10 February 2016

Fustercluck

For months now Republicans have been doing so much whistling past the graveyard that I'm surprised the dead haven't complained.  Trump was a flash in the pan who would fade with time, they said.  His support would migrate to "real" candidates as February approached and people got serious, they said.  The polls were wrong, they said (a mantra recycled from 2012).  Trump's supporters were unmotivated or stupid or historically non-voters and wouldn't actually turn out, they said.  At worst, enough failing candidates would drop out to let the non-Trump vote consolidate behind one alternative, they said.

Today they're finally facing the stark horror of reality.  The polls were right.  The Trumpolines are real people, and they vote.  The party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Reagan is almost certainly about to nominate a fascist orangutan for the most powerful office on Earth.  And there's not a damn thing they can do about it.

It's that latter point that makes yesterday's Trumpstravaganza such a delicious spectacle.  There might have been light at the end of the wingnut tunnel if the results had at least crowned a single anti-Trump and pushed others to drop out.  But the disorderly clutter of candidates remains as dense as ever.

Great Wingnut Hope Marco Rubio could not, and will not, recover from being batted around like a piñata by Christie during the last debate.  He's doomed not only by the magnitude of his blunder but by the fact that its nature lends itself to mockery.  Epithets like "Rubot", and analogies to those dolls that play back a canned phrase when you pull their string, now abound on the net.  It's like the water-bottle thing but ten times worse.  He ended up in an embarrassing fifth place behind Jeb Bush, for crying out loud.  But he won't drop out.  He still has hope that this is just a setback and he'll recover.  He doesn't know he's a dead man walking.

As for Jeb!, his still-massive pile of funds, endorsements, and Bushian sense of entitlement are now bolstered by the hope of wresting the establishment-favorite spot back from Rubio.  He'll stay in, despite his toxic last name and cringe-inducing campaign style.

Why would Cruz quit?  He won Iowa and came third in a state demographically hostile to him, and there are fundie-rich states coming up which are much friendlier terrain.  Never mind his general lack of appeal to non-fundies and the fact that his own party's leaders loathe him.

Kasich might have been on the brink of giving up, but after yesterday's second-place finish, nothing will pry him out of the race.  He can, and will, claim that he should supplant both Jeb! and Rubio as the non-crazy alternative to Trump -- even though his image is far too moderate to survive the coming primaries in the South.

Christie is hinting he might drop out (a man with a mission?), but his level of support is so low that this would do little to consolidate the non-Trump vote.

And serene above the strife, in wingnut Nirvana, floats the vindicated Trump -- insults and all.  He now faces a succession of states where he holds poll leads comparable to what he had in New Hampshire, with the forces opposing him in worse disarray than ever.  He'll win primary after primary while the midgets squabbling around his feet tear each other to pieces.

By your fruits we shall know ye, O Republicans.  For years you've cultivated a base mentality of prejudice, paranoia, and panic, and here is the result.  Trump knows far better than you how to operate the clown car you've made of your party, and he's jumped in the driver's seat and sped off on a joyride in the damn thing, horn blaring and gears grinding and on the wrong side of the road, and that's the last you're going to see of it until he totals it out sometime between now and November.

07 February 2016

Link round-up for 7 February 2016

Imagine if Jesus campaigned as a Republican.

What is a dashboard, really?

Obama hosts an out-of-this-world summit.

Maybe God really did speak to Palin.

Tumblr nails Trump.

This is dumb.

Peter Freuchen led a full life.

Defend traditional Biblical marriage.

A restaurant manager responds to those nasty fake tips fundies have been leaving waitresses.

The world's biggest solar power plant is about to go online (you may be surprised at where it is).

A Northern Ireland law criminalizing johns is making life more dangerous for sex workers.

Nobody's happy with the talks over Britain's position in the EU.

Why aren't we hearing about this ugly anti-Jewish violence in France?

This is what a civilized country is like.

The zika virus, which causes birth defects, re-opens the debate about abortion rights in Brazil.  The UN is calling for loosening bans.

A wave of sex assaults in Europe is being exploited to stigmatize refugees in general, though some women are pushing back.  Merkel now says the refugees must go back home once the war is over.

If you doubt that the TPP is a terrible deal, watch this devastating indictment by Elizabeth Warren (found via Ranch Chimp, who has more).

Republicans are now in such disarray that only Democrats could save them.  Let's not act like them, especially with ideological purism. What's important is being able to get things done.

Around Christians never relax!  But how Christian is Cruz, really?  He's slimy enough to make Trump look honest, and Iowa officials are still in a snit about this.  Oh, and don't be fooled by Rubio.

Trump's remark about dating Ivanka if she weren't his daughter is part of a larger pattern.  A British newswoman recalls her 1995 encounter with The Donald.  His thuggish vulgarity is taking its toll even with Republican voters.  Many federal employees would quit rather than work for him.  Ramona's Voices has an interesting take on what's driving him.

