31 October 2011

Video of the week -- this is Halloween

Happy Samhain! For a very cool earlier video of the week, see here.

29 October 2011

Link round-up for 30 October 2011

[Posting a day early this time. I will not have internet access for much of this weekend.]

Yep, that pretty much sums up religion.

Tremble before the awesome balloonosaurus rex.

Pundits blame the poor, but.....

IO9 takes a look at the making of Alien and the genius of HR Giger (found via Mendip).

I've never liked the GOP's using that noble animal, the elephant, as its symbol -- but I'll accept this version.

This can't be a real campaign ad.....can it?

Aliens may not be too impressed with us these days. Nor with this guy (found via Mendip).

We should be thankful to religious extremists.

Here are a few handy translations of teabagger signs.

I've always thought churches need more transparency.

Which do you find more shocking?

PCTC has a proposal for a progressive manifesto.

Anti-gay-marriage nutters get caught misusing yet another photo.

Does income truly reflect what each one contributes?

Parsley's Pics assembles a very informative guide to the factors that distinguish the most conservative states within the US.

A brutal assault in Ohio is captured on video, but the punishment doesn't fit the crime.

Crabby old dinosaurs Bennett and Robertson whine that feminism is undermining masculinity.

It's better to face harsh reality than accept the false comforts of religion.

The 2009 stimulus kept more than six million Americans out of poverty.

Those fake anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy centers" reveal their true fundamentalist agenda.

Oakland's city government has its priorities. Don't trust the media, or the police; listen to the Marines.

Scott Lively has heard a message from God, but the result isn't an improvement (found via Republic of Gilead).

There are actually two separate Republican nomination races (this is the same divide I've called Sane vs. Nutty, here and here).

Some of the wealthy support the Occupiers.

Read about the recent religious harassment of a Marine veteran -- then sign the petition (found via Preliator pro Causa).

Here's wealth re-distribution that Republicans support.

The police violence in Oakland draws attention from as far afield as Britain -- and here's how our country's rising inequality looks from Germany.

Here's a Republican Presidential candidate the Christian Right could never support.

In trying to make things better, we must take care not to make them far worse.

Yes, Cain really is nuts.

Romney will have a tough time winning over the Republican base.

The US health-insurance system imposes much higher overhead costs on doctors than Canada's socialist system.

The US Air Force is purging its training materials of religious bigotry (background here), with the help of military atheists.

Balloon Juice has a good overview of our economic situation and why the Republicans don't want to do anything about it.

Fundies push their latest totalitarian initiative in Mississippi by lying about science.

Most Americans think the Republican party represents only the interests of the wealthy.....gee, I wonder why.....

America grows polarized on gay marriage -- the fundies are going the opposite way from everybody else.

Perry may be on the verge of a scorched-earth campaign against Romney.

A "Quiverfull" guide for wives reveals the bizarre ideal of woman- hood promoted by Biblical fundamentalism (found via Republic of Gilead).

Here's some more sleazy TSA behavior (though the agency has taken action in this case).

Given the nature of today's right wing, we should have expected this: prominent wingnut Cindy Jacobs says the Occupiers are in league with demons.

Bloomberg debunks yet another right-wing talking point on economics.

Occupiers in London issue a manifesto.

Some German experts think the very measures being taken to save the euro currency may destroy it. Keep an eye on Italy too.

In one way, Europe's leaders have done a better job than ours (found via Politics Plus).

Anti-German hatred continues to fester in Greece.

Sometimes the most important news happens outside the US.

There are signs of a little justice for the Catholic Church.

There are still countries where insulting some stupid religion can get you a prison sentence. Be grateful for the Enlightenment.

This took guts: Yemeni women burn their veils in protest.

Following Qaddhafi's path: the Syrian regime's thugs shot and killed forty peaceful protesters on Friday.

The best evidence yet that al-Nahda, the top-vote-getting party in Tunisia, is not extremist: they promise tolerance of gays.

The cracking of the Copiale cipher highlights a new approach to deciphering unknown writing systems.

A newly excavated bunker in France gives insights into life during World War I.

Nazi ideology had nothing to do with Darwin and a lot to do with religion (see this too).

Measles is on the rise in the US, thanks to stupidity.

It's now feasible to build a unified electrical grid for the entire Mediterranean basin.

Global warming has been shrinking glaciers world-wide; now Chinese scientists join in raising the alarm.

A speech defect found in one British family provided a clue to the genetic roots of language ability.

Soon it may be possible for those who eat meat to do so without the cruelty to animals and inefficient use of resources which meat production now requires.

27 October 2011

Video of the week -- the land of my ancestors

Music by Murray Gold.

25 October 2011

Two votes

On Sunday the people of Tunisia, the country that launched the Arab Spring at the beginning of this year, voted in their first free election. Turn-out reached 90% of registered voters, a figure that would be truly stunning if achieved in the United States; people were lining up before dawn to vote. The value of democracy is, perhaps, better appreciated among those who have recently had to fight hard for it.

