30 May 2016

Squeezing Dâ'ish

Dâ'ish (ISIL) has made itself synonymous with religious barbarism in the territories it has seized -- executing homosexuals by throwing them off tall buildings, openly and explicitly enslaving non-Muslims, killing off educated women, and even burning at least one prisoner of war alive.  Dâ'ish has also carried out terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris, on a Russian airliner over Sinai, and elsewhere.

But the tide has clearly turned.  The peoples targeted by Dâ'ish for such atrocities are fighting back and winning.  In November Kurdish forces liberated the city of Sinjar, whose Yazidi (a non-Muslim religion) inhabitants had suffered mass killing and enslavement by Dâ'ish after they captured it more than a year earlier.  In February the Iraqi army recaptured Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.  In March the Syrian army, with Russian air support, drove the jihadists out of the ancient city of Palmyra.  Several top leaders of the group have been killed in US airstrikes.

And now, the pressure is escalating.  The Iraqi army, now rendered considerably more effective by Iranian military advisers, has begun an offensive to retake the besieged Dâ'ish stronghold of FallujahUS-backed Kurds and Arabs are advancing toward Raqqa, Dâ'ish's "capital", from the north -- indeed, by some accounts fighting has already reached the northern edge of the city -- while the Russian-backed Syrian army threatens it from the south.  And the groundwork is being laid for an attack to recapture Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city and the most important place still under Dâ'ish control.

Dâ'ish won't die easily.  There is still much more fighting ahead, and the jihadists' frustration at their continuing defeats in the actual war may provoke them to lash out with further terrorist attacks.  Or, maybe not -- the mass murder of Russian and French civilians in the airliner bombing and the Paris shootings just provoked Russia and France to increase their engagement against Dâ'ish.  But even if further such attacks do happen, they will have little impact on the course of the war.

After Dâ'ish is defeated, other problems will rise to the surface.  US influence in Iraq and Russian influence in Syria may clash with rising Iranian influence in both.  The Kurds, having fought so tenaciously and at such cost for their homelands in both countries, will not meekly submit to a restoration of the sovereignty of Baghdad and Damascus.  If they do seem likely to retain their de facto independence, Turkey will bitterly object, fearing the inspiration such an outcome would offer its own huge Kurdish minority.

It will take a wise, steady, and prudent US President to help manage not only this complex war but the even more complex peace to follow -- yet another reason for us as voters to choose well in November.

29 May 2016

Link round-up for 29 May 2016

#GiveElsaAGirlfriend wins an important new advocate.

Troll your cats with static electricity.

He wore a raaaaaspberry beret.....

Who the hell designed this house?

Listen to the oldest song in the world (found via Mendip).

There's now a vaccine against Windows 10, apparently.

I've seen many dog breeds, but never a dog-car mix.

Dang, so much for the secret gay plot to conquer other planets.

My, what big teeth you have.

A tail to tell -- learn cat sign language.

There's a reason why the color blue is so prevalent in movies (found via Lady, That's My Skull).

Paul Wartenberg has a photo-filled report from MegaCon.  Gotta love those cosplayers!

Even in fantasy, the design of female armor shouldn't be absurdly implausible.

Most clueless chauvinist ever.  Well, maybe except for this guy.

Strange, tentacled beings are taking over the world.

Maybe there's something to reincarnation after all (found via Progressive Eruptions).

North Carolina voters want HB2 repealed, 50%-to-38%.

Here's a simple way to make yourself more cancer-resistant.

These people are not Muslims.

Why does the letter Q usually have a U after it?

The "new normal".....doesn't work.

Scientists start work on a first step toward reviving the dead (found via Comrade Misfit, who doesn't approve).

Iran is sticking with the nuclear deal (found via Mock Paper Scissors).  Republicans are still trying to screw it up, incompetently.

Tokyo is a strangely colorful place (click on pictures for bigger versions).

Russia has an odd attitude about prisoners of war.

Pakistan bans birth control ads, despite already having a low and falling usage rate.

