29 June 2011

European resistance

Things are heating up on the Old Continent.

In Greece, the legislature today flung down the gauntlet to the people by enacting yet another devastating austerity package which the European Union authorities had demanded of it as the condition of yet another "bail-out" -- actually loans to enable Greece to pay back earlier loans, sucking it ever deeper into the debt quagmire. Even before the vote, a 48-hour general strike had been declared, with mass-scale participation, and violence had broken out. After the vote, renewed fighting erupted in Syntagma Square and lasted for hours. "The detritus of battle lay everywhere with burning barricades, smashed pavements, shattered masonry, looted shops and destroyed kiosks." The Greeks, having seen their own "leaders" side with the EU against them, must now realize that they have no one to depend on but themselves -- and they seem in no mood to quietly accept the destruction of what remains of their economy for the sake of fixing a deficit created by a system which for decades allowed the wealthy to evade taxes.

In Britain, public-sector unions have called a general strike to protest attacks on their pensions. It's unclear how many workers will participate or how much public support they have. But with widespread cuts threatening an economy already suffering high unemployment, and with a massive anti-austerity protest having swept London just three months ago, the ground would seem fertile for a broader eruption of resistance. Britain is not part of the euro currency zone, and the austerity policies are the work of its own government, not imposed by the EU -- but for that very reason, there's more basis for hope that massive local opposition can bring change.

People in other nations will be watching. Spain, Portugal, and Ireland are all in a somewhat similar position to Greece -- their economies already in recession, with matters getting steadily worse due to austerity measures imposed by the EU as the price of new loans to pay the old -- though none has yet reached the same depths of anger and despair. Spain and Portugal have already seen large-scale protests against their leaders' spinelessness in the face of market forces and the EU oligarchy. In March, demonstrators rallied in Brussels, the EU capital city. Even in prosperous and dynamic Germany, taxpayers have long been furious at the cost of the endless bail-outs of the weaker states. Everyone knows that if Greece and other countries in similar straits were to abandon the euro currency, they could very quickly improve their economic competitiveness by devaluation, and set their own spending policies prioritizing jobs above deficit reduction. But that might also lead to the break-up of the whole common currency zone -- something the oligarchy is determined to prevent.

It could be an interesting summer in Europe.

We need more Bernies

Bernie Sanders, the only Independent in the Senate, has starkly expressed the reality of the deficit situation we face. In a letter to President Obama last week, he condemned Republican demands that the deficit be addressed exclusively through cuts that would devastate the middle class and the poor and very likely tip the economy back into recession. Speaking this week, he took up the same theme. If Democrats are too timid to talk like Democrats, maybe we need an Independent to do the job.

The facts are: that the "deficit crisis" is mostly an artifact of tax cuts, the tail end of an ongoing policy which has driven taxes on the wealthy and corporations to levels far lower than at any time in the last sixty years; that federal revenue as a percentage of GNP is at the lowest level since 1950 and our corporate taxes are the lowest in the developed world; that the country enjoyed faster economic growth, far lower unemployment, and less inequality in earlier decades when taxes on the wealthy and corporations were higher; that Republican insistence that tax increases would harm the economy have proven wrong in the past; that simply letting the Bush tax cuts expire (so taxes returned to the still-low levels of the pre-Bush years) would fix the deficit; and that Republican threats to trigger a default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling are not only irresponsible but unprecedented in American history.

Austerity-mania in Europe has already driven several countries into a death-spiral of shrinking demand and rising unemployment, leading to mass protest, violence, and rising emigration by young people who see no future in their own nations. Americans over- whelmingly want our deficit fixed by raising taxes on the wealthy, not by spending cuts; and in any case they want the government to focus on job creation, not the deficit.

Listen to Sanders and to those Democrats in Congress who are standing up to the Republicans. Tell the timorous to stiffen their resolve. Restoring taxes to historically-normal levels is the right thing to do, both for the economy and politically. If leaders won't lead, we need to get behind them and push.

26 June 2011

Link round-up for 26 June 2011

A road trip through the South encounters ominous signs.

Alexandria VA has curious safety priorities.

Louis CK looks at why people object to gays.

Women in New Zealand are going wild for an innovative new beverage. Offer to buy one for the next lady you meet in a bar!

This may be the dumbest fence-building mistake ever (found via Mendip).

Here's a take-down of some standard Christian clichés.

Murr Brewster watches the Portland Pride Parade and considers the future of equality.

Ranch Chimp pays tribute to Lady Gaga.

Last weekend's Seattle SlutWalk looks like a fun event.

An MRA in church probably isn't there for the religion stuff.

Family values evolve over time.

Explore the dark sexual undertones of.....Captain Hook? (found via Mendip).

Check out the 100 longest Wikipedia articles -- some are just lists, but does The Young and the Restless really merit a longer article than Hitler?