The wingnut madness just keeps on coming.

Let them eat cake!

The Republican candidate demolition derby is finally winnowing the field.  Crazy Eddie says sayônara.  Here's an example of the kind of filth that may soon be flung.

They called him a socialist too.

High-profile MRA, PUA, and rape-legalization advocate "Roosh V" is a slob living in his mommy's basement.

Curious to know whether women (or men) agree with this study.

We may finally see a crackdown on domestic terrorism.

Here's a lot of stuff you didn't know about Alexandre Dumas.

Younger Republicans are more open to reality on climate change.

This Christian post on gays sounds promising -- but read the comments.

A random Google Earth picture of a village inspires some philosophical thoughts.

Religious fanatics burn people alive in Nigeria.

She can walk on water.

05 February 2016

The Trump rebellion -- danger and opportunity

It's easy, but also lazy and self-defeating, to dismiss Trump supporters as purely stupid, crazy, and bigoted.  Yes, there's a good deal of delusion and prejudice at work there, and it's very dangerous.  But there are also more serious issues involved which we need to understand.

There's a certain view of how the Republican party works which goes as follows.  The party's core purpose is to serve the economic interests of the rich and big business.  However, the rich and big business by themselves are not numerous enough to win elections.  So the party makes a show of passion for certain cultural issues -- religion, homophobia, guns, (coded forms of) racism -- in order to seduce large numbers of culturally-conservative working people into voting Republican even though it's against their economic self-interest.

This view is an oversimplification -- many of those with actual power are genuinely committed on the cultural issues, as the strenuous efforts of Republican elected officials to fight gay marriage and restrict abortion show.  Nevertheless it's true that a huge chunk of the Republican voting base isn't enamored of the party's economic policies, and never has been.  The party's official zeal for the free market, free-trade agreements, and low taxes for the wealthy -- zeal which practically rises to the level of religious dogmatism -- leaves them cold.

What's changing now is that more and more of these voters are noticing that the party isn't actually serving their interests, and they're angry about it.  As to why this is happening now, I think part of it is rooted in the unhinged reaction to Obama's election in 2008.  Obama was so demonized by some elements on the right -- including many short-sighted members of the Republican establishment -- that much of the base came to perceive him as absolutely anathema, an embodiment of evil with whom no compromise was possible.  The problem with this was that Republican legislators did sometimes have to work with him to get anything done -- avoiding government shutdowns, raising the debt limit, and getting budgets passed, for example.  But much of the base was now primed to see such necessary compromise as treason.  Reading comments by Trump supporters on right-wing sites, I commonly see this theme -- "the Republican establishment betrayed us by making deals with Obama instead of fighting him at every turn".  As absurd as this stance may seem, the fact remains that it's led these voters to look on the Republican leadership as their enemy, making it easier for them to also recognize that that leadership's economic policies really have been harmful.

(For more on these themes, see this analysis at Bloomberg and this condescending establishment view.)

Aside from that, you can't fool people forever.  Decades of tax cuts, deregulation, free-market fetishism, and free-trade agreements have produced an increasingly Third-World-like economy with stagnant incomes, shrinking job prospects for the less-educated, staggering concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny elite, and disasters like the West TX explosion and the Flint MI water crisis, evoking a society in which a wealthy ruling elite views the masses as expendable serfs.  Eventually even the Fox-addled teabagger base started to notice all this.

It's the anger over this situation which is fueling the passion for outsider candidates, especially Trump.  Most Trump supporters are still confused about who is to blame -- decades of propaganda and crypto-tribal paranoia still cast their spell -- hence the fear of foreigners and anyone "different" that Trump is pandering to.  But they do understand that the Republican elite and its free-market fetishism are a core part of what's hurting them.  And this matters.  It matters a lot.

These people aren't potential Democratic voters, at least not yet.  They feel betrayed by both parties -- by Republicans too beholden to big business at the expense of ordinary people, and by Democrats they see as too infatuated with gays, minorities, and illegal aliens, and contemptuous of rural and working-class white culture (and also beholden to big business).  But they are potentially reachable.

There's evidence that divisive cultural issues are losing force.  Younger people of all classes and cultural groups are less religious, and more comfortable with gays and with a racially-mixed society.  The dramatic rise in public support for gay marriage in just the last decade has shown that prejudice can be vanquished with amazing speed when it is confronted properly.  As I've said before, the transformation of attitudes about gays is one of the most stunning cultural victories in US history, and it behooves us to study this success and work out how to apply its lessons to other struggles.

