30 October 2014

Boo! Scary pics for Halloween

Halloween is tomorrow, so here are a few scary / spooky images.....

.....and a more serious reminder:

[Video found via Mendip.]

28 October 2014

Tunisia -- a win for secular democracy

Tunisia, the country where the Arab Spring began, has held its first national election under its new democratic constitution, and the results are encouraging.  Tunisia has two major political parties -- a religious party and a secular party (hey, just like the US), and the vote count so far shows Nidaa Tounes, the secularists, comfortably ahead.  Even better, the leadership of Ennahda, the religious party, gracefully conceded defeat and congratulated the winners.  For democracy to work, it's crucial that the results be accepted as legitimate by the losers.  I suppose one could imagine a faction of Ennahda taking to the streets waving teabags, carrying signs in misspelled Arabic, and accusing the head of Nidaa Tounes of being born in Kenya, but probably most Tunisians have too much of a sense of dignity to engage in such antics.

There's still a lot to do.  For example, while Tunisia has long been advanced on paper in the field of women's rights (it legalized abortion eight years before Roe v. Wade), the reality has not always kept up, notably in rural areas.  The new constitution endorses gender equality, but it will be up to the government to fully realize that.

Still, there is sometimes good news from this part of the world -- it's not all ISIS and executions and terrorist attacks.  Tunisia serves as an example to countries further east that it is possible to have a decent life, by accepting the rules of modernity and keeping the real crazies under control.

26 October 2014

Link round-up for 26 October 2014

Murr Brewster looks at Obama's sinister Ebola conspiracy.

A pastor asks why young people don't go to church, and gets an earful in response.

This haunted house had one impressively realistic prop (found via Mendip).

Memories, memories.....

Here's how religious freedom works.

A regular patron of prostitutes explains why he visits them.

Spirit Day, October 18, is a day against bullying, so of course the Christian Right has to act against it.

Republicans want real leadership.

Ebola hype is just one more case of the American addiction to irrational fear.

Investigators expose horrors at a pig farm (found via GoodShit).

Green Eagle reports from a desultory anti-Obama rally in Los Angeles.

Godawful fundamentalist movies aren't doing their creators any favors (found via Republic of Gilead).

Here are some examples of how the media distort coverage of politics.

This loony may soon become Lieutenant Governor of Texas.

If you're thinking of donating to the White Ribbon campaign against violence against women, read this and check your URLs.

Republican historical revisionism drives Colorado voters to the Democrats.

Don't let Joni Ernst's interest in pig castration distract you from her dangerous extremism.

Religious nutters fight against developing an Ebola vaccine.

Here's more on the massive decline of religion in the UK.

The EU gives a huge bill to the British government, and an election issue to Nigel Farage.

There seems to be a real struggle going on within the Vatican.  But God still hates fags.

Iranians protest en masse against a series of acid attacks on women.

Green Eagle looks at a Palestinian hero.

Now this is scenery.

Natalia Gaintseva went out to get a fur coat, and came back with something much better.

Worst beauty contest ever.

Here's a honkin' huge spider in South America.

A Nigerian artist joins the fight against Ebola.

If God hates fags, what about lesbian lizards?

New data verify that exercise can improve mental function in the elderly.

The brain makes use of chaotic activity (found via GoodShit).

If you're losing interest in sex, the problem may be in your bathroom (found via Mendip).

How important is race?  This diagram will give you an idea.

Apologies to anyone who's seeing a captcha on the comment form.  I have that feature set to "off" since I use moderation anyway, but it's still appearing.  I've complained to Goggle/Blooger about it.

24 October 2014

Video of the day -- fun against evil

This Kurdish video mocking ISIS/Islamic State immediately reminded me of the British comic songs mocking the Nazis which were popular during World War II.  It's especially satisfying to use ridicule against an enemy as pompous, arrogant, and humorless as religious fanatics tend to be, and it shows that even their current dire situation hasn't robbed the Kurds of their sense of fun.  Plus, it's catchy music (I wonder if these guys will do an album someday) and it gives you a chance to hear a bit of the Kurdish language, one which is quite unknown to most Americans -- I immediately noticed a few resemblances to Persian, to which Kurdish is closely related.  That's the ISIS flag in the background, of course.  Video found via Frank Moraes.

22 October 2014

Mocking our (manufactured) nightmares

Ebola is vanishingly rare in the US (so far, just one death and two other cases), but the fear of Ebola is gripping the country like an epidemic -- or at least certain people are trying so hard to spread that fear that they're practically engaged in a weird psychological equivalent of bioterrorism.  Some of this is fringe-right elements trying to invent a crisis which they can then blame, somehow, on President Obama -- Progressive Eruptions has had a couple of very good posts on this.  Some of it is something more visceral, a weird human response that surfaces from time to time, obsessing on fantasy threats which we know deep down are not real, so we can experience the thrill of danger without facing actual danger -- perhaps the same impulse that accounts for our fascination with the great villains of movies and literature.

