30 March 2011

Another observation on the MRA thing

I still look at these blogs occasionally; people's bizarre obsessions can exert a certain fascination, and in this case the obsessions seem so odd that I sometimes wonder if I was imagining things and they couldn't really be as bad as I remember (yes, they are). But I don't usually stay for long, because MRA blogs are very wearying to read.

When I realized why that's the case, I also realized what must be the reason why most of these guys have such a hard time forming relationships with women (as they apparently do, since female sexual disinterest and the sexual deprivation suffered by "beta males" is a recurring theme). It's not their anti-feminist or more broadly anti-female ideology; most people have enough brains not to harp on their political and social views on the first few dates, especially if they know those views would likely offend the person they're dating. They have a more fundamental problem: They're whiners.

Seriously, I've never seen such a relentless litany of complaining in my life. Complain, complain, complain. The fact that the MRAs so often accuse "modern women" of being whiny and complaining must be projection in the classic sense. I've never known a woman whose conversation was anything like so full of complaints as these guys' writing is.

When someone does that much complaining, apparently with so little awareness of the impression it's making, it's most likely a deep-rooted personality trait. My guess is, these guys complain like this all the time, even if whatever they're talking about has nothing to do with women or feminism.

And who on Earth would want to spend a lot of time with someone like that?

28 March 2011

Video of the week -- Kreuzberger Nächte

An earthy crowd-pleaser from the Blattschuss Brothers.

What is this?

Does anyone know whether the animal in the above picture is real, and if so, what species it is? I didn't think that arthropods of such size still existed. It does resemble a eurypterid of the Paleozoic, some species of which were even larger than this -- but all of the eurypterids became extinct before the dinosaurs were a gleam in evolution's eye.

The Greening of Baden-Württemberg

You may never have heard of Baden-Württemberg before, and may now be hoping that you'll never be called upon to spell it, but something rather significant happened there yesterday.

Background: Germany has two major political parties, the CDU (conservatives) and the SPD (social democrats), and two smaller but significant ones, the FDP (pro-business, somewhat similar to libertarians) and Greens (environmentalist, anti-establishment). The current government of Angela Merkel is a CDU-FDP coalition. In German elections, any party which gets less than 5% of the vote gets no representation at all (this rule is designed to prevent extremists from holding the balance of power in a legislature).

Baden-Württemberg (BW) is one of Germany's 16 states; it's one of the most conservative areas of the country, and its state govern- ment has been in the hands of the CDU for almost 60 years.

Yesterday BW held a state-wide election, and the CDU lost to an SPD-Green coalition. This wasn't completely unexpected. Merkel's successive commitments of (gigantic amounts of) German money to bail out the weaker EU states and stabilize the EU currency are deeply unpopular with German voters, and they've been punishing her party every chance they get. The surprise is that the Greens got about 25% of the total vote, more than the SPD, and will thus be the senior partner in the coalition -- the first Green-led state government ever in Germany.

And remember, this is one of Germany's most conservative states. In American terms it's a bit like seeing a coalition of environmen- talists and Democrats win a state-wide election in Texas.

Fukushima played a role. The German people have long been very suspicious of nuclear power, and viewed the Japanese disaster as a dire warning. They dismissed Merkel's abrupt announcement that nuclear power would be phased out as empty pandering.

The significance goes beyond that, however. European politics has long been suffused by frustration that there is a range of issues (the EU, European Islam, Third World immigration, job-killing austerity policies) which are of great concern to the masses but which political systems do not address, either because there is a consensus of all major parties for one side of the issue, or because the EU imposes its will regardless of what people want. The result is a growing rejection of traditional big parties. Anti-immigration parties, for example, have won impressive numbers of votes in several countries such as the Netherlands and Norway; referenda such as the Swiss minaret ban pass despite the establishment's condemnation. Earlier this month a French poll on Presidential candidates showed the head of the anti-Islamist (mislabeled "far- right") National Front in first place. Portugal and Britain have seen huge anti-austerity protests in the last few days.

The Green victory in BW carries the trend to another level. The party had seen growing support even before Fukushima, and in another state which voted yesterday, Rheinland-Pfalz, it also received a startling increase in votes at the expense, not of the CDU, but of the SPD which was the governing party in that state (and will now have to form a coalition with the Greens). This shows that voters were punishing the establishment in general, not just Merkel's CDU. The FDP, Merkel's coalition partner, dropped below the 5% threshold there, as it did earlier this month in another state, Sachsen-Anhalt; libertarianism holds no mass appeal.

The world is ever more interconnected these days. Middle Eastern dictators and theocrats have failed dismally to keep Western ideas of democracy and secularism out of their subjects' consciousness. A spark in Tunisia spread with stunning speed to Egypt and then to Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and beyond. I'm convinced that the rise of people-power rebellions in the Arab world has played a role in inspiring the mass protests in Wisconsin and Europe. Europeans' growing rejection of their unresponsive political establishment, too, may hold lessons for us.

In our country's political system, small parties challenging the two big ones aren't a viable option. But mass movements can get things done, by driving big-party politicians to act -- consider the Civil Rights movement. The wave of activism that started in Wisconsin, too, heralds something much more than just a reservoir of energy for traditional Democratic party politics to tap into.

All over the world, the real "era of the common man" (and woman) may be dawning at last.


In other news, consider the courage it took for Eman al-Obeidy to do this. She's now become a rallying point for Libyan women.

