29 January 2014

Basic income and the technological transition

Lately there has been some renewed discussion of the concept of "basic income" -- an unconditional flat-amount regular payment from the government to each citizen, guaranteeing a minimal level of income below which no one can fall.  The Washington Post has a good discussion of the idea here.

The unconditional nature of the payments is an important part of the concept -- everyone gets the same, whether it's a homeless person or a wage employee or Mitt Romney.  This would eliminate the most persuasive conservative objection to similar but means-tested schemes -- the claim that they would create a disincentive to work since wages from a job would just replace the government income and provide little or no net benefit to the worker (such a means-tested government income is called "minimum income", a different concept from "basic income").  If the basic income is $20,000 per year and you get a job paying $10,000 a year, your government check is not reduced; the job income is simply added on top of it, bringing your total income to $30,000 a year.  The incentive to work is still there; only the threat of abject poverty is removed.

Basic income has the advantage of simplicity.  Means-tested payments require rules, enforcement mechanisms, and a Byzantine bureaucratic system to administer same, greatly increasing the cost of the program.  A small-scale test of unconditional payments in London in 2009 yielded encouraging results.

It's highly absurd, of course, to imagine basic income getting through today's teabagger-behostaged Congress, but at some point in the future when the Republican party is either reduced to insignificance or purged of extremists, it's not impossible that moderate conservatives could be brought on board.  President Nixon's 1969 FAP proposal and Milton Friedman's earlier negative income tax idea show that such ideas have not always been anathema on the right.  One red state, Alaska, already has basic income at a low level.  The low administrative costs of an unconditional system would be something of a selling point.

Basic income at a reasonable level would require far higher tax revenues, of course.  With today's Republican party, this is a non-starter; if and when we get around to seriously addressing the problem of skyrocketing inequality, it will be a feature rather than a bug.

Basic income would also help us address another issue which most people are only just beginning to understand -- the technological transition of the economy.  For decades now, jobs at the lower end of the skill scale have been drying up as automation either replaces human workers or makes processes so efficient that fewer workers are needed to produce the same output.  And the trend is escalating.  Our main response has been to push for broader access to education so that more people can do the remaining more-skilled jobs.  Education is a good thing in itself, but as a response to the automation of work, this fundamentally misses the point.  Technological progress is accelerating relentlessly, and the rate at which more and more kinds of work can be done more efficiently by machines than by people is accelerating too.  It's been estimated that 45% of the jobs that exist today will be automated out of existence in the next 20 years -- in reality, I expect the process to be even faster than that -- and it won't stop there.

The logical end point is a society where almost all production of wealth is done by machines, without any need for human labor.  (Eric Drexler's concept of molecular manufacturing is a single, possibly-feasible technology which could get us to that point all by itself.)  It would be the embodiment of what has traditionally been proclaimed impossible -- the free lunch, a society where everyone consumes but no one produces.

Our current model, based on production of wealth by human labor in exchange for pay, works.  The future model, where production of wealth is done by machines and distribution of wealth is done by some means independent of labor (which no longer exists) will also work.  The problem is managing the transition from one to the other.  Unemployment will have to be made less catastrophic as it becomes inevitable for more and more people on the way to becoming a social norm.  Mystical concepts about the "dignity of labor" and the stigma of living without working will have to be swept away.

Basic income would be an ideal mechanism for managing the transition.  Even if it starts off as an anti-poverty measure, it would normalize the concept of income independent of work.  As ever more workers are no longer able to find conventional jobs due to automation, basic income will become more politically popular and entrenched and make up a growing share of the economy.  As we reach the end of the transition and traditional work becomes obsolete, it will be able to evolve into a system for distributing the wealth whose production has become decoupled from human activity.

It's important not to give up thinking about basic income just because it's politically impossible today.  Accelerating technological progress will always be with us.  The teabaggers won't.

26 January 2014

Link round-up for 26 January 2014

"They stamp them when they're small."  And this hardened criminal may get off.

Here are some realistic action toys.

One participant in this spam e-mail campaign was a refrigerator (found via Mendip, who echoes Dave Lister).

