30 November 2011

9-9-9? Nein, nein, nein!

I've long thought that the contest for the Republican Presidential nomination resembles a demolition derby, albeit one with cars so decrepit and ill-designed that half the time they spontaneously explode rather than crashing into each other. Now at last it looks like one wheezing, battered clunker is about to withdraw from the arena for good. No doubt others will follow.

28 November 2011

Video of the week -- Rammstein -- Moskau

Europe's greatest band offers a dark serenade to Europe's greatest city. The female voice is singing in Russian, not German.

A sample, starting at 2:52:

Ich sehe was, was du nicht siehst
Kогда ты ночью крепко спишь
Ich sehe was, was du nicht siehst
Kогда ты предо мной лежишь
Ich sehe was, was du nicht siehst
Kогда со мною говоришь
Ich sehe was, das siehst du nie!
Раз, два, три!

I see something that you don't see
When you go to sleep at night
I see something that you don't see
When you lie down before me
I see something that you don't see
When you speak to me
I see something, you'll never see it!
One, two, three!

27 November 2011

Link round-up for 27 November 2011

Please donate to the excellent PCTC blog. I have.

Christ, what an asshole.

Enter the Knatolee's World duck limerick contest.

Who's this new rip-off band imitating Justin Bieber?

Here's a religious view of the laws of nature.

Romanians get stereotyped.

Murr Brewster looks at Republican propaganda.

Who's the real bad guy -- God or Satan?

What if the police went after the real criminals?

Would you risk your job over a mere number? (sent by Mendip).

Joseph Cannon unearths the spiritual ancestor of the teabaggers.

Here's a Facebook history of World War II.

General John "Black Jack" Pershing knew how to handle religious fanatics.

Rush Limbaugh speaks out on the Occupiers.

Misogyny is disgusting, but what's the proper response?

Here's yet another example of someone who turned atheist after comparing her own religion to another (as discussed here).

Cynics, this one's for you.

Halal turkeys? There's less here than meets the eye.

Hollywood's long-simmering fascist streak rises to the surface.

A fundie "school" in Indiana commits horrific abuse of girls.

Even some conservatives are rejecting the myth of the non-tax- paying 47%.

If you think this isn't a problem, you are part of the problem.

Weird right-wing hatred has a long history.

A military religious bully is exposed.

Here's an intriguing idea: Elizabeth Warren for President in 2016.

Obama's base remains solid heading into 2012.

Beware the reality-denial of the non-pragmatic extreme left.

And beware of stories that seem too juicy to be true.

Huntsman has some interesting ideas for re-regulating Wall Street.

Most of the Republican Presidential candidates are committed to a fundie world-view.

The Christian Right hates it when the US defends gays against persecution (found via Republic of Gilead).

Republicans have embraced ignorance in every field, and they must pay the price. When the facts don't support their ideology, they resort to denial and name-calling.

People are speaking up for the truth.

It's not just Europe -- austeritards have hijacked the debate in the US as well.

"Black Friday" idiocy illustrates a competitive weakness of the US (though I'd say these idiots aren't typical of most Americans).

Watch dramatic video of a foiled robbery in London.

Immigrants assimilate better when ordinary people uphold standards of behavior in everyday interactions.

Britain's Conservative government wastes money on religion.

The conventional wisdom about the euro crisis is largely wrong.

2,000 people march against austerity in Dublin.

The Greek quisling regime is composed partly of actual fascists.

Even German bonds aren't selling, as investors realize the euro is doomed. Britain prepares to weather the collapse.

As the EU stumbles toward break-up, a new union rises in the east.

British right-wing brats apologize to Obama after an ugly incident.

Daniel Radcliffe goes up in my estimation. So does Australia.

The power of rootless capital threatens democracy world-wide.

Suspicious of the interim military government, Egyptians return to Tahrir square.

In a snub to Islamists, Libya's interim cabinet consists entirely of secularists.

Israelis show solidarity with Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, and the trend is spreading.

Developing countries are getting angry about inaction on global warming.

Idiotic superstition is wiping out the rhinoceros.

Planning a plane flight? Watch out for germs.

Patients, remember who really cured you.

Wind power gets a big boost in Pennsylvania.

Human biology makes natural use of fetal stem cells.

We're getting better at understanding brain repair.

Here's a review of the work of pioneering evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis, who died this week.

Dinosaurs looked very different from how we picture them.

HIV infection rates are plummeting thanks to modern drugs.

Illinois researchers discover a potential chemical weapon against telomere deterioration, a key element of both aging and cancer.

25 November 2011

Video of the week #2 -- the Trifelj Putinard

Yep, this is pretty much what all religious ceremonies look like to us non-believers.

