30 May 2011

Early musings on the Republican Presidential race

Prognostication a year and a half ahead is always risky, but I think the Republican starting line-up, at least, has pretty much taken the shape it's going to have. There will be no "man on a white horse" to deliver the party from its lack-luster field (Perry, if he runs, will be just another Barbour or Huckabee, a fairly-skilled politician with regional appeal but bulging gaffe-baggage in tow). The right wing remains divided into two factions, Sane and Nutty -- and the party is now down to just two Sane Presidential candidates, Romney and Huntsman, both of whom happen to be Mormons and thus deeply suspect in the eyes of the party's fundamentalist base. Further, Palin is now showing every sign of being seriously back in the race.

Could a Republican beat Obama? It's unlikely but possible. If Republicans unite behind a Sane nominee, if the slow economic recovery collapses back into recession (something Congressional Republicans seem to be actively trying to bring about, with their mania for cuts and their debt-ceiling brinkmanship), or if Obama is wounded by some event like a scandal, a major terrorist attack, or a foreign-policy disaster -- yes, it could happen. It's true that the Republicans have massively blundered with the Ryan budget, and that the new breed of teabagger governors like Walker and Scott now have approval ratings roughly equal to that of E. Coli, but the party still has a year and a half to recover, if it can bring itself to recognize its problems. And each of our two major parties always has some chance of winning -- that chance may be low, but it's never zero.

What's Palin up to? I remain skeptical that she really wants to be President. Ever since McCain first drew her into the national spotlight, she has shown far more appetite for celebrity (and its attendant cash-flow) than for the hard work of actually holding office, and she must know that the Presidency is an even more demanding job than being Governor of Alaska. If so, her smartest move is to maintain the appearance of being in the race for as long as possible, to keep attention and speculation focused on herself. Her bus tour, the Rolling Thunder stunt, and the hype surrounding her upcoming film (not the film itself, which will turkey out as fast as Atlas Shrugged did) make sense in this light.

What about Bachmann? We tend to think of Bachmann as essentially another Palin, perhaps a tad less colorful; but as a non-quitting career politician who has held one office or another since early 2001, she's actually more dangerous. If she runs for President, there's no reason to doubt she's in to win.

Could a Sane candidate get the nomination? Yes. First, if Palin and Bachmann both run, they could split the Nutty vote in the primaries; their rivalry would be all the more fierce given that they would be competing for the same constituency. Second, the prospect of a Nutty nominee could panic the party establishment into rallying behind Romney and crowning him. Either way the disgusted teabaggers and fundies might stay home on election day -- or they might not; it all depends on whether hatred of Obama trumps RINO-phobia and anti-Mormonism.

Could a Nutty candidate get the nomination? Definitely. There's no clear front-runner; Palin polls only two points behind Romney among Republicans, despite it not even being clear yet whether she's running; Trump led the field during his brief foray into it. Paul, a niche candidate, is unlikely to expand his support beyond the libertarian cult, but Pawlenty might appeal as a Nutty wolf in Sane sheep's clothing who could fool the voters for long enough to get elected. (Gingrich seems to genuinely straddle the two camps, but with his history of gaffes and hypocrisy and his flip-flop on Ryan, I think he's very unlikely to be nominated.)

So what happens? Kevin Drum produced this amusing graphic of the results if the Republicans choose a "wingnut" or a "reality- based" nominee, and if that nominee wins or loses:

A Nutty candidate winning the Presidency would indeed be the worst-case scenario, but it's also the least likely one; Palin, for example, is considered unqualified to be President even by a majority of Republicans. Still, as I noted, the probability is never zero. The Republican party is one of the two major parties of the mightiest nation on Earth; for it to nominate a grossly-unqualified person for the most powerful office on the planet would be an act of existential irresponsibility, but these are weird times.

Here's a suitably-weird scenario I find plausible: The Republican establishment puts its foot down and makes Romney the nominee. A major Nutty figure, most likely Palin, runs as a third candidate and draws off the teabagger/fundie vote, allowing Obama to win in a landslide. Republicans are left in total confusion about whom to blame. It could be the perfect scenario for Palin, who would thus remain the center of attention down to election day and perhaps beyond, but with no risk of actually winning and thus facing the drudgery and responsibility of the Presidency.

As a hedge against such a scenario, a Sane nominee might well choose a Nutty running mate -- perhaps even Palin herself. Palin would certainly hurt him, though; she hurt McCain, even though her flaws were far less apparent back then, and no Republican would have had much chance in 2008. Pawlenty or Gingrich, less terrifying to centrist voters, might be more likely VP picks; the trouble is, they make the teabagger/fundie crowd yawn, too.

The problem is that a Sane nominee losing to Obama -- the most likely scenario overall -- might well strengthen the Nutty faction among the Republicans, as Drum's graphic implies. The next-most- likely scenario -- a Nutty nominee losing to Obama in a landslide -- might bring the Republicans back to their senses, something the country desperately needs. But don't count on it. These people are dedicated to reality-denial, and the apocalyptic-minded Christian Right already tends to view worldly rejection as a mark of virtue. And what if some freak set of circumstances allowed that Nutty nominee to win the Presidency? The world can't afford the risk.

