Hey, North Carolina, have you forgotten how it went last time you rejected the US government?

Nobody wants a second American Civil War, so why are Republicans in North Carolina repudiating the Constitution? Here’s the law they’re trying to pass.

SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

Amazing. Not only are they trying to make laws in open defiance of constitutional limits, but they’re doing it for a stupid cause — so they can declare a state religion.

So far, we’ve determined that some Southerners are traitors, and that they have a history of committing treason for appallingly stupid reasons. This is not good for your reputation, people!

Both wrong, both right

Uh-oh. Sam Harris and Glenn Greenwald are clashing. They both make good points and some very bad points.

Here’s where I agree fully with Harris. There has been a strange and nasty backlash against atheism lately, and it’s largely driven by ignorance and bias. There was a simply awful article in Salon, accusing atheists of being islamophobes — it was disgracefully dishonest, and Greenwald does himself no favors by linking favorably to it.

But it’s true. Atheists don’t like Islam. We also don’t like Catholicism, Episcopalianism, or whatever jelly-like dribble Karen Armstrong is peddling today. But I would still say that Islam as a religion is nastier and more barbaric than, say, Anglicanism. The Anglicans do not have as a point of doctrine that it is commendable to order the execution of writers or webcomic artists, nor that a reasonable punishment for adultery is to stone the woman to death. That is not islamophobia: that is recognizing the primitive and cruel realities of a particularly vile religion, in the same way that we can condemn Catholicism for its evil policies towards women and its sheltering of pedophile priests. We can place various cults on a relatively objective scale of repugnance for their attitudes towards human rights, education, equality, honesty, etc., and on civil liberties, you know, that stuff we liberals are supposed to care about, Islam as a whole is damnably bad.

It is not islamophobia to recognize reality.

Also, there’s a bad case of confirmation bias going on here. I still get email from people whining that I’d be afraid to criticize Islam because I was very rude to Catholicism once or twice. And if I criticize Islam, as Harris has done, I get complaints that I’m an islamophobic bigot. It’s all about whose ox is being gored. I also can’t claim that my degree of concern about a particular religion is always objectively derived from the amount of harm they do; I probably complain less about Islam than Harris does, not because I deplore it less, but because I’m more focused on local/national issues, and there is a striking dearth of Muslims in rural Minnesota. Harris has a more international perspective than I do, Dawkins is clearly more European, etc.

But there’s also a matter on which I agree completely with Greenwald. I think it is good and realistic to criticize Islam heavily, but there are also good and realistic and productive ways to address the problem of Islam, and I don’t share much common ground with Harris — or to an even greater degree, with the late Christopher Hitchens.

Harris’s defense of his position exposes the problem. I don’t disagree with him on the odious nature of Islam (and Catholicism, and Lutheranism, and…) but there’s something implicit and unrecognized in this statement.

Before you retweet defamatory garbage about me to 125,000 people, it would nice if you looked at the article from which that joker had mined that “very revealing quote.” The whole point of my original article, written in 2006, was to bemoan the loss of liberal moral clarity in the war on terror—and to worry about the influence of the Christian conservatives in the U.S. and fascists in Europe.

“liberal moral clarity in the war on terror”…there’s only one justifiable liberal and morally clear position on that: the “war on terror” is fundamentally wrong. Too often the “moral clarity” we’re asked to endorse is a whole-hearted support for bombing foreign countries, sending in drones to blow up any association of Muslims (like wedding parties), and replying to violence with violence amplified a thousand-fold. Greenwald also quotes Harris:

Unless liberals realize that there are tens of millions of people in the Muslim world who are far scarier than Dick Cheney, they will be unable to protect civilization from its genuine enemies.

No. No one is scarier than Cheney. Cheney is a moral monster who is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, a callous, greedy bureaucrat who engineered murderous wars against whole peoples. Those tens of millions of Muslims are mostly interested in being left alone, in not being victimized by richer nations, in getting along with their neighbors. They’re also victims of a rotten religion that encourages tribalism and misogyny. A “war on terror” — a concept simultaneously quixotic and kafkaesque — is not and can not be the solution.

