29 January 2011

Egypt awakes (updated)

Unsurprisingly, Mubarak's speech trying to fob off the protesters with promises of a cabinet reshuffle was a total flop. The regime has now called in the army to try to quell the uprising, and the death toll has increased considerably, now standing above 70. The protesters do not seem to be intimidated, however, and the crowds are still growing. So far the military seems to be using rubber bullets; it's unclear what would happen if it were ordered to use lethal force on a large scale. There have been many anecdotal accounts of individual soldiers and police officers expressing sympathy with the crowds.

Sadly, looting has erupted in Cairo. When this became known, hundreds of Egyptians formed a human chain to protect -- the National Museum, home to the world's largest collection of Egyptian antiquities. History is a treasured part of any nation's identity, and this must be especially true in such an ancient country as Egypt.

Some of the slogans used during the protests have emphasized Muslim-Christian solidarity against the regime, and the general absence of a militant-Islamist tone is striking and encouraging. Could it be that Egyptian society, at least, has matured beyond religious fanaticism and toward modernity? In this dramatic video, the man at the 0:45 mark even embraces atheists among those who must demand their rights:

Incidentally, reports usually state that 10% of Egypt's population is Christian; this is the regime's own official figure. In reality, the proportion is probably much larger. In academia I saw estimates as high as 25%. Egypt may be more properly described as a land of two religions than as a Muslim country with a Christian minority.

Al-Jazeera, the premier Arabic-language news organization, has a page in English dedicated to reports on these dramatic events in the world's largest Arabic-speaking nation. They also have a live news stream.

You can sign an online statement of solidarity with the Egyptian people here.

Update: The rebellion is the culmination of long-simmering anger in all elements of society.

Update 2 (Sunday morning): Al-Jazeera's crawl reports military helicopters and jets in operation over Cairo; military analyst Marwan Bishara looks at the army's possible role. Interestingly, the Egyptian chief of staff was in Washington when the rebellion began. Unrest has also broken out in Sudan, Egypt's neighbor to the south.

Update 3 (Sunday evening): More on Egypt's antiquities here.

Update 4 (Monday morning): Much of the rebellion's leadership is younger than the regime they seek to topple. The recent looting and chaos may have been a Mubarak ploy. The biggest protest yet is planned for Tuesday. And could Syria be next?

Update 5 (Monday evening): The army says it won't use force against protesters.

(See here for a round-up on the Egyptian internet shut-off).

Link round-up for 29 January 2011

Good Show Sir finds another priceless book cover. And this one has a story behind it.

The American Decency Association has advice for single people about sex.

Michael Voris explains why Christians should want a dictatorship in the US (sent by Mendip).

Go ahead, answer the crocodile.

Murr Brewster visits a church.

Here's a Japanese roadway completely cleared of snow.

Death to the Devil dog (found via Preliator pro Causa, who also reports this doggycide).

I didn't think it was possible to fit this much offensive nonsense into one leaflet.

Erick Erickson threatens "mass bloodshed" (found via Plutocrap).

Is Texas our future?

Travis Corcoran might have intended more than just talk (found via Oliver Willis).

Utah now has an official state gun.

David Frum thinks it's time for the right to give up on Palin.

Whom would Jesus turn away?

Chick tracts remind us how far we've come (found via Republic of Gilead).

Ta-Nehisi Coates debunks the offensive nonsense of comparing abortion to slavery.

We won't see real filibuster reform this year.

Michelle Bachmann is serious about cutting government spending.

Vermont takes a stand against corporate personhood.

War analogies cause us to misunderstand what kinds of political activism are most effective.

If you think drunk driving is a trivial matter, read this.

This year's "march for life" was the same-old-same-old.

A Palin Presidential run could turn Texas purple.

Sometimes the abused manage to strike back at the abuser (warning: gruesome picture).

A spam text message may have saved hundreds of lives.

"Kurt N" was quite a collector (found via Mendip).

Wow, look what a crime wave drug legalization has caused in the Netherlands.

British undercover police may be a bit over-zealous.

The World is a flop.

Iranian culture is a stronger force than theocracy.

The Pope has found another opportunity for stupid nagging (found via Preliator pro Causa).

The Moscow airport bomber was targeting foreigners.

The euro-zone is doomed to break up (and I'm not convinced by the claim that the euro will survive in central Europe).

Here's a Russian view of the twenty years since the fall of the USSR.

All these things are banned in Iran (found via Mendip).

Mikhail Chester thinks reducing free parking would make people choose to use cars less (I think it would make them choose to go to places where there was still free parking).

As Arctic ice vanishes, new shipping routes open up -- but there are dangers.

Sorry, they're still idiots.