It's going to be an interesting race, and many sets of nails -- not all of them American -- will be bitten over it in the months to come.

29 May 2011

Quote for the day -- an unnatural vice

"Homosexuality is found in over 450 species. Homophobia is found in only one. Which one seems unnatural now?"

Chad Aldridge

28 May 2011

Link round-up for 28 May 2011

Here's the latest from the MRA madhouse: Lysistrata in reverse.

"Agnosticism" is an annoying semantic game.

A self-aware bisexual girl demolishes that stupid "rape supporter" detection list.

It's time to live life according to the Bible (found via Jobsanger).

British reviewers sharpen their claws on Sarah Palin's Alaska.

A trip to Canada reveals the threat of Illuminati psychological penises.

There's now a whole website dedicated to people who can't tell The Onion from reality.

Women scientists still meet hackneyed condescension from troglodytes.

The featured artist for this week is photographer Roman Loranc.

Green Eagle ventures into Confederate politics.

Credit where credit is due: Chris Christie is not a global-warming denialist.

PZ Myers, as expected, has the best commentary on the Rapture -- and read this, too.

Mockery works, and abstaining from it didn't make the bigots like us, anyway. We should use it on the terrorists too.

Speaking of stupid terrorists, here's one.

California produces a strong new contender for the title of most ignorant goofball in politics.

Pawlenty vetoes legalized cannabis for the terminally ill.

Arizona police brutally kill a former Marine during a marijuana raid, then try to cover up the facts. (Wait a minute, they're using armored personnel carriers to fight marijuana?)

Focus on the Family's head thinks the right has lost its war against gay marriage (found via Republic of Gilead). Our side agrees.

The Jack Davis effect doesn't change the fact that NY-26 was bad news for Republicans. More on the implications here.

Here's a breakdown of attitudes on gay marriage by religion -- the fundamentalist minority is out of step with the rest of the country.

McConnell raises the ante in the attack on Medicare. Political background here and here, possible indicator of the Democrats' negotiating position here, analysis of Republican claims here.

Bachmann gets another challenge from a teenager.

Obama's Presidency has delivered tremendous practical gains for gay Americans -- in the face of solid Republican opposition.

Here's an example of the mentality that will likely stop Romney or Huntsman from winning the Republican Presidential nomination. But Romney calculates that a Palin run would help him by scaring the Republican establishment.

William Lane Craig's case for religion is just the same old failed clichés.

Republican over-reach turns opinion in Obama's favor in Florida and Wisconsin.

Here's an interview with Louis Marinelli, the former anti-gay- marriage campaigner who saw the light.

It's red states that are a drain on the federal treasury (found via Green Eagle).

Atheists come out of the closet in Tulsa.

Americans overwhelmingly favor tougher regulation of Wall Street.

A teenage girl raped by an adult was humiliated and forced to apologize by religious leaders. The Mideast? No, New Hampshire.

Health-care reform is working as planned to broaden coverage and reduce costs.

Miranda Celeste analyzes that fatuous Church-sponsored report that blamed priestly child molestation on the counter-culture.

What's really driving the national debt?

Damon Fowler, the courageous Louisiana student who protested an unconstitutional graduation prayer, has been thrown out of his home by his parents.

Texas's budget crisis doesn't fit the script (from Shaw Kenawe).

Details emerge of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's "seduction" of his hotel maid.

Canada has cut crime as much as the US, without a huge rise in incarceration.

In Britain, the Labour party recognizes past mistakes on class and immigration, while the ruling Conservatives pick a dangerous fight with the police.

Princess Beatrice gets the last laugh -- the world's most famous hat raises £81,101 for charity.

In the face of public protest, Greek politicians refuse to agree on further austerity madness demanded by the EU and IMF.

A Greek partial default would do only minor harm to Europe's core economy.

Japan is about to launch a major push for solar power.

After world War II, the Vatican helped thousands of Nazis escape justice (found via Mendip).

Netanyahu's domestic popularity soars after his US visit. Israel's demography has changed dramatically in the last 15 years.

The West and Russia commit $20 billion to help Egypt and Tunisia build democracy.

Egyptians return to Tahrir Square to keep the revolution on track.

In Syria Friday saw a new wave of protests and a new crack-down, but casualties were fewer than on previous Fridays -- perhaps the regime is realizing it can't win by repression alone.

The Iranian theocracy helps the Syrian regime crush its people; Russia raises the pressure on Qaddhafi.

Qaddhafi hides from NATO airstrikes in hospitals -- he counts on the West's civilized restrained even as his own brutality continues unchecked.

The struggle in Yemen escalates to civil war.

The Arab push for democracy is alive in Morocco.

The smoking habit is headed for extinction in most advanced countries.

The rainbow eucalyptus earns its name.

Burundanga is a frightening drug with interesting implications for neuroscience and the study of free will.

Orgasm is a whole-brain experience.

