29 August 2013

Syria isn't Iraq 2003 -- it's Afghanistan 1980

The US, Britain, and France are poised to launch military strikes on Syria in response to a chemical-weapons attack carried out near Damascus a few days ago.  There are many reasons why this action is likely to be unwise -- the proposed strikes will not seriously damage the regime, it's not yet totally clear that the chemical-weapons attack was the work of the regime rather than of the rebels, the situation in Syria is dauntingly complex, we risk conflict with Russia which is supporting the regime, Western military interventions in the Middle East have a track record of poor results to say the least.  But if none of those things gives you pause, consider this:  We will be fighting on the same side as al-Qâ'idah.

How the hell did we get into that position?

There are no "good guys" in the Syrian war.  The Asad regime is among the most brutal on the planet, with a record of torture and mass murder horrific even by Middle Eastern standards.  The rebellion against it, though, is increasingly dominated by Islamists who have been carrying out escalating atrocities against Syria's Christian and Alawite minorities.  Syria is a diverse country and its only hope for decent governance would be a non-sectarian state recognizing equal civil and political rights for members of all groups.  If anything, the rebels' actions will drive the minorities into the arms of the regime.  And, yes, al-Qâ'idah units are now in Syria and fighting as part of the rebellion.

Why would we want to help the rebels win?  We already know the likely outcome if they do.  We've seen this movie before, and even played a similar role in it.

In 1980 we began a long campaign of intervention against a Russian-backed regime in Afghanistan, on behalf of rebels helped and guided by a nearby Islamist country (Pakistan).  The motive was to limit the expansion of Soviet power (I suspect there was also an element of revenge for our defeat in Vietnam).  In the course of this campaign we ended up supporting the Islamists who were growing in importance among the anti-regime guerrilla forces.  The indirect result was that we facilitated the fall of a state which was at least somewhat secular and pro-modernity, and the take-over of the country by Islamist barbarians.  Later, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan played host to al-Qâ'idah as the latter carried out a series of attacks on us, culminating in the September 11 atrocity.

Now we're about to begin a campaign of intervention against a Russian-backed regime in Syria -- it's not going to end with a few airstrikes, not after it becomes clear that those airstrikes have had no real impact on the regime's behavior -- in de facto support of rebels helped and guided by a nearby Islamist country (Saudi Arabia).  The motive -- punishing the use of chemical weapons -- is, if anything, less vital to our national interests than curbing Soviet expansion was in 1980.  By attacking the regime we will inevitably be facilitating the cause of the largely-Islamist rebels.  If we do eventually act decisively enough to help bring down the regime, we'll be facilitating a take-over by Islamists who are likely to be about as friendly to us, and about as good for their hapless subjects, as the Taliban were.  We won't need to wait years for the new regime to invite al-Qâ'idah in, though.  They're already there.

I'm no supporter of the Asad regime.  It's a horror.  But this is Syria we're talking about.  There aren't any good options and it's not in our power to bring them into existence.  We can, however, make the situation a lot worse, for ourselves and likely for the Syrians too.  And I'm afraid that's exactly what we're about to do.

27 August 2013

Video of the day -- trappers

Normally I'm against hunting, but sometimes it's necessary to cull undesirable species.

25 August 2013

Link round-up for 25 August 2013

Scheme or scam?  The Great Cross Alliance is the latest morbid but funny fundie project.

This is reality-denial, 2,400,000,000 BC style

What would happen if we let the public give names to planets?

Here are some fascinating old photos -- below the World War I trenches photo, click "View the entire album" -- there are more.

This looks like a must-visit if you're in Boston in August.

A judge orders a baby's name changed based on her own religious beliefs.

Did you ever think we'd actually be nostalgic for this guy?

The police chief of Minneapolis gets married.

If you're thinking of traveling by air, don't miss this story of the TSA at work.

The Catholic Church wages a shabby fight against rights for abuse victims in California.

Could the Republicans lose big in 2014?  Booman Tribune makes the case.

No to socialism!

A disgusting Photoshop job illustrates racism in action.