And Democrats too need to show that they are on the right side economically.  In reality, they already are in many areas, at least in contrast with the Republicans -- Obamacare, raising the minimum wage, defending Social Security and unemployment benefits, etc.  But it would be useful, for this election, to zero in on one of the current issues which Trump is exploiting to pull Republican voters away from their leaders.  What I have in mind is the TPP.  Both of our Presidential candidates oppose it; Hillary needs to do with the same force and fervor that Bernie is already showing.  If the Republican establishment manages to squelch Trump and foist a conventional nominee like Rubio or Jeb on the party, the spectacle of that nominee spouting the same tired old rationalizations for free-trade agreements, while the Democrat vows to kill the TPP, could well peel off a lot of Trump supporters.

They realize the Republicans aren't in their corner.  We have to show that we are.  We can't compromise on racism, gay rights, or separation of church and state, but on economics we can appeal to them just by doing the kinds of things we damn well should have been doing all along.

And if Trump is the nominee, as he likely will be?  Well, there are plenty of ways to attack him and he has a tremendous potential to self-destruct, but there is still value in the economic-populist appeal.  The Democratic base, too, harbors many who are rightly exasperated at how cozy the Democratic establishment is with Wall Street.  Much of Bernie's appeal comes from tapping into this.  If Hillary is running against Trump and she remains too aloof from economic populism, there's a risk that Trump could peel off some number of Democratic voters.  Only by showing that we are listening, and will act on what we hear, can we neutralize that danger.

At the same time, we need to remember that elections are won in the center.  The forces which both Trump and Bernie are appealing to are fervent, but they're in the minority; each man is supported by about a third of his party's base.  Neither would be likely to win a general election against a more mainstream candidate of the other party.  The moderate majority will reject anything that sounds revolutionary, because it sounds revolutionary.  The trick is to address the just grievances driving economic populism without sounding like you want to blow everything up and start over.  The people who want the latter make a lot of noise, but they aren't as numerous as they think.

If we can exploit the divisions Trump has brought to the surface, and show enough discontented Republicans where their real economic interests lie, the reward could be the permanent crippling of conservatism in the US.  It will be well worth it.

02 February 2016

A muddle that doesn't matter

What Iowa caucuses gave us yesterday was a textbook case of an indecisive result.  The Democratic race was effectively a tie, and the top three Republicans were within five points of each other.  Yes, Cruz won -- by 3.3%, in a state where the Republican party is heavily dominated by the Evangelical voters he most appeals to, and where the polls had had him ahead until the last-minute Trump surge.  The nearest thing to a surprise was Rubio's close third place.  TPM has the results as Cruz 27.6%, Trump 24.3%, Rubio 23.0%, with no other Republican even reaching 10%.

But it doesn't matter.  Iowa historically has not had much impact on later primaries, and the eventual nominee started by losing Iowa more often than not.  Trump still has massive leads in the upcoming states, including New Hampshire, now just a week away.  Rubio's showing was strong enough to keep anti-Trump Republicans from coalescing around Cruz, whom the establishment loathes more than it loathes Trump.  Trump is still the most likely Republican nominee.

None of the rest matter any more, but spare a thought for hapless Jeb!, with his endorsements and résumé and money-bloated PAC, dead in the water in sixth place with 2.8%.  He was supposed to be the Romney of this cycle, the safe sane establishment guy cruising to the nomination after the clown candidates demolition-derbied themselves.  But now the clowns have taken over the circus, and safe and sane is the last thing they want.  In the last few weeks Jeb! seems to have switched his focus to taking down Rubio, and he couldn't even do that.  People are just tired of Bushes, it seems.

As for our side, Hillary is now at 49.89% and Bernie at 49.54%, effectively a tie.  Eventually a "winner" will be declared, but aside from a small psychological boost, it won't matter, even with delegates (which are awarded proportionally in Iowa).  Bernie will likely win New Hampshire, which borders his home state and where the polls have him ahead.  That won't matter either.  Hillary's lead in later-voting states is too large to overcome.  She's still the most likely Democratic nominee.

Huckabee and O'Malley have dropped out, but the news websites are hardly bothering to report it.

I expect infighting among the top three Republicans to intensify, with Trump further stirring up doubts about Cruz's natural-born citizen status, which could get ugly.  It will continue on our side as well, though hopefully everyone (aside from the usual frothing-fringe types) will keep their eye on the eventual need to unify the party and beat Trump, whoever our candidate is.

The race may yet, of course, see some game-changing event.  It didn't see one yesterday.

Update (Wednesday):  Here's another reason why Trump is still likely to be the nominee.  All the establishment guys are fighting to be the "last establishment guy left standing", so they spend their resources trying to destroy whichever one among themselves is in the best position -- which, right now, is Rubio.  And Trump sits above it all.....

31 January 2016

Link round-up for 31 January 2016

Check out these unusual sculptures.

