28 September 2020

What would aliens really be like?

In this post last month, I said that one reason I reject alien-abduction stories is that the aliens they describe -- "greys" and suchlike -- are just unimaginative modifications of the human form, and it's very unlikely that evolution on another planet would produce anything so closely resembling us or any other Earthly species.  Aliens with a space-traveling civilization would need to have sophisticated sense organs and organs of manipulation (like hands or tentacles) in order to develop technology in the first place, but that's all we can assume.

So what would life on another planet be like, if it exists at all?  Not just intelligent life that might visit us, but life in general which we might someday discover?  This is obviously going to be very speculative, since we have only one example of a life-bearing planet to look at and thus no general knowledge about what is and isn't possible.  But it's informed by what I know about evolution, at least.

To begin with, all land vertebrates on Earth are four-limbed (except in a few cases like snakes where evolution has done away with limbs that their ancestors had), but this is just because they all evolved from a common four-limbed ancestor.  There's no reason to think that the same would hold on another world.  It would depend on how many limbs the common ancestor of land life had.  Six limbs, or eight, or even ten or more, might actually work better, especially for very large animals.  In some Earthly vertebrates such as birds and bats, the front pair of limbs has evolved into wings, while in a few species -- notably humans -- the same front pair has become specialized into organs of manipulation rather than locomotion.  With more pairs of limbs to work with, evolution might specialize them for several different functions in the same animal.  In an intelligent species, the first pair or even the first two pairs of limbs might specialize for manipulation as our arms and hands do, leaving the rest as legs and/or wings.

If the common ancestor of land life started off with some legs plus other limbs which were more like tentacles (quite possible, assuming the common ancestor emerged from the ocean originally), the tentacles in later intelligent descendants would likely adapt for use as fine-tuned manipulators more easily than front legs did in our own case.

Similarly, all Earthly land vertebrates have two eyes, but again, this is just because they have a two-eyed common ancestor.  A larger number of eyes distributed around the upper part of an organism would allow for 360-degree vision as well as more redundancy in case an eye were injured.  In Earthly animals, the slow speed of nerve impulses dictates that eyes and other major sense organs must be fairly close to the brain, but if faster nerves evolved on another world, eyes and ears and other sense organs could just as well be distributed all over the body.  In such a case the brain would probably be deep inside the body where it would be better protected -- there would be no reason for evolution to place it in an independently-movable sense-organ cluster at the front.  That is, animals would not have a distinct head separated from the rest of the body by a neck.

On the other hand, bilateral symmetry (both sides of the organism being the same) probably exists in animals everywhere.  There are advantages to being able to travel in a more or less straight line, and without bilateral symmetry it's difficult to do that without a brain capable of sophisticated navigation, which would tend to appear only late in evolution.  A few animals on Earth, such as starfish, lack bilateral symmetry, but I wouldn't expect this to be common.

Science fiction sometimes depicts aliens as "reptilian" or "insect-like", but this is almost as nonsensical as the more common fictional aliens which are essentially human-like but with pointed ears or odd prosthetics on their foreheads.  Reptiles and insects are specifically Earthly categories of life, just as humans are; the same categories wouldn't evolve independently on another planet.  Features like jointed exoskeletons, scaly skin, egg-laying, and so forth might well exist, but there's no reason to think they would be sorted the same way as on Earth.  An animal with a jointed exoskeleton, which bore live young like a mammal, had a venomous bite like a reptile, and also had manipulative (non-exoskeleton-plated) tentacles like a cephalopod is perfectly possible.  It couldn't evolve on Earth because those traits were long ago sorted into separate categories of animals far too different to interbreed with each other, but there's no reason such traits couldn't all exist within a single lineage on another planet.

One thing I would not expect to see on another planet is a really close equivalent of our male-female distinction.  There's a substantial advantage in having different individuals be able to combine genes to produce offspring, in that it allows beneficial mutations to spread rapidly in a population and also combine with each other, rather than each mutation being confined to a single line of descent.  But I see no advantage in the whole population of a species being divided into two categories, each performing only part of the reproductive process, so that only individuals of opposite categories could combine genes.  It would make more sense for every individual to be equipped for all aspects of reproduction, so that any two individuals in the population could "mate" with each other and produce offspring.  Even if evolution did divide the population into two categories with different reproductive roles, it's unlikely that the differences between the two categories would match the distinction between our own male and female genders very closely.

Science fiction has occasionally depicted alien species with more than two genders, but this strikes me as unlikely to be common.  It would make the mating process more complex and thus more likely to fail, while increasing the number of individuals needed for it to succeed.  I suppose a three-gender system might evolve on planets where other oddities of life or the environment minimized these disadvantages, but such cases would be rare.

