30 April 2011

Link round-up for 30 April 2011

MRAs and white supremacists make uneasy bedfellows.

It's the ultimate in recycling -- paper made from elephant dung (found via Mendip).

Pestilential preachers hassle riders on Dallas public transport.

Murr Brewster looks at the role of giant snails in Russian pollution control.

This Easter sermon sounds interesting.

Princess Beatrice's amazing Cthulhu royal wedding hat managed to win Mendip's favor, and it already has its own Facebook page with over 73,000 likes.

PZ Myers works on his image as a dignified elder statesman.

A treadmill provokes cat curiosity.

Facebook makes it easy for anyone with a grudge against you to get your account deactivated (found via Mendip).

If you use AOL for your e-mail, it's being censored (found via Plutocrap).

I hope this party will be as cool as the billboard promoting it.

The Atlas Shrugged movie is turkeying out as the critics rave.

We need more gutsy fighters like young Jessica Ahlquist.

It's mind-blowing that anyone was dumb enough to fall for this con.

Check out these creepy statues (found via Mendip).

This is carrying "what would Jesus do" a bit far.

Trump addresses the Chinese as "you motherfuckers" -- if this man becomes President, international relations could get "interesting." He also says China is "raping" America, though his own clothing line is manufactured there.

Birth certificate mini-round-up: Ed Brayton thinks Obama played it well; Ole Ole Olson thinks he should have waited; Joseph Cannon looks at the first claims of forgery; PZ Myers believes Obama's wasting his time; Grung_e_Gene views birtherism as a faith; A Feather Adrift reviews Becktard reactions; Progressive Eruptions isn't letting Trump off the hook; Politics Plus looks at underlying racism; Kris Broughton sees the dying gasp of a sick mentality; Mary's World doubts anything will improve; Jobsanger looks at early polls; Green Eagle says Trump can't change, and has a special wingnut wrapup (with doggie picture). For a right-wing blogger's view, see Silverfiddle. My take is here.

Why is Ron Paul making another run for President? Maybe it's to keep libertarianism in the family.

The Tea Party movement is shrinking dramatically.

If the MSM are so superior to blogs, how come they blunder like this (found via Mendip).

Bigots burn eight horses to death in Ohio.

Teabagger politicians push the same old Christian Right agenda (found via Liberal Values).

David Frum asks: Why didn't Republican leaders stand up to the birthers?

Oliver Willis provides 46 examples of Rush Limbaugh's racism.

Christian fanatics tell the vilest lies to smear Planned Parenthood. Pat Robertson babbles hatefully and incoherently.

While most cable news channels gain viewers, Fox is declining.

The claim that morality comes from God can only be defended by endorsing outrages against morality.

Chrissy Lee Polis, victim of the hideous Maryland McDonald's attack, confirms that it was a hate crime.

This year's Eurovision Song Contest suffers from embarrassing typos.

Highly-secular Britain is generally accepting toward gays, but one group still promotes hatred.

France and Italy may revise Europe's rules on free movement of people in the face of a flow of refugees from North Africa, and the idea is gaining support.

German police, working with Moroccan investigators and our CIA, foil an Islamic terrorist plot in Düsseldorf.

Since 2002 Denmark's immigration laws have been among the strictest in Europe, and this small country saves 5.1 billion kroner (about $1 billion) per year by limiting non-Western immigrants. One major party wants a total end to non-Western immigration -- a plan sure to attract the interest of other European countries.

Sign Avaaz.org's online petition to free arrested Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

As the Syrian rebellion escalates, there's growing evidence of a large-scale army mutiny against the regime.

Syrian blogger Amina A describes how her father stopped security forces from arresting her -- by persuasion.

Protests spread to yet another Arab country -- Mauritania (found via Mary Madigan).

China starts to crack down on smoking.

Prosthetic limbs controlled directly by the brain should become available to paralyzed people within a year (found via Mendip).

A technological breakthrough in Michigan could make solar power much cheaper (found via Mendip).

29 April 2011

Obama's long-form birth certificate

Will releasing this document do any good?

To anybody who could be swayed by actual evidence, it was long ago obvious that there was no real issue here. During the 2008 election, the McCain campaign looked into the "not natural-born citizen" claim, rightly concluded that there was no substance to it, and dropped it.

The only people still using this line of attack are those to whom it’s a matter of faith — evidence isn’t the point, and no amount of it will ever sway them. In fact, maybe faith is part of the problem. Conservatism in this country has become a religion-centered phenomenon, and religion teaches that it's a virtue to believe things without evidence, or even in spite of massive contrary evidence. Once that mentality is embraced for the sake of belief in God, the historicity of the Bible, and a 6,000-year-old Earth, is it any wonder that global-warming denialism, death panels, and all this birth-certificate stuff easily follow?

And it's not just a small fringe of the right. A recent poll showed that 45% of Republicans believe Obama was not born in the US, and I see no sign that the long-form birth certificate will change that very much. The nutters are already claiming that it's fake, or that even if Obama was born in Hawaii, he’s still not a natural-born citizen because his father blah blah blah (more on that here).

A comment here raises another point:

.....there is reason to be upset that a bi-racial man should be the only president to find it necessary to produce his birth certificate .....some African-Americans are deeply distressed that he should even have to do this; it's a mark of just how racist and ignorant many people still are in these United States, and I'm sure the emotional impact is that of being told that even if you're elected president, you're STILL going to be treated as a second-class citizen subject to special rules and limitations. More hoops, always more hoops, that you need to jump through.

