31 August 2011

On not having a choice

It would be nice if, someday, there were once again two parties I could consider voting for.

I know of people who think in terms of weighing the relative merits of the Democrats and Republicans to decide which is better, as if it were still the 1970s. I don't have the option of thinking that way, not now.

As I've pointed out many times, what we have in this country right now is a Christian Right party and a secular party. The Republican party is now mostly in the hands of people who think America was founded as a "Christian nation", who reject separation of church and state, who want to make abortion a crime again, who view homosexuality and pretty much any unconventional way of life as a sinful aberration to be driven back underground if not outright banned. People who reject science, not only in the obvious sense of rejecting the most solidly-established fact in all of science (evolution) -- but in the broader sense of being impervious to empirical evidence, on issues from global warming to Keynesian economics to the effects of abstinence-only sex "education", when it conflicts with their gut feelings and preconceived notions.

In their version of America, I would be a second-class citizen on at least two grounds. In their version of America, science would shrivel from official harassment and lack of funding every time it ran up against one of the random taboos embraced by ignorant fundamentalism. In their version of America, everyone who didn't aspire to live according to the conventional family-values model* would be pushed back into hiding or into the disguise of superficial conformity; either way, into hypocrisy and silent misery.

This means that I don't have a choice. The Republicans are simply not an option for me. As it happens, the Democrats are also a lot closer to my own views on all the fiscal/economic stuff, but even if that weren't the case -- even if it were the Republicans who favored humane and reality-based economics while the Democrats touted laissez-faire Randroid insanities -- it would make no difference. The Republicans still would not be an option, not as long as they remained under the sway of de facto theocrats. Because if their version of America ever became reality, it wouldn't be my country any more. It wouldn't want me.

And, again: Can we afford to let someone who believes God-knows- what about Armageddon and the "End Times" become President and get control of 10,000 nuclear weapons? Think about it.

(An excellent source on what the right wing in the US has become is Right Wing Watch, now added to the blog list.)

In the long run, of course, they won't win. Fundamentalists are a shrinking minority in the US, while the number of non-religious people is growing rapidly. Even if the Republicans did gain enough power to implement a lot of the Christian Right agenda, it wouldn't last forever. But it might well last for a long time. Religious fanatics are a minority in Iran, but they've been in power for 32 years now.

Eventually -- whether it takes one year or twenty -- people like Romney and Christie will win out within the Republican party and it will return to being a party one merely disagrees with on most things, as opposed to being dangerously crazy. Until that happens, it is not an option.

[*It occurred to me some time ago that this is one key difference between primitive and modern societies. In a primitive society, there is one standard way of life to which everyone is expected to conform. A modern society accepts a multiplicity of possible ways of life as being equally legitimate.]

30 August 2011

Blog guarantee of quality

This blog will never feature the topics of "the 27 club", reality TV, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Tiger Woods, "metrosexuals", UFOs, Bigfoot, Pokémon, World of Warcraft, miracle diets, celebrity diets, celebrity pregnancies, celebrity weddings, celebrity divorces, celebrity drug problems, "hipsters", Nyan cats, out-of- body experiences, "wardrobe malfunctions", Bing-vs-Google, Apple-vs-PC, Explorer-vs-Firefox, the Geico lizard or whatever it is, Area 51, Angry Birds, "photobombing", sports, Twilight, "planking", Illuminati/Bilderberger/black helicopter/Bohemian Grove/NWO/9-11/JFK assassination/Vince Foster/"suppressed technology" conspiratardia, that Bachmann corndog photo, the Netflix price increase, the gold standard, Dubai's ridiculous artificial-island projects, who was worst-dressed at the latest awards show, those fake-subtitled versions of the Hitler rant scene from Der Untergang, anything beginning with a lower-case "i" followed by a capital letter, or Mayan-calender 2012 horseshit. Because I respect the value of your time, and of my own.

28 August 2011

Link round-up for 28 August 2011

See more funny responses to bad spelling (found via Mendip).

Trees like to have fun too.

A shout from the old gods?

It's time to organize your cats.

Adventures in Nerdliness looks at Nina Hagen.

These rocks rock, or hopefully not (found via Mendip).

Uninstalling, please wait.

The spirit of Christine O'Donnell lives on.

"I was about to ask you the same question."

Dudley the beagle has one heck of a strong stomach.

Take a look at God's Facebook page.

I wonder what's the real story behind the Vashon island bike tree.

Donald Trump is being stupid again.

Bigoted rabbi Yehuda Levin should debate Islamotard Kazem Sadeghi on the cause of earthquakes.

Obama is a demon, Boehner is a Marxist, blah blah blah.....

The Daily Kos gets some weird hate mail.

Conditions change at the border (found via Brains and Eggs).

Pentecostals pester peaceful post-prayer patrons at Piccadilly.

Samuel Whittemore was a tough guy.

Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat is a tough guy.

Stop talking nonsense about the Postal Service.

Progressive Eruptions looks at "the strident clamor of bad people" over Norman Rockwell in the White House.

Out in "mega-church land", bigotry is getting more dangerous.

For victims of the BP oil disaster, justice grinds slowly forward.

People fight over stupid crap.

