19 May 2019

Link round-up for 19 May 2019

Various interesting stuff I ran across on the net over the last week.

o o o o o

Gah -- I really think fashion designers are just trolling us at this point.

Check out some of these Trump nicknames people have come up with.

I don't know what this is, but it jumps.

Amazingly, it is possible to make a giraffe look ominous.

Improve the message.

Why do people buy junk like this?

Read the sad saga of the space jellyfish.

Different stories resonate with different people.

See some great architecture photos from Barcelona.

How can he discover a solution to homelessness?

Restaurants must provide more than just good food.

I can't believe people give their kids names like this.

Here's what probably happened to the Mary Celeste.

Massachusetts road design is terrible, apparently.

The coasts vote blue, even the coasts of 100 million years ago.

The Reductress creates memes based on the new anti-abortion laws.  "Liberal Redneck" Trae Crowder weighs in too.  And yes, this is a religion problem, not a "patriarchy" or race problem.

He who demands that you "prove yourself" is a toxic personality.

The profit motive is not needed for creativity.

The Common Atheist suggests some improvements for religion.

It's not your light bulbs or plastic straws, it's these guys.

Support for cruel laws is partly explained by the Shirley exception.

Anti-abortion nutters should change tactics (found via Shaw Kenawe).

%$#@^# Republicans are hurtling back toward the Dark Ages and are turning us into a Third World country.

A clinic escort describes the religious harassment patients face.

Police in Dallas are cracking down on organized crime.

What would a Bible-based culture look like?

Must-read political post of the week:  a look at right-wing cruelty and the history of abortion in the US.

Religion thrives on fear.

Beware of Republicans playing good-cop-bad-cop.

Christian home-schooling is a breeding ground for religious violence (found via Love Joy Feminism).

The capitalist class is increasingly alarmed about Trump's trade wars.  Turns out they're not so easy to win.  And they continue to put the bite on red America.

Christianity and Republicans fight for the right to refuse to help people.

Evangelicalism may appear powerful now, but it's dying.

The pro-censorship mentality is always rooted in fear of other people's mental autonomy.

Bolton is trying to bullshit us into a war with the help of the usual Republican idiocy.  Even Trump is unenthused.

The US leads the developed world in childhood mortality.

Driverless cars just don't live up to the hype.

Try this quick test of basic science knowledge (found via SEB).  I got all 11 questions right with no difficulty, but apparently only 16% of the US population does so.

Brain uploading has been achieved, albeit with a brain far simpler than a human one.

This rail tale is a fascinating example of how evolution works -- and how the media distort it.

The most distant things show us the most unimaginably ancient times.

The Netherlands gets abortion and birth control right.

For one group, the fall of the Nazis didn't mean the end of persecution.

Taiwan has legalized gay marriage, the first non-Western country to do so (assuming South Africa is considered Western).

Impeachment can't remove Trump, but it may serve another worthy purpose.

Bernie and AOC unite to show what our party will do if we regain power.

Warren is winning me over with her detailed plan to squelch the state-level crusade against abortion.  And Bernie is unequivocal.  You can tell who's on the electoral winning side of an issue by who wants to talk about it and who runs away from it.  And "we need to kick their theocratic asses out of office."

Evidently "consensual rape" is the newest successor to "legitimate rape".  Here's more Republican rape commentary to cringe at.

Biden crushes Trump by 11 points in Pennsylvania, with Bernie and Warren also beating him handily there.

We can do better than Valerie Plame.

Here's more on the fake Ukraine scandal Trump and Giuliani tried to use against Biden.

".....with the tariffs swinging a giant cartoon wrecking ball right into the very nutsack of our agricultural economy....."  More madness here.

Next year, focus on winning, and winning big.

More political links here.

[850 days down, 612 to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

16 May 2019

Video of the day -- capitalism as pusher


I don't have a "smartphone" and never will; I don't know what an "app" is, and with any luck, so it will remain.  I've always been repulsed by this weird subculture of people constantly fussing over some hand-held gadget instead of focusing on their surroundings.  Now to do something about that processed food.....

14 May 2019

Some more brief political observations

1)  On trade, the rival Trump and Xi gangster-regimes are engaged in a typical competition of primate intimidation displays, like rival male monkeys trying to scare each other into backing down -- screeching, baring fangs, stomping, and so forth.  Since the Chinese side will likely target its retaliatory moves squarely at red America, one can hope that we in blue America will remain relatively unscathed.  Still, inevitably innocent bystanders will get hit by some of the flung poo.  Even Europe's stock markets are down.

o o o o o

2)  We've been expecting to spend the next year in a highly competitive Democratic primary contest among our numerous candidates -- but what if the nominee has already emerged?  Every poll now shows Biden with a huge lead over all his competitors, and that lead seems to have increased since he announced.  And no, it probably isn't merely name recognition.  And he seems especially well favored by black voters -- remember, we'd have a hard time winning the general election with a candidate who hasn't been ratified by this critical part of our base.

True, the "inevitable" candidate doesn't always win the nomination -- Hillary in 2008 and Jeb Bush in 2016 were shunted aside by unexpected upstarts.  But Jeb never was all that inevitable -- Trump had been leading in the polls all along, and it merely took a long time for Republican leaders and pundits to recognize the clear preference their base was expressing.  It could well be that the Democratic activists and blogosphere of today, disdaining Biden as so many of them do, are equally out of touch with the rank-and-file of our own party.  Even in 2008, when Obama came from behind, he spent most of the race as Hillary's only serious rival -- he didn't need to break out of a whole pack of challengers.

