31 August 2018

The crisis in the Catholic Church

For over twenty years, the Catholic Church has been rocked by an endless succession of scandals involving child molestation by priests, and actions by the Church hierarchy to cover up these crimes and shield the perpetrators from justice.  But just this month -- triggered by the grand jury report on sexual abuse in Pennsylvania, and a letter by a high Vatican official -- the scandal has erupted into a kind of civil war within Catholicism.  Conservative Catholic news sites like Church Militant and LifeSite News have been talking about little else for days.

One of the most highly-placed accused sexual predators is Theodore McCarrick, an archbishop and former cardinal, alleged to have preyed not upon children but upon seminarians and younger priests under his authority.  About a week ago, archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former nuncio (Vatican ambassador) to the US, published an 11-page open letter claiming that Pope Francis, while fully aware of McCarrick's crimes, had lifted penalties imposed on him by the previous Pope Benedict XVI and entrusted him with increased authority within the Church, effectively condoning his crimes and protecting him from any consequences for them.

Now, given that the Catholic Church all over the world has been covering up abuse by predator priests and moving them around to protect them for decades and probably generations, it's long been obvious that doing so was Church policy all along and that the Popes must have known about it and condoned it, if not outright ordered it.  Viganò's letter, however, is a "smoking gun" -- an authoritative figure within the Church directly and credibly accusing the sitting Pope of a specific act of collusion with an abuser.  And so far Francis's response to these claims has been decidedly evasive.

The letter also accuses many other top men in the Church of being either abusers or co-conspirators, notably cardinal Donald Wuerl, who allegedly even defied Pope Benedict's sanctions in order to protect McCarrick.  In the latest twist in the story, Church Militant is now reporting that Pope Francis has ordered Wuerl to be secretly smuggled out of the US to protect him from a possible federal RICO investigation of the Catholic Church in the US.

These accusations have led to widespread calls for implicated Church officials, and even Pope Francis himself, to resign.  Here's Michael Voris, the head of the Church Militant news site:

It's startling to hear a conservative Catholic speaking in such terms.

Now, I'm well aware that there's an agenda here, on two levels.  First, conservative Catholics have long been alarmed at Francis's statements apparently backing off a bit from hard-line Catholic taboos on homosexuality, participation of divorced-and-remarried persons in Church rituals, and other issues.  But as Voris says, Church Militant and similar sites have always held back from personal criticism of the Pope -- it was a line they did not feel they could cross.  Obviously that inhibition is now gone.

Second, because many of the cases in Pennsylvania involved sexual abuse of adult or adolescent males rather than children, conservative Catholics have proclaimed that the real problem here is not pedophilia but homosexuality -- specifically a vast network of evil homosexual predators who have infiltrated the Church in order to prey upon victims (and, in some versions of the story, to bring the Church into disrepute at the instigation of Satan himself).  To them, it's an opportunity to reassert and legitimize the taboo on homosexuality itself and to demonize gays in general.

In fact, it's not surprising that many Catholic clergy are homosexual.  In decades past (when many of these men, now of advanced years, joined the clergy), becoming a priest was one of the few ways for a man who remained unmarried and never showed interest in women to avoid suspicion of homosexuality, suspicion which in those days was quite dangerous.  And since gay people display the same range of decent people to complete slimebuckets as the rest of the population does, inevitably some fraction of gay men are sexual predators, just as some fraction of straight men are.  Why so many Catholic clergy are among those predators is an interesting question, but we hardly need to postulate a Satanic conspiracy to explain what we've seen.

It is notable that liberal blogs and sites have so far taken little interest in the crisis roiling the world's largest and most powerful religious organization.  Conservative Catholics claim it's because of the homosexual nature of the scandal -- liberals, they say, will condemn pedophilia but are ideologically committed to defending homosexuality.  This is nonsense.  Liberals have no trouble condemning sexual predation upon adults, as the attention given to #MeToo shows.  I suspect liberals' discomfort with the crisis reflects sympathy for Pope Francis, whom they regard as a liberal reformer.  In fact, as illustrated by links I've posted on this blog from time to time, he's just as much of a hypocritical con man as his predecessors; most likely he's merely realized that clinging to medieval attitudes about things like homosexuality and divorce in the twenty-first century threatens to erode what remains of the Church's crumbling authority, and is timidly trying to adapt the Church to the times for the sake of its survival.

