29 January 2019

Video of the day -- steampunk

"Steampunk" is a genre of SF/fantasy based on an alternate reality in which mechanical, especially steam-powered, technology prevails instead of electronic technology.  It's inspired by early efforts at mechanical computing such as the Babbage engine, and by the works of writers like HG Wells and Jules Verne imagining advanced machines based on the principles known in their time.  In this reality, things like robots, giant aircraft, and prosthetic limbs are fully developed by the late 19th century, but based on very different principles than their real-world counterparts.

Steampunk is more about art and imagery than storytelling.  Fiction does exist, but the focus is more on depicting what the steampunk world looks like than how it works or how it got the way it is.  Designs are often whimsical or wildly extrapolative, while clothes and architecture often have a quasi-Victorian or sometimes "wild west" look that contrasts with all the weird machinery.  The video above is a sampling of steampunk art, with steampunk-inspired music.  Some more info on the genre is here and here.

27 January 2019

Link round-up for 27 January 2019

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

o o o o o

These Ohioans make the most of their license plates.

Bluebird of Bitterness has some book cartoons and cold-weather cartoons.  Hackwhackers has political cartoons.

Wash the birdie.

Click here and take your pun-ishment.

It's an ancient sacred object.

Let's face it.....

Street party!

What is our true existence?

Check out these optical illusions.

If you can't get it right.....

Dogs, dogs, dogs!

It is the church's command.

You get what you pay for.

Genuine artistic talent in humans is at least 17,000 years old.

This is clearly not intelligent design.

Jono revels in winter phenomena.

Compare the larval form and the adult pest (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

Professor Taboo has a Wizard of Oz poem with some stuff I definitely don't remember from the movie.

Best true toilet story ever.

Neatorama recalls a forgotten turkey from 1957 (found via Miss Cellania).

Not everything about Fyre Festival was funny.

Cheer on these heroic rats.

Work is work.

Relish the arrest of Roger Stone.

It's touching that some still believe in the power of prayer.

You must be this dumb to be a Trumpanzee.  You must be this dumb to be a rich Trumpanzee.

The shutdown ended when "ordinary people" began to suffer.

Steven Pinker responds to critics of Enlightenment Now (my review of the book is here).

Here are some photos from this week's Women's March (found via Crooks and Liars).

Anderson Connors has some more thoughts on moving, and a couple of SF recommendations.

Wingnuts observe MLK day with outpourings of bullshit.

Religio-nutballs freak out over a juice ad.

What an idiot.

Ann Coulter finally says something true.

Hannity desperately tries to shore up the sinking morale of the wallnuts.

The Spartan Atheist looks at sexuality and religion.

Here's an important point about libertarian thinking.

Something is rotten in the state of YouTube.

Don't do this.

Learning to use an EpiPen could save a life someday.

Wingnuts demand respect while doing the opposite of earning it.

The state that started the Civil War wins a formal endorsement of discrimination (found via Scottie).

At least one Supreme Court judge ought to recuse himself on all gay-rights cases.

Pence whines hypocritically while Trump flounders against Mueller and Pelosi.

DeVos shows her true colors.

A libertarian writer attains peak asshole.

Ye are of your father the Devil, and the sins of your father ye will do.

Read overviews of the Covington Lincoln Memorial controversy by Crooks and Liars, TPM, and Vixen Strangely.  The town has rallied around the students, who are really charming (last link found via Scottie).

The media need to focus more on substance, while politicians need to be more gutsy and less boring (found via Tengrain, who has some comments of his own).

Corporations around the world prepare for global warming.

The latest result of the anti-vaccine stupidity is a serious measles outbreak just a few dozen miles from where I live.

Progressive-looking corporate ads tell us something about today's market.

Fake medicine is worse than useless.

Don't believe everything you read.

There may be a huge mystery planet out there (but Pluto will always be a planet to me).

It's been a record-busting summer in Australia.

Putin is losing support in Russia, mostly because of economic effects of his interventions in Syria and Ukraine.

There's an apartheid state in the Middle East, and US media aren't telling the truth about it.

14 years in prison for being gay -- and if you don't like it, leave the country.

Pelosi can handle Trump.  She speaks politely and carries a big stick.

The shutdown is over -- what comes next?  Republicans assess the damage.  It's gloating time.

56% of Americans support Medicare for all.

Wingnuts turn on Trump like deranged piranhas.

For 2020, there is one goal.

