27 September 2010

Blogging note

Posting will be light for a while due to a personal crisis.

For some good news, see here (if that link doesn't work, try this one and scroll up).

Update (Friday evening): Thanks everyone for the good wishes. While I'm not going to go into any detail about what happened -- it's a personal matter -- I will say that the last five and a half days have been by far the worst period of my whole life. But things are getting better now. There will still be some hard times ahead, but the worst of the crisis is over.

26 September 2010

Sexuality and the idiotization of politics

Christine O'Donnell has been getting sustained attention since she won the Republican nomination for Senate in Delaware. In part, of course, that's because of sane people's astonishment that a person with such a dubious background and such a history of making ludicrous statements could win a major-party nomination for such an important post. But there's also something more disturbing, or at least more annoying, going on here.

CNN (quoted here) opens a report on O'Donnell with the words "American politics has a photogenic new face.....", and numerous similar observations could be cited. Sarah Palin's emergence, too, was marked by a widespread and ill-disguised fascination with her personal attractiveness.

It's painfully apparent that this is a big part of the fuss. Would O’Donnell be getting nearly so much attention if she weighed 400 pounds and had a wart on her nose?

A hot-looking woman who talks about sex (even if she’s against it) is inherently fascinating to males. But I thought that most of us outgrew the urge to publicly make asses of ourselves over that by the age of 20 or so.

Yes, O’Donnell is photogenic, but so what? She’s out for votes, not a date. She’s an extremist crackpot theocrat like Alan Keyes or Fred Phelps, and that’s what’s important.

There have been highly capable and qualified female politicians, including conservative ones. Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher come to mind.

But the fact that flakes like O’Donnell or Palin are being taken so seriously is evidence of a dangerous influx of hormonal adolescent foolishness into the sphere of political commentary.

25 September 2010

Link roundup for 25 September 2010

Maps illustrate various groups' stereotypes of European countries.

These cakes are just bursting with taste (found via Mendip). Can't say the same for these "cupcakes".

Computer animation depicts early sequences from Larry Niven's novel Ringworld (sorry, no rishathra scenes).

How convenient: here's a map of American death camps.

Ron Chusid believes John Boehner. But his credibility may soon take an unexpected hit.

Ken Ham just doesn't get it (found via Republic of Gilead).

Is your cell phone an agent of evil?

Rabbi Daniel Lapin calls atheists "parasites". Here are some of them.

Yet another anti-gay preacher is accused of gay transgressions (sent by Demwit).

Is Obama a Satanist?

The Catholic Church embodies a hallowed tradition.

Atheists and Pastafarians use satire to deal with pesky campus preachers.

Fundies are still pushing religion in the military.

The Vatican Bank is under investigation for money laundering (sent by Demwit).

Udo Schuklenk looks at the Pope's visit to Britain.

O'Donnell says there would have been no need to lie to Hitler.

The media delusion that teabaggerdom is a secular alternative to the theocratic extreme right is beginning to fall apart (found via Republic of Gilead).

Maps illustrate the distribution of religion in the US.

Republicans' 2012 Presidential hopes turn to two little-known Indiana figures: Rep. Mike Pence for the teabaggers/fundies, Governor Mitch Daniels for the sane.

Florida will stop enforcing its gay adoption ban.

Can anyone remember why Mary Landrieu is a Democrat?

Nobody seems to like the new Republican "Pledge to America". See a moderate-right view at Frum Forum, a libertarian view at The Crossed Pond, a far-right view at RedState, and liberal views at Politics Plus and Liberal Values.

A federal judge's decision in the Margaret Witt case could further undermine DADT.

Moderate Republican Mike Castle criticizes his party's cowardice in the face of teabaggerdom.

The US must defeat a dangerous and fanatical insurgency.

Those who snicker at O'Donnell's "dabbling into" witchcraft should be asking a different question.

Did Jesus come for everyone, or only the Jews?

The British county of Northumbria, being outside the US, is not covered by the First Amendment.

Republicans are still the anti-science party.

Anthropologists are studying victims of Inca child sacrifice.

