12 November 2019

Windows 7 and the blogger's dilemma

As we have been endlessly reminded, Microsoft will end support for Windows 7 on 14 January 2020.  My computer runs Windows 7, and I'm uncertain what's the best thing to do about this.  Microsoft's own posts and messages on the subject are pushing users to switch to Windows 10, which I don't want to do for several reasons:

1) Windows 10 is essentially spyware -- it reports a lot of information about what you do on the net or have on your computer back to Microsoft.  I've been thinking about getting a VPN for better internet security, but I don't know whether that would do any good if my own computer is spying on me -- a VPN, from what I understand, protects your connection with the sites you're reading, not the computer you're using to read them.  And no, I don't agree that "if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to worry about."  I'm not doing anything illegal on the net, but it's nobody's damn business what I do do.

2) It's an inferior system and not as intuitive to use.  I've used Windows 10 computers at jobs (most companies seem to be using it now), and it's more glitchy and often slower than Windows 7, and harder to figure out how to do things.

3) I can't even be sure whether Windows 10 would work on my computer.  It's a very old computer (I just keep getting it fixed every time something goes wrong, rather than buying a new one), and I've got a lot of programs on it, some of them old versions.  I don't know whether everything would work properly with a different operating system.  I suppose I could buy a new computer, but moving everything to a new computer would be a huge project, and I resent being put to all that effort and expense when my existing computer works just fine.

A blogger I sometimes read recommends switching to Linux, but it sounds like that would definitely not be compatible with my existing programs like Excel (yes, there are other programs that do similar things, but I doubt they could read my existing spreadsheets properly).  Most pro-Linux posts I've seen are full of incomprehensible technical gibberish, suggesting that it appeals mostly to techie types who don't care about being understood by average users -- the kind of people who are interested in fiddling with the engine, not just driving the car.  And again, I would hate dealing with the headache of learning a new system when there's nothing wrong with the old one.

Another factor is that I don't know how "bad" it is that support for Windows 7 is ending.  If I just ignore all the exhortations and threats and stick with Windows 7, what exactly will happen after the 14th?  How big of a danger does lack of support pose?  Given the huge number of computers still running on Windows 7, is it possible that some other entity would step in and start offering the support Microsoft no longer provides?  I'd gladly pay a reasonable monthly fee for that rather than deal with this whole mess.

Finally, I've heard that the spying features of Windows 10 can be turned off, but I don't know how easy it is to do that, or (critically) whether it really stops the spying -- and I doubt Microsoft is going to be very eager to show people how.

(As an aside, it's incredible that Microsoft would deliberately trash an excellent and hugely-popular product that hundreds of millions of people want to keep.  This is exactly the kind of corporate behavior that the "free market" is supposed to discourage.)

So it seems I basically have three choices:

1) Stick with Windows 7 and hope for the best.

2) Switch to Windows 10, disable the spy features (if that's possible), and hope it works properly on my existing computer -- or that my existing programs could be moved to a new computer and still work.

3) Get off the internet, completely and permanently.  No more blog, no more reading on the net, nothing.

("Switch to Windows 10 and put up with the spyware" isn't an option.  I'm serious.  I am not going to do that, even if it means giving up the internet.)

At the moment, I don't have sufficient knowledge to make an informed choice.  I'm curious what others who are facing the same problem are planning to do, especially if you know more about computers and have a better grasp of what various options would involve.

10 November 2019

Link round-up for 10 November 2019

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

o o o o o

It's poultry in motion!

Have some fish cartoons.

Got any good jokes?  Post them here.

See a truly appropriate exhibit.

This shirt exists.

Nature is ugly, but it can be funny too.

Religionists spent more than a year praying to a toilet.

Last hurrah for Halloween -- a spectacular yard display (from Haunted Eve), a witch house, a variegated bunch of jack-o-lanterns, and the best skeletons in Manitou Springs.

Kids these days are pretty knowledgeable.

"Blacks for Trump" hold a rally in Atlanta.

Debra She Who Seeks and Susan Swiderski look at writers.

A dedicated fan has some observations about Peter Pan.

Many people can be fooled, easily.

MAGA, indeed (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

The Colour out of Space is getting a (rather amped-up, apparently) movie version.

Cast your mind back to the scents of the ancient world.

Yes, they still have exorcists.

"He won't get booed there, that's why."

Robots come out to play.

What is "degenerate"?

A Tumblr blogger rubs it in about the platform's implosion (but concerning the blog background, do not do that).

Grocery-store self-checkout leads to shoplifting on a massive scale.

America has changed, but our myths about ourselves haven't kept up.

"Meanwhile, Japan....."

Trump Jr's book makes an eye-popping analogy about Arlington National Cemetery.

Colorado is well-positioned for the shift to non-carbon energy.

Most atheists understand the religious mind-set well.

Right-wing delusion and hypocrisy escalate to hysterical levels in the face of impeachment.

Get off Facebook, if you can.

The Post Office could provide banking services in remote areas (they do this in Britain, or used to).

