17 December 2017

Link round-up for 17 December 2017

Americans can be proud of the Alabama result.

Vore away fascism!

An AI program writes a new Harry Potter chapter (here's the whole thing).

Wasn't this a kids' show?

Come to the dark side.

Here's some Christmas music, American style.

The French language is a bit dangerous.

Well, at least he knew where Japan is.

Perfection is achieved!

John Oliver characterizes Trump.

Explore the wacky world of wrong numbers.

Go behind the scenes at the MGM logo.

Sailor Moon tarot cards are a thing (beautiful work, too).

Yes, there is such a thing as a stuffed animal hospital.

Why do they keep using swords when guns are obviously more effective?

I don't want to believe.

Do something cool with leftover straw.

Where the hell did this person grow up?


Animals do cool stuff at night -- I had no idea raccoons were so cooperative.  Perhaps they're already on the attack.

After the Republicans deregulate housing construction.....


They're plotting something.

Pingu presents The Thing.

In those days, bread was serious business.

For once, the addition of the Christian cross creates truth.

"What's the big deal if you grab someone's butt?"

Pope Francis wants the Lord's prayer re-translated -- incorrectly.

To fundies, even Santa is dangerous.

Get the truth behind a much-cited hot coffee storyDon't believe everything you read.

Vaccines will turn you gay!

Teachers from one of the world's best-educated countries get an inside look at American schools.

Here's a message for fatalists -- and if you won't help, get out of the way (both found via Yellowdog Granny).

Even the biggest companies are not immortal.

Must-read link of the week:  save net neutrality by decentralization (I have no idea whether this is technologically feasible, but if it is, in the long run it's the only way).  Here's where things stand after the FCC vote. Even the dead have strong views on this issue.

Remember the difference between enemies and allies -- and don't pick fights with the latter over trivia.

Reality is not affected by belief (found via Crooks and Liars).

Bruce Gerencser has found a strong contender for looniest misogynist in the world.  I'm surprised the Republicans haven't recruited him to run for office.

Don't let the justified revolt against coddling sexual harassers degenerate into "we are all guilty" nonsense. And remember that accusations need to be believable.

Here's what it was like voting while black in the South in 1963.

Does mumbling to yourself really help?

Bitcoin is still around -- for now.

Not sure what this guy's exact beef is, but apparently some Christians don't like politicizing religion.

Why do Republicans coddle and shield their sexual abusers, while Democrats repudiate theirs? Maybe it's due to different concepts of morality.

Racism is racism.

The private-prison industry is branching out.

The harasser mentality starts early.

Don't contaminate our arbitrary nonsense with different arbitrary nonsense.

The US, too, has long wait times for specialized health care.

Do you eat this?

Americans throw away enough food every year to feed 200 million people.

Some abortion myths are dispelled.

How many passenger pigeons were there?

Imagine the horror of realizing your child is a monster (found via TYWKIWDBI).

In the UK, only 15% of people now want to stop Brexit and stay in the EU, and only 16% want another referendum (see page 3).

France is giving research grants to US climate scientists (found via BB-Idaho).

Germany confronts a rise in anti-Semitism -- and the problem of where it's coming from.  Germany's postwar relationship with Israel has always been haunted by history.

Murderous fanatics panic pathetically as their rightful doom closes in.

Hatred rears its head in Iraq.

Burma's persecution of the Rohingya minority includes a brutal campaign of mass rape.

The Trumplings bungle even the simplest things.

Wingnuts make a crude effort to frame Chuck Schumer for sexual harassment.

Merry Republican Christmas (found via Hackwhackers).

Alabama Democrats fought ruthlessly, thank goodness.  Here are some winners and losers.  Green Eagle has a round-up of wingnut reactions to Moore's defeat.  They probably won't learn anythingPundits give their views here.  Our chances of taking the Senate next year have been improved -- but don't take black women for grantedNext stop, Texas.

The Republican civil war between Bannonism and the establishment is getting hotter than ever.  Bannon remains a genuine threat to American values.

Republican tax "reform" may turn out to be political suicide.

Kirsten Gillibrand's leadership in the revolt against sexual harassment boosts her chances for the 2020 Presidential race.

Read with popcorn.

Don't upset the toddler.

53% of Americans believe Trump should resign due to the sexual harassment allegation against him. Roger Stone is betting on impeachment.

Paul Ryan may quitGood riddance.

Politics Plus has a Samantha Bee round-up.  Don't miss the Brigada Feminista video!

15 December 2017

Video of the day -- relics of a morbid past

Abortion is currently illegal in the Republic of Ireland, with a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison, forcing thousands of women every year to travel to the UK for the procedure.  As the Catholic Church's centuries-long stranglehold on Irish politics and society has weakened, momentum has been building for a challenge to this codification of religious taboo into civil law, by repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which mandates the prohibition of abortion.  This ad, from 2015, shows how far Ireland has come -- it's hard to imagine such an ad being made for national distribution in the US, even today.

In 2018 the Republic of Ireland will hold a national referendum on legalizing abortion.

13 December 2017

Lessons from Alabama

On Tuesday, Alabama chose the man who avenged girls who had been murdered, over the man who (allegedly) molested girls. Let this be a reminder to the fatalists and defeatists that good can prevail when people are willing to work and fight for it.

And don't forget last month's elections in Virginia -- or Allison Ikley-Freeman, the avowed socialist and lesbian Democrat who won her race in an Oklahoma district that Trump carried by a two-to-one margin last year.

Meanwhile, the enemy is more divided than ever in the wake of the Alabama upset.  Establishment Republicans are really piling on Bannon now, while Breitbart's knuckle-dragging legions are doubling down on denouncing the establishment as traitors and promising to sweep away all the "RINOs" next November. With any luck they'll drown each other in their own bile.

