Oh, and Just for the Record...

If Pope Smirky doesn't like this cartoon, he can go to his imaginary Hell.


The Pope may not understand the sentiment behind this "insult to religion;" but I'm sure his God will understand. And, as they said in the movie, if he doesn't, then he is not God.

It's Now Official: Pope Francis I is Pond-Scum

When most of the Western democratic world are mourning the senseless murder of unarmed cartoonists in Paris, and rallying in huge numbers to reaffirm such basic values as freedom of speech and the right to criticize and resist religious bullying and authoritarianism, Pope Francis I took this moment as the perfect time to blame the victims and reassert exactly the opposite values:

Pope Francis has weighed into the debate over freedom of expression in the wake of the murderous attacks in Paris, saying that anyone who insults a religion can expect “a punch in the nose”.

In provocative remarks which may cause consternation in France, the Pope said that freedom of expression had its limits, especially if it involved insulting or ridiculing religion.

The timing of this arrogant demand for silent obedience is made even more atrocious by the fact that it comes just as Wahabbi Arabia is sentencing a mere blogger to one thousand lashes, and ten years in prison, for "insulting Islam" -- specifically, for being an atheist and saying so.

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This Pope is explicitly supporting the violent extremism and intolerance of another religion -- which could quite possibly turn against followers of his own religion. This is yet another example of diametrically-opposed groups of extremists (in this case, Muslim and Christian bigots), pretending to oppose each other while working together to gang up on a common enemy -- ordinary people who only want to make their lives safer and more just. If I had to sum up my response to all this, I'd quote the first two lines of an open letter I found here:

Dear offended religious people,

Please stop the hypocrisy. The right to offend is not exclusively yours.

UPDATE: Oh look, another conservative Christian singing our most bloodthirsty enemy's praises! Did someone say "people who hate our freedoms?"

A Nice Fox Picture

I tried to upload this pic in a comment, and couldn't; then I tried to send it in an LJ message, and that didn't work either; so I guess I'll just have to upload the photo here:



I first saw the Downing St. fox in the Washington Post Express, an even-more-stripped-down version of an already-stripped-of-relevance newspaper that gets handed out for free at WMATA tube stations, and looked for it on the Web, which is where I found the one of the fox either going to work or hunting rats on a London tube-station escalator.


"Interstellar:" Silliness in Five Dimensions!

I just saw Interstellar, misdirected by Christopher Nolan (who did a FAR better job with Inception) and wasting the talents of starring Matthew McConaughey, Matt Damon, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, and David Oleyowo (who I really hope will do better playing Martin Luther King Jr. in the upcoming movie Selma). To say this movie was less than stellar is too charitable; I prefer to call it a really good attempt to show what pure down-home-American-Heartland-Hallmark-card silliness looks like in five dimensions.

Our story begins with widower-dad and grounded astronaut Cooper (McConaughey) coping with progressively failing harvests in a near-future American Heartland where Earth's entire ecosystem is collapsing under the weight of years of overpopulation and overcultivation, and threatening to take the human species down with it. One day Cooper's plucky ten-year-old daughter finds a pattern of morse-code in some dust that's blown through her window, and realizes it's a set of map-coordinates; so she and her dad drive to the location described -- and are promptly detained by a secret NASA cell (yes, that's NASA, not NSA), who are building an interstellar spaceship and need Cooper to fly its shuttle (and somehow didn't think to actually call him until he blundered into them). The NASA project is secret because NASA has officially been abolished; and because they need to look for another planet, to be colonized either by pre-existing humans ("plan A"), or by a truckload of frozen embryos ("plan B").

There are, of course, no such suitable planets in this solar system, and no way of getting to any other solar system with the technology currently known to humans; but it turns out a nice big wormhole has inexplicably appeared just a few miles past Saturn, and this secret NASA cell have already sent people through it to look for suitable planets at the other end (which turns out to be in another galaxy). When the NASA folks hear exactly how Cooper and his daughter found their top-secret starship-and-shuttle-factory (they could have just followed the exhaust plumes from previous launches, but they used coded messages from unknown sources instead), everyone realizes the wormhole had been put there by inteligent beings, who may be trying to give Mankind a leg-up to save ourselves.

And at this point, I'll just skip over all the myriad scientific-technical objections to this storyline (which have already been better covered by Neil DeGrasse Tyson), and go straight to this question: If the five-dimensional enlightened beings really wanted to help humans on Earth, couldn't they have at least put their damn wormhole closer to Earth? I'm nowhere near smart enough to speculate about the nature of high-tech starfaring five-dimensional beings, but I find it hard to believe they'd suck worse at three-dimensional geography than two-dimensional Americans.

