28 February 2010

The tea parties -- a two-edged sword

Where is the American right wing going these days? In 2008 I hoped that defeat would chasten the right and help it shift back toward the sensible political center -- especially if McCain won the Presidency, showing that a moderate could succeed in a year otherwise disastrous for Republicans. As we all know, the right's trajectory since then has been just the opposite of this. Yet the reality is much more complex than most on the left seem to grasp.

While many of us have focused on the infuriating obstructionism of Senate Republicans or the gratuitous nastiness of fossils like Jim "tough shit" Bunning, the real action has been at the grass roots. To start, read this column by Frank Rich (found via Frank Schaeffer, whom I've recommended before as the most useful guide to the secular left in understanding the Christian Right) on the tea party movement and the terrorist attack in Austin ten days ago. As I've noted before, whether or not Stack self-identified as part of the far right is less important than the fact that a segment of that far right has adopted him as a hero. Like jihadist Islam, this is a movement which explicitly endorses terrorist violence as legitimate.

Rich's column contains so many links that I haven't yet checked out many of them, but the most important is to this article by David Barstow (written before the Austin attack) analyzing what groups make up the tea partiers. As others have discussed, it's an extremely diffuse and diverse movement -- if anything, its main significance may lie in having brought together so many different strains of radicalism. Remnants of the "militia" movement of the Clinton era, white supremacists, radical libertarians who favor dismantling most of the government, conspiracy-mongers who believe that shadowy evil forces behind the scenes control our government and economy (especially alarming, since this kind of thinking has a strong tendency to degenerate into anti-Jewish paranoia), and even secessionists. Christian fundamentalism is part of it, but not (at least now) the dominant element. Many teabaggers claim to be defending the Constitution, though they obviously have only a vague sense of what it says, since some of their own ideas clash with it. This is not an ideologically-coherent movement. It boils down to an inchoate xenophobia -- fear of the other, the different, by which they feel threatened in some not-very-clearly-defined way.

What may be most important, though, is that teabaggerdom is not part of the Republican party or even particularly aligned with it. Frank Rich:

.....most Tea Party groups have no affiliation with the G.O.P. despite the party’s ham-handed efforts to co-opt them. The more we learn about the Tea Partiers, the more we can see why. They loathe John McCain and the free-spending, TARP-tainted presidency of George W. Bush. They really do hate all of Washington, and if they hate Obama more than the Republican establishment, it’s only by a hair or two.....The distinction between the Tea Party movement and the official G.O.P. is real, and we ignore it at our peril.....The leaders embraced by the new grass roots right are a different slate entirely: Glenn Beck, Ron Paul and Sarah Palin.....

Rich emphasizes that such a movement and such a leadership, if it took over the Republican party (as Palin now openly advocates), would doom the party's chances with the broader electorate. But that isn't the real problem. Rational rank-and-file conservatives, and the business-oriented Republican establishment, will not allow the party to be taken over by paranoid crackpots.

The real problem is that, if Rich and Barstow are right about the ideas driving the tea partiers and about their determination and energy, the Republican party is not going to be able to co-opt them either. They won't be reachable by normal political logic. They are following their own trajectory, and it is leading them away from the mainstream Republican party. Well before this year's election, the split should be irrevocable, and it could remain so for years. Whether the tea partiers form a third party (or several) or rally around a hodgepodge of third candidates, they will be a separate force, dividing the right-wing vote. And as I discussed here, that will work to the benefit of the Democrats -- provided the left remains reasonably united at the ballot box.

I've dismissed the polls that predict massive Democratic losses in the House and Senate this year, on the grounds that they largely reflect discontent with the party in power fueled by ongoing high unemployment, and that the Democrats' fortunes will improve as jobs return. But the bizarre fragmentation now afflicting the right could be an even more important factor. If my expectations about this prove accurate, it could mean a succession of comfortable Democratic electoral victories.

But this period of stable Democratic political control may come at a high price. Frustration will further exacerbate the teabaggers' radicalism, paranoia, and violence. The new wave of right-wing terrorism which has already begun with the Tiller murder and the Austin attack may be worse than anyone now expects.

It's going to be an interesting next few years.

How to quit a church

A curious point I ran across on the internet today: Did you know that if you were ever baptized as a member of the Catholic Church, the Church still counts you as a member -- even if you no longer attend services or believe in God? Even if you've joined another religion or become an atheist?

The Catholic Church claims to have about a billion members, but if they are counting everyone who was ever formally recorded as a member regardless of what that person now practices or believes (or doesn't), that figure might well be considerably inflated.

Believe it or not, the Church actually has a standard procedure for resigning, which anyone who is on record as a Catholic must use in order to be removed from that billion-strong roster of members. You have to write a letter in a certain format and get it witnessed. A description of the procedure is here; an actual resignation letter from an ex-Catholic and a response (from a Cardinal!) are here.

If you've ever belonged to a religion and ditched it, you may want to look into whether or not they have a similar procedure, in case you're still being used as part of an inflated claim of membership size. A commenter on the post linked above says that the Mormon Church, for example, has a similar resignation process. If you're an ex-Muslim, however, it might be wiser to keep quiet about it, since the mandatory response in such a case is a death warrant.

Meditation #1: grey now, bright future

Quia tenebrae non obscurabuntur
Et nox sicut dies illuminabitur.....

The future will not be just more of the same. Gold does not tarnish.

Forget the willful blindness that turns always to trivia and quarrel.

What use is it for the eye to see if the mind cannot? The bee sees the flower, but does not perceive the beauty. The illiterate sees the lines of text but draws no meaning from them. The ignorant looks at the Parthenon but sees only the crumbling old stone structure, not the history. What are you not seeing that is all around you in plain sight?

I do not only look, I see, and I will not be cast out into the filth.

It is possible that if chimpanzees could comprehend our human achievements, they would envy and hate us for them. It is possible that if a caterpillar could see a vision of the butterfly it is destined to become, it would be terrified, and turn away. Cast out the fear.

Your "secret knowledge", your conspiracy theories, your faith, are but blinders of gloom and grey against the coruscation of life and color all around you. You deserve better.

Each one of the seven billion of us is a uniquely-wired neurological universe, a secret kaleidoscope of variety.

"I am alone: there is no God where I am." And no need for Bibles or for barbershops.

Or for death.

Minök - Lokim - Mortha - Sket!

Begone!

27 February 2010

Link roundup for 27 February 2010

Looks like Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign is in get-tough mode (found via Truth 101).