Here's another animal that's too big (found via Mendip).

Aging is a disease and should be treated as such (found via Maria Konovalenko).

26 May 2011

Video of the week -- liberal Texas

TV news stages a display of bigotry in the city of Farmers Branch, TX, to observe bystanders' reactions -- with results that challenge stereotypes of the state (found via Preliator pro Causa).

25 May 2011

The Republicans after NY-26

Kathy Hochul's victory in NY-26 yesterday was a warning for the Republicans. This is a district gerrymandered to be a Republican safe seat; only one Democrat had previously won there in the last 50 years. In the low-turnout election of 2010, it went Republican by 74%-to-26%. Hochul's win yesterday, with turnout very high for a special election, is a remarkable shift -- especially since the Republicans far out-spent her. And there's no mystery to how it was accomplished; Hochul turned the race into a referendum on the Republican plan to destroy Medicare, and that was the key issue to the voters.

Will Republicans heed the warning? I doubt it. More likely they'll dismiss it as a fluke; the run of teabagger Jack Davis, who bled off some right-wing votes, provides a ready-made excuse. More to the point, reality-denial is pervasive among the right these days; on evolution, global warming, Keynesian economics, Obama's citizenship, etc., "I don't want it to be true, therefore it isn't", and evidence be damned (and there are plenty of pundits, whether crackpots themselves or shills for various moneyed interests, willing to encourage such self-deception). On the Ryan plan, too, they ignored the reality that it was voting-booth poison, even forcing a vote that got almost every House Republican on record in its favor -- a millstone around their necks which will likely drag many of them down to defeat next year, as David Frum laments.

Politics Plus blog recently reported on what seems to be the Republicans' secret weapon for 2012: gay-bashing. They're attacking gays at every opportunity and working to get anti-gay referenda on the ballot in as many swing states as possible, in hopes of raising turnout among the hate-filled fundies who are their core constituency. It could work. Haters are a shrinking minority now; large majorities of Christians support gay equality despite the Bible's teachings. But the haters tend to be much more fervent than the accepting are -- tolerance doesn’t lend itself to being intense, but hatred does.

It makes a change, though -- in 2010 the Republicans played down “social issues” and claimed that they would focus on economics. So why reverse that strategy now? Maybe the polls and town halls on the Ryan plan, etc., have shown them their economic ideas are so toxic that they have no choice but to fall back on bigotry? If so, the counter-strategy is clear. Tar them with those toxic ideas at every turn, and urge our people to get out and vote against the threat to Medicare, Social Security, and their unions. Even some working-class social conservatives, drawn to the polls by a chance to bash the gays in a referendum, may vote our way on candidates because of those issues.

Aside from Congress, their Presidential hopes are looking bleak too. With Daniels out, their pool of sane candidates is pretty much down to Romney and Huntsman, both of whom are Mormons and thus suspect in the eyes of the fundies who dominate Republican primaries.

And beyond 2012? Here's an amusing look at what the choice of a reality-based vs. wingnut nominee, and whether that nominee wins or loses, could mean for the Republicans. And the madness may devour its own; there are signs that two rising Republican stars, Rubio and Jindal, may run into problems with the birthers (found via Joe My God).

But we still need to be realistic. In the past I've warned against cynicism and pessimism and the despair and passivity they bring, making defeat a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now, though, with the Republicans self-destructing, the real danger is complacency. We need to treat every race (not just the Presidency) as a vital fight which we could lose, no matter how confident we feel. Turnout will be critical. The Republicans think that the pendulum swung back their way in 2010, when actually all that happened was that turnout plummeted. Hochul won in a redder-than-red district by using the threat to Medicare to drive turnout high. That's the real lesson of NY-26. Draw clear lines, expose the reality of what the other side wants, and 2010 really will have been their last gasp.

23 May 2011

Camping follows the script

Harold Camping has re-surfaced and -- wait for it -- announced that he made a mistake about the May 21 end-of-the-world date, but the end really is positively definitely truly coming on October 21, and he's absolutely 100% gosh-darn sure this time. Just like last time.

He must really believe in what he's preaching. No con man would come out before the world with such a trite, hackneyed cliché and expect it to be taken seriously.

But will it be taken seriously? Are there really people out there who won't think, "Wait, this guy was totally sure about May 21 and he was wrong -- so maybe he's wrong this time too"? After such a build-up and let-down, will they let themselves be fooled again? Based on past cases of apocalyptic cults, some of them likely will.

If so, and if in October they insist on going through all the same rigmarole with the billboards and signs and quitting jobs and all the rest of it -- then verily I say unto thee, yea, there shall be such mockery and ridicule and snickering, as has never been seen upon this Earth before, and it shall serve them bloody well right, amen.

Rapture round-up

Observations, comment, and snark from around the blogosphere:

Camping disappears, and some of his followers turn violent.

Lady Atheist largely shares my sentiments toward the deluded.

Camping, like so many of his ilk, is a gay-hater.

News Radio has a report from the big day.

The dud doomsday holds a valuable lesson.