Ken Cuccinelli, Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia, announces the latest right-wing attack on the First Amendment.

Christians will sue to defend medical quackery (found via Republic of Gilead).

A prominent DHS employee advocates race war and mass murder in his free time.

Roads in Texas lead to the past.

Where the hell are they finding these crackpots?

Neo-Nazi Paul Craig Cobb plans an all-white town in North Dakota.  Cenk Uygur and friends comment here.

A measles outbreak in Texas is traced to a church which preaches against vaccination (found via Lady Atheist).

71% of voters -- and 53% of Republican voters -- oppose teabagger plans for a government shutdown.  And right-wingers shouldn't take comfort from this poll.

There are consequences for telling lies -- but two months isn't nearly enough.  And I don't know what would be an adequate punishment for this lie.

Business groups struggle to control the Tea Party insanity they helped create.

Here's an example of natural selection in action.

A prominent Iowa Republican explains why he left the party.

Much of the job growth in recent decades was in the bullshit sector.

Republicans are doomed in 2016 because they can't compromise and aren't even thinking about how to win.  They should learn from how Democrats once suffered for refusing to listen.  Wiser Republicans see disaster looming.

A Canadian family receives a horrifying letter.

British authorities forced the newspaper The Guardian to destroy computers containing documents from Edward Snowden.

A bus driver in Britain is stabbed in the head -- by mistake.

Civilized and barbarian standards clash in a British courtroom.

Here's an unusual modular house in France.

The latest country to legalize gay marriage is New Zealand.

Predictably, the US Christian Right applauds Russia's persecution of gays.  Two gutsy Russian athletes protest.

Humorless Russian Orthodox dingbats attack Pastafarians.

One of India's leading activists for rationalism, Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, has been murdered.  Tribute to Dr. Dabholkar here, more on his work here.

Sumatra, a major island of Muslim Indonesia, debates mandatory virginity tests for high-school students.

Booman Tribune raises some sober questions about the chemical-weapons attack near Damascus.

Hamas, stunned by the overthrow of its patron the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, turns to Iran.

A Saudi Arabian blogger has been sentenced to 600 lashes and seven years in prison for expressing unorthodox views about religion.  And the regime is even more diligent in fighting witchcraft.

Texas is an energy powerhouse.

Why are we investing billions in dangerous oil pipelines and nuclear reactors and leaving it to a 15-year-old girl to invent something like this?

[Art at top by Mario Piperni]

23 August 2013

The struggle in Egypt

I'm afraid I'm unable to get very worked up over the military coup and crackdown in Egypt.  The fight against theocracy cannot always be waged on terms that the Marquess of Queensberry would approve.

Yes, the Muslim Brotherhood won the election last year.  Winning an election does not mean that every action a party subsequently takes becomes legitimate.  This is why most democratic countries have constitutions which limit the powers of those who win office.  Hitler won power in an election; the US has a major party largely dominated by theocrats which could very plausibly bring them to power someday.

Islamists have a built-in advantage in Muslim countries newly freed from dictatorship.  Like dictators everywhere, dictators in Muslim countries murder and suppress their enemies.  But they're often reluctant to come down too hard on Islamists who are, to put it bluntly, scarier than secular liberals.  So when the dictator finally falls, the Islamists are the only united and organized force left standing, and can take power (by election or otherwise) before secular forces have time to make themselves competitive.  That happened in Tunisia after the revolution there, and seems to be happening in Libya; it happened in Iran in 1979, and is on course to happen in Syria if Asad falls.  And it happened in Egypt.

Despite this built-in advantage, the Brotherhood won only 25% of the vote in the first round of voting and 51.7% in the runoff.  Turnout in both cases was low even by American standards.  There were allegations of ballot-rigging, and of vote suppression aimed at the Christian minority, which strongly opposes the Brotherhood.  Once in office President Morsi issued edicts giving himself sweeping powers, while moves toward Islamization of the state aroused widespread opposition.  The Brotherhood proved unable to manage the country, and crime and unemployment exploded.  As protests against its rule mounted, the Brotherhood resorted to ugly tactics.