Parsley's Pics launches a new feature, the (possibly) weekly Right Wing Review.

Celebrate 91 years of women voting in the US.

Schools may not be doing much to protect gay kids from bullying, but rapists apparently fare much better.

Good grief, has NRO really come to this?

We need to keep talking about Cameron Todd Willingham.

I wonder if Bachmann will have anything to say about this recent expression of traditional values in her own home town (found via Ehrensteinland).

An Andrew Sullivan reader describes the terrible harm done by conservative myths about poverty.

Richard Dawkins offers some straight talk on Perry, and the usual pearl-clutchers rush to their fainting couches.

FiveThirtyEight's handy graphics will help you keep track of the Republican Presidential candidates (and potential candidates).

The New Apostolic Reformation claims to not want a theocracy, but the details are far from reassuring.

Hmm, Mall-Wart is in trouble (found via What Would Jack Do).

Perry has shaken up the Republican field, but there's reason to expect a backlash from the right against him.

A worthless cyberbully has silenced a valuable blogger, with the help of a cowardly employer. PZ Myers has some choice words.

If you're inclining toward Ron Paul, you need to read this (found via Angry Black Lady).

Religious crazies are pretty much alike, regardless of the religion.

What if Reagan were running for President today?

Eclectablog explains why he's moved on from Firedoglake.

There's more fueling the rapid growth of atheism than merely the ugliness of fundamentalism.

On closer analysis, 2012 doesn't look promising for Republicans.

Another crazed bigot surfaces in a Florida school (found via Republic of Gilead).

The VA respects the religious preferences of soldiers' families at their funerals -- and some Texas legislators don't like it.

How dangerous would a Ron Paul Presidency be?

I really hope the libertarians try to make this work -- it should be hilarious.

We need more commentators to be this blunt about Republican hypocrisy on taxes.

Texas did come through the recession better than most states, and a big part of the reason is that it didn't join the mania for housing- finance deregulation. And as for Texas's impressive job growth, it consists mostly of government jobs.

Conservatism seems to be partly rooted in an ugly nostalgia.

The Texas State Board of Education completes its victory over creationism, but the need for vigilance remains. Meanwhile, a Rhode Island community college peddles bullcrap.

Stonekettle Station has a must-read post about second-guessing the military.

Some Christian Right leaders are now claiming Dominionism is a myth; they are liars. More on Dominionism here.

Jack Jodell has more on the patriotic millionaires.

France has wealthy patriots too.

A heavily-armed right-wing extremist is arrested in Norway.

The Iranian theocracy's stance toward Israel remains the same.

An anti-Israel "million man march" in Cairo flops, drawing only a few hundred.

The Wikileaks cables reveal global hypocrisy and ignorance toward the sex industry.

Like many such phenomena, hurricane Irene is over-hyped.

The frequency of twin births in the US has risen dramatically, especially among the affluent and educated.

Being bilingual is good for your brain.

What's really cool, magenta-colored, and only 75 times as massive as Jupiter?

This is a place we don't need any more.

A new discovery may simplify the fight against Alzheimer's.

27 August 2011

Credit where credit is due

I've often expressed the hope that American conservatism would return to sanity. Here's a concrete example of the kind of thing I mean: Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's stance on anthropogenic global warming.

The reality of the phenomenon is no longer deniable, and Christie, in contrast to so many major Republican figures today, doesn't deny it. What he does reject is the efficacy of the specific policies which are now on the table to deal with the problem. And he has a point. Too much of our thinking on this issue revolves around reducing energy consumption (meaning, in practice, reducing the global standard of living) -- an approach which, as I've said before, cannot possibly work. A real debate about effective solutions is desperately needed, and that's where conservatism can play a constructive role, when it proposes fresh ideas about the problem instead of clinging to the absurd delusion that there is no problem.

(More on the broader concept of rational conservatism here.)

25 August 2011

The purloined post

In December 2006 I wrote this post about Islam in Russia, and based on the search terms which bring people to this blog, it has been attracting a trickle of readers ever since.

Apparently it attracted more than that. In October 2009 a person going by the name of "Zimtor" re-posted my words here, without attribution (and minus the last two paragraphs). I know that it is common for bloggers to re-post chunks of someone else's work, but the norm is to cite the original and link to it.

Three days later a reader named "Cassie" did post a comment with a link to my original post, so that anyone who followed it could see that Zimtor's post was copied from mine. No one told me about it, however, and I only found out about it this week.

I wonder if there are any other cases out there of people copying my posts and passing them off as their own work. I've heard that such things aren't all that rare.

24 August 2011

Video of the week -- no Asians thank you

This has been around for a while, but still makes me laugh. If you have trouble understanding the guy's accent, you're not alone.

22 August 2011

The Libyans have won

After months of stalemate and slow progress, the final act has come in Libya with startling speed. Less than two days after the rebels began their assault on Tripoli, they already control most of the city; much of Qaddhafi's military seems to have melted away once it became clear the regime was finished, and only pockets of resistance remain, though there is still heavy fighting going on to overcome these. We don't know whether or not Qaddhafi will soon be found, alive or dead, but it no longer matters much to the big picture. His 42-year (!) rule over Libya has ended.

