27 February 2015

Video of the day -- smashing history

ISIS released this video of its men destroying ancient statues and other art in a museum in the Iraqi city of Mosul, on the grounds that it represents "idolatrous" ancient Mesopotamian paganism.  Some of these works date back as far as the ninth century BC.  They are destroying the achievements of their own ancestors who had a different religion.

24 February 2015

Hyper-Modern English

Most people know that language evolves over time; it's obvious enough if you compare the English of Shakespeare or even of the Victorian era with present-day English.  But the internet is changing the way language changes.  In hindsight this should have been foreseeable.  Language exists for communication, and the internet is a communication medium whose character is in many ways unprecedented.

Internet communication has three distinctive features which are influencing the way English changes.  The first and most obvious is that it is typed, not spoken.  The second is that it is instantaneous, allowing some innovations to quickly proliferate globally from a single source (an example would be the word pwned, which seems to have originated a few years ago from a typo made by some one individual somewhere, but is already almost universal).  Finally, much of the English-using population on the internet -- probably the great majority -- consists of non-native speakers.  Popular culture is discussed on the internet on a vast scale (by definition, if it's popular culture), and internationally.  While political discussions tend to take place within individual countries (because each country's political system and universe of issues and candidates is separate), for pop culture, nationality is pretty much irrelevant.  A single common language is needed so that everyone can understand everyone else, and given the dominance of English in today's world, it has inevitably become the internet lingua franca as well.

What I see proliferating across the internet is not exactly standard English as we've long known it, but a sort of ad hoc hyper-modern dialect full of new expressions for all the now-essential concepts that didn't exist a decade or so ago. If you're like me, you've been gradually absorbing this over the last few years without quite realizing it.  Pwned, blogosphere, selfie, wiki, cosplay, hashtag, gif, Singularity, lolcat, uncanny valley, spambot, emoticon, shipper, meatspace, femslash, incel, banhammer, Rule 34, twincest, headcanon, doxx, concern troll, reblog, bromance -- how many of these terms would you, or anyone, have understood just ten years ago? This dialect can bewilder uninitiated speakers of old-fashioned English who encounter it, and the presence of a few Japanese loan words further baffles those who, having finally worked out what manga and hentai refer to, are darkly suspicious of yuri and senpai. Curiously enough, Hyper-Modern English never seems to adopt words from any other foreign language except Japanese. Likely it's the influence of the anime subculture.

The fact that Hyper-Modern English is almost entirely written on keyboards rather than spoken explains the great profusion of acronyms -- in typing, not speech, they save a lot of time. Everyone knows what HTML and URL mean, but how many remember the original full phrases the letters stood for? They're essentially words now -- in writing. So are ROFL, BBS, ISP, NSFW, AMV, YOLO, IRL, PI, FFS, IIRC, OTP, IP, AMA, OP, etc. I recently saw a centuries-old text referred to as "a masterpiece of FOAD". How long will it be before pronounceable acronyms like FOAD and PLOSTFU become simply "foad" and "plostfu" -- ordinary words, their origins forgotten? Remember, "laser" originated that way, and "AIDS" is getting there -- it's already written as a word ("Aids") in the UK, and pronounced as one everywhere.

Notice that this is not merely slang; slang is casual (and transient) words which are merely alternative ways of expressing meanings which standard words already express. These are new words necessitated by new concepts (though many of the acronyms are just faster ways of writing existing phrases).  They also aren't "technical terms" in the sense of terms used only by experts on a specific technology. They're cultural terms. A language doesn't exist in a vacuum -- it's the product of a particular culture. In this case, the new language and the new culture are evolving (very rapidly) in parallel with each other. Technology is just the medium.

Will Hyper-Modern English influence the older standard that might now be called Meatspace English? It's probably inevitable. Purists have always resisted neologisms, but they almost always lose when the neologism expresses a genuinely new meaning. Take "pwned", for example -- exactly the sort of word traditionalists are most likely to reject. Its etymology is a typo, its pronunciation is jarringly unpredictable from its spelling, and it's mostly used (for now) by people the fuddy-duddies sneer at. But -- when someone gets pwned, what exactly happened to him? He lost an argument? He was triumphed over? He was exposed as a phony? He was made a fool of? Those definitions come close, sort of, but none of them expresses exactly what "getting pwned" means. Even the original "owned" suffers from ambiguity, since its primary meaning is rather different. So the purists will, I think, be unable to purge "pwned" from general usage. In fact, they'll be pwned by it.