Trump is carrying out the strategy of Dâ'ish (ISIL).

India's record-breaking heat wave is actually melting roads.  The Arctic too is melting more than ever.  Meanwhile, drought threatens millions in Africa.

Trump has clinched the nomination, guaranteeing full employment among comedians.

Hillary's next task is to re-unify the party.

Take a look at the good old days Trump is nostalgic for.  As Republicans rally around him, here's what they're supporting.

Republicans will be using their dirtiest trick for this election.

How are some Bernie supporters coping with the end of the dream?

Warren shows us how it's done.  Even with the issue of her Senate seat, she should be VP.

Already unpopular with Latinos and women, Trump lashes out at.....Susana Martinez.

Asian-Americans don't like Trump either.

Wingnuts sink in a vast tar pit of lunacy. And here's even more.

27 May 2016

Video of the day -- a history of politicized fetus fetishism

By now Samantha Bee's first video on the Christian Right has justly been posted all over the net -- but here's part 2, about how abortion became the target of so much self-righteous fanaticism.  It's more than a little different from how most of us imagined it.

24 May 2016

Some observations on libertarianism and anarchism

Like many intellectually-curious people, I once went through a phase of taking Ayn Rand seriously, and was quite enamored of her ideas for a time. But that's not how things work in reality. Like most primates, humans exist in social groups and couldn't really function normally outside that context. Highly successful people in the modern world do, in many cases, owe their success to personal talents to a great extent -- but none of them could have become anything like what they are without the benefit of the education, written languages, technology, infrastructure, and stable societies which existed before they were born and are maintained by masses of people. I have talents which have served me well, but if I'd been born in the year 1360 instead of 1960, my life would have been utterly different, stunted by the sheer backwardness of that environment. Randism is the philosophy of "those who were born on third base and think they hit a triple".

I abandoned economic libertarianism partly because I came to realize it was essentially a scam concocted to justify the position of the parasitic financial elite, but also because I'm basically a pragmatist and care about results, not about ideological purity. Most libertarians seem to have an attitude of following their ideology completely inflexibly no matter what the consequences, or they insist that whatever consequences follow from libertarian ideology must by definition be the right ones. That's not how you actually get anything done in the real world. It's voluntarily turning oneself into a mindless robot following a program.

As for real anarchism, it also couldn't work in reality. There are reasons why all complex societies have states. The death rates from violence, both inter-group (war) and intra-group (murder) in hunter-gatherer societies are astronomically high by our standards, as they are in chimpanzee social groups. The history of civilization is a history of increasing size and complexity of societies, increasing power and sophistication of states, and falling per-capita levels of violence. The per-capita death rates from violence in modern times are much lower than in pre-state or weak-state societies, even when phenomena like World War II are factored in. When the authority of the state breaks down for any length of time, chaos and violence explode out of control, Somalia after the collapse of the Siad Barré regime being the best-known recent example.

One thing that might be of interest here is the fact that very few women are anarchists or libertarians. I think biology (relative physical weakness, plus an awareness of the vulnerability that comes with pregnancy and nurturing small children) makes women less susceptible than men to the delusion that a human can exist purely as a "rational economic actor" or some such abstraction. In most democracies, women vote in greater numbers than men for parties which promise a strong social safety net, and they also attach more importance to the state's role in maintaining order. They are more conscious of the dangers implied by weakening of those things.

Civilization cannot exist without a strong state. Even hunter-gatherer bands have leaders; even chimpanzee groups have leaders. Dominance hierarchies are a distinctive feature of all primate social groups. When dominance hierarchies break down, the result is escalating violence, not greater freedom. The simpler forms of social organization in primitive pre-state societies don't allow much personal freedom in practice, since in those societies human behavior is strongly constrained by the expectations of tradition; and as we now know, levels of violence in such societies are staggeringly high by our standards. Also, such systems only work for small population sizes. If a society has a population above a few tens of thousands, in practice the only workable form of organization is the state. Historically, most states have not provided much freedom because doing so hasn't been a priority (in fact, historically one of the features of the state is large-scale slavery), but they do at least usually maintain order fairly effectively, which is actually a higher priority -- freedom is not meaningful in a situation where violence and thuggery are pervasive. The only societies where anything like freedom as modern people understand it has existed have been some societies with strong states which, for whatever reason, did choose to make protecting individual freedom a priority. Modern socialist states do the best job of this, since they restrain the tendency of the wealthiest to dominate everyone else.

