Monday, December 31, 2012

Reproductive rights defeats in Michigan and Texas

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Abortion: My Mind, My Body, My Choice

It’s a tough day for reproductive rights. Just as Michigan Republicans manage to cram through an all-in-one anti-abortion bill destined to penalize impoverished rural women and force clinics to close under the burden of ridiculous and pointless rules (even as some lawmakers made it clear they couldn’t care less what the bill actually says in their zeal to protect the imaginary rights of fetuses), a Texas judge has now allowed the state to block funds to Planned Parenthood:

Attorney general spokeswoman Lauren Bean said Judge Gary Harger has ruled that Texas may exclude otherwise qualified doctors and clinics from receiving state funding just because they advocate for abortion rights. The state has long banned the use of state funds for abortion.

At issue Monday was whether Planned Parenthood and other abortion-rights groups could continue to provide preventive health care to poor women as part of the Women's Health Program. The program provides check-ups and birth control to 110,000 poor women and 48,000 of them go to Planned Parenthood clinics.

No word on what the chances are that Planned Parenthood will regain the right to provide their critical, life-saving services to the hundred thousand in their care despite the ideological crusade constantly being waged against them by crusty old pearl-clutching demagogues who shrivel up at the idea of women possessing any amount of basic sexual agency.

(via @breakingpol; RT: @BreakingNews)

This year in bloggery: Top 10 posts of 2012

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Top 10

Another year has passed us by, and with it, by far the most traffic this here blog thingy has ever seen (though that’s mostly thanks to one particular incident). Without further ado, here are the ten most popular entries of 2012, as ranked by number of individual visitors:

(NOTE: Stats retrieved 12/31/12 2:13 AM ET by combining browser & mobile traffic data from Google Analytics.)

#10: Australian billionaire plans to build Titanic II
Posted: April 30, 2012 | Unique (Total) Pageviews: 455 (590)
Aussie entrepreneur Clive Palmer declares his intention to oversee the design and construction of a modern incarnation of the erstwhile Ship of Dreams. I can only wonder how amazed or appalled the strict perfectionist in me will be once it’s completed – if it ever is, of course.

#9: House Republicans hinder abortion access for raped soldiers
Posted: June 13, 2012 | Unique (Total) Pageviews: 497 (515)
You didn’t think House Republicans would drop their obstructionist vendetta just because a few thousand female soldiers are raped every year and require access to critical reproductive healthcare, right?

#8: Welfare recipients “are slaves to the government and should be reminded of that fact”
Posted: February 28, 2012 | Unique (Total) Pageviews: 535 (583)
Brion McClanahan at The Daily Caller is peeved at all those freeloading poor people being able to use their food stamps in grocery stores like they’re all that, because “[t]here should be humiliation and pain in government assistance”. (Thanks to Daily Kos commenter dmhlt 66 for the bump!)

#7: This wet koala wants to eat your soul
Posted: July 17, 2012 | Unique (Total) Pageviews: 550 (705)
Who knew atmospheric precipitation didn’t agree with Phascolarctos cinereus?

#6: More fun with the anti-Atheism+ brigade
Posted: October 20, 2012 | Unique (Total) Pageviews: 667 (720)
Where I learned one sure-fire way to attract lots of bigoted stupidity is to state the obvious about how opposing the movement for women’s equality is inherently misogynistic, regardless of the typical misconceptions applied. (Thanks to r/atheismplus-ites for the boost!)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

On Al Stefanelli’s “Atheist Cult” tirade

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Al Stefanelli
Al Stefanelli

As some of you may be aware (and not just because I mentioned it in last night’s Daily Blend), atheist journalist/activist Al Stefanelli recently made a video wherein he launched a veritable Gish Gallop’s worth of attacks and smears against several writers involved with Freethought Blogs (where he briefly resided), Atheism Plus, and the social-justice-oriented atheosphere in general, accusing them of being “radical extremists” out on a witch-hunt against White men and who give other, “real” activists a bad name and so on and so forth. It’s a remarkably dreary and absurd rant, and given that even my SIWOTI syndrome only goes so far, I was content to link to Ed Brayton’s excellent debunking and leave it at that (I found his comparison to the rhetoric from religious-Right cranks particularly fitting).

However, Stefanelli himself was apparently dissatisfied that I supposedly misunderstood his argument, and additionally claimed that I hadn’t even watched the video (an amusing assumption, considering that while I did skip past some of the more lengthy segments devoted to explaining in mind-numbing detail exactly why certain bloggers he disagrees with are like a “cult”, I did sit through the majority of it and understood his arguments perfectly).

But let it never be said that I’m not one to rise to such an easy challenge (even if it entails spending hours of my own freaking birthday typing down some weird rant about how myself and my allies are something like the bastard child of Jim Jones and Pol Pot of godless social justice). And so, I took the liberty of transcribing every painful second of Stefanelli’s tirade, below, in the hopes of sparing anyone else from sitting through the wretched thing:

I don’t want any cake for my birthday

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Fine Italian food
My birthday present

I don’t really care for cake, to be honest. I will take some fine Italian food, though, ’cause that’s what I’ll be enjoying as we celebrate the fact that I am now legally allowed to get wasted on a park bench. (Or would be, were I an American. I’ve actually been allowed to do that for three years, now.)

I do expect lots of presents, though! (Seriously, a new colander would be hot. Freaking sticky noodles.)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Daily Blend: Friday, December 28, 2012

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Al Stefanelli
Al Stefanelli
  • Ed Brayton eviscerates Al Stefanelli [pictured] for his ridiculous rant about Freethought Blogs being an “atheist cult” for radical feminists who hate White men and so on. And imagine, the guy considers himself an ally. Mind, meet boggle.

  • Relatedly, it seems that Ophelia Benson must really be doing good work discrediting these twits.

  • 2012 was quite a year for the “fast-growing” men’s rights movement, wasn’t it? (Well, no.)

  • College student learns despairingly many people are turtle-hating assholes. Though, I wonder how many hit it accidentally after swerving to avoid it.