Another thing I wouldn't expect to see:  wheels.  They work well for machines, but there are two reasons why they wouldn't evolve in animals.  First, there's no plausible way for nerves and blood vessels to get across the bearings.  Second, wheels only work where the terrain to be traversed is completely flat.  Even minor irregularities would require a wheeled animal to have some other type of limbs to get over them, and in practice it's hard to imagine a realistic natural environment where wheels would be practical.  The first problem, though not the second, also applies to the evolution of propellers in flying animals or aquatic ones.

The very concept of a "species" may not be universal.  Earthly bacteria of different species can exchange genetic material -- it's conceivable that on another planet where the organic system for transcribing DNA (or whatever was used for encoding genetic information) was more versatile, animals might be able to exchange genes with a wide range of other animals even if they were not particularly similar.  In such a case, human explorers would find a vast range of individual animals different from and similar to each other to varying degrees and in various ways, but not neatly divisible into separate species as Earthly animals are.

Can we even assume that life on another planet would have something like the distinction between plants and animals that Earthly life has?  Probably.  Sort of.  It seems likely that life anywhere would include a class of forms which would extract energy from sunlight, by photosynthesis or something similar, and that these forms would tend to be fixed in place, or not move around much, not being able to produce enough energy to do so -- and that later other forms would evolve which specialized in "eating" the concentrations of stored energy which these "plants" represented, which they could only do if they could move around.  But intermediate forms might also exist, capable of consuming plants but also retaining the ability to photosynthesize as a back-up when richer "foods" were unavailable.  Or mobile forms might evolve the ability to extract nutrients from soil or air rather than from consuming other living things, depending on what their biochemistry, and thus their nutritional needs, was like.

Speaking of plants, even if most planets have them, they probably aren't green.  Black leaves would be more efficient, since they absorb the most light and reflect the least, and from a plant's viewpoint any light which is not absorbed is wasted.  Green leaves work well enough, and that's what evolution on Earth settled upon, but even if the same happened on another planet, the happenstance of mutation might well have produced some other color.  On worlds where the animal/plant distinction was fuzzier, plants might well have more pro-active defenses against animals seeking to eat them, such as eating them in return à la the Venus flytrap, emitting jets of toxic vapor or liquid, etc.

The evolution of high intelligence in plants is probably not common.  Lifeforms that are fixed in place don't usually face the kinds of challenges for which intelligence would provide a major advantage.  But there might be ecosystems which would pose such challenges, and if the plants in such a case had some kind of nervous system, intelligence could arise.  I don't know whether we would really classify such things as plants, though, even if they were rooted in place and fueled mostly by photosynthesis.

As for aliens capable of building a technological civilization -- the kind of aliens who might visit us someday -- as I said above, we can assume they would need sophisticated sense organs, and organs of manipulation to enable early tool-making which would eventually lead to advanced technology.  The latter might be hands, tentacles, something like an elephant's trunk, or perhaps even mouthparts adapted for the purpose, as with Larry Niven's fictional "puppeteer" species.  But as I hope I've shown, aliens with these traits would still likely be very different in form from ourselves.

Notice, by the way, that I haven't even raised the issue of different environments driving evolution in even more alien directions.  Everything I've said here assumes planets with essentially the same kind of environments as Earth.  Stronger or weaker gravity, brighter or dimmer sunlight, higher or lower temperature, soil with different chemical composition, a much denser or thinner atmosphere or one with a different mix of gases, etc. would all tend to produce evolutionary outcomes even more different from Earthly norms.

There may be planets out there with ecosystems as rich and diverse as Earth's.  But nothing we find there is going to look much like any species on Earth.  I'm aware of the argument from convergent evolution -- cases on Earth where animals of different lineages end up looking similar because they evolved in similar environments.  But those animals had a common ancestor which bequeathed them a whole set of common features -- two eyes, two ears, four legs, basically similar skeletons, muscles, etc. -- making it easy for them to evolve into very similar forms because they were fairly similar to start with.  Alien species would have no such common origins or features with Earthly species.

Science-fiction movies favor "aliens" which are really just slightly-modified humans, like the Klingons or the Na'vi, because this allows for facial expressions, gestures, male-female psychological dynamics, etc. which make it easier to relate to them as characters.  Sometimes SF offers "reptilian" or "insect-like" aliens which, at least, give audiences a ready-made set of expectations about their traits, based on what real reptiles and insects are like.  But the likely outcomes of actual evolution on other worlds operate under no such constraints.

27 September 2020

Link round-up for 27 September 2020

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

o o o o o

Must-read of the week:  Stop spreading scare stores about Trump stealing the election.  It will just depress voter turnout, which is our real weapon.  Read this too (found via Hackwhackers).

Bug off.

I bet this sticker placement was deliberate.

Stop in for some cake at the white man café.

"The 72 virgins were not what I expected."

She's stocking up on fresh meat.

He's just going for a ride.

Which witch are you?

Cook up some Alien food.

Always do proper maintenance on your electric sign.

Find new meanings for familiar words.

Explore the poetic side of knives.

