18 April 2021

Link round-up for 18 April 2021

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

o o o o o

Sign up today for cat life coaching.

Poor ostrich!

Even one job was too much for these incompetents.

Rawknrobyn pwns a badly-programmed online bot.

Multiple jokes here.

You can save money on property taxes.

A Britisher offers one special fact about each of our fifty states (found via Miss Cellania).

Cartoonists take a look at fairy tales.

Schrödinger's cat serves as an inspiration to artists.

Time for a nap.

Kermit the frog directs a music video, with mixed results.

This could be useful if you get into an argument with a Roman.

Some things shouldn't be invaded.

View some illusions here.

Don't believe the signs.

Remember the phenakistoscope?

Learn life lessons from the wise.

This fish is deadlier than a shark.

Ancient Greek weapons added insult to injury.

Good riddance to an ideology of self-debasement.

He hates Asians.

Satanists rule America, apparently (if we did, the place would be in far better shape, I can tell you).

AO3 is a genuine online library and deserves all the support it can get.

Romance novels may or may not be literature, but they can be entertaining.

A former citadel of darkness and superstition now serves a nobler purpose.

Christopher Lee did some interesting stuff.

Take a few words of advice from a man who made it to the age of 103.

One US president learned English as a second language.

Esme's Cloud has another epic poetic meditation, this time on the theme of helping friends keep their sanity.

Cas d'Intérêt suggests four audiobooks to help pass the remaining time in pandemic quarantine (I assume these are also available in regular book form).  Or, check out these five Oscar-nominated films from the Francophone world.

Cop Car blog joins me in eagerly awaiting the Ingenuity helicopter's somewhat-delayed first flight.

Bruce Gerencser pwns yet another pesky evangelical.

This is exactly what Republicans are like (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Alan Alda of MASH is now helping scientists communicate.

Christianity can't solve "the problem of evil".

Good discussion here on having friends of different ages.

A sleep-deprived writer evaluates eight techniques for better sleep.

Nature documentaries give a distorted view of "wilderness" and especially of Africa.

Don't cut off your nuts.

The ACLU is now suing ordinary citizens for pursuing FOIA requests.

Workers are not at all happy with employers' plans to drag them back to offices with the pandemic still raging.

It's now news that the left has no monopoly on trying to suppress books.

Donate here to help hungry people in the US.

Does the Bible belt have more churches?  Probably, but they're also bigger and more in-your-face.

Some of these "woke" jackasses have now gone full racist.

Let the market decide (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Most of the new Biden gun proposals are pretty much meaningless.  A public-health approach seems more promising, and doesn't involve trying to take guns away from people.

Orwellian twisting of language strives to make us deny reality.

Christians who don't understand why atheists are so determined about separation of church and state, read this.

It's not racism when there's no race involved.

Yes, there is enough money.

If you notice an increase in reports of women committing rape, it's probably because of this.

Explore a vast morass of right-wing lunacy, including a claim that Hitler was Jewish (but so is pretty much everybody).

His job has an unusual fringe benefit, apparently.

Time to go big on health care.

Consistency?  What's that?

All these people have one thing in common.

Drive carefully.

Canada has wingnut morons too.  And it took over a year to shut down this cesspit of disease.

NATO warns Russia about its threats to Ukraine.

Many British people don't share the media's obsession with Prince Philip.

Denmark is launching a wind-power project that will supply enough electricity for three million households.

India is seeing a surge in covid-19 as it works to vaccinate its huge population.  Might be something to do with this, I suppose.

South Korea has a 20-mile bike lane shaded with solar panels.

Don't cry.

.....be a shame if somethin' were to happen to it.

Surface contact poses little risk of covid-19 infection.  We need to focus on airborne transmission.

NASA will soon launch an actual test of an asteroid-diversion weapon, the kind of technology which could someday save the Earth from a devastating impact.

More links at Fair and Unbalanced.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I reviewed a book on how the world has changed and posted on volunteering as an abortion-clinic escort.

16 April 2021

Saturday mornings at the clinic

In September 2003 I began volunteering as what is known as a "pro-choice escort" at a Portland abortion clinic. For about the next year I went every other Saturday morning, Saturday mornings being the time when the clinic is typically besieged by anti-abortion protesters and thus needs defending.

On any given morning there were typically anywhere from three to six escorts on duty. Most of them came when they could; the only ones who were there every Saturday were W and S, the informal "leaders" of the team. We were always careful, by the way, to use only first names and avoid mentioning any identifying information which the protesters might overhear. We had once had a case where the protesters had somehow found out an escort's home address and had sent him threats through the mail. (I am using initials here since I have no way of knowing whether they would care to be even that identifiable in an internet posting. W was a man, S a woman.)