Britain has just inaugurated the world's largest offshore wind farm.

Modern knowledge about the brain makes the concept of the "soul" an absurdity.

[Note: Yeah, I know, I didn't do a "video of the week" this week. Oh, well, at least there was this.]

24 September 2010

RedStaters have the right idea

Erick Erickson is disgusted with the Republican party's "Pledge to America" -- not nearly red-meat enough for his taste. It's "pablum", "milquetoast", "dreck", "laughable", and worse. Yet at the end of the tirade we find this:

I will vote Republican in November of 2010. But I will not carry their stagnant water.

Commenters mostly take the same view. There is some hunger for a genuine hard-right third party, but the dominant sentiment is summed up by this:

The problem with a third party idea is that it will give the next election to the Dems.....So, don’t even think about a third party, Put all your effort into taking back the party we already have.

They understand how things really work. However unhappy they are with the Republican party, they know that they have two real choices, not more, and that one of those choices is much worse from their viewpoint than the other.

And this is the point that the left needs to understand too. The Democrats have disappointed all of us in a number of ways, but voting third-party or not voting at all will merely increase the likelihood of the Republicans winning -- and that would not push the Democrats to the left, it would merely deliver power to people who are vastly worse. Consider the 2000 election. The Naderite distraction that robbed Gore of victory didn't push the Democratic party in a more Nader-like direction. And if you doubt that a Gore Presidency would have been far better than what we got under Bush, then you must be an illegal alien from Neptune.

The right-wingers, or at least a lot of them, get it. Yes, fight like the Devil to make your own side's party work the way you want it to work, but don't do anything that would have the practical effect of handing power to the other side.

Will enough of us get it? I'd hate to see a resurgence of Republican power based on nothing but our "base" being dumber than theirs.

21 September 2010

The Pope in Britain

That "power-hungry self-aggrandized bigot in the stupid fucking hat", as Tim Minchin described him in a moment of startling terminological self-restraint, has wrapped up his visit to Britain, where he encountered large-scale protests against the countless evils spawned by the international criminal organization he leads. He bleated the usual apologies about the endless molestation and cover-up scandals which have come to define the Catholic Church, but still fell far short of acknowledging the true abject depth of its institutional criminality and hypocrisy.

He Who Zings Rats also caused a stir with his remarks calling atheism a factor in the rise of Nazism. Paula Kirby argues that this was actually a cunning piece of misdirection, but the old fascist was in fact echoing a common talking point of religious nutjobs who cite Hitler as an atheist and blame Nazi murderousness on the Darwinian theory of evolution. It's clear from Hitler's own words, of course, that he was a firm God-believer and considered himself to be "fighting for the work of the Lord", but what of the ideology of the Nazi state itself?

Some of the Nazi guidelines for book-banning can be found here and make most interesting reading. PZ Myers notes in particular the following categories of banned items:

Schriften weltanschaulichen und lebenskundlichen Charakters, deren Inhalt die falsche naturwissenschaftliche Aufklärung eines primitiven Darwinismus und Monismus ist (Häckel).

[Writings of a philosophical and social character whose content is the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Häckel).]

Alle Schriften, welche die christliche Religion und ihre Einrichtungen, den Gottesglauben und andere einem gesunden Volksempfinden heiligen Dinge verhöhnen, verumglimpfen oder verächtlich machen.

[All writings that ridicule, belittle or besmirch the Christian religion and its institutions, faith in God, or other things that are holy to the healthy sentiments of the people.]

So the works of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Loftus, Hirsi Ali, and the rest would have been banned in Nazi Germany. Pat Condell's videos would have been banned. Minchin's "Pope song" would have been banned. This blog would have been banned.

The Vatican Godfather, who grew up in Nazi Germany, certainly knows these things. His statements about atheism cannot have been honest ignorance; they were lies, intentional slander.

I couldn't help noticing one other section from the banned-book guidelines:

Schriften der Sexualpädagogik und zur sexuellen Aufklärung, die sich in den Dienst des Genußegoismus der Einzelperson stellen und damit volks- und rassenzerstörend im höchsten Grade wirken (Hirschfeld).