Here's one pastor who understands why Christianity has an image problem.

As migration depopulates the Great Plains, it may be time to bring back the buffalo.

The Christian Right finally finds some religious-themed public art that it objects to.

What's the problem with Texas? Demons, apparently. But there are good people there too.

The "Give us your cash, bitch" ad works its magic on Republicans' image in California.

Gingrich didn't realize his Tiffany credit line would need to be disclosed.

Huntsman's campaign kick-off wasn't exactly a masterpiece of organizational competence.

Bachmann hates socialism, except in her own case.

Parsley's Pics looks at the four brave Republicans who made the New York victory possible. Ed Brayton and Good As You have round-ups of right-wing reactions; see also (inevitably) Maggie Gallagher.

Yes, an uninsured person can get medical care in the US, and James Verone has proven it.

The Old Testament is invoked to justify a modern stoning -- in Philadelphia.

Don't be chicken -- boycott Chick-Fil-A.

Robert Lee's enthusiasm for the Bible didn't stop him from abusing a child to death -- but then, why would it?

Van Jones eloquently explains the differences between us and them (read about his potential lawsuit).

Several Congressional Democrats (and Ron Paul) try to repeal Prohibition.

Congress can balance the budget by doing nothing at all.

Obama's cautious line on Afghanistan carries little domestic political risk.

The CIA's standard plan for destabilizing a target government is being followed in an unlikely place -- and some Democrats are starting to point it out.

Voters are still moving away from the Republicans, especially the governors (but note that Brewer surged in popularity after signing the Arizona anti-illegal-alien law, and may well use the same issue again).

House Democrats vow to fight for Social Security.

Romney and Bachmann emerge as the candidates of, respectively, the Sane and Nutty factions of the right, but Rick Perry also has his supporters (found via Republic of Gilead), there are dark horses to consider, and Palin could still upset the whole applecart (snicker).

A partnership between Delta Airlines and Saudi Arabia leads to accusations that the airline condones Saudi anti-Jewish policies; Delta denies it. The airline has other issues, though (found via Mendip).

Modern pagans celebrate the summer solstice at Stonehenge.

The British use the same language as we do, but sometimes with a style all their own.

Gypsy artists challenge stereotypes in Europe.

Young Norwegians launch an eye-catching campaign against deforestation.

The Elvis cult lives on -- in Denmark.

Der Spiegel recently published research confirming that the English people are mainly of Germanic origin; the story set off a tongue-in-cheek tabloid war of stereotypes between the two countries.

The struggle for secular education continues in Ireland.

Britain's Parliament is reforming the country's most disgraceful law.

Silvana Koch-Mehrin committed such gross academic fraud that the University of Heidelberg withdrew her PhD -- but that didn't stop the EU Parliament from giving her a plum appointment (she later resigned under pressure from scientists).

As Spain's economy stagnates under EU-imposed austerity poli- cies, the educated young seek a future in the booming economies of Latin America. In Greece, facing similar EU plans that would hit the poor hard while letting the rich continue to avoid taxes (sound familiar?), the protest movement promises the mother of all fights.

Even the pro-EU Der Spiegel now describes the euro currency as "the greatest threat to Europe's future". Greece may need to leave the euro currency zone to escape its problems; some in Britain want to cut Greece loose.

The real problem is the shift of power from democratic national governments to unaccountable EU institutions and market forces, which are spreading ruin and anger across Europe. Meanwhile the EU is spending over $300 million on a lavish new headquarters for itself, which will be finished in 2014 -- but will there still be an EU then?

This widely-seen map is a lie (found via Daphne Anson).

As rebels gain ground in western Libya and close in on Tripoli, diplomats flock to their Benghazi headquarters.

The Iranian theocracy is still trying to build nukes and abusing political prisoners.

While Republicans cut US investment in infrastructure, China literally races ahead.

Britain is building a new flying machine combining the features of airship and airplane.

Environmentalism is fighting to save not nature, but ourselves.

Type 2 diabetes, long thought incurable, can now be cured by a tough diet.

If you want children to learn, teach them to ask smart questions instead of stupid ones.

We should stop performing cruel experiments on close relatives.

25 June 2011

Victory in New York!

Gay marriage comes to the nation's third-biggest state (thanks to Ranch Chimp for the link), with four brave Republicans in the state senate abandoning the anachronistic party line to do what they know, deep down, is the right thing. And with the state's voters supporting the move by almost two-to-one, there's little risk of a California-style reversal later.

It's a solid kick in the nuts to the right wing, and a major victory for freedom, equality, and secularism -- and for America.

New York celebrates from the Stonewall Inn, where the revolution began 42 years ago, to the Empire State Building.

24 June 2011

Video of the week -- the Catholic Church

Sent by Mendip -- an overview of the philosophy and practices of the world's largest religious organization.