Since the military coup, the Islamists have unleashed an onslaught of violence against the Christian minority.  As best we can tell, Egyptian public opinion supports the military.  Many are baffled that the US seems to sympathize with the Brotherhood and to want to push the country back into the morass from which it just escaped.

The Brotherhood militants whom the military has been shooting are marching in the spirit of Rushdoony and Khomeini.  If the same situation were happening in the United States, I know which side I'd be on.

A reminder of what secular Egyptians are up against:

More on the attacks on the Christian minority:

19 August 2013

The seven-year Infidel

Today marks seven years of blogging -- and I fully expect to be around for at least another seven.  There's weirdness to explore, progress to celebrate, and religions to blaspheme against!  Full speed ahead!

18 August 2013

Link round-up for 18 August 2013

Murr Brewster looks at Hell, and a reasonable facsimile thereof in Kansas.

Point and laugh at these idiots.  Then point and laugh at these idiots.  Oh, and this is worth a giggle.

What's that up on the roof?  It's a house!

A massive, stupid alien landing site sprawls across the New Mexico desert.

Hey Mitt Romney, is this your car?

Here's some conservative geography (found via Squatlo Rant).

Religious parents, watch out for these warning signs.

The new chairman of my state's Republican party wants to sprinkle radioactive waste all over the US, and he's apparently racist and sexist too.

In response to the rape accusation posted by PZ Myers which I linked to last Sunday, a law firm representing Michael Shermer has sent Myers this letter (so far, Myers has not met any of the demands therein).

A simple chart clearly shows which party is best on deficits.

Behold the Master Race.

Republicans have a good reason for trying to stop Obamacare -- they're afraid it will succeed.  One Republican Congressman has been challenged by his own constituents about the party's attacks and lies against the law.

Ferrett Steinmetz is a good man and a good father.

Wendy Davis is the Democrats' brightest rising star in Texas -- she should run for Governor.  Ultimately the future of Texas is in Latino hands.

Lady Atheist has a thoughtful post on the ethics of keeping animals.

New Jersey hospitals credit Obamacare for a dramatic drop in infections.

Savor the fear -- a conservative columnist frets that Democrats could take the House in 2014.  More here.

Here's some disquieting information about Cory Booker.

As the economy improves, companies grow more concerned about keeping their employees.

Republicans of decades past were very different from today.

Anticipating rising sea levels, a New Jersey town plans to lift itself up by 11 feet.

Vox Verax has a round-up of Republican dumbth.

Here's a pretty good overview of 2016 Presidential candidates.

Sorry, but Obama is flat-out wrong on this one.

Benefits cuts in Britain encourage the unemployed to find work.

Upton Cressett manor house in Shropshire, England, is now off-limits to rude jerks.

We have rednecks, Britain has Scottish soccer fans.

Tim McGaha looks at the British wooden aircraft that helped beat Nazi Germany.

Swedes craft a colorful protest against Russia's anti-gay laws.

Turkey's Islamist government charges 40 people with blasphemy.

Missiles recently displayed by North Korea are apparently fake.

Here's a shark inside a shark.

Immediately after clinical death, brains experience a brief burst of intense activity, which could help explain the "near-death experience" hallucinations.

Eating red meat increases your risk of death 20%.  And obesity may be much deadlier than we thought.

Severe heat waves will become much more common in coming decades.

Scientists in Pennsylvania grow a complete, functional heart from human stem cells.

A Massachusetts company has developed cups and straws that detect date-rape drugs.

The world's photovoltaic solar power capacity has doubled in the last 2½ years -- and will double again in the next 2½.

16 August 2013

The world of advertising

I've long taken a certain pride in keeping this blog ad-free, but I have to admit that ads can sometimes be entertaining.

Anything goes in the struggle to get noticed.  Diesel, a clothing vendor (when was it decided that company names should no longer have any connection with what they sell?) actually won an award for a campaign of ads associating the virtue of stupidity with its products, complete with images of people doing stupid or dangerous things, such as this:

Two of these ads were banned in Britain, not because they're, well, stupid, but because they're "indecent and promote anti-social behavior".