Natural selection is still working.

Being a Mormon missionary looks more fun than I realized.

Look -- it's two feet of snow!

Steele is just following Republican practice.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.....

How is salvation achieved?

Christopher Hitchens denounces international sports (found via Russell Blackford, who quotes a hilarious comment on Hitchens's article).

Anyone who gets upset about this cannot be taken seriously.

Obama Islamic crescent Muslim right-wing blah blah blah.....

We are smarter than they are.

Part of the revolution may be televised.

Paranoia strikes deep.

Scientifically-illiterate people are scientifically illiterate.

Tom Degan reviews CPAC (for a conservative view see here).

Virginia skimps on worker protection (sent by Mendip).

Shocked at recent rises in health-insurance premiums? Hey, they need the money.

Palin's ambition poses a religious problem.

Not all rich people pay 17% of their income in taxes.

Teabaggers are blowing a gasket over Scott Brown's vote on the jobs bill, but he never was one of them.

The CBO estimates that the stimulus increased employment by 1.0 to 2.1 million last quarter, and its effects will grow through 2010.

Those teabagger schemes to recall Senators are unconstitutional.

Religious bigots freak out at a ground-breaking meeting between Obama administration officials and atheists.

A little-known story from the 1920s illustrates once again the murderous vileness of puritan moralists.

One Palin baby or two? I'm still trying to figure out whether this means anything.

The European economic crisis is producing impressive levels of acrimony between Greece and Germany.

Teabaggers in Britain? Not quite.

Michael J. Totten cuts through the nonsense about the Mabhouh assassination.

Qaddhafi has declared a jihad on Switzerland over its minaret ban.

Solar power is going big.

Elephants issue birth announcements.

Howard Friel fact-checks the books of global-warming denialist Bjørn Lomborg, with predictable results (found via Pharyngula).

Treachery and self-interested plotting are rife among royalty (found via Mendip).

Embryonic stem cells cure retinitis pigmentosa blindness in mice.

Researchers are already using stem cells to treat human cardio-vascular disease in Germany and Slovenia.

25 February 2010

Video of the week



A place I'd like to visit someday.

The third-party delusion

Amidst all of the predictable incessant bitching about how the Democrats, in an entire thirteen months in power, have not yet managed to accomplish perfectly-easy tasks like completely pulling the economy out of the Bush recession, bringing peace to Afghanistan and Iraq, passing health reform, giving everybody in America a job, and generally delivering Utopia, we are starting to hear mutterings that the system is so broken and corrupt that a third party is needed.

Leaving aside the questions of whether American politics is in fact irredeemably corrupt and whether the Democrats have been under-achieveing -- neither is true -- who actually benefits from third-party talk? I speak here not of how things should be, but of how things are.

Our country has had lots of third parties in its history. There are lots of them right now. The number of them that have actually gotten anywhere is, shall we say, a round figure.

The only thing that a third party or third candidate has ever done is to tip an occasional election to the major party or candidate more opposite to itself. Perot tipped the 1992 and 1996 elections to Clinton, and Nader tipped the 2000 election to Bush. These examples, by the way, illustrate why the use of third-candidate votes to "send a message" to the system is a delusion. In practice, all that matters is who wins and assumes the office, not why they won. Did whatever "message" Perot's voters were trying to send have any impact during the Clinton Presidency? No, no more than the Nader voters' message made any difference during the Bush years. Clinton assumed the Presidency, and then Bush did. That was the only thing that mattered.

I would very much like to see a teabagger or other far-right party tip 2010, 2012, etc. our way. A third party on the left could not accom­plish anything except to empower Republicans in those years.

I see two-party dominance as a strength of the American system because it tames the fringes. In a completely proportional system such as (for example) Israel has, there is a hodgepodge of small parties in the legislature alongside the two big ones; every govern- ment has to be a coalition, and small parties can make exorbitant demands as a condition of joining one (thus, for example, small religious parties can impose religion-derived laws on a mostly-secular Israeli society).

Here, each of the two big parties is a coalition of groups which are forced to compromise with each other. Fringe elements can be heard in proportion to what their numbers warrant by becoming part of one coalition or another, but not to the extent of being too distracting to the political mainstream. Groups that aren't willing to compromise, and try to go the third-party route, get frozen out. If they do have an impact, the result is to benefit whichever of the two big parties is more opposite to themselves, as noted above. So small groups either work within the system and moderate their views, or work against it and get punished. Either way they can't force their own agenda on the mainstream, and radicalism is discouraged.

The Democratic party comes close to representing my own views on many issues. A party that came much closer probably wouldn’t be viable in the political mainstream. The political center on a lot of issues isn’t where we would wish it to be.

By far the biggest fringe group in the US is the Christian Right. When they became politically active 30 years ago, they gained some influence by joining the Republican coalition, and for a couple of decades the results seemed quite threatening, but the system mitigated the damage -- abortion remains legal, same-sex marriage is moving slowly forward, etc. If the fundamentalists had gone the third-party route in the American system, they'd have been frozen out and also bled off so many votes on the right that the Republicans could never have won anything -- it's too bad they were too smart to try that! But if the US had a proportional-representation system, and the Christian Right had gone the third-party route, they would have been the only large third party, and neither big party could ever have governed without forming a coalition with them, and secularism in this country might well have been wrecked by now. Certainly our social progress would have been seriously retarded, probably reversed.

If our country had proportional representation and third parties and candidacies were viable, people like Nader still wouldn't have much influence; the forces they represent are too few in numbers. It's the Falwells and Dobsons who would be empowered.

23 February 2010

HCR links

With signs of spine-stiffening from the administration and our gutsier Senators, health-care reform is back on the table. Analysis of yesterday's White House plan is at Liberal Values; more on the overall situation is at Hello Mr. President and Politics Plus (be sure to watch the Jon Stewart video, especially the part about Hawaii). Finally, go sign the petition to Democratic leaders to restore the public option via budget reconciliation in the Senate. This is do-able -- so far, 22 Senators have officially affirmed their support for it. Even the original Senate bill would be a huge improvement on the status quo, and the new White House plan is better; but since Republican intransigence is going to force the Democrats to use reconciliation anyway, why not push to get even more?

The poll results at Hello and PP are telling, showing support for the Senate bill in the 30%-40% range but support for the public option in the 50%-70% range. They confirm what we've said all along -- support for HCR has fallen not because people like the status quo, but because the public option was removed from the plan.