But there's another response, more "underground" and non-political, which some people have found disturbing (though I think they're missing the point).  It's basically mockery, though that word doesn't totally capture it -- it's also treating Ebola as though the disease itself were something like a celebrity, with all the triviality and triteness that entails.  I've already mentioned the Ebola-virus plush toy:

Yes, the manufacturer may well have meant it to be educational, but the fact that it sold out almost at once suggests another impulse at work among buyers.  Then there are the inevitable "memes" playing off the elaborate precautions required by Ebola's presence:

.....or pop-culture expressions like "going viral":

.....or the ever-popular practice of mocking politicians:

By far the weirdest meme (in the original sense of the word) has been Ebola-Chan, the Ebola Goddess, already the subject of hundreds of adoring portrayals online.  Ebola-Chan is depicted as a "cute" anime-style character, usually wearing a nurse's uniform, with long pink hair that curls at the ends into the characteristic pretzel shape of the virus, and often holding a bloody skull.  Sometimes she has small bat-like wings.  A few samples:

OK, so what's going on here?  This is all rather tasteless (and some of the Ebola-Chan images are a lot more disturbing than the examples I chose here) and, yes, it is systematic mockery of a widespread and fearful epidemic.  That epidemic being mocked, however, is not the Ebola epidemic itself, but the epidemic of hype inspired by it.  Again and again, over decades, people have been barraged with imprecations that they should be terrified of things that actually pose no threat to them, and should even turn their lives upside down taking precautions.  But people inevitably wise up, and then they are not happy with having been frightened for no good reason.

(Parenthetically, I find it interesting that the word "love" comes up so often in reference to Ebola-Chan, who despite being cute is obviously a rather nasty monster.  The Abrahamic religions which infect our cultures tell us we are "loved" by, and should love in return, a God which their own scriptures depict as endlessly tormenting and killing us.  Perhaps there's a bit of mockery of that here, too.)

I'm old enough to remember when AIDS first burst on the scene, and the campaign of fear-mongering which soon followed.  As we now know, AIDS is a blood-borne (not venereal) disease and is one of the most difficult-to-transmit infections ever discovered -- it can be spread by a few activities such as anal sex or re-use of contaminated hypodermic needles, but hardly at all by vaginal or oral sex (unless existing open sores due to venereal disease allow access to the bloodstream) and certainly not by casual contact.  In the advanced countries, after more than 30 years, AIDS remains mostly confined to small "risk groups" of people who have such specific vulnerabilities to it.  But that's not how it was presented at the time.  The media and popular culture were full of lurid fears that AIDS would soon engulf the whole country unless everyone took elaborate, lifestyle-altering precautions.  In my opinion, a lot of this was motivated by an opportunistic impulse to sabotage the sexual revolution, which had been rolling along quite nicely until suddenly all these nasty busybodyish people popped up brandishing condoms at everyone.  But at the time, I was rather worried.  What if they were right?

Eventually, of course, I looked into what was known about AIDS even then, and realized that they were not right.  And I still remember how angry I felt, realizing that I had been unnecessarily frightened over something that actually posed no significant threat to me -- by a campaign of misinformation that had been specifically designed to have that effect.

The Ebola hype is only the latest recurrence of this kind of phenomenon, but it's surely the most overblown, relative to the actual threat.  There are, after all, about a million HIV-positive people in the US, even if modern medicine has made it much more survivable and the risk to the other 309 million is so negligible as to be essentially nonexistent.  But we've had only three cases of Ebola in this country, and with the precautions already in place, there may well never be much more than that.

The folkloric "boy who cried wolf" eventually was merely ignored after he was exposed as an alarmist liar.  We can't ignore the Ebola hypesters, even though we've seen through them -- not with the sheer volume of yammering they keep up.  But we can give them the finger.  We don't believe you, we know this is bullshit, we're not going to panic and go crazy any more every time you tell us there's a monster under the bed, we're going to make fun of you.  That aggressive and angry rejection of the hype, I think, is the real message of Ebola-Chan.

20 October 2014

Failed experiment

Four months ago, I wrote this post noting the founding of a new internet forum, F169, dedicated to free speech as absolute as possible.  There would be no censorship of anything (with the exception of child porn and gay porn), no political correctness, no concern about whether what was said offended anyone.  Anonymity was encouraged, disregarding the attitude that people should "be accountable" for their free expression (that is, be subject to threats if they say something somebody doesn't like).  I recommended F169 here because I found the idea intriguing, and the number of times I've included F169 threads in the link round-ups here shows that it did indeed foster some interesting discussions.  Then, too, the concept appealed to me on a visceral level.  Much of the left-wing internet has become prissy, priggish, and tremulous, too deferential to the pearl-clutchers who declare themselves shocked and upset at the lightest provocation.  I've lost track of how many times I've been urged to tone down my truth-telling about religion so I won't "offend people".  I liked the idea of a forum free of such sniveling.