Sometimes Jim Goad hits one out of the park.  He's done so here, on "fat acceptance".

Robert Marucci, 18, got a job to help out with family expenses.  Why did his school try to punish him?

Women fight back against the scourge of football.

Keep talking, Huckabee.  Actually, all of you.  Including Ted Nugent.  And these guys.  But Scott Walker's record speaks for itself.

Two simple photos highlight California's drought.

Need more iron?  Eat a skillet (well, in moderation).

Bitcoin is designed to reflect the libertarian agenda (found via Critiques of Libertarianism).  Or maybe it's a groping agenda.

Christianity is driving away the young (and judging by the comments, it's gonna keep happening).

There's more to Christie than Bridgegate.

Mark Zmuda, the teacher fired from a Catholic school for marrying his gay partner, will not be re-hired.

The private contractor that does background checks on prospective NSA employees has been faking them.

Teabaggers are out for blood -- moderate Republican blood -- and they're dragging the party to its doom.

Lisa Kerr explains why she's no longer a Christian (found via Republic of Gilead).

Do Republicans want another debt-ceiling fight?  Booman thinks he knows what's going on.

More "knockout" attacks, in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Democrats may be going populist after all.  One issue they can use is gay marriage.

One is legal, the other is not.

Brains and Eggs looks at the latest attacks on Wendy Davis.

The 2014 "March for Life" was a 100% religious event (found via Republic of Gilead).

Elections have consequences.

More Catholic evil comes to light in Chicago.

A Nebraska atheist wants to close a tax loophole.

Martin Luther King ended a reign of terror (found via Progressive Eruptions).

This is how Fox does polls.

A Canadian court ruling offers a chance to do prostitution laws better.

Think you can "cure" gays?  Take Dr. Jessen's challenge (found via Republic of Gilead).

In Britain, a more secular society than the US, the head of the Association for Science Education is free to tell it like it is.

Why has Europe's economic recovery been so much weaker than ours?  Deep cuts in government spending.

Here are ten popular myths about World War I.

The UN calls the Vatican to account.

The struggle in Ukraine is heating up as the government loses control.  Photos here, a strange case of police brutality here, my background overview here.

Elton John speaks out for Russian gays who are no longer allowed to speak for themselves.

The Putin Olympics are shaping up to be an epic fiascoThe terrorist threat is real, but the security is overkill.

Some Senate Democrats are pushing back against attempted sabotage of the Iran deal.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood continues to fight the secular military government.

A tribal court in India metes out traditional justice. Indian women may prefer this option.

In Pakistan, a mentally-ill man has been sentenced to death for blasphemy.  Terrorists are targeting a polio vaccination drive there (but note that an earlier CIA operation had already damaged the credibility of such projects).

A Japanese airline ran a racist ad with a difference.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard looks at the dangerous state of China's banking system.  Some of the best-connected are already keeping their money outside the country.

Nigeria's new anti-gay law provokes opposition, but also support from Western Christians (see comments).

Gays are sick -- just like, you know, witches (found via Republic of Gilead).

The lost, rat-infested Lyubov Orlova won't be easy to find.

2013 was tied for fourth-hottest year on record.  Since scientific record-keeping began 134 years ago, 9 of the 10 hottest years were in the 21st century.  Obviously, gays are the problem.  Not this guy.

Richard Dawkins has some advice for Bill Nye, worth reading for anyone.

Elephant behavior is so sophisticated that it probably qualifies as being culture.

Signs of water, and a possible ocean, appear in an unexpected place in the solar system.

25 January 2014

Videos of the day -- and now for the news

Delivered by professional journalists:

Honest mistakes or accidents are one thing, but then there's the issue of misplaced priorities:

22 January 2014

The moral bankruptcy of deathism

As research related to life extension has progressed and the concept has begun to register with the mass public mind, we increasingly face objections arguing not that we can't achieve it, but that we shouldn't.  The stated grounds for this usually consist of a handful of clichés repeated over and over (overpopulation, boredom, cultural stagnation, only the rich will benefit, etc.), and the substance of all these has already been addressed (so please read this and especially this before posting negativity in the comments).  But as with objections to other innovations such as gay marriage, it often seems that the stated deathist objections are a mask for something deeper and unthought, a visceral recoiling from the unfamiliar.  That's what I want to address here.

