31 July 2011

A note

This week's link round-up will be delayed a bit.

26 July 2011

Video of the week -- what science looks like

These days religion tries to appropriate the label of science, in the hope that some shadow of science's glory and achievement will rub off on its trite and befuddled superstitions. But there's just no commonality at all between the two.

25 July 2011

Republicans: a price yet to be paid

Aside from the immediate results of the debt-ceiling fight (whose final outcome we don't know yet), the Republican party is setting itself up for two self-inflicted wounds which are not reflected in current polls but will come to a head by election day next year.

The first is that the teabaggers have now driven a wedge between the party and one of its main constituencies -- big business. For weeks Wall Street has been growing increasingly alarmed at the threat of a default and has been warning House Republicans that it must not happen. Even if it doesn't, Wall Street will not soon forget that we came this close to the brink. And they know very well (even if much of the public doesn't) who is to blame. As David Frum points out, the normal fighting over the debt blew up into this crisis solely because the Republicans took the step, unprece- dented in US history, of threatening to not raise the debt ceiling.

The thing is, Wall Street itself helped create the problem that now so alarms it. Last year the Chamber of Commerce and financial companies spent $20 million to support teabagger Republican candidates, the very people who are now driving the party's intransigence. They paid for the bomb which is now threatening to blow them up. This will have consequences, in 2012 and beyond. Not that Wall Street interests will abandon the party, but they're now well aware of how dangerous the know-nothing element is, and they'll likely be more selective in whom they support. If this forces the party back toward sanity and the political center, that will be good for the country. In the meantime, it will sharpen the divide between the know-nothing teabagger element and those Republicans who, whatever their ideological differences with us, at least operate in the real world.

The second wound the party is about to inflict on itself stems from its Presidential nomination contest. Romney is the front-runner, the candidate of choice for moderate Republicans, and the only candidate who (based on current polls) has a significant chance of defeating Obama. But the fundies of the base are deeply hostile to Mormonism (example) and the issue will gain more prominence as he gets closer to winning the nomination. Expect an escalating flood of ugly anti-Mormon rhetoric from religious-right sources as the primaries progress, especially as fundies who know little about Mormonism start to read up on it and find out just how alien it is to their view of Christianity.

The reason this matters is that Mormons are one of the most solidly Republican voting blocks in the country. A wave of anti- Mormon hatred from the party base will shock and repel them, especially if it costs Romney the nomination. Again, I don't expect Mormons to turn Democratic en masse (if Romney is the nominee, they'll more likely turn out in record numbers to support one of their own), but it will be another wedge driven into the Republican coalition. Republicans have terrible difficulty winning support among racial minorities because they can never quite expunge the stench of racism wafting from their troglodyte wing. The last thing they need is to create a similar problem with a religious minority which now supports them.

Two years ago, I quoted a comment which sums up the present Republican party in a nutshell: "Basically as part the polarization strategy Rove and all these other geniuses some of whom are now whining about the outcome let the Morlocks out of the basement and they’ve taken over the house." By empowering the crazies -- the teabaggers and fundies -- the Republican party gained a burst of vigor and enthusiasm, but they have now indeed taken over the house, and the party is only beginning to pay the price.

24 July 2011

Link round-up for 24 July 2011

Funny, I thought cats hated water.

Good point.

Another good point.

Harry Potter fans lack interest in rival fantasies.

Republicans' anti-drought strategy has a history.

Critics rave, or at least rant, about the new Palin movie, while die- hard fans are attacking Conor Friedersdorf.

And now a Bachmann movie? I feel a migraine coming on.

Science and faith work very differently.

Bill O'Reilly hasn't lost his touch for being stupid and offensive.

The greatest threat to Christianity today is.....the internet?

This week's featured artist is photographer Caren Alpert (found via Smartypants) who takes a very close look at food.

And please do check out Smartypants, the most interesting new (to me) political blog I've found recently. Her analysis of Obama's strategy is always intriguing.

Why aren't more women engineers? According to MRAs, they lack the patients for it.

Here's a short but interesting history of car record players.

An abandoned city falls into decay.

If these girls could change, there's hope for anyone (found via Plutocrap).

Here's a gripping video of the Japanese tsunami, as seen from inside a car caught up in it (found via Mendip).

If the heat is getting you down, stay away from these places (sent by Ranch Chimp).

Check out what your state is best and worst at.

A Christian fanatic says America should do what Muslim fanatics want.