Ali Davis ranks the candidates by their usefulness in a bar fight (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

Trump gets pwned on Twitter by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.  Here's a full listing of Trump's Twitter insults -- it's yuuuge!

Good time for a quick U-turn.

Here's a handy check-list for your next militia take-over.

Which half of the list has the best countries?

This map of abortion laws frankly holds few surprises.

Watch this SF short film on the use of virtual reality as an outlet for violent impulses, with a sinister twist.

A cat in motion is a wonder to see.

If that new planet beyond Pluto really exists, here's the perfect name for it (found via Mendip).

See the real-world inspirations behind the visuals in Avatar.

Winter brings snow, snow brings socialism.

Republicans not conservative enough for you?  Check this party out.

It's too late to undo the worst consequence of the faked Planned Parenthood videos.

Here's what National Review was really saying.

Italy grows more defiant toward the EU.

I notice they didn't shoot this one down.

Here's some more World-War-II-era giant-tank lunacy (link from Nick M).

Lesser Republicans learn to grovel before their new master.

Christian counselors tried to "cure" a gay man by.....isolating him from women (found via Republic of Gilead).

An anti-vaccine nutjob learns from bitter experience.

Libertarian schmibertarian -- Rand Paul takes a hard line against abortion.

Faye Kane explains the Republicans. Here's a summarized history.

The Oregon "occupation" flounders in grandiose self-delusion.

Porn is more popular than ever, and most young people see nothing wrong with it.

A few Texas Republicans are trying to bring the party around on marijuana.

Religion is now a pretext for stiffing waitresses.

Here's what's waiting at the end of the anti-gun road.

A Christian activist calls for a "warrior mentality" against the Satanic gay movement (found via Republic of Gilead).

Obama considers his possible successors.  Here are some thoughts to consider.  Hillary represents the audacity of realism.  The haters are getting desperate.

Palin meddled in her son's military service, apparently.

Here's a look ahead at the madness of the caucuses and primaries.

A Florida priest does the right thing and gets punished.

The victor in Thursday's debate was the man who wasn't there.  If Trump wins Iowa tomorrow, he may be unstoppable -- feckless party leaders will not have the guts to stop him.  His nomination may be good for us Democrats and for the country.  The very strategy that's kept him ahead in the primaries will sink him in the general, likely taking the Republican Senate majority down with him.  Rod Dreher, Rich Lowry, and Tucker Carlson assess Trump's appeal, and here's an Australian view (found via Crooks and Liars).  Booman looks at why even Nate Silver misjudged him.

A bizarre mailing from Cruz's campaign appears to be backfiring.

The 2016 "March for Life" promotes Orwellian distortions of feminism.

The wingnut media are as wingnutty as ever.

Regulation, what is it good for?  Then there's this (link from Ahab).

Ah, sweet dreams.

Oklahoma Republicans think they can abolish secular marriage (found via Progressive Eruptions).

Holocaust Memorial Day evokes disturbing echoes in the present.

A blogger is stabbed to death for criticizing religion.

These two skeletons are different, yet fascinatingly similar.

A wolf pack is better organized than you'd think.

Photos recall the Challenger explosion 30 years ago.

2015 was a year of environmental breakthroughs.

Bring back teh shrooms!

28 January 2016

Video of the day -- more fundie funnies


Richard Dawkins reads more e-mails sent to him by devout Christians (an earlier reading is here).  It's curious how fixated these people are on accusations of homosexuality -- Dawkins, for the record, is not gay.

26 January 2016

When wingnuttery meets reality

Reality has suddenly punctured the wingnut parallel world of delusion, and the results can't be very comfortable to those inside.

First, a grand jury in Houston, which was charged with investigating the local branch of Planned Parenthood in the wake of those doctored videos we've all been hearing about, not only refused to indict Planned Parenthood, but did indict two of the guys responsible for the smear videos.  Apparently our justice system does actually work, at least some of the time.  This is a Texas grand jury, unlikely to be packed with scheming liberals, but they fingered the bad guys instead of their victims.  Good job.

Second, while early reports are sketchy as always, today the FBI and the Oregon State Police began operations against the "militiamen" (or whatever they're calling themselves) preposterously "occupying" a bird sanctuary visitor center in eastern Oregon (much to the annoyance of local townspeople and the local Paiute Indians).  The nutbars resisted, shots were fired, and now one of them is dead and five of them under arrest -- here's the FBI press release.  It turns out that seizing federal property and threatening the police when they try to stop you has consequences after all.

I expect the wingnut internet to erupt in fury at these events, both of which demonstrate, to their discomfiture, that the rule of law and reality itself have a way of persisting and asserting themselves no matter how much squid-ink gets sprayed around them.

24 January 2016

Link round-up for 24 January 2016

Palin's endorsement helps Trump with a key Republican constituency (found via Progressive Eruptions).  Comrade Misfit is unimpressed.

