30 December 2012

Link round-up for 30 December 2012

Murr Brewster has a book out.

Here's an interesting comparison of the Star Trek Enterprises and the real ships of the same name (found via Mendip).

The misogynist MRA movement celebrates a year of triumphs.

Check out HR Giger's Tarot of the Underworld.

This lawn display isn't racist, no siree, not at all.

Look at this carpet, and imagine the lungs.

What if all the time and energy wasted on prayer was spent on actually doing things?

Teabaggerdom lurches toward civil war.

An Oregon woman finds a plea for help in her Halloween decorations.

Joe Hagan reports from National Review's entertainingly mournful post-election cruise.

Are football fans really this bad?

Mark "Appalachian Trail" Sanford wants to get back into politics.

An anti-gun protest in Denver draws meager turn-out.

Religious nutters are now trying to conflate abortion and Aztec human sacrifice.

In the HSBC case, American justice openly acknowledges that the financial parasite class is exempt from the rules that apply to the rest of us.

The Republican narrative of the last few years is nothing but a series of myths.

A news website posts full names and addresses of all gun permit holders in two New York counties (which will of course create an incentive to skip getting a permit and own guns illegally); in retaliation, other sites have posted personal information on the site's publisher, editor, and others.

IHEU has issued a report on discrimination against non-religious people (sent by Leslie Parsley).

As austerity policies continue to cripple southern Europe, Spanish mothers raise money themselves for a school bus.

Here's the Gandhi quote that Facebook doesn't want you to see.

A giant aquarium in a Shanghai mall bursts open without warning.

Indian blogger Avicenna posts an impassioned denunciation of his country's epidemic of rape.

Swaziland's government idiotically tries to reduce rape by banning miniskirts.

Bilingual brains function better -- and are more resistant to Alzheimer's.

George Dvorsky looks at technological breakthroughs of 2012, of which the most significant is brain implants that improve mental function in monkeys.

28 December 2012

Video of the day -- Необыкновенная

25 December 2012

War on Christmas?

Atheists are sometimes accused of waging a "war on Christmas".  My question is why any knowledgeable atheist would bother.  Nothing about Christmas has anything to do with Jesus or Christianity.

The concept of December 25 as the birthday of a god originates with the cult of Mithra (depicted above), the ancient Persian god of light and wisdom.  Mithra's cult dates back to at least 1450 BC, but became much more widespread after it was absorbed by Zoroastrianism and carried all over the Middle East by the expansion of the Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC.  Later Mithraism became popular in the Roman Empire, with the name being Latinized as "Mithras"; the god was also known as Sol Invictus, the "Unconquered Sun".  For the first few centuries of Christianity, several different dates around the year were celebrated as Jesus's birthday (the Gospels do not assign a date, though they make it fairly obvious that the birth did not happen in the winter).  Eventually Mithra's established birthday was assigned to Jesus in order to Christianize the date and celebrations which were already popular throughout the Roman domain.  Some parts of the ancient Persian story of Mithra's birth, such as the three wise men, were also assimilated into Christian mythology.

The gift-giving and revelry we associate with Christmas comes from the pagan Roman festival of Saturnalia, which was celebrated from December 17 through 23.  After the triumph of Christianity, these practices became associated with Christmas simply because of the proximity of the two events on the calendar.  Another feature of Saturnalia was social role reversal in which, for example, slaves were seated in places of honor at meals, while their masters waited on them.  It's too bad this practice didn't also survive as part of Christmas; it's interesting to imagine what it might look like in our present-day society.

Other trappings of modern Christmas, such as Santa Claus, the Yule log, and Christmas trees, were derived much later from Germanic paganism.  Santa Claus may even be partly based on the Germanic god Odin.

So we're talking about an ancient Persian holiday with celebrations based on an ancient pagan Roman festival with some pagan Germanic imagery added on.  There's no connection with Christianity except an arbitrary glomming on to the date as Jesus's birthday in late Roman times, which has no basis in the Gospels or in anything else.  Christmas means nothing to me, but I see no reason why anyone would wage a "war" on it, because there is nothing Christian about it.

23 December 2012

Link round-up for 23 December 2012

Deity Shmeity has some cool nativity scenes.

Here are some snowflakes up close.

Chip-on-the-shoulder Christians have soured Christmas.

If you work in Iowa, you can be fired for being hot.

Betty Bowers has some advice for the Westboro Baptist Church.

Tony Kushner took a lot of trouble with the language of Lincoln.

If God really existed, what would be the point of prayer?

SEB dissects a stupid Christian e-mail.

