"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Friday, August 28, 2015

ACORN Redux

Actually, the target this time is Planned Parenthood. I'm sure you've heard the stories about how Planned Parenthood is profiting from selling fetal tissue and organs from all the gazillions of abortions they perform every year, based on videos released by a group calling itself "Center for Medical Progress".

At any rate, since PPH is an organization that provides healthcare to women, and especially poor women, the usual suspects -- meaning the teabagger Congress and the "Christian" soldiers -- are all over it. Everyone's investigating Planned Parenthood.

But, funny thing about that:

Videos released by anti-choice groups claims that Planned Parenthood is participating in illegal fetal tissue sales, but Planned Parenthood states that the only compensation for fetal tissue donation is for expenses, and those programs are only in two states.

“Although donation of fetal tissue is lawful under the Abortion Control Act and federal law, our review has found that Planned Parenthood facilities in Pennsylvania do not participate in this practice,” Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Karen Murphy wrote in a letter to a state legislator. “Moreover, there is no evidence that any Planned Parenthood site in this Commonwealth is involved in the buying or selling of fetal tissue.”

Murphy said that she’s never found a “violation … regarding the procurement or use of fetal tissue.”

Pennsylvania is the fifth state to investigate and find no wrongdoing on PPH's part.

And, guess what (Via Crooks and Liars.)

An expert report submitted to congressional leadership today, concludes that the secretly recorded and heavily edited videos, released about Planned Parenthood and life-saving fetal tissue donation ‘significantly distort and misrepresent’ actual events. . . .

Collectively, the five videotapes of Planned Parenthood staff have at least 42 splices where content is cut and edited together to make it appear to be a seamless conversation.

In some cases, these splices completely change the meaning of statements. On one video, a Planned Parenthood staff member’s remarks about lab protocols were edited to make it sound like she was talking about changing abortion procedures. Phrases on the tape were isolated and removed, stringing together unrelated sentences to change the meaning.

Anti-abortion activists used the doctored “quote” to support false claims that she was talking about changing how an abortion would be done, and the “quote” was published by mainstream media as if it were real.

On one tape, a Planned Parenthood staff member in Colorado says 13 separate times that any arrangements related to fetal tissue donation need to be reviewed by attorneys and follow all laws – and all 13 are edited out of the video.

On another tape, a Planned Parenthood staff member in Texas says nine separate times that there is no “profit” related to fetal tissue donation – and all nine are edited out of the video.

And of course, the "liberal press" has been repeating the lies ad nauseam.

Now, if you think that this report is going to have any effect on the Republican leadership, you really should know better -- the House Witch Hunt Committee has got to justify its existence somehow, and Benghazi!! is so 2014. And don't count on the Democrats to grow a pair.

I suspect, however, that the guardians of America's morals are not going to find PPH such an easy target. Several states have tried cutting off Medicaid funding for PPH -- but it's against federal law.

"Longstanding Medicaid laws prohibit states from restricting individuals who have coverage through Medicaid from receiving care from a qualified provider," Lori Lodes, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told AP in an e-mail. "By restricting which provider a woman could choose to receive care from, women could lose access to critical preventive care, such as cancer screenings."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Sometimes You Just Can't Win

At least, as in the case of Rowan County (KY) Clerk Kim Davis, whose request for a stay pending appeal to the 6th Circuit was unanimously denied. The 6th made an important observation:

“In light of the binding holding of Obergefell, it cannot be defensibly argued that the holder of the Rowan County Clerk’s office, apart from who personally occupies that office, may decline to act in conformity with the United States Constitution as interpreted by a dispositive holding of the United States Supreme Court,” the judge ruled. “There is thus little or no likelihood that the Clerk in her official capacity will prevail on appeal.”

Translation: It's not about you, Ms. Davis.

I think I've remarked before on the narcissism of the "Christian" right. I'm not the only one to notice.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Culture Break: Nickelback: Gotta Be Somebody

This is without doubt one of the strangest music videos I've ever seen. It's beyond surreal.


It is, however, one of my favorite Nickelback songs.

A Little Astrophysics to Wake Up To

Another fascinating insight from Stephen Hawking, on black holes and the information therein -- or not:

A long-standing conundrum related to black holes deals with something known as the “information paradox.” In a nutshell, the laws of quantum mechanics tell us that everything in the universe is encoded with information about its constituent particles’ quantum states. And, this information should never entirely disappear, not even if something gets sucked into a black hole. The fact that this information seems to get irretrievably lost when a black hole inevitably evaporates has frustrated physicists for nearly four decades.

