31 August 2008

Reality-based candidates

In response to my point of curiosity below concerning whether or not John McCain accepts the theory of evolution, reader CP sends the following quotes from both Presidential candidates.

From John McCain:

Darwin helped explain nature’s laws. He did not speculate, in his published theories at least, on the origin of life. He did not exclude God, for Whom the immensity of time is but a moment, from our presence. The only undeniable challenge the theory of evolution poses to Christian beliefs is its obvious contradiction of the idea that God created the world as it is in less than a week. But our faith is certainly not so weak that it can be shaken to learn that a biblical metaphor is not literal history. Nature doesn’t threaten our faith. On the contrary, when we contemplate its beauty and mysteries we cannot quiet in our heart an insistent impulse of belief that for all its variations and inevitable change, before its creation, in a time before time, God let it be so, and, thus, its many splendors and purposes abide in His purpose. -- From his 2005 book Character is Destiny

I believe in evolution.....But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also. -- CNN

From Barack Obama:

I’m a Christian, and I believe in parents being able to provide children with religious instruction without interference from the state. But I also believe our schools are there to teach worldly knowledge and science. I believe in evolution, and I believe there’s a difference between science and faith. That doesn’t make faith any less important than science. It just means they’re two different things. And I think it’s a mistake to try to cloud the teaching of science with theories that frankly don’t hold up to scientific inquiry. -- Interview

I'd say they both pass the test.

It was also pointed out that Sarah Palin "clarified" her position on teaching creationism in schools as follows:

I don't think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn't have to be part of the curriculum. -- Anchorage Daily News

I'm not willing to cut her any slack on this basis, however. No such "debate" exists; Palin's stated position is analogous to saying that it should be acceptable to "debate" the flat-Earth "theory" if it were to come up in geography class. Creationism is rubbish, period, and the concept of "creation science" is simply fraudulent.

Nevertheless, as I noted in the previous posting, an evolution-denialist President (or Vice President), while embarrassing to the dignity of the United States as a world leader in the sciences, does not threaten to do much actual harm since the President has very little influence over actual educational policy.

Thinking about politics

My mind isn't entirely made up yet, but there's no use pretending. Just a few months after I was going to other blogs and lecturing people on the need to support the eventual Democratic nominee regardless of who it is, I find myself inclining toward McCain -- in large part because an Obama victory would be disastrous for the Democratic party.

Regardless of which candidate I prefer, I remain convinced that McCain will win. I was essentially sure of this as soon as Clinton lost the nomination. I'm more sure of it now.

First polling results suggest that McCain's Palin gamble is a winner.

If we elect McCain, we may get an inexperienced President some time in the next four years. If we elect Obama, we will definitely have an inexperienced President from day one.

McCain is now apparently considering converting the Republican convention into a hurricane-relief event. I can't imagine what that would look like in concrete terms, but it would certainly highlight the contrast with Bush.

Palin didn't have Federal office in mind when she visited US troops (from Alaska) in Kuwait -- but that just makes the contrast with Obama in Germany more glaring.

To me, the biggest turn-off about Palin is that she has supported letting "creation science" drivel into public-school science classes. Evolution is the central fact of all modern biological science, and a person's acceptance or non-acceptance of it is a much better indi-cator of their grasp of reality than, say, their belief or non-belief in religion is. Still, the President has little influence on education policy, and the Vice President has even less. We've already had at least two recent Presidents who rejected evolution (Reagan and the present Bush) and it's been more of an embarrassment than a real danger to science education.

A question I intend to look into is whether McCain himself accepts evolution. The fact that he recognizes the reality of anthropogenic global warming shows that he doesn't share Bush's ignorance of, and disdain for, scientific fact.

Another point of interest is Palin's stand on illegal aliens -- since both McCain and Obama are just about as bad on that issue as it's possible to get.

Others are making the same point I've made recently about Palin -- that she'll peel off PUMA support from Obama to McCain, not "just because she's a woman", but because she'll become a target for the same repulsive misogyny and "snark" from Obama supporters that so infuriated the PUMAs when it was directed against Hillary, thus providing a constant reminder of what alienated them from the Obama cult.

Kirsten Powers: I can't help wondering if this is a trap.The McCain camp watched and learned as Obama supporters offended Hilla-ry supporters by their treatment of her. The McCainiacs had to know that this group is incapable of behaving, that Palin would bring out their worst instincts. One top Republican said to me: "Just wait until she is debating Joe Biden and he starts attacking or condescending to her. Hillary voters are going to say, 'Oh yeah, I remember this.' "

Reclusive Leftist: It will complete the alienation of the rest of the Hillary supporters from the Obama camp. How? That’s easy — the Obamabots will do it themselves. Go read the Washington Post blog or anywhere online where the Palin pick is being discussed, and you’ll see the trademark Obama misogyny already out in full force. She’s been on the ticket for two seconds and already the Obamabots are saying she “looks like a porn star,” they’re making rude remarks about her childbearing, they’re ridiculing her intelligence. Keep it up, possums. Keep it up. Just when some Hillary supporters were trying to forget what misogynist freaks you all are, now you’re going to remind us all over again. Brilliant [expletive deleted] move by McCain.

It's dangerous to underestimate one's opponent. Democrats seem to have operated on the assumption that McCain is a doddering old fool who need not be taken seriously. It's increasingly obvious that he's anything but. Hubris has led our side to nominate an amateur to go up against a master.