If the facts aren't on your side, try to stop anyone from seeing them.

Jason Goldman has a round-up of science blog posts.

Exercise does your heart more good than you may realize.

28 January 2011

The Arab rebellion spreads (2)

The uprising in Egypt continues to escalate.

A rebel leaflet circulating in Cairo offers guidelines for confronting the regime; I note that it is illustrated with a drawing of a woman with uncovered hair, suggesting it was not produced by Islamist hard-liners (the Arabic writing on it, visible here, says "The people and the police, together against oppression -- long live Egypt"). Nobel-Prize-winning Egyptian dissident Mohamed ElBaradei says the regime is on its last legs. He has been detained after taking part in a protest. Live updates here.

With 80 million people, Egypt is by far the largest Arabic-speaking country; whatever eventually happens there, for better or worse, will have repercussions from the Gulf to the Maghrib.

Update: The rebels control part of Alexandria, Egypt's second- largest city; the ruling party's headquarters in Cairo is reported to be on fire.

27 January 2011

The Arab rebellion spreads

The inspiration of Tunisia is spreading eastward. Less than two weeks after the fall of Ben Ali, Egypt -- the most important Arabic- speaking country, ruled by Hosni Mubarak for 30 years -- erupted. A visiting American scholar in Egypt confirms that people want democracy. The regime cracked down, but the protests continued. There was even a report that one of Mubarak's sons had fled Egypt. An eyewitness report is here, video here, photos here -- including some from Tunisia (where protests against Ben Ali cronies clinging to power continue) and Lebanon. And it sounds like things won't be calming down soon.

It's obviously uncertain whether the protests inspired by Tunisia will bring down any more Arab regimes or, if they do, whether the result will be secular democracy, or indeed any improvement at all. There's always the risk that hard-line Islamists, as the best- organized opposition force, could step into the vacuum left by the fall of a dictator, as happened in Iran after the overthrow of the Shah. Sectarian conflict could erupt, as in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein -- although this suggests that much of Egypt, at least, has matured well beyond such dangerous idiocies. Since September 11, the majority of people killed by jihadist terrorism have been Muslims, and there's some evidence that the fanatics are losing popular support -- especially in Egypt, where they have targeted the economy via attacks on tourists. One can hope that a majority of Arabs are as tired of religious fanatics as they are of their aging tyrants.

Update: Now Yemen too.

Video of the week -- Transcendent Man

On the man Bill Gates called "the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence". Found via Maria Konovalenko, whom you should definitely check out.

26 January 2011

Best of the Infidel, 2010

There are things we just don't know yet

Why do sex robots make some people nervous?

A memory of Berkeley

From January: probably my best politics-related posting ever

The real revolution is in the laboratories

The moral status of animals

Artificial stupidity and spam comments

The book of evil

The real revolution: cancer

The third-party delusion

Home-grown terrorism

Atheist first, liberal second

Israel -- a serious liberal view

Are we too hard on Texas?

Evil, crime, and madness

How the left misunderstands the far right

Honoring treason

Pay does not reflect value

The nature of the Infidel

A lesson from the salamanders

The right wing uses illegal immigration to out-maneuver the left

One origin for all

Racial category-think is doomed

The destroyer of minds

Ode to orthography

New sensory experiences

The best way to deal with religion

Non-literal interpretation

Hiroshima -- another view

The Ground Zero mosque

Meditation: the bond of fire

The threat of theocracy is receding

Burning the Koran and freedom of expression

Despair and hope on September 11

The Nazis and the theory of evolution

RedStaters have the right idea

Not all Christians are to blame, but Christianity is

The last mystery

Misconceptions about evolution

No, there is no such thing as a gene for being right-wing

25 January 2011

Sex survey for non-believers

Two researchers at the University of Kansas are doing an online survey on the sexuality of non-religious people. It seems geared toward people who were raised with a religion but left it later, with an eye to how giving up religion affects sexuality.

To take the survey, click here.

Found via Pharyngula.

24 January 2011


Suicide bomb, Domodedovo airport, Moscow -- at least 31 killed.

If only there were really a Hell for slime like this to burn in.....

22 January 2011

Around the blogosphere

A few new blogs I'm adding to the links list at right:

The Heathen Republican is a relatively new "secular conservative" blog aiming to put conservatism on a rational, non-religious basis. If you're one of those who thinks conservatives are always stupid or crazy, you should check him out. I seldom agree with him, but he is seriously grappling with ideas, and seems to be willing to debate commenters.