And why are these beings unable to communicate with more than ONE human (the ten-year-old girl) by any means other than morse-code hints in windblown dust and books knocked off of shelves? They can build a wormhole from one galaxy to another, but they can't build a robot with a sound system to land on Capitol Hill in a big shiny spaceship and give tech-support in plain English? Why not put all their advice on a thumb-drive, like they did in Lucy, and drop clouds of them over every national capital on Earth? Movies like this make me yearn for the realism of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Or even My Favorite Martian. Why not encode their wisdom in kitten videos on YouTube instead?

This a pet peeve I've had with certain science-fiction stories where humans are kinda-sorta contacted by benevolent aliens: if you have to tie yourself in knots making it hard for two species to even say hello, just to add suspense to your story, then maybe you should consider writing a better story. This is, in fact, the stuff of religion: "We have the ultimate answer to everything, handed down by God himself, but we can't prove its validity because God speaks in riddles and code, so y'all just have to have faith and stop expecting us to prove anything." Putting such obscurantist bullshit into a science-fiction story is just plain unoriginal, and/or a lame attempt to inject religious thinking into a story. There's plenty of religious thinking and empty "spirituality" injected into damn near everything else these days; we don't need it in our science-fiction as well.

And from an interstellar-security standpoint, why would any species want to, first, allow our species to grow desperately impoverished on our homeworld, and then give us NO CHOICE but to migrate forth en masse and conquer other planets? I'm willing to believe that more advanced species would not hate humans; but I don't think they'd see any merit in allowing/forcing us to become Vikings with starships AND nuclear weapons. A far more sensible idea would be to take a page from Lao Tsu, and help us to manage our own biosphere (and perhaps our population growth as well) so we'd all be a bit less inclined to conquer someone else's and upset whatever interspecies social order is already out there.

I will close this article by assuring my gentle readers that I've given nothing away about how this movie ends. Yes, all the silliness I described above is just in the first half! The second half is even sillier than the premise. (And we're not even told whether anyone survived on Earth!) How much sillier can it get? you ask. You gotta see it to find out. But trust me, if nothing else, you'll like the visual effects. They contribute absolutely nothing to the story, but they're kinda cool. Not as good or original as Inception, but kinda cool.

So...About This Scottish Independence Thing...

I was wondering whether any of my legions of devoted readers (particularly those in any part of the UK) had an opinion on the upcoming Scottish independence referendum. There's been almost ZERO coverage of it in America's so-called "news" media, and I strongly suspect that a "Yes" vote -- which now seems more likely to happen than, say, two months ago -- will provoke one of those HOLY-CRAP-WHERE-DID-THIS-COME-FROM??!!! freakouts for which we geographically-challenged Americans are so well known.

I'm basically waiting to see what happens...and in the meantime, I'd like to hear from whoever wants to comment here: would this really be good for Scotland? Would it be good for the rest of the UK? It would certainly get England's Tories out of Scotland's business -- but by the same token, it could also take away a lot of seats in the House of Commons that are currently occupied by Labour; would that leave England and Wales securely under Tory control?

Seriously, what does everyone think of this development?
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Yep, The Economist Really Went There...

Some years ago, my mother got me a Christmas present I had asked for: a subscription to the Economist. And she has been kind enough to renew my subscription each Christmas since. Now, however, I am seriously considering asking her not to renew it anymore. Not because I'm not grateful for her gift (it's a pretty expensive news-weekly); but because the Economist has changed, mostly for the worse.

I have, to be sure, been having second thoughts about the Economist for some time since 2009, when they began describing America's increasingly unhinged radical right as just a bunch of people understandably concerned about excessive taxation; while dismissing the ever-more-strident hatemongers as just a "grumpy fringe" of this otherwise-perfectly-respectable group of concerned citizens (the "tiny minority" excuse that they themselves rightly reject).

From such glib comments, from the blind-spot they reflect in that magazine's otherwise excellent coverage of relevant world affairs, and from nonsensical anti-progressive raving editorials such as "The Criminalization of American Business" (8/30 - 9/5/2014), it has become apparent that the Economist has been sliding further and further away from sensible coverage of world affairs from a pragmatic and businesslike point of view, and ever deeper into a position of lazy, complacent repetition of pro-business libertarian talking-points.

But the real tipping-point here is a negative review of a book about the history of slavery in the USA -- The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist -- which the (unnamed) Economist critic brushed off thusly:

Mr Baptist cites the testimony of a few slaves to support his view that these rises in productivity were achieved by pickers being driven to work ever harder by a system of “calibrated pain”. The complication here was noted by Hugh Thomas in 1997 in his definitive history, “The Slave Trade”; an historian cannot know whether these few spokesmen adequately speak for all.