[Writings on sexuality and sexual education which serve the egoistic pleasure of the individual and thus are destructive to the people and race to the highest degree (Hirschfeld).]

Sounds familiar, no? Totalitarians of all stripes are almost always sexual puritans, hostile to the use of sexuality purely for physical or psychological gratification or, indeed, for anything other than reproduction (more sheep for the flock, more cannon fodder for the state). You can often hear the same "values" being preached today by people who, while they may not be fascists, certainly share the Nazis' veneration of religion and their contempt for science and liberalism -- and for atheism.

18 September 2010

Explaining teabaggerdom -- to the Chinese

Somebody in Taiwan created this clever animated video to explain the Tea Party movement to Chinese-speaking viewers (this version has English subtitles). Found via The Immoral Minority.

Link roundup for 18 September 2010

It's a generic protest sign -- suitable for any occasion!

A man with balls risks death -- and perhaps a "fate worse than" (found via Mendip).

Ranch Chimp has had it with the flood of aggressive advertising.

Mark your calendar -- the world will end on 21 May 2011.

Bethany Storro, "victim" of a claimed acid attack in the Portland area, now admits that the attack was a hoax.

I think this ad is cute, but it offended the most offensive person in the world.

DemWit has reasons to vote Republican (read the comments too).

Those wingnuts just keep 'em coming.

Rick Perry says Texas education is the best.

South Carolina Republicans know how to party like it's 1861 (sent by Mendip).

Satanism is coming to.....Oklahoma? Might mean more votes for Brittany Novotny (sent by Ranch Chimp).

Do drugs and guns cause violent crime? Apparently not.

The Atheist Camel looks at religion and fire.

Are these people racists?

The Pope is in Britain, talking even worse bullshit than usual.

Behold, another typical result of our society's tolerance of religion-spawned bigotry.

Mormon dogmas have changed drastically over time, and will need to keep doing so.

Conservative Andrew Pavelyev announces the real winner of the Republican primaries.

Lies, lies, lies!

For O'Donnell, Republicans have already created a new reality.

Right Wing News chooses the 40 best conservative blogs.

Palin dominates speculation about Republican 2012 Presidential candidates.

O'Donnell and Angle are far from secular.

The teabaggers aren't insurgents within the Republican party -- they've been the dominant part of it for some time.

Republic of Gilead has posted a detailed report on the "Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference" in Washington DC: parts one, two, three, four.

A green shoot of sanity on the right: some conservatives are fund-raising to support gay marriage.

If the teabaggers are the chosen people, O'Donnell might make a plausible Moses.

Murkowski's going ahead with her write-in campaign. Nate Silver says she's got a chance; Palin is steamed. Ideally she'll split the right-wing vote and hand Democrat Scott McAdams the seat; if she wins outright, having burned her bridges with the Republicans, she'll likely work in the Senate as a centrist independent like Joe Lieberman. Either would be better that seeing the primary winner, Palin-backed teabagger Joe Miller, take the seat.

Some Kentuckians are standing up to the mighty coal industry.

France's Senate has approved the burka ban.

Why did Thomas Jefferson read the Koran?

Does open acceptance of gays weaken armies? Ask the IDF.

Someone doesn't want you to see a film on environmental damage along the Mississippi.

Alexey Turchin warns of the ultimate computer virus.

A former military minister speaks out.

A golden age of atheism is dawning (found via John Loftus).

The US dominates the list of the world's top universities.

Krish Ashok visits the Creation Museum.

Sunspots have been declining for years, which may help offset the effects of global warming.

California scientists have developed artificial skin that can feel (found via Mendip).

17 September 2010

Follower caution

Note to bloggers: If you discover the name "Fear the Dragon" on your followers list, do not click on it. Details here (scroll down, but read the whole thing too).

16 September 2010

Videos of the week -- Johnny, are you.....

Josie Cotton's 1982 hit in which a gal frets over why the guy she desires doesn't seem to quite return her interest. It's a fan-made video with visuals from Harry Potter which give it a cool other-worldly look. The sound-track is loud, so set your volume low.

