21 September 2014

Video of the day -- monsters below


Sorry, readers, all this stuff is real.  For example, the colossal squid is real, complete with eyeballs up to 16 inches in diameter.  The giant isopod is real too -- here's a photo:

Check out the look on that cat's face.  I understand just how he feels.  And notice how when you put an animal fairly closely related to us humans next to one that's only very distantly related, you can tell right away which is which.

So that's what evolution does in an alien environment.  As I've said before, if we ever meet beings from another planet, I'm afraid they're not going to look like Mr. Spock or Deanna Troi.

Link round-up for 21 September 2014

The world of memes reacts to Scotland's decision (found via Mendip).

Everything is evidence of Obama's perfidy, including tiny spy robots that don't exist.  And vegetarianism is evil liberal brainwashing.

The conservative war on education just never stops.  Our best hope may be Satanists (sent by Mendip), especially if Obama is Satan.

Kaveh Mousavi reviews the book Does God Hate Women?  Certainly fundamentalists' bizarre view of relationships facilitates domestic violence.

America's 99% isn't keeping up.

I support individual soldiers' right to have and express religious beliefs, but just imagine how this video could be used by jihadists to smear Western military intervention in the Middle East as a Christianizing crusade (from Shaw Kenawe).

Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaks at Yale despite a campaign to stop her which, shamefully, some craven and cowardly atheists and liberals supported (found via Kaveh Mousavi).

A Republican laments the weakness of both teabagger and establishment candidates.

William Lane Craig exemplifies the horrifying implications of God-centered morality.

A gang of armed thugs openly plans to intimidate black voters in Wisconsin.

The Economist talks sense on prostitution, as politicians and moral busybodies go off yet another deep end.

If you think voting doesn't change anything, you're an idiot.

A planned libertarian Utopia ignominiously implodes before it even gets started.

Muslim scholars in Britain appeal to ISIS/Islamic State to release a British hostage. Muslim leaders worldwide have been condemning ISIS, even if the MSM haven't mentioned it.

Germany's Euroskeptic party shows gains in state elections.

A morbid fascination with Chernobyl inspires risky infiltrations of the site (found via Mendip).

The dancers in the "Tehran Happy" video (here) get sentenced to prison and flogging, fortunately suspended, while a blogger who "insulted the prophet" is sentenced to death.

ISIS/Islamic State tries to Islamize education in Mosul, but much of the public is defiant.

An Ebola education team is massacred in Guinea.

Here's an odd-looking critter.

The cries of babies reveal how closely related all mammals are.

Mice equipped with the human gene for language ability (yes, we can do that now) are quicker learners than other mice.

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

19 September 2014

Scotland stays in

In the end, it wasn't even close.  Scotland voted against leaving the UK by 55%-to-45%, a decisive margin much larger than the last few polls had suggested.  Turnout was startlingly high, over 85%.  The question is now settled for the foreseeable future.

Towards the end the pro-independence campaign took on an increasingly thuggish character, but this failed to intimidate people and may even have turned them off.

The land of my ancestors will remain undivided.  Secessionist movements all across Europe, and the enemies of the West in general, will go without the encouragement which a break-up of the UK would have offered.

Congratulations to the Scottish people on their wise decision.

16 September 2014

Clothes make the man -- uncomfortable

In many way the modern West is the most advanced civilization in history.  There's one field, however, in which I'd have to rate it just about last among historic cultures:  men's clothing.

Has there ever been a more cumbersome and more determinedly uncomfortable set of garments?  Almost every part of the body is enclosed, usually fairly tightly.  Trousers, shoes, and shirts all have to be hauled on separately, often with some effort -- has there ever been a greater absurdity than the shoehorn? -- and if it doesn't take effort, they're probably too loose to look right or stay in place properly.  Shirts have to be buttoned up (why did zippers never catch on for shirts as they did for trousers or jackets?) and many shoes still need to be secured by tying laces into a peculiar and silly-looking sort of bow-knot.  The whole ensemble is fussy, awkward, and over-complicated.

(Yes, I know Victorian-era clothing was even worse, but that's essentially an earlier version of the same culture and clothing tradition.  I'm grateful for the simplification that has happened since then, such as it is.)

