28 September 2014

Link round-up for 28 September 2014

They could never get away with these ads nowadays.  Here's an ad that should be seen everywhere.

Smartasses make the world a bit more fun (found via Mendip).

Netflix seems to be going down the tubes.

Art beats oil companies.

I would have called this 22 Christian moments (sent by Ahab) -- how many have you experienced?

An 11-year-old girl shoots a man in Oklahoma, but you won't see this one being trumpeted by the anti-gun crowd.

Some fundie nutjob is creating a godawful Christian Right re-write of Harry Potter.

Here's a huge round-up of Republican quotes on women.

Are you mentally strong?

If you doubt that a large part of the right wing is totally nuts, read how they reported on the climate march in New York.  Maybe they're just mad that it drew so many more people than their events do.

Fundie ministries posing as pregnancy clinics use deceptive tactics, sometimes with government funding (found via Republic of Gilead).

Since 2012 Kansas has been testing right-wing tax-cut-mania in practice.  It's a failure.

New Age bullcrap is damaging a centuries-old Indian relic in Ohio (found via TYWKIWDBI).

Rabbits suffer and die, not even for food, but for fashion (and who the hell pays $15,900 for a coat, anyway?).

Here's more on the armed thugs planning to intimidate voters in Wisconsin.

Why is it so hard to believe that people can lie?

Sam Wang looks at why the margin of victory in Scotland was so much larger than polls predicted.

This is Norway (found via TYWKIWDBI).

Don't let recent barbarities in Iran undermine the normalizing of relations -- that's what the theocrats want.

Some say Muslims from the West who went to fight for ISIS/Islamic State should be allowed to return and given counseling.  Others, me among them, think differently.

The US isn't the only country where the right wing rants against the "liberal media" and pushes a warped view of history -- in Japan it's worse.

Chad votes to make homosexuality punishable by 20 years in prison.

The leader of Boko Haram may be dead, though the reports are confusing.

The CDC warns that Ebola cases could reach 1.4 million by January, while the discoverer of the virus is even more worried. The fact that a major Liberian newspaper is pushing idiot conspiracy theories isn't encouraging.  4chan has even anthropomorphized the disease as the anime goddess Ebola-chan.  The actual virus is rather less cute.

Somali Islamists enforce religious law.

This vehicle needs new tires, but it's rather a long way from the nearest tire-repair shop (NSFW blog).

Want to know how rainbows work?  Here's a thorough explanation, including a very cool graphic of how light is refracted when it hits a water droplet.

Maven will study how a world died.

Here's a good discussion of transitional forms in evolution, cutting through the nonsense creationists spread on the subject (the spectrum strip analogy is particularly useful).

[Image at top found via Progressive Eruptions.]

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Country other than the US from which I got the most page views this week:  France

24 September 2014

Blogger sentenced to death

I heard of this case via this post by Kaveh Mousavi, citing a report at the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, where you can read what's known.  An Iranian blogger, Soheil Arabi, was arrested last year for "insulting the Prophet" based on some rude things he had said about the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook.  On August 30 this year he was sentenced to death despite maintaining that he was "in poor psychological condition" when he wrote the posts, which is supposed to be a mitigating circumstance under the relevant law (you can't blame him -- if I were on trial before a bunch a religious crazies who were threatening to kill me because I'd said something they didn't like, I'd probably grasp at any available straw too).  Arabi had only three weeks to appeal the sentence, a deadline which has already passed; it's unclear whether he did actually appeal or not.

Looking for more information, I was startled to find that the case has gotten very little attention in mainstream English-language news media.  I found reports in The Independent and The Times of India (citing the original ICHRI report), the Business Standard (citing The Independent), and Israel National News.  Nothing at The Guardian, the BBC, or Al-Jazeera, though the death sentence was imposed almost a month ago.  (There were a few reports on it at fringe-right propaganda sites whose track record of hysterics about anything to do with Islam leaves them with little credibility.)  Not even posts on the major atheist blogs.  Maybe they rely too much on the MSM to tell them what's going on.

The reforms President Rouhani has carried out in many areas of Iran's governance can easily blind us to the fact that in many other ways the country remains an extremely repressive theocracy with shocking restrictions on free expression.  In particular, Rouhani has no say in the sentence passed by any given judge at a trial, just as Obama has no say over what sentence a judge passes at a criminal trial somewhere in the US.

