31 October 2010

Summer's end

Enough of this dreary fixation upon politics. Halloween is here!

Halloween's true and original name is Samhain, somewhat surpri- singly pronounced "SOW-win" (first syllable rhymes with "cow"), with some variation in different times and places. The word is Gaelic for "summer's end". The ancient Celts recognized just two seasons, summer and winter, and Samhain was actually the first of November -- but they also counted each night as being part of the following day, so the night of October 31st was the true beginning of Samhain.

Chalice Centre (where I found the charming image above) has an overview of how Samhain was observed in pagan times. Hearth fires were extinguished and re-lit from a sacred source, and people danced around great bonfires into which goods sacrificed to the gods were cast. The reverence for fire undoubtedly dates back to the Aryan conquests of more than five millennia ago, and is found in many cultures sharing the same origin. Fire was similarly held divine in Zoroastrian Persia, for example, and many modern-day Iranians continue to observe the fire-festivals in defiance of the mullahs' dour edicts of condemnation.

In the British Isles, similarly, Samhain rituals survived the coming of Christianity. As it did with so many other traditional European sacred days, the new alien faith out of the Middle East sought to Christianize Samhain and co-opt it, rather than to eradicate it entirely. In the seventh century Pope Boniface IV declared the first day of November to be "All Saints' Day", and the preceding night became "All Hallows' Eve", from which the name "Halloween" is derived. Yet the bonfire dances continued -- in some parts of Britain, as late as the early twentieth century.

Samhain was observed under different names in various Celtic lands. The practice of "apple magic", mentioned at the end of the Chalice Centre post linked above, survived in the Cornish festival of Calan Gwaf or Allantide (found via Mendip) and in more diluted form in the game of apple-bobbing. Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating, which play such a central role in our modern concept of Halloween, are foreshadowed in the festival of Hop-tu-Naa on the Isle of Man, a small island between Britain and Ireland.

Modern Christian fundamentalists remain profoundly suspicious of Halloween, and with good reason. Unlike Christmas, Halloween was never successfully infused with Christian significance; to this day it remains, in its symbolism and imagery, the most boldly pagan observance in the Celtic- and English-speaking world.

30 October 2010

Link roundup for 30 October 2010

Cracked looks at the five most baffling horror movies ever (found via Mendip).

Christmas lights? Bah, humbug. Check this out.

At last -- an honest teabagger campaign ad.

Some people get upset really, really easily.

A Portuguese farmer resorts to murder to save his ass (found via Mendip).

It's amazing what the apocalypse nutters will fall for.

This could have been worse -- they could have used pictures of Rich Iott's re-enactor group (found via Mendip).

For a change, Islam inspires a genuinely beneficial invention: a cell-phone jammer.

People do get wrapped up in computer games, but this is insane.

Google screenprints illustrate public perceptions of religions.

Vote on the Macaca awards for grifting and race-baiting.

Trolls can destroy free expression if they aren't stopped.

Troglodyte politicians attack Halloween (found via Mendip).

At Deepwater Horizon, BP and Halliburton failed to test a new cement mixture known to be unstable.

"MOTHER FUCKERS.....white guilt ridden assholes, NIGGERS and greasy mexican spics.....we take OUR (White) nation back"..... Just another day in the life of a Houston voter-registration group.

Lauren Valle replies to Tim Profitt.

High minority turnout could help the Democrats on Tuesday.

The only chance left to stop a Rubio win in Florida is for Meek -- or Crist -- to drop out.

Palin denounces Murkowski as a "liberal". The far right is on the attack.

A Texas TV station frets that the decline of bigotry could destroy America. And here's someone even nuttier (sent by Mendip).

Bullies don't like it when people stand up to them.

NOM's campaign against Iowa judges features another failed bus tour.

72% of Americans aren't buying the Christian Right's evasions of responsibility on anti-gay bullying (found via Republic of Gilead).

Arch-bigot Clint McCance has resigned. Background here; some questions for NOM here.

Teabaggerdom is evolving into just another theocratic movement (found via Republic of Gilead).

After an outrageous miscarriage of justice in New Jersey (later overturned, thank goodness), Sharî'ah law lands on the ballot in Oklahoma (sent by Ranch Chimp).

A gap opens between the laissez-faire US and socialist Germany.

As pundits and bloggers blither about "Islamophobia", yet another Islamic terrorist plot against Jews is uncovered.

Foreign moneyed interests support global-warming denialists in the US.

Germany is working to ban Islamic forced marriage (sent by Ranch Chimp).

Next time, don't hold a wedding ceremony in a country infested with religious bigots (kudos to the government for decisive action, though).