The crisis will pose a dilemma to the masses of Catholic laity, the majority of whom (at least in the US) are fairly liberal and not highly observant, and probably regard hard-liners like Voris as unappealing fanatics.  On the other hand, they don't condone sexual predators either, and can no longer avoid realizing that the rot of cover-ups goes to the very top.

Needless to say, at the prospect of an all-out war between bigots and sexual predators, I can only hope that they inflict the greatest possible damage on each other, and upon the arrogant, corrupt, and power-hungry institution which has dominated so much of the world for so many weary centuries.  Think of it, too, as a little belated justice for the countless victims whose abusers that institution has protected and enabled for so long.

29 August 2018

Orthography for the perfectionist blogger

The orthography of English is intricate and subtle, often encoding semantic and etymological distinctions which are not clearly made by the plain sounds of the spoken language.  If you see the f sound written with ph, for example, it usually means the word is of Greek origin; a silent gh as in right or light almost always indicates a native Germanic word.  The first vowel of national differs from that of nation, but the spelling preserves the connection.  Philistines like to say that English spelling is "illogical" or "difficult"; in reality the deeper logic (well, of some of it) escapes their superficial grasp, but it's true that the system is harder to master than those of languages where the match between spelling and sound is closer.

Nevertheless, the effort repays itself.  For the serious blogger, just a little extra knowledge can prevent common cases of confusion which can undermine an otherwise solid post and distract from its argument.  It goes without saying that such errors are startlingly common on right-wing sites.  This sometimes provides unintended amusement, but that's not an effect anyone should wish to emulate.  Here are some cases of mix-ups I've seen fairly often.

bear / bare (with me):  Besides being referring to the animal, bear is a verb meaning carry or endure.  In the latter sense it gives rise to bear with me, roughly meaning "please keep listening to me until I get to the point."  Bare, of course, means uncovered or naked or to uncover.  A request to bare with me is incorrect, unless it's suggesting something you should really only do with someone you know pretty well.

counsel / councilCounsel means to advise or an adviser, especially a lawyer.  A council is a glorified committee.  They're frequently mixed up, an error that doesn't even have the virtue of being funny.

course / coarse:  A course is a way, path, or direction; of course means certainly or obviouslyCoarse means rough or crude.  Oddly enough, I've seen the error of coarse even though coarse is a much rarer word than course.

effect / affect:  This one is difficult.  In most cases, effect is a noun roughly meaning a result something causes in something else, as in "undercooked meat has the effect of making me nauseous."  Affect is a verb meaning to cause an effect, as in "the sad story affected him deeply."  The common error here is to use effect in place of affect.  Annoyingly enough, though, each word also has a rare different usage which works the other way round.  Effect can be used as a verb meaning put into action:  "Mr. Scott, effect repairs on the warp drive."  And affect can be used as a noun meaning a mood or psychological tendency.  Those usages are very rare, though.

have / of:  Please.  Everybody knows what have means and what of means.  Their unstressed pronunciations in rapid speech are the same, but should of and would of make no sense.  It's should've and would've, if one doesn't want to write out the full word have.

heroin / heroineHeroin is the drug, a heroine is a female hero.  Pretty straightforward, but I've seen these confused many times.

horde / hoard:  A horde is a huge swarm of people, especially a barbarian army.  A hoard is a stockpile of something valuable.  If someone writes "the Mongol hoards", he's unwittingly talking about their accumulated treasures, not their armies.

lode / loadLode is a rarely-used word referring to a rich mass of ore -- hence the expression the mother lode, meaning the most major or outstanding source or core of something.  I have seen this written as "the mother load", and if you figure out what that means, I'm not sure I want to know.

lose / loose:  These actually are not pronounced alike, but the spelling is confusing.  Lose, meaning to be defeated, is pronounced like "looz"; loose, the opposite of tight, is pronounced "looss" with the normal voiceless sound of the S.  Since the single O is rarely pronounced this way in English, lose and loser are commonly written loose and looser by mistake.

poured / poredPour is a verb meaning to dispense liquid; pore as a verb is really used only in the expression to pore over, meaning to examine something intensively, especially a document.  If someone writes "I was pouring over that book", you're entitled to wonder what he was pouring over it, and to assume that the book was thereby ruined.

reign / rein:  A reign is the period of a monarch's rule, or a verb meaning "to rule".  Reins are the cords used by drivers to control horses, hence the expression to rein in, meaning to restrain somebody or something.  However, the word rein is becoming as obsolete as the thing, hence the common error to reign in.  The only case where this would be correct is when saying something like "Queen Elizabeth reigns in the United Kingdom."

sight / site / cite:  A sight is something to see -- "Big Ben is an impressive sight!"  A site is a location, nowadays commonly used as an abbreviation for website.  To cite is to refer to an authoritative source of information for support -- "the judge's ruling cited several Supreme Court decisions."