Next will come the slow, grinding political work of designing a new government. The rebels' leadership, the National Transitional Council, has already announced plans to move from Benghazi to Tripoli to start the process.

For the West, whose intervention helped bring the victory about, it means a clear-cut end to military action in Libya, successfully concluded. This may prove difficult to parse for today's pundits who are used to thinking about military conflict in terms of "exit strategy", not winning (just imagine if we'd gone into World War II with that attitude).

In the US, it will be interesting to watch the spin from Obama's enemies both on the right and on the extreme left. For the latter, every overseas military intervention is automatically an "illegal war" and a "quagmire", from which the US must extricate itself as quickly as possible, while any talk of winning is to be dismissed with a cynical smirk. For the far right, well, I've pretty much given up trying to understand their stance on this, and I'm not sure they even have one beyond "Anything Obama does must, somehow, be wrong". For both, it's been Obama's war -- never mind that the Libyan rebels have done the actual ground fighting (and dying), and that even the Western intervention was much more a French and British project than an American one.

They'll seize upon every misstep by the rebels (and there will be some -- there always are) and upon every problem and obstacle that arises as the new government takes shape. They'll clutch at every straw to paint the intervention as a failure and a mistake.

But the reality is clear. It will soon be over, we've won, and more importantly, the Libyans have won.

21 August 2011

Link round-up for 21 August 2011

Here's Cthulhu art fit for a church (found via Mendip).

Here's an awesome take-down of the Ron Paul cult.

Wearing pants is the root of all evil, apparently.

Not even God wanted to hear the old monster's blather.

Blonde Nonbeliever defines the O'Reilly argument -- and finds examples everywhere.

An innocent family man falls prey to the blimp terror (found via Mendip).

This may be the dumbest example of Bible-based "science" I've ever seen (found via Blonde Nonbeliever).

Tuscan friars aren't very forgiving of Bible thieves (found via Mendip).

Also, the Aztecs, the Ostrogoths, and Babylonia.

Maybe they should nominate the cobra.

Hysterical Raisins looks at The Picture of Rick Scott.

Madonna is 53 and doing well.

Amanda Marcotte takes a sober look at "market" theories of sexuality.

Speaking of things there's a market for.....

Let's go digging through the history of the Christian Right.

"Mabus" is arrested, at last.

HRC looks at Perry's anti-gay record. Dissenting Justice looks at his plans for the Constitution (more on his bizarre ideas here, class warfare here). There are issues with his jobs record (more here). Peter Fegan sees him as the new Reagan; Kevin Drum thinks he can't win. His Bernanke gaffe is already causing concern among Republicans. And the ghost of Cameron Todd Willingham still haunts. More Perry links here.

Texas Freedom Network has an overview of Perry's culture-war record.

Don't underestimate Perry -- or Bachmann either.

Frum hopes Republicans learn these lessons from Palin.

Religion is declining among women.

Even Republican economists agree: austerity-mania won't help with job growth or deficit reduction.

A former member exposes the Tea Party as a Trojan horse for theocracy.

Here's one group more unpopular than atheists.

Yes, this is extremism.

Standing up to bullies can be difficult.

Think unions have too much political influence? In 2010, political contributions by all unions combined were less than those by Karl Rove's PAC alone.

Alex Pareene looks at Republican candidates and science. Noah Kristula-Green wants evolution to be a topic in the Republican debates.

As Huntsman has little chance to win the Republican nomination, he's free to adopt the role of truth-teller. More here. One blogger thinks he has a chance.

Teabagger brinkmanship provokes a mass public backlash.

Nance Greggs has a message for the radical left. More here.

If you don't like Obama, how bad would the Republican candidate have to be to get you to vote for him?

"Patriotic millionaires" talk sense to the Republican party.

Budget-cutting mania now threatens veterans' retirements (found via Jobsanger).

Texas education has fended off the creationists, but faces another damaging influence -- football.

Bachmann seems hesitant about clarifying her bigotry (found via What Would Jack Do).

Here's much more on Bachmann and her Dominionist inclinations.

Ranch Chimp looks at the West Memphis 3, with a follow-up.

Ideology and religion make it harder for rural Texas to cope with drought (found via What Would Jack Do).

The return of otters throughout England shows the success of the environmental clean-up.

Christopher Hitchens looks at British violence.

Britain can learn from Glasgow's successful anti-violence program.

Bigots rally in Australia, but a majority of Christians there now support gay marriage (found via Republic of Gilead).

In Scotland, support is at almost two-thirds.

Despite the predictable barrage of negative media spin, Strauss- Kahn's accuser retains credibility.

Europeans: march for sanity.

Beck goes to Israel, and sounds just as stupid as ever (found via Republic of Gilead).

A wedding in Cuba shows how attitudes there are changing.

Top Russian officials support a tunnel linking the US and Russia.

Muslim blogger Wajahat Ali looks at the annoyances of Ramadan.

Egyptian parties form a secular political alliance to resist Islamist pressures on their country's emerging democracy.

Libyan rebels score more military successes, closing in on Tripoli itself, where protests have erupted and face brutal repression. Some declare the beginning of the end for Qaddhafi.