23 June 2011

A win for secularism and free speech

Imagine if, here in the United States, criticism of the Christian Right were a criminal offense. Imagine if anyone who objected to the Christian Right agenda or pointed out its true nature were immediately smeared as an extremist in the media, and if even one of the most popular and powerful politicians in America were to be arrested and charged with "hate speech", facing up to a year in prison, for merely voicing his opposition to the fundies.

Well, that's the situation that prevails in some European countries, where there is no First Amendment and the local equivalent of our Christian Right has weirdly achieved a sort of sacred-cow status with a sclerotic political and media establishment.

Islam is a small minority in western Europe, mostly imported by immigrants since World War II, but it has become an outspoken and sometimes dangerous force. In Europe, Islam is the main enemy of gay rights, the main source of attacks on secularism and women's equality, the main promulgator of hatred against Jews, and the main -- indeed, pretty much only -- advocate of teaching creationism in schools. Like the Christian Reconstructionists in the US, who want to impose Leviticus as the law of the land, some extremist Muslims have openly called for Europe to be Islamized and for Sharî'ah to be imposed there, in some of the world's most secular societies. More recently, assimilation has taken hold in most of Europe, with many Muslims becoming absorbed into the mainstream culture; but, as in the US, the religious-extremist sub-culture becomes more extreme as it shrinks, because it's the most committed and radical who remain.

As in the US, the rise of militant religion has provoked vigorous opposition. Prominent atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Pat Condell have spoken out forcefully against the Islamists, in the same terms as they have against fundamentalist Christianity. In the Netherlands, the conflict has turned violent. Pim Fortuyn, a gay, Marxist professor, founded an anti-Islam party; he was murdered. Leftist film-maker Theo van Gogh, sometimes called the Michael Moore of Europe, made a film critical of Islam; he was murdered. Immigrant Muslim-turned- atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, after speaking out against Islam, was so hounded by threats that she had to flee to the US. (Bizarrely, such critics are routinely branded "far right" in the European media, though it's perfectly clear that Islam is the real "far right" in this situation. It's true that some genuine extreme-right figures and splinter parties have attached themselves to the anti-Islam cause, but if anything, they've harmed that cause by association.)

In Denmark as well, the publication of the famous Muhammad cartoons (mild compared with the mockery of Christianity which is routine on the US left), led to rioting and threats from Muslims, and later an attempt to murder a cartoonist. Europe's enfeebled Christian church leadership mostly sided with the Islamists, while many secular newspapers re-published the cartoons in solidarity.

Dutch politician Geert Wilders has emerged as the most prominent (surviving) critic of Islam in the Netherlands. He has denounced Islam as violent (a claim supported by numerous terrorist attacks and other killings, as well as by the sacred texts' endorsement of war and violence against unbelievers), called for a ban on Muslim immigration (far from unreasonable, given the results of earlier immigration), and compared the Koran to Mein Kampf (I've read both, and he has a point). For these statements, which in the US would be considered radical but protected free expression, he was put on trial for hate speech, with a maximum possible sentence of a year in prison. His trial has become widely seen as a test case of whether the Western values of secularism and free expression can still stand in Europe against religious totalitarianism.

Today the Western values won. Wilders was acquitted (reports from MSNBC, Radio Netherlands, and Der Speigel), with the court ruling that his words, while offensive to some, were a legitimate part of public debate.

In truth, Europe's taboo on criticizing Islam has been weakening for some time, and the secular resistance has been growing more assertive. Let's hope that the Wilders verdict emboldens others to speak out.

And, American readers, be very glad that we do have the First Amendment, so that you don't need to worry about being arrested and put on trial for criticizing a religion. We must fight to keep it that way.

19 June 2011

I love a para-a-a-ade!

I got a prime spot to watch Portland's Gay Pride Parade today -- at the intersection of NW Naito and Davis, where the parade route turned the corner. I was able to see each contingent approaching down Davis and then rounding the corner right in front of me. The parade was huge, as was the watching crowd that lined the streets. Energy and enthusiasm were high, even though my vantage point was well over half-way through the parade route and marchers must have been walking for an hour or so.

A group of soldiers appeared early on, with an anti-DADT banner. At least one seemed to be wearing a hood to conceal identity -- a sad necessity perhaps.

Another participant was our Congressman, Earl Blumenauer:

(Click pictures for bigger versions.)

My impression is that the majority of the watching crowd (who were highly supportive, waving and clapping with enthusiasm) weren't gay; there were plenty of male-female couples and swarms of children. No one showed any sign of discomfort at their kids watching the event or interacting with the marchers. The "gay = anti-family" meme clearly had no resonance.

Even dogs got into the spirit of the thing:

There were a lot of churches represented, with banners bearing "welcome all" messages -- so much for the recent timorousness of "Sojourners". Many major companies, local or with local branches, had contingents too. Wells Fargo had a stagecoach drawn by real horses (I'm not sure whether the horses were gay). The group that got the most applause, though, was Planned Parenthood.