Finally, Democrat / Democratic:  It's become oddly common in right-wing writing, when referring to the political party, to use Democrat when Democratic would be correct -- "the Democrat party", for example.  Such writers seem to think they are thereby expressing disdain for the party, but all they're really doing is implying that they aren't smart enough to grasp the concept that some words have a different form depending on whether they're being used as nouns or adjectives.

While some may view our language's writing system as difficult or illogical, I have found it poetically inspiring.  And don't forget the fascinating hyper-modern dialect which is evolving online.

26 August 2018

Link round-up for 26 August 2018

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

o o o o o

A sheep falls victim to a fiendish trap.

Olympic athletes deliver peak performance.

Why do you have to flaunt it?

The Trumplings have gone full Orwell, in memes.

Grow it for yourself.

Some forms of demonic possession are easier than others.

Check out these weird-looking animals.  Here's a more appealing species.

Touché, New Zealand.

Why do novelists push these contrived characters on us?

The world's two most influential mass cultures cross-fertilized each other on a large scale.

A new drug-addiction problem is sweeping Russia.

Robbie Rotten is no more.

Ignorant wingnut is ignorant.

Capitalism didn't build that.

They think this is witty or something.

This guy is really, really freaked out about independent-minded women.

Republicans finally found a deportation they object to.

You don't owe anyone an explanation.

Don't try to eat stuff that's past its "best by" date.

What kind of man was "Silent Sam"?

Forced-birth fetishists are hypocrites.

More "violent" video games mean less real violence.

Americans are cowards.

Rulers in Machiavelli's time were shocked at his ideas, but not for the reasons you'd think.

The new opioid Reefer Madness, like its predecessor, has a racial angle.

Corrupt institution is corrupt.

If you don't like it, don't read it -- end of problem.  To completely defeat the bluenoses will require independent internet platforms.

Infrastructure repair costs are a ticking time bomb in suburbia.

Yet again, Christians fight tooth and nail for the right to discriminate.

The myth of the self-made man ignores almost everything about reality.

Abrahamic religions have a natural affinity for torture and suffering.

This is deregulation.

FFS you couldn't make this stuff up.

Sex abusers are pushing back against #MeToo (found via Mike the Mad Biologist).  The church has always been on their side.

Religion requires sacrifice.

Breitbart commenters honor John McCain before his death and afterwards.  Kinder words come from political figures, liberal commenters, and Kurdish and Israeli leaders.

This issue isn't over -- 565 of the migrant children separated from their parents still aren't re-united.

To win support for universal health care, just choose the right term.

Too much alcohol really is dangerous.  Even just a little is probably bad.

Here are some true examples of intelligent design of living things.

We have pretty good evidence on what "near-death experiences" really are.

As religion erodes, science gains.

Unusual features of elephant brains offer hints about the nature of their intelligence.

Global warming is changing the nature of weather.  We need to fight back effectively.

Irish victims of molesting priests are unimpressed with the chief asshole's empty verbiage.

Germany wants to organize the democratic world to act without, and if necessary against, Trump's America.

Brazil is cracking down on violence against women.

Turkish police attack the "Saturday Mothers" vigil for persons "disappeared" during previous periods of repression.

This year's House and Senate races are totally different, with our chances in the House being far better.  But Booman thinks that we may do well in the Senate too -- and that even a Republican Senate might dump Trump.

The progressive road to power runs through the Democrats, not the Greens.

Republican ideology is a threat to independent women, and the latter will soon return the favor.

Shower Cap looks at the Trumplings' antics during a boring week.

Republicans try to dodge the consequences of their attacks on the ACA's pre-existing conditions protections.

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

[Image at top found via Juanita Jean]

23 August 2018

Improving words (7)

Some more revised word definitions, based on what the words visibly should mean.  (I can't believe this is the seventh of these lists I've posted!  I'll have to issue a dictionary.)

