30 August 2007

The color out of.....China

Now it's paint sets imported from China that have been found to present a possible health risk -- story here. (And that's not even counting any possible brain effects from viewing the garish paint job on the toy store depicted.)

Link sent by Mendip, who comments: "There seems to be a difference between this country and China. Here, we have had fellows like George Washington Carver creating dozens of products just from peanuts. In China, they have the same type of person, but they’re doing it with lead, rat poison, etc. It’s ironic that the so-called Communists of that land seem unaware or in opposition to many of the points brought up in Sinclair’s “The Jungle”, (which was supposed to be propaganda for a Socialistic change in America). We have several excellent Asian groceries in our area that my wife and I used to frequent, (there are various moderate to large populations of various Eastern nationalities in Northern Virginia), and we’ve pulled away – aware that none of this stuff is really being checked, there or here. I’m now hesitant to even eat at a Chinese restaurant!"

28 August 2007

The adventures of Republicans (2)

Larry Craig is the latest to follow in the footsteps of Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, David Vitter, and Bob Allen. What the heck is wrong with these people?!

Update: "Go home, Senator Wide Stance."

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26 August 2007

Sunday reading list

Won't be posting any more today -- trying to rest a sore arm and shoulder (too much keyboard time at the temp job, I suspect). But here are some worthy postings by other bloggers:

Daylight Atheist stands up for the militancy of modern atheists, with some great quotes from our predecessors of generations past.

Mary Madigan discusses art, violence, and cultural cowardice in Britain.

Jabberwock seems to not entirely agree with Orson Scott Card's views on homosexuality.

Samurai Frog contrasts a 1980s childhood with the over-protectiveness of today.

Iraq: what's really going on?

Ralph Peters, writing from Fallujah, Iraq, assesses the situation there:

Out here in Anbar Province - long the most troubled in Iraq - the change has come so swiftly and thoroughly that it's dazzling. Marines who were under fire routinely just months ago are now directing their former enemies in battle.

Although this trend has been reported, our battlefield leaders here agree that the magnitude of the shift hasn't registered back home: Al Qaeda is on the verge of a humiliating, devastating strategic defeat - rejected by their fellow Sunni Muslims.

Forget the anti-war nonsense you hear. The truth is that our troops want to continue this struggle. I know. I'm here. And I'm listening to what they have to say. They're confident as never before that we're on the right path.

Notice how just about everyone who has actually been to Iraq recently seems to be saying things like this? (A notable example: anti-war Democratic Congressman Brian Baird.) The defeat-is-inevitable stance now seems to be the province of people sitting behind desks in the United States, too strongly committed to their position to listen to those with firsthand experience.


Forbidden comics (1)

Two Opus comic strips have been rejected by numerous newspapers as being offensive to Muslims, but Salon will be running them. The first one is here.

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25 August 2007

Hank's message

This clever little video is one of the best short commentaries on religion I've seen. Watch it now. Found via A Whore in the Temple of Reason.

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The fusion of physics and biology

Even though nanotechnology is still in its earliest stages of development, its revolutionary potential for enhancing human health is firmly grounded in our established knowledge of how atoms and molecules behave.


Rovism's last gasp

Republicans are apparently planning a wave of anti-gay initiatives as a diversionary tactic and wedge issue for the 2008 elections. If the definitive trait of Karl Rove's brand of politics was the use of divisiveness and demonization to win short-term tactical victories at the price of long-term strategic disaster for the party, it seems that his spirit animates them still. Even if it works for this election, it will just get them even further out on a limb from which they will eventually need to climb down in order to escape embarrassment ten or twenty years from now, as those who opposed the Civil Rights movement or interracial marriage decades ago had to do.

The comments sum up the whole debate over gay marriage in microcosm. If civil unions don't guarantee all of the same legal rights as marriage, including at the federal level, then they are not truly a substitute for marriage and homosexuals are still being discriminated against. And if they do -- well, if the "separate but equal" water fountains are truly equal in every way, why not just let everybody drink from the same ones?

Barbarian hordes invade Tennessee

Dr. Monkey von Monkerstein is under siege from NASCAR.


Bloodstained law

In 1997 Britain introduced a strict ban on handgun possession. As a thoroughly predictable result, gun crimes have almost doubled.

