27 April 2017

Book review -- unmasking V

V for Vendetta (1988), graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

After reviewing the V for Vendetta movie, I knew I had to read the classic book from which it's adapted.  Since I'm comparing it to the movie, which I saw first, I'm "working backwards" in a certain sense, but this actually turns out to be a good way of assessing the differences.  The book is very powerful, and makes explicit much of what was left ambiguous in the movie.  Spoiler alert -- I'm going to go into some details of the story that I didn't in the movie review.

One admission up front -- the art style used in this graphic novel is not my favorite.  My taste in such things was shaped by early exposure to Japanese manga and to a few works by artists like John Findley and Michael Kaluta.  The style in V for Vendetta is very different.  It is, however, a good fit for the bleak, stark world the novel depicts.

The racist and theocratic character of the fascist British regime is much more explicit in the novel; the systematic annihilation of blacks, Muslims, and gays is presented far more bluntly.  The official slogan "Strength through purity, purity through faith" makes the religious quality explicit, and the film's rapist secret police and child-molesting bishop are here too, embodying the inevitable hypocrisy of such regimes.  The novel is also much clearer about the horrific atrocities at the Lark Hill concentration camp -- confirming that V's extraordinary powers originated with medical experiments performed on him by the regime, which thus created its own eventual destroyer.

There are two really essential points on which the novel is more explicit than the film, and in both cases, it makes a startling difference.

First, there is the disturbing interlude during which Evey is apparently captured and tortured for a prolonged period by the regime, only to discover that her captivity was staged and carried out by V himself, to "liberate" her from her fears and weaknesses.  Evey is naturally outraged at first, but then comes to accept V's action.  The movie just barely gets away with this, but in the novel, frankly, it misfires because of the more lengthy and realistic dialog which accompanies the revelation.  Evey argues forcefully, and convincingly, against V's insistence that she was somehow in a metaphorical prison all along until the faked captivity "freed" her.  "You're wrong!  It's just life, that's all!  It's how life is!  It's what we've got to put up with.  It's all we've got.  What gives you the right to decide it's not good enough?"  V's responses, by contrast, seem cold and cliché-like, and any reader would surely judge that Evey is in the right and justified in her outrage.  Her later acceptance, even kissing V and thanking him, feels not only implausible but creepy.  She seems brainwashed -- and we've just seen that she's too strong-willed to have been brainwashed in this way.

The second point concerns V's goals.  In the movie review, I noted, "We don't get much sense of what V is fighting for, aside from his desire for revenge against his former tormentors."  In the book, V makes it clear that he's an anarchist, opposed not only to the fascist regime but to authority in general.  He spends some time explicating elements of anarchist philosophy, elements which I recognize very well, having once been an anarchist myself, and later engaged in debate about the issue.  V's monologues here just served to remind me of how flawed the philosophy he's describing turned out to be -- once I started having doubts about it and challenged it, I found that other anarchists were so unable to defend it convincingly that I rapidly abandoned it.

Others may differ on that point, of course, but what's indisputable is that V comes off as a terrible hypocrite here.  Not only has he controlled and brutalized Evey in a shockingly arrogant manner, explicitly imitating the methods of the fascist regime itself, but also he speaks rather contemptuously of the masses of ordinary people whom he hopes to spur into action against their rulers (this is the meaning of the domino metaphor in both movie and book).  "Those stolid, law-abiding queues, so pregnant with catastrophe, insensible before the wave so soon released by callous fate.  Affected most, they understand the least.....until they're caught up in that terrible momentum, possibly mistaking it at first for bold decisive action, charging to the rescue.....but they are not charging, they are falling."  Ordinary people are mere pawns to be manipulated and sacrificed for his goals -- an authoritarian attitude, surely.  By leaving V more ambiguous, the movie makes him more sympathetic.

(Our objection to the right wing's minimalist-government, laissez-faire ideology is that in practice, for the great mass of people, such a system means not more freedom but more vulnerability to exploitation by a wealthy elite against which the state would otherwise give them some protection.  Here, anarchy apparently means subjecting the masses to exploitation by the anarchist himself.)

There are a couple of lesser points where I think the movie comes off better.  At one point V takes temporary control of the regime's TV network to deliver a speech to the nation.  In the book, the speech is an extended corporate-performance-review-style metaphor which would surely bewilder his audience; in the movie he speaks far more clearly, though still elegantly.  The fight which mortally wounds him is, in the book, a brief altercation in which a single gunshot does the damage; the movie makes it a terrific, climactic action scene (V is wearing body armor, which allows him to survive for a little while).

The book does capture the bleak and dreary quality of life under an authoritarian regime rather better, and imbues the characters with more depth than would fit a movie's time limitations and more streamlined narrative.  It's a powerful work.  But on the whole, I have to say that this is one of those rare cases where the movie does it even better.