Now this takes guts: atheists speak out in Somalia, Bangladesh, and Tunisia.

Tim McGaha looks at the most contentious election in US history.

The marble of an Italian church holds a truly ancient relic.

This may be the goofiest misunderstanding of evolution ever, well- pwned by PZ Myers.

Texas, too, has a creationist "museum".

Does humanity have a duty to eradicate carnivorous species?

Science can bring us moral lucidity.

The Andromeda galaxy glows resplendently in ultraviolet (click image to enlarge).

The steroid hormone DHEAS helps increase life expectancy.

Wired magazine interviews Aubrey de Grey.

Telomere extension to rejuvenate the immune system is already being tested on humans.

29 October 2010

The future leans left

An analysis of General Social Survey data found that, contrary to popular belief, people tend to become more liberal with age. The study (done two years ago) looked at people's views on politics, economics, race, gender, religion, and sexuality, rather than just asking whether they label themselves "liberal" or "conservative".

The common belief that people become more conservative with time probably stems from the fact that, at any given time, older people are typically more conservative than younger ones. It's when you follow a particular age cohort through the years that the real trend becomes apparent. The older generation who are now largely conservative were even more conservative when they were younger. And today's relatively liberal people under 30, if they follow the same pattern, will become even more liberal as they mature.

(As with any such broad trend, one can always find individuals who are exceptions; the point is the overall pattern.)

A more complete report on the study is here.

Even if the Republican party does well on Tuesday, over the long haul the ideology it represents today is doomed.

28 October 2010

Video of the week -- do they know it's Halloween?

Found via Mendip.

27 October 2010

A new Angle on divorce and welfare

Oh, for.....A recording has surfaced in which Sharron Angle seems to declare legal divorce to be "wicked".

I mean, she's running for Senator from Nevada!

Oh, and Social Security and welfare programs are "wicked" too, but not just for the obvious reason that they impose a tax burden on the kleptocracy. It's because God wants the churches, rather than the government, to be taking care of the poor and elderly.

I'll bet he does. Just imagine the power that those churches would have over the poor and elderly who happen to be atheist, pagan, gay, partnered without marriage, divorced, or otherwise "sinful". The opportunities to torment and humiliate those of whom they disapprove would be endless.

No thanks, I'll take government programs that serve everyone impersonally, without a background agenda based on ancient superstitions and taboos.

26 October 2010

Doin' the Randroid stomp, in Kentucky

A very nasty incident outside the Conway-Paul debate (found via Reconstitution 2.0). If this is how these troglodytes act when they think they're about to win big, I shudder to imagine the tantrums we'll see on November 3 if teabaggerdom's candidates mostly flame out after all.

Update 1: Victim Lauren Valle speaks, here; at the hospital she was told she had a concussion.

Update 2 (Wednesday): At least one video of the stomping has been removed from YouTube. Politics Plus fingers the Randroids as the culprits -- surely a mistake on their part, if true, since the cat is out of the bag and any effort to suppress the evidence will just give the story legs.

According to a comment at the Reconstitution 2.0 post, the stomper was wearing one of those "Don't tread on me" buttons.

As always, Kentucky blog Barefoot and Progressive is an excellent source on all things Rand-Paul-related.

25 October 2010

Of polls and early voting

Is next week's election going to be less of a disaster than we've been led to expect? Some of the latest polls have shown some shift in momentum toward the Democrats, but they have a deep hole to climb out of -- is there enough time for enough people to change their minds or recover their enthusiasm?

Early voting may provide us with a clue. FiveThirtyEight says it's in line with what the polls predicted; TPM says Democrats aren't doing all that badly; Politico sees a mixed picture.

Stanley Greenberg and James Carville draw an optimistic lesson from 1998. PoliticusUSA looks at analysis by Rachel Maddow and at the new Newsweek poll, which suggests the enthusiasm gap is shrinking. And Politics Plus has some interesting observations.

On independent voters, the latest data don't look good. In several states with tight races, the level of Hispanic turn-out could be decisive. California, at least, is clearly leaning our way. In the all- important battle to stop Rand Paul, Conway is only 4.3 points behind -- a surmountable deficit.

Don't forget that the situation would be much more dire were it not for the teabaggers, whose taste for extremist candidates has given us a safe Senate seat in Delaware and a fighting chance in Nevada, Kentucky, and Colorado.

One point of interest is that the polls this year have come heavily from right-leaning pollsters, which may be biasing the results.

So what's going to happen? My guess is that it will be worse than some of us are starting to hope, but not as bad as we've feared.

23 October 2010

Link roundup for 23 October 2010

Yep -- worst ad placement ever.

