21 July 2019

Link round-up for 21 July 2019

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

o o o o o

They should have been more careful with the paint job on this airplane.

Some people are just not very smart.

It's a cat planet.

This is cute.

Best paper airplane ever.

Only in Japan.

If you suffer from thrombozytenaggregationshemmung, you may need to use this medication.

Find the cats.

England could have had a different name.

Hoist the pirate flag!

All cats are playful sometimes.

In its own way this song is actually kind of catchy.

A British country house is haunted by a masturbating ape ghost (found via Mendip).

Least-qualified sex-education teacher ever.

American school years are confusing -- then there's France.

It's borrifying.

This tree photo seems almost otherworldly.

What a beautiful wedding.

Here's a look at a couple of early SF films that influenced Alien.

I don't know what the upcoming anime Tenki no Ko is about, but it at least looks visually interesting.

A blogger reacts to the Cats 2019 trailer.

Yastreblyansky explains why The Lion King is bullshit.

This hotel has a few issues.

It's getting too hot.

Interesting church design here.

You're fine the way you are.

Debra She Who Seeks remembers the Apollo 11 mission -- and the first woman in space. Crazy Eddie looks at the astronauts' memories.

Here's a treehouse you can rent.

This is Norway.

If you don't like it, don't read it.

Here's one group that's willing to "go back where they came from".

Electric bills in New York city are weird.

Student loan forgiveness isn't all that radical.

"Keep pushing."

Restoration of old paintings is a complex matter.

The "foundational principles" of the US are cowboy TV shows, apparently.  Professor Chaos takes a closer look.

Be as cruel and racist and thuggish as you want, but don't disrespect my imaginary friend.

If all those Tumblr twits do try to storm Area 51, here's what they'll encounter.

Microsoft is giving away free software to improve election security (found via Crooks and Liars).

They can't plan for the future.

No, war is not Hell.

Are the poor today better off than the rich 100 years ago?

Here's a response to a libertarian on the Nike / flag kerfluffle.

This shows that the meat industry is running scared.

Online losers harass and threaten sex workers.

Martina Navratilova looks back on being gay in the sports world in less-tolerant times.

Yet another (probably) Trumpanzee acts like an asshole and gets fired.

Ken Ham freaks out over honest reporting on the Ark Encounter.

This newspaper column from 1969 is topical again today.

Who gives a shit exactly how rich Epstein is?

The opioid Reefer Madness hysteria is taking an increasingly horrifying toll on chronic-pain patients.

7% of millennials self-identify as gay or bisexual, twice as many as in the general population.  I think that many gay and especially bisexual people in earlier generations didn't self-identify as such due to the stronger taboos of the time, and that the real underlying percentage is likely substantially higher than 7%.

Whatever Trump says, Republicans will fall in line.

Atheist Revolution looks at how Twitter's new rules will affect atheists.

Here are four economic myths which have been disproven by experience.

"The Jeffrey Epstein case is an asteroid poised to strike the elite world in which he moved."  There is far, far more to come.

Some TSA screeners don't know DC is part of the US.

It can happen here.

This is "sophisticated" theology.

McDonald's has issues with machines -- be sure to read the notes about Australia and Germany at the end.

Robert Reich calls out the four main conservative lies about inequality.

The Kentucky economy is no advertisement for Trump and McConnell.

Sonny Hernandez exemplifies the arrogance of the "true Christian".

We have too many prisoners.

The Trump regime is suppressing scientific information farmers need to help cope with climate change.

BDS is explicitly anti-Jewish, not just anti-Israel.  And the Democratic party has a problem it needs to address.

Planned Parenthood will give up federal money rather than comply with Trump's abortion gag order.  The state of Illinois is similarly defiant.

Republicans have turned their base into a weapon of mass destruction which now threatens the whole society.

People are voluntarily installing Amazon spyware on their computers.

Christianity teaches self-loathing.

Liz Crokin struggles to reconcile the Epstein arrest with the QAnon qrackpottery.

Jerry Coyne posts a rejected comment from his blog.  And here's another.

The horror of family separation has been used in this country before.

The judge who ruled leniently for an accused rapist because of his "good family" has agreed to step down.

Here are some responses to Trump's "go back" tweets.  Trump's Evangelical sycophants are disgracefully silent.

Islamists couch their anti-Semitism in a "victimhood narrative" (I cringe at how easy it is to manipulate Westerners this way).

The migrant border camps have their own commemorative coin now (found via Shower Cap).

What does the Apollo 11 landing site look like now?

Alan Turing, who cracked Nazi codes during World War II and pioneered the development of the computer, but was later arrested and hounded to suicide for being gay, will appear on the new British £50 note.  It's a way to preserve the memory of the evils of the past.

They claimed taxes "are against God's will", but it didn't work.

A diplomat worthy of the name does not cheer for an attack on soldiers of a friendly country.

Read this final letter from a woman murdered in Auschwitz.

A record number of women are running for office in Japan this year.  Advanced as Japan is, its political system is still more male-dominated than is typical of Western countries.

