31 July 2012

Videos of the week -- first! pwned! LOL!

What if real life was like internet comment threads? (NSFW)

29 July 2012

Quotes for the day -- Romney edition

"Romney's lived in a bubble of privilege all his life, never having to swallow the disappointments and petty humiliations most of us do, never having had to learn to guard his tongue and play nice with superiors. From governor's son in private schools to a business career whose path was smoothed for him by connections, wealth, and instant CEO-hood, he's always been a top dog and hasn't had to develop the instinctive diplomacy most people learn as a matter of survival. And it shows. Hoo boy, does it ever show."

Commenter "Janicket" here

"In ANGLO SAXON terms: tone-deaf, shit-for-brains, gormless, charm-free. Going down like a cup of cold sick and featured in the first 3 minutes of the BBC ten o'clock news, in a highly disparaging fashion. FAIL. (Actually just the kind of wanker we need to FINALLY get behind the games!)."

An un-named Londoner here

"Hey England!  We're sending you Michele Bachmann next.  We've got a million of them!"

Twitterer "Smoky View Ranch" at #RomneyShambles

Link round-up for 29 July 2012

Don't panic -- organize!

The black cat defines philosophy, metaphysics, theology -- and science.

Murr Brewster has more on dead weasels and all-too-lively garden pests.

Still a better currency than the euro.

Yes, let's do what the Bible says.

.....and the horse you rode in on.

Your washing machine is a time bomb.

Lobsters are getting more colorful.

Romney is a weird tipper.

Some rich people are far from patriotic.

That Churchill bust Obama returned to Britain was only here on loan and was already scheduled to go back before Obama took office.

When fundies try to get profound, you just know the results will be hilariously tacky (found via Republic of Gilead).

What would Jefferson think of the Texas Republican platform?

Lady Atheist has a religious link round-up.

Romney has nothing left to talk about (cartoon here).

After the first woman in space, the US waited 20 years to follow suit.  And Sally Ride had to wait until her death to tell the truth.  Maybe because stuff like this still happens.

Pennsylvania Republicans defending their voter ID law admit vote fraud isn't a real issue.

Chick-fil-A lies about being dumped by the muppets.

"We tried our plan and it worked" -- here's what Obama actually said.

Famous Americans speak out on secular education.  Oh, and there's this guy.

As the Republican convention nears, Tampa strip clubs prepare for a surge in business.  One has even hired a Palin-lookalike stripper.

There are a few problems with religion.

If you want another debt-and-spending binge, vote Republican. Their tax plan would be worse for the deficit too.

Here's a history of race relations in one cartoon.

Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel has positioned himself to personally profit if the US defaults on its debt -- an outcome he has already said he would vote for (found via Plutocrap).

Gun sales in Colorado are up since the theater shooting.  The anti-gun side has, plainly and simply, lost the argument.  But one victim's case illustrates the barbarity of our country's lack of universal health insurance.

Could Bachmann really lose this time?

Religion remains the best predictor of voting patterns.

Keeping Obamacare will save at least $319 billion.

The obsessives who focus on deficits and debt instead of growth have been proven wrong yet again (found via Green Eagle).

There are good reasons why Jewish voters continue to lean Democratic.

Never mind gay marriage, a church in Mississippi has refused to marry a couple because they're black.

An odd poll result in Ohio suggests woeful divisions among Republicans.

A life filled with divine purpose is a wasted life.

Read the comments thread here.  These people will vote -- will you?

HL Mencken had some choice words about ethnicity in the US.

Louisiana's "standards" won't stop public money from going to religious fake "education".

The biggest threat to Obama's re-election is the naïve bipartisanship he wasted so much time on early in his administration.

Investing in birth control could achieve a lot.

Here are 23 brands to avoid -- and tell them why.  More here (found via Republic of Gilead).

On the Aurora theater shooter, I've got nothing to say beyond what I said here.  But Roger Ebert is a must-read.

The heat wave is dispelling denial about global warming (as I speculated would happen); now governments need to focus on real solutions.

Inequality is even worse than we thought.

US conservative moves to Canada, wakes up to reality.

Europe vs. the US: sad but true.

Victorian-era photographs reveal London of over a century ago.

Romney's blundering British gaffe-fest continues to provoke derision in both countries.  He, not Obama, is threatening the "special relationship".  At least we've got Michelle.

Jen McCreight has a photo report from Dublin, a city with character

Welcome to Germany.

As the euro lurches back into crisis, the EU blames the victimAusterity in Europe and spending cuts in the US, not "delinquent behavior" by southern European countries, are driving the crisis. 

A man of courage has had to flee his homeland.

In China, don't eat the broccoli (or, apparently, anything).

A sunken World-War-II-era German U-boat is found off Nantucket.

Oh, great, now global warming is creating a new threat to the ozone layer.

Another long-vanquished disease makes a comeback thanks to anti-vaccination nuts.