"Our unity is our power."  Trump may be beginning to understand.

Shower Cap reviews the week in Trumpism and Pelosi's epic win.

26 January 2019

The art of the cave

As usually happens in the real world, the skilled and experienced player whipped the incompetent tyro.  Trump marched into a fight he had no idea how to win, and Pelosi squashed him like a bug.  His poll numbers have crashed down through his normal floor due to all the damage the shutdown was doing, and now he's got the Ann Coulters of the world yelling "wimp!" at him for not standing fast and driving the country to total ruin for the sake of the wall, while the rage and dismay of posters and commenters across the wingnutosphere is wondrous to behold.  This is a time to gloat, a time to savor the pwnage of our enemies.  We've all earned it.

So I'm not terribly worried about what happens three weeks from now.  Hair Furor Agolf Twitler has just learned the hard way that a shutdown is not a winning strategy for him, and that he's way out of his league messing with Pelosi.  In any case, having caved the first time, he'll have that much less credibility if he tries the same thing again.

In three weeks, rather than launch another shutdown only to crash and burn again, he may well go the state-of-emergency route.  Such a move would make him look tough and decisive (in the eyes of his idiot base, but that’s all that matters to him), and even though it would be tied up in the courts for months, he could still postpone the day when it dawns on the Trumpanzees that there's never going to be any wall.

Or maybe by then he'll have bigger issues to deal with.  Like a forklift driving up to the White House every morning with the day's pallet of subpoenas from various House committees.

Elections, as the saying goes, have consequences, but we're only just now beginning to see the consequences of the election last November.  For the past two years there's been a diarrheal firehose of shit continuously hitting the fan, and it's made a hell of a mess while Congress, run by cowardly Republicans too frightened of Trump's knuckle-dragging Deliverance-mutant base to so much as reach for a mop, did nothing.  The Blue Wave put some real power in the hands of real Americans with a real leader.  Trump has just gotten his first taste of the "checks and balances" the Founders built into the system.  He's going to be getting a lot more.

And our oblivious plutocrats and libertarian dingbat assholes have had a chance to see that, yes, all those federal workers are actually doing stuff which is necessary for the systems we all depend on to function, without which we were plummeting toward the level of one of those "shithole countries" with shuttered airports, toxic lettuce, garbage-clogged national parks, and disrupted basic services.  It was a lesson taught at terrible cost.  Let us rub it in with the enemy at every opportunity, so that it need never be repeated.

24 January 2019

Video of the day -- Sur le quai

Techno-reverie from Les Mains Ensorcelées (The Bewitched Hands).

21 January 2019

Reading, writing, and national power

From time to time I've touched on why I'm skeptical about the "inexorable rise of China" meme which dominates a lot of American thinking about the future -- the issue of "zombie" state-owned enterprises which produce little value but are propped up at huge expense to absorb what would otherwise be dangerous numbers of unemployed workers, the likelihood that official figures on economic growth are exaggerated, and the stultifying effect of a totalitarian state upon the open society and free flow of information which are essential to real modernity.  But there's another problem which, while it superficially seems trivial, I believe will be a major factor holding China back.  It's the writing system used by the Chinese language.

The world's two most widely-used writing systems, the Roman and Arabic scripts, look very different but are both alphabets -- systems in which symbols more-or-less represent individual sounds, so that a couple dozen letters and (in some cases) a few diacritical marks suffice to write any language.  The same is true of other alphabets such as the Cyrillic, Greek, Devanagari, etc.  Some languages like English and French have spelling systems which deviate substantially from an exact fit to pronunciation, but the alphabetic principle still holds.

The Chinese character system is fundamentally different.  In principle each symbol represents a morpheme, a spoken unit of meaning.  A morpheme is not necessarily a word.  The English word "teacher" consists of two morphemes, "teach" and "er", each of which has an identifiable meaning even though the latter cannot stand alone as a word in its own right; Chinese has numerous compound words formed from two or more morphemes in the same way.  In Chinese, almost all morphemes are single syllables, and syllables are highly distinct units of speech.  A writing system where symbols represent morphemes rather than sounds "fits" Chinese well.

The problem is that in any language, the number of morphemes is vastly larger than the number of individual sounds.  An alphabet typically has two or three dozen letters; even allowing for complications like capital vs lower-case letters or the joined vs unjoined forms of Arabic letters, the total number of symbols to be learned is well under a hundred.  In Chinese, one must know about three thousand characters for basic literacy, and the ability to read sophisticated texts requires six thousand.  The demand on the student's memory and learning capacity is vastly greater.

