30 June 2010

Video of the week -- if you never grew old

There doesn't need to be a last day.

List of earlier posts on this topic here, FAQ here.

29 June 2010

The other Supreme Court ruling

The Supreme Court issued two important decisions recently. One, the one everybody's talking about, affirmed a broad right to own guns for self-defense; and I may have something to say about that later. The other, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, addressed the thorny issue of what should happen when a school with an anti-discrimination policy is faced with a religious student group whose beliefs require discrimination. In this case the school was my alma mater, the University of California, and the student group was the Christian Legal Society at UC's Hastings School of Law. From the by-laws of the CLS:

In view of the clear dictates of Scripture, unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle is inconsistent with an affirmation of the Statement of Faith, and consequently may be regarded by CLS as disqualifying such an individual from CLS membership…. [including] all acts of sexual conduct outside of God’s design for marriage between one man and one woman, which acts include fornication, adultery, and homosexual conduct.

The question at issue was whether UC could be forced to extend recognition and financial support to a student group with such a clearly-discriminatory policy. The Supreme Court ruled that it could not. Note that the decision does not interfere with the CLS's right to exist as a group or to discriminate. It simply means that the University cannot be required to support such bigotry in violation of its own stated anti-discrimination policy.

I hardly imagine, of course, that gays or the other sexual free spirits excluded by the CLS's affirmation of ancient desert taboos would have much interest in joining the group. The point is that the school they attend is free to refuse its approval and money to an organization which insults them.

(Frank Schaeffer has an interesting essay here on fundamentalists' psychological need to exclude "sinners".)

26 June 2010

Link roundup for 26 June 2010

There are things that mankind was just not meant to understand.

Mendip is unimpressed with turtle terror.

I hope this form of protest catches on (seriously, I hate noise).

Green Eagle dissects an especially-deranged essay from right-wing website Renew America. In case you can't believe this is real, the original essay is here.

General McChrystal would have been fired immediately if he'd told Rolling Stone something else.

The Texas Republican party platform plumbs the depths of bigotry and hate. Fortunately, it cannot prevail.

It was the Mormon intervention that tipped the scales in favor of Proposition 8.

BP's approval ratings put it in disquieting company.

Only 18% of Texas voters support Barton's apology to BP -- 64% support Obama's efforts to make BP compensate the victims.

Third-party efforts on the left help only the rightists. In fact, the rightists are helping them.

Rep. Bart Stupak says BP is obstructing Congress's access to key witnesses in the Gulf oil disaster.

Sarah Palin's endorsement is a turn-off to a majority of voters.

Twenty states are considering illegal-alien laws like Arizona's.

Fly's Picture Place has photos of strange ancient rock art near Vernal, Utah.

Shameful facts emerge about Spain's record during World War II (found via Mendip).

Australia's new Prime Minister may be an atheist.

Store displays in Scotland provoke accusations of racism.

Belgian police have raided the local Catholic Church headquarters, and a retired archbishop's home, during an investigation of -- oh, hell, you already know what it was an investigation of (found via Crispian Jago).

A creationist politician embarrasses Northern Ireland.

Back in the US, sanity prevails -- a creationist "school" will not be allowed to confer degrees in science.

Scientists have discovered a huge storm with raging winds -- if you're not impressed, check out where the storm is.

Newspapers retract their debunked claims about the University of East Anglia "climategate" e-mails.

Why do humans masturbate so much more than other animals? Because we have imagination. (But goats have the edge in another way.)

We're all frustrated that the Gulf oil gusher hasn't been stopped, but mumbling at your imaginary friend isn't going to help.

Scientists are excited at finding an ancient graveyard in Canada.

23 June 2010

Video of the week -- Fuji Minx

"The Music Made Me Do It" by Fuji Minx, "for recovering Catholics everywhere". Banned from YouTube! Update: See also Fuji Minx's blog, Masturbating Catholic.