  • Behold: The Ted Nugent countdown clock. (A possible third option: Carted off to a nuthouse.)
    (via Dispatches from the Culture Wars)

  • And finally, here, have some astoundingly (if hauntingly) beautiful photos of what several prominent cities would look like with every single light bulb burned out:
    (via @DiscoveryCanada)

  • “Darkened” San Francisco, CA
    “Darkened” San Francisco (by Thierry Cohen)

    If you have any story suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them in.

    Donohue wants higher taxes for “miserly” non-religious liberals

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    The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue has found a new reason to snipe at atheists and other irreligious folks: They (supposedly) aren’t as charitable as religious people, and are thus a burden on society! Or something.

    The top religion story of 2012 was The Chronicle of Philanthropy survey of American charitable giving, “How America Gives”; it was released in August. Its central finding was that the more religious a city or state is, the more charitable it is; conversely, the more secular an area is, the more miserly the people are.


    The findings are consistent with other studies. It suggests that the rise of the “nones”—those who have no religious affiliation—are a social liability for the nation. It also shows that those who live in the most liberal areas of the nation are precisely the ones who do the least to combat poverty. They talk a good game—liberals are always screaming about the horrors of poverty—but in the end they find it difficult to open their wallets.

    There is little doubt that the “nones” and liberals (there is a lot of overlap) are living off the social capital of the most religious persons in the nation. Perhaps there is some way this can be reflected in the tax code.

    Of course, the reality is quite different: The only reason why more religious states appear to outperform more secular states in how much people give to charity on average is because most pollsters include money given to churches and other explicitly religious institutions as “charity”, which understandably and unfairly skews the numbers. It’s not as if “religious nones” had any centralized faithless organization to which they donated a faction of their yearly earnings. In fact, unskewing those numbers seems to indicate the precise contrary – that less religious regions are actually more charitable on average.

    What’s more, there’s actually research that seems to indicate that secular folk may be driven more by compassion for others and less by some sense of duty to church or doctrine. You know, in case you needed yet another reminder that religion and faith in some deity aren’t useful factors in determining how good or caring any given person is.

    So, with that in mind … who, exactly, should be getting higher taxes, here, Bill?

    Senate renews NSA’s horrible (and illegal) spying program

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    Warrantless wiretapping (cartoon of bald eagle listening in on AT&T calls with earphones)

    It appears to be open season on U.S. citizens’ privacy rights this week, as only days after the Senate approved warrantless snooping in people’s personal emails, it’s now renewed the NSA’s horrendously unconstitutional spying program, known as the FISA Amendments Act, after striking down several proposed amendments that would’ve created any trace of oversight:

    After three key amendments that would have brought some oversight to the NSA's ongoing spying program were rejected last night, and the final such amendment was rejected this morning, there was little doubt that the Senate would move ahead with renewing FISA in its current and highly problematic form. Immediately following the rejection of the Wyden amendment, that's just what they did, voting 73-23 to extend FISA for another five years.

    Of course, there was no doubt that FISA would be renewed – has Congress shown any remote interest in curbing the federal government’s ability to breach the American people’s privacy in the last few decades? – but it would still have been nice if it had done something as simple and obvious as, say, put a system in place to estimate how many U.S. citizens are even being illegally spied on in the first place. But it would seem even that was akin to inviting the terrorizers to bomb America’s email inboxes or something.

    Real “war on Christmas” in Saudi Arabia

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    “War on Christmas”

    This has probably been done by a myriad other bloggers who follow these sorts of things, but it bears repeating. For all the privilege-soaked Christianists in the U.S. (and elsewhere) who see any reminder that their faith isn’t the law of the land as an affront to their religious liberty, it’s easy to forget – for we comparatively lucky ones – that while the “war on Christmas” is simply nonexistent in most of the West, it’s a very real struggle in other parts of the world, namely in rigidly Islamic countries where Christians are actually persecuted:

    Saudi religious police stormed a house in the Saudi Arabian province of al-Jouf, detaining more than 41 guests for “plotting to celebrate Christmas,” a statement from the police branch released Wednesday night said.

    The raid is the latest in a string of religious crackdowns against residents perceived to threaten the country's strict religious code.

    The report is vague about the outcome of the raid (namely if anyone will be put on trail or such), though it sounds like most of the guests have since been released. But at any rate, this is something else to keep in mind the next time some whiny church leader or perennial malcontent tries to compare Western Christians to Nazi-era Jews because a court points out that it’s against the law to put sectarian symbols on government property.

    (via @BuzzFeedAndrew)

    Wednesday, December 26, 2012

    Daily Blend: Wednesday, December 26, 2012

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    Scarlet ‘A+’ of Atheism Plus

    Busy reading, so have an early Daily Blend for today.

  • I am shocked – shocked! – to learn that the anti-feminist/Atheism Plus/Freethought Blogs camp doesn’t actually have any good arguments.

  • Study: West Antarctica is warming up twice as fast as predicted and at thrice the planetary average rate.
    (via ThinkProgess)

  • White House website petition to label Westboro Baptist Church a “hate group” is the most popular ever. Only problem: No such designation exists under any U.S. law.
    (via @BuzzFeedAndrew)

  • And finally, here’s one particularly creepy ritual put into perspective:

  • ‘Communion’ | xkcd [by Randall Munroe @ 12/25/12 7:00 PM]
    Don’t forget the hover text!
    [‘Communion’ | xkcd (by Randall Munroe)]

    If you have any story suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them in.

    U.S. Senate okays warrantless email surveillance

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    Government surveillance (U.S. flag with eye)

    In which Congress’s love for letting the federal government snoop around in people’s private lives without probable cause burns anew:

    Legislation sent to President Obama this week quietly removed language in a bill that would have — for the first time — forced law enforcement to obtain a warrant to read Americans' email. Currently, private email that has been stored by a third party for more than 180 days can be accessed by the government without a warrant.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee had added a provision to legislation demanding that law enforcement or government agencies show probable cause for email searches. The provision was added to a bill aimed to allow users the ability to post on their Facebook feeds what they are watching on video services. […]

    The bill was praised by Netflix as a modernization of the law "giving consumers more freedom." It passed the Senate on a voice vote, but without the language that would have forced law enforcement to obtain warrants rather than simply subpoenas to snoop into private emails.