Similarly, who said "such-and-such is now a thing" ten years ago? Nobody. Nowadays it's normal usage -- one might even say it's a thing -- because there's no other expression with exactly the same meaning.

I rather think Shakespeare -- who was one of the great popularizers and language innovators of his day -- would approve.

[Image at top from Vivifx AMV of I Ship It by Not Literally]

22 February 2015

Link round-up for 22 February 2015

Fed up with frozen weather?  The police in Harlan, Kentucky have a suspect.

Some NASA guys know how to have fun.

Only one of these stories is silly?

Jono Ottosson posts a photo series ranging from humor to philosophy, and a little NSFW.

See the striking diorama art of Ali Alamedy and Satoshi Araki (both found via GoodShit).

Here's a very NSFW memo from an inventory manager in response to a badly-filled-out shipping request (found via Mendip).

Check out this map of how religious the various US states are -- sigh, once again Oregon can't quite match New England (but we're getting this right).

P M Carpenter has a good quickie assessment of the Republican Presidential hopefuls.

This may be the stupidest company in the United States (found via Mendip).

Can we afford free community college?

Bullshit, this was no mere accident.

Rosa Rubicondior has an intriguing new view of the Biblical story of Jesus and the temple money-changers.

Really, Mr. D'Souza?  "Boy"???

Air travel -- if the terrorists don't get you, the scorpions will.

Now that the fundies have lost their fight against gay marriage, here's something else for them to bitch about.  And now that their campaign against Fifty Shades of Grey has imploded, here are some more books for them to freak out over (found via GoodShit).

Right-wingers hate federal regulation, suffer the consequences.

Catholicism in the US is imploding, and disgruntled Catholics aren't shy about voicing the reasons.

Shaw Kenawe remembers Lesley Gore, an early pop singer with a secret.

Ohio exemplifies Republicans' intensifying attacks on women's freedom.

Pushing back against slut-shaming means fighting the anti-abortion thugs too.

A Christian doctor in Michigan rejects a baby as a patient because its parents are a lesbian couple (an example of why I call Christianity the religion of exclusion).

Here's the most dangerous terrorist threat facing the US.

Leonard Pitts Jr. looks at Judge Roy Moore, Alabama's modern Wallace in the schoolhouse door.

Enforced fear-mongering is ruining childhood (found via Mendip, who is exasperated).

Why would a preacher with deep knowledge of the Bible abandon Christianity?

Even Megyn Kelly is shocked by Giuliani's vomitous Obama-hatred.

Must-read:  Jim Wright turns his rhetorical flamethrower upon the ghoulish hypocrisy of the "pro-life" fanatics.

Here's an interesting chart of US religious groups by average age and education (found via Republic of Gilead).

Jeb Bush won't have an easy time with his party's wingnuts.

Pope Francis seems to be dropping the façade at last and letting his true evil shine through.

Britain doesn't have many hard-core Christians any more, but the ones they do have are nasty bigots just like here.

After an anti-Jewish terror attack in Denmark, young Muslims in Norway hold a human-chain vigil in solidarity with Jews.

First reports on the deal between Greece and the EU sound ominous.  If electing an anti-austerity party isn't enough to roll back austerity, it's hard to see what other options remain except violence.

Sanctions against Iran continue to harm innocent people who don't support the theocracy.

Three words:  "Hamas TV scientist".  And the man's views are every bit as bizarre as his title.

What will be the fate of these Kurdish fighters taken prisoner by ISIS?

Egypt strikes back hard after the murder of 21 Christian Egyptians by ISIS sympathizers in Libya.

So, Islamotards, if you don't like Muhammad cartoons, how about a manga adaptation of the whole Koran?

The dawn of the computer age was more complicated and interesting than popular accounts suggest.

20 February 2015

Quotes for the day -- a leader who understands the world

"But this is going to be a generational challenge in the Muslim world and the Middle East that not only the United States but everybody's going to have to deal with. And we're going to have to have some humility in recognizing that we don't have the option of simply invading every country where disorder breaks out. And that to some degree, the people of these countries are going to have to, you know, find their own way. And we can help them but we can't do it for them.