22 February 2010

Who are the teabaggers?

Jokes aside, who are the people who make up this movement? The Crossed Pond has a post and discussion in the comments thread here -- I should mention that it's a pro-Ron-Paul blog, although commenter "Thimbles" is a liberal. Andrew Sullivan has a roundup of views on the same topic here.

CPAC odds and ends

The Crossed Pond has a huge round-up of reactions to the straw poll at CPAC in which Ron Paul won more support than Romney (the highest-polling non-loon candidate) and, more surprisingly, far more than Palin. This poll, of course, is not a good predictor of the eventual Presidential nominee. What I think it reflects is the fact that, while Paul and Palin are both cult figures, Paul's cult is longer-established and better-organized (if also smaller) and is showing the same ability to make itself look more important that it really is that it displayed during the 2008 primaries. Still, the top three loon candidates (Paul, Palin, and Huckabee) won a total of 42% of support, more than the top three non-loons (Romney, Pawlenty, and Gingrich) with 32%. This does not bode well for the Republicans in 2012. Update (23 Feb.): The Frum Forum decries the Paulists as a divisive force within the right, and the lengthy first comment on the post seems to confirm this. And it's pretty sad when it's necessary to spend time on things like explaining why going back to the gold standard would be a bad idea.

More encouragingly, the fight against gay marriage did not score well as a "most important" issue even in the CPAC straw poll. Most conservatives are surely against gay marriage (though not all), but many are apparently not as fervent about it as sometimes seems to be the case. The fact that students were nearly half the sample probably helped -- younger people, even conservatives, are less hostile to gays. Update: read this, though.

Finally, Power Line questions the re-emergence of the John Birch Society as a co-sponsor of CPAC. In the 1960s, Goldwater and conservatism in general were so damaged by being associated with fringe elements like the JBS that William Buckley and the National Review took it upon themselves to drum them out of the movement; a JBS resurgence cannot be a good thing for the moderate right. Found via Liberal Values, which has more links and discusses the broader problem presented by the JBS.

21 February 2010

The real revolution: cancer

The October 2009 OHSU lecture "The end of cancer is within our reach" (which I hoped to attend but did not due to having broken my hand) is now available on video on the web. It gives a lively overview of the revolutionary potential of modern technology. The actual lecture starts around the 11:00 mark.

Dr. Druker starts with an analogy: the dramatic progress against infectious diseases in the early twentieth century. During all of previous history, epidemics of these diseases had repeatedly devastated human populations, mowing down millions of people at a time; we were almost defenseless against them. The key to change was a new scientific understanding of their causes -- the germ theory. It was this that made possible the new weapons -- antibiotics, vaccines, and public-health measures -- which almost eliminated infectious diseases as a cause of death in advanced nations and have greatly reduced them in the Third World as well.

Starting in the late twentieth century, a similar understanding of the causes of cancer was achieved; its roots lie in certain genetic abnormalities, which can arise by natural mutation or by being exposed to carcinogenic influences in the environment. The key to the defeat of cancer, researchers realized, was to develop drugs which targeted only cells manifesting these abnormalities, in contrast to the brute-force approach of earlier treatments such as chemotherapy. The first drug designed to work this way, Gleevec (targeting leukemia), produced dramatic results: clinical-trial patients deemed beyond saving showed clear improvement within weeks. Druker mentions one patient, told she had weeks to live, who is still alive and healthy almost eleven years later. Since its approval by the FDA in 2001, Gleevec has saved over 100,000 lives. Hundreds of other drugs based on the same principle, targeting other kinds of cancer, are in clinical trials right now.

Progress will be much faster than in the earlier fight against infectious disease, because of the rapidly-growing power and decreasing price of computer data processing. Identifying the genetic abnormalities involved in leukemia took twenty-five years; such a project would now take only three or four months, and will soon take only a matter of days. Sequencing the genes associated with a particular kind of cancer now costs $20,000, but this is expected to fall to $5,000 or even $1,000 within three to five years. Only in the twenty-first century has such rapid progress in such complex work become possible.

Druker mentions ways we could speed things up even more: better funding, a faster process for approving treatments for general use, and universal health coverage (as other advanced nations already have) so that everybody will have access to the new drugs and also to early diagnosis, a critical factor in successful treatment of many cancers. All these things would allow us to achieve the final victory sooner.

And time is of the essence; a matter of life and death, in fact. Half a million people die of cancer in the US every year, and many more in the rest of the world, so the amount of death and suffering that could be stopped by its eradication is vast. How else could our tax dollars be better spent? But Druker is clearly right -- the end of cancer is within our reach. The time is not far off when cancer will join the ranks of smallpox, polio, plague, and the other scourges that once terrorized our ancestors -- beaten and half-forgotten.

Mini-bio

A quick sketch of the person you're dealing with:

1960: Born, Long Island, NY (parents: immigrants from Britain)

1963: Family moved to California

1960s-1970s: Visited Britain several times

1979: Visited Syria, Jordan, and Egypt

1980-1984: BA & MA, Islamic studies, UC Berkeley

1984: Visited Germany

1987: Left academia

1995: Visited Japan

1996: Moved to Portland, Oregon

2002: Visited Texas

2006: Started this blog

2007: Visited Kiev, Ukraine (observations here, here, and here)

Religion: None, ever

Criminal record: Four parking tickets, one speeding ticket

Times married: Zero

Serious relationships: Five so far

Things I've quit: TV, meat, alcohol

20 February 2010

The terrorist specter -- Austin

I've warned repeatedly (as have others, notably Frank Schaeffer) that the toxic rhetoric and paranoia festering on the far right pose the threat of a lethal new wave of domestic terrorism -- grimly exemplified by the Tiller murder.

It's not yet clear, and may never be clear, whether the suicide terrorist who struck in Austin this week viewed himself as part of that wave. As liberal blogger TomCat reports, "I read Stack’s manifesto in its entirety. The man was clearly a wing-nut. From the text I could not tell whether he was one of ours or one of theirs. Once is that far gone, it’s difficult to tell the difference." But already, at least part of the unhinged right has fervently (and illiterately) embraced him; his inchoate anti-government rage meshes with their obsessions.

It was a rage that expressed itself in violence against innocent random IRS employees. It was the mentality of the Oklahoma City bombing combined with the tactic (intentionally?) of 9/11.

And the most paranoid and deranged elements of the far right are claiming him as a hero.