Despite repression, the uprising in Syria just keeps growing.

Tim McGaha looks at an almost-forgotten French air crash.

Intelligence doesn't mean you can't be fooled.

IBM's new chip emulates the structure of the brain (though the chip has up to 262,144 synapses, while the human brain has about 100 trillion).

The big human brain brings great benefits but at great metabolic cost.

There's a new breakthrough in birth control, though so far only for animals (found via Uzza).

19 August 2011

Video of the week -- they are big, but we are many

"Links-2-3-4 (Left-2-3-4)" by Rammstein.

Sie wollen mein Herz am rechten Fleck, doch
Seh' ich dann nach unten weg
Da schlägt es links

"They want my heart on the right side, but
When I look down
It beats left"

(This band is sometimes accused of being right-wing.)

A note: today is the fifth anniversary of this blog.

18 August 2011

The Dominionist base

As a follow-up to the posting below, I'd encourage everyone to take a look at this analysis of the reasons for the Tea Party's plummeting popularity. While it seems clear that the House teabaggers' role in the debt-ceiling hostage crisis has a lot to do with it, there's another factor, one which has more to do with the rank-and-file teabaggers:

More important, they were disproportionately social conserva- tives in 2006 — opposing abortion, for example — and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek “deeply religious” elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller govern- ment, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.

This puts them out of step with mainstream America:

Yet it is precisely this infusion of religion into politics that most Americans increasingly oppose. While over the last five years Americans have become slightly more conservative economi- cally, they have swung even further in opposition to mingling religion and politics. It thus makes sense that the Tea Party ranks alongside the Christian Right in unpopularity.

This, of course, explains why the teabaggers find the Dominionist- influenced Presidential candidates, Bachmann and Perry, so appealing.

This is what it has come to; this is now the Republican party's base. If Bachmann or Perry achieves the Republican nomination for President, the transformation will be complete -- America's two major parties will be, de facto, a Dominionist party and a secular party. Which, frankly, is pretty much the way it looks already.

16 August 2011

The drive toward minority rule in the US

The de-Christianization of the United States, a trend clearly under way for several decades, has accelerated dramatically since the turn of the century. Do take the time to read this article on the subject; it's long but well worth it.

Today the percentage of Americans who say they have no religion at all has risen to 17%, or one in six, a proportion which would have astonished people as recently as ten years ago; and given the depth of prejudice that remains, the real number (counting those who prefer not to declare themselves on a survey) must be larger. One in ten Americans is an ex-Catholic, though many of those presumably left Catholicism for some other form of Christianity. "Mainline" Protestant churches, to which over 50% of Americans belonged in 1965, have shrunk to 8% today. And these trends are strongest by far among the young. Not only does the under-30 age group include the highest proportion of non-religious, but they also are increasingly outspoken in defending their rights -- and the First Amendment -- against fundamentalist encroachments, as the article's many heartening examples affirm.

The dangerous sub-set of American Christianity, the theocratic Christian Right, is not immune. The proportion of Americans aged 18 to 29 who identified with evangelical Protestantism peaked at 25% in the late 1980s and has now fallen to 17% (and not even all evangelicals can really be classified as belonging to the Christian Right). Those who have left Christianity, especially the young, often cite churches' reactionary hostility to gays, abortion, and the full equality of women as factors that pushed them away -- the very issues on which the Christian Right defines itself.

That's the good news. The bad news is that, as anyone who has been paying attention is well aware, the Christian Right has been growing even more extremist and militant as it shrinks. (This often happens in shrinking radical movements -- it's the least committed who depart, leaving the true fanatics within the fold.) While some evangelical leaders have lately accepted that their war against gay marriage and abortion is probably a lost cause, others embrace the concept of fundamentalist theocracy, or "Dominionism". As one of the concept's exponents, George Grant, expressed it:

Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ -- to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.
But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice.
It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.
It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.
It is dominion we are after. World conquest. That's what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish.

Two of the three leading contenders for the Republican Presiden- tial nomination, Bachmann and Perry, are strongly influenced by Dominionism and Dominionist organizations. How much they believe out of the whole totalitarian package is impossible to say -- these are not ideas that a serious politician would talk about too openly -- but we do know that they and the Christian Right as a whole broadly support the principle of imposing Biblical taboos on the entire society by force of law (I've written before about what this would involve if taken literally). Some Dominionists also hold a bizarre view of slavery and the Civil War. The movement aspires to drag the country back to 1950 -- in the case of the radicals, back to 1950 BC.

From the Christian Right's viewpoint, Dominionism is a logical response, perhaps the only logical response, to current reality. They know they're a shrinking minority and have lost the debate. Since accepting defeat in the culture war isn't an option -- God can't lose out to Satan -- the solution is to impose fundamentalist minority rule.

The election of Bachmann or Perry as President would not mean an immediate turn to theocracy. The American political system is more resilient than that. But it would be far worse than Bush II. It would invite the most dangerous, bigoted, and ignorant elements in America into the centers of power. It would be a disaster for individual rights and freedoms and for American science and education, to say nothing of what we'd see on the Supreme Court. If a Dominionist administration launched a crash program of sabotaging the political system to advance Dominionist power (the Republican dirty tricks we're already seeing to discourage undesirables from voting might be a foretaste), then worse could follow.