"But I am a firm believer that particularly in this modern internet age, the capacity of the old-style authoritarian government to sustain itself and to thrive just is going to continue to weaken. It's going to continue to crumble that model. My argument to any partner that we have is that you are better off if you've got a strong civil society and you've got democratic legitimacy and you are respectful of human rights. That's how you're going to attract businesses, that's how you're going to have a strong workforce, that's how ultimately you've got a more durable not just economy but also political system.

"And, I think, the goal of any good foreign policy is having a vision and aspirations and ideals, but also recognizing the world as it is, where it is, and figuring out how do you tack to the point where things are better than they were before. That doesn't mean perfect. It just means it's better. The trajectory of this planet overall is one toward less violence, more tolerance, less strife, less poverty. I've said this before and I think some folks in Washington were like, 'Oh, he's ignoring the chaos of all the terrible stuff that's happening.' Of course, I'm not ignoring it. I'm dealing with it every day.

"People are right to be suspicious of Iran. Iran has sponsored state terrorism. It has consistently, at the highest levels, made deplorable anti-Israeli statements. It is repressive to its own people, and there is clear and unavoidable evidence that in the past they have tried to develop a weapons program and have tried to hide it from view.  So that's a given. And it's understandable why people are concerned, both here and around the world.  But what I've also said is that the deal that we've struck, this interim deal brought about by the tough sanctions regime that we put together, offers us our best opportunity to solve the problem of a nuclear Iran without resorting to military force. Iran is negotiating seriously for the first time, and they have made, so far, real concessions in the negotiations. We have been able to freeze the program for the first time and, in fact, roll back some elements of its program, like its stockpiles of ultra highly enriched uranium. And so, for us to give an additional two to three months to exhaust all possibilities of a diplomatic resolution when nobody denies — including our intelligence agencies, and Mossad and others — nobody denies that Iran right now really is abiding by the terms of our agreement, so we're not losing ground. They're not surreptitiously developing a weapon while we talk. For us to give two, three months to figure that out makes sense."

President Obama (partly found via Horizons)

17 February 2015

How's that boycott going, guys?

As nearly everyone expected, despite mostly-negative reviews and a boycott campaign, Fifty Shades of Grey is a monster hit, both in the US and overseas (in Britain, some theaters sold out two weeks in advance).  As I mentioned here, I have to admit I haven't seen the movie or read the book myself, and don't plan to.  Obviously I have no problem with anybody who doesn't want to see it because they simply find such material discomfiting or unappealing.  But I respect the choices and desires of those who do find it to their taste -- and when I see a mostly-religious, mostly-male clique of agitators telling a predominantly-female demographic that there's something wrong with their sexuality, well, a few alarm bells go off.

The fact is, dominance / submission play is a normal and healthy part of sexuality for vast numbers of people, most of whom have no interest in or even knowledge of the (apparently rather bossy and rules-bound) "BDSM community", just as many people who are sexually attracted to their own gender don't much care for a "gay community" whose self-appointed gatekeepers often seem more interested in respectability or political correctness than in fun and personal freedom.

Notice too that the great majority of the audience for the movie, as for the book, is female.  This should surprise no one.  Romance novels featuring varying degrees of dominance / submission fantasies have been selling in the millions for years, mostly to women, in disregard of the much smaller numbers of agitated pests of various stripes who sputter that such sexuality is "against God's plan" or "degrading to women".  In fact, I strongly suspect that people whose sexuality doesn't involve any substantial dominance / submission elements are very much in the minority.

(One point needs to be made clear here, for the benefit of those who have difficulty gasping it.  Yes, this movie apparently includes depictions of non-consensual situations -- emphasis on the phrase "depictions of".  This is a movie.  War movies similarly depict violence and killing on a large scale, and some of their popularity stems from the fact that male fantasies often involve violence and heroism, and such movies provide vivid imagery to fuel and enliven those fantasies.  The same thing is the case here.  People who are into dominant / submissive sexuality often fantasize about non-consensual situations and even play-act them out with consensual partners.  Movies and books can provide imagery and scenarios to enhance those fantasies.  That's all it is.  No one, except apparently the boycott-mongers, is confusing fantasy and reality.)