However, even the theocracy has shown itself somewhat susceptible to embarrassment when its brutality is subject to the full glare of publicity.  The best hope for preventing Arabi's execution is to get the case as much attention as possible.

MSM websites don't exactly make it easy to ferret out how to contact them with a story you think they ought to be following, but I did find a few possibilities.  The BBC has a contact form here (scroll down).  For The Guardian the most relevant thing I could find was the e-mail for the international news desk here.  All I could find at Al-Jazeera was this.  Rather than a lengthy e-mail, the best thing to do would be to send them the ICHRI link and a brief explanation of what's going on.  If enough people write to them about the same story, maybe they'll have someone look into it.  It might also be worth trying Amnesty International.

Remember, Soheil Arabi has been sentenced to death merely for saying something that somebody else didn't like.  For any blogger, the fact that there are still places where this happens should be cause for alarm.

Update:  Mousavi reports that another, similarly monstrous execution was in fact carried out today in Iran; Mohsen Amir Aslani was put to death today for heresy.  Go ahead, click the link -- you won't believe what he was killed for.  And this killing was reported by the BBC, at least by its Persian-language service -- a fact one could cite in asking them to cover the Soheil Arabi case.

Reminder

If you want to create a link to one of my posts, do not get the link by clicking on the words "links to this post" at the lower right.  This creates a defective link which does not work properly. Get the link by clicking on the posting time (the time stamp after the words "posted by Infidel753 at"). Fuller explanation here.

21 September 2014

Video of the day -- monsters below


Sorry, readers, all this stuff is real.  For example, the colossal squid is real, complete with eyeballs up to 16 inches in diameter.  The giant isopod is real too -- here's a photo:

Check out the look on that cat's face.  I understand just how he feels.  And notice how when you put an animal fairly closely related to us humans next to one that's only very distantly related, you can tell right away which is which.

So that's what evolution does in an alien environment.  As I've said before, if we ever meet beings from another planet, I'm afraid they're not going to look like Mr. Spock or Deanna Troi.

Link round-up for 21 September 2014

The world of memes reacts to Scotland's decision (found via Mendip).

Everything is evidence of Obama's perfidy, including tiny spy robots that don't exist.  And vegetarianism is evil liberal brainwashing.

The conservative war on education just never stops.  Our best hope may be Satanists (sent by Mendip), especially if Obama is Satan.

Kaveh Mousavi reviews the book Does God Hate Women?  Certainly fundamentalists' bizarre view of relationships facilitates domestic violence.

America's 99% isn't keeping up.

I support individual soldiers' right to have and express religious beliefs, but just imagine how this video could be used by jihadists to smear Western military intervention in the Middle East as a Christianizing crusade (from Shaw Kenawe).

Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaks at Yale despite a campaign to stop her which, shamefully, some craven and cowardly atheists and liberals supported (found via Kaveh Mousavi).

A Republican laments the weakness of both teabagger and establishment candidates.

William Lane Craig exemplifies the horrifying implications of God-centered morality.

A gang of armed thugs openly plans to intimidate black voters in Wisconsin.

The Economist talks sense on prostitution, as politicians and moral busybodies go off yet another deep end.

If you think voting doesn't change anything, you're an idiot.

A planned libertarian Utopia ignominiously implodes before it even gets started.

Muslim scholars in Britain appeal to ISIS/Islamic State to release a British hostage. Muslim leaders worldwide have been condemning ISIS, even if the MSM haven't mentioned it.

Germany's Euroskeptic party shows gains in state elections.

A morbid fascination with Chernobyl inspires risky infiltrations of the site (found via Mendip).

The dancers in the "Tehran Happy" video (here) get sentenced to prison and flogging, fortunately suspended, while a blogger who "insulted the prophet" is sentenced to death.

ISIS/Islamic State tries to Islamize education in Mosul, but much of the public is defiant.

An Ebola education team is massacred in Guinea.

Here's an odd-looking critter.

The cries of babies reveal how closely related all mammals are.

Mice equipped with the human gene for language ability (yes, we can do that now) are quicker learners than other mice.

