29 April 2016

Defiling the dead

A little over four years after the death of Christopher Hitchens, a Christian author* has written a scurrilous book claiming that the great atheist contemplated conversion to Christianity on his deathbed.

They cannot stop lying about us even when we are gone.

Never mind that Hitchens achieved more in exposing and tearing down the evil of religion than almost any other contemporary figure.  Never mind that he was the author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, one of the seminal New Atheist books, and that he was the man with the guts to expose even Mother Teresa for the monster she was.  Never mind that his wife, who was with him when he died, says that he never converted or contemplated doing so and that he remained himself to the last.

Religionists lie.  If they will sink this low, there is no lie they will not tell.  Keep that in mind whenever they speak.

[*Found via Fair and Unbalanced]

26 April 2016

The battle for North Carolina

A couple of weeks ago, when I read Comrade Misfit's report that North Carolina's Republican Governor was timidly watering down his state's vicious anti-gay law a little in hopes of warding off the massive economic counter-attack by everyone from PayPal to Bruce Springsteen, my reaction was immediate and visceral.  No compromises.  Crush them.  We are strong enough for that now.

Well, here's a more significant crack in the wall.  Some state legislators have introduced a bill to repeal the law.  While it's unlikely to get far right away, it shows that the wave of boycotts, business withdrawals, and criticism is having its impact.  As I observed recently, very powerful economic forces are now arrayed against the primitive taboos and prejudices.  The reactionary forces in Indiana surrendered last year, as did those of Georgia this month.  Keep up the pressure, and the same will happen in North Carolina and Mississippi.

On a related note:  I have been hesitant to comment on another much-discussed aspect of the North Carolina law -- its demand that transgender people use restrooms based on their original biological gender as opposed to their gender identity -- because, frankly, I've been a lot less confident that our side occupies the moral high ground on that issue.  I know that the possibility of male sexual aggression causes women legitimate concern, even fear, in many situations.  Is the bathroom issue being driven solely by the usual haters who always try to bash and denigrate anyone who is sexually unconventional in whatever way, or is it also women motivated not by bigotry but by an understandable nervousness at the thought of women's restrooms being accessible to persons who are, from a strictly anatomical viewpoint, male?  An unambiguous man walking into a women's restroom would, after all, quickly be taken as a possible threat.

A couple of other bloggers have recently provided some reassurance on this.  In response to a comment of mine on her blog where I mentioned this point, Shaw Kenawe observed:

It's a real good bet that many transgender men who identify as women have been using the "Ladies Room" everywhere, and no one was aware that there was a problem. It's only since certain red states decided that it is a problem that it's even come to anyone's attention. I've been in a room full of transgender females (at a luncheon) and I'd challenge anyone coming into the restaurant without knowing this to claim they were men.

And Republic of Gilead, back with a welcome barrage of posts after a three-week hiatus, devotes two of them to the topic -- the second of which emphasizes that women's groups and anti-sexual-assault groups are overwhelmingly aligned against the North Carolina law.

So it seems that once again what we're seeing is merely a passel of taboo-driven bigots demonizing an ill-understood minority and trying to turn that minority into a bogeyman to whip up fear.  As a civilized society, we cannot allow them to succeed in this.

No compromises.  Crush them.  We are strong enough for that now.

24 April 2016

Link round-up for 24 April 2016

The cleaning lady got it right.

Fold that shirt carefully.

Green Eagle has his own idea for the $20 bill.

These were real album covers.

Release the Quacken! (found via Mendip)

Click here for bouncing boobies, great tits, and a huge pecker.

Satanic giants built Stonehenge, and apparently the Dome of the Rock too (found via The Big Empty).

SNL mocks the fundie persecution complex, but Pat Boone thinks they're in trouble.

The story of Jackie Mitchell was an egregious case of sexism.

Here's what wingnuts really mean by "defining deviancy down".

Stop treating waitresses like crap (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

Treason is on the agenda for Texas Republicans.  Others are unimpressed.