For some believers, disappointment fails to quench loyalty.

The atheist-bashing crap never stops.

The end was averted by our new savior.

Finally, Rapture can be fun! (Thanks to Dead Logic for reminder.)

22 May 2011

It was just an ordinary day, dumbasses

Well, May 21 has come and gone, and the world is still here, as the overwhelming majority of its population who ignored Camping's garbage knew it would be.

It has been said by many that it would be unseemly to mock the fools who believed Camping and worked themselves up into a frenzy of anticipation. They are just poor sincere deluded blah blah blah and it would be in bad taste, etc.

Sorry, but to Hell with that! Just how "deluded" do twenty-first- century human beings have to be, to not only take Camping's numerology seriously, but to stake everything on it -- wasting huge amounts of money, dividing their families, even cutting their own children's throats -- when the very book on which it was all based clearly states that no one can make such a prediction: "of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of Heaven" (Matthew 24:36)?

More to the point, End Times nutters tend to be the kind of smug, arrogant prigs who positively relish the thought of the rest of us -- the secular masses who so annoyingly ignore their rants -- being packed off to eternal torment in Hell, when they're not trying to make this world into a Hell for us. I'm no Christian; I don't love my enemies or pray for those who persecute me, and a lot of these people qualify.

Anton LaVey said, "It's too bad stupidity isn't painful." He didn't quite get it right, though. Stupidity very often is painful, it's just that the pain is suffered by people other than those committing the stupidity. The mindless arrogant certainty of faith -- belief without evidence -- has led to anti-gay bigotry, honor killings, jihad, subordination of women, campaigns against science and medicine, and, further back, to book-burnings, witch-burnings, crusades, and pogroms. Plenty of pain there, but it wasn't the perpetrators of stupidity who had to suffer it.

And so now, on one of those rare occasions where stupidity really is painful for the stupid -- yes, I mock. I gloat. I point fingers and laugh. I rub the morons' noses in the awful humiliation of their own idiocy.

They've just had an unusually blunt and immediate lesson in what belief without evidence gets you in the real world. I hope some of them will learn from it and wake up. I suspect that most of them won't -- but, for once, that's not my problem.

21 May 2011

Link round-up for 21 May 2011

Well, this is one way to reward employees, but I wonder what they do for female sales people?

What an utter wanker.

Annoyed by lousy spelling? Payback is sweet (found via Mendip).

An anti-gay preacher causes a stir with a prayer in the Minnesota House. (Anti-gay? With that hat? And that hair?)

Ranch Chimp looks at Boston's Museum of Bad Art.

Harold Camping's end-of-the-world drivel has inspired idiots to throw away their life savings and sane people to plan parties (here's one) and other fun ways to spend the day. Impending doom is all the gays' fault (so if the world doesn't end, does that mean the gays are off the hook?). Dead Logic has a recommended reading list, StormWatch 7 has a weather forecast, and SpoonBlog has a student FAQ; in any case, God may be running late (last 3 links found via Mendip).

See a collection of heart-warming photos from President Obama's visit to Booker T Washington high school in Memphis.

PZ Myers fisks Deepak Chopra's befuddled gibberish.

Defending the First Amendment earns the hatred of fanatics -- and they'll violate it anyway. Here's why it matters, and a history of the case (where you can also donate to a scholarship fund).

A study of the problem of child-raping Catholic priests, funded by the Church itself, completely exonerates the Church; it was all the liberal counter-culture's fault. Glad that's been cleared up.

Krugman warns Obama against yielding to debt-ceiling blackmail.

Here's more about that "Welcome" ad rejected by the Sojourners: "taking sides", widespread prejudice, an open letter, and a waffling defense.

The US faces a new terrorist threat.

With Huckabee out, Republicans have lost their top voice for the middle class -- and Bachmann has a better shot at the nomination. Gingrich has spectacularly self-destructed (found via Plutocrap). And Republicans in general aren't too happy with the problem- plagued candidates they've got.

Gay marriage now has firm majority support among people under 50 and among religious groups other than evangelicals.

Republicans like to call regulations, tax hikes, and minimum-wage increases "job killers"; here's empirical evidence that they're wrong (found via Plutocrap).

A new website, DropFox, focuses on efforts to get advertisers to stop supporting Fox News.

It's the workers, not the rich, who create wealth and jobs.

Here's a guide for the religious on re-absorbing young escapees -- is this really the best they can do?

High-school student Amy Myers, who challenged Bachmann to a debate, is being barraged with frightening threats.

Now that bin Laden has met his deserved end, we should bury the Patriot Act with him.

There's more to Republican hypocrisy about taxes than meets the eye.

Haters respond to gay-marriage prospects in New York state -- with another vehicle tour.

Why is the Washington establishment so out of step with voters' concerns about the economy?

In every religion, some women choose abortion.

It's our country too -- ten great things about America (found via Republic of Gilead).

Arch-teabagger Scott Walker is now trying to roll back the basic rights gays have won in Wisconsin -- things like hospital visitation rights. Here's an online petition against his attack.

