31 December 2015

Video of the day -- make America grating again!

Found via Progressive Eruptions.  Comedian Brian Nissen parodies Trump's dimwit supporters, some of whom are apparently such dimwits that they didn't even realize it's a parody.

30 December 2015

2015 in review

Not a comprehensive listing, but events and milestones I found especially noteworthy.

We got a genuine global deal on climate.  All major countries are now committed to real action against the greatest long-term threat to our species.  Even further steps may, and probably will, turn out to be necessary, but the Paris agreement -- combined with the growing use and falling costs of non-fossil-fuel energy -- gives us a fighting chance to save the planet.

It was the best year yet for gay equality.  The Irish Republic -- formerly one of the most rigidly Catholic countries on Earth -- overwhelmingly approved gay marriage in a referendum.  Soon afterwards, Supreme Court rulings in the US and Mexico legalized it nationwide in those countries.  Despite dire Christian Right warnings of upheaval and mass protest, there was little serious reaction.  Gay marriage -- and homosexuality itself -- are now accepted in most of the Western world.

Anti-gay religious hysteria reached a crescendo.  While the Christian Right failed to rally any mass action against gay marriage, their hate rhetoric reached the point of complete meltdown -- and I don't expect their rage to die down any time soon, because gay acceptance is a turning point in the existential culture war that has been raging for almost two millennia.

The Republican fascist tendency came out into the open.  Yes, we know they've been going dangerously crazy since at least 2009, with the rise of the Tea Party, increasingly-overt racism, and a fevered nihilistic urge to fight anything and everything Obama does no matter what it costs the country and the world.  But Donald Trump's rhetoric, and the terrifying support it has won from a third of the Republican base, have made the problem so undeniable that even many Republicans are now openly denouncing the fascist cancer consuming their party.

The US and Iran reached agreement -- a verifiable end to the nuclear program in exchange for the removal of economic sanctions.  The deal, which remains on track so far, will prevent a still-dangerous regime from building nuclear weapons, and essentially ends the risk of a US-Iran war (unless a Republican wins the Presidency next year).  And such a major win for President Rouhani will strengthen reformist and liberalizing elements in the Middle East's most important country.

The tide turned against Dâ'ish (ISIL).  After their wave of expansion in Iraq and Syria was blunted by Kurdish and Arab forces with Western air support, the extremists launched a series of terrorist attacks -- Beirut, the Russian airliner over Sinai, Paris, and San Bernardino -- making Russia and France all the more determined to help crush them.  While they succeeded in provoking a wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence in the US, playing into their hands, they could not change the fact that the war has turned against them, recently losing the cities of Sinjar and now Ramadi.

The Dothan horror came to light.  Surely the most under-reported US story of the year -- in just one small city in Alabama, a police conspiracy dating back to the 1990s framed hundreds of black men by planting evidence.  Yet attention from the MSM and even the liberal blogosphere was minimal.  How much more of this kind of thing is going on around the country that we still haven't found out about?

We finally stopped the %$#@!&# Keystone pipeline once and for all.  Damn thing has been harder to kill than Dracula, but Obama's veto did it.  Perhaps there is really hope that the country will break its deadly fossil-fuel addiction.

About sixty million people died from aging in 2015, just as another sixty million had died from this scourge in 2014, and yet another sixty million will die from it in 2016.  Aging kills far more people every year than all other causes of death -- war, murder, accidents, epidemics, etc. -- combined.  We can beat this thing, with determination and hard work, but we need to overcome the robotic hypnotized state most people remain in, believing that aging and death are inevitable and must simply be accepted just because it was always that way in the past.  Victory over aging would end more suffering and save more lives than anything else we could ever hope to accomplish.

27 December 2015

Link round-up for 27 December 2015

Victorian Christmas cards were kind of weird (found via Mendip).

Cool bookstore.

Somebody's got a cute little pet lizard.

Single forever?

Here's what happens when a fire hydrant bursts in sub-zero weather.

Let your dog show his disdain for fascism with the Donald Trump chew toyThere's also this (found via Squatlo Rant).