A few Chinese characters are recognizably pictograms of the things they mean, which makes them easy to remember, but most are not.  Look at any ordinary page of Chinese writing and try to guess the meanings of characters from their shape.  You won't have much luck.

Most Chinese characters are combinations of simpler elements in which one part tells you something about the pronunciation while the other gives a hint at the meaning.  For example, the words for "sheep" and "ocean" are pronounced alike, and the character for "ocean" incorporates the character for "sheep" plus an added element which means "water":
This is surely helpful to native speakers, but not as much as you might think.  The writing system was standardized more than two thousand years ago, and Chinese (like all languages) has changed enormously over that time, so much so that several regional "dialects" are no longer mutually intelligible and really qualify as separate languages.  Many morphemes which were pronounced similarly back then are no longer so similar, and many words have changed in meaning.  But it's the sheer number of symbols to memorize which is the primary problem.

China's regime claims a national literacy rate of 96%.  From what I've read, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who has spent a lot of time in China (especially rural China, where most of the population lives) who believes this.  Functional illiteracy or semi-literacy is still very common among adults.  Part of the problem is that literacy is officially defined as knowledge of 1,500 (or in some areas 950) characters, which isn't enough for real basic literacy.  The bigger issue is what is called "character amnesia".

Literacy rates obtained by testing people as they leave school can be impressive, but any extremely complex body of knowledge will tend to fade from the memory if it isn't intensively used.  In pre-modern China, as in all pre-modern societies, full literacy was confined to an educated minority of bureaucrats, intellectuals, authors, and so on.  Such people spent much of their time reading and writing, which enabled them to sustain mastery of thousands of characters.  The common people, if they were literate at all, knew a few hundred characters relevant to however they earned their living, which is a far cry from literacy in the modern sense.

An alphabetic writing system is simple enough that the great mass of people who don't spend much time reading and writing can retain their knowledge of it for a lifetime.  A system requiring 3,000 symbols for even basic literacy is a very different matter.

The standard objection normally raised at this point is that Japan also uses Chinese characters for writing, and is among the most literate nations on Earth.  In fact, Japanese is written with a mix of Chinese characters (called kanji in Japanese) and syllabic symbols called kana.  Each kana system (there are two, hiragana and katakana) contains just 46 symbols -- not much more than an alphabet -- and any Japanese word can be written with just those symbols, even though standard writing uses Chinese characters for many words.  Even so, full literacy in Japanese requires knowledge of about 2,000 characters as well as the kana systems.

Most Japanese adults can probably read most of those 2,000 characters, but can write far fewer as the years pass after leaving school.  This "man-on-the-street" test shows a few examples:

An English-speaker with any education at all would have no trouble spelling basic words like "bribe" or "battle", but you can see for yourself the complexity of the characters that have to be remembered for the Japanese equivalents.  Even those who get the "spelling" right often struggle a bit.  It's much easier, when writing, to just use kana when one is uncertain about a character.  And Japan is a much more "bookish" culture even than the West, never mind China.  It's highly unlikely that character retention among the broad mass of China's population is even this good, or even anywhere near this good.

Alphabetic writing has other advantages we rarely think of, such as the ability to misspell words.  Yes, that's an advantage.  An American of limited education who can't remember the correct spelling of "similar" or "embarrassing" can write "similer" or "embarasing" and be understood, which is better than nothing -- just as a Japanese who can't remember the right characters for what he wants to write can resort to kana.  A Chinese in the same position is simply stuck.  Every alphabet also has an "alphabetical order" which makes it easy to organize and look up information; there is a standard way of ordering Chinese characters, based on the number of strokes used to write particular parts of them, but it's much more complex and difficult to use than alphabetical order.

During Mao's rule, China did make one reform by simplifying many of the characters.  But this did not address the real problem of the sheer number of characters, and the simplified characters are also noticeably less visually distinct from each other in many cases.  It's unlikely that the reform has made real literacy significantly easier.

Even in school, the system makes learning to read and write take years longer than in a country that uses an alphabet -- years which are thus not available for study of other subjects.