22 June 2010

Teabag wars

Moderate conservative David Frum looks at some Senate races around the country and sees a teapot full of disappointment brewing for Republicans. The obvious cases are Nevada and Kentucky, where teabaggers Sharron Angle and Rand Paul won Republican nominations for the Senate despite espousing bizarre socio-political positions that sound more like the raving of drunks arguing in a bar than like the platforms of candidates for the legislature of the most powerful country on the planet. Both of these races had earlier looked, to Republicans at least, like almost-sure wins for their side. Not now.

The situation in Pennsylvania is more complicated, but there too, the process which began with a hard-right revolt driving moderate Arlen Specter out of the Republican party may end up costing the Republicans another Senate seat.

I think, by the way, that a Rand Paul victory in November would actually be the worst-case scenario of all -- worse even than the Republicans getting a House majority. After his remarks about the Civil Rights Act and the libertarian "right" of private businesses to discriminate, his election would send a signal to tens of millions of black Americans that a majority of voters, in that one state at least, consider such words acceptable. Think about it.

But I don't think he'll win.

Frum's article doesn't mention Florida, but that too is shaping up to be yet another unnecessary Republican defeat brought about by the forces of teabaggerdom. Moderate ex-Republican Charlie Crist, now running as an independent, is actually widening his lead over Marco Rubio, who won the Republican nomination from him with teabagger support. Given how Republicans have turned on Crist since he went independent, he'll most probably align with Democrats in the Senate if he's elected -- another win for us. This was thoroughly predictable. Florida is a purple state -- you need to be middle-of-the-road to win there.

As Frum laments: "It's difficult for a political party to think strategically after a political defeat as severe as 2008's. But the Tea Party elevated the inability to think strategically into a fundamental conservative principle."

Realistically, the Republicans will probably pick up some seats in November -- the party out of power almost always does so in mid-term elections. But remember, they've been expecting a blow-out in their favor. If their gains are disappointingly small, or if they fail to make any net gain at all, then the disappointment will be devastating. The moderates may at last be forced to confront the dangerous radicalism in their midst.

19 June 2010

Link roundup for 19 June 2010

The young ladies posing for the Eizo pin-up calendar don't keep anything hidden.

Heh.....it's the Star Wars version of Catholicism.

Green Eagle collects nutters' comments on the destruction of the "touchdown Jesus" statue.

A short video showcases the art of HR Giger (be sure to view it in fullscreen)

Surf's up in Alabama!

LandShark 5150 tells a tale of attempted robbery and applied velocity.

Rand Paul will always be there to defend the privileged.

Polls on gay marriage need to be read carefully.

It's easy to see why Charlie Crist didn't fit in with the Republican party of today.

Democrats might actually keep their 59-seat majority this year.

The Tea Party movement's popularity is declining sharply (found via Reconstitution 2.0).

Compare job gains under Democratic and Republican Presidents since World War II (Obama's not included, probably because he hasn't been in office long enough).

The Obama administration initially refused foreign help with the Gulf oil disaster, but is now accepting it.

BP's claims about media access don't match reality.

Harry Shearer has a few words for BP shareholders.

As a last resort to avert famine, the North Korean regime lifts its restrictions on private food markets.

Christopher Hitchens discusses where morality comes from.

The Mormon Church has been found guilty of lying about what it spent for Proposition 8, but it doesn't matter.

David Makoeya was beaten to death by his own family because he didn't want to watch a religious TV program.

Do the media avoid the subject of honor killings?

A modern witch hunter -- yes, witch hunter -- attracts support from American Christians.

God is good.....how?

Yet another study shows that children raised by gay couples turn out just as well as other kids, and the religious bigots, of course, still refuse to believe it (found via Republic of T).

Scientists wait for data on how well deep-water coral will survive the Gulf oil disaster.

Check out this graph of global average temperatures since 1880 -- and the EPA estimates of how much difference certain modest controls on carbon emissions could make.

The naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) lives several times longer than similar rodents and is apparently immune to cancer. Researchers hope its secrets can help humans.

