22 September 2016

Back home

Finally back from surgery, though dog-tired.  Thanks for all the supportive comments on the post below.  Will post more when I can.

19 September 2016

The Infidel is [OUT]

Going into the hospital today for surgery.  Surprisingly, I will probably be back home as soon as Wednesday (I'm told that very short hospital stays even for major operations are the norm these days), followed by three to six weeks recuperation at home.  During that time I'll be on narcotic painkillers and the Devil knows what else, so I don't know whether I'll be up to much coherent posting, at least early on.  But I'll be here.

18 September 2016

Link round-up for 18 September 2016

This corn is too beautiful to eat.

NASA celebrates Star Trek.

If Trump wins, the White House will undergo some remodeling.

You can't tell me this cat isn't communicating.

Don't fall for the myth of the white wedding dress.

One thing works, the other doesn't.

Welcome to the closet, fuckheads (found via this commentary from last year).

In the night, they are out there.

Next time you're in Minneapolis, check out Hell's Kitchen.

It's not aliens -- just listen to people.

Rent this apartment, and you'll always know what time it is.

Who's the painter?

Wow, scary neighbors.

To Hell with respect.

You just know this guy will vote for Trump.

Wingnuts should rethink their admiration for Putin.

We all know Barack is smart, but don't underestimate Michelle.

Here's another side to the Adblock Plus controversy.  I don't know who's right, I'm just passing the info along.

The NCAA and the ACC join the campaign against North Carolina's HB2.  The city of Charlotte must stand strong against this dirty dealNo compromises.  Crush them.  We are strong enough for that now.

I agree -- this guy is just a vandal and should be treated as such.

 For those who won't vote for Hillary, Nonnie9999 has a vision of the future.

Some in the sports world have weird priorities.  So does the University of Texas.

This is what Republicans do.  And here are more things that they do.

I've thought #6 many times -- someday we'll learn how he really felt.

Comrade Misfit has some sensible posts on September 11 from 2011, 2010, and especially 2008.

A London subway station goes full cat.

Spaniards protest the disgusting "sport" of bullfighting.

The Putin regime is running out of money.

Green Eagle raises an often-overlooked point about Israeli settlements (and here's the actual study being discussed).

Saudi Arabia's latest barbarity targets atheism.

India leads the world.

The Bonobo Project is trying to save one of our closest relatives.

This occurred to me some time ago -- Trump's behavior resembles the dominance displays of male chimpanzees.

The candidates respond to twenty questions on science.  The photo on question 2 is the Large Hadron Collider at Geneva, an example of large-scale government investment in basic science.  I shudder to think of Trump trying to assess particle physics, and can just see Gary Johnson saying "What's a Geneva?" (found via Ed Brayton).

The wingnuts have a lot riding on McCrory.

Trump's customer base doesn't seem to like his antics.

Hackwhackers and Samantha Bee put things in perspective.

Yes, they're deplorable.  Hillary knows exactly what she's doing and she spoke the truth.

Not just a crook, but a petty crook.

Hillary has reasons for being cautious around the media.

Trump's "birther moment" was a revival of old insanity -- even NRO thinks it was a blunder.  Here's how bad it was.  The media are not amused by his bullshit.

Don't fall for the lies about Hillary's paid-leave plan. Here's another candidate comparison.

The Trump rape lawsuit, ignored by most media and bloggers, continues to move forward.

The Governor of Kentucky goes full wingnut.

Obama lays it on the line about what's at stake this November.  Don't let all this progress be lost.

Zandar sees a landslide coming.

Apparently this is Trump's concept of "charity" (link from Kevin Robbins).  As President he would have huge conflicts of interest.

[Image at top:  Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, showing the devastation caused by the civil war -- a major issue the next president will have to deal with.  Gary Johnson apparently had not heard of Aleppo.]

14 September 2016

A few words on being human

Human beings are members of one body;
At the time of creation they were of one essence.
If a member of the body is in pain one day,
The other members do not remain unmoved.
You who feel nothing at the suffering of others
Do not deserve to be called human.