Check out a few creepy fonts.

By Hook or by Book celebrates Stephen King.

See a sample of Scott Stoll's spooky art (click pics for bigger).

This is a gymnast with a difference.

Here's how to make a car change color based on temperature.

See if you can figure out what message this person is trying to send (found via Strangely Blogged).

This Halloween, scare a Republican.

Uninvited art criticism is worse than useless.

Bluebird of Bitterness examines spam comments (I once had something similar).

Veganism is Satanic, apparently.

See a startling mountain.

A graphic I linked a couple of weeks ago had been edited to hide its real meaning -- see the original here.

Trump is awful and so is McConnell.

An actress stands up to pronoun bullying and gets a barrage of abuse.

Guns and idiots don't mix.

"A blue whale's anus....."

The New York Crank has some nursery rhymes for the time of Trump.

And it was all for nothing.

The internet is global and doesn't need American moral imperialism.

Why are atheists so diverse?

Anti-maskers don't give a shit about other people.  Luckily, their numbers are dwindling.

Ginsburg's death moves a soccer mom to join the one true religion.

Violence is tempting, but it just gives the enemy what they want.

Never forget what really happened in the Sweet Cakes case.

It can't happen here, or.....

Earth-Bound Misfit suggests a way for Trump to take revenge if we vote him out.  I don't think this is likely, but it's an "interesting" thought.

Here's a mini-round-up on all the nasty shit Facebook is doing.

Get your face masks here and support the Navajo.

This guy is basically claiming he killed Ginsburg by putting a curse on her.

A top RedState writer who regularly attacked the NIH was actually an employee there until he was exposed.

Only 2% of millennials have a "Biblical worldview".

The Trumpified US health department is spending $300 million on an ad campaign to make people feel better about the pandemic.

Landlords sue for the right to evict tenants who can't pay.  Who the hell do they think is going to rent all the apartments they empty out?

"Mitch McConnell seems very worried....."  He knows he's on the losing side of history.

A mob attacks a car and tries to drag the driver out -- then police detain the victim.

Decline of the cities:  central Minneapolis is being "terrorized" as order breaks down.

A gang of right-wing thugs plots violence against protesters and leftist politicians here in Portland (found via Crooks and Liars).  Note that there are only about a hundred of them, they were easily infiltrated and exposed by Antifa, and their last clash apparently ended in a rout.  Meanwhile, a right-wing rally here yesterday fizzled pathetically.

A "Christian ethicist" ignores mountains of evidence of Trump's corruption.

Rationalizations evolve over time.

Senator Feinstein needs to hear from a few zillion constituents to tell her to get with the program.

A meat-packing plant that infected hundreds of people with covid-19 is punished -- with a fine of $957.

Trans ideology is bringing people together with a new respect for free expression.

History shows that tax increases don't hurt the stock market, and may even boost it.

If the Supreme Court strikes down the ACA after Democrats win the election, the only plan available to replace it is that of Bernie Sanders.

A hateful Christian has his say about Ginsburg.  John Pavlovitz is getting exasperated.

Many young Americans are disgracefully ignorant about the worst crime of the twentieth century (found via Miss Cellania).

The Barrett nomination is an insult to Ginsburg's memory.  Since we can't stop the Senate vote on her, it's in our interest that it happen before the election.

A blogger explains how pregnancy made her even more pro-choice.

We can and must end minority rule in the US.

An anti-mask, covid-denialist politician in Tennessee has died of the disease.

"DeJoy moved so early and with such ham-handed aggression that the USPS is now being watched by every Democratic officeholder in the nation, an army of Democratic lawyers, a handful of cranky federal judges, and the actual employees of the USPS."

Ginsburg is gone, creating a serious threat to personal freedom in the US, but she would have wanted us to fight on.  Her work is best appreciated by those who remember the time before.

Republicans threw away everything for the sake of controlling the courts.

Even in the time of Trump, wind power is booming across the US.

There's grounds for hope about antibody therapy to fight covid-19.

Grass-fed beef is no healthier than grain-fed, is unsustainable on a large scale, and contributes to global warming.

Jupiter has a monstrous armada of moons.

There's another rover on the way to Mars, to look for fossils of ancient microbes.

Women's rights are not a political issue, at least in certain parts of the UK.

The barrage of abuse against JK Rowling recalls that directed against Salman Rushdie.  She's become an expert where it counts.

The Catholic Church in Germany is closing hundreds of churches as attendance implodes.

Bloodthirsty religion strikes again.

Cindy Erazo served six years in prison for a miscarriage.  The original sentence was thirty years.

Saudi Arabian dissidents launch an opposition party in exile.

Jai Shri Ram is the new rallying cry for religio-nationalist terrorism.

China's system of concentration camps in Xinjiang is bigger than we thought, and is being expanded.  The US House has voted almost unanimously to ban imports from the province.