The term "escort" is somewhat misleading. In theory an escort's job is to stand outside the clinic and, if needed, intervene to shield clients from harassment by the protesters on their way into the building. In practice such cases seldom arise. Most clients park in a parking lot which is off limits to the protesters and enter through the back door, and even when a client uses the front door, the protesters rarely attempt to approach her. In fact, the role of the escort is a more subtle one. The aim of the anti-abortion protesters is intimidation -- making the clinic's clients and staff feel isolated and surrounded by opposing forces. The role of the escorts is to negate this, providing a visible positive presence to counter the protesters' hostile one, making the environment more comfortable for clients who might otherwise feel they were in completely unfriendly territory. More than doing anything per se, one's job is simply to be there. It seems very likely, for example, that protesters would routinely approach and harass clients if there were no escorts present. Knowing that the escorts are ready to intervene if they do so deters them from trying.

The protesters themselves were a varied crew. Most of them were regulars, and we knew their habits. Some of them just stood around holding signs. Some engaged in religious chanting or ostentatious praying. Some stood as close to the clinic as the law allowed and gave vent to long, bellowing diatribes which usually seemed to be more about God and the Bible and so forth than about abortion per se. One protester always wore a holstered gun. He had a permit for it, so there was nothing we could do about this. Due to some previous incident, there was a standing police order forbidding him to be on the same side of the street as the clinic itself, so he stood across the street, scowling at us. Another protester had a bizarre personal fixation on S. He had once said to her, "Women like you deserve to be raped." I once heard a protester shout at a man who was accompanying a woman into the clinic, "Why are you letting that woman kill your baby? Be dominant, sir! Be a man!"  Yes, he really said that.

I never saw any actual violence, but the level of tension was sometimes considerable, especially whenever there was a new protester whom we hadn't seen before. A new person was by definition unpredictable. As we all know, in other parts of the country there have been a few cases of abortion clinics being bombed and doctors murdered by Christianist terrorists, and there has been at least one case in which a volunteer escort was killed. So we were always on the alert for any sign of possible danger.

Why did I do it? I've always held individual freedom to be the highest value. If you allow others to encroach on your absolute freedom to decide what will happen inside your own body, then what freedom can you lay claim to? As for the others, W was a libertarian who similarly felt repulsed by the protesters' goal of suppressing self-determination on religious grounds, while S had strong feminist convictions; most of the more transient defenders, as best I could tell, had similar motives. Incidentally, though most of them would generally be classified as leftist, most agreed with my own views on the Islamist threat.

It's one thing to study religious fanaticism by reading books about it. It's very different to come face to face with it. During my time as a clinic escort, I came to understand in my gut, not just in my head, what these people's mentality is really like. They will not be satisfied until what you and I and everyone else can and cannot do is dictated by the taboos of their religion, backed up by the power of the law, as in Taliban Afghanistan.

Local people in that neighborhood would sometimes stop and chat with the escorts, bring us hot drinks on cold mornings or otherwise offering encouragement. On one occasion an elderly woman approached me and said, "I don't agree with abortion, but I'm glad to see a man standing up for women's right to make their own decisions." That's what this is really about: the freedom of all of us to make our own decisions, not have them made for us by somebody else's religion. That's the freedom that requires our eternal vigilance.

[Reposted from 2006]

13 April 2021

Book review -- it's not 1965 any more

Factfulness by Hans Rosling (2018)

This book (buy it here), by a Swedish doctor and medical researcher who has worked in some of the world's poorest countries, has points in common with Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now and The Better Angels of Our Nature.  It's an evidence-based look at the real condition of our world and the way things are going, and at how most people's perception of those things is so badly mistaken.  Rosling's book, however, is shorter and more accessible than Pinker's, and focuses more specifically on health and economic development.

He starts off with a self-test -- a list of basic factual questions on global education levels, life expectancy, population growth, vaccination rates, etc, and invites you to check your own answers against the correct ones.  He then points out that when he's given this test, even most educated people get the answers not only wrong but drastically wrong.  Almost everyone believes that in all these areas, the global situation is not only worse but far, far worse than it actually is.

Part of the problem is that people's perception of the world is still stuck in a half-century-old framework which no longer describes reality.  In that framework, the world was divided into rich and poor countries, "developed" and "developing", with the latter category having the large majority of the world's population.  But this is no longer a realistic view of what the world is like.  As an example, he gives a chart plotting countries on a graph that shows number of children per family and the proportion of children that die before growing up.  It looks like what we expect -- a large number of countries clustered in the "large families, many deaths" category, a smaller number in the "small families, few deaths" category, and very few countries in between.  But this chart is from 1965.  A chart of today, using exactly the same criteria, shows most countries -- with 85% of the world's population -- now in the "small families, few deaths" group.  By this criterion, 85% of the world is now "developed" by 1965 standards.

He looks at per-capita income in the same way.  Half a century ago, the world was pretty clearly divided into rich countries and poor countries, and most people in the West think it still is that way.  In fact, most of the countries that were poor back then have moved into the middle-income category, with some encroaching on the lower reaches of the "rich" category.  The chart no longer looks like two separate clumps of countries, rich and poor -- it's more cigar-shaped, with most countries in the middle and relatively few at the poor extreme.  There's no sharp discontinuity between rich and middle-income, no obvious place to draw a dividing line between a favored minority of developed countries and the rest.