After all that, you're not comfortable.  A change of posture as simple as sitting down can cause constriction of the groin, waist, or even armpits.  If it's warm, no comforting breeze can reach most of you.  Why are smelly feet so common a problem as to be an occasional staple of jokes?  That's what a day's worth of tightly-trapped sweat will do.  Absorbent socks mitigate the problem, at the price of one more tight, silly-looking item to deal with when dressing.

The fact that modern clothes are fairly tight, and have to be in order to look right or stay on properly, means that you have to buy new versions of everything if you gain or lose a substantial amount of weight -- often a non-trivial expense.

And don't even get me started on the necktie.  This utterly non-functional symbol of conformity has always put me in mind of a leash.  It's one more otherwise-useless knot to learn, it takes some practice to get it to look right, and it requires a fairly tight collar -- one more point of constriction.  It is, thank goodness, seemingly on the way out.  During the last Presidential election I recall seeing both Obama and Romney at at least some campaign events without ties, and nowadays, if you're in a typical office and you see a man wearing a tie, it's usually either the president of the company or a temp worker on his first day on the job.

What alternatives can history suggest?  As is so often the case, we could learn a thing or two from the ancient Greeks.  The clothing depicted in Greek art or statues may look elaborate, but in fact most garments in that culture were variations on a simple large sheet wrapped very loosely around the body below the armpits, with the front and back pulled up and pinned together over one or both shoulders.  For fancier effects one could add sleeves, or a sort of sash over one shoulder, across the opposite hip, and up the back to the shoulder again and pinned in place, or even a cape.  In most cases getting dressed or undressed took probably a couple of minutes.  Contrary to modern impressions, these simple clothes were usually brilliantly colored, in contrast to the drab palette favored for male clothing today.

With our far superior modern ranges of fabrics and fasteners, such clothes could be made even easier to handle and more esthetically pleasing.  Winter in some parts of our country would require something different, but even in those regions, Mediterranean-inspired garb would be well suited to the summer.  But, of course, this will never happen.  Our standards and concepts of what looks right and, perhaps more important, of what looks masculine have changed too much, and many of today's flabbier specimens could hardly carry off a look that evolved for bodies toned by the ancient Greek emphasis on athletics.  For the foreseeable future, we're stuck with what we have.

14 September 2014

Link round-up for 14 September 2014

This must be a teabagger's bathroom.  Dunno what to make of this one.

Husband problems?  Call tech support.

The biggest crocodile in captivity is.....big.

Mess with horses, face the consequences.

The movie you've been waiting for is out.

Kevin Weir makes creepy GIFs from old photos (found via Mendip).

Hey, we're the majority!

If you think there is any limit to human stupidity, check this out.

Impress your friends with a fake vacation.

Two years ago the Wyoming legislature considered buying an aircraft carrier, among other nutty measures, but ultimately voted down the idea (found via Green Eagle).

It's an outrage against the Constitution that this photograph is being prosecuted.

Ranch Chimp has some impressive photos of Dallas.

This would not have happened if she had been white.

A Baptist pastor calls on Christians to embrace anti-gay bigotry (found via Republic of Gilead).

Details emerge on the great Palin brawl; the man who witnessed and reported it has now been fired.

Fundamentalist home-schooling does a lot of damage (found via Republic of Gilead).

One region stands out as the rape capital of the US.

Hey Repubs, how's that outreach to minorities going?  Outreach to raving lunatics might work better.

This kind of thing makes me think the open-carry types have a point.

Republicans struggle to keep control in Texas.

How bad is theft?  Depends who's doing it.

Don't be fooled by some Republicans' sudden interest in OTC birth control -- or their strategic shifting to the left.

How many of those page views you get from various countries are real?

Scotland's secession vote could determine the outcome of Britain's next election.  Rosa Rubicondior has a fascinating look at Scotland's history.

French nationalist leader Marine Le Pen would defeat President Hollande in an election today, according to current polling.

Russia's reign of propaganda sounds oddly familiar.

Religious bigots gather for a conference in Moscow -- more here.  They've been cozying up to the Putin regime.

