re:publica 2015: Social Media und Wissenschaft



Nach einer großartigen Woche in Berlin bin ich wieder zurück von der re:publica 2015. Mittlerweile sind sehr viele Vorträge als Video oder Podcast veröffentlicht worden. Deshalb möchte ich hier einige auflisten, die meiner Meinung nach unter dem (weit gefassten) Aspekt Social Media und Wissenschaft interessant sind:

Für alle mit einer (netz-)soziologischen Ader interessant:


Smart Cities, Open Data und Citizen Science


Terrorismus und Terrorismusbekämpfung in den Sozialen Medien:

Open Source Intelligence: Terrorism Prevention and Intelligence Collection in the Age of Social Media

The IS in us – was wir durch terroristische Kommunikationsstrategien über uns selbst erfahren – Sascha Stoltenow, Thomas Wiegold


Podcasts zur re:publica 2015:

BR ZÜNDFUNK Langstrecke zur re:publica


Falls Ihr noch Ergänzungen oder Empfehlungen habt, schreibt mir einen Kommentar.

re:publica, ich komme! (#rp15)

re:publica, ich komme! (2015 Edition)

Wenn man dem Raunen im Twitter-Wald lauscht, so flüstert es einem stets zu, dass diese Sozialen Medien in diesem seltsamen Internet ja ständig in Bewegung seien. Ein guter Grund also, um die Analog-Tür einmal zu öffnen, eine Reise in die Kohlenstoff-Welt zu unternehmen, und sich in Berlin jenseits des Neulands unserer Bundesregierung auf die Suche nach Europa zu begeben, wie das Motto der rp15 “Finding Europe” anregt.

Dieses Jahr bin ich zum zweiten Mal als Besucher auf der re:publica in Berlin dabei und ich muss gestehen, dass ich mich schon monatelang darauf gefreut habe. Das erste Mal re:publica war für mich 2013, im vergangenen Jahr konnte ich leider (oder sollte ich sagen glücklicherweise) aufgrund beruflicher Verpflichtungen nicht dabei sein.  

Für mein persönliches Montags-Fitnessprogramm ist diesmal definitiv gesorgt, denn ich erarbeite mir wieder mein Ticket als ‘Helping Hand’. Der Nebeneffekt des zu erwartenden Muskelkaters am Dienstag dürfte sein, dass ich auch aufmerksamer zuhöre, denn zwischendurch Aufstehen ist dann vermutlich keine Alternative mehr 🙂

Neben der Hoffnung, dem ein oder anderen spannenden Vortrag beizuwohnen oder in Workshops Anregungen für die Praxis mitzunehmen, freue ich mich natürlich auf ein Wiedersehen mit Freund*innen und Bekannten, die ich über das Jahr verteilt außerhalb des Netzes selten persönlich treffen kann, nicht zuletzt, weil wir mindestens quer durch Deutschland verstreut sind.

Am Dienstag finde ich folgende Vorträge besonders spannend und werde versuchen, zum einen oder anderen hinzugehen (kann sich auch noch ändern):


The Community is your Friend

Working in the on-demand economy

Fotorecht – knipsen und teilen erlaubt? Fotografie im Alltag und im gewerblichen Zusammenhang

Die Netzgemeinde ist am Ende. Jetzt geht’s los.

The art of trolling

What The Hell Is Threat Modeling Anyway?

Von der Netzwerk- zur Plattformgesellschaft

Nudge! Nudge! – Was Design von Verhaltenspsychologie lernen kann

Tag 3:

Hack your City

Wenn Behörden zuhören wollen: Social Media Monitoring durch den Staat

Open Source Intelligence: Terrorism Prevention and Intelligence Collection in the Age of Social Media

Der Rabbi und die koscheren Gummibärchen – Die deutsch-jüdische Blogosphäre

Robots in Human Society

Kaiserschmarrn statt Islam! Rechte Volkstribunen im Netz.




The Midterm Elections 2014

It is election time again. Today (November 4, 2014), the United States are holding the 2014 midterm elections.

High chances of a GOP takeover of the Senate They have won.

"Democratic Donkey & Republican Elephant" by DonkeyHotel, flickr (CC BY 2.0)
“Democratic Donkey & Republican Elephant” by DonkeyHotel, flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The odds of the GOP retaking the Senate are very high. Nate Silver, who accurately predicted the outcome of the 2012 elections, estimates the chance of a GOP takeover of the Senate at 74%.

The Washington Post predicts an 8 seat win for the GOP which would get them a majority of 53 seats in the U.S. Senate and attaches a 94 percent change. Other major news outlets present high but slightly lower numbers: The Huffington Post says 74 percent and the New York Times 70 percent.

Democracy under fire

As Americans are voting today, the decline of democracy in America continues. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight for the long trend of the erosion of democratic institutions in the U.S.

American democracy is under fire from several sides.

One factor is directly connected to the Republican Party’s election strategy. As of 2014, it is continuing its attempts at voter disenfranchisement to keep mostly poor people of color from voting, as they tend to vote for Democrats in the majority. In some twisted way, this strategy fits in with the nationalistic fantasy prevalent in some sections of the GOP of going back to an eighteenth-century America overseen by the infallible wisdom of the Founding Fathers. That idealized America of the past was of course the one in which neither black Americans, white women, or poor white men were allowed to participate in the political sphere. So in this regard, the Republican Party of today is the keeper of American traditions in the most horrible way imaginable.

Another factor for which the GOP cannot solely be blamed is the general corrupting role of money in politics which affects both major parties. And unfortunately, the force of the ‘Money Party’ is particularly strong in 2014. A quote from the Nation:

This is the year of the mega-donor: just forty-two people are responsible for nearly a third of Super PAC spending in the 2014 election cycle. Super PACs, meanwhile, are outspending the national parties.

On Democracy Now!, The Nation author Lee Fang explains how the 2014 election is fueled by $1bn in anonymous “dark money” campaign donations:


Another example of money in politics:

K Street lobbyists swarm Kentucky to support the reelection campaign of GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. They dress down in jeans and t-shirts, knocking on doors, masquerading as ordinary grassroots campaigners.


Just in case anyone still has doubts about the corrupting influence of money in U.S. politics, David Bossie, the president of Citizens United—yes that Citizens United from the Supreme Court casejust gave a speech wherein he bragged about how that ruling handed Republicans the election:

Citizens United, our Supreme Court case, leveled the playing field, and we’re very proud of the impact that had in last night’s election.

That ‘leveling’ of the playing field means in practice that large corporations and the aforementioned ‘megadonors’ can buy elections because campaign contributions are legally seen as ‘free speech’ by ‘persons.’

In my opinion, the U.S. needs to restructure its political system in a way that diminishes the ability of the wealthy to buy off elections. Otherwise, it will never get any closer to the textbook fantasy of American democracy which many Americans still hold dearly and which I would also like to see realized.


Technical irregularities with voting machines in early voting

As if the problem with money in politics wasn’t bad enough already, there have been reports of malfunctioning voting machines during early voting periods. In some cases, as in North Carolina, the touchscreen where a voter selected the Democratic candidate jumped to select the Republican candidate instead.

Update [November 5, 2014] The GOP has won the Senate

As was predicted by the forecasts, the GOP took the U.S. Senate in the 2014 midterm elections, winning 10 of 13 close Senate races, and expanded majority in the House by 10 seats.

What contributed to the GOP’s victory this time?

Troubles with the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Obama’s appearance in recent foreign policy, and partisan politics in Wahington.

The Washington Post puts it this way:

Obama has seen his image damaged by the bungled launch of his health-care program and by his reactions to crises overseas. [. . .] [P]reliminary exit polls also suggested that Obama had become a symbol of what he once ran against: Washington’s gridlock, and the inability of its leaders to move beyond partisan fighting.

The last point is honestly a bit puzzling to me. After all, the GOP, in my view, has been the main source of intransigence during Obama’s presidency so far. They even made it clear from day one that their strategy was to make Obama’s presidency a failure by obstructing virtually all Democratic policy proposals, out of principle. That is the definition of partisan gridlock in Washington. And while Obama often appeared on the defensive against the GOP’s attack-dog style of political aggression, not really willing to put up a fight, their strategy has worked this time. Obama is now being blamed for the unproductive partisan politics in Washington that Republicans have engaged in since his taking office in 2009.

Al Jazeera America aptly titled an article on the subject “GOP: From shutdown villains to kings of Congress?” and interviewed a political consultant, whose takeaway was that “[t]he biggest lesson for the moment is that Americans have a short memory.” Amen to that.

Bonus fun: crazy campaign ads of 2014

Dirty tricks in the 2014 midterm elections

As if the insanely high amount of dark money pouring into 2014 election campaigns wasn’t enough, some politicos took to really dirty tricks this time. In Iowa, the RNC employed a strategy called vote shaming by promoting Facebook ads that claimed that the ballot was not secret (that is a lie) and that their neighbours would be able to get information on whether they voted Republican. The implication was that people better vote Republican or else an angry mob of conservative neighbours might invade their home in a few months when voting records would supposedly be publicized.

Meine Eindrücke vom Barcamp Kiel 2014

Barcamp Kiel 2014

Barcamp Kiel 2014 #bcki14

Am vergangenen Wochenende fand in Kiel zum fünften Mal ein Barcamp rund um das Internet statt und ich war als Neu-Kieler zum ersten Mal mit von der Partie.

Kaum angekommen, wurde ich mit einem schicken T-Shirt und diversen (Mac-lastigen) Fachzeitschriften versorgt. Ein Frühstücksbuffet mit ausreichend Kaffee war auch gedeckt, für eine gute Grundlage wurde also bestens gesorgt. Und es gab eine schicke große Social Wall von

Was so auf Twitter los war kann man auch hier bestaunen.