Joé McKen's Preliator pro Causa is a startlingly prolific blog which seems to put up about three to six posts per day -- substantive ones, too -- expressing the views of "a liberal skeptic, rationalist and atheist stuck in a rut in the heart of Québec". There's politics, religion, social issues, animal pictures, and SF illustration, and probably other things too -- I haven't been reading it very long. If you like my link round-ups, he has a sort of mini-version each day.

(Another blog I've long had on the list, Republic of Gilead, also has link round-ups, focusing on gay and church-state issues, and split into "news" and "commentary" sections -- and of course Mendip is basically one continuous link round-up.)

TYWKIWDBI is a true everything-but-the-kitchen-sink blog (the name stands for "Things you wouldn't know if we didn't blog intermittently), and there's probably a kitchen-sink post in the archives somewhere. Topics on the front page at the moment include birds' nests, World War I, movies, fishing, oddly-named butterflies, a chart of paid-leave laws in different countries, and a Vermeer painting.

Finally, just for fun, there's Good Show Sir, a British blog dedicated to a single topic: bad SF and fantasy book covers. Most of them are pretty bad, but the fun part is the descriptions and comments. The cover shown above, for example, is summarized thus: ".....we get a phenomenal rendering of the back of some random knight and a severely constipated dragon trying desperately to crap himself in terror at the War of the Worlds spaceship blowing the hell out of its castle with a laser that comes from nowhere."

Blogging note: This is my two-thousandth post.

Link round-up for 22 January 2011

Massachusetts resident Tabby Sal is trying to evade jury duty.

Gorilla Bananas has doubts about the latest Dutch taxation plan.

Now here's a mission for Jesus I'll gladly undertake.

Oh, how I wish my town were really this cool (there's some truth to it, though).

Bad music could save your life.

In China, there's a use for empty wine bottles.

Check out this negative-space sculpture (slightly NSFW, found via Mendip).

Hooray! Typing in all caps is about to get more difficult.

Prudery is still around -- it's just gotten more fatuous.

There are some odd technicalities hiding in the Constitution.

Here's an interesting dilemma: a little lie to preserve a child's happiness.

Parents and a school challenge a bully (found via Republic of Gilead).

Congress is considering a plan to ensure that states could never again hire top-quality employees or sell bonds.

Green Eagle has an interesting idea about unemployment, which our current establishment would never have the guts to consider.

Against "normalcy": a reminder of what a truly inspirational leader sounds like.

Beck and Hannity are off the air in Philadelphia.

The Tuscon shootings were a case of stochastic terrorism. Liberal Values has more insight into rhetoric, violence, and denial.

"You're going to have to shoot them in the head."

Tea Party leader Gabriel Carrera has an ugly history (found via Republic of Gilead).

The "enthusiasm gap" is gone.

Palin, in a hole, keeps digging.

Feminisnt advocates a free-market approach to prostitution.

Porn makes the world a better place.

Martin Luther King Jr.
would have been no friend to today's anti-gun crowd.

A terrorist attack is thwarted in Spokane.

The hideous case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell shows what would become the norm if abortion were made illegal.

Even after one escapes religion, it can be a struggle to undo the damage.

Keep reminding people what's in the Bible. More here.

It's not genocide if God tells you to do it (found via Republic of Gilead).

There are cases where civility isn't the best option.

In some people, the mentality of the Dark Ages is alive and well.

If you can't write your bigotry into law, declare war (found via Republic of Gilead).

This is what happens when religion encroaches on civil law.

Jolly Roger recalls why he quit church.

The evidence is clear -- prayer doesn't work.

PZ Myers dissects Alabama Governor Robert Bentley's twisted "apology" for his recent declaration of religious bias.

The DC area is no longer culturally Southern (found via Mendip).

Parsley's Pics has a huge round-up of information on media bias.

Here's a reminder of what liberals have accomplished -- and conservatives have opposed.

Americans in general now view the Tea Party movement less favorably than ever before (found via Green Eagle) -- much less favorably, in fact, than they view Russia. More here.

A "smoking gun" letter found in Ireland confirms that shielding child molesters from the law was official Vatican policy (sent by Mendip). More here.

Lively and liberal Berlin attracts a surprising community of fans.

A ruling in Britain affirms that discrimination in public accommo- dation is wrong (found via Republic of Gilead) -- take that, Rand Paul!

When people from a puritanical society migrate to a liberal one, there can be problems.

Corrupt, domineering EU bureaucrats are blaming Ireland for the problems which they themselves inflicted on it.

Don't fall prey to China envy. Many Americans think China is already a superpower, but the Chinese themselves know better. The head of the ruling oligarchy really wants just one thing from his meeting with Obama.

They crossed out "God" and wrote in "the people".

Technology may soon make driving safer and more relaxing.