This is the same principle we saw in action at Virginia Tech, which already had what the anti-gun nuts advocate: a total ban on guns. This merely guaranteed that no one except the murderer would be armed and that he would therefore be effectively unstoppable. If the campus population had had the same statistical distribution of gun-carriers as the general population of Virginia, he would have been stopped quickly, and most of his victims would still be alive today.

Gun bans disarm only people who obey laws. I don't know what it will take for the anti-gun fanatics to get this basic fact through their heads. If I were a sociopath planning a shooting spree or any other kind of gun crime, I would certainly carry it out in a place like Britain or Virginia Tech where I knew my victims would be defenseless against me, not somewhere where I knew there was a good chance any one of them might also be armed.

Music break

Neobyknovennaya (the song title really means "uncommon" or "extraordinary" rather than "unbelievable") is a little slower-paced than most songs I prefer, but I liked it.

And here's some good independent music from Minnesota (free mp3s).


24 August 2007

Ukrainian independence day

On the sixteenth anniversary of its emergence as a sovereign state, eastern Europe's second-largest country finds itself poised for yet another contentious election, the fourth in three years. There is some prospect that the pro-Western reformist coalition (BYuT and Our Ukraine) could edge out the conservative Party of Regions to dominate the parliament, ending the current period of divided government (conservative majority in parliament vs. reformist President Viktor Yushchenko) and strengthening the country's pro-Western orientation.

The next Presidential election in Ukraine is in 2009. Even among reformist voters, there is a consensus that Yushchenko's rule has been a failure, because he has not done enough to eradicate the corruption which plagues the country. His supporters are shifting toward the other major reformist leader, Yulia Tymoshenko. If Tymoshenko runs and wins in 2009, she will be Ukraine's most firmly independence-minded and pro-Western President yet -- and the first female leader of a Slavic nation since Catherine the Great.

Though many Americans probably could not find Ukraine on a map, the fate of its independence will influence the global balance of power in the years to come. In the Putinist regime's campaign to re-establish Russian domination of eastern Europe, Ukraine is by far the largest prize. If we think Russia is creating problems now, that's nothing compared to what it would be capable of doing if it managed to drag Ukraine back into its empire.

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21 August 2007

The Voldemort fallacy

Deconstructing how literary clichés prop up the bizarre idea that wanting to live forever is "evil".

At long last.....

Michael Vick

Throw the book at him. He brutalized creatures who had done no harm and were helpless in his power -- for his own entertainment. There's a word for a person who does that: "bully".

Dr. Monkey von Monkerstein and his commenters contemplate Vick's punishment. And dogs everywhere will soon be able to chew things over.

The Hitchens book tour

Some good news from a front-line warrior in the struggle against religion. Samples:

People seem to be lying to the opinion polls, as well. They claim to go to church in much larger numbers than they actually do (there aren't enough churches in the country to hold the hordes who boast of attending), and they sometimes seem to believe more in Satan and in the Virgin Birth than in the theory of evolution. But every single time that the teaching of "intelligent design" has actually been proposed in conservative districts, it has been defeated overwhelmingly by both courts and school boards.

Could there be a change in the Zeitgeist coming on? I think it's possible. A 2001 study found that those without religious affiliation are the fastest-growing minority in the United States. A generation ago the words "American atheist" conjured the image of the slightly cultish and loopy Madalyn Murray O'Hair. But in the last two years there have been five atheist best-sellers, one each from Professors Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett and two from the neuroscientist Sam Harris.

Many southerners are annoyed by the presumption that they are all snake handlers and shout-and-holler artists, and the most critical questions all go to Dr. English, who has unwisely told the local paper that he'll win the argument because god is on his team. Again I notice two things: the religious types are unused to debate and are surprised at how many people are impatient with them, or even scornful.

The more I learn, the more convinced I become that (outside of the fundamentalist hard core) most Americans are not nearly as religious as they are generally held to be. And the one thing pretty much everyone agrees on is that the country is becoming steadily more secular with time.


Atheist movie?

Will Hollywood's version of The Golden Compass remain true to its source material? Based on this posting, especially the second comment, things don't look promising.