The "men of God" demand to be treated like gods themselves.

Rather than urban vs rural, look at the country's voting patterns based on how cosmopolitan different areas are.

Honest diplomats have no place in the Trump gang (found via Hometown USA).

A majority of white Democrats are now non-Christian (the article is whiny about this, but the statistics are valid).  The party must accept its role in an increasingly secular society.

Congress has unanimously passed a tough law against animal cruelty.

The system must make amends to those whom it falsely imprisoned.  Plus, Trump is still an asshole.

You cannot make an issue go away by silencing and threatening people.

Capitalism will devour your whole existence if you let it.

To the hard-core Christianists, impeaching Trump is "evil", and so is any gesture of acceptance of gays.

What would you accept as evidence that your beliefs are wrong?

The FBI has thwarted a terrorist plot in Colorado.

Can the WHO tell the truth about non-science-based fake "medicine"?

Edwardian England was fascinated by radium, with horrifying consequences (note that $#*!^% YouTube interrupts this short video twice for ads).

A rapist was sentenced to a women's prison, with predictable resultsThis is madness.

It's now thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A simple graph shows the numbers of people attending religious services in Germany since the 1960s (this is in a nation of 83 million).

Delhi is in the grip of an opaque mass of toxic smog.

The loss of MH370 spawned some weird conspiracy theories.

It's not just the most educated -- Trump is losing support among white working-class women.

The Virginia Republican party committed suicide by embracing crazed fundamentalism.

No, Bloomberg joining the race isn't a big deal.

What if Trump wins?

Samantha Bee looks at last week's election.  Electoral-Vote has more analysis.

To Trump or not to Trump, that is the only question (skip the comments, they're mostly depressing as hell).

More links here.

[1,025 days down, 437 to go until the inauguration of a real President.]

08 November 2019

Quote for the day -- that which produces results

"Show me a cultural relativist at thirty thousand feet and I'll show you a hypocrite.  Airplanes built according to scientific principles work.  They stay aloft, and they get you to a chosen destination.  Airplanes built to tribal or mythological specifications, such as the dummy planes of the cargo cults in jungle clearings or the beeswaxed wings of Icarus, don't.  If you are flying to an international congress of anthropologists or literary critics, the reason you will probably get there -- the reason you don't plummet into a ploughed field -- is that a lot of Western scientifically trained engineers have got their sums right.  Western science, acting on good evidence that the moon orbits the Earth a quarter of a million miles away, using Western-designed computers and rockets, has succeeded in placing people on its surface.  Tribal science, believing that the moon is just above the treetops, will never touch it outside of dreams."

-- Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden (1995).  Of course science and the associated technology, while of Western origin, can be used equally well by people of non-Western background who have mastered those areas of knowledge, because science and mathematics (and only those things) are genuinely universal truth.  The contrast here is with non-scientific "ways of knowing", which have no concrete achievements to their credit and never will.

07 November 2019

This week, 2020, and beyond

This week's election results look very good.  Republicans swept from power in Virginia, a Democratic governor in Kentucky, substantial shifts in the suburbs of Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and even in Mississippi our candidate for governor lost by less than six points.

These outcomes are very encouraging for next year.  They also offer some useful lessons.  Three points in particular stand out.

1)  Narrow wins aren't good enough.  The Republicans will try to steal any election where the margin is small enough to give them a chance at doing so, and I don't just mean before-the-fact by tactics like suppressing the minority vote.  Because Beshear's margin of victory in Kentucky was only 5,000 votes, they're already exploring possible tactics for overturning the result.

They will do the same next year if our presidential candidate's win is narrow, not just nationally but in any individual state.  Even if the margin nationally is large, if the Electoral College result comes down to narrow Democratic wins in a few swing states (where our current polling margins are small), Republicans are likely to try to reverse or sabotage those outcomes.  And their efforts might win support at the Supreme Court, if the fight goes there, since the stakes are very high for the Court's conservatives -- a Democratic president and Congress might expand the Court, weakening those conservatives' power.  We need big enough wins in the swing states to avoid this scenario.

The same applies to Senate races.  If we don't win the Senate, the Republicans can still obstruct most efforts to undo the damage Trump did and move forward.  The future of the country could come down to one or two close Senate races in states like Arizona or Iowa.  Again, the wider the margin of victory in those states, the less the chance of Republicans challenging the outcome.

2)  It's not just about the presidency.  In Kentucky, Beshear won due in part to Bevin's personal unpopularity, but Republicans won every other state-wide race.  Trump too is personally unpopular, but if we defeat him solely on that basis, Republicans might still perform strongly elsewhere.  We'll need a Democratic Senate, and control of as many state legislatures as possible to thwart gerrymandering after the 2020 census.

