen climate conference has already led to one case of government interference in free enterprise, but the entrepreneurs aren't taking it lying down -- or maybe I should re-phrase that.....

Rogert Ebert thinks anyone who believes certifiably nutty things shouldn't be President. (But the situation is not as symmetrical as he paints it. Most Republican Presidential aspirants right now are creationists, but I don't think many major Democrats take New Age drivel seriously.)

I don't know if this idea will work, but I love the picture.

What have the Democrats accomplished since taking over? More than you think.

David Frum looks at the Christian Right and Romney's prospects in 2012.

Republican voters are angry, but the reasons are not so clear.

Is Obama too intelligent and logical? (Isn't it a relief having a President of whom one can seriously ask that question?)

Oliver Willis looks at the American dream.

Palin joins the ranks of the birth-certificatards, then backs off.

Bankers' screwing of the public is no longer just metaphorical.

The Nietzschean home-owner! Break the chains of mortgage morality.

Well, what would Jesus do?

Part 4 of Jack Jodell's progressive manifesto, on religion, is up.

Some claim that Genesis is a metaphorical but somewhat-accurate account of the Earth's real history. Bull.

A bare 51% majority of Americans support Obama's Afghan plan.

A US soldier in Iraq assesses the surge there, while another in Afghanistan gives his views on Obama's plan.

Over the last two years the Taliban have destroyed 473 schools in the parts of Pakistan they control (including the Swat valley which they temporarily occupied earlier this year).

A suicide bomber hits a medical students' graduation in Somalia.

Jihadists claim responsibility for the Russian train bombing. Putin promises tough action.

Captain Fogg hopes for some reasoned discussion after the Swiss minaret ban. Most Muslims in Switzerland come from Bosnia or Kosovo, where Muslims have destroyed almost 150 Serbian churches and monasteries since 2000.

Irish nuns offer compensation to molestation victims.

After Dubai's collapse, Marty Peretz has an "I told you so".

Superstition makes it dangerous to be an albino in east Africa.

Eastern Europe before the Aryan conquest was surprisingly advanced.

Who is the real target of creationist propaganda?

Ranch Chimp posts two arresting videos of the effects of global warming in the Himalayas.

Several of Andrew Sullivan's readers analyze the CRU files. Liberal Values links to two solid articles on the "controversy", and looks at the psychology behind denialism. More here.

Global warming could paradoxically trigger an ice age (this would actually take much more melting ice than is expected in the near future, but the post is worth a look).

French scientists use stem cells to create fast skin grafts for burn victims.

The change in administrations bears dividends for science: federal funding for stem-cell research moves forward.

Aubrey de Grey's magnum opus Ending Aging has now been published in German (it has been available in Russian for some time). For my review of the book see here.

04 December 2009

Blogroll update

A couple of additions to the blog list:

RealClimate -- "Climate science from climate scientists" -- is a useful source of clarity on an area in which the denialist nutters have been unusually active lately -- especially since the actual effects of global warming visible on the ground are looking even worse than the models anticipated.

Religious Right Watch keeps close tabs on what's brewing on the Christian Right, including anti-abortion violence, terrorist threats, "The Family", the various anti-gay campaigns, creationism, and the warnings of Frank Schaeffer -- one of their links led me to this wide-ranging interview with Schaeffer, which is a must-read.

02 December 2009

The Afghanistan decision (2)

It's too soon to really tell, but a brief look around the blogosphere suggests that Obama won over at least a few waverers. Oliver Willis has the best assessment I've seen of the overall issue.

As the right wing degenerates

Charles Johnson, whose disenchantment with the right wing I posted about here, now gives us a quick ten-point summary of what made him leave. I can't help noticing that points 3, 4, and 5 essentially derive from the present dominance of the Christian Right within conservatism.

There is no good reason why a firm anti-jihadist such as Charles Johnson should ever have needed to identify with the right in the first place. Islam is at least as much of an enemy and menace to freedom, secularism, progress, and all the other values of liberal civilization as the Christian Right is; they are both theocratic totalitarianisms.

Andrew Sullivan has a similar, somewhat longer reflection.

Both emphasize that their own views have not changed much; it's the right itself which has devolved into insanity.

