31 August 2012

Child accused of blasphemy -- petition

Two weeks ago I linked to the case of Rimsha Masih, an 11-year-old mentally-disabled girl in Pakistan who has been accused of blasphemy and is in mortal danger both from mob violence and from the law (blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan).  Rimsha's mother has started a petition asking the President of Pakistan to intervene; you can sign here.

Convention schmonvention (2)

Well, thank goodness that's over.  Actually, maybe I should have tuned in after all.  Where else could you watch a man debate an empty chair -- and lose?  I would vote for that chair over Romney.  If only Gingrich had come out babbling about making the Moon a state again, it might almost have been decent entertainment.

What everyone seems to be picking up on is the incredible prevalence of lies at the convention.  There was, in fact, one touch of visual honesty (pic above, found via Immoral Minority), but that was obviously an accident.  Ryan was so bad that even Fox News noticed.  See further commentary at Salon, Liberal Values, The Reaction, Squatlo, PM Carpenter, and Jack Jodell.  Andrew Sullivan was live-blogging.

Will this fib-fest help the Republicans?  Rasmussen shows a three-point drop for Obama over the last couple of days, and this morning's RCP average shows his lead down to 0.6%, the lowest since May, but these changes basically look like the kind of normal fluctuations that have been going on for months (and read this).  Time will tell.  Don't forget that they do have a plan (found via Politics Plus):

Update:  Immoral Minority now reports that the picture above was photoshopped; the sign and the debt clock were both on display at the convention but not in that juxtaposition.

So the one honest thing about the convention is fake.

30 August 2012

Convention schmonvention

I don't watch TV, and frankly my time is too valuable to waste hours of it on the Tampa fib-fest, but there's been some worthwhile coverage on the net which can be read in a fraction of the time.

TPM has the biggest myths from the convention and from Ryan's speech.  Gin and Tacos has been unimpressed.  For rank-and-file Republican reactions, see threads here and here (notice how much they complain about the audience seeming bored).  On the lighter side, Progressive Eruptions has the convention schedule and Parsley's Pics has Romney's biography.

Liberal Values has a post for each day:  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.  He makes a couple of key observations:

The Republicans now claim that social issues are a distraction. They are not a distraction – they are fundamental issues of individual liberty.

Ryan also spoke of freedom, but it is the conservative version of freedom which has nothing to do with the actual freedoms this nation was founded upon. Ryan supports the freedom of religious fanatics to impose their views upon others. Ryan supports the freedom of the ultra-wealthy to plunder the wealth of the nation and destroy the middle class.

This point can't be emphasized enough.  The Republicans advocate using the force of law to micro-manage individual reproductive and sexual behavior, and to impose the taboos of a particular religion on everyone.  This is totalitarianism, and the Republicans are now a totalitarian party.

Their laissez-faire economic stance boils down to de-legitimizing government intervention in the economy and asserting that whatever ends up happening in the absence of such intervention is inherently the right outcome.  This is no different than condemning medical intervention in the course of disease as unnatural and declaring medieval levels of disease and death to be the right outcome simply because they are what happens in the absence of conscious interference.

Finally, a reminder of what we're fighting for, not just against (found via Smartypants):

28 August 2012

Video of the week -- where did the water go?

I'm getting burned out on politics.  Have some puppies.

That was kind of short, so here are some baby otters:

26 August 2012

Contemplating gaffes unmade

The Republicans have canceled the Monday portion of their convention due to hurricane Isaac.

I mourn for the gaffes, the flubs, the racist and homophobic dog-whistles, the horribly-awkward "clarifications" on the tasteful topic of rape-induced pregnancy -- which will now go unspoken, unheard, un-laughed-at, un-gasped-at, because a full day of bloviation has been cut from this festival of right-wing-ness.

One can only hope that the Republicans will be in fine form for the remaining three days.  VP nominee Paul Ryan offers a little taste here just to keep our interest up (found via Immoral Minority).  In the meantime, have another video (found via Smartypants):

Link round-up for 26 August 2012

Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Moon, died yesterday.

The present-day US is like the French Revolution in reverse.

What if Jesus were to appear at the Republican convention?

Listen to Devo's new Romney/Seamus song.

Travel broadens the mind.

Meet Don Dwyer, protector of children.

Here's what Romney's money looks like.

What could possibly go wrong with this plan?

Fundamentalist pastor Grant Storms, crusader against public displays of sexuality at Mardi Gras, is convicted of public masturbation (found via Lady Atheist).

These are the faces of the enemy.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has issued an official statement on rape and pregnancy.  More hard data here and also here.

If Romney wins, Roe v. Wade almost certainly will be overturned; read this too.

Yes, religious politicians' delusional beliefs do matter (found via Lady Atheist), the problem is especially bad with House Republicans.

It's hard to keep track of all the Republican gaffes these days, but this odd piece of nastiness from the head of the RNC shouldn't pass unnoticed.

The tax-returns issue has bite.

Fundamentalists are driving away women and thus endangering their own future (found via Republic of Gilead).

Romney probably won't, and can't, use the convention to humanize himself.

Matthew O'Brien does a full fact-check of that Newsweek cover hit-piece on Obama (found via Green Eagle).

Global-warming denialism is a vote-losing position, except among hard-core Republicans.