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Country other than the US from which I got the most page views this week:  France.

19 September 2014

Scotland stays in

In the end, it wasn't even close.  Scotland voted against leaving the UK by 55%-to-45%, a decisive margin much larger than the last few polls had suggested.  Turnout was startlingly high, over 85%.  The question is now settled for the foreseeable future.

Towards the end the pro-independence campaign took on an increasingly thuggish character, but this failed to intimidate people and may even have turned them off.

The land of my ancestors will remain undivided.  Secessionist movements all across Europe, and the enemies of the West in general, will go without the encouragement which a break-up of the UK would have offered.

Congratulations to the Scottish people on their wise decision.

16 September 2014

Clothes make the man -- uncomfortable

In many way the modern West is the most advanced civilization in history.  There's one field, however, in which I'd have to rate it just about last among historic cultures:  men's clothing.

Has there ever been a more cumbersome and more determinedly uncomfortable set of garments?  Almost every part of the body is enclosed, usually fairly tightly.  Trousers, shoes, and shirts all have to be hauled on separately, often with some effort -- has there ever been a greater absurdity than the shoehorn? -- and if it doesn't take effort, they're probably too loose to look right or stay in place properly.  Shirts have to be buttoned up (why did zippers never catch on for shirts as they did for trousers or jackets?) and many shoes still need to be secured by tying laces into a peculiar and silly-looking sort of bow-knot.  The whole ensemble is fussy, awkward, and over-complicated.

(Yes, I know Victorian-era clothing was even worse, but that's essentially an earlier version of the same culture and clothing tradition.  I'm grateful for the simplification that has happened since then, such as it is.)

After all that, you're not comfortable.  A change of posture as simple as sitting down can cause constriction of the groin, waist, or even armpits.  If it's warm, no comforting breeze can reach most of you.  Why are smelly feet so common a problem as to be an occasional staple of jokes?  That's what a day's worth of tightly-trapped sweat will do.  Absorbent socks mitigate the problem, at the price of one more tight, silly-looking item to deal with when dressing.

The fact that modern clothes are fairly tight, and have to be in order to look right or stay on properly, means that you have to buy new versions of everything if you gain or lose a substantial amount of weight -- often a non-trivial expense.

And don't even get me started on the necktie.  This utterly non-functional symbol of conformity has always put me in mind of a leash.  It's one more otherwise-useless knot to learn, it takes some practice to get it to look right, and it requires a fairly tight collar -- one more point of constriction.  It is, thank goodness, seemingly on the way out.  During the last Presidential election I recall seeing both Obama and Romney at at least some campaign events without ties, and nowadays, if you're in a typical office and you see a man wearing a tie, it's usually either the president of the company or a temp worker on his first day on the job.

What alternatives can history suggest?  As is so often the case, we could learn a thing or two from the ancient Greeks.  The clothing depicted in Greek art or statues may look elaborate, but in fact most garments in that culture were variations on a simple large sheet wrapped very loosely around the body below the armpits, with the front and back pulled up and pinned together over one or both shoulders.  For fancier effects one could add sleeves, or a sort of sash over one shoulder, across the opposite hip, and up the back to the shoulder again and pinned in place, or even a cape.  In most cases getting dressed or undressed took probably a couple of minutes.  Contrary to modern impressions, these simple clothes were usually brilliantly colored, in contrast to the drab palette favored for male clothing today.

With our far superior modern ranges of fabrics and fasteners, such clothes could be made even easier to handle and more esthetically pleasing.  Winter in some parts of our country would require something different, but even in those regions, Mediterranean-inspired garb would be well suited to the summer.  But, of course, this will never happen.  Our standards and concepts of what looks right and, perhaps more important, of what looks masculine have changed too much, and many of today's flabbier specimens could hardly carry off a look that evolved for bodies toned by the ancient Greek emphasis on athletics.  For the foreseeable future, we're stuck with what we have.

14 September 2014

Link round-up for 14 September 2014

This must be a teabagger's bathroom.  Dunno what to make of this one.

Husband problems?  Call tech support.

The biggest crocodile in captivity is.....big.

Mess with horses, face the consequences.

The movie you've been waiting for is out.

