30 December 2013

Video of the day -- X is Y


Richard Kern's 1990 short-short film X is Y is my favorite work from the underground "cinema of transgression" which flourished in New York City around that time.  Of course in those days such films were distributed mostly on VHS via mail order, and anyone who didn't read the publications that advertised them wouldn't know about them.  If only we'd had the internet back then!

29 December 2013

Duck dye nasty

Just after Christmas, A&E decided to put profits over people and reinstated Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty.  Despite some squid ink about "promoting tolerance", this is clearly a defeat, and the knuckle-dragging anti-gay crowd is duly crowing.  Still, there are some positives to keep in mind.

This is the loss of a pretty small battle in a war which our side is overwhelmingly winning.  Eighteen US states and more than a dozen foreign countries now have legal gay marriage, and at times it has seemed like almost every week brings a new addition to the list.  Support for gay equality across the board is higher in this country than ever before, and still rising rapidly.  The only big recent setbacks were new anti-gay laws in Uganda and Russia, and those are so brutal in their implications that even some fundies aren't quite comfortable publicly embracing them.  At a recent Christian Right conference in Washington DC, the mood was mostly one of profound alarm at the way things are going.

As for the Battle of the Duck itself, gay and black Americans, and others who care about their dignity and rights, have seen an individual who made utterly repugnant statements about them being embraced and championed by a wide range of conservative politicians, media personalities, and others, including Republican Presidential hopefuls.  It's a reminder, for any who needed it, of the key fact that the right wing is the enemy.  That reminder will sit there, a stinking heap of ugly and all-too-revealing recorded statements, ready for Democrats to dump out again in public as we approach next year's mid-term election, in which motivation of voters on our side will be crucial for turnout.  The RNC's hopes of fooling Americans outside their fundie base with fatuous and hypocritical "outreach" have taken yet another hit.

Link round-up for 29 December 2013

Uzza gives us some poetic scholarship from the night before solstice.

320 sharks are now on Twitter.

Two Kenyans in Texas, seeking to buy a goat, encounter weirdness.

History of Things to Come has a snowy solstice photo gallery.

McDonald's food is crap -- McDonald's says so.

A new teabagger children's book depicts Obama as an evil Santa.

Santa in 1903 was loaded down with welcome gifts.

Christie has his priorities.

Americans prefer "Happy holidays" over "Merry Christmas", 49%-to-43%.

Raise taxes or cut benefits?  It makes a difference.

Bitcoin may be following the classic bubble pattern -- and there's a way of cheating on the "mining" process.  Cashing out into dollars remains an excruciating impossibility.

Utah right-wingers are freaking out over the recent gay-marriage ruling, but they'll get over it.  With gay marriage now legal in 18 states, the national fight is close to won.

The US meat industry uses a dangerous steroid, banned in Europe, which contaminates water supplies.

If the Republican-imposed expiration of unemployment benefits is allowed to stand, it could cost the US 240,000 jobs.

The Christian Right is obsessed with weird collapse-of-civilization fantasies (found via Republic of Gilead).

A New York Times investigation further debunks the Benghazi fake scandal.

Here's where angora sweaters come from.

A "knockout" attack in Texas yields hate-crime charges, and here's another apparent case in Brooklyn.  In New York City, Jews seem to be targeted.

Obamacare canceled my policy!  No it didn't.

When you defend Phil Robertson, here's what you're defending -- not free speech, but the ugly side of the culture war.

Watch out for this nasty virus in your e-mail.

The poor are poor because of moral failings -- of the rich.

All in all, Republicans got badly pwned this year.

Is Henderson TX the worst town in America?

Fuck you, John Hagee, I live here -- you get out.

Eliminating gerrymandering would help almost everyone, but will be hard to get done.

A money man joins the good fight.

Popes come and go, but the Catholic Church is what it is.

In 2011 the USS Ronald Reagan was sent to help at the Fukushima disaster -- now 51 sailors are suffering radiation-related medical problems.

Here's one world leader who wanted to put the Christ back in Christmas.

This is stupid -- if you don't want to do the job, don't apply for the job.

No, faint signs of economic growth in Britain do not mean austerity works.

In Germany, even cows now have hope of a happy retirement.

Some Democratic Senators are helping Republicans sabotage the Iran deal.

A Russian MP and opera star speaks out against the persecution of gays.

Ego trip: check out the size of this Kim Jong Il statue in North Korea (yes, those are people standing around it).