In Tibet, as in Inner Mongolia, the Chinese regime is suppressing the use of the native language in education.

Here's a quick cheat sheet on the key Senate races.

If you want to do more than vote, support these organizations.

Trumpanzees block a polling place in Virginia.

The Postal Service is back.

This is somewhat reassuring.

Both parties push back against Trump's threat not to accept the election result.  Treat him like the toddler he is.

Find out what ballot measures will be voted on in your state (found via You Might Notice a Trend).

Radical progressives should vote for Biden.

No, Trump cannot steal the election via state governments ignoring the state's popular vote and appointing their own electors.  Get a grip for fuck's sake.  There will be no coup in this countryRead this too.

More links here.

[Image at top:  Mars]

25 September 2020

Video of the day -- The Liar Tweets Tonight (2)


Roy Zimmerman offers a new, more biting version of his song parody.  I posted the original here.

24 September 2020

Images from an era soon to end (we hope)



























22 September 2020

Don't forget the Senate

The prospect of a third Trump appointment to the Supreme Court has focused attention on the Senate, and deservedly so.  But it's been clear for years that flipping as many Senate seats as possible is almost as vital as winning the presidency.

Under the iron-fisted rule of McConnell -- a man at least as evil as Trump and far more capable -- the Senate has for years stood as an impenetrable wall against progress.  Almost everything of value that the House passes, from measures to safeguard elections against hacking to the new covid-19 relief bill, founders there on the shoals of the Republicans' do-nothing anti-interventionist ideology and their determination to consolidate power at all costs.  It's the Senate which has enabled Trump to infest the federal judiciary with an ever-growing gaggle of religious fanatics and miscellaneous wingnuts who now threaten everything from voting rights to abortion.  And out of fifty-three Republican senators, it would have taken only twenty during impeachment to remove the most flagrantly crooked, malignant, and dangerous president in American history -- but only one of the fifty-three voted to do the right thing.

Even if we keep the House (very likely) and win the presidency (fairly likely), if the Senate remains under Republican control, it will continue to block almost everything we try to do to repair the damage done by Trump, combat covid-19, and move the country forward.  Remember Merrick Garland and the "McConnell rule", now exposed as flagrant hypocrisy.  If another Supreme Court judge were to die five minutes after Biden's inauguration, Moscow Mitch would invent some pretext for holding the seat vacant for four years.

A public option / Medicare expansion.  Serious action on climate change.  A minimum-wage increase.  Protecting our elections against hacking.  Overhauling the country's antiquated infrastructure.  Federal rules to stop gerrymandering and vote suppression.  Legislation to protect abortion rights in case Roe falls.  Safeguarding Social Security.  Real help for the millions thrown out of work by covid-19.  Reversal of the deficit-exploding tax cuts for the wealthy.  Federal support for reform of education, policing, immigration, criminal justice, and on and on.  An expansion of the Supreme Court.  Statehood for DC and Puerto Rico.  Even with a Democratic House and president, none of that will get done if the Republicans keep the Senate.  I wouldn't put it past McConnell to block all of Biden's cabinet appointees and judges, making the country ungovernable as long as Democrats are trying to govern it.

And every seat counts, because our majority needs to be as large as possible.  Even with a majority, most of what the country needs still won't get through unless the filibuster is abolished -- something which a few conservative Democratic senators may balk at.  The bigger our majority, the more defections we can afford and still get that done.  The same goes for some of the more radical necessities like expanding the Supreme Court.  A larger majority can still accomplish it even if a couple of our own senators vote no.

And it's the right thing to do.  Out of cowardice or opportunism, Senate Republicans have enabled and protected Trump at every turn while he targeted the vulnerable, divided the country, trashed the Constitution, and bungled covid-19.  They need to pay a price, in the form of removal from power.

Go here to check out our candidates -- and donate.

20 September 2020

Link round-up for 20 September 2020

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

o o o o o

".....you may be a cat person."

Do housekeeping right.

Lady M finds some spooky "upcycled" decorations.

Interesting mural here.

"The opposite of straight A's....."

Now this is how you sit on a bar stool (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

Photos show a man playing both sides, plus physics art and the colors of the sky.

Giant rats are eating the internet in France, where people also ride bikes naked.

It's been a crappy week -- have a little magic.

"The Moon looked down and saw a new daughter....." (found via Wordifull).

Must be the season of the witch.

No matter how much tear gas they used, he wouldn't leave.

Wear some bug jewelry.

Brazilians build snowmen, sort of.

This mousetrap is too cruel.

This is an attractive dark-horse candidate for "man's best friend".

Bloggers writhe in the torments of Hell trying to deal with the new Blogger interface.  A long-time user mourns.  Here's a method for restoring the old interface (from commenter Mary here) -- I have not tested this yet myself.

Here's one reason why people end up reading wingnut "news" sites.

Contemplate the mystery of the purple squirrel.

See the new Trump portrait.