Iranian rap music is now a thing, defying the theocracy's censorship.

Muslims who disregard Islamic taboos aren't necessarily moderates.

Here's a good response to that rubbish about ISIS not being "truly Islamic".

The life and death of Steve Biko remind us what apartheid was really like.

The Gambia is the latest African country to pass a draconian anti-gay law.

Ebola is getting out of control in west Africa.  Skimping on health workers' pay isn't helping.

Here's a round-up of educational resources on biology and aging.

This person was born with a major part of her brain missing, and it wasn't even detected until she was 24 (found via TYWKIWDBI).

The light skin color of Eurasians may be an inheritance from the Neanderthals.

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

12 September 2014

Saying what must be said, doing what must be done

President Obama's Wednesday speech on ISIL/ISIS/Islamic State (it keeps re-branding itself) was a rather fascinating exercise in threading the needle of saying what diplomacy demands while doing what reality makes necessary.  The greatest amount of attention has naturally been focused on this statement:

ISIL is not “Islamic.”  No religion condones the killing of innocents.

The President no doubt knows as well as I do that this is utterly false.  ISIL's behavior toward non-Muslims (Christians, Yezidis) and those whom hard-line Sunni Islam deems heretics (Shiites) is entirely in accord with Islamic law and tradition.  Of course Islam condones the killing of innocents, even mandates it in many situations.  In this, Islam is consistent with the broader Abrahamic tradition.  There are several passages in the Old Testament where God orders the Hebrews to totally exterminate defeated enemy peoples, or kill all the adult males and non-virgin females and keep the virgin females for themselves.  ISIL is merely taking these abstractions from the pages of ancient holy texts and letting us see what they look like in living action in the real world.  If that reality shocks and horrifies, that is merely because normal modern humans, whether American or Middle Eastern, have developed far beyond the blood-soaked barbarity of the Bible and Koran which they still so shallowly claim to follow.

Of course, Obama couldn't say that.  Explicit repudiation of Islam would be as shocking in most of the Middle East as explicit repudiation of Christianity is to much of the US.  The idea that these are basically humane religions and that the totalitarian extremists are somehow distorting them is a delusion, but it's a very widespread and useful delusion.  Obama's goal is to rally moderate Muslims to support the US against ISIL, not to alienate them by pointing out that moderate Islam is theologically incoherent, even though it is.

Less remarked, but more interesting, was the political needle-threading also in evidence.  The gist of Obama's declared plan is an intensification of the strategy we are already following -- US air attacks on ISIL to weaken it so that local, not American, forces on the ground can defeat it.  But there were only a couple of mentions of those ground fighters who, in fact, have been our main partners in this strategy so far -- the Kurds.  The President repeatedly referred to "Iraqi forces" and cited the "new Iraqi government in place" as an important development.

The fact is, Iraq is gone.  It was never a real nation and is no longer a viable state in the sense of being able to exert authority over, or claim loyalty from, the territory and people it supposedly comprises.  The Kurdish region is independent in all but name.  The Sunnis of the west and northwest are hopelessly alienated from the state, even those who don't support ISIL either.  "Iraq" is a useful term to refer to the jigsaw-puzzle piece of land that still goes by that name on the map, nothing more.  The Baghdad cabal ruling the Shiite center and south is increasingly dependent on the support and advice of a foreign power.

That foreign power, however, is not the United States.  As the tide has turned against ISIL on the battlefield, reports have increased of Iraqi and even Kurdish forces being guided by advisers who speak only Persian and communicate with their allies through interpreters (note that these victorious "Iraqi forces" are actually Shiite militias, not the useless Iraqi government's army).  For months there has been anecdotal evidence of growing Iranian influence in Baghdad.

It would be astonishing if this were not the case.  Iran, like the Baghdad regime and the area it still controls, is Shiite, and the main Shiite holy places are in central Iraq.  Southern Iraq has most of the country's oil.  Iran has very strong motives to seize its opportunity to establish both protection and domination over the area.