Nothing is certain yet.  Biden could falter for any of several reasons, and another candidate could surge.  But be prepared for the possibility that what we see now is what we'll actually get.

o o o o o

3)  The Christo-fascist assault on abortion rights is now strongly under way, with Georgia's vicious new law, and others as bad or worse being prepared in other red states.  And the ghastly real-world consequences of such laws are already manifesting themselves.  The enemy, it seems, is now emboldened enough by McConnell's theft of the Supreme Court to hope that a head-on challenge to Roe v Wade can succeed.  They, and establishment Republicans, should be careful what they wish for.  The constituency for what banning abortion would be like in reality is a lot smaller than that which supports the idea in the abstract.

o o o o o

4)  We're seeing a sudden barrage of apparent pretexts for war with Iran -- mysterious sabotage of two Saudi oil tankers which could be blamed on Iran, a possible escalation of US military presence nearby, claims of an increased threat from Iranian-backed groups against our personnel in Iraq.  There's no way of knowing whether that last is real or just typical Trumpian ex posteriori extractatum hot air, but one close ally is already suggesting it's the latter.  To me it all seems very contrived and by-the-numbers.  I can think of no reason why Iran would choose to escalate tensions with the US at the exact moment when Trump wants a distraction from the House Democrats' growing onslaught of subpoenas and investigations.

o o o o o

5)  On a lighter note, Hackwhackers blog is soliciting ideas for a nickname for Trump.  Go on, see what you can come up with.

12 May 2019

Link round-up for 12 May 2019

Various interesting stuff I ran across on the net over the last week.

o o o o o

Cheer yourself up with some smiles.

Stop, thief!

Do not raise up that which you cannot put down.

The person who did this has earned the embarrassment.

"Open your eyes and tell me what you see, a great big world as colorful as it can be."

We don't need this primitive stuff from the Arabs.

Where do the metal bands come from?

They're bringing piracy back.

Respect needs to be earned.

Here's a useful resource for artists who need help drawing indoor scenes.

This blogger remembers when we didn't have AO3.

In the internet age, don't get overwhelmed.

They need a headline more enticing than the truth.

Here's the real origin of that quote "Well-behaved women seldom make history."

Trump and humor don't mix.

One way gets results, the other does not.

Assholes need to asshole a bit less.

When you're on a submarine, remember to close the damn door (found via Earth-Bound Misfit).

Millennials face a different US economy than earlier generations did.

Those who fell for Trump will fall for lesser con men too.

The underground economy shows us what completely unregulated capitalism looks like.  And it's ugly as hell.

The spoiled-brat brigade takes on Camille Paglia.  The Rex Murphy quote at the end of this is wonderful.

Jonathan Stickland is perhaps the quintessential Republican.

If you can't practice what you preach, quit preaching.

Where will we get the money for all those expensive liberal programs?

She lived a tragic life in a failed culture (that still exists in the midst of our own).

Never forget this episode from Reagan's Presidency.

Even most of those who claim to believe in God don't behave as they would if they really did.

First they came for the.....

Burn in Hell -- you were the wrong kind of ChristianMore here.

The loss of historical memory is dangerous.  Especially the most terrible memory of all.

In Canada, a rape crisis center is defunded in the latest case of political correctness gone mad.

A movie date brought out more truth than this man could handle.

In the forest, remembrance.

Cuba has a ways to go yet.

These religious believers gave their all for the dream of an ideal society.

Biden, pro and con.

Why do liberals think Trump supporters are stupid?

Here's where all the Democratic candidates stand on climate change.

The Republican party is too far down the rabbit hole of rage to ever manage a "return to normalcy".

The phony Biden/Ukraine "scandal" is already falling apart.

Stop being useful idiots for the fascists.

Shower Cap keeps us up to date on the week's madness.

Want more political links?  Here they are.

11 May 2019

Alfred E. Neuman and the politics of mass culture

A minor kerfluffle erupted yesterday when Trump came out with a new insult directed at Pete Buttigieg -- "Alfred E. Neuman cannot become President of the United States."  My own reaction was "I don't see why not, when Biff Tannen is President right now."  Buttigieg has attracted some kudos for his own response:

Asked about Trump's put-down by POLITICO in San Francisco on Friday, the 37-year-old Buttigieg professed ignorance about the comic book character, whose fame peaked more than 20 years ago, while making a veiled reference to the 72-year-old Trump's seniority. "I'll be honest. I had to Google that," he said. "I guess it’s just a generational thing.  I didn’t get the reference.  It's kind of funny, I guess.  But he's also the president of the United States and I'm surprised he's not spending more time trying to salvage this China deal."

Alfred E. Neuman is not exactly a "comic book character", but let it pass.  I'm actually not so sure that Buttigieg got the better of this exchange.  Yes, Trump's insult was moronic, as all his insults are.  But the reference wasn't all that ancient or obscure.  Mad Magazine was a mainstream part of mass culture for decades, and Alfred E. Neuman is probably familiar to most people over 40 and a lot of people over 30.  That's half the population and a lot more than half the voting population.  Obama made a joke referencing the character in 2008.  Nobody then seemed to think it was bizarrely obscure.