In fact, we'll need more than a slight majority in the Senate.  If the filibuster isn't abolished, not much will get done, and several Democratic senators have already come out against abolishing the filibuster.  This is not an argument for abandoning conservative Democrats -- it's always better for a seat to be held by a conservative Democrat, who will vote the wrong way on some things, than by a Republican, who will vote the wrong way on everything.  And we'll have a better chance of persuading these Democrats to change their minds on the filibuster than of persuading Republicans to do so.  But the bigger the majority in the Senate, the better the odds.

This is relevant to the old debate about whether it's better to win by appealing to voters in the center or by boosting turnout in our own base.  Centrists and moderate Republicans who want to repudiate Trump are more likely to ticket-split, voting for a Democratic president but also for Republicans at lower levels as a check on that president's policies (since they're voting for the Democrat not because they like those policies, but just to get rid of Trump).  Democratic base voters turned out by GOTV efforts are more likely to vote Democratic at all levels.

3)  Future elections matter too.  The fight doesn't end when Trump leaves office. A new president's party usually loses seats in Congress in the following midterm.  A loss of either the House or Senate in 2022 would enable the Republicans to resume obstructing and sabotaging everything, and their efforts would be even more nihilistic and destructive since they wouldn't need to worry about undermining a Republican president.  The party will need to deliver on popular promises, such as a public option, during 2021 and 2022.  Pushing unpopular policies like abolishing private insurance is likely to result in massive repudiation in 2022 (yes, in the long run it would benefit the country, but it's unpopular now and there won't be time before 2022 for the benefits to become apparent to the average voter).

Next year's running-mate choice will matter.  Given that our most likely nominees (Biden, Warren, and Sanders) are all in their seventies, there's a non-trivial chance that the person chosen as vice-president will be the incumbent running for re-election in 2024.

Running on "Trump is a terrible person" may be enough in 2020 (though it wasn't in 2016), but in 2022 and 2024 Trump won't be on the ballot.  A massive Republican defeat next year will most likely set them at each other's throats for a while, but it's possible that they'll get their act together, adopt a moderate façade, and pose a real threat again.  Getting rid of Trump really is the top priority next year, but the more we give people something to vote for as well, the more lasting the win will be.

04 November 2019

Battle lines drawn in the Catholic Church

A bitter internal conflict is escalating within one of the most powerful global organizations in existence.

It's now just over a week since the end of the Catholic Church's Amazon synod, and while the "final document" is long on evocative rhetoric and short on simple declarative statements, it does include at least some of the recommendations which traditionalist Catholics had feared, such as consideration of female deacons (a step toward women priests), ordination of married men as priests, and an "Amazonian rite" adapting Catholic ritual to Amazonian culture.  The synod has advisory powers only, and the Pope will make the final decision on these innovations; and they are suggested for the Amazon region only.  But traditionalists fear that, if adopted, they will rapidly spread throughout the global Catholic Church -- an embrace of heresy, as they see it.

So far their opposition to this has taken the form mostly of praying and of hoping that Jesus or some other supernatural figure will step in and straighten it all out.  But if the Pope and the hierarchy go ahead and implement such changes, and they do indeed spread to the Church in the US and Europe, what will they do, seeing the one true Church accept what they consider heretical practices?  I can hardly wait to find out.  Talk of schism has been floating around for months now, along with occasional lurid fantasies about seizing control of the Vatican and casting out the evil "heretic Pope".  At the very least, it's clear that if the Church does ordain married priests and/or women priests, many traditionalists will not accept them or the rituals they perform as being legitimate.  It's going to be a mess.

For now, however, the strongest traditionalist ire seems to be reserved for the "Pachamama" statuettes which were displayed at various Vatican sites during the synod, and the apparent pagan ritual performed around them during the opening ceremony.  If there's one thing they loathe even more than heresy, it's any whiff of paganism infiltrating the Church.  After two men removed several of the statuettes a couple of weeks ago and threw them into the Tiber river, many traditionalists and even a few high-ranking clerics praised the perpetrators to the skies, some comparing them to Jesus driving the money-changers from the temple.  If you doubt the intensity of the emotion involved, check out this breathless performance:

Remember, those "high-ranking churchmen" who the bishop says "defiled the Christian name" with their "cowardly and treacherous acts" include the Pope, and everybody knows it.  In an authoritarian, hierarchical institution like the Catholic Church, this is explosive talk.

A few days after the theft, Pope Francis announced that the statues had been retrieved from the river (so Pachamama was resurrected on the third day?), and the Vatican reportedly wants to press charges against the thieves -- one of whom identified himself this morning -- so the difference of views on this point seems insurmountable.

The conflict which the synod has brought to a head has been simmering at least since the reforms of the "Vatican II" council of 1962-1965.  It's emotively expressed by this short video:

It took me two or three viewings to decipher this jumble of bizarre imagery, but I gather that, for the first 2½ minutes, the color pictures represent the evil modernist practices while the black-and-white pictures represent the traditional ones.  The aggressive rhetoric, and the ending evocation of the bloodthirsty Crusaders of the Dark Ages, are not a good sign for where this kind of thinking is headed.