This wedding photographer knew exactly what he was doing.

Louisiana keeps its blowjob ban, but corpse-shagging is OK (found via Mendip).

As a non-fan of Star Wars, should I feel oppressed?

Colbert pwns Palin.

I guess we're a spectator society.

Cold shower or hot shower?

Going to see a right-wing movie carries certain risks.

Woody Guthrie once spent two years as a tenant of Fred Trump, and it opened his eyes (found via Mendip).

Kaveh Mousavi looks at three men full of life, now lost to us.

Heads start to roll in the Flint water crisis -- more here.  Flint residents are getting some help from an unexpected source.

These are the days of miracle and wonder.

Meet Julián Castro, a strong contender to be Hillary's running mate.

Syrian refugees feed the homeless.

A lawyer for the Catholic Church tries to claw back settlement money paid to an abuse victim.

Americans now support legal marijuana 52% to 34%.  Jobsanger has analysis.  The government now admits that marijuana has cancer-fighting properties.

A former Sea World employee details animal suffering there.

Republic of Gilead looks at the New Year's Eve sex attacks in Germany and how the right wing is exploiting them.  Then there's Trump's recent moronic speech about Christianity and the Middle East.

An Islamist professor explains when slavery and forced sex are OK.

Is fundamentalism a form of OCD?

The Iranian theocracy is banning moderate candidates in the upcoming elections.

To protect abortion rights, Hillary is the clear choice.  She intends to expand access, not just defend it.  Republicans offer only even less freedom.

Child sex workers suffer abuse and exploitation.

The New Republic is unimpressed with National Review's anti-Trump issue.

Vote for the candidate who can actually get things done.

Those militia nitwits still holed up in eastern Oregon have been rummaging through Indian artifacts kept there.

The most revealing thing about Republican legislators is what they aren't doing.

Bloomberg threatens to foul up the election.

Bigots from a backward region are held up as the saviors of Christian bigotry in the West.

During World War II, Japan ventured into stupid tank design (found via Mendip).

This is why some global-warming denialists can't be persuaded by facts.

2015 was the hottest year on record.

Here's an intriguing story involving bitter fruit, ants, and wolf poo.

Here's a zinnia with a difference.

From California comes news of a breakthrough in quantum superposition (found via Mendip).

22 January 2016

Video of the day -- Hee Haw Palin!


Palin's endorsement of Trump gets the music video treatment.  Found via Republic of Gilead.

Should we root for Trump?

Contrary to what most observers (including me) were expecting a few months ago, it now looks very likely that Trump is going to win the Republican nomination.  He remains the prohibitive front-runner among Republicans nationally.  In Iowa, the one early state where he's been lagging, his main rival Cruz is under attack, loathed by the party establishment, dogged by questions about unreported campaign loans, his Canadian birth, and his opposition to federal support for ethanol in a corn-growing state.  The latest poll gives Trump a startling 11-point lead in the state.  In the next two, New Hampshire and South Carolina, he has long led by huge margins.  If he comes out of Iowa with an unexpected win, he'll crush his rivals in those states and become unstoppable.

How should we react to this?  Some liberals are rooting for Trump on the grounds that he would be the easiest candidate for our own nominee to defeat.  It's the Akin scenario on a national scale -- we should want the Republican to be outrageously offensive because it guarantees that the Democrat will win.

The counter-argument is that no such guarantee is absolute.  Either major-party nominee always has some chance of winning.  Our candidate could suffer a sudden health crisis at the last minute (Hillary is now 68, Bernie 74).  A third candidate on the left could bleed off enough votes to flip a few close states to Trump.  A last-minute scandal, terrorist attack, or unexpected Trump line of attack could shift a close election.  None of these things is likely, but they are possible.  Nominee Trump does pose a risk of President Trump.  Moreover, the stakes are a lot higher.  If Akin had won, the damage done by one more wingnut Senator would have been limited.  But a man like Trump in the most powerful office on Earth?

Against this, one must consider the alternatives.  The Republicans have to nominate somebody.  Yes, Trump as President is a nightmare scenario, but would any of the other Republicans be less so?

Probably they would be -- but not enough to matter in practical terms.  Any Republican President would almost certainly mean the destruction of Obamacare, an attack on Iran, the end of church-state separation, the end of any hope of defeating global warming, dragging the country back to the nineteenth century in socio-economic relations, gay rights, racial division, and women's self-determination -- and Supreme Court picks who would set all this in stone for decades.  (There would be no more Souters -- they'd never risk that.  We'd get wall-to-wall Scalias.)  OK, Kasich and Paul are more moderate in certain areas, but those guys have as much real chance of winning the nomination as I do.  Yes, Trump would be worse than the others, but any Republican as President would be an intolerable disaster.  We must stay focused on preventing it.  Ebola is worse than smallpox, but the point is, you don't want to get either one.