Lady Atheist looks at Bertrand Russell.

Rosa Rubicondior looks at the evidence for the existence of Jesus.

Smartypants looks at the National Review's weird lunge into sexism about sons and daughters.

The NYT looks at Republican lies about Medicare reform.

Racist fanatics infiltrate the military to learn fighting skills.

Texas judge Tom Head threatens treason and civil war if Obama is re-elected, and Republicans elsewhere in the country are talking insurrection.

If elected, Wenona Benally Baldenegro would be the first American Indian woman in Congress (found via Smartypants).

The economy isn't bad enough to doom Obama's chances.

Akin's poll numbers have imploded even though several top conservatives still support him.  But Ryan and the party generally are just as extreme (found via Politics Plus), including the platform.  Huckabee, a featured speaker at the Republican convention, helpfully points out that rape-induced pregnancy sometimes produces great people.  Akin's religious mentor had some weird ideas of his own, and he wasn't the first.

In just six years, the self-declared religious percentage of Ireland's population has fallen from 69% to 47%.  Religion is massively declining all over the world.

This article on the latest plan to save the euro is a bit complex, but the gist of it is that the EU will act to save the southern European economies even at the risk of higher inflation -- a move which could inflame the German public's already-smoldering hostility to the common currency.

Historic sites in Syria are being wrecked by the civil war (I've been to Krak des Chevaliers, 2nd and 3rd photos).

Here's a collection of photos of spectacular cloud formations.

A short application of intense heat can deaden the itching from insect bites, apparently.

25 August 2012

The wacky world of Republicans

A few videos to get you in the mood for next week's convention:

Progressive Eruptions has an excellent round-up of Republican crackpottery.  Timothy Egan looks at the broader problem of anti-science ignorance among Republicans in Congress.  In case you missed it, here's my own review of what the party, as a party, stands for.

On to the convention!  Let the gaffe-fest begin!

24 August 2012

If the Republican party were a centipede.....

.....it would still be running out of feet to shoot itself in.  Hey, Romney, couldn't you have saved this gaffe for a couple of weeks from now?  We're not through talking about Akin and the platform yet!

I can't wait to see what these clowns are going to do at their convention next week -- especially with Akin supporter Mike Huckabee scheduled to speak, and Paultard bitter-enders threatening to create a ruckus.

22 August 2012

The party of Akin

Republicans nationwide have been stampeding to distance themselves from Todd Akin's toxic choice of words and rhetorical style on abortion -- but in terms of actual substance, his views are very much the party mainstream.

Last year Akin and VP nominee Paul Ryan co-sponsored HR 3, an anti-abortion law which would have limited its rape exception to "forcible rape" only, a sub-category apparently the same as Akin's "legitimate rape".  Ryan, like Akin, holds the personal view that there should be no rape exception at all -- that abortion should be prohibited even in such cases.

The Republican national party platform includes a plank calling for a Constitutional Amendment totally banning abortion, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or anything else.  This plank was voted final approval only late yesterday, after the Akin firestorm had been raging for two days -- so not even this controversy was able to get the party to moderate its position.

The omission of a rape exception from the platform plank cannot be dismissed as a mere oversight, either.  For example, the 2008 Republican platform had the same language; John McCain, the Presidential nominee that year, held more moderate views and had urged that a rape exception be added, but the party refused to include one.

The initial Romney/Ryan response on Akin included the statement that "a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape."  But this flatly contradicts the Republican platform.  Given Romney's notorious history of flip-flopping, and Ryan's Akin-like voting record, how can we trust them to keep their word?

Since their sweep of the House and many state legislatures in 2010, Republicans have pushed hundreds of laws restricting or banning abortion.  The worst of these have been unable to take effect due to Roe v. Wade, but since whoever is President for the 2013-2017 term will appoint up to three Supreme Court judges, that barrier is unlikely to survive if Obama loses.

Rachel Maddow reviews how widespread this extreme restrictionist stance -- and Akin's weird belief that rape almost never results in pregnancy -- are among Republicans:

This is what the Republicans are: the party of reducing women and girls to forced breeding stock for violent criminals.  We should never forget it and we should never let the rest of the electorate forget it.  A vote for Republicans at any level is a vote for that.

Further commentary from Norbrook and Murr Brewster.

[Image at top is from Politics Plus.]

21 August 2012

Video of the week -- the inhuman

Found via Okjimm.  Paul Ryan's idol denounced not only the "universal love" of Christianity, but even the basics of human social solidarity which are part of our primate heritage and necessary for any human society to survive.

Like many intellectually-curious people, I myself went through a phase of taking Ayn Rand seriously.  But the thought of someone reaching Ryan's current age (42) without having outgrown that phase is disturbing.

20 August 2012

"Legitimate rape"

In reaction to the Todd Akin shocker (see post below), some bloggers are focusing on his use of the phrase "legitimate rape", as if he meant that some rapes are "legitimate" in the sense of being morally acceptable.  This is missing the point.  It's quite clear that he didn't mean that.  What he did mean is, if anything, more disturbing.