A pilot project in Jordan tests plans for the reforestation of the Sahara.

21 January 2011

Congratulations South Korea

Special forces storm a ship seized by Somali pirates in the Arabian Sea, killing eight pirates, capturing five, and rescuing all hostages alive.

20 January 2011

Quote for the day -- coming of age

"Intelligent life on a planet comes of age when it first works out the reason for its own existence. If superior creatures from space ever visit earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilization, is: 'Have they discovered evolution yet?' Living organisms had existed on earth, without ever knowing why, for over three thousand million years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. His name was Charles Darwin. To be fair, others had had inklings of the truth, but it was Darwin who first put together a coherent and tenable account of why we exist."

Richard Dawkins

18 January 2011

Video of the week -- Pepper

This Texas band is really good -- but I wonder how many people have never listened to it because they didn't want to take a chance on a band called "Butthole Surfers"! Found via Ranch Chimp.

17 January 2011

The dream is becoming reality

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was, in the last analysis, a champion of the unity of the American people. His dream will be truly realized when no one cares any more what color the President -- or any other American -- is.

16 January 2011

Civilized warfare

I have long held that Iran's nuclear-weapons program must be stopped by whatever means are necessary, regardless of cost; given the ideology and rhetoric of the mullahs' regime, there is an unacceptable risk that nuclear weapons in their hands would be used against Israel in what would fully qualify as a second Holocaust. (There's also an unknowable risk of the regime, or elements within it, supplying nuclear weapons to terrorists.)

Like most, I've always assumed that the only effective way of stopping the program would be an airstrike. This attack would need to not only destroy the nuclear program, which is dispersed all over Iran in well-defended sites, but also destroy most of Iran's conventional military establishment as well, to prevent retaliation against Israel, Gulf shipping, or US forces in Iraq. Such a massive strike would inevitably kill and injure great numbers of innocent Iranians, especially if nuclear materials were released into the environment, and would trigger all kinds of obvious international consequences. Only the need to prevent a second Holocaust could justify (indeed, mandate) such a horrific action.

Thanks to modern technology, we may be able to escape that terrible dilemma.

Word is starting to trickle out about the "Stuxnet" computer worm which, we now know, has been in action inside the uranium- enrichment centrifuge complex at Natanz. The program was a very sophisticated one. Not only did it cause the centrifuges to spin out of control for long periods, ruining their mechanisms beyond repair; it also caused the instrument panels to display false readouts indicating normal operation, so that the scientists had no idea that anything was going wrong with their equipment. By the time they finally discovered what was happening, about a thousand centrifuges had been wrecked, setting back the nuclear program several years -- and some experts think Stuxnet may still have more damage to inflict.

No one has claimed responsibility for Stuxnet and nothing has been officially confirmed, but this New York Times piece tells a convincing story. Stuxnet was a joint US-Israeli project, with some help from Germany and Britain. Its development was launched in the last months of the Bush administration and accelerated under Obama; with so much at stake, partisan differences vanish. Israel even built copies of the Iranian centrifuges so that Stuxnet could be tested on them before deployment.

It might be objected that the nuclear program has only been delayed for a few years, not stopped; but in those few years, the theocracy might fall -- or further viruses targeting other parts of the program might be deployed, creating still further delay or eventually stopping it entirely.

And so it seems that the mullahs' nuclear ambitions have been thwarted and the threat of a second Holocaust has been averted -- by a weapon which did no harm to any human being or to any civilian infrastructure. It's a cliché to claim that "civilized warfare" is an oxymoron, but this surely qualifies.

15 January 2011

Congratulations Tunisia

After weeks of massive protests against economic stagnation and political oppression, the people of Tunisia have driven Zine El Abidine Ben Ali -- ruler of the country since 1987 -- from power. Let's hope that tyrants throughout the Middle East are resting a little less easily today.

Europe's crisis: the people will be heard

If you want to understand the economic crisis in the European Union and the increasing controversy surrounding the euro common currency which most EU member states use, a good place to start is this article by Paul Krugman, which gives a history of the EU project and an overview of what's going on now. Be wary, however, of Krugman's enthusiasm for solving the problem by deeper integration of the EU -- an idea popular with EU political elites but rejected by European peoples, who have never wanted to sacrifice the sovereignty of their individual countries to a pan-European super-state.

Germany, the ever-more-dominant power within the EU, has rejected further economic integration, as Krugman's own article notes. Whatever Chancellor Angela Merkel may personally want, German voters are furious at the costs already imposed on them to shore up weaker EU countries, and will tolerate no more of the same. (The Greek bail-out was followed by a crushing defeat for Merkel's party in an election in Germany's biggest state.) A large majority of Germans now wish the euro had never been adopted in place of the mark.