(Found via a thoroughly-fed-up Shaw Kenawe.)

A firm and sustained repudiation of this madness by mainstream Republican leaders could probably have squelched it. They chose not to try. Let the electoral consequences be on their own heads.

It will never completely end. Even after Obama leaves office in triumph in January 2017, there will still be a few of these fuming troglodytes in shacks in Montana writing semi-literate pamphlets claiming the whole Presidency didn’t count because blah blah Photoshop blah blah British subject blah blah socialist Muslim ACORN Hitler mumble mumble.

The long form won't convince the crazies. They are unreachable. But it will lead them on to embrace new heights of insanity, making themselves and those who coddle them even more repellent to the vital center.

27 April 2011

Videos of the week -- this man speaks for me

Pat Condell tells it like it is.

And don't miss his message to atheists.

25 April 2011

Clinging like grim death

Ali Abdullah Saleh, ruler of Yemen for 32 years, won't honor his promise Saturday to leave power. The about-face has brought thousands of furious protesters into the streets of the capital.

The Syrian regime is going the Qaddhafi route, sending tanks and troops into restive southern cities after security forces massacred more than a hundred unarmed civilians on Friday.

The Arab regimes are dying as they ruled, bloody claws clinging to the throats of their courageous people. But die they will.

24 April 2011

Happy Easter!

The two main modern traditions of Easter -- Easter eggs and the Easter bunny -- are both ancient symbols of rebirth and new life, associated with the return of the season of growth after the long winter. The connection of eggs with new life is clear. Zoroastrians in Persia, well over 2,000 years ago, painted eggs as part of the celebration of Nôrûz (the Persian new year, which falls on the spring equinox), so this practice is at least that old. Rabbits and hares, too, have long been fertility symbols due to their rapid breeding.

In the lands of northern Europe, Easter was especially significant in pre-Christian times because of the harshness of the winters (the onset of winter, recognized at Samhain or "Halloween", was equally important). Oddly enough, the origin of the name "Easter" is rather mysterious. It's based on the name of a pagan Germanic goddess of spring, "Eostre", whose sign was a hare and who is described in the writings of a medieval chronicler known as the Venerable Bede. German linguist Jakob Grimm postulated a related continental Germanic goddess whose name he reconstructed as "Ostara". But neither Eostre nor Ostara is attested in other sources, and it's not clear whether this goddess was, in fact, really part of old Germanic paganism at all, or just an invention of Bede.

It has also been claimed that the name "Easter" is derived from the pagan Babylonian goddess Ishtar; this would have been fitting since Ishtar's consort Tammuz (Sumerian Damu-zid) was said to have died but later been allowed to return to the land of the living, a tale which served as a template for many later Middle Eastern myths of dying and resurrected deities, including the Christian one. But in fact there's no evidence of any connection, and the similarity of names seems to be merely coincidence. Springtime celebrations of rebirth are a common feature of human cultures and must have developed independently in many places.

Like so many pagan observances, the northern European Easter was eventually co-opted by the usurping alien religion from the Middle East. But the egg hunts and the Easter bunny have never been successfully imbued with any Christian significance, while their true pagan origins lie too far in the past to have any modern meaning. With candy eggs now used in place of real ones, not even chickens need be offended. Happy hunting!

23 April 2011

Happy St. George's Day

Today is St. George's day, the national day of England, widely observed despite not being officially recognized as a holiday.

One of the traditional observances of the day is flying the English flag (as seen above, on display in Nottingham today). Last year I linked to this posting by an English blogger who was suffering harassment from politically-correct local authorities for hanging the flag from his window -- although, in fairness, it was not difficult to find photos that day of various English towns with the flags abundantly displayed. I was curious to know whether the situation had improved with the intervening election which brought the Conservative party to power; but the blogger, Four Dinners, is away from home today on an errand. Perhaps we'll get a report upon his return.

At any rate, there seem to be plenty of observances this year, and there's a campaign under way to get the day official holiday status. For another taste of England, see this week's video of the week.

Link round-up for 23 April 2011

In Sweden, internet piracy has now declared itself a religion (found via Mendip).

Mrs. Betty Bowers imagines a Republican science curriculum.

Canada's "Slutwalk", an exuberant protest against puritanical attitudes about female dress, comes to the US.

Still need something special for Easter? Check out the chocolate Cthulhu (found via Mendip).

Baby T-Rex visits a TV studio (found via TYWKIWDBI).

Jesus-loving ladies aren't quite so pure and holy.

Alex Pareene has an exuberant take-down of WorldNutDaily (found via Preliator pro Causa).

Mendip is unimpressed by the Iranian military.

PZ Myers prepares to commemorate the first zombie uprising.

An intrepid explorer braves the darkest depths of the MRA "Spearhead Forum" and comes back with some juicy screencaps (found via Man Boobz).

Obama-birth-certificate nuttiness threatens the Republican party's chances of nominating a sane Presidential candidate.

Men who hate women hate women who love men who hate women.

If you think this isn't racist, you may be a teabagger.

Bret Alan looks at the problem of liberal timidity.

More on how Louis Marinelli saw the light, here and here.

Illegal immigration has plummeted, thanks to the Bush recession and stricter enforcement under Obama.

