28 December 2011

Video of the week -- religio-kitsch

His singing voice is actually quite pleasing, but -- well, just listen. Found via Blonde Nonbeliever, who has the explanation.

The Christian Right loses the future

This CNN report on young evangelical Christians shows how the increasingly militant and extremist Christian Right is doomed in the long run even while it appears (and in many ways is) more threatening in the short term. Much of its own younger generation is turning against the cultural values it represents.

62% of "millennials" (people age 18-to-29) support gay marriage, for example, compared with 47% of the general public; even 49% of young Republicans do, compared with 31% of all Republicans. The younger generation is similarly more liberal on abortion, pre-marital sex, and re-distribution of wealth.

These generational differences are reflected in church affiliation and political behavior. The report cites a 43% drop in church attendance between the teenage years and early adulthood, as younger Christians are driven away by their churches' crabby and cranky rantings on sexuality and gay issues. 33% of young white evangelical Christians voted for Obama in 2008.

Right-wingers may take comfort from the belief that people get more conservative with age, but that is, in fact, just a common belief which happens not to be true.

Clearly, much of the younger generation of evangelicals has little in common with the established Christian Right, has little basis for loyalty to the broader Republican party, and may even end up deserting evangelical Christianity itself in the long run, for the mushy and meaningless "spirituality" that is so common these days, even if not for outright atheism.

26 December 2011


It started with the parliamentary election on December 4. Putin's United Russia party was able to claim only 49.7% of the vote, down from about 65% in the previous election. With opposition split among Communist, nationalist, liberal, and other parties, the results leave United Russia still easily the biggest bloc. But since there seems to have been widespread election fraud, it's likely -- and widely believed in Russia -- that the ruling party's real share of the vote was much lower than 49.7%.

Protests erupted almost immediately, and quickly spread beyond the cosmopolitan cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg into the normally less-activist hinterland of the vast country. While the regime deployed large numbers of police, overall the response was more restrained than it has been in the past, though several political activists were arrested (most later released). The regime may have been reluctant to provoke an all-out confrontation in the capital given the scale of the protests there, which reached tens of thousands of participants. It may also have been startled by the failure of its established methods of control; it exerts a heavy influence over old media like TV and newspapers, but the protesters used the internet to spread information and organize their activities, and aside from arresting a few bloggers, there was nothing the authorities could do about it.

In the following weeks, the regime offered the usual tired old lines of response used by such governments the world over -- blaming the protests on foreign subversion and the like -- but President Medvedev also tried to reach out to the protesters and offered concessions. It's unclear, by the way, to what extent Medvedev is his own man vs. being a puppet of Putin, who currently holds the lesser office of Prime Minister. Putin is clearly the dominant figure, but Medvedev has steered his own course in some ways, including seeking better relations with the West, in contrast to Putin's confrontational approach.

On Saturday the 24th, the democracy movement showed that it isn't going away, by mounting another major demonstration in Moscow. Organizers estimated participation at 120,000 despite sub-freezing temperatures, a substantial turn-out even in a city of ten million.

It remains to be seen whether or not this movement will have the persistence and determination to bring real democracy, but something has changed in Russia. Protesters now denounce not only corruption and the oligarchs, but Putin himself. Being able to communicate with each other via the internet, outside regime- controlled channels, people have learned how many others share their disgust. As happened at the beginning of the Arab rebellions, a critical psychological point seems to have been passed; fear is no longer strong enough to keep large numbers of people in line.

There is no reason why Russia shouldn't be a normal democracy -- and an ally of the West. Its population is well-educated and its science and technology are at or near Western levels. Culturally it is much more closely related to the West than most non-Western societies are. Russian public-health conditions are terrible by our standards, but this is mostly due to staggering levels of alcohol consumption (and smoking), a problem which is not insoluble. Putin's policy of confrontation with the West is short-sighted given that the biggest threats to Russia -- China and militant Islam -- are also the main adversaries of the West (and of India).

When Communism fell, Russians hoped they'd end up with a social democracy like Scandinavia or Germany. Instead, the country has drifted toward the pattern of Latin America a decade or two ago -- a caudillo state with a tiny, super-rich, parasitic oligarchy lording it over the relatively-impoverished masses. There is no reason to expect an educated and sophisticated nation to tolerate such a dismal outcome indefinitely.