Remember, he said, "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing [pregnancy] down."  He was re-asserting the distinction, popular among abortion-banners, between "real" rape (what he meant by "legitimate" rape) and some unspecified but putatively-large category of rape that isn't really rape, just women claiming to be raped when it was actually consensual or they're just mad at a guy or they just need an excuse to get an abortion or whatever it is that these guys (it always seems to be guys) have in mind when they make this distinction.  Abortion-banners know that rape is a case that undermines their stance in the eyes of many who might otherwise favor it, so they have to minimize rape as an issue, and one way of doing that is to claim that real rape is much rarer than people think.

What makes Akin's formulation distinctively disturbing is the claim that his (wholly imaginary) natural anti-conception mechanism operates exclusively in cases of "real" ("legitimate") rape.  That is, if you want an abortion after a rape, the very fact that you got pregnant shows that it wasn't a real rape.  If it had been a real rape, you wouldn't have gotten pregnant.  So there.  No abortion for you, and stop making a big deal out of nothing.

That's what he was really implying.

This man is a major-party candidate for a Senate seat.

19 August 2012

Todd Akin -- Republican poster boy

"First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that [rape-induced pregnancy] is really rare.  If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.  But let's assume maybe that that didn't work, or something.  You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be in the rapist, and not attacking the child."

With these words, Rep. Todd Akin (R-Missouri) has vaulted into the front lines of the Republican war on women.  Remember, this is not some drunk inbred intern forwarding an e-mail; this man is already a member of the House and has just won the primary to become the Republican candidate for Senator from Missouri.  The party has to own the guy.  In any case, the cruelty of his "no abortion regardless of circumstances" stand is quite commonplace among Republicans; his biological ignorance may sound weird, but in a party where creationism and global-warming denialism are treated as respectable positions, how can there not be people who believe things like this?

Among bloggers I regularly read, Squatlo, Smartypants, and BooMan have already voiced the incredulity all decent people must feel, and no doubt many more will follow.

It gets better:  ThinkProgress has highlighted how Akin joined forces with newly-minted VP candidate Paul Ryan last year to re-define rape in a manner reminiscent of his "legitimate rape" (a phrase instantly destined to live in infamy).  Ryan's idol, Ayn Rand, presented an eroticized rape scene in her novel The Fountainhead; dare one wonder if it influenced his attitude on the subject?

Click here to see Republicans of the Sane faction in full-blown panic (ignore the post, which is unrelated, and just read the comments); reaction among the Nutty faction, represented by commenters at Hot Air, seems a bit more mixed.  Akin himself, peeking out from his bunker, claims he "misspoke".  I invite the reader to review the direct quote above and try to imagine how that could possibly exculpate him.

Never mind keeping abortion legal, I'm starting to think that in certain cases it should be made retroactive.

I don't have independent corroboration of this, but a normally-reliable commenter at Race42012 reports that the Romney/Ryan campaign has issued the following statement on the matter:

"Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin’s statement, and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape."

That was the campaign's entire statement.  They "disagree" with what Akin said.  I know these guys are pretty tone-deaf, but is "disagree" the strongest word they could bring themselves to use?  This was their golden opportunity to pull a Sister Souljah; instead, they seem to be lying down with the dog, and the fleas will not be easy to get rid of.


Today marks six years that I've had this blog.  Per aspera ad astra!

Link round-up for 19 August 2012

Visualize pig Latin.

See the invisible stupid bank robber.

We all face a real Matrix choice (found via Atheist Pig).

What if there were history creationists?  Well, there's this.

Watch for a minute, spot the pattern.

Religion is the IE of world-views.

Sorry, but if this is what passes for "will rule" at movie theaters, I'm sticking to my DVD collection.  There have been some hits recently (interesting that Prometheus succeeded mainly overseas), but blogger BR was unimpressed with Resident Evil.  And this horror film looks too horrifying.

Just when religion seemed to be calming down.....

Ayn Rand didn't play by her own rules.

I hope at least the horse was sober.

These protest signs are on target.

The US now has fewer cars per capita than most developed countries -- another sign of our declining middle class.

Here's what church tax exemptions cost us.

In light of experience, which policy makes sense?

Another survey shows religion declining in the US -- and in Saudi Arabia?! (sent by Parsley's Pics).

There's a little-known Chappaquiddick-like scandal in Romney's past.

Religious "rights" for corporations are just the latest Trojan horse for attacks on personal freedom.

Beck-besotted goldtards need to read this.

The US economy is improving, slowly but surely.  Update:  As seen from overseas we look pretty good.

Even viewed just as a business, Bain was mediocre (found via Immoral Minority).

Lady Atheist has some science basics for those newly freed from religion.

The town of Tenaha TX has been a hotbed of police abuses.

Under the glare of publicity, Louisiana's Delhi charter school abandons forced pregnancy tests.

Ryan gave Romney only a meager polling bounce, and could lead to an Obama landslide.  He pulls Romney away from the center, as he's an extremist on women's issues and Medicare who offers many targets for attack and makes Republican campaign pros nervous.  Even Reagan's budget director calls his plan a fairy tale, and he's unlikely to appeal to the young.  Just don't talk back to him in his presence.  The inimitable Jim Wright looks at Romney and Ryan here.

This is what the Deepwater Horizon blow-up looked like.

Teabagger Congressman Todd Akin has his doubts about federal civil-rights laws.  Update:  He also thinks rape victims hardly ever get pregnant --at least not if it's "legitimate rape".