Teresa Cotsirilos looks back at the murder of Dr. George Tiller and the events that led up to it (found via Republic of Gilead).

Tea Party support has fallen sharply in Kentucky in just the last six months. One Republican state rep there has switched parties.

Don't miss Christopher Hitchens's brief but beautiful letter to the American Atheists convention.

Texan readers -- what do you think of Ricardo Sanchez's chances for the Senate?

Yet another poll makes it clear: Americans want to fix the deficit by raising taxes on the rich, not by cutting services.

Even at religious colleges, gay self-awareness emerges and fights for recognition.

Some Democrats are willing to get aggressive -- including Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. And targeting those who voted to end Medicare looks like a good move too.

Even though a majority of Americans now support gay marriage, Republicans insist on fighting for the doomed cause.

Apparently lying isn't a sin if it serves a higher Christian purpose.

Vatican representative Archbishop Silvano Tomasi explains that it's the persecutors of gays who are the real victims (found via Republic of Gilead).

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, once touted as Presidential material, isn't looking so hot now.

Jonathan Turley explains the four Rs of teabaggerdom (found via Jobsanger).

I found this book review encouraging -- it suggests that religion will fade away over time as the world becomes more prosperous.

Pelosi has a chance to save the day in the debt-ceiling fight.

Hate the sin, hate the sinner (found via Republic of Gilead).

The Duke lacrosse accuser has now been charged with murder.

Republicans are still pushing Laffer-curve nonsense despite the fact that it's been refuted by experience.

I was right -- S&P are dunces and should be ignored.

A startling admission from a conservative: low-tax free-market economics simply hasn't delivered as promised.

The Libyan intervention is America's first military air campaign commanded by a woman.

British Harrier jet pilots do a last fly-by of the Parliament that is cutting back on Harrier jets (lean back from the screen a bit).

Islamic censorship of Western ads is not only amateurish but reveals the weird obsessiveness of the sexophobic mentality.

Ed West has a good summary of the problems caused by too much immigration (he's talking about Britain, but much of this could apply in any country).

An atheist march in Spain has been banned -- the posters were too honest.

Britain hasn't banned the veil (yet), but self-appointed Islamist spokesmen have declared it mandatory.

Libyan doctor Ramadan Atewah left a safe practice in Britain to help Qaddhafi's victims.

Egyptians are optimistic about the future, and only 25% want a theocracy (though the support for religion having some role in government is worrying).

Lady Atheist reviews PBS Nova's series on history and the Bible.

Carolina Parrothead reviews Agora, a film dramatizing the rise of Christianity and the death of Classical civilization.

Former global-warming denialist D.R. Tucker explains how he came to accept reality.

Bolivia exemplifies the tragedy of global warming -- those most affected by it have the least power to stop it.

One reason memory declines in older people is that the brain gets cluttered up with distractions.

Are wild animals happier than those in humane captivity?

The Christian Right uses lies to fight against research on curing paralysis (found via Republic of Gilead).

Stem-cell rejuvenation holds promise for fighting the diseases of aging.

The future of biotechnology may lie with small-scale, independent "biohackers".

22 April 2011

Conservatives divided

As the fight for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination takes shape, the conflict between the Sane and Nutty factions of the right is sharpening. Wary co-existence works up to a point, but choosing a Presidential candidate means finding a single figure for the party to support -- and each faction is determined that it be one of their own.

This must be a frustrating time for the Sane faction. The Nutties have the colorful and exciting candidates, and it's a hydra-headed problem -- let Palin drop in the polls, and Bachmann and Trump rise up to replace her. The Sane faction can argue against these candidates, but the Nutty faction is too big to dismiss -- the belief that Obama was not born in the US (as good a litmus test as any for Nutty allegiance) is held by 45% of Republicans. Are such people likely to be swayed by rational argument? It's no wonder recent polls show Trump leading the Republican field.

Meanwhile, the Nutties rant against Boehner, the most powerful Republican in the country at the moment, for compromising on the budget; and if he yields to reality on the debt ceiling, the fury will get worse. A Sane candidate for President such as Romney or Daniels would face similar problems, to say nothing of Romney's Mormonism being anathema to the fundamentalists who make up the core of the Nutty faction.

If there's any hope for the Sane faction, it lies in Nutty over-reach. Theocratic bashing of gays, abortion, evolution, illicit sex, etc. -- railing against Sharî'ah law while pushing its Christian equivalent -- are red meat to the Nutty rank and file, and acceptable even to some of the Sanes. But recent Nutty ventures into the fiscal arena are meat a little too red even for this crowd -- 70% of teabaggers oppose the Ryan budget once they know what it actually does, and Congressional Republicans are facing a backlash as word gets out.

But even if the Sane faction wins the nomination fight for one of their own, Trump is likely to go home and take his ball -- a crucial bloc of Nutty voters -- with him. (A Nutty nominee, however, might drive many Sanes to stay home or even vote for Obama.)

There are people on the left who would welcome a Bachmann or Trump as the Republican candidate on the grounds that Obama's re-election would be guaranteed. I'm not one of them, and such thinking is dangerous. Obama will probably win, no matter who his opponent is, but he could lose. We on the left have our own (thankfully small) Nutty faction -- the delusionals who denounce Obama as a rightist and constantly threaten to sit out the election or vote for another Nader. Or some freak event, disaster, or bad decision could change the game at the last minute. These things happen. The Republicans have a duty to nominate someone who would be competent to lead if elected.