Blogger Field Negro (recently added to my links list) explains why he uses that name.

Spot the parasite.

Check out what the wingnuts have been up to lately.

The Washington Post misses the obvious.

Beware of car warranty scams.

Everything about poverty is just awful.  Here's where the poor die youngest.

The Utah legislature's latest pronouncement is in the tradition of declaring pi equal to 3.

Culture matters.  That's why wingnuts are suspicious of it.

Here's another reason to be proud of Michelle Obama.

Those Persian rugs are a lot of work.

Each country has its own way of dealing with problems.

London's mayor has kinda stepped in it with comments about Obama.

Young Arabs, even those who dislike the US, are rejecting Dâ'ish (ISIL).

Catherine the Great had some.....interesting furniture (NSFW).

This is an actual view from Cairo.

The Arctic is changing beyond recognition.

Crazy Eddie looks at the Paris climate agreement.  It better work, because the problem is getting worse, fast.

Here are the ten most interesting exoplanets.

Holy $#!T, is this the Republicans' idea of a campaign ad?  Seriously, watch the damn thing.

The Immoral Minority enthuses over Warren as VP, while Booman considers the pros and cons of the idea.

That "more Presidential" version of Trump didn't last long.

Why does Hillary do so much fundraising?  She knows she's going to need allies.

Neither trickery not money can get cool musicians to perform for the Republican convention.  Even some Republican politicians plan to avoid it.

You Might Notice a Trend looks at Vice-Presidential options.

A Cruz nomination would debunk a cherished wingnut myth.

Here's where the popular vote stands on our side.

Republican leaders and delegates are barraged with death threats from Trumpanzees.

The "Tea Party" never was anything new.

[Image at top:  I wish they'd have the guts to design the new $20 bill like this -- but they won't.]

21 April 2016

Videos of the day -- Ana Kasparian's common sense

I'm a little surprised that I hadn't heard of Ana Kasparian before now.  She's the producer of the Young Turks online news channel, home base of the inimitable Cenk Uygur, but also an effective pro-freedom progressive speaker in her own right.  Here on marijuana:

And on the "shoot the messenger" mentality and sex work:

At a time when the right is turning theocratic, neo-fascist, and insane, and when even on the left we have too many people who run around trying to ban and restrict everything so they never have to deal with anything that might make them upset, we need more of this kind of common sense.

Kasparian's full name is Anahit Misak Kasparian.  Her parents were Armenian immigrants and she originally spoke Armenian as her first language.

All found via Ranch Chimp, who has more videos and links.

19 April 2016

Could it be Cruz after all?

In all the speculation that the Republican party leadership might pull some kind of trickery to deny Trump the nomination, conventional wisdom has had it that the nominee crowned in his place would not be Ted Cruz, the man running a fairly close second to Trump in the primary race.  He's even more hated by the party leadership than Trump is, and would be almost equally sure to lose big in November.  But what if Cruz himself is in the process of outmaneuvering both Trump and the party bosses?

If Trump wins 1,237 or more delegates -- a majority -- he wins the nomination.  On the first ballot at the convention, delegates are "bound" to vote for the candidate who won them in their state's primary, caucus, or other process, no matter what they themselves prefer.  This is what usually happens -- one candidate gets a majority before the convention, and the first ballot at the convention is just a formality making his nomination official.  (There are some additional complications involving "unpledged" delegates not bound to a candidate, delegates bound to candidates who have dropped out, etc., but the point is, normally one candidate has an absolute majority and thus wins.)

But if no candidate gets a majority on the first ballot, further votes are held until someone does get a majority -- and in those later votes, most of the delegates (who, remember, are actual people and not just numbers on a scoreboard) are free to vote as they choose, regardless of whom they were originally "bound" to.  This is where Cruz's current strategy comes in.

