13 August 2018

Video of the day -- a few minutes of enlightenment


Bill Maher interviews a new favorite author of mine (I reviewed his most recent book book here).  Almost everything is better than you think -- but the greatest remaining threat is a daunting one indeed.

12 August 2018

Link round-up for 12 August 2018

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

o o o o o

Jill Dennison has a few more oddball news items.

I never knew catfish grew this big.

Pwned!

Here's a safe roller-coaster ride.

Which is worse, heat or cold?

Some students made a few improvements in their textbooks.

A cosplayer seizes his opportunity.

Becoming an adult doesn't mean you have to be boring.

Captain America is an inspiration to some.  Don't mess with this fan.

Yeesh, think of the tides!

Here are some free computer art programs.

Interesting point about Lord of the Rings.

2017 wasn't all bad.

The alt-right groups that rioted in Portland two weeks ago suffered extreme parking pwnage.

Seriously, this place has excellent doughnuts.  It figures the bad guys would go after it.

Comedians have their say on Trump's Space Force.  "In space, no one can hear you lie."

Professor Chaos has some random thoughts and kittensMore cats here.

How many of these traits of smart people do you have?  (I score high on 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, and 10.  As for 4, it's a grey area -- my humor isn't to everyone's taste.)

The Greek gods were more interesting than the Abrahamists' personification of impossible absolutes.

US states have some weird sex laws (found via Miss Cellania).

Plumb the depths of Trumpanzee dumbth (seriously, this video is mind-blowing).

It's OK to simply want what you want.

Trump is OK with chain migration in some cases.

Understand God with this handy flowchart.

What will the QAnon qrackpots do when their fantasy collapses?

This is what inadequately-regulated capitalism looks like.

Trump is bringing asbestos back -- and there's a Russian angle.

Bible-spouting racist can't even spell "mulatto".

Hating everything makes you miserable.

Here's some info on how the economy does under Presidents of different parties (found via Scottie).

Jeff Sessions supports religious bigotry.  Opposing it is now "hate speech", apparently.

That Trumpanzee "I'd rather be a Russian" T-shirt has now shown up on Russian TV.

If you want to do good, don't waste time with religion.

Historians have learned how to handle outright lies masquerading as arguments -- social media could learn from them.

Support for single-payer is growing among doctors (found via Miss Cellania).

Far-right movements across cultures share certain similarities.

Religio-wingnuts side with the tormentor of the Sandy Hook families.  Here's his latest vileness.

Some religious groups have reservations about the "Religious Freedom Task Force" (found via Scottie).

Check out these spectacular pterosaurs.  More here.

DNA plays a growing role in solving crimes, but caution is in order.

Global warming may trigger a cascade of further heating effects.

Some European companies are knuckling under to Trump's new Iran sanctions, leaving the field clear for China, India, Turkey, and Russia to move in.

Trump can't choose sides between one of our closest democratic allies and one of the world's most repressive regimes.

Tokyo Medical University apparently committed flagrant gender discrimination.

"Jesus. Some of these folks are just waiting for the text message alert that Kristallnacht 2.0 is a GO."

Is Trump deliberately sabotaging Congressional Republicans?

Voting in a real democracy should never be this difficult.

This is the ugliness of the Trumpanzees.  You can't change hatred, but you can out-vote it.  Booman takes a look at Trumpist Democrats. Here are some interesting points on different groups of rural Trumpanzees and how to win them over, but it sounds like an uphill battle to me.

West Virginia is a pioneer in hackable voting.

Is Trump evil or just a thin-skinned toddler?  The results are the same either way.

Here's some under-the-radar good news from Tennessee.

There's a case that Trump could be forced to resign.

For more link round-ups, see Fair and Unbalanced and Mike the Mad Biologist.

[570 days down, 892 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

11 August 2018

Britain's Trump and the sickness in Europe

As awful as Trump's barely-disguised sympathizing with violent racists after the Charlottesville riot was, this is far more disturbing.  The leader of one of Britain's two major political parties -- that is, the man who would become Prime Minister if his party were to win a majority in Parliament -- apparently participated four years ago in a ceremony honoring a group of racist mass murderers.