18 June 2010

Video of the week -- Larisa Chernikova

"Я стану дождём" by Larisa Chernikova. No, I don't believe in ghosts, but it's still death being defeated -- and I like the song.

17 June 2010

The destroyer of minds

This posting was inspired by this one over at DemWit, which I do strongly recommend you read; it has its own point to make which is different from my point here, and does so very powerfully. It excerpts a 1955 novel on the Civil War, mourning the loss which the war's death toll inflicted on future human creativity. Some of those who were killed might, had they lived, have gone on to be great scientists, artists, or humanitarians; because they died young, their contributions are forever lost to civilization.

It occurred to me, while reading DemWit's post, that the same is true of death from any cause. Until a few generations ago even the most civilized regions were regularly swept by epidemics and famines which killed millions; the great genocides of history killed millions more. How many geniuses did we lose before they had a chance to achieve?

The world has come far since then, yet people still die. Because we have become so good at eliminating other causes of death, the great majority of human deaths now happen because of aging. Millennia of religion and traditional thinking have brainwashed us into thinking of death from old age as more "natural" and less tragic than death from other causes, although disease, starvation, and violence are just as much a part of the natural world as the aging process is. Yet this kind of death robs humanity of talent just as surely as death in wartime does -- mature talent rather than potential talent, but the loss is, if anything, all the greater for that.

MacKinlay Kantor, the author of the novel DemWit cites, died in 1977 at the age of 73 -- not even a particularly short life by the standards of that time. If he were still alive today and still young and vigorous, how many more great novels might he have written, novels which we will now never read? If the Civil War had not happened, all of the soldiers killed by it, whose deaths Kantor mourns, would still be dead now -- dead after longer lives, yes, but still dead, their full potential still unrealized because they had only seventy or eighty years in which to develop it. How much better if they had not only survived the war, but were still with us.

Imagine if Beethoven or Tchaikovsky were still alive and working, having experienced and absorbed the vast increase in range of cultural influences and available musical instruments since their time. What music might they then have written that, in fact, we will never hear? If Shakespeare had lived through and seen all the history and cultural development from his day to ours, what great works might he be writing at this very moment?

Worldwide, aging kills more than forty million people each year -- almost as many as the entire death toll of World War II.

Given the state of our scientific knowledge today and the pace of technological innovation, I'm confident that billions of people now living will never suffer the terrible scourge of aging and death. But it can't come soon enough. Not when every year's delay costs us forty million.

Links to previous posts on this topic


15 June 2010

Corporate accountability

The Gulf oil disaster has received a lot of attention in Britain, but with a somewhat different emphasis than here. Irresponsible tabloids have harped on a supposed wave of anti-British feeling and rhetoric in the US (something which, as far as I can tell, has not actually happened at all). More respectable papers fret over possible damage to BP's stock price. Many large investment companies there hold shares, including pension funds; American demands that BP be held liable for the damage it has caused are presented as a threat to granny's monthly check, and some British commentators have called on their government to press Obama to back off from BP (more here).

Such objections are untenable. Any really large corporation has some of its stock owned by small investors or pension funds. If that means that it is unacceptable to punish a corporation for malfeasance by doing anything that might reduce the value of its stock, then no major corporation can ever be held accountable for anything it does wrong.

Investment always carries some risk. BP’s horrendous history of safety and regulatory violations is a matter of public record, accessible to British investment companies just as it’s accessible to anyone. The risk of BP creating a major environmental disaster and being forced to pay for it was foreseeable, and it was the duty of those investment companies to take it into account.

If the American mass public mind starts hearing of calls from Britain to let BP off the hook, the wave of anti-British feeling here which, so far, exists only in the minds of British tabloid writers will instantly become reality. Those who would make such calls need to look at the reality of the situation in the Gulf and re-consider their position.

Middle East theater -- speculation

As noted in the last link roundup, British newspaper The Times recently reported that Saudi Arabia has been preparing to make a corridor of its airspace available for an Israeli airstrike on the Iranian nuclear program. None of this has been officially verified, of course, so it's impossible to independently assess the truth of the story. The original report, with more detail, is here.