One other point has struck me.  Traditionalists defending the men who threw out the Pachamama statuettes have invoked such ancient acts as St. Boniface marching into the midst of a pagan Germanic tribe and chopping down their sacred oak tree, or the large-scale Christian destruction of pagan statues and temples in late Roman times -- aside from those temples they defiled by converting them to their own use.  In the twenty-first century, they still regard these acts of desecration against the sacred things of other religions as noble and praiseworthy.  As Christianity continues to decline across the Western world, the day will come when their sacred things are at our mercy.  When that day does arrive, do not forget, and do not forgive.

03 November 2019

Link round-up for 3 November 2019

Sincere thanks to everyone who donated during the past week!  You've helped me a great deal.

o o o o o

Shoot back!

Please un-invent this.

Trump once again gives cartoonists ample material to work with.

We're trying too hard to make the world safe for idiots.

See some Halloween cartoons -- love the witch duel!

The First Toddler has escaped the control of his babysitters.

Check out these vintage Halloween cards.

This candidate doesn't seem like a good fit for New York City.

Time to crack down on lazy bums on government handouts.

Dr. Theda has some more Halloween images.

Here's how it feels to get up close with someone you idolize.

Incel anti-masturbation cultists fear that sex-crazed women are out to get their semen (honestly, I don't think these guys have anything to worry about).

Here's a gallery of photos from the Cedar Springs Halloween block party in Dallas -- yes, this is Texas (link from Ranch Chimp).

Don't be too bound by tradition.

Rich kids get more screen-free, real-world time.  That kind of time has benefits.

If there's an afterlife, what about animals?  Would Heaven be Heaven without dogs?

Scariest Halloween decoration of all.

Find out what makes you smell good -- to a mosquito.

Feel some sympathy for the Devil.

Plan on giving the Mulan remake a miss.

Where did the cyclops come from?

Meet Dr. Randall Williams, a Republican health official and utter weirdo.

See the dramatic (and funny) differences between how Trump and Obama speak.

A Senator sends a Halloween fund-raising message.

WeWork is awful, a 1,421-pound pumpkin, and more.

Americans do have a culture -- we just don't notice it.

When the hell is Congress going to put a stop to this bullshit?

Given that Windows 7 support ends in January and Windows 10 is basically spyware, is Linux a viable alternative?

Many years ago, a president inspired silence in football stadiums.

Maybe Giuliani should just not have a phone.

Here's one difference between capitalism and socialism.

Ann Coulter is a doofus.

Not everyone deserves to be saved.

Trump is considering making a fool of himself on TV.

Journalists (well, some of them) moan and whine about the decline of Christianity.

Why did Trump change his residence to Florida?

A former churchgoer explains why he's not going back.

We're already paying the costs of universal health coverage -- we're just not getting it.

If you think the way I write about the Catholic Church is too harsh, listen to fervent Catholic activist Michael Voris on the abysmal corruption of the Church hierarchy.

Trump's wall, what little there is of it, doesn't even work.

Southwest Airlines tried to intimidate and silence flight attendants who blew the whistle on "peeping Tom" pilots.

Quitters sometimes win (this is important).

The world the "preppers" are prepping for wouldn't be worth living in.

This is emotional abuse.

The Catholic hierarchy is infested with child molesters and run by people who protect them, but it's not a criminal organization because -- well, see if you can make any sense of this gobbledygook.

Christian thinkers discuss what to do about people who leave Christianity.  Based on this, I don't think they have the foggiest understanding of the real reasons why people leave.

Green Eagle surveys the wingnutosphere so you don't have to.

There's a reason why Los Angeles county doesn't have rolling blackouts.

Trump's regime is totally scandal-free, and more wingnut dumbth.

Traditionalist Catholics heap praise on a priest who denied "communion" to Biden.  Because Christianity is all about shunning and excluding people.

There are options for funding Medicare-for-all.

Katie Hill should not have had to resign.

The US is now more expensive, less efficient, and more infested with monopolies than Europe.

Even without repulsive evangelicals, Christianity is doomed by its own absurdity.

Trump is letting a giant foreign corporation steal our water.

There are good reasons to protect the environment, but tales of past environmental apocalypse in places like Easter Island don't stand up to scrutiny.

Rising sea levels are going to be a bigger problem than we had thought.

Pope Francis and his Vatican have stonewalled a British investigation into clerical child abuse.

Germans support tough action against Turkey.

Russia's sole remaining aircraft carrier is a creaky old piece of junk.

Syria's Kurds aren't too happy to be aligned with the Asad regime, but after Trump's betrayal, it's the least bad option.

Turkey takes time out from murdering Kurds to whitewash its murders of a century ago.

The Japanese are getting fed up with rude tourists.

India is sharply slowing its CO2 emission growth.

Democracies condemn China's behavior in Uighurstan, while thug-regimes defend it.  A witness describes the horrors of the camps.

Here's some internet art that the Chinese regime doesn't want anyone to see.

At least in Indonesia, there's a price to be paid for hypocrisy.

Changes in land use are turning some of the Sahel green.