The next time -- and there will be a next time -- will be worse.

Link roundup for 20 February 2010

I've linked to the immortal Chinese menu before, but here it is again for the entertainment of new readers.

Coming soon: Cthulhu comedy (found via Mendip).

A dissatisfied customer confronts God.

Cheney watches the Olympics for one event.

At last -- clear video of bigfoot!

Dallas office workers get creative with snow.

Switzerland provides first aid training where it's needed most.

Some people are apparently freaking out over Michelle Obama's bookshelf. (My own books include the Bible, the Koran, and Mein Kampf -- not everyone agrees with every book they read.)

That embarrassing Texas survey inspires a cartoon.

Family Guy actress Andrea Friedman rebukes Palin.

The "Big Lick" horse shows involve horrifying abuses.

How much do the rich pay in taxes?

The timing of Bayh's resignation allows the Democratic party free rein to choose a replacement candidate.

The stimulus tracker shows how federal stimulus money is being spent in each county in the US (found via Hello..... Mr. President).

The push to re-instate the public option gains steam, and Obama seems prepared to act without Republican support (all found via Oliver Willis).

Moderate conservative David Frum seems unimpressed with the Mount Vernon credo (more here, his suggestions here). Liberal views from Dissenting Justice, Progressive Eruptions, and Green Eagle. My own assessment is that most of it is intentionally vague, written to send coded signals to the bigots and theocrats -- "we're your kind of people" -- while retaining plausible deniability for the sake of moderate voters.

Andrew Sullivan explains why Palin is scary.

You might not want Romney sitting behind you either.

RedState's Erick Erickson takes a stand against far-right nutters.

If you're being stalked, you can't always count on the law.

Liberal Christians deceive themselves about the Bible.

Catholicism is analog, Protestantism is digital.

Religion in the US continues to decline.

Christianity was spread via cruelty.

Atheism is thriving in Canada -- a country which also has wiser banking policies than most.

Australia may have averted a major terrorist attack.

Michael Totten assesses Iran.

Dir Journal posts a large collection of new-found Soviet photos from World War II (found via Mendip).

King Tut lived a short, miserable life (sent by DemWit).

Jellyfish are cool.

A meteorite which may be older than our solar system is crammed with organic molecules.

18 February 2010

Video of the week



Soon to be a popular item in Germany.

Public option petition

Sign here to support a reconciliation (filibuster-proof) vote on the public option in the Senate. Found via Parsley's Pics.

17 February 2010

Nuke 'em!


Well, it looks like we may finally be seeing some movement on an issue I've been pushing for a couple of months now -- elimination of the filibuster in the Senate. Politics Plus has a comprehensive post up about the issue, including a video of Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes discussing the options (and it's where I found the image above). If the Democrats really have the guts to do this, it would restore majority rule and completely change the range of available options in Washington -- the public option and Medicare expansion could be back on the table, and we should be able to get a far better jobs bill and much stronger Wall Street re-regulation and climate legislation than we can hope for now. Ceterum censeo filibusterem esse delendam!

15 February 2010

The scourge the state must vanquish

This new article on the sociological effects of unemployment is long, but well worth a read, considering the present economic situation of our country and the challenge which that situation presents to our government. Though the Bush recession itself has been over for more than half a year and economic growth in the last quarter of 2009 reached a spectacular 5.7% annual rate, unemployment remains high (though job losses have at least slowed). Left to itself, employment might not return to its pre-recession level for another three or four years.

We can't afford that. We've known for a long time that layoffs kill. High unemployment means increased levels of alcoholism, drug use, domestic violence, and suicide. As the article makes clear, there is a host of subtler effects as well, especially in the case of people who stay jobless for two years or more, and some of these effects are already manifesting themselves in our society. And it is not only the jobless themselves who suffer. High unemployment weakens the bargaining position of all workers, depressing income and benefits and creating a climate of fear.

The government must act. Leaving employment to recover at its own pace would be the failed old laissez-faire non-interventionist Republican model which the people decisively rejected with their votes in 2006 and 2008. The awesome wealth-generating power of the American economy has already come roaring back. The leadership must ensure, as in FDR's day, that the American worker can participate and receive the benefits.

The book of evil

Some religious believers claim that religion is necessary because it is the source of morality, and thus provides the sole objective standard by which to regulate human behavior. In fact, of course, there is considerable evidence that morality is inborn in humans and not dependent on religion, but aside from that, what would morality look like if we actually did derive it from religion? I'm going to look mainly at one example which will be fairly familiar to most readers. There are plenty of others I could have chosen.

It is often said that the Old Testament condemns homosexuals to death, but this is actually not the case. Let's look at the wording of the relevant text, Leviticus 20:13 (KJV translation):

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

Note that this wording does not condemn "homosexuals" as such (a concept which, as far as I know, didn't exist until the nineteenth century anyway). It condemns anyone who has committed a particular action. Any man who has engaged in sexual relations with another man, ever -- even once -- is condemned to death.

This is a much larger number of people than just "homosexuals". Most studies on the subject have concluded that around 2% of the adult population is predominantly homosexual or bisexual in orientation; given an adult male population of at least 100 million in the US, this means there are at least two million gay or bisexual men, and executing all of them (as some hard-line Christian sects such as the Dominionists apparently aspire to do) would mean mass murder approaching the scale of the Holocaust.

But carrying out the actual clear intent of Leviticus 20:13 would mean executing every man who, say, ever went through a period of homosexual experimentation in late adolescence or early adulthood (something which as many as 20% of males may have done, by some estimates), or once had one isolated gay encounter while he was drunk, or resorted to such an act due to prolonged deprivation in an all-male environment such as prison or certain military deployments. This would likely run to tens of millions of people, most of whom don't think of themselves as "gay" at all and wouldn't be considered such by anyone else.

Notice that Fred Phelps, leader of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church (those much-photographed loons who pop up in so many places waving colorful "God hates fags" signs) actually stands revealed as un-Biblically permissive, since he denounces only gays as a category and ignores the much larger number of people actually condemned to death by the Word of God.

At this point someone may object that Leviticus is irrelevant to Christian morality because the New Testament has somehow abrogated the laws of the Old. This claim is unequivocally false. Here are the words of Jesus Christ according to Matthew 5:17-19:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoso- ever shall do, and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

There is no wiggle room there. All the laws of the Old Testament remain in full force and will continue to be so for as long as the Earth itself exists. If you are a liberal Christian and you claim that Christian morality does not require enforcing Leviticus 20:13 and executing every man who has ever committed a homosexual act, Jesus Christ himself says that you are wrong and that Fred Phelps ("whosoever shall do, and teach them") is right.