Technological innovation has often met with resistance.  Religionists in colonial times denounced Ben Franklin's invention of the lightning rod as impious because lightning bolts were instruments of God's judgment and should not be warded off.  19th-century moralists objected to the use of anesthesia in childbirth, quoting the Bible to the effect that the pain was part of God's punishment for original sin.  Their 20th-century successors condemned the first antibiotic treatment for syphilis for promoting sexual "immorality" by removing one of the consequences (there have even been such objections to research into an AIDS cure), and attacked birth-control pills on similar grounds.  In-vitro fertilization, therapeutic cloning, stem-cell research, and other medical innovations of recent times have met with the same agitated yammering about going against nature or violating "God's plan", which is basically the same thing expressed in religious terms.  The objections to anti-aging research are just the latest incarnation of the same old mentality.

Another tack some people take is to insist that they personally would not want to extend their lives indefinitely.  I doubt this -- very few people, in practice, refuse an opportunity to save their own lives when death is staring them in the face -- but even if they're telling the truth, it's perfectly irrelevant to the larger issue of whether research in the field should keep going.  Even when radical life extension becomes a reality, anyone who seriously objects to the idea will be free to refuse whatever therapies are involved, just as adults today are free to refuse blood transfusions or other medical treatments to which they object on whatever grounds.  The fact that some people and religious sects have such objections is not a basis for arguing that blood transfusion should not have been invented.

And this is the key point:  the deathist moral position is an abominable one.  It boils down to saying that I need to die because of your visceral discomfiture with something.  If you try to obstruct the research that could someday save me from dying of old age, you are no different than the religious moralist who argues against AIDS research on the grounds that homosexuals deserve to die for their sins (the analogy is a good fit -- I've previously discussed the similarity between aging and AIDS).  The anti-life-extension position is not merely wrong, it is outrageous and disgusting, a call for genocide by inaction.

Consider, too, that radical life extension will not arrive in the form of a single magic pill at a specific moment which will present everyone with a stark choice.  There will just be a steady, accelerating arrival of therapies for the various forms of deterioration which make up the aging process, and these therapies will be improved over time.  An example would be last year's development of NAD treatment to reverse muscular aging (the results achieved in mice were equivalent to restoring the muscle system of a 60-year-old human to the condition of a 20-year-old), which may start testing on humans this year.

Indeed, we're already quite some ways down this road.  During the 20th century, life expectancy at birth in developed countries roughly doubled, from about 40 years to about 80, due to vaccines, antibiotics, and various other innovations.  All the clichéd objections that are now made to radical life extension -- overpopulation, cultural stagnation due to having too many old people around, widening the gap between rich and poor countries, etc. -- could just as easily have been made in 1900 against these achievements.  But it would be an audacious deathist indeed who would argue today that we should not have invented vaccines, or should stop using them now.  The coming advances which will extend an individual's youthful life to centuries and eventually millennia are essentially a continuation and acceleration of the same trend.

Aubrey de Grey said it best.  Aging kills over 50 million people a year.  Will the eradication of aging cause problems?  Obviously it will.  Will it cause any problems as bad as the death of 50 million people a year?  No, not even close.

19 January 2014

Link round-up for 19 January 2014

Behold the ladies and gentlemen of Reddit.

Kids' games in the old days were -- different.

Add a touch of Stygian horror and madness to your tea break (found via Mendip).

Sir, are you wearing action pants?

Here's some more goofy, all-over-the-place right-wing "thinking" (found via Republic of Gilead).

Rosa Rubicondior reviews myths about evolution.  Bookmark this one -- it covers a lot of the standard creationist talking points and why they're wrong.

In economic inequality, the US now ranks dead last among developed countries.

Duck Dynasty's ratings aren't so good.

How solid is the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming?  9,135 to 1.

Worst mailing-address error ever.

Alexandria VA addresses some very out-of-date laws (sent by Mendip).