29 August 2008

PUMAs praise Palin pick

I'm sure McCain had a variety of reasons for his VP choice, as Presidential candidates usually do. But there's no doubt that he recognized the golden opportunity which had been created for him by the relentless scorn and insults heaped upon Clinton's fervent supporters (now the PUMAs) by Obama's followers, and their consequent alienation from the Democratic party under its current leadership. The message to us has been "shut up and do as you're told or get out -- we don't need you." McCain would have been a fool not to try to exploit this -- and he is no fool.

His strategy seems to be bearing fruit; the Palin choice is going down well on PUMA sites I frequent, such as Hillary1000, Texas Hill Country, The Confluence, and TGW. Cannonfire, as usual, has the best commentary, pointing out that a female Republican creates an opportunity for the more unhinged Obama fanatics to display their trademark misogyny and thus alienate still more centrist female voters -- and they are already proceeding to do just that. (I briefly assessed the implications here.)

The pro-Obama commentaries I've seen seem to be taking the predictable line that McCain's choice is a pathetic and obvious pander -- see for example here. They sound a tad rattled to me.

Link roundup for 29 August 2008

Here's the time-lapse version of the Democratic convention (sent by Ranch Chimp).

"What we need more of is....." cartoon superheroes and villains with a twist. Update: Here's another MC Hawking video (note: extensive profanity).

We're being teased.

Religion offers new insights into the universe (sent by Mendip).

James Lileks brilliantly skewers a European writer's shallow view of the United States.

An ego for the ages in a Classical setting.

At the Portland Zoo, a newborn baby elephant cries for its mother. Zoo animals often lack parenting skills; having lived in such an unnatural setting all their lives, they have had little opportunity to see and learn normal behavior for their own kind. What struck me most was how much the baby elephant's cries sound like those of a human baby. Update: Happy ending.

Speaking of elephants, if there's a worse place to stick your head than this guy did, I don't want to hear about it.

Here's why PUMA won't follow Clinton's call for "unity". More here.

Dictators aren't as tough as they act.

Swing voters have a message for Obama.

These fatties are slimming down -- but in this case it's not good news.

No, McCain isn't Bush. Here's his classy ad responding to Obama's nomination.

Here's one union that actually stuck up for American workers.

The Obama campaign's treatment of Stanley Kurtz sets a disturbing precedent.

26 August 2008

Oh $#!T.....

Readers know I'm not a fan of Barack Obama. But his winning the election this year isn't the worst thing that could happen. This is the worst thing that could happen:

Three white supremacists with a sniper rifle and high on drugs who were arrested near the Democratic convention in Denver wanted to assassinate Barack Obama, US authorities said last night.....

One of the suspects, Shawn Adolph [!!! -- Infidel753], 33, was connected to a high-velocity Ruger sniper rifle seized during a series of early morning arrests on Monday and had made clear threats and “racial slurs” against Mr Obama.....

Mr Johnson also told police that the plan had been to shoot Mr Obama “from a high vantage point using a rifle sighted at 750 yards”.....

Mr Adolph, 33, wanted on a number of drug-related arrest warrants, jumped from a sixth-storey window and broke his ankle. He was said to be wearing a ring with a swastika.....

I think everyone's had this possibility at the back of their minds for a long time.

I am not enthused, to put it kindly, at the idea of Senator Obama becoming the President. But that's a decision for the American electorate to make. Not for a tiny handful of murderous knuckle-dragging troglodytes who proudly wear the symbol of the most loathsome enemy this country has ever fought.

Kudos to the FBI and the Secret Service for nailing these freaks, and may their vigilance be redoubled in the months ahead.

Ending aging -- questions and answers

I will update this posting regularly as needed.

As the prospect of a cure for aging becomes more widely grasped, the debate in some circles has shifted from "Can we do this?" to "Should we do this?" There is actually a "pro-death" camp which argues that even if a cure for aging is possible, we should refrain from developing it. Here are some of the standard objections, and (in summarized form) my responses to them.

If older generations don't die off, humanity will become stagnant

The twentieth century saw a far greater increase in average human lifespan than all previous history had seen. But this did not make it a time of intellectual, cultural, or technological stagnation. On the contrary, it was a time of unprecedented innovation in every field.

If old age makes people become stodgy and set in their ways, that's most likely due to the effects of the aging process upon the brain. We're talking about preventing those effects. More here.

Ending death from aging will cause overpopulation

Birth rates in most developed countries are already well below replacement level, and most of the Third World is heading in the same direction. Without a dramatic increase in lifespan, the developed world, and eventually the whole world, could face rapidly declining population.

Overpopulation is a relative term. There are about twenty times as many humans on Earth today as there were at any time before the industrial revolution, and most of them live much better -- more abundant and reliable food supply, more material wealth, better medical care, higher literacy, etc. -- than their far less numerous ancestors. How is this possible? Technological progress. Contrary to Malthus, our ability to generate wealth has consistently grown much faster than our numbers. This will continue to be the case as technological progress continues to accelerate, even if the end of aging leads to further gradual increase in population.

As for human damage to the environment, the condition of the environment in most developed countries has actually improved over the last century or so, as more resources have been diverted into cleaner and more efficient power generation, better waste disposal, clean-ups of existing damage, reforestation, etc. The worst environmental damage is happening in places like tropical Africa and South America, where population densities are low. Environmental devastation in poor countries happens because those countries are poor -- that is, they don't have the resources to spend on keeping the environment in shape as they strive to develop economically -- not because they are densely populated. The solution is to accelerate technological development so that poor countries can become rich.