So I hope the Sanes prevail. But in the meantime, I'm not going to deny myself the wealth of entertainment value the situation offers.

20 April 2011

Videos of the week -- patriotic rock

Popular English folk-rock duo Show of Hands (Steve Knightley and Phil Beer, both from the Devon/Cornwall area) give a voice to the revival of cultural patriotism in the land of my ancestors. I present their music here partly in recognition of St. George's Day (23 April), England's national day, which falls on this coming Saturday. The above video, "Country Life", is a paean to a culture under siege from out-of-control corrosive capitalism. Here's another of their works, "Roots", partly inspired by a Christian minister who defined his "vision of Hell" as "three Somerset folk singers in a pub":

The band's website is here.

19 April 2011

The S&P debt downgrade

Richard Adams has the best commentary I've seen about S&P's revision of US sovereign debt from "stable" to "negative". These are the same dunces who gave top ratings to Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, and "derivatives". The stock market and bond prices showed zero reaction to the verdict.

Adams also notes the obvious point: If there is one serious reason to be concerned for the financial stability of the US, it's the know- nothing teabaggers in the House threatening to hold the next debt- ceiling increase hostage to political games-playing. And Wall Street is putting pressure on Boehner to rein in those nutcases before they do real damage.

18 April 2011

Political upheaval in Finland

Most Americans barely noticed the national election in Finland yesterday, but it matters. Here's why.

Finland has three main political parties: the National Coalition (moderate-right), the Social Democrats (moderate-left) and the Center (self-explanatory). The incumbent party in power is the Center party. All three operate within a broad consensus common to most mainstream European parties: socialist (by US standards) and supportive of the European Union and its common currency, the euro, which Finland uses.

This consensus is not shared by the True Finns party, a new party which won just 4% of the vote in the last national election in 2007. Yesterday they won 19%, putting themselves in the same league with the three main parties. The distribution of seats in the new parliament will look like this (there are 200 seats total):

National Coalition: 44
Social Democrats: 42
True Finns: 39
Center (incumbent): 35

It's likely the new government will be a coalition of the National Coalition and the True Finns -- a startling rise in status for a party dismissed as "fringe" just four years ago.

What were people voting for? The True Finns are a party of a type often called "far right" in the media, and the term fits them somewhat better than most. The most prominent plank in their party platform is opposition to the European Union; they flat-out advocate Finland's withdrawal from the Union, a very radical stance in a Europe where the consensus of major parties, left and right, treats the EU as a sacred cow.

Except for their support (mild compared with US Republicans) for Christianity, the True Finns make much of embracing Finland's native traditions and culture and oppose the infiltration of foreign cultural influences, especially Islamic. This "cultural patriotism", as I call it, seems to be a rising feeling across Europe, but it has seldom manifested itself politically. The True Finns even want to abolish the mandatory teaching of the Swedish language in schools (Finland has a 10% ethnic Swedish minority, and the country is officially bilingual).

The True Finns claim to be anti-Islam, but their anti-gay and anti- abortion stances actually align them more closely with Islamism than mainstream society. It's in these areas that they do deserve the epithet "far right". Most other anti-Islam parties in Europe, often called "far-right", are socially liberal in opposition to the reactionary and theocratic stances of Islamism, which is Europe's real equivalent of the Christian Right in the US.

Why does it matter? The EU is locked in a struggle to save its common currency, the euro. The threat comes from the debt problems of some of its peripheral countries -- Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and in the near future perhaps Spain -- which have had to ask for bail-outs from the EU to avoid defaults. This gigantically expensive mess has sharpened popular dislike of the EU among Europeans: people in the solvent countries (led by Germany and including Finland) hate seeing their money committed to bail-outs of what they consider sloppily-run foreign lands, while people in the peripheral countries (all of which suffer high unemployment) hate the brutal austerity policies imposed by the EU as the price of the bail-outs.

The EU is terrified that someday one of the peripheral countries will take the easy way out -- abandon the euro and return to a national currency with the greater flexibility it brings, and try to escape recession by currency depreciation rather than EU bail- outs and the hated austerity policies. Since the euro is unpopular (even in Germany, 57% now wish they had kept the mark), once one country bows to populism and breaks the ice, the whole system could start to unravel.

Bail-outs must be approved by all member countries. In most countries this is a rubber-stamp process, but in Finland, the parliament must vote on such matters. The True Finns made a promise to vote against the latest bail-out (for Portugal) their central campaign issue, and it's likely this that won them their startling success yesterday. They have a mandate; and if they demand a veto of the bail-out as a condition of joining a coalition, they could derail it and leave Portugal in the lurch -- possibly precipitating a crisis that could threaten the euro.

In fact, this may not happen. The EU has a history of fudging its own rules to get whatever it really wants, and it may find a way to push through the Portuguese bail-out even if Finland votes no.

But like the Green victory in Baden-Württemberg last month, the True Finns' success strikes a blow against the sclerotic consensus politics of Europe. Their support for withdrawal from the EU is actually more radical than the Greens' platform. They may give a boost to like-minded people elsewhere. In Britain, for example, the UK Independence Party seems somewhat similar to the True Finns -- while saddled with a slightly batty social conservatism, its central goal is to take Britain out of the EU.

