30 January 2018

A step backward?

One of the tools for evaluating American society's acceptance of gay people is GLAAD's "Accelerating Acceptance" report, an annual survey which tests public attitudes across a range of issues.  The report's results have been in line with other opinion surveys in showing a steady growth in acceptance year by year -- until the latest one, just released, which shows a decrease in the percentage of Americans with broadly accepting views, from 53% last year to 49% now.

It's conceivable that this might be just a statistical fluke -- 4% isn't a very big change -- but that's probably not the case, because other results are in line with the change.  The percentage of those who say they would be uncomfortable at discovering a family member is gay rose 3%, the proportion of gay people reporting encounters with discrimination is up 11%, etc.  These figures represent something real.

Confronted with evidence of inexorable social progress, the enemy likes to use the metaphor of the pendulum -- claiming that while attitudes may move in one direction for a while, they inevitably "swing back" to the more conservative position, and the midpoint of the swings doesn't really move.  However, there's no evidence that changes in public attitudes on social issues really work like that.  The success of the Nineteenth Amendment was not followed a few decades later by a mass shift of public opinion back toward the view that women shouldn't be allowed to vote after all, much less repeal of the Amendment.  The Civil Rights movement wasn't followed by a "swing back" to majority support for the KKK and Jim Crow laws, much less reinstatement of those laws.  The sexual revolution didn't end in a full-scale return to the values and behaviors of the fifties.  In each case there was some degree of backlash, yes, but except among lunatic-fringe elements, it never resulted in a full return to the attitudes of the previous status quo, much less actual reinstatement of the previous customs and laws.  Not even close.   There really is such a thing as a continuing trend of progress, even if temporary setbacks occur.

The linked report says the findings "show that the attacks on the community by the Trump administration are having a real effect" -- that is, that the decrease in acceptance is being caused by the more openly hostile stance of the government.  This, too, seems unlikely.  Is it really plausible that 4% of the US population, having previously felt accepting toward gays, has been persuaded by the Trump regime's (rather muddled and sporadic) anti-gay rhetoric that their tolerant stance was mistaken and that they should be more hostile?  It's hard to see how that would work.

I think what the findings represent is not a genuine increase in prejudice, but a more open expression of prejudice which was already there.  Most readers probably know of the "Bradley effect" -- even when speaking to anonymous pollsters, some people are uncomfortable declaring views they actually hold if those views are perceived by the larger society as being disreputable.  As homophobia has become increasingly marginalized over the last couple of decades, those who remain prejudiced have become less comfortable expressing it -- in some cases, even in anonymous surveys.

The difference Trump's rise to power made is that bigoted views of all kinds are now regularly emanating from the apex of the government, which means that their perceived disreputability and marginalization has decreased somewhat.  We've already seen the effects of this with racism, which has been manifesting itself much more openly since the 2016 election, with increased activity on far-right websites, the Alt-Right march and violence in Charlottesville, etc.  There's no evidence that this is happening because Trump's victory made more people become racist, and in fact the identifiable individuals involved in these activities have histories of racist views going back long before 2016.  It's not that there are more of them, it's that they're emboldened.

In the case of the 4% drop in the number of people who are accepting toward gays, I think that this 4% represents those who really weren't that accepting in the first place, but claimed in surveys that they were, because they knew their actual views were socially frowned upon.  Now, thanks to Trump and the policies he's pursuing, they perceive their views as more mainstream and thus feel free to express them.

One corollary of this is that, once a progressive stance on an issue gains an aura of mainstream respectability, surveys are probably overstating actual mass support for that view by just a little.  That is, the increase in support for gay equality we've seen over the last few years is real, but the surveys each year are probably running a couple of points ahead of the reality.

There is no pendulum swinging back.  All Trumpism has done is to reveal that the express train of progress has not moved quite as far toward its destination as we thought it had.  It is still moving, and it will still get there.

28 January 2018

Link round-up for 28 January 2018

Buy a souvenir shirt for the Trumpanzee in your life.

Cats, how do they work?

Crows vs. cigarettes is a win-win situation.

Do it!  Do it!

How much experience does a writer need?

Neil deGrasse Tyson has a question about bears.

Professional wrestling is all scripted.

Snake-handling Christians have met their match (found via Hackwhackers).

Barney the Purple Dinosaur has a new career.

Improve the currency.

Animals don't have to worry about taboos or bluenoses.

Harry Hamid is skeptical about gadgetry.

A stupid person discusses the Tide-pod-eating fad.

Take a look at the special effects of The Shape of Water.  Still gotta see that -- and it's making a splash at the Oscars.

They moved into their new house, but the previous owner had never left.

Learn about net neutrality at Burger King.

The "Trump is working" photo attracts widespread ridiculeLike this.  Now he's in the doghouse (found via Hackwhackers).  But don't call him a cunt.

Anyone can now make their own celebrity porn.

Jefferson had some interesting ideas for new states.

See where the blond people are.

Dumbest analogy ever (found via Bark Bark Woof Woof).

Western pop culture is fixated on simplistic good-vs-evil dichotomies.

The model for "Rosie the riveter" has died, but remains an icon.

Winning!

While they yell at phantoms, the country rots (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Here's how to avoid sexually harassing someone, British style.

Biblical "complementarianism" suffocates girls' development (and boys' too, in a way).