The fact that ISIL is active in both Iraq and Syria presents the US with a problem.  The US is committed to upholding two positions:  that the Asad regime ruling Syria is very evil (true) and that the Baghdad cabal is a viable government of all of Iraq (false).  ISIL is fighting against both regimes; it is the enemy both of our enemy (Asad) and of our friend (the Baghdad government).  It's going to take some serious needle-threading for the US to fight against ISIL in Syria without doing anything to strengthen Asad.  The intent seems to be to focus on arming moderate Sunni rebels against Asad who also oppose ISIL.  All I can say about this is that I'm glad I'm not the person responsible for making it work.

Iran has no such problem.  The Asad regime has been a de facto Iranian client for some time, and the Iraqi government is on its way to becoming one.  ISIL is the main obstacle to consolidating Iranian dominance over the arc of Syria and most of Iraq.  For now, Iran is quite happy to stay in the background and let the US lend its immense military power to the task of crushing ISIL -- which, remember, it is genuinely in the US interest to do.  Once ISIL is broken, the US, whose people are sick and tired of dealing with the Middle East at all, will go away.  Iran will not go away.  It's right next door.

Baghdad understands this.  The government there will take what help from the US it can get, make what concessions to the US it must, and hold what power and territory it can in the chaotic mess that Iraq has become, all the while knowing that US involvement is transient while Iran's is likely permanent.

In the long run even the US will probably reach an accommodation with this reality.  Iran is embarking on a frustratingly slow but inexorable process of liberalization; it's what most Iranians want and it's being advanced on many fronts by President Rouhani, perhaps the most courageous and genuinely revolutionary leader in the world today.  The successful nuclear negotiations show that Iran is willing to work with the West.  If, as I've said before, the real effect of Bush's Iraq invasion is that we spent four trillion dollars to restore the Persian Empire, we may as well make the best of it.  Besides, we can't stop it.

What I most hope, though, is that Obama does the right thing and ensures that in the end the Iraqi Kurdish enclave gets genuine independence as a recognized state.  It's the Kurds who have done most of the hard and dangerous work of fighting ISIL on the ground.  They've shown themselves much better able to manage a country properly than anyone else in Iraq has.  With a population of five million, the Kurdish enclave has taken in almost a million refugees from ISIL who have nowhere else to go.  They've earned genuine independence, and Baghdad will never again exert sovereignty over the enclave, whatever the US claims to believe.  I note the references in Obama's speech to "Iraqi and Kurdish forces", implicitly recognizing that the two are distinct.  I hope that's a positive sign.

Finally:  always, always remember -- it's not about us.

10 September 2014

A pig, an idiot, some rocks, and the Devil

A few videos I've run across which struck me as amusing or interesting.

First up, somebody filming out the open door of a small plane drops his camera, which remains on all the way down and lands in a pig farm.  The farmer eventually found it and uploaded the video:



Next, Google Glass.  I wouldn't be a bit surprised.  The nitwits yakking on cell phones or zoned out on headphone music while walking down the street are oblivious enough:



This is the aftermath of a rockslide in Termeno in the Italian Alps, which must have been like something from a horror movie while it was happening:  This person will likely choose his next house somewhere far from mountains:



Finally, a few words of wisdom from Satan, as portrayed by Al Pacino in the film The Devil's Advocate:



Whatever else happens, this blog will always have a place for the frivolous.

07 September 2014

Link round-up for 7 September 2014

Here are some perfectly-timed dog photos.

Now I've seen everything -- neo-Nazi bronies.

To jump or not to jump?

Murr Brewster examines flatworm biology.

Yes, people as stupid as this actually exist.

Comics illustrate the strange conservative ambivalence about female sexuality.

What would happen if you had all the money in the world?

These two guys have plenty in common.  More here.

Time's running out to enact the Obama agenda.

Republic of Gilead looks at the Christian Right's ugly and callous exploitation of Robin Williams's suicide.

Bush exploded the deficit, Obama cut it back down.

States run by Republicans lag behind economically (found via Jobsanger).

Two North Carolina men are released after 30 years in prison for a crime they didn't commit.  Squatlo Rant looks at the Scalia angle on the case and the likelihood that there are many more such cases.

Green Eagle's latest Wingnut Wrapup includes the stupidest Social Security headline ever; he also looks at the vast crowds demonstrating for Obama's impeachment.