A loaf of bread, perhaps a tad stale.

Lots of people find this perfectly sane.

We need to rethink this "vetting" thing.

Support your favorite Republican candidates with these honest bumper stickers.

Don't call him names.

Bruce Gerencser shares how he felt just before leaving Christianity.  More and more people are abandoning the religion.

Batocchio's annual Jon Swift memorial roundup for 2015 is posted -- I'm included!

The cable-TV industry is committing suicide (found via Earth-Bound Misfit).

A Muslim child's fear of Donald Trump evokes an interesting internet response from members of the military.

Is it fascism?  It's getting there.  And Voltaire tried to warn us.  But there is a precedent.

P M Carpenter has a valuable message on demonstrations (read the first few comments too).

Can a whole country run on green energy?  Costa Rica already does.

A huge cult of hateful and insane people exists in our midst (found via Republic of Gilead).  For some, even the Republicans aren't evil enough.

Here's what justice in a religious state looks like.  And I guess these guys hate beauty.

The Westboro Baptist Church is still at it.

If you use Avast anti-virus software, read this.  If you use Comcast internet, read this. If you see what looks like a $100 bill on your car, don't be fooled.

In the 21st century, the oppression of women continues on.

If Trump wins the nomination, "normal" Republicans might support a third candidate against him.

Haters are running out of places to shop.

Don't worry too much about take-my-ball-and-go-home-ism.

Trump is invigorating the US white-supremacist movement (found via Republic of Gilead).

In ultra-polluted Beijing, the latest luxury item is canned clean air.

Ed Brayton goes to a Trump rally, and it's about as bad as you'd expect.

Despite obstructionism, Obama's agenda won big this year.

A school lunch lady is fired for giving a hungry child food valued at $1.70, even though she offered to pay for it.

Stonekettle Station has the best post I've seen about the latest Republican debate.

Another quack "cure the gays" outfit gets shut down.

The Atlantic has two long-but-worthwhile political articles -- Peter Beinart on America's leftward shift, and David Frum on the chaos threatening the Republican party.  Booman has commentary on the latter.

Here's an example of what's at stake in this election.

You are an ape, word-games notwithstanding.

Before-and-after photos reveal changes on our planet, many of them alarming.

A new film explores the important work of Houdini.

Hillary commits to a cure for Alzheimers within ten years, hopefully the start of a broader campaign against aging-related diseases.

The cake is not a lie.

24 December 2015

Happy holidays.....

.....whatever your preferred holiday may be.....
(found via Progressive Eruptions, which covers the winter solstice and a southern Italian tradition at Christmas Eve)

.....and however you interpret it.....
 (found via Green Eagle)

 (found via Crazy Eddie)

.....and no matter "who you are, where you're from".

Don't drink and drive.....

.....and remember that even if some people might put you on the "naughty" list.....
(found via Ranch Chimp)

.....the worst things.....

.....often come to those who truly deserve them.

Forward, fearlessly, to 2016!

22 December 2015

Ads for humanity

While most ads on the internet amount to nothing more than aggravating clutter, ad makers sometimes manage to create something that actually serves a humane end beyond just selling something.  Perhaps they've realized that this helps the advertiser's image in the viewer's mind; inspiring people makes a much better impression than annoying them does.

This one, for example, will strike a chord with anyone who has ever felt excluded for being different.  Different in what way?  That's not the point.  Different in whatever way:

Unless it's an ultra-conservative small town, people wouldn't actually react so negatively toward somebody who merely dressed a bit unusually, so it's clear enough that the girl's Goth tastes are a stand-in for many of the other variations in human nature that provoke bigoted responses.

This one is all the more surprising coming from a country where homosexuality is still against the law:

I'm not very up-to-speed on public opinion in India, but it would be interesting to know what people there thought of this.

And this one, from the US, has already become somewhat notorious due to the wingnut backlash against it.  Just imagine how screwed-up you have to be to find this offensive:

It's encouraging that the like/dislike ratio on this one is 14,920 to 943.  The haters are noisy but they're already a minority.