Democrats' fundraising dwarfs that of the Republicans.

Twitter users relish Trump's pwnage at the World Series.

Georgia plans to cancel 315,000 voter registrations.

Here's what's at stake in this week's election in Virginia.

Wall Street hates and fears Warren, but may be making her inevitable.

By embracing lies, Facebook is siding with the Republicans.

Amazon is spending $1,500,000 to buy a local election in Seattle.  Imagine what they'll spend to buy the federal election next year.

How does being gay affect Buttigieg's candidacy?  It's complicated.

Here's why Senate Republicans won't vote to remove Trump (yeah, it's Rich Lowry, but his logic is sound).

Impeachment is less popular in the swing states than in the country as a whole.

O'Rourke's departure from the race was classy.

More links here.

[Only 363 days to go until Halloween!]

01 November 2019

Video of the day -- what if the aliens are dead?

Most of our efforts to detect alien civilizations assume that any such civilization will be active and functioning.  But it's also worth looking for remaining traces of civilizations that have been destroyed.

31 October 2019

Link mini-round-up for Halloween

See Halloween images, some Halloween cosplay, and Halloween cartoons -- more cartoons here.

Some rather creepier images here.

There must, of course, be Halloween cats.

Lady M attended the Emma Crawford Coffin Race, and has pictures of the winners -- also more local skeletons and pumpkin sculptures, and even a pumpkin mini-village.

Professor Taboo invokes Shakespeare.

Highbury Cemetery has a few reflections.

Remember what it was like for kids in a more "innocent" time.

This band's style is perhaps suited to the season.

A tree serves as a Halloween advent calendar.

This town has all the pumpkins you could ever want.

For Americans, Halloween is a respite from the way things usually are.  To some, it has deeper meanings.

Of course there are the usual killjoys, but who cares. Don't let them mess it up.

Every day is Halloween.

I posted on the origins of the holiday here.

[Image at top found via Dr. Theda]

29 October 2019

The death of an evil man

Abû Bakr al-Baghdâdî, leader of Dâ'ish (ISIL), has been killed in an attack by US forces in Syria.  The Middle East and the world in general is a much better place without him.

It is worth remembering how Dâ'ish behaved under al-Baghdâdî's leadership.  They slaughtered Shi'ites en masse and posted pictures on the internet boasting about it.  They massacred countless Yazidis, many by burying them alive in the desert, and reduced thousands of others to slavery, based on an ignorant Sunni belief that the Yazidi religion is a form of Devil-worship.  They burned a captured Jordanian fighter pilot, Mu'âdh al-Kassâsbah, alive in a cage and proudly posted a video of that atrocity on the internet as well.  They imposed the death penalty for homosexuality by throwing gay men from the tops of high buildings (an actual such execution is shown above).  They destroyed priceless relics of the pre-Islamic past.  They openly boasted about formally restoring the institution of slavery.  The men of Dâ'ish may well be the most deeply religious people in the modern world.

So whatever the circumstances of al-Baghdâdî's death, he more than deserved it.  And it may do some lasting good.  Groups like Dâ'ish are prone to factionalism.  If rivalries for leadership produce divisions or infighting, so much the better.

But I can't give Trump any kudos.  His earlier abrupt withdrawal from Syria disrupted preparation for the mission and forced the military to act before they were fully ready, increasing the risk.  His rambling announcement was laced with bizarre and ugly rhetoric* likely to incite attacks on Americans, and foolishly gave away information** which would be of value to Dâ'ish, including endangering a possible human-intelligence source in their midst.  And as he himself insisted at the time of bin Laden's assassination, the real credit in such cases goes to the soldiers who put themselves at risk to carry out the operation.  Any Western leader would have given the order to kill al-Baghdâdî, given the opportunity.

He also claimed credit for having destroyed Dâ'ish's state, its "caliphate", which was actually done mostly by the Kurds and allied Arab forces, with some help from the US, Iran and other countries.

But Trump's role is a side issue.  I am glad for the death of an utter monster, a small piece of good news in a tormented land where good news has lately been in desperately short supply.

*Found via Green Eagle

**Found via Nan's Notebook

27 October 2019

A request

[Don't worry, the usual link round-up is posted -- it's right below this.]

In thirteen years of blogging I've never asked readers for donations before, but I'm in circumstances in which they would be helpful.  I've finally found a new job, but it doesn't actually start until early November, and I won't get the first paycheck until substantially after that.  There have been some expenses I was able to postpone paying while I was out of work, but they'll need to be paid now.  And of course there's been all the usual stuff like rent and the internet connection which enables me to do this blog.

I've added a "donate" button in the sidebar at the right.  If you like what I do and can spare a few bucks, I'd appreciate it.

Link round-up for 27 October 2019

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

o o o o o

Cats, cats, cats!  Also Halloween cats.

Pumpkins follow the spirit of the times.

Debra She Who Seeks goes all out for Halloween.

This is not the right way to get rid of ants.

Success can take different forms.