Alarmist:  A fine vapor sprayed on fruit trees

Boosting:  To jeer at a wasp's attack

Churchill:  An ailment proceeding from religion

Citizen:  An urban form of Japanese Buddhism

Commodore:  The mineral from which miners extract the material toilets are made of

Dilute:  The official musical instrument of Princess Diana

Flamingo:  A Cheerio that's been set on fire

Induce:  Swallowed by Mussolini

Literacy:  Low in calories and sexually provocative

Locomotive:  A crazy reason for doing something

Pathology:  The study of walkways

Peeking:  Donald Trump's new nickname, if stories of his Moscow hotel romp are verified

Pentagram:  A male sheep bearing labels written in sharpie

Pigeon:  A very long time period dominated by swine

Proverb:  Supportive of words which denote actions

Rebuff:  To polish again

Shellacking:  A slug, as described by a snail

Strumpet:  To idly play your dog or cat

Sublime:  What British sailors traditionally eat on an undersea vessel

Trivial:  A small container that can hold three different substances

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

21 August 2018

Censorship and its targets

Recently, in response to Alex Jones being kicked off of Facebook, YouTube, etc., another blogger wrote a post which advocated going beyond such measures to the use of actual government censorship -- "hate-speech" laws like those in Europe and Canada -- to silence people like Jones.  (I'm not linking to or identifying the blog because the blogger seemed a bit shell-shocked by the resulting comment-thread firestorm and might not wish to be dragged back into the argument.  This is about ideas, not persons.)  I've seen calls for censorship in such cases before, though it's rare for those doing so to admit that what they're advocating is censorship.  In the face of such calls, I want to remind readers of some essential realities.

Before doing so, I want to emphasize that none of this is a defense of Alex Jones, an absolute slime-bucket.  The accusation against him is spreading false and defamatory statements, not stating unpopular opinions -- most notoriously in the case of the Sandy Hook massacre, in which he has tormented and incited harassment of grieving parents, recently doubling down in the face of a lawsuit from them.  You'll never read a positive word about Jones from me.

However, hate-speech laws -- such as those in Canada and Europe, which prohibit expression of opinions deemed "hateful" -- are not necessary to deal with someone like Jones, nor do they even actually target what he does.  We already have laws against harassment and defamation, and he's already being sued under those laws.  Such laws could be made stronger, but laws criminalizing opinions wouldn't even do much against him, because his opinions, as such, aren't the problem.

Hate-speech laws are essentially the same as blasphemy laws -- indeed, the latter are a subset of the former.  Either way it's criminalizing criticism (or mockery, or artistic satire, or whatever) of some concepts or persons deemed either metaphorically or literally sacred.  The same First Amendment that protects our right to post Muhammad cartoons or denounce the homophobia and sexism of the Bible is what also protects the right of Stephen Colbert or Bill Maher or Rush Limbaugh to express views others find shocking.

And in practice, hate-speech laws in Europe are used largely to try to suppress criticism of Islam.  For example, Dutch politician Geert Wilders was actually put on trial in 2010 for his statements of hostility to Islam and Muslim immigration and comparing the Qur'ân to Mein Kampf.  These are certainly views one can legitimately disagree with, and Wilders was acquitted in the end -- but the fact that he could be put on trial for them, for saying things not much more radical than things I've said on this very blog, is nightmarishly Orwellian and should terrify any blogger with unpopular views about religion.  Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci was ordered to stand trial in 2005 for insulting Muslims in her books, though apparently the trial never happened due to illness (she died shortly thereafter).  What she had said was genuinely insulting -- but again, if you blog about politics or religion, it's very likely you too have said things that could plausibly be judged insulting as well.

This raises another point.  If you support hate-speech laws, you probably assume that it would be you and people like you who get to define what constitutes "hate speech".  But it might not be.  What if such laws banned telling the truth about Christianity or Republicans, the way they ban telling the truth about Islam in the Middle East and some European countries?  That would actually be very plausible in our current situation, if the First Amendment didn't exist.  Trump and his supporters constantly attack the media and call for restrictions on expressing opinions they don't like.  If hate-speech laws were possible here, Colbert and Maher would have a lot more to worry about than Limbaugh (or Jones).

Censorship is seldom imposed to stop people from telling lies.  Lies can be exposed and thus present little threat to the powerful.  It's those who tell uncomfortable truths that must be silenced, for they do pose a threat.