The potential for a wave of victories next November is enormous, the potential consequences even more so.  With Jones's win having trimmed the Republicans' Senate majority to a bare 51-49, our chances of regaining control look better than ever.  The entire House will be up for election, with Republican members either weighed down by an unpopular President or facing a civil war among their voters in the aftermath of a Trump impeachment.

Control of the Senate would give us the power to block appointments, a power which must be used ruthlessly in the case of Supreme Court nominations.  By their stonewalling of Merrick Garland, Senate Republicans forfeited any right to be treated fairly or honorably.  If they could hold a seat vacant for ten months, we can hold one vacant for two years if need be, until a Democrat regains the White House.

State elections, too, will be important.  The state governments elected in 2018 will control Congressional redistricting after the 2020 census.  The more of these governments we win control of, the more we can finally get out from under the millstone of gerrymandering with which Republicans have so effectively weighted the system in their favor.

There are three lessons here.

First, let's be clear about what won Alabama for us.  The decisive factor was a massive turnout of black voters.  Set against the low turnout among divided and demoralized Republicans, this surge of black support (combined with the educated white urban vote, what Alabama has of that), carried Jones to victory.  And Jones got those votes by, very deliberately, working for them.  He made a systematic appeal to the black people of Alabama and gave them reasons to go out and vote for him.  It was just the opposite of what the Democratic party is sometimes accused of doing -- taking black voters for granted.  The party must continue to do this -- remember that one out of every eight Americans is black, and the proportion in most Southern states is even higher (Alabama is 27% black).  And the party must do more.  It must actually deliver on those voters' specific concerns, such as police violence and vote suppression.  A race-neutral message of economic justice such as Bernie Sanders offers does have its place, but the party must also work for the specific needs of its largest, most loyal, and most vital constituency.

Second, it's worth contesting races even in places which we're accustomed to considering hopeless.  It's not so long ago that some Democratic leaders wanted to write off Jones as a lost cause, because Alabama is so red.  The rise of Trump and the insurrection of Bannonite radicalism within the Republican party create tremendous opportunities for us because our opponents are so divided.  With a determined effort to boost our base turnout, and with Republicans so factionalized and, likely, demoralized in some cases by tainted or crackpot Bannon-supported candidates, we may find opportunities opening up across the South, Texas, Arizona, and other places normally considered long-shots or hopeless.

Third, just as divisions weaken the Republicans, unity strengthens us.  The reason the Republicans have failed to get initiatives like ACA repeal through Congress, despite their majorities, is that they are so factionalized in the House and keep suffering defections in the Senate.  But that wouldn't stop them if we couldn't count on our people sticking together.  Every Democrat in the Senate has been an unshakable "no" vote on ACA repeal, tax "reform", and whatever other nastiness the enemy comes up with.  Even conservative Democrats have been reliable.

As voters we need to show the same unity.  Remember, if you and others like you refuse to vote for a Democrat you don't think is good enough, and thus let a Republican win, the fact that you can stand around oozing virtue and ideological purity doesn't mean shit to the vulnerable person who loses his health insurance, food stamps, or whatever as a result of Republicans holding power.  If some people are irredeemably resistant to the unity message, write them off and focus on people who can be reached.  It's more important to get an extra 200 black voters to the polls than to win over 100 bloggers who insist on rehashing grudges from the 2016 primaries or demanding a laundry list of impossibilities (and who probably can't be won over, anyway).  Politics is about getting things done.

Finally, sexual harassment and the mass uprising of women against coddling of harassers is emerging as an issue whose time has come.  Democrats can win on that issue, simply by doing the right thing.

Last year's stolen election did not primarily rob Hillary; it robbed the country of what Hillary's Presidency could have been, and gave the party of kleptocrats, bigots, and lunatics full control.  Let us make the best of a bad situation, and give them a thrashing in November that they'll never forget.

12 December 2017

Question for male readers

I was recently part of a rather bizarre exchange in a comment thread at Tengrain's blog Mock Paper Scissors, on this post about the resignation of Al Franken.  Here are the comments in question:

o o o o o

AuroraS:  The reason that the Dems aren't calling for GOP heads to roll over sexual misconduct is because this isn't a Democrat or Republican problem, it's a man problem. I like Senator Franken, and the reason I'm not tossing his books in the trash right now is because what he's done is basically no different from anything every man has done to a woman at some point in their lives. He appears to be realizing that his behavior was inappropriate and taking steps to remedy that, which is a good start.

The Dems are sacrificing Franken on the altar right now because the men in their party are probably all guilty of the same, and treating Franken like a “lone wolf” exception to the rule takes the heat off them. The entire government is basically a boys' club and they give a few passing fucks (if any) about women. Republican women will easily accept victim-blaming and excuse-making for sexual misconduct on the part of the party’s men because the GOP has already made it clear that they don't care about women and think they’re subhuman–they aren’t going to have to answer to their constituents for it. Their constituents agree. So they can continue with reckless abandon and no one of consequence will care.

The Democrat governor of Minnesota will appoint a Democrat senator to replace Franken. There are some women that are possible candidates. This would be a good thing, strategy-wise and actually giving a fuck-wise.

Infidel753what he's done is basically no different from anything every man has done to a woman at some point in their lives.

I've never done anything like that to a woman (or man). I really doubt most men have.

AuroraS:  You've never grabbed an ass, snapped a bra, made comments about her body to a random woman on the street, at work, or at a bar? Not even as a joke? Not even in high school or college? That's not to say that you would necessarily condone it now, but society says this is "normal". I understand that not every man has harassed a woman, but every woman has been harassed by a man.