Actual delegates are chosen in the various states a few weeks after those states' primaries or caucuses.  Cruz's people have been hard at work in state after state, packing the delegate slates with their man's supporters.  Those of them that are "bound" as Trump delegates will have to vote for Trump on the first ballot at the convention -- but if he fails to reach the magic 1,237, there will be a second ballot on which they'll be free to vote for Cruz.

(It's even possible that, even if Trump has a majority of "bound" delegates, he could be denied a first-ballot win if some of "his" delegates break the rules and vote against him.  What would happen in that situation?  From what I've seen, the answers are murky at best.)

Why hasn't Trump's campaign been similarly engaged, ensuring that his delegates are genuine, committed Trumpanzees?  Most likely Trump has been assuming he would get a majority on the first ballot, and in any case his slipshod and amateurish campaign has repeatedly shown an inability to understand and deal with the more Byzantine nuances of the process.

If Cruz takes the nomination on the second ballot, thwarting both Trump and the bosses who had planned to impose a hand-picked nominee like Ryan or Romney, the party will be left even more divided and confused than if the bosses had won.  The Trumpanzees (and Trump himself) will be just as outraged at the nomination being "stolen", while the leaders may well balk at uniting behind a man whom they loathe and who cannot win in November.  They could end up split into three hostile factions instead of two.

Cruz, in his way, is just as dangerous as Trump, and just as doomed in November.  He's simply this cycle's Christian Right candidate, the avatar of the Bible-thumping, snake-handling, tongue-speaking element which has been growing in influence within the party for years.  He doesn't play well outside of that constituency; much of the support he's attracting now is really anyone-but-Trump sentiment.  If he were the nominee, the rumors of extramarital affairs, and questions about his Constitutional eligibility as a natural-born citizen (he was born in Canada and his father was not a US citizen at the time; it's unclear whether his mother was), would get heightened attention.  So would his string of endorsements by outrageously bigoted preachers who support imposing the Biblical death penalty for homosexuality.  Then there's his father's deranged Dominionist ranting.  Dildo jokes would proliferate. This is not a formula for winning in November, nor is it the image that Republicans outside the lunatic-theocrat faction want to project.  But they may be stuck with it.

[Image at top (Satan preserve us) found via Progressive Eruptions.]

17 April 2016

Link round-up for 17 April 2016

Maybe dildophobic Ted Cruz is just trying to protect women from evil masturbation demons.

Here's the perfect sweater for those sweltering-hot chilly days.

Umlauts matter.

Is she a tulip racist?  But this frog is cozy in his flower.

Great hotel idea, though it would bother me that people could see in.

Please tell me there aren't really people this stupid.

Nothing says tough like the rose knife.

Here's your cute photo for the day.

Certain aliens are apparently welcome in Alabama.

Stickers are among the nasty tactics the religio-nutters use to oppose the anti-bullying "day of silence".

These people spend $115 million per year on telling lies.

The feds may reclassify marijuana.

My city's mayor joins the fight against Mississippi's anti-gay law -- and so does the US Navy.  North Carolina's Governor makes a feeble concession to critics (found via Earth-Bound Misfit, who is rightly unimpressed).  The Cirque du Soleil and several top entertainers take a stand.  Bryan Fischer predictably offers the dumbest take on the situation.  Maybe these states should just go with what they've got.  Or maybe they're solving the wrong problem.

Once again, a clergyman proves shockingly clueless about morality.

This Indianapolis businessman's explanation of why he banned a customer is a must-read.

Right-wingery is rooted in ignorance.

On gay parenting, the argument is over.

JK Rowling has a point to make about boycotting Israel.

Which leader is smarter?

In England, even a flooded street can be crowded.

Trump is not just our problem.  But one foreign leader agrees with him.

Meet what may be Britain's most racist official.

Christianity is dying out in Norway.

Visit this tropical paradise, just outside Berlin.

One Scandinavian country is.....different.

The Catholic Church is about to bestow sainthood on a vile monster who bamboozled the world.

Here's a front-line report from the war against Dâ'ish (ISIL). The US is giving the Kurds heavier weapons in preparation for the fight for Mosul, the most important Dâ'ish-held city -- but we also need to plan ahead this time.