Even if you're a Christian, you shouldn't be complacent about the prospect. Dominionism isn't very friendly to those who are the wrong kind of Christian. The giant Houston prayer rally with which Perry launched his campaign excluded not only non-Christians but also Catholics, for example.

Think you'd emigrate if it happened? In the worst-case scenario, down the road, if Dominionists eventually came to dominate the government of a country as powerful as the US, do you really believe that any place on Earth would be a safe haven? Notice that bit about "world conquest" in the quote above? Other countries should be concerned about this too.

Finally, do we really want someone who believes God-knows-what about Armageddon and the "End Times" to get control of 10,000 nuclear weapons? Think about it.

There's an irony here. For years there was a cottage industry of paranoids churning out predictions that Europe would someday be taken over by Islamists out to impose Sharî'ah law and Islamize Europe's nations. In fact, it's the US which is at the greater risk of suffering essentially the same scenario. I don't believe that the probability is very high in either case -- but no European country has ever had an Islamist as a serious contender for the post of head of government, for example.

Bachmann or Perry probably couldn't win a general election even if nominated (one poll has shown that Obama could carry Texas if Perry were his opponent), and even if they did, the Dominionist agenda would meet strong resistance. But worst-case scenarios are worth considering. History is full of misery and disaster which could have been avoided if people had understood, before it was too late, that the extremists were actually planning to do exactly what they said they were planning to do.

14 August 2011

Link round-up for 14 August 2011

Here's what warning signs really mean.

Brits poke fun at looters with Photoshop.

No deer, they run too fast.

Goofy religious rules are goofy.

Archaic unit systems are archaic.

These newspaper headlines are great (found via Mendip), though I suspect the second one is actually true. Check out these church signs too -- and this one that isn't funny.

Bachmann's straw-poll victory prompts derision.

A "dating" site for married people reaches ten million members.

Beachcombing blog looks at the odd phenomenon of mummified cats in old buildings (found via Mendip).

Jack Cluth has some teabagger cartoons.

Canadian blogger Heidi the Hick looks at the US.

The eyes (Bachmann's) have it.

Like much else in Christianity, the concept of Hell came from Zoroastrianism and has evolved over time.

Nutters blame terrorist violence on the targets.

Teach the controversy!

Well, that's predictable -- MRA misogynists hate the SlutWalkers.

MRAs please note: where there is more gender equality, there is more sex (found via What Would Jack Do).

There's a real case to be made for bringing back flogging.

Who's behind those job ads that exclude the unemployed?

Bachmann has a record of hypocrisy and an odd taste in reading material, and thinks the Bible should govern policy.

Those who want a primary challenge to Obama are missing the real point, which is Congress.

S&P downgraded the US because of Republican anti-tax extremism -- and its director says a balanced-budget amendment would just make things worse.

The flight of money from stocks to Treasuries shows that investors fear Republican intentions.

David Frum steps outside the US for some economic perspective.

The radical left needs to mend fences with the mainstream left.

Religion can be a lucrative business.

Republicans are wielding power without accountability. But some House Republicans may be getting less rigid on taxes (well, there's this).

Fareed Zakaria looks at Obama's pragmatism.

Another anti-gay Republican is caught soliciting gay sex.

Washington must now focus on what people really care about (found via Elect Democrats). Oregon's new Senator leads the charge.

Parsley's Pics has a sanitized but interesting insider's history of the KKK.

Texan blogger Ranch Chimp looks at Perry's candidacy. Here are 14 reasons he'd be a bad President (found via RC) and 10 more (found via What Would Jack Do). Perry is much further to the right than Bush II, but he once accepted $80,000 in the farm subsidies he now campaigns against (also via WWJD). His open mixing of religion and politics would appall the the Founders, and maybe Jesus too, but his prayer rally wasn't the biggest gathering in Texas that day.

What has Obama done so far?

A Feather Adrift looks at Rand's Atlas Shrugged (I've read the hideous thing myself, but it was a long time ago).

As I've long held, most Americans are socialists, even if they recoil from the word.

Stephen Andrew gets down to the basics on Social Security.

Republic of Gilead blog has extensive quotes and analysis from the Republican debate. Politico thinks several contenders set traps for themselves. Viewership was unimpressive.

Andrew Sullivan has more on the anti-atheist death threats in the Blair Scott case.

Democrats need to re-assert economic reality.

The Kochs' efforts at astroturfing anti-environmentalism in Florida aren't having much luck.

A closer look at Obama's poll numbers shows that his chances of re-election are good; more here.

Never forget, the recession will pass (found via Elect Democrats).

Film police brutality, get sued (found via Preliator pro Causa).

When you vote, remember the difference between the parties.

The debt-ceiling battle hurt Republicans and helped Democrats with the voters; more at Political Animal, The People's View, and Jobsanger. In fact, the party's ratings are the lowest since tracking of such things began in 1992. Nate Silver thinks it could lose the House; Burr Deming thinks it's doomed. The Tea Party's ratings are even worse.

Scholars tackle the gigantic task of fixing the errors in the Bible.