In a major victory for sanity, the Texas Board of Education has unanimously rejected creationism for the state's science classes.

SWAAY, a new organization dedicated to educating the public about sex work, is seeking donations for its first project.

One particularly nasty website gets a taste of its own medicine.

The new breed of teabagger governors are far out of step with their states (be sure to scroll down to the table of approval ratings for individual governors, and note which ones are right at the bottom).

Why isn't the right-wing blogosphere getting more traffic?

Frum Forum is collecting examples of Bachmann-worship in the hope of inoculating the right against such absurdities in the future.

Drip, drip, drip.....

Jesus has his priorities.

Jobs, schmobs -- the Republicans have declared war on light bulb efficiency standards.

No, we were not founded as a Christian nation.

There are ways to handle preachy grandparents.

Parsley's Pics fact-checks an anti-Obama meme.

Godless laws and gay marriage are no threat to anyone's civil liberties. More here.

This strikes me as a likely contributor to the US's high health-care costs.

If you live in New York, avoid these food carts.

In a move even Scott Walker couldn't stomach, two Wisconsin Republicans tried to help a giant corporation market poison to children.

Why couldn't Borders compete? Taxes were the least of it.

Smartypants thinks the debt-ceiling fight is the death agony of teabaggerdom -- and argues against progressives following a similar course.

Groping the groper made Yukari Miyamae a minor folk hero.

The Republican party is becoming a religious movement (found via Republic of Gilead), and abandoning normal American politics. It's in the grip of ideological purism similar to that which crippled the Democrats decades ago. Such radicalism may explain the new group Republicans for Obama (found via Hello Mr. President).

Here's the encouraging story of yet another Muslim who escaped Islam.

If you think racism isn't a problem any more, read this.

The Christian Right warns the Republican party: Don't nominate Romney. But candidates aren't flocking to the theocratic "Family Leader" pledge (found via Republic of Gilead).

Perry has a history of flirtation with groups that glorify treason. His upcoming prayer rally will feature a passel of fundamentalist crackpots (more here), and the Christian Right is his main base of support. But during his governorship, Texas has taken the lead in one area.

A map shows the most popular names in each European country.

Here's a handy graph of British newspapers (one could easily imagine a similar one for ours).

Britain's Guardian newspaper, which exposed the Murdoch phone- hacking scandal, looks at American rightists' reaction to it.

EU-driven austerity policies force ordinary Greeks into poverty, while the wealthy continue to evade taxes (sound familiar?).

Spanish anti-austerity protesters march on Madrid.

Britain's Business Secretary denounces the threat which failure to raise the US debt ceiling could pose to the world economy.

The EU's latest bail-out for Greece is being hailed as a "new epoch" for the euro, but the real problems are unresolved and growing. Simon Jenkins declares it another step toward fiscal union and eventual collapse.

PZ Myers looks at the Norwegian mass murderer's manifesto, and finds much that sounds depressingly familiar; more on that here. Lady Atheist discusses the psychology of mass killers.

This weekend is the anniversary of the liberation of Majdanek, the first Nazi concentration camp to be reached by the allies. Pictures here.

The Iranian resistance tries to revitalize its cause with a new manifesto.

"Just show us projects and development, no fancy ideas. We'll vote for the party of bread."

What an ego! Check out the size of the new Qaddhafi portrait.

China's new bullet-train network suffers its first disaster.

Well, this is better than bombing Iran, at least for now.

Ever wonder what happened to that fleeing girl in the famous Vietnam war photo? (found via Blitherypoop).

Here are some differences between the US and Japan.

The Viking invaders of medieval England included many women, implying colonization rather than raiding.

23 July 2011

The madness strikes

It now appears that the ghastly mass killing in Norway, suspected at first to be the work of fanatical Muslim extremists (not an un- reasonable hypothesis, given their track record of such violence in many countries) was, in fact, the work of a fanatical Christian extremist.

Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. This just illustrates my own long-standing point: religion is religion, and religious radicals are much more alike than different, regardless of the relatively minor detail of which religion they happen to be fanatical about. The Christian Right and Muslim hard-liners are united in their hatred of gays, sexual liberation, science, the Enlightenment, and secularism in general -- and in their occasional expression of that hatred in the form of murderous violence. They are not two different problems competing for our attention, they are two barely-distinct faces of one and the same problem.

22 July 2011

Video of the week -- courage for freedom

The madness that has ruled the world for millennia is in its last days.