People who live forever will get bored

If you think that you might be bored if you are still alive 100 years from now, consider this: How bored would a person who was a young adult in the year 1908 be, if he were still alive (and young and healthy) today? He would have seen countless technological and cultural developments he could not possibly have imagined in 1908 -- antibiotics, jet airliners, movies, space travel, the sexual revolution, the internet, and far more. Will innovation stop for the next 100 years, leaving us in a world identical to today's except for our own extended life-spans? Of course not. It will continue to accelerate dramatically. More here.

Growing numbers of old people will be a burden on the young

In fact, it will be just the opposite.  We're talking about stopping and eventually reversing aging -- extending healthy and vigorous life, not dragging out the period of age and decrepitude.  If people remain in the biological equivalent of early middle age for centuries, they won't be a burden; on the contrary, there will be far more productive people to bear the burden of the relatively few who, for whatever reason (those who refuse anti-aging treatment for religious reasons, for example), can't support themselves.

Only the rich will benefit

Experience shows that that's not how medical innovations turn out. Every new medical technology starts off being expensive and not working very well, and becomes cheaper and more effective over time. Anti-aging treatments will follow the same pattern.

Rich countries should not focus on ending aging when basic needs in poor countries remain unmet

By this argument, rich countries in the 20th century should not have worked on advances like antibiotics and vaccines while the more basic medical technology of the time was only sporadically available in poor countries. Following such logic would have left both groups of countries much worse off. Vaccines and antibiotics are widely used in the Third World today, even if their adoption there lagged the rich countries, and have led to improved health and lifespan world-wide.

Innovations in medical technology benefit the whole world, even if their widespread adoption comes a decade or two later in poor countries than in rich ones. The same will be true of anti-aging therapies. It's hard to think of any realistic scenario where slowing down innovation in rich countries would benefit poor countries. In most cases it would harm both groups.

Aging causes more than twice as many human deaths world-wide as all other causes of death combined. It is the leading cause of death even in most poor countries. There is no more basic or urgent human need than the eradication of aging.

People don't want a cure

Pretty much every posting on this subject brings at least one or two comments from people who insist they wouldn't want such treatments even if they were available. With all due respect, I simply don't believe this. Past behavior is a much better predictor of future behavior than verbal statements are. In practice, in almost all cases, a person with a life-threatening medical condition not only accepts a cure if one is available, but actively seeks it out. Once aging itself -- certainly a life-threatening medical condition -- is curable, I think the same pattern will hold. Yes, the idea of being able to live forever seems strange and incredible today, but these treatments will be phased in over a decade or two; people will have time to adjust and come to see the new status quo as normal, just as they have with past innovations.

There may, of course, be some people who will indeed reject anti-aging treatments, just as there are people today (such as Jehovah's Witnesses) who reject certain existing medical technology for whatever reason. I don't see this as a problem. No one has ever suggested that those who don't want anti-aging treatments should be forced to use them. If some large number of people honestly insisted that they would not use a cure for cancer if it became available, the proper response would not be to stop efforts to develop a cure for cancer -- but to press on, develop the cure, and let every individual decide for himself whether to use it or not.

This will hold true for the future, of course. We don't know how a 500-year-old person would feel about living for centuries more, because no one has ever lived to be 500 yet. As Aubrey de Grey has said, it's not necessarily about living forever; it's about living as long as you want to.

Many very old people do seem to accept death calmly, but that is natural in view of the infirmity and pain the aging process brings. When life holds more and more pain and less and less pleasure, death can come as a release from suffering. A 100-year-old person who was as youthful and vigorous as he was at 25 would not feel that way.

It's the pro-death side that doesn't want you to be free to choose. They want to force everyone to live (and die) the way they think is right, by preventing the development of a cure for aging. Their moral position is at least as bad as that of those religious fanatics in earlier times who argued against curing venereal disease on the grounds that doing so would promote "immorality".

Death is what gives life meaning or makes us human

This usually comes from a religious or "spiritual" viewpoint -- that is, the argument is based on avowedly non-rational premises and is thus not subject to rational discussion. I would say that it's covered by the personal-choice argument -- let's develop anti-aging treatments, and anyone who doesn't like the idea, for this or any other reason, will be free to refrain from using them.

If there's one thing that really makes us human -- that sets us apart from the other animals -- it's our ability to control the terms of our existence, to shape our own lives as we see fit, rather than being helpless victims of the genetic hand that evolution dealt us. It seems bizarre to define "humanity" in terms of the limitations we share with other animals -- including the fact that (for now) we are confined to a limited lifespan.

= = = = = = =

Ultimately the last word on this issue must be the very simple point which de Grey has made. The aging process kills about forty million people every year. That's the situation we're in now. Would a cure for aging cause problems? Yes, obviously it would. Would it cause any problems as bad as the deaths of forty million people a year? No, not even close.

24 August 2008

I rage

Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Dylan Thomas, Wales, 1951

Imagine an old man -- a very old man.

Ninety-plus years of life have taken their toll. He feels weak even at the best of times. He can no longer work, he can no longer run, he can no longer think or remember as clearly as he once could. But why?

Biochemical waste products have accumulated within his cells, degrading their function. Beta-amyloid has built up throughout the intercellular spaces of his brain, causing Alzheimer's disease. Mitochondrial DNA mutations have spread free-radical damage throughout his system. His heart and brain have suffered cell depletion because key cells in those organs do not divide and are thus not replaced when they die. Protein-molecule glycation has stiffened and weakened his blood vessels. DNA mutations in his cell nuclei have turned some cells toxic, perhaps even cancerous. If it were not for these things, his body and mind would still be as vigorous as they were when he was thirty.