The British navy appoints its first female warship commander.

A resident of the London borough of Hackney dissects inaccurate reporting on the riots (the police correct another error here).

Here's one Brit who didn't just stand and watch.

Trojan T-shirts get the message across to German extremists.

Kuriositas looks at the unique cities of Yemen.

China's dictatorship acts as if the country were on the verge of rebellion. Maybe it is.

Matthew Yglesias looks at China's first aircraft carrier.

Some countries prosper without democracy, but not many.

"Planet of the Apes" is a true story.

If you use any of the ISPs listed here, they may be re-directing your web searches.

Almost 9,000 heat records were broken in July in the US alone (found via Jobsanger).

Technological innovation could bring a new jobs boom.

A Republican Congressman sees the light on ape research.

MIT finds that Arctic ice is melting much faster than climate models predicted.

Increasingly-realistic simulation raises ethical issues.

Scientists in Britain extend genetic engineering to produce artificial molecules.

The technology of brain-computer interfacing moves ahead (found via Mendip).

13 August 2011

Video of the week -- but I get up again

An old but resilient country. For a previous "video of the week" by the same band, see here.

12 August 2011

The violence in Britain

A sudden and shocking event like the recent explosion of rioting in Britain seems to work as a sort of Rorschach blot; people see in it whatever they are inclined to see anyway. Various pundits have blamed various factors -- racism, inequality, consumerism, absent fathers, an "entitlement culture", the Conservative government's austerity policies, etc. -- and their degree of certainty that they have pinpointed the correct explanation seems inversely propor- tional to their actual knowledge of the facts on the ground. Much of the commentary boils down to "This just proves the rightness and importance of whatever it is that I personally have been saying all along."

It will probably be weeks before a real picture of what happened and why emerges, but a few things are becoming clear:

1) The role of race is far from straightforward. The rioting started in Tottenham, a largely-black area of London, but as it spread across the country, people of other ethnicities, including whites, started participating.

2) The violence was not an expression of a social or political agenda. The rioters were mostly young, mainly interested in looting, and have not been reported expressing any political motives beyond a few trite clichés about sticking it to the rich.

3) The authorities' initial response was disastrously hesitant and inadequate.

4) The victims of the riots -- those whose businesses and homes were wrecked -- seem to be mostly members of ethnic minorities. In almost every news report I've seen about the victims, they were people of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent.

This year several European countries including Britain have seen mass protests against austerity and conservative policies that can legitimately be compared with the Arab rebellions; so, over here, has Wisconsin. This rioting was not like that. It was an eruption of meaningless looting and destructiveness -- all the more shocking and horrifying because Britain has traditionally been one of the world's most peaceful and orderly societies.

If there is a political dimension, it will emerge not from the rioting itself but from the slow official response and who gets the blame. Despite numerous early calls for the police to use water cannons to restore order (including from London's leftist former mayor, Ken Livingstone), the Conservative government seems to have dithered for days. Shopkeepers in the victimized communities began organizing to protect themselves -- in one of the few deadly incidents, three men in Birmingham were deliberately run down and killed by a car as they tried to protect their neighborhood -- but in at least some cases the police, so far from supporting these efforts at self-defense, actively opposed them. It's no wonder that people have gotten angry.

The government is already under a cloud. Its austerity policies have strangled the country's nascent economic recovery and have been widely protested, and the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal has tainted it. Warnings last year that planned cuts to the police force would endanger civil society now look prescient; while the cuts had not yet been implemented, the government still insists that they will go ahead -- and is blaming the police for the early mishandling of the riots. The police have fired back, blaming the government.

At the moment, it seems that stronger tactics and the deployment of more police have restored order. The courts, overwhelmed by hundreds of arrests, are showing toughness not usually associated with British justice.

But tremendous damage has been done, and there is great anger against the mobs and against the authorities' failure to deal with the problem quickly. Much will depend on where public opinion ultimately fixes the blame.

I'll give the last word to the most inspiring part of the story: the countless ordinary people in all the great cities of Britain who spontaneously came together to protect themselves and their communities.

11 August 2011


Of course it would have been pleasanter to report that we met our goal of gaining three seats and winning control of the Wisconsin state Senate. But don't underestimate the significance of what was achieved this week.

Of six recall elections in Republican-leaning districts, we won two, while a third was knife-edge close -- and this despite the usual Republican dirty tricks. The Republicans' state Senate majority margin has been pared down to one vote, meaning that moderate Republican Dale Schultz, who has bucked Walker before, holds the balance of power. This not only shows that we can translate the popular backlash against Republican extremism into electoral results, but also has genuinely cut back the power of Walker and the Kochroach right to inflict yet further harm on the people of Wisconsin.

The drive to recall Walker himself is going ahead, and he frankly sounds rattled. This will be a bigger and tougher job than the state Senate recalls, and there's the risk that a defeat would actually embolden Walker and his ilk. But the value of a victory, and the real possibility of achieving it, make this a risk worth taking.

More reactions: Crooks and Liars draws practical lessons, Leftwing Nutjob declares victory, and Daily Kos looks to the fight ahead.