The vote was for an assembly which will write a new constitution and plan elections for a president and legislature next year. The big winner was the moderate Islamist party al-Nahda, which won between 30% and 40% of assembly seats. This is disappointing but not necessarily cause for alarm. Al-Nahda does seem genuinely moderate; a party leader said its goals are "stability, conditions for a dignified life and the building of democratic institutions" and "the right conditions for investment in Tunisia", and the party promises it will "respect Tunisia's strong secular tradition and the most advanced women's rights in the Arab world". Many who voted for al-Nahda said that they hoped it would take care of the poor -- clearly the secular parties need to do a better job of convincing the masses of their commitment to socialism.

Also, the secular vote was divided. There are two main secular parties (one of these, Ettakatol, is likely to join a coalition with al-Nahda), and the total number of parties participating was over eighty. Hopefully there will be some consolidation before the election next year. Finally, as one secular-left activist pointed out, even if 40% voted for the Islamists, that means 60% did not.

The election sets a valuable precedent for the Arab world, a region where democracy has not traditionally thrived, to say the least. Elections will be held over the coming months in Egypt and Libya, and likely elsewhere if dictators continue to topple. After Tunisia, those peoples know they don't need to settle for anything short of a genuine free vote.

The following day, a very different vote was held in the country where modern democratic institutions originally evolved.

The British Parliament held an acrimonious debate and vote on whether or not to hold a referendum on Britain's continued membership in the European Union. The Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, did not want this vote; like most of Europe's political elite both left and right, he adheres to a rigid pro-EU consensus. However, Britain has recently introduced a process whereby any proposal from the public which wins over 100,000 signatures on an online petition will be considered by Parliament, and the British people forced the EU referendum onto their leaders' agenda via that method.

There was never any chance that the initiative for a referendum would actually pass; the leadership of all three large British parties solidly opposed it (even the leftist Labour party leadership is part of the pro-EU consensus, despite the fact that the EU's imposition of austerity policies is now wrecking socialism in country after country). And even if it had passed, it was clear that Cameron would nevertheless simply refuse to hold the referendum. But even so, Cameron invoked a rarely-used rule whereby he, as party leader, is entitled to simply order his party's legislators to vote as he chooses -- in this case, against the referendum.

In an unprecedented rebellion, 81 Conservative legislators defied him and voted yes. A further 14 abstained or refused to vote. Two who held minor cabinet positions resigned those positions to show their displeasure.

The referendum initiative still lost. But the sledgehammer heavy- handedness of Cameron's determination to allow it no chance at all has highlighted the gulf between the political elite and the popular will over the EU (a poll showed that if a referendum were indeed held, 49% would vote to leave the EU, 40% would vote to stay -- and most Britons agree that there should be a referendum).

The issue will not go away; the size of the rebellion suggests that the elite consensus is weakening in the face of popular discontent.

In the meantime, it looks like British commentator Pat Condell is right: "Soon the Arabs will be lecturing us on democracy."

23 October 2011

Link round-up for 23 October 2011

Harold Camping and his dumbass followers were wrong again.

Our side can spell

At last -- a right-wing comic-book super-hero.

Here's a humane use of paint.

Oh, come on, these speakers can't be that good (NSFW).

That "beware the educated" poster is now for sale.

The latest right-wing critique of the Occupiers is pathetic beyond belief.

But he loves you.

The US Catholic Church is reviving an old tradition -- exorcism.

Cops catch a stupid idiot.

This pretty well sums up the media response to the Occupiers.

Rot in peace.

Want to run from police cars? A cop has some advice for you.

Well, what would Jesus think of this? And this (found via Blonde Nonbeliever).

Here's a way to imagine Romney's wealth.

15-year-old Cameron Smith ran away from his family, but there's a bit more to the story than that.

The California Medical Association supports legalizing marijuana. A majority of Americans agree, but Republicans prefer the heavy hand of big government. More right-wing anti-freedom initiatives here.

Every major ad company in Los Angeles rejected a "controversial" billboard, but look at what they've accepted.

Buggery is not as pervasive among gays as some non-gays think.

Michigan cops use legally-questionable tactics against drugs.

Hit back against predatory banks and unleash your inner chimp.

Perry's campaign exploits anti-Mormon prejudice against Romney (found via What Would Jack Do). Teabagger distaste for Romney is still dividing the right wing.

Right-wingers have become economic vandals; they have to hope we don't notice what they're doing.

The Republican party's ideology, and its ability to win elections, are a product of its relationship with the Christian Right.

The verdict of history is in: laissez-faire economics is a failure.

America's leading socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders, finds his views getting more of a hearing these days.

The parasite class blames its victims.

67% of New York City voters support OWS. Martin Luther King's daughter says he would support them if he were alive today.

Obama showed that if the masses are on your side, you don't need the moneybags.

Annual incomes in the US are still falling -- except for those of millionaires. The top 1% have been pulling away from the rest for over 20 years.

Romney supports predatory banks over ordinary Americans.

Rush Limbaugh supports brutal religious terrorists over the American government.

Teabagger Melissa Brookstone calls on business to stop hiring in order to undermine Obama. After a backlash, teabaggerdom weasels around the issue.

Religion poisons government's ability to address problems.

Two Massachusetts Republicans stage a vile scam to discourage voters.

Esther Lenett, age 93, has a message for Congress.

To fend off the threats posed by the right, we need to focus on passing practical legislation.

The Values Voter Summit is a festering cesspit of un-American bigotry.

The MSM show a clear bias.

For Cody Feldman, atheist authors were there when he needed them.