25 April 2017

Video of the day -- clichés are not enough


I don't agree with everything he says here, but it's worth listening to.  Terms like "freedom" and "greatest country in the world" too often become clichés, accolades to which we lay claim with no thought of what would actually merit them.  Perhaps the most important line is toward the end -- "we didn't scare so easily".

23 April 2017

Link round-up for 23 April 2017

Thrill to the drama of ski-jumping tires (found via Mendip).

Read Ivanka Trump's babysitter instructions.

Elephants think we're cute.

Put that thing down and get away from the goddamn ocean.

Scientists and engineers analyze anime, and Japanese vs. Western views of technology (link from Marc McKenzie).

Here's how Trump operates as President (found via Yellowdog Granny) and what holds his attentionHe's the one on the left.  He follows a tradition of leadership (found via Yikes).  Check out the current cover of Der SpiegelMAGA!

This was "proof of God" in 1946.

Don't throw a lit cigarette in some random place (found via TYWKIWDBI).

Here are some musicals for Mike Pence to enjoy.

Tom Tomorrow looks at the future of corporate apologies (found via Mendip).

Read the true story of Joseph Smith and the golden plates.

Sometimes there is justice.

Some interesting observations here on right-handedness and medieval warfare.

A star is born -- millions of them, in fact.

Wise words.

It's persecution (be sure to watch the video).

Try this color psychology test and read the results carefully, and you'll see how it works.

Nope, definitely not gay.

The left, too, has dangerous idiots, though I don't think there are many.  Don't miss the glossary at the end.

Solar power comes to the ruins of Kentucky's mountains.

Our culture has toxic elements.

Yeah, but some of them are pretty nasty to waitresses (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Here's a case study of how a wingnut internet witch-hunt develops (found via Crooks and Liars).

Kneel down and take it on the tongue (another example of the odd things religions obsess over).  Then there's "sodomites" and "reprobates".

She was fired for giving poor kids food.

Very true (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Optimism is a necessity -- the alternative leads to defeatism.

Imagine if government treated men the way it treats womenSpeaking of which, WTF?

You'll be surprised at who ranks as our second-best environmental President.

I somehow doubt that this conference will seriously consider the possibility that there isn't any life out there.

Experiments on mice have reversed some elements of aging.

If you've been exposed to asbestos, here are examples of what can result.

"If my son told me he was gay....."  This is the kind of culture that produces such attitudes.

Ross Douthat has a (desperate and absurd) message for liberals.

Enough of this goddamn flag.

History's most important sea had a fascinating origin.

This is "moderate"?

The (drama) queen demands a coach ride.

The EU will suffer if it tries to "punish" the UK.

Chilean builders safeguard a hummingbird family.

Could Argentina seize the Falklands again?  Very unlikely, and the UK would recover them again, even if after a couple of years' delay.

Much of Australia's Great Barrier Reef is beyond saving.

The Soviet Nedelin disaster exemplifies how authoritarianism leads to catastrophic incompetence (a gripping read, too).

In Iran's election, the choice is easy.

Trump infuriates yet another important group -- South Koreans.

Learn about Africa's hero rats (who have a better retirement plan than some American humans).

Philadelphia witnesses a massive pro-Trump march.

We need to fix the Democratic primary system to make sure this doesn't happen again.

Ossoff is ready for the Georgia run-off; now we just have to avoid the trap of ideological purism.  Driftglass identifies Handel's Messiah.

Trump's policies show lack of consistency.  Watch what he does, not what he says.

Nice healthcare you got there, be a shame if anything happened to it.

Here are some signs from the March for Science.  But don't look for this guy there.

Forget the rah-rah we-are-so-great clichés and fight to save the country (found via Hackwhackers).

This time, it really was about race.

Trumpanzees suffer consequences. Voters increasingly feel best represented by Democrats.

Crazy Eddie looks at gerrymandering.

Bernie Sanders is becoming a problem and out of touch, repeating old mistakes (more here and here).  What makes a candidate better is pressure, not ignoring the problem.

[93 days down, 1,368 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

21 April 2017

The French election

My recent post on Brexit ended with the following observation:

Change is coming in Europe -- the question is whether the moderate political establishment will accommodate it or be swept away by it.  If that establishment continues to ignore the popular will on issues like austerity, immigration, and interference with national sovereignty, eventually Europe's exasperated voters will start electing people like Nigel Farage (who, though he deserves much kudos for leading the independence movement to victory, is basically a crank otherwise), or worse, to positions of national leadership.  This would pose some of the same kinds of dangers as the rise of Trump in the US.  By accommodating change despite their personal misgivings, Cameron and May have greatly reduced this risk, at least in the UK.  Other countries will soon face similar tests.

This Sunday, France will face that test, as it holds its Presidential election.  In the French system, if no one candidate wins an absolute majority in this first round of voting, a run-off is held between just the top two vote-getters (a wise system, I might add, since it filters out the effect of voters wasting their votes on minor candidates).  The most controversial candidate, who is very likely to be one of the top two and thus make it to the run-off, is Marine Le Pen of the National Front.