Was mir gleich aufgefallen ist: Der Männeranteil unter den Besucher*innen überwog deutlich. Aber immerhin war es keine reine Männerveranstaltung. Da ist nach oben noch Luft!

Was die Sessions betrifft, hatte ich mir vorgenommen, eine Mischung aus Sessions zu Themen, mit denen ich mich noch nicht so sehr auseinandergesetzt habe und solchen, die mir einigermaßen vertraut sind zu wählen.

Freelancing, wie geht das?

Da war zum Beispiel die Session von @geregeltkrieger und @moeglichewelten zum Thema “Richtig arbeiten als Freelancer”. Als jemand, der noch nicht freischaffend tätig war, klang so Einiges erst einmal etwas beängstigend. Aber es gab viele gute Tipps, zuvorderst “sei berechenbar” und “go at a sustainable pace”. Sollte ich mich mal selbständig machen, werde ich diesen Vortrag beherzigen.

Podcasting, das (un-)bekannte Wesen

Als Hörer bin ich seit längerer Zeit ein Fan des Mediums Podcast, aber die Produktionsseite hatte ich bisher noch nicht so richtig kennengelernt.

Bei der Session zum Thema Podcasting von und habe ich gelernt, dass man heute mit verhältnismäßig geringem finanziellen Aufwand technisch gute Qualität produzieren kann. Aber natürlich zählen Inhalte. Um die vernünftig zu gliedern kann man in einem Texteditor der Wahl oder in einem Online-Tool wie Evernote eine Struktur anlegen und zum Beispiel Interviewfragen vor der Sendung mit Interviewpartner*innen teilen. Auch für die sehr beliebten Shownotes ist das nützlich. Ebenfalls nicht zu vernachlässigen sind die Themen Branding und Hosting. Das Logo des Podcasts sollte auch in klein gut erkennbar sein und man muss sich bei Erfolg schnell über Datenvolumen Gedanken machen.



Der Lautsprecher – Tim Pritloves Podcast über Podcasting

Ultraschall – Die Wikigeeks mit einem Videocast zum Thema Podcasting

Reaper – Digitale Audio-Workstation zur Podcastproduktion

auphonic – Audio Postproduction Webservice

Podlove – “an initiative by Metaebene Personal Media to improve the overall technical infrastructure for podcasting.” – “Content Delivery Network für Podcaster, das darauf optimiert ist, Mediendateien aus Podcasts schnell und zuverlässig auszuliefern.”

WordPress-Plugin shareadraft – “Let your friends preview one of your drafts, without giving them permissions to edit posts in your blog”


Kiel Hack – Hackathon in Kiel vom 05.-07. September 2014 – “DER deutschsprachige Podcast über Fotografie, Fototechnik, Kamerasysteme und den Kameramarkt.” – Deutschsprachiger Podcast zum Thema iOS-Entwicklung

Facebook nervt, aber gibt es Alternativen?

Zwei weitere Sessions beschäftigten sich mit dem derzeit größten sozialen Netzwerk Facebook. Wenn man aktuelle Studien verfolgt, ist der Trend zur Abwanderung besonders der jüngeren Nutzer*innen zu YouTube, Instagram oder WhatsApp schon länger festzustellen. Aber auch viele ältere Internetnutzer*innen sind mittlerweile genervt. Das war das Thema einer Session. Warum das so ist? Werbung, der sich ständig ändernde Facebook-Algorithmus, der wohlmeinend Inhalte im Stream verbirgt, notorisches Oversharing von ‘Freund*innen’ oder auch Datenschutzbedenken.

Die zweite Session beschäftigte sich mit dem sozialen Netzwerk, das gleichzeitig eine Alternative und keine Alternative zu Facebook ist. In Kurzform: Auf absehbare Zeit ist nicht zu erwarten, dass das Netzwerk die kritische Masse erreicht, bei der komplette Freundeskreise, geschweige denn Millionen von Leuten die Plattform wechseln, wie etwa vor langer, langer Zeit von studivz zu Facebook.

Als Nischennetzwerk für technisch interessierte Nutzer*innen kann friendica aber interessant sein–man denke an ein internes ‘Facebook’. Friendica ist dezentral, hat gute Verschlüsselung und man kann seine Account-Daten herunterladen und an anderer Stelle hochladen (!). Eigentlich eine tolle Idee, um sich mit der Hand voll richtiger Freund*innen zu vernetzen, im Gegensatz zu hunderten Facebook-Freund*innen. Fazit: Für die Masse der Nutzer*innen ist friendica derzeit keine Alternative zu Facebook.

Nächster Halt: Das Stadt-Wiki Kiel-Wiki

Warum machen Städte eine ‘eigene Wikipedia’? Zum Beispiel weil die Wikipedia nicht jeden Artikel zu einer Straße in jeder Stadt für relevant hält. In einem Stadt-Wiki geht das aber und ist explizit gewünscht. Das relativ junge Projekt Kiel-Wiki hat sich zum Ziel gesetzt, umfassende Informationen zur Stadt zusammenzutragen. Dabei wird auch auf Bestehendes in der Wikipedia zurückgegriffen und darauf aufgebaut. Auch gibt es mittlerweile Kooperationen mit der Lokalpresse in Form von gegenseitigen Verlinkungen. Als kleineres Schwesterprojekt schreitet die Entwicklung natürlich nicht so schnell voran wie in der großen Wikipedia, aber ich finde, es ist ein tolles Beispiel für ein lokal verankertes Projekt.

Wie informiere ich mich über Landespolitik?

Es gab noch eine weitere Session, die sich lokal-regional mit der Stadt Kiel und dem Bundesland Schleswig-Holstein beschäftigte. Steffen Voß (SPD) @kaffeeringe und Uli König (Piraten) @u98 gaben nützliche Tipps, wie man als Bürger*in in Schleswig-Holstein online Informationen zur Landespolitik in Erfahrung bringen kann. Hier sind einige der genannten Links:

Landtag Schleswig-Holstein

Parla TV – überträgt die Plenarsitzungen des Schleswig-Holsteinischen Landtages

Parla Radio – überträgt Ausschusssitzungen des Schleswig-Holsteinischen Landtages

Plenum Online – Zeitplan des Schleswig-Holsteinischen Landtages – Landesvorschriften und Landesrechtsprechung

Kassensturz Schleswig-Holstein (Piraten) – Visualisierung des Landeshaushalts

Zuletzt wurde es für mich noch etwas technischer und nerdiger.

Raspberry Pi

In der Session zum Raspberry Pi ging es um interessante und mehr oder weniger nützliche Projekte, die man so mit dem preiswerten Mini-Computer anrichten kann. Von der Steuerung von Funksteckdosen für den heimischen Drucker bishin zum Tracken von Flugzeugen war alles dabei. Das ist doch vielleicht mal etwas für die kalten Herbsttage.

Linktipps: – Die offizielle Website des Raspi – Das deutschsprachige Raspi-Forum

lets get nerdy – Einige Tutorials zum Raspberry Pi


Zuletzt war ich noch bei den Kieler Freifunkern vom Toppoint e.V. Die bauen in und um Kiel ein alternatives Funknetzwerk mit Zugang zum Internet auf. Mal schauen, vielleicht stelle ich mir demnächst auch mal so einen Router hin.

Schönes Barcamp, wir sehen uns im nächsten Jahr wieder!

Insgesamt hat es mir sehr gut auf dem diesjährigen #bcki14 gefallen. Die Stimmung war freundlich und die Organisation super. Vielleicht traue ich mich ja im nächsten Jahr, auch eine Session zu halten. Ein Thema muss ich mir noch überlegen.

German Muslim Shooting King May Lose Title Because He Is Not A Christian

Only in Germany: The Predicament of the Muslim Shooting King
Only in Germany: The Predicament of the Muslim Shooting King


Many people in Germany still have difficulties facing the reality of modern-day Germany as a country of immigration. And sometimes, the discourse about what it means to be German, about multiculturalism, assimilation, and diversity tends towards the patently absurd.

Case in point: A German Muslim man who recently became the Shooting King at his shooting club in a town in North Rhine-Westphalia is threatened by the prospect of losing his title because the statute of that club requires the Shooting King to be a Christian.

Schützenvereine (marksmen clubs), which generally tend to be a somewhat different affair from the American gun culture, are widely seen as a tradition of rural Germany. Growing up in the north-western part of Germany, my impression was that this pastime is the essence of a rather conservative-leaning, predominantly rural culture. I never took part in it, but if you go outside of the big cities, you will certainly notice that it exists.

If you were to assemble a stereotypical if benevolent image of ‘the Germans’ north of Bavaria, those shooting clubs and their parades from village to village in celebration of the new Shooting King and Queen would be a perfect ingredient.

Fun memory from my youth: Schützenvereine may parade through several nearby villages with a marching band very early on a Saturday morning to pick up the shooting king. Good luck with getting some sleep.

So what we have here is a ‘new German’ guy who in some respects is out-Germaning the ‘Biodeutschen’—a fairly new term describing those other Germans without a relatively recent family history of migration, without ‘funny-sounding’ (to the majority) names, and/or a different religion.

And yet, some people still see a problem in someone like him successfully pursuing this ultra-German hobby.

Just as other, larger institutions in German society need to attune to the reality of an increasingly diverse population, smaller ones on a communal level should go in that direction as well.

Germany should become more welcoming and open towards all people who wish to participate in civil society in a positive manner, and not discriminate against somebody just because they differ in some aspect from the majority of society.