    I guess Congress got tired of continually throwing the increasingly tattered remains of the Fourth Amendment under the lawnmower and has moved on to openly mocking it, instead.

    Tuesday, December 25, 2012

    And now, an obligatory season’s greetings to y’all

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    And other quaint platitudes that are fun to say and give the illusion of earnest goodwill. Cheers!

    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    Daily Blend: Sunday, December 23, 2012

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    William Kokesch
    William Kokesch

    Here’s hoping that finally having a decent laptop will make tomorrow’s family reunion somewhat more bearable for this antisocial loner, eh?

  • Your obligatory reminder that President Obama never ended extrajudicial renditions. (Then again, he never said he would, something a number of liberals seem confused about.)
    (via @jeremyscahill; RT: @greenwald)

  • Montreal Catholic clergyman [pictured] charged with you-guessed-it.

  • And finally, best wishes to Dispatches from the Culture Wars’s Ed Brayton, who’s having a rough time with his health.

  • If you have any story suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them in.

    Is there still a rational basis for the Second Amendment?

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    U.S. gun culture

    This post developed from an idle thought I had during a conversation with a friend, and as a result, is more of a meandering than anything else. But I thought it would be interesting to share here should it spark any interesting discussion. Quite simply: Is there still a rational and reasonable basis for the continued existence of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment in this modern day and age? (Note: This post is about the Second Amendment specifically, not the right to bear arms in and of itself. More at the bottom of the post.)

    I don’t pretend to be a legal or historical buff, so I’ll keep things simple. From what I do know, Amendment II’s raison d’être was generally bipartite:

  • 1) Ensure national security through a well-armed militia to defend against invaders; and

  • 2) Grant U.S. citizens the means to overthrow the federal government should it become tyrannical.

  • (I’m well aware that there’s more than enough detail and nuance with these points and others to sustain countless endless legal and historical debates, but for the purposes of this post, that was basically the basis for including the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights.)

    Both of these points were quite valid during the days when the Second Amendment was created and enacted. Tensions with then-imperialist Britain meant constant worry about being attacked, and one of the overarching themes throughout the Constitution and other writings from the Founding Fathers is a general concern for freedom from dominion one way or another (a natural reaction, considering how they’d recently warred for their independence). Allowing commoners to arm themselves and form militarized groups was an obvious and rational solution to the very real concerns of the time.

    But that’s the thing: Times change. The fledgling and vulnerable United States during the ratification of the Bill of Rights bears little resemblance to its current form as a global superpower, and the centralized, well-equipped federal military that grew out of the Civil War renders both previous premises all but moot:

  • 1) The risks of any U.S. territory (much less the mainland) being invaded by any external force beyond a rogue flock of seagulls is outright laughable in the age of rapid mobilization and nuclear arsenals (among many other factors); and

  • 2) For essentially the same reason, nothing short of having every single American man, woman and child march into Washington, DC with rifles in hand would be sufficient to destabilize a government as broad and powerful as the United States’s, and given that even the revelations of the federal government’s extrajudicial surveillance, assassination and indefinite detainment programs couldn’t spur more than renewed pointless partisan chicanery, I have my doubts that the American population retains much interest in forcefully opposing their government’s possible tyranny.

  • In other words, for better or worse, the two key reasons why the Second Amendment was necessary in the first place simply don’t apply anymore with the might of the U.S. Military.

    So then, what other evidentiary basis might there be for the lingering enshrinement of the U.S. citizenry’s right to bear arms in the U.S. Constitution? Or in other words, why shouldn’t it be repealed should the opportunity arise?

    Note: My position on gun rights is that sensible control is best: Civilians should be allowed to purchase and own firearms so long as they submit to criminal and behavioral background checks to weed out as many undesirables as possible, followed by mandatory safety training and with obligatory checkups every few years or so. Assault rifles and other high-powered weapons one would expect to see on a military battlefield should be restricted, as I can’t see a good reason why any random schmuck would need to walk around toting an AR-15 for “self-defense”. As for limits of gun and ammo quantities, that’s another tangent I’m not interested in broaching at the moment.

    If anything, repealing the Second Amendment might be worth it just to put an end to the fetishism it’s subjected to from the rabidly pro-gun lobby.

    Antivax doctor gets appropriate award

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    Andrew Wakefield
    Andrew Wakefield

    Rarely has such a fitting prize been bestowed upon a more deserving contender:

    Andrew Wakefield, the doctor struck off the medical register for his discredited research that claimed to find a link between autism and the MMR vaccine, can add another honour to his list this Christmas: the inaugural Golden Duck award for lifetime achievement in quackery, set up by the science writer Simon Singh.

    Runners-up for the award were Prince Charles and David Tredinnick, the Tory MP for Bosworth and member of the Commons health select committee. The Good Thinking Society, a campaign group led by Singh, set up the annual Golden Duck award to recognise those "who have supported or practiced pseudoscience in the most ludicrous, dangerous, irrational or irresponsible manner".

    I wonder if even the remaining lights of the antivaccination camp aren’t starting to distance themselves from Wakefield at this point. Unless they plan to use this latest demerit as more “proof” that Big PharmaTM is out to get them for their advocacy of The TruthTM, of course.

    (via @BadAstronomy)

    Friday, December 21, 2012

    Daily Blend: Friday, December 21, 2012

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    Indefinite detention of U.S. citizens

    Wait, there’s still time for the world to end yet!

  • The NDAA [pictured] gets even worse: Senate removes amendment protecting U.S. citizens from indefinite detention without a trial.
    (via @BuzzFeedAndrew)

  • Meanwhile, it turns out that the Obama administration’s surveillance program is even worse than under Bush & co., to absolutely no-one-who’s-been-paying-attention’s surprise.

  • 41-million-strong state of São Paulo, Brazil passes same-sex marriage.
    (via Joe. My. God.)