The National Front was founded by Marine's father Jean-Marie Le Pen, during whose leadership it genuinely deserved the epithet "far-right" which is so casually (and often inaccurately) bestowed on all European political elements which oppose the European Union and high immigration.  Since Marine took over in 2011, the party has moderated, abandoning its former doctrinaire-Catholic and anti-Semitic stances to focus on issues which actually appeal to the average French voter, such as limiting immigration, abandoning the euro common currency, and generally re-asserting national sovereignty.  It has thus established itself as a major and serious political force.

Earlier in Marine Le Pen's career I hoped that she would indeed be elected President someday, but I can no longer do so.  Her recent alignment with Putin and support for Trump shows a dangerous lack of commitment to democracy and Western values, while her call to reverse the legalization of gay marriage (in one of the world's most secular and tolerant nations) is reactionary and, ironically, aligns her with the Islamists who are the main remaining anti-gay political force in western Europe.  Like Nigel Farage in Britain, she is right on her signature issues, but dangerously wrong in other areas.

According to polls, the other candidate most likely to make it to the run-off is Emmanuel Macron, a man without prior political experience who describes himself as "neither right nor left", though his support comes primarily from the left.  He's also the most pro-EU candidate.  Two others with a chance to reach the run-off against Le Pen are François Fillon, offering a standard right-wing program of tax cuts, longer working hours, and reduction of government; and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose platform mixes strongly-progressive economic and environmental policies with nationalist elements such as asserting French independence and strong criticism of the EU (hardly a surprising combination, since the EU's disastrous austerity policies should arouse the opposition of any true socialist).  Polling strongly suggests that whichever one of these three makes it to the run-off against Le Pen will defeat her and become President.

If I were French, the choice would be easy -- Mélenchon.  But from an objective viewpoint, who ultimately wins may matter less than how well Le Pen does.

In Britain, Farage never got close to becoming Prime Minister, but the movement he led ultimately forced the issue.  David Cameron was a mainstream, pro-EU politician, but when he ran for re-election in 2015, he promised a referendum on the EU; and after winning, he kept his promise.  The British people thus got the benefit of Farage's activism without the dangers of having Farage as national leader.  The best outcome for the French would be the same.  So the best outcome of Sunday's vote, and of the near-inevitable run-off on May 7, would be for Le Pen to do as well as possible without actually winning.  The more strongly popular discontent expresses itself, the more likely it is that the winner will feel forced to address it, as Cameron did.

Mélenchon is fourth in the polls, but has been rising steadily since mid-March.  Fillon, who most resembles a US Republican (though without the religious wingnuttery) is third, but has been damaged by a nepotism scandal.  Macron is the most likely winner, but even he might be swayed to consider a "Frexit" referendum if the popular will asserts itself forcefully enough.

One point Americans might appreciate -- France has no equivalent of the Electoral College to muddy the waters.

19 April 2017

So long, O'Reilly

Posting my favorite Bill O'Reilly videos one last time, to commemorate his apparent early retirement from Fox.

First, his bizarre outburst of rage at his teleprompter (he must not have realized he was still being recorded):


Second, the immortal dance remix version:


We celebrate not only the end of O'Reilly's show, but the frantic exodus of hordes of advertisers from it since word of his (alleged) misbehavior went public.  Some companies do have a conscience, while others know that association with nonconsensual grabbery is bad for business.  Trump or no Trump, progress continues to be made.

16 April 2017

Link round-up for 16 April 2017

These cats know their places.

The sight of Kushner in Iraq inspires derisive captions.

Mini-turtles!

Punctuation matters.  So does headline placement.

Ignore stupid advice.

United Airlines inspires new mottos and a training video -- and hasn't learned anything (found via Mendip).  But another airline shows a rather different side.

LiveJournal just gets worse -- and the exodus is under way.

Jesus is watching.....something.

There's a lot more to the original story of Beauty and the Beast.

Ted Cruz wants the government to stop you from wanking (found via Mendip).

How people dress can tell us whether they're dangerous.

Wolves are bigger than you think.

Beware of falling rocks.

Here are some fun facts about Roman poets.

Go to Hel.

Art has a birth and an afterlife.

Ghost in the Shell opens at #1 in China and Japan, where nobody gives a rat's ass about "whitewashing".

Which Odyssey character should you fight?

See the first color photo ever taken (from commenter Blurber).

Here's a summarized history of religion.  At least it gives us a clear standard of right and wrong.

Gay marriage is Hitler.  Lincoln is Hitler.  Oh, and secularism is Hitler.

My home city commits to 100% renewable energy by 2050 (found via Politics Plus).

Which life matters?

Pence and Trump step up the war on women.  Next, the war on drugs.

This one cartoon pretty much sums up modern US conservatism (found via Yellowdog Granny).

A lot of people liked that Jenner Pepsi ad, especially minorities.

Andrew Sullivan these days is just tiresome.