This British-French joint statement on Libya could mean a more active role in supporting the rebellion.

27 March 2011

How violence subverts protest

Yesterday's massive demonstration in London provides a perfect illustration of how an outbreak of violence can undermine even the most successful protest.

The real story of the day was that hundreds of thousands of people marched in Britain's capital against the government's planned austerity policies -- The Guardian put it at 500,000, which would be almost one percent of the population of the entire country. In the main it was peaceful, as such events generally are. Yet just a few hundred individuals (widely described as "anarchists" and not even associated with the goals of the protest) engaged in violence. They invaded and vandalized buildings, started fires, and attacked the police, often viciously -- five police officers were injured, one being hospitalized.

It's hard to see how the organizers, who have no control over who shows up at such events, could have prevented this behavior, and of course they unequivocally condemned it. Yet it provided their opponents with a pretext to brush aside the significance of their achievement. The violence of the few, rather than the peaceful protest of the many, became the big story -- for those who chose to make it so.

The news reports tell the tale. The Independent, Al-Jazeera and Britain's main left-leaning paper The Guardian reported on the demonstration in a fairly balanced way, not ignoring the violence but recognizing what the real story was. The more conservative paper The Telegraph led with "mobs of masked thugs" and head- lines like "Anarchists on the rampage in London", "Police battle to restore order", "Trafalgar Square becomes a battleground", and so on. Conservative media outside Britain are likely to use the same spin, and people remote from the actual events will be all the more susceptible to it. For those who want to ignore the day's real significance, those thugs -- a not inaccurate word -- give them license to do so.

Violence initiated by the authorities can build sympathy for a protest movement, as has happened in the Arab countries -- but violence by parasitic hoodlums who show up to throw tantrums will undermine it more effectively than anything the authorities could do.

Libya: the basics

Since most Americans are unfamiliar with Libya's geography, it can be difficult to follow what is happening from news reports. Here's a bit of background which may be helpful.

Most of Libya's population of 6,400,000 lives on the coast; the desert interior is thinly populated or, in many areas, uninhabited. This map, found at The Guardian, shows the important cities:

The largest cities are the capital Tripoli (about 1,200,000 people), Benghazi (about 700,000), and Misrata (about 500,000). Brega and Ras Lanûf, although much smaller, are important to the oil industry which generates most of Libya's income. This report from Tripoli, written in 2009, is a great portrait of Qaddhafi's Libya.

Ethnically most Libyans are Arabs or Arabized Berbers (Berbers are the original native people of North Africa from before the Arab Muslim conquest in the seventh century), but some Berbers and Tuaregs (another native North African people) along the western fringe of Libya still speak their original languages.

The rebels re-captured Ajdâbiya late on Friday, and took Brega and Ras Lanûf yesterday and Bin Jawwad today, after the above map was drawn -- showing how they have regained the initiative. Zâwiya in the far west was one of the first towns to rebel against Qaddhafi, but his forces re-established control of it just before the coalition air-strikes began. Misrata remains under rebel control but under intermittent siege. Sirte is Qaddhafi's home town, and some of its people have tribal ties to him; the rebellion may have less popular support there than elsewhere.

Qaddhafi is 68 years old and has ruled Libya for 42 years.

26 March 2011

Link round-up for 26 March 2011

Children depict entities from the Cthulhu mythos.

SOS -- save our sharks!

Scooby-Doo's pals unmask the bond vigilante.

End-Times gabble can at least serve as comic relief.

Latest fundie-loon meme: The Japanese earthquake will unleash demonic forces triggering a rise of Nazism in the US (found via Republic of Gilead). It's certainly yet another opportunity for religious con men to fleece suckers -- though both con men and suckers have always been abundant.

Here's a surprising optical illusion.

Are young people these days culturally un-creative?

Ranch Chimp talks about Satanism and his involvement with it.

Besides being a Qaddhafi supporter, Hugo Chavez is a nutcase (found via Mendip).

No, being delusional does not give you a license to counterfeit.

Preliator pro Causa has some blog recommendations.

"Slut-shaming" is rooted in a twisted world-view.

Don't try to bullshit the IRS.

Check out this huge and intricate poster.

Tom McClusky of the Family Research Council takes a stand -- for bullies.

The New York Times plans to impose a pay-wall, but it has some weak points.

Gay marriage is stymied in Maryland, and once again religion is to blame (found via Republic of Gilead).

Romeo Morgan had a frightening encounter with police (found via Preliator pro Causa).

Leading atheist-in-a-foxhole and warrior for truth Christopher Hitchens is fighting cancer but as fierce and uncompromising as ever.

Never heard of this before, but apparently believers are lousy tippers (found via Uzza).

Delusional thinking is not harmless.

Federal health-insurance reform was frustratingly limited, but Vermont is forging ahead.

The "coat-hanger state" is at it again.

Wow, the far left sure taught Obama a lesson. Along the same lines, this is a must-read.

With Christians like this, who needs Islam?

The Mills River Progressive has some sharp questions for our country's leaders.

The Christian Right dominates -- and increasingly is -- American Christianity (found via Republic of Gilead).

The most anti-regulation part of the US shows the effects.

William Cronon puts the Wisconsin labor-rights battle in historical context, and reminds us that the Republican party was not always what it is today. "Biblical capitalism" has also played a role (found via Republic of Gilead).