Jeremy Corbin, leader of the Labour party, is shown here at a 2014 event in Tunisia (link from commenter NickM) honoring "Palestinian martyrs", including the founder and other leaders of Black September, the group which carried out the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes at Munich in 1972.  Corbyn claims he was honoring PLO members killed in a 1985 Israeli airstrike and not the Black September leaders, but as the linked article shows, this doesn't square with the photographic evidence.  Even if Corbyn's hosts lied to him about which plaques commemorated what (I will assume he cannot read Arabic), the PLO too is a terrorist organization with a long history of attacks targeting civilians, including children.  For a true American equivalent of this, one would have to imagine an American major-party Presidential candidate openly attending a ceremony in honor of "martyred" members of the KKK.

For some time now the Labour party has had what is euphemistically described as a "problem" with anti-Semitism, in the form of recurring eruptions of anti-Jewish rhetoric and imagery which then have to be frantically denied, repudiated, or minimized by the leadership -- oddly reminiscent of the "problem" of eruptions of racism in the Republican party here.  Corbyn insists he isn't anti-Semitic, but his attendance at a ceremony honoring members of gangs dedicated to murdering Israeli civilians (and sometimes non-Israeli Jews as well), and some of his other rhetoric, speak for themselves.  The similarity with Trump's frequent verbal "dog whistles" is disturbing.

There is also video of Corbyn comparing the Israeli "occupation" of the West Bank to the Nazi occupation of various European countries during World War II.  No, Mr. Corbyn, the Israeli "occupation" of the West Bank is actually most comparable to the Polish "occupation" of the former German provinces of Silesia and Pomerania since 1945.  The side you support started a war with genocidal intentions, and lost -- and the country they had tried to destroy seized some of their territory.  That kind of stuff happens in wars.  The Israelis in 1948 and 1967 were not inclined to treat the defeated aggressors in a genteel and legalistic manner any more than the Poles and Russians in 1945 were, and for similar reasons.

The resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe in recent years is a baffling and alarming sickness in societies we hoped and believed had banished it once and for all in the wake of the Holocaust.  Much of it was imported as part and parcel of the militant Islam that festers among some members (I emphasize only some) of migrant communities with roots in the Islamic world -- but evidently not all of it.  Mainstream political forces need to confront this bigotry head-on and purge themselves of it.  The Labour party kicking out Corbyn and the rest of its "problem" dog-whistlers would be a good start.

08 August 2018

Video of the day -- no bad stuff here, nope


Rap Maroc posted this godawful video to refute the idea that Islam is bizarre, menacing, and anti-Semitic.  Glad that's been cleared up.  Found via a comment by Professor Taboo on Arkenaten's blog.

07 August 2018

Random observations for August 2018

Silence is much to be prized, because it's becoming so difficult to get.

o o o o o

Using laws to stop a technology whose time has come has the same effect as using a sheet of tissue paper to stop an express train.

o o o o o

Science can't answer every question.  Religion can't validly answer any question.

o o o o o

Our brains did not evolve to perform logical reasoning or to detect conflicts between ideas.  They evolved to keep us alive as hunter-gatherers on the east African plains.  Logical thought is a learned behavior pattern, and not everyone learns it equally well.

o o o o o

Any person making the upraised-middle-finger gesture is boring.

o o o o o

Religion is a camel’s back made of cobweb upon which the straws of reason land like girders of steel. It takes only a little logic to collapse it into incoherence.

o o o o o

If you refer to evolution as "random", you don't understand it.

o o o o o

Worship is a degrading stance unworthy of a rational being.

o o o o o

It’s remarkable how many millions of people have been slaughtered in religious wars over nuances of the correct way to worship a god who supposedly told everybody to love each other.

o o o o o

Religion messes up our moral sense in two ways.  First, because it imposes a random taboo system in place of morality, it imposes irrational guilt for things for which no guilt is warranted, such as homosexual attractions, masturbation, failure to perform certain rituals at the prescribed times, etc.  Second, because it sets taboo violations on the same level with violations of actual morality, calling them both "sin", and promotes a doctrine of vicarious forgiveness by confession to a priest or by "washing away" sins, it allows those who commit real moral abuses such as child molestation or self-enrichment at the expense of gullible followers to escape the guilt feelings and moral accountability they genuinely should feel.

[For previous random observations, see here.]

05 August 2018

Link round-up for 5 August 2018

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

o o o o o

I have no clue what's going on here (found via Calvin).

Some will like this salad, some won't.