For us, Trump presents the ultimate "high risk / high reward" scenario.  Yes, there is some risk of total disaster, but the possible rewards also extend beyond the near-guarantee of a Democratic President.  Some Republican pundits think candidate Trump could turn the expected Democratic recovery of the Senate into a landslide, giving Hillary's Supreme Court picks plain sailing and neutralizing the filibuster problem, and perhaps even endanger their House majority.  In the best-case scenario, Trump could fatally split the right wing.

I know people have been predicting the collapse of the Republican party for a long time and been wrong, but the divisions are real, and in all the time I've been following politics I've never seen them as deep and bitter as they are now.  Remember, Trump has never had majority poll support among Republicans as Hillary has with Democrats -- it's the absurd number of candidates dividing the non-Trump vote that keeps him ahead.  Many Republicans loathe him.  I'm even seeing some promising to actively work for Hillary's campaign if he's their nominee.  If the party bosses pull some maneuver to rob him of the nomination, the split would be even worse, with enraged Trump supporters bolting (already, much of their motivation is hatred of the "establishment"), whether or not Trump himself runs as a third candidate.

In the best-case scenario, the Republican coalition finally splinters and the various wingnut factions become so consumed with backstabbing and excommunicating each other that the US is without an effective right-wing presence in national politics for a decade or so.  Think how far we could move the country forward if that happened.  My gut feeling, looking at the acrimonious infighting engulfing the right-wing internet, is that it could happen.  Trump is dragging all their internal contradictions out into the open and making them unsustainable.

And the risk of Trump winning the Presidency really is low.  I'm not buying the polls showing a close race in November (and some of them don't show it that close).  There's been no head-to-head campaigning yet.  Republican OCD about Benghazi, e-mails, etc., etc., etc. has been so relentless that it's hard to imagine anything new being dredged up against Hillary -- any rock you might look under has already been looked under a hundred times.  Trump has never run for office and never been vetted that way -- and with his character and known record, there are probably a lot of rocks out there with a lot of very nasty stuff under them.  Just his rhetoric in the campaign so far could be turned into a hundred ads that would devastate him with the general electorate, however much his troglodyte fans lap it up in the Republican contest.

This is going to be the most bizarre and tense US election in living memory -- but the results just might be worth it.

19 January 2016

The music of the sneers

One of the guilty pleasures of the internet age is videos made by repurposing of found imagery set to music, for entertainment and/or mockery.  A good example is this little item I saw on P M Carpenter a few weeks ago.  The first few seconds are the original mishap, the rest is the musical version:


One of the classics of the genre is the Bill O'Reilly dance remix -- I've posted this before, but the number of readers has grown a lot in the last few months, so here it is again for those who haven't seen it.  First, O'Reilly's original meltdown:


And the dance remix version:


Another example is this speedboat crash on a lake in the Ozarks.  I've seen different stories about what happened -- that the boat was in a race or was simply speeding, for example.  In any event it turned out to be unwise:


This footage naturally was irresistible to the remixers:


Evan Muammar Qaddhafi got in on the action -- his speech rallying supporters against the Libyan revolution amounted to little more than standard fascist ranting, but gave rise to this timeless work of art:


Trump recently got the same treatment:


This one was made in response to one of the Republicans' more notorious efforts to twist Obama's words during the 2012 campaign:


Finally, this video imagines what the trailer for 2001: A Space Odyssey would look like if it were being released today.  I see what they were doing, but this is still actually pretty cool:


I'm sure there are plenty of others out there that I haven't come across yet -- and I'm sure we can all think of raw video that needs to undergo this kind of creativity!

17 January 2016

Link round-up for 17 January 2016

The person who wrote this knew exactly what he was doing.  Not sure about this one.

The Bible should be republished in a more appropriate format.

Best grenade ever.

Nobody better mess with this gal.

The Catholic Church sets forth truths.  Don't be fooled by Satan.

Behold the ultimate wombat.

Try this science literacy quiz -- I got 45 out of 50 questions right (found via Faye Kane).

Meet the candidates (found via Earth-Bound Misfit).

Have you seen Trump's new theme song?  The tune is basically a Blondie ripoff.

What if Harry Potter characters were like real people?

Fifty Shades of Grey gets dissed again, but Lady Gaga gets a nod.

The Church of England hits a new milestone.

Iceland marches toward secularism (found via Mendip).

Saudi Arabia has a rival.

Tel Aviv acquires a surprising distinction.

The New Year's Eve sex attacks in Germany have boosted sales of a particular consumer product.

Here's some Christian love in action.

Ayn Rand's absurd writing sheds light on the psychology behind dislike of collective action.

This Constitutional law professor thinks Cruz is not eligible to be President.