Might China someday switch from characters to the pīnyīn Romanization system, which was developed in China and does an excellent job of representing the sounds of standard Mandarin Chinese?  That too seems very unlikely.  A country which changes its writing system faces the question of what to do with the existing body of books and other documents and records printed in the old system.  It can either (a) reprint everything in the new system, a massive and expensive task; (b) teach each new generation both systems, which would negate much of the benefit of the switch; or (c) do neither, meaning that future generations will be largely cut off from the records and literature of the past.  And the traditional attachment to the characters as an integral part of Chinese culture is simply too strong.  If you doubt the power of cultural inertia in such matters, consider that the US still has no plans to switch from our chaotic old jumble of weights and measures to the simpler and easier metric system -- a far less drastic move than changing the writing of the language.

The Chinese writing system served its purpose well in the days when full literacy was confined to an educated minority; indeed, during much of history, Chinese civilization was among the world's most advanced (the Chinese text in the image at the top of this post is from the Guǎngyùn, a printed dictionary published in China in the year 1011, fifty-five years before the Norman conquest of England and four centuries before Gutenberg).  But true modernity requires full literacy among most of the adult population.  In the real world, this makes the Chinese writing system a massive handicap.

20 January 2019

Link round-up for 20 January 2019

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

o o o o o

Tengrain shows us the latest in men's fashion.

Tremble in fear of Hell (found via Scottie).

Sounds like people in West Virginia have been watching Mononoke-Hime while on drugs (found via Mendip).

Some manage to have fun with dress codes.

Give back teh kitteh.

The first one of these is actually pretty deep.

Everybody get out of their way.

Check out these cats in zero gravity.

Debra She Who Seeks goes full unicorn.  Then there's this person.

Donna at Tell Me a Story needs more than one language's profanity to express her feelings about Trump and his gang.

That's not mold, but it has taken over.

Jesus commanded, he obeyed.

Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.

"Once upon a time....."

Tumblr is still full of shit.

Evangelicals seem confused about how "faith" works.

Why can't this be real and Trump be just a movie?

The mission of #Jagärhär is to fight trolling and make the internet less nasty.  It's gonna be a big job.

I can't believe advertisers still haven't figured this out.

No wonder Republicans live in fear of Democrats taking over.

A new godawful Christian movie wallows in the usual misconceptions about atheism.

Wingnuts just can't be happy unless they find something to be outraged about.

Here are some online forums for atheists.

If you see a person in a wheelchair being pushed by someone else, and they show signs of distress, don't ignore it.

Understand anti-Semitism.

These people exist.

US Christians' trust in their clergy is at an all-time low.

Fresh out of Catholic school, it's the Twitler YouthUpdate:  Apparently there's more to this incident than first reports told us.

Here's one reason why Republicans are fighting state legalization of marijuana (found via Scottie).

Easily-triggered macho flakes freak out over a Gillette ad.  Well, there's this.

Religion undermines progress and freedom (found via a comment by Maryplumbago here).

Atheist blogger Anderson Connors just moved from Texas to the Portland area.  His first impressions sound interesting.

Religious conversion is remarkably similar to another process.

Like Heidi Heitkamp on Kavanaugh, Doug Jones does the right thing despite the risk to his re-election.

The Word of God cannot be trusted.

TV news has screwed-up priorities.

For fundies, lying poses problems.

Sounds like Assange is going nutzoid; good please-steal-this-book story at the beginning.

Trump is a fake populist, Ocasio-Cortez is a real one.  59% of voters support her 70% top tax bracket.  And she drives the fundies crazy (well, crazier than they already are).

In some parts of the US, schools are hotbeds of Christian harassment.

It's not just a shutdown, it's an attempted hijacking.  If politicians won't end it, maybe TSA employees can.

Will global-warming denialists listen to the US military?

A major goal of modern medical research is an Alzheimer's vaccine -- and we may finally be making progress.

The UK is divided over Brexit, but strongly united on one point; and at least one EU country is preparing for a Brexit without an agreement (both found via Chris Sterry).

Maternal death rates have plummeted in most advanced countries, but there's one big exception.

The Catholic Church in India behaves pretty much the same as it does everywhere else.

China's economy is in deep crisis, but its most serious weakness is in education.

Zimbabwe is in trouble.

Trump is losing ground with his base.  We can make inroads with real solutions to their real problems.

Some Republicans still live in the Dark Ages.

Stacey Abrams isn't going away.

Both-siderist baloney is rearing its head in the media again.

The rising generations want more activist government.

Impeachment might be worth doing, even if the Senate won't convict.  But for some of Trump's actions, there can be no justice short of speedy removal.