I say that Germany has nothing to fear from a shooting king who happens to be Muslim, too.

[Update (link in German)]:

The shooting club is now making “an exception” so that he is allowed to keep his title but he is not allowed to shoot. Not much better, if you ask me.


Read more:

Muslim shooting king could be stripped of title.” The Local Germany, 2014/08/04.

Mehr lesen:

Muslimischer Schützenkönig: “Ein Stück aus dem Tollhaus”.” Spiegel Online, 04.08.2014.

Muslimischer Schützenkönig: “Er muss nicht zurücktreten”.” Spiegel Online, 04.08.2014.




GOP Claims Dems Are Pushing Obama Impeachment Talk

GOP Elephant - Caricature by DonkeyHotey, flickr (CC BY 2.0) ## If you can, hire DonkeyHotey for caricature work! ##
GOP Elephant – Caricature by DonkeyHotey, flickr (CC BY 2.0) ## If you can, hire DonkeyHotey for caricature work! ##

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has a new theory about media reports about the recent latest attempt to impeach President Barack Obama.

According to Boehner, “[i]t’s all a scam started by the Democrats at the White House.” Boehner wants us to believe that the Democrats cooked up nonsense claims about the GOP trying to impeach Obama to mobilize their own base for the purpose of fundraising for the upcoming midterm elections.

Do you remember the many times that Republicans have tried to impeach Barack Obama since 2008?

The progressive news show TYT certainly does. Here is a compilation of the many calls for the impeachment of Obama by Republican politicians and political commentators:

I would say that these clips speak for themselves.

Argumentum Ad Hitlerum: Gun Safety Law Edition

Argumentum ad Hitlerum
Argumentum ad Hitlerum

Do you know what is just like Nazi Germany? Gun safety regulations, of course. Background checks, to be precise. That is according to NRA spokesperson Brian Judy, who presented this gem of historical analogy at a pro-gun rally in the state of Washington last week. It is also factually wrong.

A brief look at the Wikipedia article “Overview of gun laws by nation” reveals that there are many countries around the world with some sort of background check examining mental health required for gun ownership.

Among the countries that have this gun safety regulation in place are Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Israel, and the United Kingdom.

Now that would be quite a lot of countries governed by Neo-Nazis.

This is of course total nonsense and only illustrates that the NRA’s Mr. Judy is not interested in facts but careless hyperbole.

It is but one more ridiculous example of playing the Nazi card, the argumentum ad Hitlerum, because one’s argument is not based on valid facts.

Tinfoil Hat Alert: Obamaphones and Child Soldiers

Tinfoil hat alert
Tinfoil hat alert

The current Central American child immigrant crisis sparks some truly insane conspiracy theories from the usual suspects. One of the latest, courtesy of Alex Jones and William Gheen:

Barack Obama is supposedly giving mobile phones to Central American kids in order to later recruit them as his personal army of child soldiers.

The so-called Obamaphone is actually a program that started under George W. Bush to give low-income households mobile phones for emergency calls. The rest of this claim are the paranoid ravings of the far-right conspiracy fringe. And if you think about it for a moment, the racial undertones become quite clear. In this view, Obama is not the democratically elected POTUS, but only some African warlord. As an interested observer of the American political landscape since Obama’s election in 2008, this claim sounds quite familiar. During the emergence of the Tea Party Movement, the following tropes were a frequent sight on protest signs:

  • Barack HUSSEIN Obama the Muslim dictator (because Iraqi dictator Saddam HUSSEIN’s last name is the same, there must be a connection)
  • Obama as an African witch doctor (because the healthcare reform of a primitive ‘savage’ black president could only result in the death of white America)
  • The whole birther conspiracy theory which claimed that Obama was Kenyan and hence illegally usurping his office

You see where this is going: Obama is not one of us Real Americans™ because deep inside, he is but a primitive African thug.

Finally, the idea of Obama’s personal child army has been promoted elsewhere before, but with a slightly different twist. In 2009, when Obama gave a speech about the importance of education and staying in school, something fairly uncontroversial that most presidents have done before, figures such as Glenn Beck claimed that Obama was trying to indoctrinate American kids to build the modern-day equivalent of Nazi Germany’s Hitler Youth.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

George Washington überquert den Rhein

"Washington Crossing the Delaware" (1851) by Emanuel Leutze [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Washington Crossing the Delaware” (1851) by Emanuel Leutze [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ronald D. Gerste erzählt in einem in einem interessanten Artikel in der ZEIT die Geschichte des vielleicht berühmtesten Gemäldes der USA. Wie kam es dazu, dass ausgerechnet ein deutscher Auswanderer im neunzehnten Jahrhundert George Washingtons Überquerung des Delaware darstellte und warum bewegt sich der erste amerikanische Präsident eigentlich über den Rhein?


Space Invaders Against Antisemitism

Space Invaders Against Antisemitism
Space Invaders Against Antisemitism

Play retro games. Fight Antisemitism. Especially right now.

The recent round of escalation in the Middle East conflict in Israel/Palestine has unleashed a horrible outburst of antisemitic agitation and violent attacks against Jews in Europe and Germany.

I find this intolerable.

How to criticize Israel

If you want to criticize certain actions of the Israeli government and/or military, that is entirely possible without being antisemitic. I recommend this article on the subject matter. And just for the record, I would like to note that Hamas, which is not a rival sports club but a terrorist organization with the stated goal of destroying the state of Israel and Jews, which continues to shoot rockets against Israeli civilians, perhaps also deserves a tiny bit of criticism for that.

Free Gaza from Hamas

I truly hope that one day all people in Israel/Palestine can live in peace. Unlike insane people, I do not enjoy reading about dead civilians. In the long term, a project to ‘free the Palestinians’ that results in a peaceful coexistence with Israel should perhaps think about freeing Gaza from Hamas first.

Jew-Hatred at European Protests

Back to the protests in Europe. To my great horror, reasonable criticism is not what many of the ‘anti-Israel’ protesters in the past weeks have been up to. Here in Germany, an unholy alliance of right-wing extremists, Islamists, and the ‘anti-imperialist’ segment of the radical left has found common ground in their unabashed promotion of hatred of Jews. The slogans that have been yelled during those demonstrations and the violent attacks that followed them in some instances barely leave any room for a different interpretation.

This game is played out

So what can we do as individuals? First of all, speak out against all forms of Antisemitism. I am just a guy with a computer, and besides ranting about politics I like some retro games. But, straight outta Nerdistan, I am telling you that the 2014 remake of Antisemitism sucks just as much as all previous versions. It is never going to be cool. At least not in my corner of the universe.



Argumentum Ad Hitlerum: Erdogan On Israel

The Nazi comparisons seem to increase in the past couple of days. One of the latest perpetrators who cannot help himself: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Argumentum ad Hitlerum
Argumentum ad Hitlerum

Commenting on Israel’s recent military offensive in Gaza, Erdogan said the following:

“They curse Hitler morning and night [. . .] however, now their barbarism has surpassed even Hitler’s.”

I cannot help but think that the ‘they’ used here implies not just the Israeli military but ‘the Jews’ in general, as is commonplace in the language of antisemitic Islamists everywhere. That sounds very ugly.

And when he claims that Israel’s military actions surpass the cruelties of Nazi Germany, we are clearly in the territory of Holocaust relativism.

I would like to emphasize that in my view, the civilian casualties on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides are a tragedy that I would rather not see happen. And yes, I, too, found the report about a few Israelis watching the spectacle of war from their garden chairs like in a movie theatre—aka ‘Sderot cinema’—somewhat disturbing. To be fair, in the article it says that similar things happened among Palestinians. Then again, Hamas’ rocket attacks aimed at random Israeli citizens are no joking matter either. One must also see these actions in light of the eliminatory antisemitic ideology in Hamas’ charter.

I think there is room for a sober critique of certain aspects of the current Israeli military offensive. This is also the position, for example, of the former head of the Israeli interior security service Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin.

But what Turkish PM Erdogan does here with his likening of the Israeli military to the Nazis betrays no interest in such a nuanced, rational discussion. To claim that the Israeli military acts not only like the Nazis, but worse than the Nazis—how could that be possible?—just reeks of pure antisemitism. Such outlandish hyperbole is unworthy of a head of state.

Argumentum Ad Hitlerum: Climate Change Denial Edition

As readers of this blog might know, one of my pet peeves is ridiculous comparisons of random things to Adolf Hitler that I find on the Internet. Here we go again.

Argumentum ad Hitlerum
Argumentum ad Hitlerum

This time, the culprit is a corporate-funded climate change denialist who apparently does not consider it beneath him to smear the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change by comparing it to the persecution of Jews under Adolf Hitler. You read that last sentence correctly.

As progressive media watchdog website Media Matters for America reports, Exxon-funded physicist William Happer—who is not a climatologist, mind you—appeared on CNBC recently, and was, to CNBC’s great shame, presented as an ‘industry expert.’

Happer claimed that

“the demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler. Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.”

Where to start here? First, you cannot murder carbon dioxide. But six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. To insinuate that corporations with a high carbon dioxide footprint, such as Exxon, are persecuted like Jews in the Third Reich is just obscene.

Second, climatologists do not ‘demonize’ carbon dioxide as such. This is a total straw man argument. In reality, climatologists examine the effects of the high amount of greenhouse gases in the global atmosphere. The general scientific consensus, as compiled by the IPCC is very clear: humans are a factor in the rising temperatures on this planet. You can read about it here. Climate change denial is at this point willfully deceptive.

The Pope Is Against Marijuana Legalization




Papa non fumigant [The Pope does not smoke] (I assume).