One annoying form of bank money-grubbing is on the decline.

Brains and Eggs has reactions to Wendy Davis's abortion revelation.

There are reasons why some conservatives downplay the evils of slavery.

Jobsanger has a round-up of Bernie Sanders quotes.

As unions decline, something else rises.

Democratic officials warn that even the mere prospect of executive action on illegal aliens could cost us the Senate.

A conference of religious bigots in Australia draws heavy protests.

In Iraq, Kurds and Shiites are pushing back ISIS/Islamic State, but they're getting outside help to do it.

Here's how pervasive India's public-defecation problem is.

India doesn't have gay marriage, but it apparently has this.

The head of Médecins sans Frontières wants a military response to the Ebola outbreak.

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

06 September 2014

List of movie review posts

Like the list of book reviews, this will be updated as necessary.

Agora (2010):  The story of Hypatia, the woman whose life and death came to symbolize the fall of Classical civilization.

District 9 (2009):  The originality of this South African science-fiction film puts Hollywood's endless sequels and rehashes to shame.

Frozen (2013):  Not really a review (I hadn't even seen the film when I wrote this), but a discussion of the claims of a hidden pro-gay agenda in the song "Let It Go".

Lincoln (2012):  A superb exploration of the messy moral ambiguities of real-life politics.

Prometheus (2012):  The Alien prequel clutters up its SF with too many religious themes (I'm a lot less impressed with the movie now than I was when I wrote this).

03 September 2014

Video of the day -- Reich!


This video was made as a joke, and not a very good or interesting one -- what if some of the most evil men who ever lived had just been stars in a sitcom?

But there's a more important point here.  How often have you ever seen these men like this, smiling and laughing and acting like normal people, with cheery music?  We're used to thinking of them as evil monsters -- which they were -- and to seeing them depicted as such.  But that makes us wonder how voters in the most advanced nation on Earth at that time raised them to power.  Couldn't they see that these were monsters?

Well, no, because they didn't look like monsters at the time.  They looked like this -- normal people.  Those who had read Mein Kampf had no excuse.  They must have known what Hitler was planning to do.  But a lot of people hadn't.

Keep that in mind when you consider Christian Right politicians who seem like regular, easy-going people, belying their surreal words about gays or atheists or reproductive rights or freedom of expression.  Those words are the reality.  He whose words proclaim him a monster probably is a monster, even if he doesn't look like a monster.

31 August 2014

Book review -- the racial nightmare of The Camp of the Saints

The Camp of the Saints -- a novel by Jean Raspail (original French publication 1973, published in English 1975)

This astonishingly stupid novel has been almost as influential on fringe-right thinking as Atlas Shrugged, which it resembles in several ways, but it doesn't seem to be nearly as well known by name, or at least not cited anything like as often.  It's a good idea to be aware of it, though, since the memes it spawned live on today in the heads even of people who have never heard of it.

The storyline is simple enough.  In Calcutta, India, an impoverished mob of a million people commandeers a fleet of decrepit ships and sets sail for France, where they hope to settle and enjoy material prosperity unavailable in their own country.  Never mind the logistical implausibility of this (such as assembling the amount of food that would have to be taken along to feed so many people on such a long journey) -- nothing in this book has any connection with the real world.

As the fleet works its way around Africa and then northward through the Atlantic toward Europe, the French and the Western world in general debate how to respond.  In Raspail's version of reality, they are so feckless and demoralized by liberalism, atheism, and suchlike right-wing bogeymen as to be unable to recognize an obvious existential threat when it's staring them in the face, and so they do nothing.  As it becomes clear that the West has no intention of stopping the fleet, hordes of people elsewhere in the Third World gather and prepare their own mass migrations to various Western countries, and populations of immigrant ancestry in Europe (and even black Americans), all presented as faceless menacing aliens, get ready to join with the waves of migrants in seizing control of the West.

The novel ends with the fall of Western civilization, overwhelmed by vast hordes of Third World migrants, its societies decaying toward Third World levels of poverty, corruption, violence, and general backwardness.