Todd Akin wasn't the worst. And here's the next guy.

This DC cop has his own business on the side.

The nutcases are the problem.

After five years of Obama, what has changed?

Here's why you can't trust Amazon ratings.

Anti-marijuana laws are rooted in racism.

Eben Alexander's out-of-body experience isn't so convincing.

Free-market dogma is just a scam where corporate accountability is concerned.

Lax regulation played a role in the West Virginia chemical disaster.  Bad regulation in California is driving an industry out of the state.

Here are some things you should know about GMO foods.

Racism is despicable no matter what the source.

Public opinion in Utah is evenly split on gay marriage.  Meanwhile, Louie Gohmert is still an idiot.

Not just abortion -- Wendy Davis has ideas for reforming education in Texas.  Or, you could vote for Theresa Thombs.  "Responsive Ed" is the creationists' latest scam.

They gave up their guns too.

Wisconsin Republicans make another move to trash workers' rights, while those in Tennessee attack ACA users and those in North Carolina raise taxes on the poor so they can cut them for the rich.  This guy is just fighting for faith healers to keep on killing kids.

In another election year, it needs to be said again -- don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Rapist released after 10 months, guy who helped catch him gets 10 years.  But this sentence seems about right.

With Christie sinking and a new accusation, are Republicans in trouble for 2016?  Apparently so.  Some are getting desperate enough to want Romney back (no dice).  Karl Rove may disagree.

Mississippi makes a bad move on prisons.

No, Mein Kampf has not become a digital best-seller.

No, acupuncture does not work (found via Rationally Speaking).

House Republicans consider a law that could make the IRS audit rape victims -- sign here to oppose it.

The world is fat.

A patient at a privately-run nursing-home in Britain was neglected after a fall because a Muslim nurse refused to interrupt his prayers, and later died.  This asylum seeker won't cause such problems.

The guillotine used to execute three German heroes has been discovered (found via Mendip, who comments).

The Iran deal moves forward, but Cory Booker wants to help Republicans wreck it.

The alleged tomb of Muhammad is about to be destroyed -- by the Saudi regime.

The Taliban try to use an 8-year-old girl as a suicide bomber.

Here's a Hindu contribution to medical science.

While everyone focuses on Uganda, gays in Nigeria are being arrested and flogged -- and read this story from neighboring Cameroon.

Reminder -- if you link to my blog posts, please read this.

17 January 2014

Videos of the day -- tlhIngan Hol

You haven't been properly "Rick rolled" until you've heard it in the original Klingon.

I never "got" the "gangnam" fad, but I like this version a lot more than the original.

14 January 2014

No compromise on separation of church and state

First Amendment purists such as myself are sometimes accused of overzealousness and giving atheism a bad name.  What does it really matter if some town in Mississippi puts a nativity scene on the grounds of its town hall, or if school authorities in some public school sanction a brief prayer?  Don't we look petty, filing lawsuits to squelch such trifles?

This link from my most recent link round-up illustrates why we can't just let such cases slide.  It concerns the case in Oklahoma City where state legislators, flagrantly defying the First Amendment, voted in 2009 to allow a Ten Commandments monument to be placed on the grounds of the state capitol.  A Satanist group has now applied to place a tasteful and educational monument of its own (illustrated above) on the site as well, arguing that a privilege extended to one religion must be extended to others as well.  The legislature has stopped any further religious installations on public property pending the outcome of an ACLU lawsuit against the original Ten Commandments monument, but if the ACLU loses, they'll need to decide what to do about this.

It's in the reader comments to the article that the real issue surfaces, specifically in this comment by "Professor1982":

@tsduy - Um not all "religions" are legitimate. If you or anyone chooses to argue they are, that means there are countless events that makes the Federal Govt guilty of violating the 1st Amendment such as the ATF/FBI raid on the Branch Davidians in Waco TX. Just because someone wants to worship a head of lettuce, that doesn't mean they practice a religion.

And there you have it.  There are legitimate religions and illegitimate ones, and the government can give official recognition to the former without needing to do so for the latter.