It wouldn't be very surprising if the option of an airstrike on the nuclear program has moved back onto the front burner. In the wake of least year's stolen election in Iran, the great hope was that the Green uprising would bring down the Islamic Republic and establish a secular state, neutralizing the nuclear issue. Now, a year later, it seems unlikely that this will happen soon, though the regime has been severely undermined.

One paragraph in the Times report especially caught my eye:

In 2007 Israel was reported to have used Turkish air space to attack a suspected nuclear reactor being built by Iran’s main regional ally, Syria. Although Turkey publicly protested against the “violation” of its air space, it is thought to have turned a blind eye in what many saw as a dry run for a strike on Iran’s far more substantial — and better-defended — nuclear sites.

As the report notes, and as anyone familiar with the Middle East would know, the Sunni Arab regimes fear an Iranian nuclear bomb almost as much as Israel does. Turkey can't be very pleased at the idea either.

Turkey's current Islamist-leaning government views the country's de facto alliance with Israel as something of an embarrassment. But there are important forces -- the Turkish military, the United States -- which would likely object to the Turkish government unilaterally cutting ties with Israel. It's been suggested that the Turkish government engineered the recent Gaza flotilla clash with the intent of creating a wave of anti-Israel feeling among the Turkish people, thus enabling it to present a breach with Israel as a move forced upon it by public opinion rather than chosen. Factoring the Iranian nuclear problem into the equation suggests a couple of other possibilities:

(1) The Turkish government wanted to send a signal to Israel that, unlike Saudi Arabia, it will not tolerate the use of Turkish airspace for an attack on Iran's nuclear sites the way it did with the 2007 attack on Syria. This isn't very likely, since such a message could be convincingly sent via the usual government-to-government channels without the need for dangerous theatrics.

(2) The Turkish government does intend to allow Israel to use its airspace for the attack, and may already have secretly informed Israel of this. The point of the flotilla clash was to create a highly-visible escalation of tensions between Turkey and Israel so that, after the Israel airstrike is carried out, the Turkish government can plausibly claim that Israel used its airspace without its knowledge or consent.

Machiavellian speculations, perhaps, but this is the Middle East we're talking about -- a place where, even more than elsewhere, it is often necessary for governments to put on the appearance of doing something very different from what they actually are doing.

12 June 2010

From Loving into the future

June 12 is Loving Day, celebrating the 1967 Loving v. Virgina ruling by the Supreme Court which struck down laws against interracial marriage throughout the United States.

Recently the Pew Research Center released a study on marriage in the US which tells us a great deal about how the country will look in the future. In 1980, 3.2% of married couples were interracial; today, 8% are. And of new marriages, 14.6% are now interracial, a figure which has been climbing steadily for decades and is now rising faster than ever before.

Obviously this trend doesn't indicate a political or ideological preference for interracial marriage; no one chooses a marriage partner for such reasons. It can only mean that growing numbers of people simply no longer consider race a significant factor in their choice of whom to marry. This is not only healthy but natural -- look at any place in the world where populations of different races have lived among each other on the same territory for several generations, and in most cases you'll see a sizable mixed population there too.

The marriage trend tells us that racially-mixed people will make up a fast-growing percentage of the population of this country in the future (and recall that even the current President is a person of racially-mixed origin). We are still plagued by the antiquated mentality that wants to classify people into neat, distinct racial and ethnic categories -- X% of Americans are white, X% are black, X% are Hispanic, Asian, etc. That mentality will soon become so obviously unrealistic as to be untenable. Race-consciousness is doomed. Time and human nature are its ineluctable enemies.

Link roundup for 12 June 2010

Ragebot has signed off from the internet. So, apparently, has God Lizard. Both will be missed.

Gothic Atheist looks at the preposterousness of Scientology.

Biological nomenclature can be a bit naughty (well, what do you expect from a species that named its own recent ancestor Homo erectus?).

