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[links] Link salad is Friday, Joe Friday

Drilling surprise opens door to magma-powered electricityWell hit magma at unexpectedly shallow depths and used it to generate steam.

Bose-Einstein condensates used to emulate exotic magnetic monopole

Weather-Mapping a Brown DwarfAstronomers using a novel technique have mapped a brown dwarf’s visible surface — even though they can’t resolve the object in telescopes.

Is Google Cornering the Market on Deep Learning?

The Famous No-Memory Brain That Is Getting Plugged In Online

Acid bath turns cells from any tissue into stem cellsScientists borrow a trick from the plant kingdom.

Collectively, humanity’s genomes carry a fifth of a NeanderthalIf you have lupus or trouble quitting smoking, it may be their fault.

Child peanut allergy treatment ‘breakthrough’

Absurd Creature of the Week: Pink Fairy Armadillo Crawls Out of the Desert and Into Your Heart — (Via David Goldman.)

Rains Spurred by Climate Change Killing Penguin Chicks

Side-Channel Attacks on Frog Calls — Hahahahaha. (Via David Goldman.)

Fifty States of FearIn total, 54,000 Americans die every year due to work-related illnesses and accidents. This is the equivalent of 148 deaths each day; in terms of fatalities it is roughly a Boston Marathon bombing every half hour of every day. But while we spend more than 7 billion dollars a year on the T.S.A.’s national security theater in which over 58,000 T.S.A. employees make sure we are not carrying too much toothpaste or shampoo onto airplanes, the budget for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is under $600 million per year. It seems that our threat assessments are flawed. (Via David Goldman.)

Oh, the tyranny! — A short history of presidential use of the Executive Order. Obama is issuing orders at the slowest rate since Grover Cleveland is a great line.

Jon Meacham Says He Was Wrong About Lincoln, FDR And Executive Orders — So this guys makes a flat misstatement about Obama and executive orders on national television, an anti-Obama lie alleging presidential overreach seen and believed by millions of viewers. The retraction will be seen by 1% of that number, maybe, if we’re very lucky?

Rep. Cathy Rodgers Exemplifies GOP: Benefit from Gov’t yourself, Deny Benefits to Others — As usual, conservatives in their own words and deeds.

Lunches seized from kids in debt at Salt Lake City elementaryBut cafeteria workers weren’t able to see which children owed money until they had already received lunches, Olsen explained. The workers then took those lunches from the students and threw them away, he said, because once food is served to one student it can’t be served to another. Addendum: After being called out in the press, the school district has apologized.

PerkinsnachtLiberal vituperation makes our letter writer’s point. In which the Wall Street Journal proves once again that it is the FOX News of country club Republicans.

Why Is the American Dream Dead in the South?Upward mobility has stayed the same the past 50 years despite skyrocketing inequality. But it’s lower in the South (and Ohio) than anywhere else in the U.S.—or the rest of the developed world. Interesting to note the overlap between the opportunity map in this article and a Red state/Blue state political map of the United States. Startlingly similar to the overlap between a tax map (i.e., which states receive the most net inflow of government funds as compared to tax burden).

At Retreat, GOP Aims to Erase Its “Obstructive” Image — Sometimes the jokes just write themselves. And mind you, this is a story whose author was careful to be sympathetic to the GOP.

The state of the union speech Barack Obama would never give — Huh. (Via Lisa Costello.)

?otD: Just the facts, ma’am?


1/31/2014
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 10.0 hours (fitful)
Body movement: n/a (post-operative)
Weight: n/a (traveling)
Number of FEMA troops on my block inventing polar vortices: 0
Currently reading: n/a

[links] Link salad has a Cadillac as big as a whale

Why the Olympics Are a Lot Like “The Hunger Games” — (Via David Goldman.)

A Man Takes A Single Rake to The Beach. And When You Zoom Out And See It… Mind BLOWN. — Wow. (Snurched from Ellen Eades.)