A common trope directed against highly-intellectual candidates like Buttigieg is that they're culturally snobbish and aloof, disdainful of the interests and enthusiasms of ordinary people.  In most cases it's a false accusation.  I would certainly be vulnerable to such insinuations if I were running for office, given (for example) my total lack of interest in sports and the fact that I haven't owned a TV set in over twenty years.  In fact, this simply reflects my real interests, not snobbery -- some of my cultural tastes would strike most people as very "lowbrow" indeed.  But it's a meme that can stick, in politics.  By advertising the fact (if it's even true) that he didn't know who Alfred E. Neuman was, Buttigieg potentially gave it just a little more credibility in his own case.

This one exchange was likely too minor to have any real impact, but it's symbolic of something we need to watch out for.  As I pointed out here, the left does have a reflexive tendency to react with disdain and exasperation to the influence of celebrities and popular entertainment on the thinking of great masses of people -- and we're very foolish to do so.  That influence is vast.  Most people, most of the time, pay far more attention to celebrities or movies they like than they do to politics, because the former is fun while the latter is a dreary necessity.

I'll feel better if our eventual nominee is someone who is familiar with Alfred E. Neuman and suchlike imagery and concepts from mass culture.  It's trite but true that a lot of voters want a candidate who comes across like a regular guy they could have a beer with, even if he's smarter than most.

07 May 2019

Indivisible -- some further thoughts

Since posting this last week, a few further points have occurred to me.

To begin with, the enemy -- whether Republicans, Russian trolls, or the murky sludge of cynics, nihilists, defeatists, and ideological purists who plague us from within for psychological reasons I don't much care to speculate about -- are going to do everything they can to undermine and destroy the spirit of unity and common purpose which the Indivisible Pledge represents.  To the Republicans, that spirit threatens them with defeat; to the ankle-biters, it represents a distraction from the pointless yammering and hairsplitting and infighting they think we should be spending our energy on instead.

So they will attack it any way they can, and some of them (well, the Russians) are pretty clever.  One thing I expect will be attacks along the lines of "Candidate X whom you don't support has already violated the spirit of the Pledge by saying blah blah and doing blah blah, so it's dead and you and your candidate are being played for saps if you continue to stick with it."  That is, they will use the Pledge to attack the Pledge.  In most cases, whatever Candidate X did will actually be too trivial to justify such a conclusion -- but let's face it, we have over 20 candidates and inevitably a few of them will let personal ambition override that spirit of unity and purpose.  That's not grounds for the rest of us abandoning it.  At most, one might point out what Candidate X is doing -- but then return to the proper path and keep the Republicans, not the errant Democrat, in the rhetorical crosshairs.

And that's what works.  According to all available polling, Biden is the front-runner by a substantial margin (and no, it's probably not just name recognition -- see here and here).  He has consistently and ostentatiously focused his attacks on Trump, not at all on rival Democrats, and it's working for him.  Warren has been rising in most polls since she started calling loudly for impeachment.  As I explained here, impeachment is probably a bad idea right now -- but the point is, she's going after Trump (and McConnell), not her Democratic competitors, and it's working for her.

Trashing each other is what our enemies want us to do.

The vast base of our party, unlike a lot of the liberal blogosphere, is not much interested in ideological nuance or the fact that Candidate So-and-so said something bad two decades ago.  They just want to get the goddamn orange thug out of the White House.  Those who keep their focus on that goal will be rewarded.

Also -- as Pelosi recently emphasized, merely defeating Trump may not be enough.  We need to defeat him by the largest margin possible, not just in the Electoral College but in the popular vote as well, to crush any challenge Trump and his toadies might raise against the legitimacy of the result.  That one's for the "protest vote" crowd who claim it's OK for them to vote for the next Nader or Stein (and there will be one) because their own state is reliably red or blue and therefore their vote makes no practical difference.  It will still make a difference.

As I said before, the worst of the Democratic candidates, whoever you consider that to be, would be a thousand times better as President than Trump.  The worst of the Democrats would not sign an ACA repeal.  The worst of the Democrats would not call neo-Nazis "very fine people".  The worst of the Democrats would not cut your Social Security to pay for yet another tax cut for the obscenely wealthy.  The worst of the Democrats would not plunge us into unwinnable trade wars against most of the planet's other major economies out of cretinous ignorance about how tariffs work.  The worst of the Democrats would not denounce the free press as "enemies of the people".  The worst of the Democrats would not grovel before gangsters like Putin and Kim and Xi and hide the details from agencies of his or her own government.  I could go on in this vein almost endlessly.  You know I could.

Trump and the Republicans are the sickly miasma that must be lifted from this nation and removed from power.  Rival Democratic factions and candidates are people who share that goal even if they differ on the details of how to achieve it and what exactly should be done once it is achieved (and even just the obvious things that any new Democratic President would do are exhilarating to contemplate).  Our eventual nominee will be imperfect, because every candidate is imperfect.  But we must conduct the primary contests in such a way as to avoid any threat to our ultimate unity behind that nominee, whoever he or she is.

Let's get this done.

05 May 2019

Link round-up for 5 May 2019

Various interesting stuff I ran across on the net over the last week.

o o o o o

It's masochism American style!

Bad driving has consequences.

I have a feeling that this does not represent the future of male fashion.

What's the best use for old churches?

This works on the metaphorical level too (found via Bluebird of Bitterness).

Hackwhackers presents horse-related music videos.  The last one -- ZOMG, the colors!

Christians seem to have a problem with logo design.

Here's an insightful one-sentence review of Alien.

Plunge into infini-tea.