If the democracy movement does mount a serious challenge to the regime, will the outcome resemble Tunisia -- or Libya? Despite the country's authoritarian history, there is some basis for hope. Recall that in 1989 and 1991, Russia (in marked contrast to, say, France's record in Algeria) let its empire go without a fight. If the Red Army had made a serious effort to hold places like Poland, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan by force, the resulting blood-bath would have made the Yugoslavian wars look like a pillow-fight. Yet that did not happen.

The stakes for us are very high. Russia remains a great military power (it has more nuclear weapons than all other countries on Earth combined, for example), and its natural resources and potential technological abilities are vast. As an open society and ally of the West, its value and contributions would be immense.

And frankly it's about time. Russia's history holds much glory, but very little prosperity, freedom, or happiness. Russians deserve better than Putin and a cabal of oligarchs.

25 December 2011

Happy holidays!

Or "Merry Christmas", if you prefer -- Christmas is so eclectic in its origins and character that it seems a shame to limit it to a single greeting. It's basically the old Roman festival of Saturnalia, which featured revelry and gift exchanges, as well as an inversion of social status roles which has unfortunately vanished from the modern celebration (might be interesting to see, say, banking executives waiting on temp workers at Christmas dinner). The concept of December 25th as the birthday of a god seems to have come from the Persian cult of Mithra, which had spread into the Roman Empire by the time Constantine made Christianity its official religion. Later, Germanic touches like Santa Claus and the Christmas tree were added. Today, Christmas is consecrated to the god Mammon, and believers flock to sacred sites called "malls" to offer up large sacrifices of money in hopes that the high priests of economic indicators will announce blessed retail sales figures to ensure a bountiful gross national product.

So, observe whatever tradition you choose.....

.....enjoy the Christmas light displays.....

.....put on some festive Christmas music.....

.....celebrate with family and friends.....

.....and, of course, drive carefully on your way home, especially if it's a long trip.

[Oh Tannenbaum found via Republic of Gilead.]

24 December 2011

Link round-up for 24 December 2011

Aww, how sweet!

Logically, you must be blind.

What if pregnancy tests had existed 2,000 years ago?

Eve the Atheist posts some creepy art by Fred Einaudi.

Gingrich is endorsed by a website that promotes adultery -- hey, he's probably got an even bigger tab running there than at Tiffany's (found via Smartypants).

Left and right may find common cause in fighting against the evil SOPA internet-censorship plan.

Even the Wall Street Journal is aghast at Republicans' bungling of the payroll-tax fight.

If your parents are bigots, show them this (found via Republic of Gilead).

David Frum looks at libertarian obfuscation about the Civil War, slavery, and Ron Paul.

Here's a Ron Paul letter from 1993, removing any doubt that the man is a dangerous paranoid crank; analysis here (thanks to Leslie Parsley for both links). More Paul quotes here. And yes, Paul in 1996 acknowledged writing his newsletters.

Gingrich has some freaky ideas too.

Atheist Oasis looks at the Promise Keepers.

Skyrocketing economic inequality threatens America's future.

Atheists are the biggest philanthropists.

In South Carolina, the Justice Department finally takes a stand against Republican efforts to disenfranchise non-white voters.

Historian Simon Schama remembers Hitchens. Frank Schaeffer looks at the hypocrisy of the Christians who condemn him (sent by Nance), and Bay of Fundie dissects one in detail. Some are already trying to downplay his atheism.

It was smoking and alcohol that killed Hitchens, and it's important to face that fact honestly.

Eric Hobsbawm sees hope in the mass upheavals of this year.

Britain's top foreign-policy man, William Hague, shakes things up.

Conservative analyst Ambrose Evans-Pritchard acknowledges the same point I've been making for months -- the European Union has become a tool of the right wing to destroy socialism in Europe.

German economists debate the dubious efforts to save the euro, which still looks doomed.

As religion dies out in Europe, what to do with all the useless churches?

Journalist Mona Eltahawy describes her experience with brutal Egyptian security men. Women are taking a more active role in the protests.

Qaddhafi was not very nice.

Rats display empathy and altruism. (I don't know why this would surprise anyone. Rats may be small but they're still mammals.)

This is what an orgasm looks like.

There are actually people who think immortality will be a bad thing. They're wrong.

California researchers are on the trail of ways to stop age-related deterioration of the brain.

[Posted a day early this week.]