19 August 2007

Sanctuary-city crackdown

Solid majorities of Americans continue to favor tough measures against illegal aliens -- and against the midguided Americans who abet them.


The new China syndrome continues

More toxic levels of lead, in children's jewelry and various other products (as an aside, why is there even such a thing as children's make-up?). I guess China's real main export item is actually lead, in various forms.

The Beijing thugocracy's response to the ongoing crisis is to object to American rules limiting lead content.

Update: One should note that much Chinese lead is consumed domestically, with dire results. What we're dealing with here is not a callous conspiracy to harm Westerners specifically, but rather a backward society and hopelessly-corrupt authoritarian regime which make an effective regulatory system impossible. China is also about to start selling low-price cars in the US. Would you drive one? It seems many Americans are skeptical. The results of these safety tests performed in Germany are not encouraging; video here.

Update 2 (21 August): And now it's pyjamas too. Good grief, I could practically start a second blog dedicated to this subject alone. The representatives of the gangster-regime (and their apologists in the West) are getting steadily more irate as the flood of information on these problems grows.

Miscellaneous thoughts

If (contrary to expectations) I die someday, I want people to say "he died", not "passed away" or "passed on" or some such cowardly euphemism. I hate dishonesty.

Integrity isn't difficult. If you promise to do something, do it. If you're not going to do it, don't promise it.

Libertarianism and Marxism oddly share the same basic fallacy: a belief that everything important can be evaluated in economic terms.

The fact that you can't understand something doesn't mean it has a supernatural explanation.

If you can call the country you're in "fascist" or a "police state" in public and not get arrested, it probably isn't.

In a conflict, the blame almost never lies all on one side. But it also almost never lies equally on both sides.

Before deciding that some human behavior pattern is the product of "patriarchal culture" or a particular style of child-rearing or some such thing, and can therefore be eradicated by social reform or exhortation, check to see if the same behavior pattern also exists in chimpanzees or other great apes. If it does, it's probably rooted in our genes.

One year

Today represents the one-year anniversary (or "blogiversary", as some have it) of this site. I hope I've managed to provide some entertainment and food for thought, and, from time to time, to annoy those who needed annoying. I actually have no idea how many people read this site (though apparently the competition isn't getting any worse), but if I can pique even one person's interest in something new to them, I figure it's worth it.

From time to time a few people have expressed mild puzzlement about my internet name, especially the "753" part. It's a reference to 753 BC, the traditionally-accepted (though actually uncertain) date of the founding of Rome. I consider the Roman Empire to be the true root of Western civilization, and the origin of most of what makes up the distinctive culture of the West. "Infidel", of course, simply reflects the fact that I am, always have been, and always will be proudly religion-free.

18 August 2007

Local color

Check out the paint job on this house.


The zombie peril

President Bush sounds the alarm.


Sweet art

What next?

I'm having a hard time keeping track of all the stories of dangerous Chinese imports. So far we've had pet food contaminated with plastic, medicines and toothpaste and cough syrup laced with industrial solvents, seafood tainted with antibiotics, defective tires, and so on. Now we have toys and baby bibs with excessive levels of lead. I'm beginning to wonder if, due to some bizarre quirk of geology, mainland China is composed entirely of toxic substances.

Parents shopping for toys are already asking store employees about whether products they are considering were made in the US. The hunger for those oh-so-cheap Chinese imports is starting to collide with the realization that you get what you pay for.

Tempest, meet teapot

In response to the alleged "crisis" posed by recent sagging of the US house-price-inflation bubble, the US dollar has gone.....up against the other main world currency, the euro. In hindsight this was to be expected. Any fear of crisis will set investors skittering toward the safest available haven -- and that's the US economy, even if whatever instability is making them nervous also originated here.

The actual effect of this "crisis" on the real economy, like that of the tech-stock bubble a few years ago, will probably be pretty negligible. These things follow a pattern. Pundits fret and assure us that some sort of cataclysm is at hand. Stock markets drop a few percentage points. We are told that billions or trillions of dollars in wealth have vanished (which is nonsense -- all the houses and cars and factories and so forth are still here and still just the same as they were -- all that's happened is that exaggerated estimates of the potential selling prices of some of these things have been corrected). Some people who thought that house prices (or tech-stock prices or whatever) are magically immune from the same economic factors that govern the prices of everything else will take a hit, and so will banks that made ill-considered loans, but punishing stupidity is one of the things a free-market economy is supposed to do. There may even be some temporary impact on the one economic indicator that actually affects ordinary people -- job creation. But the central banks will fiddle with interest rates, the broad vitality of the overall economy will reassert itself, and in a year or two we'll only vaguely remember that some of us thought this was going to be a big deal.