During a lecture at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm on Tuesday, famed British physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking presented an idea about how this paradox can be solved. According to him, the quantum-mechanical information about particles falling into black holes doesn’t actually enter the black hole.

“The information is not stored in the interior of the black hole as one might expect, but in its boundary -- the event horizon,” Hawking said, adding that the information is encoded in two-dimensional holograms known as “super translations.”

The problem is that the information is not organized, so that, in practical terms, it is lost, even though it's not. (Don'cha love modern physics?)

I vaguely remember a science-fiction story from years ago in which someone was trapped in orbit around a black hole -- at the event horizon, more or less -- and someone else was trying to rescue them, but it's been a long time and I don't remember the details. The point of that little anecdote is that it may help visualize what Hawking is describing.

One thing that interested me is that I never knew that black holes evaporate, or that it's inevitable.

And Hawking notes that there are other ways out of a black hole short of dissolution. But you'll need to read the article.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Are You Sure We're Not In Kansas Anymore?

Or any other state where Republican-controlled legislatures have been trying to guard against "voter fraud." Via tristero at Hullaballoo, this report:

As an elected lawmaker and member of Myanmar’s governing party, U Shwe Maung attended dinners with the president and made speeches from the floor of Parliament. But this weekend, the country’s election commission ruled that despite more than four years in office, he was not a citizen and thus was ineligible to run for re-election in landmark voting in November.

“I was approved and considered a full citizen in 2010,” he said in an interview on Saturday. “Now, after five years, how could I not be eligible?”

Mr. Shwe Maung’s plight is but one example of what appears to be the mass disenfranchisement of the Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority who number around one million in Myanmar.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who cast votes in elections five years ago have been struck from the electoral rolls, election commission officials have confirmed, although without providing a precise number.

Substitute "Latino" or "African-American" or "poor" for "Rohingya," and you could be talking about Kansas, or Florida, or Ohio, or. . . .

If you think the progression to genocide is extreme, consider this, from one of the Hairpiece's fans:

Awesome followers he has:

“Hopefully, he’s going to sit there and say, ‘When I become elected president, what we’re going to do is we’re going to make the border a vacation spot, it’s going to cost you $25 for a permit, and then you get $50 for every confirmed kill,’ ” said Jim Sherota, 53, who works for a landscaping company. “That’d be one nice thing.”

Kind of like killing Cecil the Lion only a lot closer and cheaper.

How about this? From more of The Donald's fans:

Police say two brothers from South Boston beat a homeless man because he was Hispanic—and The Boston Globe reports one of the men said he was partially inspired by Donald Trump.

The 58-year-old homeless man was asleep next to Dorchester’s John F. Kennedy/UMass stop when he woke up to the brothers urinating on him, police said. They then punched him and beat him with a metal pole, police added.

The two brothers, Scott and Steve Leader, were on their way home from the Red Sox game on Wednesday night when they decided to attack the homeless man, according to police.

One of the brothers claimed to be partially inspired Trump, a Republican presidential candidate, allegedly telling police, “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported,” the Globe reports.

After he was informed about the incident, Trump told the Globe, “it would be a shame . . . I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.”

Trump has since modified his reaction -- seems the blowback was enough to catch his attention.

And if you're thinking these are just a couple of isolated incidents, go back and read the NYT article linked in the Cecil the Lion quote from Digby. Why does this seem to center on Trump? I think Paul Krugman has hit it:


(Via Crooks and Liars.)

Of course, the attitude is not limited to Trump -- it's a Republican thing.


Monday, August 24, 2015

How Times Have Changed

Here's an interview with Keegan Hirst, the first professional rugby league player to come out as gay:


If you can decipher his accent (even I'm having a bit of trouble with it, and I've been watching English murder mysteries), it's pretty interesting, not only for the actual content, but perhaps even more for the subtext: it's all very matter-of-fact, as though the interview was about the upcoming rugby season or something.

Of course, this is from BBC.

There's a Lot

packed into this video. It's actually a short, directed by Dustin Lance Black, and it's a plug for Coca Cola.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Which Is Worse?

These assholes?

Boston brothers said that they were inspired by Donald Trump to beat and urinate on a homeless Latino man, police revealed on Wednesday.

According to State Police, Scott Leader and Steve Leader encountered the victim on the way home from a Red Sox game near a stop on Boston’s subway system, The Boston Globe reported on Wednesday.