24 November 2011

Quote for the day -- now this is blogging

"It’s been an entertaining week, hasn’t it? And by entertaining I mean entertaining like getting tazed in the onions, sure there’s dancing and wild hooting involved but you’re going to be sore as hell the next morning. A bunch of drunken rednecks booed the first lady on national TV in an outstanding show of classy Southern sportsmanship while she was at a NASCAR race to promote jobs for veterans returning from war. In defense of these mouth breathers, corpulent swollen carbuncle in the sweaty ass-crack of humanity, Rush Limbaugh, called the nation’s first African American First Lady “uppity” and then tried to pretend as if that statement wasn’t blatantly racist. Here’s a question for you, if “uppity” isn’t racist then how come you’ve never heard anybody, ever, refer to a rich white man as uppity? There’s a word that always follows “uppity,” whether it’s spoken out loud or not, it starts with an N. Ten points if you can figure it out, Good Ole Boys help the Yankees. Rush fans claim his words were taken out of context. Heh. Maybe they should be taken that way, because taken in context it’s abundantly clear that he was defending the hecklers specifically because an educated black woman had the unmiti- gated gall to suggest that their overweight diabetic chicken-fried butter eatin’ and soda swilling kids should maybe have a salad or two and, you know, exercise."

Jim Wright's latest rant at Stonekettle Station -- go read it, the rest is just as good.

23 November 2011

Mutual asinine destruction

In reading the stories of people who were raised religious but later abandoned religion, I've noticed an interesting commonality in many (though by no means all) of them. This is that they began to move away from their original religion not so much because of exposure to atheist arguments, but because of some contact with another religion or irrational belief system.

The recent "Why I am an atheist" series of personal testimonies on Pharyngula provides numerous examples. Matthew Donica was raised fundamentalist, started getting disillusioned after exposure to flamboyantly-crazy creationists, and finally read the Iliad and realized that the Bible, like it, was merely another mythical story. Heather V was raised as a Catholic, then became fascinated with Wicca, then married a Baptist and tried to adapt to his beliefs, then married a non-church-goer and, while trying to persuade him to become more "spiritual", came to see the flaws of supernaturalism. Natasha Krasle grew up with a mushy Unitarian-style "spirituality"; after she and her mother joined a church which proceeded to sink into Chopra psychobabble, they became disillusioned with the church and ultimately with spirituality in general. Adam was raised fundamentalist and began to see the light after studying evolution (in order, at first, to learn how to refute it), but what really turned him around was when his parents got interested in fake "alternative medicine" and he realized that religion was just as silly as the nonsense that so exasperated him about that quackery.

I've seen other such stories over the years. The common pattern is obvious: (1) Person grows up religious in the usual way. (2) Person encounters an irrational belief system different from his own religion. (3) Person is shocked that anyone could believe such obvious nonsense. (4) Person starts to notice analogies between the newly-encountered nonsense and his own religion's brand of nonsense. (5) Person eventually realizes that both are silly, and abandons religion.

It's not difficult to understand this. Most religious people (not all, but most) absorb their religion when they are too young to think critically, and then maintain it out of inertia in a cultural environment which treats religion as exempt from the kind of logical scrutiny which people are allowed or even expected to apply to other kinds of beliefs, such as political views. They often avoid reading frontal attacks on religion, which the culture's values still consider rude, inappropriate, "just not done".

But in a pluralistic society, those same values that demand respect for one's own religion also demand respect for other religions. The fundamentalist encountering Mormonism, the Muslim discovering Christianity, etc., and being expected to "respect" concepts which strike him as obviously absurd, feels the same kind of cognitive dissonance that we atheists feel on being told we should respect any religion. Why, this is obvious rubbish! But with prolonged exposure, only the most fanatical can avoid noticing parallels between the new rubbish and the old.

Carl Sagan once made a similar observation about intercultural encounters in the ancient world. Greeks and Babylonians, for example, would notice that their respective pantheons of gods claimed similar roles but were otherwise very different. The obvious explanation was that one set of gods had simply been made up by the priests -- but if one set was, why not both?

Magic underwear? God used to be a man? Ancient Hebrews in North America? How can those Mormons believe such drivel? Why can't they just see the plain sensible truth that Jesus died to save us from a force of evil we're all born with because 6,000 years ago a talking snake persuaded a woman made from a rib to eat fruit from a magic tree?

You may have seen this quote from Stephen Roberts: "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." Considering and rejecting an alien religion or superstition forces the theist into precisely this position.

I think this factor has played a major role in the decline of religion which has been going on for centuries and has accelerated in the last century and especially the last ten years. Educated people naturally became aware of belief systems other than their own which existed in distant regions. In a pluralistic society, it's easy to come into some kind of routine contact with different religions. And in the age of the internet, staying strictly within the echo-chamber of homogenous belief takes tremendous effort. Even a person who would indignantly refuse to read an atheist website, even if he lives in a small town in Alabama or Saudi Arabia, can hardly avoid some degree of exposure to other religions.

This is not to deny the importance of frontal attacks on religion such as those of Dawkins, Hitchens, and other New Atheists. Countless people who have abandoned religion have testified that these writings helped them along the path. But for many, it's an encounter with another religion that first sets them on that path.