Measures of global health -- life expectancy, vaccinations, infant mortality, and so on -- show the same pattern.  Most of the former "Third World" is in the process of catching up with the developed world (there remains a "straggler" group of seriously poor countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, but even these are better off than they used to be).  We haven't yet reached the point where most of the Earth's population is as prosperous and healthy as the US, western Europe, and Japan, but things are clearly heading in that direction, and it will take just a few more decades -- certainly not a century -- to get there.

If you're my age, you can remember decades ago seeing appeals to donate to help victims of massive famines in places like Ethiopia and Bangladesh, complete with pictures of pitiful stick-limbed children with swollen bellies.  Notice you don't see those any more?  It's because those places aren't like that any more.  In Bangladesh, for example, in 1972 the average woman had seven children and the child survival rate was under 80%.  Today it's two children per woman and 97%.  Life expectancy there has gone from 52 to 73 years over the same period.  Still not as good as France or Japan, but the magnitude of the change is undeniable.

Pages 60-63 have a series of striking charts showing the global changes from a few decades ago to the present in dozens of factors like literacy, malnutrition, oil spills, female education, air pollution, clean water, laws protecting nature, the percentage of the world's population living under democratic governments, and so on.  In every single case there has been substantial improvement -- in some cases, so huge as to be revolutionary, in just a few decades.

So why does the perception persist that everything is terrible and getting worse?  Rosling discusses ten "instincts", as he calls them, that lead people to misperceive and misinterpret reality (useful information in a broad range of situations), and offers suggestions for how to correct for them.  The media tend to over-dramatize and over-simplify how they report things and to treat exceptional cases -- deep poverty or large families in poor countries, for example -- as if they were still typical.  There's also the fact that people who are now in the age ranges that are socially dominant (40 to 70, say) got their education decades ago when the world was very different, and their picture of reality has not evolved to keep up with how things have changed.

Like Pinker, Rosling knows that many readers will be viscerally resistant to believing much of this, so he provides a great deal of supporting data, though it's not as overwhelming as the mountains of evidence that make Pinker's tomes so massive.

The fact that so many people, even those in positions of power, have such a drastically-mistaken view of the world can all too easily lead to despair, paralysis, and bad decision-making.  We need to understand reality, and the future we're heading for, the way it actually is.

11 April 2021

Link round-up for 11 April 2021

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

o o o o o

Cats are such graceful animals.

Once wasn't enough for this hunter.

Mock Paper Scissors brings us some unfortunate signs.

Even burglars are incompetent these days.

Behold the true origin of the Easter Bunny.

Sometimes, where you are is important.

Corporate slogans get improved (found via Miss Cellania).

See you in the Northern Territory.

Honesty may or may not be the best policy.

He is risen.

Time for some unicorns.

By Hook or by Book observes National Library Week.

Don't stop jumping (yeesh, those things are big).

Blogger Bilbo selects the right-cheek ass clown of the month.

Accept the truth about dong size (found via TYWKIWDBI).

Great variety of trees here.

Some disliked buildings here.  This one is better.

Finally, a "porn" website I can get into.

See who has the world's largest door.

This may or may not be art, and may or may not have been vandalized.

We deserve better movies.

I guess this is the only word you need to know, since it means everything.

Big Bad Bald Bastard has received the Pfizer vaccine, praise be unto Bill Gates.

SilverAppleQueen gives us some erotic poetry.

This building will knock you down and set you on fire.

See the creepy art of Omar Rayyan.

Don't believe everything you read about Easter.

In 2029 an asteroid will hit Earth, bringing a virus which will allow the Antichrist to rise to power.  Until then, watch out for zombies.

Knowing topology can be useful.

You'll hardly believe these are pencil drawings.

Can somebody who's good with the new WordPress block editor give Esme a hand with it?

A local hero returns home.

Make-up -- for men -- goes back a long way.

I see nothing wrong with how she's dressed.  Wingnuts just want something to make a fuss about.

Religionists' anecdotes about scientists shouldn't be taken at face value.

Writers comment on the nature of good and evil.

What can the Bible teach us?  That some gal named Oholibah back in the Bronze Age was really into big dicks.

I envy this guy, and hope to do the same as soon as possible.

Striking image here of part of the Veil Nebula, 2,100 light years from Earth.

Jeanne Barret was the first woman to travel all the way around the world.  It wasn't an easy trip.

Here's what walking will do for you.

Maybe we should stop treating things like this as normal (found via Miss Cellania).

Giuliani's son has political aspirations.  This could be fun.

Artificial intelligence isn't really intelligence, and the ways it goes wrong are almost beyond our ability to describe.

Respect their religion.

Defend sex-positivity.

Covid-19 PPE is necessary, but don't forget the problem of waste disposal.

Autism makes the trauma of sexual abuse even harder to cope with.  Much more here, including advice for non-autistic people and some very disturbing personal experiences.