School ditches rules and loses bullies — Most of the kids who bullied me back in the 1970s would have seen this as a happy hunting ground.

Obamacare, Hallelujah! — What the ACA means in real life, to a real human being, my friend Diana Sherman. You know, that same ACA which my conservative friends believe to be the greatest threat to American values since Nazism.

State of the Union address confirmed: Republicans are fringe minority party — A piece on the political polling behind differences between the GOP and Obama. Republicans are on the wrong side of every one of these except, arguably, the immigration question.

Fox Host Says There Is No Gender Gap: ‘Many Women Make Exactly What They’re Worth’ — Confidential to conservatives in America: you’re entitled to your own opinions but you are not entitled to your own facts.

About that ‘government making health care choices for you,’ Ms. McMorris RodgersYes, on the very same day that the Republican House voted on yet another anti-abortion bill, [Republican] Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers actually said: “Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, and not the government’s.”

?otD: Don’t you wish you had a cetaceanlac?


1/30/2014
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 9.0 hours (badly fitful)
Body movement: n/a (post-operative)
Weight: n/a (traveling)
Number of FEMA troops on my block inventing polar vortices: 0
Currently reading: n/a

[links] Link salad has got an ache in its side

“Quoth” the raven? The heartwarming tale of a defective verb — I’ve never before heard of this class of words.

Google puts prescription lenses in Glass’ frame — If I live so long, and if I have the money, man would I want these.

What’s Ikea for? Cultural Differences in Appropriate Behavior

In South Korea, Spam Is the Stuff Gifts Are Made Of — (Thanks to Dad.)

One of the strangest animals on earth gets a little weirderDespite having 12 photoreceptors, mantis shrimp aren’t great at sensing color.

The Sloth’s Busy Inner LifeEvery week or so, the sloth descends from its favorite tree to defecate. I know the feeling. (Via David Goldman.)

Japan’s huge magnetic net will trawl for space junk — (Via [info]corwynofamber.)

Where The Alps Are A 3D-Printed Landscape Made From Artificial Snow

From Warheads to Cheap EnergyThomas L. Neff’s Idea Turned Russian Warheads Into American Electricity. Reading by bombsight. (Via David Goldman.)

A Cross-National Investigation into the Effects of Religiosity on the Pervasiveness of CorruptionIt is found that even after controlling for the effects of socioeconomic development, communist heritage and religiosity tend to promote corruption. Interesting if true. Not sure this isn’t some kind of elaborate trolling which happens to cater to my personal confirmation bias. (Via [info]danjite.)

Please Let’s Not Make Fun of the Poor

Tom Perkins Is The Hitler of Making Accurate Comparisons — Oh, the burden of the wealthy.

The Text that Changed the WorldOn Tuesday the Ukrainian government sent the following text message to thousands of protesters in the streets of Kiev: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.” This short text belied a far more radical message. For the first time, a government was able to identify individual protesters and privately communicate to them that it knew who they were and where they were located. Well. I certainly have a thorough understanding of this technology, and a thorough-going fear of these politics. (Via Lisa Costello.)

Republicans unveil Obamacare replacement plan: Everybody pays more — Ah, market forces.

Meet 330 Lawmakers Who Made 2013 “A Terrible Year for Women’s Health” — 94% of them are Republicans.

Thinking Like a Conservative (Part Five): Epistemology and Empathy — In their own words, of course.

Rand Paul’s Mixed Inheritance — (Via Dad.)

?otD: Had any holes cut in you lately?


1/28/2014
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 4.0 hours (badly fitful)
Body movement: n/a (post-operative)
Weight: n/a (traveling)
Number of FEMA troops on my block inventing polar vortices: 0
Currently reading: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

[links] Link salad reports in from the ICU

Encore, for the Norwegian Curlers and Their Pants — Because color! (Via David Goldman.)

Are You A Super-Spreader of Disease? A small group of special individuals could act as an early warning system for the next epidemic. Their special power? Super-spreading disease.

The Plumes of Ceres — This be some serious cool.