If this is the case, then religion is truly doomed to further and further decline. The world will not stop getting more and more interconnected. The internet will not go away. Maintaining that echo-chamber of homogenous belief will soon require a total rejection of modernity, to a degree available only to groups like the Amish or the Mormon-fundamentalist cults. Even if we can't destroy religion, the religions, in a cacophony of clashing ideas in billions of brains, will eventually destroy each other.

21 November 2011

Video of the week #1 -- the voice of faith

Although the Arab spring has revealed an encouraging degree of secularism in the Arab world, religion remains a potent force in some circles, as this speech shows. My Arabic, while far from fluent, is good enough to tell that the subtitles are accurate.

20 November 2011

Link round-up for 20 November 2011

These pick-up lines look like the royal road to celibacy.

This guard dog should get the job done.

See the best little outhouses in Texas.

Lying to cover up an affair is understandable, but it can have unforeseen consequences.

Warning label writers must think we're pretty stupid (from Shaw Kenawe).

Satan has been naughty.

You could build a whole world with just Morgan Freeman.

This may be the most embarrassing political endorsement ever.

Stop taking Ayn Rand seriously.

The Seattle Occupier movement is being taken over by bullies, apparently.

It's time for conservatism to dump that far-left bleeding-heart liberal, Grover Norquist. And what about this tax-the-rich socialist? More here.

Under-age prostitution is a very different phenomenon from what activists envisage (found via Feminisnt).

Green Eagle brings you the best quotes from the right wing.

Stop the bullshit excuse-making for Mike McQueary. And stop the nauseating prayers and religious obfuscation.

To fix the budget, go after the tax breaks.

If you don't see why this is a problem, you are part of the problem.

Religious moralism breeds truly disgusting attitudes toward sex abuse -- and even toward killing.

See how the law treats an ordinary person and how it treats the financial parasite class.

Gingrich is as classy as ever. And he's trying hard to win over the Christian Right.

Smartypants debunks the myth that Democrats caved.

Fundie activist Lou Engle thinks abortion is a form of demon worship.

There are people in Wisconsin who want to commit vote fraud.

Ed Brayton visits a pitiful creation museum in Missouri.

Police went to great lengths to hide their brutality in Zuccotti park from the media.

Fundies continue to press their attacks on contraception.

The Patriotic Millionaires group continues to push for restoration of sensible tax rates.

The Bush recession will have a lasting impact on the younger generation.

A lobbying firm proposes an $850,000 propaganda war against the Occupiers.

Captain Stephen Hill, the soldier booed at the Republican debate, speaks out (found via Smartypants).

We'd be far worse off without the social safety net.

Warren Buffett talks class war.

The Occupiers are right about the 1% and about public opinion, but they need a change in emphasis.

What have liberals done that's so offensive? This.

To achieve change, we must understand the rules of the system. More here.

Prospects look good for rolling back Kasich's vote-suppression law in Ohio.

PCTC dissects the lie that Obama is implicated in the nationwide attacks on the Occupier movement.

2012's election offers only two choices: Democrats or disaster.

US conservatives could learn from their British counterparts. More here.

A Catholic Church official assigned to investigate priestly child molestation has been jailed for possession of child pornography (found via Ed Brayton).

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain salutes Christopher Hitchens (more on this group here).

Merkel contemplates sacrificing the German constitution on the altar of European unification.

The EU sides with Islamism against oppressed women and gays.

Tens of thousands of Italians march in protest against their new EU-imposed quisling/banker government (restaurant here).

The euro currency is a failed experiment based on out-of-date thinking; Europe must stop trying to save it and prepare to abandon it.

Time Magazine's Paris correspondent opts for appeasement in the face of the Charlie Hebdo bombing.

A tough old Russian tank will parade again despite lying at the bottom of a river for almost 70 years.

Australia shows it is possible.

Egyptian atheist blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy protests Islamic puritanism and hypocrisy by posting nude photos; Islamists go apeshit.

As Syria descends into civil war, rebels attack the ruling party's headquarters.

Rich, obese, inbred, outnumbered by imported foreign laborers -- meet the Persian Gulf states.

Here's a book exploring the forgery of the New Testament (for the Old, see here).

Yes, there is a correlation between low intelligence and being fat.

Here's what our ancestors looked like two million years ago.

Chimpanzees use planning and strategy to hunt monkeys.

Not only apes, dolphins, and elephants, but now also octopuses show evidence of high intelligence.

Stem cells emerge as a weapon against chronic heart disease.

MIT researchers have built a chip that can simulate the activity of a brain synapse (though simulating an entire brain will take more work -- the human brain has about 100 trillion synapses).

19 November 2011

Europe: the empire vs. the nations

Few Americans grasp the significance of recent events in Europe. The European Union's stealth war against national sovereignty and democracy has come out into the open.

