He and Bachmann could be BFFs!

The crazy Minnesotans keep crawling out of the woodwork and onto the political stage — it’s a little embarrassing. We’ve had a professional wrestler, a vampire, a crazy Jebus lady, and now…Gary Boisclair, an anti-abortion fanatic who’s running against Keith Ellison, our Muslim representative in the Fifth Congressional District. Here’s his ad (which he has no money to air, so only put it on youtube, where it got pulled for violating their terms of service), which makes a big deal of the fact that Ellison swore his oath of office on a copy of the Quran, which is full of bombastic Islamic tribalism and sectarian exclusivity, and threatens unbelievers with violence and horrible fates.

It’s a “book that undermines our Constitution,” says Boisclair. So what book would he take his oath of office on? The Bible, which is just as bad?

Bye-bye Perry

There was a Republican debate yesterday? Who cares — at this point, the only reason anyone is watching them is like watching NASCAR, hoping for a spectacular crash. And Rick Perry delivers.

Everyone is groaning over how he couldn’t even remember which government agencies he plans to axe if he gets into office, but seriously—the ones he remembers are education and commerce? He seriously wants to shut down education? We should be howling at that, but that’s the kind of wicked nonsense we expect of Republicans anymore.

Apparently, the third agency was the Department of Energy, which he rails against every day in his regular stump speech. Again, now is the time to cut off energy policy? The man is insane as well as stupid.

Good news, everyone!

That odious initiative to declare fertilized zygotes as ‘persons’ in Mississippi? FAILED. In fact, it looks like a lot of conservative craziness got slapped down all around the country. Maybe we’re starting to turn around and go in the right — that is, left — direction, at least a little bit.

Also, while we’re feeling politically ebullient, #OCCUPYMORRIS is marching again tonight. Meet at 4:30 on the UMM mall.

I’m not proud of the state of Minnesota

Although it is nice of this video to highlight the local bigots for us.

You can tell the producers of the video really, really care about communities outside of Minneapolis/St Paul by the way they care about getting the details right…like how to spell “Willmar”. (It’s a local thing: Minnesota is a state divided into the one big metropolitan area and the rural so-called ‘outstate’ region, which often feels neglected and put upon by the big city. And it’s not spelled “Wilmer”.)

Vote NO on the wretched Minnesota marriage amendment.

(via Joe. My. God.)

It ought to be up to Americans to decide what is true!

You must watch this episode of the Daily Show — it’s all about science. Lisa Randall is on it plugging her new book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door (she actually doesn’t get to say much about it, but I’ve ordered it for my iPad anyway — I know what I’ll be reading on the plane to New Orleans tomorrow), a good section on the recent confirmation of global warming, and my favorite bit of all, Aasif Mandvi blithely leading a chipper Republican operative to agree with the most egregiously ignorant, anti-science claims.

Mandvi: Why are surgeons the only ones allowed to perform surgeries?
Blithering Republican: Absolutely.
Mandvi: Doesn’t make any sense.
BR: It never makes any sense!
Mandvi: and the only other people who can check whether they’re manipulating…
BR: are other scientists!

It also features Marty Chalfie defending himself against accusations of rape.

(Also on Sb)

Thugs amuck

Whose side are the police on? Apparently, the side of the corporate masters and exploiter bankers. This is a scene from Occupy Oakland, where the police are targeting protesters rather brutally.

As is par for the course, the thugs are lying. Here’s what the Oakland PD had to say:

Q. Did the Police deploy rubber bullets, flash-bag grenades?

A. No, the loud noises that were heard originated from M-80 explosives thrown at Police by protesters. In addition, Police fired approximately four bean bag rounds at protesters to stop them from throwing dangerous objects at the officers.

It’s right there on video, a policeman tossing something that went bang right in the middle of a group trying to help an injured man. There is no excuse for that. None.

Photographic proof that the Oakland PD is lying.