PZ Myers gets another moron e-mail.

Elvira's not a witch either.

Diligent tax authorities demand that Snezana Kolar Tomic prove her claim that her daughter earned no income last year (found via Mendip).

I bet they get a lot of would-be buyers.

Is this the teabag that launched a thousand ships?

Blogging Sleuth is a brand-new blog dedicated to researching and exposing the identity-stealing fake-blog problem.

Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project is making a difference despite the whiners. Note recent messages of support from two prominent heterosexuals.

Third-party candidates are set to have a real impact this year -- for example, rogue teabaggers could cost the Republicans up to 20 House seats.

Rape victims protest anti-abortion fanaticism in Colorado (found via Republic of Gilead).

State legislators challenge the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment.

Swing voters should ask themselves these questions, but many won't.

Republicans may do well in November due to voter apathy -- but not if we keep exposing what they really stand for, which in some cases extends to treason.

Health insurance reform needs to be improved, not abandoned.

Momma Politico posts a guide to the California ballot.

Alaska's Senate race could be a cliffhanger.

More evidence surfaces of racism in the Virginia Republican party (more here), while a bungled effort to re-write history is exposed (all three links sent by Mendip).

Religion is killing our most vulnerable young people (found via Republic of Gilead). Maggie Gallagher dodges and obfuscates.

Bigoted Republican leaders live in a bubble of like-minded people, but their words have consequences in the wider world.

Truth is truth and lying is lying.

Religious fanatics linked to a Hawaii Republican seek to destroy pagan art (found via Republic of Gilead).

Chicago's parking meters are under new ownership (found via Green Eagle).

Merkel dares to say the obvious: immigration must lead to the melting pot, not the salad bowl.

We need to think now about what to do when North Korea falls.

A rot of evil spreads in Britain.

Here's a good example of why I never trust wireless connections -- no security.

This door is sturdy, elegant, and more than 5,000 years old (sent by Demwit).

1,160 years ago, 200 people alone in a small valley were all killed at the same time by blows to the head. How did it happen?

Teen pregnancy rates are falling again after rising in the last years of the Bush administration, but the divide between blue and red states persists.

Parsley's Pics posts a series about bipolar disorder: Introduction, Bipolar 101, Depression, Mania, Conclusion.

Medical quackery is not harmless -- but one anti-quack fighter is just getting started.

Ken Cuccinelli continues to harass climate scientists (sent by Mendip). Hey, who knows, under enough pressure maybe the scientists will back down. It worked on Galileo.

Eppur si muove.....back in the real world, 2010 so far is one of the two warmest years on record (found via Green Eagle).

The Arctic as it was is gone forever.

Maria Konovalenko posts on some exciting new developments in technology: a test of embryonic stem cells to treat paralysis, work on nanotechnology to repair cell damage, growing organs in the lab for transplantation, progress on reversing aging in muscle tissue, and research on cleansing cells of debris and how DNA is repaired.

20 October 2010

Video of the week -- Любовь, Яд

Irina Bilyk -- just because I like the song.

Quotes for the day -- what politics has come to

"I am not a crook." -- Richard Nixon

"I am not a witch." -- Christine O'Donnell

"I am not a homophobic." -- Carl Paladino

[Juxtaposition thanks to Progressive Eruptions.]

"It is the centralization and abuse of power by the authoritarian right which defines the viewpoint of many liberals. While there is some diversity among its ranks, the Tea Party is dominated by social conservatives who see imposing their religious views upon the nation as a proper role of government. Their view that we were established as a Christian nation is contrary to the view of the Founding Fathers who created a secular government. When conservatives speak of freedom, they are speaking like the Confederate slave owners who fought for their freedom to own slaves. To conservatives, freedom means the freedom to impose their views upon others. You cannot claim to support a limited government when you support a government which restricts the rights of a woman to control her own body, restricts scientific research such as on embryonic stem cells, or intrudes upon end of life decisions....." -- Liberal Values

"Treat your voting booth like a car. Put it in D, not R, unless you want to go backwards." -- Politics Plus

16 October 2010

Link roundup for 16 October 2010

A rolling stone gathers no moss, but the same seems not to be true of burglars (sent by Ranch Chimp).

O'Donnell practices what she preaches against (found via Politics Plus). Update: More here (thanks Nonnie9999).

Paladino makes a fellow gay-hater choke on his salami (snicker) (sent by Mendip).

Christian rocker "Violent J" doesn't understand how magnets work, therefore he should shag his girlfriend's mother, or something like that (see if you can figure it out).

Check out Carl Warner's foodscapes.

The German town of Riese has pwned the neo-Nazis.