Santorum opposes gay marriage, contraception, "the sexual liberty idea", and probably anything else that's fun.

Here's a little Biblical morality to brighten your day.

If you take the trouble to analyze Cain's 9-9-9 plan, it's clear that Cain himself didn't bother to do so. But his incoherent babbling about abortion may hurt him even more.

Catholic bishops are behind HR 358, the "let women die" bill (found via What Would Jack Do).

Under Obama, deportations of illegal aliens have risen to the highest levels ever.

Richard Dawkins explains why he won't debate William Lane Craig.

The insanity devours its own: birther nutjobs target Rubio.

The Arizona Republican party loses a life-long activist.

Official prayer doesn't fix deficits in Pennsylvania any better than it does drought in Texas.

Right-wingers across America rant and rave against the Occupier movement; more here. But one leader expresses some sympathy.

Republicans' ideology on taxes is almost as crazy as their religious fanaticism.

The Christian Right doesn't want "Dominion", it just wants to take over the government. Don't be fooled.

Beware of fake scientists peddling bigoted rubbish.

Even more disturbing than the right's distortion of science is its rejection of the scientific world-view.

The US has the worst child-abuse rate in the developed world.

Obama does foreign policy differently than Bush did.

Did Susan Sarandon have a point about the Pope? Let's look at the record.

American troops in Afghanistan burn O'Reilly's book.

The collapse of Britain's nascent economic recovery holds a warning for the US.

A church's claim to cure AIDS by prayer has caused at least three deaths in London (found via Republic of Gilead).

EU elites plot further centralization as discontent smoulders in Britain, where voters want a referendum on continued member- ship but their Prime Minister is determined not to give them one.

Euro coins will never be as cool as British ones.

One EU agency may have cause to mourn Qaddhafi.

The Murdoch news empire pays a settlement of £2,000,000 to the family that suffered most from its sleazy phone-hacking.

Cash-strapped Greece eyes the wealth of the parasitic Greek Orthodox Church.

More monstrous evil from the Catholic Church: Up to 300,000 newborn babies in Spain were stolen from their mothers and sold, with the mothers being told the babies were dead. "A Spanish magazine published photographs of a dead baby kept in a freezer at the San Ramon clinic, supposedly to show mothers that their child had died." More here (sent by Mendip).

Many girls in India are given names that translate as "unwanted". One district holds a renaming ceremony to give hundreds of girls a better start in life.

The Iranian theocracy carries out secret executions.

Nine months after the beginning of the Arab Spring, Tunisia holds its first free election.

Learning nothing from Libya, Syria's regime escalates repression.

The fight against religious anti-gay bigotry is world-wide.

Britain is a leading developer of anti-global-warming technology, but doesn't seem to want to use it.

German scientists' work on artificial blood vessels is a step toward growing organs in the lab.

Research affirms: The best tools we have now to fight aging are exercise and avoiding stress.

21 October 2011

A thought on Obama's announcement

The Republican Presidential candidates are fond of promising to undo everything Obama has done -- repeal Obamacare, re-instate DADT, etc. I wonder which of them will be the first to promise, if elected, to re-invade Iraq?

Video of the week #2 -- take back America

I have no clue who this dude is, but he's (mostly) speaking for me here.

20 October 2011

Qaddhafi dead!

19 October 2011

Land of discontent

An interesting pattern has emerged from the October 15 protests. Here are the ten cities which had the largest rally turn-outs, with estimated attendance [source]:

Madrid: 500,000
Rome: 100,000 - 300,000
Barcelona: 60,000 - 400,000
Valencia: 100,000
Lisbon: 20,000 - 100,000
Santiago: 10,000 - 100,000
Zaragoza: 40,000
New York: 35,000 - 50,000
Porto: 10,000 - 20,000
Berlin: 5,000 - 10,000+

Only one of these cities is in the United States. Eight are in western Europe. Four, including three of the top five, are in Spain alone. If the high-end estimates for the four Spanish cities are correct, total turn-out was over one million in a nation of 46 million.

What's going on over there? For decades Europeans have been most notable for passivity in the face of their rulers' arrogant and destructive policies. Poll after poll showed that high immigration, the loss of national sovereignty to the European Union, and the imposition of the euro currency were deeply unpopular -- yet there were none of the mass protests and campaigns to influence politicians that characterize American political controversies. Early last year, when I sought to call fellow American liberals on the carpet for defeatism and passivity in the face of a political setback, it came quite naturally to say "You sound like a bunch of Europeans." I certainly couldn't say that now. What's changed?

Well, for one thing, there's obviously the recession. But the US is suffering from that too. The difference lies in the policies adopted in response, and in who is deciding them.

The 2009 stimulus program in the US was too small for the scope of the problem, but at least it was a stimulus program and it saved millions of jobs which would otherwise have been lost. In most European countries, austerity policies -- the exact opposite -- have been followed, with utterly predictable results: deepening stagnation, rising unemployment, and rising emigration as people despair of jobs in their own countries ever coming back. Spain's unemployment rate recently hit 21%, the highest rate in the developed world.