Sa'di Shirazi
Persian poet, 13th century

11 September 2016

Link round-up for 11 September 2016

I'm not so sure these categories are wrong.

Hey, how was your day?

Trump resembles one of Star Trek's less-interesting villains.

A new life begins.

Romeo and Juliet could have had a happy ending.

Greek tragedy lives on among us.

Know your extremists.

Is Taylor Swift a Satanic clone?

Some San Francisco houses are almost an art form.

Glowing blue lava, because why the hell not.

Frogs on the Moon, because why the hell not.

Pachyderm painkillers poison peaceful potheads.

Conversion of atheists to Christianity is basically a fantasy.

I can't help but think this continent deserved better.

Facebook censorship plumbs depths of stupid.

In the wingnut war on public broadband, Americans lose.

Yes, he's a true Trump supporter.

Texas wastes money.

Here's something worth cheering for.

Let's see what the wingnutosphere has been up to lately.

Mother Teresa was no saint.

The best businessman in the world (found via Progressive Eruptions) once applied for a loan.

You are more than your economic productivity.

North Carolina is still trying to discourage black voters.

Batocchio looks at the spectrum of political debaters.

Britain's "most hated man" has finally gone too far.

After the Brexit vote, the UK thrives while the Eurozone struggles.  But the EU has fine leadership (found via Clarissa).

Remember Moehanga, discoverer of Britain.

The situation of women and Islam in Europe is being distorted by some reporting in the US.

Putin doesn't want you to think little of him.

Interested in Trump's plan for dealing with Dâ'ish/ISIL?  Here it is.

Mataiva is remote and cool-looking (but how did a town of 280 people afford that bridge?)

President Duterte's insults against Obama have cost his country a lot of money.

The North Korean regime has banned sarcasm (found via Earth-Bound Misfit).

Christianity brings civilization to Africa.

The internet is confusing people about the origin of the American Indians (found via Clarissa).

Crazy Eddie looks at the biggest bugs ever.

The first crude autonomous robot weapons made their debut in 1944 (found via Lady, That's My Skull).

Support biodegradable materials.

Solar power is making a huge difference, with several cities now powered entirely by renewable energy.

Immunotherapy to treat Alzheimer's seems to be working in human trials, while a more radical approach shows promise in mice.

The MSM witch-hunting of Hillary is getting absurdly one-sided as they shamefully normalize Trump.  After being called out, they're at least starting to nibble on him.  Kudos to the Dallas Morning News.

A lot of Gary Johnson supporters will dump him when they find out his real positions.  And many who reject Hillary need to know her real positions.

Yes, many Trumpanzees are a "basket of deplorables".

Trump is dividing marriages.  He insults the military while threatening war over trivia.  And he's empowering and legitimizing the worst of America (found via Republic of Gilead).  The only good thing he's doing is destroying the Republicans' future.  For the present, don't let this happen.

Pam Bondi isn't the only state AG with a suspicious Trump donation (found via Progressive Eruptions).

[Image at top found via Bruce Gerencser]

09 September 2016

Big fellahs

Enough politics.  Have some playful elephants.




I can wash fine by myself, thanks.....

Didn't you see the "no parking" sign?


OK, drugs starting to kick in.....


"Hello, Republican party?  We'd like to file a complaint about being used as a symbol....."




06 September 2016

A genuine scandal ignored

The media have plenty of time for phony "scamdals" manufactured by Republicans around Benghazi, e-mails, the Clinton Foundation, and what have you.  So why aren't they jumping on this actual Trump scandal which presents, at the very least, a strong appearance of outright bribery of a government official?  Trump has a long history of shady if not outright crooked business practices -- a feast for investigative reporting, if the media were actually interested in doing their job.

Maybe the Clinton campaign will have to do their job for them.  To that, I can only add, "This looks like a job for the internet".  The big centralized MSM no longer have the exclusive power to decide what is and is not newsworthy.  Any individual blog has only a small audience, but all together, and along with intermediate-size news sites like Crooks and Liars and TPM, the blogosphere has some weight to throw into the balance.  The wall of MSM silence is showing some cracks (the second link in the first paragraph is to The Washington Post).  It's a start, in shifting the focus where it belongs.