Tengrain:  I believe that 100% of women might be harassed in their lifetime, but I do not think 100% of men are harassers. –TG

Infidel753You've never grabbed an ass, snapped a bra, made comments about her body to a random woman on the street, at work, or at a bar? Not even as a joke? Not even in high school or college?

No, never. I've never in my life considered any of those things remotely acceptable behavior. Very few men I've known have given me the impression that they would have thought it was acceptable either.

o o o o o

So, here's my question to male readers.  Have any of you ever "grabbed an ass, snapped a bra, made comments about her body to a random woman on the street, at work, or at a bar.....even as a joke.....even in high school or college?"  To say nothing of more serious acts like forcibly French-kissing a woman, as Tweeden claimed that Franken did (note that my interlocutor specified that Franken's alleged actions were no different than what every man has done at least occasionally).  Even if you haven't, do you consider such behavior acceptable or trivial when other men do it?

As I said during the exchange, I have never done any such thing, ever.  Nor have I ever remotely thought that such behavior was acceptable, not even when I was in high school or college.  I can hardly imagine I'm all that unusual.  However, I'm curious what others have to say.

10 December 2017

Link round-up for 10 December 2017

Here's a list of wished-for Christmas gifts from Trump.

Kinda spoils the sexy effect.

He dances best with a bottle.

A meat sandwich, or.....

Even for a simple drawing of a bird, ancient Greek artists managed to include their favorite theme.

Donna at Tell Me a Story finds astronomy to be inspiration against despair.

The Romans had the best animal names.

Don't give pets as Christmas presents (not everyone is meant to have pets -- myself, I doubt I could even keep a cockroach alive).

People are having hot-and-heavy sex with ghosts (but I'm sure the Republicans will soon try to ban it).

Where fanart is concerned, what can lead to plagiarism issues?  (Japan is way more laid-back about this.)

Good point.

Now this is a photo.

TYWKIWDBI posts a gif round-up.  There's also this list of fun facts -- which provoked some corrections from commenters.

See the magnificence of Los Angeles from the air (from a comment by Ranch Chimp).

I wish Trump had met this person early in his career.

Explore the world of specialized libraries (found via Mendip).

Ancient Athens had a snarky safeguard against tyranny.

To any readers who are lesbians:  this student is doing research on lesbian fashions.

Blah blah blah modesty blah blah.

These people exist.

It's sort of intriguing when a Christian writes a post titled "Why Modern Christianity Makes People Vomit" (the post is almost two years old; the things he's talking about have, if anything, gotten worse).

Your taxes pay for hush money for victims of Congressional sexual harassment.

The comment thread on a Breitbart post mentioning Mormonism quickly devolves into ludicrous theological bickering.  Even when they all hate the same people, they can't get along.

This is the educational system of a third world country.

Why would people attend a church that tells them they're worthless and runs what are practically prison camps?

Some powerful people are crying foul on the drive to kill net neutrality.

The Supreme Court holds gay marriage not quite equal after all; on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, signs are mixed.

Awareness begins to dawn -- give it time.

Football is more important than rape, to some.

Sexually harassed at work?  Just take it and get on with life.

The attack on DACA is undermining US military intelligence capabilities.

Fundie preachers' beliefs make them feel endlessly at war.

Read this before using rat poison.

Well-intentioned misuse of antibiotics can do more harm than good (and no, antibiotics don't work on virus diseases like colds and flu).

We face a jellyfish apocalypse.

Which race has a higher IQ?

The eye of the scallop is a remarkable product of evolution, and very different from the human eye.

The passage of Australia's gay-marriage law led to singing in the gallery.  And that Christian couple who threatened to divorce if it passed has weaseled out.

It's not only Christianity.

Wednesday the 6th, Finland's independence day, marked a full century since independence from the Russian Empire, and was observed all around the world.  Finland contributes more than its share on the internet.  It was the first country in the world to give women the vote.  It also has a nicer President than we do.

Here's another bad case of coddling a criminal.

Poland's Catholic-dominated government has taken sex education out of the schools, but pop-culture figures are fighting back.

Despite the Jerusalem decision, evangelicals are far from being true friends of Israel.

I have no words for this.

Roy Moore liked the American family values of the time of slavery; as for today, he prefers Putin.  But evangelical voters will tolerate anything in a candidate, so long as he advocates forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.

Mueller has the White House Trumplings feeling a bit jumpy.  Trump's lawyer tries to downplay the Flynn plea bargain.

Michigan's Republican Governor will leave Conyers's constituents disenfranchised for almost a year.

Even NRO's Andrew Stuttaford has a lot of reservations about the tax "reform" bill -- and let's hope he's right about this!  It will even make "dark money" campaign contributions tax-deductible.  The plan may be in trouble, thanks to sloppy writing and promises that weren't promises.

Knowing they don't have long in power, Republicans are looting the country while they still can (found via Mendip).

Trump is still losing support, even among fundies.

[325 days down, 1,137 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

08 December 2017

Eleventh-hour activism

There's not much time left to fight for net neutrality or against tax "reform".  Here are a few posts with good information.

On net neutrality, use tactics that actually have a chance of working.

Tax "reform" is now undergoing reconciliation between the House and Senate versions.  There are still important differences which could block it if Republicans whose votes are needed stick to their guns, and if you have a Republican Representative or Senator, you can still call or visit their office (not e-mail) to drive home how unpopular the whole thing is -- that's how we stopped ACA repeal, and a few who voted yes on this earlier might switch to no under enough pressure.  A further point to bring up:  corporate leaders themselves are saying they will not use the tax cut to create jobs.

Remember, if we keep fighting back on these issues, yes, we might lose.  If we don't fight back, we will definitely lose.