European unification was always something of a secret conspiracy by the elites, as this article in the pro-EU Der Spiegel bluntly acknowledges:

[Jean] Monnet, who is considered a "father of Europe," wanted to guide European countries into a super-state "without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose." Apparently the fathers of the euro acted in accordance with the same philosophy later on. The new currency became a vehicle for further integration, and the EU became a monetary union -- but not an economic, let alone a political, union.

It won't work any more. Europeans now do understand what is happening. Not only do Germans reject further integration, but from Greece to Spain to Ireland, there have been mass protests -- sometimes fearfully violent -- against the madness of austerity programs imposed by EU central authorities on countries already mired in high unemployment. It's increasingly clear that the euro is part of the problem; Britain, the one large EU country which did not adopt it, retains a flexibility and autonomy in dealing with its problems which the euro-zone countries can only envy.

But the pundits are right about one thing -- a common currency among a collection of independent countries with such disparate economies is unsustainable. Either the euro-zone countries will be forced into a political and economic union which their peoples do not want, or the euro currency will fall. I'm betting on the latter. The once-quiescent masses are angry and aroused. This is not the Europe of Monnet's time any more.

Link round-up for 15 January 2011

Modern children assess artifacts from the primitive past (found via Mendip).

Get toad.

Terry Gilliam's next movie is a steampunk fantasy of 1884 (found via Mendip).

Jesus acquires an unexpected and none-too-welcome ally (found via Ranch Chimp).

Don't pay $100 for this Warrior wisdom.

Yes! PZ Myers is heading our way!

Check out the Christian Right's latest project: Adopt a Liberal (more here).

Truth 101 is moving to Democracy Central.

If you own a house in the Portland area, you may want to check out this foreclosure defense workshop.

Obama's momentum keeps going.

Yes, this is hate -- religious hate.

John Freshwater, the crazed fundie teacher who burned crosses on students' arms, has been fired.

Tennessee teabaggers want to white-wash history (found via Plutocrap).

Fred Karger won't get the Republican Presidential nomination, but he has reasons for trying.

Green Eagle looks at Jared Loughner's politics and the nature of terrorism.

Another nutcase obsessed with fragments of right-wing ideology has threatened Democratic politicians.

Words have consequences: a Jewish group is campaigning to get Beck dropped from Fox News. Read this too.

Ron Chusid carefully explains what the real problem with the right's violent rhetoric is. The right needs to face the reality of the situation and get out of denial. Threats and violence have been escalating for years. Andrew Sullivan weighs in. Melissa McEwan comprehensively debunks the lie that "both sides are just as bad". More here.

Politicians were among the worst offenders (note that most of these lost their primaries or elections).

There's a key difference between left and right (I made a similar point here).

Colbert looks at Palin's speech. Sarah Jones says that the speech was in character. Even The Crossed Pond is unimpressed. And if the gunsight map was harmless, why was it immediately removed from Palin's site after the shootings?

Credit where credit is due: the head of Fox News tells his people to tone down the rhetoric.

Clear Channel has removed a Limbaugh billboard in Tucson (one look at it will tell you why). More on Limbaugh here.

Erick Erickson has the solution.

Oh, and forget about exploiting the Tucson shootings to attack gun rights.

No, Obama did not insult the British by praising France.

The acclaimed film The King's Speech distorts history.

Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy is accused of abusing his power to conceal a relationship with a young prostitute (he'd fit in well with the US Christian Right).

Christians in Muslim countries are in an increasingly dangerous position (don't forget this, though).

Gothic Atheist examines the career of Salman Taseer. His death was a victory for the forces of darkness. Christopher Hitchens looks at his murderer.

Anti-vaccination nutters have Jack D. Ripper syndrome. Some are still in denial about the Wakefield fraud, and they have allies.

This early Texan spawned a successful bloodline.

Making meat sustainable is not enough.

The concept of the soul is incoherent.

Where did your honey come from? It matters (found via Mendip).

Science can change its mind -- that's why it's reliable.

Ibn al-Haytham anticipated modern optics centuries before Newton -- but he lived in dangerous times.

2010 tied with 2005 as the warmest year since modern record-keeping began in 1880.

Bad weather world-wide has led to food shortages, which in turn are contributing to civil unrest in some countries.

Regeneration of elderly people's immune systems will be possible in the near future.

North Carolina researchers take a major step toward synthetic blood.

Kepler 10b is the smallest exoplanet discovered so far -- a mere 1.4 times the size of Earth (sent by Ranch Chimp).

Miniature robots will play a big role in the military of the future (found via Mendip).