Me neither, but I tend to disagree with his recent comments on marijuana legalization. He said that

“even limited attempts to legalize recreational drugs ‘are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.'”

We need to look into what the ‘desired effects’ are.

“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs!”

If, as I assume from the above statement, Pope Francis thinks that “the problem of drug use” is that people take drugs, then he is right—but also wrong.

Apparently, humans in all kinds of civilizations, long before the advent of Christianity, have been taking psychoactive substances. There seems to be a basic impulse in humanity to change the perception of reality, be it for the purpose of ritualistic religious practice or much more mundane motives.

Papa don’t preach!

In essence, Pope Francis is making a moralistic argument: drugs are just wrong.

Make no mistake: I am as terrified of the recent reports of flesh-eating ‘bath salts’ zombies, the sight of ‘meth mouths’ with rotting teeth, or the human decay caused by heroin addiction.

These are indeed harmful substances. Hard drugs. Most reasonable persons would agree that it is a bad idea to get involved with them.

But I think it makes sense to put marijuana in another category. If you look at the statistics on deaths caused by substance abuse, alcohol is the obvious outlier. There are no recorded deaths from marijuana consumption. You can read an article on the matter from American Scientist here.

The ‘War on Drugs’ has failed

As a practical matter, prohibition has failed.

In the U.S., the so-called war on drugs has dragged on for decades, and it is clear that it is unwinnable, just like the similarly silly concept of a ‘war’ against terrorism.

Should one not be worried about terrorism and not do anything about it?—absolutely not! Should one abandon the issue of drug addiction and leave addicts to their own devices? No.

What I am getting at here is that the strategy needs to be revised.

Just as much as I see the problem of terrorism rather as a task for police and intelligence services (but without violating everybody’s civil liberties, like the NSA), I think that the problem of drug abuse is more a task for medical professionals and health education.

This approach would also reduce the steady flow of people into the out-of-control American prison-industrial-complex which disproportionately jails young men of color for non-violent drug offenses and puts them in an environment full of violent hardcore criminals. And this is a manifestation of systemic racism, or, as one famous book on the subject calls it “The New Jim Crow.”

Legalize, tax, educate

My policy prescription would involve the legalization of drugs, their subsequent taxation, and the reallocation of funds used for the ‘war on drugs’ to health education and treatment of addicts.

A pope who has built his reputation as an advocate for the poor should understand this.





One Hispanic News Anchor Challenges ‘Blowjob Journalism’

Picture: "Newspaper Line" by Genista / Kai Schreiber, flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0), text edit
Picture: “Newspaper Line” by Genista / Kai Schreiber, flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0), text edit

Jorge Ramos, a popular news anchor for the Hispanic-oriented Fusion network, reminds us that the role of journalists in a democracy is not to write blowjob pieces, but to hold power accountable:

“The Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci used to say that for her, an interview was like a war [. . .] I get the sense that we’ve forgotten that here in the United States. You turn on the TV, and you see very bland interviews. Journalists in the United States are very cozy with power, very close to those in power. They laugh with them. They go to the [White House] correspondents’ dinner with them. They have lunch together. They marry each other. They’re way too close to each other. I think as journalists we have to keep our distance from power. [emphasis mine]” – Jorge Ramos, Fusion anchor

Recently, in a way validating his point, Ramos received criticism from exactly the kind of establishment journalist he was talking about after hammering Speaker of the House John Boehner for blocking a vote on immigration reform and not letting him divert from the issue.

The unspoken rule of providing groveling, uncritical reporting in exchange for access to politicians—i.e. ‘blowjob journalism’—is exactly what is wrong with contemporary corporate-controlled mainstream media.

Those so-called journalists enganged in this travesty are indeed a disgrace for the profession and corrosive to democracy as a whole.

Thank goodness there are still some brave individuals willing to go against the grain and ruffle some feathers.

An Ice Cream Truck Song From 1916 Is Incredibly Racist

Image: "People posing in front of a Dreyer's Ice Cream truck." simpleinsomnia, flickr (CC_BY_2.0)
Image: “People posing in front of a Dreyer’s Ice Cream truck.” simpleinsomnia, flickr (CC_BY_2.0)

In my opinion, popular culture (as in everyday culture) is often a good indicator of a cultural mainstream at a given time. Therefore, if we look at a seemingly banal or innocent artifacts, that may give us clues about the zeitgeist of a period. Theodore R. Johnson, III over at NPR thought so, too, and examined the origins of a famous ice cream truck song going back to the minstrel shows of the nineteenth century (go and read the article, it is great!). And he found a 1916 record by a Harry C. Browne, courtesy of Columbia records, that contains lyrics like this (warning: incredibly racist):

Browne: “You niggers quit throwin’ them bones and come down and get your ice cream!”

Black men (incredulously): “Ice Cream?!?”

Browne: “Yes, ice cream! Colored man’s ice cream: WATERMELON!!”

Almost a century later, such open forms of racism are quite shocking and thankfully would be unacceptable in mainstream advertising. That is not to say that popular culture today is free of racism. But I would argue that these days, for the most part, racism manifests itself in subtler forms. I am not talking about the realm of politics. There, as a regular observer, I note a lot of dogwhistling, especially since 2008 and the election of Barack Obama for POTUS. But that discussion is for another time.


Oh My God, The Gay Nazis Are Taking Over America, Says Gohmert

Argumentum ad Hitlerum
Argumentum ad Hitlerum

The most intellectually challenged man in the U.S. Congress, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), strikes again with an extraordinarily dumb and incendiary statement. After an anti-gay TV show was cancelled due to protests, Gohmert called this a “fascist intolerance.”

The fact that increasing numbers of people are speaking out against anti-LGBT discrimination is interpreted by Gohmert as “exactly what we’ve seen [. . .] [in] the days of the Nazi takeover in Europe.”

Twisting the reality of long-standing discrimination against sexual minorities by religious zealots like himself, Gohmert claims that conservative Christians are victimized by being called “‘haters’ and ‘evil’.” Furthermore, in all seriousness, he claims that this increasing resistance religious bullies are facing is just a prelude to book burnings—you know, just like in Nazi Germany.

That is of course nonsense, pure hyperbole.

Being called out on your bigotry does not equal discrimination against you

It is quite telling how the American Christian Right perceives their declining ability to discriminate against LGBT people, or the fact that they get called out on their bigotry these days, makes them feel as if they are being victimized, that their freedom of speech is being taken away.

I obviously interpret freedom of speech very differently. You may be legally free to say whatever you wish (such as nonsensical Nazi comparisons), but you are not guaranteed isolation from any opposing views.

That, my friends, is because freedom of speech also applies to everybody else.

Last time I checked, there were no government-sponsored book burnings in the U.S. Neither should there be. Ideas should debated in the public space.

And in my opinion, the anti-LGBT hatred promoted by religious fundamentalists and other bigots is a bad idea that should go the way of the dodo for the sake of humanity.

By the way, self-proclaimed defenders of ‘Judeo-Christian Biblical marriage’ might want to consider the interesting variety of marriage arrangements in their holy scriptures. They will find that the often-promoted version of ‘one man, one woman’ is one among many.

Marriage According to the Bible

Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.


Another great list of things the Bible bans (from Dante Shepherd at I have the feeling that conservative Christians are cherry-picking to discriminate against LGBT people. That’s just wrong!


Pat Robertson Says That ‘Radicals On The Right’ Have Taken Over The GOP

“[R]adicals on the right” who will nominate candidates who “aren’t capable of beating the Democrats [have taken over the GOP].” – Pat Robertson, televangelist

Horrible_Christian_Right_QuotesThe irony of this statement is not to be underestimated, coming from one of the key figures of the American Christian Right that has been the driving force behind the GOP’s cultural drift towards ultraconservative social politics in the past decades.

As one can easily discern from a random sample of Robertson’s statements, past and present, he is the very embodiment of the sort of religious extremist that turns off voters who might otherwise be interested in the GOP’s platform.

Horrible Politicians: Maine Republican Edition

Horrible Politician QuotesAnother chapter from the never-ending saga of GOP politicians saying horrible things about women, rape, and gays.

Here’s a (quite old) quote from Maine Republican Lawrence Lockman, which, to be fair, he says he now regrets:

If a woman has (the right to an abortion), why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t (in most cases) result in anyone’s death.”

In all the horror of this quote, I do not even see any logic (except blatant misogyny).

Oh, and in case you wondered where he goes on about the gays, he thinks that they are committing “a perverted and depraved crime against humanity.” And because the American progressives do not see it that way, they are, in his view, assisting the AIDS epidemic.

Bonus fun fact: According to the article, Lockman at one point during the 1990s

appeared dressed as a vampire [!] outside the Federal Building in Bangor to protest the “vampire-nature” of the IRS and its “police-state” method of collecting taxes.

Euro-Trash-Talk: Silvio Berlusconi, Contemporary Germany, And The Holocaust


Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a very colorful figure in European politics, to put it in the most friendly way possible. In fact, he is a convicted criminal, sentenced for tax fraud. But that is not my topic here.

Silvio’s assorted Nazi comparisons

Berlusconi has a record of inflammatory statements regarding contemporary Germany’s dealing with its Nazi past.

In 2003, Berlusconi addressed German social democratic MEP Martin Schulz, suggesting he might be a good fit for playing a concentration camp guard in a Holocaust movie.

Now, in the context of the 2014 elections for the European Parliament, Berlusconi claimed that “[for] the Germans, [. . .], concentration camps never existed.”