The whole passel of nasty teabagger governors elected last year is already in the doghouse with their voters.

Gingrich wants to remake the US in the image of Texas.

From the viewpoint of religious morality, genocide is logical.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn's fall may be another blow against the embattled euro currency.

Anti-austerity protests have spread to Spain, with Tahrir-Square- inspired protest camps in Madrid and other cities (more here, with pictures). As in Egypt, tone-deaf authorities reacted with a ban.

In Britain, spending cuts and austerity are already suffocating the economic recovery.

In Australia, a Christian mob attacks a peaceful gay rally (found via Republic of Gilead). And evangelists in that country are in damage-control mode after their underhanded proselytizing of school-children is exposed.

Escalating the struggle to oust Qaddhafi, British jets obliterate the fighting power of the Libyan navy.

Bello Maasaba had a good reason for marrying 107 women -- God told him to.

Natural selection explains the prime number cycles of cicadas.

Chimpanzees' self-awareness is even more sophisticated than we thought (found via Kiko's House).

"Sex addiction" is a stupid concept.

New technology enables a paralyzed man to stand and walk.

20 May 2011

Video of the week -- Chumbawamba

Song lyrics are here in case you find the accent difficult. This band is known in the US mainly for just one song, "Tubthumping", but they have lots of great music. Their best political song is "One by One", but there doesn't seem to be a video for that on the internet anywhere (if you find one, let me know).

19 May 2011

Attempted rape is not "seduction"

In commentary about this week's arrest of IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York for the attempted rape of a hotel maid, two nasty and reprehensible memes have emerged.

One, echoing the aristocratic mentality of a bygone (well, bygone to most of us) era, vents shock that a man of the power élite could be manhandled and humiliated for such a trivial peccadillo. This attitude is widespread among the chattering classes in Strauss- Kahn's native France (though French voters may view things differently; his Presidential hopes are now toast). Strauss-Kahn was well-known as a serial seducer of women, which in France is normal male behavior; if he hadn't set foot in the priggish USA, he wouldn't be in this mess.

The other meme uses the Strauss-Kahn story as just one more example of the problem of "tomcatting" males, conflating it with Berlusconi, Schwarzenegger, Gingrich, Bill Clinton, etc. All "illicit" sex is basically the same, and why can't these guys just keep it in their pants?

Both attitudes are sides of the same coin; both depend on blurring the crucial distinction.

Strauss-Kahn may well be a seducer, but what he is accused of doing in New York was not seduction but an attempt to force sex on a non-consenting person. If he had merely seduced her into consensual sex, most likely no one would ever have heard about it, and the police would have taken no interest even if they had.

His act crossed a sharp dividing line which "tomcatting", as such, does not, no matter how offensive some people find the latter. The world is full of people who object to various kinds of sex, but in many cases they're really objecting to human nature.

Some people have a taste for partners of their own gender. Many men have a taste for partners younger than themselves, and many women have a taste for men with status and power. Adultery may raise breach-of-contract issues, but so many people find strict monogamy so difficult to stick to that it's hard to uphold it as a realistic universal standard. No one knowledgeable about the sexual behavior of our fellow great apes could doubt that all these tendencies are hard-wired into humans.

I've often harped upon the sexual transgressions of conservative politicians and preachers, but the issue there is their hypocrisy in proclaiming the supremacy of standards they themselves do not follow, rather than the transgressions themselves.

Illicit consensual sex (even Gingrich's revolting cruelty) shouldn't be, and in most cases no longer is, a crime. The use of force to get sex must be. If Schwarzenegger did what it appears he did, then he deserves to be dumped by his wife and (if they feel so inclined) by the voters of California, but no more. If Strauss-Kahn did what he is accused of doing, he belongs in prison.

18 May 2011

Random observations

The annoying thing about the "Tea Party" is that that eminently civilized drink is now forever sullied by association.

Why are religious nuts always telling us to "repent"? I never even pented the first time.

Everybody looks stupid when they're chewing.

Liberals often have something worthwhile to say. Conservatives sometimes do. Cynics never do.

It's dull to read someone who just rants endlessly about the things he doesn't like. Write about what you do like, at least some of the time.

Yes, it's true that most people in the US are not racist any more; and no, that does not mean that racism has stopped being a real problem.

Whenever I focus on the Middle East on this blog, the number of page views goes up, even though the number of comments goes down. Most of the added page views come from foreign countries -- but not Middle Eastern ones. Curious.

The truest rejection of fads and fashions lies not in merely doing the opposite, but in disregarding them completely.

16 May 2011

Fight for reachable pragmatists, not ideologists

OK, we've already seen more than enough of the disasters created by the Republicans' winning control of the House and various state governments in the ultra-low-turnout election of 2010. How do we reverse their gains in 2012, or at least make sure they don't gain even more power?

My guess is that Obama and the Democrats have largely written off the votes of the radical ideological-purist left. That group is, after all, at risk to sit out the election or vote third-party (and in some cases has explicitly threatened to do so) if the Democrats don't deliver on various litmus-test issues, some of which are neither practical nor possible -- and is truculently unmoved by the fact that the Republicans whom they would thus empower are far, far worse.