Do people really not know these things?

Movies from other countries shouldn't have to follow US rules.

George Soros has some tough words for tech monopolies (and he's right about China even if his timing was off).

Republican morality turns inside-out to accommodate Trump.

Fragmented and discouraged, the Alt-Right could become more violent.

Meet David Barton, the fake historian behind the "Christian nation" view of the US.

A former prosecutor is trying to educate the country about wrongful convictions.

Several states targeted by Republican tax "reform" are fighting back.

Being sloppy with classified information can have ghastly consequences.

"Feminists need rape" and Nazis are cool.  Oh, and this guy is on a school board.

Trump can't win his war against the Sun.

Dispel a myth about pens and pencils in space.

Trying to enforce these idiotic taboos will just transfer technological progress to countries where Christianity isn't an issue.

Creationists need to resort to lying to score a point.

Don't follow the wingnuts into the trap of rejecting science.

Fr. Pat Collins battles "demonic possession and other diabolical activity" and demands "safeguarding from the evil spirits" -- and he denounces those who disagree as "out of touch with reality".

Macron admits that the French would probably vote to leave the European Union if they were given a referendum.

Greenland has Iceland surrounded, sort of.

Teach basic skills early (seriously, I'm curious what country this is).

I can't tell where this is either, but I'd bet on Japan.

Check out these Japanese consumer products.

South Korean pop singer Holland's new coming-out video is making waves.

This is a fitting portrait of Putin.

As Turkey presses its attack on our Kurdish allies, the US is ineffectual.

Scandal rocks a beauty pageant in Saudi Arabia.

In India, under the rule of a thuggish religion-centered party, creationism is gaining traction (sounds familiar).

Globally, 82% of wealth created last year went to the richest 1%.  This kind of shit is an example of why.

In Austin TX, the Women's March amassed the biggest crowd in the city's history; other cities here.  Tengrain reports from SeattleLGBTQ Nation and Buzzfeed have the best signs.  The resistance will shape politics for years to come.  But these guys shouldn't have bothered to show up.

Trump is the culmination of decades of the Republican politics of destruction.  Shitholegate unmasked him and his supporters.  Now his attacks on NAFTA have trapped him -- and, potentially, the continent.

Yeah, yeah, release the memo, whatevs.

Courtland Sykes is a manly RepublicanMore here.

The "blue wave" isn't just about Congress.  We must not let polls make us overconfident.  But no, Democrats don't have anything to gain by running anti-abortion candidates.  Here's another special election where, surprisingly, we have a chance.

Bloomberg agrees that Republicans didn't win the shutdown fight (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

A simple question could sink Trump.

Susan Collins treats fellow Republican Senators like kids, and they act the part.

Don't wait -- protect your right to vote.

Want more links?  Fair and Unbalanced has these and these (mostly political).

26 January 2018

The enemy of my enemy

Most readers of this blog, I assume, don't know a lot about Satanism.  Many people vaguely imagine it to be a sort of "evil" form of religion, involving worship of the Devil.  In fact, most (not all) modern Satanist groups and people look upon Satan is a mythical or inspirational figure who represents their world-view, not as a deity who literally exists.  I consider Satanism not a religion but an anti-religion.  Here's what I mean.

I've often compared religion to a kind of parasitic mental infection, a disease.  By this analogy, atheism -- the absence of religion -- would be equivalent to health, the absence of disease.  Satanism, then, would be like a medicine, an antibiotic -- a course of treatment to banish the disease.  One of the key memes of Satanism is the role of Satan as the adversary, the embodiment of rebellion against unjust and tyrannical authority.  As such, he is an ideal inspirational figure for the revolt against Christian influences, both in society as a whole and within oneself.  Even self-aware atheists inevitably retain some Christian ways of thinking and feeling, often without knowing them for what they are.  Satanism can help the individual purge these contaminants and poisons from his mind.

Modern Satanism is generally held to date back to the founding of the Church of Satan by Anton LaVey in 1966.  In fact, Satanism (like Wicca) drew considerable inspiration from the ideas of the bizarre and fascinating Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), and Satanism of a kind dates back at least to the secret Black Mass rituals of Abbé Étienne Guibourg and Madame de Montespan in Paris in the 1670s.  Before that, there are lurid and unreliable stories of secret beliefs and rituals among peasants ground down by the Church and nobility, beliefs and rituals which may have invoked Satan as the enemy of their oppressors, or may have been survivals of pre-Christian paganism -- if they really existed at all.  Satanism has evolved over time in accordance with the needs and circumstances of those who practiced it, and appropriately so; the concept of an inviolable "Satanist orthodoxy" would be a contradiction in terms.

In the time of Trump and the Republican minority-rule regime, there is no shortage of unjust authority to revolt against.  The group most visibly holding high the banner of the ultimate rebel is The Satanic Temple, which has been fighting for years against the imposition of Christian taboos on society.  They've challenged abortion restrictions, resisted establishment of religion in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and even plotted to turn Fred Phelps gay in the afterlife (here's an overview of their campaigns).  They use the language of religious freedom to defend freedom from religion, keeping the enemy off balance.