Ah yes, our only evidence for how evil slavery really was is just a bunch of anecdotes, which "real historians" can't trust. And the Economist is all about the hard numbers, not emotion-laden (and therefore unreliable) anecdotes.

Another unexamined factor may also have contributed to rises in productivity. Slaves were valuable property, and much harder and, thanks to the decline in supply from Africa, costlier to replace than, say, the Irish peasants that the iron-masters imported into south Wales in the 19th century. Slave owners surely had a vested interest in keeping their “hands” ever fitter and stronger to pick more cotton. Some of the rise in productivity could have come from better treatment. Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.

The Economist have since withdrawn that review, which is an improvement -- but only a small one. We still have to ask how such obviously amoral and willfully-blind nonsense made it past the editors of a magazine that boasts its own "intelligence unit." And the answer should be obvious to anyone familiar with their overall expressed bias: what this reviewer said about slavery really isn't all that different from what the Economist routinely says about every policy of busting unions and forcing down wages in the name of "productivity:" lower wages mean increased productivity, which means greater wealth for "society" as a "whole" (the offending review is careful to point out that the wealthiest states back then were slave-states); and we should therefore stop focusing entirely on negative consequences of economic change for this or that "special interest" group, and look instead at the numbers that show the positive outcomes for (some less well-defined) "whole." Oh, and don't ever question the rationality of successful businessmen -- they'd NEVER do anything that would damage valuable human capital, amirite?

The fact that these rigorous upstanding Tories would parrot the same rhetoric about slavery as they parrot about unions, minimum-wage laws, and any mention of wealth-inequality, pretty clearly shows the whole lot of them are, at best, droning along on autopilot as they try to ignore the ever-more-obvious shortcomings of the laissez-faire capitalist ideology they exist to defend. Methinks their so-called "intelligence unit" needs a Jason Bourne to shake things up a bit.

Here are some other responses to the Economist's blithering, from a comment by "Freedmen's Patrol" on this blog:

The Economist Condemns Ed Baptist for his Book on Slavery

The Economist and White Supremacy

The latter has information about Grandin’s book and a link to the review, which the magazine has not retracted.

And here's another opinion on Baptist's book:

While most everyone can agree that The Economist review was awful (and cowardly- as there is not an author listed), I would like to comment on Dr. Baptist’s wonderful and scholarly work, which I had the privilege to read in pre-published form. It is a highly readable, well documented inter-disciplinary piece, which reminds the reader that history, economics, geography and sociology are intertwined. Dr. Baptist connected the dots from all of these in a way which produced more “ah ha!” moments than any book I have read in some time. (And I have read plenty of 19th century history) Please treat yourself to a copy.

Terri Weiner (Village Books, Bellingham, WA)


Romney's sons lie? Where did they learn that, I wonder?

I'm still processing last night's "debate" in my head, but I'd just like to say this: Did Mitt Romney actually call his kids liars on one of the most-watched shows on national TV? Since when was such behavior acceptable?

If I was at someone else's house, and he/she started trash-talking their own kids to their unrelated guests, I'd consider it both creepy and TMI, as well as embarrassing; and I might well be inclined to leave -- especially if I knew said kids were hearing it. Humiliating your own kids, and betraying their privacy, in front of strangers, is a form of abuse; and it says a lot about the parent's trustworthiness.

And where did Romney's sons learn to repeat a lie until people started believing it? Their father, like most other Republicans, has certainly given them a lot of examples during his high-profile career. I guess one should not be surprised when the fruit falls so close to the tree.

It certainly says something about Romney's "family values." It also shows how he relates to other people: not as equals, but as children who can't be trusted (because his own kids can't be trusted), unless he, the benevolent paternal leader, keeps them in line.

There is certainly a visible difference between Obama and Romney as people: Obama's personal touch was to wish his wife "happy anniversary." Romney's personal touch was to tell the whole world what liars his sons were. Which of these two would you invite to a party?

Smirking Mitt Romney Walking Away from Stuff -- Modern Art Version

I recently found out about a blog titled Smirking Mitt Walking Away from Stuff. The title explains it all: photographs of significant events, with the image of Mitt Romney, smirking as he walks away from reporters after accusing President Obama of "sympathizing" with the people who murdered our Ambassador in Benghazi, pasted onto them. So now we have Smirking Mitt Romney Walking Away From: our troops, firehosing of civil-rights demonstrators in Alabama, his own Bain Capital record, demonstrations in Libya, etc.