This represents the future of advertising, if you think about it.  As most ads on the internet get more intrusive and annoying, people are getting more determined to avoid them.  The only way for advertisers to succeed is to create ads that people actually want to see.

20 December 2015

Link round-up for 20 December 2015

They found Cthulhu's crib!

Here's the word for "ice" in every European language, illustrating some of the relationships among them.

Please cornobble this person.

Ink low, replace cartridge.

Behold -- the wall!

This winter solstice, may reason prevail.

Dare you sip even the most innocuous beverage from these eldritch flasks? (found via Mendip)

Only in Oregon.

Pretty amazing what hormones can do.

Here's the real story on Trump and Sam the eagle.

Sheru Munshi Khan got on the wrong train -- and didn't find his way home until 25 years later.

30% of Republicans are so warlike they want to bomb a country that doesn't even exist.

One wonders if the sentiment is reciprocated.

The Christian "virgin birth" myth arose from, and reinforces, utterly sick attitudes about female sexuality (found via Republic of Gilead).

Britain has finally closed its last coal mine, but the miners didn't get much out of it.

Moderate Republicans exist, and they are reachable.

Human-rights experts are horrified at the state of women's rights in the US.

"Spit on them! They are not human!" says the Bishop.

These radical prohibitionists need to see sense and back down.

Break out the popcorn -- it's a cage match between Rubio and Cruz over amnesty!  Their supporters snipe at each other here (but skip the comments on Muslims or homosexuality -- the dumbth will make your brain hurt).  Oh, and Rubio's not looking like the savior the establishment was hoping for.

Libertarianism can sound good in theory, but it doesn't work in reality.

The lie of "both sides do it" is getting more blatant than ever.

Religion is religion -- though some Islamists are actually more liberal on birth control.

Republicans' idea of leadership is whipping up panic and paranoia -- even the no-hopers are trying itMore here.

Green Eagle is keeping tabs on the blatherings of the wingnuts.

Teh stoopid is strong with these ones.

Kurds aren't the only women fighters taking up arms against Dâ'ish.

Hillary's plan to fight jihadist terrorism doesn't lend itself to Republican-style sound bites, but it sounds similar to what has proven most successful in Europe.

Obama's leadership style is adapted to the real world.

Trump may do even better in the Republican contest than the polls suggest -- and yes, if he's not the nominee he could definitely run as an independent.  If he were President, he'd set American law back a century -- but some top military officers would quit rather than serve under him.

Here's how the racist subculture is interpreting the new Star Wars movie (NSFW) -- yes, they're serious.

Krugman explains why the Paris accord may yet save the world despite the Republicans going crazier than ever.

Obamacare -- not everything we wanted, still worth fighting for.

Good riddance.

Republicans -- crapping on the rug, but less honest than chimps.

Most Americans still celebrate Christmas, but increasingly as a secular holiday.  If you weren't a reader two years ago, see my post on why atheists have no reason to reject Christmas.

[Image at top found via Crazy Eddie's Motie News, which has more]

18 December 2015

Dâ'ish is being defeated

Recent Republican discussion -- a term more dignified than their histrionics deserve -- of the conflict in Syria and Iraq has taken it as a given that the current strategy to defeat Dâ'ish (ISIL) is failing and that a drastic change in US policy is needed.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Obama's approach -- limiting the Western role in the war to support and airstrikes while Kurdish and Arab forces do most of the actual ground fighting -- has been producing results.  It's just that many Americans are unaware of this because the American media tend to under-report war stories which do not feature Americans in a leading role.

When Dâ'ish attacked the Kurdish city of Sinjar in northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, most of its population (adherents of the Yazidi religion, which Sunni extremists such as Dâ'ish view as Satanic) fled to the nearby mountains, but ended up still trapped by enemy forces intent on massacring or enslaving them (as we know from what they did to those Yazidis they did capture).  After Obama ordered American airstrikes on Dâ'ish troops in the area, Kurdish forces were able to fight their way through to the besieged civilians and rescue them.  Thousands of lives were saved, without American casualties.