But isn't Satanism supposed to be "evil"?  Well, creative minds from Baudelaire to George Bernard Shaw have seen Satan as a more sympathetic figure than the scolding and murderous tyrant he opposes.  As Christianity teaches "turn the other cheek" and "resist not evil" (precepts any tyrant would love to see inculcated in his subjects, which helps explain why rulers from Constantine on promoted Christianity), as well as self-renunciation and fantasies of an afterlife, the adversarial creed naturally teaches the opposite.  It's a life-affirming, realistic philosophy that blasts away all that cobwebby nonsense with the scorn it deserves, and encourages you to fight back without reservation or apology.  Parts of LaVey's The Satanic Bible and Crowley's Liber Al Vel Legis express this with a vigor and ferocity far beyond what conventional atheism can offer.  I'll never forget the liberating feeling of reading them for the first time.

The Satanic Temple, operating at a time when the oppressive nature of Christianity is more widely recognized, uses less explosive language in its seven tenets, but I still see the same spirit there:

One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.

The freedom of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.

To me, one of the best things about atheism is the knowledge that my life is my own, not cluttered up with any "plan" or "purpose" from a "higher power".  Even some people who claim not to be religious still cling to the fetish of enslavement, merely substituting the state for God as their "higher power" (with compulsory national service, for example).  A common thread in most forms of modern Satanism is a fierce commitment to individual self-determination, far stronger than that of atheism or humanism.

It has been said that militant Islam holds appeal for downtrodden people in many countries because "it is the one religion that is prepared to fight".  Unfortunately, what it fights for is just another variant on the same old poisonous Abrahamic stew of taboos, obedience, conformity, and worship of an imaginary supernatural tyrant (the very word islâm translates as "submission").  If you're looking for something to rip that whole mind-set out by the roots, something that attacks religion head-on instead of ignoring it (or fantasizing about co-existing with it) as atheism and humanism largely do, a serious look at Satanist ideas is well worth your time.

24 January 2018

Shutdown shitstorm

As soon as Senate Democrats agreed to a deal to end the shutdown on Monday, a predictable fusillade of attacks erupted from much of the left -- that the Democrats were spineless, had given up the fight too quickly when the public was blaming the Republicans, had betrayed the base and the spirit of the Women's March the day before, etc.  Much of this vitriol was posted so quickly that it was clear the critics had not taken time to learn the details or consider the broader situation.  For some people, "Democrats always cave" is a recorded script they carry around in their heads, to be played whenever any remotely applicable news story pulls the string on their backs.

Recent history doesn't support this view of Democrats in Congress, however.  Recall how they were unanimously reliable votes against ACA repeal, tax "reform", and other proposed atrocities over the last year, forcing the Republicans to rely on entirely on their own narrow majorities, which often splintered and failed due to factionalism and unwillingness to compromise (and public pressure).  We were able to win because our people stood together while the enemy was divided.  In fact, Democrats in Congress have repeatedly stood firm despite the inherent weakness of being in the minority.

In this case, they probably could not have won, and standing fast and dragging out the shutdown would probably have done a lot of political damage with no win to offset it.

First off, public opinion was rapidly shifting against the Democrats' position.  Bloggers kept pointing at that poll showing 48% blaming Republicans for the shutdown vs 28% blaming Democrats, but a new poll released Monday showed the ratio shrinking to 41% to 36%.  This trend would have continued.  Fair or not, the talking point that Democrats were holding military paychecks (and CHIP beneficiaries) hostage for the sake of illegal aliens was a devastatingly effective one.  While a large majority of Americans favor protecting DREAMers, 56% said that doing so was not worth a shutdown.  Neither time nor the public were on our side here.

(Yes, I know the argument that Democrats couldn't be blamed because Republicans control both Houses and the Presidency.  That doesn't work.  Most voters are aware of filibusters and know that a majority short of 60 is not, in fact, full control of the Senate in many situations.  The issue was plainly that Democrats were refusing to let the funding bill pass because they were demanding something not related to it.  And the above-cited poll shows that people were in fact moving towards blaming the Democrats, despite any claim that they couldn't.)

By taking the deal offered, Democrats saved CHIP and gave up nothing except a DACA fix that couldn't have been obtained by prolonging the shutdown anyway.  Now the ball is back in the Republicans' court. The shutdown had put Democrats in the position of having to offend either the political center or the radicals among their own base. They did the smart thing and chose to risk offending the radicals. Now it's the Republicans who are in that position. They can alienate the political center by doing nothing to save DACA and producing an endless stream of news stories about deportations and broken families, or they can pass something and infuriate the knuckle-dragging Trumpanzees.  And the Republican base is far more infested with fanatics who view any compromise as betrayal than ours is.

Democrats are now back to being seen as defenders of DACA, which most voters support, rather than as using a shutdown for leverage, which most voters reject.

I'm glad to see that quite a few liberal blogs and sites have taken a more realistic view:

HuffPost notes that ending the shutdown staved off a turn of public opinion against not only the Democrats but also the DREAMers.

TPM is astonished at those who jump to conclusions and fail to see the bigger picture.

Vox reminds us that Democrats haven't really given up any leverage.

The Mahablog opines that Schumer made the best of a bad situation.

The Carpentariat points out that the fight was moving onto Trump's turf, that it was one Democrats couldn't win, and that recriminations play into the enemy's hands.

As for the other side, this right-wing blogger is convinced that the Republicans caved, while this RedState diarist not only agrees but takes it into Mark of the Beast territory.