Dozens of companies are pulling production out of China, mostly moving it to Southeast Asia.

It's not just South Africa -- "corrective rape" happens in India too, often solicited by parents.

A pastor who evaded security measures has helped the Congo Ebola epidemic spread. It has the potential to become much worse.

Biden and Booker release their healthcare proposals, while Harris has an aggressive plan for prescription-drug prices.

The Democratic debates need to be run differently.  Already we're pretty much down to four serious candidates.

Here's why the House is moving so slowly against the Trump regime.

Warren has a plan for cracking down on parasite capitalism.

Collins looks vulnerable for 2020.

In February Harris called for decriminalization of sex work.  That took some guts; this issue today is roughly where gay marriage and legal marijuana were a decade ago.

House Democrats try to present a united front.  Let's keep it that way. Trolls, probably Russian, are already trying to divide us.

Trump may believe being called a racist will help him win next year.  He may be right; if the whole white blue-collar population feels they're being called racist by proxy, it will be disastrous.  But Republicans are getting nervous about the "send her back!" issue.

Schumer sounds ready to get tough.  More of this, please.

Arizona Republicans are plagued with infighting.

Turnout may not favor Democrats next year, but it may not matter.

Population shifts will have a huge impact on the 2020 House races -- especially in Texas.

Harris is being the adult in the room again.

Here's why Al Green's effort to rush impeachment failed.  Pelosi has her reasons for holding back.

Shower Cap examines Trump's racism and various governmental goings-on.

More links here.

19 July 2019

The vastness

The photo above (taken by the Hubble space telescope) is of NGC 3147, a typical spiral galaxy considered a fairly close neighbor of our own galaxy, being only 130 million light-years away.

To get a sense of how far that is, consider this.  Light travels at 186,282 miles per second, so that, for example, it takes one and a quarter seconds to cover the distance from the Moon to the Earth.

When the light that formed the above image left NGC 3147, the Tyrannosaurus rex did not yet exist on Earth.  By the time the T-rex evolved, that light had already been traveling through space toward us for almost fifty million years, and still had eighty million years to go before reaching the Hubble telescope.

That light was only halfway along its journey here when the K/T meteor impact wiped out the dinosaurs and cleared the stage for the age of mammals.

The New Horizons space probe, moving faster than a bullet, took nine and a half years to travel from Earth to Pluto, the outermost (known) planet of our solar system.  NGC 3147 is more than two hundred billion times further away than Pluto.

Yet by intergalactic standards, it's considered a close neighbor.

[Image found via Hackwhackers.]

17 July 2019

Miscellaneous observations for July 2019

Don't hold allies to a higher standard than enemies.  It's allies who deserve the benefit of the doubt.

o o o o o

How did a "buttload" come to mean a large quantity?  Are there people who carry large quantities of stuff in their asses?

o o o o o

If people respond only when they disagree, there will be nothing but arguments.

o o o o o

I'm a free-expression absolutist.  "Hate speech"?  The Bible and the Koran are full of more "hate speech" than any other books in the world.  Incitement to violence?  The Bible and the Koran have incited more violence than anything else in history.  Promotion of dangerous ideas?  Fanatics dedicated to the Bible and the Koran have devastated entire civilizations.  Yet I would fervently oppose any effort to ban those books.

o o o o o

Knowing only one language must be a bit like having only one eye -- you still perceive everything, but a lot of the depth is missing.

o o o o o

Especially on politics, beware of posts containing a lot of swear words and emotionally-charged language.  The state of mind those things imply is not conducive to accurate assessment or strategic thinking.

o o o o o

Libertarians are useless for actually solving problems.  For any problem you have, there is a libertarian somewhere to "explain" why it's your own fault and you don't deserve any help with it.

o o o o o

If someone responds to an argument by saying "you're a [label]" or "this is [label]ism" or the like, he hasn't really said anything.

o o o o o

Cynics are among the most gullible people of all.  They always believe the worst, regardless of the evidence.

[For previous miscellaneous observations, see here.]

15 July 2019

Epstein's web

I can't remember exactly when I first heard about Jeffrey Epstein and his "parties", but it was many years ago, long before Trump ran for President.  I always found it bizarre that Epstein has managed to get away with this stuff relatively unscathed for so long, given that his behavior is widely known.  I suspect he "has the goods" on so many powerful men who have indulged similar predilections at his parties or in his company, that he's been practically untouchable.  The absurdly-light sentence and non-prosecution agreement he received in 2008 in Florida, shutting down an FBI investigation into his activities, strengthen this impression.

Mock Paper Scissors posted a speculative piece last week focusing on the huge quantities of photographs of underage girls which Epstein kept, which have now been seized as evidence:

Why would he keep vast quantities of incriminating evidence?.... Epstein did not blackmail anyone, he doesn't need the money.  But what if the pictures are insurance policy of a sort?  What if he had a sort of "Dead Man's Switch" set up that if he gets caught, the pictures would be found, so better not to try to catch him. It's a dumb QED, but he got arrested and this cache of documentation instantly is found.