Other commenters pounced on Professor1982 and rejected this distinction on obvious grounds, but the fact is, it can't be avoided, once we back off from the strict First Amendment position of zero church-state entanglement.  Because groups claiming to be religious will demand the same recognition legislators have given to the religion they favor, and every such claim will have to be accepted or rejected.  In other words, we'd be getting government into the business of deciding what is and is not a legitimate religion.

Now, pretty much everyone would agree that, say, Christianity is a religion and the theory of gravity is not, but the grey area is vast.  What about Satanism, or Devil-worship (they aren't the same)?  What about Mormonism, started by an obvious con man but now sincerely believed by millions?  What about Scientology?  What about small cults centered around a single charismatic figure, as the Branch Davidians were?  (Christianity and Islam started off that way, according to their own scriptures.)  What about modern religions which claim to be revivals of ancient ones, such as Wicca?  What about Santeria, Voodoo, even astrology, if someone decides to declare that a religion in hopes of getting official recognition?  What about that person who decides to worship a head of lettuce?  How are the councilors of that town in Mississippi going to decide among these?  There are people in this country who, out of sheer ignorance, can't imagine anything other than Christianity as a "religion".  There are extreme fundamentalists who consider the Catholic Church to be Satanic.

(Professor1982's reference to the Waco raid is, of course, a red herring.  Religious entities, even those of unquestioned legitimacy, are not allowed to break civil laws that apply to everybody.)

The problem could be solved by establishing an official religion and giving official sanction only to it, and of course that's the ultimate goal of the Republicans who keep trying to chip away at the First Amendment in Oklahoma and elsewhere.  But this would never pass Constitutional muster, being the most clear-cut example of what the First Amendment was specifically written to prevent.  If it somehow did, the United States as we've always known it would be over.

There's no way around it.  If local governments are allowed to get away with seemingly minor and innocuous endorsements of religion, we can't avoid having those same governments decide which religions are "real" ones, entitled to such endorsements, and which are not.  Once such decisions are made and legitimized, even for trivial cases like who gets to put a nativity display (or equivalent) on public property, they'll be cited as precedents in more serious cases.  We can't let that happen.

On the matter of atheists supposedly being too aggressive and "giving atheism a bad name", I'll close with my favorite Pat Condell video, which addresses that issue so clearly and forcefully:

13 January 2014

Video of the day -- Christianity is unworkable

One of my objections to Christianity is that actually practicing it the way Jesus clearly defined it would mean being defenseless in a dangerous world -- suicidally so.  Bill Maher used the assassination of bin Laden to make the point.

12 January 2014

Link round-up for 12 January 2014

Forbidden loves:  A British train passenger attempts sex with a drinks trolley (found via Mendip), while this American prefers doggie style.

TSA thermal imaging captures a gas attack at an airport.

Pleasure yourself with a camel.

Woo, I'm marking my calendar and maybe going for a drink in the meantime.  And who the hell invited this guy to the wedding? (all three found via Mendip).

Ice transforms Michigan lighthouses into otherworldly apparitions.

Here's the story of one little girl and marijuana (found via Progressive Eruptions).

Watch raw video of a meth-fueled thrill ride in a stolen Oregon police car.

"Knockout" may have reached the west coast.  Ranch Chimp sees the thugs as playing with fire.

Funny how meritocracy works.

Fundamentalism's rejection of evolution drives away the educated, but some still see it as a winning political strategy -- even though it's just taken a loss in Texas.

Welcome to conservative paradise.

Medical insurers are at it again.

This statue looks much classier than some boring Ten Commandments monument.

Booman talks sense on unemployment benefits.

Mendip suggests three must-see historical sites in the DC area.

Guys, be aware of this scam.

Most Americans don't realize Obama has reduced the deficit.

Stop cheering for Pope Francis -- he's no liberal.

Bizarre wife abuse thrives in the Christian Patriarchy movement (found via Republic of Gilead).

Voting rights will be this year's big story in the South.  This nitwit will not be part of the story.

Gays didn't do so badly in 2013.

Green Eagle has another Wingnut Wrapup, with a stunning revelation about Hermann Goering.