The view down Davis Street was a sea of people:

And what's a parade without costumes?

I wasn't aware that SlutWalks had spread to Portland -- perhaps this was their local debut:

Not sure what the "Prepare for combat" thing was about. Maybe in case Fred Phelps showed up?

There was also the martially-impressive "Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers", of whom I unfortunately don't have a photo, though I got them on video.

In a sign of how far things have come since Stonewall, there was plenty of police participation, including the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department:

The police also provided abundant security -- I saw them shoo away a couple of cars that had somehow gotten onto the blocked- off streets, but no actual hostility or negativity from anyone.

A familiar-looking person standing just six feet from me turned out to be fellow Portland blogger Murr Brewster. I can hardly wait for her parade post, if she writes one.

Link round-up for 19 June 2011

Here's another MRA type whose example in chatting with women should not be followed.

What Weiner did was reprehensible.

Our government violates our First Amendment rights by denying us the mystic power of the shroom.

This really exists: the Ohio Duct Tape Festival (found via Mendip).

Lloyd Marcus thinks we're the Antichrist.

Carolina Parrothead engages in combat grocery shopping.

Hysterical Raisins looks at the Republican debate.

The Atheist Camel looks at what's really ruining the country.

I think I've been on this plane (found via Mendip).

Religionists decide that a dog is possessed by the spirit of a dead lawyer and order it stoned to death.

If you have all three books, you're probably too smart to believe them.

Maryland authorities act to crush the menace of an unauthorized lemonade stand (found via Mendip).

The Strangest Adventures is a blog of political commentary in comic-book-cover form. Most targets are Republicans, though Weiner also makes an appearance.

A fundie named Dick phallicly exposes the phallic Satanism and phallicism behind phallic imagery at Denver's phallic airport. But he's not obsessed or anything.

Scott Adams is being a misogynistic ding-dong again; PZ Myers and David Futrelle perform the needed pwnage.

More heavy-handed punishment of harmless non-conformity -- what are people so afraid of?

A new workers-rights group launches.

Shaun Mullen looks at Scandinavian mysteries.

Check out the subtly surreal art of Peter Milton (found via Histories of Things to Come).

Ben Alley must be one tough teenager to get on with life and succeed after this horrific experience (found via Ed Brayton).

Kudos to Safeway: bigotry brings a firm response.

Creationists are intellectual cowards who use trickery to claim they've scored points.

Is your blog censored in China? Find out here.

The media are out of step with the public's real concerns.

This film about Palin sounds a lot more interesting than that silly Undefeated puff piece we've all been hearing about (found via Preliator pro Causa). Her approval rating is still dropping.

More ugly bigotry in Kentucky and Minneapolis -- but hey, it's in the Bible.

Georgia Logothetis has a comprehensive overview of Republican efforts to suppress voter turn-out.

A former President speaks out against the failed war on drugs.

How many innocent people are wrongfully convicted of crimes?

Wisconsin's union-busting law moves forward, committing the Republicans to a fight they'll likely lose.

In the New York gay-marriage fight, all the bad guys are religious.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is suing to stop a Mississippi school's practice of shackling students (sent by Mendip).

Tim Profitt, the Paultard who stomped on Lauren Valle's head during the 2010 election campaign, gets off lightly.

Craig Huey claims he knows nothing of that ludicrous Turn Right USA ad. Janice Hahn isn't so sure.

If you think the announced Republican Presidential candidates are bad, get a load of Rick Perry.

Gallup confirms: Obama could lose. This is a real fight and we must treat it as such. His aces: over 60% of Americans still blame Bush for the recession, and his high approval in Texas revives hopes of turning the Lone Star State blue.

Forget Palin -- Bachmann is the true candidate of the Christian Right. And she speaks in their code (found via Republic of Gilead).

The revenue lost by one day of the Bush tax cuts for millionaires would pay for one year of the CSFP nutrition-assistance program.

Victory in Louisiana: a draconian anti-abortion bill fails.

Frank Schaeffer looks at Reconstructionism and the threat of a Christian Sharî'ah in America.

Santorum is even more anti-science than most Republicans (found via Republic of Gilead). He would imprison doctors who perform abortions but, hypocritically, he wants his own to have the choice he would deny to others.

Even Palin seems to know, privately, that anthropogenic global warming is real.

Paula Kirby explains why the "personal relationship with God" concept is rubbish -- everyone just knows God is the way he wants him to be -- and why it's the fundamentals of religion that make it a nightmare.

Florida police abandon the Republican party en masse.

If you doubt that the Christian Right is dangerously hate-filled, read this (original here), and this.

German extremists are embarrassed by a too-revealing crossword puzzle.