Some Congressional Democrats seek a return to sanity on the budget and sex education.

GE made a profit of $14.2 billion last year, and paid no US taxes (found via Oliver Willis).

Maine's teabagger Governor Paul LePage orders the removal of a mural celebrating workers (pictured above) from the Department of Labor. Commentary here.

Republicans plot a sneak attack against the right to strike.

Class conflict has always been a big part of American politics, but now Americans are waking up to that fact.

The Catholic Church still doesn't get it.

On the Libyan intervention, the far right and far left are united in dumbth.

Americans don't trust al-Jazeera (their loss -- I've been reading it since the Arab uprisings began, and it does an impressive job).

Since Obama became President, the US has regained its position as most globally popular of world powers (found via Oliver Willis).

Palin was a flop in India.

Protests against austerity policies, already widespread in southern Europe, spread to Brussels this week and will reach London today. More on the British situation here and here. Update: The London protest drew half a million -- far more than organizers hoped -- but was marred with violence by a small minority.

Germany, ahead of the curve, plans to accelerate its phase-out of nuclear power and shift toward green energy. More here.

Leading British figures acknowledge the obvious -- the war on drugs has failed.

Libyan rebels have re-captured the town of Ajdâbiyah south of Benghazi -- a clear sign that they're re-gaining the initiative against Qaddhafi.

Some of Qaddhafi's closest allies are looking for a way out.

Syrians are angry and energized at their regime's increasingly- bloody crackdown.

Protest -- and repression -- have begun to escalate in Jordan.

Cyc is at his best when blogging about tiny, revolting life-forms, and he's found a doozy in Sacculina carcini.

Iron Age people used hilltop forts for rapid communication (found via Mendip).

Georgetown University Medical Center announces a major step toward stem-cell treatment of macular degeneration.

Never forget how far we've come -- this is what technology has delivered us from.

23 March 2011

Video of the week -- meditative serenity

With so much going on, we could all surely use it..... Found via Histories of Things to Come.

22 March 2011

Russia's President speaks out

It seems that the Libyan intervention has drawn a long-hidden conflict out into the open -- in Russia.

Dmitry Medvedev has been President of Russia since 2008, but it's always been unclear to what extent real power resided with him vs. with his autocratic predecessor, Vladimir Putin. A difference in foreign policy has emerged, with Medvedev favoring closer ties between Russia and the West, while Putin prefers confrontation.

Yesterday Putin was asked his opinion of the Libyan intervention, and he responded with all the negativity one might expect. Two hours later, Medvedev deemed Putin's comments "unacceptable", declaring further, "I do not consider this resolution to be wrong, and in fact I consider that it broadly reflects our view of what is happening in Libya, although not across the board. That is why we didn’t use our right of veto."

Putin subsequently denied any rift, but it seems clear that there's a stark difference of opinion.

Check out also the atmosphere within the Qaddhafi-ruled Libyan capital, Tripoli (don't miss the story of the woman waiting in line!), the experience of one of the American airmen whose F15 crashed in Libya, and the UN's new call for an investigation into the Syrian regime's crackdown on the ongoing protests of its people.

The next domino, and beyond

The end game may be approaching for yet another authoritarian Arab regime -- not Libya's but Yemen's. With yesterday's defection of several top military leaders, the majority of the army is now allied with the rebels there. Yemeni diplomats around the world, and even the state-run newspaper in Aden, have also switched sides. More here.

In Libya, rebels have regained the initiative after Western air attacks on Qaddhafi's murderous thugs, who had been mercilessly shelling cities which had thrown off regime control. Protests have continued for days in Syria, whose rulers are among the most brutal in the region and normally keep their subjects too cowed to speak out. Perhaps most encouraging of all, the constitutional referendum in Egypt saw huge voter turn-out. The package of amendments passed, setting the stage for parliamentary elections in June and a presidential election in August. The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood supported the amendments does give pause, but the important point is that the decision to adopt them has been made by the Egyptian people themselves, rather than being imposed on them; the high level of participation shows that people power is still very much alive and likely to resist any future effort to impose authoritarian rule, whether military or theocratic.

In Bahrain, the king has subdued the rebellion for now by calling in soldiers from Saudi Arabia -- but with the people now angrier than ever, it's unclear what his long-term prospects are. As Boris Yeltsin once quipped, you can build a throne out of bayonets, but you can't sit on it for long.

The inspiration of the Arab rebellion continues to spread beyond the Arab world, intimidating tyrants elsewhere. Even in Europe, as popular resistance against economy-wrecking austerity policies gathers momentum, some protesters openly claim inspiration from Tahrir Square.

20 March 2011

The fight for freedom, revitalized

Western air-strikes have rolled back the Qaddhafi forces' assault on Benghazi and stopped much of the bloody artillery slaughter of civilians in other rebel-held cities. The rebels are regaining their confidence, but want the West to do more. After some criticism, the Arab League re-affirms its support.

Beyond Libya, the Arab struggle for freedom gains heart in Syria, Morocco, and Yemen.

Nuclear power -- a dangerous dinosaur

As Japanese engineers struggle to stabilize the situation at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, a debate over the future of nuclear power has erupted in the United States.

The far more destructive meltdown at Chernobyl was not enough to convince advocates that nuclear power is inherently unsafe. The Soviet Union was a totalitarian state, with all the corruption, lack of accountability, and other sources of incompetence that that implies. Post-industrial democratic societies could handle the technology safely.