Those who view the great mass of humans as passive "sheeple", easily herded in this or that direction by marketing and advertising, are cutting themselves off from a valuable source of insights into both human nature and the zeitgeist.  Plenty of movies and commercial products of various kinds have been aggressively pushed on the public and fallen utterly flat; people are not so easily led.  (Totalitarian states dominate their societies more completely than any Hollywood ad campaign, but approved official culture in places like the USSR or Islamist Iran is usually disdained by the masses in favor of prohibited Western entertainment which they hear about only via underground channels.)  When something becomes a massive pop-culture phenomenon, very often it's because it resonates with some widespread if unsuspected impulse or fantasy or concern.  If you dismiss it with a barrage of buzzwords from your own ideology, you may well miss seeing something significant.

There's also a rather ugly strain of elitism in this.  "Yes, I myself have no difficulty watching violent fantasy and distinguishing it from what is acceptable in real life, but the unwashed masses aren't that smart and it would be dangerous to let them see this."  "Yes, my own tastes in entertainment are fully mine -- my own likes and dislikes -- but the millions of ordinary people don't know what they like and just flock to anything they see being pushed by ads and commentators all around them."  Again, if that's how it really worked, Russians in the 1960s would have raved over those somnolent state-approved boy-meets-tractor epics, while ignoring the Beatles.  You're not a different species from the millions, and they aren't nearly as dumb or easily-led, relative to you, as you think they are.

As with the earlier battles over gay culture, the spotlight needs to be turned around and shone on those who are now wielding it against others.  People with a "deviant" but consensual sexual preference are perfectly healthy; it's those who obsessively condemn that preference, and demand boycotts or even bans of any depiction of things that make them uncomfortable, whose psychology needs analysis.

If there's one thing I hope comes of the movie's success, it's that practitioners of "deviant" sexuality realize that they are in many cases far more numerous than anyone, even they themselves, imagine -- and that they should not allow the lies and distortions and name-calling of the ignorant to shame or intimidate them.

Finally -- again, this is a must-read on the subject.

15 February 2015

Link round-up for 15 February 2015

Looks like evolution wasn't much fun for dinosaurs.

How many of us are there?  Keep track here, with some interesting extra detail.

Neo-Nazis plan to build a white racist utopia.  In Namibia.  Yes, Namibia in Africa.  (If it ever gets beyond the drawing board, I expect it will work out about as well as this did.)

Pushy Christians get pwned by Satanists again in Florida (from Mendip).

Wow, Hell has a pretty eclectic population.

This is how a pilot sees the world.

No surprise people in 1962 freaked out over these goofy but bloodthirsty Martian-invasion trading cards (found via Mendip).

I knew these guys looked familiar.

Must-read:  The existence of religion and superstition is fully explainable by known evolutionary processes, and was probably inevitable.

Here's the case for decriminalizing prostitution in a nutshell (from Canada, but most of it also applies to the US).

The Bible could have been a lot cooler.

Bruce Gerencser looks at what's driving the Fifty Shades of Grey boycott (which appears to be flopping, unlike the movie).

Fundie rabble-rouser Franklin Graham condemns Obama's statement that Christianity has been used to justify war -- but he supported the Iraq invasion because he hoped it would be an opportunity to evangelize Iraqis.

An unspeakably hideous murder in Texas in 1916 exemplifies American terrorism.  More here.

This doofus is apparently a Republican legislator in good standing.  And I'm sure this guy is.  Oh, hell, they're all basically nuts.  Here's a choice collection of insanities.

Religions -- compare and learn.

A pastor with close ties to the RNC calls for an American theocracy (found via Republic of Gilead).

If you want to fight government waste, start with this.

Beware the scaremongers -- they could scare you to death (found via GoodShit).

Republicans fight to preserve anti-gay discrimination on state and federal levels.

Here are 23 ways feminism has made life better for men.

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown, who will replace John Kitzhaber as Governor, looks to be a more reliable voice for the left than he was.  She will also be the first openly-bisexual Governor of a US state.

Sarah Moon recounts a visit to the Creation Museum (found via Republic of Gilead).  Oh, and this dingbat exists.  Republicans are actually getting worse (found via Progressive Eruptions).

Jeb Bush seems like a worthy successor to previous Bushes.

Guess which country.

The Wall Street Journal is already unimpressed with Republican dominance of Congress.


Should government pander to superstitious morons?

Abstinence-only "education" strikes again.

BuzzFeed traces the history of the internet's most-used anti-Semitic caricature (found via GoodShit).

Britain has the best place names (from NickM).