21 July 2011

Standing up to evil -- Ireland

A few days ago, the Irish authorities released the "Cloyne report", an official investigation into the Catholic Church's handling of priestly child-abuse cases in one part of Ireland during the period 1996-2000.

The words of the Irish Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, speak for themselves: the findings "could not be starker or more disturbing", and also "words are not enough nor is condemnation sufficient". Church officials, true to their normal pattern, routinely failed to report abuse cases to the police, preferring to handle offenders secretly via the Church's own useless internal system of "canon law". Responsibility for this extends up to the Vatican itself.

The encouraging part is the response of the Irish government, which is already planning to make failure to report child abuse to the civil authorities a criminal offense carrying a five-year prison sentence; Shatter promises that there will be "no legal grey area" to obstruct prosecution of Church officials for such dereliction.

Further, yesterday Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny delivered an unprecedented verbal attack on the Church. Speaking formally in Parliament, he declared that "the revelations of the Cloyne Report have brought the government, Irish Catholics and the Vatican to an unprecedented juncture", and that the relationship between Ireland and the Church could never again be the same.

The Church's grip on Irish minds has already loosened greatly, and if the government is now prepared to openly confront and attack the Church over its monstrous crimes in covering up child abuse, then this is of much greater significance than the recession which dominates much of the news coverage of that country. Booms and recessions come and go, but to finally break free from that evil institution which had held Ireland in a death-grip from the early Dark Ages to the late twentieth century -- that is an immortal victory indeed.

19 July 2011

The fortunate northwest coast

Yesterday was cool and overcast here in Portland, and it even rained in the afternoon. The last few days have mostly been the same, and so far it looks like today will also.

As the map shows (click for bigger version), our area is almost the only part of the country to be so fortunate.

Oh, well, it seems the local authorities have things well in hand.

[Image source: Paul Douglas, found via TYWKIWDBI.]

17 July 2011

Link round-up for 17 July 2011

Bootleg fireworks provide entertainment.

DJ kittens create techno-scratch.

Deal with it -- Harry Potter's better.

The end of the world has a long history.

Russian hair salon owner Olga Zajak taught a burglar a good lesson.

This Japanese night-club is.....different.

Palin's film isn't exactly packing in the crowds.

A fundie preacher explains the real cause of economic problems: demon-shagging in high places (found via Politics Plus).

Murr Brewster looks at floods, flatlands, and well-funded self- delusion.

Learn the new official language, Teabonics (found via [an older posting on] Parsley's Pics).

Believe them when they tell you, the country is going broke (found via Hello Mr. President).

This story about rabbis ordering a dog stoned to death, which I linked to earlier, was false (found via Daphne Anson).

Qaddhafi? Unemployment? Default threats? No, what's outraging America is a slight price increase at Netflix.

A childhood spent with books builds the mind for life.

Here's a huge surprise: Ann Coulter doesn't understand how technological innovation works.

A Christian questions how the Rand cult meshes with Christianity.

Good riddance.

An escapee describes the viciousness of Mormon "gay conversion" therapy (found via Republic of Gilead).

Click here to sign a petition against the persecution of whistle- blower EllenBeth Wachs in Florida (found via Preliator pro Causa).

The movie industry looks set to repeat the disastrous mistakes of the music industry.

Try the ISI civic literacy exam (found via Politics Plus) -- I got 32 of 33 questions right.

Someone is harassing employees of the Florida Museum of Natural History.

The meat industry is pushing laws to ban filming of how they treat animals. Here's why (found via What Would Jack Do).

"Green" projects now account for more US jobs than the fossil-fuel industry.

Here's what Republicans have been doing since their 2010 win -- hardly surprising considering what they believe. Yes, defeating Obama is their top goal -- McConnell just said it again.

Romney rejects the theocratic "Family Leader" pledge Bachmann signed. More on the pledge here.

Need a reason to vote next year? Here are four.

Most of the current deficit originates with Bush.

The latest poll on the economy shows Democrats in the stronger position.

Oliver Willis has some sensible ideas for reforming US capitalism.

Increased profits don't raise wages -- they come at the expense of wages.

Banks lobby for more of the same deregulation that caused the recession.

Orrin Hatch needs to look at the distribution of wealth in the US.

Here's a look at how extreme inequality can damage a society.

Is socialism killing the private sector?

It's dawning on Republicans that their hostility to gay marriage is a political negative.