But Japan is a post-industrial democracy, and one of the world's most technologically-advanced countries. It's also an earthquake- conscious society; if anyone could have been properly prepared for a disaster like this, it's the Japanese. Yet the damage to the reactors at Fukushima was severe and the situation remains dangerous.

Most of the territory of the US is considered to be at low risk for earthquakes, but considering the harm a major quake near a nuclear reactor could do, there are too many uncertainties. One of the most violent quake series in the recorded history of North America happened in an area not normally considered quake-prone at all.

An overlooked question is vulnerability to terrorism. Imagine what could have happened if the planners of 9/11 had thought to crash a hijacked plane into a nuclear power plant. Evil humans are inherently harder to guard against than natural disasters. Natural disasters don't consciously study your safety precautions and plan ways to circumvent them; terrorists do.

Almost everyone recognizes that the world needs to move away from fossil fuels, but surely solar power is our best option. It's expensive, true, but so are nuclear reactors, when the costs of insurance and of elaborate safety precautions are factored in. The United States contains vast areas of useless desert where solar power stations could be built without disrupting anything important. Solar power is better suited to dispersed, numerous small power stations, more resilient than the small number of large power stations which nuclear energy requires. A solar power plant that somehow got wrecked wouldn't threaten the kind of widespread harm that radiation from a wrecked nuclear reactor would.

Nuclear power is a dinosaur-like hold-over from an earlier era of technology -- the era of centralization, gigantism, and rigidity, the era of putting all the eggs in one basket. For the era of dispersed, networked, flexible systems, solar power is better suited.

Global energy demand is going to increase enormously in the coming decades, as Asia and South America modernize and as computer power and usage grow exponentially (computers are energy-intensive). Nuclear power is not a safe way to meed this demand. The Sun is drenching the planet with free energy all the time, whether we use it or not. Surely the solution is obvious.

19 March 2011

The West acts, at last

French planes have begun to attack Qaddhafi's military forces as they encroach on Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city and the main stronghold of the rebellion. More Western forces are on the way, including the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.

Intervention has begun far too late and after far too many brave people have already died -- but at least now there's real hope that disaster can be avoided.

Link round-up for 19 March 2011

Bay of Fundie has more on the Cabazon dinosaurs -- don't miss the farting T-rex!

Wow, this amusement park ride sounds like fun.

An artist in 1910 tried to envision what the year 2000 would look like (found via Mendip).

How does Bachmann manage to be so wrong about such basic facts?

Jack Jodell's blog, The Saturday Afternoon Post, has moved to Wordpress.

Americans' support for gay marriage has risen dramatically in just seven years.

Here's another little example of Fox News's dishonesty.

Invasive TSA security theater is useless -- during a test, a decoy agent with a handgun successfully sneaked it past security on every attempt (found via TYWKIWDBI).

Yep, those Republicans are sure focusing on jobs, right.

The notorious TamTamPamela video about Japan was a hoax, but that's not the real point.

Even the foreclosure wave sometimes brings some good (found via TYWKIWDBI).

If you believe the Bible, Heaven must be pretty much empty.

Of these two men, which one embodies family values?

Catholic bishops in North Dakota help us identify organizations worthy of support.

Discrimination against non-Christians is pervasive in the military.

God hates fags, but unfortunately the feeling isn't always mutual.

The dishonesty of the attack on Ron Schiller was exposed by Glenn Beck, of all people (but he's still a jackass).

Blogger BT Blues has a proposal for improving Texas schools.

Daily Kos looks at prospects for the Wisconsin recalls. Hysterical Raisins looks at one target, the well-named Randy Hopper.

Scott Walker's administration engages in weird theatrics.

Joseph Cannon posts a report from the great Madison protest, and Green Eagle has interesting observations.

The wave of popular activism galvanized by Republican union- busting in Wisconsin and elsewhere may herald the birth of a "People's Party" -- the left's answer to the Tea Party.

The "enthusiasm gap" has disappeared in Wisconsin.

Walker isn't the only governor evoking buyer's remorse among voters.

Religion will dominate the 2012 Republican primaries.

Live by the dress code, die by the dress code (this item may shock at first, but keep reading -- it has a serious point to make).

Sorry, dumb-ass, "barbaric" is the right word (discussion here).

As the German government crushes opposition by weaker EU states to impose a currency-support plan (which the German people don't even want), massive protests against EU-imposed austerity policies sweep Portugal.

Police in Europe, Australia, and the US have unmasked a vast international child-molestation ring.

Europeans will soon have some protection against Facebook's attacks on privacy.

A disappointing EU court ruling on crucifixes nevertheless has some positive elements.

Hey, Mubarak, nice suit.

Egypt is holding a referendum on amending its constitution, and interest is running high.

The US promises to help Tunisia's interim government move toward democracy.

Regimes attack protesters in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain.

The idiots hailing Japan's earthquake as divine punishment for Pearl Harbor should remember this. More Christian compassion here.

If you think Japan's nuclear-reactor problems are frightening, consider China.

Elephant herds take guidance from the elderly.

Here's a side of the Moon you've probably never seen (and no, it had nothing to do with the earthquake).

[Image at top: The rally for union rights in Madison, Wisconsin on 12 March 2011, found via Green Eagle.]