Kevin Weir makes creepy GIFs from old photos (found via Mendip).

Hey, we're the majority!

If you think there is any limit to human stupidity, check this out.

Impress your friends with a fake vacation.

Two years ago the Wyoming legislature considered buying an aircraft carrier, among other nutty measures, but ultimately voted down the idea (found via Green Eagle).

It's an outrage against the Constitution that this photograph is being prosecuted.

Ranch Chimp has some impressive photos of Dallas.

This would not have happened if she had been white.

A Baptist pastor calls on Christians to embrace anti-gay bigotry (found via Republic of Gilead).

Details emerge on the great Palin brawl; the man who witnessed and reported it has now been fired.

Fundamentalist home-schooling does a lot of damage (found via Republic of Gilead).

One region stands out as the rape capital of the US.

Hey Repubs, how's that outreach to minorities going?  Outreach to raving lunatics might work better.

This kind of thing makes me think the open-carry types have a point.

Republicans struggle to keep control in Texas.

How bad is theft?  Depends who's doing it.

Don't be fooled by some Republicans' sudden interest in OTC birth control -- or their strategic shifting to the left.

How many of those page views you get from various countries are real?

Scotland's secession vote could determine the outcome of Britain's next election.  Rosa Rubicondior has a fascinating look at Scotland's history.

French nationalist leader Marine Le Pen would defeat President Hollande in an election today, according to current polling.

Russia's reign of propaganda sounds oddly familiar.

Religious bigots gather for a conference in Moscow -- more here.  They've been cozying up to the Putin regime.

Iranian rap music is now a thing, defying the theocracy's censorship.

Muslims who disregard Islamic taboos aren't necessarily moderates.

Here's a good response to that rubbish about ISIS not being "truly Islamic".

The life and death of Steve Biko remind us what apartheid was really like.

The Gambia is the latest African country to pass a draconian anti-gay law.

Ebola is getting out of control in west Africa.  Skimping on health workers' pay isn't helping.

Here's a round-up of educational resources on biology and aging.

This person was born with a major part of her brain missing, and it wasn't even detected until she was 24 (found via TYWKIWDBI).

The light skin color of Eurasians may be an inheritance from the Neanderthals.

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Country other than the US from which I got the most page views this week: Ukraine.

12 September 2014

Saying what must be said, doing what must be done

President Obama's Wednesday speech on ISIL/ISIS/Islamic State (it keeps re-branding itself) was a rather fascinating exercise in threading the needle of saying what diplomacy demands while doing what reality makes necessary.  The greatest amount of attention has naturally been focused on this statement:

ISIL is not “Islamic.”  No religion condones the killing of innocents.

The President no doubt knows as well as I do that this is utterly false.  ISIL's behavior toward non-Muslims (Christians, Yezidis) and those whom hard-line Sunni Islam deems heretics (Shiites) is entirely in accord with Islamic law and tradition.  Of course Islam condones the killing of innocents, even mandates it in many situations.  In this, Islam is consistent with the broader Abrahamic tradition.  There are several passages in the Old Testament where God orders the Hebrews to totally exterminate defeated enemy peoples, or kill all the adult males and non-virgin females and keep the virgin females for themselves.  ISIL is merely taking these abstractions from the pages of ancient holy texts and letting us see what they look like in living action in the real world.  If that reality shocks and horrifies, that is merely because normal modern humans, whether American or Middle Eastern, have developed far beyond the blood-soaked barbarity of the Bible and Koran which they still so shallowly claim to follow.

Of course, Obama couldn't say that.  Explicit repudiation of Islam would be as shocking in most of the Middle East as explicit repudiation of Christianity is to much of the US.  The idea that these are basically humane religions and that the totalitarian extremists are somehow distorting them is a delusion, but it's a very widespread and useful delusion.  Obama's goal is to rally moderate Muslims to support the US against ISIL, not to alienate them by pointing out that moderate Islam is theologically incoherent, even though it is.

Less remarked, but more interesting, was the political needle-threading also in evidence.  The gist of Obama's declared plan is an intensification of the strategy we are already following -- US air attacks on ISIL to weaken it so that local, not American, forces on the ground can defeat it.  But there were only a couple of mentions of those ground fighters who, in fact, have been our main partners in this strategy so far -- the Kurds.  The President repeatedly referred to "Iraqi forces" and cited the "new Iraqi government in place" as an important development.