I despise Islam as much as Harris does, and as much as Hitchens did. Where we differ is that I categoricaly reject any militaristic solution — I heard Hitchens literally advocate a solution to the conflict with Iran by making the corpses bounce in the rubble of our bombing runs, and was appalled. I suspect that Greenwald is made uncomfortable with what some of the New Atheists write for the same reason, but is mistakenly assigning the problem to our rejection of the lies of faith.

I side with Gregory Paul on the source of, and the path to resolution, of these religious conflicts. The problems aren’t going to be solved by destroying economies, or by killing or oppressing people — that will only worsen the situation.

It is to be expected that in 2nd and 3rd world nations where wealth is concentrated among an elite few and the masses are impoverished that the great majority cling to the reassurance of faith.

Nor is it all that surprising that faith has imploded in most of the west. Every single 1st world nation that is irreligious shares a set of distinctive attributes. These include handgun control, anti-corporal punishment and anti-bullying policies, rehabilitative rather than punitive incarceration, intensive sex education that emphasizes condom use, reduced socio-economic disparity via tax and welfare systems combined with comprehensive health care, increased leisure time that can be dedicated to family needs and stress reduction, and so forth.

As a result the great majority enjoy long, safe, comfortable, middle class lives that they can be confident will not be lost due to factors beyond their control. It is hard to lose one’s middle class status in Europe, Canada and so forth, and modern medicine is always accessible regardless of income. Nor do these egalitarians culture emphasize the attainment of immense wealth and luxury, so most folks are reasonably satisfied with what they have got. Such circumstances dramatically reduces peoples’ need to believe in supernatural forces that protect them from life’s calamities, help them get what they don’t have, or at least make up for them with the ultimate Club Med of heaven. One of us (Zuckerman) interviewed secular Europeans and verified that the process of secularization is casual; most hardly think about the issue of God, not finding the concept relevant to their contented lives.

The result is plain to see. Not a single advanced democracy that enjoys benign, progressive socio-economic conditions retains a high level of popular religiosity. They all go material.

How do we destroy Islam? Not by terrorizing Muslims, but by respecting them as people and giving them access to the same economic and educational opportunities that we have.

To put it starkly, the level of popular religion is not a spiritual matter, it is actually the result of social, political and especially economic conditions (please note we are discussing large scale, long term population trends, not individual cases). Mass rejection of the gods invariably blossoms in the context of the equally distributed prosperity and education found in almost all 1st world democracies. There are no exceptions on a national basis. That is why only disbelief has proven able to grow via democratic conversion in the benign environment of education and egalitarian prosperity. Mass faith prospers solely in the context of the comparatively primitive social, economic and educational disparities and poverty still characteristic of the 2nd and 3rd worlds and the US.

That’s liberal moral clarity.

A way to strike against denial of abortion rights in Kentucky

PatrickG posted this deep in the Lounge, where only the bravest, thickest-skinned hordelings venture. So I’m amplifying his signal.

my partner is relentless. She keeps saying things like “you always talk about this site and how they’re so supportive of abortion rights, HIT THEM UP!”. And by hit you up, I mean it’s Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon time! Technically, has been for some time. :)

So! If you’re interested in funding abortion rights in Kentucky, specifically through the Kentucky Support Network, consider wandering over here and chipping in a few dollars. Our team is aiming to raise a measly $500, and we’re almost there. :)

Abortion access in Kentucky is a particular issue for me — we’ve got a part-time clinic in Lexington, a full-time clinic in Louisville… and that’s pretty much IT. Louisville has a hospital under siege by Catholics (gubernatorial action was necessary to prevent the latest merger attempt), and there’s basically nothing in northern/eastern Kentucky. They all have to travel. Added bonus (bleh): the Louisville site is heckled by protesters non-stop. In short, we might not be Mississippi or North Dakota, but we’re getting there.

All the funds raised for KSN go directly to transportation, housing, and medical expenses. Administrative funds are raised strictly through grants.

If you’d prefer to chaff my hide, consider donating to my partner’s page here**. She’d be thrilled to receive donations instead of me — my own father donated in her name instead of mine! But wherever you donate, it goes to the same place – the Kentucky Support Network.

You know what to do.

I just hate their freedom

The Libertarians have just assessed freedom in the 50 states…and guess who wins as the most free state in the union?


North Dakota! The state that has just passed the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the country!