From September 2014 to January 2015 the Kurds successfully held off Dâ'ish forces besieging the Kurdish town of Kobani in northern Syria, inflicting substantial casualties on Dâ'ish in the process.  The Western role was limited to air support and pressuring Turkey to allow Kurdish fighters from northern Iraq to cross Turkish territory to get to Kobani.  The Kurds have held Kobani since the siege despite further attacks.

These were essentially defensive victories, but they invigorated our allies' morale -- the evacuation of Sinjar may someday be seen as Kurdistan's Dunkirk.  More recently they've gone on the offensive.  Last month the Kurds liberated Sinjar, a victory of strategic as well as symbolic importance, since it cuts the main highway connecting the Dâ'ish capital Raqqah with Mosul, the largest city under Dâ'ish control.  Again, the Western role was limited to support and air cover.  Right now the Iraqi army is in the process of recapturing Ramadi -- the capital of Anbar, Iraq's largest province -- from Dâ'ish.

In Ramadi, much of the Western support is being provided by Australia, which highlights another way in which the war is changing.  The recent wave of terrorist attacks by Dâ'ish outside its own territory -- the suicide bombings in Lebanon, the destruction of the Russian airliner over Sinai, the Paris killings, and the San Bernardino shooting -- represent the frustrated lashing out of an enemy which is losing the real war on every front and is desperate to show it still has claws.  Their main effect, however, has been to draw more and more countries into a bigger role in the struggle.  Russia in particular has begun striking Dâ'ish much harder, and US diplomacy has sought to narrow the gap between US and Russian goals in the region, to allow for better cooperation against the main enemy.  The US has escalated its own role, recently killing several more Dâ'ish leaders.

In view of all this, Republican politicians' premise that the US is doing virtually nothing against Dâ'ish and that the enemy is rampaging unchecked seems astonishing, until you realize that their lies and distortions are aimed at a party voting base made up mostly of the least-educated elements in the US, people who have no clue where Sinjar or Ramadi are even located, never mind about the complex relationships among the various ethnic and religious groups in Iraq and Syria or the roles of nearby state actors such as Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.  Anything above the level of clichés like "boots on the ground" or "bomb the shit out of" something or other, would be about as effective with this audience as efforts to explain climate science, and for similar reasons.

Republicans seem to want large-scale involvement of American ground forces and/or much more massive, indiscriminate bombing without regard to civilian casualties.  The former option would risk heavy American losses in a fight which is fundamentally not ours, while putting the whole effort at the mercy of unpredictable fluctuations in US public opinion, especially if Dâ'ish started posting videos of American prisoners being murdered in some horrific fashion, as would almost certainly happen.  The indiscriminate-bombing option would kill huge numbers of innocent people who are anything but Dâ'ish supporters, provoking an anti-American backlash all over the Middle East -- which is what Dâ'ish itself has been trying to do with its recent terrorist attacks and the anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence that followed.

Putting out a fire by spraying it with water may be a frustratingly slow process, but dousing it with gasoline instead, however temporarily satisfying, is not the answer.  Limiting our role to supporting Middle Eastern forces, who have by far the most at stake and who understand their region better than we do, is the correct approach.  By pandering to those who hunger for sound and fury but understand nothing, the Republicans show once again that they are not fit to lead a superpower.

[Image at top:  Liberated territory, probably Sinjar -- Kurdish woman soldier with Dâ'ish billboard dictating female dress code]

15 December 2015

Videos of the day -- history coming out

A couple of film trailers that recently caught my attention:

It was not always possible to present certain themes in an honest way.  Queen Christina, for example, was the subject of a major 1933 film starring Greta Garbo, but it barely even hinted at her lesbianism and even invented a heterosexual attachment with no apparent basis in fact.

Neither of these movies strikes me as likely to become a major mass-audience hit in the US, though I wish they would -- I can just imagine all the wingnut heads exploding, given their histrionics about even the most innocuous manifestations of popular culture.

13 December 2015

Link round-up for 13 December 2015

Here's a new way to open your newspaper.