Democrats, as a legislative minority, are in a weak position.  They have done much to stymie the Republicans despite that.  But there will be battles that cannot be won.  There will be battles that, being unwinnable, are best avoided entirely since fighting would cause political damage and gain nothing for anybody.  There will be times when compromise is the only possible way to win things which are essential.  If too many Democratic voters decide they cannot tolerate these realities, then in November they will fail to give our Congressional representatives the majorities they need to stand firm and really make it stick, and to start undoing the damage the Republicans are inflicting.  The Republican base's chronic suspicion of its establishment, and inability to recognize the limitations of power, have hobbled and divided our enemies.  The last thing we should do is imitate those things.

22 January 2018

Video of the day -- The Greatest


Song "The Greatest" by Sia Kate Isobelle Furler.  Found via Fair and Unbalanced.  Well worth fullscreen.  The performance of lead dancer Maddie Ziegler is all the more stunning given that she must have been only 13 when this was filmed.

While Sia has not confirmed this, the video is widely interpreted as a tribute to the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre of June 2016.

21 January 2018

Link round-up for 21 January 2018

See what happens when a crow lands on a weather cam.

Every boy wants a Big Dick.

Jesus has returned, but he's encountered a slight problem.

Don't mess with this lizard.  And don't forget the conditioner.

Machine transcription creates inadvertent poetry.

"Girtherism" is the new Presidential conspiracy theory.  More here.

Why would he bring a used condom?

Someone actually went to the trouble of making this.

Art should go back to being non-political.

IDIOT n.:  moron, dunce, nitwit, dolt, imbecile, half-wit, simpleton, dumbass.  See also FOOL.

When is an island not an island?  When it annoys Alexander the Great.

The soundtrack of the film The Graduate was groundbreaking for its time (found via Bark Bark Woof Woof).

The great Ben Jonson said, "Language most shows a man; speak, that I may see thee."  Blogger O'Hollern learns this lesson in a humble big-box store.

Somewhere out there, a disk-shaped artificial object is hurtling through space at terrifying speed.

Hollywood did more than just wear black.

It's a Savage truth (found via Yellowdog Granny).

When did you know?

Read this interminable blathering to understand why hardly anyone still pays attention to these guys.

Bears are fast.

Ostriches are kinky.

Eat sushi, get something extra.

Here's why we'd be better off with an atheist President (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Bill Maher is back in action.

Thanks for reminding me why I got out of academia.

Whoever did this needs to get fired.

It's not easy being an atheist in rural Ohio.

Reburied properly.

Don't let #MeToo get hijacked by witch-hunters.

".....potentially damaging productivity."

Marijuana is a gateway drug (found via Hackwhackers).  But Americans overwhelmingly support legalizing it in one form or another.

Russian twitter bots push #ReleaseTheMemo, the latest Republican effort at distraction.

Trump will give the Christian Right what it wants -- a right for Christians to deny medical treatment to people they disapprove of.

Charges against five US Navy officers involved in a fatal collision may just be a cover-up of the real problems.

Know the past, see it in the present.

RedState says Mark Steyn has jumped the shark -- but read the comments to see what their readership thinks.

Pope Francis is just as big a pile of shit as any other Pope.  More here.

Shakesville posted the full text of King's immortal Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

A good Samaritan intervenes in a shocking case of patient dumping.

Jerry Coyne schools another twit trying to argue that religion is compatible with science.

Through these strange seas, no one has ever voyaged.

This is perhaps the most remote place on Earth.

See images from the Juno mission to Jupiter (from a comment by Marc McKenzie).

Zombie ant fungus is even worse than it sounds.

Trump is destroying foreigners' respect for the US.

Amazon delivery drivers in the UK describe their working conditions as so barbarous, it sounds like the US.

Here's why Trump loves Norway.

Not everyone shares American concerns (read this too).

Establishing a sea-based nuclear deterrent is technologically difficult -- not all countries can do it easily or quickly.

Long suppressed, paganism is making a comeback in Greece (found via Mendip).

The Kurdish fighters who defeated Dâ'ish (ISIL) are now being threatened by Turkey.

With Trump's US an unreliable partner, other democracies work to contain the Beijing gangster-state -- India has tested a nuclear missile capable of reaching eastern China, while Japan and Australia tighten their military relationship.

Prime Minister Abe commemorates a Japanese hero of World War II.

History still looms darkly over the Japan-China relationship.

Best political link of the week:  Democrats must broaden their appeal without compromising on core principles (this is a long post, but it's worth reading the whole thing).

There's strong evidence that Trump is a racist (found via Bark Bark Woof Woof), and his behavior is childish.  Just one demographic group still give him majority support.  But certain people liked his "shithole countries" remark.

By Trump-era standards, Arpaio is well qualified (found via Yellowdog Granny).

This is what Mueller probably wants to ask Bannon about.

Trump's health is, in fact, terrible.

Electoral-Vote.com looks at this year's state Governor races -- they look good for our side.  Democrats mustn't blow our 2018 chances with internecine infighting (I don't think most voters give a crap about these squabbles). Contrast failure and success.

The Christian Right's support for Trump is unmasking their long-standing hypocrisy.

This Pennsylvania gerrymandering case bears watching.

David Frum looks at how Trump correctly read the electorate, and led conservatism to a dead endMore here.