Shower Cap reviews burgergate and the shutdown battle, and has a song for Steve King.

[731 days down, 731 days to go until the inauguration of a real President -- yes, we've made it to the halfway point!] 

17 January 2019

Evidence of absence

Given the events the Gospels describe, and the renown they claim Jesus achieved during his own lifetime, it's rather striking that there are no contemporary accounts of him.  In a society where literacy was fairly widespread and abundant details of historical events major and minor have come down to us, no one who should have actually witnessed the extraordinary events said to have marked the life of Jesus wrote down anything about him.  The writings we do have date from at least decades later and show a remarkable ignorance of the period they were describing -- Jesus is said, for example, to have grown up in Nazareth, a town that probably didn't exist until the second century, and the census of Quirinius (linked by Luke to the birth of Jesus) took place at least nine years after the death of Herod the Great, said to have been king when he was born.  Obviously these texts were written by people considerably removed from the time of Jesus.

But, the defenders of the Bible hasten to insist, we cannot infer from this that Jesus never existed and was merely invented by writers generations after his supposed lifetime.  Absence of evidence, as the saying goes, is not evidence of absence.

Well, that's true in some cases.  But there are also cases where, if something were present, you would expect to detect evidence.  For example, if there were an elephant standing behind you as you sit at your computer, you would expect to be able to smell it, to hear it breathing and moving around, and of course to see it if you turned around to look.  If you inspect the room and you do not see, hear, or smell an elephant, that absence of evidence is indeed weighty evidence that there is no elephant in the room.  An elephant is just too big and impressive to overlook.

Similarly, some of the events described in the Gospels are so spectacular that, if they had actually happened, we would expect contemporary writers and historians to have written at length about them.  Walking on water, curing leprosy, raising the dead, turning water into wine, coming back to life after being crucified, etc. certainly fall into that category.  Even though Palestine was a backwater, it was part of a huge, civilized empire with a high literacy rate for the time, and it was only a few hundred miles from Alexandria, the greatest center of science and scholarship in that era.  There's plenty of first-century writing about Roman Palestine.

But nobody saw the elephant.  There wasn't an elephant.

[Inspired by this post at Scottie's Toy Box, where I also found the graphic at the top of this post.]

15 January 2019

What if you're wrong?

Nan's Notebook has a post up on a question Christians sometimes pose to atheists:  "What if you're wrong?"  It's basically a reformulation of Pascal's wager -- if you live your life as an atheist and die as one, only to find God waiting to judge you in the afterlife, you'll feel pretty foolish (and doomed), won't you?

Follow the link above to see other readers' answers.  Here's mine.

If it turns out that the universe is, in fact, ruled by some kind of all-powerful petty tyrant who will consign me to torture for all eternity because I couldn’t believe a bunch of ludicrously-implausible stories which all available evidence shows to be just one more random mythology like hundreds of others, regardless of all the good I’ve done during my life, then I guess I’m just shit out of luck.  I don’t see any point in worrying about it because there’s nothing I can do about it.  I don’t have the power to make myself believe things that are utterly unbelievable, any more than a Christian could psych himself into believing in Vishnu or Zeus when he simply sees no reason to believe in those entities.  And there’s no point in trying to fake it.  Pretending to believe might fool people, but it wouldn’t fool an omniscient deity.

And that’s another problem.  What, they ask, if you disbelieve in the Christian cosmology and then you die and find yourself being judged by Jehovah for it?  Well, what if it turns out Odin was the true god all along and you’ll suffer in the afterlife for not worshiping him?  What if it turns out the Muslims are right and you spent your life not being a Muslim?  What if the ancient Egyptian religion was the true one and we’re all doomed in the afterlife because we don’t perform their mummification rituals?  What if the religion of some tribe in Papua that you’ve never heard of is the one true faith, God having singled out that tribe as his chosen people -- the sole recipients of the Truth -- for some reason beyond our understanding?

All those possibilities, and hundreds of others, are equally plausible.  There’s no visible reason to judge any one religion more likely to be true than any other.  If you choose one and it turns out some other one is the true one, you’re still wrong, and presumably still in trouble in the afterlife.

I believe what the evidence supports -- that there are no gods of any stripe, and all religions are just stories concocted by humans.  I might still be wrong, but it’s the option most likely to be right.

[Image at top:  the statue of Zeus in the Temple of Olympia, Classical Greece]

13 January 2019

Link round-up for 13 January 2019

I think 2019 has already gone on for more than long enough, don't you?

o o o o o

This is your brain on Fox News.