Now this is just mean.

Here's how true artists carve pumpkins.  Samantha Bee finds a pumpkin that needs no carving (slightly NSFW).

What if JFK was like Trump?

Dave Allen contemplates Adam and Eve.

Choose eco-friendly Halloween decorations (found via Mendip).

These fine houses are tasty to see.

Plowing through Life is back with some haunting cartoons.

Denver's Botanical Gardens observe the season.

百鬼夜行 ("hundred demon night march") is Japan's answer to Halloween.

Today is National Black Cat Day.

Poor Giuliani, betrayed by his own ass.

Normal.....like a psychopath.

Everyone has a right to their own opinion.

Here are some Halloween wallpapers for your computer.  Have some Halloween music too.

The Mist features effective depictions of two different forms of horror, one of them very real.

Don't be a Halloween meanie.

If you like Lovecraft, you may like Clark Ashton Smith as well.

There is such a thing as boringization.

"Surrender of individuality.....explains the retrograde movement of society."

Ernst and Young seems a bit confused about what century this is.

The New York Crank has some political awards.

The "mindfulness" fad is basically a scam.

Trump's name has become toxic for business.

Buying fancy showy stuff won't make you popular.

Fight back with an adversarial jacket.

I guess I'm not the only one who sees no need for a smartphone.

Rep. Katie Porter grills Mark Zuckerberg to perfection.

For some fundies, wearing pants is a huge issue.

Cartoonists have a field day with Republican venality.

The wingnuts will never stop lying about Hillary, and about everything else.

The divide between Republicans and Democrats is increasingly a religious one.

Ask the essential question about the cost of Medicare-for-all.

If somebody grabs you.....

The death of a baby triggers a wave of toxic religious behavior.

Insurance companies are ruining US healthcare.

There is no third way between sanity and madness.

Get back to work, never mind if your co-workers are dropping dead.

Darwinfish 2 has more Republican and media hypocrisy, and a tribute to Elijah Cummings.

The Trump gang is now openly weaponizing the justice system to persecute political opponents.

Here's some advice on choosing a VPN.

Scientific American has questions about the safety of 5G technology.

The administrator of NASA speaks out against the most wicked heresy of our times.

A dead whale makes a bonanza for ocean-floor critters.

Don't worry about the Yellowstone supervolcano.

Trudeau will stick around in office longer (probably) than Trump.

Google tries to squelch interest in unionization among its Swiss employees.

There's evidence that Turkey is using white phosphorus against civilians in northern Syria.  Trump has made the US complicit in ethnic cleansing.

Nusrat Jahan was burned alive for refusing to retract an attempted-rape complaint against the head of a religious school.

If you're hazy about how impeachment works, here's a flowchart.

The MSM are going into distraction mode.  Barr's "investigation" of the Russiagate investigation is another distraction, right from the rotting head of the fish.

Biden and Warren both have problems they need to address.

Know which Trumpanzees are unreachable.

When they go low, we get high.

The Senate is winnable, barely.

Refusing to vote is not "making a statement".

Remember how each party wins.

Green Eagle, Lo Imprescindible, and David E look at the Gabbard controversy.

More links here.

[1,011 days down, 451 to go until the inauguration of a real President.]

25 October 2019

Lives within lives

Life on this world takes many forms, and science sometimes discovers ways of living which are as strange and fascinating as anything one might expect to encounter on an alien planet.  Consider the case of Mixotricha paradoxa.

Mixotricha is a protozoan -- a microscopic one-celled organism (there are many species of protozoa, amoebas being another example).  Under the microscope, it appears vaguely pear-shaped, covered with about 250,000 "cilia" -- tiny hair-like growths which wave in a synchronized way to propel it through its environment.  (That environment itself is of some interest, but I'll get to that in a moment).  Many protozoa have cilia, but Mixotricha is different.  Its cilia are not really cilia.  They are separate organisms, bacteria of the "spirochete" type, long and thin and active.  These spirochete bacteria are attached to the surface of the Mixotricha by brackets and are symbiotic with it.  They have been compared to rowers propelling a ship.

You might be surprised that 250,000 bacteria could be attached to one protozoan; however, even though bacteria and protozoa are both microscopic one-celled organisms, there is a tremendous difference in size between them.

There exist on Earth two types of cells.  The "prokaryotic" type is tiny and simple, without much internal structure; the "eukaryotic" type is far larger, with very complex internal structure including a distinct nucleus.  Bacteria, and a class of similar organisms called "archaea", are prokaryotic cells.  Protozoa are eukaryotic cells.  All multi-cellular organisms -- animals (including humans), plants, fungi, etc. -- are made of eukaryotic cells.

Aside from the spirochetes, three other species of bacteria are symbiotic with Mixotricha, living on or even inside it, performing a variety of functions without which it could not survive, such as extracting energy from the nutrients which it absorbs from its environment.