As the Arab revolts have shown, ideas spread fast these days. An idea that seems unthinkable, once it wins out in one place, can suddenly become a realistic goal elsewhere.

Update: Analysis here. The True Finns' success was due to their anti-EU stance. There may be a compromise in which Finland would approve the bail-out if it didn't have to contribute -- but if Germans (among whom the bail-outs are at least as unpopular as among Finns) start asking why their country can't opt out as well, the kleptocratic oligarchy of the EU could face the biggest threat to its power yet.

16 April 2011

Link round-up for 16 April 2011

PZ Myers wants to help Christians avoid going to Hell.

This must have been terror-ific fun for the kids.

A bad driver gets a harsh lesson in the laws of physics (found via Mendip).

I've discovered some good music videos via Ranch Chimp's blog, including a couple I used as "video of the week". Here's a complete round-up of all his music posts.

Why on Earth is it offensive for Crayola to recognize the existence of a range of skin tones?

Montana's Democratic governor fights teabagger craziness with the help of his trusty sidekick.

Donald Trump is weird and touchy (found via Preliator pro Causa).

Some people find the concept of equality baffling.

Pastor Brent Girouex wins the true believer of the month award for March.

TYWKIWDBI posts a list of blogs written by its readers -- some interesting-looking stuff here.

Many kinds of activists could benefit from this point about making factual arguments emotionally appealing.

Many people are confused about what the government spends money on.

Here's a no-nonsense look at the whiny Obama-bashing far left (found via They Gave Us a Republic).

David Frum thinks the GOP had a great week.

Michigan workers rally against Governor Snyder's austerity plans. And people power in Texas has won a victory.

Planned Parenthood saw a huge surge in donations during the Republican attack on it (found via Preliator pro Causa).

Support for gay marriage in New York state has become overwhelming -- time to act.

Louis J. Martinelli, a former NOM anti-gay-marriage activist, has had a change of heart and now fully supports the cause he once campaigned against. Keep up the fight -- you never know when you may be touching someone, somewhere.

A post on male drama queens triggers a comment discussion that throws the MRA mentality into sharp relief -- some of the most outrageous comments from "Discount" have been deleted, but parts of them survive as quotes in responses.

Roger Ebert takes an eloquent look at inequality in America (found via A Feather Adrift).

Patriotic millionaires have a message for Obama.

Obama-birth-certificate nonsense is still nonsense even when it's Donald Trump who's saying it.

Democrats have a real chance of re-taking the House next year.

Trump threatens to go Perot if the Republicans don't nominate him. More here.

Here's a look at the district Paul Ryan represents.

Idaho Republicans spend $100,000 of taxpayer money to pay their own party's legal fees for suing the state (found via They Gave Us a Republic).

The public credits Democrats for the deal that averted the shut- down; Boehner didn't get as much as he thought.

Andrew Sullivan has a round-up of reactions to Obama's deficit speech. See also Liberal Values, Politics Plus, and Politicus USA.

Obama has already cut the deficit by $122 billion.

The Republican attack on Medicare could be political suicide.

Boehner is coming under pressure to squelch the crazy talk about not raising the debt ceiling -- and it's pressure from Wall Street executives, a constituency Republicans tend to actually listen to.

Christian anti-abortion rhetoric is getting outrageous (found via Mills River Progressive).

The Christian Right's values are not shared by most Americans; in fact, those values are driving young people away from religion.

Atheist Oasis looks at Seventh-Day Adventism.

The sacred texts of the Abrahamic religions are irredeemably misogynistic.

Hrafnkell Haraldsson looks at the myth of Christian opposition to slavery.

Religion and freedom are irreconcilable opposites.

1,000 prominent economists from 50 countries urge world leaders to impose a tax on financial speculation. More here on how to support this in the US.

Tim McGaha's series on the Civil War continues with the divided America Lincoln inherited and the opening of the war.

World War II German atrocities committed by ordinary soldiers are revealed in those soldiers' own words, debunking the myth that the regular army kept its hands clean (warning: gruesome descriptions).

Syrian soldiers have been shot for refusing to open fire on anti- regime protesters.

Brothers under the skin: the world's biggest gangster-regime supports Qaddhafi.

The Bahrain regime is harassing Bahraini students overseas who support the rebellion there.

Israel has made missile defense work, at least on a small scale (but the cost-comparison comment is stupid; protecting civilian lives and infrastructure is what military spending is supposed to be for).

Depressed? Read more.

Here's an interesting look at the largest cities in the world at various times in history.

British scientists have grown human kidneys from stem cells.

15 April 2011

Video of the week -- like a memory

Quia tenebrae non obscurabuntur
Et nox sicut dies illuminabitur

13 April 2011

Warrior for truth and sanity

Happy birthday, Christopher Hitchens -- may there be many more.

12 April 2011

Petition against Medicare and Medicaid cuts

Click here to sign a petition to the White House.

11 April 2011

The future leans left: the big picture

Sometimes one must step back from day-to-day events and look at the big picture. Here's how I see it.

1) The Republican party has entered a position similar to that of the Democratic party in the 1980s -- its radicalized base has pulled it too far from the political mainstream. In both cases the "out" party has been wounded by a failed Presidency (Carter, Bush II); its base is besotted with an ideology repulsive to most of the country (rigid PC leftist dogma, religious fundamentalism/Tea Party); the "in" party has a charismatic leader whom the "out" party demonizes and whose popularity it finds baffling (Reagan, Obama); rational members of the "out" party realize they need to move back toward the center, but the base seem unlikely to allow it. No analogy is perfect, but the parallels are real.