Despite French intervention, religious violence in the Central African Republic continues to escalate.

Uganda has finally passed its anti-gay law.  These earlier comments by a top Ugandan official are of some interest.

South Sudan is a mess, and shallow Western news reporting isn't helping.

A new strategy against HIV needs more attention.

"Neuromorphic" computers modeled on organic nervous systems show some of the flexibility and learning ability of real animals.

Bioethicists and fatalists be damned, aging is neither natural nor desirable (found via Maria Konovalenko).

27 December 2013

2013 in images -- a (mostly) lighthearted look back















[The Obama-as-evil-wizard picture at the end is an actual donation button from this fund-raising page for John Cornyn.  The 2nd and 3rd images are by Mario Piperni]

24 December 2013

The Turing "pardon" and malignant traditionalism

The British government has issued a "royal pardon" to computer-science pioneer Alan Turing (1912-1954).  Turing's work played an important role in the invention of electronic computers, and the machines he helped build during World War II broke the Nazi military codes and helped win the war.  Later he was convicted of "gross indecency", as homosexuality was called in law at the time, and sentenced to an experimental "chemical castration" designed to eliminate his sex drive, which also caused bodily disfigurement.  After two years of this treatment, he committed suicide by poison (though a few people now claim that his death was an accident or even that he was murdered by British government agents as a security threat).  A brief video overview of Turing's case is here.

While the gesture is a positive one, there are serious problems with it, as expressed well by British columnist Ally Fogg.  To begin with, a pardon is an official act of forgiveness extended to someone who did something wrong; it falls short of acknowledging that Turing did nothing wrong, and that indeed it was the British government and system of justice that behaved criminally -- it is the authorities who should be asking Turing for forgiveness, if he still existed to give it.  Second, it singles out Turing because he was a genius and a national hero, but those things are not the main reason why the vicious cruelty meted out to him was an injustice.  Tens of thousands of ordinary men were convicted and sentenced under the "gross indecency" law during the decades it was in force.  The injustice against them, and the criminal guilt of the British state in their cases, was just as great even though they were not famous.

What would be more appropriate would be something like South Africa's post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission -- a systematic and detailed review of the persecution and its victims, explicitly acknowledging that the British government, during the time it was enforcing the "gross indecency" law, was guilty of criminal brutality on such a vast scale as to irredeemably taint the entire British state of that era as a criminal enterprise.  The fact that as recently as 2011 the Justice Secretary could say that Turing had been "properly convicted" according to the law of the time, and some of the comments on the linked BBC article, show why something of this magnitude is merited -- and why it will not happen.

Nor does the harm done by the law and by the attitudes behind it lie entirely in the past.  As sculptor Glyn Hughes is quoted by the BBC as saying, "if there was a general pardon for men who had been prosecuted for homosexuality, many of them are still alive and they could get compensation" -- as well they should, and are still prevented from doing.  India's Supreme Court recently upheld that country's law against homosexuality -- a law which is a legacy of British colonialism.

And the malignancy isn't a uniquely British one.  What I've said here holds true for any other country which had and enforced such laws, during the time it enforced them, including the US -- indeed, the last few state laws criminalizing homosexuality were not swept away until 2003 (though by then enforcement had become sporadic), and we know well what attitudes persist among religious hard-liners.  To this, the horrific abuses against black Americans in the same era must be added, though on that issue our society has done a far better job of recognizing and renouncing the evil it committed.

Finally, many laws are at least roughly an expression of the character of society at large, especially in a democracy.  Had they been asked, many -- perhaps most -- British and Americans in the 1950s would have favored the existence of laws against homosexuality, probably without giving the matter such thought.  To that extent, it was the societies of the 1950s, not just the laws, that were tainted with the malignancy rooted in the "traditional values" of the Abrahamic religions.

I can't claim total innocence myself.  There were times in the past where I expressed hostile views about homosexuality, though I like to think the last few years of blogging have made up for it.

There are still people who openly aspire to return to the values of the 1950s.  Remember what that actually means.

Update:  Martin Robbins has an excellent column on this.

22 December 2013

Video of the day -- there are phonies everywhere


I've never understood this.  Why would vampires act so weird when they all started off as regular people?

Link round-up for 22 December 2013

Yesterday was the winter solstice.

Here's a simple chart on how to interpret the Bible.  And yes, this is pretty much the essence of fundamentalism.