Life-extension activists in Russia are starting their own political party.

28 July 2012

Hey Mitt, Boris was right.....

.....they were ready -- full photo report from London, reactions here.

27 July 2012

The adventures of Mitt Romney among the British

Romney may have succeeded in defusing his flunky's recent remark that "the White House", meaning its current occupant, doesn't "fully appreciate" the "Anglo-Saxon heritage" at the root of our country's special relationship with Britain (while leaving the dog-whistle intact), but that flap proved to be merely the prelude to a torrential rain of clangers dropped by the candidate himself*.  There was his offhand reference to a meeting with British intelligence, something that normally wouldn't have been made public.  There was his criticism of Britain's hosting of the Olympics, which has so far drawn blunt rebukes from the British Prime Minister, the mayor of London, and most of the British media (full report from the generally conservative-leaning Daily Mail).  There were a few minor gaffes such as addressing the head of the opposition Labour party as "Mr. Leader".  Then there was the renewed attention, thanks to all this, to Romney's assessment of Britain (or England -- he probably doesn't know the difference) a couple of years ago:

England is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn't make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn't been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler's ambitions.

That Anglo-Saxonness doesn't seem to be helping him get along with the British after all.  Also on his travel itinerary are Poland and Israel, two more countries noted for firm national pride.  I can hardly wait.

*"Dropping a clanger" is a Britishism for "making a gaffe".  Cartoon and some of the links found via Progressive Eruptions.

24 July 2012

The first Occupier

It was the late fifth century CE, and a mighty realm was cracking under unprecedented strain. The vast Persian Empire, known as Îrânshahr to its people, had been ruled for more than a quarter millennium by the Sasanid dynasty of kings; its territory stretched from deep within what is now Afghanistan to the frontiers of Byzantium, to which it had long stood as a rival and often a full equal (or even superior) in military power.  Now, though, Persia had fallen on harder times.  King Kavâd I was young and untested.  The empire was still reeling from a massive military defeat  in which the barbarians beyond the northeastern frontier had wiped out much of the Persian army and killed Kavâd's father, King Peroz.

Though Persia was theoretically an absolute monarchy, the Zoroastrian priesthood, as representatives of the official religion of the state, had long been a power unto themselves.  So too were the noble land-owning families, who collected their own taxes within their territories, and even maintained their own standing armies.  With the King, state, and national army in weakened straits, the nobility were now more inclined than ever to throw their own weight around.

One interest group had no voice at all:  the Persian masses.  The lavish lifestyles enjoyed by the royal court, the priests, and the nobility alike, rested on the labor of millions of peasants.  Taxation existed not only to pay for services and infrastructure, but more importantly as a classic expropriation of the economic surplus to keep a largely parasitic ruling class in luxury.  In this respect, Îrânshahr was typical of most pre-modern states.  What happened next, after the final straw landed on the camel's back, was not typical.

That final straw took the form of an all-out war between the two most powerful of the noble land-owning families, the Mihran and the Karin.  King Kavâd had encouraged their rivalry to undermine the nobles' power, but the result now was disaster -- the fighting left much of the empire's territory a wasteland of blackened fields and wrecked villages.  The peasants' lives had been burdensome enough, but now millions faced utter destitution, their crops and animals and homes destroyed.  The situation was unendurable.

Comes the hour, comes the man.

Mazdak son of Bâmdâd is a difficult figure to assess.  All the historical material we have about him was written by his enemies.  Zoroastrian, Christian, and (later) Muslim commentators alike poured scorn and vitriol upon him.  Yet through it all we can still see something of who he was, and why the powers-that-be so deeply feared what he stood for.

We do know he started as a Zoroastrian priest, and thus must have had a comfortable life under the existing order.  We don't know what first turned him against the religion he served.  It may have been as simple as a genuine sense of justice.

Brushing aside the establishment priesthood's dedication to formal ritual, Mazdak preached that justice and equality were what mattered.  Class differences and the grossly unequal distribution of wealth, not sin or disobedience, were the truly great evils.  Class differences were to be swept away and property redistributed; ultimately all the wealth of Îrânshahr should be owned collectively by all its people.  At a time when asceticism was on the rise, he preached hedonism.  He rejected eating meat and it has even been suggested that he favored the abolition of slavery.  His teachings coalesced into a genuinely new religion, Mazdakism.  In the ruined countryside, it found an eager audience.

Already some peasants were abandoning the land and turning vagabond.  Now, as Mazdakism spread, their numbers exploded and outright rebellion broke out.  Unstoppable hordes overwhelmed the granaries and estates of the nobility, seizing by force the stockpiled wealth to which they had now been taught they were entitled and which, in the last analysis, had originally been produced by their labor.  They called themselves "the Adherents of Justice".