Here's how to explain awkward stuff to your kids (found via Tell Me Why the World Is Weird).

There's a way to beat one of the nastiest computer viruses.

Two moons in the outer solar system constitute our best chance of finding alien life.

Artificial intelligence is getting so advanced, we no longer quite understand how it works (found via Love Joy Feminism).  Don't miss the creepy computer-generated art.

Brane Space looks at automation and Basic Income (I wrote about the same issue here).

The first protest in space has a worthy target.

Here's an interesting little story from Eisenhower's days as a general.

Christianity's gruesome mythology inures people to horror.

There is no evidence (found via Yellowdog Granny).

If you wanted nice gay people.....

Kudos to New Mexico, but how could people ever do this?

Jerry Coyne debunks the "atheism is like a religion" drivel.  More of his pithy debunking here.

Not sure if SJW is the right term, but the mentality in the second column does exist.

Explore the wacky world of Republican sex.

I found this discussion of the internet's democratizing effect on art rather interesting.

Scottish dialect thrives on Twitter (this must startle people who learned English as a second language).

Which one looks like a First World society?

Islamists in southern Russia are putting gays in concentration-camp-like prisons.

NATO is standing up to Russia.  Putin seems to be getting buyer's remorse.

This was Syria (like I remember it).  This is the five-sided civil war Trump wants to try and straighten out.  Let's hope he at least pays attention to precedent.  Here's why Obama didn't attack (found via Progressive Eruptions).

Al-Jazeera and the New York Times assess likely effects of the MOAB superbomb in Afghanistan.

This analysis argues that war with North Korea is unlikely (from Kevin Robbins).

Trump can't even run a resort hygienically -- and he hosts foreign leaders there!  He's soliciting ideas for the wall -- send in yours!

Here's a possible winning issue for Democrats.

Green Eagle keeps up with the latest Republican craziness.  They're turning their nihilistic obstructionism against their own side.

Opposing everything is the wrong way to stop Trump (and no, it's not what worked for the Republicans).

Democrats just scored some successes in local elections in Illinois.

A Holocaust survivor has a message for Spicer.  But he's just what Trump deserves (found via Tell Me a Story).

A Republican lawsuit threatens ACA subsidies (check out the map of which states would suffer most), but people know where the blame lies.

You know those county-by-county election maps the wingnuts love, which show most of the country red?  Here's a more honest one (for 2012) showing population density.

[Image at top found via Crazy Eddie]

14 April 2017

The North Korea crisis

There are few scenarios more disquieting than a showdown between two mentally-erratic rulers with nuclear weapons in the middle of one of the world's most densely-populated and economically-important regions.  Yet that's the scenario which seems to be developing in East Asia.

In brief, the North Korean regime, showing its usual bluster, is apparently about to conduct another nuclear or missile test.  Trump has diverted the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group toward the region and warned that the US will not tolerate such a provocation.  The North Korean regime has a history of ignoring foreign pressure to dial back its saber-rattling, and Trump has a history of taking aggressive actions without thought to, or even understanding of, possible consequences.  But if the test goes ahead and Trump carries out some kind of military action against North Korea, the consequences could be enormous indeed.

The regime has repeatedly threatened that, if attacked, it would retaliate against our allies Japan and South Korea:
The map illustrates two salient points.  First, Seoul, the South Korean capital, is very close to the DMZ (border between the two Korean states).  In fact, it's within artillery range.  The North has a formidable array of weaponry deployed along the border.  The Seoul metro area has over 25 million people, about half of South Korea's total population.  A Northern attack on a city of this size would cause horrific casualties and destruction.

Second, Japan, or a large part of it, is within range of even the primitive missiles the North possesses (it's estimated to have about 350 missiles which could theoretically reach Japanese territory).  North Korea, of course, has atomic bombs -- only a few, low-yield and unreliable by modern standards, and we don't even know for sure whether the North can deliver them by missile -- but even one or two successfully delivered and detonated could inflict devastation comparable to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

In short, an impulsive action by Trump in this case would be risking the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in countries which are allies of ours.  Needless to say, attacking Seoul or Japan would mean massive US retaliation -- but we can't count on that to deter the North Korean regime from carrying out such actions.  Nobody knows whether the regime is really as crazy and delusional as it appears to be, or even who is actually in charge (some believe the military holds the real power, with Kim Jong-un being merely a figurehead).  The risk of the nightmare scenario happening is unquantifiable, but real.

And if it did happen, the consequences would be enormous.  South Koreans and Japanese would rightly blame the US for provoking the disaster.  It could even lead to a permanent breach.  Remember how the murder of 3,000 Americans on September 11 affected the US -- then consider the impact on South Korea and Japan of ten to a hundred times as many deaths.

South Korea and Japan are among the most technologically advanced countries on Earth -- more advanced than the US in some areas.  Japan has a population almost equal to Russia (127 million vs. 143 million) and the world's third-largest economy.  It's a potential superpower -- more so, really, than China or India.  If Japan turned against the US and decided that its future security required complete political and military independence, the disruptive effect on the world order as we've known it since 1945 would be greater than that of almost any other imaginable event.