Democrats would be wise to focus instead on the working-class activism energized by the union-busting antics of Scott Walker and other teabagger kinglets. For these voters, having a decent (or at least not malignant) government is a matter of economic survival, not just some ideological abstraction. They know that in the real world, you need to choose the better of the available alternatives, not compile a checklist which the better party must satisfy to be worthy of support no matter how bad the other side is.

The elderly, too, despite the cultural conservatism of many of them, may well be reachable once they realize how profoundly the Republicans threaten Medicare and Social Security. And with their numbers and established habit of high turn-out for elections, they are a formidable bloc.

Another group with strong pragmatic reasons to fight for the Democrats is the gay community. The Republicans, since their 2010 electoral gains, have launched a sustained and vicious attack on gays' recent gains, pushing to re-instate DADT and fighting all- out against gay marriage with a campaign of nakedly-bigoted lies. The rabid fundamentalists who make up the present Republican base demonize gays -- almost literally in some cases. Gays would have more to lose than any other group if Republicans won more power next year -- and the community is willing to commit real resources to the struggle.

The course for Democrats is clear: go to the mat for worker and union rights, for the social safety net the elderly depend on, and for the civil rights of the besieged but tough LGBT community. Fight for the votes of these pragmatic, reachable constituencies. And for goodness sake, stop being shy about raising tax rates on the wealthy, which are now at historic lows. Americans across the board overwhelmingly support this. And Obama isn't the only one who can exert real power and take such initiatives. Congressional Democrats can and should, too.

And who knows? If the Democrats go all out in those struggles and win, some of the ideological purists may come home by November as well.

14 May 2011

Link round-up for 14 May 2011

Kenyan? Bah. Obama is a four-headed leopard from the sea.

What will become of the world's most famous hat? Already a meme -- and a German cupcake -- it will be sold for charity.

I knew it! Bin Laden had a huge porn stash.

Serves you right for kicking that dog (I challenge anyone to not chuckle at this).

The ant zombie apocalypse is coming.

James Lileks looks at Art Frahm, an artist of the 1950s obsessed with underwear mishaps and celery.

Mitt Romney is haunted by his one terrible deed.

Okjimm uses Eric Hoffer as a guide to Republicans.

Check out the SF/fantasy art of Daniel Xiao (found via Mendip).

PZ Myers reviews the new Thor movie.

Here's a case of asinine law enforcement.

Richard Dawkins has the perfect answer to end-of-the-world crap (but PZ Myers suggests party plans).

MRA "activism" is just a pretext for whining (I made a similar point here).

Teachers have a right to personal lives.

Religion has problems with critical thinking (found via Soul Hole).

Goddess worship may actually be an obstacle to women's equality.

The birthers clutch at straws (found via Preliator pro Causa) as they lose ground.

Atheist Oasis looks at the Christian Right's hate-filled anti-gay agenda. Their totalitarian goals should concern straights too.

The latest Republican pretext for banning abortion is competition from China (see my comment on the post, though).

The ACLU wins another important victory for free expression, as Derek Fenton achieves full legal vindication.

If this ad is too controversial for some "progressive" Christians -- well, Dan Savage nails it.

Andrew Sullivan looks at some reactions to Gingrich's Presidential run.

The AFL-CIO will fight less for the Democratic party and more for its own agenda.

Though I give him points for avoiding social issues, Mitch Daniels isn't so moderate in other areas.

Obama's approval rating is still rising, now 8 points above that of Reagan at this point in his term.

The struggle for gay marriage in New York state heats up as NOM goes on the attack.

Socialized medicine has delivered the goods in Massachusetts.

Medical costs in the US are far higher than in other countries with equal or better outcomes and universal coverage.

The Coathanger State launches another attack on abortion (this didn't work out so well last time).

The haters have a problem with Toy Story's "Woody" appearing in an anti-suicide ad.

It's too bad Trump is losing Republican support; he embodies what the party stands for.

Sorry, Republicans, there's no knight in shining armor coming to rescue you (found via Oliver Willis).

Which America would you want to live in (found via Republic of Gilead).

Courageous young people in Mississippi are trying to form that state's first formal Secular Student Alliance.

High-school authorities in Wasilla tried to ban the school choir from performing a song because the song-writer was bisexual -- but students got legal help to reverse the decision. More here.

More students stand up against prejudice.

At this Christian college, alumni give a hand (found via Republic of Gilead).

17-year-old Zack Kopplin fights creationism in Louisiana schools. Here's his blog.

Many rank-and-file Republican voters aren't as anti-gay as the Christian Right (and most Republican politicians).

Bloomberg explains Republican errors about the economy.

Senate Democrats keep up the pressure on oil-company subsidies.

Like the cigarette industry decades ago, the oil industry funds fake science.

Indiana rolls back privacy rights -- to before 1215.

For once Texas is ahead of the curve, trying to rein in the abuses of the TSA.