Sorry, but the Family Research Council is a hate group, and its denials epitomize hypocrisy.

Complementarianism is just a big word for the same old subjugation of women.

Cynicism is an excuse for inaction we can't afford.

ThinkProgress debunks Romney's whiteboard tripe, and Smartypants shows just how bad his distortions are. The Obama campaign weighs in.

Other Republican lies are piling up faster than anyone can address them, but here's the Navy SEAL e-mail on bin Laden (found via Progressive Eruptions), the Obama Medicare "cuts", and a new one (to me) about government ammunition purchases.

Hank Williams Jr is an idiot, apparently.

Recession has driven the US birth rate below that of some European countries.

Where money is concerned, we could learn from Canada.

Rosa Rubicondior explains why she's a feminist.

A town in Dorset has the worst place-name in Britain (found via Mendip).

Globally, business leaders favor Obama two-to-one.

I bet this wine tastes sour.

Greece experiences the fruits of austerity -- lawlessness, old people not safe in their homes, rising xenophobia.  In Spain, one mayor has resorted to a hunger strike.

Atheism is on the rise in the Persian Gulf area (found via Lady Atheist's link round-up).

1920 -- modernity begins.

This won't end well -- an 11-year-old in Pakistan is accused of blasphemy.

China's cities are hell-holes of pollution.

Depressed by Republican plans?  Here's a place where the sick and elderly are taken care of.

Yes, these two babies are cousins.  What would it be like if our nearer cousins still lived?

This gadget could be pretty useful, especially for absent-minded people.

Signs of the times -- the South is getting too hot for high-school football, and a nuclear reactor shuts down because the local river water is now too warm to cool it properly.

Fallout from the Fukushima disaster is causing mutations in butterflies.

Autistic people have helped make a better world for everyone.

Nanotechnology offers a boost for clot-busting drugs.

[Image at top from Cannonfire.]

18 August 2012

Hostile, poisonous -- and full of rancor

I hate to pick on Red Letter Christians a second time in the same week, but this post and the comments thread it engendered are just too revealing to pass up.

The post itself recounts an incident in which a preacher in Knoxville told a 7-year-old boy that he and other kids who don't believe in God will go to Hell.  The boy ended up having nightmares as a result, which suggests that what the preacher actually said to him was rather more vivid than just the bald statement described.  This led a local atheist to tell the post author "My conclusion is that the church is a hostile and poisonous entity in the community", prompting the author to lament, "Yikes. 'Hostile and poisonous entity.' Are we Christians really like that?"  (Er, yes, you are, if you're going to terrorize kids.  Is this really so hard to grasp?)  The author used this as a lead-in to raise the question of whether salvation is achieved by faith (that is, correct belief) or by good works.

The ensuing battle in the comments thread, however, was the most vituperative I've seen on RLC in all the time I've been reading it.  Evidently the question of who gets into Heaven, and of who is entitled to pontificate about who gets into Heaven, is even more fundamental than the question of whether God hates fags or not.  Commenters rapidly began accusing each other of bigotry and intolerance, then of arrogance, (theological) ignorance, heresy, apostasy, being controlled by "demonic forces", and trolling.  A sample:

.....the time I’ve spent interacting with you on this page has certainly given me insight into how the mind of a right-wing fundamentalist nut case actually works. Your natural habitat seems to be the dankest and darkest and most damning corner of self righteous, arrogant, bigoted, Bible-thumping religious ideology which you sadly mistake for Christianity.  “I will continue to pray for your salvation” you say. I told you I’m a baptized Christian. How dare you come across so arrogant — you twisted little self-righteous, impudent twit.....

As Hitchens once said, don't you love to see how the Christians love one another?  Eventually (the thread is up to 46 comments at the moment) one commenter implicitly accused another of being in league with Satan.  I don't know whether things can go any further downhill from there, but I do intend to watch and find out (if you're in the right frame of mind, this stuff can be pretty entertaining).

The battle does, however, bring a more serious point to mind.  All these people claim to believe in the same religion, but disagree vehemently about very fundamental aspects of what that religion teaches.  Each faction accuses the other(s) of holding to an obviously-false form of Christianity, or even of not being Christian at all.  You can tell they're never going to work it out.  For that matter, Christianity has existed for almost 2,000 years, and in all that time there has been fighting among Christians (ranging from debates to full-scale wars) over what exactly they were supposed to believe.  If they themselves have never all been able to agree on even the basics of what the religion's teachings are, how can they expect anyone else to take such an incoherent belief system seriously?  How can they themselves take it seriously?

This problem is not limited to Christianity, of course.  Much of the Muslim world is poisoned with discrimination and violence between rival sects of Islam.

It's bad enough when your whole world-view is based on claiming absolute certainty about things no human being could possibly know, but when even other people who take the same "holy" book as a starting point can't agree on what they should be so certain about, doesn't sanity demand a healthy dose of doubt about the whole thing?

15 August 2012

Video of the week -- the real Paul Ryan

He's not a "fiscal conservative", he's something else -- something very specific.