I'm not being quite honest in my use of the term "Western", because the novel is explicitly and proudly racist.  The fate of white but non-Western nations like Russia is depicted the same way (overwhelmed by Chinese migrants), while the existence of advanced and wealthy non-white nations like Japan and South Korea is simply ignored.  Modern civilization is implicitly presented as something that only the superior white race can build and maintain, doomed to collapse once the dusky lesser races get their hands on it.  This theme is not subtle.  Race, the contrast of civilized white and backward non-white, is thrown in your face again and again throughout the novel.

The real villains, though, are not the non-white people (most of whom Raspail depicts as barely human), but rather the white liberals who, in his view, have undermined the West's sense of race-consciousness and therefore its ability to defend itself against the dark-skinned hordes.  He also despises atheists and pretty much anyone who doesn't live a traditional, conservative lifestyle.

As I mentioned, The Camp of the Saints noticeably resembles Atlas Shrugged.  Much of the "dialog" consists of people making interminable, stilted, turgid speeches, utterly unlike the way actual humans converse.  The left-wing characters, like Rand's "statists" and "moochers", are cardboard caricatures bearing no resemblance to any actual left-wing person you have ever met.  The world-view is absolutist, black-and-white, devoid of nuance or ambiguity.

One difference from Atlas Shrugged is the omnipresent theme of menacing sexuality.  The sexual threat presented by dark-skinned males against white women hovers constantly in the background.  The million Indians of the migrant fleet are described as passing their time at sea with pansexual orgies which would startle anyone familiar with India's actual sexual mores.  The subject of rape keeps cropping up, to the point where one wonders if Raspail has an inordinate fascination with it -- notably a lurid scene where a liberal journalist's wife is gang-raped by a mob of escaped convicts, though the episode seems to serve little purpose in the story (unless it's simply to relish a liberal getting his just desserts).  Near the end of the book, with the West under the rule of the new order, mention is made of an official "White Female Practice and Experimentation Center" where white women are to be made sexually available to non-white men in order to "demythify" them.  This novel really is that crude in its appeals to the sexual anxieties which have always been part of the racist mentality.

Preposterous though it is, The Camp of the Saints has sold surprisingly well ever since publication.  It probably serves the same function for racists as Atlas Shrugged does for elitist libertarians -- a lurid depiction of their worst nightmares made real, and a reassurance of the utter depravity of their opponents.  And just as Atlas Shrugged provides libertarians with a template to use in interpreting real-world events, The Camp of the Saints provides racists, or even just those with an inordinate fear of immigration, with a sort of funhouse mirror that warps real-world events into harbingers of a racial apocalypse.  Why have the relatively small and gradually assimilating Muslim populations in European countries inspired endless absurd predictions that they would ultimately overwhelm and Islamize those countries?  Why are demographically-insignificant numbers of boat people crossing the Mediterranean or unaccompanied minors on the US-Mexican border repeatedly described with terms like "flood" or "siege"?  I'm convinced that the memes and imagery offered by The Camp of the Saints are a big part of the reason.

[Note:  The image at the top of this post was actually on the cover of the copy of The Camp of the Saints which I read when I was young.]

Link round-up for 31 August 2014

Some people just shouldn't use power tools.

Murr Brewster attends a writers' conference, encounters glitchy computers.

Now this is interior decorating!  But could you live there? (NSFW blog)

Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt is not just a bigot, but a goofball.

Check out the post-it-note horrors of John Kenn Mortensen (found via Mendip).

Frank Moraes looks at the ending of the film They Might Be Giants.

I reposted my post on Scotland to F169, where it generated quite a lot of discussion (much of it admittedly moronic) and somebody decided to start a thread about me.

This is unnatural behavior.

Here's a photo of the world's most famous iceberg.

Struggling to look cool, Republicans release a video game.

Gays aren't the only target -- the moralist busybodies want to run your life too (found via Republic of Gilead).

The lonely Voyager space probe inspires some thoughts on life (NSFW blog).

It's curious that these weird but harmless people attract so much hatred.

Stupidest anti-union protest ever.

Obama's tan suit, the latest pretext for right-wing hyperventilation, has plenty of precedent.