22 December 2011

Uhh.....seriously? Ron Paul??

Was I wrong about Gingrich being more than just another in the dreary succession of not-Romneys whom the Nutty faction of Republicans have rallied round, then found wanting and dumped? Like Bachmann, Trump, Perry, and Cain before him, he's now losing rank-and-file support (at least in Iowa and New Hampshire) as his negatives and Great Dismal Swamp of sleaze become better known. And the leading not-Romney is now -- Ron Paul??

You almost have to feel sorry for these people. I've heard of scraping the bottom of the barrel, but it's just getting ridiculous. Paul has of course been a libertarian cult figure for years, but has never shown much appeal beyond that. The one thing that might make him interesting to the smarter sort of Republican is that he does attract some support from the left, for his opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and so might pull in a few left-leaning voters. But not many liberals are such blind single-issue voters as to support Paul over Obama. Paul has a good stand on one of my own pet issues -- legalization of drugs and prostitution -- but he's basically just another right-wing crank who rejects evolution and global warming science, wants to ban abortion, and would have the government do even less to address the crisis of skyrocketing economic inequality than it already does. His positives in a few areas where libertarianism deviates from the right-wing consensus are just another of those stopped-clock-right-twice-a-day things.

It goes without saying that he'd be a disaster against Obama in the general election. The last thing centrist voters want is someone who wants to cut the government safety net even more than most Republicans. Those racist newsletters are still out there. And on election day he'll be 77 years old, so if age was such an issue for McCain, it certainly will be for him.

How much chance does he have to be the nominee? A lot of his radical-right stands will resonate well with the teabaggers, and unlike many libertarians he's not soft on illegal aliens (the issue that helped sink Perry and has wounded Gingrich), nor does he have the sexual-hypocrisy baggage that so many Republicans carry these days. The fact that he couldn't win in November might not make much impression on a right-wing base more interested in ideological purity. I really can't see it, though. His isolationist approach to foreign policy could easily be portrayed as leaving the US vulnerable (as it, in fact, would). The cultish behavior of his supporters must surely be off-putting even to conservatives of other stripes.

And he doesn't culturally resonate with the Christian Right base the way Bachmann or Perry do. Gingrich is still way ahead of the pack in South Carolina and Florida, states far more typical of the Republicans' stronghold in the South than New Hampshire and Iowa are. Gingrich isn't a true fundie either, but he plays one on TV more convincingly than Paul does.

So I'm betting that it is Paul who will turn out to be just another not-Romney flash in the pan who will quickly fade, while the Nutty faction will continue to coalesce around Gingrich, as the Sanes already have around Romney. Once Paul fades, unless there's a Santorum surge next, it's hard to see where else the Nutties can go.

21 December 2011

Video of the week -- Merry Christmas!

Yeah, I know, lately I haven't been posting (or reading other blogs) very much. I've been busy. More to come.

18 December 2011

Link round-up for 18 December 2011

Wow, even aliens have Triple-A.

Perry believes in, uh.....

If frogs go extinct, you'll notice.

Anti-wanking crusader and non-witch Christine O'Donnell is back with an endorsement. Hysterical Raisins is inspired.

The key to a good complexion? Orgasms and spinach (found via The Japing Ape, who comments further).

Here's the difference between religions and cults.

There's a fair bit of truth in this.

Buy a calendar and support stem-cell research (found via Maria Konovalenko).

Hitchens is commemorated by Lady Atheist, Advocatus Atheist, Dead Logic, PZ Myers, Toby Young, David Frum, and the magazine he most recently worked for, Vanity Fair. Religious ghouls hoped for a deathbed conversion, and now smarmily speculate, but he made it clear that that wouldn't happen. Other goddists affirm his point about the vileness of religion. Andrew Sullivan and his readers remember the man.

The evil SOPA internet-censorship bill has been stopped -- for now. Congress also heard from the public on a robo-call law.

A whiny sniveling atheist-basher misses the point as usual.

Don't worry, teabaggers will ignore these charts.

PZ Myers looks at a common delusion among atheists.

More Occupier protests on the west coast degenerate into stupid harassment of working-class people.

TARP will end up making a profit for the government.

Defenders of Sharî'ah law practice hypocrisy.

Fog in Channel, eurozone isolated -- Britain was right all along. The EU is becoming a higher-profile issue with voters.

Britain has potential allies -- Ireland and others -- and may now become a rallying point for dissenters.