Artist of the week:  dark surrealist Zdzisław Beksiński (found via Mendip).

Some Christmas traditions go back to ancient European shroom shamans.  Jesus would have hated the modern holiday.

Taking selfies isn't so new.

Buttcoin.org is an entertaining site chronicling the bitcoin scam, including problems with conversion to dollars (more here, or try selling them on eBay) and bitcoin mining computers.  There's a separate blog on home-made mining rigs -- check out the FPGA spaghetti monsterChina and some banks are cracking down; meanwhile, thieves keep busy.

Check out these pictures of abandoned places around the world.

Religious vandals strike again in New Jersey (found via Lady Atheist).  And the War on Christmas is turning violent.

Salon posts another pile of rubbish about atheism.

The Christian story of the conception of Jesus has some very disturbing implications.

Our side is winning (source here).

The Republican civil war is about tactics, not goals.  But their strategy of running against the ACA is likely to trap them as Democrats plan to run on its growing success.

Staples joins the ranks of companies cutting hours to screw their employees over -- sign a petition here.

Be prepared for the teabaggers to turn violent.

Conservatives exemplify Christian values (found via Progressive Eruptions).

The Duck Dynasty shitstorm has fundies clumsily playing the victim card and turning outright vicious (read the comments too), plus the usual confusion about freedom of speech.  But even Cracker Barrel is ditching the Duck.

The fight for an economic populist line in the Democratic party is going strong.

Banks clearly need to improve security against hackers.

Raising the minimum wage would increase employment.

Marijuana legalization is gaining momentum, and not only in the US.

A gruesome video exposes Islamic treatment of cattle.  Cutting down meat production would make a real difference against global warming.

Siberia is having the warmest winter in memory.

We're wrong to think of life as a distinct category.

Neanderthals were probably capable of speech.

Printing guns?  Bah.  Scientists in Cambridge are printing retinas.

Atheists should embrace transhumanism.

19 December 2013

Video of the day -- Santa finally loses it



No deep point here -- I just think it's funny (good music too).  Found via Web2Carz, which has more offbeat Christmas songs.

17 December 2013

The reason for the season

Atheists are sometimes accused of waging a "war on Christmas".  My question is why any knowledgeable atheist would bother.  Nothing about Christmas has anything to do with Jesus or Christianity.

The concept of December 25 as the birthday of a god originates with the cult of Mithra (depicted above), the ancient Persian god of light and wisdom.  Mithra's cult dates back to at least 1450 BC, but became much more widespread after it was absorbed by Zoroastrianism and carried all over the Middle East by the expansion of the Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC.  Later Mithraism became popular in the Roman Empire, with the name being Latinized as "Mithras"; the god was also known as Sol Invictus, the "Unconquered Sun".  For the first few centuries of Christianity, several different dates around the year were celebrated as Jesus's birthday (the Gospels do not assign a date, though they make it fairly obvious that the birth did not happen in the winter).  Eventually Mithra's established birthday was assigned to Jesus in order to Christianize the date and celebrations which were already popular throughout the Roman domain.  Some parts of the ancient Persian story of Mithra's birth, such as the visiting wise men, were also assimilated into Christian mythology.

The gift-giving and revelry we associate with Christmas comes from the pagan Roman festival of Saturnalia, which was celebrated from December 17 through 23.  After the triumph of Christianity, these practices became associated with Christmas simply because of the proximity of the two events on the calendar.  Another feature of Saturnalia was social role reversal in which, for example, slaves were seated in places of honor at meals, while their masters waited on them.  I've heard that a few traces of this practice survive in Christmas today, such as a British army tradition that officers wait on enlisted men.

Other trappings of modern Christmas, such as Christmas trees, the Yule log, and Santa Claus, were derived much later from Germanic paganism.  Santa Claus may even be partly based on the Germanic god Odin, though the basic concept originates with the 4th-century Greek Bishop St. Nicholas of Lycia (now in Turkey), and many other strains have been woven into the character.

So we're talking about an ancient Persian holiday with celebrations based on an ancient pagan Roman festival with some pagan Germanic imagery added on.  There's no connection with Christianity except an arbitrary glomming on to the date as Jesus's birthday in late Roman times, which has no basis in the Gospels or in anything else.  I see no reason why anyone would wage a "war" on Christmas, because there is nothing Christian about it.



The other day I watched the classic film A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim (there is a good HD version of the full movie on YouTube); it's interesting that this beloved Christmas movie contains almost no Christian references at all, and includes a conception of the afterlife completely at odds with the Christian one.