To their credit, they are completely open about how they calculate “freedom” — it’s entirely about legal interference that limits positions they consider important. Reproductive freedom: not important — so unimportant it’s not even anywhere on their long list of measures. On the other hand, legalized prostitution is a criterion. That seems to be the only issue where women’s concerns come into play at all. Freedom to buy and sell guns: very important (conversely, freedom to not get shot: negligible importance). Education policy is important, but not in the way that you might think: mandatory standards for licensure of private school teachers is a detriment to freedom, as is mandatory schooling and imposing standards on home schooling.

There are a few spots where I’d agree with them. Gay marriage is a plus, and I think (it’s a bit unclear here) that they regard throwing people in jail for victimless crimes like drug use is a minus.

But in general, look at that map, and think about what it says. The Libertarian version of freedom is embraced in the empty, underpopulated states like the Dakotas; the antithesis of the Libertarian version of freedom is found in California and New York, where the most people live. And honestly, if you were given the choice to live in either California or North Dakota, what would most of you choose? (Yes, I know there are aspects of the Dakotas that make them very attractive places…but freedom and politics are not among them.)

I am not at all surprised that the Libertarian recipe for freedom is nearly identical to my recipe for oppressive hellhole.

Run, Ben, run!

The far right has lately been gushing over the idea of getting Dr Ben Carson to run for president — he’s their One Black Friend who believes in exactly the same things they do. Among his latest typical conservative faux pas, he recently compared gays to pedophiles and fans of bestiality, and has had to backtrack a little bit. Look at this beautiful not-pology:

If anyone was offended, I apologize to you. What I was basically saying is there is no group. I wasn’t equating those things, I don’t think they’re equal. If you ask me for an apple and i give you an orange you would say, that’s not an orange. And I say, that’s a banana. And that’s not an apple either. Or a peach, that’s not an apple, either. It doesn’t mean that i’m equating the banana and the orange and the peach.

The intelligence of Ronald Reagan, the eloquence of George W. Bush…please make him your candidate!

Oh, wait. Those two guys got elected. Uh-oh.

They really are all about controlling your life, aren’t they?

North Carolina Republicans have just introduced another of their morality bills.

(a) Marriages may be dissolved and the parties thereto divorced from the bonds of matrimony on the application of either party, if and when the party upon satisfying the following requirements before filing for divorce under this section:

(1) The husband and wife have lived separate and apart for one year,and themet a two‑year waiting period. The spouse seeking the divorce shall give a written notice of intent to file for divorce to the other spouse at the beginning of the two‑year waiting period. The notice of intent shall be properly acknowledged in accordance with Chapter 10B of the General Statutes. During the two‑year waiting period, there is no requirement that the husband and wife live separate and apart.

(2) During the two‑year waiting period, the husband and wife have each completed courses on (i) improving communication skills and (ii) conflict resolution. Courses required by this subdivision do not have to be completed together as a couple.

(3) If a couple has a child, the husband and wife have each completed a course of at least four hours on the impact of divorce on children.

(b) Upon satisfying the requirements under subsection (a) of this section, a husband and wife may proceed with an action for divorce by submitting to the court evidence that (i) the requirements of subsection (a) of this section have been satisfied and (ii) the plaintiff or defendant in the suit for divorce has resided in the State for a period of six months.months prior to filing for divorce. A divorce under this section shall not be barred to either party by any defense or plea based upon any provision of G.S. 50‑7, a plea of res judicata, or a plea of recrimination. Notwithstanding the provisions of G.S. 50‑11, or of the common law, a divorce under this section shall not affect the rights of a dependent spouse with respect to alimony which have been asserted in the action or any other pending action.

Whether there has been a resumption of marital relations during the period of separation shall be determined pursuant to G.S. 52‑10.2. Isolated incidents of sexual intercourse between the parties shall not toll the statutory period required for divorce predicated on separation of one year."

You don’t have to take classes to get married or have children, and they aren’t imposing a two year waiting period on marriages. I think they’re missing a trick here.

John Logsdon hits the big time

Last night at #nwc36 we were talking about evodevo, and one of the topics that came up was the importance of Drosophila reasearch in providing the foundation for comparative genetic analysis…which led to Sarah Palin. Remember Palin’s ignorant mockery of fruit fly research? This is what we get from the Republican party.