These forms of cumulative damage are not qualitatively different from the kinds of degenerative diseases which medical science is already well on the way to solving. Indeed, treatments for most of them are already at least theoretically imaginable or in some cases already at the animal-testing stage. The aging process is not an immutable fact of life which we need to simply take as a given. It is a biological-engineering problem, albeit a fearfully-complex one.

The old man lies down to sleep, and sometime during the night, something goes wrong. Most likely his heart, having beat two and a half billion times without rest, simply gives out. His blood ceases to flow. His brain cells, starved of oxygen, begin to die at the rate of billions every second. The intricate network of trillions upon trillions of synaptic connections which make up this one unique individual's personality and consciousness and memories, dies and shrivels and begins to decompose into meaningless mush. He is gone. Decades of experience and memory and thoughts vanish into nothingness. The aging process claims another victim, one of the hundred thousand humans it will kill this day -- as it kills a hundred thousand of us every day, week by week, month by month, year by year.

I hate cemeteries, those morbid monuments to the inability of our species. There the rotted residua of what were once living, self-aware beings lie buried, never again to see or hear or think or imagine or learn, under stones engraved with the pathetic lies of our absurd, futile religions -- forged to comfort those who yet live and mourn the dead. No, they are not in some asinine Heaven, they are not at rest, they are not anywhere. They have simply become not.

But we are no longer helpless. This is not 1951. We today can do more than rage. We can fight!

Yet still I rage. I feel loathing and contempt for those people who damnably stand against mankind's cause in this great struggle, those who proclaim bovine acceptance and passivity toward decrepitude and death, those who want this ghastly carnage to keep forever scything down human beings in the future as it has always done in the past.

When a 30-year-old dies of some disease, we view it as a horror and a tragedy. Everyone supports the struggle of medical science to eradicate those few diseases which still kill young people. But the 90-year-old is no less worthy. It is an unspeakable outrage that a human being should die merely because he has existed for a long time. It is an unspeakable outrage that any human being should accept and embrace death as our right and proper fate.

We humans will not have truly triumphed until our greatest and most terrible enemy -- death itself -- is beaten. This is war -- a war of self-defense against this hideous thing which is slaughtering our kind, killing a hundred thousand of us every day. We must ignore the naysayers and pessimists and fatalists. We can do this. Our minds and our knowledge have grown great enough. We can defeat this enemy. We can kill death.

If McCain chooses Palin

In choosing Joe Biden as his running mate, Obama made a "safe" and conventional pick (though Biden's role in the Hill-Thomas imbroglio will not endear him to PUMAs already furious at the misogyny of the primary season). If McCain does the opposite and chooses Sarah Palin, each party's ticket will consist of an older, experienced political warhorse plus a younger, charismatic figure (and Palin, while slightly younger even than Obama, does have executive experience as Governor of Alaska).

If McCain wins the election but serves only one term, his Vice President will be a strong contender for the 2012 Republican nomination. Since Hillary Clinton is sure to try for the Democratic nomination that year, it is conceivable that the 2012 Presidential race could be between two women.

Biden acceptance speech preview

"Four score and seven years ago, I did a far, far better thing than I had ever done before, by taking up arms against a sea of troubles; for we had nothing to fear but fear itself....."

23 August 2008

Large Hadron Rap

A rap music video about the Large Hadron Collider, made by the people who work there.....

Quotes for the day

"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

Joe Biden, 2007

“In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Ameri-cans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking.”

Joe Biden, 2006

"There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama's lack of experi-ence than Joe Biden. Biden has denounced Barack Obama's poor foreign policy judgment and has strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realizing — that Barack Obama is not ready to be president."

Ben Porritt, McCain campaign, today

Link roundup for 23 August 2008

With the invasion of Georgia, I suppose this was inevitable.

Yet another much-trumpeted Bigfoot find is revealed as a hoax.

Not sure which gender you are? Take the browser history test.

This thug chose the wrong guy to pick on.

Christianity in Britain is losing adherents to a rival religion (no, not Islam).

Blogger Prash looks at India after 61 years of independence.

Let the record show that I correctly predicted Obama's VP pick -- he chose Not Hillary Clinton (do further details really matter?). Texas Hill Country blog reacts here.

The race is trending McCain's way. Obama's floundering campaign is assessed by US blogger Steve Soto and British essayist Gerard Baker.

Americans' opposition to illegal aliens is firm and rising -- too bad neither party is listening.

Here's a look at China's rural tensions and tormented urban youth, behind the Olympic glitz.

A mother gorilla refuses to let her dead baby go (similar behavior has been seen in wild chimpanzees).

Failing to teach evolution is dangerous (via Blurber).

MIT takes a major step forward for solar power.

Robotics is making surgery safer and more effective in Britain.

Here's a wide-ranging interview with Aubrey de Grey on life-extension technology.

20 August 2008

Singin' in the rain

Rain and cool weather in the middle of August -- what could be more glorious? And right after the most nightmarish weekend of the year, when highs reached at least 100 Friday and Saturday. I was not here, having fled for cooler climes (and highly convivial company), but I heard all about it when I got back. Yesterday and today, though, it feels as if autumn is already here. Now, if it just stays like this for another month or so.....