Then there are those ads all over the internet that say "[Authority figure]s HATE this!", usually promoting some dubious medical miracle that doctors HATE, or some gizmo that power companies HATE, because those things will enable the sort of people who fall for those ads to do without those old-timers' expensive services.  They must be pretty effective at fleecing the marks, since they're so pervasive, but I simply couldn't stomach reproducing one here.

I can't remember where I found this one or what it was advertising, but apparently the selling point was that the product will give you some kind of hideous skin rash from outer space (click to enlarge):

This one at least has an eye-catching way of making its point:

The mid-twentieth century was a simpler, more naïve, and apparently stupider time.  A time when it was possible to pretend to think that this ad (1968) was perfectly innocent:

But my favorite ad from those days has to be this one:

I mean, come on, Dick Lord?  And don't even get me started on that outfit.

Those are old, but of course who knows how long the problem of annoying ads has been with us?

Today, of course, sexually-suggestive ads are common and I didn't want to emphasize them too much in this post because it's sort of like shooting fish in a barrel, but they do seem to be getting more blatant:

Sometimes it's hard to tell if they're being subtle or just careless.  This was part of some junk mail I once got -- I think it was for an investment account or something like that:

Foreign countries sometimes use advertising gimmicks which we wouldn't.  Here's an ad from Bulgaria for "Flirt" vodka -- this is a bit beyond flirting, I think:

Finally, here's a commercial for something called Bjørg Jewellery.  I'll be damned if I can see what the imagery in this ad has to do with what it's supposedly selling (warning: it's a bit disturbing):

And with that, we're done.  Back to ad-free posting.

13 August 2013

Video of the day -- Слава ВДВ!

Two commenters on this morning's post about anti-gay abuses in Russia hinted that perhaps some of the Putin regime's propaganda uses homoerotic imagery of its own.  I'm shocked, shocked at the suggestion that the macho and militaristic propaganda of a fascist regime might have any homoerotic undertones.

On a completely unrelated note, I've long enjoyed this video by Russian singer Aleksandr Buinov celebrating the VDV (Airborne Troops) -- the thugs manhandling the gay demonstrator in the picture at the top of this morning's post are members of the VDV, as shown by their distinctive blue berets and blue-and-white-striped shirts.  See what you think.

Blood games

"Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT Russians. Beatings, murders and humiliations are ignored by the police. Any defence or sane discussion of homosexuality is against the law. Any statement, for example, that Tchaikovsky was gay and that his art and life reflects this sexuality and are an inspiration to other gay artists would be punishable by imprisonment. It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village. The IOC absolutely must take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin has pushed through the Duma. Let us not forget that Olympic events used not only to be athletic, they used to include cultural competitions. Let us realise that in fact, sport is cultural. It does not exist in a bubble outside society or politics. The idea that sport and politics don’t connect is worse than disingenuous, worse than stupid. It is wickedly, wilfully wrong. Everyone knows politics interconnects with everything for “politics” is simply the Greek for “to do with the people”. An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillyhammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world."

Stephen Fry, in an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron and other dignitaries -- read the whole thing.

Self-aware people are beginning to wake up to the implications of the planned Sochi Winter Olympics next year.  As in 1936, the world is about to offer legitimization to a thuggish regime which is increasingly making the persecution of a vulnerable minority a centerpiece of its domestic policy.  So far, Cameron (and Obama) don't get it, but the potential is there for more pressure to be exerted.  Petitioners against the new Russian anti-gay laws got a meeting with the IOC (a rare event) last week, and the Russian regime has promised that the laws will not be used to harass Olympic athletes or visitors.

That commitment, of course, doesn't address the real issue, since the laws remain in force within Russia, and it will take far more than protests or petitions or even an outright Olympic boycott to bring about repeal. No single sanction led South Africa to abandon apartheid; it was the steady pressure of continuing ostracism, combined with the courageous activism of people within the country, which eventually accomplished that.  But the world cannot claim it is applying serious pressure to Russia if it makes an exception for the Olympics.