[Note:  This post is adapted from my side of some correspondence I had with an anarcho-libertarian a few years ago.  I thought some of these points might be of broader interest.]

22 May 2016

Video of the day -- the Empire, what is it good for?

From the film The Life of Brian -- first-century rebels in Judea bemoan Roman rule.  This put me in mind of modern teabaggers complaining about taxes and federal overreach, but seeing the light little by little.  Found via You Might Notice a Trend, which has a different point to make.

Link round-up for 22 May 2016

Meanwhile, in Finland.....

Republicans' incompetence at verb-subject agreement turns Texas gay.

Libertarians could even foul up an SF/fantasy convention -- in fact, they have.  At least Detroit had better luck.

Visit witch-cursed, legend-haunted Arkham -- by train (found via Mendip).

Zombie apocalypse?  No problem, with the right equipment.

While the wingnuts fume about lesbian cartoon characters, it turns out there are lesbian gorillas.

Wonkette looks at the funny side of the MGTOW (from Mendip).

A Los Angeles TV station kowtows to assholes.

Pharmacists are not supposed to do this shit.

From Chicago comes another story of police abuse of black people.

Do you dream of an earlier, simpler time?

Einstein had a passion you don't hear about.

Michelle Wolf thinks it's time for a new tea party.

Larry Wilmore pwns Bill O'Reilly.

Love is not propaganda.  And movies still have a long way to go.

Obama's words here are tough but true.

Rules in some states make life that much tougher for rape victims.

Global warming is getting worse, fast.

A dead whale in Australia helps illustrate why "intelligent design" is nonsense.

Why don't we see signs of alien civilizations?  Maybe they have reason to hide.

Never forget the reality inside.

WTF Honolulu?  You're not Saudi Arabia.

Sadiq Khan may be the most gay-friendly mayor London has ever had.

Cool wedding photos -- I guess the photographer isn't much of a Christian.

You've probably seen pictures of Uluru (Ayers Rock) -- but not in the rain.

Finland and Sweden have a friendly border.

A year after Mexico's Supreme Court declared a right to gay marriage, the country's President moves to make that right a reality.

"Mr. Gay Syria" stands for defiance against the viciousness of Dâ'ish (ISIL).

A model which has correctly predicted every Presidential election since 1980 says Hillary beats Trump.

Progressive Eruptions has a round-up of Trump memes.

It's increasingly clear who should be Hillary's running mate.

Sorry, Bernie, it's over.

Trump makes Dan Quayle look studious and qualified by comparison.  Of course, the real issue is far more serious, as this history teacher observes.

Lady Atheist is concerned about the cultish qualities of some Bernie supporters -- see also part two and part three.  Bernie himself is still a team player, but is it too late?

No, Trump is not bringing new voters to the Republicans.

20 May 2016


If you've been paying attention to polls of the Presidential race, you may be getting a little alarmed.  As I write this, the RCP average has Hillary's lead over Trump down to 3.1%, and the two most recent polls included (by Fox and Rasmussen) even show Trump leading.  Is it actually possible he could win?

Well, I suppose it's possible, but it's still very unlikely.  To understand what's happening with the polls, you have to look at what stage the nomination race on each side has reached.  All Trump's rivals for the Republican nomination have dropped out, leaving him unopposed.  Faster than anyone (including me) expected, the "NeverTrump" movement among Republicans is imploding and supporters of other candidates are rallying around their now-inevitable nominee.  The most recent poll I could find (the Rasmussen one) has Trump getting 76% of the Republican vote, and I've seen figures as high as 87% in other polls.  This is what normally happens.  During primaries, voters often say (and believe) "if X is the nominee, I'll never vote for him in the general", but once the nominee is chosen, party members rally round.  There had been much speculation that this normal pattern would not hold for a nominee as bizarre and repulsive as Trump -- all we're seeing now is that this speculation was wrong, or mostly wrong.