  • Pro-gun lobby blames Newtown massacre on gun-free zones, media, movies, videogames, music, gun safety advocates, President Obama, hurricanes, terrorism, gunman.

  • Better yet, the NRA wants “an active national database of the mentally ill”; sensible people everywhere pop an aneurysm.

  • In lighter news, contrary to expectations, it seems that 2012 was the best year overall in human history (so far!).

  • If you have any story suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them in.

    Court blocks California’s “gay-to-straight therapy” ban

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    “Pray the Gay Away”

    Another irksome (albeit predictable) development: After California officially banned “gay-to-straight therapy” for minors back in September on the basis that it’s a fat load of mind-warping bullshit, Christian-Right groups have successfully petitioned an appellate court to temporarily block the law:

    In a brief order, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to a block the law, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, pending a decision on its constitutionality.

    The law would subject psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals to discipline by their licensing boards for providing minors therapy to change their sexual orientation.

    The state says the therapy is ineffective and dangerous.

    Therapists, minors and their parents, represented by a Christian-rights group, sued the state on the grounds the new law violates free speech rights.

    Maybe the courts ought to ban Christianists from squealing about “free speech!” and “religious liberty!” every time they’re told to stop shoveling their dogmatic delusions down everyone else’s throats. It’s almost like they’re confusing the right to practice whatever brand of ritualized hocus-pocus they like with the right to force everyone else to abide by their regressive worldview. And if coercing impressionable and vulnerable youths into dangerous, self-repressing brainwashing doesn’t count as a textbook representation of the latter, then I don’t know what does.

    On the other hand, I’m really quite curious to know which “minors”, exactly, are actually interested in preventing the ban from taking place? I expect the number of teenagers who claim to want to be deconverted from teh ghey without being pressured to do so by homophobic parents to be roughly equivalent to the number of people who’ve ever actually changed their sexual orientation. (None.)

    (via @BreakingNews)

    DEA promises crackdown on pot dispensaries despite new law

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    John J. Arvanitis (DEA, New England Division)
    John J. Arvanitis

    Despite voting in favor of medicinal marijuana last November, it looks like the people of Massachusetts aren’t out of the woods yet as far as the federal government is concerned:

    Prospective pot shop owners be warned: New England’s top narcotics cop says federal agents won’t hesitate to come down on dispensaries that pop up next year under the Bay State’s medical marijuana law.

    John J. Arvanitis, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New England Division, told the Herald in an exclusive interview that the feds will probe pot pharmacies as they see fit.

    “Marijuana is still a controlled substance,” Arvanitis said. “DEA is committed to investigating individuals who are involved in the distribution of marijuana. DEA goes to where the information and evidence take it. If we become aware that individuals are involved in marijuana distribution, we’ll investigate it.”

    Come on … no-one really expected the Obama administration to take the will of the people (not to mention scientific research debunking virtually every single anti-pot myth) seriously, did they?

    On the other hand, more tension might just bring about a much-belated resolution to the conflict between federal and state drug laws. And with a little luck, the courts will rule in favor of common sense and personal liberty over paranoia-induced prohibition.

    (via The Agitator)

    Thursday, December 20, 2012

    Your obligatory Maya(not)pocalypse song

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    It’s not quite the same as the album version, but it’ll do for the occasion:

    Lyrics: (click the [+/-] to open/close →) []

    She feels the ground is giving way
    But she thinks we’re better off that way
    The more you take the less you feel
    The less you know the more you believe
    The more you have the more it takes today

    You got to give it away / You got to give it away
    You got to give it away / You got to give it away
    You got to give it away / You got to give it away

    Well she don’t care what it’s worth
    She's living like it’s the last night on Earth
    The last night on Earth

    She’s not waiting on a savior to come
    (Halle, Christe)
    She’s at the bus-stop with News of the World and the Sun
    Sun, here it comes
    She’s not waiting for anyone

    You got to give it away / You got to give it away
    You got to give it away / You got to give it away
    You got to give it away / You got to give it away

    Well she don’t care what it's worth
    She's living like it’s the last night on Earth
    The last night on Earth

    Clock tells her that time is slipping / Slipping away
    Tear drop sunshine / Slip slide
    Two sides to one feels missing / Too heavy
    Something she might be missing / Slipping away
    World turns and we get dizzy / The world turns …
    Spinning for you / … and we get dizzy
    The way it's spinning for me / Slipping away

    She’s living, living next week now
    You know she’s going to pay it back somehow
    She hasn’t been to bed in a week
    She'll be dead soon then she’ll sleep

    You got to give it away / You got to give it away
    You got to give it away / You got to give it away
    You got to give it away

    She already knows it hurts
    She's living like it’s the last night on earth
    The last night on earth
    Last night on Earth
    Last night on Earth

    I’ll see y’all tomorrow … or will I? (Yes.)

    Maya-not-pocalyptic headlines of the day

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    Then again, maybe they should inform this Michigan superintendent:

    On second thought, maybe it would be preferable if the world did end after all.

    (via Joe. My. God. & BuzzFeedAndrew)

    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    Daily Blend: Tuesday, December 18, 2012

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    Atheist Census logo

    Quick updates: I finally found how to replace the old “Older/Newer Posts” links with actual post titles, something I’ve been trying to do here for quite a while. I’ve also replaced the clunky old search bar with a Google custom search bar, so older posts should now be much easier to find. Oh, and Disqus reactions are finally working again. That is all.

  • The Atheist Census [pictured] is finally back from its DDoS-induced coma, so get yourself counted if you haven’t already.

  • Speaking of godless representation, a new comprehensive Pew Research Center study reveals that 16.3% of the world is religiously unaffiliated (though not necessarily atheistic, of course).

  • Not that you need it (I would seriously hope), but the Bad Astronomer has a write-up explaining in detail how and why the world will not end this Friday.

  • And finally, it looks like the new SimCity will be the first in the series I won’t be spending my money on. It’s a damn shame; I love Maxis, but to hell with EA’s prohibitive DRM fixation.

  • If you have any story suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them in.