See reports from yesterday's Women's March at Crooks and Liars, Raw Story, and HuffPost.

Here's the text of Flake's speech attacking Trump.  Booman wants actions, not just words.

Want even more links?  Check out other round-ups at Miss Cellania and TYWKIWDBI.

20 January 2018

Good advice

Found via Yellowdog Granny.  Note:  Robert Reich is apparently not the author (link from Jeannie in PA in comment); still good advice, however.

19 January 2018

Nobody's perfect, and it doesn't matter

On Wednesday's videos of the day post, one comment objected to Sam Harris not on the basis of any actual content of the video posted, but because of his alleged belief in "determinism" (the idea that choice is an illusion and all events, including human thoughts and actions, are predestined and unchangeable).  Now, I don't believe anyone literally believes in determinism in that sense -- aside from the fact that quantum physics has rendered it untenable, no one actually behaves or thinks the way he would if he truly believed that he and all other humans were mere automata with no actual choice about their actions.  Morality itself would be meaningless if one accepted determinism.  Harris may have expressed a belief in some form of determinism for all I know (I'm not as familiar with his thinking as I am with that of Dawkins or Hitchens), but his expressed views on subjects like morality and religion presuppose a world in which humans can meaningfully make choices and judgments.

But -- and this is my point -- even if Harris does believe in determinism in whatever sense, it doesn't matter.

Some people are quick to dismiss the achievements of our thinkers and fighters on the basis of one or two peripheral errors.  The problem is, nobody's perfect.  Hitchens, for example, supported the Iraq invasion, and I was once upbraided by a commenter for posting a video of his because of this, as if being wrong on that single point somehow negated his immense contributions to the struggle against religion.  Bill Maher is known to flirt with anti-vaccine quackery.  Even geniuses are not immune.  Einstein rejected certain aspects of quantum theory which have since been experimentally confirmed.  Isaac Newton wasted his brilliant intellect trying to interpret Biblical prophecies.  But not many people would be so foolish as to bring that up in an effort to discredit calculus.

The case is even clearer when it comes to inadequacies in contemporary knowledge.  It would be absurd to fault Aristotle for accepting a geocentric model of the solar system, for example.  He lived at a time when humans had not yet developed the instruments and knowledge of physical laws necessary to prove the heliocentric model.  Similarly, despite recent advances in brain science, our own time's understanding of how consciousness, thought, and associated mental phenomena actually work is sketchy at best.  Jumping to the conclusion that free will must be an illusion, because our current knowledge cannot account for it, is an understandable error.

Some of our modern heroes such as Dawkins and Randi are, as far as I know, free of any taint of loopy ideas -- but even if I found out that they harbored a soft spot for something like reincarnation or bigfoot (unlikely, I hasten to add), it wouldn't diminish my respect for their contributions at all.  The magnitude of those contributions reduces minor human failings to irrelevance.

17 January 2018

Videos of the day -- prominent atheists on religion

Richard Dawkins on the Ten Commandments:


Sam Harris on some basic problems with Christianity:


Dawkins answers questions from Redditors:

The Sam Harris book sounds like a must-read for the moral-philosopher types.  And apparently Dawkins agrees with me about what is the greatest question science still needs to resolve -- what consciousness is and how it evolved.

15 January 2018

The bloody twins

We find ourselves in the midst of a low-intensity but intermittently-deadly war which we can only fight effectively if we understand it properly.  It appears to be a war between the two "occupation zones" into which our civilization has been divided for more than a millennium, and the enemy, the real enemy, wants you to believe that that is indeed what's going on.

In fact, it's a war being waged by that enemy -- the "occupiers" in both regions -- against the mass of people in both regions.  But they also strike at each other's subjects, paradoxically, in an effort to inflame us all, and to drag us all down into the bloody morass of violence and slavery they seek to impose.

These "occupiers" are not physical armies but ideas, ideas possessing a terrifying power to take over and rule human brains, like parasites.  Today they are inflamed with hate and rage because more and more humans are breaking free of their toxic control.  They have names -- Christianity and Islam, the bloody twins.

Our half of the old world has been luckier.  Secularization began four hundred years ago in Christianity's zone, much earlier than in Islam's.  The barbarisms of the age of true belief -- the witch-burnings, the ghastly religious wars, the persecution of heretics -- are becoming dim memories.  Today much of the West is so secular that Christian extremism can no longer sway enough brains to form a major movement.  The exception, unhappily, is the West's leading country -- the United States.

The growth of violent Islamic extremism in the Middle East since the 1990s, like the growth of militant Christian fundamentalism in the US since the 1970s, is essentially a conservative reaction to increasing secularism in each society, especially among younger people. In both cases the religious hard-liners, alarmed at seeing "their" people turning away from age-old traditional religious taboos and prejudices, reacted with an all-out effort to re-assert control and re-impose the old ways.

The two reactionary religious extremist movements, in the US and in the Middle East, continue to lash out at each other, provoke each other, feed each other. Trump's recent Jerusalem move, the "Muslim ban", and various ill-considered military operations in Muslim countries (such as the Iraq invasion) help jihadists to demonize the US in the eyes of more mainstream Muslims. Jihadist terrorist attacks in the West and persecution of Christian minorities in the Middle East help American fundamentalists to demonize Islam in the eyes of Americans and, they hope, of Westerners generally.

