Robert Ingersoll

Robert Ingersoll quoteMy second post on Secular Voices is now up: Robert Ingersoll, A Hero of Free Thought. Please share the link if you like the article.

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Putting a face on trans people

We’ve seen a sudden uptick in hostility to transgender people, spearheaded by the governor of North Carolina. Ted Cruz has pushed it further, in a desperate attempt to win the nomination by proving he’s worse than Trump. Often the best way to counter hostility is to put a face on the target group, and that’s my aim in this post.

I know an unusually large number of trans people. It’s a result of my being in filk fandom, which is particularly welcoming of them. They have varying approaches to what they want people to know, so I’ll only mention two of them by name, because they allowed me to discuss them in Tomorrow’s Songs Today.
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Which candidate would hurt me the most?

While out riding on my bike, I was thinking about which of the big four presidential candidates would personally hurt me the most. That distinction goes to Sanders. Let’s run down all the candidates.
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Getting actual news with RSS

Just about all news websites on the Internet are terrible. Most of what Google News offers doesn’t even qualify as news, and its advocacy links have an obvious slant to the left. Most news sites’ homepages are full of unimportant sports and entertainment material and pictures that take half a minute to download. If you find an article on a solid news event, it’s usually got more about people’s reactions than to what actually happened. Often headlines can’t even describe their stories correctly. Perhaps lowest of all is the story that consists of Tweets by people nobody’s ever heard of, “proving” that some alarming new trend is gripping society.

A good alternative is well-selected RSS feeds. They lead to the same websites, but it’s far easier to browse through them for the stories that are worth reading. They’re handy for reading blogs that have new posts only once every few days but consistently say worthwhile things.

A lot of the feeds I follow are for specialized tech areas, and I won’t mention them here. Maybe I’ll list them in a future Mad File Format Science post. Here are some feeds I follow that have some general interest:

  • BBC News, Europe. Stories we might not see in the US.
  • Christian Science Monitor. Decent general news coverage.
  • Hit and Run from Reason Magazine. Obvious libertarian advocacy, but also news stories you might not see elsewhere.
  • Mother Jones. Leftward advocacy, but more pro-freedom than many, and again it’s got news stories you might otherwise miss.
  • New York Times, international. A left-establishment slant, but better news coverage than many.
  • Schneier on Security. This veers toward the techie side, but if you’re reading this on the Internet, you should care about its subject matter.
  • Spiegel Online: Schlagzeilen. Good European coverage, in German. (I’m not just being silly; my stats confirm that people from Germany do read this blog.)
  • The Volokh Conspiracy. A legal blog tending toward the libertarian. It often has good analysis that’s missing from other coverage of big stories.

I read RSS feeds on my Mac with Leaf. It’s simpler and more straightforward than most readers, though it’s slower than it should be. I’m open to other recommendations.

If you’d like to share some favorite news RSS feeds, please mention them in a comment.

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Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill

Libertarians are thrilled that someone they can admire will appear on the future $20 Federal Reserve Note. Back in May, Lawrence Reed presented the case for Tubman on the FEE website. The whole piece is worth reading, but here’s just a bit:
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Did Southwest Airlines kick a passenger off for speaking Arabic?

Depending on which news account you believe, Southwest Airlines kicked a passenger off and Federal agents searched him because he spoke Arabic or because he made threats. How do we decide between these two claims?

The Daily Californian reports that Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a student at UC Berkeley, “was removed from Southwest Airlines flight 4260, detained by security officers, questioned by the FBI and refused service from Southwest after speaking Arabic before his flight took off.” Makhzoomi is a refugee from Iraq. He claims that an officer searched his genital area in public as police dogs stood by.
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Texas’s attempt to cut off prisoners from the world

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has proclaimed a new policy to cut off prisoners’ communication with the outside world, according to This includes accounts maintained on their behalf by others.

[Texas spokesperson Jason] Clark said that the department will reach out to social media companies to ask that accounts in inmates’ names be taken down, and that the new rule will strengthen their ability to do so. Inmates who are found to have social media accounts would be punished with a level three disciplinary violation, the lowest level violation in the system.

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New article on Secular Voices

Secular Voices has just accepted my first article, “The Biggest Victims of Muslim Fanaticism: Muslims”. Getting a good number of views will help my future chances, so pleaseMuhammad saying "C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons." spread the word if you like it.

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Wagner’s Ring (the “good parts” version)

Yesterday in Nashua I got to see a concert performance of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, cut down to three hours including an intermission. The performance was fantastic. The experiment of squeezing it down had a mixed result.

1876 scene from Das RheingoldSymphony NH, Nashua’s resident orchestra, combined forces with the Lexington Symphony Orchestra and a group of soloists in Keefe Auditorium, Elm Street Middle School. The stage had to be extended to accommodate all the musicians. Between the two orchestras, the contingent was close to what Wagner specified; they even had Wagner tubas and anvils. It was my first time seeing anything close to a live performance of the Ring, with or without constumes and staging. There are some thing you need to see to appreciate, such as singers who can hold their own against a hundred-piece orchestra. I was particularly impressed by Alfred Walker’s Wotan. Wotan’s definitely the main character in Rheingold and has a good claim to it in Walküre, and walker brought a lot of power and emotional effectiveness to the role. (By the way, his skin is dark. Take that, Nazi Wagnerians!) Pawel Izdebski, who played the giant Fafner, really is a giant, a head taller than any of the other singers. Many of the singers covered more than one role; Sam Handley doubled as a dwarf and a giant.
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Traditionalist Worker Party: The culmination of “race identity”

Poster for 'Der Fuehrer's Face“Race identity” is the idea that who you are is defined by genetics, skin color, and ethnic origin. It’s an essentially racist concept, but the people who promote it not only deny that they’re racist, they say that if you oppose them, rumors will mysteriously spread that you’re racist, so you’d better keep quiet. They put capital letters on “White” and “Black,” as if they’re names or nationalities. The Traditionalist Worker Party is a perfect example of race-identity thinking. This group got some news recently when a member was charged with assaulting protesters at a Trump rally.
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