[Re-posted with some updating from Christmas 2012; video added.]

15 December 2013

America's houses of horror

Rolling Stone has posted what must be the most revealing exposé yet of the meat industry.  If you can go on supporting that industry after reading this, there is no hope for you.

If there is any justice in the universe, the people who have committed these ghastly atrocities against fellow self-aware beings -- and the people who knew about it and said nothing -- and the people who "didn't know" because they suspected and didn't want to know -- will someday be held accountable.

Link round-up for 15 December 2013

Got snow and ice?  Build a psychedelic igloo (found via Mendip).

This cop is discovering what being in the "mounted patrol" really means.

Murr Brewster confronts the stripy-tailed menace.

Check out these ads from the old days.

If you haven't seen it yet, Jon Stewart's response to Megyn Kelly's pronouncements on the race of fictional characters is a must-watch.

The Solutionators have a solution to every problem (found via Faye Kane).

Deadspin offers a hater's guide to the Williams-Sonoma catalog.

Pagan blogger Jason Mankey reviews Palin's Christmas book.

Here, have a chocolate Santa.

Got any ideas about the mystery of the three dimes found with cremation ashes?

God hates fags -- and apostrophes.

Christmas tree fail (found via Mendip).

Now that Oklahoma allows religious monuments on public property, Satanists and Hindus want to join in (can we get a Flying Spaghetti Monster monument too? and maybe a Cthulhu one) and Bryan Fischer seizes the opportunity to be stupid.  Still, it looks like Festivus is catching on.

Know the Gospels?  Take the Christmas challenge.

There's more to Beauty and the Beast than you think.

A bitcointard tries to cash out and gets a taste of the reality behind the hype.

Religionists flounder with ridiculous efforts to reconcile original sin and evolution.

Attempted mass murder -- laser-blinding of pilots is happening at several US airports.

Lady Atheist looks back at 1963.

These people exist.

Trying to "debate" rubbish is counterproductive.

Can you believe people actually say this kind of crap?  Watch this too.

The judge in the outrageous Ethan Couch case is a Republican.

Christianity legitimizes child abuse, sometimes lethal.

In every aspect of government, the Republican record is one of incompetence.

Christian preaching to atheists involves some false premises.

Educational levels of US Hispanics are improving rapidly.

The ACA has a surprising new enrolee.

Economic populism is popular -- we should embrace it.

Fundies' efforts to play the victim card are built on shabby lies (found via Republic of Gilead).

If Christie runs for President, this revenge traffic jam story may haunt him.

The new Pope is relatively enlightened about economic injustice -- about women, not so much.

Canadian law helps push the polar bear toward extinction.

Britain's immigration minister has a suggestion for Domino's Pizza.

Victorian households held surprising hazards (found via Lady Atheist).

In Berlin, times have changed.

Elton John speaks out in Moscow (found via Mendip).

Ukrainian protesters claim a victory as police attack and are pushed back.

As the Arctic ice retreats, Russia stakes its claims.

India takes a big step backward.

How bad is Shanghai's air pollution?  This bad.

China's crackdown on media reports about leadership corruption smells of fear.

Learn from Mandela's drive for justice, not just for reconciliation.

Russian artists join the fight against deathism.

Here's why Bronowski's The Ascent of Man was the greatest TV series ever.

A note:  I see that Time magazine chose the Pope as person of the year, not Miley Cyrus after all.  I can only hope that this was due to his efforts to differentiate Catholic dogma from right-wing economic ideology, and not because he has displayed some hitherto-unsuspected talent for twerking.

14 December 2013

More screeching on the right

During 2012 I compared the Republican primaries to a demolition derby in which the cars self-destructed as often as they were smashed up by each other.  It looks like this has now become their normal mode of behavior.

In the wake of Romney's defeat, Marco Rubio emerged as a rising star in a party suddenly conscious of its unpopularity among Hispanics.  He was on every short list of 2016 Presidential candidates -- until he identified himself with the push for illegal-alien amnesty, and the teabaggosphere erupted in the usual spelling-challenged outrage.  He's been in the doldrums in polls of Republicans ever since.  A politician favored for his supposed appeal to Hispanics was trashed and rejected because he supported a plan designed, however ineptly, to attract Hispanics.