Johnson: "The American right wing has gone off the rails, into the bushes, and off the cliff. I won’t be going over the cliff with them."

Sullivan: "To paraphrase Reagan, I didn't leave the conservative movement. It left me."

Indeed, it seems to have left objective reality behind entirely.

01 December 2009

The Afghanistan decision

I'm going to give Obama the benefit of the doubt on this one.

The big speech is later today, but most analysts seem to expect an increase in the number of troops, some changes in strategy, and a renewed commitment to actually win, not just fight to a standstill. Many of Obama's supporters are very unhappy about this. I have not seen anyone propose a specific alternative plan which would have a better chance of achieving the desired results. (Persuading ourselves that things would be OK if the Taliban regained control doesn't qualify. Reality doesn't go away just because we decide it's too hard to deal with and convince ourselves it's not real.)

In marked contrast to Bush, who made important decisions based on gut feeling and notoriously ignored experts, Obama has not only listened to his advisers, but has held meeting after meeting, demanding more and more information. He's done the hard work of understanding Afghanistan's complexities, rather than doing the lazy thing and declaring it an incomprehensible quagmire. He has, at least, the most thorough and accurate picture of the real situation on the ground that's humanly possible.

I doubt that whatever option he's chosen is what most of us would describe as "good". There aren't really any good options. But there are options which are less bad than others.

The administration's more intelligent approach is already bearing fruit. Part of the reason the Taliban have been so difficult to defeat is that they can retreat to the "tribal areas" of Pakistan, near the Afghan border, which have for years been under Taliban rule rather than that of the Pakistani government. Recently Pakistan finally launched a serious military effort to reassert control over one of those areas, South Waziristan, and has had considerable success; the subsequent wave of terrorist attacks throughout Pakistan suggests that the Taliban feel seriously threatened by the move. While the government's lunge into South Waziristan was partly in response to Taliban efforts to expand their rule into more of Pakistan, I suspect that pressure from the US also played a role. We'll find out when we see whether the campaign moves beyond South Waziristan into other tribal areas. If it does, the Taliban in Afghanistan will lose an important advantage.

Afghanistan is one of the toughest problems facing Obama. If his approach fails, there will be plenty of time to criticize then. He deserves the chance to succeed.

The Swiss minaret ban

For several years there have been clear signs that the Western world is taking a harder line against the internal Islamic threat to its values created by unwise immigration policies. As far back as 2004, police forces in Europe began working to coordinate a crackdown on honor killings, the murders of women and girls by their own families for transgressing Islamic moral standards, a shockingly widespread problem among Muslim minorities in Europe. Last year Britain set up a "forced marriages unit" which rescued 400 victims in its first six months of operation. Canada's new official citizenship guide, released last month, declares that Canada will not tolerate what it openly calls "barbaric cultural practices" such as honor killing and clitorectomy. And just last Friday a fervent opponent of Islam, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, was elected leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), Britain's largest "minor" party; he "has said he will make the fight against radical Islam a major focus for the party", giving voters a more attractive protest vote than the also anti-Islamist but disturbingly fascistic BNP.

Now comes Switzerland's ban on new construction of minarets, approved in a referendum by 57% of voters despite virtually unanimous opposition by political and media elites. The media in Switzerland and the rest of Europe have been quick to condemn the voters' decision -- but check out the hundreds of comments posted to the article by readers, most of whom are presumably British, not Swiss (it's a British newspaper). As one says, "It just goes to show how out of touch the politicians are with the majority of voters too. If this referendum was held in every Western Euro-pean country then the result would be exactly the same in all of them as was the case in Switzerland."

Commentary in the US has generally been negative, ignorantly interpreting the Swiss vote as a manifestation of bigotry rather than as a liberal, democratic society opposing a totalitarian religious ideology which has introduced barbaric, anti-liberal values and violent behavior into that society.

Some have argued that the ban is pointless because there are only four minarets in Switzerland anyway. But as with the other actions mentioned above, an important part of its value is psychological. Such decisions send a strong message that Islam and its practices are no longer welcome in the West. The cumulative impact of that message should be that Muslims who are willing to assimilate into Western culture will be more motivated to abandon Islam entirely -- and that the more fervent believers who are unwilling to do so should leave the territory of the West.