The man said that he awoke to find the brothers urinating on his face and rummaging through his belongings.

“Next thing . . . he was getting hit in the face and head,” a police report explained. “He remembers being punched several times and hit with the metal pole.”

A witness said that the brothers were heard laughing as they walked away.

Or their hero?

Trump called the assault a “shame.”

“I will say that people who are following me are very passionate,” he remarked. “They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.”

They're not passionate -- they're stupid bullies, just like their leader.

That's really showing our greatness -- beating up on homeless people. If we were really great, we wouldn't have any homeless people.



Celebrities

You know, the Duggars are getting to be as boring as the Kardashians. They're even less interesting than the Republican presidential wannabes -- although the hypocrisy level might be a little higher. Maybe.

"Christian" Exercise Routines

They seem to favor doubling down, backtracking, and dodging. Remember Pastor Ben Bailey of Tennessee, who was steadfast in his contention that gays deserve to be stoned?

“God does not approve of homosexuality or gay marriage,” he insisted. “The scripture says… that is vile, unnatural and deserving of a penalty… It’s an abomination that under the Old Testament deserved stoning.”

Well, it seems he wasn't really condoning the murder of gays:

"We do not believe in stoning homosexuals," Bailey tells WTAE. He says the New Testament doesn't teach that, "and I didn't teach that in the video."

However, if you look at his church's website and his own sermons, you're likely to be scratching your head over the cognitive dissonance.

"Did you know that the New Testament says that homosexuality is a sin against God and nature?," the text of a sermon given by Bailey reads. "In Romans 1:26-29 we are told that homosexuality is immoral and ungodly, and that people who engage in such will receive the eternal punishment that is due to them if they do not change their ways."

Sounds like he's dodging here. Apparently, his faith isn't strong enough to weather the blowback from his disgraceful and inflammatory statements. But he's doing it out of "love" -- at least, the "Christian" version of love, which no rational person would recognize as anything positive.

If you read the article at the link, the guy sounds pretty incoherent. Perhaps the video is clearer:


It strikes me how easy it must be to be a "Christian" -- you don't have to take responsibility for anything, if you screw someone over Jesus will forgive you (and you don't have to worry about the effect of your actions on those you've harmed), and you never have to question anything in the Bible -- you just have to pick the parts that suit your own agenda.

Must be nice.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Finally (Update)

A newspaper willing to tell it like it is. The Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader has published a blistering editorial on Kim Davis and her battle for "religious freedom":

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has chosen to prolong her moment in the limelight by defying a federal judge's order to issue marriage licenses to legally qualifed people who apply for them.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning kindly but firmly told Davis Wednesday that in our system her religious beliefs don't trump the rights of the taxpayers who pay her almost $80,000 annual salary. . . .

No doubt county clerks and their staffs over the decades have often looked at people applying for marriage licenses and questioned both the wisdom and the likely sanctity of the proposed union. Certainly they've often known things about the couple that many religions would frown upon. But we've never heard of a clerk denying a license to a divorced person, a philanderer, someone who's abused a partner or neglected children. It's easy to imagine the outrage and chaos that would ensue if clerks began morality-testing prospective opposite-gender spouses. But that's exactly the right that Davis is demanding. She wants to pick and choose, based on her beliefs, which legally qualified couples will get marriage licenses.

The real target, though, is Liberty Counsel, acting as Davis' attorneys:

Liberty's attorneys know they can't win the case in Rowan County. Same-sex marriage is legal since the Supreme Court's June 26 decision and it's Davis' job to issue marriage licenses.

So, why is Liberty Counsel marching alongside Davis in this losing cause? It takes a lot to keep that marketing machine humming and those executives paid, and the only way to keep those donations coming is to stay in the news. For that purpose a losing cause is just as good as, perhaps better than, a winning one.

That comes after a summary of Liberty Counsel's executive salaries and expenses -- excuse me, $600,000 for someone to send e-mails?

Read the whole thing. It's delicious.

(Apologies -- somehow, I forgot to provide the link. It's there now, so I've bumped this one up.)







They Came From Outer Space

Octopuses. At least, that's what some want to believe. PZ Myers takes exception to science reporting:

These reporters are embarrassing.

Not to freak you out or anything, but scientists have just revealed that octopuses are so weird they’re basically aliens.

The first full genome sequence shows of that octopuses (NOT octopi) are totally different from all other animals – and their genome shows a striking level of complexity with 33,000 protein-coding genes identified, more than in a human.
Bullshit.