Oklahoma's governor -- a Republican, naturally -- calls for prayers against the heat wave.

Obama closes the trap the Republicans built for themselves. More here. Some say he knew they were bluffing.

If Obama does use the Fourteenth Amendment option, what are the Republicans going to do about it -- sue to force the country into default?

Big business raises the pressure on House Republicans to cut a deal, and other countries are getting worried. Boehner is starting to school the House teabaggers on economic and political reality.

Would the public blame Obama for a default? McConnell doesn't seem to think so.

Bernanke and the CBO explain how cutting spending too fast would harm the economy.

Is it true that Cantor owns shares in a fund that shorts Treasury debt, and thus would personally profit from a default? Sort of.

On Perry's watch, Texas's government debt has grown faster than the federal debt.

This year's Tea Party convention has been canceled due to lack of interest (found via Green Eagle).

Frank Schaeffer looks at the theocratic roots of the debt-ceiling crisis.

As the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal engulfs Britain, recall that Murdoch's main property in the US, Fox News, has been accused of similar abuses.

Far fewer people in the US say they accept evolution than in other advanced countries (predictable, since the US is more religious).

Here's a relic of a student anti-war protest movement that really took guts (found via Mendip).

For ten years Portugal has had the most liberal drug laws in Europe, and the experiment is a huge success.

An American in Britain has a revealing encounter with socialized medicine (read the comments too).

The Vatican still isn't cooperating with Ireland's investigations of molesting priests.

Government cuts in Britain may already be costing lives.

Australia gets tough on face-covering Muslim head-gear, while a better alternative wins the day in Austria.

India's Tata Group launches a product that could improve life for billions: a basic house that can be built in a week and costs $700.

Egyptians and Tunisians return to the streets to protest interim leaders' foot-dragging on reform.

The US formally recognizes the Libyan rebels as their country's legitimate government. The regime's forces are weakening, as captured soldiers confirm.

Syrians are still being murdered in the streets by their rulers. There are things we can do to help.

Saudi women who win scholarships to study abroad can't use them unless accompanied by a male "guardian" (found via Butterflies and Wheels).

Why does the US have a shorter life expectancy even than other countries with similar obesity problems? Rising inequality is a big part of the reason.

Tornadoes and hurricanes aren't the biggest climate threat -- the current "drought" and heat in much of the US may actually be the beginning of desertification.

Yesterday was the 66th anniversary of the world's first nuclear explosion.

If there's life on other planets, it will be much weirder than our movies depict it.

You've heard of 3D printing -- now watch it in action (found via Mendip). But read this too.

A second human clinical trial of stem-cell therapy for macular degeneration has begun in California (the first trial began earlier this year). Work on a treatment for paralysis inches forward.

Uncertainty about funding and regulation continues to hold back the US in the field of stem-cell research.

Several specific genes associated with human longevity have been identified.

I wish I'd been at this lecture on efforts to save five billion lives (visuals here).

14 July 2011

Video of the week -- techno-reverie

"Sur le quai" by Les Mains Ensorcelées.

13 July 2011

Republicans implode on debt-ceiling fight?

A startling development indeed. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has proposed a plan essentially giving Obama power to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally, subject to engaging in some non-binding kabuki with Congress. John Boehner, arguably the most powerful Republican in the country, and Grover Norquist are on board, signifying approval by the establishment right. It looks like a total cave-in.

Most likely the Republicans have known all along that refusing to raise the debt ceiling wasn't a real option -- and if they didn't, Wall Street certainly did, and has been telling them so in blunt terms for some time. Once it became clear that Obama would not yield to their demand for a deficit deal preserving the ruinous tax cuts that got us into this mess in the first place, they had no choice but to back down.

The plan would put the onus of raising the debt ceiling on Obama, while the Congressional kabuki part would let the Republicans posture and make speeches without any risk of actually interfering with saving the economy. It would also keep the deficit issue in the headlines for months. But it's hard to see how this will hurt Obama much. Poll after poll shows that most voters -- even Republican voters -- don't want the benefit cuts that Republican leaders have proposed. By overwhelming margins, they'd rather see the deficit reduced by raising taxes. "Let Obama do what the voters want, and hope they don't like it" doesn't seem like a very effective strategy, but at this point it may be the best the Republicans can hope for.