12 January 2011

Video of the week -- two countries, two shootings

Relatives of Pakistani governor Salman Taseer -- murdered for challenging his country's religious fanatics -- speak out on the Giffords shooting. Found via Ranch Chimp.

10 January 2011

When humanity transcends religious dogma

One of the most encouraging developments in the Middle East in years: In the wake of the murderous jihadist attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria on New Year's Eve, thousands of Muslims flock to churches throughout Egypt -- to act as human shields to deter more terrorist violence.

09 January 2011

Incitement to violence

First, the only person responsible for Jared Loughner's actions is Jared Loughner. Whatever rhetoric he heard, he had free choice about whether or not to pull the trigger. He chose to pull it.

Second, we would clearly have a right-wing terrorist problem in this country even without the inflammatory rhetoric of Palin, Beck, and the rest. There was the Tiller murder; there were the Hutaree; there was McVeigh. Hate-filled paranoids are what they are, and they will do what they will do.

That being said, it is valid to call attention to that inflammatory rhetoric. Aside from Palin's famous gunsight map, she and others have used metaphors of gun violence in a political context ("don't retreat, reload", "Second Amendment solutions", etc.) so often that they certainly must have known that someone might take it as encouragement to actual violence. Yet they continued to do so. And don't try to tell me they didn't know; nobody's that naïve.

Palin in particular should know better, having been the target of vile and violent rhetoric during the 2008 Presidential campaign (and I condemned that at the time, too).

Free speech cannot be compromised. But free speech includes the right to call out purveyors of inflammatory rhetoric for what they are. If the Palins and Becks finally lose whatever status they have as "respectable" representatives of conservatism, it will be well deserved, and should be welcomed by rational conservatives.

Update: Progressive Eruptions has posted a history of right-wing terrorism since 2008 -- there are far more examples than most of us are familiar with.

Update 2: I begin to wonder if the most ancient and terrible bigotry of them all played a role here. Giffords is Jewish -- and it's reported that one of Loughner's favorite books is Mein Kampf.

Update 3: See worthwhile reads at Blue in the Bluegrass, Frank Schaeffer, Politics Plus, Frum Forum, PoliticusUSA, Liberal Values, and Pharyngula.

The dominant reaction in the right-wing blogosphere, for now, seems to be circling the wagons -- infuriated denial and outrage at the very suggestion that years of inflammatory rabble-rousing by the high-profile extremist fringe of the right could have been a contributing factor to this or earlier cases of murderous violence. But make no mistake: they know. The fury has a histrionic quality that can't quite hide the underlying panic. It's the vehemence of people trying to convince themselves as much as us. They know.

08 January 2011

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords shot (updated)

Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona, was shot in the head at a public meeting by a lone gunman who also killed several other attendees. No word yet on whether the motive was political.

Update: Contrary to the first report I saw, Giffords survived the shooting and is in surgery. Several others were, however, killed.

Update 2: Sounds like the shooter was one of those government- hating paranoids. More here (found via Republic of Gilead).

Update 3: Police are now looking for a possible accomplice.

Link round-up for 8 January 2011

The Atheist Camel has predictions for 2011.

Dave Barry reviews 2010.

Watch natural selection in action.

When all else fails, call us fat.

Many people have fallen for a silly hoax involving the Ground Zero Mosque and Justin Bieber (who should sue).

The Virginia DMV revokes a clever license plate (found via Uzza, who's reading a crappy book).

Saudi Arabia captures a spy for Israel.

Check out these Islamic consumer products.

Where on Earth does Palin get this rubbish?

The media need a new way to report on preachers of doom.

A little debate covers a lot.

The Psalm 109:8 meme hasn't gone away.

A former Navy officer looks at the Captain Honors scandal.

Far more Americans want to reduce the deficit by raising taxes on the wealthy than by cutting defense, Medicare, or Social Security (found via Jerry Critter).

Obama's approval rating continues to climb.

New secular conservative blogger The Heathen Republican attempts to define universal moral principles, and provokes an interesting discussion.

This takes guts, which is why it's needed.

The US government warns that lives may be endangered by Wikileaks, but concedes that there's no evidence that anyone was harmed as a result of previous leaks. Politics Plus is skeptical.

Cannonfire looks at Assange's accusers.

Besides Obama, Congressional Republicans have another target.

Illegal aliens take jobs Americans wouldn't take? Wrong.

The RNC debate highlights a shrinking tent. Steele is among the few who sees the danger. Frum Forum looks at some deeper problems (read the comments too). O'Donnell hasn't helped either.

Gays have become a wedge issue dividing the right; for some, they'll always be pariahs.