Religion is becoming less and less important to Americans.  The churches are getting desperate.

What's really going on with Joe Manchin?

Working from home will be even better after the pandemic is over.

Yard signs abound in the dreary Trumpanzee wasteland of rural Ohio.

Plowing through Life remembers a long-lost brother and makes some important points about mental illness.

Fellow Christians accuse senator Warnock of heresy for saying non-Christians can get into Heaven.  What %^$!#@ century is this?

Exercise in Futility blog dissects wingnut claims that the Chinese regime unleashed covid-19 on the US deliberately.

Accept their true identity!

Against Georgia's voting law, Congress can fight back, and so can we (found via MBRU).  Trae Crowder has some thoughts about boycotting the state.  Max Boot debunks defenses of the law (found via this post at Progressive Eruptions, which has part of the text if you can't access that link).

If job requirements seem like bullshit, there's probably something else going on.

I've heard before of doctors sexually abusing their patients -- but a veterinarian?

Trump's massive credit-card rip-off of his supporters sets an example for other Republicans to follow.

No, covid-19 lockdowns did not cause an increase in suicide, at least in the US.

But that's cool, this is all about me!  I get what I want!

Evangelicals' resistance to vaccination will prolong the pandemic.  Then there's the whole fuss over "vaccine passports".

A sampling of tap water from across the US shows alarming results.

Here's what happened after the liberation of Auschwitz.

A small democratic country sets an example by standing up to China.

The US vows to stand by Taiwan in case of a Chinese attack.

Forced sterilization and abortion are part of the Chinese regime's genocide of the Uyghurs, but the ethnic Chinese population is in danger of shrinking too.

Here's an episode from the brutal military repression in Myanmar.

The Ingenuity helicopter's first flight may be as soon as this Wednesday.

See more links at Fair and Unbalanced.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted a brief video of living on another world, and some observations on the blood cult.

08 April 2021

The blood cult

Christianity has a bizarre obsession with blood.  A common metaphor for being "saved" is being "washed in the blood" of Jesus, often stated as "washed in the blood of the lamb", a reference to the sacrifice of Jesus being an extension of the barbaric animal sacrifices which occur so often in the Old Testament (and in primitive societies generally).  The basis of the metaphor isn't hard to understand.  If Jesus was crucified, he would have bled to death, and since the death of Jesus supposedly enables sin to be removed so that a person can enter Heaven, then one could imagine the deity's blood as a sort of spiritual Lysol washing sin away.  Some Christians believe that it can remove guilt for actual crimes against persons, as if the crime had never been committed.  If you're not familiar with this concept, Bruce Gerencser provides a brief discussion.

But why opt for such a revolting metaphor?  Blood has its proper place, inside the body, but humans do not normally think of shed blood as a clean or cleansing substance.  If you notice that you have blood on you, especially the blood of another person or an animal, you don't consider yourself clean until you've washed it off.  When we describe a person or institution as "bloodstained", it usually means "murderous".  When stories are told of a person actually washing or bathing in blood, the intent is to depict the person as depraved and disgusting.  The act of dying to save others is not normally described with such expressions.  When we pay tribute to those who have done so, such as fallen soldiers, we don't speak of their blood as washing away whatever threat they fought to ward off.

We all remember the Ohio woman who believed herself safe from covid-19 because she was "covered in Jesus's blood":

What kind of mind, seeking a way to express the concept of being purified and protected, reaches for "covered in his blood"?

The doctrine of the Eucharist takes the blood fetish a step further.  In Catholicism, when the priest recites certain words over bread and wine, those foods are "transubstantiated", actually becoming the flesh and blood of Jesus, which are then consumed by the worshipers.  (Most Protestant sects hold the transformation to be metaphorical, not literal, but they still take the consumption of bread and wine as a symbolic eating of flesh and blood.)  Some misguided humans do often eat animal flesh, but they usually try to avoid thinking about the fact that it is animal flesh, and eating human flesh -- cannibalism -- is almost universally condemned as barbaric and disgusting.  Drinking blood is even less acceptable.  Even in most human cultures where meat-eating is common, people do not drink animal blood.  Drinking human blood is a practice exclusive to vampires -- evil creatures of folklore.

This doctrine is, of course, rooted in the Bible itself -- see for example John 6:53-56:

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.  Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.

One could argue that Jesus was speaking metaphorically here, though the actual wording doesn't at all suggest that.  But it's bizarre that he, or rather those who wrote the sacred texts and cast the mythology of Jesus in its permanent form, would choose such a repugnant method for believers to access the blessings said to flow from his mission.  And it's even more bizarre that the religion itself would make such an act the center of its most important ritual.

We often recoil from the weird and repulsive beliefs and practices of the alien religions of other cultures.  But Christianity too is awash (so to speak) in equally nauseating ideas.  We just don't easily see them for what they are because of their familiarity.