Why? The biggest European countries do have conservative (by European standards) governments, but that's only part of the problem. EU rules for membership in the euro currency, which most EU countries use, require that deficits and national debt be kept below certain figures. Since recession reduces tax revenues and increases claims on public benefits, it naturally increases the deficit, and so spending cuts must be imposed. Also, the common currency precludes the depreciation of a national currency which would normally make exports cheaper and thereby provide a stimulus without public money being spent. Trapped by these constraints, the hardest-hit countries must turn to the EU for bail-out loans -- which come with conditions attached in the form of further austerity policies.

It has been aptly said that obsessing over deficit reduction at a time of high unemployment is rather like obsessing over water conservation when your house has caught fire. The resulting problems have come to a head in Greece, where the public is rioting and striking against the policies the EU has forced the government to impose, but Spain and Portugal are in a similar position, and Italy may be heading there. In a normal situation, the public would simply vote for a party with different policies, but in those countries, that no longer works; electing a different set of leaders just means choosing a different set of people to implement the same orders from the EU. Economic failure has made Europeans aware of how democracy is being destroyed (eloquently explained here) -- is it any wonder that people are taking to the streets?

A successful economic stimulus also reduces the deficit; as jobs come back, more tax revenue comes in and claims on the benefits system decrease. Austerity under the same conditions leads to a kind of death spiral; spending cuts lead to more unemployment and falling demand, which slows down the economy even further, which reduces revenue and increases claims on benefits, which raises the deficit and spurs politicians to make even more cuts, etc. That's what's happening in Europe now.

(There are two major exceptions to the pattern. Britain has more independence of action because it doesn't use the euro currency. Its current conservative government is also imposing austerity policies, but not at the EU's behest; a wiser future government would be free to change course. Germany is by far the biggest and most prosperous European economy, but that means it has ended up committing the lion's share of the money for the bail-outs of other countries, and its people are as unhappy about this as the southern Europeans are about their situation.)

If European countries abandoned the euro currency and the EU, they would be free to let their currencies depreciate and apply stimulus policies to whatever extent their elected leaders decided was best. Until that happens, it's hard to see how their economies can recover. European peoples are just beginning to grasp this.

The next few years over there could get rather interesting.

17 October 2011

Video of the week #1 -- for democracy in Europe

More straight talk from Pat Condell, this time on the biggest threat to democracy and prosperity in Europe -- the "European Union".

Republican candidates: my assessment

Rick Perry: The candidate for people who think George W. Bush was too intellectual.

Ron Paul: The candidate for those who think the economy we have now is too egalitarian.

Rick Santorum: The candidate for people who think Fred Phelps is too tolerant.

Herman Cain: The candidate for those who think the rich pay too much tax, the poor pay too little, and the deficit isn't big enough.

Newt Gingrich: The candidate for people who think Ted Haggard wasn't hypocritical enough about morality.

Michele Bachmann: The candidate for those who think Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich are too sane.

Mitt Romney: The candidate for conservatives who realize the Republican party has gone nuts but still want it to run the country.

Jon Huntsman: The candidate for.....uh.....are any of them even voting for this guy?

16 October 2011

Link round-up for 16 October 2011

Here's a really embarrassing fundie effort against Halloween.

Tim Minchin does for Texas what Perry can't.

What if Dr. Seuss wrote "The Call of Cthulhu"? (found via Mendip).

I love this poster of what tyrants fear.

America's bigots face a crisis.

Artists of the week: RedShoulder anime-style, Keira Rathbone on typewriter.


To reach the princess in her castle, it's a difficult journey.

Keep your eye on the goddam road.

Here's a fascinating re-telling of The Thing -- from the monster's viewpoint.

Is there a "crime" when the "victim" brags about what happened?

And, yes, why is this illegal?

A New York detective testifies that it's been "common practice" among police to frame innocent people on drug charges.

Parsley's Pics has a Republican bestiary.

Anna Arrowsmith looks at some myths about porn.

The town of Centralia has been on fire for half a century.

Adultery could save your marriage. Or you might prefer to just stay single.

Learn about Romney's positions (found via Smartypants).

You have to wonder how someone this prudish can stand living in the real world.

"The Clergy Project" helps clergy escape the darkness of religion.

In addition to Fred Shuttlesworth, another civil-rights pioneer died last week.

A tumultuous life in religion leads at last to freedom.

When Gingrich complains about "judicial supremacy", he's talking about this (found via Leftwing Nutjob).

It never ends -- a Kansas bishop faces charges for hiding evidence of child abuse.

The debt-ceiling fight has vanished from most people's radar, but Smartypants thinks it will influence next year's election.

AlterNet reviews Americans' shift away from religion.

A right-wing journalist admits inciting violence at an Occupier rally. Egyptians in New York look at the protests, while blogger Dakinikat has suggestions, one job-exporting CEO misses the point, and Business Insider has data backing up the legitimacy of the grievances (found via Progressive Eruptions). Or you could just look at this sign. Finally, for the "53%" twits, there's this.

Erick Erickson makes a feeble effort to exonerate Wall Street.

The ruling class indulges in blaming its victims.

This one-percenter is cool.

A Tea Party co-founder offers some support -- and a warning -- to the Occupiers.

Jack Jodell reports from the Occupy Minnesota event last week.

My guess was right -- Occupy Portland yesterday drew 3,000 to 4,000 people (my report here).

Politics Plus looks at the police violence in New York.