European resistance to austerity madness escalates to violent revolt in Greece and a general strike in Britain.

As it did in the US decades ago, sport promotes integration in Germany.

A haters' conference provokes protest in Northern Ireland (found via Republic of Gilead).

Germany's solar-power industry now sustains more jobs than the US steel industry.

The UN finally takes a timid stand against anti-gay bigotry (more here); Islamic states object.

The fight against religious idiocy is being waged in India too.

Libyan women raped by Qaddhafi's troops are being murdered by their families in honor killings.

Regime forces use the magnificent Roman ruins at Leptis Magna as cover from NATO airstrikes.

Syria's brutal crack-down on rebels continues, but the army's loyalty to the regime is uncertain.

Moroccans, dissatisfied with reforms, plan protests.

The Iranian theocracy still fears its subjects enough to imprison and murder them.

Moderate Muslims in Indonesia start to act against the violent thuggery of the extremists.

Muslim religious scholars affirm the right to own slaves.

Make no mistake -- there's a firm scientific consensus about anthropogenic global warming.

Stem-cell therapy restores sight to a woman blind for twenty years (found via Mendip).

Canadian scientists develop a new strategy to defeat antibiotic- resistant bacteria.

16 June 2011

Video of the week -- was Jesus gay?

For previous "videos of the week" by Pat Condell, see here and here. His website is here.

Civil-rights end-game in New York

Yesterday the New York state Assembly passed a gay-marriage bill, paving the way for it to go to the state Senate, where the real drama begins. The state Senate has a Republican majority, but two Republicans and three conservative Democrats who previously opposed gay marriage now say they will do the right thing and vote for it, and the bill is just one vote short of what it needs for passage. New York state voters support gay marriage 58%-to-36%. The state Senate vote could come today or tomorrow.

Tuesday saw another victory, when a federal court in California rejected the bigots' claim that Judge Vaughn Walker should have recused himself from the Prop. 8 case because he is himself gay and might choose to marry if it were legal. The argument was a bizarre one; by such "logic", a black judge would have to recuse himself from a black civil-rights case, a woman judge could not rule on a women's-rights case, etc.

14 June 2011

The climate trap

One of the most disturbing features of the US right's descent into derangement is its rejection of science. Evolution, global warming, Keynesian economics, stem-cell research -- one imagines that any minute now the Republicans will jump onto the anti-vaccination bandwagon, or start reaching out to flat-Earthers.

All these anti-science stances would, if brought into the corridors of power, harm the United States in various ways. But with global- warming denialism specifically, the Republican party has also set a dangerous political trap for itself.

Military planners, who have to operate in the real world, are already considering the implications of the coming ice-free Arctic. Foreign countries are preparing to exploit the new trade routes and resources which an open sea between Canada and Siberia will make available (an Arctic sea-route from Europe to East Asia will be much shorter than the current routes through the Panama or Suez canals.)

Thing is, it's starting to look like the Arctic may become ice-free sooner than the older models had predicted. And shifts in trade routes, and squabbles over Arctic sea-bed resources, will begin long before the ice is completely gone.

Indeed, several effects of global warming seem to be running ahead of the predictions -- and some of them are starting to affect the territory of the US itself, which had previously suffered little concrete damage. We've just had an unusually severe wave of tornadoes, and destructive hurricanes have been getting more frequent in recent years.

As these trends intensify over the coming years, denialism will become unsustainable. We all know what the denialists will say -- it's just "natural fluctuation", or it's not really happening, or yes, it's happening but the net effects will be positive -- but they will steadily lose credibility with the public. As the weather disasters get worse and worse, and new Arctic shipping routes and conflicts over sea-bed resources become staples of the news, denialism will cease to be a tenable stance.

And the radical right has firmly identified itself with that stance. The Nutty faction of Republicans continues to this day to deny even the most basic facts. This is not true of the Sane faction, but these days it's the Nutties who dominate the party's image.

In the years to come, even as Republicans try to backpedal on this, people will remember who used to pretend that nothing was going wrong and tried to stymie all efforts to prepare for it. Like their Congressional votes for the Ryan plan, Republicans' denialist record will become a political millstone around their necks. And in the case of global warming, it's going to be a lot harder to change the subject.

12 June 2011

Link round-up for 12 June 2011

TV is getting too complicated.

Nonnie9999 out-does herself, capturing Palinized history in one image (click to enlarge).

Some strange birds have been observed in Oklahoma, planning to migrate to Washington.

Fantasists unleashed -- right-wing blogs accuse Weiner's wife of an extra-marital affair with Hillary Clinton!

ShreddaKJ finds the world's stupidest creationist video. And this argument is all wet. But for sheer dumbth, neither can match this person.

Datamancer offers computers with style (found via Mendip).

Stop in for a drink at the Alien Bar in Gruyere, Switzerland -- if you dare.