Peasant revolts have erupted here and there throughout history, but have usually died down quickly due to lack of leadership and the superior organization and armament of the authorities.  In this case, by contrast, the rebellion was fueled by a coherent program and philosophy, of which it indeed constituted merely one arm, if the most active and fearsome one.  Mazdak's teachings have been called the first Communist Manifesto.

The strength which Mazdakism quickly acquired may be judged from the fact that King Kavâd himself became a convert.  Historians disagree about why he did this.  Some think he merely wished to encourage the destruction of the landed nobles' power by the rebellion; others believe he had some genuine sympathy for the peasants' plight (and since Mazdakism took a religious form, it may be that he simply came to believe Mazdak was right about what God willed).  At any rate, he empowered Mazdak to carry out social and economic reforms to help the poor, though nothing so radical as actually implementing full communism.

One other matter must be mentioned.  Some sources say Mazdak advocated collective "sharing" of women (presumably replacing the concept of marriage); it is even said that Kavâd demonstrated the sincerity of his conversion by offering to share his queen with Mazdak.  Modern historians are divided about whether these claims are true.  On the one hand, many pre-modern societies did look upon women more as property than as persons with rights of their own, so it's conceivable that the Mazdakites might have viewed them as just another form of property to be collectively rather than privately held.  On the other hand, all our sources about Mazdak were written by those who sought to demonize him and his ideas, and would certainly not have been above accusing him of any outrage they could think of.  We'll probably never know the truth for sure.

In the end, Mazdakism was defeated.  The priests and the nobility joined forces to restore the old order while they still had the strength to do so.  They overthrew Kavâd and imprisoned him.  Several years later he escaped and regained power, but was sufficiently intimidated to distance himself from Mazdak.  Later he set out to suppress the heretical new religion entirely; Mazdak and thousands of his followers were murdered.  Kavâd did continue with some reforms to help the poor, but Mazdak's radical ideas were never implemented and the old social order survived.

One can only wonder what might have been achieved even back then, fifteen centuries ago, if Mazdak had refused to be seduced into partnership with the King, and taken the path of all-out revolution instead.

23 July 2012

Video of the week -- mother monster fashion

Found via Ranch Chimp.

22 July 2012

Link round-up for 22 July 2012

The authorities have their priorities.

"I don't know -- that's how things are done around here."

Murr Brewster looks at the challenge of mailing dead weasels.

Today's link round-up wouldn't be complete without Deity Shmeity's link round-up of link round-ups.

The old guy wins the argument.

What if animals were like Americans?

Don't try too hard to make your point.

I get this feeling a lot.

A conservative media watchdog nails journalist Connie Schultz.

The London Olympics logo must have been designed by a Simpsons fan.

What's the difference between a Catholic priest and acne?

A new Internet Defense League is being formed by Fight for the Future to protect the net from the endless government and corporate plots to censor and control it. But if the bad guys do win, to Hell with it.

Romney's dog-on-roof ride broke several laws.

One modern figure can justly be called Orwell's successor, though he never claimed the title.

Fauna tumblr features arresting photos of animal life (and the occasional plant).

The parasite class just doesn't get it about the rule of law.

If you eat pig products, this is what you're supporting.

Zinnia Jones looks at weird religious logic.

Chick-fil-A is no longer welcome in Boston.

Here's what the Republican plan to repeal Obamacare would actually mean.

The next stimulus should start with repairing our decaying power grid.

Religious freedom doesn't mean you can break any law you like.

Tennessee teabaggers denounce their own Republican Governor for insufficient bonkersness.

Wingnuts rush to blame secularism for the Colorado shootings -- examples here, here, and here.

Whatever happened to conservative intellectuals?

Elizabeth Warren looks at the Libor financial-fraud case.

The contrast between Romney and his father shows how capitalism has degenerated into something hard to defend.  Bain Capital's evil depended on government stacking the deck.  Romney is still stonewalling on his tax returns (clumsily), but the problem won't go away.  Rooted Cosmopolitan looks at what he might be hiding.  David Frum thinks the race can only get dirtier.

Don't be fooled by Pawlenty's boringness -- he's a nut.

Republicans trample the 14th Amendment in the stampede back to Jim Crow.

73 years after the stained-glass windows of Britain's Coventry Cathedral were removed to protect them from possible war damage, modern computer technology is helping to restore them.

Why is this film about last year's riots in Britain being suppressed?

A UFO under the Baltic?  No, probably an old German secret weapon (found via Mendip).

Hollande's election began to turn the EU away from austerity-mania, but sanity has not yet won out.

The IMF has lost hope for the viability of the euro currency.

Spain still feels the effects of the vast Catholic-Church-run baby-stealing ring that operated until well into the 1990s.

Oddly enough, most Mexicans don't like having their country engulfed in violence as a result of our drug-war delusions.

Clearly this man is not an American.

Chastity belts are bad enough, but Sohanlal Chouhan took it one step further.

Homophobia in China sustains a culture of phony marriage.