It has been suggested that the various Olympic ceremonies should be turned into venues for protest.  This isn't a bad idea, but apparently the IOC itself will not tolerate it:

"But the IOC replied the games were not the place for ‘political’ statements. Any participant who steps out of line may be punished, not by the Russians but by Olympic chiefs themselves. LGBT rights campaigners have called on athletes to wear ‘rainbow pins’ to show their support for LGBT people in the opening and closing ceremonies. But the IOC pointed GSN to rules banning that....The IOC still supports gays and lesbians being allowed to compete, but won’t let them use the Olympics as a platform to highlight Russia’s anti-LGBT human rights abuses." (found via David Ehrenstein)

The IOC has never objected to gangster states exploiting the Olympics to enhance their prestige, but if ordinary people want to protest, it retreats behind the absurd claim that the Olympics are "non-political".

The ideal solution would be to move the Winter Olympics to another venue.  However, without the threat of a boycott by major countries, this won't happen.  The message from Western governments needs to be clear and simple:  Move the games, or we won't attend.

11 August 2013

Link round-up for 11 August 2013

Will hackers terrorize Japan by seizing control of its toilets?

There are people out there who believe this stuff -- China has an alliance with space aliens to take over the world.

Murr Brewster looks at Texas.

Now this is how you park a car.

Can eldritch horror and madness be politically correct?  Feminist Yog-Sothoth thinks so.

For a Halloween with a spooky glow, check out West Virginia's pumpkin house (found via Mendip).

Alaska state troopers investigate an unusual sexual assault.

Ta-Nehisi Coates looks at the power inherent in the English language.

Americans are getting screwed on medical costs (found via Squatlo Rant).

An important trend, if sustained:  the elderly are turning against the Republican party.

Richard Dawkins speaks the truth, idiots can't handle it.

Republican heavyweights pay court to Christian-nation extremist David Lane.

Some doctors are way behind the times.

The "League of the South" denounces illegal-immigration reform -- to see where these guys are really coming from, see the quotes from their website at the end.

Michael Shermer, one of the biggest names in the global anti-bullshit movement, is anonymously accused of rape in a blog post by PZ Myers.  Somebody is going to be in serious trouble before this is over.  Commentary by Al Stefanelli here.

Target needs to decide which side it's on.

The Air Force gives another small victory to the First Amendment.

Wendy Davis may run for Governor of Texas.  In the meantime, here are some retailers to boycott.

My city's crime rate is the lowest in half a century.

Conservative Joe Scarborough denounces stupid Republican posturing on Obamacare (found via Progressive Eruptions).

What do fracking advocates have to hide that requires a lifetime gag order on two children?

A devout Christian blows up his dog because it's possessed by the Devil (found via Lady Atheist).

A large flag of treason will fly alongside a freeway near Richmond, Virginia.

Right-wing media distortion in action:  The headline says David Shuttleton of Scotland was "fined" £40,000 for homophobic statements, implying an Orwellian criminalization of expression of opinion.  In fact, it was a judgment for defamation.

Edinburgh sees what may be the first-ever ginger pride march.

Muslim leader Ahmad Akkari, who help fuel the uproar over the Danish Muhammad cartoons, now regrets his actions.

What goes around comes around, even dogshit.

Take a photo tour of the world's first spaceport.

Cardtards, bow down before the financial ingenuity of Dmitry Agarkov.

Hadassah hospital gets a surprise taste of Tchaikovsky.

This shopping mall in Osaka is cooler than the one in your city.

Workers in India reply to violence with violence.

Here's the house of India's richest man.  And here's where some of that country's less-fortunate people live.

A Catholic bishop resigns -- the Church isn't backward enough for him.

Muslim barbarity strikes again, in Zanzibar.

Here's the importance of the environment in a nutshell (found via Squatlo Rant).

Dolphins remember old friends.

The Discovery Channel's fictionalized megalodon "documentary" was a disgrace.

Global warming continued apace in 2012; the severe drought in New Mexico drags on.

09 August 2013

What if Hillary Clinton doesn't run?