The Grassley "investigation" of church financial abuses was a snow job. But this bunch just had to get caught.

Fundamentalists flagrantly lie about Nazism and homosexuality.

One of the world's rising powers has its first woman President.

Christians in Iraq suffer a rising tide of Islamic violence.

Afghan women speak out about their abusive society (sent by Ranch Chimp).

The great treason of 1861 had theocratic roots (found via this post, which is also of interest). But don't look to Haley Barbour for the truth.

PZ Myers looks at the recent popular drivel about a genetic basis for political orientation (my take here).

Worried about recent animal die-offs? Technology is to blame. More here.

That "study" linking vaccines to autism was fraud -- deadly fraud.

Religious "explanations" don't explain anything.

Extreme winter weather is a warning.

06 January 2011

Forced-labor "liberals"

It's an unpleasant experience to visit a liberal blog and discover a proposal of spine-chilling evil. Yet that's what happened three days ago when I went to Politics Plus and found this -- a proposal for conscription of young people into compulsory national service (civilian or military) from a supposedly liberal viewpoint.

As I commented at the post: "Since when is forced labor a liberal idea? There are very few matters of principle I’d be willing to go to jail over. Helping a young person escape conscription (military or otherwise) is one of them."

At 50 I'm now much too old to be at any risk of being swept up in such a scheme, but I can remember being 18. The idea that my life should be a mere utensil for purposes chosen by those in power, rather than my own, outrages me now just as much as it did then.

I do not use the word "evil" lightly above. The evil in this kind of idea is precisely the same as the evil in the right's ambition to ban abortion, thus forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term: the evil of making your body and your self belong not to you but to the powerful, to do their will, not yours.

Here are a few of the responses to my comment:

For poor youth choosing military service is the only realistic way to escape the ghetto, so they are already conscripted in a de facto sense.

Rubbish. Millions of people grow up poor and do not join the military, therefore there is not an equivalent of compulsion to do so. It's a choice they are free to make, and should be. Anyway, this is a dishonest misuse of the word "conscription". I have to work at a 40-hour-per-week civilian job, otherwise I would also be poor, but that doesn't mean I've been "conscripted" into that job in any meaningful sense. I have the choice to not work and try to make a living some other way, or just be poor, if I prefer. Conscription into civilian forced labor -- which is what I'm objecting to here -- would be morally intolerable. Working at a job because you need the money is not comparable.

Anyway, if you think poor people have too few options other than joining the military, then the proper liberal solution is to support better jobs programs to give them more options -- not to impose forced labor on them and everyone else.

what are you doing to get the kids who would be drafted or conscripted to get out of the slums and violence filled cities and rural towns of this nation?

Of course like most liberals I support good public education, jobs programs, and other methods for addressing poverty. I don't support imposing forced labor on people against their will. Give poor people enough respect to let them make their own choices -- and give them more choices, don't take choice away.

Would you be willing to go to jail to keep these kids from seeing a different way of life

Of course not. Anyone is free to join the military or work for worthy causes right now, as they should be. I would go to jail to save people from being coerced into forced labor.

Forced labor by young people is an idea whose time has passed. Most of the developed nations have already abolished military conscription (most recently Germany, despite conservative objections), and to my knowledge, none have imposed civilian forced labor as a substitute.

It's interesting, too, that civilian forced-labor proposals target only the young; you have a bunch of middle-aged people sitting around discussing what 18-year-olds should be forced to do for their own good (or middle-class people discussing what the poor should be forced to do for their own good). Most civilian work puts more of a premium on experience than on muscle power, so why 18-year-olds and not 40-year-olds? I think the people who are so keen on forced-labor plans for the young would be a lot less enthused if they themselves were also to be imposed on.

As an aside, from time to time I've seen liberals advocate bringing back military conscription because they think that, if all young people were at risk of being forced to go fight in Afghanistan or Iraq, there would be mass protests against the continuation of those wars. Aside from the breathtaking moral evil implicit in such an idea, it wouldn't work. Imposing conscription would not result in mass protests against the wars, it would result in mass protests against imposing conscription -- and a tremendous swing by young voters against the party which had imposed it.

I do wonder a bit: Is there something in the religious mentality that makes the idea of forced labor imposed by the government seem appealing? As I've said before, one of the positives about being an atheist is that I feel freer knowing that my life is my own and not cluttered up with some "higher purpose" imposed by a supernatural tyrant. Some religionists seem to like the concept of that imposed "higher purpose". I don't get that at all -- but does the idea of a government-imposed "higher purpose" seem appealing by some sort of analogy?