Cutest piano keyboard ever.

A lizard gets comfy in his scented boudoir.

"It's like the man is a walking Onion article."

Get your evil Christmas ornaments here (found via Mendip).

Does this popular movie glorify the radicalization of a terrorist?

Check out the surreal art of Ryohei Hase -- here is his site (surely it can't be coincidence that Hase is German for "hare").

Here's what the Flat Earth Society really believes (found via Mendip).

Chimpanzees worldwide must be in a panic at this news.

Canada does it better.

If we can't separate the moderates from the extremists, we must suspect them all.

Here are the results of US and Portuguese approaches to drugs.

There exists a vast, ethically-dubious industry based on bird poo.

Poor Jeb -- even when he tries to fight, he's boring.  His lawyers' snark, good as it is, won't have much impact on Trump.

Here's a message from a British veteran of the Iraq war.

1,500,000 Muslims sign a document opposing jihadist violence.

I hadn't heard of this "YouTube Red" thing, but this sounds ominous.

Americans oppose Trump's proposed Muslim ban 57%-to-25%, creating an opportunity for Hillary.  Senate Republicans are embarrassingly divided.  Out in the streets, the hysteria continues.  He does business with Muslims, but do they want to keep doing business with him?  In fact, does anybody?

It's an American tradition!

Sandy Hook conspiracy nuts are harassing and threatening the sister of one of the victims.

Salon's recent "hey, let's lose the election" drivel gets pwned by Zandar, Comrade Misfit, and Steve M.

Black Friday was a record-breaking day for gun sales.

It's not just Trump -- other Republican candidates are dangerous extremists too (found via Republic of Gilead).

There are alternatives to the evil of Mall-Wart.

These people are scary.

Ireland moves to protect gay teachers, but there's more yet to do.

Here's a personal story of achieving atheism within Latino culture.

Polling on handling of international affairs looks very good for Hillary, but you probably didn't hear about it.

Don't believe the hype -- crime is way down.

The Republican coalition, now fragmenting, was always rather unnatural.

Clandestine religious schools promote bigotry in the UK.

Trump may have studied the rise of another radical populist.

US Muslims used to lean Republican -- but not any more.

White-supremacist groups are making hay off of Trump's rise -- after all, they're among his most fervent supporters.

In this small town in Wisconsin, prejudice backfired (found via Republic of Gilead).

Muslims raise money for the families of the San Bernardino victims.

Here's part of the contemporary official British response to our Declaration of Independence.

Finding ancient versions of the Bible isn't as big a deal as you might think.

If you ever need counseling, stay away from these guys.

Added link:  Progressive Eruptions has a round-up showing how Trumpism fits into the worst of American history.

11 December 2015

Video of the day -- brothers under the skin

(Found via Squatlo Rant.)  Religious extremism is religious extremism, regardless of which religion is involved.  The Colorado Springs and San Bernardino shootings are the latest illustration of this.  Update:  Here is the YouTube channel of the original maker of the video -- thanks to "My Yankee Mouth" in the comments.

Here's another demonstration of how religions are alike in essence (found via Progressive Eruptions):

Christianity and Islam -- the bloody twins!

08 December 2015

Trump -- Republicans at the crossroads

Believe it or not, there is an upside to the increasingly-disturbing Trump phenomenon -- it is showing us that, for large numbers of Republicans, there is a limit to the degree of evil they can stomach.  This is well illustrated by my number-one go-to site for keeping up with a range of right-wing viewpoints, Race42016.  Its open discussion threads for yesterday and today have been dominated by rancorous debate between the Trumpolines and other Republican tribes, who seem to be realizing that their party is facing a problem much bigger than simply winning or losing next year's election.  A few sample comments from today's discussion:

12 Freddy Ardanza: "There is dumb, there is dumber and then come Trump supporters."

13 Smack1968:  "I wonder how long it would take you jerks to rally around Trump if he called for Mexican Internments?.... probably a nano second. My wife, who was born in Mexico City, would endangered under a Trump Presidency."