An insider’s story of the global attack on climate scienceAn epic saga of secretly funded climate denial and harassment of scientists.

On the ongoing destruction of Christian communities in the Near East

‘Philomena,’ A Must-See Film About the Magdalene Laundries and Forced Adoptions — (Via Slacktivist Fred Clark.)

Real Facts About AbortionThe women who get abortions are not merely irresponsible drug using harlots. They are us.

Top Ten Ways GOP could avoid “War on Women” Label

Glenn Beck and Other ‘Too Little, Too Late’ Apologies“I wish I could go back and be more uniting in my language because I think I played a role, unfortunately, in helping tear the country apart[.]” — Now that he’s made his fortune, he’s developing a glimmering of a conscience?

Non Sequitur on sweet, sweet reason

?otD: Got drainage tubes?


1/24/2014
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 7.0 hours (solid)
Body movement: n/a (in hospital)
Weight: n/a (in hospital)
Number of FEMA troops on my block inventing polar vortices: 0
Currently reading: n/a (chemo brain)

[links] Link salad wakes up to head for surgery

2013 Book 96: love in the time of metal and flesh[info]talekyn reviews me.

Yesterday, The Internet Solved a 20-year-old Mystery — This is cool and strange. (Snurched from Language Log.)

Sex With Google Glass — Because reasons! Or not… (Via [info]danjite.)

Milk Drinking Still a Mysteryhe mutation for milk-drinking evolved independently in different parts of the world over the last 10,000 years as a result of strong natural selection, but why was it so advantageous?

2013 Continued the Long-Term Warming TrendThe GISS Land-Ocean Temperature Index put 2013 into the top ten warmest years in the global record, even though temperatures in the United States were not much warmer than usual.

The Death Of ExpertiseToday, any assertion of expertise produces an explosion of anger from certain quarters of the American public, who immediately complain that such claims are nothing more than fallacious “appeals to authority,” sure signs of dreadful “elitism,” and an obvious effort to use credentials to stifle the dialogue required by a “real” democracy.

Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings of China’s Elite — (Via [info]danjite.)

The abortion liars club. And one way they wield it. — Thou shalt not bear false witness.

?otD: Cuts like a knife, does it?


1/23/2014
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 7.0 hours (solid)
Body movement: n/a (in hospital)
Weight: n/a (in hospital)
Number of FEMA troops on my block inventing polar vortices: 0
Currently reading: n/a (chemo brain)

[politics] The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice

I’m not convinced that the universe actually does bend towards justice, but there’s been a reasonable approximation of that here in the West since the Enlightenment. Other cultures, other paths, but that’s the one I’m familiar with.

When you look at the moral arc of the history of the United States, something almost startling very rapidly becomes clear.

When it came to slavery, conservatives were on the wrong side of history.

When it came to Jim Crow, conservatives were on the wrong side of history.

When it came to women’s suffrage, conservatives were on the wrong side of history.

When it came to child labor, conservatives were on the wrong side of history.

When it came to workplace safety, paid time off, and forty-hour work weeks, conservatives were on the wrong side of history.

When it came to the Great Depression, conservatives were on the wrong side of history.

When it came to the New Deal, conservatives were on the wrong side of history.

When it came to entering World War II to fight fascism, conservatives were on the wrong side of history.

When it came to racial integration, conservatives were on the wrong side of history.

When it came to interracial marriage, conservatives were on the wrong side of history.

When it came to the minimum wage, and every effort since to raise the minimum wage, conservatives were on the wrong side of history.

When it came to women’s economic independence and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, conservatives were on the wrong side of history.

When it came to women’s safety on issues such as marital rape, conservatives were on the wrong side of history.

When it came to making healthcare accessible to as many citizens as possible, conservatives were on the wrong side of history.

Every single one of those issues was promoted by progressive reformers. Every single one of those issues was opposed by the conservatives of the day. Viciously so in many cases. Violently so in some.

Given the track record of conservatives over the past two centuries, why should we believe them now about gay marriage? Or equal pay for equal work? Or income inequality?