Maybe Trump will restrain himself.  China has been trying to talk sense to him, and one can hope that Defense Secretary James Mattis (one of Trump's few really qualified appointments), while talking tough to North Korea, is also bringing his boss up to speed on the realities of the situation.  It would have helped if the MSM had been less gaga in their coverage of Trump's missile attack in Syria and MOAB bombing in Afghanistan -- the man seems obsessed with his image in the media.  But make no mistake -- this is by far the most dangerous situation to arise since Trump took office.

12 April 2017

Video of the day -- cheating death


Made by Norwegian animation students.  I am definitely rooting for the little guy here.

11 April 2017

Brexit under way

Near the end of March the land of my ancestors formally triggered the Article 50 process which will lead to restoration of independence from the European Union, in accordance with last year's referendum.  This action also triggered the same babble of clueless negativity on the left (especially the American left) as the original referendum did.  Some points to consider:

• The same people who, for whatever reason, are so hostile to the restoration of the UK's independence were presumably more supportive in earlier cases of the same kind of action, such as the secession of the Baltic states from the USSR or the independence of Third World countries from the European colonial empires.

• The restoration of independence is also a return to greater democracy.  The real power in the EU, which includes ever-increasing interference in the internal affairs of member states, is held by an unelected and unaccountable oligarchy (which is, as such unaccountable regimes tend to be, massively corrupt).  Removing this interference will restore full legislative power to the British Parliament, which is elected by the population it governs.

• Be wary of the dishonest use of language by EU supporters in which the word "Europe" is conflated with the EU -- intensification of the oligarchy's dominance over elected national governments is described as "more Europe", Brexit is described as "leaving Europe", etc.  The EU is not Europe, it is a transient grouping to which some European countries belong.

• If the US were part of an undemocratic multi-national organization which interfered in our internal affairs as extensively as the EU does in those of its member states, we would have voted ourselves out of it a long time ago.

• Even if Brexit carries some economic cost, independence and democracy are worth paying that price for.

• Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland have never been part of the EU and their economies are doing fine -- notably better than those of southern Europe, which have been devastated by EU-imposed austerity policies and the common euro currency.

• It's likely that the oligarchy will try to play hardball in the independence negotiations with the UK due to (1) spite -- these people have shown over and over that they are vicious and vindictive -- and (2) the knowledge that discontent with the EU is manifesting itself in ever-more-aggressive form in other member states, including major ones like France and Italy.  If the UK "gets away with it", others will follow.

• However, the UK is in the stronger position -- as a net importer from other EU countries, it is the "customer" in the relationship.  It is, for example, Germany's third-largest export market.  If the EU tries to impose punitive trade barriers, the UK could find alternate suppliers for what it currently imports from the rest of the EU much more easily than the rest of the EU could find alternate markets for what it now exports to the UK.  (Ever since the original referendum, several non-EU countries have been expressing interest in negotiating their own trade deals with the UK once it is free to do so.)  The main consequence of punitive trade barriers would be job losses in Germany and elsewhere in the EU.

• Conversely, one of the main "exports" from the UK to the mainland is financial services, which the EU could not easily replace -- skills and experience comparable to the London financial industry do not exist on the mainland.  In any case, 56% of UK exports go to non-EU countries, a share which was steadily growing even before the referendum.

• The UK is one of only two western European nations with substantial military power (the other is France).  If Europe eventually needs or wants to develop a common defense capability less dependent on the US, it will need the UK much more than vice-versa.  The EU itself would inhibit such an effort.  Nations could work in an alliance of sovereign states (analogous to NATO), but would never hand over substantial military forces to an entity which aspires to usurp sovereignty for itself.

• Change is coming in Europe -- the question is whether the moderate political establishment will accommodate it or be swept away by it.  If that establishment continues to ignore the popular will on issues like austerity, immigration, and interference with national sovereignty, eventually Europe's exasperated voters will start electing people like Nigel Farage (who, though he deserves much kudos for leading the independence movement to victory, is basically a crank otherwise), or worse, to positions of national leadership.  This would pose some of the same kinds of dangers as the rise of Trump in the US.  By accommodating change despite their personal misgivings, Cameron and May have greatly reduced this risk, at least in the UK.  Other countries will soon face similar tests.

(Background here)

09 April 2017

Link round-up for 9 April 2017

Treat your capybaras to a hot bath and some music.

Don't ever be ashamed (found via Yellowdog Granny).

What really went on in the Star Trek universe?

So that's what that thing is for.

With some ads, location matters.

Sometimes, a book's very title tells you it's a classic of literature.

Here's how to park a car in Finland.

For the music for your next horror film, all you need is this instrument.  Maybe you can set the film at Wendy's.

If you don't have a record player, improvise.

How big was all that stuff in Star Wars?