But sadly, I think the experiment must finally be judged a failure, and the reasons have to do with the broader practical reasons why anarchy doesn't work in reality.

F169 has become dominated by an extreme right-wing fringe element -- the kind of people for whom words like "nigger", "kike", and "faggot" are a normal part of everyday talk, the kind to whom the genetic inferiority of "mud races" and the existence of evil Jewish conspiracies are considered obvious facts.  It's stupid, but shocking only to the sheltered -- people like that do exist, and if you want genuine free speech, it has to apply to them as well.  I don't shock easily.

The problem is that that element moved in early and established itself as the dominant presence, setting the tone for the whole of F169.  Board owner "Hans" is no right-winger, never mind an extremist (his profile lists Hillary Clinton as his favorite politician), and he several times displayed an interest in attracting a larger and more diverse posting membership, but the problem was obvious -- normal people who found their way there would take one look at all the Naziism, misogyny, etc. and just leave.  The dominance of that element may have been serendipitous, but once established, it's self-perpetuating.

Yesterday I finally decided to bring up the problem bluntly, posting this thread calling for a purge of the extremists.  Not because their material is offensive -- the board hosts many kinds of offensive material, as a true free-speech forum inevitably will -- but because there was just so much of it that it was making growth impossible.  I also pointed out that the total free-expression principle was already compromised by the gay-porn ban, so there was precedent.  Others posted similar calls, and another poster collected them together here.

Today came this official response from a moderator -- a ban on.....any advocacy of banning anything.

Hans didn't set out to create a neo-Nazi forum, but that has been the de facto result of all his hard work, and it now looks as though it will remain so indefinitely.

The paradoxical fact is that for freedom to work, it needs rules.  Without rules and some degree of control, the noisiest and most bullying element will take over.  If you declare that anyone can do absolutely anything they want, pretty soon pigs will move in and turn your place into a pigsty, and the smell will drive everyone else away.

In an entire country, this problem isn't much of an issue where free expression is concerned -- a country like the US is too large and diverse for any one group to dominate the national conversation.  But in other fields, like the distribution of economic power, we can see analogous problems with the libertarian ideology with which some elements of our society are besotted.  Allowing enormous concentration of wealth in a few hands creates de facto concentration of power to an unacceptable degree.  In a society where ordinary people have rights in the public space, but in practice everything is privatized as someone's property, those rights have only theoretical existence.  A mentality of jihad against the supposed tyranny of the state means weakening of society's main bulwark against the real tyranny of a parasitic oligarchy.  This is not just hypothetical.  We've seen these problems growing in our society as economic libertarianism has taken root.

Then there's the issue of the "heckler's veto".  We've seen speeches canceled as a result of campaigns to silence unpopular truths.  Public advocates like Dawkins and Hitchens have been targeted by relentless threats in an effort to shut them up.  Women exercising their right to abortion often have to run a gamut of menacing thugs to approach a clinic.  This is people using their right of free expression to squelch the freedom of others.  On a lesser scale, something like this is what's happened with F169.  When you can't start a conversation about any unrelated subject without being interrupted by a passel of troglodytes yammering about Jewish conspiracies, they're using their free speech to suppress yours.  Maybe not in an abstract sense, but in reality, that's what's happening.

I haven't completely given up on F169.  Maybe it will eventually tackle the elephant in the room, end the dominance of one noisy element, and start to realize its early promise.  But that will require recognizing that the policy followed so far has not worked, and can't deal with the problem.

19 October 2014

Link round-up for 19 October 2014

Pwned, pwned, pwned!  Read the harrowing tale of a plan to make money with a bitcoin ATM.

Teddy bear?  Plush toy doggie?  Bah.  Here's a really cuddly plush toy.

Alexander Gerst takes more interesting selfies than you do.

If Jupiter were as close to Earth as the Moon is, here's what it would look like.

This would serve them right.

What if Star Wars had been set in an eighties high school?

Yes, this explains a lot, though the photo is actually from South Africa (found via Squatlo Rant).

These people exist.

Here's the stupidest conspiracy theory I've heard of yet -- a supposed plot to blow up the planet Saturn.

Artist of the week:  Shawn Thornton (found via F169).

Santorum speaks a truth.

Most fundie films seem doomed to flop because they have to appeal to a core audience so different from the mainstream (found via Republic of Gilead).

Progressive Eruptions has a round-up on the lunacy of the US right wing's response to Ebola.  Green Eagle has more and worse, and here's another example.  The head of the NIH says we might well have an Ebola vaccine already if not for the spending-cut mania of the last few years, driven by having idiots like this in charge of things.  A tough new ad drives the point home.

Re-blog this everywhere.

Well, yeah, but I don't hear God objecting (found via Squatlo Rant).

A pundit openly advocates false conviction of the innocent to create a reign of terror.