18 March 2011

The Wisconsin collective-bargaining law has been suspended

Details here.

The Libyan ceasefire

Maybe Qaddhafi isn't so crazy after all. Having been warned in no uncertain terms by some of the world's most powerful countries that his savagery will no longer be tolerated, his regime has announced a ceasefire.

This is welcome news, but the rebels and the West are right to be wary. We've already seen how this man behaves when he's not under immediate pressure. If he is allowed to remain in power, sooner or later he will go back to brutalizing the Libyan people. The only real solution is the end of this regime.

Update: As might have been expected, it's apparently a scam. Al-Jazeera reports that Qaddhafi's forces are still bombarding Misrata -- and that the West is not being fooled.

Don't forget that brutal crack-downs are also happening in Yemen and Bahrain. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports demonstrations in Syria -- perhaps Syrians are encouraged by the West's support for the Libyans?

17 March 2011

Time to fight for what's right

With today's passage of a Security Council resolution sponsored by Britain, France, Lebanon, and our country, it seems that the West may -- at last! -- be ready to deliver the help for which the embattled Libyan rebels (and the Arab League) have been calling:

In Benghazi, the main opposition stronghold, a large crowd watching the vote on an outdoor TV projection burst into celeb- ration as green and red fireworks filled the air, as broadcast live on the Al-Jazeera satellite TV channel. The resolution came just a few hours after Gaddafi warned residents of Benghazi that his forces would show "no mercy" in an impending assault on the city.

Based on the ruthlessness we have seen over the last few days as his troops and mercenaries blasted Zâwiyah and the central coast towns, there's every reason to expect the ranting monster to be as good, or as evil, as his word.

But Britain and France, at least, seem prepared to act quickly.

14 March 2011

Video of the week -- to the one that drowned the world

Found via Gothic Atheist, who posts the complete lyrics and some commentary.

12 March 2011

Link round-up for 12 March 2011

Again -- click here to donate to the recall effort in Wisconsin.

Aboard the Enterprise, Spock makes time to check his Facebook page (found via Mendip).

LOL God presents a handy bullshit detector.

This drunk-driving priest didn't handle his arrest well.

Mendip is keeping alien invaders at bay.

I have nothing against horror movies, but this one's promotional campaign is grossly irresponsible.

In this case, on the other hand, the movie itself sounds awful.

Here's another case of ludicrous over-reaction by control-freak school administrators (found via Mendip).

A creationist babbles incoherently about morality.

How bad was the recession? That depends.

This story reminds me why that vasectomy was such a good idea (found via Mendip).

Conservative James Joyner can't find many conservatives worth reading these days.

Here's yet another reason why religion and government shouldn't mix. David Suzuki takes a tougher stand (found via Preliator pro Causa).

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" doesn't mean quite what some think.

Activists in the West can learn from the Egyptians.

Religion does plenty to make people mad.

The fundamentalist "culture of life" has ghastly real-world effects.

Contradictions within holy texts may help religion survive.

Yes, it really is that simple.

Joseph Cannon looks at modern slavery.

The Heathen Republican is investigating American values.

General Social Survey data confirm rising public support for gay marriage and legal marijuana.

Here's more on Koch Industries' ties to Stalin and influence over Governor Walker (both found via Caffeine Convoy).

Terrorist Kevin William Harpham is being strangely ignored. But there is investigative journalism being done out there.

Glenn Beck may be circling the drain.

Legislative immunity creates a conundrum. Certain others' de facto immunity is an even bigger problem.

The Florida Turnpike Authority detains and harasses people who pay tolls with large bills (found via Preliator pro Causa). Also via Preliator: two ugly miscarriages of justice in Texas.

Low voter turn-out helped Republicans in 2010 -- and they aim to apply that lesson in 2012.

Huckabee seems to be channeling Dan Quayle these days (found via Republic of Gilead).

Republican state representative Martin Harty has an idea for what to do about defective people (sent by Mendip). More here.

Schaeffer Cox has friends in high places.

Continued EU blundering inflicts yet more damage on southern Europe's economies.

Le Refuge in Montpellier, France, provides a sanctuary for young gay people fleeing religious persecution.

For the Arabs to succeed in building democracy, they must tackle one other problem.

Al-Jazeera looks at the potential for an uprising in Syria.

Tunisia's interim government has abolished the much-feared state security apparatus.

Libyan rebels call for air strikes as Qaddhafi re-captures some towns. France may have reasons of its own for intervening.

We've just seen one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history strike near a densely-populated area, but the death toll was surprisingly low -- because of government regulations.

Are earthquakes getting more frequent? No.

Have scientists found bacteria in meteorites? No.

Elephants know how to co-operate. A dramatic example is here.

Women may find casual sex as appealing as men do -- but only under certain conditions.

Handedness can affect our judgment of good and bad.

I thought threats like this belonged back in the days of Galileo and Copernicus.

Geminoid DK is the first humanoid robot of its kind to be based on a non-Japanese person (found via Mendip).

A new book exposes a tiny group of scientists who attack science.

My home state strikes a blow against deadly superstition.

This usage of robotics is cheeting.

The ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are melting faster than climate scientists predicted.

We have much to learn from the naked mole rat.

An advanced artificial retina is going into use in Europe.

[Note: Image at top found via Progressive Eruptions.]