06 April 2021

Video of the day -- Not Home


Even if we someday find another planet which is basically habitable, it will probably be different enough in subtle ways to never feel quite "right".  How much less will humans ever be able to feel at home, for lifetimes, in a giant tin can flying through space, or in a poisonous frozen desert where the gravity is only one-third what we evolved in.  The void and the wastelands beyond are for our machines.  So long as humans remain a biological species, there can be only one home.

04 April 2021

Link round-up for 4 April 2021

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

o o o o o

Let these new TV channels really exist, please.

US law strictly regulates imports of this vital substance (link from "Bob" in the comments last round-up).

See the true size of the Ever Given, and how important its cargo was.

They found something better than a box.

Face your pun-ishment, visually.  More here.

Understand the five laws of stupidity.

Look, Moses has returned!

Dolphins are assholes.

Join the true Space Force.

Have some Easter bunnies.

He's never met a happy feminist.

As if just displaying a skeleton in a hardware store wasn't weird enough.....

Fuck!

Imagine if sea lions were woke.

Equaff ass, aliect ass, tyionin.....

Our distant ancestors would be pleased.

This little submarine is full of activity.

The object of Giuliani's illicit lust gets some recognition.

That's a big dwarf.

Every writer on the net gets this.

I had the same reaction too.

This was the sky over Iceland a couple of months ago.

Shrinking dongs and weakening jizz are part of the price of unwise eating habits.

Both sides, both sides!

Learn how to sabotage a golf course.

Home technology has come far.  In some cases, customer service hasn't.

This building exists.  So does this one.

This person exists.  But I wouldn't say he's really alive.

Maybe relationships aren't meant to last forever.

Nichelle Nichols did a lot more than play Uhura on Star Trek.

You can't change what's already happened by talking to someone who isn't there.

NFTs, a gimmick allowing people to "own" digital art, are apparently not a safe investment.

Cas d'Intérêt has a few choice items from France, including initial preparations for the restoration of Notre Dame.

For the first time ever, fewer than half of all Americans belong to a church.

You can now visit the Louvre online.

Caesar's last words may not have been what you think.

Some men are not comfortable with women in power.  Or speaking up at all.

God sent covid-19 to punish Democratic voters, Trump will soon be president again, blah, blah, blah.  More here.

Here's why machine translation only works with major languages.

A dead squid "dances" (may be disturbing to some).

Wingnuts demand the "right" to spread disease wherever they want.

If you're on Facebook, read this.

Even believers can recognize the hypocrisy of the Evangelical church.

At least three-quarters of Americans support various aspects of Biden's infrastructure plan, and over half support raising taxes to pay for it.

Annie Asks You contemplates how to win over those who are hesitant about the covid-19 vaccine.  One approach is to use history.  Or you could explain the risks of the disease (found via Billions).  Here's a sample of what the opposition is putting out.

Very good overview here of how the culture war actually works, though I'd describe it as a still-ongoing effort that started in the 1970s, not one we've already "won".

Companies manage to turn even working from home into a nightmare.

"How about talking to girls about it?"

Don't suppress your doubts -- give them a fair hearing.

Green Eagle brings us a mountain of lunacy from around the wingnutosphere, starting with some rather desperate potshots at Biden's press conference.

What is SpaceX really doing?

Baltimore has stopped prosecuting phony "crimes" like drug possession and prostitution, with positive results.

Amazon's propaganda department is slipping.

Georgia's vote-suppression law is starting to have consequencesThe business world knows which side it needs to takeThe worst part of the law isn't getting much attention.

It matters what news you listen to (found via Hackwhackers).

Analysis of the 2020 House elections shows that going hard left loses the Democrats more votes than it gains.

A top figure in the US Catholic hierarchy considers excommunicating Biden because he opposes forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.

A former sailor looks at the Ever Given fiasco.

If some members of Congress collaborated with the January 6 lynch mob at the Capitol, prosecution will take some time, but that doesn't mean they're off the hook.

Fanny Brukner should have turned 87 this week.

Students in the UK support free expression -- which is under attack in that country.

Egypt has tightened security in the Suez canal, already foiling one terrorist plot (link from Dave Dubya).

Amazon drivers in India plan a nationwide strike.

To fight global warming, South Korea will spend $43 billion to build the world's largest wind-power facility.

The fascist Chinese regime has destroyed the last traces of real democracy in Hong Kong.  Japan and Indonesia are strengthening military cooperation in the face of the Chinese threat.

Scientists now believe that once we get greenhouse-gas emissions down, the climate will return to normal relatively quickly.

We're starting to understand an alien ocean.

See more links at Fair and Unbalanced and AutisticAF.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted an expression of defiance against vote suppression, a concern about the Suez canal, a religious potential super-spreader event in India, and a new song.

[Image at top:  the new strange fruit, found via Hackwhackers, which regularly posts collections of political cartoons]

03 April 2021

Video of the day -- Loose Canyon


A new indie group from the UK.  Found via Hackwhackers, which has some background.