Mainstream contemporary Germany does not deny the Holocaust

This is of course factually wrong when talking about Germany in 2014—which Berlusconi did. And frankly, it is quite offensive to the majority of contemporary Germans who are not Holocaust deniers (including myself). If you should happen to be in Germany, just turn on a TV and you will notice that public television stations regularly broadcast documentaries about all kinds of aspects of Nazi Germany, including the Holocaust.

In case you did not know, Holocaust denial is also a punishable offence under German law.

Now there are actual valid debates about Germany’s dealings with its past and reasonable criticisms of phenomena like racism and antisemitism in contemporary Germany. There are, for instance, discussions about the ‘unburdening’ function the official national ‘culture of remembrance’ serves for the wider German society.

Berlusconi, apologist of Italian fascism

That being said, Silvio Berlusconi is neither a man interested in nor qualified to contribute to those debates. As a chief apologist for Italian fascism—his convenient narrative claiming that ‘good’ Italian fascists were merely misled by Hitler and the German Nazis—Berlusconi discredits himself from the get-go.

This is a cheap provocation, a misrepresentation of history, and a vulgar spewing of bile by perhaps the most pompuous political clown of Europe.

What repulses me especially is that Berlusconi is not above exploiting this most serious issue for cheap political points. I think the political culture of Italy and Europe would improve if he did us all a favor and moved on into retirement.


The Nevada Ranch Standoff – Rancher Versus Federal Government

Rancher refuses to pay grazing fees on federal land, rallies armed militia and drives away federal agents (for now)

Picture: Cowboy (1887) by John C. H. Grabill, Library of Congress, Wikipedia (public domain)
Picture: Cowboy (1887) by John C. H. Grabill, Library of Congress, Wikipedia (public domain)

In the middle of April of this year, a Nevada rancher and his armed militia supporters went into a standoff with federal officials from the Bureau of Land Management over the removal of his cattle from federal land. For the moment, the agents of the BLM have retreated because they did not want to risk a violent confrontation with the armed anti-government militia.

The rancher in question had been using federal land for letting his cattle graze and had failed to pay the required grazing fees for twenty years. By the way, there are thousands of other ranchers who use federal lands and pay these fees.

He says that he does not recognize the authority of the federal government on the matter and believes it belongs to the state of Nevada. And if federal agents came to take his cattle again, he and his supporters would fight them with their guns.

Range War In #Nevada | Esquire #militias

Rancher inspects cattle after showdown with feds | AP #Nevada

It is not over yet:

Feds play waiting game at Nevada ranch | TheHill, April 15, 2014 – Includes some interesting facts about the history of grazing rights on federal land.

Three Ways That #Nevada Rancher And His Right-Wing #Militia Supporters Could Wind Up Behind Bars | ThinkProgress

Wilstein: Fox’s Hannity Stokes Tension Between Harry Reid and Cliven Bundy | Mediaite, April 16, 2014 –

A conspiracy theory debunked:

Shortly after the standoff, a conspiracy theory made its way on the Internet. It claims that Senator Harry Reid and a Chinese company building a solar plant were behind the standoff between federal agents and the Nevada rancher. debunks that conspiracy theory here:

Violent anti-tax protest and race: Who gets away with what?

In Nevada, the heavily-armed militiamen and the rancher in question are white. They managed, for the time being, to drive away federal agents by threatening violence. But violent agitation against taxes and fees does not always turn out that way. In another recent example, a black Chicago man did not like to pay a 22-cent Soda tax and decided to pull out a machine gun, threatening the clerk. The police arrested him.

Man Refuses to Pay 22-Cent Soda Tax, Pulls Out Machine Gun in Response | Mediaite –

Update (May 2, 2014): Militias set up illegal road ‘checkpoints’

A Democratic congressman from Nevada recently sent a letter to the Clark County sheriff, bringing his attention to the fact that

“the armed militia supporting rancher Cliven Bundy have set up checkpoints to verify the residency of anybody passing through [emphasis mine].”

So now there is a situation in Nevada reminiscent of tribal areas in Afghanistan. I am curious as to how long this challenge to the state monopoly on violence will last. After all, just because these men call themselves a militia and are heavily armed, they are neither the police, the military, or anything similar with the authority to randomly inspect other citizens.

My guess is that at some point, these men will either voluntarily remove those illegal checkpoints, or there will be a violent showdown with some federal law enforcement agency—which is what some of these militiamen probably long for anyway.

“Gladiator School”: FBI Investigates Private Prison Corporation For Fraud

A modern prison cell at the Brecksville Police Department, Brecksville, Ohio. Image by Andrew Bardwell. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
A modern prison cell at the Brecksville Police Department, Brecksville, Ohio. Image by Andrew Bardwell. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

A lot of things can go wrong when states add the profit motive to law enforcement by privatizing prisons. In Idaho, the FBI is currently investigating the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private prison corporation, for understaffing the biggest prison in the state, according to a report by the Idaho Statesman.

The prison became “so violent that inmates dubbed it ‘Gladiator School’.”

How did the CCA make up for the inadequate number of corrections officers that was cut to maximize their profits from the “about $29 million a year” contract paid by the state of Idaho?

By “ced[ing] control to prison gangs,” as a 2012 lawsuit on behalf on inmates alleged. That resulted in an increase in violence inside the facility.

And there you have it: a perfect example of why certain core functions of government should never be submitted to the market logic of corporate capitalism. Here we see, in all brutality, how humans, both prison inmates and correctional staff, are merely seen as cost factors that need to be minimized in order to maximize profits. If a few prisoners rip each other to pieces, who cares?



A Series Of Maps Comparing The U.S. South To The Overall U.S.

A compass of the United States, with state names. The original was edited by User:Andrew c to include Nova Scotia, PEI, Bahamas, and scale key. It was originally uploaded to the English Wikipedia with the same title by w:User:Wapcaplet: This file is licensed under the (CC BY-SA 3.0) license.
A compass of the United States, with state names. The original was edited by User:Andrew c to include Nova Scotia, PEI, Bahamas, and scale key. It was originally uploaded to the English Wikipedia with the same title by w:User:Wapcaplet: This file is licensed under the (CC BY-SA 3.0) license.

The Huffington Post has an interesting set of maps that shows how the U.S. South fares in regards to poverty, minimum wage, economic mobility, health care coverage, health issues, teen pregnancy, and overall happiness.

In comparison to the U.S. overall, the South is at a disadvantage in many of these areas.

Christian Right Blames Gays For Ukraine Crisis

Horrible Christian Right Quotes

And then there was this ‘brilliant’ (moronic) piece of political analysis: An anti-gay pastor blames the Ukraine crisis of the past months on—wait for it—the gays.

And because of Russia’s state-sponsored discrimination of LGBTI people, this ‘Christian’ leader lauds Russian President Vladimir Putin as “defender of true human rights”—”true human rights” meaning the right to discriminate against the LGBTI community.

Read more:

Scott Lively Blames Gays For Ukraine Crisis, Lauds Russia As Human Rights Leader Of The World.” (Brian Tashman, Right-Wing Watch, 2014/03/11)

Supreme Court Buries American Democracy In McCutcheon v. FEC Ruling

Picture: "SCOTUS building as seen from the west side of 1st St NE.", Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Picture: “SCOTUS building as seen from the west side of 1st St NE.”, Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

On April 2, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down aggregate limits on campaign contributions (not the limit on how much individuals can donate to candidates or party committees). This ruling marks another step in the destruction of American democracy, its accelerating drift into a plutonomy.

After the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which erased campaign spending limits for corporations and labor unions, the McCutcheon ruling enables wealthy donors to influence political elections even more.

Here is the ultimate ‘least untruthful’ quote from RNC Chair Reince Priebus on the ruling:

It’s not like people are going to be able to write out million-dollar checks to the Republican Party or to an individual candidate.

According to Politico, a single donor can now donate up to $6 million to a candidate or election committee.

And here is more from Priebus:

Look, I don’t disagree with Citizens United, [. . .] I think it’s a good case. I think that we should all be free and exercise our First Amendment rights. But this is a victory today for people who want to see political parties and candidates on the same playing field or a little bit closer to the same playing field as the First Amendment was intended to allow us to be [emphasis mine].

This is an absolutely misleading statement. Average American voters are not on the same playing field as deep-pocketed corporations or individuals such as, for example, Sheldon Adelson or the Koch Brothers.

Update: Newt Gingrich would prefer, as a next step, the legalization of unlimited campaign donations to candidates, which he claims

would overnight equalize the middle class and the rich.

That is obviously one big lie. Why? Because the middle class does not have the money of the rich.

This is no longer government of the people, by the people, for the people. It is the best democracy money can buy.

Read more:

Die another day – The subtle awfulness of the McCutcheon v. FEC campaign finance decision: The John Roberts two-step.” (Richard L. Hasen, Slate, 2014/04/02)

McCutcheon Decision: Add Some More Zeroes to That Check.” (Bob Biersack, Open Secrets, 2014/02/02)

McCutcheon v. FEC: Supreme Court Strikes Down Overall Limits On Campaign Contributions.” (Huffington Post, 2014/04/02)

SCOTUS on money and politics: A reader’s guide.” (Kenneth P. Vogel, Politico, 2014/02/04) – Kenneth Vogel argues that the McCutcheon decision is not “Citizens United 2.0.”