"New Atheist" should be a title of honor.

This guy is weirdly, and sadly, obsessed with black people.

Republicans alienate yet another key voting bloc -- single women.

A German reporter infiltrates the US Christian Right.

Conservative football fans react to Obama's Sandy Hook speech.

President Clinton favored police guards in schools in 2000.

The evidence shows that violent video games are not a cause of real-world violence.  Remember Roger Ebert's wise words.

"Register-Her" is the latest MRA scheme to intimidate and silence women.

How do taxes under Obama compare with those under Reagan?

The moral basis of Christianity is odious.

The teabagger right wing has little-known Islamic connections.

CEOs find there's a price to pay for trashing employees' rights under Obamacare.

Should Christians give up the fight against gay marriage?

45% of Georgia conservatives favor treason.

Christianity's misogyny follows naturally from the Bible.

Andrew Sullivan is staggered by Congressional Republicans' nihilistic extremism.  Bruce Bartlett (himself a conservative) thinks they're simply nuts.

Is a secular right wing still possible in the United States?

"Insourcing" is the new word in globalization.

Here's a lot you never knew about the Netherlands.

What is life like in the world's happiest country?

Despite the Arab spring, censorship remains a threat.  Turkey's Islamist government is freaking out over the Simpsons (found via Mendip).

Polio-vaccination workers in Pakistan are being murdered by religious fanatics.  More here (found via Lady Atheist).

Women professionals in Pakistan face systematic harassment.

Also in Pakistan, a mob murders a mentally-ill man who had burned a Koran.

The US Christian Right cheers on Uganda's murderous anti-gay law.

Everyone who still thinks China will displace the US as the world's leading power needs to read this story of how business in that country really works.  The majority of China's rich people are planning or considering emigration.

Neptune is big.  And some of Mercury is cold.

Global temperatures are rising in line with IPCC projections -- but the sea level is rising faster.

We should study the immortal jellyfish -- German scientists are studying the immortal hydra.

22 December 2012

Christmas shopping

Some people aren't so easy to shop for, but one can always find something.....

For Mitt Romney:  a custom carrier crate in which he can ride on top of the car for his next long-distance trip (Big Bird will drive).

For Paul Ryan:  a list of local charities which could use some help actually washing their dishes.

For ideological purists right and left:  tickets to Lincoln.

For the atheist community:  something valuable we thought we'd lost -- Jen McCreight (yes, she's back to blogging).

For Ron Paul supporters:  no, I'm not getting them anything, I want some of whatever they've been smoking all these years they believed he really had a chance of becoming President.

For Todd "legitimate rape" Akin:  a textbook on basic biology (I ordered them in bulk since so many Republicans these days seem to need them).

For those Michigan Republicans who clutch their pearls and faint at the word "vagina":  this song.

For those traveling by air this Christmas:  another song.

For the Democratic party:  $560 -- that's the actual total I donated to political campaigns this year, and it was worth every cent.

21 December 2012

What the NRA gets right -- and wrong

The NRA press conference today proposed that American schools could be made safer by equipping them with armed and trained security guards.  They're right, as far as this goes.

Israel does this.  School security is a serious concern in Israel, given the constant threat of Islamic fanatics who would like nothing better than to carry out a mass slaughter of Jewish children, and who are often better armed, trained, and motivated than the mental cases who periodically attack schools in the US.  Armed guards seem to work.

They also seem to work where we in the US use them, at places we're actually serious about protecting, such as banks and some government buildings.  They don't create an armed-camp atmosphere or an increased level of danger.  And notice that almost all mass shootings in the US happen in places that are designated gun-free zones, not in places that do have armed guards.  Even mental cases know they can kill far more people in places where there will be no effective resistance until the police can arrive from some distance away.

Opponents of armed self-defense in Newtown-like scenarios seem to imagine that it would result in some sort of random crossfire which would kill even more people.  This would certainly not be the case with properly-trained guards.  Adam Lanza killed 26 people at the school, shooting most of them multiple times.  There is no plausible scenario in which a trained guard shooting Lanza as soon as he started his attack would not have resulted in a much lower death toll.  Even a poorly-trained civilian shooting back at Lanza -- yes, even if that civilian accidentally hit one or two innocent people -- would probably have resulted in a much lower net number of deaths.  Perhaps more to the point, Lanza would have been unlikely to attempt his attack in a venue where he knew he himself would be shot as soon as he began.