07 December 2017

Franken, Moore, and doing the right thing

This is a defining moment in US politics.

On the Republican side, Trump and the RNC have fully endorsed Roy Moore, and Breitbart is crowing that even McConnell has dropped his opposition.  The rabble-rousing pastors and preachers from whom so many Evangelical voters take their guidance have mostly dismissed the allegations against Moore as either false or, if true, no big deal.  The Republican-theocrat complex has closed ranks behind one of its own, credible accusations of sexual assault on teenagers be damned.

On our side, a growing list of Senators have called on Al Franken to resign, including the minority leader, Chuck Schumer.  With the number of accusers now at seven, it's getting difficult to cling to any hope that there's no fire behind the smoke.  Earlier this week, Rep. John Conyers resigned after accusations of sexual harassment, again from multiple accusers.

The message is very clear.  When credible accusations of harassment and abuse surface, one party will deny them, smear and mock the accusers, dismiss the alleged acts as trivial, and use whatever other excuse or dodge it can to close ranks behind the accused.  The other party will hold its own members accountable.

(Two points must be acknowledged here.  First, yes, the acts Moore is accused of are much more serious than those Franken and Conyers are accused of.  Nevertheless, the principle at stake is the same.  Second, appeals to the presumption of innocence don't apply here.  If we were jurors at an actual trial, with prison time at stake, then yes, Moore, Franken, and Conyers would each be entitled to our full presumption of innocence and to a not-guilty verdict if the case against them could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt.  But that's not the situation here.  In judging a politician unfit to hold office, the question is whether the accusations are probably true, not whether they are proven.)

The Democrats are doing the right thing.  Abusers should be held accountable, not shielded for reasons of political expediency.  We must not brush aside victims as expendable peons whose abuse doesn't matter if it would sully the Important Man whose vote we need, even if Republicans do do that -- for Trump too, please note, as well as Moore.

Taking this stand will mean concrete progress at discouraging sexual harassment across the broader culture.  Millions of men who are accustomed to thinking of such behavior as light entertainment, carrying no consequences for them, are now seeing men far more powerful than themselves (in Hollywood as well as politics) suffering consequences indeed -- which will make them much less likely to indulge in what they now know could lead to a career-ending disaster.

Beyond that, political perceptions matter.  While Republicans play politics as usual, we're showing the voters that we're on the right side of an issue which has recently exploded into political salience, as Time just acknowledged.  Electoral-Vote.com analyzes possible political consequences of a Franken resignation, saying finally that it "would put another Democratic Senate seat in play in 2018, something that will make it harder for the Democrats to win back the Senate in 2018".  I'm not so sure.  If by November the Republicans have defined themselves as the party that coddles and shields harassers, while we are the party that repudiates them, it will benefit us at the ballot box in Minnesota and all over the country.  Who's "soft on crime" now?

UpdateFranken has resigned.

05 December 2017

Meditation #5 -- the city at night

Now our side of the world is turned away from the Sun, facing outward, toward the great dark.

There is no light but the lights of the city.

The cold and blackness encroach on our turf, our city, the streets where we walk with confidence in daylight.

But our city lights give assurance that all is well, that for one more night at least, all is functioning and our dominion is secure.

The darkness makes every light a jewel, every color an iridescence, every road twinned rivers of red and white.  The human city shimmers, coruscates, bewitches.  It is beauty and it is power and it is ours.

Except above.....

I look upward.  Into the dark.  Outward.

Silently the city lights shout Mankind's defiance into the unending blackness beyond the world.

(And perhaps, on the far side of the dark, others look out toward us and dream?  Perhaps they have their own cities, their own lights, their own pride?)

No fear.

I am of the race that tamed the dark.

Long past are the days when our kind trembled for the wolves and marauders at night, or for the gods with which they peopled the emptiness above.

The dark evokes awe, not for itself, but for our triumph over it.

The world is turning.  Soon comes the Sun, and the mundane.

03 December 2017

Link round-up for 3 December 2017

See low-budget versions of The Lion King (found via Mendip) and Thor: Ragnarok.

Here's an all-out battle of kitten vs. red ball.

Amuse your guests with demon-possessed glop.

Hmmm, this appears to be a double standard.


Critter-proof your Christmas tree.

I see signs of a theological dispute.

Try this insult generator (every one is better than the ones Trump comes up with).

Beware the brain-eating Satanic lesbians.

Mendip has some advice for anti-science dingbats.

Here's the last word on those stupid "Blah-blah-blahs HATE this man" ads.

Foreigners imagine American cooking.

This Amazon delivery delivered something extra.

An artist honors banned books, Greek style.

Christianity turns the concept of forgiveness into utter horseshit.

Here's why Tumblr is no longer supporting net neutrality (we seriously need an antitrust crackdown).

Church Militant brings us a tale of rebel nuns "consumed by a tsunami of sexual indulgence and revolt against authority". Oh, and Katy Perry is Satanic (notice how fast the comment thread there turns into theological bickering).

Tengrain pwns a prude.

An Alabama church chooses sides.

It's not just Christianity.

With some people, debate is pointless.

The Trumplings live in an alternate universe.

The Washington Post practices proper journalism, unfortunately for the wingnuts.

A nurse rightly gets fired after tweeting a racist message.  But some racists are getting away with violence (found via Lady, That's My Skull).

Education, who needs it?

Theology poisons everything.

CalicoJack has some advice for Franken.

Don't overuse words like "pedophile".

.....and thus the concept of Islamophobia was invented.

One popular gift item sold very well on Black Friday.

This is what a close relative looks like.

Ireland is continuing to become a normal country.

Australia's Senate has passed the gay marriage law, causing the enemy to erupt with hatred (see comments thread).