To construct a major bridge, the California Department of Transportation hired a Chinese company that had never built a bridge before.  Here are the results.

Hey, Obama really has gotten some things done.

Is there a "void" in humans that makes us yearn for religion?  (Personally I've never felt even a trace of such a thing.)

Here's a pretty good overview of why the economy is stagnant.

A California atheist wins $2,000,000 in a lawsuit over a flagrant First-Amendment violation.

Is the US right wing trending fascist?  Let's look at what fascism really means.

Following Huckabee, Evangelical Christians warn the Republican party not to tone down its homophobia (found via Republic of Gilead).

Here's a fatal shooting in California that the anti-gun blogs won't be talking about, and another in Florida.

Lady Atheist dissects the "atheism is just as irrational as religion" stance which has grown fashionable in a few quarters.

A top Vatican Cardinal rebukes those who fail to ostracize gay family members. Update: The Cardinal has been demoted by the Vatican (sent by Shaw Kenawe).  Let's hope this leads to a real split in the Church.

The European Union launches a crackdown on illegal aliens.

Relics of World War I emerge in the Alps.

These quotes show what kind of man Columbus really was.

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are getting training help from the UK as well as from Iran.

Kurds from Turkey join the fight against ISIS/Islamic State, but the Kurdish leadership is hesitant to share its people's enthusiasm.

Kaveh Mousavi looks at the intellectual dishonesty of defenders of Islam.

Ebola-besieged west Africans turn to religion, which may actually help spread the disease.

This September was the warmest September on record (found via Progressive Eruptions, which has more links).

17 October 2014

Video of the day -- this is Ebolaland

The science in this video is a bit spotty -- monkey and human DNA is about 93% identical, not 99%, and there are good reasons why a pandemic that "kills a third of the planet's population" isn't going to happen.  But it gives you a good look at the conditions in sub-Saharan Africa that make it so susceptible to disease outbreaks.

By the way, if you're rolling your eyes at the Africans refusing to believe the Ebola epidemic is real, remember the anti-vaccine nuts here in the US who harbor even stupider ideas, without the excuse of a Third World education.

14 October 2014

The Kurds deserve our support

People used to look back on the atrocities of the past, like the Nazi Holocaust or the Armenian massacres, and ask why somebody didn't take action to stop them while millions of lives could still have been saved.  But nowadays, when an opportunity arises to stop genocidal maniacs, one is more likely to hear people who should know better arguing for inaction.  ISIS/Islamic State cannot be compared in power with the Nazis, but its brutality and clear genocidal aspirations toward at least one religious minority (the Yezidis) invite the comparison.  After the fall of the Yezidi town of Sinjar in August, most of the population fled, but ISIS fighters captured several hundred; they kept some of the women as sex slaves but killed the rest, many by burying alive.  They have also committed large-scale atrocities against Christians and Shiites.

One force has fought back consistently, fervently, and successfully against ISIS:  the Kurds.  It was Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who broke through the ISIS siege at Sinjar and rescued those Yezidis who had fled the town but were encircled (the Yezidis speak the Kurdish language and are ethnically and culturally Kurdish).  It was they who re-captured the Mosul dam from ISIS later in August.  Again and again the Peshmerga have fought ISIS to a standstill or pushed them back.

This performance contrasts dramatically with that of the Iraqi army, expensively armed and trained by the US, which fled ignominiously during its first few confrontations with ISIS, leaving its American military hardware behind to be captured by the enemy.  The difference is due to motivation.  The Kurds, though they lack a recognized state, are a cohesive nation and their fighters are defending their own people against murderous fanatics; Iraq is not a real nation at all, just a failed state no one believes in or will fight for.

The focus of the battle against ISIS has now shifted to Kobani, a Kurdish-populated town on the Syrian side of the Syrian-Turkish border which ISIS is going all-out to capture.  Once again, after many days of fierce fighting, the Kurds halted the fanatics' advance, though ISIS launched a new offensive yesterday whose outcome is still unclear.

As the Kurds themselves have repeatedly acknowledged, the US campaign of airstrikes against ISIS ordered by President Obama (and supported by British and French air power) has contributed greatly to these successes.  If Obama had followed the policy of strict non-intervention that some bloggers favor, the tens of thousands of refugees from Sinjar might have been overwhelmed and slaughtered by ISIS before they could be rescued.  Kobani might have been overrun by now and its 45,000 Kurdish inhabitants massacred.  The Mosul dam might still be in ISIS hands, allowing the jihadists to threaten the whole upper Tigris with a devastating flood if they blew it up.

Remember, the US role has been mainly airstrikes.  No military campaign is entirely without danger, but the risk to US personnel in that role is small.  It's still the Peshmerga who are doing the hard and dangerous work of fighting ISIS face-to-face on the ground.  All they ask from us is continued air support and more effective weapons.