Paseka Motsoeneng is a maestro of bullshit.

China tells North Korea's flaming-nutbag regime to behave itself.

So, what's the deal with Venus and dinosaurs?

Here's a quick primer on vaccines in graphic form.

Yes, Easter Island statues walked -- and it wasn't aliens.

Why does menstruation exist?  The answer is complex, fascinating, and a little disquieting.

Better Jupiter than here.

Bernie utterly pwns Ted and The Donald on "New York values".

No, Hillary's no conservative (found via Yikes).

Here are some more newspapers from a Trump Presidency (found via Progressive Eruptions).

Republicans are now the dead parrot party (found via Paul Wartenberg, who has plenty of pithy commentary too).  Never forget they would drag us back to this.

Cruz does have his supporters.

Trump rally in progress, approach with caution.

This does tend to happen when a woman applies for a job.

[Image at top:  Mosul, before the war]

15 April 2016

Quote for the day -- obfuscating evil

In the comments to my last link round-up, in response to the image above, Zosimus the Heathen observes:

Another difference between the jealous boyfriend and the jealous god is that no-one would say the victim of the jealous boyfriend "set herself on fire", yet plenty of religious folk will claim, in total, wide-eyed sincerity, that the damned "send themselves to hell". When I first heard the latter claim, I considered it akin to saying that the victims of the Holocaust pretty much bought their own train tickets to the extermination camps! I'm also constantly bemused by people who claim that God gives us free will, yet who don't see his threatening us with eternal torture if we make the "wrong" choice to be in any way incompatible with that. It's a bit like saying people in North Korea are completely free to say whatever disparaging things they like about whichever of the Kims is currently in power. After all, it's their choice, and if they end getting a one-way ticket to the gulag as a consequence (which seems not unlikely), they obviously sent themselves there!

This perfectly sums up one of the most maddeningly hypocritical forms of logic-twisting that Christianity presents -- its warping of the concept of responsibility in order to obfuscate the moral horror of the Christian concept of damnation and what it reveals (or would, if such a monstrous fantasy were actually true) about the utter evil of the Christian God.  Such an absurdity can only be sustained by using arguments that the very people making them would rightly reject as outrageous if used in any other context.

On being talked about

A couple of weeks ago, Crazy Eddie's Motie News posted about the blogging experience of being written about by other bloggers.  As Oscar Wilde said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.  The post prompted me to think about when things I myself had written prompted strong commentary reactions from others.

In almost ten years of blogging, many of my posts have been linked and/or excerpted by other blogs (especially Progressive Eruptions), at Crooks and Liars, and even occasionally on Reddit and the redboards.  But the most notable case where one of my posts prompted serious discussion from others was this one, which provoked posts (with substantive comments) from Republic of Gilead and Frank Moraes.  I hadn't really expected that specific post to strike such a nerve, but in hindsight I'm not surprised.  It came from the heart.

12 April 2016

Transformation and victory

The change in attitudes toward homosexuality in the Western world may be the most rapid and dramatic such cultural change in history.  Just 13 years ago, homosexuality itself was still illegal in much of the US, and gays were widely despised and ostracized.  Today, gay marriage -- something that seemed unattainable and barely imaginable two decades ago -- is legal in most of North and South America and in western Europe.  Bigotry persists in some backward regions of these nations, but by and large today's rising generation of young gay people is the freest since Classical times, and younger people in general are accepting and open-minded to a startling degree.

The last couple of weeks have offered a powerful affirmation of just how normative the acceptance of homosexuality has become even in the US.  The legislatures of three states -- Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina -- passed "religious freedom" laws protecting the "right" of Christian-owned businesses to discriminate against gay customers.  Perhaps they had forgotten the massive business backlash that forced Indiana Republicans to back down after passing a similar law a year ago.  If so, they were swiftly reminded.