Yes, I know, it's more than three years away, but strangely enough, the shape of the 2016 election can actually be seen a lot more clearly than 2014 can.  Hillary Clinton is the prohibitive front-runner on our side, and would win the general overwhelmingly, being competitive even in red states like Georgia and Texas.  The Republicans have a miscellaneous grab-bag of candidates, each of whom appeals to one or two of their dissonant factions while alienating others; most polls show Chris Christie the front-runner, though only barely.  Barring some unlikely game-changing event -- a massive terrorist attack, or a major scandal that knocks out Clinton, or a new charismatic figure coming out of nowhere -- the course of the election seems clear.  The nomination, and the Presidency, are Clinton's for the taking if she wants them.

But what if she doesn't run?  I admit this is unlikely.  No one gets as far in politics as she has without being ambitious, and she showed in 2008 that her aspiration to the Presidency is real.  She'd be 69 in 2016, but that's three years younger than McCain was in 2008.  As her party's strongest candidate, she might even feel an obligation to run, to definitively prevent the disaster which a Republican administration would mean.  But the possibility exists.  Her health could decline, or she could simply tire of politics.  People do.  It's a possibility we need to prepare for.

Polls show that Joe Biden is the second choice among Democrats.  As a successful Vice President, he'd clearly be the center of attention if Clinton did not run.  His debates with Palin in 2008 and Ryan in 2012 showed he'd be a strong campaigner (the latter arguably revitalized Democrats disconsolate over Obama's poor first performance against Romney).  And he's hinting that he might be interested.  As with Clinton, the main reason for skepticism is age -- if elected in 2016, Biden would be 74 when he took office.

For either Clinton or Biden, the age factor would mean a lot of attention for the VP choice -- as with McCain in 2008.  Clinton, as the prohibitive front-runner, would not be under the pressure that prompted a losing McCain to take his disastrous gamble with Palin; not needing a game-changer, she would be free to make a safe, even dull choice.  Biden, too, would probably go for a safe choice over a dramatic one; he was such a choice himself in 2008, and that clearly worked to Obama's advantage in contrast with Palin.

I'm intrigued, though, by the strong showing of Elizabeth Warren, who is the third choice of Democratic voters after the big two, despite being much less well-known nationally.  The support she does arouse is passionate.  And with good reason -- aside from the issue of how likely she is to win, she's what the country really needs.  She challenges and confronts the interests of the financial parasite class far more openly than most.  There are few politicians whose influence Wall Street has tried so desperately to obstruct.  She's our best realistic hope to actually do something about the problem of skyrocketing inequality instead of just wringing hands about it.

The intuitive argument against Warren -- that middle America won't elect a Harvard professor with only one Senate term's experience in politics -- is refuted by the current President.  A more substantive objection is that she might be too radical to win.  Hard-right Republicans regularly delude themselves that extremist candidates whom they personally like, such as Santorum or Bachmann, are far more electable than is actually the case.  We have to beware the same danger on our own side.  On the core issues of inequality and the devastation wrought by unconstrained capitalism, much of the country is not yet aware and awake.

But it could be made aware and awake.  Ultimately these problems cannot be solved until it is.  The scandalous growth of inequality, and the unequal distribution of income gains, over the last couple of decades should have been enough alarm to awaken the dead.  Senator Bernie Sanders has done a sterling job of focusing on these issues, but he is only one voice.  What if the Democratic party had joined in spreading the message?  What if it begins to do so?  The last few years have seen an actual test of conservative-style austerity policies in most of the European Union vs. stimulus policy (however weakened by Republican obstruction) in the US, and the contrast in results is as clear as can be.  The Democratic party has not clearly and forcefully articulated this fact.  It should.  If Warren were our nominee in 2016, it would have to, for the campaign would naturally focus in her signature issues.

It would be a big gamble.  We'd be accepting a greater risk of defeat in exchange for a much greater pay-off if we won.  It's a gamble which, in my judgment, we should take only if the risk of defeat is still minimal.  For make no mistake -- a 2016 win by a Republican, any Republican, would be a disaster (see for example the Supreme Court issue, and don't forget the Republican base).  The first priority has to be to make sure this does not happen.