11 March 2011

Wisconsin from the right

The Wisconsin Republicans' recent ramming-through of Walker's union-busting plan has galvanized the liberal blogosphere. The intense fervor it has aroused made me curious to see how the other side is reacting.

While I can't claim much familiarity with the right-wing blogs, the first impression I got from a sampling of them was how startlingly few of them have posted about the topic. It's almost as if they prefer to avoid it. Still, I did find a few reactions.

First up is the generally-moderate conservative blog Sane Political Discourse, which takes moderation and sanity in something of a new direction via the very title of its Wisconsin post, All F@#$ing Government Unions Must F%&*ing Die!, though the post itself is rather less hysterical. The inimitable Malcontent offers a frothing anti-Michael-Moore screed, but Moore has to share the honor with Farrakhan (who gets top billing) and NPR. Casting Pearls Before Swine just briefly celebrates the Republican move with Wisconsin Democrat's Plan Backfires.

That title may be wishful thinking. Self-described conservative- turned-libertarian-turned-progressive E.D. Kain thinks that the Wisconsin coup is the beginning of the Republicans' Waterloo:

Wisconsin is shaping up to be the real Waterloo. And not just Wisconsin, but also Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, Florida, and the rest of the over-reaching state Republicans. Governors like Scott Walker, Rick Scott, and Jan Brewer are riding on the coattails of the Tea Party, but they’ve become blind to the dangers of their radical policies. In Wisconsin, Democrats are already promising to step-up recall efforts. But the recalls are only a small part of what is likely going to be a huge anti-Repub- lican backlash across the nation, as working Americans finally realize what that party actually stands for: an playing field heavily tilted toward the rich and powerful, toward corporate power, and against worker rights....Republicans have a long history of union-busting and anti-labor rhetoric, but taking on teachers and cops is a big mistake. This blatant effort to weaken the Democratic party will have precisely the opposite effect.

Maybe that's why most bloggers on the right, in marked contrast to those on the left, prefer to avoid the subject.

To donate to the recall effort in Wisconsin, click here.

No fury like a man scorned

One of the odder subcultures which has carved a niche for itself on the internet is the "MRA" community. The acronym stands for "men's rights activist" or "men's rights advocate", and the MRAs sometimes borrow some of the vocabulary of civil-rights groups, but the over-all psychology is rather different. The core of the MRA world-view is that men as a class (often excepting the most dominant and desirable "alpha males") are somehow oppressed and downtrodden by women as a class, and should take action against feminism or against women in general in order to oppose this oppression.

Predictably, the MRA subculture attracts a lot of men who are nostalgic for the older style of relationships in which men were dominant protectors and women were dependent and obedient -- an applecart long ago upset by feminism and by women's rising earning power and assertiveness. There's also some resentment of the greater legal rights women have obtained over the last few decades, which MRAs feel has been at men's expense. Others seem to yearn for a care-free promiscuous life-style and resent the fact that many women won't cooperate. Indeed, it frankly seems that in many cases the female "oppression" here is actually just sexual disinterest -- women are wronging these guys by not putting out (hence the exception for "alpha males" who clearly don't suffer from such deprivation). The entire subculture is pervaded by a dark strain of anger, resentment, and implicit threats of a day of reckoning in the future.

A few MRA blogs to give you the flavor: Citizen Renegade, focusing on relationships; Objectify Chicks, more towards the "civil rights" end of the spectrum; Boycott American Women, representing a sub-subculture which denigrates American women relative to less-feminist foreign women such as Asians and Russians (there's also a passel of dating/travel sites which exploit this sentiment commercially); and Eivind Berge, a philosophical type notorious for his immortal rape-justification post. Finally there's Spearhead, an MRA group blog. Be warned that some of this material is pretty sad, and prolonged exposure can be disturbing. There's also Man Boobz, a blog dedicated to following and lampooning the MRAs.

Myself, I find the whole thing rather baffling. I've had my share of relationships with women over the years, and those relationships have included their share of conflicts and problems from time to time, but I've never felt "oppressed" by women, and the society around me simply doesn't look or feel to me like that's going on. There's some odd and disturbing psychology at work here, and I'd feel sorry for any woman, especially an inexperienced one, who got involved with one of these guys without knowing something in advance about the type.

Space cases

Today is the birthday of two of my favorite creative people: wild German rocker Nina Hagen and British writer Douglas Adams, creator of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Thanks to Mendip for the reminders.

10 March 2011

Video of the week -- Arab atheists speak out

Yes, they exist. And for every one who has the guts to speak out like this, there must be hundreds, maybe thousands, who have abandoned religion but stay silent about it out of understandable fear.

Quote for the day -- crazy, not like a Fox

".....as great as Beck has been in business terms, there's a pretty total appreciation at Fox corporate at this point that he's completely crazy -- as in more than the normal run of Fox News personalities -- and that they know that something either really awful or incredibly embarrassing will inevitably happen ... and probably in the pretty near future."

Josh Marshall

08 March 2011

Our country can't go on like this

"In Wisconsin, for example, it is impossible, I think, to separate the issues of public sector collective bargaining rights ... and the broader context of a country polarized into two camps: the very, very rich, and everyone else. This is expecially true after the bank bailouts. There is a strong argument that bailing out the banks was the right, if distasteful, thing to do because of the threat their collapse would have had on the entire economy. But watching Wall Street rack up bonuses, carry on as normal, while teachers are being asked to take big benefit cuts ... well, it's understandable why even level-headed Wisconsinites look a little Jacobin these days."