Almost alone among the various forces fighting in the bewilderingly (to uninformed Westerners) complex Iraqi and Syrian civil wars, the Kurds have not been accused of atrocities.  This may be because the Kurdish movement bases its identity on nationalism, while the others base theirs on religion.  For example, the Yezidis, despite being non-Muslim, are accepted as Kurds and the Peshmerga have fought to defend them as they do other Kurdish communities.  Religion in the Middle East is such a powerful force that it leads to utter dehumanization of the outsider whose beliefs are different, seeing those different beliefs as an outrage against God whose very existence is intolerable.  Nationalism, at least, is able to accept the feelings of rival nationalists as being analogous to one's own.

The Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, quite poor by Western standards and with a population of five million, has taken in almost a million non-Kurdish refugees from ISIS (while wealthy Europe of 700 million has hysterics over a few thousand boat people crossing the Mediterranean).

Much of the American left's response to Obama's decision to intervene in the conflict has been profoundly disappointing -- knowing almost nothing about the situation on the ground, many bloggers and commentators fall back on a knee-jerk anti-interventionist position, oblivious to the vast cost in death and suffering that their illusory moral purity would inflict on people far away.  Much of the American left is hopelessly self-absorbed, knowing and caring very little about events outside the borders of the US unless they can be used to score some point about American domestic politics -- an example of American narcissism.  Obama is right and the anti-interventionists are wrong.

How long will this struggle last?  Perhaps not much longer.  As the above report from Kobani notes, ISIS has been bringing up men of its internal religious-police force to fight at the front line, suggesting that it is running low on real soldiers.  Great numbers of ISIS fighters have been killed by the Peshmerga at Kobani.  Perhaps ISIS is already nearing collapse.

What I really hope is that after ISIS is beaten, the US will accept that its claimed goal of re-establishing a unified Iraqi state with the borders it had under Saddam is absurd and impossible, and will support a recognized independent state for the Kurds of Iraq and Syria.  They've fought hard for that state; they've earned it.  Yes, the Turks would be furious, but they've lost the right to a say in the matter by the fact that they've done nothing to help in the fight against ISIS which the Peshmerga, the US, Britain, and France have been waging so close to Turkey's very borders.

The Kurds have shown themselves to be tough and resourceful -- a Kurdish state would be a valuable future ally in a region where we need all the friends we can get.  One indicator of its potential modernity is the extensive participation of women in the Peshmerga -- a society whose women have fought alongside men on the battlefield will not easily push them back into a subordinate status in peacetime.  Kurdistan has the potential to escape the quagmire of medieval religious hate and slaughter now engulfing Iraq and Syria, and build a modern nation-state.  To support this would be in accord with our own history and values.

12 October 2014

An observation

Ebola deaths in US:  1 so far

Obesity-related deaths in US:  300,000 per year

And yet Ebola has got the lunatic right wing in a state of absolute hysteria at the President (whom they somehow blame for it), after they worked themselves into a frothing rage at the First Lady because she's trying to do something about obesity.  And we wonder why these people are clueless about stuff like global warming or economics which are actually complicated.

Link round-up for 12 October 2014

Today is the birthday of a great philosopher and con man.

Earth-Bound Misfit is collecting for a worthy cause.

Here are some pretty cool CGI landscapes.

Yes, there is such a thing as a carnivorous potato.

What if everything were antimatter except us?

This black Republican is having a really busy day.

Bored with 9/11 and the Moon landings?  Here's a new conspiracy theory (found via Mendip).

The police have sure changed (found via Ranch Chimp).

A Bible-spouting wacko shoots at a gay couple for holding hands.

Less-religious people are more compassionate.

If you want to know why Democrats sometimes lose winnable elections, read this, all of it.

Same crime, different sentences (found via Squatlo Rant).

Obama is too dictatorial, except when he's not dictatorial enough.

Here's an example of news you'll miss if you don't read blogs.

Texas is changing.

Huckabee:  "You guys need to do more fag-bashing or I'm outta here."  And he's not alone (found via Republic of Gilead).

These people exist (scroll down a bit).  And so do these people.

The Governor of Oklahoma believes in the sanctity of marriage, except when it's her own.

Could it be that our financial regulators are at last actually doing something?

Train your teenager in simplistic, shameful thinking.

Yeesh, the Koch brothers really are slimy.  And is McConnell normally this incoherent?

The recent Supreme Court non-action on gay marriage may drive more fundies to the polls, but it's still worth it.

Obama sums up what's at stake in this election.

It's not just the Catholics and not just little kids -- Lady Atheist has a round-up of Christian youth abuse from many sects, around the world.

An ex-Muslim dissects Ben Affleck's silly apologetics for Islam (I've noticed that people with solid knowledge of Islam usually side with Maher and Harris in that argument, while those with superficial knowledge, who view the issue mostly through the prism of American domestic politics, side with Affleck).  Some more reality here.

The Vatican offers up more of its usual bullshit on its child-molestation scandals.

Celebrate Britain's dullest men (found via Mendip).