The implosion continues (4)

This new Reuters/Zogby poll shows McCain ahead of Obama by five points.

Today's Electoral College map shows that Obama's lead over McCain has shrunk to a mere 264-261 (counting Virgina as too close to call, and does anyone really think McCain isn't going to win Virginia?)

This is after eight years of Bush. With an unpopular war. With the economy sputtering. With a massive shift of voter identification from Republican to Democrat.

Do we know how to lose 'em or what?!

Update (21 August): Blogger Not Your Sweetie notes that RCP's Electoral College map shows McCain winning by 274-264 if the election were held today -- while on the same date in 2004 Kerry was leading Bush 301-213.

19 August 2008

Two years

Today marks the second anniversary of this site.

Should the convention nominate Clinton?

The PUMA blogosphere has been, not exactly abuzz but rather tentatively murmuring, with speculation that the Democratic convention this month might actually nominate Hillary Clinton rather than Obama. The New York Sun last week laid out that speculation explicitly with this article. Obama's lead over Clinton in pledged delegates is quite close (and the popular vote was essentially a tie); either candidate equally needs superdelegate votes to be nominated, which makes this a perfect example of the kind of situation for which the superdelegate system was created. The endorsements or promises made by superdelegates before the convention to vote for a particular candidate are not binding -- at the convention they can vote as they wish. So by the rules of the party, the convention could equally well choose either candidate.

As the Sun article explains, the basis for nominating Clinton is obvious: despite many advantages, including an election year in which the Republican party is massively unpopular, Obama has lost his earlier large lead in the polls and the race with McCain is now neck-and-neck. At this point in the election cycles of 1988 and 2004, Dukakis and Kerry respectively held substantial leads over their Republican opponents, but both still ultimately lost; if Obama's lead has already disappeared, that doesn't bode well for his chances in November. If Obama is such a weak candidate, the party should choose a stronger one who got an essentially equal number of primary votes and would be equally legitimate. That's the argument.

My point in posting here is not to address how likely it is that the convention will actually do this. I think it's obvious that, unless Obama is suddenly engulfed in some scandal or blunder so huge that even his own core followers decide he's unelectable, the probability that the convention will deny him the nomination is vanishingly small. The question I'm interested in here is whether nominating Clinton would actually be a good idea or not.

I've been saying for months that I don't believe Obama can win the general election, and over time I've become progressively more convinced of this. The problem is that, given the situation as it exists now, Clinton probably couldn't win either. Here's why.

First, nominating Clinton instead of Obama at the convention would be far more than a "surprise", as the Sun puts it -- it would be a shocker, an absolutely explosive move. Politics junkies know about the close primary race and the party rules, but the general perception among Democrats and the general public is that Obama has won the nomination and that the convention will be merely a formality to confirm this. The most widespread public reaction to a Clinton upset would probably be bewilderment that such a move was even possible.

Second, absent the gigantic-scandal-or-blunder scenario which I mentioned, denying Obama the nomination would spark outrage among his supporters, who already see him as the nominee and would declare him to have been robbed. Accusations of racism, back-room politics, and God knows what else would fly about. We would immediately be faced with a sort of mirror image of the PUMA movement. An unknowable, but probably large, number of Obama supporters would desert the party. Probably far fewer Obama supporters would vote for McCain over Clinton than PUMAs would vote for McCain over Obama, but I think it's likely that an even larger number would sit out the election. Would Clinton's much greater appeal to working-class and rural voters in the swing states offset this enough to win? It's possible, but with millions of Obama supporters irredeemably alienated, Clinton would have to scramble to hold states that should be reliably Democratic. It's very hard to win when you've turned off a huge chunk of your own party's base, as Obama is now discovering.

To sum up, the poisoned primary process has created a situation where either Democratic candidate would almost certainly lose in November. Clinton's chances would be better than Obama's, but the odds would still be against her.

If defeat is inevitable, what can we do to minimize the harm done by it? Clearly the most important thing we can do is to strengthen Democratic control of Congress, to limit the damage a Republican Presidency could do. But in this area, victory seems as inevitable as defeat in the Presidential race does.

Our priority -- our chance to squeeze some lemonade from the huge and very sour lemon of our current predicament -- should be reforming the party. The problem is not Obama personally; it's the ugly (yet naive) "new politics" he represents, and the nomination process which enabled him to prevail over a far more qualified and experienced candidate, and the party leadership which, by design or negligence, engineered this fiasco. The party needs to get back in touch with its base, to eliminate the undemocratic travesty of caucuses and use primaries exclusively, and to replace the current crop of leaders.

The only way that this will happen is if the blame for the defeat in November falls clearly, and exclusively, where it belongs. The party leaders and the charisma-addled Obama-worshipers and their "new politics" are the ones responsible; let them, and them alone, own the resulting mess. This is why I never wanted to see Clinton as Obama's running mate; she needs to be as far away from the November train wreck as possible. Nominating her instead of Obama, and then having her lose anyway, would confuse the issue even more.

I'm as disappointed as anyone in the way things have turned out. We had a winning year and a great candidate who would have made a strong President, able to solidify the Republican implosion into long-term Democratic dominance. I can still hardly believe we managed to blow it. But the clock can't be turned back; too much has happened over the last few months. We must make the best of the situation we have come to.

18 August 2008

Some views on the Russia-Georgia war

Once the media have settled on their chosen "angle" from which to report a particular story, they generally don't let anyone confuse them with facts -- but sometimes ordinary people don't follow the script. Watch this short interview with a woman and (American) girl who escaped the war and are now in the US.