    Monday, December 17, 2012

    Vox Day’s predictable gun-ho reaction to Sandy Hook shooting

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    U.S. gun culture

    Fiend of Preliator Theodore “Vox Day” Beale does have a thing for inane rhetorical games, with his usual reaction in the wake of atrocities being to target the public outcry with attempts to dissect and belittle the supposed irrationality of the outraged and the bereaved. The rising, widespread chorus for more reasonable gun control in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting is no different, with Vox’s main reaction – literally (and tellingly) titled “What is wrong with killing children?” – being to castigate supporters of various unrelated issues such as philosophical materialism and even abortion by attempting to tie it all to his kind’s fetishism for gun ownership:

    One of the interesting things I've noticed about all the emotional posturing about the Connecticut public school shootings is that a fair share of it is being done by people who claim there is no God, no good, and no evil. […]

    The logical fact of the matter is that if there is no divine spark within us, if we are merely bits of stardust that happens to have congregated in one of many possible manners, then therre is nothing wrong or objectionable in rearranging the stardust a little. What difference does it make to an atom if it now happens to be part of arrangement X instead of arrangement Y? What difference does it make to the universe?

    As always with Beale, the obvious problem with his inquiries – beyond their blatant dishonesty – is the utter cluelessness they betray about the critics he so delights in haranguing. If Vox were actually serious about understanding the materialistic/humanistic viewpoint, he would have long ago realized that contrary to theists’ routine depictions of us, we have no interest in distilling moral issues down to coldly analytical thought experiments. Rather, we recognize that human beings are inherently emotional and moral creatures, having developed these qualities during the course of our evolution (and that no divinity or other supernatural force is responsible). Emotions and morals are an integral part of Homo sapiens, as much as our eyes, hair and gallbladders, and trying to deny this, or to sidestep it by viewing the world through a zero-sum lens, reveals only the intellectual dishonesty of those who caricaturize us or accuse us of their own worst traits.

    No, the universe does not care about the brutal murders of twenty innocent schoolchildren and six adults. But we do. We are hardwired to care about such things, regardless of religious beliefs or ideological worldview. Only those who suffer from some psychological or neurological impairment – or, say, from being egregiously narcissistic and borderline sociopathic assholes whose sole reaction to horrible acts is to launch mindless swipes at their ideological opponents over topics that have nothing to do with the matter at hand – can see such events as mere intellectual curiosities or opportunities to launch pseudo-philosophical debates.

    Friday, December 14, 2012

    Daily Blend: Friday, December 14, 2012

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    Laurie Penny
    Laurie Penny

    My sincerest wishes for any Connecticut readers and their families’ safety.

  • The Onion voices my thoughts on today’s horrors. (But remember, folks: NOW IS TOTALLY NOT THE TIME TO TALK ABOUT GUNS NO NEVER.)

  • Meanwhile, noted policy expert Vox Day proposes the “meaningful action” of banning public schools. And movie theaters, shopping centers and public rallies, of course.

  • I’m sure Laurie Penny [pictured] is just making it all up, too, ’cause we all know misogyny isn’t a real problem on the Internets. (Oldie but goodie.)
    (via @BadAstronomer)

  • And finally, here’s a much-needed chaser for the day:

  • If you have any story suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them in.

    Australian Vaccination Network ordered to change name

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    This is beautiful: The government of New South Wales, Australia has demanded that the Australian Vaccination Network, which goes into conniptions whenever anyone suggests that its flagrantly anti-vaccination rhetoric makes it an anti-vaccine group, must change its name to something a little less Orwellian:

    The NSW Office of Fair Trading doorstopped the home of Australian Vaccination Network president Meryl Dorey yesterday with a letter of action, labelling the network's name misleading and a detriment to the community.

    NSW Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts fired a broadside at the AVN, saying the information it provided was a public safety issue of "life and death".


    "People do not have the freedom of choice when it comes to endangering others ... it's the equivalent of saying a bloke can speed down the road and endanger others," he said.

    Mr Roberts said he was prepared for any appeals the AVN might make.

    "This is an order, it is not a request," he said.

    I think this order toes a fine line between the principles of public safety and civil liberty. While I generally oppose government attempts to interfere with privately owned entities so long as they’re following any applicable laws (I’ve found no indication that the AVN has violated any laws or ordinances), I equally believe the government has the responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of its people (at least in principle, regardless of how often it may screw up in practice). And if that means forcing a belligerent group of medical frauds to end their pretense of serving as a credible source of impartial information, that’s perfectly fine by me.

    (via @DrRachie; RT: @BadAstronomer)

    Thursday, December 13, 2012

    Daily Blend: Thursday, December 13, 2012

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    Paul Zachary “PZ” Myers
    PZ Myers
  • If crap like this doesn’t convince you that the U.S. criminal justice system is an absolutely hideous farce, nothing will.
    (via @ggreenwald)

  • I can’t wait for the usual dolts to quote-mine PZ Myers’s [pictured] (discomforting but incontrovertible) assertion that “[i]f you’re white, you’re racist”.

  • Meanwhile, the man must be damn near a saint if harmless, sex-positive jokes are the blackest dirt the anti-Freethought Blogs ilk can dig up on him.

  • And finally, here’s your amazing wildlife video of the day:
    (via @DiscoveryCanada)

  • If you have any story suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them in.

    Kate Harding: Fuck you, men’s rights activists

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    Gender equality

    Feminist activist Kate Harding has a blunt and appropriate message for all those scummy “men’s rights activists” whose actions expose them as little more than women-hating jackholes:

    Fuck you, first of all, for making it nearly impossible for decent men struggling with abusive partners or unfair custody arrangements to get the help they need and deserve. You have forever tainted those issues with your rage-filled, obsessively anti-woman horseshit, to the point where it's become difficult for any rational, compassionate person to trust a man who claims he's been screwed over in family court or abused by a female partner, even if he has.

    That's right—I fully understand that those things happen. I fully believe that men in those situations deserve help, and I know they're generally less likely to ask for it than women are, not to mention less likely to find help there for them when they do go looking. I get how our society's ridiculously rigid ideas about masculinity mean that men are brought up to believe needing help will make them look weak, especially if it's a woman who's terrorizing them. I know those same suffocating standards also encourage men to stifle strong feelings and any nurturing tendencies, which deprives them of the right to experience the full range of human emotions without shame. That completely fucking sucks! You know how I know all that, and why I think it sucks?