Don't let them trick you.  Most of the victims of jihadism have been Middle Eastern people who either were not Muslim or were not Muslim enough.  The fundamentalists in the US who rant about the menace of Sharî'ah law seek ultimately to impose something rather like it, dragging us back to the days when their taboos were enforced by the state, upon everyone.  Both jihadism and Christian fundamentalism would use the masses of people in their zones as cannon fodder for endless, pointless battles against each other, like the phony wars between the superstates in Orwell's 1984, the true purpose being to maintain the state of fear, siege, and hysteria in which fanaticism can flourish.

The ordinary people of the Middle East and North Africa are not the enemies of the ordinary people of the West.  The enemies of both are the bloody twins, hungry to restore their faltering rule over us all.

[Part of this post is adapted from a comment here.]

14 January 2018

Link round-up for 14 January 2018

A kitten goes for a wild ride.

Some animals are bigger than you think.

Turtles and tortoises, tiny and large.

Explore a fascinating tradition of northern Colombia.

Please support this man's business.

Crazy Eddie brings us the truth about lemmings.

Maybe Bannon can get a new job.

Beware of sealioning.

Don't look, don't touch, don't think.

There are some who would support Bachmann running for Senate (found via Hackwhackers).

Ah, conservative domestic bliss.

If this were true, it would devastate the Catholic Church.

Just a difference of opinion, or maybe not.

There are only two words for "tea" (and they're actually the same word).

Here's a case of natural selection in action.

Sexism plays a role in assessments of The Last Jedi.

Sometimes, being nice works (but in some cases it wouldn't).

Certain city workers in Oklahoma have issues.

Whom to exclude, whom to shun -- that's what Christianity is about (as I discussed here).  But this guy gets a standing ovation (another view here).

Green Eagle surveys the wingnut world of delusions.

The marijuana industry isn't all that scared of the crackdown.  Well, their opponents include people like this and this.

Jerry Coyne dissects a scurrilous attack on Stephen Pinker.

The witch hunts of the later Middle Ages may have been about competition for religious market share.

If you have done good in your life, Christianity disdains it, and you.

Wolff's claim that Trump didn't recognize Boehner's name is actually quite credible.

Contrary to religionists' hopes, most Americans under 30 don't support forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.

Collecting on fake debt is the latest scam (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

Religious belief enhances family life.

Missouri furnishes the latest example of Republican sexual hypocrisy (and perhaps blackmail).

The comment mentioned here never did get posted, so I can only conclude the moderators prefer to leave their readers confused about the facts.

There's no longer much public support for anti-gay discrimination.

Building Trump's wall would face substantial obstacles.

The role of Christianity in Nazi Germany has lessons for us today.

Solar power is helping Puerto Rico recover from the hurricanes.

Telephone harassers use technology in their long war against mankind.

Yes, global warming can cause colder winters (don't miss the two videos at the end, on hopeful new technology).  Some people can't quite understand the situation.

We need more science education -- and more scientists in Congress (found via TYWKIWDBI).

What if Earth had rings?

For the world as a whole, 2017 was a good year.

Republicans try to prevent abortion even in foreign countries, with disastrous results, and bizarrely claim that opposing this is "cultural imperialism".

Trump wants more immigrants from Norway, but they're not coming.

Remember Willem Arondeus, a hero of the Dutch anti-Nazi resistance.

Germany considers a law to deport anti-Semitic immigrants.

A single court ruling could bring gay marriage to most of Latin America.

The new wave of protests shows that Iranians are losing their fear of the regime.

China has built its first "solar road" and parts of it are already being stolen.

A "limited strike" on North Korea would likely bring disaster.

Radical Hindus resort to violence against the blasphemy of having to treat "untouchables" decently.

Mueller's obstruction-of-justice case against Trump looks solid, and Americans believe his investigation is fair, by 59% to 26%.  We must not normalize Trump's behavior.  He's gradually losing his base.  Cartoonists have their say.

Republicans could probably win in 2018 with this plan, but there's not a chance in Hell they'll use it.

Shitholegate continuesThe knuckle-draggers love itTwitter reactsLinks here.  And these people exist.

Democrats could lose some House seat pick-ups in California due to having too many candidates.

Humiliated by association with Trump, "responsible" Republicans try to shoot the messenger. But Mafia-like Republican politics dates back long before Trump.

Hey, Rubio did something good.

Oprah for President is an unwise idea and not what the public wantsExperience does matter.  Anyway, right now we need to focus on 2018.

Want more links?  TYWKIWDBI has its own round-up.

12 January 2018

When the truth is worse than a lie

Donald Trump has become known for making a great many statements which are, shall we say, other than congruent with the truth.  However, it would be wrong to say that he never tells the truth.  The problem is that he tends to tell the truth in cases where, in fact, lying would be the wiser course.

About a month ago, Trump announced that the US would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy there from its current location in Tel Aviv.  On a certain level this was simply acknowledging reality; Jerusalem is Israel's capital, and keeping the embassy in another city (albeit only 35 miles away) doubtless creates some practical inconveniences.  However, the real-world effect of Trump's statement was to inflame anti-American sentiment in much of the Middle East and to torpedo any US role as mediator in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for the foreseeable future.