Blogger Ahab finds some sane people at the Values Voter Summit.

The clash over Mormonism shows Republicans deeply fixated on religion; foreign media are starting to notice, but there's no excuse for being surprised. Jeffress may have done Romney a favor by exposing prejudice, but he has a history of such statements, and Romney's teabagger problem isn't going away.

This article's a bit old, but it's a good review of the Republicans' problem with crazies.

What will the teabaggers do if Romney's the nominee?

IEET has an interview on Mormons and politics.

Herman Cain advocated for stench and disease. His tax plan is nonsense and he probably got it from a video game.

Republicans won't let us have a jobs bill, but they'll do this. Pelosi is appalled.

The "moral majority" is shrinking -- of its own accord.

Republicans are pushing a law that would imprison you for using marijuana in foreign countries where it's legal.

The BBC has photos from October 15 rallies world-wide; notice how the MSM over-emphasizes the tiny violent minority in Rome. More world-wide photos here; Politics Plus has a report.

Canada's economic experience holds an important lesson for us.

Britain's Conservative government proposes tough measures to limit immigration.

Germany opens its borders to Polish workers, but not many seem interested -- conditions in Poland have improved.

Norway proudly maintains an open society despite July's horrific terrorist attack.

Forced marriage could soon become illegal in Britain (isn't that illegal already?).

Greek protests descend into anti-German hatred (click the grey arrow to the right of each picture to see the next one).

Atheism is spreading like wildfire in the world's biggest Catholic country.

Iranians use soccer games as a forum for protest.

After deadly religious violence in Cairo, the Egyptian transitional government holds emergency talks with Christian leaders.

The Syrian revolt seems set to escalate after authorities open fire on a funeral.

Superstition brings horror to Uganda as child sacrifice flourishes.

Scientists rebel as Texas officials censor a report.

Tyrannosaurus rex was even bigger than we thought.

[Image at top: October 15 rally in Madrid, Spain -- click to enlarge]

15 October 2011

Occupy Portland, 15 October 2011

I went to today's Occupy Portland rally downtown. The turn-out was impressive; I'm no good at estimating crowd sizes, but it must have been several thousand.

It was a joint rally combined with another group's protest against the war in Afghanistan. This increased the impression of lack of focus from which the Occupier movement still suffers; while the two causes may well have a considerable overlap in supporters, they are distinct.

Nevertheless, judging by the signs displayed, most people were there for the Occupier rally; the dominant themes were inequality, jobs, and the criminality of the rapacious financial sector.

[Click on any photo for a bigger version.]

I don't know what was up with all the tents -- there were far more than you see here. Perhaps a permanent encampment is planned? Update: I got this wrong -- there has already been a permanent encampment there for over a week.

There was a good cross-section of citizenry. Few people gave me the impression of being students, hippies, unwashed, or any of the other clichés favored by MSM coverage of the movement.

The majority of the signs were home-made, and expressed a wide range of sentiments.

The march paused for a rally which featured music and speeches, both at earsplitting volume which made it difficult to talk with people. The speeches ranged from on-target to frankly incoherent ranting on the Middle East. Proponents of various causes weaved through the crowd giving out leaflets. Jarringly, the Israel-bashers were out in force.

One leaflet I was handed by a serious-looking man my own age was for a "Jobs with Justice" march next weekend; I may well go.

In an absolutely grotesque display of missing the point, there were even some Ron Paul supporters present; I can only assume they were trying to glom onto the out-of-Afghanistan element, not us. They even joined the march when it started up again. The danger of co-optation by the right has been raised already and it needs to be firmly squelched; the Occupier movement, if it is to stand for anything at all, must be explicitly anti-libertarian.

But I think most people present did get the point. There were even at least two signs supporting the AJA, and most participants were clearly there for the economic / anti-financial-sector cause.

And I've never heard so many supportive honks from passing cars. I didn't see a single one go by without enthusiastically blaring its salute.

It's still early, but my current feeling about all this is much more optimistic than my initial assessment of it. From here in Portland, at least, it looks like the start of something very big.

The Occupiers' day

The Occupier movement has designated today as a mass day of action, with events planned for "951 cities -- 82 countries". Yes, the movement is spreading beyond the US, and why not? The damage wrought by a de-regulated, out-of-control financial sector has been world-wide.

This week protesters invaded and vandalized the Goldman Sachs building in Milan, Italy's financial capital, and there are efforts to mobilize in Frankfurt, Germany's financial center. Note, though, that the relevant conditions in other countries are very different. Germany is already a model socialist state; compared to the US its social safety net is robust, economic growth is strong, and unem- ployment and economic inequality are low. There have already been mass protests in several of the more economically-damaged European countries this year, but their target has been austerity policies, and the force imposing those policies is the European Union, not the banks. An effective movement for change will need to focus on the distinct problems of each region. But Europe's situation does resemble ours in one way: while many countries suffer from stagnant growth and double-digit unemployment, an out-of-touch political establishment bizarrely navel-gazes over debt and deficits instead of focusing on job creation.