Update:  Another story that needs more attention:  Trump lavishly spending campaign funds at resorts and other properties which he himself owns, turning campaign donations into a business windfall for himself.

And beyond Trump's own scandals, maybe it's time to start insisting on the broader truth about the Republican party.  It's going to be a big job.

04 September 2016

Link round-up for 4 September 2016

A new discovery about ancient Babylonian mathematics illustrates a key difference between science and religion.

Some of the toughest and most clear-headed resistance to Islamism comes from Middle Eastern people -- a fact which "identity politics" cannot cope with.

I've found this to be very true.

Cats just kinda know.

Robots, robots everywhere!

This Poke Mongo thing is getting completely out of hand.

Beware the onslaught of the militant lesbian farmers.

Mention was made last week of giant metal chickens.  But how about death metal chickens?

If you use Airbnb, click here.

Nine lives, one story.

Movie audiences are turning away from sequels and remakes (found via Zandar).

There's a simple reason why so many powerful women are blonde.

Not the end of the world, even if it looks that way.

If you ever have your wrists bound with zip ties, try this (found via TYWKIWDBI).

Green Eagle has more wingnut wackiness and wingnut lies.

Paul Wartenberg looks back on ten years of bloggery.

This isn't justice.

At the end of the road of delusion, the mad chicken farmer awaits.

They're not even trying to hide the purpose of voter ID laws any more.

After years of preaching sexual abstinence, Joshua Harris reconsiders (found via Republic of Gilead).

A protest in North Dakota deserves more attention. Things are turning nasty.

Franklin Graham says you and I are the problem.

Media normalization of Trump is bizarre and dangerous.

Conservatism depends on the Two Minutes Hate to survive, but they can no longer control who's the target.

Fundies flounder in response to the collapse of Christianity in the US (found via Republic of Gilead), but they're reaffirming their rejection of gays, to the point of this guy having a complete meltdown.

Wealthy Nick Hanauer has an important message for his fellow one-percenters.

The Bible says kill your relatives if they don't share your delusions.

If you want to punch a feminist, here are some opportunities.

Veterans speak out on Colin Kaepernick's protest; more on that here.  And this is the anthem he spurned.

Indiana's "religious freedom law" is still giving cover for nastiness.

First he ran a red light and hit her, then he shot her.

Here's another huge problem with the TPP.

The Anglican Church is splintering apart over how much to compromise with modernity.

Even by the normal standards of "miracles", this is really suspicious.

Fireworks?  Thailand shows us how it's done.

Here's a report on anti-gay agitation around the world.

A long time ago, a girl fell out of a tree.

This is a pretty far-out dress.

A transitional pterodactyl fossil offers fascinating insights into the evolution of ancient flying reptiles.

Progress is our job.

We're learning how plants transitioned to dry land, and made it habitable.

The Clinton Foundation does stuff like this.

The fundies have made their choice.  Now let them live with their hypocrisy.

Hillary should talk more about the world's biggest problem.

Those who could accept a Trump win are selfishly sacrificing others.

Huma Abedin remains a favorite target of wingnut conspiratardia.

Hackwhackers has reactions to Trump's Mexico trip.  The Field Negro is unimpressed with his "outreach" to black voters.  Much of his racism has libertarian roots.

Assange is getting hysterical about the possibility of Hillary winning.

If the Republicans are losers, they'll be sore losers.

Both-siderism is a lie; there is no equivalence between the parties or between the candidates.  The Republican party must be not just defeated, but destroyed.

[Image at top:  Hellenistic-era Babylonian tablet on calculating the position of Jupiter (see first link), found via Rosa Rubicondior]

03 September 2016

Quotes / video for the day -- a voice of reason












Note:  Tyson's description of al-Ghazâlî's role in the collapse is somewhat oversimplified, but overall he's right on target here.

01 September 2016

Wingnut sanctuaries?