This makes a lot of sense.  The photo collection might be only part of the evidence Epstein has that would incriminate others, and even just his testimony that other men had engaged in child rape could lead to charges against them or at least ruined reputations.  So whenever Epstein was in trouble, as in 2008, powerful figures have pulled strings, made threats, done whatever they had to do to get him off the hook -- because they didn't dare let him go down and take them down with him.

But this time, it's not playing out that way.  For one thing, the photographs are already in the hands of the authorities, so even if the men incriminated by them (if any) could get Epstein off the hook, it wouldn't save them.  And the case has received so much publicity this time that it's hard to imagine prosecutors offering him another easy deal.

As the investigation continues, it's likely that any other evidence Epstein kept will also be unearthed.  If so, we'll see charges brought against powerful and prominent men, charges which will be extremely hard to deny in the face of photographic evidence.  Speculation has focused particularly on Donald Trump and Bill Clinton.

Now, it has to be emphasized that both Trump and Clinton are fully entitled to the presumption of innocence unless and until they are actually proven guilty of something.  That being said, it wouldn't be terribly surprising if evidence against Trump did surface.  He has already been sued twice by a woman who claimed he raped her at one of Epstein's parties when she was 13 (she dropped the case, citing death threats as the reason).  If irrefutable evidence is found that Trump did indeed commit such crimes, it could well be the end of his Presidency.  I've long opposed impeachment on the grounds that we could never get 20 Republican Senators to vote for removal, allowing Trump to claim vindication and whip up his base, thus actually strengthening his position in advance of the 2020 election which is our real chance to remove him.  But if it's proven that he's a child rapist?  Getting those 20 votes would become a lot more plausible, especially if the evidence leaks and actual photos start circulating on the net.

As to Clinton, frankly the very fact of his close association with Epstein arouses dark suspicions.  Epstein's predilections and behavior have long been an open secret -- his private plane is even known as the "Lolita Express".  Why would any decent person choose such a man as a friend?

(As an aside, if the 2016 election had not been stolen and this scenario were happening with evidence surfacing against Clinton, we would now be facing a huge scandal involving the husband of the President.  It's an interesting exercise in alternate history to consider how that might play out.)

Again, of course, remember that both Trump and Clinton are fully entitled to the presumption of innocence unless and until they are actually proven guilty of something.  I'm speculating here.

My point is, even all that might be only the beginning.  Epstein kept company with a lot of prominent people, and there have probably been others who took care that their activities and association with him didn't become publicly known.  Don't be surprised if the months to come see the disgrace and arrest of some of the biggest names in politics, entertainment, and other fields -- including some we would never have suspected of such crimes.

14 July 2019

Link round-up for 14 July 2019

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

o o o o o

Kaboom!

Soft landing?

Have some cartoons while living in the modern world.

Whoever designed this packaging knew exactly what he was doing.

Time for some religious humor.

Captain Kirk sometimes got a little over-the-top.

Who the hell thinks up the names of fish?

To drink from the bottle, unscrew the cap first.

If I tried to do this, I'd give myself a concussion in about three seconds.

Here are some kites to scare the shit out of people.

One rarely sees such an enthusiastic product review (NSFW).

This is built-in recycling.

It's time to get tough on crime.

Make sure you understand what people mean by "respect".

Follow the Bible, sometimes.

Do you believe this is art?

Get ready for Saint Fulton.

Stephen Jennings had some interesting things in his car.

Interesting discussion here on The Andromeda Strain, one of the great real science-fiction movies.

If you interact with bloggers on the net, would you be interested in meeting them in person?

I'm not sure how authentic I'd want this experience to be.

A 2-terabyte flash drive for $8?  Well, no.

The crackpots behind that fake Noah's ark in Kentucky are now running a school.

What you choose to read is your own damn responsibility.

$300,000 hardly seems like enough for this kind of harassment.

The "prepper" nutjobs probably wouldn't do very well in a real apocalypse.

Getting rid of a computer hard drive can be difficult.

When racists are so dumb they carry smartphones, they're not much of a threat.

Quacks and mystics chant "quantum mechanics" like an incantation to legitimize their bullshit.

This is Trump's maturity level.

Here's a way Megan Rapinoe might go to the White House.

Priorities, priorities.

Floods in Texas are caused by.....everything that somebody doesn't like, apparently.

Over the last decade the non-religious percentage of Americans has grown dramatically in almost every state; confidence in religion is at an all-time low.

Darwinfish 2 debunks some more wingnut propaganda.

A recent "study" claiming that "gay conversion therapy" works has been unmasked as a fraud.

Vaping is safer than smoking, but it's still not safe.

"We're losing an entire generation.  They're just gone.  It's one of the worst things to happen to the Church."

It's not immigrants who take jobs away from Americans.

This fairy tale is badly written.

Don't believe everything you read.

I just knew some asshole was going to do this in response to the Epstein arrest.

Americans' support for abortion rights is at the highest level in a quarter-century.