Back in the US, Eliot Spitzer argues that the Occupier movement has already won by shifting the political discussion to the issue of unemployment where it belongs, though I'd argue that Obama deserves some of the credit for this. The movement is also working on its biggest weakness -- its lack of specific goals to rally behind. Here's a list of "demands for Congress" from OWS. The first eight, which have apparently received enough votes to make the official program, seem solid -- bank re-regulation, the Buffet rule, investi- gation and prosecution of financial criminals responsible for the recession, and similar. The list of original proposals (scroll down) included some items that are good in themselves but would have detracted from the movement's focus (opposing the PATRIOT act and the war on drugs) and even a nod to 9-11 conspiratardia, so the selection of the top eight from among them shows the kind of pragmatic and practical approach I've been hoping for.

On my other question about the Occupiers -- whether they can get the level of participation necessary to achieve anything (turn-out in the hundreds of thousands) -- today may give us the beginning of an answer. The Occupy Portland rally on October 6 drew at least 10,000 people in a medium-size city (metro-area population 1.7 million), and if this is typical of the rallies across the country, then the movement at least has the potential to reach the size it needs; I haven't seen any comprehensive hard numbers, though.

(But attendance at rallies is not the only, or the best, measure of effectiveness. 300,000 people staying home and calling Congress to demand passage of the AJA would mean a hell of a lot more than 300,000 people scattered among park camps in 100 cities.)

One promising sign: 54% of Americans have a favorable view of the movement, compared with just 27% for the Tea Party. And this despite MSM belittling and disparagement.

More links of interest: Shaw Kenawe has a report from Occupy Boston last week; Political Carnival has cartoons (the first one is wonderful); and an older generation of activists is turning out to support the new.

Update (8:43 AM Pacific): So far most rallies in Asia and Europe have been quite small -- one in Rome was larger, but was sullied by a small group of violent people. We'll see what happens in the US.

Update 2: Looks like Madrid is holding quite a big rally, perhaps because Spain already has a large and vigorous anti-austerity protest movement.

[Image at top: Occupy Portland, October 6]

14 October 2011

Video of the week -- Asche zu Asche

If I had to name one band as my all-time favorite, it would be Rammstein. My translation of the song:

Warmer Körper, heißes Kreuz, falsches Urteil, kaltes Grab
Warm body, hot cross, false verdict, cold grave

Auf dem Kreuze lieg' ich jetzt
Sie schlagen mir die Nägel ein
Das Feuer wäscht die Seele rein
Und übrig bleibt ein Mund voll.....Asche!
On the cross I now lie,
They drive the nails into me
The fire washes the soul clean
And what's left is a mouth full of.....ash!

Ich komm' wieder, in zehn Tagen
Als dein Schatten, und werd' dich jagen
I come again, in ten days
As your shadow, and I will hunt you

Heimlich werd' ich auferstehen
Und du wirst um Gnade flehen
Dann knie ich mich in dein Gesicht
Und steck' den Finger in die.....Asche!
Secretly I shall rise from the dead
And you will beg for mercy
Then I'll kneel in your face
And stick my finger in the.....ash!

Asche zu Asche, und Staub zu Staub
Ash to ash, and dust to dust

A previous video of the week by Rammstein is here.

13 October 2011

Quotes for the day -- appreciating reality

"I don’t believe in gods for much the same reason that I don’t believe in fairies, bogeymen, ghosts, lucky gems, leprechauns, Santa or the Easter Bunny. There isn’t a shred of convincing evidence for the existence of any of them, plenty of evidence that they are grossly surplus to requirements for explaining any phe- nomenon, and that proposing them just creates more problems than it solves. There just isn’t a good reason for believing in any supernatural being, and plenty of good reasons for not believing."

"My atheism is but a small bud sprouting from the scientific thinking that lets me appreciate the real world, the real universe, as it actually is, in every other aspect of my life. Atheism should be one of those things you arrive at in any honest quest for truth – but it’s not an ends in itself. And science, reason, rational thinking and sceptical enquiry are the best tools devised for uncovering reality. There are of course “other ways of knowing” – it’s just they’re complete bollocks. Beyond laughable in the shadow of empirical science..... Find me a person who could uncover the structure of the atom, of light, of the complexity of life through “other ways of knowing”. It’s exasperating, ridiculous and sad that adult humans can even utter those kinds of opinions with a straight face."

Heather Dalgleish, Scotland

"The world as explained by science is so beautiful it makes me weep. Literally. When I think about these tiny jiggling particles that constitute everything, when I gaze into the sky and see the vastness of the Cosmos, when I sit in my chair, smoke a pipe and consider life on Earth and try to wrap my head around the unimaginably complex processes that allowed me to form as a human being and now ponder life itself, when I try to imagine and appreciate how much we have accomplished, when I see the shrouded realm of what we do not yet know my eyes brim with tears of emotion, my heart leaps with expectation and wonder. I am so grateful that I am privileged enough to live in times of great scientific understanding and in social circumstances that exposed me to all this information. It is marvellous. It is profound. When I hear anyone proposing an invisible being whose existence denies the weight of all the things I hold dearest, I feel like I have been slapped in the face. Any concept of god steals away the world’s beauty and wonder and mints it into a mere cog in some strange machinery. It is outrageous to me and most offensive. It beslimes the greatness of human discovery and I will have none of it."

Radek Szyroki, Poland

(Both from the "Why I am an atheist" series at Pharyngula)

12 October 2011

How will the Occupiers react?