Wilders and Fallaci are not unique, just especially well-known cases because they were already prominent people.  There have been several such trials or threatened trials in various European countries, of people who said things the people in power disliked almost as much as the people in power here would dislike things you and I have said.  Hate-speech laws would not target Alex Jones.  They'd target me.

Wilders, by the way, cannot himself be called a free-speech advocate, having called for the Qur'ân to be banned.  In that, he too is unequivocally wrong.  Whether you condemn the Qur'ân or condemn Wilders's own views, the proper answer to bad speech is good speech, not silencing the bad speech.  When all views can be openly expressed, the truth will eventually win out.  The side that wants to ban people from saying things is the side that knows it can't win an honest argument.  Censorship is the tool of the priest and the dictator.  It has no place in the arsenal of the liberal.

19 August 2018

Link round-up for 19 August 2018

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

o o o o o

At long last -- revenge!

Brush the gator.

Think you've seen bad writing?  This is bad writing.

Hmmm.

This guy could command the Trump Space Force.  And this can be the poster (found via Calvin).

Read harrowing reports from the front lines of the octopus war.

This farmer has fun with his work.

Here's how Trump stimulates the economy.

Meet Clay Henry, mayor of a small town in west Texas.

I really liked this group back in the day (found via Mike the Mad Biologist), but the sociological implications went right over my head.

Here's the right way to put out a kitchen fire.

Pwned, I think.

Steve Bannon has made a godawful movie trailer.

A church reflects the local culture.

Order now -- Trump's greatest hits (found via Arm Chair Pontificator).

Proposed requirement for getting this job:  a year without wanking.

Which languages are the weirdest? (from commenter Zog)

Support those who put themselves in harm's way to keep us all safe.

A "Biker for Trump" shows his true colors.

An idiot assesses a genius.

You couldn't make this stuff up -- Mormons claim their religious freedom is violated by other people voting on legalizing marijuana.

This is what it means to be rich.

Honor the pressThe Senate has (found via Shaw Kenawe).

Here's one kid who's not taking any bullshit (found via Scottie).

A Trumpanzee businessman makes a mistake.

Restrictions on abortion are already horrific (found via Mike the Mad Biologist).  To stop this kind of bullshit, vote in elections for state legislatures.

The new Reefer Madness on opioids is devastating chronic-pain patients (I've already linked to the wave of suicides resulting from this).

Discrimination is cool if it's motivated by religious taboo.  In fact, we need more of it.

I'm glad I didn't go to work in academia.

QAnon just gets qrazier.  Some people think it's a liberal prank.

Yet more evils of a vast global criminal organization have recently come to light. Apologists make pathetic excuses.  Nuns, too, have been targets.  Even RedState is outraged.

Here's an important reminder for racists.

Green Eagle looks at the pitiful "Unite the Right 2" rally.

Yet another Christian church is imploding under the weight of a sexual-abuse cover-up.

Twitter remembers Aretha Franklin.  Fox News, well.....

As the western US burns, Trumplings remain in denial about global warming.

In Sarawak, our cousins are doing OK, for now.

Yes, it's socialized medicine.

Townspeople protest incessant arson attacks by religious crazies.

Criticizing this President can get you fired, arrested, robbed, and tortured (Trump must be envious).

This is the kind of thing that happens when abortion is banned.

We face a global campaign of people mumbling to themselves and not eating.

This is not feminism.

The United Arab Emirates has become a major nexus of trade.

How hard is it to choose sides between Canada and the Saudi regime?

The Saudi-led war against extremists in Yemen isn't much of a war (and that's the Dâ'ish flag painted on the wall in two of the photos, not al-Qâ'idah's, though the graffiti does refer to al-Qâ'idah).

Unprecedented floods are devastating Kerala.

A white Jesus nut attacks and threatens black hotel workers while yelling racist slurs -- in Uganda.

I had never heard of this huge structure before.  More info here.

Matthew Yglesias responds to Kevin Williamson's attack on Elizabeth Warren's corporate-reform plan, which is one of two solid progressive proposals from Democrats this year.

We can do better in rural areas (the Missouri comparison maps are interesting).

The DCCC needs to stop this bullshit.  Support all Democrats.  Make your vote count -- people are depending on it.

Republicans nominate yet another Hitler fan.  This guy endorses one of the biggest traitors in US history.  The new Jim Crow is blatant; they're threatening the courts too.

Shower Cap offers his inimitable commentary on Omarosa and the Trumplings.  Hysterical Raisins illustrates the newest bribery revelation.