The same is now happening with Paul Ryan, whose budget plan a couple of years ago led some to acclaim him as the intellectual leader of the Republican party (one wag at the time pointed out that this is like calling Moe the intellectual leader of the Three Stooges, but there we are).  Now, however, he's put his name on a budget compromise with Democrats which, to the outrage of teabaggerdom, includes a few fees which could be construed as tax increases, and also fails to cut Social Security.*  Ryan is now being denounced as a traitor, RINO, etc. in comment threads all over RedState and its ilk; if he had Presidential ambitions, they're probably toast.

The conflict over the budget deal has intensified the brawling between the evil-but-rational Republicans who seek to achieve the goals of oligarchy and theocracy by ordinary legislative means, and the foaming-at-the-mouth suicide-bomber element whose strategy is to blow everything up when they don't get exactly what they want.  Even Boehner has now had enough -- and the radicals are screeching with renewed rage at his treachery.

Remember, we still have two more years of this to go before the normal 2016 Republican primary process even starts.  There's going to be a lot of flung poo to clean off the walls by the time it's all over, and no one can guess what, if anything, will be left standing after more Presidential hopefuls have been teabagged into oblivion for this or that sin against orthodoxy.  Maybe the dream ticket?

[*I'm not opining here about whether the budget deal is a good one or not.  The point is, it's not evil enough for the teabaggers.]

12 December 2013

Video of the day -- Ég á líf



Performed by Eyþór Ingi Gunnlaugsson.  The song is somewhat enigmatic even in translation, but here's a sample:

Ég á líf, ég á líf yfir erfiðleika svíf
Ég á líf, ég á líf vegna þin
Þegar móti mér blaes, yfir fjöllin há ég klíf
Ég á líf, ég á líf, ég á líf

I have life, I have life of restless drift
I have life, I have life because of you
When adversity strikes me, over mountains high I climb
I have life, I have life, I have life

I've long noticed that emotionally-resonant songs often make extensive use of the piano, while emotionally-dead genres of music avoid it.  There is something about that instrument that touches us.

On linking to blog posts -- a minor matter

There's an odd glitch that occasionally happens when linking to posts on Blogger blogs, and I think I've finally figured out what causes it.

The glitch occurs when the hyperlinked URL of the post includes a tag "#links" at the end.  To see what I mean, try the two URLs below, which both go to a recent post of mine:

http://infidel753.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-iran-deal.html

http://infidel753.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-iran-deal.html#links

The first URL is the correct one -- it takes you to the top of the post, the logical place to start reading.  The second URL, with the incorrect tag on the end, takes you to the bottom of the post -- a minor inconvenience but something of an annoying distraction.  Yet some bloggers, every now and then, use the second kind of URL to link to a post for some reason.

I think what's happening here is a misunderstanding of the purpose of the clickable phrase "links to this post" which appears at the bottom of every post on some Blogger blogs.  The purpose of this is to show the reader any existing links which have already been made to the post from elsewhere.  However, it could easily be mistaken for a way to create a new link to the post, which is not its intended use.  Right-clicking on "links to this post" and copying would produce a URL with the incorrect "#links" tag attached.

The right way to create a link to an individual post is to use either the post title or the "posted at" time at the bottom.  Clicking on either of these will take you to the post and you can copy the URL from the space where it appears at the top of your browser window; or, you can right-click on either the title or the post time to get the URL.  On a few blogs (including mine) the post title does not work for this purpose and the "posted at" time is the only way to get a correct URL for an individual post.

I hope this post will help clear up this small glitch in the world of blogging.

10 December 2013

Video of the day -- Russians!

These people have 8,500 nuclear weapons:

I suppose vodka accounts for much of this, but some of it -- like the upside-down parked car at 6:46 -- how did somebody even do that?

08 December 2013

Secularism strong

Two recent news items from Britain illustrate how, in that country at least, the battle to roll back the bigotry and thuggery of the alien Abrahamic religions may be just about won.

In what has become Britain's equivalent of our own country's struggle over segregated lunch counters half a century ago, the case of Peter and Hazelmary Bull has been working its way through the British court system for some time now.  The Bulls are Christians and owners of a bed-and-breakfast guesthouse in the southwestern county of Cornwall.  In 2008, they refused to allow a gay couple to rent a double room in their establishment, citing their religion's taboo on homosexuality.  In defending against the resulting lawsuit, they argued that because their prejudice was based on religion, they should be exempt from the laws against discrimination which apply to other businesses.  Bizarrely, they even argued that they were the victims of discrimination because the law denied their right to discriminate.