Obama has greatly strengthened enforcement on illegal aliens, but using this as a pretext for amnesty is probably doomed by public opposition.

Facing a dreadful choice, authorities will flood Louisiana's Cajun country to drain off water threatening New Orleans.

An animated map depicts the shrinkage of lands held by American Indians, decade by decade.

I can hardly believe this racist TV skit was made as recently as 2009, but it's apparently an internet hit.

In Cornwall, May is time for the Helston furry dance, a surviving pagan ritual perhaps inspired by a meteor.

Johann Hari makes the case against monarchy.

Frightened religionists in Canada resort to vandalism.

The EU isn't facing up to reality on the Greek crisis. More here.

Germany (population 83 million) now exports almost as much as China (population 1,340 million).

The new Canadian government doesn't "get" the internet.

Sigh, here we go again -- a bunch of religious crazies declare themselves "offended" over nothing and start burning flags, and we're all supposed to take it seriously.

Rebellious women in Saudi Arabia have radical demands, like the right to work and study without male permission, or even the right to drive.

In a power struggle within the Iranian regime, several political figures have been arrested and charged with sorcery.

Religious "morality" in action: a 14-year-old Bangladeshi girl is whipped to death as punishment for being raped.

Three Pakistani legislators offer prayers for bin Laden (I've heard that two-thirds of Pakistanis support his death, though).

Orac looks at the mental tricks used by quacks and conspiracy nuts to evade reality.

If you think superstition is harmless, read this.

These "mysteries" were solved long ago (found via Preliator pro Causa).

By 63% to 29%, Americans favor alternative-energy development over more fossil-fuel production.

Marie Curie wasn't the only one.

Global warming is already damaging food production, though so far not by much.

Researchers right here in Oregon announce a major step toward an AIDS vaccine.

Aggressive use of even current anti-AIDS drugs can prevent virus transmission.

We already have a miracle drug against cancer.

12 May 2011

Video of the week -- a bouncing ball

From Japan. It's surprising what you can do with pieces of wood shaped just right.

10 May 2011

Animals that are too big

A while back I posted the above photo of a eurypterid. It is, thank goodness, fake; it has to be, since the eurypterids became extinct before the beginning of the age of dinosaurs (the biggest species were much larger than what this picture shows -- they were the biggest arthropods that have ever lived). In the course of roaming the internet, though, I've run across plenty of other pictures of animals bigger than they have any decent right to be -- and as far as I can tell, these are all real.

Yes, that's a jellyfish.

One of those Russian snails featured on Murrmurrs, perhaps?

What's going on here? Genetic engineering by mad scientists? Wormhole from the Land of the Giants? Something to do with Chernobyl?

Check out the look on that cat's face. I know just how he feels.

Call Boehner's bluff

Well, Wall Street warned him not to do it, and he did it anyway. Boehner has threatened to hold the national debt ceiling hostage to a game of political chicken, demanding huge, job-destroying spending cuts and ruling out any effort to raise our lowest-in- generations tax rates on the wealthy and corporations back to the high levels of decades past, when we had strong economic growth and low unemployment.

For once I'm with Jolly Roger on this one. It's time to call their bluff. Demand a budget based on economic reality. It's what the people want; poll after poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly want the deficit reduced by restoring normal tax levels on the wealthy and corporations, not by spending cuts. There are signs that House Democrats are ready to take a tough stand. If Boehner really tries to vote down the debt-ceiling increase (which is far from certain, no matter what he's saying now), at least some House Republicans would probably defy him and defect, especially with Wall Street warning them that even talking about voting it down is too dangerous to risk. If it gets close, specific concessions could be offered to individual waverers.

And if Boehner really does manage to stop the debt ceiling from being increased? That would likely cause a planet-wide economic crash, but the concessions he's demanding now would do terrible harm to our economy, driving unemployment and inequality to even more ruinous levels. And giving in to blackmail in this case would just encourage more blackmail down the road. The focus should be on taking back the House next year, so the government can govern without economically-illiterate bigots holding a gun to its head.

08 May 2011

Happy V-E day

Today, May 8th, is the date that commemorates the defeat of Nazi Germany's campaign to enslave Europe in 1945. It had, of course, been clear for a long time that the end was coming. Germany's cities were in ruins from relentless Allied bombing; the Red Army had been steadily pushing back and grinding down the Wehrmacht ever since Stalingrad; the Americans and British had liberated most of western Europe. By the time Hitler blew his brains out in his bunker on April 30, the fruits of his megalomania had already taken the form immortalized in Yevgeny Khaldei's iconic photo- graph above -- Berlin reduced to smoldering wreckage under the Soviet flag.

In addition to launching the most disastrous war in history and murdering millions of people by means of extermination camps, slave labor, and starvation, the Nazi regime ended a century of German pre-eminence in the life of the mind by turning Germany into a place from which scientists and intellectuals fled. By leading Germany into an all-out war against the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and the United States all at the same time (perhaps the most spectacular error in judgment in history), Hitler all but gua- ranteed the catastrophic defeat that followed. The Nazi regime's crimes blackened Germany's name forever. The day of its defeat is indeed a date to celebrate.