On our side, the race has not yet reached that point.  Hillary's nomination is pretty much inevitable, but that's not obvious to people who aren't following the process with political-junkie dedication.  Bernie is still very much in the mix and making plenty of noise.  Not until Hillary has clearly won -- perhaps not until her official nomination at the convention -- will the same rally-round effect that is now boosting Trump's numbers start to do the same for her.  (There are a few other reasons why polls may be over-favoring Trump.)

Will Bernie's supporters eventually vote for Hillary in the general?  While some of the rhetoric we've been hearing is disconcerting, I think most of them eventually will.  As precedent, I would cite the 2008 election.  I remember the fury and disappointment of Hillary's supporters very well -- because I was one of them.  I remember the PUMA movement.  But in the end, most did vote for Obama against McCain.  I think Bernie's supporters will follow the same pattern this time.  Some may vote for Trump or not vote at all, but not enough to make a difference.  Trump is, after all, a vastly more repugnant and frightening figure than McCain was.  And Bernie himself will probably support Hillary once she's nominated, however grudgingly, especially if the party gives his agenda some substantive concessions (he's earned them).  He doesn't want to go down in history as the man who helped elect Trump.

In the quiet privacy of the voting booth, I suspect that even some of the saner Republicans will have second thoughts about whether a man of Trump's temperament and unpredictability should be put in charge of the world's most powerful military forces and 7,000 nuclear weapons.  As Comrade Misfit pointed out this week, the most memorable attack ad in history is almost perfectly suited to use against Trump:

In the meantime, there are actually some positives to the fact that Republicans are mostly rallying around Trump.  I had hoped to see a divided right wing giving Hillary a massive Electoral-College landslide, and then the Republican party tearing itself apart in recriminations -- but if that isn't going to happen, consider the implications.  Hillary will still win.  Trump has said more than enough to expose his true nature and intentions and to make it clear that we Americans, this year, are being weighed in the balance of history much as the Germans of 1933 were.  So, yes.  Let the Republican party and conservatism as a whole openly and publicly commit themselves to the wrong side in this momentous choice.  And let all of them, forever, bear the indelible stain and disgrace of their decision.

18 May 2016

Spreading the word

Richard Dawkins's 2006 book The God Delusion is perhaps the most powerful single attack on religion ever written.  Along with the writings of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and others, it helped launch the New Atheist movement in the Western world, bringing a new militancy and intellectual ferocity to the struggle against religion.

But what about other places where the message is even more desperately needed?

At some point apparently around 2008 an Iraqi atheist named Bassam al-Baghdadi (who, fortunately, lives in Sweden) translated the entire book into Arabic and posted it on the internet as a downloadable PDF.  By November 2014 it had been downloaded ten million times, with the number of actual readers probably being somewhat larger since downloaded files can be shared around in various ways, including to people who do not have internet access.  It appears that Dawkins doesn't object to this, and indeed there may not be an official Arabic translation at all, since the note at the bottom of the cover (shown above) says "the book forbidden in all Arab countries" (not "in all Islamic countries" as most English-language articles on this topic claim).  The fact that millions have accessed a book banned by their governments illustrates how censorship and control of information are becoming ever more difficult in the internet age.

The Arabic language is the fourth-ranked language in the world by number of native speakers (after Mandarin, Spanish, and English).  It is prevalent over a vast stretch of the globe from Oman to Morocco, an east-west span one and a half times that of the continental US.  And Arabic-speaking countries include some of those in which the mental sickness of religion is most entrenched and most dangerous.  The importance of spreading such a powerful atheist message in Arabic cannot be overstated.  There is abundant evidence that atheism and questioning of religion have recently been growing more common in the Arab world, and works like The God Delusion have undoubtedly played a role, just as they have in the West.  Many Arabs chafe under Islam's strictures and feel revolted at the brutality of groups like Dâ'ish (ISIL), just as anyone else would, and are willing to at least think about alternatives.