Republicans have blocked Obama's jobs plan in the Senate. They voted unanimously against it, using the threat of a filibuster (now utterly routine from them), while Senate Democrats were almost unanimous in support.

This event presents an opportunity to find out how relevant the Occupier movement is to practical politics and the business of getting things done, as opposed to merely airing grievances. One party has offered a program of concrete actions to address some of those grievances -- the paucity of jobs and the explosion of inequality caused by a half-century of cutting taxes on the wealthy (economists and the CBO agree that the plan would be effective and actually reduce the deficit); the other has contemptuously rejected it. The difference in stance towards the Occupiers' expressed concerns is as plain as can be.

Will they respond to this? Will they even notice?

09 October 2011

Link round-up for 9 October 2011

Here's why the Pope might want a voodoo doll.

Prison -- your, er, sunflower will never be the same.

Here's some religious logic and religious degradation.

Murr Brewster looks at fashion and gender issues in the reptile- smuggling industry.

There may be more Blackadder on the horizon (found via Mendip).

Tremble, Texans -- PZ Myers is among you.

Yes, this is a real headline. And the comments on the story behind it must be seen to be believed.

Matt Dillahunty puts his own twist on twelve-step nonsense.

Bill Bennett talks rubbish about the "immaturity" of young men.

We'll tell you when to be offended, Herman.

Mendip has some choice words on the day of Steve Jobs's death.

McGinniss's new book on Palin is a hit (found via Progressive Eruptions).

St James Infirmary launches a well-conceived campaign for sex workers.

Right-winger John Jay indulges in violent fantasies.

Read of how one atheist soldier was treated in the US military.

Romney, speaking at the Values Voter Summit, denounces anti- Mormon fundie Bryan Fischer, though not by name (the audio on the video is annoyingly out-of-sync, but there's a transcript). The fundies continue their Mormon-baiting. Andrew Sullivan assesses the religious ugliness that has consumed the party.

Update: Don't miss Republic of Gilead's report, direct from the Summit, on the fundie flap over Mormonism.

Pat Robertson is getting some flack from the right -- for describing Romney as a Christian.

Karl Giberson looks at the insular fundamentalist subculture that formed Bachmann and millions of others.

Fundie nutjob Janet Mefferd claims that homosexuality is a pagan plot to shut up fundie nutjobs (sounds kind of cool, actually).

Christian apologist Matt Slick defends honor killings; atheist Martin Wagner calls him on it.

Bernie Sanders tells it like it is; more here.

The environmental impact statement on Keystone XL may not be worth much.

More austerity madness: Topeka, KS considers decriminalizing domestic violence to save money.

The CBO confirms that the AJA will work and will pay for itself. Obama isn't taking "dead" for an answer; now it's up to the rest of us to get behind him.

We need to keep saying it -- Obama has accomplished a lot. He has the right message for the times.

Osborne Ink takes up the call -- enlist the Occupier movement to help pass the AJA.

Here are some Occupier participants who have prior experience with occupation. Tahrir Square veteran Mosa'ab Elshamy has advice for the movement; an Andrew Sullivan reader has some suggestions for its critics; Manifesto Joe worries about it being co-opted by the right. Nate Silver compares media coverage of the movement with that given to the teabaggers.

The Occupy Portland protest on Thursday the 6th apparently drew at least 10,000 people. Politics Plus has more.

Republican vote-suppression schemes could disenfranchise five million Americans (sent by Shaw Kenawe).

Here's a great state-by-state list of voter ID requirements (found via Parsley's Pics).

Romney's Fox ad may help him win the nomination, but could also come back to haunt him in the general election. More here.

McConnell's latest claim is beneath contempt.

Atheist Zachary Moore attends a Christian men's conference; Don Cook visits another.

FFRF inadvertently helps expose tax evasion by an Ohio church; the church denounces this as an attack by "Satan and his imps".

Mentioned here in passing: even Republican voters prioritize job creation over debt reduction, 51%-to-13%.

Never mind denying certiorari -- this judge clearly has no business even being a judge.

Yet another innocent man in Texas is freed after 25 years in prison for a mistaken conviction. Such cases are not rare.

In Colorado, Charles Farrar is trying to escape a 145-year prison sentence for a crime that probably never happened (found via Preliator pro Causa).

America's founders worried about the political influence of great wealth. More here.

Obama won't do it, but sign this petition anyway.

It's just common sense -- in a global economic slowdown, inflation is practically impossible.

Joseph Cannon has an interesting take on the Amanda Knox case and weird European stereotypes of Americans. Read this too.

The EU threatens to sue to force Britain to let foreigners exploit its social safety net.

Meet Richard Sulik, the Slovakian politician who wants to derail the euro bail-out fund.

Der Spiegel looks at how the euro could end. Daniel Hannan argues that a return to national currencies would be much easier than the alarmists claim.

The mystery of Central America's crystal skulls leads to Germany.

We need to dispel these ten myths about China.

Al-Awlaki wasn't the first US citizen to suffer the consequences of turning against America.

Obama has done more to crush jihad in two years than Bush did in eight.

Will there be a cyber-war someday? Probably not.

Too much alcohol blunts your immune system.

The NCI confirms -- there is no link between abortion and breast cancer.

Japanese scientists discover a possible stem-cell cure for diabetes.