Mississippi’s shame

The state of Mississippi will be considering Initiative 26 in less than two weeks. This ballot initiative is radical and dangerous; it intends to elevate a single cell to the full status of an adult human being, with all the rights and privileges of such status. It has an effect that ripples through every law on the books, because it changes who they apply to…and you know that no matter how charitably you might try to interpret the law, some fanatic somewhere is going to use it punish women for getting pregnant. It puts a little time bomb in the uterus of every expecting mother.

BALLOT TITLE: Should the term “person” be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof?

BALLOT SUMMARY: Initiative #26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to define the word “person” or “persons”, as those terms are used in Article III of the state constitution, to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.

This is Dr Freda Bush, who seems to be the spokesperson for this abomination of a law. Notice how nice and positive she is, and how warm and sincere her voice is. Notice also that she lies through her smiling mouth.

Here’s what she says that fills me with fury. It’s a lie.

Science confirms that a person is a human being at the moment of fertilization. At that moment we are fully human and fully alive.

No, “science” does not say that. She is playing word games. It’s only true if all a person is to you is a cell or tissue with the right ancestry and the right collection of genes; she relies on our colloquial understanding of “human” to imply our better qualities, the gifts that make us different from animals, the elements our our nature that freight the word “humane”. Science does not judge that. Science can look at the derivation of a cell, and we could sequence genes from it and assess its relationship to human genes, and we could apply tests and tissue-type its proteins and tell you what species it belongs to, but there are no unambiguous markers for the broader meaning of humanity.

What she says is nominally, superficially true, but only in the sense that it also applies to an excised anal polyp…which is also “fully human” and “fully alive”, as the cells have the right number of chromosomes, are derived from a human parent, and have metabolisms whirring away just as industriously as any other cell in the body. We tend, however, to confine the meaning of “human” in the moral, social, aesthetic, and freakin’ meaningful sense of the word to something more substantial than the flavor of the meat. These mindless godbots want to throw that meaning away.

We can say that the cell at fertilization has no capacity for love, no sense of humor, no joy in its existence, no thoughts or plans — it lacks the neural substrates to do any of that. At some point, the developing fetus will acquire those abilities, but science can’t say precisely when, so it’s a lie to claim that you have a definitive, absolute, positive answer.

The real ambiguity of science and the imaginary certainty of these dogmatists has real consequences, though. If passed, it means women who are raped do not have recourse to abortion or even the morning after pill. It means fetuses with crippling, devastating abnormalities will be forced to be carried to term. Worse still, it means that common forms of contraceptive could be determined to be criminal: IUDs that prevent implantation and birth control pills that may prevent implantation (that’s not their primary mode of action) could be declared illegal. Proponents of the initiative claim that it will not, but they are being disingenuous and denying the known behaviors of the fanatical ‘pro-life’ crowd. You know some raving Catholic or devout Baptist will use this law as a lever to ban every potential instrument of family planning that hinders the hegemony of the patriarchy.

It also denies the reality of Mississippi.

It’s the most conservative state in the nation. Planned Parenthood (which doesn’t even provide abortions in its one clinic here) and the ACLU are dirty words. Where there were once seven abortion clinics in the state, the one remaining flies in a doctor from out of state. As for supporting life, Mississippi’s infant mortality rate is the worst of any state in the nation. The number of babies who die as infants in Mississippi is double the number of abortions annually. It also has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy nationwide, alongside a child welfare system that remains dangerously broken.)

If they really cared about babies, all their energy would be spent correcting that abysmal infant mortality rate. But they don’t. They care about god and public piety, nothing more.

This law is not about bringing public policy in line with the scientific evidence — the people behind it do not have a record of ever caring about that. This is pure religious illogic.

Imbuing fertilized eggs with rights isn’t a serious philosophical position, it’s a convenient rhetorical tactic to justify subjugating women.

It’s madness.


Tomorrow, I’ll be on radio station KPFK in Los Angeles around 10am, on The Michael Slate Show. We’re going to be talking about various things, but one thing in particular: we’ll be plugging The Magic of Reality. Slate had a very good one-on-one interview with Dawkins earlier this week, and I think we all agree — getting more copies of that book into people’s heads would be an excellent idea.