A speech on gay marriage in New Zealand goes viral in Japan.

Other countries are well aware of our flaws, such as diabetics struggling to afford insulin and dying if they fall short.

North Korean ships of the dead are being found adrift off Japan's coast.

Religion in government doesn't promote morality.

The US-backed Iraqi government resumes Saddam's policy of Arabization in Kirkuk.

Pakistan ignominiously kowtows to Islamists.

Danica Roem pwns the Republicans good and hard.  They're going to have problems next year.

Once again Trump draws a disappointingly small crowd.

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain a Senator and lose his own soul?  David French takes down a Moore defender.

TYWKIWDBI has a huge link round-up on Trump.

Crazy Eddie looks at the fight against gerrymandering in Michigan.

The Republican tax plan is economic insanity (found via Electoral-Vote.com, which looks at the winners and losers) and could lead to a recession.  It's "horse and sparrow" economics, and it also empowers bigotry.  Corporate leaders say cutting their taxes won't mean more hiring.  Jeff Flake says he was offered DACA amnesty to win his vote, but keeping that promise would enrage the Trumpanzee base (see comments there).  Here are some more obstacles.  Update:  Don't miss this assessment at MPS.

Even in Oklahoma, Democrats have opportunities.

Trump's threats to freedom of the press are just empty words.

Former prosecutors assess the Flynn plea deal.  So do some other legal experts.  Here's some more analysis and links.

Trumpanzees' ignorance doesn't mean they're innocent.

A cruel and petty attack on DACA is exposed and defeated.

This should be the official Presidential portrait.

Knock, knock, who's there?

Short question on Israel

Yesterday an anonymous reader left a comment on the "minor parties" post:  "Quick question: You claim to be an atheist and pro-Israel. How can an atheist be supportive of any country established by or for any religion?" I deleted it in moderation since it was off-topic.  However, just in case there's anyone to whom the answer isn't obvious:  Jews are an ethnic group, many (perhaps most) of whom don't practice the Jewish religion.  Israel was established to provide a secure future for that ethnic group after centuries of persecution culminating in the Holocaust.  This is a worthy goal (though it would have been more just if Israel had been established on territory taken from Germany rather than from the Arabs).  Also, even though minority parties have imposed some religious laws -- as mentioned in the post -- Israel is still a much more secular state and society than almost anywhere else in the Middle East.  For more on my view of Israel, see here.

Fair warning:  If anyone wants to post a bunch of the standard anti-Israel stuff in the comments, don't bother.  I've heard it all before and I'm not interested in an interminable rehash of old arguments.

30 November 2017

Video of the day -- truths about morality

I included this video in my earlier post about AronRa, but I'm bringing it back because it's especially relevant after the discussion on morality here.  AronRa fisks a video on the Ten Commandments by Christian Dennis Prager, and thereby covers a lot of the basic theist claims -- that you can't be "good without God", that morality isn't "real" morality unless it has a higher-than-human origin, and so forth.  It's striking how again and again Prager makes his case by abstract arguments about what he believes should "logically" follow from various premises, and again and again AronRa pulverizes him by citing real-world events and data -- what actually has happened and does happen.  (Note that Prager's strongest point is the one about mass killings under fascism and communism, where he finally does cite real-world events.)  Also please note the excerpt from Steven Pinker at 13:50, which I found especially thought-provoking.

28 November 2017

Some observations on minor parties

I recently watched the video below, which assesses how increasing the influence of third parties in US politics might change things:

A better term might actually be "minor parties", since in fact the US already has a variety of such parties beyond the big two.  The choice of term matters.  Advocates of a specific hypothetical new party like to call it a third party because that makes it sound like a unique alternative to the big two; in fact our politics is already crowded with such would-be challengers.

One obvious point is that we don't have to theorize -- we can learn a lot from the experience of other countries that do have minor parties with substantial power. Israel's political system, which doesn't divide the country into constituencies, is very conducive to small parties winning a few seats in the Knesset. What this means in practice is that small crackpot parties can hold the whole country hostage because they hold the balance of power between the big two. That's how, for example, small religious parties have been able to impose certain religion-based laws on an overwhelmingly secular society.

In Germany there are three or four minor parties that sometimes get as much as 12% of the seats in the Bundestag. Somewhat as the video predicts, this creates paralysis because two or three parties have to be able to form a coalition to function. Germany just had a national election and may be forced to hold another one soon because no one can agree on a workable coalition. The UK almost ran into the same problem after its last election.

The US system does have advantages. Any political force that wants to win a share of power must become part of one of the two major parties. This forces moderation of extremist views since they have to be able to cooperate with the other factions within that party. Such a group that insists on forming an independent party of its own (like the Greens and Libertarians) never wins any position of real power because the system creates such high barriers to entry for small parties. This means that people who can't compromise get frozen out, which is a good thing.

Also, it's not true that the US system prevents anything from getting done. The Democrats passed Obamacare, for example. If you want to get ideas translated into action, the way to do that is to work for a supermajority for the party you favor, not waste time on minor parties which will never get anywhere.

The reason the Republicans can't get anything done (thank goodness), despite controlling the whole government, is that they are too factionalized into groups that don't want to compromise -- that is, parts of their party function de facto like minor parties. So, for example, they couldn't repeal Obamacare because different factions had irreconcilable demands on exactly how it should be done. And their majority in the Senate is too small to overcome this problem.

Trump actually resembles the video's scenario of a minor-party President. He ran as a Republican, but he's far from a conventional one. Having alienated many Republicans, he doesn't have much actual base of support in Congress and may well end up being impeached because of that.