Two final points: First, it's ridiculous to argue that conscription would be an effective program for getting poor people out of poverty and slums. We had a military draft for decades, and many poor people were subject to it, and there were still poverty and slums, and there still are. Second, every supposed benefit of a forced-labor plan could equally well be obtained by a voluntary national-service system with both civilian and military options. Just get rid of the element of forced participation and I would have no objection.

04 January 2011

Video of the year -- 2010

I started doing the "video of the week" in January 2010, so there are now almost a year's worth of them posted.

Some of the videos I put up were songs I remember from those long-ago days when I was much younger and MTV was actually worth watching: Patti Smith, the Hooters, Juluka, Cheb Khaled (never saw him on MTV, but listened to this song many times) and Siouxie. There was also some more recent music I doubt many Americans know, from Germany, Israel, Ukraine, and Russia.

For humor, there was Rowan Atkinson, Tim Minchin, a Lovecraft tribute, the mysterious Hank, and a defense for the altar boys of the world.

I've been especially pleased to see how many are standing up to religious threats and intimidation: ZJ, Bill Maher, Pat Condell, and of course Christopher Hitchens. In one of the most effective videos, Markella Hatziano sings a warning.

Probably the most popular video with readers was Brad Paisley's cheerful ode to progress, sentiments I certainly share.

Fuji Minx was sheer exuberance. And I did post one video which I myself found disquieting to watch.

But of all the videos I've put up, my choice for video of the year -- the one I'd most want everybody to watch again -- is Thunderfoot's optimistic, entertaining, and insightful vision of the internet as our road to victory:

Health-care reform: the new abortion?

What to make of the new House Republican majority's threat to repeal health-care reform? Repeal will get nowhere, and they know it -- Senate Democrats and Obama's veto pen will see to that.

I think it's an assertion of tribal identity, a feel-good vote for the far-right base. For years, abortion served Republicans in that role -- they could vote to ban it in this or that state, knowing that Roe v Wade would prevent prohibition from taking effect. Thus they won brownie points with their own base, without having to suffer the electoral consequences of actually taking a vital right away from women.

In the same way, a Republican vote to repeal HCR will solidify teabagger support -- without the political risk of actually taking away benefits from the broader mass of voters, since repeal can't actually take effect.

01 January 2011

Link round-up for 1 January 2011

If Michelle Obama is against obesity, apparently the fringe right has to be for it.

They must be real -- the Bible says so.

Epic troll!

Some sexual fantasies require caution.

The Atheist Camel has a challenge for Christians: what is there, specifically, in Jesus's teachings that deserves respect?

South Carolina police discover an ugly case of animal abuse (found via Mendip).

Good grief, the nutters are really losing it.

The latest Christian Right meme is a mish-mash of tired clichés.

Julian Assange doesn't always approve of leaks.

Ronald Williams is angry enough to punch you in the throat (read the comments).

Could you live like Susan Aikens?

Christine Vyrnon wants to know how you feel about churches.

Lady Atheist looks at the fatuosity of religious concepts of guilt and forgiveness.

Belief is not a choice.

A case of prosecutorial misconduct is exposed in New York.

Federal authorities are investigating Christine O'Donnell's use of campaign funds (is this a "witch hunt"?).

A Christian Right group declares success at stopping anti-bullying efforts -- yes, you read that right (found via Republic of Gilead).

Obama enjoys steady popularity. Palin and Olbermann, not so much.

Will the Republicans change?

Six states will soon consider bills similar to Arizona's popular illegal-alien law. Congress will be getting tougher too.

It's the dawn of a new era in Kentucky -- a stupid era. And the governor is on board.

Hey, conservative gays: they still hate you.

Frum Forum looks at celebration of treason in South Carolina.

Obama and the Democrats achieved much in 2010.

Global-warming denialism continues to embarrass non-crazy conservatives.

Ignore the lies of the treason-apologists -- the Civil War was all about slavery.

Sally Warner looks at the ugly reality behind Mother Teresa.

Barely two decades after escaping Soviet rule, Estonia is being dragged into the unstable euro currency bloc.

57% of Germans now say they were better off with the mark than the euro. German economists debate a return to the mark.

The BBC gives a platform to the world's leading defender of child molesters.

Danish police foil an Islamic terrorist plot against the Jyllands- Posten newspaper. And here's more on the conspiracy recently stopped in Britain (our embassy was on the target list).

Guatemala struggles to defeat femicide.

South Korea is standing up to the North's thuggery.

The forces Wikileaks has set in motion may render large-scale organizations obsolete.

Clinging to fossil fuels, the US risks falling behind technologically.

Creationism depends on flagrant lies about science.

The Neanderthals were more than just crude carnivores (sent by Ranch Chimp).

Why didn't prokaryotes become multi-cellular?