Bruce Gerencser, who has been tracking clergy crime for years, has some observations on the subject.

Non-religious Americans are the most accepting of refugees.

This fanatically anti-abortion pastor had a dark secret.

A shortage of adulation gives Trump withdrawal symptoms.

Someone's been scrubbing incriminating posts from that "10-15" Facebook account now that it's been exposed, but The Intercept has preserved the evidence.

The spirit of the time of Trump is captured in one image.

Obsolete fundies yammer impotently as the culture moves on without them.

Google Maps is being honest (the link in the post is real -- go ahead and click it).

Religious control freaks, like racists, hate intermarriage.

There's a new contender for most corrupt state in the US.

Sometimes Nazi comparisons are unavoidable.  No one can tell me this kind of thing is acceptable.

Epstein is a monster, but he has some "oddly useful" friends.  Here's what's inside his creepy house.  Be prepared for a cover-up using Machiavellian tactics.

Save the world by breeding cows that burp less (found via this post at Nan's Notebook, which has some good discussion in the comments).

University of Washington scientists have built the first human brain-to-brain interface with more than two people (found via Mendip).  They demonstrated a two-person interface in 2013.

Desalination is booming, now supplying water for more than 300 million people.  Yes, it has some negative environmental effects, but so does everything humans do on a large scale -- technology will likely resolve those problems in the future.

We're looking for city lights, very far away (found via Mendip).

The Voyager probes are still sending back data after 42 years in space.

Quebec has passed Bill 21, a law prohibiting bureaucrats in positions of power from wearing religious symbols.  All the usual religious cults and freaks bitched up a storm, as did the Canadian federal government; kudos to Quebec for sticking to its guns.

A sunken submarine is leaking radiation into the Norwegian Sea.

It's not safe to use Office 365 or Windows 10 even if the servers are in your own country.

Greece's church-supported fascist party got crushed in the latest election there.

She was arrested for singing in public.

The Saudi regime uses cell phone data to track down women who flee the country.

India does a much better job than the US of ensuring that every eligible voter can vote.

Bangladesh is seeing a rise in sex crimes.

Chinese manufacturing is suffering from the trade wars.

The Democratic nomination race is pretty much down to five people.

Warren's campaign is genuinely different.

In the Senate races, we have a secret weapon -- terrible Republican candidates.

The House is trying to rein in Trump's skullduggery in the Middle East.

The "Justice Democrats" are getting in hot water with the Congressional Black Caucus. And they shouldn't be conducting their squabbles on social media.

Never assume the election is in the bag.

Trump's cave on the census citizenship question is not playing well out in wingnutland.

The only way impeachment could succeed:  keep digging and hope something comes out that sways public opinion enough to get us those 20 Senate Republican votes for removal.  It's gonna be a tall order.

Shower Cap looks at Epstein and Gorka and the rest of the madness.

[906 days down, 556 to go until the inauguration of a real President.]

12 July 2019

Video of the day -- swatting a fly


Swatting a fly seems simple enough, but in this guy's case, things get weird.  More videos from the same artist here.

11 July 2019

Moving in mysterious ways

It's become routine for fundies to assert that extreme weather events (and other natural disasters) are punishments or warnings from God.  This enables them to account for the increase in such events in recent decades while continuing to reject global warming -- God is sending more of them due to the increased normalization of sins like homosexuality and abortion.  (One might wonder why we weren't getting hammered with daily hurricanes back in the days of slavery and the Indian genocide, but reading the Bible shows that God doesn't consider such things sinful.)  Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson notoriously attributed even the 9/11 attack to "the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians".  With hurricane season approaching, we can expect plenty more of this soon.

It seems odd, though, that hurricanes mostly hit the southeastern US, which is the most religious part of the country and the least tolerant of gays and abortion.  Why doesn't God send hurricanes to places like Los Angeles and San Francisco?  It would be a more convincing message, since hurricanes don't naturally occur there.

Veteran arch-wingnut Mark Taylor has come up with an "explanation" which I suspect we'll be hearing a lot more of.  Speaking of a hurricane which is expected to strike Louisiana this weekend, he says:

"That's the first thing that comes to mind," he said, "because when Roe v. Wade comes down, where is [the issue] going to go?  It is going to go to the states.  And you have states out there like Georgia -- and there are a couple of others out there -- that have gone as far as making this stuff illegal for abortion.  You've got to remember, what is abortion?  The sacrificing of kids.  What does that sacrifice do?  Abortion is the food source for Baal; Baal being the strongman over America.  That's what empowers Baal.  You're taking Baal's food source and he's not liking it, so this is retaliation from the enemy that I would say is from that heartbeat bill."

I originally found this quote in this post at Mock Paper Scissors, where a couple of commenters were puzzled that Taylor apparently accepts Baal, a pagan deity, as actually existing and having power.  In fact, many fundies believe that all the deities of non-Christian religions do exist but are actually demons, playing the role of gods as part of their boss Satan's ongoing plan to seduce as many people as possible away from Jesus.  How the ancient Canaanite/Phoenician god Baal attained the position of "strongman over America" is not clear, but maybe he got promoted.  Anyway, apparently these recent anti-abortion laws in the South have been real Baal-busters, and he's riled up about it and about to start smiting the miscreants with hurricanes.