Britain's Conservatives have cut subsidies to higher education, so students find jobs.

A likely credit downgrade of France puts more pressure on the euro.

The EU's new plans just mean more destruction of socialism and democracy, and the European left is waking up. Unions held major strikes in Italy this week.

Religious thugs attack and threaten Irshad Manji in Amsterdam (sent by Republic of Gilead).

This overview of China hype is on a right-wing site, but makes a lot of important points.

The Arab rebellion has spread to the nastiest Arab regime of all, but the media aren't telling us.

London cab drivers face unique challenges and have brains to match.

Don't tan.

Charles Dickens had a surprisingly large influence on modern culture.

The ocean sunfish is a fish of extremes.

An official US panel recommends banning most medical experi- ments on our closest relatives.

The discovery of chitin in cuttlefish fossils leads to yet another creationist mangling of science.

17 December 2011

Video of the week -- Hitchens on morality

We don't need the "divine" tyranny of fake religious morality.

The Guardian has a round-up of tributes to Hitchens.

16 December 2011

Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

We have lost one of our best. Christopher Hitchens spent most of his adult life unflinchingly confronting and denouncing "the main source of hatred in the world"; he contributed to the enlighten- ment of millions -- and even now his words and ideas remain.

He didn't shy from taking on the sacred cows:

Here he is on one of the common religious lies, that the Nazi regime was atheist and was influenced by the theory of evolution:

A naturalized American, he understood the greatness of his adopted country better than many who were born here:

I will not offer the common fatuosity of "Rest in peace". We know that death is not rest, any more than it is a gateway to an afterlife of eternal torment or a trite and inane paradise. Instead I remind myself of the hope that technology will someday be able to bring him back, to a world better than the one he fought to enlighten.

11 December 2011

Britain's new defiance

The major story from the latest European Union crisis meeting in Brussels was not the fact that leaders announced yet another plan to save the floundering euro currency. It was the fact that Britain took an unprecedented stand against the plan, which would have severely threatened its national interests.

Britain is a member state of the EU but does not use the euro, and London is Europe's most important financial center (in fact, the second most important in the world after New York). When it became clear that the other leaders were planning treaty changes which would transfer critical powers from the elected national governments to the EU's unelected central authorities, British Prime Minister David Cameron presented some fairly modest demands to safeguard British interests (you can read them here). The other leaders refused, and so Cameron rejected the treaty changes. Since such changes require unanimous agreement of all 27 member countries, this was effectively a veto.

EU leaders and media reacted with an outpouring of bile against Cameron and Britain. The EU has long been suspicious of Britain, a country which was never enthusiastic about European unification and which has linguistic and cultural ties with the EU's rival, the United States (which is also its biggest export market). Now that suspicion has hardened into outright hostility and erupted into the open.

In fact, Cameron had little choice, and many Europeans probably don't support what their leaders are saying (background here and here). Those leaders are openly threatening to punish Britain, but:

Growing popular hostility to the EU across Europe might come to Britain's aid. Democratic obstacles to the Euro-Plus treaty are beginning to materialise in Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria, Romania and Denmark, while parliamentary opposition in Finland, Latvia and the Czech Republic may also sink the deal.

The EU is forging ahead with the planned deal by other means, but the gist of it is just more of the same austerity and obsession with deficits that are already destroying so many countries' economies. It doesn't address the real problems and assessments so far are negative. It won't save the euro or pull Europe out of its economic death spiral. Britain would do better to strengthen its ties with the US, where tried-and-true Keynesian stimulus policies are bringing at least modest recovery.

And the EU-British breach could well widen. The current British government is a coalition between the Conservative party and the much smaller Liberal Democratic party (somewhat similar to our libertarians). The "Lib Dems" are strongly pro-EU and have been vehemently critical of Cameron's stand. If the coalition fractures, it might force a new election, or an exasperated Cameron might order an election, as a British Prime Minister has the power to do. In that case, the Lib Dems would face a wipe-out. Their pro-EU and pro-immigration stances are very unpopular and their support has been sinking; in fact one poll today showed them falling behind the UKIP, a new party dedicated to getting Britain out of the EU, and this doesn't yet reflect public reaction to the EU's new hostility to Britain, which will likely boost UKIP support even further.