Next, a clever inverted take on the same song by Scott Coblio ("Koo-Koo Boy"), with fears and hopes reversed:

15 September 2010

Fake bloggers: it just gets worse

The latest fake right-wing blogger to be unmasked is using the identity of a murdered police officer. Links to earlier exposés are here. From the right, The Oracular Opinion has been helping to expose the fakes, and several other conservatives have joined in denouncing them.

Curses! Teabagged again!

At last, something that most Democrats and most Republicans can agree on: the victory of Christine "thou shalt not wank" O'Donnell is a comic-opera catastrophe. Teabagger insurgents, often Palin-endorsed, have beaten (relatively) moderate Republicans for nominations in Nevada, Kentucky, Florida, Alaska, and several other states. While I hold to my view that Rand Paul is the most dangerous of these, O'Donnell is the most visibly unqualified and weird, and won despite being actively opposed by the Republican establishment. If she could win the Republican nomination for a Senate seat, no one can convince me that it's impossible for Palin (or somebody equally dangerous) to become the Republican Presidential nominee in 2012.

O'Donnell probably can't win the general election. The fact that establishment Republicans spoke out quite strongly against her during the primary will give the Democrats material for ads and make it awkward for those same Republicans to support her now.

The same can't be said for the teabagger insurgents in general, though. The Reid-Angle race in Nevada is a lot closer than it should be. Rand Paul may very well win in Kentucky, just by a smaller margin than a normal Republican would have. The only way we can win Alaska is if Murkowski's write-in campaign splits the conservative vote.

The Republicans will probably win fewer races this year than they would have won if the teabagger movement did not exist -- but teabaggerdom is not a magic bullet that guarantees Republican defeats wherever it raises its head, as some seem to think.

Let this be a lesson to all those who want someone like Palin to be the Republican nominee for President in 2012 on the grounds that it would ensure Obama's re-election. There is no such thing as a candidate so bad they can't win. Some voters don't pay very much attention and just vote for their favored party no matter what. Some will automatically vote for the opposition because they're mad about the economy. And we all know about those liberals who keep threatening to not vote, or vote third-party, because the Democrats are unsatisfactory to them -- even if it means letting teabaggers into power.

It's going to be a dangerous year.

Update 1: Good observation here:

This’ll start getting real, real interesting if the conservative grassroots starts throwing a possible Republican pickup of the Senate in jeopardy. If Tea Party insurgents keep knocking off mainstream incumbents/coronated nominees (Alaska, Kentucky, Utah, Delaware), or worse yet start driving them out entirely to caucus with Dems, go Indie and split the vote, or retire (Specter, Crist, gonna be Snowe next round) and then start losing what were otherwise safe seats to Democrats, it’ll be fascinating to see how that shakes out.

And yet, the teabaggers are a critical part of the Republican base and seem to be in no mood to compromise. So, in some races, the Republican party can’t win with the teabaggers, and it can’t win without the teabaggers. Something of a conundrum there.

Our two-party system tends to deliver success to whichever party it is whose base is more willing to compromise with the political center. And this is probably a healthy thing for the country.

Update 2 (from Frum Forum):

The real action in this election cycle was in the Republican primaries, they are almost over, and we already know who won: (drum roll, please!) President Obama. American conservatives have suffered a crushing and lasting defeat. The center of gravity in American politics has shifted permanently and irreversibly to the left (and conservative ideology will eventually follow).

Read the whole thing. It'll do your heart good.

14 September 2010

The inevitable universe

As anticipated here, last Tuesday I stopped in at a bookstore after work and picked up the new Stephen Hawking book, co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow.

First off, I should point out that I'm not a scientist, though it helps that I'm familiar with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and some of the basics of quantum physics -- both of these concepts are critical to Hawking's discussion. In any case, this book is clearly aimed at non-scientists. It's only 180 pages and technical language is kept to a bare minimum, considering the nature of the subject. And there's essentially no math, although Hawking is quite emphatic about the importance of mathematics to the real work of moving science forward; for example, the advance of human knowledge was seriously inhibited until the development (in India) of positional notation about 1,300 years ago, despite the many brilliant figures produced by earlier civilizations such as Greece and Rome.