Justin Raimondo takes a dissenting look at history here.

See photos from the war zone here (note: a few are gruesome). Update: If link fails, copy & paste this: http://lsd-25.ru/2008/08/14/voyna-v-yuzhnoy-osetii-89-fotografiy-arkadiya-babchenko/

Finally, since the Kosovo analogy has been discussed to death, I've got one from closer to home: West Virginia.

In 1861, when Virginia declared secession from the United States and ultimately joined ten other renegade Southern states to form the Confederacy, a group of patriotic counties in (mostly) the Appalachian part of Virginia declared their own separation from Virginia, organized the new state of West Virginia, and applied to rejoin the US. I don't know whether many political pundits at the time wrung their hands over the sanctity of Virginia's territorial integrity, but it seems unlikely. Nor, so far as I know, do many modern historians condemn the US for "expansionism" for using military power to liberate West Virginia after the Confederacy tried to reconquer the lost counties.

The analogy fails in one respect, of course. Ultimately the United States used force to reconquer the entire Confederacy, something which Russia (so far) shows no sign of trying to do to the whole of Georgia.

13 August 2008

The Beijing Olympics logo

Here's the honest version, found via Hot Lard (NSFW).

12 August 2008

Link roundup for 12 August 2008

A world traveler returns home.

Joseph Cannon takes an unusual look at the birth of Jesus.

A couple of music videos I found interesting are here and here (more music I like here).

Al-Qa'idah in Iraq: goats, murder, and vegetable paranoia.

Was China's Olympic-opening "pomo Triumph of the Will spectacular" partly faked?

Bill Quick, who has described the act of voting for McCain as being similar to "eating a shit sandwich", explains why he will vote for him anyway. Democrat Russ Feingold debunks the "McCain equals Bush" meme.

Books critical of Obama are hot sellers. Victor Davis Hanson looks at buyer's remorse.

Christians are praying for rain.

Bloggers Prash and Papamoka look at Islamic family values.

A Hamas leader explains what inspires suicide bombings.

As the new theo-fascism rises in western Europe, Norway responds with a new generation of Quislings.

Georgia's defenses are collapsing under the Russian onslaught. Russia, its forces already deep in Georgian territory beyond the disputed splinter states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, halts its advance.

Art? Waste of money? Eyesore? What do you think?

Things fall apart: the Central African Republic has lost its electric power after decades of inadequate maintenance.

Australian blogger Tribog recalls Gallipoli.

Here's an interesting study of how humans react to facial types.

A large new population of previously-uncontacted gorillas has been discovered in Africa (link sent by Ranch Chimp). Plans are already underway to protect them against intrusion. These previously-uncontacted humans should be so lucky.

10 August 2008

Russia has a point

The Russian invasion and bombardment of Georgia represents a dangerous escalation of Russia's years-long campaign of bullying and intimidation aimed at re-asserting influence over the former subject states which broke away from its control in 1989 and 1991. It's no surprise that others among those former subject states, such as Estonia, Ukraine, and Poland, have been among the most vocal in calling for support for Georgia. They know their giant neighbor very well, and fear that their own situation will become more dangerous if Russia gets away with its aggression in the Caucasus. Indeed, I have no doubt that the attack on Georgia is partly intended as a test of will similar to the remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936 -- a move to see how far Russia can assert itself against international norms without provoking a serious response from the democracies.

All this being said, the fact remains that Russia has a legitimate point in this case.

The people of South Ossetia (and of Abkhazia, another breakway province in Georgia) are not ethnically Georgian, and they have never wanted to be part of Georgia. Soon after Georgia became independent in 1991, both South Ossetia and Abkhazia established de facto independent splinter states. Georgia's effort to regain control over the two territories is consistent with the general principle of the territorial integrity of sovereign states, but if a referendum were to be held in those provinces to let their people decide whether to live under Georgian or Russian rule, Russia would win, probably in a landslide. Russia is violating Georgia's territorial integrity, but it is on the side of the popular will in the territories under dispute.

This principle of popular will trumping territorial integrity is one which the United States itself has endorsed before, in a case which still deeply rankles Russians: Kosovo. Kosovo is, or rather was, a province of Serbia, and remained part of Serbia when Yugoslavia broke up. However, its population is about 90% ethnic Albanian (and Muslim), not Serb, and it has sustained a serious popular drive for independence from Serbia since the late 1980s. Over time the West came to support Kosovo's independence based on the fact that this was the clear will of most of its people, while Russia has strongly backed Serbia, its long-time ally and fellow Slavic-speaking country (Russia is by far the largest Slavic nation, and its self-image as the "big brother" of smaller Slavic countries such as Serbia looms very large in Russian consciousness). Earlier this year, Kosovo formally declared independence, and has been recognized by most Western countries including the US.

If you were to ask the typical person in the street in Russia about the war in Georgia, I can almost guarantee that his response would be to bring up Kosovo and accuse the US of hypocrisy. If the US could support the independence of Kosovo based on the will of its people and their ethnic distinctness from the larger state of which they were part, why can't Russia do the same with South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

True, this would be a dangerous precedent. If Russia's gambit in Georgia succeeds, the regime might even be tempted to challenge Ukraine for control of the strategically-important province of Crimea; Crimea's population is 54% ethnic Russian (as distinct from Ukrainians who merely speak Russian), and pro-Russian sentiment is vocal there.