How much the risk can be minimized depends on the mood of the electorate in 2016, and on what the Republicans do.  If for whatever reason the Republicans look formidable, we'd be wiser to choose a "safe" candidate like Biden who would capably carry forward Obama's work.  But if the economy is much improved and Obamacare is an acknowledged success, and/or the Republicans nominate an unelectable extremist and/or end up hopelessly divided from their primary battle, then yes, go for the gold and nominate Warren.

05 August 2013

Video of the day -- Europe's great structures

Use fullscreen -- it's worth it.

04 August 2013

Link round-up for 4 August 2013

The Vatican clarifies the Pope's remarks on gays.

Here's the next step for voter-ID requirements.

Gamer Lauren built a Portal-themed bedroom, with impressive results.

It's time to use profiling against the thugs behind urban crime.

President Nixon assesses Archie Bunker and that fag Aristotle.

Take the autism test (I scored 26).

Thinking of getting a Chinese-character tattoo?  Read this blog.

Ignoring trolls may not be the best strategy.

Anthony Weiner's campaign descends further into farce.

Stopped by a cop?  Keep an eye on your food.

Expected attendance at a fundie "ex-gay" rally in Washington:  "thousands".  Actual attendance:  fewer than ten.

There's a reason why some states are blue and others red (found via Squatlo Rant).

Racists blame the usual "villains" for that mixed-race-family Cheerios ad.

The Republican base thinks the party isn't bonkers enough yet.  But don't worry, the nihilist cavalry is on its way.

Can education thrive when the ignorant are allowed to influence it?

Not even death fazes the bigotry of Linda Harvey.

Lady Atheist has a round-up on Ball State and intelligent design.

This book looks entertaining.

That police visit to a family that had internet-searched "pressure cooker" and "backpack" resulted from a tip-off from an employer, not from Google or the NSA.

American voters support stand-your-ground laws, 53%-to-40% (see also the rest of the poll, which is mostly good news for Democrats)

Sick of those nauseating stickers with the word COEXIST written in religious symbols?  Check out this version.

ERM's environmental-impact study for the Keystone XL pipeline is hopelessly tainted.

Bachmann's PAC spends money oddly.

Josh Powell and his eleven siblings struggle to overcome the effects of Christian home-schooling.

Americans now support gay marriage by double-digit margins.

Republicans are so disorganized that they can't even manage a civil war.  But the teabaggers are willing to give it a try.

Canadian conservatives' outreach to the blind leaves something to be desired.

Nahla Mahmoud is the latest person to be threatened with death by religious crazies.

US bartenders protest Russia's anti-gay laws, but may not be choosing the best target.  The Olympics offer another opportunity.

The Russian Orthodox Church has released a video game where the object is to kill members of a punk band the Church disapproves of.

Uruguay is on the verge of legalizing marijuana.

Here's the latest Iranian rebellion against stifling theocracy -- sex parties.

Following Egypt, Tunisians are on the verge of revolt against their Islamist government.

Nepal's government tries to get control of the mess climbers have made of Mount Everest.  Those climbers who failed.....are still there.

Inca child sacrifices were doped up for weeks before being killed.

Taking advantage of disorder, tomb raiders plunder Egypt's ancient sites.

Miami could be under water in less than 30 years.

Careful your house doesn't get haunted over the internet.

Meet the pyrosome -- jet-propelled, up to 60 feet long, a colony of clones.

Artificial intelligence is a critical emerging technology.

Brain interfacing now allows a human to control the body of a rat.

02 August 2013

Is the Christian Right still a threat?

There's no longer any doubt that our side is winning the culture wars.  Last year's election saw gay marriage approved by referendum in several states.  The rapid increase in the non-religious proportion of the US population has, if anything, accelerated (the figure now stands at about 20%), and acceptance of evolution is rising along with it.  Recent votes to legalize gay marriage in France and Britain and even some Latin American countries, and abortion in Ireland (!), show that the trend extends well beyond just the US.  The enemy, like a dinosaur beginning to apprehend its impending extinction, gazes around at a rapidly-changing world in bewilderment and fear.