Meanwhile, the red-meat right is throwing a fit, and I can hardly wait to see how teabaggerdom in general will seethe with fury as the news spreads. McConnell and Boehner have, for whatever reason, finally done something that's actually good for America, and they'll never be forgiven for it. Pass the popcorn.

More reactions here.

In other good news, Janice Hahn wins the CA-36 special election by a solid margin, and Wisconsin Democrats beat the Republican "fake Dem" strategy, setting the stage for a clean recall election on August 9.

12 July 2011

Quote for the day -- Muslims more moral than Christians?

"Muslims are calling for the executions of homosexuals in Ame- rica. This just shows you they themselves are upholding the laws that are even in the Bible of the Judeo-Christian God, but they seem to be more moral than even the American Christians do, because these people are livid about enforcing their laws. They know homosexuality is an abomination."

Preacher Bradlee Dean, close ally of Michele Bachmann

11 July 2011

Mexico rising

Most of us are aware that the flow of illegal aliens from Mexico into the US has slowed dramatically, with the total number of them in the US actually decreasing. American discussion about why this has happened tends to focus on factors within our own country -- is it the tougher enforcement under Obama, or is it the recession? Both have doubtless played a role.

But this report argues persuasively that the main reason for the drop is something else -- the huge improvement in opportunities and standard of living within Mexico itself.

To begin with, secularism has reduced the influence of the Catholic Church, leading to rising use of contraception and a falling birth rate (in 1970 it was 6.8 children per woman -- it is now 2 children per woman). This improves the standard of living since there are fewer dependents per worker.

Mexico's government has invested in education, improving the country's schools. Enrollment in secondary and higher education has increased much faster than population growth. This is critical for sustaining growth over the long term, since a more educated work force is more productive.

Mexico's GDP per capita and family income have risen more than 45% since 2000.

It's deep changes in society like these, rather than the ephemeral initiatives or statements of this or that politician or party, that drive genuine progress.

None of this should be surprising. We're used to hearing that other large Third World countries such as India, China, and Brazil have launched the kinds of economic and social transformations that will ultimately enable them to catch up with the developed world, and are already narrowing the gap. Why shouldn't Mexico be doing the same?

American perceptions of Mexico tend to be dominated by the drug-cartel violence afflicting the country, and indeed we have no business neglecting that issue, since it's largely our own insane drug-prohibition laws that fuel and fund the violence. But that's not the only, nor the most important, thing happening in Mexico.

10 July 2011

Link round-up for 10 July 2011

Two words: giant bubbles.

Product placement gets even more ridiculous (found via Mendip).

ZOMGItsCriss is coming to the US.

Does God exist? (found via Blonde Nonbeliever).

PZ Myers: tough on elves.

There's more to that "Family Leader" pledge Bachmann signed than its outrageous language about slavery -- it also inserts the issue of buggery into the nation's political discourse.

168 million e-mails -- just part of what happens in 60 seconds on the internet (found via Histories of Things to Come).

This week's featured art/photo site is Get Lost and Find Yourself. Hmm, Nazi Cthulhu?

David Futrelle fisks an entertainingly semi-literate MRA.

Vote on A Feather Adrift's first Stupido Award.

Here are some spectacular pictures of the Phoenix dust storm. For calmer scenes, here's the Oregon coast about 60 miles from here.

Why shouldn't porn be allowed in prisons?

I find this story (found via Mendip) genuinely tragic; unlike some priests and politicians in the news these days, the lady did nothing wrong.

Purple Chimp makes the case against gays.

Christian Right thugs announce their plans to harass a Maryland abortion provider (found via Republic of Gilead).

Our two parties' leaders have opposite goals.

John Wayne wasn't so admirable.

Shelley Branine dared question how her church's leaders were spending money -- and got kicked out.

Ed Brayton replies to Albert Mohler's religious alarmism over the gay-rights revolution.

An anti-helmet protest has a sad but predictable result.

A bank's arrogant mistake ruined a man's life -- and a year later it still hasn't even apologized.

Bigots get creative -- thinking of new nasty names to call gays. In other name-calling news, there's a "slut" double standard.

Texas is suffering its worst drought since record-keeping began in 1895, with 213 of its 254 counties declared agricultural disaster areas.

Look at who thinks they aren't getting government benefits.

The Bible is obeyed, by a California student and a North Carolina religious leader.

Jack Jodell profiles Bernie Sanders.

The American right has become dominated by a fundamentalist mind-set -- even on non-religious issues.