(It's now believed, by the way, that eukaryotic cells first arose as symbiotic combinations of the original, simpler prokaryotic cells.  Modern animal cells contain small fuel-processing bodies called mitochondria, which have their own DNA and whose "ancestors" must have been bacteria which became symbiotic with larger cells billions of years ago and ended up being absorbed by them.  The same is true of the chloroplasts (photosynthesizing bodies) within plant cells.  Mixotricha's symbiotic relationships may resemble the arrangements which gave rise to eukaryotic cells in the first place.)

Mixotricha are not solitary creatures; they swarm through their environment in great numbers.  And each individual one of them is, as we have seen, host to a whole community of hundreds of thousands of bacteria.

And what is that environment in which these Mixotricha live?  It is the digestive tract of a termite -- specifically, a termite of a species native to northern Australia.  You probably know that termites cannot, on their own, digest the wood they eat; they depend on micro-organisms inside their digestive systems to do it for them.  Mixotricha is one such micro-organism.  (Different species of termites use different species of microscopic helpers.)

Termites, of course, are social insects, living in colonies of millions.  Most of the termites in such a colony are sterile, with the few "queen" termites functioning as egg-laying machines.  Rather than viewing each termite as an individual, it's probably more correct to think of an entire colony as a super-organism, with the "queens" being analogous to stem cells which replenish the colony's numbers to replace worker termites as they die off; and the flying termites which occasionally leave to start new colonies are the super-organism's reproductive organs, or spores.

So that super-organism consists of millions of individual termites, each of which contains countless Mixotricha in its gut, each of which in turn is host to hundreds of thousands of symbiotic bacteria.

Lives within lives within lives within lives.....

23 October 2019

Video of the day -- land of inefficiency and corruption

Another aspect of the devolution of the United States toward Third World status.  And no, Trump had nothing to do with creating this problem.

22 October 2019

A spiritual skirmish

The Catholic Church's Amazon synod (I discussed its significance here) has been underway at the Vatican for more than two weeks now and will conclude on October 27.  Reporting on the synod's deliberations has been sporadic and murky, but there has been plenty to stoke traditionalist Catholics' fears that "heretical" changes, such as married priests, women priests, and a more accepting stance toward gays and the divorced-and-remarried, are indeed being discussed.  The synod has advisory powers only, and the final decision on any such changes will be made by the Pope; but the synod has been promoted as an event of great importance in the Church, and its recommendations will carry great weight.

Much of the traditionalists' angst, however, has been focused on a ritual which was performed in the Vatican gardens at the beginning of the synod.  This involved several Amazonian natives in traditional headdresses including a "shaman", who prostrated themselves around a blanket scattered with various symbolic objects including two carved wooden statuettes of pregnant women.  There was also a tree-planting.  Several high-ranking Catholic clerics, including the Pope, were present.  It all appeared very pagan, and traditionalists reacted with horror to such a spectacle unfolding within the sacred precincts of the Vatican.

Particular concern has focused on the pregnant statuettes, several of which are now set up in various places in the Vatican.  Synod officials have been vague about what they represent, but they're widely believed to be idols of "Pachamama", a "Mother Earth" goddess worshiped in a number of native Amazonian cultures.  Comment threads on traditionalist Catholic sites have been rife with calls for them to be removed from the Vatican and destroyed -- by force and against the will of Church officials, if necessary.

Well, yesterday these calls were answered.  Two men entered the church of Santa Maria Transpontina near St. Peter's Basilica, removed five of the statuettes, and threw them in the Tiber river.  They posted a video of the act and a short statement reading in part "Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, his Blessed Mother, and everybody who follows Christ, are being attacked by members of our own Church.  We do not accept this!  We do not longer stay silent!  We start to act NOW!"

The Vatican has rebuked the theft and a moderate Catholic writer called it "violent and intolerant", but commenters on postings at traditionalist sites like Church Militant (up to 585 comments as I write this) and LifeSite News (247 comments) have mostly been jubilant, praising the men's action and calling for the newly-planted tree to be killed as well.

What looks to most of us atheists like a squabble over bad Halloween decorations is, to the traditionalists, part of an epic battle between the one true religion and the forces of the demonic (many conservative Christians believe that the gods of non-Abrahamic religions are actually demons, playing the role of gods in order to lead their devotees into damnation).  They believe that the Catholic Church is the one true way, established by Jesus himself, for humans to achieve salvation and avoid Hell -- and that this Church is under systematic attack by evil forces determined to subvert and destroy it via modernism, ecumenism, and heretical changes in doctrine.  Many consider the majority of the Church hierarchy and even the current Pope to be in league with those forces, an alarming situation indeed, if one really believes that the stakes include the risk of hundreds of millions of people ending up in Hell for all eternity.

These conflicts are important.  The Catholic Church is an immensely powerful global institution which exercises a profound and mostly malignant influence over the politics and culture of dozens of countries.  The future magnitude and direction of that influence will strongly depend on whether the Church ends up becoming more liberal, or lurching backward toward the traditionalists' rigid views, or (as seems most likely) becoming viciously and perhaps even violently divided against itself.  Yesterday's theft may prove to be the opening skirmish of a long internal struggle for power, perhaps even a schism.  This will indeed impact the lives of hundreds of millions -- in the real world, not an imaginary Hell.