There is an interesting nuance in the Arabic title of the book.  The word "god" is translated as ilâh, the common noun for "a god" in a general sense, not as Allâh, the proper-noun name for the specific Judeo-Christian-Islamic God -- a distinction normally made in English only by whether the word "god" is capitalized or not.  This emphasizes that "delusion" applies to all deities, not just a specific one.

There is apparently also an online Persian translation of the book.

Islam seems so pervasive (and violent) in the Middle East that most Westerners believe it can never be uprooted or even significantly weakened in the region.  But Christianity in Europe would have given the same impression in the age of witch-burnings and the Thirty Years War, and ideas can spread much faster in today's educated, internet-savvy world.  The time will come when the lands where civilization began are freed from this centuries-old blight.

15 May 2016

Link round-up for 15 May 2016

#GiveElsaAGirlfriend -- now even The Washington Post has noticed.  So have the religious wingnuts.

This Finnish candy bar may not sell well in the US.

Kristen Stewart has a more sensible take on "sexual identity" than most older people.  Traditional views persist in some quarters, of course.

If you can solve this puzzle, don't be too surprised if demons rip you to shreds (found via Mendip).

Professor Chaos looks at scriptural marriage.

Read this before doing any chemical-sounding "cool stuff" you read about on the net.

HR Giger explains a quirk of the egg design from Alien.

Protect the children (found via Squatlo).

Never forget.

There's still a place where cowboys herd cattle on the wild frontier.

Don't freak out if you hear someone speaking the world's fourth-commonest language on an airliner.

I've been to Kiev.  This doesn't belong there.

The first transgender woman has just been elected to Congress -- in the Philippines.

Here's a long but must-read profile of India's dangerous religio-populist leader, Narendra Modi.  And read up on Hindu traditional values -- or did you think only Islam is like this?

Bloggers appreciate David Attenborough.

Octopuses may be smarter than we think.

The number of confirmed planets outside our solar system now exceeds 3,200 (found via Hackwhackers).

Hillary takes a stronger position against the TPP.  Her plans on climate change (found via Clarissa) and on taxes and investment show the kind of practical pragmatism that can actually get things done.

No one left to stop him?

Is Warren's anti-Trump Twitter campaign an audition for the Vice Presidency?

No, closed primaries aren't why Bernie lost.

Most of the world finds Trump frightening and disgusting (found via Progressive Eruptions, which has an example of why eastern Europeans are worried).

When they say "never again", they mean it.

[Image at top:  Remember that when American pop culture does something affirmative, the effects reach far beyond our own borders.]

13 May 2016

Video of the day -- whiny little bitch

Maher strikes the right tone here, I think.  While Trump is as scary as he is absurd, the proper stance toward him is contempt, not fear.  Video found via Progressive Eruptions.

11 May 2016

Girlfriends, but not in America

In the last link round-up I mentioned the campaign asking Disney to reveal Queen Elsa of Frozen as a lesbian in the film's likely sequel.  Even if Disney adopts this idea, it would not be the first time that a globally-popular animation has featured openly-lesbian characters.  There's an interesting catch, though.

Sailor Moon is an animated TV series (there have also been some movies) originally produced in Japan in the 1990s.  I've never watched it myself -- it's a kids' show -- but the title character is a sort of superhero alter-ego of an ordinary high-school girl, Usagi Tsukino, who leads a group of similar girl warriors with various super powers.  The girls, who are named after planets (Sailor Mercury, Sailor Venus, etc.) fight a wide variety of villains, monsters, and other menaces.  It's apparently not too different from the Saturday morning cartoons that air in the US, except that two of the heroines, Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus (pictured above) are clearly depicted as a lesbian couple.  As far as I know, this was not considered terribly daring or controversial in Japan, even in the 1990s.