How might Shakespeare write about Trump?  Don't miss Revzafod's contribution!

That's a lot of golf balls.

Don't go to Trump grocery stores or get in an elevator with him.

What exactly are the rules on oral sex in Fairyland?

I never realized grasshoppers are so colorful.

Beware the gay swans.

Perfect pitch.

These ten rules to live by seem to be working for millions of people.

James Gunn has support where it counts.

Bogi Fabian does stunning black-light interior painting.

Fungus-infected zombies go on drug-fueled bisexual sex rampages.

Yes, there is such a thing as a better system.

Impressive maneuver.

You don't want to have a screw loose.

Kangaroos are monsters.

Why do some Trumpanzees believe in the "Q" qrackpottery?  Maybe it's disappointment.

Teach the controversy.

Fed up with Tumblr?  Consider Pillowfort (more here).

It's just math.

Professor Taboo has some thoughts on sounds and silence.

Professor Chaos fisks the absurd "fuel standards are dangerous" argument.

What if everybody were like Jesus?  OK, there's not much chance of that happening.

John McNaughton's latest godawful painting is a doozy.

An eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera might have a positive side.

This seems counter-intuitive.  I'd be interested if any lesbian or gay readers want to share insights.

Is America great again yet?

Socialism is popular, even if the word isn't.

Understand what constitutes evidence, and what doesn't.

This person exists.

This happened.

No, both sides are not the same.

It's past time to stop discrimination against adoption by gay couples.

The culture war is real and the enemy is deadly serious.

This Alabama mall has a real equivalent of Iran's modesty police (found via Scottie).

Golf wastes a staggering amount of water.

Reminder:  the Salvation Army is evil.

Let's hope this error can still be fully corrected.  Such things should not be done to children.

Reefer Madness hysteria about opioids is driving people to suicide.

Theocracy is alien to American values (found via Scottie).

Being a crime victim doesn't excuse being a bigot.

Which Presidencies had the most crooks?

Incredible that people are dumb enough to fall for this.

Some Senators have proposed a law requiring gay people to "out" themselves to the government.

People can change.  This organization has repudiated its former hostility to sex workers, and this man has renounced his crusade against abortion.

The Trump regime tears apart an American family (found via Scottie).  When people stop caring about children, their humanity is dead.

We're still not paying enough attention to global warming (found via Hackwhackers).

Here's yet another reason why we can't terraform Mars.

This is the key difference between the US and European economies (found via Miss Cellania).

This was Iran (well, probably the urban middle class) before the theocracy.  This week protesters there showed their feelings by attacking an Islamic seminary.

The Chinese regime has destroyed the studio of a dissident artist.

The Trump administration promotes Christian values in Africa (found via Scottie).

The DNC has condemned Jeff Sessions's new theocratic initiative, the "Religious Liberty Task Force", a step toward anti-gay Dominionist goals.  Colbert responds with this video.

Ends and Beginnings blog smells fear in Trump's tweets.

Calvin has two round-ups of Trump images.

New York state isn't the Bronx.

Tax "reform" is a dud issue for Republicans.  It may even help us.

41% of white Evangelicals say they'll support Trump even if he doesn't deliver what they want.  This has a ring of truth to it.

Must-keep political link of the week:  Shower Cap has a page on the essential races of 2018, with candidate positions, donation  buttons (for the good guys), and links to polling.

For more link round-ups, see Fair and Unbalanced and Mike the Mad BiologistScottie also posts lots of links regularly.

03 August 2018

Dream world (3)

Oh, the visions some people entertain.....


















[Previous "Dream world" posts here and here.]

01 August 2018

Video of the day -- a flood of problems

29 July 2018

Link round-up for 29 July 2018

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

o o o o o

You will believe a man can fly.  But not very well.

Meet a big fan.

Medieval art is fun.

Don't spoil their mealsOn the other hand.....

Adopt a highway.

Explore the world of internet melons.

I'd cancel this appointment.

Here's what Trump really wanted to say.

Test your awareness.

This is faith.

Your sexual orientation is fine the way it is.

If the universe is evidence for God.....

Snowflakes!

No, Ghost in the Shell was not racist (I wrote about this issue here).

Trump might take an interest in this airplane passenger.

If they summon a dark god, they may not like the results.

Jill Dennison collects some odd little news items, and celebrates a victory over sexual harassment.