See behind-the-scenes photos from the making of one of the most famous album covers ever (found via Mendip).

Agriculture becomes art with Glass Gem corn.

Remember, they are listening.

Check out the horror art of Stefan Koidl.

Pwned!

He's right -- there's no difference.

Barr is Trump's handmaid.

How many of these five myths from history did you believe?

I Should Be Laughing has a round-up of political cartoons.

Sports Illustrated celebrates a hopeless contradiction -- the quote from Alishba Zarmeen is perfect.

If the economy is so great, then why is everybody struggling?

Russian trolls are hitting the US at its weak point -- the stupidity of much of its population.

Lo Imprescindible looks at the significance of Buttigieg's campaign.

Having wrecked Tumblr with its "adult content" ban, Verizon now wants to sell it.

Not all Trumpanzees are bigots, but.....

Anti-vaxxers are also anti-truth.

Book piracy does do damage.

This is the reality of chronic pain.

Tesla e-mailed a warning to its employees to stop leaking to the media, and it was immediately leaked to the media.

The poor are poor because the rich are rich.

Don't forget about the Republican plot to wreck the Postal Service.

Franklin Graham has exposed himself as a hypocrite.

Automating jobs out of existence is a good thing, not a bad thing, if it's handled properly.

Bigotry is a form of ideology and should be dealt with as such.  And bigoted violence must be condemned without equivocation.

Trump may not be anti-Semitic, but his cult is.

Fundies have increased their power by organizing and being active in politics -- atheists must do the same.

These places are the new epicenters of disease in the US.  This year's anti-vax-fueled measles epidemic is already the worst in a quarter-century.

Here's more on the Trump administration's attack on UN efforts to help victims of wartime rape.

Yes, religious terrorists are inspired by religion.

Business leaders must be held accountable for bullshit like this.

An adoption conflict brings out peak Christian hypocrisy.  And doubtless some nut will soon claim these eagles are "of the Devil" or something.

Trump is a liar adored by those who will believe anything.  His most disgusting lie is rebuked by Vixen Strangely and Shaw Kenawe.

Fundies are viciously cruel about sexuality.  And they're now celebrating their "right" to refuse to help desperate people.  Which of these things is worse?  See also this post of mine about what modern Christianity is becoming.

Here are a couple of reasons why older people are more conservative.

Americans are among the most stressed-out people in the world, probably because our society and system offer so little security.

Keep religion out of morality and politics.

Professor Chaos finds a.....strange article about slavery.

Disgusting practices lead to disease.  So does trusting religion instead of science.

A meteorologist blogger explains weather forecasting.

Here's a good photo of Saturn, showing the strange hexagonal cloud formation at the north pole.

Maybe NASA should reduce its dependence on the corrupt private sector.

The BBC takes a look at the post-natural age.

These guys built a very small "snowman".

You don't realize it, but your eyesight is a complete mess.

Here's a good, if somewhat basic, comparison of brains and computers.

This is why Margaret Thatcher is hated.

See how American-dominated internet discussions look to people of other countries.

This is a patriot (found via Arwenstar).

Polish protesters go bananas to support artistic freedom.

Measles has re-erupted in several European countries due to low vaccination rates.

Face the truth about the motives behind Islamic terrorism.

Deaths from the Ebola outbreak in the Congo have passed the one-thousand mark, aided by civil war and anti-vaccine attitudes.

The economy will not re-elect Trump, but we still have a fight on our hands.  Pelosi knows we need to win big.

Andrew Sullivan makes what I find to be a compelling case for Biden as our nominee.

No More Mister Nice Blog contemplates impeachment.

Since 1948, moderate Democratic candidates for President have won two-thirds of their elections; radicals have won none.

Abrams isn't running for the Senate, but she may have another position in mind.

Some of the pressure for impeachment is coming from.....

"You understand, they WANT to hate us that much."  Then there's the whole Barr thing.

More (mostly political) links here.

03 May 2019

Indivisible

On April 25 an organization called Indivisible released the Indivisible Pledge, a code of action offered to both candidates and rank-and-file Democrats to avoid the kinds of divisions which plagued us in 2016.  It asks us to commit to the following:

1. Make the primary constructive. We'll make the primary election about our hopes for the future, and a robust debate of values, vision and the contest of ideas. We'll remain grounded in our shared values, even if we support different candidates.

2. Rally behind the winner. We'll support the ultimate Democratic nominee, whoever it is -- period. No Monday morning quarterbacking. No third-party threats.

3. Do the work to beat Trump. We’re the grassroots army that’s going to power the nominee to victory, and we'll show up to make calls, knock doors, and do whatever it takes
.

Of our numerous Presidential candidates, it asks them to commit themselves to this:

1. Make the primary constructive. I'll respect the other candidates and make the primary election about inspiring voters with my vision for the future.

2. Rally behind the winner. I'll support the ultimate Democratic nominee, whoever it is -- period. No Monday morning quarterbacking. No third-party threats. Immediately after there's a nominee, I'll endorse.

3. Do the work to beat Trump. I will do everything in my power to make the Democratic Nominee the next President of the United States. As soon as there is a nominee, I will put myself at the disposal of the campaign
.