Within days of Greek Prime Minister Papandreou's announcement of a referendum on Greece's submission to EU-imposed austerity policies in exchange for bail-out loans, the EU pressured him into resigning by threatening to cut off aid. A new government headed by Lucas Papademos, submissive to the EU's will, took office without elections being held. EU bureaucrats have been stationed in Greek government ministries to oversee the imposition of austerity. The planned referendum, of course, was canceled. The Greek people were totally shut out of any say in the decision to turn their country into a vassal state.

Days later, manipulations by the European Central Bank brought down Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy, a much larger economy whose drift toward default represented the biggest threat yet to the euro currency and to the whole EU project. Berlusconi is a corrupt and repulsive figure, but the Italian people had elected him, and in the normal course of events they could have voted in someone else if they so chose. His successor, Mario Monti, has never received a single vote from any Italian. He, like Papademos, will do the EU's bidding on austerity in exchange for continued economic aid which will keep Italy bound into the system.

Pat Condell was right when he spoke of the EU as "not, in fact, a union at all, but a continent-wide political coup". Ambrose Evans- Pritchard uses the term "putsch". British patriot Nigel Farage is in fine form here, speaking truth-to-power to the EU's leaders:

Days ago, a secret German government memo was leaked which confirms plans to exploit the current crisis to build a centralized European super-state which would be able to assume dictatorial control over weaker member states, and to order (!) British Prime Minister Cameron not to give the British people a referendum on EU membership. At about the same time, details of the pending Irish national budget were leaked -- leaked from the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, raising the question of why the German government gets to review Ireland's budget before almost anyone in Ireland has seen it.

Although Germany is now clearly the EU's dominant country, it is not Germany, as such, that is doing all this. The German people hate the bail-outs they are ultimately paying for as much as other Europeans hate the austerity which is imposed as the price for them; the euro currency and the idea of a pan-European super- state superseding national sovereignty have never been popular in Germany. The German political establishment, like that of the other EU member states, is pursuing its own elitist EU agenda in arrogant defiance of the popular will. (For that matter, the two embarrassing leaks mentioned above make me wonder if there are people in the German establishment who don't like what's going on and are trying to throw a few spanners into the works.)

The empire being built in Europe is not a German empire; this is about class, not nationality. The EU, like the Republican party in the US, has evolved into the political utensil of the financial parasite class. Papademos and Monti, the EU's -- quislings is not too strong a word -- in Athens and Rome, are both former high- ranking bankers. The austerity policies being imposed on the weaker nations as the price of bail-out loans are crushing the life out of their economies in a death spiral of falling demand and rising unemployment, killing all hope of recovery; the purpose is not to help the Greek, Italian, etc. peoples, but to protect the interests of the big lenders from whom their rulers borrowed money in the past. Let social safety nets be shredded, let millions sink into destitution and despair, let the young and talented emigrate to greener pastures beyond Europe -- so long as debt is held sacrosanct and default unthinkable.

Like race in the US, nationality and culture have kept European LIVs divided and distracted from the real enemy. Southerners raged at an imaginary Fourth Reich, while northerners tut-tutted at "profligate" and "undisciplined" Greeks and Italians. Few stopped to think what they themselves would have done had they been an ordinary citizen of the countries they excoriate -- or that those other peoples no more gave informed consent to their rulers' machinations, or foresaw the implications, than they themselves did.

But there are signs that Europeans are waking up. Across Europe, protests against austerity have dwarfed the Occupier rallies in the US. In Greece and (lately) in Italy too, there has been increasing resort to violence, and in all honesty I cannot criticize this. We Americans still have elections that mean something. In those countries, every avenue for peaceful and democratic change has been brutally shut off. As President Kennedy said, a regime that makes peaceful revolution impossible makes violent revolution inevitable.

Greeks and Italians have the right to run their own countries their own way and, if they make bad decisions, to face the consequences and devise their own solutions. That's what it means to be an adult. Providing endless financial support, accompanied by imposing one's own control over every decision, is how one treats a small child. The peoples who created European civilization in the first place have a right to not be treated like small children.

Update: Here's Farage again, from about a month and a half ago, on the struggle between the EU and national democracy:

17 November 2011

I told you so

That guy who shot at the White House last week is a religious crank who refers to Obama as the Antichrist. He has been charged with attempted assassination of the President.

Remember this? And this?

As I said two years ago, "The threat of Christian terrorism may be just getting started."

16 November 2011

Hello, I need help with the "sweep" feature.....

A week or so ago I bought a broom. When I got it home, I noticed something. Below the manufacturer's logo was the inscription:

For Customer Support
9am-5pm EST
please call toll free:
[800 number]

I mean, you expect a computer or software to have a support line, but a broom? I almost felt like calling the number, just to ask what kind of questions they get..... How difficult can it possibly be to use a broom?

Unless..... it's one of those brooms they have in the Harry Potter books. Yes, that must be it. Off for a test drive!

15 November 2011

Video of the week -- the cacophony

".....and then there was a talking snake....."

13 November 2011

Link round-up for 13 November 2011

People need to be more careful with guns.

Do not steal this woman's brownies.