Georgia was hit from both ends of the cultural spectrum.  Disney, which had filmed movies there before, warned that it would no longer do so if Governor Nathan Deal signed the legislation into law -- and the NFL threatened to boycott the state.  Deal vetoed the bill.

Mississippi's bill has already become law, but a broad coalition of major companies has already demanded its repeal (found via Progressive Eruptions), and it will be difficult for even Republican leaders in the country's poorest and least-developed state to hold out against such pressure.

North Carolina, whose law is the most draconian of all (it even prohibits local governments from protecting gays against discrimination) is facing the possible loss of various federal funds as well as a corporate backlash and bans on official travel from several other jurisdictions.  Bruce Springsteen canceled a planned concert there (and got this snotbubble all honked off at him).  PayPal has abandoned plans for a new operations center in the state, which would have created 400 jobs.

(Bigots have whinged that PayPal continues to do business with some foreign countries which treat gays far worse than North Carolina does, and this does superficially seem like a legitimate claim of inconsistency.  However, the goal here is not just to make some meaningless "statement" of pro-gay moral purity, but to actually do some good.  It's vanishingly unlikely that PayPal pulling out of Saudi Arabia would force any change in that regime's murderous anti-gay policies, whereas boycotting North Carolina might actually accomplish something.  The day will soon come, though, when we need to start looking at sustained boycotts as a tool to force change in theocratic countries where gays and women are oppressed.  It worked in South Africa -- eventually.)

The striking thing about this backlash is how major corporations have taken a leading role in it.  Some companies, like Disney and PayPal, have an established gay-friendly track record.  But for many, it's about the bottom line.  Defending gay rights is popular; appearing to endorse the bigots is bad for business.  And this is what shows most clearly how massive this cultural transformation has been.  For most major companies, being linked with anti-gay prejudice is bad for business -- only because most people are now repulsed by such bigotry.

For centuries, the Christian taboo on homosexuality meant that gays were ostracized and rejected (and often much worse).  Now, that very same taboo means that the religious hard-liners who try to uphold it are the ones being ostracized and rejected.  They've lost the culture war and are reduced to pleading for a few scraps and crumbs of bigotry to be preserved in their defeat -- and as the experience of these three states and Indiana last year shows, we are strong enough now to deny them even that.

I'm declaring victory, not in the whole war, but in a very decisive battle.

10 April 2016

Link round-up for 10 April 2016

Take a look at animals.

This guy built a very cool steampunk whale.

Imagine if Lovecraft's monsters had existed in the Middle Ages (found via Mendip).

Batman comics fueled one of the earliest "ships" (found via Mark Evanier).

Hmm, do I detect a double standard?

Love doesn't threaten.

Rosa Rubicondior's new book is getting positive notices.

Mock Paper Scissors defines the four categories of wingnuts.

My home city can be just stupid sometimes.

Today's teens are open-minded about sexuality -- including their own.

The idea of basic income to cope with the coming technological transition is gaining attention (I wrote about it in 2014).

If only all terrorists were this careless.

Artist Tillie Walden shares some personal experiences with Planned Parenthood.

Instead of "studying" black people or claiming to speak for them, just listen, and learn.

Look who's fighting against marijuana legalization.  And remember how the war on drugs got started.

Yes, this kind of crap still happens in Mississippi.

Photos dramatize the California drought.

There are lines our side shouldn't cross.  This is one of them.

Which spill do you prefer?

The spirit of Shkreli is still around.

Yesterday was the anniversary of Appomattox -- never forget what that means.  Oh, and it's Confederate heritage month.

If the world went vegan, it would dramatically cut carbon emissions and save trillions of dollars by 2050.

Religion is fading away in Scotland.

Interesting insult you got there.

Protesters rally for abortion rights in Europe's most Catholic country.  More here.

Petra László wants to sue her victim.

Israel has a good idea which we'll ignore.

Check out these photos of one of the world's wealthiest -- and most crowded -- cities (found via What Would Jack Do).

Zaha Hadid should have been more famous than she was.