Russian entrepreneurs vote with their feet.

One prominent Western politician is strangely popular in India (found via Mendip).

A new Japanese official history whitewashes Hirohito.

Idiotic superstitions in Taiwan make it hard for old people to find homes.

A Bulgarian living in Bandung, Indonesia causes an uproar by calling it "the city of pigs", but it looks like she has a point.

The death toll from the Ebola outbreak has surpassed 4,000.  Here are some sober facts about the disease (found via Progressive Eruptions).

Malaria and sickle-cell anemia illustrate the subtleties of how natural selection affects gene distribution.

The oceans are warming up faster than expected, while conservatives just keep on lying.

35,000 walruses have a message for the denialists -- more photos here.

10 October 2014

Oregon's Measure 91 and the prohibitionist mentality

Just got my official Voter's Pamphlet for next month's election in the mail yesterday.  It's 163 pages long -- Oregonians love ballot initiatives.  I've been reviewing some of the arguments for and against the most interesting issue, Measure 91, which would legalize marijuana -- not just medical marijuana (Oregon already has that), but for general use, as Colorado and Washington have already done.

The first thing I noticed about the "anti" arguments is how many of them talk about children.  I have a general rule -- whenever a politician starts ranting about "the children", keep a firm grip on your rights, because he's revving up a pretext to snatch some of them from you.  Under Measure 91, of course, marijuana sales to children (to anyone under 21, in fact) would remain illegal, just as the sale of alcohol to minors is illegal now.  Some minors will certainly get access to marijuana despite the law, as they now sometimes get alcohol despite the law -- but minors are getting marijuana right now as well.  "Illegal" does not equate to "impossible".

Ever notice how stores that sell alcohol never try to sell to kids?  Most of them vigorously enforce ID checks.  That's because they have a profitable legal business selling to adults, a business they could lose (along with other consequences) if they sold to minors.  In contrast, since drugs are illegal across the board, the pusher has no reason not to sell to anyone who's got the cash.  He has nothing to lose.  Regulation works better than prohibition.

There is a vast range of things which are forbidden when children are involved but legal for adults, because even if those activities are unwise or somewhat harmful, adults cannot be denied such choices in a free society.  If we banned adults from having everything that might be bad for children, on the grounds that allowing them means children might get access to them, we would no longer have a free society (and none of those things would actually cease to exist, anyway).

Much is made in the "anti" arguments of the sale in Colorado of marijuana-laced candy and similar products for users who prefer not to smoke the stuff.  In a few cases, children have eaten these by mistake and gotten sick.  This, however, is an argument for clear labeling of such products and responsible handling of them in the home, not for prohibition.  Some alcoholic drinks are hard to tell from ordinary fruit juice by taste or appearance, and if they were not labeled clearly and if a parent carelessly left them around, a child could be poisoned by them, too.  This is not an argument for banning alcohol across the board.

The "anti" arguments also raise the issue of accidents due to driving or operating machinery while "high".  This could happen, but it would still be illegal, just as drunk driving is illegal even while alcohol more generally is legal.  Drunk driving is a major problem, of course, but no sane person takes this as an argument for returning to Prohibition.  And broad laws against marijuana do not prevent cases of driving while on drugs even now, just as Prohibition didn't eradicate drunk driving.

There are a few people who just can't handle drugs or alcohol safely.  That does not mean everyone should be banned from having those things, any more than the fact that a few people can't handle cars or guns safely means that I and 200 million other adults should be prohibited from having them.

Is the drug experience degrading and disgusting?  There's certainly a case to be made, and as someone who had a severe drinking problem for more than 20 years of my life, I'm well aware of the degradation of addiction.  But such reactions are ultimately subjective.  No doubt many fundies are honestly revolted by the thought of homosexuality.  A person is likely to feel repulsed by any indulgence which is not to his own taste.  Such feelings are not a basis for limiting the choices of others.

It is possible, of course, that some negative effects of marijuana on society might become somewhat more common if it were legal.  But to do a true cost-benefit analysis, we have to look a the huge harmful effects of prohibition which would disappear if it were legal -- the mass-scale incarceration of people who have done no harm to anyone, the criminalization of a whole industry (with loss of potential tax revenues), the harm done by products whose quality cannot be regulated since they are illegal, the erosion of respect for law in general because of the existence of a law which is widely flouted and obviously irrational.

We need to free ourselves from the error that when we vote on whether something should be legal, we are voting on whether it is allowed to exist.  Some things exist whether we make them legal or not -- all the law can do is change the conditions under which they exist.  Alcohol prohibition did not make alcohol consumption stop.  It did make alcohol impossible to regulate, put alcohol production and distribution in the hands of criminal gangs (who thus gained great wealth and power), and made the entire business far more dangerous, violent, and sleazy.  The present-day criminalization of drugs and prostitution has the same effect.  Prohibition of porn or guns will have the same effect if we are ever foolish enough to try it.