14 August 2007

Another election in danger

An understandable focus on Russia has led the West to neglect events in the second-most-important ex-Soviet republic. Though much smaller on the map, Ukraine is one-third Russia's size by population (at 48 million vs. 148 million), and even if the West has underestimated its significance, the Putin regime never has.

Independent since the break-up of the USSR in 1991, Ukraine was ruled by a Soviet-style oligarchy until the Orange Revolution of 2004, when mass demonstrations against a rigged election forced the oligarchs' candidate for President, Viktor Yanukovich, to yield to the reformist candidate Viktor Yushchenko. Yanukovich's party, the Party of Regions, retained a majority in Parliament, producing a divided government. Conflicts between the Party of Regions and the reformists came to a head earlier this year, with both sides eventually agreeing on a new Parliamentary election on September 30 to resolve their differences.

Now it seems the oligarchs are up to their old tricks. The reformist forces are a coalition of two parties: Our Ukraine, headed by Yushchenko, and the Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko (BYuT). The Central Election Commission, dominated by the Party of Regions, has refused to register the BYuT's candidates on a technicality -- and the reformists are camping in the streets again to protest what looks like yet another blatant attempt to steal an election.

What may seem like a confusing struggle in a distant land actually matters a great deal. The survival or failure of Western-style democracy in a major European country is an important question. And what happens in Ukraine will influence events in Russia. The Putin regime is alarmed at its close neighbor's democratization and pro-Western stance; reversing this trend and restoring the oligarchy there are a core Kremlin goal (it's widely believed that the Russian regime was behind an attempt to murder Yushchenko by dioxin poisoning in 2004). If a restoration of the oligarchy in Ukraine ultimately tilts the country back toward Russia and away from the West, this would greatly strengthen a power which at present is hostile to us. Perhaps more importantly, it would mean a victory for Putin's policy of trying to assert dominance over Russia's neighbors -- and it is very important to deny him any such victory, since the only way that Russia will ever be rid of Putin's dangerous regime is if the Russian people themselves come to see it as a failure.

It would be tragic indeed if the struggle to implant democracy in the unpromising soil of the Middle East distracted the US from supporting it in a place where it has a real chance to flourish.

Update: As it turns out, the refusal to register BYuT candidates was quickly reversed -- but one would be foolish not to expect further attempts at dirty tricks.


The NAFTA Superhighway

A giant highway cutting through the US from Mexico to Canada? A plot to subsume American sovereignty within an EU-like North American Union? Read the shocking truth here.

Conservatives being silly

Clutching at straws to cling to the rejection of global warming -- see this and this (found via Andrew Sullivan). Isn't it already embarrassing enough having that atticful of people who think the Earth is 6,000 years old?

13 August 2007

Slouching toward attrition

The Bush administration is finally taking action against illegal immigration as the people demanded -- but it's gambling that we didn't really mean it.


12 August 2007

The Putin Youth

Meet "Nashi", Russia's frightening semi-official youth organization, already being compared -- even by some Russians -- to the Hitler Youth. Its mission is to brainwash the young with pro-Putin and anti-Western propaganda, and mobilize them into mobs to intimidate those whom the regime deems enemies, as happened with the siege of the Estonian embassy in Moscow during the recent Bronze Soldier crisis. Nashi (the word means "Ours" in Russian) would doubtless form a dangerous obstacle to any concerted Russian move toward democracy similar to Ukraine's Orange Revolution.

One might feel tempted to praise Nashi's opposition to cigarettes and alcohol, the scourges which have driven Russia's male life expectancy down to near-Third-World levels. But it is perfectly possible to combat toxic addictions without immersing people in a crypto-fascist cult atmosphere, as the success of anti-smoking campaigns in the US and Britain shows. Similarly, the startlingly un-fascist-like policy of encouraging sex at Nashi summer camp does not mean that the organization is sex-positive in a healthy sense; rather, it is cynically trying to exploit the natural instincts of young people to boost Russia's low birth rate.