What if Lord of the Rings had been made today?

That's one hell of an underbite, but the chicks dig it.

Shoddy engineering and heavy rains are a bad combination.

Some interesting observations about George of the Jungle.

Check out these birds.

20% of Americans now say they have no religion, and among people under 29, it's 33%.  And to most Americans, personal relationships are far more important than religion.

Experience the stark horror of an Ocasio-Cortez rally.  More here.

Keep the libraries.

Do Americans overseas really do this?

Hysterical Raisins has a Presidential portrait and theme tune for the new banana-republic USA, and a look at the "witch hunt".

Bloggers beware, Russian trolls are attacking blogs (found via Jill Dennison).

I think this describes me pretty well.

Don't jump to conclusions -- it can have consequences.

Here are some warning signs that a church is Dominionist.

An upcoming movie will address gay "conversion therapy".

Some Trumpanzees are just unreachable (found via Scottie).

How could anyone ever have believed people could work under such crap conditions?

Fundamentalism correlates with susceptibility to fake news.

Hey kids, socialism is bad.

A Montana Catholic diocese is asking its lay members to contribute $1,000 per family to help pay off a sexual-abuse settlement.

"Dear Mr. Zuckerberg....."

At least some women have had enough of this church's bullshit.

People's lives are not a thought experiment, and oppression is not a competition.

Here's some interesting discussion on the family of Jesus.  In fact, the claimed historical evidence for his existence doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Create a taboo.

Religion is the last refuge of global-warming denialism.

How fair is it to compare Jeff Bezos and Al Capone?

Being an American worker isn't such a good deal.  In fact, it's getting worse.

This vicious thug needs to face some consequences.

"You people are so gullible it's insane."

Support for Roe v. Wade is at its highest level since the eighties.  Even 52% of Republicans don't want it reversed.

Facebook is in trouble.

This is how real men shoot animals.

Religion suffocates creative thinkers.

People who bitch about "cultural appropriation" aren't even consistent.

People who smoke around other people are assholes.

Who is brainwashed?

You're just buying overpriced sugar, idiots (found via Mike).

Useful, yes, but surely it's better to avoid self-disfigurement in the first place.

Stupidity undermines the achievements of science.

This is how capitalism becomes looting.

Jerry Coyne fisks some reactionary idiocy.

"We" are not killing the planet, they are.

Do you ever feel sorry for religionists?

You just knew this kind of shit would happen in those border child-detention facilities.

These people exist.

Congressional Republicans demand that tech companies promote the fringe right (found via Scottie).

Visualize planetary engineering.

Beware of biases that can distort thinking (click to enlarge).

Variations in crop patterns reveal traces of ancient structures.

A small lake has been discovered in a surprising place.

The US now has the worst maternal-mortality rate in the developed world.

These atheists stirred things up at London's gay pride parade last year.

In France, anti-Semitism is a growing threat.

Extreme heat and drought fuel forest fires in Latvia and Sweden.  Greece is even more devastated.  Even heat alone can kill when people aren't adapted to it.  Japan's heat wave has hospitalized 22,000 people.

In the case of Ceuta, maybe there should be a wall.

Israel persecutes a rabbi (no, really).

A US war with Iran would be a years-long grind and would reduce our ability to stop the nuclear program.

Stop holding events like chess championships in countries that discriminate.

This blogger posted a rant against giving even minimal rights to migrant workers, then seemed surprised by criticism.

Japan has finally executed the last members of Aum Shinrikyo.

没有同意就是性侵.

Gay rights in India lag decades behind the West.

This is what happens when abortion is banned.

Trump wants to spend $12 billion to save farmers from the effects of his policiesOthers are suffering too (found via Hackwhackers).  The new EU-US deal is limited and vague.

Charlotte NC was the only city to bid on the 2020 Republican convention, and even that was a near thing.

A Supreme Court that ruled strictly on the basis of the Founders' "original intent" would threaten democracy.

Young people are registering in great numbers, but will they vote?

The Republicans pushing to impeach Rosenstein are a motley crew indeed.

White Americans are politically divided by educational level.

Conservative Democrats rally to defend the ACA -- we must not let them be replaced by Republicans.  "Anti-Trump" Republicans are mostly just talk.