New genetic research clarifies our relationship with neanderthals.

Ed Brayton has an interesting question on Trump and abortion.

Squatlo looks at stupid Republicans, stupid Democrats, and raccoons.

Chauncey DeVega is keeping an open mind about the Bill Clinton / BLM clash.

No, MSM, Bernie supporters are not potential Trumpolines.

Don't fall for wingnut propaganda.

Elizabeth Warren calls out the Republicans on their bullshit.

07 April 2016

Video of the day -- inspiration

A Palestinian visitor in Italy finds inspiration from a street musician.

05 April 2016

Unnatural life

We are regularly told that this or that is "against nature".  But what was life like when humans lived fully in harmony with nature?

Nature meant no vaccines or antibiotics, living utterly helpless in the face of epidemics that periodically ravaged our populations.

Nature meant illiteracy, not even being able to imagine such a thing as a book.

Nature meant dying in agony at age 30 from a tooth abscess.

Nature meant a 50% infant mortality rate.

Nature meant no contraception.  Think about it.

Nature meant no doctor if you broke a bone or got mauled by an animal.

Nature meant constant risk of starvation if rains failed or herds wandered elsewhere or some blight struck the local edible plants.

Nature meant having no idea what those bright dots in the night sky were, or how big the world was, or who lived a mere fifty miles away, or even that there was such a thing as fifty miles away.

Nature meant living in constant fear of the neighboring tribe, or plotting atrocities against them (read up on rates on intergroup violence in hunter-gatherer societies).

Long ago our ancestors lived naturally.  The history of agriculture and civilization is a history of thirteen thousand years of determined struggle to escape from that ghastly horror.

So why should we accept "natural" as a guide to what is good or right in any area?  I'm wholly unmoved by being told that a way of life or new technology is "unnatural".  Almost everything that makes life worth living is "unnatural".

03 April 2016

Link round-up for 3 April 2016

Meet the pretentious flamingos.

What's this, the Brony continent?

Sing along with Ted and Amanda!

Old paperback covers get the snark treatment (found via Mendip).

This chameleon is just showing off.

Elsa vs Fred Phelps?  Easy call.

The Mormon Church escalates its war on wanking.

Fictional characters need to be kept consistent, or they become empty husks.

Squatlo frets over infestations of raccoons and Republicans, while Murr Brewster contemplates less visible critters.  And Trump has his own little birdie.

Freedom of expression must be respected in practice, not just theory.

A new Mississippi law has interesting implications (from Mendip) -- might this even legalize ISIL terrorist attacks?  But the backlash against North Carolina's bigoted new law is growing massive.

Go ahead, try to deny that this guy is racist.

73% of Americans now favor non-fossil-fuel energy sources.

Religio-wingnuts never stop trying to turn back the clock (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

Overpopulation?  The world now has more obese people than underweight people.

A chat with a taxi driver suggests that homophobia is often superficial.

Dâ'ish left Palmyra riddled with mines, but the Russians are saving the day again. Nearby is a grisly find.

Al-Qasr al-Farîd is a huge, enigmatic relic of the ancient Nabatean culture that built Petra (found via Cool Thing of the Day).

What a croc!

If there's a God, he gave humans the worst sinuses of any primate.

One one of the most important issues for future human happiness, Hillary's on the right side.

You Might Notice a Trend predicts Garland will be confirmed.

Wow, Trumpolines sure know how to win over women voters.

Stay away from Cleveland and let Republicans own the mess.

Real haters prefer Cruz (found via Republic of Gilead).

Dan Savage responds to Susan Sarandon's nonsense.  Read this too.

On abortion, Trump merely exposed the wingnuts' hypocrisy.

Republican women, these are your choices.

Here's a discussion forum for Hillary supporters (found via Daily PUMA).

How badly can Trump lose?

01 April 2016

Quote for the day -- the escape

Wise words, whose truth presses more and more on my attention of late.  Thank goodness for the realm of the purely aesthetic, and for the creative people who keep it alive for us all.