This Orwellian argument has now been rejected by the highest court in the country.  Discrimination based on religious taboos is no more legitimate than discrimination based on anything else -- and is no more exempt from the law.

Let there be no confusion about what was at stake.  Just like those segregated lunch counters, the mentality at work here seeks to stigmatize a category of people as inferior and unfit to be dealt with on an equal basis, even in mundane business transactions.  It's a cruel and ugly mentality, the mentality of the bully, and it explicitly justifies itself by religion.  British blogger Rosa Rubicondior has an excellent commentary on the decision.

The other news item comes from London, where three Muslim men formed a self-designated "Muslim patrol" and roved through districts in the eastern part of the city harassing people they deemed out of compliance with Islamic taboos.  These included a couple holding hands, men who were drinking alcohol, and a woman whose clothing did not meet Sharî'ah standards.  Their actions against these innocent people included yelling abuse at them through a megaphone, blocking their path with a car, and in the case of the men drinking alcohol, violently assualting them (one man was knocked unconscious).

In the past, the British establishment has been accused of treating Islamist thugs with kid gloves in deference to "diversity" or political correctness.  No longer.  Two days ago the three were given jail sentences ranging from 24 to 68 weeks.  It's a warning that religion is no excuse for harassment and that a secular society will no longer tolerate it.

The message to the Abrahamic faiths is clear -- your jackboot is off our neck.  Your centuries-long brutal and destructive rule over our civilizations is finished.  You can't impose your ugly and insane taboos on us any more.  We are the boss now.

Link round-up for 8 December 2013

When sending text messages, turn off the autocorrect.

Ostrich gotta get funky.

This could be the perfect gift for your favorite Lady Gaga fan.

Here's some Christmas cheer from Captain Picard and a Klingon show (both found via Mendip).

Bitcointards pwned!  Basics here.

Ranch Chimp has some great photos of Dallas under its ever-changing weather.

Uzza takes a detailed look at the Biblical story of creation.

Yep, Obama is just like Hitler.

Worst pooing-on-a-plane story ever!  Though this is even more disturbing.

Check out these high-resolution photos of snowflakes.

There is a "war on Christmas", and fundie ranting is part of it.

"Spiritual" bullcrap is not harmless.

When using restrooms in stores -- beware.

A few young people escape from an abusive totalitarian cult that thrives right here in the US.

ALEC is determined to sabotage the push for clean energy.

You can have single-payer in 2017 -- if you live in Vermont.

The real issue in the "abortion debate" is freedom.

David Ehrenstein looks at delayed justice for Catholic clergy in California.

A Georgia Republican's gaffe on health insurance suggests the party's PR problems won't be easy to solve.

Banks, whose profits last year topped $141 billion, underpay employees so badly that many qualify for public assistance.

Judgmental, moralistic, sourpuss Catholics are getting nervous about Pope Francis.

The ACA is working better and better, but Republicans' problems with it are just beginning.

If you think racist harassment by police isn't still a problem, check out the cases of Earl Sampson and Landry Thompson.

Careless cops have made at least 100 mistaken arrests in St. Louis alone (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

A Fort Hood sergeant whose duties included sexual-harassment prevention recruited women soldiers for a prostitution ring.

The war of words between Britain and the EU over migration heats up.

Olympic diver Tom Daley came out this week -- here are some reactions.

Andrew Sullivan rediscovers London after a long absence.

German neo-Nazis may be behind hundreds of unsolved murders formerly blamed on immigrants.

Iceland ignores financial pearl-clutchers, gives mortgage-holders relief.

Gaining control of Ukraine is essential to Putin's dream of reconstituting the USSR, but his options are limited if Ukrainians truly commit to democracy.  Former leaders support the uprisingToday's new demonstrations will show which side is winning.  New internet media are helping to sustain the protests.

The Christian Right wasn't so keen on Mandela back when it mattered most; check out also these comments from NRO and some rank-and-file teabaggers. Mandela responded to the accusations of Communism long ago.  Here's a simple chart that shows one way he changed South Africa.

One group still suffers discrimination and persecution all over the world.

South Korea has just launched the biggest ship ever.

What does it really mean when China copies Western architecture?

Ultra-wealthy Chinese investors want to build their own city in upstate New York -- perhaps a refuge for when the homeland's downtrodden masses finally rise up against them?