For a very creepy vacation, visit the Island of the Dolls (found via Mendip).

Yet another befuddled creationist foolishly casts his feeble blather at PZ Myers.

The essence of right-wing ideology is to tighten state control over the individual. For example, there's Alan Grayson's opponent.

NOM's Ruth Institute -- busted!

Republican Steve King doesn't like it when federal judges do what the Constitution requires them to do.

Sometimes, both sides want to erase you.

There are moderate conservatives who recoil from teabaggerdom, even in Utah.

With a drama like the Chilean mine rescue in the news, religious self-promotion can't be far behind.

Demwit discusses freedom of expression in extreme cases.

Europe passes a critical test of its commitment to free expression as Geert Wilders is exonerated -- even prosecutors had called for his acquittal.

The school shooter yelled what? (found via Green Eagle).

Fight the disease, not just the symptoms.

No, science and religion cannot be made compatible. It's time to stop pretending.

The Republican party's global-warming denialism is unique in the developed world.

At last, the US performs its first embryonic stem cell treatment of a human patient.

15 October 2010

Republican tidal wave? Not so fast!

Has the party of WWW (wanking, witchcraft, Waffen-SS) actually teabagged away its chances of a Congressional landslide? Eighteen days before the election, here are the portents:

In the Senate, where every seat is critical, Republican primary voters in Delaware threw away a sure-fire win. O'Donnell is a joke, and I know of no serious assessment which gives her any real chance of victory. Nevada is now too close to call, but that in itself is telling; Reid is unpopular even with Democrats, and a moderate Republican is heavily favored for Governor. Teabaggerdom's nomination of Angle turned another Republican sure thing into a nail-biter. Connecticut, too, has been moving our way, perhaps due to McMahon's minimum-wage gaffe. Even FiveThirtyEight, which had lately been throwing cold water on Democratic hopes, has begun to take note of shifts in several states.

One Senate race clearly taking a turn for the worse is Florida, where Rubio has a widening lead. He's never reached 50%, and the race could still be salvaged if either Crist or Meek were to drop out in order to avoid splitting the liberal/centrist vote; given the ego and ambition of politicians, however, that's unlikely to happen.

In the contentious threesome up in Alaska, spurned pro-choice Republican Murkowski is within striking distance of teabagger Miller. If she wins, the outcome will be the same as if Miller had not been in the race -- except that some serious bad blood will have been created between her and the party.

Make no mistake -- every race counts. Even assuming that the Democrats retain their Senate majority, the margin matters. The more they perceive themselves as retaining a mandate, the better the odds that the timorous leadership will dredge up enough guts to change the Senate rules and abolish the filibuster for 2011.

As for the House, here are a few tight races to watch -- and, as with the Senate, the Republicans are plagued by a sprinkling of nutters such as Iott.

Another perennial problem for the right is hypocrisy. Whitman's campaign for Governor of California has been badly damaged by revelations about her illegal-alien housekeeper, despite attempts to downplay the issue.

There's also the issue of how accurate the polls are. Phone polls which exclude cell phones create a slight Republican bias (larger than in the past as one-fourth of US households now have no land line), and voting by mail creates other complications. Don't read too much into this; people who persuade themselves that polls they don't like are wrong usually end up getting smacked across the face by reality on election day. But with many races so close, even a couple of points' worth of bias could make a difference.

Make no mistake -- we are going to see some losses. The party holding power almost always does in mid-term elections. But the Republicans are salivating for a blow-out. Anything less will feel like a disappointment -- perhaps stinging enough to force the right into a long-overdue confrontation with the toxic extremists in its midst, while the Democrats retain enough power to get on with moving the country forward and cleaning up the awful messes left by the last period of right-wing rule.

13 October 2010

Video of the week -- no witch, but wicked still

Those clever Taiwanese animators from NMA are back and have Christine O'Donnell in their sights (found via Oliver Willis). For their earlier work see here.

10 October 2010

Video of the (earlier) week -- the flying nun

I intended to post this on International Blasphemy Day (Sept. 30) in honor of the day and of Lady Gaga's political activism on DADT. Better late than never!

The Nazi-fetish Republican

Ohio Republican Rich Iott has a hopelessly-scrambled conception of European history.

Update: Commentary plus immortal illustrations here.

09 October 2010

Link roundup for 9 October 2010

Religious kitsch reaches a new level with this snuggly crucifix.

Pastor "Steven" discovers the big wide world outside the bubble of sanctimony.

Republican Paul LePage is outraged at a non-existent "tax on bull semen" (maybe he thought they said "tax on bullshit", which would indeed have been a threat to the Republican party).