How did dinosaurs do it?

Richard Dawkins receives a fishy tribute from Sri Lanka.

Simple math drives home the urgency of combating global warming.

Birth control saves more than a quarter-million lives a year.

Here's an ocean sixty miles deep -- maybe someday we'll explore its depths.

21 July 2012

Anatomy of a lie

In a recent speech in Virginia, President Obama said the following:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

He was making a fairly mundane point that individual success doesn't happen in a vacuum, but depends on the infrastructure created by government and the broader society.  For the purposes of this post, the salient point is that in the sentence "If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that", the word "that" refers to the infrastructure mentioned in the preceding sentences -- the "American system", the roads and bridges.  There's no ambiguity about this.  The point is clarified further by Obama's mention of the internet, one of the most critical parts of the infrastructure supporting the success of business in the modern age.

The Romney campaign has now produced a TV ad titled "These Hands" which quotes the sentence "If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that" in isolation, making it sound as though Obama meant that if you've got a business, you didn't build that business.  Obama's words are immediately followed by a citizen (or an actor playing one) saying indignantly "My father's hands didn't build this company?  My hands didn't build this company?"  That is, the ad is not merely putting the edited quote out there and allowing the viewer to misinterpret it, though that would be bad enough.  It's flat-out saying that by "you didn't build that" Obama meant "you didn't build your business" as opposed to "you didn't build the supporting social infrastructure", which he clearly did, in fact, mean.

Remember, this is not some individual right-wing blogger or TV viewer who heard a partial quote and misconstrued it.  This is the Romney campaign, and of course the ad ends with the standard voice-over by Romney himself -- "I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this message."  There's no possibility that the campaign which produced the ad did not know what the actual quote was.  In other words, this is deliberate fraud.

I've over-belabored a simple point here for a reason -- to show that there's no ambiguity about what the ad is doing, no grey area.  I repeat, this is deliberate fraud.  Based on this, it's clear that anything coming from Mitt Romney, from his campaign, or from the Republican party should be assumed to be a deliberate, pre-meditated lie until proven otherwise.

You can see the ad here.  I notice that in 11 comments by conservative readers, not one person even mentions the fact that the ad is a blatant lie.

19 July 2012

Twisted sister

Forgotten Fatherland : The True Story of Nietzsche's Sister and Her Lost Aryan Colony (1992) by Ben Macintyre

I first heard about this book, and this odd little cranny of history, via this TYWKIWDBI post.  Macintyre did indeed track down the lost colony in 1991, though there wasn't much left of it -- but its founding in the late 19th century is the more interesting part of the story.

Elisabeth Nietzsche (1846-1935) exemplified the type of person her brilliant brother despised -- a thud-and-blunder über-nationalist and anti-Semite, obsessed with "racial purity" and collective identity, and something of a Victorian prig as well.  With her husband, the like-minded (but gloomier and less energetic) Bernhard Förster, she dreamed of founding a "pure" German colony in some remote location, where the true German spirit could continue -- she disdained Germany itself as irredeemably poisoned by Jewish influences.  Unfortunately for all concerned, she had enough determination to actually make her dream a reality.  A piece of land in the deep interior of Paraguay was found, 14 suitably-Aryan families were recruited to settle there, and in 1886 Nueva Germania was born.

The effort was a fiasco from the start.  German temperate-zone agriculture proved grotesquely unsuited to the tropics; pounding rains, tropical diseases, and dangerous animals tormented the settlers (during his own 1991 trip upriver to find the colony, Macintyre passed the time partly by reading a book about the various poisonous snakes that infest the area); isolation and depression took their toll.  Eventually some of the colonists took to denouncing the project as a fraud in the German media, hampering Elisabeth's efforts to recruit more settlers.  In 1889 the perennially-gloomy Förster expressed his despair over the colony's deepening money woes by committing suicide.  Four years later Elisabeth abandoned her colony and returned to Germany.

It's jarring to the modern reader to see how, in the late 19th century, anti-Semitism was considered a perfectly respectable stance on an equal footing with tolerance of Jews (paralleling, perhaps, the way homophobia is still seen as a respectable stance in some circles today).  At one point Elisabeth said that her colony would show the great things that anti-Semites could accomplish.  Her brother brushed her off by saying he wished all the anti-Semites would get out of Germany and go to Paraguay.

I've known for a long time that Nietzsche's philosophy has been grossly distorted and over-simplified in the popular imagination, making him a precursor and inspiration to the Nazis.  What I learned from this book is that it was his sister who was mainly responsible for this corruption of his views.  Nietzsche suffered a psychological collapse in 1889 and became essentially insane, no longer able to speak for himself, and died in 1900.  Elisabeth edited his unpublished writings and took over guiding public perception of him.