If a new election left the UKIP as the only party that could join the Conservatives to form a majority, or if the EU pushes ahead with measures that really threaten the British economy, withdrawal might become inevitable -- and once one country leaves, others whose economies face ruin under intensified austerity may follow.

Link round-up for 11 December 2011

Graphic messages drive home the stinking, deadly truth. Do something about it in January.

Santa may be caught unprepared this year.

The latest object of Islamotard paranoia is bananas.

Here's the true meaning of Christmas.

Why vote for the lesser evil? (found via Mendip)

Cats illustrate what drugs do to you.

Fundies think Santa is an anagram.

Here's a preview of the 2012 Republican platform.

Bart Centre reviews the Bible.

This used to happen to me, way too much.

Artist of the week: post-it note virtuoso Don Kenn (found via Eve the Atheist).

We're going to miss Barney Frank.

Religionists largely misunderstand how atheists feel.

This thug chose the wrong victim.

The vile Jerry Sandusky is re-arrested on even further child-abuse charges.

Georgia may soon make a religious motto mandatory on license plates.

Beware the creepy stalker who is also smelly.

Thus speaks the parasite class, then and now.

Republicans are OK with tax increases, so long as they're on the middle class, not the rich.

Here's how to do a real robbery.

Sometimes it's knowledge that provides a straightforward path out of religion.

Global-warming denialist Christopher Monckton gets debunked. So does a fake study on abortion and mental health.

Huntsman flip-flops on whether or not to flip-flop on science. But Santorum knows well where he stands.

Fuzzy thinking on religion gets embarrassing.

Numbers show what really matters to Republicans.

Lady Atheist presents ten reasons why libertarianism is bullshit (how on Earth did she keep it down to ten?).

A Republican attack on Elizabeth Warren reeks of desperation.

Don't be fooled by Ron Paul.

The job situation has improved greatly since Obama took over.

Truth Wins Out confronts the right-wing effort to re-brand bigotry as religious freedom (found via Republic of Gilead).

Perry may be the worst enemy gays have right now. Sane people fight back with parody and YouTube dislikes, and he continues to self-destruct.

The Obama administration stands up for human rights abroad, and right-wingers freak out.

Bill Donohue's latest idea for attacking atheism is just as stupid as everything else he comes up with.

The NAACP is worried enough about Republican vote-suppression efforts to go to the UN.

From 2003 to 2008 the Air Force was dumping remains of US troops in landfill.

A disappointed Obama supporter wises up.

Efforts to defend separation of church and state can move forward in Virginia.

Republican applause lines show a party sunk into ugliness.

Obamacare starts to tame the bloated inefficiency of the private sector.

Rank-and-file Republicans' distrust of institutions may mean the leadership can't save the party from Gingrich. The lunacy is so bad it's starting to worry Karl Rove, and Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett thinks the country's only hope is for the party to collapse.

Some of Gingrich's weird ideas come from Asimov's Foundation trilogy. Frum thinks his nomination would cause panic among Republicans; that panic may already be starting, as his support soars in early-voting states. He's already lost one voter in his own family.

Working from home is a rising trend, despite stick-in-the-mud bosses.

No, the latest EU scheme won't save the euro.

Army defectors fight for the rebellion in Syria.

The Durban deal could make a real difference.

Some of our commonest words are of unknown origin.

See winners of Nikon's micro-photography competition.

A protoceratops nest tells us a lot about how dinosaurs lived.

A British breakthrough could speed up clinical trials of stem-cell therapies.

They were there for us -- now it's our turn.

09 December 2011

Video of the week #2 -- Tea Party USA

With apologies to Lady Gaga, who would no doubt approve the intent.

Quote for the day -- better off sober

"The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality."

George Bernard Shaw

07 December 2011

Is this the man who will face Obama next year?

Is Newt Gingrich just the latest in a long line of not-Romneys to be test-driven by the Nutty faction of the Republicans and ultimately found wanting, or is he something more? It's been argued that whereas Bachmann, Perry, and Cain were new on the national stage and went down when their flaws were discovered, Gingrich has long been a national figure, and his negatives are already known and "priced in" in his current level of support. There are signs that the anyone-but-Romney Republicans are coalescing around Gingrich at the expense of other not-Romney candidates -- bad news for Romney, whose support is limited to the Sane faction of Republicans (apparently about 25%-30%) and who depends on several semi-viable opponents to keep the Nutty faction divided. If the Nutty faction has indeed settled on a single champion at last, there's a serious chance that he will be the Republican nominee.