14 August 2012

Liberal Christians and the gay conundrum

One of the sites I regularly read, as part of my effort to keep up with "the opposition" in its various forms, is Red Letter Christians.  The title refers to the red print used in some versions of the Bible to highlight the words attributed directly to Jesus, as opposed to the regular black lettering used for everything else.  As best I can tell (the mission statement is here), it seeks to emphasize the universal-love-and-peace brand of Christianity as opposed to the scolding-and-condemning variety now in the ascendant with the Christian Right.  An example of this benign stance at its best would be this post on a visit to a Sikh temple after the recent massacre in Wisconsin.

More conflicted attitudes emerge when the subject of homosexuality is raised, as it frequently is.  The usual pattern is a main post asserting a gay-positive stance as being consistent with Christianity, followed by a furious debate in the comments.  Recent examples have included a visit to a gay pride parade, changes at Exodus International, the Chik-fil-A controversy, a rather belabored challenge to heteronormativity, the conflict within American Christianity, and a re-imagining of that conflict as accusers vs. advocates.

In these various comment-thread wars, all the usual Biblical arguments get hauled out.  The story of the adulteress whom Jesus saved from being stoned is popular with both sides -- yes, he saved her, but he also said "Go and sin no more".  Liberals accuse the anti-gay commenters of being like the religious authorities who condemned Jesus, while the anti-gay commenters point out that Jesus condemned people too.  The hoary and loathsome "love the sinner but hate the sin" meme gets plenty of airing.  Occasionally actual gay people show up to point out the emptiness implicit in a life of abstinence, which seems to be the best the anti-gay side has to offer them, only to be airily brushed aside with "lots of people have to make tough sacrifices to avoid sin".  The newest scam of all -- that if you attack bigots you're somehow a bigot yourself -- is frequently used (I keep waiting for "bigotophobe" to take its place alongside "Islamophobe" as a serious and un-ironic epithet).

Liberal efforts to re-assert the universal-love meme are parried by pointing out that it is not "loving" to let people continue sinning and end up in Hell for eternity (this raises the question of why a "loving" God would let basically-harmless people end up in Hell, but anyone who's ever tried to debate such matters knows the endless sophistry Christians have developed to dodge that one).  Attempts to minimize homosexuality as no more of a sin than gluttony, adultery, etc. meet the response that no one is holding gluttony-pride parades or asserting adultery as a right; the special problem with the gays is that they deny they're being sinful at all (the nerve of them!).  Those who find the harshness of Leviticus horrific are accused of elevating secular standards above Biblical ones.  Occasionally someone gets called a heretic, or even cautiously embraces the concept.

(The point that Leviticus also condemns silly things like shellfish and clothes made of different fabrics also comes up now and then; the response involves some subtle distinction among different types of Levitical law which I don't have the knowledge to evaluate.)

The horrible cruelty and inhumanity of the conservative Christian stance comes through very clearly from these debates.  Yet it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the conservatives end up getting the better of the argument, given the premises everyone is forced to accept.  The liberals' view is rooted in intuition and gut feeling -- Christianity is good, and acceptance of gays is good, therefore those things must be compatible with each other! -- and the theological / Biblical argumentation is a rickety after-the-fact construct designed to support a conclusion already decided.  Such ventures don't fare well when they run up against the steely clarity of those who just follow scripture where it leads.  There's a good reason why the Abrahamic religions have condemned homosexuality for most of their history -- the sacred texts are pretty straightforward on the subject, when they're not being desperately twisted to fit modern morality.

So we see a cold, cruel, ugly, scolding mentality solidly supported by the Bible, against a more humane and modern position which has to struggle to find a Biblical basis for itself.

How long can this continue?  I can't help but think that eventually, more and more liberal Christians will realize that their humane stance simply can't be reconciled with the religion they claim, and that they need to choose, need to jump one way or the other.  It would probably be happening on a larger scale already, except that most liberal Christians don't participate in sites like Red Letter Christians where they're regularly forced to confront the contradictions in their thinking.

Taking a broader view, of course, all these arguments would be silly if the real-world effects weren't so serious.  Debates about what "is" or "is not" a sin, parsing this or that phrase in an ancient collection of random befuddled folk tales to settle modern moral questions -- one could just as well (and just as absurdly) found a moral system on deep analysis of the text of Harry Potter or of the lyrics of Puff the Magic Dragon.  Liberal Christians living in the modern world, with its ever-growing understanding of the real evolutionary roots of human behavior and morality, must at least occasionally have quiet nagging doubts about how ridiculous it all is.  If regular encounters with the repulsive face of real full-bore Biblical morality eventually push them off the fence into full liberation from such nonsense, so much the better.

12 August 2012

Link round-up for 12 August 2012

Here's the Milky Way over Monument Valley, Utah.

"Pro-lifers" have their limits.

Frank Sinatra was a smart guy.

This item dates from the 1880s, when prevention of sin was taken seriously.

Next time, let NASA handle the Olympics coverage.

Will God judge America?

If you're a bigot, you should avoid computers.

This Wienermobile needs a dog strapped on top.

Gay marriage aside, Chick-fil-A is creepy.

NASA didn't send any money to Mars.

A new crop of nutjob teabagger candidates is threatening Republican efforts to take the Senate.

The kids are all right.

There's a cure for morning sickness -- and it's good news for guys too.

This new book on secular Americans looks worth checking out (found via Republic of Gilead).

Republicans are still at it, out to ban abortion and the morning-after pill.