It's man vs. tyrannosaurus in Jurassic Parkour!

Maybe God didn't want it to be there (found via Yellowdog Granny).

This was 1969.

A useful new invention -- the anti-paparazzi scarf.

This professor pranks his students with visual aids.

If you are on LiveJournal, you need to get off it.  I've seen Dreamwidth suggested as an alternative.

Artist Jeff Hong puts Disney characters in real-world settings.

Growing up in more traditional times, blogger Donna found Mae West an inspiration.

Why do women put up with this crap?

See color photos -- from 1903.

Boston's Museum of Science explores the history of chocolate.

"Unclear passages" should not be used to dodge the nasty implications of the Bible.

Republicans are desperately trying to stop the green-energy revolution, but they can't succeed. Even the Kentucky Coal Museum is switching to solar power to save money.

Alex Jones loses it -- did he ever really have it?  Bryan Fischer has lost it, and he wants it back.

Mastodon is a Nazi-free alternative to Twitter, but it's having some trouble catching on.

Fundie nutters are in a snit about the new chief of the Air Force Academy (comments on the first article are worth a look too).

Fundies may no longer care about the poor, but others do care.

No, Obamacare is not "collapsing".

Trumpism is the logical culmination of the cult of ignorance (found via Mendip).

Abuse did not shape you.

The "cultural appropriation" nonsense is getting completely insane.

Noah Smith's post on attitudes toward "rationals" is worth reading on its own terms, but also reminded me of why I avoid associating with "communities".

American society is becoming not just polarized, but tribalized.

This is the far north.

75% of Germans support gay marriage (Germany is one of the few west European countries that doesn't have it yet).

Here's an unusual bridge in Uruguay.

This Presidential candidate would make a great Republican.

See what the Asad regime is doing to its own people.

The Putin regime collaborates with Islamists to oppress and kill gays, and other news.

The spirit of chabuduo keeps China backward and unsafe (and I still worry about this).

Trump has already normalized the outrageous.

This is the most amateurish government in US history, and the fault lies mostly at the top.

Women are the backbone of the resistance.

Another Trumpanzee wises up too late.

My state's Senator Merkley sums up the case against Gorsuch.  But the enemy doesn't fully accept him as one of themselves.

These days, the goal of Republicanism is to be the worst asshole possible.

Maybe Susan Sarandon was right (though we don't know how bad things are going to get).

Keith Olbermann looks at the possibility, and risks, of re-doing the 2016 election (found via Politics Plus).

Trump's missile strike must be judged a failure since the airbase he hit is still operational (found via Progressive Eruptions).  But he's still trying to make money off of it (found via Hackwhackers).  Kevin Robbins's Congressperson exemplifies Republican hypocrisy on Syria.

Bannon may be on the way out, and for the Alt-Right, it has all the makings of an epic Dolchstoßlegende.

[79 days down, 1,382 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

06 April 2017

Some observations on the stolen seat

As we now know, Senate Republicans have abolished the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations in order to confirm Gorsuch by a simple majority, for the seat they stole from Garland (thus also robbing Obama of his right to a nomination).  Some observations:

• Republicans must have felt under tremendous pressure, maybe even from Trump himself, to get something done.  From ACA repeal to Trump's budget to Flynn, it's been one fiasco after another.  They're desperate for a success, any success.

• Once the filibuster's gone, it's gone.  From now on, whichever party holds 51 Senate seats, or 50 plus the Vice Presidency, can do whatever it wants with Supreme Court nominations.  Why would that party ever vote to give up that power by reinstating the filibuster?

• For the 2018 election, the Senate is now of supreme importance.  A net gain of three seats would give us the majority.  It's a tall order since few Republicans are up for re-election -- but the President's party usually takes losses in a midterm, and this is the most incompetent and unpopular administration in living memory.

• If we do regain the majority, the power it brings must be used to the utmost.  In my view, if there is another Supreme Court vacancy, our Senators should refuse to consider any nominee Trump (or more likely Pence, by then) sends them.  Hold the seat for the next President as the Republicans did, even if that means a vacancy for two years.  Never mind that they claimed they did that because it was an election year -- we and they both know that's a flagrant lie, and there's no need to pretend otherwise.  It will be retaliation in kind, and well deserved.  Our Senators should make it clear that there is only one exception -- the only case in which we would confirm would be if the "President" re-nominates Garland, the man who should have been on the Court all along.  Otherwise, we wait.

• Expecting our Senators to have that much backbone might seem unrealistic, but my sense is there are a lot of people pretty angry about today's development -- mostly because of the seat Gorsuch will take being stolen from Obama's nominee.  That anger can be channeled into public pressure to stiffen our Senators' resolve.  Pressure has worked, even on Republicans, on issues such as the ACA repeal and the Congressional Ethics Office.  It can continue to work.