Taylor doesn't explain why God doesn't prevent this.  Perhaps he's too busy appearing on pieces of toast.  But if the hurricane fails to form or does less damage than expected, Taylor will doubtless claim that divine mercy thwarted Baal's efforts.  Until the next hurricane, and the next, and the next.

09 July 2019

Quote for the day -- a matter for civil disagreement?

"In every stage of the bus boycott we have been oppressed and degraded because of black, slimy, juicy, unbearably stinky n*ggers.... African flesh-eaters.  When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to abolish the Negro race, proper methods should be used.  Among these are guns, bows and arrows, slingshots, and knives.... All whites are created equal with certain rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of dead n*ggers."

-- Senator James Eastland, 1956, quoted in Master of the Senate by Robert Caro

Sorry, this guy was just not the right choice to use as an example of being able to work civilly with someone you "disagree" with.  He just wasn't, and choosing him to serve as such an example was an alarming blunder.

I understand that Biden has apologized.  I'm still not sure he realizes that this was a mistake on his part, and not just a matter of people unreasonably taking offense.  It's a valid concern about a person who has a real chance of becoming our nominee to run against Trump.

Thanks to Green Eagle for citing this quote in a comment here.

Note:  See comment from Burr Deming disputing the accuracy of the quote.

07 July 2019

Link round-up for 7 July 2019

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

o o o o o

Debra She Who Seeks celebrates Canada Day.

Spot the item that's out of place.

"They're like adult pacifiers."

This door-knocker should keep some intrusive religious pests away.

How did we miss the story of the insatiable rampaging piss goats?

The spirit of Jack D. Ripper lives on, with a dash of anti-Semitism added in.

Here's some humor for the literate.

"What's in the other bag?"

Time to improve your vocabulary.

RO covers various miscellania, much of it kissing-related.

Behold the sulfurous hellscape of the Dark Lord's domain.

Here's what happens when a fireworks stand catches fire.

Twitter users have fun with Trump's speech.  More internet snark here and here.  Even Russian state TV is mocking him.  And someone's been messing with Wikipedia (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

This trans-Atlantic flight came with a few extras.

Fascinating post here on haunted houses.

Don't allow categories created by words to control your thinking.

A racist in Britain tried to burn down a synagogue, but it didn't go well for him.

Here's a good parental e-mail.

This is a Japanese office building at night.

You brought that stupid flag to the wrong house.

What is Satan's real role in the Judeo-Christian scheme of things?

Les Jenkins does not wish you a happy 4th of July.

An ice-cream vendor pushes back against the "influencer" bullshit.

The business world has decided bigots aren't a market worth keeping.

I'm completely out of patience with websites that nag me about using an ad blocker.  If the internet weren't absolutely drowning in a plague of intrusive ads, ad blockers wouldn't be necessary.  They brought it on themselves.  If you feel the same, this may help.

"There is no elevator to success.  You must take the stairs."

Dumbest story ever.

Republicans don't really admire success via hard work.

A new Illinois law will expunge most criminal records for marijuana possession.

No, people today are not more eager to take offense than in the past -- they're just offended at different things.

Jeffrey Epstein has finally been arrested.

The military stood up to Trump.

Do they have souls?  (Of course not -- nobody does, because there's no such thing.)

Let Minnesota keep the flag.

This is not a healthy economy.

Yes to caution, no to victim-blaming.

Not all religious authority figures are predators, but.....

The Plain View Project is a database of police malignancy on social media (found via Mike).

A bizarre new ideology is re-legitimizing aggression and violence against women and mutilation of young gay people (both found via Aunt Polly) -- read the comments on both too.

Interesting read here on how Evangelical Christianity became the reactionary cult of resentment it is today.  The story goes back more than 150 years.

A Vox writer makes the case that US independence was a mistake.

If religionists succeed in destroying separation of Church and State, they may come to regret it.

Immigration policy is a real vulnerability for the Democrats.

Is forgiving student debt disrespectful to those who paid theirs off?

No, the Pilgrims weren't seeking religious freedom.  Quite the opposite.

"Compromise is impossible when those who raise concerns are shouted down as bigots."

Amash isn't a good guy.

There is a moral breakdown, but it's not among homeless people.

Why do alt-right types keep trying to come back to platforms where they're banned? (found via Tengrain).

A threat note in an Alabama suburb provokes a stern response.

Evangelical pastors play a major role in human smuggling for profit.

Some on the left are preparing to fight back against potential right-wing violence.

There's a common thread in some of the worst episodes of Trump's career.

"We're only killing them accidentally."

Phone hackers are ruining people's lives.

Never pay a debt you don't owe.

Those who behave criminally may be punished in the future.

This is child-stealing, plain and simple.

Some good discussion here on the nature of Trump and his Presidency.