For some time now there has been a growing feeling on the right wing that, since they are inexorably losing the culture wars, they need to carve out some sort of refuge for themselves in which their culture can survive -- a place "transformed into an oasis of unfreedom and injustice", in which traditional myths and bigotry can continue unchallenged.  Two and a half years ago, Ross Douthat demanded such sanctuary in the form of exceptions to anti-discrimination laws.  By now it is fairly clear that that is not going to fly.  Now this post at LifeSite News, a hard-line Catholic forum, calls for actual, physical sanctuary cities for true-believing Christians, citing the precedent of sanctuary cities for illegal aliens in which local authorities refuse to cooperate with certain federal laws.

Exactly what the author wants refuge from has to be read between the lines, given the way such writers twist their language into a hard-to-follow snarl in order to justify the underlying stance that they are the ones suffering from oppression when they can't discriminate and harass any more.  Still, given recent battles in the culture wars, it's not too hard to figure out what this means:

Business owners and workers must be allowed to do their work and flourish without having to celebrate moral corruption and keep their mouths shut. Florists, bakers, photographers, and all small business owners have the right to refuse to participate in celebrations of things they find immoral, just as any sane baker would justly refuse to provide a cake for a Nazi event.

So, basically, a sanctuary city would be one in which anti-gay discrimination would remain permissible because the local authorities would not cooperate with federal laws and court rulings against it.  Entire states have already tried this by refusing to accept last year's Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, and the federal government made it clear that it would not tolerate this.  Suppose a few cities here and there announced that they were becoming "sanctuaries" in which lunch counters and bus companies were free to discriminate against black customers again?  How long do you think that would be allowed to stand?  Where discrimination is concerned, the federal government is rightly uncompromising, because it has a duty to protect all its citizens even if they live in places where bigots form a local majority.  Aside from the government, entities ranging from corporations to sports leagues have boycotted states which legalize anti-gay discrimination under the guise of "religious liberty", creating massive economic pressure.  Such "sanctuaries" suffer heavy and sustained penalties.

The post also includes a lot of complaining about people having to home-school their kids to protect them from being exposed to messages of tolerance for those who are different.  So presumably a sanctuary city would be one where public schools were officially tolerant of bullying of gay kids and perhaps even included some Christian doctrine as part of the curriculum.  This might be easier to get away with given the power of local school boards to control local schools (the decentralization of control over education is one of this country's core problems, but that's a matter for another post), and easier still if it were done at private schools instead of public ones.  But all that stuff basically happens already in many small towns where intolerant and ignorant religious people are in the majority.  Aside from offering some local quasi-official legitimacy, it's hard to see what a "sanctuary city" would add.  If they want open preaching of religious dogma as part of the curriculum in public schools with the support of local authorities, this has already been tried with creationism, and legal cases such as Kitzmiller v. Dover have shown that local authorities have no such power to ignore the Constitution.  They are getting away with it in a few states where state authorities are complicit, but the Kitzmiller precedent suggests that determined lawsuits could end this.

The "sanctuary" concept is morally incoherent because the "oppression" these people claim to be fleeing from isn't really oppression.   What they're trying to protect isn't their own equality and freedom, it's their ability to deny the equality and freedom of others (equality in the case of gays, freedom in the case of women who want contraception or abortion).  The government may tacitly leave you alone to do your own thing, but not when "your own thing" is beating up on somebody else.

Something like what the post suggests did actually succeed for several generations in one case.  When the Mormon Church finally yielded to government pressure and abandoned polygamy in 1890, a few small groups of hard-line dissenters left the Church and set up their own communities where they could continue polygamy.  Known as "Mormon Fundamentalists" or FLDS, these groups built tiny, isolated settlements in remote areas, in some cases even across the borders in Mexico or Canada.  These enclaves survived unbothered because they largely escaped notice.  Only in the last few years, as a pattern of abuse of underage girls there entered public awareness, has the government begun to crack down on them.  Again, the problem is that the "freedom" they were defending was the freedom to abuse children and keep women in subjugation.