Why should we believe conservatives on any issue of social justice?

They’ve been on the wrong side of history every time.

[links] Link salad swears by its pretty floral bonnet

Der verborgene Hof — A review of the German edition of Green. Insofar as I can tell, the reviewer wasn’t too thrilled.

WCMX: Taking Wheelchairs To New Heights — I am boggled. (Thanks to Lis.)

Smoking Is Worse Than You Imagined

Manufacturing OrgansHarvard Bioscience spin-off is stepping up its production of synthetic tracheas to supply clinical trials.

Defying Japan, Rancher Saves Fukushima’s Radioactive Cows — (Thanks to Dad.)

What scientific idea is ready for retirement — This makes for some interesting reading. (Snurched from Scrivener’s Error.)

Is the Universe Made of Math?

Hibernating spacecraft Rosetta to awaken for comet chase

Rising Tide Is a Mystery That Sinks Island Hopes — Weird story about a Caribbean lake. (Thanks to Dad.)

Men with sledgehammers rob crowded Memphis mall — Proving that yes, you don’t need a gun to commit a crime. But how many people were killed with sledgehammers last year?

Whose Economic Recovery Is It?

19 things conservatives insist on comparing to slavery

?otD: How tight are your pants?


1/19/2014
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 8.75 hours (interrupted)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Weight: 239.0
Number of FEMA troops on my block BENGHAZI! BENGHAZI! BENGHAZI!: 0
Currently reading: n/a (chemo brain)

[links] Link salad creaks through the weekend

Always fighting the storm, afraid to suffer the woundLisa Costello on acceptance and coping with my impending death.

Ten Things You May Not Know About Ebook Prices — (Via D. Scott Frey.)

Nimoy Sings: 1968 — Given the pattern on Nimoy’s shirt, we can only be grateful this photo isn’t in color.

Apogee’s Full Moon — It’s a mighty cool photo, but be sure to read the copy as well.

Hiroo Onoda, Japanese soldier who long refused to surrender, dies at 91After losing his comrades to various circumstances, Onoda was eventually persuaded to come out of hiding in 1974. His former commanding officer traveled to Lubang to see him and tell him he was released from his military duties. In his battered old army uniform, Onoda handed over his sword, nearly 30 years after Japan surrendered.

Bone fragment ‘could be King Alfred or son Edward’

Scratching out a Living on Ellesmere IslandRetreating glaciers in the high arctic have left behind heaps of debris and new territory for cold-loving plants to colonize.

Three arguments about climate change that should never be used — Yeah, good luck with that. Climate change denialism isn’t an evidence-based process, and reason doesn’t enter in to. Exactly like evolution denialists, climate change denialists argue backwards from an ideological conclusion and try to subvert the language of evidence and reason to support their article of faith. So providing evidence-based reasoning against ideological denialist arguments is pointless.

Company Behind West Virginia’s Chemical Spill Files For Bankruptcy — Mmm, industry self-regulation for the win. All those meddlesome, job-killing Federal regulations wouldn’t have done anything except likely prevent the spill, and ensure the company could cover the damages if the spilled happened anyway. We don’t want that sort of thing in a free society, do we? Also, this. Because freedom! And evil liberals who happen to think clean drinking water might be important!

The GOP’s War on Science Endangering America: Climate Change, Evolution, RegulationThe Republican Party is increasingly emerging as an anti-science party. Since American greatness was built on its science and technology (and not on the odd cult of biblical inerrancy), this development is a danger to the republic, and, indeed, to the world. The US used to be about solving problems, about a can-do spirit, not about denying concrete reality. I would have said, “has long since emerged”. Conservatives will have an enormous amount to answer for in America’s degraded future, but they will never see or understand that.

Judge strikes down North Carolina ultrasound abortion law — Slowly, sanity and morality and justice creep back into America despite concerted conservative efforts to the contrary. (Via David Goldman.)