This is the kind of spirit we need.  I'm glad to say that in barely over a week, a dozen of our candidates have signed the pledge.  Sanders was the first, soon joined by Booker, Buttigieg, Warren, Harris, Gillibrand, and several more.  Rachel Maddow has this report:

We can't afford to risk being divided by whatever objections anyone has to this or that candidate, including the objections I have -- and I have several, to some of them.  Getting rid of Trump is too important.  The inevitable duds who show up in the comments every time a blogger writes a post like this, insisting it's OK for them to vote third party because blah blah or they simply can't support candidate X because blah blah or we're doomed to lose if we choose someone too radical or someone too mainstream or too whatever -- those people are AWOL on the D-Day of American democracy.  Persuade them if you can -- otherwise, forget them, write them off.  The rest of us will simply have to work harder to compensate.  The worst of the Democratic candidates, whoever you consider that to be, would be a thousand times better than Trump.  Let's get this done.

[Image at top:  Democrats celebrate Obama's re-election in 2012.  We'll have reason to celebrate even more in 2020.]

02 May 2019

Quote for the day -- too aggressive?

29 April 2019

The world that should have been ours

This post is about an idea which has fascinated me for much of my life and forms a major part of how I think about the world, but which I've barely ever mentioned here on the blog.  A few weeks ago I wrote this:

More distant than the farthest stars
The stillborn world that should have been
The world in which I should have lived
That never was, so never seen.

Trapped in this dreary changeling-land
I dream the world I would have known
If mankind's rise had gone unchecked
If Alexandria's seed had grown.

Where Rome and Athens never fell
Where cross and crescent never rose
Where now those farthest stars are ours
Where truth and beauty man still knows.

But my true home I cannot reach
For things that never were lie far
Across the sea of yearning dreams
From grey and dismal things that are.

The Classical (Greco-Roman-Persian) civilization was, compared with most pre-modern societies and certainly compared with the Dark Ages that followed it, remarkably tolerant, culturally pluralistic, and open to contending ideas.  Especially during the Hellenistic* period, after the conquests of Alexander spread Greek culture and thought across the Middle East and the ideas of Aristotle nudged Greek philosophy toward real scientific thinking, there was an explosion of progress in human knowledge and understanding in many fields.  This was the age of Euclid and Eratosthenes, of the Library of Alexandria, when Aristarchus worked out the heliocentric solar system 1,800 years before Copernicus, when the Babylonians developed a precursor of calculus, when Archimedes, Hero, and others turned advances in abstract knowledge toward practical technology.  These advances laid the groundwork for the massive engineering achievements of the Roman Empire, whose ruins lie scattered across Europe and North Africa to this day.
It certainly looked like the beginnings of a revolution of modernity such as the Western world has actually seen since the Renaissance.  But ultimately it was stillborn.  Last week I posted about the destruction of Classical civilization.  But what if it had continued to thrive and progress -- say, if Alexander had lived longer and consolidated his empire, or if Constantine had never existed?  What if, for example, the Greeks or Babylonians had developed positional notation, the lack of which held back their development of mathematics and thus blocked the way to many further advances in science?  Ancient Greece, Rome, and Persia accepted a plurality of contending viewpoints and ideas, almost as modern Western pluralistic societies do.  Some Greek states had democracy and trial by jury, while the early Romans had a form of representative government.  What if these early experiments had not died out but evolved and become more inclusive, as American democracy did -- but almost 2,000 years earlier?  Yes, these cultures had slavery (though never race-based), subjugated women to varying degrees, and were often warlike -- but true modernization would have mitigated these evils over time, just as it did in real history over the last 200 years or so.

How far might civilization have advanced by now?  How much better would the world be, if the intervening millennium of stagnation brought about by Christianity and Islam, with their miasma of intolerance and taboos and anti-intellectualism and sheer stupidity, had never happened -- and the upward trajectory of progress launched by the ancients had continued?
Aside from technological progress, there is the issue of the taboo on homosexuality, which did not exist in Classical-era Greek, Roman, or Persian culture.  Certain standards about what was and was not "proper" in sexual relationships did exist, but the taboo on same-sex relationships did not -- in Greece, male bisexuality was practically a social norm.  This taboo was imposed on the West entirely by the triumph of Christianity; without Christianity, it would never have been part of our culture.  This would have avoided a staggering amount of suffering -- all the horrific executions of homosexuals during the Dark Ages by regimes enforcing the taboo, all the centuries of bigotry and cruelty that ruined the lives of countless innocent people and which persist to this day in the more backward parts of the West.  All of that would simply never have been.  And as I observed here, Classical culture was much more open and less repressed about sexuality in general.

In short, we are living in a failed timeline in which the Western world's natural progress was derailed and sent into reverse in late Roman times, and only got started again about four hundred years ago.  The history that should have happened, to which we should now be heirs, would have been far different and far better.

I'm not the only one who has thought about this.

When I originally posted the poem above, I included this image:
It comes from Carl Sagan's TV series Cosmos, which included a discussion on this very point in the episode "The Backbone of Night".  Sagan speculated that if the Hellenistic age of science exemplified by the Library of Alexandria had survived and continued to progress, by now we would be proficient in interstellar travel.  The image depicts a starship, with the Greek (of course) inscription on its hull superimposed over the image of the dodecahedron in tribute to the ancient pioneers of geometry who launched Greek mathematics.

Stephen Hawking once made a documentary series called Favorite Places** in which he explores various places in the universe that fascinate him.  In one episode, he depicts himself visiting an alternate-history version of Earth in the present day, finding the planet long deserted.  He discovers a beacon pointing the way to where mankind, having left Earth to revert to nature, long ago migrated into space.  Following this path, he is intercepted by several advanced spacecraft which hail him in a form of Classical Greek.  Finding his intentions to be peaceful, they escort him to mankind's new home, a vast ring-shaped artificial world bearing the name "New Alexandria".