But the fact is that there are issues Russia can cite to justify its actions, and the accusation of hypocrisy is not without merit.

09 August 2008

The unstoppable nation

For all the moaning over the economic problems confronting the US, we are still the most vigorous country in the developed world, and the currency markets are starting to reflect that:

The US dollar has launched its best rally in half a decade, reflecting a recognition that half the world is in even worse shape than the US. In fact, America is the only G7 country to eke out modest growth this summer.....Brent crude fell $4 to under $114 a barrel, down over 20pc since peaking in early July.....Danske Bank says there has been a $70bn net outflow of investment from the eurozone over the last year. It appears that foreign govern-ments are sated on European bonds. The drip-drip of bad news in America is now being trumped daily by the icy douche splashing over Europe.....Arguably, the US is now super-competitive. Airbus and Volkswagen are shifting production plant across the Atlantic. US furniture and textile companies have stopped outsourcing to China, and are coming home.

Never bet against the United States!

What's the point of a police state.....

.....if it can't even prevent this kind of thing?

Meanwhile, the war between Russia and Georgia is intensifying, and Georgia is pulling its troops out of Iraq (its contingent there is the third-largest in the coalition, after the US and Britain) to fight for their homeland. Ralph Peters argues that Russia engineered the whole conflict.

Religious "ideas": not interesting or profound

Joshua Minton wrote this posting in response to a couple of earlier comments of mine on his site, but comments on the new posting are disabled for some reason, so I'll respond here (I recommend reading his posting before you read this response; the original comment thread is here).

I don’t believe in the literal word of the Bible or any religious text. This doesn’t mean I don’t see value both ethically and culturally in these texts, just that I don’t hold them up as a point of worship to justify the hatred (however subtle) of other people over ideation.

This is a fairly common perspective nowadays, but it's based on the assumption that the Bible or other religious texts have some profound ethical or philosophical significance or raise questions which need to be addressed. I don't believe they do. The Old Testament is an incompetent forgery from beginning to end; the scheme of salvation proclaimed by the New Testament is perhaps the most logically-incoherent concept ever devised by the human mind, while the whole tale from the virgin birth to the sacrifice and rebirth of the deity is utterly ordinary and run-of-the-mill to anyone who actually knows about the common mythology of the ancient Middle East. The whole Bible is a rambling and befuddled collection of primitive gibberish; there is nothing interesting or profound about it at all.

Anyone who reads this site regularly will notice that, in contrast to many atheist bloggers, I rarely discuss the subject of religion and atheism at all -- it only comes up when some particular thing draws my attention to it. To me, it would seem odd to focus so much on something I don't believe in. Just as I don't believe in the Christian God, I don't believe in unicorns either; but to devote posting after posting to rehashing all the reasons why unicorns probably don't exist, why it would be bad or foolish to believe in them, etc., would seem bizarre and obsessive.

Saying that "people who don't believe in unicorns are just as brain-dead about unicorns as people who do believe in them are" would probably mean something, but whatever it would mean would, as far as I can see, be neither interesting nor true.

We do not truly know from where we each (meaning our individual ego consciousness) came from and where we each go to when the brain ceases functioning (which is the scientific definition of death).

As I said in the original comments, we actually have a fairly good basis for thinking that consciousness simply stops when the brain dies, even if the evidence for this falls short of what we need for de facto certainty. There is not the tiniest hint of evidence to suggest that consciousness "goes" somewhere at death. (Anybody who is revving up to post a comment about "out-of-body experiences" or suchlike rot, please refrain; if your knowledge is so limited that you think that's real, you're not really in a position to contribute.)

I think it's very possible, by the way, that science will eventually nail down a definite answer to this question as it has to so many others. There is absolutely no possibility that religion will ever have anything useful or valid to say about it. Zero. The answers to those questions about reality that science cannot yet answer will not be found in the confused mythology of ancient desert nomads who knew far less about nature and the cosmos than the average gum-chewing high-school kid of today does.

But let’s say that this understanding of our own mortality and about how our senses and science will never be able to pierce the veil of mystery that surrounds our existence was understood to be a law of nature like gravity?

I can't speak for other atheists, but this isn't my position at all. I think it's entirely possible that science will eventually be able to prove the non-existence (or existence, in the unlikely event that that turns out to be the case) of an afterlife. More to the point, it's already clear that the phenomenon of aging and biological death is just an engineering problem which can be solved in principle and will probably be solved within a few decades. Death is no more inevitable or an eternal fact of our existence than smallpox or illiteracy.

What do you do with a fact besides accept it? Gravity doesn’t give a shit if you think it’s untrue.

Yes, but our understanding of how gravity works has yielded a number of useful technological advances. Future progress in our understanding of how the brain generates consciousness will do so as well. Religious "explanations" of gravity, if there have ever been any, would have been as worthless and useless as concepts like the "soul" are.

The remainder of the posting I found mostly incomprehensible; perhaps the reader will have better luck than I did. I will say that I don't know where the whole concept of "groveling before sheer fact" comes in (perhaps the Nietzsche reference went over my head). I am fairly sure that, if I die, my consciousness will simply cease. I no more "grovel" before this fact than I "grovel" before the fact that the Earth is round or the fact that the Sun is bright. These things are simply facts, to be taken into account when they are relevant, ignored otherwise. "Groveling" doesn't enter into it.

And religion doesn't have anything of value to say about any of this. Even in Sanskrit.