New store opening soon (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

They are shocked, shocked, to find that swearing is going on here.

It's a perfectly innocent business name.

Cats, cats, cats!

Pointing this out is "naughty", apparently.

Here's a maze with a difference.


Trump will want a big beautiful plaque on his wall.  What should be engraved on it?

NASA isn't exactly trying to prevent sex in space, contrary to the item I linked a couple of weeks ago.

Life is amazing.

A new attack on Ocasio-Cortez gets debunked internet-style.

To hell with people's opinions.

Here are some nice sky photos.

Frankenstein's monster was rather different than the movies would have you believe.

Go to the library, you idiots.

Superheroines?  Here's the real thing.

There's some weird and disturbing stuff going on with YouTube ads.

It's just myths, and ugly myths at that.

Shakespeare was Shakespeare.

That "Trump wall" episode of Trackdown from 1958 may not have been coincidence.

Everybody has a right to their fantasies.

It's not much of an emergency.

This person exists.  And this person exists.  And even these people exist.

Why did no one write about Jesus and his miracles during his own time?

Bird Box annoys racists of all kinds.

Land of the slow, home of the oblivious.

Here's the reality behind "red tape".

Suffer the little children.

$5 billion is actually a lot of money.

Don't make masochism a philosophy.

Whatever Trump says or does, coal is over.

Oligarchy thrives on popular lies.

Unconditional pacifism benefits only the aggressor.

The Debate Link looks back on a few stories from 2018.

New year, same old political crap.

We've got a hostage situation here.

Right-wing alternate reality is merging into the general fog of conspiratardia like Satanic ritual abuse and shadowy global cabals.

Evangelicals object to an anti-lynching bill because.....well, just read this.

Electoral-Vote has an interesting discussion on General Ulysses Grant, and looks at Ruth Bader Ginsburg's health.

Some conservatives have a reason of their own for hoping Trump doesn't declare a state of emergency.

The "burnout generation" just wised up faster.  Here's the truth in a nutshell.

Amazon is trying to destroy competition.

Capitalism and medicine don't mix.  If you die as a result, there's this.

The shutdown is disrupting American science.  It's not good for food safety either (so take precautions).  Then there's the FBI.

Quitting alcohol for even one month can have lasting health benefits.

Don't fall for these pervasive myths about being fat.

As the anti-vax movement spreads, the toll in death and suffering is rising.

No, the Easter Island natives didn't destroy themselves by resource depletion (found via Jeff Baker).

Maybe English wasn't the best option.

If you're one of those Brexit-bashers, please familiarize yourself with the issue.

If your rhetoric encourages violence against political opponents, you have some culpability when people actually attack them.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is now independent of its Russian counterpart, much to the outrage of the latter.

The persecution of gays in Chechnya is getting worse.

Trump must be envious -- a place where reporters can be jailed for reporting on the corruption of politicians.

This man helped our troops -- Trump's America may send him to his death (found via Scottie).

In India, the rule of a religio-nationalist party encourages crackpot ideas at the expense of real science.  Thank goodness such a thing could never happen in the US.  The party is also trying to pass a citizenship law that discriminates by religion.

There's a cultural genocide going on that you rarely hear about.

Don't help the wingnuts destroy our candidates.  Every Republican in power is one too many.

If Trump ran for re-election today, he'd lose in a blow-out.  Here's a profile of one possible opponent, and a home-state appeal to another.

Go ahead, try to have a rational conversation with people like this.

I Should Be Laughing has some political quotes.

Trump's speech might have been meant as a distraction from bigger news.  If so, it didn't work very well.

She ain't no Mary Poppins.

Substance matters in politics, but so does image.

Shower Cap identifies the real national emergency and reviews the shutdown shitstorm.