The studies, of course, say just the opposite, but that hasn't stopped some people:

Proving that octopuses are creatures that arrived from another planet, possibly from another solar system, may not be revealed any time soon. However, their alien existence upon the Earth is expected to be the focus of significant research in the coming years. It is likely that they will be found to be born of the Earth, but the mysticism that they may be aliens makes the genome discovery quite intriguing.

This is what the abstract of the study says:

The core developmental and neuronal gene repertoire of the octopus is broadly similar to that found across invertebrate bilaterians.


Buy stock in tinfoil. It's a sure bet.

Science reporting in general is pretty abysmal. I don't know if it's just that the writers are generalists who find themselves out of their depth when covering specialist findings, or whether they're just so used to dumbing down that it's become a reflex. Years ago, I used to read NYT's science articles regularly, until I finally got fed up. And this was NYT.






Which God Would That Be, Then?

Glen Cook, in The Instrumentalities of the Night, describes a progression of the religions centered in the Holy Lands. The first is the god of the Dainshaukin, which he describes at various times as "vicious," "psychotic," "egomaniacal," and "psychopathic." That one seems to be a blend of the ancient Middle Eastern gods -- think Baal and the like -- at least as near as I can figure. (Cook doesn't display a lot of sympathy for organized religion or the gods themselves in this series.)

With that in mind, take a look at these two stories. First, Pastor/Governor Mike Huckabee (via Bark Bark Woof Woof):

During an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union this morning, Mike Huckabee was asked about “Mainumby,” a ten-year-old Paraguayan girl who became pregnant after she was raped by her stepfather. The girl, whose name is a pseudonym, was denied an abortion and forced to carry the baby to term, despite objections from medical experts.

When CNN host Dana Bash asked Huckabee if he would have allowed Mainumby to have an abortion, Huckabee responded with a stock answer: “Does it solve the problem by taking the life of an innocent child?”

Bash then asked Huckabee if it would be easy “looking in the eyes of a 10-year-old girl and saying, ‘You had a horrible thing happen to you, and you’re going to...carry it out for the next nine months.’”

Huckabee responded: “No, it isn’t easy. I wouldn’t pretend it’s anything other than a terrible tragedy. But let’s not compound the tragedy by taking yet another life.”

His rationale for such a decision is two-fold Huckabee explained, it protects both fetus and mother: “There are two victims. One is the child; the other is that birth mother who often will go through extraordinary guilt years later when she begins to think through what happened — with the baby, with her. And again, there are no easy answers here.”

"There are no easy answers here." That's good, especially since the Pastor/Governor has one: punish the 10-year-old mother-to-be for being the victim of a rape. Why do I get the feeling that this is not an issue on which he's squandered a lot of thought?

And what about the life of the "innocent child" who is the real victim here? Oh, I forgot -- children only matter before they're born.

As for Part II of today's post: You can tell this guy is a real conservative:

Pastor Ben Bailey of the Central church of Christ in McMinnville, Tennessee blamed “liberal society” for banning the stoning of LGBT people, whom he said were deserving of punishment.

In a Sunday broadcast for The Gospel of Christ television program, Bailey observed that some couples were choosing to go to churches with “relaxed and liberal views.”

He said that they wanted “things like women preaching, women leading in service, where homosexuals and gay marriage were accepted openly.”

“They were just looking for something liberal,” the pastor continued. “Something that didn’t criticize or condemn or didn’t have any hardcore standards on anything — anything goes type of mentality.”

But Bailey argued that was not what God wanted.

“He has a definite standard and it is not the liberal mindset that we see today,” Bailey opined. “This book [the Bible] does not condone things like women preaching… Paul said I do not let a woman preach of be in authority over a man, that’s not according to the Bible. If I’m out to please God, we don’t find things like that in the Bible.”

“God does not approve of homosexuality or gay marriage,” he insisted. “The scripture says… that is vile, unnatural and deserving of a penalty… It’s an abomination that under the Old Testament deserved stoning.”

Got that? Not stoning people is "liberal." This guy makes Rick Santorum look like a progressive.

He is, of course, an Old Testament "Christian". I wonder how he'd manage if he pulled his head out of his Leviticus long enough to read the Gospels?

(By the way -- I've read that the word "abomination," of which the OT "Christians" are so fond, is a mistranslation, and the word actually used meant something like "not the custom" or "against our tradition." But then, that doesn't have quite the same punch, does it?)

The real problem is how to lure these roaches back into the woodwork where they belong.