The view from an upper-story house window in Nairobi can be.....a little different.

Found:  a supergiant planet in the most far-flung orbit ever seen.

Some effects of global warming will happen soon and be quite sudden.

The NIH will spend $100 million to research this possible AIDS cure.

Sorry, you can't be both fat and healthy.

Daniel Callahan wants you to die, and he and people like him have influence.

07 December 2013

Amazon drones on


I don't think this is gonna work.  They'll get shot out of the sky by gun-toting nitwits who mistake them for alien invasion craft, or snagged in trees, or worse.  They'll scare the fertilizer out of people's dogs.  And I shudder to think what will happen PR-wise if they use them to deliver stuff in Pakistan.

Comments policy (new)

This replaces the old one which was a little haphazard in composition.  In general I like getting comments, and it's extremely rare that I reject or delete one.  However, there are a few cases where I consider it appropriate to do so:

1) Being rude, insulting, condescending, hectoring, etc.  I know this is common and even normal on the internet, but I won't put up with it here.

2) Going off-topic, including "change-the-subject trolling" ("why are you writing about that trivial subject when here's something else which is more important", etc.).

3) Making threats.  I've never actually gotten a threat, but if I ever do, I will report it to the authorities if that seems appropriate, along with any personal info I can get about the commenter.

4) Being contentious for the hell of it, including pursuing interminable back-and-forth arguments.  This is a blog, not a debating forum.  There are plenty of sites out there which are debating forums, if that's what you're looking for.  There are people who do this with the intent of wasting a blogger's time and energy (read this too if you have a political blog).  I don't play that game.

5) Crackpottery and reality-denial -- I just don't have time for it.  It would take a fairly long and scholarly post to comprehensively refute a typical creationist claim, for example, and the person making the claim probably wouldn't be able to mentally process it anyway.  There are books and websites out there already which address such claims.  The same is true of global-warming denialism, "scientific" racism, "porn causes sex crimes",  "homosexuality is abnormal", 9/11 conspiratardia, etc.

6) Bigotry and hatred toward gays, Jews, women, racial or ethnic groups, sex workers, atheists, etc.  I will sometimes let a comment of that kind stand as a "these people really exist" object lesson, but in general this blog needs to be a "safe space" from such venom.

7) Meta-arguments about what I choose to write about or not write about and how, etc., including this comments policy -- this boils down to "you should run your blog the way I want, not the way you want."

Finally, remember that there is no issue of censorship or freedom of expression here.  You can start your own blog and say anything you want, and I neither have nor want the ability to stop you.  This one is mine, though.  As I've said before, freedom of expression means you can put a bumper sticker of your choosing on your car.  It doesn't mean you can put that same bumper sticker on my car, not unless I choose to let you.

05 December 2013

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

Liberator of South Africa, inspiration to the world, the man who prevented what would have been a horrifically bloody civil war.  His story in brief here, reactions around the globe here.

Many leaders are called great in their time -- he truly was.

Update:  Here's an interesting article on South Africa's economic success since the end of apartheid.  One of the biggest remaining problems is that many blacks who grew up under apartheid received such a poor education that they lack marketable skills or, often, even literacy.

02 December 2013

Video of the day -- Ukrainian rhapsody


Ukraine being back in the news put me in mind of the country's most congenial export, Verka Serduchka (real name Andrei Danilko) -- can't believe it's been years since I last used one of his videos!  A reminder that there's more to eastern Europe than grim politics.

High stakes in Ukraine

Nine years after the Orange Revolution, Ukraine is in upheaval again.  Yesterday over three hundred thousand people marched in the capital Kiev, occupying government buildings and sweeping aside the police, chanting "revolution!" and calling for the downfall of President Viktor Yanukovych (pictures here).

To understand what's happening, it's useful have some background on the country.  Until the break-up of the USSR in 1991, Ukraine had been under Russian rule (Tsarist until 1917, Soviet thereafter) for centuries.  Culturally, Ukraine and Russia are very similar, but many Ukrainians do not view their giant cousin as a friend; millions of Ukrainians died under the brutal repression and collectivization famines under Stalin.  Today Ukraine is a bilingual country, with about 60% of the population speaking Ukrainian and 100% speaking Russian.