Nietzsche was an elitist to be sure, but he was fascinated by superior individuals, not a "master race".  He despised Judaism as a religion (largely for the crime of having brought Christianity into the world), not Jewish people; he attacked anti-Semitism at a time when anti-Semitism was popular and respectable.  A German through and through, he was nevertheless exasperated with the crude nationalism of the time, and intrigued rather than disappointed by the fact that the name "Nietzsche" is probably of Polish origin.  But Elisabeth's paint-roller covered all his subtle and clashing hues with a monochrome, making his ghost an ally of her own views which he had rejected in life.

Elisabeth lived long enough to see the rise of the Nazis, whom she of course fervently supported.  Hitler respected her and visited her several times, and sent a container of German soil to be scattered on Förster's grave in Paraguay.  Hitler enthusiastically embraced the endorsement provided by Elisabeth's warped re-write of Nietzsche, but there is no evidence that he ever actually read a word Nietzsche wrote.  A famous photo, reproduced in the book, shows Hitler gazing "thoughtfully" at a bust of Nietzsche.  The great thinker, captured in stone, looks even gloomier than usual, as if his shade were despairing over the ignorant and bigoted pygmy who had risen to power over his country, even claiming his philosophy as inspiration.

Macintyre in 1991 did find a few families and physical relics left over from Nueva Germania.  Some descendants of the settlers have intermarried with local people, while others stayed true to their founders' ideals of racial purity, and are beginning to show effects of inbreeding.  It won't be long before the last remnants of Elisabeth's dream merge into the tropical jungle and disappear.  But "decadent" Germany itself, despite the catastrophe brought by the Nazis she came to admire so much, is doing just fine.  Perhaps in time even her brother's reputation will recover from the butchery she wrought on it.

17 July 2012

Video of the week -- if all you dreamed was new

16 July 2012

Blogroll additions

A few blogs recently added and well worth your exploration:

Cristina Rad:  Yes, the Romanian-born YouTube dynamo of sensible secularism formerly known as Zomgitscriss now has a blog.

Man Boobz:  David Futrelle's one-man campaign to expose the bizarre misogyny of the MRA cult will never run out of material.

Knatolee's World:  Take a break from all the politics and social conflict with some rural Canadian ducks, bees, and limericks.

Rosa Rubcondior:  Tireless and intelligent discussion from Britain on religion, evolutionary biology, and related matters.

I don't know how I omitted to include ACME's Buddhist Catalog for so long -- fighting the vast Sargasso of internet dumbassery that most of us can only facepalm at in despair.

Finally, don't miss the always lively and pretty much self-explanatory Deity Shmeity, which I added a couple of weeks ago.

Listing of book review posts

In the future my book reviews will be a bigger part of this blog, so I'm starting this post to list them all.  It will be updated as necessary.

The Bible Unearthed (2001) by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman:  It's not just Genesis -- almost all the "history" in the Old Testament is a fiction created in the 7th century BC, and never happened in reality.

The Camp of the Saints (1973) by Jean Raspail:   The godawful, turgid novel that spawned enduring nightmares about race and migration.

Crazy for God (2007) by Frank Schaeffer:  The son of theologian Francis Schaeffer, one of the founders of the modern Christian Right, describes how he repudiated his father's ideology and now fights against it as a liberal Christian.

The Darkening Age (2017) by Catherine Nixey:  Yes, it really was Christianity that destroyed Greco-Roman civilization and precipitated the Dark Ages.  It's an ugly and bloody story.

Ending Aging (2007) by Aubrey de Grey:  With effort and investment, we can develop a comprehensive strategy to defeat humanity's oldest and most terrible enemy -- death itself.

Enlightenment Now (2018) by Steven Pinker:  Why life today is better than ever before, and how to keep it getting even better.

Factfulness (2018) by Hans Rosling:  Too many people's impressions of the world, especially the "developing countries", are half a century out of date.  The world today is very different from in the 1960s and 1970s.

Forgotten Fatherland (1992) by Ben Macintyre:  The true story of a German racist colony in 19th-century Paraguay, founded by Nietzsche's sister.

The Grand Design (2010) by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow:  Why does the universe exist?  Why is there something rather than nothing?  We now know the answers.

Here Be Dragons (2009) by Dennis McCarthy:  Geography has shaped evolution, including bringing several catastrophic mass-extinction events long before the time of humans.

Household Gods (1999) by Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove:  A modern woman travels back in time and spends over a year living in a border town in the Roman Empire.

Infidel (2007) by Ayaan Hirsi Ali:  A former Muslim tells the story of her upbringing in Somalia and Kenya, her growing doubts about Islam and final escape from it, and her courageous struggle against its influence in the Western world.

The Language Hoax (2014) by John McWhorter:  There are huge differences between languages around the world, but they don't cause people to have different ways of perceiving reality.

The Necroscope series by Brian Lumley:  Novels that take vampires back to their true evil roots, with more than a few zombies thrown in.