Republicans planning for a brokered convention appear to be bumbling goofballs.  The right wing as a whole is as full of wingnuts as ever.

There's one endorsement that will matter a lot.

Progressive Eruptions looks at Republican Governors.

The Trump-Cruz ascendancy is disempowering the very people who are responsible for most of the country's problems -- and also showing the limits of the power of money.

Republicans confront the terrifying reality.

If Obama wants to improve voter turnout, here's a proven way to do it.

Here's a report from a Trump rally, and how economists assess his agenda.

Bush's campaign is autistic.

This would be an issue with any religious wingnut as President.

The Republican debate is assessed by Crooks and Liars, P M Carpenter, Hackwhackers, and Wil Wheaton.

Sacoglossans possess a unique ability.

Hmm, I never knew there were fungi that hatch from "eggs" (found via Mendip).

The biggest dinosaur of all may have never existed (found via Mark Evanier).

15 January 2016

Taking a stand on Trump

Two very different Republican pundits explain why they will oppose Trump if he wins the nomination.  Follow the link for excerpts, commentary, and links to the full essays.

It's an issue Republicans as a whole will have to face, especially since Trump's strong debate performance yesterday offers a chance that he might, against expectations, win in Iowa and wrap up the nomination early.  Some are already facing it.

(Sorry for lack of posts this week -- my old hand-joint inflammation problem has flared up again.)

10 January 2016

Link round-up for 10 January 2016

I know which group I belong in.

A British ad brings back Basil Fawlty, peevish as ever (found via Mendip).

Immigrants in the US get the worst jobs.

Bridge or tunnel?  It's both.

Facebook is now officially silly.

Read this brief lesson in gullibility.

A mass sex attack in Germany inflames tensions over migrants, though the problem isn't a new one.  Swiss artist Milo Moiré stages an eye-catching protest.

What are the real effects of tax rates on the wealthy?

Romance blossoms in Oklahoma (found via Mendip).

Yes, religious extremists really are this sick.

Respect the beliefs of othersIt's God's will.

The UK is considering banning Trump from its territory.  And he's not taking it well.

In Northern Ireland, Catholic and Protestant wingnuts join forces to oppose abortion rights.

Kaveh Mousavi looks at the Saudi-Iranian feud.

Squatlo concludes that the wingnuts are sociopaths.

Some British sex tourists choose a surprising destination.

Moron labe!  Even Y'all Qaeda is divided over the Malheur bird sanctuary yee-hawd.  Does the Bundyswehr really want to take on the governmentMahablog mocks their poor planning, No More Mr. Nice Blog looks at their squalid squabbles, and Murrmurrs envisages a counter-offensive, but police could move in if provocation gets severe enough.  Maybe this will be the hashtag.

How have Republicans used their power?

Comrade Misfit assesses Obama's gun measures.

Gin and Tacos reviews 2015 in black people getting killed by police, and chooses the asshole of the year.

Planned Parenthood will be going on the offensive in 2016.

Police in Florida engage in horrifying practices with their dogs (found via Politics Plus).

Christians in India convert children by force and brutality.  Hindus have also victimized Christians.

Islamic tradition says a master copy of the Koran was finalized in the 7th century.  So where is it now?

Even more than race, this is the most important demographic change in the US.

How does Obama compare with other Presidents in use of executive orders?  But he's changed the country for the good more than we realize.

"While warring party factions usually reconcile after brutal nomination fights, this race feels different....." Here's a handy diagram of the Republican candidates' attacks on each other.  Charles Koch bemoans the situation.  Green Eagle ventures a startling prediction on the outcome.

Mark Steyn's report on a Trump rally helps explain his appeal.

Just about every religion is wrong.

The Democratic party is rebuilding in the South.

Here are the 100 most popular movies of 2015.

Wow, Faye Kane really doesn't like Republicans.  On a lighter note, she's got some intriguing porn statistics.

A solid majority of Americans rejects global-warming denialism.

Intriguingly, smarter people live longer.

Scientists in the Netherlands discover how a critical step in the emergence of life may have happened.

Australian researchers claim to be developing an ultrasound treatment for Alzheimer's (found via Mendip).  I'm somewhat skeptical but it's worth keeping an eye on.

07 January 2016

Clash of the theocratic titans

The recent diplomatic uproar between Saudi Arabia and Iran was triggered by Saudi Arabia's execution of prominent Shiite cleric Nimr Bâqir al-Nimr on January 2, but tensions between the two countries have been building for a long time.

Each country has positioned itself as the Middle East's main embodiment and defender of one of the two major divisions of Islam, Sunnism (Saudi Arabia) and Shiism (Iran).  Iran is, in fact, the largest and most powerful predominantly-Shiite country.  There are several Sunni states in the region larger in population than Saudi Arabia (notably Egypt and Turkey), but Saudi Arabia defines its very identity based on a radical form of Sunni Islam, which other majority-Sunni states do not.