So -- is it time to declare victory and stop worrying?

I urge caution.  To begin with, these setbacks have not made the Christian Right moderate its goals at all.  Recent tentative suggestions from the Republican party establishment that the party should curb its hostility to gay marriage, for example, triggered a forceful backlash from the rank-and-file base (which largely consists of the Christian Right), given voice by major figures such as Mike Huckabee.  Any hint of compromise on abortion remains taboo for the party; the barrage of high-profile attacks on it continues, most recently in Texas and North Dakota.  Republican politicians know who their core supporters are.

The US Christian Right has also shown its true colors in its activities overseas.  It has supported vicious anti-gay extremism in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa (Republic of Gilead blog has tracked this in detail, for example here and here), and in other countries such as Belize.  Most recently it has found a soft spot for the Putin regime in Russia, which has cozied up to the Russian Orthodox Church by enacting a series of anti-gay measures.  Comments by some Christian Right leaders involved in these efforts have made it clear that they dream of someday imposing similar policies in the US, if only it were possible.

But will they ever get the chance?  Aren't they clearly in the minority now, and simply too weak to force their will on the country?

As I pointed out two years ago, there are scenarios in which the Christian Right could impose its rule even though it is in the minority.  It dominates one of our two major political parties, and uses that dominance to push its agenda at the state level in states where Republicans are in power, as the campaign of anti-abortion laws shows.  At the moment, they seem unlikely to be able to achieve the same thing on the federal level.  Some polls show next year's Congressional elections alarmingly close, but there's some good news for our side too, and the Republican party has a track record of sabotaging itself with gaffes and un-serious candidates (Akin, Mourdock, O'Donnell, etc.).  2016 is a long way off yet, but polls show Hillary Clinton trouncing any Republican challenger, with the possible exception of Christie.

The de facto situation is that the political power of the Christian Right is determined by the electoral success of the Republican party, and that party remains in trouble due to its incompetence, its inability to adapt to demographic changes, and the very fact of its subservience to increasingly-unpopular religious extremists.

But there is one credible scenario in which all that could change -- a really major economic crash.  Such events have a way of driving people into the arms of demagogues who offer simple solutions and point the finger at scapegoats.  The Great Depression helped bring fascists to power in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, and prolonged economic misery (caused, please note, mainly by the kind of austerity policies that conservatives advocate everywhere, including here) is encouraging extremist movements there even today.

Author Frederic Rich recently issued a warning in the form of an "alternate history" novel titled Christian Nation, set in an America in which McCain won the 2008 election and then died, allowing Palin to become President.  He does not envisage Palin single-handedly imposing a theocracy (an implausible scenario); rather, conservative economic policies would have deepened the recession, creating conditions for extremism to take hold, while two Supreme Court appointments made by Palin rather than Obama would have neutralized Constitutional obstacles to fundamentalist rule.  Watch him here:

If you consider that an economic crash is probably the Republicans' only real chance at returning to national power anytime soon, their behavior in Congress makes much more sense -- staging histrionic confrontations over the debt ceiling, threatening a government shutdown, sabotaging Obamacare, demanding cuts in benefits spending amid a still-weak recovery, etc. would be perfectly rational tactics if the intent were to damage the economy as much as possible in the hope that Democrats would be blamed and voted out of office.

They are unlikely to succeed.  In four and a half years they have weakened the recovery, but have not managed to kill it.  Obama seems more savvy in dealing with them than he was earlier in his Presidency, and a small bloc of less-radical Republicans willing to compromise on at least some issues has emerged.  Then, too, even success could backfire; polls have shown that more voters would blame Republicans than Democrats if, say, the debt-ceiling brinkmanship really damaged the country.

But the fact remains -- in a two-party system, the "out" party is likely to regain power at some point.  We won't really be able to declare the threat of theocracy to be decisively defeated until the Christian Right loses its dominance within the Republican party -- and there is little sign yet of that happening.