Supreme Court decision on fundraising limits will affect state rules on political donations.” (Joshua Miller, Boston Globe, 2014/04/02)

The Supreme Court’s Ideology: More Money, Less Voting.” (Ari Berman, The Nation, 2014/04/02)

GOP Presidential Hopefuls Bend Over Backwards To Please Donor Sheldon Adelson

GOP Elephant  - Caricature by DonkeyHotey, flickr (CC BY 2.0) ## If you can, hire DonkeyHotey for caricature work! ##
GOP Elephant – Caricature by DonkeyHotey, flickr (CC BY 2.0) ## If you can, hire DonkeyHotey for caricature work! ##

It is no secret that as part of every American presidential election campaign in recent times, presidential hopefuls seek to court the Jewish vote as part of their coalition. Speeches given by candidates at the usual lobby organizations, such as AIPAC, can typically be summed up like this: “I am the super best friend of Israel, support me!” So far, so good. Support of Israel has been a long-term position of the U.S. which I am generally in favor of. Of course it is a matter of dispute what exactly ‘friendship’ and ‘support’ mean in specific contexts.

This brings us to the long run-up to the 2016 presidential elections

Sin City brings huge GOP campaign donations

Last week, GOP presidential hopefuls traveled to Las Vegas to meet with GOP mega donor Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, at the Republican Jewish Coalition—an event inofficially dubbed “the Sheldon primary”.

Among them were Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Adelson, who is Jewish, has spent “$90 million to political candidates and super PACs in the last election cycle” and is known for his extreme right-wing positions on Israel (more on those below).

As far as reports go, all potential candidates voiced their unconditional support for Israel. So far, so predictable. But then something went wrong. In one of those statements, Chris Christie used the phrase “occupied territories.”

I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.

That phrase has been frequently used by the United Nations Security Council, George W. Bush, by the U.S. government, then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and the Israeli Supreme Court —not a bunch of anti-semitic Israel haters in particular. So what is the big deal?

Stuff Sheldon Adelson says

Adelson is part of a tiny ultra-right Zionist fringe (as opposed to less extreme supporters of Israel) that sees any sort of compromise in the Middle East as betrayal. And from time to time, he does and says some truly ignorant and hateful things.

Some examples: In a 2013 speech at Yeshiva University Adelson

  • argued for a preemptive U.S. nuclear strike on unpopulated areas of Iran as a negotiating tactic: “Then you say, ‘See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business.’”
  • admitted that he is ignorant of Muslims: “I don’t know the difference between the Shia and the Sunnis.”
  • argued that Palestinians as a group do not exist: “There’s no such thing as a Palestinian. Do you know what they are? They call themselves southern Syrians.”

According to the New Republic, Adelson also bankrolled some propaganda movies that sought to cause paranoia about Muslims in general, not just religious extremists, and funded a lobby group that attempted to stop a Muslim Indian American nominee for Superior Court judgeship that had been selected by Chris Christie—supposedly because if that happened, Shariah law would take over New Jersey.

Here is a 2008 portrait of Adelson, and here is a 2012 Op-Ed from the New York Times.

Chris Christie kisses the ring

Because New Jersey Governor Christie (and the others, too) wants Adelson’s campaign dollars, he apologized for the use of the common term occupied territories in connection to Israel a boot-licking, subservient manner that can only be called a disgrace for American democracy. What matters, apparently, is not any diplomatic consensus, any long-standing U.S. foreign policy position, but the will of just one uber-rich donor who happens to be a bigoted hawkish nutjob. Here we see a politician lying prostrate, saying “Buy me, I will do whatever you please!”

Support for Israel can manifest itself in various forms apart from supporting the ultra-right fringe positions that not even the majority of people in Israel endorse. But the 2014 edition of the GOP thinks otherwise.

My two cents

Since unlike the aforementioned politicians I am not dependent on Mr. Adelson’s campaign donations, I am free to tell him what I think of his antics (although I doubt he reads this or would care). Here are a few suggestions: read more books to educate yourself about the Middle East and its inhabitants, stop funding asinine propaganda demonizing all Muslims, and quit your annihilationist fantasies.

Dreaming about mass murder is no better coming from you than when it is coming from djihadists, Nazis, or other unruly figures.

Read more:

The Line to Kiss Sheldon Adelson’s Boots.” (David Firestone,, 2014/03/31)

The New ‘Cosmos’ Science Documentary With Neil deGrasse Tyson

Image: "ESO's Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) has captured this unusual view of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), a planetary nebula located 700 light-years away. The coloured picture was created from images taken through Y, J and K infrared filters. While bringing to light a rich background of stars and galaxies, the telescope's infrared vision also reveals strands of cold nebular gas that are mostly obscured in visible images of the Helix." Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)
Image: “ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) has captured this unusual view of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), a planetary nebula located 700 light-years away. The coloured picture was created from images taken through Y, J and K infrared filters. While bringing to light a rich background of stars and galaxies, the telescope’s infrared vision also reveals strands of cold nebular gas that are mostly obscured in visible images of the Helix.” Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

The updated new version of Cosmos, the famous 1980 science documentary with Carl Sagan, is being broadcast on American television (on FOX, of all places). Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is hosted by Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has become a famous science communicator and Internet meme himself even before , and is co-produced by Ann Druyan, the widow of Sagan, who was already involved in the first instalment.

As in the original series, the new show’s premise is to present the current scientific knowledge about the universe and how humanity acquired this knowledge.

Here is the official trailer:

Scientific facts hit the Christianist half of America

In the American context, where roughly half of the population are creationist Christians (46 percent believed that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so” in 2012, according to a Gallup poll), the program has sparked a considerable controversy among the faithful—twenty-first century scientific knowledge sharply contradicts the Bible-based creation myth of young-earth creationism.

Anti-Science rears its ugly head on Twitter

Some of the Christian fundamentalist viewers are taking to Twitter to promote their crude anti-science beliefs even after being presented the scientific facts on the program. Some examples:

Space dust is not as cool as earth dust, which the Bible claims god made humans from:

Regardless of what #cosmos says, I believe that we are made in the image of God. #MoreThanSpaceDust — Mike Peters (@MichaelCPeters) March 10, 2014

Here’s the Bible quote:

“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” – Genesis 2:7, King James Version

Science is described as a religion:

Wow, and they believing in God is insane? Takes more “faith” to believe what I just watched. #Cosmos — Tirrell Cotton (@tirrellcotton) March 10, 2014

Science is of course not a religion, it is based on scientific facts acquired through research. Science as a process does not believe everything that is written in a book just because it is there. Scientific hypotheses are falsifiable. In theory, scientific results can be reproduced by other scientists. That is the key difference to faith.

Argument from scripture:

Dear #cosmos, the origin of the universe actually is not mysterious. God had Moses write about it in the #Bible. You should read it sometime — Andy Forister (@andyforister) March 10, 2014

The problem with this argument is that it could be used for any book to claim anything. Hobbits, dragons, witches, talking trees—all of these appear in Lord of the Rings. But it would be difficult to find many people who conclude from this that Middle Earth is a real place.

Unwavering faith in a particular creation myth in the face of evidence to the contrary—this is a clear sign of religious fundamentalism, considered a virtue by the true believers, and the exact opposite of scientific inquiry, which is, after all, a self-correcting system.

A nineteenth-century battle in the twenty-first century

If this sounds familiar, it is probably because there are historical parallels. Long before the advent of networked and mobile personal computers, in 1925, there was the Scopes Monkey Trial. Even though that (in)famous episode in American history revolved around evolution—Charles Darwins’s On the Origin of Species—versus Christian creationism and not cosmology, the pattern is similar. If science and religious belief are contradictory, the religious fundamentalist chooses to ignore, or, as in the case of the creationist movement, fight science.

One strategy of the creationists to accomplish this goal in the case of Cosmos is by demanding equal airtime to promote intelligent design—Christian creationism cloaked in the mantle of science. This way, they seek to promote the idea that both concepts are equally valid—a classic case of the balance fallacy. They are of course not. Science works through observation of the natural world and the testing of hypotheses, while creationism works backwards from the revelations of  particular holy book (in this case the Bible).

Go science TV!

Hopefully, more people will learn about the current state of human knowledge about the cosmos through this piece of television. I love Carl Sagan’s work and think Neil deGrasse Tyson is awesome.

I can’t wait to see the show and learn more about the cosmos myself!

Read more:

Cosmos & the Creationists: Why Some People Hate Science on Television.” (Steven Newton, NCSE, 2014/03/10)

Cosmos Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Facts.” (Steven Newton, NCSE, 2014/03/17)

Neil deGrasse Tyson Is Really Starting To Scare Conservatives.” (Amanda Marcotte, The Raw Story, 2014/03/18)

Neil deGrasse Tyson Shows Why Small-Minded Religious Fundamentalists Are Threatened by Wonders of Universe.” (Adam Lee, Alternet, 2014/03/20)

Neil deGrasse Tyson Squashes Creationist Argument Against Science on National TV.” (Dan Arel, Alternet, 2014/03/17)

Hear more: – Neil deGrasse Tyson’s radio show / podcast

The Reduction Of The U.S. Military Budget

"The Pentagon, headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, taken from an airplane in January 2008." Picture by David B. Gleason, Wikimedia Commons (CC_BY-SA_2.0)
“The Pentagon, headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, taken from an airplane in January 2008.” Picture by David B. Gleason, Wikimedia Commons (CC_BY-SA_2.0)

In late February 2014, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the Pentagon would reduce the size of the United States Army “to its smallest force since before the World War II buildup and eliminate an entire class of Air Force attack jets,” according to the New York Times. The current spending proposal, Pentagon officials say, seeks to “aggressively push the military off the war footing adopted after the terror attacks of 2001.” In other words, there will be a reduction of the military budget.

However, there are two areas given special attention: Special Operations forces and cyberwarfare. The latter point has been unmistakably underscored through the Snowden leaks since last summer. U.S. aircraft carriers will remain at 11.

As it seems, the future of war will continue to involve special forces, drones, and hacking, not the mass armies of World War Two.