Christians aren’t being driven out of public life – they’re just losing their unfair advantages One of the prickly issues for a society that attempts to be liberal is how tolerant it must be of the intolerant. Writing in the last issue of this magazine, Cristina Odone says that she feels her rights as a taxpayer, a citizen and a Christian have been trampled on. She warns of a world around the corner in which religion will be a secret activity behind closed doors. So, what is this dystopian vision of the future? A world where if you run a bed and breakfast, you cannot discriminate against gay couples, and you have to abide by the rules of the job you are contracted to do. That’s it, really. (Via [info]rekre8.)

America is becoming more liberal — If true, this offers some hope for future sanity in this country. The Reagan and post-Reagan conservative experiment has failed by almost every conceivable metric. Maybe it’s time to try optimism, growth and tolerance instead.

Obama Outlines 5 Surveillance Reforms — Yet somehow the surveillance state will continue to proper. Color me cynical.

?otD: Did you sleep in today?


1/18/2014
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 8.75 hours (interrupted)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Weight: 239.0
Number of FEMA troops on my block BENGHAZI! BENGHAZI! BENGHAZI!: 0
Currently reading: n/a (chemo brain)

[religion|culture] The self-valorizing Christian myth of persecution

Yesterday on my Facebook wall there was a fair amount of commenting conceding my blog post entitled “What I Believe About What You Believe”.

At one point, Brad Torgersen said:

[F]or a growing body of zealous atheists, their interpretation of “freedom from religion” includes quashing all public manifestation of faith, be it aural, or visual.

I responded:

As a committed First Amendment supporter, I’m not concerned about public manifestations of faith. I’m concerned about publicly-sponsored manifestations of faith. There’s a vast and unsubtle difference there which many people of faith pretend not to understand because it’s much easier to be outraged if you don’t make the distinction.

Without stopping to think about it very hard, I came up with a quick list of public manifestations of Christian faith which are not publicly-sponsored. These permeate our culture every day, and for there is no serious attempt to undermine any of these public manifestations of Christian faith via legislation or executive action or even public pressure.

  • Christian schools and colleges
  • Christian broadcasts on radio, television, and cable
  • Christian movies
  • Christian Internet sites
  • Christian publishers
  • Christian bookstores
  • Christian signage in outdoor media such as billboards and bus signs (which in many areas of the country are forbidden to atheists)
  • Christian church buildings (including their placement and architecture)
  • Christian church signs (which are an entire cultural trope unto themselves)
  • Sunday, the Christian holy day, being the default day of rest for most workers
  • Christmas as a nearly universally observed public holiday (no other religion in America has anything remotely approaching this privilege)
  • Christmas carols being almost inescapable in public gathering places between Halloween and New Year
  • Easter, or at least Good Friday, as a widely observed public holiday (no other religion in America has anything remotely approaching this privilege)
  • Christian phrases such as “God bless America” being nearly universal in our public discourse
  • “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance
  • “In God We Trust” on the money
  • The Bible being used to swear witnesses into legal proceedings
  • The Bible being used to swear politicians into office
  • Roadside crosses as a nationwide symbol memorializing traffic deaths
  • Crosses as a near universal symbol in cemeteries other than those reserved exclusively for non-Christian faiths
  • Bumper stickers and those little fish decals on automobiles everywhere in America
  • Christian apparel worn every day in every city and town in America
  • Christian jewelry worn every day in every city and town in America

Some Christians like to cite the so-called “War on Christmas” but that’s a marketing meme invented by FOX News, the same organization which has successfully sued for its First Amendment right to lie, and whose viewers are significantly more misinformed than consumers of any other major news source in America. Professional liars, in other words, and not exactly a trustworthy source. Besides which, the last time I looked, Christmas was doing just fine. There weren’t any FEMA troops blocking church doors this past December 25th, and practically the whole world wished this atheist a Merry Christmas.