In his book God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens describes meeting the Jewish religious fanatic Meir Kahane, which set him thinking about conflict in Classical times between fervent Orthodox Jews and those Jews who had assimilated to the dominant Greco-Roman culture of their age -- and the tragedy that the former won out in the end, leading to the rise of Christianity (and eventually Islam) and the death of Classical civilization.  Had the more cosmopolitan Jews won out, he observes, "We could have been spared the whole thing."  Of Kahane, he says:

Sniffing this insanitary barbarian, I had a real pang about the world of light and color that we had lost so long ago, in the black-and-white nightmares of his dreary and righteous ancestors.  The stench of Calvin and Torquemada and bin Laden came from the dank, hunched figure whose Kach party goons patrolled the streets..... here was a poisonous branch that should have been snapped off long ago, or allowed to die out, before it could infect any healthy growth..... yet we still dwell in its unwholesome, life-killing shadow.***

In his short story "Eutopia", science-fiction writer Poul Anderson postulated a parallel world in which the Hellenistic civilization survived and went on to colonize North America, establishing an ideal society ("Eutopia" translates as "Good Land").  By the present day, Eutopia has the technology to visit various alternate versions of Earth to see the outcomes of their different histories.  The story follows an Eutopian researcher, Iason Philippou, who is traveling in not our own version of Earth but a somewhat similar one he finds almost equally barbaric.  Anderson's version of a modernized Hellenistic culture strikes me as improbably stodgy and closed-minded, but at least he explored the idea.  You can read the whole story here.

On my original post, a couple of commenters wrote "I wish that world existed" and "I wonder about this other universe, too".  Others, including some major thinkers, have felt the same.

o o o o o

*Don't confuse "Hellenistic" with "Hellenic".  "Hellenistic" refers to the specific period after Alexander the Great and Aristotle (that is, starting at the end of the 4th century BC) when Greek culture dominated the Middle East and Greek science reached its highest level of development.  "Hellenic" just means "Greek" in general.

**This series is, as far as I know, available only on CuriosityStream -- which is a paid service, but well worth it.  The cheapest option is $2.99 per month and gives access to hundreds of documentaries at a perfectly acceptable video quality level.

***Hitchens is referring to the whole Abrahamic religious blight including Christianity and Islam, not just to Judaism.

28 April 2019

Link round-up for 28 April 2019

Various interesting stuff I ran across on the net over the last week.

o o o o o

Mistress Debra is ready to administer your pun-ishment.

This is the calendar.

Behold the brilliance of Islamic science.

Traditional Japanese art depicts epic fart battles (found via Jerry Coyne).

This person exists.

Happy American Easter.

Check out this car evolution gif.

Mutant horror comes to the candy aisle.

If you want to go to a church, try this one.

Hey, it's another cat post.

Knowledge of thermodynamics can be useful.

What do visitors learn at Ken Ham's "Ark Encounter"?

These shrooms are pretty trippy before you even eat them.

Parental expectations can be awkward.

I'm not 100% convinced that this robot was purely an "art project", but it's still impressive.

Hysterical Raisins is back!

Some interesting odds and ends here.

This businesswoman dodged a relationship bullet here.

Read the story of an Easter service that got a bit out of hand.

Where is this town?

"Good planets are hard to find", so let's take care of this one.

Here's more on that intergalactic bleach-drinking cult.

Could the Notre Dame fire have been God's punishment?

The medieval Danes aroused Englishmen's ire for a curious reason (note that the Danes would have been only superficially Christianized at that time).

Before marrying a religious person, be sure to find out how serious they are about their taboos

Live and let live.

The cannibals raise an objection.

What is the essence of a "Christian burial"?

Watch out for management bullshit on the job.

Fundies don't grasp that religious freedom must apply to everyone.

Elections have consequences, including for net neutrality.

There are dangers in Buttigieg's liberal Christianity.

Unions work for us all.

If you use Google apps, you are being tracked.  Then there's this.

They just want tolerance and respect.

Trump's latest "explanation" of his "many fine people" comment is just more bullshit.

There's good news on abortion from Kansas and California.

Business executives must be held accountable for crimes like everyone else is.

Jerry Coyne looks at Bari Weiss and Nadine Strossen, fighters for truth and freedom.

Several of our candidates voted for a dangerous law which is costing lives.

Religious hospital staff bully and harass an atheist patient.  Dogma is a rising threat to your right to medical treatment.

The party of Akin lives!

Bluzdude examines the latest right-wing bullshit.

Younger Evangelicals are different.

Here's a good letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien.

This guy wants to ban advances in industrial technology -- then he gets even weirder.

Be skeptical of shocking quotes you see on the internet.  Especially when they're like this one.

Will Social Security's problems be solved our way or their way?

The Mueller report was quite a letdown for some of the QAnon qrackpots (found via Shower Cap).

Some tech billionaires are just beginning to understand the problems of the modern economy.

Here's a map of population density world-wide -- click the + at the upper left to zoom in, or check the "interactive stats" box to see data on each country by hovering.

NASA is preparing for the threat of a giant asteroid impact (maybe Trump can throw paper towels at it).

Our bodies are full of evolutionary vestigial structures.

Priceless fossils should never be sold off to the highest bidder.

There are three trillion trees on Earth, but we need more.