Andrew Sullivan

The problem of inequality in the United States is an elephant in the room which has grown so huge that not even the most oblivious among us can ignore it any more. I haven't been able to find any independent confirmation of Michael Moore's statement that the richest 400 Americans now own more wealth than the poorest 50% of the population (155,000,000 people!), but as these charts show, inequality is shockingly high and rapidly increasing.

At the same time, federal tax revenues as a percentage of GDP are at their lowest level since 1950, while corporate tax revenues as a share of GDP are near historic lows -- about one-sixth of what they were in the early 1950s. Yet in the teeth of all this, Republicans scream "socialism" and demand endless cuts in everything that benefits ordinary people, to "solve" an artificial budget crisis manufactured by unprecedented tax reductions.

Yes, it is necessary to run deficits at times of high unemployment to stimulate the economy -- but Republicans have fought hard against the measures which have the most stimulative effect, such as extending unemployment insurance, while defending those which have the least, such as extending the Bush tax cuts for the highest income levels. The kinds of spending cuts they are now demanding would devastate the job market. It's not about helping the economy, but about preserving the conditions that cause rising inequality.

The usual response to raising these issues is to caricature them as demands for absolute equality, something which could only be achieved by totalitarianism. Any sensible person accepts that some inequality is a reasonable and inevitable price to pay for the kind of competitive and productive economy that benefits us all. But that does not describe the situation we have now or the direction we're heading, which are intolerable and ultimately unsustainable.

There are people who will dismiss anything Moore says simply because he's the one who says it, but there's a reason why his recent speech in Wisconsin touched a nerve. As we've seen in Europe over the last few years, when the political establishment refuses to address a major problem, eventually the people will start gravitating toward those radicals and political outsiders who do address it. Nor was the reaction merely the product of an un-representative audience. Poll after poll, even Rasmussen, has shown Governor Walker's support collapsing across the state, while Obama's approval climbs. People all over the country are waking up.

Obama has not done all he could have done to address inequality, and he's perceived as having done even less -- but he's the best available alternative to the Republicans. For now. If inequality continues to grow, and if Republicans continue to insist there's nothing wrong with it and to promote policies that exacerbate it, and if Democrats don't do anything more to deal with it than they already have -- well, don't be surprised when those radicals and political outsiders start achieving serious mass support. If the Republicans wanted to see someone like Moore become President someday, all they'd need to do to bring it about is to carry on as they're now doing.

06 March 2011

The Arab rebellion and the oil

Since the Libyan revolution began, oil prices have surged -- and no doubt we will soon be hearing a lot of sniveling and whining about it.

You ain't seen nothin' yet. Just wait until Saudi Arabia explodes. The country's eastern province, where the oil is, has a largely Shiite population, and Shiites suffer discrimination under the Saudi regime. Even the Sunni majority in the rest of the country is restive under the barbaric theocracy that rules over them. It's already starting. There have been protest rallies in the eastern province, and the king has banned all public demonstrations and sent 10,000 security personnel to the east. This is how it begins.

This is necessary and legitimate. There is no inherent right to a prosperity based on denial of freedom to others. And don't be too concerned. America has weathered oil-price instability before. Whoever ends up in charge in Libya, Arabia, and the rest will still sell oil. It's the basis of their economy.

And in the long run we need to make the transition to non-fossil- fuel energy sources. This would be true even if there were no rebellion sweeping the Arab world.

05 March 2011

Link round-up for 5 March 2011

The Republic of Gilead blog is going on hiatus. It will be missed. Update: Ahab is reconsidering -- go tell him what you think. This human sexuality course was pretty educational. Hmm, this isn't quite how I remember Archie (found via Mendip). What if there were Oscars for real-life performances? Murr Brewster reports on Portland's terrible blizzard of 2011. Why would anyone need 700,000 condoms? It's hard to believe that anyone was gullible enough to fall for this creep (warning: disturbing story) (found via Mendip). If you care about your looks, skip the meth. Facebook keeps trying to erode privacy protections (here's a blog all about Facebook I've just started reading). Here's a bombing campaign we can all support. Hacker group Anonymous is not to be toyed with (but don't miss Joé McKen's post about them). You can avoid invasive TSA security theater and still fly (found via Mendip). Two-year-old Samuel Ghilain is home with his family at last. The House Tea Party Caucus is shrinking. Some conservatives realize Glenn Beck harms their cause. Obama's childhood isn't the only subject on which Huckabee is in damage-control mode. Even teabaggers want socialism when it's for themselves. The Obama recovery from the Bush recession continues. Republicans strive to create confusion about net neutrality. Fox News won't be expanding into Canada, and the reason is interesting. (found via Progressive Eruptions). Green Eagle, as always, has a wealth of material for his wingnut wrapup. House Republicans want government to stop helping people avoid foreclosure (found via Politics Plus). So why do they want to keep subsidizing profitable oil companies? The role of demographics in politics isn't as simple as people think. In Philadelphia, the drive to cut government spending has gotten results. Walker distorts the facts on state workers' pensions. Even Rasmussen shows Wisconsin voters turning against Walker. Florida's new Republican Governor inspires bipartisanship. A child-labor proposal in Missouri would push the US a step closer to Third-World status. Joseph Cannon wants revenge. Support for gay marriage grows, now broader than the opposition. Obama is a religious hypocrite -- and that's a good thing. Why would any non-Mormon choose to be subject to BYU's weird taboo code? A look at Scientology can shed light on Christianity. Minnesota pushes religion on prison inmates. Creationists abuse dinosaurs to spread their nonsense. Not just on abortion but also on contraception, rightists want big, intrusive government. More here (found via Republic of Gilead). The Christian Right rallies to defend anti-gay discrimination. More here (both found via Republic of Gilead). The Islamic practice of forced marriage for minors is a threat even in California. It's not only little kids that have reason to fear Catholic priests. The roots of ultra-capitalist Koch Industries lie in -- Stalin's USSR. If you're British, there are two simple things you can do to help your country. Atheist Ireland looks at Irish political parties' positions on secular reform (the new Irish government is a coalition of Fine Gael and Labour, whose responses look promising). From Iran to Cuba to Zimbabwe to China, dictators fret over the Arab rebellion (more on China here). Qaddhafi's girlfriend flees Libya. The man who murdered two American airmen in Frankfurt was -- big surprise -- a jihadist. So was this thwarted terrorist in Britain. Religious fanatics commit murder to defend Pakistan's insane blasphemy law. Iran's nuclear-bomb program suffers another set-back. Tim McGaha looks at the Confederate constitution and the roots of the Soviet Sputnik triumph. The amphipod Phronima uses a corpse as home and nursery. Guys, prepare to seethe with envy -- the male cichlid fish has a gene for getting blowjobs. Stem-cell technology will make an important contribution to life extension.