So I figured I'd add a few of my own, but take it in a somewhat different direction. Below the cut, I give you Smirking Mitt Romney Walking Away from Issues Depicted in Modern Art... Collapse )

I tried to submit my work to the Smirking Mitt site, but I can't find an email address for submissions. If any of you have any ideas of your own, you can either post them in comments, or make your own "Smirking Mitt" post. Fun for the whole family!
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Mitt Romney's Callous Indifference

I've always known that the belief that Republicans are "better" or "stronger" than Democrats in the area of foreign policy is a myth, and has been since 1941, if not earlier. (Democrats: WW-II and the Marshall Plan. Republicans: McCarthyism and Iraq.) I've also known that today's Republican Party is so weak on foreign policy that our enemies must surely be laughing their asses off. What I did not know, is that their weakness would become so obvious, so quickly, in such a stark single incident, as Mutt Romney's downright childish attempt to use the killing of one of our Ambassadors to pretend he's more manly than President Obama. So much for "my experience as a successful businessman makes me qualified to be President (right, Mr. Trump?)." Collapse )

Mutt Romney's recent conduct has become so shameful that even his fellow Republicans are starting to run away from him...with some notable exceptions:

Instead, Romney got the backing of Sarah Palin, who took the opportunity to make a penis joke: ”If he doesn’t have a ‘big stick’ to carry, maybe it’s time for him to grow one.” In his corner, Romney also had the esteemed RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who tweeted a not so faint dog whistle suggesting that Obama sympathizes with Muslim extremists, and Newt Gingrich, who turned 180 on the Libya intervention once Obama supported it.

UPDATE: For those of you asking "Where are the Muslim moderates?" here's your answer: Libyans protesting not only the insults against their religion, but the violent response against it. All the more reason to quit coddling right-wing agents of intolerance in the name of "free speech."

9/11, Eleven Years Later: The Memorial Ramble

Today is Tuesday, September 11, 2012; and just like that Tuesday eleven years ago, it's a beautiful sunny morning, with barely a cloud in the sky, and the first serious hint that summer is over, vacation time is over, and it's time to retire the shorts and sandals and put on warmer clothing.

On this Fear Thy Neighbor And Vote Republican Day anniversary of a terrorist attack that changed so much of our country for the worse, perhaps it's a good idea to take advantage of the perfect visibility and look at what that incident has made us as a society.

Eleven years ago, the attacks against the USA brought about a tidal wave of instant solidarity with the US -- not just in London and Paris, but even as far as Tehran (photos here from a ten-year-anniversary Facebook post), once considered the world capital of anti-American command performances. And with the world firmly behind us, we managed to do from halfway around the globe what the much more ruthless Red Army failed to do from right next door: invade and subdue Afghanistan.

So now we need to ask ourselves: What the fuck happened to that unity? There's absolutely no sign of it today. That's one promise that Bush Jr. fulfilled as President: spend the political capital he had. He didn't spend it wisely -- but he never promised to do that.

The Republican response to the event that gave us so much unity (both at home and abroad) has, in fact, created noting but DISunity (both at home and abroad), and has done so literally from day one. Even as liberals, progressives and feminists united behind Bush Jr's policy of retaliation, his propagandists were accusing those same liberals, progressives and feminists of opposing America's response and even hating America. Republicans at nearly all levels were actively seeking to tear our country apart, and incite hatred of Americans by other Americans, even before the Iraq invasion -- which only further divided us by exploiting and betraying the trust we all gave our leaders -- and by compromising our own ability to win the war we originally united to support.

Bush Jr. insisted that America was not at war against Islam -- but he only said that once, way back in 2001; and since then, his party have been inciting hatred of Islam, resistance to the very construction of "mosques" (how much of Manhattan do we have to rezone as "sacred ground" again?), and mindless fear of "creeping Sharia" (but not creeping Old Testament law, which is just as foreign and just as repressive), all over the country. And that's not even counting their chickenhawk puntits' mindless advocacy of new attacks on Iran and Syria. (ARITHMETIC, bitches! Any of you cowboy-wannabees ever try to add up how many planes, tanks, troops, etc. you'd need for your new Crusade?)

And what are the Republicans doing now? More of the same, with extra xenophobic nonsense about Obama's birth certificate (birther-in-chief Donald Trump is now part of the Romney campaign, and it shows). Not only that, but when Obama goes abroad and tries to repair the damage the Republicans did to our standing among other nations, all Romney can do is snipe at him for "apologizing for America." If Mutt Mitt Romney thinks being civil to countries we can't conquer, threaten or blow off the face of the Earth is somehow degrading to America, then he's not at all fit to be President, and probably won't be able to even identify our enemies, let alone unite us to fight them.

Eleven years on, it's clear that the terrorists have won: their attacks have empowered a party, and a mindset, that has infantilized us as a society, set us against each other in an unending, multifaceted scapegoating campaign (there's so many "new Jews" these days it's hard to keep track of them all), and rendered us unable to even talk coherently about the actual causes of our problems, let alone solve them and recover the power and stature we had before 2000.

And we wonder why some people believe 9/11 was an inside job?