Our country's hopelessly-archaic health-insurance system costs us 45,000 lives a year.

Here's an example of how sex-offender registries work (found via Preliator pro Causa).

Sign a petition against misogynistic shaming and harassment at the Delhi charter school in Louisiana.

The Obama-is-gay meme illustrates the vast right-wing-media fake reality which most of us never encounter.

This is what the Republican base looks like.

Green Eagle has another huge round-up of right-wing insanity (he says he has enough material to do this every day, and I believe him).

Religious "family values" -- aren't.

This is what will pass for education in Louisiana under Jindal's voucher "reform".

Here are 10 things you should know about poverty in the US.

Romney has had a bad month.  He's not like us, he's flunking math, he's running against an imaginary opponent, and his concept of religious freedom is un-American.  But his dog-whistles are being well understood by their intended audience.

Here's more on the Ryan pick from Sean Trende and Ruth Marcus.

From Minnesota comes yet another horrific case of police incompetence and brutality.  And these Florida cops were way over the line too.

Lindsey Graham issues a call to sabotage the economy to undermine Obama.

Wisconsin Sikh temple chief Sadwant Kaleka died a hero, saving many.

The right-wingers' use of euphemism to cloak their bigotry shows that deep down they know it's wrong.  And, yes, it is bigotry and we should be blunt in saying so.

Google's new London headquarters reflects the company's quirky nature.

The US Embassy in Stockholm takes part in a community event.

Will France's rich people flee higher taxes?  Probably not.

Dreary, miserable religious cranks invent yet another way to avoid seeing women.

The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church faces an eye-catching protest.

Russian companies are rising stars on the internet, but the Putin regime's ham-handed Chinese-style efforts at control threaten to suffocate them.

July was the hottest month on record for the contiguous 48 states; the drought is shrinking food output and threatening to drive up prices.

Even manufacturing jobs now place a premium on education.

Need a house?  Behrokh Khoshnevis can print one off for you (found via Mendip).

11 August 2012

A declaration of war on the 99%

With his choice of Paul Ryan as running mate, Romney has signaled that the theme of his campaign will be class warfare, not theocracy.  The oddly-cadaverous Wisconsin Congressman does have a "perfect" anti-abortion and anti-stem-cell-research voting record, but of course he's best known for his budget plan which would cut already-low taxes for the super-rich even further, raise them for the rest of us, effectively abolish Medicare and Social Security, increase the deficit, and in general complete the transformation of the United States into a Third World society presided over by a tiny elite guarding its wealth from the impoverished masses, while the fumbled baton of human progress is picked up by Germany and Japan and Russia and Britain (unless we nuke them for engaging in stem-cell research).  Let's at least give Romney credit for making a stark choice in November even starker.

This may be the first Republican ticket ever in which neither candidate is a Protestant.  I suppose there's some hope that this might put off the fundies, but the effect will likely be minor -- those who have reconciled themselves to voting for a Mormon probably won't be put off too much by a Catholic.

Bolstering Romney's image as a badly-programmed robot, the announcement featured a strange gaffe. Crooks & Liars is calling this "the Herman & Eddie Munster ticket" -- I so wish I'd thought of that one, except that the Munsters, though odd, were actually quite benign people.  Ezra Klein thinks it's a sign of desperation (see point 9, though).  Politicus USA sees it as a blunder to rank with McCain's choice of Palin.  Charles Pierce points out that Ryan, "an authentically dangerous zealot", has personally made out very well from the very government he wants to slash, while Sarah Posner hopes the cruelty he embodies will force Catholics to decide what their religious values really mean.  Think Progress has 12 things you should know about Ryan (do read it!).  The Paultards, as usual, are moaning that Romney's choice isn't extreme enough.

Among my regular blog reads, Smartypants reminds us of some wise words from Obama, Dusty finds Ryan "the most radical of the rightwing nutters",  P M Carpenter predicts he'll be meat on the table for the Democrats, Squatlo can't wait to go head-to-head with the granny-killer, and BooMan sees nothing but a sad, squalid fumble.  No doubt others will weigh in soon.

My take on it?  Aside from modestly improving Romney's chances of carrying Wisconsin, the Ryan pick will probably have little impact on the outcome of the election -- running mates seldom do, despite the hype.  What the pick does do is raise the stakes even higher than they already were.  Our country couldn't afford President Romney before.  Now that he's yoked himself to this man, it can afford him even less.

10 August 2012

November landslide?

Lately something curious has been happening with polling for the Presidential race.  Gallup and Rasmussen, which release daily tracking polls, continue to show a tight race -- with sometimes Obama ahead and sometimes Romney, but rarely by more than a point or two.  Other pollsters have begun showing a large Obama lead.  Reuters-Ipsos has him ahead 49%-to-42%, CNN/ORC 52%-to-45%, Pew 51%-to-41%, NBC/WSJ 49%-to-43%, Democracy Corps 50%-to-46%. Even Fox News, not noted for a liberal bias, has Obama leading 49%-to-40%!