Don't be this kind of empath.

Sorry, wrong troops.

High train, meet low bridge.

Don't forget the history of print.

Some people want to be slaves.

The Oscars have jumped the shark.

Please don't ride on elephants.

"We lost RBG, we'd better not lose America."  Her legacy will prevailToday we mourn, tomorrow we fight.

Here's how the country's southern and western disasters look from the relative safety of Michigan.

Lurching toward the Dark Ages -- a powerful Trump toady accuses scientists of sedition for not twisting their conclusions to fit official dogma.  But science isn't political.  No wonder that for the first time in 175 years, Scientific American has endorsed a candidate.

Tengrain lays out the coming battle over Ginsburg's seat.  Some Republican senators may not want a vote on a nominee.

Here's a frequently-updated map of fire evacuation zones in Oregon.  At least six people across the state have been arrested for starting fires (none with political motives, though).

Hillary didn't lose.....

Don't be a slave to tradition.

"That's a cult."

These people exist -- be very afraid.

Apparently it's fairly easy to fool God.

Biden has an ambitious agenda.

This is capitalism (found via Yellowdog Granny).

"And who is my neighbor?"

The liberal view of rights is widely accepted.

Kushner's tenants are in revolt.

This is not love.

Karma's a bitch, even to a Republican.

"That is the dumbest shit I have ever heard."

The appeal of cultism can be explained by abdication syndrome.  Or maybe it's humiliation (see my comment too, though).

Harris offers federal decriminalization of marijuana.

Evangelicalism has become a toxic brand.  And a turd by any other name would stink as bad.

Wildfire smoke is killing birds en masse.

Trump mumbles and rambles while his followers spread germs.  He told all these lies at just one meeting.

This advice for pastors could be useful in many situations.

Wingnuts are as wingnutty as ever.  They're getting paranoid too.

It's the family values party.

He ignored the virus, but it didn't ignore him.

Darwinfish 2 looks at the Woodward revelations.

DeJoy appears to be putting our hard-working postal employees at risk of covid-19 in order to further slow the mail -- a monstrous crime, if true.

The mainstream media don't want you to know about this book. They probably won't be too keen about this one either.

"Thank your sorry flabby ass, Trump, for fucking over the Forest Service."

A belief is not proven true just because a large number of people hold it.

Here are some reforms to restore democracy which the Democrats should enact after the election.

Oregon evacuees take what precautions they can against looting.

This week's internet wingnuttia includes a heavy dose of projection.

"The Bible has the unique ability to be whatever a person wants it to be."

American generals raise the alarm about Trump (found via Progressive Eruptions).

Men intruding on women's shelters is a serious problem.

"The administration made every single mistake you could possibly make" on handling the pandemic.  Trump couldn't even manage basic competence.  The private sector tried to help, but Kushner fucked it up.

For the sake of the future, Trump and his gang must be held accountable.

Here's why this year's west coast fires are unprecedented.

A prominent archbishop says that God will make sure Trump is re-elected.  Since God isn't American, wouldn't this be just another case of a foreign dictator meddling in our elections?

Holding crackpot ideas can lead to much worse things.

After the fall of Trump, the big job will be deprogramming the Trumpanzees.

Altar calls illustrate the shallowness and manipulativeness of Christianity.

"Don’t ever ask me to justify my position on this again."

Universities can't safely re-open when people won't follow the damn rules.

Here are some of the women's rights which are under de facto threat from transgender ideology.

An MIT planetary-science professor looks at the recent discovery hinting at life on Venus.

Ancient Romans commonly lived almost as long as we do -- the shorter average lifespan was due to high infant and child mortality.

Evolution may explain why smart people are less social.

Learn Carl Sagan's rules for detecting bullshit.

Thirty non-Americans assess what's going on in the US (found via Miss Cellania).  In general our reputation as a country is plummeting.

In Canada, restaurants haven't played a major role in the pandemic.

Pwned, I think.

This is what happens without ironclad guarantees of free speech -- like the First Amendment.

Burger King and McDonald's wouldn't do this in the US.

A Japanese city introduces women-only tram cars to minimize sexual harassment (I've heard of this in Brazil as well).

India's religio-nationalism is a fountain of covidiocy.

This seems like a good way to deal with anti-maskers.

The impact of covid-19 in Africa has been milder than expected (but I can remember when they were saying that about India).

A study from Rwanda shows that handing out money works.

Republicans threaten to destroy Social Security if we don't get them out of power.

The election isn't a referendum on Trump -- it's a referendum on us.

Democrats are nervous -- which is better than the overconfidence of 2016.

We've all heard this conversation.

Early voters in Virginia came prepared for long lines.

Nothing will fundamentally change?

Don't dance to the Russians' tune.

Yes, we can and will have a free and fair election.

Running scared?  Some Senate Republicans express a willingness to work with president Biden.  Some are debunking Trump's lies about voting by mail.