If you think it's an exaggeration to speak of a "Republican war on women", read this -- and this.

Christian Right leaders settle on a preferred Presidential candidate (found via Republic of Gilead). And it would be interesting to see how much support this guy gets.

The fall of Glenn Beck should be credited in part to the power of the boycott.

There is some good news on jobs -- but there's a twist, and the government needs to do more.

Remember Jamie Leigh Jones? KBR got away with it.

The Christian Right ignores a lot of the Bible. So does Bachmann.

Don't underestimate Bachmann. She could beat Romney in New Hampshire.

An ex-fundamentalist decodes the frightening implications of the "Family Leader" pledge.

Don't forget Bachmann's history of anti-gay bigotry (found via A Feather Adrift) and her husband's activities. And what exactly does she mean by "Constitutional conservative"?

Here's what Republicans have actually been doing with the power they won in 2010.

The government must serve everyone equally, regardless of religious prejudices.

We should fix the deficit on the basis of justice, not sacrifice. But Obama has failed to demand accountability.

Republican intransigence is rooted in the demands of the base.

The left needs to re-learn some basic political facts -- and stop using stupid analogies.

Teabaggers should consider what the Declaration of Independence really said.

Pelosi declares that House Democrats will hold the line on Social Security and Medicare. It looks like she's made it stick, and Senate Democrats have their own plan. Boehner's actions make sense in light of the Republicans' real goal. Here's another reminder of what the people want.

Arizona activists have succeeded in getting a recall election for state senate president Russell Pearce, architect of the illegal-alien law. Don't expect too much from the actual election, though, since the law has strong support in Arizona (as it does throughout the country).

Compared with other advanced countries, teachers in the US work by far the longest hours, for almost the lowest pay.

Canada prepares to defend its interests in the ice-free Arctic of the near future.

See the magnificent El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires -- a former theater now converted into a bookstore. Also check out the Selexyz Dominicanen bookstore in Amsterdam, formerly a church.

The German professors' lawsuit against further bail-outs of Greece with German money gets its day in court, while one of Merkel's own political allies is trying to stop the bail-outs in the Bundestag (German federal legislature). Greece's best option is to default and quit the euro, but if the crisis spreads to Spain -- a country too large for the EU to bail out -- Germany will face a choice of giving up its economic independence or letting the euro collapse.

Americans who have trouble grasping the sheer arrogance of the EU elite should read this essay, which perfectly expresses that arrogance -- arguing against democratization on the grounds that giving the people more power would lead to the break-up of the EU, and favoring more centralized elite rule so as to keep the floundering amalgamation together.

Another proposal would force athletes from EU member states to wear the EU flag symbol at sporting events.

Religion threatens tolerance, even in Amsterdam.

As an ancient bigotry takes root in Britain's University and College Union, academics abandon it.

Is this apartheid? (found via Daphne Anson).

The Iranian theocracy spreads idiocy (found via Mendip).

Defectors from the Syrian army tell of being ordered to shoot protesters -- or be shot themselves (found via A Feather Adrift).

Al-Qâ'idah suffers from an unexpected problem -- lack of money. Panetta thinks we've got 'em almost beat.

Religion makes Pakistan a nightmarish place -- but one Western politician is popular there.

The US is reportedly cutting aid to Pakistan (found via Politics Plus), having finally seen the fatuousness of viewing it as an ally against terrorism (something India has long known).

Religious bigotry exists in India too.

The obesity epidemic has worsened dramatically in the last twenty years.

The recent increase in extreme weather is as predicted by the global-warming models.

Surgeons in Sweden perform the first transplant of a stem-cell- grown trachea.

08 July 2011

Britain's media earthquake

Britain is in the grip of a far-reaching scandal involving the Rupert Murdoch media empire. It has come out that employees of one of the country's largest newspapers, the notoriously-trashy News of the World (a Murdoch paper) have, for years, been hacking into the phone messages of thousands of people deemed newsworthy, ranging from celebrities to families of terrorism victims and of soldiers killed in action to a former Prime Minister. There have also been accusations of bribes paid to the police and deliberate destruction of evidence.

Britain's leading left-wing newspaper, The Guardian, is doggedly pursuing the story. The scandal has forced News of the World to go out of business, and may even have political implications. The paper's editor Andy Coulson, who has just been arrested, was until recently Director of Communications for the present Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron -- who has ties with other figures from the Murdoch empire as well.