There is a genre of lying which forms an integral part of diplomacy, and is necessary for international relations to function as smoothly as they do. Trump doesn't seem to grasp that diplomacy sometimes requires fudging reality to sooth wounded pride. Everyone who functions in the real world knows that Jerusalem is Israel's capital and that there will never be any "Palestinian state" in the West Bank, just as everyone who functions in the real world knows that Taiwan and China are now two separate countries and probably always will be so. But when dealing with people who still wish that reality were other than it is, one is wise to avoid "rubbing it in".  Better to make a pretense of going along with their preferred fictions -- better, that is, to lie.

It's surprising that someone who claims to be a great negotiator doesn't realize this.

09 January 2018

Video of the day -- standing up for reality


This is a campaign ad for Jason Westin, a Texas Democratic candidate for Congress.  Westin is a doctor, not a lawyer or businessman as most who go into politics are.  His ad reflects that, focusing on the right wing's attacks on science, knowledge, and objective reality itself.

This is a long-standing problem in American culture generally, not just politics -- and it's not entirely confined to the right wing either, though it's much worse there.  In a world where technological progress is accelerating, and national power and wealth increasingly depend upon it, the US cannot afford to lobotomize itself by disdaining the science on which technology depends.  As the USSR fell behind the West technologically because of political interference in science, so the US could fall behind better-educated, scientifically-sophisticated competitors such as Japan, South Korea, and western Europe.  In some areas, it's already happening.

I've long thought we need more political leaders drawn from science and engineering backgrounds, fields which foster a grasp of reality as it actually is, regardless of how someone wants it to be, or how some ideology or sacred text says it should be.  The same is true of a doctor's training and experience.

Found via Crooks and Liars, which has a transcript.

07 January 2018

Link round-up for 7 January 2018

Bad design, indeed.

The train arrives and the passengers disembark.  Maybe they'll stay at this hotel.

It's the year of the dog!  So watch these dogs chasing a car.

This World War I footage is not authentic -- you can tell by the jeep.

Satan is on Twitter.

Serve this coffee with this cake, and decorate the table with cross-stitched candle flames.

WTF?

Cats go everywhere -- just look at them.

Fox News viewers.....

Here's a vignette from the libertarian ideal world (see comments too).

Remember ancient technology.

They have a strange god.  But don't criticize!

The new Trump energy drink may not sell very well.

What kind of storms are they having out there?

Kids need time to let off steam.

1001 Reasons blog posts an open letter to Trump (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Green Eagle rounds up the latest from the wingnutosphere, including space aliens, right-wing "humor", and the worst jacket ever.

Here's an interesting look at nativity scenes.

Fly with the birds.

The crossing of two highways forms an impromptu work of art.

Vote them out!

Hackwhackers has more 2017 retrospectives.  Here's Dave Barry's, and here are some winners and losers.  There's plenty of good news, mostly economic.  And here's 2018 (yes, 2018) in review.

Ladies, beware of two-way mirrors (the post has ways to detect them).

Twitter sides with Nazis against a Jewish journalist (found via Politics Plus).

The virgin birth of Jesus is not really well-attested in the Bible.

Activists plan to force Congress to restore net neutrality.

The Christian Right is becoming divided over the issue of support for Trump.  Don't let "respectable" evangelical leaders deny reality.

The frequency of rape in the US decreased dramatically between 1979 and 2009 -- and there's an obvious reason for that.

Green Eagle looks at an early pioneer of conservative journalism.

Is this feminism?

These were medical students in 1885.

Chronic pain sufferers have it bad enough -- now they're being sacrificed on the altar of the "opioid epidemic".

Worst Trump hypocrisy yet (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Reality-denial can kill you.

This post on atheism prompted another discussion between me and Daniel Wilcox.

In the fight over Confederate monuments, the most honest voices on the right are.....white supremacists.

"Pink poison" may save the rhino.

An Australian journalist speaks bluntly about the decline of US leadership under Trump.

This is what socialism looks like.  This is what a regulated labor market looks like.

The German Catholic Church has tons of money, but not enough Catholics. The Church of England seems to be in a similar position.

Europe too has fake Noah's arks, and they're a dangerous nuisance.

I said this kind of thing was going to happen -- with Trump making the US unreliable as an ally, Japan considers upgrading two warships to aircraft carriers to make its own military more effective.

A North Korean failed missile test hit one of the country's own cities.  South Korea is brushing Trump off and opening talks with the North.

The current protests in Iran are very different from the 2009 uprising.

A new census in Lebanon finds far fewer Palestinian refugees than officially estimated (all these numbers are meaningless anyway, since they count descendants of refugees as being refugees -- only a small, now-elderly fraction of them actually came from Palestine).

Our government needs to get tough with the Middle East's most barbaric regime.

South Africa contemplates repeating Zimbabwe's mistake.

Sexism among Democrats could hurt us in 2020 (some of the comments on the post aren't encouraging).

Pundits assess Trump's first year.  He's at least made it clear that a "CEO President" is a terrible idea.  Per Paul Krugman, the Republican party is now fully his, and will fall with him.

The end of the phony "vote fraud commission" doesn't mean vote-suppression efforts have ended.  Here's the latest attack on voting rights.  It's not going to stop.

California can resist.

Taking the Senate this year is important, but Bannon's fall will make it harder.  The enemy is targeting some of our seats too, and expects to keep control.