More links here.

[1,340 days down, 122 to go until the inauguration of a real president.]

19 September 2020

The death of Ginsburg

We have lost an iconic figure.  What happens now, in the nation she left behind?

CNN has warned Moscow Mitch that filling the seat now could "break American democracy".  Like he gives a shit.  They may be right that Democrats would never accept a new justice confirmed under these circumstances as legitimate, but we'll never accept the stonewalling of Garland as legitimate either, and what difference has that made?  Refusing to accept something as legitimate is irrelevant unless you have the power to do something about it, and right now, it's McConnell who has the power.  And he's already said he'll hold a vote on a Trump nominee for the seat, hypocrisy be damned.

Two Republican senators have previously said they wouldn't support filling a seat just before the election, but we'd be foolish to take that at face value -- one of them is Collins, who always wrings her hands and expresses "concern" and then goes ahead and votes for whatever abomination the party has put on the table.

TPM has said the obvious -- if the Republicans fill the seat and then the Democrats win the Senate and presidency, they should abolish the filibuster and expand the Supreme Court in response.  One Democratic senator has already declared that this should be the party's position.  I agree that they should, in fact, do this after the election -- but I don't think they should make it an explicit threat about Ginsburg's seat, on the following grounds.  If, for whatever reason, McConnell fails to get a new justice through, it might discourage the Democrats from going ahead when the time comes, since it would look like the Republicans backed down in the face of the threat and then we pulled the trigger anyway.  In fact, abolishing the filibuster and expanding the Supreme Court are already things we will need to do to restore democracy (as I argued last year) -- the stonewalling of Garland is justification enough -- and should be part of the explicit Democratic position regardless of what happens with Ginsburg's seat.

In any case, the idea that McConnell's denial of a vote on Garland set a "precedent" which he must now honor is nonsensical.  There was no principle involved then, nor is there now; it was all about power then and it's all about power now.  The president is the president, and the Constitution says nothing about the president's right to nominate judges being abrogated for some interval before an election.  Garland should have gotten a vote, period.  In any case, McConnell will do what he will do, no matter what the Democrats or CNN say.  Then, after the election, it's our turn.

17 September 2020

To fellow bloggers -- an appeal for suggestions

Well, $#!T.

I logged on to Blogger this morning to do some work on next Sunday's link round-up (they're written a bit at a time over the course of the whole preceding week), only to find that they've taken away my option of reverting to the old interface and I'm stuck with the godawful new one.  They seem to have fixed a few things -- some of the control buttons now have words on them instead of just being pictographic icons, for example -- but basically it's still a mess.  The HTML view is still an un-editable jumble, not broken up at the paragraph breaks.  Right-clicking a link and opening in a new tab to test it still doesn't work.  When I enter a new line or highlight text to insert a link (which of course is frequent for the link round-ups), the entire post jumps unpredictably up or down in the editing window.  I have to close the post and then re-open it to stop this from happening.  Then after adding one or two links it starts doing it again.

I used the "send feedback" button to ask them to give me the old interface back, but I doubt that will work.  Continuing with Blogger and accepting the new interface doesn't seem to be a viable option.  It's tolerable for short posts like this with few paragraph breaks or links, but doing the link round-ups with it would be a nightmare.  I'm not interested in waiting for them to make the new interface usable.  They've had three months of complaints and suggestions from users, and if they still haven't made the damn thing functional, they never will.

So after 14 years on Blogger, it may be time to move on.  WordPress doesn't seem to be an option, having just recently implemented a "block editor" which everybody seems to hate.  I tried Tumblr a few years ago and it's not geared to the kind of blogging I do -- there's no real comment system, for example.

There are some lesser-known options like Typepad, but I know very little about them.  To anyone who has experience using another platform, I would be interested in recommendations.  I am OK with something I would need to pay for, if it's reasonable -- I'd rather pay five bucks a month for a blogging platform which treats its bloggers like customers and tries to keep them than use a free service that arbitrarily wrecks the user experience like this.

If you are on Blogger and have managed to make the new interface work tolerably, I'd be interested in hearing about how, but I doubt I'll adopt any fixes that are too onerous.  I'm not going to switch to a different browser, for example.  Firefox is one of the commonest ones and a viable platform should be able to work with it.  Doing weird stuff with the keyboard that would be a distraction while writing also doesn't seem reasonable.  I'm open to ideas, but if my experience trying to edit the link round-up just now was typical of what this is going to be like, I'm not going to stay with it.

Update:  Has anyone else been having that problem of the post jumping up and down in the editing window when you highlight text?  The link round-up does that when I try to edit it, but this post doesn't.  I'm wondering if it's something to do with the post being originally created with the old interface but being edited in the new one.

16 September 2020

Improving words (17)

Some more revised word definitions, based on what the words visibly should mean.....