• Finally, what have the Republicans really gained?  They've replaced Scalia with -- another Scalia, and one who's not even as extreme as the original on some issues.  They've just restored the previous status quo, and not quite even that.  The seat should have gone to Garland, a centrist, who compared to Scalia would have represented a real shift our way.  But if we've gained nothing, neither has the enemy.

04 April 2017

Ghost in the Shell -- super-human, super-beautiful, super-violent

First off, I should acknowledge that I haven't read the original manga on which this movie is based, so I'm going purely by what's in the movie itself.  Since Americans are notoriously not great readers of books, especially foreign ones, most American viewers will be in the same position.

Set in a near-future world on the brink of the Technological Singularity, where high-tech enhancements to the human brain have become commonplace, the film deals with the next logical step -- transplanting a human brain into a mechanical body of human appearance but far greater than human capabilities.  In this case, though, the cyborg thus created ("the Major") is intended for use as a superweapon against "terrorists", complete with false memories to provide motivation.

The best part of the movie is the visuals, which are amazing.  The future urban setting is perfectly realized as a clean, bright, colorful anti-version of the dystopian world of Blade Runner, with giant animated billboards replaced by even more intrusive giant moving hologram advertisements, a sort of beautiful migraine of a city.  It raises the issue that computer-enhanced brains might be subject to hacking just as computers are -- a problem more plausible, and scary, than the cliché of robot insurrection.  It asks whether memory or behavior is the essence of identity (though it doesn't really answer the question).  It also serves as a warning to technophobes who hope that the Singularity can be stopped by inhibiting technological progress -- it's obvious that in a world where some nations or groups embrace machine-brain enhancement, others which renounced it would be left in the dust, utterly unable to compete.

In this clip, the Major intervenes in an attack in progress:


It's not without flaws.  How is a private company able to get away with murderous experiments on human subjects, and using hugely-destructive weapons in an urban environment?  I also was confused at first whether the setting is China or Japan, since both languages appear on signage and the urban setting looks more like Hong Kong (where it was largely filmed) than like Japan.

It has surprised me a bit to see Ghost in the Shell compared with The Matrix, which it somewhat resembles aesthetically but far less thematically.  It's more comparable with Blade Runner, which dealt with machines so humanlike that treating them as less than human raised daunting ethical problems.  But it also reminded me of Robocop, an early (1987) effort to deal with the integration of mind and machine, with the integration being done in a similarly unethical manner.  Ghost in the Shell also resembles Robocop in being full of highly-kinetic violence which tends to blast the philosophical issues right off the screen -- there are probably more shooting deaths in this movie than Japan actually has in a decade.  Movies like this do do some service in the sense that brain-machine integration, and the blurring of the line between human and machine, are issues we will actually be confronting within a decade or two (whereas the universe turning out to be a computer-generated illusion probably isn't).

I should also address the most idiotic criticism of the film which has been making the rounds on the internet, which is the objection to a non-Asian actress (Scarlett Johansson, who does a great job) playing the Major, who is eventually revealed to be Japanese.  What Johansson is portraying is an artificial body into which the brain of a Japanese person has been transplanted, which would not necessarily resemble that person's original human appearance (Mamoru Oshii, the director of an earlier anime film of the story, made the same point).  Since the Major's implanted false memories include being a member of a family who arrived in Japan as refugees from elsewhere, it would make sense to give her artificial body a non-Japanese appearance to fit the memory.  It's striking that several other major characters are also non-Japanese, and I'd be curious to know what nationality characters like Ouelet and Cutter were in the original story (if they were even in it), but it seems to be common in manga and anime to depict multinational teams of characters working in a future Japan (Silent Mobius being another example).

Finally, it seems odd that Ghost in the Shell is already being described as a box-office failure based on disappointing results within the US, when it seems to be doing better globally and hasn't even opened yet in Japan or China, probably the most promising markets for a film of this sort.

A minor point I found particularly satisfying occurs near the end.  When the malignant Cutter's fate is in the Major's hands, she consents to his death without hesitation or phony moral qualms, asking only that he be told it is justice.

Here's an assessment by a critic more familiar with the source material:


I can kind of see, though, why it's not being well-received in the US.  It's a bit too weird and doesn't really fit the standard action-movie formula.  (Blade Runner, probably the greatest SF movie ever made, got mixed reviews and mediocre audience share when it opened here.)  Given US ticket prices these days, people probably prefer not to take a chance on anything they're not already sure of.  It's their loss, though.

02 April 2017

Link round-up for 2 April 2017

This store offers signs for any occasion.

Make a cross, or something.

Quite a service indeed.

None of these people should be reproducing anyway.

It's Sunday -- get ready for church.

Enjoy the plaintive musical whining of Emo Trump, and this unusual duet -- but skip this clarinet recital.  Speaking of music, here's some smooth carrot for your soul.  Carrots also have other uses, apparently.

I didn't know it was possible to get so worked up about cooking.

Expect the unexpected.

Demonic beings dwell among us.

Apparently they took his brain too.

What if "the rapture" were a typo?