France has this.  We never will.

The Nazis' bigotry crippled their science -- thank goodness.

Expect increased VPN usage in Austria.

Trump hasn't done much for the Republican agenda, so the roots of Trumpanzee loyalty must lie elsewhere.

Biden must do more to make amends to Anita Hill.  More discussion on Biden here.  And here's a detailed interview with him on foreign policy.

We need to keep moral outrage out of the primaries (found via Swarn Gill).  And don't let identity politics get out of hand either.

Shower Cap looks at Trump's (dis)obedient lackeys and his growing siege mentality.

More political links here.

[829 days down, 633 to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

27 April 2019

The impeachment dilemma

This week Electoral-Vote responded to a question from "A.M., Miami Beach" on why House Democrats are not eager to pursue impeachment against Trump.  The response is, I think, worth quoting in full:

What the Democrats are thinking about is the Bill Clinton impeachment of 1998, which not only failed to secure a conviction, but also ginned up the Democratic base, and so backfired against the Republicans. And that was with a president who did not have Twitter or a penchant for publicly blasting his enemies in coarse language. There is every reason to think that, in the hands of Donald Trump, an impeachment would give him exactly what he needs to drive his base into a frenzy. It might also serve to persuade Independents that the blue team is "just as bad" as the red team, and that both major parties are basically the same. So, the political risks here are significant.

At the same time, the benefits of impeachment would not appear to be all that great. There is little chance of a conviction, given the GOP-controlled Senate, and even if Trump somehow was removed, it would be with less than a year left in his presidency. You suggest that an impeachment proceeding would allow the Democrats to lay out the evidence against him, but the fact is that everyone who hates Trump already knows what they need to know. An impeachment proceeding would not have much impact in terms of opening voters' eyes, or giving them information they didn't already have.

The Democratic strategy, as we have pointed out, is effectively to use the 2020 elections to impeach Trump, but with the voters, rather than the Senate, serving as jury. The behavior in the Mueller report is not going to drop off the radar, and while the Democrats don't want to lay the anti-Trump stuff on too thick, there will be a theme of "If you want a corrupt President, vote for Trump, if you want one with integrity, vote for us."

The blue team also expects that, as in 2018, Trump will drag the overall ticket down. They are looking forward to that. In fact, it might be more correct to say they are drooling. If Mitt Romney or some more normal Republican is atop the ticket, a second blue wave probably becomes less likely
.

The logic here seems compelling to me.  I do disagree with one point.  There is not "little" chance of a conviction, there is effectively zero, and that will remain the case as long as most Senate Republicans are too frightened of Trump's base to challenge him.

No one is more eager to see Trump removed than I am, because my greatest concern about him remaining in office is still the danger of his ordering the use of a nuclear weapon in a fit of impulsive rage about something or other -- making the United States, in an instant, guilty of a mass murder perhaps larger than the Nazi Holocaust.  (Which is why I reject the "Pence would be worse" argument -- this is an issue of temperament, not policy.)  If there were any possibility that impeachment would actually remove him, I'd be calling for it more loudly than anybody.  But there is not.

This could change.  Most Senate Republicans hate Trump's guts -- he's insulted and humiliated many of them and trashed a lot of what they value.  If Trump's support among his base were to seriously erode for any reason, so that a real possibility existed of twenty Senate Republicans daring to vote with the Democrats for removal, then yes, impeachment would become imperative.  It could happen.  But it hasn't happened yet, and turning so many Trumpanzees against their idol would take revelations a lot bigger than anything that seems likely to be in the pipeline.

Around the blogosphere I see a lot of calls for impeachment, and mounting criticism of Democratic leaders for not launching it.  Much of this seems to stem from a visceral desire for some kind of dramatic action after two years of frustration at Trump's rampages.  But Pelosi and Hoyer are thinking several moves ahead.  Impeachment now wouldn't remove Trump.  The supposed benefits of trying it would actually be small, and the harm to our side from a failed impeachment might be very considerable.  Trump would claim vindication, his base would be more infuriated and energized than ever, and the well would have been poisoned against trying impeachment later if circumstances changed and removal looked more possible.

Since impeachment can't remove Trump, the best available strategy is to exploit his noxious presence to maximize the gains of the 2020 election.  The more Democrats there are in the House and Senate to support a new Democratic President, the more progress will be made in repairing the damage Trump has done, and moving forward with the things we really want and need.

24 April 2019

How the darkness fell

The Darkening Age:  The Christian Destruction of the Classical World by Catherine Nixey (2017)

Most Western people are vaguely aware that the Classical Greco-Roman civilization was remarkably advanced in many areas, and that the well-named Dark Ages that followed marked a substantial retrogression.  Few have any real idea how magnificent that civilization truly was -- nor realize that its downfall was not an organic process but rather was brought about by a deliberate and systematic campaign of savage and brutal destruction from within, sustained over a period of generations.

Nixey tells the story, or much of it.  Her focus is on Greco-Roman art, literature, philosophy, and ways of life, not on science and technology, but what she describes is horrifying enough.  A 20-page bibliography and a further 24 pages of notes attest to the thoroughness of research and sourcing.