20 October 2019

Link round-up for 20 October 2019

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

o o o o o

Greco-Roman mythology has its amusing side.

Consider yourself warned.

Thinking of becoming a witch?  Here's everything you'll need.  But some go modern.

Discourage excessive bathroom breaks with specialty toilet paper.

Read Trump's letter to Santa.

I challenge you to look at this image and not at least snicker.

This is not dinner.

"I know what you are."

What's the difference between a chickpea and a garbanzo bean?

Meet hurricane shark, who really gets around.

It's Chumbawamba with penguins (found via Georgia Girl).

Halloween is on the attack.

Miniaturopolis is back and getting ready for the season.

Linus from Peanuts finally found the right pumpkin patch.

Vampires, vampires everywhere!

See more on the rich skeletal culture of Manitou Springs, CO.  Lots more here too, plus video.

Further decorations here, some with a Dia de los Muertos flavor.

Have some spooky album covers for Halloween.

Check out these creepy production stills from the 1920 horror film Häxan (found via Mendip).

Some Halloween decorations get a little over the top.

Mastodon turds helped shape the biology of modern Georgia.

I understand wanting to leave work early, but this is ridiculous.

".....no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

Here's a thoughtful listing of the top 100 horror movies of all time -- actually 101, since they count both versions of The Fly as one.

This weather report isn't messing around.

American ship, Russian ship, whatever.

Only 65% of Americans now self-identify as Christian -- less than two-thirds -- down from 78% just twelve years ago.  Non-religious people now outnumber Catholics in the US.

Writing teachers review Trump's letter to Erdoğan.

No, The Joker is not going to inspire real-world violence.

If you still eat meat, read this.

If you use TikTok, read this.

There are grounds to suspect Trump of Sudafed abuse.

Sheila Morris wasn't too impressed with the debate.

Ken Ham's "Ark Encounter" is just a boring, overpriced tour of a building full of signs on walls.

AG Bill Barr takes a stand against the First Amendment.

Don't use TurboTax.

These people exist.

States can still defend net neutrality despite the Trump FCC's betrayal.

Columbus Day is nothing to celebrate.

See how the tax rate paid by the ultra-wealthy has fallen since 1950 in the US, now lower than that of any other income group.

Trump is dumbing down America by allowing religion to invade education.

Darwinfish 2 looks at right-wing hypocrisy of the past, present, and future.

See Trump confront a supporter of the Kurds.

Churches have become a privileged class of business, preaching hate while being exempted from taxes and laws that apply to everyone else.

The Trump Trot is a simple but effective strategy for getting away with countless crimes.

Evangelicals respond venomously to the death of Rep. Cummings.  Here are more conservative reactions.

Here's a non-drug anti-pain device I hadn't heard of before.

"Regenerative farming" is helping bee populations recover.

Gorillas eat things their teeth aren't suited for.  Maybe early humans did, too.

Is napping good for you?  It's a grey area.

Looks like Bedbug Grand Central won't be hosting the G-7 after all.

Anti-gay Chick-fil-A couldn't make it in the UK.  No room there for this scam either.

Get it done:  The British public now supports leaving the EU by an 8-point margin -- twice as large as the margin in the Brexit referendum of 2016.  Johnson has negotiated a new exit deal with the EU, but needs approval from Parliament, some members of which are still trying to drag the process out.

London commuters have had enough of being harassed by assholes.

Chamberlain's 1938 capitulation to Hitler was rooted in conservative values.

Trump's deal with Erdoğan was a surrender.  Will the media recognize it as such?

The role of women in the Kurdish struggle has long been unusual for the Middle East.

Despite being illegal, fetal gender testing for the purpose of selectively aborting girls remains popular in China.

Rape, forced abortion, and other abuses are common treatment for minority women held in China's concentration camps.

Students in this Islamic school got a good education in what religion is all about.

Trump has truly made the Republican party his ownAnti-Trump Republicans do exist, but not where it counts.  Still, the alienation of younger Evangelicals will be significant longer-term.

Support for a public option is at 73% and rising.  Abolition of private insurance is far less popular.  We'd be smart to run on the former, not the latter.

Surface area doesn't vote, people do.

Trump's bullying of subordinates is coming back to haunt him.

Moscow Mitch will hold an impeachment trial to protect purple-state Republican Senators.  A few may even be "allowed" to vote for removal, as long as they don't reach the magic 20.

Removing Trump via the 25th Amendment would be harder than impeachment.

On the Gabbard issue, Hillary knows what she's talking about.  She was smart to avoid naming names.  And there's supporting evidence, while Gabbard is oddly evasive.

Pelosi shows once again that she's the adult in the room in Washington.

If Trump is removed from office, who gets the Republican nomination for next year's election?

More links here.

[Image at top found via Hackwhackers]