Drugs can even, with some effort, be obtained in prison.  Think about that.  A prison is a far more tightly-controlled environment than a whole country can ever be.  No law could ever actually keep drugs out of a whole country, not even if it made that country as miserable as a prison.

Some of the arguments focus on specific weaknesses in this particular measure, suggesting that the opponents might favor some initiative to legalize marijuana, just not this particular one.  Of course, no new law has ever in history been perfect -- when reform is necessary, you enact the best laws you can, then modify them as time reveals the need.  This kind of objection reminds me of those who pointed to the inevitable flaws in Obamacare as grounds for rejecting it, which would have meant sticking with the nightmarish old system with its tens of millions of uninsured, its "pre-existing conditions", its staggering costs and mediocre health outcomes compared to other rich countries, forever -- because of course no actual proposed reform could ever have been good enough.  Luckily, we passed it in the knowledge that we could adjust and improve it over time as flaws came to light.  Measure 91 will be better than the present madness of prohibition, even if it is not perfect -- and we can improve it and modify it as needed.

07 October 2014

Video of the day -- The Great Martian War 1913-1917

What if World War I had been fought not between human nations, but against invading Martians as imagined by HG Wells in War of the Worlds?  That's the premise of a 2013 "documentary" made by History.co.uk (apparently similar to our History Channel) on the hundredth "anniversary" of the "invasion".  The full film doesn't seem to be available anywhere, but the video above, found via Mendip, will give you a good sense of its look and feel.  A little more info is here and here.  I've sometimes lamented the lack of originality of mainstream current SF/fantasy movies, with their endless tired sequels and remakes and "reboots" and comic-book superheroes, but it looks like in this case the filmmakers came up with something genuinely fresh and different, and did it by going to real literature for inspiration.

06 October 2014

More on the Progressive Eruptions situation

There is a new post up with more specifics on some of the right-wing nastiness directed at Shaw Kenawe.

05 October 2014

Link round-up for 5 October 2014

I guess this weather is more climate change?  But the real bad headline of the week is this.

The Pope is a nut.

Faye Kane looks at how Star Trek went down the tubes (NSFW blog).

Hey, I'm immortal.

What's so loud you can hear it thousands of miles away?

Republic of Gilead is covering the 2014 Values Voters Summit -- intro here, extensive quotes from the deranged speakers here and here.

Math is an evil liberal plot!

Misogynistic religious assholes cause trouble on an airliner.

This person will vote.  Will you?

Uri Geller is back and still full of shit.

Jobsanger looks at a recent survey on religion and politics in the US.  (Interesting that majorities of blacks view homosexuality as a sin and oppose gay marriage, but still oppose discrimination against gay married couples.)

As if we needed it, here's more confirmation that Jesus never existed.

It's tough for a married lesbian to get a driver's license in Texas.

Humans don't, and shouldn't, have an expiration date.

Michael Tomasky argues that the Christian Right is a dying force (found via Republic of Gilead).

Colorado teachers protest right-wing efforts to warp history.

The key to next month's election will be getting out the vote.

Here's another shooting that won't be publicized on anti-gun blogs, and another one.  Sorry, I see no valid argument that it would have been better for these people to be unarmed.

Gay marriage is the latest issue dividing Republicans.

The International House of Prayer seduces followers with childish power fantasies.

Some progressive blogs work against realizing progressive goals.

Ayn Rand was a proto-fascist, and a rather strange one.

Here's a salute with no coffee cup.

Can Republican promises be trusted?  Let's look at recent history.

No, there's no reason to worry about Ebola in the US.  More myths dispelled here.

The Irish Atheist looks at the "Left Behind" books.

Which Europeans could you talk with?

Amid rising anti-Semitism in Europe, Sweden backstabs Israel.

The selfie craze has become a thing on the Islamic-pilgrimage scene, and clerics are grumpy about it.

Muslims in Britain condemn the ISIS/Islamic State murder of aid worker Alan Henning, while the jihadists commit more atrocities on the way to the town of Kobani.

Rosa Rubicondior has religion news from Iran, India, and the US.

The daughter of Hong Kong's hated Chief Executive isn't helping matters.

Latest panic from the Ebola outbreak zone:  zombies.  The local hospitals are much scarier.

The Amazon jungle is fueled by dead fish from Africa.

Neither plant nor animal, these strange-looking life forms are fellow natives of Earth.

Coral guard-crabs illustrate the kind of sophisticated behavior natural selection can produce.


Country other than the US from which I got the most page views this week: Ukraine.

04 October 2014

The violence in Hong Kong

As the protests in Hong Kong persist, the authorities have finally resorted to violence (anyone who thinks these beatings didn't have official sanction, form a line behind the people who believe the Moon landings were faked and Saddam really had WMDs in 2003).  Was anyone expecting otherwise?