A Renegade History of the United States (2010) by Thaddeus Russell:  The counter-culture has been an integral part of American life from the time of the Founders down to today.

Things I Never Learned in Sunday School (2012) by Nan Yielding:  Many of the beliefs of modern Christianity have remarkably little basis in the Bible, originating instead from mistranslations, non-Biblical texts, and other ancient religions.

V for Vendetta (1988) by Alan Moore and David Lloyd:  The classic graphic novel of a lone anarchist revolutionary battling a fascist regime in Britain, with an emphasis on comparing it with the film adaptation.

Why I Am Not a Muslim (1995) by Ibn Warraq:  A former Muslim exposes Islam's barbaric nature and fraudulent origins -- and offers evidence that its grip on the minds of its hundreds of millions of adherents may be much more fragile than we think.

A few lesser-known science fiction novels well worth reading.

15 July 2012

Link round-up for 15 July 2012

Books are a magic that's real.

Clinton and Obama symbolize the American dream.

Lady Atheist has a round-up of religion-themed links.

I easily scored 100% on both of these tests.  How about you?

This Southern lady has had it with knuckle-dragging politicians (found via Parsley's Pics).

Heh.....Error 404, God not found.

A mother holds a new baby close.

Behold the evil and twisted gay agenda (found via Politics Plus).

If you can't avoid going to Wal-Mart, play bingo.

Long-dead ignorant savages dictate what we can and can't do.

Jack Jodell has a few questions for the right wing.

Religious thugs have terrorized another blogger into silence.

On pride, I've long thought this.

Clinton and Bush, taxes and jobs.

Verizon is evil and is trying to ruin the internet (NSFW blog).

200,000 religious nuts promise to waste their votes in November -- more of this, please!

Here's another disgusting case of abuse by a TSA agent.

The fundies' "culture of life" is a culture of ignorance and ugliness.

Charles Johnson unearths yet another ugly eruption of racism, this one at Beck's "The Blaze".

Clueless twits harass innocent Iranians in the US and Canada.

No, Obama has not "gutted welfare reform".

Taxes are now at a thirty-year low.

"Annie" recounts the pain (and absurdity) of growing up different in a conservative religious culture.  Here's another example of what such people face.

Women and Hispanics are only the beginning of the Republican party's long-term problems.

The world's oldest scam is losing its grip.

I agree with this -- Paterno's legacy must be erased (except that the abolition should be permanent).

Religious crazies are nasty, even to kittens.

Romney keeps his money overseas and pays a far lower tax rate than most ordinary people.  What would Republicans be saying if Obama did that?

Did Romney commit a felony by misrepresenting when he left Bain?  FactCheck.org says probably not, but there's a "grey area" and Romney's own testimony undermines his position.  Here's why it matters, and here's a good overview of the controversy.

George Romney was different.

Sign here to urge the IRS to enforce the law on tax-exempt churches.

Ron Paul tries to lower expectations, but his cultists won't listen.

California has advantages in coping with the heat wave.  Elsewhere, watch out for exploding hay.

Britain's National Trust obfuscates about its flaming idiocy in the Giant's Causeway case.

Wave of the future?  A leading Italian university switches to teaching in English.

As has already happened in Ireland and Latin America, the Catholic Church faces decline in its former bastion of Poland.

The Russian regime is trying to censor the internet, using the usual pretexts, but major Russian websites are resisting.

Australia is scary.

A top Taliban leader admits his movement can't win -- and now loathes al-Qâ'idah.

NCSE, long a defender of science education, opens up a new front.

Yes, the world-wide increase in extreme weather is linked to global warming.

National Geographic's TV channel sinks into the stupid.

Genetics is telling us a lot about how humans colonized the Americas -- but in one country, there's a problem getting data.

13 July 2012

Gut feeling -- the look of the future

The future will not be homogenous.  To people who recoil from pluralism, people who want everything to be the same as themselves and the same as it always was, the future just viscerally looks wrong, and deep down the future is what they're struggling to prevent.

Reading conservative websites as much as I do, it's impossible to avoid noticing a pervasive resistance to change and difference.  Conservatism is saturated with anxiety about the growing acceptance and visibility of gays, about the declining dominance of religion (by which they mean Christianity), about the millions who find that marriage and reproduction do not suit them, about the growing numbers and confidence of non-white and racially-mixed people, about technology that makes information and communication too hard to control, about the prospect of socialist (I use the honest word) reforms that will liberate the poor from the raw struggle for survival and ultimately undermine the dominance of wealth.

It's not exactly fear of the different, it's more an endless stream of half-stated objections and pearl-clutching disapproval, and it isn't the wave of the future.  Race-consciousness and religious fervor and befuddled anxiety about gay marriage just don't go with the world of the internet and nanotechnology and stem cells; they belong to the world of outhouses and megachurches and unbathed hillbillies swigging corn mash out of jugs with XXX on them. There are reasons why places like this are built in New York and Massachusetts and California rather than in states that keep trying to put creationism in the schools; on a broader scale, there are reasons why they're built in the US and Europe and Japan rather than in Pakistan or North Korea or Saudi Arabia.