Here's an MRA response to the SlutWalks. Bonus: MRA dating chat lines (and these guys wonder why they're unpopular with women).

Orwellian: Palin's fans try to edit Paul Revere's Wikipedia page to legitimize her history blunders.

Here's a shocking case of police stupidity -- I hope the homeowner sues.

Under Obama, the White House website has a page on his work with the LGBT community.

Two construction workers achieve a heroic rescue of a drowning woman.

Sometimes there's justice: homeowner forecloses on deadbeat bank.

And sometimes there isn't: rich killer gets off lightly.

As the struggle for gay marriage grinds forward, this date, June 12, commemorates an earlier victory.

Here's a real case of onerous regulations on business -- imposed by Republicans.

If you attack the job, you attack the worker.

Here's a round-up of Michele Bachmann quotes -- nothing to quite match Palin's greatest hits, but some are pretty out-there.

The battle over abortion isn't really about abortion -- and you can forget about rape exceptions (both found via Republic of Gilead).

Trump is threatening to run for President as a third candidate. Yeah, yeah, wake me up when Mr. Big Talk actually does it.

If Rick Perry runs, he'll have to deal with the ghost of Cameron Todd Willingham.

Gay culture is pretty mainstream these days.

Ex-cop Neil Franklin speaks out on the horrific damage done to American society by drug prohibition.

Home Depot brushes off pressure from the bigots -- so they're going after Old Navy.

Wall Street experts confirm that even a brief default could be disastrous and increase the deficit; top Republican economists agree.

That report back in January of NYC union workers deliberately slowing down snow removal? A lie.

Mesothelioma blog has a good overview of US vs. foreign health- care costs and outcomes.

Congressional leaders take a firm stand on Medicare, and the DCCC holds Republicans accountable for their votes. The more people know about the Ryan plan, the less they like it, but Republican hostility to Medicare has a long history. Next on their agenda: another attack on veterans' benefits.

Republican rigidity is rooted in the political immaturity of the South (must-read article).

The Republican economic strategy has precedents.

Don't be fooled -- a degree still makes a big difference.

A Boston Catholic church scheduled a mass with the theme "all are welcome" -- then was forced to cancel it by the Archdiocese.

Most Americans blame the ballooning deficit on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars (in fact, Bush's tax cuts are the main culprit).

Bachmann calls for more corporate tax cuts -- and higher taxes on the poor.

A lesbian teenager describes her horrific experiences at a religious brainwashing camp in Utah.

Scott Walker doesn't like being reminded of his most vulnerable constituents.

Lady Atheist presents the top ten reasons why religion is bullshit.

Politics Plus finds a land for Republicans to love.

Progressive Eruptions has a round-up of good news.

If all the atheists left the US.....

Jon Stewart is beating Fox in ratings, while NPR far out-draws plummeting Limbaugh and Hannity.

Republicans use dirty tricks to fight the Wisconsin recalls -- and to stage their own. More on all the recalls here.

Ellenbeth Wachs, suing her city for unconstitutional religious rituals at official meetings, has been harassed with strategically- timed arrests (found via Lady Atheist).

The American people no longer care that Republicans caused the economic crash -- they want to know who will bring jobs back.

Is Obama ready to focus on jobs? The signs aren't good; we may be repeating the "mistake of 1937".

German Catholic homeopaths' nutty scheme to "cure" gays draws outrage and ridicule.

Britain continues to slide back into recession under conservative austerity policies, as similar policies imposed by the EU threaten disaster across Europe.

Austerity undermines higher education in Britain (the country is currently a world leader in the field, with 11 of the world's top 100 universities).

The source of Germany's E. Coli outbreak has apparently been found.

Islamists push creationism in France and the British Isles (video here, utter stupidity here), bolstering my point that European Islam is Europe's equivalent of our Christian Right. Maybe the British Prime Minister, campaigning against un-British Islamist ideas, should take note. See also Maryam Namazie's speech on the modern Islamic Inquisition (must-read).

Here's more on those "virginity tests" used by Egyptian soldiers to degrade women protesters.

The rebellion in Bahrain is heating up again.

According to the ICC, the many rapes committed by government forces in Libya were ordered by Qaddhafi himself. The rebels are winning battles in western Libya and pushing toward Tripoli. But Qaddhafi still has friends in Washington.

Terrorist big-shot Ilyas Kashmiri gets an early start on his 72 virgins, thanks to an American drone strike. And Somali police get the credit for this one.

Amina Abdallah, the "Gay Girl in Damascus" recently added to the links list here, has been abducted, apparently by security forces. Ongoing updates here.

As the Syrian regime cracks down in the north, shooting civilians without mercy, thousands flee across the border to Turkey.

Education and economic growth change the lives of Chinese women.

Global warming may be the biggest threat in history, and the Third World is doing more to fight it than we are.