In some ways I'd like to see Gingrich in that role. He'd clearly be a representative of the Nutty faction, so his almost-inevitable defeat in the general election would discredit that faction and give the Sanes an opening to regain control of the party (whereas Romney losing to Obama would weaken the Sanes relative to the Nutties). And Gingrich is not a sincere religious fanatic like Bachmann or Perry or Santorum, so if he somehow won, he'd be less dangerous as President than they would, though he'd certainly be very bad.

I'm not quite ready to write off Romney yet, though. For one thing, I'm not convinced that the Republicans currently rallying behind Gingrich are, in fact, already aware of all his baggage -- and he has plenty. Even by the standards of Christian Right hypocrisy about marriage, his history of adultery is egregious, and women fundamentalists have often been less forgiving of such behavior in politicians than the men are. His hint of a soft position on illegal aliens touches a very sore spot for Republicans -- that issue was the beginning of the end for Perry. And Gingrich has a history of receiving large sums of money under less-than-honorable circum- stances. Money scandals are less likely to be widely known than sexual ones simply because they're more boring, but Gingrich's rivals will be more than happy to spend from their own resources to enlighten Republican primary voters, in blunt and dramatic terms, about these matters. Check out this ad from Ron Paul:

There are questions on electability. Despite Krugman's already- viral bon mot -- "Newt Gingrich is a stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like" -- the man is clearly more intelligent than the not-Romneys who have preceded him. If he says he wants to eliminate three government departments, he will certainly remember which ones they are, and he may well even know who the President of Uzbekistan is and why it matters. This sets the bar awfully low, though. He's not in Obama's league intellectually, nor -- perhaps more important -- temperamentally. He's always struck me as a thoroughly unpleasant guy, the kind of person in whom an act like serving divorce papers on a hospitalized wife doesn't seem at all out of character. This assessment is worth reading:

Gingrich “only has two modes — attack and brag,” explained one veteran GOP strategist.

“He’s going to blow up at some point, and I’m just hoping it comes before he gets the nomination,” said one unaligned Republican insider, who has worked with presidential campaigns before.

And there's the real question -- will Republican primary voters grasp the depth of Gingrich's negatives in time to avoid giving him the nomination? The Obama campaign clearly hopes not; they've been focusing their attacks on Romney, helping to weaken him, as they clearly consider him the most difficult Republican for Obama to beat. Gingrich, with his arrogance, repulsive character, and history of sleaze, would be a far weaker opponent.

[First video above found via Mature Landscaping; second found via Race 4 2012.]

Update: See here for more on Gingrich's colossal ego, including this description he wrote about himself:

"Gingrich—primary mission: advocate of civilization, definer of civilization, teacher of the rules of civilization, arouser of those who fan civilization, organizer of the pro-civilization activists, leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces."

This man has issues.

06 December 2011

Quote for the day -- the set-up

"It has taken me more than 30 years as a journalist to ask myself this question, but this week I find that I must: is the Left right after all? You see, one of the great arguments of the Left is that what the Right calls 'the free market' is actually a set-up.

The rich run a global system that allows them to accumulate capital and pay the lowest possible price for labour. The freedom that results applies only to them. The many simply have to work harder, in conditions that grow ever more insecure, to enrich the few. Democratic politics, which purports to enrich the many, is actually in the pocket of those bankers, media barons and other moguls who run and own everything."

Conservative British editor Charles Moore (found here), starting to see a glimmering of the light

05 December 2011

Video of the week #1 -- extreme shepherding

Welshmen (and dogs) create amazing art out of sheep. Found via Mendip, though I know I've seen this before.

04 December 2011

Link round-up for 4 December 2011

Check out these awful Christmas decorations (found via Mendip). At least this sweater is topical.

Maybe Brazil hasn't quite caught up.

Women, the Bible has a few words for you.

Bachmann's latest idiocy spawns a meme.

The US was first to put a man on the Moon, but Zambia tried.

Keep these goofy similes for use in your own writings (found via Mendip).

Sign a petition against books that promote child abuse (found via Pajama Dog)

At age 18, Emma Sullivan is the newest First Amendment heroine.

The coming Detroit renaissance offers opportunities.

No matter how much Romney bashes gays, it won't make the fundies like him.