Helsinki revealed Trump as a weakling (found via Scottie).  Some in Washington are thinking the unthinkableHis approval rating stinks among everyone but Republicans, and NRO has its doubts even about them.  It's especially bad in these key states.  Daily Kos argues that he's lost control of the narrative.  But Zandar insists that Evangelicals will never desert Trump.  Could an abortion he paid for do the trick?  And what if Putin turns against him?

Americans' views on climate change may have an impact in November.

Even this RedState writer has noticed that Republicans are trashing the Constitution (I found the Jefferson quote ironic, though).

Democratic primary voters are mainly choosing centrist candidates, but progressives are getting heard on the issues.

Shower Cap reviews the week in Trumpian madness (trigger warning: Jason Spencer's ass).  It's "like watching the Three Stooges' understudies trying to commit treason."

There's a new wrinkle in the saga of Russian election meddling.

Stopping this will be one more reason for me to vote in November.

For more link round-ups, see Love Joy Feminism, Perfect Number, Mike the Mad Biologist, and Fair and Unbalanced.

[Image at top:  Stockholm Public Library, Sweden]

25 July 2018

Video of the day -- where is the filter?


(You can skip the last minute of the video -- it's basically an ad.)

It seems obvious that the scenarios in which the "great filter" is ahead of us are implausible, because they require some problem that destroys every technological civilization that encounters it (even a few exceptions would imply at least one or two civilizations millions of years old, which we could detect no matter how far away in the galaxy they were).  Ecological disaster, nuclear war or use of some other superweapon, AI that gets out of control and destroys its creators -- any of those things might well destroy some civilizations, but not every single one.  Intelligent species would likely be quite diverse, and it's not plausible that none of them figures out a way to avoid annihilation by such threats.

The scenarios in which the filter is behind us, on the other hand, are very plausible.  The origin of life required a self-replicating molecule to spontaneously be formed from ordinary chemicals.  That does seem like a very low-probability event -- perhaps so low-probability that it would happen only once among trillions of planets.  Once life exists, the transitions to eukaryotic cells and then to multi-cellular organisms also seem anything but inevitable.  It's not even obvious that natural selection everywhere would favor the rise of high intelligence -- its survival value before it reaches the human level doesn't seem to be very great.  Highly intelligent non-human animals such as the great apes have not been spectacularly more successful than less-intelligent mammals, to say the least.

A recent re-assessment of the Drake equation bolsters this view.  It has also been argued that most of the universe is much more hostile to life than we usually imagine it to be.   And as I've previously suggested, the first technological civilization to appear will probably be the only one, because its spread will pre-empt the appearance of others.  If we weren't the first (and only), we wouldn't even be here.

24 July 2018

Just met a girl named.....

With the emergence of Maria Butina as the newest of the already-vast throng of characters involved in the Russian buy-out of the Republican party, a controversy has erupted -- how should her first name be spelled?  Both "Maria" and "Mariia" have been appearing on the net, and both have their partisans.

What people forget is that this is the name of a Russian person, and Russian is written in the Cyrillic alphabet, not the Roman alphabet we use -- any attempt to write a Russian word in the Roman alphabet is a transcription or transliteration.  (Writing such a word in the Roman alphabet is called "transcription"  when it's done based on the word's pronunciation in the original language, but "transliteration" when it's done based on the letters or other symbols of the original language's writing system -- its "spelling".)  The only "correct spelling" of the name is its spelling in the Cyrillic alphabet: Мария.  The last letter я is pronounced "ya", so if you write it out letter-by-letter in Roman, you get M-a-r-i-ya.  The letter я is sometimes transliterated "ia", which probably accounts for the spelling "Mariia" cropping up here and there.  I use "Maria" because that's the English form of what's basically the same name, but the only spelling that can be described as "correct", or really as a "spelling" at all, is the original Мария.

This kind of issue crops up with some frequency these days.  The name of al-Qâ'idah (the terrorist organization) is written in various different ways in the Roman alphabet.  In the Arabic alphabet, there is only one spelling, which looks like this:

There's a standardized Roman transliteration system for Arabic which is used in academia; I use it for most Arabic words on this blog, even though not all the symbols used in the system (dots under letters to indicate velarized consonants, for example) can be easily produced while typing in Blogger.  The wide range of Roman-alphabet "spellings" of al-Qâ'idah in the US reflects the difficulty of pronunciation -- the q and the apostrophe in the transliteration represent Arabic consonants that don't exist in any European language.