The main problem the book sets out to address is the origin of the universe -- "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Since that question has traditionally been the province of philosophy, the book spends quite a lot of space on explaining how the world of atomic and sub-atomic particles and events, as revealed by quantum physics, works in a completely different way than the larger-scale world we can directly observe; it renders traditional philosophical approaches pretty much useless for understanding reality. The quantum world is almost unbelievably strange, and yet all of these phenomena have been confirmed by a vast range of experiments performed over nearly a century. Quantum physics is bizarre, but it is true. And no, it does not legitimize this or that form of ancient mysticism, as quite a few less-than-honest authors have claimed. It's something entirely new.

This is not a book for people whose reaction to quantum physics is to throw up their hands and gabble blankly about how amazingly weird it is. Hawking pays you the compliment of expecting you to actually get it.

I won't try to summarize the book's whole argument, which is itself a summary of far more complex work, but the gist of it is this: based on what we now know about physics, absolute nothingness would be an unstable and indeed impossible condition. That's why there is something rather than nothing. There can't be nothing. The very nature of reality does not allow it. To understand why, read the book, and be sure to follow the argument carefully. After I finished reading, I had to spend some time re-thinking what I had read before I was sure that I really understood why the conclusion follows from the theories and from the observational evidence which has verified them. As I said, the book is written for the non-scientist, but the concepts it explains have taken generations for some of the most brilliant people in the world to work out and confirm by experiment. There's a limit to how easy it can be made.

Much attention has been given to Hawking's dismissal of God, a point barely mentioned in the book. Hawking is far too cautious to claim that science has proven that God does not exist (religious concepts are usually defined in such a way as to be immune to testing by experiment or observation, thus they are irrelevant to science). What he does say is that science has shown that a deity, or any kind of supernatural intervention, is not necessary to explain the fact that the universe exists. And this is clearly true.

The book also addresses a related issue: the fact that the natural laws of the universe seem to be oddly well-arranged to allow for environments hospitable to life. If any of the laws of nature were even slightly different, the universe would be a different place -- in most cases, different in ways which would not allow life-bearing environments to exist. This has been known for some time, and theists have argued that the too-convenient laws of nature must have been fine-tuned by a deity to favor life.

The real explanation is that the nature of reality which made the universe inevitable also made it inevitable in every possible way, not just the one way we are familiar with. That is to say, there is a vast number of universes (Hawking estimates their number as a 1 followed by 500 zeroes), with every possible combination of different natural laws. Inevitably, the universe we are living in and observing is one of those where the natural laws do allow life; only such a universe could have allowed us to evolve.

It is awe-inspiring to know that our species is capable of achieving understanding of such profound and difficult matters.

13 September 2010

Who is that masque'd man???

Progressive Eruptions has been doing some more digging around the right-wing blogosphere, and finds it positively aswarm with sock-puppet "bloggers" using pictures and names stolen from real people. One clue that they're all actually written by the same person: the consistent misspelling of "mosque" as "masque". The new report is here; the original "Just Sue" report is here.

Update: More here, and keep on checking back. This story seems to grow by the hour.

12 September 2010

Ready, set, burn!

All out of Korans? There's still this.

11 September 2010

The right is still wrong

All right, enough liberal self-flagellation. There's an election battle to fight, and the stakes are high.

The Saturday Afternoon Post blog has an excellent posting up which presents a point-by-point overview of why the right wing in this country is still unfit to hold power, with specifics for each point. It's in the form of a series of questions aimed at rightists, but of course they're neither expected nor likely to respond. The real value of it is as a reminder of what a major transfer of power to the Republicans right now would mean, and as a focused set of debate points when talking, not only with reasonable conservatives, but with those all-too-numerous liberals who find the Democratic party unworthy of support because it has disappointed them in various ways since taking power.