110 Martha:  "You know, the GOP has always been (I thought unfairly) labeled racist. I knew we had some, but then so does the left. But now it seems like we have a bigger problem than we ever imagined."

127 Tim:  "Whatever. We're going to beat Trump, even if we have to vote for Hillary to do it. Even if we have to steal it at the convention. This piece of **** will never be president. Ever."

130 Smack1968:  "Let it be known where I stood at this moment....let the history books tell on who's side I was on during the era of the Trump.  Firmly against this human orange sludge called 'The Donald'."

134 Tim:  "It was only a matter of time before the racist Tea Bagger/Talk radio alliance did at the presidential level what they did at the Senate level......They are worse than the Birchers, worse than the Know Nothings, worse than the Jim Crow Democrats. They are the 4th Reich, and their defeat is now more important than defeating the Democrats. They are a threat to democracy, to the safety and security of the country, and to the greater good."

167 Sands:  "I choose the door. If my party wants to nominate an openly raciest, morally bankrupt, and intellectually vacant old man to represent us... then it's really not my party anymore, is it?"

169 Jerald:  "They just want a public figure who vents in public their own fears, frustrations, and prejudices. Trump is demagoguing them and they are falling for it hook, line, and sinker..."

180 PA Conservative:  "I realize I, too, am probably no longer at home in this party. I always defended the GOP against charges of racism and hatred, but after reading that poll I believe the critcs were right."

Most of these people support the "normal" Republican agenda with all that that implies, but I do have to respect what they're saying here.  It's not easy to acknowledge that something has gone this disastrously wrong on one's own side.

Trump has plenty of supporters, of course -- there are some of them defending him in the discussions above, and Progressive Eruptions has found a doozy of an endorsement.  But the Republican establishment seems fully awake, finally, to the monster in their midst.  Here's an already-notorious ad from Ohio Governor John Kasich, which speaks for itself:

For the last month or two I've been assuming that Trump would be the Republican nominee -- he's remained the front-runner for five months, and nothing seems likely to change that.  Now, I'm not so sure.  It seems likely that the party leadership, realizing what a catastrophe his nomination would be for the party's future reputation, may well pull out all the stops to prevent it, even if that means he would run as a third candidate, torpedo their chosen nominee, and rip the party in half.  Better to lose the election without Trump than to lose it with him and suffer the stigma of having put forward a man they themselves have reviled as a crypto-fascist.  And if he is the nominee -- well, how can the party possibly support a candidate they have denounced in such terms?

Most Republicans will never become liberals.  But perhaps some of them, having seen what lies down the road they have set out upon, will draw back and start to grope their way home to reality.

06 December 2015

Link round-up for 6 December 2015

A Target employee has a bit of fun on the job.  And I think this book-cover artist knew exactly what he was doing.

Maybe Palin didn't quite think this through.

Hmm, paganism is kind of complicated.

The house I grew up in had one of these in the yard.

Gunman or terrorist?

Muhammad Rizalman's belief in black magic led to an unusual courtship strategy.

What's behind the "ghost boats", some with rotting corpses aboard, drifting ashore in Japan?

US Muslims condemn terrorism once again, but many people aren't listening.

The richest 12 Americans now own more wealth than the poorest 160,000,000.

Congress must get tough on terrorism -- even if it means ethnic profiling.

The "comfort" of believing in an afterlife is deadly dangerous.

A well-informed young lady speaks in defense of her sexual preference (if you're the judgmental type, here's another pic of her).

Even in the South, churches are losing influence (found via Republic of Gilead).

Violent religious bigotry is on the rise in India.

355 mass shootings this year?  No, not even close -- why do people think this kind of easily-exposed dishonesty does their cause any good?  Also, California already has tough gun laws and they didn't help.  Here's a shooting most anti-gun blogs won't mention.

Herman Cain pwns Jeb.

From Mississippi, news of another shocking police killing.

The new Jessica Jones show takes an unusually honest look at abortion.

France takes one small step against trophy hunting.

There's a lot more to Hillary than just being the first woman President.

What do the wingnuts really think about militarized cops?