Anyway, I don't think a tiny isolated compound in the middle of a desert is what Douthat or the readers of LifeSite News have in mind.  They want modern conveniences and urbanity without modern challenges to the supremacy of religious dogmas, taboos, and prejudices.  But that's fundamentally impossible, because of the exuberant free marketplace of ideas which modern popular culture creates.  Consider the Middle East, a vast region of hundreds of millions of people where religion has been brutally dominant since the 12th century and where most governments actually support religious taboos and strictures.  Its societies are in upheaval as millions question religious dogma or flatly (if quietly) abandon it, as women demand more freedom and education, as young people assert self-determination in sexuality and marriage.  This is happening now, after centuries of stagnation under religion, because Western movies, TV, music, books, and the internet are flooding the region with new ideas and imagery.  The Islamic backlash of political fundamentalism and even terrorism can kill people, but it can't stop these changes.  What chance would Sanctuaryburg, Alabama have of keeping out the influences that would turn much of its own next generation against the culture it's trying to protect?  FLDS enclaves ban TV and the internet.  In a normal city, this would be impossible.

Muddled attempts at creating wingnut sanctuaries on the city or state level will doubtless persist for some time, but in the long run they will fizzle out and fade away.

30 August 2016

Ten years -- a bit of blowing my own horn

Some blogs such as Crazy Eddie and Politics Plus post regular digests of their statistics, which give a glimpse of what interests their readers and where those readers are drawn from.  I haven't ever done that, but having just reached my ten-year anniversary, I took a look back at the whole history of the blog via the stat counter, out of curiosity.  (Actually the stat counter doesn't go back the whole ten years, but readership earlier than that was very low, so it's pretty representative.)


Most-viewed posts -- the top ten posts in number of page views were:

#10 Demographic delusion.  My tenth-most-viewed post was one of the few political ones on the list, refuting a right-wing claim that turned out not to be particularly lasting or widespread.

#9 The reason for the season.  Christmas is an ancient Persian and Roman holiday with a few pagan Germanic trimmings -- nothing to do with Jesus.  Who knew this would strike a nerve?

#8 The religion of exclusion.  The Christian Right campaign to shun gays is a loser whether they win or not.  Glad to see this attracted attention.

#7 Obamacare will be a disaster -- for the Republicans.  From late 2013.  With all due modesty, I think it's turning out to be an accurate forecast.

#6 Quotes for the day:  funnyman and freedom fighter.  A brief tribute to British satirist Rowan Atkinson was my sixth-most-viewed post.  Some "big" site must have linked to it, though that completely escaped my notice at the time.

#5 What the NRA gets right -- and wrong.  Many fellow liberals don't like what I have to say about guns, but at least a fair number of people found this worth a look.

#4 The fury of wingnuts scorned.  From just before the 2012 election, which the poll-unskewing righties were still convinced they were going to win.  Perhaps readers stopped by for a little before-the-fact gloating?

#3 I hate this man.  Not at all my best work, but somebody on Reddit linked to it, and that made it my third-most-viewed post ever.

#2 Long war, decisive battle.  One of my posts on the deeper issues, and the one I'm most glad to see was popular.

#1 Cultural nationalism.  It surprised me a bit that this was my most-viewed post ever, but it's not a bad one to have in that position.  It does make some important points which I don't see widely expressed.

If I had to choose just one post on this blog as being the most worth reading in my own opinion, it would probably be The culture war is world-wide, though it didn't make the most-viewed list.  I've written a total of 3,208 posts, but frankly that number is much inflated by the fact that early on, whenever I found something interesting on the net, I'd do a one-liner post just linking to it.  That's why I now do the weekly link round-ups.  I almost never go looking for things to include in them; rather, I'm always running across items of interest, and the round-ups let me pass them along without cluttering up the blog with innumerable one-liner posts.