One corrupt cop framed (at least) 119 people for drug possession.

A meteorologist blogger looks at one of the dumber global-warming-denialist arguments making the rounds.

Self-driving cars can be tricked into doing dangerous things by projected fake road signs that humans can't see.

Technology is helping to defeat governments' efforts to censor and control the internet (this example is about a terrorist manifesto, but it could work just as well for any content which any regime is trying to censor for whatever reason).

Probiotics may help fight obesity, but the evidence is still murky.

A tiny spider lives four miles up and depends on the wind for food.

Reforestation can be a powerful weapon against climate change.

NASA is getting serious about planetary defense.

DNA offers clues to the origins of the Philistines.

North Atlantic right whales are hurtling toward extinction.

Four more years of Trump would destroy our alliance systems.

Here's a disgusting story from Britain.

The British government imposes outrageous internet censorship, but Mozilla may -- perhaps inadvertently -- be solving the problem.

An Australian university is encouraging professors to lie about history.

Don't be misled about how things work in Scandinavia.

Wernher von Braun wasn't as innocent as he was made out to be.

The depraved Christian fetish for forgiveness went too far for these parishioners.

The French government is becoming a threat to free speech globally.

See harrowing photos of the Lviv pogroms of 1941.  This is what the natural culmination of ethnic hatred looks like.

It makes no sense to claim that Iran was behind the June 13 tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman.

Heat waves in India are becoming increasingly lethal.

Modi's re-election stokes fears of increased religious violence.

This is barbarism.

Beware of trolls trying to divide us.  They may be Russians, Republicans, or sincere but misguided liberals -- it makes no practical difference.  Here's an example of what to watch out for; here's what many fake blogs look like.

In 2020, we must take as many state legislatures as possible.

Trump's speech wasn't as bad as some expected -- it's worth considering why.

Perhaps Warren would be our best compromise candidate.

Republicans are starting to realize they may need to fight to hold Texas.

John Scalzi ranks the candidates.

Trump won in 2016 partly by posing as a moderate on some issues.

Don't allow the Republicans to re-brand themselves -- they are forever the party of Trump.

How unprepared is Biden?  Think of him as a time traveler.

Harris, too, has a record that will need to be addressed.  It's a mix of good and bad.

Shower Cap reviews Trumpian madness during the week of July 4th.

More links here.  "Coincidence is a powerful force", indeed.

[Image at top found via Earth-Bound Misfit.]

05 July 2019

Improving words (11)

Some more revised word definitions, based on what the words visibly should mean.....

Advise:  A sales pitch that grips you hard

Appear:  An organ of hearing you can download to your phone

Bisect:  A religion for those who "swing both ways"

Canteen:  Always fire the youngest worker

Confusion:  The merging of prison inmates

Dentist:  A supporter of minor impact damage

Emotion:  The movement of data through the internet

Expensive:  Formerly thoughtful

Figurine:  Fruity piss

Gambit:  Bitten on the leg

Heather:  A kindly thing to do, if she's cold

Justice:  Merely frozen water

Mangrove:  An area where men grow on trees

Missing:  To perform a song incorrectly

Mosquito:  A very small mosque

Mutton:  2,000 pounds of dogs

Opal:  An Irish friend

Product:  In favor of large pipes

Rampant:  Heavy breathing after the exertion of ramming something

Reproach:  Your Congressperson is a disease-bearing insect

Resin:  To violate a taboo again

Scandinavian:  To intensively examine the aggravating noise made by birds

Scarcity:  A metropolis where everyone shows marks of past wounds

Tenant:  Nearly a dozen small insects

Windlass:  A young lady with a flatulence problem

[The previous "improving words" post is here.]

04 July 2019

Pushing back against Trump's travesty

For those interested in knowing how to most effectively boycott Trump's desecration of Independence Day, Mock Paper Scissors has some suggestions.

Vagabond Scholar, Hackwhackers, Strangely Blogged, and the Mahablog have some observations on the holiday and the strutting, absurd little man who has so debased it.

896 days down, 566 to go until the inauguration of a real President.

[Image at top found via Hackwhackers.]

02 July 2019

Religion declining in the Arab world

Most of Europe has been strongly secular for decades, and in the US the non-religious percentage of the population has also been growing, with the trend speeding up in the last twenty years with the rise of "New Atheism" -- though the US remains much more religious than Europe.  Some have argued that even as religion dies out in the most advanced countries, it remains vigorous in the developing world, and that secularism will always be a regional peculiarity of Europe, the US, and a few other places such as Japan.

The clearest signs that this view is wrong have come from Latin America, once the demographic heartland of the Catholic Church, where the dominant position of religion has also been faltering.  The clearest evidence of this change can be seen in the growing acceptance of gay marriage, which is being legalized in country after country, and in the willingness of national authorities to aggressively confront the Church over the issue of priestly child molestation, especially in Chile.  Strikingly, it's the least economically developed countries in Latin America where religion remains strongest.