It's still unclear whether the Conservative government will be damaged by association -- but Murdoch's position is starting to look shaky.

07 July 2011

Video of the week -- the scale of nature

An eruption on the Sun. This video is time-lapsed and covers three hours of real time. The Sun's diameter is more than 100 times that of the Earth; the Earth would be about the size of the small white circle in the lower right corner.

04 July 2011

Independence day post -- this land is our land

One of the more repugnant memes circulating on the right these days is the idea that America is a "Christian nation". It's true, of course, that a statistical majority of the population is Christian in some sense (often not a very meaningful sense), but to call our country a "Christian nation" on this basis is no less offensive than calling it a "white nation" because a majority of the population happens to be white. As anyone can see, that latter appellation would imply that only white Americans are real Americans, with everyone else being not-quite-Americans, second-class, here on sufferance.

Of course, the religious equivalent of this is exactly what the term "Christian nation" is meant to imply. Katie (whose promising new blog you should check out) posts a video which exemplifies the arrogance of the crabbed troglodytes who think America belongs only to them. It makes the implicit message explicit: The rest of us may live here, but our voices and interests and our very presence are not legitimate. This is not our land, it is only theirs.

Whoever takes such a stand declares himself not only my enemy, but America's enemy.

Beyond religion, the most dangerous enemies of this country are those who promote race-consciousness. Religious beliefs at least tell you something significant about a person in many cases, but race is utterly superficial. Yet race-consciousness has been a terrifyingly-effective tool for dividing Americans who have clear common interests, and in some quarters, it still works.

Make no mistake -- there are fear-mongers out there who seek to spread agitation and panic among the ignorant, in the hopes of stampeding them into support for a far-right agenda of exclusion and division. As examples, we've recently seen well-publicized claims that "whites" will be a minority in the US by 2050, and that already a majority of American babies are non-white. Both of these claims are false. Yes, the demographic face of America is changing and will continue to do so -- but the most important part of this is the break-down of whole concept of discrete racial and ethnic categories. The America of the future will not be a land of white people outnumbered and beleaguered -- it will be a land in which racial categories no longer describe anything real because the boundaries between them have blurred into meaninglessness. It's in this sense that the Presidency of Barack Obama -- a man of mixed-race parentage -- so well symbolizes 21st-century America. And the greatest benefit of this fading of racial categories will be the purging of the poison of race-consciousness from American thinking.

It's a poison which is losing effectiveness anyway in most of the country, due to the sheer disrepute into which racism has fallen; it's seldom expressed in explicit terms any more, as it commonly was, decades ago. But look at that hate-filled video again. Barney Frank, same-gender couples, "they want our children". Gays are the "other" that the haters still openly attack and demonize.

Indeed, they must do so -- it's in the Bible. The Christian Right's rising frenzy over gay marriage shows that they've chosen this as their "hill to die on". But die on it they will. Over the last decade, acceptance of gay equality, even in marriage, has spread through America with startling speed, and the trend will continue. The haters have already lost this battle, they just don't know it yet.

America does not belong only to those who have a certain set of supernatural beliefs, or a certain skin tone, or a certain range of sexual proclivities. It is ours just as much as theirs. It belongs to all Americans -- all three-hundred-plus million of us. From Maine to Midway and from Barrow to Brownsville -- this land is our land.

03 July 2011

Link round-up for 3 July 2011

Traffic at JFK airport pauses for wandering turtles.

Behold the awesome kudzu Jesus.

Video-game sound effects go Offenbach.

A fake Chinese propaganda photo inspires numerous spoofs (found via Mendip) -- someone should do the three officials all wearing the Princess Beatrice hat.

What if Jesus was a Republican?

End of civilization, blah blah blah.

Poznan, Poland, celebrates the summer solstice with floating lamps (found via Mendip).

It's "E. E. Cummings", not "e. e. cummings".

This brought back a few memories -- Wendy O. Williams.

18th-century astronomers believed the whole solar system was inhabited -- but it's their reasons for believing that that were really odd.

A cobra breeder (!) falls victim to his own serpents (found via Mendip) -- I wonder how the neighbors felt about his collection.

Before religion fades away entirely, it turns vacuous.

Here's one thing that has gotten worse since the 1860s.

Yet another study confirms that abstinence-only sex education doesn't work and is counterproductive.

New York's Gay Pride parade had plenty to celebrate this year.

Mac McClelland found a startling way to ease her post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Teach" and "Cheat" discuss plagiarism in the age of the internet.