Right away you just know this isn't real (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Have some more elephant videos.

Gee, poor conservatives.

In 1850 a French scholar proposed an imaginative, but extremely ridiculous, system of high-speed communication using snails (found via Mendip).

The creator of one of the world's most iconic flags has died.

Any sufficiently-advanced technology is indistinguishable from vulnerable to magic.

Trump needs a superhero name (I suggest The Orange Lantern or The Incredible Sulk).

Meet an unusual underwater artist.

A polished floor can be so frustrating.

Don't buy a used car -- or anything -- from these people.

We need better demons.

God does not change (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Yes, "Barry Soweto".  But seriously, "Jewbers"?

Fundies are programmed to feel persecuted by reality (found via Tell Me Why the World Is Weird).

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Somebody actually found a use for Ken Ham's stupid fake ark.

This person exists.

Religious taboo "morality" inculcates blind robotic obedience.

Why aren't young people having more children?

Maybe someday my blog will be prominent enough to attract this problem.

Clues emerge in a very old unsolved murder case.

We've just observed a cliff collapse.  On a comet.  If only Galileo had lived to see these times!

This idea isn't as good as it looks at first.

Clean energy now creates far more jobs than fossil fuels (found via Politics Plus).  But some people want to turn back the clock.

Genetic therapy scores another first -- a full cure of sickle-cell anemia (found via TYWKIWDBI).

Pictures from the early days of astronomical photography are still helping us understand the universe.

One recent astronomical observation proved disappointing.

This exists, whatever the hell it is.

Here's a good resource on giving up meat and other animal products, and why you should.

"America wasn't built by the stupid."  Speaking of which, why are we spending money on this nonsense?

People forget how different this country was just a half-century ago.  Nostalgic Republicans want to give parents of unmarried adult women control over their abortion decisions.

North Carolina's anti-gay law, if left in place, will cost the state almost $4 billion.  The "repeal" now under way is a scam.  But the resistance there has great potential.

There are people who actually consider this to be evidence of something.

Paying taxes doesn't win acceptance, apparently.

Bruce Gerencser looks back on the near-slavery of life as an Evangelical pastor, and how leaving Christianity has affected his relationship with his children.

Alabama pursues a bizarre last-ditch strategy against gay marriage.

Some people genuinely support free speech, others don't.

Nature offers a rainbow of fire.  Here's the right way to have your own fire.

Time to consider a VPN.  Here's another self-defense option (found via Mendip).  Also, fight back in kindWe can still win.

Be very suspicious of any website that calls you out for using Adblock.

Evangelicals have a dangerous blind spot about crimes by their clergy.

Amish culture is just as depraved and abusive as any other "traditional values" culture (both found via Republic of Gilead, who responds to a Baptist pastor pushing the Amish as a model).

A new adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale provokes some interesting reactions from Trumpanzees.

Shocking Evangelical views on rape reflect the Biblical concept of God.

Pope Francis cuts molesting priests too much slack.

American farmers need illegal Ukrainian software to repair their own tractors, due to the manufacturer's assholeosity.

Here's a distillery that has greenhouses.

The Iraqi government resists recognizing the Kurdish presence in Kirkuk.  This is going to mean trouble.

This is what happens when religion and politics aren't separated.  Frankly, so is this (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Barbaric country is barbaric.

The ACA survived because it moved the Overton window.  Local news also deserves some credit -- and activists have earned the right to be proud too.

Democrats must not retreat on abortion. It's a core issue.

Blogger The Rogue Feminist discovers a new anti-depressant.

It's a gift from God!

Republicans' next project is tax "reform", but they need to decide whether the richest 1% should get 50.8% of the tax-cut benefit -- or 99.6% of it (no, that's not a typo).

There are two health-care systems that can "work", and we're trying to decide where to hover between them. Hometown USA has a round-up of links -- don't miss the Taiwan one!

No surprise here -- Trumpism has made life less secure for American Muslims.  It's also devastating our tourism industry.

One party is for us, the other is against usOne President was capable, the other is not.

Gerrymandering, the cause of the Republicans' grip on the House, may also be the root of their incompetence.

Trump's to-do list is a mixed bag.  He can get away with rejecting reality, but not with abandoning wingnuttery.

Maxine Waters is pulling no punches these days.  Nor is Dick Cheney(!)  Restoring civility won't be easy, nor is it really the priority now.

Even a lot of Republicans don't like Trump's budget.  Yes, they will turn against him eventually.  Wingnut-on-wingnut warfare is escalating.

We have leverage.  Let's use it.

Elections have consequencesSo does reality.

Arab-Americans draw on experience fighting colonialism for the fight against Trumpism.

This is what we missed having, and these are some of the people responsible.

[72 days down, 1,389 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

01 April 2017

Video of the day -- best of luck with the wall


A trip along the US-Mexico border -- all of it.  That's gonna be one heck of a wall.  Found (some time ago) via Politics Plus.