Top traffic sources -- The top ten sites from which people came here were:

#10 Yahoo search

#9 Google Canada

#8 Reddit

#7 Vampirestat.com -- I'd never heard of this, and it doesn't seem to exist any more

#6 Google UK

#5 Horizons

#4 Progressive Eruptions

#3 Infidel753 itself -- I guess this means people were viewing the main page and clicked on something else on the blog

#2 Crooks and Liars -- doubtless because I'm regularly linked at the "Mike's Blog Round Up" feature

#1 Google

Notice that #5 and #4 are one-person blogs just like this one.  Bloggers' links to other sites do make a difference!  The top ten Google search terms that brought people here were:

#10: "important things that happened in 2006"
#9 "infidels 753"
#8 "calenche ranae manos" (?????)
#7 "things that happened in 2006"
#6 "infidel 753"
#5 "arthropod"
#4 "title"
#3 "eurypterid"
#2 "eurypterids"
#1 "infidel753"

#5, #3, and #2 are explained here, and I guess a lot of people see something I've written elsewhere on the net (I use the name "Infidel753" almost everywhere) and look me up.  Aside from that, I'm baffled by these.


Readers by country -- the top ten countries from which I've had page views:

#10 China
#9 Poland
#8 Australia
#7 Canada
#6 Ukraine
#5 Germany
#4 United Kingdom
#3 France
#2 Russia (probably meaningless)
#1 United States (58% of total page views)

China is the most surprising entry, given its government restrictions on the internet and relatively low per-capita computer access, plus the fact that I seldom write anything relevant to that country.  The UK, Canada, and Australia are the most populous foreign countries where English is the main native language, so I'm not surprised to see them on the list.  France and Germany are rich, internet-savvy countries where many people can read English (though I'm a little surprised that I've had more views from France than from the UK), and Ukraine and Poland have been getting more that way since the Soviet Empire fell.  I may well have some actual readers in Russia, but it's hard to tell how many.

I'd be curious to know what other bloggers' readership patterns are like.

28 August 2016

Link round-up for 28 August 2016

Turbomoose!

Who was he talking to?

Pigeons are of Satan.

Interesting, if true.

Beware the, er, what?

This week's cuteness overload:  baby animals.

I'm immortal (found via Clarissa)

What is it with goats, anywayAlso, cats!

Volleyball goes international.

Goofy bird.

The rapid growth in the number of us non-religious people is the biggest demographic threat to the Republicans (link from Pinku-Sensei).  Many Americans have dumped religion because they learned about science.

Hasten the day.

What is the best use of the money?

Blogs are extinct again, apparently.

This psychiatrist is a dangerous embarrassment to the profession (link from occasional commenter Blurber).

Access to the life-saving EpiPen is threatened by corporate greed.  Comrade Misfit has put up several posts on this scandal.

Hillary's a bigot -- wait, what?

Sorry, this is stupid.

Here's what global-warming denial looks like today, and will look like tomorrow.

This crackdown is long overdue.

Wow, another case of Trump calling for a Presidential candidate to be shot.

Seattle is the latest example showing that raising the minimum wage creates jobs and boosts the overall economy.  Beware of scare tactics.

The alt-right may be targeting the Mormons.

Science and religion can't be reconciled.

I just bet these people are Trumpanzees.

Pastor Ken Adkins, who viciously condemned the victims of the Orlando massacre, is back in the news.

Crazy Eddie looks at the centennial of the National Park Service.

Religious nutbars rant against higher education for women.  And those hats look stupid.

Ann Coulter's wretched book gets a makeover.

Americans are being humiliated.

This neighborhood showed a great response to bigotry.

Paul LePage is a true Republican.

North Carolina is getting tired of HB2 and the wingnut governor who foisted it on them.  The state might even be turning blue.

Texas now has the highest maternal death rate in the developed world, and the reason is pretty clear.

This monument is long overdue.

Assange is a monster.

Abortion is still illegal in the Irish Republic, forcing women to travel to the UK for the procedure.  Here's the story of two of them -- and the vile reactions of the religionists.

Trump's bullshit is already making things worse in eastern Europe.

The Iraqi state starts to show an open mind on Kurdish independence.

Obama needs to rein in Saudi Arabia.