MediaMatters has a hilarious review of Glenn Beck's new novel (found via Oliver Willis). Beck's own reading matter merits some examination.

Lady Gaga's bizarre and erotic new music video is freaking out Catholic apologist Bill Donohue.

At last there's a movie I might actually want to see -- but for some reason it's having trouble getting wide distribution in the US.

BP certainly delivered what it promised in this ad.

Sleuths ponder the mystery of the missing stripe (sent by Ranch Chimp).

Peter Beinart looks at Republican primary winners in California and Nevada.

The looniest California Republican of them all was defeated -- and blames Venezuela.

Teabaggers may spoil Republican Congressional hopes in Virginia.

Let's hope Carly Fiorina's track record at HP foreshadows her performance as a Senate candidate (she's an anti-science nut too).

Ex-Republican Charlie Crist still has the lead in Florida.

Rand Paul practices strategic libertarianism.

Sharron Angle is a gift that keeps on giving for Harry Reid.

Illinois Republican Senate candidate Mark Kirk isn't doing as well as expected.

Arizona drops the ball on its slimiest citizen. Now it's up to Utah and Texas.

Green Eagle looks at irresponsible people around the country.

The most corrupt states are Tennessee and Virginia (found via Mendip). Least corrupt? New Hampshire.

Change.org has a petition to support repeal of DADT. Conservative Jonas Stankovich wishes Republicans would drop the subject.

Here's a big part of why gays are becoming more accepted: in 1992, 42% of Americans said they know a gay person, today 77% do. (In fact, of course, 100% of people know a gay person -- in some cases they just don't know the person is gay.)

BP is hiding evidence of how bad the Gulf oil disaster really is.

HRH Prince Charles, heir apparent to the throne of the United Kingdom, is a twit.

Today is the anniversary of Iran's stolen election. Reza Aslan looks at how the green movement is transforming the country.

If this report is true, the end game is approaching for the Iranian nuclear program.

The Catholic Church has a plan for a comeback in Ireland. In the US, their propaganda skills need work.

NoBeliefs.com has a great collection of photos on the Nazis and religion (found via Mendip).

Crispian Jago's skeptic trumps series continues -- and, yes, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is in the deck.

Ron Pinhasi is excited about finding an old shoe (sent by Ranch Chimp).

Feminist distrust of science harms women.

Arctic ice cover is at its lowest level in millennia (found via Green Eagle).

11 June 2010

Video of the week -- in praise of beauty

"Dein Anblick" (The Sight of Thee) by "medieval folk rock" band Schandmaul.

10 June 2010

Quote for the day

"During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after doing its duty in but a lazy and indolent way for eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumbscrews, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry. Who discovered that there was no such thing as a witch -- the priest, the parson? No, these never discover anything. At Salem, the parson clung pathetically to his witch text after the laity had abandoned it in remorse and tears for the crimes and cruelties it has persuaded them to do. The parson wanted more blood, more shame, more brutalities; it was the unconsecrated laity that stayed his hand. In Scotland the parson killed the witch after the magistrate had pronounced her innocent; and when the merciful legislature proposed to sweep the hideous laws against witches from the statute book, it was the parson who came imploring, with tears and imprecations, that they be suffered to stand. There are no witches. The [Biblical] witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain."

Mark Twain

09 June 2010

Halter loses in Arkansas

A disappointment. But it's just one battle lost. On to the war!

I do think, however, that the White House will come to regret this slam at the unions that supported Halter. Unions are among the Democratic party's strongest constituencies, and they'll be needed in November.

Meanwhile, in the Republican primary to choose a nominee to run against Harry Reid for the Senate, teabagger Sharron Angle beat Sue "chicken to the doctor" Lowden, improving the odds that Reid will hold the seat.

Update (10 June): The White House is backing down a bit from its anti-union slam, but the unions remain unimpressed. More on Sharron Angle here.