08 August 2008

War at the rim of Europe

If you're like most Americans, you know practically nothing about South Ossetia. Over the next few days you may be hearing more about it than you ever wanted to.

South Ossetia is a tiny territory with a population of about 70,000 people, located in the northern part of the nation of Georgia in the Caucasus mountains. Georgia was one of the fifteen constituent "republics" of the Soviet Union, until that latter-day incarnation of the Russian Empire finally broke up in 1991; today Georgia is pro-Western and is even mentioned as a possible future candidate for NATO membership. The Putin regime, in a bizarrely-misguided effort to re-assert Russia's status as a major power, has long sought to increase its influence over its former vassal states by stirring up trouble among their minorities. South Ossetia is perhaps the most successful example of this policy; it has established itself for over a decade as a de facto independent entity, friendly to Russia and hostile to the Georgian government of whose sovereign territory it is still legally a part.

Yesterday the Georgian government called Russia's bluff and launched a full-scale military invasion of South Ossetia, deter-mined to regain control over its breakaway province. The effort has so far met with success, as Georgian forces appear to have captured much of the territory and have reached the South Ossetian capital city.

Because of the extent to which Russia has supported its client statelet, even going so far as to give many South Ossetians Russian citizenship, its prestige is now on the line. Putin has threatened "retaliation", and Russian TV reports that Russian troops and tanks are already moving into South Ossetia -- that is to say, they are technically invading another sovereign country, since South Ossetia is still internationally recognized as part of Georgia.

If the situation escalates, we could see something that is now quite unusual: a "conventional" war between two countries. Those don't happen very much any more; most recent wars (Sudan, Lebanon, Somalia, Bosnia, eastern Congo, etc.) are between rival factions within countries. An old-fashioned war between two sovereign states -- right on the edge of Europe, yet -- would be a disturbing throwback to an era most Europeans thought had ended long ago. The West is not going to get involved militarily, but if Georgia is seriously threatened it cannot sit back and do nothing, either. This crisis may well spark the worst escalation in great-power tensions in several years.

The world owes the Russians a great debt for the fact that they, unlike (for example) the French in Algeria and Vietnam, let their empire go without a fight. If the Soviet army had actually fought to keep control over Poland and East Germany and Lithuania and Ukraine and so on, the resulting bloodbath would have made the Yugoslavian wars look like a pillow-fight. It is regrettable that this point has been so little recognized in the West, and it would be even more regrettable if Putin were to break with that honorable precedent now.

Update: "Scores" of Georgian civilians dead and wounded from Russian bombing.....Two Russian planes shot down by Georgia..... This sounds bad.

I wonder who'll win the gold in scowling

Today marks the opening day of the No-Fun Olympics, that long-awaited extravaganza of repression, paranoia, and smog held in the most grotesquely-inappropriate venue since 1936. A veritable occupation force of police and guards is on hand to ensure that nothing unpleasant will happen -- and that nothing pleasant will, either. The host bears, not a torch, but a chip on the shoulder:

I'm afraid that a "coming-out party".....may have completely different meanings in the eyes of the Chinese. The main obsession of the Chinese government, shared by a lot of the Chinese people, is to wipe out, once and for all, the humiliation imposed on the Middle Kingdom by the West in the last two hundred years. "Beat it," not "welcome," should be the main theme.

This sounds like almost as much fun as my last migraine. But at least I didn't have to buy a ticket for that.

07 August 2008

Final reminder -- new e-mail address!

The new one is "infidel753 [at] live.com" -- please make a note of this if you regularly send me e-mail. The "belay" address no longer works.

05 August 2008

Link roundup for 5 August 2008

Ants in Europe, North America and Australia are building super-colonies spanning hundreds of miles -- one such colony covers most of California and extends an unknown distance into Mexico (found via Handmaiden). More on the hitherto-unsuspected magnitude of the Bug Peril here.

Oh, to think what PZ Myers could do with this one!

I think I'll pass on this dating service.

No, a song can't make anyone lesbian, but it can apparently make some people paranoid.

Here's the theme song from "The Jeffersons", performed by Hitler.

Were the recent hack attacks on PUMA blogs linked to the Obama campaign itself? Battle lines harden. Texas Hill Country reviews the current polls.

Here's a little-known story of Obama in Kenya. Check out this blogger too.

Data imagery from Britain reveals an unusual view of the life of a modern nation.

The Chinese regime's pre-Olympics efforts to sweep dissent under the rug backfire as the new repression itself becomes a big story. The IOC is failing to uphold its own supposed standards. And this is still going to be a problem.

"British" Muslims are fighting for the Taliban against Britain in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, back home.....sensitivity training?!

This new treatment for Alzheimer's looks promising -- but we need to do something about the slow pace of testing and approval. Four to five years?!

03 August 2008

Inspirational viewing for the god-free

I've linked to most of these before, but want to recommend them again for anyone who wasn't reading back then.

Christopher Hitchens: Speech in Toronto on religion and hatred

Bill Maher: Interview with Christopher Hitchens

Bill Maher: Dan Savage in South Carolina (before the primary)

Bill Maher: On religion

Bill Maher: On religion in politics

Sam Harris: On differences between religions

Sam Harris: On the liberal blind spot about Islam

Nimpsy(?): Kissing Hank's Ass

Stuck Mojo: Open Season

Stuck Mojo: Open Season (CAIR remix)

Salvatore Pertutti: Dieu

Salvatore Pertutti: Sacrés Livres

The Hooters: Satellite