More recently further confirmation has come from a region most Americans think of as irrevocably in thrall to religion -- the Arab world.  A survey of over 25,000 people in ten Arabic-speaking countries plus the Palestinian territories, compared with a similar survey from 2013, shows that the number of people who self-identify as non-religious is surprisingly high, and rising fast.

In the surveyed countries overall, 13% identify as non-religious, up from 8% in 2013.  This suggests that the secularization of the Arab world lags only a decade or so behind that of the US.  In Tunisia (the most secular Arab country) a third of the population is non-religious, up from less than a fifth in 2013.  In all the surveyed countries except Yemen, the non-religious percentage has increased.  In Morocco and Egypt it has more than doubled -- in just six years.

This really shouldn't be surprising.  Economic development brings material prosperity, education, literacy, and access to mass media and world culture.  Those factors drove the decline of religion in Europe and the US.  As the Arab world, like Latin America, becomes more developed, the same processes inexorably follow.  In the age of the internet, access to Western mass culture and ideas plays an especially large role.  Since 2008 the Arabic translation of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, the flagship book of New Atheism, has been available on the internet for free in PDF format, and has now been downloaded more than thirteen million times.  The interest in atheist ideas is there.  And thanks to the internet, the ideas themselves are just a mouse-click away, even though the book itself is banned in every Arab country.  Even aside from explicitly atheist texts, Western movies and music and TV all carry, however subtly, the world-view of the culture that produced them.  They are like a steady rain that gradually erodes away the seemingly indestructible rock of religion.

The survey also asked about attitudes on a variety of other issues, such as homosexuality and the equal role of women in the household.  In general, attitudes on these points are still depressingly backward (though more than 50% in most Arab countries would accept a woman as head of government).  But more enlightened attitudes on gays and the role of women lagged somewhat behind secularization in the West as well.  I can't help but feel that this, too, is just a matter of time.

It's notable that in general, the Arab countries with the most advanced attitudes are Lebanon and the Maghrib states (Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco).  In these countries, the influence of French culture has been especially strong since colonial times, and widespread fluency in the French language facilitates the spread of Western ideas into the society.  The most-religious country in the survey, Yemen, is also the poorest and most isolated.

I've observed before that the rise of militant Islamist groups in the Middle East such as al-Qâ'idah and Dâ'ish (ISIL) in some ways parallels the rise of the militant Christian Right in the US.  In both cases it's a response by the fervently-religious element to cultural changes which are clearly leading the broader society in a direction they don't like.  In the US these fanatics have turned the Republican party into an instrument through which they are trying to re-impose religious conservatism by force using the power of the state.  In the Arab world, with its weaker state structures and scarcity of real democracy, they've been able to resort to armed force and terrorism.  But in both cases it's an angry lashing out by reactionaries who can see that they're losing a culture war.

And in the long run it won't work.  Just as the real-world effects of our Christian Right's draconian hostility to gays and abortion have alarmed and revolted mainstream Americans, including less-fervent Christians, so the atrocities of Dâ'ish and al-Qâ'idah -- whose victims, remember, include far more Middle Easterners than Westerners -- have disgusted millions of people in the Arab world, including less-fervent Muslims.  They've seen what the extremists have to offer, and they don't want it.

So it really does seem that the various regions of the broader Western world are following a similar general pattern of social progress.  Economic development leads to education and greater openness to new ideas, which leads to a whole cascade of effects which erode and weaken religion until, in the countries furthest along the path, its influence withers to almost nothing.  We in the US are merely at a somewhat earlier stage in the process than Europe is, while Latin America and the Middle East are similarly lagging behind us -- though apparently not by as much as one might think.  And the internet is speeding things up.  Some of the lands which are now Arabic-speaking were among the first in which the Abrahamic blight entrenched itself, first in Christian and later in Muslim form, and they may be among the last to cast it off.  But the writing is on the wall -- or, more relevantly, on the computer monitor.

Related posts here and here.

30 June 2019

Link round-up for 30 June 2019

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

o o o o o

Recharge your phone with a hamster.

I suspect the rats are being framed.

Have a few fish cartoons.

See some honest corporate logos.

Kittens discover disco.

This restroom probably stays very clean.

Important warning for the buyer here.

At the movies -- don't do it!

The Tobe Zoo conducted a lion escape drill, complete with a fake lion.

Coming to a store near you:  evil robots.

Dutch engineering helps animals migrate.

Consider a moss lawn.

Debra She Who Seeks looks at Pride milestones in 2019.

Professor Chaos explores the mentality of anti-gay religious crazies.

Darwinfish 2 reviews wingnuttery in images.

I Should Be Laughing observes the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.

Arab rule in Sicily ended in 1091, but their cultural influence is still ubiquitous on the island.

The goal of trolls is to waste your time -- you're not obligated to play their games.

Trump babbles incoherently about the popular vote.

NewTumbl is another new alternative to Tumblr.

Optimism is the radical choice.

Maybe conservatives are just amateurs.

Cryptocurrencies continue to fascinate gullible wingnuts.

This is what happens when people try to legitimize Trump.