Do not use a pick-up truck as a cooking utensil.

Octopi Wall Street!

Here's Palin's Oval Office (found via Hysterical Raisins).

Murr Brewster looks at the role of ferret sperm in the economy of Wyoming. More sperm problems here.

"Morbid and tacky" indeed -- that's religion for you. Maybe Jesus wanted his followers to be tacky.

What do the US, Liberia, and Burma have in common that makes them different from all other countries?

Make a joyful (and extremely rude) noise unto the Lord.

This real-world Rip Van Winkle couldn't cope (found via Histories of Things to Come).

Here are five things that aren't in the Bible.

Rick Perry's campaign has only one big problem -- unfortunately, it's Rick Perry.

Fundie nuts at the Family Research Council produce a horribly- misspelled prayer against the Occupiers.

Michigan Republicans think certain bullies are OK (found via Republic of Gilead).

Police resort to slimy tactics against OWS.

Andrew Sullivan looks at how the Republicans are teabagging themselves to death.

Here's how that story about a Christmas-tree tax got started.

It's official -- Joe Walsh is a pro-family guy.

Misogynists viciously attack Sady Doyle for pointing out how vicious misogynists are.

North Carolina is trying to make amends for a ghastly forced- sterilization program in the 1960s.

Texas made the right decision here, even if for the wrong reason.

Angry Black Lady has been chronicling the Penn State cover-up. Paterno's latest comment just makes it worse. Don't forget Mike McQueary's moral failing. The disgusting pro-Paterno riot attacked any sense of safe space at Penn State, but this student showed real courage. The program deserves to die. Republic of Gilead has a collection of links.

The hard-line right wing remains unimpressed with Romney (more here). And voters are unimpressed with the hard-line right wing.

Voting one's self-interest is OK only for some.

The Republicans will try to divide us -- don't let them.

Anti-prostitution nuts are about to make another stupid mistake.

God still thinks women are dirty.

What does the Cain scandal say about conservatism?

If you think rising inequality isn't a problem, read this.

Politics Plus reviews the Republican debates. Andrew Sullivan despairs.

The Christian Right is weaker and more divided than we think.

Here's an interesting comparison of teabaggers and Occupiers.

The Feds finally go after the real criminals.

The Republican party should have listened to this guy.

Here's a survey of English-language blogs.

Britain squelches plans by two despicable groups -- one Islamist, one far-right -- to disrupt Armistice Day.

More dirty behavior by the Murdoch empire comes to light in Britain, and there may be bigger revelations to come (found via Hysterical Raisins).

The Greek people are in revolt against the EU elite, and it could spread.

It's time to put the euro currency out of everyone's misery. Britain is preparing for its collapse. A top German economist says Greece would be better off returning to the drachma.

Don't panic over Italy.

British conservatives' effort to limit immigration isn't working out too well, and their own spending cuts may be part of the reason.

Standard & Poor's blunders again.

Entrepreneurs abandon austerity-strangled Europe for dynamic India.

Face it: the hard left got Libya wrong.

The Syrian revolution rages on, with 3,500 people now dead at the hands of the regime; other Arab states move to ostracize Assad.

A senior religious nut asks his fellow religious nuts to stop setting fire to themselves (found via Kriss the Sexy Atheist).

The black rhino is now extinct, a victim of idiotic superstition.

Strange things can happen when part of your brain develops a mind of its own.

Newly-svelte monkeys offer hope for human fattards.

The man who discovered Pluto is on his way there.

Space aliens will be very alien, if they exist at all, which is unlikely.

Solar power is going mainstream.

Scientists believe a true cure for AIDS is achievable.

12 November 2011

Video of the week #2 -- to Hitch

This week's first video recalled one of our best who is no longer with us. This tribute salutes one who is still alive and fighting.

11 November 2011

Lesbian torture clinics

Most of us know about the "cure homosexuality" scams run by various religious crackpots in the US, whose effects range from absurd to psychologically damaging. Ecuador's crackpots, though, take it to a deeper level, operating "clinics" in which lesbians are forcibly confined, often at the behest of their own families, and subjected to gross abuses (including sexual assault) in the name of turning them heterosexual. The clinics are theoretically aimed at gays of both genders, but in practice most of their victims are female, partly because in Latin American culture males tend to escape the control of the family at a younger age. There are about 200 of these "clinics" operating in Ecuador, apparently with the tacit approval of the government. At a time when Latin America is making such progress (Argentina and Mexico even have gay marriage now), the persistence of this kind of barbarity is shocking. Change.org has a petition to the Ecuadorian government; beyond that, we bloggers can help by getting the word out. Sometimes embarrassment can move those in power to do the right thing.

10 November 2011

Breathtaking stupidity

Thousands of football fans rioted yesterday in protest against the firing of Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who had failed to notify police about colleague Jerry Sandusky's ongoing sexual abuse of young boys.

This is insane. Thousands of people fail to see that firing is not merely justified but a barely adequate response in such a case?