2) The 2006 and 2008 elections expressed a very real leftward shift of the nation during the Bush II era. Some of this shift was caused by the discrediting of conservative ideology under Bush -- tax cuts for the wealthy led to anemic job growth and a ballooning deficit, while financial-sector deregulation led to recession (the one big Western country that didn't deregulate, Canada, also escaped the worst effects). Other aspects of the shift, such as the doubling of the number of non-religious people and the dramatic growth in support for gay equality, were cultural changes which had nothing to do with Bush.

3) The 2010 election was not a "pendulum swing" back to the right; what happened was that voter turn-out collapsed (38% of eligible voters vs. 62% in 2008). The "in" party normally takes losses in an off-year election. Theocrat/teabagger candidates like O'Donnell and Angle cost the Republicans wins they could otherwise have achieved. The Democrats' biggest problem was leftists who didn't vote because they were disappointed in Obama's compromises.

4) Some voted Republican because they thought the Democrats weren't delivering job growth fast enough. But the empowered Republicans have delivered a flood of pro-creationism, anti-gay, anti-abortion efforts; they've pushed for draconian spending cuts that would cost jobs. There are already signs of buyer's remorse among voters.

5) The mass shift to the left is solid and continuing -- Americans' faith in "free-market" dogma is imploding, and a February poll on deficit-reduction options found raising taxes on the rich to be far more popular than cutting Medicare, Social Security, or defense (taxes on the rich were far higher in the 1950s and 1960s, times of high employment and strong growth, than today). One-fifth of the US population is "non-white", most of whom are unlikely to vote Republican. And don't forget the long-term trend.

6) If Palin seeks the Republican nomination in 2012, her chances of winning it are good -- she attracts far more interest than the "normal" candidates. Even if the non-nutty faction of Republicans manages to nominate someone like Romney or Daniels, Palin, as the darling of the nutty faction, would have a strong claim on the running-mate spot. Either way her unpopularity with the general public would doom the right's already-slim hopes of unseating Obama. (If Palin doesn't run, substitute Bachmann in the above.)

7) There's still the problem of perfectionists sitting out elections, but the new wave of activism launched in Wisconsin and elsewhere is driven by union workers, more pragmatic and practical-minded than ideological purists. Meanwhile, the Republicans are having their own problems with purists; teabaggerdom is throwing a fit at Boehner for compromising with Obama on the budget.

8) Economic trends in the US -- stagnant middle-class incomes and increasing concentration of wealth in few hands -- will eventually fuel support for redistributionist solutions. This has happened in other countries and in the long run the US is not immune.

9) The Christian Right is becoming the weird, nasty out-group, due to its extremism and society's growing secularism and acceptance of gays.

The last thing I want to do is encourage complacency, but there is no grounds for defeatism. Inch by inch we are winning. It will take hard work and there will be battles lost now and then, but we will get there.

09 April 2011

Link round-up for 9 April 2011

To make up for the repulsive eurypterid photo I posted recently, here are some more appealing critters.

Murr Brewster has some noisy new neighbors.

Prash posts a round-up of funny laws.

Chimney Sweep, a new corporation, is now open for business and hopefully free of regulation.

At last, a truthful headline!

If the nutters really think the world will end on May 21, they won't be needing their money, right?

Toronto women launched "SlutWalk" this week to rebuke backward attitudes about female dress; more here (found via Cheap Signals).

Louie Gohmert thinks Obama is bombing Libya so he can use his health-care reform army to stage a coup. Murr Brewster takes a look at Gohmert too. Remember, this guy is a Congressman.

Here's a cool tale of human imperfection and revenge.

Jack Jodell is fed up with TV commercials. Luckily, there is an alternative.

Blogger Octopus explains the proper stance toward trolls.

46% of Republicans in Mississippi still think inter-racial marriage should be illegal.

Frank Hebert is paraplegic, but he wasn't going to sit still for his granddaughter being molested.

Here's a good response to that silly Obama anti-abortion billboard.

PZ Myers takes on the "no atheists in foxholes" lie.

Joé McKen explains his "labels" -- these mostly apply to me too, though I'd never heard of the "ignostic" one before.

Conservative defenses of the First Amendment in the Pastor Jones case are welcome, but consistency would be nice.

It would also be nice if this judge understood the Constitution.

For John Thompson, the Supreme Court offers no justice.

Here's something Jones and the Islamists could agree on.

Christian and Muslim theocrats are more alike than different.

Richard Dawkins looks at practical problems posed by religious beliefs, and at the idiocy which results when blind rule-following replaces rational judgment.

Proposition 8 plaintiffs receive religious hate messages (found via Republic of Gilead).

Violence is unevenly, but predictably, distributed in the US (found via Green Eagle).

Boycotting can work. We should do more of it.

A much-hyped alarmist "study" on under-age sex trafficking turns out to be bogus (found via Preliator pro Causa).

Like most compromises, the deal that averted a government shut- down yesterday isn't pretty -- but at least the Republicans didn't get their Planned Parenthood defunding rider. Politics Plus looks at what the media got wrong.