Never try to shame chronically-ill people for doing fun things.

There is a cure for fundamentalism, but it's difficult to administer.

New Orleans musician James Crawford deserves to be better known.

Wingnuts are flooding the worthless online post-debate polls -- you can safely ignore their "results".

The American Psychoanalytic Association apologizes for its former position that homosexuality was a disorder.

Political humorists provide analysis of Trump's near-attack on Iran (aren't the, you know, actual media supposed to be doing this?).

Bruce Gerencser describes how personal experience with gay people helped him overcome his Christian prejudice against them.

Manipulative advertising loses its effectiveness over time.

A Congressional Republican wants to cut off PBS's funding over that cartoon gay rat wedding thing.

The Trumpified Independence Day celebration in Washington is going to be a mess.

The opioid Reefer Madness hysteria continues to wreak havoc on patients.

That Supreme Court gerrymandering decision may eventually blow up in the Republicans' faces.

A lawsuit has put one of the worst Christianist laws on hold.

A fundie freaks out over the rise of secular "cockroaches" (she means people like me).  Another calls down the wrath of God upon Taylor Swift for her recent gay-positive music video.  But they do recognize one man Godly enough to deserve their all-out support.

Capitalism deploys weapons of math destruction against us.

Don't be fooled by apparent patterns that don't really exist.

The politicians writing these draconian abortion laws are grossly ignorant about biology.

Here's a good summary of the Oberlin College / Gibson Bakery case.

Christianity gives people empathy and morality.

The RNC has used fake census documents to gather data (the post is a year old, but they may well still be doing similar things).

History is beginning to repeat itself.

An Alabama woman whose fetus died after she was shot has been charged with manslaughter.

Bank of America shows its moral standards, and John Cornyn shows his.

Public support for discrimination on religious pretexts is growing -- and not only discrimination against gays.  It's still far from a majority position, though, and is driven mostly by Republicans and Evangelicals.

In Indiana, a judge delivers a win for abortion rights.

Here is Trump's America in savage imagery.  He is now threatening the families of US troops (found via Notes to Ponder).

Wayfair employees and government asylum officers protest the migrant camps.  Here are some of the dead; no doubt there are more, and will be even more to come.

With one exception, female Republican Senators are desperately trying to evade talking about the Carroll rape accusation.  That's going to get harder as corroborating witnesses have come forward.  The "family values" religio-nutballs remain as hypocritical as ever, while the media have dropped the ball on this story.

See a gripping graphic-format tale of Nazi rockets and the early days of space travel.

The "mass defect" is a weird irregularity in particle physics.

There's a new line of glasses designed to defeat CCTV cameras and facial-recognition software.

Moline Skeptics looks at some anti-vaccine quackery.

The WHO proposes a strategy against the spread of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Even when Trump is gone, the world won't just go back to the way it was.

The creator of a powerful anti-Trump cartoon just got dumped by one of his publishers.

A British writer explains why Trump is disliked in Britain.

The UK Labour party is failing to deal with its anti-Semitism problem.

This was the Pride rally in Helsinki, Finland yesterday.

Germany's "society is doomed to collapse" nutters had big plans.

Kiev this month hosted the largest Pride parade ever in the former Soviet bloc.  Joe.My.God has a couple of videos.  North Macedonia held its first parade ever.  The parade in São Paolo, Brazil drew three million people, perhaps partly in defiance against the country's reactionary new President.

A Catholic bishop wants to drench a whole city with holy water from a helicopter to fight demons.

Trump started the G-20 summit by bashing other major democracies again. He tried to get other countries to leave the Paris climate agreement, but failed.

Yazidi women once enslaved by Dâ'ish (ISIL) return to the city of Sinjar, finding it in ruins.

Iranians aren't much impressed by Trump's new sanctions.

What really happened to Malaysian Airlines flight 370?

New York state offers lessons in how to move politics to the left.

Beware of those who sow division among us and promote violence -- they may not be what they seem.

The debates have reshaped the Democratic race, with Biden down and Harris up (her support more than doubled).  This poll was released one day after the second debate, however, so don't take it as definitive.

No, do not take Marianne Williamson seriously.  One amateur President is (more than) enough.

Despite the recent rulings, we can still act to resist gerrymandering.

An internet-troll campaign to undermine Harris is already under way.  Good observation in this commentThe goal is the same as the earlier racial attacks on Obama.

Biden's record on busing, like that of America itself, is complicated.

Warren proposes a sweeping plan to guarantee voting rights nationwide -- an example of why we need the Senate as well as the Presidency, so such legislation can actually be passed.

Our candidates are taking climate change seriously.

Martin Longman believes Trump is doomed to lose next year unless a third candidate interferes -- or the Democrats really blow it.  A woman candidate might actually do better.

Let your outrage at the border migrant camps motivate you to vote the bastards out.

What happens if Trump loses but refuses to concede?

Shower Cap looks at normalization of atrocities and the latest in wingnut hypocrisy.

More links here.

[Image at top:  Cathedral of Palermo, Sicily]