Arabia is a vast, extremely arid, barely-habitable region about one-third the size of the continental US, traditionally the wild frontier beyond the southern edges of the ancient birthplace of civilization in Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Syria.  For most of its history it was poor and fragmented, inhabited by numerous tribes with no common identity beyond the Arabic language and culture, which never produced any sense of common nationhood.  Aside from its brief unification in the time of Muhammad (which led to the conquest of most of the Middle East), the first unification of most of Arabia came with the foundation of the Saudi kingdom in 1932.

Oil was discovered in 1938, and in the 1960s and 1970s the monarchy gradually wrested control of this lucrative resource away from Western interests.  Since then, oil wealth has allowed the regime to exercise influence far beyond what a country of its modest population size (28 million today) could normally do.  This has mostly taken the form of spreading its extremist and puritanical brand of Sunni Islam as far afield as Pakistan and even Muslim communities in Europe.  The rise of al-Qâ'idah, the Taliban, and militant Islamist groups in Europe owes much to Saudi influence and money.

The country's internal religious repression -- executions by beheading, prohibition of alcohol, women forbidden to drive and subject to strict rules on their clothing and social activity -- is sometimes thought by Westerners to be typical of the whole Middle East, but this is not true.  Saudi Arabia is a radical exception.  Most of the Middle East is far more modern and secular, despite the continuing presence of some hard-line Islamist groups in most countries.

More recently Saudi influence has been declining.  Population growth has diluted the impact of oil income, while economic modernization and secularization have made other Middle Eastern countries less amenable to Saudi influence.  But the biggest threat to the kingdom's position has been the rise of Iran.

Iran has been an international pariah since its 1979 Islamic revolution, but has nevertheless managed to win some influence.  The Asad regime in Syria (dominated by Alawite Muslims, a sect derived from Shiism) has long been an Iranian (and Russian) client, and since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Iran has taken on a protective role over the Shiite majority in Iraq, especially since the rise of Dâ'ish, a mortal enemy of Shiites.

This influence has a massive weight of history behind it.  If Saudi Arabia is one of the region's newest countries, Iran is one of the oldest; Iranian national identity extends back at least as far as the coronation of Cyrus the Great in 559 BC.  Since then, a succession of Persian states and empires have often dominated much or most of the Middle East.

Last year's US-Iran nuclear deal set off loud alarm bells in Saudi Arabia.  US support is the cornerstone of Saudi security; a US warming to Iran could threaten the kingdom's position as the premier US client state in the region.  It's true that Iran is also theocratic and harshly repressive, and also supports extremists and terrorists beyond its borders; but the election of reformist President Rouhani in 2013 brought the promise of genuine change.

It's not clear why the Saudi regime decided to trigger a confrontation right now by executing al-Nimr, but I think this analysis has much truth in it.  If the Saudi move was a panicky blunder by a declining power, it would hardly be unprecedented.  But it cannot have been welcomed by the US, since it complicates both US-Iran relations and the fatuous "peace process" in Syria.  Still, the Saudi regime may believe that its best option is to inflame tensions and hope that the US-Iran rapprochement is destroyed.

It might seem odd to view Saudi Arabia as a declining power.  It still has oil wealth and, on paper, a strong military.  But that military has shown itself to be far less impressive in fact.  When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the Saudis immediately called in US forces to expel it, rather than dealing with the problem themselves.  The recent Saudi intervention in Yemen seems to be turning into an expensive fiasco.  Iran's military has suffered from years of sanctions, though that situation has forced the country to develop the ability to manufacture its own equipment, even tanks and submarines.  How well either country's military would perform in a real war is hard to predict.

Both countries have potential internal sources of instability.  Between 5 and 10 million of Saudi Arabia's 28 million people are foreign guest workers.  Its oil is mostly near the Persian Gulf coast, an area near Iran and inhabited by a restless and repressed Shiite minority.  Iran's population is much larger at 78 million, but up to 40% of those are members of various non-Persian ethnic minorities who have been integrated into the Iranian state for centuries but whose attitude toward it is difficult to assess.  Both countries' populations, especially the young, chafe under the puritanical restrictions of their theocratic regimes.  The Iranians, however, have been able to force some change by the mass protests of 2009 and by electing Rouhani; the Saudi state, an absolute monarchy, offers no such institutional path to change.

It seems clear, though, that Saudi Arabia is declining and Iran is inching back toward its historic dominant position.  The US could, if it chose, hinder this evolution, but cannot stop it short of an all-out war, even if we decided it was in our interest to do so.  Our best course is to prepare to adapt to it -- and accept that events will be driven mostly by internal developments in both countries, not by what we do.