The fact is, Iraq is gone.  It was never a real nation and is no longer a viable state in the sense of being able to exert authority over, or claim loyalty from, the territory and people it supposedly comprises.  The Kurdish region is independent in all but name.  The Sunnis of the west and northwest are hopelessly alienated from the state, even those who don't support ISIL either.  "Iraq" is a useful term to refer to the jigsaw-puzzle piece of land that still goes by that name on the map, nothing more.  The Baghdad cabal ruling the Shiite center and south is increasingly dependent on the support and advice of a foreign power.

That foreign power, however, is not the United States.  As the tide has turned against ISIL on the battlefield, reports have increased of Iraqi and even Kurdish forces being guided by advisers who speak only Persian and communicate with their allies through interpreters (note that these victorious "Iraqi forces" are actually Shiite militias, not the useless Iraqi government's army).  For months there has been anecdotal evidence of growing Iranian influence in Baghdad.

It would be astonishing if this were not the case.  Iran, like the Baghdad regime and the area it still controls, is Shiite, and the main Shiite holy places are in central Iraq.  Southern Iraq has most of the country's oil.  Iran has very strong motives to seize its opportunity to establish both protection and domination over the area.

The fact that ISIL is active in both Iraq and Syria presents the US with a problem.  The US is committed to upholding two positions:  that the Asad regime ruling Syria is very evil (true) and that the Baghdad cabal is a viable government of all of Iraq (false).  ISIL is fighting against both regimes; it is the enemy both of our enemy (Asad) and of our friend (the Baghdad government).  It's going to take some serious needle-threading for the US to fight against ISIL in Syria without doing anything to strengthen Asad.  The intent seems to be to focus on arming moderate Sunni rebels against Asad who also oppose ISIL.  All I can say about this is that I'm glad I'm not the person responsible for making it work.

Iran has no such problem.  The Asad regime has been a de facto Iranian client for some time, and the Iraqi government is on its way to becoming one.  ISIL is the main obstacle to consolidating Iranian dominance over the arc of Syria and most of Iraq.  For now, Iran is quite happy to stay in the background and let the US lend its immense military power to the task of crushing ISIL -- which, remember, it is genuinely in the US interest to do.  Once ISIL is broken, the US, whose people are sick and tired of dealing with the Middle East at all, will go away.  Iran will not go away.  It's right next door.

Baghdad understands this.  The government there will take what help from the US it can get, make what concessions to the US it must, and hold what power and territory it can in the chaotic mess that Iraq has become, all the while knowing that US involvement is transient while Iran's is likely permanent.

In the long run even the US will probably reach an accommodation with this reality.  Iran is embarking on a frustratingly slow but inexorable process of liberalization; it's what most Iranians want and it's being advanced on many fronts by President Rouhani, perhaps the most courageous and genuinely revolutionary leader in the world today.  The successful nuclear negotiations show that Iran is willing to work with the West.  If, as I've said before, the real effect of Bush's Iraq invasion is that we spent four trillion dollars to restore the Persian Empire, we may as well make the best of it.  Besides, we can't stop it.

What I most hope, though, is that Obama does the right thing and ensures that in the end the Iraqi Kurdish enclave gets genuine independence as a recognized state.  It's the Kurds who have done most of the hard and dangerous work of fighting ISIL on the ground.  They've shown themselves much better able to manage a country properly than anyone else in Iraq has.  With a population of five million, the Kurdish enclave has taken in almost a million refugees from ISIL who have nowhere else to go.  They've earned genuine independence, and Baghdad will never again exert sovereignty over the enclave, whatever the US claims to believe.  I note the references in Obama's speech to "Iraqi and Kurdish forces", implicitly recognizing that the two are distinct.  I hope that's a positive sign.

Finally:  always, always remember -- it's not about us.

10 September 2014

A pig, an idiot, some rocks, and the Devil

A few videos I've run across which struck me as amusing or interesting.