Sailor Moon was enormously popular in Japan and gained a significant fan base in some other East Asian countries, Europe, and even the US.  That's where the "interesting catch" comes in.  In the English-dubbed version made for the US market, the lesbian relationship between Neptune and Uranus was completely censored out and the two were instead depicted as cousins, to account for the occasional displays of affection between them.  Apparently the broadcasters felt that what was accepted elsewhere would prove too upsetting for Americans.  They may have been right, given our wingnuts' hysterical reactions even today whenever they so much as imagine they're seeing some hint of unconventional sexuality in pop culture.

Whether Elsa ever gets a girlfriend or not, remember that much of the world has long been unconcerned with the ridiculous taboos which so obsess the Bible fetishists in the US.

08 May 2016

Survival in the face of harsh reality

This posting by Comrade Misfit was written some time ago, but I only just found it via a link at her current blog, and it's too important to just stick in the middle of the link round-up.  Please go and read the whole thing.  Reality is what it is, even if the truth makes some people uncomfortable.

Link round-up for 8 May 2016

Seriously, Disney should consider this.  I think the world is ready for it.  Well, maybe not these guys.

Please stop for pedestrians.

Fear of faggotry has kept men's clothing boring for 200 years.

Meet Ken Allen, escape artist.

Is this really the best propaganda the Jehovah's Witnesses can come up with?

She hopes to marry rich, but.....

A Trumpanzee reveals his Christian nature.  There's a lot of meanness out there.

If an apartment's really cheap, maybe there's a good reason.

Yes, they actually called the police about a painting.

An ex-Mormon explains what she's learned from leaving the religion (found via Republic of Gilead). Sometimes the terrors are hard to cast off.

Global-warming denialists should be consistent.

Yet another gay-hating pastor turns out to have a little secret (found via Satanic Gay Community)

Fox News commenters are just disgusting.

Like gay-haters, trans-haters are becoming a marginalized minority (found via Republic of Gilead).

This year's Eurovision Song Contest is coming soon, and this time it will be broadcasted in the US.  Here's a guide for the perplexed.  I recall my favorite performance from the show.

People power can beat the parasite class's plans.

Don't go into debt in Russia (found via Clarissa).

The energy revolution is already under way.

Why are there birds?

Back up all your stuff -- and don't do business with Apple.

Spread the word -- the Republicans are the party of Trump. They did this to themselves.

Don't let the wingnuts fool you about Hillary.

Even though Cruz has dropped out, Seven Mountains Dominionism is a threat we need to learn about.  It's goal is to replace democracy with theocracy.

Now that the Republican party has trashed itself, David Frum wants Democrats to give him a new ideological home (to Hell with that!).

Hillary has begun her onslaught against Trump.

Paul LePage is the new, ugly face of conservatism.

We're gonna miss this guy (yes, it's an actual White House tumblr posting).

Bill Maher shows up Trump for what he is.

06 May 2016

London's new mayor

London -- the capital of the United Kingdom and the most important city in western Europe -- has just elected its first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan.

This is significant for two reasons.  First, Khan exemplifies the high degree of assimilation which is increasingly typical of western European Muslims, despite the disproportionate media attention given to the minority of violent religious fanatics.  He was born and grew up in London (his parents were immigrants from Pakistan) and worked as a lawyer before going into politics.  As an MP (Member of Parliament) in 2013, he voted in favor of the legalization of gay marriage in the UK -- in response to which an Imâm in Bradford issued a fatwa declaring Khan no longer a Muslim.  Prominent among the issues on which he campaigned were London's housing shortage and the cost of public transport.  Despite some shameful attempts by the Conservative party to brand him an extremist, Khan clearly has nothing of the stench of Salafism or Sharî'ah law about him.  He is, like the overwhelming majority of British people, secular.