[Image at top:  the Monastery of St. Michael in Kiev, Ukraine -- photo taken by me when I was there in 2007]

10 January 2019

Random observations for January 2019

Ideology is almost as destructive to art as capitalism is.

o o o o o

Unfortunately, natural selection may have imbued humans with a propensity for obedience.  Back in the stone age, when the elders told the children "Don't go near the river, there are crocodiles there", those who obeyed were more likely to live to pass on their genes than those who went to see for themselves.

o o o o o

A while ago I drove past a church whose sign bore the message, "Have you ever wondered how many lies you believe?"  Oh, the irony.

o o o o o

A century from now people will look back on our time, which passively accepts aging and natural death as inevitable, with the same pity and horror with which we now look back on the age that accepted its helplessness in the face of the Black Death as something normal.

o o o o o

Gods are usually made in the image of the humans who create them.  That's why they hate the same people their human creators hate.

o o o o o

"War is not the answer," goes the cliché.  If you think about it, war is more often the question.

o o o o o

I honestly don't see any good in religion at all.  All the good that it supposedly does is actually done by people, and those people would probably be just as good even if they weren't religious.

o o o o o

If you favor "punching Nazis" (simply for being Nazis, as opposed to in retaliation for violence of their own), then you need to come up with a clear, straightforward, and generally-accepted definition of "Nazi".  The term is thrown around far too promiscuously these days.  If you believe a certain category of people can legitimately be subjected to violence purely because of their opinions, then at the very least you owe everyone an exact definition of who falls into that category.

o o o o o

It's objectively wrong to claim that religion and science can be reconciled with each other.  Every religion makes some empirically testable claims about reality.  In the case of Christianity, the Bible makes claims about the origin and age of the universe, the origin of life including humanity, a global flood, and so forth.  All these claims can be, and have been, tested by scientific methods and all of them have been shown to be completely wrong.  Similarly, Biblical claims about the Exodus and most of the Israelite "history" before about 600 BC have been shown by archaeology to be mythical.  The Gospel stories of Jesus are full of details which are irreconcilable with the known history of the period.  It is all just mythology.  Trying to reconcile it with science is as silly as trying to reconcile the Harry Potter books or Spider-Man comics with science.

o o o o o

We need a basic change in our thinking about the environment.  The option of just doing our own thing while the planet’s climate and ecosystems keep humming along on their own, as they have for billions of years, is no longer available.  The impact of human activity is simply too large now.  From now on we’re going to need to manage and control the Earth, the way we need to manage and control things like gardens and parks (which, unlike wild ecosystems, don’t remain stable in the absence of human intervention).  There’s no alternative.  So we’d better learn to do it properly, and get a clearer and more honest sense of what our priorities are.

[For previous random observations, see here.]

08 January 2019

Video of the day -- girl magic

Another world, or a dream.  Made by video artist Ghidghid.  Well worth fullscreen.

06 January 2019

Link round-up for 6 January 2019

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

o o o o o

Now I know who took my ATM card.

If you have a family full of wingnuts, cash in.

Debra She Who Seeks observes -- indeed, invents -- National Lizard Day.

It's Cthulhu's dog!

Jono has some photos from snowy Minnesota.

Pinku-Sensei posts the YouTube Rewind for 2018.  Until he responded to my comment there, I had never heard of YouTube personality "PewDiePie".  By an odd coincidence, that same day, LGBTQ Nation posted a profile of him.  Gag.

Judyt54 posts 13 modern annoyances.

David Futrelle discovers a very, very bad writer.

I don't see why anyone thought a dance video would hurt Ocasio-Cortez's reputation.  Then there's the Mitch McConnell dance video (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

The internet didn't destroy retail -- out-of-control capitalism did.

HR Giger once designed a Batmobile.

Miss Cellania links to over a dozen 2018-in-review lists.  See also year reviews from The Onion (found via Fair and Unbalanced) and Electoral-Vote (Trump version).

For extreme fundies, even movies are taboo -- but they're as hypocritical about it as about everything else.

A kiss is just a kiss -- get used to it.

Better sex education can mean less prejudice.

She's the living embodiment of Tumblrgeddon.  And the implosion continues.

Don't let Tumblr's content purge sweep away the memory of this truth.

WordPress, too, is pushing a new text editor which most users find difficult to use, prompting some bloggers to consider migrating to some other platform.  An experienced website consultant tries to explain the problem to WordPress staff, getting almost Orwellian responses (found via a comment at the previous link by Nyssa the Hobbit, who has already found a better option).

AO3 has a lot of good features, apparently.

Here's some advice and warnings about VPNs (note: I personally don't have the technical knowledge to fact-check all this).  More here.

Pearl-clutching prigs will always find something to disapprove of.

What really happened to Amelia Earhart?

Evangelicals sink into a morass of corruption and hypocrisy.

Beware of phony "research" rigged to justify pre-existing biases.

Both-siderism puts you in very bad company.

Jerry Coyne visits Pearl Harbor.

You just know who this person voted for.