London Mayor Boris Johnson smacks down Jindal over the "no-go zone" nonsense.

Britain's Prime Minister hints at an early referendum on leaving the EU -- but judging by the comments, readers are unimpressed.

Radical-left anti-austerity parties are booming across southern Europe as Greek-style revolt spreads.

The Pope blathers incoherently about childless couples.

Those who exploit cheap labor should at least pay for the consequences.

A Saudi historian's efforts to justify the regime's ban on women drivers prove embarrassing.

I suspect these guys' problems with women go beyond "being found unattractive".

Ebola was quickly beaten here, but still rages on in west Africa.

Giant, intelligent African rats help clear minefields (found via TYWKIWDBI).

Seriously, this is a stupid idea (found via F3).  Why take the risk when being wrong could mean the end of the world?

Doctors should be doing more to promote this miracle cure.

Even stone-age people had their kinky side.

More research confirms surprising intelligence in crows (found via GoodShit).

Check out the latest robot from Boston Dynamics.

13 February 2015

Must-read blog post of the day

Kaveh Mousavi demolishes the controversy, such as it is, over Fifty Shades of Grey.  Seriously, he's said everything that needs to be said on the subject -- I don't have a word to add.

12 February 2015

The culture wars -- looking to the future

The battle for gay equal rights -- or, as I prefer to think of it, the battle to roll back the Abrahamic taboo on homosexuality -- isn't completely won yet in the Western world, but victory is clearly in sight.  A bare dozen years after homosexuality itself was still illegal in 13 states, gay marriage is now legal in 36 states, with seemingly another joining the list every few weeks, and with polls showing solid public support.  It's also legal in the majority of western Europe and Latin America.  The Christian Right still dreams of turning the clock back to the days of ostracism and demonization, but they're delusional.  Republican politicians who pander to them are reduced to fighting for the right of fundie bakers to refuse to bake cakes for gays, while the saner members of the party know a lost cause when they see one and just wish the whole subject would go away.  It's not quite over yet, but the fat lady is definitely revving up for her final number.

That being so, lately I've been thinking a lot about where our energies should be directed in the future.  For one thing, I believe we should choose those battles where the chance of success is greatest; fighting for things society is simply not ready for yet, that seem too radical, means wasted effort -- no matter how just those causes are.  Gay marriage simply could not have been won in 1920, for example, but the right of women to vote could be, and was.  Beyond that, obviously every person should fight for those things that mean the most to him or her.

For myself, here are three causes I've long felt passionate about, and for which I believe the time is now becoming ripe:

Marijuana.  This fight has already begun -- at least three states have passed referenda legalizing marijuana for casual use, not just medical purposes (including my own Oregon, though it hasn't taken effect yet).  The case to be made is obvious, multi-faceted, and irrefutable.  As with alcohol prohibition, marijuana prohibition has utterly failed to stop routine use by tens of millions of Americans -- it has merely driven the industry underground where criminal gangs dominate it and profit from it.  Legal marijuana could be regulated and taxed just as alcohol is, making it safer for all concerned and providing government with a major new revenue source.  We could stop spending insane amounts of money locking up people who haven't hurt anyone for insane lengths of time.  It's less harmful to the body than alcohol and far less harmful than cigarettes.  And it's nobody's damn business what we do in private in our off-hours for fun.

As far as I know, no major political figure in either party supports this -- but voters get it.  Put legalization initiatives on the ballot in liberal-to-centrist states, and they'll pass.

Prostitution.  There's no obvious groundswell of public support for legalizing prostitution as there is for legalizing marijuana, but as the marijuana movement gathers steam and racks up successes, I think the case will become easy and obvious to make -- because the arguments are the same.  The prohibition of prostitution has utterly failed to eradicate it, merely making it dangerous and sleazy; the degree to which it thrives in every city shows it to be almost as culturally mainstream as marijuana is.  Legal, regulated prostitution would be safer for everyone, and would make it much easier to combat problems like abuse and trafficking.  With the income from sex work legal and taxable, government revenues would get a boost.  And purse-lipped moralistic busybodies have no business interfering with the voluntary, private sexual interactions of consenting adults.

Meanwhile, the enemy's lines of attack often parallel their lines of attack on homosexuality -- parading supposed ex-members of the "sinful" lifestyle who were "saved" by Jesus, "research" that "proves" it destroys societies, etc. -- so we should consider parallel counter-measures.