01 April 2021

Diseases of the body, diseases of the mind

As the global deployment of vaccines brings the end of the covid-19 pandemic into view, the coronavirus is enjoying a final surge with the help of its strongest ally -- religion.  The most dangerous situation is emerging in the world's largest democracy, where the world's largest religious pilgrimage is under way.

India's Kumbh Mela festival typically draws tens of millions of Hindu pilgrims to various sacred sites near the Ganges river.  People are now starting to arrive for this year's festival -- though the government has decreed some restrictions on access in an effort to reduce the obvious danger, they sound far from adequate, and many pilgrims are ignoring them out of a belief that participation in the religious rituals of the event confers some kind of protective immunity.  Given the numbers involved, the potential for a super-spreader disaster is clear.

There is a considerable history of religion spreading disease and death in India.  The Ganges plain is one of the most densely populated areas on Earth, and with sewage-treatment technology widely inadequate, the huge river is horribly polluted.  But it is also considered "sacred", and some Hindu religious rituals involve bathing in its waters because they are considered "pure" spiritually, even though biologically they are anything but.  Since the early nineteenth century, this behavior has generated seven cholera epidemics so massive that they spread beyond India's borders, making the disease (which originated at the Ganges) endemic in many areas around the world.

Defecation in the open is a huge public-health problem, and persists mainly due to a religious taboo on the presence of excrement within enclosed spaces, which many people interpret as forbidding the use of indoor toilets.  The Indian government has been campaigning for years to change this behavior, with mixed success.

In the West, too, throughout the covid-19 pandemic, churches have fought hard to help spread the virus, endlessly suing to overturn restrictions on their group rituals, or simply disregarding them.  For centuries, Christian clerics have fought tooth and nail against modern contraception, stem-cell research, and other medical advances.  Diseases of the body spread and sicken and kill far more effectively when they have diseases of the mind to assist them.

30 March 2021

A terrorist temptation

Now that a week of effort has finally dislodged the Ever Given from the bank of the Suez Canal, the backlogged flow of trade can get moving again.  But we shouldn't dismiss this as a freak event to be forgotten now that it's over.  We should learn from it, because certain others doubtless have.

Any terrorist group worth its salt has surely noted the massive trade disruption caused by a simple accident.  What if, they must already be thinking, such a huge ship were actually sunk (as far as a ship can sink in such shallow water) at a narrow point in the canal?  What if it were induced to roll violently in the process, dumping half its absurd Jenga tower of shipping containers into the canal in a disorderly heap?  What if such a blockage took months to clear?  And isn't the Panama canal, with its system of locks providing ready-made vulnerable points, even more susceptible to such sabotage?

I don't know what kind of weapon would be necessary to blow a big enough hole in an Ever-Given-size cargo ship to sink it quickly in a pre-determined spot.  A mine would certainly do it -- terrorists would not normally have access to one, but pretty much any rogue state could supply it.  Sabotage from within, by infiltrating or bribing the crew or by an armed gang storming and seizing the ship after it entered the canal, might do it.  The point is, after witnessing the mess created during the week of the crisis, terrorists are likely to think such an act would provide an impressive return on whatever effort they had to invest in it.

As ships get bigger and more overloaded (to lower the per-container cost of shipping), various margins of safety get ever thinner, and the potential consequences of accidents or sabotage become more serious.  It's one more vulnerability for evil people to exploit.

Quote for the day -- defiance

I love the spirit of this.  Of course Congress should, and I think will, pass federal voting-rights protection to sweep away the Jim Crow revival being engineered by Republicans across the nation, but the enemy will never stop trying one thing or another, so we all need to stand ready to support those who defy such suppression.  Quote found via Octoberfarm.

28 March 2021

Link round-up for 28 March 2021

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

o o o o o

Don't believe everything you see.

Eldritch evil lives within him.

View an informative guide to Canadian provinces.

If you're going to put a symbol on yourself, at least find out what it means.

Looks like Pepsi made a mistake.

"Have you seen the dog bowl?"

The arrival of spring brings hedonistic verse from Rawknrobyn (NSFW).

They're armed and dangerous.

"Firefox has encountered an unexpected problem with windows."

Truck brake failure?  We've got a ramp for that.

A corncob battle is escalated by technology.

That strange feeling that you're being watched.....

Bitcoin offers an existence free of regulation.

These are all true.  Without standardization, language would change beyond recognition every couple of centuries.

You know the drill, right?

Learn the history of a mountain that isn't there.

This "insult" has been used on me, and probably on a lot of us.

Some people jump the shark -- she threw one.

Just use plain language FFS.

An offer of free fish proves very popular.

Discover the truth behind the cannonball tree of Québec city.

Celebrate Scottish heritage, with a few jabs at Trump.

This actually looks kind of cool.

Here's an interesting comic book page from 1997.

Read whatever you want.

Yes, this is, or was, a real animal.

Do you love the color of the sky?

Crazy Eddie observed Persian New Year, a date celebrated in many countries besides Iran.