First up, somebody filming out the open door of a small plane drops his camera, which remains on all the way down and lands in a pig farm.  The farmer eventually found it and uploaded the video:



Next, Google Glass.  I wouldn't be a bit surprised.  The nitwits yakking on cell phones or zoned out on headphone music while walking down the street are oblivious enough:



This is the aftermath of a rockslide in Termeno in the Italian Alps, which must have been like something from a horror movie while it was happening:  This person will likely choose his next house somewhere far from mountains:



Finally, a few words of wisdom from Satan, as portrayed by Al Pacino in the film The Devil's Advocate:



Whatever else happens, this blog will always have a place for the frivolous.

07 September 2014

Link round-up for 7 September 2014

Here are some perfectly-timed dog photos.

Now I've seen everything -- neo-Nazi bronies.

To jump or not to jump?

Murr Brewster examines flatworm biology.

Yes, people as stupid as this actually exist.

Comics illustrate the strange conservative ambivalence about female sexuality.

What would happen if you had all the money in the world?

These two guys have plenty in common.  More here.

Time's running out to enact the Obama agenda.

Republic of Gilead looks at the Christian Right's ugly and callous exploitation of Robin Williams's suicide.

Bush exploded the deficit, Obama cut it back down.

States run by Republicans lag behind economically (found via Jobsanger).

Two North Carolina men are released after 30 years in prison for a crime they didn't commit.  Squatlo Rant looks at the Scalia angle on the case and the likelihood that there are many more such cases.

Green Eagle's latest Wingnut Wrapup includes the stupidest Social Security headline ever; he also looks at the vast crowds demonstrating for Obama's impeachment.

One annoying form of bank money-grubbing is on the decline.

Brains and Eggs has reactions to Wendy Davis's abortion revelation.

There are reasons why some conservatives downplay the evils of slavery.

Jobsanger has a round-up of Bernie Sanders quotes.

As unions decline, something else rises.

Democratic officials warn that even the mere prospect of executive action on illegal aliens could cost us the Senate.

A conference of religious bigots in Australia draws heavy protests.

In Iraq, Kurds and Shiites are pushing back ISIS/Islamic State, but they're getting outside help to do it.

Here's how pervasive India's public-defecation problem is.

India doesn't have gay marriage, but it apparently has this.

The head of Médecins sans Frontières wants a military response to the Ebola outbreak.

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Country other than the US from which I got the most page views this week: Russia.

06 September 2014

List of movie review posts

Like the list of book reviews, this will be updated as necessary.

Agora (2010):  The story of Hypatia, the woman whose life and death came to symbolize the fall of Classical civilization.

Carol (2015):  Romance in a dark time, but with a happy ending, for a change.

District 9 (2009):  The originality of this South African science-fiction film puts Hollywood's endless sequels and rehashes to shame.

Frozen (2013):  The colossal pop-culture phenomenon carries a subtle but powerful message of self-liberation.  On claims of a hidden pro-gay agenda in the song "Let It Go", see here.

Lincoln (2012):  A superb exploration of the messy moral ambiguities of real-life politics.

Prometheus (2012):  The Alien prequel clutters up its SF with too many religious themes (I'm a lot less impressed with the movie now than I was when I wrote this).

V for Vendetta (2005):  A visually-brilliant, morally ambiguous fantasy of rebellion against fascism in a future Britain.

The Wicker Man (1973):  Two views of paganism, both thought-provoking, and good music too.

03 September 2014

Video of the day -- Reich!


This video was made as a joke, and not a very good or interesting one -- what if some of the most evil men who ever lived had just been stars in a sitcom?

But there's a more important point here.  How often have you ever seen these men like this, smiling and laughing and acting like normal people, with cheery music?  We're used to thinking of them as evil monsters -- which they were -- and to seeing them depicted as such.  But that makes us wonder how voters in the most advanced nation on Earth at that time raised them to power.  Couldn't they see that these were monsters?

Well, no, because they didn't look like monsters at the time.  They looked like this -- normal people.  Those who had read Mein Kampf had no excuse.  They must have known what Hitler was planning to do.  But a lot of people hadn't.

Keep that in mind when you consider Christian Right politicians who seem like regular, easy-going people, belying their surreal words about gays or atheists or reproductive rights or freedom of expression.  Those words are the reality.  He whose words proclaim him a monster probably is a monster, even if he doesn't look like a monster.