(Notice too that almost all of the Biblical passages condemning homosexuality which are cited in Phelps's propaganda are from the New Testament, not the Old; they are not the actual words of Jesus, but they are the words of people much closer to him in time and culture than any modern Christian is.)

Many liberal Christians are decent people and I have nothing against them, as people. But they are decent people only because they do not get their morality from the Bible.

Homosexual behavior is not the only sin punishable by death according to Biblical morality, of course. It might be rather an interesting exercise for you, the reader, to leaf through the parts of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers in which Moses is getting all these laws directly from God, to see if you can find anything you yourself have done which is declared a death-penalty offense (assuming you aren't put to sleep by the interminable and tedious rules concerning animal sacrifice). Heterosexuality does not get you off the hook. Just three verses before the condemnation of homosexuality, in Leviticus 20:10, we find this:

And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

You may not approve of someone sleeping with a married woman, but to kill both parties for it? Can you imagine how many people would have to be killed if this were enforced, as the Dominionists aspire to do, and America would need to do if we were serious about claiming the Bible as the ultimate source of morality?

(That would include me, by the way. I once had a relationship with a married woman. The circumstances were such that I felt, and still feel, no guilt about it at all. But the Biblical pronouncements make no exceptions for individual circumstances.)

Another passage of interest is Numbers 15:32-36:

And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath-day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses.

Gathering sticks on a Sunday? Are you sure you've never done that? Even if you haven't, do you think of it as no big deal? Yet this is a crime worthy of death; God himself said so. If you disagree, then you're judging the Bible by some other moral standard, which is to say that your own morality is ultimately based on something other than the Bible.

If we took the Bible as our source of morality and actually did what it tells us to do, we'd need to kill so many people that we'd make the Nazis look like angels of mercy. We'd need to build a dozen Auschwitzes and keep them running around the clock for years. We'd be lucky if a quarter of the population were left alive when we were finished.

Those survivors, by the way, might include some pretty unsavory characters. There are many other ways in which Biblical morality deviates from real morality. Consider the story of Lot in Sodom. As we all know, two angels came to visit Lot, and his house was quickly surrounded by locals who demanded that the attractive male strangers be handed over to them for, shall we say, purposes of which Fred Phelps would not approve. Lot's shocking response is found in Genesis 19:8:

Behold now, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do you to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

Lot tried to defuse the situation by handing over his own virgin daughters to a mob of would-be rapists. And God clearly approved of this behavior, since he judged Lot to be the only man righteous enough to be saved from the destruction of the city. So this, too, is Biblical "morality".

I do not condemn only fundamentalism or theocracy. I condemn the Bible itself. It is a work of irredeemable evil.

13 February 2010

Link roundup for 13 February 2010

Behold the awesome Alien wedding cake (found via Mendip, whose home is now massively fortified).

Most Americans are accepting of gays and lesbians -- but not those nasty homosexuals.

Here's a simple explanation of the monotheistic religions (found via Stupid Evil Bastard).

How would you debate a reincarnationist?

Real tea lovers (not teabaggers) check this out.

I should go to more Republican fund-raising events -- you can win great prizes.

Democrats, too, have a powerful new fund-raising tool.

Tancredo wants voter literacy tests. Green Eagle proposes one.

South Carolina now requires anyone plotting treason to register and pay a filing fee (found via BlondeSense).

Jonathan Kay thinks the Tea Party movement is fizzling out.

Americans understand who is to blame for the recession (found via Oliver Willis).

When Obama gets tough, it pays off.

A Republican Senator breaks ranks. Whatever his reasons, let's hope more do the same.

The anti-filibuster movement gathers steam.

Are Republicans fiscal conservatives? Let's look at the record.

Mr. Charleston is fed up with overpriced drugs, and he's not alone.

If Romney runs for President again, he'll do it smarter. But if Palin does, she may not get far.

The number of illegal aliens in the US declined last year, but it looks like some Congressmen are plotting to sneak another amnesty through.

There's just no pleasing some people -- Obama is killing too many terrorists.

Joe McCarthy never caught a single Communist -- but his legacy lives on.

As Latin America modernizes, women play an increasing role in its politics.

Germany still resists taking on the burden of bailing out Greece.

In Japan, marriage destroyer is a recognized profession. (Wait, I thought the gays were supposed to be doing that?)

View the confessions of a former Christian.

PZ Myers recommends a book on evolution for kids.

It's a big weekend for creationists in Minnesota.

Chocolate may reduce the risk of strokes (more news like this, please).

Artificial DNA crystals could reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.

12 February 2010

Decision approaches in Uganda

The Ugandan Parliament now looks likely to pass the draconian anti-homosexuality law mentioned earlier here and elsewhere. According to Avaaz.org:

The bill proposes life imprisonment for anyone convicted of having same-sex relations and imposes the death penalty for “serial offenders”. NGOs working to prevent the spread of HIV could be imprisoned for up to 7 years for “promoting homosexu-ality”. Even members of the public face up to three years in jail if they fail to report homosexual activity to the police within 24 hours!

It is still possible that international condemnation could deter the Ugandan government from passing this. Avaaz's petition is here.

Thanks to DemWit for the information.

Worth a thousand words

I normally use visuals only sparingly, but there are cases where they can be quite revealing.

First up, this graph has been posted on several sites already, but it's remarkably telling. It shows US job losses for each month from December 2007 through January 2010 -- Bush's last year and Obama's first year, basically:


(Source here.) It's not difficult to see why this has become known as the "bikini graph". Jobs, of course, have historically done better under Democratic administrations than under Republican ones.

Next, a chart illustrating views of people in foreign countries on the US political leadership in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009:


(Source here, with breakdowns by region.) Anti-Americanism is a phenomenon with rather complex roots, and whichever country is dominant in the international system is bound to attract some irreducible minimum of resentment no matter what it does, but the change in administrations has clearly ameliorated the problem to a startling degree.

Finally, one of the most-debated questions in politics right now is whether Obama and Congressional Democrats should keep trying to pass health-care reform. The popular will seems clear:


(Source here.) Two-thirds of the population want to see this get done. Even 42% of Republicans do. For legislators worried about re-election, pushing on will clearly gain more votes than it will lose -- in fact, it will probably lose very few, since the 55% of Republicans and 39% of independents who favor giving up is probably composed mostly of people who would not vote for a Democrat anyway.