Prostitution is already legal in many advanced countries; as with the legal-marijuana states, this gives us a set of real-world examples to point to of how the same thing could work here.  And many prostitutes are themselves articulate advocates for their line of work and the case for its legalization.  It was actually reading blogs written by prostitutes and other sex workers that first brought this issue to my attention and convinced me it was worth fighting for.

Animal cruelty in the meat industry.  This, too, is an issue without much broad public interest or support at the moment.  The reason I think the chances of achieving progress are good is that most Americans are already on our side -- they just don't know it yet.  If they were aware of the ghastly cruelty the meat industry routinely inflicts on millions upon millions of helpless captive animals, they would be utterly revolted and, I believe, would demand change.

So it's not a matter of trying to change people's attitudes, merely a matter of making them aware of facts they don't currently have.  The meat industry itself knows this, and has had some success in getting its lackeys in various state legislatures to pass laws to prohibit filming or otherwise revealing the hideous atrocities that go on inside its prison-camp "farms" and death factories.  Fortunately we have dedicated activists working to get the truth out.  Lady Freethinker blog, for example, frequently posts devastating material on the issue, including video documentation.

(Disclaimer:  I personally have never been to a prostitute or used marijuana.  I have given up meat, but -- unless the Congressional Republicans have been even crazier than I've heard -- that's legal.)

So these are issues I intend to become much more activist on, including here on the blog.  If other important progressive and personal-liberation causes seem to be gaining momentum, well, I won't turn down a ride on the bandwagon. And as always, I'll continue to fervently oppose religion -- the true core issue, and a fight that I expect will be won but not anytime soon.

As sometimes happens in the transition from one conflict to another, this will likely mean a change in the configuration of allies and opponents (remember how in the late 1940s the USSR and China were allies of the US, while Germany and Japan were enemies; ten years later the position was reversed).  Much of the Democratic party still opposes recreational marijuana, though one can hope that as the issue grows in popularity, views in those circles will "evolve" as they did on gay marriage.  Some libertarians are actually more supportive, though any collaboration on that issue must not undermine opposition to their toxic economic views.  On prostitution and meat-industry cruelty, neither major party favors progressive policies (and on the former issue, much of the activist left is firmly in the enemy camp); the grassroots who "get it" will have to lead and hope that the leaders eventually follow.

Per aspera ad astra!

10 February 2015

Quote for the day -- the great distraction

Related thoughts here.

08 February 2015

Link round-up for 8 February 2015

Stop it, you're ruining the language!

Kids finish proverbs, better than the real thing.

Vermont's dumbest people respond to a suggested Latin motto for the state.

Here's a glimpse of the upcoming Frozen mini-sequel.

The Stock Photobomber incorporates himself into stock photos, with often-amusing results.

What is it with Pennsylvania towns?

Far-right-wing Americans have their own views about ISIS.

Christie's vaccination gaffe encourages ordinary Republicans to show off why they've become known as the anti-science party (see comments).  Oh, and then there's this guy.

Being offended doesn't mean you're justified.

These people exist.

It's not marriage that makes good parents (found via GoodShit).

There are reasons why religion correlates with child abuse.

ThinkProgress explains the difference between Bill Jack's anti-gay cake stunt and real discrimination, while HuffPo has more on the Christian Right's real goals in the cake wars (both found via Republic of Gilead).

Religio-baggots freak out over inclusive greeting cards.

Veteran Jim Adams has some choice words for Republicans.

Republic of Gilead has detailed reports on the Response Louisiana hatefest and the protests against it.

Sorry, baggots, Obama was right about history and religionMore here.

In the swing states, it's still Hillary über alles.

In a nutshell, here's conservative health care policy and conservative economics (both found via Squatlo Rant).

Tommy Dean Gaa is an appalling person.

OK, Rand Paul is right about this one.

Sometimes liberals just don't understand religion.

A Supreme Court ruling against Obamacare would hurt the American people, but also hurt the Republicans.

Gaaack, retch.....OK, no more eggs for me.

For the first time in a millennium, Iceland is building a temple to the Norse gods.

Among the ancient Romans, managing slaves was something of an art (found via GoodShit).

Obama supports Greece's effort to loosen disastrous austerity policies, but the European Central Bank insists the insanity must continue.  Though Greeks fear abandoning the euro currency, doing so is probably their ticket to recovery.