    Fuck you for showing up every time women speak, especially about rape and abuse, and trying to make it all about you. Fuck you for derailing threads about the victims of Marc Lépine, a man who screamed about his hatred for feminists as he murdered fourteen women and injured many others, because you also hate feminists and want a fucking cookie for not killing anyone. Fuck you for making rape and death threats against young women who dared to protest a speaking engagement by a man who thinks little girls would enjoy being raped by their fathers if it weren't for society telling them it's dirty. Fuck you for whining about how unfair it is that women might wonder if you're a rapist when you approach them out of nowhere, while completely ignoring how unfair it is that women feel the need to be on guard all the time in public. Or that if we relax and behave normally—drinking, dancing, dressing however we want—you will be the first motherfuckers in line to blame us for getting ourselves raped.

    That felt good just reading it. There’s nothing like letting loose every now and then and expressing exactly how you feel about the suppurating polyps who make any real discussion about inequality impossible.

    Fuck MRAs very much, indeed. And anti-Freethought Blogs/Atheism Plus crackpots, while we’re at it – they’re merely different manifestations of the same general slime.

    (via man boobz)

    Tuesday, December 11, 2012

    Daily Blend: Tuesday, December 11, 2012

    | | »
    Matthew Inman
    Matthew Inman
  • Introducing @Dronestream: Twitter feed of every reported U.S. drone strike since 2002.
    (via @ggreenwald)

  • Another hapless critic, this time a BuzzFeed contributor, goes after The Oatmeal’s Matthew Inman [pictured]. It doesn’t end well (for the first guy).
    (via @AdamSerwer; RT: @radleybalko)

  • What’s more popular than the “rapidly growing” men’s rights movement? Just about anything (including horse porn).

  • If you have any story suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them in.

    Jon Stewart hammers Fox News’s refusal to debate gun culture

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    The inane talking heads posing as journalists over at Fox News recently got their Second-Amendment-embroidered undies in a bunch when NBC sportscaster Bob Costas dared to break lockstep with the punditry’s complacence with the United States’s pervasive gun culture. As always, leave it to The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart to attempt to hammer home some basic common sense, not that he has much of a chance with their skulls so abnormally thick. Parts one and two:

    Non-U.S. readers: Click here to learn how to enable Comedy Central videos (Firefox only)

    Transcript: (click the [+/-] to open/close →) []

    JON STEWART: But recently, the sports world has suffered some tragic off-the-field incidents. The Dallas Cowboys lost a player in a drunk driving accident this past weekend; a murder-suicide involving a Kansas City Chiefs linebacker the weekend before. That led to sports commentator Bob Costas commentating on this during halftime in the Cowboys-Eagles game.

    BOB COSTAS [12/06/12]: You want some actual perspective on this? Well, a bit of it comes from the Kansas City-based writer Jason Whitlock. […] From the end of his article: “Our current gun culture,” Whitlock wrote, “ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy.” […] “In the coming days, Jovan Belcher’s actions and their possible connection to football will be analyzed. Who knows? But here,” wrote Whitlock, “is what I believe. If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Cassandra Perkins would both be alive today.”

    STEWART: “And now, the marching band!”

    All right, obviously, there’s a tragedy, it’s more complicated than that, and if we’re gonna start addressing issues, we can begin with gun culture, but you gotta talk about domestic abuse, mental illness, the head trauma, football, the drugs they give the guys for pain; I’m assuming Costas was leaving that to Cleatus, the Fox Robot, to take care of. But still!

    What he was doing was trying to start a conversation, and … he succeeded.

    LAURA INGRAHAM [12/04/12]: That belonged on NBC cable channel, I mean, you kinda expect that over there. You don’t expect that during a football game.

    ERIC BOLLING [12/03/12]: It’s NFL Sunday, it’s halftime, ‘God Bless America’’s playing in the background. Do I really want Bob Costas giving me a dissertation on the Second Amendment? […] I wanna watch football!

    STEWART: Really? ’Cause that’s when I go take a piss, but okay.

    Yes, an NFL halftime show is no time to talk about violence in the NFL! It’s a time to watch endless slow-motion replays of that day’s hardest hits. “Zoinks! That was a great hit! Yeah, I think the guy’s brain came out of his ear-hole on that one! Suck it up like a man! Of course, he’ll never be the same again. All right, well done.”

    JON STEWART: So, halftime isn’t the right time. Now, what about at a press conference? Like after the Aurora shootings, when the Mayor of New York called for an examination of gun laws?

    KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE [07/23/12]: There were also bodies not even out of the theater, Dana, before he started to jump in this debate. Now, I think there is some level of political protocol that you need to have in a tragedy like this where you wait.

    JUDGE JEANINE PIRRO [07/27/12]: Be quiet for 24 hours, at least!

    STEWART: Clearly, in that situation, it’s not where it is being discussed, it’s when. I’m assuming that the venue was good; just that the mayor did not obey the commonsense waiting period we place on gun … conversations. You don’t want somebody in an emotional state just shooting off their … mouths.

    But of course, it’s not just the “where” and the “when” of the conversation about guns; it’s the “who”!

    GRETA VAN SUSTEREN [12/03/12]: Is this what you really wanna hear at halftime, sportscaster Bob Costas lecturing football fans – that means you – about gun control?

    LAURA INGRAHAM [12/04/12]: Mr. Costas, you don’t know that much what you’re talking about, so stick to the area that you’re really smart about, which is sports. […] I wrote a book called Shut Up and Sing; this would be “Shut Up and Commentate on Sports”, because we’re not really interested in what Bob Costas thinks about guns.

    STEWART: Right, but … why do you get to talk? ’Cause I – if I may, very quickly, no disrespect – I don’t much care what you have to say about anything. Yet, whenever I turn on the TV, you’re there, talking about everything. That’s the subject of my book, “Shut Up and Shut Up.”