11 February 2010

22 Bahman

It's just past noon in Iran and there have already been reports of clashes, and of an attack on Mehdi Karroubi, one of the opposition Presidential candidates in last year's election.

I'll be watching for news on Andrew Sullivan (his first live-blogging thread is here), NIAC, The Newest Deal, and Azarmehr.

Update (4:20 PM Oregon time): By means of an overwhelming display of force, the theocracy managed to prevent the uprising from dominating the streets, at least in Tehran (there were reports of fighting in several other cities, but few details). Of course, one lost battle does not mean a lost war. I'll give The Newest Deal the last word:

The crisis that the Islamic Republic has been facing for the last eight months will undoubtedly continue, with no resolution in sight. In fact, the idea that protests can be "put out" (as they were in 1999) seems to have all but vanished. Things have matured to such a point where simply preventing the Greens from delivering a devastating blow on days like today is all the government can hope for. Survival has become its modus operandi. The economy, conservative infighting, international sanctions, and indeed, continued protests from the opposition all loom in the weeks and months ahead. And while the Greens continue to ingeniously work on ways to better network and organize, the regime has only thought of installing loudspeakers on Tehran's streets to drown out cries of "death to the dictator." Make no mistake, this is not a battle that the regime is winning, irregardless of how poorly or successfully the day went.

Everyone knew that this would be a long struggle. And the struggle continues.

10 February 2010

A revolutionary day

Tomorrow, 11 February (22 Bahman on the Iranian calendar) is the date the Iranian theocracy commemorates as the official anniversary of the 1979 revolution which brought it to power. It may also prove a critical day for the coming revolution.

Here is a good analysis of the situation, including the theocracy's precautions -- and why they may be less robust than they look.

One difference, compared with the Ashura protests at the end of December, is that several more major leaders are standing with the uprising.

The struggle continues.....

The orientation of justice

The weekend saw the revelation that the judge presiding over the Proposition 8 trial in California, Vaughn Walker, is himself gay. At least according to the Prop. 8 Trial Tracker, the main venue via which I've been following the story, the anti-gay-marriage side has, to their credit, not tried to exploit this much. Nevertheless, if Walker rules for the plaintiffs, it's inevitable that suspicions and mutterings of bias will fester in the darker corners of the right wing. This suggests a couple of questions:

1) If a homosexual judge in such a case is automatically suspected of bias, why wouldn't a heterosexual judge be equally suspect, or perhaps even more so? A member of a minority group has ample opportunity in the course of a lifetime to hear and understand the views and attitudes of the majority, since they are predominant in society, but a member of the majority has far less opportunity to absorb and sympathize with the views and attitudes of a minority.

2) In a legal case involving black civil rights, if the judge himself happened to be black, would he automatically be suspected of bias in a way that a white judge would not? How about a female judge in a women's-rights case? If such suspicions were taken as a clear sign of bigotry, shouldn't the same be true in the Prop. 8 case?

In any event, even if Judge Walker were a skirt-chasing he-man to put Tiger Woods to shame, that would not do him any good if he were to rule for the plaintiffs. Recall that John E. Jones III, the presiding judge in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, was a Christian, a Republican, and a Bush appointee -- and nevertheless suffered an inundation of fundamentalist scorn and death threats after he ruled against the creationists.

09 February 2010

Preparing for February 11

The next big wave of protests in Iran is expected this Thursday. The theocracy seems a bit nervous.

Video of the week



From 1988. The power to dream, to rule, to wrestle the Earth from fools.....

08 February 2010

Functioning the dark methods

The rise of artificial intelligence has produced an unanticipated but predictable corollary: artificial stupidity. This phenomenon has been much in evidence recently, in the form of robot spam comments (not to be confused with trolling, which is a separate issue I've dealt with in previous posts). These "spamments" (thanks to God Lizard for the term) are thinly-disguised ads; the "stupidity" comes from the fact that they seem to be generated without the slightest thought being given to making them effective.

For example, one specific posting on this blog, which is so old I doubt anyone has even looked at it for months, is constantly being bombarded with spam containing links to porn sites -- and I do mean bombarded -- there are at least one or two such comments a day. Here is the text of one of them (with the links removed):

童貞を奪ってみたい女性たちは、男性にとって「初体験」という一生に一度だけの、特別なイベントを共に心に刻み込むことを至上の喜びにしているのです。そんな童貞好きな女性たちと高級チェリーで最高のSEXをしてみませんか

Well, that's easy for him to say.

Brilliant advertising strategy, huh? I like to think my readers are on average more erudite than the general population, but as for how many of them are so fluent in Japanese as to be in the market for erotica in that language -- well, I'm not sure.

Here's the text of another "spamment", which the bot at least had enough "brains" to put on a recent post which was still being read by people (I rejected it in moderation, though):

Yes indeed, in some moments I can say that I jibe consent to with you, but you may be in the light of other options. to the article there is still a suspect as you did in the downgrade delivery of this beg [commercial link deleted]? I noticed the axiom you have in the offing not used. Or you functioning the dark methods of development of the resource. I suffer with a week and do necheg

I'm not sure what it means to jibe consent to with somebody, especially somebody who has an axiom in the offing and is func- tioning the dark methods of development, but I suspect that it's illegal in the Bible belt. Do necheg afterwards and you'd be looking at some serious prison time, you pervert.

Seriously, it looks like they're programming their bots with some basic grammatical structure and a dictionary of common words so that they generate sentences in the hopes of being mistaken for real human commenters, but the programs obviously still need some work.

Then there are the ones that just say "Great post! I would like to see more posts like that!" followed by the commercial link, which can fool you the first couple of times, unless they happen to appear as comments on a post about, say, a death in the family.

You'd think they would at least program these things to notice when a blog uses comment moderation, since that means that their inept advertisements will never appear, even momentarily. But I guess auto-posting comments is so cheap that it's not worth wasting any AI on such nuances.

Still, as long as I do have the moderation, spam isn't too much of a problem. It's a minor nuisance, something one can live with. Or, in the words of the persistent commenter on my ancient post:

女性のオナニーを助ける場が救援部です。ここに所属してる娘のオナニーを見て気に入ったら、実際に会ってオナニーを手伝っても良いし、エッチしても良し、これで報酬Get出来るんですから美味しいバイトですよ

Now who can argue with that?