Your tax dollars pay for meat industry propaganda.

Pastor Dave Buehner suggests an alternative to gay weddings at the Rose Bowl parade.

Frank Luntz illuminates the Republican descent into insanity.

Here are ten signs that fundamentalism is in decline in the US (found via Republic of Gilead).

Ken Ham babbles Biblically as his Noah's ark bond scheme teeters on the brink of collapse (found via Mendip).

Booman says Christie lied.  The US Attorney's Office is investigating and the scandal could mean criminal charges or even impeachment.  Here's why the story will last, and here are more examples of Christie's bullying (from Leslie Parsley).

Here's an amazingly stupid divorcee.

This lie was bad enough to deserve jail time.

Some British conservatives, at least, are more reality-based than ours.

Australia suffers a rain of dead bats (found via Mendip).

100 years ago, a city on the edge of greatness was hungry for war -- and got it.

Islamists burn a library of 80,000 rare books in Lebanon.  Another atrocity there sparks a protest against martyrdom.

It's expected that Republicans would try to sabotage the Iran deal, but some Democrats are joining in.

This restaurant in Pakistan bans one type of customer -- Pakistanis.

Most Americans are dangerously mistaken about protein.

Yes, global warming can cause colder weather, despite inevitable confusion.

09 January 2014

It hardly matters whether Christie knew

For anyone who's not up to speed on Bridgegate, TPM has a timeline, and Rachel Maddow has an excellent report:

So far, Christie's defense has been to blame his staff and claim he didn't know what they had done:

But it hardly matters whether Christie knew or not. Even if he didn’t know (and the average voter will never find that credible), it means he’s the kind of leader who creates an atmosphere in his organization where subordinates expect to get away with this kind of action or even consider it the norm.  That says almost as much about his character as if he had ordered the spiteful act himself.

And don't forget -- there's more where this came from.  Whether the bridge disruption was Christie's act or merely the act of the kind of staff he assembles, it can't be a completely isolated case.  He or his people have almost certainly done such things before (more on that here, found via Progressive Eruptions).  If the media don’t dig it all up before 2016, the Democrats will, if Christie is the Republican nominee.

Smart Republicans know that.

As a 2016 contender, Christie's finished.

The "comfort" of religion

Atheists are sometimes told that we should stop undermining religious belief because even if it's objectively false (or at least extremely unlikely to be true), it serves as a great comfort to people.  This concept amply repays serious examination, but the results are not what the religionists claim.

The obvious way that religion "comforts" people is by reassuring them that death is not really the end of their existence.  This, I suspect, is the main reason why religion has taken such deep root in the human mind for so long, and why religious people often react with such irrational resentment when it is challenged.  A little thought, however, reveals a serious danger.  Insofar as a person believes death to be less final and terrible than it actually is, he will place a correspondingly lower priority on avoiding it, which may translate into taking risks he would never otherwise take.  This is not just theoretical.  There was a period in my life when I was seriously contemplating suicide.  If I had believed that death would be followed by an afterlife, perhaps pleasanter than the present one -- well, I might very well not exist today.

More generally, false beliefs almost inevitably become dangerous if a person believes them strongly enough to act on them.  I would find it very comforting to believe that I had a million dollars in the bank, but if I genuinely believed that, and began acting as if it were true, I would quickly run into all kinds of problems which could have been avoided by accepting reality.

The danger of increased risk of death due to belief in an afterlife applies on a species-wide level as well.  The reason most humans have clung so desperately to this comforting idea for all of known history is that death was inevitable -- everyone eventually died, no matter what they did.  Now that we're on the brink of a technological solution to the problem, one of the obstacles we face is a visceral discomfort with the idea of eradicating death, rooted in that "comforting" belief that death is not so terrible after all and is, in any case, God's will.  Even many atheists have adopted a philosophical and rather bovine (and unconvincing) passivity in the face of death, as a substitute comfort belief to replace the afterlife; and this too is sometimes an obstacle, though in general a higher proportion of atheists embrace transhumanism than of the general population.

(There is one life-after-death scenario I consider somewhat plausible, but only a fool would count on this actually happening, and it has nothing to do with religion.)