Why the discrepancy?  Some Republicans think they've spotted the explanation.  Those pollsters showing a big Obama lead also show a suspiciously-high level of Democratic party ID in their samples.  That Pew poll, for example, shows its sample 38% Democratic-leaning, 25% Republican-leaning.  Even Fox's sample shows 44% Democratic, 35% Republican.  Not all pollsters release the party ID breakdown of their samples, but those that do are mostly showing similarly Democrat-heavy leans.  Surely, Republicans say, that's why these polls are showing such big Obama leads -- they're just polling samples which include too many Democrats relative to the general population.

It's odd, though, that this should be the case.  Most pollsters don't weight their samples to match an assumed party ID breakdown.  They weight by other factors such as age, race, gender, etc., but the party ID breakdown is just another number that emerges from the results, if the pollster even bothers to ask about it.  So if skewed party ID explains the big Obama leads, then an awful lot of pollsters are using samples that just happen to turn out to have too many Democratic-leaning respondents in them.

The same is true of the polls in the various swing states, many of which have shown large Obama leads while averages of national polls, such as the RCP average, continue to show a close race.  Those swing state polls also show oddly-high levels of Democratic party ID among their samples, and again, I've seen Republicans dismiss them on that basis -- the polls are wrong because the samples are unrealistically Democratic-leaning.

But what if something else is going on?  What if, instead of poll after poll (both nationally and in the swing states) using samples that just happen to have too many Democrats and too few Republicans, the samples are accurate and there's actually a huge shift in party ID under way?

It makes intuitive sense.  We tend to analyze upcoming elections on the assumption that current trends, including party ID, will resemble those which determined past elections, but lately the Republicans have been trashing their own brand in an unprecedented fashion.  Forced vaginal ultrasounds, "personhood" laws, nutjob teabagger House and Senate candidates, the Ryan budget, vote-suppression laws, debt-ceiling brinkmanship, government-shutdown threats, doubling down on global-warming denialism even as record heat scorches the country, the spectacle of freaks like Santorum and Perry being taken seriously as Presidential candidates -- this headlong descent into madness is unprecedented, even during the Bush years.  We're constantly baffled that the great sane pragmatic middle isn't deserting the Republican party in droves over this stuff.  But what if they are?

But if that's happening, why aren't Gallup and Rasmussen showing it?  Well, I'm not sure about Gallup, but Rasmussen is one of the few pollsters that does weight its samples by party ID -- that is, by what they expect the party ID breakdown to be.  And Rasmussen is noted for being somewhat Republican-leaning, as pollsters go.  If there's a massive shift in party ID going on, but Rasmussen doesn't recognize that it's happening, then their system for weighting their samples could be filtering the very real effects of that shift out of their results.

This would also explain why national averages such as the RCP average still show a close race.  Those averages skew strongly toward Rasmussen and Gallup since they release a new poll every day, while other pollsters are less frequent.

If I'm right about this, then what's happening is straightforward:  Democrats will win in a landslide this November because the public rightly sees that the Republicans have gone bananas.

I'm hesitant to even suggest this because we can't afford complacency.  We need to fight like hell because we need a landslide.  We need Obama back in office with such a margin that his mandate is beyond challenge.  We need to take back the House and expand the Senate majority.  And the other side's LIV base will turn out.  The Obama's-a-Marxist, Earth-is-6,000-years-old, Obamacare-means-death-panels crowd will vote.  The last thing we want is for our side to think we have this thing in the bag and we don't need to bother.  I myself am in a position where it may take some inconvenience and expense to make sure I'm correctly registered to vote at the date of the election, but I'm still fixedly determined to make sure it happens.  Never in my lifetime has there been an election with stakes this high and a contrast this stark.

But as the sun rises over our country on November 7th, we may find that we have more to celebrate than we knew.

09 August 2012

Video of the week -- Blue Light

From 1984.  The internet brings the old memories back.....

07 August 2012

Passive acceptance

There is nothing more degraded and subhuman than that bovine passivity in the face of nature or "fate" which, in the worst possible way, accepts an "is" as an "ought".  Which, for centuries, tolerated disease and squalor and ignorance and infant mortality as just part of life, even opposing efforts to combat them as impious defiance of God's will.  Which submits to rising inequality, austerity, and stagnation as the inexorable outcome of economic forces we cannot, or at least should not, do anything about.  Which, today, counsels passive acceptance of aging and death as a permanent fact of the human condition, even as we stand on the brink of being able to vanquish that last and most terrible enemy.

Everything humans have achieved, we owe to people who had burst asunder the mental fetters of passive acceptance of fate and the way things are.  Think big, dream boldly.

06 August 2012

Congratulations NASA!

The rover Curiosity has successfully landed on Mars!

05 August 2012

Link round-up for 5 August 2012

We're having the wrong argument about marriage.

Here's a great moment on a bus.

Does anyone really dress this way?

You can do menial work and still look really sharp.

India's priests have a plan to combat climate change.  Unfortunately it involves marrying frogs.

Here's how civilized aliens might see the miracle of birth.

The Bible teaches love, family values, and sexual morality.

Bill Gates gets stuff done with his money.

If I would of knowed he was so tuff, I wooden of ax for the job.

At least one member of Noah's family had STDs.

Here's conservative logic on health care in one cartoon. Well, this too.

What if the teabaggers turn insurrectionist?  Here's a scenario.

The Romneys have a message.

Sampling bias in polls probably isn't a big issue.

Go to Chik-fil-A, be a good Christian, support pro-gay companies.