The protesters aren't asking for much.  Their chief demand now seems to be the resignation of Hong Kong's chief executive, CY Leung.  It's not like they're asking for the kind of freedom that Americans, Europeans, or Japanese take for granted every day.

It's even remotely conceivable that the Beijing regime might decide to meet this demand, sacrificing one interchangeable apparatchik for some peace and quiet.  But I think it's unlikely.  The regime learned an important lesson from perestroika in the USSR -- start making any concessions to the masses at all, and the whole system could start to unravel and eventually collapse.  So their preferred response is a crackdown, no more brutal than necessary to crush dissent, but no less either.

Don't be surprised if the final act in Hong Kong is every bit as bad as in Tienanmen Square.

The Beijing regime is a brutal fascist oligarchy of murderous thugs who are willing to kill however many of their own subjects they need to in order to stay in power.  It's not any more complicated than that.  Westerners like to try to delude themselves otherwise (and there's already signs of the predictable drip-drip of vomitous editorials and blog posts striving to "understand" and legitimize the regime's position), and the psychological reasons for this are straightforward enough.  But what Westerners convince themselves of inside their own heads does not change the reality on the ground in China.

01 October 2014

Thuggery on the internet

One of my favorite political blogs, and one which I always read regularly, is Shaw Kenawe's Progressive Eruptions.  For a short time a few days ago the blog was taken down, and yesterday this announcement appeared there, written not by Shaw but by another person who occasionally co-blogs there.  It's long, but here is the gist of it:

Sexual harassment and threats of sexual violence prompted Shaw Kenawe, author of Progressive Eruptions and long time member of this community, to remove her web log from Cyberspace.

(Actually the blog is still there, but Shaw has apparently suspended blogging for now.)

When I read this, I immediately thought of the case of Jen McCreight two years ago, who also gave up blogging in the face of what seem to have been similar threats, though she eventually returned.  I hope Shaw will return too, but only she can decide what's the right thing for her to do, and it's difficult for outsiders to evaluate the situation since yesterday's announcement contains almost no specifics or examples about the threats in question, only characterizations of them by others.

It's maddening to see a blogger driven off the net by such behavior, especially since it's very difficult to do anything about the behavior.  Legal protections for free speech in the US are (thank goodness) quite a bit broader than the author of the announcement seems to believe -- threats are an exception, and there's some hope of legal action against the perpetrators if evidence is preserved, but the anonymity facilitated by the internet makes even this very difficult.

(There is one point of comfort to offer -- such threats are empty.  Consider how often one hears of bloggers being verbally threatened or harassed, and then how rarely one hears of the threats actually being carried out -- I can't recall a single such case.)

As I've seen again and again, the other measures which people instinctively try in such situations are useless.  Appealing to the bullies' better nature doesn't work.  Scolding them for their viciousness doesn't work.  Invoking sympathy or fairness doesn't work.  Flat-out demanding that the behavior stop doesn't work.

It's important to be supportive of fellow bloggers who are being subjected to harassment.  Moral support from others can be of great value to the victim in such a situation.  But always be aware that pleading with harassers, or lecturing them on how bad their behavior is, will probably work about as well as trying to scare ants away from a picnic by pouring sugar on the ground, and for the same reason.

I've been the target of harassing or threatening messages a few times over the years.  I can't tell Shaw or anyone else what they should do -- every situation is a little different, and every victim has individual concerns.  All I can say is what worked in my own case.

Bullies basically thrive on attention.  They want to know they've made you feel hurt or frightened or upset, and they're looking for some reaction from you which confirms that.  When they get it, "the troll is being fed", as the internet saying goes, and they'll be back for more.

So I don't give them any reaction.  I give them nothing at all.  The first time something like this happened to me, it was through the mail -- the internet didn't exist yet.  Being naïve, I tried to reason with the people doing it.  The harassment continued.  I told them there was no point in continuing the discussion.  The harassment continued.  At one point I even threatened legal action, but it still continued, though toned down a little.  Then I just stopped answering their letters.  They kept writing for a while, but after several had gone unanswered, they stopped.

When I get targeted by some crank on the internet, I do the same.  This has happened three times that I can remember offhand.  I give them nothing at all.  I don't reply to their e-mails.  I delete their comments in moderation so they never appear here.  I don't post anything that mentions them, whether explicitly or obliquely.  If they write about me on their own blog or in comments on some third party's blog, I ignore it and don't respond.  And eventually -- usually pretty fast -- the harassment stops.  The harasser is not getting any psychic nourishment from it.  This is the only thing I've ever personally found that works.

As I suggested at the time of the Jen McCreight episode, perhaps the ultimate solution is for a sort of cadre of people with special internet expertise to form and offer their services to track down and identify the harassers in such cases.  But so far I see no sign of any such thing happening in any organized way, and until it does, we have to deal with it ourselves, as best we can.

Update:  The people threatening Shaw better watch it.  Here's a case of a man who got a four-month jail sentence for making similar threats.