Unconditional surrender was signed in Reims, France, on May 7, to formally take effect at 11:01 PM on May 8. Because of the time- zone difference, in Moscow it was May 9 when the war officially ended. For this reason the Soviet Union and its successor states have always commemorated V-E Day, which they call Victory Day (День Победы), on May 9.

07 May 2011

Link round-up for 7 May 2011

Yes, these might well get you some funny looks.

It's an honor to be Boba Fett.

Here's a handy Chinese labor-saving device.

Looks like the royal marriage is off to a good start.

My favorite thing about this story was Mendip's headline.

After the birthers come the Earthers.

An old-but-good link: Arabia holds a beauty pageant.

Pundits are assessed for their track record of accuracy.

These billboards just didn't belong together (found via Mendip).

Hello again, long time no see, sorry about that silly old gang rape.

Gothic Atheist fisks some asinine advice about suffering.

TV ownership is declining, though still high.

As I long suspected, atheists are more moral than religionists.

Look here to compare Bush's responsibilities with Obama's responsibilities.

This, I guess, is moderate Christianity.

Cheer for your rapist and pay his bills, or else -- more here.

No, we're not gonna quiet down.

Sorry, Andrew, the good Sisters are right about this one -- more here.

Beware, the policies of these agencies are a threat to blogging (sent by Republic of Gilead).

You're right, they both stink.

Jobsanger presents wisdom from a Republican.

It's really too bad this guy didn't make it as a professional artist.

Science fiction expands our sexual imaginations (sent by Gothic Atheist).

Buoyed by strong public support, gay marriage advocates close in on victory in New York state. And the rest of the country is only a matter of time.

David Frum is reassured by Obama's resolve against bin Laden (so is The Heathen Republican).

If you want to see a picture of the dead terrorist, watch out.

Why Geronimo?

The nutty conspiracy theories have already started. More here.

American experts are reviewing a treasure trove of hard drives and other computer equipment seized from bin Laden's house. (Wanna bet they find gigabytes of porn?)

It may be useful to think of terrorists as pirates.

A soldier schools a teabagger on Obama's role as commander-in- chief.

The bullet in bin Laden's head also killed the liberal-as-wimp cliché.

A blogger thanks Johann Hari for telling the plain truth about European Islam.

Der Spiegel reports that Greece is considering abandoning the euro and bringing back its own currency. EU big shots deny it -- but if I had to choose, I'd trust Der Spiegel.

The Libyan crisis is creating a flood of black African refugees.

Is there a right kind of Islam?

We have a lot to gain by actively supporting the Syrian rebellion.

Fattards have lousy sex, when they have it at all.

Normally a fish brain is of little interest -- but this one is three hundred million years old.

The Greenland ice cap is melting much faster than climate-change models predicted (more here).

06 May 2011

Video of the week -- getting better

To gay teenagers who are bullied, targeted by bigots, rejected by family, even driven to suicide, Dan Savage's It Gets Better project has a message of hope: happier days are coming.

The struggle against the monstrous cruelty of "traditional values" has been long and hard, but we are winning.

(More on the ad here.)

03 May 2011


It's not yet 48 hours since bin Laden's death was announced, and already the second-guessers and nay-sayers and cavilers and snivelers are coming out of the woodwork, as I knew they would.

I've seen a startling number of blog comments suggesting that it's "inappropriate" to celebrate bin Laden's death. One even claimed that the rejoicing in the US is no better than the celebration of the September 11 attack which erupted in some parts of the Muslim world back on that day.

What rubbish. Those who celebrated September 11 were cheering for the mass murder of innocent people. Those who celebrate now (including these Americans, please note) are cheering the death of one of the most bloody-handed monsters on the planet. This is no more "inappropriate" than celebrating the eradication of the AIDS virus would be.

Let me be blunt: Too many people, whether nominally religious or not, are still afflicted with Christianity's rotting-out and corruption of the natural moral sense. A fake morality of loving enemies, turning the other cheek, and renouncing violence in response to even the grossest evil -- this can't work in the real world and it's against human nature, but even many people who know better on a conscious level still carry its poisons down in the lower mental murk that gets stirred up on occasions like these.

Well, I don't, and nor does any psychologically-healthy person. I know the capacity for hatred exists in us for a reason, and there are people towards whom hatred is the appropriate feeling, and bin Laden was one of those people. I rejoice in his death without reservation, whether or not there is any deterrent effect on future terrorists. In a case like his, revenge for its own sake is more than just and more than adequate as a reason to kill.

The people celebrating in Washington, New York, and elsewhere, know that on a gut level, even if the scolds don't.

Worth reading: Christopher Hitchens on what kind of man bin Laden was.

02 May 2011

The death of bin Laden

Congratulations to our military and our intelligence services for bringing this murderous religious fanatic to his rightful end.

Word has it he was "buried at sea". I wish they'd buried him in a pit full of pig manure.