A pastor is crusading against fantasy novels -- except the crummiest one of all.

Green Eagle explains why it's necessary to keep a close eye on the right wing.

Here's a good illustration of what's wrong with the libertarian concept of freedom.

Bigots whine about a "Babylonian exile" because they can't bully everyone else any more (found via Republic of Gilead).

Fuck you if you think I'm wrong to hate people like this.

A gay teenager records how his Christian family turned on him and kicked him out -- yes, this still happens.

Nihilist Republicans are fighting without a plan, whether for Iraq or domestically.

The Chairman of the House-Senate Energy Conference Committee is apparently a complete moron.

Gregory Towns Jr. was tazed to death by police.

One guy predicted the 2012 election results perfectly -- and he says we'll probably keep the Senate this year.

Think before saying grace.

British politics gets a jolt as a Conservative legislator switches parties to the nationalist UKIP.

Don't be fooled by Pope Frances -- the Catholic Church is still evading responsibility for protecting child molesters.

The EU is destroying Europe's economies using the same policies the Republicans want to enact here.

If this sign doesn't stop public urination, I don't see what can.

Bulgarian artists repurpose Soviet-era monuments in their country as mockery (found via Mendip).

Western sanctions are pushing Russia's economy to the brink of recession.

An Ayatollah denounces high-speed internet as "morally wrong" because it lets people see things he thinks they shouldn't.

An impoverished Iraqi town stands firm against ISIS/Islamic State.  Yezidi women captured by ISIS are being raped and sold.

Pakistan's Hindu minority suffers abductions of daughters and forced conversions to Islam.

Hundreds of thousands of low-caste Indians spend their lives collecting excrement under degrading conditions.

The current Ebola outbreak has now killed more people than all previous Ebola outbreaks combined, and the WHO says it will get a lot worse. Meanwhile, there's been another stupid riot against health workers and a hospital.

The wandering stones of Death Valley expose the foolishness of supernatural explanations for the unknown.

History's greatest scientist left behind a vast and confusing jumble of writings (found via Mendip).

29 August 2014

Transformation

(Click for full size)  I can't remember where I found this image -- it was a while ago.  But it's a startling reminder of what is possible now, and a hint of what may become possible in the future.

And I admire this person for doing what was necessary to achieve happiness.

27 August 2014

A referendum to watch

The US is still coming to terms with the ongoing break-up of Iraq, but not many Americans realize there's an imminent risk -- albeit a slight one, and without violence in the offing -- of the break-up of another country which for most of recent history has been our most important ally.

The United Kingdom is a country consisting of four culturally-distinct territories -- England (by far the largest in population), Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  In 2011 the Scottish National Party (SNP) which advocates independence of Scotland from the UK, won a majority in the Scottish Parliament and went ahead with plans for a referendum on secession.  That referendum will be held on September 18, three weeks from tomorrow.  Scotland (like Oregon) has voting by mail, and ballots are arriving at residences there today.

How serious a loss would Scotland be?  While it looks large on the map of the UK, Scotland has only 5.3 million people out of the UK's total population of 64.1 million, or 8.3%.  But this is comparable to the population size of Texas relative to the whole US, and clearly the loss of Texas would have a substantial impact on the US.  The UK would be distracted for years by internal problems such as division of North Sea oil resources, division of the national debt, what currency Scotland would have, what to do about UK military bases on Scottish territory, etc.  Also, Scotland is more leftist-voting than the UK as a whole, so the subtraction of its voters from the UK electorate would lead to more conservative UK governments which, there as elsewhere, would be generally bad for the economy.

(The current UK government is conservative and Scots are widely disgruntled at its policies, such as ongoing cuts to the National Health Service.  Cutting the NHS doesn't carry much political cost in England, because as wait times increase and services deteriorate, the public just blames immigration.)

That currency question, by the way, is a surprisingly thorny one.  The SNP had originally said that independent Scotland would adopt the euro, the common currency used by the majority of countries of the European Union (though not by the UK, which still uses the pound).  When it became clear that the euro is a fiasco which has helped ruin the economies which use it, the SNP switched to saying that Scotland would keep using the UK pound even after independence.  The UK has said that it would not allow that.  There are various options for a separate Scottish currency, but these would carry problems of their own.  A good overview is here.