What offends Christians insofar as I can tell is the slowly increasing restrictions on publicly-sponsored displays of faith. Not public displays. Publicly-sponsored displays. The Nativity scene on the lawn of City Hall has been banned in many places. The Nativity scene on the lawn of the church, or anyone’s private property, most certainly has not. School prayer has been banned in many places. Private prayer, even in schools has not. The explicit legal privileging and protection of Christian practice is not quite as ironclad as it used to be, but the social privileging carries on as strong as ever in every aspect of life.

Brad went on to say:

And yes, I can read Jay’s retort before he even writes it: American Christians are just upset because their domination of the public square is being questioned, boo hoo. Dominance in number is one thing. Dominance in law?

Got it one, Brad. The Christian perception of persecution in America is nothing more than a slight erosion from the unthinking privilege of absolute cultural supremacy to merely overwhelming cultural dominance. Viewed from outside the framework of Christian faith, the persecution claim betrays a laughable lack of awareness combined with an apparent need for self-valorizing outrage. That entire list of public displays of faith, and the hundreds or thousands more items which could be added to it, is in no danger whatsoever from legal action, executive fiat or public pressure.

(And yes, I’m sure angry Christians can come up with isolated counterexamples for almost anything I’ve mentioned above. Be careful if you want to play that game. For every outrageous report you might come up with, practically every gay, lesbian, Jew, atheist, liberal-progressive, pro-choice activist and secular humanist in the country can bury you in shame with their own Christian-inspired pain stories.)

While public displays of faith are not endangered, what is endangered is the Christian freedom to require other people to conform to Christian mores, which is what almost the entire Culture War boils down to. What is endangered is the Christian freedom to force children of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists and many others to bow their heads in Christian prayer or watch as Christianity is promoted by the state at the expense of all other faiths. What is endangered is the Christian freedom to promote arrant cruelty and profound bigotry agains gays, lesbians, and the transgendered in the name of religious values. Just to name a few examples.

You know what? If that counts as persecution, then I’m a proud persecuter of Christians. But whatever my personal feelings on the matter, I don’t object to Christian academies or bus signs or Nativity displays on church lawns or Christmas carols or all the other myriad Christian symbols and practices that permeate our culture. The same First Amendment that protects me from your faith protects your faith from me. Public displays of Christian faith are not just alive and well, they are pervasive in America. With this atheist’s blessing, because, hey, it’s your freedom of religion.

And all of this hardly constitutes Brad’s “quashing all public manifestation of faith, be it aural, or visual.” It barely begins to level the playing field for people of other faiths or no faith at all. And claims of persecution are quite literally and sadly laughable.

When Christians in America claim persecution, at the kindest interpretation they appear uninformed and unselfaware to anyone who isn’t sharing their faith framework. Come to me when you are pulled over by the police for your Christian bumper sticker. Come to me when Christmas is no longer celebrated as a holiday. Come to me when millions of your fellow citizens vote to deny you civil and legal rights because you are Christian. Come to me when your churches are denied zoning and building permits because of their potential for evil. Come to me when your children are forced to bow in Islamic or Jewish or Sikh prayer in school. Come to me when carrying a Bible is probable cause for you to be stopped and arrested. Come to me when you are forbidden to travel because of your religious garments. Come to me when Christians are beaten and tied up with barbed wire and left to die in the cold because of their religion. Come to me when the FBI investigates you and your church looking for terrorists.

Then we’ll talk about persecution.

[links] Link salad finds Friday behind the couch cushions

A deeply personal statement, regarding reason and religion — Brad Torgersen responds, to me and others, from a faith-holding perspective.

A message from a fellow First Amendment follower — A blogger riffs on my religion post from yesterday. I like it.

The social life of health information

An interesting wheelchair alternative — (Via David Goldman.)

“Haunted” Maya Underwater Cave Holds Human Bones

Researchers study what sharks know, where they attackShark expert, math professor use unique skills to set facts straight about the predators.

Watching volcanoes deflate aids ash forecastAll you need is a GPS station on the rim and you can help keep planes safe.