I suppose a minor party might grow to major size if it embodied some oddball position neither of the big parties does (pro-choice, nationalist, and anti-affirmative-action, for example, as the video says Perot's supporters were), but I think it's unlikely. There are too many different "oddball" positions like that for any one of them to command broad support. You'd end up with several "Perot" parties, not just one. And even if it were just one, it would still just end up draining off votes from whichever big party it most resembled, handing victory to the other.

Most people understand this. I'm "oddball" in the eyes of some in that I agree with the Democrats on most issues but am strongly pro-gun, pro-Israel, and not sympathetic to out-of-control immigration. But even if there were a minor party with exactly that combination of positions, I wouldn't encourage people to support it. It would simply drain off votes from the Democrats and help the Republicans. We have to deal with the system the way it really is.

The true effect of minor parties in the US is straightforward.  Minor parties on the right are good because they divide the conservative vote and help Democrats win.  Minor parties on the left are bad because they divide the liberal vote and help Republicans win.  I don't anticipate that they will ever have any other substantive effect.

I found the video above in this post on Crazy Eddie's Motie News, and most of my post here is adapted from a comment I left there.

26 November 2017

Link round-up for 26 November 2017

A song attacking the NFL kneeling protests draws hilarious mockery.

Enjoy some amusing moments from Arab TV.

This is the face of being caught in the act.

Behold, the Play-Doh of Satan.

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas any more.

Waitress, can you please remove this pesky lizard?

Best hobby ever (found via Mendip) -- #7 reminds me of Moses somehow.....

You'll love these handy household tips.

Watch this one with the sound on.

Somebody's into cat vore.

If you own an illuminated sign, do proper maintenance on it.

"Divorce cakes" are now a thing, apparently.

What if The Call of Cthulhu were a Dr. Seuss book?

Tama the stationmaster cat has ascended to the pantheon.

RedState discovers neo-Nazi furries, with amusing results.

I think this statue actually represents the Catholic priesthood rather well.

"I was minding the desk at the Mollusk Division....."

Stupid vandal is stupid.

Worst ad gif ever.

Christian sects are summed up in one cartoon (found via Internet Monk).

See the car.

I wonder why the kid keeps up that habit.

Was that Thanksgiving turkey an agent of Islamic jihad?

Bored high-schoolers resort to art (found via Mendip).

Fundies have discovered a new stealth attack in the War on Christmas (if you haven't seen it, here's my own post on the true meaning of Christmas).  But don't weaponize your Christmas tree.

Truly a personalized garment.

Pigs are big.

Do you.....understand?

See how crayons are made.

Get your own moonlight.

There's a reason why the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park looked so convincing.

Why couldn't we have had an Alien film like this instead of the Prometheus/Covenant rubbish?

Some of these media types aren't such a big deal as they think they are.

Imagine trying to have a rational conversation with this person.

Losing net neutrality would be a disaster, but we still have time to save it.

Alabama pastors exult in misogyny.  Then there's Frank Radish and Earl Wise.  Maybe it just reflects Evangelical culture.

That "future liberals want" photo actually has a deeper meaning.

Meet Emily Blackwell and Marie Equi, inspirational women from the 19th century.

Blogger Steve M pwns a prude.

Police protect their own.

Remember who truly dishonors soldiers.

This man spent 39 years in prison for crimes he didn't commit.  Remember him next time you feel the impulse to judge someone guilty before all the facts are in.  And people like this are not helping.

The Field Negro has some thoughts on sexual harassers.  Dervish Sanders looks at the Franken-Tweeden case.

Indeed, this was always boring.

Josh Marshall and Booman Tribune look at the coming crisis of online news.

The bad guys are the ones who are constantly telling everyone else what they can and can't do.

They don't like it when their hypocrisy is exposed.

They're just tormenting people for fun now.

This is a "culture"?

Evangelicals supported Trump out of paranoia, but they'll regret it.  Their hypocrisy is reaching unsustainable extremes (found via Tell Me a Story).

The rich are different from you and me.

Don't forget the everyday injustices that go on around us.

Holy men are what they are, in one religion or another.

In the comments thread to this post, Daniel Wilcox and I discuss one of mankind's greatest life-saving inventions.

This is an exaggeration, but there's truth in it.

Republican concerns about free speech and abortion are, shall we say, selective (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

How humiliating -- disarmed by a dwarf.

Pitcher plants are batshit crazy.

Dentistry has a history (found via TYWKIWDBI).

The "simpleton" model (not what you're thinking) may explain why people sometimes commit acts that seem uncharacteristic of them.

Tom Björklund paints character studies of Neanderthals and other prehistoric peoples.

Reminder -- here's how Scotland greeted Trump.

The European Union will face serious budget shortfalls due to Britain's departure, and will lose out if there's a tariff warMy comments here.

There are some sore losers in Australia.

A survey of Arabs in Israel finds 65% non-religious -- and 60% "proud to be Israeli".

Freedom-minded Iranian women have started recording harassers on video.

Mexico and China surge ahead with solar power (found via Crooks and Liars).

Egypt hits back at terrorists who murdered over 300 people at a Sinai mosque.  The mosque was used largely by Sufis, a splinter group of Muslim "mystics" whom Sunni extremists regard as heretics.

I'm a bit surprised that this surprises anybody.

Harbinger?  Democrat Allison Ikley-Freeman, an out lesbian socialist married to a black woman, just won an election in an Oklahoma district which Trump carried by a two-to-one margin.  In Seattle, abusive politicians are being repudiated.

On child molestation, Republican views have evolved.

Jonathan Bernstein makes the case for superdelegates (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

Yeah, the post is full of ideological shrapnel and the comments are deranged, but when a headline like "Hyper-Partisanship Is More Dangerous Than 'The Left'" appears on RedState, it may be a sign of the End Times.