A few words from non-Roman-alphabet languages are common enough in English that they've acquired standard spellings, such as the Koran, the Islamic holy book (the Arabic name in transliteration is al-Qur'ân), or proper names like Moscow, whose actual Russian pronunciation (mask-VA) would not be recognizable to most Americans.  Even this can create confusion when standards change.  Many Americans think the capital of China "changed its name" from Peking to Beijing at some point, when what actually happened was that the English-speaking world adopted the Pinyin transliteration system (invented in China), which does a far better job of representing the sounds of Mandarin Chinese than the hodgepodge of old ways of writing Chinese words in the Roman alphabet which had existed up to then.  The city has always been called Beijing in Mandarin, and I doubt that many people who live there know or care how Americans write it.

So there's no need to make an issue of "Maria" vs. "Mariia".  They're both makeshifts, adaptations to an alphabet differing from the original one.  We have more important things to worry about.

22 July 2018

Link round-up for 22 July 2018

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

o o o o o

Never forget this.

Troll your local fundies with pentagram shoes.

It's a cat-meleon.

What do the controls on Darth Vader's chest panel do? (found via Calvin)

I'd watch this one.

This classic floppy disk held 2.2 megabytes.

You can terrorize people with bananas.

Have yourself a creepy teatime (found via Mendip).

Don't jump to conclusions based on a photo.

Earth is better than all the Star Wars planets combined.

Crazy person is crazyCrazier person is crazier.

A photo has leaked from the Trump-Putin private meeting.

Jill Dennison collects oddball news items, including a giant avocado and a giant squirrel.  More snippets here.

Things can get lost in translation.  In fact, this is why real translation is done by humans, not machines -- humans understand what they're reading (though as we know, Bible translators did get some details wrong).

"Is America even real at this point?"

Professor Chaos fisks Thomas Friedman.

Jesus has returned and launched a new war against sin in Hobart, Australia.

Eighth-graders can't see a movie that's about them.

The world needs more socialism and less propaganda.

Boycott these assholes.

There are, it seems, substantial differences of opinion within the Catholic Church about homosexuality.

Journalists, do your job.

Racism is racism.

It was never about the anthem.

Only one side is expected to uphold civility (found via Aunt Polly).  Here are some disgusting examples.

What would have happened if this man had not had a gun?

14 years of reports of sexual abuse didn't stop the Catholic Church from promoting this guy to Cardinal.

Scott Pruitt's Environmental Protection Agency protected only the environment of Scott Pruitt.

If you believe in horseshit, seek out the advice of those who believe in more complicated horseshit.

We were warned about Trump two hundred years ago -- and two thousand (both found via Calvin).

Here's a discussion on atheism and morality.

Who really wrote the Book of Mormon?

It's fair when we do it, but not when somebody else does.

Apparently the Jehovah's Witnesses have something to hide.

Fox News is no longer wingnutty enough for some of the enemy.

Some Protestants think Catholics aren't Christians because blah blah gobbledygook (found via Arkenaten).  Even if you're a Christian, you should oppose theocracy -- it might be run by a sect which is intolerant of yours.

Here's why personal experience unsupported by evidence isn't convincing in the case of extraordinary claims.  See the comments, too -- some people don't understand that a bald assertion of opinion counts for nothing against an assertion of opinion with supporting evidence.

Children aren't naturally prejudiced -- it's adults that teach it to them.

Give theocrats a win on discrimination, and they'll push for more.

Most actions we're told to take as individuals to fight global warming are worthless -- the problem must be addressed through politics (found via Ranch Chimp).

Secularism correlates with prosperity (link from commenter Nick M).

They threatened a three-year-old with a gun.

DNA testing can bring unwelcome surprises.

Here are some of the year's best astronomy photos (found via Miss Cellania).

Technology allows us to read ancient texts too fragile to open.

Why aren't whales even bigger? (found via Mike the Mad Biologist)

How the world has changed:  HuffPost sounds the alarm over a series of disease outbreaks that have killed a total of 190 people and "could kill thousands".  Until a century ago, epidemics that killed millions were common.

Some Americans don't understand Europe.

The UK has almost completely phased out coal.

Anti-Semitism surfaces in Poland and Germany.

If Estonia can do cybersecurity, so can we.