Porn can be liberating, but Iran isn't quite as deprived as Richard Dawkins imagines.

There are occasions when hate and revenge are proper and appropriate responses.  The funeral of Mu'âdh al-Kassâsbah was one of them.

If you want to write honestly about the Kurds, stay the hell out of Turkey.

Putin is so desperate for friends that he's cozying up to Kim Jong Un.

Sometimes taking advice from the Bible is a really bad idea.

No Terminator robots, please.

[Gay cake image found via Snowstorm Thirteen]

07 February 2015

Video of the day -- revenge!

(Jordanian armed forces video showing attacks against ISIS targets following the murder of pilot Mu'âdh al-Kassâsbah.)  With all the hand-wringing and cheek-turning and "why do they hate us" that infest the mentality of the West, it's frankly refreshing to see another culture unapologetically embrace a natural and human response to utter barbarity.

05 February 2015

American ignorance

Every so often something gobsmacks me with a reminder of how staggeringly ignorant many Americans are of what is going on in the vast world beyond the borders of our country.  The comments on this post at RedState, on Jordan's execution of ISIS-linked terrorists in retaliation for the ghastly murder of pilot Mu'âdh al-Kassâsbah, furnished such a reminder.  A sampling:

Finally, a predominantly Muslim country stands up to ISIS on their own instead of waiting for the United States to do it for them.

ISIS has made their bold statement to the Arab world......... existential threat. Now let's see the Arab world response? Cower in fear and wait for death, or fight back boldly with our help?

This ISIS barbaric act is sorta a good thing in that it should be wake up call for the Arab world to stop being complacent, pretending that this is America's problem to solve. Commit massive ground soldiers of Arab composition and we would give you air cover and intel...nothing more!

It is time the Arab states came to that realization and set out to destroy ISIS. For the last 13 years the United States has spent blood and treasure in the Arab world with little appreciation shown for the United States efforts. It is time for the Arab states to realize ISIS is out to destroy them and any other country that gets in their way. I agree with gunner, arm them, give them air cover, but its time for the Arab states to realize this is a fight for their survival.

Possibly this is a turning point where the Arab states come to the realization that this is their war to fight. The US can support them with arms, advisers and air support, at the end of the day the Arab states will have to come to the realization that they have to supply the boots on the ground to eradicate ISIS.

To these commenters, Jordan's hanging of a couple of convicted terrorists obviously looked like an unprecedented tough Muslim response to ISIS, a startling contrast to whatever they thought Muslims have been doing about ISIS so far (presumably, nothing).

Not one commenter on the post seemed to know that for months, it's been Kurdish and Arab soldiers who have been fighting the main, dangerous, bloody, boots-on-the-ground war against ISIS, taking and inflicting thousands of casualties, with US and other Western forces being relative late-comers to the fight and playing a supporting role (though an important one) with airstrikes, while another Muslim state (Iran) has played a similarly important supporting role on the ground.  Comments like those above are staggeringly divorced from reality.

It's not as if they were ignorant of the details of a war raging in central Africa or Burma or some such place we have nothing to do with.  US air power has been engaged in the war against ISIS for some time now, yet these people are utterly unaware of the main war effort our aircraft are supporting.  It doesn't even make any logical sense.  Why would a Jordanian pilot have been flying missions against ISIS in the first place (and thus gotten shot down) were it not for the fact that his country was already strongly committed to the fight?

I wish I could say that this is exclusively a right-wing problem, but even some liberal bloggers sometimes seem to know little about what's happening in the Middle East beyond clichés and a few tidbits they pluck out of context to score points in the arena of US domestic politics.  There's really no excuse.  Even if your regular news sources are too busy reporting Justin Bieber's latest antics or Rand Paul's moronic views on vaccination to observe that the Arabs have in fact noticed the giant war raging in the middle of two major Arab countries and are even doing something about it, Al-Jazeera or the Guardian are just a mouse-click away.  You're citizens of the most powerful nation on the planet, for crying out loud.  The leaders you vote for make decisions affecting the lives of millions elsewhere.  At least make some effort to educate yourself about what's going on.

04 February 2015

Bringing history to the present

By now pretty much everyone knows that ISIS has murdered Mu'âdh al-Kassâsbah, the Jordanian fighter pilot it had taken prisoner, by burning him alive.  There's not much I can add to the global outcry of fury and disgust over this horrifying act.  But it does call an observation to mind.