It's so weirdly reminiscent of the Catholic Church child-abuse cover-up scandal, in which the Church dealt with molesters via internal disciplinary procedures or actively shielded them, rather than turning them over to the police. Many Church officials, and even ordinary believers, clearly felt such an exalted institution was above the secular law. Now it seems some fans feel the same way about a football program?!

Look, this is not a difficult concept. If you become aware of child abuse going on, you call the police. You don't bother with your organization's internal procedures. You don't just tell your own boss about it. You call the police. It doesn't matter how admired or important the person committing the abuse is, or how holy or respected your own position is. You call the police. Period.

And all those who behave otherwise, whether they're archbishops or football coaches or whatever the hell they are, need to keep getting slammed across the face with a legal two-by-four by society until they get the message and learn to act on it.

Update: This is the kind of bull$#!T that sometimes makes sports enthusiasts seem like an alien species to the rest of us.

Video of the week #1 -- you are here

Found via Norbrook.

09 November 2011

Victories across the country

"Today’s defeat of Issue 2 is a major victory for working families in Ohio and across the country. Ohio’s working people successfully fought back against lies pushed by shadowy multi-national cor- porations and their anonymous front groups that attempted to scapegoat public service employees and everyone they serve by assaulting collective bargaining rights."

Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President

Our side won significant victories in three very different states yesterday.

In Maine, back in June, Republican legislators had repealed the state's election-day voter-registration law -- a move consistent with Republican efforts to limit voting rights across the country. Yesterday voters approved Question 1, a referendum initiative to restore same-day registration; votes are still being counted, but the yes vote seems to have been almost 60%. This bodes well for public support against other such anti-voting shenanigans around the country.

Republicans had attacked Question 1 as somehow pro-gay; adding spice to the victory, not only did it pass, but gay-rights advocates took advantage of the high turn-out to gather signatures for a pro- gay-marriage ballot initiative for next year.

In Ohio, voters rejected Republican Governor John Kasich's law limiting collective-bargaining rights for unionized public-sector employees. This vote had been touted as a major test of the power of unions in American politics, and this victory is reassuring that the unions, an important part of the Democratic base, can still get people to the polls -- the turn-out was the highest in 20 years for an Ohio off-year election, and the union-bashing law was defeated by 61%-to-39%. Never forget that the 2010 disaster was not a pendulum-swing back to the right; what happened was a collapse of voter turn-out, from 62.2% in 2008 to 38.2% in 2010. When turn-out is high, we win.

Vice President Biden spoke perhaps more truly than he knew when he called the Ohio vote a "gigantic victory for the middle class". More and more people are waking up to the fact that class warfare is being waged in this country, against the middle and working class, and are able to see what their own class interests are.

Best of all, in Mississippi, voters rejected a particularly vile "personhood amendment" which would have declared a fertilized egg cell to be a legal person -- the latest attack in the Christian Right's war against abortion and contraception. The amendment would have banned abortion, with no exception even for rape victims, and would also have implicitly banned some forms of contraception and in-vitro fertilization. Again the margin was substantial, with the amendment losing by 58%-to-42%.

Even if enacted, the amendment could not actually have gone into effect because of Roe v. Wade. However, this really makes the vote all the more significant. With Roe v. Wade protecting abortion rights, right-wingers often use anti-abortion votes as a way to symbolically express their support for government enforcement of religious taboo, undeterred by the risk of actually having to face the ghastly consequences a true abortion ban would bring. In this case, however, Mississippi voters chose not to do that. (Also, if the amendment had passed, it would likely have gone to the Supreme Court, giving the right-wingers an opportunity to argue for Roe v. Wade to be struck down.)

None of these three states is notably liberal. We'd have expected results like these in, say, Massachusetts; to see them in Mississippi is all the more meaningful.

When turn-out is high, we win. When unions are engaged, we win. When voters are paying attention to what's going on, we win.

Update: A report on LGBT victories is here.

08 November 2011

Bank transfer day

How much impact did it have? The reports I'm seeing around the net suggest that there was some, though it's early to tell. Smaller banks and credit unions, at least, have reported a major upswing in new accounts. The best report I've run across so far is here.

The biggest banks have total assets on the order of a trillion dollars, so the effect of people removing accounts containing just a few thousand will probably not be very damaging, unless really large numbers of people do it. For much smaller institutions, of course, the value of each individual customer is much greater. Frankly, I'd rather go somewhere where I'm more valued.

There has even been a meme circulating to the effect that giant banks would prefer to get rid of small depositors, on the grounds that such large numbers of small accounts are more trouble to administer than they're worth. Wells Fargo even responded to Bank Transfer Day by launching a new sub-bank called Abbot Downing, open only to customers with net worth above $50 million, as if to tell the 99% it doesn't care if they leave or not. Personally, I suspect psychological counter-warfare. Banks, from the biggest to the smallest, are always actively trying to recruit new customers, including customers of modest means; they wouldn't do that if they didn't see a net gain from having those customers. Note, too, how fast the big banks backed down on debit-card fees after complaints proliferated. That doesn't suggest that they're eager to lose our business, or even indifferent to it.