Another "comfort belief" of religion is that problems in general are less urgent than they seem because there is a deity watching over us and protecting us, or because what appear to be problems are part of a divine plan.  Again, the danger inherent in such ideas is obvious -- why take concrete action against a threat if a higher power is protecting you against it anyway, or if it's all ultimately for the best?  We can see this concretely in the American fundamentalist disdain for protecting the environment -- they really believe that God won't let anything too terrible happen to us no matter how badly we damage the planetary life-support system (I've seen the story of God's rainbow promise to Noah invoked in this context), and/or that it doesn't matter anyway because Jesus is coming back soon.  People who sincerely hold such beliefs are endangering themselves -- and the rest of us who have to live on the same planet with them.

Finally, let's not forget the real purpose religion has usually served historically -- social control by elites.  Most religions don't stop at providing comforting beliefs -- they also have a priesthood of some sort which claims to know, or even to be able to influence, what sort of afterlife ordinary people will have, very often based on how submissive they are to the dictates of that same priesthood.  This confers incredible power over whole populations of dupes, without even any need for the usual uniformed thugs to enforce it.  Thus even the supposed "comfort" beliefs have in practice more often been instruments of fear and control.  And those beliefs are revealed as being not merely an error, but rather a shabby, cynical lie, fabricated to manipulate those who believe it.

06 January 2014

Video of the day -- Bill Maher on inequality

05 January 2014

Link round-up for 5 January 2014

We've had the Maya, Harold Camping, the perennial Biblical End Times, etc. -- next apocalypse up is the Viking Ragnarök on 22 February 2014 (found via Ranch Chimp).

Republicans' Kwanzaa outreach didn't go well.

Here are some offbeat Christmas quips.

Cryptocurrencies descend into farce. And does the local fire department know about this?

One of the funniest things about "white nationalists" is the endless bickering about exactly which groups qualify as "white".

Leave that odd-looking fuzzball alone (found via Mendip).

A North Carolina politician resigns in style.

Ed Brayton looks back at psychics' predictions for 2013.

There are differing views of the origin of humans.

Yawn, it's another wingnut mass uprising.

Atheists have morals.

Edward Snowden could not get a fair trial in the US.

There's a good reason why almost no scientists are Republicans (found via Progressive Eruptions).

Mormon fundamentalists are even weirder than you think.

Las Vegas is missing out on the new marriage boom.

Superstition is just harmless fun, right?

Here's some right-wingers' idea for the occasion of a new national holiday.

Fake pregnancy centers run by religious nuts thrive in Texas.

The SPLC's Morris Dees responds to Phil the Duck.

Peace on Earth?  Here's what the Bible says.

The ACA continues to help millions despite ongoing Republican lies and obstructionism.  Here's a closer look at one of the lies.

People who think evolution was "guided by God" don't understand evolution.

The Boy Scouts are doing fine.

Since their election wins in 2010, Republicans have been focusing on one thing.

December's UPS/FedEx fiasco should make us appreciate the Postal Service.

The explosion of ads is ruining journalism.

A series of "knockout" attacks in Brooklyn leads to hate-crime charges.  And are we still civilized if we allow this kind of thing to happen?

Republic of Gilead has a 2013 retrospective, while Tim McGaha looks ahead.

The "other NRA" uses its vast clout to prevent decent incomes for 13 million Americans.

Republicans act shocked at the truth about Benghazi, which everyone else knew all along, but they just can't bear to let their beloved fake scandal die.

Don't be fooled -- things are improving.

Giving free money to poor people does work.

Music lovers in the 1950s USSR came up with a spooky solution to the ban on Western pop music (found via Mendip).

Jihadists threaten all-out war against the Sochi Olympics.  I'm unsure of the veracity of this report of a Saudi connection.

What terrible luck for a family to be killed -- twice.

As the US prepares to leave Afghanistan, Islam reasserts itself.

8 million acres of Chinese farmland are too polluted to grow crops.

The Chinese regime tells its media not to report "wrong points of view".

Prominent Christians in Africa and the US praise Uganda's vicious anti-gay law.