07 February 2010

Chacun à son goût

This post was inspired by a couple of threads elsewhere about the etiquette of blogging and blog commenting.

One is here, by conservative blogger Pamela Hart, several of whose recent comment threads have become engulfed in name-calling and acrimony because she allowed liberal commenters to express their views there and some of her more hard-line right-wing regulars objected. Her current thread is to discuss this problem and to re-assert the more civil standards she insists on.

The other is here, already linked briefly yesterday, by liberal blogger Truth 101, who had been accused of over-use of insults and ridicule to attack right-wingers. He came under some fire from the left as well, for "giving other liberals a bad name". This was not mainly because of any comments he had written elsewhere, but because of things he'd written on his own blog, some of which a couple of rightists had copied and cited out of context elsewhere.

My take is this: Different people have different ways of expressing themselves. Not everyone can be or wants to be genteel, and not everyone is comfortable with an atmosphere of brawling and profanity. There's room on the internet for a wide range of styles and tones and ways of expressing oneself. And the only way that can work is if every blogger is able to set the tone they choose for their own blog and make it stick.

Some people are brawlers by nature and like a free-for-all. If they run their own comment sections that way, it's not a problem. If they go to another blog that has different standards and behave that way, it is a problem.

I get hateful and insulting comments on this blog every so often. Readers don't see them because of the comment moderation, but I do. If I were so thin-skinned that I let that kind of thing bother me, I'd have dropped out of the blogosphere years ago. I don't let such comments bother me, but I don't let them appear either, because that's not the kind of conversation I want to see here. I don't like it, but I just can't see getting terribly worked up about it.

And as for off-topic comments -- I call this "change-the-subject trolling" -- some people simply have an agenda of their own and will hijack any thread they can, anywhere, and try to turn it to a discussion of their own obsessions. This is hardly different from commercial spam and should be treated as such.

But all that is just how I do it. Pamela Hart and Truth 101 and all other bloggers have an absolute right to set their own standards on their own blogs, whether anybody else likes it or not. Any commenter who doesn't want to abide by a blog's standards, or is offended by its rhetorical style, is free to go read (and comment on) something else they find more congenial. Yes, Truth 101 sometimes uses more colorful language than I would, but again, I can't see getting terribly worked up over it. That's his style. The one thing we absolutely don't need is somebody declaring what the limits of correct forms of political expression should be and then running all over the internet trying to control everybody whose rhetorical style doesn't conform to what he has decided is appropriate.

As for efforts such as Pamela's to conduct a civil debate between the left and right, I find them admirable, but am convinced they can only succeed where there is a very firm hand to enforce that civility. There are some people on both sides who can debate politely and there are some who can't. For that matter, there are extremists on both sides who frankly don't deserve politeness or respect, from anyone.

It's in the nature of extremists that they don't just hate the other side. Even more, perhaps, they hate the people on their own side who aren't quite as ready to hate the other side. I see examples of this all over the place.

And it's to be expected that the arguments will sometimes get heated. The differences between the left and the right are real, and they matter. If you support gay marriage, strict church-state separation, and a broad social safety net (as I do), then the people who oppose those things are a force which has to be converted (unlikely) or defeated. There's no way around that.

The blogosphere should and will continue to be just what it is. Everyone will continue to do it their own way, and there will continue to be people who object to how other people do it. Everyone will have his or her own standards, and will be able to enforce those standards (fortunately) on his or her own blog, but (even more fortunately) not on anyone else's.

06 February 2010

Historical vignette 6: Operation Catapult

In wartime, a nation whose survival is at stake may feel compelled to commit horrifying acts against the enemy.

How much worse, though, when circumstances force a civilized nation to commit such acts against an ally.

In early July 1940, Britain faced a stark dilemma. France had just signed an armistice with Nazi Germany, leaving Britain as the lone country still standing against Hitler. Being an island, Britain was safe from invasion as long as it maintained naval superiority over Germany -- but no longer.

France had a substantial navy. And the terms of the armistice required its ships to be handed over to German control.

The British did seize some French ships that were in British or British-controlled ports at the time of the armistice. But many of the ships were in the ports of French-ruled Algeria. A British task force was sent to negotiate with the French naval authorities there, who were expected to be far from eager to hand over their ships to the Nazis. But intercepted messages suggested that the French intended to follow the terms of the armistice -- which meant the ships might be turned against Britain.

The risk was too great. Churchill ordered the ships destroyed.

Trapped amid crowded docks, the French ships were helpless. In less than fifteen minutes the British shelled them into wreckage -- and killed 1,300 French sailors. Given the situation, with their own country's freedom at stake, they had no choice. The slaughter -- designated "Operation Catapult" -- was a tragic necessity.

A detailed article on the attack is here (found via Mendip, who detects an anti-British bias).

Link roundup for 6 February 2010

A graph shows projected health-care spending reaching a climax.

Now this is a fresh sandwich.

Truth 101 comes under astonishing attack for asserting the most basic right of every blogger -- the right to express his own views his own way, without compromise.

Ranch Chimp showcases a stunningly arrogant politician.

Is Michelle Obama a Satanist? In case you can't believe the quote is authentic, here's where it came from, but be warned -- that link will take you to trans-Plutonian orbital realms of nutty.

"Literacy tests"? The teabaggers' façade fades to gossamer-thin, and Olbermann rips aside what remains of it. More here.

Birth-certificatards, too, grace the event with their embarrassing presence.

Mycue23 has a different view of that poll of bizarre Republican beliefs that has been all over the liberal blogosphere. I wouldn't carry these parallels quite so far, but he has a point.

Biden blows away the crap and gets to the point.

Here's what Obama said at the prayer breakfast.

The Prop. 8 Trial Tracker assesses the chances that the case will reach the Supreme Court.

Chevron faces a lawsuit for toxic-waste dumping in the Ecuadorian Amazon. MSM reports here and here, Amazon Watch site here, clueless lobbying here, petition here (all links sent by DemWit).

Economic crisis in Greece, Spain, and Portugal is threatening the stability of the euro-zone (together those countries have almost one-seventh of the EU's total population).

Colin Powell once schooled a stupid clergyman on history.

Citizen Warrior looks at Islam in Malaysia. And Stupid Evil Bastard reports on a particularly nasty honor killing in Turkey.

The Christian Right is engulfed in hate.