09 August 2011

Numbers games

So the US credit rating gets downgraded by S&P which, as many of our saner bloggers have pointed out, is one of those same sage agencies that just a few years ago were giving sterling ratings to 11-dimensional "derivative" investments based on beach-front real estate in Outer Mongolia, and which made a $2 trillion math error in its calculations. In response, the stock market plummets and money flees into US Treasuries. The MSM, of course, insist that this is all awesomely significant, and doubtless all the talk shows are even now full of boring people in dark suits gravely discussing just how awesomely significant it is.

Well, the stock market is always going up and down because of one thing and another, and most of the time it means nothing and has no long-term effect, the boring guys in suits notwithstanding. As for the big rush into Treasuries, well, the money fleeing the stock market has to go somewhere (what else are people going to invest in -- the eurozone?) and sensible people know perfectly well that, as Obama pointed out the other day, the United States is still the United States whatever the bunglers at S&P think.

Meanwhile, the price of gold has cracked $1,700 an ounce, an event so thoroughly predictable that I feel downright frustrated at not having predicted it. Every time the MSM starts bleating about the crisis of the day (whether real or imaginary or, like the recent debt-ceiling hostage crisis, fabricated by politicians), the usual Chicken Littles all panic and decide that, this time, the sky really is falling and The System is going to collapse and plunge us all into one of those post-apocalyptic Road Warrior scenarios they've watched too many bad movies about (just as they thought during the previous crisis, and the one before that, etc., etc., but they've forgotten about that) -- and so they rush out and buy some gold, a substance unlikely to be of any value in a post-apocalyptic world (you'd do better with food or machine-maintenance skills), thus driving the price up. If I'd invested in some gold a couple of years ago and sold it yesterday, I could have doubled my money. And the investment would be a very safe one. There will always be another crisis sooner or later, and there will always be swarms of gloom-and-doomers who somehow imagine that the best response to an impending collapse of civilization is to buy gold and drive the price up. It's just a matter of waiting.

Meanwhile, here are some numbers from the real world, showing that the public basically understands whose fault the recent mess actually was, despite the dereliction of the MSM whose pristine aversion to bias evidently includes refusing to take sides between verifiable facts and teabagger delusions, which helps explain why their own numbers have been tanking for years. Speaking of the teabaggers, their numbers are tanking too -- 18% support might seem high for an astroturfed Mongol horde of nihilists who can't spell, but it's lower than the numbers who believe in ghosts and flying saucers, or claim to. Eventually it may even get low enough that the Republican party can stop pandering to them, and Barry Goldwater can at least reduce the number of RPMs he must now be doing in his grave.

But when you get right down to it, there's just one set of numbers we'll see this week that will really matter: the election returns from Wisconsin. Keep your eye on the ball.

Update: David Frum is well worth reading on this.

07 August 2011

Link round-up for 7 August 2011

Funny thing about imaginary friends.....

Murr Brewster looks at slipping vocabulary.

Wouldn't it be cool if God was rational.

Here's why you don't have a girlfriend.....er, maybe.

God has copyrights? Who knew?

Carnivorous plant eats bird! -- but the BBC headline is better (found via Mendip).

An unimportant ball of ice and dirt becomes a focus of various superstitions.

The History Channel has degenerated into dreck, apparently.

We Tea Party. We not smarty.

Atheists get the last laugh in Columbus, Ohio.

There's a difference between morality and religion.

I think Ramses looks in better condition than Keith.

Yep, something is definitely wrong here.

In politics, lies work better than truth because they're easier to digest.

Atheists can find common ground to organize against religion.

Vin Ienco looks at Islam's twisted sexuality laws.

The thug who brutalized Chrissy Polis has pleaded guilty to the attack.

Teabaggers have their say on local issues.

How has the gay-rights movement won so much public support so fast? It's the work of Satan.

After a Missouri high school orders Slaughterhouse Five pulled from its shelves, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library offers free copies to students.

Will Texas, now straining under unprecedented heat and drought, finally get it?

Creationists in Florida fight science with vandalism.

Richard Carrier reviews John Loftus's The End of Christianity.

The teabaggers' destructiveness in the House was thoroughly predictable.

Republic of Gilead has detailed coverage of Perry's prayer-fest in Houston, with links to commentary by others: part 1, part 2, part 3. Clearly this man could never be a President for all Americans, but only for Christians -- and perhaps only for fundamentalists. Several other events were held in Texas in response to the rally. TPM has more. Stonekettle Station suggests an honest prayer.

Update: Much more on Perry's allies here.

Fox continues to lose viewers, especially younger ones, and the Tea Party continues to lose popular support.

NOM underestimates the power of blogs.

There's clear evidence that the recession was caused by slumping demand, not supply.

Some religionists can't keep their bigotry to themselves, even at a funeral.

44% of Americans blame Bush for the recession (that figure being the highest in two years), while only 15% blame Obama.

Sorry, teabaggers, you are terrorists.

Bachmann's preacher pal Bradlee Dean exemplifies the evils of modern fundamentalism.

Obama has a solid record of achievement for us. And would any Republican President have done these things?

Next election day, remember the Supreme Court. (This new blog looks like a very promising voice for sanity on the left -- be sure to check it out!)