Susan Collins was conned into voting for tax "reform".

Trump's legal threats against Bannon and Wolff are a very bad idea -- he couldn't win.  His tweetstorms aren't a strategic distraction -- he's just live-tweeting Fox News.  His mental instability has made the case for his removal.  His contempt for the law is explained by his background.

Support this legislation.  And support these organizations.

Fight Trump, not each other.

Not enough links?  TYWKIWDBI has its own round-up.

[353 days down, 1,109 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

05 January 2018

Republicans, going to pot

Jeff Sessions has just handed the Democrats a winning issue for this year's elections.  The question is, will our party and candidates be smart enough to embrace it?

By threatening a crackdown on legal marijuana, Sessions and the Trump minority-rule regime in general are once again "standing athwart history, yelling 'stop'".  The movement to decriminalize marijuana is clearly gathering steam -- recreational marijuana is now legal in eight states, and support among the American people has reached 64% -- even among Republicans it's 51%.  Tens of millions of ordinary Americans use marijuana routinely, including many who usually vote Republican; some Republicans also balk at the enormous wastage of money represented by enforcement of draconian laws against a drug far less harmful than alcohol or cigarettes.

Yet this is an issue where politicians and the Democratic party have never taken the lead.  They've treated it as something slightly tainted, to be kept at arm's length, or at least as being un-serious and a low priority (an error of which even Obama was guilty, at least early in his administration).  It's the people who have forced progress, dragging short-sighted "leaders" along in their wake -- the wave of legalization across the states has been driven by referendums, not legislation.

The Democratic party needs to fully embrace the defense of legal marijuana.  Timidity and fence-sitting won't do.  Sessions's move creates another threat to vulnerable House Republicans in districts with a lot of swing voters.  Younger people support legalization in even greater numbers than the general public, so this issue can help solve the problem of getting them to come out and vote.  Voters in the eight states which have legalized marijuana won't be happy that the central government wants to override their decision.  But to take full advantage of this, Democrats need to give those voters something to vote for.

Besides being a winning political issue, defending legalization is the right thing to do.  Just as with sexual issues, what an individual does at home in private is none of the government's goddamn business.  Marijuana prohibition not only wastes money, it puts huge numbers of people behind bars for something harmless that shouldn't be illegal at all.

At least one Republican Senator is already speaking out forcefully against the crackdown.  Our whole party needs to do the same.

02 January 2018

God's thugs go into action

As expected, the Iranian theocracy has begun cracking down on the protests that have raged in several of the nation's cities for days now.  In Tehran alone, 450 people have been arrested, and that number will certainly grow.  Though the protests have focused on economic issues and to some extent on nationalism and the repressive nature of the religious state, the regime has predictably blamed outside provocateurs, namely "the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia" (well, at least they didn't do the traditional thing and blame the Jews).  It remains to be seen whether the crackdown will intimidate the population back into quiescence or inflame further resistance.

One other thing is noteworthy about the crackdown:

Ghazanfarabadi said the detainees will be soon put on trial and the ringleaders would face serious charges including "moharebeh" -- an Islamic term meaning warring against God -- which carries the death penalty.

This is what happens in a theocratic state, the antithesis of a secular system where religion and government are kept strictly separated.  Where the state represents God, all resistance to the will of the state is blasphemy, sin, morally outrageous, and indeed "warring against God".  And since theocracies tend to be just as corrupt and incompetent and brutal as authoritarian regimes in general, run by the same kind of shabby, greedy, corrupt little men, they inevitably provoke the same kind of resistance, whether passive or active.  But theocrats claim to be more than ordinary bullies and criminals like the ones currently in power in Moscow and Beijing -- they claim to hold the exalted status of ventriloquist's dummies for the creator and overlord of the entire universe, the arbiter of good and evil.  As such, no penalty is too severe for the crime of opposing their miserable cruelties and depredations.

And likewise the thugs who carry out the regime's dirty work in the streets and prisons are holy thugs.  When they beat, rape, and murder the citizenry, they are doing God's work, and thus need not be troubled by any qualms of conscience.  Never was a truer sentence written than "Religions are not sources of objective morals, they are sources of excuses for behaving immorally".  Basing the state itself on this is a formula for ugliness indeed.

One other point about events in Iran is worth making.  Al-Jazeera has a good discussion of why these protests are happening, and how they differ from the vastly larger uprising of 2009 which intimidated the theocrats into allowing the election of Rouhani as President in 2013.  Notice, however, how little the United States is even mentioned.  Americans, ranging from bloggers and pundits to the ego-besotted orangutan currently occupying the White House, like to think of ourselves as the prime movers of everything that happens in the world, whether good or ill.  As another example, Trump's supporters have been suggesting that the recent near-total defeat of Dâ'ish (ISIL) is somehow attributable to him, in contrast with Obama's "failure" to achieve this result during his term in office.

In fact, the victory over Dâ'ish was the work primarily of the Kurdish and Arab forces which have been waging a slow, bloody, grinding war of liberation against it for years, with the US and the West in general playing a supporting role under both Presidents.  Always remember, it's not about us.  Events in Iran, and in the Middle East generally, are mostly driven by Middle Eastern people, ideas, and social and economic forces.  The rest of the world is not just a passive arena dominated by side effects of political conflicts within the US.  Every region has to be understood on its own terms.