Everything is there: the systematic obstructionism, the lying, the hypocritical moralism, the too-selective fixation on the deficit, the "pro-life" incoherence, the paranoia, the policies that would benefit the richest and most powerful at the expense of everyone else, the flirtations with atavistic bigotry, the lack of a program to address real problems.

The Democrats have certainly disappointed me in some ways. But the simple fact is, there are only two options on the table, and one of them is far worse than the other.

The ninth anniversary: despair and hope

Over the last couple of weeks, the controversies over the Ground Zero mosque and Pastor Terry Jones's plan to burn the Koran have loomed large in the blogosphere. To me, it's been a sobering and frankly depressing reminder of the tremendous ignorance about Islam which is still so widespread here in the United States, especially -- yes, I'm going to say it, because it's a fact -- on the left.

The Bushian meme that Islam is a peaceful religion, and that people like the Taliban and al-Qâ'idah are not truly representative of it, still seems to have a firm grip on the thinking of far too many people. In almost Orwellian fashion, clichés and propaganda talking points are passed off as fact, while manifestations of actual knowledge of the subject are derided as bigotry -- as if a religio-ideology which is the planet's foremost engine of homophobia, misogyny, anti-intellectualism, and violent totalitarian attacks on free expression, were somehow comparable to the racial, ethnic, or sexual minorities which liberals normally and rightly defend against discrimination. It seems that, to some people, anything which comes under attack from the right wing must reflexively be defended, and any facts or arguments which complicate the simple picture must be ignored or denounced.

So why the word "hope" in the post title? Because I know that such delusions are not as pervasive on the left as they appear to be. I know from people I'm in touch with, and even from some blogs, that there are plenty of liberals out there who know the truth about Islam at least in broad strokes -- even if many of them are understandably reluctant to speak up in public. And the atheist community is far more up to speed on Islam than the broader liberal one. Many atheist bloggers know the score and speak out bluntly, to say nothing of heavyweights like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Condell.....

More importantly, the problem is to some extent a self-correcting one. The best antidote to misinformation is real information, and there is plenty of it out there -- more and more all the time. Recall how, after the September 11 attack, books on Islam were swept from the bookstores and libraries by hordes of baffled Americans suddenly determined to find out more about a subject to which most of them had never previously given any thought. Some may still have learned little, but many learned much. Since then there has been a steady background drip of news stories about terrorist attacks, honor killings, stonings, riots in Europe, etc. -- and though apologetics and excuse-making are a constant accompaniment, they wear thin after a while. The truth will out. And every time the country is swept by a media feeding frenzy like the Ground Zero mosque or even the idiotic Pastor Jones, more people are inspired to educate themselves about Islam, and if they delve deep enough, they will eventually leave the clichés and propaganda behind.

You, too, can educate yourself. Reading blog posts alone won't do it (even mine!). Get hold of some real books by people who know (like this one and this one), put aside your preconceptions, and read them with an open mind. Dawkins's The God Delusion has some good material on Islam in the broader context of religion in general, and of course, there's the most important and damning book of all.

There are moderate Muslims. There can be no moderate Islam.

Link roundup for 11 September 2010

Bay of Fundie looks at intelligence levels of fundamentalists vs. atheists. A bit more data here.

I guess you can't see Russia from there after all.

Remember this song? Looks like Ray Bradbury dug it.

Alive or dead, you just can't have any fun with these guys.

Must-read: Progressive Eruptions ferrets out a startling case of blogosphere identity-theft and sock-puppetry.

The big players shouldn't give attention and credibility to small- time crazies.

Remember Tim Ravndal, the teabagger association president who got kicked out for joking about hanging gays? Well, some of his co-teabaggers want him back.

Green Eagle never lacks material for a wingnut wrapup.

Christine "thou shalt not wank" O'Donnell is now endorsed by Palin.

Increasing the power of Republicans in Congress could endanger Social Security (found via Demwit).

A clear majority of Americans favor letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest.

Lisa Murkowski isn't bowing out quietly -- which could split the conservative vote in Alaska.

Democratic office-holders whose own seats are safe need to be more aggressive.