Religious morons fly into a ridiculous snit over a drawing of a piggy bank (sent by Ranch Chimp).

Dâ'ish (ISIL) is still executing homosexuals, who are fleeing wherever they can.

To oppose Trump's bigotry, do as much of your shopping as possible at Macy's.

There are real signs that the insane "war on drugs" may be approaching its end.  Here's where every Presidential candidate stands on marijuana (found via Jobsanger).

The Saudi regime, whose practices are similar to those of Dâ'ish, threatens to sue anyone who says their practices are similar to those of Dâ'ish.  Here's more on Saudi justice.  They're becoming a threat to stability, too.

Villagers in India follow a traditional practice to bring their children health and luck.

That black pastor who endorsed Trump is an interesting character.

Defend Planned Parenthood for the right reasons.

Remember them -- and let the progress of 37 years give us strength for the struggles remaining.

Who can't be a real American?

The media put an odd spin on Hillary's latest endorsements.

What's up with the Republican party?  Juan Williams looks at the revolt of the base, Burr Deming documents how the elite thinks, Booman compares this election cycle to 1972, and Bill Moyers sees a descent into madness.  Here's a Trump supporter's view -- and yes, he will probably win the nomination.

The war against Dâ'ish is partly being fought on the internet.

If you leave your religion, it's morally OK to kill you.

The inimitable Faye Kane writes to her Governor about Obamacare and posts a round-up of Neil deGrasse Tyson tweets.

Crazy Eddie has a round-up of reportage on the Paris climate conference.

Here's why science, not religion, gets things right.

A hybrid skeleton found in Italy confirms that our ancestors interbred with neanderthals.

The last century changed our understanding of the universe -- and the language in which we understand it.

An experimental Alzheimer's drug, J147, shows promising anti-aging properties in mice.  Another drug with anti-aging potential, metformin, will begin testing on humans next year.

Bill Gates launches an initiative against global warming.

If you have ever been to Greece, Italy, or Iran, but have not yet responded to my travel questions, please click here.

[Image at top:  Dâ'ish oil refinery in eastern Syria, before and after US airstrike]

04 December 2015

The Dothan horror

Dothan, a city of 68,000 in the south-eastern corner of Alabama, is the site of what must surely be the most shocking US scandal to come to light this year.  Going back as far as the 1990s, a group of police, members of a "neo-Confederate" group, in a special narcotics unit there planted drugs and stolen weapons on black men in order to frame them and send them to prison.  Their superiors condoned and even rewarded their actions, and also covered up the results of an internal investigation which happened after other cops observed what was going on and reported it.  Now, some of those other cops have made documentation from the investigation public in the hope that federal authorities will take action.

It's estimated that several hundred false felony convictions, perhaps as many as a thousand, resulted from these frame-ups.  Think about what that implies -- millennia of undeserved prison time.  Some of the victims are still in prison.

In fairness, it's other officers who have now gone public what was going on -- but their first internal complaint about the group's practices dates back to 1998.  They must have known for years that internal investigations were producing no results and that only national publicity could get anything done.  Why did it take until 2015 to come forward?  Didn't the knowledge that some of the victims were still languishing in prison make this an emergency?

I found out about this story from Zandar's blog, and Raw Story and Alternet have also posted reports, but frankly I'm surprised that it isn't up in headlines all over the internet.  A thousand people framed by a police conspiracy in one small city, decades after the Civil Rights movement!  And remember, whenever you find yourself asking what the hell is going on here, what you should really be asking is what the hell else is going on here.  As Zandar points out, there's no reason to think Dothan is unique.  Large areas of the country are rancid with this "neo-Confederate" mentality.  If systematic framing of innocent people on this scale could happen in one town for years and only now come to light, it may well be happening in a lot of other places too.

02 December 2015

Marginalizing the extremists

An incident last month in Peterborough, Ontario illustrates a hopeful trend for fighting the wave of religious-extremist violence plaguing our world.  After a Peterborough mosque suffered an arson attack, the city's Beth Israel synagogue offered its facilities to the local Muslims as a gesture of common humanity.  Since then, the synagogue president has been invited to speak at the Muslim Institute of Toronto and the groups are cooperating to sponsor Syrian refugees coming to Canada to escape Islamist violence in their own country.