Airplanes are hijacked by those who fear pluralism, but designed and manufactured by those who embrace it.

Take the most insular and conservative major culture in the world today -- Islam.  Wherever hard-line Islam has triumphed, it has driven away (or scared into silence) non-Muslim minorities, struggled against non-Muslim influences from the outside or from the past, and enforced conformity of behavior and expression.  Even where Islam has taken root in new soil, as in Europe, it seeks to isolate its carriers from the ideas and ways of the higher secular pluralistic civilization around it, for those ideas and ways will seduce them away from it.  And Islam will clearly have no role in shaping the future, unless it turns out that there is no real future and the world sinks back into the Dark Ages.  Islam can only "stand athwart history, yelling Stop" -- in vain -- as more and more of the millions in whose brains it is rooted slowly begin to cast it off.

This, too, is why I can't see China dominating the future, not unless it gets rid of both its current form of government and its current attitude toward the outside world.  A regime obsessed with controlling flows of information, and a "redneck" (in American terms) prickliness toward foreign influences, are crippling handicaps in today's world.  There are good reasons why Japan, with its long history of receptivity to outside ideas, was the first non-Western country to modernize and remains the most advanced.  The insularity of the samurai era was the exception that proves the rule -- if Japan had stayed like that, rejecting the Meiji transformation, it would be a Third World country today.

The future won't be a retreat into the small and slow and traditional.  It won't be about limits and lowered expectations.  It will be bigger and faster and smarter, and more and more and more.

The future does not belong to people who feel viscerally uncomfortable when they see a different skin color or a sign in an unfamiliar alphabet or two men holding hands or a new breakthrough in artificial intelligence.  I'm sorry, it just doesn't.  If we want the United States to lead, we need to make sure that those people aren't the ones setting the pace.

10 July 2012

Romney -- a pictorial essay

08 July 2012

Link round-up for 8 July 2012

Here's an anthem for the Vatican.

Just how large was Reagan?

I've been there and it really feels like this.

Beware Britain's secret weapon -- the exploding rat.

This is a good person.  And this person will vote Republican.

Gorilla Bananas looks at the Olympics.

Forget the robotic brain, Japanese scientists have perfected the robotic ass (found via Mendip).

Faye Kane looks at the Texas Republican platform (NSFW blog).

Cheap Signals has a round-up of items worth reading.

The Bible is open to interpretation.

Obama has an agenda.

Not everyone's invited to this Christian conference.

Obama needs to focus on Republicans' economic extremism.

Yeesh, are these real quotes?

Olympic officials bully knitters.

Here be monsters.

Compare the Buddhist and the atheist.

Don't be fooled -- Romney is making serious outreach to the theocrats.

Another case of a Christian denying contraception to a rape victim prompts a lawsuit (found via Republic of Gilead).

Some of these black truths will surprise you (found via Smartypants).

When the man you married becomes a control freak, it's time to leave.

YouTube starts to address the cesspit its comment sections have become.

Evangelical infiltration of the US military threatens national security (found via Republic of Gilead).

Here's a liberal Christian view of the transition to post-Christian society.

The AMA supports the Supreme Court's upholding of the ACA.  Green Eagle fisks another crazed right-wing response to the ruling.  Crank right-wing scare e-mails about it are already starting to circulate.  If you're one of the 30 million gaining insurance from the reform, Republicans say you're not the issue.  Support for keeping the ACA is rising, and even many Republicans want to move on.  Stonekettle Station looks at winners and losers.

Which freedom is more worth defending?

When he's not busy wrecking education, Jindal also attacks libraries.

One conservative's path to sanity ran via Orwell.

The parasite class is different from you and me -- we don't get paid $44,400,000 for one day's work.

There's a reason why the Austrian school of economics appeals to right-wingers.

Not all countries are locked into endless cutbacks -- Britain plans humane reforms to care of the elderly.

At least some tourism officials in Northern Ireland are idiots.

Some Brits are holding an alternate Olympics for gentlemen.

The EU rejects ACTA, international successor to the evil SOPA, effectively killing it.  Links and commentary here.

Germany doesn't have power outages.

A vast abandoned military base becomes a ghost town of a vanished empire.

Irena Sendlerowa was a heroine of World War I.

The Arab rebellion is alive and kicking in Sudan.

Women suffer public sexual assault in Egypt and religious murder in Afghanistan.  Even a Saudi princess doesn't feel safe at home.

A religious mob in Pakistan beats a man to death for blasphemy.

For telling the truth, Sanal Edamaruku is a hunted man.

This week's CERN breakthrough evicts God from yet another gap -- so stop this "God particle" nonsense.