08 June 2010

The Arkansas primary runoff

In general it's wise for political parties to stay as close to the center as they can while working for their key goals; a party that leaves the center to go too far in catering to its "base" is likely to lose general elections, as the conservatives discovered in NY-23 and are likely to discover in the Florida Senate race this year (and perhaps in other places, as several Republican moderates are being challenged in primaries by more teabaggish figures).

So what about Arkansas? Are we taking the same risk? Unions and progressive groups are backing challenger Bill Halter against conservative Democratic incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln in today's primary runoff. Arkansas is not a particularly liberal state. If Halter is the nominee, do we increase the risk of losing that Senate seat to a Republican?

It's possible. The November general election is still almost five months away and any firm prediction would be unwise, but it's possible. But there are a couple of important points to remember here.

(1) Lincoln helped remove the public option from the health-care reform bill. This was a betrayal of a basic part of the reform. Parties don't exist just to win elections -- they need to stand for something, even if political reality sometimes forces unpalatable but pragmatic compromises. If any betrayal qualifies as grounds for making an example of a politician -- even at the price of a greater risk of losing the seat -- this surely does.

(2) Remember that the public option polled as much more popular with the American people than the rest of the reform bill did. Republicans like to point out that the final reform bill does not have majority support, but much of its unpopularity stems from the fact that its most popular feature, which did have majority support, was removed from it. The public option was not some radical leftist idea which couldn't have been sold to the political center. The majority of Americans wanted it.

The MSM, eager as ever for a simple angle on a story, has been pushing the line that this primary season is dominated by anti-incumbent sentiment. I'm skeptical; the drive to get rid of Lincoln, for example, has everything to do with the loss of the public option and nothing to do with her being an incumbent. But if incumbents are out of favor -- and I don't think anyone could argue that being an incumbent is an advantage at the moment -- we may be better off nominating a fresh face in Arkansas.

The Gaza flotilla clash -- the larger context

I've hardly been on the net for the last couple of days, but luckily Green Eagle has been keeping an eye on this story. Here's the historical reality behind Helen Thomas's anti-Semitic remarks, a look at the Hamas charter to remind us of the nature of what Israel is being expected to negotiate with, and a roundup of disturbing commentary from some of our fellow leftists.

From other sources, here are overviews of the clash from The New Republic and The Daily Beast, Oliver Willis on excuse-making for Helen Thomas, and the reaction of the American people: by an overwhelming margin Americans blame the flotilla "activists", not Israel, for the deaths.

05 June 2010

Link roundup for 5 June 2010

Four Dinners continues to have fun teaching student drivers. It looks like somebody here needs a driving instructor.

I think this Portland coffee shop is about to lose a lot of business (sent by Ranch Chimp).

Animal abuse is fun.

Yes, the Confederacy was all about slavery.

Republican candidates in Maine are backing away from the state party's nutty, teabaggerized platform (found via Oliver Willis).

In a rebuke to Rand Paul, Kentucky's state senate -- including Republicans -- affirms its opposition to discrimination. A new Rasmussen poll shows Paul's support dropping. But he does have some allies.

Most US economic growth in the first quarter was due to private-sector spending, not government spending.

There is a persistent myth that Congressional pressure on lenders to provide housing loans to poor people who couldn't afford them was a major cause of our recent economic woes. Paul Krugman addresses that myth here (found via Green Eagle).

Stark photos drive home the fate of birds in the Gulf oil disaster (found via Oliver Willis). Americans know who is to blame. PZ Myers proposes retribution.

Some have proposed sealing the oil leak with an atomic bomb, but that's probably not a good idea.

A foreign government is helping its citizens violate US law.

The Gaza flotilla incident isn't the first time that Turkey's Islamist-leaning government has deliberately stirred up tensions.

A top Chinese banker warns that China's economy may be headed for trouble.

Paul Gill has been walking across Ireland to protest that country's new anti-blasphemy law, and he has attracted a lot of support (Ireland's Justice Minister has promised a referendum on the law this year).

Pharyngula has a song about priests and deaf boys, and a tale of a priest pensioned off.