Japan and the EU, which combined make up one-third of the world economy, have just signed the largest bilateral free-trade deal in history -- another example of how other countries are working around Trump's America (found via Shaw Kenawe).

Kaveh Mousavi defends some unpopular views.

Korean "turtle ships" were the cutting edge of 16th-century war technology.

Summer heat in India is reaching lethal levels (found via Mike the Mad Biologist).

A potentially dangerous trend takes hold in west Africa.

"Democrat" Joe Lieberman betrays the party by openly rejecting its nominee.  This is exactly the kind of mentality we need to get rid of.

If your vote didn't matter.....

It's not enough to get the Republicans out of power -- we need to keep them out.

What we already know about Trump and Russia is damning.  Mueller's report will put Republicans to the test.

Democrats probably can't stop Kavanaugh, but they can learn from the fight.

At the Trump-Putin meeting, body language says it all.  Religionists rush to defend Trump's performanceRepublican politicians won't do anything unless the base turns on him. Is it treason?  Green Eagle makes the case.  George Will and James Comey have a late awakening.

Tariffs will hurt red America badly between now and November.

Republicans shouldn't assume that future Russian meddling will help them.

Calvin has a round-up of Trump images.  The last one here is priceless.

For more links, see Perfect Number and Fair and Unbalanced.

[549 days down, 913 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

20 July 2018

The Christian Right and the last bastion

As I anticipated here, Trump's kowtowing to Putin in Helsinki hasn't dented his base's support for him at all (it's blowback from the tariff wars that is starting to undermine that support).  Superficially this seems surprising.  Don't Republicans venerate Reagan largely because of his toughness against the USSR?  Aren't they supposed to be super-patriots, outraged at the thought of foreign meddling in the US or any hint of subservience by a US leader to a foreign one?

Part of the explanation is the standard Trumpanzee insistence on justifying absolutely anything Trump does, rather than face the humiliation and cognitive dissonance of accepting that they made a mistake in voting for him.  But in the case of Russia, there's a more specific issue.

Since long before Trump, the core of the Republican base has been the Christian Right.  Evangelicals are Trump's most loyal supporters.  They're willing to overlook the obviously non-Christian character of his personal life so long as he does all he can to attack gays, abortion, and separation of church and state.  In that sense, they're pragmatists.  They care about winning battles, not about who's delivering the victories.

But they're very aware that, over a longer time frame, they're losing.  They've been losing the culture wars for over fifty years (actually for about four hundred years, but I'm talking about what's most prominent in the minds of people alive today).  With every passing year, the conservative Christian percentage of the US population shrinks, the number of non-religious people grows, gay marriage becomes more widely accepted, Christian sexual taboos are more ignored, non-Christian religions become more a normal part of the American landscape.  They've been reduced to fighting to carve out a few special rights to discriminate within a larger culture they consider essentially hostile.  They're becoming just one of many minorities making up a pluralistic society, which is the same position all other groups have long held -- but the Christian Right doesn't believe in a pluralistic society.  They believe their religion's taboo system should rule over the lives of everybody, Christian or not.

Putin is probably not much of a believer personally any more than Trump is, but he's transforming Russia into a Christian authoritarian state and is enforcing the taboo system -- gays are viciously persecuted, and there have been moves to restrict abortion, despite overwhelming popular acceptance of abortion rights.  To many right-wing US Christians, Putin's Russia is the last bastion of Christian supremacy.  So their support for Trump and for his alliance/subservience to Putin makes a kind of sense.

To the extent that the US and Russia are in conflict, don't expect the American Christian Right to put country before religion -- at least, not reliably.  Ironically, their position is somewhat like that of American communists during the cold war.

UpdateHere's some more on the connections between the US Christian Right and the Russian regime.

17 July 2018

The Trump end-game

Two new factors in our politics are working together to weaken Trump more seriously than ever before in the year-and-a-half history of this misbegotten parody of an administration.  One is undermining him among Republican party leaders, the other among his base -- and together they may give our country its best chance yet to get this absurd and vicious man out of office at last.

The former, of course, is Trump's craven press conference in Helsinki on Monday, which is inspiring horrified condemnation from prominent figures across the political spectrum.  For a collection of such reactions, see here; for responses from Republicans only, see here and here.  Many of the latter are timidly phrased, in keeping with the abject cowardice which has distinguished most Republican leaders when dealing with Trump ever since the 2016 primaries.  But they're there, and the much tougher statements of McCain and Flake -- who can speak more freely because they will never again have to fear the votes of enraged Trumpanzees -- doubtless reflect what others are thinking.