As the heat wave continues, with thousands of temperature records broken, the death toll climbs.  Beating global warming may take planetary engineering.

Here's an impressive amateur time-lapse video of the Colorado fires (found via Mendip); the scale of the phenomenon can be seen by contrast with the man-made structures in the foreground.

Funding cuts risk creating a gap in Earth's early-warning system for dangerous asteroids.

Befuddled by bosons?  Here's a primer on particles.

07 July 2012

Video of the week -- what's gone wrong with our country

Yes, it's long, but it's worth it -- this is probably the best comprehensive exposition I've seen of what's gone wrong with our country.  The plain facts Sanders cites will shock you.  He has some common-sense proposals for what to do about it, too.  In a sane world, this man would be President.  Found via Ranch Chimp.

06 July 2012

Sign post

Note: "вход" is Russian for "entrance".

04 July 2012

Congratulations CERN!

It appears that the existence of the Higgs boson, a key particle in the "Standard Model" of modern physics, has been confirmed at last, by the Large Hadron Collider at Geneva-based CERN:

I think we have it,” Rolf Heuer, the director general of CERN, said in an interview from his office outside Geneva, calling the discovery “a historic milestone.”..... Here at the Aspen Center for Physics, a retreat for scientists that will celebrate its 50th birthday on Saturday, the sounds of cheers and popping corks reverberated early Wednesday against the Sawatch Range through the Roaring Fork Valley of the Rockies, as bleary-eyed physicists watched their colleagues read off the results in a webcast from CERN. It was a scene duplicated in Melbourne, Australia, where physicists had gathered for a major conference, as well as in Los Angeles, Chicago, Princeton, New York, London and beyond — everywhere that members of a curious species have dedicated their lives and fortunes to the search for their origins in a dark universe.

(Article found via Progressive Eruptions.)

The existence and characteristics of the Higgs boson were predicted decades ago by physicists, and its actual discovery now constitutes powerful confirmation of the validity of the Standard Model.  This is a perfect example of how science works -- it makes testable predictions, predictions which can later be confirmed or refuted by data obtained by experiment or observation.  Other, fake "ways of knowing" such as religion, mysticism, or fake imitations of science such as creationism, do not do this.

These days we hear too much about Europe's problems and not enough about its achievements.  This is a great triumph for European science.

Now if we can just get the morons in the media to stop calling the Higgs boson "the God particle".....

Independence Day book review: renegades

A Renegade History of the United States (2010) by Thaddeus Russell

This is a history of our country told from the other side, without any pretense that it should be the only side.  It's the story of those who resisted and rebelled -- culturally rather than politically -- against the stuffed shirts, the respectable, the scolds, both right and left.  Renegade culture is the culture that has always sought pleasure and individual fulfillment, scorning the "values" of thrift and toil for their own sake, whether preached by the establishment or by its respectable opposition.  It's the story of those who kept the taverns and brothels thriving in the face of the Carrie Nations of history.

Russell starts with the early days of American independence, when the founding fathers themselves worried that Americans were too raucous and depraved for full self-government -- and based on Russell's descriptions of the society of the time, they had a point.  Drunkenness and casual sex (including inter-racial sex, forbidden as it was) were popular recreations among the masses, with the dignity and sobriety favored by the upper crust definitely a minority inclination.  Reading of this contrast between the gentry and the hedonistic urban proletariat, I couldn't help thinking of Britain, from which most Americans of the time (or their recent ancestors) had come -- if you've seen movies like Rita Sue and Bob Too or The Full Monty, you know there's another side of British culture than the stiff-upper-lip image in most Americans' heads, and the America of 230 years ago must have been somewhat like that.

The story continues with groups such as slaves and free blacks, Irish and Italian immigrants -- people who were excluded from respectable society and responded by building a defiantly non-respectable society of their own.  The contributions of prostitutes, gangsters, juvenile delinquents, and gays to renegade culture are each examined in their turn.  From Russell's perspective, even forces such as the unions and the Civil Rights movement were part of the "establishment" in that they tried to destroy renegade culture and spread establishment values among the downtrodden as a path to acceptance into mainstream society.

He himself acknowledges that the renegades should not be celebrated without reservation. "Were the heroes of this book to take control of society, it would be a living hell.  No one would be safe in the streets, chaos would reign, and garbage would never be collected."  Society needs order and structure too.  But it was renegade culture that, working within and even against that order and structure, gave us most of the freedom we have today, ensuring that the United States would not stagnate into the kind of society idealized by people like the John Birch Society and Rick Santorum.  You'll actually shudder at the realization of what this country could have ended up like if there had never been blacks or immigrants here.  A final look at the subversive role of American renegade culture in the Soviet Union, and the pitiful efforts of officialdom in that country to suppress it (so evocative of the similar efforts of similar people here!) reminds us of its global impact, which I suspect will yet make itself felt in places like the Islamic world.

Thanks to "EH" for sending me this book.