People often mention witch-burnings as an example of the barbarism of Europe during the Dark Ages when Christianity truly dominated society.  But the term "witch-burning" has become something of a cliché, a mere word tossed off without much thought being given to what it actually means or what it must actually have looked like.

Well, now we know what it looked like.  The video that shocked the planet this week showed us what happened fairly often in the public squares of European towns during the later Middle Ages -- happened fairly often over a period of generations.

It was public entertainment, too.  During the age of fervent religion, crowds of ordinary people would gather to watch that.  It was a show.  There seems to have been no crowd of ordinary people gathered to watch the murder of al-Kassâsbah.  Even ISIS men must have known that twenty-first century humans would have been sickened and outraged by the spectacle, perhaps to the point of being unable to restrain their reactions even under threat of punishment.  We are getting more civilized over time.

In the Kurdish music video parodying ISIS which I posted a while back, one of the lines was "bring history to the present".  I assume this was a reference to ISIS bringing back barbarous practices from the distant past, such as punishment by stoning or amputation or beheading, mass killing of "heretics", and the death penalty for homosexuality.  The ISIS regime that horrifies all civilized people today is pretty much just what a society based on actual Old Testament law or Sharî'ah law would look like.  In fact, back when those societies existed, this probably is what they looked like.  Unfortunately there were no video cameras back then, so we haven't been able to see such a society in all its glory.

Until ISIS came along to show us.

Updates:  Jordan is in shock over the horrific murder of its pilot -- and turning revenge-minded.

The often-divided Arab world is unified in anger and revulsion toward this atrocity.

01 February 2015

Video of the day -- what if God really exists?

A dash of sanity and common sense from Stephen Fry.

Link round-up for 1 February 2015

Is auto cucumber really this bad?

Door signs should be designed carefully.

A weatherman plays a technical problem for humor (found via Mendip) -- contrast with certain politicians who implode when their teleprompter seizes up.

Tug-of-war could become a much more exciting game, but it would be a bad idea.

Terminal cuteness: babies and pets (found via Mendip).

Take a good look at a butterfly wing.

Ugh!  I think we all know this form of "horrible sanity" is still around (found via Mendip).

Racism can get kind of weird.

Here are some movies with one letter removed.

Could you pass this "science" "test" from a Christian "school"?

18th-century England had plenty of ribald slang (found via Mendip).

The lies taught early keep you in a death grip.

Here's why Frozen is such a huge hit with little kids.

A parent defends the right to refuse vaccination.

Is Romney in or out?  Either way it's disappointing.

We're finally getting some real data on the effects of marijuana.

Ladies -- any truth to this?

Anti-abortion nutters are scarier than you think (found via Republic of Gilead).

Some Republicans propose to "get government out of defining marriage" to avoid including gays.  Here's what that actually looks like.

The story of Bryan Fischer's quasi-firing by the AFA involves some pretty ugly stuff.

Here are some hot women with a difference.

A former TSA agent comes clean.

Green Eagle's latest Wingnut Wrapup features some hilarious comments and a shocking clipping from an American publication called -- seriously -- "The Daily Stormer".

They don't just have an imaginary friend, they have an abusive and violent imaginary friend.

Some liberals just don't get it about Islamic extremism.

Bill Jack is the epitome of fundie ignorance, intolerance, and paranoia.  No wonder he's a rising star.

Bruce Gerencser has a few questions for compassionate Christians.

Flaky, clownish Republican Presidential candidates run the party into the ditch.  More here.

Christians disrupting a Muslim rally in Texas actually make the Muslims look good by contrast.

No, hard work and dedication won't get you ahead -- that's not how it works.

Read Alexis Tsipras's very reasonable open letter to the German people.

Here's an Iranian view of Senate Republicans' efforts to sabotage US-Iran nuclear negotiations.

The Kurds have finally pushed ISIS out of Kobani.  This is what's left.

Tunisia's new liberal order still needs some work.

This oral tradition preserved memories of long-vanished geographical features for ten thousand years without writing (found via Mendip).

United we are strong -- is this instinct or collective intelligence?

Transitional fossils, which creationists keep claiming don't exist, provide details of snake evolution.

About 400 light-years away, there's a planet with a ring system 200 times the size of Saturn's.

Tim McGaha remembers the lost pioneers.