In the centuries before Constantine's reign, Christians were a small and only slowly-growing minority in the Roman Empire, hardly noticed at first, later mostly ignored or despised.  Persecution of Christians did occur, notably the genuinely ghastly atrocities of Nero -- but it was rare and sporadic, and the numbers of victims were very small, contrary to the impression given by the lurid Christian literature of martyrdom that focuses on that period.  By the year 312, when Constantine suddenly decided to impose Christianity as the Empire's official religion, it's estimated that only 7% to 10% of the total population was Christian.  That is, Christianity never won its dominant position in the Mediterranean world by persuasion.  It won out only after Constantine hijacked the power of the Roman state on its behalf and imposed it with increasingly ruthless force.

Nixey documents this process as an ever-escalating campaign of cruelty, destruction, and mob violence.  Successively harsher laws to discourage paganism and heretical ideas (a concept which steadily expanded to cover more and more of Greek philosophy and free thought) were accompanied by a descent of civil society into violent chaos, as great cities became infested with menacing mobs of robed Christian thugs who invaded temples and even private homes with impunity to root out and destroy anything hinting at forbidden ideas.  The loss to art alone was beyond calculation, as countless statues and mosaics of magnificent quality were defaced or smashed.  Mass book-burnings, too, were staged to expunge forbidden thought.

The Greeks and Romans had always found it normal for conflicting ideas, even religious ideas, to co-exist and contend with each other.  The various pagan religions of the diverse peoples of the Empire borrowed gods and practices from each other, and generally coexisted peacefully; since the dawn of Greek philosophy conflicting ideas had inspired debate, not violence, amid a general recognition that many questions could not be answered with certainty and that valuable insights might arise from unexpected sources.  The Greco-Roman mind was ill-prepared to confront a mentality of absolute certainty that a single, frozen, immutable truth had been revealed and that all other ideas were of the Devil and should be mercilessly eradicated.

Nixey also spends some page space on another source of conflict -- Greco-Roman sexual culture.  Homosexuality in either gender was unremarkable; indeed, in traditional Greek culture, male bisexuality had been practically a social norm.  Some prejudices did exist, but in general, sexuality was openly celebrated as one of the great pleasures life had to offer, in a way utterly alien to the taboo-clotted repression of the Abrahamic religions.  As Christian dominance grew, one of the highest-priority targets was sexually-oriented art and literature.  To an almost unbelievable degree, the early Christians explicitly condemned and rejected beauty and pleasure, feverishly embracing ugliness, misery, and deprivation in their place.

The excavation of Pompeii, which had been buried under ash by Vesuvius in the first century and thus escaped the campaigns of systematic Christian vandalism, revealed just how thoroughly sexualized the public space in Roman culture had been.  The horrified Victorian archaeologists largely hid the evidence away, and most modern Westerners still have little awareness of this aspect of Classical life.  Eventually the enforcement of Christian taboos escalated to butchery of human beings, with males who engaged in homosexual relations having their genitalia chopped off as punishment.

Towards the end, the Christian state grew increasingly totalitarian, forcing ordinary citizens to act as informers and spies on their neighbors, and enacting draconian laws to stamp out the last vestiges of pagan religious practices.  Finally, even refusal by any pagan to proactively present himself for baptism -- that is, for formal conversion to Christianity -- was made a crime subject to ruthless punishment.

The Greco-Roman civilization was dead.  The Christians had reduced a glorious world of light and color with a vigorous life of the mind to a grey wasteland shrouded with belief in place of thought.  Not until a thousand years later would the Renaissance revive some vestiges of Classical culture and begin to revive the West from its living death.

Reading this book was a somewhat painful experience for me, as watching the film Agora was.  The decline of a great civilization into barbarism is a tragic spectacle, especially this civilization, for which I feel such a powerful attachment and sense of identity.  But it forcefully affirmed my rejection of the lie that the West has "Christian roots" in any sense.  Christianity is an alien contaminant, a poison, utterly antithetical to the true Greco-Roman roots of who and what we are.  I will never forgive the Christian religion, and I will never accept it as a legitimate part of our culture.

Nixey's book has predictably received many negative reviews from Christians, in line with the historical-revisionist "late antiquity" lie which struggles to argue that the Dark Ages weren't really so bad.  Ignore them.  Read this book to learn something of your true heritage -- and who stole it from you long before you were born.
[Second image: The Serapeum of Alexandria in Egypt, built during the Hellenistic period and showing the mix of Greek and Middle Eastern (in this case, Egyptian) influences typical of Hellenistic architecture.  It is believed that in late Roman times it held the last remnants of the Library of Alexandria.  It was destroyed by a Christian mob in the late fourth century.]

23 April 2019

The real and the abstract

Individual humans are real; they exist as physical organisms occupying space and having thoughts, feelings, and awareness.  Societies and nations are abstractions that have no existence apart from the will and belief of the individual humans that comprise them.  They have no reason for being except to serve the needs and wants of those individual humans.

To speak of some individual humans as being a "burden on society" is as insane as speaking of how much faster buses could travel their routes if they didn't need to carry passengers, or how much more efficiently a hospital could function if it just got rid of all the patients.

One of the most valuable things about being an atheist is that I know my life's purpose is decided by me alone.  My life is not cluttered up with some "plan" or "higher purpose" imposed by a "God" -- or in reality, of course, by those humans who claim to speak for that God.

"Society" is not an entity or an organism.  It is an abstraction, a word we use to quickly refer to a network of relationships among a vast number of distinct individuals.  Society and the nation exist for you, not you for them.  To believe otherwise is mental slavery to those humans who claim to speak for an abstraction.  It's the man behind the curtain brainwashing you with intimidating slogans and images so you'll obey his will instead of your own.