Hope Christian School takes federal money, still discriminates.

Romney finally rises above 50%.

Public TV executives get fired for refusing to air fake history.

Charlotte Shane call for a re-consideration of attitudes about rape.

Here are some inspiring words from the founder of Mormonism.

Calenche Ranae Manos stands up to police incompetence and abuse.

Republicans undermine US defenses against cyber-warfare.

Check out Romney's income and tax rates.

Pro-religion arguments rely on low standards.

The latest Republican lie is that Democrats are trying to suppress the military vote.

Jindal pushes forward with his plan to wreck education in Louisiana.

NBC epic fails at Olympic coverage.

Romney practices Bain-style diplomacy.

The decline of religion means a better society.

That opening ceremony was very British.

Here's a collection of rare color photos from the World-War-II-era RAF (found via Mendip).

An official of a child-molesting cult wants immunity from criticism.

Israel is getting worried about Syria's chemical-weapons arsenal.

Israel's ultra-Orthodox may soon lose a coveted privilege (sent by Republic of Gilead).

Hong Kong protests brainwashing by the Beijing thugocracy.

Vietnam is holding its first gay-pride parade and may soon legalize gay marriage.

Technology is helping advance education in Uganda.

Religious conservatives uphold traditional moral values.

It's not just Christianity and Islam -- Hinduism stinks too.  More from India here.

Papuans get tough with sorcerers who overcharge.

Jared Diamond responds to Romney's misuse of his work.

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there -- but it's a white flag.

The impact of global warming is already here -- so says the head of the NASA Goddard Institute -- and affecting populated areas around the world.  Republicans are still in denial, but even a Koch-funded study brings out the truth.  And if Romney wins, things will get much worse.

Deathism raises its silly head at the Huffington Post, Maria Konovalenko slaps it down.

04 August 2012

Syrian nightmare

Those whose appetite for news extends beyond just trying to keep track of all of Mitt Romney's bizarre utterances will have noticed that the uprising in Syria has escalated into an all-out civil war.  The conflict is following the same trajectory as Libya's did last year, with the regime using military weapons against its own population centers.  Right now especially fierce fighting is raging in Aleppo, the largest city, and in Damascus, the capital.  It's estimated that about 20,000 people have been killed so far.

Post-Qaddhâfi Libya, at least, has managed to chart a peaceful (if disquietingly Islamist) course.  Syria is unlikely to be so lucky.

Libya is, by Middle Eastern standards, a very homogenous country -- almost the whole population is ethnically Arab or Berber, and Sunni Islam is the only religion with any significant presence.  Syria, by contrast, is one of the most heterogeneous countries in the area.  Its 22,000,000 people include about 2,000,000 Kurds and smaller ethnic minorities such as the Turkmens (up to 1,500,000) and Assyrians (up to 1,200,000).  Most of the rest of the population is ethnically Arab, but religious differences are even more significant.  There are about 2,500,000 Christians (the Assyrian minority is mainly Christian) and 500,000 to 700,000 Druze, adherents of a secretive religion derived from Islam and considered heretical by hard-line Islamists.  The Alawites, a sect of Shiite Islam numbering about 2,400,000 in Syria, are also widely viewed as heretics by the Sunni majority.  The current Asad regime is Alawite-dominated, and the Alawite population generally supports it, out of fear that the Sunni majority identifies them with the regime and would persecute them if it ever overthrew the regime and gained the upper hand.

Anyone who knows anything about the Middle East will at once see what a horribly combustible mix this is.  Religious differences are the main source of intractable violence in that part of the world.  Recall the interminable religious civil war in Syria's neighbor state Lebanon last century, or the terrible violence marking the relatively-simple Sunni-vs.-Shiite split in its other neighbor Iraq (this has created another complication in Syria since there are about 1,300,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria, 20% of them Christian and the rest split between Sunni and Shiite).  If the population starts dividing along sectarian lines, there is the risk that the collapse of the regime could be followed by a Lebanese-style civil war; if a Sunni Islamist regime emerged in Damascus, conflict with the large Christian, Alawite, and Druze minorities might lead to the same result if the new regime is weak, or to hordes of refugees fleeing the country if it is strong.  The Druze are concentrated in a mountainous area in the south which might prove a defensible stronghold if needed, and the Alawites are concentrated in the province of Latakia, where they are the majority -- but no Syrian regime could let Latakia slip out of its grasp, since it includes the country's main port and the majority of the coastline.

There are already signs of rebel forces targeting Alawites and Christians for persecution.  The rebels are receiving help from the world's most extremist and barbarous Sunni Islamist regime, Saudi Arabia, and that help likely brings influence along with it.

Syria shares borders with the Middle East's two strongest military powers, Israel and Turkey, both of which could feel threatened by chaos there -- Turkey has already taken in a flood of Syrian refugees.  A Syrian civil war could also destabilize Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon.  Finally, Syria has an arsenal of chemical weapons, the disposition of which would become a concern if the regime fell.  If the worst-case scenario does materialize, it's hard to imagine that the United States will be able to completely avoid getting dragged in, one way or another.  We will, at least, have the advantage of a more competent US government than the one that launched the Iraq fiasco (unless Romney has become President by then), but the sheer complexity of Syria will make the challenge of containing its upheaval a daunting one.