Saving the Planet One Tiny Satellite at a TimeA Silicon Valley startup is turning its technical acumen and passion for space into an innovative venture that uses a fleet of relatively inexpensive, tiny satellites to take non-stop pictures of Earth.

Google makes first contact lens — They measure glucose levels. Wow.

Design Flaws: The Horrible Human Neck — If this is intelligent design, I want a refund. (Via Slacktivist Fred Clark.)

Texas Public Schools Are Teaching CreationismResponsive Ed has a secular veneer and is funded by public money, but it has been connected from its inception to the creationist movement and to far-right fundamentalists who seek to undermine the separation of church and state. Infiltrating and subverting the charter-school movement has allowed Responsive Ed to carry out its religious agenda—and it is succeeding. Yep, American Christianists are never under any obligation to obey that pesky “bearing false witness” commandment, are they? (Via EK.)

The Republicanization of the United States: Becoming a “Can Do Nation” AgainThese are all signs of the “Republicanization” of America, folks. It’s the result of constantly cutting and cutting, without any regard to what we need or want as a people, as well as the “can’t do” spirit that imbues everything the Republican Party stands for. The current incarnation of the GOP has as its main theme that government can’t work, and it proves that every chance they get. And after 34 years of it, it’s time to say, “Enough!”

In our quest to appease superstitious neanderthals and short-sighted plutocrats we are abandoning the future — The decline of American research: another conservative legacy to poison our future.

America Black Ops Wars in 134 Countries — Tell me again why I voted for Obama?

?otD: Does change come from within? Or within the couch?


1/17/2014
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 7.0 hours (solid)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Weight: 238.6
Number of FEMA troops on my block BENGHAZI! BENGHAZI! BENGHAZI!: 0
Currently reading: n/a (chemo brain)

[religion] What I believe about what you believe

Yesterday I accidentally wandered into a religious discussion on Facebook. (I sometimes do this on purpose, but try not to do it by accident.) It was on the wall of a writer who self-identifies as Christian, where they talk with their friends, who by and large seem also to be Christian.

I was more-or-less politely objecting to a rather crude caricature of secularism and atheism the writer had posted a link to. What I quickly realized was that words which I saw as simplistic and bordering on offensive seemed logically obvious and even self-evident to the owner of the Facebook page and their friends.

As I was, so to speak, in someone else’s house without an invitation, I made my best effort to gracefully withdraw once I realized we were still politely at loggerheads. Not for me to turn up there and be difficult.

My accidental host’s final point to me was taking Camus as evidence that the secularist viewpoint could only be desperate. They then wished me will, apologizing if I saw their faith as a fairy tale.

My response:

Camus is an extreme outlier, as you surely know. Citing him as a referent to understand secularism is rather like citing David Kouresh or Jim Jones to understand religion.

I don’t call your faith a fairy tale, I call it your faith. That I don’t happen to share that faith doesn’t lessen its meaning to you, or my respect for that meaning in your life.

Which led me to a thought I have perhaps not expressed here often enough.

I rail constantly against the influence of religion in politics and culture. Likewise I rail against religious hypocrisy, bad acts, harm to others outside the faith, and sheer cruelty perpetrated under the cloak of religious privilege.

What I do not deliberately do is criticize the tenets of faith. Regardless of my personal opinion of specific religious beliefs, about which I am in fact a deeply cynical bastard, it’s not for me to comment in this public frame on theology, or what happens behind the doors of church, temple or mosque, or the hearts and minds of believers. I really am a First Amendment absolutist when it comes to protection of free religion. Especially religions that trouble me profoundly.

I am also profoundly anti-majoritarian on this question, which I suspect sometimes comes across as a more simplistic and hostile opposition to American Christianity. But religious freedom is one of the places in our society most susceptible to the tyranny of the majority.

No religion is safe when any religion can dictate public policy, law and education. It’s that simple. Hence my dictum that freedom of religion means freedom from religion.

When I say that, it is not a call for deconversion. It’s a call for a secular state where all faith is equally protected, and no faith at all is just as protected.