Video of an orangutan saving a bird shows the startlingly human- like character of our fellow great apes.

AI researcher Ben Goertzel interviews Aubrey de Grey.

11 June 2011

Eternal justice, after all?

I've written before about the prospect of uploading human minds into computers, allowing us to achieve not only true immortality and unlimited increases in intelligence, but also a vastly-richer sensory and sensual existence. There's the further possibility (far more speculative) that subsequent technological advances will allow us to bring back people who have died. The desire to achieve this, and hence the willingness to invest in the necessary research, will certainly be very strong. Loved ones we thought lost forever could be with us once more. The great geniuses of the past could live and create again. And why should any person miss out on the infinite possibilities of the post-Singularity world just because he or she had the poor luck to be born a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand years before it was achieved?

All of that is obvious enough. But what about the problem of evil?

The question is bound to arise eventually. The human drive for justice will make it seem especially worthwhile to restore those whose lives were cut short by murder, whether by small-time predators or by the great mass killers of history. But what about those killers? For justice means more than merely making the innocent whole. It means punishing the guilty.

The time will come when the monsters of the past, from the least to the greatest, will be dragged forth from the oblivion into which they thought they had escaped, to stand before the bar of history -- and face the testimony of their victims.

Link round-up reminder

From now on the link round-ups are on Sunday, not Saturday.

10 June 2011

Quote for the day -- if you have to go

"So I rise from the not-quite-dead-yet, but having taken one step down that path, and I can tell you that as the darkness descends, there will be no gods or angels rising to judge you. You'll be alone, no matter how crowded the room, and the only judge you'll face is yourself. There will be no authority looking over your shoulder and telling you whether your life was worthy or wasted, and if there were, its opinion would be irrelevant — all that will matter is that you can look back and find happiness and accomplishment. We live our lives for our life's sake, rather than for illusions about rewards and satisfaction after we're dead."

PZ Myers

A milestone in computing

A human brain contains about 100 trillion synaptic connections, each of which is capable of firing and returning to its ground state in 1/200 of a second. Thus the upper limit of the human brain's data-processing capacity is roughly 20,000 trillion (equivalent of) "floating-point operations" per second, or 20 "petaflops". It obviously needs a lot of capacity since it is running some very sophisticated "programs", such as human consciousness.

Computers have been rapidly growing in power but still lag behind this; for example, the world's most powerful computer now, the Tianhe-yihao in China, has a maximum capacity of 2.5 petaflops, still considerably less than a human brain.

Cray in Seattle has recently announced the imminent arrival of a new system, the Cray XK6, far more powerful than the Chinese computer -- it will be capable of up to 50 petaflops, comfortably more than the human brain (even allowing for the uncertainty of the figures for the latter).

That doesn't mean it will develop a conscious mind like a human, since computers and brains are organized differently. But it does mean that, for the first time since the Earth was formed, the most powerful data-processing system in existence will be something other than an organic brain.

06 June 2011

Weiner confesses

So long as the pictures were sent to a consenting adult, he didn't do anything wrong (stupid is another question), but still -- it's an embarrassment to all of us who were pretty much convinced he was framed.

Video of the week -- Ruslana

Time for something light and non-political for a change.

05 June 2011

Why the Catholic Church accepts evolution

Many people don't realize this, but on evolution, there's a split between the Catholic Church and the Protestant fundamentalists. The Catholic Church accepts the theory of evolution, with some reservations.

I think this is an after-effect of the Catholic Church's long-ago battle with Galileo -- who was actually threatened with torture until he backed down and admitted that, yes, the Church was right and the Sun really does revolve around the Earth.

That episode became an embarrassment which the Church, an essentially political institution with a long memory, has never lived down. So when evolution came along, the authorities in the Vatican gave it some thought and decided, "Nah, we're not gonna touch this one. Let the Protestants be the ones to make idiots of themselves fighting against science this time."

Which they have.

04 June 2011

Link round-up note

Starting next weekend, the link round-ups will appear on Sunday morning rather than Saturday.

Link round-up for 4 June 2011

Joplin tornado victims get jumbo-sized help.

Yog-Blogsoth features Lovecraftian artwork (found via Mendip).

Speaking of Cthulhoid abominations, the Queen encounters yet another Philip Treacy hat.

Product shrinkage can be subtle.

Religion promotes illogical thinking.

It's nuts vs. nuts as the KKK protests the Westboro Baptist Church (sent by Ranch Chimp).

David Futrelle fisks an MRA apocalypse manifesto, with bonus pictures of imaginary women.

Palin's bus tour is political theater designed to distract us from her critics (it's also distracting everyone from serious Republicans).

Got rid of your navbar to protect your blog? Here's how to restore the search function.

Thief steals computer; owner remotely turns computer's camera on; thief gets pictures of himself all over the net (and gets caught).