Here are 18 science-related accomplishments of 2013 -- I posted about some of them.

[Image at top found via Lady Atheist]

04 January 2014

Videos of the day -- cryptocurrencies, going to the dogs

As the bitcoin fad fleeces one bunch of suckers after another, more and more similar "cryptocurrencies" are being created to cash in -- litecoin, feathercoin, quarkcoin, etc.  One of the most popular is dogecoin, which was actually created as a parody of bitcoin, but which has taken off partly thanks to humorous animated videos like these, featuring its "Shibe" dog logo and its not-quite-grammatical two-word mockeries of bitcointard enthusiasm:

02 January 2014

Best of the Infidel, 2013

Here's the disease, and here's the cure

Darwin Day

The brain is a machine and can interface with man-made machines

Slippery-slope arguments aren't valid

People can change -- I did!

The European Union's arrogant bullying reflects blindness to history

Death is something quite different than we imagine

What really prevented World War III?

Don't judge when you don't know enough

What makes us so different from other animals?

Theocracy will remain a threat as long as the Christian Right dominates the Republican party

Boycotting the Olympics would be the right thing to do

Ads can be fun

Scalia believes in the Devil -- maybe he's right

Condemn moderate Republicans too, not just the crazies

If it looks unreal, it probably isn't real

The culture war is world-wide (my #1 post of the year) -- Huntingdon's "clash of civilizations" model is already obsolete

Secularism has triumphed, at least in Britain

Alan Turing deserved more than a pardon, and he's not the only one

01 January 2014

2013 on the blogs

I'll have the usual "best of the Infidel" post for 2013 up soon enough -- but first, here are a few good posts from other bloggers which deserve a read if you didn't see them the first time around:

Murr Brewster's funniest post of the year dramatizes bad spelling and terrorism.

Maria Konovalenko rebukes the "ethicists" who want everybody to die.

Rosa Rubicondior takes the Mormons as an example of religious immorality -- the first sentence of this post is just perfect.

Republic of Gilead specializes in in-depth reviews of Christian Right events and propaganda efforts, but really outdid itself with this series on fundamentalist home-schooling which really gives you a look into their mind-set (the link is to the conclusion, but that includes links to the preceding segments).  Equally educational is this series on their warped concept of history.  These people exist, and they are serious.  See also this look at those who are defending reproductive freedom.

Mario Piperni calls out the arrogance of self-pitying religious homophobes.

Green Eagle has an intriguing look at the aesthetics of far-right websites and mental illness.

Faye Kane (NSFW blog) pulls no punches on the false dichotomy of intellect vs. feeling and how it messes people up.  Don't miss this equally blunt celebration of the sixties.

Lady, That's My Skull has a look at the bizarre Christian American culture which the sixties revolution swept away.

Maryam Namazie defies Islam's murderous thuggery toward those who abandon it.

Earth-Bound Misfit makes an important point about the Second Amendment in just a few words and pictures.

Swallowing the Camel surveys fake aliens -- I'm really amazed that anyone fell for these.

Butterflies and Wheels finds the Catholic Church irredeemably malignant.

Progressive Eruptions divines the Republicans' real plans for the country from what they're already doing in North Carolina.  On a pleasanter note, the next generation looks promising.

Parsley's Pics has more on North Carolina, and on Tennessee.

Lady Atheist looks at how believers become atheists (and religion's wrong ideas on the subject), and dubious claims of religion's contributions to culture.  Also read why blog ads are a bad idea.

Exercise in Futility has a take-down of Buddhism, a religion too much neglected by Western atheists.

Booman Tribune, responding to Megan McArdle, explains why the metronome metaphor isn't a good predictor of election results.

Feminisnt (mildly NSFW blog) has some observations on the relative freedom of action offered by some careers vs. others.

Stonekettle Station takes an in-depth look at Michele Bachmann.

Man Boobz fisks a crazed MRA's ludicrous paean to his own sperm, and finds a dramatic reading of same.

I'm sure there are other posts that could have been included, and all these blogs have an abundance of good ones -- but these are ones that stuck in my mind from the year.