The increasingly-teabaggish Republican base is pulling the party ever further from the political center. James Joyner assesses the problem. Progressives, too, need to realize where the center is.

Don't repeat the stupid mistakes of 2010.

How much will alienating minorities hurt the Republicans in 2012?

The Ryan plan would cut taxes on the richest (from levels already the lowest in decades) while hurting everyone else. And there's worse.

Your taxes are too high, but there's a reason.

Waking up: belief in "free-market capitalism" as the best system has plummeted among Americans, especially among lower-income people (sent by Robert the Skeptic).

Wisconsin voters in two jurisdictions have overwhelmingly passed referenda rejecting corporate personhood (found via Plutocrap).

This is a welcome move, but I'd like to see similar scrutiny of the Vatican's money.

Those who anticipate an increasingly-Hispanic US are overlooking an important factor (I made a similar point here).

Brazil has grasped the point that reducing inequality is essential to democracy and stability -- when will we?

Portugal has finally had to go to the EU for a bail-out, and the EU is demanding austerity measures even stricter than what its own parliament rejected in the face of mass public protests. Here's a clear and concise explanation of the European economic crisis.

Austerity policies cut investment in the future for short-term gain -- this is what the Republicans want to do here.

Is al-Qâ'idah obsolete?

The Syrian regime is wrong to think its hatred for Israel makes it legitimate in its people's eyes.

The West is wrong to think the Bahrain uprising is oriented toward the Iranian regime.

Global-warming denialists suffer embarrassment as real science manages to intrude.

The 2011 Pigasus awards for "scientific" crackpottery have been announced.

One expert claims "cyber-warfare" is an exaggerated threat.

I don't think this tells us that this cave man was gay, but it does suggest that gender roles in ancient times may have been more flexible than we thought.

This quasi-dream sheds a bit of light on near-death hallucinations.

Janet Stemwedel looks at the ugly terrorist tactics of anti-animal- research extremists, which hurt their own cause.

Are you a risk-taker? Do you hear voices? It may be toxoplasma gondii.

Work will soon begin on America's biggest-ever factory to produce solar-power panels.

Tests will soon begin on using lasers to eliminate lipofuscin from cells (lipofuscin accumulation is one of the seven categories of damage that make up the aging process).

Japanese researchers have grown a complete retina -- a highly complex structure -- in the laboratory from embryonic stem cells.

Added link: That asinine "study" claiming that there's a genetic / brain-structure basis for conservatism seems to be getting a new surge of attention on liberal blogs (or it may be a different study at the same college, though it sounds very similar). Please read what I said about this in December. This kind of thing should be beneath us; leave the fake science to the global-warming denialists.

08 April 2011

Behind the scenes in Washington and Mazar-i-Sharif

This week I've run across a couple of items that deserve more attention than I could give them if I just left them for tomorrow's link round-up.

First, Andrew Pavelyev, a conservative, looks at the budget battle and the threat of a government shut-down and concludes that the most relevant analogy is not the Clinton-era shut-down but the Hoover administration. The country has serious problems, such as unemployment and health-care costs, which the public cares about much more than it cares about the deficit (in fact, solving those problems would pretty much fix the deficit anyway), but the Republicans brush these aside in favor of histrionic defense of principles which are of little importance in the mass public mind, or in objective reality either.

To make matters worse, while the two sides are within striking distance of a deal on the dollars, the Republicans have sabotaged it by larding up their proposals with "culture war" addenda like de-funding Planned Parenthood and NPR, on which they know Democrats cannot yield. If there is a shut-down and the public realizes that the Republicans precipitated it over issues like that, the judgment will not be kind.

(Yes, a lot of people genuinely believe that things like NPR and foreign aid make up a much bigger percentage of the budget than they really do, and that de-funding those things would save some significant money -- but it's largely conservatives' fault that they believe that, and it won't be difficult for Democrats to present hard numbers to show that they're wrong.)

Pavelyev worries that the right is on the verge of disastrous error:

Conservatives complacently talk about a “center-right nation”, but we may well be just one Republican blunder away from becoming a social-democratic nation. The middle class has been generally supportive of the free market system because that system has delivered not only great benefits to them but also a credible promise of even greater benefits in the future. People expect to be better off in the years ahead and that their children will be better off still. But right now too many people are not better off than in the 1990s.....If the Republicans won’t offer solutions, Democrats will. We’ve seen this movie before. The Herbert Hoover Republicans spent two decades in the political wilderness. Even worse, voters weren’t willing to try conservative solutions on a large scale for half a century!

We've heard such predictions before, of course -- but there have also actually been periods when one party or the other fell out of favor with voters and suffered prolonged loss of power. Don't get so focused on single elections that you lose sight of the long-term trend. The Bush Presidency deeply damaged the conservative brand, as 2006 and 2008 showed; 2010 was not a back-swing of the pendulum but merely a collapse of voter turn-out. Extremist teabagger candidates almost certainly cost Republicans control of the Senate. In the long run demographics is moving inexorably our way. That "one Republican blunder", if and when it comes, may well be the coup de grace as Pavelyev frets.