The disgusting Gulnare Baptist ban on mixed-race couples reflects attitudes common among theocrats.

Here are twelve reasons to reject supernatural claims (found via Pajama Dog).

If you haven't read David Frum's epic essay on the derangement of the Republican party, read it now.

Ex-Christian Bruce Gerencser looks at how evangelical preaching drives people away.

We need Alan Grayson, now more than ever.

Fulton county (Georgia) sheriff's deputies show human decency.

Elaine Ecklund distorts the facts about atheists.

If Gingrich is the nominee, the election will turn into a circus.

Stigma, taboo, and prejudice worsen AIDS in the South.

Americans are much less anti-tax than 30 years ago.

Here's an example of the gross abuses involved in sex-offender registries.

Santorum is utterly clueless about science (found via Republic of Gilead).

Meet David Usher, a nutcase even among nutcases.

There's a religious group in the US whose loyalty to the country is questionable, and it's not Muslims (found via Republic of Gilead).

Here's a juicy collection of Ron Paul links.

Pull the dual trigger to consolidate the Democrats' victory in the debt-ceiling fight.

I doubt Gingrich is a Dominionist, but he knows how to pander to them, and has been doing so for a long time (found via Republic of Gilead).

Santorum wants the US to fall behind other countries in science education.

Palin cultists still want her to run.

If this guy were American, he'd make a great Republican.

Britain is cracking down on excessive financial-sector bonuses.

Conservative students at Oxford party tastelessly.

Greeks continue their campaign of strikes and protests against EU- imposed austerity.

This coming January 1 will be the tenth anniversary of the euro currency (EU propaganda video -- note ratio of likes to dislikes -- but very cool visuals), if it lasts that long. Only a fiscal union (code for German control over other countries' finances) can save it, but that won't happen. And all the anti-German hatred is misplaced -- Germany too is a victim of the euro, not the villain.

Iceland never joined the EU or adopted the euro, and responded to the world economic crisis with devaluation and capital controls instead of austerity. It's now the outstanding success of Europe.

Expanding the money supply, not austerity, is the way out of Europe's slump. The US is trying to help.

What gets me about this article is the photo of anti-gay Russian fascists giving the Nazi salute. How can any Russian be so clueless as to do that?

Remember the BP oil-leak disaster in the Gulf of Mexico? Here's how a government handles that kind of thing properly.

Support the Manifesto for a Secular Middle East and North Africa.

The Iranian theocracy continues to imprison dissenters.

Ex-Muslim Gülşah Ökmen describes her path to atheism.

Don't be misled -- Islam is evil.

The 4,000 Syrians murdered by the Asad regime during the rebellion include over 250 children.

Meet the world's biggest insect (yuck warning).

This green energy concept could be called "soylent green energy".

03 December 2011

The EU delusion

Der Spiegel has an article posted which is, if you read it in the right spirit, hilarious. And it's in English, too, so you don't even need to understand German to be entertained by it. The article is Citizens of the EU: How to Forge a Common European Identity.

The translator may not have realized just how well the secondary meaning of the word "forge" fits here, but let that pass. The point of the thing is that the European Union must and will not only unite its 27 assorted member countries into a single giant state -- that's already a given in these circles -- but also get the people of those countries to "feel and act as 'Europeans' rather than members of an individual nation-state."

The first two-thirds of the article, however, actually discusses various ideas for reorganizing the already-hideously-confusing structure of the EU's "government", if that is the correct term for it. A Senate with members representing each country, or a President elected by the whole EU population, would supposedly inspire feelings of European-ness to replace the old national identities.

Only someone who knew absolutely nothing about the human sense of group identity could believe this. If you were to ask a Frenchman what his sense of French national identity is based on, my guess is he'd talk about French history, the French language, the habits and traditions that differentiate French people from people of other countries, and perhaps the great French writers, artists, scientists, and other contributors to civilization. Far down the list, if mentioned at all, would be the structure of the French government, which in any case has gone through all manner of radical changes over the past two or three centuries while France remained France. The fact that France has a directly-elected President has very little to do with why French people feel French.

I'm not even going to touch the suggestion of a directly-imposed EU sales tax. People in Germany and Britain already fume about how much the EU is costing them, and that's with dues paid by national governments, not by individual citizens every time they buy something.