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

[Note:  Today marks twelve years I've had this blog.]

15 August 2018

Book review -- the language hoax

The Language Hoax by John McWhorter (2014)

One of the annoyances that comes with having some knowledge of a certain field is the exasperation one feels when reading articles in the mainstream media about that field whose authors all too obviously have only a superficial acquaintance with it.  For example, one regularly sees reports of "Earth-like" exoplanets (which are nothing of the sort), accompanied with wild speculation about possible life there, something not even remotely suggested by any actual data about whatever planet has somehow come to the writer's attention.  Almost every discovery of a new hominid fossil is announced as radically changing our ideas about human evolution, though in reality it usually fits the established picture quite well.

In the field of language, the hardy perennial of this kind of pseudo-journalism is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (sometimes just called the Whorfian hypothesis) -- the idea that different languages shape the thinking and world-views of their speakers in different ways, so that native speakers of (for example) Hopi perceive reality in some fundamentally different way than native speakers of English do.  The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis dates back to the 1930s and has been pretty solidly debunked within academia for decades, but every so often someone needing an idea for an article stumbles across it and writes it up as something brand-new and intriguing.  The same few clichéd examples keep popping up in such essays, such as the fact that Russian has different words for different shades of blue, Australian Aborigine languages in which speakers orient themselves by compass directions rather than terms like "behind" and "next to", etc.  This article is a good recent example.

Superficially the idea makes sense.  Anyone who ventures beyond the familiar clutch of Western languages like French, German, and Spanish will be startled at just how different the languages of the wider world -- African, Asian, Papuan, Australian aboriginal, etc. -- can be from what English-speakers regard as "normal".  Japanese often leaves the grammatical subject unspecified, so that "I go", "you go", "they go", etc. are not differentiated, but it has a system of verb endings and special verbs marking how polite the sentence is.  Persian does not mark gender in the third person (there's just one pronoun for both "he" and "she"), while Arabic does mark it in the second (there are different masculine and feminine words for "you").  In Navajo, every verb is irregular, most having forms as apparently unrelated as "go" and "went" are.  Many Amazonian Indian languages have "evidentiary grammar", obligatory grammatical markers that specify how you know whatever it is you're asserting.  And so on.  Surely all these strange features must influence how the speakers of these languages think?

In fact, this hypothesis has been tested against the data for decades, and the answer is an almost complete "no".  And John McWhorter is just the man to explain why.

First off, as he discusses in detail, experiments have found a few correlations between unusual features of certain languages and their speakers' awareness of the things those features refer to -- but those correlations are far too weak to constitute evidence of a "world-view".  Also, there are some relationships between features of languages and their speakers' culture or physical environment, but causation clearly runs the other way.  Eskimos don't pay attention to different kinds of snow because their languages have several different words for types of snow; they have those different words because their environment requires them to be aware of such distinctions.  Japanese evolved special grammar to express degrees of politeness because politeness is so important in Japanese culture, not vice-versa.

One thing many non-linguists don't realize is that extreme complexity is the norm in languages -- many, even most, of the world's thousands of minor languages display grammatical intricacies comparable to Latin or Russian, each in their own way.  Relatively simplified languages like English, Persian, and Indonesian are the oddballs (and there are reasons why the "big" languages tend to be the simplified ones).  So each language displays many "weird" features which seem significant in individual cases, when you see them cited about just one or two languages, but which in fact appear in many languages around the world.  And the distribution of such features is pretty much random.  For example, evidentiary grammar crops up in various languages all over the world, showing no correlation with whatever "world-view" that feature supposedly generates.

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was originally motivated by a desire to assert hidden elements of sophistication in cultures Westerners tend to consider primitive, by claiming that their languages make them more mentally attuned to this or that than we are.  But what about languages which, by the same logic, should make their speakers less attuned to things?  What about a language with no inflection, no explicit marking of case, gender, plurals (usually), tense, subjunctivity, or definiteness, to say nothing of the even more exotic (to us) categories which the Whorfians get so excited about in non-Western languages?  Wouldn't such a language logically give its speakers a rather dull, crude, coarse-grained "world-view"?  Well, that language actually exists.  It's Chinese, the language of one of the world's most sophisticated civilizations for thousands of years.

The world's languages show a vast and fascinating range of variations, but their specific features don't condition any particular "world-view" in their speakers.  The evidence just doesn't support such a claim.

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