Now Michelle Malkin’s blog chimes in with a similar complaint. John Logsdon got an NSF award to study reproduction in snails. WASTE OF MONEY! CUT THE DEFICIT! HOW DARE THEY SPEND MONEY ON SOMETHING SO STUPID!

Malkin’s blogger, Doug Powers, and the majority of the commenters there are embarrassingly ignorant. They quote the award announcement with some annotations.

The study, first funded in 2011 and continuing until 2015, will study the New Zealand snails to see if it is better that they reproduce sexually or asexually – the snail can do both – hoping to gain insight on why so many organisms practice sexual reproduction.

“Sexual reproduction is more costly than asexual reproduction [just paying for the drinks can end up running into the thousands of dollars over a lifetime – DP] [fucking moron – PZM], yet nearly all organisms reproduce sexually at least some of the time. Why is sexual reproduction so common despite its costs,” the study’s abstract asks.

And then doubles down on the cluelessness.

“Why is sexual reproduction so common despite its costs”? Seriously?

Yes. Seriously. That’s an important question in biology. Selfish stupid libertarian/republican idiots ought to understand this clearly.

Look at it this way, Doug. When you go to reproduce, you — perfect, powerful, independent, self-serving you — need to go to a mere woman and in order to produce offspring, you only pass on half your genes, and they are mingled with half the genes from your partner. That’s what we mean by the cost of sexual reproduction. You don’t get to produce a literal self-made man: you need to cooperate with a partner, and your genome will be diluted with that of some other person. That other person is using YOU as well, parasitizing off the perfect efficiency of your genes to propagate her patently inferior genes.

Any good conservative Republican ought to be outraged at this state of affairs. Think about it: your God, President Ronald Reagan, instead of cloning himself, had to randomize his genes with some other person and produced a son, Ron Reagan, who is a politically liberal atheist. You ought to be throwing far more money at this problem!

Snails are an interesting choice to study this problem because, unlike humans, they have options to either reproduce in that familiar sexual way, or to do it asexually and essentially clone themselves. The question is why any individual would elect to throw away half their genes each time they reproduce.

If Doug Powers can explain that, he could get published in some big name science journal instead of the blog of an ignorant political hack.

Hey, we should study that choice, too, except we haven’t yet found any molluscs stupid enough to have to decide whether they want to be published on Michelle Malkin’s site or not.

Speaking of terribly rude women…

Now Amina has disappeared.

The 19 year old Tunisian Amina who posted a topless photo of herself with the slogan “my body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone’s honour” has disappeared. Most likely her family have kidnapped her and taken her to an unknown location, (earlier reports mentioned a psychiatric hospital). What’s clear is that they have removed all forms of communication from her so that she can no longer be reached.

Let’s have a discussion now about how impolitely exposing one’s breasts is a disproportionate response to the dudebros. She should have just had a quiet discussion in private with her imam.

Gosh darn it, it would be the funniest political race ever!

All eyes would be focused on Minnesota if Michele Bachmann tried to challenge Al Franken for his senate seat. Franken knows how to do the sober statesman with the occasional pointed barb just perfectly, and would be an excellent foil for the often deranged Bachmann — I also think Franken’s personality meshes very well with the electorate in this state, while Bachmann is a weirdo who only fits her exquisitely gerrymandered House district…which she came very close to losing in the last election.

Bachmann would go splat against Franken, and the big bonus: she’d lose her House seat as well.


I’m making a list of who’s going up against the wall in the revolution

Top of the list: bankers. Did you know this?

Both bankers and their once free-spending wives are suddenly becoming familiar with the art of thriftiness.

That’s part of some money-saving tips for bankers, which is full of rage-inducing suggestions. They aren’t applicable to you or me, for instance, because among them are such jewels as “sell the second home” (I haven’t paid off the first yet! Also, yes I know I’m privileged to be able to afford just the one), fly coach class (yeah, I almost always do), have the wife do the ironing (really, the sexism in this article alone is grounds to start the revolt), take cheaper skiing trips, and here, my very favorite:

The more money you have in your pocket, the more you will want to spend it. “Stop carrying a wedge of cash around with you,” said the ex-Goldman banker. “It reduces the temptation to tip people so much.”

Screw the people poorer than you are!