The other factor is Trump's trade war, which is starting to inflict some serious pain on some of those same Trumpanzees.  I gave examples in the last link round-up, from Tennessee and South Dakota, as well as the fact of Trump being branded an "economic traitor" in the pages -- well, pixels -- of Forbes.  This trend will escalate.  The countries Trump has attacked with tariffs, which include Canada, Mexico, China, western Europe, and Japan, are being smart and targeting their retaliatory measures at the red states specifically, because they know that only the Republicans who represent those states can bring Trump to heel.  This trade war is between red America and the rest of the world -- blue America is neutral.  It will be easy for the rest of the world to continue to target the red states, because they are heavily agricultural, and today the world has a glut of food production capacity relative to global population.  The countries to which red America exports food products can easily find other suppliers; it will be much harder for red America to find replacement markets.

This offers a potential lifeline to our endangered red-state Democratic Senators this November; some are already making opposition to the trade wars an issue.  It may even shift a few House races our way in the red states.

As for the Republican leaders, there's been plenty of anecdotal evidence that most of them dislike Trump -- he's insulted and humiliated them plenty, after all -- but stand with him in public for fear of losing the Trumpanzee votes they need to stay in office.  If trade-war losses erode that base support for Trump, just as leaders' alarm at his degraded performance in Helsinki stiffens their spines, then more of them may come around to accepting the need to get rid of him -- enough to make a real difference.  If Mueller's final report shows real evidence of collusion with Russia, and they get walloped with a massive blue wave in November, Trump's position will become even weaker.

If a large cohort of Congressional Republicans turns against Trump, will we see him impeached and removed?  It's possible, but I think a Nixonian scenario is more likely.  Yes, Trump is the kind of guy who would prefer to fight impeachment tooth and nail, doing further damage to the government in the process.  But if a delegation of Senators were to meet with him privately and point out the likely consequences for him if he were removed and prosecuted for whatever Mueller can prove he did both in office and before, and offer a full pardon from Pence if he steps down without a fight, he might take the deal.

A couple of potential wild cards should be mentioned.  First, we should be prepared for the possibility of some kind of incident manufactured either by a cornered Trump or by the Russians right before November, with the aim of shifting the election outcome -- a staged terrorist attack or cyber-attack, for example.  The intent would be to scare voters into rallying around Trump and by extension his party.  I doubt it would work, and for the Russians to do such a thing would be hugely reckless given the consequences if it were traced back to them.  But it may happen.

Second, there's the ultimate nightmare scenario.  If Trump feels threatened enough and angry enough, might he go for the whole enchilada -- suspend the Constitution, declare martial law, try to establish an outright dictatorship?  I can't judge how likely it is that he'd attempt that, but I don't believe he could succeed.  Most Republicans in positions of power would not support such a move -- they've all seen how quickly he turns against allies as soon as they displease him in some way, and not even the most Trump-loyal Republicans would feel truly safe in the long term if Trump held unconstrained power.  Also, it would require at least the passive acquiescence of the military, who are sworn to defend the Constitution -- and if you don't feel you can count on that, remember that much of the rank and file of the military is black or Hispanic.

Finally, some on our own side are actually leery of impeachment because they believe Pence would be worse than Trump.  I hope that the last couple of months have dispelled that notion.  Yes, Pence is a religious extremist and might be worse than Trump in certain areas of domestic policy, but he's also more of a conventional politician and would be unlikely to make gross blunders like starting an economy-wrecking trade war or giving the Kim regime everything it wanted in exchange for essentially nothing.  Even before Helsinki, Trump's subservience to Russian interests led some to conclude that Putin must be manipulating him via some kind of blackmail.  That wouldn't be the case with Pence.  Nor does Pence share Trump's impulsiveness and belligerence which pose the worst threat of all.  And he'd be presiding over a Republican party left bitterly divided by the fall of Trump.

This last year and a half have been nightmarish, and there's certainly further nastiness to come.  But we may soon get the chance to show that American democracy can confront and overcome the biggest challenge it has faced since the Civil War.

[Image at top found here; image at end found via Calvin]