Arctic:  A twitch which moves along a curved path

Barbed:  A place in the tavern where you can sleep it off

Capillaries:  A sickly, hat-wearing person born during a specific month

Comfort:  A defensive structure for orgasms

Deference:  The removal of iron

Discourage:  The dance music that makes you angry

Expensive:  Formerly thoughtful

Fandom:  A sexually-controlling man who wields an air-cooling device

Interlude:  To bury a sedative pill

Ombudsman:  A guy who uses flowers as mantras

Ozarks:  Boats built to carry Munchkins to safety during a flood

Repair:  To re-unite an estranged couple

Restrain:  A relaxing downpour

Revolt: To give a battery a new charge

Seamstress:  Anxiety about a place where two pieces of fabric are sewn together

Sinking:  A monarch of taboo violations

Sirloin:  A cut of meat which has been knighted

Summer:  A person who performs addition

Urchin:  The primordial point of the jaw

Washroom:  A psychoactive fungus from Washington state

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

14 September 2020

The choice

This November, one of two things will happen.  Either Biden will be elected president, or Trump will be re-elected.  Many people fervently believe there should be some third option.  There isn't.  It's going to be one of those two.

This post is addressed to those who, for whatever reason, don't like Biden.  Maybe you consider him too centrist or too old or too old-fashioned or "Republican-lite" or whatever.  Maybe you think the Tara Reade accusation has credibility (though there are good reasons to believe otherwise).  Maybe you think the process by which millions of rank-and-file Democrats chose the nominee (from among a remarkably large and varied group of candidates) was tainted in some way.  Maybe you hold that your vote has to be earned and Biden hasn't done this or that thing that qualifies him as having done so.

None of that is a good enough reason to let Trump be re-elected.

None of that is a good enough reason to let him saddle the whole country with a 7-2 majority of reactionaries and theocrats on the Supreme Court for decades to come.

None of that is a good enough reason to risk four more years of migrant family separation and kids in cages, or of rhetoric which blatantly scapegoats Latinos, Muslims, and whatever other minority makes a convenient target.

None of that is a good enough reason to leave this vicious and hateful man in a position where he could block laws to help the unemployed and the uninsured, laws to end gerrymandering and vote suppression, laws to protect gay equality and the right to abortion nationally, that a Democratic House and Senate might pass.

None of that is a good enough reason to tolerate four more years of the massive and flagrant banana-republic corruption we've seen.

None of that is a good enough reason to risk four more years of budget-wrecking giant tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and efforts to sabotage Social Security, the Postal Service, and the Devil knows what else.

None of that is a good enough reason to facilitate four more years of bungling the response to covid-19 (yes, it will still be around long after January 2021).

None of that is a good enough reason to accept four more years of posturing brats like Kushner, malignancies like Barr, and the rest of Trump's crew of grifting toadies, keeping their hands on various levers of power.

None of that is a good enough reason to submit to four more years of undermining the separation of church and state.

None of that is a good enough reason to allow four more years of trashing our country's relationships with other democracies, and enabling and legitimizing murderous gangster regimes around the planet.

None of that is a good enough reason to risk four more years of the federal government actively sabotaging all efforts to fight climate change.

Perhaps you want to vote third party to "send a message" of some sort.  But look at history.  Nobody knows or cares what "message" Nader voters in 2000 or Stein voters in 2016 thought they were sending.  What mattered was who became president.  Do you think you'll be punishing Biden or the DNC by withholding your vote?  They won't suffer if Trump is re-elected.  It's the kids in cages, the unemployed and uninsured, the gay people and minorities, the countless additional people who will lose their lives or health to covid-19 -- they're the ones who will suffer.

Or maybe you think your vote isn't needed because Biden's victory is inevitable or you don't live in a swing state.  Yes, Hillary's victory was also "inevitable" in 2016, and look how that worked out.  And even if you live in a safe state for one candidate or the other, the popular vote matters, psychologically even if not legally.  If Trump loses, the wingnut noise machine will immediately go into overdrive attacking the legitimacy of the result.  The bigger the popular-vote margin, the less effective their sabotage will be upon the mass public mind.  The bigger the popular-vote margin, the more clearly our country will be seen by the rest of the world to repudiate the contemptible cruelty and madness of the last four years.

And it's not only the presidency.  We need to win it, yes, but we need to hold the House and win the Senate as well.  Leaving any one of those three under the Republicans' control would enable them to block almost all progress on expanding health coverage, protecting the right to vote, restoring abortion rights, saving the climate, or anything else.  And again, in the real world, the only way to end Republican control of those institutions is to achieve Democratic control.  There's no third option.

It's not only about Biden or the Democratic party.  It's about saving the country.

[Re-posted from May since the election is now close]

13 September 2020

Link round-up for 13 September 2020

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

o o o o o

Hi!

Should pets become doctors?

This drink sounds worthy of its name.

People get it on with statues.

It's modern-day humor.

Heh.

Pwned, I think.