God Lizard posts a chart listing the fifty states by how religious they are -- and their figures for average IQ, poverty, crime, and other indicators. The correlations are interesting. (To see the big version, right-click, open in a new tab or window, and click to use your magnifying-glass cursor.)

Richard Dawkins totally obliterates that stupid Tebow abortion commercial.

The big teabagger convention may be floundering, but the atheist convention in Melbourne is sold out.

War for Science posts a great summary of the differences between real and fake science.

04 February 2010

Saving health reform -- and democracy

Politics Plus has a fairly encouraging post up on the very murky subject of where health-care reform stands and where it goes from here. Of particular interest is the Rachel Maddow video at the bottom; near the end Maddow interviews Senator Sherrod Brown, who notes that there is rising interest in the Senate in changing the filibuster rules which require a 60-vote super-majority. If true, this is highly significant since the filibuster is being used to so flagrantly obstruct the overwhelming mandate represented by the Democrats' almost 3-to-2 majority (as Obama notes at one point, more filibusters had to be broken in 2009 than in all of the 1950s and 1960s combined). The current filibuster system is by far the greatest obstacle to democracy in this country; it must go.

03 February 2010

Ask President Obama.....

.....to do this, and to not do this.

Video of the week



From the 80s. Always liked it.

Recent blogroll additions

Mad Mike's America (now in a snazzy new version) is a variegated group-written blog with something of an emphasis on politics but also covering many other topics.

The Immoral Minority, written by an Alaskan blogger, focuses on all things Sarah-Palin-related. If you're following the implosion of the Tea Party Convention, there are frequent updates there.

Papamoka is back in action.

And Stupid Evil Bastard unearths stories of the infuriating insanity of religion, along with other topics.

A potpourri of Popery

Church pressure may have intimidated Hollywood into dropping plans for two sequels to the Golden Compass movie, despite its international success.

An Andrew Sullivan reader hilariously tries to defend the Vatican stance on masturbation (with bonus Monty Python video).

Pope John Paul II was into a different kind of beating it.

The current Pope is about to visit Britain -- at the British govern-ment's expense, or, as PZ Myers puts it, "this is being treated as a state visit and the British government is plunking down £20 million for the dubious privilege of having a weird geezer in a dress pretend to be speaking for an imaginary man in the sky to a gullible public." If you're British, there's a petition at the link.

We now return to our previously-scheduled dubious shenanigans with altar boys.

02 February 2010

Abhorrence

Last Saturday's link roundup included this link about a move in China to oppose the practice (long-established there) of using dogs and cats as food. This prompted Rita to ask why we should feel more concern about some animals than about others.

To me it boils down to intelligence, and degree of similarity to humans (intelligence itself being one of the most important criteria of similarity). How intelligent an animal is pretty much determines its emotional sophistication, its ability to suffer, its ability to understand and fear its fate, and so on.

Most Western people are uncomfortable with the idea of eating dogs (or killing them for other reasons) because they have some exposure to dogs and know about their intelligence, emotions, personalities, and other human-like traits. They are much less uncomfortable about doing the same with, say, cattle or sheep because those animals are much less mentally sophisticated in those ways, and thus much less human-like. The same is even more true of chickens or turkeys, and most people have very little discomfort at the thought of killing insects, because as far as we can tell, they're essentially mindless.

For some time now, research has been showing that pigs are much more intelligent than other common farm animals are, at least as intelligent as dogs, and that their emotional sophistication and social interaction (under natural conditions, not on farms) reflects that. I myself gave up eating any kind of food derived from pigs over a year ago, because the idea made me too uncomfortable.

The more we study animals (other mammals, at least), the more it turns out that their intelligence, emotions, and other mental traits are closer to ours than we thought. Humans are obviously the most intelligent animal by a wide margin, but the difference is one of degree, not kind. Most scientists who spend long periods of their lives working with apes, for example, very firmly come to think of them as persons, not creatures.

(Intelligence worthy of the name may not even be confined to mammals. I've heard of some interesting claims about intelligent behavior in parrots and octopuses, though I don't know enough about those animals to evaluate this.)

There is a great deal of psychological resistance among humans to recognizing this, as is often the case with new scientific discoveries that challenge old ways of thinking (especially when those ways of thinking concern humanity's relationship with the natural world). For millennia, religions taught us that we were specially created in God's image, that we had souls, etc. The discovery by Darwin and others that we actually share a common ancestry with all other animals came as such a shock that many people, even 150 years later, still refuse to accept it. The resistance to recognizing animal intelligence and emotional development and its implications, I think, has similar roots.

The idea that humans are qualitatively different from other animals, instead of one extreme of a continuum, is a mystical concept, derived from religions that were formed before we had real knowledge to work with. Lumping all animals (arbitrarily excluding only humans) together into a single category, as if a chimpanzee had no different moral status than a lizard, is simply an attitude that continues through inertia from a time of earlier ignorance, like the belief in evil spirits or creationism.

If intelligence and its implications make no difference to the moral status of an animal or of the act of killing it, and killing a whale or a pig or a dog is not morally different from killing a lizard, then killing a human is not morally different from killing a lizard, either.

Humans do matter more than other species -- we stand at one extreme of the continuum. I accept medical experimentation on animals, even primates, as a tragic necessity when we need to do it to develop treatments which prevent the suffering and death of humans. But I don't accept inflicting suffering and death on semi-intelligent animals just because we prefer them as a protein source over other equally-healthy alternatives.

Looking back into history, we are often horrified to see how people in earlier centuries accepted practices like slavery and human sacrifice which would be considered totally intolerable today. I've often wondered what common practices in our own time will similarly shock people in the future. The way humans treat animals, especially in situations like factory farming, is a good candidate.

I essentially don't eat meat any more at all. That way I don't have to split hairs about exactly which kinds of mistreatment of which animals are acceptable and which are not. I know that my own choice not to eat meat will not, in itself, save any animals. It's a matter of personal abhorrence.

Of course, if I were starving and there was nothing to eat but a pig, I would kill it and eat it. If I were starving and there was nothing to eat but another human, I might well kill and eat that human, too. But modern people, except in vanishingly-rare freak situations, don't face those kinds of dilemmas. In modern times eating meat is no longer necessary. Other, and healthier, sources of protein are available.

The teabagger's tax cut

Mit der Dummheit kämpfen die Götter selbst vergebens -- Schiller

I'm sure Fred Clark would not claim to be a god, but he gives it a good try, anyway. (I did this comparison on my own paycheck -- he's right.)