"This is what happens when you make your politics a part of your identity, instead of a way to solve problems."

Evil advances step-by-step.  Here's a familiar face back again (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Read the real story of Paul Ryan's Cindy the tax-cut mom.  NRO's Andrew Stuttaford is unimpressed with the tax "reform" plan.

[311 days down, 1,151 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

23 November 2017

Video of the day -- Mars, the reality

Perchlorates are also lethal to Earthly soil bacteria, without which Earthly plants of any kind cannot grow.  This seems to rule out ever establishing agriculture there -- thus making permanent colonization impossible.

22 November 2017

Discussion on morality

My recent post on Roy Moore led to a discussion on morality in the comments with Christian blogger Daniel Wilcox (his own blog is Lightwaveseeker).  I think this is of sufficient interest to merit a post in its own right, so here it is.  Text in blue is his, text in regular black is mine.

o o o o o

Daniel WilcoxStrong points. And you wrote, "What's striking to me is how closely the divide over Moore on the right correlates with the religious/secular divide. The very people who generally exhibit an outright obsession with Christianity's sexual taboos are going all out to defend a man plausibly accused of sexual misbehavior..."

It's even more absurd than that. Because in the past Christian leaders obsessed on Bill Clinton (and others) "sexual misbehavior" BUT all of those ethical choices were with adults.

Even Christian leaders' past defense of Newt Gingrich (who twice committed adultery, once when his wife at the time was dying of cancer!:-( isn't as bad as this current hypocrisy.

This Christian defense of Moore is much more like the Roman Catholic response to priests having sexual relations with young teens. How could anyone defend a Christian leader, a 32 district attorney, who has alleged sexual relations with a 14 year old who had told her mother that he would watch over her?!
(Of course, his legal 'out' is that he didn't go all the way. BUT that was also true of the priests who did sexual actions to the young teens.

So really nothing new here. Christian leaders have been defending fellow Christians who engage in sexual misconduct for many years.

WHAT surprises me is the nearly complete condemnation of Ray Moore's actions by secularists (after you ferret out their hostility to right-wing politics). Heck, in the last couple of years, I've gotten lambasted by secularists for stating that sexual misconduct--even rape!--is really ALWAYS wrong. In contrast, these secular leaders claim that all ethics are "subjective."

Some even claim that various unethical actions are only about subjective "like" or "dislike." According to them, even enslavement, slaughter, rape, etc. are no different than not liking coffee or tea or soda.

We need to promote the view of the Humanist Manifesto III, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the Enlightenment view of thinkers such as Thomas Paine--
that humans have
"inherent value"
THAT ethics are real and molestation, sexual misconduct, statutory rape and adult rape are ALWAYS wrong.

Infidel753:  For fundamentalists, it seems entirely a matter of whose ox is being gored. Accusations against, say, Bill Clinton or liberal Hollywood figures are automatically true and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Accusations against fellow fundamentalists are automatically lies and, even if they're true, whatever they did isn't really all that bad.

Many of the abuse cases involving Catholic priests, by the way, involve boys considerably younger than the teens, and unambiguous use of force.

I would be curious what "secular leaders" have claimed that "enslavement, slaughter, rape, etc. are no different than not liking coffee or tea or soda" (and I mean actually claiming that in clear language, not just saying something that can be remotely interpreted that way). The only people I can recall ever hearing saying such things were Satanists (and those individuals were very much fringe figures even among Satanists).

We have pretty solid evidence now that morality is an evolved instinct in humans -- it's inborn and doesn't require philosophy to support it (I've posted about this a couple of times). That a few individuals are apparently born without morality should be seen as a type of birth defect; that rather more individuals act against morality out of self-interest is no more surprising than the fact that we are capable of defying other instincts for various reasons.

In my own writing I use the word "morality" to mean this real morality, while using the word "taboo" to refer to the random and arbitrary prohibitions imposed by local religions and cultures -- against eating pork, homosexuality, trimming one's beard, speaking certain words, working on certain days of the week, etc.

If secularists are unanimous in condemning Moore, I'd attribute that partly to a good awareness of the distinction between morality and taboo (fervent religionists tend to conflate the taboos of their own religion with moral absolutes), and partly to the fact that most secularists are liberals, or at least not radical right-wingers, and thus have no vested interest in supporting someone like Moore.

Daniel Wilcox:   Infidel753, I'll respond to your thoughtful comment with a list (that way I don't start writing a long article by me in your blog comment box:-) (My wife always emphasizes to me to give her the "short" version.)

#1 I completely agree with your statement, "For fundamentalists, it seems entirely a matter of whose ox is being gored." Look at evangelist Franklin Graham's statements about President Trump's bragging about committing adultery, and "grabbing"...etc.
Graham dismisses that as minor! But then in the same sentence calls Obama and Hilary "godless"! Huh?

#2 As for the priests, all the cases that I read-- a bunch-- dealt with, not little children but older kids, especially 12-13 year olds.

But I am not an authority on this. What url would you recommend which documents the fact that most of the priests' molestation were of young children?

#3 I hesitate even now (for the same reason in my first comment) to give you all the documentation because usually in the past, such discussions end up in legalese and the semantic jungle. Let me think on it some more. And I will need to search my computer files for the various statements by secularists. Bob Seidensticker at crossexamined

#4 I pretty much agree that morality came about through evolution. Heck, so did the human ability to think, reason, and compute, and invent, etc. BUT that doesn't mean that thinking, reasoning, computing, etc. aren't real.

Also, I have difficulty with secularists who claim that morality ONLY came through evolution. First, according to nearly all scientists, (including famous scientists who are theists), evolution as a process isn't "purposeful" in the sense that math is.