But any reduction of the military budget will prompt those working in the interest of the military-industrial complex to cry wolf.

For instance, war criminal former Vice President Dick Cheney. In an interview with Fox News, Cheney claimed that the real reason President Barack Obama wanted to cut the defense budget was because “he would rather spend money on food stamps.”

Do you remember the phrase “food stamp president”? It was used by Newt Gingrich in 2012. Some explanations from the Christian Science Monitor, NPR, CNNMoney, and the Economist.

Here is a quick reminder about the U.S. military budget:

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS),

[t]he United States remained by far the world’s biggest defence spender in 2013, with a budget of $600.4 billion, [. . .] followed by China ($112.2 billion), Russia ($68.2 billion) and Saudi Arabia ($59.6 billion).

Infographic from the AFP (2014) (via Digital Journal)

Here is an older infographic from 2010 (via the Guardian)

If you look at the data, you cannot help but think that the notion that cutting back on the military budget to some extent would render the U.S. militarily incapable is pure propaganda. The magnitude by which U.S. military spending currently trumps all other states in the world is just so vast.

Finally, another point why it might be worth considering to reduce some military spending is that there is some serious waste going on in the Pentagon.

Read more:

President Obama and the defense budget: a factoid that falls short.” (, Washington Post, 2012/01/12)  – Comparing military spending is fuzzy, but nevertheless the U.S. leads, Glenn Kessler shows.

Does America Spend More Than Next 10 Nations Combined on Defense?” (James Joyner, Outside the Beltway, 2012/01/12) – Joyner comments on Kessler’s criticism and concludes that “[the U.S.] and our allies absolutely dwarf and potential foe in military power.”




Studie: Nach Snowden-Leaks Nutzen Mehr Menschen DuckDuckGo

Eine neue Studie von statista zeigt, dass seit den Snowden-Enthüllungen im vergangenen Sommer die Anzahl der Suchanfragen in der Suchmaschine DuckDuckGo deutlich angestiegen ist:

Hier ist die Infografik dazu:

Statista-Studie: Snowden-Enthüllungen pushen DuckDuckGo
Statista-Studie: Snowden-Enthüllungen pushen DuckDuckGo


New Study: Political Polarization In American Presidental Elections Is Indeed Fueled By The Culture War

New study: political polarization in American presidental elections is indeed fueled by the Culture War

"Democratic Donkey & Republican Elephant" by DonkeyHotel, flickr (CC BY 2.0)
“Democratic Donkey & Republican Elephant” by DonkeyHotey, flickr (CC BY 2.0) ## If you can, hire DonkeyHotey for caricature work! ##


As an interested student of American politics, it almost seems like a truism to me that the culture war is driving the current political polarization in American elections. Social liberals usually vote for Democrats while social conservatives usually vote Republican. Yes, there are of course also libertarians who are economically conservative and socially liberal. But they fall somewhere in between the two camps on the simplified left-right one-axis model of the political spectrum.

The wedge issues are well-known: the separation of church and state and the connected conflicts around abortion and LGBTI rights, regulation of firearms, taxes and how they should be spent (healthcare, social safety net in general), but also civil rights and immigration. Or, to put it bluntly, ‘god, guns, and gays’.

But now there is more empirical evidence for this wide-spread assumption of the culture war’s influence on electoral politics. In a recent study, economist Stefan Krasa and economist/political scientist Mattias Polborn—both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, examined voter behavior since the late 1970s “by combining a theoretical model of voters’ decisions with data from the American National Election Survey.

Their research confirms that cultural issues are of greater significance in American politics today than they were back in the late 1970s, when Carter campaigned against Ford in 1976.

In fact,

[i]n 1976 [. . .], a voter’s social liberalism or conservatism played only a minor role for his vote choice [. . .].

Three decades later, a very different picture would emerge:

In 2004, however, [. . .] social and economic preferences play an approximately equal role in determining the vote [emphasis mine].

Krasa and Polborn are also able to assign a number to the growing importance of cultural issues in American electoral politics. And is it quite staggering:

The cultural policy differences between Democratic and Republican are about 300 percent larger for the elections in the 2000s than they were in 1976. In contrast, economic policy differences in the 2000s increased only by between 15 and 45 percent relative to 1976 [emphasis mine].

Who went from voting Democrat to voting Republican since 1980? The Reagan Democrats—”disproportionately white, low-to medium skilled workers, and considerably more religious than the average.”

Vice versa, those who went from voting GOP to voting Democrat were “disproportionately well-educated, secular and non-white.”

Read more:

“Party realignment on cultural issues is responsible for increased political polarization in presidential elections.” (Stefan Krasa and Mattias Polborn, USAPP Blog, London School of Economics and Political Science, 2014/03/03)

Reuters: Pentagon Has “Lost” $8.5 Trillion Of Taxpayer Money Since 1996

Reuters: The Pentagon has “lost” $8.5 trillion of taxpayer money since 1996

"The Pentagon, headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, taken from an airplane in January 2008." Picture by David B. Gleason, Wikimedia Commons (CC_BY-SA_2.0)
“The Pentagon, headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, taken from an airplane in January 2008.” Picture by David B. Gleason, Wikimedia Commons (CC_BY-SA_2.0)

An often-repeated mantra in American politics, mostly (but not exclusively) coming from Republicans, is that the U.S. government should stop “wasting” the hard-earned tax dollars of its citizens.

Usually the proposed solution in Washington then involves some cuts to social programs that disproportionately affect the poor and middle classes. Examples of this modus operandi are cuts to food stamp programs as earlier in 2013.

One department to spend it all

But there is one institution that, according to the mainstream consensus in both the GOP and the Democratic Party, can never have enough funding: the Department of Defense.

Despite the fact that the official military spending of the U.S. unmistakably dwarves that of all other potential rival nations, i.e. China and Russia, lobbyists from defense contractors and the politicians who cannot wait to enter the revolving door after retiring from politics would have the American public believe that unless military spending increases, or is at least kept at its current level, the terrorists and communists might invade Kansas next week.

Don’t audit me, bro!

According to an investigative report by Reuters, the Pentagon cannot account for $8.5 trillion in military spending since 1996. That money is gone and supposedly nobody knows where it went.

Just in case you wonder: In 1996, a law was passed by Congress to audit the Pentagon. But the Pentagon never complied.

Just let that sink in. It is not hundreds of thousand of dollars. It’s not millions of dollars. It’s $8.5 trillion!

My hunch is that if one were to look for “wasteful government bureaucracies,” the DoD would be an excellent place to start.

Read more:

[Video + Article] “Want to Cut Government Waste? Find the $8.5 Trillion the Pentagon Can’t Account For.” (Lauren, Lyster, Daily Ticker, Yahoo Finance, 2013/11/25)


Massachusetts Court Declares ‘Upskirt’ Photographs Legal, Lawmakers React Quickly

Massachusetts High Court declares ‘upskirt’ photographs legal, lawmakers react quickly

Image: Maxens M. Finch, flickr (CC_BY_2.0), filtered
Image: Maxens M. Finch, flickr (CC_BY_2.0), filtered

In what looks like an insane victory for creepy peeping tom types, the Massachusetts High Court has recently ruled that it is not illegal to secretly take pictures up a woman’s skirt, according to a report by Think Progress.

But why in the world would they decide like this, you may ask yourself?

According to the report, the court concluded that

[a] female passenger on a MBTA [Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority] trolley who is wearing a skirt, dress, or the like covering these parts of her body is not a person who is `partially nude,’ no matter what is or is not underneath the skirt by way of underwear or other clothing,

It seems that current laws are not keeping up with developments in technology, above all the ubiquity of camera-equipped smartphones.

Current “Peeping Tom” laws in Massachusetts “only protect women from being photographed in dressing rooms or bathrooms when they are undressed.” And because “upskirt photos are taken of fully clothed women in public, they don’t count,” reasons the Massachusetts court.

I think that it is not ok to take such pictures. I do think that this is a form of sexual harassment.

Update: Massachusetts lawmakers thought so, too, and passed a bill outlawing taking unconsensual upskirt pictures, including people of all genders.

Adolph Reed Junior On The Surrender Of America’s Liberals

Adolph Reed Junior on the surrender of America’s liberals

If we understand the left to be anchored to our convictions that society can be made better than it actually is, and a commitment to combating economic inequality as a primary one, the left is just gone. – Adolph Reed


The western front of the United States Capitol. The Neoclassical style building is located in Washington, D.C., on top of Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall. The Capitol was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. By United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg: Architect of the Capitol derivative work: O.J. (United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
The western front of the United States Capitol. The Neoclassical style building is located in Washington, D.C., on top of Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall. The Capitol was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. By United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg: Architect of the Capitol derivative work: O.J. (United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
There is an interesting recent article (paid subscription at Harper’s magazine) by political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. about the decline of the American Left and the Democratic Party’s embrace of neoliberalism.

Bill Moyers interviewed him on his show and has a video on his website. In the interview, Moyers points out as an example of this trend the Obama administration’s fast-tracking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.

Reed argues that the Democratic Party is too fixated on winning elections and appeasing Wall Street and the Right—the Clinton campaign’s triangulation comes to mind.

Reed sees in American politics today a “bipartisan neoliberalism [. . .] at the center of gravity of the American government.” And as its two core components, he identifies two things: a “free market, utopian ideology [a]nd [. . .] a concrete program for intensified upward redistribution.”

The interview is well worth watching, I think.