Which country enjoys divine favor?

Arrogant, preachy American Christians take aim at Botswana.

Hillary's tough speech on Trump's alt-right ties struck a nerve.

There is a real Benghazi scandal.

RedState denounces Trump's latest vileness, and savors an "I told you so".  Other Republicans push him to drop out.  The "shy Trump voter" concept isn't reality; voters don't trust him.  But he may refuse to accept defeat, and the Trumpanzees are pivoting to blame the media when it happens. After the dust settles, get ready for Trump TV -- and the Republican civil war of mutual "purges".

Hillary has friends in low places.

Trumpism is the culmination of a dark history (link from Pinku-Sensei).

Hackwhackers has a round-up on the Clinton Foundation.  Progressive Eruptions looks at the wingnuts' worst lie against Hillary.  Whenever you see an "incriminating" quote from her, remember this.

Trump asked what black voters have to lose.  Black journalist Isaac Bailey replies.

25 August 2016

Another "Earthlike planet"

The recently-discovered planet "Proxima b", orbiting the star Proxima Centauri, is being hailed on news websites as a possible "Earthlike planet" -- a term which crops up with some regularity in such reports.  Planets beyond our solar system, in and of themselves, are no longer newsworthy -- we've discovered well over three thousand of them -- but "Earthlike" suggests a place with plants, animals, "normal" days and nights, and of course the comfortable temperature and oxygen-rich atmosphere that almost all planets in science-fiction movies miraculously have.  There might even be Wookies or Klingons or Greys living there.

Proxima b is actually interesting from one viewpoint -- it's the nearest extrasolar planet ever discovered.  Its sun Proxima Centauri is part of the Alpha Centauri system, which is our own solar system's nearest interstellar neighbor.  The two main stars in the system are Alpha Centauri A and B; they are fairly similar to our own Sun and orbit each other at a distance ranging from about one to three billion miles (one billion miles is about the distance from here to Saturn).  Proxima Centauri is a much smaller and fainter "red dwarf" star orbiting the main pair at a distance of about one and a half trillion miles, which is one-quarter of a light year.  It is currently between the main pair and us, making it the closest star to our Sun.  The whole Alpha Centauri system is about 25 trillion miles (over four light years) from us.

(For context, 25 trillion miles is about seven thousand times the distance from Earth to Pluto, and it took the New Horizons space probe almost ten years to get to Pluto.  "Near" is a relative term.)

Proxima b is similar in mass to Earth, though a bit larger, and it orbits within the "habitable zone" of Proxima Centauri -- the zone within which, if certain other conditions are met, the range of temperatures would be right for liquid water to exist.  It is these features that prompt the designation "Earthlike".

We don't actually know much more than this about Proxima b yet, but a few things can be deduced.  Remember, Proxima Centauri is a much smaller and fainter star than our Sun, so its habitable zone is much closer in.  In fact, whereas Earth is 92 million miles from our Sun, Proxima b orbits less than five million miles from Proxima Centauri.

That is within the "habitable zone", but with such a small orbit, the "year' is only eleven Earth days long.  More importantly, being so close in, the planet is almost certainly "tidally locked", meaning it keeps one side permanently facing Proxima Centauri and the other side permanently facing away, as the Moon is to the Earth.  Half the world has eternal day, and half eternal night.  Under these conditions the oceans, if they ever existed, must have long ago frozen solid on the night side and boiled away on the day side (ultimately ending up as precipitated snow on the night side), while the atmosphere, if there ever was one, would also have frozen out on the night side.  It could be that more reasonable temperatures persist in a narrow ribbon of territory between the two hemispheres, but since the planet is probably airless, liquid water still could not exist there.

Numerous other factors can affect conditions on a planet -- Venus, for example, is similar in mass to Earth and only 25% closer to the Sun, but with its 900-degree temperature, its oxygenless air, and its atmospheric pressure about ninety times that of Earth, it is not remotely habitable to humans.

Earthlike planets may exist, but everything we know so far suggests that they are not common, and Proxima b certainly is not one.