Novels can be educational.  Which are your favorites?

I don't understand the purpose of this website.  I never signed up for it or even knew about it until now.  It looks like they do this with a lot of blogs.

These people are cultists.

Always remember, fiction isn't reality.

James Doohan was good guy.

Even a ship blocking the Suez Canal is fantasy fodder for the QAnon qrackpots.  Evergreen, the company that operates the Ever Given, has quite a reputation.  Still, the situation has its amusing side.

Meteors?  Aliens?  Nah, just SpaceX again.

An unorthodox researcher finds clues to the roots of Shakespeare's Hamlet (link from CAS).

Encourage businesses to take "The Democracy Pledge".

This shithead messed with the wrong little old lady.

God is not the answer.

Flaws in human judgment make job interviews pretty much a waste of time.

What's a David to do, when there are so many Goliaths around?

Stay the hell out of Arkansas, especially if you have a medical condition.

Tax Badger might be a good option for offbeat earners.

I guess this is a right-wing idea of "humor".

Amazon plunges deeper into evil.

Religious media struggle to accommodate their own ridiculous taboos.

Who ya gonna call?  Woke-busters!

More Asian-Americans are buying guns for self-defense against hate crimes.  As restrictions loom, the gun industry prepares for the inevitable surge in demand.  Here's a chart for choosing the media narrative after mass shootings.

Republicans are losing the filibuster debate.

".....all you who lobby against making drugs legal..... You're the one who's guilty."

Don't throw a lit match into the powder keg.

The Atlanta mass killer was shaped by a corrupt and evil institution.  Forget the bullshit about sex addiction (NSFW images).

No, Trump probably isn't going to create his own social-media platform.

Death threats are still acceptable on Facebook, apparently.

Some tips here on helping to fight the Georgia vote-suppression law.  "You will not win.  We see what you're doing.  We see you for who you are."  And there may be a price to pay.

The tax system makes it easy for the big guys to hide income.  And who's at fault for tax filing being such a nightmarish experience?

Right-wingers, now trying to hijack the cancel-culture issue, have themselves been guilty of attempted censorship when it suited them.

Anti-vaxxers lie about coincidences.

The majority of Americans support DC statehood.

John McWhorter weighs in on translating Amanda Gorman.

Look at other countries on covid-19 relief.

There must be no religious exception to freedom of speech.

A majority of British people want their country's official church to give up its traditional privileges.

"This idea simply won't fly among the wider public.  It's only got this far because they didn't know it was happening."

Yazidi women freed from sex slavery under Dâ'ish (ISIL) face a difficult choice imposed by their own religion.

A Japanese court ruling may soon open up marriage to gay people in that country.

Democratic Taiwan begins mass production of long-range missiles as a deterrent against the threat from fascist China.

Don't worry too much about those North Korean missile tests.

Religionists do religious thing, religiously.

The Inca ruins at Machu Picchu are under threat.

Your vulnerability to covid-19 partly depends on what kind of neanderthal DNA you have.

Two new papers suggest an explanation for the unusual properties of Oumuamua.

Four billion years ago, Mars was an ocean planet.  So was Earth.

One simple mutation explains much of the difference between human brains and those of other apes.

More links here (mostly political) and here (on autism issues).  Miss Cellania's latest collection is here.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted a video of liberation from religious stifling and a reflection on NASA's mars helicopter.

26 March 2021

The mind in flight, from 1903 to 2021

It's been just over 117 years since the Wright brothers achieved the first powered flight in December of 1903.  Compared with the full sweep of human history, that's not a long time, but the technology of flight has come far.  Within decades of the Wrights' achievement, humanity progressed to the routine use of aircraft in war, routine commercial aviation, the first human in space (1961), and the first humans on the Moon (1969).  Since then, we've carried out extensive exploration of the solar system, with each planet and several major moons receiving at least one flyby, culminating in the New Horizons probe's visit to Pluto in 2015.

The current Perseverance rover mission on Mars represents yet another step forward.  It carries a helicopter, named Ingenuity, specially designed for flight on Mars.  When it first takes to the air (probably in early April), it will echo the Wright brothers by achieving the first powered flight by an aircraft on another planet, barely a century after we first managed it on this one.  I think the Wrights would have been impressed at how we've carried their work forward.

Designing a helicopter for Mars was a major challenge.  Mars's gravity is only one-third as strong as Earth's, but the atmosphere is only one hundredth as dense, offering little purchase for rotors.  Since low gravity cannot be simulated on Earth on a large scale, it was impossible to test-fly the machine under true Mars-like conditions.  Ingenuity weighs only four pounds and has a rotor span of four feet, so it's comparable in size to a large drone.  Unlike a drone, however, it can't be operated by remote control in real time, because radio signals take several minutes to travel from Earth to Mars (the exact amount of time depends on the positions of the two planets along their orbits).  Ingenuity has its own onboard computers and navigation sensors, enabling it to autonomously carry out instructions transmitted from Earth in advance.