Jack Jodell profiles Van Jones.

Religion is collapsing under its own bigotry and spite.

The New York marriage victory has really got the haters foaming at the mouth. Top Catholic clergy promise to ban politicians who voted for it from their rituals; NOM commits $2 million to oust seven of them from office; a debate erupts at NRO; Pat Robertson says God is in a snit (Atheist Camel response here); and this guy thinks God wants him to shoot people. Republic of Gilead and Truth Wins Out post round-ups. But Congressional Republicans are oddly quiet.

Other bloggers post on the New York victory: Ranch Chimp, Tim's Scared Stiff, Prash, Town Scryer, Exercise in Futility, and The Crossed Pond.

Give David Frum credit -- when he was wrong, he admits it. Ed Brayton has more.

After his effective gay-marriage push, Cuomo has higher approval from his state's voters than any other governor; Nate Silver looks at the possibility of a Presidential run.

Pamela Hart responds to clueless disparagement of young people's reasons for joining the military.

There's now a Twitter account for shaming bigots.

Atheists, like gays, need to push back against the hatred of the ignorant.

Isaiah Kalebu was just obeying God (sent by Ahab).

The case of Frances Herbert and Takako Ueda exemplifies the human cost of codifying bigotry into law.

September 11 helped galvanize atheist activism, but there's still work to do to build a real political force.

Clarence Thomas has a lot of ethics issues (hey, rightists attacked Vaughn Walker's right to rule on Prop. 8 because he's gay, so.....).

NBC restores the Pledge of Allegiance to its original form, and Tony Perkins freaks out.

Productivity has grown over the last 30 years, but those who do the producing aren't reaping the benefits.

There is a way to get Republican legislators to vote against free- trade deals.

Here's how to prevent your child from growing up atheist.

Sarah Jones interviews Vyckie Garrison, an escapee from the Quiverfull cult.

The ground zero mosque project is getting nowhere -- no money.

There's not much substance to media hysterics about mass sex slavery (found via Feminisnt).

Matt Taibbi profiles Bachmann, our would-be jihadist President. Hysterical Raisins takes a look at her and her husband. She's made far more damning "misstatements" than the John Wayne flub, but she could still win the Republican nomination.

Republicans have been wrong before about tax hikes harming the economy (found via Hello Mr. President).

In another shift on the right, National Review endorses a federal hands-off policy on marijuana.

Pawlenty's fund-raising isn't going so well.

Democrats can win big in 2012 by holding fast on Social Security and Medicare.

Fake tweets? How petty can the Republicans get?

Ohio activists needed 231,000 signatures to force a referendum against Kasich's union-busting legislation. They got 1,298,301.

Nutters flunk out among those who know them best. Per current polls, if Palin is the Republican Presidential nominee, Obama will carry Alaska; if it's Perry, Obama could carry Texas.

Here are two simple political facts the Democrats should have proclaimed from the start.

81 big companies lobby against rules forcing them to reveal how much their CEOs make relative to their workers. It's almost as if the info would be embarrassing or something.

A Fourteenth Amendment solution to the debt ceiling hostage crisis? The White House may be preparing for it. Meanwhile, Ron Paul (yes, Ron Paul) has an idea worth a look.

The EU forces austerity on others, not on itself.

The British general strike drew 750,000 participants.

Greece, trapped by the euro, can't avoid eventual default, and the big players know it.

The break-up of the euro currency zone could mean economic and political revival for Europe.

China's growth statistics are impressivbe, but we can't know how accurate they are.

Germany isn't directly involved in the Libyan campaign, but it's helping in other ways.

This week's protest in Hama, Syria, was the biggest so far in the uprising in that country.

Libyan rebels have secured much of western Libya and now stand just 50 miles from Tripoli.

Not just particle physics -- Cern sheds light on the origin of life.

Social conformity can affect memory.

What would you choose as the next step in human development?

01 July 2011

Video of the week -- post-Christian Ireland

American Catholic zealot Michael Voris interviews random people on the street in Dublin, Ireland, with alarming (to him) results. There are only a couple of self-described atheists, but almost no sign of any coherent or meaningful religious belief; those who still attend rituals are just going through the motions because of habit or to make older relatives happy. In another generation, religion will be extinct outside of small minorities. And this in a country which has been a bastion of Catholicism for most of its history! I think we can declare Ireland liberated territory now.