24 August 2016

Don't get complacent!

"If we are not running scared until the day after the election, we are going to be making a grave mistake." -- President Obama

At the moment Hillary looks well positioned to beat Trump in a landslide.  As I write this, the RCP average shows her leading 41.6% to 37.3%  The latest poll in Virginia has her ahead 48% to 32%, a huge margin for what is still considered a swing state.  A new poll from South Carolina once again puts her a mere two points behind him.  Today's map on Electoral-Vote.com has her leading 343-195.  Rank-and-file Republicans are back to peering suspiciously into details of polls looking for things to "unskew" like in 2012.  This election may be a bigger blowout than 1964.  I believe it will be.  But Obama is right, for three reasons.

First, most of these polls that show Hillary well ahead also show high levels of support for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.  He's at 8.9% in that RCP average, for example.  It's clear to anyone who follows Republican sites that most of Johnson's support consists of disaffected Republicans who just can't bring themselves to vote for their party's nominee.  But, the common pattern is that support for third candidates tends to fade as the actual election approaches and the reality sinks in that only the Big Two have a real chance, and the only thing that matters is which one of them wins.  If that pattern plays out again this year and most of Johnson's support comes home to Trump in the end, the race will become a lot scarier.  Hillary's RCP average lead over Trump in those four-candidate polls is only 4.6%, for example.  If most of Johnson's support migrates to Trump, he leads.  The same average in Ohio has Hillary's lead at a comfortable 4% -- but Johnson is at 9%.  In several other states, if Johnson's numbers are mostly added to Trump's, he takes the lead or gets within striking distance.

Yes, some of Jill Stein's voters are likely to move to Hillary in the same way, but they are far less numerous and thus less of a factor.  And yes, many argue that Trump is so uniquely repulsive that the NeverTrump Republicans will break the historic pattern and not return to him as the election nears.  I agree with that.  I think it's true.  But we can't count on it.

In many cases, polls of just the two main candidates show Hillary with a bigger lead than four-way polls.  I'm not sure what to make of this, but even those polls tend to show an unusually large number of undecideds.  It's plausible that many of those are NeverTrumps who dislike both candidates but in the end will decide they dislike their own party's candidate a little less.

The second reason is the possibility of some extraneous factor reshaping the race.  Putin clearly prefers Trump, for obvious reasons, and Russian intelligence has already made one crude effort to influence the race with its hacked-e-mail dump on the first day of our convention.  Another such attempt is quite possible.

But the scarier possibility along these lines is Dâ'ish (ISIL).  They have every reason to prefer a Trump Presidency.  His anti-Muslim rhetoric and likely actions would radicalize millions of Muslims against the West, to the benefit of groups like Dâ'ish.  His confused and incompetent foreign policy would make a hash of the network of explicit and tacit alliances which is now grinding Dâ'ish down on the ground and from the air.  And the way the war is now going, Dâ'ish is doomed.  Once their phony "state" is swept away, they face nothing but the prospect of being hunted down and killed by angry relatives of their victims and by Iraqi and Syrian internal-security forces.  They've got nothing to lose by rolling the dice.  If they think a major terrorist attack on US soil -- something big enough to one-up even September 11 -- could stampede frightened Americans into voting for Trump, they'll try it.

The third reason is, of course, the sheer magnitude of what's at stake.  If this utterly ignorant, erratic, belligerent man becomes Commander in Chief of the vast US military, the mortal danger to millions upon millions of innocent lives around the world is obvious.  Within the US, his vindictive nature and obsession with personal feuds would be armed with the powers of the Presidency, enabling him to torment and destroy anyone he bears a grudge against.  His promised policies would lead to trade wars, an economic crash, persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, and global isolation of our country.  Romney or McCain or even Bush did not present a threat remotely comparable to this.  Trump would be the most unfit leader of a superpower since Caligula.

Are you "running scared" yet?  I hope so.  We need to do everything possible to make sure this scenario doesn't materialize.  No matter how secure they seem, fight for every state and every seat as if we could lose.  We can't afford to do less.