That’s what I believe about what you believe. That you have an absolute right to believe it, and that you have absolutely no right to impose your beliefs on others through the public instrumentalities of government, law and public education. Any more than any one else has the right to impose their beliefs on you. I think Christians call it the Golden Rule.

Pretty simple, really.

[links] Link salad for a thirsty Thursday

Surviving the World on creative writing — Uh…

A Toast Story — You just have to read this one all the way through. I simply cannot do it justice in a couple of lines of commentary or throwaway snark. (Via David Goldman.)

What not to say to a transgender person — What a curious, and encouraging, thing to see on CNN.com, of all places. Slowly the culture moves in the right direction. (Assuming that you, like me, believe tolerance, inclusiveness and human rights for every American is the right direction.)

Thai graft body to probe rice subsidies, adding to PM’s woes amid protests — The story itself doesn’t mean much to me one way or the other, but it took me several tries to read the headline as anything other than some kind of incredibly creepy Dr. Moreau thing about grafting bodies together.

Can history leave towns struck in places with bad locational fundamentals?

34 nuclear missile officers cheated on tests, Air Force says — Well, that’s comforting as hell.

Energy Teleportation Overcomes Distance Limit The ability to teleport energy from one location to another could revolutionise the way quantum devices operate, but only if it can be made to work over practical distances. Now physicists think they know how. I love living in the future.

Why plural marriages make sense — An opinion piece connecting the interests of a certain stripe of the Mormon community with the interests of the polyamorous community. Not a usual conjoining, to be sure.

Vatican To Be Grilled By UN On Allegations It Enabled Rape Of ChildrenThe Vatican is gearing up for a bruising showdown over the global priest sex abuse scandal, forced for the first time to defend itself at length and in public against allegations it enabled the rape of thousands of children by protecting pedophile priests and its own reputation at the expense of victims. Calling the Vatican’s long-term campaign of protection of child rapist an “allegation” is astonishingly kind to one of the most vile action taken by a putative moral organization in modern times. I’m pretty sure the Catholic church’s wholesale ruination of children’s lives over decades has been exhaustively demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt.

The Dark-Tinted, Truth-Filled Reading List We Owe Our Kids — A Christianist view of fiction. I especially like this observation: I would understand if hard-bitten secularists were the ones feeding narrative meringue to their children with false enthusiasm. They believe their kids will eventually grow up and realize how terrible, grinding, and meaningless reality really is. Wow. Has that author ever actually met a secularist? That is an amazingly smug, ridiculous caricature, though I suppose it’s pleasantly self-valorizing for a certain kind of faithholder to pretend that’s how atheists and secularists see the world.

Sen. Burr won’t say why he’s blocking a nominee he recommended — Once again the much vaunted intellectual consistency and sterling character of the American right is proudly on display.

So long, IRS ‘scandal’The IRS faux-scandal, which has died with a whimper, is actually in the news quite a bit right now for a couple of reasons. The first is the Republicans preoccupation with comparing President Obama’s handling of the IRS story with Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) handling of his bridge scandal. But as the FBI’s disinterest helps remind us, there is no equivalence here – the Christie administration, as the governor himself now admits, engaged in actual misconduct. The IRS story, on the other hand, is a mirage. And then there’s House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). (Via David Goldman.)

An actual advance in human freedom in New Mexico. No surprise that conservatives hate it. — Ah, right to die.

Rush Limbaugh: If Christie was a true conservative, whether he lied ‘wouldn’t matter’ — Conservatives get a free pass on ethics. Duh. Also, water is wet. Why is this news? There has never been ethical consistency on the American Right. That’s why they yammer so much about character and morality: to cover up their own massive hypocrisy.

?otD: What will you drink today?


1/16/2014
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 8.0 hours (solid)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Weight: 238.4
Number of FEMA troops on my block BENGHAZI! BENGHAZI! BENGHAZI!: 0
Currently reading: n/a (chemo brain)