03 March 2011

Republican over-reach in Wisconsin

A corporate CEO, a teabagger, and a unionized public employee are sitting around a table with a plate of a dozen cookies on it. The CEO takes eleven of the cookies, and says to the teabagger, "Watch out for that union guy. He wants a piece of your cookie."

(Quip found via The Crossed Pond)

I was initially pessimistic about the likely outcome of the struggle for union rights in Wisconsin. Where unions are concerned, the United States has a tendency toward the "crab bucket syndrome" -- it often seems that non-union workers, seeing the better wages, benefits, and security won by unionized workers, react not by trying to organize unions for themselves, but by resenting and trying to tear down the rights won by their more fortunate fellows. Unions, especially public-sector unions, looked like un-promising ground on which to base a popular insurrection against the Republicans.

But lately things have been looking more promising. As I noted earlier, Andrew Sullivan thinks Governor Walker is over-reaching, and Republicans in some other states have begun backing down from similarly extremist anti-union measures. Although most Americans think public-sector workers should accept wage and benefit cuts in hard times (a point the Wisconsin union has already conceded), 62% oppose taking away their collective-bargaining rights, which is the central issue in dispute in this conflict (more here and here). Wisconsin voters regret electing Walker; if the election were held today, he'd lose by a substantial margin. In a startling echo of the Middle Eastern armies which have refused dictators' orders to open fire on their own people, Wisconsin police who may be called on to evict protesters from the state capitol have responded by declaring solidarity with them and joining in a sleep-over.

But even with all this support, is the fight winnable? If Walker succeeds in getting his union-busting plan through the state legislature, it will take effect, popular or not. Wisconsin is not Egypt; there will be no toppling of Walker by mass protest. A Wisconsin Governor cannot be recalled during his first year in office, and Walker is at the beginning of his term.

There is another possibility, however. Eight Wisconsin Republican state senators are vulnerable to recall, and a grass-roots campaign has been launched to do that very thing, thus depriving Walker of the majority he would need to pass destructive legislation. Over a million Wisconsin voters would sign such a recall petition if asked. This, perhaps, is how an Egyptian-style popular uprising should and will play out on American soil. The system provides avenues for a sufficiently-energized mass movement to bring about real change. We should use them.

Do we have an energized mass movement? The nation-wide pro- union rallies on February 26 were an encouraging sign (here's a report from the one in Los Angeles). The Republicans won in 2010 because of a drastic drop in voter turn-out relative to 2008; surely most of the people who stayed home out of dissatisfaction with the Democrats must now realize that the Republicans are indeed worse. As for those who voted Republican, many of them were hoping for a focus on job growth, always a top concern at a time of high unemployment (and, in truth, the Democrats could have done a much better job both of creating more jobs and of publicizing their success at stemming the losses in 2009).

Instead, empowered Republicans have delivered a blizzard of the predictable anti-abortion, anti-gay, and anti-secularism measures, reminding everyone that they are first and foremost the party of domineering Christian fundamentalism. On the economy, they promise only the same endless cuts and austerity that are ruining the peripheral economies of Europe -- and are contemptuously dismissive of the mass job losses likely to result. One suspects that buyer's remorse is already setting in among the public.

Like the Arabs, we have an opportunity. Let's make the most of it. We can roll back the forces of authoritarianism and class warfare which have now shown their hand so clearly. That mass recall of Wisconsin Republican legislators would be a good start.

01 March 2011

Video of the week -- Qaddhafi rocks!

Israeli musician Noy Alooshe created this dance remix version of one of the dictator's ranting speeches. Found via TYWKIWDBI, which reports that the video has become a hit in the Arab world.

Quote for the day -- summing the guy up

"I find he's not only a barbarian, but he's flaky."

President Reagan, on Qaddhafi