A pro-independence vote would also likely encourage secessionist movements elsewhere, notably Spain, Italy, and even France, distracting and preoccupying European leaders who need to be focused on the real problems of recession, immigration, rising anti-Semitism, and the erosion of democracy and national sovereignty by the EU.

The good news is that polling shows the pro-independence side losing by margins ranging from 3% to 20%, though polls don't yet reflect the effects (if any) of a TV debate on Monday which SNP leader Alex Salmond is perceived to have won.  Scotland's business community is also urging a no vote.  The EU elections in May showed a resurgence of nationalism in the UK (as in other countries, notably France), a sentiment which will hopefully work against a national break-up.

If public opinion doesn't favor independence, why did the SNP win a majority in 2011?  At that time the UK's left-wing Labour party was badly discredited after years of the unpopular Blair and Brown government (among other things, Blair took the UK into the Iraq war), but Scotland would no more vote for the rival Conservative party than California would vote Republican, so the SNP may have won by default.  Also, voters sometimes vote to "send a message" even if they don't actually support the platform of the party they're voting for.

At any rate, thanks to mail balloting, Scots begin voting on the question today, and in a little over three weeks we'll know the answer.

24 August 2014

Link round-up for 24 August 2014

Hey, it looks like Republic of Gilead is back to active blogging!

When you gotta scratch, you gotta scratch.

Check out these photos that were improved by animals.

Oklahoma City's Catholic Archbishop had been planning to sue a devil-worship cult over a cracker (and we think the Pastafarians are silly).

Don't shoot!

If you don't think gerrymandering has much impact, take a look at this (found via Politics Plus).

Frank Moraes explains why the Boy Scouts have always bothered him (my take is that any society where you see children in uniforms has something wrong with it).

Here's what would happen if Obama found a cure for cancer (found via Squatlo Rant).

The atheist tone police need to STFU.

Krugman nails it (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

That video supposedly showing Michael Brown robbing a store actually may not show that at all (found via Progressive Eruptions).  Despite what a bunch of crank right-wing sites like Fox reported, Officer Wilson did not suffer a fractured eye socket.  Green Eagle's Wingnut Wrapup has more, along with the usual insanity.

Obamacare is becoming an electoral asset for Democrats.

19-month-old Bounkham Phonesavah is the latest victim of police incompetence and excessive force.

Here's why Hillary talks like a neocon (NSFW blog).

The California drought just gets worse and worse.

Rand Paul could destroy the Republicans.

"We don't serve fags here."

Purity-crazed conservatives are channeling Jack D. Ripper.

Only one President in US history had a criminal record when he took office, and it worked out about as well as you'd expect.

Right-wing fantasies of revolt against an oppressive government have a basis in reality, but not where they think.

McConnell promises more government shutdowns if the Republicans take the Senate -- thus proving he's an idiot.

The beaches of Cornwall are awash in.....Lego?

London is looking great, by night and by day.

Police just killed a man in Iceland -- the first time that has ever happened in that country.

Some of the unaccompanied minors the US has deported back to Central America have already been murdered there.

Putin backs down again, pulling his "aid convoy" out of Ukraine.

Pakistan's small Hindu minority suffers forced conversions and worse.

In the latest example of Saudi barbarity, a woman who called the religious police liars gets fifty lashes.

In Liberia, police open fire on rioters protesting a clumsily-imposed Ebola quarantine.  This preacher responds to the disease with the usual bullshit.

This is surprisingly well done: 40 maps that explain the Roman Empire.

There's a story going around that an ancient Neanderthal skull with a bullet hole in it has been discovered (found via Mendip), but it isn't a bullet hole, and the skull isn't Neanderthal.

The Ediacarans, Earth's first multi-cellular life forms, show how evolution bridged the gap between simple and complex.

23 August 2014

Video of the day -- but he loves you!


Religion isn't just about hating people who are different -- it has its own kind of love, too!  I have a note on my link to this video that it came from Shaw Kenawe, but I can't remember the context.  It was a while ago.