It will take a while to find out how much effect the bank transfer idea, as opposed to a single symbolic day, is having. Probably only a fraction of the people who feel motivated to move their money bothered to do it on that specific date. Myself, I'm still in the midst of switching; spreading the process over several days makes it easier and less glitch-prone than doing it all at once.

By the end of the year we should be able to get a clearer picture of the total impact. Obviously the big players aren't going to go out of business, but I suspect they'll at least feel enough of a pinch to realize that, in these days of greater class awareness, there's a price to be paid for angering the public.

06 November 2011

Link round-up for 6 November 2011

.....and she probably does.

This stuff is not real living.

You're so Cain.....

Sometimes chutzpah pays off.

Here's a Republican-to-English dictionary (found via What Would Jack Do).

So that's what's messing up the climate.

Here's a great creepy Halloween costume, and some really bad ones (both found via Mendip). Jack Jodell has scary monsters.

Show us your pussy!

Norbrook has a suggestion for right-wingers who hate federal "interference" in the states.

Republicans show their true colors once again.

Sense intrudes on an idiotic discussion, and all Hell breaks loose.

Here's a really stupid T-shirt (found via Ed Brayton).

Hey girls, where's your respect for tradition?

The free market allocates resources rationally.

Joseph Cannon notices an interesting coincidence in California.

The evangelical mind is dominated by fear.

Glenn Beck's favorite gold nutters get indicted for fraud.

Don't claim voting doesn't work if you haven't tried it.

A major right-wing website has banned Romney supporters (found via Brains and Eggs).

David Frum looks at various scenarios for Republicans and teabaggerdom.

What does polling about Hillary Clinton say about America?

Right-wing nutters again denounce the gay-rights movement as the work of Satan.

If you don't think this is a problem, you are part of the problem. More here.

Where has political violence come from?

Nevada takes a step against foreclosure abuses.

Don't be fooled by the big banks' climb-down on debit-card fees -- they'll find other ways to screw you over. Keep fighting back.

Religious bigot Rose Belforti gets a challenger (found via Ed Brayton).

Old USSR or new USA? Cops jail a student for two nights for being out without ID.

Right-wingers need to stop calling the questions about Cain a "lynching".

Truth will out: by 49% to 39%, Florida voters agree that the Republicans are deliberately sabotaging the economy.

If you want to follow the Bible, here's a start. Or you could just do this.

Obama's health-insurance reform is delivering.

Voters sniff out what Perry really is.

Are ours really 40 times better than Germany's or Japan's?

RJ Balson & Sons butcher shop has been open for quite a while.

Lancashire, England, doesn't normally have earthquakes, but.....

Pompous, arrogant leaders can't save the European Union from the disaster the euro common currency has created -- and the end-game may be not far off.

A top German socialist offers some straight talk in Dublin.

Here's another look at how the EU and the euro are ruining Europe.

Religious thugs firebomb a French newspaper.

EU-imposed austerity drives the best and brightest to emigrate.

The euro currency is like a religion, with priests, dogma, and heretics.

A Greek school produces a German-themed calendar.

From Canada, a remarkable story of love and survival (found via Eve the Atheist).

Here's a very classy Ukrainian computer.

How to tell Chinese and Japanese apart? Here's what they thought 70 years ago.

Forbes's current list of the world's most powerful people holds few surprises (though I doubt #4 and #13 will stay for long).

Mental recursion separates humans from other animals -- or maybe not.

Junkie spiders do OK, but check out the last web.

Solar power holds promise in some surprising places.

Brain-machine integration is already being done in animals.

Senescent cell removal proves to be a remarkably effective anti- aging technology in mice.

04 November 2011

Celtic Thunder

Last weekend I drove up to Seattle to see Celtic Thunder. It's just a couple of months since I discovered this sensational Irish singing group, and when I found out that they were in the midst of a tour of North America with a stop only 170 miles from here, I simply had to go.

The afternoon show was almost sold out (the evening show was sold out) and it was an unusual experience, while waiting to enter, to be surrounded by 2,900 people who were all able to pronounce the word "Celtic" correctly. The audience, interestingly enough, skewed heavily female.

The show started on the dot, and the next two and a half hours were a continuous burst of energy. All of the performers are powerful singers and some of the songs were quite emotional, notably "Isle of Hope / Isle of Tears" about the Irish emigrants to America. There was a mix of traditional and popular songs, more than thirty in all, plus two instrumental numbers with stunning dancing. The show finished up with a rousing performance of the patriotic "Ireland's Call", with all six singers in formal kilts, and the audience responded with a standing ovation.

Here are a couple of videos to give you a sense of the flavor of Celtic Thunder's shows:

See also "Heartland", unfortunately not performed in the current tour -- perhaps out of concern that Americans wouldn't relate to singing in Gaelic?