Second, on the story of Pastor Jones and the murders of innocent people by a shrieking mob of religious fanatics in Afghanistan, there's more to the story than what most of us have heard. One thing that struck me is that, although the Koran-burning has been presented as an intolerable provocation to Muslims in general, in most of the world's dozens of Muslim countries there has been no such reaction to it. The violence erupted in Afghanistan, in one place in Afghanistan, in fact. Why was that? Also, the murders happened several days after the Koran-burning, not immediately. Why last Friday instead of right after Jones's stunt? The New York Times reports:

Friday’s episode began when three mullahs, addressing worshipers at Friday Prayer inside the Blue Mosque here, one of Afghanistan’s holiest places, urged people to take to the streets to agitate for the arrest of Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who oversaw the burning of a Koran on March 20. Otherwise, said the most prominent of them, Mullah Mohammed Shah Adeli, Afghanistan should cut off relations with the United States. “Burning the Koran is an insult to Islam, and those who committed it should be punished,” he said.

So the immediate cause of the violence was not the Koran-burning itself but a bunch of clergymen who exploited it to stir up a mob. Blogger Gretchen Koch notes:

Had the three mullahs in Mazari-i-Sharif not encouraged people to take to the streets and commit murder, they almost certainly would not have done so. Just as with the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad, none of this destruction would have happened had it not been for mullahs stirring up the anger of Muslims. And yet, Mullah Kashaf holds Jones responsible. He, along with President Karzai, want the United States to bring Jones to justice for doing something that is perfectly legal here. Jones burnt a book in another country; the mullahs actively incited violence in the angry mob standing before them.

Again, even though the Koran-burning was little-publicized, at least some Muslims in Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, Iran, Malaysia, etc. must also have heard about it -- certainly many of them have heard about it now, after the news of the Afghan violence. In the absence of deliberate incitement by Muslim clerics, though, the news doesn't seem to have produced the same result.

I stand by my position that even if the violence had been directly triggered by the Koran-burning, it would be unacceptable to limit freedom of expression because of it. But that wasn't even the case here.

05 April 2011

Video of the week -- perfection is an illusion

.....but reality is usually better in the end.

Pastor Jones and the barbarians

The religious nutters are at it again. Pastor Terry Jones finally made good on his threat from last year to burn a Koran, and mobs of barbarians in Afghanistan have reacted by murdering people who, as even their faith-addled brains must realize, have no connection with Jones.

The outrage directed against Jones raises three distinct issues. The first is whether his action was free expression and thus worthy of protection, or should he be penalized for it in some way ("held accountable" seems to be the favored weasel-word). Harry Reid and Lindsey Graham have suggested this. On that question, the answer is clear. Burning a Koran is an expression of a viewpoint. It harms no one and violates no one's rights (unless the Koran in question was the property of someone else who did not consent to its being destroyed). Jones's action was free expression deserving the full protection of the First Amendment -- period. No following sentence starting with "but".

The claim that it could be banned or punished as "incitement" falls apart on serious consideration. Muslims are humans; humans have agency and responsibility. The mobs in Afghanistan bear 100% of the responsibility for their own actions -- period. You and I, too, sometimes hear of things that shock and grossly offend us. We have the choice whether or not to react by murdering people. We choose not to.

The minute we decide that free expression can be limited because people offended by it might react violently, we've given a veto to whoever is most violent. If, say, one of those nutjobs who thinks Obama was born in Kenya threatens to blow up a building if you publish a blog post ridiculing the birth-certificate "controversy", then by the same argument, you shouldn't be allowed to publish it.

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

(I'm well aware that Jones is a religious fanatic who probably believes things that would offend me as much as his Koran-burning offended the thugs in Afghanistan. That makes no difference. Offensive views must be protected no matter whom they offend.)

The second issue is the odd suggestion that there is some sort of equivalence between the Koran-burning and the violent reaction. Andrew Sullivan, who should know better, puts it thus:

"Both acts are, to my mind, egregiously unhinged. What on earth does it achieve to burn a holy book? And how screwed up is a religion which responds to this by murdering UN workers? Both mindsets are sick versions of religious fanaticism."

Nonsense. Publicly destroying the symbol of a belief system "achieves" the goal of dramatically expressing one's opposition to that belief system. It is not a violent act. It can't remotely be compared with murdering people because you are offended.

Finally, there's the old claim that religion and its symbols and trinkets are somehow "special" and more deserving of immunity from criticism and symbolic attack than other categories of ideas. This is what motivates some religious people to respond to non- violent blasphemy and sacrilege with violence or threats of it. The very fact that religion tries to impose such a limit on freedom of expression makes it more worthy of attack, not less.

I stand firmly by what I said here: In the face of such bullying, blasphemy is no longer merely a right -- it is a duty.

02 April 2011

Meditation #4 -- self-awareness

Quote for the day -- religion vs. modern morality

"The point is that we have all moved on, and in a big way, since biblical times. Slavery, which was taken for granted in the Bible and throughout most of history, was abolished in civilized countries in the nineteenth century. All civilized nations now accept what was widely denied up to the 1920s, that a woman's vote, in an election or on a jury, is the equal of a man's. In today's enlightened societies (a category that manifestly does not include, for example, Saudi Arabia), women are no longer regarded as property, as they clearly were in biblical times. Any modern legal system would have prosecuted Abraham for child abuse. And if he had actually carried through his plan to sacrifice Isaac, we would have convicted him of first-degree murder. Yet according to the mores of his time, his conduct was entirely admirable, obeying God's commandment. Religious or not, we have all changed massively in our attitude to what is right and what is wrong."

Richard Dawkins