Nashi is yet another sign of the hideously-disappointing wrong turn which Russia has taken since Putin's rise to power in 2000.


Inside the global-warming-denial machine

Newsweek delves into the nuts and bolts of a classic big-lie campaign. It's interesting that, as with evolution, mass public rejection of the scientific consensus is much more prevalent in the United States (where more widespread religious belief goes hand in hand with ignorance and confusion about science) than in Europe or Japan.

Hillary Clinton

Dark days on the Mother Continent

South Africa betrays the principles of the anti-apartheid struggle and embraces gangster states.

Zimbabwe staggers toward total economic collapse under the Mugabe regime.

Nigeria sinks into anarchy and Islamic barbarism.

Christian "principle"

A Texas church cancels a US Navy veteran's memorial service because he was homosexual.


10 August 2007

Saman, the Lord of Death

Enter the Jabberwock dissects the stupidest Chick tract so far -- about Halloween.

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Moving forward on illegal immigration?

A month and a half after President Bush and pro-amnesty Senators got smacked down by the American people, there are signs that the government is finally starting to take some real action against illegal aliens and the miscreants who employ them. How will we know whether our "leaders" are serious about this or just trying to pull another scam on us? Here's how.


Could China wreck our currency?

There's been something of a stir recently over hints that if the US restricts imports from China (or, presumably, does anything else that the Beijing thugocracy doesn't like), China will retaliate by dumping dollar-denominated assets to drive down the value of the dollar. Here's a good explanation (with links) of why this won't happen.

With all the stories recently about toxic or otherwise dangerous imports from China (the latest is toys painted with lead-based paint), it wouldn't surprise me if American consumers become reluctant to buy Chinese-made products regardless of what Congress does or doesn't do.

Not very proletarian

This giant jewel-encrusted map of the USSR was made during Stalin's regime.


08 August 2007

Russian power

American Thinker argues that Russian influence is declining, even over its small neighbor (and former Soviet republic) Georgia.

Ukraine wants the Russian naval base on its territory removed, saying that "The location of a large foreign military base in Ukraine is a problem for the country's national security."

I've discussed earlier how Putin's policy of intimidation against Russia's neighbors has already backfired very badly with Estonia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Georgia. Russia's next Presidential election is on 9 March 2008, just seven months from now. If the Russian people have come to see by then that Putinism is not only isolating Russia but also weakening rather than enhancing its influence, there is still a chance of reversing the disastrous turn Russia has taken over the last few years. No doubt the election will be rigged, but what Ukrainians could do in 2004, Russians can do in 2008 -- if they understand the stakes.

If the Russians embrace democracy and openness (as most other eastern European nations have already done), I think they will be stunned at how eager the West is to respond. After all, the West would much rather have Russia as an ally than as an adversary.


05 August 2007

Restoring vision

British stem-cell research offers a path to curing most forms of blindness -- regenerating the retina -- which could be available for use on humans within five years.


Office fashion

Another classic ad (found via Mendip).


Come out!

Richard Dawkins introduces the OUT campaign (found via Atheist Hussy).

But of course atheists are intolerant, right?


Dreaming of a "Mohammedan Empire"

Here's one major Western leader who, quite understandably, found much to admire in Islam.


Will this man destroy YouTube?

I doubt it, but he's giving it his best shot. It's a rather ironic story given that YouTube's biggest flaw has been a tendency toward censorship.

If YouTube does go under, I think the result will be that the next YouTube will be based in some country where the legal system would not allow the same outcome. In any case, there are already alternative options for those who want to post videos on the internet.

Iraq roundup

If you want to know what's really going on in Iraq, why not read the postings of people who are actually there, such as Michael Totten and Michael Yon.

Ralph Peters reminds us of the astonishingly clean record of American troops in Iraq, despite the heavy media emphasis on crimes committed by a handful of individuals.

US military fatalities reached an eight-month low in July.

Public support for the war effort has begun to increase, a sign that news of the recent improvements in the situation on the ground is getting through despite the relentless negativity of the MSM.