Celtic Thunder's tour page is here; they're in our country through December 17. If they're performing anywhere near you, the show's well worth checking out.

02 November 2011

European spring

On the last day of October, the leader of a small country made a decision whose consequences will ripple across the world.

European Union leaders had finally agreed on yet another bail-out plan for Greece. In exchange for more loans and a 50% "haircut" on existing debt, Greece was to accept even more EU control over its economy, and austerity policies cutting so deep that they could be more accurately characterized as disembowelment. The euro currency, we were told, was saved, at least for a while.

Greece's socialist-in-name-only government has always voted to kowtow to the EU and impose austerity as ordered, but the Greek people have been showing their anger with strikes and ever-more- violent riots. On Monday, Prime Minister Papandreou announced he would hold a referendum.

Background: EU rules for membership in the euro require keeping national debt and deficits within rigid limits. Over the last couple of years, recession in many countries has cut tax revenues and increased demands on social safety nets, so deficits have risen; this is part of how counter-cyclical stimulus normally works to help an economy out of recession. But in Europe, EU rules have forced spending cuts, driving down employment and demand, further slowing these countries' economies and increasing their deficits, which requires more spending cuts, etc. The worst-hit countries have gotten bail-out loans from the EU, but these loans come with strings attached in the form of further austerity policies which drive the target countries even deeper into recession.

The EU's stance is similar to that of economic conservatives in the US, forcing cuts and austerity when the real need is for stimulus policies to create jobs. The EU is essentially dismantling socialism in lands where it has existed for decades. But in the US, conserva- tives can be voted out of office. In Europe, voting for a different party just means bringing in a different set of people to obey the same orders from the EU.

Another tool a country can normally use to escape recession is currency depreciation, which makes its exports cheaper and thus more competitive. But Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland no longer have separate currencies which can depreciate. They have no way out of the EU-imposed death spiral. It's no wonder that Greeks have been rioting and that Spain saw the world's biggest protest rallies during the October 15 day of action.

There is no democratic accountability. The real decision-makers in the EU aren't elected and can't be voted out. Most big political parties in all EU countries share in the elite pro-EU consensus. Majorities in most countries bitterly oppose EU policy, but they have no one to vote for to express this.

Over the weekend, in a private e-mail, I said that if I were Greek, Spanish, or Portuguese, I would be ready to resort to violence. Democracy in those countries has been abrogated and every peaceful avenue to stop the austerity madness has been closed off. These peoples have been backed against the wall and given no way out except emigration or revolt. (Even Britain, which doesn't use the euro, has suffered from this trampling of democracy, and was recently denied a referendum on continued EU membership.)

Papandreou's bombshell announcement has changed that. The Greeks, at least, will now have a chance to demand a new course.

Make no mistake -- that isn't what Papandreou wants. He's part of that elite pro-EU consensus (the conservative opposition is even worse; it opposes the referendum). But he may be running scared. A German economist who described the referendum plan as "suicide out of fear of death" was talking about political suicide or death, but just a few days ago enraged rioters tried to attack the Greek parliament and ministry of finance. Greek leaders may well feel that continuing to ignore the popular will would endanger their physical safety. This referendum is a concession which the masses forced from their rulers, as the rebellions of the Arab spring have driven tyranny into retreat.

The EU leadership and its toadies, all the sober respectable people in suits to whom the problems and fears of ordinary people are just economic abstractions, have denounced the referendum plan. And no wonder. This small spark of democracy, kindled in the country that invented it, could blow up the whole system.

The Greeks will very likely vote no on further submission to the EU. This would mean no more bail-outs, likely bankruptcy of the government and being expelled from the euro currency, default on debt held by foreign banks, and all manner of turmoil -- but Greeks have been through that kind of thing before. It's the devil they know. Voting yes, to continue the current course, would just mean more and more austerity and stagnation and decline for ever and ever, with de facto foreign rule thrown in. After a no, with its separate currency and economic independence restored, Greece could at last begin to work toward recovery. And, like dominoes, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, even Italy will likely follow the same path. The euro currency and perhaps the EU itself will disintegrate.

Over the next few months the spokesmen of the financial parasite class will bombard us with predictions of doom. The "markets", which must be left unfettered no matter what misery they bring to millions, will panic. Stocks will go up and down (as they are always doing because of one thing and another). We will all fall off the edge of the world and be eaten by dragons. And, in fact, there will probably be some short-term pain, even here in the US.

But the referendum cannot be held until January, giving other countries time to prepare. And Europe's depressed economies can't recover until austerity is abandoned, which looks impossible as long as the EU is in place, and until they recover the flexibility which an independent currency can provide, which means the euro must go. Once Europe's peoples have cast off this Moloch, the return to economic sanity and prosperity can begin -- which will ultimately benefit the whole world, including us.

Updates: Daniel Hannan discusses the EU elite's contempt for democracy; Ambrose Evans-Pritchard observes that the euro has ruined southern Europe and southern Europe is about to wreck the euro.