After independence in 1991, Soviet-style authoritarian rule continued until the 2004 Orange Revolution which brought real democracy.  Since then, politics has been dominated by the split between pro-Western (about 45%) and pro-Russian (about 33%) elements of the population.  Western media reports usually depict this split as a geographical one; however, while it's true that the west and north lean more pro-Western while the east and south lean more pro-Russian, in fact the situation resembles our Democrat-Republican split.  Supporters of either position can be found all over the country.  Both factions have had their turns in power; both have produced divided and ineffectual governments which left the country economically stagnant and the people frustrated.  Yanukovych belongs to the pro-Russian faction.

Recently Ukraine has been negotiating an "association agreement" with the European Union, a deal strongly opposed by the Putin regime in Russia; Putin is trying to draw Ukraine into Russia's own power bloc, which also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.  Ukraine is by far the most important of the non-Russian states formerly part of the USSR (its population is about one-third as large as Russia's); drawing it into the Russian bloc would practically achieve Putin's goal of reconstituting the USSR.  At the last minute, Yanukovych changed his mind and refused to sign the EU agreement.  This led to protests by pro-Western Ukrainians who suspected him of bowing to Russian pressure, and want to safeguard the agreement which would strengthen Ukraine's status as a European democracy.

These protests started small, however.  What precipitated the real explosion was an incident Saturday, when riot police brutally cleared away an encampment of demonstrators in Independence Square, Kiev's public center.  Pro-Western Ukrainians fear that being dragged into the Russian bloc would doom their democracy; Russia is well on the way to becoming a police state and Belarus is a flat-out dictatorship.  Saturday's thuggery confirmed their fears that Yanukovych is following Putin's example -- and the country erupted.

The Orange Revolution's photogenic leader Yulia Tymoshenko isn't involved this time; she's in prison on trumped-up charges (another sign of the way the Yanukovych government is heading).  The politician most associated with the new rising, former boxer Vitali Klitschko, is at least a genuine outsider to the discredited establishment.

It's unclear what the outcome will be; the 2009 uprising in Iran was even larger than this, but failed to bring down that regime.  The stakes are very high, though.  It's not in the West's interest to see Putin's empire strengthened as massively as the addition of Ukraine would accomplish.  And a successful popular rising and repudiation of authoritarian rule in Ukraine would provide an example and inspiration to the Russian people themselves -- something which is no doubt an increasing concern for Putin.

On a personal note, the image at the top of this post (click to enlarge) brings back a lot of memories -- Independence Square has not changed very much since I was there in 2007.  If only I could be there now!

01 December 2013

Link round-up for 1 December 2013

Samsung needs to fire the ad agency that created this ad.

Europeans and Americans have trouble with each other's geography.

Rick Santorum's foray into pious movie-making is a devout dud (found via Republic of Gilead) -- more here.

Happy Thanksgiving from Mall-Wart.

Mario Piperni has a flock of turkeys overdue for slaughter.

In the age of information, ignorance is a choice.

Bitcoins are the Segway of currency.

P M Carpenter pwns a phone scammer.

Interesting question -- why didn't the media want to cover this successful charity event in my home city?

Republic of Gilead concludes its marathon series on fundamentalist home-schooling with some summary observations.  But remember, some home-schoolers aren't fundies.

Why is cable TV dying?  The comments on this article tell the story better than the article itself.

Sigh.....another case of abominable behavior by a Christian parent.

Here's a look at the private subcontractor that bungled the ACA website.  The corner seems to have been turned on the the law's progress, but insurance companies are still pulling a few nasty tricks.

Reagan's son records an ad supporting atheism.

Black Friday was marked by stupid violence including a stun-gun fight.  Video compilation here.

If you need an abortion in Texas, beware of this scam.

Anti-science nutters are joining forces with each other to fight science education.  They have fake history on offer as well.

Some Indians take a different view of Thanksgiving.

It's not just working on holidays -- corporate bosses are winning their legal battle to force their religious views on employees (found via Republic of Gilead).

A student from India working in the US lists the most surprising things about our country.

Rosa Rubicondior looks at sexuality in post-Christian Britain.

Why the "outrage" about this?  Is there something wrong with being healthy?

India's rise is stymied by an old obstacle -- corruption.

The Chinese city of Binzhou has a failed shopping mall built as a replica of the USS Nimitz.

Afghanistan plans to bring back stoning to death for adultery.  Here's more on sexuality in Afghanistan.

How can you not love a science article which begins with the words "Each poo is a time capsule....."?

The Neanderthals illustrate how evolution differs from a guided or intelligently-designed process.

Do insects have consciousness, and does it matter?