Some Republican insiders are skeptical of predictions that they'll win big this year.

Where did all that oil in the Gulf go? Straight to the bottom, and it's still there.

Tea Party Tracker is a new site which "monitors racism and other forms of extremism within the Tea Party movement" (found via Republic of Gilead). They're gonna be busy.

Anti-gay evangelical churches are losing the support of their own younger members.

Calling out evil and stupidity is now an "onslaught".

Prop. 8 Trial Tracker has a report from "The Call".

In one important way, Obama's vision of America is not ours.

William Lobdell is seeking first-person stories of the effects of religion on sexuality. Do you have one?

Is Feisal Abdul-Rauf a moderate or a stealth jihadist? There's evidence for both claims.

Anti-abortion terrorist Justin Carl Moose describes himself as a "Christian counterpart of Osama bin Laden". Other fundamentalist loons think that the September 11 attack was God's punishment for abortion (found via Republic of Gilead).

The Daily Universe, a newspaper of Brigham Young University, published a letter articulately critiquing Mormon support of Prop. 8, then pulled it. The full letter and context are here (found via The Whore of All the Earth); the paper's feeble explanation is here.

Religion has a long history of abusing women and minorities.

On Terry Jones's Koran cook-out, PZ Myers gets it. William Loftus looks at Muslim reactions. (My own take is here.)

Parsley's Pics has a history post up about the London Blitzkrieg.

The Labor Day holiday commemorates the judicial murder of five anarchists in Chicago in 1887.

Tom Degan looks at the shift of Southern conservatives from the Democratic to the Republican party staring in the 1960s.

Leading science magazine Nature speaks out bluntly about the dangerous anti-science streak on the American right wing.

The stem-cell research funding ban is on hold, which is good news -- but see my comment at the post.

The technology of artificial limbs has become startlingly advanced (found via Mendip).

09 September 2010

Koran cook-out canceled.....

.....according to this. Though I don't believe for a moment that Abdul-Rauf made a deal with this guy.

Update (6:55 PM Pacific time): Cancellation canceled?

Update 2 (6:13 AM, 10 Sept.): Should've known these guys would want to get in on it.....

Video of the week -- hot dogs

I can't believe I actually used to eat stuff like this.

08 September 2010

Koran cook-out

Pastor Terry Jones of Florida has achieved considerable notoriety with his plan to commemorate September 11 by burning Korans, a plan which he still insists will proceed despite objections from no less than General Petraeus that violent Muslim reactions could endanger American soldiers in Islamic countries and complicate their mission there. In this he echoes the backers of the Ground Zero mosque, who are also determined to push ahead despite the offense and pain that their plans will cause to the overwhelming majority of Americans who stand opposed.

As I have said before, the Ground Zero mosque controversy is strikingly analogous to the case of the American Nazis' notorious attempt to march through Skokie in the 1970s. It's an outrageous provocation and a display of utter contempt for human feelings that should have been respected -- but the First Amendment's verdict is clear.

Jones's case is somewhat different. The feelings of people who would threaten violence in response to a mere symbolic act of desecration obviously deserve no respect whatsoever, and the very concept of considering anything "sacred" is an insult to the intelligence. Nevertheless, if Jones had an atom of decency, he would abandon his plan in deference to the US military's concerns about its possible repercussions for American troops overseas. But if he refuses, the First Amendment is clear. He is expressing a viewpoint, not threatening others or their property.

It is precisely for such cases that the protections of the First Amendment are needed. The First Amendment is for people like the American Nazis, Pastor Jones, Imam Abdul-Rauf, Fred Phelps, pornographers, etc. Expression which does not shock or offend anyone has no need of any special protection.

If Jones had any decency he would not go through with his Koran cook-out. If Abdul-Rauf had any decency, he would abandon the Ground Zero mosque plan. If the American Nazis had had any decency, they would not have tried to march through Skokie. Since evidently those parties lack any such decency, they must be allowed to express their views.

Make no mistake: the moment we compromise on freedom of expression because the said expression shocks and outrages somebody -- especially if it's because the shocked and outraged party is threatening violence -- freedom of expression vanishes, and we are under the dominion of the thug and the bully.