While I’m recommending books, I also just finished Sean Faircloth’s Attack of the Theocrats! How the Religious Right Harms Us All-—and What We Can Do About It. It’s about how the religious right is corrupting the United States, with a nice collection of concrete examples of the idiocy these bozos — who keep getting elected! — represent. If you’re reading this blog, you know what I’m talking about, and it’s a safe bet you’d appreciate this book.

So get readin’. You can listen to the radio while you’re working your way through the books.

Why even bother consulting the scientists at all?

A group of scientists have done the right thing: they authored an environmental report, and are now publicizing the changes the Texas state administration tried to impose on it. This is going to backfire on the politicians: rather than hiding away the science that conflicts with their ideology, the censorship is highlighting the corruption and denialism.

Officials in Rick Perry’s home state of Texas have set off a scientists’ revolt after purging mentions of climate change and sea-level rise from what was supposed to be a landmark environmental report. The scientists said they were disowning the report on the state of Galveston Bay because of political interference and censorship from Perry appointees at the state’s environmental agency.

By academic standards, the protest amounts to the beginnings of a rebellion: every single scientist associated with the 200-page report has demanded their names be struck from the document. “None of us can be party to scientific censorship so we would all have our names removed,” said Jim Lester, a co-author of the report and vice-president of the Houston Advanced Research Centre.

Mother Jones has gone through the report line by line. Rick Perry’s mindless zombies didn’t just prune out contentious interpretations of the evidence — they cut out statements of confirmed, measurable fact, like measaurements of sea level rise in Galveston Bay. When reality conflicts with your delusions, what do you do? Rethink your delusions, or try to edit the facts?

We know what choice Perry would make.

(Also on Sb)

Petty internet blackmail

I have to mention two strange examples of internet thuggery.

I hosted a Thunderf00t video the other day in which he outed his own identity, in response to attempts by a youtuber named DawahFilms to extort him with threats of revealing him. It was a nice way to short circuit a threat. I keep hearing from people complaining, though, that Thunderf00t is the bad guy here, which I find completely baffling. Notice: he revealed his own name, not something about DawahFilms.

I have now received email from DawahFilms arguing his case. He’s not very good at this, because it contained this argument:

I am neither a person who threatens death on people for their “free speech” or “criticism” (in fact Ive made videos condemning such behavior) nor am I out to “hurt” Dr. Mason, but instead wished to report him to his university for his unethical behavior and treatment of me.

That looks like a confession to me. I really don’t care if Thunderf00t said rude things about Islam or about defenders of superstition on the internet or youtube; but when people try to threaten their critics’ livelihood, as DawahFilms wants to do, I’m not at all sympathetic. Especially when they’re so weirdly oblivious that they can claim that they don’t want to “hurt” someone, and that they just wish to report him to his employer, all in one sentence.

The second case involves a colleague at UMTC, Bill Gleason, who is getting harrassed by one of the dumbest local ideologues it has ever been my displeasure to encounter online. I’m talking about Thomas Swift, aka TJSwift, AKA Swiftee, a far right, illiterate crank who tainted Pharyngula for a while, until he was banned.

You cannot imagine how stupid TJSwift is. He’s not a master of rhetoric; he struggles with spelling, and punctuation, and grammar, and can barely compose a tweet. So instead, he resorts to scribbling crude cartoons in MS Paint. He also has no artistic ability; these things are the kind of crude caricatures one might find scratched into the walls of a filthy toilet stall in a run-down gas station. To make them mildly recognizable, he pastes in digitized photos of people’s faces. Otherwise, though, they are incoherent, sloppy, pointless scrawls.

I saw some of the examples Gleason posted, and recognized the style immediately. I was getting a collection of these sent to me a year or two ago, emailed under a pseudonym, and containing little more than the kind of pornographic imagery you’d expect of 9 year old, talentless, angry idiot — cartoons of me having sex with a dog (or a cow, or a beige blob…something unrecognizable), for instance.

The real surprise, though, is that this frothing nutcase is allied with some of the most prominent conservative bloggers in Minnesota, Powerline and Mitch Berg. This is how low the Right has sunk.