As Richard Dawkins observed about Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, for a lot of people in the modern world religion is more a matter of self-labeling than serious belief in dogma.  There were actually very few differences in culture between Catholics and Protestants there.  The violence in Northern Ireland was the work of relatively small extremist groups (both Catholic and Protestant) who, again, had more in common with each other than with the broad masses of less-fervent people who happened to carry the same religious label as one or the other extremist faction.

The violent extremists are too few in number to win by themselves.  Their only hope of achieving their goals is to radicalize the masses of normal people who carry the same religious label as themselves.  Their preferred method for this is preaching and exhortation, but that rarely has much impact except on the already-persuaded.  More effective is creating an atmosphere of paranoia and panic in which all those who do not share the same label are demonized as dangerous aliens, drawing a hard-and-fast line around one's own group and creating a feeling of being under siege by a vast horde of outsiders.  When large numbers of people view the world that way, the extremists are winning.

Violence is a preferred tactic for achieving this situation.  It, and the responses it tends to provoke, help extremists in both label-camps to achieve the paranoid state-of-siege feeling they are both after.  For example, jihadist terrorist attacks such as the one in Paris encourage such feelings in Westerners and especially in the kind of fervent Christians who already tend to see the world through a "clash of civilizations" model, with Christianity and Islam implacably opposed to each other.  When politicians from this group then start talking about stigmatizing Muslims in the US with special ID cards or accepting only Christian refugees from Syria, vast numbers of non-extremist Muslims -- including some in the US -- feel targeted and, perhaps, become more open to the idea that the West really is against them all and that the jihadists have a point.  This state-of-siege feeling, of course, is exactly what the jihadists want.

Violence targeting Muslims is also happening, though it tends to get less publicity because it usually takes the form of many smaller-scale attacks rather than a few large terrorist operations.  Examples include not only the mosque arson in Peterborough but such incidents as this gunfire attack on a house in Florida or this shooting of a taxi driver in Pittsburgh.  No one had any reason to think the targets in these cases were dangerous, any more than the random civilians targeted in Paris were dangerous to anyone.  They were targeted because they were members of an out-group whose very presence is unacceptable to the extremists.  The same is true of the even more dangerous efforts of fundamentalist politicians in the US to target Muslims for discrimination and to impose Christian taboos on the secular majority by enacting them into civil law.

To fight back against extremists, we must reject at every turn the paranoia and siege mentality they are trying to create, and we must insist on a different, accurate analysis of the conflict to defeat the "clash of civilizations" model they are trying to foist on us.  That accurate analysis is that this is a war of extremists, both Muslim and Christian, against normal people whether Muslim, Christian, or non-religious.

The jihadists who attacked the Bataclan theater and the religious nut who attacked the Planned Parenthood site in Colorado Springs were not consciously collaborating, but they were the same kind of people doing the same kinds of things to the same kinds of targets for the same kinds of reasons.  Ultimately all religious extremists are lashing out at a secularizing world which is leaving their taboo systems behind (note that some Christian extremists in the US reviled the victims both of the Planned Parenthood attack and of the Paris jihadists).  But because they are few in number, their ability to do real damage to our world depends on dividing us against each other on the basis of their religious labels.

Fortunately plenty of peaceful people are aware of this and are taking active, even risky, action to counter it.  Almost five years ago I noted this incident in Alexandria, Egypt, where Muslims turned out to act as human shields at a Christian church after a wave of jihadist attacks on Christians.  The Obama administration's response to Dâ'ish (ISIL) -- targeting the extremists with airstrikes and taking a back seat to the Arab and Kurdish forces fighting against them, rather than the massive indiscriminate violence and wars against entire countries which many Republican politicians favor -- shows the same wisdom.  Our goal must be to marginalize the extremists, to isolate them, to collaborate with other sane people against them, and eventually to destroy them.