There are repeated assertions that national identity is inevitably eroding over time in favor of a common European feeling. No polling data are cited to support this. Meanwhile, in the real world, Greeks are putting up posters depicting Germans as Nazis, people in the northern European countries are sneering at Greeks and Italians for supposed profligacy and economic incompetence, a few months ago German newspapers were gloating that Ireland's need for EU economic aid would allow Germany to dictate changes in Irish tax policy, established countries like Britain, Spain, and Belgium are threatened with break-up by independence-minded ethnic sub-regions, and nationalistic political parties, some of them dangerously radical, are on the rise in Finland, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands, and France. There is more rancor, hostility, and resentment between different European nations today than there's been in half a century.

Why on Earth would peoples with such rich and distinctive cultures and national personalities as the French, British, Germans, and Italians give them up and identify with a soulless polyglot jigsaw-puzzle of countries with no history of political unity or common identity? Three generations of totalitarian Soviet education couldn't get the Uzbeks and Estonians to stop feeling like Uzbeks and Estonians.

Then there's this:

In 2009, researchers conducted an experiment as part of a European Union project dubbed Europolis. They brought together 348 men and women from the continent's various linguistic regions for three days. Accompanied by moderators and interpreters, the participants were to debate two challen- ging subjects: climate change and immigration.

The polyglot group of Europeans did not come up with any answers after three days of discussion. Nevertheless, interviews conducted at the beginning and after the end of the debate led the scientists to recognize an effect across all language barriers, namely that opinions had changed. "There are no fundamental obstacles to the introduction of deliberative democracy in Europe," they concluded. In the hothouse of the conference room, a miniature version of a European nation had begun to emerge.

Good grief. You could assemble a great big group of Americans, Koreans, Brazilians, and Ukrainians in a nice hotel somewhere, provide them with "moderators and interpreters", and have them rap about things for a few days, and they'd have some interesting discussions and in some cases change each others' opinions. That doesn't mean there's any basis for a common national identity for those countries.

Towards the end, the question of what actual ordinary Europeans think of all this does get a mention. In Germany, for example, there are two "problems", namely "the Federal Constitutional Court [Germany's Supreme Court] and the German population." Yes, giving up national sovereignty would be unconstitutional, and that pesky group of obstructionists known as "the German population" doesn't want to do it. A couple of minor obstacles there.

But it doesn't matter what the surly masses want, because

.....the population, neither in Germany nor in neighboring countries, has never been asked their opinion about Europe under fair conditions. Who knows what the people think? In fact, for lack of what Habermas calls a functioning European "deliberation" process, the people themselves don't even know what they think. The failed referendums on the European Constitution in France and the Netherlands are a poor indicator of popular views, because in both cases misinformation and domestic political rancor distorted the picture. The new "elite project".....consists in the political class and academia explaining Europe and their goals to the citizens.

Take a moment to savor the rich, steaming arrogance of that. Europe includes some of the best-educated populations on the planet, with some of the oldest traditions of democratic self- government, but the fact that they vote against the elite's grand project every chance they get just means that the elite need to keep lecturing them about what the correct opinions on these matters are.

The EU's leaders, in any case, seem more incompetent than elite these days. Like the Republicans in the US, they are ignoring Europe's gigantic real problem -- high unemployment -- and imposing spending cuts and austerity which have locked country after country into a death spiral of economic contraction which can only end in utter collapse unless those insane policies are reversed. Indeed, the southern countries need not only economic stimulus policies but currency devaluation -- impossible unless they reinstate separate national currencies.

You can see why these people are so terrified of public opinion that recent proposed referendums in Greece and Britain had to be prevented by any means necessary.

While the ivory-tower thinkers quoted in Der Spiegel spin visions of a grand march toward a United States of Europe, in the real world European leaders are staggering from one crisis meeting to another trying to stave off the collapse of the EU's misbegotten common currency, which even some of its boosters are now saying may happen by Christmas. One is reminded of the failed general in his bunker, losing both his war and his grip on reality, dictating grand maneuvers with armies that no longer exist.

There is not going to be a United States of Europe. The effort to create it has led to unnecessary rancor and conflict, wastage of money on a vast scale, a swath of wrecked economies from Lesbos to Lisbon, and a financial crisis even more dangerous (and boring) than what happened in the US in 2008. Only when this grandiose failed experiment is put out of its misery will democratic national governments, freed from EU decrees and the straitjacket of the common currency, finally be able to start repairing the damage.