Second, Khan's election shows that the general British public is not as hostile to people of immigrant origins as we are sometimes led to believe.  Offensive fanatical behavior by a few, up to and including outright terrorism, remains a problem and is obviously intolerable -- but most voters, at least in the cosmopolitan capital city, are clearly able to distinguish the obnoxious minority from the assimilated majority who, aside from their ancestry, are not much different from the rest of the country's general population.  This is important, because assimilation has to work from both directions -- one cannot expect Europeans to accept a minority which rejects the mainstream culture's fundamental values, nor can one expect the minority to assimilate if they find themselves rejected even when they do so.

Like the election of Barack Obama as President of the US, Khan's election is an encouraging sign that prejudice and intergroup hostility are, while far from dead, growing weaker than the best of us feared and the worst of us hoped.

[Image at top:  Sadiq Khan and wife Saadiya Ahmed, also a lawyer.]

03 May 2016

Light and color from the far north

I spend a great deal of time on the internet, most of it pursuing interests which have nothing to do with politics or current events (I am so sick to death of everything having to be about goddamn Donald Trump and the US election).  As I've followed link after link in pursuit of whatever appealed to my personal sense of the aesthetic, the ingenious, the daring, or the bizarre, it began to strike me that a surprisingly-large fraction of the most interesting material out there originated from just one country.

When you first discover someone's blog or YouTube channel or whatever, in many cases you can't immediately tell where in the world the person is.  If I find someone's work interesting, I sometimes give myself a little challenge of figuring it out.  A word or two in the native language amidst a mostly-English blog, or a reference to a certain town or city as "here", or some other clue, can pin it down -- OK, now I know this person is from, say, Finland.  Something a YouTuber mentions about herself -- Finland again.  Or sometimes there's no guessing to do because the profile intro says it straight out -- Finland.

But wait a minute.  I have to admit Finland is a country I know very little about, but I know it has about five million people, which is just one-fifteenth of one percent of the world's total population.  Is the whole country populated by creative eccentrics?  Is there a special Finnish sense of weirdness that just happens to resonate especially well with mine?  Are they hugely over-represented on the internet for some reason?  One of the blogs I've most recently discovered is actually called Yet Another Suomi Blog (Suomi means "Finnish" in Finnish), implying that there are a lot of them, but there's a lot of everything on the internet.

This raises another point that intrigues me.  On some blogs, interspersed among the fluent internet English, I'll see occasional passages that look like this:

Mua ärsyttää ihan liikaa joidenkin opettajien suhtautuminen kaikkiin sukupuolivähemmistöjuttuihin. Syksylläkin meidän koululle tuli immeisiä kertomaan tyttöjen päivästä ja siinä sitten oli kysymys joka oli tyyliin mitä asioita tulee mieleen tyttönä olemisesta ja poikana olemisesta, ja koska me ei kavereiden kanssa haluttu alkaa latelemaan jotain "tytöillä on röyhelöhame ja pojilla on pieruverkkarit" juttuja, niin mehän kirjoitettiin vaan että tyttö on kun tuntee olevansa tyttö ja poika on kun tuntee olevansa poika.

When you look at a paragraph of German or French, even if you've never studied the language, you can often identify things like articles and prepositions and see words that look somewhat familiar (German is closely related to English, and a huge number of English words originate from French).  Even with something like Danish or Italian or Spanish, you can generally make out something of how the sentences are structured and what topic is being talked about.  For me, at least, most Middle Eastern languages have similarly recognizable elements because so much of their vocabulary is borrowed from Arabic, which I've studied.  But Finnish looks completely impenetrable.  Even the fact that it's written in the same Roman alphabet as English just highlights how fascinatingly alien it is.  Sure, there are occasional obvious borrowings from English:

Unohtu vielä sanoa, että ainakin missä piireissä olen täällä pyörinyt, niin varsin queer-friendly

.....but again, that just makes it more obvious by contrast how unlike English the language itself is.  And this impression is not mistaken.  Finnish doesn't belong to the huge Indo-European family of which most European, and several Middle Eastern, languages are members.  It's unrelated to all of those, belonging to the Uralic family, related only to Estonian and a scattering of minor languages in northern Russia (and, very distantly, to Hungarian).  It is, at least, a language boasting some interesting insults.