What does "sex positivity" really mean?

See political cartoons at Hackwhackers and I Should Be Laughing.

Bad companies make technology to empower control freaks.

Nan at Nan's Notebook describes how she was sucked into Christianity via fear (don't worry, she got over it eventually).

Interesting new-year point -- there are no more 20th-century minors (found via Jerry Coyne).  Anyone born in the 20th century is now over 18.

Fox News plumbs new depths of dumbth (though C+L's own closet is not skeleton-free).

This is not "schooling" in any real sense.

The "C-Street House" epitomizes the hypocrisy of political fundamentalism.

Here's a big part of why wingnuts hate government.

If you sell things on the internet, be prepared to deal with assholes like these.

A critical civil right is under attack (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

Dave Dubya has a great discussion on the nature of modern "con-servatism".

The Women's March pushes back against bigotry in its leadership.

A border wall won't work.

South Carolina lobbies to legitimize religious discrimination (found via Scottie).

Here's how Trump is viewed by those who've worked most closely with him.  Who the hell needs a leader who behaves like this?

There's more to the Kitty Genovese story than you've probably heard.

The migrant children who recently died in US custody had been looking forward to new lives here.

How vile can bigotry get?  This vile.

The overall trends are positive in the fight against global warming.

Islamist nutcases are acting up in Egypt again.

Trump has insulted and offended the world's largest democracy.  Now back to having hysterics because somebody called him a bad word.

How much is a smelly dead fish worth?

Trump's renewed sanctions on Iran are strengthening the worst elements there.  But he may be quietly backing down on his plan to withdraw from Syria.

Is forbidden to criticize Glorious Leader.

One thing has changed, the other has not.

Pelosi understands priorities.  And "GOP lost entitlement to policing women’s behavior a long time ago."

Democrats move to make candidate selection more democratic.

Romney seems more likely to be a Flake than a Murkowski.....if you will.

Are we tired of winning yet?

Two new members of Congress hid a nasty secret during the campaign.

Green Eagle has an idea to save North Carolina some money.

Vixen Strangely tries to talk sense to people who are likely beyond it.

Shower Cap contemplates the year ahead and the return of Pelosi.

[Image at top: the future confronts the past as Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly-bisexual US Senator (and the only current one to identify as non-religious) is sworn in by Mike Pence using a law book containing the US and Arizona constitutions, not a Bible.  Found via Shaw Kenawe.]

04 January 2019

Video of the day -- "this is language one employs, when....."

Posted in honor of Rashida Tlaib, and as a reminder of where the true evil resides.  NSFW -- I think I heard a naughty word at one point.

03 January 2019

2018 -- triumph and loss met in the cold

I'm not doing an overall "events of the year" post for 2018.  But there were two things that stood out.

The triumph:

Once again, technology extends the reach of the living mind, even to the frozen wasteland of a barren alien world.  In a time that often seems to fetishize victimization and despair and cynicism, here is achievement.  (You can stop the video at about 6:45.)

The loss:
While his body was crippled by a horrifying illness, his mind explored realms most of us cannot even imagine.  He is gone now, but his work will live on long after the idiot yammering of Trump and the Evangelical morons who make an idol of him is forgotten.  I observed his death here.

01 January 2019

Best of the Infidel, 2018

The bloody twins have divided our civilization between themselves.

It's foolish to dismiss a great thinker or fighter because of one or two trivial errors.

The enemy of my enemy is, in this case, my ally.

Fake morality means coddling criminals.

What would aliens want from us?

I assess trolls and how to handle them.

Are men necessary? (a semi-unserious thought exercise)

With Trump in charge, here's the worst that could happen.

I put forth a modest proposal for Trump's wall.

Trumpism is not the look of the future.

Review of Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker.

Trump is hastening the end of US global leadership.

Some ruminations on rituals.

A lot of Trumpanzees are beyond redemption.

My view on the question of free will.

Don't overreact to setbacks.

My view on Islam and Muslims.

Some US fundamentalists are a fifth column for a foreign regime.

A dissertation on writing foreign words.

No liberal should support censorship or "hate speech" laws.

Science and religion are mortal enemies and always have been.

Like it or not, celebrities and mass culture are important.

Under these laws, telling the truth is a criminal offense.

Trump or no Trump, we're winning the culture wars.

In the long run, corporate ownership is lethal to internet culture.

If humans gave up meat, what would happen to the existing population of farm animals?