    So clearly, sports commentators, they don’t get to comment about gun violence, and singers don’t get to comment about gun violence, either, right, Fox?

    FOX HOST #1 [12/03/12]: Ted Nugent issued a quote, saying, “We thought Bob Costas was smarter than that. Only fools blame tools instead of human failings.

    STEWART: How come that guy doesn’t have to shut up and sing? Or shut up and whatever it is that he does?

    I’m beginning to figure out the rules, though. If you wanna talk about gun violence, gun culture, gun control, you gotta be a gun expert. You can’t just be some sportscaster or musician. And even the right person can’t talk about it if it’s too soon after a tragedy; it’s disrespectful. How long do you have to wait to say there should be more guns after a tragedy, like the shooting in Oslo?

    FOX CONTRIBUTOR [07/24/11]: You have 600 people there, Geraldo –

    GERALDO RIVERA: On that island.

    CONTRIBUTOR: – on that island, and the security procedures that were there were noneffective. […] If you have a gun, Geraldo, you don’t have security. I have a big laugh when they ask me for a security guard, “but we don’t want them to have a gun.” If you don’t want security to have a gun, then you’re not having security.

    STEWART: “That’s the thing about these Norwegians, lemme tell you somethin’. They don’t understand how much they need guns. It’s a harpoon culture. D’you understand what I’m sayin’? They shoot whales! They don’t know [?].”

    That was about the mass killing in Norway, but at least they respectfully waited until … 48 hours afterwards. See, in fact, if you wanna have a conversation about our gun culture, you better make sure you’re being tasteful and respecting the victims and their families. Of course, if you’re trying not to have that conversation …

    ERIC BOLLING [12/03/12]: This guy, six- – I dunno, 6’4”, 320 [lbs], he could’ve killed her with his bare hands. It wasn’t a gun that killed her, it was Jovan Belcher that killed her.

    INGRAHAM [12/04/12]: I guess Costas does not think Belcher is strong enough to asphyxiate his girlfriend, or smart enough to hook up a hose into his garage and kill her through asphyxiation.

    MEGYN KELLY [12/03/12]: Look at O.J. Simpson. […] He went over there with a knife, he murdered his ex-wife and her friend.

    SEAN HANNITY: Was Nicole Brown killed with a gun, or was she killed with a knife?

    STEWART: Yeah! Knife! Knife! Knife! Knife! Nicole Simpson was murdered with a knife! Does Costas wanna ban knives? ’Cause then, we’d have to cut steak with our guns, and that would be terrible!

    Still, I think I get the rules now. I’m just trying to get the rules. You can talk about guns, just not in the immediate wake of any event involving guns. But with approximately 30 gun-related murders daily in the United States, when will it ever be the right time to talk about the issue?

    CNN HOST [11/29/12]: A rare moment in New York City. Police say there were no reported slaying, stabbings, shootings or knifings during a 36-hour period from Sunday night to Tuesday morning.

    STEWART: Aah, it was two weeks ago! We missed the [fucking] window! But why ruin the celebration?

    [W]hy do you get to talk? ’Cause I … don't much care about what you have to say about anything. Yet, whenever I turn on the TV, you’re there, talking about everything.” Perfect.

    Ray Comfort presents another hilariously bad analogy for God

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    Ray Comfort
    Ray Comfort

    Leading Internet buffoon and recent WorldNetDaily inductee Ray Comfort presents another one of his famously moronic analogies in his amusing quest to discredit atheists:

    A group known as “a/sunists” produced a manifesto explaining why they believe that the sun doesn’t exist:

    Firstly. An entire desert tribe of men, women, and children was once killed by the sun. Therefore the sun doesn’t exist.

    Second. Intelligent scientists have searched the night sky for the sun, and found no evidence for its existence.

    Third. They also entered a pitch-black room and studied a book about the sun. Again, they found no empirical evidence.

    Fourth. Beliefs were confirmed by interviewing members of the Braille Institute.

    Lastly. The millions who testified that they have seen a brilliant ball of fire in the sky are unscientific dimwitted liars. The a/sunists continue to hold their meetings in a dark room and tell each other that it is intelligent to believe that the sun doesn’t exist.

    By professing the blindness of atheism, atheists deny the God-given light that He has given to every sane human being.

    First of all, that should be “asolarists”, not “asunists”, given that the Sun’s actual name is Sol (hence, “solar activity” and not “sunular activity”). But then, considering he actually believes the above constitutes a coherent or convincing argument, it seems rather petty to blame him for not understanding the intricacies of basic English.

    Ray, do you know why there are no “asolarists” (who aren’t presumably kept in padded rooms)? Why, of course you do – your point is that the existence of the Sun is obvious to anyone who can look up, much less use all of our fancy sciencey tools to study its various characteristics. In other words, only crazy people would believe the Sun doesn’t exist, right?

    Well, see, here’s the thing with your argument, Ray. God isn’t like the sun. Anyone can see the sun with there naked eyes (though don’t look into it directly!), but no-one can see God’s beard. We can feel the sun’s warmth; we can’t feel God’s dissatisfied breath down our necks every time a sin is committed. We can measure the exact distance between us and the Sun; yet, God is literally neither here nor there. We can determine nearly everything about the Sun, such as its size, mass, chemical composition, energy output, and expected lifespan; but the Bible makes it clear that God cannot be observed, calculated or quantified in any way, shape or form by even our most sophisticated equipment. The Sun is a major player in the natural world (at least as far as life on Earth is concerned), yet there is absolutely no material (or logical) evidence that any part of our environment was even touched by a divine being, much less poofed into existence altogether.

    In other words, even by your own exact logic, while there is tons of “proof” (as you would surely put it) that the Sun exists, there is zero “proof”, or any empirical evidence whatsoever, that any supernatural being exists at all, much less the one described as Yahweh in the Old Testament. If there was, we would have found it by now.

    Who, exactly, are the crazy people here, Ray? Those who believe the Sun exists because of its obvious, demonstrable and measurable effects on the world around us, or those who believe in a divine intelligence that supposedly created the entire Universe without leaving any trace of its handiwork, and that supposedly demands veneration despite failing to provide the slightest hint of evidence that it even exists in the first place?