California researchers are making progress on using nanoparticles to fight brain cancer.

As science explains more and more, religion is left with less and less to claim.

[Image at top: Occupy Portland, found via Politics Plus.]

08 October 2011

Quote for the day -- the voices of the wreckers

"Throughout modern economic history, whether in Western Europe in the 1920s, in the US and elsewhere in the 1930s, or in Japan in the 1990s, every major financial crisis-driven downturn has been followed by premature abandonment — if not reversal — of the macroeconomic stimulus policies that are necessary to sustained recovery. Every time, this was due to unduly influential voices claiming some combination of the destructiveness of fur- ther policy stimulus, the ineffectiveness of further policy stimulus, or the political corruption from further policy stimulus. Every time those voices were wrong on each and every count. Those voices are being heard again today, much too loudly. It is the duty of economic policymakers including central bankers to rebut these false claims head on. It is even more important that we do the right thing for the economy rather than be slowed, confused, or intimidated by such false claims."

Adam Posen (found via Green Eagle)

06 October 2011

Go and read this!

Sometimes you see a piece of writing so exquisite that all you can do is think "I wish I had written that!" PZ Myers's recent essay on religion, accommodationism, and fuzzy thinking is such a case. He hits every point that makes that mentality so exasperating, and dispatches them perfectly. Go read it now!

05 October 2011

Occupation distraction

I'm increasingly worrying that the Occupy Whatever movement could do the progressive cause in this country some real harm. It's sucking up attention and enthusiasm which, especially right now, are needed elsewhere.

If you haven't already, please read the critiques I linked to in the last link round-up, by Joseph Cannon and Feminisnt. The problem with the Occupy movement is that (a) it does not have specific, clearly-articulated goals, and (b) there is no sense of how, exactly, the actions it is taking are going to achieve whatever the goal is.

The movement claims inspiration from Tahrir Square. But Tahrir Square had a clear goal -- the end of the Mubarak regime. And it succeeded because it was a mass movement -- the protests drew hundreds of thousands of participants, not just thousands. When the Occupy movement can get 300,000 mainstream Americans together in one protest, in one place, and they stay there for weeks or months, it may accomplish something, but right now it seems very far from that point.

Others have drawn inspiration from the Arab Spring. Earlier this year, anti-austerity demonstrations in Portugal and Britain drew hundreds of thousands of participants. Yet notice that even they have not been able to force their governments to change course, partly because these were one-day events, big but quickly over. Also, democratic governments are less brittle than dictatorships.

Today, the people of Greece are launching their own campaign against the austerity policies which their craven rulers are forcing on them at the behest of the EU -- a campaign of mass strikes and a tax revolt. They've got a chance if participation is high enough -- hundreds of thousands of working people, not just thousands of people from the fringe.

Some have made an analogy with the teabaggers, hoping that the Occupiers can become a similar force for the left. But insofar as the teabaggers have accomplished anything, they did it by focusing on electoral politics -- supporting candidates and getting them into office. Amorphous ranting against "the system" has certainly been there, but that's not what got things done.

How many of the Occupiers voted in 2010 -- when a collapse of turn-out enabled the Republicans to take the House and create the paralysis they decry? How many will vote next year?

So far I see nothing that suggests the Occupy movement has the potential to achieve any concrete results whatsoever (well, there's one small exception, but I'll get to that in a moment).

Right now, we do have an opportunity to achieve something real. With his American Jobs Act, Obama has finally broken away from the Republican navel-gazing over the deficit that has consumed Washington for months, and made a serious proposal to deal with the greatest concern of mainstream Americans -- unemployment. Economists agree that the plan will stave off another recession at least. As Booman Tribune points out, Obama is finally doing what his critics on the left say they want -- drawing a line in the sand and showing willingness to fight for what the country needs. The Republicans insist the plan is DOA, but mass public pressure has swayed legislative outcomes before -- never forget how, in 2007, a mass outpouring of public fury (which crashed the Senate's telephone system) stopped an illegal-alien amnesty which had bipartisan support and was considered a done deal. Who's to say that a similar mass display of support now couldn't scare enough Congressional swing votes to get the AJA through?

Yet when I look around the liberal blogs today, I'm seeing very little being posted about the AJA, and a lot being posted about the Occupiers. The energy and enthusiasm which, properly focused, might actually get something done, is being diverted into what looks like an exercise in plowing the sea.

As I mentioned, I do see one small sign of hope about the Occupy movement. This is the fact that it's attracting some significant support from unions. Unions are pragmatic and not ideological; they have clear goals and know what works and what doesn't work to achieve those goals, and they're very engaged with electoral politics and the Democratic party. And -- forgive my bluntness -- their decision-makers are people older and more experienced than those who seem to predominate among the Occupiers.

If the union connection can help the Occupy movement become coherent -- help it develop specific practical goals and grow into a large-scale, sustained movement with a plan for achieving those goals -- then it may actually get something done. (And by "large- scale" I mean what I said about Tahrir Square above. 500 people in each of 15 cities doesn't mean anything.) A sign of this would be if the movement starts pushing for action on the AJA.

Update: Two more worthwhile posts on this topic: Joseph Cannon warns of libertarian subversion of the movement, while Nance suggests that bloggers try to shape its agenda.