Check out Wim Delvoye's X-ray erotica.

O'Donnell's "I am you" ad raises a question.

Democrats want to de-fund a failed government program.

There is a war on Christmas, and Christians are waging it.

NOM's "Vota tus valores" bus tour sputters to the finish line.

Joe the Plumber has taken up a new cause: supporting cruelty against adorable puppies.

John Mellencamp doesn't want NOM using his music any more than Peter Yarrow did.

Hillary as VP for 2012? It's on the table.

Attitudes toward gay marriage and DADT have improved greatly in just the last year; views correlate most strongly with age and party affiliation (being Republican is a strong proxy for being fervently religious).

Jim DeMint is confused about freedom of religion.

Women have a great deal to lose if the right wing regains power. Democrats are taking note.

How many more teenagers must die?

Here's more on the heavily Christian Right character of the Tea Party movement (found via Republic of Gilead).

Attention all teabaggers: the deficit is shrinking, and that's not a good thing.

The Cranick case offers a glimpse of what an all-privatized future might look like. Glenn Beck thinks it's no big deal.

ObamaCare is starting to take effect.

Three major California newspapers endorse Brown for governor.

Levi Strauss opposes Proposition 23.

Arch-teabagger David Koch is funding a Smithsonian exhibit on evolution -- but the anti-science agenda is still there.

The Beijing gangster-regime seems to be in a real snit over Liu Xiaobo's Nobel prize.

Hypocrites exploit sex workers for profit.

The BEattitude has more on that survey showing religious people to be ignorant about religion.

Ken Cuccinelli is still waging his crusade against science. He's not alone.

Susie Bright dissects the CraigsList sex-ad cave-in.

Israel has fired the chief scientist of its education ministry -- for being anti-science. Ireland should do the same.

06 October 2010

Those teabags are full of the same old stuff

New survey data further debunk the already-threadbare claim that the Tea Party movement represents a purely secular strain of conservatism focused only on size-of-government issues and not sharing the theocratic totalitarian mentality of the Christian Right. In fact there is a huge overlap between teabaggerdom and the Christian Right, with the former being, at best, made up largely of that sub-set of the latter which is somewhat less enthused about using government power to enforce religious prejudices and taboos (half of all teabaggers consider themselves to be also part of the Christian Right, while 20% of "white evangelicals" consider themselves teabaggers).

It's an error to think of the Tea Party and the Christian Right as separate and distinct from each other. Most of the high-profile teabagger-backed candidates on the national stage -- Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, Joe Miller, Ken Buck -- are religious extremists who do favor use of government power to impose, for example, the religious taboo against abortion on all citizens.

The right-vs.-left divide in the US is fundamentally a divide between theocratic and secular tendencies, and the practical effect of the tea Party's influence has been to even further strengthen the theocratic dominance within the right.

03 October 2010

Link roundup for 3 October 2010

I can well believe that inflation is "almost nonexistent" in France, but not this.

Actual witches have a few words for Christine O'Donnell.

Sometimes a picture says it better.

Tyler Clementi is the latest victim of technological bullying. At least charges have been filed

NOM lies about the effects of gay marriage in Massachusetts.

We've all seen that recent report that atheists know more about religion than religious people do. PZ Myers slaps down one religionist who tries to trivialize the facts.

Those teabagger-supported candidates who keep talking about "liberty" oppose the right to abortion even for rape victims. More here (found via Republic of Gilead).

Religious totalitarians' demands for "respect" are a ploy to attack freedom of expression (found via Disaffected).

Silent Witness Peacekeepers fend off the bleating fanatics, with colorful umbrellas.

Teabaggers who turn the Constitution into an idol are misusing it for purposes for which it was not intended.

"Angry" voters won't decide the election.

Meg Whitman's hiring -- and abuse -- of an illegal alien comes back to haunt her.

A high official in Michigan is unmasked as a weird, obsessive hater. More here.

Politics Plus draws a lesson from the One Nation rally.

Go ahead, show us the proof.

It's the time of year to go out and harass women.

NOM has launched a bizarre, ill-planned effort to preach its anti- gay message to California Hispanics. Latest reports here, here, here, and here; weird logic here.

PZ Myers purges his home of the taint of evil.

Germany's recent history teaches an important lesson: the health of the economy must take precedence over deficit reduction.

Ahmadinejad's speech at the UN drew widespread opposition.

An appeals court has ruled to stop ancient superstitions and taboos from interfering with federal funding of embryonic stem- cell research, at least until the next step in the legal fight.

This looks like an attempt to find a common language between two species -- neither of which is human.

[A shorter list than usual, I'm afraid. Last week I spent much less time on the internet than usual.]