Seriously, I'm all the more impressed that many Finnish internetters can write English so well that one can hardly tell they aren't American -- English must seem just as alien to a Finnish-speaker as vice-versa.  Perhaps that's related to the fact that Finland (along with its close cousin Estonia) is among the world's top-ranked countries in education, one of the few non-East-Asian nations to achieve this.

Finland's geographical location makes it somewhat isolated yet not completely cut off from foreign influences, something also true of the two countries most noted for eccentric and imaginative pop culture, Britain and Japan (both being island countries just off the coast of major civilizations).  Perhaps such traits are best cultivated in places a little off the beaten path of history?  But Finland hasn't been left to develop in peace -- it spent most of its modern history before 1918 under Swedish or Russian rule, and had to fight off a Soviet invasion in 1939-1940.  Sharing a long common border with an aggressive superpower isn't conducive to a tranquil national existence.  Just ask Mexico.

Every society has its own character.  I pity those whose mental universe is limited to their own country, however large that country may be.  There is a whole colorful world out there.

01 May 2016

Link round-up for 1 May 2016

Here's your cuteness overload for the day.

A frustrated TV presenter makes the best of it.

Journey with Little Nemo.

Don't be this guy.

Albatross!  Albatross!

Hey, I know some Latin.

Sorry, but anything this stupid is just asking to be laughed at (found via Republic of Gilead).

More education correlates with being more liberal, and the correlation is strengthening over time.

Our rage priorities are kinda messed up.

The wingnut uprising is, well, not all that impressive.

If you see a plastic bottle lying around, be very careful (and yes, this is true).

Why do some people think certain professions have no right to a safe work environment?

Faye Kane pwns a prude's Amazon review (looks like she reviews lots of stuff -- should be interesting).  And here's what got her banned from the Daily Kos.

Here's an exhaustive round-up of info on North Carolina's infamous law -- again, they're solving the wrong problem.  And Tennessee Republicans have just passed a law allowing counselors to discriminate against clients on the basis of religious taboo.

The AFA's Target boycott is much less impressive in scope than they're claiming, and will likely have little effect (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

Bloggers -- this is really happening.

Here's what the wingnuts have been up to.

Religion is in full retreat even in the US (found via Republic of Gilead).  And doesn't that statue look like Nosferatu?

London is tough.

Here's how North America looks to a Canadian (some of California is actually very temperate, though).

Europe is thoroughly alarmed about Trump (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

Amsterdam welcomes Putin.

Mexico's President proposes easing the country's marijuana laws.

In the Middle East, playing it smart pays off.

You can now talk to a random person in Sweden about pretty much anything.

China is trying to destroy the rest of the world's steel industry.

Global warming is killing Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

The genetic isolation of Australian Aborigines poses yet another impossibility for Biblical literalism.

3,750 years ago, there was an asshole.

Here are some vivid Earth-at-night pics (found via Cool Thing of the Day), though I suspect some kind of enhancement -- mountains on this scale wouldn't look so high.

You live in a box.

What's the best way to preserve information long-term?

Meet Strepsiptera, a disgusting creature which makes a mockery of "intelligent design".

Whoever gets the Republican nomination, civil war looms between the Trumpanzees and the Cruz Missals.  The conflict is threatening to divide the Christian Right itself (found via Republic of Gilead).  Cruz as President might be even worse than Trump (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

If you're against Elizabeth Warren being Hillary's VP, please read this.

The Green party has a last-ditch plan to get Trump elected.

Hillary's record says a lot about what her foreign policy would be like.

Progressive Eruptions, P M Carpenter, and Hackwhackers look at reactions to Trump's foreign-policy speech.  You Might Notice a Trend has more in-depth discussion -- see also Balloon Juice.

Green Eagle has some advice for Hillary.

[Image at top:  London bookstore patrons didn't let a little thing like the World War II Blitzkrieg distract them.]