Pat Condell has some more choice words about religion.

48 state governments have joined Albert Snyder's lawsuit against the Westboro Baptist Church.

Bay of Fundie visits the New Age fair in San Francisco.

Both in the US and globally, the pill remains the most popular form of contraception.

Stereotypes discourage women from becoming scientists -- in more ways than one.

Technology enables an eight-month-old baby, deaf since birth, to hear (found via Oliver Willis).

03 June 2010

British Petroleum and the Gulf disaster

ABC has been delving into British Petroleum's past safety record, and the findings are devastating.

Over the last three years, OSHA has issued citations for "egregious, willful" safety violations to other oil companies between one and eight times each -- and to BP 760 times. All other oil companies combined accounted for 3% of such citations, while BP accounted for 97%. BP's violations of environmental and safety laws reached the level of "outright fraud" and the company paid $373 million in fines to avoid prosecution.

During the current Gulf disaster, there have been several reports of efforts by BP to hide evidence. Think Progress has been keeping track; see for example here and here, and most damningly here.

Meanwhile, government scientists are confirming that the Gulf's "loop current" is likely to carry the oil through the gap between Florida and Cuba and into the Atlantic, where it will be caught up by the Gulf stream and spread up the east coast as far as North Carolina, then northeast out into the ocean toward Europe. In the animation video at the link, note how the oil suddenly speeds up as it passes Florida and hits the Gulf Stream; note also that it projects that other parts of the slick will come dangerously close to Havana and Yucatan, making the disaster an international one.

Video of the week -- Bertrand Russell

A brief excerpt from an interview on religion in 1959.

02 June 2010

The Gaza flotilla clash

While reports about exactly what happened are still conflicting, and it will be some time yet before all the facts are in and a fair judgment about the incident can be reached, the reaction has been predictable: Israel has been quickly and vehemently condemned by those who always condemn Israel no matter what it does.

When all the facts are in, it may turn out that Israel was indeed entirely in the wrong in this case, though I think that's unlikely. There is no government, no matter how moral, which does not sometimes commit stupid or even criminal acts, and there has been some strong criticism from the Israeli media. But even if that turns out to be the case with this incident, it will not change the overall reality of the situation. Israel remains the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, the only society with basic values similar to ours, the only place in the region where people like atheists, gays, or women can have anything approaching a normal life. As such, it deserves the unstinting support of other liberal democracies, as President Obama and Congressional Democrats appear to understand.

Even where this specific clash is concerned, the narrative of peaceful aid workers suffering unprovoked attack does not hold up. The flotilla was out to run a well-publicized blockade in a war zone. Anywhere in the world, such an attempt would inevitably have been met with whatever level of force was necessary to stop it, including deadly force, if the would-be blockade runners decided to fight. The whole thing has very much the smell of a deliberate effort to provoke a violent incident for propaganda purposes; more on that from Shmuel Rosner and Green Eagle. Tom Gross has some worthwhile links.

Finally, given the character and track record of Israel's theocratic, medieval-minded enemies (Hamas, Hizbullah, the Iranian regime, etc.), I'm inclined to give Israel very broad benefit of the doubt concerning what it considers necessary to protect itself.

Those who always condemn Israel while ignoring the moral outrages which are routine in Islamic countries are, once again, condemning Israel. But even if it turns out that Israel did do wrong in this case, they will be right only in the same sense as the proverbial stopped clock which is right twice a day.

Update 1: Read this too.

Update 2 (3 June): Netanyahu explains: "If the blockade had been broken, hundreds of ships would have followed, with a scale of smuggling far greater than that possible in the tunnels. Two ships stopped in the last years -Francop and Karine-A - had hundreds of tons of weapons. It is our duty to examine any ship going to Gaza - If we don't do this, the result would be an Iranian port in Gaza, only a few dozen kilometers from Tel Aviv, which would also threaten other countries in the region. We offered to take the cargo to Ashdod and examine it, an offer which Egypt seconded. The flotilla leaders rejected this."