Secondly, if there is no basis for ethics inherent within reality or transcending matter and energy, then there is no basis for any version of ethics. Even Richard Dawkins, in several books and interviews, emphasized that he wouldn't want to live in a society based on evolution because evolution is often cruel, wasteful, and so forth. (By the way, Dawkins did appear to agree that even rape isn't really wrong, but is only a subjective view. This occurred in an interview. I'll try and find the shocking interview. Dawkins, of course, is opposed to rape. Though I find his approving of mild molestation by a professor horrific:-( As an educator, besides being a human being, I think that any form of molestation, sexual relations with teens, etc. are ALWAYS WRONG.

#5 As a former anthropology major at university, I am very familiar with concepts such as "taboo." It appears that we agree on this.

#6 Then you wrote, "If secularists are unanimous in condemning Moore, I'd attribute that partly to a good awareness of the distinction between morality..."

BUT that is the shocking part to me, is that so many secularists DON'T think real "morality" exists. I first encountered this incredible view studying Sartre, Nietzsche, and other non-Enlightenment thinkers at university (the U of Neb., and Long Beach State).

One of the individuals I admired back then was a Marxist graduate student who to a very strong stand against injustice, etc.

In contrast, almost weekly I run across secularists now who make the horrific claims that I mentioned.

Infidel753: Daniel, thanks for your response. Just for the record, I want to confirm that for me those kinds of questions (#1) are not just a matter of whose ox is being gored. I don't make excuses for people on "our side" when they are guilty of genuinely heinous things. See for example my obituary for Ted Kennedy.

#2: I haven't kept a lot of links about the Catholic priest molestation cases, but I've read a lot of stories about them over the years, the majority from outside the US. There have certainly been a lot of them involving boys around 8 or so. What age range predominated, I wouldn't know. As one example, this report on a large number of cases in Australia says the average age of victims there was 11. Certainly lots of cases I remember reading about in Europe and the US were younger.

#3: I did look at some of the links in your e-mail that seemed relevant. The people who were claiming that the Holocaust is morally comparable to preferences in trivial things are nuts, in my opinion, but this is the kind of rubbish that a few people generate when they get bogged down in airy philosophical abstractions instead of the pragmatic and concrete. Very few people do that (I certainly have no interest in it), and people that do are not typical of any general group of people, secular or otherwise. Using the same kind of abstract arguments, a person could equally well "prove" that love, hate, fear, etc. are unjustified on some abstract level, but so what? Those feelings are very real and most of the time we know well what causes us to feel them, just like with moral feelings. Most secular people never bother their heads with such meaningless word-games, just as most Christians, Muslims, etc. don't.

#4: By the same token, yes, morality did arise entirely by evolution -- there's nothing else it could have arisen from. And just like "thinking, reasoning, computing, etc.", yes, it is very real and the fact that it arose through evolution does not conflict with that. I can't imagine why it would. All our other instincts, and all the physical details of our bodies, arose through evolution, and they are certainly real.

It also doesn't matter that evolution is not purposeful. Evolution is an inevitable process in pretty much any population of organisms with heritable traits which work the way such traits do in life on Earth. It naturally tends to maximize traits which are conducive to survival under the prevailing conditions. It doesn't need to be purposeful to do that, any more than gravity needs to be purposeful to form stars and planets. (And as I argued here, yes, morality is a trait "conducive to survival under the prevailing conditions".)

Dawkins's point about not wanting to live in a society "based on" evolution reflects a similar observation. As his books emphasize, the process of evolution generates a vast amount of animal suffering. A human society which did nothing to mitigate the struggle for survival of the fittest would do the same. Evolution is a description of what does happen, not what should happen (science doesn't deal with "should" issues in that sense). Evolution is unpleasant and shouldn't be taken as a model to imitate. That doesn't change that fact that it is what happens under natural conditions.

(Fair warning: Dawkins is probably the person I admire most. I have most of his books and have read them cover-to-cover several times.)

#6: My remark about secularists here referred to people like the politicians, bloggers, and members of the public who have condemned Moore's alleged behavior, not the kind of navel-gazing twits you were arguing with.

I think I somewhat misunderstood what you were saying about "secularists say X-Y-Z" because I misjudged the type of debate you were referring to. As I said, I'm interested in the practical and pragmatic. I post about moral issues like "if the Catholic Church is so infested with people who engage in child abuse on a large scale, that means there's something fundamentally malignant about it". I'm not interested in arguing about things like "can we prove child abuse is bad" -- that kind of question reminds me of, as some wag once described it, "arguing about whether it's OK to shout 'theater' when you're in a crowded fire". Most people I deal with, secularist or otherwise, are the same way. Secularists who "don't think morality exists" are "so many" only in a very narrow and non-representative context.

For another example of what I mean by not wanting a society based on evolution, or nature generally, see here. It really doesn't matter to me whether things like illiteracy, ignorance, famine, lack of modern medicine, etc. are "immoral" -- most people would say they aren't, strictly speaking. The point is, they cause suffering and it's in our nature to want to minimize suffering.

Daniel Wilcox:   Thanks for recommending your article on nature! Gets the point across very well.

I'm going to keep that handy for all the people I meet who speak so appreciatively of "Mother Nature."

And you wrote, "Dawkins is probably the person I admire most. I have most of his books and have read them cover-to-cover several times.)"

I've read 8 of his books. What a brilliant biologist and powerful writer! (My BA is in Writing. I wish I had the ability to write such lucid prose on difficult subjects.

Have you read The Ancestor's Tale?
I think that tome on the history of evolution by Dawkins is one of the 5 best science books of the last 50 years.

o o o o o

A couple of other points have occurred to me in connection with this -- I'll post about them later.