There is, of course, another side to security in Israel.  From the link above:

In Israel, no one carries a weapon without the Israel Ministry of Defense knowing about it. The person carrying the gun or assault weapon has gone through a security background check, trained in the use of gun safety and is registered with either the Israel Defense Forces or the police that he bears a weapon.

I've always been dubious about gun control.  It was easy to get alcohol during prohibition and it is easy to get marijuana now, and that's in the face of a total ban, not merely laws to restrict access.  No gun control law would have kept Lanza from getting hold of the weapons he used; they were owned by his mother whom he also murdered.  We probably should implement stricter background checks and broaden the categories of people who cannot legally carry guns, but we shouldn't expect this to have much actual effect.  In the US, a person who is determined to get a gun and doesn't mind breaking the law will always be able to get one.

Finally, the NRA's LaPierre is not only wrong but despicable in blaming violent movies and music videos for the problem.  Tens of millions of people enjoy such entertainment without becoming violent.  If violence portrayed in entertainment led to violence in society, Japan would be the most crime-saturated country in the world; it's actually close to being the most crime-free.  Hunter-gatherer societies suffer staggering rates of murder and other violence without violent entertainment (or guns).

There are other countries where gun ownership is widespread, yet gun violence is rare.  The reasons seem to be a matter of culture rather than law.  Changing culture is, unfortunately, much more difficult than changing laws, but a more compassionate and supportive culture would have benefits far beyond a reduction in violence.  We really ought to give it a try.

20 December 2012

Video of the day -- does the universe have a purpose?

Found via Lady Atheist.

16 December 2012

Link round-up for 16 December 2012

Lady Atheist has a list of non-theistic charities you can donate to.

Here's how we know Beantor is real.

Murr Brewster looks at ancient wisdom and the Mayans.

Blonde Nonbeliever looks at the five stages of atheism -- with cats!

What would Jesus do?

If you rob a bank, you probably shouldn't brag about it in front of the entire planet.

Follow the example of President Adams -- and President Lincoln.

Some jobs just aren't worth applying for.

Nov. 6 was a good day.

Here's our battle plan for the War on Christmas.

What would comic-book art look like if it pandered to female sexuality?

Stonekettle Station knows you can't reason with crazy people.  Green Eagle finds as much crazy on the right as ever.

How dumb are fundies?  Dumb enough to fall for this.  And one in three Americans is this dumb.

California judge Derek Johnson sounds like he could have a future as a Republican politician.

Yes, there have been atheist artists.

Somebody's come out with a "gay-friendly" version of the Bible (see my comment on the post).

You might be a socialist!

What can Romney do now to keep himself occupied?

Massachusetts achieves world-class educational standards; it's also among our least-religious states.  We should also look at Finland.

A simple chart illustrates what follows tax cuts on the rich.

This is austerity.

On the "fiscal cliff", Obama must stand his ground.

Republicans were craven on Benghazi.

Atheists have good reason to oppose religion (found via Reason Being).

Teabaggers vow to keep on destroying moderate Republicans.  They may already be dooming their party to lose the Governorship of Virginia.

Atheism is on the rise in Texas (found via Lady Atheist).  But it's guys like these who get the press.

Right-wingers wrong again: repealing DADT didn't hurt military recruitment or retention.

How many DNA labs are run by nuts like this?

For the first time in two decades, Russia's population is growing even without taking immigration into account.

Lady Gaga speaks out against bigotry in Russia -- and a silly lawsuit gets thrown out.

Is Egypt's Muslim brotherhood paying mobs to sexually assault women protesters?

2012 will be the warmest year on record in the US.

Quite a few words in English come from a surprising source.

Global warming is bringing grizzly and polar bears into contact, creating a new breed -- the pizzly.

Rosa Rubicondior looks at rabbit sex and intelligent design.

Electronic signals going directly to the retina restore a primitive level of vision for some forms of blindness.

Researchers succeed in transplanting neurons grown from stem cells and show that they boost brain function -- a step toward reversing the effects of Alzheimer's and other brain-damaging afflictions.

Apologies for the paucity of posts lately.  Things have been tough.

09 December 2012

Today's link round-up.....

.....will be delayed.  I will post it as soon as possible.

06 December 2012

Videos of the day -- the joy of editing

I'm back on line, though for a while yet I'll still have only limited time for the internet.

Here are a few videos improved by creative editing (each is NSFW in its own way).

01 December 2012

There will be no link round-up Sunday the 2nd

This weekend's link round-up is canceled due to extreme pressure of time from other activities, and because my internet access is going to be sporadic for a few days (as, indeed, it already has been for a few days).  Normal blogging will resume some time this coming week.