Meanwhile In Pakistan: Fake Viagra Pills Marketed With Obama’s Face

Meanwhile in Pakistan: fake Viagra pills marketed with Obama’s face

"Pills" by Fillmore Photography, flickr (CC BY 2.0)
“Pills” by Fillmore Photography, flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This came out of nowhere. In Pakistan, merchants are apparently selling generic Viagra knockoff pills against erectile dysfunction. And how do they advertise them? By slamming Obama’s face on the package, as a “symbol of strength and virility.”

On some packages Obama gives a thumbs-up sign, on others he appears James-Bond-like, with a silenced gun, just in case somebody needed an extra load of phallic symbolism. Oh, and the pills are supposedly smuggled into Pakistan from Afghanistan.

Bonus quote from a resident of the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the pills are sold:

They help anyone who is unable to have sex, they improve the duration for people who have destroyed their youth through masturbation [!] [emphasis mine]

Oh my!

Hipster Beard Hilarity: Facial Hair Transplants In NYC

Hipster beard hilarity: facial hair transplants in NYC

Image: “Moustache !”, marlenedd, flickr (CC BY 2.0)

There is a new trend in plastic surgery, facial hair transplants, to be precise. Among the hipster population of NYC (and probably elsewhere, too!), men in their thirties and forties are getting them to grow “fuller beards,” according to a report by abc News. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons have noticed an increase of four percent in the demand for such procedures since 2012.

Wall Street Threatens To Cancel GOP Fundraising

Wall Street firms are threatening to cancel GOP fundraising over banking tax proposal

Image: "Wall Street sign on Wall Street" by JSquish, Wikimedia Commons (CC_BY-SA_3.0)
Image: “Wall Street sign on Wall Street” by JSquish, Wikimedia Commons (CC_BY-SA_3.0)

Wall Street firms are threatening to turn off the money hose that fuels Republican election campaigns, according to a recent article in Politico. One GOP lobbyist told Politico that “commitments for big-dollar fundraising have been “canceled for the foreseeable future.”

What happened? Rep. Dave Camp had proposed a tax bill that would cut into the profits of large private equity firms.

Lobbyists from the big banks, among them Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan, are trying to stop the proposal in its tracks.

And they seem to be quite successful. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) backpedaled and told lobbyists that Camp’s proposal was just a “draft.”

At the same time, Democrats are rubbing their hands over potential campaign funds coming their way. The head of the Consumer Bankers Association put it this way:

[T]here’s no doubt some champagne corks were unleashed in Democratic circles last night. They got an early election gift

Democracy in America, 2014.

DuckDuckGo-Suche in Oder Einer Website Einbauen

DuckDuckGo-Suche in oder einer Website einbauen

Neulich stand ich vor dem Problem, dass ich auf meinem Blog eine Suchfunktion einbauen wollte, mit der man eine bestimmte andere Website durchsuchen kann.

Dabei bin ich dann auf diesen Blogpost von Sharad Chetri gestoßen.

Es gibt zwar für WordPress auch Plugins für eine angepasste Google-Suche, aber es muss ja nicht immer Google sein.

Als Alternative kommt hier DuckDuckGo ins Spiel.

Im Prinzip ist es ganz einfach. DuckDuckGo bietet eine Seite namens “Search Box” an, auf

DuckDuckGo Suchfeld
DuckDuckGo Suchfeld

der man sich ein Suchfeld zusammenbasteln und diverse Parameter ändern kann.

Beispielsweise kann man die Breite des Suchfeldes und die Hintergrundfarbe ändern.

Viel interessanter finde ich aber noch die Möglichkeit, eine oder mehrere bestimmte Websites zur Suche anzugeben (durch Komma getrennt).

Eine denkbare Spielerei wäre etwa, die deutschsprachige und englischsprachige Wikipedia einzugeben, um zu schauen, was sich dort jeweils zu einem Thema finden lässt.

Die “Search Box”-Seite generiert einen HTML-Code, den man entweder per Copy & Paste auf der eigenen Website einfügen kann, oder falls man WordPress benutzt, in ein Text-Widget einfügen kann.

DuckDuckGo Suchfeld (2)
DuckDuckGo Suchfeld (2)

So sieht es dann im Text-Widget in WordPress aus:

DuckDuckGo-Suche im Text-Widget
DuckDuckGo-Suche im Text-Widget

Und so sieht es dann auf dem Blog aus:


DuckDuckGo Suche (4)
DuckDuckGo Suche (4)

Ok, der Text im Suchfenster ist zu lang, aber das kann man noch anpassen.


Stranger Than Fiction: Serpent-Handling Pastor Dies Of Snakebite

Stranger than fiction: serpent-handling pastor dies of snakebite

A zeal for the Holy Spirit, reality TV, and venomous snakes. What could go wrong if these three ingredients are combined? As it turns out, it is a recipe for disaster.

A venomous copperhead snake. "Agkistrodon contortrix taken at the Cincinnati Zoo." Photo by Greg Hume, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
A venomous copperhead snake. “Agkistrodon contortrix taken at the Cincinnati Zoo.” Photo by Greg Hume, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

As CNN reports, a snake-handling pastor of a Kentucky Pentecostal church, who had lately been the star of National Geographic reality TV show Snake Salvation, has died after being bitten by a snake and then refusing treatment at a hospital.

Despite earlier accidents including

‘losing half of his finger to a snake bite and seeing others die from bites during services,’ Coots ‘still believe[d] he must take up serpents and follow the Holiness faith [emphasis mine],’

according to National Geographic’s channel website.

A religious tradition of rural southern Appalachia

Snake handling as a test of faith is a tradition among some Pentecostal churches across the Appalachian region, mostly in the rural South.

The origins of the practice lie in “a passage in the Bible [that] suggests poisonous snakebites will not harm believers as long as they are anointed by God.

In the Gospel of Mark (Mark 16:17-18), it says

And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover [emphasis mine].

And thus, the faithful not only take up deadly snakes, but also

ingest a mixture of strychnine – a highly toxic powder often used as a pesticide – and water, often from a Mason jar.

That, however, is still not enough for some, who also

will bring Coke bottles with oil-soaked wicks to the church so they can hold flames to their skin.

A deadly faith for over a century

But despite the unwavering faith of its practitioners, the tradition, which started “in the east Tennessee hills in 1909,” has repeatedly claimed its victims, thus far around a hundred “serpent handlers.”

For instance, in 2012, pastor Mack Wolford of West Virginia died of a snakebite. His father, also a Pentecostal serpent handler, had suffered the same fate before him in 1983.

According to CNN, experts estimate the number of “serpent handlers” at several thousand people.





Poll: Americans Are Divided About The Afghanistan War in 2014

Poll: Americans are divided about the Afghanistan War in 2014

Image: "Afghanistan on the globe (Afro-Eurasia centered)" by TUBS, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Image: “Afghanistan on the globe (Afro-Eurasia centered)” by TUBS, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A new Gallup poll found that in 2014, Americans are approximately evenly divided on the Afghanistan War.

49 percent now think that it was a mistake to send troops, 48 percent think it was not a mistake.

This is a significant shift in popular opinion after twelve years of war.

In 2001, when Gallup asked the same question, only 9 percent thought sending troops to Afghanistan was a mistake while 89 percent did not.

Despite popular opinion, the Obama administration attempted to pressure Afghan President Karzai to sign an agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan much longer and now considers waiting until Karzai leaves office to find a successor more friendly to U.S. plans of keeping a military presence in the country.


Horrible Politicians: Texas Democrat Downplays Domestic Violence

Horrible Politicians: Texas Democrat Downplays Domestic Violence

Alternate Texas flag map. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Alternate Texas flag map. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

When I read about reactionary politicians in America, these days it is almost a sure bet that the latest horrible thing uttered about women, LGBTI people, non-white Americans, poor people, foreigners, or anyone who is not of their particular brand of fundamentalist Christianity, comes straight outta GOP. But not this time!

As the Huffington Post reports, Lloyd Oliver, a candidate for District Attorney in Harris County, Texas, frequently says absolutely terrible things when it comes to the issue of domestic abuse.

For instance, he thinks that domestic violence is “overrated” and that it should be prosecuted less.

To that effect, he gave ‘helpful’ advice to victims of domestic abuse during a call-in show in 2012, encouraging them to “maybe learn how to box a little better.”

In that same show, he also downplayed domestic violence as a problem, claiming that it was a part of “some couple’s sexual routine.”

Statistics see serious domestic violence problem

Be that as it may in a tiny fraction of cases, but as the HuffPo article notes,

Harris County has the highest rate of domestic violence homicides in the state. According to a report by the Texas Council on Family Violence, 30 women were murdered by intimate partners in 2012.

Taking this into consideration, domestic violence is certainly not a non-issue, something that maybe a few kinky BDSM afficionados engage in consensually. It is, instead, a serious social problem.

But Mr. Oliver seems quite ignorant of that fact.

Here’s a clip from the progressive news show The Young Turks with some more details:

Over A Quarter Of U.S. Presidents Were Involved In Slavery

Over a quarter of U.S. presidents were involved in slavery

“Slave sale, Charleston, South Carolina,” wood engraving, by an unknown engraver, page taken from the Illustrated London News, 1856. Courtesy of the British Museum, London. Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

President Obama recently invited French President Francois Hollande on a tour of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation estate in Virginia.

Jefferson—No. 3—was not the only slaveowning president.

As Clarence Lusane, professor of political science at American University writes in his book The Black History of the White House and talks about in this interview with Amy Goodman on DemocracyNow!, six of twelve slave-owning presidents kept slaves in the White House.

Read more:

Missing From Presidents Day: The People They Enslaved.” (Clarence Lusane, The Zinn Education Project, Huffington Post, 2014/02/13)