Take a gander at this.

Here's what really happened to the dinosaurs.

An errant fly spoils a dinner.

The ancient Romans had the best coins.

One cat, many interpretations.

Stylish dinner set-up.  Or something.

By Hook or by Book observes Star Trek Day and Read a Book Day.

Annie Asks You has a realistic recipe.

It's never too early to shop for Halloween decorations.  See Halloween potted plants and other items.

Let's face it.....

Hey little girl, want a ride?

See kinetic art with cards instead of dominoes.

Consider what matters in life and what doesn't.

Sometimes a cake can be art.

See a summary of the battle of Lake Travis (found via Brucedesertrat at Mock Paper Scissors).  Trumpanzees react with the usual paranoia.

Close cousins -- a gorilla baby behaves remarkably like a human one.

Take a break from the torrent of news.

Listen to the wisdom of HL Mencken.

19th-century artists knew who was the hottest guy in the Bible.

"Teenagers aren't apathetic about everything they're just used to you shitting all over whatever they show excitement about."

Third from left.

Mock Paper Scissors and Big Bad Bald Bastard remember one of the original Avengers.

See otherworldly mountains.

Nobody misses this.

".....but the Nazis think he is."

Debra She Who Seeks observes Labor Day.

Like everyone around here, Murr Brewster has been smoking something.

They took down a poster due to complaints -- but there hadn't been any complaints.

Nobody noticed this guy.

"Eat the rich"?  Get it right.

Spot the government agent.

Red sky over Salem OR (click pictures to enlarge).

If you use WordPress and want to use the old editor instead of the new "block editor", here is a tip (I don't blog on WordPress and don't really understand this, just passing along the information).

This Pennsylvanian won't be voting for Trump.

Religion in the US is declining faster than ever.

Politics as usual degeneracy.

If you read or look at things on the internet, learn this.

Some think it's better to blather about the impossible than to achieve the possible.

Quit ragging on the nearest thing we have to a national leader right now.

If you doubt how deep the derangement among the enemy runs, read the comments on this post (more revealing than the post itself).

Trump is the episodic man.

Some useful info here about the debts of dead people.

The color of the year is end-of-days orange.

"Conflicted" isn't the word for it.

If you've been wondering what Michele Bachmann is up to these days, click here.

People judge by appearances.

Portland now has the worst air quality on Earth.  You can donate here to help victims of the fires.

In these cases, you can't just "get over it".

What if workers got the full benefit of their own increased productivity?

You think you're recycling plastic but you're not.

The cast of The Princess Bride holds a reunion -- and pwns Ted Cruz (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

Perfect metaphor for this whole administration (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

Trumpanzees have no ideology -- it's just about hating on us.  A jihad-like radicalism is festering among them.

Smoke from the west coast fires extends far into the Pacific and southeast over Arizona and Mexico.

Portland has just passed the country's strictest ban on facial recognition technology.

The group-victimhood fetish is reaching insane levels.  If you don't know who Jessica Krug is, see here.

It's a religion of love.

Lots of political images here.

Trump's weaponizing of the DOJ against E Jean Carroll implies that defamation is part of the president's job.

Nothing can stop the men of God from spreading the virus.

In this case, an airline handled a racial incident well.

Our downtown has lost a long-established business to the chaos.

Trump's bungling of the pandemic pushes him over the line to be the worst president ever.

Your parents' mental issues are not your problem.

The Sturgis rally led to a quarter million covid-19 cases, even if the dimwit governor refuses to believe it.

Glenn Kirschner has a plan to de-wingnutize the federal courts.

Portland trains police to police police.

This is capitalism.

Somebody's dumping mail.

Schools open, teachers die.

66% of Oregonians oppose the protests in Portland; 42% think the police aren't using enough force.

Remember who really failed to prevent 9/11.

Yielding to despair and defeatism is what the Trumpists want you to do.  Listen to Obama.

What a family of losers and suckers.

A young, healthy athlete describes what severe covid-19 is like.

Atheists sleep better (link from Mike).

Wingnuts freak out over Canadian sex advice.

Be grateful we have the First Amendment.  This is madness.

Remember when the Middle East welcomed refugees from war-torn Europe.

Three major democracies form an alliance to confront fascist China.

China's Mongol minority protest the regime's efforts to marginalize their language.

The new Mulan movie faces a backlashMore here.

We're all in deep shit if this regime grows into a world power.

Here is what the Republicans have become.

Let this be a metaphor for November.

This is a bit long, but read the whole thing.

Republicans are wielding a vast array of tactics to sabotage the election.  Secretaries of state will be important.

Here's a guide on voting in each state (found via Wordifull).  And here's some motivation.

It's critical to flip the Senate.

Local elections in Texas can hit the Republicans where it hurts.

We need to win big.

Every Trump atrocity bears their rubber stamp.

Threatening to secede if Trump wins won't work.

More links here.