A Michigan superintendent has a novel plan to get more funding for his school.

Why are there so many atheist librarians?

Today is the anniversary of the battle of Midway, the turning point of World War II in the Pacific (link found via Mendip).

The power of faith claims another victim -- two-year-old Jezaih King.

Green Eagle analyzes the Republican "jobs plan" and finds pretty much what you'd expect -- more money and privilege for those who already have too much of both. The real focus of Republican energy is opposing gays and abortion (part of the Christian Right war on women's freedom) -- certainly not small government.

Gay issues are where the left and right are furthest apart. Here's an example of Republican hostility (sent by Mendip).

Business-friendly? Hah. Wisconsin Republicans are now attacking independent breweries.

To liberal Christians: beliefs aren't the problem, organizations are.

A President's re-election chances correlate with the trend in (not level of) unemployment.

It's not just that tax rates are low -- federal tax revenues as a per- centage of GDP are the lowest in over 60 years. 50% of the swing from Clinton's surpluses to the present deficit came from Bush-era tax cuts.

Marriage may need to change in order to survive.

This book looks like a must-read -- the very title is invigorating.

How has Obama been so successful at fighting illegal immigration? By targeting employers.

Joseph Cannon has been studying the Weiner case in depth -- see his posts here, here, here, and most recently here; he addresses the "why doesn't Weiner sue" question here. Follow the story on his blog. Gennette Cordova's statement is here, with a misleading headline, as Green Eagle points out (more MSM irresponsibility here). Update: Here's a good summary of the whole issue.

The spread of Islam to the US brings honor killings in its wake.

Religions aren't all equally dangerous, but they're all equally wrong.

If Ohioans could re-do the 2010 election now, teabagger governor John Kasich would lose almost 2-to-1.

Romney accepts the science on anthropogenic global warming, but House Republicans are still fighting efforts to prepare for it.

Republican candidates attack each other for not being crazy enough.

A Bachmann Presidential run won't get much home-state support.

Doctors in the US have many reasons for moving to the left. And they rejoice at the recent end of a prominent source of medical misinformation (found via Preliator pro Causa).

Here's why abortion needs to be taught in medical school.

Oregon's Ron Wyden takes a lonely stand for internet freedom.

The future is what we make it -- not a pre-determined path.

Republicans are in a bind -- their plan to get rid of Medicare is so unpopular that they're now reduced to trying to blame it on the Democrats.

A majority of every demographic group -- even Republicans -- opposes the Ryan plan (one part of the Republican base is even more hostile than liberals), and it's likely to become even more unpopular, dooming Republican politicians (but Democrats could still blow it by compromising). Contrary to their claims, it would harm those already over 55. Ryan himself is begging Democrats not to use the issue, but our side is having none of that.

A conservative radio station shows how to interview politicians.

What is it with big-shot bankers and luxury-hotel maids? New York police make another sexual-assault arrest.

The co-owner of Fox News has his reasons for wanting the US dependent on Saudi oil.

Chris Christie will reimburse the state for his personal use of an official helicopter (but he's a piker compared with this bunch).

Violent crime plummets in the US and Europe, but not every place is equally lucky.

The conservative mania for cuts threatens the future of higher education in Britain.

German Catholic anti-gay quackery gains nothing in translation.

A report from 2015 describes how the European debt crisis was resolved -- by Greece sticking up for itself.

The truth about Ireland's religious history is coming out.

In the Netherlands, a tiny fundamentalist party obstructs efforts to get rid of an antiquated blasphemy law (found via Republic of Gilead).

British intelligence hacks an al-Qâ'idah website, replacing bomb- making instructions with cupcake recipes.

Some Europeans recognize the threat which out-of-control market forces pose to democracy (though the undemocratic EU is almost as big a threat).

The French élite's reflexive support for Dominique Strauss-Kahn triggers a ground-breaking feminist reaction (but the New York Times could use some reaction too).

Under public pressure, the German government plans to phase out nuclear power by 2022.

Geert Wilders's closing statement at his trial was a resounding defense of free speech.

In Australia, a massive counter-protest neutralizes Christian objections to a gay-themed ad campaign.

Continuing abuse of women shows that the Egyptian revolution still has a lot further to go.

Muslim terrorists bomb a vaccine warehouse in Nigeria.

As India rises, young Indians who studied in the US return to seek opportunity.

Global warming is already changing how we live -- and that's a political wake-up call.

It's very unlikely that cell phones cause cancer, and everyday life is full of much greater threats.

Robert the Skeptic analyzes his horoscope and finds nothing but the usual generalities and cold-reading gimmicks.

Boo hoo, my car doesn't understand me.

We used to think only bacteria lived miles underground, but now an animal has been discovered there (found via Mendip).

California scientists turn one type of human cell into another without an intermediate stem-cell stage -- a step toward easier growing of personalized organs.