This video is animation depicting what the first test flight will look like -- when the real thing happens, Perseverance's cameras will record the event for us.  Ingenuity's mission is not scientific research as such, but rather putting the technology to the test, gaining knowledge of what flying on Mars is actually like, to help in the design of future aircraft which will explore parts of the planet which rovers cannot reach.

And someone at NASA has a sense of history.  Ingenuity carries within itself a tiny piece of fabric from the Wright brothers' original 1903 airplane, in tribute to those who helped launch this fantastic flight of the mind which has now come so far.

23 March 2021

Video of the day -- freedom from dehumanization


The shroud conceals the humanity of the person, but the person is always there.  The voice-over is in Arabic -- translation:

Look at her
No, don't take your eyes off her
She is hope
She is life
She is love
She is desire
She is the power to be
I missed you in the name [truth] of freedom
You are the power of existence
You are hope
You are life
You are love
You are desire
You are the power to be
The awakening is you
The sunrise is you
Rise again now
Now
Freedom..... freedom..... freedom.....

21 March 2021

Link round-up for 21 March 2021

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

o o o o o

St Patrick's Day has arrived!

UK town names make a road trip more, uh, interesting.

Can you still get this car?

Kinky St Patrick's Day poetry here from Rawknrobyn.

Faces, faces everywhere!

Finally, a review site cats will find useful.

Seems it's hard to find a good editor these days.

Witness a desperate chase and escape on the high seas.

Covid-19 isolation is easier for introverts.

Let's give classic movies modern trigger warnings.

Nice little witchcraft story here.

Enjoy your meal.

Why do demons even bother possessing people?  What's their game?

She stood up to an anti-masker, and received an unusual honor.

Find small businesses here, or list your own -- made by this person.

There is now actually a program for escaping from Zoom meetings.

For 28 years, thousands of treasure-hunters in France have been on the trail of the Golden Owl.

An underground grotto in England is richly decorated with millions of shells.  Nobody knows why.

Take a closer look at ordinary things.

Nicely-done fight scene here.

Don't let your job consume your life.

See a surreal cloud formation.

Why are some people so verbose on the internet?

Church assholes are assholes through and through.

Things are nicer now in the US Capitol.

Síle na Gig is an ancient and multifaceted pagan goddess (found via Silverapplequeen).

Perhaps being bi helps you understand the opposite sex.

Claire Bretécher was a prolific cartoonist who lampooned everyday life.

On global warming, beware of contrived distractions.

Anti-mask asshole (from Oregon!) mouths off to Texas cop, gets arrested.

Atheist Revolution examines the modern witch-hunt.

When healthier eating is an "attack on our way of life", we need a different way of life.

The religionist mind fetishizes suffering (these people are weird).

Sorry, some people are just bad at things.

Grovel before me, you worthless worms.

The wingnuts just keep going crazier and creepier.

Professor Taboo laments the continued dominance of the pandemic over our national life -- and over his blog.

Some genuinely wise traditional Navajo thinking here.

A hopeful development for my long-suffering city -- Portland's black community leaders denounce the violence and vandalism which has plagued downtown so long.  Maybe this will help embolden the cops to finally restore order.

The Spartan Atheist has some questions for self-proclaimed "pro-life" types.

Eating a fish?  It may not be what you think.

The fact that so many people have left religion gives hope for those who still remain indoctrinated.

You don't need to "pass as" what you actually are.

Help catch the worst of the Capitol lynch-mob members who are still at large.

Arguing on the internet is pointless.  And it's a waste of time talking to people who won't listen.

The Atlanta murderer was a product of religious indoctrination.  It was probably more about sex than race.  And there's stuff we don't need to keep hearing.

Seduced early into a fundamentalist cult, saved by doubts and Disney movies.

Hell of a sense for public relations these people have.

Evangelicalism brainwashes women into a submissive role.

Police in the UK harshly suppress a genuinely peaceful vigil (no window-smashing here) for a victim of police violence.  More background here.

"The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears."

In Israel, the ultra-religious are starting to question their community's disastrous response to covid-19.

Turkey's Islamist president Erdoğan has pulled out of a pan-European accord on violence against women.

Sutematsu Ôyama, the first Japanese woman to get a Western college education, had a life worth remembering.

The gangster regimes are getting mad as hell at Biden.  Good.  That shows he's standing up to them instead of kissing their asses like the last guy.

The EU will impose sanctions on China over the Uyghur genocide.

Girls in Indonesia, even non-Muslims, are often bullied into abiding by Islamic dress codes.

No, covid-19 vaccines are not killing people.  With hundreds of millions now vaccinated, in a few cases people will die right after a shot just by coincidence.

Whales can learn from experience, and have.  They're now gathering in unusual numbers, and we don't know why.

This is the sound of driving on Mars (found via Hackwhackers).

More links here (mostly politics) and here (on autism/police issues).

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted some more improved words, a cool music video, and a quote on the plague of stupidity.