    This is is why I don’t spend too much time trying to convince anyone that there is a God. To do so is to waste time and energy.

    And yet, you spend your time (at least on your blog) deriding atheists for not believing in God and cooking up ever-more-ridiculous metaphors to try and prove how obvious it supposedly is that he exists. Tomayto and tomahto, Ray.

    Monday, December 10, 2012

    Wingnuts see suspicious lack of activity at NYC Islamic center

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    Artist’s rendering of completed Park51
    Park51 (artist’s rendering)

    Only two years ago, the Right-wing mediasphere was going bonkers – more than usual, anyway – over Park51, a planned Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan that’s been dishonestly smeared as the “Ground Zero Mosque”, despite being located several blocks away from the World Trade Center site and where a prayer space will only be one of the many features on offer once completed. It finally opened last year to remarkably little fanfare, as pretty much everyone other than a few obsessed reactionaries had failed to maintain any outrage over peaceful Muslim-Americans wanting to build a community center in the same city where unrelated extremists committed a horrible act years previously.

    Well, the same cranks who were convinced Park51 was really just a ruse to plant a breeding ground for terrorists in the heart of New York City have been keeping watch over its development, and they’ve recently made a disturbing, even shocking, discovery: Only one year after the still-unfinished center opened its doors, people are actually praying there rather than partaking in its many activities (that don’t exist yet)! Enter the New York Post:

    And while the developers behind Park51 insisted for two years that the project was more than a mosque, it now appears to be just that. Dozens of worshipers gather at the site on Park Place Friday for prayer services — but that’s the only activity in the building.

    Gone are the Arabic classes, workshops in calligraphy, talks on the genealogy of Muslims in America, film screenings and art exhibits. The sole community event is a class in capoeira — an Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines dance and music. The teacher of the twice-weekly class said she has five students.

    And after the article does its best to try and convince readers that the Islamic center’s current dearth of activities is somehow suspicious or newsworthy, it then slips in this telling little piece:

    Development plans are now in limbo over fund-raising for the project and a dispute with Con Ed, which owns half the site. In 2009, El-Gamal’s company bought half the property, which once housed a Burlington Coat Factory store, for $4.8 million, and leased the other half from the utility. It is seeking to buy that part of the property.

    In other words, the reason why Park51 doesn’t include most of its promised activities yet is a busy terrorist training schedule lazy immigrant developers mass khlav kalash poisoning mundane financial disputes.

    Better yet, here’s how that bastion of nuance, Fox News, covered this non-story:

    Screenshot of Fox News Channel: “IT'S A MOSQUE-RADE / Ground Zero Site: Lack-Of-Activity Center”

    Because on Planet Wingnuttia, lack of any suspicious activity whatsoever is itself proof of suspicious activity. Reality just can’t win.

    (via @SimonMaloy; RT: @mmfa)

    Saturday, December 08, 2012

    This week in doggycide: 12/08/12

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    Zeus the dog
    Zeus (RIP)
  • Carolina Forest, SC (November 20): Off-duty officer shoots and kills Zeus [pictured], his PTSD-afflicted Iraq vet neighbor’s dog, after he allegedly behaved aggressive. Neighbor says the dog was always playful and never threatening.
    (via Dogs Shot by Police | Facebook)

  • San Diego, CA (November 27): Bare-bones police report says probation officers shoot and kill an unidentified dog for allegedly biting and injuring a cop.
    (via Dogs Shot by Police | Facebook)

  • Chicago, IL (December 01): Cop writing a parking ticket shoots and injures Colonel Phillips the miniature bull terrier puppy for approaching him and “wagging its tail”.
    (via @radleybalko)

  • Statistics:
    Cases: 3
    Victims: 3
    Deceased: 2 (66%)
    Survivors: 1 (33%)
    Pitbull index: 0 (0%)

    Greenwald explains why other countries hate the U.S.

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    Glenn Greenwald explains the obvious to those benignly naive Americans who can’t understand why anyone would possibly feel the need, no matter how unjustifiable, to advocate or use violence against their beloved country:

    In the last four years alone, it has used drones to end people's lives in six predominantly Muslim country (probably more). Under its Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader, it has repeatedly wiped out entire families (including just this week), slaughtered dozens of children at a time, targeted and killed people rescuing and grieving its victims, and either deliberately or recklessly dropped bombs on teenagers (including its own citizens), then justified it with the most foul and morally deranged rationale.

    It embraces and props up the world's most repressive tyrants. It isolates itself from the world and embraces blatant double standards in order to enable the worst behavior of its client states. It continues to maintain a global network of prisons where people are kept indefinitely in cages with no charges. It exempts itself and its leaders from the international institutions of justice while demanding that the leaders of other, less powerful states be punished there. And it is currently in the process of suffocating a nation of 75 million people with an increasingly sadistic sanctions regime, while proudly boasting about it and threatening more.

    It spent years imprisoning even Muslim journalists with no charges. And then there's that little fact about how, less than a decade ago, it created a worldwide torture regime and then launched an aggressive war that destroyed a nation of 26 million people, one that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings.

    Those are all just facts. And while there is no shortage of Americans willing to step up and dutifully justify some or all of those acts, it's so astonishing to watch people express surprise and bewilderment and anger when they discover that this behavior causes people in the world to intensely dislike the United States.

    In short, you can’t play the part of a global bully and then act surprised when others want to punch you back. It doesn’t make them right to do so, but it is a predictable reaction to the very real offenses and atrocities the U.S. continues to perpetuate around the world.

    ‘Gangnam Style’ rapper PSY’s eight-year-old rap about murdering the families of U.S. troops who engage in torture is obviously and absolutely indefensible; no context ever justifies preaching senseless violence, much less against innocents. But being unjustifiable doesn’t equate to being unexpected, and to pretend that it’s all that shocking, especially during those years of rampant anti-Americanism under the Bush administration, betrays either critical ignorance or a lack of rational perspective.