If there is violence in response to the Koran-burning (which would not be surprising -- recall the riots over the Danish Muhammad cartoons, and the threats against PZ Myers over a stupid cracker), then the responsibility for that violence rests entirely with the people who are committing it, not with Pastor Jones. The same applies to the Ground Zero mosque, of course. Given the level of hostility the project has already provoked, it wouldn't surprise me if the damn thing is firebombed a week after it opens. But if that happens, the fault will lie entirely with the person who throws the bomb, not with Imam Abdul-Rauf.

Our commitment to freedom of expression is sometimes tested in ways which outright repel us. But there are principles which no American worthy of the name can compromise on. This is one of them.

07 September 2010

A win down under

As we contemplate our dismal teabagger- and theocrat-infested electoral landscape, a bit of good news from the other side of the world: Julia Gillard, Australia's first openly-atheist Prime Minister, has won a second term after a photo-finish close election and two and a half weeks of coalition-building.

04 September 2010

Link roundup for 4 September 2010

Like other vapid celebs, God goes into rehab, just for show.

Here's the latest Texas invention: deep-fried beer.

Mormonism is like spam, poetically.

Supernatural scammers seem weirdly similar in every country (found via Mendip).

A bit of hugging can do wonders for a baby.

Lady Gaga is too controversial for Apple.

Fake or real, US Presidents and Saudi royalty are an unaesthetic combination.

Christine McDonnell, teabagger-supported Senate candidate of Delaware, has taken a firm stand against masturbation (found via Mad Mike's America). Moderate Republicans are clearly worried about her.

If elected, Sharron Angle would be much worse than just a bad joke.

Conservatives' infighting could lose them NY-23 again.

Kevin Drum thinks teabaggerdom won't last.

The Bush-era Pentagon was soft on kiddie porn (found via Oliver Willis).

The flow of illegal aliens into the US has plummeted to one-third of its level a few years ago. Tough state laws and the Obama adminis- tration's stricter border enforcement (compared to the lax policy of the Bush years) probably both deserve some of the credit.

Glenn Beck's religious pretensions are not unprecedented.

Tony Perkins seems a bit paranoid about Ken Mehlman.

There's no conflict between happiness and rationality.

Predictably, a few wingnuts blame Discovery-Channel terrorist James Lee's lunacy on Darwinism. Don't be fooled.

NOM and its ilk want to leave gays trapped in a Kafkaesque reality.

Proselytizing in the internet age just isn't the same.

The idea that prayer does any good just isn't common sense.

Phony phone calls from God should eventually turn children off of religion. In fact, it's an award-winning idea.

Don't believe everything Feisal Abdul-Rauf says.

Switzerland takes an accommodating approach to prostitution (found via Mendip).

I don't think governments should recognize or subsidize religions
-- but if they must, Italy at least chose the right one to exclude.

Vodafone is the latest of many companies to give up on doing business in China.

Xinjiang (Uighurstan) has just suffered its worst ethnic violence in decades.

Sure, elephants are big, but there's another animal that can scare them away.

Chimpanzees in Guinea have figured out how to deactivate the traps that human hunters set for them.

The exposure of a case of scientific dishonesty shows why science works so well.

03 September 2010

"Those deepest of questions"

Politics, schmolitics. For me, the big news of the week was this.

Why is there a universe -- why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? Why are the laws of nature what they are? Did the universe need a designer and creator?

These questions are often rhetorically tossed into the air by the anti-evolution ignorantsia (who don't even seem to realize that the origin of life and the origin of the universe are two completely separate questions), but when Stephen Hawking spends four years writing a book about them, you can be sure that you're going to get substance, not confusion. It comes out Tuesday -- I'll be at the bookstore that same day.

01 September 2010

Video of the week -- Hitchens in Toronto

Christopher Hitchens in better days, participating in a debate on a proposed "hate speech" law in Canada.

A day against treason

Didn't like Beck's rally? Here's a real patriotic event for you.