Seems Democrats are finally learning to campaign aggressively.

Showing the level of competence we've come to expect from rating agencies, S&P made a $2 trillion calculation error in its downgrade of US credit.

Romney joins the Nutties in signing an NOM pledge which, while meaningless in practical terms, is still an endorsement of bigotry.

An Andrew Sullivan reader takes an interesting view of the teabagger mentality.

Politics Plus looks at the Wisconsin recalls.

The American Psychological Association's policy-making body votes 157-to-0 to support gay marriage.

The Obama administration acts to make reproductive health services more accessible, and the right wing predictably goes apeshit.

There are a million ticking Breiviks out there.

Facing a backlash for blatant efforts to disenfranchise voters, Walker backs down on plans to close DMV offices.

There's a secular case for tolerating plural marriage.

David Frum has reality-based suggestions on unemployment.

Germantown, Maryland is this summer's epicenter of the struggle to preserve abortion rights.

The big debt deal: Democrats like it, Republicans hate it. Look at the details. It's not great, but not terrible either. Pundits are wrong that Obama has "lost the base". Conservative reactions are very revealing. Compare who won what (be sure to read the "end note"). Boehner doesn't want it known, but tax increases are coming. And the really bad cuts probably aren't.

Obama-haters left and right need to get a grip.

It's time to end the dangerous idiocy of the debt ceiling.

The S&P downgrade was utterly foreseeable.

Conservative Andrew Pavelyev laments the dismal governing performance of the House Republicans.

Christianity is crumbling to nothing in the Netherlands, where even many clergy are atheists.

Meet Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen, the heroes who saved over forty teenagers' lives during the Utøya massacre.

The anti-austerity protests sweeping Europe reach another Western nation -- Israel.

SlutWalk, in toned-down form, reaches New Delhi.

Robert the Skeptic looks at dowsing in the modern world.

Fox (!) has ordered a successor series to Carl Saga's Cosmos. Let's hope they don't screw it up (well, the involvement of Ann Druyan and real scientists is encouraging).

Here's one gigabyte, then and now -- and read the comments -- the picture is out-of-date.

[Image at top from Politics Plus]

06 August 2011

Video of the week -- the Church's record

From 2009 -- Christopher Hitchens summarizes the indictment. Found via RDF.

04 August 2011

Sluts unite!

The "SlutWalk" concept originated in Toronto, inspired by a police officer's remark that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized". The first SlutWalk was held on April 3 in that city, a protest march of women asserting their right to wear whatever they wanted -- and dressed to drive home the point. Despite the predictable hand-wringing and pearl-clutching from both feminist and anti-feminist wings of the junior anti-sex league, the protests have spread to several cities and countries, an eye- catching declaration that dressing provocatively or even being a "slut" does not make one a legitimate target of sexual violence.

On Sunday, July 31, Portland held its own SlutWalk. How could I not go?

There was a rally before the march (click on pictures for bigger versions):

The march set off around 2:30.

There was a police escort (not shown). I guess that's why permits for something like this cost about $2,000.

The march took some minutes to pass. I'm not good at estimating numbers, but I'd guess there were several hundred to a thousand participants.

SlutWalk was definitely the ladies' day, but a fair number of male supporters also turned out.

02 August 2011

Link round-up for 31 July 2011 (delayed)

Here are 15 words we don't have.

What was Jesus's ethnicity?

Ranch Chimp looks at a 19th-century integrated community in what is now Central Park.

Despite its aggressiveness in the House, tebeaggerdom among the public is looking like a spent force.

Several groups are fighting against fundie indoctrination in the US military.

David Frum keeps trying to talk sense to the right wing. Others take a shot at it.

A lawsuit over 9/11 wreckage brings an outpouring of Christian love. More here.

GOP.com makes an intriguing graphic error.

John Nail looks at the costs and benefits of health-care reform. Further important progress here.

"It's almost impossible for anyone to get the Republican nomina- tion without saying things that make it impossible for him to win in November."

Nominating Perry would alienate the young and the educated.

The People's View looks at the debt ceiling deal (found via Hello Mr. President).

As expected, Smartypants has some of the best blogging on the deal: the far right's unhappiness with it, a prediction to watch, a first look at public reaction, and the need to take the long view.

Here are some further specifics.

While we're still dependent on oil, we can at least get it from some- where more civilized.

Depressed about the absurd spectacle of American politics? Think of the good we've done.

Britain's Telegraph newspaper has a pretty good assessment of the teabaggers. Al-Jazeera looks at the Christian Right (thanks to Shaw Kenawe for the link).

Andrew Sullivan returns to his native England after 26 years away, and finds a land changed but familiar. Interesting observations on british money here.

Russia's ambassador to NATO warns his people of the dangers looming if Republicans return to power in the US.

Egypt's prospects are better than we think.

Forbes embarrases itself over global warming (found via Preliator pro Causa). More precision reporting here.

The "white roof" plan has many positives, even for snowy areas.

Variations in bonobo food calls offer clues to the dawn of human language.

The Neanderthals really were, well, Neanthderthalish, which helps explain why they're not here any more.

(This round-up was delayed and reduced in size due to technical issues. Things should be back to normal by the weekend.)